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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Red, White & Blue

When was the last time you watched a movie that got so intense you had to look away, not because of some gratuitously graphic gore, but because of the sheer intensity of the story? Don’t be surprised if you find yourself covering you eyes at the climax of this dark story of how three lives intersect with devastating results. The acting, particularly from Noah Taylor as a troubled Iraq war veteran and Amanda Fuller as a promiscuous young woman with an agenda, is mesmerizing. Giving away the twists and turns that writer/director Simon Rumley takes you through would spoil the fun (and the fear): see it for yourself.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Araya

In 1959, documentarian Margot Benacerraf traveled a tiny island in northeastern Venezuela to photograph the lives of a people whose entire lives for generations have been controlled by the salt they mine from the surrounding marshes. The result, largely unknown in the US outside critic’s circles, is a complex and beautiful story. depending more on images than actual story, the film shows us the daily routine of the people, a routine that for them barely changes in the minutest detail from day to day or year to year. The only variation in their lives comes from nature, the cruel mistress of the island who can be their friend (such as when the fishing nets are full) or their greatest enemy.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Brian Eno: 1971-1977: The Man Who Fell To Earth

Fans of the eclectic musician called Eno — whether they first discovered him as the musical manipulator in Roxy Music, from his groundbreaking solo albums, or from his work as a producer of some of the most influential music from the past 30 years — maybe the target audience for this fascinating documentary, but even those who have never heard of him will spend an enjoyable 2 1/2 hours learning about Eno. Better yet, it will inspire them to go out and get some Eno music of their own so they can start the sonic adventure for themselves

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Diabolique

Warning: if you have never seen this classic thriller from Henri-Georges Clouzot before do not play the bonus feature video introduction of the film before you do. It will only spoil the fun of experiencing the film for the first time. (Be sure to watch it later because it does a great job of not only explaining why the film is a classic but why its been so influential to filmmakers over the years.)If you are  familiar with the tale of two women plotting to get revenge on the man they share, then settle back and enjoy this beautifully restored version of the 1955 film. The acting is superb, especially from Simone Signoret as the mistress and Vera Couzot as the long- suffering wife, but it is the intricate way that the director blends imagery and dialogue to plot the story that hooks you to the surprise waiting for you at the end.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers

The people lucky enough to attend this intimate show at the Canal Room in New York City are packed in so tightly that it’s a mystery how the cameramen moved around as much as they do to capture Tilbrook and his band as they race through as set of original numbers and songs from the Squeeze catalogue. The energy between the band and the fans, an older crowd who know every word that Tilbrooks sings and are happy to sing along, is infections even through the TV screen. By the time the band hops up on the bar for a sweaty acoustic encore, you’ll be singing along, too.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pale Flower

Ryô Ikebe is the epitome of cool in this black and white crime thriller from director Masahiro Shinoda. He plays a gangster named Muraki fresh out of prison after three years served for killing a rival gang member. Uncertain whether he wants to get back into the life that sent him to prison, Muraki spends his nights in smoky illegal gambling, more for the thrill of the game than for the money he wins. One night he meets a mysterious beauty (Mariko Kaga) with a hunger for thrills that matches his own. When the boss approaches Muraki with a job that could send him back to prison – or to an early grave — he accepts it and takes the woman along for the ride.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Revenge

While most samurai filmmakers seem more interested in filling the story with fight scenes no matter what the plot, director Tadashi Imai takes a very different approach in this 1964 classic. Instead of concentrating on the fighting, he focuses instead on the reasons the fights take place in the first place, weaving his way through the political intricacies of Feudal Japan with both style and substance. It’s fascinating, up to a point. While the fights may not be the focus of the film, the fact that they are shot so poorly is a disappointment when they finally do arrive.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Horse Soldiers

While it falls far short of the classic films they made together over the years, this story of a Union Calvary outfit on a suicide mission through the deep south is still enjoyable thanks to John Ford’s workmanlike direction and John Wayne’s equally efficient performance. The film tells the story of a gruff officer (Wayne) sent to destroy a Rebel supply dump and cause as much destruction as possible along the way. Against his wishes, he’s saddled with a sympathetic doctor (William Holden) who believes more in the Hippocratic Oath more then the Union cause. A flighty southern belle Constance Towers) is thrown into the mix to give the men something soft to fight over.

