December 5, 2022

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, SEASON FOUR: Television's Most Inclusive Show


STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, SEASON FOUR (DVD Review)
2021-2022 / 664 min (13 Episodes)
Review by Carl, the Couch Potato😺

Those of a certain age might recall the days of the original Star Trek series, which tackled themes and content not generally associated with sci-fi television. Creator Gene Roddenberry was nothing if not forward thinking, showing a future where humankind has advanced beyond the ridiculous trifles that make existence miserable. Case-in-point, one episode famously featured the first interracial kiss (between Capt. Kirk and Lt. Uhura). This wasn’t some attempt to be provocative or controversial; the scene simply required a man and a woman to kiss. 

In that respect, I think Mr. Roddenberry would be proud of what his beloved franchise has evolved into. After four seasons, Star Trek: Discovery is arguably the most diverse and inclusive series on television. People of just about every race - terrestrial or otherwise - are featured in prominent roles, as are those who identify as gay, trans and non-binary. More importantly, the race or genders of particular characters are never relevant to the plot of any episode. By the 32nd Century, no one cares how you identify. 


While that might have the Bible-thumping MAGA hat crowd quaking in their boots, I find that pretty cool. Besides, with galactic Armageddon to deal with - the story arc of these 13 episodes - who the hell has time to worry about such things?


Star Trek's undisputed star...along with Sonequa Martin-Green.
In Season Four, a massive space anomaly - five light-years wide - is laying waste to entire civilizations. Not only is it apparently indestructible, it can suddenly disappear and reappear elsewhere without warning. Worse yet, Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her Discovery crew have determined the anomaly by an unknown species from another galaxy. In the Star Trek canon, there’s never been a threat this big and destructive, and when focused on dealing with the threat - whether learning its origins, attempting first-contact or trying to destroy it - Season Four is compelling and bingeworthy, especially the final six episodes.

However, it takes awhile to gain some momentum. Even more so than last season, subplots involving relationships, personal crises and characters ‘finding’ themselves gets a little repetitive. There are more inspirational speeches, encouraging pep talks and personal epiphanies than there are stars in the galaxy they’re trying to save. While the foundations of Star Trek are built on strong character relationships, most of these moments - charming as they may be - simply aren’t as interesting as the looming apocalyptic crisis. 


On the other hand, other viewers will relish those asides as the best aspects of Season Four. Characters and their quirks are part of what has always made Star Trek unique, and as such, every character - new and recurring - has ample moments in the spotlight. Whatever the case, this season is another good one. Going where no one in any previous series has gone before - narratively and literally, as it turns out - this is a Star Trek for everyone.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES -Star Trek Discovery: The Voyage of Season 4” (making-of); “Being Michael Burnham: The Captain’s Log” (Sonequa Martin-Green interviews, personal videos and behind-the-scenes footage) “Creating Space” (FX featurette); “The Toll It Took” (creating Season 4 during COVID).

AUDIO COMMENTARY (Last episode only) 

GAG REEL

DELETED SCENES


December 4, 2022

ALIENOID: Bonkers Sci-Fi


ALIENOID (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 143 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😼

If India’s RRR is 2022’s most wonderfully bonkers megamovie, then Korea’s Alienoid runs a close second. Not quite as wonderful, not quite as bonkers, but definitely the work of madmen who decided to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. And they were apparently confident much of it would because this is only Part One of a two-part story.

Alienoid is a crazy mash-up of science-fiction, fantasy, action, disaster movie, comedy, historical fiction, Taoism, martial arts and family drama, all tossed in a blender for a smoothie consisting of familiar ingredients, but is generally pretty satisfying. Perhaps topping it with a couple of crazy musical numbers would’ve added a bit more flavor


The narrative unfolds as two seemingly unrelated threads, with an opening time travel sequence providing the only link. Presently, Guard and Thunder are shapeshifting alien robots who imprison their planet’s criminals in the unaware bodies of human beings. They’re also taking care of Ahn, a 10-year-old they rescued from the 14th Century. Some of the prisoners manage to escape their human hosts to wreak havoc while trying to find the man hosting their leader, The Controller. Guard and Thunder must stop them before they unleash Haava, floating balls of their home planet’s atmosphere, which is deadly to humans.


"Yeah...it's a Rolex."
Meanwhile in the 14th Century, Muruk is a bounty-hunting swordsman trying to steal The Crystal Knife, which carries a substantial reward. He’s aided by two cats which can transform into human servants/fighters. To get close to the knife, he poses as a bridegroom, not knowing that she’s also an imposter seeking the knife. Armed with 21st century weapons, that woman turns out to be Ahn, the little girl from the other timeline. Additionally, the masked man who possesses the knife, Ja-jang, is also an alien and aided by two conniving sorcerers. 

Both storylines eventually converge, allowing the viewer to make some sense out of the insanity. But until then, Alienoid is often pretty perplexing, but if one doesn’t try to think about it too hard and just let everything happen, the film is pretty entertaining (if a bit overlong). There’s gobs of over-the-top action in the form of swordplay, close-quarters fighting, magic, gravity-defying stunts, chases, time jumps, robot rampage, a talking SUV and a jawdropping scene of citywide destruction. The special effects aren’t always convincing, but certainly fun to watch.


And this is only Part One. While there is some closure to the story, major plot threads are left unresolved. A glimpse of what to expect in Part Two is teased during an end-credits sequence, but be prepared to be left hanging. Whether or not Alienoid’s story and characters justify two movies is debatable, but while in the moment, it’s enjoyably bonkers sci-fi.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - Making of; character trailer

ENGLISH LANGUAGE OPTION

TRAILER


Revisiting PULP FICTION in 4K


PULP FICTION (4K UHD SteelBook Review)
1994 / 154 min
Review by Mr. Paws😸

Pulp Fiction still feels like a brand new movie, even though I’ve revisited it at least once a year since it first knocked my socks off almost three decades ago (Christ, has it been that long?). Like other films on my all-time favorites list - a close #2 behind Jaws - I’ve owned it in every format.

Now it’s in 4K, available with both traditional packaging and this nicely designed SteelBook, and I couldn’t be happier. If you’re like me, you tend to collect movies much like voracious readers hoard books. For most novels, the paperback will do, but it’s nice to have hardcover editions those ‘special’ books - classics, personal favorite authors, etc. - proudly displayed on a bookshelf, not just as home decor, but because, in a way, they sort-of define you. 


SteelBooks are the hardcover novels of physical media, and when at all possible, it’s nice when those special movies - ones that represent more than just another disc in your collection - get released with solid packaging and brand new artwork. The vivid minimalist art created for the Pulp Fiction SteelBook creatively represents the tone, imagery and cultural impact of Quentin Tarantino’s career defining film. 


What...no marshmallows?
But the 4K disc, man! How does the movie look in 4K? Are there any new bonus features? Is it worth the upgrade?

For those who don’t care about aesthetic accouterments and love the film itself, absolutely. Pulp Fiction has looked better with every physical format. Since the Blu-ray edition already sports a great picture, the difference in the 4K is a little less pronounced. Still, the right home theater system will reveal a sharper overall image, with deeper black levels and more vivid contrast. The 5.1 DTS audio is identical to the Blu-ray disc, which sounds great. The bonus features, while substantial, are all carried over from previous releases.


Anyone reading probably doesn’t need to be reminded what a great film this is. Not only does Pulp Fiction remain the director’s magnum opus, but it’s also one of the best American movies of the past 30 years, if not the best. Tarantino’s exuberance and love of cinema are obvious in every frame, making it a joy to revisit, especially in 4K.


EXTRA KIBBLES

4K, BLU-RAY & DIGITAL COPIES

ENHANCED TRIVIA TRACK

NOT THE USUAL MINDLESS BORING GETTING TO KNOW YOU CHIT-CHAT - Retrospective interviews with the cast & crew.

HERE ARE SOME FACTS ON THE FICTION - Critics roundtable.

PULP FICTION: THE FACTS - Archival documentary.

FEATURETTES - 2 Behind-the-scenes montages; production design featurette

THE TARANTINO GENERATION - Segment from Siskel & Ebert at the Movies, where the two critics discuss Tarantino's impact on cinema.

CHARLE ROSE SHOW EPISODE - Interview with Quentin Tarantino.

INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS - Guillermo del Toro interviews Quentin Tarantino.

MARKETING GALLERY - A huge collection of trailers from around the world, TV spots, posters & trade ads.

STILL GALLERY


December 1, 2022

CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS: Everyone Had to Start Somewhere


CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (Blu-ray Review)
1972 / 87 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is one of the most awesome titles in history, even if the movie itself isn’t any good. Touted as a horror-comedy, it’s neither scary nor funny, though certainly plenty weird. You would have had to be psychic to predict director Bob Clark would someday find great success in a variety of genres, to say nothing of being responsible for one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time (and no, I don’t mean Black Christmas). 

But that’s what makes this 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray so interesting. Everyone had to start somewhere, and like some of his contemporaries, Clark cut his teeth on regional low-budget horror before joining the big leagues. But unlike the Carpenters, Cronenbergs and Cravens of the world, Clark quickly left horror behind. It’s always fun to go back to visit a successful director’s humble beginnings, but the fact that Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things was the brainchild of the same guy who’d soon give us Tribute, Murder by Decree and A Christmas Story is morbidly fascinating.


The scariest part of this movie? Those pants.
He didn’t do it alone, though. Alan Ormsby was his partner-in-crime in those salad days, doing triple duty here as an actor, co-writer and creator of the make-up FX (which are actually pretty good). Ormsby pops up a lot over these two discs, which largely serve as a tribute to the late Bob Clark. The movie is no great shakes, but the 90-minute documentary that comes with it is an affectionate bio and summary of the director’s early years, as well as an excellent look at independent filmmaking during the '70s, recalled by those who worked closely with Clark for a number of films. The documentary alone is worth the price of admission.

The film has a pretty large cult following today, evidenced by a bunch of other bonus features, such as music videos, fan tributes and a couple of revival screening Q&As, where Ormsby amusingly admits he and Clark were inspired by Night of the Living Dead enough to rip it off. So while Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is definitely no NOTLD (not even close), there’s a lot of interesting horror history to be found here.


EXTRA KIBBLES

DREAMING OF DEATH - An excellent feature-length retrospective documentary about Bob Clark’s horror years.

FAN Q&A VIDEO - Featuring actor/co-writer Alan Ormsby.

GRINDHOUSE Q&A - This one is really hard to hear.

MEMORIES OF BOB CLARK - Audio tribute to the late director.

CONFESSIONS OF A GRAVE DIGGER - Interview with Ken Goch…who really did dig a bunch ‘o graves for the film.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By actor/co-writer Alan Ormsby, actor Anya Cronin (formerly Ormsby) and actor Jane Daly.

2 MUSIC VIDEOS - “Dead Girls Don’t Say No” & “Cemetery Mary,” both by The Deadthings, an Australian metal band.

FAN TRIBUTE VIDEO

PHOTO GALLERY

TRAILER & RADIO SPOTS

SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Features an essay, “Bob Clark’s Dead Things: Low-Budget Horror in the Sunshine State.”

REVERSIBLE COVER


November 30, 2022

HEARTLAND OF DARKNESS: Linnea the Legend


HEARTLAND OF DARKNESS (Blu-ray Review)
1989 / 102 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Heartland of Darkness is a low-budget horror film completed in 1989. Like a lot of homegrown fright flicks back in the day, it was regionally produced (in Ohio) by a cast & crew armed with more ambition than resources. Still, they managed to snag the lovely Linnea Quigley to boost its marquee value.

Unfortunately, the title never did grace any marquees, nor did it end up fighting for shelf space at Blockbuster or any other video store. In fact, Heartland of Darkness is just now being released for the first time. In the interim, it sort of became the stuff of cult legend as Linnea Quigley’s lost film. Though not actually appearing in too many scenes, she definitely leaves an impression…for the same aesthetic reasons that made her a B-movie scream queen in the first place. If nothing else, watching this film today is a vivid reminder of her uncanny ability to stir impressionable young hearts (among other things). 


Purrr.

As for the movie itself, Heartland of Darkness is neither the best nor worst budget-conscious creepfest from the era. The story features a journalist who moves to a small town and investigates a series of gory murders, which turn out to be the work of a satanic cult led by the local pastor. It’s standard stuff and somewhat derivative. Like all small towns in 80s horror flicks, most of the population belongs to the cult. 


Still, it’s well made on a limited budget, with a bonkers final act that throws in car chases, snipers and a psychotic body-builder. But hey, if you can’t go big, you might as well go a little crazy, which probably explains casting Quigley as a History teacher while still tarting her up like a Hollywood chainsaw hooker. Elsewhere, the performances are generally pretty pedestrian, but overall, the film is fast-moving, efficiently directed and occasionally atmospheric, with some good, bloody kills here and there.


But even if one doesn’t agree, this Blu-ray is packed with goodies and the movie’s backstory (and its long, hard road to finally being released) is fascinating and discussed at-length in some of the bonus features. In addition to a few amusing bits of swag, the mixture of new and vintage extras conveys a charming can-do spirit on both sides of the camera. None of those involved had any illusions about the type of film they were making - or its quality - but we’re certainly able to appreciate what they accomplished. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

“DEEPER INTO THE DARKNESS” - A great 40-minute retrospective documentary featuring varios cast & crew, including director Eric Swelstad and actor Nick Balasare. Easily the most entertaining of the bonus features.

2 LINNEA QUIGLEY INTERVIEWS - One is brand new, the other is an archival interview done for a local Ohio TV show.

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) by director Eric Swelstad, and actor Nick Balasare, cinematographer Scott Spears & composer Jay Woelfel; 2) by Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop magazine.

“FALLEN ANGELS” - The original 1990 workprint of the film (includes an optional commentary track by director Eric Swelstad).

“THE MAKING OF FALLEN ANGELS” - Archival interview from back when this was titled Fallen Angels.

BLOOD CHURCH PROMO VIDEO - Another alternate title.

TRAILERS & TV SPOTS

IMAGE GALLERY

“DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT" - Text excerpt from Fangoria magazine.

INSERT - Includes an essay, “The Devil Went Down to Ohio,” and tech credits.

HEARTLAND OF DARKNESS ‘PRAYER CLOTH’ - Fun little piece pf promo swag.

VHS STICKERS - Sheet of the type of stickers you used to see on rental boxes.

LINNEA QUIGLEY MINI POSTER - Mee-ow!!!

REVERSIBLE COVER - The other side features Blood Church title & artwork.


November 29, 2022

A KNIFE IN THE HEAD...But Not Really


A KNIFE IN THE HEAD (Blu-ray Review)
1978 / 114 min

FROM COHEN MEDIA GROUP

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

Actually, Berthold Hoffmann (Bruno Ganz) takes a bullet to the head. The “knife” of this German classic is metaphorical.

He’s shot while running through the headquarters of a radical left-wing group, presumably by the cops raiding the place. Not only does he suffer brain damage, but he’s also lost most of his motor skills. Doctors are hopeful for a full recovery, but it could take a long time. The police, led by Anleitner (Hans Christian Blech), suspect he’s faking his condition and is actually the leader in a conspiracy against the government. Meanwhile, Hoffman’s estranged wife, Ann (Angela Winkler), and her new lover, Volker (Heinz Hoenig) - who are radicals fighting police brutality - are certain he’s being set up.


The bulk of the narrative features Hoffman’s slow recovery. As his physical abilities begin to return, so does his memory, though he may never recover fully. At first, neither he nor the audience is certain about the events that night, but as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that he’s something of a pawn for both sides. Hoffman himself grows distraught, angry and determined to find out why he was shot in the first place.


Ganz does Brando.
Other than repeatedly establishing Anleitner as infuriatingly ruthless, the plot surrounding the shooting is seldom particularly involving, nor do we ultimately care about Ann. However, we certainly sympathize with Hoffman and all he’s lost because of the incident. He was once a successful doctor and we suspect he still loves Ann. There’s nothing left of his old life and Ganz conveys that despair brilliantly. In fact, his remarkable, harrowing performance is the main reason A Knife in the Head remains so involving. 

Though the overall story arc is somewhat perfunctory, it does lay the groundwork for an emotionally-charged climax. By this time, we’re invested enough in Hoffman’s painful road to recovery that no one could blame for going postal on those who’ve wronged him. Instead, we’re somewhat blindsided by a haunting denouement.


EXTRA KIBBLES

INTERVIEWS - 1) With director Reinhard Hauff; 2) With executive producer Eberhard Junkersdorf.

TRAILERS


November 28, 2022

DON’T WORRY DARLING: Pretty and Pretty Familiar


DON’T WORRY DARLING (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 123 min

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽

While the highly publicized behind-the-scenes turmoil surrounding Don’t Worry Darling is ultimately more intriguing than the actual movie, it isn’t completely without merit. With tempered expectations, the film is an eye-pleasing way to kill a couple of hours.

Those tempered expectations should definitely apply to the derivative story. Florence Pugh plays Alice Chambers, the loyal and loving wife of Jack (Harry Styles). They live in an idyllic, ‘50-style community - called Victory - that resembles an ultra-conservative’s idea of paradise: cul-de-sacs, palm trees, immaculate homes, shiny cars and neighborhood barbecues. The men all work for the town’s founder, Frank (Chris Pine), on something called the ‘Victory Project” while their wives remain dutifully at home, cooking, cleaning and supporting their husbands.


Anyone who’s ever seen The Stepford Wives or The Truman Show will certainly know what’s coming: Victory isn’t the perfect community it seems, nor is Frank the inspirational leader he appears to be. After venturing outside of the town’s safety zone - the location of the so-called Victory Project - Alice slowly learns why (and how) all the wives are conditioned to be submissive, unquestioning and subservient. Though Frank knows she’s onto him, he convinces everyone she’s simply paranoid, and maybe a threat to the community. 


Looks like the chicken came first this time.

So yeah, Don’t Worry Darling is a glossy update of The Stepford Wives, which isn’t necessarily a big problem. A similar theme of toxic masculinity may be a lot more heavy-handed here, but is certainly still timely in light of recent sociopolitical upheavals. But unlike Stepford, which kept the viewer guessing until its shocking finale, we suspect right way that something ain’t right in Victory. All we’re waiting for is to see how long it takes Alice to figure it out, and when she finally does, there’s still an hour left to go.

There’s some fun to be had in the meantime. The film looks great, with plenty of dreamlike imagery and beautiful production design (though the latter is also the first obvious clue we don’t trust what we’re seeing). Overall, the performances are good, especially Pugh, who carries most of the film on her shoulders, and Pine, obviously enjoying the chance to play an antagonist. As for the story itself…it holds no surprises, but until the convoluted final act - which doesn’t bear a ton of scrutiny and descends into a gratuitous chase -  the journey is sporadically interesting. 


Though we suspect Rod Serling could have had the whole thing wrapped up in a tidy 30 minutes, Don’t Worry Darling is certainly watchable. If nothing else, director/co-star Olivia Wilde has put together a film that’s always aesthetically interesting, but I think most of us would happily trade some surface gloss for a surprise or two.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTE - “The Making of Don’t Worry Darling.”

DELETED SCENE - “Alice’s Nightmare”

DVD & DIGITAL COPIES


November 27, 2022

THE OFFER: The Godfather's Big Backstory


THE OFFER (DVD Review)
2022 / 541 min
Review by Carl, the Couch Potato😺

The making of a single movie hardly sounds like a compelling story for a nine-hour miniseries. However, we’re not talking about just any movie. And since the history & people behind it have become somewhat legendary themselves, The Offer is a great-looking, entertaining dramatization of the movie business during a tumultuous time in one studio’s history.

The Offer chronicles the making of The Godfather, based on the personal experiences of producer Albert S. Ruddy (Miles Teller). Possessing little more than ambition and audacity, he falls under the tutelage of Paramount’s head of production Robert Evans (Matthew Goode), who entrusts him to oversee adapting Mario Puzo’s suddenly-hot and incendiary novel to the big screen. 


The stakes are pretty high for Paramount, which has been struggling so badly that parent company Gulf + Western, headed by profit-obsessed Charles Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman), is considering selling it off. Getting The Godfather off the ground is a seemingly insurmountable task for a neophyte producer. Throughout the production, Ruddy is forced to deal with penny-pinching corporate lawyers, Evans’ unpredictability, headstrong director Francis Ford Coppola, clashes over casting, mafia threats and the toll on his personal life. As shown here, it’s a minor miracle the film ever got made at all. 


"I know what this scene needs, Francis...a T-Rex!"
Most of the main characters are pretty engaging. Ruddy is a likable protagonist, even when making questionable decisions. His assertive secretary, Bettye (Juno Temple), is not only an unsung behind-the-scenes heroine, she ultimately serves as Ruddy’s moral compass. Since the real Bob Evans had a pretty notorious history, his fictional counterpart is highly amusing. On the other hand, the antagonists are all broad, one-note caricatures, especially mafia don Joe Columbo (an irritating performance by Giovanni Ribisi), bug-eyed gangster Nicky Barnes, Frank Sinatra, Bluhdorn and his uptight lawyer, Barry (Colin Hanks).

Though one doesn’t need to be familiar with the film to enjoy the story behind it, there are several scenes that intentionally mirror classic Godfather moments, a creatively clever touch sure to amuse fans. And while we continually suspect some of the narrative and characters are simplified, embellished and romanticized, The Offer is compulsively watchable throughout its 10 episodes. Do we believe everything is depicted exactly as it happened 50 years ago? Of course not, nor do I think we’re expected to. The Godfather’s backstory is simply a springboard for an epic tale in its own right. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - “No One Can Refuse: Making The Offer”; “Meet Al Ruddy”; “Parallels: Art Imitates Art”; “The Offer: Sending a Message”; “Directing The Offer.” 

“BACKSTORIES” - Short behind-the-scenes bits on every episode.

“CRAFTING THE OFFER” - Additional short pieces on production design, costumes, music, hair & make-up.

DELETED SCENES