Category Archives: Film

“I, ANNA”— The Divorcee and the Detective

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“I, ANNA”

The Divorcee and the Detective

Amos Lassen

Barnaby Southcombe’s “I ,Anna” is about the lives of a beautiful divorcee and a troubled detective that intersect during the investigation of a vicious murder on streets of London that brings about a tangled web of passion, intrigue and deceit. The story is told from the perspective of a woman who is a key suspect and who also becomes an obsession for the investigating detective.

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An absorbing film noir told from the perspective of an intriguing woman, a key suspect in a murder case, who becomes an obsession for the detective in charge of the investigation. I, Anna is a psychological film noir that not only stars veteran actor Charlotte Rampling, but is the directorial debut of her son, Barnaby Southcombe. Charlotte Rampling plays divorcee and mother Anna Welles, whom we see is living a comfortably middle-class life in a tiny apartment in London following the departure of her husband. Encouraged by her daughter Emmy (Hayley Atwell), she is trying her hand at singles party events in town. One night she meets the flamboyant and wealthy George Stone (Ralph Brown) and goes home with him.

We next see her, Anna is leaving his apartment block. Coming from the opposite direction is night owl Detective Bernie Reid (Gabriel Byrne). He has been called to the scene of a brutal murder that took place in the very apartment that Anna has left. Something clearly happened in that apartment, and it left Stone dead. It is not clear what went down, and how Anna is involved.

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Reid notices Anna leaving, and is curious so he follows her to a singles party night where finally they meet. At first, Bernie conceals that he sees her as being connected to the case. The mutual attraction is instant, perhaps unsurprising given their similar, lonely existences. Anna seems not to remember or acknowledge that she was ever at Stone’s apartment. But as clues start to point towards Anna’s involvement in the murder, Bernie finds himself more and more compromised, and Anna’s deeply buried memories start to surface and overwhelm her. As Anna’s mind begin to coalesce, the viewer begins to piece things together as does Bernie and we learn what happened that night and what else Anna might be hiding, or hiding from.

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Southcombe’s screenplay is based on the novel “I, Anna” by Elsa Lewin. a homage to film noirs where ambiguous and obsessive relationships are more of the concern than more technical procedural aspects. Noir stories tend to need cities as their playgrounds, and London is as much as star the film as are Byrne and Rampling. His camera movements, lighting and framing treat the city as if it were a neon-lit femme fatale too, coldly beautiful as the lens glides over her at night in glorious high definition. Southcombe has a sharp eye for intriguing locations that sometimes border on the outright gothic or expressionistic and the film is so that it is almost distracting.

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Memories of her evening with George start to come back to Anna; however, it seems that she has an even darker secret to face. The thriller aspect is more psychological than procedural with an emphasis on Anna’s psychosis. As a murder mystery, Anna’s secret and the murder seem thrown together in a muddled script; however, things seem better if we see this as a romantic thriller with the emphasis on the relationship between Anna and Bernie.

“BEYOND MY GRANDFATHER ALLENDE” — Chile’s First Democratic-Socialist President

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“BEYOND MY GRANDFATHER ALLENDE” (“ALLENDE, MI ABUELO ALLENDE”)
Chile’s First Democratic-Socialist President
Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Marcia Tambutti Allende is the granddaughter of Salvador Allende, the first democratic-socialist president elected in Chile. This is her tribute to him.

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On September 11, 1973 a right wing military coup seized Allende’s life and government, forced him and his family into exile and placed a repressive dictatorship in Chile for 17 years. Thirty-five years later, Marcia Allende returned to Chile to search for Chicho (her grandfather’s nickname). wishing to leave behind his iconic image and bring back images and memories of him and the family. For the family there are also many unresolved feelings associated with him. Through her journey, she felt reluctance and discomfort but she also began to understand the complexity of emotions for over 40 years. The paradox between public and private deepened her search and mirrors what Chilean society has become.

