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Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975

There’s a tradition among purveyors of BDSM pornography to append a coda to their project in which the participants in various potentially alarming scenarios are finally glimpsed, all smiles, reveling in the afterglow of a clearly consensual exercise. I assume this practice has very practical benefits — for one thing, it might help stave off prosecution for obscenity or sex-trafficking. But it’s also a signal from the community making the videos to the community watching them that the performances are undertaken with high spirits, lest there’s any misunderstanding about the actual circumstances of their making. Despite any apparent unpleasantness, dear viewer, all involved (top and bottom, dominant and submissive) are working toward the ultimate goal of pleasure, not pain.

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The Phantom Carriage

Directed by Victor Sjöström, 1921
The Phantom Carriage, a seminal achievement in silent filmmaking from that other great Swedish auteur, Victor Sjöström, is a stern, supernatural moral drama that rails against social problems of the day by enlisting an emissary from the Great Beyond to lecture the feckless, abusive protagonist on what a rotten shit he is. Sjöström remains best known internationally for his later Hollywood films, made with the likes of Lillian Gish and Greta Garbo, but The Phantom Carriage already testified to genius behind the camera as well as in front of it. When the movie finished playing, I picked up the disc's keepcase and squinted at it, in all my ignorance, to determine who so expertly essayed the central character of the alcoholic David Holm. When I read the answer (Sjöström himself), I wanted to fling the box across the room. Show-off. … [read more]
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Directed by Brian De Palma, 1983
One of the most powerful moments in Scarface is the culmination of a violent, perfectly judged sequence of events crafted for maximum impact by screenwriter Oliver Stone and staged with ferocious efficiency by director Brian De Palma. It takes place at the end of a night when Al Pacino's Cuban gangster, a feisty little hard-on named Tony Montana, has survived an attempt on his life that left him with a bullet in his shoulder. He has overseen the execution of his boss, who was behind the hit. He has shot dead a corrupt cop who was extorting his cash and favours. And he has just been upstairs to collect from between satin sheets his boss's woman, a sleek blonde dressed in white who is his prize. The camera zooms out from a medium close-up on Pacino's face as, still bleeding, arm in a sling, exhaustion writ large across his face, Tony Montana peers through 20-foot-tall glass windows, staring dumbly into a Giorgio Moroder sunrise as an advertising blimp floats over the water, its pithy slogan an empty promise of greatness yet to come: "The World Is Yours...." Read the rest of this review at
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A Man Called Horse

Directed by Elliot SIlverstein, 1970
Hey, peoples of the world: white guys are awesome! Suppose a white guy--a pasty English lord, let's say--were kidnapped by a bunch of Lakota Sioux. Sure, he might try to escape from captivity once or twice, but after a while he'd be totally cool with it. Instead of whining like a paleface, he'd go out and kill some other Native American people, maybe grab him a scalp or two, and then finally prove himself to his tribe by undergoing a bizarre physical ritual and fucking the chief's sister. Eventually, he'll be the leader of the tribe, rocking a tomahawk and a headband and showing them how to skirmish, English-style. Read the rest of this review at
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The Great Dictator

Directed by Charlie Chaplin, 1940
In the late 1930s, as a little man named Adolf Hitler prepared the fearsome German army to run roughshod over the country's European neighbours, Charles Chaplin, one of the greatest of all film artists, responded to the threat of war in the only way that made sense: He prepared a new comedy, The Great Dictator, that mocked Hitler directly. In some ways, it's hard to imagine Chaplin could have done anything else. Ignoring Hitler was already out of the question. The similarities between Chaplin and the Nazi leader were often remarked upon, including by Chaplin himself. For one thing, they obviously shared the same moustache. (More than coincidence?) They were born within the same four-day period in April 1889. They both grew up in poverty, and there were superficial similarities in their sensibility--Hitler was a frustrated artist and, like Chaplin, a fan of Wagner. Chaplin's son famously remembered his father saying, "Just think, he's the madman, I'm the comic. But it could have been the other way around." Read the rest of this review at
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Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972
Andrei Tarkovsky's adaptation of Solaris, a novel by the Polish science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, betrays the director's general disinterest in conventional SF tropes. His film does honour the mind-blowing outlines of Lem's concept, which deals with a manned mission to investigate a planet-sized extra-terrestrial consciousness. But where Lem speculated about the practical boundaries of human intellect in the shadow of the universe, Tarkovsky opts to explore human feelings of loss and insecurity in the face of mortality. For Lem, the failed Solaris mission is emblematic of the difficulties we humans would have comprehending and communicating with a radically different form of life. For Tarkovsky, the mission re-opens old psychic wounds, flooding us with regret that we weren't better to the people we loved. "Shame [is] the feeling that will save mankind," murmurs protagonist Kris Kelvin near the end of the film. In Tarkovsky's Solaris, we have made contact with the aliens, and they want you to call your mom. Read the rest of this review at
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I Spit on Your Grave

