Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Every great film should seem new every time you see it." - Roger Ebert

The Mike's Favorite DVD/Blu-Ray Releases of 2014
(So Far)
Part 2
No good list has just one part. Heck, I'm pretty sure that's what college was all about. All those syllabuses or syllabi or syllables that professors handed out had tons of different parts to them. And that's what you have to do to get a degree. Therefore, I believe that lists with multiple parts are what make you a scholar. It's science.

My list of my favorite flicks-on-discs so far this year started with my favorite lesser known new flicks, and you can check them out in Part 1 by clicking somewhere in this part where I typed clicking somewhere in this part.  Now, I'm here to talk about some of the most fun older films released on Blu-ray for the first time in 2014.

Note - same disclaimer as last time: there's a lot of horror. A zebra can't change his stripes and a horror blogger can't either.

Let's get to it! 
The Mike's Favorite Older Movies Released on Blu-ray in 2014 (So Far)
Die Monster Die - 1965 - Blu-ray - January 21, 2014 - Scream Factory
It's a goofy H.P. Lovecraft adaptation that surely doesn't do justice to the text of H.P. Lovecraft, but it sure is a fun little spastic '60s horror film. What it lacks in plot is made up for by vibrant colors and strange visuals, not to mention the presence of the icon, Boris Karloff. This is a rather bare bones disc by the folks over at Scream Factory, but the price is adjusted for the lack of special features and the film sure looks cool in HD.

Frankenstein Created Woman - 1967 - Blu-ray - January 28, 2014 - Millennium Entertainment/Hammer Films
It's hard being a Hammer addict in the blu-ray era, as most of their greatest films are currently held by companies like Warner and Universal that have pumped the brakes on production of physical media. Thankfully we still have a few Hammer classics that could get blu release here in the U.S., led by this one last January. It's not my favorite Hammer Frankenstein film, but the special features - including a new documentary on the women of Hammer - and the cool lobby cards included in the package help make this a must own for nerds like me.

Foreign Correspondent - 1940 - Blu-ray & DVD - February 18, 2014 - Criterion Collection
Beautiful restoration of an early Alfred Hitchcock film that comes in a beautiful package. The combo pack offering comes with three discs and a ton of special features that cover one of Hitchcock's first American films, but I think it's most worth watching because it's one of Hitchcock's most atypical, grand scale films. (Plus, there are a lot of beautiful covers for the movies on this list, but this package is the one among them that had me looking for a drool napkin so I didn't mess it up because I was gawking at it so lustfully when I opened it. So it's got that goin' for it, which is nice.)

The Visitor - 1979 - Blu-Ray & DVD - March 4, 2014 - Drafthouse Films
Probably the weirdest movie restored to home video in 2014, this trippy horror film from Italian director Giulio Paradisi (under the pseudonym Michael J. Paradise) features an A-list cast (Glenn Ford is even in it!) and bizarre visuals and a whole lot of stuff that doesn't make any sense. But man, is it fun to watch. I don't know who was looking around at old movies and said "Hey, check out this thing! Let's restore and re-release this!" but I'd definitely like to shake that person's hand. (Author's note - I'm not stoned.)

Sorcerer - 1977 - Blu-ray & DVD - April 22, 2014 - Warner Brothers
I don't want to spoiler the rest of the list, but I'm just gonna say it now - this is the best disc of the year. By far. I'd heard for a long time that this was William Friedkin's third masterpiece of the 1970s, but no complete version of the film seemed to exist on home video. Warner Brothers finally did the right thing for this film, as Friedkin himself supervised this new transfer which is the prettiest thing I've seen this year. And if that's not enough, the film was given a mega cool Blu-ray book package, complete with liner notes from Friedkin and some cool special features. This is the rare disc that proves how relevant home video still can be.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats - 1977 - Blu-ray - June 3, 2014 - Cult Epics
OK, so maybe The Visitor isn't the weirdest film restored to home video in 2014. If you're like me you see the title - Death Bed: The Bed That Eats - and you get an image of a certain kind of film in your head. If you're like me, that image is probably wrong compared to what this movie actually is. It's not just a movie where a bed eats people, it's a movie where a bed eats people and the whole thing seems like a weird Andy Warhol painting and kind of makes you think it's actually legitimate art. Yeah, I know that sounds crazy. But it's a movie called Death Bed: The Bed That Eats and it's on blu-ray and it's 2014 and the world is a beautiful place, man. (I'm really not stoned, I swear.)

