November 17, 2019

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD: Escaping Expectations

https://www.paramount.com/
DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (2019)
Starring Isabela Moner, Jeff Wahlberg, Madeline Madden, Nicholas Coombe, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria; voices of Benicio del Toro, Danny Trejo. Directed by James Bobin. (102 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM PARAMOUNT

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😸

In the real world, I’ve been a middle school teacher for over 20 years, making me deserving of the Medal of Honor. My chosen field of professional masochism is also why I continue to play the lottery for investment purposes.

Middle schoolers are an eclectic – and exhausting – batch of younglings to spend your days around. Some still play with Legos, others are twerking at school dances and a great number of them consider professional YouTubing to be a viable career option, so there’s no need to master such trifles as composing a coherent sentence. One thing they all share, however, is a general disdain for the past, including their own. What was once shiny and new generally expires faster than raw chicken, destined to be shunned and ridiculed once they’ve “outgrown” it.

This is especially true of children’s entertainment. A program like Dora the Explorer may have educated & engaged them just a few short years ago, but now it’s stupid, cheesy and poorly made. Being inherently egocentric, they’re unable able to view it in the context of its intended audience. It doesn’t occur to most of them that Dora the Explorer is a no-longer a party they’re invited to.

But Dora and the Lost City of Gold actually does extend that invitation, welcoming back anyone who grew-up on the show, as well as parents who endured it during their kids' preschool years. A live-action update of the long-running Nick Jr., program, the film is created to appeal to more than an audience of toddlers. What’s truly surprising is how successfully it manages to do that, making it one of the better family films of the year.

When not questioning my life choices (to quote one of Dora’s amusing throw-away lines, uttered by a teacher, of course), I write about movies and have been permitted the opportunity to parlay that love into teaching two periods of a writing class called Film Studies, where we watch, discuss and review films from various eras and genres. Each class consists of 35 seventh and eighth graders. Since Dora and the Lost City of Gold is several decades closer to their demographic than mine, I thought it would be interesting to show it to them and observe their reactions. And indeed it was.

Nearly all of them avoided it in theaters because...well, it’s Dora. In fact, when I announced it as our next film, I was greeted with more than the usual amount of groans. A few kids even asked if I was serious. Since it was likely most of them hadn’t willingly watched the show in years, we began with an old episode, during which time they jeered and made sorry attempts at MST3K-like shout-outs. They mockingly sang-along with the songs and generally had a good time at poor Dora’s expense, repeatedly quipping how dumb she was by breaking the fourth wall to ask the audience for help finding objects when all she had to do was turn around.

"Time to shank that damn fox."
But a funny thing happened when we started watching the film itself. Though both classes were prepared to resume their cavalcade of crass comments, Dora and the Lost City of Gold kept beating them to the punch, poking fun at its own basic concept with unexpected self-awareness. The story itself has Dora (Isabela Moner), now 16 years old and sent to live with her aunt & uncle (and Diego, of course) while Mom and Dad search for Parapata, a mythic Incan city. She’s never been out of the jungle or around kids her own age, nor has she changed one whit since she was six. She’s basically a fist-out-of-water, to the amusement of her peers and Diego’s embarrassment. These scenes are genuinely funny without being cynical or mean-spirited.

Of course, no Dora film is complete without an adventure. In this case, she, Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and two school acquaintances are kidnapped by a trio of mercenaries who also seek Parapata and need Dora’s map. Much of it plays like a kid-friendly Indiana Jones adventure and, while not quite as fresh as the first act, is fun, surprising and frequently very amusing, with a lot of clever dialogue (some of which flew over the heads of my students). Moner is note-perfect as Dora (you haven’t lived until you’ve heard her sing the “Poop Song”), though the whole cast (especially Michael Pena & Eugenio Derbez) have their share of great moments. Ironically, only the infrequent - and terribly-animated - appearances of Boots and Swiper remind us of the film’s kiddie show origins.

