Reviews

The DVD Wrapup: In Search of Fellini, In Her Name, High School Sinks Into Sea, Jigsaw, Argento’s Opera, Red Trees and more

I can’t remember the last time I was so charmed by a movie that was dumped into limited release, received mixed reviews and could be lost in the shuffle of January releases that receive little fanfare. Maybe, though, I can help draw attention to In Search of Fellini if I point out the romantic fantasy’s “Simpsons” connection. (Everybody loves “The Simpsons.”) In Search of Fellini was adapted from a one-woman play co-written by Nancy Cartwright, who, since 1989, has been the voice of Bart Simpson on Fox’s trail-blazing animated series. Before that, however, the Ohio native joined an acting class taught by Milton Katselas. He recommended that she study Federico Fellini’s La Strada, which starred Giulietta Masina as the street urchin sold by her mother to circus strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) to be his comic foil. Cartwright recalls performing “every imaginable scene” from the movie in her class and spending several months trying to secure the rights to produce a stage adaptation. Like the protagonist in In Search of Fellini, she visited Italy with the intention of meeting Fellini and requesting his permission in person. Although she never met the Maestro, Cartwright kept a journal of the trip and later co-wrote the play upon which it was based.

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The DVD Wrapup: Matinee, Crooked House, Jawbone, Cook Off!, Blue World Order, Into the Amazon, Tuxedo Park and more

I wonder if kids today, are being prepped for the possibility of a nuclear strike. I haven’t read any reports of people stockpiling goods or hurriedly digging holes in their backyards for bomb shelters, as was the case during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s possible that Americans not only have convince themselves that cooler heads will prevail, as they did then, or they no longer can be conned into believing that ducking underneath a desk and covering their heads could protect anyone from becoming toast. Fifty-five years ago, however, that’s all the hope American school children were given. In Joe Dante’s wonderfully nostalgic Matinee, kids living in Key West, Florida – 90 miles from Cuba, where Soviet missiles were being pointed directly at them – were allowed to take a break from ducking-and-covering exercises long enough to enjoy a movie about a man who turns into a giant ant after a botched X-ray exam at the dentist.

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The DVD Wrapup: 68 Kill, Bad Day for the Cut, Friend Request, Tiger Hunter, CERN, Conduct!, Macon County Line and more

January is also prime time for studios to dump disappointments and question marks into theaters, before a fast turnaround on video. Occasionally, an overlooked gem will sneak into circulation – last year’s The Founder and Split, for example — but it won’t be because anyone saw it coming. I’ve found a few titles that fit that description.

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The DVD Wrapup: Chavela, Teacher, Shadowman, Shock Wave, Laugh-In and more

After getting sober, with the help of natural healing agents introduced to her by an Indian family that took her in, Vargas returned to the stage in 1991, performing at a bohemian Mexico City nightclub called “El Hábito.” Many fans of her recorded music, including Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, had assumed that she had succumbed years earlier. When he learned that Chavela was performing in Mexico, Almodóvar arranged for his personal muse to headline sold-out concerts in Madrid, Paris and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Although she had long dreamed of singing in such venues, her “overnight success” came late in her life. In her autobiography, Vargas also came out, which opened the door to a new demographic.

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The DVD Wrapup: The Year’s Top Titles, plus True Love Ways, Killing Gunther, Rock Docs, Unabomber and More

Titles that received a limited release in theaters or none at all make up my year-end list of DVDs and Blu-rays. Some are restored classics, while others are genre specimens that got lost in the crowd.

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The DVD Gift Guide 3: 100 Years Olympics Films, One Day at a Time, Monterey Pop, 4K UHD/HDR Action Editions, Coens, Nutcracker, Stronger, mother!, Leatherface… and more

If the Olympics could bounce back from two world wars, there’s no reason to think peace isn’t be possible in our time. “100 Years of Olympic Films” spans 41 editions of the Olympic Games, from 1912-2012, in 53 surprisingly comprehensive and impeccably restored movies.

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The DVD Wrapup: Trip to Spain, Lucky Goat, Viceroy House, Victoria & Abdul, Manolo and more

I wonder how much, if at all, estimable Brit director Michael Winterbottom was influenced by Louis Malle’s indie sensation My Dinner With Andre – or, for that matter, Andy Kaufman in My Breakfast with Blassie – before embarking on the first BBC mini-series, The Trip. In Malle’s film, quintessential New York City raconteurs Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory meet for dinner at a fancy restaurant to reconnect after one of them disappeared for a few years. The don’t particularly like each other, but they manage to share two hours in each other’s company, engaged in the lively art of conversation. Dinner was so convincing that many, many viewers assumed that their conversation played out in real time and was wholly improvised. In fact, it was scripted, rehearsed and shot in a chilly Virginia restaurant that was closed for the winter. It still holds up. In The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are asked by the Observer to tour the finest restaurants in the Lake District and document the experience. Their goofy exchanges, impersonations and kvetching only occasionally detract from the magnificent scenery.

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The DVD Wrapup: Letter From An Unknown Woman, Despicable Me 3, Crucifixion, Maurizio Cattelan, A New Leaf, Silent Night and more

Letter From an Unknown Woman is an old-fashioned Hollywood melodrama I might have watched for a few minutes on television long ago and abandoned in favor of a baseball game. Black-and-white films, no matter how opulent or romantic, never looked the way they were supposed to on television. Even when Laserdiscs and TCM came, analog sets couldn’t do justice to the director and cinematographer’s shared vision. Scratches were left in disrepair, just as fuzz and other artifacts clung to prints as if intended. The digital revolution made restoration miracles possible, transforming tired old movies into the classics they actually are. High-resolution screens made everything even better. Even so, I might not have accepted the challenge of watching Letter From an Unknown Woman – its title is as inviting as a warm beer or cold cup of coffee – if I hadn’t already seen the Criterion Collection editions of Max Ophüls’ La ronde, Le Plaisir, The Earrings of Madame de … and Lola Montès, all of which were made after he returned to Europe after World War II. After absorbing the lessons dispensed in the bonus features, it was easy to appreciate this widely admired film from his surprisingly unproductive Hollywood sojourn. Now, at least, I knew what to look for in the upgraded Olive Signature release.

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DVD Gift Guide II: Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Der Bingle, Hitchcock, Homicide, Agatha Christie, Jean Rouch, MST3K, Curtiz, Logan Lucky, Animal Factory, Woodshock and more

Because our grandparents and great-grandparents already seem to have everything they need, they get shorted when gifts are being handed out around the Christmas tree. The challenge of picking out presents grows greater every year, it seems. After all, how many sweaters, robes and slippers can a person possibly own? Why not give the gift that never gets older that it already is: nostalgia. No matter how many channels there are, the ones dedicated to shows seniors might recall with fondness are limited to TCM, PBS and niche services on premium networks.

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The DVD Wrapup: Good Time, Hitman’s Bodyguard, Tavernier’s Journey, Valerion, Lemon, Jabberwocky, Mick Ronson, Harmonium and more

Robert Pattison has come a long way from his tenure as Edward Cullen.

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The DVD Wrapup: Wind River, Unlocked, In This Corner of the World, Funeral Parade of Roses, Zoology, Romero Redux, Indiscretion and more

What makes Wind River compelling is how Sheridan integrates it into the depiction of life above the tree line both for humans and animals.

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The DVD Wrapup: King George, Cars 3, Overdrive, Afterimage, Glass Castle, Whisky Galore, The Journey, Into the Night, Sissi, Stay Hungry and more

Even if Olive Films weren’t presenting its Blu-ray release of The Madness of King George as a cautionary tale, it would be difficult for any American – Republicans included – not to draw parallels to our current political predicament.

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The DVD Wrapup and Gift Guide I: Fellini, Ernie Kovacs, Green Acres, Carol Burnett, Person-to-Person and more

It’s difficult to imagine discovering a movie by Federico Fellini that lovers of foreign films haven’t seen at least once. In the case of Arrow Academy’s “The Voice of the Moon: Special Edition” Blu-ray, “discovery” might not be the right term. The Maestro’s final feature has been sitting around in plain sight for more than a quarter-century, just waiting for some distributor to give it a whirl. Better late than never.

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The DVD Wrapup: Lady Macbeth, Girls Trip, Moka, Chicago, American Gods and more

s as if a sympathetic visitor had left a copy of Gustave Flaubert’s recently published “Madame Bovary” within her reach, hoping it would spark Katherine’s desire for something more substantial than practicing her needlepoint and making sure the surfaces are being dusted. When their relationship becomes the subject of village gossip, Katherine concocts plans that would leave her the true head of the estate. Viewers may not be able to precisely identify the peril that looms just over the horizon, but we know it can’t possibly bode well for the weak-willed Sebastian. In an interesting decision, Oldroyd and screenwriter Alice Birch elected to make three key characters of African descent. The story practically ignores their race, leaving the audience to make of the casting what it will.

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The DVD Wrapup: Survivalist, Vampyr, Lure, Giallo, Dreamgirls and More

At a time when dystopian dramas are a dime a dozen, it bears noting when something out of the ordinary emerges. Filmed entirely in a lush forest, near Antrim, Northern Ireland, The Survivalist is just such a picture. After appearing at prominent festivals to rave reviews, Stephen Fingleton’s directorial debut was accorded only a tentative release before being sent to the video after-marketplace. It isn’t difficult to guess why. Set in an indeterminate time and place, after an unexplained energy-related catastrophe, The Survivalist chronicles one unnamed man’s struggle to survive in an environment devastated by famine, overpopulation and desperation. The survivalist (Martin McCann) appears to have prepared for all possible threats to his security, short of nuclear war.

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The DVD Wrapup: Queen of the Desert, POTC 5, DeMille’s Lost City, Otherworld, Patsy Cline, Wanda and more

Herzog also allows time for coverage of her love affairs, which either were ill-advised or crushed by her domineering parents. But as fascinating a character as Bell is, the director’s longtime fans won’t find anything in Bell that recalls Klaus Kinski’s eccentric behavior in Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, or, for that matter, Nicolas Cage, in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Maybe, critics were hoping for a bit more craziness in Kidman’s portrayal of such an independent and driven soul as Bell. There’s nothing at all wrong with Peter Zeitlinger’s cinematography, which nicely captures the desert scenery and extremes of Jordan and Morocco.

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The DVD Wrapup: Transformers, Lynch’s Art, Piano Teacher, Ruby, Sarno, Jesús, Devil’s Candy and more

For a movie that cost an estimated $217 million to make and God knows how much more to market, Transformers: The Last Knight shouldn’t have had to rely on the overseas marketplace to save to save its ass.

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The DVD Wrapup: ET, Vietnam, Big Sick, Glory, Certain Women, The Hero, Hana-Bi, By the Time It Gets Dark, The Prison, The Flesh, Moderns … More

I wonder how many kids and young adults have only watched E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind on screens smaller than a Mini or Fiat. There probably have been plenty of opportunities to catch a special screening at a plus-size theater with state-of-the-art visuals and sonics, but the temptation to watch something with less mileage probably outweighed the advantages of seeing these masterpieces the way Steven Spielberg intended.

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The DVD Wrapup: Beatriz at Dinner, The Mummy, Soul on a String, The Resurrected, Spider, The Apology, Glen Campbell and more

Although Miguel Arteta and Mike White have proven perfectly capable of creating edgy dramedies of their own — HBO’s “Enlightened,” The Good Girl, Chuck and Buck – I can’t help but see Neil LaBute’s darkly comic influence in their latest collaboration.

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The DVD Wrapup: Band Aid, First Kill, Iron Protector, All Eyez, Wedding Plan, Maurice, Big Knife, Narcos 2 and more

In her directorial debut, Zoe Lister-Jones walks the razor-thin line separating relationship dramedy and millennial mockumentary. The 35-year-old Brooklyn native maintains her balance throughout Band Aid, while continually switching the hats typically worn by writers, actors, producers and lyricists. It demonstrates how well she’s paid attention to her environs – not to mention, dues — on the long road to prominence in a cutthroat business. Lister-Jones isn’t there quite yet, but her face should be familiar to viewers of such sitcoms as “Life in Pieces,” “Whitney,” “New Girl” and “Friends with Better Lives.”

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Reviews

Roy Atkinson on: DVD Wrapup: Commuter, Oscar, A Taxi Driver, Humor Me, Prince, Doris Day, Shakespeare Wallah, Pomegranates and more

gary j dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Ballad of Lefty Brown, Wonder, Blades, Seijun Suzuki, Fellini, Hellraiser, Paradise and more

Yvan Prime on: The DVD Wrapup: Ballad of Lefty Brown, Wonder, Blades, Seijun Suzuki, Fellini, Hellraiser, Paradise and more

Antoine Ratliff on: The DVD Wrapup: Letter From An Unknown Woman, Despicable Me 3, Crucifixion, Maurizio Cattelan, A New Leaf, Silent Night and more

Fernando on: The DVD Wrapup: King George, Cars 3, Overdrive, Afterimage, Glass Castle, Whisky Galore, The Journey, Into the Night, Sissi, Stay Hungry and more

Woody on: The DVD Wrapup: ET, Vietnam, Big Sick, Glory, Certain Women, The Hero, Hana-Bi, By the Time It Gets Dark, The Prison, The Flesh, Moderns … More

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Ray Pride on: The DVD Wrapup: Founder, Punching Henry, Paris 05:59, Apocalypse Child, Donnie Darko, Woman of the Year, Tampopo, Handmaid’s Tale and more

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch

To me, Hunter S. Thompson was a hero. His early books were great, but in many ways, his life and career post–Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail is a cautionary tale for authors. People expected him to be high and drunk all the time and play that persona, and he stuck with that to the end, and I don’t think it was good for him. I always sort of feel mixed emotions when I hear that people went and hung out with Hunter and how great it was to get high with Hunter. The fact is the guy was having difficulty doing any sustained writing at all for years probably because so many quote, unquote, “friends” wanted to get high with him … There was a badly disappointed romantic there. I mean, that great line, “This is where the wave broke, the tide rolled back … ” This was a guy that was hurt and disappointed and very bitter about things, and it made his writing beautiful, and also with that came a lot of pain.
~ Anthony Bourdain