June 30, 2021

The Shocking Longevity of SPACE JAM (4K)

1996 / 87 min


Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽


If someone would have told me back in 1996 that Space Jam would someday be a considered a modern classic, I'd assume they drank way too much of Michael's Secret Stuff.

I'm an old school Looney Tunes fan, practically raised on them during my formative years in the early 70s. This was back when the only time to catch cartoons on TV was Saturday morning…Scooby-Doo, Superfriends, Speed Buggy, Groovy Ghoulies, Wacky Races, etc. We’d be up at the crack of dawn, Cheerios in-hand and ready to start our weekend with five hours of animated fun before Dad took back the TV for college football.

With hindsight, a lot of those Saturday morning shows were cheap, cynically-made sludge made to sell toys or capitalize on popular trends (Jabberjaw, anyone?). Most lasted a season or two, while others would be repackaged and shoved down our throats yet again. For example, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? begat The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which begat Scooby‘s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics, which begat Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, which begat The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, which begat A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, ad nauseum. 

The one exception was Looney Tunes. Hong Kong Phooey may have come and gone in the blink of an eye, but these classic shorts continued to usher-in Saturday mornings for nearly 40 years. We never saw anything new…no Looney Tunes babies, no vapid mash-ups, no Sonny & Cher showing up to help solve mysteries. Just good old fashioned cartoon mayhem, with affable characters who never changed…Bugs Bunny was always a wise-ass, Daffy Duck was always angry, Elmer Fudd was always an idiot and Wile E. Coyote always failed to secure a meal. 

That unwavering consistency was what made these characters endearing. Then in 1996, the product known as Space Jam (I still hesitate to call it a movie) turned them into the same brand name selling tool that Scooby-Doo became in the '70s.

Still, I must concede I actually sort-of enjoyed Space Jam, mainly because it was the first significant appearance of these beloved characters in decades, even if it was for a cynically-produced exercise in stunt casting. Seeing Bugs play second fiddle to Michael Jordan (himself a brand name) was better than no Bugs at all.

Though we know we’re watching more of a marketing campaign than an actual movie, Space Jam is often amusing, and aside from the idiotic “plot” (Jordan must save the Looney Tunes by challenging nefarious aliens to a basketball game), it seldom insults the viewer’s intelligence. Sure, most of these classic characters’ personalities are far-removed from their golden years. And yeah, giving Bugs a sassy love interest is a stupid idea, while the R&B soundtrack smacks of a ploy to sell CDs. But the film isn't without its charms, with a lot of cameos by sports figures willing to poke a little fun at themselves.

"Bugs is just kidding, Mike. You're a great actor."
Old school animaniacs might make the argument that throwing the Looney Tunes into something as pandering as Space Jam is no different than the Harlem Globetrotters showing up to save the day in Scooby-Doo. I’d retort that Scooby-Doo began including “guest stars” to boost flagging ratings and the animation was still as crappy as ever. While not nearly as jaw-dropping as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Space Jam was technically impressive for its time and briefly succeeded in endearing these characters to a new audience. And for old Boomers like yours truly, it had been years since I’d seen these guys in anything new, so I welcomed them back like old friends, even if forced to watch 'em square-off against aliens on a basketball court.

An amiable but forgettable product of the decade from which it sprang, Space Jam pretty much became dated the minute Michael Jordan retired for the second time, to say nothing of the cameos and pop culture references would be totally lost on any kids watching it for the first time today. It's obvious Space Jam was never meant to have a long shelf life.

Yet here we are, 25 years later and Space Jam has somehow endured, still relevant enough to warrant a (very) belated sequel. Heck, even the original website is still up-&-running. It may not have aged too well - especially aesthetically - but remains revered by a generation who not-only grew up with it, they’ve shared this childhood relic with their own kids. In that respect, I suppose the film’s continuing popularity is not-unlike that of such family classics as The Goonies or Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

To coincide with the release of Space Jam: A New Legacy, the original has been given a 4K UHD facelift. Additionally, a Blu-ray and digital copy are also included. The 4K disc offers a slightly better overall picture - deeper blacks and more accurate color - than the Blu-ray, which was pretty good to begin with. The big difference is in the sound, with a terrific Dolby Atmos track. But again, the audio of the original Blu-ray was nothing to sneeze at, either. An upgrade would probably most-interest hard-core home theater enthusiasts, especially since no new supplemental material is included, which is actually kind-of surprising. Considering Space Jam’s status as a GenZ classic and the impending sequel, one would think a few retrospective bonus features would be prudent.

