September 23, 2020

THE LEGEND OF TOMIRIS: History Schmistory

THE LEGEND OF TOMIRIS (Blu-ray Review)
2019 / 155 min

From WELL GO USA

Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

When writing reviews, I usually pull up iMDB or Wikipedia pages for cast, crew and release information (and in the case of this Kazakhstani film, help with spelling). Delving into the background of The Legend of Tomiris, I couldn’t help but notice that a good deal of criticism has been leveled at its historical accuracy.

Frankly, I’ve never understood why that matters. Movies ‘based on a true story’ have almost always played fast & loose with actual facts because...they’re movies. Sure, some abuse the truth more than others, but it doesn’t change the fact they’re meant to be entertainment, not education. 


While watching The Legend of Tomiris, I didn’t give two shits if 'the incredible true story’ of its titular character was accurate. She could’ve been presented as one of the original X-Men and I wouldn’t have cared. Since it’s not ‘based on the incredible textbook,’ I enjoyed the film for what it was...an epic tale of a woman warrior who becomes a powerful Massagetae queen, administering violent retribution on those who’ve wrong her (i.e. killed her family) or threaten her reign (those nasty Persians).


The film originally ran over three hours, but has been trimmed to a comparatively-brief 155 minutes for this release. I think it’s safe to assume most of the cuts were related to character development, since Tomiris (Almira Tursyn) comes across as more of a symbol of justice than anyone we get to know in substantial detail. The same can be said for hunky husband-king Argun (Adil Akhmetov) and those who fight alongside them. 


"Hey! I got one!"
We also develop an interesting takeaway as the story unfolds. Though we root for them when they're threatened with invasion by Parsia’s ruthless king, Cyrus (Ghassan Massoud), the Massagetae themselves also thrive by raiding and pillaging nearby tribes. Living and dying by the sword, they’re kinda like Klingons with horses. The only real difference between the two is that Cyrus is crafty and dishonest, while Tomiris is deified as a noble savage...a female William Wallace, if you will.

Speaking of which, the film bears other similarities to Braveheart (besides fudging some historical details). In addition to giving us a main character who’s initially motivated by revenge, The Legend of Tomiris is highlighted by massive, lengthy battle sequences. Though not quite as visceral as those in Braveheart, they are big, brutal and bloody. I really like how these scenes show Tomiriis’ strategies unfolding just as she planned them. 


The film concludes with the narrator extholing Tomiris’ place in Iranian history. Maybe he’s bullshitting, maybe not. I didn’t care either way. Though it lacks dynamic characters and features protagonists just as invasive as the antagonists, The Legend of Tomiris is an entertaining enough action epic to justify its lengthy running time. It may not be an effective history lesson, but works just fine as a movie.

KITTY CONSENSUS:

PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

September 21, 2020

CAT FILM FESTIVAL, VOLUME 1 Offers Some Kibbles

CAT FILM FESTIVAL, VOL. 1 (Movie Review)
2020 / 70 min

From DARK STAR PICTURES

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

The Cat Film Festival is an annual New York event founded by animal advocate Tracie Hotchner. She also oversees a dog film festival, but since our staff only enjoys canine cinema when the dog dies at the end, we’ve decided to narrow our focus.

The title is just a tad misleading, since Cat Film Festival Vol 1 is not quite the ‘collection’ I expected. It consists of only five films, two of which make up an hour of the scant running time. The other three mostly serve as bookends.


It starts off great, with a faux commercial that parodies prescription ads, touting the physical and mental health benefits of cats and a hilarious list of potential side-effects from keeping one as a pet. Next is a short documentary about a man who specializes in grooming uncooperative cats. The guy gears up like going to war and watching him in action is pretty amusing.


The first lengthy piece, “Jetty Cats,”  features a Southern California wharf that’s been home to abandoned & feral cats for decades. A local animal rights group feeds, protects and neuters them while respecting their independence (the “trap-neuter-release” program is apparently catching on in various regions where stray cats congregate). The film also provides a narrative history of how cats have been domesticated - and sometimes vilified - over the centuries. The other longer piece features an Arizona shelter that started a program where kittens are raised and socialized at various Alzheimer’s care facilities before being placed for adoption (benefitting the cats while providing a form of therapy for the patients).


This cat knows how to rock.
Capping things off is humorous a public service video which has a man trying to take the place of a young lady’s cat by behaving like one. And of course, he’s not quite as endearing.

