August 25, 2010

Shogun Assassin

Highlight of the Week

Shogun Assassin (AnimEigo) A ronin wanders Japan’s feudal countryside, pushing his son in a bamboo stroller armed with a slew of swords, knives and projectiles. It’s the best martial-arts film premise ever — and such disparate artists as Wu-Tang’s GZA, Quentin Tarantino and Sam Mendes would agree, seeing as they’ve all paid homage to what is arguably the foremost badass flick: Shogun Assassin. The 1980 movie is actually a Roger Corman–distributed remix of the first two entries from Toho Studios’ six-part Lone Wolf and Cub series, based on the popular Manga paperbacks. Condensing two features into 80 minutes of non-stop limb lobbing, awkward dubbing and bitchin’ synth tunes makes for breakneck entertainment of the highest and bloodiest order. This sparkly high-def release marks the film’s 30th anniversary, and we’re now treated to a host of extras, including an intro by long-time fan Samuel L. Jackson, two fact-filled commentaries (one new, one old), the original trailer and more.  

Also Available 

Black Orpheus (Criterion, eOne) Greek mythology and Rio de Janeiro’s jubilant carnival backdrop overlap in this film adaptation of the Brazilian play inspired by the classic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Marcel Camus’ 1959 retelling didn’t quite fit into the hep New Wave movement of the time, but that didn’t stop it from winning the Palm d’Or at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Despite its predictable plotting and gushy sentimentality, tasty Technicolor and outstanding samba dance numbers make for sweet eye candy. Criterion is upgrading its previous edition with a refurbished standard and eye-gasmic high-def transfer to go along with top-notch extras like a feature-length 2005 French doc and heaps of interviews and academic discussions.  

Machine Gun McCain (Blue Underground) In order to help fund his own lo-fi filmmaking career, auteur extraordinaire John Cassavetes often acted in films he’d rather not have. Thankfully, Machine Gun McCain is more than just a beautifully titled dud. On the contrary; it’s something of a lost wonder, and certainly a valuable addition to the Italian-gangster-film lexicon. The US-spanning plot involving an ex-con and a Las Vegas casino heist is nothing special, but the talent in front of the lens is significant: Cassavetes is joined by long-time collaborators Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands. And what vintage Italian flick would be complete without a spectacular score by Ennio Morricone? Extras: interview with director Giuliano Montaldo, groovy English and Italian trailers. 

$5 a Day (eOne) Let’s start with the positive: $5 a Day boasts an amiable ensemble cast. We have Christopher Walken and Alessandro Nivola as father-son con artists on a cross-country road trip in their Sweet ’N Low van (très quirky), living on the aforementioned daily budget. Rounding out the talent are appearances by Sharon Stone, Amanda Peet and Dean Cain. So what’s its major malfunction? Certainly not Walken, doing his obligatory underwear dance. Blame goes to a lifeless screenplay that no amount of boxer boogying can overcome. Extras: director and cast interviews. 

Loose Screws: Screwballs II (Severin) With a tagline that reads, “More fun than you can shake your stick at!” how can you possibly resist this 1985 sequel to Canada’s best-worst sex comedy after Porky’s? Like Screwballs, its sequel (classy roman numerals and all) was shot in T.O. Unlike Screwballs, it features little T&A. But wait! This release also includes the international cut. So we’re getting more skin, right? Nah. It’s just some odds and ends to further isolate the film’s few-and-far-between sexcapades. Extras: interview with director Rafal Zielinski (whose resumé also includes the trilogy-capping Screwball Hotel) plus a few words from the film’s producer and production manager.