DVD/BLU-RAY

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


Blu-ray Review - A Game of Death

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The 1924 short story, "The Most Dangerous Game" (by Richard Connell), has been adapted on multiple occasions over the last 90 years, but in 1945, it was still fresh creative ground, arriving on the big screen as "A Game of Death." Changes were made to accommodate a new creative perspective, but director Robert Wise sticks to the essentials of the macabre horror story, pitting strangers against a madman on a remote island, where the sport of hunting takes on a whole new level of intensity once man is made the target. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Electric Chair

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1976's "The Electric Chair" offers a haunting title and an initial scene of corpse discovery that promises something macabre to come. However, it's unwise to trust drive-in cinema, which often uses every trick in the book to sucker audiences in to see something they'd otherwise avoid like the plague. Instead of a chiller, "The Electric Chair" is a particularly terrible episode of "Law & Order," taking the action to North Carolina, where lawyers and cops attempt to figure out the motive behind a double murder and bring someone to justice for the crime. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Daughter

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"The Daughter" is an adaptation of "The Wild Duck," an 1884 play written by Henrik Ibsen. The Norwegian playwright is not known for his cheery study of character, instead working to find behavioral and emotional authenticity in everyday interactions, building tensions from within. Writer/director Simon Stone (making his directorial debut) is determined to protect Ibsen's solemnity in "The Daughter" while modernizing the story to fit more relatable concerns of heart and home. It's a penetrating family saga, which braids together dysfunction and secrets to create a series of hidden betrayals uncovered as the film unfolds, and Stone confidently manages each horrific unveiling. He also sustains Ibsen's uncompromising plotting, which ranges from cracks in the concrete to all out war, generating a wild ride of anger that brings the material to full attention. It's dark work, but satisfying in the way it values these personalities and their individual approaches to strife. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - A Great Wall

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Co-writer/director Peter Wang makes a very unassuming picture with 1986's "A Great Wall." While its claim to fame is the distinction of being the first U.S. production permitted to film a Chinese story in China, Wang doesn't wear the impressive access with arrogance. Instead, he creates a family dramedy that explores disparate cultures with sensitivity and remarkable insight, making a movie about characters, not just previously forbidden locations. While it has elements of humor, "A Great Wall" is best in meditative mode, simply taking in the sights and sounds of a newly welcoming country. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Dakota

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1945's "Dakota" isn't remembered as a particular bright spot in the massive filmography of screen legend John Wayne, but for a man who rarely turned down anything, it's a surprisingly buoyant western that gives the actor a chance to be more playful than his average steely ways. Director Joseph Kane (a seasoned genre helmer) provides a journeyman touch to the picture, but his professionalism serves it well, creating an amusing romp with Wayne and co-star Vera Ralston. While it doesn't offer anything new to the western tradition, its meat-and-potatoes approach is agreeable, keeping the chases, clashes, and banter rolling along. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - The Wanderers

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Embracing a newfound hunger for nostalgia, the 1970s provided an endless stream of retro entertainment, with specific emphasis on the celebration of the late 1950s to the early 1960s. The creative and financial triumph of George Lucas's "American Graffiti" and the longstanding ratings dominance of the T.V. show "Happy Days" created a demand for this type of storytelling, allowing something like 1979's "The Wanderers" to enter production. Based on a respected novel by Richard Price, the movie adaptation strives to deliver the same glow of memories and mischief as "American Graffiti," but provides the grit of The Bronx, its vivid setting, to help squelch any dewy depictions of adolescent life. "The Wanderers" hits a few sweet spots in period recreation, with co-writer/director Philip Kaufman unafraid to submerge the effort in pop music and era attire, but the picture isn't a cohesive endeavor. Kaufman masterminds a grab bag of incidents and emotions, delivering an episodic look at a time in American culture when cartoonish expressions of masculinity were about to be flattened by the harsh realities of the larger world. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Invisible Ghost

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In the autumn of his film career, Bela Lugosi used his genre reputation to participate in a few off-kilter productions. 1941's "Invisible Ghost" is one of many Lugosi projects to embrace oddity, finding the screen star struggling to transform a bizarre possession story into a proper chiller, using wonderfully intimidating looks and his own industry reputation to generate some frights in a feature that's almost exclusively invested in prolonged stalking sequences just to get the picture up to its current 64 minute run time. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Chamber of Horrors

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1940's "Chamber of Horrors" is saddled with fairly misleading title. Sure, some chambers are present, but horrors are few and far between in this murder mystery (which was titled "The Door with the Seven Locks" internationally), which is more dialogue-driven endeavor than a chilling one, almost coming across as a filmed play instead of a suspenseful genre offering. Director Norman Lee keeps to the basics in whodunit cinema here, arranging a full "Clue" game of suspects and motivations, and every now and then, something macabre will sneak into the frame to keep the effort rolling along to an energetic finale. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com