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Originally released in Japan in 1966 as Zatoichi Umio Watero, Zatoichi's Pilgrimage was one of a long series of historical movies about a blind swordmaster and his adventures. I have to admit that I've never heard of the series before, but it's amazing what information you can find up there on the Web! This particular movie revolves around Zatoichi finding a dying pregnant woman who's been mugged, he saves her newly born son and then tries to find her family to reunite the child with its father. Along the way various incidents happen, not least taking on the local gang of criminals and skewering most of them with his trusty samurai sword.
I have to admit that by today's standards the movie creaks a bit - the acting style is extremely formal, plus it's low budget set design gives it the look of a Hammer Horror movie with added noodles. And yet, the central performance of Shintaru Katsu as Zatoichi is just right - whether the actor is really blind I don't know, but he plays the character as a streetwise sage, whose almost supernatural hearing makes up for the deficiency in vision. And once the sword is drawn the fight sequences are both balletic and bloody at the same time.
I'm not sure how Zatoichi's Pilgrimage stands with regard to the rest of the series, it was entertaining enough, if slow-paced, but it has its charms even if they are rather dated now.
Set in the seedy and crapulent underbelly of New York, Once In The Life tells the story of 20:20 Mike [Laurence Fishburne] and Torch [Titus Welliver], two estranged brothers [one black, one white] reunited in a police station. Once released they immediately go on a crime spree, which includes knocking off a bag of drugs during a drugs deal in a hotel room - they also unfortunately kill the local drug baron's nephew. The drugs baron, Manny Rivera, sends Tony the Tiger [Eamonn Walker] after the brothers to retrieve the drugs and kill them. Unfortunately Tony and Mike are close friends, so the rest of the movie is spent in trying to find a way out of the mess, especially as Manny has Tony's wife [Annabella Sciorra] and baby as hostages.
This movie is as shitty as it sounds. Maybe it's me [and my being white and English] but this sort of tale of street scum [blacks, hispanics, whites] has been done to death in countless 'Blaxploitation' movies of the 70s and subsequent cable and rental market movies since then. What is so frustrating is that Laurence Fishburne is a good actor, and has wasted his directing debut on such poor material - which ironically is based on his own theatre play. Instead of continuing the stereotypical portrayal of blacks in movies as criminals and low lives, he had the opportunity to raise the game by depicting a black community as decent people. But not here - watch this movie and all the preset stereotypes of blacks as shambling drug addicts, dealers and pimps are all there up on the big screen. The script might have worked in a theatre and the set structure of a stage performance, but as a movie it doesn't work, the script is oververbose and the pacing wanders all over the place, negating any sense of tension or identification with the characters. This is a movie that only the hardiest fans of Laurence Fishburne will want to see.
I'm not sure where to start with State Property - I found this movie to be extremely depressing and yes, even repellent in its glorification of black street culture, the gangs and violent crime. It goes out of its way to show young black Americans that the only way to empower themselves is by selling drugs and fighting violent 'turf wars' with a variety of high powered weapons.
The story, supposedly a true one, follows local black gangster Beans (Beanie Sigel) and his crew as they take over the neighbourhood and then larger areas of the city in their search for money and power (over the black community). The film attempts to show these characters as an extended family, with Beans as the 'godfather' ruling the family with the gun. Any dissent usually ends in a bullet in the gut, and wives and girlfriends are treated as whores or virtual slaves.
What is truly upsetting is that this movie seems to have been written and produced by blacks, and if their intention was to use the movie as a warning to the kids on the streets then it fails as it simply glorifies black gangsterism and the creed 'live fast die young'. With so much stereotypical media attention on crime by blacks surely these producers could have come up with something more positive.
DVD extras include: Director's commentary, theatrical trailer, cast and dancer auditions, behind-the-scenes making of footage, deleted scenes, four music videos, scene selection, interactive menus and previews of other MIA releases.
I've never really got into all the macho posturing that seemed to go with the heavy metal music of the 80s and 90s - some of it was OK but a lot of the bands were simply glam rock with added balls... But one of the benchmark bands of that period and still going today is Iron Maiden - they've survived the vagaries of the subsequent trends in rock music and kept their army of fans happy with a series of albums and hit singles that probably defy the logic of mortal man but kept their zombie fixated fans very happy indeed.
