May 31, 2019

Prrrfect Trailers: IT'S ALIVE

Released October 18, 1974
Starring John P. Ryan, Sharon Farrell, James Dixon, William Wellman Jr, Andrew Duggan, Guy Stockwell.
Directed by Larry Cohen

First released in 1974, Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive came and went unnoticed. But when re-released in 1977, it became a cult classic, largely due to this ingenious teaser trailer, which was far scarier than the movie itself.

May 30, 2019

The PAUL LENI Legacy


Review by Mr. Paws😸

Paul Leni was part of the German Expressionist movement with a unique – and bleak – aesthetic style. After coming to America, he only made four films before his untimely death at the age of 44. However, his visual flair was a major influence on subsequent filmmakers, particularly early horror directors. Two of those films are now available on Blu-ray for the first time.

Starring Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin, Olga Baklanova, Brandon Hurst, Cesare Gravina. Directed by Paul Leni. (1928/110 min).

On Blu-ray from FLICKER ALLEY

Opening like a brooding horror film, The Man Who Laughs drips with foreboding atmosphere even before the titular character shows his terrifying face. The first act is particularly unnerving, where King James II kills a Lord who slighted him, then orders the face of the man’s young son, Gwynplaine, to be disfigured by comprachinos (child buyers), giving him a permanent psychotic grin. Left for dead after the comprachinos are banished from England, Gwynplaine saves a blind baby from freezing to death before both are rescued and raised by Ursa, the kindly owner of a traveling carnival. As an adult, Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) becomes the star attraction billed as The Laughing Man.

But contrary to much of its imagery, the story unfolds as a romantic drama with Gwynplaine falling in love in Dea (Mary Philbin), the blind girl he once saved. She loves him, too, but because of his grotesque appearance, Gwynplaine doesn’t feel he’s worthy. Then insatiable duchess Josiana (Olga Baklanova) enters the picture with a fetishistic attraction to him, later complicated when reigning Queen Anne learns Gwynplaine is alive and the rightful heir to his father’s wealth, which Josiana is currently enjoying.

Gwynplaine reads a naughty bit.
The plot is sort-of a cross between The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Freaks, but nowhere nearly as dark...or as compelling. The film is sometimes too meandering for its own good. Visually, however, The Man Who Laughs is very engaging. The atmospheric cinematography and production design give it a beautiful gothic look. Then there’s Gwynplaine’s disturbing grin (supposedly inspiring early incarnations of The Joker), which is potential nightmare fuel. Even so, it’s a credit to Veidt – acting almost entirely with his eyes – that Gwynplaine is sympathetic and endearing.

On Blu-ray, it’s hard to believe we’re watching a 90 year old film. Flicker Alley has beautifully restored it with a 4K remaster, enhanced by a brand new music score.

FEATURETTE - “Pail Leni and The Man Who Laughs” (video essay by John Soister.
IMAGE GALLERY – Production stills and promo material
OPTIONAL AUDIO TRACK – Of the original film score
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET – Essay: “Celebrating Universal’s Masterpiece,” by author Kevin Brownlow; Essay: “The Man Who Laughs Experience,” by new score composer Sonia Coronado; Film & Blu-ray production credits.
REVERSIBLE COVER – New and vintage artwork.

Starring Laura La Piante, John Boles, Montagu Love, Roy D.Arcy, Margret Livingston, Burr McIntosh. Directed by Paul Leni. (1929/87 min).

On Blu-ray from FLICKER ALLEY

The remaster of The Last Warning isn’t nearly as impressive, probably due to the lack of a decent print to work with. But it, too, has its share of darkly atmospheric moments. The story itself is also more interesting, though  does end up resembling a Scooby Doo mystery.

In this one, famous actor John Woodward is murdered on stage while performing. After his body disappears during the investigation, the theater is closed. Five years later, Arthur McHugh (Montagu Love) decides to resurrect the play using the same surviving actors, including leading lady Doris Terry (Laura La Plante), the object of affection by Richard Quayle (John Boles). But it isn’t long before mysterious events happen, along with ominous warnings that promise death if the show goes on. Many of the cast and crew are suspects, some of whom believe Woodward’s ghost is the culprit.

