September 28, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: THE ANOMALY

Starring Noel Clarke, Ian Somerhalder, Alexis Knapp, Luke Hemsworth, Ali Cook, Brian Cox. Directed by Noel Clarke. (2014, 97 min).

It’s the future. A powerful organization is using mind-controlling bio-technology as a weapon to manipulate others into doing all sorts of nasty deeds. One victim is our hero, Ryan (Noel Clarke), who has no idea what’s going on, especially since his mind transfers from one individual’s body to the next every ten minutes. But that doesn’t stop him from commencing in some ass-kicking to discover this organization’s nefarious agenda.

The Anomaly never makes it quite clear what that agenda actually is, nor the stakes involved. Still, ambiguity isn’t the film’s problem. I love nothing more than well-made, intricate sci-fi which takes its time laying its narrative cards on the table and forcing me to think. But there’s a big difference between challenging and convoluted. The Anomaly is a dull, derivative mess, plucking story elements from similar films like Total Recall without any rudimentary understanding of what makes a good mindbender.

"Dude, we are so lost."

But even that could be overlooked if the film at least provided some interesting characters and action, which The Anomaly doesn’t. As directed and co-written by star Noel Clarke (can we say vanity project?), the film is populated with dull, cliched characters and bland performances. The numerous fight scenes are ultimately rendered unintentionally funny due to the extreme overuse of Matrix-style slow-motion, even when two combatants are merely shoving each other.

Narratively confusing without ever earning the right to be so, The Anomaly is a laborious chore to sit through. In fact, it almost plays like a failed pilot for a SyFy channel series. There are plenty of better films of this genre (both blockbuster and low budget) which are more worth your time.


September 27, 2015


Starring Jesse Metcalfe, Meghan Ory, Virginia Madsen, Dennis Haysbert, Keegan Connor Tracy, Rob Riggle. Directed by Zack Lipovsky. (2015, 118 min).

Just to show you how out-of-touch I am...

My oldest daughter saw this DVD screener on the dining room table and remarked, "They made a movie out of this?"

"Out of what?" I asked. "What do you mean?"

"Dad, Dead Rising is a super popular video game," she replied with just the slightest hint of amusement at my ignorance.

Needless to say, I have no frame of reference to judge how faithfully this film adheres to the game which inspired it. Though I occasionally indulge my road rage fantasies with a few rounds of Mario Kart, I've never been much of a gamer. Maybe that's why I was always able to appreciate the Resident Evil films on their own merits and enjoy them for what they are...mindless, flashy fun aimed at those who've probably never seen a real zombie movie. Maybe that's also why I found Dead Rising: Watchtower a reasonably entertaining way to kill two hours. I couldn't tell you if the premise, characters and occasional bits of off-the-wall humor are indicative of the video game series, but for a low budget zombie film which first premiered on Sony's Crackle network, I've seen a lot worse from the genre.

Dead Rising: Watchtower takes place in a fictional Oregon metropolis where zombie outbreaks are commonplace, but the infection can be neutralized with daily injections of Zombrex. When the drug suddenly stops working, the undead run rampant and the city is quarantined. Thousands are trapped inside, including an opportunistic reporter, a mysterious woman whose own stash of Zombrex still works, a grieving mother and a gang of lawless bikers taking advantage of the sudden anarchy. Outside the walls, the military tries to keep things contained while a national news network amusingly covers the events as they transpire. But not everyone is who they seem, and the government may be using this particular outbreak for a more nefarious agenda.

"Balloon animals! NOW!"

This is actually pretty plot heavy for a zombie film, with cover-ups and conspiracies surrounding the latest outbreak. Good thing said-plot is interesting enough for the viewer to forgive the fact it’s never very scary and only infrequently lets the blood fly. And despite the overall serious tone, there is a playful sense of humor which runs throughout the film, particularly the frequent newsbreaks featuring an overly-macho Rob Riggle as the lone survivor of a previous zombie attack.

Not everything works. Sometimes the plot depends too much on the stupidity of its characters and the epic scope of the whole event is occasionally undermined by the limited budget. Still, the performances are decent and, even running almost two hours, the film doesn’t wear out its welcome. You’ve probably seen better zombie movies, but scores more which are far worse.


  • Audio Commentary
  • Featurettes: "The Weapons of Dead Rising"; "Genesis of Bonzo the Zombie Clown"; “The Epic One-Take Shot” (which documents an impressive sequence half-way through the film in which our main character dispatches dozens of the undead in a single unbroken take)
  • Rob Riggle Blooper Reel (which is pretty funny)


September 26, 2015


Starring Bart the Bear, Douce the Bear, Tcheky Karyo, Andre Lacombe, Jack Wallace. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. (1988, 96 min).

The Bear was actually released in 1988, so it's technically the 27th Anniversary, but that's just nitpicking. Since it's been at least two decades since most of us have seen it, what does a year-or-two matter? What's truly important is this beautifully-shot movie is finally available on Blu-Ray.

Revisiting The Bear after such a long time was sort-of an eye-opener. When the screener arrived at the house, I set-aside some TV time so my youngest daughter, Lucy, could enjoy it while I did my review. After all, what kid doesn't love animal movies, especially those with bears?

