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Blu-ray review: Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)
02/14/12 at 10:52 AM by EvilButters
Shiba (Tetsuro Tanba) is a wandering samurai who's seen it all. He stumbles onto some peasants who have taken the magistrate's daughter hostage in hopes of ending the corruptive leadership that plagues their land. What begins as a spectator sport and a roof over his head for Shiba turns into him fully supporting the peasants and their cause. Two other samurai; Sakura (Isamu Nagato) another wanderer with a guilty conscience and Kikyo (Mikijiro Hira) a samurai who milks the magistrate for all he's worth eventually join up with Shiba. An epic duel to the death lies ahead for the three samurai as the magistrate will stop at nothing to get revenge.

Three Outlaw Samurai begins in simple yet extravagant fashion. We see Shiba take a few steps in the mud followed by an extremely loud music cue and the title card written in Japanese Kanji. Six seconds into this chanbara film and I already know I'm going to love it. The film buys its time though as the first half of the film is mostly very talkative and swords are drawn only briefly before lengthy discussions begin once again. The storytelling is a high point as loyalty and the overall cause for all of this mayhem are always both relevant to the events taking place on screen. The cinematography is also brilliant, especially since this is the debut of Hideo Gosha. The well-choreographed and intense swordplay sequences are always captured with the most precise camera placement.

Lighting and shadows also play a big part in how the film is presented visually. The one-shot sword fight in the two-story whore house is the best example of this. Right down to the drastic lighting on Kikyo's eyes before everything goes to hell, Three Outlaw Samurai is the type of film fans of samurai, foreign, and great cinema in general dream of. There's something completely gratifying about blood presented in black and white, as well. Maybe it's because it reminds me of the Crazy 88 fight The Bride has at the tea house in Kill Bill, but the crimson liquid almost seems more gratifying in grayscale at least when it comes to older and more legendary motion pictures.

The best exchange of dialogue comes when Sakura is running across a field to support Kikyo and Shiba in the final battle. Sakura yells, "Hey Shiba! I've done you wrong! I deserve to die! Kill Me!" In the heat of battle, Shiba merely replies, "I'm busy at the moment."

While Three Outlaw Samurai may seem a bit slow at first, your patience will be rewarded. You'll become attached to the characters of Sakon Shiba, Kyojuro Sakura, and Einosuke Kikyo, get absorbed in their cause, and understand their decisions. As the swordplay and action becomes more frequent, you'll realize how truly amazing this film really is. Three Outlaw Samurai is a beautiful, well-written, and just a fantastic experience overall that is for fans of Seven Samurai, Shogun Assassin, and The Last Samurai.

Despite how fantastic Three Outlaw Samurai looks and sounds, it literally has no special features. This is a bit unusual since nearly every Criterion Collection release I’ve come across is usually loaded with goodies. All that’s included is the theatrical trailer and a booklet with an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri. So hopefully you weren’t looking forward to this release for the special features alone.

Three Outlaw Samurai is a black and white film that’s unrated and presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. It’s approximately 93 minutes long, has a new English subtitle translation, and features high definition digital restoration. The film is now available on both Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray at most retail outlets and online stores.

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Tags: Three Outlaw Samurai, Blu-ray, Criterion Collection, review, movies, action, drama
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Blu-ray review: Rushmore (1999)
11/21/11 at 01:23 PM by EvilButters
Rushmore is a fantastic film for many reasons. As someone who lives in Houston, it's still amazing to think that a big portion of Rushmore was shot here. This little independent gem was more than likely your introduction to both director and Houston native Wes Anderson and actor Jason Schwartzman and what an introduction it would turn out to be. Anderson would go on to continue giving us quirky yet extremely heartwarming films while Schwartzman evolved into a very talented actor and worked with Anderson on several other occasions. Once you hear Bill Murray say, "Yeah, I was in the @#$%," you know you're in for something special. Rushmore is just what every comedy, independent or otherwise, should be.

The love triangle between Max Fischer (Schwartzman), Herman Blume (Murray), and Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) is one of the things that makes Rushmore so good. Each character brings out the best in the others while their flaws only seem to strengthen the performances of those around them. Max is devoted to so many activities and clubs around Rushmore Academy that he finds himself on the verge of expulsion from failing grades, Ms. Cross is still grieving her husband who only passed a year ago, and Mr. Blume is one of the richest guys around, finds himself in a failing marriage, doesn't know how to act around people, and has a drinking problem. The rivalry that develops between Max and Herman is just extraordinary. Nearly any scene featuring Bill Murray is incredible anyway, especially the hospital scene where he shows up with flowers and rides with Max in the elevator. The restaurant scene where Max is drinking and confesses his love to Ms. Cross is really exceptional, as well. Mostly because all three of the of the main cast have the chance to shine.

There's this sense of quirkiness to a Wes Anderson film that you can't find anywhere else and that's its charm. Anderson also has a knack for picking some pretty memorable soundtracks and knows how to make a scene look better than it should, but his writing is what stands out the most. Flawed people and unusual dialogue and situations; that's a Wes Anderson film at its core. Maybe that's why his movies are so easy to relate to since nobody is perfect and everyone finds themselves slipping up from time to time.

There's just something about Rushmore that speaks to you whether you relate to one of the characters, love Bill Murray, or have a thing for independent film. It's awkward and touching when things get heavy and hilarious and lighthearted when things are more laid back. It's well-written, you actually care about these eccentric characters, and the performances are top notch all around. Rushmore is one of those films you just have to see; you HAVE to. It's the type of film that latches onto you and never lets go while you're more than willing to let it stay as long as it's willing to stick around.

Rushmore isn't loaded with special features, but there is some really great stuff in what is included. The Making of featurette and MTV Movie Awards Shorts are the must see features. The Making of "Rushmore" is the lengthiest (around seventeen minutes) and is mostly just a brief behind the scenes documentary shot by Eric Chase Anderson, Wes Anderson's brother that includes interviews and a rundown of the cast. The EPK (Electronic Press Kit) was shot for something like five months, when most films shoot them in a matter of days. When you consider that bit of information, it's kind of surprising that the footage they shot wasn't used to make a full-length documentary. The MTV Movie Awards Shorts are brief (three segments, each about a minute long, and a thirty second introduction), but are just fantastic. The shorts are theatrical adaptations of films from 1999 including The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight. If you liked Max's plays in the film, you'll enjoy these.

Other special features include cast auditions, a film to storyboard comparison, storyboards, an episode of The Charlie Rose Show Featuring Wes Anderson and Bill Murray, the theatrical trailer, an image gallery, and audio commentary by Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson, and actor Jason Schwartzman (which was recorded in 1999). There's this pretty incredible collectible poster included inside the case and an essay by film critic Dave Kehr included in the liner notes, as well.

Criterion Collection, as you've come to expect by now, has made Rushmore look and sound better than it ever has before. The Blu-ray is a digital transfer of the director's cut, which was supervised by director Wes Anderson with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The film is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 5.1 surround sound and is approximately 93 minutes long. The Rushmore Criterion Collection Blu-ray will be released in stores and in most online retail outlets on Tuesday, November 22nd.

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Tags: Rushmore, Blu-ray, movie review, comedy, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wes Anderson
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Blu-ray review: A Better Tomorrow (2011)
11/10/11 at 12:59 PM by EvilButters
I've often joked that you cannot put weight in calling yourself a man unless you have seen at least one John Woo film. His early work especially was filled with epic gunfights, explosions, and just all around awe-inspiring action sequences. The only downside is that many of his older films featuring Chow Yun Fat all feel so similar that it's really difficult to distinguish one from another. The storylines are almost exactly the same and many of the same cast members are utilized in each film. It has literally been years since I've seen the original A Better Tomorrow. I was mostly hoping for an upgrade of sorts from Dragon Dynasty since their 2-disc and Blu-ray releases of classic foreign cinema are always top notch. Nevertheless, I do remember holding both the original film and sequel in high regard. I wasn't even aware a Korean remake was on the cards until I received an email informing me of the DVD and Blu-ray details. Given the amount of remakes that hit US shores at such a quickened pace, I was a bit weary of giving this film a chance. But then I began to realize how much I love Korean film and came to notice that John Woo produced the film. So A Better Tomorrow was given its proper chance and folks, maybe it's because I haven't seen the 1986 version in so long but this remake almost seems as worthy as the original film.

Before I get ahead of myself, I love John Woo's film. I want to make that point crystal clear. A Better Tomorrow features some of the most influential action sequences not only of the 1980s, but perhaps of all time. The remake takes a bit of a different route and is more story-driven. There are only a handful of action sequences, but they feel strategically placed and mean a bit more in the long run. Character development is key. The action is only there to compliment the drama. While the original theme, location, and character names may have been changed, much of the impact of what these characters are going through is still rather strong. The majority of the film is carried by the brothers Hyuk (Jin-mo Ju) and Chul (Kang-woo Kim) and their relationship or lack thereof. Hyuk abandoned Chul and his mother years ago. With their mother now dead, Chul seeks revenge and only wants to see his brother dead while Hyuk just wants Chul to be a part of his life. Hyuk is a policeman who illegally deals guns on the side. His partner Young-chun (Seung-heon Song) is more than likely the coolest guy you've ever come across while Tae Min (Han Sun Jo) is the lackey who dreams of becoming a gangster boss.

The film looks stunning. It's beautifully shot and features some amazingly vibrant colors along with some really impressive lighting. The Young-chun gun scene with the arms dealers from Thailand near the beginning of the film is where things begin to get interesting. The interrogation scene where the brothers meet for the first time after many years of separation show how powerful the performances of Jin-Mo Ju and Kang-woo Kim are going to become. But the massage parlor scene with Young-chun is where the film begins to show its first signs of John Woo influence. While the action scenes are fewer, everything seems to be riding on the final gunfight which is pretty extraordinary. The relationship between the two brothers is what drives the movie forward, but the way Young-chun tries to make himself part of that equation and the monster Tae Min becomes is what makes the film at least a little special.

The few reviews I'm seeing online of this film are saying things like it lacks the very important theme of the John Woo film and that there isn't as much action. There's also a lack of female roles, which I agree with. This version of A Better Tomorrow is good for different reasons than its predecessor. I feel like the performances were much stronger in the remake and that the story, even though it deviated quite a bit from John Woo's version, took a front seat rather than the action. The Korean remake is slower and not quite as violent. My only complaint falls onto the ending, which is way too anticlimactic.

A Better Tomorrow is not the same movie it's labeled as remaking and that's a good thing. Strong performances and fewer action sequences help pave the way for more meaningful character development and a story with a bit more of an impact. Maybe I'm biased because I love depressing films, but A Better Tomorrow is well worth giving a chance if you can settle with the fact that it's different and altered from the source material; arguably not for the better but enjoyable in a contrasting way.

Special features are pretty minimal. It says there are 27 minutes total of special features in the set, but I believe the same set of special features are on both the DVD and the Blu-ray. So it’s more like 13 minutes of the same features on both discs. There’s a three minute Character Intro Cast Interview that introduces the characters and shows you a little bit behind the scenes, a four minute Making of featurette that goes into more detail behind the scenes and gives you more information about the film including it being filmed in Thailand, the type of blood packs they used, and action scenes being shot from a helicopter. Challenges & Transformations is nothing more than a two minute interviews with director Song Hae-sung and producer John Woo (separately). Throw in the original trailer and a bonus trailer and that sums up all the bonus material. Keep in mind both the DVD and Blu-ray of the film are included in one package.

A Better Tomorrow is presented in widescreen with a 16:9 aspect ratio and features stereo 5.1 HD Surround Sound along with Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The film is in Korean with English subtitles and is approximately 123 minutes long. The A Better Tomorrow DVD/Blu-ray combo package is available in retail stores and most online retailers now.

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Tags: A Better Tomorrow, movie review, Blu-ray review, drama, action, remake, Korean, John
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Blu-ray review: Zombie (1979) (2-Disc Ultimate Edition)
11/07/11 at 09:27 AM by EvilButters
Lucio Fulci is a name most horror and zombie fans are familiar with. As an Italian horror director, a good portion of his work either slipped under the radar or went on to become a cult classic in the states. Films like City of the Living Dead, The House By the Cemetery, and The Beyond, but Zombie is more than likely the most recognized Fulci film. Also known as Zombie Flesh Eaters and Zombi 2, Zombie was originally planned as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead. Unlike most direct to DVD sequels that try to jump the shark or a low budget sequel that goes straight to Syfy, Zombie is not only worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Dawn of the Dead, but may actually be a better film in general and the best of Fulci's work period.

Fulci films are notorious for gloriously realistic gore scenes while being fairly light in the story department and having some pretty rigid acting. Zombie seems to be the best-rounded Fulci film and makes the most out of all of his strengths. It's certainly in the vein of Dawn of the Dead and is more than a worthy successor. It does have its fair share of overacting that usually falls onto the shoulders of the two main supporting actresses Auretta Gay and Olga Karlatos but it's also easy to overlook. If you're a zombie fan, the story is compelling and the kills are memorable. The eyeball scene is one of the best in the history of horror and a zombie fights a shark under water. Does anything else really need to be said other than that? It's as if Fonzie somehow missed that infamous jump over a shark on water-skis and has been lying on the bottom of the lake waiting until a nude scuba diver swam his way to try and gain some revenge.

