Shawscope: Volume One (Limited Edition) [8-Disc]
(Lo Lieh, Chen Kuan Tai, David Chiang, Danny Lee, Gordon Liu, et al / 8-Disc Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: After an undisputed reign at the peak of Hong Kong’s film industry in the 1960s, Shaw Brothers (the studio founded by real-life brothers Run Run and Runme Shaw) found their dominance challenged by up-and-coming rivals in the early 1970s.
They swiftly responded by producing hundreds of the most iconic action films ever made, revolutionizing the genre through the hard work of top-shelf talent on both sides of the camera as well as unbeatable widescreen production value, much of it shot at Movietown, their huge, privately-owned studio on the outskirts of Hong Kong.
Blu-ray Verdict: This inaugural collection by Arrow Video presents twelve jewels from the Shaw crown, all released within the 1970s, kicking off in 1972 with Korean director Jeong Chang-hwa’s King Boxer, the film that established kung fu cinema as an international box office powerhouse when it hit Stateside cinemas under the title Five Fingers of Death.
As we now know, this film is best for its historical importance. This is what is considered the first martial arts hit. The film is pretty dry once you get past its historical importance.
Lo Lieh stars as a martial arts students who is training for a tournament. His new teacher teaches him an unbeatable style called Iron Fist. Whenever he uses Iron Fist his hands glow red; the parts where this happen are always cool. With this style he wins the tournament and beats up some thugs.
The film uses trampolines heavily, the choreography is good, but like aforementioned, it really falls short of some of the later masterpieces, in my humble opinion.
From there we see Chang Cheh (arguably Shaw’s most prolific director) helm the blood-soaked brutality of The Boxer from Shantung (1972).
The Boxer from Shantung is pretty much what you would get if you made Goodfellas as a Chinese martial arts film! Ma Yongzhen (Chen Kuan-tai) is a poor country boy who moves to Shanghai to seek his fortune.
Unfortunately, the times are tough and oftentimes he and his friends don’t even have enough money for a roof over their heads, but after meeting a legendary crime lord Tan Si (David Chiang), Ma realizes that the only way to move forward in this city of poverty and misery is to do so through illegal means.
Chen is a fantastic, fully-trained martial artist, whose various moves and stunts are beautiful to watch. I also like the fact that unlike in so many other martial arts films, the main character is not invincible.
Fitting for a gangster film. The last fight scene is actually pretty brutal to watch because of this, but all the more awesome for it. Definitely one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in my life and worth the price of admission by itself!
Next up are two self-produced films in his Shaolin Cycle series, Five Shaolin Masters (1974) and its prequel Shaolin Temple.
Cheh’s Five Shaolin Masters is an all-star kung fu film with five stars playing survivors of the burning of Shaolin Temple and five others as the villains who pursue them and track them down.
The heroes split up and travel the Chinese countryside rallying the people to support the faction opposing the Manchus and then reunite about an hour into the film to re-train at the burned-out temple.
Then the five villains, joined by three henchmen, arrive for the sprawling final brawl, all staged on a series of Taiwanese locations.
Clocking in at 109 minutes, the film is not quite as elaborate or full of spectacle as the other two films in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin trilogy, but it’s got a great cast of fighting stars and nonstop kung fu action and is a cut above the same director’s other, lower-budgeted Shaolin films from 1973-76 (in my humble opinion).
Then there’s the aforementioned Shaolin Temple (1982). The Tang Emperor is betrayed by one of his own generals, who installed himself as the new Emperor of the eastern region.
The population of this area are the ones to suffer, with many forced into slavery to work at his demand. Chieh Yuan and his father are two such men but, one day Chieh and his father fight back and, although the two bravely hold off the guards, his father is killed as he instructs Chieh to flee to fight another day.
Near-death, Chieh finds himself at a Shaolin monastery where he is taken in and nursed back to health. He takes up the teachings of the monks - in particular the martial arts - and prepares for the day he will meet his father’s killer. In the meantime though, he has to worry about the many rules that his new life imposes on him.
Shaolin Temple doesn’t have the greatest script and, by extension, the performances and also how much the viewer will care about the characters are also weakened.
However in regards simple physical ability of those involved in the making it is very engaging indeed. There are consistent and enjoyable scenes of martial arts action, a couple stand out above the rest, but all of them are impressive and fun to watch. Ignore the narrative, but definitely stay for the action!
Next up the package takes a detour into Ho Meng Hua’s King Kong-inspired The Mighty Peking Man (1977), one of the most unmissably insane giant monster films ever made!
Wacky, if obvious, Hong Kong made update of the classic King Kong story. The title character is an enormous ape, discovered by an expedition into the Himalayas.
Naturally, Mighty Peking Man is soon brought back to civilization where he goes on the expected rampage. Evelyne Kraft plays Samantha, an incredibly sexy blonde jungle woman who’s fond of the big guy!
While the tone is sometimes more serious than expected, this is still quite the agreeable diversion, with enough things in it to make its audience laugh.
It even gets reasonably energetic and exciting, with MPM doing an amount of damage to HK that easily rivals anything Godzilla ever did to Tokyo. Not forgetting that this was a production from those reliable folk at Shaw Brothers, this is very nicely shot in widescreen, and its special effects are quite amusing and entertaining overall (with much use of miniatures).
Oh, and the music, credited to Yung-Yu Chen and DeWolfe, is suitably rousing also, but the overall acting is of the not-so-hot stable, but admirably sincere, in all honesty.
Kraft is extremely appealing, both as a performer and a scenery attraction. Danny Lee is likewise ingratiating as Johnnie Fang, the adventurer hired to lead the expedition. We have an appropriately disgusting human villain, as well as an enjoyable title antagonist which sometimes leaves MPM with some pretty priceless expressions on his face!
Chang’s action choreographer Lau Kar-leung then becomes a director in his own right, propelling his adoptive brother Gordon Liu to stardom in Challenge of the Masters (1976) and Executioners from Shaolin.
While it’s not as profound as Martial Club, Challenge of the Masters is still a solid watch and a must for fans of the star or director. What I enjoyed about this film is the plotting, which is more intricate than expected and gives the major stars different roles to the norm.
The most standard of the bunch is Gordon Liu himself, who undergoes the usual grueling training regime found in most of his films from the era, although the twist is that he’s playing Wong Fei-hung himself.
The episodic nature of the production takes in rival school material, some comedy, some lion dance episodes, and a moralistic ending that I enjoyed.
Regular screen thugs Chiang Tao and Fung Hark-On have a good double act and there are even bit parts for the likes of Yuen Biao, Eric Tsang, and Lam Ching-Ying, if you can spot them!
The other film mentioned is Executioners from Shaolin (1977) which brings us the story of a couple who bore a son whose father is trained in Tiger Boxing and a mother in Crane style.
The son learns crane style kung fun, but he doesn’t learn the tiger style until his father loses his life battling the eunuch tyrant Pai Mei (Lieh Lo).
This brutal fighter has made his way killing anyone who would challenge his fighting style. He killed the father’s master, he’s killed the ones who have tried to avenge him and so now it is up to the son to get his revenge.
This movie is dark and there is even a little comedy vein throughout, which effectively sets up the revenge theme (a revenge theme in a kung fu flick?) to help motivate our hero from Shaolin.
Tai Chen Kuan as Hung Hsi Kuan shows formidable tiger claws style and some neat training sequences with bronze statues and vital point strikes. But I really loved watching Ying Chun (Li Li) and her crane style.
Man, if you’re going out with her, you better be able to break her leg stance! Plus, her effort and grace in movements are as good as Kara Hui’s in Fists of the White Lotus. It’s a strange, yet wonderfully hypnotic combination of kung fu and dance!
Now, the action. What do you expect from the real deal kung fu master Lau Kar Leung? Countless opponents, one on many battles, quick strikes, and amazing choreography are the strong points here.
Pai Mai’s battles are so awesome that he really seems invincible. I can’t get enough of him dragging guys along with his groin! One of the strangest, yet highly entertaining kung fu villains ever!
Not to be outdone, Chang introduces some of Shaw’s most famous faces to the screen, including Alexander Fu Sheng fighting on the streets of San Francisco in Chinatown Kid (1977) and, of course, the mighty Venom Mob in The Five Venoms and Crippled Avengers.
Alexander Fu Sheng stars as Tang Dong in Chinatown Kid, a bumpkin who illegally immigrates to Hong Kong (with the aid of his uncle) and works odd jobs whilst dreaming about becoming rich and successful.
The film also tells the story of a young Taiwanese man who just did a stint in the military who works hard and aspires to become a success. His chance comes when he’s offered a scholarship at U.C. Berkley.
Two lives that parallel each other eventually cross paths in San Francisco’s Chinatown. This film is somewhat similar to Chang Cheh’s other films Boxer From Shan tung and The Delinquent.
Both of them have the same theme and they’re all equally excellent although Ni Kuang noticeably reworks the theme by not only modernizing it but by bringing it to Chinatown.
The future Five Deadly Venoms all have small parts in this movie and sure, this movie is cheesy and preachy at times but it’s all done in jest. Alexander Fu Sheng shows that he’s a lead actor in this movie and it is truly sad that his life was cut short several years later.
Then comes the aforementioned The Five Venoms (1978). As the master of the Poison Clan dies, he sends his last student Yang Tieh (Chiang Sheng) to warn Yun (Ku Feng) that five of his students - Gao ’Scorpion’ Ji, Meng ’Lizard’ Tianxia, Liang ’Toad’ Shen, Qi ’Snake’ Dong and Zhang ’Centipede’ Yiaotian - plan on stealing the clan’s gold. Yang must fight them all or join with the ones still loyal to the clan to fulfill his dying teacher’s final request.
What follows is a series of double crosses - and triple crosses even - as the students of the Poison Clan battle to either keep the money for themselves or save it for the good of the clan. Because Yang Tieh knows a small bit of each of their five styles, he may have a chance to live. Yet who, if anyone, will be the ally he needs to win?
Cheh made more than ninety films, among them the One-Armed Swordsman series, Crippled Avengers, Kid with the Golden Arm and many more. His style of heroic bloodshed films has influenced everyone from John Woo to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.
Then comes the aforementioned Crippled Avengers (1978) which unlike The Five Venoms (and which also featured several of the performers, of course), doesn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff!
The action begins immediately, with a gang of Tian Nan Tigers storming the household of hero Tao Tien-tu (Kuan-Tai Chan), looking to teach him a lesson for his arrogance. Unable to find the master of the house, the gang kill Tao’s wife instead, by lopping off her legs, and cripple his son Tao Sheng by hacking off his arms!
No sooner has this been done, than Tao Tien-tu arrives home to see his family in pieces (literally!) and takes revenge, kicking Tian Nan Tiger ass. What a way to start a film: wholesale slaughter and dismemberment!
To further avenge his family, Tao Tien-tu spends the following years killing the remaining Tian Nan Tigers, and gets Tao Sheng — now equipped with telescopic metal arms that shoot deadly missiles from the fingers — to cripple the Tigers’ sons!
But their reign of violence doesn’t end there: the pair proceed to strike fear into the locals, maiming anyone who offends them. Blacksmith Wei Da-ti (Meng Lo), who stands up to Tao Tien-tu, pays for his bravery by being poisoned, which makes him mute, and having his ear drums burst; travelling hawker Chen Shun (Phillip Kwok) is blinded; Hu Ah-kuei (Chien Sun) has his legs cut off for accidentally bumping into Tao Tien-tu; and when martial arts expert Wang Yi (Sheng Chiang) confronts the bad guys, he has his head crushed in a vice, which turns him into a simpleton (albeit one who can still do impressive kung fu!) [Phew!!]
