January 31, 2018

News: THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI on Digital 2/13 and 4K, Blu-ray and DVD 2/27



Award-winning actress Frances McDormand (Fargo) delivers a stunningly powerful performance in this darkly comic drama that has been hailed as one of the year’s best films. A murdered girl’s defiant mother (McDormand) boldly paints three local signs with a controversial message, igniting a furious battle with a volatile cop (Sam Rockwell) and the town’s revered chief of police (Woody Harrelson).

January 29, 2018

Blu-Ray News: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, The Critically Academy Award Nominated Film Arrives on Digital 2/27 and Blu-ray & DVD 3/13

One of the year’s most acclaimed films, nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor and named the #1 best reviewed limited released movie on Rotten Tomatoes for 2017 with an adjusted 105.9% score, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME debuts on digital February 27 and on Blu-ray and DVD March 13 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash), the romantic drama stars Armie Hammer (The Social Network) and Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird) in a sensual and transcendent tale of first love, based on the bestselling novel by André Aciman. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME also stars Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water), Amira Casar (Saint Laurent) and Esther Garrel (Camille Rewinds). 

In addition to its four Oscar nominations, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was named one of the Best Movies of the Year with an AFI Award from the American Film Institute. It was also nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Picture, and received a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role (Chalamet) at the Screen Actor Guild Awards. The film also received the most nominations of any film at the Film Independent Spirit Awards with six nominations, including Best Feature, Director, Male Lead and Supporting Actor.

The digital, Blu-ray and DVD releases of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME include the music video for the Oscar nominated song “Mystery of Love,” by Sufjan Stevens as well as audio commentary and two featurettes. In the insightful commentary, Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stulhbarg give a master class in the actor’s process as they discuss bringing their characters to life and their fond memories of making the film. Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg and Luca Guadagnino discuss the film’s artistic mastery and superb storytelling in the featurette “Snapshots of Italy: The Making of Call Me By Your Name.” Spend an evening with the exceptional cast for a candid Q&A about their experiences in telling this moving, beautiful and thought provoking film in “In Conversation with Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg & Luca Guadagnino.”

January 28, 2018

DVD Review: ONLY THE BRAVE (2017)

Starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Natalie Hall. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. (2017, 134 min).

Can a movie be too timely? Only the Brave's lackluster box office performance might suggest so.

After all, it's a solid slab of dramatic storytelling, the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a close-knit group of Arizona firefighters who become heroes after saving their hometown from a rampant wildfire. Most of them ultimately end up losing their lives battling the Yarnell Hill Fire (not a spoiler, folks...it was all over the news).

Much of the narrative focuses on Eric "Supe" Marsh (Josh Brolin), the crew's headstrong leader, and troubled recruit "Donut" McDonough (Miles Teller), who struggles with drug addiction and has a checkered past. Through the course of the story, Marsh feels compelled to mentor Donut and give him a chance to prove his worth when no one else will, mainly because the two share more common ground than we're initially led to believe. Other than Marsh's wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), we don't learn a hell of a lot about anyone else, which is arguably the film's biggest shortcoming. The harrowing final act and denouement would have had a lot more emotional impact if there was more of an ensemble approach to the characters.

"Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho..."
Still, Only the Brave tells an interesting story and Brolin has seldom been more likable, while Teller does commendable job with his character's transformation from self-absorbed loser to loving father and trusted crew member. While the rest are basically just names & faces (though Taylor Kitsch has some amusing moments), the film pays a fitting tribute to them. They're dropped into firefighting sequences are suitably spectacular, harrowing and completely convincing. At no time do we feel like we're simply watching special effects.

Jeff Bridges: Chick magnet.
Only the Brave is another fine entry in the recent flux of "disaster" movies based on real events. But unlike Sully or Deepwater Horizon, which did respectable business, this one undeservedly struggled to find an audience. Perhaps it was the timing. One of the more distressing ongoing American news events that didn't involve the GOP or sexual harassment were the massive wildfires that raged for months all over the country, destroying millions of acres. In my neck of the woods, the sky was a constant yellow haze and smoke hung in the air for weeks. Venturing to a theater to experience the same thing might not have been most people's idea of a good time. Maybe I'm just blowing smoke (no pun intended), but I can't think of any other reason this film tanked at the box office while similar ones didn't.

