April 7, 2020

BRAVESTORM: Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots

Starring Shunsuke Diato, Shu Watanabe, Hisashi Yoshizawa, Chihiro Yamamoto. Directed by Junya Okabe. (81 min)

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

Uninformed Yankee younguns ready to declare “Transformers rip-off” should be made-aware that giant robots have been stomping through Tokyo since the 1930s. Sure, Bravestorm partially owes its existence to a few recent rock ‘em sock ‘em blockbusters, but the film is actually a remake of two Japanese television shows from the 1970s. So let’s cut it a little slack, shall we?

That being said, Bravestorm is still pretty derivative, with a murky story that more-or-less riffs The Terminator. In 2050, Tokyo is a toxic wasteland, most of the population killed by a gassy mechanical monster called Black Baron, which poisoned the atmosphere to make it habitable for alien invaders known as the Killgis. A few surviving siblings travel back in time to 2018 and enlist their scientist grandfather to built their own robot – the Red Baron – hoping to defeat Black Baron and save the future. However, Gramps insists his delinquent younger brother – who participates in underground fight clubs – should drive the thing.

"Jaywalking! That's a $35 fine!"
The characters are bland and some of the dialogue is supremely silly, the latter exacerbated by the English dub (the Japanese language option has no subtitles). And considering the age group which typically goes for this type of thing, Bravestorm has enough f-bombs to definitely earn it an R-rating. But I doubt anyone will care about that once robot fightin’ time finally arrives. The showdown in downtown Tokyo might be underwhelming compared to, say, Pacific Rim or Michael Bay’s brand of mechanical mayhem, but there’s some impressive destruction and the CGI is decent for the budget. I must confess, however, that I was kinda hoping for old school in-camera effects...like in those Japanese sci-fi films that amused me as a kid.

The film concludes with the optimistic coda, “to be continued,” but as of this writing, no sequel appears to be coming down the pipeline. And if that never happens, well, this ain’t exactly the MCU. While Bravestorm leaves a couple of loose threads that probably don’t require tying, it offers enough goofy, energetic fun to stand on its own.


April 5, 2020

Rest In Peace, Lee Fierro

THE THING and My Creepy-Ass Dog

THE THING (1982)
Starring Jed the Dog, Kurt Russell, Keith David, Richard Dysart, A. Wilford Brimley, David Clennon, T.K. Carter, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat. Directed by John Carpenter. (109 min)

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON💀

If you’re a horror fan – particularly an ‘80s horror fan – you probably hold John Carpenter’s The Thing in high regard, and understandably so. Though not very successful when first-released, it’s become deified over the years and is generally considered one the director’s best films. I’d go a step further to say he hasn’t made a truly great one since (though I’m open to arguments for They Live).

Because of the classic status it enjoys now, there have been a lot of explanations why The Thing flopped in 1982, the most common claim being that it was overshadowed by another film that summer featuring a decidedly friendlier extraterrestrial. Frankly, I think that explanation is bullshit. Does anybody seriously think The Thing was trying to nab the same family audience that loved E.T.?

I think the seeds of The Thing’s box-office failure might have ironically been planted by John Carpenter himself back in 1978, when Michael Myers arrived to carve-up Haddonfield in Halloween. Afterwards, hardly a week went by without another masked killer being unleashed to relieve teenagers of their discretionary income, who were eager to see their own kind sliced-and-diced on the big screen. By 1982, the extraterrestrial terrors of Alien were a distant memory. With some classic exceptions, the most successful horror films of the decade featured young characters, simple plots and enough exposition to appease even the dumbest fucks in the theater.

The Thing has none of that...no masks, no sex (premarital or otherwise), no women, no killer’s backstory. Favoring dread to gratuitous jump-scares, the film is claustrophobic, gruesome and unpredictable. Relentlessly downbeat – nearly nihilistic - we suspect everyone’s doomed right from the get-go, through no fault of their own. Then the movie has the audacity to end ambiguously, its biggest question left unanswered. What chance did it have against the likes of Friday the 13th Part 3, which outgrossed it by $15 million? That Friday 3 also outgrossed Blade Runner is a strong indication that most folks buying tickets in 1982 preferred being spoon-fed
Like Blade Runner, The Thing is a belated classic because it ultimately transcended its own decade. Even today, the film doesn’t look or feel dated, whereas revisiting Jason Voorhees’ Excellent Adventures is mostly a fun nostalgia trip. While grooming my youngest daughter into the horror fan she is today, she found the Friday the 13th films silly and archaic. However, she absolutely loved The Thing and was surprised it was almost 40 years old.

