Category: Reviews

Sep 18 2014

Videophiled Classic: ‘Eraserhead’ and ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’

“In heaven, everything is fine,” but in Eraserhead (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) nothing is fine. It’s grim, disturbed, mutated, claustrophobic, a world that appears to be unraveling—or, more accurately, decaying—before our eyes.

Eraserhead

Jack Nance stars as the doughy, dim factory worker who is suddenly thrust into marriage and parenthood and escapes his grimy, droning life by watching the icky mutant cabaret that plays under his radiator. That’s as clear a description of the plot you’re bound to get. This is an existence where dinner squirms to get away as it’s being carved up and the newborn offspring of a dumbstruck couple is a freaky chicken baby that mewls and cries until it drives the maternal impulses right out of its horrified mother.

Lynch shot the film over the course of a year with a loyal cast and crew that, at times, lived with Lynch on the very set of the film. There was nothing like it when it emerged in 1977 and became the quintessential midnight movie experience. Seen today, it is pure, primordial Lynch: a nightmare world of industrial slums and alienated folk, set to a soundtrack of grinding noise that gets under your skin and your skull.

Always the maverick, Lynch personally supervised the remastering of his earliest films on DVD and released them on his own private label, so no surprise that he was intimately involved preparing the film for its Blu-ray debut on Criterion. Lynch supervised and signed off on the 4K digital transfer from the original negative and it looks beautiful. As does the film. Lynch creates beauty out of what others would find ugly and this master preserves the quality of film grain and sculpted light of Frederick Elmes’ cinematography. The stereo soundtrack was created by Lynch and sound editor Alan Splet in 1994 and it is as evocative as the imagery. The film is immersive and short of a theatrical screening of a new 35mm print, this is as rich a presentation as you will likely ever find.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Sep 17 2014

Blu-ray: ‘Countess Dracula’

Hammer Studios struggled to remain relevant in the seventies as their lurid Gothic style was upstaged by the transgressive horrors in films like Night of Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Witchfinder General, which pushed the boundaries of movie conventions, screen violence, and subject matter. Their answer was to simply push their natural tendencies in R-rated territory. In other words, more explicit blood and boobs. Their most notorious examples were a series of erotic vampire films with female predators who use their bodies and their wiles to seduce their prey.

Title aside, Countess Dracula (Synapse) is not a vampire at all. The screenplay is inspired by the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, the Hungarian countess who murdered hundreds of girls in the late 16th century, ostensibly to bathe in the blood of virgins to keep her youth, or so the legend goes. This isn’t a faithful retelling, however, but an original take on the legend with a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dimension to it. Polish-born actress Ingrid Pitt, fresh from playing the bloodsucker Carmilla in The Vampire Lovers (1970), made her second Hammer appearance as the Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy, though you wouldn’t recognize her when she enters the film under ridges of prosthetic wrinkles and old age make-up. She’s an aging widow burying her husband (how many Hammer films have so set the atmosphere by opening with a funeral?) and bitter over how he has split the inheritance between her and their daughter Ilona (a very young and innocent-looking Lesley-Anne Down), who had been sent to Vienna years before. There is no mention of why she was sent away–it was ostensibly for her education in the cultural center of Europe–but Elisabeth’s disdain for human life (she doesn’t flinch when her carriage cripples a peasant in a horse-drawn hit-and-run) and the controlled fury of greed and envy she shows at the reading of the will suggests it may have been for the girl’s own protection, just one of the unspoken suggestions woven through the film.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Sep 17 2014

Videophiled: ‘Burning Bush’ is fiery history

BurningBush

Burning Bush (Kino Lorber, DVD), Agnieszka Holland’s almost four-hour political thriller, tackles one of the most harrowing events of Czech social history: On January 6, 1969, college student Jan Palach doused himself in gasoline and lit himself afire in downtown Prague to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Originally created as a three-part cable film for HBO Europe, it played festivals and some theaters in the U.S. but never made it to stateside HB, so disc and streaming is the only way most of us will have a chance to see it. And it is well worth seeing, a return to form for Holland, whose great films of the eighties and nineties (Angry Harvest, 1985, Europa Europa, 1990) combined the political, social and personal with a fiery volatility. Holland directed episodes of American cable dramas The Wire, The Killing, and Treme, and the expansive, multi-character storytelling seems to have inspired a new approach to her political work. She uses the experiences of numerous characters in the orbit of Jan and his act in the aftermath to give us a portrait of life and the political / social atmosphere in Prague in the year after the Soviet Invasion.

