Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The H Man/ Battle in Outer Space Sci-Fi Double Feature Mill Creek Entertainment

The H Man/Battle in Outer Space Mill Creek Entertainment June 9th 2020

The H-Man (1958)

Directed By: Ishiro Honda

Starring: Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata

The H Man is interesting as it blends '50's science run amok with a crime element.  I think off the bat my biggest issue with this movie is its terrible pace. The film should have dropped the crime sub plot and got straight into the thrust of the film. Its a good thirty minutes into we actually get any ooze action. The film gets going but then gets into boring sitting and talking exposition scenes. This seems to be the un-doing of a lot of cheesy sci-fi films not only in Japan but America as well. Now compare this to The Blob (1958) released the same year. Both feature a oozing, well blob, that has the ability to kill. But in that film we dont spend a lot of time talking about the why's and wherefores rather we get right into the action.I also feel like H-Man suffers from very flat characters. A movie shouldn't feel like a choir and H-Man very much felt like one. It slogs through bad sub plotting and forgets to just be a fun monster movie. When it does get into monster territory is when I started getting interested again. H-Man also feels like it may have partly inspired the melt masterpiece Street Trash (1987). This films seems to have a cult following but, for me it felt like a Blob rip-off but forgets to actually just be a fun cheesy monster movie.

Battle in Outer Space (1959)

Directed By:Ishiro Honda

Starring: Ryo Ikebe, Kyoko Anzai, Leonard Stanford, Harold Conway

The film starts out promising with a nice albeit cheesy space battle. But, I thought to myself, Oh good at least this film is going to be fun with more action rather than talking. Like H-Man the film drags its run time with committee meetings and boring characters. Honda tries to build action but then it goes right back to more UN meetings. Snore.  The film tries hard to bring a romance sub-plot into the film but honestly, who cares? I came here for stupid cheesy fun battles in outer space. Its beyond me why these films are padded within an inch of their lives with talking, boring characters and more talking and meetings. Your mileage my vary but even with some fun battle scenes I found this movie to be more of a choir than the previous film.

Picture/Sound: Both H Man and Battle have been sourced from very nice restorations done by Columbia. Colors are vivid with all artifacts and dirt scrubbed clean. I really am pleasantly surprised how nice both of these films look, especially given their age. Creek has been sourcing a lot of their older films were decent to great prints, so it always varies but both of these releases are home runs for the label. Sound wise both films aren't perfect but they feature little hiss or distortion.

The only extras are a feature length commentary for Battle in Outer Space. The track features Sci-Fi historians Steve Ryfle & Ed Godziszewski. Both experts share plenty of great information on the film and it makes for an entertaining listen.

Both films include the English and Japanese versions of the film.

Value: If you love cheesy late 50's  Japanese sci-fi Mill Creek has got you covered! Both films look great and at just under 15 for 2 discs its a hell of a great deal. As always there are no frills but bottom is you get two movies looking great and at the end of the day thats all that really matters.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

John Ford's Straight Shooting (1917) Kino Classic

Straight Shooting (1917) Kino Classics July 14th 2020

Directed By: John Ford

Starring: Harry Carey, Molly Malone, George Berrell, Duke Lee

Kino Classic presents John Ford's first feature film Straight Shooting (1917) Later this year they will also be releasing Hell Bent (1918) another early Ford film on Aug. 25th. Cheyenne Harry (Harry Carey) is hired by the rich sinister rancher Thunder Flint (Duke Lee) to run a family off their land. But Harry is conflicted when he gets to know the family. An epic battle ensues.

     This is the first Ford film as mentioned and it's really wonderful to have this surviving film. Sadly, not all of Fords body of work has survived which is a shame. What I noticed right off the bat is this film is so awe-inspiring and the scoop is breathtaking. He uses inventive camera work that really pushed the boundaries of the medium. He would keep pushing the art form all throughout his career. The story is also a bit more fleshed out with characters that weren't all good or bad, yet complex. Carey is one of the earliest examples of the anti-hero in cinema and I was stunned by how the gray areas of his character. Harry Carey is great and turns in a subtle and heartbreaking role. Carey made a huge impact on Westerns and John Wayne was said to model a lot of his acting style off of Carey. Ford, even in his debut shows off his work with action scenes and, whew, the man really new how to stage thrilling set-pieces. If you are on the fence about silent films Straight Shooting is a brisk, well paced and extremely well shot film. Any film scholar or buff should consider this a must watch.

Straight Shooting is presented in a stunning new 4k restoration by Universal Pictures. It's been cleaned and scrubbed of a lot of scratches, dirt and artifacts. Small details in the production design, costumes and characters really come to life as I suspect never before, expect maybe on its opening run. I talk about the film having some wonderful scope and cinematography and this new print highlights that in all its cinematic glory. The sound is great as well and features a new score by Michael Gatt.

