September 29, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE NEON DEMON

Starring Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola. directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. (2016, 117 min).

Stephen King once famously equated Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining to a big, beautiful car with no engine. One can apply that same analogy to Nicolas Winding Refn's latest head-scratcher, The Neon Demon.

First and foremost, the film is visually stunning. I haven't seen such effective use of color and contrast since Dario Argento's Suspiria. And like that classic film, nearly every shot is practically a work of art, managing to find beauty even in its most perverse images. The music score by Cliff Martinez does as much to drive the film as the characters and dialogue, going a long way in creating the sinister tone Refn is striving for. The craftsmanship alone will make The Neon Demon worth checking out for some viewers.

But unlike Refn's best film, Drive, which provided substance even in its many quiet, introspective moments, The Neon Demon is narratively vapid and sort of pretentious (the director’s initials are arrogantly displayed throughout much of the opening credits). It plays like there’s something dark and revealing under the surface that we’re supposed to pull out, and even manages to instill periodic moments of dread. But ultimately, it's a series of tenuously connected vignettes which seem to be a checklist of scenes Refn thought would be cool to see, regardless of their importance to the story (a mountain lion in a motel room in the middle of L.A.?).

"I cut myself shaving."

There are plenty of the director’s trademarks: emotionally-oppressed characters, prolonged moments of silence (aside from the music), very little exposition and, of course, the usual moments of shocking violence & grotesquery (including cannibalism and necrophilia). But this time, the pieces don’t fit together too well and its deliberate pace eventually becomes an endurance test. The cast, led by Elle Fanning as a budding teen model everyone's dangerously envious of, is solid, but we’re led to believe some characters are a lot more important than they really are (a few disappear altogether).

Nicolas Winding Refn’s films are generally pretty polarizing and The Neon Demon is no exception. Fans of the director may love every minute of it; many others will throw their hands up in frustration and mourn the two hours of their life they won’t get back. While any movie capable of doing that can’t be entirely dismissed, this time I didn’t buy what Refn’s trying to sell.

FEATURETTES: "About the Neon Demon" (which runs just under two minutes and feature nothing beyond a few promotional soundbites); "Behind the Soundtrack of The Neon Demon"
Audio Commentary with Fanning and Refn


September 28, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE SHALLOWS

Starring Blake Lively, Sully Seagull, Oscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. (2016, 86 min).

There will never be another Jaws, which I've grudgeonly learned to accept over the years. Everyone else knows it, too, making it hard to assess any other shark movie on its own merits. Perhaps that's why we get precious few anymore that take themselves seriously; unfavorable comparisons are inevitable. Jaws did it first, and did it perfectly.

The Shallows, however, might arguably be the best shark movie since Jaws. Its story is even simpler, nearly a one-woman show as Blake Lively plays an injured surfer trapped 200 yards offshore by a malevolent Great White. The only other co-star who gets any considerable screen time is a seagull trapped on the rock with her. Most of the rest of the cast is shark bait.

Sharks always win at Marco Polo.

After a few early scenes of obligatory character exposition, this is pure tale of survival, and pretty intense at times (it also happens to be beautifully shot). There are even a few moments which threaten to reaffirm the same irrational fear Jaws once did...that sharks are out to get us. Lively delivers an effective and convincing physical performance, even during some of the film's daffier scenes (mostly during the final act, where the ample use of CGI becomes obvious).

Speaking of which, The Shallows sort-of jumps-the-shark (no pun intended) at the end with a fairly ridiculous climax. Until then, though, this is a smart and snappy little film that hits you quick and doesn't wear out its welcome. After years of sharknadoes and deep blue seas, it's refreshing to see someone make these animals scary again.

FEATURETTES: "When Sharks Attack"; "How to Build a Shark"; "Shooting in the Shallows"; "Finding the Perfect Beach: Lord Howe Island"
Deleted Scenes
Digital Copy

September 26, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: WARCRAFT

Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown. Directed by Duncan Jones. (2016, 123 min).

As for the ongoing general consensus that all video game adaptations suck, Warcraft ain't likely to change anyone's mind, but it isn't quite the trainwreck many critics made it out to be.

On one hand, it's overlong, predictable and derivative, loaded with cliched dialogue and dull characters. The action and special effects make you feel like you're watching a video game; at no time are we ever convinced the actors are really interacting with the motion-capture creatures or the digital environment. On the other hand, if you keep your expectations in check, Warcraft, while never truly thrilling or original, is certainly watchable. Though fans of the game will probably get more out of it, the film is visually impressive in a cartoonish sort of way and there's enough hyperactive CGI action to amuse undemanding viewers.

The plot, of course, is perfunctory: Azeroth is invaded by the Orcs (looking like a legion of demonic Shreks), whose own world was destroyed. They're led by Gul'lan, who uses a life-sucking power called 'Fel' to, not only open the portal to begin with, but wipe out his enemies. Ironically, it's this same power that destroyed the Orcs' home world in the first place. This doesn't sit well with one of the clan chiefs, Durotan, who reluctantly sides with the humans in Azeroth to fight Gul'lan before he grows too powerful. Leading the human fight is Lothar (Travis Fimmel) who serves King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), with help from the Guardian (Ben Foster), who's some sort of sorcerer.

Muppets from Hell.

It's a pretty straightforward story and it earns no points for originality, but that's not really a deal-breaker. When was the last time you saw a truly unique fantasy film, anyway? There are still some fun moments to be had and the few bits of intentional humor are pretty amusing (the film could have used more of them).  Less forgivable is the total lack of interesting characters. None of the human heroes display much personality and the Orcs all look and sound the same. There's something seriously wrong when the one and only Clancy Brown's voice is indistinguishable from the other Orcs.