Holland’s film begins with Palach’s immolation and follows the long court case of libel against a Soviet-collaborator politician who told an audience that he had evidence that proved Jan was tricked into the action by a right-wing conspiracy. Why libel? Because that’s pretty much the sole legal action the family of the boy can take in Soviet-occupied Prague. The emotional, social, and political fallout of the ordeal—it all takes place in the space of nine months and every chapter (it was shown in three parts) opens with the date and the time elapsed since the death of Jan Palach—is woven into a rich (and at times tragic) portrait of resistance and complicity and the high cost of one family’s fight for the truth in the face of Soviet oppression.

Three parts adding up to four hours spread across two discs, in Czech with English subtitles. Supplements limited to stills and a trailer.

It is also available to stream from Fandor, a service that specializes in independent and foreign films.

More new releases on disc and digital platforms at Cinephiled

Sep 16 2014

Videophiled: ‘Godzilla’ goes to America

Godzilla2014

Godzilla (2014) (Warner, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, Digital HD, Cable VOD), the second American attempt to bring the cinema’s lizard king of giant monsters stateside, succeeds (mostly) where Roland Emmerich’s misguided 1998 remake floundered. It is surprisingly faithful to the classic Godzilla monster mashes of the sixties and seventies, when giant creatures would attack mankind and Godzilla would rise from the ocean to smite them. Clear out the backstory, the family drama, the military response, and the scientific mumbo jumbo, and that’s what this story really comes down to. It’s simply executed as an American disaster spectacle rather than a Japanese kaiju spectacle.

Gareth Edwards, who showed remarkable ingenuity and imagination in the low-budget Monsters, gives us a Godzilla that looks like the fabled atomic dinosaur of the Japanese films and retains the majesty and dignity of the monster as a ferocious force of nature who rises to take on ancient enemies (called M.U.T.O.s in the film) roused from dormancy. The human framework of the story is the weakest part, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson taking leading man heroics without much defining personality and a supporting cast that includes Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Bryan Cranston all but wasted in weak roles, but at least it establishes the gravity of the situation. They become more important as witnesses, providing Edwards with a human perspective to the spectacle. Most of the giant monster battles are shot from ground level and human POV, which helps instill the film with a refreshing sense of awe missing from so many CGI spectacles.

Let’s just say for the record that this is a dark movie, lots of night and murky atmosphere from which the threats emerge, and the Blu-ray handles the darkness well, with the important details standing out of the dark. All disc editions include a collection of featurettes, most on the light, snacky side. “The Legendary Godzilla” provides the production side, with the almost 20-minute “Godzilla: A Force of Nature” walking us through the film from inspiration to execution and three shorter pieces focusing on key effects, including the creation of the M.U.T.O.s. “MONARCH Declassified” offers three mock-historical featurettes from the world of the film. The Blu-ray includes bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.

More new releases on disc and digital platforms at Cinephiled

Sep 16 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Arrow: Season Two’ misses its Netflix mark to push disc and digital sales

ArrowS2

The second season of Arrow, the first major TV superhero success story in the wake of the “Dark Knight” / Marvel Universe revolution, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today, as well as full-season digital purchase.

It was also supposed to become available on Netflix streaming over the weekend. Originally scheduled for Sunday, September 14, the Netflix release was pushed to October 8 at the last minute. That’s the same date as the Season 3 premiere, which means no binge streaming to catch up before the new season beings. Disc and digital purchase is the only way to see the second season until then (you can watch five select episodes of the second season on Hulu, but that’s it).

