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Any film whose Blu-ray transfer isn't quality, will remain on this list.
My perception: The studios want to release titles that they think will sell stronger and faster. They feel they will take a hit for titles that aren't the latest showings in theaters.
I also believe that pressing titles from the IMDB top 250 list is a grand idea because people always gravitate to the top-rated films in history. We love lists, and things that are either really good or really bad (Plan 9 From Outer Space). This list generates free publicity. So, rights holders, start pressing some Top 250 films in decent quality.
These titles are all worthy of being shown in full high definition as soon as possible.
An Eerie, Dreamy, Isolating and Dangerous Search (Mild Spoilers for Film Explanation)
For those who feel that Stalker is a waste of almost three hours of time, perhaps they haven't really looked into the back story of what inspired the film (and its locations) in the first place. Many cinematic features today want to keep up the pace, and it's easy to count to four seconds before having to restart the count whenever a scene cut is made in modern cinema. Stalker isn't about picking up any pace; it relies on IMMERSION. And it's easy to give up on Stalker as a waste of time.
Honestly, I started thinking that at the very first portion of the film. Here I am, watching a sepia-toned feature that has possibly two minutes before even the first cut changes perspective. By the time the scene reached a bar, I was finished with it.... for the time being. There was something that told me to revisit Stalker when my mind and time frame were clear, and I'm glad that I did.
Embrace the concept of emotional immersion when viewing this film, when you're awake and you have nothing pressing to accomplish. It's not for those who want a story line dealing with heroes/villains, rite of passage, or gaining popularity. It's bent on personal turmoil and a quest of inner peace, acceptance, or even what the existence of life is all about. Stalker reminds me of Wizard of Oz (1939) insofar as its structure, relying on film stock to highlight location, yet there are also subtle comparisons regarding what the three characters (just like Oz) hope to find in their own searches. The film starts in a community that has been cordoned off, similar to actual Russian events of chemical/nuclear disasters, prior to Chernobyl, and by the time the film winds up, you'll see some instances of dismal foreboding (which occurred seven years later in Chernobyl), as well as with the demise of a number of cast and crew of Stalker, who wound up succumbing to bodily poisons incurred through the production of the film.
While they shortened their lives making Stalker, it's a visually stunning and eerie masterpiece, which live on. I speak of these radioactive events - Kyshtym (1957, at Ozyorsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast) and the Leningrad Nuclear Reactor (1975) which must have inspired director Andrei Tarkovsky.
The child in the movie acts out a debilitating condition that many people affected by these disasters had actually suffered, in large part because government officials refused to acknowledge the disaster and fallout quickly enough to evacuate many people in time. I think that Stalker was written to tap into those events as well as dig into the minds of a dreamer, a writer and a professor, each seeking something very personal, and yet they have to ask themselves how genuine their soul-searching is.
The long, deliberate lack of camera movement used in Stalker has been abandoned today for a quick-pace editing, which makes viewers not think so much. Tarkovsky relied on the snail's pace approach, which compel an audience to reach into their individual senses of sight and sound which will help or disturb the viewer's inner peace. And there are so many things that give viewers a sense of unease, which is so effective: Sounds don't match sights throughout the film. The dialog was completely rerecorded after filming. You'll hear birds, waterfalls, wind, and the clickety clack of the work car they ride, all which simply don't match. This is a film technique that adds to an underlying state of mental instability for the viewer.
One particular scene is also subtly jarring, when the "stalker"walks away from the writer and scientist, going to a grove of trees for a monologue; upon his return, the scene behind the trio has become shrouded in a fog.
The trio leave a community to journey to a fenced in Zone, but are they prisoners both where they live, as well as where they travel? When you review every shot of Stalker, you'll realize that no scene has a sense of unconditional beauty. There is decay, desolation and a sense of infectious isolation that pervades, starting with the family scene.
I bring these to light to help those who shrug off the film as worthless. But ultimately, however, Tarkovsky only cared about what two people in the whole world thought about Stalker : Robert Bresson and Ingmar Bergman. By the time the dust (or fallout) settles, we are somewhat like those three who find themselves searching in the dreamlike world of The Zone: what is this all about, how did we get here, and what should we gain - or lose - from the experience. Stalker is a keeper.
