July 19, 2019

DOMINO and the Shadow of De Palma

DOMINO (2019)
Starring Mikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice van Houten, Guy Pearce, Eriq Ebouaney, Nicolas Bro, Paprika Steen, Thomas W. Gabrielsson. Directed by Brian De Palma. (89 min).

Review by Tiger the TerriblešŸ˜½

Once upon a time, Brian De Palma was an indelible brand name. Arguably the most polarizing director of the so-called “New Hollywood” (which included the likes of Scorsese, Coppola and Friedkin), his work was identified by glorious excess. Not just sex and violence – though there was often plenty of both – but a Hitchcock-influenced visual flair.

That Brian De Palma is long gone. In his place is a hired gun whose name still has some market value, but his heart doesn’t seem to be in it anymore.

That’s not to say Domino isn’t a decent film. It’s a watchable little thriller with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Christian Toft, a Danish cop trying to avenge his partner, murdered by suspected terrorist Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney). However, Tarzi himself is forced by CIA agent Joe Martin (Guy Pearce) to hunt for a vicious ISIS leader, Wold, which is convenient since Tarzi wants the man dead, too. Meanwhile, Wold engineers a horrific attack at a film festival and plans another one during a bullfight in Spain. It becomes sort-of a race against time as Tarzi hunts for Wold while Toft hunts for Tarzi with the help of Alex (Carica van Houten), who was having an affair with Toft’s partner.

Not a member of the Dollar Shave Club.
Domino is fairly well-paced with a story just interesting enough to keep our attention, punctuated by bursts of violent action (the mass shooting at the film festival is actually pretty disturbing). The performances are also uniformly decent, Pearce being a particular stand-out. But other than a knock-out rooftop chase that epitomizes classic De Palma, the film could have been directed by anybody.

So while Domino is definitely better than some of Brian De Palma’s recent films, it’s kind-of a shame it isn’t more memorable. Enjoyable enough in the moment, there’s nothing about it that sticks with the viewer for too long afterwards.


July 18, 2019

MASTER Z and the Tenuous Legacy

Starring Max Zhang (Zhang Jin), Liu Yan, Xing Yu, Kevin Cheng, Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, Chrissie Chau, Tony Jaa. Directed by Yuen Woo-ping. (108 min).

Review by Tiger the TerriblešŸ˜¼

Fresh from having his ass handed to him in Ip Man 3, Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang) is ready to move on. Leaving martial arts behind, he seeks the simple life of a grocery store owner while raising his young son.

But life gets more complicated after he saves two girls from gangster Tso Sai Kit (Kevin Chang), who retaliates by burning down Cheung’s store. Their conflict escalates when Cheung torches Kit’s opium den. That-alone is enough story for a decent action film. Instead, Master Z, a spin-off of the popular Ip Man franchise, throws in a lot more plot than it really needs.

It turns out the local gang – the Cheung Lok - is actually run by Kit's older sister, Tso Ngan Kwan (Michelle Yeoh). She wants to end the organization's illegal activities and tries to de-escalate the rift between Kit and Cheung, to no avail. Kit further defies her by getting into the heroin business with American businessman Owen Davidson (Dave Bautista). As if that wasn’t enough bad guys, Tony Jaa pops in and out of the story to kick a few asses.

"You ran this through the dishwasher...didn't you?"
The continually shifting narrative is like a puzzle where the pieces don’t fit as neatly as they should. Subplots are introduced and later dropped, while the overall importance of certain major characters constantly changes (a few of them even turn out to be inconsequential). For example, Yoeh's character could easily be removed from the film with only a few minor script revisions and I still don't know Jaa's purpose. One gets the impression the film’s impressive cast was lined-up before concocting a story to fit ‘em all.

On the other hand, Master Z delivers action in abundance. As the only tenuous tie to the Ip Man franchise, Max Zhang is no Donnie Yen, but he’s a solid martial artist in his own right. He’s engaged in a majority of the fight sequences, squaring-off against most of the cast at various points. His showdown with Yeoh is a definite highlight, a virtual ballet of hands, feet and blades. At 56, Yeoh shows no signs of slowing down (though there is something unnervingly Joan Crawford-like about her appearance). Another great set-piece has Cheung taking-on several thugs among the neon signs hanging over a city street.

And ultimately, the action is what drives the film, its busy plot mostly serving to link the impressive fight scenes. Like The Bourne Legacy, it’s really an Ip Man film in-name-only and not nearly as character-driven. Still, martial arts fans probably won’t have many complaints.

(But what does 'Master Z' even mean?) 

July 17, 2019

MASTER Z: IP MAN LEGACY Blu-ray Giveaway!

FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE is giving away a Blu-ray copy of WELL GO USA's MASTER Z: THE IP MAN LEGACY to one lucky reader.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD 7/30

The newest entry in the celebrated IP MAN universe, MASTER Z: IP MAN LEGACY debuts on digital, Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD July 23rd from Well Go USA Entertainment. Legendary action director Yuen Woo-Ping draws on a stellar cast of Max Zhang (The Brink), Tony Jaa (Triple Threat), Michelle Yeoh, and Dave Bautista to create the hard-hitting martial arts blast that follows the story of Wing Chun master Cheung Tin Chi (Zhang) after his defeat by Ip Man.

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

July 16, 2019

What's New, HELLBOY?

HELLBOY (2019) 
Starring David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church. Directed by Neil Marshall. (121 min). 

Review by Tiger the TerriblešŸ˜½

I should be up-front and state I’ve never seen either of Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy movies, for no other reason than I simply never got around to it. I don’t read comics, either, so I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about the character, his origins or even the basic premise.

I only mention this because the shadows of Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman loom large over the newly-rebooted Hellboy, especially since the corpses of the originals aren’t really that cold yet. But as someone with no basis for comparison, I don’t carry any preconceived expectations or fanboy baggage. However, I’ve enjoyed some of director Neil Marshall’s previous films – The Descent, in particular. He's no del Toro, but at the very least, it would probably be watchable. All that being said, while Hellboy won't ever be mistaken for a masterpiece, I can't say I was disappointed.

Hellboy vehemently contests his library fines.
An unrecognizable David Harbour plays the titular character, a gruff, trash-talking manbeast who was born in Hell, but rescued and raised to be a demon-slayer by his adoptive father, Trevor Bruttenhorn (Ian McShane). Refreshingly, this isn’t yet-another origin story. Not directly, anyway. Other than a few flashbacks and an outlandish revelation of Hellboy’s aristocratic lineage, the story focuses on the present, where the world is threatened by the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), a sorceress once defeated and dismembered by King Arthur. Hellboy himself figures into her agenda, a seduction which has him questioning his loyalties (tempted by the likes of Jovovich, who can blame him?).

He isn’t working alone, though, getting help from plucky young medium Alice (Sasha Lane) and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), who turns into a jaguar when he’s pissed off (though he tries like hell not to). I couldn’t tell you if they’re also lifted from the comic, but both are interesting, the latter being particularly amusing when he finally gives in to his animal side. Speaking of amusing, as someone unfamiliar with Hellboy lore, the overall tone of this film is quite similar to Deadpool. Though not as consistently funny or uproariously vulgar, it has its moments, unquestionably earning its R-rating through perpetual profanity and buckets of blood & gore. Visually, Hellboy is typical of most CGI-heavy action films, save for one wonderful sequence where our hero battles three carnivorous giants, which looks almost like Terry Gilliam took over the director’s chair while Marshall was out grabbing a smoke.

"No, thank you, ma'am. Six children is my limit."
As Hellboy himself, Harbour gives a serviceable performance, but buried under that much make-up, just about anybody of similar size and able to adequately deliver their lines could have played the character. I suspect the general fan consensus will be that he’s no Ron Perlman, similar to my view that Kane Hodder made the best Jason Voorhees.

At just over two-hours, the film could have used some trimming, particularly during the middle act, which tends to meander a bit. Still, I found this version of Hellboy enjoyable enough on its own terms. That may be faint praise for die-hard fans of the comic series or del Toro’s films, some who probably had their minds made-up before watching a single frame of this one. But for those who don’t know Hellboy from Hellraiser, it’s an agreeably gory way to spend an evening.

"TALES OF THE WILD HUNT: HELLBOY REBORN” - An hour-long, three-part documentary with a lot of interviews.

THE POOP SCOOP: Heroes & Villains Edition

Marvel Studios Celebrates The In-Home Release of AVENGERS: ENDGAME with the "We Love You 3000" Tour.

In celebration of the in-home release of Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios and directors Anthony and Joe Russo have teamed up to launch the “We Love You 3000” Tour as a way to thank the fans who have invested so deeply in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), making it the single most successful franchise in film history. Special guests from Marvel Studios and the MCU will visit nine U.S. cities — beginning in San Diego at Comic-Con International on July 20 and ending in Anaheim at D23 Expo 2019 the weekend of Aug. 23-25— greeting and treating fans at each tour stop.  A total of 3,000 MCU Funko Pop Vinyl Figures will be distributed to fans throughout the tour as well as additional giveaways ranging from exclusive Avengers: Endgame prints to McDonald’s vouchers for a free Happy Meal plus an Avengers: Endgame Happy Meal toy to a MCU inspired sundaes and recipe cards courtesy of Ben & Jerry’s.

Best Buy will serve as the location for five “We Love You 3000” Tour stops, hosting in-store fan events to celebrate the nationwide release of Marvel Studios Avengers: Endgame on Blu-ray Aug. 13. Events will feature signings with Marvel Studios filmmakers and/or MCU talent; a special digital photo booth; specialty promotional giveaways, including MCU Funko Pop! Vinyl Figures and exclusive Avengers: Endgame prints; and much more.  Fans can also get their hands on the exclusive, limited edition "Avengers: Endgame” SteelBook and other collectable SteelBooks from the MCU at Best Buy stores across the country and on BestBuy.com. For more information on what’s taking place in each market, visit www.Marvel.com/WeLoveYou3000
MA on Digital 8/20 and Blu-ray & DVD 9/3.
What starts out as a teenager’s dream turns into a terrifying nightmare in MA, the suspenseful thriller from Blumhouse, the producers of Get Out and Happy Death Day, arriving on Digital August 20, 2019 and on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand September 3, 2019 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Fans can now discover more than 20 minutes of thrilling bonus features not seen in theaters including a never-before-seen alternate ending, alternate and deleted scenes, and featurettes that take fans deeper into the unusual and unsettling world of MA. Starring Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help, The Shape of Water), the stirring and suspense-filled horror film “makes you cringe in all the right places” (Owen Gleiberman, Variety) and is packed with unexpected twists and turns that will have viewers on the edge of their seat from start to finish.
BRIGHTBURN on Digital 8/6 and 4K, Blu-ray & DVD 8/20.
What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister? With Brightburn, the visionary filmmaker of Guardians of the Galaxy and Slither presents a startling, subversive take on a radical new genre: superhero horror. This release is loaded with jaw-dropping bonus content including three vignettes, two featurettes, and filmmaker commentary.

RAMBO on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (plus Blu-ray and Digital) and Digital 9/3.
The legendary Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone (2015, Best Supporting Actor, Creed) returns to his most explosive character yet when Rambo arrives on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (plus Blu-ray and Digital) and Digital 4K Ultra HD September 3 from Lionsgate. Just in time for Stallone’s reprisal of the role in Rambo: Last Blood (in theaters September 20), re-relive the fourth movie in the franchise set 26 years after Rambo made his big screen debut in First Blood. Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, the film also stars Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, and Graham McTavish. Available for the very first time in this absolutely stunning format, the Rambo 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack will include both the theatrical cut and unrated extended cut.


CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2000) 4K Ultra - Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu star as the captivating crime-fighting trio who are masters of disguise, espionage and martial arts. When a devious mastermind embroils them in a plot to destroy individual privacy, the Angels, aided by their loyal sidekick Bosley (Bill Murray), set out to bring down the bad guys. But when a terrible secret is revealed, it makes the Angels targets for assassination. CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE Blu-ray - The "Angels", three investigative agents (Barrymore, Diaz and Liu) who work for the Charles Townsend Detective Agency, return for another high-octane series of adventures as they investigate the theft of a database of witness protection profiles, after five of the people on the list are murdered. They're aided by a new Bosley (Bernie Mac), in an adventure which pits them against a "fallen angel" (Moore), their old nemesis, the Thin Man (Glover), and others.

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 FearlessšŸ™€

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 CatšŸ™€

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 DestroyeršŸ˜½

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.