Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Paramount Pictures Love and Monsters (2020) UHD Review

Love and Monsters (2020) Paramount Pictures 1/5/2021

Directed By: Michael Matthew 

Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Dan Ewing, Ellen Hollman 

Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 


Minor Plot spoilers ahead

    Big monster/insect movies are a genre that, sadly never gets much love. This is why I was pretty excited hearing the 'buzz' around 2020's Love and Monsters. Joel (Dylan O'Brien)  is a nerdy guy that is living in a world where giant bugs have taken over the planet. He is living with a group of other survivors but, after their home is breached he decides to go out on his own to find his girlfriend. Aimee (Jessica Henwick). Love and Monsters is maybe the perfect example of style over substance. Michael Matthew is no doubt insanely talented when it comes to building a incredible dense well designed world. Thanks to a top notch visual crew we get this neon-hued Alice in Wonderland world that perfectly marries CGI and practical effects. Mix this with the breathtaking photography of Lachlan Milne (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Stranger Things) and you really have something awe-inspiring and special. Sadly though, as great as the film looks, it has a lot of rough edges when it comes to it's screenplay. Without even looking I could tell this script was written by two people. The more polished plotting and humor bucks up against some of the sloppier and more ham-handed and rough elements. What we are left with is a heartwarming and visually amazing film that ultimately could have used more attention to its narrative. For example, there is a last minute villain that is introduced with less than 15 minutes left in the runtime. This new problem is never given any build-up but just dumped on our lap and of course quickly resolved. Core themes are also awkwardly broadcasted instead of the filmmakers trusting the audience to make those connections. It felt like the screenwriters were talking down to its viewers. Working comedy into a bleak/end-of-the-world survival flick is a really trick thing to do tone wise. And, for the most part I think this movie balances these two elements. I did enjoy that the filmmakers inject some fun subversive spins on the genre. This helped gloss over some of the films weaker plotting. 

    Had this been a movie made 10 or 15 years ago, Michael Cera would have fit the mold of Joel to a T. Dylan brings that same dorky, endearing weakling that finds himself stepping up when things get tough. I actually like O'Brien in the lead role and he's got that charm and likability. Michael Rooker has a short but fun role and, what else can I say, Rooker is always fantastic. The real breakout star is thirteen year old Ariana Greenblatt as fellow survivor Minnow. She really has a lot of talent and star presents that is rare to see in someone that young. 


   This currently sits at a whooping 92% freshness on RT and, yet I walked away seeing a movie that was brilliantly directed, endlessly breathtaking in its visual style but had a very uneven screenplay. Because, if you strip the film of it's effects and whimsy you have a pretty by-the-number plot. As not to leave this on a sour note I will say that I love that a creative movie like Love and Monsters can get a 30 million dollar budget and, frankly it looks better than any 100 million dollar Marvel movie. This is because a lot of heart and talent went into this movie. I can see this finding a very loyal cult following. 

Picture: As I said in my review this movie is just utterly incredible in terms of its visuals. And, this UHD really showcases this in all it's glory. Outdoor scenes are lush and amazing looking and creature and CGI blends really well. The film retains a lot of great detail in clothing textures, landscapes with color that is well balanced and maintained throughout. 

Sound:  Love and Monsters has DTS 7.1 HD Master audio. Wow, this is a really full robust sound experience. Like the visuals the movie has great work in sound design, and film score. This is a fitting track to go along with some top notch visuals. 

Disc 2: HD Feature Film/Extras: 

Deleted Scenes, Bottom of the Food Chain: The cast of Love and Monsters

It's A Monster's World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape  


Monday, December 28, 2020

Coming to America (1988) Paramount Pictures UHD Review

Coming to America (1988) Paramount Pictures 12/1/2020

Directed By: John Landis 

Starring: Eddie Murphy, James Earl Jones, Arsenio Hall, John Amos, Maggie Sinclair 

Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 


    Just in time for the sequel Coming 2 America (2021), Paramount has re-released the original cult classic on UHD. A spoiled Prince named Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is supposed to marry his Queen. Only problem is he has grown bored with his pampered life. He sets off for New York City to find a woman for himself.  Coming to America has a huge cult following as a comedy classic of the decade. 

   The great irony is that, despite having a notoriously rocky relationship, Landis and Murphy really were a good fit. Moving my personal feelings on Landis aside, I will say that the man really did know how to construct biting, witty satire in his prime. And, this really works for Murphy's larger than life persona. Both this film and, Trading Places (1983) are savage critiques of class climbing and commercial excess that the '80's was known for. However, unlike Trading Places,  Coming to America does so without being overtly negative in it's world view and, this time around Murphy plays a more sympathetic role.  Akeem is such an endearing character that you cannot help but root for him and, this is where the film finds its emotional center. I mentioned that this movie was a pretty razor sharp comment on class systems and social climbing which was instilled into the ideal '80's lifestyle. Landis openly mocks this but also doesn't go as far as to outright damn it either. This having it's cake and eating it too is a minor complaint but one that never gets in the way of enjoying the films antics. Coming to America also smartly plays up this boarder line absurd sense of reality which is why I think it can get away with some more broad stereotypical aspects. In fact the trailer for the sequel dropped earlier this month and it seems that these elements will indeed make a come back.  Landis will not be returning to direct the follow up. 

  Coming to America is a  well directed and has the heart that I thought Trading Places sorely lacked. Not to mention a fantastic cast which refreshingly had an all African American characters in the lead roles. Notable early roles for Cuba Gooding Jr and Samuel L. Jackson. I will be excited to see if Coming 2 America will be able to capture that same kind of magic as the first film. 


Picture: Coming to America is really stunning on UHD. The colors are so vivid and well maintained throughout. It retains a lot of detail in things like clothing texture and locales. Grain is smooth and also well balanced giving a fresher look than its 1080p sibling. This movie has a lot of great production design that is really fantastically utilized with this upgrade. Landis is said to have supervised this HDR which tells me Paramount did not half ass this product. 


Sound: Similar to the picture, Coming to America has a powerful DTS 5.1 lossless track. Sound is robust and in my opinion offers a complex sound experience. Here we can a nice 3d and nicely spaced track that is really a joy. 

Extras: This edition ports over the features from the 30th HD presentation and includes: 

Prince-ipal Photography: The Coming Together of America, Fit For Akeem: The Costumes of Coming to America, Character Building: The Many Faces of Rick Baker, Composing America: The Musical Talents of Nile Rodgers, A Vintage Sit-Down with Eddie & Arsenio, Theatrical Trailer

Sure it would have been nice to get maybe a new interview but, even if you own the HD this UHD is well worth the double dip in my opinion. 




Monday, December 21, 2020

Tremors (1990) Limited Edition Arrow Video UHD Review

 Tremors (1990) Arrow Video 12/15/2020

As noted: I am reviewing the Limited Edition UHD version. 

Directed By: Ron Underwood 

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross, Fred Ward, Reba McEntire, Robert Jayne 


Disclaimer: Arrow Video has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    If Tremors and I had a relationship status it would be "Its Complicated". Allow me to explain. I always think of Tremors (1990) in the same context as I do with Phantasm (1979) which is: The first movie is a wildly original and interesting blending of genres that somehow works perfectly and came just at the right time and place. But, I just never got into the sequels and the lore that was added along the way. Part of me thinks I should give the sequels another chance and another part of me feels fine treating both IP's as their own special bottle films and not one part of a bigger universe. Valentine (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) are two working class guys looking to brighten their horizons only to get trapped in a small town infested by underground creatures called Graboids. 

   1990 was a pretty interesting year for genre-cinema that pushed boundaries with Total Recall, Edward Scissorhands and Jacobs Ladder all creative films that somehow managed to get decent budgets and releases.  Tremors director Ron Underwood does some wild alchemy to pull off a creature feature with a western vibe, featuring richly developed and likeably characters and great effects all on a modest budget. On paper a throw-back monster movie with singer Reba McEntire, Kevin Bacon, the dad from Family Ties Michael Gross, shouldn't work but somehow against all odds it does. I think you can boil the success of Tremors in three core elements: Underwood gives us two relatable dim-witted heroes in Bacon's Valentine and Ward's Earl. Right from the start the pair are are so likable we automatically are on their side. Their present situation and wanting to get out from 'under' it also makes them relatable to a lot of people. The second is how the filmmakers can straddle a nice line between campy-b-monster movie and really incredible action-set-pieces and emotional stakes that feel organic and believable. The third is of course the Graboids which is such a stellar practical effects creation that I don't think gets the credit it deserves. And, thankfully the filmmakers don't show you the monster right away. Wisely we get a really nice build-up until a all-hell-breaks-loose reveal in all it's goopy glory. Underwood and S.S Wilson take what could be a very silly premise but with a polished script and an excellent cast we get a breathless action creature feature which I feel paved the way for, or rather ripped up the pavement for blockbusters like  Jurassic Park (1993). Despite only making 16 million on it's 10 million budget the film has found a loyal following spawning to date five sequels and a short lived television series. Bigger more successful movies released the same year are scarcely as remembered or enduring as Tremors. There is so much more I could say about Tremors but I feel like I've rambled or 'rumbled' enough. 

