September 20, 2021

BREAKDOWN: Kurt Russell on the Highway to Hell

BREAKDOWN (Blu-ray Review)
1997 / 93 min

FROM PARAMOUNT

Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

Kurt Russell has always been a reliable, engaging actor (and something of a cult hero in certain circles). But he’s seldom ever given props for his versatility. Beyond his early years as a Disney star, Russell has convincingly played tough guys, comic foils, romantic leads, cops, crooks, psychos, goofballs and - despite his distinctive features - larger-than-life historical figures. 

One film on Russell's resume that often gets criminally overlooked - and features one of his best performances - is 1997’s Breakdown, where he plays mild-mannered everyman Jeff Taylor, on route to California with wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) when their Jeep breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Trucker Red Barr (J.T. Walsh) offers a ride to a nearby diner to use the phone; Amy accepts, while Jeff decides to stay with the car. But when he gets it started himself and reaches the diner, she’s nowhere to be found, nor does anyone recall her showing up..


It turns out Red isn’t the Good Samaritan he first seemed to be. Aided by a few other nasty associates, Red has taken Amy and threatens to kill her if Jeff doesn’t walk to the next town, empty out their bank account and deliver the cash to him. Since Red assures him he’ll be watched the entire time, Jeff can’t go to the police, call for help or tell anyone in town what’s happening to him. And the story’s just getting started.


All the rest stops appear to be closed.
A smart, tightly-wound thriller in the vein of other “road terror” films like Duel and Joy Ride, Breakdown succinctly introduces the conflict and all the major players before ramping-up the tension, which seldom wanes throughout the rest of the film. With the exception of a climax that stretches credibility, writer-director Jonathan Mostow delivers a plausible, fast-paced story with more than a few surprises. 

But despite several suspenseful, well-executed action sequences, what really makes the film crackle are the performances and characters. Russell convincingly portrays Jeff as fallible, terrified and desperate. Though never stoic, he’s not completely helpless, either. Forced to take matters into his own hands, Jeff turns out to be quite clever and resilient when backed into a corner. As for the late, great J.T. Walsh...Red is arguably the most wonderfully hateful character he’s ever played.


Breakdown is a great choice for inclusion in the Paramount Presents series...and somewhat surprising, too. Though the film was a critical & box office success, it’s been sort-of forgotten over the years, never getting a proper Blu-ray release until now. But while its cultural impact pales in comparison to some of Paramount’s bonafide blockbusters from the ‘90s, Breakdown is arguably one of the better action-thrillers of the decade and certainly worth rediscovering.


EXTRA KIBBLES

“FILMMAKER FOCUS” - A new interview with director Jonathan Mostow.

“VICTORY IS HERS” - A new interview with actor Kathleen Quinlan.

“A BRILLIANT PARTNERSHIP” - A new interview with co-producer Martha De Laurentiis.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By actor Kurt Russell and director Jonathan Mostow.

ALTERNATE OPENING - Introduced by director Jonathan Mostow, the opening provides background of the Taylors’ decision to move to California. It’s interesting, but completely unnecessary to the story.

TRAILER

DIGITAL COPY

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

September 19, 2021

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (4K) and a Married Couple's Guide to the Old Ultra-Violence

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (4K UHD Review)
1971 / 137 min

FROM WARNER BROS

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

#InPartnershipwithWB

My wife and I provide a pretty accurate microcosm for the legacy of A Clockwork Orange, easily one of the most controversial, polarizing films ever made.

Shortly after we got married, I had a few buddies over to tip-back a few beers - actually a lot o’ beers - and watch movies. Thinking it would be a good choice for a guys’ night in, I rented A Clockwork Orange, which I’d seen a few times but none of them had. Sure enough, we all had a great time getting our buzz on while Alex (Malcom McDowell) and his Droogies gleefully engaged in a bit of the old “ultra-violence.”


Francie, on the other hand, was disgusted...and likely concerned her new husband would find scenes of rape, assault & murder even remotely humorous. She left the room after about 30 minutes, later declaring the film misogynistic, sadistic and pornographic. Not only did Francie hate it, she seemed a little pissed that I didn’t. Unfortunately, I was never able to convey that it wasn’t the sexual violence itself that I found amusing, but the absurdity of how it’s presented...nearly light-hearted in tone and accompanied by upbeat, benign classical music.


Nor could I convince her that
A Clockwork Orange is ultimately a morality tale...almost literally. More specifically, the film charges that avoiding evil acts for fear of personal consequences doesn’t make someone righteous. Alex’s “cure” doesn’t change who he is - an unrepentant sociopath - it just takes away his freedom to make his own moral choices. 

Francie’s assessment isn’t wrong, though. A Clockwork Orange does indeed objectify women and glorifies the violence against them, especially during the first act. Stylized as they may be, these scenes are extraordinarily brutal, partially because of their overall indifference to the victims’ suffering, but mainly due to the perceived conceit that audiences will find them exhilarating. And not only does the film serve-up a protagonist who’s irredeemably cruel, narcissistic and apathetic, he’s presented as someone we’re expected to root for.


How Fox News keeps its audience.
But I’m not wrong, either. We don’t so much side with Alex as we do against the world in which he exists, managed by a system of government which ultimately believes it can “fix” immorality through conditioning, which is very much how many organized religions operate. After all, how many people out there suppress their darkest impulses more out of fear of retribution than an inherent desire to be a good person? Ultimately, Alex is just a vessel to personify the fallacy of imposed morality. Viewed in that context, the film is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. 

Such is the legacy of A Clockwork Orange (at least in my house), and part of the reason the film will never be completely dismissed or forgotten, regardless of one’s opinion.


Now it’s available in 4K, and of course, Francie more-or-less assured me this was one title I’d be reviewing alone. No surprises there. Nor was I surprised that the overall image is an improvement over the previous Blu-ray release, particularly noticeable in scenes where color and oppressive cityscapes reflect the dehumanization theme prevalent in most of Kubrick’s work since Dr. Strangelove. A Clockwork Orange might be - by design - his most emotionally aloof film, exacerbated by a cold aesthetic that’s nicely restored with this 4K transfer. The overall audio quality is okay, though not a significant improvement; the music sounds a lot better than the dialogue. 


Finally, like many of Warner Bros recent 4K editions, this set includes a Blu-ray and digital copy, but no new bonus features. However, there’s a generous amount of vintage material - mostly related to the film’s tumultuous history - that pretty much any cinephile will find interesting, even if they share Francie’s assessment.


EXTRA KIBBLES

4K, BLU-RAY & DIGITAL COPIES

“STILL TICKIN’: THE RETURN OF A CLOCKWORK ORANGE” - From 2000, this is an excellent 45-minute retrospective documentary featuring interviews with numerous prominent directors, critics and Malcom McDowell.

“TURNING LIKE CLOCKWORK” - A 2011 documentary that looks at the film’s impact and controversy, also featuring various directors, producer Jan Harlan and Christiane Kubrick (Stanley’s wife).

“GREAT BOLSHY YARBLOCKOS! MAKING A CLOCKWORK ORANGE” - Another interesting retrospective doc, which also goes into detail about the original novel by Anthony Burgess.

“MALCOLM McDOWELL LOOKS BACK” - The actor shares thoughts and anecdotes about the film.

TRAILER

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

September 18, 2021

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (4K): The Modern Classic, Twice Preserved

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (4K UHD Review)
1994 / 142 min

FROM WARNER BROS

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😸

#InPartnershipwithWB

One of my daughters is a high school senior who’s taking a class called Film & Culture, where they’re currently learning about the National Film Registry, a branch of the Library of Congress that determines which titles are chosen for preservation due to their cultural, aesthetic or historic importance. When this new 4K UHD release arrived for review, she excitedly stated it was one of the films selected. 

I actually didn’t know that, but wasn’t really surprised. Few modern films which initially played to empty theaters have had a bigger, more enduring cultural impact than The Shawshank Redemption. Over the next two decades, it became one of those movies everybody rented, and whenever it showed up on cable TV - which was, like, all the time - who didn’t pause to catch a few scenes while channel surfing? 


Today, Shawshank remains supremely rewatchable and eminently quotable. It’s the film we most-associate with Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman and director Frank Darabont. With the possible exception of Stand by Me, it is arguably the best thing ever adapted from a Stephen King story. Having already seen the film at least a dozen times over the years, I initially only intended to pop-in the disc just long enough to assess the new restoration, but damn, if I didn’t once-again get sucked into this timeless tale of bromance all the way ‘till the closing credits.


Warden Norton still wonders how Andy managed to get all four corners of the poster tacked back to the wall (as do we all).
As far as preservation goes, Warner Bros has also done their part. Aesthetically, Shawshank was never a movie that was brimming with visual highs and lows, but the 4K transfer is a big improvement over previous Blu-ray releases (and infinitely better than the ancient snapcase DVD still laying around my house somewhere). The audio transfer is a little less impressive, though still pretty decent. I just think the upgrades to the sound are comparatively negligible. A digital copy and the original Blu-ray disc - along with its bonus features - are also included. However, there’s no new supplemental material. 

Which means, of course, that the 4K edition of The Shawshank Redemption is strictly for those interested in a video upgrade or wish to add it to their digital library. But hey...the film is a classic, one of the few from the ‘90s that people will still be talking about 50 years from now. No respectable collection is really complete without it, and if it’s still missing from yours, why not the definitive version?


EXTRA KIBBLES

4K, BLU-RAY & DIGITAL COPIES

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Frank Darabont

DOCUMENTARIES - “Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption” and “Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature.” Considerably longer and more substantial than typical featurettes, neither of these were created to be bonus material, but are certainly worth checking out.

“THE SHARKTANK REDEMPTION” - A so-so parody, featuring Morgan Freeman and his son (who’s also in the original film, by the way).

2 STORYBOARDS

PHOTO GALLERIES - Presented in separate chapters, along with a ‘Play All’ option.


KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

September 16, 2021

DVD Giveaway: THE POWER

FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE is giving away a copy of THE POWER on DVD, courtesy of RLJE Films

London, 1974. In THE POWER, as Britain prepares for electrical blackouts to sweep across the country, trainee nurse Val arrives for her first day at the crumbling East London Royal Infirmary. With most of the patients and staff evacuated to another hospital, Val must work the night shift in the empty building. Within these walls lies a deadly secret, forcing Val to face her own traumatic past in order to confront the malevolent power that’s intent on destroying everything around her. 


THE POWER is available on VOD, Digital HD and DVD September 21.


TO ENTER:

Shoot us an email at freekittensmovieguide@gmail.com

CONTEST ENDS 1/11/21

Contest ends 9/30

September 15, 2021

THE POWER Spreads Its Title Around

THE POWER (DVD Review)
2020 / 93 min

FROM RLJE FILMS

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

The title could actually apply to three aspects of this film.

First, it takes place in an English hospital during a miners’ strike in 1974. At the time of that strike - which actually happened - nightly blackouts were enforced to conserve power. The film’s protagonist, Valerie (Rose Williams), is a meek, neophyte nurse forced to work the night shift while most of the power is shut down. She also happens to be very afraid of the dark, for reasons that are eventually revealed at a key moment.


Second, there’s some kind of malevolent spirit lurking the halls which appears hellbent on terrorizing Valerie, though none of her colleagues working the same shift believe her, including a particularly bitchy ex-schoolmate, Babs (Emma Rigby).  Even after this entity possess her, they initially assume she’s making it all up, since they’re aware she once lied about being assaulted while attending a religious school. In fact, when people start turning up dead - including Babs and a lecherous maintenance man - the other nurses a certain Valerie’s killing them herself.


"Guess who!"
The third aspect from which The Power derives its title has to do with plot turns that reveal themselves much later. To discuss them in any detail would be creeping into spoiler territory (though I think most savvy horror fans will have it figured out long before then). However, morally-appalling abuse of power and authority is definitely one of the film’s central themes.

Until that final act, The Power feels stuck in second gear. Character exposition comprises most of the first act, but while Valerie certainly earns our sympathy, most others are painted in broad strokes and the vengeful spirit turns out to be something we’ve seen many times before. The film is deliberately paced and atmospheric, but relies too heavily on gratuitous jump-scares for its own good, to the point where we wish it would stop throwing us false alarms and get on with the story. 


When it finally does, however, things liven-up considerably, even if much of it rings familiar. The revelations during the climax are somewhat predictable, but the story comes to a pretty satisfying conclusion. Well directed and featuring a solid lead performance by Williams, The Power is ultimately worth checking out, though a bit of patience is required.


EXTRA KIBBLES

BEHIND-THE-SCENES GALLERY

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By writer-director Corinna Faith & actor Rose Williams


KITTY CONSENSUS:

NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.

September 14, 2021

NUCLEAR NIGHTMARES: The Doomsday Time Capsule

NUCLEAR NIGHTMARES (DVD Review)
1979 / 90 min

FROM CORINTH FILMS

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

This documentary hails from a time when the prospect of nuclear war cast an ominous shadow. Not that it isn’t possible today, but back then, many experts - some of whom are interviewed here - believed it was inevitable. Certainly our decades-old stand-off with the dreaded Soviet Union was bound to come to a head, either accidentally or from skirmishes that escalate beyond anyone’s control.

It never happened, of course. For the most part, the Russians’ role as global villains has since been surpassed by more malevolent (and unstable) threats throughout the world.  So today, Nuclear Nightmares is more of a period piece, a speculative look at the potential end result of Cold War paranoia.


Narrated by Peter Ustinov, the film presents several real-world scenarios which could ultimately lead to nuclear brinkmanship, using current-at-the-time tensions between various nations (but mostly the U.S. and the Soviet Union). After each segment, Ustinov assumes the role of a military officer in a bomb shelter, explaining the apocalypse as though it already happened and what led to it. 


Peter enjoys a few belts before doomsday.
Viewed in the context of the time it was made, the film can be quite chilling at times. It presents the subject matter in a detached, objective manner - as do its numerous participants - giving the segments a sense of quiet urgency that wouldn’t be as effective with the usual apocalyptic histrionics. However, when Ustinov isn’t on the screen to serve-up some dramatic heft, the film is often pretty dry. Perhaps just a smidgen of doomsaying jazz-hands would boost our engagement level, especially since nuclear war isn’t really something we wake up worrying about anymore.


Still, watching Nuclear Nightmares today is sort-of like unearthing a time capsule. It’s interesting to see what various experts and strategists once thought awaited humankind. But while we can take comfort in the fact their predictions never came to bear, we shouldn’t dismiss them entirely. Considering there are still a lot of nukes lying dormant in silos & submarines around the world - not all of them in reliable hands - perhaps these guys just got the timeline wrong.

KITTY CONSENSUS:

NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.

September 13, 2021

ADVENTURES IN THE BUDGET BIN: Mr. Biscuits' Back-to-School Bonanza


REPORTED BY MR. BISCUITS🐈

Besides the days they were born, the two best moments I’ve experienced as a parent were when my daughters were finally potty trained. No longer required to keep a steady supply of Huggies & baby wipes in the house, it was like getting a raise.


Of course, that raise would later be spoken-for when the girls began caring about their appearance. Hence, all the money I once planned to save for a mid-life crisis Harley gets eaten-up every August when they shop for school clothes. It’s like buying a year’s worth of diapers all at once.


At least when they needed diapers, all it took was a quick trip to Safeway. Now, August weekends are spent hitting the mall, then Old Navy, then Target, then Hot Topic, then Forever 21, then...well, you get the idea. And this is all before we’ve begun the annual Great Northwestern Shoe Quest, a living hell unto itself.


Sometimes I show my age by having the audacity to suggest taking stock of the clothes they already have, or at the very least, checking-out a price tag or two before throwing that new pair of pre-ripped mom jeans into the cart. Every time, I’m met with blank stares from both girls as though I just spoke in a foreign tongue. And alas, my wife has their back, mainly because I suspect she enjoys dressing them almost as much as they enjoy letting her max-out the credit card.


But she has my back, as well, more-or-less letting me be the taxi service. That suits me fine because my daughters are no longer toddlers content to hit the Disney Store. While I love them dearly, hanging around while they shop for clothes designed to accentuate their femininity is a sobering reminder that they’re now young women, making me an old man.


So this year, while they bopped from place to place in search of clothes that are way too form-fitting or revealing for my liking, I sought solace by sniffing-out video bargains at nearby Dad-friendly establishments...


A few stores down from Rue21 was Book Warehouse, which sells hardcovers and paperbacks that are no longer welcome on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. They also occasionally stock movies, and this time I nabbed
Frost/Nixon. Though marked at $3.00, I was pleasantly surprised when the clerk rang it up for $1.88. That officially makes it the least I’ve ever shelled-out for a new Blu-ray copy of an Oscar nominated movie. I know much of director Ron Howard’s work has been spotty over the last decade or two, but The Da Vinci Code notwithstanding, none have been all-out pooches. With great performances from a stellar cast, Frost/Nixon is one of Howard’s better recent films.


The girls found a shit-ton at the mall - and I have receipts totaling in the triple digits to prove it - but I came up empty-handed. However, the next stop was Walmart, where the opposite happened. Though not-at-all surprised they didn’t find anything at the one store where I wouldn’t shit my pants from sticker shock, I found the Open Water 3-Film Collection ($5.00). The Debbie Downers of shark movies, only the first & third films feature fearsome fish, but ironically, my favorite is Open Water 2: Adrift because the characters are all dumbshits who have no one to blame but themselves for their predicament. 


Of course, a stop at our local strip mall meant quickly ducking into Big Lots. I caught the store on a pretty good day, finding the remake of The Manchurian Candidate ($5.00). The 1962 original is an all-time classic, but the 2004 film is pretty damn good in its own right, partially because it justifies its existence by doing something slightly different with the source material, but mainly because Denzel Washington’s outstanding performance makes it better than it ever had a right to be (much like he did with The Magnificent Seven, another wonderful remake no one was pining for).


Finally, that same stop yielded the 2011 winner of Cannes’ Palme d’Or, Jackass 3.5 ($3.00). Sure, I know these films are lowest-common-denominator entertainment aimed squarely at teenage boys and mouth-breathers (which are sometimes one in the same). But what can I say? They make me laugh, and I’d rather sit through every Jackass film - and every episode of the TV show that inspired them - than endure one of Adam Sandler’s cinema suppositories. Besides, this one wasn’t just for me. My two daughters love Jackass, too. So what better way to cap-off an entire day spent draining Dad’s wallet than the three of us heading down to the Dave Cave to enjoy a bunch o’ bros getting whacked in the nuts?

Content with their bundles of back-to-school attire, we headed home, the wife and girls pleasantly exhausted. In fact, they dropped their bags in unison and headed upstairs for well-deserved naps. As I gazed in wonder at the cache of new clothes, I suddenly realized the day would come when my kids would establish their independence by leaving the nest, no longer relying on Mom & Dad to provide their wardrobes. A bittersweet day, to be sure, but also like getting a second raise!


September 11, 2021

SILO...Children Under the Corn

SILO (Blu-ray Review)
2019 / 76 min

FROM OSCILLOSCOPE LABORATORIES

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽

According to the end title card, this happens a lot...some poor bastard is working inside a silo and, like quicksand, the grain starts to suck them under. But even if one does manage to keep their head above the grain, the growing pressure pushing on their body makes it almost impossible to breathe. In either case, that sounds like a shitty way to die.

In Silo, moody teenager Cody (Jack DiFalco) gets stuck in the corn of a 50-foot silo while trying in vain to save one of his bosses from going under. Worse yet, he’s asthmatic, so he’s in immediate danger of suffocating. But most of the drama occurs outside of the silo. Local fireman Frank (Jeremy Holm) is first on the scene and seems to know how to handle the situation, but he’s also a drunk and not trusted by Cody’s mother, Valerie (Jill Paice), who blames him for her husband’s death a few years earlier. 


Meanwhile, farm owner Junior (Jim Parrack) must contend with his ailing father (Chrix Ellis), who suffers from ALS and is responsible for opening the silo’s grain tube in the first place, thus trapping Cody. Interspersed among these concurring storylines are ongoing efforts to keep Cody alive while debating how to get him out of there. With the number of peripheral characters and subplots, Silo unfolds a lot like a disaster movie, albeit a very somber one.


Unfortunately for Cody, the milk comes next.
The film benefits from a very short running time. Despite some interesting scenes depicting how rescues like this are performed -  and a lot of intermittent philosophizing about farm life - there really ain’t a hell of a lot of story here. Even the drama outside of the silo feels manufactured to pad It out, especially since the primary conflict between Frank and Valerie is never explored in much depth. 

But while throwing-in a twister and a couple o’ flying cows would’ve livened things up, Silo is aided by good overall performances and an emphasis on realism. Perhaps too much realism, at times, but ultimately, we do care if Cody gets rescued - mostly for Mom’s sake - and despite never being certain why he’s such a local pariah, we’re invested in Frank’s shot at redemption. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

“SILO: EDGE OF THE REAL WORLD” - Short doc focusing on a few young farmers and how this happens in real life.

2 PANEL DISCUSSIONS - One with the filmmakers, the other with fire rescue members.

“BUILDING THE SILO” - Short making of featurette that focuses on the construction of the silo used in the film.

TRAILER

KITTY CONSENSUS:

NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.