Favorite Films discovered on Streaming On-Demand in 2013!

Favorite Films discovered on Streaming On-Demand in 2013!

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2013′s most interesting films for me weren’t found in the theater, or backed by major studios. They were small, even intimate, Independent films found courtesy of the new distribution opportunities that venues such as Amazon Prime and Netflix have opened up.

HALO 4 FORWARD ONTO DAWN, BOY WONDER, ANOTHER ZERO IN THE SYSTEM, and HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN are films seen in 2013, that here in 2014 still stand tall as memorable and commanding viewing experiences. The last three being some of the most haunting examples of existential angst meets neo noir meets anti-hero you are likely to find. And HALO 4 FORWARD ONTO DAWN on a shoestring budget, creates a scifi epic with more heart and style than any ten STARSHIP TROOPERS.

These are films so good that having seen them for free courtesy of streaming, I had to purchase them on DVD/Blu-Ray. After viewing them you may agree. You can price them at the links below.

Boy Wonder

Another Zero in the System

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn [Blu-ray]

House of the Rising Sun

365 Days of Roku: Day 1 – Amazon Prime’s HEADSHOT

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HEADSHOT-Needlessly convoluted with a purposely fragmented and confusing structure, no doubt aping such films as MEMENTO, there’s room for frustration and dislike when watching director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s HEADSHOT. However it is, for much of its running time, done and played well; and the central conceit such an intriguing idea, that it transcends mimicry and suspect storytelling, to be an involving film in spite of itself.

Stylish and existential, this is a very different crime thriller, that has a voice over (a film noir trope for this new age film noir) that is compelling.

The movie does lose momentum mid-way through, forgetting to use in any meaningful way or examine the interesting idea of the title character’s affiction, and becomes a rather ordinary and plodding man on the run film.

So a film not without its failings but one that has enough intriguing moments to transcend those failings, and have you interested in the end. Grade: C+.

Movie of the Day: Wesley Snipes in 2010′s GAME OF DEATH

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GAME OF DEATH (2010) – This is a very interesting film, that belies its pretty tepid IMDB and Amazon ratings. Wesley Snipes stars as a covert agent who finds himself betrayed by his own team, and out in the cold with hundreds of millions in dollars fueling his death.

It is a very low key film, that has some quirky points I have not previously seen in an action/thriller, such as an assassin possessing a well known ailment, and having to perform while dealing with said ailment.

I was quite intrigued by this film’s general quirkiness and oddness, however the real selling point for the film is the fight scenes. They are by no means plentiful but when they come they are jaw dropping. Wesley Snipes remains an awesome martial artist to watch perform and these fight scenes are particularly and literally bone-breaking, and helped by strong direction and cinematography.

And finally the story itself and performances moved at a fast clip, kept me engaged and entertained and culminated in a satisfying conclusion. Zoe Bell, Aunjanue L. Ellis, Robert Davi (A walking ‘Movie Tough Guy’ Institution with over a 120 film and TV credits to his name) and Gary Daniels (showing the impressive Kickboxing skills that made him a World Champion) deliver straight forward but compelling performances.

I like the clean, stripped to the bone efficiency of this film’s narrative. No pesky side-kick (the plodding THE CONTRACTOR comes to mind), or hackneyed back story, or awful comedy relief, or crow-barred in relationship/love-story (all of which Wesley Snipes has had to deal with, as have most action actors). The flash-back framing excepted, this film is almost in real time and is simply about a mission that goes wrong… and dealing with it.

All-in-all a tight and largely impressive 90 minutes. The fight scenes alone, put this high on the recommend list, and will keep this film one that stands up to repeated viewings. Grade: B/B+. Based on the strength of this film I’m looking forward to Snipes’ upcoming films including EXPENDABLES III! Yeah Baby!

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You can try the film for free on the on-demand channel CRACKLE. Easily available if you have a Roku Digital Media receiver.

Or for the ‘I just want to buy a DVD’ demographic among you (I’m a card-carrying member :)), you go here: Game of Death [Blu-ray]!

30 Years of Jean-Claude Van Damme Films

30 Years of Jean-Claude Van Damme

According to AMG (courtesy of Fandango), Jean Claude’s first film was 30 years ago in 1983 with the romantic french comedy MONACO FOREVER.

So to celebrate 30 film years of Jean Claude Van Damme we’ll start with this simple article listing his filmography over these thirty years, along with random notes.

