Cult: Horror, ‘Shochiku’ style

23 November, 2012 (13:52) | by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Horror | By: Sean Axmaker

When Horror Came To Shochiku (Eclipse Series 37) (Criterion) collects a quartet of late 1960s sci-fi/horror oddities from the Japanese film studio Shochiku, which jumped into the genre late and produced insane movies on threadbare budgets and incoherent scripts seemingly tossed together on the fly.

The bright, bizarre pulp fictions begin with the alien giant monster mash The X from Outer Space (1967), which opens on a Mars mission beset by a glowing UFO (that incredibly doesn’t even phase the crew) and a meteor shower that punctures the ship and (after awkward narrative complications and half-hearted romantic yearnings) ends with the goofiest suitmation monster I’ve ever seen in a serious Japanese movie. Waddling through sun-Goddzilla miniatures like a toddler on a sugar high, this beaky thing (arbitrarily named Guilala by the scientists) looks more like a Mystery Science Theater 3000 robot in a Halloween costume than an extraterrestrial, at least before it evolves into a floating blob of energy.

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Videophiled Classic: Halloween Disc Pick – ‘Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut’

30 October, 2014 (14:27) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Sean Axmaker

NightbreedNightbreed: The Director’s Cut: Special Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut: 3-Disc Limited Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)

Clive Barker’s 1990 film Nightbreed, adapted from his novel Cabal, was taken from Barker’s hands, cut down drastically from his 142-minute rough cut (which made the bootleg rounds in a version called “The Cabal Cut” taken from a video workprint), and released in a form that Barker was never happy with. The release of Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut: Special Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) features a new cut of the film overseen by Barker and restored by Mark Allan Miller, who hunted down the original footage discarded from the rough cut. This is the version that Barker claims as his director’s cut, as he was not given the opportunity for his own final cut before the studio stepped in.

That brief history comes from Barker and Miller themselves in a new video introduction to Scream Factory’s release and it’s clear they are both proud of this release. Morgan Creek, the producing studio, wanted something along the lines of his low-budget Hellraiser. Barker had something else in mind, a celebration of misfits and monsters in a weird story of fear and prejudice filled with Biblical references and mythic resonance. The real monsters of Nightbreed are the humans, especially a psycho psychiatrist named Dr. Philip K. Decker played by filmmaker David Cronenberg with a flat delivery and deadened voice that makes him all the more unnerving. This doc is a real piece of work, drawing his kills from the nightmares of his patients and then framing them for the crimes, but Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is not a normal patient and his visions of a place called Midian aren’t nightmares. They are anticipations of his legacy: he belongs to an ancient race of misfit outsiders considered monsters and banished to an underworld away from humanity.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

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Film Review: ‘Citizenfour’

30 October, 2014 (05:54) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald

Edward Snowden sits on his hotel-room bed, about to keystroke a password into his laptop. Without looking particularly sheepish about it, he drapes a blanket over his head and upper body, so he can comfortably input the information without being observed. This gesture evokes many things: a kid reading a book under the covers at night; the Elephant Man disguising his grotesqueness; a conspiracy theorist muttering warnings about cosmic rays coming through his skull. None of these associations is unjustified, and all underscore the absorbing character study that Citizenfour presents in you-are-there fashion.

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Film Review: ‘Young Ones’

30 October, 2014 (05:49) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Michael Shannon

The old postapocalyptic shuffle is alive in Young Ones, but this catastrophe is more credible than most such speculations. The problem here is water, which has evaporated, at least in this corner of the world. Patriarch Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon, apocalypse vet from Take Shelter) trades trinkets in exchange for supplies, and just manages to keep hold of his “farm”—a patch of brown desert—in hope that the soil needs only the rain to come back. But the film’s real attention is on the next generation, played by a trio of child stars aging into young adulthood. Holm’s patient son Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee, the kid from The Road) and resentful daughter Mary (Elle Fanning) must negotiate their future with the ambitious Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult of Warm Bodies, soon to appear in the Mad Max reboot). Ernest isn’t crazy about Flem hanging around with Mary, for reasons that turn out to be pretty well-founded.

