Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Streaming on Netflix and Hulu | imdb | trailer

This is Sergio Leone’s flawed, but still amazing, final film. Once Upon a Time in America is a wide-ranging epic about a prohibition-era Jewish gangster in New York City. I will spare you all the gory details about what went wrong in the cutting and release (you can read all about it over here). I saw this in whatever the hell version was on DVD around 2005 and loved it. Yes, this film is slow. However it tops Goodfellas in the level of violence and scope. To keep it simple, if you are a fan gangster movies and TV series, you need to see this. The amazing cast is reason enough. Just go in knowing it’s a long slow ride with some seriously bloody sections. Maybe even break it up into two or more viewings for maximum enjoyment (that’s my plan for a re-watch soon).

The domestic Blu-ray is currently Out of Print.

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Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

The Z Channel was an early pay cable network that was very much like the current Criterion Channel (but began years before Criterion was even releasing laser discs). The story of it’s rise and fall, plus the channel’s influence is fascinating. You also get the tragic story of programming chief Jerry Harvey. I first saw this back when the movie was originally shown on the IFC cable channel. I never would have thought this doc would get remastered and made available again, but I’m glad it was. The filmmakers managed to get so many great interview subjects it’s amazing. The segments with Tarantino are particularly interesting. I didn’t understand the depth and range of his cinema obsession before seeing this movie. If you love independent and arthouse cinema, this documentary is essential viewing. I recall chasing down titles I hadn’t seen for years after.

Not available on Blu-ray.

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Hot Fuzz (2007)

Streaming on Hulu | imdb | trailer

This is a spoof of action films, that is also better than most action films. I liked Shaun of the Dead, but enjoyed this (and The World’s End) much more. Those three films make up the Edgar Wright / Simon Pegg “Cornetto Trilogy”, and I think Hot Fuzz is my personal favorite. What is not to love about a relentless pace with legitimately funny lines sprinkled throughout. As usual with these guys, there are lots of subtle references throughout the film. The best is the desk sergeant reading a copy of Iain Banks’ excellent novel Complicity. Edgar Wright’s recent Last Night in Soho wasn’t bad, but I like his action work best. I’m very much looking forward to his upcoming version of The Running Man. Oh and if you somehow missed the Wright / Pegg / Frost series Spaced, get on it. That remains one of the very best English comedy series ever made.

Available on Blu-ray from Universal.

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Black Dynamite (2009) 

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

Here we have the second-best Black Action Hero parody next to I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (and it’s an extremely close second). This was my favorite comedy to come out in 2009, and just as funny on a recent second viewing. Star Michael Jai White is best known for action films, but really shows his comedy and acting talent here (he even co-wrote the screenplay). I just wish he’d get offered better roles. Black Dynamite was spun off into an animated series that I personally couldn’t get into, but give it a try if you like the film.

Available on Blu-ray from Sony Pictures.

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Renewed Movies for May!

I have updated this site, so all movies should be streaming on their respective service. Also, I am happy to report that the following expired movies have been renewed and/or picked up by other streaming services (linked to my original recommendations):

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

Dirty Harry (1971)

The Hospital (1971)

Killer Joe (2011)

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

The Stranger (1946)

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

The Video Dead (1987)

Happy viewing! -Jonathan

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Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art (2020)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

This is a documentary about $80 million in forged abstract expressionist art that was sold through a major NY art dealer. If you have little to no interest in art, then this will bore the hell out of you. I found it to be very well made, and engaging throughout. It is mostly one-on-one interviews, peppered with some high quality documentary photos and appropriate video / film footage. Oh yeah and there’s that one element that you’ll see in 99% of contemporary documentaries… the animation. There seems to be a rule that there MUST be at least one section featuring animation in every doc. It’s as if there’s a big scary enforcer that shows up in the editing process and says “I ain’t seen no cartoons in dis here picture yet” while showing the director his bloodstained baseball bat. I get why documentary makers feel it’s necessary, but it’s become a cliche. If you just have to do it, please do something really interesting like the animation in Gimmie Danger. Sorry, I had to get that out. Where was I? Ok, here’s why Made You Look is worth your time: you get to learn about rich and powerful people becoming victims of their own stupidity and greed. Enjoy the schadenfreude my friends.

Not Available on Blu-ray.

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Clan of the the White Lotus (1980)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

Aka Fists of the the White Lotus. “Deadly Needle Kung Fu Against the Invincible Armor of The White Lotus!” Right out of the gate this Shaw Brothers flick will grab you (with it’s crotch). White Lotus features crazy-complex fight choreography, and a good sense of humor too (not in that goofy Jackie Chan / Sammo Hung way either). If you’re not sold before the opening credits are done, then hit stop and go watch a superhero movie. I gave this film a 9 out of 10 rating on imdb.

Not available on domestic Blu-ray.

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Benedetta (2021)

Streaming on Hulu | imdb | trailer

If you would’ve told me back in my cult VHS tape trading days that Paul Verhoeven was going to make a Nunspoitation film in 2021, I would never have believed you. The first movie I saw in the genre was Joe D’Amato’s Images in a Convent. Benedetta is definitely better than that film, but it’s not nearly as good as Flavia the Heretic. My suggestion is to keep your expectations low, and indulge in your go-to psychoactive substance while you watch. Under those conditions, you will likely enjoy this sleazy big budget ride. Well, perhaps enjoy isn’t the right word. Let’s say you might agree with me that Verhoeven is still a crazy bastard, and still making admirably challenging films.

Coming soon on Blu-ray from IFC Films.

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Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

The first installment of a two part series on the career of criminal Jaques Mesrine (the second is Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One). This is the French answer to Scarface (1983), but based on true events, and much larger in scope. Other than the usual fake looking gun action, this movie is a total blast. Vincent Cassel is perfect, as usual. If you’d like to see him do something more fun / dumb I recommend you also check out his film Dobermann (looks like it’s available on YouTube if you sign in).

Available on Blu-ray from Music Box.

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Zana (2019)

Streaming on Amazon Prime (and Kanopy) | imdb | trailer

Zana is an excellent, dark drama from Kosovo. The film reminded me a bit of Tarkovsky’s work, but the pace is a little faster, and it’s only 97 minutes long. The cinematography is fantastic, and all the actors pull off top-notch performances. One word of warning, this movie is very sad. It maintains that tone from start to finish, minus a few moments. If you’re not in the mood for a downer, then maybe pick something perky from the Netflix Top 10 (you wimp).

Not available on domestic Blu-ray.

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