Heaven & Hell/Radio City Music Hall: Live

One of the roadies interviewed in the DVD extras puts it best: Tommy Iommi and Geezer Butler, the guitarist and bassist for Black Sabbath, are the “Thomas Edisons of Heavy Metal.” This excellent live concert is a testament to the power the two can put out in the show, especially when combined with the pounding drumming of Vinny Appice and the vocal growl of Ronnie James Dio. Dont expect to hear any old Sabbath songs; that era is in the past. But the music Heaven and Hell made on their own albums is powerful enough so you won’t miss anything else. The extras, particularly the video of what it takes to get a show this big on the stage in the first place, are a lot of fun.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders

Best known for playing the part of Dr. Elizabeth Corday on the hit series E.R., Alex Kingston shows her true range as an actress by taking on the role of the classic literary character Moll Flanders and simply scorching her way through every scene. Based on the novel by Daniel Defoe, it’s the story of a woman making her way in the world by any means necessary, and if that way turns out to be pleasurable in a way that most folks of her time think blasphemous, so bit it. Daniel Craig makes a nice appearance as the love of Moll’s life, but it is Kingston’s mesmerizing performance that makes the movie so great. As an added bonus, this set comes with the best DVD extra ever: the complete text of the original novel.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Something Wild

The on-screen energy that director Jonathan Demme captures in this quirky love story is almost palpable. Jeff Daniels stars as a buttoned-down office geek who goes off on the adventure of a lifetime when he runs into a wild woman named Lulu, played by Melanie Griffith. What stars as a fun bit of frivolity turns dangerously weird when Lulu’s fresh- from-prison husband (a truly menacing Ray Liotta) shows up to reclaim the women he left behind when he was put away three years ago. Romantic comedies are a dime a dozen; a film that successfully mixes romance with danger, however, is a rare find.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Trench

Set in a cramped World War I trench on the eve of the battle of the Somme — the single biggest defeat the English army ever suffered — this fascinating film gives viewers a chance to see what life was like for men whose entire existence, beyond their memories of the life they left behind and hoped one day to return to, was contained between two high mud walls. Writer/director William Boyd does a masterful job of pacing the film, giving each actor enough screen time to develop a believable character we can care for, which makes the final scenes of the film incredibly powerful.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dahmer Vs Gacy

As part of an experiment to build the perfect soldier in his lab, a mad scientist starts cloning the world’s greatest serial killers to serve as a template for a new kind of killing machine. The experiment goes horribly wrong when a fire in the lab cause the security precautions to fail just long enough for a Jeffrey Dahmer clone and a John Wayne Gacy clone to escape. Naturally, they pick up where their careers left off and the body count skyrockets. It’s more silly than scary, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining as hell.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars

Adjusting to a new school is always difficult, but when you discover that your fellow students (and most of the people in your new hometown) are part of a special organization dedicated to protecting the earth from an alien invasion things can get pretty weird, pretty fast. Student Hajime Murata eventually learns to accept his new freinds and their hidden talents, even when it leads him on a personal journey of discovery that could save — or destroy — the world. The story is obviously aimed at a young teenage audience who can relate to the high school hijinks and heartbreaks that make up the bulk of the episodes, but the overall story in interesting enough (and the art work strong enough) to keep all but the most jaded anime fans interested.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Royal Romance

Don’t let the cover fool you. This is not a DVD of the Marriage of the Century between Prince William and Kate Middleton. It’s actually a British TV documentary primarily of the Prince with a few narrative tweaks added in the voice over to update the story in time to cash in on the feeding frenzy for everything William & Kate. But so what? It’s actually well made and gives audiences a balanced look at just who the man destined to be the next King of England really is, without delving too deep into unwarranted praise or malicious gossip. You can’t help liking the guy when its over.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Poor Pretty Eddie

There’s almost no way to describe what happens in the 70s ‘hicksploitation’ classic. It just has to be seen, but only if you enjoy movies that are so bad they’re good, or found yourself smiling at the idea of there actually being a genre of film called ‘hicksploitation.’ The movie stars Leslie Uggams (Roots) as Liz Weatherly, a bratty pop singer trying to get away from the demands of her career by taking a road trip in her white Rolls Royce. When the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Liz finds herself the center of some very weird and unwanted attention from the locals. Love it or hate it, you’ll never forget it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bob Dylan Revealed

Despite a total lack of any original interviews with the man it is revealing, this patchwork documentary does a nice enough job of  highlighting some of Dylan’s stranger career moments with plenty of talking heads to explain what the man may have  been thinking to make such drastic changes in the first place. The sections about Dylan’s early career as a folk singer in Greenwich Village and his going electric are a bit pedestrian, but that’s to be expected given the fact that those are two of the mercurial singer’s more overly exposed career phases. The chapters about his life as a born again Christian followed by his bid to be a Vegas style performer, are riveting.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Identity

The science at the heart of this BBC series is both fascinating and frightening. It’s the story of an elite police team dedicated to solving identity crime, similar to the work done by the cops on all those CSI shows, only with a lot less blood and a lot better acting. Keeley Hawes stars as DSI Martha Lawson, the icy head of the team, and Aidan Gillen plays DI Jon Bloom, her polar opposite when it comes to work, play and everything in-between. There’s a good bit of chemistry between them, but what happens to Lawson and Bloom on a personal level pales in comparison to what they can do with the tiniest bit of information and a few computers.

Kung Fu Dunk

Abandoned by his parents and left in the care of the monks of a Buddhist temple, young Fang Shijie (Jay Chou) grows into a slacker kung fu master with a wicked jump shot. A small time agent sees Fang as his meal ticket and soon gets him a tryout for the local team. Director Yen-ping Chu has a strong visual style that keeps the movie moving even when the story starts to become a bit too predictable. And Chou, best known in America for playing Kato in the Seth Rogen remake of The Green Hornet, looks fantastic doing the stunts. Cool as he looks flying through the air, it’s his winning personality and charm that steal the show.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Terror

Long before he was a Hollywood icon, Jack Nicholson was a hungry actor willing to do anything short of porn to get the experience and exposure he needed to get his foot in the show business door. This 1963 Roger Corman horror quickie is a perfect example. Shot on leftover film sets from other productions (and released theatrically under a number of different titles), this macabre tale tells the story of a French army officer (an accent-less Nicholson) who uncovers a weird mystery at a creepy castle ruled over by an even creepier baron (Boris Karloff). It’s not much of a story, but it’s still a hoot to watch a young Nicholson in action.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

IP Man 2

Donnie Yen returns in this sequel to the 2008 hit about Master Ip and his ongoing efforts to bring a new style of kung fu fighting, called Wing Chun, to the masses in British- occupied Hong Kong. This time, along with fighting the heads of the competing martial arts academies, Ip is forced to go toe-to-toe with an arrogant white boxer called Twister (Darren Shahlavi) to prove his style of fighting can stand up to western fisticuffs. The action is impressive, and the addition of Sammo Hung to to the cast as one of the rival kung fu masters adds a lot to the story. Resist the temptation to watch this one in its dubbed version, though. Yen’s performance as Ip is too impressive to watch through the filter of bad dubbing.

Upstairs Downstairs

Picking up six years after the original BBC series took place (and almost four decades after it premiered), this re-imagining of the classic drama tells the story of Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard) and his wife, Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) as they try to feel comfortable in their lives as the nuvoriche of London as England teeters on the bridge of entering the Second World War. It’s unfair to compare what the makers of this slick series do to pick apart the English class structure with the brilliance of the original series, despite the masterstroke of bringing back the wonderful Jean Marsh to recreate her role as the original parlor maid, Rose. It’s best to forget the past and enjoy this series all on its own.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Garei Zero, The Complete Series

The first two episodes of this series will blow you away. What starts as a fairly routine looking anime about secret government agents with cool weapons out tracking down and killing evil spirits, takes a sudden 180 degree plot twist that will leave your jaw hanging open. Episode three, however, goes back to the familiar formula and although the start looks fantastic, the form feels a bit stale after episode one and two. But stick with it. tThe stakes continue to rise for everybody involved as the story races to the final conclusion, a conclusion that not only explains what happened in the beginning, but makes it resonate that much more.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The King's Speech