This particular spider is set for life.
For the most part, The Last Warning is a fun film, delivering some story surprises and a few remarkable visual touches (the theater’s “face” is particularly creepy). It’s faster paced than The Man Who Laughs, the tone a little less serious. Unfortunately, the remaster for this one couldn’t do much about the dilapidated picture quality, which is often murky and filled with scratches and blemishes. The new score, however, is terrific.

FEATURETTE - “Pail Leni and The Last Warning” (video essay by John Soister.
IMAGE GALLERY – Production stills and promo material
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET – Book Excerpt: “Of Gods and Monsters,” by John Soister; Essay: “Notes on the Score,” by new score composer Arthur Barrow; Film & Blu-ray production credits.
REVERSIBLE COVER – New and vintage artwork.

Though neither is a horror film, Leni’s visual aesthetic was a huge influence on the genre. From a historical perspective, The Man Who Laughs is essential viewing for fans of the genre’s history, as it establishes a look that would be imitated for decades. The Last Warning isn't as visually compelling but has a more entertaining story. If forced to choose, I'd pick the former, mainly because it the Blu-ray transfer is far better.

May 28, 2019

A VIGILANTE of a Different Color
Starring Olivia Wilde, Morgan Spector, Tonye Patano, Judy Marte, Kyle Catlett, Betsy Aidem, Chuck Cooper. Directed by Sarah Dagger-Nickson. (2018/91 min).
On Blu-ray from LIONSGATE

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

When we first meet Sadie (Olivia Wilde), she’s vigorously working-over a punching bag prior to dressing up, throwing on a wig and paying a visit to a small suburban home, where the Straund family lives. Andrea’s expecting her, but Sadie is actually there to see her abusive husband, Michael. Sadie informs him that he’s to sign-over the house to his wife, give her 75% of his assets and leave. He’s balks, of course, at which time she punches him in the throat. In the very next scene, Michael is seated at the dining room table, bloody and bruised, signing the necessary paperwork to comply with Sadie’s demands.

It’s the best scene in A Vigilante, setting the tone for the rest of the film. Through flashbacks we learn that Sadie is a domestic abuse survivor herself and has pledged to save others in similar relationships, sort-of making her a female Equalizer. But A Vigilante takes an unusual approach. Numerous abusers indeed receive the bloody beat-downs they richly deserve, but the viewer only sees the aftermath of her retribution.

Never give your cat a bath.
That might disappoint the yahoo crowd, but despite the film’s title, writer-director Sarah Dagger-Nickson obviously has a different agenda. The film is just-as-much about Sadie trying to come to terms with her past. She once had a family, which was torn apart by her husband (Morgan Spector), leaving her physically and emotionally devastated. Though she managed to escape, Sadie can’t actually move-on until she confronts and holds him accountable for what he’s done.

Anchored by a bravura performance by Wilde, A Vigilante isn’t the usual action-fest one expects from the genre. But even though it ventures to some dark places, Sadie’s a fascinating character and the circumstances leading her to vigilantism are believable, not-to-mention disturbing. The more we learn about her, the more we appreciate the results of her handiwork. However, one narrative misstep is when she finally faces her husband. The film does so many things right that it’s a shame Sadie’s briefly reduced to being stalked through the woods by your standard-issue psychotic spouse.

Until then, A Vigilante puts a smart, realistic spin on the classic revenge thriller. Sadie is empathetic and likable enough that her actions feel more than justified. Though light on the mayhem one usually expects from the genre, there are still enough audience-rousing moments to make it enjoyably vicarious viewing.

FEATURETTE - “Catharsis: Creating A Vigilante

CAPTAIN MARVEL Now on Digital / 4K, Blu-ray, DVD 6/11
Discover deleted scenes and over an hour of bonus content when you bring home Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL on Digital. The in home release includes featurettes that highlight the transformative journey of Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) and her character’s impact on audiences around the globe; the influence of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) on significant events within the MCU; the perfect pairing of directors Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck; the ongoing conflict between the Skrulls and the Kree; and the raw talent behind the fetching feline named Goose. Viewers also gain access to six deleted scenes, director commentary, a gag reel loaded with funnies, flubs and Flerkens, and
never-before-seen concept art and production photography. Viewers can bring home the film two weeks early on Digital 4K Ultra HD, HD and SD and gain access to two exclusive features, including a behind-the-scenes visit with the Visual Effects team that makes the filmmakers’ visions of the MCU come to life and an inside look at the epic team effort that goes into an action-packed sequence within a Marvel Studios film. A physical copy of “Captain Marvel” will be available as either a 4K Cinematic Universe Edition (4K UHD+Blu-ray+Digital Copy) or a Multi-Screen Edition (Blu-ray+Digital Copy), granting fans the flexibility to watch on devices of their choice.

The Godfather Trilogy is the benchmark for all cinematic storytelling. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel chronicles the rise and fall of the Corleone family in this celebrated epic. Collectively nominated for a staggering 29 Academy Awards, the films are the winner of 9, including 2 for Best Picture for The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. To this day, the saga is rightfully viewed as one of the greatest in the history of motion pictures. Now, for true cinema lovers, comes The Godfather Trilogy, with the Corleone Legacy Family Tree, Original Theatrical Art Cards, and Collectible Portraits with Frame to complete every fan’s collection.
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD 7/23
From Academy Award winners James Cameron & Jon Landau, and visionary filmmaker Robert Rodriguez comes ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, an epic adventure of hope and empowerment. When Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate doctor who realizes that somewhere in this discarded cyborg shell is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. When deadly and corrupt forces come after Alita, she discovers a clue to her past - she has unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she's grown to love.
THE DOORS:THE FINAL CUT 4K Ultra Coming 7/23
 In 1991, Oliver Stone crafted a psychedelic and powerful musical portrait that brilliantly captured the furious energy of the ‘60s and the myth of The Doors’ iconic front man, Jim Morrison - the man whose music shaped an era. Two decades later, Lionsgate presents a stunning new 4K restoration — The Doors: The Final Cut — supervised by Oliver Stone and brought to life with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, which will take audiences back in time, into the world and sound of the psychedelic ‘60s. Relive Val Kilmer’s hypnotic performance as the legendary Jim Morrison, alongside stellar performances from Meg Ryan, Kevin Dillon, and Kyle MacLachlan, who tell the story of The Doors’ humble beginnings in Los Angeles to the height of their popularity. This brand-new 4K restoration of The Doors in Dolby Atmos will provide far greater overall clarity and dimension for the audience. During the many concert sequences, the sound now fills the auditorium above the audience, behind it, and all points in between. I wanted the film to be as immersive as possible to a real ‘60s Doors experience,” said director Oliver Stone. “Additionally, I’ve made one cut of three minutes to a scene I thought was superfluous to the ending, which helps close out the film in a more powerful way.” 
US on Digital 6/4 and on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand 6/18
Academy Award winner Jordan Peele follows the success of his blockbuster hit, GET OUT, with the masterfully executed and viscerally terrifying US. Fans around the world can now untether the truth with more than 50 minutes of bonus features delving deep into the mind of Jordan Peele, his filmmaking process and the symbolism behind US. Featuring incredible must-see performances from Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave), Winston Duke (Black Panther), Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Mad Men”) and Tim Heidecker (The Comedy, “Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories”), US is “the most out-of-the-box horror film of the past decade,” (Nathaniel Brail, Heroic Hollywood). Movie enthusiasts and horror fans alike can watch US again and again to unravel its darkest secrets.

May 26, 2019


Starring Richard Derr, Larry Keating, Barbara Rush, John Hoyt, Peter Hansen, Alden Chase, Hayden Rorke. Directed by Rudolph Mate. (1951/83 min).
Starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Bob Cornthwiate, Lewis Martin and the voice of the great Paul Frees. Directed by Byron Haskin. (1953/85 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON

There was once a time when movies had much longer theatrical runs than they do today. Anyone wanting to see all three hours of Avengers: Endgame without testing the limits of their bladder need-only wait a few Facebook-free months before streaming it right into their living room. Had the film been released in 1977, Endgame would have lingered in theaters as long as the original Star Wars (which was well over a year). On the plus side, since there was no internet back then, a spoiler-happy troll would have to be physically present to ruin it for you (at which time you could beat his ever-loving ass).

Of course, those were the days before HBO, home video, Netflix and internet pirates. If you didn’t catch a movie in theaters, it could be years before it finally showed up on network television. Even then, the film would be heavily edited, not just to remove objectionable content, but so it could be squeezed into a two-hour time slot with plenty o’ room for Calgon commercials. And unlike the 55-inch digital flat-screen TV hanging from your wall right now, that massive Magnavox which sat like a 100-pound brick in Mom & Dad’s living room never did a movie justice.

When television could kill a man.
So anyone who first-saw 2001: A Space Odyssey when it premiered on NBC in 1977 – nine years after its initial theatrical run – had still never really experienced it. That’s like first-hearing “Tutti Frutti” as crooned by Pat Boone. On TV, 2001 was no longer a space odyssey. It was Space: 1999 with homicidal monkeys and Mr. Whipple squeezing the Charmin.

Besides selling broadcast rights to TV networks, it was also common practice for studios to re-release movies in theaters, often numerous times with fresh ad campaigns. Disney did it with damn-near all of their films, most-notably 1940’s Fantasia, a box office flop which got a new lease on life from the hippy crowd. On a smaller scale, Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive did middling business in 1974, but became a kitschy cult classic in 1977 thanks to a brilliant new TV spot that was more terrifying than the movie itself.

As a movie buff growing up in this era – and within biking distance from Milwaukie, Oregon’s Southgate Quad – I discovered the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Young Frankenstein, Patton and The Andromeda Strain. They had since become modern classics, but since I was too young to experience them the first time around, they were new to me. And on one occasion, a couple  of 'em weren’t new to me…

When Star Wars became a cultural phenomenon in 1977, science-fiction was suddenly cool again. More importantly, it was profitable again and studios clamored to get a piece of the action. In an odd move, Paramount Pictures resurrected two relics from the early 1950s – The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide – marketing them as a double feature with an all-new ad campaign. As profitable as re-releases could be, it was rare for a studio to go back two decades and serve-up movies that had been standard afternoon programming on independent TV stations for years. But it was a pretty ingenious move when you think about it. Even if it only played for a week or two, all it cost Paramount was a TV spot and newly-designed one-sheet that touted, “The science-fiction fantasies that started it all in the most spectacular double feature of all time!”   I’d seen both movies on TV but never thought about them in those terms, but as two of the earliest special effects-driven sci-fi films ever made, I suppose they did start it all. It was enough for me to part with my precious lawn-mowing money.

So there I was at the Southgate one summer afternoon, by myself, watching two movies that were made when my parents were kids. No friends were interested in coming along, of course, for which I was ultimately thankful. Even at that age, I was developing an appreciation for older films not shared by my peers. They’d have likely ended up giggling at the antiquity of it all. Granted, the two films looked quaint in the wake of Star Wars, but both won visual effects Oscars in their day, and decades later, were still more convincing than most of the Star Wars rip-offs being cranked out at the time, such as Starcrash, Battle Beyond the Stars, Laserblast or Message from Space. And you know what? Seeing The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide on the big screen made them feel a lot more epic than they did on my tiny bedroom TV. It was almost like watching them for the first time.

"Bet that phone's a bitch to stick in your pocket."
Loosely based on a 1932 novel, When Worlds Collide (1951) is a science-fiction disaster film in which a rogue star, Bellus, is hurling toward Earth. Global annihilation is inevitable, a pretty heavy concept for a film at the time. After freelance courier pilot Dave Randall (Richard Derr) delivers the bad news to a group of scientists led by Dr. Cole Hendron (Larry Keating), they realize the only way to avoid extinction is constructing a ship capable of carrying 40 people to Zyra, an Earth-like planet orbiting Bellus. Then it’s a race against time to build the ship, stock it with essentials, select the lucky few and get the fuck outta Dodge.

Produced by George Pal, a former animator who’d become the George Lucas of his day, When Worlds Collide is a tight, economically-made film that looks more epic than it really is, thanks to a creative combination of miniatures, stock footage and imaginative matte paintings depicting the aftermath of destruction (though the final shot Zyra’s sunrise looks like it was lifted from a cartoon). For the most part, the story stays on-point, save for a goofy romantic subplot involving Randall, Hendron’s daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush) and her fiancee, Dr. Tony Drake (Peter Hansen). If you were Drake, would you lift a single finger to assure the survival of the douchebag who just stole your woman? But not only is Drake suddenly a milquetoast match-maker, he’ll get to watch these two lovebirds snuggle on Zyra every fucking day. With an equal number of men and women chosen for the journey, it ain’t like he can simply hook-up with someone else, unless you count the stray dog he swapped-out two chickens for (but let's not go there).