The Legend of Billie Jean - 1985 - Blu-ray - July 22, 2014 - Mill Creek Entertainment
Normally I wouldn't put a bare bones blu-ray from bargain bin company Mill Creek on a list like this, especially when the film on the disc doesn't really seem all that high definition. But The Legend of Billie Jean is a curiously fun '80s flick that puts a modern twist on the story of Joan of Arc and it's just pretty cool to see a movie like this finally getting a release that's not on a DVR and is incredibly cheap. I'm sure another company could have done more for this film's disc debut, but it's at least nice to have the movie out there now.

Ginger Snaps - 2000 - Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack - July 22, 2014 - Scream Factory
Most horror movies made in the DVD era have been released and re-released a handful of times already, so it was always curious to me that Ginger Snaps - a fantastic werewolf tale that is a testament to women in horror too - has always been only available in one old pan & scan edition. The folks at Scream Factory are smart enough to know that this film deserved better, and the restored version makes the film look brand new while also featuring a ton of great special features. This is a disc that truly needed to be made, so hugs to the Scream crew one more time. (Note - You guys might want to get a restraining order against me if you don't like hugs. Just sayin'.)

Curtains - 1983 - Blu-ray - July 29, 2014 - Synapse Films
This movie can't look as good as it does on this blu-ray. I just don't believe it. And yet, it does. It's not the best slasher movie of the early '80s, for sure, but I firmly believe every slasher movie deserves to be treated like a classy lady and Synapse has treated Curtains as such. And this thing is worth it for the ice skating scene alone. Trust me.

Leviathan - 1989 - Blu-ray - August 19, 2014 - Scream Factory
Scream Factory is back again - the prices are high (and this one seems to have bumped up since release, sadly), but they are still killing it. Leviathan is a personal favorite that plays like a cheesy deep sea version of Alien. I love the cast (Peter Weller! Ernie Hudson! Amanda Pays! Daniel Stern! Evil Bitch Meg Foster! Hector Elizondo!), I love the bizarre gore, and I LOVE the final moments, even if they're a little un-PC these days. Not enough special features for my liking, but I think I might be the only person that wants to analyze Leviathan forever, so I guess I'll give them a pass here.

Pumpkinhead - 1988 - Blu-ray - September 6, 2014 - Scream Factory
This has never been one of my favorite horror films - good gosh, there's some terrible actors in the supporting cast and the pacing is a little slow at times - but man have I always loved that monster. Stan Winston is one of the greatest things that ever happened to movies, and his lone directorial effort is a testament to what he could do with special effects. Scream Factory might have produced their best disc here, fill of interesting features and offering a beautiful version of the film. Worth the price tag and more.
There are no doubt a lot of other great discs that have come out this year, but unfortunately I can only afford some of them without giving up all of my social life and food to the DVD Gods. I'm sure I'll have a update to the list later in the year - this fall looks pretty stacked for the horror scene and there are plenty of titles I've missed thus far.

If you produced a disc that you wish was on this list, feel free to send it to me for consideration. :)

As always, hit up the comments and tell me what you like/dislike/want to talk about/had for dinner/etc. And buy some movies. It's good for you. I promise.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Movies are like an expensive form of therapy for me." - Tim Burton

The Mike's Favorite DVD/Blu-Ray Releases of 2014
(So Far)
 Part 1
For genre lovers like myself it's a pretty great time to still be a collector of movies on disc, even if we're long past the DVD heyday of the early 2000s. Digital copies are being pushed down our throats and physical media is hidden in corners of many stores but, as you're about to see, there are still a lot of great little companies putting out interesting independent stuff and well-restored editions of cult classics. It's been a relatively slow year of film collection for me - relative to my own high standards, that is - but I've still been pretty stoked to add some really fun new discs to my collection this year.

