August 31, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: THE STRANGER (1946)

Starring Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles, Philip Merivale, Richard Long, Konstantin Shayne. Directed by Orson Welles. (1946, 95 min).

It warrants mentioning where I'm at regarding Orson Welles...

While I freely acknowledge Citizen Kane as a technical and artistic cinema milestone, I must confess I've never really enjoyed it. The Stranger, a relative obscurity on his resume, is a lot more fun.

One of the few times he's essentially been a director-for-hire, Welles' casts himself as the heavy in this story of a U.N. appointed Nazi hunter, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), in pursuit of fugitive war criminal Franz Kindler (Welles). Wilson follows a fellow Kindler crony, Meinike, to the small town of Harper, Connecticut. Kindler has assumed the identity of local professor named Charles Rankin. He's highly respected and about to marry Mary (Loretta Young), the daughter of the town judge. Meinike's arrival alarms Kindler enough to kill him and hide the corpse in the woods. Wilson suspects Meinike is dead and hopes to convince Mary who her husband really is. She's reluctant, of course, unwilling to believe the man she knows as Charles is a notorious mass murderer.

"Rosebud? Nah, that was just my nickname in college."
The Stranger is a lot more entertaining (and amusing) than it sounds. Though there's some disturbing real-life concentration camp footage (the first Hollywood film to feature any), the fleet-footed story unfolds like a straightforward suspense thriller with a few bits of subtle humor (mostly courtesy of a checker-loving shopkeeper). Robinson is fun as Wilson, while Welles hams it up considerably - even sporting a "dastardly" mustache - and clearly having a good time with his character's unrepentant nastiness.

"One move and I'll shoot your pee-pee off."
It's no secret that Welles' heart really wasn't in this one. But by appearing to go through the motions directing what's essentially a potboiler, he accidentally crafted one of the more exciting films of his career. It may not have garnered him the accolades he was used to, but ironically, The Stranger was a bigger box office hit than his more ambitious projects.

The Stranger is not Welles' greatest film. In my humble opinion, that honor goes to Touch of Evil, which perhaps owes some of its existence to this similarly-noirish little gem. Additionally, this new disc by Olive Films doesn't have as many bonus features as previous Blu-Ray releases, but sports much better picture and sound.

ESSAY: "The Strangers: Murderers Among Us," by film historian Dr. Jennifer Lynde Barker
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By classic film blogger Nora Fiore

August 30, 2017

Soundtrack News: CHRISTINE Film Score LP Coming 9/29

Varèse Sarabande will release John Carpenter’s classic score for CHRISTINE on LP available September 29, 2017.  The CHRISTINE– Original Motion Picture Score has been fully remastered and is being released on blue vinyl.  The album features fantastic new art from award-winning movie poster artist Gary Pullin (“Ghoulish Gary”). In the past few years, there has been a tremendous upsurge in interest for John Carpenter's signature score compositions following the success of the Carpenter's Lost Themes and Lost Themes II albums, and subsequent tours.  The rare director-composer combo, Carpenter’s scores for his classic horror films are a favorite of electronic music aficionados.

Chris Alexander of rated Christine as #3 of the top 10 John Carpenter scores, saying, “Pulsing, moody, dread-filled, this is a car-centric and pop-tinted progression of the Halloween score and it’s probably this writer’s favorite of all the Carpenter soundtracks.” 

Fact Magazine says Christine, with “its soundtrack is another synth-heavy masterclass, and again finds Carpenter teaming up with Alan Howarth. ‘Obsessed With The Car’ is one of the score’s most low-key cues, and is noteworthy simply because of its beautiful, unhurried simplicity.” 

To complement the remastered audio, Award-winning artist and leading designer in the world of alternative movie posters, Gary Pullin was commissioned to create original artwork for the packaging. "I’ve always loved Stephen King's novel and the cover is a stunner - a stylized hood ornament with a screaming skull, Christine in chrome as it blazes across the hard cover,” he explained. “For the films’ score, I wanted to feature the Plymouth Fury logo front and centre, in a simplistic and new way. The shape of the V reminded me of devil horns - she's the car from hell! The blue glow represents the supernatural force living under the hood and inside her evil grinning grill. I often go for atmospheric designs when creating artwork for movie soundtracks and the art seemed like a perfect fit for the electronic score that Carpenter and Howarth created to drive the film’s suspense and bring the fury of Christine to life.”