"Who's up for a weenie roast?"
I’ve probably seen The Thing a few dozen times since catching it in an empty theater back in ‘82. Sure, the ground-breaking (and still impressive) creature effects are what first floored me, but I’ve grown to appreciate other aspects of the film. The notion of an alien consisting of individual, free-acting cells with their own built-in instinct to survive is an intriguing concept to wrap your brain around. That it can perfectly imitate other lifeforms adds a whodunit element similar to an Agatha Christie mystery, enhanced by the bleak Antarctic setting. Taking place almost entirely in a research station during a winter storm, these 12 characters are completely cut-off from the rest of the world. Worse yet, one or more of them may have already been assimilated by the creature.

The Thing is also a smart movie that doesn’t depend on the stupidity of its characters to advance the plot. In fact, everyone makes logical survival decisions and develop reasonable ideas for how to detect and combat the Thing (such as the “blood test” scene, a high-tension masterpiece). The fact that none of it works exacerbates the hopelessness of their struggle and the apocalyptic implications of the open-ended denouement. In my opinion, it’s still the greatest conclusion to a horror film of all time.

One of The Thing's many feel-good moments.
The overall performances have gone largely unappreciated over the years, one in particular. Kurt Russell takes another quantum leap from his clean-cut Disney image and the supporting cast of familiar faces is terrific, especially bald-&-badass Keith David (in a perfect world, he’d be an ‘80s action icon). But I think the most overlooked performance might belong to Jed, playing a sled dog that arrives at the station in the first act. Since he’s actually the Thing, Jed is required behave differently than your typical pooch, an “anti-dog,” if you will. He doesn’t bark, wag his tail or display any real emotion. He slowly and methodically lurks the halls of the station, quietly studying his new environment – and potential hosts - with blank, unblinking eyes for long stretches of time. After awhile, that stare is unnerving.

A definite graduate from the less-is-more school of acting, Jed is sort-of the canine equivalent of Ryan Gosling. As the anti-dog, Jed subtly manages to instill more dread than a scenery-chewer like the Saint Bernard in Cujo. Or maybe I’m more attuned to his performance because I’ve since-noted similar behavior in Murphy, my 12 year old Wheaten Terrier and an anti-dog if there ever was one.

Jed in The Thing.
Murphy in the dining room.
A bit of background...Murphy is a dick. By that, I mean it seems like he goes out of his way to be the antithesis of any dog I’ve ever met. Wheaten Terriers are known for being playful and energetic their entire lives, yet Murphy never enjoyed playing and hates walkies. Though housebroken, he frequently drops single turds around the house like a puppy Pez dispenser. When we leave him home alone, he protests by peeing wherever I usually sit or sleep.

Speaking of me, while dogs may indeed be man’s best friend, Murphy makes it abundantly clear the feeling isn’t mutual. Oh, he probably likes me, but saves any actual love for my wife. When she isn’t around, he spends much of his time under our bed. He seldom greets me when I come home after a hard day’s work, content to make sure I’m not an intruder before going about his own business. The only time he pretends we’re actual buddies is when I’m eating something he wants.

The watcher.
Murphy also stares at me – a lot – even during such mundane activities as using the toilet or watching TV (he’s staring at me right now, in fact). Wherever I might be in the house, he’ll simply stand from a discreet distance and stare. It’s initially cute, but after 5-10 minutes pass and he’s still looking at me – silent, motionless and unblinking – I start getting nervous. Since we’ve lived together for 12 years, it can’t possibly be because he’s fascinated by my remote control skills. I truly think Murphy’s fucking with me. Maybe he was in the room while I was watching The Thing and took a few cues from Jed, like how one of my obnoxious co-workers makes Seinfeld quotes part of his nutritious breakfast. More startling are the nights when I suddenly wake up at three-in-the-morning with the midnight munchies and head downstairs, only to find Murphy already standing at the base of the steps, silently staring back at me as though he’d been holding vigil. It’s really fucking creepy and fuck you, Murphy!!
Though alien tentacles haven’t burst from his face – yet – Murphy reminds me of the Thing in other ways, too. For those unaware, Wheaten Terriers have hair rather than fur, meaning they require at least three-to-four trips to the groomer per year. But because it’s expensive and I’m lazy (trimming my own hair only once a year to keep it out of my ass crack), I often procrastinate until he looks like a matted, eyeless Muppet. So we end up having to shave him.