This 2DVD set collects together thirty videos from Iron Maiden's lengthy career [1980 to 2001] as prime purveyors of heavy metal rock. It also brings together a number of tasty extras, such as clips from football matches, the Rock in Rio 2001 gig, animated versions by Camp Chaos of six of their songs and a complete discography. The animated menu system is also pretty neat, featuring that tasteful ghoul about town, Eddie the Zombie. Picture quality is a little grainy on the early videos but improves as we come forward in time, and the sound quality is excellent.
Among the hits here are Run to the Hills, Number of the Beast, Can I Play With Madness and The Wicker Man. All played with their usual full throttle sound and the bullish roar of Bruce Dickinson. What can one say? These aren't the most stylish or inventive videos ever made, and they seem to conform to a simple template which means they all look similar, but they are still great fun. And I guess will bring back many happy memories to the Iron Maiden fans who will buy this.
For a long time one of the most enigmatic, charismatic and musically adventurous bands in the history of electronic/rock/dance music, the German band Kraftwerk have recently been enjoying something of a purple patch. After many long years of silence they released an album of new material, toured the world, released a double live album and now we have the double DVD package recording the exceptional performances from that world tour. I think it is fair to say that Kraftwerk are probably the most static performers in the history of rock, standing behind their keyboard/laptop stands and barely moving for the two hours of the gig - and yet, thanks to a dynamic light and video show projected on three huge screens behind them the four members of the band offer a powerful show that put most other bands to shame - and yes, the robots do make an appearance! This double DVD contains twenty tracks - a lot of old classics such as The Man Machine, Radio Activity, Autobahn, The Model, Computer World, Numbers, Trans Europe Express, and the audience pleasing The Robots. And then there is the new material, Tour De France 03, Vitamin, Elecktro Kardiogramm and Aero Dynamik. An introduction to the band and greatest hits rolled into one excellent package, the Minimum - Maximum DVD set [and the audio CD set too] confirm that Kraftwerk are one of popular music's greatest innovators.The Little Shop Of Horrors
(Eureka Video, 70 Mins, Cert: PG, Format: DVD,Stars: Jack Nicholson,
Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles. Dir: Roger Corman)
The Little Shop Of Horrors is one those movies that has a legend attached to it that far outstrips its true worth. I can remember seeing the movie more years ago than I care to recall at a sci-fi convention - it was a terrible print, dark and grainy, with frames missing, dirty and scratched, and yet for many at that convention it was the highlight of the weekend. I only have vague memories of watching it - thanks to the liberal licencing laws for hotel bars I was probably enjoying my own personal happy hour at the time...
It's reputed that The Little Shop Of Horrors was shot over a period of 2-3 days [using sets from another movie that were due to be torn down], making it one of the fastest productions ever. And when you watch it you can understand this, it has all the production values of, say, an episode of Bilko from the same period - rickety sets, third rate actors hamming it up, and a thick vein of slapstick Yiddish humour. One could almost feel that Phil Silvers would be bursting through the florists door any minute.
And yet, this tale of the universal loser, Seymour [Jonathan Haze] and his mutant man-eating plant set in the New York Skid Row has had a shelf life few could have expected at the time. The Little Shop Of Horrors became a cult movie that inspired a stage musical and then a large budget movie version that almost managed to match the charm of the original. For many the highlight of the Corman original is the debut performance of Jack Nicholson, all flashing sharks' eyes and teeth as a pain junkie, insisting on having all his teeth pulled by the local dentist. There are other joys as well, Seymour's dipso mom sucking back the 100 proof Dr Buzzard's All Purpose Knee Salve, and then there was the great Dick Miller brandishing a mean-looking cruet set from his pocket and munching his way deadpan through bunch after bunch of carnations... the 'hip' jazz score that soundtracks the movie. Ah, sweet memories.
The last thing I ever expected in this digital age was to find such a half formed memory given flesh on DVD, and yet when my Father arrived home one day clutching hold of a DVD copy he had picked up for a fiver the pulse raced and that memory was unlocked. The Little Shop Of Horrors was directed back in 1960 by Roger Corman, nominally a hack director and quickie merchant whose work wouldn't acquire its deserved artistic reassessment until decades later when video allowed his work to be appreciated by a more movie savvy generation.