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Family members were exiled, supporters assassinated and the record expunged after Chilean president Salvador Allende was overthrown by a military coup d’état in 1973 and this left a hole in his country’s collective memory. More than 40 years later, Marcia Allende’s natural curiosity about the grandfather she never knew serves as a unique opportunity for contemporary Chileans — and outsiders, too to rediscover the deposed leader in this film documentary. Yet this is more of a diary than a documentary. The film tries to reconstruct some picture of Allende as a husband and father, featuring reluctant interviews with those who survived him, including his widow, and rare family photos that reveal a side of Allende only his inner circle might have seen before.
However, so little was found that the focus of the film shifts to the search and not the results.

Here, we see and hear plenty of the director, but she comes across more like a nosy child.
Allende died of apparent suicide in 1973, and his family didn’t seem especially willing to reopen that painful chapter.

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The director’s key witness is her grandmother, Hortensia Bussi de Allende, affectionately known as “Tencha” to her people. Allende realizes the limited time she has to document Tencha’s memories of being married to the region’s first democratically elected Marxist president. In some interviews, Tencha appears dressed up and dignified, while in others, the director brings the camera bedside and asks her personal questions about Allende’s extramarital affairs.

Even though the director’s cousins share her curiosity, the older generation seems determined to put this sordid past behind them, and we sense that divide as well as sensing how the country as a whole must feel: With enough distance, interest in Allende has returned among younger Chileans. In 2011, his coffin was exhumed and his corpse examined to determine an official cause of death, which had never previously been confirmed as suicide. These details interest Allende’s granddaughter, but for different reasons. She is still haunted by the death of her aunt Beatriz Allende, or “Tati,” who committed suicide four years after Allende’s ouster while in Cuba. It was traumatic to see the president overthrown and replaced with a 17-year fascist dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet.

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Still, while the film tactfully avoids politics we would have liked to see a more revealing portrait of the former president. Marcia Tambutti Allende, is a biologist with no previous film experience who felt there was still a very personal angle that had never been openly discussed, not even in her own family. As she discovered, he is practically a taboo subject for her grandmother, Allende’s widow, until the director’s patience coaxes out some buried emotions. While her labor of love has rendered a great service to historians, it is not clear what kind of audience the film can have outside of Chile.

The film is a bit too long and at times it slips away. Of more universal interest are the many previously unseen photos and even home movies unearthed during the shooting. The portrait of Allende-the-man that emerges is one of a loving and lovable patriarch who lived for politics more than for his family.We can understand how difficult it is to open old wounds, but most viewers will agree the director is right to insist on coaxing out the family truth, before it is too late to put the tale together.

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One of the aims of the film is to recover the everyday man, the one warmly nicknamed ‘Chicho’ by his family, to search for images (moving archive and photographs) and to look for personal gestures, to imagine the daily life of a family that was wrapped around his political causes. The other aim of the story is to invite my family to go into an intimate journey, to allow themselves to think about, reflect, wonder, to miss and to mourn – their father, husband and grandfather, and his daughter Beatriz (affectionately called Tati), who committed suicide four years after the coup. The attention is placed on details that until now have been invisible: those that that speak of memory, self-censorship, identity and the sense of family.

“THE NASTY TERRIBLE T-KID 170: Julius Cavero”— A Graffiti Legend

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“THE NASTY TERRIBLE T-KID 170: Julius Cavero”

A Graffiti Legend

Amos Lassen

Graffiti is one of the most misunderstood sub cultures in history. It is a culture not for the faint of heart. Up until now the story of T-Kid 170 has for the most part been kept within the sub culture of graffiti. Looking at nearly 30 years worth of archived footage and T-Kid’s never before seen home movies, a very rare glimpse into the world of subway graffiti. We follow T-Kid into train yards all over the world and through his trials and tribulations, arrests, addiction, violence, love & triumphs. This documentary is the story of one man’s rise to becoming a legend and witness the story of someone who came from the bottom to write his name on the top.

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T-Kid 170 is considered one of the best graffiti artists from New York City’s golden era of subway graffiti. Coming of age as a poor Latino from the 1970’s in the Bronx, a young boy named Julius was forced into New York gang life. With no way of escaping the violence. He embraced the violent lifestyle of being in a gang and began sticking up people for money at an early age. By the time he was 16. he was nearly shot to death by a rival gang. He barely survived the incident and while recovering in the hospital from the gun shot wounds, his brother brought him some markers and paper to draw with. One night in the hospital he drew out the name T-Kid 170 and from that point on he decided that the entire world needed to know his name.

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His canvas was subway cars and he would channel the anger and pain from being disregarded by society and even his family and spray it out onto the subway cars for the public to see the next day. Millions of people a day were riding to where ever they needed to get to in trains with his name exploding off the sides declaring that he had been there. It was not to become one of the king’s of subway graffiti. Not only did he have the Transit System, NYPD, and the Vandal Squad to go up against, the real enemy was other graffiti writers.

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Crews of writers staked their claim on New York’s subway cars and when rivals met it was almost always a violent affair. The tales from these encounters alone are worth telling alone yet T-Kid’s tale has many layers to it. Up until now the story of T-Kid 170 has for the most part been kept within the sub culture of graffiti. We get a very rare glimpse into the world of subway graffiti. It is a riveting account and an invaluable reference for those interested in what the world of graffiti is all about.

“ELSTREE 1976— The “Star Wars” Actors and Extras

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“ELSTREE 1976

The “Star Wars” Actors and Extras

Amos Lassen

The title “Elstree 1976” refers to the studio just outside London where George Lucas shot the original “Star Wars” but this documentary has very little about either the actual production or the principal cast. Director Jon Spira spotlights 10 of the film’s extras and supporting actors (including David Prowse, who inhabited Darth Vader’s famous black outfit throughout the original trilogy and Pam Rose, who played an extra in the first film’s Mos Eisley cantina sequence). Spira puts names to the masks that shrouded human faces and each bit part player’s first name is shown on the screen alongside the action figure that was made in his or her likeness.. Spira speaks to his interviewees through a series of talking-head interviews.

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The film seeks to commemorate these unsung heroes who were part of the universe of “Star Wars” and helped to make it a pop-cultural phenomenon. This is a study of fleeting fame and its aftermath. This is a bittersweet human-interest story. The film is bookended by extreme close-ups of Star Wars action figures and we meet the extras who are now in their sixties and seventies, mostly British and Canadians. They all share broadly positive but uneventful memories of working on the first movie.

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We hear from John Chapman, who had a wordless role as an X-Wing pilot, and Paul Blake, who played the green monster Greedo, blasted to death by Han Solo in the cantina scene and Jeremy Bulloch, who joined the franchise later as bounty hunter Boba Fett, among others.

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Now some forty years later, most of these characters have pretty unremarkable midlife stories. A few are still acting in small roles, others writing songs and children’s books. Several still use their Star Wars connections at fan conventions, where their place in the pecking order. Nobody appears to have experienced great triumph or tragedy since 1976, and this discounts any emotional feelings about the characters.

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The film’s star interviewee is Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, who traded a weightlifting career to work as an actor for major directors including Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam. But after hanging up his costume, Prowse fell out with George Lucas over multiple issues, including claims that he was never paid his pre-agreed profit share. He is now banned from attending official fan conventions.

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Fans of ‘Star Wars” will get an interesting peek behind the scenes of the sci-fi epic in this new documentary that looks at the universal themes of people struggling to get by, experiencing the highs and lows that come with any profession, the importance of finding one’s voice. The subjects of ELSTREE 1976 are especially intriguing because they’re famous for incredibly brief moments in time, but they’re just people, of course. They just happen to sign autographs for a slew of fans a couple times a year.

