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by Michael Barrett

18 May 2015


42nd Street can still surprise first-time viewers who tend to think of musicals as feather-light contraptions interrupted by elaborate numbers. Most of them are, including the run of Warner Brothers ‘30s musicals that this one high-kicked off. But 42nd Street acts as a serious or least straight-faced drama for its first 75 minutes, albeit with saucy little pre-Code one-liners here and there with sexual implications. It’s put across with director Lloyd Bacon‘s workhorse combo of smoothness and punch, saving the eye-popping production numbers for the last reel.

There’s the slave-driving director (Warner Baxter) who wants to pull of the greatest show of his career before a possible heart attack; his method consists entirely of screaming at people. There’s the surprisingly human diva (Bebe Daniels) who stars in the show, thanks to the deep pockets of her besotted backer (Guy Kibbee), while she’s secretly in love with an old vaudeville partner (George Brent), who chafes at hiding and being a kept man. He says there’s a word for it, and it isn’t a nice word.

by Michael Barrett

13 May 2015


Massacre Gun is a widescreen, black and white, Japanese gangster movie from the era when Nikkatsu Studios was turning out dozens of such titles in the sleek “international” style they called “borderless action”.

The story is as formulaic as possible: Two brothers are members of a yakuza gang, while their youngest brother is an aspiring boxer sponsored by the boss. In the opening sequence, the oldest brother (the ubiquitous and distinctive Joe Shishido of the surgically-altered chipmunk cheeks) is ordered to kill his lover because she’s really the boss’ girlfriend. He does so, and this causes the youngest brother (Jirô Okazaki) to diss the boss (Takashi Kanda), who has the boy’s hands crushed. In other words, it’s an escalating series of vengeful ping-pong moves that can only end with lots of corpses. The “massacre gun” turns out to be a high-powered rifle used in the final shoot-out on a bridge under construction.

by Michael Barrett

4 May 2015


Island of Lemurs: Madagascar was made for IMAX and 3D, so watching it flat on a regular TV is like watching a regular movie on your laptop. Yet it’s still eye-poppingly beautiful even in a less impressive format.

The 40-minute nature documentary profiles several species of the odd and diverse primates known as lemurs, who are found only on the large island of Madagascar after going extinct in the rest of Africa somewhere around 60 million years ago. Although narrator Morgan Freeman, Dr. Patricia Wright, and other primatologists discuss how cute and adorable the furry critters are, nobody points out that they’re also strange and spooky, so let it be said here.

by Michael Barrett

27 Apr 2015


The team of producer-director Herbert Wilcox and actress Anna Neagle, who would later marry each other, made many English films and, for RKO, three old-fashioned musicals that revived older American hits to mediocre effect. The first of these, Irene, is now on demand from Warner Archive.

by Michael Barrett

16 Apr 2015


“The producers of the picture you are about to see feel a moral obligation to warn you that it will shock you as no other film ever has. Because it could be very harmful to young and impressionable minds, it is restricted to only those over 14 years of age.”

This come-on, after we’ve already paid for the ticket, opens American International Picture’s U.S. print of Mario Bava’s classic Italian horror film. Kino Lorber has previouly released the uncut edition on Blu-ray, and now they’ve exhumed the American International version for those nostalgics who grew up with it. You’d have to be a nostalgic or completist to find appeal in the film, and you certainly shouldn’t prefer this version to the original (with its sharper image), but it’s still spooky, clammy, and stylish. Those are all thanks to the gliding camera, Gothic sets, Bava’s expressionism, and Barbara Steele’s evil grins and flashing eyes as the dead, grotesquely deformed witch who tries to resurrect by stealing the youth of her descendant-double.

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Counterbalance: The Avalanches' 'Since I Left You'

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