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Friday, December 7, 2018

'Can't Hardly Wait: 20-Year Reunion Edition' Blu-ray: Under-rated John Hughes TeenCom for the '90s

Mill Creek Entertainment goes above-and-beyond regarding the October 30, 2018 "Can't Hardly Wait: 20-Year Reunion Edition." Merely releasing this 1998 John Hughes style summer teencom allows many of us who passed on this under-rated semi-precious gem in the theater, premium cable, and (most-likely) the DVD bargain bin at Wal-Mart to experience it. Second, Creek beautifully remasters the film and provides fun extras that include a 2008 10-year reunion in which writer-director team/work spouses Deborah Kaplan and Harrry Elfont, the casting director, and stars and supporting characters discuss the fun and love associated with making the film.

"Wait," which roughly runs in real-time, begins with the graduation ceremony at upskcale suburban Huntington Hills High. A panning camera eavesdrops on the typical gossip among the graduates. The main topics are the seemingly inevitable guy who is completely naked under his graduation robe and cheerleader/homecoming queen Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love-Hewitt) breaking up with long-term football-stud boyfriend Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli). The graduating seniors also discuss the upcoming evening gathering at the home of "Girl Whose Party It Is." 

Love Hewitt and Facinelli provide a sense of the Hughes-caliber stable of current and future young stars. We also get Ethan Embry of personal '90s fave teencom "Empire Records" as moderate achiever/everyteen Preston Meyers; he attends the party that quickly goes out of bounds with best platonic friend/cynical bitch Denise Fleming (Lauren Ambrose).

Preston wants to kiss the girl in the form of declaring his unrequited love for Amanda and at least get to first base before leaving the next day. Of course, many obstacles stand in his way. 

Ambrose "Six Feet Under" co-star Freddy Rodriguez plays Jock #3. Like most supporting characters, he gets his hilarious moment to shine. In this case, it is wonderful exuberance regarding upcoming sex with his girlfriend. We also get duped "Exchange Student" having an equally hilarious conversation with Preston. 

Seth Green plays wigger Kenny "Special K" Fisher, who is a pale red-head acting as if he is straight outta Compton. Kenny adds a particularly strong "American Pie" vibe in the form of desperately trying to lose his cherry that night.  Sadly, there is no cougar on site to help out in that regard.

Genius bullied nerd William Lichter (Charlie Korsmo) rounds out the group. He and his two "X-philes" buddies attend the party for the sole purpose of getting epic revenge on Mike for four years of intense physical and emotional bullying. William undergoing the rite of passage of having his first beer is his hilarious moment. A story in the reunion special about Korsmo being cast as Charlie is particularly interesting and shows how "Wait" may have been an entirely different movie.

William is one of the more interesting characters in that a mutual lack of interest often prevents even those of us with above-average academic records  from getting to know the Sheldon Coopers in our class. William letting himself be a teen does wonders in that regard. A related lesson is that the excitement of graduation and the party that eventually ends re-introduces an element of the reality that bites. 

The Hughes element begins with the teen stereotypes, which include "Reminiscing Guy" and "Yearbook Girl" (Melissa Joan Hart) , that are funny because they are true; it continues with a look at the impact of high-school graduation and the entertainment value of a completely bonkers teen party. We also get the aforementioned epilogues in the form of the day after those festivities. 

Giving Hughes his due requires commenting that Kaplan and  Elfont do not deliver the same level of depth; nothing approaches the essay and other insights of "The Breakfast Club," but we are reminded of our younger days in which we knowingly and unknowingly make fools out of ourselves and in which the nature of a relationship can dramatically change during a drunken evening only to have that magic quickly fade. The better news is that that bonding does have a residual effect.

The other special features include "Life of the Party," which has the cast discuss the appeal of teen movies. We additionally get deleted scenes and a "I Can't Get Enough of You Baby" music video that includes scenes from the film.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

'The Third Murder' DVD & Blu-ray: Japanese Academy-Award Winning Psychological Legal Thriller

The Film Movement November 13, 2018 separate DVD and Blu-ray releases of the 2017 Japanese courtroom drama "The Third Murder" provides particularly strong proof that the best modern films come from overseas. This is not to mention that New York Times ​Critic's Pick "Murder" meets the Movement standard of being a film that can be remade word-for-word and shot-for-shot in the U.S. and still make perfect sense. 

