Vivendi Visual Entertainment | 2007 | 102 min | Unrated | Region A, B (C untested) | Aug 26, 2008
A religious charlatan (Dave Foley), his mild mannered nephew (Zack Ward) and a gang of
bosomy commandos face off against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in an epic battle that
will determine the fate of the world.
No sane person has ever played one of Sega’s “House of the Dead” video-games, then thought, “The repetitive and mindless blowing away of zombie heads found in this plotless time waster is prime material for a cinematic treasure. Surely, in the right hands it would be a shoe-in for the Palme d’Or.” My point is that, while Uwe Boll’s first video game inspired movie is abysmal, no one really expected anything beyond mediocrity nor was the movie-going public itching for adaptations of the “Bloodrayne” and “Alone in the Dark” franchises. “Postal” was different, not because the game is so good, but it was a chance for Boll to expand his borders, to leave hackneyed action films and try his hand at an outrageous comedy. That’s why “Postal” is Boll’s most disappointing film.
Two hijackers discussing the celestial rewards of waging jihad begin to question the benefits of completing their suicide mission, but by that point it’s too late to redirect the plane’s course. The camera shifts to a view looking out of a skyscraper window. The poor sap cleaning the window looks back to see the great white plane headed his way. We then know exactly which skyscraper this is and on what day these events are unfolding. Funny dialogue and a shot sure to rankle sensitive eyes and draw outrage from society’s protectors of virtue, what a way to start a movie! Past films may have suggested Boll had no brains, but “Postal” proves Boll has balls.
After this point the movie continues the fight to offend. The main character is a trailer park resident whose morbidly obese wife cheats on him with their hygiene-impaired redneck neighbor. Matt gets roped into a crazy scheme to help his uncle Dave, the leader of a phony religion that exists so Dave can have constant access to a squadron of blonde bikini bimbos. The scheme involves stealing a truckload of the popular Krotchy dolls that are in short supply. Also targeting the dolls is Al-Qaeda. Oh, yeah and George Dubya proves to be less than ethical and famous midget Vern Troyer faces a horde of horn-dog chimps. Every hot button is pushed and pushed again and then, in case you didn’t get it, pushed a hundred more times.
I could conjure up a defense of “Postal” for its casual pace, but what’s the point. Just because it’s different doesn’t make it good. A comedy like this requires maniacal energy. Boll should’ve taken a lesson from the classic “Airplane” or the more recent, and equally un-PC, “Poultrygeist”, both films that decorated each frame with visual jokes and crazy dialogue. Any movie about terrorists trying to get their hands on genital-shaped toys should burn rubber, but Boll is content to ride on cruise control. There are funny parts, like when Matt discovers one of the more utilitarian advantages to owning a housecat, but when a joke doesn’t hit the mark, the movie falls dead in its tracks. God knows that not every joke in those Abraham and Zucker productions was spot-on, but they shot them out so rapid fire it was hard to tell where one ended and the next began.
There are problems with some of the characters, too. Dave is sleazy through and through, but as played by Dave Foley he comes off as nothing more than a mischievous relative. Boll makes a cameo, and while being game for some self deprecation, it’s disappointing, or perhaps strange, that a man so intent on thrashing others wouldn’t apply the same take-no-prisoners approach to poking fun at himself. The blondes that follow Dave’s every move are as empty-headed as they are unclothed, which is to say very. They seem to serve no purpose for most of the movie, taking up part of the frame looking bored, like just another element that made its way into the script on account of being taboo.
“Postal” is a strange one. Audacious, but only sporadically funny. Too nutty to be taken seriously, but lacking the absurdity to be a farce. There’s enough dreck packed in to offend most people, but without the wit required to pull this off, it ends up more of a collage of these inflammatory issues than a satire of them. Rather than a triumph, or an utter failure, I see the German director’s spoof as a curiosity, in a career that’s itself a curiosity.
The Blu-ray merits greater commendation than the film it contains. Upfront the technical presentation lets us know that Vivendi didn’t just slap it together before shipping it to store shelves. Speaking to the quality of the picture and audio, “Postal” looks and sounds like we’d expect from a movie with two or three times the budget.
That’s ancillary to the real attraction which is the director’s commentary. Boll provides good commentaries on a consistent basis, but the one here is a spectacle. Never a man content with silence, he tosses aside the normal fluff and unleashes his mind. Not only do the Bush administration, Muslim fundamentalists, and huckster spiritualists get ribbed, but Hollywood’s elite are riddled with the buckshot words that spray from Boll’s shotgun mouth. The trinity of Clooney, Pitt, and Jolie haven’t won Boll over with their concern for the victims of the conflict in Darfur (a subject he would tackle himself later on in “Darfur”), which he sees as attention seeking and self-congratulatory. His rants only stop when he answers the occasional phone call and speaks in stereotypically shouted German.
Sometimes articulate, at other times arrogant, he won’t redirect any of the ire he’s built up. He obviously resents his ignominious standing as the most hated director alive, yet he seems to crave it, feeding the trolls so he can keep fighting them. In some cases literally, as we see in one of the other features on the disc where a publicity stunt was set up for Boll and his harshest critics to duke it out in the boxing ring. Despite the sensational nature of the event, it’s not as interesting as when the director engages in verbal fisticuffs. “Postal” fails to strike the nerve endings that the commentary does. Without the protection of “I’m only kidding”, Boll’s ranting is so candid it really does offend like when he complains about the Asian drivers in his current residence of Vancouver. Part righteous indignation, part personal vendetta, but always crazy, this is Uwe Boll and I admit I kinda like the guy, though the same can’t be said for most of his films.
Phase 4 Films | 2010 | 79 min | Unrated | Region A (C untested) | Jul 05, 2011
Rayne fights against the Nazis in Europe during World War II, encountering Ekart Brand, a Nazi leader whose target is to inject Adolf Hitler with Rayne's blood in an attempt to transform him into a dhampir and attain immortality.
“Bloodrayne: Third Reich” looks good, but all Uwe Boll movies do. They are slick productions with enough big name actors to be confused for a summer blockbuster. That’s why he is the whipping boy du jour of the critical establishment as well as legions of internet forum users. There are worse movies out there, but it feels unseemly picking on an indie flick that cost two cents and was a labor of love for it’s makers. So when Uwe Boll comes along with a commercial action picture, the budget has enough digits that critics don’t feel pangs of guilt for hurling verbal tomatoes at the German director.
In fairness, the majority of Boll movies aren’t worth watching, except to sate the curiosity of the uninitiated. This movie, the last in the "Bloodrayne" trilogy, is a good primer on Boll’s mishandled attempts at making genre movies. The titular dhampir (half vampire, half human) is back, though this time Kristanna Loken is replaced by Natasha Malthe who definitely remains… uh… titular, wearing the same cleavage centric leather ensemble.
After obtaining vampire blood, a Nazi scientist plans on using it to make the Fuhrer immortal. Rayne and an anti-Nazi rebel group make it their mission to stop this from happening, or at least that’s what I think the plot is. Things get pretty murky. I didn’t even know the nationality of the rebels. Are they part of the French Resistance, or perhaps German dissidents? Were they a task force from the American or Russian military? Usually, in these movies the actors try to put on an accent, but here everyone speaks the same, enunciating each word carefully in that way amateur actors do to sound serious, which leads me to another problem of the film. No matter how hard it tries, it can’t convey a serious tone. The footage of Jews crammed into trains on their way to the concentration camps just feels misappropriated to get an easy reaction, and Rayne’s trite narration only makes it worse.
Rayne is still tortured by her existence as a dhampir, though from watching this film and the first Bloodrayne (haven’t seen the second) I gather that the curse consists of eternal beauty, heightened senses and superhuman strength and agility. The villains are so loosely drawn as to be unthreatening, especially Clint Howard as the mad scientist. His mistreatment and complete disregard for the wellbeing of his vampiric subjects could have been used as an analogy for the Nazis’ treatment of Jews and other “untermensch”, but after hinting at such ideas the movie backs off the subject, choosing to play it safe. Like Howard, Brendan Fletcher is a good character actor, but he’s wasted in the role of the rebel leader, doing the same stiff readings and stentorian speechifying as the rest of the cast.
At this point, I’ve made it clear that the movie is terrible, but something could have been salvaged if the action sequences were any good. Earlier Boll movies had some decent action, but shrinking budgets have resulted in scaled back fisticuffs. All the money has been spent on the sets and costumes, which are up to par (except for Rayne’s stupid-looking leather cap). When the bullets fly and blades slice, it’s in short ungainly bursts. Unlike the violence in a Takeshi Kitano movie that is purposefully abrupt with a haiku-style shortness, the scenes here feel rushed, as if an extended scene was scrapped and one was assembled on the spot. Shaky camerawork, like usual, does nothing to improve the action.
As I said in the beginning, this is a good-looking movie and the Blu-ray does it justice. A tad soft, the picture quality is nonetheless strong, keeping up a consistent natural look. The art direction thrives from the wintry palette, filling the screen with foreboding forests of sullen browns and greens, dusk-gray dungeons, and the equally piercing whites of snow and Rayne’s pale flesh. In league with the PQ, the audio is healthy, shooting off fireworks in the action sequences. Surround speakers are utilized enough to give a feeling of directionality and dialogue-driven scenes are free of defect. Where there’s room for improvement is the music. The score takes a backseat in the mix, with even the heavy metal song playing over the end credits coming off a bit weak. That's a small complaint for a quality transfer.
Writer Michael Nachoff and Boll pair up for a commentary where they address many topics including, but not limited to, special effects, the writing process, what type of film stock to use, and casting decisions. The conversation never lags in the approximately 74 minutes it lasts. Fans will eat it up and Boll haters might find a reason or two to respect the man, however begrudgingly. Nachoff appears solo in a five minute interview that doesn’t cover any ground different than what’s in the commentary. The half-hour “Making of Bloodrayne: The Third Reich” suffers the same case of déjà vu, the only interesting part being when Boll and star Malthe argue over the necessity of nudity to the picture.
Boll fails when he forgets what makes B movies fun. The unfulfilling seriousness doesn’t cut it. On the occasion he throws in an element appealing to baser instincts he fares better. Gore is minimal here, but when a lesbian love scene works its way into the movie it does nothing to advance the plot or develop the characters, but it is much appreciated.
Sony Pictures | 2008 | 97 min | Rated PG-13 | Region free
| Dec 19, 2008
Shelley is living a carefree life until a rival gets her tossed out of the Playboy Mansion. With nowhere to go, fate delivers her to the sorority girls from Zeta Alpha Zeta. Unless they can sign a new pledge class, the seven...
Happy Madison’s logo rearing it’s ugly mug before the movie started up was a sign of what was to come. Oh, but for the days when Adam Sandler was involved in movies that were actually sort of tolerable ways to waste an afternoon. What does it say when the highlight of a man’s career is “Billy Madison”? I digress, for Sandler never appears on screen and anyways I rented “The House Bunny” because of you.
Anna, you are a cute girl and never fail to be endearing on screen. You have heart for sure, so next time the Wizard is handing out miraculous gifts, please ask for a brain. I know you created the character Shelley, aka the house bunny. Certainly there’s fun potential for a movie about a washed up Playboy bunny struggling to adjust to the world outside the mansion, but an idea is nothing without a script. Did you read the tepid dialogue you would be forced to say before you signed on for the project? If you didn’t, I’m baffled that none of your co-stars noticed the banality of the script. Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Katharine McPhee and Rumer Willis play the girls who employ your character to attract more members to their sorority. All those actresses should be smart enough to recognize their characters, the clueless nerd, alternative feminist, pregnant lady and back-brace ensconced loser respectively, came fresh off the stereotype assembly line.
To your guys’ credit, you make the best of a weak script. I liked Shelley and the sorority girls, but found it hard to get invested when their social ineptness is cured with as little as a makeover and a day of shopping for stylish clothes. Colin Hanks is likable, but that doesn’t excuse the incredible improbability of the relationship his character develops with Shelley, a relationship the audience knows is inevitably going to be forced down our throats. There’s at least one too many villains in the picture. The older bunny with a vendetta is on screen so little she doesn’t build any enmity with the audience, while the blonde stuck-up bitch leader of the rival sorority has been seen, in one form or another, in so many films I find her tiring rather than threatening.
Being relentlessly negative is no joyride when reviewing a movie as innocent as yours. There were a few throwaway lines that were funny and I liked the scene where you hurt yourself trying to recreate the famous image from “The Seven Year Itch”. Others have taken offense to your movie for promoting physical beauty and materialism as the path to self esteem, but I feel it had it’s heart in the right place, even if the message gets muddled somewhere along the way. It doesn’t matter either way, because impressionable teens will most likely enjoy their 97 minutes worth, and then the message, good or bad, will be forgotten along with the rest of the film. Now, Ms Faris is that the type of entertainment you want your good talents and good money (you are listed as an executive producer) attached to?
In a related matter, if you ever run into the nice people at Sony Pictures be sure to thank them for going above and beyond for the Blu-ray release of “The House Bunny”. The picture, in typical fashion for a big summer comedy is a beauty. Vibrant colors are faithfully reproduced and burst off the screen. Sometimes the detail is exceptional. Other times it’s shallow, mostly with skin texture, I think deliberately so that none of the girls reveal an imperfection. Overall, the picture satisfies. Same with the sound. Most importantly the dialogue was clear. The onslaught of insipid pop tunes also performs well. Younger female viewers will squeal with excitement over seeing their favorite actresses in the featurettes and music video included. Others, not so much.
Anna, my introduction to you was in the horror movie “May” which is my favorite film. Since that time, I’ve mostly been burned. You’ve never been bad, but the movies you choose sure have been. It may be unfair to criticize an actor for taking work, but it’s rare that an actor in the dumb world of teen comedy has talent to match her popularity. You’re not a bombshell coasting through role after role until age renders you obsolete, nor are you a sarcastic hipster like Juno. You can do ditzy and you can do winsomely naïve. Your characters are funny without trying to be. When I see you on screen, I’m not watching shtick. Unfortunately when I see you on screen, it’s usually in a bad movie. I implore you to turn down the next twenty-five “Scary Movie” sequels and don’t answer calls from Adam Sandler. Make another “May” or even another “Observe and Report”, and we’ll forget about “The House Bunny” if we haven’t already.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | 1972 | 84 min | Unrated | Region free
| Sep 13, 2011
On their way to a rock concert, two teenagers (Sandra Cassel and Lucy Grantham) are kidnapped by a gang of escaped convicts. Although they put up the fight of their lives, the girls are drugged, tossed in a car trunk and driven...