I have to say that Eureka Video's treatment of the movie and DVD transfer is exemplary [considering its budget price] - the movie has been digitally remastered, and I mean that in the full sense, the 4:3 aspect ratio print is almost crystal clear, as is the sound, which considering the cheap filmstock and equipment used to shoot the movie initially certainly highlights how good remastering techniques have become. Obviously the quality is not going to match a recently produced mega budget blockbuster, but the print is almost clear of any artifacts, scratches, graininess etc., and that is something I didn't expect. The DVD has a menu with Scene Selection, and options for pages containing Trivia and Synopsis data.
The Little Shop Of Horrors is not the best movie ever made, and it has no artistic pretensions at all, but it is a classic of low budget movie making, and the cheesy camp humour gives it a unique charm. It should be in all movie buffs collections.
"Feed me ... feed me ... FEED ME!"
"Gee Junior, I'd like to feed you ... but I used up all my fingers."
I seem to recall Samuel L Jackson appearing on Parkinson a few months ago to promote this movie, so I assume it was released in theatres. I guess this quick release on video and DVD signifies that it was a bomb. Which is a bit of a shame 'cos this comedy thriller is actually quite good. Jackson stars as McElroy, a kilt wearing chemist who has invented POS 51, the designer drug of the century. Looking to retire, McElroy blows up his drug cartel boss The Lizard [Meatloaf] and flies to Liverpool to make the deal for the drug with local gangland bosses. Big mistake - everyone is doublecrossing everyone on the deal and McElroy ultimately teams up with Felix De Souza, a foul-mouthed gangster fixated on Liverpool FC and violence. Meanwhile, The Lizard survives the bomb and hires hitwoman Dakota [Emily Mortimer - and De Souza's ex squeeze] to find McElroy and protect him until the Lizard can have his revenge.
OK, that's the thumbnail sketch, but it doesn't convey half the confusion as the plot unfolds and a whose-who of British character actors [including Rikky Tomlinson, Sean Pertwee, and Rhys Ifans, plus a number of ex-pats from Brookside) do their scouser gangster schtick. Ultimately, The 51st State is a caper movie, a foul-mouthed, fast-paced one that is quite entertaining. It has several moments of pure lunacy and the Liverpool setting is as atmospheric as it always is. I'm sure a person not taken with its charms could pick huge holes out of the plot and the setting, but the interplay between Jackson and Carlyle is good, and for once the bad guys win.
The only downside is that the DVD is the rental version and many of the usual DVD player functions are not available: no menu facility, no language or subtitle options, no chapter selection, or commentaries, and there are no special features apart from a clutch of trailers from the same distributor.
All DVDs reviewed here are Region
2 [UK] format
In many ways Collateral Damage is no different from most of the other Arnie slugfests of the past, or those by Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford, come to think of it. A few tweaks to the plot and this could equally be a Die Hard clone. The action plot is bog standard: Arnie plays Gordy Brewer, an LA firefighter who loses his wife and son when a Colombian terrorist called The Wolf blows up an office block in front of him. Despite promises from the FBI and CIA that the killer will be brought to justice, the mendacity of corrupt politicians stalls the manhunt and Gordy stomps off to Colombia to find and kill the Wolf. Queue up the impressive car chases, explosions, toe-curling torture scenes and everything else that will reinforce the American view that all hispanics from the Central American region are greasy, venal, vicious killers and rapists.
In other words Collateral Damage is a generic big screen action movie from Hollywood - popcorn fodder for the Playstation generation.
But that was before 11/9/2001. When the unthinkable happened and a scarcely credible scenario for a future Hollywood crashbangwalloper came to life before the horrified eyes of not just America but the whole world it altered the idea of what was acceptable as entertainment from Hollywood. Collateral Damage was due for release but there was no appetite either for the bogus heroics of Arnie or to see more office blocks explode, so the movie was put back until now. Nothing has changed in the movie, but it now seems to resonate with some of the angst and horror and revulsion we all felt at such a vision forced on us by the 24/7 media on that memorable day. For many the similar plotline, albeit with latin american terrorists rather than Islamic militants, is just too abhorent to be taken as entertainment. But Collateral Damage still exists and will do so for years to come.
