May 17, 2022

OUTSIDE THE LAW: A Fight for Freedom Wrapped in a Gangster Film


OUTSIDE THE LAW (Blu-ray Review)
2010 / 139 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

Who doesn’t love a compelling gangster epic?

Outside the Law isn’t technically a gangster film, but it sure as hell plays like one, with a tone, aesthetic and narrative structure not unlike The Godfather (or more accurately, The Godfather, Part II). In fact, if watched with the sound off, one could easily assume it's depicting the rise of an organized crime family rather than Algerian freedom fighters.


In post-WWII Algeria, Said (Janel Debbouze), Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) and Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) are three close-knit brothers whose lives get thrown into turmoil due to French occupation of the country. After their father’s murder (gunned down in the streets by French soldiers), Said flees to France with his mother, hoping to start a new life. Messaoud has-since joined the military and gets wounded fighting in Indochina. Abdelkader is sentenced to eight years in prison as part of the FLN (National Liberation Front), the group fighting for Algerian independence. 


When Abdelkader is released, he wastes little time forming an FLN resistance movement in France itself, recruiting Messaoud. As they make plans, gather loyalists and raise capital for their cause - often illegally - Said refuses to join the movement, having carved a niche as a pimp, nightclub owner and boxing promoter.


Dishpan hands.
Eventually, however, the rapidly growing organization operates more like the mafia, killing those who betray them. Abdelkader, in particular, becomes so single-minded in the cause that his ruthlessness resembles Michael Corleone’s. At one point, he even floats the idea of killing Said for being a traitor. Meanwhile, the French police - aware of the FLM’s presence - begin hunting for Abdelkader, killing some loyalists in the process. The FLM escalates the conflict by striking back violently, using what some would consider terrorist tactics.

The film garnered some controversy in France. Considering this is a French-Algerian co-production, it certainly paints the former in a negative light, depicting the police as cruel and vicious, almost sadistic. Politics aside, though, Outside the Law is an intense, gripping film when focused on the three brothers. Each changes considerably during the decade-or-so that the story takes place, not always for the better. We initially sympathize with them, but as the conflict escalates, what’s left Abdelkader’s humanity succumbs to his cause, while the constant killing - sometimes of innocent people - begins to weigh heavily on Messaoud (though that doesn’t stop him). Ironically, it’s Said - a criminal before all of this even started - who ends up as the most conflicted, thus earning most of the viewer’s empathy.


Almost epic in scope, Outside the Law is - at its heart - a gangster saga chronicling the rise of a powerful family. Sweeping, violent and ultimately tragic, the only major difference is that a nation’s independence is at stake. Running nearly two-and-a-half hours, things could have been trimmed up a bit (the scenes involving the mother and Messaoud’s new family are a little meandering). But for the most part, this is a terrific film with a compelling story, dynamic characters and solid performances.


EXTRA KIBBLES

MAKING-OF FEATURETTE - With interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

CAST INTERVIEWS

INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR RACHID BOUCHAREB

DELETED SCENES

TRAILER


May 15, 2022

GIRLS NITE OUT and the Undemanding '80s


GIRLS NITE OUT (aka The Scaremaker) (Blu-ray Review)
1982 / 97 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

In the ‘80s, the easiest way to break into the movie business was to make a slasher film. Not only was there a huge demand in the wake of Friday the 13th and Halloween, they were cheap to make and easy to market. You didn’t need a big star or unique concept…just plenty of slicing & dicing, mostly of young people (the genre’s primary audience).

But for every Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine, there are films like Girls Nite Out, a barely released obscurity that never had a chance to earn a cult following. Not that it deserves one, mind you. Laughably derivative, there’s almost nothing to differentiate this one from countless other low budget slashers cranked out by would-be mini-moguls driven more by the prospect of profit than creativity (in this case, a couple of lawyers hoping to get a slice of the pie).


Still, Girls Nite Out is not without a bit of historic interest. It is so indicative of second-tier ‘80s slasher flicks that one gets a good feel for what was typically spoon-fed to undemanding teenagers at drive-ins and multiplexes (as well as filling the horror sections of video stores). In a way, the review you’re currently reading could be about dozens of other cheap slasher films. On the other hand, those films don’t have Hal Holbrook showing up for a few days’ work and, according to the essay in this disc’s supplemental booklet, claiming the script was better than the one he read for The Fog.


There’s also cult heroine Rutanya Alda and hubby Richard Bright (Pacino’s right-hand man in The Godfather). But none of these familiar faces pop up that often. The main characters are a bunch of college kids - and I mean a bunch - lining up for slaughter by a guy in a bear suit. Typically, most of the victims are women, who are repeatedly called ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’ as they’re attacked (misogyny was an accusation often leveled at these films, an argument Girls Nite Out certainly can’t dispute). None of the male characters serve any real purpose. They are either hunky douchebags, cringy comic relief or Holbrook earning a paycheck, but at no time do any of them significantly participate in the story. 


"Is that a salmon in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?"
There is one unique element that may or may not have had an influence on horror films to come. The killer’s weapon of choice is a row of steak knives extending from one of the costume’s paws. Did this later inspire Wes Craven to endow his own Freddy Krueger with similar appendages? Okay, that’s probably a stretch, but the fact remains that Girls Nite Out did it first…and pretty effectively, I might add.

Elsewhere, the film takes a looong time to get going, the first half introducing so many characters that we have a difficult time keeping track of who’s who. The “wild” college party, in particular, is embarrassingly bad. Not only do the actors look too old for their roles, the characters are terribly written, as if penned by a middle-aged man who thinks he knows how young adults behave, but is ultimately clueless. But those aspects are also typical of most slasher films from the era.


One could compare Girls Nite Out and its ilk to the low-budget oaters of the ‘50s, prolifically cranked out to placate the demand for westerns. Not the content, obviously, but the rationale behind this and countless other slasher films. For Blu-ray, Arrow Video does its best to restore this one, though a pre-title card informs us that “no pre-print materials could be located,” which essentially means that some of the images are worn beyond repair. However, Arrow compensates with some terrific interviews featuring some of the primary cast. Their enthusiastic recollections and anecdotes are easily the best reason to check-out the disc, especially since most of them have no illusions over the quality of the finished product, but certainly had a good time making it.


EXTRA KIBBLES

INTERVIEWS - The best of the bonus features, these lengthy interviews with various cast members are wonderfully entertaining: “Staying Alive” (actor Julia Montgomery)”; “A Savage Mauling” (actor Laura Summer); “Along in the Dark” (actor Lois Robbins); “It Was a Party!” (actor Paul Christie); “Love & Death” (actors Lauren-Marie Taylor & John Didrichsen, who met while auditioning and got married after filming wrapped).

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By authors Justin Kerswell and Amanda Reyes.

ALTERNATE TITLE CARD - When it was released as The Scaremaker.

TRAILERS

REVERSIBLE COVER - Featuring new and original artwork.


LIBERTY VALANCE Gets Shot in 4K


THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (4K UHD Review)
1962 / 123 min
Review by Mr. Paws😺

Including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in the ongoing Paramount Presents series (#31, for those keeping count) is a no-brainer. Not only a big hit, it’s arguably the last great film directed by the legendary John Ford and pairs two Hollywood legends for the first time.

This release is also noteworthy for being the first Paramount Presents 4K UHD offering (along with a Blu-ray version). As such, the film looks and sounds good, though to be honest, I didn’t notice a huge difference between the Blu-ray and 4K discs. The overall image of the Blu-ray might even be more consistent. Still, both are an improvement over previous releases.


As for the film itself, I’m gonna commit potential blasphemy by saying The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has always been a bit overpraised. That’s not to say the film isn’t terrific entertainment. Anchored by one of the more compelling stories Ford has ever worked with, it’s loaded with great moments, from Lee Marvin’s ferocious performance as the hateful sadistic titular villain to the complex vulnerability Stewart instills in Ransom Stoddard, subjected to the brunt of Valance’s reign of terror until their classic stand-off. 


"Dine 'n' Dash? Who me?"
Somewhat deliberately paced, Ford methodically builds tension through the first two acts, raising the stakes with each conflict between Valance and Stoddard. However, sometimes the movie gets a little pokey, particularly when veering off to focus on secondary characters, some of which are too broadly rendered to invest in. That includes John Wayne as Tom Doniphon, who’s almost too stoic to be believable, even while trying to woo love-interest Hallie (Vera Miles). And let’s face it, as actors go, Wayne was never in the same class as Stewart, which is glaringly obvious when they share the screen.

Finally, the story goes on way longer than it needs to. Without providing spoilers, the primary conflict is resolved a full 20 minutes before the credits roll, then ties-up loose ends with a meandering coda. Granted, it’s to set-up a major plot revelation, but that could’ve been accomplished more concisely. In fact, a single shot recounting what really happened during the climactic gunfight might have had more dramatic impact, as opposed to Tom taking Ransom - and the viewer - aside to explain it all.


But that’s just me. For the most part, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance remains an entertaining late-career milestone for both Stewart and Wayne, while Ford reminds us he didn’t need color, big sets or the “wide open spaces” to put together a dark, compelling western (for budgetary reasons, it was filmed entirely on soundstages). This 2-disc set also includes more extensive bonus features than the usual Paramount Presents release, as well as the usual outstanding packaging.


EXTRA KIBBLES

“THE SIZE OF LEGENDS: THE SOUL OF MYTH” - An excellent multi-chapter documentary.

“FILMMAKER FOCUS” - A regular feature in the Paramount Presents series, critic/historian Leonard Maltin discusses the film.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - Mostly by director Peter Bogdanovich, but also features archival comments by director John Ford and actor James Stewart.

SELECTED SCENE COMMENTARY - Intro by Dan Ford. Features archival interviews with director John Ford, actors James Stewart & Lee Marvin.

4K, BLU-RAY & DIGITAL COPIES

TRAILER


May 14, 2022

INFINITE (4K): A Reincarnated Rehash


INFINITE (4K UHD Review)
2021 / 106 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😾

Right off the bat, Infinite makes the near fatal narrative mistake of laying-out the entire premise during Mark Wahlberg’s introductory voiceover. 

That premise: There are hundreds of repeatedly-reincarnated people on Earth called Infinites, who fully remember all of their past lives, retaining their growing set of skills from one life to another. One group of them, the Believers, are sort of like guardians who use their abilities to try and improve the world. Conversely, the Nihilists - sick of living forever - are hellbent on destroying all life, thus ending their torment. 


However, Evan McCauley (Wahlberg) has mental issues which keep him from remembering anything, so he wonders why he’s such a skilled fighter and swordsman. Because of the opening exposition, the audience is already 100% certain he’s not-only a Believer, but a huge part of the film will likely focus on Evan discovering who he really is. In the meantime, he’s pursued by Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a former friend from a previous life who’s now a Nihilist. Evan is rescued by a group of Believers who hope to jog his memory because it turns out he was once known as Treadway, who hid a device called the Egg, containing a virus that’ll wipe out all life on Earth. Needless to say, both sides want to retrieve the Egg for different reasons.


"Uh...what?"
Had the viewer been allowed to discover what’s going on right-along with Evan, Infinite would have at least held a surprise or two. Instead, we simply watch the premise play itself out, with a lot of Matrix-style flash and action that might have been impressive 20 years ago, but is now perfunctory. Storywise, the hunt for the Egg isn’t all that interesting, nor are the people seeking it, most of whom are also similar to characters from The Matrix. As the film’s “Neo,” Wahlberg pretty-much plays the same guy he always does…Mark Wahlerg, which ain’t necessarily a bad thing since he’s always been a reliable action hero. Ejiofor, on the other hand, is wasted as your standard-issue manic bad guy bent on destroying the world.

Breathlessly paced, Infinite features plenty of chases, fighting, gunplay and destruction, all presented with slick professionalism. But we’ve seen it all before, and because it spoon-feeds the entire premise almost immediately, there aren’t any real narrative surprises. That might make it a passable time-killer on Paramount+ (where Infinite first premiered), but I can’t imagine anyone ever being compelled to visit this forgettable film a second time.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - “They Call Themselves Infinites” (features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews); “The Kinetic Action of Infinite” (mostly focuses on the opening scene); “Anatomy of a Scene- Police Station & Forest”; “Infinite Time” (SFX featurette).

DIGITAL COPY


May 12, 2022

The SOUTHGATE QUAD CINEMA

Since no full photo of the Southgate seems to exist, this is a rendering by the author as he remembers it from the mid-to-late 1970s.

A Recollection (and artist’s rendering) by D.M. ANDERSON🎬

The Southgate Quad Cinema opened in Milwaukie, Oregon in 1973. Boxy, puke colored and located off an expressway in the middle of an industrial area, it wasn't much to look at. But since it was mere minutes from my house (10 by car, 30 by bike), the Southgate is where I saw many of the films I grew up with (and remain personal favorites), including The Towering Inferno, Jaws, The Omen, Three Days of the Condor, Sorcerer, Black Sunday, Prophecy, The Gumball Rally, countless B-movies and the re-release of Star Wars.


My last visit was to see Star Trek: Insurrection in 1998. By then, the Southgate was weathered, run-down and archaic compared to the multiplexes that had sprung up all over town. It finally closed for good a few years later and was unceremoniously demolished shortly after…another childhood haunt now gone and forgotten. Except by me, of course. The Southgate was where I went on my first-ever date, learned the art of theater-hopping and made movies a major part of my life. Theaters these days are bigger, louder and more comfortable, but sometimes I still miss that old place.

A magazine feature about the Southgate Quad Cinema, shortly after it first opened.

DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW 2: Better Late Than Never?


DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW 2 (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 85 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

For those unaware - like yours truly - Dark Night of the Scarecrow was a made-for-TV horror film that premiered on CBS in 1981. It had a fairly impressive cast as these things go, including Charles Durning, Larry Drake, Jocelyn Brando and Lane Smith. Though I've yet to see it - nor do I feel particularly compelled to - the film apparently developed something of a cult following over the years.

Four decades later, we’re getting a sequel (better late than never, I guess). The cast features no one you’ve likely heard of, but the original’s creator (J.D. Feigelson) is back, this time multitasking as director, writer and producer. Not quite a stand-alone story, he at-least makes certain Dark Night of the Scarecrow 2 still works on its own, only briefly alluding to the original film to explain how and why the titular creature exists.


Available for parties.
In this one, the scarecrow begins killing a variety of unsavory types, mostly those who pose a threat to Chris Rhymer (Amber Wedding) and her sullen son, Jeremy (Aiden Shurr), who’ve moved to a small town under the witness protection program to avoid the wrath of a mob boss. This means, of course, that the scarecrow is the hero of the film…and oddly endearing. In fact, whenever he puts on his ‘angry eyes,’ he’s actually kinda cute.

That’s probably not what horror lovers want to hear, but despite a lack of any real scares, the film isn’t without interest. While the performances are nothing to write home about, the story ain’t bad and it moves along briskly, featuring a couple of creatively shot - though fairly bloodless - death scenes. Considering the obviously limited budget, Dark Night of the Scarecrow 2 is pretty well assembled and, with a brief running time, doesn’t wear out its welcome. However, I suspect some fans of the first film might feel this (very) belated sequel was hardly worth the effort after so many years.


EXTRA KIBBLES

TRAILERS - For various VCI horror titles, including this one and the original (which actually sums up the film quite nicely, a plus for newbies).


May 10, 2022

PUSHING HANDS: Ang Lee's Charming Debut


PUSHING HANDS (Blu-ray Review)
1991 / 105 min
FROM FILM MOVEMENT
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

I should be upfront and say my experience with Ang Lee began with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which I enjoyed, though more for its technical aspects and fight choreography than the characters or story. I know he’s made a few critically praised dramas since then, but it seems like he's growing increasingly enamored with tech-toys and special effects, rather than telling a compelling story.

I should be equally upfront and confess never having seen any of Lee’s early films, including his first, Pushing Hands (named for a move practiced in various martial arts disciplines). After seeing it, one thing was obvious…before he got all wrapped up in provocative subjects or pushing the limits of CGI, Lee relied on authentic characters and humanistic stories. 


To draw a comparison to George Lucas, if Crouching Tiger is Ang Lee’s Star Wars, then Pushing Hands could be considered his American Graffiti…an episodic, character-driven and layered film that feels drawn from personal experience. Whether or not any of the story is actually autobiographical isn’t really important. What does matter are its characters and themes. As such, I think most of us have gone through moments when we feel alienated from those around us, or had a relationship deteriorate because of an inability - or unwillingness - to communicate constructively. Those of a certain age might relate to the ageism that one main character is repeatedly subjected to.


Chu declares his right to rock.
The story centers primarily around Chu (Sihung Lung), an elderly Chinese martial arts master forced to move to New York to live with his son, Alex (Bo Z. Wang), American daughter-in-law Martha (Deb Stover) and grandson Jeremy (Haan Lee). He doesn’t speak English and Martha doesn’t speak Chinese, so when we first meet them, their relationship is already strained. Steadfast in his old ways and annoying habits, Chu makes it difficult for Martha to focus on finishing her novel. He’s also befuddled by American customs and is concerned at how Jeremy is being raised so informally. Conversely, Martha grows to resent Chu’s presence, which puts strains on her marriage, since Alex feels fiercely obligated to take care of his father (quite the opposite of the decidedly American tendency to marginalize its elders).

The film isn’t as dour as I’ve described it. Though sometimes somber in tone - with a few emotionally distressing moments - Pushing Hands keeps things fairly light, even funny on occasion. There are times throughout the film where we dislike each of the three leads, only to completely sympathize with them later, for different reasons. This is especially true with Chu. His demeanor and habits are irritating within the first few minutes after meeting him, exacerbated by his meddling in Martha’s parental decisions. However, the more we know him, the more endearing he becomes, especially once he meets Chen (Wang Lai), a similarly-widowed cooking instructor. Overall, these relationships - and how they fluctuate - feel real, as does the cultural barrier that often hampers real communication. The only thread that rings false is a ludicrous scene which has Chu using his kung fu skills to dispatch an abusive restaurant manager and a crew of young thugs, becoming a local hero in the process. The whole sequence completely belies the tone Lee has worked so hard to establish thus far.


But despite its conflicts, Pushing Hands is ultimately an unassuming, sweet-natured film with a lot of empathy for its subjects, which is more than I can say for much of Ang Lee’s later work. Perhaps a little too deliberately paced and episodic for repeated viewings, it’s certainly worth checking out at least once, if only to confirm that Lee once favored characters over camera tricks.


EXTRA KIBBLES

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION - With filmmakers James Shamus, Ted Hopeand Tim Aquyres.

SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Includes an essay, “Balancing Acts,” by film studies professor Zhen Zhang; cast, crew & disc credits.


THE POOP SCOOP: Summer Kibbles!

😺GIANT arrives on 4K Ultra HD 6/21 from Warner Bros.
Giant, the 1956 classic film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean in his final role, will be released on Ultra HD Blu-ray and Digital on June 21. George Stevens, Sr. won his second Oscar for directing the sweeping family saga set in Texas during the days of the oil boom. Based on Edna Ferber’s controversial novel, the movie's release in 1956 was a massive box office hit and garnered 10 Academy Award nominations. Considered by critics as ahead of its time, Giant is admired today for the breadth of its humanity more than its epic scale with its grand themes of generational conflict, racial tolerance, and social change. It exposed the marginalization and segregation of Mexican Americans for the first time on the big screen. At the center of the film, Elizabeth Taylor, as Leslie Benedict, portrays a strong and progressive woman who acts to stem the patterns of injustice. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

😺THE LOST CITY on Digital 5/10 and 4K/Blu-ray 7/26 from Paramount.
Discover thrilling adventure, fabled treasure, and epic laughs when the hit comedy THE LOST CITY finds its way home for purchase on Digital starting May 10, 2022.  The film will arrive on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD July 26 from Paramount Home Entertainment. Starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, this “fun & wild jungle adventure comedy” (Erik Davis, Fandango) is “a hilarious adventure from start to finish” (Dorian Parks, Geeks of Color).  Fans can enjoy THE LOST CITY at home on Digital*, 4K Ultra HD, or Blu-ray and get over 50 minutes of fun-filled bonus content, including hilarious bloopers, deleted scenes not seen in theaters, and multiple behind-the-scenes featurettes.  Take a trip to the movie’s exotic filming location, see how the incredible action set pieces were filmed, discover the story behind the infamous jumpsuit, and much more!

😺UNIVERSAL SOLIDER Steelbook arrives 6/21 on 4K Ultra HD from Lionsgate.
Director Roland Emmerich’s action-packed sci-fi film, Universal Soldier, arrives June 21 on 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital SteelBook from Lionsgate. The sci-fi classic features Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD, Double Team, Double Impact, Kickboxer), Dolph Lundgren (Johnny Mnemonic, Masters of the Universe, Rocky IV), Ally Walker (Kazaam, While You Were Sleeping, TV’s “Profiler”), Ed O’Ross (Dick Tracy, Red Heat, Lethal Weapon), as well as Primetime Emmy® nominee Jerry Orbach (TV’s “Law & Order,” Broadway Bound, Beauty and the Beast). SYNOPSIS:. Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Sgt. Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) are two soldiers who kill each other in Vietnam and are brought back to life 25 years later for a secret government program. Known as “Unisols,” they are genetically enhanced, unstoppable killing machines without memory, feelings, or free will. But when Deveraux’s memory starts to return and he escapes the program, a superhuman chase across the country begins.

🙀EVENT HORIZON 25th Anniversary 4K Blu-ray SteelBook Coming 8/9 from Paramount.
Seven years ago, pioneering research spacecraft "Event Horizon" mysteriously vanished without a trace on its maiden voyage. But then, in the darkness of deep space, a persistent signal prompts a rescue crew to wing its way through the galaxy on a bold rescue mission. What they uncover is an unimaginable interstellar horror that will test the entire team's sanity and souls. This set includes a new 4K restoration of the film, as well as numerous bonus features: Audio commentary by director Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt; The Making of Event Horizon - Five featuurettes; The Point of No Return - The filming of Event Horizon with director commentary; Secrets with optional director commentary; The Unseen Event Horizon - the unfilmed rescue scene, plus conceptual art; Original trailer.