June 29, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: LAST KNIGHTS

Starring Clive Owen, Cliff Curtis, Aksel Hennie, Ayelet Zurer, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya. (2015, 114 min).

Last Knights is a lot better than its generic title suggests.

Clive Owen stars as Raiden, a fiercely-loyal military commender who, along with his elite soldiers, protects a kingdom run by nobleman Bartok (Morgan Freeman), which is part of a much larger empire. When Bartok refuses to give-in to the unreasonable tax demands of minister Geza Mott (Aksel Hennie, in a wonderfully despicable performance), he is executed for treason by the emperor, leaving Raiden and his men disavowed (knights without a master, no longer part of any clan). These men go their separate ways, yet Mott is obsessed with the certainty Raiden will seek revenge.

Meanwhile, Raiden himself retreats back to his early days of drinking and alienating those close to him, to the point where everyone (including his wife) has written him off as a sad drunk who's given up on life. Of course, anyone familiar with the tale of the 47 Ronin (or any other film based on the legend) knows there's plenty of revenge in store, just bubbling under the surface.

Reservoir Dogs...the early days.

As such, for yet-another movie which more-or-less skipped a wide theatrical release, Last Knights is a surprisingly entertaining take on the classic 47 Ronin tale, weighted by another solidly-stoic turn by Owen. He's supported by an able cast, although Morgan Freeman fans may be disappointed that his scenes are all regulated to the first half-hour or so. The film tends to drag a little longer than necessary during the middle act, But once the climactic action begins (preceded by an expected-but-fun plot twist), Last Knights is rousing and enjoyable, despite the fact we've seen it all before.


  • Featurettes: "Behind the Scenes of LAST KNIGHTS"; Cast/Crew Interviews; Special Effects Featurette
  • Trailers
  • Digital HD Copy 


June 26, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: THE GUNMAN

Starring Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinica, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance, Idris Elba. Directed by Pierre Morel. (2015, 115 min).

Early in The Gunman, we see main character Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) surfing off the African coast. The first thing that popped into my head was, "After all these years...Spicoli finally found the perfect wave!" I don't know if this throwaway scene was intended to reference Penn's iconic, starmaking role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but I'd like to think so. After all, despite a decades-long career of bucking the mainstream and taking on challenging roles, there are those of a certain age who will always most-fondly recall him as the likeable, long-haired high school stoner of days past.

How time flies. Now here he is, part of the old guard, joining the likes of Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner as a middle aged action hero in The Gunman. It isn't quite as much dumb fun as Taken - helmed by the same director (Pierre Morel) - but it's still cool to see a traditionally 'serious' actor kicking ass and blowing shit up. Here he plays a government assassin whose last job (killing a prominent figure in the Congo) requires him to disappear, leaving behind the woman he loves, Annie (Jasmine Trinica). Eight years later, everyone on his team involved in the assassination are being killed off, prompting Terrier to resurface in order to confront those who might be responsible, including former friend Felix (Javier Bardem), who has since married Annie.

Mr. Penn reacts to the latest episode of Uncle Grandpa

Considering his resume and formidable acting abilities, seeing Penn in such a standard action film is somewhat surprising (maybe even disheartening to some). Still, he brings his usual intensity to the role, which helps us overlook the fact the story itself is rather generic and perfunctory. As Felix, Javier Bardem delivers his usual A-game to a relatively thankless role that doesn’t figure too much into the plot. But despite the impressive cast and murky plot, what ultimately matters is the action, which The Gunman mostly delivers. While not as rousing & kinetic as any single scene in Taken (which benefits from a less complicated story), Penn is a suitably-scowling badass, even when displaying vulnerability.

It’s unlikely Sean Penn will follow Liam Neeson’s latter-day career of geriatric ass-kicking, but The Gunman, while no classic, is a nice change-of-pace from his plethora of serious roles. Despite a lackluster performance at the box office, it’s an entertaining action film worth checking out and deserving of a second life on home video. Plus, we finally get to see him surf.

DVD & Digital Copies

June 25, 2015


Starring Holly Deveaux, Ashanti, Amber Marshall, Jason, Cermak, Greg Lawson. Directed by David Winning. (2014, 83 min).

When a meteor strikes Earth, causing global catastrophe, a bunch of survivalists retreat to an underground shelter to escape the devastation. 10 years later, after an earthquake causes a life-threatening power outage, a small squad of them (led by mousy Holly Deveaux) venture topside to repair the damage and search for supplies. What they find instead are vicious, slobbering green-eyed mutants.

