November 30, 2013


Starring the voices of Adrian Pasdar, Fred Tatasciore, Dee Bradley Baker, David Kaye. Directed by Eric Radomski & Leo Riley. (2013, 71 min).
Marvel Studios

Maybe the problem is with me, but I kind-of expected this to be better. Maybe I thought, since Marvel Studios is more-or-less the Pixar of superhero movies, that even a direct-to-video animated quickie like this would be undemanding fun, sparked by a bit of the wit and character detail that makes their blockbusters so amusing.

While Heroes United isn’t terrible, it is pretty bland, despite consisting of nearly wall-to-wall action. It’s essentially one prolonged battle, pitting Iron Man & Hulk against Zzzax, an energy-born monster who becomes stronger with every power source it comes in contact with. The story only slows down long enough to allow our heroes to get-in a few wisecracks from time to time.

Maybe part of my problem is I’ve grown accustomed to these characters as depicted in the theatrical films. There are fleeting attempts to present Stark as the amusing, sarcastic rogue we’ve grown to love (but here, voiced by a guy who sounds like he‘s still in high school). But I hated how Hulk is depicted. Here, he’s Hulk the entire time, even when he isn’t angry, and hearing him engage in coherent dialogue (including wisecracks) during the film flies against what Marvel has done thus far to establish him as a barely-uncontrollable wrecking crew.

"Hey, man...there's a bathroom just down the hall,
for God's sake."
I also had a problem with how Stark, Hulk and Zzzax continually narrate their every move (even if no one else is around), much like the superhero cartoons I grew up with in the 1970s. In fact, the entire movie plays a lot those old shows, aimed for the kiddie crowd who are apparently too stupid to follow the plot unless it is continually explained to them. This would be generic Saturday morning fodder thirty years ago if not for the CG animation.

Speaking of which, the CG is the biggest thing working against it. All the characters are blandly rendered, drained of any of real expression. We’ve all seen CG animation done better, even for television. I personally think this film would have been more fun if done in the limited style which has worked for DC shows all these years.

But maybe my biggest problem is my age. Watching this, I can see how a seven or eight year old kid would enjoy it…the film’s loaded with flash & action. Parents may roll their eyes at the lame attempts at humor, but kids will chuckle here and there, especially at racy comments like ‘balls for brains’.

And I guess, since this is obviously aimed at children, my comments are redundant. Still, it’s kind-of a shame, being that Marvel’s blockbusters try to appeal to everyone, and there’s no reason their less ambitious projects couldn’t try to do the same.

Marvel “Intermissions”: A fun feature you can access when you hit the pause button. Marvel Team-Up with Ryan Penagos & Joe Q: two Marvel guys who discuss various previous Marvel comic team-ups.
Marvel Mash-Ups: Old Marvel TV clips with new dialogue, much like CN’s Sealab 2021.

(OUT OF 5)

November 25, 2013


Starring Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Aidan Turner, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Directed by Harald Zwart. (2013, 130 min).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

My oldest daughter bakes great cookies, the best I ever tasted. I’m not sure how she does it. I’ve tried baking cookies using the same ingredients, but mine don’t turn out as good. Similarly, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, yet-another attempt at a franchise based on a series of popular young adult fantasy novels, strives to be another Harry Potter or Twilight (and obviously inspired by both). It has most of the same ingredients, but like my cookies, a checklist of ingredients is no guarantee that the end result will be the same. City of Bones is very similar to how my own cookies taste…not terrible, but nothing special either.

It’s almost as if the filmmakers obsessively studied other YA franchise cookbooks to create a checklist for their own movie: Attractive emo chick…check. Smoldering emo boy…check. Ongoing love triangle…check. Costumes which are likely available at Hot Topic…check. Ominous signs & symbols foretelling dark times ahead unless we can stop it…check. Werewolves & vampires…check. A magical world which exists right under our noses…check. Hyperkinetic fight scenes…check. Spectacular CGI that would have knocked our socks off 10 years ago…check. A resolution which blatantly leaves the door open for the next installment…check.

Someone could use a breath mint.
All these tropes and more are thrown into a mixing bowl, along with an overly-convoluted plot in which our heroine, Clary (Lily Collins), learns she’s more than your average teen. She’s a Shadowhunter - half-human, half-angel - placed on Earth to protect the world from demons (with a bit of help from some local New York werewolves). It’s a decent enough concept, if a bit unoriginal. But originality isn’t a necessary ingredient if the characters are interesting. However, we’re given no real reason to give a damn about them. Sure, everyone is pretty and dresses cool (I can imagine Collins and Bower making undemanding tween hearts flutter), but it’s all window dressing. Say what you will about the Twilight films…as goofy as they are, the characters are pretty well-rounded.

So we end up with a movie with a bloated running time which plays like a greatest hits collection of scenes from other YA franchises (with a little bit of Evil Dead tossed in), and is ultimately forgettable because it offers nothing new. Like my daughter’s cookies versus my own, it isn’t terrible, but nothing special compared to what came before.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Bringing Them to Life featurette (cast & crew discuss the characters); Descendants of the Cup (a look at the stunt work and action); deleted scenes; music video, “Almost is Never Enough,” by Ariana Grande & Nathan Sykes.

