Spaghetti Western Music

Hey! What's that left palm doing down there?!?!Two quick soundtrack additions between a saturation of Michael Myers:

- Carlo Savina's very atypical score for Steve Reeves' last film, A Long Ride from Hell / Vivo per la tua morte (1969), plus music from the rarely seen Il misterioso signor Van Eyck (1966), nicely mastered on CD by Italy's DigitMovies.

- Roberto Pregadio's underrated score for The Forgotten Pistolero / Il Pistolero dell'Ave Maria (1969), plus some material from Franco Micalizzi's My Name is Trinity / Lo Chiamavano Trinità (1971) on this super-short CD from Italy's Curci.


Season of the Mask 2: “Edited for Television”

No boobies or blood for you!Back in the seventies and eighties, when films were bought by major TV networks, it was a big thing. Producers getting $4 million for the broadcast rights wasn’t unusual, and the movie was treated like a major TV event. Pay TV was still an expensive alternative, so most people still relied on antennas to get their signals.

Movies, like TV shows, were subject to a network’s Standard and Practices guidelines, and that usually meant snipping naughty bits so anyone could watch the film, shorn of profanity, nudity, violence, or religious epithets. Saying “Goddamn!” and “Hell!” were quite verboten.

I grew up quite used to that nonsense. In 1983, buying a movie on VHS (or DiscoVision, or CED) was cost prohibitive. Shogun, on VHS, was displayed in a glass case at Eaton’s, and if memory serves correct, the set was somewhere around $100-200 for the whole thing. A blank T-120 tape cost anywhere from $36-32.


And yet, after much nagging, I was able to convince Dad to buy a VCR. The RCA Selectavision machine was around $1700, but we got a deal for an RCA 14” TV as well (just under $500) – the first colour TV we ever had. I distinctly recall seeing a Magnavox laserdisc player for over $2,000.

$2,000+ for a laserdisc player.

The VCR meant you could tape and actually own a copy of whatever TV signal you got, and although my first 14-15 years involved a dinky Admiral black & white television, WE HAD CABLE TV.

No, you don’t understand. WE HAD CABLE TV.

It was a window into movieland, and before garbage paid programming littered airwaves at night, and garbage talk shows cluttered up the afternoon schedules, TV stations aired movies.

Whether during prime time or daytime, there were movies, and many were preceded by this “Edited for Television.”

That disclaimer was even applied to From Russia with Love, a 1965 James Bond film that U.S. and Canucklehead S&P censors felt was too risqué. The edits left over from the chopped footage were sloppy, and you always knew something wasn’t right when a strange word uttered by an actor didn’t match the lips. (For a period piece on the snipping of films, check out this 1971 article in TIME magazine HERE.)

That was the kind of roadblock director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill faced in order to sell Halloween to NBC for $4 million. If the proposed trims were applied, the film would’ve run shorter than desired, so Carpenter and Hill wrote a handful of new scenes designed to fill out the film’s PG-styled edit, and give NBC enough room to lard the movie with ads.

Major films are no longer aired as often or treated as an event on network TV anymore. VHS, DVD, and Pay TV killed it, and that loss also signaled an end to shooting filler scenes for network airings. Sometimes the new footage – material not in the theatrical cut – was comprised of genuine outtakes and deleted scenes, but there were examples when a lot of footage was shot, probably with an eye towards a TV sale.

Classic examples include Superman, The Deep, Two-Minute Warning, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, Waterworld, and Far and Away. Waterworld has just been released in an expanded DVD release, the extra footage from Towering Inferno is on the DVD, and some of the Superman material is also on disc. But as for the rest, nuh-uh.

The inclusion or re-editing of a movie with extra footage, when it happens on DVD, does give viewers the chance to see whether the movie still works, and that’s more or less the main question we try and answer in our review of Anchor Bay’s extended edit of Halloween.

We’ve also uploaded reviews of Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (both produced by Dino De Laurentiis and released by Universal) to compare the changes and sharp turns that affected the franchise’s early installments.

Coming shortly will be reviews of Halloween IV and V, although I have to admit I am getting tired of the theme music, something at least the poopy Halloween III didn’t have in its score.

