Apr 05 2014

Blu-ray: ‘Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1′

If you’re arriving late to class, here’s the recap: director / producer / modern B-movie legend Lloyd Kaufman directed the original Class of Nuke ‘Em High, a flamboyantly grotesque parody of high school movies and radioactive mutant horror, in 1986. The premise: a high school in Tromaville, the most toxic city in America, is located right next to a nuclear power plant and the students gets contaminated when a dealer sells drugs irradiated from the plant. It spawned two sequels (produced and co-written but not directed by Kaufman), the last one released in 1994. Twenty years later, Kaufman revives the franchise with a new micro-budget epic so sprawling that it was split into two parts (ostensibly upon the recommendation of Quentin Tarantino, a la Kill Bill). Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 was shown at film festivals and played limited runs and special midnight screenings across the country before landing on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms, which is still the primary mode of distribution for Troma’s cult movies.

In Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1, the old nuclear plant and its giant cooling towers (which loomed over the old high school thanks to cheap optical effects) have been bulldozed under (that’s what passes for environmental clean-up in the Tromaverse) but a new business has sprung up in its place. As guest narrator Stan Lee explains over the opening montage of clips from the earlier trilogy, “Tromorganic Foodstuffs, Inc, was built right over the old Tromaville Nuclear Power Plant. What could go wrong?”

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Apr 03 2014

Videodrone Classic: ‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Twilight Time, Blu-Ray), Sam Peckinpah’s personal favorite of his films, opens on an idyllic river scene with a pregnant girl soaking her feet in the lazy current with a beatific smile on her face. In his great westerns, the river scenes are the brief escapes from violent lives in his character, reprieves in the middle of the drama before they march back out to meet their fates. This comes before the story even begins and once the spell is broken by the violence of a brutal father, a Mexican crime lord played by Peckinpah regular Emilio Fernández, and a $1 million bounty placed on the head of Alfredo Garcia, the father of the unborn child, there is little peace or paradise to be found.

Warren Oates stars as Benny, a grubby lounge pianist playing for tourists in a Mexican dive when a couple of American hitmen (Robert Webber and Gig Young) saunter in looking for information on “an old friend.” Benny thinks he’s hit the jackpot—a whopping $10,00 for giving them proof that Alfredo Garcia is dead (yes, they want his head)—but it costs him everything that matters and the tawdry treasure hunt turns into a revenge drama.

It plays like a pulp noir thriller by way of a road movie of the damned, marinated in mescal and left to rot in the desert sun. Benny’s not that smart or savvy but Peckinpah clearly loves this small-timer with his wrinkled white linen suit and clip-on tie and bad cantina sing-along songs. He may be a loser but he truly loves his philandering girl Elita (Isela Vega) and he develops more backbone with every stage of the odyssey. When he’s double crossed, he literally drags himself out of a shallow grave and returns with vengeance on his mind, fueled by rage, tequila, and a perverse loyalty to the rotting head he’s come to talk to like a father confessor. The film opened to scathing, outraged reviews (one notable exception was Roger Ebert, who called it “some kind of bizarre masterpiece”) but has since been embraced as a perverse masterpiece, the ultimate cult film in the career of a defiantly confrontational director.

Twilight Time gives the Blu-ray debut of this film more original supplements than any previous release from the label. The 55-minute documentary Passion & Poetry: Sam’s Favorite Film is a new production from German filmmaker and Peckinpah fan Mike Siegel featuring a wealth of interviews with Peckinpah actors and collaborators. A new commentary track by Peckinpah historian and Twilight Time co-founder Nick Redman with Alfred Garcia co-writer and executive producer Gordon T. Dawson is paired with a track by Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle and Redman previously recorded for the film’s DVD debut. There’s a new 25-minute video interview with Peckinpah biographer Garner Simmons, who was on the set of Alfredo Garcia, and a gallery of stills and promotional art, plus Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.

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

Apr 02 2014

Videophiled Essential: Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Persona’

The greatest leap in home video technology since Criterion released its first DVDs 15 years ago or so is the amazing improvement in mastering technology. With the digital revolution making digital prints the standard for cinema projection, the combination of elevates standards for film-to-digital quality and the HD standard of Blu-ray has brought near-cinema quality to home theater.

Persona (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) is the most recent of Criterion’s world classics mastered from 2K digital, this one a 2011 digital restoration by Svensk Filmindustri. And like the greatest restorations, this disc brings the best of film texture and digital clarity together for a stunning image. Persona is a film dominated by light and white, with stark figures against neutral backgrounds, warm sunlight, and the bright glare of a film projector, and those values are the kinds of things that get muddied in poor prints and digital masters. This disc looks like a 35mm fresh from the lab has been projected directly on my flatscreen.

