Category Archives: Italian Films

Watch Out, We’re Mad! (1974)

watch out were mad

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Replacing a red buggy.

Kid (Terence Hill) and Ben (Bud Spencer) are two race car drivers who participate in a race that ends in a tie that forces the two to settle on sharing the prize, which is a red dune buggy. The two though want the vehicle all for themselves and decide to settle on who gets to keep it by having a hot dog eating contest at a local bar. As they busily eat their hot dogs a local mobster known as The Boss (John Sharp) orders his men to destroy the place in an effort to get local businesses to leave, so that they can then use the land to build a giant skyscraper. Ken and Ben don’t mind the chaos, but when the mobsters then destroy the buggy they get mad…really mad! They confront The Boss and his equally nefarious psychiatrist (Donald Pleasence) insisting that the buggy MUST be replaced and it MUST be the same red color, or there will be trouble. The mobsters initially scoff, but find that these two men are far more resourceful and determined than they could’ve imagined.

This is the seventh teaming of Hill and Spencer who did their first movie together in the 1967 spaghetti western Blood River. They work well together and it is clear that they share a deep camaraderie. The film is full of all sorts of zany slapstick and I enjoyed most of it particularly the bar scene as well as a bumper car segment at a carnival. The best moment though is when they ram their car through the doors of a ritzy restaurant where the mobsters are dining and proceed to drive the car through every inch of the place while popping hundreds upon hundreds of giant balloons that lay all over.

The biggest issue though it that it doesn’t make any sense why these two would be so cocky and arrogant in the face of otherwise dangerous mobsters. Yes, it’s funny that these two ordinary schmucks seem oblivious to danger and can more than handle themselves, but it would’ve worked better had they been initially intimated and then slowly evolved into being more confident. You also have to question how these men acquired such powerful fighting skills, which made me believe that the characters should’ve been portrayed as police or government agents with some kind of combat training instead of just ordinary car mechanics that would not in any way be able to fight these bad guys off as consistently as they do.

The story is one dimensional and there really isn’t much of a third act with the broad plot simply an excuse to showcase a lot of slapstick. The humor is clearly on a kiddie level, but funnier than you might think even though there are certain routines that go on longer than they should and some that seem to repeat themselves. Still it’s refreshing to watch a film made in an era where slapstick was still considered a legitimate form of entertainment and not simply relegated to kid flicks and cartoons.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated G

Director: Marcello Fondato

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Light Blast (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Erik Estrada saves Frisco.

A crazed scientist (Ennio Girolami) has created a laser gun that can melt people on contact. He uses it to kill a couple and then threatens to do the same to the entire city of San Francisco unless the mayor can come up with $10 million dollars. Rugged, renegade cop Ronn Warren (Erik Estrada) is assigned to track the culprit down and that he does while careening down the city streets in a race car.

The only interesting aspect about this movie is that it stars Estrada the one time big TV star from his heyday on the ‘CHiPs’ TV-series. I never cared much for that show and the only thing that I’ve seen him in where I enjoyed him was in the reality series ‘The Surreal Life’ where I found him to be humble and laid back, which I suppose happens to one when they have a long line of movies like these to their credit. I remember in the late 70’s he was considered an up-and-coming star and was known to have big ego fits on the set, which eventually lead to his co-star Larry Wilcox quitting. Then once the series ended he was trapped doing low grade stuff like this, which makes me wonder; can you really call it a ‘movie career’ if no one has seen the movies that you’ve done?

Overall if you approach this with decidedly low expectations then this film, which was produced by an Italian production company, but still filmed on-location in Frisco, is okay. Watching the laser melt people is entertaining as a sort-of cheap version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The action is choreographed well enough to be mildly exciting and the budget isn’t so low that it makes everything look cheap. Estrada’s manning of a race car down the city streets at the end is fun, but highly improbable that he would be able to drive into oncoming traffic and not be hit or be able to find a car that was being stored inside a truck that would conveniently have its keys in the ignition and fully tanked up with gas.

The film’s biggest transgression is that it’s too predictable. It’s like they’ve stolen every other formulaic element from every other cop movie and then crammed it into this one. Estrada is dull and the actor playing the bad guy is equally bland making this at best a passable time waster.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 13, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Enzo G. Castellari

Studio: Overseas FilmGroup

Available: DVD

Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears (1973)

deaf smith and johnny ears

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deaf mute saves Texas.

