November 27, 2019

THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S: Bing Does Bing

https://olivefilms.com/
THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S (1945)
Starring Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers, William Gargan, Ruth Donnelly, Joan Carroll, Rhys Williams. Directed by Leo McCarey. (126 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM OLIVE FILMS

Review by Mr. Paws😽

Yeah, everybody loves Bing Crosby. And yeah, he won an Oscar for his portrayal of Father O’Malley in Going My Way. Personally, I never thought he had much range. In everything I’ve ever seen, his characters simply seemed to be an extension of his own persona. While I don’t begrudge ol’ Bing for staying in his comfort zone, he certainly didn’t deserve another nomination for playing the same guy in The Bells of St. Mary’s.

Ingrid Bergman certainly deserved hers, though. One might argue she’s a bit too glamorous to play a nun, but she unarguably instills Sister Mary Benedict with enough complexity and pathos to be the most interesting character in the film. She serves as the primary foil to the more laid-back and unconventional O’Malley.

"Back at the convent, they called me Sister Whoopass."
Speaking of which, The Bells of St. Mary’s has little in the way of real conflict. An episodic film with no true villains, every crisis is efficiently resolved before the next one comes along. This includes the story’s major plot thread, where greedy businessman Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers) has his sights on buying the run-down old parish in order to tear it down and expand his construction. Even then, the overall tone is so consistently sweet it makes your typical episode of The Waltons look like American History X.

Still, it’s that same relentless congeniality that has endeared The Bells of St. Mary’s to so many, perhaps even more than Going My Way. While it features Bing at his Bingiest - meaning he croons a few classic numbers along the way – Bergman is the film’s heart and soul. Originally released on Blu-ray five years ago, Olive Films has given it a considerable upgrade with an impressive 4K restoration and a batch of great new bonus features. Classic film fans should be more than pleased.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES - “Faith and Film” (Sr. Rose Pacatte discusses the film’s plausibility from a nun’s perspective); “Human Nature” (Historian Steve Massa provides an overview of director Leo McCarey’s career); “Before Sequel-itis” (author Emily Carman discusses the rarity of big-budget sequels back then, making The Bells of St. Mary’s somewhat unprecedented).
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By Crosby biographer Gary Giddens.
2 RADIO ADAPTATIONS – From Screen Guild Theater, one from 1946, the other from 1947, each running about a half-hour.
ESSAY – Written by Abby Bender. Included in a supplementary booklet as well as the disc itself.
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R. A BIT SUGARY FOR OUR TASTES, BUT AN UNDENIABLY GREAT DISC.

November 25, 2019

Blu-ray Giveaway: HUSTLERS

FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE is giving away a Blu-ray copy of UNIVERSAL's HUSTLERS to a lucky reader.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD 12/10 

Inspired by the provocative true story about a crew of former strip club employees who turn the tables on their greedy Wall Street clients, HUSTLERS arrives on Digital November 26, 2019 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand December 10, 2019 from STX films and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Dazzling critics and audiences alike, the “fiercely funny” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) drama follows a band of business-savvy strippers as they unite to seek revenge in what critics are hailing as “one of the year’s best films” (Joey Nolfi, Entertainment Weekly). Inspired by journalist Jessica Pressler’s 2015 viral New York Magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores, HUSTLERS is filled with wildly entertaining and empowering moments from beginning to end and takes audiences behind the scenes of this inspiring real life con.

TO ENTER: Simply drop us a message at freekittensmovieguide@gmail.com. CONTEST ENDS 12/6.

November 24, 2019

Here Comes EEGAH!

https://www.thefilmdetective.com/eegah
EEGAH (1962)
Starring Arch Hall Jr, Marilyn Manning, Richard Kiel, Arch Hall Sr. Directed by Arch Hall Sr (as Nicholas Merriwether). (89 min).
ON BLU-RAY FROM

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😼

For dedicated MSTies, Eegah needs no introduction. Featured on the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1993, it remains one of the show’s more popular classic episodes.

The movie itself is a woefully-inept exercise in bargain basement nepotism. Character actor turned backwoods auteur Arch Hall Sr spent most of the ‘60s trying to turn his cherub-faced offspring, Arch Hall Jr, into a teen idol. That never happened, of course, and only Eegah himself, Richard Kiel, went on to do anything noteworthy.

It probably goes without saying that MST3K is the only reason Eegah is still remembered. Watching the film today, without Joel, Tom Servo & Crow riffing-along, seems unfathomable. The Film Detective gives us that very opportunity, though...with a 4K restoration, no less. But while the film looks and sounds better than it probably ever did, who the hell cares?

"Not funny, guys!"
The real treasures here are the bonus features, including the full MST3K episode, which marks the first time anything from the original series has ever been released on Blu-ray. While I personally don’t think it’s their greatest riff job – The Clonus Horror deserves that honor - this is where “Watch out for Snakes” became part of MSTie vernacular. Also included are individual interviews with MST3K’s Joel Hodgson and Arch Hall Jr himself. The latter offers some interesting production details and generally comes across as good-natured about Eegah’s dubious legacy.

This Blu-ray release Eegah is definitely one for the niche crowd. I can’t imagine anyone beyond the Hall family caring about the restoration, but MST3K fans will certainly want to snap this up. And quickly, too, since it’s limited to only 1,500 copies.

EXTRA KIBBLES
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 VERSION (92 min)
INTERVIEW WITH ARCH HALL JR.
INTERVIEW WITH JOEL HODGSON
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET – With an essay by The Film Detective’s Don Stradley.

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

November 22, 2019

Rest in Peace, Michael J. Pollard

New Extended Scene From ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD

https://youtu.be/XgZvfQwpWtU
TAP RICK DALTON!
 
ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD
IS NOW AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL

AND WILL BE AVAILABLE ON
4K ULTRA HD
, BLU-RAY AND DVD DECEMBER 10

November 21, 2019

THE POOP SCOOP: Killer Apps, Killer Cats & a Killer Collection

http://uni.pictures/countdowntrailer
VIEW THE TRAILER
COUNTDOWN Available on Digital 1/7 & Blu-ray and DVD 1/21
What if your phone could tell you when you’re going to die? Would you want to know? There’s a killer new app in COUNTDOWN, the terrifyingly original and inventive horror-thriller arrives on Digital, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand. from STXfilms and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat, the “fun and thrilling” (Shannon McGrew, Nightmarish Conjurings) film follows a young nurse (Elizabeth Lail, “You”), who downloads an app that claims to predict exactly when a person is going to die. With only three days left to live and death closing in, she must find a way to save her life before time runs out. Combining “jump scares around every corner” (Kimber Myers, Los Angeles Times) and intense suspense, COUNTDOWN chronicles a frightening twist on the consequence of technology’s invasion of our lives. 
 
http://uni.pictures/AbominableTrailer
VIEW THE TRAILER
ABOMINABLE on Digital 12/3, and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand 12/17
DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s co-production ABOMINABLE is a magical action-packed adventure for the whole family; with a 95% Audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, critics are calling this new animated classic “pure magic” (Dave Morales, Fox TV Houston). Yi, Everest and the gang come home just in time for the holidays on Digital, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand December 17, 2019 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Boasting the biggest opening for an original animated film this year, ABOMINABLE is “an epic, colorful journey home. Beautiful and exhilarating to behold” (Glenn Kenny, The New York Times). The 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital versions feature tons of fun bonus content including 2 original shorts, deleted scenes, and activities for the entire family to enjoy.
 
https://youtu.be/tiCKjn9SRBg
VIEW THE TRAILER
PRIMAL on Digital 12/31, and Blu-ray & DVD 1/7
Nick Cage vs. a Killer Cat on a boat? COUNT US IN! When Frank Walsh (Nicolas Cage), a hunter and collector of rare and exotic animals, bags a priceless white jaguar for a zoo, he figures it’ll be smooth sailing to a big payday. But the ship bearing Frank’s precious cargo has two predators caged in its hold: the cat, and a political assassin being extradited to the U.S. After the assassin breaks free – and then frees the jaguar – Frank feverishly stalks the ship’s cramped corridors in hot pursuit of his prey, right up until the thrilling, unpredictable climax. 
 
BEVERLY HILLS COP TRILOGY on Blu-ray 1/14
All three films together on Blu-ray for the first time, newly remastered from new 4K transfers. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the comedy classic BEVERLY HILLS COP stars Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley, a street-smart cop from Detroit. Tracking down his best friend's killer in Beverly Hills, Axel smashes through the local barriers in a hilarious, high-speed pursuit of justice. In BEVERLY HILLS COP II, Eddie Murphy returns as Axel goes deep undercover to investigate a gang of international munitions smugglers and in BEVERLY HILLS COP III Axel investigates a counterfeit money ring, run out of a theme park in Los Angeles. The BEVERLY HILLS COP Blu-ray boasts brand new special features, including never-before-seen deleted scenes, new behind-the-scenes featurettes incorporating vintage 1984 interviews, an isolated audio track of the original score by Harold Faltermeyer and “BHC Mixtape ‘84”, which allows viewers to go directly to the scenes featuring the hit songs.

November 20, 2019

ROBOCOP Upgraded (or...how I spent my Saturday)

https://arrowfilms.com/
ROBOCOP (1987)
Starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Dan O’Herlihy, Ray Wise, Paul McCrane, Jesse D. Goins, Robert DoQui. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. (103 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM ARROW VIDEO

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

I remember first seeing the trailer for Robocop and thinking, Wow, that looks really dumb. Even the title suggested something along the lines of Megaforce or Battletruck. Then a few buddies who’d already seen it dragged me kicking and screaming to a local drive-in, touting “You gotta see this!” and “It’ll blow you away!”

The second time I watched it was on video, when I told a few other buddies, “Hey, you gotta see this! It’ll blow you away!” The action and gung-ho violence was as rousing as ever, but this time I noticed how genuinely funny it was. Often because of the over-the-top violence, but also its pitch-black sense of humor and plethora of surprisingly hilarious - and quotable - dialogue.

Of course, I later bought it on DVD because it more-than-warrants repeat viewings. Like a lot of fans, critics and film scholars, I came to the conclusion that RoboCop is ultimately a rare work of demented genius under the guise of an ‘80s action film (but has aged far better than nearly all of ‘em). In fact, it ultimately defies single genre classification, successfully combining traditional science-fiction, horror, classic tragedy, dark comedy, sharp satire, cultural commentary and, of course, good old fashioned revenge, all of which are as timely today as they were 32 years ago.

If that ain’t the definition of a modern classic, I don’t know what is.

Best Buy's Employee of the Month.
I spent an entire Saturday evening reviewing this new limited edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video, and that’s before actually watching the three cuts of the film that are included. These two discs are loaded with so many new and vintage bonus features (in addition to a booklet the length of a novella) that I was simply too damn tired to fire-up the movie itself until Sunday morning. I was intrigued enough by the inclusion of the edited-for-TV cut on disc two to start there (the only version I hadn’t yet seen). Originally airing on ABC in the early ‘90s, anyone who’s ever seen RoboCop will concur that it’s about as non-conducive to TV butchery as a movie gets. The result is a truncated hoot, a de-fanged film with expletives substituted with hilariously “safe” dialogue and, of course, shorn of nearly all the violence.

The storied Director’s Cut is also here in all its gory glory. Only dedicated fans could probably differentiate it from the Theatrical Cut without a magnifying glass, but it is the definitive version and the 4K restoration is mostly pretty impressive (save for a few noticeably muddy scenes late in the film). However, the differences are made quite clear by a nifty bonus feature that presents side-by-side comparisons of key scenes (including 20 minutes comparing the original and TV cuts).

Dead or alive, this is coming with me.
Elsewhere, there’s enough supplementary material (outlined below) to keep Robofans busy for hours. Not only does it cover nearly every aspect of the film’s production and impact, a lot of the featurettes are entertaining enough to watch more than once. And I haven’t even gotten to the aesthetic goodies, including some neat stuff my wife has already informed me will not become part of our living room décor.

RoboCop has been released on video plenty of times before, including some editions that were pretty impressive in their own right. But this one is so comprehensive and beautifully packaged that double-dipping should be a no-brainer. Barring something extraordinary happening in December, this is the best Blu-ray release of the year.

In other words, you gotta see this. It’ll blow you away.

EXTRA KIBBLES
DIRECTOR’S CUT, THEATRICAL CUT & THE EDITED-FOR-TELEVISION VERSION
NEW: 2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - #1) Film historian Paul M. Sammon; #2) Christopher Griffiths, Gary Smart & Eastwood Allen.
NEW: “THE FUTURE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT: CREATING ROBOCOP” - Interview with co-screenwriter Michael Miner.
NEW: “ROBOTALK” - discussion with co-screenwriter Ed Neumeier with writer David Birke & director Nicholas McCarthy.
NEW: “TRUTH OF CHARACTER” - Interview with Nancy Allen.
NEW:CASTING OLD DETROIT” - Interview with RoboCop casting director Julie Selzer.
NEW: “CONNECTING THE SHOTS” - Interview with RoboCop’s second unit director Mark Goldblatt.
NEW: “ANALOG” - Interviews with Peter Kuran & Kevin Kutchaver, who created the “computer” effects, included Robo’s POV shots.
NEW: “MORE MAN THAN MACHINE: COMPOSING ROBOCOP” - An appreciation of Basil Poladouris’ score
NEW: “ROBOPROPS” - A fan shows off his RoboCop memorabilia collection, which is pretty impressive.
NEW: SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET This is 80 pages long, folks! Includes 4 essays, cast & crew credits, promotional cast & crew bios, restoration credits, behind-the-scenes photos.
NEW: DOUBLE-SIDED POSTER – Featuring new and original artwork.
NEW: 6 POSTCARDS – Featuring promotional stills from the film.
NEW: WINDOW STICKER – Faux home-security sticker that reads, “Warning: This property is protected by RoboCop.”
2012 Q&A – Panel discussion with director Paul Verhoeven, writers Michael Miner & Ed Neumeier, producer Jon Davison, animator Phil Tippet, Peter Weller & Nancy Allen.
ARCHIVE FEATURETTES -RoboCop: Creating a Legend”; “Villains of Old Detroit”; “Special Effects Then and Now”
ARCHIVE COMMENTARY – By Paul Verhoeven, Jon Davison & Ed Neumeier (featured on both the Director’s Cut & Theatrical Cut).
PAUL VERHOEVEN EASTER EGG – The director’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo
"THE BOARDROOM” - Storyboard of the ED209 boardroom scene, with Phil Tippett.
2 ISOLATED SCORE TRACKS
SPLIT-SCREEN COMPARISONS - #1) Director’s Cut vs. Theatrical Cut; #2 Theatrical Cut vs. Edited-for-TV Version.
ALTERNATE SCENES FOR TV VERSION
DELETED SCENES
TRAILERS & TV SPOTS
3 IMAGE GALLERIES – Production stills, behind-the-scenes stills & promotional material.
REVERSIBLE COVER – Featuring new and classic cover art (as iconic as the original artwork is, the new cover is gorgeous).

KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! LIKE TAUNTING A MOUSE TO DEATH.

November 18, 2019

THE DIVINE FURY: Have Stigmata Will Travel

https://www.wellgousa.com/
THE DIVINE FURY (2019)
Starring Park Seo-joon, Ahn Sung-ki, Woo Do-hwan, Choi Woo-shik. Directed by Joo-hwan Kim. (129 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM WELL GO USA

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😸

A mixed martial artist with a grudge against God teams up with a seasoned old exorcist to vanquish demons from people who’ve become possessed.

If that brief synopsis doesn’t get you purring, you might as well stop reading.

For everyone else, The Divine Fury is an entertaining action/horror mash-up. Celebrity MMA fighter Yong-hu (Park Seo-joon) certainly has a good reason to resent the Almighty. When he was a boy, his policeman father was killed in the line of duty, despite a priest’s promise that God would hear his prayers. Now the very sight of a crucifix enrages him, exacerbated by verbal torment from the same demon that killed dad. He also develops a wound on his hand that won’t heal.

When medical science fails, Yong-hu is encouraged to visit Father Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki), a local exorcist who informs him the wound is stigmata, like those inflicted on Jesus during the crucifixion. It also turns out to be a handy weapon when fighting demons (as do Yong-hu’s fighting skills). After more-or-less saving each other, Yong-hu and Ahn form a holy hit squad and stay busy performing exorcisms all over town. But before we can assume demonic possession is simply more common in Korea than it was in Georgetown, they learn the culprit behind the outbreak is Ji-shin (Woo Do-Hwan), also known as the Dark Bishop, who moonlights as a nightclub owner while feeding souls to satanic tadpoles (!) in exchange for eternal life.

"Talk to the hand, Father."
Though frequently quite funny – often intentionally – The Divine Fury more-or-less plays the material straight, which works to its ultimate benefit. It’s never particularly scary, but the exorcism sequences are suitably intense, as are the numerous fight scenes (most of which occur during the final act). Everything culminates with a bonkers climax pitting Yong-hu against Ji-shin in an elaborate, effects-driven showdown.

Speaking of which, the film utilizes a lot of CGI to create a majority of the visuals. For the most part, they serve the story pretty well without becoming a distraction. The real surprise is the relationship between the two leads. Ahn develops into the father figure Yong-hu has been missing most of his life, and how they learn to depend on each other ends up being the most engaging aspect of the entire film

Though a little overlong, The Divine Fury is a fun action-horror hybrid with enough blood, fists and devilry to amuse fans of both genres. It isn’t quite as ridiculous as the premise suggests, but don’t we get enough of that stuff from The Asylum, anyway? Writer-director Joo-hwan Kim borrows a lot of familiar possession tropes, but wisely plays them straight and gives us characters we genuinely care about. He also leaves the door wide open for a sequel, which in-this-case might be welcome.

EXTRA KIBBLES
5 PROMOTIONAL FEATURETTES
4 TRAILERS
DVD COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

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 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.