Tragically overlooked in theaters, Only the Brave certainly deserves to find an audience on home video. Skillfully directed, visually impressive and featuring solid performances, the film is an affectionate, respectful tribute to a brave batch of young men.

FEATURETTES: "Honoring the Heroes: The True Stories"; "Behind the Brotherhood: The Characters"; "Boot Camp: Becoming a Hotshot"
MUSIC VIDEO: "Hold the Light" by Dierks Bentley w/ S. Carey
AUDIO COMMENTARY - With Director Joeseph Kosinski & Josh Brolin

January 27, 2018


Starring David Miller, George Wilson, Sharon Taylor, Stephen Peace, Ernie Meyers, Eric Christmas, Ron Shapiro, Jack Riley, Al Sklar, Dana Ashbrook. Directed by John DeBello. (1978, 87 min).

About halfway through reviewing Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, my daughter came into the room just as a character was fleeing in terror from one of the titular creatures - obviously rolled like a bowling ball by a crew member just off-camera. She gave me a questionable glance and quipped, "Really? Why?" I replied that it inspired fond childhood memories.

As part of MVD Visual's "Rewind Collection," this Blu-Ray of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is obviously intended to evoke nostalgia in the slightly-south-of-sanity crowd, who once ventured to Mom & Pop video stores in search of lowball laughs. Chances are you once had this title among the stack of tapes tucked under your arm, either to laugh with it or at it.

But I can do VHS vanguards one-better. Not to date myself, but yours-truly actually paid to see Attack of the Killer Tomatoes at the Mall 205 Quad Cinema (RIP) when it was first released in 1978, choosing it over Heaven Can Wait playing next door (hey, I was15). I laughed, both with it and at it, as well as my own self for throwing away perfectly good lawn-mowing money on a one-joke premise built around an intentionally stupid title...a common gimmick nowadays, but pretty rare 40 years ago.

James Cameron, eat your heart out.
40 years??? It seems like just yesterday that I found the film's deadly ditty, "Puberty Love," supremely chuckleworthy because it had 'puberty' in the title. But indeed, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes turns 40 this year, long-since earning the status of cult classic. No point in voicing an opinion here, since anyone interested in this disc already knows if it's good, bad, so-bad-it's-good, a good attempt at a bad movie or a bad attempt at a bad movie. I think it goes without saying the film is all those things.

Newcomers, however, might be surprised to discover the concept of making an intentionally bad movie didn't start with Sharknado. It probably didn't start with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, either, though it was arguably the first to get everyone's attention. And while non-sequiturs are a common staple of modern parodies, this one beat Airplane! into theaters by a few years. This may not make one appreciate the film any more - it still plays like an overlong Saturday Night Live sketch - but let's give credit where it's due.

"What do you think? I paneled it myself."
Disciples of DeBello & Friends, on the other hand, will find lots to love here. For such a scrappy homegrown movie, this Blu-Ray features a pretty impressive video transfer; I don't recall the film looking this good even in theaters. It's also loaded with informative and entertaining bonus material (listed below), and fans should be pleased that many of the featurettes are as irreverent as the film itself. If nothing else, the filmmakers have no illusions about their place in movie history.

None of us who remember the film have any illusions, either. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is what it is...a silly farce made by a bunch of guys whose ambition exceeded their finances (and talent). Whether we're laughing with it or at it, the fact we're still talking about it has to count for something.

FEATURETTES (most are of the tongue-in-cheek variety):
"Legacy of a Legend"; "Crash and Burn" (how the accidental copter crash was incorporated into the film); "Famous Fowl" (an 'interview' with the San Diego Chicken); "Killer Tomatomania"; "We Told You So"; "Where Are They Now?"; "Slated for Success" (a profile on the film's slate clapper)
"SUPER DUPER 8 PREQUELS" - Two shorts made before the film, including a 'rough draft' of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
SING-ALONGS OF ALL SIX SONGS (including everyone's favorite, "Puberty Love")
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director John DeBello, Steve Peace & Costa Dillon.

