November 22, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: DOLORES CLAIBORNE

Starring Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judy Parfitt, Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, Ellen Muth, Eric Bogosian, Bob Gunton. Directed by Taylor Hackford. (1995, 131 min).

I've been a fan of Stephen King most of my life and have read nearly all his books. With few exceptions, I've always preferred the horror novels to those which dabble in other genres. Interestingly, though, it's often the latter which have ended up being better movies, even improving on their source material.

I suppose part of that is because horror has always been difficult to pull-off well, and why the few great adaptations of King's bread-&-butter, like Carrie, The Dead Zone, and The Mist, stand out as true classics. But I think the main reason is, even when King is writing mysteries, straight thrillers or slice-of-life narratives, his characters are still rich, vivid and complex. What self-respecting actor or director wouldn't want to get their mitts on them?

Alabama foreplay.
Though not as widely revered as Misery, The Shawshank Redemption or Stand by Me, Dolores Claiborne is another example of one of King's less compelling novels scoring as a terrific movie. Kathy Bates may not have nabbed another Oscar nod for this one, but her performance as the titular character, who may or may not have murdered her ailing employer, is just as remarkable. She's surrounded by a talented cast which includes Jennifer Jason Leigh as Selena, her estranged daughter, and Christopher Plummer as Mackey, a detective obsessed with proving her guilt; he remains convinced Dolores also murdered her abusive husband (David Strathairn) 18 years earlier, the one case he was never able to close.

But Dolores Claiborne isn't a standard mystery. It's also a tragic character study of an unhappy woman who still suffers from her family being torn apart by abuse (revealed through vivid flashbacks). The film is filled with surprises and revelations, the dark, somber mood aided considerably by the beautifully-dreary winter setting (which looks stunning on Blu-Ray).

Most importantly, Dolores Claiborne tells a great story, which unfolds better on the screen than it did on the printed page. The characters and performances are first-rate, as is the cinematography, all of which help make this director Taylor Hackford's best, most underappreciated film.

EXTRA KIBBLES
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Director Taylor Hackford

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

November 20, 2017

Rest in Peace, Della Reese

Blu-Ray Review: BATTLE CRY

Starring Van Heflin, Aldo Ray, James Whitmore, Nancy Olson, Tab Hunter, Anne Francis, Dorothy Malone, Mona Freeman, William Campbell, John Lupton, Perry Lopez, Justus E. McQueen, Fess Parker. Directed by Raoul Walsh. (1955, 148 min).

Battle Cry is definitely one of those classics that can only be appreciated if viewed in the context of when it was made.

Once upon a time in Hollywood, war was a good thing, young men craved battle, women were dames, enemies were Japs and soldiers' dads approved of their sons' decision to take up smoking. Yeah, Battle Cry is definitely a pro-war movie that wears its nationalism proudly, but so were most war movies of the time.

And really, Battle Cry is not-so-much a war movie as it is a melodrama that just happens to take place during World War II. Despite a lot of tough talking narration by dedicated platoon leader Sgt. Mac (James Whitmore), very little of this film takes place of the battlefield. The narrative follows a variety of Marine recruits ("Huxley's Harlots") from basic training through their return home to their wives, girlfriends and families (those who survive, that is). We mostly see how they live & love while waiting to be called to fight, growing increasingly frustrated at being regulated to "mopping up" after battles, much to the chagrin of their CO, Colonel  Huxley (Van Heflin).

"Sorry, kid...got lost in your eyes for a sec."
There's the usual collection of assorted characters - the feisty Latino, the stoic Indian, the comic relief, the backwoods country boy, the lovesick Dear John, the blonde dreamboat, etc. The most interesting is Aldo Ray as Hookens, a proud, self-proclaimed womanizer who ironically falls in love while stationed in New Zealand. Hookens is the only character who undergoes any real change throughout the film; most of the others are walking cliches. Everything almost plays like an epic soap opera.

"I give up...what does the fox say?"
Yet despite some cardboard characters, cornball melodrama and a complete lack of action for the first two hours, Battle Cry is actually quite entertaining. These characters may not be unique, but they're enjoyable and the narrative more-or-less gives each equal attention, at least until the story calls for some to die, mostly off-camera. Speaking of which, Battle Cry tends to swiftly - and lazily - write several characters out of the narrative. Those who died in skirmishes are merely given a quick shout-out by our narrator after-the-fact. This jarring vanishing act isn't just regulated to the soldiers. Both Dorothy Malone and the beautiful Anne Francis show up to complicate two soldiers' lives, then abruptly disappear for the rest of the movie.