Playing Simon is more difficult when the game is attached to your face.
1953’s The War of the Worlds, also produced by Pal, arguably remains the most iconic and influential alien invasion film of all time. Featuring a bigger budget and better overall performances than When Worlds Collide, it also stays conceptually truer to its source material (H.G. Wells’ classic novel). Its scenes of mass destruction are infinitely more impressive on the big screen (or at-least I thought so in 1977). The ominous alien machines are suitably menacing, and once they arrive to wreak havoc, the story remains tension-filled throughout, at least until the ending, when the Martians simply die because they aren’t immune to common pathogens. But in Pal’s defense, that’s how Wells’ novel ended, too. Still, as climaxes go, it's a little underwhelming.

I especially enjoyed the L.A. attack sequence as a kid, but after recently revisiting the film, I’d have to say my favorite scene is when Father Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin) gets blasted. Part of that could be due to my current overall contempt for organized religion. Much of that contempt is fueled by evangelical morons, so there’s something satisfying about Collins’ fatally bone-headed decision to reach out to the Martians with only a Bible in his hand, hilariously stating, “If they’re more advanced than us, they should be nearer the creator for that reason,” logic almost as dumb as believing rape babies are God's will. Because of Pal’s penchant for injecting holiness in his sci-fi films - this one, in particular - Collins is depicted as stoic and selfless (how real evangelicals probably view themselves). In Wells’ original novel, however, the priest was a raving lunatic (how I happen to view most evangelicals). So just because Collins' isn't screaming about the apocalypse doesn't mean he's any brighter than today's crackpot clergymen.

But I digress. Watching these two classics on the big screen – without the cynicism that sucks the fun out of adult life – was a unique experience at the time. I realized that sometimes you have to go big to really appreciate a movie, even if you already know it by heart. Additionally, that summer afternoon at the Southgate forever-changed how I viewed these particular films. Though they’re completely unrelated, I almost never revisit When Worlds Collide without following it up with The War of the Worlds immediately afterwards. Personal nostalgia aside, their aesthetic similarities make them two peas in a pod. Even today, they're the perfect double feature.

May 23, 2019

LORDS OF CHAOS and the Methods of Mayhem
Starring Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Jack Kilmer, Sky Ferreira, Valter Skarsgard. Directed by Jonas Akerlund. (2018/118 min).
On Blu-ray from MVD VISUAL

Review by Fluffy the Fearless🙀

For the uninitiated, Mayhem is Norway’s most notorious black metal band. Though credited with being one of the genre’s earliest innovators, it’s the horrific actions and crimes of certain members in the early ‘90s that got the world’s attention. If you thought the off-stage antics of Motley Crue were extreme, Mayhem will redefine the word for you.

Being that the band’s reputation is far more interesting than their music, Lords of Chaos wisely focuses on the former. Self-mutilation, suicide, church burnings, suggested cannibalism and ultimately murder...this is the kind of stuff urban legends are made of. But while the film takes a lot of dramatic liberties with its characters and timeline, the acts of brutal violence associated with Mayhem are real, unflinchingly depicted in all their horrific glory.

Fledgling teenage guitarist Euronymous (Rory Culkin) is the film's (very) unreliable narrator, assuring us right away this story will end badly. He's Mayhem’s founder and de-facto leader of a small group of extreme metalheads that call themselves The Black Circle. These guys proudly profess their death-obsessed nihilism, anti-Christian ideals and open contempt for anyone deemed a poser. But despite going to sick extremes to demonstrate their credibility – both on and off stage – Euronymous is ultimately just promoting himself and the genre he repeatedly claims to have created.

Then he meets Varg Vikernes (Emory Cohen), who he first-dismisses as a poser. But Varg soon proves his worth through his own brand of black metal, which Euronymous records and releases to sell at his record store. Varg quickly embraces the black metal mantra to the extreme, engaging in increasingly dangerous criminal acts. It isn’t long before Euronymous feels threatened...not by Varg himself, but the attention his actions are getting from the media and the admiration from others in the Black Circle. Varg, in turn, grows resentful of Euronymous vicariously taking credit for everything they've done, from the church burnings to the murder of a gay man.

Much of the film deals with the escalating conflict between these two, leading to a tragic (?) conclusion. Neither of them seem to be playing with a full deck, but at least Euronymous has moments where he demonstrates small amounts of intelligence, compassion, even remorse. Varg, on the other hand, is one evil, maladjusted motherfucker. He’s also kind-of an idiot, making him even more dangerous. The viewer gets the impression Varg initially just wanted to fit in with the black metal crowd, but simply took the image to extremes.

"Hey, gang! Who's up for some Yahtzee?"
Lords of Chaos is directed by Jonas Akerlund, a former black metal musician himself and the right guy for the job. He also recently directed Polar, which was all kinds of shitty. But here, his over-the-top approach is befitting of the subject matter. He pulls the viewer into this underground subculture with a knowing eye, and while we’re appalled by what he shows us, we’re so morbidly fascinated that we can’t look away. He also gets excellent performances from Culkin and Cohen (despite not sounding even remotely Norwegian). Where Akerlund struggles, however, is with the characters.

The film is certainly audacious, shockingly violent and even darkly humorous, but we ultimately learn very little about Euronymous or Varg beyond what’s already been well documented. Surely these two have backstories as interesting as their atrocities. If there was ever a movie that should have further-explored what makes its main characters tick, it’s this one.

But as it is, the story alone makes Lords of Chaos a luridly-compelling experience, perhaps even more-so for those unfamiliar with Mayhem’s dubious mark in heavy metal history. In fact, since the film isn’t really about the music, fans of the band or black metal in-general might be put-off at how derisively both are depicted. For everyone else with strong stomachs, get ready for a wild ride.

"11 DIRECTOR’S TEASERS” - Several brief promo spots, which could almost be considered a deleted scenes feature, since many consist of clips that are not in the final cut.

May 22, 2019

Prrrfect Trailers: THE BIRDS (1963)
Released March 28, 1963
Starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

No one did suspense quite like Hitchcock. No one did trailers like him, either.


May 21, 2019

BIG BROTHER: When Teachers Dream
Starring Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Kang Yu, Directed by Ka-Wai Kam. (2018/101 min).
On Blu-ray from WELL GO USA

Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

When it comes to reality, Big Brother is to education what Star Wars is to space travel. But let’s not hold that against it.

As a longtime teacher in the real world, I speak from experience. In 20+ years, I’ve never said or done anything that makes an entire class of delinquents suddenly think I’m cool. I don’t visit them at home, become their buddy or fix their broken homes. I’m not idolized by the entire student body, nor do they line up to take selfies with me. And I sure as hell haven’t used my considerable martial arts skills to save the entire school from the local mob (this movie’s goofiest subplot).

But who the hell wants a movie showing a dedicated teacher in the act of actual teaching? Or grading papers on weekends? Or attending weekly staff meetings? If said-teacher is played by Donnie Yen, we want him to kick some serious ass in the name of education.

A thumb war is declared.
Big Brother is sort-of like Stand and Deliver...with fists. As such, the movie is a lot of fun, even as we’re rolling our eyes over the absurdity of it all. Though he has zero experience, Henry Chen (Yen) manages to land a job as casually as applying at 7-Eleven. In quick order, he manages to whip his kids into academic shape, five of them, in particular (because screw everyone else). No student has an extracurricular problem that can’t be immediately solved by Chen’s wisdom, encouragement and a few roundhouse kicks to the right faces. He even becomes a local celebrity by pummeling a crooked MMA fighter.

You won’t believe – or be surprised by – a single minute of it. But when you’ve got Donnie Yen at the head of the class, who cares? In addition to his considerable physical skills, he’s always been a charismatic actor and is certainly likable here. So even though most of his actions would have a real educator hauled before a review board, Henry Chen is the guy real teachers dream they could be.

Alas, it’ll have to remain a dream for now. But until that fine day when teachers are unleashed to take education by the balls and beat it into submission, we can experience it vicariously through movies like Big Brother. Though outlandish and completely predictable, it’s the lighter side of Donnie Yen and one of his more entertaining recent films.


May 20, 2019

THE POOP SCOOP: Classics on 4K Edition

STAND BY ME is coming to 4K August 27
Academy Award-nominated (Best Adapted Screenplay, 1986) film follows a quartet of inseparable friends who set out in search of a dead body. During their life-changing adventure, the personal pressures brought on them by the adult world come to the surface and turns the journey into an odyssey of self-discovery. Newly scanned from the original camera negative in 4K and presented with High Dynamic Range on the 4K UHD, STAND BY ME also includes an all-new Dolby Atmos immersive audio mix and both the original theatrical mono audio and the 5.1 remix. In addition to the archival special features on the included Blu-ray—featuring a reunion commentary and making-of featurette—the STAND BY ME 4K Ultra HD includes never-before-seen deleted & alternate scenes, and a special limited edition O-ring sleeve, featuring the iconic original theatrical poster art.

THE SHINING on 4K Ultra October 1
The 4K remastering was done using a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick's former personal assistant Leon Vitali worked closely with the team at Warner Bros. during the mastering process. On May 17th, the restored 4K version of the film will be screened at The Cannes Film Festival. In 2018, The Shining was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film ranked 29th on AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills list, and Jack Torrance was named the 25th greatest villain on the AFI's 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains list. Additionally, the quote "Here's Johnny" from the film was ranked 68th on AFI's 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes list. The Shining 4K Blu-ray Blu-ray Combo Pack features an 4K Blu-ray disc with the feature film in 4K with HDR, a Blu-ray disc with the film in high definition and the special features in high definition, and a Digital version of the movie.
APOCALYPSE NOW FINAL CUT Coming to Theaters 8/15 and 4K Ultra Combo Pack 8/27
Restored from the original negative for the first time ever, Apocalypse Now Final Cut is Coppola’s most realized version of the film, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards. In addition to the restoration, this 4-disc Apocalypse Now Final Cut anniversary set also includes the film’s Theatrical Cut and Extended Cut (Redux), as well as the acclaimed Hearts of Darkness documentary. Loaded with hours of in-depth special features, the set will also feature the fascinating Tribeca Film Festival Q&A with Coppola and the prolific Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies, and Videotape), which has not been seen or heard outside of the festival until now, and newly discovered behind-the-scenes footage. The Apocalypse Now Final Cut 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack features new, collectable Mondo artwork.

May 19, 2019

WHITE CHAMBER: Never Trust a Trailer
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Oded Fehr, Amrita Acharia, Sharon Maughn, Nicholas Farrell, Candis Nergaard. Directed by Paul Raschid. (2018/89 min).
On Blu-ray from DARK SKY FILMS

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

We’ve all been duped by good trailers for crappy movies. But in this case, the opposite is true.

The trailer for White Chamber does the film a disservice, making it look like a rip-off of the 1997 cult classic, Cube, with a little bit of the Saw franchise thrown in for the yahoo crowd. Fortunately, writer-director Paul Raschid has loftier ambitions.

Presumably taking place in the near future, the United Kingdom is under military rule and currently at-war with a resistance movement led by Narek Zakarian (Oded Fehr). But a majority of the story takes place in and around the titular room, which appears to be a high-tech torture chamber. Inside is a woman (Shauna Macdonald) who’s being interrogated from outside by Zakarian for information. She says her name is Ruth and just a low-level federal employee who knows nothing.

When the story flashes back five days, it’s Zakarian who’s in the chamber and “Ruth” is actually Dr. Elle Chrystler, a high-level government researcher trying to develop a highly-addictive synthetic drug that makes one nearly oblivious to pain. Zakarian has been captured and she’s using him as her guinea pig to test the effects of the drug. It’s pretty nasty stuff, and Chrystler grows increasingly cruel as the story progresses, indifferent to the suffering she’s inflicting.

"Where's the damn bathroom?"
But even then, the viewer isn’t quite certain where to place their sympathies. Chrystler has pretty legitimate reasons for her vindictiveness, but she’s also cold-blooded and abusive. And we still aren’t sure what to make of Zakarian throughout most of the film. He could very-well be the vicious murderer the government makes him out to be, but there are several moments when he displays more humanity than any other character.

For the most part, it’s an intriguing story, punctuated by solid performances by Fehr and Macdonald. The chamber itself – and the laboratory where it’s housed – is an appropriately stark setting (though with no visible toilet, it does prompt one to question where Zakarian’s been relieving himself, but never mind). There are enough narrative turns to keep things interesting - as well as a memorably horrific scene involving fingers – at least until the final act, which is sort-of a let-down. I haven’t yet decided to the climactic twist is a cheat or just underwhelming. But until then, White Chamber is much better than its derivative trailer suggests.


May 18, 2019

SHAFT Triple Feature: You’re Daaamn Right
Starring Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi, Christopher St. John. Directed by Gordon Parks. (1971/100 min).
Starring Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Joseph Mascolo, Wally Taylor, Julius Harris, Joe Santos. Directed by Gordon Parks. (1972/105 min).
Starring Richard Roundtree, Frank Finlay, Vonetta McGee, Neda Armeric, Frank McRae. Directed by John Guillerman. (1973/112 min).

Review by Mr. Paws😺

I belong to an online forum where we often discuss classic films. Someone once posed this question: What were some of the most influential or culturally significant films of the 1970s? Since she wasn’t necessarily asking for the best ones, it’s an excellent question and tougher to answer than one might think. But any legitimate discussion would have to include the original Shaft.

Released in 1971, Shaft almost singlehandedly invented blaxploitation. In that context, the film was arguably as influential as The Godfather and transcended the genre to become something of a cultural phenomenon in its own right. So of course, a couple of sequels quickly followed, as well as a short-lived TV series (which I wasn’t aware of). Shaft has been released on Blu-ray before, but now all three films are available in a 3-disc set.

The only street that doesn't have a Starbucks.
Though certainly a product of its time, Shaft is the one true classic of the franchise. The plot is nothing to write home about – it doesn’t even have a primary antagonist – but as an exercise in audacity and style, director Gordon Parks scores a bullseye. Isaac Hayes’ iconic, infectious theme sets the tone right away, while Richard Roundtree exudes confidence and all-around badassery throughout the film (he's a damn fine dresser, too), arguably making John Shaft the coolest private dick to hit the screen since Bogart donned a fedora.

Who's the window washer that's a sex machine to all the chicks?
Released only a year later, Shaft’s Big Score! is sorely missing a few of the elements that made the first film a classic. Most would likely agree that Haye’s soundtrack was a huge part of the original’s success. Here, director Parks scores the film himself. While the music is reminiscent of Hayes' work - right down to the new theme song - it isn't nearly as memorable. It also looks like John Shaft has-since moved up in the world, therefore doesn’t seem quite as streetwise. However, this one does have a better story, where Shaft investigates the murder of a friend at the hands of a greedy brother who's in-debt to the mob. Though not as fresh or original as Shaft, it’s certainly enjoyable and has a lot of action, including an exciting car/boat/helicopter chase during the final act.

"Sooo...I see your Schwartz is as big as mine."
The law of diminishing returns plays itself out with Shaft in Africa. Director John Guillerman and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant clearly have no idea what to do with the character they’ve been handed, turning Shaft into a black James Bond (complete with gadgets). Roundtree is good, but the story - which has Shaft recruited to infiltrate an African slavery ring – is ridiculous and completely contrary to everything that made the original unique. Just like The Bad News Bears should never have gone to Japan, John Shaft has no business ever leaving New York City. The naked stick-fight, however, is an unintentional comic highlight.

The sequels are new to Blu-ray and also available separately. But unless you already have Shaft, this Blu-ray triple feature is the obvious way to go. The original is a classic and essential viewing for any ‘70s-era movie buff. Roundtree’s charisma and great action make Shaft’s Big Score! a worthy sequel. Shaft in Africa may be a complete misfire, but you can’t complete a trilogy with two movies, can you?

SHAFT – “Soul in Cinema: Filming Shaft on Location” (10 minute vintage featurette); Shaft - “The Killing” (an episode from the short-lived series, also starring Roundtree); Trailers for all three films