August 28, 2017


“Witness Oprah Winfrey give one of the best performances of her career”- Variety
An African-American woman becomes the unwitting pioneer for multiple medical developments, such as the Polio vaccine, when her cells are harvested to create the first immortal human cell line. Her story, previously lost in history, is brought to life in HBO® Films’ The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Led by Oscar® nominee and TV icon Oprah Winfrey and Emmy® nominee Rose Byrne, the “Intriguing and thought provoking” (The New York Times) HBO® Film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is available to own on Blu-RayTM and DVD September 5, 2017.
​In this adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed, bestselling nonfiction book of the same name, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is told through the eyes of Henrietta Lacks’ daughter, Deborah Lacks (Winfrey). The film chronicles her search, along with journalist Rebecca Skloot (Byrne), to learn about the mother she never knew and understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Lacks’ cancerous cells in 1951 led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever. With a supporting cast that includes Renée Elise Goldsberry, Reg E. Cathey, Courtney B. Vance, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Leslie Uggams, Reed Birney, Rocky Carroll and John Douglas Thompson, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a story of medical arrogance and triumph, race, poverty, and deep friendship between the unlikeliest of people.
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Available on Blu-ray™ and DVD September 5, 2017


Starring Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Barbara Carrera, Nigel Davenport. Directed by Don Taylor. (1977, 99 min).

You'll have to indulge me while I give The Island of Dr. Moreau a bit more praise than it might actually warrant.

When I was a kid, my parents used to drop me off at the Southgate Quad nearly every Saturday afternoon. I went alone most of the time, which was actually preferable. For me, going to the movies wasn't really a social activity. Never too picky over what was playing, I simply loved the experience. Those afternoons in the dark, just me, my popcorn and the wonders on the screen, are some of my favorite childhood memories.

One of those memories is of 1977's The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Back then, legendary purveyors of drive-in fodder, American-International Pictures, took a few fleeting stabs at escaping its B movie origins in favor of mainstream respectability. They opened their wallets a bit wider than usual for such films as The Amityville Horror, Meteor and Force 10 from Navarone. With The Island of Dr. Moreau, AIP continued cashing-in on H.G. Wells' name, albeit on a much bigger budget than the studio's other campy crapfests, Food of the Gods and Empire of the Ants, released around the same time.

Charlie Rich as Wolverine.
But I didn't know any of this in 1977. All I really knew was it had that British dude from Logan's Run (Michael York), the old guy from Airport (Burt Lancaster) and the beautiful Barbara Carrera as Maria, who I'd never seen before but...mee-ow! Though the film is rated PG, my 13-year-old self found her brief seduction scene rather...uh, stirring.

Elsewhere, Dr. Moreau (Lancaster) is a brilliant-yet-bonkers scientist who has retreated to a remote island to continue his controversial work, which consists of using a serum to slowly convert animals into thinking and speaking human beings. Also populating the island are the results of his experiments in various stages of human development. Moreau treats them cruelly, much to the chagrin of Braddock (York), who's marooned on the island and forced to endure the doctor's increasingly maniacal behavior (made more tolerable, to be sure, by Maria's company at night). Moreau ultimately tries to turn Braddock into an animal and document his decent into savagery.

I hadn't watched The Island of Dr. Moreau since that summer afternoon at the Southgate. Back then, I found it entertaining, though nothing remarkable from any kid-friendly horror fare I enjoyed on other weekends. Still, I fired-up this disc with nostalgic giddiness...alone in the dark just like 40 years ago, this time from the comfort of my Dave Cave rather than the Southgate's sticky floors and cheesy orange curtains.

