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Jon Longhi's Best of 2019

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, December 27, 2019 05:07pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

I could have written about 20 or 30 Blu-rays and CDs this year, but here are just a few of my Best Of/favorites from 2019. In my case, “best of” often means “most entertaining.” I watch a lot of Oscar-winning movies every year but that’s not necessarily what I end up plopping down my money on and watching over and over. As the shark movie I’m about to review proves, taste is in your mouth.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged, Lionsgate:
Dumbest shark movie ever! We're talking Sharknado sequel level dumb! I'm not sure if this is a best or a 47 Meters Down: Uncagedworst of 2019 review. The first half hour of any shark movie is a tiresome chore I refer to as "getting to know the bait." This movie starts by introducing you to four of the most annoying teenage girls in cinema history. Seriously, you just can't wait for these people to die. I was tempted to fast forward through their character exposition just to see them get eaten quicker. After the agony of getting to know them, you see these girls make a series of cascadingly bad scuba diving decisions. I'll just lay out a few of them: First they leave the dive boat expedition they are supposed to be on so no one knows where they are. Then they go to some hidden water hole in the middle of the Mexican jungle where no one REALLY knows where they are. They think there's a path down to the watering hole but instead they just jump in off the sheer cliffs because who cares about getting out again? There is a raft in the middle of the watering hole covered with scuba gear that has been left for archeologists who are going to explore the underwater Mayan ruins beneath the surface. They decide to use the gear to check out the ruins themselves, because hey, two of the girls have never dived before and the other two are amateurs and cave diving is the most dangerous diving there is because you go ten feet into a cave and make a wrong turn and then are lost in the darkness where you drown but hey, life is short and even shorter when you're a total idiot like these girls. They make their way into the underwater ruins and then they run into a plot twist that's even dumber than their bad decisions. It turns out that the cave is home to a species of blind giant Great White sharks that became trapped in the submerged catacombs in the distant past and have evolved to the lightless conditions. Now I don't know how these sharks evolved into twenty to twenty-five foot apex predators with no seals to feed on and only little cave fish to eat but by this time we've suspended our belief to the point that we would believe up is down so who cares? Despite the ridiculous premises and unlikeable characters you still find yourself rooting for these idiots just because the producers manage to create an entertaining amusement park ride where you find yourself jumping and shrieking at one shark after another looming out of the Mayan darkness. Because this is a sequel, the film makers feel they really have to ramp up the ridiculousness in the last half hour and we are treated to an over the top thrill ride that gives even the last Sharknado sequel a run for its title of Stupidest Shark Movie Ever. I'm beginning to think this movie is a cinematic masterpiece in disguise because it actually got me to care about these people and sit through a roller coaster ride of utter stupidity till the final credits rolled. Despite being utterly manipulated to the point where I feel deeply ashamed of myself, I have to admit that I loved this movie.

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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Godzilla Box Set Warts and All

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, December 20, 2019 05:35pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to the last Having A Movie Moment of 2019. This year I go out with bang and review one über box set...

Godzilla: The Showa Era Films, 1954-1975, The Criterion Collection:
This is arguably the biggest Blu-ray release of 2019. It is the one thousandth Criterion Collection release, Godzilla Box Setand what could be a bigger subject matter for a big release than a Godzilla box set? This is all fifteen films from the original classic era of Godzilla. Godzilla is probably the world's most well-known monster. Only Dracula or Frankenstein are on the same level. Godzilla is the ultimate metaphor of the Cold War and the atomic era, an uncontrollable monster that we ourselves created by our warlike ways. Only a few other pop culture creations resonate this strongly in the modern mind of the human race. Over the course of the past 65 years, this giant radioactive lizard has stomped his way through 35 movies. There is a good reason he has been dubbed "King Of The Monsters." Generations of children and adults have grown up watching his movies. For decades they were the staples of Saturday late night horror shows and afternoon matinees. I don't think I've ever met a person who hasn't seen a Godzilla film.

The Big G has always had a special place in my life. I've been obsessed with his films since early childhood and watched them on television whenever they aired. I've bought every Godzilla movie ever released in the US in every format going back to Super 8. When I was in fourth grade, our year-end project was to give a fifteen minute speech to the entire school on a subject we had heavily researched. The topic I chose was Godzilla and his cultural relevance. I gave a good speech and got a good grade, but I'm not sure that everyone in the audience got or agreed with my point. So this Criterion Collection release, and a release of such importance, feels like a kind of personal validation to me. My fourth grade self was right.

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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Ultraman Saves The Universe!

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, November 15, 2019 04:10pm | Post a Comment

Ultraman

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases. This month I get to review two of my all time favorite Blu-ray releases.

Ever since I was a child my two favorite TV shows have been Johnny Quest and Ultraman. Even though I am an adult, I still watch them regularly. In the past six months, both were released on Blu-ray in remastered high definition. I am now officially a happy camper. Sure, I watch plenty of "adult" shows like The Sopranos, The X-Files, or the latest HBO or Netflix series, but I only watch those once or twice and these are the shows I watch over and over. I have long been a fan of Mill Creek Entertainment's releases but not necessarily their production values. All that changed with these releases and their recent Mothra Steelbook Edition. Mill Creek has officially redeemed themselves. According to reports I'm reading on the internet, over the course of the next couple years Mill Creek plans to release the ENTIRE Ultraman franchise on Blu-ray. It will be over a thousand episodes and twenty movies. If you are an Ultraman or classic Kaiju fan, this is a dream come true. If these first two releases are any indication, fans can finally throw out those blurry internet bootleg DVDs and bathe in the glory of their favorite Japanese monsters in glorious remastered hi-def! This October, Mill Creek started with a bang by releasing the first two Ultraman series at once. These are the shows that started it all and while Ultraman is beloved the world over, Ultra Q will be more of a revelation to the uninitiated.