Coming next: soundtracks reviews, Cult Epics’ new 2-disc edition of Slogan, another rare work featuring Serge Gainsbourg-Jane Birkin, and more installments in the Halloween series.


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A few more soundtracks...

Just uploaded is a pair of soundtrack reviews:

- Christopher Wong’s The Rebel (2006), from MovieScore Media

- Stephen Edwards’ Finding Rin Tin Tin (2007), also from MovieScore Media

We’ll also have a pair of spaghetti western scores uploaded shortly.


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Season of The Mask

You are feeling v-e-r-y sleeeeepy...Like the Friday the 13th series, to own the complete Halloween franchise under one roof (and in one great big box) isn’t possible because some parts and franchise streams branched off through other studios imprints.

Friday the 13th is easier: Parts 1-8 belong to Paramount; Parts 9-11 are New Line.


With Halloween, Parts 1, 4 and 5 are Falcon International / Anchor/Bay Starz, Parts 2 and 3 are Universal, and Parts 6-8 (Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween Resurrection) are Disney, via the Miramax and Dimension imprints. Rob Zombie’s ‘re-imagining-prequel-whatever’ was a joint venture between the Weinsteins, and the owners of 1,4,and 5.

All clear?

In light of Anchor Bay having the rights to the bulk of the franchise wrought by director/co-writer John Carpenter and producer/co-writer Debra Hill and executive producer Moustapha Akkad, the label has released a 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set that features the theatrical cut (on standard DVD and a bonus Blu-Ray disc), the expanded TV version, Parts 4 and 5, and the documentary Halloween: 25 Years of Terror).

The box also beholds a Michael Myers mask. If you place the box and its protective sheath on your TV, The Shape is either an amusing icon of pop culture, or a ghostly visage that will, when you fall asleep one night (probably during Rob Zombie’s thingy), GET YOU.

Before that happens, though, we’re going through the series. Already in the archives are reviews for the theatrical cut of the first film in its two chief incarnations:

- the 25th Anniversary Edition, the 2003 2-disc set which contains oodles and oodles of extras

- the 2007 single disc edition

We'll have a new review of the TV version shortly, plus Halloween 2 and 3, since 2 follows 1’s twist finale, and 3 is the dead-end attempt to spawn Halloween-themed tales under the franchise banner.

Coming next: soundtracks reviews, Cult Epics’ new 2-disc edition of Slogan, another rare work featuring Serge Gainsbourg-Jane Birkin, and more installments in the Halloween series.


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Jules Verne...is... Comin' at Ya!

With the exception of Robert Rodriguez’ 3-D films and a few oddities, it’s very rare in Region 1 land when a 3-D film makes its way to DVD in 3-D.

IMAX’ Bugs! (2003) debuted on a 3-D DVD in Germany prior to its U.S. release, and the IMAX-Warner Bros. disc of Deep Sea 3D (2006) was a pretty but major cheat when the studio figured no one wanted to experience 3-D in a home theatre environment. One suspects Deep Sea might eventually come out in some boxed set (ideally with all the other IMAX 3-D films, particularly the ocean and space shorts), given studios are currently 3-D friendly in the theatrical arenas.

Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D (2008) is important because the 3-D version is on the B-side of the standard DVD edition, as well as the Blu-Ray release, and one suspects the IMAX 3-D films may be another tantalizing carrot labels can use to exploit the resolution of the high-def format.

Even on standard DVD, Journey works as a 3-D experience. It’s still not perfect (apparently the LCD glasses for home theatres lacks the focal problems, hazing, wobbly colours, and raster lines of the anaglyph process), but as small steps in home-level 3-D go, Journey is a major improvement.

Will it martial lazybones like Universal, Paramount, and MGM to release proper 3-D versions of their eighties shockers (Jaws 3-D, Friday the 13th 3-D, Amityville 3-D to name but a few)? Who knows. The fact those clunky cheeseball classics have been languishing in vaults still irks fans, and perhaps worse is a near-zero effort to do the same for the substantive 3-D wave from the fifties.

