March 31, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: THE DIRTY DOZEN: THE DEADLY MISSION / THE DIRTY DOZEN: THE FATAL MISSION

THE DIRTY DOZEN: THE DEADLY MISSION
Starring Telly Savalas, Ernest Borgnine, Randal “Tex” Cobb, Bo Svenson, Wolf Kahler, Gary Graham, Vince Edwards. Directed by Lee H. Katzin. (1987, 90 min).
THE DIRTY DOZEN: THE FATAL MISSION
Starring Telly Savalas, Ernest Borgnine, Hunt Block, Jeff Conaway, Alex Cord, Erik Estrada, Ray “Boom Boom“ Mancini, Heather Thomas. Directed by Lee H. Katzin. (1988, 100 min).
Olive Films

The Dirty Dozen is undeniably one of the great war films of the 1960s (in this writer’s opinion, it's one of the best of all time). The compelling story, dynamic characters, eclectic cast and perfect direction (by the always underrated Robert Aldrich) seem as fresh today as they did nearly 50 years ago. Simply put, it’s a one-of-a-kind film experience that can’t be duplicated.

But not for a lack of trying. In addition to numerous inferior knock-offs which popped-up over the years, a made-for-TV sequel, The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission, was produced in 1985, featuring some of the same characters and actors who survived the original film (including star Lee Marvin). It looked & played like just another TV movie, but brand name familiarity made it successful enough to spawn two more sequels, The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission, both now available on Blu-Ray for the first time.

"Here you go...hot off the presses."
As part of the so-called Dirty Dozen franchise, their connection is tenuous at best. Only Ernest Borgnine returns as the same character from the original. Telly Savalas, who played the demented Maggot in the first film, returns as a completely new character, Major Wright, who recruits more condemned prisoners to partake in new suicide missions.

However, if you’re somehow able to forget the whole Dirty Dozen connection, lower your expectations and watch them on their own terms, these films, while never escaping their 1980’s made-for-TV origins, provide some passable entertainment. Savalas is no Lee Marvin, but makes a stoic leader, guiding casts of somewhat familiar faces (mostly TV actors) through their paces. Neither story is as interesting as the original, but you already knew that. Both films are directed by Lee H. Katzin, skilled at depicting budget-conscious action in previous television programs such as Man from Atlantis, Space: 1999 and MacGyver.

These films are mildly entertaining, though ultimately forgettable, save for any nostalgia one may have for a time when TV movies ruled the ratings on Sunday nights. This was back when copping a familiar brand name to churn out low budget television sequels made them seem like a bigger deal than they really were.

EXTRAS: None
KITTY CONSENSUS:
Not bad...like Cat Chow

March 28, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: THE VOICES

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver. Directed by Marjane Satrapi. (2014, 103 min).
Lionsgate

If nothing else, The Voices confirms what I’ve always suspected about my beloved house pets. If they were truly able to speak, my dog would encourage me to return the cash-stuffed wallet I just found to its rightful owner, to always drive the speed limit and never cheat on my taxes. My cat, on the other hand, would be the one goading me into throwing snowballs at strangers, spend all my disposable income on prostitutes and bolt from a restaurant without paying the check. Based on what we already observe about their behavior, it’s easy to imagine dogs being our moral compass, while cats would be that little devil on our shoulder, encouraging us to engage in  all kinds of decadent behavior simply because it feels good.

If I were teetering on the brink of insanity, seeking the advice of my pets, having a cat in the house would be a bad idea. To them, a good time is to go out and kill something.

That’s the essential premise of The Voices. Ryan Reynolds is Jerry, a psychologically-unstable young man who lives above an abandoned bowling alley and struggles to function in society, but has since stopped taking the medication which keeps the voices in his head at-bay. These voices are manifested as good and evil through his dog, Bosco, and cat, Mr. Whiskers (both voiced by Reynolds). After the accidental killing of a co-worker he has a crush on, Fiona (Gemma Arterton), Jerry is torn between doing the right thing and notifying the police, encouraged by Bosco, and continue killing because, as pointed-out by Mr. Whiskers and the now-disembodied head of Fiona, part of him actually enjoyed it. Jerry almost regains his sanity through a relationship with another co-worker, Lisa (Anna Kendrick), but her accidental death (after discovering Fiona’s dismembered body sealed in Tupperware throughout Jerry’s house) pretty-much cements his destiny as a serial killer.

"Alright...who peed?"
The biggest surprise, for me at least, is Reynolds. Personally, I’ve never cared for any of the previous roles I’ve seen him in, where he always came across as a smarmy douchebag. But here, he strikes the perfect balance between supreme menace and childlike vulnerability. It’s truly a revelatory and subversively complex performance, especially when you add the fact he voices his pets as well, giving each a distinctive personality.

Obviously, The Voices is not for everyone, a very black comedy which can only be appreciated by those totally onboard for a dark - sometimes morbidly amusing - journey into madness. The film is unable to extend its premise to a truly satisfying conclusion (it ends terribly), but for viewers up for a bit of pitch-black fun, The Voices more-or-less delivers...

...and you'll never look at your own pets the same way again.

EXTRAS:
  • FEATURETTES: “The Voices - From Fridge to Frame”; “The Making of Bosco & Mr. Whiskers”; “The Voices of Ryan Reynolds”
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • Animatics
  • Costume Sketch Gallery
  • Digital Copy
KITTEN CONSENSUS:
Purr...like a good scratch behind the ears
(and hey...it has cats in it!)

March 27, 2015

PHANTASM II and the Grand Illusion

Starring James LeGros, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips. Directed by Don Coscarelli. (1988, 97 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON
 
If you’re over 40, maybe a few of you can relate to this…

I was a complete ass in my early 20s, but never realized how big of an ass until years later, when maturity whipped-out its indestructible mirror and shoved my face against its glass. While I cringe at my reflection, some solace can be found in the knowledge that I’m no longer that guy and, perhaps most importantly, no longer in contact with many of the people who knew me at my worst (though there are some to whom I owe an apology).