Picture: UHD edition: Tremors was previously re-released in 2010 by Universal to lackluster results. Ten years later I am pleased to announce that the UHD release is truly a revelation. Right away I noticed the up-tick in color. The image retains a lot of detail and you can really appreciate the creature FX design. Grain levels are nicely maintained and kept to a smooth minimum.  

Sound: Tremors has provided a 2.0, 4.0, and a 5.1. I`ll be talking about the DTS 5.1 track. The sound design, score and dialogue comes through in a nice robust way. This track in my opinion offers a complex sound experience that enhances the movie. 


Extras: 

Blu Disc: Feature Film/Extras: The following extras are included on both the HD version of the film and the UHD disc. Two commentaries (Both new) the first by Director Don Underwood, Brent Maddock and S.S Wilson. The second commentary by Jonathan Melville featured in Making Perfect and author of Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors.  

Making Perfection (31mins)  This brand new documentary takes a look at the making of the film and its legacy. Includes cast and crew such as Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross Ron Underwood etc. 

The Truth about Tremors (22mins) A new interview with co-producer Nancy Roberts. This candid look at the making of the film and just filmmaking in general. 

Bad Vibrations (10mins) A new interview DP Alex Grusynski. Alex gives a fascinating look at his visual style and some of the inspirations that he drew for the look and feel of Tremors. 

Aftershocks and Other Rumbles (12mins)  New interview with As. producer/second unit producer Ellen Collett. Collett talks about her time with Roger Corman and her work on Tremors and some of the challenges of the shoot. 

Digging in the Dirt: (20min) The Visual Effects of Tremors A new featurette on the films visual effects with former crew members of Fantasy II Film VFX and 4-Ward Productions VFX. A pretty interesting history on the big FX houses and of course their work on Tremors. 

Music for Graboids  (13mins) New interview with film score and composer Ernest Troost and Robert Folk 

The Making of Tremors (44mins) Vintage 1996 featurette. Anybody who reads my reviews knows I am a sucker for a good vintage featurette. This is a really cool one released six years after its original release. Some wonderful interviews are included. 

Creature Featurette (10mins)  a complication of on set footage showing the making of the infamous creatures the Graboids. Again, I love on-set vintage featurettes. It offers fans a rare glimpse at behind the scenes footage. 

Deleted Scenes (5mins) Four deleted scenes (Formerly released as Outtakes) which includes the original opening scene of the film. 

Pardon My French! (16mins) A new complication of overdubs recorded for edited-for-network television. This is one of the fun features that Arrow provides. 

Rounding out the features is: Electric Press Kit, Trailer gallery and image gallery 

Blu Disc 2) This disc which is exclusive to the Limited edition features the following:

Extended Interviews from Making Perfection. Arrow allows you to select extras interviews with: Ron Underwood, S.S Wilson, Brent Maddock, Nancy Roberts and Alec Gillis. 

ArchLight Hollywood 2015 Q&A: To celebrate the films then 25th anniversary this Q&A hosted by Arclight Hollywood on Aug 25th 2015 features sixteen cast and crew members. Filmed from the audience by Tremors expert Jonathan Melville. You have the option here to select the Pre-Film Cast Q&A and the Post Film Crew Q&A or to Play All. 

Gag Reel: This gag reel was for the wrap party. It includes the option to play with Original Audio or an Introduction and Commentary. 

Early Short Films from the makers of Tremors: Recorded Live, Dictionary: The Adventure of Words, Library Report. 

Packaging/Extra Goodies: This LE set is housed in Arrow's hard case and contains: a booklet, six cards and two posters. 

Final Thoughts: Arrow has gotten into the UHD game like most labels have (expect oddly enough Criterion) and, they have been making great choices for which titles they are spending the money and time to give this treatment to. Tremors is a big bold monster flick that, while not very visually splendid affair it is one that thrives on it's effects and sound design. As I mentioned in my review of the picture, this really is a much needed upgrade to 2010's HD release. And, of course Arrow has flooded this with everything you`d ever want in terms of extras. If you are a fan of Tremors this is a release you will want to Grab hold of! Arrow has really out done themselves here. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

William Lustig's Vigilante (1982) Blue Underground UHD Review

Vigilante (1982) Blue Underground 12/15/2020

Directed By: William Lustig 

Starring: Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Rutanya Alda, Richard Bright


Disclaimer: Blue Underground has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    Full confession: Despite being a fan of Lustig's genre films which play like love letters to Grindhouse cinema his action-opus  Vigilante (1982) had somehow slipped through the cracks. Seeing how Blue Underground is giving the film a new UHD upgrade it seems like the perfect time to dive in. Eddie (Robert Forster) is a blue collar worker whose life is turned upside down when a gang of thugs kill his young son and brutally assault his wife Vickie (Rutanya Alda). To make matters worse the leader of the gang gets a suspended sentence thanks to a crocked judge and broken system. It's time to take matters into his own hands with the help of a vigilante squad lead by Nick (Fred Williamson).  Bill Lustig was a scrappy director that always catered to the kinds of movies he loved seeing on 42nd Street. When you sit down and watch a Lustig movie, especially his early work, you know that your in for a hell of a fun ride. You never feel cheated because these films have a rare kind of sincerity that you just can't fake. This is good to keep in mind with Vigilante which plays like a more gritty un-Hollywood version of Death Wish (1974). And you know what? The feel works damn well partly because of Lustig tapping into the right time and right place, namely a pre-cleaned up New York which thrives on lawlessness and corruption. This is one of the elements that I feel edges out Death Wish and other films of that ilk.  While the plot could have maybe used a tighter focus it never is boring and the action is nearly non-stop. The crowd pleasing gore effects really hold up well. 

    The late great Robert Forster makes for an incredibly relatable anti-hero. Thats the thing, you have to relate to Eddie or this entire thing doesn't work. Luckily the actor had a lot of charm and endearing qualities to get us on his side. Genre legend Fred Williamson with his cigar chomping swagger is of course always entertaining as hell. You have great supporting roles from Rutanya Alda (Mommie Dearest, The Deer Hunter) and Joe Spinell (The Godfather, Taxi Driver) who is perfect as the sleazy lawyer. Director of Photography James Lemmo really shots this movie in an interesting way. Lemmo was no stranger to making New York a character as he previously shot Abel Ferrara's seminal classic Ms. 45 (1981), and would later re-team with Lustig to shot Maniac Cop (1988), Maniac Cop 2 (1990) and Relentless (1989). The camera work captures the grime of the city but also his skill gives it a polish and scope that makes it feel like a bigger film. Vigilante is a kick-ass film that delivers on action, thrills and kills and, had some real talent to pull it altogether. Lustig perfectly tapped into this feeling of self-protection. In fact, two years after the release of this film Bernard Goetz would take the law into his own hands being dubbed The Subway Vigilante. If you, like me foolishly slept on this movie now's the perfect time to give it a watch. 

Picture: Vigilante opens with a darkly lit scene with Fred Williamson and, right away I could tell that this UHD release was the real deal. Right away I could see that the color and clarity was stunning with the film retaining a lot of detail in locales, clothing, textures etc.  Grain is present but very smooth and well maintained. All artifacts and scratches has been scrubbed leaving a beautiful looking visual presentation. 

Sound: Being an action film this movie thrives on it's sound design and score. Thankfully we get a great Dolby ATMOS track for this release. The sound effects and score really come through in a big robust way and adds a lot of depth to everything. The film also includes a 5.1 and 2.0 track. 

Extras: As always this is loaded with features both old and new. 

The Old Features: It ports over the previous two audio commentaries: 1) William Lustig, and co-producer Andrew Garroni  2) William Lustig, Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Frank Pesce.  Trailers (US, International, Brit 1,2, German, Italian and French), TV Spots, Radio Spots, Promo Reel (3mins) and Poster and Still Gallery. 

The New: The new features include a third commentary by Film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. As always the pair are well researched and really entertaining to listen to. It's a commentary that is well worth checking out.  We also get two new featurette's: 

Blue Collar Death Wish (25mins) This great featurette explores the making of the film with Lustig and the cast and crew.  Robert Forster is interviewed which, seeing how he passed away earlier this year makes it bitter sweet. It's great that we have not only his ported over commentary but now a fresh interview as well. 

