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 Terrible­čśŞ

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 Destroyer­čś╝

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. Paws­čś║

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 played Phillip Marlowe.

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

May 16, 2019

COLD PURSUIT: A Plowman's Revenge
Starring Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Emmy Rossum, Tom Jackson, William Forsythe, Laura Dern, Domenick Lombardozzi, Raoul Trujillo, Julia Jones, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Arnold Pinnock, Micheal Richardson. Directed by Hans Petter Moland. (2019/119 min).
On 4K Ultra/Blu-ray from LIONSGATE

Review by Tiger the Terrible­čś╝

Liam Neeson has been channeling his inner Bronson for so long that one could be forgiven for assuming Cold Pursuit has him playing yet another one-man wrecking crew. But don’t let the generic title fool you. This is a highly amusing black comedy that just happens to have some great action.

Granted, as Nels Coxman, Neeson does exact a bit of bloody revenge over the death of his son, who was murdered by thugs on orders from smug, psychotic druglord Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman). And yeah, Nels plans to kill his way to the top of the food chain. But Nels isn’t ex-CIA or a retired super soldier. He’s just a grieving, angry snowplow driver. And even though he dispatches three bad guys in short order, Viking assumes it’s the work of a rival Ute mob run by White Bull (Tom Jackson). Striking back, Viking kills White Bull’s son, which triggers an escalating war.

Since I was unaware of director Hans Petter Moland’s original 2014 Norwegian version, In Order of Disappearance, I guess I was anticipating a snowbound Taken (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing...Neeson’s an awesome senior-discount asskicker). However, the beauty of Cold Pursuit is how it consistently defies expectations. Neeson’s the star, of course, but the film is more of an ensemble piece loaded with interesting, sometimes quirky characters. Some appear for a scene or two, while others share nearly as much screen time as Neeson himself. 

Nels forgets where he parked.
It’s hard to get into specifics without ruining many of the film’s surprises, but while there’s plenty of bullets ‘n’ blood, it’s just-as-often funny as hell, including a couple of priceless running gags related to the escalating body count. The humor is sometimes understated, sometimes broad and occasionally morbid. If Fargo was an action film, it might resemble something like this. But even without the eclectic characters and copious amounts of dark humor, Cold Pursuit’s plot is interesting enough that it could be presented straight and still remain fairly engaging.

Though it may not be the best film I’ve reviewed so far this year, it’s by-far the most fun. Criminally overlooked in theaters, this one deserves a second life on home video, definitely worth checking-out by both action fans and those whose sense of humor leans toward the dark side.

FEATURETTE: "WELCOME TO KEHOE: BEHIND THE SCENES ON COLD PURSUIT” - Includes numerous interviews, clips and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.

Prrrfect Trailers: INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996)
Released July 2, 1996
Starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Robert Loggia.
Directed by Roland Emmerich

This teaser first aired during the Super Bowl several months before the release date. No voice-over, no cast members and almost no plot details. The jaw-dropping imagery did all the work, and that shot of a disintegrating the White House was enough to turn Independence Day into the must-see movie that summer.


May 15, 2019

Starring Jack Lemmon, Anne Bancroft, Gene Saks, Elizabeth Wilson, Florence Stanley, Maxine Stuart, Sylvester Stallone, M. Emmet Walsh, F. Murray Abraham. Directed by Melvin Frank. (1975/98 min).
On Blu-ray from

Review by Mr. Paws­čśŞ

Unless your name is Stephen King, writers generally don’t have much marquee value these days. Sure, your book might be the talk of Hollywood, but you are just another name among the credits. And as far as screenwriters go, forget about it. More often than not, your lowly status means you’re sharing credit with a guy hired to rewrite your hard work.

It wasn’t always this way. In the '60s & '70s, Neil Simon was an inescapable brand name on both Broadway and the screen. Prolific and popular, his name was featured above a film’s title right along with its stars, maybe because people generally knew what to expect: Congenial, character-driven comedy that may have never been all that deep, but was usually perceptive, intelligent and occasionally uproarious. Kind of like Woody Allen without the neurosis.

1975’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue – adapted from his own play – is a prime example of vintage Simon, perhaps just a tad bleaker than his usual oeuvre. Jack Lemmon is in typically fine form as Mel Edison, a tightly-wound, middle-aged New Yorker living in a cramped apartment with his beleaguered wife, Edna (Anne Bancroft). He’s miserable even before he loses his job and their place is robbed. Out of work and feeling useless, Mel wallows in resentment and self-pity, which puts a strain on the marriage, especially after Edna manages to find work. Soon after, he suffers a nervous breakdown.

Jack spots Walter Matthau.
The film isn’t nearly as downbeat and depressing as the plot suggests. It’s frequently very funny, even during Mel’s paranoia-fueled meltdown. The comic highlight, however, has to be Mel’s run-in with a suspected mugger (a very young Sylvester Stallone). Lemmon’s played high-strung characters plenty of times, so he’s not really stretching here. But since he’s so adept at it, who cares? Bancroft is an amusing foil, no small task considering much of her performance is reactionary.

Like most of Neil Simon’s work from the ‘70s, The Prisoner of Second Avenue isn’t a timeless classic. But despite the dreary narrative underpinnings, it’s an affably enjoyable, loosely structured film with a lot of laughs and fun performances by the entire cast (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance by F. Murray Abraham as a cab driver). And if nothing else, it might make you feel better about your own problems.

"DINAH!” - Anne Bancroft appears on the popular 70s’ talk show, schmoozing it up with Dinah Shore. I forgot how bad afternoon talk shows really were.

May 13, 2019

It's East vs. West in TRIPLE THREAT
Starring Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen, Celina Jade, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Michael Bisping, Jeela Yanin. Directed by Jesse V. Johnson. (2019/96 min).
On Blu-ray from WELL GO USA

Review by Tiger the Terrible­čś╝

I suppose you could call Triple Threat an all-star, East vs. West clash of titans.

In one corner, you’ve got Asian martial arts superstars Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais and Tiger Chen, none of them strangers to the genre. In the other, there's Westerners Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White and Michael Bisping. Adkins & White are legends of direct-to-video action, while Bisping is a former UFC champion.

If that collection of names doesn't excite you, you’re obviously reading the wrong review.

For everyone else, Triple Threat is blood-soaked brawl with a plot thrown in because most movies require them. Fortunately, director Jesse V. Johnson wisely keeps the story simple, lest it intrude too much on the action. For the record, though, Jaa & Uwais play Payu & Long, two mercenaries duped into helping a crew of baddies release their boss, a notorious terrorist named Collins (Adkins), being held in a Thai village. After the mission, they are left-for-dead, as is lone surviving villager, Jaka (Iko Uwais), who now wants to avenge his wife’s murder. The three form an uneasy alliance to track down these killers, whose next target is Tian (Celina Jade), a philanthropist using her wealth to stop organized crime in her country.

"I'll have one of those."
Much of the movie is a chase, Payui & Long protecting Tian while Jaka infiltrates Collins’ crew (which includes White and Bisping). Though the film takes an occasional breather for necessary exposition, it’s mostly one elaborate action set-piece after another. There’s martial arts o’ plenty, of course, as well as ample amounts of bullets and blood. And if you’ve ever wondered what being shot point-blank by a grenade launcher looks like, this is the movie for you.

If not, why are you still reading?

Though the film is fairly light on characterization, the performances are good. When they aren’t snapping limbs, the three protagonists are congenially likable and empathetic. Both Adkins and White look like they’re having a great time tearing things up, relishing their roles as villains. On the other hand, Jade can only do so much with her thankless role as “the woman in jeopardy” (including an eye-rolling scene where she’s hampered by high heels).

While not in the same league as The Raid (what is?), Triple Threat wisely takes the similar path with its story telling: Keep it simple, keep it moving and keep it intense. The film doesn’t necessarily challenge the intellect, but it seldom descends into stupidity, either. Ultimately, this East vs. West showdown is a feast for action lovers.

CAST INTERVIEWS – The entire primary cast is included. Runs about 10 minutes.

THE POOP SCOOP: Marvel, Monsters & Madmen Edition
Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL on Digital May 28 and Blu-ray Collections June 11
Arriving home with extensive line-up of extras detailing the development of this highly anticipated addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), “Captain Marvel” 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.