Yours truly made the mistake of marrying his high school sweetheart before the ink on his diploma was dry (another sad story told HERE). Like many star-crossed young lovers, we divorced a few years later while still basically kids. My parents were pretty happy because they hated my first wife, and agreed to pay for me to go back to school to make something of myself. I couldn’t move back home (Dad was still distrustful from my dubious life choices so far), so they arranged for me to live with my grandmother in Prosser, a tiny farm town in Washington where the cows outnumber the people.

Since I’ve always been a fairly decent artist, my folks pretty-much arranged in-advance for me to attend a Graphic Arts program at Perry Technical Institute in nearby Yakima. While grateful for this second chance, I was mostly concerned with making up for all that wasted time being monogamous.

By the time my divorce was final, I’d dropped a lot of weight. I also made the decision that, for the first time in my life, I was gonna look and dress how I wanted, not what a wife, parent or employer expected. I grew my hair out, got my ear pierced and started wearing a lot of black. Most of the time, I resembled an unholy cross between David Coverdale from Whitesnake and Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys. My appearance elicited some chuckles from some of the yokels of Yakima, but I didn’t give a damn, since my rocker garb seemed to appeal to a lot of women.

I was never a guy who really turned heads in high school, so this new-found confidence had me trying to nail everything that moved, saying or doing whatever it took to get between the sheets, from obsessing over my appearance to making-up awesome lies about myself (“Yeah, I’m in a band”). In other words…shallow as an Arizona puddle.

Even douchier was when I chose to fake a British accent, honed by endlessly quoting Nigel Tufnel from This is Spinal Tap. Some of the dimmer bulbs I met in bars would fall for my ruse (or maybe they knew I was full of shit and simply didn’t care). At any rate, I was never in it for the long haul, so what did it matter? I was simply playing-up my assets to meet my needs at the time. Who cared if my bullshit didn't hold up to any scrutiny?

"Who farted?"
But there was one girl, Melanie, who totally bought into the whole English rocker thing. I felt kind-of guilty because, even though she wasn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the box, she was pretty, really nice and, as I discovered on our first (and only) date after taking her to see Phantasm II, spectacular in the sack. However, unlike a lot of one-night-stands, Melanie was someone I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with. But I had already laid my bullshit cards on the table. The real me couldn‘t compare, so this particular relationship was doomed from the start.

Phantasm II was an ironically-fitting first date movie, as it’s the complete cinematic version of my life at the time…aesthetically impressive & sexy on the surface, but shallow and phony when examined too closely. The original 1979 film was no great shakes, bordering on amateurish at times. Still, there was at least some evidence of sincerity in its patchwork attempts at surrealism. But let’s face it…the main reason Phantasm still resonates at all today is the single classic scene in which a flying silver sphere strikes one of The Tall Man’s henchmen in the forehead, drills into his skull and drains his blood as he twitches on the mausoleum floor.

After a brief prologue which recaps the chilling climax from the original (with one preposterous change to make a sequel possible), Phantasm II takes place a few years later, when Mike (James LeGros, replacing Michael Baldwin) is released from a looney bin. He’s joined by Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and the two embark on a long trek in their souped-up Barricuda to locate & destroy The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). If you have no idea what any of this means, you obviously haven't seen Phantasm, and this sequel doesn't bother bringing you up to speed. Anyway, The Tall Man's trail is easy to pick-up, since he’s left dozens of ravaged and desolate small towns in his wake.

One would think, by now, at least someone besides these two would have noticed entire cities have been destroyed and hundreds are missing, but never mind. We aren’t supposed to scrutinize the story too heavily, much like I didn’t expect women to question why a British rock star wannabe would settle in an agricultural hub like Yakima. In fact, even though Phantasm II is a sequel, it plays as though writer/director Don Coscarelli was counting more on his balls to sell the film, rather than logic, continuity or anyone who recalls the first one so fondly.

And by balls, I mean that literally. Despite a few fleeting attempts at the same surrealism as the original, Phantasm II is mostly a straightforward chase which solely exists to flaunt the one asset that made the first film a cult classic…the deadly flying balls. This time it’s balls, balls everywhere…drilling skulls, chopping off appendages, tearing into bodies, bursting from faces…all in loving, gory detail.

These scenes are easily the most audience-rousing (okay, the quadruple-barrel shotgun is pretty cool, too), deflecting us from the fact that Phantasm II, despite a bigger budget and better production values, has little else. It's a shallow facsimile of the original Phantasm, much like a certain douchebag from the past spotted in a mirror not long ago, who superficially resembled David Coverdale. It’s all surface, no substance…cynically making itself look as good as possible for the few moments it exists in your life. Like Melanie’s initial impression of me (and why we dated only once), it’s a fun flick, but doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever. To revisit it a second time would destroy any illusion of greatness.

That’s no way to live, and certainly no way to make movies of any lasting merit. After flunking out of college (though I eventually went back), I gave up the whole rocker ruse, quit scoping the bars for temporary friendship and started just being myself (for better or worse). Coscarelli did too (hey, he made Bubba Ho-Tep!), but not before exploiting that one great scene from the original Phantasm into two more even shallower sequels (both with a lot more balls, so to speak).

SPIRITED AWAY & THE CAT RETURNS on Blu-Ray 6/16

Disney presents two beloved films from the acclaimed Studio Ghibli, Oscar - Winning Masterpiece Spirited Away and the enchanting fantasy adventure The Cat Returns, will be available for the first time on Blu-ray Combo Pack June 16th! 

