James McCormick – CriterionCast https://criterioncast.com Fri, 29 Apr 2016 16:56:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 https://criterioncast.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/cropped-9329A558-8143-4F71-9E79-E26F8C0F3C59-1-300x300.jpeg James McCormick – CriterionCast https://criterioncast.com 32 32 James Reviews Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-jeremy-saulniers-green-room Fri, 29 Apr 2016 18:30:45 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=52771 Green Room

When I was younger, I would consider myself a punk rock kid. I would go to shows all the time, in clothes that I pieced together from other clothes. A little dirty but not too crusty. Whenever a show would be going down, I would go with a few friends. No matter how big or small the venue (I preferred smaller because I could get up close to the band in that case), especially when I was going to out of the city shows. The ones at colleges or small hole in the wall joints. But anytime I saw a few skinheads around, or if one of the bands was a pro-skinhead band, I made sure to stay out of the pit and on the sidelines because I knew hell was about to break loose.

Which brings us to the movie Green Room, the new film written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, he takes a simple premise: people trapped in a spot while evil forces try to take advantage of them, and brings it to the punk show. A skinhead punk show, which is already a horrific image, with swastikas and SS written everywhere. Of course like a lot of horror films, they are led there by some sort of force, in this case a punk rocker who had a show lined up with them but it being cancelled and him not telling them, they were about to cancel their tour when surprise, he has a cousin who is involved in the skinhead scene, but he can guarantee them $350 for a gig up toward Portland. What could go wrong?

And that’s the power of the film Green Room. Even though they have a bad feeling going into this show at the last minute, they’re desperate for the money and would rather be able to coast on back to their home as opposed to driving on fumes and siphoning off gasoline from random cars on the way. The band is a four piece, led by Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner, and they work as this tight knit group. Going into the den of the skinheads, they’re just going to perform and be on their way. Pat (Anton Yelchin) even has an idea to mess with the crowd, by doing a cover of The Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off, which of course draws the crowd into a bit of a frenzy. But they go about their set and they survive playing their songs and head back to the green room.

This is where the conflict comes into play. They’re told not to go into the green room because the headlining act are inside. So they are in the hallway, getting their stuff to take back to the van when Sam (Alia Shawkat) realizes she’s forgotten her phone in the room. Pat goes back into the room to grab the phone and the charger when he sees a violent act has taken place. Pat tries to call the cops but is stopped and now they can’t leave. At first their guaranteed the cops are coming, but it’s all a ruse because they have two young believers (skinheads in training, basically) who pose as the stabbing victim and are taken away. Which then enters the central villain, the soft spoken leader of this group of miscreants, Darcy Banker (played with subtle villainy by Patrick Stewart).

Stewart is a powerhouse here, not because he’s chewing the scenery but instead is doing the opposite. He’s cold, calculated, angry that his people didn’t take care of this in a simpler manner, but will get the results he wants. He tries to talk ‘sense’ at first, guaranteeing them freedom but they’re not buying it. And it’s a game of cat and mouse, which side will topple over first. We feel for the band Aren’t Rights, because they just want to play their music and be on their way home. But because of a chance encounter, it spirals into a cavalcade of violence, one in which nobody in the band will ever be the same again.

Everyone is in top form as well, Anton Yelchin being an actor I like a lot but sometimes I’m not so thrilled by some of his choices. But he always gives it his all and in this, I’m impressed by him not wanting to be the leader in this maelstrom, but having to accept the responsibility. Alia Shawkat again is great, which is no surprise because I like her in everything she appears in. Joe Cole as Reece shows he’s more than a drummer, someone who knows some mixed martial arts, which do come in handy at one point. And Callum Turner’s Tiger, the singer of the group, is the chill one in the group, but when someone close to him gets injured severely, he’s there to help and be a comforting voice when needed.

Imogen Poots (who I will always say has the name who is the most fun to pronounce) is also fantastic as Amber, a skinbyrd (a female skinhead), who is thrust into this tight knit group and fights alongside them, while also fighting off the stigma against her. It’s a very subtle performance, which is needed in a film that is so damn intense from start to finish. Once their set ends, it’s non-stop grabbing at your seat intensity, one where at the screening I was at, while not packed, I heard audible gasps, sounds of disgust and shuffling in seats from what was unfolding on screen in front of us. It was a screening any director would want to witness, because I believe people were reacting to every beat, which shows how methodical the script and direction by Saulnier is.

Being at a punk show where a group of skinheads came down on a few smaller kids and tried to beat them up for no reason as they just wanted to show superiority, this film made me harken back to my youth and it cut close to home. It felt authentic the whole time, this dirty warehouse, a DIY punk rock venue where a small subsection of civilization could go and spout some hate. It just so happens that a group with no ties in this world got mixed up in it all and could never have imagined the hell they were about to experience. While we hope they survive, we still enjoy the bumpy ride. Hoping for the best, expecting the worst.

James Reviews Robin Bougie’s Graphic Thrills Volume Two [Book Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-robin-bougies-graphic-thrills-volume-two-book-review Tue, 10 Nov 2015 14:00:30 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=50954 GraphicThrillsHeader

Warning: There might be some words and posters that could be deemed NSFW. I wouldn’t want anyone getting fired for such a reason.

How does one go about writing a book review? That is a question I’ve dealt with all my life. I’ve gotten a few film related books in my time, delving deep into information about specific genres of film or about a director or an actor. Those types of books you can find a beginning, middle and an end. But Robin Bougie’s fantastic new book, a sequel to the amazing first Graphic Thrills book, which delves into film posters of pornographic films from 1970 – 1985, was going to be tricky.

The reason it was going to be tricky was that it was going to be me gushing (poor choice of word?) about the amazing posters he featured, while he gave great insight into the particular films, the stars and filmmakers behind those films, all in one beautiful package. It would probably end up me just showcasing a few of the posters in a listicle format, or one of those dreaded clickbait articles where you have to go through page after page to just see the next poster. But that’s not how I roll.

Instead, I decided to do something which I had never done before. I went out onto the trains of the New York City subway system, to coffee shops, to libraries and just sometimes on a park bench and would randomly open up the book next to someone. I would ask them if they were interested at looking at the book or a particular page I opened up to and then asked them what they thought. Most people just got up and sat somewhere else. I had one woman smack my arm and tell me I was the devil. Another guy told me I was going to go to hell with that smut on the train. But plenty of people gave me some good insight on pornographic films and what people think about them as a whole. Their names have been changed because most didn’t give me a name anyway.

Charlie sits next to me on the F train. It’s about 6 p.m. He looks over at me, down at the book, back at me and smiles.

“What is that? A book of porn posters?”

“Yes, it is. It’s a collection of them, with some stuff about the films. But the focus is on the beauty of the posters, the artistry.”

“Oh yeah, these look amazing.”

I show him a few more and he asks me where he can buy it. I tell him Fab Press is putting it out, also the usual places like Barnes And Noble and Amazon, or a local bookstore.

Rochelle gets on the train and sits next to me. It’s a bit tight due to it being rush hour on the N train. She looks at the book.

“Oh god. Why do I have to sit next to the weird ones?”

“The weird ones? What’s so weird about an art book.”

“This is pornography, not art.”

“One person’s pornography is another person’s art. Just take a look at this.”

“I’m not looking at anything nude and crude!”

I show her a picture of the poster to Disco Lady.

“Farrah Fawcett did a porno?”

“No, no. That’s Rhonda Jo Petty. She was famous because she looked like Ms. Fawcett.”

“Wow, that’s uncanny.”

John sits next to me. He sees the cover of the book in my lap.

“Jodie Foster looks hot.”

I laugh. I open up to a random page. Oriental Babysitter is the poster of choice.

“Really? That’s a film title. You can’t call them orientals anymore.”

“Well it is from 1977 and porn didn’t really shy away from being a bit risque.”

“P-p-p-p-porn?!?! I gotta go!”

He leaps up, giving one more glance before heading to the other side of the train.

Richard sees a picture of the poster for Sweet Cakes.

“I used to love Jennifer Welles’ films. She was a favorite of mine.”

“Mine too.”

“What is this book?”

I explain to him the book and it’s purpose.

“This is great. I miss the days when you could go to a legitimate theater in Manhattan and see these films. 42nd Street before they made it all family oriented.”

“Oh yeah, the Deuce. Those days are sadly all gone.”

“Exactly. Now people can’t even watch the full films. They just go on their computers and watch 3 minute clips and get off in that amount of time. It’s awful. Makes me sick.”

Larry sits nearby at a coffee shop. He looks over at me while I have the book up. He motions for me to look at him.

“You like sex tapes?”

“Um, I like classic porn.”

“So, films with fucking in them? I got all you need in my bag.”

“That’s okay, sir. I’m just reading about them right now. You have anything from before 1985?”

“Bah, you don’t know what’s good.”

Rachel sees the poster for Sodom and Gomorrah: The Last Seven Days.

“That looks like the most depressing and epic porn ever.”

“I’ve never seen it. Always wanted to. It was a huge venture, $500,000 budget and in 1975 money, that was a blockbuster.”

“Sounds interesting.”

Craig sits down and sees the book in hand.

“Whoa, dude. What is that?”

“A book celebrating porn and the artistry of the posters from 1970 – 1985.”

That’s so cool. Can I look at it?”

I hand him the book. He looks through, laughing at some of the posters. He stops at one in particular.

“Who is Long Jeanne Silver?”

“Oh, she’s amazing She was born with a birth defect. She had a footless leg and would use her stump like a penis to penetrate.”

“Whaaaa? That’s crazy! How can I get her films?”

“Well, that one in particular is able to be bought from this company Vinegar Syndrome. Actually a lot of the films are able to be bought through them or their parent company DistribPix

Johnny sits down, looks over at me and is about to get up until he sees the poster for The Incredible Sex-Ray Machine.

“Haha Big John Holmes. That’s an understatement. Wasn’t he the guy who had a huge dick?”

“Yeah, that was his calling card, so to speak.”

“Imagine having a dick that big? That would be the best. You could be a porn star.”

“That’s probably true. But I’ve heard horror stories about it, that they can’t truly feel good because most women are actually afraid of the size.”

“Really? So it’s like a Catch-22 then. You have this God given gift, but it’s a burden on your own life? I never thought of it like that before.”

And Johnny gets up, shakes my hand, thanks me for the time and leaves the train at the next stop.

This book is a film lover’s ideal gift, especially with the holiday season coming up. Even if you’re not into pornographic films, especially classic artistic ones from the 70’s, it’s still a treasure trove of a section of cinema that gets typecast as just dirty, filthy and one note, when in fact it wasn’t always that way. Yes, the films were there to titillate the audience, but sometimes you had some people like Jamie Gillis, Sharon Mitchell, Constance Money and various others who were actors who also were very good at having actual sex in front of the camera.

Graphic Thrills







James Remembers Wes Craven https://criterioncast.com/discussion/james-remembers-wes-craven Mon, 07 Sep 2015 13:00:12 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=50442 Wes-Craven-Freddy-Krueger

Usually when someone famous passes away, I write a little thing on Twitter and Facebook, giving a little insight as to why they meant something to me. Be it a film that connected with me, a song that helped me through something tough, a book that I devoured multiple times and a piece or artwork that I could look at until the end of time, always seeing something new. But when it comes to someone like Wes Craven passing away, it feels as if I’m in an awful nightmare and there’s no Dream Warriors to save me and Freddy Krueger isn’t the wisecracking asshole but instead just death himself.

Wes Craven was one of the first filmmakers that I connected with at a young age. Of course, Freddy Krueger was the 80’s and being a child of the 80’s, I connected with slasher movies. Yes, I was way too young but why were there kid’s costumes to look like Freddy, Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers? It’s something I pointed out as a kid, and the more Freddy became more popular than the movies themselves, I knew I had to watch these films. I believe the first one I viewed was the third film, which has the titular Dream Warriors in it. A horror superhero flavored film, I would watch that film anytime it would pop up on Channel 11 here in NYC (WPIX) and would secretly rent it from the video store across the street from where I grew up, Video Reflections.

Of course when I saw the third film, I knew I had to see the first two and whatever sequels came out after number 3. Seeing the first Nightmare on Elm Street was a bit of a revelation for me. Having seen Halloween, Friday the 13th and various other slasher movies, A Nightmare on Elm Street was something… more. Not to diminish the other films, but ANOES hit my child brain on a level I couldn’t even comprehend. Yes, Freddy was this fun killer who would make jokes and do some weird crap to people in their nightmares, but in the first, he was the ultimate boogeyman. A force of horrible nature who had one thing on his mind, and that was to kill the children of the parents who burned him to death for being a pedophile.

Dark stuff and I remember asking my parents questions about it and them not knowing how to truly answer them so they would just say, “Freddy is a bad man, so they had to kill him.” And of course my twisted mind makes me say, “Yes, but he thinks they are the bad guys, so what he is doing is right in his head.” He was the great villain, somehow sold his soul before he ever died and became a demon incarnate, and this all came from stories that Wes Craven had read. True stories about a young man who was afraid to go to sleep and would drink coffee nonstop and try to stay up. Finally, going to sleep, this young man died while he slept. A horror franchise was born from a real life nightmare.

Being a horror nerd at a young age, I had to see what films this guy who helped create Freddy Krueger did before, if anything. I went to the video store and asked the clerk, 8 or 9 years old, and asked what did Wes Craven make before Freddy? The guy looked at me and told me to come with him to the horror section. He walked me around and showed me a few films. Last House on the Left, he said, was his first film and really ‘fucked up’. He then showed me The Hills Have Eyes, saying, “Freaks kill people. Really violent.” My mind was racing, like I was about to rent these awful snuff films that weren’t intended for me. And then he showed me Swamp Thing. Wait, what?

I was a Swamp Thing comic book fan when I was young, loving the dark and twisted stories which I truly didn’t understand until 10 years after I first read them. Wes Craven made a movie based on Swamp Thing?! I had to rent all three films (at the time, I didn’t know he had also made a sequel to The Hills Have Eyes, Invitation to Hell or Deadly Blessing). Sadly, the clerk looked at my short stature and my hairless face which made him say, “I’m sorry. I can’t rent these films to you. I’d get fired.”

Foiled by my age. Oh you kiddies, you don’t know how good you have it now. But I was not going to let that get in the way of seeing his films. I just went home and bided my time. Which meant I waiting until that guy left and the more relaxed clerk would rent those films for me. And I fell in love with the darkness that Wes Craven depicted on screen. With his films Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, I saw a horror master who just kept trying new things and pushing the limits as much as he could.

When I found out he grew up in a fundamentalist religious household, it blew my mind. And that before he did his debut film, he was working in pornography, editing and writing, which is where he met another individual who wanted ‘more’ than where they were, Sean Cunningham (who went on to make Friday the 13th). It’s where Last House on the Left came about, where Cunningham told him they had to make a horror film, and Wes at first objected. But Cunningham pressed him and made a good point about his upbringing and how he should use it to his advantage. And he did, by doing a remake of The Virgin Spring, but twisting the knife even further into the audience’s spine.

I sat there, glued to the TV when the awfulness unfolded on the screen. The evil Krug (David Hess, who I became a big fan of after this film) became a villain that I just hated. He wasn’t Freddy Krueger. He wasn’t fun. He was despicable and didn’t hide that fact. The film would be perfect, if only they didn’t have those comedic scenes with the sheriff. I still get chills thinking about them. But then going into The Hills Have Eyes, we almost have a story about the other messed up family of inbred psychopaths, but this time in the desert, which somehow makes it that much creepier. A great film where we see people’s humanity stripped from them when they are forced to fight to the death, it’s a film that many have copied and not many have replicated.

And Swamp Thing is an effective comic book film, with a great costume and some fun stuff within, with Adrienne Barbeau and Ray Wise effectively making you care about this man who is now a plant based being. Of course it’s not as heady as the Alan Moore comic, but it’s at a time that the only good comic book movie was Superman, so I give it credit for being fun and having the basics of a hero. And it showed me that Craven was more than just a horror filmmaker.

Throughout the years, I would check out more of his films to varying degrees of quality: Deadly Friend (I love that messed up movie), Deadly Blessing (evil Amish = scary?), Shocker (a Freddy clone that I enjoy but is in no way a good film) but two films in particular that I saw at different times at friend’s houses really took a toll on my psyche. The Serpent and the Rainbow was a film I didn’t appreciate at the time, like John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (a film I now adore) but it still creeped me out because it wasn’t a zombie film I could ever imagine. The other film was The People Under the Stairs, a film that this day still has a hold on me.

I remember seeing The People Under the Stairs at a friend’s birthday party, and for some reason that was the film he chose for all of us to see. It was also the first party that had girls over, so I was roughly 12/13 years old. And this film seriously creeped me out, to the point that I couldn’t concentrate on the girls there at all, instead trying not to freak out with the film. I’m not sure why it did something to me, but to this day whenever I’m at someone’s house, I knock on the walls and hope that nobody knocks back.

Of course thenI think of two films of his from the 90’s that I actually got to see in theaters, that made me fall more in love with his filmography. His return to Freddy Krueger after so many years, New Nightmare, was a return to form in making Freddy creepy again, and it’s a film that I love to this day, always pushing the film on people who gave up on the franchise, especially after the abysmal Freddy’s Dead. The second film was the film that brought back the slasher flick in full force, the Kevin Williamson penned Scream, which is a product of its time, yet still works today, mainly because of the tongue in cheek, winking at the camera (that sadly became too played out, even in the Scream sequels as well). I had to have seen Scream in theaters 5 to 6 times, because I just loved the pacing of it and kept finding people who hadn’t seen it yet. It was one of the films that actually made me want to make horror films.

Of course I’m missing a ton of his films, such as the underrated thriller Red Eye, the non-horror film passion project Music of the Heart, Vampire in Brooklyn which is the one film I remember completely disliking that he made, the very lopsided Cursed which I have a special place in my heart and the Scream sequels (number 4 being my second favorite, which is weird to most). I think I will finally track down a copy of Invitation to Hell and his last film, My Soul to Take, which I heard is not that good. But because I’m a Wes Craven fan, I owe it to him to judge the film on the film itself.

This isn’t a goodbye. Instead, it’s more like I’ll see you in my nightmares.

“You learn a lot more from those bumps than from when things are going great.” – Wes Craven

James Reviews Teruo Ishii’s Blind Woman’s Curse [Arrow Films USA Blu-Ray Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-teruo-ishiis-blind-womans-curse-arrow-films-usa-blu-ray-review Tue, 19 May 2015 13:00:35 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=48816 tattooed-back

When her father died, Akemi (Meiko Kaji) becomes the new leader of the Tachibana gang and swears revenge on the leader of their rival gang, Goda. When she and her clan go to battle, Akemi slays Goda but in doing so, she blinds his daughter in the act, and in a very strange scene, a black cat laps up the blood. Thus begins Akemi’s nightmares of a black cat who tries to attack her, and Blind Woman’s Curse begins. She believes she is cursed and while in prison, she befriends a group of women who want to join her gang when she and they are released. 

When released from prison, she goes back to being the leader, but becomes a much more passive leader, trying to be peaceful, pushing away her violent past. Some attacks by Aozora (Ryôhei Uchida), a gang leader who liked to not wear pants and fart a lot, and with one of her own gang members Tatsu who is plotting with Dobashi (Tôru Abe), the rival gang leader who wants control of Akemi’s territory. When a blind swordswoman offers her services to Dobashi, things go from slightly comedic to dark real fast. 

Blind Woman’s Curse is a rare yakuza/supernatural/horror film from Nikkatsu, and it’s sudden shifts in genres and styles might throw some people off, but it’s what I find so intriguing and cool about the film. Somehow this was one of Meiko Kaji’s films from the 70’s that I missed throughout my late teens foray into Japanese genre cinema, and I feel that I appreciate it more now than I probably would have when I was younger. I can’t say I’ve seen many films with someone slicing off the back tattoos of gang members after they’ve been murdered, a dancing hunchback who laughs maniacally and somewhat Italian horror tinges that pop up throughout. I’m guessing Teruo Ishii might have watched a bit of Mario Bava and mixed it with gothic horror, while throwing in dashes of slapstick comedy, gang intrigue, fart jokes and brilliant action scenes with beautiful arterial spray. 

The Arrow Video release is absolutely stunning, the colors popping off the screen, every paused still looking like a piece of art (even the more demented stuff). The only drawback, and it isn’t even that big of one, is that this is a release with not as many supplements compared to their other releases. You do get a fantastic commentary track from Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, the original trailer and trailers for the Meiko Kaji Stray Cat Rock series, which were also made by Nikkatsu (and is also coming from Arrow in June on Blu-ray, which I cannot wait for).

With everyone talking about Mad Max: Fury Road and with the idea that women can kick ass as well as men (duh), then it’s a perfect time to check out the filmography of Meiko Kaji. Kaji is a legend when it comes to badass women in cinema, with a shopping list of titles that are worthy contenders, such as the Lady Snowblood films, the Female Convict 701: Scorpion series and the Stray Cat Rock series. As you can see, her films tended to do well with fans of rebellious women in film. This Arrow release is no exception, and should be an instant buy for anyone who loves Yakuza films, horror films and to see Meiko Kaji’s first leading role in a feature film and how she would dominate the 1970’s. 


James Reviews Tonino Valerii’s Day Of Anger [Arrow Films USA Blu-Ray Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-tonino-valeriis-day-of-anger-arrow-films-usa-blu-ray-review Tue, 31 Mar 2015 18:30:22 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=48199 dayofanger

Day of Anger (“I giorni dell’ira”) opens in the town of Clifton, Arizona, seemingly typical of the wild West, but with a few more rich people living within its confines. We center on Scott (Giuliano Gemma) a good natured and naive soul who lives in town, and is the butt of all the rich people who control the daily comings and goings. He’s pulling a cart that takes the spittoon leftovers and gets rid of them at the barn that he lives in. As he’s walking along, we see his kindness while he walks through town. Such as protecting the town drunk who is playing with the saloon’s empty bottles when the owner comes out ready to shoot the man over it.

Scott is continuously abused, talked down and is straight up beaten up by all the upper crust of the town. And the moment we see Lee Can Cleef’s character ride into town, we know Scott’s life will forever be changed. Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef) comes and Scott is the first to greet him. Asking him where a good place to stay and a stable for his horse, Scott helps him and is offered a dollar for his service. This of course is a big deal and Scott goes to meet up with Frank at the saloon afterward, where he’s greeted with hostility by the owner Abel Murray, Talby insists he stay and have a drink with him. When other bar patrons try to force Scott out, Talby dispatches them pretty quickly with his revolver He’s a gunfighter in an era where they have been slowly weeded out of existence.

He’s tried for the murder of one of the patrons of the bar that was bullying Scott Mary (Talby even insisted on Scott taking a last name), he’s let go and leaves the town. Scott is assaulted by the higher ups, especially by Abel Murray and the judge himself Cutchell, while the town sheriff just looks on and tells Scott he should leave and never come back. Scott catches up with Talby and finds out he’s going after Wild Jack (Al Mulock), who owes him $50,000. Scott just wants to become a gunfighter like Talby, and reluctantly, especially after Scott saves Talby’s life against Wild Jack’s cohorts, takes Scott under his wing.

Seeing this for the first time, I don’t want to really delve into every plot point, because I’m all about the surprise of the film unfolding before you. The gunfights are awesome, some are quick and to the point and others are huge battles with a high body count. Like Death Rides a Horse (another fantastic Van Cleef performance), the partnership must devolve after the town has been taken over by Talby and it’s figured out that Scott has become the quicker draw of the two. It’s a simple story, and with a hint of a familial bond within the plot (at least to me, that is), it’s no wonder this film has stood the test of time, and is on Quentin Tarantino’s top 20 spaghetti westerns of all time (number 7).

Lee Van Cleef once again brings his A-game to a film, a spaghetti western no less, and is electric throughout his performance. At times charming, at other times cool and collected and then menacing with a stare that tells you that if you can’t draw as fast as him, you’ll be needing a sizing for a coffin soon enough. Giuliano Gemma is also fantastic as Scott, who goes through a transformation throughout the film. At first naive, then powerful with his own gunfighter insinct, then angry and bitter and finally a hero, he shows humility and has a presence that helped him throughout his career. And like all good spaghetti westerns, we have a cast of fantastic faces from around Europe, such as Andrea Bosic, Lukas Ammann, Walter Rilla, Ennio Balbo among others. The soundtrack by Riz Ortlani is amazing, making me wish I had the vinyl right now so I could listen to it and think of all the gunfights I’d probably lose in. And directed by Tonino Valerii, a name that isn’t uttered as much within the Italian genre filmmakers, he does a great job of keeping the pace and storyline weaving, and with his work to come, this being his second film is a great accomplishment.

Day of Anger comes to Blu-ray thanks to the fine folks over at Arrow Video USA, one of their first wave of releases for the home video market here in the States. Please buy this release and show that we want their fantastic films over on stateside without the use of a multi-region Blu-ray player (which if you’re able to, you should buy anyway). The jam packed this release with an eclectic grouping of extras. You get two cuts of the film, the long Italian version in either the Italian language or the English dub (I watched with the English dub, and before anyone says this was lazy, go for the original language, just remember that most of the time, Italians filmed without sound and would have to do sound and dubbing later on in whatever language they were selling to), the shorter international version (which takes a whopping 30 minutes out of it), a few interviews, one with director Valerii from 2008 conducted by Italian cinema expert Roberto Curti, one with screenwriter Ernesto Castaldi which is cool because you get a bit of background on the Valerii 1973 film My Name is Nobody, an iconic film in another way) and an interview with Roberto Curti himself, discussing Valerii’s work especially in westerns.

Somehow in my years of adoration for Lee Van Cleef and Spaghetti Westerns in general, I missed out on the Day of Anger train. Not sure why this occurred, but it did and over the years I would hear from friends and colleagues of mine that it was a western that was a can’t miss. I’m happy to say that Day of Anger not only met those expectations, but shot them 6 times in row. Now wounded, my expectation was not given a chance to come back and was shot dead.

Day Of Anger

James Reviews Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic’s Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector [DVD Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/dvd-reviews/james-reviews-dan-kinem-and-levi-peretics-adjust-your-tracking-the-untold-story-of-the-vhs-collector-dvd-review Fri, 27 Jun 2014 14:00:51 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=44176 ayt

What is the terrible secret? No train, no tracks, yet death rides the rails. The zaniest sting operation on four wheels. You can feel them in your blood. Some men turn bad… others are born that way. They have a never ending hunger for human flesh. Wanna date? Thank god you’ve graduated. You’ll sweat blood!

These are just some of the amazing and bizarre taglines on some random VHS tapes from yesteryear (you get an invisible cookie and a no prize for guessing which movies each one pertains to in the comments below). They came from labels such as Gorgon Video, Continental Video, Embassy Home Entertainment and many more, at a time when any film, even ones shot on video could get to a wider audience via your neighborhood video store.

VHS was born in 1975 and died in 2008 when A History of Violence was the last film put out in that format. Or so you were told. Thanks to smaller genre labels such as Bleeding Skull (who just put out the out of this world insanity known as Cards of Death on tape), Horror Boobs, Vultra Video, Massacre Video and even some bigger companies like Troma re-releasing The Toxic Avenger and Drafthouse Films/Mondo releasing the cult smash Miami Connection on VHS, it seems to have been re-awakened. Reborn, if you will. But according to its fans, it never died. It was still the format of choice.

Growing up, I was an avid VHS aficionado. Even at the age of 5, I’d go to the video store across the street from me (Video Reflections, how I miss you so), and would just peruse the aisles, which seemed to be miles long, staring at those vibrant covers that beckoned me, saying, “Look at the promise in this artwork. You know you want to watch this film.” The red light district is an apt description (no, not the part of the video store behind the curtain), whispering to you to take them home. Then sometimes one would scream at you, and you had to take notice. Films such as Chopping Mall, Faces of Death, Street Trash, Trancers and thousands more came home with me, where I’d put them on my 13 inch TV and just fiddle with the tracking, just to make the picture as perfect as possible.

And that’s the joy I get out of watching Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic’s Adjust Your Tracking, one of two great VHS documentaries I have seen this year (the other being Rewind This!) and seeing the love and fanaticism for VHS is one that I have for films themselves. I personally don’t collect much in the way of VHS anymore, due to decreased funds, but every now and then when I’m at a second hand shop or a random flea market (NYC isn’t home to as many flea markets as we once were), I’ll try to pick one up. Recently, I found a film that is sadly not on DVD, The Fifth Floor, a really great thriller that should be seen by more people.

One of the things that’s touched upon in the documentary, especially by Zack Carlson, is that roughly 40% or so of films that are on VHS have not been released on DVD and probably never will, so in a way, the collecting of these tapes is archiving for future generations. Luckily, once in awhile, a theater such as the Alamo Drafthouse, CineFamily or here in Brooklyn, Spectacle, will play a rare VHS gem (I was privy to see a film starring a young Judd Nelson called Rock N Roll Hotel, which should be on DVD already. You hear that, genre labels? Pick that shit up!) and you get to see that film. But sadly, that isn’t the case for a lot of people.

