May 21, 2018

It's a SWAMP THING...You Wouldn't Understand
Starring Louis Jordon, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Dick Durock, ace Mask, Monique Gabrielle, Joey Seal, Daniel Taylor, RonReaco Lee. Directed by Jim Wynorski. (1989/88 min). 


Review by Josey JumpscarešŸ™€

The appeal of The Return of Swamp Thing will be lost on anyone who wasn't kicking around in the 80s, even those who've developed an appreciation for finely aged movie cheese. Sorry, kids...for this one, you just had to be there.

But if you've read this far, chances are you once had big hair, a Member's Only jacket and a membership card to a local video store. You ventured there every weekend and came out with a stack of more VHS movies than you could possibly watch in a night, all stored in plastic snap cases with 'be kind rewind' stickers on them (though some douchebags didn't always comply).

And chances are you came across The Return of Swamp Thing in the horror section, perhaps chuckling as you recalled the original Wes Craven-directed Swamp Thing  hardly qualified as a 'horror' film. Still, it was campy fun, boasted considerably by Adrienne Barbeau's visual assets. So you took this sequel home in hopes of another goofy good time.

"That ain't a cucumber, lady...I'm just happy to see you."
And chances are you immediately noticed this one's considerably-reduced budget and even bigger emphasis on goofy heroics, bad puns and cartoon humor. It was seldom laugh-out-loud funny (intentionally, anyway). In fact, the cleverest moment was a throw-away gag where Louis Jordon called his parrot as 'Gigi.'

And chances are you noticed that only Ace Mask (what a name!) and poster princess Heather Locklear seemed to be aware of the story's inherent camp value, playing their respective roles to the hilt. You played along, as well, howling during the gloriously-goofy, soft-focus "love" scene between Abby (Locklear) and Swamp Thing (Dick Durock).

And chances are you found the whole thing affably charming, anyway. Director Jim Wynorsky (he of Chopping Mall fame) favored a brisk pace, comic book sensibilities and congenial tone over complex storytelling or convincing performances. Swamp Thing himself looked like a guy in a rubber suit, but really, would you have wanted him any other way?

And if you're still reading, chances are this is the Blu-Ray you've been waiting for. Revisiting the film is like cracking open a time capsule. From Locklear's costumes to the ultra-80s synth score, The Return of Swamp Thing harkens back to the good ol' days of VCRs, wine coolers and the Whitesnake cassette that was permanently lodged in the tape deck of your car. This is low-budget, 80's-era filmmaking at its most amusing and a fitting addition to the MVD Rewind Collection. The disc is also loaded with new interviews and various other bells & whistles with considerable nostalgic appeal.

And if you weren't around back then, just ask your mom or dad. Chances are they'll understand. 

INTERVIEWS - All new individual interviews with composer Chuck Cirino, editor Leslie Rosenthal, executive producer Arnie Holland and director Jim Wynorski (Wynorsky himself interviews the other three).
AUDIO COMMENTARIES - A new one by Wynorksi, Cirino & Rosenthal, another from 2003 by Wynorski alone.
2 PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS - In conjunction with Greenpeace (they are hilarious...and real). 
TRAILERS - Other releases in the MVD Rewind series, including Return of Swamp Thing


FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE and PARAMOUNT PICTURES are giving away a 4K ULTRA/Blu-Ray copy of Alex Garland's latest sci-fi mindbender, ANNIHILATION.

Hailed as “a masterpiece” (Chris Evangelista, Slash Film) and “a mind-blowing experience” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone), director Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina) ANNIHILATION debuts on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD May 29, 2018 from Paramount Home Media Distribution. The film arrives on Digital May 22, 4K, Blu-Ray & DVD May 29.

Biologist and former soldier Lena (Academy Award® winner Natalie Portman) is shocked when her missing husband (Oscar Isaac) comes home near death from a top-secret mission into The Shimmer, a mysterious quarantine zone no one has ever returned from. Now, Lena and her elite team must enter a beautiful, deadly world of mutated landscapes and creatures, to discover how to stop the growing phenomenon that threatens all life on Earth. The film also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny.