United by fate, the four cripples become fast friends and travel to the Eagle Mansion, home of Wang Yi’s master, where they train in the martial arts. Three years later, having overcome their disabilities though kung fu (and with the help of a pair of strap-on metal legs for Hu Ah-kuei), the foursome leave to take revenge on the tyrannical Tao Tien-tu and his equally vile son.
Featuring such blatant silliness as disabled fighters with bionic limbs, the plot for Crippled Avengers is unarguably extremely far-fetched stuff, but the crazy factor only adds to the fun of this much-loved Shaw Brothers classic!
Finally, Lau and Liu successfully meld high kicks with humor in two of their masterworks, Heroes of the East (1978) and Dirty Ho, both co-starring fan favorite Hsiao Hou.
This overlooked Shaw Brothers classic, directed by the legendary Liu Chia-Liang (a.k.a., Lau Kar-Leung), Heroes of the East is an interesting hybrid of romantic comedy and martial arts with underlying themes of honor, respect, and understanding between two clashing cultures.
The film has the usual elaborately choreographed fighting sequences (by director Chia-Liang himself, who also appears in a small cameo role, with assistance from Wei-Cheng Tang), but it’s also remarkable that there’s virtually no bloodshed and nobody dies (in addition to also being quite humorous) - all points that were reportedly stressed quite firmly by Liu Chia-Liang during the making of the film and is something that separates it from many other martial arts movies produced during that era.
Also worth mentioning is that the fights themselves are quite realistic (well, about as realistic as this sort of movie is ever likely to get), and the characters, for the most part, never perform stunts that are outside the realm of physical possibility.
Of the performances, Gordon Liu is in his usual top form in one of his earliest starring roles; he remains the noble, steadfast hero, but is also surprisingly quite relatable.
Also in fine form is the lovely Yuka Mizuno as his bride, whose character is not portrayed in a stereotypical light and who remains as dedicated to the martial arts as her husband, and gets some of the best one-liners in the whole movie.
And each of the Japanese martial arts masters accept defeat with grace and humility during each of the film’s epic duels - another rarity for this sort of film.
Finally comes the aforementioned Dirty Ho (1979) and is an unusual kung fu movie in that its main character has to hide his martial skills for much of the film in order not to give away his identity as the Eleventh Prince, who is set to be named heir to the throne of China.
The title refers to a shady character, Ho Chi (played by Wong Yue, not to be confused with Jimmy Wang Yu), a petty thief who becomes sidekick to the Prince, who is operating undercover as a merchant named Wang while trying to determine which of his brothers is trying to have him killed.
The staging is very clever and is clearly a noble effort to do something different within the kung fu genre. Director Liu Chia Liang (aka Lau Kar Leung) has mounted a good-looking historical production, with great sets and costumes, filled with encounters that are imaginative and fun to watch.
The plot is not very complicated nor is there much of the excitement one normally associates with kung fu movies, but for fans of the genre looking for something distinctive and unpredictable, this is one to savor and enjoy. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentations of King Boxer, The Boxer from Shantung, Five Shaolin Masters, Shaolin Temple, Mighty Peking Man, Challenge of the Masters, Executioners from Shaolin, Chinatown Kid, The Five Venoms, Crippled Avengers, Heroes of the East and Dirty Ho
Brand new 2K restorations by Arrow Films from the original camera negatives of King Boxer, The Boxer from Shantung, Challenge of the Masters, The Five Venoms, Crippled Avengers and Dirty Ho
Brand new 2K master of the longer international cut of Chinatown Kid from original film elements
Original lossless mono Mandarin, Cantonese (where applicable) and English audio
Newly translated English subtitles for each film
Hours of bonus features including brand new commentaries and critic appreciations on selected films, new and archive interviews with cast and crew, alternate credit sequences, trailer and image galleries for each film
60-page book featuring new writing by David Desser, Simon Abrams and Terrence J. Brady, with cast and crew info for each film plus trivia and soundtrack info
New artwork for each film by artists including Matthew Griffin, Chris Malbon, Jacob Phillips, Ilan Sheady, Tony Stella, Darren Wheeling and Jolyon Yates
Big Doll House: Digitally Remastered
(Roberta Collins, Christiane Schmidtmer, Judith Brown, Sid Haig, Pam Grier, et al / DVD / NR / (1971) 2021 / MVD Visual)
Overview: Famed exploitation director Jack Hill (Spider Baby, Foxy Brown) directs this alternately brutal and campy look at desperate women behind bars.
Pam Grier (Jackie Brown) joins a group of sexy young female prisoners in their struggle against an abusive and sadistic warden in Big Doll House.
DVD Verdict: The Big Doll House pretty much sets the template for the whole WIP genre, with the introduction of several new prisoners to a banana republic women’s jail where the head warder abuses trouble-makers for the amusement of the wicked governess.
After experiencing the suffering first-hand, the (ridiculously attractive) inmates of one cell decide to make a break for freedom.
Director Jack Hill’s film treads a fine line between straight up exploitation and tongue in cheek fun: it’s nowhere near as harsh as the average European WIP flick, but not quite as camp as Hill’s follow up, The Big Bird Cage, which emphasized the absurdity of the genre in a more playful manner.
Hence, we get an assortment of relatively light torture scenes (including that WIP favorite, electrodes on the breasts) and some bloody violence (the sudden death of one central character is particularly harrowing), all of which is mixed in with such lighter nonsense as a mess hall food fight, a spot of mud-wrestling, and the exploits of a pair of randy male fruit-sellers who dream of scoring with the banged-up birds!
With plenty of gratuitous nudity from the gorgeous gals (whose numbers include blaxploitation legend Pam Grier and Death Race 2000 babe Roberta Collins), another fun turn from Hill regular Sid Haig, and a surprisingly down-beat ending that sees all of the escapees either shot or recaptured, this is a very enjoyable slice of exploitation from one of the genre’s most dependable film-makers (Hill also gave us the excellent offbeat black-comedy/horror Spider Baby, and Grier blaxploitation classics Coffy and Foxy Brown).
This is a now Digitally Remastered Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Athens, Ga Inside-Out 2: Red Turns Into Blue
(Various / DVD / NR / 2021 / MVD Visual)
Overview: While still driven by the powerful music of the Athens scene, the new film traces the rise of a political movement in Athens-Clarke County and how it (along with many other groups within Georgia, of course) has filtered out, impacting the region and most recently arrived at the very forefront of this national moment!
DVD Verdict: Led by the success of the B-52’s and R.E.M., Athens, Georgia was the most happening music scene in the country by the mid-80’s.
Following several different bands from different genres, Athens Inside-Out 2: Red Turns Into Blue rightfully, and deservedly paints the wonderful county in Georgia as a magical artistic environment, where bands are not in competition, but co-exist in harmony.
Musical performances by Cindy Wilson of the B-52’s, Drive By Truckers, Kishi Bashi, Mariah Parker AKA Linqua Franqa, Pylon Reenactment Society (with Vanessa Briscoe Hay), Oh-Ok, Elf Power, Nihilist Cheerleader, David Barbe with New Madrid, Happyness with Peter Fancher and more.
This sequel to the 1987 original, Athens, Ga Inside-Out, goes a long way, and takes some deep dives to ultimately continue to trace the rise of a political movement in Athens-Clarke County from back in the day; and does so in some extraordinary fashion, it has to be said.
As we watch along for the 100+ minutes of simply engrossing TV, it is very noticeable that whilst still driven by the powerful music of the Athens scene, this sophomore effort’s desire to track the aforementioned rise of a political movement in Athens-Clarke County was more to the forefront than the original.
And whilst this follow-up still features music — notably Pylon Reenactment Society, Drive-By Truckers, Linqua Franqa, Oh-OK and Cindy Wilson of the B-52’s - overall one should be aware going in that the documentary is far more slanted toward being just that: something focused heavily on the Athens politico-social landscape.
Created and obviously brought out due to the fact that Athens in the 21st century bears little resemblance to that of the late 20th century entity that grew urbanly and thrived inwardly, this more political-skewed landscape that it resides under is one most definitely now one shone on by a spotlight of love and determination here in the sequel.
This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
The Fabulous Dorseys: Special Edition [Blu-ray]
(Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Janet Blair, Paul Whiteman, William Lundigan, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1947) 2021 / Film Detective – MVD Visual)
Overview: The Fabulous Dorseys (actually played by the brothers themselves) follows Tommy and Jimmy from their upbringing in Pennsylvania to their great successes in the music business.
Director Alfred E. Green (The Jolson Story) uses the film as a showcase for the tunes that charmed a generation, including I’m Getting Sentimental Over You and Tangerine.
Janet Blair (My Sister Eileen) appears with the Dorseys, while jazz buffs will enjoy cameos by Paul Whiteman, Helen O’Connell, and other stars of the day.
The film’s undeniable highlight is a jam session featuring the Dorseys and piano legend Art Tatum, guaranteed to get your foot tapping!
Blu-ray Verdict: Tommy and Jimmy were never actors, nor close brotherly musicians for that matter. Indeed, they were renowned more for fighting and feuding, as were their credentials in real life.
They even broke up their joint band in 1935 over an argument on stage about the tempo of a tune entitled I’ll Never Say Never Again. Hot of trombone, hot of temper the domineering, take charge Tommy walked off and formed his own Band.
Jimmy, the older of the two, who adopted the role in their joint band as the lay back clarinet and alto saxophonist was left with the original orchestra.
Both brothers vowed never to play with one another again and the rift lasted twelve years, till the death of their father, where they made it up in consolation to their grieving mother.
Now that the backstory is written, I shall turn my attention to this movie, which has been loving restored and transferred in 4K from archival film elements by those simply wonderful people over there at The Film Detective.
In truth, The Fabulous Dorseys is a relatively good portrayal of their respective lives, featuring their doting parents, who tried to reconcile their indifference’s but to no avail, of course.
The real substance of this movie, however, is the superb music not only of the Dorsey Brothers, whose individual careers flourished anyway regardless of the breakup, but the contribution of many other original performers such as Bandleader Paul Whiteman, and solo instrumental performances by Charlie Barnet, Art Tatum, Henry Busse, Ziggy Elman and Ray Bauduc.
There are also some wonderful vocals from Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell singing Green Eyes (both of which were actual performers in Jimmy’s band), but the real stunner is a very lovely, talented Janet Blair with a heavenly voice, effortless phrasing and natural style giving superb renditions in Tommy’s band of Marie and The Object of My Affection, and separately with a trio featuring William Lundigan as the pianist, plus bass and guitar on the simply unforgettable number To Me (on which she shines magnificently).
Tommy died on November 26th, 1956 followed by Jimmy 7 months later and despite everything about their eruptive and stormy past, they both left a legacy of great music which is still played by swing band enthusiasts to this very day.
So my advice, for what it is worth, is to have a drink, sit back, relax into a comfy chair, and watch the movie and enjoy the music. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.37:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Original Essay by Don Stradley, The Dorseys in Film
Full Commentary track by author, Jennifer Churchill
The Fabulous Forties: Big Bands on Screen, an original production by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures
(Ben Whishaw, Ellie Haddington, Ian Gelder, Jasmine Jobson, Laurence Spellman, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2021) / MVD Visual)
Overview: Joseph (Ben Whishaw) is trapped in a soulless job, living a life devoid of emotion and meaning. After an impulsive act of rebellion, Joseph unleashes a wilder version of himself.