I don’t want a lot of hate mail for this next statement, but it’s not a black and white statement. When DVD came out, I jumped out of my clothes and ran around naked in happiness. I was a fan of laserdisc, but they were way too expensive. But with DVD, I was able to get films, especially in their original formatting (some of them took awhile, because people were afraid of widescreen and labels were putting out the dreaded full screen). And of course, Criterion was one of the first labels I fell in love with putting out DVDs. But the other side of the coin (that is touched upon greatly in the documentary) is that without VHS and without the joy of the hunt, some of those films wouldn’t have been loved as much. The gore-fests of yesteryear that I was intent on seeing, films like Black Devil Doll From Hell, The Monster Squad, Robot Jox, X-Tro and so many more, I wouldn’t have those memories on the small screen, feeling as if I was doing something wrong, as if my parents didn’t know what I was watching. Perhaps they didn’t, and just turned a blind eye because I was a good kid and all I wanted to do was watch a movie.

Kinem and Peretic have assembled a great group of VHS fans, historians, filmmakers and collectors that round out the festivities and the 84 minutes is a breeze. Too breezy, if you ask me, because I could watch a Never Sleep Again style documentary on this subject. Give me 840 minutes, and I’d be a happy camper. You could tell this was a passion project, one of many to be helped by the masses via Kickstarter, and just gives you a taste of why VHS was, is and will always be remembered and never forgotten. It’s now awakened something within me, a new obsession of sorts. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go check out a dusty basement somewhere and see if a copy of Tales From the Quadead Zone is there.

You can order Adjust Your Tracking now over at their website, on DVD or VHS. Or both!

Kick Start This Film: Sam Marine and Michael Borowiec’s Man Underground https://criterioncast.com/column/kick-start-this-film/sam-marine-and-michael-borowiecs-man-underground Wed, 18 Jun 2014 23:00:45 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=43865 manundergroundheader

This article series has been absent for quite some time, and I apologize for that. Life has a weird way of catching up to you. But sometimes a film comes along that has such a cool idea, a premise that makes you say, “Dammit, why didn’t I think of that?”, you curse a bit because you didn’t but then realize the people making the film are great creative people that deserve it, so it’s all okay. That film is Sam Marine and Michael Borowiec’ Man Underground, a psychological sci-fi film about an alien conspiracy theorist who gets his friends on board to help him make a film about his past career as a government geologist. 

Kickstarter is a site that should be helping the independent filmmakers of the world to make shorts, features and other creative extravaganzas, not the Spike Lee’s, Zach Braff’s or the Veronica Mars films of the world. That might seem controversial, because nostalgia and a fanbase can make something get made (Joss Whedon’s Serenity comes to mind), so what’s the harm in that? But the way I look at it, the $50 you give to a guy who then got his film picked up and made a ton of money from it shouldn’t be going to him, but instead to a smaller affair such as this one. Having known Sam Marine and Michael Borowiec for a few years now, seeing Sam’s past work at College Humor (which was hysterical, definitely check out the Jake & Amir stuff and the music video work of Michael, there’s a ton of potential there. 

And all they’re asking for is $10,000 for the film, which is a pittance compared to the big budget indies that shouldn’t be called indies. You know the ones I’m talking about. And I love the scope they’re going for, even though they’ll be pushing that limit. Using the Red Scarlet X camera primarily, but due tot he film’s story, will be incorporating stuff such as VHS filming. And using the same actors in different roles will make for a mind bending experience, where we never know what is fact, what is fiction and how reality is all in the mind’s eye. The small town feel mixed with the alien conspiracy theme will be one that people should be looking out, a dramatic sci-fi film, one that makes you think instead of just eye candy that most are used to. 

They’re a third of the way there and about a week to go, so pass on that coffee today. Don’t eat that Taco Bell because you don’t want to make a mess in the bathroom later. Do you really need that shitty beer to drink at the bar? Go home, buy a better beer and then donate to this film because you’d be doing them and yourself a favor. And the perks that you can get are quite awesome. For $10, you can get a soundtrack of the film and my favorite perk is the $250 one, where Sam will personally paint a portrait of you or your pet which will be a truly one of a kind thing. So come on people, let’s kick start this film!

I’ll leave with a quote from Ms. Marine that I think sums up everything better than I ever could, “Michael and I co-wrote MAN UNDERGROUND to be filmed with an ultra-low budget and a small cast. We’ve studied a lot of the more successful, character-driven independent films made for around the 15K – 40K budget – films like Slacker, Clerks, Permanent Vacation, The Color Wheel – and while they all vary in story, tone and style, they share a form of storytelling heavily reliant on mise en scène, a confidence in the actors’ ability to inhabit a space and allowing them to do the bulk of the work in the world they’ve created. It’s this freedom that we find so appealing in independent film and we believe it’s an aspect to be embraced.”

This official killer poster art by Pawel Durczok. leukocyt.com
This official killer poster art by Pawel Durczok. leukocyt.com
James Reviews E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills [Theatrical Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-e-l-katzs-cheap-thrills-theatrical-review Fri, 21 Mar 2014 13:00:43 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=42326 Cheap Thrills Header

What happens when you’re facing an eviction to not only yourself but your wife and kid? You’ve lost your job and you have no time to rectify it? What would you do for fifty bucks? For a hundred? For thousands of dollars? This is one of the questions presented by writers David Chircihirillo and Trent Haaga and director E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills, presented by none other than Drafthouse Films. It’s a question that I know I’ve asked myself on many occasions, when times have been tough enough that a loaf of bread was a meal for a week. So this one, while a darkly comical look at it all, hits a bit close to home.

The ‘always-great-in-anything-he’s-in’ Pat Healy (seriously, though, I tend to always enjoy whatever he’s in. Yes, even when he was an alien slave in Star Trek: Enterprise) is Craig, a guy who had potential to do the most in life, but works changing oil at a garage and has a beautiful wife and child. When an eviction notice on his door and losing his job all happens on the same day, he goes out for a drink to unwind. He just happens to run into Vince (Ethan Embry, who is completely unrecognizable in this role, in the best way possible), a friend he hasn’t seen in about 5 years. They used to be tight back in high school, but like a lot of people, you start to drift as the years (and interests) go by. While there they are invited to have a drink with couple Violet and Colin (Sara Paxton and David Koechner).

And this is where things start go on a downward spiral. Make no mistake, Cheap Thrills doesn’t waste any time getting into the whole idea of what desperate men will do for a bit of cash. But there’s more involved in this film than cringe-worthy scenes when money is on the line. For years to come, people will be talking about the ‘finger scene’ in the same breath as Quentin Tarantino’s ‘ear scene’ from Reservoir Dogs. That’s not over-hyping it at all. To be honest, I’m going to go out on a limb (and even though I’m a Tarantino diehard) and profess that the finger has triumphed over the ear. And it was a pinky.

Everyone really is on fire in this film. Healy continues his tear of just showing why every filmmaker should be hiring this guy. His Craig is a great father and husband, just trying everything he can to provide for his family, even by working a job that he knows his heart isn’t into. Embry, as I said earlier, is not the young Mark from Empire Records (he has been in tons of stuff since then, people), but in this, there’s something more that he’s showcasing. Koechner, who I’m used to seeing in more wacky comedies, ala Mr. Whammy himself from the Anchorman films, is charismatic, powerful and sinister. Of course the comparison to the devil will come up, but I’ve gotten more of a ‘Man From the South’ vibe myself. Paxton (who has a reunion with her Innkeepers co-star Healy) is quiet but menacing, and there’s one scene in particular that, as she tells a story of a guy she used to have a crush on, will make you question who the ringleader behind this game really is.

This film feels like a stage play, primarily because of the main four characters interacting, letting things escalate, waiting for the proverbial shit to hit the fan, and when it does, they set up something much worse to up the ante. It’s a simple premise and they don’t stray from it, letting the morals (or lack thereof in some instances) as these two friends start to become animalistic, as their desperation breeds violence, on themselves and on each other. A true base morality tale where you really wonder which way they’re going to go and how far they’re going to fall. It’s a downward spiral and Craig and Vince end up battered, bitter and never the same again.

Drafthouse Films has hit another home run by picking up this film for the world to see. See this movie. See it now. See it in a theater when it comes out near you. See it on demand. Buy the Blu-ray/DVD when it comes out. Spread the word. As of right now, it’s my number 1 film of the year. It’s only been 3 months, I know, but it’s going to take a lot to push it off the high pedestal I’ve put it on. I’ll just leave you with one question that you may or may not be able to answer after viewing the film. What’s a pinky worth?

CHEAP THRILLS is available on VOD and opens in LA/Austin this Friday and in NY on 3/28. Expands on 4/4.

For Criterion Consideration: John Landis’ Into The Night https://criterioncast.com/column/for-criterion-consideration/for-criterion-consideration-john-landis-into-the-night Thu, 19 Sep 2013 23:00:34 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=39431 intothenight
I remember a time when John Landis was heralded as a visionary, a director, an auteur who people were excited when a new film would be coming out by him. Then something happened. Most people mistakenly think the Twilight Zone: The Movie incident/horrific accident was the nail in his film making coffin, but as we all know, that is complete bull because even though he was being sued for the situation, he followed up that film with the huge hit Trading Places and possibly the biggest music video of all time, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. I’ll get into where I think he lost his step, but following ‘Thriller’, he made his Hitchcock inspired homage Into The Night, which would fit in perfectly in a double feature with Martin Scorsese’s underrated comedic classic After Hours.

You haven’t heard about the film? My word, I sadly don’t blame you. I feel like it was sandwiched between two of his huge comedic hits, Trading Places and Spies Like Us and with a Michael Jackson music video as well, Into the Night is the kind of film Criterion could give new life to and get a new audience to appreciate the darkly comical tale. Jeff Goldblum stars as Ed Okin, a depressed insomniac who has just found out his wife has been having an affair. Herb (Dan Akroyd), a friend of his, convinces him to drive to the airport to get his mind off of things. There he meets the beautiful Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer), a jewel smuggler, who lands on top of his car and begs him to drive her away from the four Iranians who are chasing after her. He is smitten with her, so begins a night of driving her to various locations before even knowing what she is even running away from. Finally he demands to know what is going on and she tells him she’s smuggled emeralds from the Shah of Iran’s treasury into the country, and is being sued by his personal agents and also by a British hitman (played menacingly cool by David Bowie).

That’s just a tip of the iceberg to this wild and crazy film and one that received plenty of negative feedback, one of my favorites coming from Roger Ebert himself commenting on the endless parade of Landis’ friends who make cameo appearances (like he does as well), calling it ‘cinema auto-eroticism’. While that is a bit of an in-joke from a filmmaker who loves the world of film itself (if you’ve ever seen the dozens of Trailers From Hell episodes John Landis presents, you’ll know the man loves film in general), I don’t find it truly distracting. Instead I find it endearing, a filmmaker who just wants to have a good time with his filmmaker buddies while making an interesting and funny film about one man’s journey to finally getting a good night’s sleep.

What makes the film work are the two central performances by Goldblum and Pfeiffer. If anyone knows me, I’m a fan of the Goldblum, loving his 80’s output on higher level than some. Everything from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Earth Girls Are Easy, The Fly and Vibes, I feel like he was trying out different roles that someone like James Franco does today and gets praised for doing so. Goldblum should get a big of credit for trying to stretch out his wings and going for a multitude of roles. Pfeiffer was and still is one of my favorite actresses and a cinematic crush that I’ll never shake. And why should I? She’s still been absolutely great in films (even in the abysmal Dark Shadows, I was happy to see Pfeiffer having a bit of fun and the fantastic and almost forgotten Stardust should be given a shot by everyone). And in this you, as the audience, fall for her even though she’s essentially a thief.

What could we expect from a Criterion special edition? There’s a lot that I could envision in this release. A John Landis, Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer commentary track would be essential stuff, considering it could be a great and informative track (especially from Landis who has a great memory for his films). We could also get the documentary he collaborated with Jeff Okun at the time to promote the movie, B.B. King “Into the Night” and the three music videos for the songs B.B. King did for the soundtrack, “Into the Night”, “Lucille” and “In the Midnight Hour”. Also, which might be a bit on a downer side, a documentary on what John Landis was going on at the time with the trial for the deaths of Vic Morror and the two children during his part of the Twilight Zone: The Movie shoot would give an insight into a filmmaker who had a lot more on his mind at the time as opposed to what shots might be best for a scene. Pro or con for Landis and those who were involved during that traumatic incident, I think Criterion would give a fair and balances look at that time period. Also any other fans out there of the film who would want to speak about the film in general, which there has to be a few more than just me out there, would work perfectly into the set.

Also a list/scenes with all the cameos in the film, from directors such as David Cronenberg, Roger Vadim, Paul Bartel, Jonathan Demme (all of whom are Criterion alumni), Don Siegel and many others, would be a fun extra that people who bought the film and wanted to make sure they knew who each of these people played in the film. Plenty of other people, such as Dan Akroyd, could do an interview for the film (just don’t ask him about the next Ghostbusters film or aliens and we’ll be fine) and maybe getting a few of the critics who gave the film negative reviews look back at the film and see if they’ve changed their outlook on the film or if it has stayed primarily the same.

So in some ways I think this is the forgotten John Landis masterpiece (I think he’s made two masterpieces, An American Werewolf in London and The Blues Brothers, with Trading Places and Animal House being great films as well). But where did it all go wrong? The film I point to, one that I think is truly atrocious, was his entry in the tired Eddie Murphy franchise, Beverly Hills Cop III. That is possibly one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, let alone a terrible sequel to an underwhelming series of films already. And from that point on Landis never really hit paydirt again. I’ll give him two films in the last 20 or so years that I liked a lot, and they were two documentaries he directed, Slasher and Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Story. Those two are worth checking out. Stay far away from Blues Brothers 2000, The Stupids, Burke & Hare (a true missed opportunity) and the few other films he’s directed since his heyday. Stick with his Trailers From Hell entries to see the man be charming, geeky and the true lover of film we all know he is.

James Reviews Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing [Theatrical Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/theatrical/joss-whedons-much-ado-about-nothing-theatrical-james Sat, 15 Jun 2013 06:06:54 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=37734 muchado2
Right off the bat, I’m going to admit something to all of you while I have you here. I’m a Whedonaholic. I’ll make no effort to hide that before I review this film. I’m a big fan of the Buffy/Angel universe, I’m a Browncoat lover, Cabin in the Woods was my favorite film last year, The Avengers was exactly what I wanted from a big budget comic book movie, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was something I actually bought from iTunes when it came out in 3 episodes because I needed to see it day one when it came out… it’s kind of an endless love. Hell, I even like listening to the guy speak about women’s rights, comics, and various other topics. So when I heard he was doing a Shakespearean adaptation of one of my favorite plays, Much Ado About Nothing, I kind of thought it was a match made in heaven. Geeky heaven. But instead of rushing out a review the moment I saw an advanced screening of it, I decided to take it all in, re-read the play, watch a few other adaptations, and then see it with an audience of other Whedon fans, not just critics, to get the full effect.

A tale of romance, family betrayal and trickery, Much Ado About Nothing tells the story of two pairs of lovers, Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Claudio (Fran Kanz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese) and the trials and tribulations they are going through. One is a past love that looked to be over (Benedick/Beatrice) but due to friends and family sprinkling good word and falsities to each without the other knowing, they love they have comes to blossom again. The other is a new love (Claudio/Hero) who have found one another and decide to marry one another right away (even though it takes place in the ‘present’ day, this little tidbit is part of the plot). Unknown to Claudio, Don Pedro’s (Reed Diamond) brother Don John (Sean Maher) is plotting to ruin the marriage to be between Claudio and Hero, first trying to convince Claudio that Don Pedro wants her hand in marriage and when that doesn’t work, he has one of his follower Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) woo the chambermaid Margaret (Ashley Johnson) and beds her while calling her ‘Hero’. Claudio witnesses this from afar, assuming his love has betrayed him.

At the wedding, Claudio denounces his love for Hero, calling her a slut in so many words. And thus begins another series of events that Hero’s father Leonato (Clark Gregg) and Benedick (at the begrudging of Beatrice) to challenge Don Pedro and Claudio for the death of Hero, a lie put into motion to get to the true bottom of everything and why Claudio even accused her of infidelity in the first place. Rounding out the jester’s part is Dogberry (Nathan Fillion), a ‘fool’ who is trying to get to the bottom of the crime(s) that have been committed and also to lighten the load of some of the heavier themes presented throughout the play.

It’s a tough thing to adapt Shakespeare in the present day, primarily because of certain thematic choices and the use of language put forth. Some adapt without the use of language but central ideas (10 Things I Hate About You which is an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew) and some go full force with the Bard’s words, hook, line and sinker (Baz Luhrman’s over produced and ‘hip’ Romeo and Juliet being one example). Some work for me and some don’t, but it’s a matter of execution and opinion. Joss Whedon has made a film that not only takes from the source material, but from screwball comedies of the 1940’s (Bringing Up Baby and Arsenic and Old Lace coming to mind) with a hint of Three’s Company while shooting the film in black and white (budgetary reasons and/or aesthetic?) and having your friends over at your house (it’s Whedon’s actual house) makes for a great exercise, a fun excuse to make a film. Is it game changing? No, but it sure is a fun time, especially when the words don’t feel forced (for the most part).

Fillion, Acker and Denisoff in particular are aces with their parts, really getting the language and how it moves to a certain beat. Gregg is no slouch as well, but Leonato’s role goes by the wayside soon after the first half hour or so. Everyone else is serviceable for the roles they play and ultimately makes for a breezy runtime (even though it’s 107 minutes). I can’t wait for the home video release where we can get a fun commentary track from Whedon and company, speaking about the fast movie making process with this film and how they got it all done in a short amount of time. I’m guessing all laughter and no horror stories on this shoot, so no drama on the making of featurettes.

Much Ado About Nothing was a joy to watch twice. Once was an eye opener, giving my Whedon fix just what I needed. But the second time I saw more to the play than I saw the first time, which is always a great sign with any of the Bard’s adaptations. This film has even been reviewed twice before, once by Joshua Brunsting at SXSW and last week by Scott Nye when it came out last week. I had written out a review the day I saw it but I’m glad I gave it some time to rest and see it a second time, to fully flesh out an opinion and not just a fanboy approach. Check it out if it’s in your neck of the woods.

James Reviews Richard Raaphorst’s Frankenstein’s Army [Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/tribeca/richard-raaphorsts-frankensteins-army-tribeca Fri, 03 May 2013 03:59:47 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36788 frankensteins_army
Nazisploitation is an interesting and, for the most part, a shoddy sub-genre of exploitation cinema. For every Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S., there’s a dozen S.S. Hell Camp‘s that pollute the exploitation sections in genre video shops. But when they are good, they’re memorable. Nazis are a great enemy to throw into a World War II era film, no matter the genre, because they are universally hated/feared and also an easy target to poke fun at. Such is the case with Frankenstein’s Army, the first feature film from Richard Raaphorst, and boy is it a doozy. And only in the best way possible.

A mysterious mission is bestowed upon a small group of Russian soldiers in the final days of World War II. They’re trying to find a group of comrades in a remote German town in order to bring them back home. They arrive in an abandoned town, finding dead bodies everywhere, all exhumed from the local graveyard. As to make camp at the factory in town, they unearth a diabolical Nazi plan to resurrect their soldiers into unstoppable killing machines, a zombie mechanical nightmare.

That’s really all you need to know about the plot. And that the film is another found footage horror film shown at Tribeca this year. Considering I’m not a huge fan of the style, they were 2 for 2 this year when it comes to giving something new or fun with that genre. In Frankenstein’s Army, we have two cameras that are the eyes for the audience, everything being documented by the man who got the mission together, Dimitri (Alexander Mercury). Yes, the film looks way too good to be from that era, but you throw that away because you’re watching a tongue firmly in cheek genre film. And once we get past some introductions of characters that you know, for the most part, are cannon fodder for the ensuing monster army, the film becomes a lost video game.

If you’re familiar with the first person shooter video game Wolfenstein 3D, especially its newer version Return to Castle Wolfenstein, you’ll know what you’re getting into when the Nazi zombie army start popping up. A propeller for a head, knife hands and whatever else you can imagine that a mad scientist could stick on corpses and send out to do his dirty work for the Third Reich is on display, and when we get into these tense first person scenes, they match the best of any tense video game experience, which in turn works well in cinema. Going around a corner from that perspective, you don’t know what’s waiting to kill you and like our soldiers, when one of these undead pop out, they are shocked as we are.

And the mad scientist is of course a descendant of Frankenstein himself, who has a better idea on how to properly bring back the dead to do his bidding. Ridiculous and over the top, but when you have the fantastic actor Karel Roden (who played Rasputin in Hellboy, among a ton of other fantastic roles), it gives the role a sense of weight and you believe the method to his extreme madness. The real winner of the film are the designs of the Nazi zombie creations, each one more bizarre then the next. A favorite was one with a long spiked nose that is used to puncture through people’s heads. Or the one that has a head that crushes things and if you know any better, you know someone is getting their head crushed. It’s just the aftermath that is one to be remembered.

Frankenstein’s Army was picked up by Dark Sky Films, and I couldn’t think of a better place for Raaphorst’s film, considering they put out great horror films. This one should be a no brainer, if you want a strange found footage steampunk horror film with Frankenstein in the title. It was a hell of a lot of fun and you really can’t get much better. Luckily the fun title matches the film’s output.

James Reviews Karl Mueller’s Mr. Jones [Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/tribeca/karl-muellers-mr-jones-tribeca Sun, 28 Apr 2013 08:06:10 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36791 mrjonesbig

Found footage films are a dime a dozen now, with many just using the genre as an easy way to make a quick buck and a cheap way of doing so. Thankfully Mr. Jones is not one of those films, instead using the found footage in a more clever way. It’s not used as a quick out, but instead advances the story in a nightmare like fashion, something like David Lynch directing a Lovecraftian film with a The Last Broadcast sensibility. What is real and what is not is always being questioned, which is what had my attention from the moment the film began.

Scott (Jon Foster) and his wife Penny (Sarah Jones) are travelling to a remote cabin (a horror trope used time and time again) to let Scott film a nature documentary for the next year. He has top of the line cameras to do so and Penny has left everything behind, job, friends and family in order to support him. It sounds pretty ideal until soon into the experience, Scott stops taking his meds and depression kicks in, leaving him not filming as much and just becoming closed off. One day, while filming on a hill, some cloaked figure takes his bag, which prompts Scott to get Penny to follow this person. They find a ramshackle cabin that they didn’t notice before. While looking around, they find a basement which has strange totems, scarecrow like figures. They find the bag and escape barely without the man seeing them. Penny thinks she recognizes the work and realizes it’s Mr. Jones, a myth of an artist who supposedly sent scarecrows out to random people in the 1970’s and then stopped.

Penny thinks they should make a documentary or a coffee table book about Mr. Jones instead, which Scott thinks sounds like a great idea. He flies to New York City to interview people who are familiar with Mr. Jones, ranging from art gallery owners, college professors and even a young man who claims to have gotten a new piece in the mail himself. As this is all going on in documentary style, we see Penny taking pictures of more scarecrows Mr. Jones has put out. She sees him in person, tries to talk to him but after seeing a quick glimpse of his face, she leaves and starts to ‘feel’ the art, having it all feel familiar to her. When Scott comes back is when the shit truly hits the proverbial fan.

And that’s what makes the film quite interesting from the rest of the found footage bombardment. While watching it, I felt as if I was in and out of a dream myself, just like Scott experiences, which is where the Lovecraftian idea popped into my head. No, it’s not the usual goopy tentacle Cthulhu mythos most go for in their ventures, but more like the ethereal mindwarp of the majority of his stories. It’s a strong point of the film, where we get knocked around by the visuals and Scott’s slow descent into a sort of madness. A complaint I saw from some people is that at one point the film abandons the found footage trope, but I disagree completely with that. I think it uses the camera style in an interesting way, giving the viewer a new way to look at found footage and no excuse for future films to be lazy with it.

The Mr. Jones character is definitely a cool one, never knowing if he’s there to protect or hurt our two characters. It gives a sense of mystery that we’re always second guessing and hoping to come up with the answer before we find out too late. But Scott and Penny are never the usual ‘so dumb’ characters in horror films, because knowing a few documentary filmmakers myself, they’ve done some insane stuff, especially when it comes to a story that might sell more than a safer one. Yes, this has a supernatural slant, but they aren’t aware of that either and as the film progresses, they slowly start to question their own sanity of what they’ve been experiencing.

While I enjoyed the film and it’s Lovecraftian touches, it does prove something I’ve been saying for years and that not all films need to be over 80 minutes in order to be a feature length film. Some tighter editing, especially in the latter half, could have made the film one of the essential go to films in the found footage genre, but instead it’s still one of the better ones to come out in the last 10 years. Mind you I’m not a huge fan of the Paranormal Activity series because it doesn’t do anything different with the genre, while Mueller has crafted a horror film that is a continuous nightmare, confusing the audience in the best way possible. I found it funny that at the end of the movie, with a proper ending that made sense, someone in the audience said, “What did I just watch?” in a demeaning way. I wanted to say they watched an interesting horror film, something that I’m always searching for and am happy that Anchor Bay has the rights to the film, hoping it’s released for all to see sooner rather than later.

James Reviews Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight [Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/tribeca/richard-linklaters-before-midnight-tribeca Fri, 26 Apr 2013 13:00:02 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36525 beforemidnight

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), together again, this time for the third and possibly the most poignant and charming time in Before Midnight, the new film from writer and director Richard Linklater. Now we fast forward 9 year, where they are at the tail end from their vacation in Greece. Jesse is saying goodbye to his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) after another summer together. Jesse and his ex-wife do not get along, which has put a strain and obstacle in the way of being there for his son in the prime years of his life. It also seems to be putting a strain in his and Celine’s relationship.

And that’s the crucial point that unravels the lives of our two main characters throughout this film. Jesse wants nothing more than to have his son living with him. Celine would love this as well, but she takes it in the more realistic way possible, considering this as a crack in what their relationship dam, and sooner or later, she thinks Jesse will resent her for not letting him be closer to his son. Jesse tries insisting this won’t happen, because he loves her and that’s all that should matter. All this while he’s coming up with new ideas for his next novel, having completed his third book a bit ago. And that’s another source of conflict that seems to have been growing for years now.

What’s truly amazing about this third film in the Jesse and Celine saga, is that this is possibly the most realistic depiction of a relationship, especially after many years being together and having certain annoyances, fears and anger peeling away layers of comfort and love from a relationship. We see the two being cute with one another and we can tell they love each other, but a small fight becomes a bigger fight. Someone leaves in anger and comes back and the conversation continues. This is something that, while comical, is a reality of two people who have been together and have passion for one another. The love will be strong, as will the fighting. And considering Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy once again helped write the screenplay gives their depiction that much more insight into relationships in general.

Before Sunrise was a sad tale, two people finding one another by chance on a train to Vienna and how the love of your life could be so much, even when spending one night together. Before Sunset shows Jesse having written a book about their brief encounter and going on tour in Europe because of its popularity and runs into Celine again and is a tale of happiness and that, even after 9 years apart, their love was real and stronger than ever. Before Midnight is a realistic tale of love, where we see a love that might be wearing out and we’re left with questions when the credits start to roll. One wishes that we might get something like Before Dusk or Before Dawn down the line. The possibilities are truly endless.

Richard Linklater should be given a bit more credit as an auteur. I’m not sure where he was pushed aside by Steven Soderbergh for being the most versatile and eclectic director in America, because Linklater gives Soderbergh a run for his money. And in the case of Before Midnight, Linklater has created an amazing trilogy, a much better one than Soderbergh was involved with. Yes, the two don’t have anything to do with one another, but the point is that Linklater has taken the characters of Celine and Jesse on a journey spanning 18 years and could keep going on every 9 years if the parties wish to continue. It’s a story we’re all familiar with; love and life, which makes it that much more interesting.

James Reviews Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves [Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/tribeca/aharon-keshales-and-navot-papushados-big-bad-wolves-tribeca Fri, 26 Apr 2013 07:37:17 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36663 bigbadwolves

The only thing maniacs are afraid of is other maniacs.

It’s been a couple of years since I stumbled upon Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s debut feature film Rabies at Fantastic Fest (review here), I was blown away by the atypical slasher film that came from Israel. It was mentioned as the first horror film that came from Israel, a country that has seen its fair share of atrocities, and was well made, with a dark and gore drenched sense of humor that made me fall in love with the film. It was even in my top 10 from that year. Fast forward to the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and when I had heard news about their follow-up film playing here, I had to go see it. And I was not disappointed and it hasn’t left my mind since seeing it.

The film opens with one of more stellar opening sequences to be seen in quite some time. A dream-like game of hide and go seek, while the music (by Frank Ilfman) is playing louder and louder. Innocent enough, but being a horror fan one waits for something horrific to occur, especially when it’s the first few minutes of a film. But what Keshales and Papushado do is take us on this slow motion sequence, beautifully shot and seemingly light until the end where a little girl hiding has gone missing. We then focus on three specific men in the film, one being a determined investigator (a Clive Owen lookalike Lior Ashkenazi), the suspect who is becoming a victim (Rotem Keinan) and the father whose daughter was the last to be abducted and killed (Tzahi Grad). What occurs during the rest of the film is a hell of a feat.

Miki (Ashkenazi) has just been taken off the force by his superior because of a video that shows him dealing with the main suspect of the little girl murders Dror (Keinan) in a harsh way in an abandoned warehouse, using one of Detective Mackey’s from The Shield’s favorite ways of persuasion, which is a continuous barrage of phone book strikes to the face. He takes it upon himself as a civilian to continue his interrogation in order to find out where the girl’s heads are buried. While this is all going on, Dror is also suspended from his religious studies teaching gig because of parent intervention. And we see what toll it’s taken on the last victim’s father, Gidi (Grad), and the links that he will go to in order to enact his own revenge.

It’s a simple story, of almost Coen-esque proportions. Violence is used to shock but also for comic effect. At one moment you’re cringing and the next you can’t believe you’re laughing out loud at what is being shown on the screen. We know what’s going to happen, somehow Gidi is going to get Dror to the house he bought in the middle of nowhere (near Muslims, which isn’t safe according to many of the characters in the film) and we’re going to see torture. And we don’t want Dror to get hurt, because he seems to be a mild mannered and well meaning teacher who just so happens to be the center of attention during the investigation. But including Miki, the hotheaded detective who helps Gidi at first, because ultimately he wants the truth and knows in the pit of his stomach that Dror is the serial killer. As we move along, though, we don’t know what to believe and even Miki starts to doubt it as well and can’t continue to help Gidi with his torture.

The reason why the film works, while showing violence without batting an eye, also chooses to tell more than show. Which is much appreciated, especially after seeing a film like The Evil Dead in theaters and having waves of bloodletting and being ugly about it. In Big Bad Wolves, while there is bloodshed, there is a beheading, finger trauma, nail trauma and even a bit of flames to a chest, they know how to balance what we’re seeing and what we’re just hearing. Or panning away from right before we see the actual damage. Shooting from far away, especially with the victim in the park, is welcome and how we see the girl’s underwear around her ankles, we know what occurred without writing it out in front of us. It isn’t until later when Gidi starts to read out the killer’s methods of madness that we picture it in our head and feel sick to our stomach. It’s only fitting to him to torture Dror the same way that they think he did to his daughter and countless others.

Rabies was a fantastic introduction to Keshales and Papushado to the world of horror and film making in general. It was a sure hand they played but with Big Bad Wolves, they’ve shown such a leap into the next level that I can’t even imagine what they’re third film will be. Go into this film without seeing the trailer, like I did. The less you know, the better. With a more subtle idea and a realistic approach, they made a film more horrifying and hilarious at the same time. One of the best of Tribeca this year.

James Reviews Emily Wilson’s Picnic Table [Film Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/theatrical/emily-wilsons-picnic-table Fri, 26 Apr 2013 00:15:46 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36652 picnic table

A man trapped in his own personal hell, working at an insurance company in the middle of nowhere, with a creepy boss, a co-worker who spends most of his time in the company’s bathroom, a spurned lover who works across the way and a beggar who will do anything for $50. And I mean anything. And that’s the basic idea behind Emily Wilson’s short film Picnic Table, a 26 minute depiction of an awkward young man and trying to fit into ‘normal’ society.

Roe (our ‘hero’, played by Felix Hagen) has just started his first day at his new job at a sketchy looking insurance agency. His boss Lou (Jeremy X Halpern) is a bit of a prick, telling Roe he has a weird name so he should always answer the phone in a specific way so the caller understands him better. Henry (Chris O’Coin) is another worker at the agency, but we’re introduced to him via conversation first, and then with a ten dollar bill sliding under the bathroom door for Roe to buy him a #2 at the sandwich shop. Creepily wandering the parking lot is Ronnie (Dan Parilis), a vagrant who, as mentioned earlier, will do about anything for Ulysses S. Grant.

There’s an impending dread that starts to brew from the beginning of the film up until the final frame, and as it goes along my stomach was churning. There’s nothing I love more than a film to make me feel a sense of unease and be well made while doing so makes that much more important in my eyes. Wilson has crafted a film here that feels as if it’s from the school of Alexandre Rockwell but with the demented sense of humor that tends to bring up thoughts of Waters, Maddin or the Kuchar Brothers. Taking real life and twisting it ever so and showcasing the darker side of the human psyche.

Hagen as Roe gives us someone we can relate to, feeling lost in his life, a possibly endless hell he has to live in. Is it all in his head or do these people really act like this? When Ronnie speaks to Roe about some of the dirt he has on people around that shopping center, why he wiped feces all over the window of the insurance agency (we see it being cleaned in the beginning) and that he is willing to even kill for a small amount of money. That’s when the film starts to go into creep overdrive, where Roe just wants to get away from that picnic table and escape from everything, at least for the time being. He has to lie to Ronnie that he doesn’t work around there. So when he’s noticed by the end of the film, stomachs will be in knots and we don’t know where it’s going to go from there.

Living in New York City, I’ve felt weirdness from random people who I’ve met in my life, be it a vagrant or a friend of a friend at a party. There’s nothing more that you want to do is exit stage left, but finding a way out is sometimes harder than rocket science. Also, we’re never truly aware of how many days Roe has worked at this job, clothes are changed, but who’s to say? An endless nightmare, something that gives any entertainment a surreal quality. A smaller scale version of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, if you will.

Short films are a tricky thing to perfect. You have a limited amount of time to show the world what you want while making it interesting and making us wish there was more after the film has ended. At least that’s what I’ve always felt. Emily Wilson’s Picnic Table is a film that does just that, wishing I could see just a few minutes more and see what happens to Roe. Do we want to see that? I’m a glutton for punishment and can’t help but see someone go to trials and then hope they triumph at the end. Or at least wish for it like Roe does.

James Reviews Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais’ Whitewash [Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/tribeca/emanuel-hoss-desmarais-whitewash-tribeca Thu, 25 Apr 2013 13:30:00 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36608 whitewash
Every time I see Thomas Haden Church is in a film, it brings a smile to my face. He tends to be a bright spot, no matter the film. Imagine my surprise when I realized, while watching Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais’s Whitewash (his feature debut), that it was almost a solo effort from the actor. Also a darkly comic and sad tale weaves its ugly head from the moment the film opens up with what appears to be an accidental death he causes while driving in a snowstorm. It’s the ensuing 90 minutes that gives us a look at a man who has lost everything and truly doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Church plays Bruce, a down on his luck, alcoholic, widower who because of his drinking has been banned for 3 years from driving his plow, his only source of income. We’re told the film’s plot in the present day with Bruce attempting to wipe away his tracks, crashing his plow in the middle of the forest of French Canada, hiding out and slowly going mad. He’s drinking water from melting snow, licking a paper plate for the salt intake and attempting to find civilization. When he finds a small truck stop, it’s perfect to get some food and gasoline for his plow. First to try to get it out of the snow but then to keep it on so the heat keeps on running.

We also see how he got to this point in the first place with flashbacks, with interesting twists and turns to flesh out this mystery. One day he’s at a neighborhood shop, where he notices a car that’s running with a tube connecting to the driver’s side window, where he sees someone sitting there. His name is Paul (Marc Labrèche) and he’s attempting to kill himself. Bruce won’t let it happen and somehow convinces Paul to come with him back to his place for a beer. Paul is not all that he appears to be, prying into Bruce’s life and wondering how much the doll’s eyes his late wife created could be sold for. When we hear he owes some leg breakers money (15 grand), we start to see Paul’s true intent. When Paul is caught red handed one night when Bruce comes home, he’s on the run and we as the audience have pieced it all together by this point and understand how Bruce got there in the first place.

Whitewash almost feels like a solo version of Waiting For Godot, where Bruce is just waiting for something, anything to give his life meaning. He’s a loner who likes to drink, so when he saves Paul’s life, it seems like things are looking up. When Paul betrays him and we come to what was shown in the beginning of the film, Bruce is both lost and never been so free before. It’s almost like a chosen hell, where he keeps going back to the plow in order to take his just desserts, and the film’s darkly comical script and Thomas Haden Church’s spectacular performance makes this a film that I couldn’t tell where it was going to go next.

Sometimes waking up a little bit late and missing your first intended press screening is a blessing in disguise because you get to see something much different than you expected and what you didn’t expect at all. This is the case with Whitewash, starring the amazing Thomas Haden Church, who continues to impress and outperform most other actors of his age. Considering we start the film feeling disdain for his character and by the end we feel sorry for him shows the power of his performance. This is one to definitely watch out for in the months to come.

James Reviews Kat Coiro’s A Case Of You [Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/tribeca/kat-coiros-a-case-of-you-tribeca Thu, 25 Apr 2013 12:30:17 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36578 caseofyou
Justin Long will forever be the perfect man-child, a person who seems to be in a constant state of playing a teen or a young man with no sense of direction. It’s not to say his character of Sam doesn’t have a grown up career. He’s a writer who gets paid for a living. He has a stoner friend/roommate and they share a beautiful (and must be rent controlled) apartment in New York City with tons of space. He even has the cool neighborhood coffee shop which is always a welcome site coming from the Starbucks Empire that stuck its flag into the Big Apple. But he’s a bit lost, writing novelizations of films (like Teen Vampire) and he wants more. He wants to write his own book, from his own words. And he is crushing hard on Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood), the barista at his coffee shop.

Sam is a shy guy, who just wants to get a word in edgewise when it comes to Birdie or even his publisher (Vince Vaughn), but he starts up a conversation while getting a refill and share a joke about a doodle of his, which he draws a little bit more on his head to depict Gorbachav. Sadly, when he goes back the next day, another barista is there (played hilariously by Peter Dinklage) and finds out she’s been canned for being late all the time. So begins our endless folly, he finds out her full name, finds her on Facebook (the home of casual stalking) and starts to see all her likes, such as Darwin’s The Origin of Species, her love of judo, guys who play guitar and Walt Whitman, among many other updates she makes that he decides to pick in order to impress her.

And this is where the problem ultimately comes from within the film. The conflict is one that we as the audience don’t truly feel bad for Long’s Sam. He’s a nice guy, a nerdy writer who feels inadequate when it comes to winning the heart of Wood’s manic pixie dream girl but as his roommate tells him straight away in the film, “Why don’t you just message her?” Of course Sam doesn’t do so, but then we wouldn’t have a 90 minute film with a roundabout plot. And while I loved the cameos from big name stars such as Vaughn, Dinklage, Sam Rockwell as a guitar teacher who played backup for The Spin Doctors, Brendan Fraser’s ex-boyfriend carpenter rocker, or even Peter Billingsly.

The more I think about the film, the more forgettable it becomes as the hours go by since viewing it. It’s not necessarily a ‘bad’ film, I did chuckle a bit throughout (even with a guy shrugging every 2 minutes next to me and saying, “Wood gives me wood.” every 5 minutes) but it doesn’t paint a healthy picture. We have Sam who, in order to get a girl to like him, primarily learns all her likes to better situate himself in her life. When a scene of conflict comes up at an art gallery, we don’t side with Sam at all. We side with Birdie and Long must have known that would happen because, as his character writes his semi-autobiographical tale, Vaughn and Billingsly are there as us, the audience, telling him what we are all thinking. But being that self referential in your script doesn’t make it smart or hip. It makes it rather lazy and lame, especially when we get the romantic comedy trope of the man running to the girl of his dreams, in order to apologize to her and win her back, no matter the cost. The movie ends on such a ‘duh’ moment and nobody really learns anything from the last 90 minutes, so why did we need to make the film in the first place?

A Case of You is a hard film to really hate but also not that easy to really like. On the one hand, it’s got that indie quirk factor that people tend to think is the ‘in’ thing these last few years (Lola Versus is an example I can think of right off the top of my head). On the other hand, Justin Long and director Kat Coiro have weaved together at times a bit cute yet sad and slightly demented tale of a man who could have saved us the running time and just asked Birdie out from the get go. Maybe in a different world, we would have had Long write a script about Dinklage’s gay barista, who was the moment my interest perked up when he was on screen. It’s not a good sign for your film when your brightest spot is a cameo by a friend of yours.

James Reviews Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion [Theatrical Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/theatrical/joseph-kosinskis-oblivion-theatrical Tue, 23 Apr 2013 08:11:15 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36429 oblivion

Ahh Joseph Kosinski, we meet again. The last time I reviewed a film of yours, your first mind you, I received death threats, ranging from the usual vitriol and one priceless one that wanted me to die slowly while watching The English Patient. Very specific, I’ll give them that. But I went into this film with the highest of hopes, a feeling that maybe a long awaited sequel was too much for a visionary director. Tom Cruise starring in a high concept sci-fi film, one that was based on a ‘graphic novel’. That’s all I knew about it before sitting down the other night to see what was to come before me. And Kosinski, you broke my heart once more.

First, the basic plot goes something like this. It’s the year 2077 and Earth has gone through a terrible war involving the intergalactic Scavengers (Scavs, as they’re called) and the planet is in ruins due to the fact that they destroyed the Moon and it hasn’t bounced back yet. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is Tech 49, who is on Earth maintaining the machinery, who is partnered up with his communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They are making sure the last of Earth’s resources, especially the water, is being extracted to make sure the human race can survive. They are two weeks away from joining the rest of humanity on the distant moon of Titan and all is looking up until Jack starts having recurring dreams where he is in the past, meeting up with a woman he doesn’t know and they’re on top of the Empire State Building, which makes no sense considering the building itself is in ruins.

While he’s on patrol and at his private hideaway he’s made for himself, sees a ship crashing to the surface. Going against orders from Victoria, who gets them from Sally (Melissa Leo), who is their commander up at the ‘Tet’, the space station right above the Earth. When he gets to the wreckage, he sees people in deep sleep and he comes across the same woman in his dreams. While he’s surveying the area, the drones which are to protect humans and kill Scavs, start blowing up each of the deep sleep pods. Jack stands in front of the one with the woman which protects her because it has a fail safe to not attack Jack. Julia (Olga Kurylenko) is the woman in Jack’s dreams, but what questions will she answer when pressed? Why would the drones attack pods with humans in them? Where does Morgan Freeman come into all this?

Oblivion, Oblivion, I went into you hoping for the absolute best. The thoughts of Kosinski’s last film had left my brain (that’s Tron Legacy, if you weren’t sure) and having Tom Cruise as the star was a positive in my eyes. A big budget and what looked to be high concept science fiction film with a big star is always intriguing (even Will Smith seems to be doing the same thing soon with After Earth). But ultimately Oblivion is a beautiful body that gets our attention, but ultimately is a cookie cutter, carbon copy version of so many better sci-fi films that we’ve all seen before and would rather watch again than sitting through this all over again.

First I’ll detail the positives. The soundtrack by M83 was good (but not remotely Daft Punk good), but at points was a bit too bombastic and were pulling on certain empty emotions the screenplay was failing at showcasing. Tom Cruise, while some might think he was sleepwalking through this role, is actually pretty fun in this, having a lot of stuff to do and to say, Yankees cap and all, but it’s that charisma that makes you stick by him, even when you’re screaming at the screen what films you’ve seen it better in. Olga Kurylenko seems to be channeling a young Catherine Zeta Jones, which is definitely a positive, and she does what she can with the role. I tend to think of her as the silver lining you look forward to seeing in some rather poor cinema (Quantum of Solace). The set design and the work and hours everyone behind the scenes to design this world and each prop and special effect deserve a round of applause and come Oscar time, definitely should be nominated for a plethora awards.

But now comes the bad. Lack of Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Zoe Bell and the rest of the resistance fighters on the planet. I don’t really want to say too much more about them or what answers they have in store for our hero, but I would have enjoyed a bit more than the lackluster Matrix-esque feel they gave them. Cookie cutter screenplay which was adapted from a graphic novel that Kosinski had done, which just shows too much cherry picking from other films. I don’t want to keep listing the films that he ‘borrowed’ from because it might ruin it for most that still want to see it, but I’ve been taking to describing it all as a very poorly prepared sci-fi ratatouille (the food, not the film), because you have layers of very delicious ingredients but the preparation of the whole dish is what ruins the complete meal. Another big waste was Oscar winner Melissa Leo and her role on a small screen throughout the film, with a role we see coming from a mile away. Again, I am trying my hardest to not give away anything, but when you see the ‘twist’ coming the moment certain scenes are presented to you earlier in the film, there’s holes in your script.

Ahh Kosinski, you make me miss Tron Legacy, only slightly, but still, I didn’t think that was possible considering I’m actually a Tom Cruise fan (can’t dislike the guy, even though he sometimes makes it easy to consider it) and with all the hard work that went into Oblivion, I just wish we got something better out of it all. Yes, I ate the whole thing, but afterward felt a bit sick and wanted to rush home to use the original ingredients and eat them one at a time at the comfort of my own abode.

For Criterion Consideration: Thomas McCarthy’s The Station Agent https://criterioncast.com/column/for-criterion-consideration/thomas-mccarthys-the-station-agent https://criterioncast.com/column/for-criterion-consideration/thomas-mccarthys-the-station-agent#comments Wed, 10 Apr 2013 13:00:33 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36102 station

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to Game of Thrones. It took me 2 full seasons of hoopla, fanfare, praise and nerd-love to get me to finally sit down and start watching the series. Before I started watching (which was 2 weeks ago), I have to say that I’ve always been a fan of its breakout star, Peter Dinklage. Even since the 2003 film The Station Agent, the subject of this For Criterion Consideration. When I worked at Best Buy, I always fashioned myself as an aspiring filmmaker but also saw myself as a film critic without the proper accreditation that is required to call yourself that, but while I worked at the crappy retail job, I became the Roger Ebert of the everyday customer. Suggestions would be asked by people, young and old, big and small, of any and all varieties, and I became known as the ‘Media Guru’, a name I stuck with for much longer than I thought I could ever fathom.

Why do I yammer on about this back story instead of the film at hand? I’m getting to that. So when I started frequenting advanced screenings and writing about them secretly for various sites under different aliases, The Station Agent was one film I got to view before the country did. I went in thinking it seemed to be a quirky indie comedy starring a little person and how good could it actually be. Shame on me for ever thinking that and looking at Peter Dinklage as nothing more than a novelty before giving him (and any other actor or actress) the respect he deserved to gain a perspective on his prowess. And this film, while giving an understated and almost at times what seems an emotionless performance, he won my heart from that point forward, making sure to always check out a film he’s in (sometimes his performance being the best of the bunch by leaps and bounds).

Let’s not forget its two co-stars, Bobby Cannavale and Patricia Clarkson, who give the film the weight it needs while almost giving it a play-like feel to the festivities. Which is also a compliment toward writer/director Thomas McCarthy (who is 3 for 3 in my book, with his following films The Visitor and Win Win), this being his debut film, really gives some meaty roles to the three primaries and showing different facets of human emotion and how sometimes someone who feels as if they have to be reserved and closed off from the rest of the world because of the way they are treated needs to open up and let life in a little bit. Yes, it has a bit of that corniness on the surface, but it’s just a sheen that you soon don’t mind, especially on repeat viewings when appreciating everything else around it.

If you’re not familiar with the film, Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) always felt like an outsider, which is why he took a job at a hobby shop in Hoboken with an elderly man. When the owner dies unexpectedly, Fin is told he was left with an old train depot in a rural part of New Jersey called Newfoundland. Because it’s so closed off, he decides to pack up and start a new life there. He meets Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale), a roadside snack truck vendor who is only doing the job because his dad is sick. He also becomes entwined with Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson), an artist who ran away when her son died in an accident she blames herself for ever since. Fin tries to fight being social with anyone, especially these people, but Joe is a loud and abrasive personality, one that is the complete opposite of Fin’s. Soon enough, they become great friends, wandering around the town and going train watching, an activity Fin loves to do. Olivia is also roped in, somewhat by how anti-social Fin is and also by Joe just inviting himself into activities together.

And that’s the meat of the story right there. There’s other smaller stories tied together, such as a young girl who befriends Fin and wants him to speak at her school about trains but he says no, mainly because he’s afraid to do so. And Emily (Michelle Williams) who works at the library and who Fin likes and tries to protect at one point from her abusive boyfriend. But it’s for those central three performances, especially Dinklage, that makes me love the film more and more with each re-watch in the last 10 years. And what better time than now to bring forth one of the best American indie films of the last decade, a film that showed me and many critics that yes, a little person could be a leading man and not just in a fantasy setting (Yes, I love Willow and Warwick Davis, but I think you know where I’m getting at). The film’s special edition, which had a strong commentary track from McCarthy and a few deleted scenes was always quite sparse for my liking, and has also been long out of print from Miramax. Recently, with the whole Echo Bridge deal, they put out a barebones release which just makes me shake my head in disbelief.

So this is why I hope someone like Criterion can save it from those clutches and giving it the special edition it deserves. And any film shot on a shoestring budget with a limited amount of time that coalesces into a classic in my opinion, really needs to be seen by more people. And I can just picture a wonderful cover art piece depicting the train depot itself, which thankfully always was well placed in posters for the film. Ultimately what made me happy was that it was a small hit, considering it was made for half a million dollars and that’s what I love about film. You can have three actors just hitting it out of the park on all levels and not spend tons of money to do so. This film is about the art of acting and film making and I just want more people to find it like I did back in 2003. And for all you Tyrion fans out there, let’s muster up a movement of epic proportions.

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James’ Thoughts On Roger Ebert’s Passing https://criterioncast.com/news/james-thoughts-on-roger-eberts-passing https://criterioncast.com/news/james-thoughts-on-roger-eberts-passing#comments Fri, 05 Apr 2013 17:29:18 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=36115 sande

Yesterday Roger Ebert told all of us he needed to take a ‘leave of presence’ due to his battles with cancer. Today, that same cancer has taken his presence from all of us. Everyone is writing beautiful things about the iconic film critic, the film critic I grew up wanting to be and thinking to myself, “He’s so lucky that he gets to see all of these films and then write/speak about them. And he gets paid, too? Dream job!” It’s something I still think, in the back of my head, today, even with my cynical minded self.

We lost a great mind, thinker, critic, crock pot enthusiast, lover of film, purveyor of everything from the indies to big Hollywood fare. Many times I disagreed with his stance on certain subjects, such as his thoughts on video games and how they weren’t artistic. Same goes with many of his reviews for films, one of which I always laughingly bring up when some people think Ebert was perfect, which was his praise of Garfield. I remember hearing what he said, reading what he wrote, and thinking, “Did we see the same film?” But that’s the wonder, the beauty of film and criticism in general. We don’t all have to agree on the same films. Your favorite film might be my least favorite and vice versa. And watching At the Movies (or as most of us called it, Siskel and Ebert) week in and week out gave me my own personal film school before Criterion came into my life.

As I sit here, wiping away some residual tears that keep coming up while I recall memories of yesteryear, enjoying the small battles Siskel and Ebert would have every week or when they’d team up to either skewer a film or champion one, it was always an entertaining time on my couch. I felt like they were my secret friends, two people who loved film as much as I did, but they were much older and more knowledgeable. I would speak about them with friends at school, junior high or high school in particular, and it was a rarity when someone would know what I was even talking about. But my parents would watch the show too, especially my mom and we’d talk a bit about some of the films but most of them I’d take down in a black and white notebook to keep a reference to what I wanted to watch and what to avoid like the plague. Even when FOX would keep on changing the times when it would air, Channel 5 to be exact, I would have to sneak a watch on my 13 inch black and white TV at midnight, amusing myself by Roger and Gene as they dueled it out every week.

Many years later, and I probably champion a lot of the schlock, the slasher films they despised and various other genre films they might have given a thumbs down to, but it didn’t matter. I think the worse review they would give a film made those even more desirable to watch and it was something I took with me, especially when I went to college. Watching Raise The Red Lantern in college and having his review from 1992 gave me the edge I needed and had over all the other students in that course. Or when I would wait until they’d finally put out their worst movies of the year shows, which were always amazing because the films they hated the most got to be trashed yet again (some of which I love for completely that reason. I’m looking at you, Over the Top).

I cheered like a dork when I heard both Siskel and Ebert would be on the cartoon series The Critic (which had an amazing title of ‘Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice’). It was a cartoon series that wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for the fact that both Ebert and Siskel were such pop culture icons by then, forever changing the way film criticism would be seen on TV and how film discussion between two ‘rivals’ could be informative, insightful, a bit catty but always giving us something to think about.

While I had wanted to be a filmmaker at first, soon enough time, money and schooling proved that to be a bit difficult, so I got back into the mindset of writing about film. Starting with taking out a ton of books from Ebert and Pauline Kael as a crash course on what the best of the best was, I studied these tomes. Soon after, many others came into play, from Richard Schickel to Joe Bob Briggs, all giving different sides to the same career. Why would anyone want to read the same style of writing over and over? That’s never any fun. I’d even watch people like Time Lucas, Danny Peary, Robert Osborne, Richard Roeper, Mark Kermode and various others. Even when I disliked their opinions or their style of criticism, I would continue to take it all in to fully flesh out where I wanted to come from and how my style could be different from the rest. Devouring the written word was something I loved to do and to this day I continue to do so, still not truly finding my voice so to speak.

Roger Ebert first lost his colleague Gene Siskel back in 1999 from cancer. Then he lost his voice to cancer, and ultimately his life but he never lost the will to live. He never lost his written voice, the one where he continued to crank out reviews, tweet, editorials on any and everything and puts someone like myself to shame when I complain about writer’s block. It’s sad that his death has woken something up inside of me and I bet it has done the same thing with many other writers who have been going through the same thing. And right now, with my own aunt battling cancer for the last few years and being put into the hospital yet again due to complications from it, it paints a all too familiar picture, one that his own family went through. My thoughts go to all of them, his wife Chaz who was his ultimate supporter and fan, and to all the people who found the movies because of him. Right now Siskel and Ebert are laughing it up somewhere, with a couple of buckets of popcorn and taking in a film festival that lasts an eternity. One day we’ll all be in that same there, but until then, the balcony is closed.

Please leave your memories of Roger Ebert down below if you want. I’d love to hear them.

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James’ New DVD And Blu-Ray Picks For Tuesday, March 25TH, 2013 https://criterioncast.com/news/tuesday-march-25th-2013 Wed, 27 Mar 2013 19:25:04 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=35675 Oh boy, this week is an amazing release week with tons of films that I either adore or have been wanting on Blu-ray for years now. If you want to help the site out and want to buy these releases, please click the links throughout this article because it helps keep the site going on strong. And here we go!



How much more can be said about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln? I watched it in the beginning of 2013 in order to take in Daniel Day Lewis’ performance, which is of course more like a transformation. Sally Field was also quite good in this, as was Tommy Lee Jones. It’s a character actor’s smorgasbord too, which will have you spotting ‘that guy’ over and over throughout. The Blu looks stunning but I only got to check out the other edition of the Blu, which only had two short extras, which means it was quite light on special features. The one pictured has more extras, which for any completest (like me), will spend the extra few bucks to get.

killing them softly

Killing Them Softly

Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly will be remembered as one of the great crime films of the 2010’s. I’m not sure why this film didn’t connect with audiences the way I felt it should, but like some of the best films, it will take some time for people to come around. Or maybe it will stick around being a cult favorite, which is fine by me. A fantastic cast with Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, the film loosely based on George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel ‘Cogan’s Trade’ (who also wrote the book ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ which the film version is beautifully represented in the Criterion Collection) is a darkly comical look at the underbelly of the world. There’s many layers to this film that deserves repeat viewings, and Anchor Bay’s release looks very good. Sadly the extras are to be desired, with a few deleted scenes and a 6 minute making of piece. Buy buy this film and give it the love it deserves.

from beyond

From Beyond

Ah Scream Factory, every time you have new releases come out, I want to buy them all. And this week’s double whammy might rank up there with some of the best horror films in their own ways. From Beyond is one of my favorite Stuart Gordon films that sadly feels like it’s been put on the back burner when people mention his catalog. Funny, horrific, disgusting and based loosely on Lovecraft’s writings, it’s a great film that I’ve grown to love on so many repeat viewings, first on VHS, then on DVD that had one of the worst box art ever. I love that Scream Factory has original art and the original poster on the opposite side. This release has tons of extras, like two audio commentaries (one with Stuart Gordon, Producer Brian Yuzna, and Actors Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs and the other with screenwriter Dennis Paoli) and also has a great list of newly filmed docs, from special effects with John Buechler to docs focused on Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs. A must have for horror fans and Lovecraft fans alike.



A new Mystery Science Theater 3000 set, this time featuring one of my favorite episodes Danger!! Death Ray. There’s not much to be said for my love for this series but this is another one that I need to pick up later today.

phantasm II

Phantasm II

I love Don Coscarelli. I’m not going to try to be coy here. And I have a love for the Phantasm series. The first is one of the most effective and freaky horror films to come out in the last 40 years. Hands down. The sequels go in a much more batshit insane route, with post apocalyptic tones the further you go. Phantasm II is a film that ups the ante from the original, with more intense special effects and making Reggie (Reggie Bannister) the hero we all know and love now. A lot of people complain because Mike was recast, but I get past it because it’s almost like a complete nightmare and how each film ends and is pieced together feels as if they were made on a different plane of existence. Scream Factory again proves why they are the go to company for horror catalog titles. A great commentary with director Coscarelli, Tall Man Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister, which just is as funny and insightful as you’d hope for. And a great list of special features that one now expects from this company. A stellar release for a fun sequel.

a man escaped

A Man Escaped

Criterion also has two films this week and as usual they impress. A new Robert Bresson film in the collection is always time to cheer, and A Man Escaped is a powerful film that fits perfectly within the collection. I watched this film about 5 years ago on a whim, finding a copy for cheap on a shoddy DVD transfer that looks like it was 7th generation VHS rip. But I still fell in love with the film and just pushed it aside in my head, hoping to get a proper release one day. Mind you, I never got to check out the 2004 New Yorker DVD because it’s been out of print for awhile. But luckily Criterion has done a stellar job with this film. And of course you get a ton of extras, such as a documentary about Bresson’s filmmaking style, a documentary from 2010 that was on the Gaumont release which has filmmakers speaking about Bresson’s influence, a 1965 episode of Cineastes de notre temps and more. It tends to be easy to write about these releases each week.


Monsieur Verdoux

When I think of this film, I think of one line in particular. “As a mass killer… I’m an amateur by comparison. Wars, conflict – it’s all business. One murder makes a villain… millions a hero.” Haunting, poignant and a masterpiece that was overlooked for many years, Monsieur Verdoux is not Charlie Chaplin as we grew to know and love. This is a man who was upset and made a film to reflect that and sadly alienated his fan base and bombed at the box office. It did (rightfully so) win an Academy Award for best writing for the film. Criterion packs the film with relevant special features, such as a documentary about the making of the film and what political ramifications it had on its star. A fantastic release and we wait with baited breath for the next Chaplin film to get a Blu release in the collection.

jurassic park

Jurassic Park

As you all well know, we are huge fans of Spielberg’s film Jurassic Park over at CriterionCast. When I think of the music, the way Sam Neill reacts to the dinosaur park around him, the first time we see the T-Rex, the way they fear the raptors, and so many other moments that give me chills. If you already have the box set that came out last year, this one is just the films separately so if you just wanted to order the first film and not the sequels, it’s now time. But like me, if you have the box set, you’ll just wait for the 3D Blu to come out late in April. That’s if the up-conversion looks as good as I hope. This is the Spielberg film to buy this week. But I’m partial to dinosaurs. And Jeff Goldblum. Chaos Theory. You can also get The Lost World and Jurassic Park III.



Tying it together with Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton wrote that original novel and he wrote and directed Westworld, which Futureworld is the sequel of. No, he didn’t write or direct this one, but it doesn’t make this film any less fun. An AIP film with a much smaller budget than the original, it stars Peter Fonda who was one of the kings of the drive-in (Race With the Devil being one of my favorites) and Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom Blythe Danner. Shout! Factory puts the film out with only a trailer, but being on Blu-ray is a step up from the old MGM on demand DVD that came out January of 2011.


The Terminator Anthology Box Set

I have a soft spot for the Terminator films. Yes, even the third and Salvation. More so on the Salvation side, even with all of that crazy stuff that happened behind the scenes. Are they good? No, but the first two Cameron films are classics in their own genres. The Terminator is a horror film, a slasher film with a sci-fi twist. And Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the bigger, more impressive sci-fi action film that Cameron was perfecting (especially after Aliens). These are all previous releases in a box set, not new transfers, so you have varying degrees of quality. I’m still waiting for the original to get a new transfer, but T2 and Salvation both look fantastic. What’s weird is that I’ve seen another box set that looks similar that came out last year, but this one is more affordable so if you don’t own any of the films, it’s worth getting. If you just like the first two, it might be worth buying the second on Blu and waiting for a new version of the first.

when a happy birthday

Mill Creek Entertainment is one of my favorite companies due to the fact that they get the rights to some great under appreciated films and release them to all of us for an affordable price. Sometimes to varying degrees of quality (we all have had a love/hate relationship with their massive 50 film sets. I love them but sometimes when you get a film that you wanted to see for years that sadly is only a VHS rip from Portugal, well, what can you do?). This release is on one disc, and both look surprisingly good. They aren’t stellar, but one doesn’t expect that from any of these 2 packs they’ve been releasing as of late. Especially this week, we also have Hollywood Homicide/Hudson Hawk (and I like Bruce Willis’ vanity project), Hollow Man/Hollow Man 2 (from Bacon to Slater), The Squid and the Whale/Running With Scissors (one of these are good), Ship of Fools/Lilith (Lee Marvin, please), Attack Force/Into the Sun (Hey Travis, how were these Seagal films?), Terminal Velocity/White Squall (I like both of these films), Ernest Goes to Camp/Camp Nowhere (Ernest rules, Christopher Lloyd drools), Holy Man/Gone Fishin’ (Forgotten comedies) and D.O.A./Consenting Adults (I prefer the original D.O.A.)

panic in the streets

Panic In The Streets

An eco-thriller film noir, Panic in the Streets is one of my favorites too. I sadly missed doing an episode of the Silva and Gold podcast, because this Elia Kazan film is just a scary film considering this is something that can occur at any time, even today. Imagine someone being infected with a disease we as the public don’t know about, and the government keeping it hush hush, trying to find it before it spreads. Who’s to know how many times this has happened. Or if it could become something like Stephen King’s The Stand or Contagion? And nobody plays a more amazing heavy than Jack Palance. Tall, gaunt and intimidating. Zero Mostel also stars as a sniveling underling of Palance. A great film and it’s cool to see Fox putting these film noirs on blu that they put out via their Fox Film Noir line many years ago.


The Sandlot

I adore this film. It reminds me of playing baseball with my friends between the ages of 10 and 14. Just a time of my life that was more or less pleasant, fun and I learned a lot about friendship. This is the 20th anniversary of the film, which makes me feel so old because I was 13 when it came out. Also, I only know about the older blu release but haven’t gotten a copy of this Blu yet to check out. It’s supposedly 2 discs, so it sounds like it has more than that lackluster release from 2011.

little fugitive

Little Fugitive

One of the most surprising/exciting releases to come out this week is of course from Kino with Little Fugitive, which is more or less the film that gave way to American independent cinema (with a modest budget of $30,000, even by today’s standards). It’s a beautiful film, made in Coney Island on the fly, and we’re lucky to get Morris Engel’s film on Blu-ray now. Hopefully that means his other films, Lovers and Lollipops and Weddings and Babies will come out soon on Blu from Kino. I was lucky enough to see this film a few times in elementary school here in Brooklyn and having checked it out again in 2008 when it was finally released on DVD, I was blown away by the style of filmmaking displayed. It’s an amazing American film that gives and gives with each viewing.



Olive Films is putting out a nice display of John Wayne films, only one I’ve actually seen. That being McLintock!, which was a film that I watched with my grandfather repeatedly back in the 80’s. I didn’t remember how much of a comedic western it was, always thinking it was more of a straight forward western. This was his most popular film from the 60’s, a way to update his all-American image, and it was successful. I have the old DVD and I can’t wait to check out the Blu, as well as the three other titles they put out this week (A Man Betrayed, Westward Ho and The Lawless Nineties).

Again, there were tons more that came out this week, many of which are from Olive Films, such as The Atomic Kid starring Mickey Rooney, Edward G. Ulmer’s Ruthless, Hell’s Half Acre, Samuel Fuller’s China Gate (finally!), John Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright, The Devil and Miss Jones starring Jean Arthur and the Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep starring vehicle Ironweed. As well as a new Twilight Time Blu-ray release I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for some time, The Song of Bernadette.

James’ New DVD And Blu-ray Picks For Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 https://criterioncast.com/news/march-19th-2013 Tue, 19 Mar 2013 16:00:40 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=35515 March 19th Header

What’s this? An extensive look at new releases from the United States and sometimes abroad as well. Please click the links from each film to check it out on Amazon and buy it if you like because it keeps this site running. Also, considering this is the first of a weekly series, please send comments and emails our way because that’s the only way we can get better. If you like it, even cooler. If I might have forgotten a release, please link us to the release and I might have just forgotten, but these are films I’ve either seen or think the world should see. All a matter of opinion, but we all know that. On with the show.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The first film is one that our own Tolkien fan Ryan Gallagher did not like (and I have yet to see) is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson’s return to the Shire and Middle Earth. A film that was bound to disappoint, especially with the heavy hand of 48 fps in tow, it’s been a mixed bag from fans alike. Some love it, some hate it. It’s one that I sadly didn’t make the time to see on the big screen, in 3D and in the intended frame rate that Jackson wanted everyone to see and which alienated many moviegoers. The reviews are looking good for the home video presentation, though, except in the extras department. But I think we all know that these films always double, triple and quadruple dip down the line. Extended edition for Christmas, anyone?


Zero Dark Thirty

Next up was a film that barely missed my top 10 this year, the impressive Kathryn Bigelow film, Zero Dark Thirty. Lauded as one of the best (and rightfully so), this film based on the true story of the Bin Laden siege is a thrilling movie, one that is powered by Jessica Chastain’s impressive performance as Maya, the woman who finds Bin Laden. No, that’s not a spoiler. But it’s a film of bravado, something Bigelow has always done well (Point Break being one perfect example) and it looks to have an impressive looking disc, but like The Hobbit, it seems the extras department is a bit lacking. Definitely pick this one up, especially for those last 40 minutes of the film. Crank up that audio and sit in the dark.



Here’s one release that I’ve been hoping, waiting and dreaming about since the bare bones and lacking in the visual department DVD came on the scene many years ago. Badlands, Terrence Malick’s first feature film and his third film in the Criterion Collection, stars Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as Kit Caruthers and Holly Sargis while they fall in love and also as they go on a cross country killing spree. Based on the real life Starkweather killing spree, it’s an impressive debut feature film with two amazing performances with Sheen and Spacek shining through. With all of the usual bells and whistles that impress, this is one of the must own films this week by far and it’s not just because it’s Criterion. Or maybe that’s exactly why it’s a must own.


A big musical by Tom Hooper, the one thing I kept hearing from people was that Russell Crowe couldn’t sing (even though he has a band of his own). But then it started winning awards and getting some nods from critics saying it was a good to great adaptation. And finally checking it out, it was a really good version of the classic story. Hugh Jackman was impressive, as was Anne Hathaway. And comic geeks can keep saying Wolverine and Catwoman were in the same movie. The Blu looks outstanding and am happy Hooper decided to make the musical the way he saw fit. 


The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp

The other big Criterion release this week is Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, a Technicolor marvel of its time and today looks as striking as it did in 1943. Having been a fan of their films and anything put out by their production company The Archers, Colonel Blimp is an epic war film told in flashback, going through The Boer War and both World Wars. One of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films (which is perfect that he filmed a lengthy introduction to it, showing that love), it’s truly one of their most sweeping affairs and now that it’s been given the Blu-grade treatment, it’s now the best time to own this wonderful film. Many more fantastic extras are included, such as the original commentary Criterion put out when they released it in 1998 with Powell and Scorsese. Buy it with Badlands and you’ll be just fine.



Ahh Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann, a film that I share a checkered past with. I’ve owned the film twice on DVD in my life, both times somehow either being lost or stolen from me in between moves and the like. I’ve always liked this strange ‘man in the wrong time’ film, and am happy to see our friends over at Shout! Factory are releasing this cult gem on Blu-ray with some special features as well. Amazingly this film has two Criterion connections, one being that the film was co-written, produced and scored by Michael Nesmith from The Monkees and it stars Fred Ward, rugged leading man that should have been more of a star, if I can give my opinion. Ward was in Altman’s Short Cuts, by the way. This film beats Back to the Future: Part III by a decade in its premise of a man from the present going back in time to the wild west, and it’s a fun romp that deserved a sequel or two (just like Ward’s Remo Williams film). Of course Lyle Swann is an expert motorbike racer who just so happens to stumble across a top secret time travel device and that pretty much is the story in a nutshell. You get a making of with the director William Dear and Michael Nesmith, looking back at the film, and what sounds like a fantastic commentary track with Dear. This is another film in Shout! Factory’s fantastic library of genre titles.



VCI Home Entertainment brings us Eugène Lourié’s Gorgo (1961), one of the many Godzilla and King Kong clones that popped up all across the glove, this one being from the UK. And it sure is a doozy, having gone the rounds in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (both screenings airing the same day, as the rights promptly expired) , Gorgo is a kaiju film that borrows a lot from many films that came before it, but has the British charm going for it that puts it a step above some of the other clones (or even one that also came from the same country and the same year, Konga). I’m really curious to see what VCI have done to the print, which they put out back in 2000 and has long been out of print.

zeta one

Zeta One

Coming from Kino’s Redemption/Jezebel line, Zeta One is a film I remember watching many years ago at a party where a friend had a crappy looking copy and said, “Oh man, this film is so awful, we need to watch it and get drunk.” And get drunk we did, making the film’s plot holes and insanity (with plenty of boring lulls throughout) not matter at all, instead accentuating the fantastic funk soundtrack and the fashion that’s truly a cross between Barbarella and a Bond film (which this film is wonderfully aping without a sense of decency), which makes me even more intrigued it’s been given the Blu-ray treatment. An English nudie cutie that deserves a re-watch? Well, for me that’s a definite yes.


Rust And Bone

I’ll be honest. This is a film that I was extremely excited to see when I heard of its production and who the two stars were. I’m a huge fan of both, being enthralled by every Marion Cotillard performance (yes, even The Dark Knight Rises, a film that I had many many problems with. But Josh knows that already) and having loved Matthias Schoenaerts’ standout and star making performance in one of my favorite films of 2011, Bullhead, meant I was salivating at the thought of the two of them acting with one another. And of course when I heard the director of A Prophet, Jacques Audiard, this meant it was on the top of my list. Then something happened. I started hearing iffy reviews and then came people’s top 10 lists and I didn’t see it popping up anywhere (Mind you, I didn’t look at everyone’s list. I’d still be doing that now) and I just kept putting off seeing the film at a theater here in Brooklyn. Fast forward a few months later and I’m intrigued again, even with that awful cover art that kind of makes it look like a romantic comedy. I’ll be tracking down this release, which has what appears to be a lengthy hour long making of and a commentary track with Audiard, Writer Thomas Bidegain, and Journalist Arnaud Calistri (which is in French but they have English subtitles, so don’t worry). Will this film be on my top 10 ‘I wish I saw this for 2012’ list? I’ll soon find out.



Here’s a film I had no interest in seeing. I still don’t. Maybe someone else does and will tell me I should have sat down and watched it. But for now, there’s thousands of films ahead in my mind queue.

on approval

On Approval

A British comedy I had never heard of? Coming out from a company I had never heard of (Inception Media Group) and hearing that the print looks rather great, this is one of those curveball releases that come out every so often. A so called minor masterpiece in the comedy department, this is one I’ll hope to be checking out as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.


The Other Son

Cohen Media Group comes from out of nowhere again, this time with a more recent film called The Other Son, which tells the story of two men, an Israeli and a Palestinian who find out they were switched at birth. Hearing great things about the presentation in the video and audio departments, and with subject matter that seems to feel at home with Kino or Criterion, it seems that Cohen Media Group have struck gold again with a film that looks at people who are sadly forever at conflict but there might be a silver lining to it all. At least in the eyes of the filmmaker, Lorraine Lévy. Can’t wait to check it out.


The Great Magician

Tony Leung has been absent from film since 2009’s second part of John Woo’s Red Cliff, so when I heard he was going to star in a magician based film, that looked like a cross between The Illusionist and Let the Bullets Fly, directed by Derek Yee is a great director and what seems to be a film that has all the pieces to make a thrilling comedic classic, it seems to have not reached those heights, especially reading from CriterionCast friend James Marsh’s release over at TwitchFilm. It seems like a good 2 hours to spend, but from many sources it seems to be a better Netflix watch as opposed to an outright buy.


The Big Picture

A film that I happily got to check out about a year and a half ago, Eric Lartigau’s film The Big Picture shows the story of Paul who has the perfect life, perfect wife, perfect sons and a perfect job. But that all goes to hell when he finds out his wife is cheating on him and he’s killed his wife’s lover and has to go on the run to find his perfect life under the lover’s identity. It’s one that I kept on wanting to import because I was afraid it would be forgotten over here, but luckily for us MPI Home Video is putting it out here on Blu-ray.

Kino Lorber and Raro Join Forces In U.S. Distribution https://criterioncast.com/news/kino-raro Thu, 14 Mar 2013 07:54:08 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=35430 raroheader

In a great melding of film companies, Raro Video U.S., the American branch of Italy’s foremost and influential home video company has partnered up with Kino Lorber, the purveyors of fantastic foreigh, indie and classic films we here at CriterionCast know and love so much. This is great news because slowly but surely, Raro Video U.S. has become one of my favorite distributors in the last few years, primarily for their stunning work on the Fernando Di Leo box set that came out on Blu-ray, their stunning release of Federico Fellini’s The Clowns, Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Vanquished, Ruggero Deodato’s Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, among many others. And considering they’ve been quiet recently with some releases they announced a bit ago, this news comes at the most opportune time.

This is good news for both companies, Kino furthering their strength of releasing great catalog titles that people want to see or don’t even realize how vital the film is, and for Raro, giving them some strength in their American distribution side of things. A win/win, if you ask me. And now releases such as the second volume of Fernando Di Leo’s crime box set, featuring Shoot First, Die Later (long overdue for a home release), Kidnap Syndicate and Naked Violence looks to have an official release date of June 25th now, with Shoot First, Die Later coming out separately a month before on DVD and Blu-ray on May 28th.

“We could not ask for a better partner than Kino Lorber,” says Raro Video President Stefano Curti. “The company’s experience and expertise will certainly play an integral role in achieving our mission of helping fans of good cinema discover new talents and rediscover overlooked gems.” Which looks to be the case in this deal, with Kino Lorber handling the physical and digital distribution of Raro’s catalog, past and present, so we might see a few of their releases that have only come out in Italy (I’m hoping for Bruno Corbucci’s The Cop In Blue Jeans starring Tomas Milian, as well as the other films in that series) finally come out here in the States.

Raro will still be acquiring their catalog of films and doing screening tours of films, such as the one they did late last year with Roberto Rossellini’s Il Generale Della Rovere, which was an interesting choice considering it is in the Criterion Collection. Ryan had reported on the CriterionCast Tumblr about it, which had us all hoping for a Blu-grade of it in the collection, but that’s of course all speculation.

Either way, this is exciting news and I can’t wait to see what films Raro will bring to the forefront, be it from the catalog of films they put out in Italy or what new acquisitions they’ll pick up with Kino strongly behind them.

Press Release:

NEW YORK (March 13, 2013) – Raro Video U.S., the American branch of Italy’s most influential home video company, is pleased to announce that it has agreed to an exclusive, multi-year distribution deal with Kino Lorber, a leader in distributing independent art house films in the U.S.

A boutique label for Europe’s finest films, Raro Video is best known for its carefully curated library of Italian cinema classics, including, Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Vanquished, Federico Fellini’s The Clowns, Alberto Lattuada’s The Overcoat and Luchino Visconti’s Conversation Piece, as well as works by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini, Tinto Brass, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. Kino Lorber has more than 30 years of experience in film distribution, including theatrical releases and the home entertainment market.

The arrangement combines the firms’ complementary strengths and will enhance Raro Video’s presence in America, says Raro Video President, Stefano Curti. “We could not ask for a better partner than Kino Lorber,” says Curti. “The company’s experience and expertise will certainly play an integral role in achieving our mission of helping fans of good cinema discover new talents and rediscover overlooked gems.”

Kino Lorber will handle the physical (DVD and Blu-ray) and digital distribution of Raro Video’s entire catalog, covering both new and previously released titles. The deal also includes opportunities to partner on select theatrical releases. Kino Lorber President, Richard Lorber says, “We are truly excited to be working with a prestigious company like Raro Video. Our teams share the same deep passion for stylistically bold films that ignore the boundaries between genres and focus instead on visionary filmmaking.”

The first title from this partnership will arrive on May 28 with the release of SHOOT FIRST DIE LATER on DVD and Blu-ray. The 1974 film is by the influential Italian director Fernando Di Leo, a master of bold, intricately plotted, ultra-violent stories and a precursor to such directors as Quentin Tarantino and John Woo.

Di Leo’s work will also be the subject of the second release from Raro Video and Kino Lorber. The FERNANDO DI LEO CRIME COLLECTION VOLUME 2 will be available on June 25 on DVD and Blu-ray. It includes three of De Leo’s films: Naked Violence, Kidnap Syndicate and Shoot First Die Later. This highly anticipated set follows the acclaimed first volume of the Di Leo anthology, which Raro Video released in 2011.

James Reviews Andrea Segre’s Shun Li And The Poet [PIFF 2013 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/piff/andrea-segres-shun-li-and-the-poet-piff-2013 Mon, 04 Mar 2013 10:21:07 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=34607 Shun Li and the Poet

The best part about film festivals is seeing films that might takes months, years or for some crazy reason, never show up in your country for some reason. It might be rights issues or it might just not fit in with distributors that you’re familiar with. This is hopefully not the case for Andrea Segre’s film Shun Li and the Poet, a film I almost judged by the title alone and would have been a fool if I had done that.

Shun Li (the radiant Tao Zhao) is a textile worker, who’s been busy saving up and paying off the people who brought her to Italy from China and to ultimately pay for the transport of her 8 year old son to finally join her. She’s been living and working in the outskirts of Rome until she is upped and transferred to the small island town of Chioggia, in the Venetian lagoon, to work as a bartender at a tavern. There she meets one of the regulars, Bepi (Rade Šerbedžija, who has become the go to guy for badass baddies in action films), a Slavic fisherman, who is nicknamed ‘The Poet’ by friends. Even though language, cultures and about 30 years separates the two, they start to form a bond, a friendship with one another and the townsfolk who don’t let a single detail fall to the wayside do not approve at all.

This is a quiet and beautiful film, one that is all about subtlety and the pursuit to end loneliness. It’s also showcasing how a community can turn on people doing absolutely nothing wrong at all, as if this friendship will disrupt their day to day lives. Sound familiar? Shun Li and Bepi have found a kinship with one another and with a connecting fiber known as poetry, which they share a love for. It’s also frowned upon for her to fraternize with the patrons, which of course trickles back and Shun Li is forbidden to see Bepi at all. Through it all, and without kissing once, Shun Li tells Bepi she wants to marry him. He says he knows this and it’s also forbidden for a foreigner to pay off someone’s debt, so it wouldn’t be a marriage of convenience.

Considering this is in the Venice area, one would assume we’d see the beauty of that city, but like Shun Li, we only see glimpses from far away as she takes a bus trip every day to go to work for free at the tavern. Luckily for her, Bepi shows her the hidden beauty of Chioggia, the nooks and crannies of the town, every little bit it has to offer. Sadly, what it also has to offer is xenophobia, and with mutterings of townsfolk and one outright bully, it almost seems it’s two against the world for Shun Li and Bepi’s relationship. And luckily for us, we have the amazing Zhao Tao and Rade Šerbedžija anchoring this film as the leads and giving true weight to the performances. Tao should be garnering more praise, having won the best actress prize at Italy’s 2012 David di Donatello Awards, and didn’t speak a lick of Italian when she set foot there to film the movie. And it fits the aesthetic perfectly, with Šerbedžija’s weathered and workman Bepi being the unlikely poet. It’s truly a beautiful relationship, not the typical one expects from any romance.

Looks can truly be deceiving and no case is better than my judgement of this film just by the title alone. For some reason, without looking it up on IMDB or googling the title to see any news or awards this film might have won (Which were plenty), I assumed this film would be a bland drama, one where a woman falls in love with a man, a poet who has little money but a beautiful soul. And I’m glad I was completely wrong when it comes to this film and that I gave it the chance it deserved, like all films in fact do. Andrea Degre has made a real winner here and I would have kicked myself over and over for missing out if I had judged a book by its title.

If you’re a member of Film Movement’s film club, you can buy and stream the film right now at this link. Available to non-members on June 9th, 2013.

James Reviews Ignacio Ferreras’ Wrinkles [PIFF 2013 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/piff/ignacio-ferreras-wrinkles-piff-2013 Fri, 01 Mar 2013 08:53:46 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=34604 wrinkles

With films such as Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, Wreck-It Ralph, Brave, Hotel Transylvania, Rise of the Guardians (and to a lesser, but profitable extent, Ice Age: Continental Drift and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted), animation is as it’s been the last few years, at a strong point, showing different facets of entertainment. For the young ones who love fart jokes, for the teens who like a little darkness in their gloomy period and for the parents who find something to latch onto while their kids laugh maniacally, being an animation fan is pretty easy right now, no matter what anyone says. Then comes Ignacio Ferreras’ Wrinkles, a film that completely pulled the rug from under me in the first couple of minutes and beat me down until I was a sobbing mess at the end. Only in the best way, of course.

Based on Paco Roca’s comic of the same title, Wrinkles shows us what happens to senior citizens when they are no longer wanted or needed. Sending his father to an old folk’s home, Emilio (voiced by Alvaro Guevara) is battling his anger toward his son, his rapidly deteriorating mind due to Alzheimer’s, a roommate he suspects is stealing stuff from him and other people within the complex that are worse than he is and therefore worrying him even more about his future. Miguel (Tacho Gonzalez), his roommate who tends to take advantage of the other ‘inmates’ (as he jokes) by gaining money from them by giving them what they want. Be it showing one woman where a phone is who wants to call her sons to take her away because she’s gotten better, another woman who thinks she’s on the Orient Express going to see her husband (but is really sitting near her window) and taking her ticket or getting another person a dog, which they’re not even allowed to have in the first place. He’s a swindler and he’s happy with the life he has, even though it’s not much of one. But he has accepted it.

Emilio on the other hand, is hard pressed to stay within these walls without questioning everything about it. Why can’t they swim in the pool? Miguel lets him know that it’s there just for show when the clients come by to check out the place. “Who are the clients?” Emilio asks. Miguel lets him know the clients are the children or grandchildren of the people there or even the government themselves, and they have to keep up appearances in order to keep getting funding. Emilio has a routine every night, of putting his wallet and gold watch on his nightstand, just so in the morning he wakes up and sees them and ready to start anew. When his wallet goes missing, he thinks Miguel might have taken it but having no proof and Miguel promising to help him find it, he lets it slide and goes on with trying to acclimate to his new environment. He notices everyone’s quirks or the way they are falling apart.

We are introduced to all of the people living in this complex, and each one shows a different affliction that many seniors go through. A former radio DJ who only speaks in repeating others around him because ‘he’s lost all his own words’, a wife who stays with her husband who doesn’t speak anymore due to Alzheimer’s but only smiles when she whispers one word in his ear (and when this is revealed in a flashback, true love and joy are shown and also dashed by the end when seeing what the outcome is), loneliness and the fear of going upstairs where all the lost causes go when their minds are lost or not being able to even move from point a to point b. It’s a heartbreaking and realistic approach to old age, showing how some people are tossed away in these homes and are forgotten, ultimately the people there forgetting why they are there in the first place.

Ferreras comes from a fine pedigree when it comes to animation. He was a a character animator for Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, and it’s one of the beautiful benefits this film has going for it. Little moments, facial expressions, slow movement of the characters and everyone having their own personality showcased by their faces makes it understandable why a film with such a serious tone be perfect for animation. The script, written by Ferreras and 3 others (the original graphic novelist Paco Roca, Rosanna Cecchini and Ángel de la Cruz) breathes life to this sad tale, one that will definitely get those waterworks going if you have a soul.

Twists, turns, depression, escape, injury, fear, love, friendship, betrayal, compassion are all descriptions of moments in this film, each one making it that much stronger during it’s run time. By the end, I look at my own mortality and wonder if and when I have children, will I become a burden to them and they might just want to put me somewhere and not have to worry anymore. Or will I be like Miguel, a lifelong bachelor who has no cares in the world and has never truly loved anyone? Which is the better life? Those questions aren’t answered but you might come away with a bit of enlightenment through the process. This is a masterwork in animation and hopefully everyone can see this sooner than later.

