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Thursday, Sep 9, 2010
In a period of just under two weeks in August, Houston, Texas, lost its eclectically-programmed college radio station and 75% of its dedicated arthouse screens.

August was a rough month for fans of independent music and film in Houston. First off was the surprise sale of Rice University’s KTRU to the University of Houston on 17 August. Rice and U of H managed to keep their ongoing negotiations completely quiet until about 12 hours before the sale was approved by Houston’s Board of Trustees. U of H already has its own radio station, and when they add KTRU they plan to use one station as an NPR news outlet and the other as a classical music channel. While having a dedicated classical music station in Houston is certainly not bad in and of itself, the classical content will not be locally produced. The big loss is KTRU. Rice’s student-run station is true college radio, specializing in wildly eclectic programming that plays everything from local indie-rock bands to obscure jazz to African music.


The fact that the two universities made the sale surreptitiously, with zero input from students and faculty, seems to indicate that the respective administrations were fully aware of the firestorm this sale would generate. Rice’s students and the greater Houston community have quickly rallied to try and save KTRU, but there really isn’t much to be done at this point beyond trying to get the administration to change their minds. KTRU will not be disappearing entirely, of course. It will continue as an internet radio station, but the fact that it will be vanishing from terrestrial airwaves is a big blow to the city.


Tagged as: angelika, houston
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Monday, Sep 24, 2007


Suddenly, it’s a full blown fright night at your local B&M. Now, you’d think that manufacturers and distributors would wait until the actual arrival of October before larding the shelves with as much scary movie product as possible. But just like various department and discount stores who drag out their seasonal promotions months before the actual holiday arrives (Wal-Mart’s even doing Christmas right now, if you can believe it), the DVD companies are already crying “werewolf”. This week alone, there are literally hundreds of horror hopefuls - new direct to disc offerings battling just now making it to the medium ‘classics’ for your hard earned supernatural scratch. Certainly there are some non-genre titles peeking through the fog of fear, but with only 35 days until the ghosts and ghouls rule the roost, there’s no time like the present to pick up a few dread based delights, including SE&L’s special pick for 25 September:


A Half Dozen from Dario


While the lack of more obscure Argento titles on DVD is disheartening (Four Flies on Gray Velvet remains MIA some three decades after its blink and you missed it US release), Blue Underground is maintaining the macabre maestros digital presence by rereleasing several of his more seminal works. They include a brand new version of The Stendhal Syndrome, a revamped Cat O’Nine Tails, a revisit of Opera and another version of the Italian terror titan’s masterwork, Suspiria. When you add in the producer-only efforts Demons and Demons 2, you’ve got an excellent start to your Argento collection. Far more important to the genre of foreign horror than many will give him credit for, his recent efforts (The Card Player, Do You Like Hitchcock? ) have been pretty hit or miss. But with the Toronto Film Festival still buzzing over his latest installment in the Three Mother’s Trilogy (entitled The Mother of Tears), it’s time for a recognized renaissance. And we can thank the Big Blue U for getting the accolades rolling.

Other Titles of Interest


Black Book


Paul Verhoven returns to his Dutch roots to tell the story of a female singer during World War II who is forced into sexual servitude to survive. A Jew, young Rachel agrees to seduce a Gestapo agent in order to save a resistance leader’s son. Naturally, possible betrayal is around every corner. Praised for its personal take on the European occupation by the Nazis, it proved that there was still some art left in this director’s arch approach.

Bug


For a long time, William Friedkin was considered a has-been. With his rich cinematic history well behind him - including the French Connection and The Exorcist – and two decades of underperforming efforts (Jade, Rules of Engagement) ruining his reputation, critics didn’t expect much from this adaptation of Tracy Letts powerful play. Oddly enough, Friedkin defied the odds and elevated the material to a whole new level. It’s a terrifying, telling experience.

Eat My Dust


The history behind this inventive car chase cock-up is just as entertaining as the film itself. When Ron Howard was looking to leave behind his child star status and take up residence behind the camera, producer ‘ordinaire’ Roger Corman cut him a deal. Appear in this Charles Griffith action effort, and he could direct the follow-up. The future Oscar winner jumped at the opportunity.  The resulting pair of vehicular mayhem masterworks helped define the ‘70s for New World Pictures.


Knocked Up


It’s one of the few classic comedies to come out of the otherwise atrocious post-millennial movie dynamic. Judd Apatow, using all the clout gained from producing hits like Talladega Nights and creating a phenomenon like The 40 Year Old Virgin to orchestrate this brilliant deconstruction of human biology. As daring as it is demented, with the profound frequently clashing with the profane, it marks the point when onscreen humor went from horridly ironic back to just plain hilarious.

Next


Nicholas Cage steps back into sloppy sci-fi mode with this tale of a talentless magician who can see two minutes into the future. Naturally, the government wants to corral him to help with an impending terrorist attack. Of course, conspiracy theories and various cabals abound, and our hapless hero must navigate a series of double crosses and interpersonal pitfalls to save the day…sort of. Another reason why Philip K. Dick still can’t rest in peace.


And Now for Something Completely Different
A Triptych of Elvira Entertainment


Everyone’s favorite chesty horror host is back with another six films (two per DVD) from her Movie Macabre vaults. This time around, we get Maneater of Hydra paired with The House that Screamed, Blue Sunshine and Monstroid, and everyone’s favorite oversized turtle, Gamera with They Came from Beyond Space. Of course, the real selling point here is not the nauseating transfers of prevalent grad-Z schlock. No, it’s star Cassandra Peterson and her undeniably provocative bustline, a visual saving grace for the show’s otherwise cornball comedy. While many will argue over the sanctity of cinema, believing that all movies, no matter how bad, deserve respect instead of ridicule, there’s no denying the innate pleasures of seeing motion picture mung torn apart for the sake of some silliness. While Mystery Science Theater 3000 elevated it to an artform, Elvira laid the goofing groundwork. With these newest offerings, here’s hoping the new reality TV series based on finding an up to date replacement for the aging Goth icon does her legitimate legacy right.

 


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Monday, Sep 10, 2007


As the Fall continues to bombard us with its cultural relevance, the DVD distributors are maintaining a sales status destined to complicate and perplex the entertainment picture. This week alone offers titles that should be coming out next month, when monsters and madmen are more relevant and revered. Then, there’s a small character study from Canada more or less fated to get lost in the significance shuffle. Two Hong Kong action aces deliver some of their most divisive works, while a notoriously unreleasable film from Sam Fuller finally gets a digital airing. In fact, the surreal nature of the selections seems to indicate a lack of counter programming skills, especially in light of autumn’s catch-all commercialization. Still, anytime a lost classic like our SE&L selection shows up on store shelves, able to be purchased in a version that does the title justice, we won’t care what time of the year it is. So here’s the best bet for 11 September, and a few more intriguing choices to go along with it:


From Beyond


Stuart Gordon went from Chicago theater company director to horror geek God with his wildly invention H.P. Lovecraft zombiethon Re-Animator. When it was announced that he’d follow-up that film with yet another tale from the eccentric genre scribe, his newfound fans freaked out. What possible terrors would he uncover this time around? When they saw the results, however, they were less than impressed. For some reason, From Beyond is not as well regarded as its companion piece, and after watching the film again after several years, the lack of abject appreciation is even harder to fathom. This is a first rate offering of offal, an F/X free for all with blood, bodies, and entrails everywhere. Maybe it was all the talk of engorged pineal glands that made audiences uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the strange, mid-movie S&M workout. It could be that Gordon’s devotes just wanted more of Herbert West and his living dead dark comedy. Whatever the reasons, this is a BETTER overall film than Re-Animator. It proves that this mild mannered moviemaker was more than a geek show carnival barker.

Other Titles of Interest


Away From Her


Sarah Polley, perhaps best known as the Sally Salt in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the chief female zombie fighter in Zak Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, takes the director’s chair for this fascinating film about Alzheimer’s Disease and letting go. The radiant Julie Christie is the aging woman afflicted with the illness, who finds life in a nursing home equally unsettled. An audience and critical favorite, home video now provides a chance at broader appreciation.

The Burning


After Halloween and Friday the 13th established the slasher film as the pop culture commercial cause celeb, everyone and their knife-wielding brother wanted in on the windfall. This 1981 knock-off has an intriguing lineage. It features a story by Harvey “Miramax” Weinstein and acting turns by Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter. Tom Savini supplied the gruesome special effects. While far from a scarefest classic, it does have its decidedly disturbing – and disgusting – moments.

D.O.A.: Dead or Alive


Corey Yuen, a Hong Kong action maven noted for such films as Jet Li’s The Enforcer and The Transporter, brought every adolescent boy’s favorite female based video game to the big screen – and no one cared. Shuffled around from release date to release date, and given little or no publicity, it’s no wonder its target demo missed the call. They probably didn’t know it existed. DVD will hopefully show how Yuen supports a slight story with lots of signature martial arts bravado.

Face/Off


When John Woo went Hollywood, few expected something this downright delightful - especially after the seeming missteps of Hard Target and Broken Arrow. But thanks to stellar performances by Nicholas Cage and John Travolta, and an unusual and unique premise, the results are one of the director’s few English language masterworks. True the outsized story can, occasionally, barely contain the acting histrionics on display, but with Woo’s patented slo-mo mayhem, it goes down like candied crack.


White Dog


Maverick auteur Sam Fuller caused quite an uproar with his follow-up to the well received war film The Big Red One. Accused of racial insensitivity – and in some cases, outright bigotry – the filmmaker adapted Romain Gary’s tale of a seemingly calm canine ‘programmed’ to attack only black people, and the resulting firestorm sent him into European exile. Apparently, early ‘80s audiences didn’t understand the metaphor Fuller and co-screenwriter Curtis Hanson were going for. Maybe the post-millennial mob will.


And Now for Something Completely Different
American Cannibal: The Movie


It’s one of the weirdest movies to come down the pike in quite a while. Imagine Borat, except instead of sending a fake Kazakhstani journalist around America making fun of our foibles, we have a pair of reality show creators trying to sell the various networks on a show involving people eating. There has been a lot of Internet arguing over whether or not this is a 100% legitimate effort or not (a great deal of it is staged and scripted, the subjects clearly in on the ‘joke’), and how you come down on that question will color your overall perception of the picture. Even outside such issues, the film has its flaws. Our two leads do so much handwringing over the whole reality show concept that you wonder how they ever survived in such a cutthroat business. Then there’s the lack of closure come finale time. Too may questions are left laughingly unanswered. Perhaps the filmmakers were going for a Blair Witch kind of openness. The only thing they manage to achieve is a similar sense of overhyped dissatisfaction.

 


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Monday, Aug 13, 2007


It’s a week of extremes at the old B&M. On the one hand you have the arrival of the latest opus by a man who makes more than just movies. Indeed, his latest work is as unruly and brilliant as ever. On the other side you have an obscure TV cartoon that made the transition to celluloid in a rather nefarious fashion. The city of Boston will never forget the fear generated by its viral marketing strategy, a plan that ended up being mistaken for a terrorist attack. In between, you’ve got an unfathomable box office hit, an unfairly dismissed thriller, an amazing documentary, and a collection of desirable double dips. Put them all together and the 14th day of August is looking like yet another retail burden on the old bundle. If you can only afford a since disc this week however, make sure you pick up our SE&L selection. It represents the best that the modern film movement has to offer:


David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE


It’s a shame that this director’s output is so infrequent that it becomes an event when he makes a new movie. What’s even more disturbing is that no one would allow the man the artistic freedom to produce and market the final results the way he wanted. David Lynch may be a lot of things – difficult, arcane, incomprehensible – but to deny his impact on cinema, and the amazing films he’s made in the process, seems downright foolish. In fact, many found this latest offering (a shot on digital experiment melding many divergent storylines and characters into a single thematic statement) to be his most daring and definitive to date. Leave it to the jaded genius to self distribute the work, carting it around to theaters all over the country for limited engagements. The DVD promises insights into the production, as well as providing a chance for those not lucky enough to live along the roadshow’s stops to witness its wonders themselves. Most will be flummoxed, while a few will be rewarded. All will have to appreciate a true creator at the top of his game.

Other Titles of Interest


Back to School (Extra Curricular Edition)


No one pegged professional comedian (in a good way) Rodney Dangerfield as a movie star. But after stealing Caddyshack from everyone else in it, he was headed for solo vehicles of his own. While Easy Money is much funnier, this oldster goes to college crack-up is definitely worth discovering. This was Rodney in his prime, banging on all six cylinders and never underestimating his growing fanbase. After this, it was all pretty much down hill.

51 Birch Street


Like Capturing the Friedmans without the horrible hot button issues, this oddly insightful documentary finds filmmaker Daniel Block discovering the truth about his parents’ 54 year long marriage. Within three months of the death of his mother, his father catches up with a past secretary, and the two marry almost immediately. Then Block discovers his mom’s diaries. What they reveal turns his adult life upside down, and argues for the notion that no one really knows their family.

Taxi Driver: Two Disc Collectors Edition


Travis Bickle is back, and ready to sweep the scum off of New York’s seedy sidewalks. One of Martin Scorsese’s undeniable masterpieces, this look at life on the fringes has been released on DVD a few times before. This presentation promises a bonus disc loaded with additional context. If you don’t already own it, what’s stopping you? This is classic cinema, period. For others, a double dip may be in order.

Wild Hogs


Every year, Hollywood has to publicly humiliate itself by offering some god-awful effort (usually a comedy) and cringe as critics cry foul. But a funny thing happened on the way to this junk pile’s journalistic drubbing – the audience ate it up. Trying to figure out how this slapdash crap became a hit will challenge every fiber of your cinematic being. It is not funny, poorly constructed, and relies almost exclusively on its dim star power to shine.


Vacancy


Amongst all the hype and hoopla surrounding the spring hit 300 and the imminent arrival of Spider-man, this decent little thriller failed to find room on the pop culture radar. Like Disturbia, which opened the week before and earned all the press, this throwback to the days of solid suspense was overrun by the tween take on the material. Here, Kontroll’s Nimrod Antal makes a spectacular Tinsel Town bow. Definitely should be rediscovered on DVD.


And Now for Something Completely Different
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Film for Theaters for DVD


To call Cartoon Network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force (part of its Adult Swim nighttime lineup) a “cult” animated series would be an understatement. This show has flown so far under the channel’s routine radar that its elusiveness should be utilized in the creation of future Stealth technology. Still, for those devoted to its deranged surrealism (the show is about a talking trio consisting of a milk shake, some French fries, and a ball of beef), it’s one of the funniest ‘things’ on television. A movie seems like a creative stretch – the series itself only exists in short, 10 minute installments – and the characters do use their inherent abrasiveness to push the limits of their humor. Still, like The Simpsons Movie that finally arrived this Summer, ATHF more than managed the transition intact. Unfortunately, that meant it was still too weird for mainstream appreciation. The DVD promises to deliver even more unglued hilarity. 

 


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Monday, Aug 6, 2007


Here’s a warning, well in advance. According to those on the inside, the Fourth Quarter of 2007, the three months leading up and through Christmas, are promising to be one of the biggest ever in terms of DVD product. Not just standard releases of the Summer’s biggest hits, mind you, but epic box sets for long awaited Holy Grails like Blade Runner and 2001. Apparently, packaging is the new marketing tactic, with elaborate presentations and add-ons taking the place of standard audience interest. So start saving those important pennies now. You don’t want to be the only one on your block without a Hogwart’s School Trunk loaded with the first five Harry Potter films, do you? Actually, you need to manage all your money wisely, especially with the blockbuster season about to end. The studios are gearing up with more and more first run releases, meaning you’ll need to figure how to deal those dollars effectively, beginning with SE&L’s selection of 07 August:


Disturbia


Who would have thought that an adolescent Rear Window would be Spring 2007’s surprise sleeper hit? After all, star Shia La Beouf wasn’t (at the time) a major league star and director DJ Caruso was a TV mostly moviemaker with a few unimpressive feature films. Yet somehow, the combination of knack and novelty worked, resulting in a Generation Next take on the old school thriller. In fact, most critics point to the effective pacing, genial characterization, and drum tight narrative as reasons for its success. Granted, not everything here is Hitchcock flawless. The “is he or isn’t he” angle on the suspected serial killer is pretty obvious, and the ‘misunderstood teen’ material can grow grating at times. Still, for some good old fashioned goosebumps accentuated with lots of post-millennial tech tweaks, you could do a lot worse. In fact, if this effort leads more young people to the works of the true Master of Suspense, it will all be worth it.

Other Titles of Interest


Bubba Ho-Tep: The King’s Jumpsuit Edition


Bruce Campbell deserved an Oscar nomination (no, seriously) for his sensational turn as an aging Elvis in this brilliant Don Coscarelli genre-bender. Bloated, ornery, and a clear casualty of his unwieldy fame, he’s so amazing that we want more of his fried peanut butter and banana sandwich sloth. Long available on DVD, this unnecessary double dip changes nothing about the previous special edition, and adds a mock King jumpsuit as packaging. Great film. Needless rerelease.

Crime Story


Right before he made it big in America with 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx, fans of Hong Kong action were praising Jackie Chan’s work in this standard Asian police actioner. While some will point to his Police Story films as better examples of the man’s amazing stunt skills and physical acumen, there are enough death defying fireworks here to warrant attention. While you may find the lack of laughs a little disconcerting (this is one of Chan’s more serious roles), it’s still a great ride.

The First Films of Sam Fuller


If a film fan was looking for a literal, visual translation of the term ‘maverick’, a portrait of Sam Fuller would do quite nicely. As a young journalist, he covered the European theater during World War II, and he used that experience as the basis for much of his moviemaking aesthetic. Working in the standard machismo mannerisms – westerns, crime – he developed a determined cult following. Here, Criterion’s Eclipse series celebrates three of his earliest efforts.

I Think I Love My Wife


Chris Rock is an inherently funny guy. Give him a subject and he can riff away with devastating abandon. So why has his onscreen work been so mediocre, including this unnecessary remake of Eric Rohmer’s Chloe in the Afternoon (yes, you read that right). Maybe it has something to do with trying to wedge an acerbic social satirist into the role of nerdy nebbish. Could be the lack of motivational insight. Whatever the case, don’t waste your time on this derivative mess.

TMNT


The rumors seemed too good to be true. Hong Kong action master John Woo was considering bringing the famed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back to the big screen in a serious, inspired by the original comics, CGI spectacle. Dork universe wet themselves. Turned out, the reports were false. The computer generated angle was all that remained once the newly minted TMNT arrived. Fans found it decent. Others just ignored it. DVD will let you decide.


And Now for Something Completely Different
The Film Crew: Killers from Space


It’s enough to make fans of the brazen television treat Mystery Science Theater 3000 stand up and cheer. After years without new in-theater riffing from Mike Nelson and his robot pals, Legend Films and Shout Factory! have decided to team up and produce some MST inspired mayhem. Recruiting Nelson and his automaton’s human counterparts – Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett – a new spoof situation was created. They are renamed The Film Crew, and work for an insane CEO who wants every movie ever made – no matter how crappy – to have a commentary track. Last time out, Rue McClanahan’s stripper epic Hollywood After Dark was the target. Now, it’s grade-Z schlock stuff Killers from Space. Maintaining their deft comic touch, these new direct to DVD installments remind one of the delirious days on the Satellite of Love. While it may never match the original quip-fests frenzied funny business, this is a fine substitute.

 


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