“VAXXED: FROM COVER UP TO CATASTROPHE”— A Controversial Documentary

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“Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe”

A Controversial Documentary

Amos Lassen

“Vaxxed” is a controversial documentary about the CDC’s cover-up of data in a 2004 study that links MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccines to autism. The film will open your eyes to the corruption of a government agency whose job it is to protect public welfare. Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the film’s director, presents fair and balanced interviews with sources ranging from parents of autistic children who were harmed by MMR vaccines to politicians, doctors and a former pharmaceutical rep. We also see archival footage of congressional audio recordings of Dr. William Thompson, CDC whistleblower who called Dr. Brian Hooker, a biologist, to confess that the CDC had covered-up and even manipulated crucial data in the 2004 study.

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Dr. Wakefield was accused of fraud in his 1998 report on MMR vaccines and autism and we learn here that he was falsely accused. The interviews with the parents of children who have been injured by MMR vaccines and show clear signs of autism are emotionally hard to watch and the facts presented will enrage you because they show how the CDC knew that MMR vaccines are linked to autism, but did everything in their power to suppress that link. According to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, pharmaceutical companies cannot be held liable for causing harm to consumers injured by MMR vaccines (they cannot be sued), and when it comes to scientific testing, MMR vaccines aren’t tested as rigorously and thoroughly as pharmaceutical drugs. There are no long-term studies that have tested MMR vaccines nor are there any studies that test unvaccinated children against vaccinated children. For the naysayers who might be in disbelief that the CDC would not conduct such tests you need to watch this film.

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Dr. Coleen Boyle, the Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC, admits at a congressional hearing that no vaccinated vs. unvaccinated studies to test the MMR vaccine safety have been conducted yet. We see (in an easy-to-understand way) precisely how the CDC covered-up and manipulated the data from the 2004 study, and what makes that data so crucial for the sake of public welfare. Even causing more rage are the revolving doors between government and Big Pharma. Dr. Julie Louise Gerberding who is the former director of the CDC during that study, now works for the pharmaceutical company Merck as President of Merck Vaccines. Merck has an exclusive license to manufacture MMR vaccines. Dr. Gerberding declined to be interviewed yet her silence speaks louder than words.

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American physician William Thompson, acting as whistle blower in secretly recorded phone calls to biologist Dr. Brian Hooker, accused the Center for Disease Control (CDC) of covering up data in a 2004 study of the triple-dose Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine, the result was that everything was put out there for the taking. We hear alarming statistics in the film that autism, once affecting as few as one in ten thousand children, had increased greatly following administration of the vaccine, with African-American kids disproportionally hurt.   Wakefield is now unable to practice medicine in the U.K. because his research could not be replicated by others.

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An anti-vaccination movement has convinced many parents to refuse to vaccinate their children, the law notwithstanding.  Measles and Mumps cases soared.  Vaccinations in general are now considered harmful by a minority of parents, who refuse to allow their kids to get any vaccines.

The most moving parts are the one-on-one chats with parents.  Some parents, in tears, describe how shortly after the administration of the MMR vaccine their children had seizures, banged their heads against the walls, and became non-communicative, avoiding eye contact and crying. 

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Wakefield has powerful anecdotal evidence. Scores and scores of families have been traumatized by the experience of living with perfectly normal children who suddenly turn abnormal after a year or so of life. It must be devastating. The stories are very moving.

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Today, one in 68 children are now diagnosed on the autism spectrum and one in every 42 males. There are no clear answers.

“BULLDOG”— Teen Angst

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“Bulldog”

Teen Angst

Amos Lassen

“Bulldog” is quite basically a look at how psychological abuse goes hand-in-hand neglect, alienation, and racism. It opens with Sean Kang moving into his new home in Bayside, Queens with his depressed and uncommunicative mother.

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Sean Kang (Vin Kridakorn) is a teen with a volatile personality. During his first day at a new school, he moves slowly and as the day passes we see him doing ordinary things like taking out the garbage. He also worries about his mother of whom he is especially protective.

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He seems to be an average “normal” kid until we see that he is filled with angst and frustration and this comes to us as the day passes (in just seventeen minutes). We soon understand that his father is not around and this has affected the family and caused the family’s seemingly constant moves from place to place.

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Since Sean is Asian he sometimes feels being discriminated against because of that and when that goes had in hand with the alienation that he feels and the pain from his father being gone, it is easy to understand how he has gotten to where he is. There is some hope seen at the end of the film but how this happens among all of the ill feelings is something of a surprise.

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This is not an easy subject to deal with and Benjamin Tran has made a fine filled that is filled with emotion. There is no sugarcoating here and we really see where Sean’s pain comes from.

There is no trailer available.

“HIRED TO KILL”— Not a Regular Fashion Shoot

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“Hired to Kill”

Not a Regular Fashion Shoot

Amos Lassen

 Quite basically, “Hired to Kill” is about a fashion photographer and seven models who travel to a South American island fortress, ostensibly to do a fashion shoot. In reality, the photographer is a mercenary and their job is to free an imprisoned rebel leader. Nico Mastorakis directed.

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Brian Thompson is Frank Ryan, a mercenary. One day, Thomas (George Kennedy) a government guy contacts him with a new mission: to free (or kill) an imprisoned rebel leader in order to create a revolution in the little republic of Cypra. The president of this banana republic is Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed), a guy with a big moustache and an even bigger appétit for women! Ryan goes under-cover as a gay fashion designer and his team of five female mercenaries is ready to kill.

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Mastorakis delivers a very stylish and slick production which has great cinematography by Andreas Bellis. Once it begins there is a lot of action. There are lots of slow-mo, explosions and a high body count (with lots of blood). Brian Thompson is wonderful with weapons and kills with charm and talent.

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The last half hour is the best, with all its action and mayhem and Oliver Reed is fun to see as the obese dictator. There is even a gay kiss between Ryan and Reed in order to prove that he is a gay man.

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As a mercenary, Frank Ryan he plays by his own rules. But when Thomas approaches him with a new assignment but he is wary. His assignment is to travel to the small country of Cypra and rescue a political prisoner named Rallis (Jose Ferrer). But in order to do this, he must pretend to be a gay fashion designer and have a retinue of seven fashion models. These aren’t ordinary women, they’re all specially trained in the fighting arts. The only real obstacle standing in their way is the president of Cypra, Michael Bartos and his boys.

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Co-written by Kirk Ellis, “Hired to Kill” is a well paced but very by-the-book thriller with few surprises, most of the twists would be quite easy to predict for anyone who has seen a few other genre films.. A few interesting themes do crop up during the storyline, particularly the idea that George Kennedy’s character is controlling revolutions for the highest bidder, but nothing is really developed here and even the one unpredicted twist late on that seems to pose quite a dilemma is left unresolved and simply forgotten by the rather simplistic ending.

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Brand new 2K restoration of the film, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Original Stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio Commentary with editor Barry Zetlin
Hired to Direct – a brand new interview with director Nico Mastorakis on the making of Hired to Kill
Undercover Mercenary – a brand new interview with star Brian Thompson
Original Theatrical Trailer
Stills Gallery
Original Screenplay, entitled Freedom or Death (BD/DVD-ROM Content)
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver

“MR. PREDICTABLE”— An Israeli Romantic Comedy

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“MR. PREDICTABLE”

An Israeli Romantic Comedy

Amos Lassen

Adi’s father died when Adi was five years old. Before his death, his father made his son that he would be a good boy, help his mother and be responsible.

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Adi kept his promise: he helped more than enough at home, at kindergarten, at school, in the military, in his marriage and he became the most thoughtful man you can imagine. In reality, Adi became a “sucker” who was exploited by his mother, his wife, his son, his boss and nearly everyone he ever met.

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This changes when Adi meets Natalia – a sweet, young, wild dog walker who entices Adi into a life full of emotions, passion and romance. Now Adi has to choose between love and reason, between dreams and reality and between Natalia and his family. To find out what he does, you will have to see the film.

“RAY HARRYHAUSEN: SPECIAL EFFECTS TITAN”— A Celebration

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“Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan”

A Celebration

Amos Lassen

“Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan” is a celebration of the life and work of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. For those who are unfamiliar with Ray Harryhauser, he is an auteur of special effects whose fantastical monsters are the stuff of movie legend. He is now the subject of filmmaker Gilles Penso’s latest documentary that celebrates what he has done and how he has influenced some of today’s greatest living mainstream directors, including Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson (who all are seen here). We begin in 1949 with “Mighty Joe Young and move forward to 1981 and “Clash of the Titans”.

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When he was a youngster, Harryhausen studied early SFX movies and the work of Georges Méliès, evolving their processes while he developed his own techniques. Here we have directors sharing the scenes that have been influenced by Harryhausen.

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For many, Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations that he calls ‘creatures’ remind us of our youth and the films that are distinctively his. Penso’s documentary crucially allows us to see these creatures out of context, often no bigger than a foot tall and we get a chance to appreciate the level of detail and care the artist put into his creations. We go to his London workshop where the beloved characters are now stored – showing off the tremendously prolific out-pouring of clay beings of all kinds and sizes that could be manipulated at a painstaking pace to create the desired effect.

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The film puts Harryhausen into proper perspective and we see him as most innovative and important special effects artist. Harryhausen’s place in cinema history is richly deserved not only because of his technical skill, imagination and sheer love of creation the man brought to all of the projects he was involved with but also because he has been such a gentleman.

This is a straightforward, talking-head documentary, spliced with film sequences, dailies, test shots and newly released on-set footage but it also an loving, illuminating and constantly entertaining.

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Bonus Materials include:

Interviews with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Peter Lord, Rick Baker

12 Interview outtakes with Joe Dante, John Lasseter, Nick Park and more!

A message to Ray

Deleted Scenes

On the set of Sinbad

Paris Cinematheque Q&A

London Gate Theater Q&A

Audio commentary with the filmmakers

Original Trailer

Ray Harryhausen Trailer Reel

“AMATEUR NIGHT AT CITY HALL: THE STORY OF FRANK L. RIZZO— From Cop to Mayor

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“Amateur Night At City Hall: The Story Of Frank L. Rizzo”

From Cop to Mayor

Amos Lassen

The meteoric rise of Frank L. Rizzo rose from a cop on the beat to law and order police commissioner to controversial mayor. We first began hearing about Francis Lazarro “Frank” Rizzo when he was a tough, headline-grabbing Philadelphia cop-on-the-beat in the 1960s. His personality led to a 4-year stint as a crusading law-and-order police commissioner and then 8 years as Philadelphia’s most polarizing mayor of modern times. Many of white working class citizens of Philadelphia saw Rizzo as their protector-in-chief in a threatening urban environment, minority citizens, liberal and wealthy whites, civil libertarians, and others saw Rizzo as an authoritarian and bully who created a climate of fear and repression throughout the city. 

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This film was shot throughout 1977 and was released in early 1978 and in it we see the key events from Rizzo’s colorful and controversial career and we get something of an attempt to analyze causes and effects of his actions. Although the film was originally released before Rizzo’s controversial assault on radical group MOVE, it chronicles attacks he ordered on Black Panthers and on young people idling in Rittenhouse Square. We see his failed polygraph test, and his routinely tough talk (“I’m gonna make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.” 

The film’s primary theme is “politics as show business,” and it includes many amateur musical performances from South Philadelphia’s Triangle Tavern. Among the many interviewees are broadcast journalist Andrea Mitchell, local politicians including future Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, and stripper Blaze Starr who discusses her reputed affair with the self-proclaimed family man. (His speech can be called early Donald Trump).

When first released, it won several awards and now it has been transferred to HD and restored. It is a simple movie yet it dazzles the eyes by combining footage of Rizzo as mayor with scenes from performances by amateurs at the Triangle Tavern, a well-known bar in South Philadelphia that was Rizzo’s political and emotional base.

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The film is very professionally put together and tries to relate the man and his “style” to the kind of cheap, third-rate entertainer. It is well-researched and very professionally put together but remains a tongue-in-cheek interpretation-assessment of Rizzo’s career.