Kino Classics offers a nice selection of extras including a feature length commentary with John Ford historian Joseph McBride. It's a lively and incredibly informative track and I think its worth while and helped me like the film even more on my second watch. Rounding out the features is:Bull Scores a Touchdown (10mins) video essay about John Ford and his career by film critic Tag Gallagher. Tag also wrote a very nice piece for the booklet that comes with the film. Overall, this is a great film and should be considered a must watch for Western and just film buffs in general.

Black Rainbow (1989) Arrow Video Review

Black Rainbow (1989) Arrow Video July 7th 2020

Directed By: Mike Hodges

Starring: Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce, Mark Joy

Mike Hodges might not be a household name but, throughout the '70's and '80's he has directed some very interesting genre films like Flash Gordon (1980), Get Carter (1971) and Black Rainbow (1989) a little known thriller from the late '80's.   Martha (Rosanna Arquette) is a medium and her father Walter (Jason Robards) helps her with her 'act'. The two seem to swindle people only one evening Martha starts predicting the deaths of whistle blowers. Gary Wallace (Tom Hulce) a investigative reporter is on the case.

    So, I had actually never heard of this film prior to its Arrow release. As thrillers go, Black Rainbow is an interesting one. It was way more understated than I had expected. It certainly is more style and arty dialogue and the pace moves much slower. The film never commits to being outright surreal nor does it follow the traditional thriller/supernatural route. This is where the film kind of gets stuck in this weird limbo. Its not typical enough for the mainstream but its also not weird or outrageous enough for the midnight crowd. There is no doubt this is a strange film with a vibe that perfectly reflects its subject, however, for me it doesn't take big enough swings to be truly memorable. To be frank I actually found myself getting bored, which is the unforgivable sin of cinema. Hodges other films are anything but so I was taken back by this. This is one of those movies that has a lot to say but doesn't hit the mark on its core themes. For me what keeps this film watchable is Rosanna Arquette. Its interesting that she actually plays a medium long before Patricia did in Medium. As always Arquette brings a wonderful and strange pathos to the character and she perfectly fits into the films off-kilter world.

Black Rainbow is an odd film and I liked aspects of it. But, for me it played it maybe a little too safe and should have really went for a strange even surreal quality.

The film looks great and this new transfer balances the colors incredibly well. Faces have a nice natural color and the moody visual style of the film is highlighted. The sound is also great with a nice 2.0 mix. Dialogue is clear as is the soundtrack. There is a nice mix of features, mostly stuff ported over from an older release. We get two commentaries. One is a previously recorded track with director Mike Hodges. And, we also get a brand new commentary with historians Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan. We also get a nice array of vintage features including.

Message in a Bottle Making of Black Rainbow (19mins)
Archival Interviews: Jason Robards, Rosanna Arquette and Tom Hulce
Archival featurettes: 8 minutes, Disasters, Seeing the Future, Behind the Rainbow

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916) Kino Classics Blu Ray Review

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916) Kino Classics July 28th 2020

Directed By: Stuart Paton

Starring:Allen Holubar,

    No doubt most of you have heard of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, even if you`ve never read the book. Many different versions of the classic tale by Jules Verne exist. In fact the 1916 version re-released by Kino Classics, is not the first but second film adaptation. Captain Nemo (Allen Holubar) and crew go on an underwater adventure based on the legendary book of the same title.

Fan's and film historians a like seem to agree that Paton's 1916 version of 20,000 Leagues is a flawed film on a narrative sense but groundbreaking for its visuals. Strangely this version of the film also crams in another adaptation of Verne's story "Mysterious Island" into the cinematic narrative. If you are looking for a book faithful adaptation will be sorely disappointed. The film version takes a lot of liberties with the source material and not for the better. Leagues is further sunk with shoddy editing, aimless direction and  bad acting even for silent movie standards. Paton also weirdly spends a lot of time on needless sub plots that doesn't actually further the main narrative. Thus we get a movie that has a lot of pacing issues.

Despite its flaws the film is noteworthy for its pioneering effects by George Williamson J.Ernest Williamson. It's also the first film to film underwater by way of something called a sea-tube. More on this in the commentary. We take this kind of photography for granted but it must have been quite the thrill to see this for the first time, on the big screen in 1916.

Though the film isnt great film scholars should make it a point to see this movie, if only for the groundbreaking effects and underwater footage.

Kino Classics as always does a fantastic job at providing a wonderful new print. The transfer is great especially considering this film is over one hundred years old. You can tell a lot of clean up has went into this restoration. While there is still scratches I wager this film hasn't looked better since its original run. The film includes a new score by Orlando Perez Rosso. Historian Anthony Slide has a great feature length commentary. Slide provides a wealth of knowledge on the cast, crew, making of the film as well as the groundbreaking underwater photography.