It’s proven good business to make previous seasons available a couple of weeks in advance of the new season to build up excitement among fan and entice new viewers to tune in but Warner Bros. Television, which produces the show, has its eye on sales this time. The last minute delay is designed to boost sales on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.

Arrow is the type of show that generally does well in disc sales—genre-oriented with a passionate fan base that likes to own its favorite series—and the disc editions are packed with supplements and include Digital HD Ultraviolet episodes for streaming.

Fans were not happy and the fan-oriented sites have tripping over themselves to get the details ever since the series failed to appear on Netflix on Sunday.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Sep 14 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Person of Interest: Season Three’

PersonInterestS3

Person of Interest: The Complete Third Season (Warner, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) adds another partner to the team (Sarah Shahi as a coolly efficient former CIA assassin), turns renegade activist and maverick genius Root (Amy Acker) into a wary ally, and most dramatically kills off a trusted and beloved ally, a loss that sends the reliable John Reese (Jim Caviezel) into a dramatic tailspin. This season expands the surveillance conspiracy aspect of the series—the premise depends on a supercomputer hooked up to every camera and communications device on the grid—by introducing a second system controlled by an shadowy international organization and sold to the American government with an elaborate terrorist plot. As the show gets more complex and the cast gets bigger, Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman), the one-time corrupt cop who saved his soul be helping out the team and eventually became a reliable and trusted member of the secret squad, wound up getting forgotten, swept to the fringes of most episodes, but he takes the lead in coaxing Reese back to the team in one of his finest hours.

It’s an increasingly complex series, which keeps its fans riveted to the show, while still delivering stand-alone mystery of the week episodes that sends the team out to save an innocent (and sometimes a not-so-innocent) victim from harm. It remains action packed and full of science fiction-level technology but the characters are still the most interesting dimension of the show and the loyalty they show one another defines the series and keeps me connected to the elaborate mythology. By the end of the season, it goes in directions most viewers would not predict, setting itself up for big changes in the fourth season which begins in September.

23 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD editions, along with three featurettes, commentary on the season finale by actor Michael Emerson, and the 2013 Comic Con panel presentation. The Blu-ray release also features bonus DVD and digital copies.

Five select episodes of the show – including the three final episodes of the season, can be streamed at CBS.com.

More TV on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Sep 14 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Supernatural: Season Nine’ – Angels at war

SupernaturalS9

Supernatural: The Complete Ninth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD) – I confess that I don’t see the series in its broadcast run but I get caught up in binge-watching the show when the seasons come out on disc. It’s a matter of timing (screening copies arrive in that period between the end of the summer shows and the launch of the fall TV season) and affection: I like the mythology they’ve created around the premise and the characters in this universe. So do a lot of other folks: it launches its tenth season this fall.

Season Nine is a solid, meaty series with an epic storyline: the demon-hunting Winchester Brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), try to stop a war between the angels. In case you’re not up on supernatural lore, God left Heaven and Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), the former scribe of God, ejects the angels from paradise. The season begins with the heavenly bodies falling to Earth like flaming meteors and finds the grounded celestials less benevolent than ruthlessly pragmatic: they burn through human hosts like sacrificial lambs as they split into faction and go to war for control of Heaven. Essentially, who will be playing God? These aren’t the benevolent cherubs of valentine’s cards but warriors of Heaven and humans are collateral damage. In the immortal words of Dean: “I’ve always said angels are dicks.”

Castiel (Misha Collins), who was tricked by Metatron into unleashing the spell and then robbed of his grace, deals with his mortality as he joins forces with the Winchesters and the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard) becomes an unlikely ally as he defends himself from a power play in Hell and helps Dean find “the first blade,” which means tracking down Cain and taking on the cursed “mark of Cain,” an act that has devastating consequences. The brotherly trust between Sam and Dean is already fractured, thanks to a secret angelic possession of the dying Sam, but the mark pushes the already hot-headed Dean into violence that borders on demonic. Meanwhile, the Winchesters take up residence in their new “Batcave” headquarters, a bunker gifted to them by the “Men of Letters,” and fans of the show will appreciate return visits from recurring characters Sheriff Jodie Mills (Kim Rhodes), Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day), Garth Fitzgerald IV (DJ Qualls), and even Bobby (Jim Beaver) in a dream episode.

