July 15, 2019

RELAXER: An Ode to Slackerdom

RELAXER (2018)
Starring Joshua Burge, David Dastmalchian, Andre Hyland, Amari Cheatom, Adina Howard. Directed by Joel Potrykus. (91 min).

Review by Fluffy the Fearless🙀

It’s 1999, a few months before Y2K (remember that?). Abbie (Joshua Burge) is a scrawny, sweaty, shiftless loser who lives in his brother’s squalid apartment. He does nothing but sit on the sofa in his underwear playing video games. His bullying brother, Cam (David Dastmalchian), frequently issues various ‘challenges’ to motivate him, none of which he’s ever completed.

As he prepares for the Y2K apocalypse, Cam offers Abbie one last challenge: reach level 256 of Pac-Man (which no one has done) without leaving the couch. He has until the new year to do it or he’ll be kicked out. Initially, the viewer assumes the year’s end is near, but after accepting the challenge, Abbie is on the sofa for months. A few acquaintances drift in-and-out of the apartment during this time, but he’s mostly alone, wallowing in his own filth as he goes to disgusting extremes to stay alive while adhering to the rules of the challenge.

That’s the basic premise of Relaxer, Joel Potrykus’ latest ode to slackerdom that bombards the viewer with obnoxious characters (including our repugnant protagonist), obsessive behavior and scenes calculated to trigger the gag reflex. Taking place entirely in a single room, the film is initially so meandering and abrasive that I was tempted to rage-quit a few times (especially during a needlessly protracted scene of one idiot demanding payment for soda).

"Don't take this personally, bro, but maybe you should watch some of these workout videos."
However, there’s something about Abbie’s descent into savagery that’s morbidly fascinating, like watching a gruesome car accident in slow motion. The film also grows increasingly surreal, especially during the final act, when Abbie appears to have developed telepathic abilities (or maybe he’s simply delusional). While he isn’t remotely likable, we’re sucked-in by Burge’s predominantly physical performance, which can best be described as brave.

A love-it-or-loathe-it film, to be sure, Relaxer will obviously appeal to those already in-sync with Potrykus’ sensibilities. Others will dismiss it as a freak show, their patience severely tested. The attempt to appeal to the fringe crowd sometimes feels a little too calculated, but definitely leaves no middle ground.

AUDIO COMMENTARY – By director Joel Potrykus.
"MILK PARTY” - A 10 minute video of a group of people drinking gallon-jugs of milk until they puke. Seriously.

July 13, 2019

THE CHILL FACTOR: There's No Business Like Snow Business

Starring Dawn Laurrie, Aaron Kjenaas, Connie Snyder, David Fields, Jim Cagle, Eve Montgomery, Bekki Vallin. Directed by Christopher Webster. (85 min).

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Hey, guys! We got all these snowmobiles for the weekend! Let’s make a movie!

Okay, so maybe it didn’t go down quite like that, but this silly slab of Wisconsin cheese is bookended by a couple of lengthy snowmobile chases which look like they gobbled-up a majority of the budget and shooting schedule.

I can sort-of relate. One weekend in college, a friend of mine managed to get-hold of a CPR dummy. While I was unsure I wanted to know what he was planning to do with it, his roommate, a would-be Spielberg with his parents’ video camera, suggested using the dummy to make an Evil Dead-like horror movie. His so-called “story” had one of us pretending to become possessed and explode. However, CPR dummies make terrible stunt doubles and are tougher to blow-up with a single M-80 than we thought. We ended up with seven minutes of video too stupid to show anybody. But in our defense, we were pretty shitfaced.

Director Christopher Webster probably wasn’t as shitfaced while making The Chill Factor, but based on the demonic possession story introduced to kill time between snowmobile battles, I’d wager he enjoyed Evil Dead as much as we did. The usual tropes are assembled: young folks stranded in the woods; an isolated old house; artifacts explaining the building’s dark past; the same young folks becoming possessed; a variety of violent deaths.

A Christmas Story: The Director's Cut.
But there’s a reason Webster never directed another film and why none of his actors were ever heard from again. Not only is The Chill Factor derivative, it’s plodding and creatively vapid. Furthermore, its dead-serious tone is undone by laughable dialogue and jaw-droppingly terrible performances. There are a few decent make-up effects that turned out better than our exploding CPR dummy, but other than throwing snowmobiles into the mix, the whole thing looks like it was cynically cranked-out to get onto video shelves as fast as possible.

