Master of the Flying Guillotine (Jimmy Wang Yu, 1976)

IT’S A MEAN MACHINE – CUTS YOUR HEAD OFF CLEAN!

This classic martial arts death match pits two wuxia icons against each other – the famed One-Armed Boxer (Hong Kong superstar Jimmy Wang Yu) versus a blind assassin (veteran character actor Kam Kong) and his legendary Flying Guillotine. Set in 1730, during the early part of the Ching dynasty, ethnic Chinese Hans formed bands of rebels to fight their Manchurian oppressors. After the One-Armed Boxer, a stoic kung fu expert and Han revolutionary, disposes of two would-be assassins, their master, a formidable blind emissary of the Ching posing as a Buddhist monk, swears revenge, searching out every one-armed martial artist and snatching their heads with his tethered decapitation device called the Flying Guillotine.

Arguably the most famous Hong Kong martial arts film of the post-Bruce Lee, pre-Jackie Chan period, this independently-produced classic is more popular than ever, with a legacy extending to films like Kill Bill and video games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. With its wild, fantasy face-offs and its cosmic Krautrock soundtrack, Master of the Flying Guillotine is undoubtedly a film worthy of losing your head over!

Special Features:

  • New High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Mandarin version and English dub track (uncompressed on the Blu-ray Disc)
  • New optional English subtitle translation
  • Audio commentary with film critics Andy Klein, Wade Major, and Alex Luu
  • Interviews with star/director Jimmy Wang Yu
  • Spinning Vengeance – director Quentin Tarantino on Master of the Flying Guillotine
  • Design for Decapitation – Grant Imahara on the mechanics of the Flying Guillotine
  • Trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Lines

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SFFF Day 4 Report – An Extended Trip Overseas

saskatoon_fantastic_film_festivalThe Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival closed with a massive final day that included five feature films, five shorts, and screenings of the films participating in the Festival’s 48 Hour Movie Making Challenge. SFFF closed the four day run with a trio of Asian films – the Mo Brothers’ Headshot (2015), Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan (2016), and Kôji Shiraishi’s Sadako vs. Kayako (2016) – that were collected to thrill audience members and get their communal adrenaline pumping. These efforts seemed to prove successful, but the best of Day 4 was found elsewhere and the final day offered some welcome surprises along the way.

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(My) Top Ten List

Criterion Banner FINALEvery month, the Criterion Collection asks a friend – a filmmaker, a programmer, a writer, an actor, an artist – to select their ten favorite movies available from the Criterion Collection and jot down their thoughts about them.  The entries (from people like Jane Campion, Jonathan Lethem, and Sonic Youth) are often surprising, and always entertaining.

Big thanks to Aaron, Kristina, and Ruth for organizing the Criterion Blogathon and for allowing me to craft my own Criterion Top Ten List.  I love lists.  Not in the sense that they represent any kind of canonical statement of anything, but in the way that they reflect certain perspectives.  Good lists say as much about their authors as they do about the films they include, and Criterion’s Top Ten Lists are loaded with as many insights about their “friends” as they are about the films themselves, making those lists doubly valuable to us cinephiles.  In truth, when picking between the hundreds of masterpieces amassed by Criterion, it’s hard to imagine anyone coming up with a bad Top Ten and I’m not sure anyone reads a Criterion Top Ten List to applaud or gripe about what got included.  I read them to see what speaks to these individuals and what personal insights or connections they can share.  Isn’t it great to see how classy Roger Corman’s keeps his Top Ten, how absolutely characteristic Chuck Klosterman’s List proves to be, how amazing is Kim Newman’s choice to include The Human Skeleton, and how utterly greedy Guillermo del Toro is by stuffing 21 films into his Top Ten?  I love it.

My Criterion Top Ten List has been a thornier process than I imagined, with only about half of my initially considered titles actually withstanding the months-long screenings and re-screenings done to prepare a list I feel fairly confident in.  In selecting these 10 films, I asked myself why I liked them, why they stay with me, why they resonate, and how I came upon them.  In doing so, these films not only reflect my tastes in film but also trace my relationship with the Criterion Collection over the last 15+ years.  It includes the third Criterion title I ever bought and one that I saw for the first time less than 3 months ago.  There are themes: unrequited love, seriocomedy, ensembles, meticulous production design, dream sequences, widescreen black and white.  And there are, for me, many surprising exclusions.  No Godard, no Kurosawa, no Powell and Pressburger, and no Maddin.  There’s no Days of Heaven, The Firemen’s BallClose-upWhen a Woman Ascends the Stairs, A Night to RememberThe Tin Drum, Good MorningLes misérables, Divorce Italian StyleThe Night of the Hunter, the Flamenco TrilogyForbidden Games, The Battle of AlgiersIl Posto or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, if just for the DVD’s menu screen.  (I’m already way over 10 films just talking about what didn’t make the cut!)  But the best thing about this Top Ten List is knowing that it’s not permanent, that I might reach into some box set later tonight, read Criterion’s next monthly announcement, or simply grow into being a slightly different (and hopefully better) person and find myself connected to another film that forces its way into my imagination and onto this list.