23 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on three episodes, a collection of “Men of Letters” featurettes on the bunker and its legacy, a tongue-in-cheek behind-the-scenes featurette created by Misha Collins and featuring the cast and crew, the Comic-Con panel, and deleted scenes, plus an UltraViolet digital copy of the entire season.

Netflix will add the ninth season to its library in October the day after the tenth season debuts, so if you want to catch up before the launch, disc is the only way to do it. Check your local neighborhood video store or call your library if you’re not ready to purchase.

More TV on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Sep 11 2014

Videophiled Classic: ‘Godzilla 2000’ and more giant monster mashes of the new millennium

When it comes reviving the past, timing and presentation is everything.

Sony’s first wave of “The Toho Godzilla Collection” of second- and third- generation Japanese Godzilla films on Blu-ray came out in May, timed to the theatrical release of the American remake (the discs are reviewed on Cinephiled here). This second wave arrives the week before the American 2014 Godzilla arrives on disc and digital formats.

Godzilla2000

After Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla flopped, Toho took back their home grown movie monster turned cinema hero for the second reboot of the franchise and the third generation of movies. In Japan it was called the Millennium series and like the previous reboot, The Return of Godzilla (titled Godzilla 1985 in the U.S.), Godzilla 2000 (1999) swept away a generation of sequels and pretended that most (if not all) of the films since the original Godzilla never actually existed. Though clearly a landmark in the Japanese franchise, I can only guess that Godzilla 2000 (Sony, Blu-ray) wasn’t included in the first wave of Blu-ray upgrades because it, quite frankly, is not one of the better films of the series.

Godzilla is on the move again just as an ancient UFO is dredged up from the ocean. In a fitting bit of turnabout, the script appropriates Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, though on a significantly smaller scale and with a Japanese giant monster sensibility: this lone silver spaceship parks on a Shinjuku skyscraper, drains the city of all computer information, and transforms into a mutant monster the resembles something between a skyscraper sized Predator and Jabba the Hut’s dungeon ogre from Return of the Jedi. Meanwhile an all-volunteer force of science nerds called the Godzilla Prediction Network, run by peacenik professor Yuji (Takehiro Murata) and his precocious adolescent daughter, clashes with their arch rivals, the Crisis Control Institute, a government strike force armed to destroy Godzilla run by Yuji’s bloodthirsty nemesis Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe, whose eyes bug out in glee every time he launches a missile).

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Sep 09 2014

Videophiled: ‘Words and Pictures,’ ‘Borgman’ and murder in ‘Galapagos’

WordsPictures

Words and Pictures (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, Cable VOD) is both a romantic drama, with Clive Owen as passionate but alcoholic English teacher at an expensive prep school and Juliette Binoche as the new art teacher who clashes with the brash Owen, and a pedagogical drama where a “war” between the written word and the image inspires the student body to engage in the arts.

The script is disappointingly pedestrian but the performances are superb, with Owen sinking his teeth into the charming arrogance of a former literary star crippled by doubt and drink and Binoche as the hard, emotionally brittle abstract artise suffering from a degenerative disease that has put an end to her ability to paint. A painter in her own right, Binoche brings a vivid physicality to the role as her character tries to find new ways to paint, throwing her whole body into the process. She communicates both the joy of expression and the pain of the effort in her performance. The sparring between these two actors and the maturity of their relationship makes it worth watching despite the inevitability of the story.

Features commentary by director Fred Schepisi and a 17-minute featurette. Danny Miller talks with director Fred Schepisi for Cinephiled here.