From an entertainment standpoint, the three short films are highly amusing and the fact that the program starts-off with two of them has the viewer anticipating a variety of funny stories & sketches featuring cats and their owners. Not to take away from the longer features - the first is quite interesting; the second is filled with touching moments - but they sharply contrast the lighter tone established by the shorts. Both are good films, but to be truly honest, they aren’t as fun and probably should’ve been part of a different program.


But that’s just me. Maybe the main purpose of Cat Film Festival is to create awareness and advocacy rather than pure entertainment. If so, I suppose Vol 1 - with more volumes coming to Amazon & Tubi in upcoming weeks - accomplishes its goals. There are felines o’ plenty, but cat lovers purely looking for feline fun should probably stick to YouTube.

KITTY CONSENSUS:

NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.

September 20, 2020

THE POOP SCOOP: Mayhem, Monsters & Music Edition

SCARE PACKAGE On VOD / Digital / DVD & Blu-ray 10/20
In SCARE PACKAGE, Chad Buckley is a lonely Horror aficionado, spending his days overseeing a struggling video store and arguing with his only customer, Sam. When an unsuspecting job applicant arrives, Chad sets out to teach him the rules of Horror; weaving in and out of hilarious segments geared toward the ropes and tropes of terror. SCARE PACKAGE was created by Aaron B. Koontz and Cameron Burns of Paper Street Pictures and is directed by Emily Hagins (My Sucky Teen Romance), Chris McInroy (Death Metal), Noah Segan (Knives Out), Courtney and Hillary Andujar (production design on The Wind), Anthony Cousins (The Bloody Ballad of Squirt Reynolds), Baron Vaughn (“Grace and Frankie”) and Koontz (The Pale Door) who all co-wrote the film with Frank Garcia-Hejl (“Ramsey Has a Time Machine”), Ben Fee (Missio: I See You) and John Karsko (After Dark).

V FOR VENDETTA arrives on 4K UHD 11/3

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment announced today that DC’s V for Vendetta, 2005’s thought-provoking action thriller from the creators of The Matrix trilogy, will be released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack and Digital HD on November 3, 2020. From producer Joel Silver, V for Vendetta was written and produced by the Wachowskis (The Matrix Trilogy), and stars Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving.  The film was directed by James McTeigue (Ninja Assassin). V for Vendetta is an electrifying story of an everyday woman in futuristic Britain who becomes the unlikely accomplice of a mysterious freedom fighter in his radical effort to rid the country of oppression.  Based on the powerful graphic novel,  V for Vendetta stars Academy-Award winner Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Thor, Star Wars films), Hugo Weaving (Transformers film series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix trilogy), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game), Stephen Fry (Wilde, The Hobbit film series), John Hurt (Nineteen Eight-Four, the Harry Potter film series), and Tim Pigott-Smith (Alexander, Quantum of Solace).


THE OWNERS - On DVD and Blu-ray 10/20
In THE OWNERS, a group of friends think they found the perfect easy score - an empty house with a safe full of cash. But when the elderly couple that lives there comes home early the tables are suddenly turned. As a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues the would-be thieves are left to fight to save themselves from a nightmare they could never have imagined. THE OWNERS  stars  Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones,” The New Mutants),  Sylvester McCoy  (The Hobbit franchise, “Doctor Who”),  Jake Curran (Spotless”, Stardust),  Ian Kenny  (Solo: A Star Wars Story, Sing Street),  Andrew Ellis  (Teen Spirit, "This Is England"),and Rita Tushingham  ("The Pale Horse," Vera). The film is directed by Julius Berg (“The Forest,” “Mata  Hari”) who co-wrote the film with  Matthieu Gompel (The Dream Kids). 

ELI ROTH'S HISTORY OF HORROR SEASON 1 - Available on DVD and Blu-ray 10/6
Award-winning horror film director, writer, producer and actor Eli Roth brings together the masters of horror - the storytellers and stars who define the genre - to explore its biggest themes and reveal the inspirations and struggles behind its past and present. Each one-hour episode will take viewers on a chilling exploration of how horror has evolved through the years and examine the genre's impact on society as well as delving into how horror maintains its fan base and why audiences are addicted to fear. Interviewees include Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino, Linda Blair and many others.

 

Greenwich Entertainment and Kino Lorber Announce Exclusive Early DVD Release of CREEM: AMERICA’S ONLY ROCK & ROLL MAGAZINE as part of Record Store Day's third RSD Drops date 10/24
Featuring rock music icons Alice Cooper, Kirk Hammett, Wayne Kramer, Gene Simmons, Michael Stipe, Chad Smith, Paul Stanley, Joan Jett, and influential rock critic Lester Bangs, Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine has been a hit with critics and was an Official Selection at the 2019 SXSW film festival. The DVD release also includes additional interviews and trailers. Capturing the messy upheaval of the ’70s just as rock was re-inventing itself, Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine explores the publication’s humble beginnings in post-riot Detroit, follows its upward trajectory from underground paper to national powerhouse, then bears witness to its imminent demise following the tragic and untimely deaths of its visionary publisher, Barry Kramer, and its most famous alum and genius clown prince, Lester Bangs, a year later. Fifty years after publishing its first issue, “America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine” remains a seditious spirit in music and culture.

Retribution & Redemption in THE DEAD ONES

THE DEAD ONES (Blu-ray Review)
2019 / 73 min

From ARTSPLOITATION FILMS

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Be aware that the premise of The Dead Ones centers around a mass school shooting. One might consider exploiting such a terrible event for the sake of a horror film to be in phenomenally bad taste, to say nothing of socially insensitive. And it would be if the film were actually exploitative. 

Four mostly unlikable teens are forced to serve detention by cleaning up their entire school in the aftermath of a tragedy. Not only is it an obviously impossible job, they are forced to do it in the dead of night and the teacher who assigned their detention appears to take a bit of sadistic enjoyment in their punishment.


Concurrently, some masked individuals - representing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - chain all the doors and windows before breaking into the building and setting various traps. Meanwhile, we get to know the detention kids a little more. Only one of them, ‘Mouse’ (Sarah Rose Harper), appears to display anything resembling empathy, especially regarding bitchy bipolar classmate Emily (Katie Foster), who’s prone to self-mutilation. The two boys, Scotty & Louis (Brandon Wilson & Torey Garza), are antisocial delinquents. It isn't long before horrific things - real or imagined - begin happening to all of them, none of which appears to be perpetrated by the masked invaders. 


By the time the narrative introduces vivid flashbacks of a mass shooting at the same school, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who’s actually behind the masks or the purpose of these kids’ so-called detention. The school siege is bloody, brutal and - in light of similar real-life tragedies - difficult to watch. However, the film is not-so-much about the shooting as it is a supernatural tale of retribution and, to a lesser extent, redemption. 


The real horror? This is a typical high school restroom.
Those not put-off by the premise will find a lot to love here. A dark, oppressive tone dominates the entire film, enhanced by atmospheric production design and cinematography. The four main characters are well-drawn and convincingly depicted by the young cast (they speak and behave like actual teenagers who are inherently self-absorbed). Considering what I assume was a limited budget, the film also boasts some haunting imagery and imaginative special effects.

Visually and narratively surreal, it’s almost like being dropped into the middle of a fever dream. Seldom in-your-face scary, The Dead Ones builds tension through atmosphere and a creatively disorienting storyline. Despite the inevitability of its plot revelations, the film masterfully instills dread and concludes with a denouement that more-than-justifies the off-putting premise. That’s something pure exploitation is incapable of. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - Set tour with production designer Jeffrey Pratt Gordon; Special effects featurette with Jax Smith & Elvis Jones

AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) by director Jeremy Kasten, editor Maxx Gilman & producer Niels Harboe; 2) by Kasten, actors Katie Foster, Brandon Thane Wilson, Sarah Rose Harper & Torey Garza

TRAILER

KITTY CONSENSUS:

MEE-OW! LIKE TAUNTING A MOUSE TO DEATH.

September 17, 2020

ROMAN HOLIDAY (Paramount Presents #9): Say Hello to Hairy Hepburn

ROMAN HOLIDAY (Blu-ray Review)
1953 / 118 min

From PARAMOUNT

Review by Mr. Paws😺

Revisiting Roman Holiday (#9 in the Paramount Presents series), the film revealed a side of Audrey Hepburn I never noticed before.

It was in the first scene, where Princess Ann (Hepburn) is receiving a long line of foreign dignitaries. As she’s greeting guest after guest, her shoes grow uncomfortable. Since her legs are concealed by a long gown, the camera peeks underneath to show her kicking off one of the shoes. That’s when I noticed Audrey had one hairy-ass set o’ gams!  


Not that it renders the lovely Ms. Hepburn any less enchanting, nor do I begrudge her personal grooming choices. I’m just surprised because Roman Holiday was made in a day-and-age when Hollywood built starlets to be perfectly shaped and styled, their skin completely free of the unsightly blemishes that mark the rest of us mere mortals.


Gregory Peck...born to be wild.
Perhaps the outstanding Blu-ray transfer made it more noticeable. Long overdue, it not only enhances Hepburn’s hairier side, it makes Roman Holiday look like it could’ve been released yesterday. The film itself remains as charming, funny and engaging as it was 68 years ago, with a star-making performance by Hepburn as a beleaguered princess who escapes constant public scrutiny by sneaking away to experience Rome on her own. Through amusing circumstances, Ann meets opportunistic American reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck).  

Ann keeps her identity a secret, while Joe doesn’t reveal his profession and already knows who she really is. Since her absence has caused a press conference to be cancelled - with a cover story that she’s ill - Joe initially sees this as a chance to get an exclusive story, with photographer pal Irving (Eddie Albert) documenting their amusing exploits as Joe shows her around Rome. Of course, anyone who’s even seen one romantic comedy can figure out what happens next.


"Lady, I could watch you eat ice cream all damn day."
Watching the movie again for the first time in...well, forever, I was also reminded that Gregory Peck was a decent comic actor. Most of his iconic roles have been in dead-serious films, but Roman Holiday was one of the few where he got to show his lighter side. He makes the most of the opportunity with a wonderfully laid-back, congenial performance.

It goes without saying that  Roman Holiday is a must-own for classic movie lovers and Paramount does right by the film with this Blu-ray. In addition to the great transfer, there’s also a bigger batch of bonus features than any previous Paramount Presents release.  Most are fairly short and not all of them are directly related to the film, but they’re enjoyable, especially the feature about screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, which succinctly summarizes what McCarthyism did to so many careers. 


But for me, the niftiest aspect of Paramount Presents remains the packaging, which folds-open to reveal the film’s original poster art. The series is obviously intended for those of us who still take pride in displaying how we've blown our discretionary income and Roman Holiday is a great addition to that collection, hairy legs and all.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - “Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on Roman Holiday” (new); “Rome with a Princess”; “Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years”; “Dalton Trumbo: From A-list to Blacklist”; “Paramount in the ‘50s”; “Behind the Gates: Costumes”; “Remembering Audrey”

TRAILERS

3 GALLERIES - Movie, premiere and promotional photos

DIGITAL COPY

KITTY CONSENSUS:

MEE-OW! LIKE BEING TURNED LOOSE IN A BIRD SANCTUARY.

September 15, 2020

ADVENTURES IN THE BUDGET BIN: The Palm Springs of Washington

Reported by Mr. Biscuits🐈

It’s a small world after all. 


It was slim pickings during my weekly stop at Big Lots the other day, but I did manage to nab an Oscar winner, a stone cold classic and a delirious dumpster fire. When I got to the check-out counter, the young clerk noticed my Full Metal Jacket t-shirt and said her best friend was the granddaughter of R. Lee Ermey, whom she met a few times. To any of you asking “Who’s R, Lee Ermey?”: You can just turn-in your cinephile card right now. 


She went on to explain that she grew up in Yakima, Washington, which is Ermey’s hometown. It’s also where I had the misfortune of living for over a decade. Euphemistically nicknamed ``The Palm Springs of Washington,” Yakima is a thoroughly unpleasant town...nasty winters, scorching summers, apples, cows and, since it squats in the middle of the state between Seattle and Spokane, a transfer point for lotsa drugs. Maybe it has changed since then, but I escaped 25 years ago and don’t ever plan to return for a trip down memory lane. To paraphrase Gunnery Sgt. Hartman himself, only two things come from Yakima...cattle and crack.


The young clerk said Ermey was a very nice man - contrary to his indelible image  - and we talked a bit about his movies while she rang up my purchases. Afterwards, I congratulated her for escaping Yakima alive (even if it was to work at a Big Lots store). She nodded with a knowing chuckle. I guess things haven’t changed all that much. 


Anyway, on this trip I found a copy of
Platoon ($5.00), made before director Oliver Stone fell in love with the smell of his own farts. Though it’s a tad overpraised - to say nothing of heavy-handed - it certainly deserved to beat the other contenders for Best Picture at the Oscars that year (in general, 1986 wasn’t a banner year for movies). Platoon also has the distinction of being the first and only time we ever took Charlie Sheen’s career seriously. 


