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Sunday, December 10, 2017

HARMONIUM -- DVD Review by Porfle



HARMONIUM, aka "Fuchi ni tatsu" (Film Movement, 2016), is a very neatly-rendered Japanese film by director Kôji Fukada (SAYONARA, AU REVOIR L'ETE) which should appeal to anyone who wants a little more tragedy in their lives. Or at least in their movies.

I thought at first it was going to be some kind of harrowing CAPE FEAR-type thriller.  After all, it's about a fairly normal family--somewhat distant, disaffected husband and father Toshio (Kanji Furutachi), his dutiful, religious wife Akié (Mariko Tsutsui), and their sweet young daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa)--suddenly having to deal with Toshio's ex-convict friend Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), who comes seeking employment and a place to stay after an eleven-year stretch in prison for murder.

Gradually we learn that there's more to Yasaka's crime than anyone realizes--namely, Toshio's involvement, for which he went unpunished and free to live his life (which he takes for granted) while his friend languished behind bars.


We feel about as awkward as Akié about the whole thing and wait for the violence and terror to begin, but a funny thing happens--Yasaka turns out to be a gentle, patient, and seemingly caring man who's everything that Akié could want in a husband. 

He even takes the time to teach Hotaru how to play the harmonium for her upcoming talent concert, assuming the role of both teacher and surrogate father. In short, he's starting to make Toshio look like yesterday's chopped liver.

Already this scenario has the potential to turn out a number of bad ways, and all we can do is grit our teeth in quiet dread and wait to see what direction it takes. 


This is exacerbated by the growing closeness between Yasaka and Akié, with the ex-convict covetously regarding Toshio's life as the one he himself should have had. Eventually, we fear, he'll begin to take whatever steps are necessary to make that a reality.

And yet even at this point, HARMONIUM refuses to settle into the course we keep predicting for it.  After a single shocking moment that drastically changes everything, the rest of the tale comes to us more in a haze of resignation and regret than anything resembling your standard thriller. 

The fear and anxiety are still there, but not because we're worried about any kind of violence and retribution.  Instead, we must watch the dissolution of a family that has lost its reason to exist and descended into suicidal despair. 


Not even the promise of possible revenge, legal or otherwise, is enough to hold them together.  They're like a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces falling away one by one. 

Kôji Fukada directs it all with crisp, economical efficiency and is blessed with a cast who give their all in their roles.  While lacking the usual tension and suspense of a thriller, the story holds us firmly in a grip of morbid curiosity as to just how much worse things can get for these poor people.

HARMONIUM resembles a Park Chan-wook "vengeance trilogy" tale without the climactic visceral catharsis.  Instead, we're left only with the mundane sadness of everyday existence amplified by the crushing weight of circumstances too heavy to bear.  It's an effective slice-of-tragedy story that will leave you heartsick.

Buy it from Film Movement

DVD Extras:
Interview with star Kanji Furutachi
Bonus Kôji Fukada short film "Birds"
Film Movement trailers

5.1 Surround Sound/2.0 Stereo
Japanese with English subtitles
1.66:1 widescreen
120 minutes



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Horse Rolls Over Rider: A Harrowing Stunt From "Fort Apache" (1948)




Man falls off horse, horse rolls over man--a cringe-inducing stunt from the John Ford cavalry epic FORT APACHE (1948) starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda.




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Friday, December 8, 2017

Failed Stunt Used In John Wayne Western "The Trail Beyond" (1934)



Lone Star studios hated to waste footage, so failed stunts were worked into the action whenever possible.

Here's an exciting one from John Wayne's 1934 western THE TRAIL BEYOND, performed by either Yakima Canutt or Eddie Parker. (Looks like Eddie.)




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BAD LUCKY GOAT -- DVD Review by Porfle




Not quite the "boy and his goat" story I expected, BAD LUCKY GOAT (Film Movement, 2017) is more the story of a boy, his older sister, and their goat head.

It starts out as an entire dead goat but they sell the carcass to a butcher, trade the skin for a watch that someone found on the beach, and hang onto the head until they're convinced that it's the cause of all the bad juju they've been suffering since leaving the house.

But that's just the bare bones of what happens on that ill-fated day when Cornelius ("Corn" for short) and his sister Rita, while heatedly arguing about things as usual, smash the family truck into an escaped goat while on an errand for their parents in a rural village in the Caribbean. 


The damaged truck and the dead goat are problems the two will spend the rest of the day trying to solve, and their troubles only increase when they do so by lying, cheating, and generally avoiding responsibility whenever possible.