What follows is a list in two parts, and it's best that I probably start with a comment on the discs I'm excluding from this post. You can no doubt guess that modern release like Gravity or Captain America: The Winter Soldier have been given fine treatment by the studios behind them. However, I will not be covering them here. You don't need me to remind you that you liked that movie you already saw.

What I will be covering are firstly releases of lesser-known independent and low budget films you might not be acquainted with; and secondly releases of older films that are everything that (and sometimes more than) fans of the film could hope for. The first will occur right here, the second will be coming up in the near future.

Note 1 - Yeah, these are mostly horror flicks. It's what I like and it's what's being released. If someone had restored The Limey or The Spanish Prisoner or Big Daddy (say what you want, but Sandler had a winning streak in the last 90s) maybe I'd be talking about them. But horror has the niche and the niche is where things sell these days

Note 2 - I'm not a big special features guy, so don't expect an in depth analysis of each disc. However, there are some good things I'll point out to you.

Now, let's get talkin' about Part 1 of this list. (And yes, those are Amazon links with each title. I'm enabling you, I admit it.)

The Mike's Favorite Lesser Known New Movies on DVD/Blu-Ray of 2014 (So Far)
Haunter - DVD & Blu-ray - Feb 11, 2014 - IFC Midnight
A haunted house riff on Groundhog Day, led by Abigail Breslin and the always cool Stephen McHattie. Cube and Splice director Vincenzo Natali keeps the flick moving with a catchy plot and some well done suspense. It's a relatively cheap disc too (both the blu and DVD run under $10 right now) and it should be perfect for those October nights when non-horror fans want to watch horror movies.

Here Comes The Devil - DVD & Blu-Ray - March 18, 2014 - Magnet Releasing
A few years ago Magnet was probably the king of genre home video. They were nailing the horror/cult market, picking up great films like Monsters, The Innkeepers, Hobo With a Shotgun, and more. Their pickings have been a little slimmer over the last few years, but they still hit an occasional home run. This year their best offering might be this Mexican horror film full of evil children, evil sex, and strange twists. It's been a divisive film with critics, but I'm a big fan. There's a dream sequence that's the modern horror equivalent of Rosemary's Baby.

Low - DVD - March 25, 2014 - Brink
I saw Low a few years ago while reviewing independent screeners and it's stuck with me since. I was shocked to find it on DVD earlier this year, but not surprised at the success of this little thriller. A game of cat-and-mouse between a woman and man in the English countryside, Low provides gripping twists while showing off beautiful scenery. I saw a screener on blu-ray when I first met this film, but the released DVD from Brink doesn't suffer in quality.

Nurse 3D - Blu-Ray/Blu-ray 3D - April 8, 2014 - Lionsgate
Yes, I feel guilty about this one. A violent twist on Single White Female with a bizarre lead performance by Paz de la Huerta, who might spend more time unclothed than clothed in the film. And yet it feels like something of a genuine relic, a throwback to the kind of bizarre drive-in film one might see in the late 1970s mixed with the ridiculous modern 3D gore craze. I find this movie's existence rather comforting.

Escape From Tomorrow - DVD & Blu-Ray - April 29, 2014 - Random Media
This movie doesn't exactly work, but man is it fascinating to watch. Why is it so fascinating? Because you would never expect this film to have been made. Director Randy Moore and his cast and crew made this tale - about a man who goes crazy dealing with a middle age crisis and sexual frustration while visiting a theme park - was filmed guerrilla style at Disney World in black & white. There are several special features that recount the amazing story of how this movie even happened and avoided the wrath of Disney, and cynical movie lovers will probably get a big kick out of it.