I’d love to see Inferno (1953), The Mad Magician (1954), and particularly Kiss Me Kate (1953) in 3-D, but for now one has to rely on the few titles and beat up prints bravely being run through the projectors of second-run theatres. On the big screen in 3-D, Dial M for Murder (1954) and House of Wax (1953) are awesome, and one would think, as high-def projection systems are more common now (certainly in major cities), the studios would take a gamble and restore some of the these classics as high-def masters for 3-D exhibition, much in the way the estate of John Wayne has done with Hondo (1953). (Check out this Google search for further info.)

It’s worth preserving these films, because they’re the historical grandfathers (and, like Comin’ at Ya! and Treasure of the Four Crowns, and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, the dumb glue-sniffing cousins) of the IMAX flicks and Disney flicks that have been enjoying a resurgence through new technological leaps, and a deeper need to ride an interactive, celluloid rollercoaster.


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When a kiss isn't really a kiss

The release of Mike Binder’s Search for John Gissing from Anchor Bay / Starz kind of rescues this 2001 farce from oblivion, and for it’s first two-thirds, Binder’s film is amusing for the verbal barbs and meanness that ping-pongs between an American arbitrator (Binder), his wife (Janeane Garofalo), and the English snot (Alan Rickman) out to save his own position in a snooty firm.

Sexual innuendo, a bit of boobery (this time from Lost’s Sonya Walger) and the brow-beating of the male ego are the film’s strongest qualities, which Binder had previously poked fun at in The Sex Monster (1999) as well as his short-lived HBO series, The Mind of the Married Man (2001-2002).

American filmmakers have made sex comedies, but several European countries (Britain, and the ludicrously prolific Italy easily come to mind) have gone through humorous filmic waves of bums, willies, beavers and knockers, and not necessarily aimed at teens and college kids the way American filmmakers have done.

Canada has some of that European sophistication, but unlike Quebec, there’s still a conservative nature that seems to keep provocative discussion of and depiction of sexual behaviour within safe parameters, and keeping the raw talk within the genres of thrillers, shockers, or weird stuff.

Ontario has moved a bit more forward from its tightwad status and the shame-fostering rulings of the old Ontario Censor Board (Boo! Mary Brown! Boo!), but Young People Fucking (2007) is a major leap ahead in terms of balancing humour, intelligence, and the rude and the crude.

In the English campaign art, it’s been branded YPF as well as the more familiar Young People F**cking, which is strange, considering the French title, Jeunes adultes qui baisent, is a literal translation of Young People Fucking.

One suspects the logic is that allophones or bilingualists not possessing a grasp of basic French are ‘protected’ from the F-word and its apparent ability to instill a need to instantly copulate, whereas those versed in Francais, perhaps even through the acquisition of French during high school years, are more emotionally stable and culturally mature to handle the words Fuck or Fucking.

C’est un peu bizarre, oui?

My own grasp of French, which had been degenerating after Grade 13 but apparently is still sound after having read Georges Michel’s French interview with composer Lalo Schifrin (to be reviewed shortly), is perhaps dated, because Baiser used to mean Kiss, but at some point the verb underwent a transformation and became the F-word. I’m not sure when it devolved into a more friction-heavy verb, but that explains the fuss over the intriguing but ultimately shallow and dull thriller Baise-moi (2000), which I thought meant Kiss Me, but soon after learned it meant something less genial.

YPF, or Young People Fucking, is finally available on DVD, and Maple’s release includes a great commentary track from co-star/co-writer Aaron Abrams and director/co-writer Martin Gero. The duo get a bit crude at times, but like the film, there’s some honest statements about dumb hang-ups and insecurities which not only keep people all wound up and twitchy, but force filmmakers to reign in ideas that could’ve made a fine movie.

Kudos to the lecherous and witty duo for sticking to their vision, and realizing a smart R-rated ride.

Coming next: Brendan Fraser discovers a more adventurous way to reach Italy’s Bay of Naples in New Line's Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D (2008).


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Diving Hotties in ‘scope

Jane Russell as you DON'T see her in the film!Sometimes TCM is a reviewer’s best friend. Just around the time Intrada announced its expanded CD of Boy on a Dolphin, TCM slated the airing of a decent widescreen print of the film – in true (and very vivid) stereo surround.

The film needs a clean anamorphic DVD release, but TCM’s print more than made up for the roughly 25 year wait to finally see the film without commercials, and not as a grainy panned & scanned 16mm TV print. (Blacchy!)

