CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S INTERSTELLAR — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s visually astonishing and mind-bending science-fiction epic, is an overwhelming experience. At least it was for me when I saw it on an IMAX screen, and it continues to be every single time I pop in the Blu-ray or watch it on HBO.  It’s a $165 million anti-blockbuster that was based on an original idea, one that never felt like a pre-determined or manufactured “product” that was eager to sell toys and video games and lunchboxes and sequels and TV-spin-offs. There’s no “made by committee” feeling here, and I applaud the fact that it offers the audience very little in the way of traditionally overt “fun,” instead placing an enormous emphasis on ideas, grim reality, hard-science, and hypothetical thought, while still telling an intimate and emotionally gripping story that’s relatable, honest, and impactful. Nolan, often labeled cold and humorless by his critics, has made his wittiest, most heartfelt movie yet with Interstellar, and it’s in his expert and patient blending of the earth-bound dramatics and the cosmic life or death stakes that an enormously involving story is crafted.

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Anchored by an immensely appealing and dead-serious movie-star performance from Matthew McConaughey, (the sort of role Tom Cruise would’ve been asked to do 10-15 years ago), playing a test-pilot who agrees to navigate an experimental space shuttle into a black hole, leaving behind his children, unsure of whether or not he’ll ever return, all in an effort to find a new and habitable planet for the citizens of Earth, as our resources are fast depleting. Interstellar takes its time but never feels its length (it’s close to three hours), allowing the first, emotionally fragile act on earth to breathe and take shape before we blast off and out of our solar system. The child actress Mackenzie Foy was sensational as McConaughey’s despairing daughter, and the waves of emotion that hit her face are amazing to observe. After a brilliant jump-cut from the back of a speeding pick-up truck to the fiery rocket engines of a shuttle, we’re in the vast reaches of space, heading for Saturn and beyond, with wormholes and black holes and new dimensions and galaxies to explore.

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The years pass on earth rapidly with time progressing ever more slowly for the astronauts, and as we watch McConaughey at the film’s half-way point watch and listen to video messages from his children that have been recorded throughout the years, the vastness of this story begins to dawn on you, and it’ll be impossible not to be moved by McConaughey’s sad and honest reactions to what he’s witnessing. To be honest, the less that’s spoiled about this trickily involving narrative the better, because as with all of Nolan films, there’s layer upon layer that will be open for dissection, interpretation and surprise. There are shades of 2001, The Right Stuff, Contact, and Primer felt throughout, but Interstellar is definitely its own thing, operating on a massive canvass and utilizing top-flight craft contributions from everyone in the ace crew. The jaw-dropping cinematography is by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, Let the Right One In) and each shot is worthy of the pause button, with the IMAX format allowing for some incredible vistas. The flawless and seamless digital effects are used to propel the story, not as a lazy crutch, but the most impressive aspect to Interstellar may just be how much was done practically and in-camera.

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Again, no spoilers, but this is an intensely beautiful movie at times, with images that will simultaneously thrill and haunt the viewer, and I’d suspect filmmakers like Jonathan Glazer and Terrence Malick went bananas for this otherworldly trip. But most importantly, as a filmmaker, Nolan seems incapable of not engaging his audience on a cerebral level every time he gets behind the camera. The last 30 minutes are as trippy as it’s going to get for big-budget cinema, with the narrative constantly coming around on itself again and again. The wormhole and black-hole segments are special effects cinema at its most bravura, literally taking you to places that you will never, ever see with your own eyes. Hans Zimmer’s magisterial score was one for the ages, possibly the greatest of his already legendary career. Multiple viewings of Interstellar have only reinforced how I felt after my first screening – this is Nolan’s grandest effort to date, and if The Prestige still remains my absolute favorite film made by this classy and sophisticated filmmaker, I’m simply in awe of all of the various moving parts that consist to Interstellar. And it goes without saying that I’m beyond ready to see his WWII film, Dunkirk, which hits theaters in two weeks.