Liv Ullman is revered stage actress Elisabeth Vogler, who is suddenly stricken speechless, and Bibi Andersson is the adoring young nurse Alma, who watches over her at a quiet seaside retreat, doing all the talking for both of them while she lays her soul bare to the actress. When Alma discovers the insensitive and condescending words about her in a letter Elisabeth has written, the roles of their relationship begins to shift and the intensity of feeling builds to point that, quite literally, stops the film dead. For a brief moment, Bergman reaches back to the origins of cinema, as if to recreate the artform in brief, abstracted images and rebuild the film around the two women.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Apr 01 2014

Blu-ray/DVD: ‘Knights of Badassdom’

Knights of Badassdom (eOne, Blu-ray, DVD), a modest little horror comedy set in the fantasy gaming LARP (that’s Live Action Role Playing) culture, has a good time sending up its obsessive nerds and cosplay veterans gathered for a weekend championship of stage combat and mock-Shakespearean patter. Then it unleashes a succubus from hell on them. Actually it’s Steve Zahn’s Eric, a mage armed with a really cool ancient tome he bought off Ebay, who summoned up the demon during gameplay. It was an honest mistake but the body count is real enough, especially when his Hail Mary pass of a reversal incantation merely turns the hot succubus into a scaly demon who wades through the would-be warriors like a kid stomping through his toy soldiers.

The producers line up a low-budget cast with high genre cred and they too seem to have a good time: Ryan Kwanten (the spacey Jason of True Blood) as the aspiring black-metal star reluctantly dragged along by his buddies, Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) as the stoner who preps by downing a bag of shrooms, and Summer Glau (Firefly) as the warrior babe all too used to the geek boys hitting on her. Jimmi Simpson and Danny Pudi (Community) are well cast in supporting roles. They don’t play caricatures of gaming obsessives so much as overly enthusiastic fans carried away with the theatrics of it all. The film was reportedly recut without the participation of director Joe Lynch and the result looks a little like something tamed down for a general audience, but the attitude and energy keep it going through the familiar rhythms of the story. And refreshingly for an R-rated comedy, this is geek-girl friendly, with Glau shrugging off the advances and outbattling everyone with hearty high spirits and wit. No gratuitous nudity here but plenty of over-the-top stage gore, the kind of goopy excess that makes demons-versus-mortals violence less rather than more realistic.

The most substantial supplement is the Comic Con panel with director Joe Lynch and six stars of the film (all the major cast members apart from Zahn). There’s a seven-minute interview with Lynch and a handful of brief cast interviews and featurettes, all less than two minutes apiece.

More New Releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Mar 31 2014

DVD: ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’

The title of the The Broken Circle Breakdown, a major hit in its native Belgium and an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in the U.S., is a riff on the American country spiritual “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” This is the story of a great love and a devastating loss, and it indeed confronts a breakdown, both figurative and literal, in the family circle. The song opens the film, performed by a bluegrass band in Belgium fronted by Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), a one-time punk rocker who fell in love with American roots music. He learned to play the banjo because it’s the closest instrument to the wail of the rock guitar. At least that’s how he explains it to Elise (Veerle Baetens), a tattoo artist who has turned her own body into a canvas for her work, on their first date.

That first date comes later in the film. Our introduction to Didier and Elise is in 2006 as they await results from a test that their young daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), named for Maybelle Carter of course, is undergoing. They are trying to hold it together to give their little girl all the strength and optimism they can muster. As this present-day drama unfolds, we slip back seven years to the early, heady days of their romance. It’s practically love at first sight and they form an instant connection; the way the flashbacks jump through their life together, it looks like she moves in the next day. Their personal harmony is picked up in the band, where she joins the ensemble in duets with Didier, then as a lead singer and guitar player. His stunned, defensive reaction to the news that she’s pregnant is the only sour note of their love song and he quickly recovers by starting a verse.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Mar 31 2014

Blu-ray: ‘Dead Kids’ (aka ‘Strange Behavior’)

Originally released in the U.S. under the name Strange Behavior, Dead Kids is the debut screenplay by future director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Bill Condon (he Oscared for Gods and Monsters) and the directorial debut of producer Michael Laughlin (Two-Lane Blacktop), two Americans who got their offbeat horror movie made by filming it as an Australian / New Zealand / American co-production in New Zealand. The title Dead Kids makes it sound like a slasher picture or a zombie film, and while there are some elements of both of those genres echoing through the film, it’s really a mix of mad scientist thriller and revenge movie dropped into a somewhat surreal recreation of small-town Midwest America.

Michael Murphy stars as John Brady, an easy-going chief of police (or maybe county sheriff?) in Galesburg, a small Illinois town close enough to Chicago to request help from the city’s homicide detectives. He’s a widower and a single father to Pete (Dan Shor), a smart, good-looking high school kid who wants to go to city college, despite Dad’s insistence he go to a major university and see a little of the world beyond this town. Dad has good reason to send Pete away: he blames a professor at the local college for the death of his wife. The professor is long deceased yet his legacy still hovers over the school through pre-recorded lectures and professors who continue his psychiatric research and experiments in behavior modification. Pete, eager to make a little extra money, signs up as their latest test subject in a vaguely-described study being run by the doctor’s protégé (Fiona Lewis, with an air of icy dominatrix about her). The project, of course, turns out to have a sinister side, as an outbreak of violent, inexplicable murders attest.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Mar 29 2014

DVD: ‘Young America’

Spencer Tracy gets top billing in Frank Borzage’s 1932 depression-era drama as Jack Doray, a hardware store owner with the wise-guy manner of a mug and the high-society lifestyle of an industry magnate, but Young America is really about an orphan named Art (Tommy Conlon). Art is a hard-luck saint among the kids of neighborhood, a good boy with bad judgment, and Conlon, a child actor in his first major role, plays him with the spunky spark of a well-meaning kid with a quick temper, a can-do attitude, and a weakness for taking unattended cars on impromptu joy rides.

Based on a play by John Frederick Ballard, Young America is a script built on clichés and contrivances to give us a kid whose generosity of spirit and loyalty to defenseless friends, notably skinny little creative genius Nutty Beamish (Raymond Borzage, no relation to the director), constantly lands him in trouble. “This boy has the reputation of being the worst boy in town,” says the old Irish cop of his neighborhood to juvenile court Judge Blake (Ralph Bellamy), one of those paternal authority figures who mixes compassion with tough love. Art gets his compassion, but it only gets him so far when his latest “good deed” gets him arrested for robbing Jack Doray’s pharmacy (to get medicine for Nutty’s sweet but frail grandmother, of course).

Frank Borzage makes good use of Tracy, who was a busy actor for the Fox Film Corporation in the early 1930s but not yet a major movie star. His Jack is both a street-smart businessman and an arrogant high-society gent whose time is too valuable to waste on a minor legal manner that drags him into juvenile court.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Mar 29 2014

Blu-ray: ‘The Prey’

France has been resetting the yardstick on international action cinema for over a decade, thanks largely to a successful slate of mid-budget action films from Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp featuring the likes of Jason Statham, Jet Li, David Belle, and Liam Neeson, but that brand of slick, sleek, colorful continental thriller is not the only flavor coming from France. Eric Valette’s The Prey goes for rough-and-tumble grit over slick Luc Besson spectacle with mixed results. It’s a clever idea – a bank robber has to escape prison when he learns that his former cellmate is actually a serial killer who has targeted his wife and child – sustained largely on momentum and stunts that practically leave bruises on the screen. It’s the sloppy scripting that trips it up.

Albert Dupontel has an appropriately scuffed-up quality as Franck, a hard-luck bank robber serving out the last months of a sentence for a successful hold-up so he can walk out a free man and retrieve the hidden haul. He doesn’t trust anyone (he keeps the location of the stolen money a secret from his fellow gang members) but makes the mistake of asking his cellmate Jean-Louis (Stéphane Debac), a seemingly meek religious-fanatic whose claim of innocence seems born out when the case is overturned, to reach out to his wife. Once he learns the truth from an obsessed police detective (Sergi López) he turns a prison beat-down into an escape opportunity and the manhunt is on.

Alice Taglioni is the beautiful and tough-as-nails Detective Claire Linné, the kind of female cop who goes undercover as a hooker so she can break out in badass mode while dressed like a tart.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Mar 28 2014

Animals to Arks, How ‘Noah’ the Movie Compares to the Bible

The new movie Noah, director Darren Aronofsky’s $130 million epic retelling of the story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, carries this advisory: “While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.”

Russell Crowe in Darren Aronofsky's 'Noah'

Noah has been banned in some Middle Eastern countries, and attacked by some Christian critics for taking liberties with scripture. Aronofksy told the New Yorker that “Noah” is “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” hardly the kind of comment to calm the faithful

Fair disclaimer, but it’s likely not one that will reach all filmgoers who see “Noah” with the expectation that the Aronofsky’s version will closely mirror the biblical series of events. For a little scriptural background and film fact-checking, Steven D. Greydanus, a film critic for the National Catholic Register and his own website, Decent Films, and a Bible student at the Archdiocese of Newark viewed the film before its release. The experts’ general verdict: there’s a lot that closely mimics the epic story, but some liberties are taken. Warning: Spoilers for the film obviously follow.

Is the word God missing from the film as some critics have charged?

No, says Greydanus. “For the most part, God is referred to in the film as ‘the Creator’ and this is a creative choice that I think does a lot for the film. It helps to defamiliarize the language somewhat, it makes the figure of God a little more mysterious to us.” But His name is clearly spoken when Ham, second son of Noah, says to Tubal-cain: “My father says there can be no king. The Creator is God.”

Continue reading at NBCNews.com

Mar 27 2014

Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to muscle his way from action hero to actor

Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the savviest stars of his era. He carefully cultivated a screen persona built on his distinctive physique, his instantly recognizable Austrian accent, and a self-aware sense of humor behind his imposing muscles.

'Sabotage'

His characters were all variations on a theme. Whether he was Conan, the Terminator, the Last Action Hero, or a cop going undercover as a kindergarten teacher, he was still simply Ah-nold. It was a winning formula for a good long run, but Schwarzenegger’s star power was already fading when he turned to politics in the early 21st century, a dated relic in a movie culture looking for younger, fresher models.

So he’s trying something different with “Sabotage” (opening Friday), a hard-edged urban action thriller from David Ayer, who wrote “Training Day” and directed “End of Watch.”

Continue reading at Today.com

Mar 26 2014

‘Man of Iron’ on TCM

Not to be confused with the 1981 award-winning Polish drama of the same name by Andrzej Wajda, Hollywood’s Man of Iron of 1935 is the story of a well-liked shop foreman in a thriving machine works plant who is promoted to the front office and gets distracted by his new affluence and the plotting of a jealous rival. Based on the 1934 novel Story of a Country Boy by Dawn Powell, it stars Barton MacLane, a familiar face in Warner productions of the thirties, in his first starring role and co-stars Mary Astor and fellow contract players Dorothy Peterson (memorable in Hitchcock’s wartime thriller Saboteur, 1942), as the salt-of-the-earth wife that attempts to keep him grounded, and John Eldredge as the dandy of a front-office schemer. It runs a brief, busy 61 minutes.

Warner Bros. had just launched a low-budget unit under the supervision of Bryan Foy, one of the “Seven Little Foys” of vaudeville fame. Foy had left the stage for the movies in the 1920s, churning out comedy shorts and inexpensive features (including Warner Bros.’s first all-talking picture Lights of New York, 1928), and earned the name “The Keeper of the Bs” when he was promoted to the head of the B-movie unit at Warner. Man of Iron was one of the first films released under Foy’s watch.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Thursday, March 27

Mar 26 2014

Videophiled: Asghar Farhadi’s ‘The Past’ and Bruno Dumont’s ‘Camille Claudel 1915′

Past

The Past (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, Digital, On Demand), Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation, relocates from Iran to Paris to tell an equally nuanced story of the complications of marriage, romance, family, and communication. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has returned to Paris from Iran to finalize a divorce from Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and steps into a family drama involving his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s new man (Tahar Rahim), their angry and resentful kids, and a mystery that is really none of his business, which he investigates with a gentle remove that allows him to gloss over his own baggage until he, too, must confront his own issues and failings.

Like A Separation, The Past is a beautifully observed portrait of people who fail to communicate and the assumptions that accrue in the void of understanding, and a sympathetic presentation of flawed people who don’t always make the right decisions and aren’t even always honest with themselves, and he takes his time weaving defining details through the fabric of their lives. Bérénice Bejo, so bubbly and bright in The Artist, is remarkable as Marie, struggling to work through her own resentments after four years of separation with Ahmad.

In French and Farsi with English subtitles. The Blu-ray+DVD release features both formats in a single case plus commentary by director / writer Asghar Farhadi, a filmmaker Q&A from a screening at the Directors Guild of America and the featurette “Making The Past.”

Camille11915

Juliette Binoche stars in Camille Claudel 1915 (Kino Lorber, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), Bruno Dumont’s portrait of the artist during her imprisonment in an insane asylum and based on her correspondence with her brother Paul Claudel, a poet and Christian mystic whose compassion for his fellow man appears more theoretical than practiced. As Camille, famed sculptor and one-time lover of August Rodin, she is an anxious storm of anger and loss, racked with paranoia (she’s convinced that Rodin and his cronies are engineering her imprisonment and trying to poison her). But her greatest loss is not freedom but the ability to express her artistic drive and she is lucid compared to the other, seriously mentally challenged inmates. Her expression reveals an instinctive revulsion for these fellow patients, no doubt in part for the implicit suggestion that she is one of them, but also a compassion when she faces not the patient but the vulnerable human in need of help. The staff sees it in her too and they trust her to look after one or another of the patients at times. The savage duality of so many of Dumont’s characters and cultural collusions from previous films are seen here, but there’s also caring and compassion, at least until the film shifts to her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) and the insufferable piety that commits service to God at the expense of those on earth. French with English subtitles.

More new releases on disc and digital, including The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Beauty, and The Punk Singer, are at Cinephiled

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