Movement is giving American audiences another treat by theatrically releasing "Shoplifters" by "Murder" director Hirokazu Koreeda in the not-too-distant future. IMDb describes that one as "a family of small-time crooks take in a child they find in the cold." That story makes that film more representative of the family dramas for which Koreeda is best known.

The six Japanese Academy Award wins for "Murder" further reflect the quality of the film. These versions of Oscars are for Best Film, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Editing. 

The following YouTube clip of the official U.S. trailer for "Murder" provides a good sense of the compelling drama and the stellar performances that warrant the hype for the film. This promo. additionally provides a sense of the exceptional cinematography of the movie that REQUIRES buying the Blu-ray version.

The mastery of "Murder" begins at the outset. Although the opening scenes seem to leave no doubt that ex-con/factory worker Misumi is guilty of the slaying for which he is awaiting trial, the facts that emerge throughout the film show that things are not as they seem. 

High-powered criminal-defense attorney Shigemori soon figuratively and literally enters the picture to help prepare for the trial of Misumi. The defendant has already pleaded guilty to a charge of robbery-murder related to killing the victim in the course of stealing his wallet. The frustration of the defense counsel relates to Misumi changing his story a few times in the course of the proceedings against him.

The rest of the backstory is that the father of Shigemori is the son of the judge who makes Misumi a guest of the state regarding a 30 year-old murder. The nature of that crime is increasingly shown to have relevance regarding the current charges. 

The direct and indirect  evidence that emerges in the weeks before the trial gives Shigemori increasing reasons to have reasonable doubt regarding the nature of the killing and the culpability of his client. These new facts including indications of collusion to an undetermined extent between Misumi and the wife of the factory owner. Even then, the proverbial smoking guns may lack the believed importance. 

Things are further kept  in the family when the teen daughter of the factory owner states that she has relevant information. This ties into the relationship between Misumi and his largely estranged adult daughter and the impact of the career of Shigemori on his 14 year-old daughter.

Doubt further relates to "Kung Fu" style wisdom that Misumi shares with his dream team. This includes his statement that some people never should have been born; that declaration not having the assumed importance is very consistent with the spirit of "Murder."

All of this builds to the climax of the trial, which provides plenty of courtroom drama. The pragmatic outcome validates the impression of traditional court system that is presented throughout "Murder." The impact of this includes providing good reason to not trust what even seems to be an entirely voluntary confession.

The literally bigger picture relates to "Murder" presenting a variation of arguably the most famous Japanese movie other than "Godzilla." "Rashomon" centers around four conflicting accounts of an incident. Just as is the case in "Murder," each of these tales has an element of truth.

All of this amounts to "Murder" being a compelling film with strong doses of social commentary and thought-provoking philosophy.

As is the case with every selection in the Movement Film of the Month Club (which are available to the general public), "Murder" is well paired with a short film. Movement aptly describes "A Gentle Night," which as the Best Short Film winner at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, as follows. "In a nameless Chinese city, a mother with he daughter missing refuses to go gentle into this good night."

The extras are a making-of "Murder" feature and "Messages From the Cast" of that film. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

'Ghostheads' Blu-ray: We Ain't Afraid of No Fandom

Old Lime Productions shows the big boys how it is done regarding the 2016 documentary "Ghostheads," which IMDb perfectly describes as "a look at the intense fandom for the ("Ghostbusters") media franchise." An interview with producer Tommy Avallone regarding his related film "Bill Murray Stories" reinforces that ​the guys behind the camera put their heart and soul into this film about folks who devote a great deal of their time and income celebrating the 1984 comedy and its sequel.

