August 22, 2017

DVD Review: NEVER LET GO

Starring Angela Dixon, Nigel Whitmey, Heather Peace, Rami Nasr, Velibor Topic, Sarah Perles, Lisa Eichhorn. Directed by Howard J. Ford. (2015, 94 min).

As the purveyor of this site, I'm often tasked with reviewing a lot of stuff I've never heard of, including a plethora of low budget, direct-to-video action films. In most cases, it turns out there's a good reason I haven't heard of them. But every now and then, one comes along where I find myself going, "Hey, this is actually pretty damn good." Never Let Go is one of those.

Angela Dixon is Lisa, the troubled mistress of a prominent - and married - politician, Clark Anderson (Nigel Whitmey). She's also the mother of his child. To escape for awhile, Lisa visits the Middle East (!), where her baby is promptly kidnapped. This is where the viewer learns Lisa is much more than Anderson's mistress. As a former part of his security staff, she's also a one-woman wrecking crew, unwilling to sit idly by while the bad guys get away with it. During her pursuit, she kills one of the kidnappers and is now wanted by police.

When she's not kicking asses, Angela Dixon moonlights as a dish installer.
Other than raising the obvious question of why the hell a single woman would choose to vacation in the Middle East with a newborn baby, Never Let Go is surprisingly smart and engaging. There's action 'o plenty, with numerous close-quarter fight scenes that are well-executed on a low budget. And though it owes more than a passing nod to Taken, the film tells a suspenseful story in its own right. The performances are also above average for a movie like this. As Lisa, Dixon creates a believable female action hero, capable of kicking massive amounts of ass without once throwing on high-heels.

Never Let Go makes up for its lack of originality with violent intensity, an interesting main character and a story that doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence. It won't win any Oscars, but the film does its job quite well, making it a pleasant surprise for action fans.

EXTRA KIBBLES
None
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

Blu-Ray News: Behind-the-Scenes Clip from THE MUMMY, Now on Digital and Arriving on 9/12

See how the first fight sequence between Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella was made in this awesome behind-the-scenes look in celebration of THE MUMMY now available on Digital

When an ancient evil rises up to seek revenge on our world, relive the epic saga in The Mummy, unleashing onto Digital on August 22, 2017, and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray™, DVD and On Demand on September 12, 2017 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Packed with over an hour of special bonus content, experience never-before-scene footage and hidden secrets The Mummy has within with stars Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, and Jake Johnson.

SEE THE NEW CLIP:
 

August 21, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: BLACK SAILS: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON

Starring Toby Stephens, Hannah New, Luke Arnold, Luke Roberts, Ray Stevenson, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Tom Hopper, Zethu Dlomo, Toby Schmitz, Clara Paget. Various directors. (2017, 596 min).

And so ends the only good thing Michael Bay ever attached his name to. It's kind-of sad, really. I'm sure gonna miss what my family amusingly refers to as Dad's Pirate Porn.

I never watched Black Sails when it aired on Starz, preferring the annual summer binge sessions these Blu-Ray releases provided. The show got a bit pokey at times in previous seasons, but it was the most handsomely produced series on television, with just the right amounts of sex, violence, betrayal and intrigue to keep me awake into the wee hours of the night, saying, "Okay, just one more episode, then I'll go to bed."

At least the series ends with a bang. Season 4 is the most briskly-paced and action oriented of them all, the various events of the previous three seasons coming to a head during these final 10 episodes. And, as usual, anyone not up-to-speed with these characters' past-doings will be completely lost. For the faithful, there aren't any real plot twists this season, save for the ultimate fates of a few of these characters.

"Use yer goddamn turn signal!!!"
While Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) remains the show's solid anchor, all the supporting characters have their moments. I especially enjoyed the transformation of Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz) over the course of the series from conniving little weasel to - almost - a trusted ally during the growing conflict with the British over control of Nassau. Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts) returns from Season 3 as the primary antagonist. He makes a terrific villain because, even though he often demonstrates a considerable amount of cruelty, he's not completely hateful. And while we may not condone his actions, we kind-of understand them.

It all winds down to a satisfying - sometimes surprisingly poignant - conclusion that should please most fans of the series. And while I'll miss those late summer binge-a-thons, at least Black Sails ends on a high note rather than wear out its welcome.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES: "Inside the World of Black Sails"; "Creating the World"; "Roundtable: Women in Piracy"; "Roundtable: "The Legends of Treasure Island"; "Roundtable: Fearless Fans"
DIGITAL COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

August 20, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: EFFECTS

Starring Joe Pilato, John Harrison, Tom Savini, Susan Chapek, Bernard McKenna, Debra Gordon. Directed by Dusty Nelson. (1980, 84 min).