We love pets because they’re cute, and they're cute because they’re fuzzy. When you shave them, they look like different creatures altogether. I shit you not, when Murphy is shaved, he’s grotesque. If I were to slather him in Karo syrup and snot, he’d be the spitting image of the monstrous dog-Thing from the movie...

Fuzzy Murphy.
Shaved Murphy.
On Murphy’s other end is his now-naked butthole, a hideous pink starfish that pulses when he barks. And it's only when shaved that he feels compelled to greet me in the morning by jumping on the bed and sticking his ass-flower in my face (my wife gets the friendly end). Until his hair grows out a bit, petting my pink-skinned pooch has the same appeal as popping a stranger’s pimples. Ironically, it’s when Murphy's at his most repulsive that he shows me the most affection. Or maybe he’s just fucking with me again. A true anti-dog.

Murphy's ass-flower, as seen in The Thing.
As for his role model, Jed went on to display his diversity in such films as The Journey of Natty Gann and White Fang – and even hung out with the Dead Kennedys – before passing away in 1995 at the ripe old age of 18. But for me, Murphy and horror lovers worldwide, The Thing would be his ultimate legacy. Belying the decade from which it sprang, the film holds up remarkably well compared to other horrors of the ‘80s, as well as most of John Carpenter’s subsequent work.

April 3, 2020

THE POOP SCOOP: Columbia Classics 4k Ultra HD Collection Debuts on 4K June 16


Exclusively Available on 4K Disc in this Limited-Edition Set,
Includes an 80-Page Hardbound Book on the History & Impact of the Films
and Over 30 Hours of New and Archival Special Features

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is proud to debut six of the most acclaimed and beloved films from its library on 4K Ultra HD disc for the first time ever, exclusively within the COLUMBIA CLASSICS 4K ULTRA HD COLLECTION, available June 16. This must-own set includes iconic favorites that span the studio’s history: MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB, GANDHI, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN and JERRY MAGUIRE. Each film is fully restored in 4K resolution with High Dynamic Range.

In addition, the set also includes an exclusive disc featuring excerpts from Columbia Pictures’ televised 50th anniversary special, which originally aired in 1975 and has never been officially available.  These excerpts feature rare on-camera insights from such luminaries as Frank Capra, Phil Silvers and Orson Welles. This exclusive disc also includes the vintage behind-the-scenes documentary “Mr. Attenborough and Mr. Gandhi,” which was filmed on the set of GANDHI and features interviews with cast and crew.

Blu-ray Giveaway: IP MAN 4: THE FINALE

FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE is giving away a Blu-ray copy of IP MAN 4: THE FINALE, courtesy of WELL GO USA.
Available on 4K, Blu-ray & DVD 4/21
Donnie Yen reprises his role as the legendary Wing Chun master in the grand finale of the revolutionary martial arts series. Following the death of his wife, Ip Man travels to San Francisco to ease tensions between the local kung fu masters and his star student, Bruce Lee, while searching for a better future for his son. From the action visionary behind Kill Bill and The Matrix, witness the heroic sendoff to the saga that inspired a new wave of martial arts movie fans.

TO ENTER: Simply drop us a message at freekittensmovieguide@gmail.com.

April 2, 2020


Featuring Nick Mason, Philip Selway, Ade Utley, Joel Gion, Phil Barton, Megan Page, Graham Jones. Directed by Pip Piper. (43 min)

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

I’m too old to be a hipster, so I guess I’m one of those old farts who still prefers vinyl to any other format. As a kid, biking to the local record store was the best way to blow some of my lawnmowing income, so it’s unexpectedly awesome that I’m once-again able to grab me a slap o’ wax each payday. Of course I’m glad records are making a comeback.

The Vinyl Revival is sort of a love song to the independent record stores that support the format, from the shops that weathered the lean years to those which have popped up since. I hesitate to call it a documentary in the purest sense. Running a scant 43 minutes, the film isn’t particularly informational and doesn’t delve much into the hows or whys.

"Sure...I like records."
Instead, it’s a series of affectionate testimonials by shop owners and some notable artists, who explain their love for vinyl over other formats, as well as their opinions why it’s being embraced by significant numbers of young music buyers (though we don’t actually hear from any of them). In other words, The Vinyl Revival mostly preaches to the converted.

And that’s okay, because their enthusiasm is infectious. It’s also sort-of reassuring that vinyl doesn’t appear to be just a nostalgic fad (at least in England, where this is shot). Short but sweet, the film is a charming look at the tiny shops that have found their niche.