The film is optimistically left open-ended, indicating that Universal was probably convinced they had a massive hit on their hands. God knows gamers had been anticipating a Warcraft movie for the past decade. Apparently, though, this wasn’t what they had in-mind. But it isn’t that bad and might actually play better at home, where our expectations are generally lower.

Of course, that might be faint praise for a film with a $160 million price tag.

EXTRA KIBBLES (if nothing else, this disc is loaded):
Motion Comic: "Bonds of Brotherhood"
Deleted/Extended Scenes
Gag Reel
Original Warcraft Teaser Trailer from 2013
DVD & Digital Copies
Digital Download Codes for 3 Blizzard Entertainment Warcraft Games
"The Fandom of Warcraft" (dedicated, cosplaying fans of the game)
"ILM: Behind the Magic of Warcraft" (special effects)
"The World of Warcraft" (behind-the-scenes making-of feature)
"Warcraft: The Madam Tussauds Experience" (Madam Tussauds is a wax museum which created life-like sculptures of several of the film characters)


Rest in Peace, Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell Gordon Lewis (1929-2016)

September 25, 2016


Narrated by Michael Ealy. Various Directors. (2016, 336 min).

When I decided to go back to college, I needed certain basic classes to fulfill the credit requirements for my degree. Since space always fascinated me, I signed up for Astronomy to fulfill my Science requirement. And I fell asleep nearly every day. The teacher was awful, making Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day off seem as manic as Joe Pesci. It takes special skill to make the cosmos dull, which this guy managed in spades.

On the other hand, History was my worst subject in high school and I dreaded having to revisit the past in college. On day one, the teacher, Dr. Shelby, began talking about the Roman Empire and didn't stop for the next nine weeks. No textbook, no tests, just this long-haired old man in a denim jacket verbally sharing history with us, turning it into an epic tale. Dr. Shelby made Roman history come alive and, to this day, he remains one of the greatest speakers I ever heard.

It just goes to show you...presentation is everything.

History Channel's Barbarians Rising, while not quite a fascinating as Dr. Shelby, covers similar ground and does an admirable job turning it into compelling drama.

One thing is certain...Rome certainly had its downfall coming. This four-part docudrama chronicles 700 years of various uprisings against the malevolent Roman Empire. Beginning with Hannibal and ending with a final siege of Rome by Alaric' Visigoth hordes, we witness the slow death of one of history's most enduring civilizations.

Never try to put on your make-up while driving.

As presented here, we definitely side with the barbarians. Rome was an arrogant, cruel empire, taking territories by force, slaughtering or enslaving their opponents and stealing their children to raise as Romans themselves. By the time Rome begins to show signs of weakness (roughly midway through the program), we're pretty much ready to see them get what's coming. In that sense, Barbarians Rising could arguably be considered the world's longest revenge film.

Michael Ealy narrates the proceedings, which include commentary by several historians (though I'm unclear how Reverend Jesse Jackson qualifies), who offer their expertise to help explain the importance of specific events. What they have to say is interesting, but what really makes these episodes work are the lengthy (sometimes bloody) dramatic reenactments. While the performances by a cast of relative unknowns range from suitably brooding to overwrought, the action and battle scenes are pretty impressive for a TV show. That, along with Ealy's narration and periodical CG animations charting army movements, sort-of renders these experts' commentary unnecessary and intrusive (like your dog spoiling the mood by jumping on the bed).

Still, after a slow start, Barbarians Rising manages to suck the viewer in like a good drama or documentary always does. By the final episode, we're more than ready to see Rome go down as violently as possible (which it does). I haven't talked to Dr. Shelby in over 20 years, but I think he'd approve.


Rest in Peace, Bill Nunn

Bill Nunn (1953-2016)

September 24, 2016


Starring Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Grace Kelly, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr, Harry Morgan, Eve McVeagh, Jack Elam. Directed by Fred Zimmerman. (1952, 85 min).

If not one of the greatest westerns of all time, High Noon is inarguably one of the most important. Allegorically, the film was always more than just another Hollywood oater, despite its deceptively simple plot. It is also a technical and visual masterpiece that plays as well today as it did 64 years ago. Re-released by Olive Films as part of their new Signature Series, this Blu-Ray is a must-have for any self-respecting cinephile, even if you already have it on disc.

As played by Gary Cooper (who deservedly won an Oscar), retiring Marshall Will Kane was a hero we really hadn't seen in a western before. While certainly brave, he's not fearless. Kane is often uncertain of his own decisions, self-conflicted and torn between doing the 'smart' thing and the 'right' thing, even though the right thing could get him killed. Kane's not necessarily adored by all the townsfolk, either, even though he's been solely responsible for keeping them safe over the years. As a man he once put-away is returning to town on the noon train for revenge, most of them want Kane to leave. Some fear for his safety, while others, all of whom refuse to help him, obviously fear for their own. A few simply hate the man, such as his Deputy Marshall (a very young Lloyd Bridges), who resents not being picked to take over as Marshall.

Will Kane can barely contain his excitement.

High Noon has been remade and ripped-off many times over the years that one of its primary ideas seems to have been largely forgotten. Screenwriter Carl Foreman intended this as an allegory in protest of McCarthy-era blacklisting (of which he himself was subjected to). Some of the features on this disc offer some great backstories about both Foreman and producer/partner Stanley Kramer, whose working relationship acrimoniously ended during filming due to their political positions during the Red Scare.

"Does this look infected?"

High-mindedness aside, High Noon still works wonderfully as mere entertainment. Shot in beautiful black & white, the film is loaded with stunning imagery; the iconic image of Kane walking alone through the streets just before all hell breaks loose can still raise goosebumps. One of the earliest films presented in 'real time,' there isn't a lot of action per se, but with each ominous shot of a ticking clock, director Fred Zimmerman - with considerable help from editors Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad - masterfully pile on the suspense.