Deaf Smith (Anthony Quinn) and Johnny Ears (Franco Nero) are two special agents hired by President Sam Harris to put down any rebel factions that may try to impede Texas from achieving statehood. While Deaf, who lacks the ability to speak as well as hear, works on bringing down the bad guys by sneaking into one of their hideouts Johnny seems more interested in the women particularly a hooker named Susie (Pamela Tiffin) who he meets at the local cathouse.

These are the type of cheap, low grade, generic productions that end up giving spaghetti westerns a bad name. Had Sergio Leone been put in charge of this it might have been something special, but the director here has a poor eye for detail and lacks Leone’s poetic nuance. The action is poorly choreographed and unexciting and during a shootout inside a darkened cave it even becomes confusing and irritating. The music is loud and blares out melodies that do not reflect the period and the villain is bland and not given enough screen time to be able to create any type of effective menace.

Quinn, who doesn’t speak a single line of dialogue, is fabulous and manages to steal every scene that he is in. Nero on the other hand tends to overact especially with his exaggerated facial expressions. Tiffin, who appears nude from a distance during a segment done near a stream, shows a good campy side especially with the scene where she beats up Nero.

There was an actual Deaf Smith that the character here is loosely based on although the real Smith suffered only a partial loss of hearing and was not a mute. His real-life adventures were much more interesting than the ones portrayed here and the film would’ve done better had it stuck to those.

The movie also suffers from some anachronistic errors including having a scene featuring a Gatling Gun even though the setting for the film is 1836 and the gun itself wasn’t invented until 1862 when it was first used during the Civil War. The prop used to represent the gun looks cheap and flimsy while painted in a garish gold color that doesn’t deserve the Gatling name and only helps to cement this as barely watchable tripe.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Los Amigos

Released: March 29, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paolo Cavara

Studio: MGM

Available: None at this time.

The Driver’s Seat (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazy lady goes traveling.

Lise (Elizabeth Taylor) is a middle-aged woman with seemingly no past who travels to Rome looking for someone to kill her. Her erratic behavior and weird motivations confuse those that she comes into contact with. She then meets Bill (Ian Bannen) a man who’s more interested in her sexually than anything else and he follows her around in a veiled attempt to get ‘lucky’ despite her repeated rebuffs.

The film is basically a mess that goes nowhere. It was based on a novel by Muriel Spark, who had written some acclaimed stuff in her day including ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, so I can only imagine that the book made more sense and only bits and pieces of it were taken to create this screenplay. In either case it was a highly strange career move for Miss Taylor who made a lot of weird movie choices in the 70’s, which helped to destroy her once megastar status and tainted her other stellar work.

Her performance by itself isn’t too bad and it’s the one thing that helps keep things watchable. The way that she can go from being passive and helpless to snippy and bitchy within seconds is kind of fun and on a purely camp level even enjoyable. The whole thing seems almost like an extension of the character that she played in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , which became her signature role during her later years.

Bannen lends good support as his leering Cheshire cat grin is a perfect counterpart to Taylor’s crazed glare and he effectively equals her nuttiness. I also loved his so-called macrobiotic diet in which he must attain one orgasm a day for it to work and if he misses one then he must make up for it by having two the next day, which ultimately gives him ‘indigestion’. Mona Washbourne a character actress noted for playing delightfully daffy old ladies is also on hand as one of the people Taylor befriends and their encounter inside the stall of a public bathroom is a gem.

Director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi manages to infuse some interesting visuals, which along with its fragmented narrative helps keep things cheaply alluring, but it eventually plays itself out and by the end becomes quite tiring and tedious. The biggest issue is that there never is any explanation for who this woman is or why she’s doing this, which makes the whole thing quite empty and pointless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Giuseppe Patroni Griffi

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video

Suspiria (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ballet dancer battles witches.

Suzy (Jessica Harper) is an American from New York who aspires to be a ballet dancer and travels to Freiburg, Germany to enroll at the dancer academy there. When she arrives she confronts another young lady who shouts something about a ‘blue iris flower’ before running out into the stormy night and then later turning up murdered. As the days progress strange events begin to occur convincing Suzy that the dance school may really be a cover for a coven of witches.