There may be better versions of the classic Jules Verne adventure story but, I think every film buff should check this out, if only for its leap in visual storytelling.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Zombie for Sale (2019) Arrow Video Review

Zombie for Sale (2019)  Arrow Video July 7th 2020

Directed By: Lee Min-jae

Starring: Ga-ram Jung, Soo-kyung Lee, Nam-gil Kim

     It seems that as international horror goes, zombies are the in thing once again. 2017's Australian film Cargo,  the South Korean smash hit Train to Busan (2016) and 2019's Zombie for Sale another offering from South Korea. A drug companies illegal activities results in bringing back the living dead. The zombie makes his way to a small village where he meets the Park family.  The Parks are a small family of grifters trying to get their gas station up and running. Through some hi-jinks we learn that when the mysterious zombie bites someone they turn youthful. This gives the father an idea. Why not charge his other elderly friends to get bitten? Soon, more people learn of this and the Park family is rolling in money. They learn that the youthful phase is only temporary and soon they are facing a hoard of flesh eating zombies. Meanwhile daughter Hae-Gul (Soo-kyung Lee) falls in love with the original mysterious zombie.

    It was a bold choice for director Lee Min-jae to go with a zombie film for his first outing. After all zombie films are easy to make but hard to pull off correctly. This is because the horror sub-genre has been, pardon the pun 'done to death' and you have to bring something fresh to the table. Lee Min-jae does just that for the most part. From the very first second of Zombie for Sale its clear that the director has a style in mind and the mood and atmosphere that he captures when introducing the lead zombie is awe-inspiring. He knows how to frame a shot and capture the tone. Lee employees a weird over saturated look to the film.  This look might have been an issue but the wackiness and weirdness seems to lend itself to this sort of otherworldly look. Thankfully, he never goes over board. The overall visual style of the film is incredible and elevates the entire affair. The thing is, as much as I love a good broody zombie film its nice to have a comedy-zombie outing. But, I was afraid that the comedy might become too broad. But, similar to Shaun of the Dead (2004), the film strikes a good balance between heart, humor and, brainnns! Its such a clever story device, to have people willingly getting bitten by zombies if it means getting younger. Its a wonderful subversion but I wish they would have maybe used that opportunity to satire the beauty industry. The cast is fantastic and everybody knows exactly how hammy to get without going into caricatures. Thats not an easy task but Lee seems to know just the right balance of serious and absurd for his actors. Fans of the zombie genre will find some sublet references early on in the film. The look of the zombies are really something to behold. They are effective in their design and thankfully do not come off silly. Overall, the gore effects are really great as well.

    As brilliant as the film is its not without some flaws. The pace moves incredibly fast but the problem with that is we dont ever get a clear picture of the Park family. I would have loved for some more fleshed out characters. Hae-Gul is the person we get some depth with and what feels like a fully formed story arc by the films end. Towards the third act, when we get into fully rip-roaring zombie mood its here that Lee-Min jae's zombie references start to show a bit too on the nose. The nods to  Shaun of the Dead and Land of the Dead (2005) (ala the fire works) are not so subtle.

  Despite that the film manages to stick the landing with a wonderful finale with the family having gone through some important changes. For a feature debut this is truly an exciting and fun film. Zombie for Sale has the high energy of early Peter Jackson with the clever plotting and detail of Edgar Wright. I hope that Lee Min-jae sticks with horror but, whatever genre he does next I will be excited to see what he does.

Yes, its cool to have dark, brooding bleak zombie movies but dammit sometimes I just wanna watch a zombie violently munching on a cabbage with drenched in ketchup. An excellent film that you shouldn't sleep on.

I love that Arrow Video has been distributing international indie horror fare. The film looks great on Blu Ray. The transfer looks great and highlights Lee's visual language.  The sound is also great with a nice 2.0 track. The dialogue comes through crystal clear as does the score. Arrow has provided a nice array of extra's as always. We get a great director Q&A from a 2019 screening at Asia Pop-Up Cinema in Chicago. Moderated by film critic Darcy Paquet. (12mins)
Eat Together, Kill Together: The Family in Peril Comedy:  In this video essay by critic Pierce Conran he explores the social satires of within the context of Koeran cinema. I found this extremely interesting as it helped add culture context to the film. Rounding out the features is a short  Making of featurette, Behind the scenes and feature length commentary by Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin. The commentary is a fun listen. Dan Martin and Sam Ashurst have both worked on film, notably special effects. It was great to get their insights for the film.

Overall a nice selection of features for a exciting and enjoyable indie flick.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) Warner Archives July 28th 2020

Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy

Starring: Ester Williams, Walter Pidgeon, Jesse White, Victor Mature

     I'm a sucker for big splashy '50's productions. You know, the kind that were on their way out when a decade later when films like Psycho (1960) and Easy Rider (1969) forever changed the Hollywood landscape. And, while a shift to more gritty, realistic films of the '60's and especially the '70's was totally necessary, I still love the big lavish eye sores with big budgets and even bigger stars. This goes double for the dream-like wonderland of the dances and music crafted by the legendary Busby Berkeley. Its for this reason I decided to give Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) a try. After all I've heard the film referenced countless times and I`'ll watch anything with character actor Jesse White in. The film tells the story of real life Australian swimmer and entertainer Annette Kellerman (Ester Williams). With the help of the carny showman James Sullivan (Victor Mature) and his sidekick Doc Cronnol (Jesse White) they propel her to stardom.  We follow her overcoming illness as a child, becoming a top swimmer and getting into some 'hot water' over a one-piece bathing suit and the various up's and downs of her career and life.

