Disc Spotlight

Bond 50 Blu-ray

James Bond has been outwitting bad guys and bedding the ladies onscreen for half a century, and even as the films’ tones, quality and lead actors fluctuated the character of Bond has remained an icon of cinema. Six actors have played him across twenty two films, and there are folks who champion each and every one of them. The key to calling a favorite seems to depend on which ones you saw first and at what age as well as your individual constitution for puns, crazy action sequences, talkative villains and films ending with lifeboats floating at sea. For the record, before digging into this set and watching all 22 films Daniel Craig was my favorite Bond and Casino Royale my favorite Bond movie. But also for the record? I quickly came to realize I had only seen a fraction of the Bond films. One of 2012′s biggest and most anticipated Blu-ray sets is Bond 50 which celebrates fifty years of Bond with special feature-filled Blu-rays for each film. Most have already seen HD releases, but the set includes Blu debuts of You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. The set breaks the 22 films into two halves, twelve from 1962-1981 and ten 1983-2012, each in their own sturdy book. Due to the sheer volume of material this Disc Spotlight will be broken into two halves […]

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Chuck Norris Code of Silence

Scientists have worked tirelessly since the invention of Blu-ray looking for a way to capture the essence of Chuck Norris onto a high-definition disc. No matter how hard they tried though his fists, jaw and body hair refused to be contained long enough for the transfer to take. But finally, in the year of our Lord 2012, six years after the format’s debut… they’ve succeeded. Seven of Chuck Norris’ classics are now available in HD. The Delta Force (1986) is a step down from Chuck Norris‘ previous film, Code of Silence, in more ways than one. The action leaves more realistic gun fights behind in favor of cartoonish, over the top, shoot from the hip gun-play. The script ignores real drama and conflict for explosions and pro-Americuh jingo-isms. Most detrimentally, it trades director Andrew Davis for Menahem “Ahem” Golan. A jumbo jet in Athens is hijacked by Lebanese terrorists (led by Robert Forster, obviously) and redirected towards Beirut. The US Counter-terrorism unit, Delta Force, is called in to assess and perform a rescue with Maj. Scott McCoy (Norris) and Col. Nick Alexander (Lee Marvin) leading the team. Rockets will be fired from motorcycles. Karate will be used in the desert. And Ronald Reagan will experience his first erection in a decade.

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Chuck Norris Code of Silence

Scientists have worked tirelessly since the invention of Blu-ray looking for a way to capture the essence of Chuck Norris onto a high-definition disc. No matter how hard they tried though his fists, jaw and body hair refused to be contained long enough for the transfer to take. But finally, in the year of our Lord 2012, six years after the format’s debut… they’ve succeeded. Seven of Chuck Norris’ classics are now available in HD. Code of Silence (1985) was Chuck Norris‘ bid at legitimacy as more than just an action star. It may not have been thought of as such at the time, but in retrospect the movie stands out as two thirds of a well written cop drama. It may not sound like much, but most of Norris’ output is of the far more cartoonish variety in both action and plot. That doesn’t lessen their entertainment value, but it makes this effort all the more impressive. Of course, the addition of an honest to god film director in Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) can’t hurt. Det. Eddie Cusack (Norris) heads up a cop squad in charge of drug busts and organized crime activity, but when his latest operation goes bad he finds himself smack dab in the middle of a bloody turf war. Complicating things further one of his squad members kills a boy in the shootout and plants a gun on him to make it look like self defense. Cusack isn’t shy about letting his feelings be known, […]

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People hate Chuck Norris

Scientists have worked tirelessly since the invention of Blu-ray looking for a way to capture the essence of Chuck Norris onto a high-definition disc. No matter how hard they tried though his fists, jaw and body hair refused to be contained long enough for the transfer to take. But finally, in the year of our Lord 2012, six years after the format’s debut… they’ve succeeded. Seven of Chuck Norris’ classics are now available in HD. Missing In Action 2: The Beginning (1985) is the first and only prequel of Chuck Norris’ career. That’s a shame of course because some of us really want to know what made Jake Wilder such a tough cop in Top Dog. MIA 2 was released just a year after the first film found success at the box office, and by any account it’s an unnecessary direction to take. Not only did we already know he escaped from the POW camp but we also saw him escape again. But Hollywood’s sequel/remake machine needs to be fed, so here we are. Col. Braddock (Norris) accompanies a helicopter crew on a mission towards the end of the war, but when the bird is shot out of the sky the survivors are taken prisoner and held for the next ten years in harsh conditions. Finally convinced that no rescue is imminent and forced into action by increasing cruelty, Braddock makes his move for freedom. Can he save himself and his men and escape their jungle captors? (Think carefully, and […]