But I'd forgotten that The Bear begins on a heartbreakingly tragic note, with a female grizzly crushed by falling rocks, leaving her cub (Douce) to fend for himself. I also forgot how violent it is at times; Bart, the male bear who takes Douce in his care, is graphically shot by hunters. Other animals die badly as well, including horses and hunting dogs (one of which is shown partially disemboweled after-the-fact, just before its master puts it out of its misery). Nor did I remember Bart's long, loud, grunting sexual encounter with a female while Douce looks on, waiting for him to finish. Then there's the scene where Douce gets high after dining on hallucinogenic mushrooms. Considering The Bear is mostly remembered as a family film, that’s a hell of a lot of sex, drugs and rock & roll.

Upon learning a local death metal band is looking for a new singer, Bart & Douce decide to audtition.

By the halfway mark, Lucy had enough and wandered off to play Minecraft (bears in peril ain't her thing), leaving me with the conclusion that director Jean-Jacque Annaud never had any intention of making a family film in the first place. Indeed, The Bear is ultimately best appreciated by cinephiles onboard with a director’s attempt to present a story with a minimum of dialogue or exposition. For the most part, Annaud is successful. The Bear has a lot of beautiful moments, both visually and narratively, not-to-mention a considerable amount of character depth (no small feat when you consider half of the cast consists of animals). However, one aspect of the film has always been terrible, namely Touce’s dream sequences (including his whole LSD trip). These haphazard, FX-driven scenes are cheesy, dated and look as though they belong in an entirely different movie altogether.

Other than that, The Bear remains a timeless classic. The relationship between Bart and Douce is manipulatively heart-warming, and only the most cold-blooded individual wouldn't be charmed by these two. Best of all, the film has been nicely restored for this long-awaited Blu-Ray release, meaning its spectacular cinematography has never looked better on home video.

But I'd still think twice before sharing it with wee ones.

EXTRAS: "The Making of The Bear"


September 23, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: FATAL INSTINCT (1993)

Starring Armand Assante, Sherlyn Fenn, Kate Nelligan, Sean Young, Christopher McDonald, James Remar. Directed by Carl Reiner. (1993, 90 min).

The price we paid for Airplane! has been very high indeed. That unexpected hit was unlike anything we'd seen before (not even from Mel Brooks): A spot-on satire presented with a completely straight face, featuring a cast best-known for dramatic roles. The gags came so fast and furious that you couldn't catch them all in one viewing. Airplane! was like a MAD Magazine satire come-to-life.

Naturally, we were inundated with dozens more parodies hoping to emulate the formula. Some were great (such as Top Secret!, made by the same team), others merely okay. Most, however, have been terrible, practically begging for laughs with a nudge and a wink to remind us they’re trying to be funny. One such example is 1993’s Fatal Instinct, an anemic attempt to parody erotic thrillers like Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and Body Heat, a genre quite popular at the time.

Like Airplane!, Fatal Instinct is loaded with more gags and puns than the average script can hold. Unfortunately, most of them are heavy-handed and dumb. Much of what made Airplane! so great, besides being the first of its kind, was the attention to details (often in the background) which may not be noticed even after many viewings. That subtlety is what separates the film from its imitators, even today. Most of Fatal Instinct’s gags are broad, slap-sticky and in your face. What’s ultimately sad is this is one of the last films directed by the great Carl Reiner, who’d previously helmed many comedy classics and is responsible for some of Steve Martin’s best movies of the 80s.

Some want to rock & roll all night. Others want to party every day.

However, one thing the film definitely does right is casting actors not normally associated with comedy. Armand Assante and James Remar, in particular, are pretty amusing, essentially spoofing their own images with the same intensity as their more serious performances, which is good for a few hearty laughs. Some other scattershot gags work as well, but not nearly enough to make it worthy of mention in the same sentence as Airplane! or Blazing Saddles. Even so, Fatal Instinct is a freaking masterpiece compared to the current visual vomit (mostly by Aaron Seltzer & Jason Friedberg or one of the Wayans brothers) passing itself off as parody.

None, even though there are bonus features listed on the cover.


September 21, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: THE WOODS (2006)

Starring Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, Bruce Campbell, Lauren Birkell, Rachel Nichols. Directed by Lucky McKee. (2006, 91 min).

It’s 1965. Heather (Agnes Bruckner) is a troubled teen whose parents ship her to Falburn Academy, an all girls school in the middle of a forest. Her slacker dad (Bruce Campbell) can’t afford the steep tuition, but she’s allowed to stay because of a mysterious scholarship test administered by the dean, Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson).

But Traverse isn’t quite who she seems, nor is the school itself, apparently still haunted by three red-headed witches who vanished into the woods decades ago (but not before killing the headmistress). Soon, Heather is tormented by bizarre visions (as well as a bullying classmate), while girls begin to mysteriously vanish. And of course...something’s out there in the woods.

The Woods is a deliberately-paced, atmospheric piece of gothic horror from Lucky McKee, best-known for the cult sleeper, May. Like most of his films, The Woods features quirky, complex female main characters, Clarkson in particular. She makes the most of this rare chance to play to truly creepy villain. On the other hand, the great Bruce Campbell is largely wasted in a role which makes no use of hisbeloved talents. Granted, McKee is obviously aiming for something different from Campbell’s usual forte. So why cast him in such a thankless role which could have been played by anybody?

Who farted?

Storywise, The Woods walks a familiar path. There aren’t too many surprises along the way and the climax is a bit of a let-down. But as the old cliche goes, sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. This particular journey is sometimes pretty interesting and even manages to instill a bit of dread on a few occasions.