He is propelled on a reckless journey through London, ultimately experiencing what it feels like to be alive.
Blu-ray Verdict: Joseph is reserved and withdrawn. He is all but anonymous at his place of work, as we see when colleagues tuck into the cake he has brought in to celebrate his own birthday. They gripe about the cake, they help themselves to it, but nobody knows or seems to care whose birthday it is. Joseph remains silent.
Each day he is forced into intimate proximity with strangers in his job in airport security - frisking people, having to carry out private searches, but all through his working day he must follow strict rules and is consequently deprived of any expression of his own personality.
After work he goes to see his parents for a birthday supper. His father is an angry, bullying man who sees fault in everyone but himself, his mother is cowed and acts in ways in which she appears to seek her husband’s approval. Joseph is so tense that he bites through a glass from which he is drinking and flees the house.
The next day at work, the pressure has built to a such an extent that Joseph’s mental state collapses and he walks out of the job. Then he robs a bank.
Ben Whishaw carries a heavy burden in his role as Joseph, he’s in every scene and has to convince us of his character’s mental decline. A job which he performs with great accomplishment as he draws us into the growing unreality that is Joseph’s existence.
A special mention should go to Ellie Haddington who plays Joseph’s mother. She gives her character delicate shading so that we glimpse the real woman behind the mask of the dutiful and obedient wife.
The claustrophobic feeling of sharing space inside Joseph’s head is greatly aided by cinematography, courtesy of Stuart Bentley, who uses hand-held cameras and a very shallow depth of field, and often fills the frame with Joseph, giving the impression that it is the world beyond his mental state that is the dream.
We gain further insight into Joseph’s anguish in a scene where he dismantles a hotel room and, cutting open the mattress on his bed, crawls inside as if trying to return to the womb.
Aneil Karia, director and co-writer has had made a name for himself with short films and this is perhaps where the fault lies with this, his feature-length debut.
One cannot help but wonder if the film may have had more punch had it been just an hour long. But it is, nonetheless, a striking debut with great promise for things to come.
In closing, Surge is a film that is at times almost painful to watch, such is its intensity; but it’s a remarkable feature debut, and I will certainly be looking to see what else Aneil Karia will be bringing us in the future. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Interviews with Director Aneil Karia and actor Ben Whishaw
Dark Blood [Blu-ray]
(John Leguizamo, Adriana Barraza, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2021) / Film Rise - MVD Visual)
Overview: Misael (John Leguizamo, John Wick) is imprisoned, waiting to be sentenced for a revenge crime against the man who killed his child. During his confinement, he must adapt to a new life of abuse.
His former life starts to become a distant memory as he is forgotten by his loved ones. Misael, lonely and abandoned, finds affection and tenderness in Sarna, the dog of the prison.
Blu-ray Verdict: For all intents and purposes, the always-intense John Leguizamo gives a truly powerful performance in this grim, intense Colombian prison drama.
Leguizamo plays Misael Rodriguez, who has been arrested for killing a man he claims was abusing his young son. As Misael awaits court proceedings, he adjusts to conditions in the dingy, dangerous prison, where he is somewhat inexplicably targeted by a volatile, vicious guard.
Writer-director Harold Trompetero piles on the misery for Misael, but it rarely feels gratuitous; he takes his time laying out the details of Misael’s case, which grows more disturbing with each new revelation.
Threaded in-between there are small moments of grace among the prisoners, and Trompetero’s naturalistic style gives the movie a sense of immediacy and authenticity, making judicious use of jump cuts to convey occasional manic desperation.
The guard’s erratic actions can seem frustratingly random (and their depiction could come off as homophobic at times), but the arbitrary cruelty is part of the point. Misael can’t escape the brutality, and neither can the audience. [JB] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
The Card Counter [Blu-ray + Digital]
(Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe, et al / Blu-ray + Digital / R / 2021 / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Overview: Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader’s (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) THE CARD COUNTER is told with Schrader’s trademark cinematic intensity.
An ex-military interrogator turned gambler is haunted by the ghosts of his past decisions. Redemption is the long game in this revenge thriller featuring riveting performances from stars Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, and Tye Sheridan.
Blu-ray Verdict: When we first meet William Tell (Oscar Isaac) we learn that he’s an ex-con who spent his time in the slammer learning how to count cards. Tell prowls mostly low rent casinos and plies his trade, ever careful not to draw too much attention to his mathematical edge. He wins most of the time, but never too much.
When he meets a young man along his travels, Cirk (Tye Sheridan), we also learn that Tell and Cirk’s dad are ex-military, and who participated in some of the armed forces’ darkest dealings in the war on terror under the command of Major Gordo (Willem Dafoe).
Feeling a kinship, Tell takes Cirk under his wing. Tell also encounters another card shark, La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), who proposes to him that he joins her in becoming a hired player for some big money guys who will bankroll his playing - for a large cut, but, of course.
Writer-Director Paul Schrader is no stranger to seamy underbelly of society (TAXI DRIVER, HARDCORE). The card tables, bars and hotels and motels are a natural backdrop for his characters and Schrader presents them in all their dank glory - rarely showing much sunlight.
One can almost smell the liquor and inhale the smoke abetted by Alexander Dynan’s cinematography and a highly atmospheric score by Robert Levon Been and Giancarlo Vulcano.
THE CARD COUNTER is also road picture of sorts. The main trio travel from city to city earning money along the way, one grimy dollar at a time.
All throughout his career going back to his first screenplay, THE YAKUZA (co-written with his brother Leonard and Robert Towne), Schrader has been fascinated with characters who are in pursuit of some kind of inner personal journey.
His last movie, FIRST REFORMED, centered on a minister (Ethan Hawke) who’s despair with the world around him leads him on an individual quest to right its wrongs. Tell’s backstory also haunts, and the mostly individual act of blackjack and poker playing feeds his obsessions up to a point.
The movie never glamorizes their pursuit, and it also doesn’t flinch from showing Tell’s flashbacks to his time in war (fair warning). And, for much of the picture that suffices buoyed by Isaacs’ strong if purposely underplayed performance.
It’s therefore surprising that when the picture reaches its climax it’s curiously unmoving. It’s extremely well-directed, suits the character and the story, yet feels unsatisfying. It’s an example of ending which may work on the printed page, but, still feels undernourished when presented on screen.
In closing, THE CARD COUNTER is certainly a strong reflection of Schrader as a filmmaker. It’s well done and acted, if a bit too personal a vision to be entirely transmissible to the cinema. It’s what makes Schrader’s films so compelling to watch, even if one sometimes feels like they are being left outside. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.40:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of:
• A High-Stakes World – Paul Schrader discusses developing his signature characters and how the world of poker provided the perfect metaphor for William Tell’s predicament. Features additional interviews with the film’s stars Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish as well as poker consultant, Joe Stapleton.
With the purchase of THE CARD COUNTER on disc or digital, fans are eligible to earn points towards special rewards via the Universal All-Access Rewards program. Members can redeem their points for digital movies, signed collectables, box sets, win exclusive prizes and more! For FREE registration and details please visit www.MyUniversalRewards.com.
(Art Carney, Jack Weston, Charlotte Rae, Elizabeth Montgomery, Marion Lorne, Fred Gwynne, et al / DVD / NR / (1958) 2021 / Liberation Hall - MVD Visual)
Overview: The classic stage hit gets the Hollywood treatment in the story of Elwood P. Dowd, an endlessly pleasant and delightfully eccentric bachelor living in a small town that isn’t aware that its newest citizen is a invisible, 6 foot 3 inch white rabbit named Harvey that only he sees!
After his sister tries to commit him to a mental institution, Elwood and Harvey become the catalysts for the family to heal.
DVD Verdict: What a delight this truly is, my friends, for to me early television offered more culture items in its beginning; much like this lovely little gem.
Now we can delightfully find items like this on public television, but back then there were a raft of plays and musical broadcasts. The problem was that they were usually live and if it was at all filmed, was not designed to be repeated.
Thus, Harvey (in this 1958 The DuPont Show of the Month movie version), is a most rare find for us fans of those kinds of evenings and the celluloid viewings that came with them.
Sure Art Carney is best remembered for The Honeymooners, but he is on top form here throughout as the lead role of the rabbit-seeing eccentric character and seeing Marion Lorne in the role she was born to play is marvelous, but it is also a great chance to see future stars Elizabeth Montgomery and Fred Gwynn (before they became stars on other shows).
Sure nothing will ever compare to Jimmy Stewart’s performance in the classic 1950 movie, but this version was absolutely enjoyable from start to finish and a breath of fresh TV air to rewatch now on DVD, for sure.
Even the overall quality of the production has been brought lovingly to life by Liberation Hall, especially considering the age of the show. The story line is fabulous and with this all-star cast, well, this was a true hit at my house last night; and that was with a whole new generation alongside me to watch it! This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection [Blu-ray]
(Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming, Minnie Rayner, Lyn Harding, Leslie Perrins, Reginald Owen, Anna May Wong, June Clyde, et al / 4-Disc Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / The Film Detective)
Overview: Fresh from The Film Detective, The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection features four beautifully restored classic mysteries: The Fatal Hour (1931); The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935); Silver Blaze (1937), starring Arthur Wontner; and A Study in Scarlet (1933), starring Reginald Owen.
The Sherlock Holmes Box Set comes complete with exclusive Sherlock Holmes collector’s items, fitting for every Sherlock fan to take on a case of their own.
Collector’s items include a 13-month Sherlockian calendar, featuring special anniversary dates and fun facts about the history of Sherlock Holmes; a collector’s edition Sherlock Holmes magnet; a Sherlock Holmes notebook for jotting down clues; a one-year subscription to The Film Detective app; and a Sherlock Holmes tote bag!
Blu-ray Verdict: First up us The Fatal Hour (1931) starring Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming and Minnie Rayner. A card cheat is threatened with exposure into joining a criminal enterprise that Holmes believes is controlled by Professor Moriarty.
A few of the impressionistic scenes are impressive and lend what little atmosphere is available in the technological and limited restraints of the period. There are some interesting and odd little flourishes and we have some pre-code dialog like Oh my God and Go to Hell that would become no-no’s in the years ahead.
While the dated delivery is the damper in this otherwise nice presentation and it looks theatrical, but is somewhat enhanced by the creepy characters and some dark and mysterious images. Holmes, Watson, Moriarty, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson are all respectful renditions and, as always, the game is afoot in this complex adventure; one where Sherlock’s deductions are as sound as ever.
Next up is The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935), again starring Wontner, Fleming and Harding along with Leslie Perrins. Holmes, retired to Sussex, is drawn into a last case when arch enemy Moriarty arranges with an American gang to kill one John Douglas, a country gentleman with a mysterious past.
Holmes’ methods baffle Watson and Lestrade, but his results astonish them. In a long flashback, the victim’s wife tells the story of the sinister Vermissa Valley.
In truth, this was my very first experience of their pairing, and they play off each other well, though the running gag of Watson’s nudging Holmes to be introduced to every new character wears thin after a while; although somehow, I think Holmes was sharp enough to get around to it eventually.
