July 10, 2020

ENTER THE FAT DRAGON and the Running Gag

Starring Donnie Yen, Teresa Mo, Wong Jing, Niki Chow, Joey Tee. Directed by Kenji Tanigaki & Wong Jing. (2020/97 min)

Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

The sole running gag is Donnie Yen in a fat suit.

He plays Hong Kong cop Fallon Zen, who's demoted to the evidence room and dumped by bitchy fiancée Chloe (Niki Chow) on the same day. The subsequent montage has him working a desk while continuously snacking until he's considerably overweight. Then his supervisor offers redemption by ordering him to escort a witness – who has evidence of a drug smuggling operation - to the authorities in Japan. When the witness is killed by Yakuza boss Shimakura (Joey Tee), Fallon teams up with slovenly ex-cop Thor (Wong Jing, who co-directed) to find the evidence, a job made more difficult by corrupt Japanese cops. Worse yet, Fallon's ex is Shimakura's new girlfriend.

Like Sammo Hung's original 1978 film, Enter the Fat Dragon is mostly played for laughs, though the story is quite different. Much of the humor is broad and silly, which is sometimes funny, but just-as-often falls flat. And considering the title, Fallon's weight gain is actually inconsequential. Not that anyone wants a preponderance of fat jokes (especially in this day & age), but at no time does his weight impact the story, action or outcome. Yen kicks, punches, jumps and runs just as deftly here as any straight action film he's ever made...and doesn't even appear sweaty or winded afterwards. Hell, some of us with similar physiques get that way hauling groceries in from the car.

A finger needs pulling.
Two things save the film. First, the fight sequences are really impressive, especially a street brawl pitting Fallon against a dozen thugs and the climactic knives-&-nunchucks battle atop a city tower. Second, of course, is Donnie Yen himself. In addition to still-impressive physical abilities, he has a knack for making his characters personable and endearing. Though nearly unrecognizable by make-up, he's once again a charming protagonist. Wish I could say the same about the Chloe character, one of the most obnoxious love interests I've seen in a long time.

Ultimately, Enter the Fat Dragon coasts on the novelty of its funny title and an action star willing to sit in the make-up chair a few more hours each day. Remove both and you still have the same plot, same characters and same jokes, funny or otherwise. The action and its star make the film watchable, though Donnie Yen is flirting with becoming Hong Kong's own Nic Cage.


July 8, 2020


Starring Edward Judd, Janet Munro, Leo McKern. Directed by Val Guest. (1961/99 min)

Review by Mr. Paws🙀

What's ultimately terrifying about The Day the Earth Caught Fire is that its depiction of an impending apocalypse is probably the most plausible. Worse yet, it's arguably the most timely. In fact, it's entirely possible we're in the midst of such a scenario right now.

Cheery thought, isn't it?

Not that multiple atomic explosions will send Earth spinning toward the sun anytime soon. Like most doomsday films back then, The Day the Earth Caught Fire was simply exploiting society's fears of all-things-nuclear. If people were just as globally terrified of Elvis' corrupting influence on our youth, we might see Earth knocked off its axis from millions of synchronized pelvic thrusts. The real horror of the film lies in how humankind responds...or doesn't respond.

As the film begins, there are already ominous signs that all is not right with the world...floods, torrential downpours, heatwaves, interference of radio communication. These newsworthy events are all investigated and reported by London's Daily Express, as are recent nuclear tests by the United States and Russia. I don't know if it's because everyone is unflappably English, but not-only does everyone try to go about their daily business, most simply seem inconvenienced by the sudden climate changes. In fact, alcoholic reporter Peter Stenning (Edward Judd) resents being ordered by his editor to research sunspots (initially thought to be the cause of the phenomena), preferring to try and get Meteorological Office operator Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro) between the sheets.

Stenning suddenly realizes the "i before e except after c" rule simply isn't true.
It's only after crippling fog, fires, droughts and cyclones wreak havoc on several major cities that Stenning and his colleagues begin to suspect everything is connected to the nuclear tests. Jeannie's news from the Meteorological Office confirms that the tests not-only shifted the tilt of the Earth, it is now heading toward the sun. Only then does the government finally inform the world they're all screwed (though it's suggested they've known for some time). This realization happens very late in the movie, after it's essentially too late to do anything but put their hopes on a last-ditch plan to right Earth's orbit with more nuclear explosions. However, it's obvious nobody really thinks it'll work, and in the film's most chilling scene - aside from the final shot - most of London's young people collectively throw in the towel and party like it's 1999, cheerfully wasting precious water everyone's been ordered to ration.

Granted, it's doubtful that any human intervention could prevent such a catastrophe and The Day the Earth Caught Fire doesn't let the viewer off the hook with reassurance things will be hunky-dory tomorrow. Furthermore, its overall contempt for human arrogance – that Earth is ours to abuse as we wish without repercussion – is abundantly clear. We are ultimately responsible for our own doom, whether we choose to see the signs or not.

The Day Stenning's Pants Caught Fire.
But what makes the movie disturbing even today is you could easily swap-out its sci-fi aspects for something more immediate - like climate change or a global pandemic - leave the rest of the story intact, and still have a scathing commentary on people's inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the trigger effect of human carelessness, despite such ominous signs as melting ice caps or spikes in COVID-19 cases in states where thousands of jackasses flocked to the beach and partied on Memorial Day (mostly young people, just like those in the movie).

But despite its pessimistic view of human nature and open-ended conclusion, The Day the Earth Caught Fire is an entertaining film. It's even quite funny, at times, especially the antagonistic banter in the newsroom, as well as Stenning and Jeannie's playful verbal sparring. While the budget-conscious use of stock footage is painfully obvious, meticulously-crafted matte paintings effectively convey the aftermath of widespread disaster. It's enjoyable freezing the picture now and then just to take-in the details, which look wonderful on this nicely remastered, long-overdue Blu-ray release. The Day the Earth Caught Fire remains a smart, gripping and dark disaster thriller that transcends its decade with timely relevance.

AUDIO COMMENTARIES – 1) By writer/director Val Guest; 2) By historian Richard Harland Smith

July 7, 2020

The Timeliness of BODY CAM

Starring Mary J. Blige, Nat Wolff, David Zayas, David Warshofsky, Demetrius Grosse, Anika Noni Rose. Directed by Malik Vitthal. (2020/96 min)

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

The timing is ultimately scarier than the movie, but don't let that dissuade you.

With the country once-again knocked on its heels by recent incidents of police using fatally-excessive force on African-Americans, the central concept of Body Cam couldn't be more relevant. But while it does address current social injustices, it's first-and-foremost a horror film and a pretty good one at that.

Mary J. Blige is Renee, an L.A. cop who's recently returned to active duty following her son's death. Soon after, fellow officers are systematically slaughtered by a dark figure that only appears on video cameras and only she can apparently see. When she takes it onto herself to investigate further, to the chagrin of her rookie partner, Danny (Nat Wolff), Renee finds a connection between the dead cops, the apparition and a missing woman whose own son recently died (presumably the victim of gang violence).

Okay...maybe a little more drama.
Police body cameras eventually figure into the plot in a revelation that establishes the apparition's motives, though the viewer will probably have them figured out by then. In the meantime, Body Cam does a pretty solid job building dread with gruesome murder sequences, some well-timed jump-scares and a foreboding,  atmospheric depiction of Los Angeles at night. But what truly holds the story together is Blige, hitting all the right notes as both a grieving mother and dedicated cop. Her subtle, affecting performance is what keeps us engaged after the film descends into a somewhat predictable revenge fantasy.

And ultimately, I think 'revenge fantasy' is an accurate description. With no guarantee that any of the assholes recently caught-on-camera will face any meaningful consequences, the timing is perfect for a bit of ghostly retribution. As such, Body Cam dishes-out some vicarious justice and a few jolts along the way.


July 6, 2020

THE POOP SCOOP: Special Editions Edition

Rob Zombie Trilogy Steelbook Blu-ray arrives 9/8
The terrifying trilogy of the Firefly family’s blood-soaked saga comes home when the Rob Zombie Trilogy arrives September 8 on Steelbook™ Blu-ray from Lionsgate, exclusively at Target. From cult favorite filmmaker Rob Zombie, the Rob Zombie Trilogy includes the grizzled, horrifying films House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and 3 From Hell. Featuring all new artwork from artist Vance Kelly, the Rob Zombie Trilogy will be available on Steelbook Blu-ray at Target.


