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Arash stands apart from the downtrodden populace of Bad City with his blue jeans, white tee-shirt and classic American car, but it’s his ambition for something more than this dead-end town can offer that keeps him moving. His dreams take a hit thanks to his junkie father and a local thug, but something dark and wondrous is just around the corner. Drifting through the night is a young woman (Sheila Vand) whose casual dress is complemented by a jet black chador, and while she’s a girl of very few words she’s not shy about making her intentions known. Sometimes it’s feasting on the blood of the town heavy, other times it’s dancing alone to American pop music, but when she crosses paths with Arash both of them discover a partner who may just be perfect in their imperfections.
You’d be forgiven for being immediately turned off at the idea of a black & white “Iranian vampire western,” but to avoid the film based on an official tagline that ultimately tells you very little would be an unfortunate mistake. Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut is a gorgeously-photographed and highly unconventional vampire tale about the willful ignorance sometimes required to see the best in the people we suck on and sometimes even love. It’s an acquired taste that I’d gladly keep selfishly laid across my tongue, but at the same time I can’t help but want to share it. Ignore the admittedly fantastic poster and its implication that this is a horror film, and instead seek this gem out for its unusual beauty and power to stay in your mind days and weeks after viewing. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray is a thing of beauty in its own right both in its package design and presentation.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, graphic novel, deleted scenes]
Zoe is a deaf young woman who strikes out on a road alone to join her fiance in New Mexico. She runs into trouble when she witnesses some rowdy rednecks terrorizing and ultimately killing a pair of young Native American men before being abducted by the punks for their own entertainment. The gang ultimately leaves her for dead, but when an older local attempts to save her life with ancient mumbo jumbo he inadvertently allows the spirit of a vengeful Apache warrior into her body. Soon a resurrected but rotting Zoe is avenging not only her own assault but also the suffering of past tribes at the hands of white men. And she’s a very messy avenger indeed. (As evidenced by the shot above of Zoe pulling a man’s intestines from his gut while he watches in pained disbelief.)
Director/co-writer Michael S. Ojeda’s second feature is a low-budget affair through and through, but he delivers a lot of bang for the buck thanks to a a fresh take on the genre, an embrace of the ridiculous and a sincere enthusiasm. Make no mistake, there is some goofy shit going on here ‐ it favorably recalls Ninja III: The Domination at times ‐ but Ojeda and his cast play things deadly serious. That runs the risk of hurting the film, but instead the commitment helps in the long run with the unexpected presence of real heart. The film suffers from a low budget, some simplicity in the bad guys and an unnecessary insistence on applying a grindhouse filter over the film, but damn if the movie doesn’t overcome these stumbling blocks to deliver some frequently bloody, occasionally cheesy and surprisingly heartfelt thrills.
[DVD extras: None]
Meiko Kaji stars as Akemi, the head of a local yakuza gang, who accidentally blinds a woman while killing the girl’s brother. The cat that comes in to lap up the blood makes the situation even weirder, and soon the yakuza boss feels she’s been cursed. More killing and revenge follows alongside topless women, cannibalism and a fairly weird hunchback (as hunchbacks go).
Teruo Ishii‘s film is a gleefully violent thriller paired with a sense of utter nonsense that comes through in both the story beats and character actions. It’s a gangster picture at its core, but the supernaturally-tinged tale keeps things fresh with style, violence and a sense of humor. I prefer the stronger narrative and even more striking visuals of Lady Snowblood (also starring Kaji), but there’s a lot to love here for fans of eclectic international cinema. Arrow Video US’ release appears identical (aside from an even stronger picture) to their recent UK release, but my appreciation for the film grew on a second viewing.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
Preach and Cochise are best friends making their way through life and high school in ’60s Chicago, but when the balance between fun and responsibility begins tipping too far towards the latter they realize the worry-free days of youth are at an end. Troubles with girls and teachers are forced into the background as the friends find themselves mixed up with a pair of more criminally-minded youths.
