April 29, 2018

ONCE UPON A TIME (2017) and the Monotony of Monet

Starring Liu Yifei, Yang Yang, Luo Jin, Yan Yikuan, Li Chun, Gu Kuan, Peng Zisu. Directed by Zheo Xiaoding & Anthony LaMolinara. (2017/109 min).


Review by Tiger Longtail😼

Every now and then, my wife and I get the urge to introduce a bit of culture into our dreary lives. So when the Portland Art Museum announced an exhibit featuring the works of Claude Monet, Francie suggested we take the kids downtown one weekend to indulge in a bit of art appreciation. I had no problem with it since this particular weekend was the museum's monthly free admission day. Art is always easier to appreciate when it doesn't cost anything but gas.

For you uncouth swine who don't share my pretension for enjoying fine art, Claude Monet was a French impressionist who's probably most renowned for painting pictures of flowers, ponds and waterlilies, occasionally punctuated by people picnicking around flowers and ponds with waterlilies. Most of Monet's work is light, colorful and certainly pretty to look at. But like AC/DC, most of Monet's paintings are pretty much variations of the same thing. Walking the museum halls with my wife and kids, getting our money's worth (hey, gas ain't cheap!) by stopping to gaze at every single painting, I was thoroughly bored after about 15 minutes.

Claude Monet...the Impressionist Movement's AC/DC.
Watching China's fantasy epic, Once Upon a Time, is kind-of like slogging through that Monet exhibit. It's colorful, absolutely gorgeous and features some otherworldly imagery that - while obviously CGI - practically jumps off the screen. And for the first 10 minutes or so, the film is visually enthralling, even though we're never once convinced these actors are sharing the same space as their surroundings.

Unfortunately, it's all to serve a relentlessly talky, convoluted story that feels like we're joining it halfway through. In a nutshell, Once Upon a Time is sort of a fairy tale, mostly about a September courtship between two shape-shifting immortals, Bai Qian and Ye Hua, who also happen to be royalty and have been betrothed to each other (even though he's 50,000 years younger). There are also a slew of flashbacks of Ye Hua's previous marriage (to a mortal who saved his life), as well as a vengeful sorceress, a jealous princess and a guy in frozen stasis named Mo Yuan, all stirred into a plot that, despite ample exposition by various bland characters, is murky and uninvolving. What we have left are the visuals and sporadic bursts of action, which of course includes gravity-defying swordplay and movement so CGI-heavy that it all ceases to be logistically convincing.

Ye Hua visits Supercuts.
Worse yet, now imagine Monet taking one of his most famous paintings, like In the Garden, and handing it over to French comic artist Peyo, who adds Papa Smurf to the picture. Once Upon a Time does something similar, giving Bai Qian a comic relief sidekick who resembles a walking cabbage and looks like he was designed by someone from a completely different animation studio.

Despite being technically ambitious, I'm not sure what audience Once Upon a Time is aiming for. The narrative is too confusing for kids, the action too generic for thrill-seekers and the characters too bland to create any dramatic interest. What we're left with is similar to a gallery of Monet paintings: It is unarguably beautiful, but scene after scene of dazzling imagery, no matter how creatively rendered, becomes monotonous after awhile.


Rest in Peace, Michael Anderson

April 28, 2018

TIME AFTER TIME (1979): Leading Man McDowell?

Starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen, Charles Cioffi, Kent Williams, Patti D'Arbanville, Joseph Maher. Directed by Nicholas Meyer. (1979/112 min).


Review by Mr. Paws🙀

For Malcolm McDowell, the shadow of A Clockwork Orange has always loomed large (or DeLarge...yuk, yuk, yuk). On this side of the Atlantic, anyway, that movie pretty-much cemented him as a bad guy the same way William Shatner will always be a starship captain. That being said, there was sort-of a poetic symmetry when McDowell was tapped to kill Captain Kirk in Star Trek Generations.