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JOHN CASSAVETES’ LOVE STREAMS — A GUEST REVIEW BY FILMMAKER AND CRITIC DAMIAN K. LAHEY

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‘Love Streams’ (1984) dir. John Cassavetes

This is far and away my favorite Cassavetes film.

In general I am not a fan of movies about angst ridden people in the entertainment business. ‘Love Streams’ is an exception. This is a film about a boozy womanizing screenwriter (Cassavetes) and his mentally fractured sister (Gena Rowlands). It painfully details how the sexes deal with aging – women with the frantic loss of confidence as their looks diminish and men searching for sexual conquests to hold on to the boyish vigor they either lost long ago or never had. It’s all front and center in that emotionally grotesque way that only Cassavetes can convey. The complexity of truth in relationships has always been what he has explored in his films, the undercurrent being the desperate affection that binds us all together.

I believe the Cassavetes style of filmmaking to be at its most accessible here. For a drama of this type and at such a robust running time (141 min.) it never drags or becomes annoying. It’s important to find a balance with these things. That sweet spot between cinema verite style docudrama filmmaking and conventional narrative in order to get across what you’re trying to say. I don’t want to come off as dense but I prefer my films accessible for the most part. I just do. There is only so much esoteric, experimental and self absorbed footage I can withstand before I feel I am either being sold a bad bill of goods or I lose respect for the person making it. I don’t mind studied but I can’t do boring. The more rambling Cassavetes is in his narratives the less I enjoy them despite what I admire about the aesthetics and their texture. So ‘A Woman Under The Influence’ (1974), ‘The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie’ (1976) and ‘Love Streams’ are the Cassavetes films I gravitate towards as opposed to ‘Shadows’ (1959) or ‘Faces’ (1968).

As an independent filmmaker I certainly appreciate what Cassavetes represents to the spirit of the movement rather than his collective body of work. His spirit and Dionysian drive is one that fires me up more than most though I don’t consider him one of my filmmaking heroes and at the end of the day it is their work I’ll revisit rather than his – Fellini, Peckinpah, Argento, Leone, Forman etc…but that’s just my personal preference.

‘Love Streams’ sees people stretching into late middle age and finding themselves no longer comfortable in the world they inhabit and becoming increasingly agitated by it. All they know how to do is cling to the relationships in their lives no matter how old, torn or frayed. Cassavetes makes it clear that while life is finite, love in all its various streams – is infinite.

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NETFLIX PRESENTS BONG JOON-HO’S OKJA — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Thank the movie gods that Bong Joon-ho is getting a chance to make movies, and that Netflix had the scratch to finance a $60 million art film that would never have been made at this level anywhere else. I don’t care how many theaters Netflix Originals have access to; that’s not my business, I don’t finance movies, I don’t care what they gross. I care about seeing NEW STUFF and thought provoking social commentaries and this is exactly that. It’s also a family drama, a CGI-thing-a-ma-bob experience, a corporate satire, and a haunting rumination about “where does the beef come from?” The final moments of this movie left me with a lump in my throat, and reminded me of why I stopped eating cattle and pork roughly 5 years ago. Also, more massive Brad Pitt POWER for helping to get this film made through his Plan B shingle; this guy can do no wrong from where I sit in terms of delivery high-caliber films both in front of and behind the camera. Tilda Swinton is insane, the cinematography by Darius Khondji (Seven, Evita, The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant) is frequently gorgeous and more elaborate and tricked-out than I’m accustomed to seeing from this master of the moving image, and the overall tone can never be pinned down, which I’m always a fan of.

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But that’s Joon-ho for you. In all of the films that I’ve seen from him, including Barking Dogs Never Bite Memories of Murder, The Host, Mother, Snowpiercer, and now Okja, there’s so much going both inside and outside of the frame, that sometimes his narratives feel overstuffed, but in a great and fascinating way. And that’s because he understands that life isn’t just one thing at all times; we’re allowed to be happy and sad in the same exact moment, and he always allows for humor to bubble to surface, no matter how dire or upsetting the situation becomes. He’s also prone to mixing graphic violence into his stories, something that’s done a bit less here, but the film still retains that special edge that he always brings to the table. It’s also interesting to note that Joon-ho collaborated with co-writer and gonzo journalist Jon Ronson (the brilliant The Men Who Stare at Goats) on this project. Also, I’m a stickler for poorly integrated digital effects, so I’m happy to report that, for the most part, and especially considering how much occurs during daylight hours, the renderings of Okja are very strong and tangible, despite a few ropey looking moments from time to time. But overall, this is a phenomenally cool piece of work, with winks to classics like 12 Monkeys, while still defiantly marching to the beat of its own drum.

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BLACK HAWK DOWN — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

0“Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics go right out the window.” This one single line of dialogue represents the entire focus and intent of Ridley Scott’s tour de force combat film, Black Hawk Down, which was released in 2001 in the shadow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A tragic anti-war film that manages to celebrate the warrior spirit that only a select few possess while eschewing stodgy and needless politicizing, this film dared to look at a deeply compromised and misguided American military excursion with necessary and unflinching brutality, with sly geopolitical critique peeking through the edges of the presentation. It can never be undersold just how stunning a vision this film was for Scott and his crew of technicians and actors. I’ve see this film so many times it’s almost laughable, but revisiting it just recently, I was struck by just how immersive of an experience this really is, and how it has few rivals.

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It’s the gold-standard for “you are in the shit” visceral filmmaking, and Scott’s uncompromising vision of urban warfare set precedents in the early aughts and has been constantly imitated ever since. Borrowing from cinematic touchstones like The Battle of Algiers and Saving Private Ryan, this is easily the finest movie that producer Jerry Bruckheimer has been a part of, and I can only imagine the disappointment that must’ve occurred when his name was left off the Best Picture ballot at that year’s Oscar ceremonies. It’s a shame, as this film represents nearly everything that made him into who he has become as a grand showman of filmic adventure.

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Black Hawk Down was based on the 1999 book by Mark Bowden, who had based his own work on a 29-part series of articles which were published in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Recalling the events of a 1993 raid in Mogadishu, it was supposed to be a relatively simple snatch and grab mission, intended to capture terrorist leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid. But the event would later became known as the Battle of Mogadishu after an insane fire-fight broke out in the streets between American forces and local militia fighters, which left many U.S. soldiers dead or wounded. The filmmakers assembled an amazing ensemble cast, including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs, Sam Shepard, Orlando Bloom, Ioan Gruffudd, Johnny Strong, Brian Van Holt, Kim Coates, Zeljko Ivanek, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Hugh Dancy, Ron Eldard, Jeremy Piven, Glenn Morhsower, and Tom Hardy in his feature film debut, all of whom brought the rough and tumble goods, disappearing believably into their various roles with honor.

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Scott, Bruckheimer, and screenwriter Ken Nolan made sure to stick to the core of Bowden’s riveting and devastating book, and in doing so, created one of the most unforgettable pieces of action filmmaking ever constructed. It’s a physically exhausting movie to sit through, harrowing all throughout, with a constant sense of dread and impending violence, with an exacting sense of you are there verisimilitude that keeps the viewer pinned to their seat. It’s interesting to note that filmmaker Simon West (Con Air, The General’s Daughter) was the one to suggest the project to Bruckheimer for optioning, and was at one point slated to direct, before departing to take on Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, while some big heavy-hitters helped to craft the script, including Steven Zaillian, Eric Roth, Ezna Sands, and Steve Gaghan, while the solo-credited Nolan was on-set for four months doing constant re-writes.