(OUT OF 5)

November 24, 2013


Starring Blake Freeman, LeRoy Tessina. Directed by Blake Freeman. (2013, 90 min).
Wunderkind Pictures

There are two things which have diminished the power of the documentary today. The first is Michael Moore. The man is a terrific filmmaker. His films are eye-opening and entertaining, but also deliberately one-sided and polarizing. His in-your-face, ambush-your-opponent style rallies his believers and infuriates his detractors. There’s no middle ground, which means his films are not documentaries in the purest sense. The second is the boon of reality TV, where its so-called subjects are obviously playing up to the camera, most of whom are well-aware that the more outrageously they behave, the further they can extend their 15 minutes of fame.

Because of this, one tends to take a cynical approach anything passing itself off as a documentary. We ask ourselves how much of what we’re watching is staged or scripted, whether or not it simply exists for us to laugh at the stupidity of others. There have been a lot of such movies in recent years, the best being The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which manages to tread the fine line between ridicule and empathy for its subjects.

Blake Freeman’s film, A Journey to Planet Sanity, tries for a similar vibe, but with diminished results, mainly because our overall cynicism forces us to question how much of what we’re watching is genuine.

Freeman is the director and de-facto star of the film. He meets a gullible old rube (LeRoy Tessina), who’s spend countless amounts of money over the years on phony psychics and alien-abduction devices. Then the two go on a road trip of Southern California as Freeman accosts these folks with obvious, for-the-camera sarcasm. After meeting each of these people (including one who claims to be able to foretell one’s future by examining their feces), Freeman’s comments are often very funny. But cynically, I found myself wondering how much of it was staged.

The film takes a darker turn in the final third, when we’re made aware that Tessina’s obsessions threaten to totally disrupt his life, since he can no longer afford his mortgage  payments. After learning Tessina has a rudimentary talent for painting, Freeman suggests throwing together dozens of sloppily-thrown-together pieces of so-called abstract art and displaying them in a gallery, where pretentious hipsters will shell-out thousands for them.

This is where I began to call bullshit of the film, where it suddenly switches from being an amusing look at phony psychics, then tries to shove in some drama with Freeman’s noble efforts to save Tessina’s house, while poking fun at an entirely different culture. I’m sorry, I find it hard to believe that, no matter how pretentious these so-called art aficionados are, that they’d be so easily duped by paintings slathered together in ten minutes.

I dunno, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the film depicts things exactly as they went down, and I’m simply too jaded by decades of Michael Moore manipulation and reality TV rhetoric to be able to accept it at face value.

But even if it’s all bullshit, is the film entertaining? Yeah, sort of. Freeman’s a truly funny guy, and his commentary is often quite amusing. Tessina is definitely a likeable sort (we surely do not want him to be as gullible as he appears in the film). I think it’ll help if you approach a movie like this with a totally open mind and far-less cynicism than I was able to.

A Journey to Planet Sanity premieres in theaters 12/6/2013


November 23, 2013

Disc Review: THE HISTORY OF WWE (Blu-Ray)

Narrated by Keith David. Directed by Kevin Dunn. (2013, Approx 450 min).
WWE Home Video

I’ve never been a fan of pro wrestling, especially after it escaped its humble regional origins to become a pop culture phenomenon, and evolved into more of a sleazy soap opera than anything resembling a sport. When you look at footage from the WWE’s 80s & 90s heyday (of which this disc has plenty), one might even be tempted to believe the roots of reality TV lie here, with flashy, trash-talking personalities fighting each other, more for attention than a title belt.

But even if you think the entire concept is phenomenally stupid, you have to admit it took a lot of creative genius to make the WWE one of the most recognizable brand names in entertainment. And that’s ultimately the coolest thing about this 2-disc set…one doesn’t necessarily need to be a fan to develop an appreciation how masterfully the WWE insinuated itself on our culture.

Although The History of WWE is more-than-a-bit self-congratulatory, we get an interesting look at pro wrestling as a true business, how it’s been marketed and its impact on television and the media. The film quickly-skims over WWE’s first twenty years to mostly focus on its explosive popularity in the 80s, which is kind-of a shame, since I think a great two-hour documentary could be made from its grassroots origins alone. Still, there are a slew of entertaining interviews, featuring nearly every WWE personality who had an impact over the past 50 years. Some are more candid than others (particularly during the steroid-use controversy), but most have nothing but gushing praise for the man who’s widely credited for moving wrestling from abandoned hockey rinks into stadiums & cable TV: Vince McMahon.

In the real world, McMahon is a polarizing figure, controversially ruling over an empire, narcissistic enough to insert himself as a major character in the WWE (particularly during the so-called ‘Attitude Era’), and as flamboyant as the athletes working for him. This film kinda sugarcoats the negative aspects of his career, but one cannot deny his marketing savvy. If nothing else, he is a genius businessman, the Walt Disney of trash TV. Somewhat frustratingly, however, McMahon is the one guy who does not take-part in this film. Though his family contributes interviews, Vince himself is only present in archival footage, which is ironic when you consider this film is produced and distributed by his own company.

While The History of WWE mostly preaches to the converted, its look into the marketing and promotion of itself is interesting for non-fans like me, who may not be coerced into tuning into WWE Smackdown every week, but are fascinated its ongoing appeal and what makes it tick.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1 also includes several segments left out of the final cut of the film, along with a few matches from past Wrestlemania broadcasts. Disc 2 consists primarily of classic wrestling matches, most of them from the past three decades. Longtime fans of the WWE might appreciate them, but those who aren’t among the converted aren’t likely to care at all.

(OUT OF 5)

November 21, 2013

ESCAPE FROM L.A. vs. the Atlanta Falcons

Starring Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Georges Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Michelle Forbes. Directed by John Carpenter. (1996, 101 min).

Growing up, Mom and Dad were die hard 49ers fans. This was during the early 70s, a decade dominated by the Cowboys, Steelers and Raiders. The Niners had good years and bad years, but my parents (especially Dad) stayed loyal to their team no matter what.

True fans, my parents were.

I wanted to be true fan, too. In what might be considered my first true act of rebellion, I decided my favorite team would be the Atlanta Falcons, partially because they were in the same division as the Niners, but mainly because their helmets were cool. Not knowing a hell of a lot about the NFL (I seldom actually sat and watched a game…hey, I was 9), I chose a shitty team that wouldn’t win a division title until 1980, wouldn’t make it to the Super Bowl until 1998 and seldom put together back-to-back winning seasons throughout their entire history.

But, by God, I stuck with them, even after I grew older and actually began paying attention. Like my folks, I eventually became a true fan of the Falcons, hanging with them through thick and thin. I had my favorite players on their rosters over the years…Andre Rison, Jamal Anderson, Michael Vick (before he became a dog murderer), Jesse Tuggle, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, etc.

But unlike my folks, whose beloved Niners won four Super Bowls during the 80s, I’m still waiting to be rewarded for my decades-long loyalty, a four-to-five year run where my ol’ Falcons are among the NFL elite. They’ve had great years here and there, but just couldn't keep it together for very long…

…kinda like John Carpenter, the first director who, as a movie fan, I began paying attention to.

Unlike the Falcons (which became a franchise in 1966 and struggled for over 15 years), Carpenter, after a few respected cult flicks, blasted right out of the gate with Halloween, the first film to introduce me (and millions of others) to the unbridled thrill of the jump-scare. He quickly followed that up with The Fog, which was just as atmospheric, but not all that scary and a bit of a let-down, like when the Falcons followed-up their first division title in 1980 with a second place finish the next year. But I really jumped on the Carpenter bandwagon after seeing Escape from New York. At the time, it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen on the big screen…the look, the nihilism, the action, the music, the character and image of Snake Plissken. Escape from New York was when I truly became a John Carpenter fan.

He also delivered the goods the next year with his remake of The Thing (which I now consider to be the crowning achievement of his career). Two years, two perfect films. As a die hard disciple who now worshipped at the alter of Carpenter, I couldn’t wait for the man’s next move.

Unfortunately, his next moves were Christine, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness, They Live, Memoirs of an Invisible Man and In the Mouth of Madness. Some of them were pretty good, some underrated and some godawful. Still, I went to see them all because Carpenter’s name was above the titles. But, like being an Atlanta Falcons fan, I was disappointed just as often as I was pleased. There were even a few occasions where I found myself defending some of these films simply because my favorite director was responsible (such as Memoirs & Big Trouble, which are actually kinda shitty).

"Goddammit, stop sexting me!"
But I never gave up on the man. Surely he had another great film in him…maybe even his greatest film, after he announced he’d be helming Escape from L.A., a belated, big-budget sequel to one of his all-time cult classics. For me, this was huge; Snake Plissken, my favorite anti-hero, was coming back to the big screen. Keeping tabs on its production through the internet and movie magazines, this was as exciting as when the Atlanta Falcons kept winning and, despite Vegas odds makers, landed themselves in the Super Bowl in 1998.

But my beloved Falcons got slaughtered by the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, prompting some to believe the Minnesota Vikings (the team Atlanta beat in overtime during the NFC championship) would have been a more formidable opponent. Even though Denver was already heavily favored to win, I was still a bit heartbroken, though not-at-all surprised. After the game, because of Atlanta’s inconsistent history, I wondered how long it would be before they got another shot at the Lombardi Trophy.

Similarly, when I took my wife to see Escape from L.A. on opening night, even though I went in thinking it was John Carpenter’s chance to return to the directorial greatness of his early-80s heyday, I wasn’t really surprised that the film ended up being an unimaginative retread of the original, loaded with phony CGI and campy self-parody (Oh, God, Snake surfing down Wilshire Boulevard?). Still, even though it’s an amusing send-up of Escape from New York, I have to admit Carpenter essentially shit all over the legacy of one of his most beloved films (but Russell, reprising his role as Plissken, is still fun as hell). Like the Falcons, Carpenter once-again dropped the ball.

I still root for them both, though. Carpenter hasn’t made a decent movie in nearly two decades (nor a great one in over 30 years), and maybe he simply lost his mojo. The Falcons sometimes make the playoffs, sometimes they don’t, and I wonder if they’ll ever actually make it to the Super Bowl again in my lifetime, much less win it.

But I remain a die hard fan because I’m loyal, and true fans stick around through good times and bad. Mom and Dad taught me that.

November 18, 2013

Disc Review: IMPRACTICAL JOKERS - The Complete First Season (DVD)

Staring Joseph “Joe” Gatto, James “Murr” Murray, Salvatore “Sal” Vulcano, Brian “Q” Quinn. Directed by Peter Fowles. (2011-12, 374 min).
Warner Bros. Home Video

A few superficial comparisons can be drawn between Impractical Jokers and Jackass, since both shows feature packs of self-congratulating buddies daring each other to do idiotic things on camera, much of the humor deriving from the reactions of the unsuspecting public around them. But really, the similarities end there. Jackass consists mostly of stunts designed to shock or gross us out, or at-least have us wincing at the pain the cast inflicts on themselves and each other. While I must admit the show has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure, it isn’t what anyone would call clever. Every episode is simply a random collection of dumb gags.

Impractical Jokers, which airs on TruTV, is actually more like Alan Funt’s old Candid Camera series, with a slight game show twist. Each episode is a competition among its four cast members (from an improvisational comedy group, The Tenderloins), where they are forced to do something potentially awkward or humiliating in a public place (malls, drug stores, restaurants, public parks, etc.). All four must take turns doing this, each equipped with an earpiece and must say and do whatever the other three guys tell him (though whoever is on the spot does have the option of refusing, like when what the suggestion is too embarrassing, crude or mean-spirited). Whoever is least successful is the loser of that round. At the end of the show, the biggest loser of the episode must do something in public which would make just about anyone watching shudder in second-hand embarrassment.

Though Impractical Jokers does contain its fair share of adult humor, none of the gags are overtly gross, vulgar or cruel. Since these guys often refuse to cross the line when their buddies tell them to, it makes all of them kinda likeable. The show is often laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes because of their willingness (or refusal) to say or do certain things, sometimes because of the reactions from the public.

However, at 17 episodes, a little of this stuff goes a long way. After awhile, a sameness permeates each episode - another mall gag, another restaurant gag, another drug store gag - to the point where, unless you simply can’t get enough of these guys’ banter, you’ll wish they’d find a different place to visit. There isn’t the same variety of gags featured in something like Jackass.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes; Behind the scenes; Meet the Stars of IMPRACTICAL JOKERS; Commentary for 5 episodes.

(OUT OF 5)

November 16, 2013

10 Classic Songs Forever-Associated with a Specific Movie

The following is a list of songs we all know, but were never originally written specifically for the movies. However, because of their inclusion in iconic scenes, it’s difficult not to associate them with the films in which they appear. 

“Old Time Rock & Roll” (Bob Seger) - Risky Business
Even though he had much bigger hits, this is arguably Bob Seger’s best-known song, partially because wedding DJs are required by-law to play it once everyone is good and drunk. But many of you, who may have never had the pleasure to witness your shit-faced uncle stagger around in the center of the dance floor, probably picture Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear.

“The End” (The Doors) - Apocalypse Now
The Doors’ most disturbing song provides the perfect introduction to the darkness and nihilism of, not only Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film, but the Vietnam War in general. It’s hard to hear it today without thinking of exploding jungles, ceiling fans and swarms of helicopters.

“Louie, Louie” (The Kingsmen) - Animal House
The song was a classic long before 1979, but just try to hear it today without seeing a beer keg crashing from the upper-story window of a frat-house, or John Belushi slurring the words along with his equally-hammered buddies.

“Stuck in the Middle with You” (Stealers Wheel) - Reservoir Dogs
There were exactly seven official members of the Stealers Wheel fan club when this song (their only hit) was popular in the early 70s. For the rest of us, it's the soundtrack to torture and dismemberment. Kids from that era may have danced to this song like Michael Madsen did in Reservoir Dogs, only they weren’t waving a severed ear around.

“I Will Always Love You” (Dolly Parton) - The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and The Bodyguard
Dolly Parton originally recorded it in 1973. While it climbed high on the country music charts back then, the song became a crossover hit when she re-recorded it for the film, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. But that was nothing compared to the eardrum-shattering version Whitney Houston recorded in 1992 for her film debut in The Bodyguard. Not only is this now considered one of Houston’s signature songs, but if you mention The Bodyguard to anyone today, the rafter-shaking chorus will likely get stuck in their heads for hours.

“The Entertainer” (Scott Joplin) - The Sting
When I was a fourth grade, this tune was a radio hit. Even though most kids my age never saw The Sting at the time, we knew it was featured in the movie, to the point where we assumed the song was called “The Sting.” Ever the purist, my music teacher at the time, Mr. Brown, would politely correct us, stating it was actually “The Entertainer,” composed by Scott Joplin. If he’s still alive, it must frustrate my old teacher that everyone associates this classic little ditty with the Newman/Redford classic.

“Feuding Banjoes” (Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith) - Deliverance 
This song was re-recorded as “Dueling Banjoes” for the film. I have to think Ol’ Smith would be a bit upset that anyone hearing his song today now picture inbred hillbillies raping fat-assed tourists.

“Miserlou” (Dick Dale) - Pulp Fiction
The genesis of this instrumental actually dates back to the 1920s, but rendered popular - via various arrangements - by surf-guitarist Dick Dale in 1962, when it became a minor hit. Despite its nearly 90 year history, “Miserlou” is widely considered the main title theme to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. In fact, the song is now so-linked with that film that when Yosemite Sam & Elmer Fudd appeared together in black suits and sunglasses in Space Jam, all it took were the opening riffs of “Miserlou” for everyone in the audience to get the joke, whether they saw Pulp Fiction or not.

“Tubular Bells” (Mike Oldfield) - The Exorcist
Who doesn’t associate Mike Oldfield’s haunting, off-kilter piano piece with Satan, pea-soup-spitting bile & crucifix-violating horror? But what’s ultimately interesting about “Tubular Bells” is the piano segment is just a small part of a massive hour-long suite, never originally intended as a horror film soundtrack. In fact, it was actually used pretty sparingly in The Exorcist. Still, this didn’t stop a four-minute cut of “Tubular Bells” from becoming a massive 70s radio hit. Oldfield’s influence is also obvious on the likes of John Carpenter, who truly understood the marriage of music and imagery when he directed and scored Halloween.

“Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (Richard Strauss) - 2001: A Space Odyssey
Has there ever been a piece of music more associated with the grandeur of outer space than this one? Of course not, yet it was composed before the very idea of manned flight was a glint in anyone’s eye. Hearing it now, I doubt there’s a single person who doesn’t immediately envision the overwhelming hugeness of the cosmos…or fat Elvis lumbering onto the Vegas stage in the 70s.

November 15, 2013

CARRIE (1976): Some Acute Family Observations

Starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, Betty Buckley, William Katt, Nancy Allen, John Travolta. Directed by Brian De Palma. (1976, 98 min).

My youngest daughter Lucy (who’s 9) and I were recently watching TV when a commercial touting the remake of Carrie popped-up. As a horror purist, I sorta rolled my eyes and thought, really?

But Lucy chirped, “I wanna see that!”

In recent years, Lucy has turned into my little horror buddy. She likes scary movies and we’ve spent many Friday nights on the sofa watching them together, much to the chagrin of my wife. I always try to find films in my collection I think she can handle, which is actually quite a few, since she’s a tough little bird. She’s not ready for The Exorcist, The Fly or any ‘torture-porn’ film, but she loves stuff like the Final Destination series, Poltergeist, Jaws, Insidious and a slew of zombie flicks. Sure, I fuck up sometimes, like when The Mist totally freaked her out and I had to shut it off half-way through (before it got reeeeaaally disturbing at the end), but for the most part, she’s open to lots of stuff, old and new.

So when I told Lucy I had the original Carrie on DVD, she was more than game. I actually kind-of wanted to revisit the film myself, since it’d been at least three decades since I last watched it (I found the thing in a Wal-Mart budget bin a few years ago, but never got around to removing the cellophane from the box). As much as I could recollect, Carrie would probably be okay for my daughter…an older movie, not too gory and not too scary, save for the final scene in which Carrie’s hand shoots out of the grave (one of the greatest jump-scares of all time, as far as I’m concerned). I was certain that scene would get her.

But time does weird things to movies. You forget stuff, especially those you haven’t watched in years. You know how the people you encounter on a regular basis always look the same, even over the course of years, yet when you go to a 20 year class reunion, almost none of your old friends look like you remember them (in fact, you don’t even know who some of them are without a nametag)? That’s what revisiting Carrie was like. Many of my all-time favorite films hail from the same era (the 70s), yet I’ve frequently revisited them over the years and never noticed how dated most of them have become. But Carrie, although a decent enough movie, was never one of my favorites. Aside from that climactic grave scene (which made us practically piss ourselves back them), my overall memory of the film had dimmed over the years.

So as I sat down with Lucy to watch the original Carrie one Friday evening, we both made some acute observations.

We’ll start with mine:

  • I’d forgotten the film starts off with a ton of lovingly-shot, slow-motion female nudity during the opening credits. These characters are high-school girls, though played by twenty-something actors. Still, unless you're a high school boy, the whole scene is disturbingly voyeuristic (remember, I’m sitting with my nine year old, growing a bit uncomfortable).
  • Teachers could regularly smoke on campus back then.
  • Not only that, teachers were permitted to physically discipline students (as when gym coach Betty Buckley slaps Nancy Allen). If a teacher were to do that today, even if the kid was such a massive fuckhead that they deserved it, said-teacher would soon be unemployed.
  • Hairstyles in the 70s are arguably the worst of any decade in American history.
  • This appears to be where John Travolta honed his Vinnie Barbarino character for Welcome Back Kotter. It's the same character, only Vinnie didn't slap women or bludgeon pigs.
  • Nancy Allen was extremely hot. Actually, this isn’t a new observation; she got my blood boiling back then, and she kinda does now.
  • The band playing at the prom has to be one of the worst of all time, both visually and musically. Watching them ‘rock-out’ during their anti-school tune provides a bit of second-hand embarrassment.
  • Sissy Spacek’s performance is extraordinarily brave, even by today’s standards.
  • I’d also forgotten just how long the scene was in which Nancy Allen goes down on John Travolta. I covered Lucy’s eyes with a pillow, but that didn’t drown out Allen’s sultry, seductive moaning.
  • This isn't De Palma's best horror film. The Fury is.

Now for Lucy’s observations (quoted verbatim):

  • (during the opening scene) “Why!?” / “That’s inappropriate!” / “Gross!”
  • “None of these people look like high school kids.”
  • “Why’s he drinking a beer in the car?”
  • “This isn’t very scary, Dad.”
  • “Watching Carrie and Tommy dance is making me dizzy.” (Thanks, De Palma)
  • “How can a water hose kill people?” (I replied, “It’s a firehose.” She shot back with, “So?” I had no rebuttal for that.)
  • “Is this movie in slow motion, or is Carrie just walking slow?”
  • “Wait a minute…why’s the house suddenly falling down?”

As for the final jump-scare, when Carrie’s hand shoots out of the grave, Lucy didn't react at all. When I informed her that scene scared the crap out of everyone back then, she simply shrugged and said, “Why?”

God, I’ve created a monster. She is so-used to jump-scares that one of the greatest of all time doesn’t even phase her. I guess I can relate; even though the car chase in Bullitt is widely considered one of the greatest of all time, as someone who grew up on The Road Warrior and Raiders of the Lost Ark, I never thought Bullitt was anything special when I first saw it.

Sissy sneezes without Kleenex.
Lucy and I checked out the disc’s bonus features afterwards, which we often do. We watched a retrospective documentary, and she was mostly blown-away by how most of these actors have aged since then. Of course she was…Lucy has no concept of 1976 versus 2013. Why would she?

But for me, not only did the movie look and feel phenomenally dated, but the actors suddenly grew older without my permission….less hair, more pounds, etc. Sure, Nancy Allen still looked good, like a middle-aged hot mom. But with the exception of Spacek & Travolta, who’ve been consistent public figures since then, the rest have aged just as badly as the movie, simply because of their overall absence from public consciousness.

On the plus side, Lucy liked Carrie, even if she didn’t find it particularly scary. That’s something…the fact she empathized with Carrie, identified with the protagonists and truly despised its villains. Despite the big hair, over-aged teenagers, lack of ‘modern-day’ horror conventions and the voyeuristic opening, Lucy was able to appreciate the movie as a dark tragedy.

I dunno, maybe Carrie hasn’t aged as badly as I thought.

November 13, 2013

OLDBOY-Inspired Graphic Novel, THE DEVIL'S EYES

Click HERE to check out
the graphic novel.
The OLDBOY inspired graphic novel, THE DEVIL'S EYES, can be found on HERE Become engaged with this unique story and beautiful artwork. A unique reinterpretation of the 2003 Korean film, OLDBOY is written by Mark Protosevich and directed by Spike Lee, starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley. 

OLDBOY is a provocative, visceral thriller that follows the story of Joe Doucette, a man who is abruptly kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years in solitary confinement, for no apparent reason.  When he is suddenly released without explanation, he begins an obsessive mission to find out who imprisoned him, only to discover that the real mystery is why he was set free.
OLDBOY  opens November 27

November 11, 2013

Disc Review: THE WOLVERINE (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova. Directed by James Mangold. (2013, 126 min).
Fox Home Video

The good news is The Wolverine is much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I know that ain’t saying much, since that movie was all kinds of awful. But this time Marvel was smart by making this a true spin-off of the X-Men series, not just another lazy origins story. This takes place in the current Marvel Universe, with Logan still mourning the loss of Jean Grey as he drifts off the grid, hoping to forget his past.

The problem is, when you’re practically indestructible, people are gonna come looking for you, such as Yashida, the dying Japanese billionaire Logan once saved during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in WWII. He offers Logan the chance to be mortal, yet what he really wants is to possess the same healing powers. Logan refuses and the old man dies. But at the funeral, Yakuza gangsters attempt to kidnap Yashida’s granddaughter and sole-heir (Mariko), only to be thwarted by Logan, who goes on the lam with her. Meanwhile, it turns out all kinds of people are hunting them down, including Mariko’s dad (not likely to win any ‘Father of the Year’ awards) and Dr. Green, a mutant better known to comic fans as Viper; she’s done something to Logan which inhibits his ability to heal. Because of this, the scenes in which Logan is actually vulnerable create a pretty fair amount of suspense.

Wolverine learns the hard way that scratching
his own ass isn't a good idea.
Much of the movie’s success rests on the shoulders of Jackman, playing Logan for the fifth time. It’s nice to see Wolverine is as grumpy & cantankerous as ever, even when tortured by recurring nightmares of Jean Grey. And the first twenty minutes of this film are wonderful, where we see him save Yashida and avenge the cruel death of a bear. Another plus is, when the plot and action begin to unfold in Japan, the numerous fight sequences are extremely well done, free of the oft-used hyper-editing that makes it hard for the audience to know what’s going on.

However, the bad news is, even though the film series has established him as a loner, Wolverine is still far more interesting when interacting and bickering with his fellow X-Men. In addition, giving him a totally unnecessary love interest, if even temporarily, kinda goes against the nature of Wolverine and seems forced. Sure, he reluctantly cares about the people in his life, but watching him jump between the sheets with someone obviously half his age is kinda creepy and does nothing to advance the story (we never feel like Logan cares about this woman on the level of Rogue or Jean Grey). Scenes like this are what James Bond movies are for.

Then there’s the climax, which unfortunately, involves a yet-another villain in a robotic suit (who’s inside will surprise no one). Maybe it’s me, but I’m getting a bit tired of watching out-gunned heroes square-off against far-more-advanced foes, only to emerge triumphant by exploiting the villain’s arrogance.

Still, The Wolverine is a violent and action-filled movie that’ll likely please fans of the X-Men series far more than either of the origin films made lately. At this point, Jackman can play Wolverine in his sleep, and he’s always fun to watch. We’d be hard-pressed to accept anyone else in the role.

SPECIAL FEATURES: (Unavailable for review)

(OUT OF 5)

November 10, 2013


To celebrate The Wolverine November 19th Digital HD release, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has launched The Wolverine Unleashed Experience - an immersive website experience that allows fans to take a deeper look into Wolverine than ever before. Through this interactive website, fans can delve into the character of the Wolverine by navigating through a layered, three dimensional site that reflects Logan’s inner struggle with his immortality. Log on and uncover hot spots to unlock new content, including special feature sneak peeks and bridges to past films. The content is also compatible across desktop and tablets, and users can embed and share across all social platforms.

The Wolverine Unleashed experience comes hot off the heels of The Wolverine multi-touch experience – released for free exclusively at the iTunes iBook StoreThe Wolverine multi-touch experience adds to the story with original narrative, exclusive behind-the-scenes video, beautiful imagery, and interactive models.

November 9, 2013

Disc Review: 2 GUNS (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Starring Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, James Marsden, Edward James Olmos, Fred Ward. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur. (2013, 109 min).
Universal Studios Home Entertainment

While watching this, the first movie that came-to-mind was Tango & Cash, that awesomely bad cinema suppository which was literally raised from total awfulness by the chemistry between its lead actors, Sylvester Stallone & Kurt Russell. Neither guy was required to stretch much, but they were a lot of fun together, to the point where the story their characters were thrown into didn’t really matter.

Similarly, the actual plot of 2 Guns is perfunctory and somewhat similar to Tango & Cash: Two hard-ass agents, one working for the DEA, the other for Naval Intelligence (each initially thinking the other is a criminal), are both screwed-over while working undercover. After the two participate in the robbery of a Mexican bank, which happens to hold ill-gotten gains by the CIA (headed by a cold-blooded agent played by Bill Paxton), they are forced to work together in order to, not only clear their names, but administer some destructive justice on those who set them up.

"I made poo-poo."
So yeah, this is yet-another reluctant-buddy film that counts on the charisma of its two leads to carry it along. Since those leads are Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, 2 Guns ends up being a hell of a lot of fun. Like Tango & Cash, neither actor is required to do much more than exude the inherent coolness we already associate with them. Washington has repeatedly, and effortlessly, elevated even his worst films to a level of respectability lesser actors are capable of doing. Mark Wahlberg has a screen presence similar to Harrison Ford…he’ll never knock you out with his thespian skills, but he’s simply likeable (even when he’s blowing off the heads of chickens).

The overall success of 2 Guns rests solely on their shoulders, and fortunately, they deliver. This movie is as predicable as the tide, but the banter and interaction between Washington & Wahlberg make it worth checking out. It’s simply a lot of fun watching these two together, even after we're fast-forgetting the actual plot of the film. However, it’s a shame that Bill Paxton and Edward James Olmos (the film’s villains) are criminally under-used (much like Jack Palance in Tango & Cash).

All-in-all, 2 Guns is a fun-yet-forgettable film, due mostly to its two lead actors, neither of whom are likely waiting with baited breath for Oscar nods for this one.

SPECIAL FEATURES (unable to access for review): 
Featurettes: The Good, the Bad and the Sexy, Finding the Vibe, Living Dangerously; deleted/extended scenes; commentary by director Baltasar Kormakur & producer Adam Siegel.

(Out of 5)

November 8, 2013

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991): An Unfortunate Metaphor

Starring the voices of Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Jo Anne Worley. Directed by Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise. (1991, 84 min).

A few words about gay people…

I grew up in the less-politically-correct 70s & 80s, when gay men were mostly depicted in the media as flamboyant perverts, objects of mirth and ridicule because of their overall gayness. This was back when we assumed all gays were hairdressers, loved Liza Minnelli and regularly attended midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where they could frolic in drag with their fellow faggots. I’m not using the word ‘faggot’ flippantly, but simply pointing out that, at the time, the word was inherently funny to a lot of us (especially when a comedian like Eddie Murphy wrote entire stand-up routines around it).

Though I laughed at a lot of gay jokes back then, I had no real opinion or belief about the nature of gay people at all, nor did I ever feel threatened by folks in my life I knew to be gay. This doesn’t make me a saint; I must admit I still find some gay jokes amusing, as well as flamboyant depictions of them in movies or on TV. I enjoy making gay cracks to my oldest daughter, simply because she is the most open-minded and liberal person I know and my off-the cuff comments bug the shit out of her. But personally, I simply never gave a shit if someone was gay. Someone else’s sexual preference has absolutely zero impact on my life.

"Guess where I wear my flea collar."
On a side note, I've always had the impression that lesbians have, historically, not been treated quite as harshly as homosexual men. Hell, the mere fact that men are considered gay and women are called lesbians (even though lesbian equals gay) is a testament to our attitudes. I don’t know if it’s because there’s no penis in the picture or because most guys (conservative or liberal) actually like the idea of lesbianism (since virtually every porn video features at least one such scene). The bottom line is, it seems like our culture is far more tolerant of gay women than gay men. Please...someone correct me if I'm wrong.

What’s really distressing is the current controversy over gay marriage, which has stirred up an unprecedented level of public homophobia, the likes of which we never saw even in the 70s. This strikes me as sadly amusing. If you truly see homosexuality as a threat, and think gay folks are stalking neighborhoods and school yards with the nefarious agenda of converting all of us into godless sodomites, shouldn’t you be encouraging these guys to join in unholy matrimony in order to keep them off your streets?

But instead, you condemn gay unions as a threat to the sanctity of marriage, because legalizing it will encourage all of us happily married heterosexuals to dump our wives and shack up with a guy from our bowling team, or infect our sons with an insatiable lust for another guy’s hairy ass (because everyone knows homosexuality is more contagious than the Black Plague). Then there are the crazier homophobes (some who are public-fucking-figures) who have blamed gay tolerance for everything from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina.

But this ridiculous political shitstorm really shouldn’t surprise anyone. We were given a heads-up years ago, when Disney released what is arguably one of their greatest animated films, Beauty and the Beast.

We all know the story…a shallow, selfish and arrogant prince is turned into a hideous animal, and will remain so forever unless he can find someone to love him as a beast. Enter Belle, the beautiful bookworm who agrees to take her eccentric father’s place as a prisoner in The Beast’s castle. During that time, she brings out his humanity and compassion and actually learns to love him. None of this sits well with Gaston, the uber-macho, misogynist hunter who feels threatened by Belle’s affection for The Beast. So he rallies the village into a vengeful frenzy, even though The Beast has always kept to himself, seldom even leaving his castle, has done nothing to harm them personally and whose relationship with Belle doesn't affect their own lives one iota.

Sound familiar?

But even though Gaston is one of the biggest & irrational douche bags in the entire Disney canon, his actions are mostly motivated by wounded pride. He never gave a shit about The Beast until he was shunned by Belle. I once knew a guy whose wife left him for another woman. Ego-bruising, to be sure, but unlike Gaston, he took the high road and accepted the way things played out. The guy didn’t suddenly declare war on lesbians.

So what about all these current conservative tea-baggers obsessed with preventing gay marriage? Unless a gang of flagrant faggots broke into their house and gang-raped them (because we all know that’s what they live to do), we must assume they must have been similarly jilted like Gaston.

Why else would anyone really care if gays are married?

November 6, 2013

Fox Horror's MOMENTS TO DIE FOR on Tumblr

Click HERE to join in on the mayhem.
We here at FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE love horror movies...watching 'em, writing about 'em and reading about 'em. If you do to, then check out's MOMENTS TO DIE FOR Tumblr site, a curated destination of Fox and fan-generated content. This is both a platform and a Fox first: the 1st social aggregator on Tumblr, and the 1st movie genre-based Tumblr.

Fans can contribute to the Fox Horror aggregator by including #Horror in their posts to Tumblr, Twitter or Instagram. Only the most frightening content will be featured and profanity, advertising material and URLs are not accepted. 

Once posts are featured in our collection of horrific content it will always be available via the infinite scroll feature. This custom Tumblr site also includes all the native features of the platform allowing fans to reblog our original animated content, including a FB commenting module, representing more than 40 of FOX's blockbuster Horror films that will forever haunt us all. 

In addition to the cross platform aggregator fan content is also rebloged and highlighted daily within our Tumblr content as we continue to foster one of the most highly revered destinations for all things that go bump in the night.

You can also visit Fox Horror in your Tumblr app or on

November 3, 2013

Disc Review: THE MESSAGE (Blu-Ray) and LION OF THE DESERT (Blu-Ray)

Starring Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, Michael Ansara, Johnny Sekka, Michael Forest. Directed by Moustapha Akkad. (1976, 171 min).

Starring Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, Irene Papas, Rod Steiger, John Gielgud. Directed by Moustapha Akkad. (1981, 173 min [running time listed on the box is incorrect]).
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Horror fans might recognize the name of Moustapha Akkad (RIP), the executive producer of the Halloween franchise. Though those films were obviously his bread and butter, Akkad was also (very briefly) a fairly talented director in his own right, cranking out a couple of old school historical epics during a time no one else was making them. The Message and Lion of the Desert would have been right at home among the three-hour extravaganzas Hollywood was pumping out in the 50s and 60s. Instead, both fell into relative obscurity.

It makes sense that Anchor Bay is releasing both films on Blu-Ray at the same time, since they are similar in style, feature much of the same cast & crew, and depict key moments in Islamic history.

I actually remember The Message when it was released in the late 70s as Mohammad, Messenger of God, about the rise of the Islamic faith (its history near and dear to Akkad) during the 7th Century. While it’ll never make anyone forget The Ten Commandments or Lawrence of Arabia, the are moments when you can’t help but be impressed by the cinematography. But at three hours, it’s way too long. It’s an interesting story, sparked by a few impressive battle sequences, but sitting through the entire film is just as exhausting today as it was when I was a kid (I sneaked into it at the four-plex near my house because I'd seen everything else).

Anthony Quinn channels his inner Obi-Wan.
Another major problem is the film’s refusal to let the audience see or hear Mohammad himself, a directorial decision apparently made in accordance of Muslim beliefs. I respect that, but having actors repeatedly stop and address the camera directly, as though speaking to Mohammad, is a terrible idea. Breaking the fourth wall really only works in comedies (and no one did it better than Mel Brooks). Here, it just sucks you right out of the story. The Message also suffers from a complete lack of characterization. The impressive cast does what they can with what they’ve got (especially Anthony Quinn & Michael Ansara), but Akkad seems content to simply show us what they do, not who they were.

Akkad’s follow-up, Lion of the Desert, takes place in 1929 and recounts Italy’s decades-long attempt to conquer Libya. Sick of being continually defeated by rag-tag Libyan rebels, led by Omar Mukhtar (Quinn again), Mussolini (Rod Steiger) appoints General Graziani (Oliver Reed, who’s terrific) to hunt Mukhtar down and defeat the rebels. Even though Graziani has far more troops, weapons and tanks at his disposal, this turns out to be easier said than done.

Like The Message, there’s little real character development, but Lion of the Desert is livelier and far more action-oriented (not to mention a lot more violent), which makes up for the fact we know nothing about any of these folks outside a historical context. We’re repeatedly thrown into the middle of battle after battle, with obligatory exposition in between, all of which is well-executed and entertaining enough to justify its equally-long running time. And if a little deju vu creeps in while your watching, perhaps it’s because the plot is nearly identical to Braveheart. Since it predates Braveheart by 14 years and appears to be more historically accurate, one can’t help but wonder about the influence it may have had on Mel Gibson’s highly-romanticized epic (though Braveheart is still a far better film).

The Message is one of those movies one tends to admire more than enjoy (like Gandhi). Sure, it looks great and treats its subject matter with an extreme amount of respect, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth revisiting over and over. From a pure entertainment standpoint, Lion of the Desert is the undiscovered gem of the two, which remembers it’s supposed to be a movie first, history lesson second. It’s no classic, but worth checking out for fans of historical epics.