December 13, 2017


By Michael Troyan, Jeffrey Paul Thompson & Stephen X. Sylvester. (2017, 736p).

Everything you ever wanted to know about 20th Century Fox, but never thought to ask...

This hefty, handsome volume details the entire history of the iconic studio, from founder William Fox's ambitious beginnings through 2015 (you know...a century). But the book isn't primarily about Fox's movies. Though nearly every noteworthy film is mentioned, most are just briefly discussed within the context of the studio's history itself.

A Century of Entertainment is mostly about the rise of Fox - both physically and as a major Hollywood entity - as well as the moguls, producers, actors and executives who've come and gone over the years. Several chapters take the reader on a detailed tour of Century City, building by building, which include detailed maps and scores of photos. Elsewhere, the text chronicles the studio's highs and lows over the decades, along with the power players behind the scenes. We even learn the origins of Alfred Newman's "Fox Fanfare" music and the evolution of the iconic 'searchlight' logo.

The studio's early days are written about in far greater detail, therefore the most interesting (like most origin stories or biographies). Once it's established that Fox is an entertainment giant that's here to stay, the 1950s-on-forward are summarized more briefly, sometimes becoming a breathless list of notable films released during those eras. Later chapters cover the corporation's expansion into television, such as classic TV shows, the FOX network and cable channels.

In addition to being a fascinating read, this is a beautifully-assembled, hardcover coffee table book filled with hundreds of rare photos to accompany the text. Though it comes with a price nearly as heavy as its weight, 20th Century Fox: A Century of Entertainment is a must-have for serious fans of Hollywood history.

Just don't drop it on your foot.

Blu-Ray News: GEOSTORM on Blu-Ray/DVD 1/23

We here at FREE KITTENS love disaster movies above all other genres, so this is good news to us. Warner Bros' sci-fi disaster epic, Geostorm, will be available on home video January 23. 

After an unprecedented series of natural disasters threatened the planet, the world's leaders came together to create an intricate network of satellites to control the global climate and keep everyone safe. But now, something has gone wrong—the system built to protect the Earth is attacking it, and it's a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out everything...and everyone along with it.

Blu-Ray News: JIGSAW on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD 1/23

In the latest terrifying installment of the legendary SAW series, law enforcement find itself chasing the ghost of a man dead for over a decade, embroiled in a diabolical new game that’s only just begun.  Has John Kramer, the infamous Jigsaw Killer, returned from the dead to commit a series of murders and remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life?  Or is this a trap set by a different killer with designs of their own?

Immerse yourself within Jigsaw’s world with the release’s extensive Special Features, including an all-new 7-Part Documentary, an Audio Commentary with Producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules, and Peter Block, and “The Choice is Yours: Exploring the Props” featurette. The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray versions feature Dolby Atmos audio mixed specifically for the home, to place and move audio anywhere in the room, including overhead. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray also features Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR), growing Lionsgate’s library of titles featuring both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. Dolby Vision transforms the TV experience in the home by delivering greater brightness and contrast, as well as a fuller palette of rich colors. Together with the captivating sound of Dolby Atmos, consumers will experience both cutting-edge imaging and state-of-the-art sound technology for a fully immersive entertainment experience. 

December 12, 2017

Blu-Ray News: 2 Classic Courtroom Dramas Coming January 9 from Kino Lorber

The event the world will never forget! Winner of two Academy Awards including Actor in a Leading Role (Maximilian Schell, Topkapi) and nominated for eleven Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, Judgment at Nuremberg is a magnificent achievement in filmmaking, boasting brilliant performances by an all-star cast. American judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy, Inherit the Wind) presides over the trial of four German jurists accused of "legalizing" Nazi atrocities. But as graphic accounts of sterilization and murder unfold in the courtroom, mounting political pressure for leniency forces Haywood to make the most harrowing and difficult decision of his career. This masterpiece, considered by many as one of the greatest films of all time, was directed by the great Stanley Kramer (On the Beach) with a stupendous cast that includes Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift and William Shatner.

Acting legends Spencer Tracy (Judgment at Nuremberg) and Fredric March (The Iceman Cometh) go toe-to-toe in this thrilling recreation of the most titanic courtroom battle of the century. The great Stanley Kramer (On the Beach) directs this masterpiece featuring Gene Kelly (On the Town) in a rare, critically acclaimed dramatic role. Inherit the Wind is powerful, provocative cinema and a heaping measure of entertainment. The controversial subject of evolution versus creation causes two polar opposites to engage in one explosive battle of beliefs. Attorney Clarence Darrow (Tracy) faces off against fundamentalist leader William Jennings Bryan (March) in a small Tennessee town where a teacher has been brought to trial for teaching Darwinism. The stellar supporting cast includes Dick York, Donna Anderson, Harry Morgan, Claude Akins, Norman Fell and Noah Beery Jr.

December 11, 2017

DVD Review: FARGO - YEAR 3

Starring Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, David Thewlis, Goran Bogdan, Michael Stuhlbarg, Shea Whigham, Scoot McNairy, Mark Forward, Andy Yu, Olivia Sandoval, Mary McDonnell. Various directors. (2017, 520 min).

It's still rather amazing that a classic as unique as the original Fargo inspired a television show at all, let-alone one that managed to strike the same balance between labyrinthine thriller, oddball character study and black comedy. That the show remains as endearingly quirky after three seasons is even more remarkable.

Storywise, Year 3 isn't quite as consistently compelling as Year 2. After a couple of intriguing set-up episodes, things meander a bit at times, such as an entire early episode dedicated to the shady past of a recently-deceased character. Aside from a very brief metaphorical moment later on, it has no baring on the rest of the story. Granted, one thing that makes the Fargo universe amusing is the various vignettes that aren't necessarily important to the story, but are interesting nonetheless. However, an entire episode is a bit much.

Ewan gets stuck with the check.
That's a small quip, though, since the rest of Fargo remains as moody, weird and darkly funny as ever. Year 3, like the previous two, tells a completely new story, set at a different time (2010-11) and featuring a different cast of wonderfully weird characters. Ewan McGregor, in a dual role, plays the feuding Stussy brothers (Ray and Emmitt), both of whom eventually get in over their heads when their best-laid plans spiral wildly out of control. Carrie Coon is Gloria Bergle, an Eden Valley police chief who begins to piece together connections between the Stussys and a couple of brutal murders (one of the victims, her father-in-law, also happens to be named Stussy). Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Ray's ex-con girlfriend who instigates much of the bad blood between Ray and his wealthier brother (making her sort-of a well-meaning femme fatale).

Santa leaves behind a little nightmare fuel.
The whole cast is great - and McGregor has never been better - but the best performance is by David Thewlis as V.M Varga, a mysterious, cold-blooded figure who once helped Emmitt (the "Parking Lot King") save his business, but has insinuated himself into company to become a "partner" and use it as a front for money laundering. Not only is he ruthless, Varga is also quite repulsive. From his disheveled appearance, spacey demeanor and grotesque habits - like bulimic binging & purging and picking at his own rotting teeth until his gums bleed - his very presence in most scenes is truly unnerving.

Though there are plenty of wild plot turns, these terrific characters effectively carry the story through some of the rough, slow spots, making this third season of 10 episodes well worth binging over a night or two. None of it may actually take place in or around Fargo this time, but really, the title is more of a brand name now, evoking a quirky brand of storytelling that's hard to resist.

"INSIDE LOOK" (These are all 1-2 minute promos): "First Look"; Ray and Nikki"; Emmit Stussy and Sy Feltz"; "One Actor, Two Characters"; "Gloria Burgle"; Varga"; "Anatomy of a Scene"; "The Digital Age"; "Connectivity and References" (Easter eggs); Locations"; "Noah Hawley"

December 7, 2017

Blu-Ray News: Vestron's CLASS OF 1999 Coming to Blu-ray 1/30

The ultimate teaching machine spirals out of control when the Vestron Video Collector’s Series releases the sci-fi thriller Class of 1999, arriving for the first time on limited edition Blu-ray™ on January 30 from Lionsgate. A high school principal employs robotic teachers to keep order in an inner-city school, but when the androids become deadly, opposing teenage gangs must unite to save their own lives. Starring Pam Grier, Stacy Keach, and Malcolm McDowell, Class of 1999 is restored & remastered, and packed with all-new special features, including audio commentaries with director Mark L. Lester, interviews with the crew and more! 

December 5, 2017

Movie News: Disney•Pixar's COCO - Holiday Gift Guitars for the Budding Musician

With Disney•Pixar's smash hit Coco now in theaters it's time to "seize your moment" this holiday season! For families looking for the perfect gift for the little musician in their lives, these Coco related items will touch their hearts as much as the film itself.

