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Home Video Hovel: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Scott Nye

28 Apr

No, sorry, this isn’t the new prestige show with Elizabeth Moss and some fetching bonnets. Instead, let me take you back to 1990, when an acclaimed director, writer, composer, and cast made a very uninteresting movie. You see Volker Schlöndorff working from a screenplay by Harold Pinter, based on a major novel by Margaret Atwood, with an acclaimed cast (Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn) headed by one of the most viable young actresses on the scene (Natasha Richardson) and a score by one of the screen’s most interesting composers (Ryuichi Sakamoto) and you think…oh wait a minute, there’s probably a reason this doesn’t get talked about much anymore. There is indeed.

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Home Video Hovel: Firestarter, by Tyler Smith

13 Apr

How anybody can adapt a noted novel by Stephen King, people it with respected actors like George C. Scott, Louise Fletcher, and Martin Sheen, and then churn out a movie so uneventful, so inconsequential as 1984’s Firestarter is a bigger mystery than anything that occurs in the film itself. But, of course, the moment we see the name Dino De Laurentiis pop up in the opening credits, we really shouldn’t be so surprised by the mediocre schlock that follows. A producer with an obvious love for dumb spectacle, De Laurentiis’ involvement with Firestarter pretty much guaranteed that whatever deep material might have been found in King’s original novel would be cast aside in favor of a bunch of stuff bursting into flame, again and again.

And again and again.

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Home Video Hovel: The Executioner, by David Bax

24 Mar

Luis García Berlanga’s The Executioner is a dark comedy, all the darker for the fact that it doesn’t, on the surface, feel like one. It’s sunny and frothy, with a predilection for mild physical comedy. But make no mistake, this is a heady yet farcical look at what it means to take another human’s life.

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Home Video Hovel: One Million Years B.C., by Scott Nye

15 Mar

At once remarkably audacious and kind of dumb, One Million Years B.C. is, if nothing else, beautifully, perfectly a film of its time. Released in 1966, it anticipates and in some ways one-ups the tripped-out journey to the past for which 2001: A Space Odyssey would be so celebrated, beginning with an abstract voyage through space and landing on a primitive people who never once speak a comprehensible dialect. The conflict is clear enough though – in a hunter/gatherer society, a tribe is fighting amongst themselves for what little food is available. This fight leaves Tumak (John Richardson) banished, and soon enough fighting dinosaurs. Righteous. He wanders the ancient landscape until he comes upon paradise in the form of scantily-clad women fishing in the ocean, seemingly lead by Raquel Welch, who live in harmony and make art and dance and have a sort of genuine civilization going. The 1960s are strong with this one, friends.

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Home Video Hovel: Joe Bullet, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi

14 Mar

In the 1970’s, blaxploitation films were a dime a dozen. Covering such diverse topics as gangsters, kung fu, and vampiric comedy, these low-budget flicks combined sex and violence to give audiences around the world a perspective not catered to by the milquetoast output of holiday. Although at first glance, Joe Bullet appears unremarkable, this South African film was banned in 1973 after only two theatrical screenings by the apartheid government in part due to its all-black cast. It remained unseen until a print in someone’s garage was digitally restored by Gravel Road Distribution Group and sent on the film festival circuit in 2014. This DVD release comes from The Film Detective.

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Home Video Hovel: No Retreat, No Surrender, by Craig Schroeder

6 Mar

Though the Blu-ray box art (put out by Kino Lorber), as well as the IMDb log line, would have you believe No Retreat, No Surrender is a movie about a young karate enthusiast (Kurt McKinney) going mano a mano with a Russian Jean Claude Van Damme, that is not quite the case. Other than an opening sequence, where McKinney and Van Damme share a furtive glance, JCVD (nor the evil-Russian storyline that he’s embroiled in) appear again until the sixty-seven minute mark of an eighty-four minute film. A categorical failure that it is cringe-inducingly earnest and astonishingly dull, No Retreat, No Surrender was never going to be remembered as anything but a joke but unfortunately—even judged against the generous parameters of trash cinema fandom—it doesn’t have a punchline.

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Home Video Hovel: Cinerama’s Russian Adventure, by Dayne Linford

22 Dec

Cinerama, the practice of stitching together three different rolls of footage to be displayed concurrently across a massive screen, was one of the great experiments in film, concocted to try and out-spectacle television and get viewers back into the theaters in the 50s and 60s. Widely utilized but largely relegated to circuit markets and specialty theaters, it never broke through into the mainstream, only employed in a few disparate films, most notably How the West Was Won. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating experiment, and Russian Adventure, a pseudo-documentary travelogue of the American rival, introduced and narrated by Bing Crosby, is a delight to view. Playing as a variety show made up of the efforts of disparate filmmakers throughout the vast USSR, it’s an entertaining, breezy two hours, of interest largely as an historical document and cinematic experiment but still nonetheless fun to watch, particularly with the help of the new “Smilebox” technique, replicating the look of the original piece as directly as possible, though “formatted to fit your screen” as all things must be.

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Home Video Hovel: Double Fine Adventure, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi

20 Dec

Video game documentaries are a dime a dozen this days. Quite often they are about people in their 40’s trying to reclaim their high scores from arcade games they were good at as a kid (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters; Man vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler). Double Fine Adventure mixes things up by focusing on what happens when well respected game developer Double Fine decides to fund a game through Kickstarter. We watch the zaniness ensue through its 724 minute (!) runtime spread across 20 episodes.

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Home Video Hovel: The Squid and the Whale, by Tyler Smith

12 Dec

How do we react when life kicks the chair out from under us? A loved one passes away, we lose our job, we get sick; there are dozens of scenarios that would change the dynamic of our lives were they to happen to us. Examining our reactions to unexpected suffering is a staple of all different forms of art. What many books, plays, songs, and films often depict is a certain nobility in suffering; a person learning to find their inner strength and persevere in the face of adversity. This is all well and good, but not every story can end like that. Sometimes the specific details of our loss, or our own frailty, prevent us from handling things in a healthy way, and we can become virtually intolerable to deal with. This is the stuff of good drama, too, as we see from Noah Baumbach’s domestic masterpiece The Squid and the Whale.

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Home Video Hovel: The Best of Cinerama, by West Anthony

28 Nov

bestofcinerama

Cinema is probably the least likely place for a greatest-hits package – they are certainly nothing new in the realm of recorded music, and literature has seen many anthologies of short stories and poetry. Heck, I’ve even got a book consisting entirely of collected suicide notes (You heard me). But MGM managed to raid their library of musicals long enough to sustain three That’s Entertainment! pictures, and the films shot in the grandly unwieldy widescreen process Cinerama were almost entirely free of narrative and incident anyway, so I suppose we can excuse The Best Of Cinerama. Nay, we should celebrate it, for it is sure to appeal to fans of obsolete widescreen filmmaking, but it is also an ideal place for the newbie to sample Cinerama’s panoramic charms.

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