Though it isn‘t likely to flat-out terrify anyone, The Woods is well made for what it is and worth checking out at least once. It’s not nearly as original or entertaining as McKee’s May, but it’s a nice take on a well-worm premise.


September 19, 2015


Starring Alec Guinness, Simon Ward, Adolfo Celi, Diane Cilento, Doris Kunstmann, eric Porter, Joss Ackland, Julian Glover. Directed by Ennio De Concini. (1973, 105 min).

Another little oddity resurrected by Olive Films, Hitler: The Last Ten Days features Alec Guinness in the title role, practically gnashing the scenery as he rants, raves and pounds his fists while his co-stars look on helplessly, unable to compete for attention. Though his performance borders on high camp at times, Guinness himself always considered it one of his best roles (an opinion not shared too many others).

As the title suggests, Hitler's days are numbered, though he still behaves as though he's on the verge of total victory, hiding in a Berlin bunker with trusted generals, friends and advisors who often tell him what he wants to hear because they're afraid to concede Germany has no chance of winning the war. Hitler himself is depicted as a completely paranoid, overconfident, sexist, delusional megalomaniac (which he obviously was). Guinness attacks the role with the same over-the-top zeal as Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, which is fine from an entertainment standpoint. In fact, the film becomes deadly dull whenever Guinness is off-screen. Even then, Hitler is mostly presented as a mere caricature of everything we already knew and suspected about him.

No one wants to play Rock-Paper-Scissors with Adolf.

Since there’s little actual plot other than secondary characters discussing what’s going on outside the bunker, Guinness is the sole attraction here. As such, Hitler: The Last Ten Days is an interesting curio, especially to those who mostly associate Guinness with David Lean epics or as Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (a role which, ironically, he hated). His performance is decidedly one-note, yet interesting just the same, mostly because he seldom ever played such a blatantly hateful character.


Blu-Ray Review: THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD Anniversary Edition

Starring Hal Scardino, Litefoot, David Keith, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Jenkins, Steve Coogan, Rishi Bhat. Directed by Frank Oz. (1995, 96 min).

The Indian in the Cupboard is another one of those films which garnered good reviews when released back in 1995, but got lost in the shuffle of other blockbusters. Thanks to home video, it received a new lease on life and is now considered sort-of a minor classic. But unlike Sony's simultaneously released Anniversary Editions of Jumanji and Zathura, this is the first time The Indian in the Cupboard has ever been remastered and released on Blu-Ray.

This tale of a boy who receives a magic cupboard which can bring his toys to life has aged pretty well from a technical standpoint (the visual effects still hold up). However, it's far more low-key and deliberately paced than the usual FX-driven kid-friendly film, which sometimes works against it. These characters, while likable and well-performed by the entire cast (especially Litefoot in the title role), aren't always particularly interesting. Still, the concept alone lends itself to enough visually-captivating moments that we tend to stick around until the end of the ride.

If you always meant to include The Indian in the Cupboard in your collection but never got around to it, this is probably the perfect time. Those who already own it on DVD may still want to upgrade because the Blu-Ray transfer and 4K mastering make the film look brand new.

  • Audio Commentary by director Frank Oz
  • "Little Bear: A Return to The Indian in the Cupboard" (New featurette with Litefoot looking back at the film)
  • Original Making-of Featurette
  • "Reflections of The Indian in the Cupboard" (cast members of the upcoming Goosebumps film briefly talk about this film while plugging their own)
  • Original Trailers

September 18, 2015

Your dreams can kill you ... A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 8-CD BOX SET

The Set Will Include All 8 Soundtracks and Expanded Bonus Music From the Original Film Series.

(September 18, 2015– Los Angeles, CA) – Making all of your nightmares come true … Varèse Sarabande will be releasing A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 8-CD box set (limited 2000 units) on October 16, 2015.  This deluxe package contains all 8 soundtracks from the original series, over 8 hours of music including almost 3 hours of bonus tracks!  New artwork has been commissioned for the set (by artist Shawn Conn,, and configuring the sleeves together forms a larger piece of art.  Before you have any nightmares, please don’t worry … the original Matthew Joseph Peak creations are included in the packaging. The set comes complete with the trademark knitted Freddy sweater encasing the outer box!
The world was introduced to Wes Craven’s Freddy Krueger (portrayed by Robert Englund) in 1984 with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  Krueger was a former child killer seeking revenge against the parents who burned him by haunting the dreams of their teenage children and killing them in their dreams.  The series has earned almost half a billion dollars, worldwide, and boasts some of the most beloved, nightmarish themes from composers including: Charles Bernstein (Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street), Christopher Young (A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), Angelo Badalamenti (A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), Craig Safan (A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master), Jay Ferguson (A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child), Brian May (Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare), J. Peter Robinson (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), and Graeme Revell (Freddy Vs. Jason). 
Also included in this set is a suite from the video game featured in the film Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and the theme from Henry Manfredini’s FRIDAY THE 13 TH series, as heard in the film FREDDY VS. JASON (with performances by the band Machine Head).
Pre-orders for the Varèse Sarabande A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET limited edition 8-CD box set will be taken beginning Friday, September 18 at The boxed set will ship on October 16, 2015

September 17, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: CINDERELLA (2015)

Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. (2015, 105 min).

I was admittedly apprehensive when Disney commenced remaking some of their animated classics as live action films. After all, a majority of those old movies are cinematic sacred cows still watched and loved by millions (not to mention repeatedly repackaged, remastered and re-released on video for decades). What exactly is the point of remaking these things, especially the ones based on fairy tales, most of which are public domain and have been adapted dozens of times by others over the years?

But after watching Cinderella, I might just jump onboard Disney's current master plan. Unlike Tim Burton’s godawful Alice in Wonderland, Disney’s new Cinderella is a true remake of their own classic. There’s no modern spin on the tale, no tongue-in-cheek quirkiness, no gritty layer of darkness to appease those who think they’re above this kind of stuff (in fact, I’m still wondering why it even has a PG rating). A few narrative changes notwithstanding, this is Disney retelling the same traditional tale everyone fell in love with in the 1950s.

Unbeknownst to Ella, the geese secretly plot a barnyard uprising.

But isn’t a pointless retread. There’s a lot more character depth here, especially regarding Prince Charming (Richard Madden). Even the staunchest fan of the 1950 version must concede the original prince had about as much personality as a trout. Here, he’s just as well-rounded as Cinderella herself, and the relationship between he and his father is terrific. The same could be said about Lady Tremaine (a nice bit of scenery chewing by Cate Blanchett). Sure, she’s still despicable, but we’re now made aware of how she became that way. That aside, director Kenneth Branagh touches on all the highlights which made the original film so iconic, only with a great cast and modern visual effects (neither of which overwhelm the story).

"Why do you keep calling me Humperdink?"

Speaking of visuals, this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, from the colorful set design, epic landscapes, elaborate costumes, right down to the rendering of Cinderella’s many animal friends. It’s the kind of film definitely meant to be seen of the big screen, or at least a big-ass TV.

While there are absolutely no narrative surprises, Disney made the right move by resurrecting a tried-and-true formula that served them well for decades, rather than ‘reimagining’ the story. This version of Cinderella isn’t necessarily better than the original, but despite my initial cynicism, I can’t imagine anyone (along with their kids) not enjoying it just as much.


  • Animated Short: "Frozen Fever"
  • Deleted Scenes including an Alternate Opening
  • Featurettes: "A Fairy Tale Comes to Life"; "Staging the Ball"; "Ella's Furry Friends"; Costume Design Montage (the closest thing there is to a gag reel)
  • DVD & Digital Copies


September 15, 2015

Exclusive AVENGERS Content Now on Disney Movies Anywhere

"I had strings, but now I'm free ... there are no strings on me!"


You can now watch MARVEL’S AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON wherever you go with Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA) as it expands this week into Amazon Video and Microsoft Movies & TV, with Roku and Android TV following on September 15th! Plus, when you buy Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron through DMA, you can take a deeper dive into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the exclusive bonus feature “Connecting the Universe.” 

Check out a clip from “Connecting the Universe,” an exclusive feature that explores the epic network of intertwining story lines in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, highlighting the intricate links between the worlds of the MCU characters and their comic history:

September 14, 2015


Starring Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, David Alan Grier, Bonnie Hunt, Jonathan Hyde, Bebe Neuwirth. Directed by Joe Johnston. (1995, 104 min).

Starring Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins. Directed by Jon Favreau. (2005, 101 min)

Jumanji and Zathura have both been available Blu-Ray for several years, as well as bundled together in various combo packs. However, these anniversary editions include some new bonus features along with a few holdovers from previous releases. Regarding the films themselves, the transfers are pretty much the same, so if you already own either film on Blu-Ray, whether or not it's worth the cost to upgrade your collection obviously depends on your level of worship.

Now 20 years old, Jumanji hasn't aged well from a technical standpoint. The CGI-rendered, post-Jurassic Park special effects were dubious back in 1995. Today, they look downright cartoonish. Still, the story is interesting enough that my hard-to-impress 11-year-old daughter found it marvelously entertaining. As for me, revisiting the film two decades later had me enjoying David Alan Grier's amusing supporting role as a hapless cop more than Robin Williams' relatively straightforward and earnest performance (his manic comic gifts are largely underutilized here).

Though Zathura is presented as a stand-alone film, the book it's based on was a direct sequel to Jumanji, both written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. While all references to Jumanji are absent, most fans still regard it as a spiritual sequel. Despite being a box office bomb at the time, Zathura is the better or the two movies in every aspect. It tells essentially the same story (board game, strange happenings, absent parents, etc), but with more realistic child characters and far-better visual effects (most of which are practical, not CGI). Now that Zathura is ten years old, it's also interesting to note those involved in the film who've since gone on to bigger things, such as Josh Hutcherson, Kirsten Stewart and director Jon Favreau (Iron Man).

There's likely a lot of nostalgic love for both of these films, and if you don't already have them on disc, they are definitely worth buying, especially with kids in the house. Both are charming enough that even the most jaded child should still find them amusing (kind of like The Wizard of Oz when you were younger). Die hard fans who already have them on their shelves may want to consider whether or not the new bonus features are worth the upgrade.



  • Jumanji Jungle Adventure Virtual Board Game
  • Special Effects Crew Commentary
  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
  • Storyboard Comparisons
  • Jumanji Motion Storybooks as Read by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Two Episodes of "Jumanji: The Animated Series"
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • "From the Cast of Goosebumps" (this is a promotional video which has young cast members of Sony's upcoming Goosebumps movie make dubious comparisons to Jumanji)
  • An Extended Trailer for Goosebumps


  • Commentary by Director Jon Favreau and co-producer Peter Billingsley (you know, Ralphie from A Christmas Story)
  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
  • Zathura Motion Storybooks as Read by Chris Van Allsburg
  • "From the Cast of Goosebumps" (this is a promotional video which has young cast members of Sony's upcoming Goosebumps movie make dubious comparisons to Zathura)
  • An Extended Trailer for Goosebumps

September 10, 2015


Narrated by Tina Fey. Directed by Mark Linfield & Alastair Fothergill. (2015, 81 min).

So I was reviewing DisneyNature’s Monkey Kingdom last night when my youngest daughter came into the room and sat with me. After a few minutes, she declared, “Monkeys don’t have any hair where they really need it,” obviously referring to the pink, dangling unmentionables attached to the film’s stars as they run, jump and climb. Because of her matter-of-fact tone, I couldn’t stop laughing for nearly five minutes.

I suppose such a statement stems from the obvious physical similarities we share with our primate cousins. It does seem like someone should venture into the wild to throw some pants on these critters. But those similarities are also what makes Monkey Kingdom a charming little film. Physically and socially, they are very much like us...only fuzzier.

Similar to other films in the DisneyNature series, Monkey Kingdom uses painstakingly-captured nature footage of toque macaque monkeys in order to fashion a plot of sorts. In this case, Maya is a lowly female in the social order of her troop who wishes for her offspring, Kip, to enjoy a better life. Driven away by another evil batch of misshapen monkeys, her troop is forced to venture into civilization to survive before returning to reclaim their home, led by Maya and her new mate, Kumar (Kip's dad).

"Alright...who flung that?!?"

Being more plot-driven than the average DisneyNature film, a lot of filmmaker manipulation is obvious, especially when these monkeys are raiding homes and shops to feed themselves. While it tends to lessen the impact of Monkey Kingdom as a documentary in the purest sense, these scenes are wonderfully amusing, one notable highlight being the monkeys' city park encounter with a dog.

Regardless of these narrative contrivances and the terrible inclusion of various pop songs (“Theme from The Monkees“...really?), Monkey Kingdom is visually stunning, filled with charming ‘characters’ and amusing narration by Tina Fey. While the film isn’t quite as much fun as African Cats or Bears, this is an entertaining way to spend an evening with your family in front of the TV. And hopefully, your young 'ums won't be too distracted by the unhairy bits.


  • FEATURETTES: "Tales from the Kingdom" (an interesting behind-the-scenes short which shows how much patience was required to shoot the film); "On the Set of Monkey Kingdom with Jane Goodall and Wolfgang Dittus" (the latter was a creative consultant on the film); "Monkey Kingdom: The Conservation Story"
  • Music Video: "It's Our World" by Jacquie Lee

10 Forgotten Thrillers from The 1970s Worth Your Time

It can strongly be argued that the 1970s was the decade when Hollywood fully did-away with traditional movie-making conventions. Once-radical films of the 60s, such as Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, Rosemary’s Baby and The Wild Bunch, paved the way for a new generation of writers, producers and directors to creatively flourish, no longer bound by long-held genre conventions.

Science fiction tales became more pessimistic and westerns became more realistically violent. Even the few epics being made at the time, such as The Godfather, were ultimately tragic and extraordinarily dark. With the Vietnam War coming to an agonizing end and Watergate instilling an overall distrust in authority, Hollywood knew well-enough to capitalize on the public’s newly found cynicism with a plethora of thrillers which made Hitchcock look like Walt Disney.

September 8, 2015


Face it folks, it's gonna happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not likely in the next year, but one thing is certain: The superhero genre is going to die, probably sooner than later (and long before Marvel is ready for it to end). Even the mighty Steven Spielberg has recently declared its ultimate demise when speaking with the Associated Press:

“We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western. It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us.” 

This death might not be be merciful or could be long, expensive and painful (if fanboys are lucky). One may even argue we're already seeing the first symptoms of that ultimate demise. Since both Marvel and Warner Bros (who owns DC Comics) have literally dozens of superhero films tentatively slated for release through at least 2020, they obviously do not believe the bubble is likely to burst anytime soon. They may be living in denial, however, and overly-optimistic about the genre's staying power. But offered as evidence are five distinct reasons why Spielberg is probably right:

No room for photo-bombing here.

1. Expectations
Guardians of the Galaxy was a happy surprise, a film based on a relatively obscure comic series which managed to transcend its origins and appeal to audiences on a massive level. Few moviegoers outside of the original comic's cult following appreciated the enormous risk Marvel took at the time, which of course paid off. But now the bar’s been raised, perhaps to an unreachable height. Exactly what will it take for GotG 2 to meet the now-lofty expectations of all these new fans? More of the same? Bigger and louder? Darker and grittier? Fans should probably be prepared for the filmmakers to second-guess themselves to the point where they forget what made the original so fun in the first place. While GotG isn't quite a superhero film, it’s happened countless times before in nearly every franchise you’d care to name. For example, Avengers: Age of Ultron, while enormously successful, is generally considered inferior to the first, bloated with too many characters and too much plot. And even though it’s now one of the biggest grossing films of all time (not taking inflation into account), it did not wow critics and audiences quite like the original. As these various superhero franchises lumber forward, the general sequel rule of diminishing returns likely means further disappointment is inevitable. One only needs to look back at the original Superman and Batman franchises as evidence.

"Who are we again?"

2. Lack of Variety
Even if you’re the biggest superhero fan in the world, you have to admit there’s only so much you can do with the concept (which may arguably be why some properties are being rebooted so quickly these days, but more on that later). We’ve seen the light-hearted & funny, the big & epic, the dark & tragic, the realistic & gritty, the mash-ups, the cross-overs, the origin stories, the satires. But they all draw from the same well, that of an individual or team who, through various circumstances, fight for the masses in the name of justice. Beyond that, there isn’t a hell of a lot of room to think outside the box from a cinematic standpoint, a factor which ultimately killed the traditional western in the first place. Speaking of which...

"I'm ALREADY sick of you!!!"

3. Oversaturation & Fatigue
Marvel Studios currently pumps out at least two superhero movies a year, which does not include the other Marvel properties currently held by Fox (X-Men) or Sony (Spider-Man). Nolan’s brilliant Batman trilogy notwithstanding, studios are taking a dark path toward overkill, with Warner Bros hell-bent on pumping even more DC product into theaters over the next few years, which is somewhat distressing because Zack Snyder’s polarizing Man of Steel appears to be the springboard for a new cinematic universe. Considering the inherent limitations of the genre explained in point #2, that’s already a lot more superhero films than the average moviegoer is willing to digest before reaching the conclusion, “Been there, seen that.” It happened with slasher movies after Halloween and Friday the 13th, space operas after Star Wars and young adult fantasies after Harry Potter and Twilight. Furthermore, die hard fans of a particular genre make-up a relatively small percentage of actual ticket buyers, and once the casual masses have had their fill, that genre has historically always faded away. Considering the fact that budgets of these movies tend to be in the hundreds of millions, it isn’t going to take too many box office disappointments for studios to drop superheroes altogether. Speaking of which...

"C'mon, fanboys...surely you've got a few bucks left in your wallet."

4. Decline in Quality
The recent critically-ravaged reboot of Fantastic 4 is one of the more notable box office bombs of 2015, which proves the Marvel brand alone is not necessarily an indication of quality. Kick Ass 2 was another recent critical failure, even though the original, while not a blockbuster, developed a strong cult following. Then there are other travesties like The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the entire Spiderman reboot franchise. Some of these films made money, but all were pretty terrible. When you throw-in the noticeable dip in overall critical & audience approval of high-profile sequels (Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3), even a blind man can see the end of the road may be fast approaching. In this author’s humble opinion, the only superhero franchise that has so-far been consistently top-notch is Captain America. The point is moviegoers can only be suckered so many times by sequels noticeably inferior to those they once embraced. Even most die-hard fanboys won’t continue opening their wallets just because the main character wears a cape.

"Ya know, Kent? I just don't feel all that angry or brooding anymore."

5. Reboot Resentment...Enough Already!
Christopher Nolan once performed a miracle by resurrecting the Batman franchise only eight years after Joel Schumacher’s godawful Batman and Robin appeared to kill it off.  Of course, it helped that his Dark Knight Trilogy was an artistic milestone in the genre by taking the series into a much different - and undisputedly darker - direction. But Nolan’s films are the lone exception in this current reboot craze, where the likes of Fox, Sony and even Warner Bros are now attempting to resurrect their franchises before the corpses of the old ones are even cold, with no noticeable difference in approach other than better CGI (and even then, I wouldn‘t put that to a vote). Sure, lots of older franchises are being rebooted right-and-left these days, but it currently seems to be most prevalent in the superhero genre (in movies and on TV). This practice simply reeks of an arrogant conceit that moviegoers will blindly swallow whatever comes at them, so long as there is a brand name attached. However, with the critical drubbing and lackluster box office that the latest Fantastic 4 received, perhaps we’re seeing the beginnings of a backlash from moviegoers who feel insulted by this cash-grabbing practice. If studios can’t come up with anything new, as apposed to rehashing the immediately familiar, what hope do superheroes have of remaining relevant onscreen in the next few years?

Sure, superheroes are the biggest subgenre in the world right now, but so were westerns at one time, as were 'big bug' sci-fi movies, gangster flicks, disaster epics and slasher films. Increased expectations, lack of originality, oversaturation and decrease in overall quality has ultimately been the death of every single genre that has ever gained cultural significance. Regarding superheroes, perhaps we’re seeing the first cracks in the armor right now. The genre has already enjoyed a fairly lengthy stay in our public consciousness (though not as long as the western, consistently popular from 1930 to 1970, give or take a few years). Since Hollywood has made it quite apparent (either narratively or financially) that all superheroes are invincible, they’re only course of action is to throw more money into a property and pummel everyone into submission until the slaves (us) have no choice but to revolt. It’s gonna happen, folks. Probably sooner than later. All it may take is one disappointing opening weekend from Batman vs. Superman or Avengers: Infinity War and the whole damn thing will collapse under its own weight.

September 6, 2015

DUNE (1984) and the Home Remedy

Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Patrick Stewart, Sean Young, Jurgen Prochnow, Everett McGill, Max von Sydow, Richard Jordan, Kenneth McMillan, Sting, Brad Dourif, Dean Stockwell, Jose Ferrer, Virginia Madsen. Directed by David Lynch. (1984, 137 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON
As someone who doesn't have money falling out his ass, I try to cut corners where I can. This is also probably why my wife seldom sends me to the grocery store by myself anymore, even when armed with a list, because I'll usually come home with the cheapest shit on the shelves. Whenever I’ve argued there’s no difference between Diet Pepsi and the store brand knock-off, she's countered with, “Then why buy a Blu-Ray when the DVD is five bucks cheaper?”

Well played, Francie, well played.

While it’s okay to cut some corners at the supermarket, I learned the hard way over the years not to pick up bargain brands of certain products unless I wish to incur my family's wrath. At my house, it's Best Foods mayo or nothing; I brought home a jar of Miracle Whip one time and, based on everyone's reaction when I pulled it from the grocery bag, you'd have thought it was a human head. When it comes to dog food, my wife brought it to my attention that chicken products are bad for Wheaten Terriers, so simple Dog Chow is now out of the question. Have you ever tried to find dog food that doesn’t contain chicken? It’s like looking for one Waldo in a sea of other Waldos, and when you finally do find that bag o’ cluck-free kibbles, be ready to dip into your child's college fund.

In my house, the same best-or-nothing mantra applies to ice cream, salad dressing, cereal, pain relievers, butter, juice, pancake syrup, lunch meat, cheese and feminine hygiene products.

Regarding the last item on that list, I've since flat-out refused to ever buy them again on my own. Not that I’m embarrassed or anything, but I live in a houseful of females, all of whom now endure their monthlies (yes, fear for me). Whenever someone's cycle would start without warning, my wife used to make the stupid mistake of trusting me to venture to Walgreens for these items with instructions regarding which brand and type. However, there are more varieties of napkins and tampons than there are stars in the heavens. Directions for assembling IKEA furniture are less confusing than the obscure labels and charts plastered on these products, which minutely differentiate one type from another. As a guy with no personal frame-of-reference regarding menstrual maladies, of course I’m gonna pick the cheapest thing which most closely resembles the instructions handed to me. After all, pads are pads, right?

Hence, one of our bathroom cupboards is filled with feminine products purchased by yours truly that no women in my house are willing to use. I suppose exchanging them for the right product was an option, but I've since found other uses for them, such as makeshift coffee filters, killing spiders and wiping dust from my precious home theater system. In fact, there are websites which show a variety of alternative uses for sanitary napkins. Seriously.

As other thrifty homebodies can attest, you can save a lot of hard-earned cash by turning worthless items into something handy. Used coffee grounds make great garden fertilizer, Coca-Cola is an effective toilet bowl cleaner, the Nickelback CDs you're now ashamed to admit owning make terrific retro-hip beverage coasters for your next shindig, and those old dirty pillowcases are perfect for the idiots in your life who'd benefit from a pummeling by a sack of doorknobs.

Then there are myriad home remedies which can cure what ails you. A stick of butter applied to a burn provides immediate relief (unless you’re on fire, of course), snorting a few lines of Drano will clear those sinuses right up, and punching someone in the stomach will temporarily help them forget about that migraine headache. I sometimes suffer from bouts of insomnia, but since this only occurs occasionally, it doesn’t make much sense to spend ten bucks on an entire bottle of potentially-addicting sleeping pills, not when I’ve got my trusty old DVD copy of Dune handy.


Helmed by the perpetually psychotic David Lynch (he did turn down Return of the Jedi to direct this), Dune is an all-star trainwreck that bombed in theaters when initially released in 1984, but has since found a sizable cult following (like most of Lynch’s films, actually). It’s based on the classic novel by Frank Herbert, one of the biggest sci-fi douchebags this side of Harlan Ellison. I say this because back in 1983, Iron Maiden recorded a song inspired by Dune and respectfully asked permission to title it after the novel. Herbert's publicist responded with, “No. Because Herbert doesn’t like rock bands, particularly heavy rock bands and especially rock bands like Iron Maiden.” Never mind the fact Maiden was huge at the time and Herbert hadn’t written a relevant novel since Dune was published back in 1965. In fact, Maiden’s song, retitled “To Tame a Land,” likely turned more young readers onto this old fart’s novel than the now-legendary Hollywood flop which effectively killed any chance of Dune ever becoming a film franchise.

To say Dune is convoluted would be an understatement. Upon its release, Universal felt the need to provide ticket buyers with a two-page glossary of terms used in the film, apparently forgetting nobody can read in the dark. Unless you've actually read the book, the story itself is perplexing enough to make 2001: A Space Odyssey look like Flash Gordon. It’s also bloated with about 12,000 characters to keep track of, their dialogue & actions sometimes making little sense without your book and glossary handy. Speaking of is really fucking bad, especially the overuse of character voiceovers in a futile attempt to clarify what's going on. As for the performances...they range from low-key & earnest to godawful & over-the-top. The same could be said about the special effects. Except the sandworms, of course. Those things are awesome.

Val & Earl never dealt with Graboids like this.

Still, I’ve always kind of liked Dune. Sure, it’s long, slow and hard to follow, but there’s also an ethereal quality to much of its imagery and music which I’ve always found somehow relaxing, particularly during the first half. For me, watching Dune is like receiving a therapeutic massage while new age music drifts throughout the room. Actually, I don’t recall the last time I watched the film in its entirety because it usually lulls me to sleep before the first sandworm even shows up. That suits me fine because Dune gets really stupid during the second half.

All of which means Dune serves a useful purpose in my household. As a teacher, I typically get so used to staying up late during the summer that it’s difficult to hit the sack early on those nights just before returning to work. But rather than rely on synthetic sleep aids, all I do now is pop in Dune, turn off all the nights and nestle into the couch with a blanket and a beer. More often than not, I’m soon zonked and snoring like an toddler on Benadryl.

Regardless of what one thinks of the movie, Dune is often pretty to look at (except for the whole heartplug scene) and the soundtrack is wonderful, the only decent thing Toto ever recorded. If you’re one of those still inclined to write it off as another overwrought Hollywood disaster, might I suggest keeping a copy around as a safe, non-addictive alternative cure for your insomnia? As a home remedy, it’s ultimately a lot cheaper and you’ll still wake up feeling refreshed...probably with the “Prophecy Theme” stuck in your head.

September 2, 2015

THE MECHANIC (1972): I Wanna Be Like Chuck

Starring Charles Bronson, Jan Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland. Directed by Michael Winner. (1972, 100 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON

I have to admit, part of me has always wanted to be more feared than admired.

Not that I'm loved or admired by too many people outside of my own family (even then, I wouldn't to put that to a vote), but I'm 100% certain I'm not feared by anybody, for two reasons:

Reason #1:  I've never been physically intimidating, despite superficial efforts to look badass in my younger ‘metal’ days by wearing all black and perpetually scowling. In reality, I’ve lost both fights I’ve ever been goaded to engage in and generally spent most of my life avoiding any confrontation which might lead to another one. I don’t consider myself a pussy or anything. I simply have a realistic assessment of my meager fighting skills.

Reason #2: I’m a middle school English teacher, a job that isn’t exactly conducive to demonstrating one’s badassery. Part of that is due to the touchy-feely environment expected in the modern classroom, where all kids are special snowflakes, even the assholes. And no matter what they (or their parents) say to you, it’s your job to grab some wall and take their verbal violations like fresh fish in prison. To do otherwise means you have failed to make a personal connection. Don’t get me wrong...there have been numerous ‘troubled’ kids over the years I’ve been able to establish wonderful relationships with. While I’m proud of this, it takes a lot more work and patience than most people in other professions would ever tolerate without resorting to kicking the living shit out of them.

But if I could look, talk and act like Charles Bronson, the two reasons listed above would be complete non-issues because he’s one of the most imposing dudes ever to stalk the silver screen. Just look-up 'scary motherfucker' in the Oxford Dictionary and you'll see this face:

If that guy stood at the head of a classroom of seventh graders, none of them would give him any shit because they'd be busy pissing themselves. That guy wouldn't need to raise his voice throughout the entire school year. That guy could assign a 5,000 word essay every single day and kids would simply be grateful he didn't thrust a mechanical pencil in their necks as he passed by. And I'll bet ol' Bronson never had to put up with road rage from some aggressive, testosterone-fueled asshat behind the wheel of an oversized half-ton pick-up, because all Chuck would have to do is lay that classic deadly stare on them, and said-asshat's supposed balls would shrink up into his chest cavity.

That's because Bronson always looked like he'd kill you at the slightest provocation, without warning or a hint of anger. In fact, his expression and voice inflection seldom changed throughout his entire five decade career of westerns, war epics and action movies. But ironically, he was mostly cast as a good guy. The closest he came to being true a villain was in 1972's The Mechanic. Even then, Chuck's the hero by default because every other character is even more unsavory.

In The Mechanic, Bronson plays Arthur Bishop, a hitman whose meticulous methods of dealing death are almost artistic in their complexity. He prefers to work alone, but after meeting Steve (Jan Michael Vincent), the young, brash son of a mafia kingpin, Bishop decides to make him an apprentice. This doesn't sit well with Bishop's employers, who don't appreciate someone new being brought into the fold without permission. This eventually leads to the organization putting a contract out on Bishop, hiring Steve himself to do the job. That's the plot in a nutshell, with a satisfying twist ending which borders on genius.

Though Bronson's probably best-known for his portrayal of vigilante Paul Kersey in Death Wish (and it's god-awful sequels), The Mechanic actually makes the best use of his image: the emotionless stare, monotone voice and sand-blasted face. You never knew exactly what was going on behind those eyes, but were pretty sure things wouldn't likely end well for those who crossed him. Chuck never needed Sly Stallone's physique, Bruce Willis' wisecracks or Jason Statham's moves. Not with that face.

Case-in-point...The Mechanic was remade in 2011 with Statham in the title role. As remakes go, the movie isn't terrible (though completely unnecessary) and Statham engages in his usual quota of ass kicking. But still, compare these two gentlemen:

Arthur Bishop: 1972

Arthur Bishop: 2011
Even though I hold Statham in the highest respect as a modern day purveyor of manly mayhem, he still looks like an insurance salesman. On the other hand, the only thing Bronson's face insures is a violent death, without even uttering a word (which he doesn't do for the first 20 minutes of The Mechanic, one of the most underrated opening sequences of all time).

That's how I'd like to be feared, with a hardened, granite, weatherbeaten face which tells everyone all they need to know...I'm not a guy to be fucked with. Sure, as a teacher, it might lead to some uncomfortable encounters with parents on conference night, but the discomfort would be all theirs as I presented their child's grades without offering a single word. My cold, hard expression would speak volumes, with no room for rebuttal.

Rest in Peace, Dean Jones

Dean Jones (1931-2015)