In the 70s, McDowell was mostly known to American audiences for his uninhibited performance as Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange and, to a lesser extent, the horse-fisting, sister-banging titular lunatic in Caligula. So 1979's Time After Time was a bit of a revelation. Here was McDowell, not only the hero, but meek, refined, almost childlike in his naivety and - shock of shocks - a completely charming leading man. It's a wonderful performance that showed he could play a fish-out-of-water just as convincingly as a sadistic thug.

"It's colonoscopy time, ol' chap."
McDowell plays a fictionalized version of H.G. Wells, who in 1893 builds a time machine and shows it off to a few colleagues during a dinner party. One of them, John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner), also happens to be the notorious Jack the Ripper, who just claimed his latest victim prior to arriving. When the police show up soon afterwards, Stevenson avoids capture by using the machine to escape into the future. When the machine returns, Wells uses the same coordinates and follows him to modern day San Francisco with the hopes of bringing Stevenson back to answer for his crimes. Stevenson, however, feels right at home in the future, which is a more violent world than the utopia Wells had always envisioned. He has no intent of returning and soon continues his murderous ways.

Nothing on TV.
Time After Time is also noteworthy for being the directorial debut of Nicholas Meyer, who'd later be tapped to save the Star Trek franchise from itself...twice. Here, he directs his own script with workmanlike skill. There isn't a lot of flash, but it's certainly a lot of fun. Similar to what he'd do with Star Trek II, he puts greater emphasis on character relationships and an engaging narrative than wowing us with visual flash. The detective story elements, contemporary social commentary and charming romance between Wells and Amy (Mary Steenburgen) more than make up for the silly special effects (which were quaint even in 1979).

Afterwards, Malcolm McDowell mostly went back to playing weirdos and bad guys (including a lot of low budget horror films), so maybe that remains his comfort zone. Still, it's nice to recall that he was equally adept - however briefly - as a leading man. Time After Time may not itself be timeless (though it recently inspired a short-lived TV series), but remains an engaging film, largely due to a guy who once committed movie murder with a giant phallus.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Nicholas Meyer and Malcolm McDowell

April 26, 2018

THE INSULT (L'insulte): How to Use Words as Weapons

Starring Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Rita Hayek, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Julia Kassar, Talal Jurdi, Christine Choueiri. Directed by Ziad Doueiri. (2017/112 min).


Review by Fluffy the Fearless🙀

As The Insult so effectively demonstrates, sometimes it doesn't take much for things to spin wildly out of control.

Lebanese auto mechanic Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) and his pregnant wife have a small apartment in a run-down section of Beirut. The neighborhood is undergoing renovation supervised by Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha), a Palestinian refugee. When Yassir informs Tony that his balcony drain pipe needs to be repaired, Tony refuses to let him near it. Out of courtesy, Yassir fixes it, anyway, only for Tony to angrily - and inexplicably - smash it to pieces. Yassir calls him a "fucking prick," which infuriates both Tony and Yassir's boss, who insists Yassir visit Tony at his garage and apologize.

Though Yassir does indeed show up, he finds it difficult to swallow his pride and say anything, which is understandable, since Tony has been a complete asshole about the whole incident. Assuming no apology is coming, Tony goes on a verbal tirade about his hatred of Palestinians, capping it off with, "I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out." The viewer eventually learns just how incendiary that statement is, but we still get the gist that it's a pretty terrible thing for a Lebanese Christian to say to a Palestinian. In the meantime, Yassir punches Tony, breaking a few ribs.

"When I said 'dance like no one's watching,' I didn't mean here."
Thus begins a conflict that escalates into a contentious court battle, with Tony suing Yassir, not only for physical damages, but for the incident being a roundabout cause of his wife's miscarriage. The case is exacerbated by the men's lawyers, who publicly politicize the incident. Tony's lawyer, in particular, seems to have an agenda beyond simple justice for his client. As the trial becomes a media circus, the community is divided as old wounds - stemming from an old wartime conflict between Lebanese Christians and Palestinians - are re-opened. It's at this point we learn much more about the pasts of both men. While we don't necessarily condone their headstrong behavior - especially Tony's - at least we begin to understand it. Furthermore, neither man intended things to get this out-of-hand.

