June 22, 2017


Starring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Erico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho, Reggie Nalder. Directed by Dario Argento. (1970, 101 min).

Sometimes it's cool to take a look back at a legendary director's humble beginnings.

Before he was synonymous with such atmospheric Italian horror classics as Suspiria and Inferno, Dario Argento first applied his unique skills to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, his 1970 directorial debut. Though not a horror film per se, it was hugely influential on, not only the giallo subgenre, but much of his own subsequent work.

Tony Musante is Sam, a struggling American writer in Italy who witnesses an attempted murder, suspected to be the work of a black-gloved serial killer who's already claimed three victims. For reasons that aren't really explained, Sam's intrigued enough to do some investigating of his own, with some extra assistance from Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno). As the murders continue, Sam and his girlfriend, Julia (Suzy Kendall), become targets as well.

Suppose They Gave an Office Party and Nobody Came.
The story itself is rudimentary and laughably illogical at times. The characters and performances are uniformly bland, save for a bit of delirious scenery-chewing turn by Eva Renzi. Aesthetically, this film hasn't aged as well as those which would later gain Argento worldwide acclaim. Still, few are as skilled at staging a murder scene as Argento in his prime, and there are glimpses of the same visual mastery that would become his trademarks. The staircase/apartment murder sequence, in particular, is a disturbing, tension-filled marriage of imagery and sound (the latter courtesy of Ennio Morricone). 

The Less-Than-a-Dollar Shave Club
Though the film has been available on Blu-Ray before, this version features a stellar 4K restoration and a slew of all new bonus features that Argento fans are sure to like, including some retrospective analyses and a lengthy interview with the director himself. 

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage doesn't rank among Argento's greatest films, but everybody had to start somewhere. That alone makes this a relatively fascinating viewing experience, like looking back at Spielberg's Duel or Carpenter's Dark Star. While not nearly as graphic as his later work, it's easy to see some of the stylistic elements we identify with his classics. And sadly, like John Carpenter, it's still a damn sight better than anything Argento's done lately.

"The Power of Perception" - A 'visual essay,' spoken by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas over highlights of the film. This is quite informative & insightful;
""Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis" - Film critic Kat Ellinger duscusses the history of the film
"Crystal Nightmare" - A new 30 minute interview with director Dario Argento;
"An Argento Icon" - Interview with actor Gildo Di Marco, who plays Garullo the Pimp;
"Eva's Talking" - A 2005 interview with the late Eva Renzi;
AUDIO COMMENTARY - by author Troy Howarth
60 PAGE ILLUSTRATED BOOKLET (Not available for preview)
DVD COPY (Not available for preview)


Blu-Ray News: 2 Cult Classics Coming in July from ARROW VIDEO

PULSE [BLU-RAY & DVD] (July 11)

J-Horror fans are in for a big treat with a Dual Format release of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's haunting Pulse, which sees people in Tokyo compelled to commit suicide after visiting a mysterious website. The special edition features a High Definition transfer and brand new interviews with the filmmakers.


One of the most wildly popular horror movies of all-time! Stuart Gordon's enduring splatter-comedy classic returns to Blu-ray in a stunning restoration packed with tons of special features including an array of interviews, audio commentaries, a brand new featurette entitled "A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema," plus the original 1991 comic book adaptation, reprinted in its entirety.

June 18, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: LIFE (2017)

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. (2017, 104 min).

The obvious inspiration for Life is the original Alien, but that shouldn't dissuade sci-fi/horror fans from checking it out. While Ridley Scott's classic has been liberally ripped-off for decades, this is one of the better ones. And perhaps because my initial expectations weren't quite as lofty, I actually enjoyed Life a bit more than Scott's own recent prequel, Alien Covenant.

The crew onboard the International Space Station thaw out a single dormant cell from a Martian soil sample, which is given the nickname, Calvin. Deciding it prefers life outside the petri dish, it grows exponentially into a nasty, carnivorous, multi-tentacled monster. Calvin also proves to be highly adaptable, extremely intelligent and damn-near unkillable; efforts by the crew to destroy or send it into outer space appear futile.

"This is going right up my nose."
It's a familiar story, but told with a lot of panache with a few unique touches of its own. The entire film takes place in a zero-G environment, including an impressive 10-minute opening scene that introduces each character and takes us around the space station in a single unbroken shot. The film isn't particularly scary, but it does create a lot of tension with its claustrophobic setting and fatalistic tone. Calvin himself is an interesting critter. Though obviously a CGI creation, he's imaginatively rendered and sometimes kinda creepy. None of the characters resonate much, but at least they don't behave stupidly and some of their deaths, while not overtly gory, are stylishly gruesome.

Jake sits on a thumbtack.
Life also throws a climactic curveball which, quite frankly, I didn't see coming, something I always appreciate. The movie isn't gonna make anyone forget Alien, nor is it likely to end up on any year-end top 10 lists. But in the moment, Life is a solid, smart slice of horror sci-fi.

FEATURETTES: "Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space; "Life in Zero G"; "The Art and Reality of Calvin"
"ASTRONAUT DIARIES" - Brief, fictional video segments featuring three of the main characters.

Rest in Peace, Stephen Furst

Stephen Furst (1955-2017)

June 16, 2017

Rest in Peace, John G. Avildsen

John G. Avildsen (1935-2017)


Starring Jackie Chan, Huang Zitao, Wang Kai, Darren Wang, Sang Ping, Alan Wu, Xu Fan, Jaycee Chan, Andy Lau. Directed by Ding Sheng. (2016, 124 min).


I suppose if any actor deserves to take a few victory laps, it's Jackie Chan. He's obviously slowed down a step or two, but that's okay. He's got nothing left to prove. Besides, as he demonstrates in Railroad Tigers, there's still some juice left in the tank. And if he wants to return to the type of freewheeling Chinese action comedies that first made him a star, is that such a bad thing? At the very least, we're spared another reteaming with Chris Tucker.

Chan does team up with a pretty talented cast (including his own son, Jaycee) to play a tight-knit band of scruffy freedom fighters (affectionately known as the Railroad Tigers) who rob Japanese army trains during World War II. After the Chinese army fails to blow up a nearby bridge - which would cut off the Japanese supply line - they decide to attempt it themselves by hijacking a train and using its cache of explosives. In addition to doing it for their country, Ma Yuan (Chan) sees this as an opportunity to avenge the death of his wife.

"I hate to break it to you kid, but this is the Train to Busan."
A potential suicide mission is sort of an odd premise for an action-comedy, sometimes shifting uncomfortably between slapstick comedy to brutal violence (though the latter is seldom too graphic). At 124 minutes, the film is also too long. The first hour or so is pretty meandering, and while most of these characters are affable and charming (even the villains have their amusing moments), one might grow impatient for the film to get down to business, which it eventually does...pretty spectacularly. The climactic train siege, gunfight & point-blank tank battle is rousing, suspenseful, phenomenally destructive and, yes, frequently funny.

Railroad Tigers won't go down as one of Jackie Chan's classics, though it's a nice comeback from his recent "serious" period, not-to-mention a definite improvement over the Hollywood hackfests he's appeared in lately. His glory years may be behind him, but this film is a good reminder of why we took him into our hearts in the first place.

FEATURETTES: "The Making Of"; "Directors Featurette"; "The Dangers of Shooting"; "VFX Featurette"; "The Characters"

June 15, 2017

Blu-Ray News: Star Vehicles & Star Crystals Coming in July

COMING JULY 25. Hired killers by day... devoted lovers by night! Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson, The Missouri Breaks), a do-it-yourself kind of guy, has been loyal to "The Family" since he can remember. If you need somebody rubbed out he's your eraser, ready to kill at the drop of a dime. The mafia boss's daughter (Anjelica Huston, The Grifters) has eyes for Charley, but Charley has just married the sultry hired assassin named Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner, V.I. Warshawski). Their unlikely relationship hits a snag, however, as they find out that their next job is to ice each other. Now Charley must choose which contract to honor, the one to his wife or the one on his wife. Legendary filmmaker John Huston (The Unforgiven) directed this wickedly amoral killer comedy with a top-notch cast that includes Robert Loggia (The Marrying Man), William Hickey (Sea of Love), John Randolph (Serpico), and Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs). Winner of the 1986 Oscar® for Supporting Actress (Huston).

