April 12, 2024

THE ROUNDUP: NO WAY OUT: Some Things Never Get Old


THE ROUNDUP: NO WAY OUT (Blu-ray)
2023 / 101 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

Some things never get old…date night at Starbucks with my wife, breakfast food for dinner, the Cowboys choking during the playoffs…

…and Don Lee pummeling bad guys into submission. 


The Roundup: No Way Out is the third film of a franchise (with a fourth on the way) featuring Lee as Ma Seok-do, a tough, burly detective whose most formidable skill is beating the shit out of people. I still haven’t seen the first film, The Outlaws, which isn’t available on physical media in the U.S., but 2022’s The Roundup was among the best action films of that year, a deft combination of action and comedy anchored by Lee’s terrific performance (and he’s a lot more agile than his heftiness would suggest). Best of all, watching the first film wasn’t required to enjoy this one.


If you haven’t seen The Roundup, it’s widely available and definitely worth seeking out. But if you have, No Way Out is just as entertaining, with Lee returning to take on a bevy of bad guys while his subordinates try to keep up. This time, a crew of corrupt cops led by Joo Sung-cheol (Lee Joon-hyuk) is trying to sell 20 kilos of a new drug called Hiper to a Chinese triad, which he stole from a vicious Yakuza organization. Following an arrest by Lee and his team, the package is stolen yet again. Now everyone is looking for it…the good cops, the bad cops and the Yakuza boss’ most ruthless assassin, Ricky (Munetaka Aoki). 


Some fashion choices are punchworthy.
The particulars of the plot are more intricate than that, perhaps overly so. But while the story is interesting, it ultimately takes a backseat to the action and characters. Lee continues to make Ma an engaging, atypical action hero. There’s no finesse in his methods, mainly just bluster and brute force, both of which are served up in sequences that are both rousing and funny. But he’s not the whole show here. Like The Roundup, he’s pitted against formidable antagonists, while his allies - willingly assisting him or not - are engaging as either beleaguered straight-men or comic relief.  

Other than a final scene which apparently sets-up the next film, The Roundup: No Way Out presents a self-contained story. Like The Roundup, the only connecting thread is the protagonist’s punishing approach to police procedure, which never gets old. As long as Don Lee is willing and able to keep dispensing justice with his fists (and no guns!), this is one franchise that probably won’t wear out its welcome.

April 10, 2024

THE POOP SCOOP: Conclusions, Cuddly Killers & Corruption

🪐DUNE PART TWO Arrives on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & DVD May 14, and on Digital April 16 from Warner Bros.
Dune: Part Two explores the mythic journey of Paul Atreides as he unites with Chani and the Fremen while on a path of revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family. Facing a choice between the love of his life and the fate of the known universe, he endeavors to prevent a terrible future only he can foresee. Dune: Part Two is directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Blade Runner 2049”) from a screenplay he and Jon Spaihts wrote, based on the seminal bestselling novel of the same name written by Frank Herbert. The expanded all-star international ensemble cast features returning and new stars, including Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet), Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar nominee Josh Brolin, Oscar nominee Austin Butler, Oscar nominee Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Oscar winner Christopher Walken, Léa Seydoux, Souheila Yacoub (“The Braves,” “Climax”), with Stellan Skarsgård, with Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling, and Oscar winner Javier Bardem. On April 16, Dune: Part Two will be available for early Premium Digital Ownership at home for 29.99 and for 48-hour rental via PVOD for $24.99 SRP on participating digital platforms where you purchase or rent movies, including Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Google Play, Fandango at Home, and more. On May 14, Dune: Part Two will be available to own on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD from online and physical retailers. Dune: Part Two will also continue to be available to own in high definition and standard definition from participating digital retailers.


🧸IMAGINARY will be available on Electronic Sell-Through May 7 and Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital May 14 from Lionsgate.
When Jessica moves back into her childhood home with her family, her youngest stepdaughter, Alice, finds a stuffed bear named Chauncey. As Alice's behavior becomes more and more concerning, Jessica intervenes only to realize that Chauncey is much more than the stuffed toy bear she believed him to be. Keep your new best friend forever when IMAGINARY arrives on Electronic Sell-Through May 7 and Blu-ray (+ DVD and Digital), and DVD from Lionsgate. IMAGINARY stars Chauncey the Bear, Blumhouse’s latest horror icon, now ready to play in your imagination at home! But remember, Chauncey is not imaginary, and not your friend. Alongside Chauncey are his human castmates DeWanda Wise (Jurassic World Dominion), Tom Payne (“The Walking Dead”), Taegen Burns (“The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers”), Pyper Braun (Desperation Road), Betty Buckley (Carrie), Matthew Sato (“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”), and Veronica Falcón (“Ozark”).