Yassir cuts pizza like a boss.
Not only is The Insult a compelling courtroom drama, it's a thought-provoking study of how extensively past experiences shape one's personal values and prejudices. Not only can it cloud your judgment, it threatens to destroy any empathy for those whose views differ from yours. That's about as timely as movies get right now. I can personally think of a lot of people who'd benefit from witnessing the epiphanies of these characters.

The Insult is also the first Lebanese film ever to earn an Oscar nomination (in this writer's opinion, it should have won). In addition to its thematic relevance, the movie's massively entertaining, with outstanding performances. Karam, in particular, stands out among the great cast, doing a masterful job of making us empathize with someone we initially despise. The Insult is an all-around terrific film, not to be missed.

"CONVERSATIONS FROM THE QUAD" - A conversation with Ziad Doueiri and Richard Pena.

DIE HARD 30th Anniversary on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray May 15

The action classic, DIE HARD, celebrates its 30th Anniversary with an all-new 4K Ultra HD re-master and Blu-ray available May 15 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Bruce Willis is John McClane in the film that launched the billion-dollar action franchise, DIE HARD.  McClane, a New York City cop, flies to L.A. on Christmas Eve to visit his wife at a party in her company’s lavish high-rise. Plans change once a group of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), seize the building and take everyone hostage, McClane slips away and becomes the only chance anyone has in this beginning-to-end heart-stopping action thriller.

In celebration of the franchise’s 30th anniversary a limited edition Blu-ray steelbook of DIE HARD will also be available exclusively at Best Buy.

Fans can also add the complete DIE HARD 5-FILM BOX SET to their collections with the limited edition Blu-ray™ Steelbook, available only at Walmart and Best Buy on May 15. The box set will include the films:

  • DIE HARD (1988)
  • DIE HARD 2 (1990)

April 24, 2018

TREMORS: A COLD DAY IN HELL and Your Overbearing Uncle

Starring Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Tanya van Graan, Stephanie Schildknecht, Greg Kriek, Jenna Upton, Jay Anstey, Jamie-Lee Money, Christie Peruso. Directed by Don Michael Paul. (2018/98 min).


Review by Josey Jumpscare🙀

Every family seems to have one...that loud, brash uncle with an endless supply of dirty jokes, who encourages nephews to pull his finger and taps the beer keg too often at family barbecues. He's a funny guy, mainly because you don't see him that often, so his schtick doesn't have time to get on your nerves. Now imagine him moving in with you, where you're subjected to his wit day after day. When he runs out of new jokes, he just retells the old ones as though you've never heard them before.

As played by Michael Gross in every movie of the Tremors franchise, Burt Gummer is now that uncle. In the original, whenever he showed up with his massive cache of weapons and conspiracy theories, Gummer was just one of the many amusing characters that helped make it a minor classic.

But since Tremors 3, Gummer has been front-and-center (presumably because Gross keeps agreeing to come back long after the rest of the original cast has bailed). Like your obnoxious uncle, 90 minutes of this guy is simply too much, especially since he's evolved from being a clever send-up of survivalist culture to a cartoon caricature. Gross can't be faulted, though. He's just working with the material he's been handed.

Speaking of which, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell is the sixth film in a franchise that probably should have quit after two. Like all the previous sequels, it's a straight-to-video affair, and despite the intriguing promise of a Graboid infestation in the snowy Arctic tundra, most of the film takes place in a remote wilderness not unlike any of the other films' settings (global warming is conveniently blamed for the lack of snow, saving the film crew the trouble of finding some).

Gummer and his partner/son Travis (Jamie Kennedy, returning from Tremors 5) come to the aid of a group of young scientists up north. Then it's business as usual. Everyone becomes trapped in a research facility by three Graboids, along with a few Ass-Blasters. Some folks get eaten, some don't, and one cast member suffers a fate worse than death as Jamie Kennedy's love interest. Nothing personal against Jamie, but he looks like he's been sleeping under a bridge and Travis is no substitute for Kevin Bacon's Val. Speaking of which, another character, Valerie (Jamie-Lee Money), is introduced as Val's daughter, which only serves to make us miss the original cast even more.