Watching the class during the film, there was a noticeable shift in their overall attitude. Since the schedule forced us to watch it over three class periods, the groans instead came from being forced to wait until the next day to continue. With the exception of those too-cool-for-school kids required to hate everything, the response to the film was overwhelmingly positive, many of whom admitted it was a lot better than they were expecting. This the first “meta” movie most of them have ever seen and they thoroughly appreciated those aspects of it.

Like the students in my film class, Dora and the Lost City of Gold wasn’t at-all what I expected. It’s fast, silly fun and continuously inventive, amusingly self-aware while still holding reverence for its origins. One would have to be hopelessly cynical – or a perpetually angry seventh grader – not to play along.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES - “All About Dora”; “Can You Say Pelicula?”; “Dora in Flower Vision”; “Dora’s Jungle House”
BLOOPERS
DELETED/EXTENDED SCENES
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

November 16, 2019

TEL AVIV ON FIRE and the Unconventional Collaboration

http://cohenmedia.net/
TEL AVIV ON FIRE (2018)
Starring Kais Nashef, Yaniv Bitton, Maisa Abd Alhady, Lubna Azabai, Salim Dau, Nadim Sawalha. Directed by Sameh Zoabi. (97 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM COHEN MEDIA GROUP

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

It’s nice to see that soap opera histrionics know no borders and are ripe for satire in any language.

In this quirky film, “Tel Aviv on Fire” is a massively popular soap opera that takes place in 1967 featuring Tala, a female Palestinian spy who, at the behest of her comrade/lover, Marwin, seduces Israeli General Yehuda in order to obtain vital information. Behind the scenes, Salam (Kais Nashif) is a slacker who’s given a low-level job by his producer uncle as a Hebrew translator. Each day, he crosses an Israeli checkpoint to get to work, but an amusing misunderstanding has him brought before the checkpoint commander, Captain Assi Tzur (Yaniv Biton), who discovers a script for an upcoming episode in Salam’s car. Since Assi's wife is a huge fan, Salam avoids arrest by claiming to be the show’s writer.

"Trust me...zombies make every story better."
Then, despite having never written anything in his life, Salam actually becomes one of the show’s writers. With no idea what to do, he turns to Assi for story ideas. Assi agrees to help him on two conditions: That he’s regularly supplied with Hummus and, more importantly, the series culminates in Tala marrying General Yahuda instead of Marwin. This puts Salam in quite a bind, to try and convince the producer his changes to the story will make the show better, not-only extending it to a second season, but possibly saving his life. Along the way, Salam turns into a great writer, drawing inspiration from both Assi and his own relationship with estranged ex-girlfriend Maryam (Maisa Abd Alhady).

Tel Aviv on Fire is largely played for laughs, earning most of them during the segments surrounding the actual TV show. Additionally, Salam and Assi share some amusing moments as they debate the plausibility of Assi’s suggestions. Their relationship briefly takes a dark turn late in the story, which I suppose is necessary since Pakistanis and Israelis are adversaries, but it does negate the established tone. I also didn’t find the romantic subplot of Salam trying to win back Maryam particularly interesting, especially since she doesn’t come across as all that likable.

But overall, Tel Aviv on Fire is a generally agreeable satiric comedy with good performances. In the best night-time soap tradition, there’s also a great plot twist at the end that provides the film’s biggest laugh. While hardly a world cinema milestone, it’s certainly worth checking out at least once.

EXTRA KIBBLES
"CONVERSATIONS AT THE QUAD” - As customary for many Cohen Media releases, this is an audience Q&A with the director (Sameh Zoabi) following a New York screening of his film.

KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.

November 14, 2019

THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL: Sci-Fi Suds

https://www.wbshop.com/collections/warner-archive
THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1958)
Starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, Mel Ferrer. Directed by Randald MacDougall. (95 min).
ON BLU-RAY FROM

Review by Mr. Paws😽

The World, the Flesh and the Devil is one of the stranger sci-fi films of the 1950s. No monsters, no aliens, no spaceships...just three lonely people trying to co-exist in post-apocalypse New York.

For much of the film, however, it’s only two. Following a nuclear attack that apparently killed millions, Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) emerges from the rubble to a desolate world, seemingly the only man left alive. He makes his way to New York, hoping to find survivors and eventually meeting Sarah (Inger Stevens). Ralph turns out to be pretty handy, restoring the electricity and even setting up direct phone lines between their two apartments.

That they live in separate buildings is an interesting dynamic. Sarah wants to be closer and they obviously have feelings for each other, yet in a compelling break from the typical '50s era film exploring issues of race, it’s Ralph who’s been conditioned to believe that being black somehow makes him incompatible. A telling moment is when Sarah laments she’s never been married, Ralph vows he’ll find her a proper husband and marry them himself.

Harry goes apartment hunting.
So while they remain friends and he goes to great lengths to make her happy, he stays physically and emotionally distant. Then Benson (Mel Ferrer) arrives. Initially sickly and weak, Ralph & Sarah nurse him back to health, at which time he makes his attraction to Sarah clear. And even though Ralph is more than willing to step aside, Benson soon sees him as an obstacle to be eliminated.

Because of this dynamic, the film often plays more like a melodramatic soap opera than anything resembling science-fiction, especially Sarah’s mood-swinging histrionics. Despite being the last woman on Earth, she’s such a shrill, irritating, emotional roller-coaster that it’s difficult to see what either man sees in her. But other than that, this three-character play unfolds in unexpected ways, particularly the climax, which I suppose could be seen as provocative for its time. Belafonte brings much-needed gravitas to his role, especially when he’s wandering the city alone. One can’t help but think the visual power of these desolate scenes had a direct influence on 1971’s The Omega Man.

But while conceptually similar, this is not The Omega Man and takes a bit more patience on the viewer’s part to get anything out of it, especially if one is expecting old school apocalyptic sci-fi. Still, The World, the Flesh and the Devil paints an intriguing picture, briefly raising a few interesting points about human nature and societal norms along the way.

KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW. 

November 13, 2019

BLISS: Grand Guignol on Acid

https://darkskyfilms.com/
BLISS (2019)
Starring Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, Rachel Avery, George Wendt. Directed by Joe Begos. (80 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM DARK SKY FILMS

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😾

Dezzy (Dora Madison) is your standard-issue starving artist. She’s strapped for cash, behind on the rent, hasn’t sold a painting in months and is struggling to finish her latest “masterpiece.” Worse yet, her agent just dumped her because she couldn’t deliver it when promised.

What to do? Why, snort yourself into oblivion, of course, which is what Dezzy proceeds to do with a potent cocaine-like black powder called Diablo. But not-only does the drug hasten her creativity, it eventually instills an insatiable craving for human blood. I say eventually because the first half of the film is little more than one woman’s descent into a long drug & sex fueled weekend, punctuated by hyperactive editing, strobe lights, a blaring metal soundtrack and a variety of other visual gymnastics. It sorta plays like an extended Marilyn Manson video.

Bliss opens with a title card warning of the effects its visual style may have on some viewers. Instead, what they should have done is give the viewer a heads-up they’ll be spending 80 minutes with a main character with no redeeming traits whatsoever. Right from the get-go, Dezzy is obnoxious, egocentric, confrontational, belligerent, short-tempered and bitchy to everybody (including her friends). Madison gives an uninhibited performance, but her journey into madness and vampirism carries no dramatic weight because at-no-point does Dezzy display any remotely likable qualities.

"Slay-er! Slay-er! Slay-er!"
So what we’re left with is writer-director Joe Begos’ hallucinatory grand-standing, which in-effect makes him the actual star of the film. Visually, he does some impressive things and the dizzying camerawork keep things interesting for awhile. But it isn’t long before the viewer is convinced he’s simply showing off and doesn’t really have anything of real substance to say.

There are some admittedly bravura moments during the ultra-gory final act which can best be described as Grand Guignol on acid. Considering the film’s budget, the special effects are pretty convincing and gloriously gruesome. For some, these scenes nearly make the interminable first half worth enduring. But for the most part, Bliss is an overbearing exercise in self-indulgence. While well-made and initially interesting to look at, it’s narratively vapid and ultimately feels longer than its relatively scant running time.

EXTRA KIBBLES
AUDIO COMMENTARIES - #1 by director Joe Begos & Dora Madison, #2 by Begos, producer Josh Ethier & “the Russell FX Team.”
DELETED SCENE
TRAILER
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEH. LIKE SHARING THE BED WITH THE DOG.

November 11, 2019

OPERATION CROSSBOW: In Search of Sophia

https://www.wbshop.com/collections/warner-archive-blu-ray?sort_by=created-descending
OPERATION CROSSBOW (1965)
Starring Sophia Loren (sort of), George Peppard, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Richard Johnson, Jeremy Kemp, Anthony Quayle, Lilli Palmer. Directed by Michael Anderson. (116 min).
ON BLU-RAY FROM

Review by Tiger the Terrible😽

One thing is certain: Sophia Loren sure loved her husband, producer Carlo Ponti. She obviously agreed to appear in Operation Crossbow to help him boost its marquee value. Despite appearing for about 10 minutes in an inconsequential role that could have been played by anybody, she’s given top billing over an impressive ensemble cast (none of whom look as striking on a movie poster).

But I get it. It ain’t like George Peppard’s name & face ever had ‘em lining up around the block. He’s the de-facto star of Operation Crossbow, which is loosely based on a mission of the same name that was undertaken near the end of World War II. The Germans are on the verge of obliterating their enemies by developing long range, self-flying bombs. British minister Duncan Sandys (Richard Johnson) investigates and appoints a few agents to assume the identities of Nazi-recruited scientists, then infiltrate the factory in order to alert bombers of its location.

"Sorry...I thought you liked tuna casserole."
The narrative takes an interesting approach, showing both sides of the conflict. The first half of the film balances Britain’s investigation with Germany’s efforts to perfect their weapons through testing. These two storylines converge when the mission itself gets underway, with John Curtis (Peppard) and Phil Bradley (Jeremy Kemp) gathering intel while German agent Bamford (Anthony Quayle), aware of England’s mission, attempts to expose them. By this time, the lovely Ms. Loren has already come and gone, having no impact on the plot whatsoever.

And that’s okay. Operation Crossbow may indeed have garnered less attention without her, but it’s engaging enough on its own terms. While no classic, it’s directed with workmanlike skill by Michael Anderson, who efficiently juggles concurrent narratives and a large cast to tell a fairly solid story that builds to an exciting climax.

EXTRA KIBBLES
"A LOOK BACK AT CROSSBOW - Vintage featurette.
TRAILER
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.

November 10, 2019

A Return to THE FAR COUNTRY

https://arrowfilms.com/
THE FAR COUNTRY (1954)
Starring James Stewart, Ruth Roman, Corinne Calvet, Walter Brennan, John McIntire, Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, Jack Elam, Robert J. Wilke, Kathleen Freeman. Directed by Anthony Mann. (97 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM ARROW ACADEMY

Review by Mr. Paws😸

Because of his iconic roles – aided in no small part by his real-life persona – we tend to forget James Stewart was equally adept at playing morally ambiguous characters, even anti-heroes. While Hitchcock exploited that better than anybody, director Anthony Mann was also pretty skilled at tapping into Stewart’s dark side.

Mann and Stewart collaborated on four westerns together, the best being their first, Winchester ‘73. However, Stewart’s character in The Far Country is arguably more interesting. As Jeff Webster, he’s not motivated by revenge or an inherent sense of righteousness. For much of the story, in fact, he’s merely a self-serving opportunist with a past we’re only partially privy to. In some ways, the character could be seen as one of the precursors to the Man with No Name.

In the film, Webster and partner Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan) head to Alaska with a herd of cattle, which they plan to sell in order to buy a gold claim. He runs afoul of corrupt judge Gannon (John McIntire), who runs the town of Skagway and uses his authority to take Webster’s cattle. Local saloon owner Ronda Castle (Ruth Roman) offers Webster a job leading her to Dawson, a booming-but-lawless gold town where she plans to establish another business. Webster accepts, stealing his cattle back from Gannon along the way.

"I'm about to make it a wonderful life, mister."
Though Webster and Ronda share a mutual attraction, not everyone in Dawson is happy at her arrival, especially when she outbids the locals for his cattle, putting their businesses in jeopardy. Things grow worse when Gannon and his men arrive to try and take over, just like he did in Skagway. Webster resists getting involved, but Gannon is practically daring him to.

Stewart is solid, as usual. While outwardly congenial, even laid-back, he also makes it clear Webster is not a man to be crossed. Viewers weened on Stewart’s Frank Capra films might even find his performance somewhat revelatory. Roman is also enjoyable as the strong-willed, fiercely independent Ruth. Her flirty, semi-antagonistic banter with Stewart is highly enjoyable. Walter Brennan is...well, Walter Brennan. But the film’s MVP might just be John McIntire, whose smug performance makes Gannon a wonderfully hateful villain.

Director Anthony Mann keeps the story simple and fast-paced while making great use of his Canadian locations (though some of the sets are obviously soundstages). The Far Country may not rank among Stewart’s greatest films, but as pure popcorn entertainment, it’s certainly one of Mann’s. New to Blu-ray, it’s been given a nice restoration by Arrow Academy, offering the film in two different aspect ratios and including a great batch of all new bonus features (outlined below). As classic westerns go, you can’t go wrong with this one.

EXTRA KIBBLES
"AMERICAN FRONTIERS: ANTHONY MANN AT UNIVERSAL” - An informative 30 minutes documentary in which various historians & writers discuss Mann & Stewart’s collaborations, including those which were not westerns.
"MANN OF THE WEST” - A frequent contributor to Arrow Academy bonus features, critic Kim Newman offers his insights on Mann’s westerns.
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By Adrian Martin.
ALTERNATE ASPECT RATIO (2.00.1) VERSION – On Disc 2
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET – Includes cast/crew & restoration credits, contemporary reviews and an essay, “The Far Country: Western as Legend,” by Phillip Kent.
TRAILER
3 IMAGE GALLERIES – production stills, conceptual art and promotional material.
REVERSIBLE COVER – Featuring new and original artwork (we prefer the original).

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

November 9, 2019

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED: Way to Go, Nicole!

https://www.lionsgate.com/
47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED (2019)
Starring Sophie Nèlisse, Corinne Foxx (Jamie’s kid), Brianne Tju, Sistine Stallone (Sly’s kid), John Corbett, Davi Santos, Khylin Rhambo, Nia Long. Directed by Johannes Roberts. (90 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM LIONSGATE

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

47 Meters Down was a reasonably enjoyable little thriller similar to Open Water and The Shallows, though not as deftly crafted as either. While it didn’t leave much room open for a true sequel, nothing sells like a brand name, so this one takes the same basic concept down the bigger-is-better road...bigger production, bigger cast, bigger body count. But is 47 Meters Down: Uncaged actually better? In some ways, yes it is.

Instead of two terrified teenager girls trapped in a shark cage, we have four who are foolish enough to abscond with some conveniently-placed scuba gear and explore the sunken ruins of an ancient Mayan city. But they are not alone. Trapped down there for centuries have been generations of sharks, long-since rendered bleached & blind from being cut-off from the surface. I guess we aren’t supposed to ask how they managed to survive so long without a food source. Or maybe dumb teenagers simply pop-in on a regular basis.

Speaking of dumb, one big reason Uncaged is fun is because writer-director Johannes Roberts incorporates a few conventions generally associated with disaster movies, such as the access cave collapsing, or better yet, that one stupidly-reckless character whose actions not-only endanger everyone in the first place, her own egocentric sense of self-preservation repeatedly sabotages their chances to escape.

"Hey, girls!"
That character is Nicole, played by Sistine Stallone (yeah, Sly’s daughter). She leads the charge into the cave, is the reason they get stuck and ends up causing people to die. Watching this with my daughter, there reached a point where we’d start shouting “Way to go, Nicole!” However, since no one else has any real personality, she’s also the most entertaining character in the film...besides the sharks, that is.

While the concept – trapped underwater with a finite amount of oxygen – is similar to the first film, the setting of Uncaged is more interesting. With these characters swimming through increasingly deep & narrow passageways, there are some moments nearly as claustrophobic as those in The Descent. Ironically, the tension created by those scenes is often broken by the appearance of the sharks, which are predictably rendered with unconvincing CGI. In fact, one could even argue it might have been a better overall film without them.

But while credibility is often pushed to the breaking point – wait'll you see the climax! - 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is generally more silly fun than the original (which took itself a little too seriously). A brisk-pace, nifty setting and a few amusing critter kills (bye-bye, Nicole!) make some of the “oh, come on!” moments a little more forgivable.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTE - “Uncaging 47 Meters Down” (includes some interesting behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the primary cast).
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By writer-director Johannes Roberts, producer James Harris & writer Ernest Riera.
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.

November 7, 2019

The Ocean Remains Undefeated in AQUARELA

https://www.sonypictures.com/
AQUARELA (2019)
Directed by Viktor Kossakovsky. (90 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM 

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

Aquarela opens with several unidentified men picking around holes in the ice on a frozen Danish lake. After spotting what they’re looking for, they assemble a customized crane to fish-out whatever sank there. It turns out to be an automobile, at which time we see a second car speeding across the lake in the distance. Then yet-another car gets stuck and slowly sinks beneath the ice. Though the men manage to save two of the passengers, a third one isn’t so lucky.

I’m not sure what’s worse...that drivers are willing to risk their lives and vehicles by taking a shortcut across a frozen lake, or it happens so often that people make a living rescuing these idiots. I laughed in spite of myself.

It’s an unexpected way to open a documentary that’s not-only devoid of any narration, appearances of human beings are few and far between for the remainder of the film. Still, the message is abundantly clear: Do not fuck with water. It is undefeated.

One of Siri's crueler practical jokes.
That message is driven home in scene after scene of ominous, massive and awe-inspiring bodies of water. The first two-thirds of the film are the most effective, which features the movements of glaciers, submerging and resurfacing like titanic whales. Passing boats are mere specs in the foreground. Director Viktor Kossakovsky later works his way south, above & beneath icebergs to the tumultuous sea, which is perpetually churning, rising and falling. He makes ocean movements menacing – almost monstrous – aided in no small part by a metal-tinged score by Eicca Toppinen (of the band, Apocalyptica). A surprising choice of music, but somehow fitting.

The ice and ocean footage is so spectacular that subsequent scenes closer to the equator are kind-of anticlimactic. We see hurricane-ravaged Florida, a deluge spilling over a South American dam and cascading waterfalls from a variety of creative angles. While lovingly shot and visually impressive, these scenes aren’t quite as breathtaking. Had Kossakovsky chosen an opposite course and begun his aquatic journey here, the film could have built to an epic crescendo.

Nevertheless, Aquarela manages to instill wonder with its images, frequently depicting water as though it were a living, breathing entity...and not one to be messed with. It’s a film probably best enjoyed in a theater, but a unique experience regardless. And this much is certain: You’ll think twice before attempting to cross the ice.

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

November 6, 2019

APPRENTICE TO MURDER: Looks Are Deceiving

https://arrowfilms.com/
APPRENTICE TO MURDER (1988)
Starring Donald Sutherland, Chad Lowe, Mia Sara, Knut Husebo, Rutanya Alda, Eddie Jones. Directed by Ralph L. Thomas. (97 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM ARROW VIDEO

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

The promotional artwork suggests a horror film. The theatrical trailer certainly touts it as a horror film. There are even fleeting moments when it looks and sounds sort-of like a horror film. However, Apprentice to Murder is not a horror film.

If anything, this is a more of a psychological thriller, and a pretty leisurely-paced one at that.

Set in the 1920’s, Chad Lowe (remember him?) plays Billy Kelly, a dim-witted rube living in a tiny village with his drunk, abusive father and beleaguered mother. Through new girlfriend Alice (Mia Sara), he falls-in with John Reese (Donald Sutherland), a self-proclaimed doctor who practices “powwow medicine” (a type of faith healing). Reese is intelligent, compassionate and apparently able to perform medical miracles through pure faith. After Reese seems to cure his dad’s alcoholism, Billy sticks by his side (the “apprentice” of the title).

But Reese has a dark side, which Alice eventually tries to warn Billy of. He was once committed to an asylum, isn’t trusted by many of the locals and displays increasingly bizarre behavior. By now, however, Billy’s allegiance to Reese can’t be broken. So when the doctor claims a local hermit has cursed him, the two of them agree the man needs to die.

"Live to ride, ride to live, kid."
Apprentice to Murder purports to be based on a true story, which of course precludes the idea that the on-screen supernatural occurrences are anything but products of Reese’s imagination. Which is fine, since exploring how easily insanity spreads from one charismatic individual to a gullible recipient is a disturbing – and timely – concept (just look at all the anti-vaxxers roaming the world right now...in the 21st fucking Century).

The film itself is a mixed bag. There’s good attention to period detail and several scenes are wonderfully atmospheric. Even the deliberate pace is effective at times, especially when we slowly begin to question these so-called miracles. However, the story grows rambling and disjointed during the final act. The performances range from dull (Lowe) to amusingly overwrought (Sutherland) and with the exception of Reese and Billy’s dad (Eddie Jones), none of these characters are particularly engaging.

But for awhile, anyway, Apprentice to Murder is certainly watchable, even quietly unnerving at times, though it definitely isn’t a horror movie, despite being punctuated by a shrill synth score typical of the genre in the ‘80s. While not exactly a cult classic, this relatively forgotten obscurity has been given a decent restoration by Arrow Video, who throw in a few interesting bonus features (surprisingly light by their standards).

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES - “Original Sin” (Interview with author/editor Kit Ellinger, who discusses the history of religion in horror films and literature); “Colour Me Kelvin” (Interview with cinematographer Kelvin Pike); “Grantham to Bergen” (Interview with make-up artist Robin Grantham, though I didn’t notice anything extraordinary about the film’s make-up work).
SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET – Cast/crew & restoration credits; Essay: “Spellbound: Ralph L. Thomas’ Apprentice to Murder,” by author Paul Corupe.
REVERSIBLE COVER – Featuring new and original artwork (we like the new one, though it also gives the impression of a horror film).

KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.

THE POOP SCOOP: Early Oscar Contenders Edition

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDGvIbJytIg&feature=youtu.be
VIEW THE TRAILER
AD ASTRA on Digital 12/3 & Physical 12/17
Brad Pitt gives a powerful performance in this “absolutely enthralling” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone), sci-fi thriller set in space. When a mysterious life-threatening event strikes Earth, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) goes on a dangerous mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe. Certified-Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, critics have hailed AD ASTRA as "a thrilling interstellar epic" (Rodrigo Perez, Playlist). Add AD ASTRA to your digital collection on Movies Anywhere December 3 and buy it on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD December 17. 
 
https://youtu.be/ZnzsTKwqp2c
VIEW THE TRAILER
JUDY on Digital 12/10 & Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand 12/24
Directed by Tony nominee Rupert Goold (2019, Best Direction of a Play, Ink) and written for the screen by Tom Edge, Judy stars Oscar winner Renée Zellweger (2003, Best Supporting Actress, Cold Mountain), Jessie Buckley (Beast, Wild Rose, TV’s “Chernobyl”), Primetime Emmy nominee Finn Wittrock (2018, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace”), Primetime Emmy nominee Rufus Sewell (2019, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), and Golden Globe nominee Michael Gambon (2003, Best Actor in a Miniseries or a Television Motion Picture, “Path to War”). Shedding light on the iconic Judy Garland’s final years, the film features timeless music including performances of classic songs like “Over the Rainbow,” “For Once In My Life,” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
 
ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD Comes to Digital 11/25 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & DVD 12/10
Premium collectible packaging will contain a 7” vinyl record with two of the soundtrack’s grooviest tunes (complete with turntable adapter), a collectible vintage poster for the Rick Dalton film Operazione Dyn-o-mite! and an exclusive new MAD Magazine parody of the Rick Dalton TV series “Bounty Law,” Lousy Law. The collector’s edition is available for pre-order today from Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com and Target.com.

The 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital releases come loaded with even more sights and sounds of the ‘60s, featuring over twenty additional minutes of footage that delves deeper into world of Rick Dalton’s Hollywood. The 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and digital include an additional behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production design, cinematography, costume design, cars and more.

Collectors will also be delighted by exclusive packaging and gifts-with-purchase offered at retail for the film’s Blu-ray release. These include “Rick Dalton” movie poster cards available at Walmart, a vintage-style film magazine with over 26 never-before-seen production photos available at Target and a collectible steelbook available at Best Buy. All exclusive offerings are available for pre-order today.

November 4, 2019

And Another THING...

https://www.millcreekent.com/
THE THING (2011)
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Cristian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jorgen Langhelle. Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (103 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😼

After first seeing 2011’s The Thing, what I mostly felt was relief.

Not only was John Carpenter’s 1982 classic the best sci-fi-horror film of the decade, its unnervingly ambiguous conclusion was perfect. So I was relieved that those involved with the 2011 film realized simply continuing the story would be blasphemous. After all, what self-respecting horror fan actually wanted to know the fates of MacCready and Childs?

But a prequel? Hey, what exactly did happen to those Norwegians who found the thing in the first place? Though it probably wasn’t really necessary, having that question answered could be interesting. And if nothing else, the reverence director Matthijs van Heijningen has for the original film is obvious in every frame.

One could argue too much reverence, since The Thing often plays more like a remake than a prequel. However, the film is seldom as tension-filled and atmospheric as the original. Part of that is due to relying too heavily on story elements we’re already familiar with, but also because of the dubious decision to use CGI for the transformation scenes. Since Rob Bottin’s legendary practical effects were a huge part of what made the original a classic and you've already gone to such lengths match its look and tone, why not go completely old school?

Extreme peer pressure.
But while this version doesn’t measure up to the first film, it’s doubtful anyone really expected it to. That being said, The Thing isn’t without merits. There’s still some impressive moments of good ol’ fashioned goopy gore and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is solid in the ‘MacCready’ role, playing a paleontologist forced to take charge. The final act is especially enjoyable, when the film not-only ends on a similarly ominous note, it ingeniously sets-up some of the events that would unfold in the 1982 film (enhanced greatly by utilizing Ennio Morricone’s original theme during the end credits).

So while Carpenter’s film didn’t need a sequel, prequel, reboot or whatever you wanna call it, I was relieved. The Thing is as imitative as the title creature, but at least it’s conceptually faithful and leaves the original’s unresolved denouement alone. With hindsight, the film is probably the best prequel one could hope for. It should also be noted that, other than the cover art, this re-issue from Mill Creek Entertainment is the exact same as Universal’s 2011 Blu-ray release, including the supplemental material. No real need to double dip here.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES -The Thing Evolves”; “Fire & Ice”
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By director Matthijs van Heijningen & producer Eric Newman.
DELETED/EXTENDED SCENES
TRAILER
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD. LIKE CAT CHOW.