New 4K Restoration of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1916) on Blu-ray & DVD 7/28
Kino Classics proudly announces the Blu-ray and DVD release of the landmark 1916 silent version of Jules Verne's classic novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in a stunning new 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures, with restoration from the 35mm nitrate print provided by UCLA Film & Television Archive and restoration services provided by NBCUniversal StudioPost. Directed by Stuart Paton and produced by Universal Pictures, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a groundbreaking production for its time, gaining much acclaim for its pioneering use of the underwater photography process developed by Ernest and George Williamson, making it one of the big-budget special effects epics of its day and a screen classic that has endured over the last century since it was first released.

The Cult Classic, DIVA, on Blu-ray 8/11
Director Jean-Jacques Beineix (Betty Blue) launched the Cinéma du look movement with this stylish cult thriller that remains as innovative today as when it premiered in 1981. Jules (Frédéric Andréi), a young postal carrier, illegally tapes a concert of a reclusive opera singer (American soprano Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez). Jules’ attempts to woo the diva are interrupted when Taiwanese bootleggers come after the recording. His problems worsen when a prostitute slips another tape, one that incriminates a police chief, into his bag. Now, Jules must escape the police chief, the cop’s henchmen and the bootleggers to keep both precious tapes safe—and to stay alive. Featuring a celebrated chase through the Paris Metro and an early appearance by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie) favorite Dominique Pinon, Diva earned César Awards for Beineix, Vladimir Cosma’s (Le Bal) sumptuous music and Philippe Rousselot’s (Henry & June) eye-popping cinematography.

MALLRATS Limited Edition on Blu-ray 9/29
Simultaneously dumped by their girlfriends, comic book obsessive Brodie (Jason Lee) and best friend TS (Jeremy London) plan to ease the pain of their losses by taking take a trip to the local mall. Amongst shoppers, they discover the mall is being used as the venue for a dating show, in which TS's girlfriend Brandi is the star. Hatching a plan to win back their significant others, Brodie and TS enlist the help of professional delinquents Jay and Silent Bob to hijack the gameshow in a bid to win back Brandi. Meanwhile, Brodie carries out his own mission to make good his relationship with Rene (Shannen Doherty), who has attracted the attentions of his nemesis Shannon (Ben Affleck). Featuring a cast including Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, who would go on to be recurring collaborators in Smith's movies, Mallrats celebrates its 25th Anniversary in this limited edition set boasting a brand new restoration and hours of bonus content.
TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE Collector's Edition on Blu-ray 8/25
Brace yourself for some KILLER stories. From the clever and creepy minds of Stephen King (Pet Sematary), Michael McDowell (Beetlejuice), George A. Romero (Dawn Of The Dead) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes), comes an all-star anthology of horror. To keep from being eaten by a modern-day witch (Deborah Harry, Videodrome), a young paperboy weaves three twisted stories to distract her. In "Lot 249," a vengeful college student (Steve Buscemi, Fargo) resuscitates an evil mummy to teach unsuspecting student bodies (Julianne Moore, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Christian Slater, Mr. Robot) a lesson in terror. Then, "Cat From Hell" is a furry black feline who cannot be killed ... he may have nine lives, but those who cross his path are not so lucky. Finally, in "Lover's Vow," a stone gargoyle comes to life ... to commit murder. In this classic cult favorite, fear comes in threes. 

The show is hosted by Academy Award winner James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic) and features interviews with the who’s who of science fiction movies and television, including Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), George Lucas (Star Wars Franchise), Ridley Scott (The Martian, Blade Runner), Christopher Nolan (Tenet, Interstellar), Will Smith (Men in Black, I Am Legend), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator, Terminator), and Bruce Willis (Die Hard, The Sixth Sense). RLJE Films' JAMES CAMERON’S STORY OF SCIENCE FICTION is a uniquely intimate look at science fiction's roots, futuristic vision and our fascination with its ideas through interviews by James Cameron with A-list storytellers, stars and other whose careers have defined the field, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith and Sigourney Weaver, among many others. Cameron takes us on a journey of discovery and exploration, helping us understand where science fiction's ideas came from - and where they're taking us.

Rest In Peace, Ennio Morricone

Rest In Peace, Earl Cameron

July 5, 2020

BELZEBUTH: Suffer the Little Children

Starring Joaquin Cosío, Tobin Bell, Tate Ellington, Giovanna Zacarias. Directed by Emilio Portes. (2017/114 min).