Spirited Away is a wondrous fantasy about a young girl, Chihiro, trapped in a strange new world of spirits. While The Cat Returns is about a schoolgirl, Haru (voiced by Anne Hathaway), bored by her ordinary routine, saves the life of an unusual cat and suddenly her world is transformed beyond anything she ever imagined. Both are magical animated adventures that will delight and inspire the whole family!

March 24, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: UNBROKEN

Starring Jack O’Connell, Domhall Glesson, Garrett Hedlund, Takamasa Ishihara (Miyavi), Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, Alex Russell. Directed by Angelina Jolie. (2014, 138 min).
Universal

This is one of those “inspirational true stories” that was likely made with the best intentions (and perhaps award season in-mind), but falls just short of providing the emotional wallop you're hoping for. That’s not to say Unbroken doesn’t have its moments. In fact, it has a lot of them, just enough to (almost) justify its lengthy running time. But in the end, we learn more about its subject (Louis Zamberini) from this disc’s bonus features than the film itself.

Zamberini (Jack O’Connell) is a troublemaking Italian-American youth who, guided by his older brother, shapes up to become a nationally famous endurance runner, earning a spot on the 1938 U.S. Olympic team. Upon America’s involvement in WWII, he enlists in the Marines as a bombardier. Later, during an ill-fated rescue mission, his plane crashes in the Pacific, leaving he and two others adrift in the ocean for 45 days. That in itself is fascinatingly story, in which they must overcome hunger, exposure and the constant presence of sharks to stay alive. Two are eventually ‘rescued’ by the Japanese and sent to a prison camp. It’s here that Louis’ real ordeal begins, shipped from one camp to another and, due to his notoriety as a former Olympic athlete, singled-out for additional torment by a megalomaniacal Japanese corporal, Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), known to POWs as “The Bird.”

Louis endures the cruelest form of torture...
stepping on Legos.
Louis’ determination versus The Bird’s (jealous?) cruelty has the makings of an interesting story as well, but it's somewhat diminished by repeated and lengthy scenes of vicious beatings, long after we’ve gotten the point. Sure, we still empathize with Louis, but more for what he’s physically forced to endure than his personal resolve…kinda like The Passion of the Christ, minus those pesky thorns. Speaking of which, there’s also a none-too-subtle visual attempt at rendering Louis Christ-like near the end.

Despite how vividly everything is presented, the whole doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts. Unbroken looks terrific, features good performances (especially Ishihara, who steals the film as the truly hateful Watanabe) and begins wonderfully. Zamberini’s transition from street punk to beloved athlete is handled quickly, yet still manages to be inspirational. The immersive air-raid, plane crash and lifeboat sequences are deftly handled; director Angelina Jolie definitely displays considerable technical skill behind the lens. However, as intense (and violent) as the POW camp scenes are, they become a bit repetitive after awhile. Had those scenes been trimmed to make some narrative room for Zamberini’s post-war accomplishments (his entire life makes the rest of us look like slackers), Unbroken could have truly been the inspirational film it strives to be.

Despite those shortcomings, Unbroken is well worth seeing, an interesting chapter in a pretty amazing life, presented on an epic scale.

EXTRAS:

  • “The Real Louis Zamperini” (a very charming bio of Zamperini’s life, which will make you feel like you’ve wasted yours)
  • Featurettes: “Inside Unbroken”; “Prison Camp Theater: Cinderella”; “Louis’ Path to Forgiveness”
  • Cast & Crew Concert Featuring Miyavi (who plays “The Bird”; musically, he’s one strange dude)
  • Deleted Scenes
  • DVD & Digital Copies
KITTEN CONSENSUS:
Purr...like a good scratch behind the ears

Blu-Ray Review: BEST SELLER

Starring James Woods, Brian Dennehy, Paul Shenar, Victoria Tennant, Allison Balson. Directed by John Flynn. (1987, 110 min).
Olive Films

Best Seller is one of those movies I always meant to check out. After all, who doesn’t love a good bit of James Woods’ manic scenery chewing? Co-star Brian Dennehy has always been a solid character actor, but seldom a leading man. As for screenwriter Larry Cohen…his career up to this point was eclectic enough to increase my interest. But somehow, I just never got around to seeing it until now.

Dennehy plays Dennis Meechum, a weary veteran cop and best-selling author with a severe case of writer’s block (ever since his wife’s death). He’s heavily in debt, owing his publishers a new book, while raising a teenage daughter on his own. Then Cleve (Woods) shows up out of the blue, a cocky professional assassin who insinuates himself on Meechum’s life with a proposition: to collaborate on a book that will, not only chronicle Cleve’s career as a killer, but bring down vicious corporate hotshot David Madlock (Paul Shenar). Cleve did much of Madlock’s dirty work in the past before getting screwed over, and now wants payback. Meechum is torn between arresting Cleve for all the murders he’s freely admitting to, and the fact this book could indeed be his next best-seller. Meanwhile, Madlock and his thugs are doing whatever they can to make sure the book never sees the light of day.

Brian questions whether or not James
actually washed his hands after using the
restroom.
It’s a great concept for a psychological cat-and-mouse thriller, which Best Seller exploits pretty well at times. The morally ambiguous Cleve is a terrific character, played with gusto by Woods. Cleve is brash, smooth, arrogant, even likable & vulnerable at times. The scenes between he and Meechum are often fascinating, at least until the actual plot gets in the way. For a movie which promises to be an actors’ showcase, it’s surprising how often Best Seller becomes contrived and…well, kinda dumb, especially during the final act, when it turns into more of an action movie than a psychological thriller. This is one of those movies where we watch and sometimes say, “If I were making it, I’d have done this instead…”

Still, aside from the godawful synthesizer soundtrack (typical of a lot of action films from the 80s), Best Seller has aged pretty well. It’s no classic, but worth revisiting for fans of its two charismatic lead actors, who are both at the top of their game..