On the outer fringes of the Romeroverse lurks Effects, a grassroots Pittsburgh production that was never given a proper release. There's nary a single zombie to be found and the film itself is unremarkable. But it's particularly noteworthy today for featuring early appearances by a few guys who'd soon become horror icons under George A. Romero's wing, most notably Tom Savini and Joe Pilato.

Effects features another of Romero's alumni, John Harrison (Creepshow composer & Tales from the Darkside director), as Lacey, an unhinged filmmaker who's supposedly directing a horror movie, when in-reality he's making a snuff film using his cast and crew as victims. It's a terrifically twisted concept and the film is pretty well made considering its shoestring budget, but undone by an overly-talky script, scattershot pacing and rambling scenes where not much happens outside of partying.

But the curiosity factor alone makes Effects worth checking out. Think about it...few cult actors are as legendary for a single performance as Joe Pilato. Three decades after Day of the Dead, he's still synonymous with Captain Rhodes because most of us haven't really seen him in anything else. He's sort-of a revelation in Effects - and a leading man, of all things! - playing a congenial cameraman who's almost the polar opposite of his most iconic role: soft-spoken, handsome, charming and...well, likable.

Mr. Pilato gets lost in his own monkey farm.
Tom Savini may be a horror legend, but those hoping to see his horrific make-up skills will phenomenally disappointed. Though he does provide the film's few effects (which are tame compared to his later work), he's mostly utilized as an actor here, playing an obnoxious crony who's in cahoots with Lacey. Savini's always been a decent actor, and although he has relatively little screen time, he turns in an amusing performance.

Effects will hold little interest for casual viewers, who'll likely be put-off by its bargain-basement production and dull execution. From a historical perspective, however, this disc is a must-own for those obsessed with anything even tenuously connected to George A. Romero. It also includes an hour-long documentary that's arguably more entertaining than the movie itself.

EXTRA KIBBLES
"AFTER EFFECTS" - An hour-long retrospective documentary from 2004 that's part cast & crew reunion, part behind-the-scenes. Easily the best feature on the entire disc, including the film (includes optional audio commentary).
2 SHORT FILMS - Weird early shorts made by some of the same folks.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - With director Dusty Nelson, actor/composer John Harrison & editor Pasquale Buba.
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...FROM A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Rest in Peace, Jerry Lewis

August 18, 2017

CD Review: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

Music by Michael Giacchino. (2017, 76 min).

Michael Giacchino's score for the War for the Planet of the Apes is the best of the entire series.

The disc hooks the listener with the very first track, "Apes' Past is Prologue," an epic 11-minute piece which is at-times reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's groundbreaking music in the original 1968 film. Whether or not that was directly intentional, it's an eerie mood-setter with ominous moments where a choir is utilized to great effect.

"Assault of the Earth" continues the dark path more urgently. The third track, "Exodus Wounds," is emotionally sweeping and a strong candidate for the best one on the entire album, establishing two of the score's strongest recurring themes. Elsewhere, these 17 tracks vary from quick two-minute bursts, such as the stunning "Ecstasy of the Bold," to longer pieces like "Apes Together Strong," which is both haunting and suspenseful.

More importantly, the score works as a stand-alone piece of music, always the hallmark of any great soundtrack album. One of the best of Giacchino's recent efforts, this disc is definitely worth picking up.
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! LIKE BEING TURNED LOOSE IN A BIRD SANCTUARY

Blu-Ray News: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND 40th Anniversary Available 9/19

STEVEN SPIELBERG’S LANDMARK CLASSIC
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
CELEBRATES ITS 40 ANNIVERSARY


All-New 4K Restoration Available Sept. 19 on 2-Disc Remastered Blu-ray, 3-Disc 4K Ultra HD & Limited Edition 3-Disc 4K Ultra HD “Light and Sound” Gift Set.
 
Both Blu-ray & 4K Ultra HD Releases Include All Three Versions of the Film, Plus All-New Bonus Material Featuring Interviews with Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams & Denis Villeneuve.

Following its exclusive one week engagement in theaters across the country starting September 1, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment celebrates the 40th anniversary of legendary director Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND on September 19 with the new 4K restoration available on 3-disc 4K Ultra HD, a Limited Edition 3-disc 4K Ultra HD “Light and Sound” Gift Set, and in high-def on 2-disc remastered Blu-ray. A must-own for all true fans, the highly collectible Limited Edition Gift Set features illuminated packaging that plays the iconic 5-tone motif. Also included is an expanded booklet with rare archival photos. Both Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD releases include all three restored versions of the film, including the 1977 theatrical version, the 1980 Special Edition and the 1997 Director’s Cut.


In addition to the legacy bonus materials, the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND Blu-ray comes with new bonus content, including rare, never-before-seen home movies and gags from the set, and the all-new featurette “Three Kinds of Close Encounters.” This featurette includes a new interview with director Steven Spielberg on the legacy of the film, as well as new interviews with directors J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) on the impact of Close Encounters.

August 17, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: KILL SWITCH

Starring Dan Stevens, Berennice Maylohe, Tygo Gernandt, Charity Wakefield, Baz Keijzer, Mike Libanon, Mike Reus. Directed by TimSmiT. (2017, 92 min).

Kill Switch is conceptually intriguing, but questionably executed.

In the near future, the Alterplex corporation has developed and built a massive device that will provide unlimited energy to the world. It does this by sucking energy from The Echo, a mirror universe created by the machine. When this begins to trigger bizarre interdimensional disasters, NASA pilot Will Porter (Dan Stevens) is recruited to travel into The Echo and close the link between both worlds using a black box called the Redivider. This will also destroy The Echo, but failure to do so will result in the end of both worlds. However, even though The Echo is supposed to be devoid of biological life, people identical to those in the real world exist there and understandably don't relish the thought of extinction.

"What? You're not the Ghostbusters??
It will come as no surprise that director/producer TimSmiT's background is in CG special effects, which he created for this film as well. Considering the film's limited budget, Kill Switch is visually impressive, with boats and railroad cars falling from the sky and deadly police drones patrolling the city. However, while the  ramifications of multidimensional interaction is a concept just begging to be explored, everything takes a backseat to barrages of gunfire and explosions. 

Fans of Stevens will also be disappointed to learn he only appears onscreen in flashback sequences, which are periodically dispersed throughout the film to provide exposition (including a pointless subplot involving his sister and her troubled son). The rest of plays like a first-person shooter video game, shown entirely from Porter's point of view. While initially interesting, the gimmick is nothing new and grows tiresome after awhile.

As it is, Kill Switch certainly watchable. It seldom slows down for a minute and boasts enough mayhem to please undemanding action fans. But by choosing spectacle over substance, it's also a missed opportunity. With a concept like that, our brains should be as engaged as our eyes.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTE: "The Visual Effect: Inside the Director's
Process"
AUDIO COMMENTARY
DIGITAL COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...BUT A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

August 16, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (2005)

Starring Adam Baldwin, Rutger Hauer, Steve Guttenberg, Bryan Brown, Alexa Hamilton, Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots, C. Thomas Howell, Amber Sainsbury, Sylvia Sims, Peter Weller, Nathalie Boltt, Peter Dobson, Alex Kingston. Directed by John Putch. (2005, 175 min).

We all know the story...on New Year's Eve during her final voyage, the SS Poseidon is struck by a massive tidal wave which capsizes the ship. The survivors must now make their way to the hull and hope for a rescue before it sinks for good.

Well, purists be prepared, because this 2005 made-for-TV remake of The Poseidon Adventure commits heresy by removing the tidal wave from a story that was mostly about a tidal wave. The original is unarguably a disaster movie classic, though not such a sacred cinematic cow that a remake is out of the question (a lot of folks in Hollywood must have agreed because we got two within a year). But, seriously...no tidal wave? Whose idea was that...George Lucas'?

Like attempting to enjoy a meatless burger, disaster buffs just need to suck it up and accept the idea that an oceanliner can be capsized by an exploding beer keg.

Uh...what?

Someone enjoyed one too many deviled eggs from the buffet table.
Actually, the keg is one of several bombs that are brought on-board by an unnamed group of terrorists. It's never made clear exactly what their beef is, but much of the first hour - besides introducing a variety of ill-fated passengers - focuses on this plot, with grumpy Sea Marshal Mike Rogo (Adam Baldwin) searching the ship for terrorists. This is The Poseidon Adventure in-name-only until the ship finally capsizes. Perhaps the producers chose the terrorist route because, considering the already-terrible CGI, recreating a convincing tidal wave was an insurmountable task. Or maybe there wasn't enough meat to the original story to justify the four hour running time a miniseries generally requires.

But believe it or not, the movie improves as it goes along and the stuntwork itself is rather impressive. Better yet, it starts to resemble the Poseidon Adventure of old during the second half. Several escape sequences are more-or-less recreated pretty faithfully, albeit on a TV budget.

Some of the characters - both familiar and new - are actually pretty interesting. Baldwin, in a rare leading role, is suitably badass, while Rutger Hauer is surprisingly effective as a tough-but-kindly priest. To be honest, I always hated Shelley Winter's whiny, obnoxious performance in the original, but Sylvia Syms does wonders with the same character, rendering her subtly endearing and sympathetic.

Steve Guttenberg as The Douchebag.
In fact, most of the cast and their characters are decent as TV movies go. One glaring exception is Steve Guttenberg as Richard. Having a face that's inherently punchable is bad enough, but he's also stuck with one of the most repugnant characters I've ever seen in a disaster movie (taking into account every movie in the Airport franchise, that's saying something). This is a guy who abandons his entire family to shack up with the ship's masseuse for the rest of the trip, then we're expected to hope he survives the disaster. Worse yet, even though time is rapidly running out, everyone is repeatedly forced to halt their escape plans while Richard makes impassioned declarations of love to his wife and kids (and Guttenberg can't emote worth a damn). But even after that, while his wife looks on, he still mourns the death of the chick he's been boinking.

That brutal story & casting decision aside, the movie itself isn't all that bad once you get over the fact no tidal wave is forthcoming. Sure, like a lot of "event" miniseries that were popular at the time, The Poseidon Adventure is too long by an hour (further padded by needless scenes of rescue efforts) and the special effects are terrible, but this often-dubious genre has produced bigger stinkers, including its mega-budget brethren, Poseidon, which is far more spectacular, but works better as a sleep aid.

EXTRA KIBBLES
None
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

August 14, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: BLUEBEARD

Starring Cho Jin-woong, Shin Goo, Kim Dae-myung, Song Young-chang, Lee Chung-ah, Yoon Se-ah. Directed by Lee Soo-yeon. (2017, 117 min).

Did I miss something while watching Bluebeard?

I could see what they were trying to do by giving us a main character we don't entirely trust, making us question whether or not what he's experiencing is real. Cho Jin-woong plays Byun, a troubled doctor who's estranged from his ex-wife and living alone in a cluttered, tiny apartment. Once the owner of a clinic which went bankrupt, he now performs colonoscopies in a crime-ridden part of town to make ends meet. There's also a serial killer on the loose, and one of the dismembered victims has recently been discovered in a nearby river.

As a favor to his landlord, Jung Sung-geun (Kim Dae-myung), Byun examines his father (Shin Goo). But while sedated, the old man describes gruesome details of one of the murders. Though he befriends Jung, Byun begins to suspect the Sung-geun family (who also own a butcher shop in the same building) are the serial killers everyone is looking for, especially after he spots what looks like a human head in their meat locker. That same head pops up in his own freezer, then disappears the next day. Later, his ex-wife disappears right after a recent visit, prompting Byun to find evidence to expose the Sung-geuns.

"You must owe a hell of a lot in library fines."
Bluebeard does so many things right that it's a shame the film undoes itself during the final act. Director Lee Soo-yeon does an exemplary job creating a moody, surreal tone, with some creepy, hallucinatory sequences and effectively deliberate pacing. As Byun, Cho Jin-woong hits all the right notes as a tormented doctor whose life has recently taken some dark turns, and we're intrigued to learn exactly what led him to his sorry state. But unlike similar films which depend on deceiving the viewer to set up a big twist, we almost immediately begin to suspect something's not quite right with Byun.

Bluebeard's "failure" to pull the wool over our eyes isn't the problem, though. After all, I know the outcome of every sports movie ever made, but still enjoy them. Without providing spoilers, the biggest issue is the final act, where previous events are laborously revisited from a different perspective. But then the subsequent resolution undermines its own story by throwing us another curveball which, based on what we've already been presented with, rings false. Unless I completely overlooked some vital piece of information - a subtle hint, a throwaway line, my willingness to suspend disbelief - I don't see how the denouement is even possible.

Still, I find myself thinking a lot about the plausibility of that ending, and maybe that was the film's purpose all along. Maybe it intended to confound its own logic   just to get a rise out of the viewer. Whatever the case, Bluebeard's dark tone and solid performances may not be enough for us to forgive the narrative shortcomings, but at least the journey is kind of interesting. 

EXTRA KIBBLES
None 
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW