February 1, 2023

THE VAGRANT Squats at Home


THE VAGRANT (Blu-ray Review)
1992 / 91 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer­čśż

Bill Paxton (RIP) was just one of those guys. You know…the kind of actor who may not have displayed a ton of range, but there was always an endearing sincerity to his performances, even when playing slimeballs. Most of his career consisted of supporting roles, but they were almost always memorable. He even managed to steal a movie or two from under the noses of his bigger co-stars. 

In retrospect, it’s too bad he wasn’t cast as a leading man more often. Those films are out there, of course, Twister being his biggest, A Simple Plan his best. There’s been some other good ones, too. However, The Vagrant ain’t one of ‘em.


Barely released to theaters back in 1992, The Vagrant later found a bit of cult success on home video. But while the film certainly has its share of fans, it’s mostly a misguided attempt at horror-comedy. A shame, really, considering the talent on both sides of the camera. In addition to Paxton as paranoid homeowner Graham Krakowski, there’s Marshall Bell as the titular character who makes the man’s life a living hell, going so far as to murder a few people and setting up Krakowski to take the fall. Enter Michael Ironside as Barfuss, an intimidating cop who really has it in for Krakowski. But despite their efforts, Krakowski isn’t an engaging protagonist (nor is he very sympathetic) and the other two are broadly drawn caricatures.


"No, Bill...game NOT over!"
Elsewhere, make-up artist-turned-director Chris Walas’ previous film, The Fly II, was superfluous but better than it had a right to be, while screenwriter Richard Jeffries co-wrote one of the best ‘80s horror movies hardly anyone saw (Scarecrows). However, The Vagrant is a tonal and narrative mess, noisily grinding gears between horror and black comedy but ultimately failing at both, compounded by screenplay that’s never as clever as everyone involved seem to think it is. The story grows increasingly outlandish - and implausible - as it goes along, with only Christopher Young’s evocative score to remind us the whole thing is supposed to be funny. 

The film has its admirers, though, perhaps enjoying its exaggerated approach to the story. Those fans will certainly prefer this new Blu-ray from Arrow over the bare-bones disc Shout Factory released a few years ago. I don’t know if the picture or sound is an improvement, but it includes several charming and informative interviews with Walas, Ironside, Bell and actor Colleen Camp, who all take the time to express their admiration for the late Bill Paxton. While we all miss him, too, The Vagrant is hardly one of his essential films.


EXTRA KIBBLES

INTERVIEWS - All new, individual interviews with director Chris Walas, actor Michael Ironside, actor Marshall Bell and actor Colleen Camp.

TRAILER

IMAGE GALLERY

SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET (Not reviewed)


January 30, 2023

PROJECT WOLF HUNTING and the Blood-Soaked Boat Ride


PROJECT WOLF HUNTING (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 122 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless­čś║

Project Wolf Hunting is a big, brash and blood-soaked kitchen sink movie that plays like an unholy mash-up of Con Air, Universal Soldier and a Resident Evil video game, compounded by enough bloodletting and gore to make the Crazy 88s brawl in Kill Bill look like a scene from West Side Story. This film is nothing if not derivative, but what it lacks in originality is (mostly) compensated by sheer exuberance.

Initially, the plot seems pretty straightforward, with hard-nosed cop Lee Seok-woo (Park Ho-San) and his squad tasked with extraditing a few dozen hardened criminals back to Korea, transporting them with a cargo ship. However, the most vicious and psychotic of the prisoners, Park Jong-Doo (Seo In-guk) masterminds a take-over. He and the other prisoners murder most of the cops, with only conspicuously aloof inmate Lee Do-il (Jang Dong-yoon) refusing to take part in the slaughter. And I do mean slaughter…there’s enough artery-ripping, skull-breaking, blood-spraying mayhem during this siege to rival an early Peter Jackson film. And we’re just getting started.


Though the remaining cops are certainly outnumbered, Jong-doo turns out to be the least of their problems. Also onboard in the lower decks is a monstrous, genetically-enhanced supersoldier known as the Alpha (Choi Gwi-hwa) - the result of Japanese military experiments - who breaks free and indiscriminately starts killing anyone he sees, ripping off limbs, crushing heads and punching holes in chests. He even beats one victim to death with his own arm. The remaining survivors - good and bad - team up to try and stay alive, with Do-il emerging as the primary protagonist.