Raze - DVD - May 20, 2014 - IFC Midnight
Raze is a movie that is entirely about women beating the hell out of each other, and I admit that I felt kind of dirty watching it. I also kind of loved it. Stuntwoman extraordinaire Zoe Bell (of Death Proof fame) stars as the alpha woman of this underground Fight Club/Hunger Games while genre notables Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn eat up some screen time as well. It's an incredibly involving film, and I found myself physically rooting for characters as if it were a real sporting event. The disc is packed with extras too, and the behind the scenes information provided is pretty interesting. I wonder why there's no blu-ray though.

Cheap Thrills - DVD & Blu-ray - May 27, 2014 - Drafthouse Films
A fantastic cast - led by Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton and a perfectly cast David Koechner - makes this story of two men pitted against each other (and themselves) to earn some money become a memorable dark comedy. One of the most brutal films you'll see this year, and the perfectly odd Drafthouse Films label does the film justice with a lot of special features and a fine transfer of the film. Drafthouse's discs can be a little pricey out of the gate, but this one's definitely worth it. It's a really fantastic flick, the kind of movie that makes me grin from ear to ear and wish there were more like it.
All Cheerleaders Die - DVD & Blu-Ray - July 22, 2014 - Image Entertainment
One of the most exciting horror comedies I've seen in a while, which plays like the movie Jennifer's Body would have been if it weren't so interested in making stars of its cast and writer. It's got a weird mix of horror - offering evil macho male football players alongside re-animated cheerleaders and some rune stone witchcraft - but co-directors Chris Sivertson and Lucky McKee keep it moving at a brisk pace and seem pretty sure of themselves here. The end title card lists the film as All Cheerleaders Die: Part One, and I sure hope there's a Part II somewhere in the future.

That's all for today, but feel free to hit up the comment box. If you aren't a movie hoarder like me, you'll be pleased to know that several of these films are currently on that popular Netflix thing and other streaming services. I can't promise you'll like them, that's on you.

Come back soon for Part 2, in which I'll cover my favorite older films released on Blu-Ray in 2014 so far!

Friday, September 05, 2014

"Pictures and shapes are but secondary objects and please or displease only in the memory." - Francis Bacon

The Mike's #cinephilephoto Diary

There's this thing going on on the twitter where someone decided it would be a good idea to start this thing about the cinephilephoto with one of them hashtags, presumably to make all of us OCD movie freaks go into nerdiness overdrive.  And boy howdy, did it work.  I kept watching people post favorite images from their favorite movies (as far as I can gather, that seems to be the only goal of the process) and started getting a billion images running through my mind from my favorite - and even some of my not-so-favorite - movies.  I was terrified that someone would nominate me and I'd have to pick an image, so I just sat back and watched and wondered.

And then three people nominated me.

So now I've posted three images, and been pretty impressed with my own eye for awesomeness, but then I felt - much like the guy I quoted above, who's probably Kevin Bacon's grandpa - that the pictures alone didn't tell my story completely.

Luckily, that's what a blog's for.

Here are the three images I've posted before, complete with a) my analysis of what they are, and b) why I picked them. Because I love them and want to keep them forever, basically.
#cinephilephoto No. 1 - That part in Vertigo where Jimmy's a creep and Kim's so freaking beautiful.
So when I first got nominated (by the wicked cool Brett Gallman) the movie that was stuck in my head was Vertigo. Vertigo isn't my favorite movie, but it's probably top 5 and I really struggle to think of a more engaging sequence in film history than the one where Jimmy Stewart's character first trails the mysterious woman played by Kim Novak.   

So, the shot I ended up posting is the one above. I'm gonna say that now, because the next paragraph is going to sound insane. If you're just interested in which picture I picked, look at it and then skip ahead.

