May 31, 2023
LAMBCAST #687 SUMMER MOVIE SEASON SHOWDOWN
May 29, 2023
Litter Box Treasures: BY DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT (1990)
In Litter Box Treasures, we focus on a variety of older films which aren’t necessarily classics, but are well-worth discovering.
ESSAY BY D.M. ANDERSON💀
First-aired on HBO in 1990, By Dawn's Early Light was one of the last timely Cold War thrillers, and despite its made-for-cable-TV-origins, also one of the best. Similar in plot to the classic, Fail Safe, it's a great film that doesn't rely on heavy spectacle or visual effects.
It's the present day and a renegade nuclear missile is launched and detonated inside the Soviet Union. Thinking it's a preemptive attack by NATO, the Soviets launch a counterstrike against the U.S., only to soon discover they were mistaken. Unable to call off the attack, the Soviet president contacts the U.S. president (Martin Landau), begging him either to retaliate with a strike which would result in an equal number of casualties, or not respond at all, two actions which could end the conflict then and there.
Before he can make the decision to turn off this war, the President's helicopter crashes after a missile strike. The next man in succession is the Secretary of the Interior (Darren McGavin), who just happens to be a war-mongering loony. Despite the urging of nearly all those around him to take steps to cease hostilities, the new President wants to launch a massive nuclear attack because he’s convinced he can win a war that’s universally considered unwinnable, and is goaded by gung-ho General Fargo (Rip Torn).
Meanwhile, NORAD is placed on full alert, scrambling their submarines and bombers. Much of the film centers on the bomber crew of Polar Bear One (led by Powers Boothe and Rebecca De Morney), who face a moral dilemma upon receiving their orders. As the bombers venture ever-closer to their fail-safe points, the crew of Polar Bear One begins to question whether or not to strike or turn the plane around.
|"That's not a gift card, sir. Those are launch codes."|
Given its obvious budget limitations, the film comes up with ingenious ways to present apocalyptic horror without relying on spectacular visuals. We may never actually see a city decimated by a nuclear blast, but through the reactions of key characters, along with a few small-scale destruction sequences, the viewer is convinced the fate of the world is at stake.
The performances are uniformly outstanding. Powers Boothe (always an underrated actor) exudes authority and vulnerability in the lead role as Cassidy, the bomber's pilot. Rebecca De Morney is less effective as his lover/co-pilot, who's sometimes a bit too melodramatic. Darrin McGavin is his usual great self as the newly-appointed president, as is James Earl Jones, who must have felt just a bit of deja vu, being that he also appeared in the definitive Cold War commentary, Dr. Strangelove.By Dawn’s Early Light is a small winner all around, and one of the better made-for-TV thrillers ever produced. While the Cold War itself is a distant memory (for now), this remains a tense, unnerving film that doesn't deserve to be forgotten.
May 28, 2023
THE SIEGE: Daniel Who?
According to iMDB, Daniel Stisen is a former bodybuilder whose resume includes such roles as ‘ancient warrior’ in Justice League, ‘russian bodyguard’ in both Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom & Spectre, and ‘bank robber’ in Paddington 2...all uncredited. But he appears to be throwing his hat in the straight-to-video action ring, where his beefy attributes are probably more affordable than, say, Dwayne Johnson's.
In The Siege, Stisen plays Walker, a professional assassin who needs a new identity. Fortunately, there's a “reassignment center” known only to killers and mercenaries that provides such a service. Unfortunately, the compound is attacked by a heavily-armed crew at the behest of a short-tempered criminal known as Big Deal (Bryon Gibson), whose pregnant wife, Juliet (Yennis Cheung), is inside trying to escape their decidedly dysfunctional marriage.
Juliet is being protected by another hired killer, Elda (Lauren Okadigbo), who’d really appreciate Walker’s help, but predictably, he wants nothing to do with them. Even more predictably, he soon changes his mind. Now the three must fight, shoot and kill their way to freedom, which doesn’t ever appear all that difficult because not-only are the bad guys lousy shots, there are long stretches when it doesn’t look like they’re in a big hurry to finish the mission.
|Only one Costco parking space remains.|
Speaking of which, it's nice to see Walker isn’t just another one-man wrecking crew. He gets his butt handed to him on a few occasions, which is somewhat refreshing because there’s nothing duller than an action hero whose survival is never in question. Stisen himself doesn’t demonstrate a ton of range, but as budget bin action heroes go, he does the job quite admirably. So while he ain’t likely to ever become a household name, movies like The Siege suggest a prolific B-movie career in his future.
MAKING-OF FEATURETTE - This is surprisingly lengthy compared to the usual promo material Well Go USA provides for their releases. In addition to director Brad Watson, nearly the entire main cast is interviewed.
May 26, 2023
THE LAST STARFIGHTER: A Blast from the Past in 4K
The Last Starfighter is another one of those ‘80s movies few ever mention as their favorite, but you’d be hard-pressed to meet anyone of a certain age who doesn’t have warm, fuzzy memories of seeing it.
As for me, it was 1987 when a bunch of us piled into a car to catch Jaws: The Revenge at the Foster Road Drive-In (yes…I paid to see Jaws: The Revenge). The Last Starfighter was the co-feature, which I never bothered with during its initial run back in ‘84. Despite being touted as one of the first features where most of the visual effects were CGI (before it was even called CGI), the movie looked like little more than another Star Wars rip-off and seemed geared more for kids.
But The Last Starfighter turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Of course, the story owed a considerable tip-of-the-hat to Star Wars, though the concept of an arcade game used by aliens as a recruiting tool certainly made it timely fantasy fuel (kids were rocking similar games at every mall and 7-Eleven in the country at the time). Alex Rogan (Lance Guest, who coincidentally also starred in Jaws: The Revenge) was a congenial, relatable protagonist, though the best parts belonged to Robert Preston as a fast talking alien huckster, Centauri, and Daniel O’Herlihy as Grig, a dedicated pilot.
|"No, we are not related."|
While the special effects weren’t all that convincing even in the ‘80s, they gave it a unique aesthetic, and 40 years later, there still isn’t a movie that looks quite like it. I suppose the quaint visual appeal (perhaps the story itself) will be lost on younger audiences weaned on hyperkinetic action movies and video games. But to paraphrase The Last Starfighter’s biggest inspiration, the nostalgia is strong with this one. Those who first discovered the film at their local theater, drive-in or on VHS will find it a joyous blast from the past.
Arrow Video released The Last Starfighter on Blu-ray just a few years ago, which was apparently a big improvement over an earlier Universal disc. Not having seen either of those versions, I have no basis for comparison. However, it looks really good in 4K, though the format's higher resolution certainly exacerbates the artificiality of the special effects. Three audio options are also available, the most impressive being the DTS-HD 5.1 track. There’s also a large batch of entertaining bonus features, all carried over from the Arrow Blu-ray.
“MAGGIE’S MEMORIES: REVISITING THE LAST STARFIGHTER” - Interview with co-star Catherine Mary Stewart.
“INTO THE STARSCAPE: COMPOSING THE LAST STARFIGHTER” - Interview with composer Craig Safan.
“INCREDIBLE ODDS: WRITING THE LAST STARFIGHTER” - Interview with screenwriter Jonathan Betuel.
“INTERSTELLAR BEAST: CREATING THE SPECIAL EFFECTS” - Interview with Kevin Pike, who was actually in charge of the practical effects, not the touted CGI.
“EXCALIBUR TEST: INSIDE DIGITAL PRODUCTIONS” - A profile about the company that did the computer effects.
“GREETINGS STARFIGHTER! INSIDE THE ARCADE GAME””
3 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By actor Lance Guest & Jackson Guest; 2) By director Nick Castle & production designer Ron Cobb; 3) By Mike White.
2 VINTAGE MAKING-OF FEATURETTES
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET (NOT REVIEWED)
REVERSIBLE COVER (NOT REVIEWED)
May 25, 2023
CONVOY BUSTERS: Two Stories in One
Convoy Busters has nothing to do with truckers, smokeys, bandits or C.B. radios. But the ‘70s were when such things were part of American culture, and the Italian film industry being what it was back then, capitalizing on such a trend with a nifty title was probably a no-brainer.
It’s actually a poliziotteschi film - and a pretty decent one, at that - featuring Maurizio Matteo Merli, who pretty much eeked out his living in the genre. He plays Francesco Olmi, a hard-ass Dirty Harry-type whose investigation of a brutal murder leads to the mob and corrupt officials. Unfortunately, he shoots the wrong guy and gets reassigned to another city.
Oddly enough, that storyline is completely dropped without ever being resolved. Olmi’s now the police chief in a quiet coastal town where not much happens. Other than roughing up a few bullies and charming local schoolteacher Anna (Olga Karlatos), Olmi’s typical brand of badassery isn’t really needed…at least until he begins to suspect the local fishing business is actually a complex weapons smuggling operation.
|Merli & co-star.|
Of course, no film in the poliziotteschi genre would be complete without copious gunplay, brawling and chases, all of which Convoy Busters delivers with workmanlike efficiency (though overall, it’s less lurid than other films of its ilk). And while Merli was never mistaken for a master thespian, he’s undeniably effective as a no-nonsense ass-kicker.
“MAURIZIO MERLI: A LETHAL HUNTER OF SUBTLE VARIATION” - A highly amusing (and slightly snarky) appreciation by Mike Malloy.
NEW INTERVIEWS - Individual interviews with Merli’s son and co-writer Danilo Massi.
ARCHIVE INTERVIEWS - Individual interviews with journalists Eolo Capacci, directors Ruggero Deodato & Enzo G. Castellari, actors Maurizio Matteo Merli & Enio Girolami.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Mike Malloy & Mike Martinez.
May 23, 2023
LOONEY TUNES COLLECTOR’S CHOICE, VOL. 1 Resurrects Some Obscurities
Of course, having any collection of Looney Tunes on Blu-ray is a good thing. They remain some of the greatest animated shorts ever made (especially those produced during Warner Brothers’ animation studio’s glory years…roughly 1940-1960). That being said, Looney Tunes Collector’s Choice Vol. 1 features some odd, obscure choices, leaving one hopeful that future sets will include a greater number of undisputed classics.
Not that this is a bad set by any stretch. In fact, it kicks off with one of Bugs & Daffy’s best team-ups, “Beanstalk Bunny.” Somewhat surprisingly, that wascally wabbit only shows up one more time in “The Unruly Hare,” which doesn’t rank among his greatest clashes with Elmer Fudd. Daffy Duck is represented in three others, the best of them being “Cracked Quack,” in which he schemes to squat in Porky Pig’s home to avoid flying south for the winter.
|"Sufferin' succotash...organ harvesters!"|
The rest of the set is dedicated to lesser-known characters, none of whom are nearly as funny or endearing as the iconic ones, such as the Goofy Gophers and (ugh!) two cartoons featuring The Three Bears (where most of the humor stems from beleaguered Papa Bear smacking his over-sized kid around). Sorry, but these characters do not deserve the same amount of disc space as Bugs.
But overall, it’s an eclectic, entertaining set of Looney Tunes shorts from various legendary directors. Few of them rank among the best cranked out by Termite Terrace (the nickname of WB’s old animation studio), but a lot of these comparatively obscure titles haven’t been seen on home video in years (if ever). And besides, it’s called Volume 1 for a reason, suggesting greater things to come.
May 22, 2023
THE POOP SCOOP: Summer Mayhem Edition
SISU on 4K UHD and Blu-ray July 11 from Lionsgate.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION on 4K Ultra HD June 27 from Warner Bros.
CUBE (2021) on Blu-ray in June from Terror Vision.
SCREAM VI on Digital April 25 and in a 4K Ultra HD SteelBook, on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on July 11th from Paramount.
May 21, 2023
V/H/S/99: More Hits Than Misses
V/H/S/99 is the latest in the prolific anthology franchise that began back in 2012. Over the past decade there have been five sequels, a couple of spin-offs and a TV show, with no sign of slowing down anytime soon (a seventh film is scheduled to be released later this year). One constant thread is their found footage style, each film made to look like the stories were shot on VHS years ago.
Admittedly, V/H/S/99 is the first in the series I’ve actually sat down to watch, but “format” notwithstanding, it's typical of most anthology films…some stories work better than others, which is exacerbated by having different directors (another hallmark of the franchise).
The first tale, “Shredding,” is easily the worst. It features four thoroughly obnoxious teenagers who have a band and host an internet TV show (were people doing these back in ‘99?). They decide to shoot their next episode in a condemned nightclub where another band died in a fire. Naturally, that band returns from the dead to wreak havoc. Though plenty gory, this segment is painfully predictable, with no likable characters to root for.
On the other hand, “Suicide Bid” is a great little slab of revenge-feuled horror, with a college freshman pledging to a popular (and bitchy) sorority. However, her hazing involves spending the night in a buried coffin at the same graveyard another girl died doing the same thing 20 years earlier. This one does a great job creating claustrophobia and exploiting the fear of being buried alive, then throws in some big-ass spiders for good measure…and all this before any angry corpses show up.
|One big spider.|
V/H/S/99’s amusing wrap-around story - a boy making a video with toy soldiers - cleverly finds its way into “The Gawkers,” which has the kid’s older brother snatching back his camera to spy on the girl who lives across the street. He and his friends eventually install spyware in her house, but discover a fatal secret she’s kept hidden. This episode suffers from too many meandering scenes of teenage boys imitating Jackass, but does come to a pretty cool conclusion.
The last story, “To Hell and Back,” is the best…and also the funniest. While videotaping a demon-conjuring ritual, two buddies are inadvertently transported to hell. Now they have mere minutes to locate the demon they were trying to summon and hitch a ride back to the real world. Alternately creepy and irreverent, its depiction of Hell is impressive (considering the budget) and the banter between these two goofballs is often hilarious.
Though inconsistent, V/H/S/99 hits more often than it misses. While it goes without saying that anyone who finds found footage to be an annoying gimmick should take a hard pass, fans of the franchise shouldn’t walk away disappointed. This Blu-ray SteelBook also comes with an eclectic batch of bonus features.
REEDPOP’S NEW YORK COMIC-CON PANEL - A Q&A session with some of the cast & crew.
“OZZY’S DUNGEON” - Deleted scenes.
“SHREDDING” - “Bitchcat” music video.
“THE GAWKERS” - Camera tests and “The Making of Medusa.”
“TO HELL AND BACK” - Storyboards, rehearsal footage & location footage.
May 19, 2023
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS Deserves a Bigger Audience
It was my wife who insisted on seeing the original Shazam!, which of course meant that I would be seeing Shazam!. While she fondly recalled reading the comics as a kid, all I remembered was the cheesy live-action TV show that was part of CBS’ Saturday morning line-up back in the ‘70s. Ugh.
So off to the theater we went. She really enjoyed it, and I was surprised at how much I did, too. Not that my expectations were low or anything, but I’ve certainly learned to approach DC movies with tempered expectations (and I mostly blame Zack Snyder for that). However, Shazam! kept things breezy and fun, underscored by an amusing performance from Zachary Levi as the titular character. In a way, this film was to the DC Universe what Ant-Man was to Marvel. Could I have personally skipped the theater and waited for Shazam! on home video? Sure, but it was a hell of a lot better than I expected.
Still, I had similarly tempered expectations for Shazam! Fury of the Gods, mainly because…well, it’s a sequel. Surprisingly, it is equally enjoyable, with most of the cast returning to once-again save Philadelphia, this time from a couple of disgruntled gods. They’re played by Helen Mirren & Lucy Liu, two daughters of Atlas trying to get their hands on the same Wizard’s staff Billy Batson (Zachary Levi) broke in half at the end of the first film.
|Billy belts out a showtune.|
But once it settles into the conflict at hand, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is pretty entertaining. Like the first film, it’s frequently quite funny and features an amusing, likable hero. He may not be the brightest guy in the room, sometimes acting before he thinks, but that’s part of his charm and he always has good intentions. This time, however, the film’s MVPs might be Jack Dylan Grazer as Billy’s best friend, Freddy, and Djimon Hounsou as Shazam. Forced to work together after being imprisoned, their bickering banter is often hilarious. And, of course, the ageless Dame Mirren makes any movie better.
Despite underperforming in theaters, Shazam! Fury of the Gods succeeds where Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania recently failed…maintaining the same congenial, comic tone of the original and refraining from fixing things that weren't broken in the first place. Perhaps not the most adventurous approach to movie making, but it exceeded my tempered expectations. At the very least, it deserves to find a bigger audience at home.
FEATURETTES - “Let’s Make a Sequel”; “The Rock of Eternity: Decked Out”; “The Shazamly Reunion”; “The Zac Effect”; “Sisterhood of the Daughters of Atlas”; “Play by Play: Scene Breakdown” (focuses on four FX-driven scenes); “The Mythology of Shazam!”
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director David F. Sandberg.
INCLUDES DVD & DIGITAL COPIES