     As far as a biopic goes the film, frankly this isnt a good one. Its not super focused on Kellerman and like most movies takes a lot of liberties for the sake of cinema. This wouldn't be a issue but I will be honest, outside of the very well done stage numbers the film tends to be dull. I think what I had issues with is that director LeRoy never seems to find the emotional core, making this a movie thats more razzle dazzle than drama-biopic. Serious traumas in her life like the death of her father and a major injury are all glossed over and never really dealt with by the character. Listen, there is nothing wrong with a big wonderful Technicolor day dream. But, you have to remember this is a real persons life they are depicting. I also cringed so hard at a bit with Jesse White dressed as a Native American.

The thing that does keep this film moving is of course two things: The performances. Ester Williams just positively sparkles as Annette. She has the good looks of a '50's sex pot with the good girl image of Doris Day. She handles the role with a lot of grace, pose and never goes over board. Of course the film is also best remembered for its amazing water choreography by Busby Berkeley. It's just marvelous to watch and, no matter how many times I see something Berkeley has produced it always leaves me in utter awe. 

So, yeah its kind of meh when it comes to the story department but, lets be honest its more about seeing Williams in her scandalous one-piece and the amazing numbers. The film had been a huge hit at the time of its release and remained a favorite of Williams. I thought it was entertaining minus some dry moments that could have used a cohesive emotional center.

This is considered one the best uses of Technicolor so, given Warners track record with restorations I was chopping at the bits to see this in all of its glorious HD splendor. And, it of course did not disappoint. The colors are rich and really pop in this new transfer. Busby's flashy numbers leap off the screen in this new edition! The sound is great as well and showcases the music to its upmost. Dialogue is crystal clear and with no hiss or background noise.

The extras include: Vintage Pete Smith Specialty Short: Reducing (8m): The MGM short is about fat lose. Its um...very dated but interesting none the less. Also included is a classic cartoon short Little Quacker and probably my favorite a rare Lux Radio Broadcast with Ester Williams and Walter Pidgeon. Rounding out the features is a trailer.

The Thing from Another World (1951) Warner Archives

The Thing from Another World (1951) Warner Archives

Directed By: Christian Nyby, Howard Hawks (uncredited)

Starring: Kenneth Tobey, Douglas Spencer, James Arness, Margaret Sheridan

    Based on the novella "Who Goes There" by John W. Campbell The Thing from Another World (1951) is often over shadowed by its big budget '80's remake counterpart. So much so that I think people tend to forget just how groundbreaking the original 1951 version really was. The film kicked off the wave of '50's sci-fi in America but it also took the genre seriously. There is some debate over how much if any Howard Hawks directed, but one thing is clear, its very much a Hawks film both in style and feeling. His films had this organic way they flowed and Hawks was the person to popularize characters over lapping dialogue, therefore giving speech a more chaotic and natural appearance.  The film centers around a group of scientist that find a crashed flying saucer in-bedded in the ice. Through a series of circumstances the creature is flawed out of his iced coffin and unleashed onto the small motley crew. 

      The Thing from Another World is hands down among the best science fiction of it's decade and transcends its flying saucer/alien creature trappings because Nyby and Hawk's took the material seriously. Nobody is winking at the camera, no rubber monster is stalking lover lane teenagers. James Arness with the aid of makeup by Lee Greenway is transformed into a monster that is still terrifying decades later. Seriously, the first time I saw The Things entrance made me jump ten feet out of the chair and its still very chilling. Not to mention the use of pyrotechnics which still takes my breath away when I watch it. Unlike a lot of other alien films that came after it, this film treats its characters with a lot of maturity and pathos. Nyby gives us a peak into the relationship/history between Margaret Sheridan and Kenneth Tobey that feels real and organic and not shoved in. Its just a credit to the excellent writing that we get some fleshed out character moments before all hell breaks loose. And, Oh boy when it does the film's pace is nearly break-neck. Every scene is advantaging the plot with no filler or needless sub-plotting to get in its way. This my friends is economical story telling at its finest. Its deep when it needs to be but, also knows when to be a action filled horror film as well. Its not suggest this film is without its flaws and those are mostly the limitations of the budget. But, I would argue that the lack of budget forced the filmmakers to get more creative with the material.

     This is why I hate when the '51 version The Thing gets an honorable mention at best. It was one of the first of its kind to use the Cold War paranoia or fear of "the other" in the coating of a high concept science fiction film. Other great examples would be most famously the pod people absorbing wholesome middle America in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).  The Thing did it first and in my mind it did it better. So I say, if you are a horror fan and have dismissed this film as a not-as-good  version of John Carpenters excellent film, I say to you. Check it out! Its amazing and there is a reason Carpenter himself loved it so much he not only featured it in Halloween (1978) but of course remade the film in his own style.