Speaking of which, if the plot synopsis rings a bell, readers of a certain age might recall seeing The Chill Factor under its original VHS title, Demon Possessed. Perhaps someone finally noticed the old title is not-only as generic as the film, it is grammatically incorrect. After all, hyphens exist for a reason.  

At any rate, the film must have some kind of cult following for Arrow Video to bring it out of mothballs with a fresh coat of paint. This is another case where the plentiful bonus features are far more interesting than the movie itself, especially the interviews with assorted crew members who braved the mid-western winter back in ‘93 (where we learn The Chill Factor was part of a business decision to make three low-budget features in Wisconsin).

"LIGHTS! CAMERAS! SNOWMOBILES!” - Interview with Production Manager Alexandra Reed.
"PORTRAIT OF A MAKE-UP ARTIST” - Interview with FX artist Jeffrey Lyle Segal, whose bigger claim to fame were the make-up effects in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. This might also make him the most famous guy attached to this film.
"FIRE AND ICE” - Interview with Stunt Coordinator Gary Paul (a snowmobiler, of course).
"OUIJA AND CHILL” - Interview with ass’t make-up artist Hank Carlson.
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By writer Josh Hadley and ass’t make-up artist Hank Carlson.
VHS TRAILER – Back when this was still known as Demon Possessed.
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET – With cast/crew credits, images, restoration details and a wonderfully-snarky essay, “The Chill Factor: A Beautiful Disaster,” by Mike White.
REVERSIBLE COVER – Both of which make the film look better than it really is.


July 12, 2019

UGLYDOLLS Blu-ray Giveaway!

FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE is giving away a Blu-ray copy of UNIVERSAL's UGLYDOLLS to one lucky reader.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD 7/30

Centered around the adorably unique town of Uglyville, the film follows Moxy and her friends as they confront what it means to be different and discover that you don’t have to be perfect to be amazing. Inspired by the global plush phenomenon and based on the UglyDoll characters created by David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, UglyDolls is filled with colorful and adorable characters and packed with powerful messages of inclusion and empowerment. Join the fun and keep the party going with the music-filled comedy on Blu-rayTM, DVD and Digital showcasing an exclusive, all-new sing-along edition and stuffed with exciting bonus features allowing fans everywhere to dive deeper into the world of Uglyville.

TO ENTER: Simply drop us a message at freekittensmovieguide@gmail.com. CONTEST ENDS 7/29.

BRONCO BILLY and a Career Transition

Starring Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Scatman Crothers, Bill McKinney, Geoffrey Lewis, Sam Bottoms, Dan Vadis, William Prince, Beverlee McKinsey, Merle Haggard. Directed by Clint Eastwood. (116 min). 

Review by Stinky, the Destroyer😽

For some of us raised on the Clint Eastwood of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Bronco Billy set off a few alarm bells. It was one thing to do a rare foray into comedy playing second banana to an orangutan - Every Which Way but Loose – because everybody needs a break from bounty hunting, infiltrating enemy lines or pissing-off his captain (and at least Clint still did plenty of talking with his fists). It’s quite another to strip away all the menace to play the most congenial character in the movie.

Not only that, Bronco Billy was the fourth straight movie where Eastwood didn’t kill anybody. What was next...a musical?? (This was before I learned he’d already traveled that path, too). Worse yet, he once again used his considerable clout to give his mousy girlfriend a prominent role. Let’s be honest here; if she hadn't hooked-up with Eastwood, the late Sondra Locke was destined for guest appearances on The Love Boat.

I’m making it sound as though I hated Bronco Billy, which isn’t true. I enjoyed it for what it was (but I think my date at the time liked it a lot more). As the down-on-his-luck star of a traveling Old West show, Eastwood is certainly more likable or down-to-Earth than he’d been before, actually displaying some real acting chops. The film’s tone is even more laid-back than Every Which Way but Loose and the silly, wafer-thin plot often takes a back-seat to the cavalcade of quirky characters (performed by numerous familiar faces from Eastwood’s inner circle). Ultimately, Bronco Billy was so light and fluffy that a strong gust blew most of it from my memory shortly afterwards.

"So that's who stole my damn gloves."
But revisiting the film almost 40 years later – not giving it a single thought in the interim – I’m thinking Bronco Billy might be one of the most pivotal of Eastwood's career, especially as a director. A strong argument could be made that a character-driven film like this allowed him to transition to the more diverse work which garnered considerably more critical praise.

Can we thank this humble little flick for such everything that followed? That might be debatable, but while Clint Eastwood wasn’t quite ready to totally abandon big dumb action at the time, it was a definite indication he wanted to expand his horizons. Bronco Billy itself remains a mere footnote in Clint's filmography, but it’s affably entertaining in-the-moment and Eastwood completists will surely want to pick this up. 


July 10, 2019

Rest in Peace, Rip Torn

July 9, 2019

HOLD BACK THE DAWN: Boyer at the Border

Starring Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, Paulette Goddard, Victor Francen, Walter Abel. Directed by Mitchell Leisen. (116 min).

Review by Mr. Paws😸

Recently reviewing the Blu-ray release of Gaslight, I had the privilege of discovering the great Charles Boyer. Somewhat embarrassed that I’d never seen any of his films until then, I was knocked-out by his icy performance. So naturally, Hold Back the Dawn piqued my interest considerably.

Boyer plays Georges Iscoveu, a conniving Romanian gigolo who flees war-torn Europe to Mexico, where he hopes for a visa to enter the United States. However, the wait could be years and he’s stuck in a rundown hotel, home to numerous other similarly stranded immigrants. Then he bumps into old acquaintance Anita (Paulette Goddard), an equally unscrupulous associate who informs him that marrying an American will allow him quick passage to the U.S.

After a few amusing false starts, Georges sets his sights on Emmy (Olivia de Havilland), a school teacher escorting students on a field trip. Turning on his charm, he gets her to fall in love with him and they marry almost immediately. Though he plans on divorcing later, he grows quite fond of Emmy during the weeks he must wait to cross the border, much to the chagrin of Anita, as this ruins plans for the two of them hooking-up in New York later. Meanwhile, Inspector Hammock (Walter Abel), a border patrol officer, tries to track-down Georges before he can carry-out his scheme.

Lost backstage...in Cleveland, of course.
Interestingly, the film is mostly told in flashback, with Georges relating the story to Paramount Pictures mogul Mr. Saxon (director Mitchell Leisen). I’m not sure what purpose this framing device ultimately serves other than Leisen giving himself a part in his own movie. At any rate, it doesn’t matter because Boyer’s fantastic performance is the driving force behind the whole film. What’s truly remarkable is that his character evolves from calculating cad to hopelessly in love without ever really speaking of it. The film’s underlying theme of redemption and Georges’ growing affection for Emmy are wordlessly conveyed through Boyer’s subtle expressions. I’ve never really seen a performance quite like it, not in a film from this era, anyway.

Hold Back the Dawn culminates in a suspenseful climax and moving resolution, mostly because we’ve become emotionally invested in a main character we initially despise. His transformation is an entertaining one, making this film a great character piece & actor’s showcase. Ms. De Havilland may have gotten the Oscar nod, but the movie belongs to Boyer. Now on Blu-ray for the first time from Arrow Academy, the disc features a nice transfer and some interesting extras (outlined below), so it's highly recommended for classic movie fans.

"LOVE KNOWS NO BORDERS” - An appreciation by film critic Geoff Andrew, which is just-as-much about director Mitchell Leisen as it is the film itself.
"THE JOHN PLAYER LECTURE: OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND” - An audio interview, recorded live in 1971.
"HOLD BACK THE DAWN RADIO ADAPTATION” – Featuring Charles Boyer, Paulette Goddard & Susan Haywood.
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - “Frontiers of the Heart” is a great essay by film writer Farran Smith Nehme; film and restoration credits; photos and promotional artwork.
REVERSIBLE COVER – With new and original art; we prefer the latter.


July 8, 2019


https://www.millcreekent.com/        https://www.millcreekent.com/

Ghost Shark, Mississippi River Sharks, Ozark Sharks, Santa Jaws, Swamp Shark, Zombie Shark and Alligator Alley (listed as an “Extra Bite”). (613 min).
Tornado Warning, Judgement Day (sic), Chrome Angels, Ghouls. (366 min).

Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

If you’re gonna assemble a batch of movies of decidedly questionable quality, you might as well do it with a sense of humor. As these two cheekily-titled collections demonstrate, Mill Creek Entertainment is well-aware of its potential audience...those who prefer their horror and action served with a big slice of cheese.

The accurately-titled SHARK BAIT gives us six silly flicks featuring everyone's favorite maneater, most helmed by the same director, Misty Talley. Typical of all SyFy killer creature fodder, the CGI is laughable, the plots blatantly ludicrous. Some of them are also a little too self-aware for their own good (a novelty that wore off after Sharknado 2). The one exception is Santa Jaws. Sure, it's a one-joke movie, but it happens to be a hell of a joke and the basic premise actually reflects some creative effort. Believe it or not, how this one incorporates Christmas-related traditions – from Santa hats to candy canes as weapons - is genuinely funny. This title alone makes the entire set worth picking up.

Elsewhere, Ghost Shark has some amusing kills, while Mississippi River Sharks is almost saved by Jason London’s self-mocking performance (at-least until he’s gobbled up). The remaining films scrape the bottom of the barrel in this dubious subgenre. Some even cannibalize scenes from each other to shave their budgets. Thrown-in for bad measure is Alligator Alley, once more-affectionately known as Ragin’ Cagin’ Redneck Gators. Like all the others, this was also shot in the Entertainment Capital of the World, rural Louisiana.

Too much sugar can kill you.
Speaking of which, we return to the Bayou State for IT HITS THE FAN. This collection’s subtitle, 4 Apocalyptic Disaster Movies, is a bit misleading. Only two of them, Tornado Warning and Judgement Day (the box cover’s spelling, not mine) loosely qualify as disaster movies and only the latter is watchable. It’s onscreen title is actually Quantum Apocalypse and the basic story – some kind of interstellar flux threatening to suck Earth into oblivion - ain’t half-bad. It’s one of those movies where the viewer can’t help but wonder how it would have turned out with a budget to match its ambition.

If one is in the right frame-of-mind, Chrome Angels is an awesomely awful Biker Chicks vs. Robots debacle. Best of all, it’s mostly played straight, meaning there’s unintentional hilarity in abundance. Leather-glad babes fearlessly strut, scowl and shoot people, while a seriously slumming Paul Le Mat slurs like he’s thoroughly hammered. Finally, Ghouls is a supernatural horror film and a colossal bore. Considering the number of disaster cheapies out there, the inclusion of this one is perplexing. In fact, IT HITS THE FAN doesn’t really deliver as advertised, and the only semi-decent flick (Quantum Apocalypse) isn't enough to make it worth the trouble.


THE POOP SCOOP: Double Tap Edition

ZOMBIELAND on 4K October 1.
Celebrating its 10TH anniversary and available just ahead of the theatrical debut of its sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap. Directed by Ruben Fleischer and starring Academy Award nominees Woody Harrelson (2017, Best Supporting Actor, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017), Jesse Eisenberg (2010, Best Actor, The Social Network) and Abigail Breslin (2006, Best Supporting Actress, Little Miss Sunshine), and Academy Award-winner Emma Stone (2016, Best Actress, La La Land), ZOMBIELAND follows a shy student trying to reach his family in Ohio, a gun-toting tough guy trying to find the last Twinkie, and a pair of sisters trying to get to an amusement park, who join forces to travel across a zombie-filled America. Remastered in 4K with High Dynamic Range, ZOMBIELAND also includes an all-new exclusive Dolby Atmos audio track, along with the original theatrical 5.1 audio. The ZOMBIELAND 4K UHD features an exciting new special feature, showcasing the cast offering a retrospective look back at the original film, plus hours of fun and frightening archival special features.

THE COMMAND on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and Digital 8/6.
An unbelievable, action-packed true story comes home when The Command arrives on Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital), DVD, and Digital August 6 from Lionsgate. The film is currently available On Demand. Starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Léa Seydoux, and Academy Award winner Colin Firth (2010, Best Actor, The King’s Speech), don’t miss the riveting story about the 2000 nuclear submarine disaster based on Robert Moore’s book, A Time to Die, directed by award winner Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt, The Celebration, Far From the Madding Crowd), and written by Robert Rodat. The Command Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD will include the “Human Costs: Making The Command” featurette.