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With stunning spatial clarity and obsessive technical finesse, Scott and the brilliant cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (a frequent collaborator of Krzysztof Kieślowski and who would re-team with Bruckheimer on Antoine Fuqua’s underrated medieval epic King Arthur ) created a gorgeous yet brutal film that pummeled the audience with a sense of sustained cinematic intensity that few other films have matched; Idziak would receive an Oscar nomination for his harrowing depiction of sustained warfare, with many of his tricks and tendencies become emulated by various filmmakers moving forward, including Peter Berg’s gripping Lone Survivor, Michael Bay’s underrated 13 Hours, and portions of Randall Wallace’s blood-soaked We Were Soldiers and John Woo’s Windtalkers. Pietro Scalia’s Oscar-winning film editing is a lesson in coherence, physical space, and forward momentum, with much of the storytelling relying on the power of the visual image, which needed to be conveyed in a lucid, geographically precise manner. Arthur Max’s superior set design brought the turbulent streets to total life, with the production utilizing Morocco for location shooting, with strong support from the U.S. Army bolstering authenticity levels.

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Then there’s the immense sound design that went into this massive production, with Michael Minkler, Chris Munro, and Myron Nettinga taking home the Oscar for Best Sound Mixing; the sound of bullets whizzing past your ears has never been done like it was here. And the film is capped off by prolific and booming composer Hans Zimmer, with one of his most sensational and emotional musical scores, mixing mournful notes with moments of sonic triumph; this glorious soundtrack was devised by Zimmer and various other composers inside of the “war room” at his Media Ventures studio, and represents one of Zimmer’s more experimental and varied efforts. The entire score is available on CD or for download and is very much worth purchasing.

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I saw this film 10 times theatrically, a personal record for me for one movie. Granted, I saw it 5 nights in a row at my college campus theater for free, but for me, this is one of the most exciting, most intensely realized portraits of warfare that’s ever been created. I also had the chance to see various aspect of the pre-production process as I was an intern at Jerry Bruckheimer Films during that time period.  I’ll never forget the sight of Bruckheimer, Scott, and Joe Roth doing laps around the Santa Monica compound, smoking cigars, talking about their plans for the movie. I had the life-highlight experience of hanging out with production designer Arthur Max quite a bit, and Scott would come into the room and check out all of the models and boards and plans, deciding where the helicopters would land, etc. All of it was exceptionally surreal to observe, and I was just happy to be a fly on the wall, and more than eager to make roughly 1,000 copies of the script in that ridiculous script library at the Santa Monica compound.

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Shot for a reported $110 million and grossing $170 million worldwide ($108 million in America after a $33 million Martin Luther King weekend opening) before becoming a massive best-selling item on physical media formats, with various cuts available on both DVD and Blu-ray, Black Hawk Down was well-reviewed by critics (Roger Ebert’s four star review is a beauty), and I think that the Criterion Collection would be wise to release this as a full-platter special edition, remastered in 4K, with all of the previously produced special features included. And if they need someone to write the liner notes, just call me up.

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: KINO LORBER PRESENTS RIDLEY SCOTT’S 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE — BY NICK CLEMENT

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Easily one of Ridley Scott’s most ambitious films, 1492: Conquest of Paradise is not without its flaws, but also, not without its merits, most of which stem from the enormity of the physical production; had the script been more historically accurate then we might have had one of the greatest epic adventures of all time. Instead, the finished form of this cinematic seafaring voyage feels caught in between trying to be something respectful and progressive, despite clearly being made from a place of true personal investment.

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It’s also a staggering reminder of the power of REAL cinema: Actual ships, live extras, exotic locations, real fire, real water – this is how an epic action-adventure drama film should look and feel, and in terms of the sheer size and florid atmosphere that was conveyed, this is one of the most lush movies of its type. One of Scott’s grandest canvasses that he’s worked on, this was one of the last films he made before the beginning of the CGI/digital effects revolution, and it would certainly be interesting to see how he’d make the film if he attempted to re-tell the story today.

