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Friday, January 20, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Daniel Budnik

Daniel R. Budnik’s writing can be found at Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things. He is part of four podcasts: Podcastmania – a free-for-all horror good time, The Made For TV Mayhem Show, which he co-hosts with Amanda Reyes and his own shows, Eventually Supertrain: The Short-Lived TV Show Podcast and Dan's Drive-In Double Feature. He is co-author of Bleeding Skull: A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey. His second book 80s Action Films On The Cheap is due out in the Winter of 2016/17. 
Check out his many cool RPS lists here:
Snowed Under (1936)
TCM advertised this as a movie about a playwright getting snowed into a New England cabin as he’s trying to finish his new play…  with two ex-wives! And one of them is Glenda Farrell. The combination of being snowed in somewhere lovely (which hasn’t happened to me in years but I love) with Glenda Farrell was too much to pass up. And the film is an hour-long charmer. It’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny but it’s always teetering on being very amusing. The movie flies along and is anchored by its best (non-Glenda Farrell) component: the sets. The main room of the house is fantastic, almost a stage set. The set of the exterior of the house, with a wonderful bridge drenched in snow, is glorious.

McQ (1974)
John Wayne is “Dirty Harry!” But they call him McQ and he’s a cop in a rough, corrupt world. Wayne doesn’t seem terribly put out by it though. I think he had stopped “acting” years before this. He’s at the point in his career where he shows up and he ambles around like a side of beef. Luckily, everyone else involved in the film is working hard to make this thriller great fun. Director John Sturges keeps things moving along. There are several great action scenes, including a climactic car chase on a beach. The other actors (including Colleen Dewhurst and Eddie Albert) give it their all. I never once saw John Wayne fall asleep during a scene! That’s something. As you might guess, I prefer Wayne in his cheap & cheerful B-westerns of the 30s. That’s why it took me so long to watch this one. But, McQ is worth a watch. Probably two, regardless of Wayne.
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Breakheart Pass (1975)
The movie poster image of this film is one of my all-time favorites. I put off watching the film for years because I thought it could never match up with that image. Then, it came out on Blu-Ray and I thought “It is time.” Hey! The image on the poster is in the movie! It’s slightly less dramatic but it’s in the midst of a very exciting fight on top of a snow-covered, moving train. The film is kind of a murder mystery on a train filled with soldiers going to an outpost that’s been stricken with diphtheria. Bronson shows up as a fugitive of some sort. Then, killings begin. And the mystery builds…  and I watched it twice in a row, which I rarely ever do with a movie. I really enjoyed this. Don’t look up anything about it. Go in and watch…  It’s not a world changer. It’s simply a fantastically entertaining movie.
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Killer Force (1976)
This is a tense thriller bout diamond smugglers that is constantly verging on being slightly goofy. Starring Telly Savalas! Peter Fonda! Maud Adams! O.J. Simpson! Hugh O’Brian! Christopher Lee! And everyone else in the world! I don’t really have a review of it. I bought it on a whim because of the poster and the cast. It’s almost dumb. Not quite but almost. And I really got a kick out of it. It keeps a nice pace. It has several different storylines going on at once. Did I mention that nutty cast? Some of whom act as if they’re in a different movie from the others (i.e. not everyone seems to take it very seriously). Killer Force is the cinematic definition of A Hoot. The Blu-Ray has an alternate ending that would have been a game changer, like the alternate ending of Revenge of the Living Dead Girls. I can’t decide whether they should have used it or not.
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The Slipper and the Rose (1976)
This musical is a joyous variation on Cinderella starring Gemma Craven and Richard Chamberlain. The adaptation is charming. The songs are lovely. The production design is wonderful. I watched this right after Florence Henderson died…  I had wanted to watch Song of Norway. Somehow, I ended up watching this instead thinking it would be in the same rather goofy vein. It’s not. It’s really delightful. I won’t say more. Wander in and enjoy. You might end up singing. If you do, record it and let us all hear it, please.
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Two Minute Warning (1976)
There is a sniper hidden in the battlements of an epic football stadium. He has something diabolical planned for the two minute warning. Maybe Cop Charlton Heston and S.W.A.T. guy John Cassavetes can stop him before he starts firing and riots ensue? Two Minute Warning sets itself up like a disaster film, with scads of people being introduced to us from all walks of cinema and TV. As we meet everyone and the game begins, the sniper intricately (shades of Targets) sets up his arsenal. (His opening scene in a hotel room where he tests his scope is chilling.) Then, the suspense ratchets up and up as we move towards the big two minute warning. It’s semi-standard disaster type stuff with a few alterations: 1) it’s rated R so it’s a bit rougher than the others of its type 2) Heston & Cassavetes! A very interesting duo and 3) the closing sequence. The riots that close out the film are just crazy. And…  when you’ve finished the film, watch the TV version (on the Shout Factory release). It is a re-edited, re-cut, semi-incoherent mess that I loved.
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The Girl Who Saved The World (1979)
Susan Anton plays Susan Williams! Her brother, a newspaper reporter, was killed by some shady gentlemen planning on doing something bad to the world. She’s going to find out why, even if it costs her her life! This is the 90 minute edit of the 11 15-minute segments of the Stop Susan Williams sections of the Kenneth Johnson TV show Cliff Hangers!  During the first 11 episodes of my podcast Eventually Supertrain, I covered this show in detail. I love it. This TV movie edit is crazy. The majority of the movie consists of the cliffhangers from each chapter, plus their resolutions, with a bit of exposition included. The story is rendered into a whirlwind of traps and escapes. It slows down at the end but the viewer already has Structural Whiplash from the strange integrity of the piece. It’s the perfect way to NOT edit something like this. As a Cliff Hangers! fan, it’s a fascinating, screwball experience. (One of the other segments The Curse of Dracula was made into two TV movies and makes more sense.) I might actually be recommending folks seek out Cliff Hangers! rather than this TV movie but, either way, you will be entertained.

Swap Meet (1979)
On November 27th at 2:01 PM, I learned that there was a late 1970s film called Swap Meet. I’d never heard of it before. By 3:30 PM, I had watched Swap Meet and a need that I didn’t know I had until 89 minutes before had been satiated. Thank you, Modern Society. A raucous comedy set in a Swap Meet! How could this not be great? Well, it’s not great but it’s a fun way to pass some time on a Sunday afternoon when you’ve watched King Frat one too many times. A bunch of goofy folks, slobs and jerks convene at some sort of all-day, every day swap meet selling their wares and getting in trouble. (Two of the guys peel sheets of metal off of the Hollywood sign to sell as souvenirs.) When night falls, it’s a drive-in. So, the viewer gets the best of both worlds. The film is effervescent, light and completely forgettable. But, for the apx. 80-90 minutes when you’re watching it, it is the only thing in the world. It doesn’t even matter that when the ending came I couldn’t quite remember why everyone was doing what they were doing. (That could be my aging memory.) If it ends with the good people being happy, we’ve all had a good time. Swap Meet! Watch it right now.

Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)
I watched this for a Patty Duke double feature on the Made For TV Mayhem podcast. We matched it up with Look What’s Happened To Rosemary’s Baby. I had zero expectations going in. I was pleasantly surprised. The film is well-written, well-acted, surprisingly gruesome and pretty creepy. The one part where it shoots itself in the foot is that it’s about a possessed lamp. On paper, this probably sounded awesome. In reality, it’s a giant goofy evil lamp that looks like the tree from the “Mel” segment of Tales That Witness Madness. However, if you can set that aside, Amityville 4 works. It does everything that you want from a movie like this and it has a guy getting his hand mangled in a garbage disposal and a plumber getting drowned in gloopy glop from a sewer pipe. Enjoy.
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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Marc Edward Heuck

Marc Edward Heuck runs the wonderful blog, The Projector Has Been Drinking which gets a high recommend from me. Marc's been with this series since it started in 2010, so please check out his other lists as he always brings the good stuff and his list are always greatly appreciated:
First, I had the tremendous honor this past summer of being asked by Edgar Wright to compose a list of my favorite films for MUBI, and thus came my ambitious Canon For a Fresh Film Conversation, with 400 titles that in my estimation, haven’t been discussed enough. I received a lot of constructive feedback, and I hope that I inspired many to seek them out.
Soon after, I was welcomed, with venerated film writers Kim Morgan and Chris D. and close friends Ariel Schudson and Witney Seibold, as a regular contributor to the New Beverly Cinema blog. Now on a regular basis I am writing about cool stuff that’s been less-heralded (with the occasional puff piece on a personal fave) with the goal of nudging people out of the house and into a theatre seat to watch it writ large. In a sense, elevating forgotten film is no longer just an adventure for me, it’s a job!
Up front I will acknowledge some of these picks overlap with the MUBI list. Normally, I would be stricter about avoiding that, but those double-dips still deserve a larger web presence, and the list doesn’t offer any extra text, so it’s worth taking a moment to talk about why they meant so much to me. In ascending order:

Yeah, while all the other high school kids were reading Tiger Beat and Sports Illustrated, I was reading Variety. And every week, I saw that vanity ad that actor Zack Norman took out, first “Zack Norman as Terrence Hackley in Robert Downey’s MOONBEAM,” but most famously, “Zack Norman as Sammy in CHIEF ZABU.” A movie that purportedly existed, but nobody knew what it was about, and it had never been seen. Eventually, thanks to other uber-movie-geeks, especially the MST3K gang, those seven words became a secret handshake to engage in deep nerdular nerdence. And then this year, 30 years later, the holy grail finally emerged. And this satire on how, as a tiny island nation seeks UN membership, a band of U.S. hucksters try to profit from it, it was pretty darned funny. Full of great singular ‘70s faces – Allan Arbus, Allen Garfield, Ed Lauter, Shirley Stoler, and yes, Zack Norman as Sammy. Could it live up to 30 years of anticipation? Well… But, had I saw it then, would I have liked it? Yeah. And I liked it viewed in the present-day too. So what more d’ya want, a singing commercial?

KAANTE (2002)
Like the average post-modern American film omnivore, I knew all the clichés about Bollywood movies – melodramatic plots, chaste romance, and those incongruous musical numbers – but had never fully watched one in any fashion. This entertaining fusion of those sensibilities to tested crime drama tropes, with the added attraction of Hindi stars with American technicians, was a terrific first taste. While many shorthand it as just a “Bollywood RESERVOIR DOGS,” and yes, it uses a great deal of that film’s structure, it’s more complex than that. The main characters frequently shift dialogue from Hindi to English, providing context for the kind of code-switching all manner of minorities must engage in each day to deal with the establishment. And when that element comes into play during one of those Tarantino allusions, it lends an extra layer to the proceedings, so that it’s not just foreign actors reenacting anymore, it feels like this is how it would go down with these characters of this race. Like any good spin on an established work, it expands on the possibilities only hinted at previously. Even the musical numbers, while designed for easy excision for foreign markets, feel organic to the plot, and while unusual, are no more way out than the “Wise Up” sequence in MAGNOLIA. And bottom line, this made me want to seek out more Bollywood fare.
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Definitely one of the larger cultural and cinematic milestones that I had long but an academic appreciation for, it was thrilling to finally see what had always loomed large yet felt out of reach. Michael Wadleigh and his team of both camera operators and editors somehow took a large, amorphous event, complete with unforeseen complications from without and within, captured it on miles of film, and compacted it to deliver both the artistic and the aspirational highs of that incredible long weekend. I could genuinely feel the hopeful buoyancy that overcame John Sebastian as he tried to do his number, marvel at the herculean task of feeding the equivalent of a small city, and while I’ve heard Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” dozens of times, heck even seen the footage in TV clips, witnessing it within the context of everything that led up to it made me finally get it. I don’t know if, had I been of age in that time, I would have had the nerve to enter that enormous throng, but this made me understand what it must have meant to those that did.
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I had never heard of this film when this was first announced as a New Beverly midnight, under its bland reissue title WILD GIRL. So naturally, I volunteered to write about it for the blog and learn more in the process. So glad I did, this romantic thriller from Eugenio Martin of HORROR EXPRESS fame was a terrific discovery. Spanish pop star Marisol is groomed by wealthy benefactor Mel Ferrer to settle an old vendetta with a rival, with some clever side plots sprinkled about the place. Her three big production numbers, written by legendary songwriting duo Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, are glam enough that if more people knew this movie, straight and drag homages would be commonplace. And when I saw the resolution of how she deals with a lecherous heckler during one of her songs, I knew this was great.

And the second of the awesome “girl” discoveries of this year is from the Czech Republic, and it too has a fetching pop singer as its star. Again, I had not heard of this film before Cinefamily screened it as part of their outstanding “All of Them Witches” series, in a rare English-dubbed kiddie matinee print titled THE MAGIC WITCH. But in Cyrillic countries, this adorable movie and its catchy title song are as huge as GHOSTBUSTERS; look up its original Czech title on YouTube, you’ll see dozens of clips of little girls in talent shows paying homage. And it deserves a U.S. following as well. Petra Černocká, sporting a head of curls as intense as Catherine Spaak’s in Argento's THE CAT O' NINE TAILS, is Saxana, a teenage witch who, rather than spend 300 years in detention for flubbing spells, escapes to the human realm for 44 hours, only to make more mistakes at the expense of us mortals. Full of ingenious low-fi special effects and gags so silly you’ll giggle and groan at once. Groagle, perhaps? C’mon, check out the infectious theme tune, and tell me you’re not under a spell already.
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I am not an expert in the late Chantal Akerman, or her aesthetic, suffice to say that JEANNE DIELMAN was one of my significant Film Discoveries in a previous year’s list and as such have always been on the lookout for more opportunities to delve further. But I have gathered from even my pharmacie-level knowledge that this deceptively exuberant musical was very much a departure for her and her fans, though experts can surely point you to ongoing themes of class and feminism that were more blatant in her other films. Nonetheless, from the opening moments, I was hooked into what must surely be the most eightiesest eighties movie that ever eightied in the eighties. Hyperactive love, bouncy songs, and all those damned purty colors and kicky fashions, and it’s staged entirely in a mall. Remember malls? Where it was climate-controlled and you could be dry and jacketless and do some powerwalking during inclement weather, instead of these new Rick Caruso open-air faux “marketplaces” where you pay $10 parking and still get rained on as you buy your Sephora? LA LA LAND is sending a lot of the retro-musical love towards Jacques Demy’s musicals, and they deserve it, but I dare say if you really want more savory with your sugar, this is an excellent destination.

PAYDIRT (1981)
Cinefamily had possibly the best umbrella film series of the year with their “Underground USA” program of scrappy indie films of the ‘80s, because not only did it showcase many of the usual suspects (Jarmusch, Seidelman, Cox, Raimi), but also a thrilling number of lesser-known works. Besides being unfamiliar with the film, I had no idea that for a short while Penny Allen was her own one-woman Portland filmmaking scene, so big thanks for that history lesson! A deceptively laconic drama about Portland vintners who quietly supplant their enterprise through marijuana farming, and the increasing dangers of such activity, Allen's movie had gorgeous bright photography and understated performances, especially the lead Lola Desmond, who reminded me a great deal of current earthy redheaded “It” performer Amy Ferguson. The prologue depicting the history of standoffs between so-called merchants of vice against prohibitionists and industrialists lent a sort of "DEADWOOD" vibe to the laid back surroundings, and the rising threat levels reminded me of last year's A MOST DANGEROUS YEAR in their intimate violence. And with the ongoing referendums on legalizing recreational weed across the country, the politics on this film are uncannily timely. The fine folks at Watchmaker Films spearheaded this restored DCP, along with Eagle Pennell’s LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO, which both played during the fest, but have been maddeningly slow to announce any home video availability since; praying that 2017 answers this question firmly so that more can enjoy this neglected document.

Another important element that made Cinefamily’s “Underground USA” festival so vital was the spotlight on underappreciated (and criminally underemployed) female directors, including the above-mentioned Allen, and the still fit-and-fierce Lizzie Borden. BORN IN FLAMES and Borden were already hot topics when I was an unbearable virtue-signaling feminist-cookie groveller in college, but it was not the easiest movie to see then. And thanks to this restoration via Anthology Film Archives, the HFPA, and the Film Foundation, it should become much easier. A speculative fiction about feminist bonding in dystopia that the tireless Borden and her friends shot for five years before completion, now it plays even more frighteningly prescient today, as it depicts the undermining and fall of a formerly utopian society into a regressive and aggressive climate of hatred, with like-minded factions having to figure out how to work past philosophical divisions. Thankfully, Borden predicted a happy, if messy, ending to her saga.
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I’m doing this one as a tie because when linked together with the aforementioned JEANNE DIELMAN a couple lists back, it means that this year I finally scored the 1970s 3-hours-plus French-language arthouse-epic trifecta. And in the case of these two, there is a kind of spiritual link. Granted, Jean Eustache’s M&W is black-and-white and fraught all over, while Jacques Rivette’s C&J is colorful and loopy, but both are testaments to being young, adventurous, and experimenting with the world’s possibilities. And in their long running times, with their often leisurely pacing, they demonstrate that those moments of youth when you were seemingly doing nothing – reading, listening to records, lounging with friends – you were still creating memories and capturing a place and time.
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This year, as far as discovery goes, delivered me a one-two punch crash course in the genius of triple threat Andrew L. Stone and actor Eddie Bracken. And while I had so many revelations to pick from that are also worth seeking out (George Marshall’s HOLD THAT BLONDE! where Bracken does tremendous screwball work with Veronica Lake, or Stone’s taut and blackly comic heist thriller THE STEEL TRAP w/ Joseph Cotton), this collaboration between them both stuck with me the most. Using a very simple comic premise – luckless Bracken and Priscilla Lane pass themselves off as millionaires at a Florida beach resort to ridiculous success – Stone yields amazing quantities of class commentary, surprise plot turns, and really engaging lead chemistry. Modern comedies would throw in twice as much plot detail and still garner only half as many laughs, so this forgotten jewel is a clinic in how to explore and heighten your basic gimmick. Reportedly, Paramount inherited this and other Stone comedies (HI DIDDLE DIDDLE, THE BACHELOR’S DAUGHTERS, SENSATIONS OF 1945, BEDSIDE MANNER), but have almost no elements to do any kind of preservation or transfer work: 2017 needs to see some spelunking in the vaults happen to rectify this state of affairs.

A high-concept all-star action movie is always an easy pitch to studio execs and to cinema audiences, because of its exquisite and deceptive simplicity of description. DIE HARD: terrorists seize an office building; SPEED: a bomb on a bus; EARTHQUAKE: you get the idea. But little did I know that back when I was still in short pants, Richard Lester made a movie that used an easy logline – specialists try to defuse bombs on a storm-battered cruise ship – and presented an epic so rich with enigmatically well-drawn characters, political commentary, class observation, tight editing, and quick-step plot turns, that it renders almost all modern thrillers irrelevant. Michael Bay weeps to sleep over the fact that he'll never have an equal film on his resume. As such, this is the most exciting, crucial, and welcome first-time film discovery I made this year. From this point on, I dare say I will be applying comedian Joey Coco Diaz’ school of thought for similar films in the future, i.e., "Was it better than JUGGERNAUT? No? FUCK THAT MOVIE!"
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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Hal Horn

Hal Horn runs the irreplaceable Horn Section Blog ('reviewing the obscure, overlooked and sometimes the very old').

Also read his previous Discoveries lists for Rupert Pupkin Speaks:

On Twitter @halhorn86
Thanks to Warner Archive Instant, one can check out the entire Bomba the Jungle Boy series. 12 films from 1949 through 1955 for Monogram that pretty much comprised lead Johnny Sheffield's film career. John Kellogg and the always shady looking Myron Healey are our villains this time: ivory poachers who are also sexually harassing teacher Donna Martel. Martel is here to teach the natives how to read and has taken a liking to Bomba, but our Jungle Boy pushes her away--I know, dumb decision to our eyes, but Bomba is more concerned with saving elephants than making a little hey-hey. No harm, no foul---until she foolishly decides to use the villains to make Bomba jealous. As cheap as the rest of the series, but surprisingly vicious at times, especially the ending. And I'm always up for an anti-poaching film. My favorite of the four in the series that I've watched so far. As was the case for most of the Bomba films, written and directed by Ford Beebe.
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MELINDA (1972) 
Calvin Lockhart didn't get enough leads; this rare one turned up on TCM Underground earlier this year and is also on DVD via Warner Archive. Lockhart is a narcissistic (so much so that his apartment is a shrine to himself) and popular Los Angeles drive time DJ. He enjoys all the trappings of his fame and can get any woman he wants. Then titular, mysterious Vonetta McGee arrives from Chicago, becoming a challenge for him and sending his charmed life into a tailspin. The downward spiral continues when McGee is found slashed to death. Abrupt tonal shifts enhance the viewing experience on this one, a pleasant surprise from the early Blaxploitation era. With Rosalind Cash, Rockne Tarkington and Jim Kelly.
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Finally got around to this early effort by the usually schlocky Ted V. Mikels, who passed away in October. Near the end of his film career, Richard Gilden got the lead as a light-skinned black man who decides to pass for white and infiltrate the KKK after his daughter is killed in a church bombing. Exploitation, no doubt, but well acted and decently written, though the pacing falters in the second half. Still, a cut above most Mikels films. Film debut for three actors who would all make an impact in the 1970's: Max Julien, Whitman Mayo and James McEachin.
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THE TRAP (1946) 
Sidney Toler's final Charlie Chan film (he was suffering from cancer during filming and passed away 3 months after its release) is another public domain film that I should have run across before now, but finally checked out on Warner Archive this year. Toler's screen time is limited due to his terminal illness, but surprisingly this works somewhat to the film's advantage, giving more spotlight time to co-stars Victor Sen Yung and Mantan Moreland. More cheesecake than you'd expect in a Chan film, further easing the star's workload. Interesting despite the clunky setup and production problems; among the young starlets: Bettie Best, Rita Quigley, and series multi-timer Barbara Jean Wong.
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Just reviewed this as part of our new tribute series to the great comedian Leon Errol, who was in his fifties before he really got going in Hollywood but brought his impeccable timing and one-of-a-kind drunk portrayal (he was nicknamed "Rubberlegs") to numerous short subjects and films for two decades until his 1951 death. Here, working with frequent collaborator Leslie Goodwins (the MEXICAN SPITFIRE series), he objects to daughter Pamela Blake's engagement to reckless spender Dennis O'Keefe. O'Keefe proves up to Leon's challenge to save $1,000 while Errol is simultaneously experiencing financial difficulties. Walter Catlett and Tom Kennedy have hilarious supporting roles in this agreeable "B" from RKO. One of the few Leon Errol features I hadn't seen; TCM gave it a rare airing in November. Worth a DVR'ing if it returns.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New Release Roundup - January 17th, 2017

TWO FOR THE ROAD on Blu-ray (Twilight Time)

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)
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SOMETHING WILD on Blu-ray (Criterion)
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THE MAD MAGICIAN on 3D Blu-ray (Twilight Time)

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REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST on Blu-ray (Raro Video)
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FOX AND HIS FRIENDS on Blu-ray (Criterion)
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TRAIN TO BUSAN on Blu-ray (Well Go)
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ALI Commemorative Edition on Blu-ray (Sony)
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STANLEY AND IRIS on Blu-ray (Twilight Time)

COMES A HORSEMAN on Blu-ray (Twilight Time)

WIZARD MODE on Blu-ray (Gravitas Ventures)
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