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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of disparate filmmakers throughout the vast USSR, it’s an entertaining, breezy two hours, of interest largely as an historical document and cinematic experiment but still nonetheless fun to watch, particularly with the help of the new “Smilebox” technique, replicating the look of the original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

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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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Home Video Hovel: Death of a Salesman, by West Anthony

28 Nov

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When Death Of A Salesman was first broadcast on television in the ’80s, I had certainly been aware of Arthur Miller’s classic play, and knew of its significance, but in my youth I was not fully appreciative of what it had to say about the way time bears down upon us all, like an orphanage on a hang glider.  When it’s far off in the distance, we don’t give it any thought, but when the shadow of that orphanage looms large you can’t help but take stock of who you are, and what you are, and how differently the world looks at you when you are older, if indeed it bothers to look at all.  Watching Volker Schlondorff’s 1985 adaptation through older eyes is like getting slapped in the face with the darkness of failure and mortality.

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Home Video Hovel: The Transformers: The Movie, by David Bax

5 Nov

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From what I’ve been able to gather about the live-action Michael Bay Transformers movies (I haven’t actually seen them), the general premise of them is that alien robots or robot aliens–I’ve never been clear on which it is–invade our world, or at least a world mostly similar to the one we, the audience, inhabit. Revisiting The Transformers: The Movie for the first time this century, I was reminded that this animated 1986 feature takes the opposite approach, lifting a single human boy out of his element and into a completely alien universe of constant war. It’s like if The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were simultaneously more aimed at children and more violent.

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Home Video Hovel: Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, by David Bax

5 Nov

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For better or worse, they don’t make them like this anymore. Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, out now on Blu-ray from Kino, is a towering early achievement in cinema. This was five years before Metropolis, nine years before M and, of course, well before Lang came to America to make classic films noir like Scarlet Street. Lang’s early mastery of film craft is astonishing to behold. On the other hand, it’s not like you’re gonna miss any of it if you blink; this movie (split into two parts) is four and a half hours long. Like I said, they don’t make them like this anymore.

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Home Video Hovel: Wild Oats, by Alexander Miller

19 Oct

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There’s nothing worse than a comedy that’s not funny. In the universally malleable genre and its various subsets, writers and directors are usually savvy enough to make us chuckle or at least grin regardless of whether you’re watching a satire, spoof, rom-com, dramedy or whatever suffix/prefix is attached to the description. In this instance, you could call Wild Oats a situational comedy featuring two veteran performers, Shirley MacLaine and Jessica Lange. Eva (MacLaine), a retired high school teacher, receives a life insurance check after the death of her husband. However, Eva receives the sum of $5,000,000 instead of the expected $50,000; in lieu of this miscalculation Eva and her best friend Maddie (Lange) decide to cash in and check out, leaving for a vacation in the Canary Islands.

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Home Video Hovel: The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, by David Bax

19 Oct

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Artists love to tell stories about the creative process. Sometimes this results in masterpieces like Barton Fink. Sometimes it leads to complete wankery like Art School Confidential. Sometimes we get something that exists mercurially between the two poles, like Synecdoche, New York. In the case of the great Kenji Mizoguchi and his The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum we find and epic-length tale of an actor and his artistic growth that isn’t actually about art at all. Instead, Mizoguchi uses the elevated visibility of an actor’s place on the stage to highlight his pet themes, exploring the friction between Japan’s lingering history and the humanistic liberalism of burgeoning modernity.

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Home Video Hovel: Lady in White, by David Bax

18 Oct

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With its small town setting, its warm and rich cinematography (courtesy of the great Russell Carpenter) and the director’s own grand, bouncy and cinematic score, Frank LaLoggia’s Lady in White is old fashioned movie entertainment. This is a strangely forgotten gem of a film but, with its new release on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, it is ready to be rediscovered, especially for families (whose kids aren’t too young) looking for something scary and fun to watch this Halloween season.

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