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Short Circuits

USA | 1994
Directed by: Sam Irvin
Written by: Peter David
Starring: Richard Joseph Paul, Jackie Swanson, Andrew Divoff, Meg Foster
| 94 Minutes | Rated PG-13

- By KamuiX

On an undisclosed planet lightyears away, a group of outlaws led by the lizard-esque alien Redeye have their sights set on taking over the dusty town of Oblivion. After successfully putting the town’s lawman Marshall Stone six feet under, they’ve pretty much accomplished their goal, running roughshod over the town and strong-arming its inhabitants. Meanwhile, out in the wilds of the west, Stone’s disowned son Zack wanders the dunes in search of…well, something. He runs across a native named Buteo left for dead and about to be devoured by the desert’s top predator, a night scorp. Shortly after saving him from the jaws of death, Oblivion’s undertaker, a creepy man that’s followed by all sorts of superstitions named Gaunt, finds Zack to tell him of his father’s demise. While he doesn’t much care, he does feel as if he should pay his respects, so along with Buteo they accompany Gaunt back to Oblivion. Of course things don’t go well and Redeye crashes the funeral and raises Zack’s ire. While he doesn’t particularly care to defend his father’s honor, he does have a sense of personal honor, and along with his father’s cybernetic deputy, he’s ready to bring justice back to Oblivion.

I grew up on Full Moon films, rabidly digesting all that I could have in the early 90s when I basically lived at the local mom and pop video shop. For some odd reason however Oblivion always escaped me, and I’m happy to have finally seen it thanks to the good folks at Shout! Factory. Ever since falling in love with the woefully mistreated Firefly, I’ve developed a bit of a fetish for all things sci-fi western, and Oblivion juggles both genres fairly well. I should probably offer a disclaimer for anyone that thinks this is going to be serious fare; if you’ve never seen a Full Moon film before, they’re full of cheese and occasionally hokey performances, but compared to the STV trash that litters shelves these days, Full Moon productions were far more professionally handled. The late 80s and early 90s were a time when making films specifically for the rental market was pretty big business, and the production values here definitely show it. The sets are ambitious, the effects (especially on a couple of otherworldly creatures) are great, and the scope of it all is really impressive. The script (which is written by Peter David, better known by comic geeks for his 90s run on The Incredible Hulk and his current amazing work on X-Factor) isn’t great, but it gets the job done and all in all Oblivion is a lot of fun.

The most striking thing about Oblivion however may be how many familiar faces are part of the cast. Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster, Toy Soldiers), Meg Foster (Hellraiser), Isaac Hayes (Truck Turner), Julie Newmar (Batman ’66), Musetta Vander (The Cell), Carel Struycken (The Addams Family), and George Takei (do I need to say? He’s friggin’ Sulu!) all make appearances, some in pretty large and significant roles. The cast definitely raises the stock of the film, and anyone in the mood for some gun-slinging sci-fi in the Wild West should give Oblivion a look. Hopefully Shout! Factory releases the sequel, which is teased at the end, as I’m ready to saddle up if they are! The film is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio and looks pretty decent; certainly a step-up from Full Moon’s (or Kangaroo Video, as they'd like you to believe) own straight VHS-to-DVD releases. Even though the picture quality is solid, the encode is sadly badly interlaced to the point where even if you have a good DVD player that converts the signal to progressive, you’ll still notice some motion stutter at times. It’s not a deal breaker, but in a day and age when the quality of DVD players pretty much eliminates ever having to notice when a disc is interlaced unless you put it in your PC, it’s a bit of a bummer. The Dolby Digital 2.0 is nice and clear and is free of any issues. There are no extras whatsoever on the release.