On a superficial level the movie is well made, as should be expected from the director of The Fugitive, Andrew Davis. The action set pieces and stunts all play out as they should do, and there's a reassuringly high bodycount of dead 'baddies' to satisfy the movie's moral point of view. The most surprising aspect [for me] of the whole movie is how restrained Arnie is as the lead character - he still does all the heroic schtick you expect from him, but he looks older and perhaps not as pumped up as usual. Age is catching with him and the brush with mortality during his heart scare a few years ago has finally curbed some of the overconfidence that used to make up his screen persona. Arnie will never be a great actor but he does make Gordy Brewer a character you can sympathise and even identify with. Whether that is down to his acting or a resonance from the Twin Towers disaster I don't know. It still doesn't make Collateral Damage a better than average action flick but there's hope that one day Arnie will surprise us all and find a role that will transcend his screen persona.
The contents of this DVD date back to the mid-70s, when all music genres were sprouting new sub-genres and fusions like there was no tomorrow. Heartworn Highways is a documentary showcasing some of the [then] rising new talents on the Country music scene - but these people have rejected the "Nashville Sound" for something much rawer and based on their roots. And, not surprisingly, most of the artists in the movie come from Texas and the south-west of the USA - oh, and the scuzzier, more honest end of Nashville.
The artists include Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Young, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, David Allan Coe, Charlie Daniels Band and John Hiatt, plus several characters who like as if Central casting has plucked them out the Dukes of Hazard...
There is little, if any, obvious narrative structure to this movie, merely extended sections of fly-on-the-wall clips of the various musicians rehearsing, performing and shooting the breeze together, and lots of shots of their buses travelling the highways of the deep south. It would have helped if director James Szalapski had included some sort of narrative voice-over to set the scene and introduce the muscians being profiled, so I'm not sure if a country fan [or any unwary punter] unaware of the 'outlaw' or 'new country' movements will know many of these people. However, the two and a half hours of footage here chronicles the birth of what we now call Alt.America, or Americana, or whatever faddish new label some marketing brain has devised.
The picture quality is grainy, but in this case that rather enhances the historical feel of what one is watching, and the sound quality is basic stereo, so no 'yee haw's' from the rear speakers. The movie lasts for ninety minutes, but you also get an extra hour's worth of footage of rare performances, several of them featuring groups of the above named artists sitting around the kitchen table picking their guitars and singing. With all those slow drawn southern accents floating around the absence of subtitles is a negative point against the producers. And the DVD comes with an excellently produced booklet featuring interviews with the director and other people involved in making the documentary. But that aside, Heartworn Highways is a fascinating and magical exploration into the heart of modern country music.
It seems like Rick Wakeman has been around for evermore, both as a serial member of Yes and as a solo act, hence his recent appearances on Grumpy Old Men on the tv. But here we are just going to look at his music and the release of a new DVD that mixes live performance and studio recordings into a showcase for this impressive keyboard wizard's music.
The DVD contains nine tracks: Anne Boleyn, Wondrous Stories, Long Distance Runaround, Elizabethan Rock, Awaken, Make Me A Woman, Catherine Parr, Close To The Edge, and Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Most of the Yes tracks are performed as a set of solo piano variations in the studio, and the rest of the tracks are the live performance with his band, The English Rock Ensemble. Oh, and there are even some animated sequences featuring Roger Dean's distinctive artwork.
There's little point describing this music to you - you either recognise the titles or you aren't a fan of Wakeman and Yes. What I can tell you is that the performances are very good, the piano variations of Yes material are stunning and the rockier tracks rock. It's a most impressive sight to see him whirling around a circle of nine keyboards creating this huge sound.
The DVD comes with no extras other than track selection, but you do get the sound in a choice of Dolby Digital and DTS digital surround sound. An interview would have been a nice addition, and perhaps some archive footage just to top it all off, but this is an excellent showcase of Rick Wakeman's music. Seventy-four minutes of keyboard joy.