The second featurette is Urban Western Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway (25mins). The score of the film is fantastic so it's great to have an interview with Chattaway. 

Everything is topped off with a Collectible booklet with a new essay by historian Michael Gingold. 

Final Thoughts: Blue Underground is a label that has always been on the forefront of cutting edge home video releases. The fact that we have a UHD release of films such as Maniac, Daughters of Darkness and now Vigilante is really very awesome. You also have to give the label major props for not half-assing their UHD releases. Not only does the film look and sound incredibly but we get a brand new commentary and two stellar featurette's along with the older material. Vigilante is a gritty, take no prisoners' action film with an equally ass-kicking release. In my opinion its a Must-Own!  


Thursday, December 17, 2020

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) Warner Archives 12/22/2020

Directed By: Roy Del Ruth 

Starring: Don DeFore, Ann Harding, Victor Moore, Charles Ruggles, Alan Hale Jr

Disclaimer: Warner Archives has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

   In the annals of Holiday films, It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) is sadly forgotten by all but hardcore TCM fans. It's a charming film that thankfully will find a new audience thanks to this re-release! A homeless man stays in an old mansion every winter when the rich occupant is away. Misunderstandings and hilarity ensues when a veteran named Jim (Don DeFore) comes to stay with man. Legend has it that Frank Capra was attached to direct this film, but passed to do a little known project called It's A Wonderful Life (1946) instead. I don't know if this is true or not but, I only mention it because this movies screenplay by Everett Freeman certainly feels like a Capra film. And, by that I mean it has a lot of heart along with themes that Capra liked to inject in his films like: the everyman, class divide, selflessness and of course family, both by blood and found. Let me get this out of the way up-front. I call this a Christmas movie but, its more of a silly rom-com that intersects with the holidays towards the end. It's still in my opinion a great film to watch this time of year. Freeman's script plays up the time honored tradition of a comedy-of-errors, misunderstandings and deception. This really lends itself to some funny set-pieces and, one racy joke that I am kind of shocked made it past censors. I won't spoil it for you but, it's a cheeky misunderstanding about sex before marriage (in a ice box no less). What really ties this film together, even some of it's weaker plotting is it has a lot of heart. Roy Del Ruth straddles a nice line between providing a nice emotional through line without going over-board into the sappy or overtly sentimental. I think we tend to take it for granted but this is a tricky to pull off well. Also, I love how this movie is so wildly absurd but the filmmakers really do their best to make things feel pretty plausible despite, this screw-ball comedy genre often getting ridiculous at times. Again, it further highlights the whip smart screenplay that is filled with great snappy dialogue, memorable characters and wonderful set-up's and pay offs. This movie is very much of it's time and talks about the concerns of the limited housing situation WWII vets faced. In the film Jim being evicted and this set up perfectly dominos throughout the film until a very satisfying finale. It's also worth noting this movie is very parotitic but also, sort of anti-capitalistic? It clearly plays like a movie post-WWII but also sticks it to the ultra-rich, but sort of back-tracks that a bit. This backpaddling is maybe where the script could have used some work. 

    Don DeFore best remembered for the Noir Too Late for Tears (1949) and later the television show Hazel (1961-65) heads up a stellar cast. DeFore was someone that despite having the looks, talent and charm never really hit it big like say Cary Grant or Clark Gable. Still, he is so charismatic and so effortlessly invested in his role that it's hard not to be spellbound by him.  And of course you have the great Charles Ruggles For those not ultra-obsessed with old movies, Ruggles was a character actor that often played supporting roles such as butlers and other such characters. Here is a rare time when he really gets to shine. He is pitch-perfect as a stuffy but ultimately endearing self-made millionaire. But, it's Victor Morris as the lovable tramp that truly steals the show. Morris shows off a nice range here, showcasing his comedic chops as well as his dramatic skills. Gale Storm, Ann Harding and a pre-Gilligan's Island Alan Hale Jr also dazzle in the supporting cast. 

It Happened On Fifth Avenue is a movie that probably isn't in your stack of seasonal movies but it really should be. With pin-point direction, a razor sharp witted screenplay, and a top-notch cast this movie is a gem. 

Picture: Stunning. That's the only word that I could grapple with when I watched this film in it's brand new 4k transfer. The film retails a lot of detail in clothing, textures and locations. Grain is kept to a minimum and there are no scratches or artifacts to be found. Black and white contrast is also incredibly well handled. 

Sound: Fifth Ave has a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue come through nicely and no unwanted background noise that I could detect. 

Extras:  Extras include a original radio program The Lux Radio Theater Broadcast (57mins) 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Dark and the Wicked (2020) RLJE Blu Ray Review

The Dark and the Wicked (2020) RLJ Entertainment 12/15/2020

Directed By: Bryan Bertino 

Starring: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr, Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Lynn Andrews Michael Zagst 

Disclaimer: RLJE  has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    Writer, director Bryan Bertino is perhaps the most underrated director working in the horror genre. He came out swinging with his debut 2008's The Strangers and since has directed three other features including the sorely under loved The Monster which was among my favorite films of 2016. His latest is a Gothic horror tale that promises a lot of bare-knuckled chills. After their father is suddenly taken ill a brother and sister return home to comfort and help out their Mother. However, things go from bad to worse when the realize something else is walking among them. Similar to  The Wolf of Snow Hollow, this film had a lot of hype and Internet hyperbole behind it. In fact, a friend and fellow reviewer even called it the scariest movie he had ever seen.  While I don't think it's for me personally the scariest movie I've ever seen it was impactful nonetheless. What I enjoy about Bertino's work (note: I've never seen Mockingbird) is that he likes to strip the genre down to it's bare-bones and play all whilst audience expectations. I think I connected a lot with Wicked because I grew up in a rural area and, while it is beautiful it also has this quiet eeriness to it. It was easy for my young imagination to conjure all  kinds of horror's in the darkest parts of my PA homestead. This movie really taps into that in a way that few have. He achieves this in part with moody camera work. This includes off-putting angles, framing dark empty spaces which creates tension and using the desolate landscape to their maximum creepiness. The atmosphere works to really weave this dread-filled, tense experience of melancholic nihilism.  Narrative wise the film is also pretty thin, but I think, like the visuals, this works to the films favor (for the most part). Bryan is bold in that he doesn't spoon feed the audience story wise. The fact  that this movie raises more questions than answers is polarizing but, I personally find that way more interesting. It is certainly a film that I will be thinking about for a few days after the credits roll. 

    Marin Ireland (The Umbrella Academy) and Michael Abbott Jr (Loving) head up a stellar cast. Both leads feel like real people thrown into some incredibly messed up events. It helps that the dialogue sounds very natural and organic. I did have to put on subtitles though.  The film is great but I still felt like it had some issues. My main complaint is that the gorier elements towards the end tend to undercut the subtler aspects of the horror. And, you know, I don't have an issue with gore but, some of these scenes come off more silly. Also, the scene with dad doing a fast-mo. boo-type-scare is a prime example of when sometimes less really is more. In general I think the plot could have used some tightening. For example, while the icy detached worldview works in the films favor, I think that the movie could have used a stronger emotional center. I kept waiting for some flash-backs on just why the kids became estranged with their family.  Or just anything to get to know these characters a little better. I totally understand and even respect keeping a lot of things a mystery but I think in this case it would have made some elements a bit stronger. 

The Dark and the Wicked is a film that only proves that Bryan Bertino is such an interesting voice in horror. No, I dont think it's the scariest film ever made but, it is, in my opinion well worth watching. Grim horror that crawls under your skin. 

Picture: The Dark and the Wicked is, I think in part really successful thanks to its great visual design. This 1080p really showcases that here. Colors are well maintained throughout and small details really pop in HD. 

Sound: The Dark and the Wicked has a really nice DTS 5.1 track. Dialogue comes through nicely. The robust sound in my opinion enhances the eerie sound design.  

Extras: The extras include a Fantasia Q&A with actors Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr.  (36 mins) 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Seven Women For Satan Mondo Macabro Blu Ray Review

Seven Women For Satan (1976) Mondo Macabro 12/8/202

Directed By: Michel Lemoine 

Starring: Michel Lemoine, Howard Vernon, Nathalie Zeiger 



Disclaimer: Mondo Macabro has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    From the title you might expect Seven Women for Satan to be more akin to an occult sleaze-fest yet, the film is more of wonderfully nuts play on The Most Dangerous Game. For those not familiar (but you really should be), is a short story which tells of a rich weirdo who hunts people on his private island. It has been made into numerous films, mostly notable in 1932 . That film version was prominently mentioned in David Fincher's classic Zodiac (2007). A wealthy businessman named Count Boris Zaroff (Michel Lemoine) whose bloody daydreams and reality are starting to blur as beautiful women start dying off in this erotic-splatter flick. 

