January 31, 2024

ADVENTURES IN THE BUDGET BIN: The Pricey Pillow Party


A REPORT BY MR. BISCUITS🐈

Were pillows always this fucking expensive? 

To be clear, I’m not referring to the decorative throw pillows that Mama Kitty sometimes buys to spice up the living room sofa, replacing older ones that have apparently lost their spiciness. Since those are a pretty penny, too, I’ve occasionally asked her how many throw pillows one living room actually needs.


“I dunno,” she snarked one time. “How many copies of Jaws does one guy need on his video shelf?” Well played, Mama Kitty, well played.


Put that way, I guess I understand. If a new teal throw pillow is somehow an upgrade from the teal throw pillow already sitting on our couch, who am I to judge? At least it makes her happy, though I do think any pillow with an $80 price tag should at least come with a side of onion rings.


However, I’m actually referring to the plain old pillows we use for sleeping. I don’t recall paying exorbitant sums for them in the past. Or maybe they were always expensive and I just wasn’t paying attention. For me, a pillow is a just pillow…something to be replaced after the old one got too flat. And was ten bucks…tops.

During our recent date night (Starbucks & shopping on Saturday afternoons), Mama Kitty wanted to grab a couple of new ones to fill the pillowcases she just bought. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Why not just put the perfectly good pillows you already have in them?” While I might have thought the very same thing, suggesting as much would likely result in a snarky retort about my recent purchase of the entire Godfather Trilogy on 4K to replace my Godfather Trilogy on Blu-ray, which had replaced my Godfather Trilogy on DVD, which replaced my Godfather Trilogy on VHS. I ain’t gonna open up that can of worms.


So off we went to Marshall’s, which, as department stores go, is generally pretty affordable. Mama Kitty found two options…fluffy white pillows for $35 or fluffy white pillows for $50. Naturally, she chose the $50 ones. That’s a lot of cash for something I’m just gonna end up drooling on in my sleep. And they didn’t even come with onion rings.


We left Marshall’s with my wallet noticeably lighter, but not so light that a quick stop at Big Lots was out of the question. While Mama Kitty popped into Craft Warehouse next door, I made my way to Big Lots’ movie rack, where I found Exorcist: The Beginning (Blu-ray/$4.99). I wouldn’t call this prequel a good film…besides Die Hard 2, what Renny Harlan movie really is? But it does complete my Exorcist collection on Blu-ray, and if nothing else, it’s still better than Exorcist II: The Heretic.


How Father Merrin disposes of his old pillows.
It was actually a good day for collection completion. On the same shelf was Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Blu-ray/$4.99), the first film in the reboot/prequel trilogy (whatever you want to call it). Though I already own the DVD, I had the other two on Blu-ray and my video shelf just seemed incomplete without all three of them in the same format, not to mention the upgrade in picture & sound quality. 

I also grabbed a couple of blind buys, Becky (Blu-ray/$3.99) and a double-feature disc pairing Identity & Vacancy (Blu-ray/$6.99). Blind buys are less of a risk at five bucks a pop, and since I always meant to check these out, why not? I guess they could all be considered horror films, though after watching Identity, I’d say it’s more of a mystery thriller, and a pretty good one at that. Vacancy, however, is a bucket of monkey shit. As for Becky, I discovered I like Kevin James a lot more when he’s not trying to be funny (in fact, he’s pretty fucking creepy here, playing a vicious neo-Nazi).


All told, that’s five flicks for half the cost of a new pillow. But before leaving the store, I checked Big Lots’ bedding section to see if we could’ve found cheaper pillows. Sure enough, they had plenty of ‘em for only twenty bucks. I briefly considered snarking at Mama Kitty over her lack of comparison shopping skills, but thought better of it, especially since these $20 jobs didn’t feel nearly as cozy. Maybe a pillow isn’t always just a pillow.

January 30, 2024

A STAR IS BORN: Is This The Best Version?


A STAR IS BORN (Blu-ray)
2018 / 136 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

Approaching remakes is sort of a funny thing. Most of us have a tendency to be fairly close-minded when it comes to remakes of certain films, especially iconic ones. In general, I’m not opposed to remakes, never feeling they tarnish the legacy of the original, even when the new version sucks.

Then there are those films that seem to be remade every generation or so, like A Star is Born. Regarding these, I think we have a tendency to assess them based on whichever previous version we’re most familiar with. I never watched the original 1937 film and didn’t see the 1954 version (generally considered the definitive one) until much later in life, meaning my basis for comparison has always been the 1976 Barbra Streisand vanity project.


