November 25, 2020

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: THE ORIGINAL TV SERIES is a Massive Memory Box

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: THE ORIGINAL TV SERIES (Blu-ray Review)
1966-1973 / 8625 min

From PARAMOUNT

Review by Cuddles, the Couch Potato😺

While Tom Cruise was running around in training pants, Mission: Impossible was a weekly staple in my house (and millions of others). We had one TV - a giant console capable of picking-up all three channels - so with the expectation of Saturday mornings, Dad pretty-much dictated the family’s viewing habits. Hence, we spent many evenings watching the exploits of the IMF.

Now on Blu-ray for the first time, this meaty boxed set includes all seven seasons, 171 episodes on 46 discs. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features, but the show has been nicely remastered and has never looked or sounded better, not even during its first run. Revisiting the series after all these decades brings back a flood of fond memories, as well as a revelation or two.


Being way too young to understand the relatively complex storylines, most of my memories are of the show’s format, which it adhered for a majority of the episodes, such as the self-destructing tape laying-out the mission, should Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) choose to accept it. I seem to recall asking Dad what would happen if Phelps didn’t accept a mission; he replied “I don’t know,” but I’m pretty sure he meant “Shut up, kid.” 


"I think that goes there."
Then there’s the cool gadgets, courtesy of Barney (Greg Morris), and elaborate disguises used by Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), which might seem a bit quaint today. But back then, it was sort-of like getting a mini James Bond movie every week. And of course, the bad guys were always duped by the IMF’s elaborate, often outlandish ruses, generally with fatal results. 

Other than some aesthetics reflective of the era, the episodes themselves hold up pretty well, with smart writing, grounded performances and intricate plots, which are a lot more engaging now that I’m old enough to understand them. The stronger ones tend to be those featuring the threat of mass destruction and arrogant, megalomaniacal villains, of which there are many. To my surprise, it turns out the INF was repeatedly saving the world long before anyone ever heard of Ethan Hunt. 


"Well, that's like, you're opinion, man.""
Speaking of which, watching these episodes today revealed quite a few other surprises. For example, most classic TV fans tend to associate Mission: Impossible with Peter Graves, but he didn’t actually join the show until season two. For the first season, the IMF was led by Steven Hill, best-known to modern audiences as grumpy DA Adam Schiff in Law & Order. Similarly, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were gone by season three, the former replaced by Leonard Nimoy. Even Leslie Ann Warren and a baby-faced Sam Elliot were cast regulars during one of the later seasons. In fact, only Greg Morris and Peter Lupis stayed with the show through its entire run.

Another surprise was the number of guest stars who appeared on the show, sometimes more than once, to play various antagonists. Such famous faces as William Shatner, Robert Conrad, Fritz Weaver, Lloyd Bridges, Edmond O’Brien, Braford Dillman, Sugar Ray Robinson, Fernando Lamas, Christopher George, Darrin McGavin and Ricardo Montalban (amusingly similar to his iconic turn as Khan in Star Trek) show up as the villain-of-the-week. Half the fun of plowing through this set is seeing who pops-up to get their bad guy groove on.



The whole set comes in a nicely-designed box, each season individually packaged in fold-out cases with sleeves to hold the discs. Considering the size of the collection, it isn’t too cumbersome. Mission: Impossible itself remains iconic, highly influential and one of the defining series of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Beautifully remastered for Blu-ray, the show remains wonderfully entertaining and an essential purchase for fans like my dad. Only the complete lack of supplementary material keeps it from being a perfect set.

KITTY CONSENSUS:

PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

November 23, 2020

The Curiosity Factor of THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS

THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS (Blu-ray Review)
1971 / 81 min

From THE FILM DETECTIVE

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😼

If you thought recent films like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Haunting of Sharon Tate exploited the real-life Manson murders for the sake of entertainment, this unearthed relic might redefine the word for you.

What makes The Other Side of Madness such a historical oddity is that it was produced and released during the actual Charles Manson trial, going as far as to include some of his music in the soundtrack (producer Wade Williams even sought-out Manson’s permission). Profiting from the most infamous mass murder in American history - before the victims’ bodies are even cold - demonstrates a level of callousness unparalleled even in exploitation circles.


This micro-budget docudrama opens with a crawl stating that everything is lifted from news releases and articles, all of which was widely available to anyone who could read. Hence, there are no untold stories, no revelations, no new evidence. Director Frank Howard & producer Wade Williams appear content to simply re-enact sporadic events based on testimony and articles, including the Tate murders. But there’s little attempt to provide context or continuity, nor is there much dialogue beyond a few “characters” taking the stand during trial.


One of the film's sentimental moments.
Aside from some fleeting attempts at psychedelic artiness, one can practically feel how quickly they were trying to get this film in-the-can. The performances are uniformly terrible, consisting mostly of amateurs, and Howard effectively demonstrates why he never directed another movie. However, the fact something like this even exists will make it worth seeking-out by the morbidly curious. 

Since the movie itself is a shoddy slab of sleaze - and actually kind of boring - it’s the disc’s bonus features that might hold the most interest. In a couple of interviews, producer Wade Williams provides context his film doesn’t bother with, and the story behind it is admittedly fascinating. If nothing else, he answers the nagging question you’ll undoubtedly be asking: “Who the hell would make something like this?”


EXTRA KIBBLES

AUDIO INTERVIEWS - With producer Wade Williams, who pretty-much acknowledges his exploitative intentions.

CD - Two songs by Manson himself, both of which are featured in the film and packaged in a replica of the original promotional sleeve. One listen and you’ll understand why he never became a rock star.

2 TRAILERS

KITTY CONSENSUS:

WTF? 

November 22, 2020

A Lot to Love in LIBELED LADY

LIBELED LADY (Blu-ray Review)
1936 / 98 min

From WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION

Review by Mr. Paws😸

What’s not to love? There's another reteaming of William Powell and Myrna Loy, with a bonus reteaming of Powell and Jean Harlow. Throw in the great Spencer Tracy in a rare early role as the main antagonist and you’ve got a priceless cast that makes Libeled Lady one of the more purely entertaining comic farces of the 1930s.

Workaholic newspaper editor Warren Haggerty (Tracy) is trying to save his paper after they print a libelous story about a millionaire’s daughter, Connie Allenbury (Loy), who sues them for $5,000,000. He concocts a scheme by arranging a "marriage" between his beleaguered fiance Gladys Benton (Harlow) and smooth talking ex-reporter Bill Chandler (Powell). Then Chandler will try to romance Connie so she’ll be caught in the same type of husband-stealing scandal the newspaper falsely reported the first time. 


Some folks don't respect personal space.
But Bill ends up falling for Connie, of course, which complicates the plan. If such a plot turn feels overly familiar, it’s likely because we’ve been inundated by countless similar stories - including a remake - in the decades since. However, few of them are as affable, charming and funny as this one. Most of that is due to the cast and a terrifically witty screenplay with enough rapid-fire dialogue and throwaway one-liners that we can’t catch it all the first time. 

So there's a lot to love, here. Powell and Loy’s chemistry is indisputable, while Harlow is hilariously bitchy. Even Tracy manages to remain somewhat likable even as he’s conspiring to save his own job. Libeled Lady showcases their inherent talents with a charming, funny tale worth repeated viewings.


EXTRA KIBBLES

3 SHORTS - “Keystone Hotel”; “New Shoes” (featuring talking footwear); “Little Cheeser” (cartoon).

RADIO PROMO

TRAILER

KITTY CONSENSUS:

PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

IRON MASK and the Bad Batch

IRON MASK (Blu-ray Review)
2019 / 121 min

From LIONSGATE

Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Ever spot a batch of what looks like chocolate chip cookies, only to grab one, take a bite and discover they’re actually oatmeal & raisin? Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with oatmeal & raisin cookies, but they sure as hell ain’t chocolate chip and it would have been nice to know that before biting into one, right?

So cookie monsters beware...despite being prominently featured in the trailer and on the Blu-ray cover, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan are not the stars of Iron Mask. They share a couple of amusing scenes together, but they’re glorified cameos. The late, great Rutger Hauer has even less screen time (showing up for about a minute). And none of these guys’ characters are essential to the actual plot. Speaking of which, the iron mask of the title doesn’t really figure into the story, either. One character wears it for a while...until he doesn’t.


After a voice-over prologue laying the groundwork - a magic dragon held captive by a black witch masquerading as a Chinese princess in order to harvest precious tea from its eyelashes - the narrative puts its own plot on the backburner for nearly an hour. In the interim, it introduces most of the characters, including cartographer Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng), imprisoned Russian czar Peter the Great (Yuri Kolokoinikov) and princess Cheng Lan (Xingtong Yao), who's traveling east with Green disguised as a male servant. We’re repeatedly led to believe one of them will emerge as the main protagonist, but that ultimately never happens.


"MEOW!"
Even oatmeal & raisin cookies can be at-least edible with the right recipe. However, Iron Mask is underbaked, made with ingredients well-past their expiration date. The derivative story is mostly advanced through hamfisted exposition by dull characters spouting some embarrassingly clunky dialogue. The elaborate production design is impressive, but the visual effects are strictly of the video game variety and not remotely convincing. To cap it all off, the film goes on way too long.

While not being promoted as one, this Russian-Chinese co-production is actually a sequel to a 2014 film called Viy (aka Forbidden Empire), which also starred Fleming and explains the presence of the “cute” flying cat-lizard (or whatever it is) in this one. I haven’t seen it, nor did Iron Mask compel me to go back and check-out what I’ve been missing. Not when there’s plenty of Chips Ahoy out there.


EXTRA KIBBLES

TRAILER

KITTY CONSENSUS:

MEH...LIKE SHARING THE BED WITH THE DOG.

November 18, 2020

PENINSULA: Same Zombies, Different Story

TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS: PENINSULA (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 110 min

From WELL GO USA

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Train to Busan’s highly-anticipated sequel, Peninsula, isn’t nearly as good. But I can’t really say I was disappointed.

The original 2016 film had the distinction of topping Dawn of the Dead’s 38 year reign as my personal choice for the greatest zombie movie ever made (sorry, George). Thrilling, scary, funny and surprisingly touching, it even made this website’s Greatest Movies Ever list.


But if George Lucas and the Wachowskis taught me nothing else, it’s to keep one’s presumptions in-check, especially regarding sequels to universally revered films. So I didn’t expect Peninsula to top - or even equal - the visceral rush Train to Busan. If the thing ended up being even half as engaging, it would still be better than a majority of the zombie films released in the past decade. 


If you can approach it with the same tempered expectations, Peninsula is a solidly entertaining action-horror film. Though it has the same director (Yeon Sang-ho) and co-writer (Park Soo-Suk), this one is completely different in tone, pace and narrative approach, with an all new setting and cast of characters. Only the snarling hordes of sprinting zombies - which have now overrun South Korea - connect the two films.


Sometimes you gotta dance like no one's watching...
Four years after the outbreak, South Korea is under quarantine. Most of the survivors have long-since been relocated to Hong Kong, where they are more-or-less treated like pariahs. One of them, Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), is an ex-soldier who was unable to save his sister and, more significantly, refused to help a pleading family get to the evacuation ship. So he lives with a ton of guilt, exacerbated by his combative relationship with ex-brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Doo-yoon).

They’re hired by a local gangster to return to the peninsula and retrieve $20 million stashed in an abandoned truck. If successful, they’ll get half the money. The city is still crawling with zombies, as is what’s left of the South Korean army. No longer soldiers, they’re a squad of psychotics commanded by Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan) and his sadistic second-in-command, Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae). Jung-seok also runs into Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), the mother who begged him to help her four years ago. She and her two daughters have since become pretty resourceful at survival.


If nothing else, you can’t accuse the filmmakers of repeating themselves. It does, however, appear that they looked to such films as Escape from New York for inspiration, which also applies to the setting and production design. Overall, the performances are pretty good and Dong-won makes an intriguing anti-hero who’s given an opportunity for redemption. And of course, the zombie hordes are as fleet-footed, vicious and nasty as ever. For the most part, the film is fast-paced and exciting with a few creative flourishes, such as an arena where victims are thrown in with zombies and soldiers wager on who survives.


...and sing like no one's listening.
But unlike Train to Busan, there isn’t a lot of heart. Though there’s a fleeting attempt at poignancy near the end, we aren’t invested in these characters nearly enough for the moment to be truly affecting. The film also lacks an interesting antagonist. The first film featured a man who evolved into someone we hate through his increasingly self-serving actions. Here, Seo and Hwang are gleefully evil from the get-go, generic bad guys we’ve seen in countless other apocalyptic thrillers. And while most of the film is technically sound, there are occasional moments nearly ruined by clumsy CGI, such as a car chase sequence that resembles video game graphics. 

Train to Busan was one of those rare films that managed to transcend its genre and chances-are the law of diminishing returns would apply to any follow up. So perhaps going in a completely different direction was a wise decision. When viewed as a stand-alone story that takes place in the same universe - as opposed to a true sequel - Peninsula is an enjoyable, action-filled horror film. You just gotta temper your expectations.


EXTRA KIBBLES

4 PROMOTIONAL FEATURETTES - These mostly consist of interviews with the primary cast and the director.

2 TRAILERS

DVD COPY

KITTY CONSENSUS:

PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

THE POOP SCOOP: Christmas Comes Early Edition

THE PARALLAX VIEW on Blu-ray from Criterion 2/9/21
For us, this is the best Blu-ray news of the year, since The Parallax View is on our list of the GREATEST MOVIES EVER. In the second installment of Alan J. Pakula’s celebrated Paranoia Trilogy, he offers a chilling vision of America in the wake of the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. and about to be shocked by Watergate. Three years after witnessing the murder of a leading senator atop Seattle's Space Needle, reporter Joseph Frady (Warren Beatty) begins digging into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the killing—and stumbles into a labyrinthine conspiracy far more sinister than he could have imagined. The Parallax View's coolly stylized, shadow-etched compositions by acclaimed cinematographer Gordon Willis give visual expression to a mood that begins as an anxious whisper and ends as a scream into the void. The disc includes a 4K Restoration, along with the following bonus features: New into by director Alex Cox; Two interviews with Alan J. Pakula; Gordon Willis featurette; Interview with Pakula assistant Jon Boorstin; Essay by critic Nathan Heller.

THE GODFATHER, CODA: THE DEATH OF MICHAEL CORLEONE on Blu-ray 12/8
"'Mario Puzo's THE GODFATHER, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone' is an acknowledgement of Mario's and my preferred title and our original intentions for what became 'The Godfather: Part III,'" said Coppola. "For this version of the finale, I created a new beginning and ending, and rearranged some scenes, shots, and music cues. With these changes and the restored footage and sound, to me, it is a more appropriate conclusion to 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather: Part II' and I'm thankful to Jim Gianopulos and Paramount for allowing me to revisit it." Coppola and his production company American Zoetrope worked from a 4K scan of the original negative to undertake a painstaking, frame-by-frame restoration of both the new Mario Puzo's THE GODFATHER, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone and the original The Godfather: Part III. In order to create the best presentation possible, Zoetrope and Paramount's restoration team began by searching for over 50 original takes to replace lower resolution opticals in the original negative. This process took more than six months and involved sifting through 300 cartons of negative. American Zoetrope worked diligently to repair scratches, stains, and other anomalies that could not be addressed previously due to technology constraints, while enhancements were made to the original 5.1 audio mix.

 

IP MAN COMPLETE COLLECTION 4K BOX SET Coming 12/15
Martial arts superstar Donnie Yen solidified his legendary status beginning with the first film in the IP Man franchise, and now the entire series is available for the first time in 4K Ultra HD when Well Go USA Entertainment debuts the IP MAN COMPLETE COLLECTION 4K BOX SET on December 15.  The 8-disc set features all 4 IP Man films, presented for the first time with 4K restoration including the newest Dolby Atmos surround sound. Each film comes in a 2-disc amaray case featuring the new 4K disc along with the Bu-ray disc. This limited-edition box set also contains a cool, collectible IP Man movie franchise compendium book and a double-sided premium IP Man poster. The IP MAN COMPLETE COLLECTION 4K BOX SET features the iconic vision of director Wilson Yip and stars the incomparable Donnie Yen as Ip Man, legendary Wing Chun grandmaster and mentor to several martial arts masters, including kung fu superstar Bruce Lee.

 

MONSTRUM Now on DVD & Blu-ray
In MONSTRUM, a plague has taken over and fear runs rampant in the streets. When rumors of a vicious monster roaming Mount Inwangsan begin to spread, fear turns into panic. In order to quell the rising hysteria, the King brings his most trusted general out of retirement. Joined by his daughter, his right-hand man, and a royal court officer, the general sets out to find and defeat the mysterious creature. MONSTRUM stars Hyeri Lee (Hyde, Jekyll, Me), In-kwon Kim (C’est Si Bon), Myung-Min Kim (Closer to Heaven) and Woo-sik Choi (Parasite). The film was directed by Jong-ho Huh (Countdown, The Advocate: A Missing Body), who co-wrote the film with Heo-dam.

November 17, 2020

SILENT RUNNING: The Sci-Fi Feels

SILENT RUNNING (Blu-ray Review)
1972 / 90 min

From ARROW VIDEO

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😹

Silent Running is the first movie that ever gave me a case of ’the feels,’ as my daughter calls it.

I was just a wee one when I caught it on NBC on a Friday night, after the preceding TV spot had me anticipating an exciting sci-fi adventure. However, I got more than I bargained for.


Bruce Dern stars as Freeman Lowell, a botanist onboard the Valley Forge, one of several cargo ships carrying the last of Earth’s plant and animal life (enclosed in massive glass domes). When the crew is given orders to jettison and destroy the domes and return the ships to commercial use, Lowell goes to extremes to save the lone remaining forest, killing his crewmates and changing course in hopes of disappearing. A majority of the film consists of Lowell and two endearing little drones (Dewey & Huey) maintaining the forest, when we grow to love this de facto family. But when a rescue team discovers their whereabouts, Lowell is forced to make some heartbreaking decisions in order to save the forest.


And heartbreaking this movie is. Silent Running turned out not to be the action-packed extravaganza I signed-on for at the age of 10. It’s a shamelessly manipulative film which forces us to not only condone Lowell’s murder of his crewmates, but feel an enormous sense of loss with every exploding dome. Additionally, Silent Running has us more emotionally invested in the fates of two faceless, emotionless robots than most of the human characters. These elements, along with the tragic conclusion, were total Kleenex fodder, which I wasn’t expecting. By the time the end credits rolled, I was practically bawling and thankful everyone in the family had already gone to bed. It was the first movie that ever actually made me feel anything. But despite my sorrow, I liked how it made me feel.


Lowell's favorite pastime...watching grass grow.
Revisiting the film for the first time in years with this new Blu-ray, I still found myself choking-up from time to time. Not just because I was once-again invested in the plight of its characters, but that its none-too-subtle message seems alarmingly more relevant now. Some of its flower-power environmental sermonizing probably seemed a bit heavy handed back in ‘72 (when most of us kids associated ‘climate change’ with snow days). But 48 years later, the world is arguably closer to the bleak future depicted in Silent Running than the advanced optimism of 2001: A Space Odyssey

In addition to its sobering themes and pessimistic view of humankind, Silent Running remains one of the more technically impressive sci-fi films of the pre-Star Wars era, especially when one realizes it had a budget of only a million dollars. One of only two films directed by FX-whiz Douglas Trumbull, the visuals are simple yet effective, and hold up pretty well even today. 


Silent Running has since become a cult classic that belies its age with a timely message and an affecting story. Arrow Video does right by the film with an outstanding video & audio transfer that’s a huge improvement over the 2015 Universal Blu-ray. All the bonus features from that disc are included here, along with a great batch of new ones, making this edition a must-own for fans. The only thing missing is a box of tissues because it’s still one of the most bittersweet sci-fi movies ever made.


EXTRA KIBBLES

NEW: “NO TURNING BACK” - Music historian Jeff Bond discusses the unusual film score and songs.

NEW: “FIRST RUN” - This is a video essay - with storyboards - which reveals how the first draft of the screenplay was much darker (and more violent).

NEW: AUDIO COMMENTARY - By critics Kim Newman & Barry Forshaw

NEW: ISOLATED MUSIC SCORE

NEW: BEHIND-THE-SCENES GALLERY - Over 600 pictures, though many of them look like still from the film itself.

“THE MAKING OF SILENT RUNNING” - Archival documentary

SILENT RUNNING BY DOUGLAS TRUMBULL” and “DOUGLAS TRUMBULL: THEN AND NOW” - Individual archival interviews.

“A CONVERSATION WITH BRUCE DERN” - Archival Interview. Bruce has fond memories of this film, and especially Trumbull.

TRAILER

SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET - Includes two essays, “Silent Running: Douglas Trumbull’s Visions of Nature,” by film writer Barry Forshaw,” and “Bruce Dern’s Star Turn Among the Stars,” by author Peter Tonguette; cast, crew and restoration credits.

REVERSIBLE COVER - With new and vintage artwork. We kind-of prefer the new cover.


KITTY CONSENSUS:

MEE-OW! LIKE BEING TURNED LOOSE IN A BIRD SANCTUARY.