Blu-Ray Review: Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso_AA001Movies that make you want to see lots of other movies are a very good thing, especially if those movies you end up seeing are plenty you’re going into cold knowing you’re going to like them thanks to that one film that introduces you. Speaking of cold, guess who’s laid up with a bad one and is banging out his work from a partially prone position? Anyway (*cough!*), Cinema Paradiso is one of the all-time greats for such a cinematic education because it’s such an excellently crafted film that it’s worth watching a few times because of all the note taking you’ll very likely end up doing. I’ll save you a tiny bit of time and point you to this IMDB listing which should open up quite the rabbit hole to disappear into for a bit.

Arrow Academy’s solid restoration of the original 124-minute Cannes cut and the extended 174-minute Director’s Cut will fit nicely into your collection and as you can probably tell, is absolutely worth a purchase. Writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore’s film is one where every shot is effortlessly composed and there are moments where you’ll find yourself mildly to moderately in awe at the perfect camera placement that fits in flawlessly with the music (by Ennio and Andrea Morricone). The film is mostly told in flashback as a famous director Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) returns to his childhood home after 30 years away upon hearing an elderly friend has passed away. We learn that Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) was a projectionist at the titular theater as well as a mentor to the younger Salvatore (or Toto, as he’s called) from the age of six (Salvatore Cascio) to his teens (Marco Leonardi).

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Blu-Ray Review: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno

Inferno_AA023Sometimes, life can be a mystery… and sometimes, you kind of know what you’re getting into but still step into that trap door straight to hell.

In 1964, stoked after the huge box office success of Dr.Strangelove, Columbia Pictures was poking around the film world looking for something guaranteed to be the next big movie and had the wild idea to extend unlimited funding to a new project directed by the great Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear, Diabolique). Based on some striking test footage, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno was, for all intents and purposes, going to be an innovative and mature film that had the potential to make millions for the company while making an even bigger star out of Sissi trilogy star Romy Schneider. Three weeks into production and 185 cans (about 14 hours) of film later, one of the main cast members quit, three production separate teams of 150 people were out of work, and Clouzot had a heart attack that ended up shutting production down for good.

Those cans of film were sitting somewhere in France for decades thanks to the insurance company that ended up with them, but thanks to the obsessive persistence of Serge Bromberg and a meeting with Clouzot’s second wife in an elevator, we have this somewhat spectacular documentary (co-directed by Ruxandra Medrea) that sheds a bit of light on the destined to fail project. While the documentary is quite amazing, you’re in no way getting anything close to a completed version of Inferno despite all that footage that was shot. Most of it was camera tests of actors, loads of exterior tests, and visual effects shots galore in assorted states of completion. All of it was silent, although parts of a separate soundtrack were found and added into the documentary along with parts of the script read/reenacted by Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin. That said, there’s a lot to absorb here, but the overall takeaway seems to be “Here’s what happens when you throw money at a problem and it doesn’t solve itself, folks.”

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Blu-Ray Review: Animal Factory

Animal Factory_AV115Way back around in oh, 2000 or 2001, I was working in a small independent game shop in NYC when in walks Edward Furlong wearing dark sunglasses with some woman I didn’t recognize in tow. I think he popped in to get away from a few fans who recognized him on the street (this sort of celebrity sighting thing happened a lot on St. Mark’s Place) and if I’m not mistaken, I think one or two other people in the shop knew who he was within a few seconds of him popping in.

Long story short, he hung out for a few minutes and didn’t say much (and I don’t recall if he bought anything), but he eventually left, leaving his sunglasses behind. I do believe my boss ended up keeping them after a few days when they weren’t reclaimed. Anyway, that’s the shortest celebrity story I know, but I have a few more that may pop up if and when the time comes. Living in this city, one tends to stumble into the occasional interaction that’s more than the usual fan on the prowl experience. Oh yeah, we’re supposed to be doing a movie review now, right?  Let me get my review hat on. A minute, please… there we go.