MONACO FOREVER (1983)

BLACK EAGLE (1986)

NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER (1988) – The film that put the world champion kick-boxer turned actor on the map, here playing a villain

BLOODSPORT (1988)- His first starring/hero role
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CYBORG (1989)- A panned film when not being overlooked, this sci-fi flick mixing a dystopian future with lots of action, while undeniably low budget and of its time, I personally am a huge fan of.

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KICKBOXER 1989
DEATH WARRANT 1990
LION HEART 1991
DOUBLE IMPACT 1991
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 1992
HARD TARGET 1993
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NOWHERE TO RUN 1993
TIMECOP 1994

STREET FIGHTER (1994) -With the under-performance of this film is where the brakes on Van Damme’s skyrocketing popularity and career (already lessening a bit from NOWHERE TO RUN) began getting applied

SUDDEN DEATH (1995) – A good movie, perhaps one of his best from that period, it possessed a ‘DIE-HARD’ premise to it, it nevertheless underperformed at the theaters.

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THE QUEST (1996) -

MAXIMUM RISK (1996) – His first of many impressive collaborations with Director Ringo Lam, Lam was the first director to get a real performance out of Van Damme, and a fantastic and very nuanced and heart-felt performance it is. It would signal the changing of the guard for Van Damme’s career as his drawing power as a mainstream action star would start drying up, and smaller budget, direct to video films would be the order of the day, but Van Damme as actor would increasingly emerge. MAXIMUM RISK is one of my favorite Van Damme films.

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DOUBLE TEAM (1997)- Tsui Hark, following in the footsteps of fellow country-men John Woo and Ringo Lam, chooses Van Damme to make his Hollywood directorial debut. Unfortunately the film is a creative and commercial misstep, that would signal the beginning of the end to Hollywood’s love-affair with Van Damme.

DESERT HEAT (1998) -
KNOCK OFF (1998) -
LEGIONAIRRE (1999) -
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER:THE RETURN (1999) – For all intents and purposes the end (for a time) of Van Damme’s Hollywood Career.

REPLICANT (2001)- The 21st century has arrived, and the rise of home video and DVD makes direct to video (DTV) productions possible. Alternative avenues to get your movie out there for studios that cannot get or afford theatrical distribution. DTV would allow Van Damme, and other abandoned once Hollywood darlings (such as Seagal and Snipes)to continue making movies. REPLICANT, a merely serviceable film, is the first of Van Damme’s next phase of his film career.

THE ORDER (2001) -
DERAILED (2002) -

IN HELL (2003)- A fantastic Van Damme performance and film, helmed by Ringo Lam

WAKE OF DEATH (2004) – Another fantastic DTV film. This and IN HELL showing the older Van Damme not just a better actor than in his youth, but making better films. As both of these films are better than anything he produced in his Hollywood years, with the exception of MAXIMUM IMPACT and SUDDEN DEATH.

SECOND IN COMMAND (2006) -
THE HARD CORPS (2006) -
SINAV (2006) -

UNTIL DEATH (2007)-
THE SHEPHERD: BORDER PATROL (2007)

JCVD (2008) – This is the movie that really revitalized Van Damme’s image, and by so doing, his career. Part action/heist flick, part psuedo-documentary, part bio-pic, it’s a deeply personal film that uses innovative 4th wall breaking cinematography and exciting story and action, and a wrenching performance by Van Damme to make it one of Van Damme’s most critically lauded films.

In many ways JCVD signals the third phase of his career, his return to mainstream prominence while continuing to also do his DTV work, a two pronged ‘best of both worlds’ approach where Van Damme is increasingly the action equivalent to Brando (in terms of longevity) to younger actors’ Pacino. He brings the name and gravity and they bring the youth and the bulk of fight scenes. Most notably this dynamic is seen in his very successful, recent collaborations with the amazing Scott Adkins.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION (2009)- A direct result of JCVDs popularity, sporting an exciting new director in John Hyams and littered with brutally talented young MMA performers, this is a sequel that completely improves upon its inane and mediocre predecessors. It is, without reservation, a great action film.

THE EAGLE PATH (2010)-
KUNG FU PANDA 2 (2011)-
ASSASSINATION GAMES (2011) -Another fantastic action/thriller co-starring Scott Adkins.

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SIX BULLETS (2011)-A strong first half, goes off the rails at the end with the parents unbelievably becoming Mr and Mrs Rambo.
DRAGON EYES (2012)-
EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) – A rare return to villain status for Van Damme. Good to see him back, thanks to Stallone, in Hollywood’s good graces.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER:DAY OF RECKONING- Van Damme’s third collaboration with John Hyams, while sporting very little Van Damme, is a home-run and illustrates a bit of that passing of the torch that is going on between him and Scott Adkins (with that whole Apocalypse Now vibe running through it). I loved REGENERATION and DAY OF RECKONING is even better. Part Horror, part sci-fi, part thriller, part action, it is some of the most exciting film-making I’ve seen in a while. Really quite impressive.

And 2013 and 2014 has other projects in the pipeline for Van Damme, and whether these projects are met with accolades or are derided, the given is Van Damme himself shall continue to be a charismatic and watchable screen presence, that gives his all.

I look forward to seeing the work yet to come.

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2013: Day 12- Remembering Director Lucio Fulci

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Lucio Fulci is remembered today, when remembered at all, by a nuance lacking population for his lowest common denominator gore films such as THE BEYOND and ZOMBI.

But before Fulci, by his own estimation became a maker of z-grade garbage to pay the bills, he aspired to more. He aspired to be a filmmaker.

And I am here to say he was one. And I would go further to say he was a great director. An extremely versatile director, leaving his mark on everything from Comedies to Westerns. However, it was in the new Italian form of thriller, the Giallo that his skills would reach their zenith, and his star shine the brightest.

In his heyday creative period, when the muses of inspiration were upon him (approx from 1966 to 1977), he made seven influential, stylish, challenging and even ground breaking films.

Tempi di Massacro/Massacre Time (Would predate and arguably inspire the dove laden, blood ballets of John Woo)

Una Sull’altra/Perversion Story/One On Top Another (even hampered by a poor title, and an awkward, even clumsy soft-core opening, this reworking of Hitchcock’s Vertigo builds to something great. Beautifully filmed it is Fulci’s best looking film, and is a clinic in style. It is a film I consider even better than its inspiration, and that is saying a lot.)

Beatrice Cenci
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
Don’t Torture a Duckling
Four of the Apocalypse
Sette Notte in Nero/Psychic

Fulci Frenzy
Browse and/or buy Lucio Fulci DVDs Here!!!

None of the above films were adequately appreciated upon release. However with the advent of DVD you have the chance to reevaluate Fulci’s largely pre-gore work (before he gave completely into his excesses and the lowest common denominator) and see these films for what they were and are, visually stunning landmarks of a time and a place.

— to be continued

AMER Dvd Review! A modern day Giallo!

AMER- I have been of late so disappointed by highly rated IMDB or AMAZON films (films such as TRIANGLE and A LONELY PLACE TO DIE), that the recently watched film AMER… comes like manna from heaven.

The first feature film of writing/directing duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, AMER (2009) is an almost impossibly sensual and sensualist film, that spends nearly all its initial running time in this elevated/heightened nearly psychotic state, that is equal parts arousal and sensory overload.

There’s a story here, but it’s a very thin one that follows our protagonist from childhood to womanhood, and one that becomes more thin as the film progresses, and ultimately takes backstage to a house of mystery, and a young woman who burns like the sun.

It is a very disturbing film, as it deals, under the skin, with themes of compulsion, predation (namely the predatory behavior of men to women), psycho-sexual behavior, and a degree of depravity and submission, all edited to a frenetic, insane, tension aching pitch.

Add to that the look and the soundtrack, which is a love-letter to the giallo, and you have something… that compels. Giallo being a distinctly Italian form of thriller, that traces its flowering most notably to the 70s and 80s films of Dario Argento.

A bastard child of the deconstructive American crime films and horror films of the late 60s and 70s (think PSYCHO meets DIRTY HARRY) and a precursor to the later American slasher films, Giallo is set apart by its preeminence of style, both in terms of visuals and soundtrack, over substance.

Much as film-noir is characterized by daring use of style and visuals and camera angles, to speak on the dysfunction and disillusionment, and moral abyss of a post World War II America, Giallo equally was a filmic response to turbulent political, class, generational and societal fears and concerns in the wake of an age of assassinations, wars, mass murders, and revelations and revolutions of the age of Aquarius, not to mention the conflict of a new sexual frankness in conflict with a still pervasive sexual repression.

In many ways giallo as a genre, was a bunch of kid filmmakers pushing the boundaries of film, and in many ways tapping into their own demons, and a world’s demons. So if you are a fan of films like SUSPIRIA and THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH you will find much to enthuse over in AMER, a film that is evocative of the giallo, from the soundtrack to the use of primary colors, while being a very unique and singular viewing experience.

Possibly a frustrating viewing experience if your taste does not run to the aforementioned giallo tenet of style over substance. If a movie has to ‘get to the point’ AMER is not the film for you, but if it is the journey well told that entrances…then AMER, will entrance you to the end.

Indeed for me the least interesting part of the film is the black-gloved razor wielding killer in the final act, and moments of blood and gore and the film trying to hew too closely to Argento’s template, but even that, thankfully, gives way to something… unique, and yes both irrational and sensuous.

I can see many people hating this film for its fever dream approach, however it is that approach that ultimately wins me over. I don’t like slasher films, and find gore and torture porn films uninteresting and without merit, not far from true pornography. Yet I find in the giallo, when done well, something that manages to transcend simple exploitation and pandering, and be not unlike art.

AMER is giallo, done well.

I adore, a well composed shot, and being a devotee of the schools of both sensualism and surrealism, I adore the stylistic extremes of this film… and see it being one that is often on rotation in my DVD player. If the filmmakers can resist the easy indulgences of gore and splatter, such weaknesses a little on display in the third act of AMER, and quite pervasive in most of their short films (also included on the DVD), they will be filmmakers to watch. When they don’t rely on the crutch of gore, as in most of AMER, they are mind blowingly good. Grade: B+.

Amer DVD! Price your copy here!

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh! Best Giallo! Price your DVD here!

BREAKING NEWS! Marc Olden Books back in Print!

Courtesy of Diane C who runs the Marc Olden website comes the pretty great news, for all of us fans of Marc Olden, as well as fans of just great books, that all of Marc Olden’s long out of print Men’s Adventure novels are back in print courtesy of Mysterious Press.

Comprised of his HARKER, NARC, and BLACK SAMURAI series of books, these are in many ways the holy grail of pulp 70s men’s adventure thrillers and paved the way for such writers as James Patterson and Hugh Holton.

Now these long out of print books are finally available in affordable editions. I must admit to largely being a paper guy myself, but for those of you Ebook/Kindle converts than, this is the deal for you!

MARC OLDEN New E-Books!

Here’s the link to Mysterious Press also:

MYSTERIOUS PRESS

I have to say, I think the MYSTERIOUS PRESS E-book covers are a bit artless (particularly when compared to the beautiful paperback originals), but my cover critique aside, having the content available again is what counts.

So go support and tell them HT sent ya! :)

TOP 15 FAVORITE DVD Commentaries! Part 3 of 3!

Completing (Yay! Finally!!) the list of 15 favorite DVD commentaries!! Here are selections 11-15.

THE LION IN WINTER- A seminal film, the finest performances of all involved and commentary by the director, Anthony Harvey. The Lion in Winter

T-MEN/RAW DEAL- Not a commentary per se, the excellent 2 part DARK REFLECTIONS audio/video essay by mystery writer Max Allen Collins is a must listen as it examines two of the best films by the legendary team of director Anthony Mann and Director of Photography John Alton. Very, very informative covering film noir, Dick Tracy, Eisner’s Spirit and more.Anthony Mann Film Noir Double Feature: Raw Deal/T-Men

DESCENT- 2 director commentaries, one with cast, one with crew. The crew commentary is more than a bit bland, the cast commentary is definitely more lively with a bunch of giggling, possibly tipsy, actresses, and it takes a bit to determine who is who, but still an enjoyable insight into this fantastic film. The Descent (Original Unrated Widescreen Edition)

SEVEN- no less than 4 great commentaries to choose from! Seven (New Line Platinum Series)-this is the only version that has all four commentaries

KING OF NEW YORK- great commentary by maverick director Abel Ferrara.King of New York (Special Edition)

Well that’s it! The wrap up of the 15 Favorite Commentaries!! The links to previous sections are below, and feel free to suggest your own favorite commentary!

Thanks for viewing and if you like this post, take the time to give a ‘like’ and also take the time to purchase using the links provided.

Thanks!:)!

Here’s Part I!

Here’s Part II!