July 31, 2023

RIO BRAVO: The Duke's Best Western in 4K

1959 / 141 min
Review by Mr. Paws😸

You know…I don’t think I’ve seen Rio Bravo since I was a kid. And even then, it was on a hand-me-down black & white TV my folks gave me after they splurged on a massive Magnavox for the living room. Not the best way to watch any movie, let-alone a big Howard Hawks western. 

Of course, I had no idea who Hawks was at the time, nor was I a big John Wayne fan. However, my local independent TV station showed a lot of old movies on weekends, and I was so jazzed to suddenly have a TV in my bedroom that I would’ve watched anything. That movie just happened to be Rio Bravo. While westerns weren’t my favorite genre, I remember liking this one quite a bit.

Times change, as do most people. A classic film fan my entire life, I certainly know who Howard Hawks is now and love a good western (High Noon being one of my personal favorites). However, my indifference to The Duke has never changed. While he’s been in some great films, I’ve never been of the opinion they were great because of him.

"Damn, where'd I park my horse?"
That being said, revisiting Rio Bravo in 4K was kind of like seeing it for the first time. I had forgotten a lot of the movie over the years and often confused it with El Dorado and Rio Lobo, two later Wayne/Hawks collaborations that are essentially remakes. In every aspect, Rio Bravo is leagues ahead of both and I was finally able to appreciate how great it really is, with an excellent UHD transfer that’s the next best thing to seeing it on the big screen (and even then, it probably never looked or sounded this vibrant back in the day).

Wayne & Hawks’ reasons for making Rio Bravo remain dubious (this was their answer to High Noon, which they deemed un-American), but there’s no disputing the results. It’s a timeless story, compellingly told and well-paced despite a lengthy running time. While there are many great moments of drama, suspense and humor, what really makes the movie are the characters, the most engaging being Dude (Dean Martin), Sheriff Chance's alcoholic deputy. When circumstances offer the opportunity for redemption, Dude’s transformation is believably affecting. 

Martin surprisingly deliver’s the film’s best performance, but Angie Dickenson is also fun - and gorgeous - as Feathers, a card shark (and unlikely love interest) with a shady past. Wayne is, of course, simply John Wayne. I personally think Chance would have had more depth if played by, say, Jimmy Stewart or Glenn Ford. But that’s just me, and ultimately, Rio Bravo is still arguably Wayne’s best western. It’s an indisputable classic that has aged remarkably well, especially with this terrific 4K UHD release.


AUDIO COMMENTARY - By filmmaker John Carpenter (who loves thismovie) and critic Richard Schckel


July 30, 2023

Tom Sullivan is INVALUABLE

2014 / 103 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

This disc actually contains two excellent feature-length documentaries. Both of them might be of great interest to fans of the original Evil Dead franchise, as they focus on a couple of the lesser-known individuals associated with Sam Raimi during his early years.

Invaluable is an affectionate retrospective on the life and career of Tom Sullivan. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the guy who created the make-up effects and stop-motion animation for the first two Evil Dead films. He also designed the original “Book of the Dead,” with artwork that continues to be used or emulated in later films. Fans of the original will absolutely love the amount of vintage behind-the-scenes photos and footage.

Always more of an artist than a make-up guy, Sullivan’s career in movies was actually pretty short, but he kept busy creating illustrations for Lovecraftian publications. In addition to Sullivan, who comes across as laid-back and humble, interviewees singing his praises include Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi and numerous other Evil Dead colleagues. He also reveals his struggles coping with the sudden death of his wife in the ‘90s, which affected him greatly until he began appearing at horror conventions, providing some surprisingly bittersweet moments in the film.

The all-new Microwave Barbie.
Less complimentary overall - but just as engaging - is Other Men’s Careers, the other documentary (included here as a bonus feature). This one focuses on Josh Becker, whose Evil Dead ties are a bit more tenuous. He did some second unit work on the original film before going on to write & direct a variety of low budget features over the years, many of them featuring Bruce Campbell, who’s interviewed extensively. 

Becker appears brash, headstrong and arrogant (which is ironic, considering the guy’s body of work). His abrasiveness is often confirmed by numerous others, most who manage to find eloquent ways to say he’s kind of an asshole. Like Invaluable, this one also features its subject suffering a personal crisis (in this case, recent struggles with alcoholism). We may not like Becker, but he’s got a great story to tell.

Though he’s discussed extensively and appears in plenty of archival photos & footage, Sam Raimi himself doesn’t contribute to either film. Considering how much Sullivan’s influential work boosted Raimi’s own early career, that’s kind of a surprise. Maybe there was a falling-out that no one wished to discuss, or maybe he was simply too busy. Still, Invaluable is a must-watch for hard-core Evil Dead fans, with Other Men’s Careers being a helluva chaser.


OTHER MEN’S CAREERS - Feature-length documentary about writer-director Josh Becker.

“BONG FLY” & “COSMOS LOCOS” - 2 shorts by director Ryan Meade.


“IN THE SPOTLIGHT” - Vintage interview with Tom Sullivan.


UNEDITED TIM PHILO INTERVIEW - Philo was cinematographer for The Evil Dead.




July 29, 2023

HELEN OF TROY and the High Cost of Loving

1956 / 121 min
Available at www.moviezyng.com
Review by Mr. Paws😼

This is sort of an odd sword & sandal epic.

Based on Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey, it offers Paris, the prince of Troy, and Helen, the Queen of Sparta who falls in love with him, as the two main protagonists. If you recall your Greek mythology, you may already know things didn’t end well for them.

And as presented in Helen of Troy, Paris is willing to risk the safety of Troy just to be with his woman, even after being ostracized by everybody and condemned by his dad, King Priam. Granted, Helen’s hubby, King Melenaus, was looking for a reason to invade Troy anyway. But still, this is a pretty damn selfish guy that viewers are expected to rally behind, especially when the result is the years-long Trojan War.

But hey, this is love, right? Surely that’s worth a few thousand lives.

"You said you were bringing the arrows."
Good thing there is a war, though, because the epic battle sequences are the best part of the film, with two major clashes…the initial attack by Melenaus and his allies, then the inevitable sacking of Troy with the legendary Trojan Horse. These scenes are pretty spectacular and (considering when this was made) quite violent. That, along with impressive production design and solid direction from Robert Wise, ultimately makes Helen of Troy worth seeing.

It sure isn’t the screenplay, which is loaded with eye-rollingly melodramatic dialogue and delivered as though it were Shakespeare. The story also suffers from protagonists who aren’t nearly as interesting (or entertaining) as the bad guys. Paris and Helen are generically pretty, but neither display much personality, which is exacerbated by bland performances from Jacques Sernas & Rossana Podesta. Conversely, Niall MacGinnis and Stanley Baker are wonderfully hateful as Melenaus and Achilles (the King’s most skilled fighter). 

Obviously, Helen of Troy is intended to be an epic tragedy, but that only really works if you’re invested in its star-crossed lovers. Not only do these two fall madly in love faster than most others exchange phone numbers, all character development pretty much ends there. By the time the story reaches its inevitable conclusion, the ‘tragedy’ is decidedly unmoving (especially since their desire to be together ended up costing countless lives). Still, the action and fight sequences are top-notch and well worth checking out.


MAKING-OF FEATURETTES - 2 vintage promotional segments from the series, Warner Bros. Presents, which aired during the time Helen of Troy was being released.

“NAPOLEON BUNNY-PART” - 1956 Bugs Bunny short.

July 28, 2023

BEAU IS AFRAID...and Exhausting

2023 / 179 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😼

It didn’t really concern me much to learn that Ari Aster’s next effort was not gonna be a horror film. Even though Hereditary and Midsommar are two of the best (and most disturbing) horror movies of the past ten years, it was the overall aesthetic, deliberate pacing and tone that lifted them above the fray. Surely someone like Aster could apply his unique style to other genres.

His stamp is all over Beau is Afraid, and if anyone thought Midsommar was “out there,” this one will redefine the word for you. Surreal, a little self-indulgent and really, really long, it definitely re-establishes the director as an acquired taste. Depending on the viewer, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing.

Aster’s visual and narrative peculiarities don't gel as well in Beau is Afraid as his two previous films, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth seeing. There are moments of brilliance that are intense, disturbing, comedic and thematically rich…all anchored by another compelling performance by Joaquin Phoenix as the title character. But it’s just as often baffling, pretentious, heavy-handed and way too meandering. And at three hours, the film is ultimately exhausting.

Beau is a middle-aged man who lives alone in a squalid apartment and suffers from extreme anxiety. When we meet him, he’s preparing to fly back home to visit his estranged mother, but she suddenly dies before he even leaves his apartment. Now he needs to make it back in time for the funeral, which turns into an arduous journey. Of course, that plot description is rudimentary at best. The story is presented in four distinct acts, and at no time are we certain if what Beau experiences (or the oddball characters he encounters) are real, products of his anxiety or metaphors for feelings of guilt regarding his mother.

Mr. Sunshine.

Beau is Afraid opens like gangbusters, the first half-hour perfectly - often amusingly - representing Beau’s anxiety through imagery and his reactions to what he perceives is going on around him. However, the second act, where he’s recovering from a car accident in a strange family’s suburban home, totally kills the momentum. Though certainly bizarre, the sequence goes on forever without ever establishing any real relevance to the overall story (though a couple of flashback sequences provide a bit of ominous foreshadowing). 

But the third act, where Beau meets a group of forest-dwelling theater performers, is a masterwork of surrealism that ranks among the best sequences Aster ever created. Enhanced by some gorgeous animation, this is where we gain the most insight into Beau’s psyche and empathize with the depressing state of his life. Aster briefly returns to psychological horror for the final act, when Beau finally makes it home, but too late for the funeral. Without giving too much away, it’s this sequence that fans of his other films might appreciate most, though I personally thought it was a little overwrought.

After all is said and done, we still don’t know quite what to make of Beau. Is he the protagonist? The Antagonist? Did we just sit through three hours of a character’s self-persecution or a director’s self-indulgence? Exacerbated by a deliberately ambiguous denouement, Beau is Afraid plays like an endless fever dream with the intention of inducing the same level of anxiety experienced by its main character. Visually and thematically, the film has too much going for it to be completely dismissed, but damn…a little extra time in the editing room would have been a good idea (like cutting out most of the second act).




July 26, 2023

KANDAHAR: Starring Mr. Reliable

KANDAHAR (Blu-ray)
2023 / 119 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😺

Back in the ol’ video store days, there was a Mom & Pop near my house that I frequented almost every weekend. One of the cooler things about this particular store was how they displayed their titles. Of course, most were shelved by genre, but there were also sections-within-sections that featured all the available films from a particular actor. For example, if you needed a Charles Bronson action fix, you could cut to the chase and find The Mechanic, Mr. Majestic and all 37 Death Wish movies in one spot.

If that mom & pop was still around, chances are Gerard Butler would have own little section. And if I strolled in one Friday seeking a little mayhem but had no particular movie in-mind, I’d probably make a stop there. Butler prolifically cranks-out mid-range thrillers that are, more often than not, pretty entertaining because they deliver exactly as advertised. While he isn’t likely to ever stick an Oscar on his mantel, he’s certainly Mr. Reliable when it comes to stuff like this.

Kandahar is his second meat & potatoes action flick of 2023 (following Plane). And like Plane, nothing about it is gonna knock anyone’s socks off, but it’s solidly entertaining, with plenty of guns, explosions, chases and yet-another reliably gritty performance by Butler. 

It doesn’t start off that way, though. In fact, everything is pretty convoluted at first, with too many characters introduced, their actions unclear. Then about 20 minutes in - once all the pieces are in place - the narrative sheds the unnecessary complexities to focus on the meat of the story. Butler plays Tom Harris, an ex-MI6 agent now working freelance and hired by the CIA to sabotage an Iranian nuclear power plant. After getting away - seemingly undetected - his handler offers another job deep in Afghanistan, aided by Mohammed “Mo” Doud (Navid Negahban), who knows the area and speaks the language.

Gerard Butler and co-star.
Meanwhile, the Iranian government interrogates a reporter for an intelligence leak that reveals Tom was responsible for the power plant explosion. A massive manhunt ensues. The Taliban are also pursuing Tom, but have no interest in executing him. Led by Kahl Nasif (Ali Fazal), they want to grab Tom and sell him to the highest bidder. With seemingly everyone either chasing them down or willing to sell them out, Tom and Mo are forced to trek 400 miles across the Afghan desert to an extraction point. 

For the most part, it’s an exciting chase, with several tension-filled action sequences. It doesn’t always seem plausible, such as Fazai relentlessly pursuing them across the desert all by himself (day and night), but things move along at fast enough that we can overlook such discrepancies. I suppose some comparisons could be made between Kandahar and Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, released earlier this year with a somewhat similar concept. But whereas the latter is (so far) one of 2023’s best films, Kandahar isn’t in the same league, mainly because the two main characters aren’t quite as dynamic or relatable. 

Still, Kandahar is another Gerard Butler action-fest that delivers as promised, meeting expectations without ever exceeding them. It kind of came-and-went in theaters in the blink of an eye, but that’s okay, since his movies tend to play better in the comfort of your living room, where Mr. Reliable is always welcome. 



July 25, 2023

THE POOP SCOOP: Classic Creepy Kibbles Edition

🙀EXCLUSIVE HORROR STEELBOOKS arrive September 12th on Blu-ray + Digital at a Walmart near you from Lionsgate.
Curate the ultimate horror collection before Halloween when these exclusive SteelBooks arrive September 12th from Lionsgate at a Walmart near you on Blu-ray + Digital. Celebrate the scariest time of year – Halloween – with a set of spine-tingling, hair-raising SteelBooks! Lionsgate’s series of Walmart-exclusive Blu-ray + Digital multi-film SteelBooks, inspired by the vivid, eye-catching artwork of vintage pulp novels, rises from the grave this fall. Included in this collection are the terror-tinged The Blair Witch Project and its evil twin, Blair Witch; the reimagined Halloween I & II and unhinged Firefly trilogy (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and 3 from Hell) from fright master Rob Zombie; and an 8-film round of repulsion care of SAW (including Jigsaw) and the devilish hijinks of the Leprechaun. It’s an endless SteelBook scare-a-thon!

🙀THE EXORCIST 50th Anniversary Edition on 4K Ultra HD This Fall from Warner Bros.
Controversial, haunting and popular from the moment it opened, William Friedkin's masterpiece The Exorcist turns 50 years old, featuring stunning 4K UHD restorations of the original 1973 Theatrical Version and the 2000 Extended Director's Cut. The terrifying and realistic tale of an innocent girl inhabited by a terrifying entity, her mother's frantic resolve to save her and two priests - one doubt-ridden, the other a rock of faith - joined to battle the ultimate evil, always leaves viewers breathless. Winner of two Academy Awards and nominated for an additional eight including Best Picture, this greatest supernatural thriller of all time still astonishes and unsettles like no other movie.

🙀VIDEODROME on 4K/Blu-ray Combo October 10th from Criterion Collection.
When Max Renn goes looking for edgy new material for his sleazy cable TV station, he stumbles across the pirate broadcast of a hyperviolent torture show called “Videodrome.” His attempts to unearth the program’s origins send him on a hallucinatory journey into a shadow world of right-wing conspiracies, sadomasochistic sex games, and bodily transformation. Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry, Videodrome is one of the most original and provocative works from writer-director David Cronenberg, and features groundbreaking makeup effects by Academy Award winner Rick Baker. This release features a 4K digital restoration of the unrated version, approved by Cronenberg, along with a large assortment of bonus features.

🙀Orson Welles’ THE TRIAL on 4K/Blu-ray Combo & Blu-ray September 19th from Criterion Collection.
A feverishly inspired take on Franz Kafka’s novel, Orson Welles’s The Trial casts Anthony Perkins as the bewildered office drone Josef K., whose arrest for an unspecified crime plunges him into a menacing bureaucratic labyrinth of guilt, corruption, and paranoia. Exiled from Hollywood and creatively unchained, Welles poured his ire at the studio system, the blacklist, and all forms of totalitarian oppression into this cinematic statement—a bold, personal film that he himself considered one of his greatest. Dizzying camera angles, expressionistic lighting, increasingly surreal locations—Welles unleashed the full force of his visual brilliance to convey the nightmarish disorientation of a world gone mad. This disc features a 4K digital restoration, along with a selection of new and vintage bonus features.

THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE and the Moment of Cool

1956 / 89 min
Available at www.moviezyng.com
Review by Mr. Paws😺

Glenn Ford probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when it comes to cool Hollywood icons. Perhaps that’s because he was always an actor first, a movie star second. 

However, when I first watched The Fastest Gun Alive as a kid, I briefly thought he was the coolest guy ever. Granted, my exposure to heroes & antiheroes was limited to what our local independent TV channel chose to air on Saturday afternoons, which was usually old westerns and Jerry Lewis comedies. 

Still, the scene where meek, teetotaling store owner George Temple (Ford) gets drunk in a bar and reveals to his ignorant, big-talking neighbors that he’s more skilled with a gun than all of them combined just floored me. It's a magnificent, subtly menacing character transformation that, even today, is the best example of Ford’s talent that no one seems to talk about. For one scene anyway, he was as cool as Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen.

Until that moment, George keeps his considerable skills to himself, not even carrying a gun. His wife, Dora (Jeannie Crain), is aware of his past, but he’s promised never to revert back to his old ways. When word gets out that notorious outlaw Vinnie Harold (Broderick Crawford) just outdrew and killed another gunfighter in another town, most of the people of Cross Creek are impressed, which really bothers George, mainly because he doesn’t appear to be widely respected as a man.

Glenn spots a gumball machine.
He ends up regretting revealing his secret and alienating Dora. But he promises once again to hang-up his gun, and agrees to stay in town after everyone vows to keep his skills a secret. Unfortunately, Vinnie and his gang, on the run from a posse after robbing a bank, ride into town and hear about an even faster gunman. Vinnie’s ego supersedes any concern over the approaching posse. He calls out George for a gunfight…otherwise he’ll burn the town. Meanwhile, George reveals why he’s been keeping his true identity a secret…an incident from his past where his own father was killed in a gunfight.

Despite the title, The Fastest Gun Alive is atypical of many westerns of the time. Light on action, it’s more of a character drama similar to High Noon, with a narrative more interested in what makes its protagonist tick than action and shoot-outs. George is a sympathetic, relatable character…filled with regret over his past and now torn between keeping a promise to his wife or defending the town. Ford portrays him with the right measures of stoicism and vulnerability. Conversely, Vinnie is a one-note caricature, exacerbated by Crawford's overacting.

Despite an overall lack of action, The Fastest Gun Alive is consistently engaging and comes to a satisfying conclusion, with a twist ending that was probably a big surprise at the time the film was released. If nothing else, it’s a solid reminder that Glenn Ford could do cool along with the best of them.


2 TOM & JERRY SHORTS - “Blue Cat Blues” & “Down Beat Bear.”