I actually racked my brain pretty hard for which shot to use from this sequence. The moment that stuck with me was when Novak sits and stares at the portrait of the mysterious Carlotta while we see Stewart's Scottie Ferguson staring at her from a distance. The best capture of it I could get looks a lot like this -
Click to make more big, obviously.
Click to make more big, obviously.
- but I just wasn't sold on that being the best image. That statue bugs me, it's a little out of focus (That's the DVD's fault, not Hitchcock's) and unless your screen is REALLY big it doesn't convey the scope I feel this moment deserves.  So then I looked at some other moments -
This one almost won because of the hazy dreamlike cemetery with modern stuff in the distance.
- and then I stumbled back to the moment I picked, where I wanted to just grab an image of Novak walking through the beautiful flower shop.

And then I stumbled into that moment where Stewart peeks through the door and we see his eye while also seeing Novak's reflection and my brain exploded with shouts of "AHHHHHHHHHHH! That's perfect!!!"  So, after about a half hour of grabbing a second by second series of images I finally settled on the one above - because her hair is past the edge of the mirror and the dudes in the distance background have good posture - and that's the image I posted and I love it a lot.

#cinephilephoto No. 2 - Laurie Zimmer being a bad mammajamma in Assault on Precinct 13
Ok, so then the second nomination came (from the coolness of Horrorella and her friend The Fly) and I knew that I had thought way too long and hard about my first pick.

This time I knew I wanted to use a John Carpenter film and I always feel like Assault on Precinct 13 is his most under-loved film (I'd say it's my second favorite, behind Halloween) so I pretty much made my mind up on the spot I was doing something from it.

Despite my love for the film's antihero, Napoleon Wilson, I've been deciding over recent years that Laurie Zimmer's Leigh is a strong challenger for most badass character in the film and one of my favorite realistic and tough women in action cinema. I really wanted to use a shot from late in the film where she has to take on an intruding gang member at close range that looked a lot like this -
- because she looks amazingly fierce in this scene and you can just see her realizing what she has to do and not flinching when faced with such a dire situation.
Trouble is, this is not by any means Carpenter's cleanest film, from a visual standpoint and the technology I have (a laptop with a DVD player and an old Image Entertainment DVD) aren't great. I took six images of the scene in question and none were exactly what I wanted because of the grain and the smoke and whatnot. So, I backtracked again and got the image that I posted from a much cleaner shot early in the film - sadly, before her arm got that awesome makeshift bandage after she took a bullet like a champ - because she still looks fierce and there's the Coca-Cola machine in the back and I just think Assault on Precinct 13 and Laurie Zimmer's performance are swell.

#cinephilephoto No. 3 - Arnold in the video store in Last Action Hero.
My third, and thus far final, nomination came up early this morning (from the amazingly named Isaacs Haunted Beard) and his light-hearted image of the great Ernest P. Worrell got me thinking that I needed to post an image a little more fun this time around.

And, to me, nothing's more fun than Arnold Schwarzenegger in a video store. I mean, you've got a poster for Bram Stoker's Dracula, you've got random videos of The Road Warrior and Dead Calm and Field of Dreams in the cluttered background, you've got a girl that looks like Nicholson's wife from Batman, you've even got mega-babe Angie Everhart in the far back corner.

All of that's perfect - but then there's Arnold as Jack Slater too. Man, I love Last Action Hero. It's a misunderstood classic, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.*
You gotta know I almost picked the scene where Arnold does Hamlet, but I just assumed some dope would mistake it for him playing Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin and I'd feel bad. Plus, video stores are my favorite.
My #cinephilephoto journey is over (for now), but it's always a blast to see movie nerds come together and be nerdy. If you're in on this wacky trend, let me know so I can find you and admire your visual handiwork.

* I don't plan to actually fight anyone. Make movies, not war. Hugs.

Monday, September 01, 2014

"I Don't Know Where I'm Going. But I Sure Know Where I've Been." - Whitesnake

 From The Cinema Vaults: Joyride
There's something surprisingly genuine about a movie in which a trio of youngsters - all played by children of Hollywood stars - head off to Alaska because they're fed up with life. That's the hook of Joyride, a 1977 drama by director Joseph Ruben. Although the flick never really reaches great heights, it's an interesting place to start.

Desi Arnaz Jr., Robert "Revenge of the Nerds" Carradine, and nineteen year old Melanie Griffith star as the newcomers to blue collar Alaska who quickly learn nothing - from holding a job to paying for booze to winning a pissing contest - is quite as easy as they thought it would be up north. So of course they turn to crime, eventually finding themselves wanted for robbery and taking in a hostage (played by Anne Lockhart, daughter of June, making her another Hollywood baby) as they try to get free from life's problems.

The most genuine aspect of the film is certainly the actors, each of whom are believable as down on their luck youngsters despite their real life lineage. Arnaz Jr. never made it big as an actor, but he's certainly the heart of the film here while Carradine seems to be channeling his older brother Keith as the angrier of the two men. Griffith shows some of her future talent but is overshadowed by Lockhart, who brings a confident edge to the film as she moves from prostitute to hostage to ally.
Like its lead characters, the film unfortunately seems to wander a bit too often. Despite the title this is not a fast paced thriller, and the introspective side of the drama isn't always engaging. The characters are richly developed as the film moves through the twists in their relationships, but it never feels very urgent. The final scenes convey the film's ideas on how the characters' lives have changed forever, but even then it feels like the changes haven't been too substantial.

Joyride is directed by Joseph Ruben, who was in between his start on low budget drive-in fare (The Sister-In-Law, The Pom Pom Girls) and a future that would include horror classic The Stepfather and Hollywood fare like Sleeping With The Enemy and The Good Son. He's one of those directors that nobody ever really talks about, despite the fact that he's made some good movies with A-List casts, but he's always been a steady hand as a director and you can see that here.  

Joyride never really becomes a profound coming-of-age tale - the script is a little too hollow and the stakes are never high enough to make us feel strongly about the characters' journey - but it has some beautiful photography and an engaging cast and that's enough to make me glad that I dug this one up for an afternoon viewing. If you come across it and are in the mood for a simple youth-in-revolt drama, you might dig it.

"Hi There" - Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington

My name's The Mike. You either know me already, or you don't. I can't decide which of those categories you fit into, so hopefully you know.

Those that know me know that I used to write a lot of stuff about horror and genre flicks at a blog called From Midnight, With Love. You can check it out, it's still there. I put the better part of five years into that site, and as time went on I grew pretty tired of it. 

I started blogging to have fun and share some stuff I love with people in the process. But somewhere along the way the fun wore out. It became a chore and I took it way too seriously and I just wasn't doing any good anymore. So then I decided to get even more ridiculous and try to move on to something bigger that I would take even more seriously and now I realize I was just driving myself crazy.

"I used to care, but things have changed." - Bob Dylan

Which brings us to now, and this blog. I miss talking about movies and putting my thoughts out there. I just don't want to take it so seriously. And I figured that it would be easier to just start a simple blog named after a screenshot from The Running Man (which serves as the site's logo, thanks Special Edition DVD) where I could ramble about whatever I want whenever I want than it would be to re-brand my old blog. 

I don't really know what my plan is here, but I hope you give it a read. If you like movies and other cool things there's a chance I might talk about some things you like. 

I also feel like it's fun to quote people, which is why this post contains not one but TWO quotations. Don't judge me.

I'll be back talking about stuff sometime soon. Pop on back and check it out.

Until next time,
The Mike

P.S. - Oh, and I'd really like to have a "mailbag" sometimes. If you're reading this, go to the box on the left side of the page and send me some feedback. You can tell me what you want me to talk about or ask me questions about things or even just say hi and tell me I'm dumb. Then I'll respond to stuff on the site and it will be fun. Or not. It's worth a shot though.