September 30, 2020

THE TAX COLLECTOR: Shia LaBludgeoned

THE TAX COLLECTOR (Blu-ray Steelbook Review)
2020 / 95 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Though I still can’t take Shia LaBeouf very seriously, I gotta admire his fierce dedication to that ‘indie spirit’. And talk about taking method acting to the next level: For his role as a sadistic enforcer simply known as Creeper, he had his entire chest tattooed...for real! Kinda makes DeNiro’s weight gain for The Untouchables seem like small potatoes, doesn’t it?

Still, why would you permanently stencil your body for a gory gangs n’ guns flick like The Tax Collector, especially when you aren't even the star and your character’s gone by the end of the second act? 

The real star is Bobby Soto as David Cuevas. With good buddy Creeper tagging along to provide the muscle, he collects regular payments from all the local gangs for LA’s biggest crime lord, The Wizard. In his down time, he’s a loving family man. Then the entire organization is threatened by psychotic rival kingpin Conejo (played by a guy who also goes by ‘Conejo’). When people close to him start dying, David goes on the offensive.

I’ll say this much about LaBeouf...he gives the best performance in the film. I’m still not sure if Creeper is actually supposed to be hispanic or a white guy who’s just infatuated with the culture, but he attacks his one-note role with conviction. Soto tries hard, but fails to give David any real personality. Conversely, Conejo goes completely off-the-rails, glowering and emoting like a Grand Theft Auto villain. 

"This is NOT a drill! Oh, wait..."
In fact, the entire film plays sort-of like a Grand Theft Auto mission, with all the cartoon thuggery, f-bombs, guns, blood and insensitive stereotypes the comparison suggests. And if that’s your idea of entertainment, The Tax Collector isn’t without its virtues. The plot is predictable, the characters are walking cliches and the dialogue is sometimes laughably pretentious. It also takes way too long to get to the actual plot, but when it finally does, the kinetic action and violence is stylish and fairly enjoyable. Like watching a hardcore gamer lick a GTA mission with ease, there ain’t a lot of suspense, but it’s sort of a fun way to kill time.

Similar to most of writer-director David Ayer’s other films, we walk away without giving the movie another thought. But sometimes we’re in the mood for dumb, gratuitous mayhem, the kind that require no personal engagement beyond keeping track of where the bullets hit. As such, The Tax Collector might hit the spot. But I still can’t help but be dumbfounded by Mr. LaBeouf’s misguided approach to method acting. A chest tattoo? For this movie? Why, Shia, why?





THE POOP SCOOP: Threequel Edition

"'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.

UNHINGED on DVD and Blu-ray 11/7
Academy Award® winner Russell Crowe stars in Unhinged, a psychological thriller that explores something we've all experienced — road rage — to an unpredictable and terrifying conclusion. Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is running late to work when she has an altercation at a traffic light with a stranger (Crowe) whose life has left him feeling powerless and invisible. Soon, Rachel finds herself, and everyone she loves, the target of a man who decides to make one last mark upon the world by teaching her a series of deadly lessons. What follows is a dangerous game of cat and mouse that proves you never know just how close you are to someone who is about to become unhinged.

BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC on Blu-ray and DVD 11/10
From Metro Goldwyn Mayer's Orion Pictures and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment have officially announced that they will release on Blu-ray Dean Parisot's Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020), starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Jayma Mays, and Anthony Carrigan. The release will be available for purchase on November 10. Synopsis: The stakes are higher than ever for the time-traveling exploits of William 'Bill' S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore 'Ted' Logan (Keanu Reeves). Yet to fulfill their rock and roll destiny, the now middle-aged best friends set out on a new adventure when a visitor from the future warns them that only their song can save life as we know it. Along the way, they will be helped by their daughters, a new batch of historical figures, and a few music legends — to seek the song that will set their world right and bring harmony in the universe.

SPREE on DVD and Blu-ray 10/20
SPREE is directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko from a script co-written by Kotlyarenko and Gene McHugh.  The film features an all-star cast led by Joe Keery, Sasheer Zamata, David Arquette, Kyle Mooney, Mischa Barton, Frankie Grande and John DeLuca. RLJE In SPREE, Kurt (Joe Keery) is a 23-year-old rideshare driver for Spree, who is so desperate for social media attention that he'll stop at nothing to go viral. He comes up with a plan to livestream a rampage as a shortcut to infamy - coining his evil scheme "#thelesson", he installs a set of cameras in his car and begins streaming his rides. Wildly miscalculating the popularity that would come from his lethal scheme, Kurt’s desperation grows as he tries to find a way to overcome the plan's flaws. In the middle of all this madness, a stand-up comedian (Sasheer Zamata) with her own viral agenda crosses Kurt's path and becomes the only hope to put a stop to his misguided carnage.

September 28, 2020

THE PALE DOOR Has a Hitch in the Gitalong

THE PALE DOOR (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 96 min


Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

When done right, genre mash-up movies can be a lot of fun. Cult classics like Near Dark and From Dusk ‘till Dawn immediately come-to-mind. But too often, filmmakers are under the false assumption that the concept alone is all you need.

For example, The Pale Door has an irresistible premise. The Dalton Gang is an eclectic batch of outlaws who rob a train, killing all the pinkerton guards and making-off with the giant cashbox. But not only does gang leader Duncan (Zachary Knighton) get shot during the robbery, all that’s inside the trunk is a young woman, Pearl (Natasha Bassett), who offers a reward and medical help for Duncan if they take her back to her hometown of Potemkin.

However, Potemkin is mostly deserted, save for the local brothel run by Maria (Melora Walters), who’s actually a witch who was once burned at the stake 200 years earlier. The prostitutes are witches, too, and eventually reveal themselves as hideous, slimy, hook-nosed monsters bent on killing the entire gang. However, the guy they really want is Duncan’s little brother, Jake (Devin Druid), because as a virgin who’s never taken a life, his blood is pure.

Feelin' horny.

It sounds great on paper. However, The Pale Door ultimately fails as both a horror film and a western. First off, the story takes forever to get going, during which time we’re introduced to an assortment of dull cowboy stereotypes, the only interesting one being Bill Sage as hardass henchman Dodd. The relationship between the two brothers is perfunctory, including a needless prologue depicting a childhood tragedy. And despite all the horses, six-shooters and ten-gallon hats, the film never really feels like a western...just a bunch of actors on sets that look too artificial to be convincing. That could be due to a tight budget, so we won’t hold that against it.

But even with limited resources, there’s the opportunity to introduce some intriguing gothic horror to the narrative, perhaps with the Daltons gradually falling prey to seductive witchery or something. Instead, special effects take over. With a second half ripped right out of the Robert Rodriguez playbook, these witches suddenly attack and kill with the ferocity of Evil Dead demons. The practical gore effects are okay, but we’ve seen it all before and there isn’t any real suspense, not even when the last few survivors are trapped inside a church, which the witches can’t enter, of course (prompting us to question why they’d leave it standing in the first place, but never mind).

The film is competently made, with (mostly) adequate performances and workmanlike direction. But the pacing is erratic and despite an intriguing conceptual mash-up, the story is pretty derivative. Lacking the tone and atmosphere of either genre it attempts to emulate, The Pale Door squanders a great opportunity. It might be watchable, but it’s never very engaging.


FEATURETTES - “The Making of The Pale Door”; “Editing The Pale Door

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By writer-director Aaron B. Koontz and writer-producer Cameron Burns.



September 27, 2020

ELI ROTH'S HISTORY OF HORROR: An American Horror Story

ELI ROTH’S HISTORY OF HORROR Season 1 (Blu-ray Review)
2018 / 296 min (7 episodes)


Review by Cuddles, the Couch Potato😽

Like James Cameron’s Story of Science-Fiction, which also first-aired on AMC, Eli Roth’s History of Horror isn’t quite as all-encompassing as the title suggests. Though horror has a long, international history in literature, art, comics and television, the focus of this series is mostly on movies. More specifically, American movies, especially those of the past 60 years.

Which, to a certain extent, is to be expected. Most of us associate horror with movies and even Stephen King - featured extensively throughout this series - seldom discusses the genre outside of that context. Additionally, it’s been during the last half-century that horror has thrived and a majority of the iconic films from those decades have come from America.

Given those parameters, the show is a pretty extensive summary of horror cinema and its various subgenres. The seven episodes comprising Season 1 are “Zombies,” “Ghost Stories,” “The Demon Inside,” “Vampires,” “Killer Creatures” and “Slashers” (which apparently warrants two episodes, though I do not agree that Silence of the Lambs is a slasher movie). Each one features dozens of film clips, with extended segments focusing on those which were the most influential or had substantial cultural impact. As for executive producer & host Eli Roth...his own films might polarize the horror community, but he really does know his shit.

Eli boasts about his "shoe size."
Numerous directors, writers, historians and actors - many interviewed by Roth himself - discuss the cultural and/or societal significance of films and genres in the context of when they were made, as well as how they were impacted personally or professionally. Their insights are often interesting, sometimes a bit pretentious and occasionally academic. While the overall sincerity of everyone involved - especially Roth - is inarguable, the series isn’t particularly informative. There’s a good chance the intended audience won’t actually learn much they didn’t already know.

Still, it’s an entertaining tour, featuring of slew of famous and not-so-famous faces, some whose careers have been defined by horror, others who simply have a huge appreciation of it (like Rob Zombie, who round-tables with Roth and Greg Nicotero and appears content to let them do all the talking). Hard core horror fans will probably cry foul at the near-total exclusion of Europe and Japan’s considerable contributions to the genre (Season 2, perhaps?), but it’s hard to argue with what’s here.


EXTENDED INTERVIEWS - The best of the bonus features, these are lengthy interviews with various directors and writers, who talk with Eli roth about a variety of horror-related subjects.

FEATURETTES - “How Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein Influenced Tarantino”; “How Video Games Resurrected Zombie Movies”; “Is Horror Sexist or Feminist?”; “Making a Monster”; “Scarred for Life” (most of these featurettes are culled from topics discussed in episodes or interviews).



September 25, 2020

SHIVERS and the Birth of Body Horror

SHIVERS (Blu-ray Review)
1975 / 88 min


Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

The night I watched Shivers, I had a weird dream where I was being chased by bloody, infected maniacs like the ones in the movie. Leading the charge was co-star Lynn Lowry, only older, as she appears in one of this disc's new bonus features. Just as she was about to lock lips with me, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who’s not in the movie) came up from behind and shot her. Afterwards, Jeff and I got on my iPad and created the world’s greatest pop song with GarageBand.

I only mention this because I’ve seen so many horror movies over the years that very few of them ever follow me into my sleep. It isn’t that Shivers is scary. Hell, it ain’t even that eerie or atmospheric. But despite some low-budget crudity and amateurism that renders parts of it unintentionally humorous - especially 45 years later - there’s something pretty damned unnerving about the movie as a whole. The fact that it’s so rough around the edges might even be a contributing factor. 

As grassroots feature film debuts go, Shivers was to David Cronenberg’s career what Night of the Living Dead was to George A. Romero’s and Last House on the Left was to Wes Craven’s...A calling card with the promise of greater things to come. One could easily argue that, artistically, Cronenberg was the most successful of the three at fulfilling that promise. Shivers is far from his best film, but without it, we may not have gotten such body-horror classics as The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly, to say nothing of his more mature movie mind-benders that wowed critics and alienated the yahoo crowd.

Conceptually, Shivers remains one of Cronenberg’s most perverse. Sort of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers filtered through a ‘70s porno aesthetic (though it ain’t pornographic), the film features some nasty lab-grown parasites that take up residence in a swanky apartment complex, infecting their victims with an insatiable sex drive. Typical of the Cronenberg we would grow to know and love, sex and violence are mutually compatible, such as the way these big slimy critters transfer from one host to another. 

Here you go, ladies.
Though crude and cheap, with bland characters and questionable performances, this is essentially where body horror was born (in movies, anyway). On a purely visceral level, Shivers is visually and conceptually disturbing, which is pretty impressive considering the limited resources Cronenberg had at his disposal. Overall, it lacks the spit & polish of his more iconic films, but the seeds for them - and every other excursion into body horror - were planted here. 

In that context, Shivers is nearly as influential as Night of the Living Dead and Halloween. But even back then, it was obvious David Cronenberg was less interested in scaring an audience than getting under their skin (no pun intended). With hindsight, I suppose it was inevitable that he'd eventually leave the genre behind because, unlike most of his peers, he knew exploring human nature’s nasty side wasn’t necessarily limited to traditional horror. 

For this Blu-ray - #18 in the Vestron Collector’s Series - Shivers is nicely restored and comes with a great batch of bonus material, some of which feature Cronenberg himself, who clearly appreciates what it meant to his career. The film itself ain’t exactly a masterpiece, but it’s certainly an interesting look at an audacious director’s humble beginnings and the birth of body horror. The concept alone might even be creepy enough to stick around in your head for a while. Sweet dreams!


NEW INTERVIEWS - “Mind Over Matter” (writer/director David Cronenberg); “Good Night Nurse” (co-star Lynn Lowry); “Outside and Within” (Make-up FX artist Joe Biasco); “Celebrating Cinepix” (Greg Dunning, son of Cinepix founder John Dunning, who produced Shivers).

ARCHIVAL INTERVIEWS - David Ceonenberg, from 1998.

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) by Cronenberg; 2) by co-producer Don Carmody.

STILL GALLERY - Movie stills. There’s also an optional archival audio interview with producer John Dunning.


TV & RADIO SPOTS - After being retitled They Came from Within for the US.




September 23, 2020

THE LEGEND OF TOMIRIS: History Schmistory

2019 / 155 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

When writing reviews, I usually pull up iMDB or Wikipedia pages for cast, crew and release information (and in the case of this Kazakhstani film, help with spelling). Delving into the background of The Legend of Tomiris, I couldn’t help but notice that a good deal of criticism has been leveled at its historical accuracy.

Frankly, I’ve never understood why that matters. Movies ‘based on a true story’ have almost always played fast & loose with actual facts because...they’re movies. Sure, some abuse the truth less than others, but it doesn’t change the fact they’re meant to be entertainment, not education. 

While watching The Legend of Tomiris, I didn’t give two shits if 'the incredible true story’ of its titular character was accurate. She could’ve been presented as one of the original X-Men and I wouldn’t have cared. Since it’s not ‘based on the incredible textbook,’ I enjoyed the film for what it epic tale of a woman warrior who becomes a powerful Massagetae queen, administering violent retribution on those who’ve wrong her (i.e. killed her family) or threaten her reign (those nasty Persians).

The film originally ran over three hours, but has been trimmed to a comparatively-brief 155 minutes for this release. I think it’s safe to assume most of the cuts were related to character development, since Tomiris (Almira Tursyn) comes across as more of a symbol of justice than anyone we get to know in substantial detail. The same can be said for hunky husband-king Argun (Adil Akhmetov) and those who fight alongside them. 

"Hey! I got one!"
We also develop an interesting takeaway as the story unfolds. Though we root for them when they're threatened with invasion by Persia’s ruthless king, Cyrus (Ghassan Massoud), the Massagetae themselves also thrive by raiding and pillaging nearby tribes. Living and dying by the sword, they’re kinda like Klingons with horses. The only real difference between the two is that Cyrus is crafty and dishonest, while Tomiris is deified as a noble savage...a female William Wallace, if you will.

Speaking of which, the film bears other similarities to Braveheart (besides fudging some historical details). In addition to giving us a main character who’s initially motivated by revenge, The Legend of Tomiris is highlighted by massive, lengthy battle sequences. Though not quite as visceral as those in Braveheart, they are big, brutal and bloody. I really like how these scenes show Tomiriis’ strategies unfolding just as she planned them. 

The film concludes with the narrator extholing Tomiris’ place in Iranian history. Maybe he’s bullshitting, maybe not. I didn’t care either way. Though it lacks dynamic characters and features protagonists just as invasive as the antagonists, The Legend of Tomiris is an entertaining enough action epic to justify its lengthy running time. It may not be an effective history lesson, but works just fine as a movie.



September 21, 2020


CAT FILM FESTIVAL, VOL. 1 (Movie Review)
2020 / 70 min


Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

The Cat Film Festival is an annual New York event founded by animal advocate Tracie Hotchner. She also oversees a dog film festival, but since our staff only enjoys canine cinema when the dog dies at the end, we’ve decided to narrow our focus.

The title is just a tad misleading, since Cat Film Festival Vol 1 is not quite the ‘collection’ I expected. It consists of only five films, two of which make up an hour of the scant running time. The other three mostly serve as bookends.

It starts off great, with a faux commercial that parodies prescription ads, touting the physical and mental health benefits of cats and a hilarious list of potential side-effects from keeping one as a pet. Next is a short documentary about a man who specializes in grooming uncooperative cats. The guy gears up like going to war and watching him in action is pretty amusing.

The first lengthy piece, “Jetty Cats,”  features a Southern California wharf that’s been home to abandoned & feral cats for decades. A local animal rights group feeds, protects and neuters them while respecting their independence (the “trap-neuter-release” program is apparently catching on in various regions where stray cats congregate). The film also provides a narrative history of how cats have been domesticated - and sometimes vilified - over the centuries. The other longer piece features an Arizona shelter that started a program where kittens are raised and socialized at various Alzheimer’s care facilities before being placed for adoption (benefitting the cats while providing a form of therapy for the patients).

This cat knows how to rock.
Capping things off is humorous a public service video which has a man trying to take the place of a young lady’s cat by behaving like one. And of course, he’s not quite as endearing.

From an entertainment standpoint, the three short films are highly amusing and the fact that the program starts-off with two of them has the viewer anticipating a variety of funny stories & sketches featuring cats and their owners. Not to take away from the longer features - the first is quite interesting; the second is filled with touching moments - but they sharply contrast the lighter tone established by the shorts. Both are good films, but to be truly honest, they aren’t as fun and probably should’ve been part of a different program.

But that’s just me. Maybe the main purpose of Cat Film Festival is to create awareness and advocacy rather than pure entertainment. If so, I suppose Vol 1 - with more volumes coming to Amazon & Tubi in upcoming weeks - accomplishes its goals. There are felines o’ plenty, but cat lovers purely looking for feline fun should probably stick to YouTube.