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Light In The Attic Releases first Anthology for their Japan Archival Series

Posted by Kells, October 27, 2017 11:56pm | Post a Comment

Record shopping in Japan is an incredible and humbling experience and, when in Tokyo, I enjoy exploring as many record stores as possible, regularly testing the limits of my willpower wallet while discovering one long-sought gem after another. What's more, records in Japan are more often than not found in great if not near mint condition and almost always come crisply wrapped in those snazzy resealable outer sleeves. Whether you're digging through one of Japan's many mega music emporiums, curated record boutiques, or any old hideaway/warehouse situation stuffed windows-to-the-walls with miscellaneous wax, the scope of excellently kept, hard-to-find vinyl stocked in record stores here never fails to amaze. That said, scoring coveted original releases by Japanese artists at a "nice price" can be surprisingly tough, which means acquiring the same prized/pricey titles stateside can be doubly difficult and hardly worth it (itinerant flippers be damned). Enter the warm glow of Light In The Attic Records...

Since announcing their Japan Archival Series last April, the Seattle-based label has finally brought their inaugural release for the project to US ears with Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973, the "first-ever fully licensed compilation of this music to be released outside Japan". This collection of nineteen tracks spans an era when Japan's youth culture shifted from championing the Surf instrumental (think The Ventures) Eleki trend and the Beatles-inspired Group Sounds (G.S.) movement that dominated Japanese pop culture in the 1960s to more poignant, living room singer/songwriter sounds reminiscent of Bob Dylan, mellow Laurel Canyon boho vibes, soft psychedelia, and miscellaneous Americana (à la The Band and Neil Young). Fueled by mass student protest demonstrations and an underground ("angura") movement bent on subverting long-standing stuffy traditions, young musicians rejected Beatlemania replications in favor creative authenticity, giving birth to fresh genres like the aptly named New Music and Kissa Rock (literally "Café Rock, so-called due to the venues they frequently played). Some of Japan's most beloved and influential music-makers made a name for themselves during this crucial period, and many of those heavy-hitters whose early works are featured on this comp would go on to further enrich the fabric of music history in Japan and beyond long after the angura movement's hippie heyday. For example, Haruomi Hosono, who lends his distinct James Taylor-esque vocals to two tracks on this compilation (both as a member of influential Folk Rock band Happy End and with a track from his 1973 self-titled solo debut), would later form the innovative electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi (whose Sadistic Mika Band bandmate Kazuhiko Kato also has a solo track featured on this comp). This example is by no means representative of the extent of Hosono's legacy as one of the most important figures in Japanese music history and his career trajectory is but one slippery slope of many rabbit holes one can fall into exploring via this compilation. Plus, aside from being a lovely aesthetic object featuring original artwork by illustrator Heisuke Kitazawa, the total package includes extensive liner notes and bios (put together by compiler/producers Yosuke Kitazawa and Jake Orrall) that dig deeper into this music that has been, as Light in The Attic puts it, "tantalizingly out of reach for decades" while setting the stage for overlaps and other points of interest that'll surely connect this particular anthology to forthcoming releases and reissues for the Japan Archival Series.

Stay tuned for the next two announced anthologies Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1975-1985 and Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 in addition to "dozens" of other as-yet-unspecified "special projects" and more exciting things to come from this LITA label series. No doubt this noble effort won't make shopping original Japanese pressings by artists featured on any of these anthologies and reissues any more affordable, but it will extend the reach of these works to a broader audience at a price point that definitely guarantees more bang for your buck. That is until you realize that each song in the sequence comes from records that are pretty much all killer/no filler and you find yourself in a catnip-like state of obsession hellbent on a quest to acquire them all at any cost because record collecting. But seriously, kudos to Light In The Attic for embarking on this journey to bring some wonderful fully-licensed music from Japan to the US. Keep on keepin' on, I can't wait to get more of it on my turntable!
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Shohei Imamura's "Vengeance is Mine"

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, December 13, 2016 01:22pm | Post a Comment

Vengeance Is MineBy Nazeeh Alghazawneh

At least once a month an elderly woman approaches me and tells me that I remind her of her son, either in the way that I look or because of my demeanor or simply because of my age. They’re very sweet and a little bit sad but most of all, full of nostalgia, which is always more sweet than sad until you think about it too much. They love to tell me about them. These mothers love to tell me about the love they have for their sons - an unconditional, boundless love that’s familiar and intimate at the same time but mostly uncomfortable. However, I nod my head and I listen because a heart is speaking to me and that’s the best thing about mothers: they always speak with their hearts.

It’s 1979 and Japanese New Wave director Shohei Imamura releases his first feature-length fiction film, Vengeance is Mine (available on DVD and Blu-ray), after a decade of making documentaries. For 140 minutes we’re introduced to Iwao Enokizu (played by Ken Ogata), a textbook sociopath with a penchant for murdering innocent people for reasons he couldn’t explain. Based on the real life serial killer Akira Nishiguchi, the film depicts the 78-day killing spree with faithful objectivity; Enokizu’s exploits aren’t glorified or celebrated, but they are fully realized. Imamura’s camera hangs low and aloof behind our protagonist, following him with that lecherous sense of dread and paranoia that a hunted murderer on the run probably feels. Ogata’s performance finesses a presence on the screen that is volatile, dripping with an anxiety that ultimately makes you feel uneasy, but dedicated to him nonetheless. The worst part is just how charming he is. It’s a concoction of Kit’s (Martin Sheen) aimless nonchalance from Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Bronson’s (Tom Hardy) gleeful desire for violence from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. Enokizu lacks any regard for anyone in his life, including himself, which appears to fuel his desire to kill; he seems to be angry that he’s even alive.

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