Directed by Steven R. Monroe, 2010
Conceived and executed in the cool, desaturated style of a Saw movie, this remake is decidedly calculated. Its Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) is again a big-city writer roughing it in the country, but she's a contemporary woman: instead of spending the day lounging in a hammock or on a rowboat, she'll be out jogging in the morning and enjoying a glass of red wine in the evening. … [read more]
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I Spit on Your Grave

Directed by Meir Zarchi, 1978

Rape-revenge is the basest of movie formulas. What amounts to a social contract exists with the audience: during the first half of the film, you will experience the sadistic, brutal, misogynistic sexual abuse of an innocent, probably naïve young woman at the hands of cavalier thugs. And during the second half of the film, you will see this broken woman--this survivor--pull herself together long enough to exact a terrible revenge on those who wronged her.

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The Maltese Falcon

Directed by John Huston, 1941

This prototypical film noir, which saw rookie director John Huston adapting Dashiell Hammett's only Sam Spade detective novel, was the last movie I watched in 2010. Warner Home Video's recently released Blu-ray version had been calling to me from the depths of my to-watch stack, and anyway it's always been one of my favorite movies — immaculately designed, evocatively photographed, and easy to watch but also spiky, morally complex, and ultimately unsettling. Humphrey Bogart is so beloved a figure in American film history that it always catches me a little off-guard to realize that the superficially charming character he's portraying here isn't the dedicated moral crusader that convention might lead one to suspect. Arguably, he's rather a glad-handing sociopath.

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Directed by Various Artists, 1940
Disney's nudes in <em>Fantasia</em>

More than 20 years ago, I sat in Stan Brakhage's office at the University of Colorado, handling original frames of 65mm IMAX film stock that the avant-garde filmmaker had hand-painted with swirling layers of colour. He explained that IMAX had commissioned him to create an abstract film specifically for presentation on the huge screens of their theatres. It was a great idea, and I wondered when the film had screened. Never, Brakhage told me. The IMAX people eventually lost interest in the idea, and "Night Music" was shown instead in 16mm prints, drastically reduced from the large-gauge film stock. Although IMAX were bold enough to approach Brakhage in the first place, the company got cold feet when it came time to actually exhibit non-narrative cinema—even for only 30 seconds!—for a paying audience.

Full review at[read more]
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Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo , 2009
Perhaps funded and distributed on the promise of Christina Ricci in her skivvies and less, After.Life is weirdly compelling for such a marginal movie. Its premise is a little coy, toying with the expectations of audiences that have had their fill, lately, of stories with characters caught in some strange limbo between living and dying where they work out the psychological issues that hectored them in the real world. … [read more]
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Directed by Sergio Corbucci, 1966
Franco Nero in <em>Django</em>

When Django, the title character and hero of director Sergio Corbucci's seminal spaghetti western, first appears on screen, he's slogging on foot through mud, dragging a coffin behind him. The image is evocative and challenging. In classic American films, western heroes had generally been dignified cowboy types saddled up on strong horses. They were lawmen or simple ranchers with a code of honor. They rode into town in a cloud of dust and plainspoken righteousness backed up by a sharp eye and a six-shooter, and they stood for the endurance of traditional values on a wild frontier.

Django thinks those guys were pussies.