This is a solid dramatic comedy that gets unfairly lumped into the simplicity of a “black film’ categorization when it belongs in the conversation alongside the likes of Dazed and Confused or Superbad in the way it captures a time and a place during the teenage years. There are elements that speak to race, but they’re not the focal point. Instead the story finds a center that many viewers can relate to. Round it off with a fantastic period soundtrack and a brief turn from Garrett Morris, and you have a ’70s classic worth revisiting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
It’s 1997, the future, and the island of Manhattan has been converted into a maximum security prison. The only rule is that once you go in you don’t come out, but when Air Force One is hijacked and crashed inside the American President (Donald Pleasance) becomes a valuable hostage for the prisoners within. Time is short, and lacking a better option the powers that be decide to send in the recently convicted Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to rescue the president within twenty four hours.
John Carpenter’s 1981 action/sci-fi classic remains a fantastically entertaining romp through a “futuristic” urban jungle, and even 34 years later Plissken is still one of cinema’s best anti-heroes. He literally throws humanity under the bus at the end by derailing world peace! Russell provides the core wit and bravado, but the film’s supporting cast is equally strong and fun to watch including Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton and Isaac Hayes. For my money this is also Carpenter’s best score as it goes beyond just a title theme to become catchy, emotive and varied whole. Scream Factory’s 2-disc Blu-ray features a new 2K scan struck from the original negative ‐ and it looks fantastic ‐ and brings together some new extras with older ones ported over from previous releases.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurettes, deleted scene]
Tom (Anthony Michael Hall) pretty much has it all ‐ a beautiful and loving wife, a high-paying job and the respect of his numerous employees. That perfect life is shattered though when his main foreman goes missing and Tom is drawn into a twisted tale of cops, criminals and everyone in between. This is Chris Penn’s last film, and if you’re wondering how that math shakes out, yes Penn did die in 2006 and the film was only just released last year. The film’s issues go beyond his death during production though as the pacing and presentation are both distractingly unsatisfying. The performances and core story itself are fine, but they get lost amid various transition styles, onscreen text and narrative jumps. Frank Whaley co-stars, and while he’s not in much of the film his presence is always appreciated.
[DVD extras: None]
Bud (Pauly Shore) and Doyle (Stephen Baldwin) are slacker tools whose incompetence and idiocy guide them into an adventure involving a scientific experiment on a grand scale. It’s a bad sign when the opening credits are enough to make you hate a film, and things only go downhill from there. The comedy consists solely of the two leads acting like ignorant douche bags who break things, cause trouble and sexually harass female scientists, but they’re so relentlessly dumb and annoying that not even the presence of William Atherton, Joey Lauren Adams and Kylie Minogue can make it watchable.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Hank Marshall (Tommy Lee Jones) and his wife Carly (Jessica Lange) move to Alabama to further his career path, but the moral toll of his job and Carly’s increasingly improper behavior send the family into a downward spiral. There’s much to appreciate in this mid-90s drama, but it’s mostly found in the performances. Powers Boothe and Carrie Snodgress are part of that. Less successful is the story itself which moves in the opposite direction of engaging.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Lou (Lou Costello) is a widower looking after two foster kids who he loves more than life itself, but his friendship and work partnership with Bud (Bud Abbott) brings trouble to them all. Bud owes money to some bad people, and when they come to collect Lou and Bud are forced to play along until they can find a way out. This 1956 comedy was the famed comic duo’s final feature, but it shows the strength of their teamwork in fine form. As usual, Costello is the standout here both comedically and in the film’s minor attempts at drama. The laughs are less dense than you’d find in their shorter work or monster-themed mash-ups, but it’s a fine watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Dr. Michael Cayle moved his family from the big city to the small, rural town of Ashborough in order to spend more time with them, but he soon discovers that his plan may actually