James Reviews Craig Zobel’s Compliance [DVD Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/dvd-reviews/craig-zobels-compliance-dvd Tue, 19 Feb 2013 07:11:47 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=34601 compliance

This is a film that I’ve been sitting on for quite awhile to review. Most might assume it’s because I didn’t like the film and wouldn’t want to put out a negative review. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a film that barely missed my top 10 for 2012, mainly because having only seen it one time at a press screening (where gasps and a bit of yelling at the screen occurred) and felt ill afterward from what was on the screen before me. So it’s a film that I actually loved when I saw it, but how could you truly love a film with such despicable acts throughout, based on a true story that makes it that much more stomach churning?

Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager of a ChickWich fast food restaurant (a stand in for a McDonald’s where this and several other cases this film is based on), gets a phone call while she’s working telling her that one of her workers, Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen money from a customer’s purse. Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) says he’s too busy to come down there due to being at Becky’s house doing a thorough search, so he asks Sandra if she could detain Becky and question her for him before he gets there. Becky denies stealing anything, but complies with the authoritative Daniels on the phone and agrees to go to the back office to be questioned about the situation. What starts off as a few simple questions and a light search on Becky’s person through her pockets and purse, continues into a full strip search to make sure she’s not hiding the money anywhere she could make it disappear. The clothes are put into a bag and the humiliated Becky is given just an apron to cover herself up.

It’s a busy day at the restaurant, so while Sandra has to go back and forth between managing her employees and furthering this investigation, she has to leave multiple people throughout the day to watch over Becky, such as her friend and co-worker Kevin (Philip Ettinger). Kevin finds it suspicious that this officer is asking him to search Becky in a more intimate way, so he protests and officer Daniels asks Sandra to get someone else she can trust to be his go to person. She enlists her fiance Van (Bill Camp), who at first is a bit perplexed as to why this is happening, but once he gets on the phone, Daniels has him also under his control. What occurs next is something that I don’t want to get fully into if people haven’t seen it yet, but this is where my stomach twisted and turned and my head started pounding because I felt very uncomfortable at what I was seeing on the screen. And that’s a good thing.

What Zobel has done with his film is taken a series of cases of prank callers making false accusations and seeing how far they could take the person on the other end. Thinking about it from my point of view, I could never imagine listening and complying to someone who says they’re a cop on the other end without blinking an eye. Many friends and family who I’ve either convinced to watch this film or know about the cases have said the same thing, but how can we know for sure what would happen behind closed doors if one feels obligated to do so. Fear of losing a job or being arrested themselves can make people do a lot of crazy things, and Compliance shows how people can be truly manipulated. Many people have complained that it’s filmed in a leering fashion, as if it was just an exploitation film. I for one wish that wasn’t looked down upon as just an insult, considering many great films are exploitative.

Everyone is in top form in the film, especially Ann Dowd who has to battle her own emotions as a boss, as a woman and as a human being, ultimately giving into an authority figure she trusts from the second she speaks to him on the phone. Pat Healy is once again a stand out as the creepy officer Daniels, primarily it’s just his voice for the most part, but we see his day to day life while he’s going through the motions on the phone, which seems like a ritual to him. He’s making a sandwich and eating it, all while being a puppeteer to people miles away from where he lives. And Dreama Walker is also exceptional, the innocent worker who picked the wrong day to come to work and being put through the humiliating works. The DVD from Magnolia has a few extras, such as an interview with the director Craig Zobel, a super short (about 2 minutes) behind the scenes of the film, a AXT promo for the film and the theatrical trailer. I kind of wish there was a documentary about the real life cases, which there are dozens of that went on through roughly 30 or so states here, which is horrifying when you stop to think about that.

Compliance is a film that has sparked controversy through its controversy and controversy through its conversations. An important film, be it based on a true story or not, one must look within themselves and ask them the question, “Would I be so compliant if someone who says they are a person of authority told me to subjugate someone?” And I ask you that question. Would you let someone tell you to take someone and put them through a series of trials, all because of an accusation? The best question to ask is ‘Why?’ Why would anyone let this happen and to the extent that it did? Why wouldn’t you just ask your boss if it was true? Why wouldn’t you ask for the officer to come in to see their credentials? These are all questions I keep asking the film and I never get an answer.

Buy Compliance on DVD on Amazon.

For Criterion Consideration: Paul Schrader’s Hardcore https://criterioncast.com/column/for-criterion-consideration/paul-schraders-hardcore Mon, 18 Feb 2013 17:00:48 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=34572 georgehardcore

If you know me, you know that I’m a huge Paul Schrader fan. I adore his films, even the lesser ones (yes, even his Exorcist film is something I’ve watched more than once and didn’t want to kill myself) but it’s his 70’s and 80’s output that I tend to gravitate toward over and over again. Be it his written fare like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Yakuza, Obsession, Rolling Thunder, or him sitting behind the director’s chair such as American Gigolo, Blue Collar, Cat People or Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, I’m all over it. It’s the last one that has had my head scratching as to why Criterion hasn’t brought upon another film of his for the Collection treatment. And my choice is Schrader’s seedy look at Los Angeles in the late 70’s when a man’s daughter vanishes on a Church trip to California and his journey to find her by wading through some despicable people and places where you would never want to find a loved one.

Schrader never holds back any punches in his scripts, especially at this time of his filmmaking career. This was his second directorial output (the first being the supremely underrated Blue Collar, another film I wish was in the collection) and this shows how sure a hand he had and how much he grew from his debut a year before. Produced by John Milius (of Conan the Barbarian fame) and starring George C. Scott as Jake Van Dorn on a descent into Earthly hell in the City of Angels itself, the power of the film rests on his performance. And Scott doesn’t disappoint. When I saw this film at a young age (roughly around 12 or so), it creeped me out to see him watching an 8mm stag reel of his daughter that was found by Andy Mast (Peter Boyle) and pleading for them to ‘turn it off!’ It stuck with me almost a decade later as a nightmare in the back of my head, because one day, while working at Best Buy, I saw the DVD cover and it all flooded back. Searching on Youtube, this scene was one of the more popular ones, which is always bizarre to mention when discussing this scene.

Van Dorn befriends a porn actress/prostitute by the name of Niki (Season Hubley) while he’s posed as a pornography producer and the search goes from Los Angeles to San Diego because there’s word that his daughter is now filming porn down in Mexico. This is where Van Dorn starts to open up about his life and to Niki herself, and Niki starts to feel comfortable with the first man in a while that doesn’t look at her as a sexual object. It’s a sweet relationship in a film with filth and grime, but like most good things, that must end as well and in a fit of anger this relationship is also changed in a negative way.

Basing Jake Van Dorn on his father, Schrader shows a man not only on a journey to find his daughter before it’s too late, but also a journey away from his religious ‘ideal’ life (even though we find out a divorce is brewing) and how life is cheap and the sex trade world is even cheaper. I’ve always looked at this film as Schrader’s version of Dante’s Inferno, where a man needs to go through all these trials and levels of Hell in order to become saved. Without ruining the film for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to see it, it has a typical Schrader ending. I’ll leave it at that, and it’s one that sticks with you for awhile afterward.

Criterion would of course put out a stellar edition. The old Sony DVD has been out of print for quite some time now, with prices rising every few months that it continues to be on that list. The picture quality was alright, tolerable but you could tell there’s a lot of room for improvement and a proper restoration would be in store for the film. A Paul Schrader commentary, perhaps with John Milius (not sure how their relationship is), and/or a retrospective documentary about the lead up, the making of and the after the film was released to the public and its legacy in the 3 decades afterward. Perhaps a reprinting of Ebert’s review or some new discussion pieces by critics today speaking about its relevance. A side by side comparison of the print with the restoration process. There’s plenty more supplements Criterion could and would include and as usual, I would love to hear what people would like to see in this edition.

With Schrader in the news again with his new film The Canyons (be it good or bad news, it’s still a film that seems to fit in with the recent exploitative cinema films such as Killer Joe and The Paperboy populate now) and his writing a new screenplay by the name of The Devil’s Right Hand which was announced while I was writing this very entry in the For Criterion Consideration series, he’s back in the spotlight he so deserves. Now’s the time for Criterion to take advantage of this and bring this Schrader classic back to the limelight. And while they’re at it, let’s get a few more Schrader films in the collection as well. Let us know what Paul Schrader films you wish would place in the Criterion Collection.

Kick Start This Film: Ralph Bakshi’s Last Days of Coney Island https://criterioncast.com/column/kick-start-this-film/ralph-bakshis-last-days-of-coney-island Tue, 05 Feb 2013 21:18:45 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=34389 bakshi

As you may know from listening to our podcast for the last few years, you would know that we are huge animation fans. Especially of the more bizarre and off the cuff sort. And one of those classic animators that we always wish would work more is Ralph Bakshi. The man who brought Fritz the Cat to the big screen, made the first adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, American Pop, Wizards, Heavy Traffic, Fire and Ice, Coonskin and yes, even Cool World has a new animation project up for funding on Kickstarter. Called Last Days of Coney Island, it of course triggered something in me, being a Brooklyn native and all. Plus the idea of hand drawn animation in his rough sketch style makes the animation nerd inside me a happy camper.

As Bakshi describes it, it’s ‘animated cop, mafia, horror movie set in the 1960’s in Coney Island, with political overtones both realistic and outrageous‘, which sounds just like a Bakshi film. Something that seems to be a stream of consciousness, with some raunchiness to it and with a sense of style only he could bring forth with his animation. And we’re very excited about it. It’s being called a series of shorts, so it’s not technically a new feature, but it seems to have a connecting fiber, which is perfectly fine. He has plenty of amazing perks for anyone who puts money toward the project. The usual copies of the film are in the lower tier but things get interesting once you get to the higher tier of perks. Items such as hand signed custom prints of original Bakshi sketches with signed copies of backgrounds from the film for $100, an original animation cel from a film of your choice for $200, hand signed original sketches from Bakshi with signed copies of his book ‘Unfiltered’ for $400 to original pieces of production art from Wizards by Mike Ploog for $3000 and even your face in the animated film for the price of $10,000 (you also get your choice of a mixed media piece from his last Soho show ‘The Streets’, a choice of a painting and a personal doodle from the man himself with his book Unfiltered included). Makes you wish you had a few extra bucks laying around for that one. Mind you, one has already been claimed with 4 left to purchase, so you still have a chance to get one.

With Bill Plympton being successful recently with his new animated venture Cheatin, Bakshi has a great chance in getting this project off the ground. There’s more than 3 weeks to go to fund it, with over $27,000 already being in the bank with a total of $165,000 being the goal of the project. A series of shorts from Bakshi, focusing on the weird and wonderful characters in a slightly skewed Coney Island of the 1960’s? I already wish I have seen it 5 times and it hasn’t even been completed yet. And with the very talented Colleen Cox as lead animator, Ian Miller from Wizards helping with animation and even Tina Romanus lending her voice to the series, it’s a much anticipated animated film by any standard. And with Bakshi having not made a short since 1997 (having focused on painting and his school, among other ventures), so spread the word and let’s get this film funded.

James Reviews Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s The Three Stooges [Blu-ray Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/blu-ray-reviews/bobby-and-peter-farrellys-the-three-stooges https://criterioncast.com/reviews/blu-ray-reviews/bobby-and-peter-farrellys-the-three-stooges#comments Mon, 22 Oct 2012 15:30:17 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=29832

When I heard about the feature film version of The Three Stooges was being made a long time ago, I was skeptical but held out hope because the Farrelly Brothers had somehow gotten together a trio of talented actors. At the time, Moe was supposed to be played by Benicio Del Toro, Larry was to be played by Sean Penn and Curly was going to be portrayed by Jim Carrey. I thought it was either going to be completely brilliant or a train wreck, either way a fun time at the movies. Then slowly but surely, problems plagued the film. First one actor left, then came back, left again and ultimately all three actors jumped ship, which is never a good thing when you’re putting a lot of money into a feature film (or in Jim Carrey’s case, gaining about 40 pounds and not wanting to ruin his health by going the 60 – 70 extra pound route). So it left the film dead in the water.

That was until the film started gaining some new traction, a lower budget and a trio of less famous actors, primarily from television. We had Chris Diamantopoulos playing Moe, Sean Hayes as Larry and Will Sasso as lovable Curly. My opinion had lowered but the one thing that intrigued me was that the Farrellys were never making a biopic, but instead new Three Stooges episodes in the present day. That thought lingered in my head when I went to a random matinee of the film and after watching 92 minutes of this new era Three Stooges, I was surprised to see that throughout the film, I laughed. I laughed hard. I laughed as if I was watching the original Three Stooges in all their incarnations (well, not as much when Joe Besser came along). How could this be? Was this cynical film buff getting soft in his old age? Not exactly. I saw a film that was made with the greatest intent, with love behind it and from people who cherished the original Three Stooges and were giving them the rightful praise they deserve. It might seem like it’s pies to the face, slaps across the nose, hammers to the head and kicks to the shins, but to me and to so many other Three Stooges fans, it was more like a pat on the back to the comedic greats.

Flash forward roughly 6 months later and with the Blu-ray release, I went in for the second time to view the film again and to see if it was a fluke occurrence. Having finished it and going through all the supplements, I have to say that it was no fluke. The Farrellys made a fun filled film, a PG slap happy comedy that is split up into 3 episodes (with title cards that harken back to yesteryear and with that trademark music we all know and love). It’s a simple premise: We see Moe, Larry and Curly being dumped off at the orphanage run by The Sisters of Mercy by their parents in a bag. The nuns all want to take care of them, but flash forward a bit and we see them causing a ruckus and injuring everybody in their way. Sister Mary-Mengele (played by Larry David, who hysterically is not trying to hide the fact that he is a man) hates the boys with a passion and through their years at the orphanage (and mind you, they’re there for 25 years) wants rid of them. Mother Superior (Jane Lynch) is trying to keep the orphanage open, but sadly due to the amount of damage and medical bills the boys have accrued over the years, the orphanage can’t afford to keep open. So it’s off to the city to make $830,000 in 30 days. Can the boys do it?

I don’t want to say anymore about the film because it’s one of those comedies that the gags run by fast and can’t be properly written about to give them the weight and showcase the hilarity of them. But what I want to talk about briefly is the amount of actual heart the film has, which is something the Farrelly’s do in basically all their films. Sometimes it works (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) and sometimes it falls flat on its face (Stuck On You, Shallow Hal), and in the case of the Stooges, it works in their favor. When they’re separated at one point, you want the team back together. The reason the film ultimately works is because of the main trio of Diamantopoulos, Hayes and Sasso, who bring life to the Stooges and have wonderful comedic timing. It never feels like they are just going through the motions, instead paying homage to the greats they’re replacing and when they start to roll with the punches (or the smacks), you can’t help but giggle a little bit.

The Blu-ray has a load of features, all well worth your time. You get a nice amount of deleted and extended scenes (but understandable why they trimmed it to keep the pace fast and free). What’s The Big Idea?: A History of The Three Stooges which is a short featurette detailing why the Farrellys wanted to make this film. Knuckleheads: Behind the Scenes of The Three Stooges is almost a blink and you’ll miss it extra where the Farrellys talk about making the film. Did You Hear That?: The Three Stooges Sound Effects is just that, about the sound effects and how difficult it was to match the original sounds. Perfect!: Casting The Three Stooges has the three actors and the Farrellys speaking about how hard it was to cast the film (no mention of the others who were in the roles before). The Three Stooges Mash-Up is just a short montage of comedic violence. And round that out with a screen test that the Farrellys needed to show the studio the three actors could do it together.

So it’s a resounding positive review from me with this release. It’s a film I’ve actually watched twice already since getting the Blu-ray and glad to have it in my collection alongside the complete Three Stooges box set of the classic shorts. For anybody who is wary about this film or won’t watch it on principle and respect to the original shorts, just remember that Moe Howard was always adding new players and even up to his death was trying to get two new people to go on the road with him to bring back The Three Stooges. I think he would have approved of this film.

Buy the Blu-ray on Amazon

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For Criterion Consideration: Frank LaLoggia’s Lady In White https://criterioncast.com/column/for-criterion-consideration/frank-laloggias-lady-in-white Mon, 22 Oct 2012 13:30:43 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=29687

I’ve been absent from these for quite awhile and luckily our very own Joshua Brunsting has been killing it, primarily with some choice picks, especially one that I was going to pick in Don’t Look Now (luckily Mr. Brunsting did an amazing job as he usually does, so I curtsy your way). You can read that right here. Considering the month is October and we here at CriterionCast love a good horror film, I’ve been going through tons of films that I deem worthy of that spot in the collection. A film that most people might have forgotten perhaps. So right away that strikes out George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (which does deserve a place). I’d rather go to a film that most might have glanced over when it first came out. And in the 26 years since it came out, many have sadly forgotten. I’m looking at 1988’s Lady in White, written and directed by Frank LaLoggia.

Based on the story of The White Lady, a female ghost who is reportedly seen in rural areas, especially where a tragedy has occurred, Lady In White is a story told in flashback from the point of view of Franklin “Frankie” Scarlatti on his way back to his hometown of Willowpoint Falls. We center in on 9 year old Frankie (Lukas Haas), who is tricked by a pair of bullies into the school’s cloakroom where he witnesses a girl’s ghost being murdered and then being attacked by a dark figure himself. As he loses consciousness, the girl’s ghost asks him for help to find her mother. His father finds him, revives him and rushes him to the hospital while the police find the school janitor Willy drunk in the basement, arresting him in regards to the attack.

Frankie’s brother Geno brings him a newspaper article which tells of the murder, with 11 other murders linked to a serial killer. We also get a name to the ghost he spoke to, Melissa Ann Montgomery, who continues to haunt him throughout but they become bonded as friends, trying to get to the bottom of it. It becomes almost a detective story, where Frankie braves going back to the cloakroom to investigate further to help Melissa, finding her hairclip and an old class ring. He comes to the realization that whoever’s ring that was, is the killer. He confides in family friend Phil (Len Cariou), who has known Frankie’s dad Angelo (Alex Rocco) for years. As this is going on, the case against Willy isn’t going well at all because there really is no case at all.

The film has twists and turns, creepy imagery, violence out of nowhere against children, some stellar child acting (especially from Lukas Haas) and one of the most haunting scenes using the song “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking” in whistle form that I’ve ever heard. I feel like this film has been sadly been forgotten and put aside for flashier horror films, but this film has influenced The Sixth Sense and The Others, two hugely popular ghost stories that came out a decade or more later.

The film was already put out on DVD by MGM, which Criterion has been getting some fantastic films from to put out, which means this one might be a likely candidate for the collection. Coming out in 2005, the DVD had roughly 36 minutes of deleted footage and commentary with LaLoggia, which would be perfect to be added back onto this release. Would also love some history behind the story of the White Lady as well, which would make a great urban myth documentary. A featurette on the song “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking”, sung most famously by Bing Crosby, which is an important plot point through the film, would also be amazing. There are two versions of the film, which would be essential to the release as well. Let’s bring Lukas Haas to the release as well, to speak about how the film helped springboard his career, especially since he garnered the most positive of the critical praise from the film.

Criterion, are you listening? You already have some wonderful ghost stories within the collection so why not one more fantastic forgotten cult favorite? This goes great with films like Carnival of Souls, Kuroneko, etc, and considering this is loosely based on a story throughout America’s urban consciousness, and feel like Criterion strives to bring these sort of films to the cinephiles out there. It’s a great film that needs that extra bit of love it deserves. If you haven’t watched the film, please do as soon as you can, especially this time of year. And keep checking back here for more spooky entries in our For Criterion Consideration series.

James Reviews Ed Glaser’s Ninja The Mission Force [DVD Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/dvd-reviews/james-reviews-ed-glasers-ninja-the-mission-force-dvd-review Thu, 18 Oct 2012 06:56:41 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=29677

Having followed Brad Jones’ work online for years now with his amazing The Cinema Snob video series, where he acts like a stereotypical snob while covering bottom of the barrel trash cinema that I tend to gravitate towards, I’ve seen him include various other people, such as Ed Glaser who created this intriguing and hysterical series. Taking from such infamous serial editor/directors Godfrey Ho, who was famous for telling an actor he would be in a movie, have him perform and then said actor would see his mug in about 12 films spliced in whenever Ho needed a change of scenery. Many filmmakers have done this for years, be it with stock footage, such as Corman doing so many times (like the famous Corman castle shot which was included in dozens of films).

Gordon (Ed Glaser) is a highly trained agent of Interpol (who also happens to be a ninja) who must battle with evil ninja Bruce (Brad Jones) in getting all of the avian ninja warriors. Whoever gets all of these ninja rubber duckies will obtain the ultimate ninja power and rule the world. Throughout the series of short episodes (roughly between 12 to 15 minutes, due to it being a web series before this release), we see Gordon and his lovely wife Mrs. Gordon (Sarah Lewis) who is only there via VHS tapes made of her reacting to Gordon in the present, which is already strange enough. Throw in gladiators, mobsters, Orson Welles strangling someone over a knock knock joke, space exploration, cheese headed ninjas, huge pencil and scissor fights, badly dubbed/synched acting and everyone acting as over the top as possible, and you have more than 2 hours of meta comedic action.

Considering I’ve seen many of these Godfrey Ho butchered films where ninjas would be thrown in (always in uncharacteristic multi-colored uniforms) and having famous stars thrown in (and in this series, Glaser has taken such actors as Brandon Lee, Charles Bronson, Richard Harrison, Ernest Borgnine and even Orson Welles) to further side plots makes for a great journey to take part in. Done for laughs (instead of the usual laziness and greed reasons of yesteryear), Glaser and company have weaved together a wonderfully funny and otherworldly series that begs for repeat viewings to catch every reference you can.

But the question is; “Is Ninja The Mission Force worth your time and money? Well, first off I’d have to say I fell in love with it from the first episode when I viewed them online over at That Guy With the Glasses, so it’s a resounding yes in my opinion, even though you can view them for free online. I’d say check out an episode or two right here, and once you fall in love, you can buy it over at Dark Maze Studios. Not only do you get the complete series, but you get great commentary tracks with creators Ed Glaser and Meagan Rachelle and Glaser again with Brad Jones. You also get the exclusive Christmas special episode of Ninja The Mission Force, a First Look special of interviews with cast and crew and an interview with IFD actor Andy Chworowsky via the DVD-Rom segment, so I’d say it’s well worth your hard earned money.

Now I’m awaiting the sequel series they’ve announced with such anticipation, I’m sporting Gordon’s luxurious 80’s sex symbol mullet until it comes out. What can I say? I’m that much a fan of this series, which took something so bizarre a concept as the 70’s and 80’s boom of stretching out star power as much as possible and making a hilarious series from it. It also becomes fun with a group a friends if you can point out each movie these other scenes are from. Now to get my hands on The Cinema Snob film. Then my life will be complete.

James Reviews Tom Savini’s Night Of The Living Dead [Twilight Time Blu-ray Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-tom-savinis-night-of-the-living-dead-twilight-time-blu-ray-review Sat, 13 Oct 2012 22:43:50 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=29492

Of course when I say Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead, I mean the remake of George Romero’s seminal 1968 zombie horror classic of the same name. Flash forward 22 years later to 1990, Tom Savini got behind the camera and used Romero and John Russo’s original script (which Romero had revised with some additional tweaks and changes to the story) and set forth to make a NOTLD film that could finally make Romero some money. If you don’t know about the background of Romero’s troubles with funding, definitely look that up because it truly deserves its own article one of these days.

As with the original film, we begin hearing a conversation between Johnnie (Bill Moseley) and Barbara (Patricia Tallman), who are driving to the cemetery to visit their mother’s grave. He’s complaining about the drive and how long it takes, while Barbara just wants to visit her dead mother. Suddenly, a man lumbers along, with blood trickling down his face. It’s a bit of a change to the original script, because we get the zombie attack right after, with Johnnie fighting back a much more undead looking zombie (a change you’ll see throughout this remake, with better special effects and more horrific looking zombies, which I call ‘After Day of the Dead/Return of the Living Dead’). Barbara is on the run, crashing their car and stumbles upon a house that seems to be empty and meets Ben (Tony Todd) who helps her inside and fight off a few zombies inside the house. Another change to the original film is that this Barbara isn’t a whimpering character, actually fighting back and killing a zombie by herself.

We then see there are a few more people in the basement of the house, a young couple Tom and Judy (William Butler and Katie Finneran) as well as Harry and Helen Cooper (A monstrous turn by Tom Towles, McKee Anderson). Harry believes they should barricade themselves in the basement, Ben thinks that’s foolish. Throughout most of the running time, they are fighting tooth and nail for whatever power is left in this zombie plague, tensions rising while Barbara seemingly is becoming much more reactionary, having a gun in tow and fighting back. While they board up the house’s windows and doors to keep the zombies out, there’s too many of them to fight against as well as tragedy that strikes when some try to get gasoline for the only transportation they have.

Without saying much more (especially those who haven’t seen this version), there’s just enough differences that if you love the original like I do, you’ll have something here to go back and watch again and again. There’s much more emphasis on gore effects, considering Tom Savini was one of the greatest special effects gurus from such films as Maniac, Friday the 13th and The Prowler and this being his directorial debut, he does a great job with the material, having George Romero in tow to re-write some of the screenplay to give it a more updated feel (especially with the more feminist feel and adding a very haunting shot of bodies hung from a tree, which was in the original script but was taken out due to the race relations issue in the late 60’s).

Twilight Time, the fantastic limited edition Blu-ray, DVD and soundtrack company (which you can buy all of their releases over at Screen Archives Entertainment, has given us a stellar looking but controversial release according to many websites and fanboys. I had heard about the complaints of the film looking ‘too dark’ and that ‘this wasn’t the way the original DVD looks’. I have to chime in and say, owning that original horrid looking DVD, the blue tint that many are complaining about (and supposedly Tom Savini has said looks excellent, as well as this press release from Twilight Time’s own Nick Redman and Brian Jamieson:

As promised, we have discussed NOTLD at the studio and are able to verify via SPE’s Mastering Department, that our Blu-ray is indeed the approved transfer from 2010, generated for the film’s 20th anniversary, and done in consultation with the film’s director of photography. As you will have also seen on this page and elsewhere on the internet, director Tom Savini has now had a chance to view the end product and declared it “fantastic.” As we are aware that some fans of the film will remain disappointed, our offer of a full refund still stands if you wish to return your copy. However, we would caution you with this thought: this is a limited edition run of 3,000 copies, and the title is sold out. Right or wrong, it is a collector’s item, and there are no guarantees this title will ever be repressed. Going forward, if TT encounters another situation where the new transfer differs greatly from the old, we will bring that to collectors’ attention prior to the disc being offered so that you may know of the changes beforehand. Thanks for all your support.

Having spoken to a few people who have seen that restored print, they’ve said that the Blu-ray is the best possible presentation of it right now and I’d have to agree. I’m one in the camp of the positive viewer, who now has put up his old DVD for sale because he finally has a great looking print to show off to my horror aficionados. Sadly as of now, its 3000 run has sold out, being akin to Fright Night, a much sought after Blu-ray of mine which I sadly missed out on. This time around I was lucky enough to snag this one and seeing some of the future releases such as Bonjour Tristesse and The Rains of Ranchipur, this company might be a bit pricey for some, but they’re putting out some exciting releases with stellar looking prints. Also, pick up Enemy Mine before it disappears as well. It’s the first one on the page over at Twilight Time. Tell them CriterionCast sent you.

As You Wish: A Night Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of The Princess Bride [NYFF 2012] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/nyff-film-festivals/as-you-wish-a-night-celebrating-the-25th-anniversary-of-the-princess-bride-nyff-12 Wed, 10 Oct 2012 06:18:33 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=29425
Where does one begin to speak about my love and millions of others for The Princess Bride? It’s inconceivable! A film that in its initial release was a failure at the box office (as Rob Reiner mused ‘because a one sheet and a trailer hadn’t come out, even a week before the film went to theaters.’) but over these last 25 years has become what most films could only dream. Endlessly quotable, with fantastic performances all around, a killer script by the book’s author and famed screenwriter William Goldman and a fan who wanted to direct it and had no idea about the hellish nightmare the script and writer himself had been going through for many years before (with such directors as Francois Truffaut, Norman Jewison and Robert Redford had eyed the production but left the script dangling in the ether).

What’s truly amazing is that this film somehow, through thick and thin and a fun shoot according to all the stars and the director, was made and 25 years ago stumbled into theaters and kind of died there. Or so it seemed. Reiner joked that ‘Fox just couldn’t figure  out how to market the thing. Was it a comedy? A love story? An action-adventure? A spoof?’ We see the same thing happen still to this day, where some films are ultimately put on the shelf for years, such as Cabin in the Woods, which when released people smack their heads and ask, “Why did they do that to a perfectly good film?”

Considering the film didn’t make much at the box office, it is what most would call a ‘cult film’, primarily because word of mouth, home video and repertory screenings gave new life to a film that could have been buried by the box office but due to how charming, witty and sweet the film is, it deservedly received a packed sold out screening, where everyone was laughing over lines, quoting along and cheering like crazy, which usually would annoy someone like me who likes to appreciate a film in a proper setting. But this was the perfect setting for a film, where everyone there who had paid to get a ticket were showing their love for a film that many of us saw at a young impressionable age and has stuck with us these decades later.