😺CHINATOWN (plus THE TWO JAKES!) Celebrates 50th Anniversary With New Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Release on June 18 from Paramount.
The haunting noir classic CHINATOWN celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and Paramount is marking the occasion with a Limited-Edition 4K Ultra HD release on June 18, 2024. Produced by the legendary Robert Evans, CHINATOWN was originally released on June 26, 1974 and received widespread critical acclaim along with 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Robert Towne’s brilliant Academy Award-winning screenplay weaves a tragic and shocking tale of corruption, greed, and the human propensity for evil.  Powerhouse performances by Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston, a riveting story inspired by real events, vivid imagery, and a stirring score combine to make an unforgettable film that is essential for every cinephile’s collection. The Limited-Edition Paramount Presents release includes the restored film on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc for the first time ever. In addition, this release includes extensive new and legacy bonus content, access to a Digital copy of the film, and a bonus Blu-ray with the 1990 sequel The Two Jakes, directed by and starring Jack Nicholson and written by Robert Towne.


😺NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN on Blu-ray May 7 from Arrow Video.
On May 7th, Arrow Video will release the crime thriller Night Falls On Manhattan from director Sidney Lumet, who brings his gritty realism to this adaptation of former NYPD officer Robert Daley’s novel. Assistant DA Sean Casey (Andy Garcia) is assigned to prosecute a drug dealer whose case has deep ties to his family. As the young attorney uncovers the truth about the arrest, his career, family, and life are threatened. The Limited Edition Blu-ray features an all-star cast that includes Academy Award® nominees Richard Dreyfuss, Ian Holm, and Lena Olin, as well as James Gandolfini, Vincent Pastore, Frank Vincent, Bobby Cannavale, and Ron Liebman.The special features include two audio commentaries; a documentary about the director; on-set interviews with cast and crew; behind the scenes footage; trailers and TV spots.

April 8, 2024

LISA FRANKENSTEIN: Blunt Force Black Comedy


LISA FRANKENSTEIN (Blu-ray)
2024 / 101 min
Review by Pepper the Poopy😾

Lisa Frankenstein is slickly directed, looks great and features good performances. But while there’s plenty of comic horror potential in the basic concept, the film squanders it with shallow characters, heavy-handed satire and a misguided idea of black comedy.

The title character (Kathryn Newton) is your standard-issue misfit emo teenager who’d rather hang out in a graveyard than with her peers. After nearly being sexually assaulted at a party, she visits the grave of a long-dead musician, wishing aloud she could be with him. That wish ends up being granted when he’s resurrected by a lightning strike. Lisa is initially horrified by his stench and missing appendages, but after cleaning him up a bit, he becomes infatuated with her, enough so that when bitchy stepmom (Carla Gugino) threatens to send Lisa away, he kills her.


At this point, Lisa’s entire personality and appearance changes fast enough to give the viewer whiplash. Suddenly sexy, bitchy and outgoing, she ends up sewing missing pieces back onto the Creature (Cole Sprouse) with the body parts of those he kills. This includes a boy who tried to assault her at the party, as well as Michael (Henry Eikenberry), a guy she has a crush on but ends up sleeping with her stepsister, Taffy (Liza Soberano). 


"Stay off the bike...it's where I hang my clothes."
The plot isn’t the problem…it’s the execution. First of all, Lisa Frankenstein takes place in the ‘80s for no discernible reason. Not only is poking fun at that decade like shooting fish in a barrel, the setting has nothing to do with the plot. Additionally, virtually everyone is a caricature…the ditzy cheerleader, the sensitive hunk, the goofy dad, the narcissistic stepmom and, of course, the eye-rolling goth protagonist who’s increasingly nonchalant about the murder and dismemberment going on around her. I guess they'd all be funny if you'd never seen them before.

There’s a lot of situational black comedy in Lisa Frankenstein, but it’s presented with the subtlety of a mallet, as if hearing a sensitive ballad during a brutal murder is inherently humorous (which has been done to death in plenty of other horror comedies). Yet at the same time, the film pulls its punches in an obvious attempt to keep a PG-13 rating. Should any black comedy that takes place in the 80s and features the severing of body parts really be concerned with the tween crowd?


First time director Zelda Williams (Robin’s daughter) has a good visual eye and puts together some neat sequences. But she and the able cast are let down by Diablo Cody’s screenplay which, considering her resume, is surprisingly ham-fisted, derivative and superficial.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - Resurrecting the ‘80s takes a look at the production design; An Electric Connection is about the characters; A Dark Comedy Duo features director Zelda Williams and screenwriter Diablo Cody.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Zelda Williams.