They're likable kids, though, despite constantly being at each other's throats as siblings often are.  Their misdeeds really aren't so bad that we can't identify with them--mostly--and they do keep us entertained not only with their attempts to earn enough to have the truck fixed (hence the goat carcass transaction and various other bartering attempts) but also by ending up on the wrong side of the local crime boss whose goat it was in the first place, not to mention the police.

We get to meet a succession of colorful characters, most of whom are either earning a meager living without getting all that worked up about it or making cheerful indigenous music in peaceful natural surroundings with their friends. 


I enjoyed listening to their Creole patois, which I only recognized as a form of English after listening to it for a few minutes (I challenge anyone who speaks English to decipher the dialogue without the subtitles). 

During all this we get a chance to drink in the beautiful tropical scenery and mostly laid-back ambience while the story ambles along at its own unhurried pace just like a reggae song.  (With a little kidnapping, cock-fighting, and other things thrown in to spice things up.)

Colombian director Samir Oliveros doesn't try to grip us with any big drama or hilarity, and there isn't a chase to cut to.  This gives us time to get to know Corn and Rita, and watch them gradually and somewhat begrudgingly grow closer during their long day of tedious travails which will test both their mettle and their basic humanity. 

This relationship is what the film is really all about, and its sweetly-rendered resolution makes watching BAD LUCKY GOAT not unlike a soothing balm for the soul. 

Buy it from Film Movement

Extras:

Bonus short film "Miss World" by director Georgia Fu
Film Movement trailers


5.1 Surround Sound/2.0 Stereo
2.40:1 Widescreen
Creole With English Subtitles
76 Minutes







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"JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM" See the Official Trailer and Website Now!





OFFICIAL WEBSITE




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Thursday, December 7, 2017

"THE BEST OF THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS: VOLUMES 1-3" Exclusively on iTunes Dec. 11th



DINO GOES DIGITAL!

ON DECEMBER 11, THE CLASSIC TV ARCHIVISTS AT TIME LIFE WILL BEGIN RELEASING DEAN MARTIN'S CELEBRITY ROASTS, EXCLUSIVELY ON iTUNES

The Best of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts:  Volumes 1-3

Never Before Available on Any Digital Platform, Each 9-Roast Volume Will Be Available for $14.99; Individual Episodes Are $1.99


"For fans of old-school comedians, not to mention celebrity culture, Roasts is a must-see"-- Newark Star Ledger

"[Dean] made being Roasted a higher honor than a Nobel" -- Inside Pulse.com

Fairfax, VA (December 7, 2017) - This fall, Dino goes digital with THE BEST OF THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS: VOLUMES 1-3!  Never before released on any digital platform, the Roastmaster General will be available exclusively on iTunes beginning December 11, with three "Best of" compilation releases priced at $14.99; individual episodes will be available for $1.99 each.  The classic TV archivists at Time Life will release additional digital content throughout 2018 and beyond.

What originally began as one-off specials to boost ratings for his variety show, The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts evolved into a fixture on NBC's Thursday night lineup from 1973 to 1984.  Across those 11 years, Dean, Rat Pack Royalty, and his panel of celebrity pals successfully ridiculed, embarrassed and made fun of Tinsletown giants like Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Don Rickles and Martin himself, to name a few, and America ate it up!  Anybody with thick skin and a good agent was fair game, and Martin was a legendary ringleader who set the tone and encouraged the freewheeling spirit that makes these roasts still so fascinating, even decades later! 


Each volume of THE BEST OF THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS features 9 uproarious episodes.  VOLUME 1 features complete and unedited roasts of Bob Hope, Sammy Davis Jr., Telly Savalas, Michael Landon, Angie Dickinson, Joe Garagiola, Peter Marshall, Joe Namath and even a roast of Dean Martin.  VOLUME 2 includes roasts of Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Betty White, Ted Knight, Jimmy Stewart, Valerie Harper, Danny Thomas, Dan Haggerty and Suzanne Somers.  And VOLUME 3 features Muhammad Ali, Redd Foxx, Evel Knievel, George Burns, Dennis Weaver, Gabe Kaplan, Jack Klugman, Joan Collins and the second roast of Michael Landon.  Home viewers are sure to howl over the bashing and basting of so many celebrities by a spectacular array of the day's top personalities.

THE BEST OF THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS: VOLUMES 1-3 joins THE BEST OF THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, VOLUMES 1-4 also available on iTunes; and, throughout 2018, Time Life will release additional TV classics on the platform.

About Time Life
Time Life is one of the world's pre-eminent creators and direct marketers of unique music and video/DVD products, specializing in distinctive multi-media collections that evoke memories of yesterday, capture the spirit of today, and can be enjoyed for a lifetime. TIME LIFE and the TIME LIFE logo are registered trademarks of Time Warner Inc. and affiliated companies used under license by Direct Holdings Americas Inc., which is not affiliated with Time Warner Inc. or Time Inc.




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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

SOMEBODY'S DARLING -- Movie Review by Porfle



Those bad, bad frat boys are at it again in SOMEBODY'S DARLING (2016), only this time there's something more sinister going on than road trips and toga parties.

We know from the start that there's something "off" about this upper-crust frat house that's steeped in improbable splendor, has a wine cellar, and is rigged with hidden cameras so that its voyeuristic members can observe every room (yes, that one too).  A fleeting reference to a former member who's now their wealthy benefactor gets us to wondering even more just as the party's getting under way.

College coeds Madison, Sarah, and friends allow themselves to be sucked into the spiders' web of forbidden fun as so many party girls before them.  For some, it'll be a date-rapey experience they won't soon remember.  For Sarah, however, it's the start of a strange romance, as bad-boy frat prez Christian unexpectedly feels something for her that's akin to--well, an actual feeling. 


Since this is a no-no for this particular frat, Christian's initially courtly and then gradually more and more creepily obsessive pursuit of Sarah over the next few days becomes a cause first for concern, then for action.  But how far will they go to rein Christian away from his new object of desire and back into the fold?  And for that matter, just what the hell's up with the fold anyway?

From the captivating opening titles sequence onward, first-time feature director Sharad Kant Patel draws us into this mystery with a refreshingly offbeat visual style that constantly has the feel of a fever dream.

A blandly colorful palette alternates with darkly oppressive scenes so monochromatic that they're almost black-and-white, mirroring the changing moods through which the story leads us.

An aura of paranoia pervades as Sarah and her friends sense themselves being stalked by the mysterious fraternity.  Patel's hallucinatory images, composed and photographed with a keen artist's eye, keep us off-guard ourselves.



The sound design aids greatly in establishing mood, as does the ominous, impressionistic musical score co-written by Patel himself.  The film has a somber, menacing quality with splashes of shocking violence and a mysterious detour into the past that takes us back to the Civil War itself.

Performances are strong, particularly among leads Paul Galvin, as the enigmatic Christian, and Jessa Settle as Sarah, whom we fear has inadvertently wandered into a dreadfully ill-fated relationship.  The rest of the cast adequately fill their roles as either hapless, unsuspecting party girls or malevolent predators. 

Just when the story seems to be wandering a bit, SOMEBODY'S DARLING suddenly hits us with the stunning truth behind it all and ends on a strong note which may leave some viewers a bit dazed. (Or not, if you saw it coming.)  What stayed with me more than anything was the pure pleasure of watching director Sharad Patel's imaginatively-wrought visuals deftly edging back and forth between the dreamlike and the nightmarish. 

Available now on:

ITunes:
Amazon
Google Play
VUDU





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John Wayne Performs His Own Car Stunt in "SHADOW OF THE EAGLE" (1932)



In the finale of the 1932 Mascot serial "Shadow of the Eagle", some surprisingly creative suspense-building editing is followed by a young John Wayne doing his own perilous car-skid stunt right into his closeup.




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"HAVE A NICE DAY" Animated Feature by Liu Jian Opens in January -- Watch the Trailer Now!



STRAND RELEASING PRESENTS

HAVE A NICE DAY

A FILM BY: LIU JIAN


OFFICIAL SELECTION: Berlin international Film festival 2017
WINNER! BEST ANIMATED FEATURE- 54 GOLDEN HORSE AWARDS

Opens theatrically in New York on Friday, January 26 with a national release to follow

Filmmaker Liu Jian cements his place as a pioneering force in independent Chinese animation with whirlwind neo-noir HAVE A NICE DAY.

A hard rain is about to fall on a small town in Southern China.


In a desperate attempt to find money to save his fiancée's failed plastic surgery, Xiao Zhang, a humble driver, steals a bag containing 1 million Yuan from his boss.

News of the robbery spreads fast within the town and, over the course of one night, everyone starts looking for Xiao Zhang and his money...

This deserves to be an animation arthouse hit to equal “Waltz With Bashir”, and it was the most politically trenchant and artistically fresh thing in Berlin. With the surface of a Tarantino-esque pulp thriller and the heart of a postmodern political art project.” – The Guardian

WATCH THE TRAILER:

Music By: The Shanghai Restoration Project

CHINA / ANIMATION / 77 MINUTES/ IN MANDARIN WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES

SOCIAL: @strandreleasing #haveanicedayfilm



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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A NEW LEAF -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle



Two of my favorite "grown-up" comedies as a kid were THE GRADUATE (1967) and THE HEARTBREAK KID (1972), both cockeyed modern relationship tales that embodied a new kind of droll, deadpan satire which I found deeply appealing. 

Common to these films was Elaine May.  The former film, in which she played a bit role, was directed by her sometime performing partner Mike Nichols (with whom she helped form Second City), and she herself would direct her own daughter Jeannie Berlin in the hilarious THE HEARTBREAK KID in 1972.

It's no wonder, then, that I found Elaine May's 1971 directing and co-starring effort A NEW LEAF (Olive Signature Films) so irresistibly entertaining.  The expert combination of borderline farce with a restrained, achingly dry deadpan delivery and reined-in directorial approach makes it the kind of comedy that's intellectually stimulating one moment and laugh-out-loud hilarious the next.


Walter Matthau contributes to much of this with his pitch-perfect performance as spoiled, self-centered rich person Henry Graham, who can't believe it when his flagrant overspending wipes out his trust fund and leaves him a pauper. 

His only alternative to suicide, it seems, is to marry a wealthy woman before his funds are totally depleted and then discreetly murder her.  His loyal butler Harold (George Rose) consents out of self-interest to help him in the first part of his plan, but expresses misgivings about the second.

Enter Elaine May as Henrietta Lowell, an enormously well-endowed (financially, that is) spinster who's also one of the most endearingly clumsy and innocent characters you could ever meet.  Mousey, anxious, dreadfully insecure, and as coordinated as a newborn calf, she can't even sit still without calamitous results.  She's perfect for Henry's plans--he meets her, woos her, proposes, and, in no time, they're married.


The scene in which Henry tries to help Henrietta sort out her fancy new Grecian nightgown (she has her head in the armhole) on their honeymoon night is a slowburn delight of extended but controlled frustration.  I also love wine connoisseur Henry's suppressed horror when introduced to Henrietta's favorite drink, Mogen David Extra Heavy Malaga with soda and lemon, which he must pretend to savor. 

May's slapstick incompetent is the perfect, trusting foil to Matthau's fussy, sociopathic snob and their scenes together are like comedy confections wrapped in gold foil.  Her instincts for directing comedy to its best advantage are dead on the mark at every turn, bringing out the best of both stars and their supporting cast.

This includes stalwarts Jack Weston as Henrietta's manipulative lawyer, James Coco as Henry's spiteful uncle, Doris Roberts as the embezzling manager of gullible Henrietta's household staff, William Redfield as Henry's harried financial adviser, and several other familiar names of the era. 


The leads play it all with a sort of overt subtlety that makes one look forward to the next scene and their next bit together.  I love Matthau's casually methodical cad, reading up on various poisons and gaining access to Henrietta's finances even as he finds himself increasingly fussing over her physical appearance and well-being. 

And May's Henrietta, a botanist whose dream is to find a new strain of fern that she can name herself, is one of the most lovable klutzes to ever fumble her way into my heart.  So much so, in fact, that even Henry can't help but be touched--in his own comically nonplussed way--by some of her childlike foibles. 

Even the stereotypically romantic music is richly satirical, with nary a single "isn't this funny?" note in the entire score.  With a brilliant screenplay to match (written by May from the Jack Ritchie short story), A NEW LEAF is one of cinema's most low-key and tastefully restrained comic delights.  After Henry's final attempt to murder Henrietta during a botany field trip, the fern turns and leaves us with a somewhat abrupt but just-right ending. 


Bonus Features:

New restoration from 4K scan of original camera negative
Audio commentary by film scholar Maya Montanez Smukler
“The Cutting Room Floor: Editing A New Leaf” – interview with A New Leaf assistant editor Angelo Corrao
“Women in Hollywood: A Tragedy of Comic Proportions” – with director Amy Heckerling
Essay by critic, editor & film programmer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
“The Green Heart” by Jack Ritchie, the source material for Elaine May’s script
Trailer

Languages: english
Video: 1.85:1 aspect ratio; color
Runtime: 102 minutes
Year: 1971

Order it from Olive Films


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