Classic is a word applied to works of art that contain that quality which endures time to appeal to generation after generation, a perpetual motion machine of entertainment. There exists another sort of beast that goes by the title “classic”, and that is the work of art that is respected out of a sense of artistic integrity, not enjoyment of the piece itself. I’ve never heard someone say they like “Triumph of the Will”, but it receives critical acclaim, because it was influential and innovative. The importance of any individual movie is often overstated, resulting in films like “Last House on the Left” becoming a must-see for horror fans when simple taste suggests it’s forgettable junk.
Indeed, “Last House on the Left” is an artless mess that is remembered because it marked the directing debut of horror maestro Wes Craven. Of course the movie is now judged with the benefit of hindsight. When it originally premiered it was an inauspicious beginning to a career. The ongoing success of the people behind the camera wasn’t a guarantee, but the movie did turn a profit and it played a role, for better or worse, in escalating the amount of graphic violence shown in movies.
Inspired by Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”, the plot starts off with two teenage girls who are kidnapped on their way to a concert. In captivity they are humiliated and killed. The meaty stuff comes later on when the perpetrators find a place to stay with a nice middle-aged couple, not knowing they are the parents of one of the girls they killed. The couple aren’t so hospitable when they realize the crimes their guests have committed. That’s a set-up for gut-wrenching suspense, but that opportunity is blown with dumb dialogue and bad acting.
The degree to which the film sucks is apparent when comparing it to similar movies, most notably “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Craven’s film beat “TCM” to the punch in a few ways, it has chintzy photography effectively adding a sense of low tech realism, the villains are a sort of deranged family and a chainsaw is used as a weapon. Tobe Hooper’s picture rips apart “Last House on the Left” in every other way. Hooper kept things simple, but there was an occasional shot that showed off some technical know-how (I’m thinking the tracking shot of Terri McMinn getting off the swing and entering the house) or artistry (the close-ups of Marilyn Burns screaming near the end). The script, co-written by Hooper and Kim Henkel, took the craziness of the degenerate family to it’s horrible extreme. Even though the budget was paltry, the talent of those involved was not. On the other hand is “Last House on the Left”, made by guys who deserved the crappy equipment they used to make it.
Humor is not uncommon in horror films, and even finds it’s way into the brutal variety of scary flicks. A lesser known, but far superior, film from the same period called “Deranged” contained humor in a deathly serious story about a serial killer. “Last House on the Left” takes stabs at comic relief that are unfunny and don’t arise naturally making for a clunky experience. The movie is tone-deaf, veering from light-hearted romp to cold-blooded torture to supposed comedy then back to torture, with no idea of what it wants to be. When the end comes there’s no indication of what we should make of it. Are we supposed to question the eye-for-an-eye mentality of the parents or champion their quest for retribution? The last scenes are so grim as not to be satisfying as a revenge fantasy. I don’t think it’s meant to be ambiguous, I think the makers didn’t care. There’s a moral vacuity that coupled with the technical failings make the controversial aspects unpleasant to watch and nothing else.
And then there’s the music. Created by David Hess who plays one of the maniacs, it’s so antithetical to the horror on screen as to be laughable. Folksy and up-tempo, the music even has passages played on the kazoo. Kazoos are not scary, in fact of all the instruments the kazoo comes last in terms of scariness. Even the word ‘kazoo’ sounds funny and harmless.
Bring the right expectations and the technical proficiency of this Blu-ray will leave nothing to complain about. The soft focus picture is swimming in grain and that’s the best that can be expected from the source material. In the same vein, the audio is tinny and thin, but true to it’s origins.
In terms of quality, the special features topple the movie itself. Director Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham appear throughout most of them. As should be expected of a former college professor Craven provides thoughtful, and breezy, commentary. He talks about the making of the movie, the political climate that inspired the themes, and how current events are affecting the shape of modern horror. Cunningham proves to be a funny and personable guy, enough so that I can forgive him for directing one of my least favorite movies, “Friday the 13th”. While the featurettes are many in number you’ll notice overlap in the information provided. It is a credit to MGM that they scrounged up some material that was not included on the prior DVD release.
So, like me, you know that “Last House on the Left” is a significant movie. We might not have films like “Martyrs” or even my favorite film, “May”, if it weren’t for this exploitation cheapie. Now, like me, you can appreciate that, but it’s your choice if you actually see it. I say your 84 minutes are better spent elsewhere.
Lionsgate Films | 2008 | 103 min | Rated R | Region A (locked) | Feb 17, 2009
When Leon Kaufman's latest body of work--a collection of provocative, nighttime studies of the
city and its inhabitants--earns the struggling photographer interest from prominent art gallerist
Susan Hoff, she propels him to...
I am not a fan of CGI. Sometimes it is the only feasible option for pulling off a special effect. I can live with that, as can I accept that a director’s artistic vision may include CGI. That doesn’t change the fact that I dislike computer generated imagery on a basic level, the way some people just can’t stomach broccoli. I have company among horror fans, who overwhelmingly balk at the use of CGI to depict gore. “The Midnight Meat Train” jumps right into that off-limits zone with ample amounts of bloody violence courtesy of computer trickery. Ryehei Kitamura, of “Versus” fame, seems to want to direct both a dark, hard-hitting horror film and another crazy Japanese action free-for-all.
There’s an interesting premise. Leon aspires to make it big as a photographer, but fails to impress art curator Susan Hoff who urges him to find grittier subject matter. In New York’s subways he finds material that’s plenty gritty in the form of Mahogany, a towering man wearing a nice business suit who not-so-nicely slaughters passengers on the night train. He appears to do this every night, sometimes killing multiple people in one night meaning he kills at least 365 people each year and possibly over 400. If even one fourth of those people had last been seen at the subway station, the police would have connected the dots long before Leon alerted them, but these are movie police and won’t do anything to impede the plot. Of course, I’ve overlooked sillier plot holes, but “The Midnight Meat Train” gives me no good reason to do so.
Leon is an underdeveloped character with an equally boring girlfriend. Mahogany is another hulking, mute villain with no discernible motivation. Never deviating from one expression he might as well be wearing Jason’s hockey mask. The revelation at the end has no impact. I didn’t know the ending going in, but if I had, my impression of the story would have been the same. So we’re given another non-twist twist ending, that exists not to change the viewer’s perception of the story, but because convention requires it.
There are scenes filled with tension, and the art direction is dark and moody, but the atmosphere is broken every time someone is killed. At these points the style shifts to over-the-top, bordering on the slapstick of “Evil Dead II”. This is also where the CGI shows up. It’s not terrible, but it is obvious. While practical effects aren’t always realistic, they are always real, so I accept them as part of the inner universe of the movie. Computer effects are added later and to me they look like video-game footage that’s been tacked onto the movie (and look how well that worked for Uwe Boll in “House of the Dead”). In this case it seems like two films competing for your attention. They both lose.
Critical of the film as I am, I will admit the disc has been assembled quite nicely. The dank recesses of the subway system are displayed in all their gloomy glory. The city is a sinister character costumed in the nighttime, but all the shadows haven’t obliterated detail. Be prepared for consistent, heavy grain that appears to be inherited from the source material. With the constant clanging of the train, metal mallets to the head and screaming passengers there is more aural activity in “The Midnight Meat Train” than most horror outings, and it doesn’t disappoint. Louder stuff is powerful, the lighter stuff atmospheric. Voices come from the center speaker and are tuned well to fit the rest of the soundscape.
The extras are also to be commended. Even people who didn’t like the movie may find it worthwhile to give these a look. There’s some short features that provide info on prop making, storyboarding, the cast’s opinions of the story and so on, but I’m going to focus on the two best. Clive Barker is interviewed in one segment. The gravelly-voiced author talks about his short story that inspired the movie, along with thoughts about his career and his philosophy of art. As an amateur artist, I was happy that much of the interview focused on Barker’s paintings which are wonderful and surreal. Barker also appears on the audio commentary along with director Kitamura. The two carry on a conversation that’s at times funny and also informative, not just about this movie, but movie-making in general. Barker knows a thing or two about making a movie, having directed “Hellraiser”. That was back in the glory days before computers hijacked the movie industry.
IFC Films | 2009 | 90 min | Not rated | Region free
| Oct 05, 2010
During a stopover in Germany in the middle of a carefree roadtrip through Europe, two girls from the US find themselves alone at night when their car breaks down in the woods. Searching for help at a nearby villa, they are wooed...
Theoretically the subject of a movie has no bearing on the quality of the movie. A well made film about a geriatric croquet club is more entertaining than a poorly made film about robotic super-spies. In practice, though, it helps to have an interesting concept to use as a springboard. The 50’s sci-fi flick “Fiend Without a Face” isn’t a great movie, but highly esteemed Criterion felt it necessary to add it to their collection for a simple reason. The climax involves floating brain monsters with spinal columns as tails that they use to strangle people. That last sentence is loaded with so much awesomeness that every time you read it someone gets his ass kicked. Or take the pinky violence classic “Bohachi Bushido”. It’s about a samurai and cadre of naked prostitutes who slice off rivals’ limbs that then fly across the screen followed by trails of spurting blood. Sure that’s a gimmick, but with a gimmick that cool the filmmakers would only screw up if they actively tried to make a bad movie.
“The Human Centipede” is wildly successful in no small part because director Tom Six began with a gimmick tailor made for extreme horror. Of course that gimmick has become a sensation unto itself so I don’t need to explain it. I will reiterate how effective it is. Just the idea of it is so horrifying, so nauseating that we forget how creative it is. We’ve never seen this one before and would be unlikely to had it not been for Six. With that aspect of the story so outrageous, it would have been a mistake to write the rest of the script with the same tasteless gusto.
At the heart of the movie is Dr. Heiter played with thick malice by Dieter Laser. The doctor displays such unconscionable, psychopathic behavior that he makes Hannibal Lector look like our lord and savior Jesus Christ. We would want him to suffer the same fate his victims do except no person deserves that. Hell, the three segments of the centipede could be Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and the guy who shot Bambi’s mother and we’d still feel bad for them. The motivation for doing such a thing has been thought up brilliantly. Obsession. That’s it. No childhood trauma or mental illness is brought up in a distracting side plot. The doctor has been overcome with an idea and is determined to bring it into being. In the scene he explains his plan to his newly captive victims, he speaks over their cries looking a little annoyed that no one else shares his enthusiasm for unnecessary surgery.
Emotions elude Heiter. A professional surgeon, he understands the workings of the body, but he views and expresses emotion with detachment. They are something he can recognize, but never appreciate. When the test subjects he desperately needs conveniently materialize on his doorstep he isn’t moved enough to crack a smile. Incapacitating the two might have provided sadistic pleasure for many psychopaths, but he regards it as a chore to be attended to before he can finish work on his masterpiece. Two policeman visit his home for questioning and he is visibly perturbed, not because he’s at risk of being caught, but because he hates this forced human interaction. He prefers being with his creation. The only time he’s happy is when he’s talking about the centipede or physically with it.
Laser is given ample room to give an outstanding performance. None of the other actors play it up like he does, instead opting for the typical scared-as-hell twenty-something archetype. In fact the entire movie is faithful to horror convention. There’s nothing wrong with that because it’s pulled off with expert skill. I could go on about pacing, cinematography, or the way the two actresses give wordless, yet believable performances while their mouths are stuck where they shouldn’t be, but I prefer to highlight the scene I mentioned earlier where Heiter makes the big reveal. Villains providing exposition is nothing new, but look at the way Heiter does it, with the use of one of those outdated overhead projectors you may remember from elementary school, while he switches out slides of simple, handmade diagrams of the procedure. The low tech trappings are somehow more disturbing than the grungy, rusty nail covered warehouses seen in other contemporary horror films. In fact it’s so ridiculous that we might laugh, were we able to stop quivering.
Fans of the movie will be satisfied with the treatment it got for it’s North American release, but nothing more. Overall the picture is sharp, with a modest level of detail. Sometimes the grain spikes, but at least it’s present throughout. Sound quality tricky to judge being that this movie isn’t one to test the limits of what your sound system can pump out. That being said, the track is consistently clear. Music and sound effects are atmospheric. A director’s commentary heads up the package of extras. Six isn’t a captivating talker, but he never allows gaps of silence to last very long. There’s some behind the scenes stuff that isn’t must-see, it definitely won’t convert non-fans. The deleted scene is a just an extension of one of the scenes in the film. The most that can be said for it is it demonstrates how crucial editing is to making a good movie.
“The Human Centipede” has received a critical pummeling since it’s release. While some critics found material to like about the depraved picture, a lot have relished the opportunity to rail against the movie and in some cases every other injustice they see in the world. I’ll leave the morality question out, since I think it’s a personal decision on part of the viewer. (Plus that’s a topic befitting an essay of it’s own.) Other complaints have been downright insane. Folks complaining that they want to know Dr. Heiter’s motivations are folks I don’t want to know. Is there an explanation that they’d find acceptable as a logical reason to sew fellow humans together? Pointing out how plain the dialogue is, is nitpicking. Heiter’s actions speak in a way that renders anything he says impotent by comparison. The three victims, two of which literally can’t speak for two thirds of the running time, are dealing with the fact they’ve been elected to be part of a crime against nature. I forgive them for not having more witty one-liners ready for just such a situation. Another critique levied against the movie is the lack of social criticism. This is hypocrisy on the part of film critics. “Jaws” is a great movie, but what was the incisive commentary Spielberg was going for? It sucks to be eaten by a giant fish? “Psycho” gets heaps of praise, though it was controversial in the day, and the explanation of Norman Bates motives at the end is tacked-on and could be disposed of without harming the film. One has a terrible time ahead if they plan on defending the content of “Psycho” against “The Human Centipede”. Bates killed six people, his methods weren’t as cruel as Heiter’s, but morally that only makes it a difference of degrees.
Lots of people accuse horror fans of being desensitized to violence, but the reason I watch disturbing films is because they stir up intense emotions. As far as movies that can elicit that strong of a reaction “The Human Centipede” is in the upper echelons.
Dark Sky Films | 1974 | 83 min | Rated R | Region A, B (C untested) | Sep 30, 2008
A tale of five 20-somethings whose free spirited road trip becomes a terrifying descent
madness. When they find themselves isolated in a rural Texas community, they fall
clutches of a monstrous clan of Texas...
Those versed on the history of horror cinema know that “The Blair Witch Project” did not create the pseudo documentary style, that would be “Cannibal Holocaust”, but lets not forget that movies aren’t created in a vacuum. “Cannibal Holocaust” had forebears including “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” which planted the seedlings that would blossom into the horror mockumentary.
There’re no talking heads, but “TCM” was filmed with cheap film stock in a matter-of-fact style. Close-ups are rare as are flashy camera shots employing the use of a crane or dolly. Thankfully they didn’t use the annoying gimmick of making the person holding the camera one of the characters. This always results in jerky movements that a professional documentarian would never put up with. With few exceptions does this gimmick fail not to be a total distraction. We’re constantly aware that someone is behind that camera and that we’re watching a professional movie meant to look like an amateur movie. That might work as a postmodern conceit, but in horror it takes us out of the moment which ruins the chances of being scared.
The pool of victims are nondescript, looking like any group of faux hippie twenty-somethings from the era. None of the actors are shooting for an award. They’re building realistic performances, not memorable ones. We feel like we could fit in with these guys, and when the horrible happens we’re right there with them, floundering around to find our bearings in a world that is all-of-a-sudden unrecognizable.
On the other hand is the family comprised of the hitchhiker, the cook, gramps and of course Leatherface. Degenerate yokels with bad hygiene, the villains are polar opposites of the protagonists. The movie slowly shows each one to us, giving the viewer just enough of their presence to sense the oncoming horror. When only one victim is left in the third act of the movie the family is finally allowed to interact. At this point the rug is pulled out from beneath us. The slow burn of the documentary portion is over and we’re thrust into a hellish nightmare. The entire family is maniacally over-the-top, their uproarious table manners like a mockery of a real family. When they wheel in the near-dead corpse that is grandpa to suck the blood from the poor girl’s finger it’s clear the movie is no longer a dispassionate observer. The style is now subjective, becoming as haywire as the emotions of the victim. In a virtuoso segment the camera cuts between medium shots of the girl and close-ups of her eyes while the soundtrack plays back her screams, the volume fluctuating with the proximity of the camera lens. This creates a visual rhythm to accentuate her torment. That is an iconic moment from the movie and it’s still sharp enough to draw blood.
Befitting such a seminal movie, Dark Sky films loaded the now OOP Blu-ray with extras aplenty. There are two commentaries worth listening to. One has three participants, the other five, so someone always has something to say. If that doesn’t whet your “TCM” appetite there are two documentaries on the making of the film and it’s legacy. Both are over an hour long and will be much appreciated by fans, as will the bevy of shorter supplemental features. With so many features packed onto the same disc as the movie, I’m surprised there’s no major compression issues.
Grading the image and audio quality is tough. It’s not just that the movie is old and low-budget, but that it finds strength in those aspects. Middle ground has been found. Details are strong and colors are natural, they haven’t been drained like in many modern horror movies. Overall the picture is not an eyesore, but it does look like a fellow after a bar fight, roughed up and worn out, though this fellow was on the winning end of the scuffle so the visible wear and tear is a badge of honor, not a mark of shame. I didn’t detect any of the blockiness that the official reviewer did, which is good because digital equipment is anachronistic to the period of the movie and any evidence of it would be distracting.
Similarly the sound is not something audiophiles will trumpet to the heavens with praise, but it gets the job done. When Leatherface revs up his trusty chainsaw, the sound system rumbles with the horrific mechanical clatter.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is an important film and it’s influence can be seen today. It has become so familiar that I don’t worry about spoiling anything when I say it introduced the “final girl” trope of modern horror. Minimal as the on screen gore is, it still played a part in ushering in a brand new era of graphic violence. Yet, it stands alone. A slow montage of creepy images begin the film and satellite footage of the sun’s violent surface accompany the opening credits. After that surreal start the story shifts to more mundane settings inhabited by ordinary people instead of the stale characters that are the norm in slasher movies. It isn’t long before we know bad things are about to happen, and from there the tension is ratcheted up, but it’s not until the final scenes that the world as we know it has the veneer peeled away to reveal a grotesqueness beyond words.
This animated double feature from the hit Hellboy franchise includes "Sword of Storms," in which Hellboy battles
to save a professor from two ancient demons, and "Blood & Iron," in which our hero must thwart a plan to...
Red Makes an Appearance for the Saturday Morning Crowd
Looking for the perfect example of a C grade film? Check out the double feature of “Hellboy Animated”. Here’s two films that pass the entertainment test, but only just. Can’t say I regret seeing either one, but they have a poor outlook of repeat viewings.
The first one “Sword of Storms”, involves Hellboy and gang investigating a paranormal disturbance in Japan. Hellboy is transported to ancient Japan where we’re treated to memorable scenes such as a battle against disembodied heads, a brawl with a kappa (Japanese river demon), and a scuffle with a massive spider woman. There’s lots of fightin’. The second one “Blood and Iron”, is more carefully plotted, taking place at a billionaire’s mansion purported to be haunted. Everyone thinks the haunting is a hoax to get publicity, everyone except Professor Broom who suspects there may be a connection to a vampire he expelled in the past.
This set could just as easily be titled “Hellboy Lite”. The two films contain smaller portions of the magic contained in their live action brethren. Humor, a likable cast, and battles between supernatural beings. It’s all there and at an average of seventy six minutes Hellboy in his cartoon form can’t be accused of overstaying his welcome.
It’s peculiar that the makers chose the look for the films that they did, when a much better alternative exists in the form of Mike Mignola’s comic. Mignola’s character designs are intact, but the shadow drenched atmosphere is gone. I’m not an expert on the Hellboy comics, but I’ve seen enough to know that ink fills the pages. There’s a minimalist sensibility that makes the parts that are lit all the more striking. Granted it would be a difficult style to animate, but even a failed attempt would be respectable.
As it is, “Hellboy Animated” looks good on Blu-ray. “Sword of Storms” starts off on the wrong foot with a soft image, but that problem soon leaves, with the only consistent flaw pixelization that gives the edge of diagonal lines that steps-in-a-staircase look. Otherwise the image is the crisp, brightly colored presentation that’s to be expected from modern animation. Since there are no extras included, the only other aspect of the disc to judge is the sound design. In that respect we get similar results to the PQ, a sturdy track with no major downfalls, but it won’t rock the paint off your walls. So the A/V presentation is above average, but nothing more and the two films are average, neither particularly good or bad meaning “Hellboy Animated” isn’t a risky buy, but I can only recommend this to Hellboy completists.
Lionsgate Films | 2008 | 88 min | Unrated | Region A (locked) | Jan 06, 2009
In 'Disaster Movie', the filmmaking team behind the hits 'Scary Movie', 'Date Movie', 'Epic
Movie' and 'Meet The Spartans' puts this time its unique, inimitable stamp on one of the
biggest and most bloated movie genres of all...
Illustrating how much “Disaster Movie” sucks is a daunting task, but I’ll try. If a movie sucking made an actual noise that would be to the benefit of “Disaster Movie” because it would be so loud that all the moronic dialogue would be drowned out. Mind you, we’re not talking about a mediocre movie here. This abomination wields its badness with hostility. If I and other reviews seem defensive or childish in our anger, that’s why. The movie had its turn, now it’s ours.
I won’t bother summarizing the story, because there is none. It’s a series of skits loosely tied together. Each skit is a vague acknowledgement of one or two pop culture items. Acknowledge is the right word, because parody is beyond the grasp of the makers of “Disaster Movie”. I’m not sure if it is laziness or stupidity, but whatever the reason, the most these guys can muster is to parade celebrity imitators across the screen. Chigurh, Javier Bardem’s terrifying villain from “No Country for Old Men”, is a setup for lots of humor, with his Prince Valiant haircut, unpronounceable name and cryptic dialogue, but every opportunity for a laugh is flushed down the toilet. The guy imitating Chigurh is dressed like him and talks more or less like him and that’s it. It’s as if they thought a pale reproduction of the character would be so funny it didn’t need any wit or creativity.
They can’t even get hyperbole right. At one point Hellboy shows up and one of his fists is oversized. (The original Hellboy’s fist is actually bigger than the one seen in this movie.) What’s funny about that? Are we meant to find it hilarious that someone else noticed the existence of the “Hellboy” franchise?
I’ll admit there was a part that I chuckled at. One of the characters reveals his “abnormally high plumber’s crack” which ends where his shoulder blades begin. Juvenile? Yes, but at least it was original and they had the conviction to go all the way. Readers may scoff at me for raking “Disaster Movie” over the coals after having praised “Dead Alive” and “Yatterman”, but those movies always went all the way. The makers had a tone in mind and they kept it up the whole time. No joke was half-hearted. Sure, there are snooty types who will feel guilty laughing at the mischievous zombie toddler in “Dead Alive” or the randy mecha-dog in “Yatterman”, but they’ll still be laughing. “Disaster Movie” will have you rolling your eyes so much you’ll need corrective surgery to realign them.
Full disclosure: around the forty-five minute mark I got fed up and skipped through the majority of the remaining scenes. If a friend had tried to relive the crucifixion, but stopped after having one hand nailed down would you not believe him it was a terrible experience?
Alleviating the pain of watching this dreck is the Blu-ray presentation. Picture and audio quality are high. The picture in particular is nice, with it’s consistent clarity and healthy amount of grain. Among the lineup of extras is a commentary featuring various cast and crew. It’s one of the those pointless PiP deals where we get to watch the participants watching the movie in a ridiculously small portion of the screen. There’s no prolonged silence, but the guys rarely talk about anything beyond what’s right in front of us, often laughing at their own jokes. The behind-the-scenes stuff treads the same waters. Not a single insightful thing is said nor is there a look into the technical aspects of making the film.
Intelligent readers must wonder what compelled me to see “Disaster Movie” in the first place. I’m not a professional critic, so only obligated to see what I feel like. While the insipidness of this “series” is apparent from even a thirty second commercial, I confess that I rented this one to see Kim Kardashian in HD. When I tell people that, they always point out how stupid she is or what an awful actress, proving that people assume I’m an alien from Tralfamadore. Why else would they assume I rented a Kim Kardashian movie to check out her acting chops? She’s stunning, no doubt and the film suffers more because of her limited screen time. All you guys with unfounded hatred for the Kardashians (Shall we call you the KK KKK?), if given the choice of watching a joke or watching a stacked goddess, would you really choose the joke, even if it was a pretty good one? The marketing campaign focused on the scene where Carmen Electra wrestles Kim whose body tests the structural integrity of her leather bustier. I’m sorry to report that everything stays firmly in place.
South Korea in 1986 under the military dictatorship: Two rural cops and a special detective from the capital investigate a series of brutal rape murders. Their rude measures become more desperate with each new corpse found. Based...
Criterion is regarded as the gold standard of home video releasing and as such is often used in comments that range from complimentary, like my own statement that “Shout Factory is the Criterion of cult movies”, to the sarcastic, “‘Jason X’ was so good I can’t wait for Criterion to pick it up”. The overuse of these comparisons overlooks the fact that there are plenty of companies releasing premium products on the home video market. One such company is South Korea’s CJ Entertainment. Calling CJ the Criterion of Korea is not fair to either company. They have different goals concerning the type of movies they obtain rights too and have their own unique strengths. So I won’t say CJ is superior, but I will say that the company is valuable and one to measure others by.
For example, take “Memories of Murder”. It’s phenomenal. Taking place in the mid 80’s when Korea was still ruled by a militaristic, authoritarian government, it recounts the true to life events of Korea’s first serial murders. Reviewers often bring up the political backdrop to point out the commentary the movie makes about society in that time period. That’s not an aspect to be avoided, but it needs to be clear that this movie doesn’t proselytize. It’s an exciting thriller not a message movie. Like with his later film “Mother” director Bong-joon Ho is a careful craftsmen. He doesn’t feature the graphic violence seen in other Korean thrillers, but his film is as dark as any of them, featuring smatterings of pitch black humor.
Driving “Memories of Murder” is how it encapsulates the frustration of crime investigation. Headway is hard coming by. Our two detective protagonists are thwarted every time it looks like they’ve made progress. It’s not just bureaucracy getting in the way, nor is it the difficulties of the case itself. The new detective finds his higher education and analytical methods aren’t taken kindly to by his partner who’s stuck in the militaristic use of brute force. That sounds like the setup for a million stories we’ve heard before. It’s to the credit of Bong-joon Ho, who also scripted, that the plot defies the clichés that would’ve sunken a weaker movie.
Both Criterion and CJ releases are given the royal treatment as far as their technical specs. CJ has the upper hand because every movie that’s part of their limited edition series was produced in the last decade. Even though it’s the oldest of the series “Memories of Murder” is a stunner. You can put a check next to each item you expect from a great transfer: strong blacks, natural skin tones, abundant detail and no signs of digital chicanery, meaning the picture is true to what the filmmakers intended it to look like. It may be a murder mystery, but there are a lot of rural landscapes that are beautiful to behold. The audio department is just as rich. Everything sounds natural, down to the turning of a page in a photo album. Rainfall and other atmospheric noise are assigned to the surround speakers for an immersive experience.
Where Criterion has CJ beat is in terms of supplements, for English speakers that is. All the extras on CJ releases are exclusively in Korean. As a note there are two commentaries, two featurettes, deleted scenes, and director’s introduction, apparently they stuff tons of extras into one disc. “Memories of Murder” is one of the movies that CJ has released in both a standard and limited edition. Either edition you pick up will prove why CJ Entertainment deserves its lauded reputation.
Second-in-rank Byung-doo is a gangster stuck between his overbearing boss and younger criminals, each as aggressive and ambitious as the next and ever ready to take his place. Caring for his siblings and a sick mother, he swings...
Min-ho is an aspiring director working on a script for a mob pic. To ensure he makes it authentic he turns to childhood friend and low-level gangster Byung-doo. The two find themselves on the border of two worlds. Min-ho is fascinated by the brutal realities of gangster life, but can we be surprised that being in such proximity to the criminal world puts him in real danger? Byung-doo has one foot in the law-abiding world. He may not know it, or acknowledge it, but he yearns to return to his normal life. This becomes apparent when Min-ho reacquaints Byung-doo with his former crush Hyun-joo who finds it impossible to return his feelings because of his thug connections. When the opportunity arises to climb the mob totem pole, Byung-doo has trouble handling the ultimatum life has given him.
That’s a decent set-up of “A Dirty Carnival”. It attacks the routine subjects of mob movies, but does so with style. Here we have another Korean crime thriller that churns out heart-pumping action scenes upheld by an underlying drama, with some humor thrown in for good measure.
One scene involves broken glass, blood spattered mud, aluminum bats and a crane-shot of rivaling gangs brawling. Another one has two men tied up in the back of a van, freeing themselves and fighting there way through a gaggle of gangsters to the front of the moving vehicle. No, these aren’t realistic. They’re logical extensions of the martial arts movies that dominated the Asian market for years. No one ever thought “The Magnificent Butcher” meant to portray real fights. All that fancy footwork was an artistic way to represent part of the story, much in the same way musicals supplant exchanges of dialogue with singing or that Picasso painted real people using angular shapes and flat colors. In Korean cinema the preferred style of late is toned down, finding a sweet spot in the middle. There remains a gritty realism, the scene isn’t allowed to venture far from real life, but the theatricality remains and the choreography pays heed to what is exciting and interesting more than what is possible.
What happens when there’s no violence on screen is equally compelling. Like a scene where Byung-doo and Min-ho have lunch with some people they used to attend school with. Byung-doo remains quiet most of the time, obviously he feels uncomfortable. When an impromptu moon pie eating contest is started, Byung-doo wins and the hardened gangsters face lights up. He’s starting to feel like he fits in.
When it comes to the quality of the Blu-ray itself, I don’t feel like getting deep into it. CJ Entertainment hasn’t disappointed so far. This is another outstanding release. As far as the picture quality I’d say it’s between “The Unjust” and “Tazza: The High Rollers” (refer to my respective reviews for the specifics). Besides some softness and maybe a little crush, the picture looks wonderful. Same goes for sound quality. No English subtitles are provided for the extras so I have no comment in that department.
If you’re a gangster movie junkie then “A Dirty Carnival” is right up your alley. I know I liked it. It explores the fuzzy gray region separating the civilian world from the world of organized crime. Byung-doo’s desire for a regular life clashing with his lust for the perks that come with being a gangster makes for a conflict that is understandable, if not relatable. Min-ho, on the other hand, is a lot like us. He’s an outsider moving in for a closer look. When something horrific is revealed to him and he reacts with excited curiosity rather than disgust, I knew exactly how he felt.
I try to review movies right after seeing them so that my memories are fresh. However, it’s not always fair. Some movies require time to drill their way into your mind before you learn to love them. Movies like “May”, “Ghost in the Shell”, “The Vengeance Trilogy” and “Audition” struck me lukewarm the first time I saw them, but they left something that compelled me to watch again and I now consider those among my favorite films. “The King and the Clown” may never be one of my favorite films, but I think it will take time to appreciate.
Two street performers, Jang-saeng and Gong-gil, find themselves leaving their troupe when Jang-saeng refuses to let Gong-gil be pimped out by their leader. The two men are part of one of two fascinating relationships in the movie. Jang-saeng is older and protective of his oft abused partner. Effeminate Gong-gil is more opaque. Is he willing to be a prostitute out of timidity or has does he just accept it as fate?
The two end up in Seoul, recruit new performers and attract audiences to a show mocking King Yeon-san and his well known extramarital dalliances. The men are arrested because the king does not share the amusement of the crowds, that is until he grants Jang-saeng’s wish to perform the show live before the king’s eyes. So much does he love the comical act that he appoints Jang-saeng and company as official court jesters.
Power hasn’t corroded the King’s morality as much as his maturity. Passion fuels his every move. He exerts his authority for petty, childish reasons. There are times we feel sympathy for the guy. He’s a product of his environment. Giving a man absolute power is like giving a toddler a tommy gun and expecting no damage to be done.
Eventually the King takes a liking to Gong-gil. Their relationship is the second fascinating one in the film. Yeon-san doesn’t appear to be gay. Gong-gil is like his new toy, something to preoccupy his time until the novelty wears off. What Gong-gil makes of Yeon-san’s possessive attention is ambiguous.
In regards to the disc CJ Entertainment have done another superb job. Looking natural is the priority of this transfer and it doesn’t take a misstep looking sharp. Of the CJ releases I’ve seen so far* this is the best looking. Show this one off to friends who don’t like computerized special effects. Similar things can be said for the sound quality, though there’s not as much aural fireworks to dazzle your ears off. Finally, the extras do not have English subtitles.
There’s a lot to love about “The King and the Clown”. The set design and costuming look authentic for the period. Speaking of which, even though it takes place in the 1400’s the acts Jang-saeng and company perform aren’t stuffy kabuki performances people watch tight-lipped, they’re bawdy, raucous, lowbrow. Performances are all great across the board. In a secondary role we have Yoo Hae-jin, who proves with this part along with his supporting performances in “The Unjust” and “Tazza: The High Rollers” to be a wonderful character actor. In the end, though, I’m not in love with the movie. That’s okay. Not all works of art are puppy dogs panting and leaping into your lap, begging for your love. “The King and the Clown” is still good enough to recommend. In fact, I feel I need watch it again, that in and of itself speaks highly of any movie.
*At the time of writing this I’ve seen spine numbers 009, 004, 011 and of course 012
An impulsive young man gets caught up in the world of seotta, a form of gambling using cards. After taking an
apprenticeship under an older card master, he gets drawn into the society of high-stakes gambling.
This Movie Will See Your Twenty and Raise You Fifty
The Korean game of Hwatu is played with cards much smaller in comparison to the ones Westerners play Poker with. The tiny size is an advantage for cheaters because it makes them easier to conceal. That must explain why so many of the players cheat. If the gambling underworld of “Tazza: The High Rollers” is accurate, most Koreans involved have no fidelity to the rules. We see Hwatu played in any number of places. Warehouses, backrooms of seedy bars, at home, aboard a yacht, in the back of a pick-up, but curiously never in a casino. The constant is that the best players cheat.
It appears to be an unspoken, but accepted fact. You’re alright as long as your opponent can’t prove your sleight of hand. If you are caught then expect bodily harm. The rules of Hwatu are of no interest to me, the set of rules that govern the crime world is what transfixed me to “Tazza”. They appear to follow an inner logic, but that logic is rooted in greed and self-preservation. We see the effects as characters are duped or killed. Personal vendettas are to blame, but the mob code of conduct is a convenient excuse to fall back on.
The contradictions of these grifters’ wheelings and dealings aren’t just abstract things to ponder. Any hour of political coverage on CNN is bound to paint a picture of government as a group of bickering factions working in their own interest, all too willing to make backroom deals if they can benefit from it. The comparisons work on a personal level too. Are you a person who blames obese people for living unhealthy, but find yourself indulging your own vices? Maybe you sometimes lie at work to make your job easier. Whatever it is, we’re all hypocrites managing to bypass the rules we hold the rest of society accountable to. Movies like “Tazza” or “Goodfellas” are about more than criminals, and while I won’t conflate the average citizen with a ruthless gangster, I think there are parallels we can draw with our own lives.
Providing our entrance into the world of illegal gambling is protagonist Go-nee. He’s a young working class guy who’s relatable even if he has a bad Hwatu habit. Being cheated out of a five year savings, drives him ironically to gamble more so he can regain what he lost. Mentoring him is Pyeong an older man and true master. He and his protégé have mutual respect with Pyeong instilling Go-nee with his own philosophy that is more humble and altruistic than any number of the thugs that inhabit the world. Pyeong is one of the most sympathetic characters, but he plays part in Go-nee’s downfall, giving him the pretext that his immoral behavior is acceptable as long as his intentions are noble.
Go-nee rises in power. Money and prestige pour in before things get bloody. Enter Madam Jung, a career criminal who is one part femme to three parts fatale. A former student of Pyeong, Jung holds resentment for the old man, causing a rift when Go-nee finds himself magnetized toward her.
I’ve probably made this sound like an excerpt from a dry textbook, but “Tazza” is nothing like that. As more characters enter the picture, the story branches wrap around each other growing more and more confusing. The narrative isn’t linear. We begin with scenes somewhere in the middle and when the story veers back to the beginning then onto the present the movie doesn’t hold your hand. It can be hard to keep up with, but by the end we feel confident in our understanding of what just happened. That narrative confusion, while keeping the viewer on his toes, is a reflection of the world the characters inhabit. They can’t be sure what to expect because the intentions of everyone around them are suspect.
Recent years have transformed me into a Korean movie fanatic. My fervor is evangelical, because I want to convert as many people to K-cinema as possible. I’ll admit I know nothing of Korea’s movie industry pre 2000, but I know in the past decade it has produced tons of startling, creative films. This movie is another one of those. It’s stylish camera work and slam-bang acting are just part of a package that thrills and provokes thinking.
Matching the quality of the movie CJ Entertainment has yet another fantastic release under their belt. The image does not disappoint. It’s sharp, colorful and has not been tampered with. “Tazza” has an overall warm tone to it that is wonderfully portrayed by this Blu-ray. Now, there are some negatives. This is CJ’s fourth release and they have since done better. Fine detail is just shy of the best seen on the format, and while that’s as niggling a complaint as can be it does provide a transition to the bigger problem of occasional softness. Of course sporadic moments of less-than-crystal-clear picture doesn’t ruin what is still a top level transfer.
Next, the sound is equally good. Like a good mix should be it’s realistic, letting the story keep your attention. Per usual the extras are in Korean, without English subtitles. Sad because I miss out on learning more about great movies, but happy because it makes scoring these things a lot easier. Lastly I did find a flaw in the menu design. The scene select menu doesn’t have screenshots, making it difficult to search for any particular scene especially since the scene titles are in Korean. A most minor of issues, however. In fact, there’s really no issue to keep you from seeing “Tazza: The High Rollers”.
I liked “Island of Lost Souls“, but at the end of the day I think James Whale’s “Frankenstein” is the better horror movie from the 30’s. It’s interesting then, that “Island of Lost Souls” in it’s current form is in much the same state as the monster from Whale’s movie. For some time it had been thought dead, never to appear complete on home video. That was until the hard-working folks at Criterion set out to find all the remaining pieces and stitch, bolt, and otherwise hobble them together. No surprise, the movie looks a bit ungainly. The seams are noticeable and the different parts have arrived with varying degrees of wear. Yet given the circumstances, Criterion’s effort is an achievement. Eighty years would not be kind to any film reel, let alone one as mishandled as this, but the actual piece of art remains intact. That’s what’s important, even if the material for presenting the art is not in tip-top shape.
“Island of Lost Souls” has a thick grain structure as expected with it’s age. The less desirable bits referred to earlier pop up occasionally. They have hallmarks of damaged film, whether it’s dirt and scratches or a picture that’s overall fuzzy or dingy. Even the healthy parts often have damage, like lines that make their way vertically from one end of the screen to the other. Lastly, the clarity of fine detail won’t knock any socks off and contrast is generally okay. The audio is similarly unastounding. It’s mono and prioritizes dialogue. Showing it’s age, there is a consistent, though very low, hiss.
As dire an assessment as this is, my overall feeling is positive. Stellar quality can’t be expected. It looks better than transfers of poor source material usually do. (Watch any number of public domain movies on DVD to see what I mean.) I say it still looks HD and the natural wear and tear a lot of movies go through has a charm of its own. The audio may lack muscle, but it’s clear and stable.
Inherent deficiencies of the video and audio quality are made up for by the supplements. Starting things off we have an interview with John Landis, Rick Baker and horror movie buff Bob Burns. This is mildly interesting, but the weakest of the extras because not one of the three is an expert and they reveal nothing that’s not included elsewhere on the disc. Things pick up with the Gerard Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh interview. The two were members of the band Devo, and they discuss their political philosophy and why they incorporated ideas and phrases from “Island of Lost Souls” into their music. Accompanying the interview is a music video for the Devo songs “Secret Agent Man” and “Jocko Homo”. Weird doesn’t even begin to describe the contents of this thing. It was clearly made on no budget with video that I venture looks worse than the main feature. Fun to watch, nonetheless. There’s some other interviews and a trailer, but the main draw is the commentary by film historian Gregory Mank. Like usual with commentaries by film historians, it sounds rehearsed, but is never boring. Mank covers lots of material. Though, the information is of a more trivial nature than Criterion’s usual analytical commentaries, the track is balanced enough to appeal to listeners, both casual and hardcore. Finally, a booklet with an essay by Christine Smallwood is included in the case which features one of the coolest covers in Criterion‘s collection, a feat considering the company always uses creative original art.
Back to the movie itself. It’s a take on “The Island of Dr. Moreau” so upfront it has an intriguing premise. Charles Laughton plays the mad doctor with wicked glee. The other noteworthy performance comes from Bela Lugosi. I used to think Lugosi was a hack, and I stand by my feeling that “Dracula” is a corny bore, but after seeing him in “The Son of Frankenstein” and his mad-eyed ravings in “Glen or Glenda” I’ve grown to respect him as an actor. It’s too bad he has such little screen time.
When reading about the movies history of being censored and flat out banned, keep in mind the time it was released. There are gruesome goings-on to be sure, but modern audiences, including the squeamish will find this tame enough to watch with mouthfuls of pizza.
The creature makeup was ahead of it’s time. There are some truly unsettling hybrids like the pig-man and dog-man (though Lugosi’s hirsute left me cold). Also creepy is the expressionistic lighting and jungle environment.
“Frankenstein” had a greater effect on me because the doctor wasn’t a lunatic. His intentions were noble and thus the results more horrifying. We feel bad for the creatures in “Island of Lost Souls”, but we don’t follow and empathize with them the way we did the pitiful creation of Dr. Frankenstein. While the makeup may be better in “Island of Lost Souls“, the makeup in “Frankenstein” was stylized. It was a great piece of iconography, from that point forward a figure in modern literature had a standard look. Excuse me for the “Frankenstein” comparisons. It isn’t fair to deem a movie bad for not standing up to a classic. So, “Island of Lost Souls” isn’t the holy grail of black and white horror, but it possesses it’s own strength.
E1 Entertainment | 2009 | 94 min | Rated PG | Region A (locked) | Mar 16, 2010
Set in futuristic Metro City, Astro Boy is a young robot with incredible powers created by a brilliant
scientist named Dr. Tenma. Powered by positive "blue" energy, Astro Boy is endowed with super strength, x-ray vision,...
Classic Japanimation Looks Just Fine After American Makeover
I for one am glad Astro Boy’s big screen debut has the iconic children’s cartoon character wearing normal duds instead of that weird underwear/boots combo he wore back in the day. I don’t say this to denigrate anyone’s fond memories. My intention is to point out that I watched “Astro Boy” without the perception of a longtime fan. Sure, as a diehard fan of cartoons (and one time anime freak), I’m well aware of the character, his creator Osamu Tezuka, and the importance he holds in the history of animation, but I’ve only seen a handful of episodes from the second and third iteration of the TV series. Summarily, my opinion isn’t more “pure” than a dedicated fan, but it is different. So keep in mind there wasn’t a chance this American production would sour me by deviating from the original.
As laid out in the beginning, “Astro Boy” takes place in Metro City, a futuristic megalopolis built to float above Earth which has been converted into a vast junkyard for the people of Metro City. (Similar themes to those of “Wall-E” are at hand, though not as thoroughly explored.) We’re introduced to precocious Toby who takes after his father Dr. Tenma. Toby is killed when he sneaks into a room where the government is testing a new defense robot. Heartbroken, Tenma uses his brilliant engineering skills to recreate his son as a robot. Thus is born the titular character. It’s around this point the movie falters. It doesn’t convey the tragedy of losing a child nor does Tenma’s inability to love his new mechanical son carry the emotional sting it should.
All's okay, however, because the focus is on lighter fare. Astro rockets through the sky dodging machine gun fire and delivering rounds of his own. There’s plenty of comic relief. The best laughs come from a trio of robots who comprise a left wing revolutionary group who find their fight against human oppressors all the more difficult because of the first law of robotics Isaac Asimov outlined years ago (“A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”)
While the story isn’t as good as the best titles of Pixar, in terms of animation “Astro Boy” gives the Disney stalwarts hefty competition. People look cartoony and expressive, avoiding the mistake computer animators often make of creating realistic looking, but lifeless characters. Devotees of the classic series will be glad to see characters like Dr. Elefun have been faithfully reproduced. Kudos are also in store for the robot designs that creatively reflect the individual personality of each bot. Metro city has a sleek minimalist design and neutral white color. They might as well call it Apple’s iCity. Surface details impress whether it’s the rusting leftovers of a busted robot, the leather exterior of a car, or the shiny chrome of a Metro City building. My only complaint is that if given close inspection the textures look painted on opposed to being an actual extension of the object.
The Blu-ray pumps out the image without a hitch. You can’t say much beyond the fact that it’s a beautiful presentation. Bright colors shoot off the screen. The animators can be proud how well their time and effort shines through on this one. The sound mixer can also pat himself on the back. When the robo-battles start up, the speakers keep pace with the action. Each explosion is accompanied by a satisfying boom. Subtler sounds like birds chirping in the background sound convincing as well. Surround speakers are effective when used.
Not enough time to watch extras? Not a problem. “Getting the Astro Boy Look” is a featurette unsuitable for anyone older than six. The two shorts, “The RRF In: The New Recruit” and “Astro Vs. The Junkyard Pirates”, are okay, but can be skipped with no regrets. “Inside the Recording Booth” is a run of the mill doc of actors talking up the movie, no substance. If you want real insight into the creation of the film “Building Metro City” is decent. Same goes for “Designing a Hero”, but you can skip the first part, a demonstration of how to draw Astro.
Only the gods of the internet know why, but Amazon sent me the Canadian edition. Having rented the American edition I can confirm the video and audio are identical as are the extras. The only difference is Canadians get French subtitles and Americans Spanish. So if you want to learn the language of love, this one is the way to go. BONJOUR!
Now for my overall opinion of the disc. Rent it for the kiddies and you have a good chance of watching it through to the end when the ADD has drawn the little ones toward something else. If you don’t have kids, I won’t make fun of you for giving it a shot. I can’t allay the concerns that long-time fans have so I advise you don’t expect a masterpiece. If you can put aside nostalgia you should see “Astro Boy” is solid entertainment. As for me, I remain happy Astro adopted a new outfit. Seriously, the original made him look like an underage Mexican wrestler.
Charlie Driggs is a timid New York investment broker who lets himself be abducted during his lunch hour by an attractive nut named Lulu. While drunk, she drives him to a New Jersey hotel for some kinky sex and petty thievery, and...
“Something Wild” had me at arm’s length for awhile. Not that it was trying to. It certainly is meant to be a likable film, and it always is. I wasn’t ready to love it though, because it seemed like just another movie where the straight-laced suit-wearer sees the light after mingling with the carefree bohemian. And it is, but it evolves and there turns out to be depth to the two characters.
Melanie Griffith’s character (the carefree bohemian) especially proved redemptive, after my initial impression of a drunk driving moron. Opposite Griffiths is Jeff Daniels (you may know him from “Dumb and Dumber”, I believe he player Dumber) who is convincing as the square who discovers to let loose. It’s when Ray Liotta shows up that the film gains traction. It’s not that the plot takes a huge left turn at this point, but it lives up to the potential it had displayed earlier. Liotta made his debut with “Something Wild”, but his performance is as assured as a veteran‘s. If the two main characters represent a spectrum of a way of living, with Daniels on the safe end and Griffith on the risk-taking end, Liotta’s TNT personality adds another axis to the spectrum, giving Daniels two alternatives to his ho-hum existence, one energetic and fun, the other dangerous and selfish.
In the PQ department “Something Wild” shows it’s age, but not in a damning way. In fact, the presentation is quite enjoyable. I won’t bother with specifics. Just know that everything looks detailed and natural. Film grain is noticeable, lending to a cinematic quality. The only complaint I have is the occasional soft shot. Audiowise the movie is less likely to blow minds with it’s stereo track. Given the type of movie this is, the limitations of the track don’t pose a real problem. Lots of popular music is used in the movie and it’s all reproduced sharply. Despite the prominence of the soundtrack it never overwhelms the dialogue which is always clear and understandable.
Criterion is known for producing high quality extras. Many will be surprised by the meager offerings that come with this release. However, what’s here proves to be adequate. There’s the obligatory booklet, this time containing an essay by film critic David Thompson. Director Jonathan Demme speaks for thirty-four minutes in a great interview that dishes out a lot of info on the making of the film, from the conception to the finished product. E. Max Frye, writer of the screenplay, has a shorter interview clocking in at ten minutes. While not as engaging as Demme’s, this is still worth seeing. I especially found his views on the ending interesting and frankly a surprise. (To avoid spoiling anything, I’ll be vague about the end. My opinion, though, is that I found it a bit disheartening and think it turns it’s back on the screenplay’s own theme.)
So all in all I liked “Something Wild”. I don’t classify it as essential viewing, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be spinning in my BD player again. It happens to be one of Criterion’s least popular titles, probably because it’s hard to perceive as a masterpiece or as significant in a major way. I know Criterion exists to provide the best releases of great films. I’ll try to avoid the arrogance of thinking I know objectively which films the company ought to consider great. For what I know, “Something Wild” is a good movie and adds something different to the Criterion collection. It’s main draw is the twisty, turny plot and the performances of the main actors. In fact, it almost makes me overlook the drinking while driving. Almost.
Panorama | 2009 | 111 min | Rated IIA | Region A (locked) | Apr 30, 2010
Every week, toy-shop owner Gan and his cute assistant Ai battled the evil Doronbo gang. The gang led by femme fatale Doronjo and her assistants-pig-nosed muscleman Tonzra and rat-faced mecha genius Boyacky-for pieces of the...
“Yatterman” is a movie for those who thought “Zebraman” was too understated or “The Great Yokai War” not visually stimulating. From the first scene it’s clear Takashi Miike and company aren’t just going for BIG filmmaking, but have approached the production with the conviction that surrendering to any inhibition would be a moral affront. Be ready for a movie that is loud, colorful, and balls-to-the-wall crazy.
Only that relentless pursuit to create visual and narrative lunacy could result in the success that is this movie, an adaptation of a 1970’s Japanese TV show that as near as I can tell was akin to an animated “Power Rangers”. American superhero movies of late, think “The Dark Knight”, take great pains to separate themselves from their cheesy source material. “Yatterman” is the antithesis of those movies, reveling in the goofy trappings of the show it’s based on. Heck, I would not be surprised if it outdoes the anime series in the unserious department.
Plot isn’t an area the makers were overly concerned with, so I’ll leave out a synopsis. Just know it involves mechanical animals big and small, a mysterious spirit with an oversized head, a devious villainess whose getup is both sexy and ridiculous, the villainess’ henchmen who wear strap-on noses and have beer bellies hanging out their undersized uniforms, exotic countries with misspelled names, skull-shaped explosions, a love triangle, heroes headquartering out of a toy factory basement, among other things.
If this all sounds stupid to you, take heed of the polished production. The people tasked with bringing the story to life weren’t slacking off. Whether it’s the costuming, set design or computer effects everything has been crafted with the utmost care. The actors never falter in conviction. In a movie like this one there’s no such thing as overacting. Everyone is turned up to eleven at all times. The Blu-ray also scores an eleven in terms of technical quality.
Not much needs to be said as far as picture quality. It delivers big time. Vibrant colors, strong contrast, shimmering clarity. You name it, it’s here.
Audio quality is also up to snuff. Dialogue is clear. Explosions and other powerhouse sound effects have the right oomph. Though the surround speakers are utilized, they’re used sparingly, which is the only complaint I have with the track.
Doubtless many will find my perfect score a hard swallow. It wasn’t how I expected to feel about the movie even half an hour into it, but “Yatterman” beat me into submission with exuberance. After enough creativity I couldn’t help but fall in love. Scenes sometimes take the form of musical numbers and at other times are interrupted by animated segments. At one point Miike uses a split screen, which is nothing unique until a character’s hands work their way between the two halves of the screen, then push them apart. Some movies set their sights so low they’d be content to have one image that’s half that fun. When it comes to how many such images are in “Yatterman” it’s difficult to get reliable data, but my unprofessional estimate puts the number in the area of ten million.
Note: There are no extras on the disc, though that’s not a concern since it’s unlikely any extra features would have English subtitles.
Sony Pictures | 2004 | 132 min | Unrated | Region free
| Jun 05, 2007
From visionary writer and director Guillermo del Toro comes Hellboy, a supernatural action adventure based on Mike Mignola's popular Dark Horse Comics series of the same name. Born in the flames of hell and brought to Earth as an...
It’s not uncommon for Blu-ray aficionados to own the latest installment of “Transformers” or some other flick they consider mediocre (or worse) just to have a disc to show off their hardware’s capabilities. Well, unless you’re completely opposed to action films “Hellboy” is a Blu-ray that hits the PQ/AQ ball outta the park, but is worth watching longer than the five minutes it takes to floor your friends with the glory of your HD equipment.
Director Guillermo Del Toro has made better films, but “Hellboy”,and its sequel, are his most accessible. Even though films like “Pan’s Labyrinth” show Del Toro is no slave to convention, “Hellboy” proves his ability to switch to Hollywood mode. That’s okay because he does so with flair. There are the expected staples of a summer blockbuster: slick production values, abundant special effects and loads of choreographed action scenes. Setting it apart is heart and humor. The movie can be serious, but is also peppered with one-liners.
Back to the disc. The picture looks perfect. Textures like the title character’s filed down horns are dazzlingly clear. Lovers of film stock will be glad to see grain is visible, though only in the slightest. If you want a perfect example of the depth, clarity, naturalness, and vibrancy of this Blu’s picture watch the scene in beginning where two of the villains stab a man that’s been guiding them through a remote mountain region. The crimson blood slowly filling up the pattern of grooves in the snow covered ground is a striking image and this disc gives it maximum impact.
Only recently have I upgraded to surround sound. “Hellboy” was the first disc I pulled out to test the addition to my home theatre. It’s just as robust as you’d expect. Action scenes fill the air with the appropriate crashes and collisions. All the speakers are utilized creating an immersive experience, and of course dialogue is crisp. Headlined by a two hour documentary, there’s a generous amount of extras, . Del Toro’s commentary stands out the most. Like always he never allows dead air and provides lots of interesting information. Even when making a mainstream film, he’s dedicated to his artistic vision.
What’s more to say? Your instructions are easy. Buy the “Hellboy” Blu-ray. Pop some corn. Dim the lights. Put the disc in the player. Enjoy.
A series of unsolved murders puts a nation into a panic. Soon, the murders become a political matter and the president intervenes. When the prime suspect dies after a wild chase, the investigations hit a dead end. Investigator...
“The Unjust” is about corruption. The fact that for much of the movie our sympathies lie with Lee Dong-seok, a convicted child molester, should give you an idea of the magnitude of that corruption. The short of it is Lee has served his time, but his record makes him the perfect fall guy for a string of child murders that the police are embarrassed to still have not solved. Offered a promotion for giving the shaft to Lee is police detective Choi Cheol-gi who taps an acquaintance in the mob to do the dirty work. When prosecutor Joo Yang catches wind of the affair he uses the situation to get revenge for a business owner with which he has conducted less than legal dealings with and that has his own grudge against the mobster.
That all sounds convoluted because it is. The movie is labyrinthine. Tons more characters come into play than what I’ve outlined and the plot continues to twist around on itself. No, I couldn’t keep track of everything, but I think that’s the point. It’s about the way dishonesty and underhandedness multiply and grow throughout the inherent complexity of bureaucracy. No one’s responsible for the entire mess, but everyone has a hand in it.
The movie is directed with flair. Just take the opening. There’s a montage of TV’s broadcasting reports of the child murders. One TV is revealed to be in a security monitoring room where one screen showing feedback from a security camera is catching two armed men chasing another man, also armed. The camera zooms toward the screen until some static transitions us to the actual chase in progress. Bravura filmmaking like this plus brief, but intense action sequences place “The Unjust” in the class of contemporary Korean crime dramas that work as thrillers at the same time as grappling themes of heftier weight. The large cast and dense plot make for a less character driven story than stuff like “Mother” or “A Bittersweet Life”. That makes it harder to engage with emotionally, but gives it a unique flavor. Even if you feel tired out on gritty Korean thrillers, there’s reason to see one more.
If you take my advice, the best route would be to get CJ Entertainment’s Blu-ray. Their first-rate release boasts prize picture quality. Color is richly saturated, leaning toward a bluish look. Yet, the palette is natural. Standing out the most is fine detail. Everything from skin to clothing fabric is razor-sharp. Even nighttime scenes, of which there are many, don’t envelop details in shadow. You can notice the natural grainy texture of film, but only if you look hard. It’s disappointing the numerous extras are all in Korean, but the main feature has English subtitles and the disc is Region A encoded. That makes this a recommended buy for Americans and Canadians.
If you’re reticent to lay down money before seeing, you can stream the picture from Netflix. It’s got plenty of company in the international market and especially in it’s home country, but manages to stake it’s own ground with ambitious ideas and skillful execution. The ending of “The Unjust” isn’t as torturous as the one in “I Saw the Devil” but it’s even more pessimistic. The people in the system are disposable, anyone can die, but corruption is there to stay.
Korean cinema is associated most closely with gritty movies about gangsters and crime. Whether this is proportionally representative of movies produced there I’m not sure. At least part of the reason Western audiences perceive Korea’s film industry the way they do has to do with the breakout success of “Oldboy”. However, recent years have brought us “Poetry” and “My Scary Girl” showing that the country has diverse capabilities.
Personally, I love the ultraviolent noirs that have been the main export of Korea. Yet, I needed to see something like “The Servant”. Not only was it a reminder that not all movies made in Korea are destined to include broken limbs and gunshots, but it was proof that period romances don’t have to be stuffy bores.
The lovers at the center of the story are separated by class differences in the way that movies require all people in love before the twentieth century to be. What kept me from nodding off, was that these two don’t allow social mores to destroy a perfectly good passionate affair. We aren’t spared any of the passion as there is plenty of nudity and entwined flesh on screen.
Our characters develop a bond beyond the initial lustful desire of romance. There isn’t the nagging feeling that their relationship is a matter of fate as dictated by the screenplay. The couple have real emotions and their attachment to one another grows organically. Things don’t pan out perfectly, though, and the story takes unexpected turns. The third act is filled with suspense.
If, like me before having seen the movie, you’re still hesitant to spend two hours watching two Asian lovebirds not kill each other, consider one last thing. “The Servant” is very funny. It may take place a century ago, but the humor has a modern naughtiness to it.
CJ Entertainment does not disappoint with this release. The visuals are beautiful. Not only is the story different from those of most famous Korean movies, but the serene forests and ornate costuming are a welcome departure from the grimy urban landscapes and posh clubs that gangsters frequent in the aforementioned movies. All the work put into recreating the period, as well as the scenic cinematography, gets a chance to shine courtesy of the top-notch transfer. As I noticed with “A Bittersweet Life” the skin tones sometimes have a golden cast. This isn’t a problem as it looks like the intentional result of lighting to get the most radiant effect. Likewise all other colors are vividly realized. Clarity can only be described in exemplary terms. Compared to the other CJ release I’ve seen, “The Unjust”, this transfer is softer, matching the difference in tone.
Like CJ’s other titles this one has a good assortment of extras which, unfortunately for most people reading this, are all in Korean with no subtitles. (However, collectors take note, the limited edition case is really sharp.) If you’re in the market for something both sexy and intelligent, the movie and it’s picture quality make up for the lack of English-friendly supplements.
It’s a Bad Sign When the PQ Makes You Want to Barf More Than the Gore
How much you’ll enjoy “Machine Girl” depends on two simple factors. First, do you like slapstick splatter? If phrases like “arterial spray” and “forced autocannibalism” are not what you like to see in a movie review, feel comfortable skipping this one with no further thought. If you’re interest has been piqued, the second factor determining your final take on “Machine Girl” is the mood you’re in when you watch it. I saw the movie at a time when a gory farce was exactly what I needed to whet my cinematic appetite, so I hold the movie in high regard. Now that there’s some distance from my initial infatuation, my recommendation has softened. You’ll like it (given you meet the first stipulation). It is one of the better of it’s kind, but I can see a lot of people preferring movies like “Tokyo Gore Police” or “Class of Nuke ‘Em High 2: Subhumanoid Meltdown” (two examples of similar flicks I enjoyed less than “Machine Girl”) and I have no compelling reason to persuade them otherwise.
Luckily, the picture quality of Tokyo Shock’s Blu-ray will not face the same disparity of opinion. It’s the worst I’ve seen on the format. To be specific, the color is ashen and drained out, the contrast has no kick, and the whole thing has to be viewed through a misty shroud of digital noise. To really understand how bad the picture is, listen to my experience popping this disc in for the first time. The menu looked razor-sharp, everything good so far. Then I pressed “Play”…
Only a few minutes went by and horror sunk in. Something was wrong with my Blu-ray player or my TV. Fifteen minutes of tinkering with different settings and wires accomplished nothing. Sanity prevailed and I tried out some other discs I own to see they looked fine. My equipment didn’t need to be replaced, but I’d just spent money on a Blu-ray that looked worse than streaming the same movie on Netflix had looked a week prior.
In other reviews I’ve mentioned I don’t have surround sound, but even if I did I don’t think that would make a difference. I’m generous when giving out ratings (before now I’d never given a BD less than three for PQ), but this presentation is unacceptable even for no-budget schlock. The extras don’t make anything better. There’s a standard ten minute making-of doc, some trailers, and “Machine Girl Lite”, a dumb, pointless short film.
Let me be clear, I still stand by the movie. The revenge story is a reliable formula for entertainment and provides the essential framework for the loony, but always inventive violence. Avoid this Blu-ray, but find a way to see the movie. It’s got power-tools used as prosthetic limbs, brains being barfed, and a drill-bra. A drill-bra should’ve been one of the highlights of all that HD has to offer, but that opportunity has been squandered. Let’s pray the future will be kinder.
Unten am Fluss
Warner Bros. | 1978 | 101 min | Rated PG | Region B, A (C untested) | Oct 15, 2010
Nestled among the rolling hills and peaceful meadows of England lives a community of rabbits. When their warren is threatened, a small group of brave rabbits escapes into the unknown countryside in search of a new home. Led by...
Richard Adams novel “Watership Down” is an epic. That is important to remember because the book had 400 pages to chart the continuing journeys of it’s rabbit protagonists. The 1978 film adaptation has only 101 minutes to cover the same material. As can be guessed this results in a sometimes hurried pace and disjointed narrative.
In one of the behind-the-scene documentaries on this Blu-ray we are told despite the popularity of the novel, Martin Rosen and the others responsible for bringing “Watership Down” to the screen had trouble raising funds because producers weren’t sure how to market the movie. That meant there was not a massive budget. The animation crew was scrambled together ad hoc and their technique wouldn’t be perfected until Rosen’s next feature “The Plague Dogs”. Because of this, the animation isn’t always seamless and there is noticeable difference in the art styles of the backgrounds.
“Watership Down” has a place as a classic of animation because the above flaws are mere trifles compared to the triumph that is the rest of the film. Right from the outset, there is an aspect that stands apart from other cartoon animal movies. The rabbits may talk, but they resemble actual rabbits rather than humans. They’re proportioned like rabbits, they move like rabbits, their coats are hues of brown or grey, and their eyes are located on the side of the head rather than the front (an indicator they are prey not predators). What may seem like a dismissible stylistic choice works to put distance between the story and cartoon fantasy. It’s not just visually that the film is more realistic than the average Saturday morning fare, but thematically too. The dangers faced by the rabbits are real too, brutally so.
The film’s power lies in that brutality. There are no shortage of predators looking to kill the heroes and there are scenes that show the violence experienced in the wild. The graphic honesty these scenes are depicted with makes them hard to watch, but the struggle of the leporine heroes is more rewarding and the cruelty of nature hits home. One scene has a near-dead rabbit recounting the human-caused destruction of his warren [community of rabbit burrows]. At this point the animation forsakes realism for expressionistic imagery accompanied by the rabbit's tortured recollections. As an avid watcher of extreme cinema I’m struck by how tepid many horror movies are compared to this scene. After watching it, I knew I’d seen a glimpse of Hell. Of course, parents need to be attentive to who they let watch the movie, but don’t let older children (I’d say ten and up) miss out on this delight.
It’s easy to get caught up in the violence angle of “Watership Down”, but there is so much more. There is adventure and ideas concerning freedom and animal rights. The landscapes and other backgrounds are beautiful enough to invite repeat viewings just for the chance to press ‘Pause’ to get a closer look. The animators were honing their skills, but water effects, like the surface of a stream or torrents of rain still manage to impress. Angela Morley’s score soars right along with the action. Best of all, there is an assortment of memorable characters: Hazel the cool-headed leader, Fiver the puny seer, strong and brazen Bigwig, Kehar the seagull with a funny accent, and pure villainy as embodied by General Woundwort .
When it comes to the quality of the Blu-ray, I’ll start with the negative. Damage is visible. Scratches can be seen, but mostly it’s black and white specks. During the opening credits is when these flaws are most apparent. It appears to be a problem with the camera lens because a few specks remain static for a long stretch. Now for the good news. Comparing this disc to the R1 DVD, I’m able to confirm that color is richer and contrast stronger with white being especially invigorated. Clarity has been fine-tuned also, with all but a few shots in sharp focus. The first scene is a telling of the rabbits’ mythology and is drawn in an abstract geometric style to differentiate it from the rest of the feature. Right from the first frames of this you can see the improvement in picture quality. Respectfully, the film is still left to look it’s age with no attempt made to scrub away the grain.
Despite being a German release, the menu and behind-the-scenes supplements are all in English. The two featurettes are ported from past DVD editions, but are worth watching if you‘ve never seem them before. It’s been decades since the production, but the filmmakers have strong enough memories to provide some interesting information and insight about the making of the film.
Blu-ray has proven to be hospitable to animation of all types and from all eras. I don’t care that it needs to be imported, I’m ecstatic to see “Watership Down” is now included among those films.
The lasting peace of the galaxy is threatened by the diabolical and relentless Count Zarth Arn, who is determined to take the universe for himself and make each planet his plaything, each inhabitant his slave. Can anyone save the...
After getting my hands on a few Blu-rays from Shout Factory I felt the company deserved to be known as the Criterion of cult movies. When I grabbed a few more, I decided it would be better that Criterion be known as the Shout Factory of arthouse films. Laugh as much as you like, but it’s inevitable classics like “The Seven Samurai” would be transferred to the HD format with delicate care and thoroughly researched special features. But who, besides Shout Factory would put so much effort into releasing a top-tier edition of something like “Starcrash”?
If you’re unfamiliar with that title, don’t feel left out. It’s a brick of cinematic cheese, produced by Italians and distributed by Roger Corman owned New World Pictures. Before getting into the specifics of the movie itself, take heed of the supplements included with the Blu-ray. Eschewing the usual commentary track given by the director or cast member, Shout Factory have included two tracks by Stephen Romano, writer and “Starcrash” expert. While it would be easy to write Romano off as an overgrown fan boy his delivery and extensive knowledge are more suggestive of a film historian. I don’t feel it’s outlandish to recommend this Blu-ray primarily for this feature.
If Romano manages to miss any pertinent information in the 184 minutes of commentary it’s certainly included in the remainder of supplemental materials. Luigi Cozzi (aka Lewis Coates, the director of “Starcrash”) expounds upon his love of science-fiction and the genesis of the movie in a forty minute interview. Star Caroline Munroe, special effects director Armando Valcauda, and Composer Mars of deadhousemusic.com also appear for over an hour and a half’s worth of interviews and commentary. Even the trailer is equipped with two commentaries courtesy of directors Eli Roth and Joe Dante (who edited the trailer). Topping it all off are deleted scenes (17 minutes worth) and a gallery of promotional art, production sketches and even artwork from fans.
Oh, and the case features reversible artwork and a booklet with an essay by commentator Romano.
All the love devoted to the extra features didn’t distract Shout Factory from making the movie look and sound the best it ever has. The picture is always bright and sometimes exceptionally real and defined. Many shots are fuzzy and halos appear around people and objects, but this is a byproduct of the old school special effects. The inconsistent nature of the image keeps the experience from being wholly satisfying, but given the limitations of the source material it’s an enjoyable transfer.
As for the movie itself, it’s derided by the reviews on this site (the official review classifying it as one of the worst films ever made). I was entertained, which means it can’t be entirely bad. Personally, I rank it average for it’s type of film. It has kitsch nailed down. Those who complain about the acting are missing the point. The performances are supposed to be over-the-top. Anything less wouldn’t fit. A southern accent is a surefire way to enliven a clichéd robot character. Caroline Munroe spends the entirety of the movie in a bikini, and when the above-mentioned southern-fried android character declares his sighting of “Amazons on horseback” we know that means one thing: more women in bikinis.
Of course I haven’t even covered the beer-bellied archvillain, Christmas light stars, David Hasselhoff, Harryhausen-esque stop-motion (I miss those days), or any of the other cheese ball aspects. Suffice it to say it’s all in good fun, yet I never found it reached the jubilant heights of stuff like “Troll 2” and “Glen or Glenda”. Analyzing why that is would probably be a fruitless affair. However, I’m confident in providing a final analysis of Shout Factory’s Blu-ray release. The movie I feel is take-it-or-leave-it material. The disc, based upon the first rate treatment, is worth a buy.
Vince Lombardi High School has quite a reputation: it's the wildest, most rockin' high school around! That is,
until a thug of a principal, Miss Togar, comes along and tries to make the school a totalitarian state. With the...
The Ramones were responsible for making a unique style of bubblegum punk rock. It was pop music filtered through a meat grinder. Energetic, infectious, and filled with a rebellious spirit, it’s obvious why the simplistic clatter of four teenage guys remains some of the most popular music of it’s kind. It was revolutionary in a fun way. Songs like “Beat on the Brat” or “We’re a Happy Family” sizzled with humor. There was social commentary if you looked for it, but no anthems of anger.
“Rock ’n Roll High School” is a Roger Corman produced comedy and vehicle for the punk band. The movie shares the same charms as the music of the Ramones, but to a much lesser degree. A guy in a rat suit, a fascist principal, Clint Howard, and an exploding school are a guaranteed combination for fun, right? Well, yeah. For 93 minutes there’s fun to be had. It’s hard not to enjoy a cast that’s enthused to act out outlandish scenes like an entire gym class kicking out a choreographed dance routine when the teacher leaves the room, a teenage counselor with a personal secretary and an office converted from a bathroom stall, or message carrying paper-airplanes that have the precision targeting of those predator drones used to snoop out Al-Qaeda. The film, though, never takes flight like one of those paper planes because the comedy just isn’t there. Only an occasional chuckle comes from the humor, which is mostly absurdist or PG-mild sex comedy. The better elements keep the whole production from being blown to bits like the eponymous school, but in the end it’s just an interesting footnote for one of filmdom’s maverick producers and one of the pioneering bands of punk.
Taking into account the age and nature of “Rock ‘n Roll High School” it would be unfair to expect a glowing technical presentation. However, the picture quality is quite good. Saturation and detail may not the kind of stuff to show off your home theater system with, but they’re worthy to be deemed HD. Grain is present as are instances of hair, dirt, and scratches, which not only seem at home in a Corman production, but add to the vintage charm.
Shout Factory keeps up an exemplary track record of providing superb supplemental material. First off, the original hand drawn poster art is featured on the case and enclosed inside is a booklet with an introduction by director Allan Arkush, four interviews and color photos. On the disc there’s some behind the scenes documentaries and interviews, including Shout Factory’s standard Leonard Maltin interviewing Roger Corman. The Maltin/Corman segments are always brief, but Corman never fails to have a smile on his face. It seems like he appreciates the hand life has dealt him and these are a good way to get some interesting and funny bits of background on the movies in question without listening to an entire commentary track or watching a sixty minute doc.
Of all the extras, the commentary tracks take center stage. Between the four of them we get to hear from the director, producers, writers, and three of the stars. If you’re a fan of “Rock ‘n Roll High School” the metric ton of behind-the-scenes info and cast and crew recollections included here should have you salivating. Sifting through all this, two facts stuck with me. Some of the actors, mainly P.J. Soles, were initially puzzled that anyone liked the music their characters hold sacred. Much less understandable, though, was Corman’s original idea for the film… “Disco High School”. Maybe years after the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he felt like returning to horror.
Lionel, an innocent young man, is forced to care for domineering mother and finds the task a whole lot more demanding after she's bitten by the cursed Sumatran rat monkey. Passing the point of death, Lionel's mother sucks friends...
People who haven’t seen “Dead Alive” have one question on their mind-- Is it really the goriest film ever made? Yes. That’s not to say it’s the grossest or the most disturbing*, but ounce for ounce the New Zealand cult classic spills more buckets of red-dyed Caro syrup than the competition.
What will surprise most viewers is how well made this movie is. There is a plot. Simple as it is, it is also clear and given time to build up before the explosion of slapstick mayhem. Selling the story ,of course, are the actors. Timothy Balme is perfect as Lionel, a sheepish man who undergoes a psychological transformation over the course of the film whilst everyone around him goes through wretched physical transformations. The catalyst for Lionel overcoming his repressed mommy issues is love interest Paquita, played with sweetness by Diana Penalver. Coming along to steal the show is cretinous uncle Les, a character who allows actor Ian Watkin to munch on the scenery while the other characters munch on each other.
No, none of the performances ought to have been rewarded with a golden statue of a naked guy. This isn’t “Schindler’s List”, but then again “Schindler’s List” didn’t have scene where a mansionful of zombies get slaughtered with an upturned lawnmower. That makes it and “Dead Alive” about even. Which brings me to the meat of the movie.
The second half of “Dead Alive” is a string of outrageous killing, maiming, disemboweling and other violence. Love was put into every special effect, with delicate care paid to all the gory details. If the average slasher flick has three or four clever kills, “Dead Alive” has enough kills for a hundred such movies. This is physical comedy of the highest order. The likes of Keaton and Chaplin are evoked with as much frequency as Savini. That’s what makes Peter Jackson’s last blood ‘n guts epic one of the pinnacles of the subgenre, putting it right up there with “The Toxic Avenger” and “Riki-Oh”.
With such a legacy and a legion of devoted followers it’s a disappointment Lionsgate has done little more than rerelease the R1 DVD version. The sole extra is the theatrical trailer. With no knowledge on the subject, I’ll chalk that up to trouble getting rights to any existing bonus material and/or unwillingness of the movie’s creators to produce anything additional for the North American market. The cover (including the text and screenshots used on the back) is also the same one used for the DVD. Those who’ve seen the movie know the picture corresponds directly with nothing in the film and appears to be exclusive to North America. However, for this fan the picture is so much goofy-gruesome-goodness it deserves to remain the de facto face of “Dead Alive” (though the original title “Braindead” is preferable to it‘s replacement).
So if there are no extras and not even new artwork, the only area this Blu-ray still stands to improve is the audiovisual experience. Adequately is how this disc can be described as reaching that goal. The production values and budget are higher than most splatter-comedies, but this is still an independent movie. No one was worried with producing a pristine print for the theatrical run and certainly not for an HD format that wouldn’t exist until a decade later. Accordingly, the transfer from Lionsgate is middle-of-the-road. Colors are natural and vibrant enough with clarity being okay. Print damage is visible, though kept to a minimum and grain is heavy. Compared to the R1 DVD, these are all noticeable, but small, improvements. My still basic sound system showed no defects and dialogue and audio are comfortably balanced. Since surround sound isn’t an option, I’m doubtful better audio hardware would reveal anything of importance.
Matching the barebones nature of this release, the Blu-ray is cheaply priced making it a no-brainer for genre fans. “Dead Alive” is good enough to stand on it’s own bloody stumps.
*If anyone cares, my vote for grossest movie would be Giuseppe Andrews’ "Period Piece” and most disturbing would be “Audition”.
An elegant sky lounge floating like an island in the sky above Seoul, it's like Sun Woo's own little castle. After 7 years he has climbed to the top, managing the upscale lounge and restaurant. An intelligent, cool-headed...
It’s in his eyes. At one point in the movie Lee Byung-Hun’s character is thrust into a precarious situation and we see in his eyes-- fear. That’s not something typical of action movie protagonists nor is it a lone occurrence. Our hero is lethal with his fists, but he’s more than a stoic warrior. He has emotions. We don’t know this because he says so, but because of the actions he takes, and his expressions and body movement. There are times you can tell something is roiling within. Does he hold back, or is it that his mind isn’t aware of these emotions in a way that he can articulate?
If contemplative, “A Bittersweet Life” is equally hypersonic. Moments of violence jump-start the story from deliberate slowness to break-the-sound-barrier fast. The action doesn’t strain credulity, but forsakes realism for operatic savagery. A scene where our anti-hero attempts escape and fends off a sizeable cadre of gangsters would never happen in real life. The artistry of the scene is the camerawork. It’s not the Hollywood fight scene that’s a patchwork of quick cuts that obscure the lack of coherency. Shots are given enough breathing room to show what’s going on and who is where at what time and we see that, though, the entire string of events grows increasingly improbable any part by itself is physically possible.
It’s the dichotomy between thoughtful and aggressive scenes that compelled me most about “A Bittersweet Life”. At some points these contrasting styles are present at the same time. One such point: Lee is buying guns from a business that obviously isn’t licensed and registered. The head of this shady operation demonstrates how to dis- and re- assemble a pistol. There is a subtext throughout the scene that only one character is aware of. As the other one begins to understand the suspense becomes palpable until the two men are left scrambling to save their lives. The ensuing action is on a much smaller scale than previous scenes, but the heavy build-up gives the payoff just as much of a kick.
I set out to write a brief review of this film, but found that more and more of the movie demanded to be written about. I haven’t even touched on the humor that sprouts naturally from the dialogue, the way the brutality is mostly implied even if it doesn’t feel that way or how themes of loyalty and codes of ethics are explored. I don’t have enough space to elucidate every aspect of the film, but I won’t end the review without talking about the art direction. The lighting and set design emphasize warm colors. It is clear this was intentional, but was accomplished in a way to avoid obvious artificiality. The visuals shine enough to be noticed, but not distracting. Sometimes cool colors take hold of a scene and are the more powerful because of their scarcity. It’s a nice respite from the dirt hues many filmmakers use to look “gritty”.
The Blu-ray release from Content Zone is commendable for presenting Kim Ji-Woon’s film in a 1080p transfer that’s true to the source material. "A Bittersweet Life" is filmic in appearance, meaning grain is kept intact. Detail is strong throughout because of this. Striking and naturalistic, the picture looks just how I imagine the makers intended it to. There are sharper images and more dazzling colors to be seen on Blu-ray, but this is as good as an HD picture can look without getting perfect marks.
This edition is a treat for collectors, and despite the “coffee book” (I believe they mean coffee table book) label it’s the same size, if not slightly smaller than most digibooks. The standard edition has the same content so will do just fine if you don’t want to track down and pay for the collectible packaging. The special features on the disc are exclusively in Korean so are of no use to myself or the vast majority of people reading this review. Unfortunate as that may be, the quality of the movie and it’s high definition presentation justify the price for lovers of operatic action films and modern noir.
For people who watch splatter cinema “Zombie” is required viewing. If you’re a horror-head or a Fulci-freak and haven’t seen “Zombie” it’s on your list, and no review I or anyone else writes will dissuade you from seeing it. In fact, showing extreme disdain for it would probably pique your interest further. That being the case, I only caution that you reign in expectations before watching this one.
Upon first seeing “Zombie” I hated it. Zero-stars-bargain-bin-fodder-overrated-pile-of-junk hated it. A year passed and it was announced Blue Underground would release the seminal film on Blu-ray. I still hated it, but something was enticing about the disc. While the cover art is undiluted awesomeness, other reasons tempted me to click on “Buy Now“. I reevaluated what I’d seen and came to the conclusion that like lots of popular culture, “Zombie” was a victim of it’s own popularity. Such a modest picture couldn’t surmount it’s own hype.
Viewing it a second time, I confirmed that like it’s title the film lacks creative spark, but is also simple and effective. Plopping the characters on a tropical island is a way to newly frame the familiar zombie story and actually provides some beautiful scenery. The acting is adequate. Richard Johnson is the best of the bunch, giving a boozy performance as disgruntled Dr. Menard. However, the moneymaker is the gore. Despite the reputation, it’s far from the goriest film out there. Forgivable because the effects have been attended to carefully. They look more realistic than it’s Italian peers like “Zombie Holocaust” or “Burial Ground” but retain a Halloween vibe. Expect a horde of dusty zombies, necks gushing crimson liquid, and clumps of worms.
What is surprising is the fear factor. Not momentary fear from monsters jumping out of dark places, but a thick, looming atmosphere of dread. Like other Italian horror directors of the time, including Dario Argento, Fulci has trouble developing a plot, but makes up for it by generating real gloom.
For a more glowing review, see Guillermo Del Toro share his thoughts in one of the excellent extras included in this release. He obviously has fond memories of seeing the movie in his youth, but his observations are compelling because they come from someone who is versed in the art and technique of film-making. (Note: Del Toro may have the best batting average when it comes to giving commentaries worth listening to. Examples include those of “Mimic”, “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Hellboy”.) The other features are mostly interviews with people directly involved in the production. They’re all new and in HD. None of the material is earth-shattering, but it is fun to see the actors, and in one case, stuntman, at a convention receiving adulation thirty years after the fact. It’s apparent they are appreciative, but unable to grasp fans’ enthusiasm. Another interesting part of the interviews is how frank some of the actors are about their dislike for the director. Can’t deny some of their anecdotes add credence to the charges of misogyny.
Rounding out the special features is an audio commentary from actor Ian McCulloch and Jason J. Slater, editor of the magazine Diabolik, who keeps the conversation afloat. Promotional material like trailers, TV spots, posters, lobby cards, soundtrack covers, and such are also included. The slipcover is embossed, putting it among the sharpest looking grindhouse flicks in my collection.
Whatever qualms you may have with past Blue Underground releases, rest assured this transfer is a revelation. Detail is through the roof, and colors are deep and natural, though skin tones lean a mite toward orange/red. Black crush is hard to complain about when scenes were intended to be shrouded in darkness. Any major print damage has been removed, but the crown gem of the transfer is the lack of digital meddling. The movie looks better than ever, but the natural grain is intact.
For what it’s worth I recommend “Zombie” to fans of violent horror, with the caveat being to keep expectations reasonable. A shark versus zombie battle is an idea of such awesomeness, not even the finest filmmaker could do it justice. Can’t fault someone for trying, though.
You know those sample discs they hand out free at concerts and record stores? “Nuclear Blast Clips: Volume 1” is the Blu-ray equivalent, minus the free part. You’ll find the bands you recognize and like and skip to their songs. At some point you’ll catch up on the rest. There’s probably a pleasant surprise here or there, and the rest is meh.
