Review by Sean Boelman
Recent months have seen several strides towards diversification in the Criterion Collection, one of which is the inclusion of several Blaxploitation films. This month sees one of the most beloved films of the genre enter the collection — Gordon Parks’s 1971 action classic Shaft — and it is a must-own for any cinephile.
The film follows the story of a cool private eye who is recruited by a crime lord to find and rescue his kidnapped daughter. It’s a storyline that has been replicated ever since — hell, even Star Wars is doing it in their Obi-Wan Kenobi series — but there is a reason why this film has stood the test of time to become such a classic.
No one would deny that a big part of this film’s success is Richard Roundtree’s performance as the eponymous private eye. In subsequent sequels, Samuel L. Jackson and Jessie T. Usher would take up the mantle as the descendants of Roundtree’s o.g. bad-mother-shut-yo-mouth, but no one can or will ever live up to his pure swagger.
There is also no denying that the style of the film is a big part of its success. Shaft was one of the foundational films of the genre, with the stylish action and funky music that would come to define Blaxploitation. Isaac Hayes’s Oscar-winning music is certainly memorable, and is a joy to hear the new uncompressed mono soundtrack on a good at-home sound system.
The new edition also features a new restoration of the film, and it’s very nice. Granted, there are still a few 35mm prints of the film circulating around, and that’s probably the best way of seeing this picture, but a crisp new 4K restoration isn’t a bad way to go. And this is the first time the film has been released on the format.
This edition also includes a Blu-Ray copy of the film’s first sequel, Shaft’s Big Score. While it’s not quite as good of a movie as its predecessor, it’s certainly more underseen and is still an interesting action flick. And who’s gonna turn down the chance to see Roundtree back in his role again.
For a film that already has so many releases on home media, the bonus features with this edition are surprisingly strong. There’s a new behind-the-scenes documentary, a new interview with the film’s costume designer, and a new featurette. And if you’re a fan of the film like me, you could hear people talk about it all day.
Shaft may not be the most preservation-minded addition to the Criterion Collection, but it’s still a fun and worthy Blu-Ray to add to your shelf. If I dare say, I can dig it.
The Criterion Collection edition of Shaft is now available.
By Dan Skip Allen
When I was a kid, my family sometimes didn't have enough money to eat, and we struggled to pay our bills. Even for an eight-year-old, I knew we were struggling financially. Every once in a while, we had enough money to do things together as a family. My brother, sister, and I would load into whatever car we had at the time, probably a station wagon, and go to the nearby drive-in theater. This was a big deal for us. Even a bigger deal was back in the summer of 1982; we did just that and got to see a film that helped transform me into the film aficionado I am today: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
E.T. wasn't just any film — it was a film that showed me what movies could really be for a child of eight years old. I remember as a kid that when E.T. and Elliot (Henry Thomas) road that BMX bike into the sky to escape men in black trying to get to them. It felt like they went right through the screen and into the air above the drive-in. It was a bit surreal to me at the time. I have held that memory with me ever since, and I'll never forget it.
That famous line from the film uttered by an animatronic alien, E.T., will also be indelibly stuck in my brain forever. "E.T. Phone Home." Any kid or adult watching that film that didn't cry is just not human because I balled my eyes out when I watched it. Shows like Stranger Things have adopted a little of the nostalgia of what E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is, but nothing will ever replace this film in the annals of history.
I loved the cast, from Dee Wallace as the overprotective mother to Thomas Howell as the big brother and who couldn't forget little, at the time, Drew Barrymore as the sister who dressed E.T. up as a girl and fed him Reese's Pieces. Now Reese's Pieces are synonymous with this film. Peter Coyote played the secret agent trying to capture E.T., and he did as great as this character. He played a good villain at the time.
Many people make a big deal about physical media editions of this film being altered because the guns were taken away, but no DVD, Blu-Ray, or 4K will ever take away what was etched in my memory as a child. At the time, the guns were necessary to help the story. I understand they may have been a bit overkill, but they worked in the context of the story. The producers and filmmakers made a tough choice, but I think it was right.
My second favorite filmmaker is Steven Spielberg. As a kid, I got to see Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but my favorite of his films will always be E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He was able to bring something out in me no movie had ever done before: genuine emotion, from crying sadness to joyful happiness and, at times, anger. This film brought out every emotion in me as a child. That is what great filmmaking should be able to do.
One of Spielberg's frequent collaborators is John Williams. At the time, he was the conductor of the Boston Pops. Another annual gathering for my family would be once again to load all the kids in the car, head to Boston, and get our spot on the grass at the Esplanade, where we would get to hear the Boston Pops perform for free every Fourth of July. And so I was very familiar with this man's work, but the E.T. theme was like magic to my ears, and it's still one of the most iconic themes of John Williams's career, in my opinion.
On the week of the fortieth anniversary of E.T., I implore everyone young and old — if you've seen the film or not — to watch this absolute classic. Maybe it will bring you the emotions it brought me as an eight-year-old little boy looking for magic which I found on the big screen at that drive-in cinema. The cast, the filmmaker, and the composer brought me one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences of my entire life, and I will never forget that moment in time.
By Sean Boelman
It may have only been around since 2017, but the Overlook Film Festival has earned its spot in the horror community as one of the best festivals there is to see great horror flicks. From traditional terrifiers to other genre pictures that run adjacent to the horror genre like pitch-black comedies, Overlook has plenty to offer for every connoisseur of the macabre.
We at disappointment media had the pleasure of covering the Overlook Film Festival this year in New Orleans, LA. At the festival, we saw a ton of awesome films, including a few we missed at other festivals and some awesome world premieres that we expect to make a big splash when they are released to general audiences. Here are some quick thoughts on some of the films we saw at the fest!
