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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

'Muppet Babies: Time to Play' DVD: The Tots Are Back in Town

The August 14, 2018 DVD release "Muppet Babies: Time to Play" provides a good chance to check out the adorable Disney Junior reboot of a genuine pop-culture phenomenon. The original 1984 8-season series is the first of many shows, which include "A  Pup Named Scooby-Doo" and "Flintstone Kids," that shave years off of popular characters. The hilarious "Community" parody of this concept is one of many examples of the success of this theme,

The bigger picture is that "Play" is further proof that Disney cable channels offer fare for all ages. This release comes on the heels of a reviewed DVD of the very bright series with a literal strong Latin beat "Elena of Avalor."  Other recent Disney releases include the latest (also reviewed) set of episodes of the Disney XD reboot of "DuckTales"  and the first set of the personal fave Junior series  "Puppy Dog Pals" that centers around incredibly cute pug siblings going on missions. A "Pals" "Babies" crossover would be beyond awesome.

The following YouTube video of the opening credits of "Babies" illustrates (pun intended) the updated CGI look of the series. It also introduces the emphasis on using your imagination that is a central theme. 

The core group that returns consists of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo the Great, and Animal. Summer the penguin literally and figuratively joins the band. Group caregiver Nanny is now Miss Nanny; she still only is seen from the baby perspective of the waist down. 

Each half-hour episode consists of two or three adventures. Things typically start out with either Nanny initiating an activity that triggers a fantastic voyage of the mind or a mishap among the kids prompting the adventure du jour. Either way, viewers can count on a clever escapade and a rockin' music video. A song that be considered Muppet Beach Party is particularly fun.

The first outing in "Play" has Miss Nanny actually going into the closet triggering the muppets going in after her. The issue related to this quest is being afraid of the dark. The dual messages are that that phobia is valid and that the dark is nothing to fear. 

A rather bizarre element in another outing has Miss Nanny planning to show her charges what clearly is the Olympics; she refers to the event as the Sport-a-thon for an apparent but unknown legal reason. The modern problem of the Internet going out leads to the gang staging their own games. The lesson this time is the importance of being a good loser. One spoiler that is refreshing in 2018 is that Miss Nanny does not issue participant awards. 

A cute outing from the perspective of one with a childhood friend named Peter Potato has Gonzo bonding with an inanimate root vegetable. This one begins with hilarious sequences that show that the potato is not very good at games. This leads to Gonzo getting upset when his new buddy is ostracized. The lesson this time is of inclusion.

The copious special features begin with 10 Show=and-Tell shorts that likely are filler on Junior. The theme is one or two of our friends discussing show-and-tell presentations. We also get six music videos from the episodes in the set. 

One of the best overall things about the new "Babies" is the same as the Disney approach to the "Star Wars" franchise. The new productions staying true to the source material helps make watching with the kids fun for the adults. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

'Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart' DVD: Docudrama of Real-Life Gendarme/Serial Killer

One general takeaway from the Icarus Films August 14, 2018 DVD of the 2014 docudrama "Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart" is that it shows that lesser filmmakers should be careful when telling reviewers to go ahead and try if they think that they can do better. In this case, former Cahhiers du Cinema critic Cedric Anger shows that those of us who watch and analyze more than 300 movies every year know of which we write. A side note is that Anger is a very apt surname for a film critic. 

Anger management by the writer/director of "Heart" begins with the ripped-from-the-history-books story of actual gendarme/serial killer Alain Lamere, whose killing spree keeps him busy during the winter of 1978-79. The name has been changed to Frank Neuhart in absolutely no effort to protect the not-so-innocent. 

The following YouTube clip of the "Heart" trailer perfectly conveys the drama of the film and the stone-cold nature of the killer.

The opening scenes of "Heart" establish the modus operendi of our excitable boy. Two teen girls are headed out on their Vespas for a night on the town not knowing that Neuhart is stalking them. He runs one off the road before shockingly and brutally attacking the other and then goes back for a second bite of the apple. The title of the film relates to his choice of her body part to shoot,

The next big shock occurs when Neuhart returns home, strips down, follows a bizarre rite, and then dons his gendarme uniform. Thus begins the most creepy aspect of the film in the form of watching Neuhart being a major player in the investigation of those killings and the subsequent murders. 

A personal experience with a psychotically scary creepy respondent to a roommate ad being the same guy as someone presenting himself as very normal and once even denying being the other dude shows that Lamere/Neuhart has cousins out there. But for the brains of Nelson, the psycho would have had his address and done God knows what. But for the compassion of Nelson, this guy would have ended up with a roommate who would have put him on the receiving ends of the acts in which he desired to engage with your not-so-humble reviewer. The rest of the story is that local gendarmes scared this nutcase far away from Nelson. 