2018’s A Star is Born is Citizen Kane compared to that one. Granted, that ain’t saying much, but character-wise, it compares favorably to the James Mason/Judy Garland version. A country-rock star on a path of self-destruction, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is both sympathetic and exasperating, while the singer he discovers and falls in love with, Ally (Lady Gaga), is likable and relatable. The narrative does a great job making us care about these two, especially as Jack’s substance abuse spirals toward its inevitable conclusion.


"Ally...'alot' is not a word."
The performances are uniformly excellent, especially Cooper and Gaga, who are supported by great turns from Sam Elliot as Jack’s beleaguered older brother and - believe it or not - Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s congenial, encouraging father. Though it’s his first film as a director, Cooper (who also co-wrote) displays the skills of a veteran, especially with the numerous music sequences. And despite its length, this is the only version of A Star is Born that doesn’t feel longer than it needs to be, which is a good thing considering it’s never been the most uplifting story to hit the screen.

But is it the best version? I dunno…it’s probably unfair to compare this one to the 1954 film. Other than the basic story and themes, they’re apples and oranges. With its contemporary aesthetic (and some truly great songs), perhaps it’s better to say this is the best remake of A Star is Born that’s possible today. If nothing else, it makes the 1976 version look like a slab of shallow, dated tripe (not that it was ever anything else). 


This is a re-issue of the Blu-ray first released in 2019. There are no technical upgrades or additional new supplementary material.


EXTRA KIBBLES

THE ROAD TO STARDOM: MAKING A STAR IS BORN - The pretty interesting 30-minute doc featuring a lot of behind-the-scenes footage (including Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, who helped shoot a scene!) and a casual round-table discussion with the main cast.

JAM SESSIONS AND RARITIES - Rehearsal footage of the music performances.

4 MUSIC VIDEOS

MUSICAL MOMENTS - A compilation of music scenes from the movie.


LISA FRANKENSTEIN: Play the SLAY AND DECAY 8-Bit Game Now!


To celebrate the upcoming release of LISA FRANKENSTEIN in theaters February 9, play the newest SLAY AND DECAY 8-bit game and collect body parts to build your perfect undead boyfriend. Don’t get caught by the police. Make it to the tanning bed… and get a high score. 

Play the 8-Bit Game Here

Watch the 8-Bit Game Teaser Here

January 28, 2024

THE MARVELS Expects A Lot From Its Audience


THE MARVELS (Digital)
2023 / 105 min
Review by Pepper the Poopy😼
The Marvels is on digital NOW; on 4K, Blu-ray & DVD February 13.

While watching The Marvels at home with my wife, I ended up pausing the movie twice in the first half-hour, feeling like I must have missed something. Since Francie is far better versed in Marvel lore, I asked, “Who is this kid?” (referring to the character of Kamala Khan, played by Iman Vellani).

“She’s Ms. Marvel on Disney+,” Francie replied matter-of-factly. She had seen the show, but I hadn’t.


The second time was when Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), the daughter of Carol Danvers’ best friend in Captain Marvel, shows up with unique abilities of her own. “When the hell did she get super powers?”


“Remember…on WandaVision? She got her powers from the static field.” 


Now, I did watch WandaVision on Disney+, but that was three years ago and I barely remember anything about it. Not wanting to disrupt the movie any longer, I simply said, “Oh,” and hit play.


More than any other movie in the MCU, The Marvels has unreasonably high expectations of its audience. The entire film operates on the conceit that everyone has not-only seen Captain Marvel, but several other MCU movies. It also assumes Disney+ is a common fixture in most homes and we've already watched WandaVision, Ms. Marvel and - for one key scene - Hawkeye. Two of The Marvels' three main protagonists are from television shows that require a premium subscription and the narrative does little to bring newcomers up to speed. 


On set, Goose was known to be verbally abusive.
Huge chunks of The Marvels will be lost on much of the audience, which is unfortunate because at its core is a decent story, good performances and what’s probably the funniest scene I’ve ever seen in a Marvel movie. That scene - involving Goose the cat and her newborn “kittens” - will undoubtedly stick in the craws of fanboys who regularly complain about how needlessly jokey the MCU has become, but it works within the context of the story.

Elsewhere, we’re introduced to a unique civilization from planet Aladna, where singing is the official language, a nice touch that Francie truly appreciated because it features one of her favorite Korean actors - Park Seo-joon - as a prince who turns out to be married to Danvers. I mention this because the smaller moments are when The Marvels works best, such as Zenobia Shroff stealing every scene she’s in as Kamala’s protective mom.