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Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXI  
USA | 1991
Directed by: Various
Written by: Various
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, Jim Mallon
| 540 Minutes | Not Rated

- By SethDLH

For the latest Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD collection (volume XXI) from Shout! Factory, we’re offered up five Gamera riffs from the fourth season. First up is the original 1965 film Gamera. The film itself is a Godzilla rip off and pretty much exactly what you think. Joel and our robot friends give us a few standout jokes but nothing too spectacular. The highlight of the episode is Tom Servo singing a ballad to a toy turtle. Pure brilliance. Next up is the first sequel from just a year later, Gamera vs. Barugon, which has much more to do with the giant ice tongued Barugon than Gamera. A couple more great intermission moments along with a few good jokes in between help keep us going through the movie which is a bit too dramatic for its own good at times.

Just when we feel like we are on a streak of "close but no cigar" we are blessed with Gamera vs. Gaos. The great kiddy campy nature of the film itself along with sheer unadulterated hilarity from Joel and company make this one a home run. This one was especially fun to laugh at and with along with the guys. We get Gamera munching on Gaos for lunch, ridiculous subplots that go nowhere, a child no older than 6 saving Japan and shipping laser spitting bat monster off into a very active volcano (that no one seems to mind). Our final two episodes are Gamera vs. Guiron and Gamera vs. Zigra which are both more kids’ adventure movies than giant monster movies. Think The Goonies or The Monster Squad with men in rubber monster suits and in space. Guiron is so fun to laugh and jeer along with Joel and the robots. It all adds up to a really enjoyable episode. Zigra is as well, but too a lesser extent. There are some repetitive jokes through all five episodes with mixed results.

Shout! Factory delivers this five disc set inside of a very attractive embossed tin case which will look very nice next to the other twenty volumes of MST3K. The picture quality in our first two episodes is a bit on the rough side, but still very watchable. The silhouettes are sporadically fuzzy and the elements show their age in the first two episodes. That said, the silhouettes in Gaos, Guiron, and Zigra look crisp all the way through. The audio is clear and serviceable with consistent levels from our commentators and the movie is also heard just fine in all five episodes. Extra features include So Happy Together: A Look Back at MST3K & Gamera, a featurette on exactly what the title says. It explains how the crew was able to use these films for the show, their reaction to the films and a bit of background information on the Gamera films themselves. Gamera vs. The Chiodo Brothers is a great sit down with the effects team as they fondly remember monster movies and rubber suits. This is a really fun piece to watch and enjoy along with the Chiodos, who enjoy their work immensely. Our last featurette is Gamera Obscura: A History by August Ragone. This interview is a nice history lesson for Japanese monster movie fans. A trio of MST Hour Wraps and the original Japanese trailers for each film are also included. Finally, art cards from artist Steve Vance are included.

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Sex and Black Magic  
Italy | 1980
Directed by: Joe D'Amato
Written by: Joe D'Amato
Starring: Richard Harrison, Nieves Navarro, Lucia Ramirez, Mark Shannon
| 97 Minutes | Not Rated

- By SethDLH

Oh, Joe D'Amato what would the world do without you? One thing is for sure, we certainly wouldn't have as many sexploitation movies to watch. Sex and Black Magic goes even beyond the line of sexploitation, because this is essentially porn. It may be given a fancy name like "erotica", but when there are blow jobs shown in all of their glory, it becomes porn.

Helen (Susan Scott) and her husband Paul (Richard Harrison) are having marital problems because of their struggle to conceive their first child. After Helen visits Paul at a secluded island where he studies a tribe and their customs she brings back an attractive native named Haini (Lucia Ramirez) to her city life. Helen and Haini instantly begin a lesbian affair which spurs Helen's promiscuity to come out and she begins sleeping around town like a 10 cent hooker. After Paul arrives back home he discovers Helen's whorish ways and is not pleased, but deals with it (in his own not so nice ways) because of how badly he wants a child. Soon after the couple find out that Helen is pregnant. Of course Haini is now pissed off and does a voodoo doll ritual which leads to Paul's death.