Borgman

Borgman (Drafthouse, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), from Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam (Grimm), is all kinds of screwed up, which is surely what attracted cult film specialist Drafthouse to the film. A psychodrama with a surreal sensibility and dark sense of humor, it’s part horror film and part dark fable with an enigmatic figure—the Borgman of the title (Jan Bijvoet)—as both devil and perverse guardian angel in the guise of a homeless man who lives in the Earth and emerges to stir the poison in the lives of a middle class family. What starts out like some kind of demented social retribution slips into far more ambiguous malevolence with hints of some kind of supernatural backstory that echoes through the precise details without ever explaining itself. It’s not so much scary as unsettling and disturbing, all the more so because the motivations remain opaque. Really, this is just plain creepy.

In Dutch (and some English dialogue) with English subtitles. Features deleted scenes and a 28-page booklet with interviews, film notes, and conceptual art painted by the director, plus a bonus digital copy.

Galapagos

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (Zeitgeist, DVD, VOD) is one of those “stranger than fiction” documentaries, a real-life melodrama turned murder mystery set on a tropical island in the Galapagos in the 1930s. All is fine when a Nietzschean professor and his married lover run away from Germany to star their new life in paradise but as more runaways from civilization arrive (including a decadent countess with a retinue of lovers), the human ecosystem gets complicated with resentment, jealousy, and finally murder. It all gets a bit confusing, in part due to the film’s narrative structure, but the archival trove of letters and diary entries (read by the likes of Cate Blanchett, Thomas Kretschmann, Diane Kruger and others), the wealth of photos, and the rare home movies of the inhabitants (most taken by passing sailors) discovered by the filmmakers gives a vivid life to the true story. Surely a fictionalized drama is in the works. As history it’s a footnote but as a real-life human drama it is fascinating.

Includes 14 deleted scenes and a Q&A with the directors from the Telluride Film Festival screening.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinemaphiled

Sep 07 2014

Videophiled Classic: ‘High School Confidential!’

high-school-confidential

High School Confidential! (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) – Trashy, tawdry, and weirdly energetic, with tough talking high school delinquents played by college grads spouting mock-beat dialogue, this B+ exploitation classic from producer Albert Zugsmith (who went from Written on the Wind and Touch of Evil to such artifacts as Sex Kittens Go to College and Confessions of an Opium Eater) and director Jack Arnold is a terrifically entertaining piece of drug scare cinema. Russ Tamblyn blows into school in a hot rod convertible, all smart aleck attitude and high-rolling hoodlum ambition, and muscles his way into the local drug scene, but this hep-talking cat is actually an undercover agent, the original 21 Jump Street–style baby-faced narc working his way up to the local drug lord known as Mr. A.

It’s a thoroughly bizarro collision of teens-gone-wild hysteria and drug scare edutainment (“If you start on the weed, you graduate to the hard stuff”), with beatnik dialogue (“I’m puttin’ it down” / “Well I’m pickin’ it up!”), clueless parents, and stiff authority figures delivering the “truth” about drugs in the high schools in scenes that grind the movie to a halt for moralizing sermons. It opens with Jerry Lee Lewis pounding out the rocking theme song on a piano in the back of a pickup (which then drives off, never to be seen again), co-stars Mamie Van Doren as a sloshed slutty suburban housewife who is supposed to be Tamblyn’s aunt but keeps trying to seduce him, and features John Drew Barrymore (Drew’s dad) as the drawling high school kingpin who delivers the story of Columbus as a piece of beat performance art, which is merely prelude to a full-blown beat poetry recitation. Jan Sterling plays the “ccol” teacher determined to really understand youth today that she lets her students get away with utterly disrespectful behavior, button-nose cutie Diane Jergens is Barrymore’s weed-head kitten, Michael Landon the clean-cut big man on campus who isn’t as square as he looks, and Jackie Coogan the coffee-house owner with a sideline in mary-jane and heroine.

Jack Arnold is best known for bringing intelligence to fifties science fiction cinema (It Came From Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man) but actually had quite a range, making everything from westerns to comedies. He has an eye for staging and a great sense of timing, not to mention a way with making overdone performances fit into the same movie universe, and he embraces the outré elements with such energy that they take on a life of their own. It’s camp, to be sure, but great fun as a crazy take on adult fears of high school delinquency and Arnold’s commitment to this ridiculous portrait of teenage life and corruption in suburbia pulls it all together in a crazy warped mirror that has a life all its own. “Tomorrow is a drag, man, tomorrow is a king-size bust.”