"Dammit, man! I need a restroom now!"
Four decades later, the film holds up pretty well. Though trying to run with the Hollywood big boys ultimately exasperated AIP's downfall, it's hard to argue with the results here, which reflect a considerable amount of creative ambition. The Island of Dr. Moreau is arguably the most handsomely-produced movie of the studio's "mainstream" era, directed with workmanlike proficiency by Don Taylor (who'd go on to make Omen II better than it had a right to be). And even though films like The Howling would come along a few years later to make Dr. Moreau's make-up designs seem quaint, they serve their purpose effectively enough.

The overall performances are quite good as well. York is solid, though for me he'll always be that Logan's Run dude, while Carrera was a reminder of my good taste in boyhood crushes. Perhaps because of his more beloved legendary roles, we tend to forget Burt Lancaster was quite adept at playing characters who are just a little south of sanity (Seven Days in May and the woefully underappreciated Twilight's Last Gleaming immediately come to mind). He's at his unhinged best as the film's titular character.

The Island of Dr. Moreau is a wonderful blast from my past. A definite childhood artifact, the film isn't what anyone would ever call a classic, so its appeal will probably be limited to similarly nostalgic fans. Still, age notwithstanding, it's remains the best of the official adaptations of Wells' novel, and immeasurably more enjoyable than the dumpster fire remake with Marlon Brando. My one beef is that Olive Films is releasing it only on DVD.

ESSAY: "The Island of Dr. Moreau as Theological Grotesque" by Gorman Beauchamp (both a booklet insert and one of the bonus features. It's discusses H.G. Wells' original novella, not the film).
AUDIO COMMENTARY - by Jeff Belanger and Dr. Dreck (I'm not exactly sure who these guys are)

Blu-Ray News: L.A. CONFIDENTIAL 20th Anniversary Edition Arrives 9/26






20th Anniversary Edition
Arrives on Blu-ray & DVD September 26


Director Curtis Hanson and a terrific cast serve up a "thrilling tale of police corruption and Hollywood glamour" (Marshall Fine, Gannett Newspapers) in this film based on James Ellroy's novel. Three cops (Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce), a call girl (Kim Basinger), a mysterious millionaire (David Strathairn), a tabloid journalist (Danny DeVito) and the chief of detectives (James Cromwell) fuel a plot rife with mystery, ambition, romance and humor. The film captured ACADEMY AWARDS® in 1997 for Best Supporting Actress (Basinger) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Brian Helgeland & Curtis Hanson).

Blu-ray and DVD Bonus Features Include:

  • Commentary by Critic/Historian Andrew Sarris, James Ellroy, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Ruth Myers, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Brian Helgeland, Jeannine Oppewall, Dante Spinotti and Danny DeVito
  • Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential
  • Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential
  • A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A. Confidential
  • L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen
  • L.A. Confidential TV Series Pilot
  • Off the Record: Vintage Cast/Creator Interviews
  • Director Curtis Hanson's Photo Pitch
  • The L.A. of L.A. Confidential Interactive Map Tour
  • Music-Only Track (5.1) Showcasing Jerry Goldsmith's Score
  • Trailers and T.V. Spots
  • Digital HD

August 25, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: BAYWATCH

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya-Adul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress, Jack Kesy, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson. Directed by Seth Gordon. (2017 116/121 min).

You're looking at the one American male over 40 who never sat through a single episode of the original Baywatch. It always looked like an idiotic T&A version of Scooby-Doo. Maybe that's why the film's best running gag works so well.

That gag: The entire Baywatch gang (led by Dwayne Johnson) are under the delusion that their occupation is a noble calling for the capable few, one that extends beyond the beach to include detective work and protecting the community from nefarious bad guys. Everyone else sees them for what they are: simple lifeguards.

Had that joke been the primary focus of the actual story, Baywatch could have been another Brady Bunch Movie, a self-aware, morbidly amusing film about characters stuck in their own little bubble, oblivious to reality. Instead, an actual plot is thrown in, which has the audacity to take itself relatively seriously.

"Hey...those three guys are gonna need a bigger boat."
While Baywatch isn't as bad as the critical consensus suggests, the biggest problem is the film doesn't pick one tone and stick with it. At times it approaches the type of satire you'd see in Airplane! before shifting to lowbrow dick jokes. The humor ranges from cleverly self-aware to stupid slapstick. Some of it is funny, just as often not. When it abruptly turns into an action film, everything is pretty-much played straight-up. For example, another running gag has C.J. always jogging in slow-motion (an amusing nod to the original series' jiggle appeal). However, whenever Johnson is called into action, slo-mo is employed to emphasize the awesomeness of the stunt.

Both Johnson and Zac Efron have previously demonstrated comic chops, which are certainly on display here. They're obviously in on the joke whenever the film is in comedy mode, and by now, Efron has the hunky idiot market cornered. However, amid the six-pack abs and bouncing boobs is Ronnie, the obligatory rube who exists to be laughed at for his comparatively poor physique and social awkwardness. Stuck with a majority of the most embarrassing gags, I sometimes found myself feeling almost sorry for the actor who plays him (Jon Bass).

Still, despite its wild inconsistencies, Baywatch isn't a terrible movie. Sure, opportunities for clever satire are often squandered and I'm thankful I passed on it in theaters, but I expected a lot worse. When it places humor over heroics, it's even laugh-out-loud funny on occasion.

UNRATED VERSION (pushing the running time past the two-hour mark without really improving things)
FEATURETTES: "Meet the Lifeguards"; "Continuing the Legacy"; "Stunts & Training"

Rest in Peace, Jay Thomas

August 22, 2017


Starring Angela Dixon, Nigel Whitmey, Heather Peace, Rami Nasr, Velibor Topic, Sarah Perles, Lisa Eichhorn. Directed by Howard J. Ford. (2015, 94 min).

As the purveyor of this site, I'm often tasked with reviewing a lot of stuff I've never heard of, including a plethora of low budget, direct-to-video action films. In most cases, it turns out there's a good reason I haven't heard of them. But every now and then, one comes along where I find myself going, "Hey, this is actually pretty damn good." Never Let Go is one of those.

Angela Dixon is Lisa, the troubled mistress of a prominent - and married - politician, Clark Anderson (Nigel Whitmey). She's also the mother of his child. To escape for awhile, Lisa visits the Middle East (!), where her baby is promptly kidnapped. This is where the viewer learns Lisa is much more than Anderson's mistress. As a former part of his security staff, she's also a one-woman wrecking crew, unwilling to sit idly by while the bad guys make-off with her daughter. During her pursuit, she kills one of the kidnappers and is now wanted by police.

When she's not kicking asses, Angela Dixon moonlights as a dish installer.
Other than raising the obvious question of why the hell a single woman would choose to vacation in the Middle East with a newborn baby, Never Let Go is surprisingly smart and engaging. There's action 'o plenty, with numerous close-quarter fight scenes that are well-executed on a low budget. And though it owes more than a passing nod to Taken, the film tells a suspenseful story in its own right. The performances are also above average for a movie like this. As Lisa, Dixon creates a believable female action hero, capable of kicking massive amounts of ass without once throwing on high-heels.

Never Let Go makes up for its lack of originality with violent intensity, an interesting main character and a story that doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence. It won't win any Oscars, but the film does its job quite well, making it a pleasant surprise for action fans.


Blu-Ray News: Behind-the-Scenes Clip from THE MUMMY, Now on Digital and Arriving on 9/12

See how the first fight sequence between Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella was made in this awesome behind-the-scenes look in celebration of THE MUMMY now available on Digital

When an ancient evil rises up to seek revenge on our world, relive the epic saga in The Mummy, unleashing onto Digital on August 22, 2017, and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray™, DVD and On Demand on September 12, 2017 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Packed with over an hour of special bonus content, experience never-before-scene footage and hidden secrets The Mummy has within with stars Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, and Jake Johnson.


August 21, 2017


Starring Toby Stephens, Hannah New, Luke Arnold, Luke Roberts, Ray Stevenson, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Tom Hopper, Zethu Dlomo, Toby Schmitz, Clara Paget. Various directors. (2017, 596 min).

And so ends the only good thing Michael Bay ever attached his name to. It's kind-of sad, really. I'm sure gonna miss what my family amusingly refers to as Dad's Pirate Porn.

I never watched Black Sails when it aired on Starz, preferring the annual summer binge sessions these Blu-Ray releases provided. The show got a bit pokey at times in previous seasons, but it was the most handsomely produced series on television, with just the right amounts of sex, violence, betrayal and intrigue to keep me awake into the wee hours of the night, saying, "Okay, just one more episode, then I'll go to bed."

At least the series ends with a bang. Season 4 is the most briskly-paced and action oriented of them all, the various events of the previous three seasons coming to a head during these final 10 episodes. And, as usual, anyone not up-to-speed with these characters' past-doings will be completely lost. For the faithful, there aren't any real plot twists this season, save for the ultimate fates of a few of these characters.

"Use yer goddamn turn signal!!!"
While Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) remains the show's solid anchor, all the supporting characters have their moments. I especially enjoyed the transformation of Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz) over the course of the series from conniving little weasel to - almost - a trusted ally during the growing conflict with the British over control of Nassau. Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts) returns from Season 3 as the primary antagonist. He makes a terrific villain because, even though he often demonstrates a considerable amount of cruelty, he's not completely hateful. And while we may not condone his actions, we kind-of understand them.

It all winds down to a satisfying - sometimes surprisingly poignant - conclusion that should please most fans of the series. And while I'll miss those late summer binge-a-thons, at least Black Sails ends on a high note rather than wear out its welcome.

FEATURETTES: "Inside the World of Black Sails"; "Creating the World"; "Roundtable: Women in Piracy"; "Roundtable: "The Legends of Treasure Island"; "Roundtable: Fearless Fans"

August 20, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: EFFECTS

Starring Joe Pilato, John Harrison, Tom Savini, Susan Chapek, Bernard McKenna, Debra Gordon. Directed by Dusty Nelson. (1980, 84 min).

On the outer fringes of the Romeroverse lurks Effects, a grassroots Pittsburgh production that was never given a proper release. There's nary a single zombie to be found and the film itself is unremarkable. But it's particularly noteworthy today for featuring early appearances by a few guys who'd soon become horror icons under George A. Romero's wing, most notably Tom Savini and Joe Pilato.

Effects features another of Romero's alumni, John Harrison (Creepshow composer & Tales from the Darkside director), as Lacey, an unhinged filmmaker who's supposedly directing a horror movie, when in-reality he's making a snuff film using his cast and crew as victims. It's a terrifically twisted concept and the film is pretty well made considering its shoestring budget, but undone by an overly-talky script, scattershot pacing and rambling scenes where not much happens outside of partying.

But the curiosity factor alone makes Effects worth checking out. Think about it...few cult actors are as legendary for a single performance as Joe Pilato. Three decades after Day of the Dead, he's still synonymous with Captain Rhodes because most of us haven't really seen him in anything else. He's sort-of a revelation in Effects - and a leading man, of all things! - playing a congenial cameraman who's almost the polar opposite of his most iconic role: soft-spoken, handsome, charming and...well, likable.

Mr. Pilato gets lost in his own monkey farm.
Tom Savini may be a horror legend, but those hoping to see his horrific make-up skills will phenomenally disappointed. Though he does provide the film's few effects (which are tame compared to his later work), he's mostly utilized as an actor here, playing an obnoxious crony who's in cahoots with Lacey. Savini's always been a decent actor, and although he has relatively little screen time, he turns in an amusing performance.

Effects will hold little interest for casual viewers, who'll likely be put-off by its bargain-basement production and dull execution. From a historical perspective, however, this disc is a must-own for those obsessed with anything even tenuously connected to George A. Romero. It also includes an hour-long documentary that's arguably more entertaining than the movie itself.

"AFTER EFFECTS" - An hour-long retrospective documentary from 2004 that's part cast & crew reunion, part behind-the-scenes. Easily the best feature on the entire disc, including the film (includes optional audio commentary).
2 SHORT FILMS - Weird early shorts made by some of the same folks.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - With director Dusty Nelson, actor/composer John Harrison & editor Pasquale Buba.

Rest in Peace, Jerry Lewis

August 18, 2017


Music by Michael Giacchino. (2017, 76 min).

Michael Giacchino's score for the War for the Planet of the Apes is the best of the entire series.

The disc hooks the listener with the very first track, "Apes' Past is Prologue," an epic 11-minute piece which is at-times reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's groundbreaking music in the original 1968 film. Whether or not that was directly intentional, it's an eerie mood-setter with ominous moments where a choir is utilized to great effect.

"Assault of the Earth" continues the dark path more urgently. The third track, "Exodus Wounds," is emotionally sweeping and a strong candidate for the best one on the entire album, establishing two of the score's strongest recurring themes. Elsewhere, these 17 tracks vary from quick two-minute bursts, such as the stunning "Ecstasy of the Bold," to longer pieces like "Apes Together Strong," which is both haunting and suspenseful.

More importantly, the score works as a stand-alone piece of music, always the hallmark of any great soundtrack album. One of the best of Giacchino's recent efforts, this disc is definitely worth picking up.

Blu-Ray News: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND 40th Anniversary Available 9/19


All-New 4K Restoration Available Sept. 19 on 2-Disc Remastered Blu-ray, 3-Disc 4K Ultra HD & Limited Edition 3-Disc 4K Ultra HD “Light and Sound” Gift Set.
Both Blu-ray & 4K Ultra HD Releases Include All Three Versions of the Film, Plus All-New Bonus Material Featuring Interviews with Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams & Denis Villeneuve.

Following its exclusive one week engagement in theaters across the country starting September 1, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment celebrates the 40th anniversary of legendary director Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND on September 19 with the new 4K restoration available on 3-disc 4K Ultra HD, a Limited Edition 3-disc 4K Ultra HD “Light and Sound” Gift Set, and in high-def on 2-disc remastered Blu-ray. A must-own for all true fans, the highly collectible Limited Edition Gift Set features illuminated packaging that plays the iconic 5-tone motif. Also included is an expanded booklet with rare archival photos. Both Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD releases include all three restored versions of the film, including the 1977 theatrical version, the 1980 Special Edition and the 1997 Director’s Cut.

In addition to the legacy bonus materials, the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND Blu-ray comes with new bonus content, including rare, never-before-seen home movies and gags from the set, and the all-new featurette “Three Kinds of Close Encounters.” This featurette includes a new interview with director Steven Spielberg on the legacy of the film, as well as new interviews with directors J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) on the impact of Close Encounters.

August 17, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: KILL SWITCH

Starring Dan Stevens, Berennice Maylohe, Tygo Gernandt, Charity Wakefield, Baz Keijzer, Mike Libanon, Mike Reus. Directed by TimSmiT. (2017, 92 min).

Kill Switch is conceptually intriguing, but questionably executed.

In the near future, the Alterplex corporation has developed and built a massive device that will provide unlimited energy to the world. It does this by sucking energy from The Echo, a mirror universe created by the machine. When this begins to trigger bizarre interdimensional disasters, NASA pilot Will Porter (Dan Stevens) is recruited to travel into The Echo and close the link between both worlds using a black box called the Redivider. This will also destroy The Echo, but failure to do so will result in the end of both worlds. However, even though The Echo is supposed to be devoid of biological life, people identical to those in the real world exist there and understandably don't relish the thought of extinction.

"What? You're not the Ghostbusters??
It will come as no surprise that director/producer TimSmiT's background is in CG special effects, which he created for this film as well. Considering the film's limited budget, Kill Switch is visually impressive, with boats and railroad cars falling from the sky and deadly police drones patrolling the city. However, while the  ramifications of multidimensional interaction is a concept just begging to be explored, everything takes a backseat to barrages of gunfire and explosions. 

Fans of Stevens will also be disappointed to learn he only appears onscreen in flashback sequences, which are periodically dispersed throughout the film to provide exposition (including a pointless subplot involving his sister and her troubled son). The rest of plays like a first-person shooter video game, shown entirely from Porter's point of view. While initially interesting, the gimmick is nothing new and grows tiresome after awhile.

As it is, Kill Switch certainly watchable. It seldom slows down for a minute and boasts enough mayhem to please undemanding action fans. But by choosing spectacle over substance, it's also a missed opportunity. With a concept like that, our brains should be as engaged as our eyes.

FEATURETTE: "The Visual Effect: Inside the Director's

August 16, 2017


Starring Adam Baldwin, Rutger Hauer, Steve Guttenberg, Bryan Brown, Alexa Hamilton, Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots, C. Thomas Howell, Amber Sainsbury, Sylvia Sims, Peter Weller, Nathalie Boltt, Peter Dobson, Alex Kingston. Directed by John Putch. (2005, 175 min).

We all know the story...on New Year's Eve during her final voyage, the SS Poseidon is struck by a massive tidal wave which capsizes the ship. The survivors must now make their way to the hull and hope for a rescue before it sinks for good.

Well, purists be prepared, because this 2005 made-for-TV remake of The Poseidon Adventure commits heresy by removing the tidal wave from a story that was mostly about a tidal wave. The original is unarguably a disaster movie classic, though not such a sacred cinematic cow that a remake is out of the question (a lot of folks in Hollywood must have agreed because we got two within a year). But, tidal wave? Whose idea was that...George Lucas'?

Like attempting to enjoy a meatless burger, disaster buffs just need to suck it up and accept the idea that an oceanliner can be capsized by an exploding beer keg.


Someone enjoyed one too many deviled eggs from the buffet table.
Actually, the keg is one of several bombs that are brought on-board by an unnamed group of terrorists. It's never made clear exactly what their beef is, but much of the first hour - besides introducing a variety of ill-fated passengers - focuses on this plot, with grumpy Sea Marshal Mike Rogo (Adam Baldwin) searching the ship for terrorists. This is The Poseidon Adventure in-name-only until the ship finally capsizes. Perhaps the producers chose the terrorist route because, considering the already-terrible CGI, recreating a convincing tidal wave was an insurmountable task. Or maybe there wasn't enough meat to the original story to justify the four hour running time a miniseries generally requires.

But believe it or not, the movie improves as it goes along and the stuntwork itself is rather impressive. Better yet, it starts to resemble the Poseidon Adventure of old during the second half. Several escape sequences are more-or-less recreated pretty faithfully, albeit on a TV budget.

Some of the characters - both familiar and new - are actually pretty interesting. Baldwin, in a rare leading role, is suitably badass, while Rutger Hauer is surprisingly effective as a tough-but-kindly priest. To be honest, I always hated Shelley Winter's whiny, obnoxious performance in the original, but Sylvia Syms does wonders with the same character, rendering her subtly endearing and sympathetic.

Steve Guttenberg as The Douchebag.
In fact, most of the cast and their characters are decent as TV movies go. One glaring exception is Steve Guttenberg as Richard. Having a face that's inherently punchable is bad enough, but he's also stuck with one of the most repugnant characters I've ever seen in a disaster movie (taking into account every movie in the Airport franchise, that's saying something). This is a guy who abandons his entire family to shack up with the ship's masseuse for the rest of the trip, then we're expected to hope he survives the disaster. Worse yet, even though time is rapidly running out, everyone is repeatedly forced to halt their escape plans while Richard makes impassioned declarations of love to his wife and kids (and Guttenberg can't emote worth a damn). But even after that, while his wife looks on, he still mourns the death of the chick he's been boinking.

That brutal story & casting decision aside, the movie itself isn't all that bad once you get over the fact no tidal wave is forthcoming. Sure, like a lot of "event" miniseries that were popular at the time, The Poseidon Adventure is too long by an hour (further padded by needless scenes of rescue efforts) and the special effects are terrible, but this often-dubious genre has produced bigger stinkers, including its mega-budget brethren, Poseidon, which is far more spectacular, but works better as a sleep aid.