The make-up effects are generally really amazing for the time the film was produced; the graveyard scene being the best example. That zombie with the worms in its eye has become iconic. That specific zombie's death may be an even better example of how gore in a low budget horror film can outshine just about anything in most higher budgeted films. The camera work is also key to a film like Zombie. The lighting is actually really fantastic and seems to be just right at all times, but the camera is always just in the right place after a zombie gets smacked in the head to spit a spray of blood into the camera. A POV shot is also used occasionally from the zombie's perspective. The main use of this technique that comes to mind is in the graveyard when a zombie is coming up out of the ground and you see dirt falling away from the line of vision as the camera rises up. The last shot may be the most incredible of the film, especially once you learn how the shot was acquired; the mass of zombies on the bridge in New York. It literally leaves you with no hope for humanity, which is pretty much the most definitive ending any zombie movie could ask for.

Like most early horror films, Zombie isn't without its flaws. There's still quite a bit of overacting and the technique of zooming in closer and closer on someone's face whenever something gross or shocking is discovered gets a bit tiresome. But Zombie offers exactly what every horror fan loves; plenty of gore, excellent practical effects, a fairly decent story, and quite a bit of nudity. Zombie can definitely be considered a triumph for its time and is a bloody terrific zombie masterpiece from beginning to end.

This two disc set has a massive list of extras, so try to bear with me. The first disc includes audio commentary with star Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine Editor Jason J. Slater, two theatrical trailers, two thirty second TV spots, four radio spots, a poster & still gallery, and the Guillermo Del Toro Intro. Disc two includes a plethora of interviews from just about everyone in the cast that you can imagine. Zombie Wasteland is 22 minutes long and is the thirty year reunion of the cast at a few horror conventions. It includes interviews with cast members Richard Johnson, Ian McCulloch, Al Cliver, and Ottaviano Dell'acqua. Flesh Eaters on Film is an interview with co-producer Fabrizio De Angelis and runs 10 minutes long. De Angelis brings up how difficult it was to work with Fulci, how he made three to four movies with Fulci when no other producer could stand him after one film, and Zombie being successful among other things. Deadtime Stories includes interviews with co-writers Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti and is 14 minutes long. World of the Dead has interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati and production and costume designer Walter Patriarca in a 16 minute segment. Zombi Italiano features interviews with special make-up effects artists Gianetto De Rossi & Maurizio Trani and special effects artist Gino De Rossi. The feature runs for 17 minutes as these artists walk you through laughing at their first make-up attempt on a zombie, how they retrieved a shark, pulling off the splinter in the eye scene, Fulci always wanting entrails, and the bridge scene being stolen; no permits and causing a traffic jam. Notes on a Headstone is a seven minute interview with composer Fabio Frizzi, All in the Family is a six minute interview with Fulci's daughter Antonella, and Zombie Lover is a ten minute feature with Guillermo del Toro has he explains why he loves the film.

The 2-Disc Ultimate Edition Blu-ray of Zombie is presented in 1080p HD resolution in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Audio is available in both English and Italian in 7.1 DTS-HD, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX, and original mono. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Francais, Espanol, Portugues, Deutsch, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. Zombie was originally released in 1979 and its duration is approximately 92 minutes long. The two-disc set is available in retail stores and most online retailers now.

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Tags: Zombie, movie review, Blu-ray review, horror, zombies, Lucio Fulci
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Blu-ray review: The Last Circus (2011)
10/15/11 at 08:21 AM by EvilButters
When you sit down to watch The Last Circus, you should go in not knowing what to expect. That mindset is your best bet at enjoying this film to the fullest. In fact, I encourage you to jump to the last paragraph of this review and then read the rest after your first viewing. It has quite a reputation going for it; a reputation that is mostly positive. Avoiding trailers and only having a vague knowledge of a movie is so rare these days and with a film like this it just pays off so well. Álex de la Iglesia is a name I wasn't familiar with until now and while The Last Circus did seem to fizzle out a bit near its finale, it's still very absorbing, gloriously disturbing, and a solid effort from Iglesia.

The Last Circus tells a love story that is centered on revenge; it's demented and rather on the gruesome side but love is the central theme along with elements of revenge, horror, and dark comedy. The film's rich visuals will suck you in right away. It has this unique look to it; color seems to be completely drained from the film the majority of the time yet things like blood, makeup, and rather intricate costumes seem to leap off the screen in exquisite color. It's all very surreal and seems to be on the verge of becoming a nightmare at all times, so when it does finally venture into a dream sequence with nightmarish tendencies it's rather extraordinary.

The score is also pretty spectacular. The triumphant music that plays over the opening credits seems to give you the sensation that you're marching toward your death while the pounding keys of the piano during the tunnel sequence practically rattles your bones. It's kind of intriguing how similar Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) and Javier (Carlos Areces) turn out to be and it’s all thanks to Natalia (Carolina Bang). Javier is so unsure of himself at first, is kind of pathetic, and a complete coward at his core but that changes once he meets Natalia. Sergio is short-tempered, an alcoholic, and his violent outbursts usually cause one or more to end up in the hospital when things don't go his way. Sergio's story becomes really interesting since it seems to borrow heavily from both The Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein. Natalia on the other hand just doesn't seem to know what she wants. She loves the way Sergio makes love to her, but feels safe with Javier. She's truly torn between the two monsters she inadvertently creats.

Keep an eye out for a trumpet and an iron as they both become nearly as iconic as the hammer was in Oldboy. The Last Circus has a way of putting its viewer on edge with a sense of discomfort and uneasiness never being far away. The restaurant scene is a prime example, which also shows how messed up Sergio really is and eventually leads to one of the most awkward and off-putting sex scenes in recent memory. Some of the computer generated effects got a little overboard in the latter half and seemed to slightly sour my opinion of the film. However after watching the special features, it's truly amazing how much of the film was created with digital effects.

The Last Circus is like a one-sided coin featuring tragedy on both sides and the final scene seems to illustrate this point perfectly. Its surreal visuals make the film a real treat to look at and the haunting score is both memorable and beautiful in a sinister kind of way. With its nearly seamless use of practical and computer generated effects and the way the entire film seems to be covered in a veil of unpredictability, The Last Circus is a unique vision into circus life that's mostly calamitous yet visually stimulating.

Special features are pretty slim, but still interesting. Making of The Last Circus is a fifteen minute featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the film. It's here that you begin to realize how much of the film was filmed in front of the green screen as the cast comments on what it's like to work with Álex de la Iglesia. Behind the Scenes Segments is more of the same type of footage presented as a seven and a half minute montage. Visual Effects is really cool. It's ten minutes long and compares the final version of the film to what was shot in front of the green screen. It literally takes you through step by step of the digital effects. It also informs you that there were 47 digital artists and post-production took two months. The U.S. Trailer, International Trailer, and International Teaser round out the special features.

The film looks completely stunning in 1080P High Definition presented in a 16x9 (2.35:1) aspect ratio and sounds fantastic in its Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Its colors are really brought to life in HD as blood splatters, animal cries, maniacal outbursts, and the amazing score probably couldn't sound any better than they do here. The Last Circus is rated R for brutal and bloody violence throughout, some strong sexual content, nudity and language. The film's duration is approximately 101 minutes and will be available in retail stores and most online retailers this Tuesday, October 18th.

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Tags: The Last Circus, movie review, Blu-ray review, romance, revenge, horror, black comedy
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Blu-ray review: Mimic (1997) (The Director's Cut)
10/04/11 at 03:14 PM by EvilButters
Guillermo del Toro is one of the most original visionaries still directing and creating films today. His films are usually very attractive visually and put a different spin on something you may already be familiar with while also darkening its tone. Even if you don't fully adore whatever del Toro film you just watched, you can probably find something in there to admire and the experience still turns out to be more interesting than the average popular fluff that people go gaga for. del Toro has also produced some amazing projects with The Orphanage gaining quite a bit of praise and being called one of the most original horror films of the past few years and Splice having one of the most surreal audience reactions I've ever witnessed in the theater just to name a few. Guillermo del Toro's projects aren't necessarily films you've never seen before, but are more along the lines of the films you want to see Hollywood producing. His English language debut, the sci-fi thriller Mimic, has just been released as a director's cut on Blu-ray. After realizing how intense the uphill battle was for del Toro just to get this thing made and fighting tooth and nail just to keep what he could from his original draft(s) of the screenplay, it's really quite incredible the movie turned out as good as it did.

The amount of work that went into making something as silly as giant cockroaches become a reality may be the film's biggest achievement. del Toro didn't want a gorefest or give these creatures extra appendages or teeth to make them more menacing. Scientifically speaking, all of the modifications stay within the boundaries of nature. A great deal of research went into creating these monsters and you can tell. The way they mimic humans, where their lungs are placed, and the amount of puppeteering involved are all pulled off in a way where it's obvious a lot of time went into planning how they'd be executed. It's a welcome change of pace worth noting since most horror films along the same lines as this are all about the quick scare and creating a monster that is visually menacing rather than staying within the limitations of reality. del Toro makes it clear in the commentary that Mimic is more about suspense than aiming to be scary. The fact that the film is a slow burn allows you to digest everything a bit more than a film that would throw everything at you all at once.