Se sei vivo spara (1967)
One of the most surreal westerns I have seen
I may be giving Django Kill a higher star review than what I'd usually hand such films, but it's a strangely addicting film. First of all, this review is mainly for the English-dubbed film (with references to the original Italian version), which does NO justice for the main character - "The Stranger" (Tomas Milian). His actual voice is so very much better than the dubbed version, and the producers did a poor job of choosing whose voice would carry him.
The first scene... I simply can't get that opening out of my head. It literally can turn your head upside down, just as some of the filmmaking showed. There are scenes, characters and animals in this first montage which is pretty jaw-dropping. It invites you to a place where you simply don't want to visit. And while my gut instincts told me that the gang shouldn't keep going, they do. But they are a group packed to the gills with six-shooters and attitude.
Everything was named "Django" for a while following the original film's success, but this feature has no Django at all. If you haven't seen Milian in such films as "Run, Man, Run (1968), you won't be able to appreciate his talent in Django Kill. He has expressions and body language that should have been featured more effectively, which speaks to the lack of wisdom of the direction and production. Having said that however, I just cannot get some of the scenes in this film out of my head. At the very least, get a hold of a dual language version of Django Kill! to compare the English with the Italian, as well as the subtitles, which reveal a few masochistic moments that wind up being lost by the time the dubbing was set. For instance, a girl in the English dub says "Give up! Give up!" while you see what REALLY happens in the Italian version. Films like this, and The Great Silence (1968) took Italian westerns to atypical locations than the Leone copycat films.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)
Muscle Cars and One-Liners Make for a Great ThrillCom
I finally got the chance to watch DMCL, decades after enjoying it on network television back in the 1970s and it still is a very watchable and thrilling piece of filmmaking. First I have to compliment the way the story boarding brought the characters together. Deke (my favorite) joins up with Larry and eventually, Mary and the trio wind up running afoul of the law. Headed by a no-nonsense captain, his squad battle over ribbons of two-lane highways that showcase driving and flying skills as well as one of the most classic rides in muscle car lore, the 1969 Dodge Charger R/T 440.
It could have been easy to scoff at Larry - an egotistical, narcissistic race car hopeful - paired with Mary, a very attractive woman who really talked far more than I could have tolerated. Deke was the moral compass who kept the whole operation from going belly up. While ready to take care of business, he showed a sense of compassion very early in the film and that moment was conveyed by Adam Roarke through moments of candor and even a simple smile.
"Comedy" should also be added to the description of this cool retro chase flick. There are plenty of one-liners which keep the entertainment flowing, coupled with moments of facial expressions and glances by a number of the supporting cast. Also look for Hank, played by Eugene Daniels, as the ground-based obsessive patrolman, driving a pursuit special and the talent of James Gavin, who operates the Bell Huey helicopter. A fine piece of suspenseful flying.
I revisit some of my favorite films that I recall as a youngster to see whether they could stand the test of time and DMCL definitely is one for the muscle car enthusiast. It's a classic, IMHO. As long as you get past Mary's incessant chatting.
The Crying Game (1992)
Watch Again if you saw the Original Film Release
It's really a bit of an eye-opener to watch Crying Game in today's society if you can put yourself back to remember how things were in 1992. It feels like a completely different era of an even longer time removed since then. So much has changed, yet some things still remain constant. One of the most glaring reminders of the day: the murder of U.S. sailor Allen Schindler in 1992, and the military's alleged attempt for a cover-up afterward.
My own perceptions and ideals have changed since I saw this at Baltimore's Charles Theatre. It's almost creepy to see how I've changed regarding certain... It's almost impossible to express without spoiling the film if I could ever say what I would like. Let me say however, that I wept with pain in my heart as I finally watched it again, just now. My empathy and personal awareness certainly has grown in 24 years since I saw the film's theatrical release.