Then there's Gummer, of course, still ranting, cartoonishly paranoid and obsessed with killing Graboids, even at the possible expense of his own life (he's been infected by Graboid bacteria). But he isn't really that amusing anymore, not helped by a screenplay that doesn't give him anything new to say or do.

Considering its budget, the visual effects are convincing and it's always fun to watch the Graboids in action, as well as the creatively amusing ways to kill them. For some fans, that might be enough. But the charm of the original Tremors stemmed from its eclectic characters and clever dialogue, something that's been missing from this franchise for a long time.

FEATURETTES - "The Making of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell" (consisting of several promotional clips); "Anatomy of a Scene"; "Inside Chang's Market"

Rest in Peace, Philip D'Antoni

DEATH WISH Invades Your Home 5/22 on Digital & 6/5 on Blu-Ray/DVD

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures presents director Eli Roth’s reimagining of the 1974 revenge thriller Death Wish. Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of his city’s violence as it’s rushed into his ER – until his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts for his family’s assailants to deliver justice. As the anonymous slayings of criminals grabs the media’s attention, the city wonders if this deadly avenger is a guardian angel…or a grim reaper. Fury and fate collide in the intense action-thriller Death Wish.

Updated from the original novel by Brian Garfield, director Eli Roth, screenwriter Joe Carnahan’s (The Grey, Narc) and producer Roger Birnbaum’s Death Wish also stars Vincent D’Onofrio (The Magnificent Seven, TV’s Daredevil and Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas), Camila Morrone, Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) and Kimberly Elise (The Great Debaters). It’s a knife’s-edge portrayal that challenges our assumptions, and pushes our buttons.

April 23, 2018

JOE (1970): A Guy You Don't Wanna Know (but probably do)

Starring Peter Boyle, Dennis Patrick, Audry Caire, Susan Sarandon, K Callan, Patrick McDermott. Directed by John G. Avildsen. (1970/107 min).

Available on Blu-Ray from

Review by Tiger Longtail😼

Have you ever heard about an atrocity committed by two or more people who share such a hateful, twisted mindset - the kind of stuff no right-thinking person voices out loud - that you wonder just how in the hell they managed to find each other in the first place? Well, Joe shows us how...and no internet required!

The 60s are over, and with it, the romanticized luster of the counter-culture movement. The film's titular character (Peter Boyle) is an angry, racist, hippie-hating factory worker who sometimes talks about killing one. Then he meets Bill...

After his daughter, Melissa (a young Susan Sarandon), nearly dies from an overdose, ad-exec Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick) goes to her apartment to retrieve her belongings. When her drug-dealing boyfriend, Frank, shows up unexpectedly, Bill kills him in a fit of rage. Scared, he goes to a nearly bar, where Joe's drunkenly ranting about drug-dealing hippies. Bill reveals he just killed one, but Joe initially thinks he's just joking. When he later learns otherwise, Joe contacts Bill, not to blackmail him, but to learn more about the man he believes is a kindred spirit.

Joe Curran...as seen in Tiger Beat magazine.
Thus begins the unnerving friendship in Joe, an early film by director John G. Avildson, who'd ironically gain later fame for feel-good, triumph-of-the-underdog movies. It's hard to decide what's more disturbing, that Joe is so gung-ho over Bill's actions, or Bill's realization that he enjoyed killing Frank. Joe is angry (and full of shit) from the get-go, but what are we to make of Bill? Initially the polar opposite of Joe, he isn't what you'd call likable, but we empathize with him at first. But as the bond between these two grows stronger - with Bill declaring Joe a "breath of fresh air" compared to his normal social circle - we begin to question their agenda, especially during a telling scene that establishes them as pure hypocrites, where they smoke dope and participate in an orgy with some of the very hippies they profess to hate.

It helps if one keeps in-mind the era during which Joe was released, since the hippie-dippy aesthetic is pretty off-putting and the first 15 minutes are spent watching young adults shooting up and popping pills. But a funny thing happens once Bill meets Joe: We're ominously reminded that, in this era of social media and fear-mongering government leaders - it's even easier for the Joes of the world to fly their hate flag for like-minded monsters to salute.  

In that respect, Joe might be more timely than ever. For a film with a main character we neither like or respect, it remains morbidly fascinating after all these years (since most of us probably know someone just like him) and comes to an ironic climax you aren't likely to forget.


Disney's A WRINKLE IN TIME on Digital 5/29 and Blu-ray 6/5

Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, from acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, comes home May 29 on Digital HD, 4K Ultra HD and Movies Anywhere and June 5 on Blu-ray™, 4K Ultra HD™, DVD and On-Demand. The stunning story of an ordinary girl’s extraordinary adventure through time and space offers exhilarating entertainment and positive messages for the whole family—encouraging self-confidence, inclusion and pushing imagination to the next level.

Families who bring home A Wrinkle in Time will go behind the scenes to meet the talented crafts persons, actors and filmmakers who brought to life every spectacular detail of this triumphant tale. Bonus material includes an extended featurette providing inside access to the A-list cast and crew; insightful audio commentary from director Ava DuVernay and team; deleted scenes; bloopers; and two music videos, including “I Believe” performed by GRAMMY®-nominated music mogul DJ Khaled and featuring GRAMMY®-nominated singer-songwriter Demi Lovato.

April 22, 2018


Starring Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, John Vernon, Michael S. Siegel, Peter Licassi, Royal Dano. Directed by Stephen Chiodo. (1988/88min).

Available on Blu-Ray from

Review by Josey Jumpscare🙀

Watching this cult classic for the first time in at-least 20 years, a few things crossed my mind...
  • With the possible exception of John Vernon, none of the cast have done much else anyone remembers. How do they feel today, knowing this film has more-or-less become their legacy? 
  • Speaking of Vernon...since his character is similar to his role as Dean Wormer in Animal House, it's fun to imagine they're actually the same character and this is where Wormer ended up after losing his position at Faber.
  • Despite the ridiculous premise, almost everyone I've ever met who's seen the movie has laughed with it, not at it. The few who actually did the latter were idiots anyway.
  • Relatively speaking, Killer Klowns from Outer Space has aged remarkably well for a 30-year-old film.
I should probably qualify that last takeaway by saying Killer Klowns was already an 80's artifact before the decade was even over, from the big hair & acid-washed jeans down to the The Dickies' corny title tune. But for a horror film from that era, it remains aesthetically & conceptually amusing. Visually, it's still more impressive than 90% of the cheap-ass horror filler on Netflix (of course, long-time fans would likely agree Killer Klowns was never really a "horror" film).

Sure, the dialogue is eye-rollingly clunky and - again, with the possible exception of Vernon - the performances range from perfunctory to amateurish. But I think the Chiodo Brothers already knew screenwriting was never their strength, that much of the humor would be found in their monstrous-but-amusing titular characters, colorful production design and the exploitation of every trope we've ever associated with clowns.

Insane Clown Posse: The Retirement Home Years
Killer Klowns' appeal - not-to-mention most of its laughs - has always come from its creative visuals and individual set-pieces featuring the alien clowns, their "weapons" and methods of bagging human prey. 30 years after the film's inauspicious premiere, those scenes still hold up and - most importantly - are still funny. And unlike the Sharknados of today, which rub our faces in smug self-awareness, Killer Klowns never insults the audience's intelligence with a nudge-and-a-wink, nor does it ever descend into pure camp. There's a sincerity about its ridiculousness that's endearing. The movie makes us laugh - a lot - but never at its own expense.

In addition to being a giddy nostalgia trip for anyone who fondly remembers it, Killer Klowns from Outer Space still belies its budget with visuals and gags that should even amuse newcomers. Arrow has nicely restored the picture to its colorful glory and thrown in a slew of entertaining & informative bonus features (both old and new), making this disc a must-own for fans.

NEW: "LET THE SHOW BEGIN" - A new interview with two members of The Dickies, who wrote and performed the title song.
NEW: "THE CHIODOS WALK AMONG US" - Retrospective of the Chiodo Brothers' humble beginnings
NEW: "CHIODO BROTHERS' EARLY FILMS" - Six of their early shorts shown in their entirety, running 7-20 minutes each.
FEATURETTES - "Bringing These Things to Life"; "Behind the Screams with the Chiodos"; "Klown Auditions"
FIVE INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS - "Tales of Tobacco" (w/ Grant Cramer); "Debbie's Big Night" (w/ Suzanne Snyder); "Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr."; "The Making of Killer Klowns" (w/ the Chiodo Bros); "Kreating Klowns" (w/ Charles Chiodo & Dwight Roberts); "Composing Klowns" (w/ composer John Massan).
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By the Chiodo Brothers
INFORMATIONAL BOOKLET (not included for review)
REVERSIBLE COVER (not included for review)

April 21, 2018

SLEEPING DOGS (1977) Has Awakened...On Blu-Ray

Starring Sam Neill, Ian Mune, Nevan Rowe, Ian Watkin, Warren Oates, Donna Akersten, Clyde Scott, Snuffles the dog. Directed by Roger Donaldson. (1977/107 min).

Available on Blu-Ray from 

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

Sleeping Dogs is notable for a few reasons. It was the first feature film entirely made and financed by New Zealand to have any significant global impact. More importantly, it put Sam Neill and director Roger Donaldson on the map.

While both men would obviously go on to bigger and better things, Sleeping Dogs is more than a fascinating curio. It's an intense, harrowing journey taken by a fiercely reluctant everyman, Smith (Neill), who we first meet just as he's leaving his wife, Gloria (Nevan Rowe). She's been cheating on him with Bullen (Ian Mune), and though the film doesn't explicitly say so, we get the feeling Smith & Bullen were once friends. Meanwhile, the entire country is in a state of political upheaval when an oil embargo turns New Zealand's fascist government against its own people, resulting in violent protests from a growing guerrilla movement.

Sam Neill...feelin' groovy.
Wanting to escape everything and everybody, Smith leaves the city, rents a remote island and lives there with his dog. Things are idyllic for awhile, until the police show up and arrest Smith on an illegal weapons charge; a lot of guns & explosives had been stashed on the island by guerrillas and they suspect Smith is one of the ringleaders. One officer, an old school acquaintance, offers Smith the opportunity to leave the country a free man if he confesses, otherwise he'll be executed. Instead, Smith escapes, managing to lay low for awhile, at least until Bullen shows up. It turns out he and Gloria are part of the guerrilla movement and need Smith's help eliminating US soldiers recruited to assist the government. Now that Smith is the most wanted man in New Zealand, he really has no choice and gets in deeper than he ever wanted to.

What's interesting is the change Smith undergoes during the film. It's quickly obvious he's been manipulated - and set-up - almost from the get-go, by both the police and those close to him. But since circumstances are well beyond his control, he's slowly becoming the revolutionary the government are trying to paint him as. Sam Neill is convincing as Smith, desperately clinging to the simpler life he forged for himself and growing increasingly resentful over being thrust into a conflict he wants no part of, yet is compelled to fight anyway. In his first feature film, Roger Donaldson does an commendable job balancing character conflict and intense action, particularly during the second half, when the Smith and Bullen are on the run with the police closing in. Their mostly-antagonistic relationship later becomes the film's emotional high-point.

Reversible cover includes original artwork.
Atypical of most Arrow releases, this Blu-Ray is fairly light on bonus features and none of it is new, though the hour-long retrospective documentary from 2004 is a must-see. It combines new and vintage footage, as well as interviews with dozens of people from both sides of the camera. Especially engaging is the footage where Donaldson, Neill, Mune and FX artist Geoff Murphy (later a successful director himself) revisit many of the film's locations nearly 30 years later. Even if one doesn't necessarily like Sleeping Dogs, the effort it took to get it made during that time will surely make one at-least appreciate it.

"THE MAKING OF SLEEPING DOGS" (2004) - Of the two, this is longer and more entertaining.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Roger Donaldson, Sam Neill and Ian Munes (who also co-wrote the film).
REVERSIBLE COVER ART - Featuring new and vintage artwork (see above)


April 20, 2018

DEMON SEED and the Venomous Voice

Starring Julie Christie, Fritz Weaver, Gerrit Graham, Barry Kroeger, Lisa Lu and the phenomenal voice of Robert Vaughn. Directed by Donald Cammell. (1977/94 min).

Available on Blu-Ray from 

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON

Revisiting Demon Seed reminded me of how extensively we're shaped by childhood experiences.

I first saw the film at the Southgate Quad when I was 13. Since it was rated R, my best friend and I had to pay for a PG movie and sneak into this one. We did this quite often back then, which allowed us to sample all sorts of forbidden fruit. But Demon Seed was different, it seemed. Because of the premise and title  - not-to-mention a totally titillating movie poster (see above) - we expected not just a horror movie, but a dirty horror movie!

It isn't, of course, though it's still plenty provocative. Julie Christie plays Susan, the estranged wife of brilliant scientist Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver), who has developed Proteus IV, an advanced super-computer that is self-aware and can do its own thinking without human input. Alex hopes Proteus will solve some of the world's greatest problems, like discovering a cure for leukemia, which it manages in four days.

But Proteus has bigger ambitions than performing such menial tasks as curing diseases or mining the ocean floor, such as being a dad. It also doesn't approve of the living arrangements and resents being trapped in its own circuitry. So after accessing a remote computer terminal at Harris' fully-automated house, Proteus takes control of all the machinery, traps Susan inside and develops a way to impregnate her, with plans to transfer all its knowledge to their newborn child. Needless to say, Susan is not on-board with this plan. Proteus doesn't appear concerned with that, forgoing the courting period and killing anyone else who approaches the house.

The happy couple.
None of this is as lurid or stupid as it sounds. In fact, other than some silly attempts at 2001-style trippiness, Demon Seed is a dark, engaging sci-fi thriller that never really found an audience and has sadly fallen into relative obscurity. Perhaps it was the timing. By 1977, when audience-friendly blockbusters were beginning to rule the box office, there was little room for adult themed science fiction. Had Demon Seed been released a few years earlier, perhaps we'd still be mentioning Proteus in the same breath as the HAL 9000 and Colossus, an unholy trinity of computers gone rogue.

But I didn't care about any of that at 13, sitting in the back row of the Southgate and developing a crush on Julie Christie. Actually, my list of childhood Hollywood crushes was pretty long. The likes of Ann-Margret, Faye Dunaway, Jacqueline Bisset and Nancy Allen sent my heart aflutter, mostly because of the films I enjoyed at the time. Sure, Dunaway was iconic in Bonnie & Clyde, but I fell in love with her in The Towering Inferno. Similarly, even though she won an Oscar for her performance in 1965's Darling and appeared in such classics as Dr. Zhivago, Don't Look Now and Nashville, for me, Julie Christie would always be that bodacious British beauty from Demon Seed (it's where we first met, after all).

Julie Christie...part of your nutritious breakfast.
The real star of Demon Seed, however, isn't even credited in the film. The late, great Robert Vaughn provides the sinister voice for Proteus. I didn't know who he was at the time, but his coolly distinctive voice gives Proteus a level of menace that's rivaled only by HAL 9000's monotonic malevolence in 2001. But unlike what was required of Douglas Rain to voice HAL, Vaughn understood that the very concept of the film dictated that Proteus, though devoid of emotion, came across as slightly lecherous, maybe a tad arrogant...sort-of like a mechanical Harvey Weinstein. It's a chilling performance.

As far as I was concerned, Demon Seed firmly established my perception of Vaughn as a supremely intimidating individual. No matter what films I saw him in afterwards, hero or villain, his unnerving delivery was potentially traumatizing. It's a tragedy he never got the opportunity to play a Bond villain.

If you could see Robert Vaughn's voice, it would definitely look like this.
Man, if I could speak like Robert Vaughn, I'd win every argument with my wife, my kids would never talk back and the neighbor's dog would stay the hell off my lawn. And wouldn't it be great if Build-A-Bear offered a Robert Vaughn voice chip that said "Run, you little bastard" when the stuffed critter's paw was squeezed? It'd be the perfect gift to scare the shit out of that obnoxious nephew in the family.

Demon Seed features Robert Vaughn at his most sinister. Though he may not appear on-screen, it's impossible to mistake that voice for anyone else. The film itself looks and sounds a bit past its prime, but the concept remains intriguing and the smart, tension-filled story is bolstered by strong performances from one of my middle school sweethearts...and one of my middle school boogeymen.


April 19, 2018

News: PACIFIC RIM UPRISING on Digital 6/5 and 4K, Blu-Ray & DVD 6/19

Ten years after the events of the first film, the Kaiju return in Pacific Rim Uprising with a new deadly threat that reignites the conflict between these otherworldly monsters of mass destruction and Jaegers, the human-piloted super-machines that were built to vanquish them. Pacific Rim Uprising arrives on Digital and the all-new digital movie app MOVIES ANYWHERE on June 5, 2018, as well as on 4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on June 19, 2018 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Building on the striking visual world created in the first film, Pacific Rim Uprising features a next-generation battleground complete with upgraded Jaegers and new Kaiju that offers a captivating a state-of-the-art spectacle perfect for your next night in. Experience one-of-a-kind special effects and more than forty minutes of bonus content when you own the next installment on 4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD.
Preview part of the Hall of Heroes bonus featurette introduced by John Boyega

April 18, 2018


Starring Theo James, Ben Kingsley, Jacqueline Bisset, David Dencik, Belcin Bilgin, Rachel Wilson. Directed by Per Fly. (2018/108 min).

Of course, it's always enjoyable to watch Ben Kingsley at work. His dedication makes even the worst movies at-least endurable. And let's face it...Sir Kingsley has frequently lent his respected name to some real dumpster fires, especially during the last decade, sort-of making him the Michael Caine of the 21st Century.

Fortunately, Backstabbing for Beginners isn't a dumpster fire, though Kingsley is easily the main reason to check it out. Well, him and Jacqueline Bisset, who doesn't grace us with her presence as often as she used to, at least in anything worth watching (9/11? Really Jackie??). Unfortunately, neither are in the film nearly enough (especially Bisset), taking a backseat to Theo James as Michael, an ambitious, idealistic newbie working under the tutelage of UN diplomat Pasha (Kingsley).

Backstabbing for Beginners is based on a true story, adapted from the book by Michael Soussan, who uncovered massive corruption while assisting his mentor in Iraq during the United Nation's Oil-for-Food Program. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the program made it possible for Iraq to sell their oil in exchange for food and other essentials. However, self-serving diplomats, leaders, private companies and a variety of other morally-questionable folks benefited more than the Iraqi people actually did.

Sir Kingsley tries - and fails - to justify The Love Guru.
Structurally similar to Oliver Stone's Wall Street, the story is mostly focused on Michael's eventual disillusionment over the graft and corruption he witnesses. Before he even starts his job in earnest, he's essentially forced by the CIA to report everything he sees, including Pasha's actions, meaning rampant corruption has been going on for quite awhile.

Some of this is pretty interesting, especially if one was completely unaware of the Oil-for-Food scandal (like yours truly). As political thrillers go, though, its not always terribly gripping. Kingsley is terrific, as usual, creating a compelling character who's as cynical as he is foul-mouthed...and not necessarily a villain in the traditional sense. We often get the impression that, despite his less-than-savory dealings, Pasha is doing to best job possible with what - and who - he has to work with. It makes one wish the film were focused mainly on him because Michael is simply not as interesting, even after hitting the sheets with Nashim (Belcim Bilgin), a Kerdish rebel with an agenda of her own (she's more interesting than Michael, too).

Still, this is a true story that needed to be told and Backstabbing for Beginners does it fairly well. We learn a lot about what happened, who was involved and the eventual consequences. The film could've benefited from a bit more dramatic punch, though.

FEATURETTE: "The Truth Behind Backstabbing for Beginners"