There's no real reason not to own this one, even if westerns aren't your thing. High Noon isn't a conventional western in the purest sense either. If your already have this classic in your collection, Olive Films has packed in enough brand-new, revealing and comprehensive bonus features to make this disc worth the price for any serious fan.

"A Stanley Kramer Production" - Michael Schlesinger discusses the Kramer's legendary career.
"A Ticking Clock" - The editing of the film
"Oscars and Ulcers: The Production History of High Noon" - Narrated by the late Anton Yelchin, this is a detailed account of the making of the film, and the best of the bonus features.
"Imitation of Life: The Hollywood Blacklist and High Noon" - People were really dumb in the 1950s
"Uncitizened Kane" - Essay by Sight & Sound editor Nick James (It's okay, but much of this is more interestingly covered in the other documentaries)
Original Trailer

September 23, 2016

Blu-Ray News: Disney's THE BFG on Digital, Blu-Ray and Disney Movies Anywhere Dec. 6

Disney and Amblin Entertainment, in association with Walden Media, present the fantasy adventure film The BFG, the first-ever motion picture adaptation of Roald Dahl’s resonant tale of childhood, the magic of dreams and the extraordinary friendship between a young girl and a big friendly giant. Directed by three-time Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg, the film reunites the director with his Oscar-nominated collaborator on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Melissa Mathison (RIP), who adapted the children’s author’s timeless adventure for the big screen. This magical tale of an extraordinary friendship loaded with exciting extras will brighten the holidays for the whole family! The BFG comes to Digital HD, Blu-ray and Disney Movies Anywhere Dec. 6.

September 21, 2016

Blu-Ray News: KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS Coming to Video in November

Universal City, California, September 21, 2016 – A young boy with a magical gift sets out on a thrilling quest to discover his family’s legacy in LAIKA’s newest film, Kubo and the Two Strings. The latest masterpiece from the animation studio behind the Academy Award-nominated films Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls comes to Digital HD on November 8, 2016 and Blu-ray™ 3D, Blu-ray™, DVD and On Demand on November 22, 2016 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Hailed as “an exquisite, beautiful film,” (Scott Mantz, Access Hollywood) Kubo and the Two Strings has captivated audiences of all ages, earning an extraordinary 97% “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the best-reviewed films of the year!

From acclaimed animation studio LAIKA comes an all-new epic adventure starring the voice talents of Academy Award® winners Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar). Young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of Game of Thrones) mesmerizes the people in his village with his magical gift for spinning fantastical tales. When he accidentally summons an evil spirit seeking vengeance, Kubo journeys on an action-packed quest to solve the mystery of his fallen samurai father, discover his own magical powers, and reunite his family.

Kubo and the Two Strings stars an all-star supporting voice cast including George Takei (Star Trek), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (The Man in the High Castle), and Academy Award® nominees Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter), Brenda Vaccaro (Johnny Bravo), and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). The Blu-ray 3D™, Blu-ray™, DVD and Digital HD are packed with exciting behind-the-scenes bonus content, featuring the filmmakers and incredible voice cast, that allows viewers to dive even deeper into the magical story.
Bonus Features Exclusive to Blu-ray™ 3D Combo Pack & Blu-ray™ Combo Pack 
•  Introduction by Director/Producer Travis Knight:  Director/Producer Travis Knight introduces “Kubo’s Journey.”
Mythological Monsters:  The filmmakers and crew discuss the new techniques they used to create the terrifying antagonists. Learn how each monster differed in scale, design, and execution.
Braving the Elements:  A particularly challenging aspect of filming was animating water and rain effects. Discover how LAIKA was able to animate water in the context of a stop-motion film.
The Redemptive and Healing Power of Music:  Learn how traditional and contemporary musical styles were combined by Academy Award®-winning composer Dario Marianelli (Atonement) to infuse the film with such a heartfelt sound. 
Epilogue by Director/Producer Travis Knight:  Director/Producer Travis Knight discusses what attracted LAIKA to Kubo and the Two Strings.

Bonus Features on Blu-ray™ 3D Combo Pack & Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD
Japanese Inspiration:  The LAIKA creative team and the cast discuss the inspirations for the story.
Corners of the Earth:  Filmmakers and crew discuss the challenges of the varied landscapes and locations in Kubo and the Two Strings.
The Myth of Kubo:  Cast and filmmakers discuss the story at the core of Kubo and the Two Strings.
Feature Commentary with Director/Producer Travis Knight

Blu-Ray News: Two More 80's Classics from Lionsgate

From the Vestron Video Collector’s Series comes two more cult classics, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 and C.H.U.D. II: BUD THE CHUD, arriving on limited-edition Blu-ray for the first time on November 22 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
In Return of the Living Dead: Part II, the chemical Trioxin turned people into flesh-eating zombies. Now, the government is trying to control these unstoppable cannibalistic killers in Return of the Living Dead 3. When a young man uses the chemical to bring his girlfriend back to life after a motorcycle accident, she is driven to eat the only thing that will nourish her...human brains! She tries to stop her own feeding frenzy but a chain reaction has already begun, as hordes of undead are unleashed from their graves!

Kevin, Steve, and Katie are an inseparable trio of friends doing some extracurricular snooping in the school science lab when, among the test tubes and beakers, they discover a corpse! But before they can say “Abra Cadaver,” the body disappears, rolling down Route 51 strapped to a gurney. The kids need a spare stiff, and fast. What they find is “Bud the Chud,” a half-dead decomposing humanoid, the result of a military experiment gone haywire. When Bud sets out on a killing spree, the kids, the Army, the police, and the FBI are hot on his trail, trying to save the entire town from becoming “Chudified!”