5 DELETED SCENES

GAG REEL

DIGITAL COPY


April 6, 2024

TORMENTED: A Little Film From Mr. B.I.G.


TORMENTED (Blu-ray)
1960 / 74 min
Review by Mr. Paws😺

For most of his career, the late Bert I. Gordon certainly lived up to his initials. This B-movie auteur was best known for economically cranking out a variety of killer creature features that mostly played in drive-ins for the teen crowd. 

If you’re of a certain age, perhaps you recall such schlockly classics as Beginning of the End, Earth vs. the Spider and The Amazing Colossal Man…if not from the days of local late-night TV, then maybe the original Mystery Science Theater 3000, which featured quite a few of his flicks. Yours truly is old enough to recall spending his own allowance to catch one of Gordon’s last critterfests, 1976’s The Food of the Gods, in a theater.


Gordon sometimes dabbled in other genres, usually budget-conscious versions of bigger and better films that were popular at the time, but seldom straying too far from his horror roots. One such film is 1960’s Tormented, a surprisingly atmospheric little ghost story. I remember once having TCM on the TV as background noise when this came on. Despite the director’s dubious reputation, I found it engaging enough to drop what I was doing and see it through. 


Not that Tormented is some kind of lost classic. It’s still a cheap film…but a pretty well made cheap film - for Bert I. Gordon, anyway - with decent performances and a good story. Jazz musician Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson) is about to marry new girlfriend Meg (Lugene Sanders) in Cape Cod when old flame Vi (Juli Reding) shows up. Still in love with him, she begs Tom to come back to her, even threatening blackmail. 


IKEA has some weird-ass room decor.
While they’re arguing atop a local lighthouse, the railing breaks. Hanging on for dear life, Vi begs Tom for help. He refuses and she falls to her death into the sea. While initially reasoning that he didn’t actually kill her himself, Vi returns from beyond to haunt him, still determined to stop the wedding. Like The Tell-Tale Heart, visions of her disembodied appendages, or finding jewelry he once gave her, could be manifestations of his guilt. But either way, Tormented is a fun little ghost story that establishes a moody tone with its seaside locations and, considering the budget, not-half-bad special effects.

Of course, being the work of Bert I. Gordon means Tormented isn’t without its goofy aspects, which are amusingly exploited in an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode included among this disc’s excellent batch of extras. Countering Joel and his robot friends’ merciless riffing are a few revealing bonus features that might have one appreciating what Gordon was always able to put together with very little money.


EXTRA KIBBLES

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 VERSION - From 1992, featuring Joel, Crow & Tom Servo.

BERT I. GORDON: THE AMAZING COLOSSAL FILMMAKER - An 8 minute archival interview with the late director.

BIGGER THAN LIFE: BERT I. GORDON IN THE 1950’s and 1960’s - An excellent 40 minute appreciation by C. Courtney Joyner. The best of the new bonus features.

THE SPIRIT IS WILLING: CINEMAGIC AND SOCIAL DISCORD IN BERT I. GORDON’S TORMENTED - The Flying Maciste Brothers attach some seriously weighty themes to this little potboiler…kinda the antithesis of the MST3K episode.

FAMOUS GHOST STORIES - An unreleased TV pilot featuring Vincent Price, thought the episode itself is just an abridged version of Tormented.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Gary Rhodes and Larry Blamire.

ORIGINAL AND RE-CUT, RESTORED TRAILERS

SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Includes an essay by Tom Weaver, as well as an interview with Susan Gordon, Bert’s daughter who plays little andy Hubbard.


April 5, 2024

MEAN GUNS : An Off-Kilter Killfest


MEAN GUNS (Blu-ray)
1997 / 104 min
Review by Mr. Bonnie😼

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call Mean Guns a good action movie, but there’s too much of a weird-ass vibe to dismiss it entirely.

A crime organization known as The Syndicate has bankrolled a maximum security prison in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. But before they turn it over to the city, they decide to use the place to purge a few dozen associates who supposedly betrayed them. So when a variety of thugs and killers arrive, they find themselves trapped and forced to fight to the death, with the three remaining survivors splitting a $10 million prize. They are also provided with weapons to make sure the contest is over within six hours (otherwise everyone will die).


That’s the essential plot, which is inherently ridiculous, but not what makes Mean Guns such a perplexing way to kill two hours. With the exception of Cam (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), a mob accountant who didn’t know she was a mob accountant, everyone shows up willingly. One main character, Lou (Christopher Lambert), actually drives up with a kid in the car and tells her to wait there until he’s finished. Rather than be horrified, most of these people seem genuinely excited to be fighting for their lives. Even the syndicate boss who gathered everyone there, snarling platinum-toothed master-of-ceremonies Vincent Moon (Ice-T), gets in on the action.


Christopher Lambert corners his hairstylist.
Stranger yet is the dialogue, which is sometimes funny, other times really bizarre, such as Marcus’ frequent monologues where he appears to be saying something deep, but I’ll be damned if I know what he’s talking about. Character behavior often changes without warning, so we ultimately don’t know who to root for or against, including the kid, who not only appears unfazed by the surrounding mayhem, she even asks Marcus to shoot somebody at one point. Maybe it’s just me, but the tonal, character and narrative inconsistencies appear to be by design.

Much of the credit (or blame) must go to the late Albert Pyun, the prolific director behind such B-movie bonanzas as The Sword and the Sorcerer, Cyborg, Brainsmasher…A Love Story and more Nemesis movies than anyone asked for. He also has the distinction of being the first to bring Captain America to the screen, with hilarious results. I wouldn’t call those movies any good either, but with Mean Guns, he seems to be striving for a slightly off-kilter look and tone. To what end, I don’t know. Maybe Pyun doesn’t either, but at least he inserts just enough WTF moments to keep our attention.

 

Mean Guns needs them, too, because the action itself is perfunctory and surprisingly bloodless, which soon becomes pretty rote. Movies consisting of a single sustained conflict are difficult to pull off successfully and Pyun isn’t up to the challenge. However, the quirky curveballs, oddball characters, strange music score and all-in performances keep it from getting too boring.


EXTRA KIBBLES

INTERVIEWS - Individual interviews (running 20-30 minutes each) featuring producer Gary Schmoleller, executive producer Paul Rosenblum and composer Anthony Riparetti. All three discuss their own career histories and making movies with director Albert Pyun. 

OPTIONAL INTRODUCTION - By director Albert Pyun.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Albert Pyun. 

TRAILER

MINI POSTER

REVERSIBLE ARTWORK


April 3, 2024

THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT: One of Raoul Walsh's Best


THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (Blu-ray)
1940 / 95 min
Available at www.MovieZyng.com
Review by Mr. Paws😹

They Drive by Night is an excellent film with a loaded cast, a couple of whom were on the verge of stardom when this was released. What begins as a rough & tumble road movie eventually evolves into a stunning slab of film noir, with romance and a surprising amount of humor in between. It’s all seamlessly assembled by director Raoul Walsh.

Joe & Paul Fabrini (George Raft & Humphrey Bogart) are a couple of loyal brothers struggling to make a living as freelance truckers while avoiding a loan shark trying to repossess their rig. During one run, Joe meets and gives a lift to Cassie (Ann Sheridan), who just quit her waitress job. The two eventually fall in love. 


Meanwhile, during another run, an overtired Paul crashes the truck and loses his arm. Racked with guilt over the incident and now without a vehicle, Joe takes a job working for old buddy Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale), who owns a successful trucking business. Ed’s married to Lana (Ida Lupino), who barely masks contempt for her husband’s constant drinking and lack of class. She’s also obsessed with Joe, who rebuffs her repeated advances out of loyalty to Ed (and love for Cassie)…


Guess who's getting stuck with the check.
…so Lana murders her husband, making it look like an accident. She then offers Joe an equal partnership in the business, which he agrees to on the proviso that their relationship remains professional. He even brings Paul onboard as a dispatcher. However, upon learning Joe plans to marry Cassie, Lana becomes so enraged that she tells authorities she murdered Ed because Joe forced her to. 

From beginning to end, this is great stuff, punctuated by sharp dialogue and top-notch performances from the main cast, who seem to be taking turns stealing scenes from each other. Lupino, in particular, wonderfully transforms from sultry femme fatale to raving lunatic over the course of the story. It's no wonder she became a star soon after. Same with Bogart, who isn’t really in the film all that much after the first act, but is an indelible screen presence. 


Walsh keeps things moving at a lively pace with his usual directorial flare. They Drive by Night isn’t among his most-remembered work, but it’s arguably one of the best he made while under contract at Warner Brothers. While the movie can’t really be pigeonholed into one particular genre, it’s definitely a must-see for film noir fans. So far, this is the best Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the year.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTE - Divided Highway: The Story of They Drive by Night is an excellent 10 minute retrospective doc, with insights and history from critics & historians like Leonard Maltin.

WB SHORT - Swingtime in the Movies is a 20 minute 1938 comedy with cameos by a few notable WB stars, including Humphrey Bogart.

LUX RADIO THEATER BROADCAST - From 1941, this radio adaptation of They Drive by Night features George Raft and Lana Turner.

TRAILER