January 25, 2018


Narrated by Christopher Lee. Various Directors. (1996, 695 min).

The one-and-only Christopher Lee gives us a guided tour through the entire history of horror cinema, 26 episodes on 3 discs. The set ain't much to look at, but horror fans should really enjoy it.

Each episode is dedicated to a particular theme, such as "Zombies" or "Maniacs" or "Demons." A few figures - both real and imagined, like Bela Lugosi and Baron Frankenstein - even get their own episodes. Each is chock-full of clips, trailers, behind-the-scenes stories & footage and vintage interviews. Many directors, producers, actors and writers offer fond commentary, including Joe Dante, Roger Corman, John Carpenter & Freddie Francis, legendary scream queens Linnea Quigley & Caroline Munro.

Rare footage of Mr. Lee's 60 Minutes audition, which scared the hell out of everybody.
There are a few glaring oversights - some undisputed classics & genre legends aren't given as much love as they deserve - but each episode is a pretty thorough whirlwind look at the history of a specific subgenre or beloved movie monster. Lee's narration is stately, typically ominous and sometimes humorously droll.

On the downside,100 Days of Horror was produced in 1996...and looks it. Besides the amusingly-archaic CG animated into, the overall picture quality is atrocious and appears as though the transfer is lifted directly from aging video tape. However, considering the abundant content and dirt-cheap price for three loaded discs, it's hard to complain too much.


Blu-Ray News: Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA On Blu-Ray 3/13


Fresh off an historic theatrical tour and following a sold-out run of limited edition steelbooks, Synapse Films is finally bringing the widely celebrated 4K restoration of Dario Argento’s beloved and extremely influential SUSPIRIA to the masses.  This highly anticipated genre release boasts an eye-popping new transfer of the film that will allow fans to truly see the film the way it was always intended.

Jessica Harper (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN) stars in this horrific tale of a young student who uncovers dark and horrific secrets within the walls of a famous German dance academy. What spirals out from that simple premise is one of the most powerful and hallucinatory nightmares ever captured on celluloid! Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA comes to home video from Synapse Films in an exclusive new 4K restoration from the original uncut, uncensored 35mm Italian camera negative with the original 4.0 English surround sound mix, for the first time EVER! Painstakingly restored over the past three years, Synapse Films has created a beautifully restored version of this horror classic with the supervision and approval of the film’s Director of Photography, Luciano Tovoli.

  • A new 4K restoration of the original uncut, uncensored Italian 35mm camera negative exclusively done by Synapse Films, with color correction supervised and approved by SUSPIRIA Director of Photography, Luciano Tovoli
  • Original 4.0 1977 English language LCRS sound mix not heard since the theatrical release in 1977, presented in high-resolution DTS-HD MA 96kHz/24-bit audio, with newly-translated removable English SDH subtitles
  • Italian 5.1 surround mix, with removable English subtitle translation
  • Two audio commentaries by authors and Argento scholars, Derek Botelho, David Del Valle and Troy Howarth
  • Alternate All-English opening and closing credits sequences, playable via seamless branching

Rest in Peace, Warren Miller

January 24, 2018

Blu-Ray News: Oscar Nominated DARKEST HOUR on Digital 2/6 and Blu-ray & DVD 2/27


As Hitler’s army nears the United Kingdom, it is up to Winston Churchill to decide between negotiating peace or fighting against impossible odds in Darkest Hour, coming to Digital February 6, 2018 and Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand February 27, 2018, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. With outstanding filmmaker pedigree, Darkest Hour is directed by BAFTA Award winner Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice), written by Academy Award nominee Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) and stars Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman (Harry Potter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) in his 2018 Golden Globe Award winning role.  The critically acclaimed Darkest Hour received six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Production Design.

January 23, 2018

BUG (1975) and the Crispy Kitty

Starring Bradford Dillman, Joanna Miles, Richard Gilliland, Jamie Smith-Jackson, Alan Fudge, Jesse Vint, Patty McCormack. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc. (1975, 99 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON
This essay originally appeared in the book, When Animals Attack: The 70 Best Horror Movies with Killer Animals (Moonlight Creek Publishing). 