This is a CinemaScope production and the only previous legitimate DVD release was non-anamorphic. It’s been remastered in HD for the Blu-ray debut and new DVD release, which alone makes it a necessary upgrade. It’s not perfect, mind you, and there’s a brief rough patch with major scuffs and scratches and damage that sends the picture shaking for a second or two, but it offers a sharp image and a clean soundtrack. No supplements.

More classic and cult releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

Sep 04 2014

Channeling Movies: Sex and Sin on Pre-Code Fridays on Turner Classic Movies

Turner Classic Movies is turning all the Fridays in September over to films from that brief period in the early thirties when the studios thumbed their collective noses at the toothless Production Code and pushed the boundaries of sex, violence, and bad behavior without judgment or consequences in film after film. The iron boot of censorship came down in 1934 and stomped out all that deliciously salacious content, but for a few years Hollywood acknowledged and even flaunted sex between consenting adults (married or not). The films from this era were branded “Forbidden Hollywood” when they were rediscovered and revived for audiences in the 1990s, but today they are better known as Pre-Code. Turner Classic Movies has four full Fridays full of forbidden Pre-Code delights.

While there are gems aplenty throughout the month, I’ll spotlight a few of the most interesting and audacious rarities and lesser-known glories, including two from the coming Friday line-up.

Set those DVRs now!

Friday, September 5:

Dorothy Mackaill is hardly 'Safe in Hell'

Safe in Hell (1931) – Think of this as a kind of B-movie riff on Sadie Thompson (the original bad girl in the tropics melodrama) directed with a merciless brutality by William Wellman. It stars the largely forgotten Dorothy Mackaill as a scuffed-up, street-smart answer to Miriam Hopkins and she is amazing as the hooker who is whisked off to a Caribbean island to flee a murder charge. The film’s title is no exaggeration; imagine Casablanca as a lice-infested backwater run by mercenary opportunists and filled with the sleaziest criminals to escape a manhunt. They all take their shot at seducing Mackaill, the sole white woman in this island prison, and she shoots them all down with the brash directness of an experienced urban doll who has spent her life fending off passes. Yet somehow the film manages to give them all a shot at redemption when she is tried for murder (it’s a different murder, and yet the same one, in the crazy logic of the melodrama contrivances) and they line up in her defense. Wellman it snappy and sassy as he winds the story from the cynical to the sentimental to the spiritual with equal commitment.

More highlights at Cinephiled

Sep 02 2014

Videophiled: ‘Night Moves’

NightMoves

Night Moves (New Video, Blu-ray, DVD, Cable VOD), the fourth film that New York-based director Kelly Reichardt has made in Oregon, is her most commercial project yet, though you won’t mistake this drama of eco-terrorists who blow a dam on a southern Oregon river for a Hollywood thriller. Reichardt and longtime screenwriting partner Jon Raymond focus on the process and the people, a trio of true-believers who want to make a “statement” and end up killing a camper in the collateral damage.

Jesse Eisenberg is the closest we have to a protagonist, a guy living on a co-op just outside of Ashland. He anchors this activist cell with a restless impatience for the blithe, stoner-like disregard for detail of the group’s combat vet (Peter Sarsgaard) and the new age-y philosophy of trust fund kid Dakota Fanning, the one who unravels with guilt over the camper’s death. They aren’t necessarily likable but they are compelling. The debates over the cost of action and the effectiveness of a destructive statement over productive alternatives are in the margins, present but always framed by the personal. The stakes are real—the opening shot shows the beauty of the Oregon wilderness gouged by a clear-cut patch in the wooded landscape—but so are the costs of action and Night Moves is all about responsibility.

Blu-ray and DVD with no supplements. Also on Cable VOD.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Image | WordPress Themes