It's an amazing piece of cinematic achievement considering the time of its premiere. Really gutsy filmmaking, acting and direction for all involved. Seeing it again still makes my jaw drop because of all the nuances and story lines. It wasn't perfect looking at the film now. Some of it was a little dated, and perhaps I am being too picky regarding that. Yet it reawakens some troubled times that people faced in 1992, and how troubling things remain today. So much work is yet to be accomplished.
The Driver (1978)
Simplicity: The Lesson in Effective Filmmaking
Keep it simple. An action story doesn't need plot twists, love interests or emotional depth to produce an effective film. Just a straightforward plot, like The Driver has. Even the credits reveal that we don't need to know names, as if the film had no intention of letting viewers be emotionally invested about any characters. Bruce Dern (The Detective) and Ryan O'Neal (The Driver) excel at keeping their own characters on point; A-type personalities who have been battling each other for months.
They don't want to be likable. They put their heads down and focus on their end game. The Driver shows his mettle through deeds and few words. In one scene, he was compelled to demonstrate his skills. He winds up showing how he could even be skillful at destroying the car to the objections of his passengers. While The Driver is about substance, The Detective boasts more than he delivers. Even when he kills someone The Detective overdoes it.
It's a rat chase where there's zero moral lesson by the time the credits roll, because there is no good guy, only two different people who wind up ignoring the right thing to do in order to get the better of the other. Those who have any moral convictions get ignored and belittled while the main players obsess over each other.
It's interesting how a feature can demonstrate the ability to keep your attention. There is no theme music, and the only time that any music plays at all is when there is no chase. Although some scenes had stunt stand-ins, the actors did most of their own driving and chase sequences. The Driver reminds me in some ways about the Terminator, which perhaps may have been influenced by the story line and cinematography.
Most of the scenes happen at night, which reveal L.A's seedy underbelly. And like Terminator, the prime characters have minimal dialog, speaking only when they really need. Even some of the vehicles used in The Driver looked similar to those in Terminator.
The Driver is a great action flick which shows how films can be made again, without all the fluff, high moral ground and theme songs. The result? Entertaining mayhem, filled with twisted bumpers and shredded fenders.
Stranger Things (2016)
First episode: Wow! Season cliffhanger: WOW!!
Hopefully Stranger Things will add a second season, as the first was one of the best series I have ever enjoyed. Throw out any preconceived notions about whether it's "hokey" and try watching just two episodes. You have a better than 90% chance of enjoying it. I rolled my eyes at first, thinking: how could an 8-episode series of an '80s throwback be something worth watching? The previews showed influences of Close Encounters, E.T., Goonies and even Silent Hill, and I wasn't interested in embracing the nostalgic aspect. The opening credits really dug right into the 1980's, and even the title slid in as if it suggested that Stephen King's own name would burn into my LCD screen. I'll just get right into the meat and potatoes. All the players work, all the scenery, action, editing, and photography really create a great series. I can't think of any one episode that they could have thrown out, because they all really go well together. As for the kids, the one fear I have is that these child actors are getting older. They can't keep riding their bikes and talking with lisps. So I can't imagine that Stranger Things will have a long run, unless they wind up doing away with them, or changing up the story altogether. And that would be a shame because the talent of all those kids is DEEP. Take for example, Millie Bobby Brown (who plays El). So few words come out of her mouth, yet her expressions and emotions carry so well. The kids are like Our Gang - you just fantasize of becoming a kid again, grabbing your bike with its reflectors and streamers, and hanging out with them after school. One typically might expect that kids running about on their own to make things right in their neighborhood is rather hackneyed, but the writing and execution of the plot for each episode kept driving action, adventure, mystery and drama, without it ever feeling as if it were getting stale or bogged down. Even when the story had to explain things, the characters got right to the point and took action. Only a couple of the adults played central characters and they certainly did well also. Chief Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers are introduced as people with some shredded back stories, and the Duffer Brothers - the writers / directors - slowly peel back the layers of their pasts. I put Stranger Things beyond The Walking Dead and Peaky Blinders, into Breaking Bad territory - not to compare whether it's "better" than any of my favorites, because it's so different than any other series.
Peaky Blinders (2013)
Take off the Blinders and give this series more press!
You find a "television" series once in a blue moon which blows your mind, and Peaky Blinders has accomplished that in my mind. As of this writing, I'm on S03/E06, which I think is the most well-written and explosive episodes of the series. It's also one of the most amazing series that I have seen. These seem more like mini-features, with almost a full hour of drama. By the time I started season three, I started saying aloud how I love Peaky Blinders and its characters. They thrive on a combination of excellent storytelling and photography. "Breaking Bad" is the only other series that I know which have become the platinum standard of any series that I know exist. I venture to believe that Blinders beats out Game of Thrones as well. The main reason why Thrones and Bad don't live up to what I've experienced with Blinders? The sheer boldness of how the show compels you to understand and even empathize with people who make a living out of doing just about everything illegal that they could ever muster, in a place where just about everyone seems to be about some kind of illegal activity. The complexities of the characters demand that everyone must sell who they are and I cannot for the life of me, find any character who is a "weak link" to the series.
Game of Thrones is a terrific series as was Breaking Bad. Yet GoT has a number of slow moments. Breaking Bad, while rather straightforward regarding the plot, was just somewhat unbelievable when viewed through the lens of real-life probability. Blinders is deeper and more raw, without looking to any sense of patronizing emotions to give a sense of redemption. Blinders takes off the blinders by asking which holds more value, between family, friends, relationships and business transactions. Or, whether money is really what can repay the emotional anguish of those casualties called "relationships." Blinders has been throwing some really interesting plot twists and I've finally been blown away at where this series is heading.
I remember the first season where a young Winston Churchill was introduced, and I feel that was probably the slowest part of the series - even GoT suffered from the need to explain who/what was happening, while Breaking Bad simply jumped right into a whirlwind of trouble thrown the way of Mr. White. Stick with this however. These characters have truly embraced their roles and the photography and writing seem to actually have gotten even better. I'm not one to ever have been interested in an emotional investment of series characters but this so far has been my finest emotional investment. The violence sometimes is quite intense. So much so, that my wife stopped watching by the second season. Considering the date in which Blinders is told, I expect that the violence might be rather extreme.
Perhaps I'm being unfair in even speaking about GoT and Breaking Bad, two other exemplary shows which made me loyal to their broadcasts. But Blinders keeps raising the production bar like the other two haven't quite done.
A film like a cat: You either love it, or hate it.
Some may debate whether I'm spoiling Woodlawn with this review, but spoilers reveal plot twists, and this contains none of it. I can see why Woodlawn has garnered only a 6.3/10 for such an emotionally powerful film. Sean Astin plays the man who brings a sense of religion into the team, and it can rub a good number of people the wrong way. I'm not at all religious, but spiritual, and it's very personal for me. As the film developed the story, I resisted the urge to shut down, because I don't want to simply give up, but Woodlawn can make people feel really uncomfortable, because of the religion being played in moments throughout the film. I found myself almost rolling my eyes between tears. If this is what truly happened at Woodlawn HS, terrific. But I also get a feeling that the film was produced to react to the ongoing debate over how personal religion may bleed into someone else's comfort zone. Throughout Woodlawn, this fact kept in my consciousness, which was a little discomforting, and at the end of the film it tells viewers about upcoming rallies for Jesus.
I'm telling you this because it's not spoiling Woodlawn, but revealing for those who either love Jesus and God, or for those who don't want to feel preached to, to consider watching something else. I was puzzled the way the film started because I had no idea about the religious back story embedded in Woodlawn. A coach on the west coast recently was called to task about similar actions, to that of the team coach in this movie. SCOTUS has been reviewing cases even now, and religion has become a hot button topic in the elections. Whatever you feel is your choice, but I don't care to let my guard down just so that I can feel somewhat emotionally and spiritually exploited, as I did by the time the credits rolled.
It still is a powerful film, but the message of team and personal sacrifice and achievement was underscored by the recurring message of a higher power. I understand that the Jesus movement helped many during an era of national turmoil. As people spoke about what happened in the 1960s and early '70s, footage of actual interviews were shown, and the messages ring true in today's unrest. That message has told me that, even after decades have passed, maybe technology and music can change, but people tend to react now as they have decades and even centuries ago.
The acting itself was top-notch. The story begins with some really heart wrenching accounts, and the characters piked up the ball, so to speak, and scored. All characters felt believable, the music and editing were fine, and I liked the cinematography, which was nice but not amazing. But one character - a student with a very large afro - didn't seem to make a final confrontation like I had expected he would.
If it weren't for the heavier-than-expected religious insertions, I would have enjoyed it more.
Ballada o soldate (1959)
A Ballad of the Heart.
I hesitated watching BALLAD because I was a bit concerned about seeing a propaganda film. But boy, did I cheer the soldier in this story! The filmmakers did a fine job to build sympathy for him from the moment the viewer laid eyes on him. He's handsome, tall and the kind of person with that boy-next-door appearance. It is really a tightly-knitted film in which you wonder from the opening scene, about the son, whose mother longingly stares down the one road into their home town. Having the opportunity to follow his journey, we really get a sense about his upbringing, his hopes and dreams, and where his heart lies. I dare not divulge too much, because it was such a treat to see how this young man undertakes a journey to try and see his mother.
As for calling this a "war" story, it's not the kind that we might picture: the John Wayne flicks, or ones like, "Saving Private Ryan," for instance. There's not much violence in this film, at all.Rather than a film with attitude, it's a film of the heart. And BALLAD certainly has heart. This film delivers with a terrific story line, in which the filmmakers help the viewer open their hearts up to those of the main characters. Witty combinations of humor and nostalgia transcend borders, giving the viewer a sense of wanting to know many of the people portrayed in this film. Why, I actually searched for further information about the lead players, and my heart dropped when I learned that both of the main talents recently passed away in real life. In a sense, it felt as if I had lost two genuine friends.
BALLAD gives us the opportunity to see the two lead characters in their first roles. They were simply mesmerizing on film, which has preserved them in time. The players had little to no experience, yet their screen presence showed tenderness, charm and power. Please do yourselves a favor. If you're sitting on the fence about whether to watch BALLAD, go ahead and watch it. Even if it was a film to showcase Communism and the motherland of Russia, I didn't care.
I really argued whether to give this a perfect score, but just couldn't do it. And I'm trying to express why, yet I can't. I'd like to pick apart an obvious shot using models instead of real equipment, or maybe the shot of either lead looking through a window as trees reflected. Or perhaps the ending, which seemed a bit abrupt? It's the ending. I guess I wanted something a little more, or different. How nice it was, upon reflection, to watch an almost flawless film.
It Follows (2014)
Let's get the frustrations out of the way. First, when someone breaks into your house call the police. When something happens, TELL someone. That's the horror mantra that It Follows pursues. But I DO understand why they wouldn't tell. No one would believe them. Because as everyone knows, It is only seen by the chain of sexual adventures from one person to another.
The characters all seem to have parental issues and have wrapped themselves in their own world, with hardly a care of being caught for things like smoking or even casual sex. And that is the worst of it. The kids are on their own to deal with a monster that pursues someone who had sex with another that It had been pursuing. The religious references usually seen in films is abandoned too. What would YOU do if you suddenly see yourself pursued by It, and no one else sees It?
This is a good concept, and the film is left with questions that beg for a sequel. Will there ever be a cure or action to stop It? Why does It follow? And, just what is It? I certainly hope as the filmmakers pursue making sequels and/or prequels to It, that they explain some things. I did wonder if this is some veiled attempt to morality-preach, as there was no religion or family structure whatsoever. And the film took place in a city of complete and utter decay, symbolizing that perhaps, whatever people touch is doomed.
It Follows seems like a cat, or brussels sprouts: you either like it or absolutely hate it. It goes against how young people trend: the film shows them embracing all things retro and rejecting technological things - no Facebook friends in this film. That seems like a gamble, since most of the generation are about Twitter and Instagram. Anyway, I enjoyed it enough to hope for a follow-up film to learn what IT is all about.