To place Hugo Friedhofer’s sublime score in context, we’ve uploaded a film review of Boy on a Dolphin, as well as a previous diving babe extravaganza – Howard Hughes’ deliciously idiotic Underwater! which starred Gilbert Roland, Richard Egan, and Jane Russell in another uplifting outfit, courtesy of Mr. Hughes.

Underwater! is not a good film, but it has more than dual merits deserving closer scrutiny, so check out our review of the Spanish DVD (easily available online for under 10 Euros from Spanish retailers), which features both English and Spanish dub tracks. It’s an old panned & scanned print, but it’ll suffice until Warner Bros. bothers to release a DVD, or TCM airs the film (which it reportedly did, back in 2007).

Coming next: reviews of the smart sex comedy Young People Fucking (2008) from Maple, and The Search for John Gissing (2001) from Anchor Bay/Starz.

And imminent: recent soundtracks from MovieScore Media and DigitMovies.


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Hugo Friedhofer's Boy on a Dolphin

One of Hugo Friedhofer’ best scores finally makes its return to CD in a newly expanded release from Intrada (albeit limited to 1500 copies, which ain’t enough for posterity). Boasting extra cues, the CD also presents the score in true stereo, which neither the Japanese CD nor the Decca and Varese LPs did.

Who was Hugo Friedhofer? One of many fine composers who enjoyed a busy career under the studio system – mostly at Fox – until production cutbacks basically dumped fine Oscar-winning/nominated composers into the unemployment lines, unless they found work in TV.

That’s more or less what happened to Friedhofer, and there’s something tragic in seeing a giant – former orchestrator to Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Oscar winner for scoring The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) – writing music for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964), when less than 10 years prior, he was among Fox’ A-list composers, writing music for some of the studio’s most mature if not high-profile CinemaScope productions.

Friedhofer’s move from works such as The Sun Also Rises (1957) to escapist juvenilia like Voyage improved a bit when he scored Roger Corman’s Von Richthofen and Brown (1971), but by then the style of writing sophisticated orchestral scores was already superceded with more rock and pop-oriented fodder. Friedhofer wrote just a handful of scores in the seventies – Paul Bartel’s Private Parts (1972) was his last credit – and very few of his scores were released on LP during his lifetime.

Boy on a Dolphin harkens back to the glossy escapist scores of the fifties, but it’s far more than mere themes and variations; it’s a sophisticated score largely derived from one theme, with absolutely stunning orchestrations. There’s a reasons fans of the movie keep bringing up the music in message boards; the title song (based on Takis Morakis’ “Tirafio Music”) is amazing, haunting, and lyrical, and the dramatic cues transcend a film designed to be Sophia Loren’s American film debut.

She’s a knockout, but some of that onscreen charisma comes from the music, and we’ve tried to explain the score’s power in another lengthy (overlong?) CD review.

Coming soon: a comparative film review of Boy on a Dolphin, plus another babe-in-the-water widescreen flick, John Sturge’s Underwater!


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The Boys from Brazil Return!

1978 was the mid-point of Jerry Goldsmith's golden seventies period - Coma, Capricorn One, Damien Omen II, The Boys from Brazil, Magic, and The Swarm (yes, that stinker) – and while Boys did earn an Oscar nomination for Best Score, it didn’t win, losing out to Giorgio Moroder’s all-synth Midnight Express.

Call it a case of a popular corkscrew score (music that worms its way into your brain and replays for days without respite) beating out an orchestral masterpiece. Goldsmith’s loss, or rather, Moroder’s win, will probably remain a thorn in the side of some fans, aggravated by the fact Midnight will always stay in print, whereas Boys has been a top collectible because it's drifted in and out of circulation for 30 years.

The LP, like the original Alien soundtrack album, was a concept album: Goldsmith selected, edited down, and re-ordered cues into suites for a more cohesive listening experience. Subtract the ditzy pop song “We’re Home Again,” and you have a 33 mins. of actual score – paltry by today’s standards, but quite normal for the era.

That album appeared on CD in Japan (A&M Japan) and Canada (Masters Film Music) before disappearing again, and like Damien Omen II and Coma, it took years before a full-score CD brought the music back into circulation.