mean they have no more time left. Something is in the woods. Lots of somethings actually, and the locals insist he make a sacrifice to them if he wants his lovely family to stay that way. I’m a Scream Factory fan, but I’ll be the first to suggest the new films they bring to Blu-ray (as opposed to the catalog titles) frequently leave a lot to be desired. There are exceptions of course ‐ The Battery and Cockneys vs Zombies come to mind ‐ but more often than not they feel like nothing more than weak TV movies. I was worried this Chiller film would see the same fate, but the damn thing is actually a solidly crafted “monster” movie with some strong set-pieces, better than expected acting and a handful of good scares. The third act falters a bit, but overall it’s a fun watch for genre fans.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Everly (Salma Hayek) has been used and abused by an apartment full of gangsters, but she finally reaches her breaking point and takes a bloody, violent stand. The crime-boss behind the men and their actions isn’t thrilled by her behavior and sends wave after wave of foot soldiers to take her out. Big mistake. Huge. Joe Lynch’s latest is a (mostly) single-location action romp that finds occasional time to breathe and make a joke while maintaining a steady stream of mayhem along the way. It’s silly and exaggerated, but it’s still a lot of fun and a fast ride. And not for nothing, but it’s great seeing Hayak get to cut loose.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, music video]
Max (Chuck Norris) and Leo (Louis Gossett Jr.) are soldiers of fortune always up for an international adventure, but their latest might just be their last! Nah, they’ll be fine. The pair are hot on the trail of a massive treasure, and all that stands between them and it are a danger-filled jungle, a danger-filled desert and the love of a good woman. Nothing a few roundhouse kicks can’t handle. Mid-80s Norris finds the man at the end of his prime and serves as a noticeable transition into lesser fare like Sidekicks, Top Dog and others. There’s action here and attempts at comedy, but it all leaves you yearning for his more serious, ass-kicking days (ie Silent Rage, Lone Wolf McQuade).
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A young man inherits an old mansion in the Hollywood hills, but his innocent exploration of its contents leads to his being crowned as king of the Ghoulies. Or something. Possessed by dark supernatural impulses, he orchestrates a goofy assault on his friends by some demonic little turd monsters. The sequel sees the creepy little hellions hitch a ride to a traveling carnival, but when one of the employees discovers the evil causing chaos with both carnies and customers he sets out to vanquish the vermin for good. The Ghoulies franchise features four films in total, and it’s most definitely a series of diminishing returns. (Not that it starts all that high to begin with.) They’re a mix of horror and comedy, but neither element works all that well even in these first two installments. The monsters are too goofy to be scary, the humor is too broad to be funny ‐ there are some good practical effect moments though, so that’s something.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Ricky Miller (Jon Cryer) is middle-aged and single, but he hits the romantic jackpot when an online dating site pairs him with the beautiful, interesting and funny Danita. Sure she’s married and wants Ricky to kill her husband, but those are small setbacks in the quest for love. This is a mostly mediocre comedy, but it manages enough laughs to make it harmless. I also have a weak spot for Albert Brooks references, and we get a few of them here so there’s that.
[DVD extras: None]
A small, West Virginia town, still reeling from a recent mining disaster that took the lives of several miners, suffers another tragedy when a teenage boy goes missing. The teen is the son of a mine boss (Josh Lucas) who some blame for the disaster, and the only one who knows the truth about his disappearance is the less affluent and popular Owen (Jacob Lofland). Amos (Boyd Holbrook), the mining disaster’s only survivor, carries the dual weight of guilt and bodily damage, and moving between them all is the boss’ wife (Elizabeth Banks) who discovers her own growing ennui at a rich life in the face of so much loss. Writer/director Sara Colangelo crafts a finely wrought atmosphere of class distinctions, peer pressure and oppressive guilt, but while compelling performances make it worth a watch the threads never really come to fruition. Instead we’re given a peek into these people’s pains without the narrative benefit of even the hint of closure. It’s not a matter of wanting easy solutions or fixes ‐ we’re just shown a portion of their lives, and then the film ends.
[DVD extras: None]
Ian (Adrian DiGiovanni) is a slobbish, unhealthy slug of a man whose sole reason for living ‐ his television set ‐ breaks down before his eyes leading him to attempt suicide. He fails, predictably, and awakes to a voice (Jeffrey Combs) emanating from the corner of his bathroom. It’s the mold talking, and it has plenty to say starting with the wake-up call Ian, now dubbed Jack by the mold, so desperately needs. Soon he’s cleaned his home and himself up and caught the eye of a cute girl, but what this happy turn of events is destined to be short-lived. Writer/director Don Thacker’s feature is that rare creation that feels in many ways unlike anything else, and that fresh feeling goes a long way here. It’s an odd mix of black comedy, subtle thrills and gross imagery, and it works more often than not. It starts a bit rough thanks to a flatly paced first act overloaded with narration, but it develops into something interesting before long.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
The Offence (UK)
Detective Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery) has reached and passed the breaking point. A suspected child molester/murderer is in custody but refuses to offer confession or confirmation, so Johnson requests some alone time with perp that ends in violence. Sidney Lumet’s slowburn character study begins just as the act of aggression has ended at which point we alternate between what led up to it and what followed. The final act takes some interesting turns for an early ’70s feature, especially one with Connery at its core, and the result is a compelling look at one man’s disintegration.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]
Tully (Joe Anderson) is an Aryan gang-member who’s just been released from prison after a fifteen year stretch, but he finds himself in trouble again just hours later after killing a police officer. Alongside his newfound partner in crime (Dawn Olivieri) he breaks into a black family’s house and takes them all hostage, and as the law closes in the situation grows more and more combustible. There’s a lot of tension spread throughout this thriller as the players grow more and more desperate, and Anderson in particular does some incredibly strong work turning a highly unlikable character into someone with whom we can sympathize. The film also earns points for an atypical ending and a rare great performance from Danny Glover.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Bryan Taken (Liam Neeson) used to have a bad habit of misplacing things ‐ his keys, his remote control, his loved ones ‐ but he’s gotten much better since he’s stopped taking trips overseas. He’s more of a homebody now, content slicing peppers for dinner instead of slicing bad guys for Uncle Sam, but when he returns home from buying some very hot bagels and finds his ex-wife dead in his bed he knows it’s time to un-retire his very particular set of skills once again. Framed for the murder, he’s forced on the run from the police, a mysterious gaggle of Russian thugs and L.A.’s most renowned culinary detective, Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker). The quick takeaway here is that this is little more than a clone of The Fugitive, but that’s disrespectful of clones. The script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (who else?) stops trying from the opening frames, and it’s a bloodless and bland downhill trip from there. The mystery as to who’s behind the killing is as obvious as their motive ‐ that is to say very, very obvious ‐ and the path both Bryan and Det. Dotzler take to the truth is not only ridiculous but also riddled with idiocy, laughably unnecessary flashbacks and uninspired action sequences.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scene, featurettes]
A cop awakens in the hospital to discover the outside world has gone to hell in an undead hand basket. Together with his son and a handful of fellow survivors he sets out to find a safe retreat from the flesh-eating and attempted guffaws. From the writer of Supernatural Activity comes the zombie comedy you’ve been hoping to avoid. To be fair, this isn’t quite Friedberg/Seltzer levels of bad ‐ it sticks to this “universe” as opposed to mashing up the genre with pop culture references ‐ but the laughs are just so damn sparse. Fans of The Walking Dead are the explicit target audience, but that doesn’t make the jokes any better.
[DVD extras: None]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Breakin’ / Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo
Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed
The Marine 4: Moving Target
The Musketeers: The Complete Second Season
The River (Criterion)
The Strange Case of Mr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne
Where’s the Love?
The Wicked Lady (KL Studio Classics)
Related Topics: Home Video