Read the full review at FilmFreakCentral.[read more]
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The White Ribbon

Directed by Michael Haneke, 2009
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The Deadly Duo

Directed by Chang Cheh, 1971
<i>The Deadly Duo</i> This 1971 Shaw Brothers martial-arts flick is definitely full of action — energetic camerawork, gallons of stage blood, and a widescreen frame full of gracefully choreographed movement on the part of dozens of performers wielding an impressive variety of weapons all contribute to the film's sense of urgent forward motion. … [read more]
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Clash of the Titans

Directed by Desmond Davies, 1981
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Broken Embraces

Directed by Pedro Almodòvar, 2009
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It Might Get Loud

Directed by Davis Guggenheim, 2008
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Directed by Duncan Jones, 2009
Paying homage to the science-fiction films of his youth, where space-base bulkheads and otherworldly landscapes were more likely to be styrofoam than CG, story writer and director Duncan Jones's debut feature, Moon, is a surprisingly effective--even moving--story of isolation and alienation on the lunar surface. It's one of those science-fiction movies made on a spartan budget that gives it a special kind of low-key tension. The closest forebear I can think of offhand is Shane Carruth's time-travel drama Primer, which had a bargain-basement aesthetic that only amplified the general air of desperation and dehumanization. Moon, with its carefully-designed sets and frugally-executed visual-effects work, is a much more expensive proposition than Primer, but still dirt-cheap by multiplex standards. Moon may not be the best science-fiction film of 2009, yet it feels the most personal, its loving, handmade quality smoothing rough patches in the storytelling and landing the film's essential emotional blow. Read the rest of this review at
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Jennifer's Body

Directed by Karyn Kusama, 2009

Evil-but-gullible emo band's attempted "virgin sacrifice" turns promiscuous teenager into demon-possessed cannibal. It's up to her nerdy best friend to keep the sexiest high-schooler in Devil's Kettle from eating her way through senior class.

That's a fairly straightforward synopsis of Jennifer's Body, screenwriter Diablo Cody's much-hyped follow-up to Juno, directed by Karyn Kusama and just out on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. It sounds like a terrific idea for a comic horror movie, turning adolescent sexual insecurity into the stuff of nightmares, and it is pretty smart conceptually. Cast as the titular Jennifer, a sarcastic, wisecracking bombshell of a flag girl, Megan Fox acquits herself beyond the Maxim-girl status bestowed on her by the Transformers movies, turning in a fairly competent performance that progresses credibly from her character's more human presence in the film's opening scenes to the colder succubus she becomes. And Amanda Seyfried, all gasps and big eyes, makes a terrific mostly passive protagonist for the yarn, taking Jennifer's transformation in from a not-so-safe distance. … [read more]

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Paranormal Activity

Directed by Oren Peli, 2007
Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat in <em>Paranormal Activity</em>

It doesn't do much, but what it does? Does it well. Made on a minimal budget, with a single high-definition video camera, a handful of actors, and some very careful sound design (by ace mixer Mark Binder, brought onto the project by Paramount after subsidiary DreamWorks picked it up for release), Paranormal Activity purports to document a few weeks in the nighttime life of Katie Featherston, a young woman whose world is being haunted by a demon. Shot entirely vérité style, either on a tripod or handheld by Katie's boyfriend, Micah, the movie shows the couple coping with weird noises in their house, consulting a psychic, considering the pros and cons of ouija boards, etc., as the frequency and intensity of sleep-disrupting otherwordly activity increases.

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A Perfect Getaway

Directed by David Twohy, 2009
Steve Zahn, Chris Hemsworth, and Marley Shelton in <em>A Perfect Getaway</em>

More of an exercise in narrative gamesmanship than an actual thriller, A Perfect Getaway pretty much douses its first half's methodical build-up of suspense with its second half's bucket of contrivance. That's not to say it isn't a lot of fun -- it is, with a sly sense of humor and sharp dialogue that makes clever, reflexive reference to the characters' presence in a comic whodunit. ("He's really hard to kill," declares one, doting lovingly on her boyfriend, who may or may not be half of a couples serial-killing team.)

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On Blu-ray: Up and Monsters, Inc.

Directed by Pete Docter,
Up and Monsters, Inc. on Blu-ray The new Blu-ray Disc (BD) version of Up — released on the same day as the BD of director Pete Docter's debut effort, Monsters, Inc. — is a revelation in at least one regard: it demonstrates that 2D is better. … [read more]
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Directed by Roman Polanski, 1965
Repulsion Not sure why it took me so long to get around to this, given my long-standing admiration for Polanski's wonderfully lurid Rosemary's Baby. Based on Repulsion's reputation as a dark psychological thriller, I wasn't expecting it to work so efficiently as a straight-up horror movie — perhaps that classification is another case of conventional wisdom classing up an especially well-respected film by lifting it out of the genre ghetto. … [read more]
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Trick 'R Treat

Directed by Michael Dougherty, 2007
Trick 'R Treat Over the course of the two years that it sat on the shelf following a planned-but-aborted fall 2007 theatrical release, the Halloween-themed anthology film Trick 'R Treat was embraced by genre fans who caught it at festivals and other special screenings starting that December. I think I can see what captured their sick little hearts — in an era when the state-of-the-art in popular horror films is split between the practiced cruelty and borderline hostility of neo-gore exercises like the Saw and Hostel franchises and the incidental soullessness of Friday the 13th and Last House on the Left remakes, this film, in its straightforward, low-concept fright-mongering, feels downright fresh. In fact, except for a couple of gratuitous tit shots, Trick 'R Treat is earnest, uncynical, and nearly wholesome. What it's not — and it pains me to say this — is very much good. … [read more]
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Stop Making Sense

Directed by Jonathan Demme, 1984
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Directed by Richard Stanley, 1990
Hardware They say all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun. But if you've got a girl and a killer robot, then you're really onto something. One of the joys of low-budget horror movies is that the stakes are low enough that filmmakers can get away with a lot of crazy shit, and there's crazy shit aplenty in Hardware, the post-apocalyptic SF/horror feature debut of South African director Richard Stanley. The film takes its visual and thematic cues from Alien and Blade Runner, with a few ideas from The Terminator and Demon Seed thrown into the mix. But when you boil it down, Hardware is just a gritty, crudely fashioned cyberpunk monster movie. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, boy do you need to see this. … [read more]
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Directed by Steve Shill, 2009
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Play Time

Directed by Jacques Tati, 1967
Play Time I'm a little late to the Play Time party, having sampled and abandoned Jacques Tati on Criterion laserdisc way back when, finding his work to require, I guess, more patience than I had back in my college years. But Play Time is new on Blu-ray, transferred from a recent HD remaster of Tati's 70mm comedy of modern manners that has it looking better than it ever will outside of a movie theater, and it's clearly a singular achievement. In an essay accompanying the disc, Jonathan Rosenbaum outright disses the whole idea of watching Play Time on TV, arguing that because public space is the film's very subject, it's also the most appropriate setting for its exhibition. (The film was probably never going to be a tremendous popular success, but Tati limited its commercial prospects by insisting that its initial engagements in France take place only in 70mm.) I missed that boat — there was a restored 70mm print playing in New York a few years back — but this Blu-ray Disc and a decent screen will at least allow a viewer to imagine what it must look like on a proper screen, and in that it's highly recommended. … [read more]
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John Carpenter's Starman

Directed by John Carpenter, 1984
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Eliza Dushku in <em>Dollhouse</em> So you think you might be interested in Dollhouse, the Joss Whedon-created series about human drones programmed with disposable serial personalities by a shady underground organization dedicated to fulfilling the most precious needs and desires of the very rich. The first thing you need to know is that it's gonna take a while. … [read more]
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Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience

Directed by James Hendricks, 2009
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The Deep

Directed by Peter Yates, 1977
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Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, 2008
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True Blood: The Complete First Season

Directed by Alan Ball, et al, 2008
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I've Loved You So Long

Directed by Philippe Claudel, 2008
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Blue Streak

Directed by Les Mayfield, 1999
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Opium and the Kung Fu Master

Directed by Tang Chia, 1984

<span class="title">Opium and the Kung Fu Master</span>Released in 1984, this widescreen actionfest/drug-addiction drama was the final film of only three directed by longtime action choreographer Tang Chia — and one of the last films ever released by the legendary Shaw Brothers movie studio, which in its heyday made dozens of movies every year but by this time was struggling to keep up with the popular trends ushered in by Bruce Lee and expanded upon by Jackie Chan and friends.

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Directed by Dave Filoni, 2008
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Step Brothers

Directed by Adam McKay, 2008
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