Another in the recent trend of psychological horror films dealing with themes of race, Jenna Cato Bass’s Good Madam is undeniably a well-crafted film, but it does leave the viewer wanting more. Although some of the imagery in the film will create a sense of unease in the viewer, this never really builds into a feeling of tension. As a result, this turns into a movie that you admire more from afar — respecting its craftsmanship and the things it has to say in its social commentary, but never really immersed enough for this to be a great work of genre cinema.
Roger Corman, The Pope of Pop Cinema
In addition to being a showcase for genre films themselves, festivals like Overlook often serve as a way of shining a spotlight on some of the most influential voices in filmmaking history through documentaries. Bertrand Tessier’s Roger Corman, The Pope of Pop Cinema follows the career of one of the most prolific B-movie filmmakers of all time. While it may be a bit on the conventional side, its brief sub-sixty-minute runtime and the fact that Corman’s career is just so freaking extraordinary keep this documentary moving and make it a worthwhile watch for any horror cinephile.
The Senegalese action-horror film Saloum picked up a lot of acclaim on the festival circuit last fall, and Overlook audiences got the chance to check it out this year. It definitely has some striking imagery, and the aggressive energy it has is undeniable, but this story of three mercenaries who must fight to survive in the mythical plains of Saloum is perhaps a bit too much on overdrive. Regardless, Jean Luc Herbulot clearly made exactly the film that he set out to make, and it should certainly be admired for that.
Charlotte Colbert’s feature debut She Will is very much a feature debut in that it throws a bunch of stuff to the wall to see what sticks, and while the result may be a total mess, the things that Colbert does with it are so fascinating that it’s easy to forgive some of its flaws. Following a woman who attends a mysterious retreat with her younger nurse, there are a lot of moving plot points here, and not all of them work, but those that do are extremely good, especially when coupled with Colbert’s fantastic eye behind the camera.
Seeing horror movies from around the world is always awesome because each culture has a different perception of what “horror” should be. Zalava is less what we in the United States would consider a horror film, and more akin to a thriller, but this story of a community that is torn apart by paranoia surrounding a potential demonic possession is more unsettling than a lot of traditional horror movies. Co-writer/director Arsalan Amiri has penned several screenplays before, but this is his first time in the director’s chair, and it will be exciting to see what he does next.
The 2022 Overlook Film Festival ran June 2-5.
By Sean Boelman
After two years of being part of the streaming co-op Nightstream due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Overlook Film Festival is finally getting to hold another in-person edition again in New Orleans, Louisiana. Considered one of the most haunted cities in the United States, the setting of the Big Easy is perfect to get together with horror fans to celebrate some of the most exciting new films in the genre.
We at disappointment media are excited to be covering this year’s festival on the ground in New Orleans, and we hope that you will be joining us! For those of you who are able to check out some films at the festival, we’ve had the chance to check out part of the lineup, and here are some spooky flicks we think you should check out.
For those looking to support independent cinema at the festival, Pete Ohs’s microbudget ghost movie Jethica is definitely worth checking out. Following a woman who is being followed by a ghostly stalker, this is basically a mumblecore movie with some horror elements. Having debuted in the fan-favorite SXSW Midnighters section earlier this year, the film is one of the most exciting independent genre discoveries on the festival circuit right now. The film’s budget is a measly $150,000, and Ohs makes the most of it, delivering a film that feels lovably rough-around-the-edges.
Thirty years in the making, Oscar-winning visual effects pioneer Phil Tippet is finally releasing his feature debut, Mad God, a wild stop-motion animation film that is a sight to behold. Completely free of dialogue, the film follows an assassin who heads deep into a labyrinthian city full of monsters. Genre cinephiles are absolutely going to geek out about getting to see this technical marvel, although it is certainly more of an atmospheric piece than based in a strong narrative. Shudder will be releasing the film later this month, but you shouldn’t miss the chance to see this one on the big screen if you can.
What would a great film festival be without some exciting World Premieres? One of the higher profile films premiering at the festival is Swallowed, a queer body horror film written and directed by Carter Smith (The Ruins). Starring relative newcomer Cooper Koch and Jose Colon, the film follows two friends who, on their last night together, end up getting wrapped up in a drug smuggling operation, causing what was supposed to be a night of fun to turn into a nightmare. It’s not what you would expect, but the many twists of the film will leave you feeling unsettled. Add in an unforgettable supporting turn from LGBTQ horror icon Mark Patton (A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), and you have one film at the festival you don’t want to miss.
Who Invited Them
Another World Premiere at the festival that has more bubbling beneath the surface than it initially lets on, Who Invited Them is a darkly comedic thriller following two couples whose night begins to escalate into debauchery after a housewarming party. It’s the type of film that is best experienced blind apart from that basic premise, as it is fascinating to see things unfold over the course of the crazy night. And much of the film’s success can be attributed to the four leads — Ryan Hansen, Melissa Tang, Timothy Granaderos, and Avital Ash — who make the film tick.
While most of the films playing in this year’s lineup are American genre pictures, there are a few international highlights that festival-goers can check out. We recommend that you see Zalava, an Iranian film exploring superstition. Arsalan Amiri’s film won the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize at last year’s Venice International Film Festival, and that is certainly a feat for a genre film like this given that horror films are rarely recognized like that at a major festival. Even though this may not be a horror movie in a traditional sense, it’s possibly even more unsettling than the “scarier” movies at the festival.
The Overlook Film Festival runs from June 2-5 in New Orleans, LA.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.