Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Spike Lee's Jungle Fever (1991) Kino Studio Classics Blu Ray Review

Jungle Fever (1991) Kino Lorber Feb 4th 2020

Directed By: Spike Lee

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Spike Lee, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, Samuel L Jackson

     The early '90's was an incredibly exciting time for cinema. The first five years of the decade we were introduced to directs like Quinton Tarantino, Kevin Smith and others directors finally coming into their own. Spike Lee was far from a new director by the time Jungle Fever came out in 1991 but he was firmly establishing himself as a force within the industry. Flipper (Wesley Snipes) is a successful and hard working architect. He has a loving marriage and a daughter but his life gets turned upside down when he gets an attractive Italian American woman is hired as his secretary. 

     As I said in my Summer of Sam (1999) review Spike Lee is a director that has his loyal fans and his detractors. Which camp am I? Well I think I am somewhere in the middle. As someone who is white and grew up in a small town I freely admit this movie is not aimed at me, though I can see the power behind it.  Jungle Fever (1991) is a time capsule of a certain time and place in New York when race tensions were boiling over and very few movies of this ilk were being made, let alone by a major studio. Lee was and is a voice for African Americans and Fever, has a raw, real and sometimes uncomfortable power behind it. The writing and directing feels almost documentary-like which is something I think Spike does like no other. He has a incredible pension for casting actors that can really hold their own and Fever sports a cast with Oscar worthy performances from Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, John Turturro, Ruby Dee and of course Samuel L. Jackson who is simply at his best. Both Queen Latifah and future Oscar winner Halle Berry also make their film debut.

     So, onto the not so good. Because Lee's film are made in a very specific time and place they tend to feel incredibly dated to modern audiences. Another theme that never sat well with me in regards to Lee's films is the horrible way Italian Americans are portrayed. I mean, wow- they are next level monsters that only spew hate and violence. And while I adore Lee's grand scale and ambition with his films, it often means scenes tend to drag and go on way longer than it needs to be. Jungle Fever is clearly made by a talented director at his creative peak with a dream cast of excellent actors. For me the overly  long run-time and the dated aspects doesn't quite ruin an otherwise provocative and skillful made film but it doesn't do it any favors either. Lets say for me its a mixed bag.

Kino has really out done themselves with a near perfect film transfer. The colors are vivid and this new transfer show's off Ernest Dickson's often times in your face cinematography in all of its glory. This is clearly sourced from a very good print as there is no artifacts or sign of damage. I cannot stress just how good this film looks. It also sports a healthy 2.0 Mono mix and dialogue comes out clear as does the films score by Terrence Blanchard. No features are included on this release. Overall despite my mixed feelings about the film this is a great release and if you are a fan of his films this edition looks and sounds great.

Kino Spike Lee films released by Kino include  Summer of Sam, Clockers, Crooklyn and Mo Better Blues. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Dodsworth (1936) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

Dodsworth (1936) Warner Archives March 24th 2020

Directed By: William Wyler

Starring: Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Mary Astor, David Niven

     William Wyler had one three Oscars and directed classics like Ben-Hur (1959), Roman Holiday (1953) and The Best Years of his Life (1946) often considered his best. But if I were to list his classic films it would take up this entire review. Needless to say I am a huge fan of his work which spanned from the late '20's through the '60's. Warner Archives has released a stunning new HD release of Dodsworth (1936) a sorely over looked classic from the '30's. Based on the novel and stage play the film tells the story of Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) a successful auto-manufacturer who finally decides to retire and enjoy some rest and relaxation. His pampered wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton) talks him into a European trip, which she says will be good for him. Instead of using this trip to re-connect Fran uses their romantic getaway to flirt with other men. Sam is heartbroken when she decides to stay behind in Europe to have various flings and really live life. Her husband is desperate to keep the two from drifting apart despite this. Can they save their marriage? Even though the '20's may have been the building blocks of cinema I think the art of story telling really matured in the latter half of the '30's and Dodsworth is a prime example.

   I was pretty amazed that the film explores a topic that was not discussed very often, namely a woman not only coming to terms with her life, marriage and old age but also going through what we would call today a midlife crisis. I honestly was not expecting a film from this era to explore such topics and done with a great deal of depth and maturity. It must have also butted a few heads over at the newly enforced Production Code as it deals with taboo at the time subject matter and indeed Fran leaves her marriage and is somehow left unpunished unlike other films of its ilk. The idea of Fran ever having sex with any of her gentlemen 'friends' is never made overtly clearly however its easy to read the subtext for ourselves. The screenplay sings with great dialogue, sophistication and a level of pathos unmatched in a lot of films at the film. Sidney Howard probably best remembered for writing Gone with the Wind in 1939 (with a host of uncredited writers) and Dodsworth feels like a glimpse into his talent for this kind of material. The other stand out is the cinematographer Rudolph Mate known for his DP work on classics like Gilda (1946), The Passion of the Joan of Arch (1928) and Alfred Hithcock's Foreign Correspondents (1940).  Wyler and Rudolph sets up some absolutely wonderful set pieces dripping with beauty and passion. The solid screenplay and photography is anchored by some stand-out performances by Huston, Chatterton and the legendary Mary Astor (who at the time was going through a high profile divorce). Character actors David Niven and Maria Ouspenskaya probably best known for her role as Maleva in The Wolf Man (1941) also shine.  While the film works overall I think my one major complaint is how the character of Fran is written. Clearly she is the hateful shrew in this story but I had hoped that Wyler and screenwriter Sidney Howard could have made her more complex. This it seems is a big ask because even today screenwriters have a hard time fleshing out three-dimensional women characters of this sort. Overall this is a great film and one that you can easily get sucked into and instantly get transported in its settings, characters etc. If you are a fan of classic movies, this one is very much worth watching.

I often say how amazing Warner Archives films look. And its true, they really take the time to make their old films sparkle and pop on HD. Having said all that they still manage to out do themselves and Dodsworth is simply INCREDIBLE looking. Per the back cover:

Restored in 2019 by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Film Archive and The Film Foundation in association with Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Family Trust . Restoration funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation.    

Clearly a lot of hard work and resources have gone into this transfer and the gorgeous cinematography and it highlights Mate's moody work. Its safe to say this film has never looked better and probably never will or at least any time soon. Little details and the rich production value come into crystal clear. The sound is also great with a clear and healthy 2.0 Mono track. The features include the Lux Radio Theater production dated 4/12/1937.

For lovers of classic film and those wanting to devour more, this is a MUST own. Not only is the film a top notch example of a insanely talented director but so much as gone into making it look and sound as great as possible. This easily should make everyone's best classic release of 2020. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Hard Soap hard soap Vinegar Syndrome Blu Ray Review! John Holmes in HD

Hard Soap, Hard Soap (1977) Vinegar Syndrome Jan 28th 2020

Directed By: Bob Chinn

Starring: Laurien Dominique, Candida Royalle, John Holmes

      Director Bob Chinn blends '70's sitcom and soap opera troupes and adult hardcore in this weird hybrid Hard Soap, Hard Soap. Penny (Laurien Dominique) and her best friend are two typical housewives that are shall we say feeling not very fulfilled in the marriage bed? What starts as a chance encounter with a milk man leads Penny and her friend to help their fellow man by helping them with their sexual issues. And they just might solve their own as well.

    This movie is probably best remembered for co-starring the legendary John Holmes who was a porn superstar known for his big...well, member. He was also pretty infamous for being connected with the Wonderland murders. Sadly Holmes died at only 43 but his fame as the first household male porn star lives on. As stated above the film is a satire of cheesy '70's comedies and soap opera's at the time and the aim is for a more humorous tone. However its not taken over-the-top enough to 'drive' the point home. Amusing? Yes but probably for all the wrong reasons. Chinn would have been wise to really lean in on the farcical aspects of the plot. Maybe worst yet is for a light tone the film has some pretty mean spirited things going on- mainly a janitor that brutally rapes Penny but then, like in most "fantasies" of this sort, ends up enjoying it. Worst yet she feels guilty afterwards. It also feels like it goes out of their way to be homophobic which was, sadly, at this time still being treated with electrode shock therapy. The film's highlight is defiantly John Holmes who was still in his prime in this film. I did enjoy when Soap goes full out surreal, which is so out of place but at least kept things interesting enough.

I can see where Bob Chinn was trying to go with this film. But its light-tone is de-railed by rape, trans and homophobia and playing off mental illness for cheap laughs. Yes, its an adult film and nobody expects for exactly brilliant story telling but believe it or not there are some adult fare with decent even down right good story lines. This is not one of them.

The film is restored in 2k and per the opening title card Vinegar Syndrome utilized the best elements with the materials that could be located. I think the print looks great and with all artifacts and scratches removed. Colors pop and skin tones look natural. Sound wise the film sports a crisp clean 2.0 dts Mono track. Features wise the film sports a pretty interesting interview with director Bob Chinn that is worth a watch. The film also includes a bonus Standard HD film Disco Lady (1978) This makes for a great vaule if late '70's adult films are your thing.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Hawk Hudson (1991) Mill Creek Blu Ray Review

Hudson Hawk (1991) Mill Creek Entertainment Feb 11th 2020

Directed By: Michael Lehmann

Starring: Bruce Willis, Danny Aiello, Andie McDowell,Richard Grant, Frank Stallone, Sandra Bernhard

   Remember a time when Bruce Willis gave a shit about acting and could carry not only an entire movie but movie franchise on his good looks and charm alone. Dont get me wrong I think he's talented as well...when hes not playing well Bruce Willis.  Hawk Hudson was made when his star was hotter than ever. But does this hawk fly? Surprisingly the film opens with a narration by William Conrad (in his last feature film credit) that recounts Leonardo Da Vinci (Stefano Molinari) and a rare artifact. Meanwhile in present day cat burglar Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) is just released from prison and wants to go legit. This doesnt last long as he is brought back into the game when he is strong armed into stealing the Da Vinci possession for the CIA and the mob. The very fate of the world hangs in the balance in this whacky action flick.

     As mentioned above I was a bit taken back with the film starting with Da Vinci and a very humorous prologue. In one very funny scene a lady poses for Leonardo with messed up teeth, an obvious and clever sight gag to Mona Lisa. This sets up the tone which is carried throughout the film, which is very over-the-top almost to the level of cartoon like.Willis and director Lehmann seem to be having a lot of fun and the film almost feels like a satire Bruce Willis's earlier outings like Die Hard 1 and 2. Though panned by critics for it, I will say I didnt mind the films over-the-top tone and its pretty constant throughout. Having said that, some of the violence (though tame) is a bit jarring when its juxtaposed with this more lighthearted tone. Richard Grant and Sandra Bernhard give wildly silly performances that fit the films tone like a glove. Both actors chew every bit of scenery they find and while it does get cringe-worthy I feel like Grant and Bernhard somehow pull it off. I guess it also helps I adore both actors. Hawk is also filled with other great character actors include Danny Aiello, Frank Stallone, Andie McDowell and English legend Donald Burton playing a devilish bad guy.

     So while I thought this was a enjoyable enough film it does have its share of issues. First off the film hasnt aged well with some dated pop culture references and mild homophobia which is always cringe worthy. I also found the plot a bit disjointed and had some holes. And even though I didnt mind the more whacky tone, I can see others that might find it a bit much. Overall even with its flaws I had a lot of fun with this film and it kind of plays up the action troupes but leans in on the camp. The film has a decent enough story and a great cast which helps gloss over its ridiculousness. And it is very much bonkers. Lehmann has gone onto a successful career on the small screen directing everything from Dexter, True Blood, Scream Queen and American Horror Story but is best remembered for the cult '80s film Heathers (1989). This isnt nearly as dark as that film but it is just as surreal and humorous.

Mill Creek Entertainment has re-released this in their Retro film line. First off like the others in this series it is housed in a fun slip cover which looks like a VHS box. Hawk Hudson looks great and was sourced from a good looking transfer. Colors are crisp and clear and small details in the rich production design really pop. The sound is great also with a healthy 2.0 Mono sound track. Overall this was a fun but very crazy action comedy and has shades of Terry Gilliam. Worth picking up.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Little Romance (1979) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

A Little Romance (1979) Warner Archives Feb 11th 2020

Directed By: George Roy Hill

Starring: Laurence Olivier, Diane Lane, Thelonious Bernard, Arthur Hill, Broderick Crawford, Anna Massey

      Diane Lane was only fourteen years old when she made her screen debut in George Roy Hill's A Little Romance (1979). She has gone onto be nominated for an Oscar and has been working steadily for over four decades. Lauren (Diane Lane) is a spirited American teenager living in France while her mother shots a film. She meets a french film lover named Daniel (Thelonious Bernard) and the pair quickly fall in love and begin a whirlwind romance. The quirky Julius (Laurence Oliver) aids them in their journey. On paper this seems like the kind of movie I dont think I would gravitate towards. However I am happy I gave this a chance.
     Oscar winning director George Roy Hill brings his typical attention to detail, polish and charm to this film. Hill is known mostly for manly films like Slap-Shot (1977) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) however here he brings a touching humanity to this film. Romance is chocked full of charm and snappy wit which makes it incredibly engaging. The story is also anchored by some very relatable characters and situations. For example both teens come from less than stellar home lives and they find stability they crave from each other and Julius a kind of grandfather figure. Seeing how the film takes place in both France and Italy the cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn does an outstanding job photography the picturesque locals. I had my eyes all ready to roll as a lot of these films go over board with the sentiment but thankfully thats not the case. Hill despite all odds manages to reign things in and its not overly sappy but also reviles in its teen-romance while adding smart humor and of course amazing performances. Speaking of which Lane, Bernard and Oliver all shine in this film and the three all work well off of each other. I wasnt sure if I would like A Little Romance but I am a fan of George Roy Hill so I figured i`d take a chance. I am happy I did as the film is a light teen-romance adventure with an international flare and a great cast.

Warner Archives 2k restoration of this film looks great. The on location photography really looks stunning with this brand new print. Faces look natural and nothing looks over blown or washed out. Once again WA has given some love and care with this transfer. The sound is also great sporting a robust 2.0 Mono soundtrack. No features are included. Overall this is a fun movie and it looks and sounds great. Worth picking up!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Mind Games (1989) MVD Classic Rewind Blu Ray Review

Mind Games (1989) MVD Classic Rewind Feb 18th 2020

Directed By: Bob Yari

Starring: Maxwell Caulfield, Edward Albert, Shawn Weatherly, Matt Norero

    Mind Games (1989) is a video era movie that somehow escaped me, however thanks to MVD's Classic Rewind thats not longer the case. The film follows a married couple Dana (Edward Albert) and Rita (Shawn Weatherly) who are going through a rough patch in their marriage. Along with their son Kevin (Matt Norero) they decide to get away on a camping trip to reconnect. Kevin decides to do some exploring by himself and meets Eric (Maxwell Caulfield) a likable but odd young man. Eric starts to spend more and more time with the family but of course he soon starts to show disturbing behaviors which ends up deadly. Mind Games on paper sounds like an interesting psycho-thriller but sadly its a rather dull affair. I think the major issue is a sloppy screenplay.  This is the only feature film screen credit for Kenneth Dorward which previously only worked on some episodes of Chips and Emergency. Its not hard to see that Dorward is utterly out of his depths in terms of crafting a compelling psychological thriller.

     Kenneth has a hard time writing a well structured three act film that is paced correctly.  For example just when something interesting happens the film doesn't build off that but rather pulls back which means stopping the film dead in its tracks. It feels like things are needlessly drawn out to get to a feature length runtime. What we are left with is a film filled with boring subplots, sappy sentiment and clunky and cheesy dialogue. And while were on that subject its clear that Kenneth has a hard time writing women well. Rita comes off like an unlikable shrew and the dad comes off like a corny and bland. Director Bob Yari tires to inject the film with some atmosphere but there aside from a few creepy set pieces it all gets side tracked by needless filler which breaks any of the tension he tried to build. I frankly found myself bored for a lot of the film.

The acting is...really something. And while I rarely like to single someone out I feel like this warrants a mention-Shawn Weatherly is laughable bad in this. Her performance is wooden and is either way under played or way over in any given scene. Alberts is a little better but he also ends up feeling lifeless but does what he can with what he's given. The real standout is of course Maxwell Caulfield. Caulfield played the villain in another movie I recently reviewed The Boys Next Door and like BND he is creepy yet has good looks and charm and its very believable that total strangers would not only like him but invite him into their lives. Its a shame because Maxwell really feels wasted in this soap-opera level potboiler.

Early on Mind Game showed promise with some unnerving scenes especially those involving Eric and Kevin, alone together. It had a disturbing air of mystery and danger however screenwriter Kenneth and director Bob Yari are unable to sustain or build a good level and tension or engaging plot. We do get a nice, albeit late third act reveal behind Eric's true motivation but it comes too little too late and some hints or clues or build up might have given this reveal a bigger payoff. Its disappointing as this looked like an interesting movie and im a sucker for late '80's and '90's psycho-thrillers. This one is pretty forgettable aside from Maxwell's blistering performance. One word. Meh.

MVD Classic Rewind features a nice retro VHS cover and I have to give the design people a huge shout out because it looks great. The partly scratched off video store label was a nice touch. The picture quality is nice sports a nice new transfer in 1080p. Colors pop and skin tones are natural looking. The 2.0 Mono soundtrack is great and the music and dialogue cheesy as it may be comes in crystal clear in this release. Impressively this release has a feature length documentary on the making of the film as well as a nice profile of Bob Yari who went onto a very successful career producing movies. As always a nice foldout poster and reversiable cover art is included. This is another case of an amazing release for a so-so film.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Summer of Sam (1999) Kino Studio Classics Blu Ray Review

Summer of Sam (1999) Kino Studio Classics Feb 4th 2020

Directed By: Spike Lee

Starring: John Leguizamo, Adrian Brody, Mira Sorvino, Michael Risoli

    Rumor has it Spike Lee had originally intended his 1999 film Summer of Sam to be more focused on the killer with the film initially called Son of Sam. I find this unlikely as Lee's films often focus on communities and I cant help but think he always intended Summer to be as is. During the summer of 1977 the night air was full of disco dancing, Star Wars was still smashing box office records and a killer was stocking its prey armed with a .44. The film centers around a handful of characters during the Son of Sam's reign of terror and its impact on its neighborhood. As the July heat swelters so does the chaos and insanity within the town. Love him or hate him you cant deny that Spike Lee is a force within the film landscape. Its been a long time since I've seen Summer of Sam-honestly probably over ten years. Now with Kino Studio Classics re-releasing a brand new Blu Ray I was excited to re-visits it.
     This is largely considered one of Lee's most devious films which is really saying something. Summer has a lot of big ideas and is incredibly ambitious but I feel like it isn't as good as the sum of its parts. So lets discuss what works about this film. The entire cast is brilliant and while Brody and the rest shine I have to say its Leguizamo that truly steals the show. His charm, energy and natural acting chops brings to life what might seem like a terribly uninteresting character on paper. The cinematography is also very engaging and done in a nice raw almost documentary style. But as I said the film has great parts but overall is a mess. Spike Lee isn't one for short films and Summer feels over indulgent and bloated with a run time of nearly two and a half hours. Needless to say the film could have used a tighter pacing and a trim of maybe twenty minutes or more. But maybe what bothered me the most about this film is its so mean spirited. Summer of Sam has no issues with negative stereotypes in fact it feels like it reviles in it. The biggest target seems to be against the LGTBQ community. Not only does the film banter around homophobic slurs but features a character which is beyond flaming and not only is he mocked but worst yet burnt with a cigarette. Of course this is not important to the plot but an excuse to portray an ugly stereotype and violence against people of LGTBQ. I totally dont understand why filmmakers feel the need to do this, back then and sadly still today. You also cant help but find the segments with the Son of Sam (played by Michael Badalucco) reeks of lime green tinted pretentiousness. It really is cringe-worthy.

This is a shame because I love the idea behind this movie. Its wonderful smart to build this movie around the hot hazy summer of '77 and how the senseless murders can in fect an already broken community already on the brink of destruction.  There is no doubt that this film is well shot, well acted and edited and features a killer soundtrack. But all this great stuff feels like its undone by its overly drawn out run-time and at times spiteful attitude. The way it normalizes and seemingly promotes hate speech and violence I found incredibly off putting.

Kino Studio Classics has re-released this for its 21st anniversary.  The picture looks great and it looks to be sourced from the original film material. The film has a unique color palate and this upgraded release showcases that. As I said the soundtrack is great and the audio sports a nice 2.0 AND 5.1 track. The film features a vintage commentary with Spike Lee and John Leguizamo. It also features an interview with actor John Leguizamo. Rounding out the features is a trailers. Kino has rolled out a total of five Spike Lee movies: Jungle Fever, Summer of Sam, Clockers, Crooklyn and Mo Better Blues. 

It Started with a Kiss (1959) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

It Started with a Kiss (1959) Warner Archives Feb 25th 2020

Directed By: George Marshall

Starring: Debbie Reynolds, Glenn Ford, Eva Gabor, Harry Morgan, Fred Clark

       The world truly lost a icon of the Golden Age of Hollywood when Debbie Reynolds died in 2016. She left a legacy with her daughter Carrie Fisher and a wealth of classic films. Reynolds was also incredible instrumental in preserving film props and costumes, some of which was literally saved from the dumpster. Warner Archives has released a late '50's rom com to help shake away the winter blues. Maggie (Debbie Reynolds) is bent on landing a rich husband during a charity raffle content but she ends up snagging the handsome Sergeant Joe Fitzpatrick (Glenn Ford) instead. Their love affair was started by a passionate kiss and ended with them marrying each other shortly thereafter. When the couple have some bumps in their marriage Maggie thinks maybe the only thing they love about each other is-gulp- purely physical! To prove that they have more things in common than the old in-out they...well Maggie decides they should re frame from any bed time romps. Obviously this does not sit right with Joe. Who will win in this battle of the sexes.

    The film is a comedy that was surprisingly bold for its time in its some-what frank talk about the subject the production code (which was still sadly very powerful) hated most- SEX. Lets be honest when I say frank I mean as frank as a movie could be for the time. It certainly explores the subject of the marriage bed way more than another film of its ilk Pillow Talk released the same year. The film also has a great deal of charm in a kitsch kind of way. Its clearly not a deep film nor does it try to be. Its a light fluffy comedy but make no mistake the film has a sharp wit and a clearly polished screenplay. In fact the writer Charles Lederer wrote such classic screenplays as His Girl Friday (1940) and Kiss of Death (1947) among others. While this is not nearly as good as the aforementioned it still shines and a good story and fun dialogue. Director George Marshall's job is made easy with the sparkling performance by Debbie Reynolds. Her smile lights up the screen and she has such an ease and grace in front of the camera. Equally good is Ford who balances tough guy, charm and humor. As always Ford makes his talents look incredible easy. Him and Reynolds have a nice on screen chemistry which is believable and they play off each other very well. As likable and well acted the film is I feel like its a bit predictable and on the dated side. I also couldn't help but feel it too be a bit tedious in places and considering the film is nearly two hours long it felt like it could have used a trim. Sure its got a solid screenplay and you couldn't find two better leads but its not what i`d call a timeless classic.

Ultimately It Started with a Kiss is an incredibly likable farce. Sure its not nearly the best film of the decade but its a fluffy light Hollywood fair, it doesn't try and challenge its audience and thats alright. Sometimes its nice to shut the old head off and watch something silly and admittedly dated. Ford and Reynolds are dynamite together and I found this a great watch overall.Warner Archives has provided a nice brand new transfer for this film and it looks great. Considering the film is now over fifty-years old it looks great. Colors are bright and not washed out. Film scratches and artifacts have been removed and I would wager the film has never looked so good. As always WA does a stunning job at bringing new life into their classic films. The sound is also great with a nice clean 2.0 mono track that shows off the legendary Jeff Alexander's music (Twilight Zone, Singing in the Rain) No features on this release.

If you are in the mood for a light funny and extremely well acted film It Started with a Kiss (1959) is a good choice. Once again Warner has provided for fans a nice looking film- classic film fans should add this to their collection!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Xtro 3 (1995) Vinegar Syndrome Blu Ray Review

Xtro 3 (1995) aka Xtro 3: Watch the Skies Vinegar Syndrome Feb 25th 2020

Directed By: Harry Bromley Davenport

Starring: Andrew Divoff, Virgil Frye, Douglas Cavanaugh, Daryl Haney

        The original Xtro (1982) and its sequel are currently not available on Blu Ray in the US (though a Region Free version exists of part 1) but thanks to the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome we have the third film in a stunning new 2k transfer. A motley crew of soldiers have been sent out on a remote island with a mission to disarm old but active explosives. But of course they find something far more deadly awaiting them. As the soldiers get picked off by an unknown entity its clear that a sinister cover up that goes all the way to the top. Xtro 3 wastes zero time in setting up its goofy tone with a humorous mock- news reel from the '50's. This is a perfect opening because right from jump its clear that the filmmakers are doubling down on the b-movie aspects. And that is incredibly smart because sci-fi/horror was popular in the '50s and this has very much feels like a modern take on those b-grade films. The crappy dialogue, bad effects, rubber-like alien and disjointed plot all plague the film but if you see it as a throw back film it makes it more fun.   

     Xtro wants to have its glip-glorbs and intro-absorb it too, meaning it has a tonal problem. Its campy and has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek it does feel like it tries for something earnest as well. The gore while a nice addition also seems to fly in the face of its b-movie DNA. Sure, I think its possible to have all these things in one coherent film but, but like marrying horror and comedy, its a tricky undertaking. And the writing isnt nearly polished enough to balance both the serious and in-joke humor and '50's b-movie homage and the splatter. A great example of this is Brain-Damage AKA Dead-Alive (1992) which perfectly melds b-movie, comedy and over-the-top gore. In Xtro those elements feel tacked on rather than organic to the plot

I found myself forgiving a lot though because Xtro 3 reminded me a lot of those really bad but kinda fun Sci-Fi Channel movies (later re-named SyFy) they would play on the weekends. I suspect others grew up with these kinds of movies as well and thus the film feels nostalgic. Those who do not like these kinds of bad early-mid-'90's sci-fi outings will no doubt find this a big gloopy mess of a movie. And really it is, the story is not really original, in fact plays out like a splice of better sci-fi plots strung together. Again I didnt mind this because I was rolling with the camp b-movie quality but I know thats not for everyone. Xtro 3 is entertaining despite it being so inept in a lot of ways. My chief issue was, they should have taken the tongue-in-cheek further and went full parody much like Mosquito (1994) a movie released just a year earlier. Wisely the director was on its own joke and I think thats what really saves this film overall.

    Vinegar Syndrome is a wild card when it comes to what they will release. Its what makes them such an interesting and exciting video label. Lately they have been focused on neglected '90's films and I am very happy about that. Xtro 3 looks great in a nice brand new 2k transfer. The image looks well balanced with colors that pop and details that look sharp. This also means the alien looks rubbery at times but again its a b-movie so just roll with it. Its great sound wise as well sporting a crisp and clean 2.0 mono track. The film has a lot of sound effects and the balance in the audio is spot on. As always we get some fun extras. This includes a interview with the director Harry Bromley Davenport and writer and actor Daryl Haney. Both a very entertaining and sheds some light on this film. Rounding out the features is a Trailer.

It seems odd that Xtro 3 would get a stand alone disc and not part of a trilogy boxset but I suspect that has something to do with either rights issues or negative issues, because I have no doubt VS would have rather done this as part of a set. In any case i'm very happy we got this release and I hope they get parts 1 and 1 in the future. If you like '90's b-sci-fi schlock-they run dont walk and pick this title up. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Hollywood Horror House (1970) Vinegar Syndrome Blu Ray Review

Hollywood Horror House (1970) Vinegar Syndrome Feb 25th 2020

Directed By: Donald Wolfe

Starring: Miriam Hopkins, David Garfield, Florence Lake

    Miriam Hopkins had an incredible career which started in the late'20's just as talkies were coming in. She was nominated for an Oscar and starred in such iconic films as The Heiress (1949) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931) often cited as the mile stone in Pre-Code Horror. Ms. Hopkins would return to her horror roots for her last film Hollywood Horror House. Hopkins is apart of a great tradition in horror called  Hagsploitation in which an aging Hollywood actress (sometimes actor) would re-invent their latter career doing horror or cheesy exploitation. An aging silent film actress named Katherine (Miriam Hopkins) lives in a decaying mansion with a few servants. When she is hurt she gets a younger man as a caregiver which sets off a deadly chain of events. I had never even heard of Hollywood Horror House and its one of those weird nasty little films I am so grateful for. But of course it has a fair share of issues.

   First lets talk about what I love about this film. Right off the bat I am a huge fan of classic films especially from the Golden Age of Hollywood so this movie seems tailored for me. I was already a big fan of Ms. Hopkins older films and seeing her play a crazy aging actress is a great fun. Some people think that this genre of horror was degrading to older actress's and low budget producers were merely taking advantage of their status. But i`d argue that Hollywood had used them up and these films were a way for them to not only make money but keep doing what they loved-acting. Hopkins is great in this film and seems to reveal in her role in Horror House. Clearly she is in on the campy joke. Which brings me to what else I enjoy about this movie, Wolfe clearly knows this is B-grade crap and he plays that up wonderfully. The mix of '70's psych-out trip and proto-slasher makes the film far more interesting than it deserves to be. I also thought its extreme low budget helped give the feel a wonderful broken down and gritty feel. Speaking of I thought the production values benefited greatly from its practical interiors which helps give it a touch of polish. But thankfully not too much. With that being said I also found the film to be a bit of a bore at times with some lull between the interesting scenes. Maybe the film could have done with a few scenes trimmed down for pacing sake. The story could have also been better with some holes in logic and some through lines that would have been worth exploring. I actually would have loved it if Hopkins played 'herself' adding a nice bit of meta humor to the mix. This meta self aware joke is sorely missing in this film which is wasted here. Overall I really liked this movie, despite some story and pacing issues its a film that doesn't take it self seriously and acts like a wild Sunset Blvd remake with a health dose of drugs and horrific murders on a ultra low budget.

Vinegar Syndrome is such an interesting label with what he releases and Hollywood Horror House is a further rare gem in their catalog. Standards are high with VS as they have been doing wonderful new 2k or in this case a 4k transfer. The film has a cool color palate and the new print really makes everything pop. The sound track is also great with a nice crisp clean 2.0 Mono. The extras include a wildly entertaining commentary track with industry legends David Del Valle and David DeCoteau. Both have a great chemistry together it makes for a joyous listen! Seriously this is great stuff. The extras also include a photo gallery.

Friday, February 7, 2020

No Mercy (1986) Mill Creek Entertainment Blu Ray Review

No Mercy (1986) Mill Creek Entertainment Feb 11th 2020

Directed By: Richard Pearce

Starring: Richard Gere, Kim Basinger, George Dzundza, Bruce McGill, Gary Basaraba

          Richard Gere and Kim Basinger were two young hot stars on the rise in the '80's. Gere prior to this just came off hits like An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and The Cotton Club (1984) both putting him firmly on the Hollywood map. Basinger at this point was riding high off her role in Never Say Never Again (1983) and The Natural (1984) and like Gere, her star would only get bigger throughout the '80's and '90's. In 1986's No Mercy both these mega-stars collided.

The film follows a cop named Eddie (Richard Gere) whose after revenge after his partner is killed. He soon becomes embroiled in a deadly game of cat and mouse as he seeks out the truth as to who killed him. Along the way he meets Michel (Kim Basinger) the girlfriend of the lead criminal.

     No Mercy starts off with a fairly brisk pace high energy and Gere oozes that charm that helped make him a Hollywood mainstay. So, before I get into what is wrong with this film i`ll mention a few things I liked. The film is surprisingly well shot with some very visually interesting moments especially in the early portions of the film. And speaking of, that first action sequence in the cow pen (it sounds weird but just go with it) is tense, well photographed and engaging as hell. Its that kind of pacing and excitement I was hoping the film could maintain but sadly it does not. The filmmakers seem to have pardon the crude expression shot-their-wade in act when and the rest of the film falls short.

 The dialogue is as corny as you`d expect and while the dated '80's back drops helps add to the charm to the film its also woefully outdated in its attitude towards women and the film has heaps of sexism. But dont worry there is overt homophobia thrown in for good measure. Credit where its due the action scenes are for the most part well done but this is sadly over shadowed by a wildly disjointed and frankly Meh plot. Mercy is filled with stock bad guys, a stock revenge motive and a generic love story thrown in for a general audience. A better title for this movie should have been 'Sexy Sweaty Couple: The Movie" because it feels like the very thin plot was built around the rising star power of its two leads. Indeed both actors do a fine job with what they have to work with but every thing is so by-the-numbers and shallow that it feels like a slog to get through. I had never actually heard of this movie until this release and now I understand why- outside of its two lead stars this is an altogether forgettable film. I wish it was so bad its good but its so bland it doesnt even do that correctly.

Mill Creek Entertainment in is Retro VHS series has done a nice job with its re-release of the film. The packaging is a fun throw back to the rental days of old and I love that they are doing this with their '80's and '90's releases. Picture wise is good but at times feels unstable-this is only super noticeable doing the club scene at the start of the film. Overall though its a nice clear print with skin tones that look natural and thankfully you dont get a washed out or over blown brightness. The audio is good as well with a crisp and clear 2.0 track. As with other MCE releases this is bare bones but you also will pay a lot less. While extras are always nice sometimes you dont want to pay more for them. I wasnt a big fan of this movie but if you are this is a nice affordable release.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

When a Stranger Calls (1979) Mill Creek Blu Ray Review

When a Stranger Calls (1979) Mill Creek Entertainment Feb 11th 2020

Directed By:

Starring: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Colleen Dewhurst, Rutanya Alda

        When a Stranger Calls exists in a post Black Christmas (1974) post Halloween (1978) era but came out just before the slasher genre exploded a year later with Friday the 13th (1980). I wouldn't call this film a body-count horror outing but certainly shares the same DNA. Interestingly the film is based on a urban legend which is loosely based on a real life baby sitter that was murdered. The story is very short so of course the film expands on it -for better or worse. Jill (Carol Kane) is babysitting one night when she starts to get phone calls telling her to check on the children. At first she dismisses this as a weird but ultimately harmless prank but of course its far worse. The twenty odd minutes of Stranger Calls is a master class in incredibly tense minimalist terror. Kane with her big doe eyes creeping around the empty dark house as a flood of menacing calls truly sells the terror. And as jaded as I have become over the years, damned if I still dont get icy chills down my spine during the films pulse pounding first act.

And while this is a great way to open a film it also hurts it in a way as the second struggles to come close to it. When ensues is a tepid cat and mouse game between Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) and the detective played by Charles Durning. I was amused by some of the films more over-the-top moments like Durning Hulk smashing two double doors which had me doubled over in laughter the first time I saw it. Its these campy moments and the great cast which helps this movie from becoming a total slog. As I mentioned earlier Kane gives a great almost silent star performance and her big eyes and unconventional looks seems to be right on point with tension filled scenes. Charles Durning plays the male lead and, what can I say hes Charles Durning he's enjoyable to watch even if it is hamming it up. The supporting actors are great as well with as Colleen Dewhurst and Tony Beckley who seems to be having a lot of fun playing the films English boogeyman. Cult actor Rutanya Alda has a small appearance as well.

A friend described this film as a a meh sandwich in between the best tasting bread. And the more I thought about it the more that is the perfect way of describing the film. The opening is so influential and its clear that Craven was inspired by it for the opening of Scream (1996). After that despite shades of tension and some enjoyable camp moments the second act feels like a bit of a let down. Then the final act once again has a nice pace and energy when Kane's character comes back into the picture. I wish the second act could have been more interesting and touched upon John (Charles Durning) and his obsession with the killer Curt in more depth. I honestly think had the opening not been as memorable and it didnt have that iconic performance by Carol Kane this movie wouldn't be the 'cult classic' it is today. I dont think this is a bad film but its just kind of meh in its second act which hurts the overall film. 

Mill Creek Entertainment has-re-released When a Stranger Calls in its VHS style Blu Ray. The packaging is a lot of fun and the MC team clearly are fans of the rental days. The print itself is actually really good and features bold colors, natural skin tones and night scenes benefit greatly from this HD print. The sound is also great with a nice 2.0 mono track. Sadly the Blu Ray doesnt have any extras but this also means that you pay a lot less and the film retails for under ten dollars. And thats the thing about MC, if you just want the movie and minus the frills the label offers movies that are affordable and often times the prints are quality. Its also worth noting this is the only North American release of the film on Blu Ray currently. A Limited Edition UK edition was released last year with some nice extras but you`ll need a region free player and at least 50-60 bucks. So if you want an affordable way to see this in HD this Mill Creek release is what you`ll want to pick up.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Camp Classic The Oscar (1966) Kino Studio Classics Blu Ray Review

The Oscar (1966)

Directed By: Russell Rouse

Starring: Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer, Jill St John, Joseph Cotton, Earnest Borgnine, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Edith Head

     Film fan's know that February is the month when Hollywood's elite gets together to celebrate itself and you know also the achievements in films, known as the Academy Awards also known as The Oscars. Kino has cleverly released a brand new transfer of the cult classic The Oscar just in time for the 92nd Awards airing Feb 9th. The film follows a hot young actor named Frank Fane (Stephen Boyd) who also happens to be a hot head off the clock as well. His personal baggage and massive ego blow up when he is nominated for an Oscar for best actor. But will this new found success make the newly minted star implode before he even gets going?

     If you are a fan of over-the-top Tennessee Williams like drama set in the world of Hollywood, you`ll love the campy delights of The Oscar. The film was made at a very weird time in the industry that was still 'reeling'
from the break up of the Hollywood studio system in the late '40's and the advent of television in the 50's and the budding hippie/counter culture of the 60's. Needless to say the film business was ever changing yet the old guard would hang on and kept making big epics that felt out of touch to a younger audience. Two years after this film Easy Rider (1969) would roar into theaters and change cinema forever. And this is whats interesting about The Oscar which feels like a strange throwback to older era  big budget drama's melded with a counter establishment edge. This film is  is obviously made with Hollywood firmly behind it and as per the title credit, special permission was granted to use the famous gold statuette so I wasnt expecting a film that took a harsh or even deep introspective look into the industry like The Big Knife or Sunset Blvd and while yes its true it doesn't I was surprised that Rouse still manages to strip away some of the glitzy vainer.

Frank is such a vile character that is made even more wicked when his ego is not only fed but stroked by an ever hungry Hollywood machine. He often laments that he's treated like meat and his meat metaphor and how actors are often treated as such is rather subversive for a studio film. Though dont get it twisted-this film doesn't stray far outside of the box when it comes to drama and all the characters are either good guys or bad guys with no middle ground. This would come later in the '70s with anti-heroes like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976) or the likable but still deadly Corleone family in The Godfather (1972). Oscar doesn't challenge its audience very much, Frank is clearly a bastard with no redeeming qualities and people like Kappy (Milton Berle) his agent and Kay (Elke Sommars) his wife are the good characters that take the brunt of Frank's wrath. The film tries to justify some of Franks shitty behavior but its all very shallow in its attempt.

At two hours the film feels needlessly bloated and the dialogue is pretty laughable for the most part. Thankfully the film manages to be of the so-bad-its-enjoyable variety. Screaming mad melodrama that goes way overboard cheesy and cliched and weirdly engrossing with some great meta commentary and fun cameos this movie has it all!  The Oscar is a one of a kind film that deserves a bigger cult following. Sure it doesn't re-invent the wheel but its damned fun anyways.

     Kino Studio Classics has really out done themselves with this Blu Ray release. The picture is a stunning 4k restoration. The colors really pop and the lush big budget production value and great set designs can fully be appreciated. Skin tones look natural and any noise or artifacts have been removed.  The film temperatures do vary but its not enough to ruin the experience. I have never seen before but its safe to say this movie has never looked better. The audio is great as well with a crisp an clean 2.0 mono track. Kino has provided not one but two expert commentary tracks. The first includes actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, Josh Olson and Erik Nelson. This track is gold with all three providing a funny and wildly interesting look into this film and why its such a guilty pleasure. The second and equally entertaining track is provided by Film historians Howard S Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson. Rounding out the features is a series of trailers for other Kino titles.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Deadly Manor (1990) Arrow Video Review

Deadly Manor (1990) Arrow Video Feb 18th 2020

Directed By: Jose Larraz

Starring: Jerry Kernion, Kathleen Patane, Mark Irish, William Russell, Greg Rhode, Claudia Franjul

Arrow has been crushing it with re-releasing the films of Spanish horror director Jose Larraz. Last year they released three films of his in a box set and this year they have already released two more films. Deadly Manor is the second to be released this year. The film starts out with a group of care free teens on a camping trip. After they get a flat they decide to find shelter at a creepy mansion and I think you can guess what happens from there. Or do you?

       Deadly Manor starts out as a road map of horror movie cliches. Young attractive teens? Check. Attractive teens have road trouble? Check. Teens find spooky mansion and decide to stay Check and double check. Jose despite all the cliches and troupes attempts at something interesting but much like Edge of the Axe feels bogged down. This brings me to the what I feel nearly sinks the film, which is its pacing. Larraz really takes his time and weirdly lets scenes not vital to the plot drag on way longer than they should. This is frustrating as Manor really does set up an interesting mystery while also dipping its audience into a nice Gothic-Noir world. The "twist" ending sadly doesn't feel earned as we get no real clues or hints giving it zero impact. This actually feels a lot like an overly long episode of Tales from The Crypt minus the polished writing. The acting is also pretty questionable. As far as gore goes the film is alright. Again none of the death scenes are that stand out and i`d even say Axe was better in that department. What I adore about this film is its style which really has shades of Bava and Argento, with its use to lighting cues and nicely placed camera angles. I guess it seems i'm being harsh on this and the previous film I reviewed Edge of the Axe but both films feel like they dont quite hold up to Larraz's earlier more interesting works. I will say that Manor is the better of the two films and seems to stay truer to the directors roots within the horror genre. Its just hard to get around the pacing which is pretty daunting at times. It de-rails what might have been a pretty interesting subversion of the teen-slasher sub genre.

     Arrow has provided another stellar release after languishing in video obscurity for over two decades. Visually the film looks great in a pristine 2k 1080p presentation. Face tones look natural and colors and Larraz's very interesting style is highlighted by this new transfer. Viewing a an old VHS you can barely see whats going on in night time scenes however this is certainly not the case with this brand new release. Audio wise is also great with a nice crisp clear 2.0 DTS Uncompressed Mono track.

 As always Arrow provides fun new extra's which includes: A vintage interview with director Jose Larraz giving us some nice insight into the film. This is really great seeing how interviews with this director are rather rare. And speaking of interviews we get two newly commissioned interviews. The first with actress Jennifer Delora and the other with producer Brian-Smedley-Aston. Both interviews are fun and interesting and gives you some great context behind the making of this early '90's horror outing. I am very happy we got a colorful and very informative commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan. Both have done other commentaries and not only do they really know their subject but its so entertaining to listen to. Rounding out the features is a enjoyable vintage trailer under the re-released title Savage Lust and an image gallery.  Its also worth noting the amazing new artwork done by Adam Rabalais and the booklet with an essay by author John Martin included with the first pressing.