LADYBUG LADYBUG Coming to Blu-ray.
Kino Lorber have confirmed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray Frank Perry's film Ladybug Ladybug (1963), starring Jane Connell, William Daniels, James Frawley, Richard Hamilton, and Kathryn Hays. The release is expected to arrive on the market this Fall. The teachers and students of a countryside elementary school are thrown into a panic when an air raid siren goes off, warning them of a imminent nuclear attack. They are unaware that it has gone off by mistake, and separate the children into groups -- one of which is headed by the anxious Mrs. Andrews (Nancy Marchand) -- to take them home. Harriet (Alice Playten) invites her classmates into her family's bomb shelter, but tragedy strikes when she won't allow one of her classmates to enter. NEW 2K REMASTER from Kino Lorber
AVENGERS: ENDGAME on Digital 7/30 and on Blu-ray 8/13.
Fans who bring home “Avengers: Endgame” will gain hours of additional screen time with their favorite cast members and filmmakers who have shaped the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Bonus features include a tribute to the great Stan Lee; the tale of Robert Downey Jr.’s casting as Iron Man; the evolution of Captain America; Black Widow’s dramatic story arc; directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s experience at the helm of both “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”; the making of an epic battle scene with the women of the MCU; the creation of Bro Thor; deleted scenes; a gag reel and more.

July 7, 2019

PET SEMATARY (2019): Results May Vary

Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jete Laurence, Obssa Ahmed. Directed by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer. (100 min).

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

There’s nothing like remakes of childhood favorites to make one feel really old. I’m sure most of us have experienced that. Well, how ‘bout a remake of a film you vividly remember seeing in theaters as an adult? Though it doesn’t feel like it, the original Pet Sematary is 30 now years old and I’m forced to accept the hard fact that – in movie years – I’m ancient.

That sobering bit of personal reality notwithstanding, did Pet Sematary actually need to be remade? Probably not, but that’s been said about every movie near-and-dear to someone’s heart. While the 1989 film continues to be held in high regard in most horror circles (and with good reason), it isn’t a sacred cow on the level of Jaws or The Exorcist. Why not revisit the concept with fresh eyes?

Comparisons are inevitable, of course. And for horror fans, results may vary.

Yardwork sucks.
First and foremost, this ain’t your daddy’s Pet Sematary, which was more-or-less a faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. This one uses the same basic premise, but takes significant story and character detours along the way, which is ultimately a good thing. Not that all the changes are an improvement, but the last thing anyone needs is another pointless scene-for-scene remake and even fans of the original movie or novel might be surprised how this one plays out.

Some King purists will cry foul, of course. Others might find themselves grudgingly admitting that this one more-effectively captures the oppressive, brooding tone of the novel. That doesn’t necessarily make it scarier – in fact, the film is seldom truly frightening – but it’s more atmospheric and a sense of impending doom hangs over the proceedings right from the get-go. The overall performances are better, as well, especially John Lithgow in the pivotal role of Jud Crandall. Lithgow’s more subtle (and slightly sinister) approach makes the character more dynamic than Fred Gwynne’s slack-jawed yokel from the original.

Nick Nolte's cat.
But comparatively speaking, it all comes down to personal preference. For another example, I found Church the Cat far more intimidating in this version. His matted, mangy appearance really makes it look like the little beast just came back from the dead, not-to-mention the way he stares, similar to how my own cat, Stinky, glares at me when she’s pissed.

While well crafted and atmospheric, I wouldn’t go as far as to say Pet Sematary is better than the 1989 film. The original went where most mainstream horror films feared to tread at the time, arguably rendering this one less disturbing or memorable. Still, the considerable story changes are intriguing enough to justify its existence.

"BEYOND THE DEADFALL” - An hour-long, four-part making-of documentary.
ALTERNATE ENDING – The film’s final ten minutes, with a somewhat different outcome. No better or worse than the one included in the final cut.
"NIGHT TERRORS” - A series of 1-2 minute nightmare sequences (not part of the film) featuring each of the Creed characters.
"THE TALE OF TIMMY BATERMAN” - Jud (John Lithgow) tells a more detailed story of a kid once buried in the burial ground. This might be considered a deleted scene, though it’s presented as more of a soliloquy.