So, for the longest time I only had the old DVD version of The Thing. I was really excited to finally upgrade this. Overall I was very happy with the restoration. Small details come to life and the picture is worlds better than SD 720. If i had to lobby one minor compliant it would be that a few scenes actually look too bright almost to the point it washes some facial features out. Thankfully this is one in like one scene so its not that distracting.

No bonus features are included.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Pride and Prejudice (1940) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

Pride and Prejudice (1940) Warner Archives July 28th 2020

Directed By: Robert Z. Leonard

Starring: Greer Garson, Maureen O' Sullivan, Laurence Oliver,Mary Boland

    I wont lie I've never read Jane Austins novel Pride and Prejudice published in 1813, but damn if I dont love a dry lavish costume drama. This is why I think I was actually kind of excited for Warners to re-release the 1940 big budget version on HD. Mrs Bennet (Mary Boland) is sent in a tizzy with the arrival of two rich single men in the town. She aims to marry one of her daughters to one of these wealthy bachelors. Enter Mr. Darcy (Laurence), one such gentlemen who is interested in Elizabeth (Greer Garson) but of course treats her snobbishly. Now a battle of pride and prejudice ensues but can one swallow their pride?

      The Great Ziegfeld (1936) director Robert Z. Leonard helms this marvelous adaption and whilst its apparently not very faithful to the source it does over flow with comedy of upper-crust manners and has delicious wit and charm in spades. This biting and sardonic humor is aimed squarely at class-climbing. But to be more specific, it constantly shows how these characters do this absurd dance of appearing 'respectable', especially as far as women are concerned. This in my opinion is what makes the film a fun watch. And, yeah the film never really directly talks about the perils of snobbish class-warfare, but I dont care because I'm here for the big lavish production designs (which won it a Best Art Direction at the Oscars), grand costumes that the film is drenched in. Pride is given a beautiful scope and nice visuals thanks to the brilliant cinematographer Karl Freund. Freund was a legend in his field, having worked on such classics as Dracula (1931), Kay Largo, Metropolis (1927) etc.

   You also have the 11-time Oscar winner Cedric Gibbons (Wizard of Oz, Forbidden Planet) doing what he does best, which is create beautiful worlds for the characters to inhibit. Add a underrated score by Herbert Storthart (Wizard of Oz, A Night at the Opera)  and you have some real heavy hitting talents behind the scenes. But, of course in front of the camera you have some incredibly talented players of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Greer Garson gives a witty, playful and engrossing performance as Elizabeth and its among her best work. Laurence Oliver was good at doing his Oliver-ness. Mary Boland though steals every scene she is in as the delightfully overbearing matriarch Mrs Bennet.  Classic films buffs will no doubt remember Boland for her turn in the cult classic The Women (1939). Bottom line: This movie may not be faithful to the book and thats OK there is like a ton of other later adaptations that I'm sure are more akin to the material.  But, I enjoyed this because of its ultra grand, attention to detail lavish production from Hollywoods Golden era. The stars were big, the costumes outrageous, yet there is real incredible talent behind these films that cannot be denied. If you are even semi-interested in films of this ilk, you`ll have a good time.

Warner Archives never ceases to amaze me. This transfer is beyond incredible and here the excellence in scope, set design, costumes and production design are celebrated to the highest degree. Little fine details now leap out at you and I dare say this film has never looked this good. The sound is also great with crystal clear dialogue and it showcases Herbert's score to its best. The extras include a trailer and a cartoon The Fishing Bear also released in 1940.

As always Warner provides such a breathtaking transfer and its why I am always excited for whatever film they re-issue.

Victor and Victoria (1933) Kino Classics

Victor and Victoria (1933) Kino Classics June 9th 2020

Directed By: Reinhold Schunzel

Starring: Hermann Thimig, Renate Muller

    Similar to Madchen in Uniform (1931), Victor and Victoria from 1933 was made at a  very chaotic time for Germany with the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. Sadly, it would be the last of the LGBTQ films made in the country for a period of time. Viktor is an out of work actor looking to hit it big in the theater scene. Susanne is a young aspiring actor also looking to make her mark in the business. The two meet and Viktor takes a young actress under his wig and has an idea. He will revamp her Berlin cabaret act as a man playing a drag queen. Soon both out of luck actors find the success they have been looking for, but hi-jinks ensue in this musical comedy.

   Film fans and musical fans are probably more familiar with the Blake Edwards Victor Victoria (1982), a big budget lavish musical starring the legendary Julie Andrews. It was interesting to see the original film version, as I had only been familiar with the '82 version. Reinhold's film has a lot of charm with some fun comedy bits but its probably its two leads that really make this film shine. Hermann Thimig and Renate Muller play off each other wonderfully and they no doubt have chemistry together. Renate just dazzles in male-drag, instantly becoming a gay icon along with Marlene Dietrich, looking very dabber in her tux. As I say above, this film is bitter sweet as, it was the last of its kind to explore LGBTQ themes before German Nazi party took over. It was also around this time that in America the film code was strictly enforced, also forcing queer characters back into the closet, only popping out in coded depictions.

