January 31, 2021

A TALE OF TWO CITIES: How to Avoid Reading Dickens

A TALE OF TWO CITIES (Blu-ray Review)
1935 / 126 min


Review by Mr. Paws😸

Nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, this 1935 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is generally considered the definitive one and the reasons are obvious. It’s epic in scope, with outstanding direction, production design and performances. 

Additionally, this version is arguably the most faithful to the original novel. I should know because I was forced to read the thing in high school. Not to disparage Dickens’ considerable influence on English literature, but his brand of prose was sorta lost on an American 16-year-old more enamored with his Atari 2600. I managed to power through it over a few weekends, but had home video been a thing back then, I could have freed up a lot more Pitfall time by simply popping-in the movie (and I still would have aced the final).

Kids taking English Lit these days don’t know how good they have it.

But A Tale of Two Cities is a lot more than a literary short cut. Eight decades later, I can’t think of a more entertaining way to vicariously experience the French Revolution. Speaking of which, the massive peasant uprising remains the film's technical highlight, with hundreds of extras engaging in close-quarters conflict. The sequence is actually pretty violent for its time and benefits from terrific editing. 

Still, it’s the characters that drive the narrative. One might argue that Ronald Coleman is miscast, but I like what he brings to the role of cynical, hard-drinking lawyer Sydney Carton. While providing some welcome levity to the film, it’s a remarkably subtle, affecting performance, particularly during the final act (on an unrelated note, without his trademark mustache, Coleman sorta looks like Hugh Jackman). 

"Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women."
You can’t really have a good story without a great villain, and A Tale of Two Cities gives us two. Marquis St. Evremonde (Basil Rathbone) kills a child in his very first scene - the catalyst for the eventual uprising - and remains indifferent to the suffering he inflicts on others. Since his character has relatively little actual screen time, it’s Blanche Yurka as Madame De Farge who really shines, mainly because she actually earns our empathy before the revolution turns her into a sadistic, revenge-obsessed monster. 

The whole thing is definitely a lot more fun than plowing through a 300-page, 150-year-old English novel. This version of A Tale of Two Cities is big, exciting and a lot of fun, with great performances and engaging characters. Given a nice Blu-ray transfer, which includes a smattering of fun material from the same era, it’s highly recommended for classic movie lovers and kids trying to pass English with minimal effort.


2 MGM CARTOON SHORTS -  “Hey, Hey Fever” (featuring Bosko); “Honeyland”

“AUDIOSCOPIKS” - An interesting short promoting 3-D and demonstrating how it works. Quite fun and a little bit misogynist (hey, it was a different time).





January 30, 2021

For Your Consideration...SKY SHARKS

SKY SHARKS (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 106 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Do I smell an Oscar, here? 

Even with 2020 offering significantly less competition than usual, probably not. Still, Sky Sharks might end up being the Gone with the Wind of sharksploitation movies. That doesn’t necessarily make it a great film - or even a good one - but one has to admire its willingness to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.

Surprisingly, a lot does stick, even if it doesn’t always make a hell of a lot of narrative or logistical sense. There are indeed plenty of flying sharks, as well as an abundance of zombie Nazis, plane crashes, destruction, geysers of blood, disembowelings, dismemberment, boobs o’ plenty, gratuitous sex, techno music, death metal and, of course, Tony Todd. 

For what it’s worth, the plot involves the aforementioned Nazi zombies riding jet-powered, genetically-enhanced sharks to attack planes and slaughter the passengers. It’s up to the Richter Corporation - with the aid of the military and various mercenaries - to end their global reign of terror. There are also numerous flashbacks where we learn that these undead soldiers are the result of Nazi experiments during World War II. Though there’s no real main protagonist, one of the “good guys” is a former Nazi who helped oversee the experiment in the first place. How’s that for bad taste?

Historically accurate, of course.
How the titular fish came to exist is never explained, but do you really care? Anyone still reading this was probably s
old on the title alone. But unlike the smug, self-aware silliness of Sharknado and its ilk, Sky Sharks isn’t presented with a nudge-and-a-wink. Sure, it’s goofy as hell, often intentionally. And yeah, the dialogue is godawful, as are some of the visual effects. However, writer-director Marc Fehse (whose name pops up in the end credits for at-least a half-dozen other jobs) compensates with enough soft-core sex, bouncing breasts and over-the-top gore (both practical and CGI) to amuse indiscriminate connoisseurs of cinematic sleaze.

But most importantly, despite a poky middle act with some out-of-place music montages, Sky Sharks is shameless fun...and just in time for Academy consideration. Bloodier and nastier than the usual SyFy channel sludge, it’s the kind of movie you might be reluctant to admit you sort-of enjoyed.

By the way...stick through the end-credits. The film’s biggest intentional laugh comes at the very end.



January 28, 2021

Rest in Peace, Cicely Tyson

THE POOP SCOOP: A Reboot, a Classic and the Life of a Legend

WRONG TURN arrives on Blu-ray and DVD 2/23
Backwoods terror and never-jangling suspense meet when Jen (Charlotte Vega) and a group of friends set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. Despite warnings to stick to the trail, the hikers stray off course—and cross into land inhabited by The Foundation, a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life. Suddenly under siege, Jen and her friends seem headed to the point of no return— unless Jen’s father (Golden Globe® nominee* Matthew Modine) can reach them in time. The reboot of the iconic franchise is executive produced by Martin Moszkowicz (Resident Evil franchise), Bill Bromiley (3 From Hell, We Summon the Darkness), and Jonathan Saba (The Vanished, Hangman) and stars Golden Globe® Winner and Primetime Emmy® Award Nominee Matthew Modine (Golden Globe®: 1994, Special Award. Primetime Emmy®: 1994, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special, And the Band Played On), Emma Dumont (“The Gifted”), Charlotte Vega (American Assassin), Daisy Head (“Harlots”), and Bill Sage (“Power”).

VANGUARD arrives on Digital 3/2, and on DVD and Blu-ray 3/9
International superstar and martial arts legend Jackie Chan leaps into action as Tang, CEO of the covert security company Vanguard in this gripping action-thriller. After wealthy businessman Qin rats out his corrupt partner in an arms deal gone fatally wrong, he and his family become targets of the world’s deadliest mercenary organization — and the fighting power of Tang’s team is their only hope to survive. Set in locations across the globe — including London, Zambia, India, an Arabian desert, and Dubai — Vanguard delivers electrifying thrills from start to breathtaking finish! This film released in the U.S. on November 25 in 1,000+ theaters. Featuring international action superstar and martial arts legend Jackie Chan (Rush Hour, The Foreigner, Police Story), Yang Yang (Once Upon A Time, TV’s “The King’s Avatar”, “The Whirlwind Girl”), and Miya Muqi (Tomb Robber, Kung Fu Yoga, The Pluto Moment).


Paramount+, the highly anticipated streaming service from ViacomCBS, today announced that both THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN and all-new Paramount+ Original Series KAMP KORAL: SPONGEBOB’S UNDER YEARS will premiere on the service on Thursday, March 4. THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN will also be released by Paramount Home Entertainment for Premium Video-On-Demand (PVOD) on the same day. KAMP KORAL’s first six episodes will be available to stream beginning March 4 exclusively on Paramount+ for subscribers in the U.S. The rest of the season’s 13-episode order will roll out on the platform at later dates to be announced. In addition to its availability on Paramount+, THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN will be available on VOD platforms for a limited time at a suggested rental price of $19.99 in the U.S.


The Robert Evans Documentary, THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE on Blu-ray  2/16
Success Scandal Sex Tragedy Infamy... and that’s just the first reel! Rules are made to be broken. And Robert Evans has broken them all. He was the first actor to ever run a major Hollywood studio. In a decade he took it from worst to first. Voted the world’s most eligible bachelor, he was quintessential Hollywood royalty. In 1979, he had $11 million. With one mistake he spiraled south from legend to leper. In 1989, his worth was $37. Did he come back? Like a phoenix. His saga should inspire the most cynical. To quote Evans, “All my life I’ve lived on the edge and many times it came back to bite me. Was it worth it? You bet your a$$ it was.” His outrageous story proves that, at times, fact is far stranger than fiction. Directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen; screen adaptation by Morgen, based on the book by Robert Evans.


The Original BAD NEWS BEARS on Blu-ray 3/30
Hard-drinking, ex-minor-league hopeful Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) grumpily agrees to coach a Little League team at the behest of lawyer-councilman Bob Whitewood (Ben Piazza), who has a vendetta against the league for excluding his marginally talented son from play. After failing with his new team of misfits, Buttermaker enlists feisty and gifted pitcher Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O'Neal) to lead the charge -- but can he find the luck and patience to whip these outcasts into shape?


January 27, 2021

THE BUSTER KEATON COLLECTION Volume 4: Buster's Bested by a Bovine

1925, 1927 / 149 min (2 films)


Review by Mr. Paws😸

Cohen Media Group continues rolling-out their 4K restorations of Buster Keaton classics. Like previous releases, Volume 4 presents two more films from the era that’s universally considered his creative peak. Volume 1 is still the best overall, but this disc includes what I think is his second greatest film.

A series of amusing vignettes strung together by a reliably familiar western plot - the big cattle drive - Go West features some of Keaton’s best work on both sides of the camera. But ironically, he’s often upstaged by his co-star, Brown Eyes, the cow with whom he shares many scenes. Considering cows are essentially expressionless and none-too-bright, she’s remarkably charming. But the final act, where Keaton’s character, “Friendless,” single-handedly drives hundreds of cattle through Los Angeles, is the film's high-point and must be seen to be believed.

A nudity clause in Brown Eyes' contract thwarted plans for a love scene.
The second film, College, features some classic bits and I know it has more than its share of fans, but it isn’t as consistently amusing. I always felt Keaton was more affable when playing completely down-and-out characters, which doesn’t really apply to Ronald, a scholarly nerd who enrolls in a college more concerned with athletics than academics, mainly to impress Mary (Annie Cornwall), who prefers jocks to intellectuals. Though certainly enjoyable, it’s not as engaging or funny as the movie it’s paired with.

Both films have been given an impressive restoration, each with brand new music scores by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra (Go West) and Rodney Sauer (College). While I consider The General to be Keaton’s crowning achievement, Go West is another exemplary showcase of a legendary performer/director at the height of his comic powers, making The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 4 fine addition to any classic film library.


“BUSTER KEATON: SCREENWRITER” - Audio-only recording of Keaton’s script idea for Wagon Train

“GO WEST” - 1923 short




Rest in Peace, Cloris Leachman

January 25, 2021

THE COURT JESTER (Paramount Presents #13): Danny Kaye's Magnum Opus

THE COURT JESTER (Blu-ray Review)
1955 / 101 min


Review by Mr. Paws😺

This is the type of film the Paramount Presents series should give us more of...truly iconic selections from the studio’s entire history, not just the ‘80s and ‘90s. I especially like this release because my favorite aspect of the series has so-far been the slipcases that fold-open to reveal the original poster art, which for the older films is a reminder of the beautiful hand-painted work you just don’t see in modern one-sheets.

As for the film itself, I was never much of a Danny Kaye fan, but must also confess I’ve only seen a small handful of his movies. He always seemed a little too...theatrical, for my tastes, with an acute awareness of his own performance. This was my first time watching The Court Jester, mostly out of a sense of obligation for the sake of this review. And indeed, Kaye’s insipidly bubbly title song - as he danced & pranced like an overreaching high school thespian - didn’t instill me with much confidence that the film would be anything but a chore, the kind of flick music teachers make their students sit through.

However, The Court Jester turned out to be terrific fun, mostly because of the star himself. Sure, the songs are silly and Kaye cranks the ham up to broil while performing them. But everywhere else, he’s genuinely funny, displaying a indelible gift for rapid-fire, tongue-twisting banter and elaborate physical comedy. He shines as Hubert Hawkins, a cheerful minstrel who ends up helping the Black Fox - a Robin Hood-like outlaw - overthrow illegitimate, tyrannical King Roderick (Cecil Parker) by protecting a baby who’s the true heir to England’s throne. 

A set of amusing circumstances has Hubert gaining entry to the castle by posing as newly hired jester, Giacomo. However, the real Giacomo is an assassin hired by Lord Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone) to kill Roderick. Ravenhurst thinks Hubert is Giacomo, while Hubert assumes Ravenhurst is his rebel contact inside the castle, and the scene where they conspire together is a classic piece of mistaken identity. At the same time, Roderick’s amorous daughter, Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) becomes convinced Hubert is the love of her life, foretold by the royal witch (Midred Natwick), who puts an amusing spell on him. Hubert, however, only has eyes for Maid Jean (Glynis Johns), a rebel captain who gets kidnapped to serve as a king’s wench. 

Lord Ravenhurst makes the fatal mistake of bringing a sword to an elf fight.
The story evolves into a massive comedy of errors - with Hubert always at the center - filled with plot twists, misunderstandings, clever wordplay, elaborate slapstick and the funniest sword fight this side of The Princess Bride. Kaye is the undisputed star and the fun he appears to be having is infectious. But he’s not quite the whole show, here. The rest of the cast is also quite good, going the opposite route by more-or-less playing it straight (even during the silliest moments).

Then before I knew it, the movie was over...and way too soon, which was the last thing I expected after hitting ‘play.’ The Court Jester didn’t suddenly make me a Kaye convert, but this is a great film. He’s still the same ol’ Danny Kaye, but that same onscreen persona I found so grating elsewhere is perfect here. Beautifully restored in all its VistaVision glory, this colorful classic might arguably be the actor's magnum opus. As such, it's a worthy addition to the Paramount Presents series. Now if they would only do something about beefing-up the bonus features.


“FILMMAKER FOCUS” - Trivia-filled featurette with critic/historian Leonard Maltin, who clearly loves the film. 





Rest in Peace, Alberto Grimaldi

January 24, 2021

JSA: JOINT SECURITY AREA is a Place Worth Visiting

2000 / 100 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

The Joint Security Area of the title is a region which divides North and South Korea. It’s essentially neutral and serves as the spot where the two nations negotiate (when they must). Additionally, it’s the only area constantly guarded by the military on both sides, as well as the setting for a majority of this film, specifically the guard stations located on each side of the “Bridge of No Return.”

It’s also the location for a hell of a murder mystery that’s presented in the opening sequence, where South Korean sergeant Lee Soo-hyuk (Lee Byung-hun) is seen shooting the North Korean soldiers inside their own guardhouse. The incident is shown from a few different perspectives, first with Lee trying to escape after being captured, the second with Lee intentionally entering the building and shooting them in cold blood. Initially, the “mystery” isn’t who, but why, which Major Sophie Jean (Lee Young-ae) is charged with investigating.

Evidence suggests neither account of the incident adds up and also indicates someone else was at the scene, apparently Lee’s friend & subordinate, Private Nam Sung-sik (Kim Tae-woo), who has since tried to kill himself. Taking a cue from Rashomon, we’re then shown what really happened through an extended flashback leading up to the shooting. This is the meat - and more surprisingly, the heart - of the story. After accidentally venturing behind enemy lines, Lee triggers a land-mine but is saved by North Korean sergeant Oh Kyung-pil (the always wonderful Song Kang-ho) and Private Jung Woo-jin (Shin Ha-kyun).

JSA: K-pop's newest superstars.
In a surprising narrative turn, these four enemies end up becoming fast friends, regularly meeting at night to drink, play and share their lives. These segments are often pretty amusing and eventually heartwarming. But most of all, because of the performances and attention to character detail, they feel genuine, so when the cause of the shooting is finally revealed, the viewer can’t help but be affected by it. We’re both saddened and angry at how the two countries’ adversarial relationship impacts individual lives.

This is not the direction I thought JSA was going to take. The premise is inherently intriguing and deftly directed by Park Chan-wook, but I totally didn’t expect a middle act that got me so emotionally invested in these four guys. Their friendship ends up being the crux of the entire story and what separates it from a lot of similarly-structured films. If the final image doesn’t get you a little choked-up, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Originally released in 2000, JSA was a massive hit in South Korea and a few other countries. Though it has remained relatively obscure elsewhere, the film is certainly worth discovering with this restored Blu-ray release from Arrow Films. With a unique setting, compelling story and terrific characters, this is an all-around winner. 


“STEPPING OVER BOUNDARIES” - Brand new interview with Jasper Sharp, who discusses the film, director Park Chan-Wook’s career and the state of South Korean cinema at the time of - and since - JSA’s release. 

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By writer/critic Simon Ward.

ARCHIVAL FEATURES - “The JSA Story” (making-of); “Making the Film” (another making-of); “About JSA” (promotional pieces by the main cast).

2 MUSIC VIDEOS - 1) “Letter from a Private” (South Korean song with scenes from the film); 2) “Take the Power Back” (a Rage Against the Machine song with behind-the-scenes footage).

SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Essay, “The Politics of Division in Joint Security Area,” by writer Kieran Fisher; Cast, crew, restoration & Blu-ray credits.



REVERSIBLE COVER - With new and original artwork (we kinda like the original).



January 23, 2021


2020 / 461 min


Review by Carl, the Coach Potato😼


I think it’s important to be upfront that I’ve never opened up a single comic book in my entire life. Nor have I ever seen any of the shows in the DC Universe...including the first season of Doom Patrol. So my first takeaway from the nine episodes of season two is that it preaches to the converted. 

I’m assuming most of you reading this do not subscribe to HBOMax or DC Universe (where the series is offered) and ended up watching season one on DVD or Blu-ray. If you liked what you saw, snapping-up this set is probably a no-brainer. But if you find yourself in my shoes, season two is like trying to relax with a good book by starting on page 100. Doom Patrol - The Complete Second Season charges full speed ahead, unconcerned with slowing the train down long enough to let new passengers aboard. 

Even with countless flashbacks relevant to the current story arc, there’s a lot to unpack here. I was well into the fourth episode before each character’s back-story and overall significance to the narrative began to make sense. The main story thread has an ailing, wheelchair-bound Dr. Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton) trying to stay alive in order to protect her simian-faced daughter, Dorothy (Abigail Shapiro), who has the unique ability to conjure-up monstrous imaginary friends whenever she wishes. But the good doctor is also fairly reckless and self-serving; most of his efforts to achieve immortality have been through experiments which exploit the abilities of those he shares his mansion with...the various oddballs and freaks who make up the Doom Patrol. Why they haven’t collectively killed him is beyond me.

Personally, I thought some of the various side stories were more interesting, partially because I found Dorothy phenomenally irritating, but also because they’re more-or-less wrapped up in a single episode. Especially amusing was the episode titled “Sex Patrol,” in which a Ghostbusters-like team - called SeX-Men - arrive to rid the mansion of of fornicating spirits, originally brought-on by...well, it’s too bizarre to explain, but rest-assured, it’s funny as hell. 

A visit to the Unamusement Park.
The success or failure of other subplots depends largely on the viewer’s investment in a particular character. To me, ex-pilot Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer), is the most intriguing and his efforts to reconnect with his surviving family - following one son’s suicide - is surprisingly poignant, while Jane’s (Dianne Guerrero) constant struggle against 63 other personalities inhabiting the same body is creatively depicted. On the other hand, foul-mouthed Cyborg Cliff Steele (voiced by Brendan Fraser) is simply obnoxious. He’s like listening to a 10-year-old who just discovered the f-word and the subplots where he’s prominently featured are interminable.

Regardless of its narrative inconsistencies, fluctuating interest level and shockingly abrupt conclusion (in which nothing is actually concluded), there are some aspects of Doom Patrol that are quite impressive. First, this is unarguably the most bizarre series in the entire DC canon. Sure, some of it’s just weird for weirdness’ sake, but there’s also a bit of mad genius behind the ideas and concepts, bolstered by an aesthetic that’s unlike any other series out there. The make-up, production design and visual effects perfectly match whatever tone a particular episode is trying to achieve.

Still, season two of Doom Patrol does little to expand its existing fanbase, apparently content with the audience it already has. I suppose those same fans wouldn’t have it any other way, though I wish I could tell them if season two measures up. That being said, I guess it goes without saying that those curious about what they’ve been missing are highly advised to check out season one first, or risk being hopelessly lost.


FEATURETTES -Doom Patrol: The Magic of Make-up” (Make-up effects feature); “Doom Patrol Season 2: Come Visit Georgia PSA” (Production designer Carey Mayer talks about working in Georgia).