Some other survivors come to their rescue, offering shelter and gasoline in exchange for additional protection from the mutants at night. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman known only as The Preacher (Ashanti), buzzes around on a motorcycle, expertly kicking ass without bothering to take names. She's a total badass, though I guess we aren't supposed to question why she never became a mutant, or that her costume appears to have been purchased during a $3000 shopping spree on Rodeo Drive while everyone else looks like they've been living under a bridge.

Nor are we supposed to question how Deveaux begins the movie as a horny 17 year old, only to emerge 10 years later as an order-barking super soldier, though she still looks like she'd be more-at-home on her own Disney Channel show. And I guess it goes without saying we shouldn't question why, late in the film, one mutant inexplicably decides to rescue a young girl by moving her out of harm's way. And who are we to question why our heroes would efficiently dispatch scores of mutants in one scene, then stand around helplessly (still armed to the teeth) as their friends are killed?

"Where the hell did we park?"

These questions probably wouldn't have popped up until the movie was over if Mutant World was any good. But alas, it's another SyFy cheapie which looks like it was made on-the-fly, repeatedly ignoring logic and its own established rules to keep things moving. And Ashanti fans take note: Despite her prominent billing and character build-up, she has relatively little screen time and serves no real purpose other than to look good, kill a few people and give one heartfelt speech (as heartfelt as Ashanti is capable of, anyway) before being unceremoniously removed from the story.

Admittedly though, considering the Swiss cheese script, cheap CGI and overall non-acting, Mutant World is just fast-paced enough that you'll likely see it through to the end (though considerable eye-rolling will ensue, especially Deveaux's supposedly-symbolic costume change for the final scene).


June 23, 2015

Rest in Peace, Dick Van Patten

Dick Van Patten (1928-2015)


Directed by Robert Kenner. (2014, 93 min).

I love my parents. Besides my own family, they mean the world to me, though our worldviews are decidedly different. It wasn't until well into adulthood that I noticed, not only how politically conservative they are, but how liberal I'd become. They keep up on current events through Fox News, while reading Huffington Post is part of my daily morning routine. We both rely on sources which tell us exactly what we want to hear and believe those who think differently are woefully misguided, even though the actual truth of any given issue is probably somewhere in the middle.

On occasion, my mom and I have tried to set each other straight, to no avail, of course. While she has attempted to convince me to take Bill O'Reilly's views seriously by reading one of his books, claiming his utter objectivity and philanthropy, I can't get past my opinion of him as a jingoistic hate-monger. Similarly, if I were to insist she watch Merchants of Doubt, she'd likely assume director Robert Kenner is just another conspiracy theorist with an alarmist liberal agenda.

"Wait'll ya see the centerfold..."

And indeed, Merchants of Doubt does preach to the converted, confirming what they've always suspected about powerful corporations and the charismatic, articulate spin doctors hired to contradict (or at least call into question) scientific findings regarding various health-related or environmental issues, mostly climate change. To its credit, Merchants of Doubt generally doesn't focus on climate change itself, but the measures taken by those who have the most to lose economically (mostly oil companies and those in-bed with them). It provides a strong argument, especially when interviewing those who once assumed the idea climate change was the work of a bunch of Chicken Littles, only to change their stance over time as the evidence mounted. However, I can imagine this same film being equally fascinating those who don’t buy into climate change, hackles raised just like mine are when occasionally tuning into Fox News on days I’m in the mood to feel morally outraged.

All which makes Merchants of Doubt the best kind of incendiary documentary, taking one of the world’s most controversial issues and purposely stirring both sides of the pot. Though decidedly one-sided, it’s extremely well made and offers a compelling argument that nothing presented in the media should be taken at face value. Conservatives will likely hate the message, liberals will love it, but neither will be bored, which is ultimately the bottom line.


  • Deleted Scenes
  • Featurette: "An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Robert Kenner"
  • Audio Commentary
  • DVD Copy


Rest in Peace, James Horner

James Horner (1953-2015)

June 22, 2015


Starring Kurt Russell, Mariel Hemingway, Richard Jordan, Richard Masur, Richard Bradford (that's a lot of Richards), Joe Pantoliano, Andy Garcia. Directed by Phillip Borsos. (1985, 103 min).
Olive Films

When you think about it, Kurt Russell has had quite the unusual career. One of the few child stars to make the successful transition to adult roles, he became a cult icon with films like Escape from New York and The Thing, garnered critical praise in supporting roles like Silkwood and has proven to be a penultimate character actor by virtually disappearing into roles in such semi-classics as Miracle and Death Proof. Everyone knows who he is, yet for a respected career that has spanned over 50 years, Russell never joined Hollywood's A-list: bankable actors whose name alone would sell tickets.

Still, he starred in a lot of midrange dramas, comedies and thrillers during his most prolific years (the 80s and 90s), one of which was 1985's The Mean Season. This is the kind of traditional cat & mouse thriller that, in the 70s, would have starred Gene Hackman. Russell plays Malcolm Anderson, a weary Miami newspaper reporter on the verge of burning out due to all the terrible crimes he's covered. He wants nothing more than to get away from Miami with his longtime girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway), but gets drawn into the biggest story of his life when a serial killer singles Malcolm out as the one man to write about his exploits for the public. Though the killer craves media attention, it's Malcolm who becomes a minor celebrity, torn between helping the police catch the killer and enjoying all the sudden attention he's getting.

"Hey, weren't we in The Thing together?" 

That supremely-intriguing theme is frequently touched upon, but seldom explored in any real depth. For the most part, The Mean Season is content to be a fairly predictable by-the-numbers thriller, with Anderson rendered a hapless pawn who mostly exists to react to every plot turn (though Russell is solid as usual). The overall story is interesting enough to keep our attention, but pulls too many punches to instill the same morbid fascination provided by later films like Seven and The Silence of the Lambs. The cast is impressive though, which includes early turns by Andy Garcia and Joe Pantoliano. Also noteworthy is the criminally-underrated Richard Jordan as the killer, given a rare chance to pull out all the stops to create a suitably unhinged character.

Like a lot of Russell's output in the 80s and 90s, The Mean Season isn't especially memorable, but entertaining enough in the moment, with good performances and a decent story. Still, one might wish the intriguing themes suggested early-on would have been explored in more detail.


June 21, 2015


In 1939, MGM released the perennial classic, Gone with the Wind, which would become the biggest box office hit of all time (and still is, once inflation is taken into account). The film was three-and-a-half-hours long and a faithful adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s 1000+ page novel. It told a complete, epic tale and nobody who read the book ever walked out of the theater feeling cheated or unfulfilled.

In 2010, faced with the end of their cash cow known as the Harry Potter franchise, Warner Brothers chose to split the final novel into two separate films, even though the 700 page book wasn’t even the longest in the series. They simply wanted to exploit the franchise for all it was worth, confident that legions of Potterphiles would happily ignore the complete lack of creative justification for turning Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films. And Warner Brothers was proven right: Both parts were two of the biggest in the entire franchise.

Thus began the most blatantly greedy  and obscene cash-grabbing practice in Hollywood history...Breaking Dawn Parts I and II, Mockingjay Parts I and II and three goddamn Hobbit movies squeezed from a 300 page book. Rather than boycotting such an insulting practice, zealous fans worldwide have enthusiastically showed up in droves without a second thought to how they’re being totally exploited.

I don't know about you, but I don't expect to visit a theater and pay good, hard-earned money for part of a story. If I want to be left hanging, I'd watch more television because at least it's free.

This trend shows no signs of stopping, with the third Avengers entry tentatively slated as two movies, and Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Stand, currently being adapted into four individual films. Warner is also developing the inevitable Justice League as a two-parter. What’s most disheartening is the sheer number of moviegoers who not only accept this trend, but actually defend it as a creative decision, using the same old argument that it's the only way to properly tell the whole story.

"Come on, Mr. Jackson! Bilbo taking a dump? You don't need to include that!"

That is complete bullshit. The Hobbit was intentionally padded out to include tenuous ties to Lord of the Rings, as well as new characters and scenes which weren't even in the book. Why? Because three movies rake in a lot more cash than one or two, and they knew Middle Earth fans would feel as compelled to see each one as the rest of us are to keep our homes stocked with toilet paper. Tissue companies could suddenly decide to charge ten bucks per roll and we’d still have no choice but to pay up (let’s hope that never occurs to them). If you think this analogy is wrong, then why did so many people shell-out anywhere from $30 to $60 each - depending on where you live and whether or not you saw it in 3D - over the course of two years to watch a single story in theaters? Studios compelled you to.