 IT CHAPTER TWO in Theaters This September
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.

Jordan Peele's 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.
CRAWL in Theaters July 19
At FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE, our two favorite genres have always been disaster movies and horror where animals attack people. Paramount’s upcoming thriller, Crawl, is both! This one is our Avengers Endgame, so it’s safe to say we’ll be there opening night. Director Alexandra Aja has made some good horror films in the past (Mirrors, Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes), so this has the potential to be a gruesomely good time.

Rest in Peace, Doris Day

May 10, 2019



Review by Tiger the Terrible­čś╝

Throughout his career, John Carpenter had a fairly cantankerous relationship with Hollywood. With the possible exception of The Thing, most would agree his best films were those he made independently, with considerably more creative freedom. So while these two Blu-ray releases from Mill Creek Entertainment aren't the greatest things to bare his name, they make interesting bookends to Carpenter’s tumultuous tenure within the studio system.
Starring Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois, Raul Julia, Darlanne Fluegel. Directed by Irvin Kershner. (1978/104 min).

On Blu-ray for the first time, Eyes of Laura Mars is almost like opening up a time capsule.

Released just-prior to his landmark Halloween, Carpenter didn’t actually direct this one, but wrote an early draft of the screenplay, later reworked by David Zelag Goodman. While it provided Carpenter his first real credit in a major studio picture, it’s obvious he had little creative input beyond the initial draft.

Faye Dunaway plays the titular character, a famous fashion photographer whose work consists of controversial images containing kinky violence. Then someone starts killing those close to her, and each time, Laura is able to witness these murders - as they’re occurring - through the killer’s eyes. Detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) is on-hand to investigate the murders (and eventually hop in the sack with Laura).

Road Rage in the '70s.
Despite its supernatural premise, Eyes of Laura Mars is not-so-much a horror movie as it is an exercise in disco-era excess, with far less attention paid to its story elements than the wardrobe, soundtrack and Laura’s silly S&M-tinged photo shoots. The identity of the killer will come as a complete surprise, mainly because the film is stuffed with red herrings without providing a single real clue. Carpenter's name may be among the credits, but nothing else he'd become famous for.

Still, Dunaway is good in one of her last substantial roles during her reign as a leading lady, while its kitschy aesthetics serve as an amusing glimpse into the past.

AUDIO COMMENTARY – By Director Irvin Kershner.
Starring Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Cetrone. (2001/98 min).


On the other end of the spectrum, Ghosts of Mars is the last Carpenter film backed by a major studio (and he’s directed only one more since). It was a box office flop when released and regarded by many fans as one of his worst films. Even today, it doesn’t enjoy the cult status of his other work.

While it isn’t great, Ghost of Mars is not his worst (I’d say Village of the Damned and Memoirs of an Invisible Man tie for that dubious distinction). In fact, now that the Martian dust has settled and initial expectations have long-since been dashed, perhaps a bit of reassessment is in order.

As a longtime Carpenter fan, I, too, was massively disappointed at first, especially after hearing it began life as another Snake Plissken sequel. But watching again after all these years, knowing what to expect, Ghosts of Mars isn’t without its virtues. First of all, the film has an absolutely killer soundtrack. Featuring Carpenter and a variety of hard rock heavyweights (including Steve Vai and members of Anthrax), the abrasive, industrial-tinged score perfectly suits the action. Speaking of which, the film may not be has atmospheric as Carpenter’s best work, but at least this movie moves, with plenty of close-quarters combat and bloody violence.

Ice Cube welcomes the new neighbors.
While the performances are merely adequate, Ice Cube is entertaining as Desolation Williams, even though we suspect he isn’t really trying all that hard. And I have to say there are a few gags - depicting the utter stupidity of Williams’ gang – that are as funny as anything Carpenter ever created for his other films.

As a writer-director, it does feel like Carpenter is simply going through the motions at this point in his career. Ghost of Mars remains one of his lesser films, but I kind-of enjoyed it the second time around.

FEATURETTES - “Scoring Ghosts of Mars”; “Video Diary: Red Desert Nights”; “Special Effects Deconstructions”
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By Carpenter and Natasha Henstridge.

Eyes of Laura Mars marks John Carpenter’s inauspicious introduction to Hollywood, while Ghost of Mars stands as his nadir, after he’s been chewed up and spit out by the system. In between, of course, are all the cult classics that bare his name. Neither of these two films are essential, but rather interesting from a historical perspective, especially for Carpenter completists. 
(Applies to both films) 

May 9, 2019

Starring Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan, George Macready, Rita Johnson, Elsa Lanchester, Henry (Harry) Morgan. Directed by John Farrow. (1948/96 min).
On Blu-ray from ARROW ACADEMY

Review by Mr. Paws­čś╗

One of the great things about this gig is the opportunity to catch older films I somehow never got around to. Even better is coming upon those that are seldom mentioned among the acknowledged classics and are completely new to me. But best of all, in the ten years I’ve been doing this, I’ve grown to appreciate vintage film noir.

As noir goes, The Big Clock isn’t a perfect fit – there’s too much breezy humor present for that – but has enough of the same inherent aesthetic and narrative stamps to draw favorable comparisons to the best the genre has to offer. It also happens to be a hell of an entertaining film.

Ray Milland is George Stroud, who, as the editor-in-chief of Crimeways magazine, is an expert at using clues and evidence to track-down suspects who’ve eluded the police. The publication is run by ruthless, time-obsessed mogul Earl Janoth (a wonderfully-repellent Charles Laughton), who expects George to yet-again postpone an oft-delayed honeymoon with his wife, Georgette (Maureen O’Sullivan). When George refuses, he’s fired. Stopping at a bar before he meets his wife for their honeymoon, he meets Pauline (Rita Sullivan), Janoth’s former mistress who suggests a blackmail scheme as payback. Unfortunately, George loses track of time and Georgette leaves without him. Angry that she wouldn’t wait, George spends the rest of the night drinking with Pauline, acquiring a sundial from a local dive bar along the way.

Ray recounts his visit to Hooters.
He awakens at Pauline’s apartment the next morning and makes a hasty exit just before Janoth shows up to speak with her. They see each other in the hall, but George is partially concealed, so he gets away unidentified. During a heated argument in the apartment, Janoth kills Pauline with the sundial. Rather than go to the police, he turns to his assistant, Steve (George Macready), who suggests they re-enlist George and his staff to lead an investigation, hoping to frame Pauline’s ‘mysterious’ visitor. It’s a brilliant set-up for an intriguing plot in which George and his staff are investigating his own actions that night, interviewing witnesses and following leads which threaten to expose him. George has no choice but to play along, trying to cover his own tracks while attempting to find the real killer himself.

The Big Clock is everything a good thriller should be: intelligent, suspenseful and engaging right from the opening scene. Speaking of which, that amazing initial tracking shot – revealing George on-the-run in his own office building – immediately creates dark urgency, hooking the viewer before flashing-back to establish its characters and sequence of events leading to that point. But the film is more than brooding film noir. It’s often very funny, some of the best bits coming from Elsa Lanchester as a wonderfully eccentric artist. In fact, most of the characters are well-rounded and perfectly cast.

None of it is especially deep, but it’s sure a lot of fun. Though The Big Clock may not be film noir in the purest sense, it's an exciting, fast-paced film laced with great comedic touches. As usual, Arrow has put together a first-time Blu-ray package with enough substantial and enlightening supplementary material to make this overlooked gem more than worth discovering.

"TURNING BACK THE CLOCK” - A detailed analysis/appreciation by critic Adrian Wootton.
"A DIFFICULT ACTOR” - Actor, theater director and Charles Laughton biographer Simon Callow provides an enthusiastic analysis of the actor’s impressive career. Quite eye-opening, at times.
LUX RADIO THEATER: THE BIG CLOCK An hour-long radio broadcast, also featuring Ray Milland.
IMAGE GALLERY – 109 Production stills, 22 images of posters and press material.
SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET – Featuring “The Inner Workings of The Big Clock,” as essay by film writer Christina Newland (do NOT read it before watching the movie), film & disc production credits.