The special effects look very dated, but only when it comes to digital stuff. Thankfully, it's kept to a minimum because of the budget but all of the practical stuff is fantastic. Seeing their mouths move just like a cockroach's is such a simple idea, but seeing it executed in a creature as big as we are is something extraordinary. The concept of them using their front appendages to form a human face is really creative and exceptional, as well. The method in which this team has pulled off adding human traits to a cockroach without it feeling too far-fetched is spectacular in itself.

Unfortunately I never saw the theatrical cut of the film so I can't really compare the differences, but del Toro's explanations of it don't really make you want to actively hunt it down and see it since this is obviously the cut of the film he wants people to see. The last thing that should be touched upon is the lighting (or lack thereof) used in the film. Most of the camera work in the film seems very straightforward, but having a dolly sliding to the right while another slides to the left makes something as simple as the camera circling around two characters seem a bit more extravagant. An emphatic use of shadows, textures, and amber and blue lighting is used throughout the film to give it a look that many other genre films don't have. Everything just feels very unique and like something you'd only find in a film by del Toro.

Mimic isn't del Toro's greatest achievement, but all of the elements you love about the Mexican director are all there. The attention to detail is astounding as del Toro's scientific approach and staying true to nature made giant cockroaches as realistic as possible. Mimic is also visually remarkable in the way it not only uses shadows, but a minimal use of lighting and heavy textures as well. The only real complaints lie within the dated CG and the fairly atrocious ending. Its obvious flaws and production troubles aside, Mimic is more intelligent than you're probably expecting and a very solid experience overall.

The special features are pretty cool. Video Prologue with Director Guillermo del Toro is only about a minute long but del Toro talks about how this is as close to a director's cut as we'll ever get, being happy with this cut, what the movie could have been, and so on. The Audio Commentary with Director/Cowriter Guillermo del Toro is the Blu-ray's crowning achievement. del Toro is so open about everything that happened behind the scenes, but doesn't seem bitter about any of it. He's very straightforward and isn't afraid to use harsh language, but the entire commentary just makes you admire the film and the rest of del Toro's work just a little bit more. He seems so easy to get along with and relate to. During the commentary, many topics are covered including the opening credits being similar to Se7en, Mimic teaching del Toro more than some of his other films have, the cockroaches originally being bark beetles/scarabs, the never-ending studio battles, original ending idea involving the male cockroach in the subway, the film originally being planned to have no explosions, and he even talks about the direct to video sequels among many other things (he actually recommends seeing Mimic 3). del Toro refers to Mimic as his "imperfect child." One of my favorite lines from the commentary is when del Toro is talking about Sarah having her Ripley moment as she yells at the male cockroach to get away from Chuy. del Toro says, "You cringe every time, I cringe every time, let's cringe together." The commentary track just helps you admire the film a little bit more and that's coming from a guy who isn't a big fan of commentary.

The rest of the special features are fairly short and sweet. Reclaiming Mimic is about fourteen minutes long. del Toro discusses how important suspense is for a film like Mimic, a B-movie concept needing to be executed as an A-movie, the different subway ending, and this director's cut being free of "second unit crap." A Leap in Evolution runs around nine and a half minutes and mostly goes into detail about staying true to nature and puppeteering. Back into the Tunnels is a five minute behind the scenes featurette, there are three Deleted Scenes that total around five minutes in length and include an alternate ending, Storyboard Animatics cover six scenes in the film, and a two minute Gag Reel rounds up the special features rather nicely. The second disc of the two-disc set is just a digital copy of the film presented in widescreen in 1080p High Definition and English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.

Mimic (The Director's Cut) is unrated, but was previously released in a version Rated R for Terror/Violence and Language. This unrated version contains material different from the original R-rated version. It's presented in 16x9 widescreen with a 1.85:1 ratio while also being presented in 1080p High Definition, has an English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, and has English and Spanish subtitles available. The film is approximately 112 minutes long. Mimic (The Director's Cut) is available in retail stores and most online retailers now (it's currently still $9.99 on Amazon).

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Tags: Mimic, movie review, Blu-ray review, Guillermo del Toro, sci-fi, horror, thriller
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Blu-ray review: Win Win (2011)
09/06/11 at 09:13 AM by EvilButters
I had heard so much about Win Win all year long. I skipped screenings for it early on in the year mostly because I'd never heard of it, but also because on the surface it's not exactly something I'd want to actively hunt down and see. But it gained such a reputation for being a fantastic film and is even considered to be a contender for film of the year by several fellow movie critics. So thanks to word of mouth, this found its way into my Blu-ray player. Win Win manages to make good on its reputation.

Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is one of the best lawyers in town. Unfortunately, being the best doesn't always mean you make the most money. Mike is facing a lot of financial hardship at the moment and it looks like his elder law firm may go out of business. Mike talks his way into becoming the guardian for Leo Poplar (Burt Young), one of his clients on the verge of dementia which he plants in a retirement home in order to get an extra $1500 a month. So things are looking up until Leo's grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up to live with his grandfather. Kyle is a troubled teenager, but an incredible wrestler. So of course Mike has Kyle move in with him. With the extra money and Kyle on the verge of going to state, everything seems to be falling into place for Mike. That is until Kyle's Mom, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) comes to town and ruins the bright future that was right within Kyle's grasp.

Paul Giamatti has always been fairly compelling in whatever film he's decided to be a part of. Even if the project isn't very good, Giamatti is usually still memorable thanks to his performance. He's outstanding in Win Win. He seems to be making all the decisions he thinks are right to keep his family afloat. It's incredibly easy to picture yourself in Mike's shoes and making the same decisions that he did. Alex Shaffer is also great, but for different reasons. Kyle is mostly a young man who doesn't speak much. His appearance makes him come off as if he's a punk, but he's actually a fairly goodhearted individual with a really messy past. That past gets in the way of the one thing that could possibly push Kyle forward in life and he carries that weight throughout the movie. It's only a matter of time before he snaps. Bobby Cannavale and Amy Ryan deserve a mention, as well. Terry Delfino has a lot going on in his life right now and being an assistant coach is basically a distraction from what his ex-wife is currently putting him through. His laid back attitude and ability to be a bit more outspoken than he should is half the character's charm. Meanwhile, Jackie Flaherty just wants to do what's best for her family and begins to care for Kyle. She has some pretty funny dialogue throughout the film, especially her JBJ story.

One of Win Win's strongest attributes is the fact that the dialogue feels very natural. Nothing feels forced or sounds cheesy. It all sounds like things real people would say if they were thrown into the life of the Flahertys. The film also delivers an incredible message, which is something other films like this that have been released this year have either lacked or haven't fully followed through on. Win Win wears its heart on its sleeve and capitalizes on that in the best of ways.

Win Win is a special kind of movie. The excellent cast compliments the already superb writing in the film while characters and their decisions are easily relatable. It packs a powerful punch, especially in its last act as the message it gives is both strong and meaningful. Win Win is easily one of the strongest (if not THE strongest) R-rated comedies of the year with little to no flaws to keep note of.

Special features are very minimal. There are two deleted scenes totaling a little less than two minutes. Nothing of great importance; one of Mike handling a client who doesn't want to identify her son to Mike while he's sitting in the same room and the other of the family and Leo driving to the courthouse. Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni Discuss Win Win runs approximately six and a half minutes. McCarthy is the main writer and director of the film while Tiboni is the other writer. They talk about their inspirations for the film, why they chose to do a movie about wrestling, how Paul Giamatti came on board, and the combining of elder law and wrestling in one film. David Thompson at Sundance 2011 is around two and a half minutes. This is basically the actor who played Stemler goofing off and complaining about it being cold at Sundance. In Conversation With Tom McCarthy and Paul Giamatti at Sundance 2011 is another two and a half minute feature that covers a lot of the same ground the featurette with Joe Tiboni did. Family, the last two and a half minute feature, takes a look at the importance of family and talks about how the majority of the cast becomes a family by the end of the film. To wrap up the special features, we've got the "Think You Can Wait" music video by The National and the theatrical trailer.

Win Win is rated R for language. It's available in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and French 5.1 Dolby Digital with optional English or Spanish subtitles. It's presented in widescreen with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is approximately 106 minutes long. Win Win is available in both retail stores and most online retailers now.

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Tags: Win Win, movie review, Blu-ray review, comedy, drama, Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan
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Blu-ray review: The Killing (1956) Criterion Collection
08/21/11 at 06:49 PM by EvilButters
How often do people actually seek out the early works of well-known directors? Are fans of a certain director actually interested in seeing absolutely everything in their filmography? Answering these questions is probably easier with a movie lover in mind, but is a bit more difficult if you consider a casual moviegoer. A director like Stanley Kubrick is best known for films like A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Shining, but Kubrick dabbled in crime and film-noir long before he gained any recognition from anyone. The Killing is just that; film-noir that is one of Kubrick's first full-length features before he was ever even a blip on the radar.

