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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (DVD / Blu-Ray)

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Rare Exports:  A Christmas Story (DVD and Blu-Ray)Starring Onni Tommila, Christian Ellefsen, Peeter Jakobi, Tommi Korpela, Jorma Tommila

Written and directed by Jalmari Helander

Distributed by Oscilloscope


Imagine if Steven Spielberg and Stephen King got together to craft a coming-of-age Christmas horror movie. Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander imagined it for us and in doing so has gifted us with the best Christmas horror movie since Gremlins.

It’s so rare these days to see a motion picture that can be described as completely original, but then how many movies have been made based upon the Finnish legends of a Santa Claus that has…

Hang on just a minute. Haven’t I written this review already? I did. I did write this review already. Back in November of 2010. I gave it 4 out of 5. I went on to list it is as my favorite horror movie of the year and one of my altogether favorite films of 2010. Seems kind of redundant for me to be doing the DVD/Blu-ray review of a movie I’ve already reviewed theatrically nearly a year ago. But here I am.

If you want my full review of why I believe Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is destined to become a Christmastime cult classic, then go read my original Rare Exports review. For those too lazy to click a link, here are two paragraphs from that review that perfectly sum up my love for this fantastically strange anti-holiday flick:

The true triumph of Rare Exports is how seriously Helander treats his subject matter. It wouldn’t have taken much to turn this into a wacky comedy or some splatter-filled Troma-esque flick. Instead this is a class act all the way. Helander shows a deft hand taking the same route as the likes of Spielberg, Joe Dante, and John Carpenter in their prime by giving us a period of discovery to set up the mystery and never winking at the audience by having the circumstances unfold in a moronic manner. The premise is indeed ridiculous, but I never found myself thinking “This is just stupid.” I found myself thinking this was a wonderfully weird Yuletide fairy tale – more Brothers Grimm than Rankin-Bass – that gracefully crisscrosses genres, often in the same breath. It’s a horror movie, a coming-of-age family film, a fantasy adventure flick, and, yes, it’s even a Christmas story.

Rare Exports feels like it could easily be appropriate entertainment for the whole family until the occasional f-bomb gets dropped, mutilated reindeer are found by the dozens, a pick ax winds up in someone’s skull, and naked filthy Santa dong flaps freely in the freezing Scandinavian breeze. I’d still recommend the film for older children with parents less restrictive since those “adult” moments are fleeting and still considerably tamer than much of what you find in many of today’s PG-13 movies. I have no reservations recommending Rare Exports to anyone that wants to watch a truly unique motion picture that is all but assured instant cult classic status.

Oscilloscope has released Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale in a two-disc set containing the regular DVD and the Blu-ray version of the film that comes in a decorative cardboard fold-out slipcase. Even before you pop either disc in, you can already tell Oscilloscope has gone out of its way to make sure this release is a must.

Both discs boast beautiful prints, but the Blu-ray in particular looks astonishingly gorgeous, no surprise. The brilliantly white winterscapes that permeate the movie are positively breathtaking in 1080p, 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Look; I’m no tech head. I’m still a fairly new convert to Blu-ray with a fairly small collection of Blu-ray discs. Watching this – seeing how vibrantly detailed the pristine picture is – will make you a Blu-ray convert.

Best of all, the subtitles are easy to read without being too obtrusive into the picture.

I’m certain the 5.1 DTS-HD audio would have blown me out of the back wall of my living room if I had a full theater sound system.

Both discs come with the same extra features with one major exception on the Blu-ray. First, let’s talk about the features they share.

If you want to know how it all began, both of the original Rare Exports short films from 2003 and 2005 have been included. Both shorts are readily available online, but I assure you they don’t look this crisp and clean. In some ways these short films are even more surreal than the feature film they eventually spawned. The original 7-minute Rare Exports Inc. starts off like your typical BBC nature documentary until the reveal that these Scandinavian hunters are hunting Father Christmases in the wild. The 11-minute follow-up, Rare Exports – The Official Safety Instructions, is done in the vein of an industrial short listing the dos & don’ts of wrangling feral Father Christmases. Even though the shorts came first, the movie is almost a prequel explaining how the whole Rare Exports business came about. Even some of the actors are carried over from the shorts to the motion picture. Great stuff.

A nearly 30-minute making-of feature that is mostly a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage assembled is enjoyable but probably at least ten minutes too long for my taste. Much like the movie it alternates between English speaking and English subtitled. The highlight is seeing the filming of the full frontal naked old man stampede, which upon completion prompts someone to declare, “That was fucking insane!”That’s pretty much what you’ll be thinking when you see the finished scene in the movie. There’s plenty more dirty old man dong shown during this making-of. I sure hope those old fellers got paid well to let their shortcomings hang out in front of the whole world.

A concept art slide show compares drawings done to give an idea what certain key shots were meant to look like as to how they actually looked on film. Should have used these sketches to craft a Rare Exports storybook.

An animatics and computer effects comparison shows what a pair of key scenes during the climax look like side-by-side with and without rendered digital effects. It’s mostly impressive to see a couple of shots were done using CGI that I honestly thought were the real deal.

There’s a photo gallery boasting a few production stills and behind-the-scenes photos. Honestly, nothing really to see here.

The original Finnish trailer shows once again why so many got excited over this film in the first place.

Trailers for other Oscilloscope releases like Bellflower, The Messenger, and a couple others I’m not familiar with round out the shared extras.

Now I did state there was one exception. The extras are exactly the same except the Blu-ray features one final treat not found on the regular DVD. The final extra on the Blu-ray disc is…

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Seriously? Yes, seriously. The complete 1964 bad movie camp classic about Santa Claus being abducted by dopey Martians to bring the joy of Christmas to the planet Mars is a Blu-ray extra, and I’ll be damned if I can tell you why. A surprising treat for those that have never experienced its awfulness, but personally, I find the movie unwatchable without the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” crew riffing on it at the bottom of the screen. Suffice to say the print has not been digitally restored for the world of Blu-ray; yet, even with all the pops, scratches, and visual compression, this is probably the best Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has ever looked.

Special Features

  • The two original short films that inspired the film: Rare Exports Inc. (2003) and Rare Exports – The Official Safety Instructions (2005)
  • The Making of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale featurette
  • Blood in the Snow featurette on the preliminary concept art
  • Animatics and computer effects video comparison
  • Behind-the-scenes production stills photo gallery
  • Original Finnish theatrical trailer; Oscilloscope trailers
  • Blu-ray Exclusive: Feature-length film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, the 1964 cult classic starring Pia Zadora

    Film

    4 out of 5

    Special Features

    4 out of 5

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    IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor

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    Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.

    On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.

    The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.

    While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.

    What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.

    While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.

    • Alive in New Light
    5.0

    Summary

    IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.

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    The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell

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    Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law

    Directed by John Law


    I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.

    The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.

    The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.

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    Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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    Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

    Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

    Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


    During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

    Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

    What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

    While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

    Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

    While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

    With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

    • Before We Vanish
    4.0

    Summary

    Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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