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But, at times, the script feels like a mess, never giving you an accurate portrait of Columbus as a man, despite Scott and the rest of his team including some nice introspective beats and startling moments of violence which certainly pushed the edges of what the PG-13 rating allowed back in 1992. But where was the raping, and the murdering, and the pillaging, and the formation of the slave trade, and all of the stuff that we’ve come to learn that the real Columbus supervised and participated in? This film was written before some of the more controversial bits about Columbus were discovered, so in retrospect, with a fuller idea of who he was as a man, it’s a movie that feels at odds with itself in certain spots.

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Clearly, being an attempt at blockbuster filmmaking, the thematic and story elements needed to be softened to appeal to the widest possible audience, but here, it feels especially glaring, given what we’ve come to know. At times, you can feel that the filmmaker’s were striving for something more complex than what the screenplay afforded them; Roselyne Bosch’s dialogue is occasionally hammy while the plotting lacks a certain level of grace that would bestow Scott’s future period epics, chiefly the masterful director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven.

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But while this is a historically scrubbed effort, the technical details are astounding and the performances were solid all around. Gerard Depardieu was never less than excellent with what he was given, demonstrating gravitas and personal heft that helped to cut a convincing portrait of an impassioned explorer, even if speaking in English isn’t his strong suit. The supporting cast is diverse and odd in spots, but dominated by Michael Wincott in a genuinely nasty performance (his stock in trade), Sigourney Weaver, and Armand Assante.

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The bravura musical score from Vangelis (Blade Runner, Alexander, Chariots of Fire) along with the stunning widescreen cinematography from Adrian Biddle (Thelma & Louise, Aliens, Reign of Fire) combined to create a fantastic sense of time and place, which is par for the course on a Scott film. And the director, as always, delivered on the visual front, crafting a film of enormous scope and polish; the final act has a hurricane sequence and gory battle that are two of the best set pieces he’s ever directed. Scott and Biddle found true beauty in their vision of the New World; the sumptuous and dreamy shot in which the ocean mist parts to reveal dry land for the first time is handled in such an operatic fashion as to induce goosebumps, while Columbus’ first steps on new soil register as an earth-shaking moment.

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And the final moments are poetic in their sense of overall discovery and the loss of one’s ability to continue searching for the next challenge. I’ve just always taken exception to how noble they made Columbus out to be, considering all that we’ve learned from a revisionist perspective concerning his expeditions and attempts at conquering. Paramount released the film in time to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage back in 1992, and armed with a $50 million budget, Scott definitely pulled out all the visual stops you’d expect from him, but the public didn’t bite, and the film bombed in theaters, grossing less than $10 million domestic.

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But it’s a work that deserves reconsideration, and thanks to Kino Lorber’s recently released Special Edition Blu-ray, the film looks and sounds considerably better than I remember, as some time ago I purchased a Region 4 DVD from Brazil/Portugal, where the image, while presented in anamorphic widescreen, seemed to have been smeared with dirt and grease or left out in the sun to bake. But Kino’s new transfer is better than anything I’ve previously seen, with solid colors and appropriate grit and grain, and always giving off that filmic look that’s become lost now that everything is shot digitally. And while only in 2.0 DTS-HD sound, the film sounds big and boisterous and all-encompassing while dialogue remains crisp and clean. Special features include a highly informative and excellent audio commentary from film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson and various deleted scenes that showcase more graphic violence which were obviously trimmed to avoid an R-rating.

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DARIO ARGENTO’S OPERA — A REVIEW BY FILMMAKER & GUEST CRITIC DAMIAN K. LAHEY

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‘Opera’ (1987) dir. Dario Argento

Dario Argento. I was such a dork for this guy back in high school. I even had t-shirts made from the posters of some of his films. I got the images from a big interview piece I read with him in a ‘Psychotronic Magazine’ I had picked up. Did lots of presentations on his work in high school and later in film school. I’m still a huge mark for this guy and he’s a huge influence on my own work. Definitely one of my filmmaking heroes.