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Review: ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’

29 October, 2014 (10:29) | by Rick Hermann, Film Reviews | By: Rick Hermann

[Originally published in Movietone News 42, July 1975]

In Mean Streets Scorsese used a relatively unknown but near-perfectly cast group of actors to play out his sort-of-autobiographical story of smalltime gangsters enmeshed in the violence, death, and deadendedness of a grotto in the New York underworld. In Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore he has peopled the screen with a warm little community of transient characters whose slightly better-known faces communicate a greater sense of familiarity. Long before Kris Kristofferson edges his way almost imperceptibly into the corner of a frame, we’ve already been treated to a number of vivid character portrayals and bit-part niceties including Billy Green Bush’s role as Alice’s first husband, Harvey Keitel’s as Ben, Harry Northup’s brief appearance as the gosh-and-golly yokel bartender in Joe and Jim’s Café, to name but a few. No one’s around for very long—just long enough—and of course transience is one of the things with which Alice is concerned, just as Mean Streets was preoccupied with identity, fear, and mortality.

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Videophiled: Hola ‘Companeros’!

28 October, 2014 (09:23) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Westerns | By: Sean Axmaker

Compañeros (Blue Underground, Blu-ray) is an ironic title, but then as a spaghetti western—a genre steeped in mercenaries and con men and double crosses—it would have to be. Swedish gun runner Yodlaf (Franco Nero), in Mexico in the heat of the revolution to sell his weapons to the highest bidder, and hot-headed Mexican peasant turned revolutionary officer Vasco (Tomas Milian in a beret that evokes Che Guevara) are certainly not compañeros by any stretch of the definition. It’s only good timing that prevents Vasco from killing the blue-eyed stranger, and orders from his gun-shy but glory-hungry General that sends him along on a quest to free the idealistic revolutionary leader Professor Xantos (Fernando Rey) from American captivity at Fort Yuma. They make a great screen team, verbally jabbing and prodding one another along the way even when they are forced to rescue one another (left to their druthers, they’d go on alone). Nero plays the witty, worldly cosmopolitan (and, blue eyes and lightly bleached hair aside, the most Mediterranean Swede in the cinema) and Milian the wily survivor, acting on impulse and lobbing insults to his Swedish partner between paeans to his twinkling blue eyes.

Sergio Corbucci is one of the three great Sergios of the spaghetti western (along with Leone and Sollima) and the director of two of the genre’s classics, Django (1966), which made a star of Franco Nero, and the Great Silence (1968). Compañeros (1970) leans into the political arena that Sollima specialized in, using the political chaos and opportunism of the revolution as a volatile cultural backdrop filled with warring factions and freelance mercenaries, while driving the film with capers and cons and capture and escapes. They cross the border, break a prisoner out of an American Fort, and tangle with a dope smoking bounty hunter with a wooden hand and a loyal falcon named Marsha. Jack Palance plays the laconic mercenary John, puffing on joints and smiling a crooked grin as he lazily springs traps and puts his prisoners to sadistic tortures, and his stoner delivery sends the film into a whole realm of weirdness.

Complicating things even more are the (not always clear) conflicts within the revolution, with the grandstanding General Mongo only in it for personal gain and the idealistic Xantos playing the Gandhi of the Mexican Revolution, a pacifist who preaches non-violence while everyone is trying to kill him. That includes the opportunist Mongo, who needs Xantos for his payday but also finds him a threat to his agenda. Sort of. The details are murky, but that’s hardly a problem for a genre all about betrayals and greed. And yet Corbucci, who helped define the the amoral tone of the genre in Django, develops a streak of idealism that builds through the film until it blossoms as a defining theme without any sense of irony or insincerity. While he may not embrace the pacifism of his inspiration Professor, Corbucci certainly respects his integrity, a virtue not always seen in the genre, and presents it without cynicism. And that is quite a feat in a film with a body-count and a mercenary cast of this magnitude. It’s a wily good time with a rousing finish.

Fernando Rey, Karin Schubert and Tomas Milian

The Blu-ray debut features both the American version and the disc debut of the longer Italian cut (with four minutes of additional footage). Both editions, which have been newly mastered from the original negative, offer the choice of English and Italian language soundtracks (the restored scenes to the Italian cut are only in Italian with English subtitles, making them easy to spot). Image quality is great and the DTS-HD Mono soundtracks have that distinctive spaghetti western sound of studio-recorded dialogue and post-synched library sound effects. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack sounds great.

Carried over from the previous DVD release is commentary by film journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke and the 17-minute 2001 interview featurette “In the Company of Companeros” with interviews with stars Franco Nero and Tomas Milian and composer Ennio Morricone.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

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Review: The Phantom of the Paradise

27 October, 2014 (11:48) | by Peter Hogue, Film Reviews | By: Peter Hogue

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

The Phantom of the Paradise is funny and entertaining. It’s best as a comedy grounded in rock culture and it’s somewhat less successful as a humorous horror film. Perhaps because rock music has a power that exceeds that of a routinely developed horror plot, there’s a skittish lack of conviction to its terror side—even with an enjoyably gory ending. But its sendups of various rock&roll fashions are often good and it does rather nicely with its sense of the gangsterish side of the business.

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Videophiled Classic: Halloween Disc Pick – ‘The Vincent Price Collection II’

25 October, 2014 (20:42) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Sean Axmaker

The Vincent Price Collection II (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) follows up last year’s collection with the debut of seven more Vincent Price horror films in a special edition set. Shout Factory (under its Scream Factory imprint) draws from its licensing relationships with 20th Century Fox and MGM to complete the run of Roger Corman Poe films begun last year and fills to the rest a couple of sequels and two titles too often relegated to public domain bargain discs.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), the final film in Corman’s cycle of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, is considered by many the best (partisans tend to split over this and The Masque of Red Death, 1963), and it is certainly the most sophisticated, with rich performances by Price, who is both haunted protagonist and Gothic romantic leading man (a first in the series) as widower Verden Fell, and British actress Elizabeth Shepherd, who brings a zest for life to the role of Rowena Trevanion, whose fascination with Verdan’s self-imposed exile turns to romance. Once she draws him out of the haunted manor and into the world for their honeymoon, that shadow of gloom is lifted and he can even discard the shaded glasses he wears in the bright light (“I live at night,” he explains early on), but once back in the abbey, the ghost of Lady Ligeia reasserts her control. Or so it seems after Verden offers a demonstration of hypnosis and Ligeia takes over Rowena for a chilling instant while she’s under the spell.

The Tomb of Ligeia is the only one of Corman’s Poe films to shoot location exteriors (Corman used studio sets entirely for previous films to create a rarified unreality, he says, as befitting his interest in psychology and the unconscious in relation to horror), and the ruins he uses for Fell’s abbey home are astoundingly beautiful, the bleached bone remains of a fallen castle behind his stone manor, the dead of the past haunting the living of the present. Fittingly, it is also the most psychologically rooted of his Poe adaptations, though the revelations of the finale do not fully explain the black cat who seems to act as Ligeia’s familiar in the abbey, or Rowena’s brief possession by Ligeia. Robert Towne’s intelligent script and Corman’s moody direction melds the explicable and the supernatural very nicely in a tale that is never simply one or the other.

As with the previous set, these editions are from HD masters provided to Shout Factory by the rights holder, in this case MGM. It’s a good looking transfer though it is not a restoration. You can see surface scratches and grit and in one spot a light vertical scratch running through the left side of the image, but it also has vivid color, good clarity, and a strong image, which is still the most important thing in a disc release.

Features commentary by Roger Corman carried over from the earlier DVD release plus new commentary recorded for this release by actress Elizabeth Shepherd, and an archival video introduction and afterward by Vincent Price, originally taped for a public TV horror series decades ago, plus a gallery of stills and a trailer.

Continue reading at Cinemaphiled

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 24

24 October, 2014 (11:09) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

‘The Long Day Closes’

The latest excerpt from Michael Koresky’s book on Terence Davies logically should maybe have been the first, being primarily a career overview. But Koresky lays out the argument for placing Davies squarely in the queer cinema tradition with which he’s had a troubled relationship, and it’s always nice to read someone praising The Neon Bible. Or remembering it exists.

“Mackenzie’s key battleground is the romantic relationship. Incited by knowing eye contact and waged through a sensual collision of skin, these trysts end in epiphany, tragedy, and many variations in between depending on the genre. […] Internal apocalypse might always be on the precipice, but it’s never rendered through anything less than a sublime lens and lyrical sense of time and place. As the universe fades to black (either figuratively or quite literally), the process of becoming someone new remains poetic.” Glenn Heath Jr. makes the case for the cinema of David Mackenzie.

Still at Mubi, David Cairns makes available To the Public Danger, an early short by Terence Fisher warning against drunk driving. Though as Cairns states, despite (or rather because of) the film’s morbidity, its true auteur is Gaslight and Hangover Square writer Patrick Hamilton, who had his own reasons for hating reckless motorists.

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Film Review: ‘Birdman’

23 October, 2014 (08:59) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Michael Keaton and Emma Stone

Even if it doesn’t live up to its festival reviews or its crazy possibilities, Birdman serves so many heady moments it qualifies as a bona fide happening. The movie begins quietly enough—an actor meditates in his dressing room before a stage rehearsal—but there’s a curveball. The actor is floating in mid-air.

No mention is made of this, nor of the other apparently telekinetic powers that belong to Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). A movie star in a career skid since he stopped playing a masked superhero named Birdman back in the ’90s, Thomson is preparing his big comeback. Unless it kills him first.

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Film Review: ‘John Wick’

23 October, 2014 (08:55) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Keanu Reeves and friend

In the title role of John Wick, Keanu Reeves plays the sort of cool, silent assassin who has only a few dozen lines. He’s a slick, lethal hit man; why should he talk much? And yet you wish he’d shut up already. This movie needs only a simple setup to function, but there’s John Wick, handcuffed to a chair and telling the bad guys why he’s doing what he’s doing. We get it, man. Now why can’t you be as terse as Ryan Gosling in Drive?

The simple setup goes like this: Wick’s been out of the assassin game for five years, living a normal life for a while. His wife dies of illness, leaving behind a surprise puppy to console her husband. After the hothead son (Alfie Allen of Game of Thrones) of a Russian gangster (Michael Nyqvist) steals Wick’s car and kills the dog, merciless revenge is guaranteed.

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Film Review: ‘Listen Up Philip’

23 October, 2014 (08:51) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Elizabeth Moss

Anyone who had trouble putting up with Ben Stiller’s abrasive title character in Greenberg might pause before entering the world of one Philip Lewis Friedman. A bearded New York novelist whose second book is about to be published, Philip is self-centered, vindictive, and—worst of all—articulate. He’s played by Jason Schwartzman, an actor unafraid of letting his least appealing qualities hang out. Schwartzman understands how to throw himself into this kind of egotist; we can enjoy the actor’s skill even as we’re being repelled by the character.

In Listen Up Philip, this guy is meant to be a throwback to a certain kind of ’70s antihero (the movie’s got the grainy look of the era), as well as the kind of literary character that might have sprung from the pages of Philip Roth. Having said that, he’s still a jerk.

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Film Review: ‘Stonehearst Asylum’

23 October, 2014 (08:47) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, Kate Beckinsale, and Jim Sturgess

There may be no ideal time to wander into the halls of a remote Victorian-era home for the mentally impaired, but the waning days of December 1899 appear especially unfortunate. Nevertheless, a young doctor named Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess, from Cloud Atlas) arrives at Stonehearst Asylum just in time for Christmas dinner—because of austerity measures, the menu this evening includes roast squirrel.

Almost the entirety of Stonehearst Asylum unfolds inside the place, so we have plenty of time to consider the dismal setting and the wretched circumstances of the inhabitants.

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Videophiled: ‘Snowpiercer’ – Class Struggle on a Runaway Train

22 October, 2014 (10:30) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews, Science Fiction | By: Sean Axmaker

snowpiercerSnowpiercer (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD), an international production from Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho based on a French graphic novel, is a high-speed metaphor speeding down the science fiction tracks of genre cinema. That’s the way I like this brand of filmmaking: with the metaphors big, muscular, detailed, and punchy. You either give yourself over to the allegory, in this case a giant train as a self-contained eco-system traveling through a world plunged into an ice age with passengers segregated into castes and the oppressed poor rising up in revolution, or give up. There’s not much in between.

Think “The Odyssey” as reworked by Karl Marx and set on the Siberian Express. Chris Evans (Captain America himself) is the angry young leader in the dungeon of steerage class battling his way through the train, car by car, to the engine, seeing his fellow revolutionaries cut down by the stormtrooper soldiers as the poor, huddled masses progress through the levels of privilege and decadence. And Tilda Swinton all but steals the film from him as the devoted functionary dedicated to class division and population control through repression and purges, embracing the essence of her character as both live action political cartoon and deluded acolyte of an Oz-like ruler with Darwinian tools. It is the class system of the industrial revolution in microcosm played out as high-concept action movie, and with Bong (The Host) at the helm, it’s a violent, graphically dynamic journey.

Blu-ray and DVD with hosted by Geek Nation film critic Scott Weinberg and featuring William Goss (Austin Chronicle), Drew Mcweeny (Hitfix.com), Jennifer Yamato (Deadline), Peter S. Hall (Movies.com), and my old colleague James Rocchi (who is identified as MSN Movies, despite the fact the site effectively shut down a year ago). A second disc features additional supplements: a nearly hour-long French language documentary “Transperceneige: From the Black Page to the Black Screen,” the shorter “The Birth of Snowpiercer,” a piece on ‘The Characters” with actor interviews,” an animated prologue, and addition interviews and concept art galleries.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinemaphiled

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Review: Hennessy

21 October, 2014 (09:12) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

Hennessy … the name offers to hang over this movie the way “Juggernaut” and “Drabble” spiritually pervaded theirs (Drabble having been the original title of The Black Windmill). That a fellow named Hollis lays more of a claim on our attention, let alone imagination, says a lot about the present object of inquiry. That Hollis is played by the man who dreamed up the original story, Richard Johnson, could say even more. He’s the English cop, specialist in Irish affairs, who’s become an obsessive on the theme of Hibernian politics of violence, to the extent that his own humanity seems ever on the verge of immolation by the fires of his corrective passion. There’s no getting away from seeing him as the counterpart of the eponymous Irish explosives genius who, shaken out of his determined pacific by the crossfire killing of his wife and daughter, has swaddled himself in gelignite and set out to blow up the Queen and most members of both Houses at the opening of Parliament. In this role Rod Steiger does his tightlipped, violence-benumbed shtick, and hence—inadvertently, I’d say—becomes a straightman to Johnson’s overtly raging hunter.

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Review: The National Health

20 October, 2014 (09:19) | by Ken Eisler, Film Reviews | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

by Ken Eisler

The National Health, adapted by Peter Nichols from his own stage play, remains pure farce, but the form has undergone a marvelous cinematic sea-change. The characters, governed as before by Humours and idées fixes, enter, exit; doors slam on them—the doors, in this case, of death. The antics of these six quirky patients and their harried medical caretakers on the decaying Sir Stafford Cripps Ward, seen, let’s say, from the first balcony, must have struck audiences as grimly hilarious, though just a touch cold and detached, perhaps. But watching these hapless six on the big screen up there is another matter. You just try to distance yourself from them now.

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