EXTRAS: None

KITTEN CONSENSUS:
Not bad...like Cat Chow

March 21, 2015

Blu-Ray Giveaway: JOHN FORD: DREAMING THE QUIET MAN

John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man is the definitive documentary on the making of one of the most beloved movies of all time. This is a must-see for any fan of classic films, and Free Kittens Movie Guide is giving away several copies, courtesy of Olive Films.

"Show me someone who doesn’t love The Quiet Man and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t love movies...the story behind the film is just as captivating."  -Free Kittens Movie Guide

To enter, simply leave us a message in KITTY KONTACT, located in the sidebar at the top of this page. Winners will be chosen at random throughout the month of April. 

March 19, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: INTO THE WOODS

Starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp. Directed by Rob Marshall. (2014, 125 min).
Disney

While watching Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods (adapted from the popular Broadway musical), I came away with three thoughts (well, two thoughts and one now-confirmed suspicion):

First, even though no one expected Meryl Streep to win this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (which would have provided a trophy for every room in her house), she certainly deserved the nomination. Completely disappearing into a character is a skill few actors have. But doing the same thing while belting out musically, narratively and emotionally complex songs? Hell, Streep totally has this down.

Second, as good as Streep is, never in my life did I expect to see a movie completely stolen by the likes of Chris Pine. As Cinderella’s Prince Charming, he’s not in the film nearly enough, but when he does show up, he brings the perfect combination of arrogance and goofiness without resorting to heavy-handed farce. His satirical duet with Billy Magnusson (as Rapunzel’s prince) is a strong candidate for the funniest musical number I’ve ever seen in a film.

Finally, stick a fork in Johnny Depp. He’s done. His make-up-heavy, over-the-top, quasi-perverse schtick was stale several films ago. Here, even though his appearance as The Big Bad Wolf is a glorified cameo, it’s such blatant stunt casting (“Oh, look…it’s Johnny Depp...again”) that it temporarily sucks the viewer completely out of the story. Not only that, his “wolf” make-up is clichéd and terrible, totally contrary to every other character in the film, all of whom are more-or-less presented as plausible (even Streep when dolled-up as The Witch). The whole scene even looks like something lifted out of a Tim Burton film.

All movies are made better with cows.
Aside from the Depp debacle, Into the Woods is, for the most part, really entertaining. It starts off with a bang during an extended musical montage that introduces all the major storybook figures almost entirely in-song. This is where we meet Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack (who trades his beloved cow for magic beans). Then there’s The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), arguably the main characters. They can't have children due to a witch’s curse unless they can venture into the woods to find four items (each possessed by the aforementioned fairy tale characters). These first 25 minutes are truly awesome…a medley (with many reprises) which manages to establish their personalities and subsequent conflicts with just a few verses. It is the technical and musical highlight of the entire movie.

As these characters’ lives intertwine to focus on the plot (which has the widow of a giant, who Jack killed, seeking revenge), the film settles into a more conventional narrative, punctuated by the occasional musical number, most of which are pretty good, but none which top the satiric torch song belted out with superficial sincerity by the two aforementioned handsome princes.

As with many pure musicals, viewer interest might pique and wane (depending on one’s appreciation of the genre), especially since the film goes on longer than it should and turns unnecessarily melancholy toward the end. But for the most part, Into the Woods is an unabashedly brash good time.

EXTRAS:

  • Featurettes: “The Cast as Good as Gold” (brief interviews with primary cast); “Deeper into the Woods” (four making-of short features)
  • “She’ll Be Back” (a deleted musical number performed by Meryl Streep which, in my opinion, should have been kept in the film)
  • Music & Lyrics (which allows the viewer to skip straight to the musical numbers)
  • Audio commentary
  • Digital download
KITTEN CONSENSUS:
Purr...like a good scratch behind the ears.

March 17, 2015

Google Play Releases EMIC, a Short Film Inspired by INTERSTELLAR

LOS ANGELES, CA: March 17, 2015 – Inspired by Paramount’s Academy Award®-winning epic, Interstellar, Google Play today announced the release of EMIC - a short film comprised of almost 8,000 video submissions from people all around the world, highlighting the human spirit and how that manifests itself around the globe.  

From director and editor David Brodie (The Witness, Survivors) and creative director Angus Wall (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network), the short film is available to audiences for free on Google Play timed to the digital home entertainment release of Interstellar on March 17, 2015 at g.co/EMIC.

Titled EMIC - after the anthropological term referencing the analysis of culture - the film asked this generation to archive their moment in time by submitting memorable and inspiring photos, music performances, poetry and artwork to give future generations a way to remember Earth as it is today.

March 16, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: KILLERS (2014)

Starring Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya, Ray Sahetapy, Mie Kurokawa. Directed by The Mo Brothers. (2014, 137 min).
Well Go USA

Though the Blu-Ray cover touts this film is “from the producers of The Raid,” don’t expect the same kinetic, bone-breaking action. Instead, Killers is a dark (sometimes darkly comic) psychological thriller more akin to The Silence of the Lambs and Kevin Costner’s cheerfully twisted - and woefully underrated - Mr. Brooks.

Killers is one of those movies you’re almost ashamed to admit you enjoyed, mainly due to its lurid premise, its willingness to wallow in depravity and (perhaps most disturbing of all) how skillfully it manages to manipulate its audience into empathizing with murderers.

Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura) is a handsome, charismatic Japanese executive who also happens to be a demented serial killer, luring young women into his basement and torturing them to death. He records his victims at the moment of death and posts the videos on the internet, which are eventually seen by Bayu (Oka Antara), a disgraced Indonesian journalist who once tried (and failed) to expose the criminal dealings of Dharma, a big-shot businessman. Estranged from his wife and daughter, Bayu’s still obsessed with bringing Dharma down.