"Hey, I was drunk, okay?"
The narrative dishes out a few more plot turns, some surprising (like killing-off one major character way too early), most predictable. But racking up a massive body count remains the film’s primary agenda, and as such, Project Wolf Hunting is shameless, outrageous fun…for a while, anyway. After an opening act which establishes the characters and situation, nary a minute goes by without somebody getting killed. The on-screen violence eventually grows so frequent and furious that it becomes (almost) comical, and ultimately desensitizing. 

By the final act, Project Wolf Hunting is more exhausting than exhilarating, exacerbated by a somewhat bloated running time. Still, it never takes its foot off the gas, delivering enough visceral action and bloodletting for three movies, aided by sharp direction, tight editing and shitloads of audacity. Despite all the familiar story elements, thrillseekers with stamina and strong stomachs should be fitfully amused.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - Behind the Scenes; Making the Alpha.

OPTIONAL ENGLISH DUB

TRAILER


January 29, 2023

ADVENTURES IN THE BUDGET BIN: The Big Purge


REPORT BY MR. BISCUITS­čÉł

There must be something wrong with me.

I’m a movie collector and managed to acquire a pretty huge collection that keeps growing, exacerbated by studios & PR groups who regularly send discs for me to review on this site. While I have a fairly nice-sized house, there’s no longer space for all of them in the Dave Cave (the one room that’s uniquely mine to decorate as I see fit). Hence, the collection has spilled out into the garage, but even then, my beloved cave is still cluttered with too many movies.


Yeah, I know…first world problems.


“Why don’t you get rid of some of ‘em?” Mama Kitty suggested. “You can’t possibly think you’re ever gonna watch them all again.”


At first, I wondered what this stranger did with my real wife, briefly entertaining the notion that the woman standing before me with the snarky smirk of her face was one of the body-snatching pod people. But she was right…it made sense to get rid of some of them, especially those that - if I were to be honest - would probably never feel compelled to revisit. Why was I hanging onto them? I had dozens still in the shrink-wrap, including Dr. Zhivago. Hell, I don’t even like that movie. It was simply part of my collection because it’s considered a classic.


Thus began the big purge, spending the good part of a Saturday boxing-up over 500 movies and hauling them to Goodwill. I was kind of proud of myself. The shelves in the Dave Cave now displayed only the titles I can’t live without, while the garage was suddenly de-cluttered enough to remind me I once purchased a weight bench (which I still plan to use someday). As for Mama Kitty…she was happy to finally reach the washer & dryer without tripping on a box of old slasher flicks. 


But like an alcoholic swearing off booze by ceremoniously pouring it all down the drain, then speeding back to the liquor store the next day, I was back at Big Lots days later, nosing through the bargain shelf while Mama Kitty shopped for towels. I found Smokey and the Bandit (Blu-ray, $4.99), which I thought was phenomenally stupid even back in 1977. But hey…it’s a classic, so…

…wait a minute. Didn’t I just unload Dr. Zhivago at Goodwill, which was at least better than Smokey and the Bandit? Am I once-again buying stuff just to buy stuff?


I also grabbed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Blu-ray, $4.99), a remake of the popular ‘60s TV show starring Henry Cavill and everyone’s favorite uncloseted cannibal, Armie Hammer. The film turned out to be a lot better than I expected and I’d probably watch it again before even removing the shrinkwrap from Smokey and the Bandit


In the same strip mall was the trusty ol’ Dollar Tree, which yielded The Curse of La Llorona (Blu-ray) and Hotel Mumbai (Blu-ray). La Lorona is easily the least interesting film in the Conjuring universe, but I nevertheless felt compelled to round out my franchise collection with a film I was originally content to sit through only once.


What the hell was I doing? Sure, it’s only a buck and a quarter - the cost of a bag of pork rinds - but why was I trying to fill shelf space that I just worked so hard to create…especially with a movie like this? Busy at Craft Warehouse next door, Mama Kitty wasn’t there to stop me, so maybe I can blame her (similar to citing your family as a reason you drink).


However, I had no such reservations about Hotel Mumbai. Coincidentally, it also stars Armie Hammer and is one of those movies I always meant to check out. I even had the disc in my Amazon cart before finding it here seven bucks cheaper. Either way, this one is money well spent. If one can overlook Hammer’s subsequent dubious life choices, Hotel Mumbai is a tense, gripping film. 


This time around, I was sort of proud of myself for passing on the opportunity to own the Troy/Alexander double feature (both dull dumpster fires), but that's sort of like during down another beer after you've already had six. If I don’t become more discriminating during bargain hunts, my weight bench will disappear again before I make another resolution to start using it.

January 25, 2023

The Genre Defying BONES AND ALL


BONES AND ALL (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 131 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless­čś║

With hindsight, I can see why Bones and All didn't perform so well at the box office, through no fault of anyone involved with its production. How exactly do you market a movie like this? 

Do you promote it as a love story? After all, the chemistry between Merin (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothee Chalamet) is sweet and engaging, both displaying a low-key likability that feels authentic. However, they’re also “Eaters.” Not exactly vampires or zombies, Eaters are a minuscule part of the human population who are sometimes physically compelled to engage in cannibalism. The subject matter alone will be off-putting to anybody expecting a romantic tale of star-crossed lovers, no matter how beautiful they are.


So, it’s a horror film, right? Gotta pump the brakes on that, too. As vaguely explained by old-timer Sully (Mark Rylance), the primal nature of an Eater is disturbing. Not only are they driven to eat people…they generally feed on them alive. This is shown numerous times in lingering, graphic detail. But while these scenes are indeed horrifying, the film never has the atmosphere or tone of a horror film, nor does it ever strive for one. The overall aesthetic - and pace, for that matter - shares more similarities with the Terrance Malick classic, Badlands.


Emo date night.
Oh, so it’s a road movie? Well…sort of…maybe? A good chunk of the narrative does feature Merin - upon discovering her true nature - seeking the mother who abandoned her years ago. Along the way, she meets Sully, who creeps her out but nevertheless teaches her how to cope, and later Lee, an equally troubled Eater drifting from place to place. But while this couple is literally on the road for most of the film, the story is mostly about them trying to find their place in the world and achieve some kind of normalcy. There are moments when even the cannibal aspects of the story are temporarily forgotten, which seems fitting since we’ve already ceased looking at them as monsters.

Because of its genre defying nature, I can imagine Bones and All earning a reputation as a divisive film, sparking lively hate-it-or-hate-it debates. Director Luca Guadagnino was also responsible for the equally polarizing remake of Suspiria, and like that film, this one is longer than it needs to be and sometimes feels a little too determined to confound audience expectations. However, it’s beautifully shot, features great performances and has a unique premise. I’m just glad I wasn’t responsible for trying to sell the thing.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - A Look Inside; Luca Guadagnino: The Vision of Bones and All; Meet Lee; Meet Maren; Outsiders in Love.

DIGITAL COPY


January 22, 2023

MEN AT WORK: Remember These Guys?


MEN AT WORK (Blu-ray Review)
1990 / 98 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer­čś╝

Released back when Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez briefly had some marquee value, Men at Work (written & directed by Estevez himself) isn’t a great film, but might be worth a few nostalgic warm fuzzies. In nothing else, we’re reminded that Sheen once had a film career before re-inventing himself as a walking punchline.

Leisurely plotted, slapdash and often meandering, Men at Work is the story of slacker garbage men Carl and James (Sheen & Estevez), who stumble upon the body of local politician Jack Berger, murdered by goons working for evil businessman Maxwell Potterdam (John Getz). Complicating matters is a tape containing evidence Potterdam has been illegally dumping toxic waste, which Berger planned to give to the police but is now in possession of one of his employees, Susan (Leslie Hope), who Carl’s been spying on because she lives in the apartment across the street from his.


"No cookie 'till you swallow that bite."
Essentially a comedy of errors, the narrative is stuffed with numerous other story elements, subplots and peripheral characters, some sort of clever, others superfluous and inane. The result is a hit-or-miss film that’s occasionally amusing, though never laugh-out-loud funny. A lot of it coasts on the perceived charisma of its sibling co-stars, who deliver congenial performances. Keith David, however, steals every scene as a paranoid, unstable Vietnam vet. Conversely, Getz plays Potterdam like a cartoon character. Throw on a mustache and this guy could be Snidely Whiplash.

Speaking of cartoons, everything culminates in a silly, slapstick climax that feels like it belongs in another movie. Until then, there are times when Estevez seems to be striving for a vibe similar to Repo Man - the best thing he was ever part of - though none of the dialogue, characters or situations he creates are as fresh or memorable. Still, both Charlie and Emilio have far worse movies on their resumes (lots of ‘em, actually). Men at Work hasn’t aged all that well, but does have its share of fans, who might enjoy this trip down memory lane.