Then I found a true treasure: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ($5.00). Sure, I already had two versions of the film on DVD, but hey...it’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on Blu-ray. I even considered buying two copies because it’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the greatest western of all time and anyone who disagrees can suck my cat’s fuzzy balls. My only beef is that it’s the Extended Cut, with inconsequential scenes restored, characters re-dubbed by noticeably-older Clint Eastwod and Eli Wallach, as well as some loser doing a piss poor Lee Van Cleef impression. Still, it’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and if it isn’t already part of your collection, you don’t have a collection.  

Finally, there’s Tim Burton’s jungle-rot remake of
Planet of the Apes ($5.00). While Burton should be commended to attempting something outside of his darkly-whimsical comfort zone, this film confirms he doesn’t have it in him. And fuck that ending. I have yet to hear or read any explanation that makes a lick o’ sense. But for five bucks, I’m willing to take another swing at it. Then again, Burton himself has previously said the ending wasn’t supposed to make any sense. Well, Tim...mission accomplished. You asshole.

September 13, 2020

GENESIS II and PLANET EARTH: Looking Back at the Future

GENESIS II / PLANET EARTH 2-Film Collection (Blu-ray Review)
1973-1974 / 148 min (2 movies)

From WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION

Review by Mr. Paws😸

Man, talk about your blasts from the past…

I remember watching Genesis II when it premiered on CBS when I was a wee one. Star Trek reruns notwithstanding, science-fiction television was pretty rare, so its futuristic look and concept was something of a novelty. This was also the first sci-fi movie I ever saw that mentioned the year it took place: 2133. 


2133! That’s waaay in the future! And look at that 600 mph underground train (aka, subshuttle)! And that technologically-advanced city! Things don’t get much more sci-fi than this!


The subshuttle itself never actually moved more than a few feet and the exotic city of Tyrania was just the University of California campus. But to a nine-year-old in the early ‘70s, it was all convincing enough.


What I didn’t know at the time: Genesis II was Gene Roddenberry’s attempt at another weekly sci-fi show (though more Earth-bound than Star Trek). He tried like hell, too, because he repurposed the concept - and some of the same special effects - as Planet Earth, which aired on ABC a year later. Alas, neither became a series, and after yet-another reworked pilot (Strange New World), Roddenberry’s apocalyptic vision of the future became a thing of the past. 


Genesis II and Planet Earth might be all-but-forgotten by most, but for those of us who remember life before Star Wars, this 2-film Blu-ray is one mother of a nostalgia trip. 


The 'stache of the future.
In Genesis II, Alex Cord and his mustache play Dylan Hunt, a scientist who volunteers to be the guinea pig in his own suspended animation experiment. After an earthquake buries his lab, Dylan is discovered and revived 154 years later by the PAX, a peace-loving society that has lived underground since a global war destroyed most of civilization. Their chief rivals are Tyranians, a totalitarian race of mutants who live in a nearby city and enslave those they capture. Since both have been relying on technology created before either existed, Hunt’s know-how is suddenly very valuable. 

The late, great John Saxon takes over the lead role in Planet Earth. He may not have Cord’s swingin’ ‘70s swagger, but he’s a better actor and more personable. Though the subshuttle remains a vital part of the story (probably because it was expensive), this one has the PAX living above-ground...on campus, so to speak. Hunt leads his team in search of a missing surgeon - the only man able to save the life of a PAX leader - who’s been captured by Amazons, a society where women rule and men are slaves. Meanwhile, a violent band of mutant road warriors (yes, I meant to say that) are preparing to attack the Amazons. 


"Who's a good boy!"
Of the two, Genesis II looks and feels more like sci-fi as purveyed in the early ‘70s...lots of silly costumes, matte paintings and creative use of modern architecture to depict the future. The concept and story also reflect some of the high-mindedness Roddenberry provided in Star Trek. Planet Earth is more action oriented, even briefly achieving an apocalyptic grittiness that pre-dates The Road Warrior (the aforementioned mutants and their battered vehicles). Still, both films are definitely products of their time, with a lot of former Star Trek guest stars popping up here and there. Depending on your age, this double feature is either hilariously archaic or a warm, wonderful trip down memory lane.

I count myself among the latter. Yeah, the films look and feel quaint today, but they also evoke fond memories of sitting on the living room floor in front of our console for the latest made-for-TV “Movie of the Week.” So it goes without saying that this collection is highly recommended for those with similar childhoods. The only drawback is the lack of bonus features, since the story behind Roddenberry's quest to repeat his Trek success is a story unto itself.

KITTY CONSENSUS:

PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.