Even for serial killers, it ain't a bath
without Mr. Bubble.
One night, through sheer luck, Bayu manages to fight off and kill two thugs planning to rob and rape him. Inspired by the Nomura's videos, Bayu films his attackers’ dying moments and posts them online. This impresses Nomura enough to reach out to Bayu, encouraging him to continue killing. But unlike Nomura, who kills at random, Bayu begins targeting those who have it coming, such as Dharma’s sleazy lawyer (who also happens to be a pedophile). Meanwhile, Nomura befriends Hisae (Rin Takanashi), a struggling shopkeeper whom he witnesses trying to put her autistic brother out of his misery by shoving him into traffic. The incident intrigues Nomura enough to insinuate himself into their lives. This is the most interesting part of the story. We know he sympathizes with her, but his state-of-mind is so twisted that we know things will end badly for everyone involved. Yet, somewhat perversely, there are moments when Nomura becomes as vengeful as Bayu, sucking the audience into rooting for him.

Of course, Namura and Baya end up meeting face-to-face, a confrontation which is bloody (if not a bit contrived). But through its own twisted logic, this is the only way things can end in order for the audience to walk away with a shred of dignity.

Killers features outstanding performances, especially by Kitamura and Antara, who embody these characters so effectively that we can be sickened by their actions, even while a small part of us sometimes understands them. Despite a lot of bloody, disturbing violence, none of it seems overtly gratuitous, rendering such scenes all-the-more unnerving. However, this cat-and-mouse game does go on a bit too long, resulting in a final act which threatens to push the credibility envelope a bit too far.

For the most part, though, Killers leads us on a dark, twisted journey which has us questioning, not only the extreme moral ambiguity of its lead characters, but ourselves for even being able to - however briefly - identify with them.

EXTRAS: None

KITTEN CONSENSUS:
Purr...like being scratched behind the ears

March 15, 2015

DVD Review: LA APOCALYPSE

Starring David Cade, Gina Holden, Christopher Judge, Raymond J. Barry. Directed by Michael Sarna, (2014, 83 min).
Anchor Bay

Try not to confuse this one with Disaster LA, which at least had zombies to liven things up.

This is yet-another micro-budget disaster epic which first premiered on - you guessed it - the SyFy Channel. As such, you know what to expect…marginal performances, piss poor visual effects, glaring continuity errors and a fairly ridiculous premise. It’s all here in abundance, so only one question remains: Is LA Apocalypse at least entertaining?

Sadly, no. Unlike such daffy disasters as Megashark vs. Giant Octopus, LA Apocalypse has the audacity to take itself seriously. Here, massive earthquakes begin ravaging the entire world, though for reasons obviously related to the film's budget, all we see is what’s going on in Los Angeles. For most of the movie, David Cade is roaming the streets searching for his girlfriend, but she’s been taken hostage by a local gang kingpin, who contacts the helpless military with ransom demands. That’s right, kids…the entire world is going to hell in a hand basket, yet everything takes a backseat to a local hostage situation.

While this premise does provide a few moments of unintentional hilarity, LA Apocalypse is pretty yawn-inducing, mainly because most of the low-rent spectacle we expect from films like this happens only at the beginning and the end. In-between are long stretches of dull characters endlessly running through the streets of L.A., or bickering with each other on the sidelines (even though, if this were indeed a global phenomenon, there would be no sidelines). Say what you will about such tripe as Snowmageddon, at least that movie moved.

What we’re left with is a dull movie which doesn't ever distinguish itself above the usual SyFy offerings, and will likely end up being bundled with similar low-budget disaster flicks in a Walmart budget bin within a few months.

EXTRAS: None

KITTEN CONSENSUS:
Meh...

March 14, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: MUCK

Starring Lachlan Buchanan, Puja Mohindra, Bryce Draper, Jaclyn Swedberg, Lauren Francesca, Kane Hodder. Directed by Steve Wolsh. (2015, 98 min).
Anchor Bay

To put it mildly, Muck sucks.

Not in an Uwe Boll kind-of-way, either. At Least Boll’s cinema suppositories manage to entertain by virtue of their jaw-dropping ineptitude. In fact, Muck would be far more entertaining if you were able to laugh at it. The sad thing is, I think there are times when we’re supposed to be laughing with it, but that doesn’t happen either. Instead, this is an incoherent, rambling, voyeuristic mess.

By incoherent, I mean Muck literally has no beginning or climax. It wasn’t until doing background research to write this review that I learned Muck is the middle chapter of a supposed trilogy, but for some unfathomable reason, the first to be made (who's idiotic idea was that?). No attempt is made to explain what previously happened to these characters (all of whom are supremely obnoxious and behave stupidly, even by horror movie standards). Hence, many of their actions and allusions to what’s already occurred are incomprehensible. But the gist of the film has a half-dozen douchebags and hotties being stalked by a tribe of swamp-dwelling albinos. Some ‘new’ characters are introduced, mostly Playboy models, who are given an inordinate amount of screen time to flaunt their physical assets, only to disappear from the story completely once the striptease is over. Speaking of which…

One of Muck's more esoteric moments.
Writer/director Steve Wolsh appears dedicated to lovingly leering over every female in the cast, exploiting every conceivable opportunity to show them showering, stripping, jiggling as they run and strutting around topless (doused in water, sweat or blood). Each bouncing breast and shapely ass is given as much screen time as the actresses they’re attached to and the albinos hunting them down. Wolsh even shoves his already-weak story completely aside to spend extra minutes lingering on Playboy Playmate Jaclyn Swedberg, who performs a private lingerie show for herself in a bathroom. His voyeurism reaches almost comical levels. Tittilation has its place in some horror films, but just like the softcore porn movies on Cinemax, showing sweat-drenched skin ultimately becomes boring after awhile. For those of us who aren't 14 years old, it would be nice to get back to the horror at-hand. Speaking of which…

Most of the performances in Muck are actually pretty good. Too bad the dialogue these actors are saddled with is godawful, including lame attempts at referencing other films (such as the out-of-the-blue and out-of-place quotes from The Princess Bride). Or how about the fictional town where all this takes place…West Craven (excuse me while I repeatedly slap my knee in fake laughter)? Worse-yet, even though no effort has been made to establish these characters in the first place, we’re still forced to endure long, boring, superficially-hip conversions between them (many of which seem badly improvised).

So what we’re left with is a supposed horror movie which often forgets to be a horror movie. It isn’t until the goofy end-credits start to roll that we realize the whole thing is supposed to be a hip & funny homage to previous films, meaning Wolsh has failed miserably (your movie’s biggest laughs should not come after it’s over). I still don’t understand the purpose of beginning your franchise with the middle chapter. Such a move isn’t even remotely clever, especially since this ‘chapter’ does nothing to make the viewer give a damn about future installments. Yet there’s still an unwarranted air of conceit which tries (desperately?) to suggest anyone not already onboard the Muck train simply doesn’t “get it.”

Yeah, I get it. I just don’t want it.

By the way, to the few of you who might be swayed by seeing Kane Hodder, prominently featured in the credits...he's in the film for about five minutes, looking like Darth Vader after Luke removes his mask in Return of the Jedi.

EXTRAS: None

KITTEN CONSENSUS:
Hiss! Who let this dog into the house?!?

March 13, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: WITHOUT A CLUE

Starring Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony, Paul Freeman. Directed by Thom Eberhardt. (1988, 107 min).
Olive Films

Without a Clue is one of those forgotten little films from the late 80s, probably playing in one of the smaller auditoriums of your local cineplex for a few weeks before quietly disappearing. Perhaps you even checked out the movie’s cast and concept and figured, “Hey, that might okay.”

And for the most part, Without a Clue is pretty good. It features Michael Caine (slowly emerging from the ‘paycheck’ era of his career) and Ben Kingsley (still relatively fresh in our minds after winning a Best Actor Oscar for Gandhi) as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Of course, Sherlock Holmes has been depicted in films since the days of Basil Rathbone, but the twist this time is that Watson (Kingsley) is the genius detective, who created Sherlock Holmes as the main character when writing about his exploits. The stories prove so popular that Watson is forced to hire an actor to become Holmes for the public. Unfortunately, the man best-suited for the role, Reginald Kincaid (Caine), is a complete idiot, not-to-mention an irresponsible, alcoholic womanizer.

MICHAEL: "The Love Guru...really?"
BEN: "The Swarm, Jaws the Revenge, Blame it on Rio...
REALLY?"
Holmes’ arch enemy, Professor Moriarty (Paul Freeman), is the main villain, but the actual plot of Without a Clue is perfunctory, meaning his appearance doesn’t amount to much. The movie mostly plays-up its role-reversal concept, leaving little room for his dastardly deeds. Aside from a few comedic story twists during the final act, most of the film focuses on Watson’s utter frustration at Kincaid’s idiocy, which is often amusing, if seldom uproarious.

While no classic, Without a Clue is a good-natured, congenial fun, with charming performances by Caine & Kingsley, who seem to be enjoying themselves here. Like many other obscure titles recently resurrected by Olive Films, this Blu-Ray release is a fun nostalgia trip for the select few who fondly remember the film.

EXTRAS: None

KITTEN CONSENSUS:
Not bad...like Cat Chow.

March 12, 2015

10 PEOPLE IT HURTS TO TALK MOVIES WITH

There’s nothing a film fan loves more than engaging in meaningful, in-depth conversation about their favorite topic. Critiquing, discussing, analyzing, debating...it’s all good, at least when the one you’re talking with seems to possess cinema-smarts comparable to yours, even if you don‘t see everything eye-to-eye (sometimes especially if you don‘t see everything eye-to-eye).

But alas, how often do we come across somebody who obviously has no idea what they’re talking about, yet think you two are on equal ground simply because you both frequent the cinema more often than others? The more they speak, the more you realize this person doesn’t know much about movies at all.

Sure, part of the problem might be you, whose love of film extends beyond the multiplex and goes back further than a few decades. You actually read all the credits and know the creative success of a film is due more to its director or screenwriter than whether or not it stars Tom Cruise. And when you aren’t watching movies, you’re reading about them.

If this applies to you, you’re probably already aware that truly engaging conversions with another equally-fanatic film lover are few and far between (even on the internet). More often than not, we’ve suffered people like these…

10. Those Who Think Jaws Is The Name Of The Shark

Well, this is not a boat accident. And it wasn’t any propeller, or coral reef, and it wasn’t Jack the Ripper…it was Jaws!”

Of course, most of us know that’s not exactly how the line goes. In fact, the word jaws isn’t mentioned once in the entire film. But even today, scores of folks continue referring to the shark as Jaws. The shark doesn’t have a name (though the mechanical beast used during production was nicknamed Bruce), yet how often have we heard people say something like, “I love the part when Jaws leaps onto the boat”? 

At least in the case of 1931’s Frankenstein, one can sort-of see how people can incorrectly associate the name with the monster’s iconic image. But aside from a Bond villain, a few loudmouth sportscasters and the occasional aquarium fish, nothing has ever been named Jaws.

9. Those Who Declare All Remakes Inferior To The Originals

We've all heard this kind of stuff: “How dare they remake a classic,” “No way can it top the original,” or the one currently tossed around the most, “Hollywood's run out of ideas.”
Blanket statements like these can superficially make one appear well-versed in film history. While initially impressive (if not a bit snobbish), the fallacy in this thinking indicates they actually know very little about movies, because remakes and reboots have been a huge part of the film business since it became a business. What do such classics as The Ten Commandments, Heat, Scarface, The Magnificent Seven, A Fistful of Dollars, The Fly, Heaven Can Wait, The Thing, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Maltese Falcon, The Departed, Ben-Hur and The Wizard of Oz all have in common? They were remakes of previous films.