Holmes’ unique powers of deduction include a scene where he turns his attention to Watson’s shaving routine. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he leads Watson down a path to decoding a numerical message pointing to a murder at Birlstone Castle. Since the murder already took place, it’s up to Holmes to uncover the perpetrator.
Though the story was interesting enough, and is recommended for Holmes fans, I was dismayed by the apparent death of Professor Moriarty. Granted, this film was released in 1935, but I viewed it after seeing 1943’s Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Weapon, and 1945’s The Woman in Green.
In all three films, Moriarty meets his apparent demise by falling from a height thus I would have appreciated some originality, at least in the latter two.
Then comes Silver Blaze (1937) - otherwise also known as Murder at the Baskervilles - once again starring Wontner, Fleming and Harding. Sherlock Holmes takes a vacation and visits his old friend Sir Henry Baskerville.
His vacation ends when he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a double-murder mystery. Now he’s got to find Professor Moriarty and the horse Silver Blaze before the great cup final horse race.
Wontner and Fleming reprise their Holmes and Watson roles once again and strive to foil a plot by the villainous Professor Moriarty (Lyn Harding) and his top henchman Moran (Arthur Goullet).
This time around, the story involves a murder and the theft of a race horse in an effort to insure that a big time gambler doesn’t lose his shirt if the opposition horse wins.
There are similar elements in this film that were also used in the prior year’s Charlie Chan at the Race Track (champion horse with an altered appearance and use of a weapon at the end of the race, big time money resting on the outcome), but the stories diverge from there. They merge once again though as the case is solved by each film’s ranking detective.
I’m a little critical of Sherlock Holmes’ method in this one however. He relies on an old horseshoe belonging to Silver Blaze to make an exact match with a grassy outline in a moor a distance from the Baskerville Castle. Sure it fits, but so would just about any other horse shoe - sounds a lot like a ringer to me!
Lastly comes A Study in Scarlet (1933) this time starring Reginald Owen, Anna May Wong and June Clyde. In London, a secret society led by lawyer Thaddeus Merrydew collects the assets of any of its deceased members and divides them among the remaining members. Society members start dropping like flies.
Sherlock Holmes is approached by member James Murphy’s widow, who is miffed at being left penniless by her husband. When Captain Pyke is shot, Holmes keys in on his mysterious Chinese widow as well as the shady Merrydew. Other members keep dying - Malcom Dearing first, then Mr. Baker.
There is also an attempt on the life of young Eileen Forrester, who became a reluctant society member upon the death of her father. Holmes’ uncanny observations and insights are put to the test.
A Study In Scarlet finds character actor Reginald Owen, much better known as Scrooge in MGM’s A Christmas Carol, taking a turn as Sherlock Holmes. Owen had previously played Dr. Watson in another film so he became the only actor in cinema history to be both Holmes and Watson on the big screen.
Holmes is hired by Doris Lloyd as Mrs. Murphy whose husband at the beginning of the film met with a mysterious death in a locked train cabin. He was a member of a mysterious fraternal order of some kind whose members assets are split among the other members upon their demise.
Alan Dinehart is attorney for this group and he’s as slick a shyster as you would ever want to find. In fact Watson played by Warburton Gamble here says that Mrs. Murphy is in need of a probate lawyer more than a detective.
A Study In Scarlet is inferior Holmes, not because of Reginald Owen, but because of a really bad script that left several questions unanswered. Why is Clyde part of the group when her father’s assets should have gone to the others?
Also, why are all the killings starting at this particular point? And for the fact that there is criminal activity at work, this really is a contest of wills and belongs in probate court.
Still Owen is a fine Watson and Alan Mowbray is an interesting Inspector Lestrade, but Baker Street purists may not finish this movie in the happiest of moods.
The Fatal Hour (1931) featuring Arthur Wontner
Essay by Don Stradley
Commentary Track with Jennifer Churchill
The Adventures of Sam Sherman: Part One featurette
Recreated Sherlock Holmes Radio Broadcast
A Black Sherlock Holmes (1918) cut bonus short
A Black Sherlock Holmes (1918) uncut bonus short
The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935) featuring Arthur Wontner
Essay by Jason A. Ney
Commentary Track w/ Jason A. Ney
The Adventures of Sam Sherman: Part Two featurette
The Copper Beeches (1912)
Blind Man’s Bluff, TV episode (1954)
Silver Blaze (1937) featuring Arthur Wontner
Essay by Don Stradley
Commentary Track w/ Phoef Sutton & Jordan Legan
The Adventures of Sam Sherman: Part Three featurette
Sure Luck Holmes, Felix the Cat cartoon
Cousins of Sherlocko (1913)
A Study in Scarlet (1933) featuring Reginald Owen
Essay by C. Courtney Joyner
Commentary Track w/ Peter Atkins & David Breckman
Elementary Cinema, an original production by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures
Slick Sleuths, Mutt & Jeff cartoon
Also includes: 4 original poster replications in ease disc case.
It won’t take a magnifying glass to see that the deluxe edition of The Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection features the biggest collection of bonus materials ever released by TFD on Blu-ray or DVD.
Special features include a host of newly restored Sherlockian shorts, including Slick Sleuths (1926), Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900), A Black Sherlock Holmes (1918), Sure Luck Holmes (1928), Cousins of Sherlocko (1913), The Copper Beeches (1912) and “The Case of the Blind Man’s Bluff (1954), a Sherlock Holmes bonus TV-episode starring Ronald Howard.
Special features also include Elementary Cinema: The First Cinematic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, an original documentary by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures; Sherlock Holmes and the Blue Carbuncle, a radio broadcast recreation from Redfield Arts Audio; and exclusive introductions with filmmaker and film history icon, Samuel M. Sherman.
To top it off, each of the four discs includes its own audio commentary from esteemed film experts and enthusiasts, including author Jennifer Churchill; author and film historian Jason A. Ney; writers/producers Phoef Sutton and Mark Jordan Legan; and authors/screenwriters, Peter Atkins and David Breckman; original film posters replicated as postcards, and booklet inserts with original essays from author Don Stradley and author/screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner.
Cinedigm, the leading independent streaming company super-serving enthusiast fan bases, announced today that The Film Detective (TFD), the classic film restoration and streaming company, will release the Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection, featuring four Sherlock Holmes mysteries and special features, slated for release Dec. 21 on Blu-ray ($59.95) and DVD ($49.95).
TFD has also opened the store for its highly anticipated deluxe collector’s, limited-edition of the Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection, available to order now through Nov. 26 on Blu-ray ($69.99) and DVD ($59.99).
This limited offer, open to Sherlock fans in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, won’t last long!
Official Purchase Link
Masterpiece: All Creatures Great & Small (S1)
(Nicholas Ralph, Samuel West, Anna Madeley, Callum Woodhouse, Rachel Shenton, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / 2021 / PBS)
Overview: Fresh out of Glasgow Veterinary College, James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) follows his dream to become a vet in the magnificent Yorkshire Dales.
He soon discovers that treating the animals is as much about treating their owners, and the Dales farmers are a tough crowd to please.
DVD Verdict: At Skeldale House James gets to know his newly formed dysfunctional family; his chaotic and erratic boss Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), his wayward brother Tristan (Callum Woodhouse) and the shrewd housekeeper Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) who is endlessly steering the ship.
But when local farmers daughter Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) attracts James attention, he finds another, more enduring reason to stay in the Dales.
People like me of a certain age grew up with the wildly popular books and TV series in the 70’s so there are some who will never accept a re-filming of this tale of a vet in post WW1 North Yorkshire.
I happened to live near there and still know people who actually knew Alf Wight who wrote the books in which he renamed himself James Herriot. In the UK, this TV series was made by Channel 5 and who also produce The Yorkshire Vet reality show, which features the same vets practice still working today along with The Yorkshire Steam Railway: All Aboard which features the local preserved steam railway - The North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
But, and getting back on track (see what I did there! No? Oh well, please yourselves!), as such, Channel 5 (or PBS, as it is more widely known to be created for over here in the US) already have a track record (see what I did there ... again?!) of filming up there and thus this series has been on the cards for quite a while.
The only question was would this be up to the standard of the original and one episode in and I can shout out a rather resounding Yes! I mean, please don’t expect complex plots or action chases in this, unless you include angry one ton+ bulls or roller-coaster local roads traversed in 1930’s cars with dodgy brakes!
Just instead enjoy the Yorkshire scenery pretty much unchanged since the time it is set populated with little feel-good stories of veterinary life among the very wily Yorkshire folk. It really still is pretty much like this today and the people haven’t changed much either.
Oh, and lastly, it seems that the only change to the original series was that the writers here have opted to portray James Herriot with a Scottish accent, which the aforementioned author, James Alfred Wight, would have had, since despite being born in Sunderland, England, he was brought up in Glasgow. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Official Purchase Link
Shock (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
(Daria Nicolodi, John Steiner, Ivan Rassimov, et al / Blu-ray / R / (1977) 2021 / Arrow Films – MVD Visual)
Overview: In a career spanning four decades and encompassing virtually every genre under the sun, Mario Bava inspired multiple generations of filmmakers, from Dario Argento to Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton.
Best remembered for his gothic horror movies, for his final feature, Shock, he eschewed the grand guignol excesses of Black Sabbath or Blood and Black Lace for a more intimate portrait of mental breakdown in which true horror comes from within.
Dora (Daria Nicolodi, Deep Red) moves back into her old family home with her husband, Bruno (John Steiner, Tenebrae), and Marco (David Colin Jr., Beyond the Door), her young son from her previous marriage.
But domestic bliss proves elusive as numerous strange and disturbing occurrences transpire, while Dora is haunted by a series of nightmares and hallucinations, many of them involving her dead former husband
Is the house itself possessed? Or does Dora’s increasingly fragile grip on reality originate from somewhere far closer to home?
Blu-ray Verdict: Released in the United States as a sequel to Ovidio G. Assonitis’s Beyond the Door, Shock more than lives up to its name, proving that, even at this late stage in his career, Bava hadn’t lost his touch for terror.
Now restored in high definition for the first time, the Maestro of the Macabre’s chilling swansong disturbs like never before in this feature-laden release from Arrow Video.
Mario Bava’s final movie Shock may be far from his finest work, and will never gain the cult following of his classics like Black Sunday or Planet Of The Vampires, but it is still a very strong and effective thriller.
Dario Argento’s former lover and leading lady Daria Nicolodi (Profondo Rosso, Tenebre, etc.) plays Dora, a young woman getting over a breakdown and the aftermath of the suicide of her first husband.
With her young son Marco (David Colin, Jr the only tenuous link to Beyond The Door, which this movie was sold as a sequel to in the US), and her new husband airline pilot Bruno (Euro-horror regular John Steiner) she returns to live in her old house.
Despite the bad memories that surround it, she attempts to get on with her new life, and make a fresh start. Sadly, this is not to be. Odd things start to happen, the normally cheerful Marco begins to act out, and Dora becomes increasingly disturbed by her surroundings, believing an evil force is lurking around and attempting to drive her insane.
Bava manages to create a disturbing atmosphere throughout, which escalates as young Marco goes from disobedient to downright scary. We may have seen many basic elements of Shock before, but they are approached freshly and originally, and the incestuous undercurrents in Dora and Marco’s relationship is very rarely seen in Hollywood horror.