Rest in Peace, Curtis Hanson

Curtis Hanson (1945-2016)

September 20, 2016


Starring Seth Rogan, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Dave Franco, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Mintz-Plasse, Lisa Kudrow, Selena Gomez, Hannibal Buress, Kelsey Grammer, LL Cool J. Directed by Nicholas Stoller. (2016, 93 min).

It's been a long time since I've seen a movie completely undone by a single character.

I need to be upfront and admit I have not watched the original Neighbors. Though not particularly a fan of Seth Rogan, I don't avoid his films, but won't go out of my way to see them, either. As for the few of his I kind-of enjoyed, like This is the End and The Night Before, it wasn't necessarily because Rogan was in them. So for I know, Neighbors is hilarious.

That being said, the inevitable sequel, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is probably the most irritatingly obnoxious movie I've seen so far this year. The film is almost offensively pandering and aimed at those who think seeing someone vomited on during sex (the very first scene) is inherently funny. Though Rogan shares some of the blame for co-writing this one, meaning its loaded with his usual quota of weed jokes, one has admire his utter fearlessness when putting himself in compromising situations, even if they are seldom particularly funny. But Rogan's performance isn't really the problem here.

The returning cast is also game for another go-round. Like a lot of Rogan-scripted films, the plot is mostly a clothesline to hang various scattershot sketches and gags. While Zac Efron's second turn as the dumb-as-dirt Teddy Sanders is admittedly amusing, especially when trying to grasp the concept of boiling eggs, most of the cast is given little to do but scream or do something calculated to shock the audience into thinking it's funny. There's an air of desperation in most its over-the-top attempts to out-do the original. But the that's not really the problem, either.

This time, Mac and Kelly Radner are trying to sell their home, but while it's in escrow, Scoonie (Chloe Grace Moretz), a college freshman who decides to start an off-campus sorority so she can party with her friends, moves in. The Radners fear the buyers will back out if they know a hard-partying sorority lives next door. When they try to convince Scoonie to tone things down during the 30 day escrow period, she refuses and inexplicably decides to fight back.

And there lies the problem...

"I swear to God...say 'We All Float Down Here' one more time and I'll snap your neck."
Scoonie is a horribly-realized character, suddenly turning from a meek and shy stoner to a brash, in-your-face, conniving, take-no-shit megabitch without any transition. One minute she's quietly trying to make new friends - bonding over their mutual contempt for the sexist fraternity system - the next she and her crew of you-go-girls are defacing Mac's house with bloody tampons, stealing the Radners furniture and selling weed at tailgate parties. As Scoonie, Moretz acts like a seventh grader whose life lessons all came from reality TV. We're not even given any context behind her escalating war on the Radners, especially since their initial request wasn't that unreasonable to begin with.

Most insulting of all, we're later expected to suddenly forgive & forget her reign of terror and sympathize with her when the script decides to shove a heavy-handed message down our throats at the last minute. Perhaps we could have if she weren't so one-dimensionally vindictive throughout the entire film.

I’m sure some viewers will find Scoonie’s antics quite funny simply because they’re brash, gross or involve weed. And while I don’t expect all movies to feature multi-dimensional, well-rounded characters, is it too much to ask to make them somewhat believable? Scoonie’s personality and actions lie so far outside the realm of plausibility that it’s almost insulting we’re expected to find her amusing. And since she has more screen time than every other character but Rogan’s, Neighbors 2 becomes insufferable.

FEATURETTES: "Nu Neighbors" (interviews & behind-the-scenes); "The Prodigal Bros Return"; "Girls Rule"; "The Ultimate Tailgate" (shooting the tailgate/weed-theft scene)
Gag Reel
Deleted Scenes
"Line-O-Rama" (alternate dialogue)
Audio Commentary
DVD & Digital Copies

September 18, 2016


Starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Ricco Ross, Al Matthews, Jenette Goldstein, Mark Rolston. Directed by James Cameron. (137/154 min).

If you're reading this, chances are you already have Aliens in your collection in some form or another. Why wouldn't you? As a sequel, it's one of the best of all time, not just because it compares more-than-favorably to the original, but because it's a unique film unto itself. Writer/director James Cameron uses the concepts hatched by Alien (no pun intended) as a springboard for a film that's completely different in pace, tone and level of character development. It works as both a sequel and a stand-alone sci-fi/action epic on its own. Best of all, Aliens has aged remarkably well for a 30 year old film; few sci-fi/action films released since have even come close to matching its intensity.

Along with the original, Aliens is the only other film in the entire franchise (which is still being milked) that's an undisputed classic. Hence, it's also been repeatedly re-released and repackaged over the years, by itself and in various boxed-sets with the others (such as 2010's impressively-exhausting Alien Anthology). Just like they did with Alien back in 2014, Fox has put out this handsomely-packaged Blu-Ray boxed set to celebrate its 30th Anniversary (has it really been that long?).

If you've never gotten around to adding Aliens to your collection and understandably don't want to waste your money on the other sequels, by-all-means, go right now and pick this up. Not only does it include both the original theatrical version and 1991's highly-touted Special Edition (generally considered the better of the two), this set comes with a booklet of beautifully illustrated art from the Dark Horse comic series. There are also 10 postcard-sized collector's cards of original concept art.

However, the disc's picture, sound & bonus features (all of which are remarkable) are exactly the same as those included on the Alien Anthology, and most of those extras were part of the Alien Quadrilogy DVD set back in 2003. Aside from the artwork, the only new bonus feature is "The Inspiration of Aliens," which isn't on the disc. It comes as a digital code which can be streamed 10 times and has an expiration date. As for the digital copy of the film, it's only the theatrical version, not the Special Edition.