Still, the fact that it's been given the 4K treatment At all - as well as a simultaneous Best Buy Exclusive Steelbook release - is a testament to the film's longevity. Despite the producers' intentions and my initial assessment of its lasting merits, it looks like Space Jam became a modern classic after all.


AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Bugs Bunny (Billy West, also as himself, Daffy Duck (Dee Bradley Baker, also as himself) and director Joe Pytka. More entertaining than informative, with Bugs & Daffy doing their thing.

JAMMIN’ WITH BUGS BUNNY AND MICHAEL JORDAN - Vintage promotional behind-the-scenes doc.

2 MUSIC VIDEOS - “Fly Like an Eagle,” by Seal; “Monstars Anthem Hit ‘Em High.”




June 28, 2021

MAJOR DUNDEE: A Tale of Two Films

MAJOR DUNDEE (Blu-ray Review)
1965 / 122 min (Theatrical Version) / 136 min (Extended Version)


Review by Mr. Paws😺

Major Dundee has a troubled history that’s arguably as interesting as the film itself, which is comprehensively documented in this outstanding limited edition boxed set from Arrow Video.

This was the third feature film by mercurial director Sam Peckinpah, whose legendary love/hate relationship with studios, producers, actors, women & booze began to take shape here. Sometimes his creative vision was constrained by outside interference, other times he simply shit in his own nest, and you can see examples of both in the original theatrical cut...the passionate artist vs. the pragmatic studio, with the latter being the ultimate victor. As released in 1965, Major Dundee - with an all-star cast fronted by Chalton Heston and Richard Harris - is entertaining enough, though certainly shows signs of haphazard attempts to trim the running time, not-to-mention a film score and peppy main title song that seem pretty tone-deaf considering the violence and dark themes.

According to some historians featured in this set’s bonus material, Peckinpah thought Dundee could have been one of his masterpieces without all the studio interference, a claim not always shared by certain critics. But with a painstaking 2005 restoration - which includes previously deleted scenes and a sweeping new score by Christopher Caliendo - there seems to be a consensus that, while still no masterpiece, the extended version is a much better film.

"Uh...sir...we dug a latrine for that kind of thing."
This set lets viewers decide for themselves with both cuts of the film. Having seen both, I concur that the extended version - with its gorgeous 4K restoration - is vastly superior. While it still has narrative and pacing issues, particularly during the second half - one can easily see what Peckinpah was trying to achieve with his complex characters and themes, the most prominent of the latter being Dundee’s (Heston) Melvillian obsession with avenging a massacre at the hands of Apaches (also discussed at-length in some of the supplemental features). 

However, my main takeaway was its conceptually-striking resemblance to Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen (Dundee’s recruitment of thugs, outlaws and Confederate prisoners). Additionally, a few commentators suggest that, had Peckinpah gotten his way, Major Dundee would have been a lot more violent. Though mild compared to his next film, The Wild Bunch, it’s still pretty bloody and he apparently wanted to make similar use of slow-motion during the numerous gunfights, which I suppose could arguably render Dundee’s single-minded - and dangerous - willingness to sacrifice dozens for the sake of vengeance - and glory - far more disconcerting (but also more thematically pertinent).

Or maybe not. The point is this set is loaded with new & vintage bonus features which invites the viewer to re-examine the film - and its director - with fresh eyes. Major Dundee still ain’t a masterpiece, but this beautifully packaged set offers a fascinating and thorough exploration of a historically troubled film. One minor quip: It’s too bad Caliendo’s new score isn’t included as either an isolated audio track or - better yet - a supplemental CD, like Arrow recently did with The Stylist. It’s a great piece of music.



3 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By Nick Redman, David Waddle, Garner Simmons & Paul Seydor; 2) By Glenn Erickson & Alan K. Rode; 3) Also by Erickson.

3 “PASSION & POETRY” FILMS - Passion & Poetry is a series of short and feature-length films by director Mike Siegel, all dedicated to the life and career of Sam Peckinpah. Three of those films, “The Dundee Odyssey,” “Peckinpah Anecdotes” & “Mike Siegel: About the Passion & Poetry Project” are included. “The Dundee Odyssey” is the only one specifically related to the film. At 75 minutes, it’s also the most interesting.

MOBY DICK ON HORSEBACK - Fascinating critical video essay by David Cairns (though he should speak up a little more).

4 GALLERIES - Featuring production stills, behind-the-scenes photos and promotional material.

RIDING FOR A FALL - Vintage featurette




59 PAGE BOOK - Featuring photos, 4 essays, cast, crew & transfer/production credits.

2-SIDED POSTER - Unlike previous Arrow Limited Edition boxes, this poster is landscape rather than portrait. With vintage and new artwork, both sides look really cool, so I’m still not sure which side I’m gonna frame and display in the Dave Cave.



June 27, 2021

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (4K) and the Timeless Reminder

1971 / 100 min


Review by Mr. Paws😸


Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five decades, you know Willy Wonka & and Chocolate Factory is a perennial classic nearly as revered as The Wizard of Oz. Similarly, it never found a real audience until it began popping up on TV and home video. 

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to meet anyone over 20 who hasn’t seen it at least once, and even the internet keeps it relevant through countless memes using Gene Wilder’s condescending smile to call-out various stupidities in the world. Not bad for a movie cynically produced with the initial purpose of selling candy bars (and the author of the original book, Roald Dahl, absolutely hated it).

But despite its humble product-placement beginnings, kid-friendly story, sunny production design and bouncy songs, what ultimately lifts Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory above its contemporaries is a singular, timeless message: It ain’t all about you. 

Sure, the typical “family” film offers a variety of morals or lessons we experience vicariously through its main characters, and once they learn what’s truly important in life, everyone lives happily ever after. But really, ‘it ain’t all about you’ is the only thing kids should know before being unceremoniously tossed into the real world. Even most adults need to be reminded of that from time to time, which is perhaps another reason Willy Wonka has remained relevant while the likes of Superdad have been relegated to mere nostalgia.

I’ve also always appreciated the film’s sinister underpinnings, with most of its child characters learning these lessons the hard way. No warnings, no lectures...just consequences. Blunt, beautiful consequences.

"And up there is the attic, where we keep Grandpa."
With the exception of Charlie Bucket (ironically the dullest character in the film), all the children are self-centered, unlikable little brats who’ve obviously never been held accountable for their behavior before touring Wonka’s chocolate factory. One by one, these kids get the unexpected Karmic retribution they deserve. Not only that, the audience is never completely assured they survive. But like life, the factory tour moves on...with or without their participation. If the film was always more about Karma than selling candy bars, then Willy Wonka himself (Gene Wilder at his best) is its confectionery Buddha...always omnipresent, yet wise enough to stand aside and let these people crap in their own nest.

That’s how real life works. Life doesn’t coddle or catch you when you fall. Life doesn’t care “how you roll,” nor will it wait until you’re ready to grow up and stop being a jerk. Life is simply a reminder that it ain’t all about you.

Of course, 50 years of delivering such a timeless message deserves some kind of commemoration, so what better time to give Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory a 4K upgrade (especially since previous home video releases have been astoundingly average)? If nothing else, the video restoration is wonderful, the colors less garish and more natural. I can’t say the same for the audio, which has noticeable distortion at times. In fact, I didn’t notice much difference in clarity or balance between this and the accompanying Blu-ray (or my old DVD, for that matter). 

Additionally, there are no new bonus features. All the supplemental material here is carried over from previous releases, which is sort-of a shame. At the very least, it would have been cool to include some kind of appreciation or retrospective, especially since the Wonka Kids are now all senior citizens.

Still, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains one of the greatest non-animated “family” films ever made, despite its dubious capitalistic origins. Colorful, quotable, witty and loaded with humor both subtle ("Not until you're 12, son") and broad, it’s one of the rare movies that respects its intended audience, yet has always been dark & twisted enough to keep them returning as adults to share with their own kids. After all, you’re never too young or old to be reminded it ain’t all about you.


4K ULTRA, BLU-RAY & DIGITAL COPIES (most of the bonus features are on the Blu-ray only).

AUDIO COMMENTARY WITH THE WONKA KIDS - A pretty charming commentary, with Paris Themmen (Mike TeaVee) providing most of the trivia, while Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt) seems to be having the most fun.

“PURE IMAGINATION: THE STORY OF WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY” - 30-minute making-of, featuring interviews with producer David Wolper, director Mel Stuart, uncredited screenwriter David Seltzer, Gene Wilder and the kids.






June 26, 2021


Movie posters are a dying art. Today, most are little more than quickly slapped-together Photoshopped montages. But back in the days before the internet, posters really had to sell movies, which meant hiring artists and photographers with enough creativity to (sometimes deviously) get butts planted in theater seats. In the tradition of P.T. Barnum, sometimes the best posters were used to entice moviegoers into seeing the worst movies...

DEATH MACHINES - Who wouldn’t wanna check out a metallic monster built for the sole purpose of eating people? Unfortunately, the so-called ‘death machines’ in this disco-era cheapie are zombified martial arts assassins.

DEEPSTAR SIX - Producer-director Sean S. Cunningham’s intent was  to crank this out and get it in theaters before similar, bigger-budgeted films like The Abyss and Leviathan. Mission accomplished, but it's silly and sloppy. On the plus side, Miguel Ferrer is amusing and the eviscerated diver on the poster isn’t simply aesthetic. It actually happens in the film.

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP - Babe-humpin’ beasties from the briny deep! This is something of a cult classic, though the poster art is far creepier and sexier than anything in the movie. Believe it or not, this one also features the late, great James Horner’s first-ever film score.

THE CAR - The concept of an automobile from Hell turning the good and not-so-good folks of a small desert town into road pizza is proof positive that Robert Evans wasn’t the only studio executive from the 70s doing too much cocaine. Stll, the sleek minimalism of this poster suggests maybe the movie might be scary after all.

DAMNATION ALLEY - This was supposed to be 20th Century Fox’s big sci-fi blockbuster of 1977. It didn’t turn out that way, of course, but the poster does prominently feature the one legitimately cool aspect of the film - the multi-wheeled Landmaster - arguably a better selling tool than killer cockroaches and giant scorpions.

June 25, 2021

The Daffy Delights of STRIKE COMMANDO 1 & 2

Strike Commando: 1986 / 102 min (Extended Cut) / 92 min (Theatrical Cut)

Strike Commando 2: 1987 / 96 min (Extended Cut) / 90 min (Theatrical Cut)


Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

The coolest thing about the late, sorta-great Bruno Mattei is the inspiration he undoubtedly instilled upon countless would-be auteurs armed with little more than a camera and boundless optimism. A particular film by Steven Spielberg (or even George P. Cosmatos) might earn our admiration and respect for the director’s skill, but watching damn-near any Mattei movie will prompt one to say, “Hell, even I could do that.”

I’m pretty sure that’s what Mattei thought whenever he took-in a Spielberg or Cosmatos film. And what he may have lacked in actual talent he more-than made up for with sheer audacity. There was nary a blockbuster released in the ‘80s that he couldn’t regurgitate cheaper and faster, which sort-of made him the Spielberg of Italian rip-off artists.

Which isn’t, of course, intended as criticism. There’s something endearing about Mattei’s attempt to turn Reb (YOR!!!) Brown into a second-tier Stallone in Strike Commando, a deliciously daffy riff on Rambo that damn-near plays like a parody. As Vietnam super-soldier Michael Ransom, Brown delivers all the thespian skills he can muster...awe-shucks grin, trigger-happy o-face, ripping off his shirt every 10 minutes. There are enough bad guys running around the Philippine jungle for three Rambo movies, but traitorous Colonel Redek is by-far the most amusing. He’s overplayed with gusto by Christopher Connelly, hissing each line with his jaw clenched tight enough to crack molars (perhaps because they misspelled his name in the credits). 

"No fair!!!"
Whereas Stallone later starred in The Expendables, Mattei & friends must have decided Brown really was expendable because they replaced him in Strike Commando 2 with Brent Huff, who’s even less talented. However, this sequel is ultimately more fun (at its own expense, of course). Comic highlights include co-star Mary Stavin as Rosanna, who looks, acts & sounds like Farrah Fawcett after 20 espresso shots, and several scenes which so blatantly rip-off Raiders of the Lost Ark that I’m surprised Spielberg didn’t put a contract out on Mattei. But the pièce de résistance is the willing participation of seriously-slumming Richard Harris as mentor/adversary Major Jenkins. Even though he’s the only cast member who displays an iota of acting skill, every facial expression practically cries-out, “What the hell am I doing here?” (maybe he was kidnapped or something).

But best of all, these two lovably lousy relics serve as a reminder that, with just a few cases of explosives, plenty of Philippines frequent-flyer miles and no-small-amount of shamelessness, you-too can be an action filmmaker. Maybe you could even coax Brown or Huff out of retirement. I’m sure they aren’t too busy right now.


Strike Commando:


WAR MACHINE- Interview with Claudio Fragasso who’s either the screenwriter or co-director (!). At any rate, he has some entertaining anecdotes.

ALL QUIET ON THE PHILIPPINE FRONT - Interview with co-writer Rossela Drudi.



Strike Commando 2:


GUERRILLA ZONE - Interview with Claudio Fragasso, which is actually the second half of the interview from the Strike Commando disc.

MICHAEL RANSOM IS BACK - Interview with Brent Huff, who fondly recalls working on the film while having no illusions over its quality.