On a visual level, the film has more in common with other late ’70s Italian horror films than it does with the aesthetic choices Bava is typically known for, but it is no less a visually dazzling movie.
The cinematography is gorgeous, and there are a handful of brilliant camera tricks throughout, most memorably toward the frenetic and terrifying finale.
On top of (and in some cases, because of) that, the film is just legitimately creepy, from the premise itself to the way Bava visually represents the horror on screen.
The appearances of Dora’s deceased husband are bizarre, startling, and sinister, and become increasingly disturbing as the film progresses; the visual flair Bava employs in these instances has been obviously influential on a slew of contemporary films.
In closing, sure, I won’t argue that this movie is flawless, but it has more than enough interesting touches and genuine scares to make it worth watching. Bava’s reputation is increasing with every year and Shock definitely deserves another look (especially now it is here on Blu-ray via Arrow Films!) This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation
Brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative by Arrow Films
Original Italian and English front and end titles and insert shots
Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
A Ghost in the House, a new video interview with co-director and co-writer Lamberto Bava
Via Dell’Orologio 33, a new video interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti
The Devil Pulls the Strings, a new video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Shock! Horror! – The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava, a new video appreciation by author and critic Stephen Thrower
The Most Atrocious Tortur(e), a new interview with critic Alberto Farina
Italian theatrical trailer
4 US “Beyond the Door II” TV spots
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
Red Angel (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
(Ayako Wakao, Shinsuke Ashida, Yusuke Kawazu, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1966) 2021 / Arrow Films – MVD Visual)
Overview: Directed by Yasuzo Masumura (Giants and Toys, Blind Beast), Red Angel takes an unflinching look at the horror and futility of war through the eyes of a dedicated and selfless young military nurse.
When Sakura Nishi is dispatched in 1939 to a ramshackle field hospital in Tientsin, the frontline of Japan’s war with China, she and her colleagues find themselves fighting a losing battle tending to the war-wounded and emotionally shellshocked soldiers while assisting head surgeon Dr Okabe conduct an unending series of amputations.
As the Chinese troops close in, she finds herself increasingly drawn to Okabe who, impotent to stall the mounting piles of cadavers, has retreated into his own private hell of morphine addiction.
Blu-ray Verdict: Adapted from the novel by Yorichika Arima, Masumura’s harrowing portrait of women and war is considered the finest of his collaborations with Ayako Wakao (A Wife Confesses, Irezumi) and features startling monochrome scope cinematography by Setsuo Kobayashi (Fires on the Plain, An Actor’s Revenge).
In truth, I was quite simply blown away by this movie. It is incredibly beautiful and moving, and more importantly is genuinely unique to my knowledge in its approach.
I know of no other movie which has linked sexuality (it is a surprisingly sensual and erotic movie) to warfare in this way. It is also incredibly rich thematically, there is enough in this movie for a few PhDs!
The story is superficially quite simple. Nurse Sakura Nishi is posted to an army hospital in the Manchurian War, Japans war of aggression in China that some historians see as part of the initial states of WWII.
The hospital takes a ruthless approach to the injured solders, it is a case of patch them up, and get them back to the front. The amputee cases are packed off to secured hospitals in China, so the public at home never get to see with their own eyes the result of the bitter warfare.
A soldier rapes Nurse Nishi, but this is treated coldly as a minor matter by the authorities, the solder is simply packed back to the front early as a punishment. Nurse Nishi seems to treat it as part of the job.
In a remarkable sequence, Nurse Nishi cares for an armless soldier who pines for his wife at home, but realizes the military top brass will never let him return to Japan.
She cares for him, and even relieves him sexually. This is where the movie comes closest to its exploitation origins, but it is handled in a very sensitive way - Masumuru shows his incredible skill and control of the material here.
Nurse Nishi is sent to the front lines. Here she meets and falls in love with an embittered, morphine addicted doctor, Dr. Okabe. He is brutally casual with her love, knowing that they can never have a normal life together, but she slowly reaches into her humanity.
They are both then sent to a small outpost, about to be over run by advancing Chinese Nationalist soldiers. They know they are doomed - this realization opens them both up, and in further remarkable scenes they play with their role as officer and nurse, as she dresses up in his uniform and orders him around.
In the hands of a lesser director and actors this would be painful to watch, but again its handled beautifully and says more about the nature of the military, power exchange between men and women, and Japanese society than numerous other entire movies.
The movie is very brutal - it will be hard to get from your mind the images of piles of amputated limbs and the despair of soldiers who know they are on a virtual suicide mission in a war they don’t understand.
It is relentlessly anti war except for the end, where there is a more conventional set up of the Japanese soldiers defending bravely against overwhelming odds.
The movie can be criticized for an under emphasis on the roots of the war and the brute racism of the Japanese army at the time. Also, the comfort women in the movie are portrayed as Chinese prostitutes, not the sex slaves which most historians believe they were. But these are relatively minor quibbles with a movie that is relentless in its portrayal of war.
In summation, I would highly recommend anyone watching this brand-new-to Blu-ray film to see the contemporary trailer alone! It is pure exploitation fodder, obviously trying to get an audience who think it will show kinky goings on in a war hospital, almost in a Carry on Nurse type way!
Perhaps this is how Masumura sold it to his studio. This may also have influenced his decision on certain scenes, but there is no doubt that this movie deserves to be on any list of best war movies, or best Japanese movies. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original uncompressed Japanese mono audio
Optional English subtitles
Brand new audio commentary by Japanese cinema scholar David Desser
Newly filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns
Not All Angels Have Wings, a new visual essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
Where The Red Fern Grows [Blu-ray]
(Dabney Coleman, Dave Matthews, Joseph Ashton, Ned Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, et al / Blu-ray / PG / (2003) 2021 / Persik Productions – MVD Visual)
Overview: Wilson Rawls’ unforgettable classic story about a boy and his dogs has been loved for generations. Now all the adventure and simple wisdom of the cherished novel come alive in the all-new 2003 movie WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS.
What 10-year-old Billy Coleman (Joseph Ashton, Slappy and the Stinkers) wants most in the world is a hunting dog. After two long years of hard work, he saves up enough money to buy a pair of redbone hound pups, and it’s love at first sight!
Before long, Billy trains Old Dan and Little Ann to be the finest hunting team in the valley. As the inseparable trio chases the wily ghost raccoon and confront danger together, Billy learns the meaning of loyalty, courage, and perseverance.
Blu-ray Verdict: Set in the Ozarks in the 1930’s, this movie shows what kids did before computers, cell phones and video games! It also shows that life is very fragile, with ... SPOILER ALERT ... Rubin Pritchard dying by simply trying to break up a dog fight and falling on his hatchet.
But overall this is a feel good movie for the whole family, even though ... SPOLIER ALERT ... both dogs die in the end! It actually ends rather nicely with a lovely montage of Billy Coleman and his dogs, allowing us to visual know, and mentally comprehend that, and in their own ways, Dan and Lil’ Ann will live for eternity throughout the book and this movie.
In closing, there are times when deep, clever plots, and intense dialogue serve no purpose, and this film is a shining example of this. It has no pretense about what it is. It is a lesson that true beauty is found in the simplicity and innocence of a child’s world.
It is quite simply a very nice film and although I am not fond of the word nice, in this instance it serves well to describe the film. A great example that some of the so-called older films can still give modern Hollywood movies a run for their money.
This does just that and wins hands down all the way. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition (1080p) presentation of the main feature in 1.85:1 aspect ratio
Audio: 5.1 Surround
“The Roots of a Classic” featurette - Explore the story’s journey from book to film through interviews with the author’s wife and filmmakers (6:20, SD)
“Lights, Camera, Animals” featurette - Learn how the film’s animal stars were discovered and trained for their roles (7:40, SD)
Original Theatrical Trailer (1:30, SD)
Sparrows [Blu-ray + DVD]
(Mary Pickford, Roy Stewart, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Mary Louise Miller, Charlotte Mineau, et al / Blu-ray + DVD / NR / (1926) 2021 / VCI Entertainment – MVD Visual)
Overview: With Sparrows, Mary Pickford once again gave her audience what they wanted by playing the hoyden, the protector, the fighter. Mary stars as the oldest of a dozen children held hostage at what was then called a baby farm where children of unwed mothers or deserted wives were deposited and then sold illegally to adoptive parents or as slave labor.
By creating an empathetic melodrama that pulled on the heart strings, Pickford helped put a spotlight on this evil and increased public awareness and outrage.
Directed by William Beaudine, with a stunning set created by Harry Oliver and filmed by three world class cinematographers, Charles Rosher, Karl Struss and Hal Mohr, Sparrows is a beautifully stylized epic, completed just as the industry neared the end of the silent era.
Mary’s acting is not only superior, but this is her least glamorous role ever; she had to be a very confident actress to play such a character.
Blu-ray Verdict: The Library of Congress reconstructed Sparrows from the highest quality film elements, a 35MM nitrate print and a 35MM safety dupe negative.
The Foundation then commissioned an original orchestral score by Cameron and Taylor Graves which was produced and recorded at the Savannah Studios in Los Angeles.
Silent movie superstar Mary Pickford radiates tenacity and vulnerability in director William Beaudine’s outdoor Gothic thriller Sparrows, a stunning 1926 epic that looks incredibly realistic for its day, especially so when the heroine and brood of youngsters brave the perils of an alligator infested swamp.
Ostensibly, Sparrows is a crime yarn about a crippled fiend who operates a baby camp and participates in a kidnapping. The protagonist is a naïve teenage girl who has been forced to take care of about seven urchins and two babies.
They live on a baby farm and the evil proprietor traffics in human misery. He starves them and forces them to tend his vegetable garden. The title refers to God watching over all the sparrows and concerning himself with the plight of a bird.
The children and their self-appointed young female guardian pray for the Lord’s help so that they can escape from the hardship and brutality of the baby farm. Sparrows concerns the themes of woman versus nature, woman versus men, and women versus society.
Sparrows opens with this ironic preamble. The Devil’s share in the world’s creation was a certain southern swampland masterpiece of horror. And the Lord appreciating a good job, let it stand. Beaudine provides us with an aerial view of the baby farm to show us just how remote and isolated that it is in the middle of nowhere.
The preamble continues. Then the Devil went himself one better and had Mr. Grimes live in the swamp. Mr. Grimes (Gustave von Seyffertitz of Safe in Hell) is the first character that we see and he is walking with a limp. Not only is he crippled in one leg, but he also has a crippled arm.
The evil Grimes crushes a plastic doll that the mother had sent for her baby and he watches as the disfigured doll sinks into quicksand. Quicksand and swampland surround the farm like nature barriers.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Grimes, Molly (Mary Pickford in pig-tails) is flying a kite with eight children huddled around her. Molly has attached a note to the kite, and it reads: Please come and take us away from the Grimes ’cause they are awful mean to us. We can’t get out the gate and the swamp is filled mud. Signed Molly and seven infants and one baby.
After Molly turns the kite loose, everybody kneels and Molly prays: Lord, our other kite done no good ’cause I guess Your angel had his mind on his harp. Couldn’t you ’tend to this one personal? A different title card appears: But He in His infinite wisdom had other plans.
The kite is shown crashed and out of reach. The gate to the baby farm has a bell attached to it and Molly conceals the children in the barn when the bell clangs. Molly explains that they must hide ... because that old alligator Grimes don’t want nobody to know we’re here.
