‘The Substance’: LSD’s long strange trip

Albert Hofmann of LSD fame

"High" on LSD doesn't quite cover it. The hallucinogenic drug provided such a mind-altering experience that almost all users of the 1960s swore off the stuff, sooner or later. Mostly sooner. As a social phenomenon (and widespread social problem), LSD's run lasted only a few twisted years in the 1960s. But its influence lingers, like some never-ending flashback. Martin Witz's splendid documentary "The Substance: Albert Hofmann's LSD" artfully incorporates archival footage, new … [Read more...]

‘I, Claudius’ on DVD: Thumbs up … finally

Derek Jacobi as Claudius

Acorn's new five-disc retelling of "I, Claudius" opens with an ominous warning about the condition of the 1976 miniseries. "Occasional flaws ... that were beyond our ability to correct." "I, Claudius" fans could be excused a shudder of paranoia upon reading the disclaimer, especially given the treatment the BBC presentation received on home video over the years. No need to fret. Acorn's new "I, Claudius" is about as definitive a presentation of the Roman Empire drama as we'll likely see. … [Read more...]

Long live ‘Prime Suspect’ U.K.

helen mirren and costars in Prime Suspect 2

Maria Bello is a fine actress and all, but NBC's remake of "Prime Suspect" has a lot going against it. First and foremost, the new "Prime Suspect" soon will be drowning in comparisons to the British source material -- arguably the smartest, best-written and best-acted cop series on any continent. The series spread out across 15 years, with the 22 hours of superb TV concluding in 2006. Then there's the shadow of Helen Mirren, who played her greatest character in the original series: police … [Read more...]

‘Epitafios’ returns with a new face of evil

Julio Chávez and Cecilia Roth in Epitafios 2

"The gates of hell are wide open tonight," says the coroner, the busiest man in Buenos Aires. The soaring body count signals the return of "Epitafios," the brilliant and gruesome crime miniseries from HBO Latin America. The pay channel's video unit just released the sequel in the U.S. as a four-DVD set. "Epitafios: The End Now Has Two Faces" features the few surviving main characters from the original "Epitatios" (2004). That second face belongs to another inventive but insane serial … [Read more...]

‘If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise’

da creek-dont-rise-documentary

Spike Lee began filming his second New Orleans documentary on the day of the 2010 Super Bowl, with cameras rolling in Miami and New Orleans. They were shooting "because we knew the Saints were gonna win," Lee recalls. After capturing the wild celebration following the city's first Super Bowl win, "We thought we had the (documentary's) ending ... but BP thought otherwise." Lee's first New Orleans documentary for HBO, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts" (2006), examined the … [Read more...]

The crime spree of Fernando Di Leo

Caliber9_Di Leo

"Audiences need to see violence in certain movies," the Italian director Fernando Di Leo said of his work. "It's a way to de-stress." Di Leo should know. As a scriptwriter, he helped bring us the spaghetti western classics "For a Few Dollars" and "For a Few Dollars More," seminal works in the strain of brutal-yet-stylized violence that fills our movie screens today. As a director, he quickly graduated from social issues to society's menaces. With his series of gangster movies in the early … [Read more...]

‘WUSA’: Newman’s own political rant

paul_newman-WUSA

"Love it or leave it," went the tagline for "WUSA," a movie about right-wing radio that Paul Newman called one of his best works. Mostly, audiences of 1970 left it, tired of conspiracy movies and less than thrilled about seeing star Newman playing a cruel and cynical drunk. Critics weren't impressed, either: "WUSA" is not an ordinary bad movie," the New York Times reviewer allowed, after lashing it as a work that "feels more like poor theater than poor moviemaking." Time seems on the … [Read more...]

Basil Dearden: Up from the ‘Underground’

League of Gentlemen image

Quick, name four Basil Dearden movies. Anyone? Congrats if you came up with one -- even if it was "Khartoum." British director Dearden made a swarm of films from 1940 to 1970, almost all forgotten outside his native land. The overdue DVD set Basil Dearden's London Underground shines the Criterion Collection spotlight on a quartet of the British director's fine films, three of them making DVD debuts in North America. Basil Dearden and producing partner Michael Ralph were known for … [Read more...]

‘Throne of Blood’: Of madness and ‘Macbeth’

toshiro mifune in kurosawa film

Shakespearean hearts of darkness pump the lifeblood into "Throne of Blood," one of Akira Kurosawa's greatest films. Loosely based on "Macbeth," the movie is a blood-soaked tragedy set in feudal Japan of the 16th century. "Throne of Blood" is widely regarded as one of the most successful film adaptations of a Bard play. Kurosawa dares to edit Shakespeare's story lines, adding back stories and deleting major characters, but the motivations and emotions remain true. The works contain a … [Read more...]

‘Man Hunt’: On the run with Fritz Lang

hitler in crosshairs - man hunt movie

The filmmaker Fritz Lang found his way to Hollywood in the mid-1930s, having just fled Nazi Germany. After helming a few crime movies and westerns for Fox and MGM, he struck back at the Nazis with "Man Hunt," a 1941 thriller/film noir that opens with Adolph Hitler in the crosshairs of a rifle. "Man Hunt" flirted with violations of the U.S. Neutrality Act, portraying Nazis as thugs and warmongers. (In fact, a Senate panel was probing Hollywood’s violations of the Act right up to Pearl … [Read more...]

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