Needless to say, the Aliens 30th Anniversary Edition is more of a commemorative souvenir than anything else, albeit a nicely packaged one. Of course, the film is great and still holds up well after dozens of viewings, but this release is more for newcomers and hardcore completists. Casual fans need not apply.


The following are the same features included in 2010's Alien Anthology:
Theatrical Version and the 1991 Special Edition
Deleted/Extended Scenes
Original and Final Isolated Film Scores
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director James Cameron, Producer Gale Anne Hurd, Aliens Effects Creator Stan Winston, Several Special Effects Artists and most of the Primary Cast (minus Sigourney Weaver)
Deleted Scenes Footage Marker (For the Special Edition, this feature lets you know which scenes weren't in the theatrical cut)
"MU-TH-UR Mode" Interactive Feature (My favorite feature, this allows you to access bits of trivia and supplemental materials, of which there's a ton)

New to this edition:
Digital Code for "The Inspiration of Aliens" (An all-new featurette featuring James Cameron, but I've been unable to access it as of this writing)
Booklet of Comic Book Art from Dark Horse Comics
10 Collector's Cards of Concept Art
Digital Copy of the Theatrical Version


September 16, 2016


Starring Jackie Vernon, Loren Schein, Al Troup, Marla Simon, Claire Ginsberg, Sara Alt, Lou Ann Webber. Directed by Wayne Berwick. (1983, 76 min).

One thing is certain...I'll never watch Frosty the Snowman the same way again.

If you're old enough to have been kicking around in video stores back in the 80s, you probably came across this micro-budget horror-comedy sharing shelf space with the likes of The Mutilator, Redneck Zombies and Chopping Mall. It was a great time to be alive, when you and your friends grabbed some sick sounding title with lurid VHS box art, picked up a half-rack on the way home and had a grand old time, often at the movie's expense. But I never got around to this one until now.

God help me, that's Frosty the Fucking Snowman gnawing on that severed hand!

Movies like Microwave Massacre, now on Blu-Ray for the first time, are difficult to review because we already know we aren't expecting Remains of the Day. We watch these because they're bad, intentionally or not. But is it good-bad, bad-bad, so-bad-it's-good? Are the filmmakers in on the joke, or does their utter seriousness render the movie even funnier?

Microwave Massacre basks in its own trashiness, mining its goofy premise for laughs with a nudge and a wink (sometimes breaking the Fourth Wall along the way). Unfortunately, it's like that obnoxious uncle in every family who has a bad joke for every occasion and you offer a courtesy laugh to spare his feelings. But the problem isn't the jokes's the delivery. The whole thing would have been far more amusing if director Wayne Berwick had the audacity to take the story seriously.

One too many Hot Pockets.

Comedian Jackie Vernon is Donald, a hapless construction worker whose overbearing wife, May, is the world's worst cook, though she fancies herself a gourmet. After a heated argument gets out of hand, he strangles her to death, chops her up and stashes her in the fridge. Later, he inadvertently eats part of her and discovers human flesh is the best thing he's ever tasted. When he takes a slab of her to work for lunch the next day, two co-corkers, Roosevelt and Philip, love it as well and demand more. Soon, Donald is bringing hookers home to kill and cook using his gigantic microwave.

No, Frosty, No!

Everything about Microwave Massacre is strictly amateur night at the movies, from the direction and dialogue, right down to the mostly inept performances. There's lots of T&A, leering sex jokes and bad puns delivered by a cast who probably had day jobs they were more skilled at. Vernon, the only "name" in the cast, more-often appears to be testing new stand-up material than delivering an actual performance. The violence and gore, the saving grace of many-a-bad-movie, is as phony as novelty rubber body parts you find in stores around Halloween. The film isn't the least bit scary, nor does it try to be, though the fact we're watching the guy who once voiced Frosty the Snowman chopping up corpses probably ruined a few childhoods back in the day.

Philip: "You complete me."
Knothole Girl: "Well, you had me at 'Hello.'"

You probably love this movie, though, or at-least have a nostalgic affinity for it. Why else would you still be reading? Though Microwave Massacre has aged badly from an aesthetic standpoint, this Blu-Ray transfer from Arrow Films is pretty remarkable considering the film's meager budget. On the related note, wouldn't it be great if someone took that old Frosty the Snowman cartoon and slapped some of Vernon's Microwave Massacre dialogue over it?

Interview Featurette: "My Microwave Massacre Memoirs" (some extra laughs can be had when Al Troup, who plays Philip, ominously declares Microwave Massacre to be a foretelling of our downfall through technology)
Image Gallery
Audio Commentary

September 14, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: YOURS, MINE AND OURS (1968)

Starring Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, Van Johnson, Walter Brooke, Nancy Howard, Tom Bosley, Tim Matheson, Morgan Brittany, Tracy Nelson, Jennifer Leak, Kimberly Beck, Ben Murphy. Directed by Melville Shavelson. (1968, 111 min).

There's a scene about halfway through Yours, Mine and Ours that depressed the hell out of me. Frank and Helen Beardsley (Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball) are grocery shopping for their 18 children, loading up four carts' worth of food. The grand total of their bill comes to $123.

$123!!! That's about seventy bucks less than I currently spend to keep my family fed for a week, and there's only four of us. What's really sad is I vaguely remember my sister watching this when it first aired on TV in the early 70s, when $123 was a ridiculous amount to waste on mere groceries. That scene must have been quite amusing back then, but, I haven't cried like that since seeing Marley the dog die.

Other than that, for a 48-year-old film, Yours, Mine and Ours has held up pretty well. Even my millennial daughters were engaged enough to see it through to the end.

Naval officer Frank Beardsley is a widower with 10 kids who ends his duties onboard a ship to take care of them. Helen North is also recently widowed with 8 kids of their own. The two eventually meet, fall in love and, despite the ominous implications of raising 18 children, get married. None of the kids are too happy about this at first, leading to some amusing (and occasionally annoying) moments in which they express their disapproval. Much of the humor comes from the Beardsleys' efforts to function as a family without going crazy, though far funnier is Frank and Helen's courting period, where both characters dread informing each other of how many children they have and Ball lets her gifts as a physical comedian shine.

"Hey, Mom, I found my special purpose in the bathroom!"

Lucille Ball & Henry Fonda have great chemistry together, making one wish they had done more films together. Van Johnson also has some amusing moments as Frank's best friend, while Tom Bosley steals the few scenes he appears in. As for the child characters...they range from likeable and charming to truly obnoxious. You might recognize a few of them, such as a very young Tim Matheson as Mike, the oldest and angriest. Sharper cinephiles will spot Eric Shea, a truly irritating kid who'd go on to play an even more irritating kid in The Poseidon Adventure.

Yours, Mine and Ours is another nostalgic blast from the past. Despite some goofy bits of "hip" dialogue and some mild sex talk, the film probably seemed old fashioned even in 1968. But it never crosses the line into pure corniness, which is a chief reason it we still laugh with it, not at it.


September 12, 2016


Starring Barbara Steele, Robert Flemyng, Montgomery Glenn, Teresa Fitzgerald, Harriet White. Directed by Robert Hampton. (1964, 77 min).

Dr. Hichcock (Robert Flemyng) has been naughty indeed.

He's a brilliant surgeon in 19th Century London who's developed a revolutionary anesthetic that puts his patients to sleep for surgery. He's also a necrophiliac whose sex games with his beloved wife, Margaret (Teresa Fitzgerald), includes using the same stuff to make her appear dead. But he overdoses her one night and she kicks the bucket for real. Distraught, Hichcock leaves his mansion and doesn’t return for 12 years. He has a new wife now, Cynthia (Barbara Steele, who appears to have a biggest set of eyes on the planet), though he still longs for Margaret (I suppose anyone willing to play dead to please her man must be difficult to replace).

Meanwhile, there’s strange doings at the Hichcock estate. At night, Cynthia hears voices and sees a mysterious figure coming and going in the night (guess who?). Hichcock initially dismisses her claims until he sees Margaret himself, not quite as dead as everyone thought (but still pretty damn rotten). Now he wants Margaret back and hatches a twisted scheme to use Cynthia’s blood to restore her beauty.

Made in Italy in 1962 but released domestically in 1964, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock has earned minor cult classic status in some circles, likely due to the lurid premise and some unintentional campiness. But it’s nowhere near as twisted as its reputation suggests and will bore viewers weaned on such grotesquery as Re-Animator and Nekromantik. Hichcock’s necrophilia is implied here (hey, it was the early 60s).

"Sorry, but this is going in the yard sale."

The entire film is actually a rather slow moving affair and feels longer than its scant 77 minute running time. Though it deserves some credit for being one of Italy’s earlier Gothic horror films (and Steele would star in a ton of 'em), it hasn’t aged as well as, say, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday. The performances aren’t particularly good and some of the dialogue is laughable. Even the more atmospheric moments are often undone by some glaring continuity errors and an overwrought film score.

Still, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock has its share of fans and this disc will definitely have some nostalgic importance to them. Others might enjoy some MST3K moments at its expense. By the way, despite rumors the film was edited to appease censors back in the day, in reality it was trimmed down to quicken the pace. Mission failed.


Blu-Ray Review: ALL THE WAY

Starring Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Bradley Whitford, Stephen Root, Marque Richardson, Frank Langella, Joe Morton. Directed by Jay Roach. (2016, 132 min).

I must confess a shameful bit of ignorance. Prior to watching All the Way, you could fit everything I knew about Lyndon B. Johnson in a thimble and still have room for your thumb. He ran the country in the interim between one of our most beloved leaders and most hated; he was from Texas; according to Oliver Stone, he's largely responsible for escalating the Vietnam War. That about covers it.

If you're like me, this ignorance makes HBO's All the Way (based on a play) pretty enlightening. It isn't a biography, though the film paints a colorful picture of the man. It's mostly about Johnson's efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act and his uneasy alliance with Dr. Martin Luther King. Quite frankly, I had no idea that was LBJ's doing. Lower on Johnson's list of priorities is the conflict in Vietnam, which was just beginning to show signs of being a serious political problem. Similarly, the film renders the war a mere subplot.

As Johnson, Bryan Cranston is nothing short of amazing, practically disappearing into the role with the help of a pretty incredible make-up job. As a character under unbelievable political pressure from all sides, Johnson is sometimes cantankerous, bullish and just a bit paranoid (considering the circumstances in which he became president, it's understandable). But he's also depicted as a likable - sometimes amusingly crude - man who loves his family and whose heart is in the right place regarding the Civil Rights Act (though he's well-aware it could possibly destroy his career).

LBJ entertains the crowd with dirty limericks.

Anthony Mackie provides an effective foe as King, desperately wanting to trust this new president to make good on his promises, but never 100% certain he can. It should also be noted that, despite Mackie's prominent billing, he isn't in the film nearly as much as the trailers and box art suggest. Much of the film focuses on the gauntlet of opposition Johnson faced trying to push the act through, mostly from the South, while alienating many of his political allies (including longtime friend, Senator Richard Russell, played by Frank Langella). However, Senator Hubert Humphrey (Bradley Whitford) remains loyal, despite enduring a lot of verbal abuse from Johnson.

Not that we should get all of our history lessons from movies, but much of All the Way feels authentic and accurate. At the very least, it's entertaining, which is arguably more important. Though the entire cast is outstanding in their roles, Cranston is the main reason this works so well.

"Bryan Cranston Becoming LBJ" - A very short look at the make-up and prosthetics used)
"All the Way: A Walk Through History" - Though it includes scenes from the film, this is mostly about LBJ himself
Digital Copy

Movie News: TAXI DRIVER Returns to Cinemas for Its 40TH Anniversary


Fathom Events Presents the Cinematic Masterpiece in Movie Theaters Nationwide on October 16 and 19, Including Exclusive Q&A Footage with Its Cast and Creators.

4K Restoration with All-New Bonus Content Featuring Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster Comes to Blu-ray November 8.

Regularly cited by critics, film directors, and audiences alike as one of the greatest films of all time, TAXI DRIVER won the prestigious Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival (1976) and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture (1976). The film stars Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s unforgettable tale of a psychotic New York cabbie driven to violence by loneliness and desperation. The acclaimed cast also includes Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle and Cybill Shepherd.

To celebrate the milestone anniversary, the digitally restored TAXI DRIVER will return to the big screen for two days only, on October 16 and 19 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time both days. Presented by Fathom Events, these special screenings will include never-before-released 10 minutes of Q&A with the film’s cast and crew, recorded at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. In this discussion, exclusive to the Fathom Events screenings, director Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader, producer Michael Phillips, and stars De Niro, Foster, Keitel and Shepherd recall the making and influence of the groundbreaking 1976 film. Tickets for the Fathom Events presentation of TAXI DRIVER are available beginning September 16 at and participating theater box offices.  

Following the theatrical re-release, the timeless masterpiece will return to Blu-ray November 8 as a 2-disc set, presented in high definition stemming from the film’s 4K restoration, which was supervised by Director Martin Scorsese and Cinematographer Michael Chapman.

In addition to the hours of legacy special features that highlight and delve into this cinematic milestone, the TAXI DRIVER: 40th ANNIVERSARY Blu-ray will feature the full 40-minute Q&A from the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, for more of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Paul Schrader and the assembled panel reminiscing on the classic film.  

September 9, 2016


Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Bruhl, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt. Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo. (2016, 147 min).

I went to my cinematologist awhile ago in an emotional funk, feeling wiped-out and overwhelmed. After entering his office and lying on the sofa, he asked me how long I had felt this way.

"Off and on over the past few years," I replied. "But it has me really worried now, because I used to love the summer movie season. Not lately, though. Everything is superheroes, superheroes, superheroes."

"You don't like superhero movies?" he asked, taking a notepad and pen off his desk.

"I like superheroes just fine. I like lasagna, too, but I wouldn't order it every time I eat out. But now, everything is franchises, crossovers, spin-offs and cinematic universes. Why the hell does everything have to be connected? Why does my enjoyment of one movie depend on whether or not I've watched a half-dozen others, even if they aren't from the same franchise? Why do fanboys keep insisting I'd like Batman vs. Superman if I was more familiar with the comic books? Back in my day...if a movie required prior education just to enjoy it, we called that a bad movie! But Hollywood just keeps hitting us again and again! More superheroes! More superheroes every year! More superheroes per movie, for Chrissakes!"

The doctor knowingly nodded as he jotted a few notes, like he'd already heard my story dozens of times before.

Taking a minute to calm myself, I continued. "There's been five superhero movies released so far in this year alone, but I've had enough, Doc. It's all too much. Even if I had enough disposable income to see them all, I've simply stopped caring. I think I might be suffering from..." I swallowed hard and looked him in the eye. "...Superhero Fatigue."

A bemused chuckle escaped his lips. "And I suppose you also think you can contract syphilis from a toilet seat.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Sir, there’s no such affliction as Superhero Fatigue, though you wouldn’t know it by going on the internet. Figuratively speaking, you’re letting a few batches of supermarket sushi spoil your whole taste for Japanese food.”

“In English, Doc.”

“The superhero genre is now at a place where zombie movies were a few years ago. You’re being subjected to so many nowadays...some truly good ones now and then, but a lot that are just more-of-the-same and a few that are downright terrible. You know...the bad sushi. You’ve become overwhelmed and cynical. But I have a prescription that might help...”

The doctor stood, plucked a Blu-Ray copy of Captain America: Civil War from his shelf and tossed it to me.

I took one glance at the cover and shook my head in disgust. “See, that’s just what I’m talking about, Doc! There’s a dozen freaking superheroes in it! How many can you fit into one movie anyway? It’s just overkill!”

“Has Marvel ever let you down before?”

Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers 2, Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, half the X-Men movies-”

“Okay, let me re-phrase. Has Captain America ever let you down?”

"No, Steve...that's not Santa."

I smiled, recalling how much I liked the first two films. “Of course not. In fact, I think The Winter Soldier is one of Marvel's best movies.”

“There you go...and Civil War is no Batman vs. Superman. Sure, there are a ton of characters from other movies. Some are little more than glorified cameos, like Ant-Man and Spider-Man, but their appearances aren't gratuitous. Some of the new characters introduced, like Black Panther, are quite interesting and an important element to the story. Speaking of which, Civil War's plot is a good one. Because of the massive destruction and casualties caused by previous clashes between the Avengers and various villains - Captain America's recent exploits are singled out in particular - the United Nations wants them under government control. While Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has half the team convinced this might be a good thing, it doesn't sit well with Steve Rogers (Captain America, once again played by Chris Evans). Rogers doesn't trust the government, nor does he feel the Avengers should need permission to go into action. His concerns are exasperated by a terror attack which kills an African King. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), now a worldwide fugitive, is blamed for the attack. But Rogers believes the old Bucky Barnes is capable of being saved, so he tries to find and save him from the other Avengers, who are acting on the government's behalf. It turns out the attack was instigated by Helmut Zemo, who has a book he stole from Hydra which contains a series of trigger words which turn Bucky into the way, this isn't confusing you, is it?”

I shook my head. “No, I've seen all the other Marvel movies.”

“Good, because Civil War doesn't take the time to explain events and characters in previous films leading up to this. The film plays on the conceit that everyone in the audience is already quite familiar with them, which I suppose many are. However, anyone coming into this cold will be completely lost, which I guess was one the biggest complaints you had when you came in.”

“Damn right.”

“Well, you've seen them all, so lighten-up and step off your soapbox, because while Civil War isn't quite a good as The Winter Soldier, it's a worthy follow-up and lot of fun. I've heard other patients with similar complaints saying it looks more like The Avengers 2.5. While a lot of them do show up, including some with major roles, Hulk and Thor are absent. It would have been nice to find a place for the Hulkster amid all the action, but Thor was always the least interesting Avenger and isn't missed.”

“My wife might disagree.”

The doctor shrugged. “Even though the thing is loaded with enough superheroes for 12 movies and Robert Downey Jr shares nearly equal screen time with Chris Evans, Civil War is still ultimately Captain America's story; how his loyalties and friendships are tested. The story may be a bit more complex than necessary, but the action is terrific and it's great to see all these Marvel characters again...kind of like visits from old friends. Seeing them try to pound the crap out of each other at an airport is definitely the high point, though the epic scope of that scene renders a later square-off between Captain America and Iron Man a little anti-climactic. Still, Captain America: Civil War is everything Batman vs. Superman should have been: Intriguing, fast-moving, funny and highly character-driven. In my professional opinion, it's the second best superhero film of the year.”

“Oh? What's the best one?”


“Why, Doc, you little pervert.”

The doctor checked his watch. “Looks like our time is up. I hope we made some progress today.” He nodded to the disc in my hand. “You give that baby a spin. I think you might find it'll help alleviate some of your so-called Superhero Fatigue. And don't forget to check-out the bonus features. They'll make you appreciate the effort that went into making this one.”

I stood and shook his hand. “Will do, Doc. And thanks. Same time next month?”

“Sure. We'll bitch about reboots or something.”

Featurettes: "Captain America: The Road to Civil War"; "Iron Man: The Road to Civil War"; "United We Stand, Divided We Fall" (Lengthy and revealing 2-part behind-the-scenes documentary)
"Open Your Mind" (sneak peek at Marvel's Doctor Strange)
Audio Commentary with The Russo Brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Deleted and Extended Scenes
Gag Reel

September 8, 2016

Blu-Ray News: Disney/Pixar's FINDING DORY on Digital HD Oct 25 and Blu-ray Nov 15

The summer blockbuster hit, Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory, swims home just in time for the holidays on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA) on Oct. 25 and on Blu-ray 3D™, Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand on Nov. 15. Viewers can watch Dory’s hilarious and heartwarming quest to find her family and continue the underwater adventure with hours of immersive bonus features. 
The film’s playful and plentiful bonus offerings include “Piper,” the theatrical short film starring an irresistible sandpiper hatchling; an all-new mini short featuring interviews with Dory’s pals from the Marine Life Institute; a behind-the-scenes look at the most challenging character Pixar has ever created; never-before-seen deleted scenes, including a digital exclusive featuring the Tank Gang from Finding Nemo who make it their mission to get Marlin and Nemo to the Marine Life Institute; and much, much more.

September 2, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: NOW YOU SEE ME 2

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Morgan Freeman, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, Michael Caine. Directed by Jon M. Chu. (2016, 129 min).

2013's Now You See Me was an enjoyable slight-of-hand caper with a likeable cast and an overall sense of playfulness that made it a pretty easy pill to swallow. Nothing especially mind-blowing or memorable, it was one of those films where you live in-the-moment, then never give it another thought afterwards until you come across it again while channel surfing and go, "Oh yeah, I remember this. What was it about again?" Sort of like the Ocean's 11 films and most of the James Bond franchise.

Since it surprised a lot of folks by becoming a sleeper hit, Now You See Me 2 comes as absolutely no surprise. Like the first, it's light, airy and ultimately forgettable, but it's fun while it lasts. Most of the cast returns, with Lizzy Caplan sort-of taking Isla Fisher's spot as the newest member of The Four Horsemen, that notorious team of renegade magicians whose exploits are now legendary. Daniel Radcliffe is the heavy this time around as Walter, the cocky son of Arthur Tressler from the first film who blackmails the Horsemen into using their skills to attempt another impossible heist...stealing a device that allows its user access to any computer in the world.

Using sheer will, Jesse Eisenberg tries to makes us forget he ever appeared in Batman vs. Superman.

Ofcourse, things get a lot more complicated and nothing is quite what it seems. But anyone who saw the first film will expect that, which does tend to diminish some of the suspense, especially since we now know the true identity of Agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). Though the film briefly summarizes key events from the original, it also assumes the audience is already well-acquainted with, not only these characters, but the basic premise of the first film. Now You See Me 2 gets off to a narratively shaky start as it is; for the uninitiated, some of it will be downright perplexing. But it picks up momentum as it goes along and the story arc between both films becomes clearer. The cast fits comfortably back into their roles and it's nice to see them all again. Caplan's character is a welcome addition to the team, though Radcliffe sort-of overdoes it, almost as though he thought he was getting paid to chew the scenery.

While even more far-fetched than the original, Now You See Me 2 more-or-less does the job that's required: provide a few hours of pure escapism. It won't resonate much afterwards, since it's also meant to be enjoyed in-the-moment. If you haven't seen the original in awhile (or at all), you might want to do that first to get the most out of this one.

Featurettes: "You Can't Look Away"; "The Art of the Ensemble"; "Bringing Magic to Life"
Audio Commentary by Director Jon M. Chu
DVD & Digital Copies