Sex and Black Magic's original title, Orgasmo Nero, which translates to Black Orgasm, was a far more fitting title as there is very little black magic to speak of. At the very beginning and end of the film D'Amato throws in some in some cannibal gross out factor but other than that this is softcore porn through and through. The title of the film on this DVD is a little bit misleading as I was expecting a bit more of a sexploitation vibe but the film basically succeeds in being what it wanted to be, it was just rather boring in doing it. There are much better ways to spend an hour and a half if you want to watch porn or bad movies. One 7 Movies delivers a mostly clean looking anamorphic transfer with a 1.78:1 ratio. There are a few instances of heavy dirt and debris speckling but nothing overly distracting. The source material seems to have been kept in good shape. The now infamous audio track listing on films from this company, which is "Italian Mono Dolby Digital 2.0", something I still have no fucking idea what they mean by, sounds okay. A bit muted and mumbled at times, it’s aided by the English subtitles. Extra features include an alternate scene which is only different in that you see more man parts, some unused footage, mainly of boats and planes and the hardcore inserts which were shots filmed by D'Amato with Lucia Ramirez that were edited into the film for the hardcore cut. This is exactly what you think it is. Also included are the original end credits and a photo gallery.

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France | 2010
Directed by: Quentin Dupieux
Written by: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Roxane Mesquida
| 82 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

After an opening monologue that involves a dusty, chair-littered back-road and a town sheriff that chooses to ride in his squad car’s trunk rather than shotgun for “no reason”, a nerdy accountant hands out binoculars to a group of onlookers that are about to witness a film. What is this film, you ask? Why, it’s about a sentient tire that discovers it likes to destroy things. First by running them over, and then when it runs into a glass bottle that it can’t smash simply by rolling over it, it realizes it can shatter it in another fashion…with its mind. It doesn’t take long for the tire to start making wildlife explode like entrail-laden fireworks on the fourth of July, but as our rubber killer-in-the-making makes it to the roadside, it spies a nice-looking young woman driving by and discovers a new obsession: lust-driven homicide.

Sometimes, a movie comes along that, even though it’s clearly trying to be weird for the sake of being weird and is obviously in love with that fact, still manages to entertain and not feel manipulative regardless of it being so self-aware. Rubber is one of those rare films. Obviously, your mileage may vary on that, and you may find yourself on the other side of that opinion, but I personally got a huge kick out of what I was witnessing. I’ll admit that I was skeptical for the first 20 or so minutes, with the crowd watching the “film” and the fact that it IS so aware of itself, but before long I was buried underneath of so many bizarre happenings that I couldn’t help but be taken in by everything. Rubber is an amalgamation of all sorts of things, reminiscent of David Lynch’s bizarre Americana (I was reminded more than once of Wild at Heart) and taking inspiration from Scanners’ cranium-popping insanity, but for the most part the film is wildly original and defies any sort of definition. In fact, writing a review for it is quite daunting because it does the film a disservice to say too much, and it’s one of those oddities that needs to be seen to truly appreciate (or roll your eyes at).

The most striking thing about Rubber aesthetically is the cinematography, which while filmed on a $2500 HD camera looks very film-like and captures the dusty landscapes beautifully. Director Quentin Dupieux also has a great eye for shot composition, with more than a handful of shots that are a real delight to drink in. The other impressive technical feat comes courtesy of our titular maniacal tire; his (or “its” if you like, but since our rolling Romeo has eyes for a lady, I’ll use male pronouns) movements are pulled off flawlessly and smoothly, and never is the fourth-wall breached to uncover any of the movie-making tricks. The tire takes on a whole little life of his own and becomes just as much of an onscreen personality as any of the live-action actors. As I said, it’s hard to talk too much about the film without spoiling some key moments, but if the idea of a film about a psychokinetic homicidal tire on a killing spree sounds like something you might get a kick out of, Rubber is without a doubt worth a look. I can’t say with confidence what side of the “love it/hate it” fence you’ll fall on, but I can guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it before. I may not have competently communicated why I liked Rubber so much, but I’ll just take a cue from the opening monologue and tell you there’s no reason…I just fucking did. Magnolia and Magnet have rolled Rubber out on Blu-Ray in a great looking 1.85:1 anamorphic print that does the HD photography proud. Great textures, facial detail and all-around depth abound, with the desert sand that permeates the film being particularly striking. The DTS Master Audio 5.1 track is perfectly clear and well balanced, although it’s not a super active track that will give all of your speakers a workout. With that said, the musical side of things (mostly low-fi electronica) sufficiently uses the surround at its disposal. In the extras department, we get an interview with director Quentin Dupieux, courtesy of a blow-up doll interviewer and backmasked audio a la the Red Room from Twin Peaks (thankfully, I didn’t find the film quite as douchey as I did the interview). Three more interviews are included, with actors Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, and actress Roxane Mesquida, respectively. They all talk about what drew them to the film and what it was like on-set. Rounding out the extras is about a minute’s worth of camera tests, a look at the film courtesy of HDNet, and the film’s theatrical trailer. All of the extras are in 1080i, except for the trailer, which is in 1080p.

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Czechoslovakia | 1988
Directed by: Jan Svankmajer
Written by: Lewis Carroll & Jan Svankmajer
Starring: Kristýna Kohoutová
| 85 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

I’m sure you all know this one: Alice is a bored little girl that spies an anthropomorphic white rabbit (here filled with sawdust) that goes down a hole (or in this world, a desk drawer). Curiosity gets the better of her, and she follows, going down a slow elevator with all sorts of oddities showing on the other side until she reaches a world filled with curious creatures, size-changing edibles, and a wicked queen that wants everyone to lose their heads.

Anyone that’s read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland knows it’s rather weird; even the Disney adaptation is wild and wonderful in many respects. Leave it to Mr. Svankmajer however to deliver the most twisted, bizarre and pretty damn faithful adaptation of the story put to film. You’d think the idea of a film with just one live-action performer (Kristýna Kohoutová as Alice) who also delivers every single line of dialogue might wear thin during a full-length piece of cinema, but you’d be wrong. Thanks to Svankmajer honing his stop-motion animation craft on short films for over 20 years prior, he knows how to tell a story through visuals better than most, and the macabre nature of it all (including birds with skull heads, rotting fish, and dangerous food baked full of sharp objects) makes the film incredibly interesting even to those most familiar with the material. It’s a joy to just kick back and drink in the visuals, wondering how Svankmajer will envision the next set piece and its players.

Without very much in the way of dialogue, Alice relies heavily on sound effects, which compliment the visuals quite well. Lots of bangs and creaks, squeaks and slurps (yes, slurps) will barrage your ears in the same fashion the visuals will assault your corneas. At its heart, Alice is still a children’s fairy tale, with Svankmajer not perverting any part of in an attempt to appeal to grown-ups; the adult nature comes from the unusual menagerie of amalgamations that permeate the world, something that would likely disturb sensitive kids. On the other hand, if your child has grown up a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas or anything Tim Burton, they’re likely to get a kick out of this, as should you. Just don’t drink the ink! BFI’s recently released Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of Alice is the godsend all fans of the film have been waiting for. Not only is the picture pristine, bringing the visuals to life like never before (throw those murky DVD’s away now!), but the release also boasts the long sought-after Czech audio that was absent on nearly every other official release of the film. While the English dub is there for the “I don’t want to read a movie!” fools, the Czech track is the way to go. Both tracks are lossless and excellent quality. In the extras department, we’re served up four bonus short films. The first two are other adaptations of the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland story: 1903’s silent Alice in Wonderland (as you can imagine, it’s CREEPY), and Alice in Label Land, an animated educational film about nutrition told via Carroll’s fairy tale. The other two included extras come courtesy of some other legendary stop-motion animators, the Brothers Quay. Both are music videos for the band His Name is Alive, Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married? and Stille Nacht IV: Can’t Go Wrong Without You, and they both borrow themes from Alice, notably the White Rabbit. All shorts are in 1080p. Also included is a full-color booklet that includes interviews with Svankmajer, liner notes from historian Claire Kitson, a review by Philip Strick, and notes about all of the extra shorts. If you’re a fan of Lewis Carroll’s opus or Jan Svankmajer, picking this up should be a no-brainer.

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