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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

'Fort Yuma Gold' & 'Damned Hot Day of Fire' BD: Double Feature of Tarantino's Favorite Spaghetti Westerns

The Mill Creek Entertainment March 12, 2019 in brilliant living color and sound Blu-ray release of the spaghetti-western double-feature "Fort Yuma Gold" and "Damned Hot Day of Fire" allows entering the psyche of master of artistic mayhem Quentin Tarantino. The back-cover notes for this set include that "The Spaghetti Western Database" identifies these films as the favorite ones of Tarantino in this genre.

The intriguing concepts of each film alone makes one understand the affinity of Tarantino. The amusing blend of Italian and American culture is a bonus.

Few can argue that "Yuma" (a.k.a. "For a Few Extra Dollars") is the better of the two films based on story, production, and performances. 

Montgomery Wood (nee Giuliano Gemma) stars as actual rebel with a cause Lt. Gary Hammond. This good ole boy is a post-war prisoner at a Calvary fort when we meet him. He is a southern gentleman in the face of intense Yankee aggression until one of his "hosts" pushes things too far.

The plot thickens on the fort commander making Hammond an offer that he cannot refuse. A primary aspect of that solicitation is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

In simpler terms, the officer who is not much of a gentleman recruits Hammond to join a group that is going to the titular fort to warn of an impending two-prong attack.

Rebel Major (rather than Colonel) Sanders is plotting to rob Yuma of a $1M Army payroll. The horse that Hammond has in the race is that a group of his confederates (pun intended) is on their way to attack Yuma without realizing that they are a sacrificial decoy for Sanders. The Japanese soldiers who continue to fight WWII after a cessation of those hostilities are the modern equivalent of the southern soldiers.

Hammond and his keepers then hit the dusty trail on the way to Yuma. Their adventures include encounters with aptly named dance hall performer Connie Breastfull.

A bunch of brawling and romancing leads to the inevitable showdown that illustrates how the west was won, 

The highly entertaining Civil War era "Fire" (nee "Gatling Gun") plays out like an episode of the '60s western action-comedy version of "Batman" '66 "The Wild Wild West."

The evil Tarpas is in illegal possession of both inventor Gatling and the gun that bears his name. The plot of Tarpas is to sell the weapon to the south and the man to the north. Tarpas shows additional neutrality by demanding an equal ransom from both sides. 

Our hero this time is Pinkerton man Chris Tanner, whom his boss arranges to go undercover to avoid beating his prey to the firing squad. Tanner encountering the Italian speaking brothers of the man whom Tanner is impersonating provides wonderful unintentional humor. 

Like "Yuma" this leads to a classic western ending.

The appeal of the MCE release extends well beyond facilitating a double feature of these classics. The remastering and the Blu-ray enhancement allows seeing these tales trying to depict the open spaces of the old west in a manner that is far superior to when they appeared on the silver screen, 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Ringling in Sarasota, Florida Offers More Than Three Rings of Fun

A recent thaw-out trip to Sarasota that has been the subject of several recent articles included a delightful Valentine's Day visit to The Ringling complex;

This former estate of circus co-owner John Ringling and his wife Mabel aptly boasts their literal palatial mansion, a circus museum, and a world-class art museum. (Not to mention a rose garden and another garden fully of creepy stone gnomes.) It also is home to the Also Theater, which offers films and live performances in an setting that is as opulent as the home and the art museum.

One of the nicest things about this complex is that it keeps the spirit of the circus alive years after the demise of Ringling Bros. A personal perspective on this is a early job being the Assistant Marketing Manager for the company that owned the circus. 

As an aside, the numerous perks of our stay at the Hotel Indigo Sarasota included use of the sparkling-clean hotel shuttle and its jovial drivers. The Ringling is one option for a shuttle ride.

Our day (rather than night) at the museum began with a warm and friendly greeting by James Ingram, who is the Assistant Director of Visitor Services. The hospitality cred. of Ingram includes being the former concierge at the uber-exclusive Cinderella's Castle suite at Walt Disney World. This nice young man who has met at least two Jo Bros rocks skinny trousers as well as those preteen idols, Ingram also pays homage to his Mouse Factory days by wearing a coveted Dumbo pin.

The jovial volunteer who greeted us at the circus museum did us a solid by suggesting that we begin our visit by watching a short "day in the life of" film about the circus. This enhanced the experience of watching the MASSIVE 50-year labor of love diorama by master miniaturist Howard Tibbals. There truly is nothing else like this anywhere. 

The actual railway cars in which the Ringlings traveled was the second favorite exhibit. It showed what it meant to travel in style.

Other exhibits included numerous circus props and dazzling costumes. We also go to learn about the stunts, the clowns, and the animals. This is not to mention an actual film of Ringling Bros. performances.

The obligatory stop at the circus museum gift shop, which has tons of cool merch., netted me valued Valentine's gifts. The most treasured is a stuffed elephant whom I have named Horatio simply because he seems like one.

Our next stop was a fun and informative exploration of the aforemetnioned Ca' D'Zan mansion; although there are many options for seeing this replica of a Venetian palace, the full-guided tour is the best choice. 

The provided perspective included that the Ringlings choose Sarasota for their second home to avoid the scorn of the social elite, who looked down on new money and on circus folk, Also, the Ringlings had friends who were their kind of people in the area.

The house itself and the ornate touches throughout are very consistent with the showmanship of John; it is also provided a showcase for some of the tons of art that the couple purchased during Charles Foster Kane style trips to Europe. The overall apparent real and reel world attempts were to show that money can buy class. 

The post-tour treat of getting to sit on the oceanfront lanai and look out on the water provided a good chance to chill before the next destination.

We had lunch in the outside sitting area of the surprisingly reasonably priced cafe across from the circus museum; although we opted for cold fare, the grill served hamburgers and other hot meals looked tasty.

Wrapping up our day at the art museum created a general cautionary tale. Both the building, which has the literal walls from a room in the Astor New York mansion, and the amazingly wide range of art are must see. At the same time, your not-so-humble-reviewer feeling the combined effects of already having toured the grounds for a few hours and of the moderate Florida heat resulted in going through this museum a little quickly.

Ringling visitors are advised either to rank their priorities regarding the three museums and visit them in the corresponding order or to take at least an hour of refuge in an air-conditioned space mid-way through a visit.

The casualties related to the art museum included not finding a temporary exhibit on armor. All who have toured it have highly praised it.

The bottom line is that The Ringling offers the best of both worlds by providing a taste of Disney pageantry with a strong dose of entertaining culture in a setting that is free of long lines and hordes of unruly children. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

'No Date, No Signature' DVD: Compelling Character Study Centered Around Hit-and-Run

The Icarus Films February 5, 2019 DVD release of the 2017 Iranian drama "No Date, No Signature" adds more proof to the pile of evidence that world cinema eclipses even indie productions in the United States.

This release comes a few weeks after the announcement of the eight "Best Picture" nominees for the 2019 Oscars. Of this octet. having only seen "Black Panther" and solely doing so to keep up with the "Avengers" franchise reinforces that something is rotten in the state of California (and Wakanda). 

On a lighter note, fans of the many (oft-reviewed) Icarus films will recognize the theme of a car striking a pedestrian that is an element of several movies in that catalog. It seems that a filmmaker who wants to increase the odds of Icarus releasing his or her production should have a character take one for the team. 

Many of the 13 wins and additional 15 nominations being for rookie writer/director Vahid Jalilvand reinforces that that artist has excellent instincts. The fests that bestow that accolade range from the 2017 Chicago International Film Festival to the Fajr Film Festival the same year. 

The following YouTube clip of the official U.S. trailer for "Date" further illustrate the merits of the film. It is a quality production of a compelling story. There is no reliance on the star power of the lead, and the story (mostly) avoids melodrama.

The opening scenes reflect Jalilvand striking a good balance between exposition and getting down to business. We see forensic pathologist Dr. Kaveh Nariman going about his business before getting in his car for the drive that changes everything.

Many of us can relate to the circumstances that lead to to Kaveh striking the motorcycle that Moosa is driving, These events also establish the theme of shared (and arguably ambiguous) culpability that runs throughout "Date."

Kaveh immediately does the right thing by offering medical care and monetary compensation; he also repeatedly urges Moosa to bring his injured young son to a nearby medical clinic. Moosa refuses the offered care and cash but indicates an intent to take his son to the clinic.

Anyone (i.e., all of us) who has experienced thinking that an unpleasant incident is resolved only to have it resurface can relate to Kaveh learning soon after the accident that the injured boy is DOA on arriving at the hospital where that medical professional works. The autopsy form listing the cause of death as unknown does not help matters. 

The mystery for the co-workers of our Iranian version of Quincy is why he is so upset regarding the treatment of a boy that he merely identifies as the son of an acquaintance. The first part of the puzzle for Kaveh is whether the injuries from the hit without a run or the diagnosed botulism is the cause of the death of the deceased. A related issue is whether the boy would have fatally succumbed to the disease in a few days regardless of whether the accident occurred.

The survivor's guilt of Moosa manifests itself in his probable role in his child getting botulism. This prompts the distraught parent to confront a man with a role in those events. Suffice it to say that that exchange takes a heavy toll on both men.

All of this leads to resolutions that provide one-and-all realistic but not happy endings. The lessons are that many people can contribute to bad outcomes and that karma is the mother of all bitches. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

'Craig of the Creek: Itch to Explore' DVD: Cute Animated Adventures of Lewis & Clark of Backyard Wilderness

The Warner Brothers Home Entertainment March 19, 2019 DVD release "Craig of the Creek: Itch to Explore" is an incredible treat for fans of old-school cartoons. This cute and charming series from the best brains behind Emmy-nominated fellow Cartoon Network series "Steven Universe" is one that kids and parents can equally enjoy. Much of the mutual appeal relates to the lack of edge in this show about the titular suburban everykid and his two close friends having adventures in the titular backyard wilderness. This is not to mention the very catchy theme song.

Craig is a good kid, who is a middle child in a nuclear family. Older brother Bernard (legendary voice actor Phil LaMarr) is an over-achieving nerd, and younger sister Jessica is an excitable young girl. The aforementioned pals are uber-aggressive fantasy-obsessed tomboy Kelsey and slightly older slightly "special" oaf JP. 

The titular pilot sets a good tone for the series that runs through the other 12 episodes in this S1 V1 set. Craig getting an "itch" to fully map the creek area that runs behind his house prompts the gang to suit up in preparation for exploring the "Poison Ivy Grove." The primary supply source for these primary-school aged Lewis and Clarks is the Trading Tree. This barter-based business in this kidtopia pretty much has anything you need.

A primary objective of going into the grove is discovering what is in a clearing at the center of this treacherous territory. What the kids find is as surprising to viewers as it is to our heroes,

The aptly titled "You're It" goes even more old school than "Itch." Comically intense concern regarding a seemingly endless game of tag prompts a plot to spare any more kids from the stigma of being "it." This involving an amusing scheme to lure Bernard "into the woods" makes this outing especially humorous.

It also is recalled that this episode has the kids consult the "elders," who are high school kids who still hang out at the creek. Less friendly "Sabrina" style teens cause Craig et al distress in a later episode, 

Older brothers around the global can relate to the "sit" that provides the "com" in "Jessica Goes to the Creek." A series of unfortunate circumstances results in Craig having to bring his little sister to the creek. This leads to extraordinary anti-meltdown measures to not disrupt the routine of Jessica.

"Sunday Clothes" is interesting but a little disturbing in that it strongly indicates that JP should ride the short bus to school. Our gang follows the oldest member of their group home and soon learns that all of his everyday clothes are being washed. 

An undeterred JP dons the titular church suit and heads down to the creek; this leads to extraordinary measures to keep his outfit spotless and sadly comic over-reactions to threats to that cleanliness. An arguably PG Full Monty scene is especially unsettling.

Other adventure include Craig desperately wanting to "Escape From Family Dinner" so that he can participate in a water-balloon battle, The set concludes with an episode that has the self-explanatory title of "Lost in the Sewer." 

The DVD special feature are an animatic version of the full episode "The Final Book," which revolves around a quest to locate the borrower of the titular library tome. and a photo gallery of images of series highlights. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

'The OddSockEaters' DVD: Eastern European Smurfs

Omnibus Entertainment gets 2019 off on a delightfully quirky foot (pun) intended with the January 8 DVD release of the animated family film "OddSockEaters." This tale of the Czech equivalent of The Smurfs is based on the book series by Pavel Strut.

The following YouTube clip of an "Odd" trailer nicely conveys the themes and the tone of of this offbeat film. 

The titular sock-consuming creatures arguably are cannibals in that they closely resemble their food source; having their own communities and living under the radar of humans prompts the comparison to The Smurfs. As a featured review of this film notes, covert habitation of our homes and taking one sock from a pair introduces an aspect of the literary characters The Borrowwers. 

Big Boss is the Papa Smurf of one OddSockEaters community; the law that he enforces to impose order includes requiring taking only one sock per pair. The assertion regarding his code of ethics is that he shares the pair with the humans. Supplies of these goods include private homes, stores, and laundromats. 

The conflict that is at the center of the film relates to troublemaker Spike; this malcontent is a former member of the gang of Big Boss. He forms his own group after facing the wrath of Big Boss for taking both socks during a heist.

Innocent young Hugo gets drawn into this when the "fading away" of his grandfather leads to this boy going to live with Uncle Big Boss and his twin cousins.

The Gargamel of the franchise is a nutty professor, who is the only one who can see the titular creatures and believes that they exist. His constant efforts to capture one of these little guys reflects his obsession regarding proving their existence and enjoying the resulting fame and fortune.

Hugo coming along at a time that the gang war between Big Boss and Spike is heating up leads to our little blue buddy embarking on an undercover rescue mission to the lair of the Blades whom Spike leads. There even is a Smurfette in the form of Bladette, who fully is a member of the family.

All of this builds to comic mayhem as the world of Big Boss unravels around him; there are large stakes, frantic chases, and unlikely alliances.

This kid-friendly film ends with age-appropriate morals. The characters who are redeemable learn about what really is important in life and those beyond saving pay for their crimes.

The bottom line is that the kids will enjoy the characters, the music, and the adventures.  Aforementioned goofiness of the story and Euro-style animation will entertain the adults, including parents who face endlessly watching this movie, 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

'Woman Wanted' DVD: It Happened One Afternoon for Joel McCrea & Maureen O'Sullivan

Warner Archive continues to prove that they don't make 'em like that anymore regarding the recent expertly remastered DVD of the 1935 noircom "Woman Wanted" starring Maureen O' Sullivan and Joel McCrea, This tale of  wrongly convicted "innocent" Ann Gray on the lam hooking up with playboy attorney Tony Baxter (McCrea) has strong shades of the more comedic 1931 classic "The Front Page." That one has a newshound hiding a convicted murderer on the afternoon of the scheduled execution of the latter.

The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Woman" demonstrates the "Thin Man" style melange of crime drama and humor. This is not to mention the hysterically crude special effects. 

"Woman" opens in a very "Page" centric manner. Gray is in a conference room waiting for the verdict in her trial for a murder that she did not commit. Baxter merely seeing her from a room on the other side of the building prompts making a mimed move without knowing her purpose for being in the courthouse.

The opening scenes also introduce the audience to the gangsters with a horse in the race. We only get a portion of the story in learning that Gray frying in Old Sparky will cost the crime boss a cool $250G. 

This fiscal motivation prompts the aforementioned respectable businessman to arrange a "Fugitive" style crash on the way to the prison where Gray will be a dead woman walking. This plan goes awry when Gray takes a powder after the collision. 

Amusement ensues when Baxter discovers the current object of his affection on the running board of his car while he is driving. Her quickly suggesting that they go to his place provides him even more reason to believe that he is being rewarded.

This couple that can state when they met it was murder soon arrive at the swanky bachelor pad of Baxter. This amenities of this abode include loyal but quirky gentleman's gentleman Peedles. 

Baxter still is in the dark when Gray requests an opportunity to freshen up; the arrival of designing woman Betty Randolph complicates things. 

Our central couple soon heads out to  a farmhouse in the country in support of the cause of Gray; things not going as well as expected prompts a backwoods chase that leads to hilarity as Baxter takews a book from both Bugs Bunny and Shaggy and Scooby in donning a hasty disguise to avoid a fate equal to death.

Of course, both the coppers and the gangsters close in on Gray. This leads to a well-executed (no pun intended) 11th-hour showdown as Baxter must rescue his damsel in distress.

In true classic Hollywood style, all end up where they need to be in a manner that restores faith in the American judicial system.

The bigger picture regarding all this is that "Woman" shows that a film can do a good job providing something for everyone when all concerned play their roles. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

'Soldiers Three' DVD: Army Buddies Take One for the Team

The recent Warner Archive DVD release of the 1951 comedy "Soldiers' Three," which is based on a Rudyard Kipling story, nicely proves that a classic story never gets old. The theme this time is that man can never permanently change the course of a river. 

The following YouTube clip of the "Soldiers" trailer shows how the combination of literary and screen star power makes for an exciting and amusing action-adventure film. It also shows the basis for calling the titular British GIs the Queen's Hard Bargain.

Our story begins in the present of the film; a group of young Turks is listening to an old war horse of a general cynically discuss how he achieves that high rank. The action then shits to 19th-century Indai, where we meet our central rogues.

Privates Ackroyd ( Stewart Granger), Sykes (Robert Newton), and Malloy (Cyril Cusack) are up to their usual exploits. These escapades continue in a manner that shows that these three actors make the Three Stooges look like Adam Sandler or James Franco and their respective posses. 

Our excitable boys soon take things too far. They not only make an unauthorized trip into a not-so-nearby town but make a grand return in a manner and at a time that maximizes embarrassment to commanding officer Colonel Brunswick (Walter Pidgeon). 

The real fun begins with Brunswick trying a tactic that it is believed also is used in an episode of the '60s militarycom "Gomer Pyle," Brunswick calls the guys in to announce that he is using a divide-and-conquer approach in the form of promoting one of them to sergeant regardless of whether that private wants that rank. The rest of that story is that the group is ordered to select the unlucky man among themselves. The manner in which this is worked out is a prime example of the aforementioned wonderful comedic chemistry among the actors. 

Things take a expected turn as the reluctantly assumed responsibilities that are thrust on Ackroyd due to his enhanced rank causes the predicted dissension among the ranks. This largely is in the form of resentment by those left behind. 

The game-changer comes in the form of Ackroyd being the odd man out when the rest of his comrades find themselves in a very sticky wicket. This situation also reflects some of the tensions related to the British presence in India. 

The manner in which thing work out nicely reflect modern military thinking. 

The bigger picture is that "Soldiers" shows the potential for an Army buddy comedy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

'The Last Ship' S5 DVD & Blu-ray: Tom Clancy Style 'Battlestar Galactica' With Shades of 'Moby Dick'

As they say, you can bring home all the action and adventure when Warner Brothers Home Entertainment releases separate DVD and Blu-ray releases of the 2018 fifth-and-final season of the TNT drama series "The Last Ship" on March 12, 2018. This also is the date that WBHE releases separate DVD and BD CS series sets of "Ship." WBHE does the fictional fighting men and women of the titular Nathan James proud with the copious bonus features in each release, 

The proper perspective regarding "Ship" is to not allow any prejudice regarding the overall military theme to deter you from enjoying this well-produced program from action-adventure film legend Michael Bay. A comparable personal bias against westerns and sports-oriented films and television series has prevented seeing "Rocky" and many other quality productions. The setting of "Ship" largely is incidental to the compelling season-long story arc that has heavy shades of both incarnations of the scifi series "Battlestar Galactica." 

Just like the opening minutes of the "Galactica" series, everything generally is shipshape and Bristol fashion at the beginning of "Ship" S5. Modern naval legend Admiral Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) happily is teaching at the Naval Academy; his Number One Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin) still is active-duty but is living a life free of trauma and drama. The rest of their former crew is equally as happy as can be expected after their professional and personal ordeals of the prior seasons, 

A celebration of normalcy complete with (ala "Galactica") the Nathan James now being a museum brings the band back together. Meanwhile, a small group of our heroes is trying to persuade a truly duly-elected South American leader to increase his security, 

The lighter mood of S5 E1 provides for awesome humor; one of the best scenes in the entire season has tourists asking Chandler to take their photo with a life-size cardboard cutout of him. A real-life equivalent is celeb friends who no longer resemble their characters often sharing tales of fans ignoring them in favor of actors who play supporting roles when the two are out-and-about together, 

Two closely-related events change everything for our heroes and everyone else in their world. Colombian terrorist/S5 nemesis Gustavo "Tavo" Barros escalates his rhetoric regarding United States domination of Central and South America to the level of killing the aforementioned South American leader and executing a Pearl Harbor-style attack on the aforementioned festivities that the U.S. naval fleet is attending. The scenes of the latter make excellent use of the skills of "Pearl Harbor" producer Bay. 

The attack using an insidious in every sense computer virus that plays a role in knocking our military tech. back to the WWII-era while the enemy enjoys all the modern conveniences adds several interesting elements to S5. We see how the keyboard kids of today are modern heroes and how the old salts use human brainpower to adapt when tech. fails. In other words, everyone brings something to the table.

S5 goes even more old school by having the 19th-century novel Moby Dick play a prominent role; this begins with the Melville prose being a favorite read of Chandler. We also see this text help the squids adapt to the new normal, This is not to mention things being very personal for both Barros and Chandler and the latter facing an enemy that more closely resembles a whale. 

A more modern element enters the picture in the form of Chandler rejecting his desk-jockey role to repeatedly throw himself in the midst of the action ala Jack Bauer of "24." This also is a akin to a "Star Trek" captain ignoring the desire of his or her crew to participate in a dangerous away mission.

Much of the action centers around the Trump scenario of very bad hombres marching el norte to add territory to Gran Colombia and ultimately invade the United States. The threat is very real this time, and a wall will not be a significant deterrent. 

This war game also involves both Mexico and Cuba having high strategic importance, This requires that Chandler use diplomacy to get the leaders of these two countries with animosity toward each other to kiss and make-up.

Meanwhile back at home, the "24" element is very strong. An aforementioned guy in the chair has identified both the aforementioned virus and the means by which it cripples the Navy. This is only part of the story.

The rest of the tale is that the person who creates the harm does so inadvertently and is the victim of a "24" style betrayal. Although this aspect of "Ship" is as well-written and executed as the rest of the story, it arguably reflects a disliked stereotype of the past that portrays a certain demographic as psychotic. 

The discovery of the truth leads to a manhunt that culminates in events that show that the military strategists forget the lesson of the Trojan Horse, This leads to some of wonderfully "Die Hard" style mayhem that includes handling a hostage situation with extreme prejudice.

Devastating losses on both sides have particularly brought Barros to the edge of madness and have taken a heavy toll on Chandler by the season and series finale. Their final showdown is reminiscent of Kirk v. Khan. One lesson here for both sides is to not allow your emotions to take control.

The final adventure also has Chandler take his boldest action ever; this leads to an incredibly surreal sequence that pays homage both to naval tradition and to Charles Dickens. It being the end of a five-year mission makes it equally probable that our hero will experience a fitting death and will return to his teaching duties until the next global crises requires that he once again cowboys up.

As indicated above, "Ship" S5 is a typically compelling Bay thrill ride. It easily passes the "one more" test and will leave you desiring further adventures. ​

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

'Neighbors' (1981) Blu-ray: Belushi and Aykroyd Demonstrate the Kravitz Principle

A theme of these thoughts regarding the March 12, 2019 Mill Creek Entertainment Blu-ray release of the 1981 comedy "Neighbors" is that this time it is personal. A related note is that this well-remastered latest edition to the MCE Retro VHS series, which includes a reviewed release of the John Candy comedy "Who's Harry Crumb," is that "Neighbors" illustrates the principle that something that is comedic to someone can seem tragic to the person who endures it, 

The star power of "Neighbors{" begins with "SNL" castmates John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd playing the leads; the behind-the-camera talent include Larry Gelbart of the "M*A**S*H" television series writing the screenplay.

IMDb does particularly well describing "Neighbors." This synopsis states that "a quiet man's peaceful suburban lifestyle is threatened by the new, obnoxious couple next door." 

The aforementioned personal aspect relates to enduring years of regular torment from the "rock-throwing teen" and his family on the other side of a wall in my former townhouse; part of the insult regarding this injury is this townhouse being an upscale one.

The numerous incidents include at least one week of heavy renovations every month, the lad with three felony arrests by his junior year in high school stealing my packages and cursing at me as he drove by on the street, and Mom showing up at my door to talk for a few minutes before standing zombie-like in the hall.

An even more relatable perspective comes courtesy of a classic sitcom; like most folks, I laughed at nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz getting hysterical over the witch across the street only to not have anyone believe her. Experiencing comparable angst changes your outlook to sympathizing with Kravitz regarding no one accepting the truth.

Our story begins with middle-aged middle-class Earl Keese (Belushi) coming home from his most likely middle-management job to his wife of 16 years Enid (Kathryn Walker). They are spending their typical boring evening at home when the arrival of Vic (Aykroyd) and  Ramona (Cathy Moriarty) at the previously empty house next door harshes the mellow of the Keeses. 

Aykroyd playing a psychotically loud, crude, and manipulative character is within his range of screen personas. Belushi playing a dorky mouse is a departure for that comic genius; Moriarty steals the show as the over-sexed slutty Ramona, 

Both Vic and Ramona quickly cross all reasonable boundaries on being the vampires whom Earl invites into his home. It is not long before Vic has emptied the wallet of Earl and Ramona is in his bed. 

This film with a strong live-stage vibe continues with Vic and Ramona teaming up to separately and jointly push his buttons. This relates to the reel and real-world phenomenon of a toxic neighbor gleefully exploiting a sore spot. 

The evening activities include an attempt by Earl to counter Vic taking his car going horribly wrong, Earl locking the boy and the girl next door in his basement in an effort to get them out of his house, and Vic being very crude with the punk daughter of Earl; a line about edible panties arguably is the best joke in the film. 

Gelbart pulls off the neat trick of delivering an entirely unexpected surprise ending; this shows that '80s primetime soap "Knot's Landing" lacks a monopoly on cul-de-sac neighbors developing intimate relationships. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

'The Star Witness' DVD: Depression-Era Crime Melodrama With Social Commentary

The Warner Archive March 12, 2019 DVD release of the Oscar-nominated 1931 crime melodrama film "The Star Witness" is part of an awesome recent series of Archive releases of this niche genre. Upcoming posts on "Unashamed" and "Woman Wanted" reinforces the star power and the entertainment value of movies with this theme. 

"Witness" has the best pedigree and the related most depth of the three films. William Wellman of "The Public Enemy" and the 1937 version of "A Star is Born" directs. The cast includes Walter Huston and vaudeville legend Charles "Chic" Sale. 

Written narration at the beginning of "Witness" sets the stage for the story and the theme of the morals by stating that the action occurs in every American city. 

The plot thickens a few minutes into the film as the Leeds family settles down to dinner. Father George is a middle-aged middle-management bean counter; spouse Abby is a typical housewife who tries to keep everyone well-fed and clean and also tries to maintain domestic tranquility. 

Eldest son Jackie is a cautionary tale; he  is an unemployed high-school dropout who spends his days at the pool hall and has unrealistically grand expectations. He also has very little respect for George despite that man providing him a comfortable standard of living in those very rough economic times. Daughter Sue is a modern woman with a job and a boyfriend with whom she openly gets affectionate in his car while parked outside the Leeds family home.

Little Rascal Donny is a tough-talking little-league loving everyboy; he deals with his low position on the family totem by bullying baby of the family Ned. This does not prevent Ned from idolizing his slightly older brother. 

The "Grandpa Simpson" of the family is feisty Battle of Bull Run veteran "Private Summerhill." This feisty old codger barges in uninvited playing his fife as the family is eating dinner. The added insult to the injury is his announcement that he staying for a couple of days. 

Relative calm has descended when the clan hears a ruckus in the street below; this prompts the group to rush to the window in time to see a wild chase complete with gunfire; this culminates in an essentially front-row seat for a man fatally shooting two others. 

The plot further thickens on the gunman rushing into the Leeds home and terrorizing the family before taking a powder.

The cops soon show up and conduct what may be the most laughably suggestive identification process in film history; this leads to arresting gangster Maxey Campo.

The resolve of the Leeds family is tested as Team Campo puts on the heat to get them to change their story; this includes an entertaining beatdown of a gullible George, Meanwhile District Attorney Whitlock (Huston) is trying to get the titular smoking gun to not waiver from fingering the perp. at his trial.

Eleventh hour pressure creates drama as both sides strive for a favorable outcome. A sign of the times that represents a generation gap has Jackie balking at sticking his neck out for the greater good and his grandfather advocating fulfilling a patriotic duty.

The moral of this tribute to truth, justice, and the American way is not let bullies prevent you from doing the right thing despite the cost of standing up to tyranny.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

'The Betty White Collection' DVD: Golden Age of Television Rarities Starring First Lady of TV

The Mill Creek Entertainment February 5, 2019 4-disc DVD release "The Betty White Collection" nicely showcases the early television career of a woman whose television career spans roughly 60 years. Many of us have heard of "Life With Elizabeth, but not "Date With the Angels." "Collection" allows checking out 24 episodes of the latter and 16 of the former. We also get a 20-minute documentary on the career of White. 

The 1952-1955 syndicated "Elizabeth" is an awesome time capsule for reasons that extend well beyond the mix of sweetness and charming evil streak that makes White a legend. The first innovation in this live-action sitcom is using the cartoon format of three unrelated roughly six-minute adventures.

The next rare aspect is having announcer Jack Narz help folks used to listening to radio programs transition to television; he opens each segment with a monologue that literally sets the scene for what is to come, He then is seen and not heard when speaking with Elizabeth (White) about this set-up. White puts her talent for expressiveness to good use by using only her facial features to express her reaction to the statements of Narz.

Of the nine watched adventures, one in which newly wed Elizabeth tries to convince husband Alvin (Del Moore) that she is a horrible driver has wonderful shades of both Sue Ann Nivens of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and Rose Nyland of "The Golden Girls." The logic of Elizabeth is that straight-man Alvin will not buy a car if he thinks that his wife can properly operate it. 

Two of the best episodes revolve around the sitcom cliche of the boss coming to dinner. Although the food does not rise to the level of The Happy Homemaker, it is much more appetizing then the odd fare of St. Olaf. 

The "sit" that provides the "com" is that aforementioned employer Mr. Fuddy being self-conscious about his new toupee prompts Alvin to alert Elizabeth to not call attention to that rug. Of course, a nervous Elizabeth does just the opposite in ways that include clever references. The resolution is not cookie-cutter and has more edge than typical '50s fare. 

"Life" shows additional cleverness in an adventure that has our leads visiting Fuddy to watch home movies. The "sit" this time is trouble properly lining up the camera with the viewing surface; the "com" includes Alvin becoming increasingly annoyed regarding the failed efforts to show the movies. 

An adventure surrounding Elizabeth and Alvin jointly trying to resolve a problem with a fuse is pure Television Golden Age gold. It also involves a case of art imitating life in that your not-so-humble reviewer notices the light outside the house across the street going on when he flips a switch a few hours after watching this episode of "Life."

The 1957-58 sitcom "Date" is entertainingly bizarre compared both to "Life" and other sitcom fare; additionally, White is more subdued in this one than in "Life" and her better-known roles. 

Both the title and the opening credits indicate that "Date" revolves around supernatural beings in a fantasycom; the reality is that average suburban newly weds Vickie (White) and Gus (Bill Williams) have the titular surname. 

The three episodes watched indicate that "Date" has a low-key gruffness that is more akin to fellow '50scoms "The Honeymooners" and "The Life of Riley" than to "I Love Lucy."

The first episode in the set has the Angels at home soon before the boss is due to come for dinner. The boisterous arguing between neighbors the loud and crude Murphys and the bookish Roger Finley (Richard Deacon) and his elderly father is permeating the Angel home. The bedroom community Hatfields and McCoys soon directly embroil the Angels in the dispute. Of course, this spills over into the visit of the boss. 

The Murphys also take center stage when their son comes home while on leave from the military; the primary "sit" this time is father-son conflict stemming from the younger Murphy having an interest in music and other arts that his father does not consider manly, The unexpected resolution that restores peace to that household nicely reflects the good quality of the television of the era. 

The third but not least viewed adventure of the Angels has the visiting teen nephew of Vickie unintentionally wreaking havoc. Alvin pimping out the boy adds further "com." 

The aforementioned documentary shares tidbits and photos from the pre-acting life of White; we also get a few short clips of "Life" that include a ping-pong game that demonstrates the aforementioned blend of Sue Ann and Rose in Elizabeth. The rest of this tribute summarizes the aforementioned long career of our woman of the hour. 

The bigger picture this time is that the sitcom episodes reflect the related wisdom of Carol Burnett that avoiding topical subjects helps keep material from badly aging and that funny always is funny, We further get to see White in the roles that make her the woman whom America especially loves in the '70s and the '80s. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

'Krypton' S1 Blu-ray: Superman Origin Story Set A Long Time Ago in A Galaxy Far Far Away

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.]

The Warner Brothers Home Entertainment separate DVD and Blu-ray releases of the 2018 first season of the SyFy network series "Krypton" shows that this series clearly is a production by fanboys for fanboys. The even better news is that this show is as highly entertaining to those of us in the middle range of the Kinsey Scale of Superman fandom as to the folks at either more extreme end. 

Creators DCU veteran David S. Goyer and "Stargate" veteran Damian Kindler reach well across the aisle in setting this Superman prequel a long time ago in a galaxy far far away,  They also reflect the British reasoning that creating a handful of excellent episodes each season is better than offering a larger number of mediocre or bad ones. 

This love of the art is clear from the opening shot of the titular planet brightly red aflame ahead of the global destruction that makes the last son of that world the man whom he is today. What we see when the action shifts back a couple of centuries before that apocalypse further demonstrates that this is a true labor of love,

The opening comments in the entertaining and the informative 2017 ComicCon panel on "Krypton" that is a home-video bonus feature aptly gives props to the feature-film quality cinematography. An amusing remark notes that the action occurring in such a foreign setting precludes merely shooting outside the police station down the street. 

These elements additionally REQUIRE buying "Krypton" in Blu-ray; playing it in a 4K player and watching it on a 4K Sony set makes you feel as if you are there. As an aside, being a cheap bastard in buying the fourth season of the CW DCU series "The Flash" on DVD after buying the other three on Blu-ray is a deep regret. It does not look nearly as good despite giving it the same 4K treatment as "Krypton."

The final diversion into Blogland before returning to the proud tradition of this site playing it straight relates to enhanced viewing pleasure. Getting the review BD set on that Friday facilitated a marathon (rather than binge) watching session that night. That evoked fond memories of going to the home of friends virtually every Friday night in the early 2000s to eat take-out and watch "Stargate" series or other SyFy series of that era. 

The following YouTube clip of a "Krypton" S1 trailer provides a good sense of the lore of the series. It also highlights the talents of dreamy theater-trained star Cameron Cuffe, who plays literal granddaddy of Kal-El Sig-El. 

Our story begins 14 cycles (my people call them years) before the present of "Krypton." Kal-El greater-great grandfather scientist Val-El is on trial for heresy in the form of asserting that Kryptonians are not alone in the universe. A young teen Sig-El watches as his grandfather who increasingly evokes thoughts of Obi Wan Kenobi literally must walk the plank.

All this (and most of out story) occurs in the then-domed (rather than bottled) city of Candor. The rigid hierarchy of that society has the ruling class of ranked families, all of which lead a particular segment of society such as the military and the sciences. The hoi polloi are unranked people who generally live a deprived existence. 

14 cycles later, a 23 year-old unranked Sig-El is in the middle of a brawl at the bar at his buddy Kem. One game-changer is a heroic act by the grandfather of a Justice League member gets him reranked into the "noble" house of Vex he also finds himself facing a marriage of apparent convenience to Nyssa-Vex.

A CW element enters the picture in the form of this engagement occurring at a time that Sig-El is getting busy with Lyta-Zod. Even someone unable to solve "Scooby-Doo" mysteries can figure out the rest of the story when Superman nemesis General Zod enters the picture. That development further enhances the Shakespearean vibe of this series that already looks and feels like a story from the mind of The Bard. 

Another important element of the season-long story-arc comes in the form of easy earth-boy Adam Strange beaming in with a warning from our time. He delivers an essentially "your children need your help" message to Sig-El. This gist of this news is that a earth-based threat from the future is traveling to the "Krypton" present on that planet to prevent Kal-El from being born. 

Meanwhile, DCU villain/collector of planets Brainiac is headed straight for Krypton; Team El is aware both that the  scheme of that evil alien is to literally rip Candor from the face of Krypton and that the very reasonable objectives of Sig-El and Strange are mutually exclusive.

Meanwhile, there is plenty of Shakespeare-style drama around the aforementioned three leading families of Krypton. This includes an aptly major and potentially bloody vexing rift between the fiancee of Sig-El and his future father-in-law. This is not to mention an "its complicated" relationship between the three generations of Zods. 

As if that is not enough, another Superman villain is a player. That reflects the philosophy of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" that contending with Klingon enemies requires having a Klingon directly fight on your side. 

The bigger picture is that the inter-woven threads above and other related aspects of "Krypton" both keep the action non-stop and provides high-quality plots that reflect the awful truth that most solutions rarely are easy. This particularly has an O'Henry element in this cerebral series. 

The copious extras in addition to the Comic Con panel include a "making-of" feature, a "Life on Krypton" bonus, deleted scenes, and a gag reel. A cutting-room scene between Nyssa-Vax and Seg-El is particularly note-worthy.