Disney∙Pixar Coco Interactive Guitar
Licensee: Mattel
MSRP: $29.99
Retailers: Toys "R" Us and

Fans of Disney•Pixar’s Coco can recreate music from the movie with this interactive guitar that allows budding musicians to learn and practice, “Remember Me,” a popular song from the film through fully functioning strings, working lights and true-to-movie details. This guitar is topped by a skull that chomps when the first chord button is pressed and also comes with sheet music for kids to practice the day away and become a musician just like Miguel dreams of becoming. 3 “AA” batteries required (included). Ages 3 years and up.

Disney•Pixar Coco x Cordoba Acoustic Guitar
Licensee: Cordoba
MSRP: $169.00
Retailers: Guitar Center and Music & Arts
Embark on a musical adventure with the Coco x Cordoba Guitar, inspired by Coco, a film by Disney•Pixar. Built with a spruce top, mahogany back and sides and durable satin finish, the Guitar sounds clear, warm and melodic, just like the guitars in the film. Its soft nylon strings are perfect for beginners and its smaller body (7/8 size) is comfortable to hold and play. The beautiful laser-etched design is inspired by Miguel’s family history and the guitars featured throughout the film.

Disney•Pixar Coco x Cordoba Mini Acoustic Guitar
Licensee: Cordoba
MSRP: $129.00
Retailers: Guitar Center and Music & Arts
Embark on a musical adventure with the Disney•Pixar's Coco x Cordoba Mini, a fun travel-size nylon string guitar inspired by Coco, a film by Disney•Pixar. Perfectly sized for life's adventures (580mm or 22.8” scale length) and with a durable satin finish, the Mini retains the playability of a full size guitar without losing its impressively loud voice. Built with a spruce top and mahogany back and sides and in standard E tuning, the Mini's tone is bright and full. The beautiful laser-etched design is inspired by Miguel’s family history and the guitars featured throughout the film. Comes with a Córdoba gig bag and guitar strap.

Blu-Ray News: SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING - Limited-Edition Gift Box + Spidey Suit Auction!

Official Spider-Man: Homecoming Suit Hits the Auction Block Today to Benefit the Marine Toys For Tots Program 
 Spider-Man:  Homecoming Limited-Edition Gift Box Available Today Exclusively at Walmart
This holiday, fans can join Spider-Man in sharing the gift of giving to children everywhere.  An official Spider-Man suit worn by Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming will be auctioned to benefit Toys for Tots.  Fans can celebrate with Spider-Man: Homecoming by participating in the auction to win the suit or by entering a sweepstakes through the Official Spider-Man Facebook Page to win a second official suit.  Fans can also swing into Walmart for an exclusive Spider-Man: Homecoming Limited-Edition Gift Box in stores today, the perfect gift for Spidey fans this holiday.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) is providing the first official Spider-Man: Homecoming suit to the ScreenBid online auction site to auction for the benefit of underprivileged kids through the Toys for Tots Foundation.  Fans can bid on the online auction starting today by registering at  Bidding will close on Monday, December 18, 2017 at 9 am EST / 6 am PST.  In addition, SPHE will donate Spider-Man: Homecoming DVDs to bring Spider-Man home to fans through Toys for Tots.

Finding a present under the tree on Christmas morning is an experience every child deserves," said retired Marine Colonel Ted Silvester, Vice President of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.  “With this generous support, we will be able to fulfill the Christmas holiday dreams of less fortunate children who otherwise might be forgotten."

For those who don’t win the suit at auction, a second official Spider-Man: Homecoming suit is up for grabs through the official Spider-Man: Homecoming Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter.  To enter the sweepstakes, fans can simply take a picture of themselves showing a photo of their purchase of the new Walmart-exclusive Spider-Man™\: Homecoming Limited Edition Gift Box or any Blu-ray, DVD or Digital purchase of Spider-Man: Homecoming at retail.  Fans can then post to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #SpidermanHomecomingSweepstakes for their chance to win.   Launching today, the official sweepstakes will remain open throughout the holidays, closing on January 2, 2018 giving fans one more opportunity to bring an official Spidey suit home.  For official rules and more details on how to enter, visit

A perfect gift for any superhero fan, the new Spider-Man: Homecoming Limited Edition Gift Box is available beginning today exclusively at Walmart and comes loaded with an exclusive Funko Pop! “upside-down” Vinyl bobble-head figure, only available through this limited retail offer.  Also exclusive to this limited edition gift box is a Spider-Man Comic Covers Book called “Through the Years” featuring popular Spider-Man comic book cover art, as well as Spider-Man athletic socks, a collectible Spider-Man enamel pin, and the Spider-Man: Homecoming Blu-ray, DVD and digital combo pack.

Toys for Tots, a 70-year national charitable program run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, provides happiness and hope to disadvantaged children during each Christmas holiday season.  The toys, books and other gifts collected and distributed by the Marines offer these children recognition, confidence and a positive memory for a lifetime.  It is such experiences that help children become responsible citizens and caring members of their community.  Last year the Marine Toys for Tots Program fulfilled the holiday hopes and dreams of 7 million less fortunate children in 792 communities nationwide.  Since 1947 over 244 million children have been assisted. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation is a not for profit organization authorized by the U.S. Marine Corps and the Department of Defense to provide fundraising and other necessary support for the annual Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.  For more information, visit

December 4, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: DESPICABLE ME 3

Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Pierre Coffin, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews. Directed by Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda. (2017, 90 min).

A funny thing happened on my way through Despicable Me turned into a sequel to two different movies.

This is, foremost, the third film in Illumination's uber-popular franchise. Gru and his wife, Lucy, are now agents for the Anti-Villain League, but get fired after failing to apprehend former 80's child star-turned supervillain Balthazat Bratt. Gru then gets an invite from long-lost twin brother, Dru, who lives in Freedonia. So Gru brings the whole family along, at which time the film juggles several concurrent stories: Lucy struggling with being a stepmom, little Nev's quest to find a real unicorn and Gru & Dru trying to steal back a diamond stolen by Bratt, who wants revenge on Hollywood by destroying the entire town and needs the jewel to power his giant robot.

"Dammit, Dru, go find a restroom!"
Meanwhile, the Minions, disgusted that Gru was fired from his job, have abandoned him, but end up going to prison. At least a third of the movie is dedicated to their misadventures and in-no-way figures into the main plot, meaning Despicable Me 3 frequently plays more like a Minions sequel. One's enjoyment of these little fellas depends largely on whether or not you've already had your fill of their antics (for this writer, the threat of overkill looms large).
"We're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore!"
With all these subplots padding things out, Despicable Me 3 is narratively the most meandering in the series. Furthermore, despite dedicated voice work by Trey Parker, Bratt isn't a very interesting villain. Having your character embody everything goofy about the 80s isn't really that clever, since people have been poking fun at that decade ever since it ended. Such gags and references will be lost on kids, while their parents have seen & heard it all before.

But that's probably nitpicking. Like the previous films, Despicable Me 3 is colorful, exuberant and just amusing enough to keep it from being a parental endurance test while their kids laugh their butts off. If nothing else, the film knows its audience, which I suppose qualifies as praise.

EXTRA KIBBLES (mostly geared toward kids)
FEATURETTES: "The Making of Despicable Me 3"; "Character Profiles"; "Developing Dru"
SHORT: "The Secret Life of Kyle" (Gru's dog)
"MINION MOMENTS" - Essentially two half-minute shorts.
"DESPICABLE ME TV" & "FREEDONIA VISITORS GUIDE" - Voice-over "Advertisements" made from scenes from the film.
"THE AVL FILES" - An interactive feature profiling several characters.
MUSIC VIDEOS: "Doowit" (sing-along video) & "Yellow Light"
GALLERIES: "Minion Mugshots" & "Wanted Posters"
(But enough of the minions, already!)

December 2, 2017


Starring Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Aleks Mikic, Dacre Montgomery, Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen. (2016, 89 min).

Enter our giveaway of this title HERE.

It's difficult to summarize movies like Better Watch Out without providing major spoilers, especially since the plot-twist it heavily depends on occurs during the first act. One major narrative strike against the film is that, due to some heavy-handed and clumsy foreshadowing, said-twist probably won't come as a real surprise.

Still, this Christmas themed horror film presents an interesting take on the home invasion subgenre. Olivia DeJonge is Ashley, an 18-year-old who agrees to babysit 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) while his goofy, bickering parents go to a Christmas party. Later, Luke's less-than-responsible best friend, Garrett, shows up. Initially more concerned with an over-the-phone spat with her boyfriend, Olivia soon has much a bigger problem: Somebody begins terrorizing her, cutting the phone lines & internet and threatening to kill anyone who leaves the house.

Kids, Santa's never gonna come if you wait up for him.
To reveal much more would ruin the fun. Suffice it to say, Better Watch Out is not your garden variety home invasion thriller. Though the big plot twist is bungled by obvious exposition, it does lay the groundwork for an off-kilter, suspenseful, sometimes disturbing film with a mean streak a mile wide and a sense of humor as black as coal in your stocking. Of course, horror movies are only as good as their villains. This one has a doozy: a truly sadistic, hateful character that's bolstered by a remarkably unhinged, scenery-chewing performance.

Though not always particularly scary, Better Watch Out is suitably unnerving and sometimes jarringly violent, with better than average performances and a resolution that's both infuriating and cryptically funny. Those game for this type of entertainment might also find themselves laughing at inopportune moments. Make sure not to shut it off when the end credits start to roll.


December 1, 2017

Blu-Ray Giveaway: BETTER WATCH OUT

FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE and WELL GO USA are giving away a Blu-Ray copy of the critically-acclaimed horror comedy, BETTER WATCH OUT.

“If you want to gift yourself a holiday film that decks the halls with blood, this is one to put under the tree.” ~ Clark Collis, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“A consistently surprising and unusually well-acted thriller, which says pertinent things about suburbia, holiday entertainment and toxic masculinity.” ~ Noel Murray, LOS ANGELES TIMES

“… deeply unnerving and adorably sinister.” ~ Charlie Oughton, STARBURST

TO ENTER: Simply drop us a message in the KITTY CONTACT box near the top of our sidebar. Winner will be chosen at random and notified via e-mail. Deadline to enter is 12/15/17.

November 29, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: OPERATION PETTICOAT - Olive Signature Edition

Starring Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Joan O'Brien, Dina Merrill, Gene Evans, Dick Sargent, Arthur O'Connell, Virginia Gregg, Gavin MacLeod, Marion Ross. Directed by Blake Edwards. (1959, 120 min).

Considering our current cultural climate, there's a scene in Operation Petticoat you probably couldn't get away with today.

The film was a massive hit when first released, with good reason. Its premise - the turmoil caused by five rescued Army nurses onboard a submarine during WWII - is the perfect concept for the type of sex comedies being produced at the time. And who better to helm a farce like this than Blake Edwards, arguably one of the masters of the genre?

Operation Petticoat isn't strictly a sex comedy, though. If you squint real hard, you might even see a tenuous influence on such later, more subversive, war comedies as Kelly's Heroes and M*A*S*H. Still, it's primarily a fluffy farce, and a pretty entertaining one at that. It helps, of course, that one keeps-in-mind when this was made, a time when Tony Curtis aggressively insinuating himself on a reluctant Dina Merrill was perfectly okay...even amusing. You probably couldn't get away with a scene like that today, at least if you're trying to play it for laughs.

Commander Sherman discovers - the hard way - the difference between a scotch and a lab sample.
I'm overly analyzing the movie, of course, but today's sudden awareness of sexual harassment - a new incident seemingly pops up every day - did cross my mind during this scene. No, it doesn't ruin the movie or anything. Just an observation, nothing more.

Elsewhere, the crew leers at the nurses like cartoon wolves, fake being ill so they can be "treated" and hold a raffle to see who gets to lend these ladies their clothes. Later, these nurses' girdles, stockings, bras & panties are required to save the day. The film ain't exactly subtle, but it isn't misogynistic or sexist, either, and to label it as such would be unfair, even by modern finger-pointing standards. The female characters aren't objectified bimbos, and with the exception of Cary Grant's role as Commander Sherman, it's mostly the male characters who're one-dimensional stereotypes.

" petticoat in there."
Still Operation Petticoat remains genuinely funny and a congenial good time, with charming performances and witty dialogue (and plenty of amusingly risqué double-entendres). As with previous releases in the Olive Signature series, this disc includes a lot of interesting bonus features, even if most of the brand new material isn't directly related to the movie itself. It's a big upgrade from the previous bare bones release and worth picking up for classic movie buffs.

"That's What Everybody Says About Me" - About director Blake Edwards, featuring daughter Jennifer and actress Leslie Ann Warren.
"The Brave Crew of the Petticoat" - New interviews with Gavin MacLeod and Marion Ross.
"The Captain and His Double: Cary Grant's Struggle of the Self" - Biographer Marc Eliot discusses Grant's upbringing and career.
NEWSREEL FOOTAGE - The film's opening at Radio City Music Hall, attended by Cary Grant
ARCHIVE FOOTAGE - The USS Baloo (the "Sea Tiger" of the film)
ESSAY - By film critic Chris Fujiwara (both a slide show and printed in the supplemental booklet) 

November 27, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: REMEMORY

Starring Peter Dinklage, Julia Ormond, Anton Yelchin, Henry Ian Cusick, Matt Ellis, Martin Donovan, Evelyne Brochu. Directed by Mark Palansky. (2017, 112 min).

Peter Dinklage doesn't often get the chance to carry an entire movie on his shoulders. In fact, the last time he was top-billed was 2002's The Station Agent. One thing is certain...writer/director Mark Palansky is lucky to have him because Dinklage is by far the main reason to check out Rememory.

The film is a sci-fi/mystery about a box that is able to record and play back people's memories for the purpose of helping them with various psychological problems. When the inventor, Gordon Dunn (Martin Donovan), dies, model maker Sam Bloom (Dinklage) suspects foul play. He steals the box (with remarkable ease) from Dunn's widow, Carolyn (Julia Ormand), and uses it the narrow down the suspects. It could be any number of former test subjects, all of whom suffered hallucinogenic side effects from the rememory machine.

Peter doesn't like people touching his stuff.
As someone who also has personal reasons for taking the machine - Bloom's trying to come-to-terms with his brother's untimely death - Dinklage treads a fine line between self-absorbed and empathetic, brilliantly conveying his character's uncertainty & regret over his more unscrupulous actions - especially when deceiving Carolyn. Unfortunately, the story itself seldom rises above the mundane. Despite an overall sense of urgency, when one thinks about the machine's purpose, there isn't really a hell of a lot at stake. It all comes to a disappointing resolution that's intended to be haunting, but ultimately doesn't resonate much.

Dinklage, however, comes damn close to saving the entire film, providing nearly all of its emotional heft. Turning in yet-another great performance in a rare leading role, he doesn't disappoint, even if the rest of Rememory does.

FEATURETTE: "The Memories We Keep"
AUDIO COMMENTARY by writer/director Mark Palansky & Peter Dinklage

November 26, 2017


Starring Antonio Banderas, Karl Urban, Paz Vega, Johnathon Schaech, Robert Forster. Directed by Isaac Florentine. (2017, 87 min).

With films like Acts of Vengeance, it helps to keep your expectations in check.

Like the once-mighty Nicholas Cage, John Travolta & Bruce Willis, Antonio Banderas stays gainfully employed by cranking out low-wattage action flicks that generally skip theaters to serve as Netflix filler. And I'm pretty certain all of these guys now have at least one Death Wish rip-off under their belts (Willis actually has an oft-delayed remake of Death Wish in the pipeline...God help us all).

Banderas jumps back into the revenge ring with Acts of Vengeance. He plays Frank Valera, a slick-talking criminal defense lawyer whose wife and daughter are murdered. The police, of course, have no leads and Frank blames himself for not being there. For awhile, his penance-of-choice is allowing himself to be regularly pummeled at underground fight competitions. Then he reads Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, which inspires him to bulk-up, learn martial arts and - most ironically, since he makes his living with words - take a vow of silence until he finds those who killed his family.

The service here sucks. Time for an act of vengeance.
Aside from an attempt to intellectualize the action with quotes from ancient philosophical writings, Acts of Vengeance is your standard revenge thriller. Implausibilities are abound, such as Valera transforming into a lean, mean fighting machine in less time than it takes to sing "Gonna Fly Now," Pax Vega as a nurse who inexplicably decides to help him, and of course, underground fight syndicates that are as easy to locate as your local Starbucks. Still, Banderas delivers a dedicated, earnest performance. Unlike Willis or Cage, he doesn't appear to be going through the motions for a paycheck. Considering his age and the physical demands of the numerous close-quarters fight scenes, he's more-or-less convincing, even when squaring up against guys twice his size.

At the very least, Acts of Vengeance is better than Banderas' recent budget bin bonanzas (such as Security and the embarrassing Gun Shy). The film isn't remotely original, but you probably knew that already, and as these things go, it's a decent enough time killer. 
FEATURETTE: "Speaking Out on Acts of Vengeance"


November 24, 2017


Starring Morgan Wiggins, Ryan Rudolph, Jordyn Rudolph, Brad Bell. Directed by Josh Shreve. (2017, 75 min).

Talon Falls is a mild piece of torture porn that's competently made on a low budget, but nothing more than the sum of its influences.

Four obnoxious teenagers on a road trip through the Kentucky backwoods (of course) make a stop at Talon Falls, a popular house of horror attraction. They avoid the long lines with free passes offered by one of the employees. However, they soon discover why the horrific enactments of torture are so convincing: Those involved aren't acting. The proprietors of the place abduct hapless victims and torture them for real, in plain sight of paying customers who think it's part of the show. And these four rubes are next.

The day after Black Friday.
Unfortunately, Talon Falls plays like a hillbilly version of Hostel, without that movie's suspense or plot twists. Writer/director Josh Shreve appears more interested in unimaginative bloodletting than putting a creative spin on a worn concept. Even then, fans on onscreen sadism might be disappointed; most of the anticipated nastiness is inflicted on one guy, and relatively speaking, the scene is underwhelming.

By the midway point, the film has no more actual story to tell. The rest consists of two screeching girls running from an axe-weilding Leatherface wannabe. Even the so-called twist ending won't surprise anyone. Devoid of thrills or scares, Talon Falls is overly-derivative and ultimately tedious, even with a scant 75 minute running time.


November 23, 2017


Starring David Lee Smith, Tony Todd, John Billingsly, Ellen Crawford, Annika Peterson, William Katt, Alexis Thorpe, Richard Riehle. Directed by Richard Schenkman. (2007, 87 min).

Time for a bit of honesty here. I'm pretty knowledgeable about movies in general, more so of certain genres which interest me the most. However, until I received this Blu-Ray to review, I had never even heard of The Man from Earth.

Apparently, however, this ten-year-old film is held in high regard by some, has won numerous awards and was touted as the last thing written by Jerome Bixby (who allegedly finished the script on his deathbed in 1998). The write-up and interviews included with the disc would have you believe Bixby was the second coming of Isaac Asimov, but aside from a few well-regarded Twilight Zone & Star Trek episodes, I'd wager few reading this are all that familiar with his name.

So, is The Man from Earth a rediscovered classic by an underappreciated visionary? Not really, but for a microbudget sci-fi film that takes place in a single room and consists entirely of dialogue, it's sometimes quite interesting.

"Yes, yes,'re trapped in a box. We got it the first five times."
David Lee Smith plays John Oldman, a respected and admired college professor who's about move on with his life, with no particular destination in-mind. A few of his friends & colleagues gather to see him off, at which time he claims he's actually over 14,000 years old, born during the Cro-Magnon era. At first, they think he's joking around, but before long his utter sincerity and attention to historical detail has them thinking maybe he's lost his marbles. Still, their attempts to poke holes in his story spark some occasionally heated discussions on the possibility that he's telling the truth.

The dialogue is the whole story, which eventually raises a few intriguing questions about commonly-held beliefs (including foundations of faith and religion). Some of it descends into philosophical goobledegook and silly revelations, testing the viewer's patience a bit. And even at 87 minutes, the film drags on longer than it should. However, everything does culminate in a pretty nifty twist ending.

Though it might have been more effective if Bixby had originally written this as a Twilight Zone episode, The Man from Earth's unique premise renders it fairly engaging. It's intelligent and well-performed by a cast semi-recognizable character actors (many of whom, coincidentally, also have Star Trek connections).

It also needs to be said that the video transfer betrays the film's ultra-low budget (which was originally shot with camcorders). Sometimes it's pretty distracting, and the night scenes in particular are really drab and grainy. 

"THE MAN FROM EARTH: LEGACY" (feature-length documentary)
FEATURETTES: "From Script to Screen"; "Jerome Bixby's Sci-Fi Legacy"; "On the Set"; "The Story of the Story"
AUDIO COMMENTARY by director Richard Schenkman & actor John Billingsley
AUDIO COMMENTARY by exec-producer Emerson Bixby (Jerome's son) & author Gary Westfahl
SHORT: "Contagion"