Special Features: Audio commentary by Film Historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson

COMING JULY 25. The controversial true story that inflamed a nation! Meryl Streep (Still of the Night) stars in this stunning, provocative and daring drama about one woman's struggle against a huge corporation. Karen Silkwood (Streep) lives a free-spirited existence with two friends, Drew Stephens (Kurt Russell, Death Proof) and Dolly Pelliker (Cher, Moonstruck), who work with her at an Oklahoma nuclear facility. It's only when she discovers she's been exposed to radiation that Karen's conscience awakens, and soon she is digging for evidence of wrongdoing at her company. But her sudden zeal for safer working conditions may come at a high price as she alienates friends and possibly even puts her own life in peril. Excellent direction by Mike Nichols (The Graduate) with a screenplay by Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle) and Alice Arlen (Alamo Bay) and a stellar supporting cast that includes Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist), Diana Scarwid (Mommie Dearest), Fred Ward (Tremors), Ron Silver (Blue Steel), Charles Hallahan (The Thing), Josef Sommer (Witness), David Strathairn (Limbo), M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple), Tess Harper (Tender Mercies) and Will Patton (No Way Out). Nominated for 5 Academy Awards®: Actress (Streep), Supporting Actress (Cher), Director (Nichols), Original Screenplay (Ephron, Arlen) and Editing (Sam O'Steen).

Special Features: Interview with Producer Michael Hausman | Trailers | TV Spots | Reversible Blu-ray art

COMING JULY 11. A B-movie cult classic. In the year 2035 scientists discovered a new life form... they wish they hadn't. It was found during a routine expedition to Mars, buried just beneath the surface of the angry red planet. But what was initially thought to be just a curiously shaped rock turned out to be something much more: hidden within was an unknown alien species unlike any that science had ever encountered. And it has escaped. Now after the catastrophic destruction of their orbital space station, the ragtag crew of Shuttlecraft SC37 is adrift in space with limited oxygen, dwindling supplies and one very unwelcome guest. It is lethal. It is cunning. And it is growing larger and more intelligent with every horrific kill. With time running out, the surviving crew members must regain control of their doomed spaceship from an evolving alien predator who will stop at nothing to destroy them all... and to protect the startling secret that throbs deep inside the Star Crystal. Written and directed by Lance Lindsay (Real Bullets).

June 13, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: ALTITUDE (2017)

Starring Denise Richards, Dolph Lundgren, Greer Grammer, Kirk Barker, Chuck Liddell, Jonathan Lipnicki, Jordi Vilasuso. Directed by Alex Mirkin. (2017, 89 min).

I still can't decide which part of Altitude I loved most:
  • The scene where recently-demoted FBI agent Gretchen Blair (perpetually pouty Denise Richards) goes ballistic on an obnoxious airline passenger, who's occupying her assigned seat, with an amusingly expletive-loaded tirade.
  • Jonathan Lipnicki (you know, the adorable tot from Jerry Maguire) as a fabulous flight attendant who bursts-out into a suggestive twerk-filled dance while rapping the safety instructions. He gyrates his ass in passengers' faces, who are understandably horrified. This WTF moment has absolutely nothing to do with the story, and I'm still unsure if I was laughing with Lipnicki or at him.
  • Speaking of story, it involves a group of jewel thieves who stage an elaborate airplane hijacking in order the get back their stolen diamonds, taken by former partner Terry (Kirk Barker). Since they obviously already know Terry's whereabouts, plotting the death of 200 other passengers isn't really necessary. They could've simply nabbed him and the jewels before he even got on the plane. But what fun would that be?
  • Real-life Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot Dolph Lundgren and Kelsey's kid Greer Grammer are the criminal masterminds, while UFC superstar Chuck Liddell plays a henchman who feels stupid disguising himself in now-dead Lipnicki's tiny uniform (what's the point of the disguise, anyway?). All are apparently overdue for a vision screening, since they can't locate an air marshal - whom they've already confronted once - clearly seated a few feet away.
  • Speaking of confrontations, the air-fists between Richards and Grammer are hilarious.
Denise Richards learns the in-flight movie is Blonde and Blonder.