If I'm being honest as charming as I find the '33 version is, I think I prefer the Andrews version. The '82 film is given the budget to greatly expand on the characters, to flesh them out but also add new ones which serves the story very well. Of course the production values are not in the same league, again due to the film having the advantage of both a healthy budget and gorgeous color. The music is also so much better in the newer version. But, I cannot totally dismiss this version as it was groundbreaking in its themes, its beautiful and inventive camera work as well as the sparkling performances of its leads. 

Kino Classics presents the film in a wonderful print. The picture is incredibly clear with very little in the way of artifacts and scratches. I wager to bet the film has never looked better. The sound is great as well with a nice healthy soundtrack with no hissing or distracting background noise.

The features include a wonderful commentary with film historian Gaylyn Studlar. Gaylyn gives a lot of great historical context for the film and its place within LGBTQ cinema. Much like the  Madchen in Uniform (1931) commentary, we get a great deal of information on the cast, crew and most importantly the political climax in which the film was made.

This is a must-own for fans of queer cinema and just film scholars and lovers in general.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Amulet (2020) Magnet Releasing Review

Amulet (2020) Magnet Releasing July 24th 2020

Directed By: Romola Garai

Starring:Alec Secareanu, Carla Juri, Imelda Staunton

   Today I watched two screeners, both of which felt like a choir to get through rather than entertainment. The latter being Romola Garai's feature film debut Amulet. Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) is a homeless ex-soldier in London. The young man is taken in by a nun named Sister Claire (Imelda Staunton) and given a flat to stay in, in exchange for doing some work around the place. He meets Magda (Carla Juri) a strange woman with an even weirder mother. And, things of course get more sinister from there. Oh boy. Amulet has a interesting poster and I had gone into it nothing virtually nothing about it. I think the first groan I let out is the fact that Tomaz is a fractured soldier. This is such an overdone cliche. It's used so much because its a short cut for writers to manufacture fleshed out characterization.  Why is he so messed up? Well hes a soldier so, yeah duh. Amulet is a film that feels a jumbled mish-mash of a emo-teens scribbles, then those scribbles were taped together to form something that resembles a three act plot. And, clocking in at 100 minutes the film actually feels more like 120 or more. The metaphors and "symbolism" feels so forced and again, I've seen this all before many times.

    Normally I love weird, grimy bleak and kind of hard to follow films. Take Hereditary (2018) for example, that movie works because Aster plants clues and great foreshadowing to maximize the impact of the ending. It feels like a fully formed and planned out narrative. And, as weird as the situation spirals into, he always has some relatable themes at its core to keep things from going into complete edge-lord nonsense. I felt very cold towards the characters, towards the situation not to mention the plot makes very little sense, especially the finale. Even the big "twist" of Topaz's character, which is teased the entire film (and is "paid off" in the finale) feels anti-climactic. Another much better film Relic (2020) is also a slow burn of a film but again, Natalie James uses relatable topics and situations to build the horror. You can see reflections of her characters in a lot of people we know or hell even ourselves. Where I think the issue happens with Amulet is, it takes a very basic A-typical story line and is stretched to the brink fit a feature length. This is why I actually think this would have made for a much better short film. Convoluted plot aside I think its the shallow characters that really doom this movie.

So, I always try to say something nice about a film and I will give credit in terms of the acting. Alec Secareanu, Carla Juri, Imelda Staunton are all great despite some of the hilariously bad lines they have to sell.  Imelda probably is my favorite (and woefully underused) and she dazzled every second she was on screen. I wish she had a bigger role.

Amulet is a bleak and almost unbearably slow film that is 100 mins when it could have worked better as a very interesting short film.

James Cameron’s Story of Science of Fiction RLJE Entertainment Review

James Cameron’s Story of Science of Fiction RLJE Entertainment DVD/Blu-ray July 28th 2020

Starring: James Cameron, Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro

    I’m a lover of all film genres but I think it’s the so-called ‘fringe’ genres like horror and science fiction that attracts me the most. I think what attracts people to these films is both genres are able to tackle social issues and veiled metaphor that other genres cannot, all under a fantastical coating.  

The original Star Trek for example was not only groundbreaking for its diverse cast but also talked about ‘60’s topics like war and race-relations. Invaders of the Body Snatchers (1956) has often been seen as a meditation for Cold War and communist paranoia of the 1950's. AMC presents James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, a multi-part series exploring different aspects of the genre and its cultural impacts. 

    The format is simple: James Cameron sits down with his guest, typically a director. Cameron interviews them inter-cut with film clips and interviews with actors, visual effects people and critics.  The interviewees are a really interesting cross-section of Science Fiction writers, writers, actors, Astronauts, visual effects, musicians etc. I think that the show does a fantastic job at providing a wide-range of different opinions and knowledge. And, its just awesome to see Ridley Scott or George Lucas talking to James Cameron about the epic films I’ve conjured up. I was skeptical going into this series and asked myself: Being a big sci-fi fan will it contain any new and interesting information? I am happy to report that even for die hard fans of the genre this series provides some great bits of trivia. And yes, this series is perfect for fans of the genre but also a wonderful window for newcomers. The series doesn’t spend a lot of time on older films (though they do touch upon them) which makes me think that this show is aimed towards a younger audience. I don’t see this as a flaw but, I would have liked to see a bigger focus on the history of sci-fi which were the building blocks to the movies that are given a bigger platform to. 

Only someone like James Cameron could get all these brilliant directors together for a in depth and sometimes candid talk about science fiction. The show somehow manages to be incredibly fresh with a wide range of interviewee's from all walks of life. I really like that outside of the main directors the show doesn't half ass its panel of guests. They have people who have literally been to space talking about science fiction which is very cool in my book.  

The Blu ray looks great. The film clips are of course in SD which is a bit jarring in contrast but doesn't that I would say is too distracting. The disc has some nice extras in the form of extended interviews with George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott and more. 

If you are a science fiction fan or you are new to the genre this is a fun show that brings together some of the biggest and most influential directors that are generation has ever seen. The wealth of knowledge and stories is pretty invaluable and, as a artifact of film history is worth the purchase price alone.  A must Own!  

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Madchen in Uniform (1931) Kino Classics

Madcchen in Uniform (1931) Kino Classics July 14th 2020

Directed By: Leontine Sagan

Starring: Hertha Thiele,Dorothea Wieck, Hedy Krilla

    I first got to review Madcchen in Uniform (1931) during a digital screening during Pride Month. I was very happy to see Kino providing a window into LGBTQ landmark cinema for the community and allies. Set in the back drop of a private school for the children of ranking military officers, the film is a story of the awakening sexuality of a student towards her teacher. On the outset this seems creepy but as historian Jenni Olson mentions in her commentary (more on that later) both the student Manuela von Meinhardis (Hertha Thiele) and the teacher were in fact twenty-two years old at the time. Leontine Sagan's groundbreaking film is not only boundary pushing in its theme of lesbian love (this film is considered the first of its kind) but it is also a very timely in its overt political themes. The harsh military like way the school is run is chilling when you think that at the time the film was released Hitler was just rising to power at this time, and would be named Chancellor in '33. I think having that in hindsight makes everything even more potent.

   Like a lot of German cinema the film plays with light and shadow. This moody way of filming is called  'German expressionism'. German expressionism would be famously used in American cinema in Film-Noirs.  The camera is so evocative and inventive with its framing, reverse shots and tracking shots, all which is incredibly sophisticated. The interior of the school and the way its filmed and how shadows are cast on things, helps create a almost fairy tale like feel to everything. This seems fitting as the film kind of plays out like a mature fable. A fable of innocence against oppression and a journey of self discovery.

   This is one of those movies that, I honestly feel like if it doesn't move you by the end, then you might have  a stone for a heart. Sagan portrays the sexual awakening of Manuela with pathos and conviction which helps us the audience engage and root for her. It makes her struggles and the heartbreaking finale all the more impactful. Hertha Thiele and Dorothea Wieck in their respective roles really bring the entire piece to painful life. Its such a moving and harrowing film that really bowled me over the first time I've seen it and, only deepens for me the with multiple viewings. If you are a fan of German cinema and also Queer cinema this is a must-see film.

Kino Classics has provided a simply stunning print that showcases the cinematography and camera work Germany was famous for. There are no scratches to be seen and what we get is a clean clear picture worthy of the film itself. The sound is also great with no distortion or hissing on the soundtrack. The film includes a track with film historian Jenni Olson. Olson does a fantastic job at navigating the history of the play on which the film is based, as well as the cast, crew and director. It was also interesting to hear about the remakes that came after it. She is incredibly well researched and I enjoyed learning a lot from her track.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

You Don’t Nomi Me (2019) RLJE Films

You Don’t Nomi Me (2019) RLJE Films July 21st 2020

Directed By: Jeffrey McHale

Starring: Matthew Baum, Jeffery Conway, Adam Nayman, April Kidwell, Elizabeth Berkley, Paul Verhoeven

           How would you describe Showgirls (1995) to someone who has never seen it before? A neon drenched, hyper-sexual fever dream that only the mid-1990’s would have the gull to produce?  That doesn’t even begin to do justice to this truly baffling stripper-epic. It’s cringe-worthy and hilariously quotable dialogue, bad acting and overall cartoon level of non-reality has earned it a place alongside Troll 2 (1990) and The Room (2003) as among the best so-bad-its-enjoyable films. It seemed like only a matter time until someone made a documentary about this horny cult-classic. You Don’t Nomi Me (2019) answers the burning question, Why and how did this film come to be so beloved despite bombing upon its release. First time director Jeffery McHale takes a bold choice of doing this strictly voice-over using clips, archival interviews, news reports and photos. It’s a great way to frame the documentary and makes for a more interesting overall choice. Nomi manages to not only tells a very on topic and cohesive story about the making of the film but gives you a nice overview of the films of Paul Verhoeven and of course the cult that sprang from the film. The film is also well-balanced in terms of showing all angles: Angles like is this anti-feminist film, exploitation trash, a comedy masterpiece, misunderstood or totally justified in its bad reviews? The film gives us all very interesting and very different insights instead of just a ninety-minute love fest. I really respect not giving into the cult-film worship by allowing the nay-sayers a chance to share their opinions as well. 

