January 21, 2021

SUDDEN FEAR is Prime Palance

1952 / 110 min


Review by Mr. Paws😸

In the opening scene of Sudden Fear, wealthy playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) is watching rehearsals for her latest play. Unimpressed by budding actor Lester Blane (Jack Palance), she decides he’s simply not suited to be a romantic leading man.

She could just as easily be talking about Palance himself. But unlike Lester, I doubt he ever expected to be. Jack knew his real strength as an actor was being scary as hell...sometimes without even saying anything. His indubitably-intimidating image eventually grew so iconic that it became endearing. 

That’s why he’s perfectly cast here (one of his earliest major roles). Though Lester doesn’t get the part in Myra’s play, he doesn’t appear to hold any grudges as he courts, charms and eventually marries her during the film’s first act. However, Palance’s face, eyes and voice provide all the foreshadowing the viewer needs to suspect Lester has a sinister agenda.

And indeed he does. He and gold-digging girlfriend Irene (Gloria Grahame) plan on killing Myra for the millions he stands to inherit. Unfortunately for them, Myra learns of their scheme because she left the dictation machine on in her office. She’s understandably horrified because Lester’s professed love seemed so sincere. I’ve never been a big Joan Crawford fan, but the scene where she’s trying to wrap her head around his true intentions is some of the best acting of her career and where Myra earns all our empathy.

Bette Davis slept here.
Still, Myra sucks it up and formulates a plan to turn the tables on them before they can arrange an “accident.” Considering she’s often forced to think on-the-fly, Myra turns out to be quite a formidable adversary, often throwing a wrench into Lester and Irene’s plans. 

This cat & mouse game sets up a final act that’s brimming with tension, particularly the scene in Irene’s apartment when Myra is forced to hide in a closet after Lester shows up. Deft direction by David Miller and stark black & white cinematography help, but it’s the performances by the two leads that drive the film. Crawford instills Myra with strong resilience despite her constant terror. However, it’s Palance who shines brightest - or darkest? - as only he can. Even before his malevolent intentions are made clear, he’s wonderfully menacing.

Almost 70 years later, Sudden Fear holds up well as an energetic and stylish example of film noir, a must-own for any fan of the genre. Crawford has seldom been better, while Palance is...well, Jack Palance, which is exactly what the film needs. Cohen Media Group previously released it on Blu-ray, but this DVD features the same 2K restoration, as well as the same minimal bonus features, for half the price.  


AUDIO COMMENTARY - By film historian & author Jeremy Arnold




THE POOP SCOOP: A Fun February

One of the first “Disaster Movies,” SAN FRANCISCO, on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection 2/16
Romantic drama combines with humor, star-power combines with lavish spectacle and the walls come tumbling down! This Academy Award-winning extravaganza’s street-splitting, brick-cascading, fire-raging recreation of the cataclysmic earthquake remains "one of the greatest action sequences in the history of the cinema, rivalling the chariot race in both Ben-Hurs" (Adrian Turner, Time Out Film Guide). Clark Gable plays rakish Barbary Coast kingpin Blackie Norton. Jeanette MacDonald portrays a singer torn by her love for Blackie and her need to succeed among the operagoing elite. Earning the first of nine career Best Actor Oscar® nominations, Spencer Tracy is a priest who supplements spiritual advice with a mean right hook. He urges Blackie to change. But if love and religion can't reform Blackie, Mother Nature will.

FREAKY, starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton, on Digital 1/26 and Blu-ray/DVD 2/9
Prepare for a FREAKY take on the body-swap movie which only Blumhouse, makers of Happy Death Day & The Purge franchise, could bring: a teenage girl switches bodies with a relentless serial killer! From the deliciously debased mind of writer-director Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day, the Paranormal Activity franchise) and prolific horror producer Jason Blum (Halloween, The Purge franchise), comes a horror-comedy about a stalker, a high school senior, and the brutal truth about surviving high school available on Digital on January 26 and on Blu-ray™ and DVD on February 9. FREAKY is “the most purely enjoyable horror movie made in years” (David Sims, THE ATLANTIC). Hailed as “an absolute blast - fun, frantic, horror/comedy mash-up” (Drew Taylor, COLLIDER), the Killer Switch Edition continues the fun and scares with exclusive bonus content including deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film and a feature commentary with Co-writer/Director Christopher Landon. 


‘90s Cult Classic, PUMP UP THE VOLUME on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection 2/23
By day, Mark Hunter (Christian Slater) is a painfully shy new kid in a small Arizona town. But by night, he’s Hard Harry, the cynical, uncensored DJ of a pirate radio station. Idolized by his high school classmates (who are unaware of his real identity), Harry becomes a hero with his fiercely funny monologues on sex, love, and rock and roll. But when he exposes the corrupt school principal, she calls in the FCC to shut Harry down. An outrageous rebel with a cause, Slater gives a brilliant performance as the reluctant hero who inspires his classmates to find their own voices of rebellion and individuality. A movie with a message, Pump Up the Volume is a raw and witty celebration of free speech that will make you laugh, make you cheer and make you think.


ARCHENEMY on DVD and Blu-ray 2/16
Written and directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer (Daniel Isn’t Real, Some Kind of Hate), ARCHEMENY stars Joe Manganiello (“True Blood”), Skylan Brooks (“Empire”), Zolee Griggs (“Wu-Tang: An American Saga”), Paul Scheer (“Black Monday”), Amy Seimetz (Pet Semetary) and Glenn Howerton (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”).  In ARCHENEMY, Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) is a local drunk who claims to be a superhero from the planet Chromium. He tells anyone who will listen that he was pulled into a wormhole, falling through time and space, and dropped to earth without any of his powers. No one pays any attention to Max except a teenager named Hamster (Skylan Brooks) who can’t get enough of Max’s stories. When Hamster and his sister (Zolee Griggs) get in trouble with a vicious drug syndicate led by The Manager (Glenn Howerton), Max takes to the streets as a brutal vigilante hellbent on proving himself as the hero no one believes him to be.


RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE, based on the comic of the same name by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, stars Jesse Williams (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Jordana Brewster (Fast & Furious franchise), Niamh Wilson (Saw franchise) and Jay Baruchel (How to Train Your Dragon 1 & 2). Baruchel also directed and co-wrote the film with Jesse Chabot (Goon: Last of the Enforcers). In RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE, comic book creator Todd Walkley, his wife, assistant and best friend, are heading to NYC Comic Con when bad things start to happen—people start getting killed. It soon becomes clear that a crazed fan is using his “SLASHERMAN” comic as inspiration for the killings. And as the bodies pile up, and Todd’s friends become victims themselves, he is forced to face the killer and put an end to his notorious comic once and for all.

January 20, 2021

FATMAN: An Unexpected Slay-ride

FATMAN (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 99 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😽

If nothing else, Fatman offers a great premise. However, what writer-directors Eshom & Ian Nelms do with it might be off-putting to some viewers.

Mel Gibson plays Chris Cringle (i.e. Santa), who’s weary and disillusioned over the state of the world, especially the increasing number of children who end up on his naughty list. Because of this, production in his workshop is down, so he’s considering accepting a government contract to produce military equipment in order to stay financially afloat and take care of his team of workers (his elves, though they’re never referred to as such).

Meanwhile, one particularly nasty kid on his naughty list, Billy (Chance Hurstfield), gets a well-deserved lump of coal for Christmas (threatening to kill a classmate who bested him at the school science fair). So he hires a cold-blooded assassin known as Skinny Man (Walton Goggins) to locate and kill Santa. The hitman also has some personal reasons for taking the job, feeling repeatedly jilted by Santa since childhood. The narrative shifts back and forth between Cringle’s crisis-of-faith and the Skinny Man’s bloody trail as he seeks his quarry, which culminates in a climactic showdown where Santa demonstrates a bit of badassery himself.

Walmart's store Santa.
It sounds like the obvious makings of a high-concept cult comedy. However, Fatman confounds expectations by more-or-less playing it straight-faced. There are certainly moments which turn Christmas conventions on their ear, such as Cringle’s relationship with wife Ruth (Marianne Jean Baptiste) and the elves’ dietary habits, but the overall tone remains serious, as is the abundance of violence. In a way, that tends to render the whole thing more amusing. 

Considering his cantankerous public persona and how grizzled he’s gotten with age, Gibson is an ideal casting choice. He also appears more invested in this role than most of his recent ones (at least he doesn’t look like he’s sleepwalking through the film). However, it’s Goggins who steals every scene, playing Skinny Man with the same detached viciousness you’d see in any serious portrait of an assassin. He even manages to make the character somewhat sympathetic near the end.

Still, anyone hoping for a preponderance of gags, punchlines or outrageousness should look elsewhere because the film is a bit slow and seldom laugh-out-loud funny (nor does it really try to be). Perhaps because I had no real expectations, I kind-of appreciated the Nelms’ less-obvious approach. Fatman probably ain’t destined to become a holiday classic, but might amuse those in the wrong frame-of-mind.



AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Mel Gibson, directors Eshom & Ian Nelms, producer Michelle Land and cinematographer Johnny Derango.





January 18, 2021


2020 / 459 min


Review by Carl, the Couch Potato😺


Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer was the best film of 2013, an apocalyptic masterpiece as entertaining as it was thought provoking. Anyone who’s seen it would likely agree that it certainly didn’t leave the door open for a sequel, no say nothing of a weekly television series. I was especially dubious about the viability of any show with a concept that mandates a single claustrophobic setting. How do you sustain interest in something like that over the course of 10 episodes? I mean, even the Enterprise crew broke up the monotony by leaving the ship once in a while.

But damn, if I didn’t binge all 10 episodes in a single night. Snowpiercer is a surprisingly addicting show that reworks and expands the basic concept of the original film while retaining its dark complexities. 

Rather than continue the same story, the series makes the smart move of creating a soft reboot with different characters and several intriguing subplots, as well as a more extensive look at the society and hierarchy that has developed on-board the 1,001-car train in the seven years since a human-induced ice age rendered Earth uninhabitable. But if one were so inclined, the show still could be viewed as a prequel of sorts, since it takes place a full ten years before the events of the movie.

"Alright, who used the bathroom last?"
There are two overall story arcs. The first is an intricate murder mystery focusing on Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs), a former cop who’s dragged from the tail section (stowaways living there are referred to as “Tailies”) to investigate a homicide in First Class. This is at the behest of Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly), the head of the Hospitality department who speaks for Mr. Wilford, the enigmatic creator of Snowpiercer (and never seen). Bubbling underneath this narrative is the other story: A planned uprising by the Tailies, tired of marginalization, abuse and slave labor inflicted on them by Cavill and her Brakemen (Snowpiercer’s security force). After uncovering some horrific secrets during his investigation, Layton ends up as the de-facto leader of the revolt. The bloody conflict comprises the second half of the season.

Concurrently, about a dozen major characters throughout the train are introduced. Some are sympathetic, others despicable, but a surprising number of protagonists and antagonists walk the fine line in between, including Layton and Cavill. The perpetually moving world they inhibit is fascinating. Though most of the action takes place in a few dozen cars, there’s a clear aesthetic and social distinction between the segregated classes, as well as the squalid conditions afforded the Tailies. Additionally, the production design and special effects are terrific and more elaborate than those in the film. 

Again, what’s most surprising about Snowpiercer is how consistently compelling it is, especially when taking-in the whole thing all at once (as opposed to waiting a week between episodes when it first aired on TNT). Season one comes to a satisfying conclusion while, of course, laying the groundwork for season two. I don’t know how much more creative juice can still be squeezed from the premise, but so far, so good.


FEATURETTES - “Overview”; “Class Warfare”; “Jennifer & Daveed Behind-the-Scenes Interview”; “The Train”; “Behind the Curtain: Art of the Frozen World.” These are all fairly short promotional pieces, and only the last two offer any real production details and behind-the-scenes footage (mostly related to the visual effects).




January 17, 2021

AFTER THE THIN MAN Should Be on Your List

1936 / 112 min


Review by Mr. Paws😸

A lot of writers and websites really have no business putting together “all time” lists. Case-in-point, The Thin Man series, six films released between 1934 and 1947, almost never shows up on anyone’s list of the greatest film franchises of all time. Since this series was hugely popular, critically revered, influential and consistently profitable, it’s obvious that some people’s definition of “all time” is limited to their time. Shame on them.

But Warner Archive Collection has been gradually restoring and releasing the series on Blu-ray for movie lovers to discover (or rediscover). Following the terrific 2019 release of The Thin Man comes the second film, which is every bit as funny and charming.

In After the Thin Man, famously-unflappable detective Nick Charles (William Powell) and wealthy wife Nora (Myrna Loy) return home to San Francisco, fresh from solving the murder case in the first film. However, it isn’t long before Nora’s frantic cousin, Selma (Elissa Landi), is begging Nick to locate her philandering husband, Robert. Finding him is easy, but when he’s later murdered, catching the killer is a lot more challenging. Selma is charged with the crime, but Nick and Nora uncover several suspects, including shifty nightclub owner “Dancer” (Joseph Calleia), Robert’s showgirl mistress, Polly (Penny Singleton), Polly’s “brother” Phil (Paul Fix) and David Graham (James Stewart), Selma’s old boyfriend who still carries a torch.

Like the original film, the plot is an intriguing mystery with some interesting twists, but what makes it truly memorable are the performances, characters and witty dialogue. The chemistry between Powell & Loy is magical, as is their affectionate, quasi-antagonistic banter. The humor is both sophisticated and broad, with enough clever throwaway lines that catching everything in one viewing would be a tall order. 

Never bring eggs to a knife fight.
There are plenty of other things to love here. Asta makes a welcome return - and more screen time - as Nick & Nora’s pampered pooch, who’s dealing with an unfaithful mate of his own. We also meet Nora’s family, none who think too highly of Nick and his profession as a “flatfoot.” As Nick amusingly demonstrates, the feeling is mutual. We’re also treated to the one and only James Stewart in an early role that’s a far cry from his congenial persona and “nice guy” characters.

Best of all, as with the first film, After the Thin Thin isn’t simply entertaining for its time. With characters and humor that would be engaging in any decade, the film is only dated by its physical age, which should never dissuade any self-respecting cinephile. Nicely restored with a smattering of bonus features from the same era, this classic is a must own andthe entire Thin Man series should be mandatory viewing before creating any kind of  “all time” list.


“HOW TO BE A DETECTIVE” - Live action comedy short with Robert Benchley


AFTER THE THIN MAN - 60-minute radio adaptation with William Powell & Myrna Loy

“LEO IS ON THE AIR” - 15-minute MGM radio promo




January 16, 2021

SPACEWALKER: The Russian Right Stuff

SPACEWALKER (Blu-ray Review)
2017 / 137 min


Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽

Nice to see that the Russians’ determination to dominate the Space Race was as brash and impetuous as ours. This was back when the only thing really at-stake was bragging rights. Publicly, Russia had a lot to boast about, but as depicted in Spacewalker, some of that success was due to sheer luck. In the effort to accomplish the world’s first spacewalk, many in the government, as well as Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov himself, essentially threw caution to the wind.

Narratively, Spacewalker tells two stories. The first is reminiscent of The Right Stuff, showing the frantic efforts by scientists and politicians to make the mission possible within their self-imposed deadline (i.e. beating the Americans). There’s a lot of trial-and-error, some tragedy and no-small-amount of Leonov’s gung-ho spirit. As performed by Yevgeny Mironov, Leonov is certainly likable, though we don’t learn much about him beyond ambition and patriotism. Same with his partner, Commander Pavel Belyayev (Konstantin Khabensky), who counters Leonov’s enthusiasm by being a constant Debbie Downer.

"Hey! I see my house!"
However, the interest level picks-up considerably during the second story: the mission itself. Bolstered by impressive visual effects, the flight and Leonov’s subsequent spacewalk are depicted with meticulous attention to detail. Like Apollo 13, a few life-threatening complications eventually endanger the mission, adding tension as the narrative juggles between the two Cosmonauts and ground control’s efforts to bring them down safely (and the Kremlin’s efforts to control what’s released to the media).

I don’t know how much of Spacewalker is historically accurate, but Leonov himself was a consultant on the picture and everything feels authentic enough. An overall lack of characterization ultimately makes the film less emotionally engaging than Apollo 13, though it’s certainly bursting with Russian pride. As such, it’s kind-of interesting to see the Space Race from a different point of view.


FEATURETTES - “The First Walk in Space”; “The Story Behind Spacewalker




January 13, 2021

Scott Adkins Goes Gaming in MAX CLOUD

MAX CLOUD (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 89 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😾

Action star Scott Adkins must have appreciated the chance to (sort of) play against type because he makes the most of it. Sure, he still meets his monthly quota of manly mayhem, but this time in a comedy. Playing the titular character, he broadly parodies the type of granite-jawed, gung-ho space jockeys you see in old video games and B movies. Adkins is clearly having a good time and he’s easily the best part of the film.

Unfortunately, the rest of Max Cloud isn’t worthy of his efforts. 

Taking place in 1990, Max turns out to be a character in a 16-bit video game, which is being played by Sarah (Isabelle Allen). After her dad takes her controller away, she wishes out-loud that she could spend all of her time playing video games. Her wish is granted, of course, and is sucked into the game. That’s right, folks...Max Cloud is a low-budget variation of Jumanji

Sarah’s best friend, Cowboy (Franz Drameh), shows up and is forced to play the game as Jake (Elliot James Langridge) - the secondary character Sarah now inhabits - in order to free her. How he’s able to play after Dad took the controller away is just one example of the film’s narrative laziness. Even less effort is put into its main characters. Sarah and Cowboy display absolutely zero personality traits beyond being skilled gamers, which is ultimately all we learn about Dad, too.

A skilled multitasker, Max dispatches a bad guy and a spider.
Elsewhere, the “plot” of the game itself has everybody following Max on a molten prison planet run by Revenger (John Hannah), who wants their wrecked ship to exact revenge on the Earth. The film frequently alternates between live action and 16-bit video graphics, the latter of which appears to be used for any scene that would’ve been too expensive otherwise. Adkins’ misplaced dedication to his role is admirable, but aside from a few clever moments poking fun at video game tropes - such as a monster that simply quits attacking whenever Max ducks behind an object - the story is plodding, the laughs are scarce and the action is distressingly routine. 

Too bad, really. Even though the plot is a road well-traveled, its limited budget is obvious and the ‘90s are an easy satiric target, a little more creative effort could have made Max Cloud a fun little flick. Adkins goes all-in, but it’s not enough to make up for the film’s numerous shortcomings. There are plenty of better movies that cover the same ground.



Rest in Peace, Michael Apted