Even greater still is the love the stars of the film have for it. Billy Crystal mentioned it was his favorite film to make and even though the makeup process he and Carol Kane had to go through in order to be the old couple Miracle Max and Valerie, the joy they got by still being in character, even when getting food at catering, made them look back fondly. Crystal went on to say how he would watch it with his daughters, and now a grandfather, watches the film with his daughters and their daughters, keeping the cycle going and seeing the film be appreciated by kids and adults alike. Mandy Patinkin amused us by speaking about the day Wallace Shawn, fearing heights and the big shot to take place in front of the smaller 35 foot tall Cliffs of Insanity, where he thought he was going to ruin it all. Patinkin, Robin Wright and Shawn all went on their respective places on bicycle seats strapped around Andre the Giant. Andre, who was much weaker from his wrestling days and could hardly carry a few pounds, was on a forklift and they would lift them up, making it appear that he was climbing. He saw Shawn shaking and being very nervous and took his big hand, stroked Shawn’s head and patted his back and told him everything was going to be okay, he’d protect him. Wallace calmed down and they got to be able to shoot that scene. One of many Patinkin stories about Andre that tends to warm the coldest of hearts.

Another great filmmaking story was that Rob Reiner didn’t want stunt people for the big sword fight scenes in the film, especially between Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts and Inigo Montoya. So Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin trained for many months with Bob Anderson and with one another during any breaks they had. It’s still a fantastic fight scene, one that reminds me of the classic Adventures of Robin Hood. We also were told by Reiner that the castle they filmed in was built by William the Conqueror for his bastard son back in the 10th century. And almost a thousand years later, Reiner, Patinkin and Christopher Guest were singing three part harmonies from the 1950’s such as ‘What’s Her Name?’

Another rumor that has been going around for ages was for the supposed inevitable sequel to be written, Buttercup’s Baby, and someone asked William Goldman if that would ever come to be.  I’m desperate to make it and write it and I don’t know how,’ said Goldman, looking a bit saddened from the question. He called his attempts at writing it a total failure, saying “It’s just one of those things when you go to your pit, and everything sucks there.’ So, sorry to break the bad news to you fans who were clamoring for a sequel anytime soon. Goldman is now 81 years old and it doesn’t seem to have come to him yet.

The best part of any repertory screening is when they have a 35mm print, especially a newly restored one, which was the case with The Princess Bride, especially since a new Blu-ray was being released that same week. It was a gorgeous print, better than I’ve ever seen it, and I’ve owned it in every form. It was my first VHS I ever bought with my own money (low price of $19.99!) and I’ve proudly owned every edition, with the Blu-ray being a future one. I still prefer the cover for the Dread Pirate Roberts version, though. But I can go on and on about this great event, but I’ll leave you with one question you should ask Cary Elwes the next time you see him: Can you do your Bill Cosby impression for me?

James Reviews Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master [Theatrical Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/theatrical/james-reviews-paul-thomas-andersons-the-master-theatrical-review Fri, 21 Sep 2012 05:14:36 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=28590

It’s taken me a week to sit down and finally write this review. When Anderson comes out with a new film, it’s a big deal in the critic’s world. We all jump up and down, hoping for the next masterpiece from this auteur. Having seen the film twice, in glorious 70mm (the last film I saw in that format was Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet back in 1996), I was in awe and didn’t know how to properly articulate what I had just seen. Most writers would rush on home to write this review. Or use their iPad, cellphone or laptop that they took with them, find the nearest Starbucks, and proceed to throw their ideas onto the keyboard and post it on the web as soon as possible. Which there’s nothing wrong with at all. But this film felt like it deserved a thoughtful approach from me. Especially since I’ve been missing in action on the writing side here. What better way to dust off the cobwebs by taking this film and going to town on it.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a disillusioned man, having left the Navy after World War II, lost in the world with his own inner demons, be it a bad upbringing or his constant alcohol abuse. We see him drinking bomb oil, mixing his own concoctions from photography chemicals that should kill him but instead makes him into a Mr. Hyde character, especially when we see him after drinking and he’s become irritable, animal-like, and starts to prod at this man trying to take a picture for his wife until finally he gets struck and they proceed to fight with one another. Freddie then leaves that job to pick vegetables on farmland somewhere where he mistakenly (?) kills an old man with his homemade hooch and runs away before he can get in trouble. This is where he stumbles upon The Master, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) during a party on a ship. He wakes up and gets introduced to Dodd, who asks him to stay on board. And thus starts a bonding, good and bad, through sickness and in health, that will change their lives forever.

Sounds very cliche, doesn’t it? That’s my fault entirely though, because the truth of the matter is that this film is to be seen to be believed and truly appreciated. So before you read on, get to see this as soon as you can (I know it goes wider on September 21st and will hopefully continue to take over). Having seen it twice, as I said earlier, the whole Scientology connection people tried to make right away when Anderson had spoken about it and after we saw the first trailer, is more or less poppycock. He uses it as a slight of hand, a basic jumping point, but the film itself is a character piece, seeing this battle of wits between Freddie and Lancaster. It’s not as if it’s Sherlock Holmes battling Moriarty, but more like Faust and the Devil himself. It might seem like a bit of fishing, but I’ll go into a bit of detail.

Having watched De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise recently for the 100th time, it is a more literal (and musical) telling of the Faust tale. The Master, if we are to believe, is this ‘more than a man’ figure who is going to lead a new belief system for years to come, we see he is a man of science. Yet he focuses his attention on a ‘religion’, a faith based system, which is catching on slowly but surely in America, and is starting to be feared by naysayers and other intellectuals. His own son, Val (Jesse Plemons) tells Freddie that his dad is just making it up as he goes along. He can doze off and come back in with his speeches and not miss a thing. But Lancaster has become a believer in his own system, due to his wife Peggy (Amy Adams) pushing him along. A fall from grace, if you will. Dodd is a charismatic figure, possibly not understanding the power he possesses over people, and has an anger within that comes out (‘Pig Fucker!’), just like Freddie himself, who he continuously calls an animal.

So where the Devil/Faust connection comes up again and again is that Freddie is tempted by this individual, falling in love with his belief system, becoming a devout follower of The Cause, his right hand lapdog who will do anything for his master. Instead of getting unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, Freddie starts to become comfortable with himself, understanding his anger, his shortcomings and possibly his liquor dependency as well. But that temptation pulls Freddie back and forth between Lancaster and his inner demons and it might be too powerful for even the Master and The Cause to handle.

It’s good to have Phoenix back on the big screen, without a big beard and rapping away. Mind you, that was a fine performance, but this role of Freddie Quell seems to be the more realistic depiction of a man who has been lost for awhile, nobody giving him a chance because he left the good path behind until one man keeps trying to give him the love and attention he deserves. Hoffman, as Dodd, is also in top form here, to the point where when it’s Oscar season, they might ruin their chances of winning the best actor nod, considering they both should be up for the honor. When I spoke about a ‘battle of wits’ before, I was speaking of a few scenes in particular, such as the first scene where Lancaster sits Freddie down for some questions, and it’s a scene more harrowing than most action or horror films, where you will be at the edge of your seat, not being able to blink your eyes, just like Freddie. Another scene featuring a wall and a window, is a showcase of a man at the edge of his sanity, seemingly finding himself afterward but possibly questioning this faith even more.

Amy Adams should not be forgotten, as she is almost in Lady MacBeth territory, showing her true position and power throughout the film. She’s very friendly to Freddie one moment, the next slapping him around and giving him an ultimatum of ‘either you stop drinking or you leave The Cause’. She also, with the help of Lancaster’s daughter and son in law, pool together their grievances about Freddie to Lancaster, to no avail. Even when Lancaster is questioning the system himself, Peggy is there to reaffirm him by a sexual scene in front of a mirror that builds and builds as she speaks some words and by the end of it, he is fully back on board. It seems like another day at the job for her, as she reaches over his back to grab a hand towel, wiping away what she’s done and tossing it in the hamper to be cleaned with the rest of the dirty laundry.

Johnny Greenwood’s score is also one of the best to come out, well, since his last one for There Will Be Blood. And this is coming from someone who listens to the Drive, Attack the Block, Tron Legacy, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Sherlock Holmes soundtracks nonstop. But Greenwood’s fully builds upon the characters, giving shape and form to the scenes in the film. The Master feels more complete because of it, and without it would still be powerful, but wouldn’t be memorable. As I travel around the city, I listen to it and remember scenes and get chills reacquainting myself with those memories.

Like the ending of Inglourious Basterds, where Aldo Raine looks down at the camera in the final shot and says, “You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece.”, this film’s title is not only in reference to Dodd’s character, but Paul Thomas Anderson giving a nod to the audience and anybody who had been waiting these last 5 years since his last masterpiece. While watching the film a second time, the names Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick came up, not only based on my viewing but reading other initial thoughts of the film. But when I was done with the film, only one name came up: Paul Thomas Anderson. And I know I’m not the only one who hopes it’s not another 5 years until his next masterpiece.

James Reviews Seth MacFarlane’s Ted [Theatrical Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-seth-macfarlanes-ted-theatrical-review Mon, 02 Jul 2012 05:04:53 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=26580

A talking teddy bear. A guy from Boston. And the girl who is in between it all. This is Ted, the new raunchy comedy from Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show and The Winner fame. Maybe not that last one (sorry Rob Cordrry, I still love you), but you get the gist of it. This last year we’ve seen many animation writer/directors step away from cartoons and jump to live action. Some with success (Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Phil Lord & Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street) and others with a huge bomb (Andrew Stanton’s John Carter). But they were vast changes, in a way, to what we knew them for when they were in the world of animation. McFarlane hasn’t jumped too far into the pool, because Ted ultimately feels like an extended Family Guy episode, but instead of having to buy a DVD of it, you now have to go to the theaters to see it.

Mark Wahlberg plays John Bennett, a lovable loser of sorts whose best friend just so happens to be a talking teddy bear named Ted (MacFarlane). We are shown Ted’s origins back when he was a wee lad and wished for his teddy bear to talk that one Christmas. And guess what? It magically happens, which scares his parents at first but then they come to accept it, Ted becomes a superstar but flash forward to adulthood, and now John and Ted sit around smoking weed, being late to work and just kind of slobs in their day to day lives. Somehow through all of this, John’s girlfriend of four years Lori (Mila Kunis) sticks by John, even though she wants much more stability from their relationship. Which is quite understandable, given the circumstances.

John is given chance after chance throughout this film to shape up, get his life together and prove to Lori that he can be a grownup and not be afraid of thunder and have Ted sing a vulgar song to make them feel safe. Luckily John’s boss Thomas (Matt Walsh from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade) is pretty forgiving, even though he’s late to work and lies to get out of work so he can bum around with Ted. Ted gets a job at a grocery store, and the constant joke is that no matter what he says, how vile and disgusting he is, his boss keeps promoting him. It got a laugh from the audience, but it just seemed like the usual lazy writing from MacFarlane I’ve come to accept from his cartoon duty.

It’s not to say I hated this film. On the contrary, there’s a bit I liked, such as Patrick Stewart’s narration. I tend to think no matter what he says, whatever is written on paper and he’s told to read aloud, he can make sound dignified, even when he curses. It’s a talent not many actors have, but it might be from that Shakespeare background. It’s also the way he says the name ‘Corey Feldman’ that elicited a laugh from me that I could not deny. Mila Kunis is in a thankless straight gal role, where she needs to be the party pooper to John and Ted’s fun, but she tries her best to keep the story moving forward, but all is forgotten when trouble is presented in the final 15 minutes of the film. There’s a nostalgic turn of events throughout the film focusing on the film Flash Gordon, with Mr. Sam Jones as the titular character. I think like John and Ted’s love for the film and for Jones himself, I appreciated how ridiculous those scenes played out and without ruining the surprise, one has to give credit that it wasn’t necessarily a positive spin. Unless doing hard drugs and destroying property is a cool thing.

There’s a whole subplot with Giovanni Ribisi being a creepy stalker to Ted, who wants to buy him and give him to his son. He’s been a fan since seeing Ted on TV as a kid and wants his son to have what he couldn’t as a child. It’s pretty pointless and is there just to move the movie forward or it would end up being a 90’s sitcom on Fox. And peppered throughout, there are Family Guy-esque segues, some of which work a bit and others, like an uninspired Airplane one that is just a recreation of the dance sequence, that makes one wish they were watching that classic film instead. Ted also used to sleep with Norah Jones. Yeah, that’s the joke. She’s serviceable in the film as herself but it’s just a ‘look, it’s someone famous, get it? Ted’s been everywhere!’ joke. Joel McHale is playing his usual asshole role, but unlike his Jeff on Community, the character is old in the first 2 minutes he’s on and I’m not sure if I should blame poor writing or poor acting in this case.

I’d like to say the actual animation of Ted is pretty cool. He looks to be in that world, unlike Scooby Doo or The Smurfs, which for some reason never seem to look ‘real’ enough. Fine, one example are little blue people, but I’m actually paying Ted a compliment now. And Mark Wahlberg interacts with Ted in a way that I wasn’t laughing AT him but instead laughing WITH him. I wish there were more cute and caring moments between the two, but they are very few and far between, instead just showcasing their dangerous relationship and showing Lori to be 100% correct in her worries for her future with John. It’s an odd choice for a film and I’m not entirely sure if that was intended, considering you’re supposed to be rooting for Ted and John (right?).

Seth MacFarlane, I really want to like you and your projects. I liked the majority of those first 3 years of Family Guy. And I do enjoy what I’ve seen of American Dad, because it seems like you care a bit more with that one. The Cleveland Show I can’t even get through, but I’m not judging him on those shows. I’m looking at it from his first feature film, and seeing some respected writers giving this film great scores, makes me feel like I’m lost on the joke. A teddy bear that is raunchy? I guess that passes off as comedy because he’s adorable and you just want to squeeze him. But he might ask you to buy him some weed. And that will be laughed at by many people. I’m just not one of them. I wanted Ted to win me over with his vulgarity and sweet heart but sadly he didn’t.

James Reviews Michael R. Roskam’s Bullhead [Blu-Ray Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-michael-r-roskams-bullhead-blu-ray-review https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-michael-r-roskams-bullhead-blu-ray-review#comments Fri, 29 Jun 2012 05:51:06 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=26561

Bullhead (or Rundskop as it’s known in it’s native Belgium) was a film that took me by surprise last year at Fantastic Fest. So much so that it still held a place in my heart for my top 10 list, high atop at the number 3 spot. I distanced myself from the film, waiting for the Drafthouse Films Blu-ray release, to see if my feelings would be the same. And they weren’t. Somehow, I feel even stronger about this film, seeing more details I had missed before and being even more impressed by Roskam’s debut feature film. It’s a film I can’t properly review again, instead picking out certain ideas and themes I noticed this time around, but if you want to read a ‘proper’ review, you can go here to see that.

It wasn’t necessarily a hard thing going back and watching Bullhead. I was anticipating it, wondering would I still feel sadness for Jacky (a star making performance from Matthias Schoenaerts), but this time the whole Batman comparison came into play. It’s something I had talked with people about for a bit, where a young boy goes through a tragic moment in his life at an impressionable age and over compensates later in life by transforming themselves into a larger than life character. Batman of course looks at the bat as his symbol, becoming this beast in a way when he goes off to fight crime. Jacky is around cattle, his family in the cattle business, and also being around steroids becomes the cattle himself. Or more like a bull, the alpha male, because he needs to show that he is a true man. His face becoming bull like, eyes closer together, nose half broken from fights he’s gotten into throughout the years. We don’t need to see a lifetime of these transformations, instead it comes at us from the very beginning and starts to balance itself throughout the film.

Jacky is introduced to us in a scene where he intimidates a man who might not want to do business with his family. He smacks him around a bit, nostrils flared, ready to gore this man because he’s done his family wrong. An introduction like that says more for the character, especially as he walks away, shaking a bit and doing some drug to relieve himself, we see a shattered man. And this is in the first 3 minutes of the film. Also, the boxing stance (which is displayed beautifully on the box art) are beautiful scenes, quiet, as he trains for his day to day life as an enforcer, in his small bathroom (which Roskam even admits to being Jacky’s very own Batcave). And he still yearns for the girl he saw as a young kid, with a couple of pictures of her on his wall. Roskam makes a great point to say it isn’t in stalker territory, which is true. It comes across as a remembrance and a ‘what could have been?’ more than anything else.

But this isn’t the Matthias Schoenaerts’ show alone. We have a group of fine actors, complimenting one another, and as you delve into the behind the scenes of the film, you get to know a bit about each of them, even when they might just be on the screen for a total of 10 minutes. But a lot of my praise this time around goes to Jeroen Perceval, who plays Jacky’s childhood pal Diederik Maes, but who he hasn’t seen since childhood because of this specific tragedy that I will not spoil for people who just haven’t had the chance to check the film out, even after my constant words about it on here and on the podcast. Perceval says so much with his conflicted portrayal of Diederik, a man who has to go undercover in the criminal underworld, try to get intel for the police, have to deal with his attraction with one of the cops and also bump into his once best friend again, especially in these circumstances. It’s a wild ride, which we can get behind, through flashbacks of their childhood and the present day, we wish these two could make amends and shake hands, hug, what have you. But most crime films don’t end on a high note.

But you want to know about what Drafthouse Films has put on this Blu-ray. It’s packed with some great stuff, such as a running commentary with director Michael R. Roskam, who is having a conversation with Tim League throughout the film. It’s very informative and goes into detail about specific shots, how much Schoenaerts trained, why certain shots look like works of art, and is one I’d revisit again or tell anyone in film school to listen to. We get a Making of Bullhead featurette, which has a bit from everyone involved in the film. We also get two short video interviews, one with director Roskam and the other with star Schoenaerts which give even more insight into the making of the film. They’ve even included Roskam’s 2005 short The One Thing To Do, which was a nice surprise and this being the first time seeing it, you notice a ton of talent in less than 30 minutes, which also shows Roskam working with Schoenaerts back then. A trailer rounds off the video extras, but the booklet is fun because we get little pieces from director Michael Mann and actor Udo Kier, which was great little surprises to read from two individuals I enjoy immensely, showing their love for this film.

This film has been compared to shows like The Wire and films such as Goodfellas, Gomorrah and Animal Kingdom, and I guess one can see the relevance to go to other crime related dramas, especially that have some sort of tragedy sprinkled throughout. But this is a film that I still liken as a character study (like Refn did with Tom Hardy in Bronson) and asks the question “What makes a man?” Do muscles make a man? Does beating up someone who wrongs you in a small irrelevant way to the point of brain damage make you man? Or trying to intimidate someone who changed your life forever? These are questions, among many others, that are asked by Roskam. Some I can answer, some I’m still asking myself almost a year later when I first got to see this, and again after watching it multiple times this week. This is a must own disc, one that is very affordable on Amazon right now.

This is the third Drafthouse Film to be released on Blu, the others being Four Lions (which we all remember as my number 1 film from 2010) and The FP (a film I haven’t had the chance to see yet). So far they’ve had an amazing track record, and are one of a handful of distributors that I get excited hearing about their acquisitions. Maybe one day we’ll have a Drafthouse Films podcast, but for now we’ll just spread the word this way. Bullhead is a tragic tale, little hope or redemption but in the end you just want to revisit Jacky and Diedrick and wish for something better from their lives.

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Kick Start This Project: Trailers From Hell https://criterioncast.com/news/kick-start-this-project-trailers-from-hell Wed, 20 Jun 2012 03:35:34 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=26300

One of my favorite sites on the whole entire internet is Trailers From Hell, the brainchild of the one and only Joe Dante. Director of such classic films as Gremlins, Piranha, The Howling, Matinee and even was a creative consultant on one of the great underrated kid’s TV shows Eerie, Indiana. In 2007 he started the site Trailers From Hell, a venue not only for Dante to showcase his love and knowledge of film by showing trailers and giving short commentaries detailing his love for film itself. It makes sense, considering he’s a lifelong cinema fan and started his film making career by cutting trailers for Roger Corman himself.

Better still, he has gotten other film fanatics such as Jon Landis, Allan Arkush, Edgar Wright, Guillermo Del Toro, Larry Cohen, Eli Roth, Allison Anders, Brian Trenchard-Smith and many others to show their love and appreciation for films, sometimes with theme weeks and sometimes just random trailers that the main thread through them all is the knowledge these filmmakers all have for the films they’re speaking about. And did I mention the site is totally free, now with a huge archive of hundreds of trailers to choose from? Well, it’s a film fan’s dream site, one that I share a love for and can’t help but lose a few hours once in awhile delving deeper and deeper through the trailers, films that I know like the back of my hand and others that are new to me and want to devour as soon as I can after seeing them speak about it.

And right now, Dante and company need the funds to keep the site running without any lag and they’ve jumped on Kickstarter to get it going. It’s also to expand the site, spread the word and make sure they’re not the ‘best kept secret in Hollywood’ anymore. They need $30,000, which sounds like a lot but with the amount of videos and need to stream and the bandwidth it’s probably taking up, that amount seems small in comparison. And they’ve come up with some stellar incentives to give money for the cause. To give a few examples, they had Criterion copies of Border Radio signed by Ms. Allison Anders herself (sadly, I missed out on that one… sold out!), Joe Dante has signed copies of Gremlins films, the soundtrack to Innerspace and even a poster for Mant, the film playing in Matinee (also just sold out). Most of the ones I was eyeballing were in the $50 range, which I think is quite a bargain for signed merchandise but there are some higher end incentives as well. For $3,500 you get to present Trailers From Hell for a week or for $10,000 you get to do it for an entire month. And my favorite one that hopefully won’t anger the fantastic Josh Olson too much is for $5,000, where he will read the script of that person who has paid for that chance. If you don’t get why that’s so funny, look up ‘Josh Olson’ and ‘Reading Scripts’. He wrote a great piece about it in The Village Voice.

So let’s continue this fantastic treasure trove of a site and not let it fade into obscurity like some of the films Dante and company give their undivided attention to. You’ll also laugh every time John Landis introduces a trailer because… well, I’d rather you find out without spoiling it.

Drafthouse Films Announces Drafthouse Alliance Membership Program https://criterioncast.com/news/drafthouse-films-announces-drafthouse-alliance-membership-program Tue, 19 Jun 2012 23:04:02 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=26283

When the Alamo Drafthouse announced their film acquisition arm, Drafthouse Films, a couple of years back with their first acquisition of the fantastic (and my number one film of 2010) Four Lions, we all knew there was great things ahead for what films they would get to distribute. We now have The FP and an Oscar nominee in Bullhead (one of my top 10 films of 2011) and with number 2 and 3 in their Blu-ray/ DVD line we now have Tim League emailing a personal press release explaining about the new membership program, Drafthouse Alliance.

We here at CriterionCast have been saying for awhile that more film companies should be doing what Oscilloscope Laboratories figured out a few years ago with their Circle of Trust program. A yearly membership fee means you get to get the next 10 releases, special screenings and great deals on past catalog titles. League and company have taken that tried and true plan and brought it to Drafthouse Films now with their Alliance Program. As of now, it looks to be at the more than reasonable price of $124.99 for the next 10 releases with digital downloads as well, all of which will be shipped right to your home. Bonus gifts and special screening opportunities at theaters for future Drafthouse Films (such as the hysterical Klown, the amazingly bad yet awesome film Miami Connection or one of my most anticipate horror films of the year The ABC’s of Death) will be the norm for any member of the program.

So sign up today because it’s really a no brainer. Or buy a friend an early Christmas gift. Below is the official press release for this exciting new membership program.

Fifteen years ago, my wife and I opened the first single-screen Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas. We got into this business in the first place because we wanted to create a neighborhood theater run by movie fans for movie fans. Since then, the number of Alamo theaters has grown to eleven and we have started our own distribution label under the Drafthouse banner. Today, with both of these ventures we still try to uphold the same ideals that got us into the business. At Drafthouse Films, for example, we only acquire and distribute movies we love. I want to be able to look back in ten years and be proud of every single curated title in our catalog.

Tomorrow sees the release of Drafthouse Films title THE FP (#2) on DVD/Blu-ray and Digital/VOD platforms followed by BULLHEAD (#3) on June 26th. You could probably not find two more disparate films to announce back-to-back: one a sumptuous, powerful foreign-language Academy Award ® nominee; one a bizarre comeback story set amid the world of lethal Beat-Beat Revelation video game battles. They both fit under the broad banner of Drafthouse Films in that both are fresh, bold and unique visions by exciting new filmmakers.

I encourage everyone to support our efforts at Drafthouse Films by purchasing an exclusive DVD/Blu-ray fan pack for THE FP, pre-ordering our upcoming BULLHEAD release or by joining our new ‘Drafthouse Alliance’ membership program. Each time you buy a DVD/Blu-ray or one of our fan packs from our website, you also get a digital copy of the film as well as the soundtrack (when available). By becoming a member of the Drafthouse Alliance for $124.99, you will get either a Blu-ray or DVD (and digital download) of a current Drafthouse Films title of your choice, plus the next 9 releases shipped automatically to your door. Additionally, we will offer our Drafthouse Alliance members exclusive deals, bonus gifts and screening opportunities throughout the year.

Thanks to everyone for being a part of the Drafthouse family, and I look forward to sharing more and more movies we love with you for many years to come.

Tim League
Alamo Drafthouse

Drafthouse Films’ upcoming theatrical release of ‘the funniest film of the year,’ (The Village Voice), KLOWN will hit NYC, LA & Austin theaters and VOD/Digital platforms on July 27 and the ‘˜80s Tae Kwon Do ninja assault cult classic MIAMI CONNECTION will debut at the New York Asian Film festival on July 7 and hit theaters later in the fall. For more Drafthouse Films updates and unique offers, subscribe to the newsletter by claiming 2 free tracks from the synth rock MIAMI CONNECTION soundtrack!

Kick Start This Film: Cass Warner’s HOPPER: In His Own Words https://criterioncast.com/column/kick-start-this-film-cass-warners-hopper-in-his-own-words Thu, 03 May 2012 06:48:04 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=24824
It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. Not sure why this got dropped from the radar, but we’re back in full swing and since starting this article series, Kickstarter has become a force to be reckoned with. More and more films are being funded this way and I’m happy to see a few of the one’s we features on CriterionCast, such as Motke Dapp’s The Many Monsters Of Sadness and Tom Bean & Luke Poling’s Plimpton! Starring Plimpton as Himself have gone on to be fully funded and have shown at various screenings and festivals. Exciting times indeed. Which leads to this article series coming back and coming back stronger than ever.

Yesterday I happened to be glancing again and funding a Sherlock Holmes themed interactive book series when I stumbled upon this documentary. Once I saw Dennis Hopper’s name, I was in. Hook, line and sinker. A huge fan of the man, the myth, the legend, and anytime he chose to talk in front of a camera was a treat. Especially when he was more candid. But it wasn’t often where he’d sit around and wax poetically about various films and the old studio days of contract players, which he came from. Cass Warner, director of the fine documentary The Brothers Warner (yes, she is related actually), met Hopper while trying to get a soundbyte or two from Hopper. They struck up a friendship and ended up recording him for over an hour where he opened up fully and honestly about various topics.

Which made my head explode a bit. Any film fan, especially Hopper’s filmography, would be all over this, especially since the funding they need isn’t as much as other films/ projects tend to need. The total is $35,000, which will help pay for licensing clips from Hopper’s films, which there are plenty of, so I think any fan of his should chip in. The film is more or less finished, with a rough cut of 77 minutes being ready to be unleashed to everyone. As I said, it just went up and has a month to go to make its goal, which I think it will make.

But as usual, it all begins with us. Even someone as famous as Dennis Hopper and a documentary focusing on his life, needs a bit of cash to help it along. It’s kind of crazy to think about that, but it all makes sense to me. If a company actually said, “Hey Ms. Warner, we’d love to put your film out there. But you need to cut this, and this, and those swear words and he can’t talk about so and so there. Oh, and no mentioning of cocaine.” then the film would have its essence cut from it as well and therefore, what would be the point? They want to put it out independently, and clips to films actually cost money when it’s not with a specific film company.

It’s good to be back and hopefully word of mouth can help this project along. This will be the first of many new entries in this series, spreading the word on great projects that need a push in the right direction.

James Reviews Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption [Theatrical Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-gareth-evans-the-raid-redemption-theatrical-review Fri, 23 Mar 2012 07:01:04 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=23990
Sometimes I hear of a film, being whispered about by other film fanatics. A film so hard hitting, so full of testosterone, that I need to see this film as soon as I possibly can. Then I start hearing and reading all these tweets about a film, agreeing with those first whispers I heard back in September. An action film that doesn’t let up? One where you will grimace because you will feel the pain that these stuntmen on screen go through? An action film that will make you say, “Tony Wha?” Gareth Evans’ second film, The Raid: Redemption, is such a film. Did it live up to the expectations heaped upon it by my fellow film critics?

I’ll backtrack a bit before I let you know what I thought about the film. I became aware of Gareth Evans when I was asked to do a review for his first film Merantau, starring newcomer Iko Uwais, for the VCinema podcast. I had heard that the film was ‘non-stop action’ and that I’d love the intensity of the fight scenes. That was very true, because I fell in love with the film, which I looked as an Indonesian Ong Bak. A fish out of water tale, of a warrior who just wants to do the right thing, attempting to become a man and battling evil because it has to be done, no matter the cost. I also took to Uwais’ boyish charm, his naivety with the role of Yuda and the quickness with which he would battle, yet still getting his butt kicked as well made him a likable ‘hero’. Then I heard of a reuniting of this duo was going to come about and that was all.

Flash forward a few years later, a teaser popped up and a plot synopsis. I was intrigued because this time around, Iko Uwais was part of an Indonesian task force (a SWAT team if you will) who are infiltrating a drug kingpin’s lair, an intimidating apartment complex fortress, very much like a run down building in the projects, and will have to battle drug users, violent criminals and whoever else gets in their way. That’s all I knew about the film and I was hooked by the premise. After having seen the film, I felt like I had been in a battle with the film (in a good way of course). It’s one of those action movies that makes you go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ every few minutes, sometimes multiple times in rapid succession, making your body move back and forth, in enjoyment and cringing a bit from some of the violence depicted on screen. Like older Indonesian and Filipino action films, you wonder how some of these stuntmen walked away from the violence depicted for us all.

And going into this film, I wasn’t expecting it to be centered around a serious and complex story and ultimately it wasn’t. It knows what it wants to do, which is to showcase the strengths of these performers and plenty of them are stuntmen, so you will get fights by the boatload, and it gives it this video game aesthetic. And I mean that in a positive way, mainly because it doesn’t let up. Yes, we have dialogue scenes to further the plot, a twist or two, character beats and a completely insane underling, but they are cut-scenes to a game that you can’t wait to get to the next onslaught. You don’t fast forward, though, because out of respect for those who made it, you want to maybe understand some of these character’s motivations.

Iko Uwais as Rama is again that likable and above all else a perfect guy (family man who has a child on the way), who is a rookie in this elite force, like many of his fellow officers. You see his honor right from the get go, when they are about to make their way into the building, he calmly speaks to a resident who isn’t an actual criminal while another officer is a bit too forceful in his dialogue. Once they go in and a spotter sees them, all hell breaks loose and that’s when the proverbial shit hits the fan but even then, Rama is a force to be reckoned with. First with a gun, then with two toyaks (I believe that’s what they’re called), then with a blade, and ultimately using hand to hand silat learned martial arts. It’s a very blunt and full bodied fighting style, one that looks fantastic on screen and Evans takes full advantage of it and it might be because he is an outsider who appreciates the style. His eye for action is perfect for this style and his finding of Uwais would be, for a religious person, a god-send.

Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog is also one of those characters who looks a little bit like Al Jeong (from Die Hard, Big Trouble in Little China and every other action movie from the 80’s and 90’s) and you think with a name like that, he’s just going to be stark raving mad. But his insanity and violence have a purpose, at least for him, and he is calculating in his fighting, first when he confronts and has a battle with the SWAT team leader and then in a battle between Rama and an ally we kind of see coming from a mile away. I have to say it’s one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in quite some time (probably since the one on two fight in Merantau or the end battle sequence in the Thai actioner Chocolate) and a fight scene that is well choreographed will make you second and triple guess what the outcome will be.

I’d also like to point out the soundtrack for the film, done by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame. When I had heard the original soundtrack had been pushed aside for a bigger name to come in to view the film and give his take, I was skeptical at first. Not a Linkin Park fan and I only knew this guy as the ‘rapping one’. Luckily grandpa here fell in love with the soundtrack (which I’ve downloaded from iTunes) and really can’t see the film without it. I wonder what the original score for the film was but don’t feel like it takes away from the film. Of course it isn’t a Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross production, but it fits the action and builds upon certain scenes and is quite reserved during scenes that need the ‘silence’.

Our very own Joshua Brunsting wrote a fantastic review to this film only a short time ago when he got to check it out at SXSW. You should read that one too. The Raid: Redemption is what everyone has been saying it is, a non-stop rollercoaster action ride, where the hits don’t stop coming up until the end of the film. Is there any true redemption? It’s not important to the movie one bit. What is important is that if you are an action fan and after last year’s action resurgence with Fast Five, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Hanna and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, this year has a lot to live up to. But with the action duo of Evans and Uwais, they’ve upped the ante in the action genre and I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves next*.

*Mind you, I know they have announced a trilogy of films, which I can’t wait to see. And also how they’ll top what they’ve presented to us already.

James Reviews Chad Schaffler’s Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin’ [DVD Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-chad-schafflers-memphis-heat-the-true-story-of-memphis-wrasslin-dvd-review Mon, 12 Mar 2012 04:58:12 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=23547

Anyone that knows me or listens to the podcast, especially our former Disc 2 episodes, they know that I’m a bit of a wrestling fan. No, I don’t watch the new product. WWE or TNA. Even ROH, a smaller company which I followed for years, I stopped watching a couple of years back because I just couldn’t get into it anymore. Mind you, I dip my toes every so often. I’ll catch a live wrestling show if it comes up and the price is right. But I frequent Youtube and watch old matches all the time. When Netflix has a wrestling centered documentary, usually WWE produced ones, I will watch them and relive what I consider the ‘good ol’ days’ of wrestling. Which was the 1980’s and 1990’s to me. To others, those days have been over even longer, considering the wrestling business has been going on since the early 1900’s. To borrow a line from All In the Family, when girls were girls and men were men. Which is why I was excited to check out the new documentary from Chad Schaffler about the Memphis wrestling scene, which sadly the only thing I knew on the fly about it was Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and his public feud with the comedian Andy Kaufman. But it was so much more than that.

Imagine a time when professional wrestling was in competition with Saturday morning cartoons. And the larger than life strong men, women and little people were winning in the ratings, leaving Scooby Doo and company behind. With characters like Sputnik Monroe, Jimmy Valiant, Bill Dundee, Jerry Lawler, Jimmy Hart, Jackie Fargo and many others to excite audiences every week, to pay their hard earned cash to see them perform live on Monday nights at the old Ellis Auditorium and the Mid-South Coliseum, to most outsiders these fans were just watching huge men in shorts fight one another in a ring. But these men told stories in the ring, dramatic, comedic and violence personified, letting imaginations run wild in a time when people were not aware it was all scripted beforehand.

It’s not to say that these wrestlers never got hurt. Broken bones, life on the road and drugs and alcohol took their toll on many wrestlers. We’re lucky enough to get plenty of them speak about the rise of Memphis wrestling from the 1950’s until the decline in the 1980’s due to underhanded politics, bigger wrestling promotions picking the better wrestlers for their own and leaving behind the scraps while the audience dwindled down. Jackie Fargo, who never holds anything back, talks about the way they had to cut corners every chance they got and how he used a young man by the name of Jerry Lawler, who is a fantastic artist, to draw up event posters not only for the wrestling promotion but for Memphis businesses as well in order to make some extra cash. It just so happened that Lawler had a drive to become a wrestler and became the King of Memphis in the process. Beforehand, though, we get him speaking about his first match which for him lasted about 2 minutes when he fell out of the ring attempting to replicate a splash and waking up 15 minutes later, having been knocked out cold from falling on the outside.

We also get a civil rights hero not many have heard about in Sputnik Monroe, called Sputnik not because he was Russian or a Russian sympathizer (which was a common gimmick for villainous, or heel, wrestlers), but because someone randomly called him Sputnik as a term of anger, due to the fans hating him so much. Monroe loved to hang out at bars with black patrons, and this being in the 1960’s, this was a huge no-no for any white person to do, which landed him in jail, harassed by the cops all the time and fined any chance they could do so. But he wouldn’t back down and even in the wrestling business at that time, they segregated the audience, having black attendees in their own section at the arenas they went to. Monroe said he’d take the profits from their ticket sales, because he was behind them all and thought they should have fun too at these events. Why should white people be the only ones? And supposedly at many black residences, there were three pictures in their homes: Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr. and Sputnik Monroe. It gives a different side of the wrestling business that I was sort of aware with when it came to black wrestlers, but not with the fans themselves.

There are so many stories I could wax poetically about, pointing out the highs and lows of all these wrestlers, promoters, referees and everyone else in between. But that would truly take away from the surprises that this documentary sprang on me, and I’m a fan of the wild and crazy world of wrestling. What Schaffler and company put together here, which was a 2 year journey of finding everyone for interviews and luckily getting some choice stories and comments from some who passed away soon after being talked to (Sputnik Monroe being one sad example), is amazing for any documentary filmmaker and team to do. I showed this film to a non-wrestling fan and they were enthralled by the stories of these men and still love to talk about the business even if they’ve been retired for years or wronged in some way. You can order the film over at Memphis Heat’s website and I think it’s a no brainer. With tons of extra interviews (about 4 hours of footage to sift through), it’s a wonderful story with some colorful characters giving us all their even more colorful stories. A must see documentary.

James Reviews Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s Turn Me On, Dammit! [PIFF 2012 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/piff/james-reviews-jannicke-systad-jacobsens-turn-me-on-dammit-piff-2012-review https://criterioncast.com/festivals/piff/james-reviews-jannicke-systad-jacobsens-turn-me-on-dammit-piff-2012-review#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2012 03:04:24 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=23019

Sometimes I like to play coy, hinting at what I think about a film within this first paragraph. A ‘did he or didn’t he life it’ type of feel. In this case with the film Turn Me On, Dammit!, I can’t help but stand on a pedestal and scream to the heavens that I truly adored this film. What’s funnier is that it’s a coming of age story, which tends to be something I don’t gravitate toward, which is a shame because one should never be that closed minded. But I’m glad going into this film, all I had seen was the title and heard a brief description of the film, which was, “It centers around a 15 year old girl who loves to masturbate.” Well, that is an essential part to the film but not at all what it’s about.

Alma (Helene Bergsholm) is the aforementioned 15 year old girl who, at her age, is going through what most tend to think of when thinking of boys of that age range. In this case, she can’t help but think of sex all the time, which is why she has a sex line she calls where the guy knows her by name and she can pleasure herself when her mom (Henriette Steenstrup) is at work. She also has a crush on the cute boy who lives near her named Artur (Matias Myren), who seems to like her too. At a party, when she goes out for some air and a beer, Artur meets up with her and in what appears to be a sweet moment, turns out to be his poking of Alma with his penis. She tells her friends Saralou (Malin Bjørhovde) and Ingrid (Beate Støfring) about what just happened and this spirals out of control in a horrible way for Alma.

Artur denies this ever happening and Ingrid takes this opportunity to make a mockery of Alma and sadly becomes the laughing stock of the high school. Her new nickname is ‘Dick-Alma’ and Ingrid tries to make the moves on Artur. While this is all happening, Alma is still trying to understand herself, her sexuality and her mom’s unease about the situation, all while trying to get Artur to admit that he did indeed poke her with his penis. Saralou, sister of Ingrid, is still friends with Alma, but only at the bus stop and around town, but not at the school but she has her own issues and a stoner kid who is trying to get with her, while she is planning on leaving this town and moving to Texas to fight the death penalty.

In a 76 minute movie, there is tons of story but it never once drags. It balances the fine line between funny and charming, cute and crude and does it with such ease that it amazed me while I was watching it with my significant other. Not sure why, but I knew of a few people who were questioning even seeing this film due to the fact that it was centered around a 15 year old girl who liked to masturbate. In one scene she even smells her hand afterward, which I found out is something some curious girls do. Some curious guys do as well, but that’s the idea I get from Turn Me On, Dammit!: teens are kind of crazy. To be more specific, when hormones are raging in teens, you are a confused, irrational, angry, sad, horny mess and you don’t know what to do with all of this pent up insanity, which Jacobsen directs with such finesse.

One wonders if this film gets a following here in the States if a production company will want to remake it. It’s kind of worrisome, mainly because this would be seriously toned down big time if made here, because the American movie going public has something against sex. Especially enjoyable sex when it comes to a woman. In this case, it’s a girl that is underage and who is confident with herself and what makes her feel good. When you open the film with Alma laying on the floor, hands under her panties and pleasuring herself while on a sex line, it feels like they’d change it to a guy having sex with a warm pie. I will take this film and its subject matter over American Pie, Project X and various other raunchy teen comedies of today because they tend to be a bit angry and self centered. Alma is a girl we’ve all known or know today, depending on your age. Or she might have been you and this film will bring back those awkward moments you hadn’t thought about for years. It’s an amazing film that really shows me that there are up and coming filmmakers we should all be looking out for. Jannicke Systad Jacobsen is one such filmmaker. Seek this out the moment you hear it’s being released.

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What’s All The Hulu-baloo About: Criterion’s Oscar Alternatives https://criterioncast.com/column/on-the-hulu-channel/whats-all-the-hulu-baloo-about-criterions-oscar-alternatives Tue, 28 Feb 2012 08:46:06 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=23152
You’ve watched the 84th Annual Academy Awards and are feeling in a film watching mood. You’ve seen who has won and are complaining on Twitter and Facebook (or your very own Tumblr page) and need to vent about who should have won or who should have been nominated in the first place. Trust me, I get it. We’re all going through that. I will still say I’m sad that Albert Brooks didn’t get nominated for his startling villainous turn in Drive, but I digress. That’s not what I want to talk to all of you about. Instead, I want to point you in the direction of some fantastic alternative films that Criterion has up on their Hulu Plus channel. Whatever has won this past Sunday night will be mentioned with a film to take its place that you can watch from the comfort of your own home or on the go via your iPhone, iPad or whatever other device you may have.

Best Picture Winner: The Artist

I’m just going right into the big categories. The favorite for awhile now was definitely this homage to the silent film era that is sadly getting tons of backlash. Not sure where that is stemming from, but this is neither the time or the place to discuss them. I will point you to a few films to check out that are classics of the silent era and should be getting the love they deserve. Hopefully with this win, silent films will be dug up by young and old alike and cherished for their greatness.

Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: The Passion of Joan of Arc

One of the greatest films of all time, be it silent or not, Carl Dreyer’s film was thought to be lost for decades from a fire and found in a janitor’s closet in an Oslo mental institution, the story is one for the legends. The path this film takes is simply breathtaking and the performance by Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc is pitch perfect. Her face is one to behold and if you haven’t yet seen this film, I think you need to stop reading this article, save it in your tabs and go watch The Passion of Joan of Arc now and let me know if your life has been changed for the better.

Best Actor In a Leading Role: Jean Dujardin in The Artist

The handsome Dujardin was a favorite of mine for a few years now from watching his double whammy of spy spoofs OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio, where he played dashing super spy Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath. In The Artist, Dujardin plays George Valentin, an accomplished silent film star who is coming to grips with the impending doom of his profession due to sound coming to the industry. It’s a charming and touching performance, one that I hope some will grow to love in the years to come.

Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

I could have easily gone with any of Chaplin’s iconic Tramp roles in his films, but when comparing to The Artist, the closest I can come to for an alternative would be his 1936 film Modern Times. The reason being? Chaplin himself was battling the idea of sound in pictures and throwing out his own silent film style still up to the last minute. With the success of The Jazz Singer lighting the sound fire throughout the world, Chaplin threw in a small amount of sound in this film as an olive branch and also a sign of defeat. Such a wonderful film as well. Buy the Blu-ray if you can from Criterion. If anything, you should check out The Kid, The Circus, The Gold Rush and City Lights as well while you’re at it. Especially since those haven’t been released by Criterion yet.

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady

I love Meryl Streep. Also, it was her 17th time being nominated for an Academy Award, the most ever nominations. And it was her third win for a role that she played impeccably. The movie itself wasn’t too good, but that’s beside the point. Streep really delved into the role of Margaret Thatcher. Was it as true to the real life woman? That’s up for debate.

Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box

I could have easily went back to The Passion of Joan of Arc, but that would be cheating. Also, a lot of my favorite female performances within the collection are out of print now (such as the Hitchcock movies) or not up on the Hulu site (I adore Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey). I instead chose another silent film within the collection, this time the classic G.W. Pabst film Pandora’s Box. And this is primarily for the simple fact that you can’t help but keep your eyes on Louise Brooks the entire time. This film was way ahead of its time, with its sexuality oozing (wrong word?) off the screen. Brooks is a revelation here, and Pabst was known for discovering amazing women in film (Greta Garbo, anyone?). This is one film that I have a hard time finding anyone who is also a fan. But I think it’s rediscovery will be happening yet again very soon.

Best Actor In a Supporting Role: Christopher Plummer in Beginners

This one I was truly happy for, being a huge Christopher Plummer fan. Yes, a Klingon has won an Oscar. I know, I know, every nerd has already said that. But in this Mike Mills film, Plummer plays a dying father who comes out of the closet to his family. A double dose of intense news from someone’s father, and it was performed so well. Surprised Ewan McGregor didn’t get any recognition for his role as Plummer’s son. Well, Plummer gave him his very own nod of approval during his amazing acceptance speech.

Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Thomas Mitchell in Stagecoach

This is a film we covered on the podcast way back in episode 53! Thomas Mitchell won the Oscar back in 1939 for his role as the drunken Doc Boone but he does so much more than the usual drunken fool that was the norm at the time. Most remember it for the star making performance of John Wayne’s turn as the Ringo Kid, but I see an actor like Mitchell relishing in a meaty role that he did not take for granted. One of my favorite films of all time and a supporting role that makes the film that much better.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Octavia Spencer in The Help

Spencer had the best and most emotionally charged acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, and for good reason. Her role as Minny Jackson, a maid with a sharp tongue which gets her fired from multiple jobs, was a great performance. Not getting into the actual story behind The Help itself because there’s a lot of stuff coming out about that, instead I’m looking at the performances and Spencer did a hell of a job winning most other awards for her role.

Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Véra Clouzot in Diabolique

When thinking of a great secondary female performance in a film, it was quite difficult to narrow it down. But one film that instantly popped in my head that had two strong women playing different roles was Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique, a favorite mystery thriller that I show to people who want something along the lines of Hitchcock. And Clouzot as Christina Delassalle, best friend to Simone Signoret’s Nicole Horner is at first one type of performance, than something entirely different and ultimately changes even what we’ve seen for the first 100 or so minutes. A fantastic performance that gives the primary performer a run for their money.

Best Directing: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

It was a no brainer, considering the film had won so many other awards and was sweeping critics off their feet. Hazanavicius had made the two OSS films with Dujardin, which shows his comedic timing and finally with The Artist, he showed his writing and directing were both being looked at and being respected. With the backlash that is occurring now for his film, I just hope it still acts as a gateway for younger fans to check out silent films in general.

Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: John Cassavetes for A Woman Under the Influence

Of course sadly I could not put up Carol Reed’s The Third Man because it isn’t a part of the current collection. Look at Studio Canal for that anger inducing truth. I could have easily put up Lumet’s 12 Angry Men as well, but it’s not up on Criterion’s Hulu page either. Not yet, at least. I instead went for indie filmmaker John Cassavetes and his seminal 1974 masterpiece A Woman Under the Influence. Written and directed by Cassavetes, this film took me by surprise when I was lucky enough to check out a dirty beat up print back in college. Gena Rowlands (who I almost picked earlier) and Peter Falk (who sadly lost his life this past year) are a married couple, with Rowlands’ Mabel trying to please Falk’s Nick, which worries him with the way she’s been acting. Powerhouse performances by the both of them, this film sadly did not win the Academy Award that year, being beat out by a small director by the name of Francis Ford Coppola for a silly sequel of a gangster film. I kid, I kid. Love both of those films, but something about Cassavetes’ film sticks with me in ways I never thought possible. While you’re at it, go check out one of my other favorite films of his The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, starring another actor who recently lost his life and the other actor that frequented his films, Ben Gazzara.

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): The Descendants by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

An actor from Community has an Oscar now. Come on, NBC, let’s get this show back and on for another year at least. Okay, sorry, had to plug that for a second. This film was one that surprised me, not because I expected something bad from a George Clooney film, but because it was not a typical Clooney film I have come to view. It was a hurt, weak and perhaps one of the most normal roles he’s ever taken, which I’m grateful for because I like it when a great actor can stretch themselves out a bit and showcase their talents. A great screenplay like this will always make me want to go to the original source material, in this case based on the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings.

Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Z by Jorge Semprún and Costa-Gavras

Adapted from the novel of the same name written by Vassilis Vassilikos, this political thriller was one film that Criterion truly introduced to me. I had never heard of it (shame on me), even though it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1969, losing out to Midnight Cowboy but won many other Oscars that year. When the DVD came out, I jumped at the film because I had been reading up on it prior to its release and I was not disappointed in any way. Actually I was blown away by this film, co-written and directed by Costa-Gavras, depicting a thinly fictional plot revolved around the assassination of a Greek politician and the cover up done by military and government officials. Echoing the 1963 assassination of Greek left wing activist Gregoris Lambrakis, it is frightening to see the truth of such a horrible matter put up on the big screen. But it is also eye opening, which is what any fantastic film based around politics will do. While you’re at it, go check out The Battle of Algiers. Just because I said so.

Best Writing (Original Screenplay): Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen

Woody Allen of course was not at the Academy Awards to pick up his trophy and I kind of always dug the fact that he just doesn’t care about those sort of things. But it makes me happy that he was awarded again for his best script in years (I will say Match Point is a hell of a screenplay as well) and also showed that Owen Wilson is still talented in the acting department. And that it was loved by audiences all around the country too makes it even sweeter, this timeless tale of love and perhaps losing that love by one’s own journey into the heart of a city and themselves is one film I wish I had watched much sooner. Another Allen classic, even at the age of 76.

Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman

Again, these categories are so tough because there are tons of films to choose from when it comes to fantastic original screenplays. I picked one of my favorite films, one that we keep wishing for a Blu-grade, and one of my favorite episodes of the podcast, Wild Strawberries, which we covered back in Episode 59. Starring his mentor and favorite filmmaker Victor Sjöström (which you can view his seminal silent film and one of my favorite discoveries in 2011, The Phantom Carriage), it weaves a story of a man going to receive an honorary award but while on his journey, he’s facing his past and his impending death. Beautifully shot, acted and written, Bergman’s film is a wonder to behold and a film I hold in high regard as changing the way I look at film. It’s hard to explain how something could do that, but this film did it. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I implore all of you to do so as soon as you can and fall in love as well.

Two honorary mentions because I feel like it and if you’re still reading this, thank you so much. With all the craziness surrounding Sacha Baron Cohen’s banning, unbanning and in between for his possible portrayal of his character from his upcoming film The Dictator, I of course think of a film that I hold in my upper echelon of greatest films of all time. Another Chaplin film and one that I think everyone could guess from a mile away is his first full talkie, The Great Dictator. A wonderful film, full of wit, charm and emotion. The other film that I was very surprised got no nominations whatsoever was Steve McQueen’s film Shame, especially with Michael Fassbender and his private member wooing audiences everywhere. Of course my mind goes in dark and dirty places, so the films I would suggest to watch and are not yet on a physical disc yet are the Hanzo the Razor films. You don’t know about the Hanzo films? Oh boy, you’re in for a demented treat. With Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice, Hanzo the Razor: The Snare and Hanzo the Razor: Who’s Got the Gold?, we see our titular ‘hero’ battle wits with evil doers and use his huge private part to make women talk. That’s all I’m going to say and I might have said too much already.

If you’ve enjoyed this return to form to Criterion Cast’s own What’s All The Hulu-baloo About?, please sign up for a free 2 week trial to the Hulu Plus service. It helps us to pay for this series and it will also make you realize how amazing this service really is. Thanks again and until next time, keep on watching.

James Reviews Young-doo Oh’s Invasion Of Alien Bikini [PIFF 2012 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/piff/james-reviews-young-doo-ohs-invasion-of-alien-bikini-piff-2012-review Sun, 26 Feb 2012 02:38:59 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=22927

Young-doo Oh’s second film. Invasion of Alien Bikini, was a film that I missed at last year’s Fantastic Fest. At first it made me a wee bit sad, considering I tend to have a soft spot for strange Asian cinema, especially when it comes to South Korean film. But then I heard nothing at all about this film from my colleagues at the festival, which confused me. Even the horrible films (like Human Centipede II) had people waxing poetically about their horribleness, but this film had nobody talking. Which worried me toward the end of the festival and prompted me not to throw it on my ticket list of films I had to catch up with.

Flash forward 5 months later and the Portland International Film Festival was doing a screening of it and it landed on my doorstep for review. And after viewing it, I felt lucky that I didn’t divulge in my curiosity in September at the famed Alamo Drafthouse to see it with other film fans. This was one of the poorer films I’ve seen in quite some time, not because of ineptitude but because of sheer waste of a cool concept that truly goes nowhere. And for a film with a 75 minute running time, I kept looking at the info screen on the DVD to see how much more time I had left to go in this film.

Going into this film as blindly as possible was the best and worst case scenario. I knew nothing of the plot but just the title itself and the country of origin. Right away I knew it wouldn’t be the hyper gore-filled nonsense of the new wave of Japanese extreme films (such as Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police), but with this title promising an ‘alien bikini’, I thought this might be a sex-filled genre film. Instead we have a ‘hero of the city’ who is out on patrol, sees a young pretty woman getting attacked by a group of men, and he goes in to rescue her. With some of the more poor (yet, realistic) fight scenes I’ve seen before, he brings her back to his place so she can rest from her attack.

Unknown to our hero Young-gun (played by Young Geun Hong in a wasted role, even with his manly fake mustache), Monica (the beautiful Eun-Jung Ha) is an alien on the run and has a limited time to survive to procreate with a male. She needs the ‘sperms’ of a man and will stop at nothing to acquire them. This all sounds like it could be a fun time at the movies, but what I got instead were very slow scenes (especially one not so exciting Jenga scene that felt much longer than it was) that really feel like they go nowhere. It’s a shame because the two main leads have some chops and I hope to see them again in a film, but this sci-fi romantic comedy feels like it skimps on all of those genres and throws in a healthy dose of torture in its short running time. It had a feeling of too many ideas and not enough enforcement in them. Any sort of dread or sadness we’re supposed to feel is tacked on just because the characters are trying to show it to the audience. There’s no build up for us to truly feel anything for this hero or this possibly wronged alien being body hopping to keep itself alive.

A film called Invasion of Alien Bikini should have some sort of quirk to it. Or is that too much to ask? This film felt like a perfect one to throw on and have a good time, but at certain points, it didn’t even feel like anybody was having fun. I’ve been told already that I missed the point of the film and I should have just ‘had fun with it’. I tried that and won’t blame a bout with pneumonia as perhaps tainting my time with this film. I won’t be revisiting this anytime soon and also can’t recommend it to anyone either. Here’s hoping the next Young-doo Oh film has a sense to reign in a few of the ideas that got away from him in this one.

James Reviews Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol’s A Cat In Paris [PIFF 2012 Review] https://criterioncast.com/festivals/piff/james-reviews-jean-loup-felicioli-and-alain-gagnols-a-cat-in-paris-piff-2012-review Sun, 26 Feb 2012 02:35:53 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=23032

When I had heard of the Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature, I was crossing my fingers that Pixar wouldn’t get the usual shoe-in that they tend to get every year. Cars 2 was some of the worst I had ever seen and I was hoping it would mean some foreign animated feature films would get the chance to shine. I was pleasantly surprised to see two films better than I had expected them to be (Puss In Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2), the possible best animated film I saw this year (Rango) and two foreign animated films, one of which is the reason you clicked this review. So how is the French animated feature A Cat in Paris and does it deserve its place for a chance at Oscar gold?

It’s present day in Paris, where we focus in on the lives of two completely different people but share the same thing; a black cat named Dino who splits his nights with Nico, a cat burglar who goes around the city stealing from the ultra rich, and its mornings and days with Zoé, a little girl who feels alone because her mother is always at work, even when she’s at home. This is because her mother Jeanne is the superintendent with the Parisian police department and is on the hunt for the infamous number one criminal Costa, who shot and killed her husband and Zoé’s dad. While Jeanne is searching out leads for Costa, she is also trying to figure out the connection between a cat’s paw prints at the scene of multiple burglar crime scenes.

Hand drawn animation is something I cherish and look for over the new norm of CG animated films. Not to say that what Pixar, Dreamworks, ILM and others do has diminished animation. Considering Rango was one of my favorites of the year will further prove that, as is my excitement for Pixar’s newest film Brave. But there’s something about hand drawn animation that reminds me of growing up on Disney and Don Bluth films, or Saturday morning cartoons that seemed to be more than toy commercials (even though they weren’t). A Cat In Paris has this wit and charm throughout its brief 70 minute running time that you want to spend more time with these fantastic characters. From mute Zoé since her dad was killed, to the suave and noodle body of thief Nico and to the crazed Nico (who has an almost French Joe Pesci feel to him), you have what could have been a simple crime story and elevates it to a higher level.

