DVD/BLU-RAY

Blu-ray Review - Daredevils of the Red Circle

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Part of the Republic Movie Serial factory, 1939's "Daredevils of the Red Circle" attempts a different approach to the creation of big screen heroes. Turning to the world of acrobatics to find a trio of men willing to put themselves in the line of fire to stop evil, the production finds an engaging starting point for action and adventure, following the exploits of characters who are accustomed to dangerous feats of survival. "Daredevils of the Red Circle" generally keeps up with serial interests in near-misses, silliness, and cheap suspense, but there's craftsmanship from directors William Witney and John English that impresses, keeping 12 chapters filled with cartoonish violence and villainy, occasionally broken up by charged encounters and canine courage. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - The Mephisto Waltz

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Movies about the Devil and Satanism became big business in 1970s, preying on fears of organized evil and spiritual corruption. The subgenre would really strike oil with 1973's "The Exorcist," which raised panic over unholy business to monumental levels, but it started small, with 1971's "The Mephisto Waltz" attempting to raise small-scale hell with its tale of manipulation and fantasy. Based on the Fred Mustard Stewart novel, the picture submits a rather complicated inspection of Satanic suspicion, making it alarmingly slow-going as director Paul Wendkos labors over details, not a greater flow of suspense. "The Mephisto Waltz" is more of a tempered look personal doom, requiring a general relaxation of expectations as the production tries to pore some psychedelic melt from the 1960s into a horror experience for a new decade of terror.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Making Contact

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Today, we know director Roland Emmerich as a craftsman of Hollywood blockbusters, eagerly attempting to achieve massive success with big- budgeted fantasy actioners. He's had a rough period recently, guiding massive disappointments like "Independence Day: Resurgence" and "White House Down," but Emmerich appears to love the possibility of big screen scale, trying to make escapism with as much noise and stupidity as possible. However, he wasn't always like this, with 1985's "Making Contact" (a.k.a. "Joey") returning to a time in the helmer's early career when all he wanted to do was ape his creative inspiration, Steven Spielberg. Armed with enough homage to make Amblin Entertainment lawyers nervous, Emmerich sets out to create the best "E.T." and "Poltergeist" rip-off he can, using "Making Contact" to share as much Spielberg love as possible, shamelessly lifting every move from the maestro, down to cinematographic moves and the setting of suburban America. In true Emmerich fashion, he's made a spectacular mess of everything, and while his heart is in the right place, his filmmaking vision is cross-eyed at best, as little to nothing about this tedious feature makes any sense.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Optimists

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Imagine if Mike Leigh directed a Disney movie, and that's close to the viewing experience provided by 1973's "The Optimists." The production wins points for its interest in the bleak corners of life, trying to live up to its titular promise with a sincere take on relationships and broken dreams, watching director Anthony Simmons laboring to make some magic with lead Peter Sellers, asking him to lift considerable dramatic weight. It's difficult to label "The Optimists" as an all-ages charmer, but Simmons certainly wants it to be, aiming to achieve a bittersweet tone of connection in a hauntingly unforgiving world.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies

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A follow-up to the 1965 hit, "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines," 1969's "The Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies" (also known as "Monte Carlo or Bust!") looks to sustain a sense of widescreen pandemonium, taking a European car race to the extremes of slapstick comedy. Co-writer/director Ken Annakin certainly maintains a vision for the production, and his management of style and action is impressive, able to keep a ragtag group of characters in focus as they tear around multiple locations. But just over two hours of silly business? "Jaunty Jalopies" pushes its luck when it comes to asking the audience to endure a marathon of mischief. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Papa's Delicate Condition

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What a strange movie 1963's "Papa's Delicate Condition" is. It hopes to be a family feature, pitting star Jackie Gleason against a Disney-esque collection of children, animals, and stymied adults, but at the core of this dramedy is a study of alcoholism, with the title not referencing the lead character's desire to please, but his heavy drinking. Going from light to dark with whiplash-inducing speed, "Papa's Delicate Condition" doesn't necessarily challenge Gleason, who spends most of the picture playing up his industry persona, periodically reaching within to depict a sick man stuck in a cycle of reckless behavior.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Tristan and Isolde