Bug was originally released just days before a certain great white shark came along to scare the bejeezus out of anyone with a pulse. While tens of millions showed up in droves to catch Jaws in the summer of 1975 (and subsequently stayed out of the ocean forever), Bug came and went virtually unnoticed.

Animals with nasty dispositions were suddenly all the rage, and slews of similar films followed in Jaws’ wake (no pun intended): Alligator, Dogs, Squirm, Piranha, Prophecy, Day of the Animals, Mako: The Jaws of Death, Tentacles, Orca, ad nauseum. One of the more successful Jaws rip-offs at the time was Grizzly, a low-budget scare fest released in 1976, with a plot so similar it could almost be considered plagiarism. As an impressionable 12-year-old recently stricken by Jaws fever, I couldn’t resist.

Back then, theaters often offered double features for your ticket, where new movies were accompanied by older ones of the same genre. Hence, Bug was back on the big screen as a co-feature (even if no one was pining for it).

Grizzly didn’t leave much of an impression. It was fun, but mostly because it followed the Jaws formula almost verbatim. Bug, however, was a different story, especially for a kid whose exposure to horror was still fairly limited. The violent deaths in Jaws and Grizzly were suitably graphic for 1970s PG movies, but Bug featured the most disturbing death I’d ever seen up to that point, when one of the title creatures barbecues a cat alive. I felt sickened and appalled as this unfortunate feline howled and thrashed about, trying in vain to detach this burning roach from its head.

Man, I was days getting over that.

Catnip cockroaches.
Aside from depriving a kid of a few nights’ sleep as he wondered if they actually killed a cat for the sake of a shot (even today, that scene is pretty unnerving), Bug is mostly notable for being William Castle’s last hurrah as a filmmaker. In the 1950s and 1960s, Castle was one of many prolific producers of low-budget horror schlock. But unlike the Cormans and Arkoffs of the day, he’s best-remembered for the gimmicks he came up with in order to sell more tickets, such as offering fright insurance policies for patrons of Macabre and rigging theater seats with makeshift buzzers for The Tingler. Obviously, this wasn’t high art, but a lot of fun. Castle even managed to accidentally crank out a bonafide classic, The House on Haunted Hill, featuring his most gloriously-goofy gimmick, “Emergo,” in which a wire-tethered, red-eyed skeleton hovered over the audience.

As the 1960s wore on and moviegoers grew more jaded Castle’s tacky tricks seemed kind of quaint, no longer planting butts in seats like they used to. He made one noble stab at respectability (he’s responsible for getting Rosemary’s Baby off the ground, though Paramount refused to let him direct it) before relegating himself to churning out b-movie drive-in fodder – sans gimmicks - for the remainder of his career, with diminishing results. Bug ended up being Castle’s final film, though at this point he was apparently content to write and produce, leaving the directorial chores to Jeannot Szwarc, who’d go on to make a name for himself as the best guy available to helm Jaws 2.
When earmites go unchecked.
Based on the 1973 novel, The Hephaestus Plague by Thomas Page, Bug begins with an earthquake, which rocks the inhabitants of a small California farming town. As if that isn’t bad enough, a previously undiscovered species of cockroach emerges from the fissures in the Earth. They’re attracted by combustion engines and capable of creating enough internal heat to ignite fires, resulting in the flaming deaths of a few locals and the aforementioned cat. Fortunately, they’re unable to survive very long above ground (something to do with atmospheric pressure). But unfortunately, college professor James Parmiter (Bradford Dillman) decides to play God and crossbreed them with domestic cockroaches, even though one of these firebugs just killed his wife by setting her ablaze. One would think any recently-widowed, right-thinking guy would prefer to ensure these critters’ total extinction. Instead, Parmiter becomes increasingly obsessed and unhinged. Retreating to a cabin, he isolates himself from the outside world in order to conduct his breeding experiments.
Meanwhile, each new generation he breeds becomes smarter and more indestructible, to the point they can gather en masse to literally spell out threatening messages on Parmiter’s wall... a laughable plot twist to any free thinking adult (how the hell did these bugs learn to spell?), but fairly ominous to 12-year-old kids in the 1970s who were generally unaccustomed to noticing plot holes. 

The Squirrel Mafia Godfather.
Like most horror films prior to Jaws, Bug tries for a dark, oppressive tone with the usual ominous resolution. Whether or not it succeeds is subjective, but for a dated film with a ridiculous premise, budget conscious production values, and “oh-come-on!” story turns, Bug works on a visceral level. It’s unlikely anyone watching this film will walk away thinking they’ve seen something great or groundbreaking, but there are many moments that are suitably unnerving, effectively exploiting our fears of creepy crawlies hiding in places we always dreaded they would. Aided immeasurably by clever camerawork and a weird-ass music score by Charles Fox (mostly known for Killing Me Softly and some TV theme songs), Bug gives us some truly hateful, malevolent creatures.

Additional kudos must go to Bradford Dillman, who was always a decent character actor, though never particularly memorable. In a rare leading role, he portrays Parmiter with over-the-top gusto, treading a fine line between scientific curiosity and total insanity. He’s forced to utter some inane expositional dialogue, but he does it with enough conviction that, at least in the moment, we buy into his delirium.

Bug hasn’t aged particularly well, nor does it display any unique directorial skill. Still, despite some unintentionally humorous moments, the film provides a surprisingly bleak - even nihilistic - suggestion that humankind’s dominance (and arrogance) as a species could be usurped at any given time. Of course, it’s unlikely William Castle had such a lofty message in mind at the time. He apparently still had a bit of the old huckster left in him as well, coming up with an idea to rig theaters with brushes that simulate bugs crawling up the audience’s legs. Unfortunately, this cheeky gimmick never happened. Too bad... it would have been a nifty capper to an endearing legacy.

Finally, here’s a bit of trivia for anyone who grew up in the 1970s... if Parmiter’s kitchen and living room stirs strong feelings of deja vu, that’s because it’s the same iconic set used in all five seasons of The Brady Bunch.

January 21, 2018


Starring Gary Cooper, Maria Schell, Karl Malden, Ben Piazza, George C. Scott (his first film role), Karl Swenson, Virginia Gregg, John Dierkes, King Donovan. Directed by Delmer Daves. (1958, 107 min).

One of his less-renowned films in the genre, The Hanging Tree is noteworthy for being Gary Cooper's final western. Like most of his late career filmography, it's no High Noon, though it certainly plays to his strengths...which is essentially being Gary Cooper.

Joseph Frail is a doctor with a troubled past who sets-up shop in a grimy Montana gold mining town. When a would-be gold thief, Rune (Ben Piazza), is shot trying to get away from angry miner Frenchy (Karl Malden), Frail brings the young man to his place to treat his wound. Afterwards, Frail forces Rune into servitude, running errands and assisting with patients. Later, a woman named Elizabeth (Maria Schell) nearly dies from exposure after her stagecoach crashes. Frail nurses her back to health, but inexplicably keeps her sheltered from the rest of the townspeople. Elizabeth tries to get closer to Frail, only to be repeatedly refuted. Yet when she and Rune are finally free to prospect for gold on their own, he secretly funds their stake.

Frail realizes he must go fish.
More of a character study of redemption than a traditional western, the narrative mostly focuses on Frail's ambiguous behavior. Through both Elizabeth and Rune, we slowly learn Frail's more than a simple doctor. Not only is he a former gunslinger, his tragic - or suspicious? - past reveals why he's so stubbornly overprotective of Elizabeth. The story itself isn't conducive to a lot of action, though the final act builds to exciting climax. While most of the cast is solid (perpetually-bland Piazza is a glaring exception), this is Cooper's show all the way. With his trademark quiet stoicism, he once again reminds us where Harrison Ford got all his best moves.

The Hanging Tree was a sizable hit when first released in 1959 - as was the theme song - but has been largely been overshadowed over the years by Cooper's genuine classics. Still, the film is an interesting look at a legend near the end of his career. 

January 20, 2018

CD Review: THE POST - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Composed and conducted by John Williams. Produced by John Williams & Ramiro Belgardt. (2018, 40 min).

If I was John Williams, I'd have an ego the size of Gibraltar. After all, he's composed some of the most legendary scores of all time, which are just as iconic as the films they appear in. So it's a tribute to him that he still has the apparent humility to compose scores which don't call attention to themselves at all.

Williams' scores generally fall under two categories. There are the bold, sweeping, theme-ridden epics we all know by heart. Then there those like The Post, Williams' 28th collaboration with director Steven Spielberg. Not-yet having seen the film as of this writing, I can't tell the reader how effectively the score serves the film, but as an isolated listening experience, the music is pleasant enough, though not particularly dynamic.

Running a brief 40 minutes, this disc ebbs and flows from one track to the next (10 in total), their titles indicative of the scenes . Ironically the two most memorable tracks stray far from Williams' usual orchestrations: "The Oak Room, 1971" and "Two Martini Lunch" are short, laid-back pieces of piano-based jazz.

Elsewhere, it's incidental music obviously intended to enhance what's happening onscreen from a discreet distance. None of the remaining tracks stand apart from one another, though it's all unmistakably John Williams, whose earmarks are instantly identifiable.


Rest in Peace, Dorothy Malone

January 18, 2018


Starring Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Philip Keung, Kang Yu, Kent Cheng, Bryan Larkin, Niki Chow. Directed by Wong Jing & Jason Kwan. (2017, 128 min).

For fans of Asian action movies, the first-time teaming of Donnie Yen and Andy Lau is every bit as monumental as DeNiro & Pacino getting together to do Heat. And like that classic crime thriller, Chasing the Dragon doesn't disappoint. Not only is a film nearly as epic, Yen and Lau share the screen a lot more than a single token scene together.

A remake of 1991's, To Be Number One, the film chronicles the rise of Crippled Ho (Yen) from a lowly illegal immigrant to Hong Kong's most powerful druglord, with considerable help & protection from Lee Rock (Lau), an ambitious and corrupt police inspector. Through the years (roughly 1963 through the early-seventies), both rely on each other's knowledge, power and trust to form a nearly-untouchable criminal empire.

And yes, these are the good guys. Their enemies - on both sides of the law - are far worse.

Donnie Yen...stayin' alive.
But unlike, say, Tony Montana in Scarface, who's a vicious, hot-headed, lying bastard from the get-go, Ho and Rock are genuinely likable. There's even a certain level of nobility in their loyalty to each other and those who've earned their trust, to the point the viewer tends to overlook their morally-questionable career choices. This wouldn't happen without a compelling story, well-realized characters and, most importantly, the two leads' natural charisma. Not only are Yen and Lay terrific, their onscreen chemistry has one hoping this isn't the last time they work together.

Andy Lau regretfully confesses he actually hit that deer with his car.
Sweeping in scope and gloriously over-the-top, Chasing the Dragon is complex, violent and - even when checking-off familiar gangster movie tropes - enjoyably unpredictable. Despite a fairly lengthy running time, the film is fast-moving and rarely dull, generally only slowing down long enough to provide necessary exposition, leaving plenty of room to showcase Yen and Lau's considerable physical skills.

Chasing the Dragon is an enormously entertaining crime thriller in the fine tradition of such pulpy potboilers as Scarface, New Jack City and Andy Lau's own Firestorm (one of my personal favorites of his). With these two superstars leading the way, it's hard to imagine an action fan who won't get a big kick out of it. This is a very early candidate for the best action Blu-Ray of the year.


January 17, 2018


Starring Michael Sarrazin, Tim McIntire, Normann Burton, Raul Julia, Gary Busey, Nicholas Pryor, Harvey Jason, Susan Flannery, John Durren, J. Pat O'Malley, Vaughn Taylor, Steven Keats, Wally Taylor, Joanne Nail, Tricia O'Neal, Lazaro Perez. Directed by Chuck Bail. (1976, 105 min).

The Gumball Rally evokes really fond memories, so please indulge me if I give this Blu-Ray release a higher rating than it might warrant.

Nearly every week, I'd hit the Cinema V, a local second-run theater near my house, to catch double-bills for less than a buck. Sometimes I biked there, other times Mom or Dad would drop me off with a friend. The place was old, dank and sold Milk Duds dating back to the Middle Ages. As hang-outs go, it was second only to 7-Eleven as the most wonderful place in the world. That's where I first caught The Gumball Rally (with a Vanishing Point chaser). I'd seen plenty of car chase movies before - which had their heyday in the 70s - but this one struck a chord with me and remains one of my childhood favorites.

On the other hand, maybe it does warrant more acknowledgment & praise than its relative obscurity suggests.

Can you spot what's wrong with this picture? (That's right...the guys on the left forgot their proof of insurance)
On the surface, The Gumball Rally is just another car chase movie made during a decade rife with them. It has most of the same ingredients...hot cars, outlaw antiheroes, idiot cops, sexy babes, a plot with the complexity of Go Dog Go and, naturally, plenty of high-speed motorporn. A few of these crash-fests went on to become cult classics - like the aforementioned Vanishing Point - but most were brain-dead junk food made on-the-cheap and destined to be forgotten within weeks of their release.

But consider this...

While The Gumball Rally walks & talks like its contemporaries, beneath its turbo-charged exterior beats the heart of old-fashioned madcap comedies like The Great Race, Monte Carlo or Bust and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (with a dash of Looney Tunes). The humor is broad, silly...even a little corny. But the whole thing is constantly good-natured and what little violence there is is strictly of the slapstick variety. In fact, if not for the preponderance of boob jokes, this could (almost) pass muster as a family film.

Mr. Burton sometimes takes his pants off to play checkers.
Unusual for the genre - at least until Burt Reynolds went into the Smokey and the Bandit business - the film boasts an impressive ensemble cast consisting of respected character actors, led by Michael Sarrazin (channeling his inner Peter Fonda...and a bit of Bugs Bunny thrown in for good measure). The fun they have with their characters (no matter how broadly drawn) is infectious. A young Raul Julia steals the show as oversexed Italian race driver Franco - Pepe Le Pew personified - while Normann Burton makes a perfect Wile E. Coyote (beleaguered expression and all) as the hapless Lt. Roscoe.

Though The Gumball Rally is played strictly or laughs, it doesn't skimp on high-speed thrills, which are expertly choreographed and shot, with far better production values than the average chase film of the time. It's all punctuated by a music score that combines ragtime, jazz and what resembles music from a Quinn Martin cop show. Yet somehow it fits, going a long way in establishing the jovial tone of the entire movie.

One of The Gumball Rally's many esoteric moments.
Sure, I may be biased, but what can't be disputed is the movie's influence. Not only was The Gumball Rally was the first of a wave of similar films depicting an illegal coast-to-coast road race (all inferior rip-offs), it eventually inspired real-life racing events all over the world, the most famous being the annual Gumball 3000, still held in Europe each year. Additionally, the MiceChat Gumball Rally is a yearly event at Disneyland, where fans compete to see who can ride the most attractions in a single day.

Not bad for a silly chase comedy hardly anyone recalls.

But for me, the movie is a nostalgic trip down memory lane that I take about once a year. I may not laugh as boisterously as I did at 13, sitting in the back row of that decrepit old Cinema V, but The Gumball Rally still brings a smile to my face. While this Blu-Ray from Warner Archive has no bonus features other than a trailer, this goofy old chestnut has never looked better on home video.




FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE and WELL GO USA are giving away Blu-Ray copies of Chasing the Dragon, featuring the incredible pairing of Donnie Yen and Andy Lau.

Donnie Yen stars as infamous real-life drug kingpin Crippled Ho, who came to Hong Kong an illegal immigrant in 1963 and ruthlessly carved an empire from the chaotic underworld of drug dealers and corrupt police that ruled the city under notorious detective Lee Rock (Andy Lau).

TO ENTER: Simply leave a comment below! Winners will be picked on January 31!

January 16, 2018

Blu-Ray News: HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT On Blu-Ray & DVD 2/13

Experience a terrifying new chapter in the legendary Hellraiser series when Hellraiser: Judgment arrives on Blu-ray (plus Digital), DVD, Digital, and On Demand February 13 from Lionsgate. The tenth film in the classic horror series tells the story of three detectives as they struggle to solve a horrifying murder, but instead find themselves thrust into the depths of Pinhead’s hellacious landscape. Featuringing horror icon Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). Wwritten and directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe (Hansel & Gretel).

January 14, 2018


Various Directors. (2018, 1273 min).

If you're a classic film fan who values quantity over quality, here you go...

As far as I've been able to ascertain, Hollywood Remembers is a series featuring half-hour biographies of acting legends. Personally, I'd never heard of the program until now, nor do I have any idea if they are still producing episodes. One thing I do know is that if you're looking for anything with much depth, look elsewhere.

Individual episodes focus on one particular iconic actor, and mostly consists of public domain footage and/or grainy trailers of selected films he/she appeared in, along with fawning narration that mostly serves as simple transition from one clip to the next. Unfortunately, we don't learn much beyond the highlights of their filmographies. No interviews, no behind-the-scenes footage, no revelations or insights. Most episodes play like those greatest hits albums K-Tel used to assemble in the 1970s, which crammed clips and snippets of great songs onto one LP, but left the listener wanting more.

However, this inexpensive set is admittedly loaded - 50 episodes spanning four discs - and although most of the featured stars' heydays were prior to the 1960s (as is a majority of the footage), it's hard to argue with their status as screen legends. If one simply enjoys classic movie trailers, this budget-friendly collection has them in abundance. Just don't expect much beyond that.

Digital Copy

Blu-Ray Review: THE APARTMENT (1960)

Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Edie Adams. Directed by Billy Wilder. Directed by Billy Wilder (1960, 125 min).

Though I often claim to be well-versed in classic films and their history, I must ruefully confess I'd never seen The Apartment until now (I know, shame on me).

It was simply one of those classics that slipped through the cracks. I picked a good time to remedy that problem, though, because this Blu-Ray edition from Arrow films is damn near perfect. Had I been able to review it during December (when it was released), The Apartment would have had the #1 spot on my 2017 'best-of' list.

Since The Apartment is an unqualified classic, it seems pointless to provide the usual plot summary. Instead, I'll offer my biggest takeaway from seeing it for the first time: Fred MacMurray is a magnificent scumbag.

Jack addresses his Droogies.
We all know this is one of Billy Wilder's best films (if not his very best) and Jack Lemmon is as congenially likable as ever - despite his character's questionable attempts to earn a promotion. As for Shirley MacLaine...well, she's cute, though I've never been all that enamored with her and this film didn't change my mind.

But MacMurray? Granted, I've not seen everything the man's ever done, but for the most part, I've always associated him with 'nice guys'. Sure, he was a two-faced weasel in The Caine Mutiny, though not necessarily a villain. But as Baxter's lecherous boss Jeff Sheldrake, MacMurray channels his inner asshole to give us a character who's not simply an awful human being...he's completely indifferent to the pain he causes others. Sheldrake is such a smooth talker that, for the most part, he has those he's duped into believing the utter sincerity of his empty words. It's really a remarkable performance that, quite frankly, I didn't think someone like Fred MacMurray had in him.

Not bad for a guy mostly remembered as an absent-minded professor.

The Absent-Minded Douchebag.
Elsewhere, The Apartment has lost none of its serio-comic charm since it won an Oscar for Best Picture 58 years ago. It's been released on Blu-Ray before, but this Arrow edition is definitely worth the upgrade. It features a beautifully restored picture and is loaded with a slew of bonus features, most of which are either brand new or at-least new to Blu-Ray. They'll give the viewer a renewed appreciation for what's often considered Billy Wilder's crowning achievement. A must-own for any movie fan, perhaps especially those like me, who are arriving late to the party.

NEW - FEATURETTE: "THE KEY TO THE APARTMENT" (Film critic Philip Kemp discusses his appreciation of the film).
NEW - SELECTED SCENE COMMENTARY (by film critic Philip Kemp).
NEW - "THE FLAWED COUPLE" (Video essay by writer David Cairns of the Lemmon/Wilder collaborations).
NEW - "A LETTER TO CASTRO" (In this interview, Hope Holiday discusses her brief-but-memorable role in The Apartment).
AUDIO COMMENTARY (by film historian Bruce Block).
"AN INFORMAL CONVERSATION WITH BILLY WILDER" - A very old interview produced by the Writers' Guild.
VINTAGE FEATURETTES: "Inside The Apartment"; "Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon" (an interview with Jack's son, Chris).