Because of its frustrating over-reliance on story and character elements we’re already expected to know, perhaps The Marvels should have premiered on Disney+ in the first place. It barely functions as a stand-alone film, but as a supplementary chapter to other shows & movies just a remote click away, there’s some fun to be had here.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - Entangled; The Production Diaries.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director-co-writer Nia DaCosta and special effects supervisor Tara DeMarco.

4 DELETED SCENES

GAG REEL


Litter Box Treasures: THE RED TENT (1969)

In Litter Box Treasures, we focus on a variety of older films which aren’t necessarily classics, but are well-worth discovering.


THE RED TENT (1969)
Starring Peter Finch, Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale, Hardy Kruger, Massimo Girotti. Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov. (121 min)

BY D.M. ANDERSON💀

The Red Tent
is a lavish, expensive Russian-Italian co-production that died at the box office in 1969. Too bad, really, because aside from a pretentious narrative framework, this is a tense & exciting adventure story of survival and rescue based on an ill-fated 1928 airship expedition to the North Pole. For those who enjoy such survival stories as The Flight of the Phoenix or Alive, the movie is well-worth checking out.

Peter Finch plays the stoic General Nobile, an Italian explorer who leads his team on a dirigible flight to the North Pole, more for national pride than any scientific purpose. When the airship crashes, Nobile and the surviving members of his team must brave the worst elements on Earth, their chances of survival dwindling every day. As the days pass with no contact, few back home hold much hope of their chances for survival, save for Valeria (Claudia Cardinale), a lovely nurse whose boyfriend, Malmgren (Eduard Martsevich) is among the team members. 

After determining the team’s location could be anywhere in a 2 million square mile area, the Italian government believes it’s futile & dangerous to organize a search party. Valeria doesn’t give up, enlisting the aid of slimy mercenary pilot Einar Lundborg (Hardy Kruger), then eventually begging famed arctic explorer Roald Amundsen (Sean Connery) to search for them, though the latter is pessimistic that anyone is still alive. Once it’s discovered there are survivors, there’s the monumental dilemma of how to get to them. Meanwhile, Nobile and his men are dealing with bitter cold, hunger, bears, dwindling hope, dissension (some want to attempt the walk out of there, while Nobile thinks its suicide) and the continually shifting, cracking ice cap on which they’ve stranded.

"Yay! Snow day!"

The Red Tent tells a great story with one narrative drawback...it is told in flashback. Framing the survival & rescue tale are segments in which Nobile, 40 years later on a sleepless night, recalls the events as the other characters appear as apparitions to judge his actions. It’s a personal trial he has repeatedly subjected himself to since the tragedy. Those scenes are not really necessary and simply aren’t as exciting as the rest of the movie, adding an arty, pretentious air to the proceedings. They could easily be removed and the film would still remain an intense tale of survival.

The performances are all uniformly great. Finch is terrific as Nobile, displaying strength & vulnerability in the face of adversity. Kruger is also effective, with a cocky selfishness that gives the audience someone to hate. Even though he’s top-billed, Connery is more of a supporting player and really isn’t in the film all that much, not even appearing until the last 45 minutes.

While the special effects are fairly phony (check out the tethers supporting a model plane during a crash scene), the movie benefits from great location work, with northern Russia subbing for the North Pole, so you get a great feel for the isolation the survivors experience. For the most part, Ennio Morricone provides a suitably dramatic & sweeping music score, save for the goofy synthesizer interlude during a horse-riding scene. And despite the G rating, the movie is sometimes pretty violent, particularly in a scene in which a polar bear is shot and eaten.

The needless flashback framework notwithstanding, The Red Tent is an intense and fascinating tale of survival in the worst possible conditions, with great performances from its international cast. A forgotten minor gem that deserves a second life.

January 26, 2024

SPECIAL OPS: LIONESS Would Be Better As A Movie


SPECIAL OPS: LIONESS - SEASON ONE (Blu-ray)
2023 / 350 min (8 episodes)
Review by Pepper the Poopy😼

I’ll say this much…Special Ops: Lioness has a great cast consisting of both familiar and lesser-known actors. It should be noted, however, that many of the names featured on the cover aren’t in the show nearly as much as their billing suggests. Morgan Freeman doesn’t even pop up until episode six and his entire role is a glorified cameo.

For most of these eight episodes, the focus is on two characters. The first, Joe (Zoe Saldana), is the leader of Lioness, a covert CIA team that engages in dangerous anti-terrorist missions. Since their methods are often morally questionable, if not downright illegal, she answers to no one except Kaitlyn Meade (Nicole Kidman). She also has a tumultuous relationship with her teenage daughter, largely because work keeps her away for months at a time. The other major character is Cruz (Laysla De Oliveira), a tough, smart, resilient young woman recruited to the team for an especially volatile mission: befriend the daughter of an elusive, terrorist-funding oil baron to gain intel…or maybe kill him herself.