I first saw this film back in the late 80’s and it left me cold, but after reading a few other movie blogs where the critics insisted this was ‘brilliant’ I decided to give it another chance and approached it with a completely open mind only to end up liking it even less. The majority of the problem is Dario Argento’s over-direction. The sets and color schemes are wildly over-the-top bordering on camp. Had he pulled back even a little it might have been visually impressive, but instead gets obnoxious. The atmosphere, like everything else, is overdone creating a dream-like fantasy feel that has no connection to reality and therefore not very compelling.

The music, which was done by a group called Goblin, is interesting to some extent. I like the effect that to me sounded like hissing demons, but the other parts of it too closely resembled the ‘Tubular Bells’ music that was used in The Exorcist. It also gets overplayed and is too loud coming off like a spoiled child demanding your attention, which creates less tension and more distraction instead.

The special effects don’t live up to billing. When a man gets attacked and then eaten by his own dog is the only good part simply because it’s unexpected. Otherwise the blood and gore is average and even lacking. The majority of it is at the beginning where we see a young, frightened woman squirmy around on the floor while she gets stabbed and to a degree looks like some interpretive dance routine. The shot of a body coming out of a ceiling and then hung from a rope doesn’t work because it is clearly a mannequin and if you look real closely her face already has a strangled expression on it before the head goes through the noose.

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Harper is a good protagonist and its fun seeing classic film star Joan Bennett in her last film role. I also really liked Alida Valli as Miss Tanner the dance instructor. During the 40’s and 50’s she was a stunningly beautiful leading lady, but here looks very witchy with the way her hair is cropped up into a tight bun as well as with her eyes and voice. The rest of the supporting cast have their voices dubbed, something that Italian productions during this period were notorious for and gives the already wooden dialogue a cheesy, amateurish sounding banter.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic finish is a big letdown. For such an extravagant, garish build-up I was expecting much more of a bloody, drawn-out battle. Instead Harper just picks up a sharp object and stabs the head witch, who looks dead already, and it immediately kills her along with the others, but to me this didn’t make sense. This is supposedly some otherworldly demon, so the same laws of physics wouldn’t necessarily apply to her like it does to humans and a simple stab wound wouldn’t have the same effect like it would to regular people.

End of Spoiler Alert!

I was glad to see that other viewers on IMDB particularly those on the message board felt the same way about this ‘classic’ as I did. In my opinion the only way to enjoy it is for its excessive camp value and nothing more.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes (Blue Underground 2-Disc Special Edition)

Rated R (Originally rated X)

Director: Dario Argento

Studio: International Classics (Dubbed Version)

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Rabid Dogs (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Terror filled car ride.

Four men decide to hijack a car that is delivering the payroll to the employees of a local Italian pharmaceutical plant. Both men inside the car are killed, but the four manage to get away with the money only to have the driver of the getaway vehicle shot in the back of the head by a security guard as well as having a bullet hole put into their fuel tank. The remaining three are then forced to find another car. There is the Doctor (Maurice Poli) who is the level-headed leader and mastermind. There is also Bisturi (Don Backy) a lanky child-like man prone to savagery without warning and Thirty-two (George Eastman) who can be equally savage especially with women. They kidnap a beautiful woman named Maria (Lea Lander) and then hijack another car driven by a father Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla) who is trying to take his sick son to the hospital. The six then go on a terrifying car ride through the Italian countryside while playing a game of cat-and-mouse with each other and eluding the authorities.

This film turned out to be Mario Bava’s swan song. His career had faded during the 70’s as his style of horror films were no longer considered chic and he made this film project a personal crusade to prove that he could keep up with the modern sensibilities by creating a film that was gritty, raw and violent. All things considered he succeeds valiantly. The film has a nasty edge right from the beginning and manages to stay at that tone throughout. The killers are truly mean and keep the viewer on edge with their unpredictable trigger-finger personalities. It achieves a level of ugliness reminiscent in a true crime that most Hollywood films never seem able to attain and its shoe-string budget and bare-bones approach becomes a major benefit.

For a film that takes place almost entirely inside a car the shot selections has an amazing amount of variety. Bava ended up having to do the cinematography himself because he couldn’t afford to keep the one he had hired on, which makes it all the more incrediable how brilliantly visual this is. The characters faces get up so close to the lens you literally feel like you can smell them and sense the sweat glistening off their bodies making you believe you are stuck in the car with them. The film is never boring or slow, the action well-choreographed with interesting  plot twists proving what an underrated genius Bava was and making me believe that despite the many difficulties getting produced this is his finest effort.