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Kevin Reynolds is a director worth defending in the Court of Cinema Elitists. He picked up a bad reputation with his work on 1995's "Waterworld," taking heat for his inability to keep an inherently chaotic shoot under control, and there have been a few stinkers during his career, including 1997's "187." But Reynolds, when offered a chance to spread his wings, can be a kinetic filmmaker with a terrific sense of action and adventure, marrying matinee derring-do with grittier visuals, finding efforts like 2002's "The Count of Monte Cristo" and 2012's "Hatfields & McCoys" enjoying their genres instead of merely participating in them, and there's 1991's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," a wildly entertaining blockbuster that showcased the helmer's special way with period mayhem and romance, going big but remaining steady. Ingredients for another charging extravaganza are professionally portioned out for 2006's "Tristan & Isolde," but the picture has no flavor. Aspiring to be a love story for the ages, the feature is trapped between its mission to treat regional conflict with the severity it deserves and the production's hope to appeal to teenage viewers, soaping up a love triangle that holds no appeal. Instead of conquering another roughhouse tale of war, Reynolds is lost from the get-go, unable to reach his customary verve with this deathly dull endeavor.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - The Pied Piper

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It's hard to fault "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" director Jacques Demy for attempting his own take on the legend of the Pied Piper. And there's certainly a pronounced dark side to most fairy tales, providing a creative challenge. However, it's difficult to grasp what audience Demy is hoping to reach with this 1972 effort. "The Pied Piper" isn't truly for children, but the production has moments of broad behavior, and the casting of rock star Donovan in the titular role appears engineered to reach a young audience. But the rest of "The Pied Piper" is quite bleak, though fascinatingly staged by Demy who respects elements from the original tale, trying to remain as faithful as possible while arranging his own special black plague costume party.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com 


Blu-ray Review - Don't Give Up the Ship

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Jerry Lewis is about as "your mileage may vary" an actor as they come, either seducing or repelling audiences with his practiced mugging, pratfalls, and penchant for exaggerating comedic situations. While in possession of a wildly uneven filmography, Lewis seems relatively fresh and invested for 1959's "Don't Give Up the Ship," which is one of his early solo efforts. Eager to please and willing to try out some unusual locations for screen mischief, Lewis is appealingly committed to the picture, which doesn't always match his energy levels.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - A Farewell to Arms

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Ernest Hemingway's novel, "A Farewell to Arms," is a tough nut to crack. It carries tremendous solemnity and personal experience, giving it an open wound atmosphere that makes it an intimate read with a gut-punch ending. Producer David O. Selznick attempts to turn Hemingway's horror into a new version of "Gone with the Wind," inflating love and war to a point where the original meaning of the book is lost. Melodramatic and in need of another editorial pass, 1957's "A Farewell to Arms" certainly provides beguiling bigness, but the enormity of the production manages to smother literary intent.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Double Exposure

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1983's "Double Exposure" attempts to cash in on the rise of sexually-minded thrillers, following the lead of Brian De Palma's work from the era, though writer/director William Byron Hillman doesn't share the same flair for screen style and gonzo plotting. While the feature is far from tasteful, there's a certain stability to the effort that doesn't boost its desire to be a chiller that toys with psychological fracture and ghoulish murder sequences, with Hillman holding most of his attention on tepid characterization, which doesn't unleash frights. "Double Exposure" is best appreciated in select scenes where insanity takes over, watching Hillman attempt to visualize oddball plans for homicide, and there's a defined exploitation atmosphere to the picture that keeps it salacious enough to pass. However, when considering what Hillman is trying to accomplish here, it's bizarre to watch the endeavor slow down to smell the roses when there's significant B-movie work to be done.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Scar

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From 1948, "The Scar" (originally titled "Hollow Triumph") takes its plotting very seriously. It's no romp with crooks and cops, but a strange, vaguely "Twilight Zone"-ish journey of a stolen identity that winds through complications that touch on romance and paranoia. Star Paul Henreid (who also produces) assumes command of the feature's uneasy tone, working well with director Steve Sekely, who constructs a noir playground of shadows and danger while sustaining a screenplay (written by Daniel Fuchs, who adapts a novel by Murray Forbes) that's restless, continually redefining the stakes to maintain surprise. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Psycho Cop Returns

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Full disclosure: I've never seen 1989's "Psycho Cop." I've never even heard of it, making the prospect of reviewing its 1993 sequel, "Psycho Cop Returns," daunting. Genre fans are a passionate bunch, and they want their film writers prepared and informed, but here's a unique situation where the follow-up doesn't really need an initial chapter to make sense, as the tone it's pursuing is so broad, so cartoonish, that there's only one thing to know before a viewing: There's a cop, and he's a psycho. My apologies to those looking for a direct comparison between the pictures, but I'm guessing most who come to "Psycho Cop Returns" are probably new to the brand name as well, playing an easy game of catch-up with an endeavor that's not about adding to the ongoing saga of a vicious, Satan-worshiping police imposter, but offering a smorgasbord of wild comedy, squealing characters, gore, nudity, and mayhem throughout a single setting. It's not franchise algebra, but a funky, cartwheeling B-movie from director Adam Rifkin (billed here as "Rif Coogan"), who's obsessed with creating as much chaos a low budget endeavor can support.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Microcosmos

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Before there were entire cable networks devoted to every corner of the natural world, there was 1996's "Microcosmos." What a kid could do now with a cell phone camera and some decent lighting took three years of production for directors Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, who worked carefully to follow the lives of insects on their home turf, using special cinematography to detail every fluttering wing, crooked antennae, and wiggly body they could find. Using the footage to shape a highly artistic vision of, ahem, a bug's life, the helmers achieve a cinematic miracle with "Microcosmos," assembling a riveting, hypnotic valentine to the misunderstood members of Earth. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Crucible

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"The Crucible" is one of the most important plays in American theatrical history, and Arthur Miller's 1953's work has justly earned a wealth of accolades and deep analysis over the decades, with particular emphasis on the material's Red Scare inspiration. Constructed during a time of McCarthyism, where paranoia and fear ruled the land, Miller elected to have history comment on the destructive situation at hand, reviving the Salem Witch Trials for audiences craving a dissection of condemnation, building a bridge between unthinkable madness from a feral time and similar recklessness in a modern age. It's brilliant work, and yet, multiple attempts to adapt Miller's play for the screen have been hit or miss, often losing something in the translation. 1996's "The Crucible" appears to have everything it needs to successfully launch a new take on the material, including top-tier actor Daniel Day-Lewis in a starring role, a screenplay by Miller himself, and direction by Nicolas Hytner, fresh off his international success with 1994's "The Madness of King George." And yet, the feature weirdly flatlines right off the bat, failing to stir up a level of frenzy and horror that should organically flow though a movie that explores the pure psychological and physical destruction of a village enslaved by religious fervor and legal lunacy.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Sunset in the West

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1950's "Sunset in the West" isn't out to reinvent the western for an oversaturated marketplace. It's content to serve up yet another round of black hats and white hats doing battle in a growing America, filling the brief run time (67 minutes) with enough gunfights, chases, songs, comedy, and horses to satisfy audiences. Thankfully, director William Witney isn't troubled by sameness, giving "Sunset in the West" a rollicking sprit to stave away the stasis of formula, urging star Roy Rogers to play to his strengths of everyman charms, combating the western filmmaking machine with engaging stunt work and comfort food conflicts, always putting entertainment needs first.  Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Jigsaw Murders

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1989's "The Jigsaw Murders" (where only one titular killing takes place) is positioned as a crime story with occasional interruptions by the demands of exploitation cinema. Some nudity remains, and a few ghastly encounters are detailed, but director Jag Mundhra prizes characterization first and foremost, bending the Roger Corman-released project in a way that explores psychological issues, not just a body count. It's a valiant attempt to do something different with bottom-shelf production values, and while "The Jigsaw Murders" isn't completely victorious, there's some grit and excitement to hold attention, and the picture's gradual evolution into camp isn't entirely unpleasant. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Savage Attraction

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There's a reason why 1983's "Savage Attraction" (titled "Hostage" on the print) insists on reminding viewers on multiple occasions that it's based on a true story. Otherwise, it would be easy to fault the filmmakers for committing such melodramatic nonsense to the screen. To buy into this world of abuse and manipulation, it takes a substantial leap of faith, as director Frank Shields (who scripts with John Lind) details a tremendous amount of stupidity without the psychological depth to back it up. Marital violence is no laughing matter, but the way it's presented in "Savage Attraction," one finds themselves checking the lead character's head for signs of a recent lobotomy. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Don't Go in the House

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Reworking elements from "Psycho" to manufacture a new tale of damaged childhood and motherly worship, co-writer/director Joseph Ellison goes deep into the psychological abyss with 1979's "Don't Go in the House." Already an uneasy picture due to its horror content, the feature takes aggression to the next level with its depiction of abuse and murder, fulfilling a genre obsession with the torture of women. While decidedly low budget, "Don't Go in the House" is effective in spurts, winning points for its bizarre depiction of violent appetites and Ellison's mild style, which puts in a noticeable effort to sell frights and repulsion without breaking its concentration on the nightmarish story it's trying to sell. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Anatahan

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After a lengthy, celebrated career in silent and sound features, director Josef von Sternberg elected to close out his filmmaking interests with 1953's "Anatahan," a picture he continued to tinker with long after its initial release. Dramatizing the true story of Japanese soldiers stranded for six years on an island after their home country's surrender (eventually confronted with the allure of the lone woman living there), "Anatahan" takes a strange story of isolation and delivers it with a docudrama approach that finds von Sternberg assuming narration duties, becoming a personal guide to a war story trapped in time. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com