November 30, 2020

COLLATERAL: Good Tom vs. Bad Tom

COLLATERAL (4K Ultra HD Review)
2014 / 119 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

The distinction between a hero and a villain can sometimes be a gray area. But for a guy like Tom Cruise, they’re one in the same. 

Not that Vincent, his character in Collateral, would ever be mistaken for a nice guy. He’s a cold-blooded, remorseless and ruthlessly efficient killer-for-hire. However, Cruise doesn’t really play him much differently from his roles as Ethan Hunt or Jack Reacher. There isn’t anything wrong with that, either. He’s always been more fun when giving-up all pretenses of being a real actor to focus on simply being Tom Cruise, which he obviously does better than anyone.

And he’s a hell of a lot of fun in Collateral. The novelty of watching Cruise use all the weapons in his arsenal - physicality, confidence, intensity, karate-hands sprinting - for evil purposes makes him a uniquely enjoyable antagonist. There are times during Vincent’s one-night assassination tour when we almost feel compelled to root for him. So it’s fortunate for the movie that Jamie Foxx is so damn likable. As congenial cab driver Max Durocher - forced to drive Vincent to his targets - he gives the character proportionate measures of uncertainty, vulnerability and fortitude. Max’s humanity is the perfect foil to Vincent’s mercilessness.

"Admit're lost."
Collateral also remains director Michael Mann’s last great film, which I tend to look at as sort-of a companion piece to Heat. In addition to dynamic protagonists & antagonists, Los Angeles is practically a supporting character, with Mann making great use of various nighttime locations. His attention to such peripheral aesthetic and expository details give the virtuosic action sequences considerable dramatic heft.

I’m not-yet completely sold on the virtues of 4K for every movie. The film looks pretty damn good here, but so did the original Blu-ray. In my opinion, there may not be a significant enough difference in the picture or sound to really warrant an upgrade. However, Collateral itself is one of the best action movies of the 2000s and a rare opportunity for Tom Cruise to get his dark side on. That alone makes it essential.



“CITY OF NIGHT: THE MAKING OF COLLATERAL” - A lengthy and interesting behind-the-scenes documentary.

FEATURETTES - “Special Delivery” (Cruise goes out in public as a FedEx driver; that’d be a fun movie unto itself); “”Shooting on Location: Annie’s Office”; “Tom Cruise & Jamie Foxx Rehearse” (in the director’s office and in a cut-away car); “Visual FX: MTA Train” (a lot more work went into this scene than you’d expect)

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Michael Mann




November 29, 2020

THE GOLDEN CHILD (Paramount Presents #11): High-Concept...'80s Style

1986 / 93 min


Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

Some movies become big hits out of sheer will.

The working definition of high-concept, 1986’s The Golden Child was cynically assembled to cash-in on Eddie Murphy’s undeniable popularity and the endearingly brash persona that elevated Beverly Hills Cop. In fact, the only real difference between Axel Foley and Chandler Jarrell is their names.

Pumped-up with special effects and an overbearing score - neither of which have aged too well - The Golden Child is by-the-numbers filmmaking at its most shallow...even for the ‘80s. One can practically hear director Michael Ritchie instructing his star to simply go on-set and “do your Eddie thing.” Throw in an obvious attempt to earn a PG-13 rating (Eddie’s first) and it’s clear the primary goal was box-office bank.

Eddie forgets the punchline.
And it worked. Despite being Murphy’s worst movie of the decade, The Golden Child was another huge hit. But with hindsight, it’s also an ominous sign of the comedian’s eventual creative nadir, when he'd sleepwalk through a plethora of putrid pictures (some of which make The Golden Child look like 48HRS). Ultimately, you still need a worthwhile story, interesting characters and a director who cares about both. 

The film remains the undisputed low point of Murphy’s heyday. But in a way, that sort-of renders it an interesting addition to the ongoing Paramount Presents series. Throughout the ‘80s, Paramount was nearly synonymous with high-concept blockbusters, many of which were among the biggest hits of the decade. If this Blu-ray series is indeed intended to represent the studio throughout the years, then The Golden Child’s inclusion actually makes sense from a historical perspective (though it’s easily the least essential). 


“THE MAKING OF THE GOLDEN CHILD” - Two-part archival documentary, totalling just under 30 minutes.





November 25, 2020


1966-1973 / 8625 min


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 exception 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 four, 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.



November 23, 2020

The Curiosity Factor of THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS

1971 / 81 min


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?”


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.




November 22, 2020

A Lot to Love in LIBELED LADY

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


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.


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





IRON MASK and the Bad Batch

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


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.

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.





November 18, 2020

PENINSULA: Same Zombies, Different Story

2020 / 110 min


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.


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





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.

"'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.


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.