Backy who was and still is today a singer/songwriter with limited acting experience gives a great performance and is possibly the most memorable of the villains especially with his shocked expressions after he commits a particularly vile act proving that even he himself is shaken at his own savagery. Leander isn’t necessarily the best of actresses, but her perpetual look of shock and fear is quite entertaining. I was also impressed with the child actor who manages to stay asleep despite all the violence and chaos around him.

I also enjoyed the similarities to Last House on the Left including an exciting foot chase through a cornfield where you think the women is going to get away as well as a scene where the women is forced to urinate in front of the men while they laugh and mock her.

If you are a fan of 70’s exploitation than this lost gem deserves to be on top of any true fan’s list as it delivers-the-goods without ever watering things down for good taste. I also enjoyed the neat twist ending, which I saw coming, but it’s pretty cool anyways.

Years later Bava’s son Lamberto used existing footage from this film while adding new scenes with a different ending to create a movie called Kidnapped although I prefer this version better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Alternate Title: Kidnapped

Released: February 25, 1998 (Never released during Bava’s lifetime.)

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Mario Bava

Studio: Spera Cinematografica

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Minnesota Clay (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gunfighter loses his sight.

Minnesota Clay (Cameron Mitchell) is a revered gunfighter stuck in a work camp prison for a crime he didn’t commit. One day he manages to escape and tracks down Fox (Georges Riviere) the man who withheld evidence that would have gotten him off. Fox is now the self-imposed sheriff and extorting money from the citizens of a town in order to keep them ‘safe’.  One of the townspeople is Minnesota’s grown daughter Nancy (Diana Martin) although she is not aware of this and local rancher Jonathan (Antonio Casas) is the only other person that does. As Minnesota tries to figure out a way to exact his revenge while also saving his daughter and townspeople from the reign of terror he realizes that he is losing his sight and doesn’t have much time before he goes completely blind.

For a basic spaghetti western this isn’t too bad. It certainly is no Sergio Leone masterpiece, but it fortunately isn’t the cheap looking, boring mess that some of the ones on the very bottom end of the genre are. The pace is quick with enough gunfights to appease any western fan. Director Sergio Corbucci manages to camouflage the low budget with a background and sets that look reasonable authentic. The plot is nothing special, but has enough twists and turns to keep it mildly interesting although having the Estella character (Ethel Rojo) one minute set-up Minnesota to be killed and then the next minute express her undying love for him gets a bit too dizzying.

One of the chief assets is amazingly Mitchell himself. His acting career started strong in the 1950’s including his critically acclaimed role as Happy Loman in the original Broadway version and eventual 1951 film Death of a Salesman, but a rumored drinking problem lead to a decline in the quality of roles. By the 1980’s he was lodged into doing a procession of grade Z productions simply for the money including shockingly co-starring in a non-sexual role in a porn film Dixie Ray Hollywood Star. Yet here he still shows to be the solid actor that he could be. He carries the picture well and having him a bit older than the conventional gunslinger makes it interesting.

The final shootout done when Minnesota has lost his sight and must rely completely on his heightened sense of hearing is well done and the best moment in the film. It lasts for almost fifteen minutes and has a certain surreal quality due to it happening in the middle of the night and neither man able to see the other. It might have been more interesting though had the character lost his sight at the very beginning, which would have made the entire story more distinctive as the majority of it is pretty ordinary and forgettable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Studio: Harlequin International Pictures

Available: DVD (Mill Creek)

The Passenger (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He steals someone’s identity.

This is a low key drama detailing a world-weary reporter named David (Jack Nicholson) who comes upon a dead man in a hotel room. David is unhappy with his existence and since they closely resemble one another he decides to switch identities with the dead man. He believes that this man lives a jet setting lifestyle, but soon finds that may not be true and that everyone is trying to escape from something.

This film has the artsy flair that is typical of all Michelangelo Antonioni’s films. It tends to be quite evasive as it brings up certain points and then seems to muddle them. It’s made to make you ponder, but has a decidedly downbeat tone. There is no music until the very end, which was a mistake as it gets too quiet at points and one’s mind will eventually wander especially with the lack of strong dramatic interaction. Having some music blended in would certainly have helped the momentum and avoided the rather flat feeling you get when it is all over.

The film is not without its good points and can best be described as a kind of Easy Rider, but more from a world perspective. Like with that film it describes characters trying to escape from a world that will not let them go. I loved the wide variety of exotic locales, which in any other film would symbolize excitement and adventure yet here they become part of the imprisonment. The film though does not take full advantage of its outlets and the sense of detachment that it has eventually rubs off on the viewer.

