June 30, 2023

Revisiting THE TRUMAN SHOW in 4K

THE TRUMAN SHOW 25th Anniversary (4K UHD)
1998 / 102 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

With the beautiful, picturesque artifice of its production design and perpetual blue skies, it’s no real surprise that The Truman Show looks fabulous in 4K. Sharp, colorful and full of detail that was muted in the Blu-ray release, this one is definitely worth an upgrade for videophiles. 

The film itself is, of course, a modern classic and often cited as Jim Carrey’s best film (at the very least, he was able to avoid being typecast as a 21st Century Jerry Lewis). In addition to being immediately conducive to his comedic persona, the character of Truman Burbank allowed him to demonstrate remarkable dramatic ability. If not for Truman, chances are he wouldn’t have even  scored an audition for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which I think is his best film).

Conceptually, The Truman Show was always irresistible (though not entirely original), with a charming protagonist who’s been the unwitting star of a reality show since birth. Conceived - and manipulated - by its head of production, Christof (Ed Harris), the show runs 24 hours a day, details his entire life and is watched by millions worldwide. The film ended up being somewhat prophetic in its satirical depiction of the media and the proliferation of reality entertainment. 

GTA V...even more fun in real life.

Revisiting The Truman Show 25 years later is an interesting experience. A lot has changed since then and its science-fiction elements are no longer speculative. Social media and personal technology has made sharing every aspect of your life incredibly easy. It’s not a stretch to imagine scores of people who’d happily consent to their lives being broadcast 24/7, meaning some ethical questions raised by the film might seem somewhat superfluous these days. 

While The Truman Show remains both entertaining and insightful, I maintain my long-standing (minority) opinion that it makes a narrative mistake by immediately revealing that Truman is the oblivious subject of a TV show (not to mention a title and ad campaign that practically gives it away). There was a 1989 Twilight Zone episode with the same concept, except in that one, the protagonist’s discovery that his entire life is televised was the big twist. Watching Truman's personal crises as he uncovers clues to the ruse is engaging, but wouldn’t it have been more compelling if the audience was figuring it out along with him?

But hey…that’s just me and I suppose it’s a minor quip, since The Truman Show is an endearing modern classic with a great story, clever satire and timely themes. One of those “comfort movies” (as my daughter calls them), the film also remains rewatchable, with plenty of clever aesthetic details that won’t be noticed with a single viewing. One would think a film this revered would warrant some new supplemental material commemorating its 25th Anniversary, but all that’s included are a few brief featurettes carried over from the previous Blu-ray release. Still, the 4K transfer is excellent and the film has never looked or sounded better.



FEATURETTES - “How’s It Going To End? The Making of The Truman Show”; “Faux Finishing: The Visual Effects of The Truman Show.”



June 28, 2023

ANGEL FACE: Mitchum Makes the Movie

ANGEL FACE (Blu-ray)
1952 / 92 min
Review by Mr. Paws😽

Of course, any film noir starring Robert Mitchum is worth our time. While Angel Face doesn’t rank up there with such classics as Out of the Past, it does provide another showcase for his inherent coolness.

Mitchum plays Frank Jessup, an ordinary guy who drives an ambulance while saving up to open his own garage. His life changes after meeting Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons), a beautiful but emotionally unstable young woman who loves her father but hates her stepmother (who nearly died from a recent “gas leak”). Diane insinuates herself on Frank’s life, driving a wedge between he and girlfriend Mary (Mona Freeman).

But Frank’s been around the block a few times. He suspects she wants to get rid of her stepmom, even if it means murder, and wants no part of such plans. But even though he never entirely trusts her, Frank and Diane eventually plan to run away together, at least until her dad and stepmom are killed when their car zooms off a cliff. Diane claims she acted alone, but police suspect Frank showed how to tamper with the car. At this point, the viewer isn’t sure what to make of Diane. Is she manipulating Frank in classic femme fatale fashion, is she crazy-in-love with him...or simply crazy?

