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Tuesday, Feb 24, 2015
From luxurious estates (The Long Hair of Death) to mental asylums (Slaughter Hotel), these two Italian scare flicks depict women fighting against institutional power and sexism.

RaroVideo has released excellent discs of two very different types of Italian horror: the ‘60s black and white period gothic melodrama of The Long Hair of Death and the gaudy, contemporary ‘70s giallo Slaughter Hotel. Both are excellent examples of their types, and they’re united by a vision of how women are victimized by men in powerful institutions—royalty, the church, the medical establishment. The former is explicitly about the rage and revenge of women against these power systems.


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Monday, Feb 23, 2015
Oscars 2015 reminded everyone that while there's room for massive improvement, the AMPAS is at least capable of some self-reflection and response to criticism.

So American Sniper didn’t sneak into the Winner’s circle for either Best Picture and/or Best Actor. Boyhood, ballyhooed by almost everyone who saw it at Sundance last year as “the film to beat”, had to settle for a single Academy Award (for Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette).


Host Neil Patrick Harris neither saved nor sunk the annual combination of critical reevaluation and industry backslapping, and while at least one long standing wrong was righted (we can now call Julianne Moore “Academy Award Winner…”), Richard Linklater et. al. must feel like the rest of Selma right now (which picked up a trophy for Best Song).


Tagged as: oscars 2015
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Monday, Feb 23, 2015
by Steve Leftridge and Steve Pick
Double Take wraps its mind around Charlie Kaufman's fractured tale of love, loss, memory, and hair dye. Does this film have the whole human race pegged?

The knowledge that at least one of the partners in a relationship will be guaranteed to lose the other eventually, by death or otherwise, makes love such a potent force. Kaufman’s brilliance is in finding such an entertaining way to make such a powerful point.


Steve Pick: Here we are with our first entry for a film from this century, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I remember seeing this in the theater back in 2004, excited because it was a new work from the crazy-quilt brain of Charlie Kaufman, who had already given us the brilliant Being John Malkovich and the very good Adaptation and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. I remember leaving the theater all warm and fuzzy, with the sense that true love triumphed and those crazy kids played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet would be just fine together at last. But, upon watching it for the first time in over ten years, I realize that some of my memories had been wiped out, since this is a much darker and more complex investigation into the nature of love than I had thought.


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Thursday, Feb 19, 2015
The only distinctive marker of this otherwise drab film is that it trades in guns for swords.

The film 4 Dollars of Revenge (1966) begins by introducing two friends and fellow calvary members, Captain Roy Dexter (Robert Woods) and Barry Halet (Angelo Infani). They are both trying to wed the same big-breasted blonde, Mercedes Spencer (Dana Ghia), but she chooses Dexter, who plans to retire from the calvary and run for governor against a man named Hamilton (Gérard Tichy). Before Dexter retires and gets married, however, he has to complete one last mission for Colonel Jackson (Antonio Casas) that involves him transporting a shipment of gold to Washington.


The mission becomes a disaster when he and his troops are ambushed by Manuel de Losa (José Manuel Marti­n) and his gang of banditos. Although Dexter manages to escape with his life, he is blamed for orchestrating the ambush and is sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor. But the plot doesn’t really get moving until he breaks out of the labor-camp in a brief but exciting escape sequence and begins sneaking around town disguised as a Mexican while collecting clues, trying to figure out who set him up.


Over the course of 4 Dollars of Revenge‘s conspiracy-laden plot, we learn that Dexter’s drunken and jealous cousin, Dave Griffin (Antonio Molino Rojo), struck a deal with Dexter’s's political rival, Hamilton, and Dexter’s heartbroken friend, Halet, to frame him. Once we learn who the backstabbers are, the film transforms from a mystery story into a revenge tale as our hero goes about evening the score with a sword. That’s right: instead of a showdown with guns to conclude this spaghetti western, 4 Dollars of Revenge ends with Dexter and Halet facing off with swords. 


It’s not the best choreographed swordfight, but because we so badly want Dexter to right the wrongs Halet has done to him, the swordfight keeps us engaged, and because in this genre we so rarely see swords replace guns, it’s what ultimately makes the film memorable. In fact, aside from the swordfight that concludes the film, there isn’t much about 4 Dollars of Revenge that stands out. 


The plot, which is haphazardly adapted from the Alexandre Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), is entertaining, but it’s not even half as entertaining as its source material. It’s not fair, however, to compare this early spaghetti western to that timeless work of literature. Instead, we must compare it to the other films in the genre. And after doing that, I can confidently say that 4 Dollars of Revenge‘s plot is better structured and more entertaining than most. It intensifies as it develops, and although it doesn’t offer any real surprises, director Jamie Jesus Balcazar presents the story with a sureness that wins us over and keeps us watching.


None of the performances are especially noteworthy, but they all get the job done, and there are no obvious weak spots in the cast which is a common problem with most spaghetti westerns of this stature. Wood, as the film’s lead, is only as good as the character he plays. Although his character, Dexter, is reminiscent of the superior Ringo character played by the more talented Giuliano Gemma in The Return of Ringo (1965) in that they are both members of the calvary who sport big burly beards and go undercover as Mexicans while seeking revenge, Wood does a good job at making it easy for us to root for him. 


The action sequences in the film, like the acting, get the job done. They deserve neither commendation or derision. They move the story forward relatively well and are nicely planned, but they don’t convey much creativity and aren’t very fun. The exception, along with the concluding swordfight, is Dexter’s escape from the labor camp. He knocks a few guards out, runs up a desert hill, ducks and dodges some bullets, and then hangs off a cliff to fool his pursuers into thinking he jumped to his death. 


Perhaps the averageness of 4 Dollars of Revenge is best represented by Benedetto Ghiglia’s score. The soundtrack is a mixed bag, with nothing obviously good or bad about it. There is some very spaghetti western-esque musical whistling in it, along with some classical orchestrated sounds, and a good amount of jazzy trumpeting. But it also has at least one all-male choir number that sounds as though it was pulled straight out of an old-time radio western from the ‘40s.


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Wednesday, Feb 18, 2015
As the awards season prepares to wind down, Short Ends and Leader sizes up those not in Academy competition with our annual preferential picks.

By all accounts, this will be one of the most competitive Oscars ever. Few categories are outright locks, Best Supporting Actress and Actor aside, and the Guilds have been split, with the majority leaning toward Birdman even as Boyhood continues to earn an equal amount of love. Of course, there are those who believe American Sniper can and will pull an upset, while those who favor Selma or any other member of the rest of the Best Picture candidates (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Whiplash), sans a major last minute push, will be left wanting.


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