Objective historical fact: Dario Argento revolutionized the horror genre at three different times with the films ‘The Bird With The Crystal Plumage’ (1970), ‘Profondo Rosso’ (1975) and ‘Suspiria’ (1977). Awe inspiring. Everything outside of that is subjective but undoubtedly he has left a serious cultural footprint on the cinematic landscape that cannot be ignored.

In my opinion, he has made three great films – ‘Suspiria’, ‘Opera’ and ‘Profound Rosso’ and three very good films – ‘Phenomena’ (1985), ‘Tenebre'(1982) and ‘The Bird with Crystal Plumage’. Love them! Then there’s the rest. Some would toss ‘Inferno'(1980) and ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’ (1996) in there. I hear ya. They contain some truly wonderful moments. Stuff I certainly couldn’t do. But I just don’t think they come together as well as those others.

‘Opera’ revolves around the troubled production of an avant-garde staging of ‘Macbeth’ and the understudy who must rise to the occasion after the original ingenue is injured. Naturally, there’s also a serial killer on the loose dispatching people in all sorts of imaginative and grizzly ways.

After this film, Argento would never again make something as accomplished or impressive from a production stand point. His camera would never move as confidently or innovatively. His pacing would never be as urgent. And his spellbinding blend of the macabre, the artistic and the banal would never work so well together. Cristina Marsillach would also never be equaled as the quintessential Argento heroine. She is visually and emotionally the perfect foil for Argento’s filmmaking. Supposedly they did not get along during filming. It’s a shame but the film is probably better for it.

The gag with the killer taping pins under our heroine’s eyes so she is forced to watch the murders is a gimmick that runs rather shallow, packing less and less a punch with each viewing though they definitely frame it up like it’s the hottest thing going and the marketing to this day still pushes it to the moon.

Legendary cinematographer Ronnie Taylor rocks the arena with this one, composing some of Argento’s finest shots. A bit where the killer shoots his gun through the apartment peephole is still one of the best sequences of its type ever lensed.

I want to go on record as saying I find this film unusually erotic. I’m a big horror film guy but I don’t normally find the films all that erotic. I don’t. Sure, there’s naked ladies and sex scenes scattered about but I don’t find the genre as intrinsically erotic as many would claim. But I find this movie sexually charged in a strange way even though there’s little to no superficial eroticism to be had. Make sense?

I’ll never forget the first time I watched this film (re-titled ‘Terror At The Opera’ for US consumption) and it came to its controversial existential conclusion. I ADORED IT. It cuts to the most ridiculous switcharoo committed in film history and then ends as an esoteric art film. It is silly yet endearing, poetic and, like the rest of the film, unlike anything I had seen in a horror film. It also brought a peaceful resolve to the hysterical madness that had proceeded it.

The psychology deployed in this film in regards to the mother/daughter/killer relationship gets the job done without being too trite. It’s not one note like in Hitchcock ‘Marnie’ (1964), for example. It is more along the lines of Mamet’s ‘House Of Games’ (1987) or Demme’s ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ (1991) though it falls short of the latter two films’ cerebral panache and opts instead for flinging literal insanity up on the screen with gallons of blood and Heavy Metal music.

When I was younger I used to intellectualize Argento’s work a lot more. Now I feel silly doing it. Maybe it’s because the later work is a little hit and miss but I think mainly it’s because I believe the artistry is in the alchemy and not so much the content. When I see people over analyzing the content like I used to it makes me kind of uneasy. It’s his unique blending of cinematic elements – bravura camera work, complex yet contrived narratives, international casts, daring soundtracks and immense blood letting all with a signature style that is the secret sauce. Argento has a style but he also has a tone and when the two work together – everything else becomes irrelevant.