Nicholson gives a surprisingly non-dynamic performance. Maybe he was just trying to get into his transparent character, but either way it is not riveting. Maria Schneider is interesting only because she has the face of a young girl but the sensibilities of a much older woman.

There are some interesting shots. One features the camera looking out of a barred window from inside a room. Then without taking a single cut the camera moves through the bars, makes a complete turn, and then looks back through the window from the outside. There is also footage of an actual execution of a political prisoner. This certainly will interest the morbid, but it also seems to be a bit sick and disrespectful especially when the camera stays locked onto limp, bullet-riddled body.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 9, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD

12 + 1 (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Money in the chair.

Mario (Vittorio Gassman) is a struggling barber who gets word that his rich aunt has left him a large inheritance. When he gets to her estate he finds the place nearly empty except for some old chairs piled up into a corner. Angered he decides to sell the chairs to a local antique dealer so he can at least make some money off of them. After he sells them he finds a note from his deceased aunt stating that there was a large amount of money sewn up inside one of them. In a panic he goes running back to the shop, but finds that they have already been sold off to various customers, so he along with Pat (Sharon Tate) who worked at the shop and wants to help him as long as she gets a part of the take go on a mad dash to seek out the chairs and retrieve them one-by-one until they can find the money.

The film is based on the classic 1928 Russian novel that has been made into several film versions including one by Mel Brooks that came out a couple of years after this one. I’ve never read the novel, but this film clearly does not do it any justice. The humor is lame and cartoonish and barely able to equal a weak Tom and Jerry cartoon or uninspired Disney flick. The budget is low and the scenes all have a perpetually cheesy, schlocky feel. The Herb Alpert-like music sounds like it was edited in off of an audio cassette recording. The whole thing is quite derivative and dull despite the wide variety of characters and locales.

The film’s biggest claim to fame is being Tate’s only starring vehicle and this didn’t get released until well after her death. She is very beautiful and surprisingly engaging and comical and her presence is the best thing about the movie. She even does a nude scene along with the equally tantalizing Ottavia Piccolo when they both go topless and then get into bed on either side of Gassman, which is the film’s one and only provocative moment.

The supporting cast is full of some old pros that get badly wasted. Terry-Thomas is one of the funniest character actors of all-time, but here he is shockingly boring and forgettable. Orson Welles hams it up in make-up as a pretentious stage actor whose play he is performing in becomes a catastrophe in the film’s only slightly amusing moment.

The color is faded and shot with no imagination or flair. Although there is some nudity the filmmaker’s would have been better served had they cut it out and aimed it solely for the kids as the humor is so broad and silly that only a three-year-old could possibly find it entertaining and even that is no guarantee.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicholas Gessmer

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

The Night Porter (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A strange sadomasochistic relationship.

As the title suggests this film deals with the darkness of the human mind, relationships, sex and society as a whole and has a Freaudian theme of exploring the weird sexual obsessions of those who on the outside may seem perfectly functional and ‘normal’.

The story focuses on a concentration camp survivor Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) who twelve years later, by chance, meets her former captor Maximilian (Dirk Bogarde). She is now married while he is working as a night porter at the hotel she is staying at. The twist here is that she decides to go back to him and continue the bizarre sex rituals they once had.

The film’s most interesting aspect is focusing on the long term psychological ramifications of those surviving traumatic experiences. It looks both at the victims and the captors who now must learn to ‘rationalize’ their guilty conscious and it questions whether anyone can truly function normally after surviving such severe circumstances or whether society has any ability to make someone ‘adjust’.

This is definitely complex material and director Liliana Cavani has a good grasp on it. The shot compositions are full of stark shadows with a definite emphasis on the surreal, which comes to play the most during the sadomasochistic fantasy segments.

The problem with the film lies in the fact that it doesn’t have the intended strong impact. There’s no momentum or discernible tension. The characters are complex, but not that interesting and we really don’t care particularly what happens to them.

The films strongest point is actually in its final sequence, which brings the whole thing together. Like in any great movie there’s the one shot that says it all and here it’s the final one where visually, without saying anything, it shows just how isolated these outsiders truly are. It also exposes how their personal demons have imprisoned them and how dysfunctional society is at handling them.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: Liliana Cavani

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video