Intrada’s new 2-CD release is limited, which means it’ll disappear again once the 3000 copies are sold out. That’s the nature of the beast when you’re dealing with a large orchestral score for a movie produced by ITC, a company that’s been negligent in releasing its catalogue of feature films in proper anamorphic DVDs with some archival content.

Boys from Brazil, on home video, was distributed by Fox in America, so while it's been branded a box office dud, the film has aged into a fine work of glossy Nazi sleaze (which I still think is what director Franklin J. Schaffner knew it was). Boys was one of the first movies released on RCA’s old CED format – so it’s been around on video for decades, but only the laserdisc offered any extras of note.

The two main goodies included a promo trailer that contained some alternate takes and deleted shots, and an isolated music track (in mono, and the source of a few bootleg albums).

Score-wise, Intrada’s CD means the music is at least available again, but the film needs a special edition DVD. ITC made a lot of turds (Raise the Titanic, Saturn 3, The Salamander), but Boys is one of the few decent productions that a) possessed a script; b) was well-directed; c) had high production values as well as a superb cast.

So while you can enjoy the music in its full glory (read review HERE), the film is only available as a blah DVD – something ITC’s owners (Granada) should slowly correct, now that Capricorn One (1978) has been reissued with a new commentary track from writer/director Peter Hyams.

Next: Varese Sarabande releases Hugo Friedhofer’s complete Boy on a Dolphin score in true stereo!


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Different media for different shocks

Quarantine, the American remake of Jaume Balagueró (Frágiles, Darkness) and Paco Plaza’s Spanish shocker [REC] opened this Friday. Yes, it’s another unnecessary remake of a perfectly fine non-English thriller, but apparently it doesn’t blow blue donkeys, which is good for cinemagoers, but hopefully its success won’t mean a Region 1 DVD of the original Spanish shocker will be delayed or remain on hold.

Most originals tend to make it to Region 1 land, but there’s always the odd exception, like Ole Bornedal’s excellent 1997 shocker Nightwatch / Nattevagten, a great little movie trapped in some kind of evil limbo, while the poo-poo remake is widely available. Sometimes it's due to the U.S. or Canadian entity no longer possessing a film's U.S. and/or Canadian rights, or a company just sitting on the original film to ensure their remake is the only choice around, like Luc Besson’s original Taxi (available only on a Quebec DVD with no English subtitles).

[REC] is available in Europe , so we’ve reviewed the Region 2 UK DVD, as well as Cloverfield, another film made up to resemble footage from a single camera found at the scene of a disaster.

Its’ the same conceit used by the makers of The Blair Witch Project (and kick-starts Cannibal Holocaust, if you want to crisscross genres), and both [REC] and Cloverfield were shot to resemble handheld or shakycam footage – a novel idea that works better in a home theatre environment than a large theatre screen.

We have, over the past ten years, become more accustomed towards fast editing and loose visuals; Michael Bay’s maniacal edits in The Rock are less jarring 12 years later, and Paul Greengrass’ edits in The Bourne Ultimatum feel very up-tempo. (The director’s Bourne Supremacy, though, is still the best example of how to never, EVER choreograph car chases.)

The hypothesis, then, is whether theatergoers will similarly get used to nauseacam footage, or should films shot like funky home videos, regardless of their budgets, be made for intimate theatrical venues (V.I.P. rooms), or exclusively for the home video market. Just as 3-D works best in a big theatre with large audiences, will films made to resemble consumer grade or broadcast quality ENG recordings evolve into a sub-genre of reality-styled shockers that exploit our intimate relationships with home videos and newscasts?

Next: more soundtracks, including Intrada’s new 2-disc set of Jerry Goldsmith’s The Boys from Brazil.


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Six Degrees of Seething Pain

The makers of Durham County borrowed the British model of crafting lean TV, spread over a tight 6 episode arc, but they also transcended the premise of suburban malaise by focusing on developing engrossing character arcs that tread into some familiar terrain, but avoid the clichés that usually turn great concepts into wildly uneven hybrids, or predictable fodder.