A tight and sharply written script (by our directing duo) does wonders in this animated Paris, where we have the usual gang of bumbling gangsters that enrages our villain (with a scene that is very reminiscent of one from Goodfellas involving a quiche) is cliche but not once does it come across as eye roll worthy. It’s got some beautifully conceived moments, such as a daring rescue in the dark that gives the animation a white lines on a black background look that, for some strange reason, reminded me of the animation of Don Hertzfeldt. This does look much more polished, though. It’s just a constant fluid animation style that I absolutely fell in love with and hope to see more from this duo in the near future.

A Cat In Paris is a film that deserves to be seen as soon as you can get a copy in your hands. I don’t want to give too much away because it’s a joy to behold on the screen. A few twists and turns and genuine creepy moments with our villain gives way to a roller coaster ride of animation and thankful for a second year in a row to French animation. Do I think it will win the Academy Award? No, I do not but that is not to say it doesn’t deserve it’s nomination. I’m glad the Academy did the right thing and looked outside the box with their animation category and did something for the first time, which was to nominate two foreign animated films for the first time in the same year. If you’re an animation nut like me or want to watch an atypical animated feature film with your kids, you can’t go wrong with this film.

James Reviews Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale [Blu-ray Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-jalmari-helanders-rare-exports-a-christmas-tale-blu-ray-review Tue, 31 Jan 2012 05:57:25 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=20718

It’s been barely over a year since I reviewed Rare Exports for the site and in that time I have praised the film to everyone I’ve met. Plenty of my friends have applauded the film and thanked me for the suggestion to check it out. Being over a year since I’ve viewed the film, I feared a bit that the film might have lost a bit of its edge since then. Perhaps it was a ‘right place, right time’ type of movie and I’d only see the flaws 13 months later. Oscilloscope has released the film on DVD and Blu-ray, which is sitting right on my Blu-ray player right now.

As I said in last year’s review (seen here) and if you listen to the second part of our Best of 2010 podcast, you can tell I pretty much dug the film. In fact, it was my number 4 film of the year and for good reason. It took the Christmas/Santa Claus myth and threw it out and brought it into a much more darkly comic world. Like my favorite Christmas films, there’s always a darkness about them, where one minute you’re horrified and the next you’re doubled over, laughing at something horrible that just was presented on screen. When the Blu-ray came in the mail, and as I said above, the fear was there. Would the film still trigger elation? Or was the Christmas spirit running through me at an all time high last year?

Watching the film with a group of friends was the best way to re-watch this film during this past holiday season. There’s something about sandwiching this film in between Gremlins and Die Hard had a great affect with about 12 people in a small room laughing along and shocked at some of the imagery, especially the great artwork in the books Pietari is reading throughout the movie, researching who Santa Claus truly is. Also when we see a naked man who loves the taste of gingerbread and the smell of children, it brings a slight chill down your spine in the best of ways. Considering I’ve reviewed this film earlier and still enjoyed it is a testament to Jalmari Helander’s writing and directing of this, a horror holiday film, usually of which don’t work out as well as most people hope.

It might seem too late to pick up this release from Oscilloscope, considering it’s 3 weeks after Christmas but I say ‘Bah humbug!’ to whoever utters those words. Adam Yauch (or Nathaniel Hornblower as he likes to be credited) and company have been chugging along with some fantastic releases, and this is just another one example as to why they are a stellar company and giving Criterion a run for most interesting releases. With this film they really went the full nine, giving us the two short films, Rare Exports Inc. (2003) and Rare Exports – The Official Safety Instructions (2005), that were the basis of the feature film. We also get a making of the film documentary, a look at the concept art called Blood In the Snow, a comparison between the animatics and computer effects, behind the scenes production still and the original trailer from Finland. And as a special treat exclusive to the Blu-ray release, they also give a second disc housing Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, the 1964 so bad it’s good film which is still one of the most popular Mystery Science Theater 3000 features of all time.

Looking at the holidays the older I get, I see the evil that can lurk behind corners and in the shadows. To see a film where the only one who is seeing that something is up is a young child, is a breath of fresh air; considering the fact that most of the time kids in films tend to be useless, yet still survive because filmmakers are afraid to do something really horrible to them. In this film, kids are the targets of Santa Claus, who needs them to feed and his minions (or elves) are scary looking, to say the least and without ruining it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet. This film is definitely a fun ride and now will be a holiday film that circles my Blu-ray player every holiday season.

Order the Blu-ray from Amazon.com

Oscar Nominated BULLHEAD To Get Limited Release February 17th https://criterioncast.com/news/oscar-nominated-bullhead-to-get-limited-release-february-17th https://criterioncast.com/news/oscar-nominated-bullhead-to-get-limited-release-february-17th#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2012 22:19:52 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=21908

Recently nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards, Michael R. Roskam’s Bullhead has finally been given the green light by its distributor, Drafthouse Films, for a limited release starting February 17th in New York City, Los Angeles and Austin.

After that it will expand to other markets, finally giving others the chance to see this amazing and powerful film. I got to see it back in September at Fantastic Fest. Here’s the review if you were interested. It was in my top 10 films of 2011 and for good reason.

Very happy that it’s been given a chance at the gold statue and further shows why Drafthouse Films is one to watch out for for distributing off the radar films that deserve the attention.

Below is the press release.

Los Angeles, CA – Friday, January 27, 2012 – Drafthouse Films announces that Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award-nominee BULLHEAD will open Friday, February 17 in New York, Los Angeles and Austin in the following theaters and will expand to new markets following its initial limited release. 

New York – AMC Empire & Angelika
Los Angeles – Laemmle Santa Monica, Laemmle NoHo, Laemmle Playhouse & The Cinefamily
Austin – Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar & Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek

BULLHEAD, the feature film debut of writer/director Michael R. Roskam, was acquired by Drafthouse Films following its US premiere at Fantastic Fest, where it won “Best Picture” in the AMD/Dell Next Wave Competition, which highlights first-time feature filmmakers.

BULLHEAD, an underdog pick for Best Foreign Language Film, surprised everyone with its Academy Award nomination. Its journey to the coveted nomination began as an unexpected submission for the category from its home country Belgium, earning its deserved accolades by being a bold, original story. BULLHEAD is just the second film released by Drafthouse Films, following the critically acclaimed FOUR LIONS, and it marks the first Academy Award nomination for the young distributor.

BULLHEAD has gathered international acclaim, winning 25 awards to date including the “Best Actor” prize at Palm Springs IFF 2012, going to Matthias Schoenaerts, who packed on 60 pounds of muscle for the role and was honored for his “superb portrayal of an innocent and sensitive man trapped in a truculent body.” Schoenaerts is next scheduled to headline RUST AND BONE with Marion Cottilard from director Jacques Audiard (A PROPHET).

The film also won the “New Auteurs Audience Award” and “New Auteurs Critic’s Prize For Best Actor” at 2011 AFI festival and Roskam was named one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch.”

Michael R. Roskamʼs BULLHEAD is an emotionally driven tale of revenge, redemption and fate set against the backdrop of the Belgian bovine hormone mafia. It is an exciting tragedy about fate, lost innocence and friendship, about crime and punishment, but also about conflicting desires and the irreversibility of a man’s destiny. Domineering cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts in a ferocious breakout performance), constantly pumped on steroids and hormones, initiates a shady deal with a notorious mafioso meat trader. When an investigating federal agent is assassinated and a woman from his traumatic past resurfaces, Jacky must confront his demons and face the far-reaching consequences of his decisions.

BULLHEAD is distributed domestically by Drafthouse Films.

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James Reviews Shinji Imaoka’s Underwater Love [UK DVD Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-shinji-imaokas-underwater-love-uk-dvd-review Fri, 30 Dec 2011 02:43:46 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=18528

For months we were hearing little whispers of this pinku eiga film from Japan. Why was a pinku eiga film getting so much attention? The main tidbit that had us at The Criterion Cast interested was the director of photography doing this film. Christopher Doyle, the DP of Wong Kar Wai, was going to give his touch to a genre of film that doesn’t get much attention when it comes to that subject. When news came out it was also a musical film about a kappa who comes back to the fishing town he grew up to see the girl he dug back in high school, I knew it was a film I had to check out when I was down in Austin for Fantastic Fest. Seeing the film early in the morning, I found the colorful film much more surprising than I could have ever known. Being sent the new DVD that the UK company Third Window Films put out, the two questions are: Is the film as good as I remember? and Should you purchase this DVD of it right now?

From Third Window Films own site comes a synopsis I think works rather well.

From Germany’s Rapid Eye Movies and Japan’s Kokuei Company comes a whimsical pink film musical about a woman and a sea creature.

Directed by pink-film veteran Shinji IMAOKA (Lunch Box, Frog Song), shot by Christopher Doyle ‘“ the famed cinematographer behind Hero and countless films by Wong Kar Wai ‘“ and with music by Germany’s Stereo Total, Underwater Love ‘“ A Pink Musical promises to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Asuka works in a lakeside fish factory. She is just about to be married to her boss. One day, she encounters a Kappa, a water creature living in the lake and learns that it is the reincarnation of Aoki, her first love. What ensues is a zany spectacle of love, music and sex.

I went in with two thoughts about the film before even seeing it, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. I knew it would look really vibrant and that it would be the usual softcore porn I’ve been used to watching pinky films for the last 10 years. Luckily only the first thing was true, with Doyle’s cinematography uplifting the film and being sharp and beautiful throughout. But this is not a typical pinky film which made this a breath of fresh air in the genre. It wasn’t just about the sex, which in the past I’ve been used to overly creepy scenes, usually with a middle aged man and a girl who appears to have just turned 18 and always turning my stomach a bit. Mind you, this is not all of the genre, but much of what I’ve been sent to watch and review tends to fall into the ‘typical’ pinky film. Underwater Love not only has a fun and comedic tone through the film, we also have such warmth and caring within as well which I would had never guessed.

And this is all lays upon our lead actress, Sawa Masaki as Asuka, who gives us a mixture of loss, regret and taking back her life considering she had given up in her old age (35 years old), settling on the best case scenario presented to her, which is to marry her boss at the fish factory. It’s only when she meets up with her first love, Aoki (Yoshiro Umezawa), now reincarnated into a Kappa and still as childlike as when he died those many years ago. While Asuka is wide eyed when it comes to Aoki coming back into her life, Aoki is instead a lethargic soul, one who is very nonchalant as to what he wants in his newfound life, which is to reconnect with Asuka once more.

What puts this film in a level all its own is that it’s also a musical, one that intentionally feels like an amateur stage musical, one that has true sentiment and full of life, even though it’s always lip synched from an earlier recording. And that’s what makes it charming, ultimately. People tend to point out Harold and Maude being the strangest romance every put to film, but I’d like to put Underwater Love in that same quirky bag, a film that truly needs to be seen to be believed. But I bet everyone wants to know how the sex scenes are. This is a pinky film, isn’t it?

Well, in this case, we have sporadic sex scenes, dealing with our main characters, with other lovers and ultimately with one another. But they fit with each character, their wants and desires. The sex also signifies what they are missing in their lives, and for a pinky film to elicit that type of reaction from me, someone who had almost given up on the genre wholesale, is a lofty feat. The second time viewing this film, being the first time I watched it on DVD, brought forth an array of feelings from even this cynical critic. And all the feelings that Imaoka and Doyle were going for worked well and brought this film from what on the outside might look like an extended joke into something real and truly worthwhile.

After seeing this film at Fantastic Fest 2011 as I mentioned earlier, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to view this film again for quite awhile, considering not only the length of time Japanese films take to come out on American DVD, but a pinky film to boot, but the great folks at Third Window Films acquired the film in the UK and have put out a stellar edition, one I can say is definitely worth importing. First off, the film was made with a small budget so the quality of the film is low budget, yet it gives it a charm all its own and with Doyle’s handiwork at play, when the film shines with some bursts of color, we are all the more lucky because of it. We also get the great musical score from Stereo Total in 5.1, which is one of the highlights of this film.

What we also get is an array of special features, three of which are centered around Christopher Doyle, all in interview form but in different places. Ranging from 8 to 25 minutes, one of which is at a beauty parlor, which shows a sense of humor in supplements we sometimes don’t get from distributors. He’s a witty and insightful man who I really wish contributed a commentary track on the film, but we can’t get everything we want. We also get a 15 minute interview with Shinji Imaoka, who describes pinky films in general and also the script and story direction for the film. Also on the disc are three ‘porcupine’ shorts, which are different views of the first sex scene in the film, showing different views of this scene, and is a welcome addition to the set. Finally a soundtrack for the film, which I can’t stop listening to, is also included but is very limited so if you can, order it as soon as possible.

Third Window Films really hit this one out of the park, giving a well rounded disc for Underwater Love. Just like the film itself, it was a surprise in itself, one I thought might give a passing glance but in the end I’m glad I got to take it all in and truly experience the film in different ways. This is a film to watch with close friends or a loved one. It’s not lewd, even with its sex. It’s fun and very tongue in cheek. And what other film will you see a turtle man’s privates? It’s got a bit of everything, and I can definitely say this was one of the highlights in film I had this year. Pick up this film now and see what you’ve been missing.

And the NSFW trailer is right below. You get a bit of the music in the film, which once you’ve heard will stay in your head.

Goodbye Uncle Ken: James’ Top 10 Favorite Films By Ken Russell (1927 – 2011) https://criterioncast.com/list/goodbye-uncle-ken-my-top-10-favorite-films-by-ken-russell-1927-2011 https://criterioncast.com/list/goodbye-uncle-ken-my-top-10-favorite-films-by-ken-russell-1927-2011#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2011 08:10:34 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=19630

It’s always a sad day when anyone dies. Especially for we, the film fanatics out there, when one of our cinematic heroes passes on. Even more so when it’s Ken Russell, who never stepped down and always pushed against what was perceived as normalcy and instead made films that challenged and showed “that British cinema didn’t have to be about kitchen-sink realism’”it could be every bit as flamboyant as Fellini.” (According to film critic Mark Kermode) Some would call him pretentious, others a visionary (I’m in the latter category) and even when he missed the mark with his films he still made something that would be truly memorable. I know a ton of people, critics, filmmakers and the like will be putting their thoughts up of this man so I wanted to list my 10 favorite films of this man, a few of which I wish would be featured in the Criterion Collection as well. Think of this as my little way to give some notice to a writer/director that everyone should be familiar with in the first place.

10. Gothic (1986)

Here’s a film that used to creep me out, just by the box art alone, when I’d go to my neighborhood video store as a kid. When I finally got the nerve to rent it at around age 12, I got a film I didn’t expect whatsoever. We have dementedly disturbed drug addled stories being told at Lord Byron’s (Gabriel Byrne) estate one stormy night, with Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson) coming up with the idea for her story “Frankenstein” that very night. Think of it as a group of people telling campfire stories, only in this case they are bored rich people who turn the heat up when it comes to their sexual desires. Julian Sands plays Mary’s lover, Shelley and we have Timothy Spall in the film as well. It’s much more messed up than I had originally thought when first seeing the video cover, but not in the way I thought going into it. Russell loved using real life figures and doing biographical stories. This one takes many liberties, so I’d think of it as an Elseworlds story.

9. Salome’s Last Dance (1988)

The year is 1892. It’s Guy Fawkes Day and Oscar Wilde arrives at a brothel of high stature, only to discover a performance of his controversial play “Salome”, with parts played by prostitutes. Again, Russell plays with history to his perverted means, bouncing back and forth between Wilde’s crazy night and the play that is being performed in front of him. As Wilde flirts playfully with a young man he’s met that night, his lover Bosey becomes more jealous as the night progresses. It’s a film of kink that is hard to manufacture, which Russell had always done with such ease from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. Wilde being a bit of an obsession of mine when I was in high school, this film was one I caught late night on TV and just could not take my eyes off of. It is a bit more low budget than his earlier works, but if anyone knows Russell, they know he had a hard time raising money the later he got into his career. Check this one out on Instant Watch.

8. Lisztomania (1975)

I’m a big fan of Roger Daltrey as an actor. I just want to get that out of the way first before going on with this little write up of this film. As is the case with Russell’s films, this one is hard to just write a quick synopsis about. What other film do you have Ringo Starr as the Pope and where Franz Liszt (Roger Daltrey) gets his blood sucked by a Transylvania vampire version of fellow composer Richard Wagner (Paul Nicholas) in order to gain musical inspiration? It might be a bit too literal but this film throws out the typical narrative structure and decides to throw us the fantasy portion that sometimes would just be half of a film. Using historical figures in a playful manner is Russell’s forte, and this is why I can sit down and watch these films in pieces or beginning to end and always see something new and weird that I might have missed before. It almost doubles as a little nod to Daltrey’s life of playing to packed crowds of young shrieking fans ans having sex with multiple women. The life of a rock star and according to Russell, there was no ‘rock star’ more important than composer Franz Liszt.

7. Savage Messiah (1972)

This one I didn’t catch until about 6 years ago when a friend sent me a copy of the film, knowing I was a Ken Russell fan. Sadly it was one I hadn’t seen but took to it like a moth to a flame. This time a film based on the life of French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Russell takes a non-British eccentric genius yet again, this time not a composer or a ballet dancer. On the surface it seems to be a normal A-Z true story of this man, but we see the satirical side looming and that’s why I instantly fell in love with this film. It’s an unusual love story, with two women being the center of attention. The radiant Helen Mirren as Gosh Boyle (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Mirren in her youth) and Dorothy Tutin as Sophie Brzeska, two completely different women. One is interested in sexuality, the other doesn’t take a bit of clothes off throughout. And this dichotomy makes for a Russell love story and one that you can now buy from the Warner Archive.

6. The Music Lovers (1970)

This film focuses on Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (played amazingly by Richard Chamberlain), showcasing his life and career. Based on personal letters, we see Tchaikovsky, a gay man, trying to fight that by marrying a woman who is a nymphomaniac and someone who he can never truly satisfy. With flashbacks of a mother who would put him in scalding hot water to cure his cholera to his feelings of true love for Count Anton Chiluvsky, it’s a tragic tale, Shakespearean in a way. What I find interesting is that at the time, Chamberlain was still in the closet about his own homosexuality, which makes this film that much more interesting in its portrayal of someone of high stature in the art/creative world having to hide who he truly is. A wonderful film with an equally wonderful score as well.

5. The Who’s Tommy (1975)

The Who were one of the first bands I remember listening to on a regular basis, my dad always pointing them out when they would play on the radio. Their song, ‘Boris the Spider’ would play on repeat, being a more rock and roll type of lullaby I was used to. This led to my dad introducing me to The Who’s Tommy album at an equally young age, telling me about the times he saw them perform and how creepy the musical itself actually was. Then I caught the movie one faithful night and was blown away. When I listened to the music, I never truly pictured the acid trip that Russell put on screen. And I’m glad, because seeing it for the first time, with Roger Daltrey as grown up Tommy, being so youthful and vibrant as the deaf, dumb and blind kid who could play a mean pinball, made me ecstatic that I had to watch the film right away after finishing it. Tina Turner as The Acid Queen, Ann-Margret as Nora Walker (Tommy’s mother), Oliver Reed as Frank Hobbs, appearances by Eric Clapton, Elton John and Jack Nicholson make this film memorable. But when it comes to creeps on film, Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie takes the cake and forever is implanted in my mind as the stereotypical creepy uncle you don’t invite to family gatherings. I love this film and hope to one day be able to get a pristine print on Blu-ray (I know there is a Blu, but I want more), possibly from Criterion themselves.. Only time will tell if this will occur sooner rather than later.

4. Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Here’s one that a lot of people know as ‘that horror film with Hugh Grant’. But it’s so much more than that. One of the later efforts that I really enjoy (came out the same year as Salome’s Last Dance), this one is based on a Bram Stoker novel. Dealing with a strange skull found at an excavation site, it leads to an ancient snake that recalls the legend of the d’Ampton “worm” which was supposedly slain in Stonerich Cavern by John d’Ampton, who is an ancestor of James d’Ampton (Hugh Grant). This leads to a watch being found that belongs to the sisters Trent at Lady Sylvia Marsh’s (Amanda Donohoe) home, James comes to the conclusion that this mythical snake must still be alive. A funny conclusion to have, but it is true and James is trying to get to the lair of this white worm to destroy it once and for all. It’s a bizarre horror film, one that many people pass along when they see it’s based on a Stoker story that isn’t Dracula. Amanda Donohue is probably, in my opinion, one of the most desirable evil priestess/vampire-like being since the Hammer Horror days. Check this film out if you can and let me know what you think.

3. Altered States (1980)

A film that, like a few others on this list, the cover enticed me to no end for many years. When finally seeing it, I didn’t get what the film was about at all. That’s the problem with seeing a film written by the amazing Paddy Chayefsky at the age of 8. Flash forward to college and I was talking about film to a good friend of mine at the radio station I worked at. He told me about this film and I had let him know it kind of went over my head as a kid and I haven’t had the itch to go back and watch it. He had the bare bones DVD (which is still the only one I’ve seen and now own) and we sat down to watch it. Afterward, I got it. I became a fan of William Hurt from that film and wondered why this film wasn’t regarded more in the sci-fi world of nerddom. It was the one Russell film that Roger Ebert loved, if I recall correctly, and for good reason. This might be the most mainstream Hollywood film (not counting efforts like The Billion Dollar Brain) he made, yet this is still an ambitious piece of cinema. With mind bending visuals, drug induced visions and a man becoming a caveman of sorts, this film is one that is easier to watch than to explain certain scenes to someone. This film came out the year I was born and growing up with it, I went from not getting it at all to fully embracing it. It tells the story of a man who is trying to push science to the brink and might lose himself in the process. Brilliant film that definitely deserves a Criterion edition. I would buy that in a second.

2. Women in Love (1969)

The only film Ken Russell was ever nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards, this film, based on a D.H. Lawrence novel, is one of his most reserved and passionate films he ever made. Starring Glenda Jackson (also nominated and won for Best Actress), Oliver Reed, Alan Bates and Jennie Linden, it is a film that is a battle of the sexes and is essentially about a pair of friends who fall for two sisters. It’s about relationships, commitment and what it means to give oneself to another person. A discussion of love, the meaning of the word and what it can do to people is an amazing display of pain and compassion for these characters. A film that is yearning for a new special edition release and considering it is a MGM release, one hopes and dreams (me) that this film can be snatched up by Criterion before all is said and done. I think it would be a perfect fit and being that it was an Oscar darling that year, will showcase a film that is an award winner as well.

1. The Devils (1971)

A film that is so controversial, so against the Hollywood idea of a proper film, one that took to the Catholic religion and denounced it in every way possible, The Devils is one that I simply adore and wish more people knew about. The sad part is, Warner Brothers has since before its release, never wanted to show it in its uncut glory, thinking the public did not want to see a film so vile. How dare they judge film fans from all over. Inspired by Aldous Huxley’s book “The Devils of Loudun”, a film that I covered in an article for the magazine Paracinema about the sub-genre known as nunsploitation, it stars Oliver Reed as Urban Grandier, a priest who has just gotten control of the city because the Governor has just died. He is unaware that the deformed Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) is sexually obsessed with him, while he has an affair with the relative of a fellow priest. It is violent, sexually charged and does not favor religion very well throughout. It’s as if you are watching a car wreck from the beginning of its drive all the way to it’s extreme climax, not being able to take your eyes off the screen for a moment. I liken it to Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, a film that made people angry, not understanding what was being shown to them on the screen, yet so beautiful and horrific at the same time that they were almost silenced in their own ways. This is an important film, one that should not be censored any longer. It hasn’t had any release besides a cut VHS here in the U.S., and this makes no sense whatsoever. Every time one hears about a release of this film, it’s quickly hushed up and we wait that much longer, just like Disney has been doing for years with Song of the South. The only difference though is that The Devils is infinitely influential, one that should be on my shelf with a spanking new Blu-ray transfer. A film that I show people who are not faint of heart because of the hallucinatory imagery and use as a litmus test as to what kind of films I can show them. BFI recently announced a UK release of the film, with Ken Russell commentary and introduction, as well as other supplements but sadly with 4 minutes cut from the original 111 minute running time. I will be ordering this, hoping March 2012 comes as soon as possible. But for now, I can keep asking Criterion to put out an edition as well. I can only imagine what kind of box art they could come up with.

And here’s a great documentary from the UK about Ken Russell, by Ken Russell. It’s bizarre, weird and wonderful.

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James Reviews MST3K’s “Manos” The Hands of Fate [DVD Review] https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-mst3ks-manos-the-hands-of-fate-dvd-review https://criterioncast.com/reviews/james-reviews-mst3ks-manos-the-hands-of-fate-dvd-review#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2011 06:18:01 +0000 http://criterioncast.com/?p=18319

Where does one begin when speaking about one of the worst movies ever made? Well, when you’re the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew, you riff the ever living hell out of it, therefore making it one of the greatest episodes of the series decade long run. And with Shout! Factory putting out all of the MST3K episodes in box sets, tins and even bare bones releases, “Manos” The Hands of Fate gets something new. A 2 disc treatment, with loads of extras and something more surprising than any other supplement: the original film itself!

This is the third time this particular episode has been released on DVD, and as the old saying goes, the third time truly is the charm. This is a Joel episode, just in case you didn’t realize, Experiment # 424 to be precise. He and the bots are given a short video to watch first, the conclusion to Hired!, one of the Jim Handy shorts that is probably my favorite of all time (and many other fans would agree). There’s just something funny about the training films when they are riffed upon, and this is no exception.

The feature presentation is of course the classic ‘so bad, it’s amazing’ film. “Manos” The Hands of Fate is a doozy in horribleness, and the Satellite of Love gang do not disappoint. Considering this aired back in 1993, at the time this film was completely forgotten and was a film that not even the people who made it remembered as well. The film was made on a micro budget by a manure salesman named Hal Warren (who also stars as the father Michael) and it shows, but that’s where the hilarity stems from. A family is on a long ride and get lost and when the father refuses to ask for directions, they end up at a lodge and meet Torgo, who is just creepy as hell and has his own theme music that you will never be able to get out of your head. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Michael doesn’t notice this insanity and his wife Margaret and daughter try to convince him that they should leave. Torgo makes sure to tell them the master does not approve of them being here, let alone staying the night which Michael insists on doing. Torgo seems to has set his eyes on Margaret, the family dog is killed by a demonic doberman and we see the master’s portrait (which seems to be where a lot of the budget went). When we finally are introduced to the master, we find out he’s a polygamist who worships Manos and wants to take Margaret as his next bride which means he needs to get rid of Michael and their daughter. There seems to be plenty of plot, but we aren’t watching for the plot. We are just here for Joel and the bots to rip this one apart, which consist of many jokes about the poor acting, Torgo’s theme music and his specific walk and the title just repeating itself.

Shout! Factory not only releases this as a stand alone release, they give it a 2 disc edition. I was worried originally when I heard this was getting a sole edition, thinking it might just be like the many other out of print episodes they’ve been releasing by themselves, but they didn’t do that this time. Instead we get a plethora of extras, each one an integral part to a fantastic movie, in this case one of the worst films of all time. On Disc 1 we have Group Therapy is an 18 minute interview session with Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, and Mary Jo Pehl discussing the episode and how they chose this film for the season finale and how it’s become one of the most popular episodes. We also get the hour wraps for this episode when it was the syndicated version with Mike Nelson in his Jack Perkins character.

Disc 2 is pretty stellar, considering you get the original film without the riff, something that they did on the really old releases when Rhino put it out. It doesn’t have the long driving sequence from the beginning and is in horrific shape, but it’s great to actually see the film the writers had to watch in order to make comedic gold. Hotel Torgo is a close to half hour documentary on the making of the film, with a Manos historian and Bernie Rosenblum, the last cast and crew member known to be alive. Jim Handy to the Rescue is a 23 minute look at Jim Handy’s company that produced industrial videos. It tries a bit too hard to be funny and one wishes they focused more on the documentary side for this topic. We also get a blooper reel and a fake trailer for that segment. My (Educational) Short Life: An Interview With Joel Hodgson is a return to form, a 9 minute interview with Joel about the shorts that were featured on the show. Rounding out this special edition is Hired! (Parts 1 & 2 Together Again), which puts together the complete short that aired over 2 episodes.

I’ve now watched this release form Shout! Factory 5 times since it came out with various people and the laughs are always plentiful. That’s the magic of Mystery Science Theater 3000 essentially, where it’s a proven formula, dating back to the old horror hosts of yesteryear (check out the fantastic documentary American Scary on Netflix Instant if you don’t know what I’m talking about… or watch Elvira still do wonders with her puns galore, who has a few on Hulu too), and will always make you laugh. This is one to show someone who has never seen Mystery Science Theater 3000 and if they don’t laugh out loud during the duration, then they’ll never like the show. This is an amazing release and if you’re a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan, you already own this or are waiting for Christmas. Get this now!

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