Steve Buscemi’s Animal Factory is a pretty darn good prison flick based on the Eddie Bunker novel and yep, the Arrow restoration is pretty solid overall. It features Furlong, along with Willem Dafoe, Danny Trejo, an unrecognizable Mickey Rourke and a few other surprises (for example, Tom Arnold in a somewhat short cameo). Furlong plays young Ron Decker who ends up getting 10 years on a drug conviction. He ends up meeting with Earl Copen (Dafoe), a long time convict who decides to keep Decker close and under his protection for a few reasons (and not the ones you might be thinking, you dirty birds). While Ron is seemingly safe from harm, he ends up getting on the bad sides of a few other cons as well as some prison officials and you get a pretty impressive mix of drama and violence with plenty of tension as the glue holding things together.

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Blu-Ray Review: Zoology

Zoology_AA018Sometimes, being way, way out of the loop on a film is the best thing that can happen because when you miss all that buzzing and screeching, you get to go in totally cold and be nicely surprised by the results. This is exactly what happened when I finally sat down to watch Ivan I. Tverdovsky’s wonderful, bleak deadpan fantasy Zoology, another solid Arrow Academy release (also available on DVD). This is one of those films with a standout role for a “woman of a certain age” that’s somewhat remarkable until you realize your going into the film with that sort of prejudice might also make you not enjoy it if you think too hard about stuff like that.

Anyway, right off the bat, you’re made to feel sorry for poor Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova), a sad-looking middle-aged put-upon employee at a dreary Russian zoo. Her somewhat nasty co-workers openly make fun of her frumpy looks and lack of a social life, she lives with her elderly mother and a dying old cat and just as you’re about to throw yourself out the window from the gloom of her daily routine, she faints at work one day and later finds out she’s grown a tail. The doctor she sees sends her off to get an X-ray and Natasha meets radiologist Peter (Dmitriy Groshev), who initially seems nonplussed about her extra appendage. The pair strike up a fast friendship which leads to more, but that’s (almost) all you’re going to get out of me because you kind of need to see how this one plays out.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Witches

The Witches_AANot at all to be confused with the exact same titled Hammer Film Productions horror flick released in 1966, The Witches (aka Le streghe) is a very fine and very unusual surprise from Arrow Academy that’s worth a look if you like oddball Italian film anthologies that just so happen to feature the lovely Silvana Mangano. Yeah, Clint Eastwood is on the cover as well. But trust me, he’s not why you’ll be watching this hidden gem at all.

Producer Dino De Laurentiis had the idea to bring together five top directors (Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rosso, Vittorio De Sica) and set them the task of crafting am anthology film themed around Mangano portraying a different type of witch in each chapter. The results range from bizarre to compelling, but title aside, this isn’t a horror film at all. It’s more a showpiece of Mangano’s acting talents as well as a not so subtle look at some of the actress’ struggles with fame and fortune (be it up or down)throughout her career.

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Blu-Ray/DVD Review: The Cat O’ Nine Tails

TheCatONineTailsIn a new interview included on this superb Arrow Video release, director Dario Argento notes he initially didn’t much like his second film, The Cat O’Nine Tails partially because it felt “Too American” Interesting, but in a way, I’d say he’s correct to a degree. That said, as a followup to The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, the film pushes some of the right buttons it needs to while providing a pretty impressive murder by onrushing train scene early on that’s still pretty awesome even when you find out how the trick was done.

That “Too American” comment is very likely about the two Americans playing key roles in this film, James Franciscus and Karl Malden. Both give solid performances in film that’s a bit slower in pacing than Bird was, but has a few tense moments that liven things up. Malden plays Franco Arnò, a blind former journalist who lives with his young niece, Lori (Cinzia De Carolis). The pair are out for a nighttime stroll when Franco overhears a bit of a conversation from a parked car they’ve passed. It later turns out a nearby genetics lab has been broken into and onto the scene the next day arrives Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), a reporter who ends up bonding with Franco. The two men set out to solve the case, but yep, there’s a murderer on the loose connected to the theft and he’s got his sights set on not only the two men, but little Lori as well.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Apartment

The Apartment BRI’d forgotten Billy Wilder’s forever brilliant The Apartment was a perfect seasonal movie for those of us isolated types looking for a lift as well as anyone else who has cold and loathsomely lonely winters. Granted, the first time I saw it (I think I was maybe 10 or 11), I was too young to understand much of what was going on. During these darker days as I age none too gracefully, Jack Lemmon is sort of my spirit animal, so this five Academy Award-winning film has become a personal favorite.

Poor C.C. Baxter (or “Bud” to some) toils away at his data collection job at a huge New York City insurance firm, often keeping late hours with no overtime thanks to his nearby apartment being used as a hot spot for a trio of philandering company executives, Mr. Dobsich (Ray Walston), Mr. Eichelberger (David White), and Mr. Vanderhoff (Willard Waterman). Baxter is hoping to climb the corporate ladder a bit faster by doing this (yes, he even has a calendar to keep track of who gets his place and when). But he’s also so accommodating that he even cleans up afterwards and takes suggestions from his cheating superiors such as restocking his liquor supply and buying cheese crackers without asking for a dime in return. Things get even more complicated after the big boss Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) gets wind of Baxter’s bachelor pad and dangles a big promotion over his head if he can get access to the place for his own affair. Baxter agrees to the trade, but finds out that Sheldrake is romancing Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the cute elevator girl he’s been chatting up.

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Blu-Ray Review: PULP

PULP_BRFinally seeing PULP was a bit of a revelation for me. This tonally almost polar opposite of 1971’s Get Carter brings together writer/director Mike Hodges, Michael Klinger and star Michael Caine in a pretty unusual black comedy/crime story, newly restored by Arrow Video with a few nice special features. You’ll also get to see Mickey Rooney in his underwear (eek!), some fine supporting roles from Lionel Stander, Al Lettieri, and Nadia Cassini, with a too brief appearance by Lizabeth Scott in her final film role.

Caine plays Mickey King, a writer of pretty tawdry crime novels who gets the call to ghost write the life story of Rooney’s pint-sized Preston Gilbert, a former movie star with organized crime connections that come back to bite him hard. With his cheap, bland corduroy suit and middle-aged dad body, King still gets by with the ladies and his writing is so terribly risqué even the male owner of the typing pool churning out his latest novel slips him his home number. Mickey is thrust into the film’s events after he gets that Gilbert gig and things start falling apart as a few bodies fall before the credits roll.

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Mail Call: #TBT Edition

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An early Christmas gift for myself, arriving in time to rescue a bumpy week. Yep. Review incoming – stay tuned. Thank you, Vinegar Syndrome! That packing job was superb and the shipping was super quick. Now, I need to get my grubby paws on that DVD catalog set of yours so I can poke at a few other releases for the library here.

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Back in a bit.

-GW

Random Film of the Week: The Hateful Eight

TH8Yep, I’m calling it now. The Hateful Eight is also a Thanksgiving movie you can pop in and clear your house with if you end up with relatives arguing about politics or sports when all they really need to do is show up and shut up when they’re stuffing their faces with whatever tasty treats you’ve prepared. Note to turkey preppers: get that frozen bird defrosted and/or in a brine NOW (as in don’t wait until Wednesday night to fuss with a frozen bird) so you can have it all ready to pop in the oven and done up right. You fresh turkey buyers have an extra day as long as that bird doesn’t go into the freezer.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Yeah, you’ll be thankful for this film because you’re not going to find a more gorgeously shot yet hilariously amoral American film (well, one made by Quentin Tarantino) where you might go in expecting one thing but get exactly what you didn’t think you’d get. Let’s put it this way, if ever a title meant anything, it’s this film’s. Upshot nutshell: Eight not so nice (SO not so nice) people meet and otherwise interact in a cabin they’re trapped in during an epic snowstorm. Not everyone survives the experience. Nutshot upsell: Oh, boy is this film violent as hell. No one is spared from the talented folks at KNB Effects Group as they gore things up with some impressive practical effects. The film is about much more than than, although it kind of takes its sweet time in making its points.

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