One can cite elements from American Beauty (emotionally dislocated teens who loathe their wonky parents), Desperate Housewives (a series of strange crimes that unearth past conflicts and dark secrets on a single street), Twin Peaks (brooding visual tones and grim characters), No Way Out (a detective steering a crime investigation away from his potential involvement), and Slaughter of the Innocents (a teen/child, fully versed in the nomenclature and behavioral patterns of serial killers, emulating the detective father) as influences, but in almost every case, there’s a turn that ensures Durham County can’t follow those plotlines.

What the filmmakers have chosen to investigate is a whole series of human conflicts with a murder backdrop, and a location that’s slowly driving suburban inhabitants crazy – or at least goosing stressors to their breaking point. And once detective Mike Sweeney arrives in Durham County, he discovers close associations that are destined to change his life in ways he never wanted.

The finale of Season 1 is cathartic, but we’re left hungry for more adventures, if you will (which will apparently happen in 2009, when the show continues with Season 2 on TMN and Movie Central).

Durham County may get lost among the more obvious crime series on DVD, but for fans of tight crime tales set in the ‘burbs, it’s a superb treat.

Next: [REC]. You know, the Spanish film remade as Quarantine, because we need more Anglo remakes.


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Great Art on DVD

Director Peter Watkins must be feeling a little good this year, knowing so many of his films are widely available on DVD. We covered Punishment Park, Culloden, The War Game, and Privilege, and now the longer version of Edvard Munch, which Watkins directed and also edited.

Featuring a cast of over 200 non-actors, this docu-drama on the early life and mid-career of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (note adjacent picture of his famous painting, The Scream) is an amazing achievement because it avoids so many of the genre cliches most big studio productions regularly use, such as fictional characters to help us get closer to the iconic subject, an obligatory happy ending, and those painfully maudlin moments showing the artist in Great Pain and Suffering for Art’s Sake.

Munch suffered – he lost family members to TB, fell in love with a married woman whose insistence on maintaining a distance was pure torture – but Watkins doesn’t stop his narrative for a dreary scenes of self-abuse and self-pity; we get flashes in several montages, but they’re part of many life experiences that influenced Munch and fueled some very dark and disturbing images.

At over 3 hours in length, the film has its flaws, but that’s counterbalanced by Watkins’ typically intense research, ensuring a fair chunk of historical accuracy and an intimate window into the creative process of an artist who moved through various styles and technical processes during his 66 year career.

Edvard Munch is also an amazing example of editorial brilliance, both visually and aurally. With no formal score to poke audiences for specific reactions, Watkins uses editing as a primary tool to convey a huge amount of professional and personal information (some derived from Munch’s unpublished diaries).

It sounds simple, but traditional score is often used to soften edits, enhance scenes, and add subtext the filmmaker, writer, and actors failed to capture in scenes. Watkins’ sound design is a textbook example on how to convey a diversity of ideas – concrete and impressionistic – through flashes of sounds without being arty or overbearing.

Watkins presumes audiences have the interpretive skills to process waves of information, and that’s probably why Edvard Munch doesn’t feel dated; whether through TV, film, or videos, the evolution of film technique has fine-tuned our instincts to process information with greater speed. The big surprise is that Edvard Munch was made 34 years ago.

Our other offering is The Dali Dimension from MVD Visual, which also breaks the format of documentaries by going straight into the meat of the filmmakers’ thesis: the relationship between Salvador Dali’s art, and modern science.

We still learn the basics of Dali’s career as an internationally celebrated surrealist painter, but the real delight is learning what aspects of science – DNA, the hypercube, atomic science – inspired and reside in Dali’s art. At just under an hour, it’s one of those docs you wish was longer, but MVD’s DVD includes some extra interview material, giving us 70 mins. of strong material to ponder.

Next: Durham County (Anchor Bay/Starz).


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Baby Boomer Nightmares

The last pair of reviews for Anchor Bay's Masters of Horror Season 2 skull set are up & running:

- Joe Dante's The Screwfly Solution, which has a fast-moving plague turning sexually aroused males into gleeful mob killers.

- John Landis' surprisingly tight thriller, Family, written by Frailty's Brent Hanley, about a pair of neighbours threatened by a serial killer in the suburbs.

Next: reviews of The Dali Dimension (MVD Visual) and Peter Watkins' longer TV verson of Edvard Munch (Project X/New Yorker Video).

And imminent: Durham County (Anchor Bay/Starz)


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