Sure, many remakes (perhaps most) are vastly inferior to the originals, but the next time someone of a different generation poo-poos the latest Hollywood remake without having seen it, respectfully remind them that sometimes first doesn’t always mean best.

8. Those Who Refer To All Specials Effects As Graphics

To say a film has good graphics is like saying a newly-built home is well-hammered. While your hammer is a valuable tool, you still can’t build the whole damn house with it.

Graphics, as it applies to film, refers to the use of computer technology to create certain special effects images. Computer graphics are one special effects tool, but that doesn’t mean all special effects are graphics. Yet the term has been tossed around as though the two are synonymous, even before anyone ever heard of CGI.

When these same folks praise or ridicule a film’s ‘graphics’ (especially those produced prior to Jurassic Park), it’s a sure sign they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Unless a computer is used to create an image, no graphics are involved, so someone using the word as a blanket term for all special effects is likely trying to sound more knowledgeable than they really are, especially those ignorant enough to scoff at the ‘graphics’ of such groundbreaking older films like King Kong and Forbidden Planet.

Speaking of which...

7. Those Who Ridicule The Special Effects Of Older Movies

The special effects in 1933’s King Kong are nothing less than spectacular. The same goes for 1927’s Metropolis, 1940’s The Thief of Bagdad, 1956’s Forbidden Planet, 1975’s Jaws and 1988’s Willow (one of the first films to utilize CGI). Are they as convincing to the eye as, say, Jurassic Park or The Lord of the Rings? Of course not, but that doesn't mean the special effects suck either. It's these old classics that made today's FX extravaganzas possible.

Still, scores of hapless idiots will simply make fun of these films - if they even bother to watch them - without appreciating how groundbreaking they really were. In fact, the antiquated special effects (which they'll inevitably call graphics) impact whether or not they like the movie at all.

True cinema lovers don’t laugh their asses off when Kong first picks up Ann Darrow in his fuzzy paw, because they are in awe of what Merian Cooper & crew were able to accomplish in 80 years ago with the budget and resources given to them. Even in this era of anal-retentive behind-the-scenes making-of documentaries, most of us still don’t know how some of the effects in the original King Kong were accomplished.

To put this in perspective…we live in a culture where our cell phones can do more than our computers once did twenty years ago, but do any of us poke fun at Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the fucking phone in the first place?

Speaking of which...

6. Those Who Equate Black & White With Old And Irrelevant

Frank Darabont wrote and directed The Mist from a novella by Stephen King, and it's widely considered one of the best mainstream horror movies of this new century. Darabont originally wanted the film to be released in black & white because, while color tends to create a sense of realism for the viewer, he knows the true artistry of a film isn’t its realism…it’s the mood created by the images. We were able to put that to the test ourselves when the original DVD release of The Mist included a stark black & white version. And indeed, this already-disturbing film is rendered even darker, more surreal and fatalistic. Ironically, even the ample use of CGI looks more convincing.

Believe it or not, color technology has been around for over a century. Sure, in cinema’s infancy, shooting a film in black & white was usually a financial decision, as it was far easier (and cheaper) to process. But it wasn't long before it was just-as-often a creative choice. Hitchcock knew this; just try to imagine Psycho in color. Then there’s such modern films as Young Frankenstein, Schindler’s List, The Artist, Nebraska, Frankenweenie, Sin City, Ed Wood, Clerks, American History X (flashback scenes, which is over half the film), Wings Of Desire, Zelig, Raging Bull and The Elephant Man. Does anyone truly believe those movies would have been better in color?

Those unable to enjoy a film simply because the real world isn’t black & white are obviously too ignorant to grasp the artistic intentions of some of the greatest directors of all time, who sometimes choose black & white as the most effective way to tell a particular story.

5. Those Who Retro-Condemn Older Films

Gone With The Wind is racist and justifies rape.”

Yeah, perhaps Gone With The Wind is guilty on both counts, but what exactly is the point of reassessing the entire worth of a 76 year old film with a 21st Century mindset? People obviously thought differently back then. We can scoff at their overall ignorance, when political-correctness wasn't even a term, but why do so many folks act as though a film made by these less enlightened individuals is a current crime against humanity?

Of course a lot of older films are going to seem racist, jingoistic and sexist, but none of us currently living in this Utopia of Tolerance (which is debatable) are able to travel back in time to set them straight.

People need to stop retro-condemning old movies made during a time when attitudes and values were far different than they are today. It doesn’t make them any less groundbreaking. If you are unable to appreciate a movie in the context of when it was made, you sure as hell have no business judging it.

4. Those Who Don’t Accept Contrary Opinions

You didn't love Man of Steel? What the hell's wrong with you?”
Have you ever engaged in a conversation where the other individual is praising a film they love, but you make the mistake of sharing a different opinion and they get all up-in-arms? You’re not sure why they're so worked-up, since your view is no reflection on their tastes, but they act as though you’ve personally insulted them. Or worse yet, they think you're the idiot.

You see a lot of this on virtually every movie-related website (including this one), where an author states their opinion about a particular film, and is then inundated by vicious replies from people obviously angry that their own assessment of said-film isn’t shared by all, completely ignorant to the fact that no movie ever made was universally loved by everybody.

Differences in opinion is one of the very things which make movie conversations great to begin with, whether you’re an art-house snob or one who can’t wait for the next Fast And Furious installment. Your opinion is valid, but so is that of everyone else. To condemn others because they don’t share your assessment makes you a troll.

And yes, I hated Man of Steel.

3. Those Who Hate Subtitles

I shouldn’t have to read when I’m watching a movie.”

Is there anything more ignorant than someone who rejects a film, regardless of the genre, simply because it was shot in a different language? A subtitled film doesn’t automatically mean it’s geared toward the European art-house crowd, though theatrically, they are usually relegated to such venues.

Folks who believe this are ignorant boobs and missing out on some great shit from around the world. Even if your personal tastes lean toward explosive action, English-speaking countries don’t necessarily have a monopoly on the genre. Indonesia’s The Raid and The Raid 2 are two of the best pure action films since Die Hard.

A good foreign language film will make you forget your even reading subtitles within just a few minutes, as opposed to one dubbed into English, which is nothing but an annoying distraction.

2. Those Who Offer Their Opinion On Films They Haven't Actually Seen

It’s one thing to say a film doesn’t look like it would be your cup of tea, but quite another to condemn it sight-unseen. Sure, it’s safe to say there was always a 95% chance Transformers: Age of Extinction would suck (especially since the previous three all did), but until you’ve endured the movie yourself, you have no business debating its merits with anyone who has. After all, there's always that 5% chance could Michael Bay surprise you with a complex, thought-provoking, character-driven epic (hey, stop laughing).

Speaking of which, bashing a particular director is a great source of amusement among more pretentious movie fans, especially on the internet. But even some of Hollywood’s biggest hacks have knocked one out of the park on occasion (Bay’s The Rock & Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon subjectively come to mind). Similarly, some of our greatest directors have been known to screw the pooch on more than one occasion. Francis Ford Coppola helmed some of the 70’s greatest classics, yet we tend to overlook the sad fact most of his films since have been critical or commercial duds (often both). So to blindly condemn a film you’ve never seen, strictly because of a director’s reputation, is ridiculous.

1. Those Who Equate Box Office Performance With Quality

It must be good…look how much money it made!”

It doesn’t help that the media regularly presents weekend box office reports like sports statistics. But what's equally sad are the number of moviegoers who view these stats as gospel, basing their decision whether or not to see a particular film strictly on its box office performance, as though financial success or failure is an accurate indication of whether or not it's any good.

The ignorance of that logic must mean they'd rank such recent cinema suppositories as Transformers: Age of Extinction, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Grown Ups and the Twilight saga among the greatest films of 21st Century. Ergo, they must also believe Star Wars Episode I is the second best film in the series and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is better than Raiders of the Lost Ark. And Eddie Murphy should have been Oscar-nominated in 2006 for his performance in Norbit, not Dreamgirls.

These people are mindless sheep who probably don’t realize The Wizard of Oz was a box-office flop when initially released. So was It's a Wonderful Life, Blade Runner, The Thing (1982), The Shawshank Redemption, Bambi, Fight Club and A Christmas Story.

Anyone citing profit as an indication of a film's greatness isn't worth talking to.

THE GUNMAN: 2nd Official Trailer

THE GUNMAN starring Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone and Mark Rylance hits theaters March 20, 2015.

March 11, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: VICE (2015)

You know, that doesn't really look like Thomas
Jane, does it? 
Starring Thomas Jane, Bruce Willis, Ambyr Childers, Johnathon Schaech, Bryan Greenberg. Directed by Brian A. Miller. (2015, 96 min).
Lionsgate

A more accurate title of this film might be Déjà Vu.

Vice is a sci-fi action thriller which liberally borrows concepts, ideas and tropes from a slew of other (and better) movies, mostly the 1973 classic, Westworld, but also Blade Runner, I Robot, Robocop and perhaps a bit of Edge of Tomorrow, just to name a few. While watchable enough, Vice is pretty underwhelming and ultimately forgettable.

Bruce Willis phones-it-in as Julian Michaels, an arrogant mogul who runs an adult amusement park called Vice (looking a lot like downtown Miami), where rich tourists can visit to indulge in any behavior they wish, no matter how sleazy and violent. This includes murder, robbery & rape. There aren’t any consequences because the park is populated by Artificials, clone/robot hybrids who only think they’re human, and programmed to forget anything that previously happened to them (essentially living the same day over and over). Thomas Jane is Roy, a scraggly, renegade cop who has-it-in for Michaels because the decadent behavior in Vice has spilled out into the city where he works (the more twisted guests are apparently unable to turn off their urges).

For reasons not fully explained, one female artificial, Kelli (Ambyr Childers), suddenly becomes self-aware and able to recall every horrible act ever inflicted on her. She escapes the park into the city. Michaels sends a team of his own soldiers to hunt her down (artificials are forbidden everywhere but Vice). She’s able to repeatedly elude them because, even though armed with automatic weapons, these soldiers are such lousy shots they make Imperial Stormtroopers look like Chris Kyle. After more-than-a-few coincidences, Kelli eventually finds her original creator, then Roy manages to track down the two of them. This, of course, leads to a showdown where they try to undo Michaels’ entire operation.

"Okay, here I am. Where's my check?"
There are shoot-outs a-plenty and a lot of action, though its all fairly pedestrian. The story is predictable and extremely derivative, with a lot of “oh come on!” moments (even though Vice is touted as having the tightest security in the world, our heroes are able to sneak in and wreak havoc with little-more difficulty than passing through an airport terminal). Overall, the performances are adequate. Jane is okay, but it does sometimes seem like he’s making-up his own dialogue as he goes along (and what’s up with that hair?). Willis shows up for a paycheck to increase the movie’s marquee value, and it looks like most of his scenes were shot in a day. As Kelli, Childers probably turns in the best performance, even though little is really required of her character other than running in terror and kicking-ass when needed.

But Vice’s biggest problem is its complete lack of originality. There’s a lot of fun to be had in rip-offs when done with flair (Neil Marshall’s homage-loaded Doomsday immediately comes-to-mind). Vice isn’t a terrible movie, but there’s something amiss when main thing it accomplishes is encouraging the viewer keep score of all the previous films it rips off so liberally.

EXTRAS:

  • Audio Commentary by Ambyr Childers, Bryan Greenberg & Director Brian A. Miller
  • Behind the Scenes Feature
  • Cast & Crew Interviews
  • Trailer
  • Digital Copy

FKMG RATING:
(OUT OF 5)