January 30, 2020

Hughes Muse Goes UNDERWATER!

Starring Jane Russell, Richard Egan, Gilbert Roland, Lori Nelson, Robert Keith, Joseph Calleia. Directed by John Sturges. (99 min)

Review by Mr. Paws😼

When I was a kid, Jane Russell was simply the Playtex bra lady on TV who looked like my sixth grade music teacher. Then I saw The Outlaw years later and, uh...wow. Turned out  Ms. Russell didn’t always look like my music teacher and I could suddenly appreciate why she became the bra lady.

Ol’ Howard Hughes appreciated her, too (or at least part of her). Russell was prominently featured and promoted in a lot of films he produced, even if she wasn’t always essential to the plot, such as Underwater! The actual star is Richard Egan as Johnny Gray, a diver looking for a huge treasure locked in the hull of a sunken ship, which is precariously resting on the edge of a ravine. Along with mercenary buddy Dominic (Gilbert Roland), they try to get the gold off the ship while thwarting a boat of suspicious locals who appear to want to cut-in on the action.

I say ‘appear’ because these three fishermen seem merely curious, not menacing, nor do they actually threaten our treasure hunters. Still, Johnny & Dominic invite them on-board for drinks before beating their asses and leaving them stranded on a nearly island. The fishermen return later with guns, understandably pissed. Considering he’s the protagonist, Johnny’s actually kind-of a dick throughout most of the movie.

A little taste o' Howard.
But let’s not get hung up on such trifles as the plot (which is wafer-thin, anyway). Underwater! was obviously intended to be looked at, not scrutinized. As such, the film is kinda fun, with impressive underwater photography, decent special effects and handsome production design. Stylistically, the film could have been an inspiration for 1977’s The Deep, another underwater action film that capitalized on the physical assets of its female star.

Speaking of which, Russell provides plenty of window dressing as Johnny’s wife, Theresa (co-star Lori Nelson’s no slouch, either). While Underwater! isn’t quite as voyeuristic as The Outlaw, director John Sturges provides ample moments featuring Jane’s fine form in a variety of swimwear, both in and out of the water (undoubtedly at Hughes’ insistence). Who cares if her character only exists to be put in peril, or that high-heels are the worst possible choice for boating shoes?

While I’m a big fan of John Sturges, it’s obvious he’s a director-for-hire here. Underwater! certainly isn’t a high point in the careers of anyone else involved, either. Still, it’s an enjoyably lightweight, undemanding adventure film with a bit more to offer than just Jane and her two friends.


January 29, 2020

THE POOP SCOOP: Pea Soup Edition

BEYOND THE DOOR on Blu-ray 3/24
Legendary filmmaker Ovidio G. Assonitis, whose Tentacles and Piranha II sought to cash in on the killer fish craze spawned by Jaws, first hit pay dirt in 1974 with Beyond the Door - a gloriously bonkers riff on The Exorcist featuring Emmy Award-winning actress Juliet Mills and distinguished British actor Richard Johnson. Set against the backdrop of San Francisco, Beyond the Door stars Mills as Jessica Barrett, a young mother who starts to develop strange behaviors whilst pregnant with her third child. Before you can say "split pea soup", Jessica is displaying signs of full-blown demonic possession - complete with projectile vomiting and fully-rotating head! Could it be that she's carrying the child of the Antichrist himself? Described as "disgusting", "scary trash" and "maddeningly inappropriate" by film critic Robert Ebert and subject to a lawsuit by Warner Bros. (who claimed copyright infringement against a certain William Friedkin film), the devilish denizens at Arrow Video have summoned up this wickedly entertaining popcorn spiller in a brand new, extras-packed edition fit for Satan himself! 

That poster freaked me out when I was a kitten.

KNIVES OUT on Digital 2/7 and 4K, Blu-ray, DVD & On Demand 2/25
The circumstances surrounding the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey are mysterious, but there’s one thing that renowned Detective Benoit Blanc knows for sure—everyone in the wildly dysfunctional Thrombey family is a suspect. Now, Blanc must sift through a web of lies and red herrings to uncover the truth. From acclaimed writer-director Rian Johnson comes this suspenseful, twist-filled whodunnit with an all-star ensemble cast including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, and more. Take home Knives Out and immerse yourself in the mystery with special features including audio commentary and in-theatre commentary by filmmaker Rian Johnson, two never-before-seen deleted scenes, the eight-part “Making a Murder” documentary, the “Rian Johnson: Planning the Perfect Murder” featurette, a Q&A with the director and cast, and so much more.
CHARLIE'S ANGELS on Digital 2/18 & 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD 3/10
Director Elizabeth Banks takes the helm as the next generation of fearless Charlie’s Angels take flight. In Banks’ bold vision, Kristen Stewart (Sabina), Naomi Scott (Elena), and Ella Balinska (Jane) are working for the mysterious Charles Townsend, whose investigative agency has expanded internationally. The new Angels are among the world’s smartest, bravest, and most highly trained women all over the globe. Under the guidance of Bosley (Elizabeth Banks), the Angels have to protect a revolutionary technology from becoming weaponized. They will have to rely on each other as their assignment becomes increasingly treacherous and even those closest to them can no longer be trusted. The bonus materials include a hilarious gag reel, five deleted scenes, and four making-of featurettes with never-before-seen cast and crew interviews. Dive deep into the stunning costume design, high-octane stunt sequences, and learn how the stars bonded on set to form their own Angels’ sisterhood!

There were several masters of animation during Hollywoods golden era. Of the top two geniuses, one created elaborate fairy tales and ornate feature-length fantasias the other guy was Tex Avery. He just wanted to make you laugh. Having already been integrally involved in the development of Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny for Warner Bros., Avery moved to MGM in 1941 to create a set of comedy masterpieces that defined a new slapstick style for animation, inspiring cartoonists, comedians and filmmakers for decades to come. Averys unit at Metro Goldwyn Mayer was all about breaking the fourth wall, shattering expectations and making audiences fall down with laughter. His one-shot masterpieces, including Bad Luck Blackie, Red Hot Riding Hood and Symphony in Slang, have proven themselves pure gold. And continuing characters like Droopy, Screwball Squirrel and George & Junior not to mention Spike, Red and The Wolf remain unforgettable comic personas among the top rank of cartoondom. Averys cartoons were ahead of their time and their time has come. Finally committed to Blu-ray , this first collection of restored Technicolor shorts feels fresh and new, and is funnier than ever. This set will delight young and old and will amaze a new generation ready to laugh again. 


January 28, 2020

THE SIREN: There Must Be Something in the Water

THE SIREN (2019)
Starring Margaret Ying Drake, MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel. Directed by Perry Blackshear. (79 min)

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat

One unique aspect of The Siren – for horror movies, anyway - is that one of its main characters happens to be gay, yet in-no-way is his sexuality part of the story. Al (MacLeod Andrews) is simply out to avenge the death of his husband, who he’s certain was killed by a mythical siren that lurks in a woodland lake. Turns out he’s right, of course, otherwise no movie.

Ever vigilant, Al lives by the same lake, where quite a few people have drowned over the years. Then Tom (Evan Dumouchel) arrives to stay in a rented cabin nearby. He informs Al he’s mute, the result of a swimming accident as a boy, so he has a healthy respect for the water. Later, a mysterious woman named Nina (Margaret Ying Drake) swims up to the dock. She’s the titular character, of course, and sets her sights on Tom as her next quarry. He becomes enamored with Nina, even after her first attempt to drown him. Once Al learns she's the siren he's been looking for, he wants to kill her before she claims another poor rube.

"Yeah...it's a Rolex."
It’s a promising set-up for an intriguing three-character drama, whichThe Siren fulfills only sporadically. The characters are interesting and the setting is wonderfully atmospheric, enhancing the film’s melancholy tone. However, it’s unnecessarily ambiguous for long stretches. There’s no problem with a filmmaker trying to disorient the viewer by having them question what’s real or a character’s imagination. In Tom’s case, since he’s supposedly enchanted by Nina, these surreal sequences are quietly unnerving. But it eventually grows more confusing than engaging, especially once the narrative starts jumping from one unrelated scene to another with no transition (such as Nina’s encounters with a young child late in the film).

Considering its artier pretensions comprise a majority of the running time, The Siren might have been better as a short. Still, one has to admire writer-director Perry Blackshear’s ambition. Both technically and narratively, he instills it with just enough quirks to make it worth checking out. 

ARROW FRIGHTFEST INTERVIEW – With writer/director Perry Blackshear.
2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - #1) By Perry Blackshear & actor Margaret Ying Drake; #2) By actors MacLeod Andrews & Evan Dumouchel.

January 27, 2020

EDGE OF THE AXE - “California” Screamin’

Starring Jim Carrey Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Page Moseley, Fred Holiday, Patty Shepard. Directed by Jose Ramon Larraz. (91 min)

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😼

I gotta give director Jose Ramon Larraz credit for one thing...he sure had me fooled. Paddock County, the primary setting of Edge of the Axe, looks exactly like any miniscule mountain town dotting the highways of Northern California, right down to the road signs. In fact, I was briefly certain my car once broke down in this very town. But according to the interviews in the bonus features, the entire film was shot in Spain.

That’s a lot of misguided effort to make the film resemble its American contemporaries. But if Larraz had really done his homework, he’d have thrown in a lot more blood, boobs & backstory. As long as the movie has the Three B’s, do slasher fans really care where it takes place?

In the U.S., Edge of the Axe was released direct-to-video in 1989, long after the genre’s glory days were over. Though Larraz was somewhat respected in European horror circles, he brings nothing new to the table. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but not only is the film highly derivative, it’s erratically-paced, illogical, poorly acted (even by slasher standards) and packed with more red herrings than a London supermarket.

Jim Carrey visits a retirement home.
Worst of all, it’s missing the basic ingredients to amuse even the most indiscriminate slasher fan. Considering the killer’s weapon of choice, the violence is relatively tame and not terribly convincing. The victims are mostly axe fodder, introduced just so they can die. Other minor characters show up in the story just long enough to be suspects. And sorry, guys...there isn’t a bare breast, teen party or pre-marital sex scene to be found. Instead, we get endless shots of characters driving, a laughable romantic subplot and a sheriff so dumb he makes Buford T. Justice look like Frank Serpico.

Despite featuring some of Europe’s most scenic California locations, Edge of the Axe is as generic as its title, ultimately adding nothing to an overly-crowded genre. On the plus side, the transfer is terrific and the bonus features (outlined below) are pretty entertaining, especially the second audio commentary by a podcast group called The Hysteria Continues, which is part informational, part anecdotal, part MST3K and great fun. These guys actually make the whole thing worth enduring!

"GERALD’S GAME” - Interview with actor Barton Faulks.
"THE ACTOR’S GRIND” - Interview with actor Page Moseley.
"THE PAIN IN SPAIN” - Interview with make-up artist Colin Arthur.
2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - #1) By actor Barton Faulks & director Matt Rosenblatt (though he didn’t direct this); #2) By The Hysteria Continues.


January 26, 2020

BATTLE OF JANGSARI: South Korean Cannon Fodder

Starring Kim Myung-min, Choi Sung-Pil, Kim Sung-cheol, Megan Fox, George Eads. Directed by Kwak Kyung-taek & Kim Tae-hoon. (106 min)

Review by Tiger the Terrible😽

Just to give any Megan Fox fans a heads-up: Despite her prominent billing in Battle of Jangsari, she only appears in a few scenes and even those feel gratuitously inserted, as if they were shot much later and included to boost the film’s international appeal.

Her character is completely inconsequential. As reporter Maggie Higgins, she provides redundant commentary on South Korea’s decision to send 700 inexperienced student soldiers to divert North Korean forces from General MacArthur’s Inchon campaign. We don’t need a former Maxim pop tart to tell us lambs are being led to the slaughter.

"Look...I carved my initials in the stock!"
This true story is interesting enough on its own merits. With an opening sequence that evokes Saving Private Ryan, scores of these guys – led by compassionate commander Myung-Joon (Kim Myung-min) – are mowed down the minute they hit the shore. Against all odds, the rest manage to secure the beach...at least temporarily. Low on men, ammo and food as more North Korean troops approach, they go on the offensive while hoping reinforcements – or at least a rescue ship – arrive on time.

The story features three major battle sequences. While not quite as graphic or visceral as those in Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down, these scenes still pack a wallop and are the high-points of the film. In between are familiar-yet-engaging moments where a few of the young soldiers are humanized just enough for us to care about their fates.

"Shit. You sank my battleship."
Unfortunately, momentum is broken every time the film cuts away to feature Maggie bickering with Colonel Stephen (George Eads) over the lack of support being provided. These scenes could be completely removed and the viewer would still get the point that sending a bunch kids to serve as diversionary cannon fodder was terrible & tragic.

Other than that, Battle of Jangsari offers a vivid, dramatic depiction of a lesser-known conflict in the Korean War. While it may or may not be historically accurate, the chaos of the brutal battle sequences feel authentic, which compensates for the irrelevant scenes and characters.


January 24, 2020

BLACK ANGEL and the Power of Forgiveness

Starring Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford, Constance Dowling. Directed by Roy William Neill. (81 min)

Review by Mr. Paws😽

Bitchy lounge singer Mavis Marlowe is murdered in her apartment and John Bennet is the poor sap who goes down for the crime. However, John’s wife, Catherine (June Vincent), is convinced he’s innocent. Well, maybe innocent is the wrong word. After all, he was having an affair with Mavis, who was also blackmailing him. But Catherine certainly doesn’t think he’s capable of murder.

That’s pretty damn forgiving, if you ask me. Maybe it’s my inherently vindictive nature, but if my wife was banging a guy who later turned up dead, I doubt I’d work that hard to clear her name.

Instead, Catherine requests the help of Martin Blair (Dan Duryea), Mavis’ perpetually drunk ex-husband who was still hopelessly in love with her. He’s also the last person to see her alive, having previously visited her apartment hoping to rekindle their relationship (which she cruelly rejected). Still, he goes all-in to help find the real killer.

Not that I wish ill will on my own ex-wife, but we got divorced for a reason and I’m not sure how much concern I’d muster if she were to meet a sudden end through foul play. I guess that makes Mavis a better man than me.

"Guess where you can stick that, Martin."
The investigation seems simple enough. Mavis was wearing a unique brooch Martin once gave her, but now missing. Find the brooch, find the killer. Their primary suspect is shady nightclub owner Marko (Peter Lorre). Martin and Catherine pose as a lounge act to get closer to him, during which time Martin falls in love with her (boy, he sure got over Mavis fast).

Black Angel is a minor but enjoyable piece of film noir, well directed by the prolific Roy William Neill (best-known for Sherlock Holmes films). Additionally, the performances are good, especially Lorre’s. The film really pops when he’s on- screen, which unfortunately isn’t all that long. The initial set-up is intriguing, as is the race against time to find the culprit before John is executed. However, the story grows increasingly predictable, with Martin’s alcoholism more-or-less telegraphing the twist ending.

Until then, Black Angel won’t make anyone forget Double Indemnity, but it's entertaining enough to be worth seeking out by film noir fans. Rescued from relative obscurity by Arrow Academy, the film has been nicely restored for Blu-ray and comes with a few interesting bonus features.

"A FITTING END” - A twenty-minute interview with film historian Neil Sinyard, who discusses the film’s relative obscurity, as well as how it deviates from the source novel.
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By writer Alan K. Rode.
IMAGE GALLERY – Production photos and various promotional material.


CIMARRON and the Great Escape

Starring Glenn Ford, Maria Schell, Anne Baxer (mee-ow!), Arthur O’Connell, Russ Tamblyn, Mercedes Cambridge, Harry Morgan. Directed by Anthony Mann. (147 min).

Review by Mr. Paws😼

Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired, but while watching Cimarron, I found myself often questioning Yancey Cravat’s real motives for his actions, not-to-mention his taste in women.

Yancey (Glenn Ford) is a man whose past sounds far more interesting than his present status. Throughout the film, we’re dropped hints of his old life. Gunfighter, rustler, gambler, man-of-action, he’s been around the block a few times, which also included a lusty relationship with dance-hall girl Dixie Lee (Anne Baxter).

He’s since given all that up to settle down with new bride Sabra (Maria Schell), hoping to claim a prime piece of property during the Oklahoma Land Rush. But he’s bested by Dixie herself and ends up starting a newspaper in the newly-established town of Osage. He’s also developed an unshakable code of ethics, frequently advocating for Indian rights, exposing injustices and trying to steer troubled young outlaws down the right path.

Looks like the honeymoon's over.
But Yancey often goes out for a pack o' smokes – sometimes for years – to engage in some kind of adventure or crusade. Upon returning, he professes his love for his wife and son. He probably really means it, too, though I suspect that he simply can’t stand being around her for very long.

Nagging, petty, whiny, self-absorbed and nearly as racist as some of the guys Yancey’s squared off against, Sabra’s a real shrew. While it’s difficult to fathom what he saw in her in the first place – especially with Dixie throwing herself at him (good God, are you blind, man?) - it’s easy to see why risking his life on the front lines is preferable to staying home. Which is ironic when you consider Sabra’s actually the main character in Edna Furber’s original novel. Maybe she’s more engaging in the book, but here, it’s no wonder much of the film’s focus is on Yancey.

Yancey takes-in Oklahoma's most scenic landmark.
When depicting Yancey’s overall badassery, whether avenging a lynching or rescuing children from bandits, Cimarron is a lot of fun. He’s a tough-but-compassionate hero whose stoicism is admirable and Ford provides the understated gavitas his character needs. It’s too bad the story doesn’t follow Yancey on all his adventures, because what he’s doing in Cuba has to be more interesting than watching Sabra run the newspaper, bitch about her husband and alienate her son. So while I certainly understand why Yancey’s always stepping out, the story slows to a crawl when he ain’t around.

Until the anti-climactic final act – Yancy’s completely out of the picture by now - Cimarron is generally pretty interesting as one of Hollywood earliest revisionist Westerns. It’s also beautifully shot, filled with vivid, panoramic landscapes which add to the epic feel of the film. Still, I can’t help but think if he had just re-connected with Dixie, Yancey would feel less compelled to leave home all the time. Then again, I’ve always had a thing for Anne Baxter, so maybe it’s just me.


January 21, 2020

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE: Back to the Chase

Starring Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta. Directed by Tim Miller. (128 min)

Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

While the world may not have needed another Terminator movie, this one cuts to the chase, so to speak, reverting back to what made the first two films undisputed classics.

Gone is most of the convoluted plot baggage that muddied Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys. Those films aren’t without merit, but both seemed forget what really drove Terminators 1 & 2 (and even the underappreciated Terminator 3) was the thrill of the chase. We were given a crash course in time travel – just enough to accept the premise without scrutinizing it too hard – before pummeling us into submission. I haven’t met many people who cared much about the franchise’s temporal logistics anyway.

Terminator: Dark Fate ignores the last three films altogether, which is ironic since it essentially cops the “Judgment Day is inevitable” assertion of Terminator 3. Only this time it isn’t Skynet sending terminators back in time to dispatch the Connors. Now it’s a computer network called Legion and the  target is Dani (Natalia Reyes), a feisty young assembly line worker in Mexico. It’s never effectively explained how Legion evolves to threaten all humankind, nor does it really matter. Once the Rev-9 terminator (Gabriel Luna) arrives in the present day, it’s up to mechanically-enhanced super-soldier Grace (Maclenzie Davis) to keep Dani alive for whatever purpose she serves in the future (revealed late in the film, though the viewer will have figured it out long before).

Of course, the big drawing card (or at-least it should have been) is the welcome return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Ever since preventing Judgment Day decades earlier, she’s been hunting terminators, though Grace has never heard of her, Skynet or John Connor (unceremoniously killed by a terminator in the very first scene). In fact, Sarah and Grace have an amusingly antagonistic relationship throughout most of the film. Still, she sees a lot of herself in Dani. Playing Sarah as a grizzled, cynical and bitter warrior, Hamilton is clearly having a lot of fun.

"Yes...I am a lumberjack. But I am not okay."
It just occurred to me I haven’t yet even mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s probably because he doesn’t show up for at-least an hour, his existence & motivations are sort-of contrived and – narratively speaking – he’s the least essential character in the film. But hey, it’s not a Terminator movie without Arnold, even if he’s often regulated to being comic relief.

Like the original Terminator, there are no concurrent timelines, no altering the future to save the world. It’s all about the simplicity of the chase, with exciting action sequences and large-scale destruction (though nothing as groundbreaking as T2), relenting just long enough for occasional story or character exposition. None of it ends up being really necessary, but it sure is a lot of fun.

FEATURETTES - “A Legend Reforged” (behind-the-scenes, interviews with cast, director Tim Miller & producer James Cameron); “World Builders” (sort-of an extension of the first featurette, with more emphasis of action scenes); “Dam Busters: The Final Showdown” (this one focuses on the epic scale climax); “VFX: The Dragonfly”

THE POOP SCOOP: Movie of the Week Edition

FROZEN 2 on Digital 2/11 and Blu-ray & 4K UHD on 2/25
In Frozen 2, the answer to why Elsa was born with magical powers is calling her and threatening her kingdom. Together with Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven, she sets out on a dangerous but remarkable journey. In Frozen, Elsa feared her powers were too much for the world. Now she must hope they are enough. From the Academy Award-winning team—directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, producer Peter Del Vecho and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—Frozen 2 features the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad.  Bonus features include deleted scenes, deleted songs, Easter eggs, outtakes and a sing-along version with lyrics to the film’s forever-infectious songs. Go behind-the-scenes to hear personal, making-of stories from the cast and crew. Fans who bring the film home early on Digital will receive two exclusive extras: an interview with songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who won an Oscar for Best Original Song (“Let It Go,” 2014) and wrote seven original songs for “Frozen 2,” and a deleted song titled “Unmeltable Me.”
UNCUT GEMS on Digital 2/25 and Blu-ray & DVD 3/10
Adam Sandler gives “a mythologically great performance” (Robbie Collin, The Telegraph) in a critically-acclaimed thriller co-written and directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie (writers and directors of Good Time). The film played at both the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews and is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Uncut Gems stars Golden Globe nominee Adam Sandler (2003, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, Punch-Drunk Love), LaKeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, and Academy Award nominee Judd Hirsch (1981, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Ordinary People). Executive produced by Martin Scorsese.

Remember the "ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK?"
Well, we do...
In PRAY FOR THE WILDCATS, a power-mad tycoon (Andy Griffith) challenges three advertising executives to a motorcycle trip down Mexico's Baja Peninsula, a weekend getaway that turns into a nightmare of desert warfare. For the trio (William Shatner, Robert Reed and Marjoe Gortner), the initial lure is a multi- million-dollar account, but a sudden terrifying incident along the ride reveals their unpredictable client's real intentions: to test just how far the men will go to save their careers and their families. As the action intensifies, so do the fascinating character dynamics, driving this engrossing thriller to its startling climax. Wonderfully directed by Robert Michael Lewis and co-starring Angie Dickinson, Janet Margolin and Lorraine Gary. 

In SUPERDOME, the star players for the Cougars, gathered in New Orleans for the big game, are preoccupied with some serious off-the-field issues. Dave Walecki's (Ken Howard, 1776) marriage to his wife Nancy (Susan Howard, TV's Dallas) is falling apart, while Jim McCauley (Tom Selleck, An Innocent Man) is involved in a shady deal with a management firm that could destroy his career. But that's nothing compared to the real drama. There's an assassin killing off many of the team's personnel (as well as their chances of winning)! David Janssen (S.O.S. Titanic) stars as the team manager, who races against time to identify the killer before it's too late. This made-for-television thriller was directed by veteran filmmaker Jerry Jameson (Airport '77, Raise the Titanic) and co-stars Edie Adams (The Oscar), Donna Mills (Play Misty for Me), Van Johnson (23 Paces to Baker Street), Vonetta McGee (The Eiger Sanction), Jane Wyatt (Pitfall), Robin Mattson (Return to Macon County), M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple) and NFL legends Bubba Smith (Police Academy) and Dick Butkus (TV's Blue Thunder).

January 20, 2020

BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE: One Little Victory

Starring Pernilla August, Peter Haber, Anders Mossling, Lancelot Ncube, Malin Levanon, Olle Sarri, Mahmut Suvakci. Directed by Tuva Novotny. (97 min)

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

Since the tragic death of her more free-spirited sister when they were children, Britt-Marie’s (Pernilla August) entire life has been fueled by routine. She makes daily to-do lists, does the shopping, cleans the house and cooks for her husband of 40 years, Kent (Peter Haber). It’s not-so-much a loving relationship as it is a comforting one. Being reliable, efficient and organized is how she defines happiness.

Then life throws her a curveball. Britt-Marie learns Kent has been having an affair and subsequently leaves him. But starting over at 63 is daunting, especially since she hasn’t worked an actual job since getting married. The only thing available is temporary position at a rundown rec center in the small town of Borg. She’s also expected to coach the youth soccer team, despite her lowly opinion of the game – likely because Kent appeared to care more about soccer than his own marriage. The community, of course, is dumbfounded by all this.

"Fine. I'm taking my ball and going home."
Plotwise, Britt-Marie was Here isn’t exactly brimming with surprises. It follows a narrative pattern similar to many American sports comedies: A reluctant coach forced to guide a scruffy bunch of underdogs, finding purpose and self-respect along the way. This one is more bittersweet in tone, but generates a lot of the same warm fuzzies. Much of that is due to the performances, especially August in the titular role. Despite appearing joyless throughout most of the film, Britt-Marie is an likably-engaging character. Stubborn, vulnerable and always uncertain of her decisions, she’s easy to empathize with. Surrounding her is a variety of interesting secondary characters, such as potential love-interest, Sven (Anders Mossling), who’s nearly as insecure as Britt-Marie.

A charming spin on a familiar premise, Britt-Marie was Here is an understated, congenial little gem. A film without massive highs or lows, the personal victories are small, but no less important to its characters and just as enjoyable for the viewer.


January 19, 2020


The hours that must have been spent on that tagline.
Starring Jackie Chan, Zhong Chuxi, Ethan Juan, Lin Peng, Austin Lin. Directed by Jia Yan (aka Vash). (109 min)

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

Though it isn’t shown anywhere on the cover or in the opening credit sequence, The Knight of Shadows apparently carries the subtitle, Between Yin and Yang, which might also describe this review of the film itself….

First, the “yin” (the negative): 
The film may feature Jackie Chan, but a far cry from the Chan we’ve grown to know and love. Where he was once his own special effect, here he’s literally surrounded by CGI almost the entire time. Nor does he display the personality or formidable physical skills we’re used to seeing. Granted, age catches up with all of us and I don’t expect him to be leaping across rooftops anymore, but that was never all he had going for him. Chan is a charming comic actor, but really, his role as a demon hunter could have been played by anybody.

The writing is sometimes terrible. Characters often explain their predicaments as they are happening, as if the audience is too dumb to figure it out on their own. Likewise, they announce their actions before actually doing them, sort of like those old Saturday morning superhero cartoons from the ‘70s.

Some of Chan’s animated assistants are horrid creations, namely “Gassy,” who paralyzes demons with his farts. It’s a blatant and stupid attempt to pander to the kiddie crowd with bathroom humor. And yes, he announces in-advance when he’s planning to use his power, because the very word fart is apparently very funny.

Jackie gets hammered.
Now the “yang” (the positive):

On the other hand, the story itself isn’t bad. Chan plays Pu Songling, who vanquishes demons by using his trusty yin & yang brush, which traps them in a book. Once there, they are unable to reincarnate, banished to a nether world. One particularly hungry demon, Xiaoqian (Zhong Chuxi), feeds on young girls’ souls to stay alive, while her ex-lover and former demon himself, Caichen (Ethan Juan), pleads for Pu to help return her to human form. After a woefully shaky start, this turns into a pretty engaging story.

Though I think most would agree Chan is underused, the rest of the cast is pretty decent. Juan and Chuxi make an aesthetically appealing set of doomed lovers, while Lin Bo-hong has a few amusing moments as a bumbling lawman-turned-apprentice.

Visually, there’s a lot of imagination at work. The production design is suitably lush, vibrant and colorful, enhancing the whimsical setting. The extensive CGI gives most scenes an artificial quality, but at the same time, that’s part of what makes it interesting to look at. The climax, where the major characters clash in the demon world, is a dizzying spectacle that might be a little over-the-top, but is certainly entertaining.

Ultimately, The Knight of Shadows is far-removed from vintage Jackie Chan. Some characters and narrative elements are almost distressingly bad, particularly during the first act. But if one’s able to slog through the lame slapstick and fart gags, the rest of the film has some moments that might be worth the effort. Yin and yang indeed.