May 22, 2024

THE POOP SCOOP: Tornado of Kibbles

☁The Original TWISTER on 4K Ultra HD + Digital on July 9 from Warner Bros. Discovery.
Don’t breathe! Don’t look back! Just run for your life when a destructive force of nature comes howling straight toward you, destroying everything in its path – when you’re running from a Twister. Academy Award winner Helen Hunt stars as Dr. Jo Thornton-Harding, who as a small girl watched her father sucked to his death from her family’s storm cellar by a massive tornado. Now a storm chaser, a scientist who risks her life to study the dark side of nature by taking her data-transmitting instruments directly into the path of a deadly storm, Jo chases the largest tornado ever to strike Oklahoma as her marriage implodes and rival scientists will stop at nothing to steal her breakthrough. Twister, the action-packed iconic disaster film directed by Jan de Bont (Speed) will be available for purchase on 4K Ultra HD Disc and Digital for the first time on July 9.  The film also stars Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz, Lois Smith, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck, Todd Field, and Jeremy Davies. Twister was directed by Jan de Bont (Speed) from a screenplay by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin.  The film was produced by Crichton, Kathleen Kennedy, and Ian Bryce.  Steven Spielberg, Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald and Gerald R. Molen served as executive producers. 


🐼KUNG FU PANDA 4 arrives on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD on May 28 from Universal.
The search for the new Dragon Warrior is on! Po learns he must face his biggest villain yet and embarks on a hilarious mission with his new team of misfits in KUNG FU PANDA 4, available with over an hour of extras on Digital, 4K UHD, Blu-rayT and DVD May 28, 2024. The never-before-seen bonus content includes dumpling making with Jack Black, Bad Bunnies commentary, deleted scenes, as well as the original animated short “Dueling Dumplings”! Emmy winner and Golden Globe nominee Jack Black returns as Po, the world’s most unlikely kung fu maste. After learning he must find a new hero to take over as Dragon Warrior so that he may fulfill his destiny as the next spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace, Po decides to take one last adventurous mission. He teams up with a quick-witted thief named Zhen, voiced by Awkwafina, a corsac fox, to discover the truth about recent sightings of villains he’s defeated in the past. In a journey that puts both to the test, it will take a wicked, powerful sorceress, The Chameleon, voiced by Oscar winner Viola Davis, to bring them together and remind Po that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.

🎸PURPLE RAIN Arrives on 4K Ultra HD June 25 from Warner Bros Discovery.
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of its theatrical release, Purple Rain, the iconic 1984 film starring Prince in his film acting debut, will be available for purchase on 4K Ultra HD Disc and Digital for the first time on June 25. It will be available to purchase from online and in-store at major retailers and available for purchase Digitally from Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Google Play, Fandango at Home and more. The film stars music icon Prince as The Kid, alongside Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, Olga Karlatos and Clarence Williams III. It was directed by Albert Magnoli from a screenplay by Magnoli and William Blinn and was produced by Robert Cavallo, Joseph Ruffalo and Steven Fargnoli. Purple Rain won the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score (Prince), the Grammy Award® for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special (Prince and the Revolution), and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture (Prince).

🎾CHALLENGERS on Blu-ray and DVD July 9 from Warner Bros Discovery.
From visionary filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, Challengers stars Zendaya as Tashi Duncan, a former tennis prodigy turned coach and a force of nature who makes no apologies for her game on and off the court. Married to a champion on a losing streak (Mike Faist - West Side Story), Tashi's strategy for her husband's redemption takes a surprising turn when he must face off against the washed-up Patrick (Josh O'Connor - The Crown) -- his former best friend and Tashi's former boyfriend. As their pasts and presents collide, and tensions run high, Tashi must ask herself, what will it cost to win. The much buzzed about film, Challengers, from Amazon MGM Studios, will be available for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray on July 9. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”), the film is written by Justin Kuritzkes and produced by Amy Pascal, Luca Guadagnino, Zendaya, Rachel O’Connor.

May 21, 2024

THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) and the Shape of Things to Come

1927 / 86 min
Review by Mr. Paws😺

Though not the first horror film - and arguably not horror at all - 1927’s The Cat and the Canary certainly laid the groundwork for Universal Studios to corner the market in the genre. Without the success of this one, would they have taken a chance on the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein?

Maybe that’s a stretch, but director Paul Leni’s unique aesthetic undoubtedly influenced a great number of films, horror or otherwise, including those which made “Universal Horror” a brand name. The film’s overall tone, however, is another matter altogether. 

It’s a story that’s been told many times over the years since John Willard wrote the original play in 1922. Eccentric millionaire Cyrus West dies, leaving explicit instructions for his will to be opened and read 20 years later. When that day arrives, several relatives gather at Cyrus’ old mansion, including niece Annabelle (Laura La Plante), who ends up inheriting everything on the proviso that a doctor certifies her to be sane.

Throughout the night, several incidents occur around Annabelle that may or may not be supernatural, prompting some in attendance to believe she’s as crazy as her dead uncle. Is it Cryus’ ghost, or is someone plotting against Annaelle for the inheritance?

Harry Potter's trippy college years.
Like another “old dark house” film Leni would make the following year (The Last Warning), The Cat and the Canary maintains a breezy, semi-comedic tone, largely due to the plethora of (intentionally?) exaggerated performances, most notably milquetoast nephew Paul Jones (Creighton Hale), the closest thing the film has to a hero. But it's Martha Mattox who steals every scene she’s in as Cyrus’ amusingly-intimidating housekeeper, Mammy Pleasant.

Storywise, it’s a fairly enjoyable film, but what makes it truly interesting are Leni’s considerable visual skills (honed during his years as a pioneer of German expressionism) and some surprisingly mobile camerawork for the time. Granted, my experience with the silent era is somewhat limited, but unlike similar films of the time, I was stricken by how much the camera becomes part of the action with tracking sequences, quick zooms and POV shots. 

This new disc from Eureka Entertainment (part of their Masters of Cinema series) features an excellent video transfer, as well as a great DTS-HD Master audio track. Additionally, the film comes with some interesting bonus features related to the history of the film and the “old dark house” subgenre. For fans of this era in film history, The Cat and the Canary is worth owning on Blu-ray.


MYSTERIES MEAN DARK CORNERS - A pretty entertaining video essay about the early history of “old dark house” movies, with an emphasis on director Paul Muni and The Cat and the Canary.

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By Kim Newman (who’s always worth listening to) & Stephen Jones; 2) By Kevin Lyons & Jonathan Rigby.

INTERVIEWS - Individual interviews with critics Phuong Le and Pamela Hutchinson.

A VERY ECCENTRIC MAN and YEAH, A CAT! - Audio clips from the original play.

LUCKY STRIKE - A cigarette ad featuring director Paul Muni.

May 20, 2024

IMAGINARY and the Snotty Teen Trope

2024 / 104 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

When I first saw the promotional one-sheet hanging in a theater lobby, my first thought was, “Blumhouse isn’t really putting out a horror movie about a killer stuffed bear, are they?” Then again, this is the same studio that recently belched-out a flick about a haunted swimming pool, so maybe it wasn’t such a stretch.

But about a half-hour into Imaginary, I found myself wishing it was about a killer stuffed bear, with snotty, eye-rolling emo teen Taylor (Taegen Burns) as its first victim. 

The snotty, eye-rolling emo teen is a tired trope that’s not only massively overused, it’s generally a strong indication that the entire movie will walk a familiar path. In horror, one of two fates befall snotty, eye-rolling emo teens: Either they die or, more often, have an epiphany over how snotty they’ve been to the protagonist. Either way, waiting for either requires a lot more patience than I want to endure.

In Imaginary, the object of Taylor’s wrath is stepmom Jessica (DeWanda Wise), a successful children’s book author who had the audacity to marry her dad (Tom Payne), then show nothing but kindness to her and little sister Alice (Pyper Braun). That relationship gets even rockier when the family moves into Jessica’s old childhood home, though Jessica was actually sent away to her grandmother’s at age five after Mom died and Dad went crazy.

Bear Noir
Of course, Dad’s fate and Jessica’s childhood trauma soon become narratively relevant. In the meantime, little Alice finds an old stuffed bear behind a wall in the cellar, which she names Chauncy. At first, Jessica thinks Alice’s playtime with her new imaginary friend is cute, such as the little scavenger hunts “instigated” by the bear. But it isn’t long before Alice’s behavior drastically changes and Chauncy reveals his sinister side. In one admittedly great sequence, he terrorizes the obnoxious teenage kid from next door. Genuinely suspenseful and well-executed, the scene briefly has the viewer holding out hope that the movie might turn out to be pretty cool after all.

Unfortunately, it turns out the imaginary friend is some kind of monstrous entity from Jessica’s own childhood, who snatches kids away to the ‘Never Ever,’ some kind of labyrinthine netherworld (alas…no killer stuffed bear). It’s at this point where Imaginary also commits one of the most egregious sins in horror: Virtually all of the backstory and missing pieces to the narrative are provided through lengthy verbal exposition. Worse yet, it’s explained by a secondary character, Jessica’s eccentric neighbor and former babysitter Gloria (Betty Buckley, channeling the same old loon she played in The Happening). Until then, she hadn’t even been a factor in the story. 

That’s a lot more plot, backstory and world-building than a movie like this needs, especially since most of it is highly derivative. What was wrong with simply having a disgruntled bear? Decent performances help a little (even Burns makes a convincing snotty, eye-rolling emo teen), as does attractive production design depicting the Never Ever. But for a horror movie called Imaginary, there ain’t much horror or imagination. 


IMAGINARY: EXPLORING THE NEVER EVER - An pretty decent making-of featurette with cast/crew interviews.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow & actor/exec producer DeWanda Wise.

May 19, 2024

NARC Goes Old School

NARC (Blu-ray)
2002 / 104 min
Review by Mr. Bonnie, the Buttnugget😽

A somewhat forgotten film from the early 2000s, Narc strives for a gritty tone and aesthetic similar to famous crime thrillers of the 1970s. In that respect, it more-or-less succeeds. There are numerous scenes that echo the likes of The French Connection, The Seven Ups and Serpico.  

Unlike those classics, however, Narc doesn’t have a lot of meat on its bones, despite the urgent pace, slick editing and another enjoyable scenery-chewing performance by the late, great Ray Liotta (though his participation does factor into the movie’s overall predictability). But even if the plot is ultimately much ado about little, the overall movie remains watchable.

Jason Patric plays Nick Tellis, a disgraced undercover detective who lost his job following a botched drug bust that resulted in a pregnant woman getting shot and losing her baby. Eighteen months later, he’s offered a chance to be reinstated if he assists in investigating the murder of another undercover cop, Michael Calvess (Alan van Sprang). One caveat…he has to work with Calvess’ former partner, Henry Oak (Liotta), who’s since become a loose cannon. The department wants the killer found and case closed as quickly as possible.

Over the course of the investigation, the pair follow leads, roust & grill a variety of lowlifes and, of course, clash with each other. Interspersed throughout the narrative are scenes depicting the psychological toll the case has on Tellis and increasingly-estranged wife Audrey (Krista Bridges). Things take a dramatic turn when the investigation leads to two suspects who were there when Calvess was killed, casting doubt on what really happened that day.

Musical chairs turns real.
Narc features suitably seedy Detroit locations and sequences which convincingly reflect the dangers of the job. If nothing else, the film doesn't make being a cop look all that appealing. As such, some scenes carry considerable tension, especially during the final act. However, there isn’t actually all that much action, nor are there many surprises. We’ve seen the whole “troubled cop” schtick before and Patric (always a decent-but-aloof actor) doesn’t quite have the chops to make Tellis very compelling, not helped by a screenplay that fails to expand the character much beyond his past mistakes.

Liotta, on the other hand, gives yet another super-charged performance as Oak. However, his well-earned reputation for playing morally questionable characters sort of undermines the entire narrative. From the minute he shows up on screen, we suspect not all's right with Oak, simply because he’s played by Liotta. Still, he’s the best part of the movie and watching him tear-it-up compensates for the familiar, unremarkable plot.

For its Blu-ray debut, Arrow Video has put together a two-disc set with a nice 4K remaster of the film. The second disc is loaded with new and vintage extras, but not made available for review. 


NOTE: Free Kittens Movie Guide was provided with a promo disc for review purposes. Physical supplemental material included with the final product (booklets, artwork, inserts, etc) were not available for review.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Joe Carnahan and editor John Gilroy.

INTRODUCTION - By director Joe Carnahan.

DISC TWO SUPPLEMENTS (not reviewed) - Shattering the Blue Line; Shooting Narc; If You Live Another Day; The Journey of the Costume; Making the Deal; The Visual Trip; The Friedkin Connection; Shooting Up; EPK Interviews; Image Gallery; Trailer.


May 17, 2024

DEATHDREAM (4K): An Upgrade in More Ways Than One

1974 / 88 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Everybody has to start somewhere. Take Bob Clark for instance. Like a lot of directors, he cut his teeth in the horror genre, his first effort being Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Muddy, meandering and a little amateurish, the movie nevertheless became a minor cult classic…largely because of the title, I suspect.

But Clark got better - real fast - with his next film, Deathdream. Once again collaborating with Dead Things partner-in-crime Alan Ormsby, Clark’s second horror film is a huge improvement in every way…it’s more atmospheric, has a better screenplay and is definitely darker in overall tone. Despite a low budget aesthetic that initially dampened my enthusiasm, it wasn’t too long before I was thinking, Hey, this is actually pretty good.

While not another grassroots classic on the level of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deathdream maintains a creepy vibe throughout its running time. Much of that is due to a quietly menacing performance by Richard Backus as Andy, a soldier killed in Vietnam who returns from the dead and comes home. Taking a cue from “The Monkey’s Paw” (an acknowledged influence), Andy’s not quite his old self. In fact, he starts to violently murder people and uses their blood to sustain himself. 

"It's normal for boys your age to get those urges. Just close the door next time."
Though Andy’s father, Charles (John Marley), begins to suspect all ain’t right with the boy - especially after he strangles the family dog - his mother, Christine (Lynn Carlin) turns a blind eye and grows increasingly unhinged while protecting him. It’s also suggested that she was the catalyst for Andy’s resurrection in the first place. Meanwhile, Andy becomes progressively (regressively?) monstrous, slowly resembling the walking corpse he’s been since returning home, aided by pretty impressive make-up effects considering the budget.

In addition to sure-handed direction by Clark, Deathdream benefits from good performances by most of the cast (excepting a few distractingly bad supporting actors). Morley and Carlin are especially good as Andy’s parents. Their characters are not entirely sympathetic, but at least they earn our empathy. In addition to an engaging story, Ormsby uses the basic premise as an opportunity to inject a little social commentary on the Vietnam War.

Deathdream may not be a cult classic, but it’s arguably the best of Bob Clark’s early-career horror films. He would go on to bigger things, of course, but here is where his work started to get interesting. This 4K UHD from Blue Underground offers a considerable video upgrade from their previous Blu-ray release, along with a big batch of new and vintage bonus features (mostly the latter).   



FEATURETTES - Notes for a Homecoming is a 20 minute interview with composer Carl Zitter; A Recollection with Star Anya Liffey and Writer/Make-Up Artist Alan Ormsby features the former couple looking back at making the film, as well as their careers leading up to it (arguably the best of the bonus features); Flying Down to Brooksville is an interview with production manager John ‘Bud’ Carlos; Tom Savini: The Early Years is a short interview with the make-up legend, who discusses how he started (Deathdream was the first film he worked on); Deathdreaming is an interview with Richard Backus; The First Andy is an interview with actor Gary Swanson, who obviously didn't get the job..

3 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By critics Troy Howarth & Nathaniel Thompson; 2) By director Bob Clark; 3) by writer Alan Ormsby.

SCREEN TEST - Actor Gary Swanson, auditioning for the role of Andy. 

GALLERY - A big collection of promotional material, artwork, notes, photos, etc. 




The Best of PARAMOUNT PRESENTS (so far)

From the Frisky Staff of FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE😻

Beginning in 2020, Paramount Pictures began releasing selected titles on Blu-ray (and later 4K) as the Paramount Presents series. Consisting of films from the silent to the modern era, not only are they nicely restored, each comes with impressive slipcover packaging that features a replica of the film’s original one-sheet, as well as assorted new and vintage bonus features. Many classic titles have made their Blu-ray debuts as part of the series. 

As of this writing, Paramount Presents consists of 44 titles with more on the way this year…including Chinatown on 4K! Yay! Since Free Kittens Movie Guide has had the pleasure to review many of them, we've selected the 10 which make us purr the loudest (so far). 

10) ROMAN HOLIDAY (#9) - It goes without saying that Roman Holiday is a must-own for classic movie lovers and Paramount does right by the film with this Blu-ray (it has since been re-issued in 4K). In addition to the great transfer, there’s also a bigger batch of bonus features than any previous PP release at the time. Most are fairly short and not all of them are directly related to the film, but they’re enjoyable, especially the feature about screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, which succinctly summarizes what McCarthyism did to so many careers. 

9) LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (#18) - Lauren Bacall once famously said, “It’s not an old movie if you haven’t seen it.” Though John Sturges has directed many classic westerns, 1959’s Last Train from Gun Hill is an overlooked, underappreciated gem...and brand new to me. With a plot similar to 3:10 to Yuma, Last Train from Gun Hill is exciting, fast-paced and culminates in a tension-filled climax…a terrific film made available on Blu-ray for the first time. There isn't much bonus material, but the film is beautifully restored and well worth rediscovering. 

8) 48 HRS (#19) - Not the first so-called “buddy” action-comedy, but it’s definitely the most influential. Of course, Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) and Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) aren’t quite buddies, but the quasi-antagonistic relationship between the two became a working blueprint for a slew of other films which dished-out equal amounts of wisecracks and gunplay. This one’s a little light on bonus features, but the film’s a modern classic and one of Murphy’s best (Nolte’s too, for that matter).

7) BREAKDOWN (#26) - One Kurt Russell film that’s often criminally overlooked - featuring one of his best performances - is 1997’s Breakdown. It was a critical & box office success, but sort-of forgotten over the years and never released on Blu-ray until surprisingly included for the PP series. While its cultural impact pales in comparison to some of Paramount’s bonafide blockbusters from the ‘90s, Breakdown is one of the better action-thrillers of the decade and certainly worth rediscovering.

6) THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE 4K (#31) - Including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in the PP series is a no-brainer. Not only a big hit, it’s arguably the last great film directed by the legendary John Ford and pairs two Hollywood legends for the first time. This release is also noteworthy for being the first PP 4K UHD offering (along with a Blu-ray version). This 2-disc set also includes extensive bonus features, as well as outstanding packaging.

5) A PLACE IN THE SUN (#22) - Having never seen it until it was released on Blu-ray for the first time, this one was a pleasant surprise. Despite a misleading ad campaign, the second half of A Place in the Sun has more narrative and aesthetic similarities to film noir than a love story of the ages, an entertainingly dark film about an irredeemable character. As one of the studio’s most critically lauded films of the ‘50s,it’s been given a great video/audio facelift and supplemented by interesting archival bonus features.

Pepper & Mr. Bonnie's Paws of Approval.
4) AIRPLANE! (#7) - Like an issue of MAD Magazine come-to-life, the non-stop parade of quotable dialogue, parody and gags-within-gags makes Airplane! infinitely re-watchable. We've been seeing its influence in countless parodies ever since, some good, some not-so-good and most downright shitty. 40 years later, Airplane! flies-high over all of them. Newly remastered, this disc also boasts great new bonus features. The Q&A session, in particular, will be of special interest to fans, where the ZAZ team offers all kinds of amusing anecdotes about the making of the film.

3) THE COURT JESTER (#13) - I was never much of a Danny Kaye fan, but must also confess I’ve only seen a small handful of his movies. However, The Court Jester turned out to be terrific fun. The story is a massive comedy of errors filled with plot twists, misunderstandings, clever wordplay, elaborate slapstick and the funniest sword fight this side of The Princess Bride. Kaye is the undisputed star and the fun he appears to be having is infectious. Though light on bonus features, the film is beautifully restored in all its VistaVision glory.

2) THE WAR OF THE WORLDS 4K/WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (#35) - This 2-disc set of The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide includes the one-sheet that was created to promote their re-release as a double feature back in the ‘70s. The 4K UHD transfer of War is a knockout and the Blu-ray debut of When is too tempting for any classic sci-fi fan to pass up. It’s almost as if Paramount had my childhood in-mind. Whether you grew up in the ‘50s or belatedly discovered them in the ‘70s, these films paired together are a nostalgic blast and the perfect double feature.

1) ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST 4K (#44) - Sergio Leone does with the western genre what only a few others have...raise it to a level of high art. He pays homage to virtually every western that ever mattered while consistently confounding the viewer's expectations. Another long-overdue 4K release (with an accompanying Blu-ray), the picture quality is quite good, while the DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds excellent. This one includes a new audio commentary, a brief appreciation by critic Leonard Maltin and slew of vintage bonus features.