     Similar to Andre Gower’s brilliant documentary Wolfman’s Got Nards (2018) Nomi doesn’t shy away from the Showgirls more problematic issues, in this case it’s the underlying racism in the film. Its astutely pointed out that the African American characters are only on screen as pillars to Nomi’s quest and have very little to no agency of their own. There is this interesting debate the documentary tackles which is the gender politics. You can make a case for the film being just a trashy exploitation of women masquerading as a pro-feminist film. And, the case can also be made that it is very pro-feminist. McHale wisely never seems to take a hard stance and, in a way, it seems to suggest all of these opinions are right.  Having the film end on a high note and coming full circle on the fandom really put as big goofy smile on my face but also gave me a new perspective which of course is what a great documentary should do. Is it a coke fueled surrealist masterpiece? Is it just a trashy-big-budget sleaze fest that happened to find a midnight crowd? Maybe its all that and more. Either way I was fascinated with this journey that McHale and the incredible experts took us on. Its impressive that right out of the gate McHale produces a well-structured, thought provoking and wildly at the end feel good documentary.

Throw on some body-glitter, grab a burger, dance like nobodies watching and make this a must-see film.

Blu Ray/ DVD Available July 21st 2020.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Relic (2020) IFC Cult Release

Relic (2020) IFC Films VOD July 10th 2020

Directed By: Natalie Erika James

Starring: Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, Robyn Nevin, Chris Bunton

       It seems like some of my favorite horror films within the last twenty-years have been made in other countries. Its not to say Americans cant make a good fright-fest but, when it comes to making some really stand out nihilistic nightmare fuel, international is the way to go.  Kay (Emily Mortimer) has been alerted that her elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) hasn't been seen or heard from in a few days. Kay along with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) go to Edna's home to investigate only to find no signs of life. Its worth noting that Edna has a history of erratic behavior.  Kay informs the police that her mother is missing only for her to mysterious turn up a short time later. But something is not quite right with Edna or the house for that matter.

       Its a rare thing when a director (especially a fairly new one) can take some very well worn horror troupes and make them feel fresh and exciting. Such is the case with Natalie Erika James excellent feature debut. From frame one Relic establishes a dark and oppressive tone that only gets bleaker and more distorted as the tale unravels. I noticed that even daylight shots are still dreary and somber with zero warmth or comfort. Cheap jump scares are mercifully not present, rather, the film's more horrific moments feel very much earned.This is thanks to well done sound design, utilizing the dark foreboding house all whilst riding the wave of tension and mysterious mood Natalie has crafted. From the outset we are presented with a mystery that is engaging and, as things go from weird to bizarre I relished finding the breadcrumbs of clues sprinkled throughout. This is a film that requires and rewards the audiences upmost attention. Relic was made on a modest budget yet feels like a bigger production by way of slick and creative camera work. Huge props should go out to the cinematographer Charlie Sarroff and production designer Steven Jones-Evans for giving the film a dark fairy tale quality. And, you cannot help but be marveled by the incredible visual moments that add to the haunting atmosphere. There are moments in the film, especially the finale that are sure to stick with me for awhile. Couple this with wonderful and surgical like editing and a creepy-dread filled score by Brian Reitzell and you really have a special indie horror film. Also I would be remiss in not mentioning the outstanding cast which truly bring this film to life. All three female leads all play off each other nicely and, it never feels like one is trying to outshine the other.

     If I had to lobby a criticism it would be I never felt like the mother Kay (played to perfection by Emily Mortimer) has the kind of story arch it maybe could have had. I think had we established somehow that Kay had a very troubled relationship with her Edna, the ending would have had a bigger impact. Also I wish they could have explored the theme of the different generations of women and how Kay and Edna's relationship was starting to mirror Kay and Sam. I think this was an interesting opportunity that felt like it comes off a bit flat.  Both Natalie and co-writer Christine White seem use to a short film format which is great as the film is paced wonderfully and dense but feels lean on character development. Honestly, most times I recommend some filmmakers cut back but in Relic I feel like it needed maybe ten minutes or so of character study. This side, I still regard Relic as an exciting breath of fresh air that is much needed in an oft stale market place of remakes and spin-offs.  Natalie Erika Jame's indie horror film really packs a punch and, for a first feature length film cements herself as a interesting and bold new voice in the genre.I cannot wait to see what else she has in the works.