When a child quizzes Molly about God’s lack of action on their behalf, she defends the Lord: He’ll help us if we keep on prayin’. He’s pretty busy watchin’ every sparrow that falls.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see where the filmmakers found the title to their movie. A disgruntled little boy inquires of Molly: How come them sparrows got such a pull with Him?
On many occasions, Grimes has threatened to run the lot of them into the swamp. Ironically, Grimes hates babies and even holds his own son in contempt. While Molly is dancing a jig to amuse a baby, Ambrose Grimes (Spec O’Donnell) hurls a clod of weds at her. She responds in kind and hurls the clod back.That Molly’s been a troublemaker since she came here. I’m going to shove her in the swamp. Mrs. Grimes (Charlotte Mineau of Should Husbands Pay) rebukes her husband: Some day you’ll shove one too many in the swamp.
Meanwhile, Molly must supervise the children and maintain morale and discipline. We are shown three times how treacherous the quicksand is in the swamp.There ain’t no bottom to them danged boy holes.
The turning point comes when Grimes becomes an accomplice to a kidnapping. The police are closing in on the kidnappers, and Grimes decides to ... chuck the baby in the swamp. The baby is a cute, chubby little cherub, Doris Wayne (Mary Louise Miller of Satan in Sable) with golden curls.
Obviously, Molly refuses to let this happen for already she has lost a baby that died of malnutrition. There is a poignant, surreal scene where an angel comes to fetch the dead child from the cradle of Molly’s arms. Grimes and the kidnappers chase Molly into the swamp, and Molly finds a boat to make good their escape.
The police pursue the villains, capture them, and save Molly and her children. Eventually, Grimes dies in the swamp, and the police return the baby to her father.
Not long after Dennis Wayne (Roy Stewart of Fargo Express) brings Doris home, his little daughter rebels against her father and the nursery maid. Dennis negotiates with Molly to come live under his roof and tend Doris, but Molly declines the offer until Dennis assures her that he can build additional space in the house to hold the others.
In closing, Sparrows is a surprisingly elegant little thriller, and the last half-hour sizzles with excitement. Gustave von Seyffertitz steals the shows as the malignant miscreant.
Final Justice (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
(Joe Don Baker, Bill McKinney, Venantino Venantini, Patrizia Pellegrino, et al / Blu-ray / R / (1984) 2021 / MVD Visual)
Overview: The stellar talents of Joe Don Baker (Fletch, GoldenEye), whose stirring portrayal of the legendary Buford Pusser of “Walking Tall” brought him instant acclaim, highlights this fast-paced action/adventure of a Texas sheriff determined to apprehend Mafia killers is this 1980’s cult classic produced, written and directed by Greydon Clark (Without Warning, Joysticks).
Thomas Jefferson Geronimo, III (Baker) is a deputy sheriff working in a small town in South Texas. When Joseph Palermo (Venantino Venantini, Ladyhawke) and his brother Anthony, two Mafia hitmen, attempt to escape across the border into Mexico, Geronimo moves into action.
With lightning speed he kills Anthony and captures Joseph, but Geronimo’s fight with the underworld isn’t over yet. He is ordered to escort Palermo back to his native country, Italy.
But Geroinimo is unprepared for the battle that awaits him as Palermo’s cohorts plan for their expected arrival and plot to halt his FINAL JUSTICE.
Blu-ray Verdict: For my money, Final Justice is an exquisite film starring the famous cartoon character and role-model to all Maltese children, Goosio!
Co-starring Joe Don Baker, the film follows Baker’s (playing Sheriff Geronimo) exploits around the island of Malta where he is chasing an Italian mobster who shot his partner.
Joe Don makes sure EVERYONE differentiates his role in life as a Texas lawman from the uncomfortable restrictions of American police officer. For it seems being a Texas Lawman gives the sheriff the added benefits of being able to torture people, threaten women, and shoot at gangsters holding kids dressed like Napoleon hostage, and last, but not least, dress like a total buffoon!
Remind me never to go to Texas!
Anyway, despite facing such huge oppositions as Malta’s lack of Malox, wimpy, unarmed Maltese police officers, and people pouring beer on his snake-skinned boots, Joe Don manages to get the job done.
Certainly, and so it seems, Joe Don is a hero all children should look up to as we marvel as Joe Don challenges his foes to Go ahead on before every gun battle!
Furthermore, Joe Don can delivery material that would sound ridiculous coming out of another actor, and that’s what’s so great about him. He really seems to mean what he’s saying, regardless of how cliché, obvious or silly, which puts him in a league with Tommy Lee Jones, Oliver Reed and Don Stroud.
I am actually, truly amazed at how such impactful dialogue escaped the attention of the academy. Seriously, this film would be pretty entertaining even without any new commentaries or additions to bolster it, but, in my humble opinion, only for those with no shame, of course!
In conclusion, I have always enjoyed the films of Greydon Clark, who is a no-nonsense director in the same vein as ’70s Clint Eastwood, and this is one of his best. Ergo, Final Justice is one of the lost gems of the late ’80s, similar to Man On Fire in its true grit and violence. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition (1080p) presentation of the main feature in 1.78:1 aspect ratio
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo
NEW! Audio Commentary with Tony Piluso, Newt Wallen and Crystal Quin of ‘Hack the Movies’
NEW! “The Making of Final Justice” featuring all-new interviews with writer / director / producer Greydon Clark, editor Larry Bock and cinematographer Nicholas Josef von Sternberg (74 mins, HD)
ABBA Forever: The Winner Takes It All
(Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, et al / DVD / NR / (2019) 2021 / Pop Twist - MVD Visual)
Overview: ABBA Forever: The Winner Takes It All is the story of the members of ABBA, from their first meeting 50 years ago up to today (well, 2019, to be precise).
Linking together songs, interviews and contributions from admirers and colleagues, this is the ultimate celebration of the Swedish supergroup.
Indeed, ABBA Forever: The Winner Takes It All is the definitive up-to-date telling of the ABBA story, with all four members of the band, interviews and special sequences filmed with them, rare archive, and a feast of ABBA songs.
Guests include costume designer Owe Sandstrom, producer Pete Waterman, broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, and ABBA engineer Michael Tretow.
DVD Verdict: In truth, and as I am sure you could have already guessed, this entire recording is a truly wonderful gift for ABBA fans, with interviews with Benny, Frida, Agnetha (albeit from afar, so to speak) and Bjorn as they look now, along with many of the people involved in the work behind ABBA down through the years.
It also contains a lot of extended clips of them singing, such as the original video of the presentation of the band singing Waterloo at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974.
Although not a video greatest hits package, especially as each song they start is interrupted by the band, who add their own narration of the story behind the song and such, it is still something that every ABBA fan should most definitely own.
Getting personal within the ranks, the band reveal a little more than they have perhaps before about the story of the band, inclusive of even touching on their divorces along with their own personal feelings about other stars and such (past and present).
ABBA even delve into some technical aspects about their music and the way they themselves approached the writing and recordings of some of their songs.
This production even showcases previously-unreleased images of the group on stage and in the studio, even on their own island where Benny and Bjorn created most of the songs!
In conclusion, ABBA Forever: The Winner Takes It All is an incredible addition to any fans’ collection and along with their just-released new album, well, what a time it is now to be an ABBA fan after all these quieter decades! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of an Original Theatrical Trailer.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey
(Judith Anderson, Theodore Bikel, Hume Cronyn, Rita Gam, Viveca Lindfors, et al / DVD / NR / (1958) 2021 / Liberation Hall - MVD Visual)
Overview: A friar is tried by the Inquisition for questioning God’s intentions when five die in the collapse of an Andean bridge. In early 18th century Peru (1714), an old Inca rope bridge over a gorge in the Andes, collapses, plunging five travelers to their deaths.
Brother Juniper, who was within minutes of being on the bridge himself, becomes obsessed with discovering how five people of differing class and circumstances came to be on the bridge at that moment.
The Catholic friar wants to know if it was mere existential happenstance or part of God’s cosmic plan. After researching the lives of the victims for five years and publishing his findings in a book, he is accused of heresy by the worldly Archbishop of Lima and put on trial for his life by the Inquisition.
DVD Verdict: This wondrous b/w teleplay is set in the early 1700s in Peru. An old rope bridge over a gorge collapses, killing five persons. Brother Juniper conducts a lengthy investigation of the lives and backgrounds of the five victims. The play follows Juniper’s investigation and examines the lives prior to the accident.
A church council then examines Brother Juniper’s book recounting his findings and determines the book to be heresy. Thus both Brother Juniper and his book are publicly burned.
The program was broadcast by CBS on January 21st, 1958, as part of the television series, DuPont Show of the Month. Robert Mulligan was the director and the production was reported to have used a record number of cameras and was watched by an incredible 47% share of the available audience.
Watching it again today here on DVD, it is obvious why it was so highly praised at the time for its lush production standards and trio of overall quality, taste and acting competence.
With some of the on screen performances resonating as simply inspirational and out and out magnificent, I would be at journalistic fault here if I didn’t single out Judith Anderson and Eva Le Galliene, in particular.
I mean, back then, I wonder if television had not known many such moments as those that were being acted out on screen here, for those two noted actors were on top of their game from the off.
Also I should pay mentioned to Theodore Bikel as Capt. Alvarado, yet another stand out performance from the TV regular for decades, and the trio of Hume Cronyn as Uncle Pio, Steven Hill as Esteban, and an excellent, almost transcendent Viveca Lindfors as Camilla, la Perichole. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Calling for Love
(Karissa Lee Staples, Tajh Bellow, Marisa Brown, et al / DVD / NR / (2020) 2021 / Film Rise - MVD Visual)
Overview: Podcaster Sam Sanders is assigned to host a show that reunites lost loves. Even though Love is the last thing on her mind, Samantha falls for charming Jake who calls in with a problem. Will Samantha follow he heart this time?
DVD Verdict: Originally entitled Chasing the One, our central character Jake is made out to be this charmingly innocent, lovingly haphazard to his own detriment, but quickly into this hour and a half movie, we learn that he is actually nothing more than an idiot!
Convinced he has found his true love in a woman he has casually interacted with for all of a heartbeat of a minute, she is not that much more grounded in her life either!
For Sam is a butterfly that falls for a guy that would have been perfect in a Cheech and Chong movie, if all truth me told!
I mean, Jake is bad enough all on his lonesome, but Sam - from the moment she shows up on screen - seems very shallow and self-absorbed. She doesn’t listen to anyone, even when what they are saying made a lot of sense and she is immediately scornful of Jake and almost everything about him (and yet she barely knows anything about him!).
Anyway, like the pathway trod by most all these types of movies within this particular genre, Sam’s rough edges seem to soften out and Jake’s stupid nature seems to become stabilized, and, of course, they end up together.
All that said, and for all it is worth, Calling for Love does feature an interesting premise and some great writing (a very welcome surprise) and, at times, the dialogue is sharp and witty. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
A Wedding To Remember
(Cristina Rosato, Greyston Holy, Rebecca Olson, et al / DVD / NR / (2020) 2021 / Film Rise - MVD Visual)
Overview: On opposite sides of a development project, Olivia and Brian are surprised to find they are the Maid of Honor and Best Man at the same wedding.
They have to put their feelings aside to save their best friends’ wedding - which may turn out to be their own as well.
DVD Verdict: For some, the overriding question they have is: Why would a person, in support of a community garden, think that the benefits to the community come close to being more important than affordable housing?
I mean, sure, we have to take these kinds of movies with a huge pinch of salt, most times, but that one startling fact does admittedly stand out as something to have to wrap your head around before you allow yourself to proceed deeper within it.
Regardless, and onward and upward, and with the whole Shelter vs. The benefits of mental wellbeing of working the soil pushed aside for the time being, next up is the question of why an engaged couple, so divergent on family and location verses job opportunities, should have decided to leave this seemingly insurmountable divergence until just two days before the wedding to subsequently disengage!
Our two leads brought together in a random act of fate on this most auspicious day are then suddenly roped into the Bride and Groom’s big upheaval of a wedding day mess, and although they don’t necessarily concentrate on the issues separating the couple, as a whole, do manage to at the very least rekindle the happy couples’ loving spark!
In closing, and as formulaic as it honestly is (albeit an enjoyable genre romp should you be in the mood for one), the beautiful location in West Kelowna, BC, Canada makes every scene as cinematically lovely as one could ever hope for (especially on your wedding day, of course!). This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and which comes with English Subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired.
Sleep (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]
(Gro Swantje Kohlhof, Sandra Hüller, August Schmölzer, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2020) 2021 / Arrow Films - MVD Visual)
Overview: Nightmare and trauma. Fear and repression. Guilt and atonement. Weaving together the emotional violence of horror with the cryptic motifs of German folk and fairy tales, Arrow Video is proud to present Sleep, the debut feature from a major new talent in world cinema.
Tormented by recurring nightmares of a place she has never been, Marlene (Sandra Hüller, Requiem) cannot help but investigate when she discovers the place is real. Once there, she suffers a breakdown and is admitted to a psychiatric ward.
Determined to discover what happened to her, Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof), her daughter, follows and finds herself in Stainbach, an idyllic village with a dark history.
What is it that so tormented her mother, and the people of Stainbach? What is the source of the nightmares she suffers? And who is the mysterious Trude that lives in the forest?.
Blu-ray Verdict: Marlene (Sandra Hüller) is a flight attendant who suffers from severe nightmares, from which she awakens to draw sketches of her dreams.
Her adult daughter Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) takes care of her, but believes her when she says she’s scheduled for a flight to Turkey. Instead, Marlene follows her dream sketches to a hotel in the remote heartland of Germany, a town called Stainbach; but is soon hospitalized after a psychotic break at the hotel.
Mona finds her, decides to stay at the same hotel run by Otto (August Schmölzer) and his wife Lore (Marion Kracht), but soon finds that the past is very much with the present in this hotel. This includes the suicides of the three founders, Otto’s mentors, and the fact that Otto needs to be tethered to his bed to prevent him getting out at night.
Admittedly that is a very vague outline of this very highly effective movie, which is really a deep dive into how the past affects the present, how bygone evil deeds and beliefs can retain their allure for some people, and how, sometimes, it’s hard to know what reality truly is.
In truth, I expected to be scared by this movie, mostly because of its framing, but I never really got that jolt of adrenalin from fear because it is far more subtle than that.
Instead, I ended up finding myself thinking a lot about uncomfortable subjects such as the resurgence of fascism that has never really left us, and how easily it can come back!
But I digress for, and in closing, Sleep is most definitely a good, solid watch due to including social commentary and references to German history, though some are bound to miss their intended mark to all outsiders of the country, of course. Highly recommended. [AC] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original DTS-MA 5.1 audio
Optional English subtitles
Audio commentary by film critic and historian Kim Newman & author Sean Hogan
A Strange Dark Magic, a visual essay by film scholar Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Sleepwalking through National Trauma, a visual essay by film critic Anton Bitel
Dream & Folktale in Sleep, an interview with anthropologist, dream researcher, and filmmaker Louise S. Milne
This is No Dream, a short introduction by director Michael Venus and star Gro Swantje Kohlhof
Talking in their Sleep, director Michael Venus and star Gro Swantje Kohlhof in conversation
A Dream We Dream Together, a compilation of film festival introductions created during lockdown by director Michael Venus and the cast of Sleep
Making Dreams Come True, a glimpse behind the scenes of Sleep
Marlene’s Sketches, explore the many obsessive dream journal sketches that are only glimpsed in the film, created by artist Christoph Vieweg, presented here in full
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Oink Creative
Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Alison Peirse, an interview with director Michael Venus, and Brothers Grimm fairy tale Frau Trude
Double-sided fold-out poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by Oink Creative
Sylvia Kristel 1970s Collection
(Sylvia Kristel, et al / 4-Disc Blu-ray + Book + Poster / NR / 2022 / Cult Epics)
Overview: The summer of 1952 had just slipped into the fall when Sylvia Marie Kristel was born in Utrecht, one of the Netherlands’ most prominent cities.
A dreamer and a loner with a near-genius I.Q., Sylvia escaped her often sad childhood with thoughts of dance, music, and especially film.
Those vivid dreams would become a reality before Sylvia’s twentieth birthday when Scorpio Films co-founder Pim de la Parra cast her in Frank en Eva (1973) in a role he had written specifically for his young discovery.
Sylvia’s early supporting work in three memorable Dutch films quickly led her to France after being cast as the lead in Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle (1974), which solidified her as one of the most essential and groundbreaking stars of the Seventies.
Sylvia’s career exploded as Emmanuelle became one of the highest-grossing French films in history. Even though Emmanuelle remains her most famous part, Sylvia appeared in well over a dozen more films before the decade’s end, including the four found in this collection.
The set’s two Dutch films are co-starring Rutger Hauer, and Sylvia at the peak of her career. Submitted for the 1978 Academy Awards - Best Foreign Film, Wim Verstappen’s PASTORALE 1943 is a war drama centered on the Dutch resistance during World War II, and also features the debut of Renée Soutendijk.
Painter turned director Paul de Lussanet’s romantic psychological drama MYSTERIES, based on the world famous novel by the Norwegian nobel prize winner Knut Hamsun and shot by renowned cinematographer Robby Müller, also stars Rita Tushingham and David Rappaport.
Filmed and released right after Sylvia became one of the world’s biggest stars as EMMANUELLE (1974), Sigi Rothemund’s 1974 film JULIA is a German sex comedy drama, with Sylvia as a young boy’s first love, foreshadowing her later U.S. commercial hit PRIVATE LESSONS.
Blu-ray Verdict: First up is PLAYING WITH FIRE (Le jeu avec le feu, 1975). When Carolina, the daughter of wealthy banker Georges de Saxe, is reported kidnapped, it is upsetting to him even though he knows it is not true.
The kidnappers have taken the wrong person. The banker hires Frantz a disheveled, seedy detective to find his daughter and hide her safely away. She soon finds herself in a fantasy-land whorehouse, where all kinds of extreme perversions are routinely practiced.
There, a near-double of her father whips and then seduces her. Eventually, she and the private eye escape or leave, having extorted the kidnapping money from the girl’s father.
A series of elegantly kinky erotic tableaux, strung together by a mock-thriller plot, this may be Alain Robbe-Grillet’s most linear and accessible film. Mind you, an accessible Robbe-Grillet is like a good Ben Affleck movie. Strictly a relative term, and allowances have to be made.
The plot has Philippe Noiret as a corrupt tycoon teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Desperate to raise a few francs, he decides to fake the kidnapping of his own daughter (Anicee Alvina) and pocket the ransom. He locks the girl up for safe keeping in a deluxe Art Nouveau brothel, where he himself is a regular client.
In real life, this brothel is the interior of the Palais Garnier - for years the theatre of the Paris Opera. This may be symbolic in some highly obscure way; offscreen voices keep warbling snatches of Il Trovatore.
The randy Robbe-Grillet, meanwhile, indulges in all his usual fetishes: torture, lesbianism, necrophilia. One young lady has a close personal friendship with a mastiff hound!
Participating in the fun and games are a young and exceptionally lovely Sylvia Kristel and French soft-porno legend Joelle Coeur. The images are so glacially beautiful, they look like a Helmut Newton photo album sprung to life.
Yet are we to take this as a serious avant-garde experiment in the style of Alain Resnais? Or is it just a slice of arty smut? Robbe-Grillet himself seems not to know the answer. Or if he does, he’s keeping it well hidden.
The comes PASTORALE 1943 (1978) where in a Dutch village during the German occupation, a small group of badly organized resistance fighters attempt to assassinate a collaborator.
In the movie where Sylvia Kristel received no salary - refusing it, stating that the production could not afford her anyhow - Pastorale 1943 is based on a novel by the famous Dutch writer Simon Vestdijk and is a view on the activities of Dutch-resistance during WWII.
No heroes, these people, but men and women who made mistakes - quite a few - and with human feelings and faults riddled through them, one and all.
For me, the movie gives good insight in how a well meant act of resistance (against the German occupation in WWII) goes awry, due to incompetent and amateurism leadership under which they blindly followed.
The picture it paints of the Dutch resistance is not flattering, but it also shows how difficult it was for the well meaning members to effectively organize themselves and arm themselves against collaborators and traitors.
The cast of the film is great, especially Renee Soutendijk as a farmers daughter and Frederik De Groot as a young school teacher, who is also the leading member of the resistance group.
Rutger Hauer has an impressing bit part as the Nazi brother of De Groot, although he only pops on screen with just five minutes to go and Sylvia Kristel excels in her small roll as Miep Algera.
In closing, Verstappen directed this film with just the right touch, with attention to much of the small details. Also pertinent is the effective camera work by acclaimed photographer Marc Felperlaan.
That is followed by MYSTERIES (1978) where a wealthy visitor to a small town befriends a midget and gets involved with two women as his behavior becoming ever stranger.
Based on a novel of the Norwegian Nobel prize-winner, Knut Hamsun, this romantic psychological drama takes place during the last century and depicts a wealthy mysterious traveler, Johan Nagel (Hauer), who decides to make an extended stay in a small rural town.
He becomes the immediate friend and protector of the town’s much-abused midget (played wonderfully by David Rappaport, himself making his theatrical movie debut) and is tormented by his feelings for two local women - the beautiful yet spiteful and unattainable Dany Kielland (Sylvia Kristel) and the beautiful and innocent Martha Gude (Rita Tushingham).
The movie was shot on location on the Isle of Man, and the picturesque natural scenery throughout adds greatly to the rich atmosphere of the film (nature is a prime element in Hamsun’s novels).
As far as the sex goes, there are some suggestive scenes and nudity, but nothing too explicit. It’s mostly left to the imagination, which is nice (quite unlike most Dutch films I’ve seen).
The acting I thought was first-rate, and Rutger Hauer is well cast as the unfathomable Johan Nagel. It was interesting to see Hauer in his younger days, before he crossed the Atlantic to follow his career in Hollywood (he also learned how to play the violin for this movie!)
The last movie is JULIA (1974) and is all about the titular Julia, a young girl who is trying desperately to lose her virginity.
Julia, entitled after the character Juliet (of Shakespeare fame), covers all the bases of coming of age drama; betrayal, sexual frustration, loss of innocence, and both the joy, and sadness that can come from the first sexual experience.
Nice surreal touches are included here as well, especially when it focuses on this kid’s off-the-wall, wacko family! My sides hurt from laughing so much at the absurd situations and predicaments these people find themselves in!
I have to say, I absolutely love this film, the story, the characters, the gorgeous cast, the pretty cinematography and the wonderful artistic touches, and oh-so much more - and especially the bizarre comedic elements which made this a fun experience.
There are some powerful emotional scenes too, of which I admit I was not expecting, such as the love scene filmed inside the Colosseum in Rome.
Truth be told though, that turned out to be rather heartbreaking and comes complete with a downright distasteful betrayal that nobody should ever have to endure. Regardless, Julia is a right royal gem of a film and I think all fans will enjoy settling in with this the moment they bring it home! Highly recommended. These are all High Definition 1080p (1.66:1 and 2.35:1) presentations enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
New 2K HD Transfers (from original 35mm film elements) and restoration
Audio Commentaries by Tim Lucas, Jeremy Richey, and Peter W. Verstraten
New and vintage interviews with cast & crew
Poster & Photo Galleries
Original Theatrical Trailers
Limited Edition of 2500 copies includes 40-Page illustrated booklet written by Jeremy Richey and Poster with Art by Gilles Vranckx.
From Emmanuelle to Chabrol is a new upcoming Sylvia Kristal hardcover coffee-table book so be sure to CLICK HERE to make a purchase.
The Jack in the Box: Awakening
(Matt McClure, Mollie Hindle, James Swanton, Nicola Wright, et al / DVD / NR / 2022 / 4Digital Media)
Overview: Terminally ill heiress Olga Marsdale acquires a mysterious gothic box containing a captured demon - Jack. The powerful entity within makes a deadly deal with Olga and her devoted son Edgar - deliver six victims to Jack and Olga will live.
They trap several unsuspecting victims for him within the vast crumbling mansion, but can they deliver all six before it is too late? Or will Amy, the young and innocent woman recently hired to look after the estate turn out to be more than a match for both the family and the Jack?
DVD Verdict: These supernatural Jack in the Box movies are, without a shadow of a doubt, what nightmares are made of! The underlying score is hauntingly good, the sound effects as good as they get (for a B-movie), and the actual Jack (he of the box) with its evil, creepy eyes, basically a demon clown with scary, excellently constructed make-up, all come together to ensure you will have a horribly restful night after watching!
As aforementioned, a terminally ill heiress Olga Marsdale (Nicola Wright, herself wearing some aged make up and looking the part perfectly) acquires a mysterious gothic box containing a captured demon - Jack.
The trouble is, well, aside from curiosity, is that together with a collection of supernatural rules that govern it - such as if you pop it open you give the demon associated with it access to our world and it either goes on a killing spree or has you do its dirty work for it - once open the powerful entity within makes a deadly deal with Olga and her devoted son Edgar (Matt McClure) - to deliver six victims to Jack (James Swanton) and Olga will live.
Now wholly devoted to this rather disturbing-looking clown within the box that seems to appear at will - whether you have cranked the toy box handle or not - the pair trap several unsuspecting victims for him within the vast crumbling mansion.
The trouble is, can they deliver all six before it is too late? Or will Amy (Mollie Hindle), the young and innocent woman recently hired to look after the estate turn out to be more than a match for both the family and the Jack?
The answers are all revealed as the movie continues on, but along the way the clown has some devilish fun with these two; perhaps, in truth, a little bit too much fun, given that he wants them to actually finish the trial!
On an interesting side note, in life the whole Jack in the Box creation apparently has French origins and the French refer to them as diable en boîte (which translates as devil in a box)!
In closing, The Jack in the Box: Awakening might well be a low budget, horror B-movie, but at its core is an emotional journey, complete with backstory of both the human occupants and of the gruesome clown itself, which definitely add to the watchability of the film.
Chock-full of some very effective sequences of tension building too, the only thing I would say that I wish they had shown more of was the kills! They were, for the most part, done off camera (due to budget constraints, one assumes) and it would have been nice to see them within a horror movie that goes as far as this one tries to. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
The Toolbox Murders: 4K Ultra HD [2-Disc]
(Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure, et al / 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray + Blu-ray / R / (1978) 2021 / Blue Underground - MVD Visual)
Overview: In a quiet apartment complex in Los Angeles, a deranged handyman goes on a killing spree, savagely murdering immoral women with the tools of his trade - claw-hammers, screwdrivers, power drills and even a deadly nail gun!
But these gruesome massacres are just the beginning of this landmark epic of violence and depravity that was vilified by critics, banned by censors, and treasured by splatter fans worldwide!
Blu-ray Verdict: As I’m sure all fans of cheesy 70’s and 80’s horror films will already know, the now infamous Toolbox Murders was one of the nastier grindhouse horror movies to achieve commercial success and attain an enthusiastic cult following.
A series of bizarre murders begins taking place in a Hollywood apartment complex, and the victims are exclusively independent young women. Eventually (** SPOILER ALERT **), we come to realize that the murders are being committed by the hotel’s manager (Cameron Mitchell), who is targeting immoral young women as his victims.
It seems that his daughter was killed in a car crash after having gotten involved in sex and drug related activities. He is now on a crusade to rid the world of women who have gone down a similar path.
In a genuinely twisted subplot, he has become obsessed with a virginal girl in one of the apartments, whom he fantasizes as replacing his daughter. He kidnaps her and keeps her tied to his bed while he goes out and hammers and nail guns his victims.
It leads up to one of the most harrowing and unsettling finales I’ve ever seen in this type of movie. As you can tell, the plot itself is as sordid as one could have thought up and although it isn’t nearly as vile as, say CANNIBAL FEROX or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, Toolbox Murders is the kind of slasher movie that makes me completely understand all those vocal groups denouncing the entire subgenre!
But whilst there’s no question that the movie is sexist, it never crosses the line into rampant misogyny. Even the movie’s now infamous highlight, in which a nude woman is chased throughout her apartment by the nail-gun wielding killer, the victim manages to keep her cool and even tries to reason with the killer (albeit unsuccessfully) despite being in a most vulnerable position.
In closing, there is definitely enough style to make things interesting throughout, even given today’s mass market releases professing to be of the same ilk of genre and it moves along at a decent pace, so it never gets boring.
I mean, sure, it’s no Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original), but it delivers what it promises, something that too many horror movies fail to do. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.66:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
WORLD PREMIERE! New 4K 16-Bit Restoration from the uncut original negative
Ultra HD Blu-ray (2160p) and HD Blu-ray (1080p) Widescreen 1.66:1 Feature Presentations
Audio: English: Dolby Atmos; English: 5.1 DTS-HD; English: 1.0 DTS-HD
Subtitles: English SDH, Français, Español
Audio Commentary #1 with Producer Tony DiDio, Director of Photography Gary Graver and Star Pamelyn Ferdin
NEW! Audio Commentary #2 with Film Historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
NEW! Drill Sergeant – Interview with Director Dennis Donnelly
NEW! Tools Of The Trade – Interview with Star Wesley Eure
NEW! Flesh And Blood – Interview with Actress Kelly Nichols
I Got Nailed In THE TOOLBOX MURDERS – Interview with Actress Marianne Walter
NEW! Slashback Memories – David Del Valle Remembers Cameron Mitchell
NEW! They Know I Have Been Sad – Video Essay by Film Historian Amanda Reyes and Filmmaker Chris O’Neill
NEW! Poster & Still Gallery
Limited Edition embossed slipcover (First Pressing Only)
(Dennice Cisneros, Nico Bellamy, Laura Kennon, et al / DVD / NR / 2022 / 4Digital Media)
Overview: When an injured bat transforms into a handsome vampire, struggling horror novelist Olivia Romo hides him in her garage to protect him from a vampire hunter.
Besotted by the creature, she feeds him animal blood, but any chance of romance is soon thwarted when a gang of fellow bloodsuckers invade her home in search of their missing friend.
DVD Verdict: So after our heroine has gathered up the bat, put it into a box in the garage, and gone to bed, she awakes in the morning, goes to check on the poorly wee thing ... and finds instead that it has turned into a bloody Vampire!
Injured, and weak, he is at her mercy, she nurses him back to health using pig’s blood and once recovered enough to converse with her, in return, he allows himself to be interviewed to get the facts straight for her new novel!
A little convenient, I’ll grant you, but amazing it works from the off in drawing you in and allowing you to eagerly follow the one-trick storyline enough that you forget to question when certain things happen (or don’t, as the case may be!)
However, some of his friends come calling, and things begin to get quicky get very, very messy (hence the name of the movie, I guess!)
OK, sure, we all know going in that Red Snow is a low budget, so-called B-Movie, but man, the production values are high, it is superbly shot (on location in Lake Tahoe), excellently edited, and newcomer Dennice Cisneros (as Olivia Romo) more than handled her role with style.
As you can well anticipate, the continual believability from the interaction between our two main characters, Olivia and Luke (Nico Bellamy), has to always remain constant, compelling even, given the nature of this film. And for me, it really did.
Furthermore, anyone going in thinking this is an out-and-out horror movie will either be sadly disappointed or greatly pleased as, to my mind, it is actually much more a black (red) comedy that knows not to take itself too seriously!
The dialogue, for the most part, is witty and intelligent and those aforementioned moments of humor are well placed and comedic lines delivered with impeccable timing by most all.
In closing, I think you should also be aware that as you watch Red Snow that all of the vampire and gore effects in the film were achieved practically without the use of CGI and real taxidermy bats were used in the film as they appeared more realistic onscreen than synthetic props! This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
The Unhealer [Blu-ray]
(Natasha Henstridge, Lance Henriksen, Adam Beach, Elijah Nelson, Kayla Carlson, et al / Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / Shout! Studios
Overview: A bullied teenager gains the means to fight back when a botched faith healing bestows supernatural, shamanistic powers upon him.
When his lifelong tormentors pull a prank that causes the death of someone he loves, the teen uses his newfound abilities for revenge and goes on a bloody rampage to settle the score.
This dark horror tale features performances from genre favorites Adam Beach (Suicide Squad), Branscombe Richmond (Hard to Kill), Natasha Henstridge (Species), and Lance Henriksen (Aliens).
Blu-ray Verdict: Well, it has to be first said that The Unhealer is a truly well made, well filmed, nicely presented, well acted and wholly cinematic movie adventure from start to finish.
Filmed on location in Arizona in June where the temperatures hovered around 105-110 degrees daily, and with Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction seen in the background throughout the movie - which already has such a storied and haunted history and is very much sacred to the Native Americans - that all comes together to make The Unhealer feel like a genuinely made Hollywood production.
A tale as old as the hills, it is the classic put-upon revenge story of a teen being relentlessly bullied growing up (Elijah Nelson) who one day discovers that he has been given a strange power, through an Ancient Indian curse, and thus starts fighting back against those who have wronged him for so long.
Not to give too much away here, but his power - given to him by the mysterious Pfluegeris (Lance Henrikson), and which does not go so well for the older man - means that he can not only heal quickly, but turn himself into a form of mirror, where everything that happens bad to his body reflects back immediately to the body of his abuser.
Lance Henriksen plays these kinds of role without having to get out of bed in the morning, but here you get the sense that he was relishing in the role of the original Unhealer! As for Natasha Henstridge, honestly, I barely recognized her (especially as she wear a blonder than blonde wig here), but once she gets involved you see the aggressive Henstridge of old pop up a few times!
In what is a magnificently heartfelt, open and honest, and for my money thoroughly unique film, there will not be one moment where you want to leave your seat, much less turn away from the screen, for The Unhealer is a pure stick of cinematic dynamite to behold, trust me! This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Official Blu-Ray Purchase Link