  • During a moment when Lundgren pilots the plane through turbulence to keep the passengers in-line, Terry manages to sneak a kiss from Grammer, who's also his ex-wife. Apparently, he's willing to overlook the fact she's planning to kill him.
  • Then there's the glorious scene in which passengers escape by using an inflatable evacuation slide while the plane's taxiing at 180 mph. There's also a general disregard for even rudimentary laws of cabin decompression whenever airplane doors are opened in flight.
If you've read this far, you probably know we ain't talking Flight of the Phoenix here. Altitude is outrageously ridiculous from the get-go and appears to bask in its own stupidity. The goofy dialogue, ludicrous special effects and silly action scenes seem to reflect some kind of self-awareness behind the camera. Surely everyone involved is in on the joke...right?


It doesn't matter anyway, because Altitude is one of those movies where, if you aren't already on-board the tacky train, you'd rage-quit about halfway through. But if you're in the wrong frame of mind - maybe armed with a six-pack or two - there's a lot of fun to be had. I was, and I did.


Blu-Ray Giveaway: Jackie Chan in RAILROAD TIGERS

WELL GO USA and FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE are giving away Blu-Ray copies of the action-comedy, Railroad Tigers, starring the legendary Jackie Chan

TO ENTER: Leave us a message in the KITTY CONTACT form in our sidebar. Your email will not be shared or used for any other purpose. GIVEAWAY ENDS JUNE 30.

In this action-comedy caper harkening back to Jackie Chan’s classic Hong Kong films, a railroad worker (Chan) and his ragtag group of freedom fighters find themselves on the wrong side of the tracks when they decide to ambush a heavily armed military train filled with desperately needed provisions. Unarmed and outnumbered, they must fight back against an entire army using only their wits, in a series of dazzling set pieces and action scenes rivaling anything seen on the big screen.


June 12, 2017

Blu-Ray News: ASH VS. EVIL DEAD SEASON 2 on Blu-ray & DVD 8/22

Hail to the King as  
Ash vs Evil Dead: Season 2
Slices its Way to Blu-ray and DVD August 22 from Lionsgate

SANTA MONICA, CA (June 12, 2017) – Evil just can’t catch a break as the hilarious, critically acclaimed horror series “Ash vs Evil Dead”: Season 2 arrives on Blu-ray (plus Digital HD) and DVD August 22 from Lionsgate. Locked and loaded with the same twisted humor and gory kill scenes groovy fans of the franchise are used to, “Ash vs Evil Dead”: Season 2 continues the chainsaw-slicing, shotgun-blasting fun from the first season. “Ash vs Evil Dead”: Season 2 stars Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead franchise), Lucy Lawless (TV’s “Spartacus: War of the Damned”), Ray Santiago (In Time), and Dana DeLorenzo (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas), as well as this season’s introduction of Lee Majors (TV’s “The Six Million Dollar Man”) as Ash’s father.

This season roars back into action with Ash leaving his beloved Jacksonville and returning to his home town of Elk Grove. There, he confronts Ruby, only to find that she too is now a victim of evil and in need of Ash’s help. The former enemies have to form an uneasy alliance to give them a chance of success as Elk Grove soon becomes the nucleus of evil.


June 10, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: KILL 'EM ALL

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Autumn Reeser, Peter Stormare, Maria Conchita Alonso, Daniel Bernhardt. Directed by Peter Malota. (2017, 96 min).

It wouldn't kill Jean-Claude Van Damme to just say no every now and then. In the past, with the right directors (like John Woo or Peter Hyams), he's actually cranked out a few decent movies. In recent years, he's even demonstrated a willingness to poke fun at his own image, with amusing results, in movies and TV shows on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, Van Damme still falls in with the wrong crowd way too often.

The wrong crowd this time are those responsible for Kill 'Em All, a low-wattage action fest thrown together by folks who've obviously seen Die Hard and The Usual Suspects too many times. In fact, if I were Bryan Singer & Christopher McQuarrie, I'd consider suing.

Van Damme is Phillip, a revenge-minded assassin who's brought to a hospital with serious injuries, as is his quarry, a Yugoslavian crimelord. The man's gang of thugs - each given a flashy intro - arrive to kill Phillip. Rather than try and escape, Phillip stays to finish the job and kill everybody one-by-one, with the reluctant help of Suzanne (Autumn Reeser), a plucky nurse with a convenient set of deadly skills of her own.

"After I kill you, my agent is next."
This is all told in flashback by Suzanne, being grilled by two of the most useless CIA agents in movie history (Peter Stormare & Maria Conchita Alonso, both of whom are surprisingly terrible). They appear to serve no real purpose other than to threaten Suzanne and provide most of the plot & character exposition. In several instances, the viewer might even be prompted to ask, "If you already know so goddamn much, why the hell are you treating this hapless nurse like a war criminal?" The film eventually explains everything - sort of - but it actually renders the previous 90 minutes more pointless and nonsensical.

It's a premise and twist lifted straight out of The Usual Suspects, with none of Singer and McQuarrie's skill, kind of like hearing Beethoven 9th symphony performed by a middle school band class. None of the characters are remotely interesting either...the bad guys all smirk, sneer and show no fear, even when getting the shit kicked out of them. Van Damme himself does a decent job, though not required to do more than look haggard and crack limbs. While it's reassuring to see he can still deliver a hearty roundhouse kick, he really doesn't look very healthy. Sure, no one stays young forever, but even without the cuts and contusions, he's starting to resemble Eddie on all those Iron Maiden album covers.

Jean-Claude Van Damme has cranked-out so many cheap, budget-bin fight-fests since his heyday that I can't imagine Kill 'Em All appealing to anyone but his staunchest fans. It's just another generic, derivative and depressing hodge-podge of ideas ripped-off from better films. I'm sure Van Damme appreciates the paycheck, but he needs to go back to hanging out with a better crowd before he ends up on Dancing with the Stars or an A&E reality show.


Rest in Peace, Adam West

Adam West (1928-2017)

June 8, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: MINE

Starring Armie Hammer, Annabelle Wallis, Tom Cullen, Clint Dyer. Directed by Fabio Guaglione & Fabio Resinaro. (2016, 107 min).

Movies which which primarily feature a single character in a simple-but-perilous predicament are inherently intriguing, though difficult to pull off well. The best ones - The Shallows is a great recent example - are gripping, visceral experiences where the viewer can't help but put themselves in the character's shoes. Others feel too slight and unnecessarily padded out to feature length. Mine falls somewhere in between.

The premise is terrific. Armie Hammer plays Mike Stevens, a marine sniper deployed in Africa to kill a reported terrorist. After the mission fails, he and buddy Tommy Madison (Tom Cullen) must walk across a massive desert on-foot for extraction. Along the way, they stumble into a minefield. Mike steps on one, which will detonate if he lifts his foot. Tommy's not so lucky; his legs are blown off and he eventually kills himself, leaving Mike alone, miles from the nearest village.

He manages to contact his superiors, who inform him they can't come in for a rescue for 52 hours. With almost no water, Mike must remain nearly immobile while fending off nocturnal predators and dealing with the elements (including desert heat and a massive sand storm).

"Man, some of that's gonna get in my shorts."
These scenes - Mike alone in the desert, his chances for survival dropping each hour - are fairly gripping. Hammer delivers a suitably gritty performance, effectively conveying both stoicism and desperation. Less effective are numerous flashback scenes, mostly involving his abusive father (Geoff Bell) or his fiancee, Jenny (Annabelle Wallis). While they're obviously meant to provide a bit of background to the character, the overuse of flashbacks is somewhat intrusive, repeatedly sucking the viewer out of Mike's current predicament.

I also could have done without Berber (Clint Dyer), a village local who frequently visits Mike throughout his ordeal. He initially provides Mike with water, but later ends up offering metaphors about life and fate. Seemingly serving as a host for the Mike's hallucinations, the character's actual purpose grows increasingly baffling with each scene.

While there's a good argument that Mine might have been more effective as a short subject, the scenario alone keeps us interested enough to power through the padding and see it through to the end. The film comes to a fairly satisfying - and amusingly ironic - conclusion that more-or-less justifies our time.


June 6, 2017

Movie News: VALERIAN: CITY OF ALPHA: Mobile Game of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian: City of Alpha, the official mobile game of the upcoming Luc Besson feature film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will launch this summer from Spil Games. Players can dive into the Valerian universe as the game will explore the metropolis of Alpha and its thousands of species. 

View the game trailer:

June 5, 2017


Starring Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng, Feng Wenjuon, Sun Chun, Liu Xianda, Jonathan, Zhao Jian, Shi Zhanjie, Wu Xudong, Pawalit Mongokolpisit, Chen Baoguo. Directed by Dante Lam. (2016, 124 min).

If you ever wanted to watch a coked-up child play Russian Roulette and lose, have I got a movie for you...

Supposedly inspired on real events - though you'll scarcely believe a minute of it - Operation Mekong is a Chinese action film loaded with bombastic, bloody mayhem. Gao Gang (Zhang Hanyu) and Fang Xinwu (Eddie Peng) are two drug enforcement agents who go undercover with a team of mercenaries to try and stop the flow of drugs from the Golden Triangle, a region along the Mekong River where powerful cartels control everything and everyone.

The most vicious & chemically imbalanced of the drug-lords is Naw Kham (Pawalit Mongokolpisit, sporting the mother of all mullets), who essentially declares war on the Chinese police. In addition to surrounding himself with a legion of murderous thugs, scores of kidnapped drug-addicted kids (little kids) live with him. He keeps them busy, though...walking into police stations with bombs and protecting his compound with machine guns. Father of the year, he ain't.

"Oochy-koochy-koo, you son of a bitch!"
Character development - and a majority of the plot, for that matter - mostly takes a backseat to explosive action and brutal violence. Some of the latter is truly unnerving, such as the aforementioned Russian Roulette scene and the fate of an innocent woman at the wrong end of a knife, though none of it's particularly exploitative. As for the action...Dante Lam directs like a graduate from the Michael Bay Academy, which isn't quite as terrible as the comparison implies. Sometimes big & ballsy is the way to go, and when your movie already stretches credibility to the breaking point, why not toss in a shoot-out/car chase that destroys an entire shopping mall?

Operation Mekong seldom slows down long enough for the viewer to think too much about its plausibility. The violence involving children is a little tough to take - and not real really necessary - but other than that, the film is fairly enjoyable way to kill a few hours.

A six-part making-of documentary


Movie News: WONDER WOMAN Online Store

In Celebration of Warner Bros. Pictures’ action-adventure film WONDER WOMAN, featuring the most empowered and unstoppable heroine of the DC Universe! Packed with a treasure trove of Wonder Woman gear, the officially licensed shop of Warner Bros. Consumer Products is stocked with collectibles, clothing and accessories for every hero in your life. Lasso yourself some wonderful art, iPhone covers, blankets, drinkware, jackets, handbags and much, much more — this store is the first stop for all your Amazonian accessories!

Rest in Peace, Peter Sallis

Peter Sallis (1921-2017)

June 4, 2017


Starring the voices of Donnie Dunagan, Hardy Albright, John Sutherland, Tim Davis, Sam Edwards, Paula Winslowe, Sterling Holloway, Will Wright, Ann Gillis. Numerous Directors (supervised by David Hand). (1942, 70 min).

What more can you say about Bambi?

If not the best animated film released during Walt's watch, it's arguably the most ambitious, artistic and influential. And along with Pinocchio, Bambi has aged remarkably well, both narratively and aesthetically. 75 years (!) later, it's lost none of its power to enthrall, amuse, charm and horrify.

Speaking of horrifying, it goes without saying that Bambi's legacy extends beyond the silver screen. This is, of course, the movie that ruined a million childhoods by introducing the concept of death to them for the first time. Not the demise of a villain or any of that "circle of life" nonsense...real death, which doesn't always play fair, often comes without warning, takes loved ones away and doesn't give them back.

In the interest of journalistic integrity, I'll save the spoilers for the few who might be clueless to what scene I'm referring to. But I will argue that the main reason it remains so emotionally shredding - more-so than a similar segment in Disney's The Lion King - is its unsentimental, sugar-free cruelty. Death swiftly strikes and moves on. So does the film, without giving its audience a chance to process and fully accept what's happened. In a way, the fact we're forced to move forward with no reassurance is ultimately what makes the event so devastating (especially for the wee ones).

"Mama said I'm not s'pposed to talk about Fight Club."
That aside, Bambi remains a triumph of minimalist storytelling. Seeing it for the first time in at least 30 years, I noticed how little dialogue there actually is, using imagery, action and music to manipulate the audience more effectively than verbal exposition. From a visual and technical standpoint, Bambi not only changed how animated films are made, it's loaded with striking imagery, beautiful backgrounds and painstaking attention to the tiniest details.

This "Anniversary Edition" isn't Bambi's first Blu-Ray rodeo, though. It sports the same gorgeous picture & sound as 2011's Diamond Edition. It also duplicates most of that version's supplemental features, along with a handful of new ones (listed below). And like the previous disc, there are three ways to watch the film: the straight theatrical version, "Inside Walt's Story Meetings" (a picture-in-picture feature where we see and hear transcripts of the original production meetings as the film is playing) and "Disney View," where the sidebars are filled with paintings by artist Lisa Keene (includes a brief Keene bio).

For Disney fans - not-to-mention serious cinephiles - Bambi is a must-own on Blu-Ray. If it's not yet in your collection, this one is worth picking up over the older disc, mainly because it also includes a digital copy. However, with the exception of a digital-only tribute to the film's late lead artist and an early black & white cartoon made by Walt Disney before he was Walt Disney, the remaining new features are of the fluffy variety. Those who own the Diamond Edition may want to consider that before double-dipping.

"Bambi Fawn Facts"
"The Bambi Effect"
"Studio Stories: Bambi"
"Celebrating Tyrus Wong" (Available on digital copy only) - The late Tyrus Wong was the film's lead artist
ANIMATED SHORT: "Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit: Africa Before Dark"

EXTRA KIBBLES - "CLASSIC BONUS FEATURES" (from previous home video releases)
FEATURETTES: "Tricks of Our Trade"; "Inside the Disney Archives"; "The Making of Bambi"; "The Golden Age"
DELETED SONG: "Twitterpated"

May 31, 2017


Starring Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia, Yvette Nicole Brown. Directed by Walter Hill. (2016, 95 min).

Over his lengthy career, Walter Hill has directed some undisputed classics (The Warriors, 48HRS) and underrated gems (The Driver, The Long Riders). So while Hill certainly knows how to put together a character-driven action film, his last truly good one, Trespass, was 25 years ago. Still, as I do with William Friedkin and John Carpenter (two other legends whose glory days appear long gone), I still cling to the hope that Hill has one last great picture left in him.

But after watching The Assignment, I'm thinking maybe I should give up.

Too bad, really. The concept is just crazy and lurid enough to be a disreputable good time. Michelle Rodriguez is vicious assassin Frank Kitchen, who kills the brother of Rachel Jane (Sigourney Weaver), a brilliant but arrogant & terminally-weird surgeon. With the help of a mob boss and his crew, Jane exacts a bit of revenge - all in the name of science - by giving Frank a radical sex change operation, thinking it will alter his aggressive tendencies. That's right, folks...the 'assignment' of the title refers to reassignment. She's still the same old Frank, though. Upon learning the operation can't be reversed, she decides to hunt down and kill everyone responsible.

"Yeah...I'm in a band."
Rodriguez certainly deserves an action vehicle of her own, but The Assignment is ridiculous, predictable and ultimately boring. Even if the viewer is able to swallow the notion that Frank can bounce back from a complete gender reassignment in a few days - without a single surgical scar - to go on her killing spree, the ensuing action scenes are pedestrian and unimaginative. Frank simply locates (with remarkable ease) and shoots most of the supporting cast one-by-one until she confronts Jane.

While Rodriguez tries, she's unconvincing in the role, mostly sounding like she's voicing a secondary Simpsons character. Despite some elaborate make-up and prosthetics - including a gratuitous, chuckle-worthy shot of Rodriguez prancing around naked with a hairy chest and dangling dong - we simply don't buy her as a man. As Jane, Weaver's mostly forced to spout inane, pseudo-intellectual monologues to establish her as a twisted genius, a trope which became cliche shortly after we met Hannibal Lector.

I wish I could say such a low-wattage piece of sleaze is beneath a once-great  filmmaker like Walter Hill. However, The Assignment (which he co-wrote) is apparently something he's wanted to make for a long time, so he bares much of the blame. What happened? He used to be so good at combining crackling action with interesting characters, but even his last debacle, Bullet to the Head, was more trashy fun than this. I don't know...maybe the man's best years are truly behind him.

FEATURETTE: "Filmmaking Portraits"