For the moment, here is my Criterion Top Ten List, arranged for ease of reading (and not for ranking) and including a plain text portion that I imagine would accompany each title in the usual fashion of the Criterion website and an italicized portion that serves as a more personal annotation for each selection.

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Kung Fury (David Sandberg, 2015)

“It’s bloody well brilliant.” – Todd Brown, TWITCH FILM.

“The world will never be the same.” – Peter Debruge, VARIETY.

Drafthouse Films LogoAfter his partner is killed in the line of duty, Miami Police Department detective and martial artist Kung Fury time travels from the 1980s to World War II to kill rival kung fu master, Adolf Hitler (a.k.a. “Kung Führer”), only to be sent back to the Viking Age where he must face powerful warrior women and Norse Gods.  This ’80s inspired, action extravaganza pits Kung Fury against lethal arcade robots, martial arts masters, laser-dinosaurs, and Nazi mutants.  With only his biceps, his skateboard skills, a collection of similarly badass heroes, and a mere 30-minutes to save history, Kung Fury kicks and quips his way to victory.  Constrained by a miniscule budget, David Sandberg’s Kung Fury was shot on green screen to construct a fanciful trailer of epic, B-movie awesomeness that became an internet sensation and inspired a highly successful Kickstarter campaign.  The result is an homage to 1980s adventure films and side-scrolling video game battles, complete with astounding visual effects and a shredding electropop synth score.  A darling of the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, Kung Fury now hits hard media with the mighty force of Thor’s enchanted hammer!

Special Features:

Hack Time Edition – Package Includes:

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Milocrorze: A Love Story (Yoshimasa Ishibashi, 2011)

“Almost impossible to define – it has samurai fights, oddball fantasies and retro musical dance scenes.” – Mark Adams, SCREEN DAILY.

Drafthouse Films LogoFrom visionary artist Yoshimasa Ishibashi comes Milocrorze: A Love Story, an epic collection of tales on obsessive love and the lengths men will go to for it.  Three distinct tales of love gone wrong are offered, each featuring rising Japanese star Takayuki Yamada, moving between the candy-colored world of an innocent, lovelorn man-child to the uproarious realm of Japanese television and an overbearing relationship coach dispensing dubious advice to the cyberpunk-infused world of a vengeful samurai on a quest to reunite with his lost love.  Amid its elaborate musical numbers and jaw-dropping slow-motion sword battle, Milocrorze provides a sincere vision of romantic love through a slightly warped lens, making this 2011 Fantastic Fest multiple award winner “one of the most uniquely structured and entertaining anthology pictures to come out in quite some time” (Adam Charles, FILM SCHOOL REJECTS).

Special Features:

  • Interview with filmmaker Yoshimasa Ishibashi
  • Interview with star Takayuki Yamada
  • Making of featurette
  • Theatrical trailer
  • 24-page booklet of photos, production stills, and promotional materials, plus an interview with filmmaker Yoshimasa Ishibashi

Verandola Gorgonzola Edition – Package Includes:

  • Milocrorze: A Love Story on Blu-ray or Standard DVD
  • DRM-free Digital Download of the film in 1080p, 720p, and mobile/tablet formats
  • 27″ x 40″ one sheet poster designed by Mondo Artist Matt Taylor

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Ninja Hunt (Tetsuya Yamauchi, 1964)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Ninja Hunt.

criterion logoWhen the corrupt Tokugawa shogunate seeks to abolish the Matsuyama clan during a transition of power and seize its wealth, it deploys its sinister Koga ninja to destroy an official proclamation that would confirm the clan’s new heir.  Aware of the shogunate plot, the Matsuyama clan hires four ronin whose clans were dissolved in similar plots and charges them to protect the proclamation and ferret out the ninja spies by any means.  These masterless samurai, led by the elder swordsman Wadakuro (Jûshirô Konoe), pursue their vengeance against the Koga ninja with brutal and single-minded intensity.  A masterpiece of the ninja film craze of the 1960s that remains little known outside of Japan, Tetsuya Yamauchi’s first film is a highly suspenseful and bitterly violent thriller.

Disc Features:

  • High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Alain Silver and critic, novelist, and musician Chris D.

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