TO ENTER: Simply send us an email HERE with your name and a friendly message! Winner will be chosen at random. DEADLINE TO ENTER: JUNE 1.

Rest in Peace, Bill Gold

May 20, 2018

Who Put the "Red" in RED SPARROW?
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, Thekla Reuten. Directed by Francis Lawrence. (2018/140 min).


Review by Tiger LongtailšŸ˜¼

"Sparrows" of the title are young Russian men & women who are trained to use seduction and sex to snare potential enemies. One could cheekily assume "Red" also refers to the film's copious amounts of torture, violence and bloodshed. Trailers made Red Sparrow look like another Atomic Blond or John Wick, but it isn't as much gonzo fun as either of those, and not-so-much an action movie as it is an alternately intriguing and convoluted spy thriller, 

Jennifer Lawrence is Dominika, a ballerina who suffers a horrific leg injury during a performance. No longer able to dance, she has no way to make a living or care for her ailing mother. Her uncle, intelligence agent Ivan Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), takes advantage of her desperation by giving her the opportunity to join the Sparrow program and become a spy. Though repulsed by what she learns at "whore school" (her words), Dominika proves to be a natural and is promptly assigned to get close to American spy Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) in order to discover the identity of a Russian mole he's been working with.

"Yeah...I'm in a band."
Complications ensue, of course, thanks in-no-part to Ivan's cold-blooded indifference to the constant peril in which he places his own niece. Not only does he consider her completely expendable, he also turns out to be one of those "pervy" uncles. This leads to a subplot in which Domikia decides to help Nate catch an American senator in the act of selling secrets to the same people she's working for.

A lot of this is pretty interesting, though patience is often required. Lawrence certainly gives her all (in more ways than one) for what one could consider a fairly bold performance. However, Dominika isn't a terribly compelling character, going from zero to deadly seductress without allowing the viewer to get as invested in her initial predicament as we'd like. While it's a given in a film like this that she'd eventually bump uglies with Nash, their relationship is never as compelling as the increasingly unnerving one between Dominika and her uncle.

Dominika must have been absent the day they were taught how to keep a low profile.
Red Sparrow doesn't have a lot of action per se, though there's an abundance of sex and violence in equal measures. The early sparrow training scenes are lurid and border on exploitative, with Charlotte Rampling camping it up as a domineering headmistress. Dominika is raped, beaten and tortured early and often, but also dishes-out her own fair share of pleasure and pain. Storywise, the film is sometimes confusing and unnecessarily complicated. But just when our interest threatens to wane, we're snapped back to attention with a major plot revelation or suspenseful set-piece. And even though the movie is probably a half-hour too long, it does serve-up one hell of a satisfying twist ending.

Though not undone by relatively flat characters, Red Sparrow could have benefited from developing them a bit more to justify its length (not to mention Lawrence's uninhibited efforts). The story is occasionally all-over-the-place, but there are just enough captivating moments, exciting turns and hard-R nastiness to make the film worth checking out.

FEATURETTES - "A New Cold War: Origination & Adaptation"; "Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast"; "Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity"; "Heart of the Tempest: On Location"; "Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballet & Stunts"; "A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production." All-in-all, it's a pretty comprehensive batch of docs covering most aspects of the production.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Director Francis Lawrence.
DELETED SCENES (with optional commentary)

May 18, 2018

ANNIHILATION and the Great Sci-Fi Game
Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi. Directed by Alex Garland. (2018/115 min). 


Review by Stinky the DestroyeršŸ˜¾

When it comes to the sci-fi game, Alex Garland knows how to play his cards, perhaps better than anyone else at the table right now. His screenplays for Sunshine, 28 Days Later and Dredd were winning hands even before his directorial debut, Ex Machina. That winning streak continues with Annihilation, an equally-trippy little mind-bender. 

A meteor impacts the southern coast and unleashes a bizarre, anomalous phenomenon known as "The Shimmer," which is slowly expanding and threatens humankind unless it can be stopped. The government has repeatedly sent troops and scientists inside, but no one ever returns, including Kane (Oscar Isaac), the husband of Lena (Natalie Portman), a former soldier, now a cellular biologist. Kane is presumed dead, yet Lena is unable to move forward with her life...