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Scientists have worked tirelessly since the invention of Blu-ray looking for a way to capture the essence of Chuck Norris onto a high-definition disc. No matter how hard they tried though his fists, jaw and body hair refused to be contained long enough for the transfer to take. But finally, in the year of our Lord 2012, six years after the format’s debut… they’ve succeeded. Seven of Chuck Norris’ classics are now available in HD. Missing In Action (1984) is one of Chuck Norris‘ most popular titles for a few reasons. It was released at the apex of his film career, it has a fairly high body count and it appeals to the patriot in all of us. It also plays to a fantasy as appealing as any revenge thriller… the idea that Americans are still being held prisoner in Vietnam. It wasn’t the best do to so (Uncommon Valor) or the one with the most slurring (Rambo: First Blood Part Two), but it was the only one with Norris. Unless you count the two sequels. James Braddock (Norris) is a Vietnam veteran who spent time in a POW camp before finally escaping a decade after the war ended. He returns a few years later as part of a diplomatic mission to confirm once and for all if American soldiers remain, but Braddock trusts the Commies about as far as he could spit ‘em… and since he’d never take a red bastard in his mouth that isn’t very far at […]

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Scientists have worked tirelessly since the invention of Blu-ray looking for a way to capture the essence of Chuck Norris onto a high-definition disc. No matter how hard they tried though his fists, jaw and body hair refused to be contained long enough for the transfer to take. But finally, in the year of our Lord 2012, six years after the format’s debut… they’ve succeeded. Seven of Chuck Norris’ classics are now available in HD. Lone Wolf McQuade (1983) is one manly goddamn movie. Seriously. I grew a full beard over the course of its 107 minutes, and it’s no sketchy patch job either. Chuck Norris plays a bachelor who no woman can tame. His house is a mess, he rolls around in his dusty back yard whenever he wants, he drives a super-charged American-made truck, he drinks Pearl beer exclusively and he has a wolf(-like dog) as a pet. JJ McQuade (Norris) is a Texas Ranger par excellence. He’s tough, he insists on working alone and he wouldn’t be caught dead saying “par excellence.” His captain forces a new partner onto him, and soon the two are working together investigating a wealthy businessman named Eawley Wilkes (David Carradine) who may be moonlighting as an arms dealer. The fight becomes personal when McQuade learns that Wilkes once pretended to play an Asian man on a kung fu television show.

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Scientists have worked tirelessly since the invention of Blu-ray looking for a way to capture the essence of Chuck Norris onto a high-definition disc. No matter how hard they tried though his fists, jaw and body hair refused to be contained long enough for the transfer to take. But finally, in the year of our Lord 2012, six years after the format’s debut… they’ve succeeded. Seven of Chuck Norris’ classics are now available in HD. The Octagon (1980) was always one of my favorite Chuck Norris movies growing up, and that’s probably because it’s filled with ninjas. My Saturday afternoons often included airings of martial arts movies, both international and domestic. Anyone who did the same knows the former were always far more entertaining than the homegrown variety. Which is why Norris’ films, and this one in particular, hold such fond memories. Scott James (Norris) is an ex-martial arts champion with memories of intense physical training he received as a young boy alongside his slightly more Asian step brother, but he’s also haunted by the death of a friend at the hands of ninja terrorists. (But aren’t we all?) When he gets word that a terrorist training camp is operating south of the border and that they’re dispatching modern day ninjas out into the world he’s forced into action.

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Scientists have worked tirelessly since the invention of Blu-ray looking for a way to capture the essence of Chuck Norris onto a high-definition disc. No matter how hard they tried though his fists, jaw and body hair refused to be contained long enough for the transfer to take. But finally, in the year of our Lord 2012, six years after the format’s debut… they’ve succeeded. Seven of Chuck Norris’ classics are now available in HD. A Force of One (1979) is the earliest of Chuck Norris’ films to hit Blu-ray, and it also has the lowest body count. Coincidence? Doubtful. You get the sense he’s still looking for his own groove here and was as interested in representing the sport of karate as he was in being an action star. And while it was his fourth lead role it’s actually the first to actually resemble a real (ie. professional) movie. Norris plays Matt Logan, a karate teacher hired by the police to train them in the art of self defense. Why? Because a cop-killer is on the loose who’s been dispatching officers with deadly kung fu moves of course.

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They say the world is divided into two types of people: those who prefer Star Wars and those who prefer Star Trek. Of course, they also say the same thing regarding Elvis Presley/The Beatles, chocolate/vanilla, and Charlie Sheen/Emilio Estevez. I’ve always leaned towards the Star Wars side of things (along with The Beatles, chocolate and Estevez), and to that end I’ve never before watched an entire episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original series I’ve seen from beginning to end over the years, but The Next Generation? Never gave it the time. Which reminds me… the world is also divided into people who prefer Captain James Kirk and those who prefer Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The show ended its seven-season run in 1994, but the series has never received the high definition treatment that fans have been clamoring for. That HD drought ends this week as CBS-HD and Paramount bring all 25 episodes of the show’s first season to Blu-ray along with a strong complement of special features. And now I’m no longer an NCC-1701-D virgin.

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Italian auteur Lina Wertmüller is in a category all her own. After working as an assistant director for Federico Fellini on 8½, Wertmüller began a directing career that established her as a confrontational, no-holds-barred artist. Her films often mixed sex and violence, as well as humor and dark themes, to disturbing, challenging, and mesmerizing effects. She didn’t do this in the name of exploitation, or to deliberately discomfit her audience, but to illustrate how comedy and tragedy in life are often inseparable, and the all-too-comfortable categories that distinguish them in film genres are far too convenient to reflect this reality. Wertmüller’s best-known works are the international hit Swept Away (1974, but unfortunately better known today for the failed Guy Ritchie/Madonna remake) and the astounding Seven Beauties (1975), a film about a fascist-sympathetic Don Juan who spends time in a German concentration camp and attempts to seduce the camp’s imposing female officer-in-charge in order to gain food and, perhaps, freedom. Seven Beauties gave Wertmüller the distinction of being the first-ever woman nominated for the Best Director Oscar. It also provided a nomination for its star, Giancarlo Giannini (perhaps best-known today for his supporting roles in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), who starred in many of Wertmüller’s films as her bumbling, promiscuous muse. Now, three previously unavailable films by Wertmüller, The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love & Anarchy (1973), and All Screwed Up (1974), have been made available in a DVD box set and separate Blu-Ray releases from Kino Classics. These […]

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The Italian cinema scene has felt a bit tepid in recent years with only the occasional title making waves internationally, but once upon a time the country was a movie-making powerhouse. One of its biggest areas of export throughout the 7’0s and 80s was the horror genre with big names like Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci churning out stylish frightfests oozing atmosphere and gore. Like all things they varied in quality, but the films were rarely less than entertaining. Fulci was easily one of the most prolific of the bunch often filming and releasing two to three movies per year. That pace continued through his final film in 1991, but his commercial and creative peak was arguably the early ’80s. The House By the Cemetery is sometimes referred to as the third in Fulci’s apocalyptic horror trilogy alongside City Of the Living Dead and The Beyond (reviewed by me here and here). Having finally seen the film it’s not entirely clear why that is… the horror at work here is of a much more grounded nature than in either of those other films, and the ending is far more traditional. Of course, that shouldn’t be mistaken to mean the story is logical, realistic or coherent. But if nothing else, the movie is a must-see for the bat-attack scene alone.

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Pseudo documentaries, and their bastard cousin the “found footage” genre, usually come in two varieties. There are comedies like the work of Christopher Guest and (to a lesser degree) Sacha Baron Cohen, and there are horror films like the Paranormal Activity cash-cow and vastly superior [rec] films. They also range in quality from the highs of Man Bites Dog and This Is Spinal Tap to the lows of The Devil Inside and Apollo 18. What you don’t find a lot of though are angry, cautionary tales about peace-loving hippies being hunted by officers of the law.

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Director Frank Henenlotter is a bit of an acquired taste. His films, including the Basket Case trilogy and Brain Damage, mix horror, comedy and low-budget special effects with mixed results, and the thing they have most in common is their offbeat tone. 1990′s Frankenhooker isn’t his best known film, but it deserves to be thanks to a funny script, some ridiculous effects pieces and a perfectly pitched and wonderfully off kilter lead performance. Jeffrey Franken is a bright young man with an assured future and a thick Jersey accent, but when his girlfriend Elizabeth Shelley is killed in a freak lawnmower accident he loses it all. Well, he keeps the accent. He also keeps Elizabeth’s head.

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You have the right to remain silent… forever! It should surprise no one that Larry Cohen came up with the tag line above before a single word of his script for Maniac Cop was written. It’s beyond perfect, and it sums up the attitude behind the film pretty damn well. Director William Lustig had been best known for his Joe Spinell slasher, Maniac, so Cohen worked his magic and scripted this film with a similar sounding title but a more blackly comic tone. The result is a genre “classic” that spawned two sequels of varying quality and remains an entertaining slice of horror cinema. Arrow Video in the UK released Maniac Cop to Blu-ray last month, and we gave it a test drive below.

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Sitcom kids aren’t often very appealing. They’re usually either blandly realistic and serve solely as plot devices, or they’re ridiculously smart, self aware, and integral to the show’s comedy (for better or worse). Rarely does a child actor and his/her character come across as both realistic and entertainingly bright. One of the rare examples of just such a combination can be found in the series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father which stars Bill Bixby as the father and Brandon Cruz as little Eddie. In ran for three seasons in the late sixties/early seventies, and was based on the 1963 film starring Glenn Ford and Ron Howard (which in turn was based on a novel by Mark Toby). Warner Archive has begun releasing the series to MOD DVD (manufactured on demand) starting with the Complete First Season. I can’t speak for seasons two and three yet, but the show’s first 26 episodes are some of the most charming, witty, and warm television I’ve seen in some time. The father and son relationship is captured beautifully in both dialogue and visuals, but mostly in the stellar performances of the two stars. Bixby and Cruz seem at home with one another and play off each others expressions and tones perfectly. It’s sweet, funny, and smart, and has quickly become one of my favorite shows from decades past.

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Legendary Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein is one of the most influential creative minds in the history of the medium. A philosopher of cinema, Eisenstein did not invent montage, but certainly explored the vast parameters of its possibilities without precedent. Thus, a high definition release of one of his central works is understandably something of an event, and the good people at Kino have packaged a pristine new reissue of Eisenstein’s debut feature film Strike (1925) from its restoration by Cinematheque de Toulouse. Strike is essential viewing for anybody who is seriously invested in the evolution, history and potential aesthetic and political power of cinema, and this new DVD and Blu-ray version is likely the best viewing experience available.

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For a filmmaker who completed only seven feature films in his lifetime, Andrei Tarkovsky has made an enormous impact. In addition to his artistry, perhaps the enduring fascination with his work has to do with the story of a life cut short. After all, several European filmmakers who were born before Tarkovsky, like Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais, are still around and making new films. Each of Tarkovsky’s seven films are brilliant works that each possess an ambition towards perfection and cinematic transcendence, but when bringing the filmmaker’s abrupt death by lung cancer into the equation it’s difficult to avoid the saddened feeling that there’s a great deal more time-sculpting he had left to share. So it makes sense then that the number of documentaries about Tarkovsky (or prominently feature the filmmaker) far exceed the number of films the director himself completed, and this fact gives a clear indication of his broad cinematic influence. These films are made because people want more, and desire to understand the depth of Tarkovsky’s work better. Films like Voyage in Time (1983), Moscow Elegy (1987), Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (1988), and Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky (2008) have examined the auteur’s method, life, philosophy, and impact. But easily the best documentary about Tarkovsky thus far is French visual essayist Chris Marker‘s One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich (1999), recently released on DVD by Icarus Films.

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Tobe Hooper is not what one would call a gifted and/or talented film-maker. He’s a genre legend due more to the idea of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than to the reality of his film work. Seriously people, it’s not a good movie… effective at times yes, but good? No. His best film remains the television mini-series of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot (unless you believe he directed Poltergeist of course), but while he’s made some real stinkers the majority of his work falls into the generic middle ground between treasure and trash. Arrow Video in the UK has just released a new Blu-ray (the first) for one of Hooper’s better efforts, the 1981 horror thriller The Funhouse. The film is one of his most accessible horror efforts to date and a fun watch, and the disc is one of Arrow’s finest efforts as well.

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Arrow Video has quickly made a name for themselves as one of the top labels for genre cinema in general and Dario Argento’s films in particular. Their Blu-ray releases of Argento’s work have seen their fair share of ups and downs though with some being near reference quality and others showing real issues in the video and/or audio departments. Now Arrow has released a new Blu-ray from another well known director, their first from the man many critics (inexplicably) appointed the heir to Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense-filled throne. Will their first foray into Brian DePalma’s films fare better than some of Argento’s? The Movie: Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) is a well to do businessman living in New Orleans with his beautiful wife Elizabeth (Geneviève Bujold) and daughter. A party winds down and the family settles in for the night, but Courtland soon discovers his wife and child missing and a ransom note demanding cash. He pays what’s asked of him, but a botched rescue attempt by police leads to the death of both his wife and daughter. Years later the still bereft widower finds himself in Italy on a business trip and wanders into the church where he had first met Elizabeth… and where he meets a young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his dead wife.

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Another month, another Dario Argento Blu-ray release from Arrow Video in the UK. This time it’s a film considered by many to be among his best works in general as well as one of his finest giallos. Tenebrae features all the hallmarks of Argento finest films including a twisted killer in gloves, spectacular set pieces, a pulsating electronic score, and people meeting some very violent endings. It also happens to be the bloodiest of his films from that period. Like, ‘paint the wall red with the crimson arterial spray spurting from a severed arm’ bloody…

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