An element of "Heart" that would be amusing in lesser hands but is chilling under Anger is the Superman aspect of the investigation, Neither victim, nor witnesses, nor fellow officers recognize Neuhart as the killer even when he is holding a very accurate police-artist sketch of the killer. One spoiler is that Neuhart does not bother putting on glasses in an attempt to conceal his identity.

Old-fashioned thinking even by '70s standards is almost as disturbing, Neuhart making a rookie mistake that prompts his "superiors" to suspect that one of their own is the killer illogically prompts focusing the investigation on the gay community.

The investigation taking that left turn is a meta reflection of an issue that early gay-rights organizations raise. These activists protest that films only depict homosexual men as limp-wristed sissies and/or vicious murderers. An interesting aspect of this is that Anger indicates that Neuhart is closer to the middle range of the Kinsey Scale than that not-so-macho man realizes., 

Other forms of l;aw-enforcement negligence include not seeing literally what is under their noses as Neuhart increasingly should be a prime suspect. This includes virtually catching him in the act and revealing his subterfuge. 

A more fascinating aspect is that manner in which Neuhart suppresses his dark passenger while he goes through the motions of doing his job. It shows the extent to which people with severe mental issues literally can get away with murder.

The big picture this time is that "Heart" proves both that truth often is stranger than fiction and that a good story and talented actors can draw an audience into a film without giving them copious nudity and/or bloodshed. As mentioned above, the background of Anger teaches him that less can be more.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

'Power Rangers Ninja Steel' CS DVD: Power Rangers: Infinity War

Lionsgate awesomely simultaneously goes old and new school regarding the August 14, 2018 3-disc S1 DVD release of the very recent "Power Rangers Ninja Steel" series. This release is part of a 25th Anniversary of the '90s phenom "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," which actually dates to August 28 1994.

Personal relevance of the OS includes still joking about sending naughty people off to a peace conference in reference to that plot point relating to firing an original cast member for a long-forgotten sin. Surviving cast members are known for joking about experiencing that fate is they misbehave. 

The brilliance of the "Ranger" franchise extends beyond providing a showcase for mountains of merchandise. The OS using the cost-saving method of incorporating footage from the Japanese live-action series "Super Sentai" into a show that features clean-cut American teens with mad ninja skills and related secret identities is pure genius as the "Ninja Steel" and the other numerous spin-offs reflect. 

The awesome box art shared above also contributes a strong retro vibe. The bonus booklet of "Rangers" art is just as collectibly special.

The "Infinity War" central concept of "Ninja Steel" is one of many ways that this series is new school while retaining a very old school element. Our story begins with boy with something extra Dane Romero peacefully living with roughly 10 year-old son Aiden and roughly 7 year-old son Brody. The Ninja Nexus Prism falling from the sky and landing on their rural property is a game changer.

One spoiler is that "Ninjs Steel" spares us a sickening "I don't feel so good, Mr. Stark" moment. 

The prism contains six ninja stars that collectively grant the possessor unparalleled power. The rub is a limitation that is similar to the Excalibur lore of Arhurian legend; only those who are worthy can penetrate the force field that surrounds the stars in the prism. "Ninja Steel" further pays homage to the classic anime series "Speed Racer" in a manner that is too special to spoil. 

Galvanax beaming down from the spaceship from which he broadcasts the intergalactic game show "Galaxy Warriors" fully sets the stage for "Ninja Steel." A battle with Dane ends with Galvanax taking both Brody and the prism back to his ship. 

The action soon shifts 10 years ahead to our present. Appealing and cute Brody (William Shewfelt), his robot friend/comic relief Redbot, and quirky Mick literally jump ship with the prism and end up in the Summer Cove home turf of Brody. Brody soon becomes the red power ranger/leader and subsequently meets up with all but one ranger; the fate of the gold ranger remains up in the air. The story arc that addresses is that is a series highlight. 

Mick uses the titular substance to create the tools of trade of our heroes. A cool nod to the eco-centric animated series "Captain Planet" allows the rangers to use the power of natural elements such as wind and water to combat the foe of the week that Galvanax transports down to battle the kids in an effort to collect their Ninja Power Stars, 

The lesson of the week that is integral to "Ninja Steel" provides viewers of every age great fun. Veterans of "Saved by the Bell" and similar fare obtain particular amusement from these episodes; younger fans who experience this phenomenon for the first time get entertaining morals. 

A textbook episode hilariously evokes thoughts of the classic "Bell" episode in which neurotic overachiever Jessie Spano becomes addicted to caffeine pills. All-American boy/yellow ranger Calvin Maxwell nervously confesses to his team that he is afraid to drive. The angst and fear associated with this reveal creates an expectation that Calvin is coming out or is admitting an addiction to alcohol or narcotics. The textbook aspect continues with the fate of the other rangers resting on the ability of Calvin to conquer his fear.

The nervous Unreal TV confession is that time constraints are behind only watching the first half of the season. The season finale being titled "Past, Presents, and Future" provides good incentive to keep going. The IMDb episode description stating "Sarah [pink ranger] teams up with Santa Claus to save Christmas and the Power Rangers from a time-manipulating monster" makes this one must-see.

