October 19, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: THE GREEN SLIME

Starring Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, Richard Jaeckel, Bud Widom, Ted Gunther, Robert Dunham. Directed Kinji Fukasaku. (1968, 90 min).

The Green Slime is finally on Blu-Ray! YAY!

Okay, so it ain't exactly 2001: A Space Odyssey (though it was released the same year), but its daffy charms remain irresistible after all these years. Maybe even more so for those who experienced it as kids. As for me, I first caught it at an old second-run theater within biking distance of my house, which showed kid-friendly matinées on summer afternoons. Even then, the special effects, title creatures and far-out theme song were supremely chuckle-worthy.

Today, only a hard-nosed cynic could view this film without a big, dumb grin on their face. What's ultimately the most fun about The Green Slime is that it isn't a "bad" movie in the traditional sense. Unlike microbudget monster movies like, say, Attack of the Giant Leeches, this is a film that's just bursting with confidence in its wacky story, colorful production design and silly visual effects. The latter is done almost entirely in-camera, from the sky-blue outer space background to the clearly miniature depiction of Gamma 3, the space station where the story takes place (hanging from wires, of course). Yet it's also easy to appreciate the obvious amount of care that went into creating these effects, which are as fun to look at as a lovingly-assembled dollhouse.

"Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women."
As for the multi-tentacled monsters that grow from meteor slime and run rampant through the station...just...wow. Their appearance, movement and voices are almost adorable. Watching these critters shuffling along en masse, tentacles waving about and mewling like kittens as they chase the terrified cast throughout the station, is a real hoot.

"Hey! We're over here!"
The cast, to their credit, plays it totally straight, which had to be a difficult task. Robert Horton plays our stoic, granite-faced hero with as much sincerity as Charlton Heston (with less discernible talent, of course). Thunderball Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi provides eye candy as the station's resident doctor (professionally garbed in form-fitting bodysuits and mini-skirts). But Richard Jaeckel steals the show as the head-strong commander eho mostly exists to be repeatedly proven wrong by Horton. Jaeckel always had a knack for playing uptight, humorless dorks, and this might be his ultimate performance in that capacity.

But even though we laugh, it's more out of affection than contempt. While endearingly phony in nearly every aspect, The Green Slime isn't ineptly made. Everyone from the director down to the costume designers and model makers have obviously given their all to the production. You gotta respect that. Besides, the movie's a lot of fast-paced fun that only a cranky curmudgeon wouldn't get a kick out of. 

On a related note, wouldn't The Green Slime and The Angry Red Planet make an awesome double feature on a stay-at-home Saturday?

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

October 18, 2017

DVD Review: STEP

Featuring Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon, Gari McIntyre, Paula Dofat. Directed by Amanda Lipitz. (2017, 83 min).

Confessing a bit of ignorance, I wasn't even aware that "Step" was a thing, not in the organized sense, anyway. But this combination of drill-team cadence, body music and interpretive dance is practiced in many high schools, with teams regularly meeting to compete in regional competitions.

Step is a documentary that follows one particular team from a Baltimore charter school, focusing primarily on three seniors who've been on the team since the school opened. It's an impoverished neighborhood where families struggle to even keep the lights on and groceries in the house. The school's step team (founded by Blessin, one of the seniors we follow) is really the only temporary escape these girls have.

Hall monitors from Hell.
But this film is about more than just preparing for an upcoming competition. The all-girls school where they attend has a goal to help 100% of their graduates move on to college. This is no small feat, considering some of the obstacles these girls face both in and out of school. In fact, a majority of the film's emotionally affecting moments - and there's a lot of them - come from the financial & academic obstacles they're forced to overcome.

However, the climactic Step competition against numerous other schools (and have previously never come close to winning) does bring things to a rousing conclusion worthy of any fictional sports movie you'd care to name. The filmmakers' affection for its subjects is infectious - even when they're being typically-stubborn teenagers - and one can't help but root for them to emerge triumphant. Step might also inspire similarly-aged kids who believe their own problems are insurmountable.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES: "Step is Life"; "The Lethal Ladies of BLSYW"
"LETHAL LADIES" MUSIC VIDEO
DELETED SCENES
AUDIO COMMENTRY - By director Amanda Lipitz
DIGITAL COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

Blu-Ray News: DEATH RACE: BEYOND ANARCHY on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand January 30

The stakes are higher than ever in the intense action-adventure Death Race: Beyond Anarchy, arriving Unrated and Unhinged on Blu-raycombo pack, DVD, Digital and On Demand January 30, 2018, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, in association with Impact Pictures/Chestnut Productions. The wildly anticipated next installment of the popular Death Race franchise, this Universal 1440 Entertainment original production brings fans along for the deadliest competition on wheels, where brutal fights and explosive car races abound. An action-packed thrill ride, this all-new movie is the grittiest and bloodiest installment yet!

Franchise newcomers Zach McGowan (“Black Sails”) and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) join returning Death Race fan favorites Danny Trejo (Machete) and Fred Koehler (“American Horror Story”). Death Race: Beyond Anarchy also features talented actors Christine Marzano (Rules Don’t Apply), Terence Maynard (Edge of Tomorrow) and Velislav Pavlov (The Expendables 2).


VIEW THE TRAILER:
 

Rest in Peace, Roy Dotrice

October 17, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947): 70TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, Porter Hall, William Frawley, Jerome Cowan, Gene Lockhart, Philip Tonge, Harry Antrim. Directed by George Seaton. (1947, 96 min).

Holiday movies don't get much better than this. In my humble estimation, it's really only been surpassed by A Christmas Story (and, okay, maybe Die Hard) as the greatest yuletide treasure ever made. Even seven decades later, the film still hasn't lost any of its charm.

Miracle on 34th Street is one of those rare classics where, if you actually manage to bump into anyone who hasn't seen it, you tend to do a double-take and go, "Huh? Really?" After all, it's damn near unavoidable on television during the holidays. One would have to make a conscious effort to avoid catching at-least part of it while channel surfing. So if it's all over TV in December, why buy the Blu-Ray?

"...and the body was never found!"
Uh...because it's Miracle on 34th Street. Because it's the original 1947 charmer in all its black & white glory, not an inferior remake or a blasphemous colorized version. Because it looks better on Blu-Ray. Because its inclusion on every movie collector's shelf is required by-law in most U.S. territories. 

But if you've already purchased the previous edition, you're covered, because this 70th Anniversary re-issue features the exact same picture, sound and bonus material. This one does include a digital copy, though.

I gotta say, though...it was weird watching this in October. Then again, Christmas decorations are already on store shelves, so maybe I'm lagging behind. 

EXTRA KIBBLES
"Hollywood Backstories: Miracle on 34th Street" ("HB" was an AMC series back when they were still focused mostly on movies);
"Fox Movietonews: Hollywood Spotlight";
"Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History"
AUDIO COMMENTARY: By Maureen O'Hara
PROMOTIONAL SHORT
POSTER GALLERY
DIGITAL COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! LIKE A STOCKING FULL OF CATNIP

October 15, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: GIRLS TRIP

Starring Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Mike Colter, Kate Walsh, Kofi Siriboe, Deborah Ayorinde. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. (2017, 122 min).

Raunchy comedies about wild weekends are a dime a dozen. It's debatable who we can thank - or blame - for that, but it's arguable that The Hangover opened-up the floodgates for the most recent batch. Some are clever and amusing, while most shamelessly pander to the yahoos in the audience who think bodily functions and wall-to-wall expletives are inherently funny.

Girls Trip tries to have it both ways. What's remarkable is how often it actually succeeds.

The four stars make-up the Flossy Posse (which would've been a better title for the film), lifelong friends who've drifted apart over the years, but decide to have another wild fling during the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. One of them, Ryan (Regina Hall), is a successful self-help author slated to be a keynote speaker at the event. She and her husband, Stewart (Mike Colter) are publicly the perfect couple, but in reality he's an unfaithful sleaze and their marriage is in shambles; they stay together for the sake of the brand name they've established together. This doesn't sit well with her friends, especially Sasha (Queen Latifah), who runs a gossip blog and is in possession of a compromising photo showing Stewart with another woman.

Dina would rather have gone to Disneyland.
That's really most of the actual plot. The rest of the movie consists of these girls tearing up the town, playing, drinking, fighting, meeting celebrities - there are a ton of cameos - and trying to get Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) laid. It's loud, brash, in-your-face and consistently raunchy, but because the film takes the time to establish its characters and their friendship, some of these precarious scenarios are pretty damn funny.

There are times when the film doesn't know when it quit, though. When Lisa gets stuck hovering over a crowded street while zip-lining and spectacularly loses control of her bladder, we laugh at its audacity. However, having Dina (Tiffany Haddish) follow-up and willingly do the same thing doesn't make it any funnier. In fact, most of Dina's over-the-top moments - and there's a lot of 'em - go on far longer than necessary.

Still, we genuinely like these ladies and enjoy their company enough to overlook the film's utter predictability and rather daunting running time (it moves along pretty briskly for a 122 minute movie). Girls Trip works as well as it does because of its capable cast, believable characters (even Dina) and some funny dialogue to go along with the raunchier bits. It's nasty as hell at times, but never resorts to being mean-spirited or cruel when mining for laughs (cheap as some of them are).

And if nothing else, you'll never look at a grapefruit the same way again.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES: "Planning the Trip"; "Outrageous Moments"; "The Essence of NOLA"
AUDIO COMMENTARY: By director Malcolm D. Lee
VIDEO: "Because of You" by Ne-Yo
DELETED SCENES & OUTTAKES
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...BUT PUT THE KITTENS TO BED EARLY FOR THIS ONE

October 14, 2017

DVD Review: LEWIS BLACK: BLACK TO THE FUTURE

Starring Lewis Black. Directed by Justin Kreutzman. (2017, 100 min).

I need to start by stating I've been a huge Lewis Black fan ever since I first saw him on The Daily Show years ago. He's also the only comedian I have ever felt compelled to pay good money to see live, a show which may have been funniest hour I ever endured. And if you still haven't seen his 2004 HBO special, Black on Broadway, drop everything and go get the DVD right now. Like all the great comedians, what made him funny wasn't necessarily his words, but his expressions and delivery...expletive-filled tirades that pointed out the utter stupidity of the world around us. He was always especially funny - and timely - when ranting about the current state of the country.

So it saddens me to say that a few of Black's recent specials have paled in comparison. Oh, the rage is still there in abundance, but he's often more angry than funny. His latest, Black to the Future, is another unfortunate let-down, full of bits that seem to go on forever and payoffs that don't seem worth his capillary-bursting efforts. Even topics where he normally excels - skewering politicians - feel more forced than they used to be, and can't always be saved by incredulous tirades or a Ben Carson impersonation. And one excruciating, laugh-free segment about the glories of breasts is downright embarrassing. C'mon, Lewis, save that stuff for the Bob Sagets of the world.

Lewis Black moonlights as a mime.
While there are still some laughs to be had, they're sparser than they generally are when Black is at the top of his game. It's especially disappointing when you consider this was filmed during the 2016 election year, but relatively little of his act is dedicated to the presidential race. Too bad, because verbally destroying every candidate should have been like shooting fish in a barrel, providing enough prime material for two or three shows for a man like Lewis Black.

Other fans may disagree, but I personally found Black to the Future a crushing disappointment, as was the additional program, The Rant is Due: Live from Napa, provided as a bonus feature. This one features Black taking audience questions to use as a springboard for more trademark rants. But improvisation doesn't appear to be one of Black's strengths.

EXTRA KIBBLES
BONUS PROGRAM: THE RANT IS DUE: LIVE FROM NAPA

KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEH...

October 12, 2017

DVD Review: NOW MORE THAN EVER: THE HISTORY OF CHICAGO

Featuring Lee Loughnane, Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Danny Seraphine, Walter Parazaider, David Foster, Clive Davis. Directed by Peter Pardini. (2016, 113 min).

When I was a kid, my parents got sick of me listening to The Beatles all the time, partly because I was obsessed with them, but also because Mom & Dad didn't care for Fab Four (especially the music from their experimental "hippy" era). They'd try and broaden my horizons by suggesting other "cool" artists like Gilbert O'Sullivan, Seals & Crofts and Chicago. In other words, stuff they personally found enjoyably inoffensive.

They bought me a Chicago album for Christmas one year. I feigned excitement, but was decidedly disappointed. The only Chicago songs I heard on the radio were slow, drippy ballads like "Just You & Me," "Wishing You Were Here" and "Colour My World." And those horns...yeech! But ironically, the record my folks picked out was Chicago III, the one album that had no hit singles. Yeah, those corny horns were still there, but the songs were long, weird, complex and occasionally really loud. Dad passed by my room while I was listening to it one day and said, "What the hell is that shit?" I replied, "The Chicago record you bought me."

But there was no way they could have known Chicago didn't begin life as the band we first slow-danced to in junior high. All the albums simply said 'Chicago' on the cover, and in their early days, were a band of long-haired, hard-partying hippies whose music often out-weirded my beloved Beatles. Chicago III didn't suddenly make me a Chicago fan, but it was an intriguing record, especially after Dad professed his hatred for it.

Peter Cetera shows the number of chords he's mastered.
Chicago were musically less interesting once they became inescapable on AM radio in the mid-to-late 70s, but the story behind the music was another matter entirely, which this documentary chronicles quite nicely. While Now More Than Ever covers the band's entire 50 year career, the first half is especially fascinating, mainly because we see the evolution of a band who found success more-or-less on their own terms (double albums, side-long suites, self-indulgent displays of virtuosity) while still managing to score massive hits. Chicago's story is mostly told by founding members who remain in the band to this day, along with former members and others who'd join later.

A few things quickly become obvious. First, they really miss guitarist Terry Kath, who accidentally shot himself in 1978, and if nothing else, the film makes the viewer appreciate his formidable skills as a musician, songwriter and singer. It's no small coincidence that the band sort-of lost its way after his passing. Second, there doesn't appear to be any love-loss between Chicago and Peter Cetera (who left the band for a solo career and declined to participate in this film). Chicago may have gotten a new lease on life in the 80s by focusing on ballads written by Cetera and producer David Foster, but none of the other members seemed too happy, especially the horn section, whose contributions were minimized and marginalized. Foster himself is also interviewed here and...man, talk about someone in love with the smell of his own farts.

Robert Lamm is asked to name everyone who's ever played in the band.
But like Chicago's career, the film isn't as interesting once the glory days are in the rearview mirror, when new musicians come & go and the chronology speeds up, only superficially documenting the band's gradual commercial and artistic  decline. We are mostly subjected to testimonials of the band's resiliency to keep plugging away, which naturally culminates with their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

While not quite warts-and-all, the band members speak fairly candidly about the rock star life, conflicts and sometimes acrimonious splits. For the most part, they come across as humble, nice guys who've stayed together all this time for the love of playing (I guess that shouldn't be surprising, since this was produced by Chicago themselves). Longtime Chicago fans will surely enjoy it, while those who always assumed it was Peter Cetera's band are in for some surprises. And although Now More Than Ever didn't suddenly make me a Chicago fan either, this is an entertaining doc that had me appreciating their accomplishments and longevity.

EXTRA KIBBLES
None
KITTY CONSENSUS:
 PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

October 8, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: SNIPER: ULTIMATE KILL

Starring Chad Michael Collins, Danay Garcia, Tom Berenger, Billy Zane, Joe Lando. Directed by Claudio Fah. (2017, 93 min).

Did you know there were seven movies in the Sniper franchise? Neither did I. Then again, I stopped paying attention after the first one didn't exactly set my world on fire. But what's interesting about this particular series is that, unlike many other action franchises with countless direct-to-video, in-name-only sequels featuring no-names you've never seen before, original star Tom Berenger keeps coming back, often with Billy Zane in tow.

There's nothing wrong with that, either. Berenger hasn't exactly been a marquee name for a couple of decades and Zane has been a DVD budget bin staple for nearly as long. Why not return for a paycheck while giving this ongoing series a level of continuity most others of its ilk don't enjoy?

They're both supporting characters now and have been for the past several films (a smart narrative choice given their ages). The reins had long-since been handed to Chad Michael Collins, playing Brandon Beckett, Thomas' son, who proves the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. In Sniper: Ultimate Kill, he's recruited by Dad to assist Colombian DEA agent Kate Estrada (Danay Garcia) in bringing down Morales, a ruthless druglord. But Morales has hired a super-sniper of his own, who uses 'smart bullets' that are capable of actually chasing their targets (though it's never fully explained how). The shooter, known as El Diablo, is not only targeting Morales' competitors, but Beckett and Estrada.

Looks like someone needs to clean his gun.
For direct-to-video fodder, Sniper: Ultimate Kill is fairly exciting, with ample amounts of gunplay, gratuitous sex and exploding heads (sorta like Scanners with rifles). Beckett isn't what anyone would call dynamic character, but Collins fills the role nicely and looks enough like Berenger to actually pass for his son. Berenger and Zane's characters are mostly inconsequential, not given a hell of a lot to do except offer running commentary on what's happening. Still, they are the continuity of the franchise and fans will be happy to see them.

Fortunately for newcomers - or those like me, who've been away awhile - prior knowledge of the other films isn't a prerequisite, as Sniper: Ultimate Kill tells a decent enough stand-alone story. None of it is especially memorable and won't likely leave one pining for the inevitable Sniper 8, but there's enough action and violence to maintain interest on a dull evening.

EXTRA KIBBLES
None
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

Blu-Ray Review: WISH UPON

Starring Joey King, Ki Hong Lee, Josephine Langford, Sydney Park, Ryan Phillippe, Elisabeth Rohm, Mitchell Slaggert, Sherlyn Fenn, Alice Lee. Directed by John R. Leonetti. (2017, 90/91min).

While at the movies with my daughter, Lucy, earlier this summer, we saw the Wish Upon trailer, which wasted no time establishing the film as yet-another variation of "The Monkey's Paw." That isn't necessarily a deal breaker. Originality has never been something the horror genre nurtures in abundance. Even this year's critical darling, Get Out, owes a passing nod to The Stepford Wives.

Though a big horror fan, Lucy wasn't familiar with "The Monkey's Paw," so she was sufficiently intrigued, especially since Wish Upon swaps the paw for a Chinese music box and puts it in the hands of Clare (Joey King), a self-absorbed teenager. As a high school pariah armed with seven wishes instead of three, she proceeds to improve her life and social status...with unfortunate results, of course.

"'Ask again later?' What the hell!"
Wish Upon also borrows heavily from a variety of other movies, including Carrie and the Final Destination series, dishing up enough horror tropes to play like a greatest hits album. Hence, there are no real surprises or scares to be had (unless you count a few rats dropping from a crawlspace). While it's refreshing that Clare isn't a helpless waif - she's willing to stand-up to her tormentors - she's not an easy character to rally behind. Even after learning the box's evil nature - each wish results in the violent death of someone close to her - Clare stupidly keeps using the box for her own personal gain.

"Damn, this takes AAA's. We're out of those."
Still, Wish Upon has its moments. A few of the death scenes manage to instill a similar level of dread to those in Final Destination (Sherlyn Fenn vs. a garbage disposal is a grabber, albeit ridiculous). The film also captures the trials & tribulations of high school hierarchy quite nicely, and I suppose one could cynically argue this is exactly what an outcast teenager would do with such power.

Admittedly, part of the fun is the film's utter predictability. There was something almost comforting about sitting on the sofa with Lucy while she announced every trope and story turn long before it happened (even its twist ending was inevitable). She's seen more than her fair share of horror films, and Wish Upon is the type of thing she and her gaggle of girlfriends would pop-in during a Saturday night sleepover, having a good time at its expense as they talk back at the screen.

And if nothing else, it did make her interested in reading "The Monkey's Paw." That's gotta account for something.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES: "I Wish" (cast talks about what they'd wish for with the box); "Attic Tour with Joey King"; "Directing Darkness" (making-of featurette)
MOTION COMICS: "Lu Mei's Curse" & "Arthur Sands" (semi-animated promotional shorts of two backstories mentioned in the film)
THEATRICAL & UNRATED VERSIONS
DVD COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW