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Dark Forces

Harlequin
Director: Simon Wincer
Cast: Robert Powell, David Hemmings, Carmen Duncan, Broderick Crawford, Gus Mercurio

(Greater Union Organisation; 1980)

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Dark Forces Synapse Films


Originally released under the far more appropriate title Harlequin, this 1980 effort is one incredibly baroque film. It plays like the byproduct of some paranormal prank on the standard ‘70s political thriller while clearly tracing its roots back to one of the era’s major supernatural statements: The Omen. In fact, one could argue that this movie twists the aforementioned movie’s narrative to show a rather benevolent otherworldly being trying to change the course of a corrupt and quite evil governmental authority. It’s the anti-Antichrist, so to speak. Staying reverent to the classic Commedia dell’arte character, even though many won’t recognize it at first, director Simon Wincer creates an original, and sadly uncelebrated, gem. Bill Gibron





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The Cinematic Titanic Collection

(Cinematic Titanic; US DVD: 21 Oct 2008)

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The Cinematic Titanic Collection Cinematic Titanic


Over the last few years, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy have been holding down the MST3K fort by creating audio only commentaries for their Rifftrax project. Now, series originator Joe Hodgson has collected the rest of the cast (Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein) to create a whole new in theater satire. Each of the five self-distributed “episodes” created in 2008 reminds you of why, some 20 years after these Midwestern comedians first decided to dump on bad movies, the formula is as funny as ever. There’s nary a bad installment in the bunch. Bill Gibron





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The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 2, 3 & 4 (1937- 45)

(Columbia Pictures; US DVD: 2008)

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The Three Stooges Collection Vol. 2 - 4 (1937-45) Sony/Columbia Pictures


Fulfilling the wishes of longtime fans, Columbia has finally wised up, dropped the three short per package DVD format, and delivered The Three Stooges in a logistically sound chronological breakdown. Covering 1937 to 1945, the multitude mini-masterworks presented all contain the classic line-up that most devotees prefer: mean leader Moe, absent-minded minion Larry, and unbelievably brilliant bundle of butter, Curly. There is no Shemp, no Joe Besser, and definitely no Curly Joe DeRita to muck things up. While there is nothing wrong with any of these later stage substitutes, nothing beats the magic of the original Stooges. Looking over the titles offered, there is not a bad apple in the bunch. Bill Gibron





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Before the Rain

Director: Milčo Mančevski
Cast: Grégoire Colin, Phyllida Law, Peter Needham, Rade Serbedzija, Joe Gould

(US theatrical: 24 Feb 1995; 1994)

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Before the Rain: Criterion Collection Criterion Collection


Before the Criterion release of this, I never had a chance to see this criminally underappreciated 1994 Milcho Manchevski achievement. This was the first film to ever be made in the recently independent Republic of Macedonia, and it’s a hell of a start. Although the bonus features are admirable, the widespread availability of this film is of utmost importance—exposing a world of Balkan conflict and the struggle to love and fight within it. Applying greatly to today’s struggles across the sea, this a film that should be watched by anyone that thinks every soul lost in wartime is just another number. John Bohannon





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South Park: Imaginationland

(Comedy Central; US DVD: 11 Mar 2008)

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South Park: The Imaginationland Trilogy Comedy Central/Paramount


For anyone who wonders why, after 12 seasons, South Park remains the best animated show on television, something like Imaginationland is all the proof any defender requires. Drop dead brilliant from beginning to end, and successfully applying the patented production approach of meshing the retarded with the regal, this hour long expanded episode stands as a shining moment for all involved. Parker and Stone have been flawless before, bringing their strangled, surreal sensibility to their big screen First Amendment romp Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. But nothing can prepare you for the epic scope and sense of fun found here. Digging through a list of fictional characters that everyone recognizes (Raggedy Ann, Mickey Mouse) is one thing. To include religious icons and social symbols pushes everything one step closer to a full fledged masterpiece. Bill Gibron





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Bottle Rocket

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave

(Criterion; 1996)

Review [8.Jan.2009]

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Bottle Rocket: Criterion Collection Criterion Collection


With each successive film, Wes Anderson’s characters and situations have become more and more insane. Bottle Rocket, the best of all his memorable filmography of quirk, balances the madness with down-to-earth indie sensibility and the result is a wholly original, very odd film that still feels like it could happen. In addition to being Anderson’s much deserved coming out party, Bottle Rocket also introduced the world to the talent of the Wilson brothers, most notably Owen who nails Dignam. His is the trickiest role of grounding pure quirk, and is a microcosm for all of this classic film. Aaron Marsh





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The Dragon Painter

Director: William Worthington
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki

(Haworth Pictues; 1919)

Review [16.Mar.2008]

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The Dragon Painter Milestone Films


Shot in the glory of a turn of the century Yosemite National Park and featuring a humanized, non-stereotypical portrayal of Asians, The Dragon Painter is a stunning visual and emotional achievement. A mere fragment of the justifiably legendary work done by Sessue Hayakawa during the early part of the past decade (he was one of the first Japanese performers to control his image and his output in Hollywood), this concise deconstruction of muse and the many ways it can be crushed/cured stands as something rare indeed. Beyond its humanistic approach and use of location, aside from the subtler acting and sporadic special effects, this is one of the most tender, telling depictions of affection ever captured onscreen. Bill Gibron





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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

(US DVD: 19 Dec 2008)

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Amazon.com


Due to Firefly‘s untimely, unfair cancellation, we’ve been deprived of Joss Whedon’s genius for quite a while. Enter the perfect stopgap between the previously mentioned series and his new project Dollhouse: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Neil Patrick Harris is a singing, dancing supervillian who’s in love, Nathan Fillion is the “hero” who’s a total jerk. With charming performances all around (how could you go wrong with those two?), cutesy genre mash ups and music that is actually great, Dr. Horrible is the perfect small dose of Whedon wit to keep hope alive. Aaron Marsh





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The Signal

Director: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry
Cast: Justin Welborn, Anessa Ramsey, A.J. Bowen, Scott Poythress, Sahr Ngaujah

(Magnolia Pictures; US theatrical: 22 Feb 2008 (Limited release); 2007)

Review [21.Feb.2008]

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The Signal Magnolia Films


Stephen King got a lot of best seller mileage out of the idea. M. Night Shyamalan crapped all over the concept with his horrendous Happening. But one of the best looks at society gone psychotic and then deadly was this delightful independent fright flick from filmmakers David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry. Each director took a particular segment of the storyline (an unknown epidemic causes people to become senseless killers) and turned it into their own unique vision of man’s inhumanity to man. The results argue for an intriguing narrative design taken to epic proportions by people who genuinely understand the genre. Bill Gibron





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Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Three-Disc Unrated Collector’s Edition
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Paul Rudd

(Universal; US theatrical: 18 Apr 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [18.Apr.2008]

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Forgetting Sarah Marshall Universal


Forgetting Sarah Marshall may not have been a box office blockbuster, but its DVD incarnation could help cement its status as the definitive “break-up from a guy’s point of view comedy” that could still be cute and fluffy enough to qualify as a chick flick. Produced by Judd “Superbad” Apatow, it features the usual crass comedy with a touch of sweetness.  In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, writer/star Jason Segel portrays a television score composer whose career is in a tailspin. His personal life soon follows suit when his long-time girlfriend, television star Sarah Marshall (Kristin Bell), dumps him for a sleazy, yet likeable British rock star (the hilarious Russell Brand). The three-disc collector’s edition features the film’s theatrical release as well as a longer, unrated version. Additionally, there are nearly two hours worth of bonus features, including cast commentary, a gag real, and a closer look at the film’s show-stealing subplot, the vampire puppet rock opera, A Taste for Love. Lana Cooper



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