The bigger picture this time is that "Ninja Steel" itself and this release celebrating the 25th "Rangers" anniversary shows that a viable market remains for good clean family fun that is in the middle of the bell curve between overly saccharine fare and stuff that seems too edgy to be ready for Saturday morning. One can only hope that "Rangers" continues for at least another 25 years. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

'OzLand' Blu-ray: Remastered Hi Def Version of Tale of Post-Apocalyptic Drifters Brings Film Over the Rainbow

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following review on the new Blu-ray release of this film is an updated version of the DVD and VOD releases. 

A spectacular element of the Shendopen Films production "OzLand" is that the obsession that a central character develops on finding The Wonderful World of Oz by Lyman Frank Baum is comparable to the response that most people will experience on watching this film by producer/director/writer/cinematographer/prop artist Michael Williams. Folks already familiar with the (reviewed) Williams joint "The Atoning" will understand this enthusiasm; Williams being kind and gracious in real life is a bonus.

One person wearing so many hats in a production usually warrants jokes regarding whether they also build the sets, provide craft services, and clad the actor in their personal clothes. However, the 27 year-old Williams performs every function well and likely could have stepped in the role of drifter Emri. 

Williams provide another treat in the form of the (separately sold) soundtrack of the country music in the film; these songs achieve the ideal of subtly helping set the mood. They sound particularly good in the Blu-ray version, which gives composer Keatzi Gunomney his well-deserved due in the copious special features. 

The numerous festival accolades, including the Best Feature and Best Cinematography honors at the 2015 Magnolia Independent Film Festival, validates the high praise in this review. The must-see-to-believe Blu-ray version aptly highlights the cinematography. One scene in which Emri and younger and innocent Leif rest among debris includes orange rubble that is brighter than the most toxic version of Sun Kist soda is a prime example.

The following YouTube clip of the "Ozland" trailer is guaranteed to elicit the aforementioned excitement regarding the film. 

"OzLand" opens with ruggedly handsome Emri and dreamy Leif walking through beautifully shot post-apocalyptic Kansas (with supplement "we're not in Kansas anymore" scenes when they get out of Dodge) in which virtually everyone else has dried up.

This modern-day George (Emri) and Lennie (Leif) from the Steinbeck novel 
Of Mice and Men are drifting through this world trying to make sense of what happened while following the advice of Horace Greeley and The Pet Shop Boys to go west in search of a better existence. Further, Emri is searching for something that eludes most of us. One spoiler is that he already has a heart, a brain, and courage. Whether he owns ruby-red slippers is his own business. 

A horribly missed opportunity occurs when big brother figure George tells Leif to focus on survival; Leif not smiling and responding "I'm your lover, not your rival" is an almost painful omission. Alas, the awesome outtakes and deleted scenes in the Blu-ray version do not include that exchange. We do see a scene that Wlliams and company determine is nothing to crow about and another in which interlopers adorably ruin a shot. 

The magic begins when a typical exploration of a devastated structure covered in thick layer of dust scores Leif a copy of Oz. This excited literate man subsequently reciting passages from Oz to illiterate Emri entertains him but does not prompt him to share the belief of Leif that the story is real and that these men are living it.

Although the optimism that Leif experiences is not infectious, the introduction to the wonderful world of Oz colors (no pun intended) the remaining adventures of our "leftovers." At the heart of it, the Depression-era tornado in the Judy Garland film provides an explanation for the substantial rapid decline in the population of the United States in "Ozland."

Watching the glee of Leif on meeting a tin man, finding the abandoned home of a lion and munchkins, encountering a scarecrow who is more Christ figure than lovable dope, and finding himself hot on the trail of Dorothy reinforces the sense of wanting to take a road trip with Leif portrayor Zack Ratkovich; his horrifying encounter with uberscary flying monkeys makes you want to protect him in your garret.

Ratzovich particularly shines in a scene in which Leif and Emri discuss what they want from the wizard. This provides further insight (and sympathy) regarding the character.

Emri portrayor Glenn Payne also plays his part well. He is a kind and patient protector of his naive little buddy; his special moments include comically acting out the grotesque version of the tin man that the 1939 film Disneyfies.

The Mice vibe is particularly strong in a scene late in the film; the boys are near death when Emri discovers that Leif has been holding out for a fantastical reason. Many of us would have killed Leif out of frustration and/or to protect him from an existence worse than a quick demise. It is all water under the bridge for Emri.

The climax provides an awesome end to a film with no bad scenes. Only one boy utilizes a chance to go home; post-viewing communication with Williams points out that this rapture involves a subtle element of ascension.

Williams takes a note from the DCU and the Marvel Universe in including a stinger halfway through the closing credits. Our survivor is continuing his journey with a new special companion who is very true to the spirits of both the ascended partner and Oz..

