January 17, 2018

Blu-Ray Review: THE GUMBALL RALLY

Starring Michael Sarrazin, Tim McIntire, Normann Burton, Raul Julia, Gary Busey, Nicholas Pryor, Harvey Jason, Susan Flannery, John Durren, J. Pat O'Malley, Vaughn Taylor, Steven Keats, Wally Taylor, Joanne Nail, Tricia O'Neal, Lazaro Perez. Directed by Chuck Bail. (1976, 105 min).

The Gumball Rally evokes really fond memories, so please indulge me if I give this Blu-Ray release a higher rating than it might warrant.

Nearly every week, I'd hit the Cinema V, a local second-run theater near my house, to catch double-bills for less than a buck. Sometimes I biked there, other times Mom or Dad would drop me off with a friend. The place was old, dank and sold Milk Duds dating back to the Middle Ages. As hang-outs go, it was second only to 7-Eleven as the most wonderful place in the world. That's where I first caught The Gumball Rally (with a Vanishing Point chaser). I'd seen plenty of car chase movies before - which had their heyday in the 70s - but this one struck a chord with me and remains one of my childhood favorites.

On the other hand, maybe it does warrant more acknowledgment & praise than its relative obscurity suggests.

Can you spot what's wrong with this picture? (That's right...the guys on the left forgot their proof of insurance)
On the surface, The Gumball Rally is just another car chase movie made during a decade rife with them. It has most of the same ingredients...hot cars, outlaw antiheroes, idiot cops, sexy babes, a plot with the complexity of Go Dog Go and, naturally, plenty of high-speed motorporn. A few of these crash-fests went on to become cult classics - like the aforementioned Vanishing Point - but most were brain-dead junk food made on-the-cheap and destined to be forgotten within weeks of their release.

But consider this...

While The Gumball Rally walks & talks like its contemporaries, beneath its turbo-charged exterior beats the heart of old-fashioned madcap comedies like The Great Race, Monte Carlo or Bust and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (with a dash of Looney Tunes). The humor is broad, silly...even a little corny. But the whole thing is constantly good-natured and what little violence there is is strictly of the slapstick variety. In fact, if not for the preponderance of boob jokes, this could (almost) pass muster as a family film.

Mr. Burton sometimes takes his pants off to play checkers.
Unusual for the genre - at least until Burt Reynolds went into the Smokey and the Bandit business - the film boasts an impressive ensemble cast consisting of respected character actors, led by Michael Sarrazin (channeling his inner Peter Fonda...and a bit of Bugs Bunny thrown in for good measure). The fun they have with their characters (no matter how broadly drawn) is infectious. A young Raul Julia steals the show as oversexed Italian race driver Franco - Pepe Le Pew personified - while Normann Burton makes a perfect Wile E. Coyote (beleaguered expression and all) as the hapless Lt. Roscoe.

Though The Gumball Rally is played strictly or laughs, it doesn't skimp on high-speed thrills, which are expertly choreographed and shot, with far better production values than the average chase film of the time. It's all punctuated by a music score that combines ragtime, jazz and what resembles music from a Quinn Martin cop show. Yet somehow it fits, going a long way in establishing the jovial tone of the entire movie.

One of The Gumball Rally's many esoteric moments.
Sure, I may be biased, but what can't be disputed is the movie's influence. Not only was The Gumball Rally was the first of a wave of similar films depicting an illegal coast-to-coast road race (all inferior rip-offs), it eventually inspired real-life racing events all over the world, the most famous being the annual Gumball 3000, still held in Europe each year. Additionally, the MiceChat Gumball Rally is a yearly event at Disneyland, where fans compete to see who can ride the most attractions in a single day.

Not bad for a silly chase comedy hardly anyone recalls.

But for me, the movie is a nostalgic trip down memory lane that I take about once a year. I may not laugh as boisterously as I did at 13, sitting in the back row of that decrepit old Cinema V, but The Gumball Rally still brings a smile to my face. While this Blu-Ray from Warner Archive has no bonus features other than a trailer, this goofy old chestnut has never looked better on home video.

EXTRA KIBBLES
Trailer
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! LIKE TAUNTING A MOUSE TO DEATH

Blu-Ray Giveaway: CHASING THE DRAGON

“ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR”
~ Eoin Friel, THE ACTION ELITE

 
FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE and WELL GO USA are giving away Blu-Ray copies of Chasing the Dragon, featuring the incredible pairing of Donnie Yen and Andy Lau.

Donnie Yen stars as infamous real-life drug kingpin Crippled Ho, who came to Hong Kong an illegal immigrant in 1963 and ruthlessly carved an empire from the chaotic underworld of drug dealers and corrupt police that ruled the city under notorious detective Lee Rock (Andy Lau).

TO ENTER: Simply leave a comment below! Winners will be picked on January 31!

January 16, 2018

Blu-Ray News: HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT On Blu-Ray & DVD 2/13

Experience a terrifying new chapter in the legendary Hellraiser series when Hellraiser: Judgment arrives on Blu-ray (plus Digital), DVD, Digital, and On Demand February 13 from Lionsgate. The tenth film in the classic horror series tells the story of three detectives as they struggle to solve a horrifying murder, but instead find themselves thrust into the depths of Pinhead’s hellacious landscape. Featuringing horror icon Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). Wwritten and directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe (Hansel & Gretel).

January 14, 2018

DVD Review: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST SCREEN LEGENDS

Various Directors. (2018, 1273 min).

If you're a classic film fan who values quantity over quality, here you go...

As far as I've been able to ascertain, Hollywood Remembers is a series featuring half-hour biographies of acting legends. Personally, I'd never heard of the program until now, nor do I have any idea if they are still producing episodes. One thing I do know is that if you're looking for anything with much depth, look elsewhere.

Individual episodes focus on one particular iconic actor, and mostly consists of public domain footage and/or grainy trailers of selected films he/she appeared in, along with fawning narration that mostly serves as simple transition from one clip to the next. Unfortunately, we don't learn much beyond the highlights of their filmographies. No interviews, no behind-the-scenes footage, no revelations or insights. Most episodes play like those greatest hits albums K-Tel used to assemble in the 1970s, which crammed clips and snippets of great songs onto one LP, but left the listener wanting more.

However, this inexpensive set is admittedly loaded - 50 episodes spanning four discs - and although most of the featured stars' heydays were prior to the 1960s (as is a majority of the footage), it's hard to argue with their status as screen legends. If one simply enjoys classic movie trailers, this budget-friendly collection has them in abundance. Just don't expect much beyond that.

EXTRA KIBBLES
Digital Copy
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...TCM, THIS AIN'T, BUT THE PRICE IS RIGHT

Blu-Ray Review: THE APARTMENT (1960)

Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Edie Adams. Directed by Billy Wilder. Directed by Billy Wilder (1960, 125 min).

Though I often claim to be well-versed in classic films and their history, I must ruefully confess I'd never seen The Apartment until now (I know, shame on me).

It was simply one of those classics that slipped through the cracks. I picked a good time to remedy that problem, though, because this Blu-Ray edition from Arrow films is damn near perfect. Had I been able to review it during December (when it was released), The Apartment would have had the #1 spot on my 2017 'best-of' list.

Since The Apartment is an unqualified classic, it seems pointless to provide the usual plot summary. Instead, I'll offer my biggest takeaway from seeing it for the first time: Fred MacMurray is a magnificent scumbag.

Jack addresses his Droogies.
We all know this is one of Billy Wilder's best films (if not his very best) and Jack Lemmon is as congenially likable as ever - despite his character's questionable attempts to earn a promotion. As for Shirley MacLaine...well, she's cute, though I've never been all that enamored with her and this film didn't change my mind.

But MacMurray? Granted, I've not seen everything the man's ever done, but for the most part, I've always associated him with 'nice guys'. Sure, he was a two-faced weasel in The Caine Mutiny, though not necessarily a villain. But as Baxter's lecherous boss Jeff Sheldrake, MacMurray channels his inner asshole to give us a character who's not simply an awful human being...he's completely indifferent to the pain he causes others. Sheldrake is such a smooth talker that, for the most part, he has those he's duped into believing the utter sincerity of his empty words. It's really a remarkable performance that, quite frankly, I didn't think someone like Fred MacMurray had in him.

Not bad for a guy mostly remembered as an absent-minded professor.

The Absent-Minded Douchebag.
Elsewhere, The Apartment has lost none of its serio-comic charm since it won an Oscar for Best Picture 58 years ago. It's been released on Blu-Ray before, but this Arrow edition is definitely worth the upgrade. It features a beautifully restored picture and is loaded with a slew of bonus features, most of which are either brand new or at-least new to Blu-Ray. They'll give the viewer a renewed appreciation for what's often considered Billy Wilder's crowning achievement. A must-own for any movie fan, perhaps especially those like me, who are arriving late to the party.

EXTRA KIBBLES
NEW - FEATURETTE: "THE KEY TO THE APARTMENT" (Film critic Philip Kemp discusses his appreciation of the film).
NEW - SELECTED SCENE COMMENTARY (by film critic Philip Kemp).
NEW - "THE FLAWED COUPLE" (Video essay by writer David Cairns of the Lemmon/Wilder collaborations).
NEW - "A LETTER TO CASTRO" (In this interview, Hope Holiday discusses her brief-but-memorable role in The Apartment).
NEW - RESTORATION SHOWREEL.
AUDIO COMMENTARY (by film historian Bruce Block).
"AN INFORMAL CONVERSATION WITH BILLY WILDER" - A very old interview produced by the Writers' Guild.
VINTAGE FEATURETTES: "Inside The Apartment"; "Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon" (an interview with Jack's son, Chris).
THEATRICAL TRAILER
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! LIKE BEING TURNED LOOSE IN A BIRD SANCTUARY

January 12, 2018

Blu-Ray News: Disney•Pixar's COCO Crosses Over Digitally in HD, 4K Ultra HD & Movies Anywhere 2/13 and 4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray on 2/27

The critically acclaimed animated film celebrates the importance of family, honoring your ancestors and following your dreams, and includes extensive extras for the whole family
 

Disney•Pixar’s Coco—the story of a 12-year-old aspiring musician’s extraordinary journey to the magical land of his ancestors—won a 2018 Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Motion Picture, topped the domestic box office Thanksgiving holiday weekend, became the highest grossing film of all time in Mexico, broke records in China and earned widespread praise, receiving 96 percent from critics and 97 percent from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes. Now this vibrant tale filled with love and laughter arrives home Digitally in HD and 4K Ultra HD™ and on Movies Anywhere on Feb. 13, and on 4K Ultra HD,™ Blu-ray,™ DVD and On-Demand on Feb. 27.

Through fresh and fascinating bonus material, adventurers of all ages will tag along with filmmakers as they soak in Día de los Muertos in Mexico; explore the essential role of music in “Coco;” and learn how the cast and crew personally connect with the film’s message. They’ll step behind the scenes to discover the inspiration behind the film’s creative costuming; Miguel’s beautifully complicated family; Dante the loyal Xolo dog; and the stunning worlds of both the dead and the living. Features also include deleted scenes, insightful filmmaker commentary, the music of Coco and more.


 

January 10, 2018

Blu-Ray News: THOR: RAGNAROK Strikes Digitally in HD, 4K Ultra HD & Movies Anywhere 2/20 and 4K Ultra HD & Blu-Ray 3/6

Marvel Studios’ “Thor: Ragnarok,” electrified both audiences and critics alike and now fans can enjoy the colorful cosmic adventure at home. Fans who bring home the Ultimate Cinematic Universe Edition (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital) of “Thor: Ragnarok” will experience all the thunderous action and lightning-fast wit in stunning 4K Ultra HD with next-generation high dynamic range (HDR) visuals and Dolby Atmos immersive audio. Exclusive, never-before-seen bonus features include deleted scenes; hilarious outtakes; an exclusive short: part three of the mockumentary “Team Thor,” retitled “Team Darryl” and featuring an eccentric new roommate; the evolution of MCU’s heroes culminating in “Avengers: Infinity War;” numerous making-of featurettes which explore the unique vision of director Taika Waititi; the story’s unstoppable women; the effortlessly charismatic Korg; the tyrannical leader of Sakaar, the Grandmaster; and the film’s comic-book origins;  audio commentary by Waititi; and more. The action, humor, drama and spectacle, bursts into homes Digitally in HD and 4K Ultra HD™, and Movies Anywhere, on Feb. 20 and on 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™, DVD and On-Demand on March. 6.


January 9, 2018

Blu-Ray Review: S.W.A.T. (2003)

Starring Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez, L Cool J, Oliver Martinez, Jeremy Renner, Josh Charles, Brian Van Holt, Ken Davitian, Larry Poindexter. Directed by Clark Johnson. (2003, 117 min).

One of the fun things about revisiting older films is spotting early appearances by A-list actors before anybody ever heard of 'em. In 2003's S.W.A.T., for example, there's Jeremy Renner in his first substantial mainstream role (as one of the primary bad guys). And isn't that future Oscar winner Octavia Spencer in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene with only one line of dialogue (billed as 'Neighbor in Alley')?

Elsewhere, S.W.A.T. is a generically entertaining action flick inspired by a 1975 cop show with a theme song more memorable than any of its episodes (and only ran two seasons). But other than that song and a few characters' names, this film is pretty-much S.W.A.T. in-name-only, more Jerry Bruckheimer than Robert Hammer (creator of the original series).

Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell are Hondo & Street, who lead your garden-variety elite team of hot-shots tasked to transport notorious druglord Alexander Montel (Oliver Martinez) into federal custody. Unfortunately, Montel has publicly offered $100 million to anyone who can spring him from custody. This brings a slew of scumbags out of the woodwork, including a disgraced former cop (Renner), who used to be Farrell's partner.

Colin and Cool hear the ice cream man.
Big, loud and polished to a glistening sheen, S.W.A.T. is as slick as any other 21st Century action film you'd care to name. But while it's entertaining in the moment, there's nothing particularly memorable about it, certainly nothing that evokes nostalgia for the original show. Since its intended audience probably wasn't even alive in '75, it's mostly a checklist of modern action tropes. As such, S.W.A.T. isn't the worst of its kind. It's suitably fast paced, with perfunctory performances, decent action and a plot just forgettable enough to seem new again upon repeated viewings.

S.W.A.T. has recently been resurrected as a new series, which one might assume is the main reason for the movie's Blu-Ray re-release. But is it a reboot of the show or the movie? If it's the latter, this might be the first time a series has piggybacked on nostalgia for a movie originally made to cash in on another generation's nostalgia.

EXTRA KIBBLES
2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES by cast & crew

KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

January 8, 2018

Blu-Ray News: AT THE EARTH'S CORE Coming 2/6

They're in it deep now! Murderous monsters, scantily clad prehistoric playmates and telepathic pterodactyls inhabit the center of our world in this colorful fantasy-adventure about a manned "drill-craft" boring its way to the center of the Earth! Starring sci-fi superstars Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot), Peter Cushing (Madhouse) and Caroline Munro (Maniac), this subterranean chiller is the most endearingly whimsical entertainment on - or under - the planet's surface! There's more than lava at the Earth's core. There's also Pellucidar: an underground empire where gargantuan pterodactyls torture and enslave all humanoids - including the lovely Dia (Munro). But all that could change when a surface-dwelling scientist (Cushing) and an American businessman (McClure) drive their powerful Iron Mole straight into Pellucidar... stirring up a great deal more than dirt, rocks and lava! Wonderfully directed by sci-fi specialist, Kevin Connor (The People That Time Forgot).

Special Features:

  • Interview with star Caroline Munro 
  • Interview with director Kevin Connor 
  • Audio Commentary by director Kevin Connor 
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Zombie News: DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE Arrives on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD 2/6

Fight the ultimate war against the undead when the terrifying zombie thriller Day of the Dead: Bloodline arrives on Blu-ray (plus Digital), DVD, and Digital February 6 from Lionsgate. The film is currently available On Demand. 

Fear goes viral in this terrifying retelling of George A. Romero’s zombie horror classic. Five years after an epidemic nearly wiped out the world’s population, Dr. Zoe Parker (Sophie Skelton) lives in an underground bunker among a small group of military personnel and survivalists, working on a cure while fighting armies of the undead. When a dangerous patient from Zoe’s past infiltrates the bunker, he just might hold the key to saving humanity . . . or ending it.