It's a fixer-upper, but the price was right.
But what might have made a pretty killer two-hour movie is a mixed bag as a series. The segments focusing on the actual Lionness team are a lot of fun. As opposed to Joe’s cold, calculated efficiency, they’re a likable, amusing batch of badasses and the subplots featuring these guys are the best parts of the show…especially a “botched” extraction mission in Texas that results in a big body count and unwanted attention from Washington bigwigs. These scenes boast a lot of flashy, violent action. 

Unfortunately, the primary story plods along with endless scenes of Cruz getting close (in more ways than one) to the baron’s daughter, Aaliyah (Stephanie Nur). Partying, hanging out on the beach, clubbing, shopping in expensive stores, kanoodling…a lot of this plays like some MTV reality show featuring people most of us could never actually relate to (perhaps because this is an MTV production?). Too bad, really, because it’s a waste of the most interesting character, Cruz (whose own backstory would make a pretty great series itself). Not only that, we don’t even meet the primary antagonist until the last episode.


However, that last episode is tension-filled and exciting (if somewhat predictable). It also provides closure without leaving any of the major story threads open, which is a good thing since, as of this writing, a second season has not yet been confirmed. If not quite binge-worthy, Special Ops: Lioness is watchable, but might have been more effective as a movie with the excess fat trimmed away.


EXTRA KIBBLES

BEHIND THE STORY - Individual mini docs for every episode, each running about 7-8 minutes.

FEATURETTES - Embedded with Special Ops: Lioness; Battle Forged Calm: Tactics & Training (a segment on weapons and physical training for the actors); Inside the Series (hosted by co-star LaMonica Garrett, this is another doc with interviews and on-set footage).


January 24, 2024

Litter Box Treasures: BELOW (2002)

In Litter Box Treasures, we focus on a variety of older films that

aren’t necessarily classics, but are well-worth discovering.


BELOW (2002)
Starring Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Davis, Olivia Williams, Holt McCallany, Scott Foley, Jason Flemyng, Zack Galifianakis. Directed by David Twohy. (105 min)

BY D.M. ANDERSON💀


When I first went to see director David Twohy's Pitch Black, my expectations were fairly low. After all, it looked like an umpteenth version of Alien. (Twohy, if fact wrote the screenplay for Alien 3). Not only that, I never considered Vin Diesel to be great shakes in the acting department. But when Pitch Black turned out to be arguably the best horror/sci-fi film of 2000 (even if it was a bit derivative), my expectations substantially raised for Twohy's follow up, Below, especially since it is co-written by Darren Aronofsky. 

However, with precious little publicity from its distributor, it disappeared from theaters quicker than shit through a goose - I never got the opportunity to see it on the big screen. A shame, since this is one of the few times my expectations were more than fulfilled. Below is a claustrophobic, eerie and intelligent horror film with a unique setting, great production values and top-notch acting.


The film takes place on an American submarine during World War II. The crew, led by Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood), rescue three survivors of a British hospital ship, which was apparently destroyed by a German U-boat. One of the survivors is Claire Page (Olivia Williams), who eventually learns that Brice is only the acting commander; the boat's original skipper died days earlier under mysterious circumstances after torpedoing a German ship. 


"You told me you gassed it up before we left."
With the survivors in tow, the crew try to resume their initial route through the Atlantic, only to be undermined by a series of odd, supernatural incidents, all tied to the death of their former skipper. Soon, the submarine itself is beyond their control, routing itself back to where the skipper was killed. It becomes clear to Page that she hasn't been told everything about the events following the German boat's sinking - and something on the sub wants to set things right. 

The story that unfolds contains some great twists and the script allows the actors to make the roles their own. But what reallymakes Below click is its setting. The dark and cramped confines of a WWII submarine is the perfect setting for a ghost story (and makes me wonder how it took this long for anyone to come up with the idea). What could be worse than a haunted house where to escape is to drown? Twohy allows the ship to take on a life of its own, to become a character itself. Also admirable is Twohy's restraint. as he did with Pitch Black, he allows the script, characters and atmosphere to propel the story, not cheap shocks, spectacle or gratuitous gore. Because of that, we may forgive the film's somewhat familiar story and some occasional clunky dialogue.


Ignored in theaters, Below is a tense, terrific movie just waiting to be discovered. Like Pitch Black, it isn't the most original film to hit the screen, but it's stylish, exceeds your expectations and offers a lot of thrills, but not at the expense of your intelligence. As for David Twohy, he’s mostly been in the Riddick business ever since, with the usual diminishing results.