One of the more intriguing aspects of The Killing is that it features a nonlinear narrative. It's told out of chronological order. A good portion of both Quentin Tarantino's and Christopher Nolan's résumés are filled with nonlinear films. The story takes something simple and puts a slightly complicated spin on it. The film revolves around a robbery at a racetrack, which sounds straightforward enough. The way The Killing gets you to that point is something unique though. You're continuously strung along as Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) masterminds this elaborate plan that takes more than half the film just to set up and get all the right people together. There is so much riding on the plan going right and such an emphasis on the money everyone is going to receive if they pull it off that you expect something bad to happen when it finally comes time for everyone to play their part. The film gives you all the players up front though. All the cards are on the table as far as whose involved is concerned, but the robbery and its aftermath is where the payoff truly lies.

It was interesting being able to see a character walk through a house in one continuous shot without walls obstructing our view. The ability to go through walls thanks to the way the sets were built gives you an interesting perspective. There's also another scene where George (Elisha Cook Jr) is first shown talking to his wife Sherry (Marie Windsor). They re-locate themselves several times during the scene in the same room, but the camera is always strategically placed to make you feel like you're sitting right next to them and actively part of their conversation. The digital restoration can probably take credit for this, but I don't think I've ever seen a film this old look this good. The film may be lacking color, but it's still crisp and clear. The lighting is fantastic, especially in the scene where the clown mask comes into play during the robbery.

I've always had this thing about gangsters. I think a lot of people do otherwise gangster movies and the crime genre in general wouldn't be as popular as it is. But that cliché gangster voice is just incredibly entertaining to me. It just reminds me of Rocky and Mugsy from "Looney Tunes." The Killing is filled with guys that talk like that and it's incredible. The narration just made it feel all the more genuine, which is odd since apparently Kubrick hated adding the narration into the film. That criminal atmosphere just speaks to you in ways other films don't. There's quite a bit of dialogue in the film that does the same. It'll probably sound dated to most, but that's the way gangsters should sound. "Standin' outside the door measuring the keyhole," and “That’s a pretty head you got on your shoulders. You wanna keep it there or carry it around in your hands?” are things you'd never hear anyone say these days.

As Johnny Clay first has everyone gathered and they're discussing the plan for the robbery, there's this big roundtable discussion. It's littered with booze, chain-smoking, and wise guys getting slapped in the face. It's fantastic. But the way the scene is filmed, the way it makes you feel like you have to lean this way or the other to see around somebody else's head to get a glimpse of whoever's talking, is very reminiscent of the war room scenes in Dr. Strangelove.

The Killing isn't going to change your mind on what your favorite Stanley Kubrick film is. It will, however, reveal that Kubrick had a unique vision of cinema even when he was first starting out. With a compelling cast, an engrossing story, and a straightforward but completely satisfying conclusion, The Killing is incredibly solid from beginning to end.

Special features on Criterion Collection releases are referred to as "Supplements" and The Killing has plenty of them. The unique thing is that an entire full-length movie is included as a special feature. Stanley Kubrick's film Killer's Kiss (in a restored high-definition digital transfer, of course) is on this Blu-ray in its entirety along with its own special features. Geoffrey O'Brien, a movie critic, analyzes Killer's Kiss in a nine minute featurette. He basically spends that time comparing Killer's Kiss to the rest of Kubrick's works. The trailer for Killer's Kiss is also included. James B. Harris was a producer that partnered with Stanley Kubrick on several pictures including The Killing and formed Harris-Kubrick Productions. In this twenty-one minute featurette, Harris tells the story of how he and Kubrick became partners along with how The Killing originated, the differences between the movie and the novel, Sterling Hayden joining the cast, and quite a bit more. It's pretty fascinating and filled with tons of behind the scenes information. Next up are two excerpts from the French TV series Cinéma cinémas featuring Sterling Hayden in an in-depth interview from 1984 that totals around twenty three minutes. Hayden goes into detail about his entire career and admits to not knowing what he was doing the majority of the time. He also makes it a point to say that he has no idea what Kubrick saw in him while having one of the worst days of his life while trying to film his scenes for Dr. Strangelove. Poet and author Robert Polito discusses Jim Thompson's collaboration with Kubrick in a nearly nineteen minute featurette. Thompson collaborated with Kubrick on the screenplay for The Killing and is credited with "additional dialogue" in the credits. Polito mostly analyzes the film while pointing out similarities to Thompson's other works. Lastly, the trailer for the film is also included. As an added bonus, a booklet is included with the film featuring an essay by film historian Haden Guest and a reprinted interview with actress Marie Windsor.

The Killing Criterion Collection Blu-ray is not rated, features a new digital restoration of the film, is available in monaural sound, and is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It is approximately 84 minutes long and is a black and white film. The Killing will be released this Tuesday, August 23rd and should be available in both retail stores and most online retailers.

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Tags: The Killing, movie review, Blu-ray review, crime, film-noir, thriller, Stanley Kubric
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