But even with its narrative shortcomings, Battle Cry remains consistently engaging. In some ways, I was reminded of 1970's Airport (coincidentally also featuring Heflin), which was marvelously entertaining despite of a plethora of shallow characters and eye-rolling dialogue. While Battle Cry isn't as dumb, it juggles nearly as many melodramatic subplots and does it very well. It also helps if you keep in-mind when this was was made.

EXTRA KIBBLES
TRAILER
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

November 18, 2017

Rest in Peace, Ann Wedgeworth

Blu-Ray Review: THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Gary Oldman, Tine Joustra, Yuri Kolokolnkov, Joaquim de Almeida. Directed by Patrick Hughes. (2017, 118 min).

For the longest time, I couldn't stand Ryan Reynolds. There was something about his  performances that just rubbed me the wrong way...a juvenile, smug, frat-boyish quality he brought to his roles that almost always sucked me right out of the movie. However, he was terrific in the underappreciated black comedy, The Voices, the first time I thought he was truly convincing. And of course there's Deadpool. Really, it's hard to imagine anyone else as the title character.

Maybe I'm just getting used to him, or maybe he's more versatile than I first first gave him credit for, because not only did I enjoy him in The Hitman's Bodyguard, he's the best part of the movie. No small feat when your co-star is Samuel L. Jackson. Then again, Jackson doesn't exactly spread his wings, playing yet-another expletive-spouting badass (though he's still amusing). Reynolds is mostly the uptight straight-man to Jackson's more cavalier antics, but his often-deadpan performance when reacting to the surrounding mayhem is pretty damn funny.

"Ryan, how do you deal with crazy Marvel fanboys?"
The plot itself is strictly by-the-book. Down-on-his-luck professional bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is coursed by his former girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), into escorting notorious killer-for-hire Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to testify at the International Criminal Court in The Netherlands. Kincaid is the only living witness to atrocities committed by tyrannical Belarian president Vladdislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, who doesn't really stretch himself either). Duknovich stops at nothing trying to keep Bryce & Kincaid from reaching the courthouse alive.

Sam salutes his critics.
The Hitman's Bodyguard could have been a straightforward - and generic - thriller, but goes the still-pretty-generic buddy-comedy route: Bryce & Kincaid first want to kill each other, but are forced to work together in order to survive before finally developing mutual fondness and respect. Still, the formula more-or-less works, mostly thanks to the two leads, who play off each other well. On the other hand, Salma Hayek as Kincaid's fiery, foul-mouthed wife is sort-of wasted. She's easy on the eyes as always, but her character is strictly a plot device who, aside from a few flashbacks, doesn't share any scenes with the rest of the cast.

Strewn throughout the plot is a lot of gunplay, destruction and a surprising amount of bloody violence. These segments are well-executed, even played for laughs on occasion (there are moments that approach black comedy), though, like the story, no one's exactly reinventing the wheel here. Still, the two leads' chemistry together ultimately makes The Hitman's Bodyguard worth checking out. They're obviously having a lot of fun and fans of this sort of thing likely will, too, even if they've seen it all before.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES (mostly of the promotional variety): "Big Action in a Big World"; "The Hitman's Bodyguard: A Love Story"; "Hitman vs. Bodyguard" (all film clips); "Dangerous Women"
DELETED/EXTENDED/ALTERNATE SCENES
OUTTAKES
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

November 16, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS and RUBY (1977)

VCI Entertainment unleashes two blasts from the past on Blu-Ray for the first time, perhaps fondly remembered by those who spent the 70s in drive-ins & run-down suburban triplexes.

SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS
Starring John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jack Kruschen, John Carradine and a slew of young "actors" we never heard from again. Directed by Greydon Clark. (1977, 90 min).

Ignored at the Oscars that year, 1977's Satan's Cheerleaders is a jaw-droppingly inept attempt at comedy and horror in one cheap, gratuitous package. The result is both uproarious and, at times, surprisingly depressing.

Good news first...the dialogue and performances are comedy gold, though not for the reasons the producers intended. The "funny" moments - mostly four nubile teens engaging in such deviant behavior as water balloon fights and sexual innuendo - evoke laughter due to a completely misguided sense of what's actually funny. We're almost embarrassed for the kids forced to utter these lines while trying in vain to look sexy, to say nothing of the older actors paid to appear dumbfounded by these so-called delinquents.

Speaking of the latter, what the hell are the likes of John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo & John Carradine doing in something like this? That's the depressing part for anyone who recalls the glory days of these once-respected actors. Watching them ham it up as bumbling Satanists (constantly thwarted by a batch of bouncing bimbos) is more sad than funny. Is this all the work they could get at the time?

While changes in our cultural climate over the last 40 years render scenes of old men leering at semi-nude young girls in a locker room kinda repulsive, Satan's Cheerleaders still provides plenty o' fun at its own expense. And believe it or not, the cinematographer of this no-budget hoot is none-other than the great Dean Cundey! I guess everyone had to start somewhere.

KITTY CONSENSUS: GOOD FOR LAUGHS

EXTRA KIBBLES
AUDIO COMMENTARIES - One by director Greydon Clark, the other by David DeCoteau (a B-movie director whose credits include Creepozoids) and genre film journalist David Del Valle
PHOTO GALLERY
DVD COPY

RUBY
Starring Piper Laurie, Stuart Whitman, Roger Davis, Janit Baldwin, Sal Vecchio, Pail Kent, Len Lesser. Directed by Curtis Harrington. (1977, 85 min).

"Christened in blood. Raised in Sin. She's sweet sixteen, let the party begin."

I remember that tagline from Ruby's misleading ad campaign, which helped it ride the coattails of Carrie to box office success. The trailer also ballyhooed star Piper Laurie, fresh-off playing Carrie's psychotic mom. She's the title character in this one, though not the source of terror we were all led to believe.

Instead, Laurie is a former wannabe starlet and the widow of Nicky, a gangster who was murdered sixteen years earlier. She's since opened up a drive-in theater and given work to the rest of the old gang. Ruby isn't a particularly likable lady - she wants to have her mute teenage daughter committed - but she still loves and misses Nicky. Still, you can't keep a good gangster down. Believing Ruby and his gang betrayed him, Nicky begins striking from the grave, killing them one by one.

Back in the day, we may have been initially disappointed at the lack of teens & telepaths, but Ruby is a mildly engaging slab of southern gothic horror. It's definitely hampered by low budget - check-out the off-screen crash where the burning vehicle is obviously a completely different make & model than the one the character was just driving - but while not particularly scary, the film is atmospheric, making the most of its drive-in/swampland setting. The performances range from enjoyable to awful. Various veteran character actors earn their paychecks (and Laurie is amusingly over-the-top), while the younger cast of no-names would fit right in with the stars of Satan's Cheerleaders.

40 years later, Ruby may not have aged as well as other classic horrors of the 70s, but for those roped into checking it out at their local drive-in back then, it's a nice little nostalgia trip. You might even find it's a bit better than you remember.

NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW
EXTRA KIBBLES
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR CURTIS HARRINGTON (from 2001)
"SINISTER IMAGE" EPISODES - Two more interviews with Curtis Harrington
AUDIO COMMENTARIES - One with director Curtis Harrington & Piper Laurie, the other with David Del Valle (again!) and Nathaniel Bell
LINER NOTES
ORIGINAL TRAILER
DVD COPY

Movie News: THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT Teaser Trailer

THE STRANGERS ARE BACK!

From Aviron Pictures, THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT, inspired by the 2008 smash hit THE STRANGERS, hits theaters March 9, 2018.

A family’s road trip takes a dangerous turn when they arrive at a secluded mobile home park to stay with some relatives and find it mysteriously deserted. Under the cover of darkness, three masked psychopaths pay them a visit to test the family’s every limit as they struggle to survive. Check out the highly anticipated TEASER TRAILER below.


November 15, 2017

Blu-Ray News: THE FOREIGNER on Digital 12/26 and Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand 1/9


JACKIE CHAN AND PIERCE BROSNAN
FACE OFF IN THE PROVOCATIVE REVENGE THRILLER

Universal City, California, November 15, 2017 Global superstar Jackie Chan (Rush Hour trilogy) returns to the big screen like you’ve never seen him before in the action-packed film, The Foreigner, arriving on Digital on December 26, 2017 and on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on January 9, 2018 from STXfilms and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), the film also stars Pierce Brosnan (Tomorrow Never Dies), Katie Leung (Harry Potter franchise), Orla Brady (Wuthering Heights), Charlie Murphy (Philomena), and Michael McElhatton (“Game of Thrones”). With impressive action sequences and edge-of-your-seat twists and turns, The Foreigner, from STXfilms (Bad Moms franchise), tells a compelling and emotional story of justice, redemption, and retribution. Filled with gripping and explosive scenes, the film also comes with special bonus features including a behind-the-scenes look into the making of the film and interviews with the cast.

Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan star in The Foreigner, a timely action thriller from the director of Casino Royale and Goldeneye.  Chan stars as humble London businessman Quan, whose long-buried past erupts in a revenge-fueled vendetta when the only person left for him to love -- his teenage daughter -- is taken from him in a senseless act of politically-motivated terrorism. In his relentless search for the identity of the terrorists, Quan is forced into a cat- and-mouse conflict with a British government official (Brosnan), whose own past may hold clues to the identities of the elusive killers.

November 14, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: THE VILLAINESS

Starring Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-kyun, Sung Joon, Kim Seo-hyung, Jo Eun-ji, Park Chul-min. Directed by Jung Byung-gil. (2017, 124 min).

The Villainess begins with a truly remarkable action sequence. With guns, knives and her considerable fighting skills, our vengeful main character, Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), slaughters her way through a warehouse of at-least 50 thugs. It's a long, bloody, nearly unedited set-piece that's crazy, thrilling and masterfully choreographed.

After being apprehended by police immediately afterwards, Sook-hee finds herself in the hands of a mysterious organization (we're to assume it's the government) that trains assassins to do their dirty work. One would think someone already capable of single-handedly killing several dozen men wouldn't require any additional training, but never mind. The viewer might be too overcome by deja vu to fuss over such a minor plot detail.

Why we have distracted driving laws.
Storywise, this South Korean film borrows pretty liberally from the likes of La Femme Nikita and Kill Bill, though handled with such panache and audacity that we easily forgive its derivativeness. While the aforementioned opening scene is easily the creative highpoint, there's still plenty of ferocious and exhilarating action throughout the whole film, including a delirious & deadly fight on a speeding city bus. As Sook-hee, Ok-bin carries much of the film on her shoulders and gives us a character that, despite her inherent viciousness (a product of her upbringing), we empathize with and root for.

"I am NOT missing this bus!"
Though a bit longish, The Villainess is an exciting, brutal good time. It's nothing new from a narrative standpoint, but loaded with brash, kinetic action sequences presented in a way you likely haven't seen before. That more-than-compensates for any lack of originality. Fans of all sorts of movie mayhem are sure to get a big kick out of it.

EXTRA KIBBLES
MAKING-OF FEATURETTE
TRAILERS
ENGLISH LANGUAGE OPTION
DVD COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

Blu-Ray News: FRIEND REQUEST on Digital HD 12/19 and Blu-ray and DVD 1/9


SANTA MONICA, CA (November 14, 2017)The consequences are deadly when black magic mixes with social media in Friend Request, arriving on Digital December 19 and on Blu-ray™ (plus Digital), DVD and On Demand January 9 from Lionsgate. Alycia Debnam-Carey (“Fear the Walking Dead,” Into the Storm) leads the terrifying feature, which also stars William Moseley (The Chronicles of Narnia franchise, “The Royals”), Connor Paolo (“Revenge,” “Gossip Girl”), Brit Morgan (“Supergirl,” “Graceland”) and Liesl Ahlers (The Challenger Disaster).

Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a popular college student who lives her college life to the fullest and gladly shares it with her 800 Facebook friends. But when she accepts a friend request from her mysterious classmate Marina (Liesl Ahlers), she unwittingly sets a terrible curse in motion. The dead girl’s impenetrable profile begins to drive Laura into isolation. It takes control of Laura’s virtual world and her real life as well. One after another, her closest friends die horrendous deaths, leaving Laura with only a few days to solve the enigma of this haunting curse to save the few friends she has left, as well as her own life.