Guilty of hunk driving.
The narrative suddenly turns into an odd (and implausible) courtroom drama, with Mitchum more or less regulated to a casual observer. Before the two are put on trial, Diane’s lawyer suggests they get married because juries are reluctant to convict young newlyweds. As I write this review, I’m still trying to come to terms with how such a tactic would work. Still, it sets up a final act and somewhat shocking conclusion that ultimately saves the film.

The story works best when focused squarely on Frank and Diane’s tumultuous relationship. Mitchum instills Frank with cool stoicism, while Simmons does a great job portraying Diane as someone far more dangerous than she initially appears. If it weren’t for the comparatively silly (and sorta dull) middle act, Angel Face could’ve been a film noir classic. Instead, it’s just a decent thriller with solid performances.


AUDIO COMMENTARY - By the one-and-only Eddie Muller.

June 27, 2023


1958 / 87 min
Review by Mr. Paws😽

Even if you’ve never read Hemingway’s novella, you probably know the story: A down-on-his-luck Cuban fisherman, who hasn’t caught anything in months, suddenly snares the biggest marlin he’s ever seen. After a days-long battle, during which time he’s dragged far out-to-sea, the Old Man is victorious. But the fish is too big to put in his boat, so by the time he completes the long journey back home, other sea critters have eaten his catch to the bone. 

I was required to read The Old Man and the Sea in high school. Normally, I hated being forced to read anything for a class, but this one was actually pretty good (when you’re a 17 year old slacker, even Pulitzer Prize winning novels seldom rate any higher than “pretty good”). And since I actually finished this one, I was confident I could bang out a great analytical paper. Instead, Mr. Campbell gave me a C+. He said I did a decent job describing the Old Man and summarizing the plot, but offered only a rudimentary example of irony and failed to elaborate on Hemingway’s themes or allegorical elements. 

I think Mr. Campbell would have given this 1958 adaptation a C+ as well. The film is a straightforward and literal retelling of Hemingway’s tale, with the always reliable Spencer Tracy as the Old Man. There ain’t much in the way of symbolism or allegory, and most of what we learn of the Old Man comes from voiceover narration (also Tracy) taken straight from the novella (sometimes out of context). As directed by John Sturges, The Old Man and the Sea is reduced to a simple adventure tale, though still fairly engaging.

"I'm gonna need more tartar sauce."
I personally think the film deserves a solid B just for Tracy’s performance. He doesn't even come close to passing for Cuban, but during the middle act when he’s alone at sea, we feel the character’s quiet desperation, lonely resolve and genuine respect for the animal he’s trying so hard to kill. However, these sequences are sometimes marred by clumsily combining location footage with shots obviously done in a studio tank.

Though Tracy and Sturges have done better films together, The Old Man and the Sea is an enjoyable distillation of Hemingway’s classic story. Narratively slight and technically unremarkable, it’s nevertheless worth revisiting for Tracy’s affecting, melancholy performance. If he were around to read my paper to Mr. Campbell, maybe it would've gotten a better grade.


“HEMINGWAY: THE LEGEND AND THE SEA” - This vintage short is an interesting look at Hemingway behind the scenes.


June 26, 2023


1984-1990 / 415 min (5 movies)
Review by Carl, the Couch Potato😼

During the ‘80s, Charles Band’s Empire Pictures was an indelible fixture on video shelves. Though never splurging as liberally as Cannon Films, Empire managed to crank out a lot of movies over a relatively short period, mostly in the horror and sci-fi genres. Re-Animator notwithstanding, none are classics, but a few have earned a bit of a cult following. 

Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams collects five films from Empire’s heyday. Calling any of them great is a stretch, but for those old enough to recall haunting their local mom & pop video store every weekend, nostalgic warm fuzzies probably trump quality. Those same folks will likely get a kick out of this boxed set’s packaging, which is apparently pretty elaborate and loaded with amusing goodies. We were provided with promo discs, so that material was not made available. This is a review of the disc content only.

The Dungeonmaster is about a computer whiz forced by the devil to face several challenges in order to save his girlfriend. Each challenge is a story unto itself (with different directors), more-or-less making this anthology film. Much of it is pretty silly, though it does feature a pre-Night Court Richard Moll and a cameo by W.A.S.P., who I thought was the coolest band in the world at the time (hey, it was the ‘80s and I was a teenager).

While the late Stuart Gordon never topped his first film, Re-Animator, he enjoyed a long and productive working relationship with Charles Band, so it’s only fitting that he’s represented by two films. Dolls doesn’t reach the delirious heights of his Lovecraft-based work, but it’s arguably the best movie in this collection. Creepy, funny and occasionally quite gory, one could see it as a precursor to Band’s Puppet Master series. Conversely, Robot Jox is a drab slab of kid-friendly sci-fi, though it does predate the conceptually-similar Pacific Rim by 15 years. Considering the budget and the time it was made, the special effects aren’t bad. 

The Village People Collection
Robot Jox is Star Wars compared to Arena, the other sci-fi “epic” in this set. The plot involves a meatheaded cook onboard a space station who becomes the first human in decades to compete in a rigged arena-fighting competition. Star Paul Satterfield (best-known to horror fans as a douchebag killed by goo in Creepshow 2) displays zero charisma, though the cast also boasts cult cutie Claudia Christian as his manager. Elsewhere, the dumb premise, witless dialogue and cheap production values sink this one.

Cellar Dweller is an enjoyable creature feature with a creative premise, that of an ambitious art student who inadvertently resurrects a dead cartoonist’s demonic comic character, which proceeds to kill everyone around her. Directed by renowned make-up effects artist John Carl Buechler (another Charles Band frequent flier), this one features some good gory kills and a cool looking monster. The performances kind-of suck, though.

One might question the decision to include these particular titles over some of Empire’s more revered films. It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t swap-out Arena for From Beyond, or Cellar Dweller for Rawhead Rex. Maybe the rights to those belong to someone else, or perhaps the intent was to showcase the studio’s comparative obscurities. Whatever the case, Enter the Video Store does offer an eclectic smattering of the video fodder Charles Band built an Empire with, all nicely restored for Blu-ray.


(NOTE: Free Kittens Movie Guide was provided with “promo discs” for review purposes. The actual retail version of this boxed set includes substantial physical extras, which were not made available).   




VIDEO “MEMBERSHIP” CARD (not reviewed)



3 CUTS OF THE FILM - Theatrical, pre-release & international versions.

INTERVIEW - With actor Jeffrey Bryon.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Jeffrey Bryon, critics Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain.



INTERVIEW - With editor Lee Percy.

“TOYS OF TERROR: THE MAKING OF DOLLS” - Vintage featurette.

3 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By David Decoteau; 2) By director Stuart Gordon & writer Ed Naha; 3) By actors Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine & Gabe Bartalos.





“GRABBED BY THE GHOULIES” - A tribute to director John Carl Beuchler by critics Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain.

INTERVIEW - With make-up FX artist Michael Deek.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By make-up FX artist Michael Deek, critics Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain.





2 INTERVIEWS - 1) With co-screenwriter Danny Bilson; 2) With make-up FX artist Michael Deek.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Peter Manoogian, critics Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain.





“SALVAGED FROM THE WRECKAGE” - Behind-the-Scenes photos.

INTERVIEWS - Individual interviews with actors Gary Graham, Paul Koslo, Annie-Marie Johnson.

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By director Stuart Gordon; 2) By effects director Paul Gentry, mechanical effects artist Mark Rappaport & stop-motion animator Paul Jessell.




June 25, 2023

THE MAN FROM TORONTO: Kevin Hart Does His Thing...Again

2022 / 110 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😾

I have yet to see a movie that isn’t made worse by the presence of Kevin Hart, even the animated ones. He’s like the second coming of Adam Sandler…grating, obnoxious and about as funny as a tax audit.

I’m strictly speaking of him as an actor, not a comedian. While I personally don't find his stand-up all that hilarious, I can certainly see why others do. But he’s a terrible actor, mainly because in every movie I’ve ever seen where he has a significant role, Hart’s not playing a character. He’s simply being Kevin Hart…the exact same pint-sized, fast-talking, smart-ass persona as his stage act. Only this time, he’s ruining someone else’s material. Hell, even his DraftKings commercials suck.

He’s probably not to blame, though. I’m pretty certain Patrick Hughes, the director of The Man from Toronto, simply instructed him to do his “Kevin Hart thing” when the cameras rolled. Maybe there are entire scenes in the screenplay that simply read, Kevin Hart does his thing. And he certainly obliges…in gobs of laughless, occasionally embarrassing sequences where his manic “character” sucks all the oxygen out of the room. Considering the premise of this particular film, at no time do we believe we’re watching anyone but Kevin Hart doing his thing. I dunno…maybe the little guy actually can act, but so far, no one has asked him to.

The Unfriendly Skies.
And pity Woody Harrelson as the title character, a notorious hitman with a legendary knack for getting information out of people. It turns out to be a thankless role because he’s essentially regulated to being the straight-man to Hart, which is a shame. As movies like Zombieland have demonstrated, he can be pretty damn funny even when playing a badass. Here, he’s seldom even given a chance. 

What's sad is there’s probably a decent movie in here somewhere. The plot itself ain’t bad, with perpetual loser Teddy (Hart) being mistaken for the “Man from Toronto,” but since the bad guys now think he’s the actual assassin, the FBI insists he continues the ruse to root out a Cuban dictator who plans an assassination with a deadly new weapon. Meanwhile, the Man from Toronto (real name: Randy) is trying to finish his mission of getting codes to activate the weapon, and uses Teddy to pose as himself. In different hands, the story might have even made a decent straight action thriller.

Instead, Hughes is apparently aiming to repeat the success he had with The Hitman’s Bodyguard. But where that film pretty effectively blended action and comedy - aided by more refined characters - this one is irritating, implausible and interminable. While it’s tempting to blame Kevin Hart for all of its shortcomings, I think the fault lies exclusively on the laziness of those behind the camera, who simply relied on the comedian to do his thing.

CLAYDREAM: The Highs & Lows of a Local Legend

2021 / 96 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

Will Vinton was a big deal in my neck of the woods, especially after his animated short, “Closed Mondays,”  won an Oscar in 1974. Wow…a guy from Portland, Oregon won an Academy Award! 

And despite his success, Vinton stayed in Portland, expanding his studio and reputation as a creative genius (with help from others who didn’t get near enough credit). His greatest success as founder of Will Vinton Studios was creating the California Raisins, and he had dreams of an Empire similar to Walt Disney’s. Unfortunately, he was always a better artist than a businessman.

Will Vinton did not invent clay animation, but he brought it into the mainstream, even coining the phrase, Claymation. Though things didn't end well for him, he remains a local legend in Portland. And without his original vision, Laika Studios would literally not exist.

Claydream is a fascinating, affectionate retrospective documentary about the highs and lows of Vinton’s career (and there was plenty of both). The story briefly summarizes his childhood before diving into his college days and eventual fascination with stop-motion filmmaking. We learn he once had a partner, Bob Gardiner, a free-spirited artist who co-created “Closed Mondays.” That relationship quickly soured, which the film suggests was a combination of Gardiner’s flaky behavior and Vinton’s personal ambition. Whatever the case, Vinton moved on, growing his studio staff and producing more shorts, while a bitter Gardiner became a footnote in the studio’s history.

Will Vinton and friends.

Speaking of which…even though Claydream often plays like a love letter to an animation pioneer, it doesn’t portray Vinton as a complete saint. As discussed by many who knew him well, his ambition tended to alienate family members and some of his artists, who felt like he was taking all the credit for everyone’s collective efforts. He also made some questionable business decisions, such as trying like hell to emulate Disney by expanding into a media empire (including plans for a theme park). 

The film also shows the studio’s greatest financial success was creating animation commissioned by other studios and companies. Few of Vinton’s personal projects really got off the ground, and those which did - such as the feature-length film, The Adventures of Mark Twain - were largely unsuccessful. And as the novelty of Claymation faded, the studio turned to computer animation to stay afloat.

However, the most fascinating parts of Claydream involve Vinton suing Nike founder Phil Knight, who agreed to invest in the studio on the proviso that his son, Travis, got a job as an animator. But Knight eventually bought a majority of the company and fired Vinton. The studio was eventually renamed Laika, with Travis calling the shots. While Travis isn’t quite a nepo-baby (he’s actually a skilled director in his own right), the film definitely does not depict the Knights positively.

Throughout the film, Vinton himself discusses his life and career through archive interviews, right up until his death in 2018. Claydream ends on a bittersweet note, with his studio taken from him and later years marred by illness. Still, his life is an engaging story with many highs, lows and poignant moments, making the film a must for animation buffs.


WILL VINTON SHORTS - All 11 of Vinton’s animated shorts released during the 20th Century.

“GONE FOR A BETTER DEAL” - A hippy-dippy feature-length documentary Vinton made back in the ‘60s.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Marq Evans, producers Tamir Ardon & Kevin Moyer.




June 24, 2023

THE TANK: Visit the Scenic "Oregon" Coast

THE TANK (Blu-ray)
2023 / 100 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Though not actually shot in Oregon, the New Zealand creature feature, The Tank, sure captures what the coast is like. Damn near the polar opposite of its southern neighbors in California, the Oregon Coast is generally gray, windy, damp and cold. An occasional tourist town notwithstanding, tree-covered mountains loom menacingly over every beach, making one feeling isolated from the rest of the world. And if you want to know what Jack Dalton felt like clinging to that raft at the end of Titanic, try taking a swim.

It’s actually the perfect setting for a horror film. 

I don’t know if he’s ever actually been to Oregon, but writer-director Scott Walker exploits the setting quite well. When struggling pet store owners Ben (Matt Whelan) & Jules (Luciane Buchanan) learn he just inherited an old beach cabin from his dead mother, they load up the kid and head north. Even if the viewer was unaware The Tank was a horror film, the winding empty highway, towering trees, drab sky and dilapidated cabin foreshadow something bad is gonna happen… 

"We're getting a hotel room next time."
…and it does…eventually. Huge amphibious creatures are living in the water tank beneath the cabin, which escape when Dad ventures down there to open the valve. However, those expecting an onslaught of monster mayhem might have their patience tested. The narrative includes a lot of exposition about Ben’s mother’s shady past, when she was suspected of being crazy and murdering his dad & sister (but of course, what really happened to them is obvious). 

Additionally, the film is a little too deliberately paced. While the attempt at slow burn horror is admirable, numerous sequences that are obviously designed to create tension drag on much longer than necessary, or worse yet, end with an underwhelming false scare. A bleak tone and foreboding atmosphere are fine and dandy, but a little more beastly brutality would be nice, too.

Still, when these slimy critters do show up, they slaughter a few secondary characters while terrorizing the protagonists. The kills are vivid and bloody, while the monsters themselves are decent looking creations (and CGI-free!). Ultimately, The Tank is a bit too poky for its own good, but the exciting, violent climax is probably worth our patience. Plus, you get a taste of an Oregonian day at the beach.


FEATURETTES - “A Look into The Tank”; “Making the Creature.”