THE POOP SCOOP: Official Trailer for PENINSULA, the sequel to TRAIN TO BUSAN

We can't wait for this one. TAP THE TITLE TO VIEW THE TRAILER.

March 31, 2020

SHOOTING THE MAFIA Through Letizia's Lens

Featuring Letizia Battaglia. Directed by Kim Longinotto. (94 min)

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

Letizia Battaglia is a free-spirited (to say the least) photographer who began her chosen profession relatively late in life. She approached her craft as an artist, finding a niche capturing the violent activities of the Italian mob. Considering her subject of choice, it’s kind-of amazing she wasn’t whacked.

Shooting the Mafia is both a biography of Letizia and chronicle of the Sicilian mob’s far-reaching power as documented by her camera and video footage over the course of a few decades. Some of the imagery is disturbing enough to be right at home in a Faces of Death video, but undeniably fascinating. Through her lens, we also learn of a few elusive mafia kingpins’ nefarious influence on society and the government, as well as their eventual downfalls.

'Copping' a feel...get it?
Less interesting are the segments focusing on Letizia’s personal life, often dramatized by scenes from old Italian movies. Her escape from an abusive marriage and struggle to earn respect in a male-dominated field is somewhat inspiring. However, I didn’t really care what assorted ex-lovers had to say – even if most of them were colleagues - and her other pursuits aren’t nearly as compelling as the violent images she’s famous for. While Letizia’s frankness is admirable, she comes across as somewhat self-absorbed (even abandoning her own kids), which might make it difficult for some viewers to completely empathize with her.

When focusing on Letizia’s specialty, however, Shooting the Mafia has considerable visceral power, telling a story that certainly strips away the mystique and romanticism associated with mob life. But be forewarned, most of the photos and video footage – some involving innocent children – is tough to watch.



March 30, 2020

BEYOND THE DOOR: An Italian Horror History Lesson

Starring Juliet Mills, Richard Johnson, Gabriele Lavia, Nino Segurini, Barbara Fiorini, David Colin Jr. Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis & Robert Barrett. (108 / 98 min)

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😼

"Whooo aaaare yoooou…”

So began the original TV spot for Beyond the Door, which showed possessed, yellow-eyed Juliet Mills growling like a death metal singer and levitating across a room. Being 11 years old at the time, that shit freaked me out, as did the chilling artwork of the movie poster and newspaper ads. This was the only movie that ever made me afraid to turn off the lights without actually having seen it. Regardless of one’s ultimate opinion of the film itself, the ad campaign was indisputably brilliant and all that promotional material – including a replica of the original U.S. poster – is included with this disc.

I didn’t actually get to see the thing for another several years, as the bottom half of a drive-in double bill. Having already endured The Exorcist by that time, Beyond the Door’s cavalcade of green vomit, rotating heads and levitating bodies was underwhelming, sometimes unintentionally amusing. Though not even coming close to the terror of my childhood expectations, it did have the lady from Nanny and the Professor spittin’ goo, slappin’ kids and droppin’ f-bombs! And since I was now in my late teens, the lovely Ms. Mills suddenly had a MILF quality I found quite appealing.

What I didn’t know at the time was that no blockbuster has ever been made that the Italians couldn’t knock-off faster and cheaper, Beyond the Door being one of the more notorious examples. Warner Brothers famously - and successfully - sued its producers for ripping off The Exorcist. While Beyond unquestionably cops a lot of The Exorcist’s moves, whether or not it constitutes actual copyright infringement is certainly an interesting debate that makes the film well worth revisiting four decades later.

Beyond the Door’s entire tumultuous history – before, during and after – is a story unto itself, which this set explores through an abundance of supplemental material that’s as revealing as it is entertaining. As we learn through dozens of interviews, not everybody involved with the film consider it a rip-off, nor do some historians. A few of their arguments sound like bullshit, but others have genuine merit. The best bonus is a new feature-length documentary, “Italy Possessed,” which chronicles Italy’s dubious history of post-Exorcist “devil” pictures. Beyond the Door was simply one of them, but being the best-produced and most internationally successful, it got the most attention (both good and bad).

Revisiting the movie itself all these years later was a nostalgic blast, especially with Arrow Video’s nifty 2K facelift. Few have ever mistaken Beyond the Door for a great film and some of its goofier aspects remain highly amusing, such as the funky score, the recurring appearance of pea soup cans, the protagonists’ bizarre children (enhanced by daffy dubbing) and the piéce de résistance, the truly WTF moment when one poor bastard is tormented by a street musician playing a flute with his nose.

A second look also reveals some elements of the film that are genuinely impressive. Mills’ performance is actually quite good, especially in sequences where she’s required to shift back and forth between terrified and demonically-possessed. And despite lacking the budget William Friedkin was afforded, the specially effects aren’t bad. In fact, one particular scene involving Mills’ wandering eye is creepy as hell, even by today's standards. Sure, some scenes are clearly inspired by The Exorcist, but I’d argue the overall narrative pilfers Rosemary’s Baby more than anything else.

The tragic results of Pop Rocks and Pepsi.
Whether one considers Beyond the Door a terrifying treasure, crazy campfest or ridiculous rip-off, this is a beautifully-packaged set with considerable historical importance for horror buffs. It's a fascinating, in-depth look at both the film and the opportunistic Italian auteurs who briefly started a movement, therefore a must-own. 

When it arrived, the first thing I did was pop-in disc one to relive the original TV spot that once gave me nightmares. Of course, it's a bit silly and quaint now. On the other hand, when I suggested the accompanying poster would look good in the Dave Cave, my wife quickly & calmly shot-back, "No fucking way." Either she's a coward, her hubby has no sense of decor or some of Beyond the Door's imagery is still unnerving. Probably all three.

2 CUTS OF THE FILM – 1) Uncut English Export Edition (onscreen title: The Devil Within Her), running 108 minutes; 2) U.S. Theatrical Version, running 98 minutes).
"ITALY POSSESSED: A BRIEF HISTORY OF EXORCIST RIP-OFFS” - Not exactly brief, this is a feature-length documentary about the plethora of Italian “possession” films that followed in the wake of The Exorcist. Featuring footage from several films and interviews numerous directors, historians and actors, this is the most interesting of the bonus features.
"THE DEVIL AND ME” - Interview with director Ovidio G. Assonitis.
"BARRETT’S HELL” - Interview with cinematographer/co-director Roberto D’Ettorre Piazoli (aka Robert Barrett).
"BEYOND THE MUSIC” - Interview with composer Franco Micalizzi.
"THE DEVIL’S FACE” - Interview with cameraman Maurizio Maggi.
"MOTELS AND DEVILS” - Audio interview with actor Gabriele Lavia.
57 PAGE BOOKLET – Contains screen-shots and two essays.
TWO-SIDED POSTER – Featuring new and original artwork (we prefer the original).
REVERSIBLE COVER Featuring new and original artwork (ditto).
6 COLLECTIBLE POSTCARDS – Featuring replicas of international poster art and lobby cards.
"BEYOND THE DOOR: 35 YEARS LATER” - Includes interviews with the primary cast, director Ovidio G. Assonitis and co-writer Alex Rebar.
AUDIO COMMENTARIES – 1) Director Ovidio G. Assonitis and historian Nathaniel Thompson; 2) Actor Juliet Mills and filmmaker Scott Spiegel (a frequent collaborator with Sam Raimi).
SEVERAL TRAILERS AND TV SPOTS (including the one that made me pee myself as a kid).

March 28, 2020

MEEE-OW!: Classic Hollywood’s 10 Most Gorgeous Gals

Lovingly compiled by Mr. Paws 
(while howling like a Tex Avery wolf)

They don’t make ‘em like they used to...a cliché, of course, but sometimes true. With all due respect to today’s leading ladies, there’s something about Classic Hollywood’s screen sirens that are beyond compare. And since we here at Free Kittens are as shallow and superficial as the next guy, we’ve assembled our choices for the era’s most beautiful, best-built and supremely sexy stars. Other than their obvious aesthetic attributes, the only criteria is that their film careers began or peaked before 1960.

From femme fatales to pin-up princesses to scream queens, here are the luscious ladies from long ago who still make us purr.

10. Barbara Stanwyck – The quintessential femme fatale.
9. Dorothy Dandridge – Underappreciated and gone too soon. 
8. Anne Baxter – Moses was either blind or an idiot…
7. Yvonne De Carlo – ...then again, maybe not.
6. Lana Turner – The face that launched a thousand marriages.

5. Anne Francis – The real reason to visit Altair IV. Our favorite Anne until Ms. Margret came along.

4. Mara Corday – The most beautiful of the B-movie babes.

3. Sophia Loren – Well, duh.

2. Rita Hayworth – Admit it...red is now your favorite color.

1. Ava Gardner – In her prime, she was untouchable (though we’d have loved the opportunity).