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HEADSHOT — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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For the most part, and with only a few recent exceptions, the studio-funded American action picture is dead. The PG-13 rating, the homogenized superhero film, and an over-reliance on CGI have become the new norms, with films like Con Air, The Rock, Air Force One, Face/Off, and Bad Boys 2 never feeling like they could be made again; those films, and many others, used computerized visual effects to ENHANCE their set-pieces, not OVERTAKE them. In recent years, I’ve been looking to Asia for as many imports as I can find, and one of the nastiest I’ve discovered in recent memory is the absolute blood and guts festival Headshot, from the directing duo of Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto. This hardcore ass-kicker was done in the vein of The Raid and The Raid 2, complete with that film’s enigmatic star Iko Uwais, who here slices and dices his way through an army of baddies with only one objective: Stay Alive. He’s suffering from amnesia after waking up from a coma, and lots of people are after him? But why? You’ll find out. There’s nothing deep or complicated here on a narrative level, with the brutally efficient script presenting archetypes and then letting the fisticuffs fly.

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The martial arts choreography in this film is utterly stunning, mixing various fighting forms into the action in a smart way though the story, while the straight forward plotting is merely an excuse to showcase Uwais and all of the other fearless stunt performers, who went above and beyond the call of duty for our entertainment. Shooting in widescreen, Yunus Pasolang’s in-your-face cinematography gets the viewer extremely up close and personal to all the action, displaying each smack down with fresh and edgy camera angles, and a mix of shaky-cam and long-take shooting; it’s absolutely incredible on a technical level all throughout. Exceedingly violent and unrelenting almost to the point of madness, Headshot all but eviscerates the competition, and yet again shows how filmmakers from overseas are totally schooling everyone else when it comes to unadulterated and boundary-pushing action filmmaking. After premiering at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, Headshot received an extremely limited theatrical release worldwide, and is now a streaming option on Netflix and Amazon, and also available on DVD for purchase. This film is only for total bad-asses who like their action cinema full-throttle, pulse-pounding, and exceptionally, nearly pornographically violent.

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THEODORE MELFI’S HIDDEN FIGURES — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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I don’t get too hung up on poetic license and the reshaping of history when it comes to glossy and well-meaning Hollywood biographical tales, so in that regard, I enjoyed last year’s Oscar nominated drama Hidden Figures from director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent). This is the compelling story of three African-American women who led the scientific charge of helping to get John Glenn into outer space. But I don’t understand why Taraji P. Henson wasn’t the one to the acting nomination out of the main trio which included her, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. Not that anyone was bad, but I thought Henson’s arc and character was easily the most affecting and effective. Melfi, who co-wrote the script with Allison Schroeder, took liberties with the facts and that’s his prerogative as a filmmaker; he crafted an engaging film about important subject matter, and injected warmth, humor, and some solid social critique. Kevin Costner can do no wrong, Cullen Moss gets some nice close-ups (The Heroes of Arvine Place POWER!), cinematographer Mandy Walker (Shattered Glass, Australia) gave the film some solid visual polish, Hans Zimmer’s score shoots for the stars with appropriate bombast, and the inherent “goodness” of the story is felt at all times. A massive theatrical success to the tune of $230 million world-wide on a $25 million budget (that’s REAL $$$ right there), Hidden Figures is now available on Blu-ray, and will likely entertain audiences for many years to come. 2

BLU-RAY REVIEW: HAL ASHBY’S 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE — BY NICK CLEMENT

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It took me a few viewings to totally appreciate Hal Ashby’s barely released 1986 film 8 Million Ways To Die, which was the eclectic and troubled helmer’s unique spin on the crime film, and would serve as his final major motion picture. This was the first attempt to cinematically adapt the Matt Scudder detective character from author Lawrence Block (A Walk Among the Tombstones), with a gritty screenplay coming from future auteur Oliver Stone (JFK, Natural Born Killers) and R. Lance Hill (Road House, Out for Justice, The Evil that Men Do), who was credited under the pseudonym David Lee Henry, with uncredited rewrites courtesy of Robert Towne (Chinatown, Days of Thunder, Ask the Dust). Starring  a gruff and sweaty Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette in one of her best and sexiest performances, and an extra-volatile Andy Garcia in one of his first leading roles and in total scene stealing mode, the movie died a very fast box office death, and was met with savage reviews from critics. But over time, it has become a bit more appreciated, most certainly by Ashby fans, but also as an example of the slick and dangerous neo-noir movie world that doesn’t very often get a chance to be seen in quite this fashion on screen. There’s a booze-soaked quality to this film that feels vivid in nearly every moment.

