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Having a Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Russian Ghosts & Japanese Monsters

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, February 21, 2020 05:49pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases.

VIYViy, Severin:
This dark Russian fairy tale could easily make it onto a list of the best horror/ fantasy movies ever made. It's just a simple story beautifully told. In the fifties and sixties, Russia produced some psychedelic and surreal adaptations of fairy tales. Most of these were made for children, but Viy takes this unique aesthetic and applies it to a fable that is decidedly for adults. The movie is an adaptation of a classic novella by Nikolai Gogol and there is a literary feel to the screenplay that keeps the story on a tight narrative track. Director Mario Bava previously adapted this same Gogol novella as Black Sunday and, while it is an excellent movie, Viy is even better.

The film starts when a class of seminary students are sent home for vacation. Three of them lose their way and end up staying at a farmhouse owned by an old woman. During the night the old woman tries to seduce one of the students whose name is Khoma. When he rejects her advances, she puts him under a spell and begins riding him around the countryside like a horse. When they start flying he realizes she's a witch. When they finally land, he beats her to death with a stick. After death she turns into a beautiful young woman and Khoma runs back to his seminary. The next day, his Rector summons him and sends him to the house of a rich man to read prayers for his dying daughter. When he arrives, Khoma is horrified to discover that the daughter is same woman he killed the night before. The rich man tells Khoma if he stands vigil and reads prayers for his daughter for three nights in a row he will be richly rewarded; if he refuses, he faces severe punishment. Khoma basically has no choice but to agree. This is the basic setup of the story and the bulk of the film explores what happens each night as he sits vigil and is assaulted by ever greater supernatural manifestations and attacks. Each night, the underworld ante is upped until the third night becomes one of the most bat shit crazy things ever filmed in horror cinema history. It's literally like an Hieronymus Bosch painting brought to life with extra demons bussed in from one of Salvador Dali's nightmares. I have watched this ending many times and every time I view it I notice some new strange detail. If you ever want to see a cinematic representation of things going totally insane, just watch the end of this movie. It's one of the best and most unique scenes ever filmed. Severin's edition of Viy is a perfect movie release. The remastered picture looks stunning and allows you see all kinds of details in the ending insanity that weren't clear in earlier editions. There is an English dub as well as the subtitled version. The bonus features include interviews and a trailer. There's a nice little feature on the history of Soviet fantasy and sci-fi films called: From The Woods To The Cosmos. You even get a selection of three short silent films. This came out in December of 2019 and was easily one of the best releases of the year.

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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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Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Us at Marienbad

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, October 25, 2019 07:17pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases.

Us, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment:
Jordan Peele has done it again. Just as Get Out was the most interesting movie of 2017, his new film Us may be the most thought provoking mainstream movie released in 2019. I don't tend to review a lot of contemporary films in this column, but that's not because I have anything against them. I watch a new release movie almost weekly and while many are good and perfectly entertaining, there are few great ones. The main reason for this is that movie production is so expensive these days that the studio accountants don't let directors take too many chances. Too much money and too many jobs are on the line, so the studios stick with formulas and franchises these days. Sure, I loved the new Avengers movie, but it was really just another superhero movie. Recent films all have the same general structure. It's like you can almost look at your watch an hour and fifteen minutes after the opening credits and realize that it is time for the big budget special effects to start showing up. Even when a new director has some kind of "vision," the studios rarely let them pursue it. Jordan Peele seems to be kind of an exception to this trend. Part of the reason for that is that despite being quirky, his films still do well in the mainstream marketplace. Us is no different. On a certain level, it is a straightforward horror genre picture or at least that's what it feels like for the first two thirds of its run time. Even if it was "just" a horror movie, it would have been one of the best horror films of the past two years. I was trying to eat my dinner while watching it, and it was such a gripping and suspense-filled ride that I kept having forkfuls of food get ice cold as I sat there for twenty minutes at a time, too engaged in the movie to even take another mouthful. 

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