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😽

Be forewarned...nearly all of the victims in Belzebuth are children. And not a carload of dumb teenagers being punished for premarital sex. We're talking little kids. In fact, the opening scene features a demon-possessed woman who sneaks into a hospital nursery and slaughters all the newborns with a scalpel before slitting her own throat.

I only bring it up because some horror fans might have a problem with the film's copious kiddie carnage. Carve up all the hunky douchebags and nubile nymphs you like...just leave the toddlers alone...

...and dogs. Spare the dogs, please.

No children are actually shown dying, so I guess its a tribute to Emilio Portes' directorial skill that the opening scene still feels brutal as hell (probably more-so if one is a parent, like yours truly). For better or worse, though, it's an unforgettable sequence that promises a relentlessly grim ride for viewers who are up to the challenge. While Belzebuth doesn't completely fulfill that promise, the film holds together long enough to be worth checking out.

If you've seen The Final Conflict (aka Omen III), you might recall the segment where Damien commands his disciples to kill every child born on a specific day in order to prevent Jesus from returning. That's the basic premise of Belzebuth. Joaquin Cosio stars as Emmanuel Ritter, a cop in Mexico whose son was one of the newborns killed in the nursery. When more children are mass-murdered, the FBI sends paranormal agent Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington) to aid in the investigation (I doubt the FBI actually has such a division, but we'll play along).

Tobin Bell...ready for his sponge bath.
Spotted near every murder scene is Vasillo Canetti (Tobin Bell), a defrocked priest covered in inverted cross tattoos, who becomes their number one suspect. When it becomes apparent that one kid in particular is the target of these attacks, but has so-far been lucky enough to be somewhere else, it turns Canetti might actually be trying to save him.

Frequently disturbing without ever being all that scary, the first half of Belzebuth plays like a police procedural with supernatural overtones. Like the opening sequence, the death scenes involving children are handled tastefully, but with diminished impact. Still mourning his own son's murder, Ritter definitely earns our empathy, Cosio's performance exuding the right amounts of anguish and anger. Everyone's favorite modern scream king Tobin Bell is...well, Tobin Bell, providing most of the story exposition in his indubitably creepy fashion.

Ironically, the film becomes less horrific once it's revealed Ol' Scratch is behind everything, at which time Belzebuth employs a lot of the usual genre conventions. The final act – an escape through a tunnel snaking under the U.S.-Mexico border – has its moments, but treads familiar ground and includes some really clumsy CGI. Still, the film is well-made, moves at a brisk pace and offers a nasty shock or two for the stouthearted.


July 2, 2020

THE LAST SUPPER is a Poignant Prelude

THE LAST SUPPER (Blu-ray Review)
Starring Bruno Eyron, Sharon Brauner, Patrick Mőlleken, Mira Elisa Goeres, Michael Degen, Adrian Topol, Daphna Rosenthal. Directed by Florian Frerichs. (2018/83 min)

Review by Fluffy the Fearless🙀

What makes The Last Supper so poignant - from the very first scene - is the viewer's painful knowledge of what these characters are about to endure.

Aaron Glickstein (Bruno Eyron) is an upper middle-class businessman in Germany. Though he initially appears to be affluent and successful, a potential investor suddenly dies, leaving his finances in jeopardy. But he puts on a brave front as his entire family - including parents and visiting siblings – gathers at his home for a formal dinner that evening. Though we sense some underlying tension, the meal begins cordially, at least until Aaron learns his daughter, Leah (Mira Elisa Goeres), wants to move to Palestine with friends, something the rest of the family apparently knew. This opens up the floodgates for heated political debate, especially after son Michael (Patrick Mőlleken) declares his allegiance to the new German chancellor.

However, the year is 1933, the Glicksteins are Jewish and the new chancellor is Adolf Hitler. While he has no love for Hitler, Aaron doesn't take the Nazis that seriously, nor do some other family members who believe they'll be just another short-lived government. But Leah fears what's coming and she's not-so-much moving to Palestine as fleeing Germany. Conversely, Michael has bought into Hitler's rhetoric and anti-semitic propaganda, ready to forsake his Jewish heritage to join the Nazis, even if he's ostracized from the family.

Everybody loves Papa Glickstein's endless supply of dirty limericks.
Presented as three “courses,” The Last Supper is a quietly unnerving look at pre-WWII Germany as seen through a family who'll be among the most devastated by it. Some are certain Hitler's appointment to chancellor doesn't bode well, but none of them can possibly fathom the atrocities to come. Because of this, the Glicksteins' dinner conversation is often heartbreaking. Though he's headstrong and guilty of putting work before family, Aaron generates the most empathy, perhaps because his life is already unraveling...not just his business, but his relationship with his family. To a certain extent, we even fear for Michael, blindsided by his own resentment over the Treaty of Versaille's impact on Germany. Even if he does end up surviving, he'll live with the horrifying realization of being on the wrong side of history (which would make an interesting story itself).

The film comes to an emotionally resonant conclusion with a final scene that's as touching as it is distressing. The Glicksteins represent countless Jewish families torn devastated by the Holocaust. Watching them gather one last time – oblivious to the inevitable – instills a feeling of helplessness in the viewer that makes The Last Supper a quietly powerful film.


June 30, 2020


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

Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

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 Logan's Run. In other words, he was Martin fucking Scorsese compared to the level of talent that usually called the shots for such "sea-sploitation" 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. But sorry, boys...the closest thing we come to seeing Bo's flesh is when her leg gets bitten off.

There's 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.

"Right behind me, huh? I ain't falling for that again."
Richard Harris plays Nolan, an Irish sea captain who sees profit 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, since 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.
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. 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 (don't ask).  

"Damn...missed. Looks like fish sticks again tonight, honey."
The performances in Orca ain't gonna make anyone forget Scheider, Dreyfuss & Shaw anytime soon, though Harris comes off best with a performance that wavers between low-key & introspective to overwrought & hysterical. The movie is technically competent, 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 sometimes 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). 

Orca sometimes 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's enough chutzpah and goofy thrills to recommend it for fans of this kind of stuff. And if nothing else, there were a lot of far-worse sea-sploitation flicks from the same era (including a few of Jaws' sequels).

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Film Historian Lee Gambin
REVERSIBLE COVER - Including the original one-sheet poster art. 


DESOLATION CENTER: The Forgotten Festival

Featuring Stuart Swezey, Perry Farrell, Mark Pauline, members of Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Redd Kross, Einstűrzende Neubauten. Directed by Stuart Swezey. (2018/93 min)

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

Fed up with the local mainstream's overall contempt for the L.A. Punk scene, super fan Stuart Swezey took it onto himself to organize a series of shows – collectively dubbed Desolation Center - that would take place far away from media and police scrutiny.

Assembled on-the-fly with few resources and nearly no promotion, these grassroots gigs were mostly held in the remote desert. Ticket buyers, trucked to the locations in old school buses, literally had no idea where they were going on the day of the show (which was part of the experience). The shows themselves featured such underground antiheroes as Minutemen & Sonic Youth, as well as performance artists like Mark Pauline (who blows shit up) and the avant garde German group, Einstűrzende Neubauten (who sound like they’re blowing shit up).

This place rocks.
Though pretty self-impressed with my own offbeat musical interests back then, I was today-years-old when I first learned of these shows. And I'd be willing to wager most folks who earned their hipster degrees from Lollapalooza and Coachella have never heard of Desolation Center, either. But none other than Perry Farrell himself shows up in this movie to give props to the little festival that inspired his own.

The Bruce Campbell Diet.
Desolation Center is a fascinating film that documents the state of L.A. punk circa 1983 and how it inspired Swezey put together these four irregularly-scheduled shows. Given the passage of time since then, the vintage footage is murky at best. But at the same time, the scarcity of quality footage sort-of adds to the mystique of the events. Interspersed are retrospective interviews with dozens of artists who participated and fans who attended. Their stories are engaging enough that the film might even appeal to those who hate the music itself (it is an acquired taste). In fact, my wife – who was weened on Duran Duran – found the film very entertaining, and not at the participants' expense.

If your knowledge of the underground LA punk scene ends with Black Flag, Desolation Center is a must-see. Filled with vintage footage and interesting interviews – including a few cult legends – it's an affectionate and nostalgic look at a music festival that would be hugely influential, but few ever knew about.