Director Tom Hooper caught cinematic lightning in a bottle with this historical biopic about a king with a speech impediment that was so serious that he almost gave up his crown. Critics will argue for years whether it deserved to be named the best movie of 2010, but there is no denying that Colin Firth deserved every accolade he received, including the Oscar, for his performance as King George VI. Re-watching it gives viewers a chance to set aside all the Oscar buzz and enjoy a simple, yet well made tale brought to life by one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dementia 13

This 1963 cult classic is best known as being the directorial debut of Francis Ford Coppola and while it obviously doesn’t measure up to his most famous pictures – The Godfather, Apocalypse Now —  it sure is a heck of a lot more fun to watch than some of his flops (Youth Without Youth, Jack). It’s the story of a weird aristocratic family who live in a weird castle where they do weird things, like recreate the funeral of a dead child like it was some sort of community theater exercise. There’s also an ax-wielding madman cutting his way through the competition to get at the family fortune. Almost 50 years after it was made, it’s still a lot of dumb fun.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Way Back

A group of desperate men break out of a Siberian gulag and start walking towards freedom, never realizing that the freedom they seek is more than 4000 miles away. In less talented hands, watching the trials and tribulations theses guys go through as they walk through the barren Russian landscape would have been tedious to the point of tears; under the careful direction of Peter Weir (Witness) , however, it’s absolutely riveting. The cast, lead by strong performances from Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) and Colin Farrell (In Bruges), do an excellent job.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eden of the East Movie 1, King of Eden

While it’s customary to wait to watch the DVD extras until after you watch the actual movie, it’s a far better idea this time to see the extras first and then watch the film becasue they really set the stage. From the start, the movie assumes you know a lot about characters Akira Takizawa, Saki Morimi and the mysterious Seleção game they are trapped ito playing to save the world. Once you have the background you need (which you can also get from just rewatching the original Eden of the East series), settle in for a fascinating continuation of a great mystery series

Bunny and the Bull

Stephen (Edward Hogg) is a bit of a recluse, the kind of man who organizes his life down to the last detail (including doing the same thing at the same time every day) as insulation against any unknowns that life may send his way. When mice infest his kitchen and eat his supply of vegetarian lasagna, Stephen is forced to leave his apartment. At least in his mind. The cool thing about this visually striking movie, is that Stephen (who only travels through his imagination) takes the audience on a special journey as he and his best friend Bunny (Simon Farnaby) travel the world without ever leaving their flat.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Like the book on which is it based, the film version of Hunter S. Thompson’s groundbreaking novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is an acquired taste. Some will see it as a work of hallucinatory genius from director Terry Gilliam, as well as a mark of just how daring and talented lead actors Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro really are. Some will see it as a complete mess. The good news about this Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition, is that there are plenty of extras, including lots of footage of the man behind the madness, Hunter S, Thompson, to help even the most confused about the film turn the corner and learn to appreciate it for what it is, an acquired taste taste that is well worth acquiring.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Doc Martin Collection: Series 1-4

It’s impossible not to love this series. It tells th story of a successful London surgeon who, for reasons it would be unfair to reveal in a review, suddenly becomes afraid of the sight of blood. So he takes a job as a General Practitioner in a small village in Cornwall, where he quickly learns that his gruff big city bedside manner just won’t be tolerated by the locals.  Martin Clunes is fantastic as the curmudgeonly doctor, a man the audience (like the villagers) learn to love but only after a long, long time. The supporting cast is brilliant, too, and varied enough to keep you watching each episode to see what they will do next.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Knockout

Professional wrestling superstar Steve Austin takes time out from his floundering action movie career to take a supporting role in this underdog tale about a high school weenie who learns to defend himself by studying the sweet science. It has the look and feel of an afterschool special, but there’s also enough heart to the story, thanks to an excellent cast, to make you fall for it in the end. Austin is a real treat, too. He manages to carry his part of the film without ever once resorting to any of his Stone Cold mannerisms.