May 31, 2021

ADVENTURES IN THE BUDGET BIN: Not All Dollar Trees are Created Equal


There’s a new Dollar Tree opening up near my house, and believe it or not, I’m actually kind of excited for it. Maybe that’s a testament to just how uneventful my life has become. 

Of course, the older I get, the more I appreciate being able to describe my day-to-day existence as ‘uneventful.’ I’m not sharing exotic vacation photos with Facebook friends who pretend to give a shit, nor has a mid-life crisis Harley-Davidson found a new home in my garage. At the same time, there have been no devastating surprises, either. No grave news from the doctor, no financially-crippling expenses, no kids to bail out of jail, no conversations with the wife that begin with “We need to talk.”

So yeah, I’ll take uneventful every damn day of the week.

But why is Dollar Tree such a big deal, especially since there’s already one just a 10 minute drive away? Well, first of all, the new store is only a 5 minute drive, occupying what used to be a Pier 1 Imports. It's amusingly ironic that Gresham, Oregon’s most jaw-droppingly overpriced store is being replaced by its cheapest. 

Second, not all Dollar Trees are the same. The 10-minute store is cramped, filthy and always looks like the supply truck simply drove through the front window and exploded. Worst of all, it almost never stocks movies. Conversely, I recently swung by a different Dollar Tree that was clean, spacious and, most importantly, stocked with a pretty decent selection of Blu-rays that wouldn’t normally be worth the 30-minute drive. But since I was on the way to a doctor’s appointment, why not make a quick stop?

As an actor, Ben Affleck has always been wildly hit-or-miss, but the ones he directs himself are generally pretty solid. There are even a few I'd consider great.
Live by Night (Blu-ray) doesn’t rank up there with Argo or The Town, but it’s far from terrible. Affleck directs himself and a decent cast in this period gangster film where he plays an Irish mobster who ends up working for the boss of a rival Italian mob. While it’s certainly no Goodfellas and sometimes gets a little poky, there’s an exciting, bloody climax that makes it well worth a buck, as does Zoe Saldana (it’s been awhile since I've seen her not painted green).

If you loved such black comedies as The Hunt and Ready or Not but haven’t yet seen The Belko Experiment (Blu-ray), drop what you’re doing to see if your local Dollar Tree management saw fit to stock it. Written by James Gunn, this under-appreciated horror-comedy features a great cast of familiar faces - whose names escape you - as co-workers trapped in their office building and forced to kill each other. Morbidly funny and brutally violent, the film has a mile-wide mean streak. Even some social commentary can be found in all the mayhem. For the mere price of a candy bar, Belko offers a plethora of sick thrills.

In the 40+ years since Phantasm, director Don Coscarelli hasn’t really done much of-note outside of that beloved franchise (and the quality of some of those sequels have been dubious). The few times he does venture outside his comfort zone tend to be comedy-horror hybrids, like Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End (Blu-ray). To be honest, I’m not the world’s biggest Coscarelli fan and have only enjoyed a couple of his films. John Dies at the End is still on my “yet-to-watch” list, but even if it ends up being more Phantasm IV than Bubba Ho-Tep, it’s still worth some loose change to find out. Good cast, too.

I’ve noticed Dollar Tree appears to have deals with certain distributors. So if you've ever enjoyed a movie released by Magnet, there’s a good chance it’ll eventually end up in a “Weekly Wow” bin. Here’s hoping they’ve come to a similar arrangement with RLJE Films, who release all the horror stuff that plays on the Shudder streaming service, because I nabbed copies of Trick (Blu-ray) and Boar (DVD). I wouldn’t go as far as to call either of these films good, but Trick tries to put an interesting spin on the slasher genre and almost succeeds. Boar is a clumsily-directed, poorly-acted Aussie thriller featuring a giant pig doing the Jaws thing. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to resist nature-run-amok movies, even the bad ones. On the plus side, Boar offers the rare sight of a victim whose head is impaled by the titular critter’s tusk...and surviving (however briefly).

After making my purchases - with a bag of ‘Onyums’ thrown in to build-up the waistline -  I continued to my doctor’s appointment. I’m happy to say the examination was ‘uneventful’ (though not-for-long if I keep throwing Onyums in my basket). At any rate, this surprisingly lucrative movie haul has me hoping the new Dollar Tree - opening just a stone's throw away - has similarly superior management.

May 30, 2021

SHOPLIFTERS OF THE WORLD Preaches to the Converted

2021 / 90 min


Review by Stinky the Destroyer😾

If nothing else, Shoplifters of the World scratched a lingering itch. For years, I’ve been hearing a particular song infrequently pop up on the radio (mostly oldies stations). Driving, semi-industrial and somewhat ominous sounding, I've always loved the song but never paid attention to the title or artist. 

It turns out that dark little ditty is “How Soon is Now,” arguably the most famous song by The Smiths, whose music is not-only prominent throughout this film, it’s central to the narrative. Writer-director Stephen Kijak appears to be attempting an American Graffiti for '80s-era navel-gazers while simultaneously equating The Smiths' cultural relevance to that of The Beatles (for alt-rockers, maybe it is). However, he also demonstrates a considerable amount of self-congratulatory smugness.

Part love letter to The Smiths & those who loved them, part f**k-you to anyone who didn’t, Shoplifters of the World is almost condescending in tone, which is ironic considering the plot isn’t too far removed from the dumbbell comedy, Airheads. Only instead of likably ham-headed headbangers, we have a bunch of self-absorbed young adults reeling from the break-up of their favorite band. One goes as far as to break into a heavy metal radio station and force the DJ at gunpoint to play nothing but Smiths music for the rest of the night.

It's fun to be sad!
In the meantime, the gunman’s friends spend the evening mourning their loss, complaining about first-world problems, questioning their futures and expressing an overall contempt for everyone outside of their circle. Which would be fine, since everyone that age is a walking ball of confusion, but these folks are generally unpleasant to be around, their conversations relentlessly pessimistic. When not bitching about their own lives, they’re practically mansplaining - to anyone forced to listen - why The Smiths are the only band that matters.

The attention to ‘80s period detail is impressive, so Shoplifters of the World might work as a nostalgia piece for some, but probably only kindred spirits who share Kijak’s gushing admiration for The Smiths and an equally lowly opinion of anyone who only know “How Soon is Now.” Frequently interspersed with video and interview footage of the band, the film mostly preaches to the converted. Everyone else might find it kind of pretentious.


FEATURETTES - “Story & Inspiration”; “Look & Feel”



May 29, 2021

NINA WU Loses Herself

NINA WU (DVD Review)
2019 / 103 min


Review by Fluffy the Fearless🙀

Surreal, somber and ultimately pretty harrowing, Nina Wu isn’t for everybody. What might be the most distressing aspect of the film is that the title character’s story is not unique.

Nina (Ke-Xi Wu, who also co-wrote the screenplay) is a struggling actor who finally lands an audition for a big-budget spy thriller. However, the role also involves explicit sex scenes and full-frontal nudity. Nina’s agent, indifferent to her concerns, more-or-less suggests any real actor doesn’t have a problem with nudity (of course, he means any female actor).

Though Nina gets the part, she’s subjected to all sorts of humiliation and abuse from the film’s tyrannical director, culminating in a scene where an action scene goes awry and she nearly drowns. Once the film is completed and released, Nina is showered with critical praise as a rising star, though significantly, the media appears more obsessed with her sex scenes than her performance. When Nina returns to her rural hometown to visit her ailing father, she reunites with fellow-actor and former lover Kiki (Vivian Sung), whom she’s frequently messaging. One gets the impression Kiki is the only real friend Nina has. 

Nina Wu...staring contest champion.
Despite her sudden celebrity, Nina seems perpetually unhappy and a majority of the episodic, non-linear narrative chronicles what leads to her emotional & psychological breakdown (most of it related to her treatment in the movie business). However, we are often uncertain if we’re watching a flashback, the present or Nina’s imagination until well-into a scene. Disorienting the viewer is obviously director Midi Z’s intention and it’s sometimes quite effective in conveying Nina’s despair. It can also be a little frustrating - especially during the meandering hometown sequences - at-least until the shocking final scene, which finally makes-plain why Nina is so disillusioned.

Nina Wu is not necessarily a good time at the movies, but it’s a quietly powerful film with themes that are all-too relevant in the #MeToo era. While the pace, direction, music and beautiful cinematography contribute to the appropriately pessimistic tone, it’s ultimately Ke-Xi Wu’s writing (apparently drawn from experience) and understated performance that drives the message home. 




Rest in Peace, Gavin MacLeod

May 27, 2021

AMERICAN FIGHTER: Another Bout of Deja Vu

2019 / 98 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Though there’s no indication anywhere on the cover or in the synopsis, American Fighter is actually a sequel. The first film, American Wrestler: The Wizard, was released back in 2016. Those who watched and enjoyed that one will be happy to know Iranian high school wrestler Ali Jahani (George Kasturos) is back, this-time in college. 

Those who haven’t - like yours truly - don’t fret.  American Fighter plays like a stand-alone film, with no references to anything that might have happened in the first one. In fact, if you’ve seen your fair share of inspirational sports movies, you’re actually ahead of the curve. There’s nary a scene you won’t see coming a mile away.

Not that the film isn’t entertaining. If expectations are kept in check - as one should with any movie boasting Sean Patrick Flanery in the cast - it’s a mildly engaging spin on a tried-and-true formula (which is, of course, ‘based on a true story’). This time around, Ali enters the world of underground fighting in hopes of raising enough money to bring his ailing mother to America. 

"See? 24 hour protection!"
You know what comes next...Ali shows promise, then gets a beat-down, is then mentored by an older, wiser fighter (Flanery), then gets a rematch, etc. In the interim, there’s some good old fashioned boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. The romantic subplot serves no real purpose, but it’s here if you want it. And since the story takes place in the ‘80s, synths and drum machines dominate the score, with a couple o’ power ballads tossed in.

Though it positively reeks of deja vu, American Fighter does boast some exciting, brutal fight scenes and the performances are decent. Kasturos keeps Ali likable, while the always-reliable Tommy Flanagan is good as a shady fight promoter. Nothing in the film leaves a lasting impression, but there are far worse ones out there milking the same formula.


MUSIC VIDEO - “The Good Fight,” by ANDY 





May 26, 2021

The Collectible 12 MONKEYS

12 MONKEYS (Blu-ray Steelbook Review)
1995 / 129 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

One of the coolest things about 12 Monkeys is that its temporal logistics hold up under closer scrutiny than most other time travel movies, perhaps because it doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. Rather than focusing on the consequences of altering history and other labyrinthine complications, there’s a haunting sense of inevitability that not-only establishes a dark mood from the very first scene, it’s the driving force behind the entire narrative.

We’re basically screwed and no hero from the future can save us from ourselves. When James Cole (Bruce Willis) “volunteers” to time travel to the mid-90s, it’s just to bring back a virus sample in hopes that future folks can quit living underground. The rest of the story deals with how this simple mission becomes a clusterfuck. Despite the bleak, nihilistic tone, director Terry Gilliam still manages to squeeze his playfully twisted sense of humor into the narrative. My favorite example is the revelation that time travel is more of a crapshoot than an exact science. In fact, we sometimes suspect the people who sent Cole to the past don’t really know what the hell they’re doing.

Brad reviews Hudson Hawk.
Elsewhere, 12 Monkeys arguably remains Gilliam’s best film. It’s certainly his most straightforward, with noticeably greater emphasis on the story and characters than his usual penchant for self-indulgence. Not that the movie isn’t without its eccentric flourishes, but from a narrative standpoint, 12 Monkeys is his most cohesive work (perhaps because he left the screenwriting duties to someone else for a change).

The film is, of course, a modern sci-fi classic and I suspect most people reading this have already seen it numerous times (which is why I didn’t bother rehashing the plot). It’s also safe to assume a lot of them already own the film, perhaps even Arrow Video’s 2018 Blu-ray, which sported a terrific restoration and good selection of new & archival bonus features. That being said, the only difference between that disc and this one is the Steelbook packaging with newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin. While I don’t think it ranks among the best work he’s done for Arrow, at least it differs from the original cover art, which should please collectors.


THE HAMSTER FACTOR AND OTHER TALES OF TWELVE MONKEYS - Feature-length making-of documentary, which was mostly shot during the film’s production. Amusing and informative, this is easily the best of the bonus features.

THE FILM EXCHANGE WITH TERRY GILLIAM - 1996 interview in front of a film festival audience. I’ve always enjoyed listening to Gilliam.

APPRECIATION BY IAN CHRISTIE - Gillian on Gilliam author discusses the film in detail.

THE TWELVE MONKEYS ARCHIVES - This is an image gallery, and a pretty big one, with behind the scenes photos and promotional material (mostly posters).

SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Essay, “The Audacity of Hopelessness,” by Nathan Rabin; Gilliam on Gilliam book excerpt, by Ian Christie; cast, crew & restoration credits.




Movie Night with Dave & Stinky: BLACK SUNDAY (1977)

May 25, 2021

DELIVER US FROM EVIL Delivers the Action

2020 / 109 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

There are scores of action flicks with prologues created to establish a main protagonist’s “very particular set of skills” before moving on to the actual story. Deliver Us from Evil introduces Kim In-nam (Hwang Jung-min) as a ruthless, methodical hitman whose latest mark is supposed to be his last. But in this case, this sequence directly impacts what transpires later.

Concurrently, the daughter of an old acquaintance is abducted. For some reason, the narrative attempts to keep their relationship with Kim ambiguous, though it doesn’t exactly take a slide-rule to figure-out Yoo-min (Park So-yi) is his daughter. The trail leads him to Incheon, where she’s been sold to a crime lord who specializes in kidnapping children and selling their organs on the black market. With the help of streetwise trans cabaret performer Yui (Park Jeong-min), Kim employs his “very particular set of skills” to try and get her back.

"Forget it, Ray...I'm cuttin' the cake."
However, complicating his search is Ray (LeeJung-jae), the sadistic, psychotic brother of the mob boss Kim killed in the prologue. Imagine Taken if Brian Mills was being relentlessly pursued by another guy with a “very particular set of skills” and you’ll have a good idea what to expect. Still, it’s an equally compelling - and far more violent - story with some terrific action. It takes awhile to get going, but once Kim hits Incheon, there’s a plethora of bone-breaking fights, explosive gunplay and one extraordinarily destructive car chase through a crowded marketplace. The action isn’t always plausible, but it’s certainly rousing, especially during the climax.

The film is bolstered by good performances and engaging characters. Jung-min reminds me of a ‘70s-era Charles Bronson (he sorta resembles ol’ Chuck, too) and Jung-jae makes Ray a wonderfully vicious villain. Elsewhere, Jeong-min manages to steal a few scenes while avoiding the trap of turning Yui into a mere caricature. Most importantly, writer-director Hong Won-chan utilizes his own “very particular set of skills” to turn his film into an exciting variation of the Taken formula. Despite the disturbing basic premise, Deliver Us from Evil is an entertaining, tension-filled slab of movie mayhem.


2 FEATURETTES - Your standard promotional ‘making-of’ and another that covers the various shooting locations.




May 24, 2021

DJANGO: A Heaping-Helping of Spaghetti...with Seconds

DJANGO (4K Ultra HD Review)
1966 / 92 min


Review by Mr. Paws😸

I’d be willing to wager there are a lot more people who’ve heard of the original Django than those who’ve actually seen it. A shame, really, because it’s arguably the best spaghetti western not made by Sergio Leone. 

Django doesn’t achieve the balletic artistry of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West. Nor is its titular character as instantly-iconic as the Man with No Name. And yeah, the film lacks an antagonist as enjoyably-vicious as Frank or Angel Eyes (though not for a lack of trying).

However, Django has a compelling - albeit familiar - story, and while director Sergio Corbucci would never be mistaken for an auteur, he knows his way around an action scene and isn’t afraid to pump up the body count. Django was extraordinarily violent for its time - and banned in Britain - shedding more blood than Leone ever dared. Critics condemning Bonnie & Clyde’s violence back then would have shit themselves had Django gotten a similarly wide release.

Now here it is in all its uncut glory, with Franco Nero as Django, out for widespread vengeance and armed to-the-nuts with a machine gun he drags around in a coffin. He arrives in a mud-soaked old town on the Mexican border, a “neutral zone” for ex-Confederate soldiers and mexican bandits who are in the midst of a long-running feud. Similar to the synopsis of Yojimbo (and, of course, A Fistful of Dollars), Django methodically manages to piss-off both sides. The film may not be great art, but it’s tons of dark, disreputable fun.

"I know what you're thinking...'Did he fire 1,256 shots or only five?'"
Also included is Texas, Adios, another Franco Nero western released the same year and touted as a sequel in some countries. In this one, Nero plays a sheriff who ventures down to Mexico to avenge his father’s murder. While fast-paced and fairly engaging, this one plays more like a traditional western and is therefore less memorable. Nero is more fun when playing morally-questionable characters. Still, this is one helluva bonus feature.

Django is presented in 4K Ultra HD, and for the most part, the video transfer is great. Texas, Adios is a standard Blu-ray, and while the overall picture is decent, there are a few glaring blemishes in certain scenes. The audio for both is 1.0 mono, which is serviceable, though nothing remarkable. Arrow Video has also put together another loaded Limited Edition package with a big batch of new & vintage bonus features for both films. However, the other bells & whistles - i.e. lobby cards, poster - are strictly Django-related (as they should be). Whether you’re a long-time fan or want to finally check out what you’ve been missing, this is a great collection.


TEXAS, ADIOS (Blu-ray) - Released the same year, but not a sequel.

55 PAGE BOOK (COVERS BOTH FILMS) - Essays: “The D is Silent: A Legend is Born,” “The Other Sergio of Italian Cinema;” “Cut to the Action: The Films of Ferdinando Baldi”; Selected contemporary; Cast, crew & restoration credits.

Django Kibbles:

INTERVIEWS - “Django Never Dies” (with Franco Nero); “Cannibal of the Wild West” (asst. Director Ruggero Deodato, most famous for Cannibal Holocaust); “Sergio, My Husband” (with the director’s wife, Nori Corbucci); “That’s My Life, Part 1” (with co-writer Franco Rossetti); “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Scriptwriter” (with co-writer Piero Vivarelli); “A Punch in the Face” (with stuntman Gilberto Galimberti).

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By critic/historian Stephen Prince.

“DISCOVERING DJANGO” - Appreciation by author Austin Fisher.

“AN INTRODUCTION TO DJANGO” - Archival featurette by director Alex Cox (Repo Man).

2-SIDED POSTER - Different versions of the Django poster.

REVERSIBLE COVER - With new and original artwork. We’re partial to the new one.




Texas, Adios Kibbles:

INTERVIEWS - “The Sheriff is in Town” (with Franco Nero); “Jump into the West” (with co-star Alberto Dell’Acqua); “That’s My Life, Part 2” (continuation of the interview with Franco Rossetti, who co-wrote this one, too).

“HELLO TEXAS!” - Appreciation by author Austin Fisher.