June 24, 2021

THE POOP SCOOP: Gangsters, Torture & Snyder's Second Chance

ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE (aka the “Snyder Cut”) on 4K Blu-ray & DVD 9/7
The age of heroes is upon us when the Warner Bros. Pictures and DC full-length HBO Max Original feature film “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” arrives on 4K, Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD on September 7. The screenplay is by Chris Terrio, story by Chris Terrio & Zack Snyder and Will Beall, based on characters from DC, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The film’s producers are Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, with executive producers Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Wesley Coller, Jim Rowe, Curtis Kanemoto, Chris Terrio and Ben Affleck. In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”, determined to ensure Superman’s (Henry Cavill) ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aligns forces with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. The task proves more difficult than Bruce imagined, as each of the recruits must face the demons of their own pasts to transcend that which has held them back, allowing them to come together, finally forming an unprecedented league of heroes. Now united, Batman (Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) may be too late to save the planet from Steppenwolf, DeSaad and Darkseid and their dreadful intentions. The Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will feature a Dolby Atmos soundtrack remixed specifically for the home theater environment to place and move audio anywhere in the room, including overhead.

Bruce Willis (DIE HARD franchise) and Megan Fox (TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN) lead a powerful cast including Emile Hirsch (ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD), Lukas Haas (INCEPTION), and Colson Baker (BIRD BOX) in this gritty and intense crime-thriller. While in Florida on another case, FBI agents Helter (Willis) and Lombardo (Fox) cross paths with state cop Crawford (Hirsch), who’s investigating a string of female murders that appear to be related. Lombardo and Crawford team up for an undercover sting, but it goes horribly wrong, plunging Lombardo into grave danger and pitting Crawford against a serial killer in a twisted game of cat and mouse.

SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW on 4K Steelbook, Blu-ray & DVD 7/20
A criminal mastermind unleashes a twisted form of justice in Spiral, the terrifying new chapter from the book of Saw. Working in the shadow of his father, an esteemed police veteran (Samuel L. Jackson), brash Detective Ezekiel "Zeke" Banks (Chris Rock) and his rookie partner (Max Minghella) take charge of a grisly investigation into murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city's gruesome past. Unwittingly entrapped in a deepening mystery, Zeke finds himself at the center of the killer's morbid game. Spiral, which opened to #1 at the box office and stayed there for two weeks in a row, stars Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, and Samuel L. Jackson, and is produced by the original Saw team of Mark Burg and Oren Koules. The film is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Josh Stolberg & Pete Goldfinger. From Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures, Spiral is a Burg/Koules production.


OCCUPATION: RAINFALL arrives on Blu-ray and DVD 8/10
Humans and aliens collide in the race to save mankind when Occupation: Rainfall arrives on Blu-ray (plus Digital) and DVD on August 10 from Lionsgate. Occupation: Rainfall is available On Demand now and is a sequel to the 2018 film Occupation, written and directed by Luke Sparke. Bursting with spectacular special effects and exhilarating action sequences, Occupation: Rainfall unfolds two years into an intergalactic invasion of Earth, as survivors fight back in a desperate ground war. While casualties mount by the day, the resistance—along with some unexpected allies—uncovers a plot that could bring the war to a decisive end. Now, with the alien invaders hell-bent on making our planet their new home, the race is on to save mankind.


GANGS OF LONDON Season 1 - Available on DVD and Blu-ray 7/20
For 20 years, Finn Wallace was the most powerful criminal in London. Billions of pounds flowed through his organization each year. But now he’s dead – and nobody knows who ordered the hit. With rivals everywhere, it’s up to the impulsive Sean Wallace, with the help of the Dumani family headed by Ed Dumani, to take his father’s place. If the situation wasn’t already dangerous enough, Sean’s assumption of power causes ripples in the world of international crime. Perhaps the one man who might be able to help him and be his ally is Elliot Finch, who up until now, has been one of life’s losers, a lowlife chancer with a mysterious interest in the Wallace family.  But as the wind of fate blows, Elliot finds himself transported to the inner workings of the largest criminal organization in London. It doesn’t end with the Wallaces though, there are shadowy higher powers at play. Gangs of London is created by award-winning filmmaker Gareth Evans and his creative partner Matt Flannery and is produced by Pulse Films in association with SISTER for Sky Studios. The series was executive produced by Pulse Films’ founder Thomas Benski, and Lucas Ochoa alongside Jane Featherstone for SISTER and Gabriel Silver for Sky Studios. AMC will serve as co-producer for the second season.