The literally final moment of the film is another reflection of the kind and loving nature of Williams; he dedicates the movie to 31 year-old crew member Casey Spradling, who dies soon after finishing "Ozland." One can easily imagine Williams and the rest of the team missing him most of all after separating to go on to their next projects. Spradling having a prominent role in much of the behind-the-scenes footage results in viewers sharing some of the paid of the principals. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

'Bye Bye Germany' DVD: The Best Holocaust Comedy You Will See This Year

Foreign and indie movie god Film Movement fully shows what makes it (and its Film of the Month Club) spectacular with the August 7, 2018 DVD release of the 2017 German comedy "Bye Bye Germany." This film about Jewish Holocaust survivors in 1946 provides an interesting perspective about that period and shows that you can find humor in any situation.

The first bit of general good news is that "Germany" reflects the philosophy of Mel Brooks and his peers that laughing at Hitler robs him of his power. The second bit of good news is that the film proves that a German journalist who asked Robin Williams why there was no comedy in Germany was wrong about the lack of humor in that country. It is understandable that many do not consider the response of Williams that the Germans killed all the funny people to not be humorous.

The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Germany" shows how this film puts a Yiddish spin on "Glengarry Glen Ross" 

"Germany" centers around concentration camp survivor David Bermann. The obvious good news for him is that he no longer needs to fear for his life every day. The first bit of less-than good news is that he lacks the necessary money to restart the linen business of his family to earn the money needed to emigrate to America. The worst news is that suspicion of Nazi collaboration is preventing him from getting a necessary license that the Americans are issuing German Jews. 

Bermann entering a partnership allows him to get back into business; clearing his name requires a series of interviews with U.S. Army investigator Sara Simon. Stating that that pair gets off on the wrong foot is a large understatement.

This leads to Bermann dividing his time between joining his team in hilarious cons to get Germans to pay absurdly inflated prices for falsely hyped linens and telling Simon his story. A highlight of the former is a "Paper Moon" style scam in which Team Bermann falsely tells a recent widow of a large order by her husband before his sudden and untimely death.

The flashbacks of the time in the camp that accompany the sessions with Simon provide a fascinating (but not necessarily accurate) look at the life of the inmates. The general idea is that the camp commander catching Bermann in the act of telling a joke in the barracks leads to a command performance at a Christmas party for the guards, which leads to direct contact with Hitler. The only verified portion of the story is that Bermann receives the preferential treatment that puts him on the radar of the U.S. Army.

The middle ground is the depiction of the daily lives of Jews in the immediate period following the end of the war. One scene involves Bermann coming face-to-face with a former German officer who is responsible for the deaths of family members; another has a housewife trying to convince Bermann that the average German was unaware of the Holocaust while it was occurring. 

Of course, there is one or more surprising reversal of fortune and other twists. The highly valid bases for resentment intensify them.

All of this concludes with the fairy tale vibe that is required to make any movie centered around these horrific events palpable. Not everyone ends up literally or figuratively where he or she expected but do get at least some closure. 

The Bonus Short Film that accompanies every Club selection is "Strings" this time. This very clever animated film that uses a flowing white line against a black background is an homage to an Israeli violin maker who restores instruments from the Holocaust as a symbol of eternal hope. ​

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

'Young Dillinger' DVD: Bio-Noir Shows How Jack and Diane Become Bonnie and Clyde

The Warner Archive July 17, 2018 DVD release of the 1965 bio-noir film "Young Dillinger" is part of the recent biopics leitmotif of some new additions to the Archive catalog. These include the (reviewed) John Huston directed Paul Newman bio-western "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean." 

Nick Adams of the television series "The Rebel" stars as the titular Depression Era Public Enemy Number One who is a weak-willed young man in love when we first meet him. Former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley stars as rich girl femme fatale Elaine, who starts our boy on his life of crime before becoming his moll.

These small-town young lovers ala Jack and Diane of the John Cougar Mellencamp song of the same name are dreaming of wedded bliss when Elaine suggests robbing the safe of her father to finance their elopement and subsequent new life. Her method of persuasion includes that Daddy will not prosecute them if they get caught. 

One interesting aspect of this is the ambiguity regarding the motives of Elaine. She seems more interested in escaping a privileged but dull life and in sticking one to Daddy then in becoming Mrs. Public Enemy Number One. 

A reluctant Dillinger goes along; the heist hitting a snag provides him his first taste of clearly liked violence., A subsequent confrontation with a not especially peaceful justice of the peace and his brutish wife turns Dillinger into a rebel with a cause. This also leads to the first of several police chases.

The honeymoon that Dillinger and Elaine are enjoying without benefit of marriage is cut short when the cops knock at the door and begin searching for their ill-gotten booty. Doing this without benefit of a warrant or a warning illustrates how search-and-seizure requirements have evolved since that era. 

Dillinger once again proves himself to be a sap in agreeing to chivalrously take the full rap for the caper. The outcome justifies adding reassurances from a dame or her old man to statements regarding a promise of help from the government and pledges of agreeing to stop before completion if provided oral gratification to the list of particularly big lies. 

Dillinger soon falls in with a bad crowd, who manipulate him just as effectively as Elaine does, This leads to his facilitating a prison break and subsequently going into business with "Pretty Boy" Floyd (Robert Conrad) and "Baby Face" Nelson. By this time, Dillinger is fully feeling the effects of the literal and the figurative hard knocks he is enduring.

Wonderful camp includes Dillinger meeting the brains of the operation, This portion of the film in which the gang plans their next job clearly shows where writers of pulp fiction and B-movies of the era get their inspiration.

Even tastier cheese comes when a sleazy doctor manipulates Elaine into taking morphine so that he can receive payment-in-kind for the procedure that he is performing on an incapacitated Dillinger. 

Dillinger fared better regarding having one of the best ever reasons for not putting a ring on it; this involves reminding how making an honest woman out of his partner-in-crime likely will lead to a long-distance marriage. 

The brilliance of all this is that "Dillinger" use a true story of a good boy turned bad as the basis for the type of social commentary film that addresses youthful offenders and related ills. The chases and gun fights simply makes it fun for the kids. 

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean: Paul Newman in Star-Studded John Huston Bio-Western of Hanging Judge Dispensing Frontier Justice

Warner Archive continues following leitmotifs with two recent releases of docu-dramas about nefarious types. A separate post on the DVD release of the 1965 bio-noir film "Young Dillinger" chronicles the progression of noted Depression-era gangster John Dillinger from lovestruck hick to hardened criminal. Our current topic is the exceptionally remastered Blu-ray of the 1972 bio-western "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean."

Paul "Butch Cassidy" Newman plays the titular self-appointed jurist, who brings law and other elements of civilization to the frontier west of the Pecos River in 19th-century Texas. Comparing that territory to the unsettled land beyond the Appalachian Mountains during colonial days a century earlier provides a good perspective. Fellow Hollywood royalty John Huston directs.

The recent (personally mourned) passing of matinee idol (and gracious man who thanks reviewers for interviews) Tab Hunter warrants discussing his cameo as killer Sam Dodd. Hunter largely is physically unrecognizable under the dirt, hat, beard, and long hair. He is even less recognizable playing a guy who richly deserves hanging. His moment in the spotlight in the form of a voice-over monologue that many characters get is one of the best in the film. 

The Hunter connection extends to his real-life former secret boyfriend Anthony Perkins playing Rev. John LaSalle. Perkins utilizes his quirky persona well in portraying this frontier minister. 

The overall theme of this movie seems to be that any similarity between it and the adventures of the real-life Bean are purely coincidental. 

The following YouTube clip of a SPOILER-LADEN trailer for "Bean" nicely shows that westerns are much more than cattle stampedes and high noon showdowns. ​

"Bean" opens with a here come da judge moment in the form of the man of the two hours riding into Vinegaroon, Texas to provide his form of justice. His first case literally puts him in the position of judge, jury and executioner. 

Newman soon better demonstrates his well-known gruff charm on settliung down a little bit in several senses of the word and setting up shop in the local saloon/brothel. He further makes this place a shrine to stage actress Lillie Langtry with whom Bean is obsessed.

The Langtry element is especially strong in one segment in which Bean travels to the big city of San Antonio to see her perform. She further has a perfect role in the epilogue that cleverly wraps up our story. 

The early scenes also establish the unorthodox method that Bean uses to hire marshals. His issuing a judicial decision in what can be considered the Hos for Bros case has an element of the vintage television dramedy "Here Come the Brides." Future "Dallas" star Victoria Principal plays the booty call babe who becomes the lady of every evening after a form of shotgun wedding that involves a Mexican standoff. 

Other exceptional casting has Roddy McDowall playing to type as perpetually uptight and peeved attorney Frank Gass with a valid claim on what essentially is an actual Beantown. Bean soon putting Gass in accommodations that only provide the bare necessities sets the stage for conflict that ultimately leads to a dramatic confrontation.

More fun comes via having Ned Beatty play barman/right-hand man/father figure Tector Crites. One spoiler is that none of the frontier justice that Bean dispenses includes making Beatty squeal. 

Huston has a cameo as real-life historical figure John "Grizzly" Adams. The amazing on-screen chemistry between Huston and Newman makes their interaction one of the best scenes in the film. Adams becoming unbearable is a perfect touch.

Stacy Keach gets to play in the role of fictional psychotic gunfighter Bad Bob, He does make Tector squeal, and his literal calling out Bean for a showdown proves the truth of the saying "no guts no glory."

The combination of the richness of the copious source material and the talent of the "who's who" (and other stars) cast mentioned above is why "Bean" succeeds so well. The real Bean is larger than life, the wild west is the stuff of which fiction is still made of 150 years after this era, and Texas has an equally grand tradition of tall tales. This become actual gold in the hands of masters such as Huston and the worst form of fool's gold in the hands of one-trick ponies such as Seth MacFarlane, who rely on crude humor. 

'Corvette Summer' DVD: Mark Hamill Loses Cherry on Quest to Recover Sweet Car

The Warner Archive DVD release of the early Mark Hamill film "Corvette Summer" makes a PERFECT '70s film available to 21st century audiences. At the outset, this movie that is billed as a comedy is amusing but has the gritty look and dramatic overtone of similarly billed fare of the era. A good example of this is the (soon-to-be-reviewed) Archive release of the Peter Falk "comedy" "...All the Marbles." 

Seeing Hamill play moderately sullen L.A. white-trash recent high-school graduate Kenneth W. Dantley, Jr. is amusing regarding his phenomenal fame as Luke Skywalker. Seeing that he has 321 roles on his IMDb profile compared to Michael Caine having 169 parts listed is amazing. 

The opening scenes of "Corvette" evoke strong memories of the Sid and Marty Krofft live-action Saturday morning series "Wonderbug" for children of the '70s. Newly minted high-school senior Ken and his fellow auto-shop students (including a boy whom a slimmed-down Danny Bonaduce of "Partridge Family" fame portrays) are at a car graveyard looking for a car to spend the year rebuilding. A variation of divine intervention calls the attention of Ken to the titular Stingray, which is minutes away from being flattened. Of course, Ken rescues this piece of junk in the nick of time.

The '80s vibe of these scenes and of the subsequent montage and other action over the next 12 months of reel-time is of "The Greatest American Hero." That one also starts with a father-figure teacher to a group of under-achieving losers taking his kids on a life-changing field trip. 

"Smokey and the Bandit" and "Breaking Away" moments come later in "Corvette." 

Ken experiences the absolute worst nightmare of any new car owner when his wheels are stolen the first time that Teach takes the kids on a field trip to take turns driving the 'Vette on the strip, Ken much later learning more about the circumstances of the theft provides the best twist in the film.

The diligent efforts of Ken to find his baby leads to a tip that put him on the road to Las Vegas; the subsequent multiple ways in which he loses his innocence illustrates the meaning of the term "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." One disappointing aspect of the film for fans with less-than-pure hearts is that this coning-of-age does not include a "Midnight Jedi" experience for Ken. The audience similarly learns that yelling at Ken to use the Jedi mind trick is futile. 

The Sin City adventure begins in earnest when aspiring lady of the evening (and afternoon and morning) Vanessa (Annie Potts) picks up a hitchhiking Ken on the road to Vegas. The best moments regarding Vanessa involve separate occasions on which Ken effectively pays two-bits for services rendered and she literally takes a whore's bath.

The arrival in Vegas finds Ken on his own and looking for his car; the good news is that he has reason to hope for a a reunion; the bad news is that his rite-of-passage includes living rough. His subsequent reunion with Vanessa further makes his life a little better. 

This leads to Ken being persuaded to go over to the dark side; his Yoda not being a righteous dude increases the odds that our boy will not see the light.

This being a '70s film (rather that a light '80s teencom) makes it likely (but uncertain) that the final scenes will be of Ken and Vanessa running out of a Vegas wedding chapel and driving away in the Stingray with a "Just Married" sign on the back of the car and tin cans tied to the rear bumper. The sad truth is that real-life D students with deprived childhoods almost never get Hollywood endings.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

'Elena of Avalor: Realm of the Jaquins' DVD: Disney Junior Version of 'Evita'

The most awesome thing about the August 7, 2018 DVD release "Elena of Avalor: Realm of the Jaquins" is that it follows the grand tradition of introducing those of us without babies and toddlers to the joys of the fare on the Disney Junior cable network. A prime example is LOVING "Puppy Dog Pals" after reviewing a DVD set of that series. The warnings regarding "Pals" is that you often will find yourself singing "pu pu pu puppy dog paaaals" and will have even trips to the grocery store prompt singing "we're goin' on a mission, goin' on a mission; arf, arf, arf, arf." 

The literally and figuratively fantastic worlds of Avalor and titular neighboring dimension Vallestrella alone are amazing. The surprisingly exceptional quality of the DVD images will almost make you want to wear shades while watching the adventures in this vivid universe. 

The accolades for "Elena" includes a well-deserved Daytime Emmy for "Outstanding Casting for an Animated Series or Special." It also has an Imagen Foundation Awards win for Best Children's Programming.

The titular princess rules in the titular fictional Latin American country; she is subject to a legislative branch in the form of The Grand Council that largely is there to curb her enthusiasm. The rockin' Latin songs that every episode features and the adoration for this future queen both within and outside the palace walls evoke strong feelings of "Evita." 

"Elena" saves the strongest star power for the villains. Former Monster-In-Law Jane Fonda voices evil sorceress Shuriki, who is still around after a lore-establishing major beat down at the beginning of the series. Lou Diamond Phillips gives perfect voice to scoundrel/thief Victor Delgado.

"Realm" begins with a special one-hour episode of the same name. The titular creatures who are jaguar/eagle hybrids are native to a dimension that can be considered the realm of Dr. Moreau in that the creatures who inhabit it are natural hybrids of two species. The peabunnies who look like rabbits but have elaborate fanned tails are one of the cutest examples. 

The very cute toddler-friendly action begins with the trio of jaquins who hang with Elena and her cute harmless boy sidekick Mateo the wizard taking a rite of passage test. Success means getting to stay in Avalor to help maintain the peace; failure requires returning to the land of the butterfrogs. 

The expression two out of three ain't bad applies to the text results; the desire of Elena for a second attempt at a trifecta leads to her traveling to the Jaquin home turf of Vallestrella to plead her case to the ruler of that kingdom. The obstacles include the mere presence of Elena violating an isolationist policy that has a valid basis.

The inadvertently triggered threat regarding this sort of a homecoming further justifies maintaining a strong border. The cooperative effort that puts right what once went wrong shows the value of international cooperation.

"Three Jaquins and A Princess" pays honage to the '80s Disney film "Three Men and a Little Lady." A variety of circumstances lead to Elena younger sister Isabel watching over a trio of Jaquin eggs, The triplets being preemies leads to comic chaos as Isabel tries to prove that she can handle these adorable flying infants. The lesson this time is that there is no shame in requesting help.

The third but not least full-length episode is equally cute. Elena defies The Grand Council and goes center-of-the-earth deep undercover to fulfill what she considers her royal duty. Mateo comes along in a manner that fully makes him sidekick Ron Stoppable to Elena in full Kim Possible mode. 

Disney supplements the above offerings with 10 bonus shorts that presumably are filler on Disney Junior. The two main categories of these mini-episodes are "Adventures in Vallestrella" and "Scepter Training with Zuzo." Paws down the best in the group is the fairly self-explanatory "Peabunny Boogie."

Monday, August 6, 2018

'Bitter Money' DVD: Wang Bing Doc. on Chinese Workers in Clothing Factories

The Icarus Films August 7, 2018 release of the 2016 Wang Bing documentary "Bitter Money" takes the subgenre of films about the conditions in the Chinese sweat shops that produce clothing to a fascinating new level. The intimate portraits of the shamefully exploited workers in the 18,000 clothing factories in Huzhou, China makes every viewer with a heart feel very guilty about finding values at the Gap.

"Money" goes beyond (reviewed) fellow Bing documentary "Three Sisters" in that the experience is much broader than the lives of natives of rural China. The former tells the stories of the human subjects in the  larger context of the global garment industry. 

Viewers who are familiar with the work of Bing and/or the theme of "Money" literally and figuratively know where things are going in opening scenes of two teen girls in rural China discussing government records that do not reflect their accurate ages. 

Akin (pun intended) to the absent father in "Sisters," the girls in "Money" soon board an incredibly overecrowded train to begin factory jobs, Their discussions with their future co-workers provide subjects and audience members insight into the lives of the folks who likely make at least one article of clothing that you are wearing.

On arriving in Huzhou, the girls move into a shabby firetrap that serves as dormitory for the  factory workers. If one of these dumps has not already made international news for rapidly burning down and killing 100s of people trapped inside, it is only a matter of time before such a tragedy occurs.

Watching a shirtless chubby man still badly suffering from the heat is one of many images that illustrate the poor environment,. Seeing a married woman who merely is trying to operate her sewing machine having to deal with a creep persistently hitting on her adds another dimension to the film.

Learning that the workers are paid per completed item, rather than hourly, is not surprising. The clearly unreasonable production quotas are a little more shocking. Seeing employees called into work at the last minute in the middle of the night is even worse. 

The most compelling subject is young factory worker Ling Ling. This woman who does so much for such little compensation also must deal with an abusive spouse. The most powerful scene in "Money" has Ling Ling in the small store of her husband demanding money and having him repeatedly threaten her with a beating as his entourage and the camera crew look on. This man goes so far as to directly plead his case to the camera following this confrontation.

The more relatable aspect of "Money" is the impact of the work on the subjects. Many of them seem resigned to a life of barely getting by, others have unrealistic dreams of upward mobility, and some are fully delusional regarding living large. 

Necessary constructive criticism must be viewed in the context of the documentary genre. Staying completely true to the form requires not editing the footage. However the 2:43 run time alone suggests that Bing documents too much. An example is that it does not seem that excluding a roughly five-minute scene of a card game on the floor of a train would have lessened the impact of the film.

The 16-page booklet, which includes a well-written essay by film critic Aaron Cutler, that Icarus includes provides interesting background information on both Bing and the film. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

'Baja' On Demand: 'Saved By the Bell' Post-Adolescent Mexican Adventure

The best thing about the Gravitas Ventures road-trip comedy "Baja," which is a new On Demand and Digital HD film, is that it greatly exceeds limited expectations. What is anticipated to be a film-school quality movie with flat acting turns out to be an oft-amusing interesting story by writer-director Tony Vidal. 

The "Saved By the Bell"/"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" vibe begins 22 year-old sporting-goods store management trainee Bryan being a relatively chill Screech. He lives in his childhood home and is a day away from beginning his mission of driving the $500,000 RV of his parents from San Diego to the titular resort destination. 

As often is the case in "Bell," the Zack Morris of "Baja" instigates the primary action. Trust fund baby/party animal Todd roars into the store on his motor bike and begins his campaign of getting Bryan to stand up to those on whom he depends for his income and his housing.

The boys soon run into Todd friend Jessica, who is a Jessie type neurotic film student, and her "Kelly" friend Lisa. Pretty dark-haired Lisa spends her days tending to her abusive needy mother. 

Todd uses his metapowers of persuasion to convince Bryan to take a detour and to take him and the girls along for the ride. Todd needs to make a run for the border to seal an important deal, Lisa wants to reunite with her long-lost father, and Jessica is coming to shoot an important project for school.

Discovering contraband in the storage space and a stowaway in his bed commences the amping up of the anxiety of Bryan and triggers much of the hilarity that ensues in the film.

The gang ultimately finds itself trying to pull off a comically absurd scheme effectively to get Bryan to the church on time and to ensure that Todd goes home with all of his appendages intact. Of course, these meddling kids almost get away with it but things still work out in the end and everyone both learns an important lesson and ends up with the love of his or her life.

Too especially cool aspects are how Vidal gives Todd a look at "Christmas Future" and temporarily turns this standard U.S. comedy into a telenovela. 

It is equally cool that Vidal reminds us of the awesomeness of '80s teencoms. It is nice that some people still make 'em like that. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

'French Kisses' DVD: Films Short on 'L'Amour Homosexual

The TLA Releasing DVD release of "French Kisses" provides a good chance to see a variety of styles and themes related to gay boys (and men) in love. These shorts also support the theory that the best movies are the ones with the strongest live-stage vibe.

The films about teen boys have their merits that extend beyond seeing seeing attractive young guys either often in deep thought or extreme joy. They reflect the angst that most boys who like boys experience when they discover that aspect of themselves. Mainstream cinema increasingly addressing this theme reflects its importance in society.

The films that focus on males who are adequately physically developed to shave at least every other day shows the wisdom of not sending in a boy to do the job of a man. In the case of the selection in "Kisses," the movies with the more mature themes in every sense have the most depth and the most compelling stories.

"Herculaneum," which is a  highly symbolic title, arguably is the most relatable film in the set. It revolves around two 30-something guys who repeatedly hook-up through a web-based cruising site. The largest theme is the disparity that often exist regarding the attitude as to a sex act, especially when it comes (no pun intended) to gay men. No one should expect that a casual encounter will lead to a long-term relationship, but what is merely a bit of fun to one guy may have even a little more significance to the other.

The real truths come out in the climatic (pun intended) scene in "Herculaneum." Our boys finally are enjoying the intimacy of sharing a bed for the night after having at least two home runs. The pillow talk includes learning basic information such as the professions of the men that typically is shared before the genitals of one person are inserted in the orifice of another. A related aspect of this is the reasonableness of the expectation that a man whom another man allows him to penetrate him in the most intimate manner possible will have lunch with the pentratee.

The next most relatable movie is "Ruptures," This one initially seems to be a documentary by and about 20-something Gabriel largely is about relationships in the context of the relationships of his peers.

A "chance" encounter with ex Andre while these guys were boys in Brazil dramatically shifts the narrative in every sense of that term. Gabriel literally turns the camera on Andre to ask about his feelings regarding their relationship; the gist is that Gabriel hurts this nice guy, real bad.

Gabriel falsely stating that the camera is off allows the audience to witness the sex, lies, and videotape associated with the reunion of the young lovers. we further witness Andre turning the tables on Gabriel.

Most of us lacking personal experience regarding the final film in the set is a good thing. An evening in which a middle-aged man host a younger man for dinner proves that visits like that are fun until someone ends up duct-taped on the floor while the other guy tries to break into your safe. The surprising part is that this is in not the end of this tale of a rent boy turned rough trade.

A teen experience of a friend of a friend (REALLY) shows that such occurrences relate to some. The price that this closeted high school boy pays for bringing a hookup home while his parents are out for the evening includes the trick (pun intended) of being left tied naked face down on the bed in the master bedroom and the house being robbed. A valid perspective regarding this is that something that is devastating if it happens to you can be hilarious when someone else is the victim.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Kisses" is welcome either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy,