August 9, 2022

Rains Reigns in BATTLE OF THE WORLDS


BATTLE OF THE WORLDS (Blu-ray Review)
1961 / 84 min
Review by Mr. Paws😼

Certain fans of silly cinema might recognize the name of Anthony Dawson. It’s the somewhat infamous pseudonym of a director whose cut-rate classics include Yor, the Hunter from the Future and Cannibal Apocalypse, arguably his best-known films on this side of the pond. But he actually had a career stretching back decades.

A few might even know him by his real name, Antonio Margheriti, especially after superfan Quentin Tarantino immortalized him in Inglourious Basterds (it’s the fake Italian name used by Eli Roth's character).


Of course, most of us know who Claude Rains is (those who don’t should be ashamed of themselves). His participation in 1961’s Battle of the Worlds - far-removed from his legendary roles in Casablanca and The Invisible Man - is sort of a mystery. Did he need the money that bad or just fancy a free trip to Italy? Whatever the reason, Rains acts circles around the mannequins who make up the rest of the cast.


"What the hell did you just say to me??"
The rest is vintage Dawson…copycat, bargain basement sci-fi, but not without its goofy charms. The plot involves a rogue planet - dubbed “The Outsider” by the brilliant but cantankerous Professor Benson (Rains) - which has wandered into our solar system. Everyone else thinks it’s on a collision course with Earth, while Benson believes it’ll just be a near miss. Instead, the planet parks itself in Earth’s orbit, indicating an intelligence at work. Naturally, it’s time to investigate, even though Benson thinks they should destroy it. Turns out he’s right.

The plot actually takes too long to unfold, but we do have Rains’ amusing performance to pass the time. As Benson, watching him verbally belittle his underlings is a real hoot. Elsewhere, there’s some additional fun to be had at the film’s expense, mostly the daffy dialogue and endearingly tacky special effects. Still, we have to appreciate what Dawson was able to cobble together with a nearly non-existent budget. Even accomplishing that takes a certain amount of talent…and chutzpah.


Though the print shows evidence of haphazard editing - missing frames make the whole thing jumpy as hell - Battle of the Worlds has been given a pretty good restoration by The Film Detective. Like other relics they’ve rescued from obscurity, a few interesting supplemental features are included, mostly related to Margheriti’s prolific career.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTE - “The Cinematic Outsider: The Fantastical Worlds of Antonio Margheriti.”

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By author Justin Humphreys

SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Includes an essay, “Margheriti’s World,” by Don Stradley.


MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW: Thrash Metal's Humble Beginnings


MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW: THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA THRASH METAL STORY (Blu-ray Review)
2019 / 92 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

Metallica notwithstanding, the subgenre known as thrash metal was never fully embraced by the mainstream, which was a major part of its appeal to both the artists and their fans. Complex, in-your-face and unbelievably fast, this music isn’t for everybody. But for a few glorious years, thrash was a breath of fresh air and the antithesis of hair metal’s pretty-boy preening.

Thrash’s heyday was short-lived, but its influence was widespread and can still be heard in such later subgenres as death metal, black metal and grindcore. While few of the pioneers went on to sell millions of records, most have since earned a considerable amount of respect from historians, critics and fellow musicians (something you can’t say about Motley Crue with a straight face).


Slayer's rendition of "Hooked on a Feeling" always pumps up the crowd.
Murder in the Front Row (the title taken from an Exodus song) doesn’t purport to be an extensive history of the genre. Instead, the film is a nostalgic look back at thrash’s humble beginnings in the San Francisco area (roughly 1983-1986), as fondly recalled by some of its most prominent purveyors and promoters. An underground movement if there ever was one, its culture of camaraderie among bands, tape trading, raucous live shows and the DYI work ethic is thoroughly presented through vintage footage, photos and lively anecdotes from those who were there. Despite stories of drunkenness and wild behavior - on stage and off - most of these guys come across as congenial and unpretentious (even those who managed to become actual rock stars).

But as Slayer’s Kerry King amusingly states at the beginning of his interview, “I don’t need to say who I am. Anyone watching this already knows.” One could probably say that about the entire film. Murder in the Front Row definitely preaches to the converted and diehard fans aren’t likely to see or hear much that hasn’t been well-documented elsewhere (though hearing it from the horse’s mouth is pretty damned entertaining). However, if your knowledge of thrash begins and ends with Metallica, this documentary will be revelatory.


EXTRA KIBBLES

ADDITIONAL INTERVIEW EXCERPTS - Another 28 deleted/extended interviews, including a few segments featuring director Adam Dubin. Most run 1-2 minutes each.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Adam Dubin.


August 8, 2022

KITTEN COLLECTIBLES #5: A Relic from a Bygone Era


A Treasure Hunt by D.M. ANDERSON💀

In addition to watching and writing about films, I’ve become something of a memorabilia collector in recent years. Cursed with a teacher’s salary, I ain’t out there bidding on Dorothy’s ruby slippers or anything, but certainly enjoy haunting local antique stores for a variety of movie-related stuff. Or when feeling particularly bold, I’ll occasionally overpay for some retro relic on eBay.


More often than not, I leave antique stores empty-handed. But every now and then, I’ll find a small treasure that doesn’t completely empty my wallet and give it a new home in the Dave Cave.


Once or twice a year, my family and I like to visit the beach for the day. But the weather on the Oregon Coast is moody and unpredictable. One minute you’re enjoying the sun with a good book, the next you're chasing your umbrella up the beach, catching it just short of the Canadian border. 


Then there’s my two daughters to contend with. Bless their hearts, sometimes I think they like the idea of going to the beach more than actually being there. Granted, the psychotic weather is sometimes a factor, but for them, spending an appreciable amount of time outdoors is a bit overrated, the novelty of enjoying the sights, sounds and smells wearing off shortly after the seagulls have stolen all our snacks.


So we usually choose the town of Seaside for these day trips, because when the weather and wildlife conspire against us, there are lots of shops, arcades and an aquarium to justify the drive. There are also plenty of antique stores. I don’t know if this is true for coastal towns in other parts of the country, but in Oregon, antique stores and the beach go together like cops & doughnuts. And during a recent trip, I ducked into a little hole-in-the-wall called Random & Rare.


Much of the store consisted of vintage clothing, but I did find this baby…


I hadn’t seen a genuine drive-in speaker in years. Even when I was growing up, they were quickly becoming obsolete as drive-ins began using FM radio to broadcast a film’s audio. Made of solid metal, it was a lot heavier than I remembered. With the cord still attached, I could probably swing it around like a medieval flail and kill a man with one mighty blow, perhaps even the clerk asking 50 bucks for it. But since he knocked it down to $45, I decided to spare his life.

Neither of my daughters knew what it was, so I went into “boomer” mode and gushed about the awesomeness of the drive-in experience, which was a big part of my childhood (especially when I was finally old enough to drive). Both thought it sounded fun - or maybe they were just being polite - which reminded me that there was still one drive-in still operating in Oregon, the Newberg 99W, about an hour’s drive away from our house. Should I take them there one night to experience it for themselves? 


After much consideration, I concluded that, like the beach, they’d be more enamored by the idea of the drive-in than actually going to one. Now that I think about it, so would I. As much I enjoyed it in my youth, I must concede that a car was never the optimum place to enjoy a movie. And at this point in my life, nostalgia may not be enough to warrant the hour-long drive, not-to-mention the fact that I’m usually in my pajamas by the time the show would even start.


Still, I have this speaker for the memories. I don’t know if it actually works anymore, but it sure looks cool in the Dave Cave and will be ideal for home defense.


August 6, 2022

LIGHTYEAR: The "Original" Buzz


LIGHTYEAR (Digital Review)
2022 / 105 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺
Add LIGHTYEAR to your collection now on Digital and on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD September 13.

“In 1995, a boy named Andy got a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. It was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.”

This brief pre-title intro cleverly establishes Lightyear as a product in the Toy Story universe, not a film that takes place in it. Hence, the characters look slightly less exaggerated, and with the exception of Sox the Robot cat, move more like flesh & blood human beings. 


Buzz himself looks and sounds a bit different, too, which apparently bothered some butthurt fanboys when Tim Allen wasn’t brought back to provide his voice. Here, he’s voiced by Chris Evans, who does a great job establishing the “real” Buzz Lightyear as different from his toy counterpart. And if said-fanboys had bothered to take a look at their own action figure collections, they’d realize that, contextually, “new” Buzz is actually “original” Buzz, so the change makes complete sense. With rare exceptions, tie-in toys never completely resemble the actors who played them, often intentionally in order to avoid paying to use their likeness. So shut up, fanboys. 


Robot cats hate car rides, too.
The film itself drops Buzz into a fairly straightforward sci-fi story, an action-adventure with dashes of the type of existentialism one might find in the Star Trek franchise. However, the plot is the least remarkable aspect of Lightyear. You could replace Buzz with a completely new & well-conceived hero without making significant changes. I would also argue that Buzz is the blandest character here. Though certainly likable, he mostly serves as straight-man to the quirky supporting characters. Ironically, the most engaging new character, Sox, wouldn’t look out-of-place in an actual Toy Story movie. As Buzz’ robot companion, he provides some of the film’s biggest laughs.

Speaking of which…even though it still features plenty of humor, clever allusions to classic sci-fi films and the studio’s usual quota of self-referencing Easter Eggs, Lightyear is more action driven than the typical Pixar film. It isn’t as warm, sentimental or touching, but does continue Pixar’s inclination for social inclusion and representation, which is always worthwhile. Trolls, of course, will cry “woke,” maybe some of the same neanderthals screaming about the absence of Tim Allen (perhaps they can console each other at a rally somewhere).


For everyone else, Lightyear is great family entertainment which, in a way, could be considered an origin story, but that’s not entirely accurate. The film itself exists in the Toy Story universe, which ultimately prompted my daughter to ask, “Is this an animated character’s version of watching a live-action movie?” That’s a really good question.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - “Building the World of Lightyear”; “The Zap Patrol”; “Toyetic”. 

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director/co-writer Angus MacLane, cinematographer Jeremy Lasky and co-writer Jason Headley

DELETED SCENES - Storyboarded scenes, with intros by director Angus MacLane.


August 5, 2022

HOT SEAT Runs Cold


HOT SEAT (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 99 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😾

Somewhere inside Hot Seat is a good thriller screaming to get out. Unfortunately, a decent concept is undone by bad writing and an overall sense of smallness.

You know you’re in trouble when the very first scene produces more chuckles than tension, in which an unnamed man is blown up in a park by a mad bomber. The explosion is depicted with laughable special effects that wouldn’t pass muster in a SyFy Channel cheapy, instantly setting the bar pretty low. 


The story itself has potential, that of reformed computer hacker Orlando Friar (Kevin Dillon), who’s forced to commit a series of cyber-heists at the behest of the same bomber. He’s seated at his office desk, but can’t leave because there’s a bomb under his chair. If Orlando doesn’t do what he’s told, it’ll explode. Though neither he nor the audience see the bomber, we certainly hear him, barking orders and making threats through the office PA system (sounding like Kylo Ren with his mask on). He’s also setting-up Orlando to take the fall as a bomber with a terrorist agenda.


"There ain't much I can do for you, son. This is an IKEA chair."
Outside, cops are ready to storm the building to blow him away, but grizzled bomb squad cop Wallace Reed (Mel Gibson) is the sole voice of reason, suspecting he’s being set-up (mainly because Orlando’s wife says he’s not capable of such a thing). What follows is the usual game of cat & mouse between Orlando and the bomber while Reed clashes with his superiors and makes all the right calls. 

There aren’t any real surprises (not even the bomber’s identity), but the concept itself is sound. In fact, a recent South Korean thriller, Hard Hit, is an excellent, tension-filled example of the same premise. But that film benefitted from smart writing, well-developed characters and - most significantly - a budget befitting the scale of the story. Conversely, Hot Seat is not-only cheap looking, the characters are all lazy composites…the worried wife, the overzealous SWAT team, the overconfident villain, the doomed sidekick, etc. Lazy writing is also obvious in the so-called “techno” aspects of the story, which consist of hyper-edited computer screen montages while Dillon types fast. 


Overall, the performances are actually pretty good. Typical of films like this, most of the cast has seen better days, but Dillon & Gibson acquit themselves quite well; even Shannon Doherty brings some earnestness to a fairly thankless role. Too bad it’s all in the service of something so slapdash and cheap. With a few more rewrites - and maybe some wider wallets - Hot Seat could have been a tight little thriller. Instead, this one leaves us cold.

August 4, 2022

Follow the YELLOWBRICKROAD...More Than Once


YELLOWBRICKROAD (Blu-ray Review)
2010 / 100 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

My first impression after finishing YellowBrickRoad was that it was simply okay…fairly well made on a low budget and certainly watchable, but narratively muddled and somewhat hampered by bland characters. 

But damn, if I didn’t find myself thinking about that movie the rest of the night. While never particularly scary, a growing sense of unease insinuates itself into the viewer, even if they might not be aware of it until afterward. So I was compelled to watch it again, appreciating YellowBrickRoad more for how it made me feel than what it had to say.


It begins promisingly with a prologue showing that, in 1940, the entire population of a small town ventured into the woods. Some turned up dead, but most disappeared without a trance. That event becomes sort-of an urban legend and the catalyst for the plot, which has a team of researchers trying to deduce what really happened by attempting the same trek. This doesn’t sit well with most of the locals, all of whom refuse to talk about that night.


YellowBrickRoad serves-up the usual “there’s something in the woods” storyline. However, it’s what writer-directors Andy Milton and Jesse Holland do with it that’s interesting. Yes, there is indeed something in the woods, but while we’re never certain what, it’s clearly omniscient and slowly driving the group insane (in the case of one team member, murderously insane). The journey goes on for days, their compasses stop working, they run out of food and almost constantly hear ‘40s-era big band music coming from…everywhere. It grows louder the further they walk, sometimes punctuated by mechanical shrieking. Infighting and madness soon splinters the group, each facing a variety of fates as they venture on their own.


"I could've had a V8!"
What are these occurrences and what do they mean? YellowBrickRoad barely attempts to explain, which is certain to frustrate viewers accustomed to narrative clarity and neatly-wrapped closure. We’re seldom really sure exactly what’s happening or why, but neither are the characters (though some float a few ideas). All we know is that it’s bad and getting worse. Offering no tangible reason is a big part of what makes it unnerving. For example, there’s always been something haunting about innocuous big band music in a horror film, which this film exploits quite effectively without ever revealing its source or purpose. 

YellowBrickRoad increasingly feels like a fever dream before (sort of) coming full circle with a final scene that’s either intriguingly ambiguous or frustratingly nonsensical (results may vary, of course). Along the way, there are the expected allusions to The Wizard of Oz (some clever, some heavy-handed) as well as sparing-but-potent bursts of shocking violence to put an exclamation point on things. Other than a lack of engaging characters - arguably the film’s biggest drawback - this surreal journey is worth taking…probably more than once to really appreciate it.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - “Walking the YellowBrickRoad”; “Practical Blood FX on an Indie Budget.”

INTERVIEWS - Individual interviews with Andy Milton (director/co-writer), Jesse Holland (director/co-writer), Cassidy & Clark Freeman (actors/executive producers) and Eric Hungerford (producer)

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By directors/writers Andy Milton and Jesse Holland.


August 3, 2022

EVENT HORIZON (4K) is a Collectible Cult Classic


EVENT HORIZON 25th Anniversary Edition (4K SteelBook Review)
1997 / 96 min

Review by Tiger the Terrible😺

Event Horizon is another one of those films that came & went with a whimper when first released, but earned a pretty huge fanbase since, not-to-mention a considerable amount of critical respect (for a Paul W.S. Anderson film, anyway). Today, it’s a cult classic, as numerous re-releases and special editions on DVD & Blu-ray will confirm. In fact, the film has been pretty nicely represented on home video over the years.

The 25th Anniversary release of Event Horizon doesn’t include any new bonus features (unless you’re counting the digital copy). While there are still a bounty of outstanding extras, they’re the same that have been included with most previous Paramount releases. It also lacks the handful of Zoom interviews created for last year’s Collector’s Series Blu-ray from Shout Factory (though to be honest, those were all pretty short and comparatively redundant). If you like the film, any one of those older - and cheaper - releases will do just fine.


But if you love Event Horizon, it is a must-see in 4K. The film was always aesthetically striking - I especially like the sparse-but-effective use of greens and blues to contrast the darkness of space and the ship interiors - but it’s even more vivid in UHD, as is the overall clarity and sharpness, revealing details and texture that weren't as noticeable on older releases. Conversely though, it features the same audio track as the Blu-ray, which is good but not exemplary.


Speaking of aesthetics, the 25th Anniversary SteelBook features some amazing artwork, on both the case itself and the transparent plastic slipcover. Combined, they make the type of picture you might see on a ‘90s-era heavy metal album cover, definitely representative of the tone and themes of the movie. SteelBooks, of course, are intended for collectors who like to show off, and as these things go, this is one of the cooler ones.

The movie itself has aged pretty well, though 2015 came & went without any moon colonies (and it doesn’t look like we’re gonna make that 2032 Mars deadline, either). But in 2047, the rescue ship, Lewis & Clark, ventures out to Neptune to investigate the reappearance of the Event Horizon. The ship was built to create its own black holes in order to instantly visit distant stars, but inexplicably disappeared seven years earlier. Accompanying the crew is the ship’s designer, Martin Weir (Sam Neill), who’s obsessed with finding out where it’s been. None of the other crew, especially Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), care about that; they just want to rescue survivors and get the hell back home. There are no survivors, however, and the ship itself, having returned from a different dimension (presumably Hell), is now a living, evil entity that wants to take the Lewis & Clark crew back with it.


"You downloaded these? You should be ashamed of yourself."
Like many others at the time, I was initially underwhelmed, finding the narrative somewhat simplistic, disjointed and ambiguous. However, there was something about its Solaris-on-acid concept that stuck with me. Subsequent viewings revealed that what Event Horizon lacks in narrative cohesion is compensated by the tone, which establishes a deep sense of dread in the very first scene and maintains it throughout. The Event Horizon itself is an ominously creepy ship and becomes a character in its own right, just like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining (to which Event Horizon has sometimes been compared). It is also one of the few sci-fi films that makes space seem like a shitty place, especially since the crew of the Lewis & Clark have traveled way too far into the outer reaches of our solar system for their own good. Paul W.S. Anderson has never been what anyone would mistake for a great director, but after further consideration, he really hit it out of the park with this one. 

How a movie makes you feel ultimately matters more than narrative complexity, plausible science or stimulating the intellect. Event Horizon ain’t a perfect film, but as a visceral experience, it remains undeniably effective. An inarguable cult classic, this 25th Anniversary SteelBook is a great looking souvenir - inside and out - for those who love the film.


EXTRA KIBBLES

4K, BLU-RAY & DIGITAL COPIES - All bonus features are on the Blu-ray disc, which are identical to previous Paramount & Shout Factory releases.

“THE MAKING OF EVENT HORIZON” - An extensive feature-length doc divided into five chapters. Featuring numerous interviews and anecdotes - mostly from director Paul W.S. Anderson, actor Jason  Isaacs and producer Jeremy Bolt - just about every aspect of the production is thoroughly covered. Say what you will about the movie itself, this is one of the best bonus features ever dedicated to a single film.

“THE POINT OF NO RETURN: THE FILMING OF EVENT HORIZON” - More scene-specific details from Paul W.S. Anderson.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt.

“THE UNSEEN EVENT HORIZON” - Features storyboards for unfilmed scenes, with optional commentary by Anderson.

DELETED/EXTENDED SCENES

2 TRAILERS


August 2, 2022

DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS: The Film About Resurrection Gets Resurrected


DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS (Blu-ray Review)
1976 / 118 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

Brazil’s biggest blockbuster at the time, Dora Flor and Her Two Husbands was also quite the arthouse hit here in the US. It also turned Sonia Braga into an international star, and with hindsight, it’s easy to see why. In addition to being unassumingly beautiful, she’s quite adept at conveying the titular character’s growth, often without relying on dialogue.

Tonally, Dora Flor plays like two different films. Whether or not it successfully allows the viewer to shift emotional gears at the halfway point is certainly subjective. The sudden switch to lighthearted fantasy territory is jarring, especially since it involves the unexpected return of a character the audience has been conditioned to despise. Still, this sets-up an unusual love triangle that’s fairly amusing.


The first half begins with the sudden death of Flor’s husband, Vadinho (Jose Wilker). However, she’s the only one who mourns his passing. The rest of the family is relieved, and through an extended flashback - the entire first half of the film - we learn why. Vadinho is a chronic gambler, a con man, a womanizing drunk and physically abusive, as demonstrated in a particularly distressing scene where he beats Flor for refusing to give him gambling money. Still, Flor remains loyal, partially because of his charm, but also because he happens to be a spectacular lover.


How to avoid the double room rate.
After a brief mourning period following Vadinho’s death, Flor meets Teodoro (Mauro Mendonca), an older, comparatively reliable pharmacist. Not only does she and her family love him, she enjoys emotional and economic stability for the first time. But even though she never expresses it openly, he’s kind of boring and pretty dull in the sack, too. That’s when Vadinho returns from the dead (but Flor’s the only one who can see him). And of course, he’s more than happy to provide what she’s been missing from her second marriage, to which Flor’s not entirely unopposed. However, since she loves both men - for clearly different reasons - she now has a quandary. Or does she?

The tone shifts considerably during the second half, which is often quite funny when taken at face value. Vadinho is mischievous, funny and completely naked whenever he appears (even in public). During these scenes, Flor almost serves as a comic straight-person to his antics. But here’s the rub…at absolutely no point during the first half does Vadinho demonstrate a single redeeming or likable quality (aside from being a G-spot Jedi). Nor does he display any remorse for his actions when he returns. I suspect many viewers will find it difficult, if not impossible, to forgive Vadinho enough to welcome his return. Because of this, the numerous sex scenes, while tastefully erotic, might leave a bitter aftertaste.


Still, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands remains an entertaining film with a genuinely engaging protagonist (even if we question some of her life choices). Braga is excellent - and pretty sexy - in the title role, as is Wilker, turning in a brash performance that couldn’t have been easy, especially since he spends half of it in the buff. Thematically and aesthetically, the film is certainly a product of its era, but it’s been given a pretty good facelift with a 4K restoration.


EXTRA KIBBLES

VINTAGE BEHIND-THE-SCENES FEATURETTE

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Bruno Barreto

SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET - Features an essay, “Oh Bahia,” by producer/costume designer Mary Jane Marcasiano.

ASSORTED TRAILERS