And Lionsgate didn’t decide to split Mockingjay in two because the story is so complex. In fact, it’s narratively the weakest in the entire trilogy. Even at only 300 pages, the book itself seemed unnecessarily long and drawn-out. No, they did it because squeezing a fourth film from a trilogy this popular is like printing your own money and taking candy from a baby (in this case, we’re the babies). This essentially turned Mockingjay Part I into a two hour long teaser trailer.

If you still disagree, think about this...so far, nearly every time a studio has made the decision to split movies into two-parters has been after the franchise itself has developed such an enormous fan-base that success is guaranteed. There’s virtually no financial risk. This is similar to the practice drug dealers use when prowling schoolyards...they give you a taste, maybe even some to pass out to your friends, then drain your wallet once you’re all hopelessly addicted.

There are arguably only two exceptions, the first being Quentin Tarantino’s two Kill Bill films. Though Tarantino's widely respected, he doesn't direct high concept blockbusters aimed at mainstream audiences. The decision to split the four hour story into two films was risky, to say the least, since there was no built-in legion of Black Mamba fans. Additionally, this is arguably a case in which the decision was creatively justified, since both films are uniquely different in look and tone (Volume I pays homage to Asian action cinema, while Volume II plays like Sergio Leone’s classic Italian westerns).

The second exception is obviously The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Taken as a whole, distilling this massive three-part story into a single film would have been impossible. One film per novel was an obviously justified artistic decision, not to mention daring. People today tend to forget the enormous financial risk New Line Cinema was taking. Aside from the first Harry Potter film, fantasy cinema wasn't exactly setting the box office on fire in 2001. Additionally, Tolkien's trilogy always had more of a cult following as opposed the legions who made Harry Potter a modern cultural phenomenon. Throw in a director who, at the time, was mostly known for some arty horror films and gore comedies, and you had the potential for disaster. Still, creative integrity won-out over financial concerns, and in this case, the gamble paid off.

Those two exceptions aside, splitting a story into two or more films is far more exploitative than movies with cliffhanger endings. The Empire Strikes Back and Back to the Future Part II may have maddeningly teased the audience with open-ended resolutions, but only after telling complete stories of their own. And the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have (so far) had the decency to wait until the credits roll before teasing us with the wonders yet to come. But Deathly Hallows Part One? Mockingjay Part I? The Hobbit: Watch Bilbo Walk for Three Hours? You're simply paying for half a movie because of the conceit we're stupid enough to come back a year later and pay again for the rest. And so far, we haven't proven them wrong.

"Wait a minute...shouldn't I be busy killing people?"

But think about it...you'd never pay to attend the first half of a ballgame, then again to catch the remaining innings. You'd never go on iTunes and download the first two minutes of a song. If the Dominos delivery guy showed up with only half a pizza, you sure as hell wouldn't pay for a whole one. So why are we starting to let Hollywood get away with giving us half a movie?

As much as I loved The Lord of the Rings, I personally refuse to ever watch any of the films in the so-called Hobbit trilogy. The same goes for Mockingjay, even though I truly enjoyed both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Just because I'm a fan doesn't mean I'm stupid, and I'm fine with not paying twice the price for the conclusion of a trilogy I already know the ending to. As for upcoming films...sorry, but if I can't enjoy Avengers: Infinity War for the price of a single ticket, I'm out.

What will really hurt is if they persist on turning Stephen King's The Stand into four films. It's my favorite book of all time and the 1994 miniseries didn't do it justice. Still, if guys 80 years ago could adapt Gone with the Wind into a single sweeping epic (which is still considered one of the greatest films of all time), there's no reason a talented enough cast & crew couldn't accomplish the same thing with a book that's a few hundred pages shorter. I guess I'll have to miss that one too, because I wish to retain some self respect.

June 18, 2015


SPIRITED AWAY: Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. (2001, 124 min). THE CAT RETURNS: Directed by Hiroyuki Morita. (2002, 75 min).

Review by Michelle MaBelle

Studio Ghibli is probably the reason that I'm an anime loving junkie. Yeah, thanks Kiki's Delivery Service. Thanks for making me a massive nerd who spends way too much money on overpriced anime merchandise. Thanks a lot.

While I'm sure lots of people share similar addictions (and I'm sorry for you), the great thing about Ghibli films is that they sort of bridge the gap between anime fans and traditional animation fans. They are just well made, gorgeous movies. Everyone can like them. Normally I sit in a dark corner in my room, hoarding my anime and hissing at any light that filters in through the windows, but with these movies I want to show them off to everyone. Don't ever come near me and say you've never seen a Ghibli film, because then you'll be stuck with me for several hours while I make you sit through all of their movies I can find. They're just a lot of fun and so beautiful to look at. Even if you don't appreciate the art style, you can't deny the amount of love and care that went in to each scene of every movie.

"Pull my finger."

Spirited Away is easily one of the most gorgeous movies I have ever seen. Its imagery is intense and vibrant, often unsettling and creepy. And it's even more breathtaking on Blu-Ray. I've seen this movie countless times, yet watching through it again on Blu-ray, I found myself getting distracted by how the movie actually looks. I couldn't pay attention to any dialogue going on because I was way too busy being in awe of just how lovely everything was. If you're already a fan of Spirited Away, you can't miss out on grabbing it on Blu-ray. The special features on it aren't anything special. In fact, they seem to be the exact same as those featured on the original DVD release.

The Cat Returns is one of Ghibli's lesser known movies, but still rather charming and fun. It's not the gorgeous epic that Spirited Away is, but it's still cute. Unfortunately, I wouldn't say it really benefits from the Blu-ray treatment in the same way Spirited Away does. Its a nice looking movie, but there isn't much to it. It has a few moments of beautiful scenery, but it's not the constant bombardment of 'LOOK AT THIS, IT'S PRETTY' like Spirited Away. However, I don't actually remember the last time I saw this movie for sale anywhere, so I'd recommend picking it up while you can.

Buy Spirited Away on Blu-ray, even if you already own it on DVD. It honestly improves that much. Maybe skip out on The Cat Returns unless you don't actually already have it. It's still a worthy addition to your Ghibli collection.


  • Introduction by John Lassiter
  • Featurettes: "The Art of Spirited Away"; "Behind the Microphone" (which focuses on the cast of the English-dubbed version)
  • Storyboards
  • Nippon TV Special
  • Trailers & TV Spots
  • DVD Copy


  • Featurettes: "The Making of The Cat Returns"; "Behind the Microphone" (which focuses on the cast of the English-dubbed version)
  • Storyboards
  • Trailers & TV Spots
  • DVD Copy

June 15, 2015

CINDERELLA on Blu-ray Combo Pack 9/15

Disneys beloved and empowering fairytale told in a new beautiful way, Cinderella, arrives on Blu-ray Combo Pack, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere September 15th! The bonus features includes over 12 minutes of additional scenes, the  Frozen Fever” theatrical short and more! We have a treat to share with you and your readers from the bonus features:

Alternate Opening – Ella’s Childhood from Disney’s Cinderella:

June 14, 2015


Starring Ray Milland, 'Rosey' Grier, Don Marshall, Roger Perry, Chelsea Brown. Directed by Lee Frost. (1972, 90 min).
Olive Films

The Thing with Two Heads makes you appreciate the important public service Mystery Science Theater 3000 provided when it was still around, allowing us to bask in the sheer awfulness of various cinema suppositories without coming up with our own clever commentary. MST3K never riffed on this one, but they probably would have gotten around to it eventually.

The film stars Ray Milland as Maxwell Kirshner, a hateful, openly racist surgeon suffering from "terminal chest cancer" who comes up with the brilliant idea to sew his head onto another body so his genius doesn't die. Ironically, the only subject available is a black death row inmate named Jack (Rosey Grier). Unintentional hilarity ensues as Jack (now a two-headed abomination) escapes with the hope of, not only getting Kirshner off his shoulder (wouldn't it have been great if his name was Chip?), but clearing himself of the murder he was convicted of.

Ray Milland objects to being the creme filling.

Of all the goofy scenes, the best one involves a motocross race where, upon seeing this rampaging monstrosity, competitors are literally leaping off their cycles in terror as Jack/Max grabs a bike and races along with them while the cops give chase. In terms of audience participation, this is pure gold. That's just one example...The Thing with Two Heads has all the prerequisites for MST3K fodder...a dumbass premise, TV movie production values, ludicrous special effects (the bouncing fake head attached to Grier's shoulder), a hilariously out-of-place jazz music score and supreme overacting (Milland, no stranger to low-budget schlock, is totally over-the-top here).

But you probably shouldn't watch it alone. Much of the fun of trash like this involves getting together with like-minded friends and trying to one-up each other with your comments. Shot-gunning several beers in advance will help. Once you and your cronies are good and lit-up, the possibilities are endless. Have fun.

(and how intoxicated all of you are)

June 13, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: STONE COLD

Starring Brian Bosworth, Lance Henrikson, William Forsythe, Arabella Holzbog, Sam McMurray, Richard Gant. Directed by Craig R. Baxley. (1991, 95 min).
Olive Films

Once again, Olive Films unearths another relic you forgot existed. I love that about them.

Some of you might remember The Boz, that arrogant, trash-talking linebacker with the wild haircut who was a superstar at the University of Oklahoma, later humbled when his pro football career pretty much went nowhere. As his 15 minutes of fame were quickly ticking away, Brian Bosworth tried his hand at being an action hero in 1991's Stone Cold, which bombed even worse than his tenure with the Seattle Seahawks.

In some respects, one can see why. Unlike, say, Jim Brown (or even O.J. back in the day), Bosworth's carefully cultivated bad boy image was never especially likable. Sticking him in a big brainless action film felt like a desperate attempt to keep an NFL washout in the limelight (kind-of like Dancing with the Stars does today).

Other than that, Stone Cold isn't really any worse than the stuff Stallone was churning out at the time. Boz plays Joe Huff, a renegade cop (of course) blackmailed by the FBI to infiltrate a violent motorcycle gang known as The Brotherhood. Its psychotic leader, Chains Cooper (Lance Henrikson), has drug dealings with the mafia and also plans to assassinate a local district attorney. Needless to say, lots of fights, gunplay and motorporn ensues.

When grocery store security guards dream...

Boz looks and dresses like the lead singer of an 80s metal band with the worst mullet in movie history. As for his acting...Bosworth is essentially playing himself, and not much is required of him aside from fighting, scowling and handling his lizard (his PET lizard, you perverts). As such, he delivers a one-note performance without embarrassing himself too much. Henrikson is the polar opposite, chewing the scenery like a pitbull. He clearly appears to be enjoying himself, perhaps aware of how ridiculous everything is.

And ridiculous is definitely the one word which best sums-up Stone Cold, from the story, the dialogue, the characters, the costumes...right down to the action scenes, which grow increasingly ludicrous. But while not a good movie by any stretch, Stone Cold is a lot of disreputable fun if you're in the right frame of mind, much like Stallone's Cobra managed to entertain in spite of its utter stupidity...or perhaps because of it.

Similar to Bosworth's football career, Stone Cold warrants little more than a footnote in the annals of action movies. Yet at the same time, they don't really make stuff like this anymore, and there's some morbid fascination to be found in watching such an elaborate attempt to turn a has-been into a movie star. At the very least, whether you're nostalgic or in the mood for some unintentional humor, Stone Cold is seldom boring.



June 7, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: WILD TALES

Starring Ricardo Darin, Oscar Martinez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Erica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Dario Grandinetti, Maria Onetto, Nancy Duplaa, Osmar Nunez. Directed by Damian Szifron. (2014, 122 min).

This Argentine-Spanish film (nominated for a 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) is easily the most bizarre, unpredictable and unusual thing I've seen in a long time. Consisting of six seemingly unrelated short stories, I suppose the overall theme would be revenge. Even so, trying to pigeonhole Wild Tales into a specific genre is a waste of time, since each vignette is decidedly different. Still, the entire film has a blackly comedic mean streak running through it a mile wide.

Like most anthology films, some stories work better than others. Wild Tales starts off with a bang with a highly amusing piece in which the passengers onboard a plane discover they all have one thing in common: a past relationship with a guy who holds a huge grudge. From a narrative standpoint, this story is the most straightforward and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Other standout stories feature a disgruntled demolition expert who goes to extremes when dealing with a parking ticket, a case of road rage that gets way out of hand (with a hilariously ironic resolution) and a wedding reception which turns sour after the bride discovers her husband has been cheating on her. The remaining two stories, while interesting, are more like listening to someone try to tell a joke, only they forgot the punchline.

Still, Wild Tales remains a fiercely original film and, if you're in the right frame of mind, phenomenally entertaining. It's loaded with narrative surprises and terrific performances by the entire cast. Whether or not you actually enjoy or approve of each segment, there's no denying you've never seen anything like it. That alone makes Wild Tales worth checking out.

Featurettes: "Wild Shooting: Creating the Film"; "As Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Damian Szifron"


June 5, 2015


Free Kittens Movie Guide and Anchor Bay Entertainment are giving away Blu-Ray copies of Monsters: Dark Continent, the sequel to Gareth (Godzilla) Edwards' critically acclaimed 2010 film.

Taking place 10 years after the events of its predecessor, Monsters: Dark Continent is set against the backdrop of a world proliferated by “Infected Zones.” An insurgency of fearsome monsters lord over these regions and threaten humanity. The film follows four fresh army recruits as they embark on a life-altering mission in the Middle East, through the heart of monster territory to save a group of fellow soldiers.

To enter, simply leave us a message in KITTY KONTACT, located in the sidebar at the top of this page. Winners will be chosen at random. 

Blu-Ray Review: CHAPPIE

Starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver. Directed by Neill Blomkamp. (2015, 120 min).

Having finally seen it, I have to place Chappie on that sad list of potential blockbusters which inexplicably failed to find an audience in theaters. Like last year's equally-maligned Edge of Tomorrow, Chappie is a cut above your typical FX-driven picture: clever & witty, with a compelling premise, interesting characters and impressive visual effects which actually serve the story, not vise versa. As director Neill Blomkamp's third feature, it isn't as unique and original as District 9, but an improvement over his interesting-but-aloof Elysium.

Like District 9, the film takes place in Johannesburg. At an unspecified point in the future, the solution to rampant crime has been government use of law enforcement robots designed by engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) and manufactured by the Tetravaal corporation. Wilson's ambition has him developing a program which can instill genuine emotions in his creations, an idea shot down by CEO Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, in a thankless role). So he steals a recently damaged robot in order to test it out.

Unfortunately, a local small-time gang kidnaps Wilson, forcing him to reprogram the robot to help them do heists in order to pay-off a crime boss. Wilson complies, using this opportunity to install his new software. When the robot reawakens, it has the mind as a child experiencing various emotions for the first time...fear, joy, anger...even embarrassment.

"Did you poop on the master's rug, too?"

Gang leaders Ninja and Yolandi imprint their own ideals and morals upon the robot. Yolandi names it Chappie and becomes sort-of a surrogate mother figure, reading it stories and displaying affection, while Ninja is initially more concerned about teaching Chappie how to commit crimes and act ‘gangster‘. While neither are what anyone would call responsible mentors, these two have a huge impact on Chappie’s emotional development, which leads to some amusing scenes in which Chappie processes these ideals. Meanwhile, disgruntled Tetravaal engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), whose similar prototype (MOOSE) was shoved by the wayside, tries to take advantage of Wilson’s rogue actions in order to push his own creation.

Chappie’s emotional development is the crux of the story, since he’s an innocent being bombarded by conflicting ideas of morality. At the same time, his creativity and problem-solving abilities are growing exponentially. Because of this, he’s the most likable and charming character in the entire film (and perfectly voiced by Sharlto Copley). Ninja & Yolandi (named for the actual rave-rap duo who play them), despite being low-life thugs, manage to become more endearing as the story progresses. The same cannot be said for Moore; Jackman does what he can, but as antagonists go, he’s a one-note caricature...and what the hell’s up with that hair and Steve Erwin get-up?

The final act descends into your typical violent shoot ‘em up (with echoes of Robocop 2, of all things), and late plot turns will require some suspension of disbelief. But those are minor flaws since the rest of the film is exciting and engaging...even a little thought provoking when it challenges our definition of sentient life. Chappie comes to an enormously satisfying - yet open-ended - conclusion. So if there is indeed no follow-up (and its box office performance suggests there won’t be), it’s doubtful anyone will feel cheated. In either case, like Edge of Tomorrow and Dredd, Chappie deserves a second life on home video.


  • Featurettes: "Chappie: The Streetwise Professor"; "Arms Race: Weapons & Robots"; "Bringing Chappie to Life: The Visual Effects"; "From Tetra Vaal to Chappie" (Tetra Vaal is the short the film is partially based on); "The Reality of Robotics"; "Keep it Gangster"; "Rogue Robot: Deconstructing the Stunts and Special Effects"; "Jozi: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting"
  • Alternate Ending (which is just as good, with more apocalyptic implications)
  • Extended Scene
  • Artwork Gallery
  • Digital Copy


Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection on Blu-ray on 8/18

From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes the Shorts Film Collection, an extraordinary new collection of award-winning and beloved short films featuring Disney's Frozen Fever, starring Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Sven and Kristoff, and the Oscar®-nominated Lorenzo. It will be available early on Digital HD/Disney Movies Anywhere August 11 and you can bring it home on Blu-ray August 18. Enjoy this must-own collection with all-new extras including an inside look at the Disney Animation shorts, featuring introductions and interviews with the acclaimed filmmakers themselves.

June 4, 2015

SPEED: Alternate Ending

"Pop quiz, hot shot...there's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus reaches 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. Once it drops below 50, it goes off. What do you do?"

"Well, I suppose I'd just shoot out a tire before the bus even reaches 50, then call it a day."

"Shit...I didn't think of that."

June 3, 2015


Starring Jessie T. Usher, RonReaco Lee, Erica Ash, Teyonah Parris, Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps. Various Directors (2014, 164 min).
Anchor Bay

Considering the one and only LeBron James serves as one of the executive producers, one might understandably assume Survivor's Remorse draws a bit of inspiration from his own experiences. Maybe it does, but other than the elementary school team my daughter plays for, I know almost nothing about LeBron or basketball. Not that it matters, since this Starz series is more about how instant fame & fortune affects and changes people, sometimes for the worse. The game itself is perfunctory.

Jessie T. Usher is Cam Calloway, a young prodigy who becomes an instant celebrity with millions of dollars after signing a contract to play basketball in Atlanta. He's brash and cocky, not-to-mention naive and foolish when it comes to his wealth (though he has a generous streak that's somewhat endearing). Cam's sudden stardom also impacts the lives of those around him, mostly his family, who have no problem riding the gravy train to luxury (if this reminds you a little bit of Entourage, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark).

"One, two, three, four...I declare a thumb war!"

Those hoping for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the inner-workings of the NBA should prepare for disappointment. The game itself is only the catalyst for happenings outside the arena (at least during most of these six episodes). And for a series purporting to be a comedy, it isn’t often all that funny. Perhaps that's due in-part to the fact few of the characters (outside of Cam) are particularly likable; most are shallow, petty, conniving and greedy. Still, that didn’t hurt Entourage in its early seasons, so maybe it’s a moot point. The sudden first-world problems these characters face is sometimes interesting, but it would’ve been kind-of cool if the first season featured a bit more of a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes drama inherent in pro sports. But that’s just me; I imagine scores of folks will enjoy the story twists and personal betrayals enough that they won’t be concerned about the infrequent cameo appearance by an actual basketball.

While I was largely unimpressed with the various story arcs of this first season, it’s well acted by a good cast, the dialogue seems authentic and ends with the promise of greater things to come. Perhaps this is one of those shows that'll hit its stride later on.

Featurette: "Meet the Cast"


June 2, 2015


Movie posters are a dying art. Today, most are little more than quickly slapped-together Photoshopped montages. But back in the days before the internet, posters really had to sell movies, which meant hiring artists and photographers with enough creativity to (sometimes deviously) get butts planted in theater seats. In the tradition of P.T. Barnum, sometimes the best posters were used to entice moviegoers into seeing the worst movies...
The Hills Have Eyes was a surprisingly solid remake (both critically and financially) of Wes Craven's original classic. So it was no surprise a sequel followed soon after, preceded by this beautifully disturbing teaser poster, which ended up being banned by the MPAA. It was modified to depict feet protruding from the sack (instead of a clawing hand), which was somehow deemed acceptable. Go figure. At any rate, this brief bit of controversy is the only memorable aspect of this dull retread.

The original Australian film, The Cars That Ate Paris, was retitled by its American distributor to push it as a horror film (which it really isn't). Too bad, because who wouldn't want to see cars literally devour a bunch of poor bastards on the highway as depicted in the poster? Unfortunately, it's about the folks of a small town who earn a living by causing car accidents and salvaging the wreckage. The film itself is mostly remembered today as director Peter Weir's first feature.

Look at that buff dude on that badass bike, sword raised high as he roars defiantly down the highway! Guess what...there's nothing remotely like him or that bike anywhere in this Roger Corman-produced, no-budget 'sequel' to Death Race 2000. But unlike that cult classic, all the laughs here are completely unintentional.

While few would ever defend Deep Blue Sea as a good movie with a straight face, most would agree it's a hell of a lot of goofy, ridiculous fun, especially Samuel L. Jackson's  semi-classic death scene. This promotional poster had it all...great tagline, super-hot Saffron Burrows and a shark's maw big enough to swallow a Volkswagen.

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
This film has its admirers, many who might have an overly-nostalgic attachment to it. That still doesn't make Friday the 13th any good, and even director Sean S. Cunningham admitted he was just trying to capitalize on the success of Halloween, having the chutzpah to place ads in Variety magazine before he had anything but a title. Aside from its creative kills (courtesy of Tom Savini), the film is poorly acted, badly written and clumsily directed. Still it was perfectly marketed, and this beautiful poster is a true work of art.