January 19, 2023

THE GRANDMASTER OF KUNG FU: A No-Frills Fight Fest


THE GRANDMASTER OF KUNG FU (Blu-ray Review)
2019 / 75 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer­čś╝

While nothing particularly original or noteworthy, The Grandmaster of Kung Fu is short, simple and wastes little time getting down to the business of martial arts mayhem. Sometimes that’s all you want from a movie.

In the early 1900s, Huo (Dennis To) is a humble, peace-loving porter who happens to have impeccable kung fu skills. When Japanese forces invade China, they threaten to shut down the kung fu school and replace it with their own martial arts academy. Huo is tasked to defend traditional Chinese kung fu customs by taking on Japanese general Takeda (Neomen Eerdeni) in a match to determine which country will rule the school (so to speak).


Only here for the beer.

There ain’t much more plot than that. There are skirmishes here and there leading up to the climactic showdown, during which time the lines between good and evil are clearly drawn. Typical of movies like this, the Japanese are mostly sadistic and arrogant, the Chinese are noble traditionalists. Huo is a likable but unremarkable protagonist, while Takeda’s second-in-command is humorously hateful. 


Of course, it’s the fighting that really matters, and as such, the film delivers several enjoyable set-pieces. There isn't a hell of a lot at stake - mostly national pride - and our investment in these characters is casual at-best, but the (mostly) non-lethal fight scenes are well-choreographed, bolstered by athletic performances from a cast with impressive skills.


At only 75 minutes, The Grandmaster of Kung Fu wastes little time with peripherals, quickly building up to a predictable-but-satisfying conclusion long before it has a chance to wear out its welcome. Occasionally, there’s something oddly cathartic about kicking back on the sofa, shutting-off the brain and taking in a no-frills fight-fest.

January 17, 2023

KITTEN COLLECTIBLES #8: Barf Bags & Belt Buckles


A Treasure Hunt by D.M. ANDERSON­čĺÇ

In addition to watching and writing about films, I’m something of a memorabilia collector. Cursed with a teacher’s salary, I ain’t out there bidding on Dorothy’s ruby slippers or anything, but certainly enjoy haunting local shops 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 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.


You know what I miss? Gimmicks that sneaky studios and profit-minded producers once used to dupe folks into seeing a movie that wouldn’t have been any good otherwise. Producer William Castle was the master, of course, offering such goofy goodies as fright insurance policies for patrons of Macabre and rigging theater seats with makeshift buzzers for The Tingler.


Such gimmicks were mostly before my time, though I did catch John Waters’ Polyester in “Odorama” when I was in high school. We were given a scratch-n-sniff card, and when a number flashed on the screen, you scratched the corresponding number on your card to smell what was happening in the scene (including roses, pizza, farts and feet). I would have kept mine, but the combination of odors still wafting from the card on the way home was so nauseating that I ended up throwing it out the car window.


Luckily, some of these things can be found if you know where to look. Alas, no Odorama cards for a price I was willing to pay, but I did find a couple of vomit bags promoting the 1970 schlockfest, Mark of the Devil, which touted the film as “guaranteed to upset your stomach.” Going for five bucks on eBay, they’re probably reprints, but who cares? I sure as hell wouldn’t want a used one.

It was a promotional tool for several "extreme" horror films, but by the time I was old enough to see any of them, barf bags were just another bygone gimmick from another era. Too bad, really, because I'd be first in line at a theater just to get one, and I think a lot of other horror fans would, too. It doesn't matter whether or not the movie actually necessitated a vomit bag...it would make a great souvenir.


During the same shopping session, I found a Two-Minute Warning brass belt buckle. These things were given to crew members after working on the 1976 film, which is one of my childhood favorites. There’s even a thank you from director Larry Peerce & producer Edward S. Feldman etched on the back. It seems like an odd way to express your appreciation. One would think something like a watch or bottle of champagne would be more generous. I never met anyone grateful to receive a fucking belt buckle.

Am I gonna wear it? Hell, no. Buckles like this went out of fashion roughly around the same time disco died, but since I continue to carry a nostalgic torch for the film - though few other people do - it has a place of honor in one of my Dave Cave display cases.


THE POOP SCOOP: Classic Thrillers Edition

­čś║TRAINING DAY Arrives on 4K Ultra HD February 28 from Warner Bros
Denzel Washington delivers an Academy Award-winning performance opposite Ethan Hawke in this gritty drama set in the morally ambiguous world of undercover police work. Every day a war rages between drug dealers and cops on the streets of America's inner cities. With every war come casualties, none greater than 13-year veteran Los Angeles narcotics officer Alonzo Harris (Washington), whose questionable methods blur the line between legal and corrupt. Today Alonzo gets a new partner, idealistic rookie Jake Hoyt (Hawke), and Jake has one day--and one day only--to prove his mettle to his fiercely charismatic superior. Over 24 hours, Jake will be dragged into the ethical mire of Alonzo's logic as both men risk their careers and their lives to serve conflicting notions of justice.


­čÉĽJOHN WICK STASH BOOK COLLECTION – SteelBook Box Set arrives February 28 on 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital SteelBook from Lionsgate
The iconic, action-packed, three-film John Wick Stash Book Collection – SteelBook Box Set arrives on 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital SteelBook February 28 from Lionsgate. Starring legendary actor Keanu Reeves (The Matrix franchise, Point Break, Speed) and featuring Primetime Emmy Award nominee Ian McShane (“Deadwood,” Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), the John Wick trilogy follows a former hit man who is forced back into the criminal underworld he had abandoned. When housed in the outer box, the three SteelBooks form a replica of John’s killer “stash book” from John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Each SteelBook is emblazoned with detailed imagery specific to the film within, and each is numbered (1, 2, or 3) to signify its place in the series while enhancing its “hardcover book” look. 

­čś╗BLACK SUNDAY (1977) Finally Coming to Blu-ray on March 28 from Arrow.
Throughout the 1970s, a wave of daring disaster movies gripped cinemagoers with their combination of bravura spectacle and "ripped from the headlines" plotlines. Among these, John Frankenheimer's (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin) Black Sunday endures to this day as among the cream of the crop. Robert Shaw (Jaws, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) stars as Major Kabakov, an Israeli agent attempting to avert a terrorist atrocity on US soil. The weapon: a blimp laced with explosives and piloted by Michael Lander (Bruce Dern, Silent Running), a troubled Vietnam vet driven to strike back against the nation he believes has betrayed him. The target: the Orange Bowl stadium, Miami. What follows is a nail-biting race against time culminating in a spectacular aerial climax that will determine the fate of 80,000 spectators. Adapted from the best-selling debut novel by Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs) and featuring virtuoso performances by a cast headlined by Dern, Shaw and Marthe Keller (Marathon Man), Black Sunday is a nerve-shredding, best-in-class suspense thriller from a filmmaker at the top of his game. Also included are a bunch of new and vintage bonus features.


­čÖÇMARATHON MAN Coming to 4K & Blu-ray on February 28 from Kino Lorber.
Is it safe? From the best-selling novel by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Misery) comes one of the most daring and affecting thrillers ever brought to the screen. Dustin Hoffman (Papillon) plays the likable graduate student and marathon runner of the title, unwillingly trapped in a killing game of intrigue involving a Nazi fugitive, Christian Szell. Laurence Olivier (Sleuth) received an Academy Award nomination for his chilling portrayal of Szell, who turns dental instruments into tools of torture with dispassionate ease. Directed by John Schlesinger (Billy Liar, Midnight Cowboy, The Day of the Locust), Marathon Man moves with nail-biting suspense to its gripping, fever-pitched conclusion. Featuring Roy Scheider (Jaws), William Devane (Rolling Thunder), Marthe Keller (Black Sunday) and the extraordinary cinematography of Conrad Hall (Electra Glide in Blue).

­čÖÇB’TWIXT NOW AND SUNRISE arrives February 28 on Blu-ray + Digital from Lionsgate.
Directed by film legend Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather films, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation), B’Twixt Now and Sunrise arrives on Blu-ray + Digital February 28 from Lionsgate. As described by Coppola, “The Authentic Cut of ‘B’Twixt Now and Sunrise’ is a story more personal to me.” The enthralling gothic thriller follows a down-on-his-luck writer who is visited by a ghost and becomes immersed in a local murder mystery while promoting his latest novel. Starring the acclaimed Val Kilmer alongside an eclectic cast that includes Academy Award and Primetime Emmy Award nominee Bruce Dern (Academy Award: 2013, Best Actor, Nebraska; Primetime Emmy: 2011, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, “Big Love”), and Elle Fanning, with iconic musician Tom Waits narrating.