     Unlike the original source and film versions of The Most Dangerous Game this is a surreal take which doesn't take place on an island and, really strips the concept bare. And by strip bare I mean this movie is over flowing with this movie is over flowing with '70's era bare-flesh. This movie has enough sex and nudity that even the late-smut-king Russ Myers would have approved. Seven Women isn't what I would call heavy on plot, hell, one could argue it doesn't have much at all. But, you cannot say that this movie is lazy and the one thing that Michel does really well is capture a great deal of atmosphere. He achieves this with weird camera angles, spooky settings, and plays a lot with lights and darks. The whole thing has a bigger budget feel thanks to beautiful locales and, of course a perfect creepy castle. Yeah, I think you can nit-pick this movie for it's flaws and it does have those but, I had a lot of fun watching this very of-its-time baffling and at times pretentious French offering.  If you are expecting a ultra-gory flick this movie is pretty tame though it does offer some nasty surprises. Worth a watch for those into trashy, sexy Euro horror. 

Picture: It's clear that Mondo put a lot of great work into restoring Seven Women for Satan. Overall the picture is stable, colors are vivid and mostly all of the scratches and artifacts have been cleaned up. Darker scenes really benefit from this new transfer. I think it's safe to say this movie probably never looked better. 

Sound: Seven Women offers up a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nice and clear with no drop out in quality that I could detect. It's also worth noting this contains both the original French audio with English subtitles and English Audio. 

Extras: As always Mondo has some great supplements including: Interview with Michel Lemoine (15mins) This was ported over from the DVD version. A really entertaining interview and, seeing how he passed away in 2013 makes for an important historical artifact for sleazy cinema fans. The second interview  Robert De Laroche (57mins) looks to be new and, though it's a long interview it really is a fascinating watch. Rounding out the features is a trailer and some deleted scenes. 


Monday, December 14, 2020

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) Warner Bros Blu Ray Review

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) Warner Brothers 12/15/2020

Directed By: Jim Cummings 

Starring: Jim Cummings, Robert Forster, Riki Lindhome, Chole East, Jimmy Tatro 



Disclaimer: Warner Brothers Entertainment has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    Shortly after I posted that I would be watching Jim Cummings 2020 film The Wolf of Snow Hollow I got a flood of, "This is the greatest werewolf movie ever made", with one person even saying it surpassed Dog Soldiers (2002) in terms of quality. That's really saying a lot. I only mention this because expectations were fairly on the high side even before I popped the disc into my player. A tiny ski town is rocked by a series of ghastly murders. John (Jim Cummings) is an off-the-wagon sheriff heading up the investigation.  So, Internet hyperbole in the discourse of film is nothing new, but I try hard to ignore it and go into a movie with normal expectations. But yeah, I was excited because werewolf movies are rarely handled well. Typically for a review I will watch films twice especially if they have a twist or, I'm just kind of on the fence about it. The thing I noticed right away is that Jim Cummings understands the language of visual storytelling  and, the film is extremely well shot, edited (for the most part, more on that later), with a nice balance of dark humor and real emotional stakes. But...the film is not without it's issues. First off Cummings plays the lead role which is shall we say an interesting choice. Cummings is no doubt entertaining as hell to watch as our flawed hero. My issue is his performance sticks out because none of the other actors are matching his kind of big energy throughout. Yes, I know that contextually this makes sense for his character, but it's still jarring none the less. Odd things are scattered throughout like: characters will randomly look straight at the camera. The editing is fine expect for when the wolf attacks are intercut with a different scene effectively killing any tension or mood. It's a series of weird choices and, you know that's fine provided that you really establish this as a really weird world in line with a Quentin Dupieux film. In a Dupieux the world within the film has it's own logic which is often surreal and, even narratively follows it's own set of rules. Cummings goes out of his way to do the opposite. Everything is seemingly very normal and, even the small town seems pretty typical. It may have made sense to make this more akin to a Twin Peaks kind of town where it seems normal but everybody and everything is slightly off. I think its a real missed opportunity. In my opinion though I think the biggest issue is in the writing. Right off the bat the film has pretty clunky dialogue and scenes that don't move the plot forward. Snow Hollow feels like it sets up a whodunnit mystery, once again the filmmakers subvert that expectation, this time to it's downfall. Nobody discovers anything, there are no clues or real suspects sprinkled throughout. So, when we do find out what's going on it literally comes out of nowhere. Like, I cannot under-state just how out-of-the-blue the discovery is. 

    The film seems more interested in a story about a cop with anger/drinking issues learning to coup with job stress while also being a good father and letting his daughter grow up, which sort of mirrors his strained relationship with his daughter. And...you know you have grisly murders also taking place which almost feels like an after thought at times. Again this would be fine but Cummings doesn't connect these two threads together in a way that feels satisfying and organic. Snow Hollow also features some weird set up's and pay off's. For example, someone throws a beer bottle and, later on, laughably randomly and with no evidence John figures out who it is. Furthermore this bottle literally comes out of nowhere and by that I mean actually out of nowhere. In fact, the camera shots firmly establish this fact. 
Again, if this was a Dupieux movie where the real-world logics is thrown out the window I might be more forgiving. This isn't a nit-pick, this movie is filled with these jarring plot holes, gaps in logic etc. 

    On the positive side Cummings is a damn good director and there are moments in the film that truly are well done, even inspired. I also love the dark humor which I think works really well. John's character has a really great arc throughout and, as I said above the there is a nice emotional core. 
I have not seen his previous film Thunder Road, (2018) but I gather it has similar themes.  Natalie Kingston's photography is really amazing and I would not be shocked if she wins an Oscar someday. Ben Lovett provides a great understated score. I know this was a long review and, this is actually the parred down version. It's so baffling because you have a clearly brilliant filmmaker with a film that makes so many weird or odd choices with a narrative that could have used some work. 


Picture: The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a really visually interesting movie and, this transfer really does a great job at highlighting that. The image is crisp and clear with skin tones that look natural. The film has a nice warmth to it and enhances the films atmosphere. 

Sound: The Wolf of Snow Hollow has a really nice DTS 5.1. Sound design and dialogue come through really well. 

Extras: Extras include some nice featurettes such as: The Impetus, Working with Jim Cummings, The Story and His Genre, The Design of the Werewolf. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Shop Around the Corner (1940) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

 The Shop Around the Corner (1940) Warner Archives 12/22/2020

Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch 

Starring: James Stewart, Margert Sullivan, Frank Morgan, William Tracy

 

Disclaimer: Warner Archives has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

     Most casual film fans will most likely not remember this film but rather the updated retelling You've Got Mail (1998). This charming 1940 film based on the play by Miklos Laszlo, The Shop Around the Corner tells of a store clerk named Alfred (James Stewart) who is secretly writing with a woman and later finds out it's a co-worker who treats him poorly. In terms of must-watch holiday movies The Shop Around the Corner is always at the top of my list right up there with Home Alone and It's A Wonderful Life.  Though the set-piece of Christmas is touched upon only in the final act, I still consider it a seasonal watch and a great one at that.  Director Ernst Lubitsch was legendary for his high-brow humor and style. So much so that the term 'the Lubitsch touch' was coined to describe a certain feel or sophistication. Here Lubitsch transfixes it's audience with equal parts wit and heart. At the center of this movie is a rom-com and in typical 'screwball-comedy', much of the humor derives from misunderstandings or one party knowing something the other does not.  Not only does Lubitsch's pin-point direction help elevate the genre but, screenwriter Samson Raphaelson's (Suspicion) adds the charm and core emotional hook. Thankfully, Raphaelson script allows room for some really great character arc's and moments that walk this razor sharp line between heartwarming but never goes into the realm of cheesy. This attention to detail makes it easy for the audience to connect with such richly developed characters. 

      James Stewart and Margert Sullivan really sparkle in their respective roles. Stewart is so effortless in his charisma and, proves why he was such a legend of his generation. Sullivan, equally as talented, really gets to flex her range and, like Stewart also has a natural ease in front of the camera. Both actors have a nice chemistry and play off of each other in way that is a joy to watch. This pairing was clearly not lost on the audience as, they both would be teamed up in another movie released that year  The Mortal Storm. Raphaelson also conjures some nicely realized supporting characters. For example, the wise talking Pepe (William Tracy) is probably my favorite character in any '40's film and, Tracy actually manages to steal every scene he's in. And, the young Rudy (Charles Smith) a character that barely gets any actual screen time, gets such a beautiful moment in the finale. Seriously, it's really a marvel that this level of care was taken.  Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Felix Bressart and Sara Haden make up a terrific supporting cast. Just like the characters, the films world also has this very lived in and organic feel rather than the ultra-lavish Hollywoodized outings popular from this era. It grounds the movie in a way it needs to be and just lets the story unfold and shine on it's own merits. Helping give the film it's stellar look is thanks to William H. Daniels stunning photography. Daniels would go onto win an Oscar for 1948's The Naked City. This is certainly a movie that builds to such a satisfying finale that still manages to move me even after so many watches. To give you an idea of just how good Ernest Lubitsch was in his day, the one and only Billy Wilder considered him to be among the best directors working at the time. The Shop Around the Corner is a classic among classics and, if you have never seen it now's the perfect time to. 

Picture: Much like Holiday Affair I've only seen The Shop Around the Corner on television. This new 2k scan is really a revelation. I noticed right away that scratches and artifacts have been scrubbed clean giving it a fresh look. The second thing I noticed that details like clothing texture, sets and locales are absolutely stunning. 

Sound: Shop has a nice DTS 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nice and clear. No background hiss or audio drop outs to be had. 

Extras: A New Romance of Celluloid: The Miracle of Sound (10min) This vintage featurette explores sound and talkie's at MGM. This is pretty exciting and showcases from rare behind the scenes footage. 

Screen Guild Players (9/29/40)  (Runtime 29min)

Lux Radio Theater (6/23/41) (Runtime 59min)

The Original Trailer (4mins) The trailer is actually pretty neat as Frank Morgan introducing the movie and cast. He even towards the end introduces the director himself Ernst Lubitsch smoking a cigar. A real delight. This semi-fourth wall break in trailers is a really cool and I wish modern filmmakers would adopt this method. 


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Beverly Hill's Cop (1984) Paramount Pictures UHD Review

Beverly Hill's Cop (1984) Paramount Pictures  12/1/2020

Directed By: Martin Brest 

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Ronny Cox, Lisa Eilbacher 

Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 


    Continuing with Paramount's Eddie Murphy movies in December is the UHD release of fan-favorite Beverly Hills Cop (1984). Axel (Eddie Murphy) is a play-by-his-own-rules cop that gets entangled in corruption and murder when his friend is gunned down.  Similarly to Trading Places (1983) I have not seen Beverly Hills Cop prior to this review. I must say that unlike Trading Places I thought this movie holds up really relatively well. I say relatively because we still get some gay stereotyping and a few racial slurs. Overall though, it's a movie that wasn't cringe-worthy while also not holding back on it's R-rating. 

     As soon as the movie opens with that iconic '80's electronic sting theme by Harold Faltermeyers you know you are in for something exciting and special. I will say that the plot is a very stripped down basic smuggling drugs scenario but I think what's smart about it is, the film is much more about it's characters than a convoluted narrative. Normally a thin plot isn't great. Director Martin Brest however is more interested in showcasing Murphy's larger-than-life persona. His turn as a rogue-detective is so iconic that I think that a lot of movies after it are all trying to replicate Murphy's Axel, with various success. Brest also does some cool things, like how the film sets up the other Beverly Hills cops as antagonists but this later turns out to be resolved, leading to some nicely satisfying character arcs for Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Sgt. Taggart (John Aston). Of course, the film has such a classic '80's bad guy that embodied this high-class Reagan era style of villainy. Not to mention that incredible film soundtrack that is so very much of it's time. The movie may feel troupy but you also have to consider that this was pretty early in the modern buddy-cop/cop comedy films genre. Like, it has that classic Captain giving Axel a steer lecture on how he's reckless, yet he's a good cop that gets results. Or like how the meek cop Rosewood kills two henchmen without batting an eyelash. As an action movie it works with some great set-pieces and high flying fun and, as a comedy it delivers thanks in large part to Murphy's charm and witty delivery. 


Picture: Beverly Hills isn't what I would call a visually stunning movie but it makes the most of it's locales. The UHD is an up-tick in color and detail from the previous edition but only just barely. This isnt a bad thing as the picture retains a great amount of detail and colors pop. But, if you thinking it's going to be huge change might be disappointed. Overall I think it's a nice presentation but not mind blowing. 

Sound: Beverly Hills ports over the DTS 5.1 track. The sound has a nice robust quality and overall a solid presentation. 

Extras: Beverly Hills extras include: Full length commentary by director Martin Brest, Two deleted scenes (total runtime 3.49) Behind the scenes 1984 Interviews. These interviews are broken up into four featurettes (with a play all option): Axel's Wild Ride, Detroit Cops Vs Beverly Hills Cops, Eddie's Impromptu Lines, Taggart and Rosewood. (Total runtime 6.49) and rounding out the features is a BHC Mixtape '84 which allows you to up to scenes with the classic soundtrack and the original trailer. 


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Holiday Affair (1949) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

 Holiday Affair (1949) Warner Archives 12/15/2020

Directed By: Don Hartman

Starring: Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey 

Disclaimer: Warner Archives has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

   
    Before I get into this film review I think it's worth exploring a little back story. If it seems weird that tough guy Robert Mitchum would do a holiday themed rom com you are not alone. Mitchum served a two month prison stay after being busted with pot. In order to soften his public image the studio pushed him into a much lighter 'affair'. Holiday Affair bombed at the box office losing RKO a reported 300,000 or, over 3 million in today's money.  The film languished in this kind of weird obscurity until Turner Classic Movies started showing it annually in December. Because of this, the movie has found a new life and, now I suspect with a wide HD release it's cult following will grow. The film centers around a recently widowed working woman named Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) who lives with her young son Timmy (Gordon Gebert). Wanting stability in her life the single mother is set to marry a nice straight laced lawyer named Carl (Wendell Corey). But a mysterious stranger named Steve (Robert Mitchum) de-rails her plans when he breezes into her life. Much like the three other Christmas themed movies that I will be tackling this month, 1949's Holiday Affair is a bit of an odd-duck but, one that has firmly been a part of my December viewing for many years now. The film is very much a product of it's time and by that I mean its a snapshot into the lives of post WWII Americans. Connie is still emotionally reeling from losing her husband in the war and, more fascinating is how she projects this onto her son. She does in the way she treats him like the mini-man-of-the-house, even referring to him as Mr. Ennis. Though this is only tackled with kid-gloves I think that it's a pretty interesting emotional thread to weave within the plot. Heading up the cast is Janet Leigh who dazzles in the role. Whilst she may be best remembered for her darker films like Psycho (1960) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962) she gives a enchanting performance as a struggling single mother. Some might say that Mitchum is miscast here but I actually think it works extremely well. Steve after all is a misunderstood, slightly strange character and Mitchum has the right amount of swagger and charm to pull it off. Wendell Corey, probably best remembered for his brief role in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) does a lot with a lets be honest a thankless role as a lawyer set to marry Connie. Like Mitchum, I think Corey has screen present and a great deal of likability. And, as far as kid actors goes Gordon Gebert is solid in the role. If I had to lobby a complaint it would be the romance itself feels awkward and a bit rushed. While Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum do have chemistry, it's hard to believe (even in the realm of screw-ball rom coms) that Connie would just bust up her relationship for Steve in such a small amount of time. The film never gives the pair more time to really fall in love with each other. What saves the film is how screenwriter Isobel Lennart (nominated for 2 Oscars for screenwriting) does a good job at finding a nice balance between the humor, emotional core and, the warm fuzzes that come with making a seasonal offering.

Holiday Affair is a fairly-corny bit of rom-com fluff but Lenhart's writing offers a sharp witted, funny, and sweet spin on the Holiday-rom-com. Couple this with Don Hartman's wonderful direction and a spellbinding cast and you have the making of a truly special movie that's worth watching every year. 

Picture: Holiday Affair is a movie I've seen a lot on television and DVD so, this new transfer really blew me away. The film is artifact and scratch free and thus everything in my opinion retains a lot of detail missing from previous editions. Grain level is consistent throughout. Darkly lit scenes really showcase how lovely this print looks.  

Sound: Holiday Affair has a really big robust DTS 2.0 sound. Dialogue comes through nicely with no unwanted background hiss that I could notice. 

Extras: Extras include the Lux Radio Theater (12/18/1950) with Robert Mitchum and Laraine Day. Rounding out the extras is an original trailer. 


Monday, December 7, 2020

Smiley Face Killers (2020) Film Review

Smiley Face Killers (2020) Lionsgate Films VOD 12/4/2020 Home Video 12/8/2020

Directed By: Tim Hunter

Starring: Crispin Glover, Ronen Rubinstein, Mia Serafino, Amadeus Serafini 


Disclaimer: Lionsgate Entertainment has provided a free digital copy free of charge for the purpose of review. The below review reflects my own opinions. 


Plot Summary: As a strange wave of mysterious drownings of male college students plagues California coast Jack (Rubinstein) struggles to keep his life together at school. Finding himself stalked by a hooded figure in a van (Glover) driving an unmarked van, Jake fears he may become the next victim in the killer's horrific spree.  

       Tim Hunter's 2020 Smiley Face Killers is based an urban myth of young male college students that go missing, only to be found dead in a large body of water. The connection is some variant on the smiley face is found spray painted at the point of where the victim entered first entered said water. Foul play in these cases are largely dismissed but, like any good urban legend it cannot be proved nor can it be disproved. Fueling the theory is how some medical examiners have noted that the bodies look too pristine to have been in the water for so long. I've seen a documentary series about this topic so going into this I was well aware of this topic and, found it pretty fascinating. It was actually the main reason why I decided that, corny cover art aside I wanted to give this a watch. Sadly though, this movie is beyond terrible. 

    To say Smiley Face Killers feels like a CW or Lifetime movie might even be in insult to those companies. In proper edge-lord fashion Hunter gives us a nasty scene of animal multination which felt to me like a crude attempt to shock. The rest of the film is a very lukewarm film that could charitably be called a thriller. It's basically a teen-aged drama filled with bad acting, cliched plotting and shallow characters. Also, Hunter somehow sucks out all the tension right out of this movie. Seriously, its remarkable just how untense this movie is. Probably what is most disappointing is it takes a the blueprint of a very interesting urban legend and does nothing new or exciting with it. What the film should have done was frame the narrative around an investigation instead of a victim being our POV character. Because, I think what is so unsettling about the legend and what Hunter totally misses is, what's so creepy about the murders are they are seemingly random and sudden. So, the fact that Jake is stalked removes that aspect entirely. The one thing that is very remotely interesting about this film is it's over flowing with homo eroticism and, male nudity far out weighs female nudity.   To further hit to point home we have a needless male shower scene. Of course, the filmmakers do nothing note worthy with this subversion. The big "draw" is this was written by controversial author Bret Easton Ellis who is probably best remembered for writing the novel American Psycho, which was turned into the rare better-than-the-book film adaptation. Ellis has made no secret in interviews about his views on certain topics, notably what's wrong with "the youths" of today. Ellis sneaks some very pointed "digs" at millennials, despite that hot take having cooled down for some time now. And, you know if this movie was a sartorial dig on teen culture that might have been an interesting place to take it. But, of course he does not take it in that direction and so these scenes of mocking what is its basic audience and protagonist just comes off confusing.  

If you`ve never heard of the supposed crimes in which this film is based, its worth checking out. This movie really embodies why horror movies still get a bad reputation from certain film circles. It's crass, its dull, gory for the sake of being gory and the plot and characters are beyond shallow. I seriously would have been upset if I had paid money to see this. Maybe someday, some filmmaker will make an interesting film on this subject. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Paramount Presents Trading Places (1983) Blu Ray Review

Trading Places (1983) Paramount Pictures 12/1/2020

Directed By: John Landis 

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy, Denholm Elliot 



Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

Trigger warning: film contains several homophobic slurs and racial slurs. Also includes use of black face. 

Spoiler Warning for a nearly forty year old movie. 

    Much like 1986's The Golden Child,  Paramount Presents #12 is sticking with the Eddie Murphy theme with the 1983 smash comedy Trading Places. A snobbish upper class stock broker named Louis (Dan Aykroyd) switches places with a poor man named Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), as per a bet with two old and eccentric millionaires.  Landis cleverly weaves a Frank Capra/Preston Sturges screwball comedy for the Reagan era.  It's interesting to take the ' ultra-excess and wall street carnage values of the '80's and mirror it with social/class struggle films from the Great Depression era. 

      I will say though, that as funny as the set up and second act is, I think that things start to unravel in the third act. My main thing is that Murphy's Valentine and Aykroyd's Louis never feel like they have any real meaningful character arc's, Louis never seems to learn that his actions in the beginning were rude, childish and Murphy too never seems to gleam anything new from his experience either. It's like a chunk of story is missing where the two come to some realization and mutual respect for one another. Instead it's: Bond over a common enemy.  ruin said enemies lives. Ride off into the sunset all whilst reaping the rewards of their misery. Yes, the two millionaires are terrible people but it seems like Louis and Billy are just as cruel. Honestly, how are they any better in the end? So yeah, the movie also alludes to social issues, class struggle and race, but sadly Landis never tackles  any of these subjects in a profound or challenging way. Again, yeah, its a comedy, but you can also be thought provoking.  And, any '80's movie wouldn't be complete without cringe-worthy things such as: racial slurs, homophobic slurs, sexual assault jokes, oh and lets not forget Dan Aykroyd in full black face. Yikes! I'm not saying your a bad person if you still enjoy this film I just I think it's well worth mentioning. Speaking from someone who is gay and have actually had these slurs hurled my way forgive me if I don't find them amusing. What I hate about these jokes are they are lazy (even for the time) and, merely rely on punching down on marginalized groups for cheap laughs. I think that so-called impeachable classics like Trading Places always deserves to be re-watched and re-examined. I will say that the acting is great and, its not lost on me this was Jamie Lee Curtis's breakout role that set her on the course to mainstream stardom. It's also great to see legends like Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche and Denholm Elliot getting the lime-light they rightly deserve. They really go a long way to give the film the class it needs. 

Probably one of the outliers but I thought this is an uneven at best film which works up until a point but, oh brother does it have issues. It's not even the fact that the movie is kind of cruel even from the so-called protagonists but, Landis had a chance to really say something here but takes the easy way around everything. But, the movie made a lot of money and, I would say is very much a product of it's time.  

Picture: Trading Places looks really nice on 1080p. Grain is kept at a minimum and is consistent throughout. Details like sets, locales, costumes etc really pop out in a nice way. One thing I will give this film is it is well photographed and I think this transfer does it justice. 

Sound: Trading Places has a really hearty DTS 5.1 track. Dialogue comes through nicely with no audio drop out issues. 

Extras: The extras are all ported over from the previous HD edition and includes: Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places, Trading Stories, Industry Promotional Piece, Deleted Scene with commentary by Executive Producer George Folsey Jr, Deleted Scene, Isolated Score. Trailer. 

New to this Blu Ray is: Filmmaker Focus: Interview with John Landis.  



Friday, December 4, 2020

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020) Well Go USA Blu Ray Review

 Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020) Well Go USA 11/24/2020

Directed By: Sang-ho Yeon 

Starring: Dong-Won Gang, Jung-hyun Lee, Re Lee, Do-Yoon Kim 


Disclaimer: Well Go USA has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    Zombie has horror movie fodder never truly dies, but, like any popular horror sub-genre they tend to go through periods of fatigue.  This was the state of things when Sang-ho-Yeon's Train to Busan (2016) burst onto the scene. It was a sleeper hit that quickly gained a huge following. So, when it was announced the director was doing a sequel, fans were understandably excited as hell. Taking place four years after the events of Busan a small crew including some familiar faces go back to the Peninsula to rob an armed truck with millions of dollars in US currency. And, as you might expect the plans go sideways as the infected are lurking around every corner. 

      I was really looking forward to this movie which promised to be every bit as great as the first film. Sadly though, it is not. I think the you can sum up the issues with the film in two major issues: One, the film tries to cram a lot of different elements into the story and I think the net result is a narrative that feels bloated and ultimately unfocused. We have this entire needless sub-plot in which a Mad Max style gang enters the conflict. It just feels so jarring and out of place. It's as if the director felt like the zombies weren't enough of a threat. Some of the action scenes also feel as if they are needlessly long. And, secondly the film feels shallow in terms of it's drama. The original Train to Busan was I think very successful in that Sang-ho-Yeon knew exactly how to hit it's emotional core. You really feel for these characters and their situation so, when somebody dies, it's like a punch to the guts. Peninsula tries to hit those same emotional highs but never actually does. I think that the bloated nature ends up leading to not having enough time to really connect with the characters. Laughably bad CGI doesn't help matters much either. So, since I always try to say something nice, the film does have a few enjoyable action-set-pieces (despite being drawn out) and I think there were some clever additions to the story like how the surviving people on the Peninsula have formed a new society. It's kind of baffling how the original director had four years between movies to craft a worthy follow up but seems to have missed the mark. 


Picture: Peninsula looks great on 1080p. Shot on digital the film has a nice crisp clear look. The film retains a nice amount of detail, especially since the bulk of the action takes place at night. Skin tones are well balanced as is the color throughout. 

Sound: Peninsula features a really well done Dolby Atmos track. This is a very action heavy movie (as if you couldn't have guessed) so it's great that we get a sound track that comes to life with big sound. Effects and sound design come through nicely as does dialogue. 

Extras: The extras include: Making Of and Interviews: The Sequel (1mins)  The Action (2mins) The Director (1mins) The Characters (3mins). Rounding out the extras are trailers. 


Thursday, December 3, 2020

Paramount Presents The Golden Child (1986) Blu Ray Review

The Golden Child (1986) Paramount Pictures 12/1/2020

Directed By: Michael Ritchie 

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Charlotte Lewis, Charles Dance, J.T  Reate, Randell Cobb




Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    Paramount Presents #11 is sticking with the three other Eddie Murphy films that is being released from the studio this month. The Golden Child (1986) sees a detective named Chandler (Eddie Murphy) specializing in missing children hunting for The Chosen One in this fantasy film. It's interesting that this and Big Trouble in Little China were both released in '86. And, while Big Trouble had a smaller budget and was a failure at the box-office. On the flip side Golden Child had a bigger budget and was a hit. Yet, I think that over time Big Trouble has gained a big cult following while Golden Child seemed to have been relegated to '80's oddity. 

    At the time this was made Eddie Murphy was one of the biggest and most powerful actor in Hollywood. He was known for his 'edgy' comedy and of course, with that came pretty foul language and, Murphy rare pulled punches when it came to racial and homophobic slurs. So, it was a, shall we say interesting choice to put Murphy in the confine of a PG-13 adventure film. Surprisingly though I think that it's leading man is not the issue so much as the screenplay that sinks this film. A lot of the films comedy comes from the time honored cultural differences which is found in just about every buddy-cop or fish-out-of-water story. Murphy hams it up and mock's everything for most of the film which seemed alright at first but started to grate on me whilst he was doing this well into an hour into the film. Furthermore, Chandler (named after Raymond Chandler) doesn't really do a lot of sleuthing and, basically goes along with where the story takes him. Speaking of, the plot is so pretty much patch-work of other fantasy based films and, besides Murphy's colorful persona doesn't really do anything that interesting. This is where I think Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China thrives as it not only is a fun fast action film but subverts tropes but also knows when to lean into them. I will say Golden Child some nice bits in it but I was kinda bored and, I think either your here for Murphy's brand of comedy or not. For this film I think I was in the latter camp. Speaking of actors the great Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) is an excellent baddie but, underused in my opinion. It's kind of weird the movie aimed for a PG-13 rating as its much more adult with casual swearing and graphic violence, and thats fine but the rating clashes with the tone you think it would be going for. If you are going to go for a darkly sardonic take on fantasy films, it should be R and really lean into it. Not a horrible movie as it has some charm but, overall I dont know if I'd rush to re-watch it any time soon. 

Picture: The Golden Child makes its North American HD debut with this release. Overall I think it looks sharp and retains a great amount of detail in clothes clothing texture, sets and locales. Grain levels are well maintained and consistent throughout. Colors have a nice warmth to them. I will say that there are some moments when faces have a softer blurrier look which is a little distracting. Still, I think that this movie was no doubt never looked better and, barring a future UHD release, this is probably as good as its gonna get which is still very solid. 

Sound: Golden Child has a really nice DTS 5.1 track. Dialogue comes through nicely and action scenes are sound design are highlighted extremely well in my opinion. 

Extras: The disc contains The Making of The Golden Child (in HD) Broken into two parts (with a Play All option) The Chosen Ones (6mins) and Daggers, Design and Demons (6mins). Both featurettes are vintage Making of's and, regular readers will know I have a soft spot for these. I wish they could have got some new interviews with cast/crew but this offers a nice window into the production. The extras are rounded out by the original Theatrical Trailer. 







The Beach House (2019) RLJE Blu Ray Review

 The Beach House (2019) RLJE 12/15/2020

Directed By: Jeffery A. Brown 

Starring: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, Matt Maisto 


Disclaimer: RLJE  has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

A few spoilers ahead! No spoilers for the end. 

     The Beach House makes the feature film debut of Jeffery A. Brown. The story tells of a young couple named Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randell (Noah Le Gros). They decide that their relationship could use some mending so, Randell suggests staying at his father's beach house for the weekend. What is suppose to be a weekend just to themselves it seems friends of Randell's family, Mitch (Jake Weber) and his ill wife Jane (Maryann Nagel) are being to be staying with them as well. And, things get weird from there. As I said this is the first feature from Jeffery Brown and, sadly it's a mixed bag at best. Beach House starts off well enough but its clear that Brown doesn't really know how to ratchet up the tension. For example, scenes like when Emily first discovers Jane in the house (she's a total stranger after all) should be a very suspense-filled moment, but that is quickly (and lazily) squashed. Characters make ever increasingly stupid choices and, as much as you try to suspend disbelief for film sake, some it the decisions are baffling boarding frustrating. This might be forgivable but the plot in the second and third act feels sloppy and aimless. 

     Brown swings for Lovecraftian horror but it does not work because it feels out of place and un-organic to the plot. What makes something like Richard Stanley's Color Out of Space (2019) work so well is, the cosmic horror elements feel properly set up before shit really hits the fan. Beach House on the other hand jarringly switches in both in tone and color palette into the third act and it feels like we are watching a entirely different film. Weirder still the film drops half it's characters by the hour mark. The best way I can describe the film is a series of interesting ideas that never feels like they thread together. Jeffery also wrote the screenplay and, I wonder had somebody helped him polish things up this could have worked. Because, I will say that though the set up isn't that clever I can see where Brown had good ideas and skill behind the camera. The horror elements seem to suggest a mixture of zombies, Lovecraftian cosmic mind-bender and a bit of Body Snatchers and The Fog thrown in for good measure. All of these ideas are battling and the end result feels rushed, messy and not very satisfying. On the plus side the direction I think is for the most part well done and Owen Levelle does a nice job as DP and, along with the trippy visuals gives the film it's most engaging elements. Again, to be clear I think Jeffery could be a great filmmaker given better more fully realized material. This is one beach house that looks appealing from a far but is a mess once you look at it up close. 

Picture: Beach House looks nice on 1080p. Skin tones are very nice looking and the film though most likely shot on digital has a really nice looking film quality to it. Outdoor scenes really pop in terms of color and depth. 

Sound: Beach House sports a nice DTS 5.1. Dialogue come throughs nicely and overall, it has a nice robust sound design. 

Extras: None 


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Inner Sanctum Mysteries Mill Creek Entertainment Blu Ray Review

Inner Sanctum Mysteries (1943-45) Mill Creek Entertainment 11/17/2020

Calling Dr. Death, Weird Woman,Dead Man's Eyes, The Frozen Ghost, Strange Confession, Pillow of Death 

Disclaimer: Mill Creek Entertainment has provided me with a copy of this films free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 


Disc 1) Calling Dr. Death, Weird Woman, Dead Man's Eyes 

Calling Dr. Death (1943)

Directed By: Reginald Le Borg 

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Patricia Morison, David Bruce, J. Carroll Naish 

   Notable for being the first Inner Sanctum Mystery, Calling Dr. Death finds Dr. Mark Steele (Lon Chaney Jr) under suspicion for the death of his cheating wife. So, not only is this the first in the ISM series but the first I had ever seen. My first impressions was: Lon Chaney Jr was an interesting but I think very solid choice for the role. Chaney may not be shall we say the best actor but, you cannot deny that the actor carried a certain swagger and suave that would be echoed in other noir-mysteries and pulp detective fiction. Though its worth noting that Bogarts Sam Spade had already made his debut in 1941's The Maltese Falcon which is consider among the first film-noir.  I digress. If you are looking for a hardened mystery filled with twists and turns and ultra stylized camera work and femme fatales you might be disappointed. Dr. Death is a very by-the-numbers mystery that has a few interesting misdirection's but at the end of the day not all that ingenious. Having said that the film is a lean paced (only clocking in at just over 60 minutes) and Chaney is really fun to watch. As I said the film while not the most clever does have a few tricks up it's sleeve and, overall its a fairly breezy enjoyable watch. 

Picture: Dr. Death looks like it was sourced from a fairly nice looking print from Universal. The black and white photography is cleaned up with a great deal of clarity and detail. Blacks are deep and really well handled. The print isn't pristine and does have a few scratches and artifacts. Though, honestly for a movie that is over seventy years old it looks fantastic. Grain levels are actually really smooth and it doesn't have an over processed look in my opinion. 

Sound: Dr. Death has a 2.0 track. Dialogue comes in nicely and no issues as far as drop out. There is at times some slight background distortion but nothing that even comes close to being distracting. Overall, like the picture it's a very nice presentation. Not flawless but very well done nonetheless. 

Extras: Dr. Death has a Brand new commentary with author/historian C. Courtney Joyner and Regina Le Borg, daughter of director Reginald Le Borg. The film opens with a face in a crystal ball and Regina recounts that as a young girl this image haunted her dreams. This kind of sums of this commentary where Joyner and Ms. Le Borg have a candid and fun chat but, it's also filled with great information. It's such a delight to listen to and, if you are a fan of this series a real treasure. 

Weird Woman (1944)

Directed By: Reginald Le Borg 

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Evelyn Ankers, Anne Gwynn, Ralph Morgan 

     A teacher and author Norman Reed (Lon Chaney Jr) falls in love with a mysterious woman named Paula (Anne Gwynn) whilst studying superstition in the South Seas. The two marry but Paula cannot shake her beliefs which results in scheme's and murder. 1944's Weird Woman, the second Inner Sanctum film is certainly starkly different from the first film. It deals with supernatural elements but, in good mystery tradition these are often misdirection's. Much like Dr. Death the twists and turns are very basic and, for true mystery-buff's I think they are a bit too simplistic to be effective. Having said that, I think Weird Woman is a breezy, bit of fun and the strange plot and finale, coupled with it's Noir-like atmosphere makes it well worth the hour-long watch. It was also fun to see The Wolf Man's (1941) Lon Chaney with Evelyn Ankers. Speaking of cast, classic Universal Monster fans will remember Anne Gwynn from House of Frankenstein (1944), also starring Lon Chaney Jr. Not the best plotted mystery but I was entertained nonetheless. 

Picture: Similar to Dr. Death, Weird Woman looks great considering it's age. The print has a nice level of clarity and sharp detail. It's not without some scratches and artifacts however, it's certainly a much needed upgrade. 

Sound: Weird Woman has a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely with nice background hiss or audio drop outs. 

Extras:  Weird Woman has a brand new commentary with author Justin Humphreys and Del Howison. A really entertaining track filled with some well researched information.  

Dead Man's Eyes (1944)

Directed By: Reginald Le Borg 

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Jean Parker, Paul Kelly, Thomas Gomez 

A artist named Dave (Lon Chaney Jr) is blinded by a jealous model and, a transplant is the only thing that will restore his sight. Murder and mystery abound. In my opinion Dead Man's Eyes is better in terms of a plotted mystery although it lacks the strangeness and playfulness of the other to outings. I think as for acting goes this has by far the worst with line delivery that is wooden and unnatural sounding. It's star Chaney Jr doesn't help matter's by playing every scene at 11. Speaking of, installment really doesn't give the title actor Lon Chaney much to do but yell and moan and shout the sometimes laughable lines he's given. As I said this probably has the better plot but the mystery itself is still on the simplistic side and true mystery buffs may not be too impressed. Overall, like the other films a breezy, sometimes campy sixty-minute film that is enjoyable enough. 

Picture: Like the other transfer this one is really stunning looking. It's not perfect and still has some minor scratches in the print but overall it retains a nice sharp look. Grain is smooth and consistent throughout. 

Sound: Dead Man's Eyes has a 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through clear with no audio drop out or unwanted background noise. 

Extras: None

Disc 1 Extras: The Creaking Door: Entering the Inner Sanctum (17mins) Narrated by Martin Grams Jr. author and radio show historian. This is a really interesting history of horror/mystery radio programs and, of course, how the Inner Sanctum radio show fit's into all this. I love bonus features that add context to the main feature. When you have a moment it's well worth a watch. 

Poster Gallery 

Trailers 

Disc 2) The Frozen Ghost, Strange Confession, Pillow of Death

The Frozen Ghost (1945)

Directed By: Harold Young

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Milburn Stone 

    A mentalist named Alex Gregor aka Gregor the Great (Lon Chaney Jr) feels like he causes the death of a volunteer, and, soon finds himself wrapped up in a web of lies and murder involving a eerie wax museum. Taking a cue from 1933's Mystery at the Wax Museum, and, somewhat foreshadowing it's remake House of Wax (1953) this is certainly a standout film in the Inner Sanctum series. Much like the other entries the mystery plotting isn't what I call well done, however this entry has a lot going for it. Though nothing supernatural happens the film is very atmospheric and, I am a sucker for the wax-based horror subgenre. I also love seeing Chaney Jr and Evelyn Ankers (of The Wolf Man '41 fame) working together. Ankers as always dazzles and Chaney Jr though hammy, has a presents that is undeniable. I seem to enjoy the mysteries that lean flirt more with the horror genre without going fully over. One of the better films and Young does a nice job at directing this with some style. 

Picture: Overall, Frozen Ghost is really sharp looking on 1080p. Clearly they sourced from a nice Universal print which retains a lot of fine detail. It's not perfect and does have some artifacts and very light scratches. but seriously this looks damn good. 

Sound: Frozen Ghost has a nice 2.0 track. No unwanted background hiss or audio drop outs. A solid track. 

Extras:  None

Strange Confession (1945)

Directed By: John Hoffman 

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Brenda Joyce, J. Carol Naish, Milburn Stone, Lloyd Bridges, Mary Gordon 

    A chemist named Jeff (Lon Chaney Jr) gets in a jam when his credit stealing boss Roger Graham (J. Carol Naish) releases a drug Jeff produces (without his knowledge) too early. Strange Confession is a oddity in the Sanctum series as, it's mildly interesting drama (though underdeveloped) but isn't what I would call a traditional mystery with a murder and suspects etc. This may have actually made a good ninety minute feature with a script over haul and, maybe a few cast changes. Speaking of, it kind of surreal to see Lloyd Bridges and Lon Chaney Jr working side by side and they make a pretty good duo. Supporting cast includes Brenda Joyce (best known as Jane in the Tarzan films), J. Carol Naish and Mary Gordon (Bride of Frankenstein). A decent potboiler but certainly an outlier in the series. 

Picture: Again, Strange Confession seems to be source from a very nice print from Universal. The image is clear and retains a lot of great detail. There is a few flaws like some artifacts but nothing that is distracting in the least. A really nice visual presentation in my opinion. 

Sound: Like the picture the audio is really well handled. Dialogue comes through nicely with no background noise or audio drop out. 

Extras: Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Pete Atkins and author, screenwriter and historian C. Courtney Joyner. A fun, lively and informative track that is well worth the listen.  


Pillow of Death (1945)

Directed By: Wallace Fox 

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Clara Blandick, Brenda Joyce, J. Edward Bromberg, George Cleveland 

   A lawyer named Wayne (Lon Chaney Jr) is accused of murdering his wife for another woman. Inner Sanctum's were non-horror but some entries flirted with the genre. Pillow of Death is probably the one film that goes the farthest into horror (but never does outright). Wallace Fox interesting plays the film like an old-dark-house mystery with supernatural pinning's that turn out to be very natural. I love how the film really leans into the spooky atmosphere and, really plays up the lavish mansion location. In terms of story the film isn't as developed as it could have been but, I still found it more engaging than some of the other entries. 

Picture: Like the other films, Pillow of Death looks good on 1080p. Some slight artifacts and scratches but kept to a minimum and nothing that's distracting. 

Sound: Pillow of Death has a solid 2.0 tack. Very little to no background noise or audio drop out. Dialogue comes through nicely. 

Extras:  None 

Disc 2 Extras: This is the Inner Sanctum: Making a Universal Mystery Series (31min) Much like the previous bonus featurette on disc 1, This is Inner Sanctum is a really great supplement. Mark Jordan Legan TV writer and co-host of Films Freaks Forever Podcast, author/film historian Richard Heft, author, screenwriter and historian C. Courtney Joyner, filmmaker and historian Steve Latshaw, producer and film historian Michael Schlesinger, author and historian Justin Humphreys, TV writer, author Phoef Sutton  This is a great overview of the series with some great behind the scenes information. Really well produced and worth a watch. If I had to make a complaint it would be that they don't touch upon every movie in the series and I wish it would have maybe been longer. 

Mind Over Matter: And Archival Interview with Actor Martin Kosleck (11mins) This rare interview is a pretty fascinating look at Frozen Ghost actor Martin Kosleck. 

Poster Galley, Trailers 

Overall/Final Thoughts: I get frustrated when "fans" are quick to dismiss Mill Creek Entertainment as a sub-par home video label. Inner Sanctum Mysteries once again proves that the label is pushing themselves in the right direction. As noted in my break down the picture transfers are really stellar looking, especially considering the age of the films. Clearly, a lot of work was put into making these films look better than ever. Add some fantastic new bonus features from Bollyhoo productions and brand new commentaries and, you really have a great set. As somebody new to the Inner Sanctum movies I found them charming enough and, really, none of them are really unwatchable in terms of content. Universal Horror film fans will no doubt enjoy seeing Chaney Jr and Evelyn Ankers reuniting for several of these features. Again, just so this isn't misleading these are mysteries and not full horror (though some sort of flirt with the genre).  Included is a picture of the fantastic booklet included with this release. I also think the overall packaging is really well done. 

Front Cover of the booklet
The inside of the beautifully produced booklet.