Non-fans may be forgiven for not seeing any major difference between the styles on the disc, but “Nuclear Blast Clips: Volume 1” runs the gamut of extreme metal subgenres. For you metalheads this is a plus because it means there’s a good chance something you like is part of the lineup. This is also a minus because it means there’s a good chance there’ll be clips to your disliking. Deathheads will crank up the volume when Nile is playing, but reach for the ‘skip’ button when Nightwish gets their turn. Hardcore kids will pump their fists to Sonic Syndicate, but sneer at Indica’s delicate singing. Indica’s fans will in turn plug there ears when Scandinavians wearing corpse paint come on screen. Black metallers will… well, you get the picture.
The audio is strong as should be expected from a music release. Vocals, whether powerhouse singing or unintelligible growling, come through loud and clear. There is a spacious range with the low end laying a firm groundwork for the shrieking guitars and hoarse yelling. Certain tracks sound like hell, but that’s a good thing in the case of bands like Suffocation and Immortal. While raw, the music remains discernible, most noticeably when symphonic elements are present creating a nice contrast with the crashing music. Not all songs have been calibrated to burst eardrums. Tarot, for example, is lighter, less distorted with more focus on the vocals. The bad news on the audio is it’s stereo, meaning those with fancier sound systems than mine will have a really good aural experience, but not the terrific one they hope for.
Picture quality is a grab bag of really good, terrible and everything in between. Accept’s industrial-military motif is displayed so convincingly the plumes of smoke and steel machinery seem to be have been planted right in the middle of your home theater. Representing the other side Filter’s video of “The Inevitable Relapse” impresses as much picturewise as a bootleg VHS. Pickier viewers will have fits over print damage, extreme contrast, thick grain, fuzzy edges and other assorted blemishes that pop up over the course of the 204 minute run time. Some of this is due to lo-fi source material, and the rest are intentional effects that may be questionable from an artistic standpoint, but are accurately depicted. Enough clips shine that I give this release above average picture quality (In addition to the vid from Accept, PQ stand-outs include Dimmu Borgir’s “Gateways” and their self-titled song, “Turn it Up” by Sonic Syndicate, and “Der Ewige Sieg” by Equlibrium.)
With thirty-seven music videos and seven clips of live concert footage “Nuclear Blast Clips Volume 1” has a decent amount to offer headbangers. Worth it for a bargain price.
Palisades Tartan | 2006 | 107 min | Rated BBFC: 15 | Region free
| May 26, 2008
In a mental institution, Young-goon believes she is a cyborg and refuses to eat, 'charging'
herself with a transistor radio. One day she sees Il-soon, who has the ability to steal habits
and characteristics from people,...
Three standard def features comprise the bonus features on this disc, among them a short making-of doc, a throw-away music video, and an interview with director Park Chan-wook. Clocking in at an hour the interview is the clear standout. Park reveals himself to be open, unpretentious, and thoughtful. He is first asked why he decided to make a romantic comedy in lieu of his usual psycho thriller. He responds that he wanted to make a film for his daughter to see. Little Miss Park isn’t the only lucky one, because the man is at the top of his game whether he’s filming sadomasochism or sweet affection.
"The Vengeance Trilogy" showed that Park is a visual director. “I’m a Cyborg” is a treat for the eyes from the moment you press ‘Play’ to the end credits. The main character, played with glowing sincerity by Lim Su-jeong, is under the delusion she’s a machine so forgoes eating, instead “powering up” by holding a AA battery between her forefingers with her eyes closed as if in meditation. If that image isn’t amusing enough, she peeks one eye open to make sure this new-found technique of recharging is working. It’s small, but subtle bits like that are a creative way to flesh out a character.
Like the women’s prison in “Lady Vengeance” didn’t look like a real prison, the mental institute in this movie isn’t derivative of any seen previously. The whole movie is that way, though one may be reminded of Pedro Almodovar’s work. Not because the story is humorous and unconventional, though that is true, but because everything is colored with gumdrop hues. It could’ve been garish, but instead it’s sumptuous. Palisades Tartan have done justice to the film with this Blu-ray. The screen is alive with color. Fine detail is present at all times. Even dim lighting doesn’t rob the image of clarity.
“Mary and Max”, a claymation feature, is the best looking Blu-ray I’ve seen. “I’m a Cyborg” isn’t far behind, standing abreast other live-action standouts like “Hellboy”. Reviewers are warning that this isn’t a Park Chan-wook film like we’ve come to expect him, but I disagree. Park always had more going for him than graphic violence. His films, from “Joint Security Area” to “Thirst” are beautifully shot, thought-provoking, inventive, with a sly sense of humor. No exception here. Whether you’re familiar with his oeuvre or not, I give “I’m a Cyborg” a major recommendation. I’m smart enough not to guarantee you’ll like it, but I’m confident you haven’t seen one quite like it and the presentation is superb.
Note: No coverage of audio was included because my audio set-up isn’t sufficient to gauge the subtler factors of the aural experience. In this case no obvious faults were found. A minor note is that the second time I played the disc the movie froze around the twenty-two minute mark, something that has yet to happen to any other Blu-ray I own. Have no confirmation whether this is specific to my disc.
In the hierarchy of “Alien” rip-offs “The Dark Lurking” stands above “Plaguers”, but falls below “Forbidden World”. When filming “Alien vs. Zombies”, as this German release calls it, the filmmakers checked off the boxes for standard space-horror: goopy monsters and gobs o’ gore. It would have been appreciated if they had taken a note from their inspirations, Ridley Scott’s seminal film* and “Night of the Living Dead”, and also checked the oft-ignored box of suspense (Why do so many filmmakers pass right over that box?). Unfortunately, they also felt they were making a prestige picture and therefore left out nudity, chipping away at the chance the movie might work as schlock.
Nothing in this film ventures beyond genre convention (The villain is a scientist and bald!) so it’s a relief the technical aspects are up to par. Sets and costuming don’t bear the hallmarks of a skimpy budget. Both lighting and camerawork are competently handled, establishing a dark claustrophobic atmosphere. Love and care made the goods are delivered, grotesque monsters spill blood and guts with regularity. Purists, like myself, can breathe easy since CGI is reserved for a few establishing shots of the space craft.
Because talent was found to put behind the camera, it’s perplexing that better talent wasn’t found to place in front of the camera. Performances are stiff and forced. Say what you will about old Corman and Troma productions but they found actors with the right amount of enthusiasm to enliven the slightest of screenplays.
So, if the stars of the show are the visuals, this release should sparkle, right? One would hope, but seeing as this is a modest monster flick from down under, expectations need to be reasonable. From that standpoint “The Dark Lurking” is satisfactory. There is light to moderate grain throughout so this avoids the cheap shot-on-video look common among similar titles. There is a temptation to come down hard on the lack of detail, but the film was shot in dark swaths of shadow with mist and gun smoke filling the air. Color is natural, though not especially vibrant. Much of the film is harshly lit with every color of the rainbow getting a chance to coat entire scenes. A highlight being a tranquil scene bathed in white. Problems exist with the contrast, which fluctuates. While things ranging from lightning to the flash of a muzzle consistently cut through the screen with conviction, the darker areas are often anemic.
Without surround sound I feel unqualified to make serious judgements of audio. The only thing I noticed was unrelated to quality. The monsters growls sound like they were ripped directly from the Playstation port of the game Doom. (Note: I am aware of the irrelevance of this observation.)
With a picture gallery, HD trailer, and making-of doc, the extras are standard, but decent enough. If you’re a fan of the movie I see no reason not to import this disc (it is region-free). If you haven’t seen it I advise you pass it by, unless you absolutely must see every slimy alien movie.
*The filmmakers acknowledge their predecessors. One of the characters is named Yutani, a reference to the Weyland-Yutani corporation from the Alien franchise.
Palisades Tartan | 2003 | 86 min | Rated BBFC: 15 | Region free
| Jun 08, 2008
Would you know the colour "sky blue" if you had never seen the sky in your life? This futuristic Korean
animation is set in a world where mankind's reckless exploitation of the environment has sparked a planet–wide...
Though much of American and Japanese animation had been produced by Korean animators, the Asian nation has no big name titles of it’s own. As Korea’s economy expands, it’s movie industry expanding along with it, it seems inevitable a film will come along to change the perception of Korea as house to the workman animators doing the grunt work for the creative teams of more important countries, to a country pushing the medium in it’s own unique direction. “Sky Blue” is not that film. While films like “Oldboy” and “The Host” wooed critics with unconventional stories and jaw-dropping visuals, “Sky Blue” is a standard sci-fi actioner.
The story: After mankind’s technological hubris leaves the sky obscured society has split into two groups. The first are the privileged who live in the safety of domed super-city Ecoban. Below them in the slums live the people who carry out the dangerous work needed to provide Ecoban with energy. Among these people hides a movement whose plan on overthrowing their oppressors makes for the central conflict. So we get commentary on class struggle and environmentalism. No matter your politics, you can appreciate when filmmakers attempt to mix important issues into their entertainment, but when said issues are addressed simplistically with limp conviction, like in “Sky Blue”, one wonders why even bother.
There’s also a love triangle.
Familiarity isn’t the only problem in the script. Characters are introduced and abandoned. If you’re going to include a fat rodent with striped ears, let him take part in the story, instead of leaving him to take up screen space for scarce few moments between gun battles. While you’re at it, don’t introduce a blind girl halfway through, then hint that she’s significant, if you plan on doing nothing else with her character.
To be fair, this isn’t horrendous. Its passable fluff for sci-fi and anime fans, but if the next “Akira“ is what you‘re after look elsewhere. There is a reason this disc warrants checking out and that’s the tour de force visuals. Tons of work, with the help of world-class technology, has resulted in imagery that will inspire awe. Cityscapes feature loads of techno bric-a-brac with near tangible surfaces. Detail isn’t diminished in darkness or at a distance. Lighting is dynamic and realistic. Water, of which there is plenty, flows and splashes convincingly. Having been processed mostly inside a computer “Sky Blue” contains no dirt, debris or damage to speak of. While the cool end of the spectrum dominates the colors are vibrant with no sign of having been desaturated. Warm colors shine when present.
Traditional cel animation was used for the characters making a jarring contrast between the humans and the environments they inhabit. I’m not sold on this technique, yet strides have been made since “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence” was released in 2004. The hand-drawn elements were made with as much care as the CGI. Outlines are sharp and clean, colors deep and pleasing. Movement, though, is often stiff, lacking the fluidity of a Miyazaki or Pixar animated character.
As mentioned in my review for “Slither” I have the most basic sound system so I approach the audio from a disadvantage. For what it’s worth, I found the audio clear with appropriate strength for when guns are ablazin‘. A thirty-six minute featurette is the bonus content on the disc. It shows portions of the movie during different stages of development. There are storyboards, basic 3D models, live action footage, and line art, which makes this decent for being the sole extra, but I have to dock the disc for not including the original Korean soundtrack. I don’t blame Palisades Tartan for releasing this. It’s eye candy a la mode and reveals another facet of Korea’s blossoming film industry. However, it’s a shock that a normally stellar company neglected to include the original language and skimped on the extras.
TVA Films | 2006 | 95 min | Rated R | Region A (locked) | Dec 01, 2008
The sleepy town of Wheelsy could be any small town in U.S.--somewhat quaint and gentle,
peopled with friendly folks who mind their own business. But just beneath the surface charm,
something unnamed and evil has arrived and...
James Gunn got his start writing the screenplay for sleaze classic "Tromeo and Juliet", but it wasn’t until he’d written the "Dawn of the Dead" remake that his name gained notoriety in the industry. DotD was a good movie no doubt, but if you’ve listened to the director’s commentary you’ll know there were some hefty changes made to Gunn’s original script. It was fortunate then that "Slither" saw Gunn both writing and directing. His unique humor and over-the-top storytelling remain intact, making it clear why his first gig was with Troma.
The movie is like a lot of goofy horror fare, except the production is Cadillac quality compared to the clunkers we've come to expect. I’m not just talking about the gooey effects. Good performances are provided by Michael “Portrait of a Serial Killer” Rooker as the poor sap who serves as the central host for an intergalactic space slug and Elizabeth Banks as his devoted wife. Nathan Fillion as the town sheriff rounds out the main cast sharing real chemistry with Banks. The relationship between the characters gives the proceedings enough realism to make the idea of a zombie horde with a collective conscious controlled by alien-slugs palatable, and thus "Slither" extracts real laughs and genuine scares. Horror purists look past the (sometimes questionable) CGI and you’ll find a unique entry in the zombie/gross-out subgenre. Those who are weak of stomach, be warned.
Lucky for us Yanks, despite not being an official US release, the Blu-ray is Region-A and only need cross the Canadian border to reach our shelves. (Others note this is Region-A "locked" hence a Region-A or zone-free BD player is needed to play it.) The disc has a solid HD presentation. Detail is noticeably high giving the image new-found clarity, a treat when it comes time to show off the most creative special effects. Colors are natural and their variety and richness are a respite from the grimy, leaden palettes that are now the norm for horror. Though ever-present, grain remains light and consistent, in the day scenes that is. Nighttime scenes see grain turned up a couple notches and black dominates to the detriment of detail. Around 0:08:23 there is a flickering of pixelation, but no other blemishes were detected.
As of writing this review my sound system is basic so my judgment of audio is basic as well. A fault is present early on when dialogue is toned down low compared to the sound effects. Thankfully this is an anomaly because the problem leaves after the first scene.
The features on the DVD release have been ported over. There’s a plethora of standard definition behind-the-scenes docs, covering the trivial and the technical. The standout is a short video diary from Lloyd Kaufman’s time on the set. Even though Gunn cut out his former boss’s only line, it’s fun to see the cult legend. Jenna Fischer pops up in the diary too, as she not only had a bit part, but was at the time married to Gunn and starred, wrote, and directed Troma mockumentary "Lollilove", years prior to "The Office". Fillion joins Gunn for a commentary that is humorous and conversational while covering topics from the difficulty actors endure wearing prosthetics to the choice in music and everything in between. All considered there’s a lot of bonus content for a gorefest that disappointed at the box office. Since all the material is old, those who own the DVD will want to rent first to see if the PQ upgrade is worth the money. Fans who don’t have the DVD, this is the best release "Slither" has seen.