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8 Million Ways To Die has a scattershot narrative involving cops, scum-bags, drug dealers, prostitutes, murders, and liquor, that’s both pulpy and energetic and certainly coherent, and yet still feels compromised in some instances (Ashby had final cut taken away from him by the producers). But there’s still something fascinating going on within the narrative and with certain aesthetic choices made by Ashby and his team. Stephen H. Burum’s sinewy and seedy cinematography stressed an alternatively shadowy and sometimes neon-inflected color palette, while the excellent music from James Newton Howard kept an appropriately shifty and dangerous sonic ambiance; the opening helicopter shot with Howard’s sleazy music blaring is 80’s-perfect. And considering that Ashby was reportedly fired from the movie before it was finished, that might explain why the film feels so choppy in spots, as he wasn’t allowed to collaborate on the final editorial process. It’s an odd yet entertaining film, with some cool moments, but exists as a curious “What if?” on Ashby’s legendary filmography. Another interesting tidbit is the involvement of the production/distribution entity Producers Sales Organization; check out their story and credits on Wikipedia for some extra-fun reading.

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For a long time, 8 Million Ways To Die was a hard film to track down. It was never given an American DVD release, but was released by Second Sight in the UK on that format. Now, thanks to Kino Lorber, Ashby’s swan song has been given the Blu-ray treatment, and the results from a picture and audio standpoint are excellent, showcasing deep blacks and rich colors all throughout, with a very clean transfer which retains Burum and Ashby’s intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Howard’s spectacular musical score, especially that sax-heavy opening, sounds luscious to the ear, a further reminder of that composer’s stellar gifts with musical accompaniment. Special features include interviews with Garcia, Arquette, Block, Alexandra Paul, a trailer gallery, and an informative and entertaining audio commentary with Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. This film certainly had a helluva production, with various rewrites occurring much to the annoyance of key creatives and Ashby battling it out with producers over his unconventional filmmaking approach, and despite all of this, I really think it’s a lot of fun, and if it’s not everything it might’ve been under less hellish circumstances, it serves as a unique final offering from Ashby, who rarely repeated himself and was clearly interested in exploring various genres during his amazing career.

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ANTONIO CAMPOS’ CHRISTINE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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The thoroughly unnerving and slow-burn psychological drama Christine will almost certainly send a shiver down your spine, especially if you have no clue about the real events that inspired this deeply unsettling motion picture, which was directed with a continued sense of cinematic implacability by the sharp and extremely talented filmmaker Antonio Campos (Afterschool, Simon Killer). Rebecca Hall, appearing in nearly every scene, delivered nothing short of a tour de force performance as Florida newscaster Christine Chubbuck, an awkward woman in a very outward profession, who never quite fit into the station family that surrounded her on a daily basis. The exacting cinematography by Joe Anderson is matched by Sofia Subercaseaux’s patient editing , while the creepy and ominous musical score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is shrewdly deployed in key moments, with the final sequence containing one of the more disturbing bits of on-screen violence that I’ve seen in a while. Not because it’s excessively gory, but rather, how personal and upsetting it all is. Campos is a fiercely talented filmmaker who is clearly choosy with his projects; I hope we see much more from him in the future. And make no mistake – Hall was totally robbed of an Oscar nomination, but I’d imagine the too-low-profile that this film received kept it out of last year’s awards race. Regardless, Christine is available on Netflix streaming and on DVD and is an expert piece of storytelling that never does anything you truly expect in any given moment, which has to be one of the ultimate compliments one could pay any particular film. Oh, and EXTREME Tracy Letts POWER.

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