...that is, until he shows up one night, offering no explanation to where he's been for the past year. Kane's also extremely sick, and he & Lena are whisked away to a government facility located just outside The Shimmer. An all-female team, led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is scheduled to go in next. Wanting to know what happened to Kane - perhaps hoping to save him - Lena volunteers to join them.

The Revenge of Jar-Jar Binks
Indeed, there is something alien inside The Shimmer, an intangible force that's responsible for, not only the deaths of previous soldiers, but physically changing the surrounding environment. It isn't quite clear whether or not it's a conscious entity, though it does have the power to manipulate time and scramble the DNA of the living things it surrounds, resulting in some bizarre - and dangerous - hybrid lifeforms (both plant and animal). As the mission continues, the team themselves start falling prey to numerous attacks, physiological changes and paranoia.

The story is told mostly in flashbacks and we learn quite a bit about Lena's motivation for putting her life at risk, as well as the nature of her relationship with Kane. The remaining team is more broadly-drawn, though it's established that they all volunteered because, in their eyes, they have little left to lose. The viewer also gets the impression that - for some characters - this is a suicide mission.

"I ain't cleaning this."
Like Ex Machina, Annihilation is driven more by its characters and concept than spectacle, while still providing stunning visuals we've never seen before. The Shimmer is an interesting creation...translucent, deceptively bright and colorful, belying its adverse effect on the environment. Even when we don't actually see it, we feel the menace of its presence all around these characters. Garland has also put together a smart story (based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer), knowing which narrative cards to play, when to play them, and which ones to keep close to the vest. The most compelling sci-fi films never lay all their cards on the table and Annihilation follows suit, leading to a climax and denouement that leaves the viewer justifiably uneasy.

I do have to call Garland's bluff with one nagging question, though. If The Shimmer, which is continually expanding, is already so massive that the entire surrounding area has been evacuated, how could the government keep it a secret from the general public? That's a minor quip, though, and having an answer wouldn't make the film any more compelling than it already is. Garland still has a winning hand here. Deliberately-paced but never boring, Annihilation shuffles a fascinating premise into a smart story with plenty of surprises. It's the kind of intelligent, discussion-worthy science-fiction that's worth visiting more than once.

FEATURETTES: Three two-part making-of documentaries, totaling about an hour.

May 16, 2018


BASIC - Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Niesen, Tim Daly, Giovanni Ribisi, Taye Diggs. Directed by John McTiernan.
LONELY HEARTS - Starring John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Jared Leto, Salma Hayek, Laura Dern, Scott Caan. Directed by Todd Robinson.
A LOVE SONG FOR BOBBY LONG - Starring John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson, Gabriel Macht, Deborah Kara Unger. Directed by Shainee Gabel.
PERFECT - Starring John Travolta, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jann Wenner, Marilu Henner, Laraine Mewman. Direct by James Bridges.
(1985-2006/440 min)


Review by Stinky the DestroyeršŸ™€

Few in Hollywood have tried to stick a fork in their own careers as often as John Travolta. While the guy has come back from the dead more than once, he's really only done two classics we'll still be talking about 50 years from now: Grease and Pulp Fiction (and maybe Face/Off if you twist my arm). In between there have been scores of good films, blockbuster films, forgettable films, paycheck films and more than his fair share of "what-the-hell-were-you-thinking" career killers.

This collection contains no classics, but Travolta's filmography being what it is, any otherwise-comprehensive sampler needs to include one of those career killers. We get a doozy here in the ironically-titled Perfect, a total trainwreck that purports to be an expose on the fitness club scene, but is mostly an excuse to parade sweaty, gyrating bodies. This is was 80s, where any trend was a potential high-concept blockbuster, capable of selling as many soundtrack albums as movie tickets. Flicks like this were Travolta's bread-&-butter at the time, but not even playing dueling torsos with Jamie Lee Curtis could mask the stench of desperation in every scene. The film oozes with every garish excess we typically associate with the decade, and remains as morbidly fascinating as it is unintentionally funny.

Looks like Little John sees something 'perfect', too.
Basic is the one good film in the collection, also noteworthy for being the last movie John McTiernan directed before torpedoing his own career. Say what you will about his subsequent life choices, the man did give us Die Hard, Predator and The Hunt for Red October (so...a moment of silence, please). Basic isn't in the same league as those classics, though it is a fairly solid Rashoman-style mystery thriller. Travolta is amusing as a cynical ex-Ranger brought in to investigate the alleged murder of his former CO (Samuel L. Jackson) by one or more of his team during a training exercise. After a clunky start, the movie keeps the viewer guessing and remains just intriguing enough that we overlook some of its implausibilities. But sorry, Pulp Fiction fans...Travolta and Jackson reunite for only one scene.

'Basic' foreplay.
If the remaining two films don't ring a bell, it might be for good reason. A Love Song for Bobby Long is character study probably intended as an actor's showcase, which would be fine if the characters were interesting. But despite decent performances (including a young Scarlett Johansson), the film doesn't resonate much. Lonely Hearts is a fictionalized retelling of the hunt for the "lonely hearts killers," a couple responsible for murdering several women in the 1940s. The film alters between their exploits and two detectives who take the case (Travolta and the late James Gandolfini). Though well made, interest peaks and wanes at regular intervals, and the same story was told much more effectively in The Honeymoon Killers.

Neither of these last two films scrape the bottom of the barrel where the likes of Battlefield Earth dwell, but in a way, that's almost worse. They're both ultimately forgettable, like most of Travolta's recent output. The high-camp hijinks in Perfect are far more memorable, as are the twists and turns in Basic. It's only too bad one of his classics or blockbusters weren't included in this collection. Then it  would be an accurate microcosm of his entire career.


May 15, 2018

KING OF HEARTS: A Cult Classic Comes Home

Director Philippe de Broca's film, which brought a modern 1960s sensibility to a story set during World War I, laid the groundwork for such dark war comedies as How I Won the War and M*A*S*H. Scottish soldier Private Plumpick (Oscar nominee Alan Bates, The Fixer, Women in Love, Far From the Madding Crowd) is sent on a mission to a village in the French countryside to disarm a bomb set by the retreating German army. Plumpick encounters a strange town occupied by the former residents of the local psychiatric hospital who escaped after the villagers deserted. Assuming roles like Bishop, Duke, Barber and Circus Ringmaster, they warmly accept the visitor as their "King of Hearts." With his reconnaissance and bomb-defusing mission looming, Plumpick starts to prefer the acceptance of the insane locals over the insanity of the war raging outside.
Since its 1966-67 release, KING OF HEARTS has become a worldwide cult favorite and stands out as one of the most memorable films by Philippe de Broca (That Man From Rio, Dear Inspector). The superb cast also includes Oscar nominee GeneviĆØve Bujold, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Serrault, Adolfo Celli and Pierre Brasseur. The score is by Oscar winner Georges Delerue (Contempt, Jules and Jim).

May 14, 2018

ORCA is Melville for Morons

Starring Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenen Wynn, Robert Carradine, Yaka & Nepo (as "Orca"). Directed by Michael Anderson. (1977/92 min).

Essay by D.M. Anderson

Maybe one of the reasons Jaws continues to be hailed as one of the greatest movies of all time is because of the countless imitators that followed. Some were good, most weren't and a few of them achieved a level of dubious immortality by virtue of their sheer ineptitude. Even four decades later, just about every nature-run-amok movie ever made mostly serves to remind us how perfect Jaws really was.

Orca is one of many angry animal flicks that immediately followed in Jaws' wake, even managing to snag a fairly respected director. Michael Anderson was responsible for such minor classics as The Dam Busters, Around the World in 80 Days and, more recently, Logan's Run, his first box office hit in a long time (it would also be his last). In other words, he was Martin fucking Scorsese compared to the level of talent that usually called the shots for these plagiaristic pictures.

The film is also noteworthy for being the film debut of Bo Derek. Though her appearance was heavily hyped in later home video releases, Orca was made before 10 displayed her "raw" talent, to be later exploited by voyeuristic husband John Derek, who spent the rest of his career ogling her with a Panaflex. Here, the closest thing we come to seeing Bo's flesh is when her leg gets bitten off.

Bo not seen in Orca.
There's a also some novelty in the fact that we root for the whale right from the get-go. Cheering for movie monsters to crunch on the cast is nothing new. That's why we pays our two bits. But Orca establishes the titular creature as an aquatic Charles Bronson, out to avenge the death of its family at the hands of the biggest asshole to sail the high seas since Captain Ahab.

Unfortunately, Orca makes two fatal mistakes. First, it tries too hard to be a message movie when it should be big, dumb popcorn entertainment. The result is alternately depressing and unintentionally funny. Second, and more damning, some behind-the-scenes idiot apparently decided we should later empathize with the bad guy (though that doesn't ever happen). 

Richard Harris plays Nolan, an Irish sea captain who sees profit to be made in capturing a live killer whale and selling it to an aquarium, to the consternation of Rachel (Charlotte Rampling), a marine biologist who's passionate about respecting the intelligence of the species. Nolan inadvertently harpoons a pregnant female, killing both her and her unborn calf. This scene is really fucking disturbing, especially today, when most of us now view killer whales as the Pandas of the sea. It's so unnervingly graphic, drawn-out and difficult to watch that it renders later attempts to make Nolan sympathetic a waste of time.

"Right behind me, huh? I ain't falling for that again."
Nolan's actions unleash the wrath of the whale's mate, who starts picking off his crew one-by-one. Nolan docks in a fishing village for repairs, but the whale follows him, sinking all the other boats as a challenge for Nolan to return to sea and settle their feud once and for all. The local villagers want Nolan to leave, as well - with the whale present, they are unable to fish - but he stubbornly refuses. Like I said...this guy really is an asshole.

The whale persists, wreaking havoc on the village itself. Eventually, Nolan feels he has no choice but to confront the vengeful mammal, partially due to the carnage the whale has inflicted, but mainly because he suddenly feels like a kindred spirit. Nolan reveals he also lost his family due to someone else's carelessness when his pregnant wife was killed by a drunk driver. This supposed revelation is suddenly supposed to have us give a shit about Nolan?

Uh...sorry, but I can't go there. The calf-killing alone makes the man  irredeemable. Hell, even Francis Ford Coppola had to create an entire third Godfather movie before we could forgive Michael Corleone for killing Fredo. Michael Anderson is no Coppola, and forcing us to draw unfavorable thematic comparisons to Moby-Dick doesn't help his case.

"Damn...missed again. Looks like fish sticks again tonight, honey."
The movie is technically competent (though the exact same footage of the whale leaping from the water is used repeatedly), with adequate direction and special effects. Some of the early attack scenes, while far-fetched, hold the promise of more Jaws-like suspense. But Orca eventually flounders because it bites off more than it can chew (no pun intended). We spend a lot of time listening to Harris and Rampling discuss the nature of intelligence, as well as the need for retribution and/or vengeance, when all we really want to do is watch this whale kill people (even if one of them is Bo Derek). 

Where the movie takes another wrong turn is its logic, asking us to accept the superior intelligence of the whale, which is fine until he attacks the village for the first time. In one scene, not only is the whale aware he's breaking open a gas line, he also knows which nearby shack contains a lantern that would ignite the spilled fuel. The performances in Orca ain't gonna make anyone forget Scheider, Dreyfuss & Shaw anytime soon; Harris comes off best, but even his performance wavers uncomfortably between low-key & introspective to overwrought & hysterical. 

I don't know if I'd necessarily call Orca a bad movie, though it certainly features some moments that approach high camp. It also takes itself way too seriously for a movie about a marauding mammal. But while it's obviously clear why Jaws is a classic and this one decidedly isn't, there are plenty of similar films of the era that are far worse. 

I still ain't forgiving Nolan, though. No way. 

Rest in Peace, Margot Kidder