A personal perspective is owning all three films on Blu-ray. a long-discontinued deluxe collector's edition of the complete animated series being a desert island set, and recently buying a toy model of the Ecto-1 vehicle from the franchise. This is on top of regularly referring to not crossing streams, to dogs and cats living in harmony, and to telling a powerful evil entity who thinks that you are a god that you are one. 

Additionally, a visit to the New York Public Library was a required destination during a Manhattan visit. Telling the lions out front to stay did not elicit any response from the jaded locals. 

The high-quality of the Blu-ray version of "Heads" and the plethora of extras (including a HILARIOUS interview with "Ghostbusters II" star Kurt Fuller) screams for buying this release, rather than watching it on a streaming service that may drop it at any time. Taking shameless commerce one level further, a "Ghostbusters" fan WILL delight in getting this documentary along with the 4K releases of the original films. 

The following YouTube clip of the Kickstarter promo; for "Ghostheads" PERFECTLY captures the spirit and the tone of the documentary. It will make you want to join your local chapter.

One of the nicest things about the profiled heads is that they keep their active fandom in check; none of therm are obsessed with "Ghostbusters" and do not wear their jumpsuits and proton packs on a daily basis. The furthest that some folks take things is to use their replica of Ecto-1 vehicle  as their primary car. 

The sense of moderation continues with one participant commenting that he is in the game for the sense of community, rather than out of love for the films. A man at the other extreme discusses the  films helping him during a very emotional period.

The charitable aspect of the activity is another great aspect of this fandom; we see the local chapters suit and gear up to bring joy to folks who need it, 

It additionally is awesome hearing from director Ivan Reitman, Dan Akyroyd, Harold Ramis daughter Violet, and others involved in the original films share their perspectives and memories.

​The best segments have William Atherton, who plays the uptight bureaucrat in "Ghostbusters," and Fuller from "Ghostbusters II" tell their stories. Atherton shares the public still tormenting him based on that role; his successor Fuller tells a great Bill Murray story in the form of Fuller assuring Murray that Fuller does not mind a particular directed insult and Murray refusing to deliver that line because he wants to spare Fuller the abuse being heaped on Atherton. 

The recent Paul Feig "Ghostbusters" movie gets its due; we see mutual love that extends to Feig flying Ghostheads to Los Angeles for a special event. Feig additionally goes above and beyond regarding helping two fans take their relationship to the next level. 

All of this makes "Ghostheads" a genuine feel-good movie that achieves the documentary ideal of being equally educating and entertaining. You may not be ready to shell out big bucks for a proton pack but definitely will want to join those who do for a party-sized Twinkee. You also will receive confirmation that everyone connected with making the films have enormous regard and fondness for the projects. 

The numerous extras extend well beyond the aforementioned Fuller interview. We get a tribute to a kind and sweet Ghosthead to whom the documentary is dedicated, a music video of the "Ghostheads" theme, and so much more. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

'Rescue Me: The Complete Series' Blu-ray: Hilarious Rude & Crude Dramedy About Lives and Loves of the Men of NYFD

The Mill Creek Entertainment October 23, 2018 Blu-ray release of the 2004-11 Denis Leary dramedy "Rescue Me" continues the solid Creek track record of producing complete-series sets of 21st-century cult classic television series on Blu-ray in time for the holidays. These collector's editions are notable proof of the "you've come a long way, Baby" evolution of Creek from producing basic DVD releases of public-domain content to becoming a first-class distributor of the best fare from this Streaming Age of Television.

The vivid colors and crystal-clear audio of the Blu-ray release does American Film Institute "TV Program of the Year" for 2006  "Rescue" very proud; the serial format, entertaining candidness, and lack of a single dull moment call for a marathon (rather than binge) viewing during the holidays.

The aforementioned cult classics included the (reviewed) release of the edgy Showtime docudrama "Masters of Sex" and the (also reviewed) criminally under-rated ABC neo-modern "Friends" sitcom "Happy Endings." A review of the complete series of the Daddy of all cult-classic sitcoms "Community" is scheduled for the not-too-distant future. Creek is releasing a deluxe Blu-ray complete series set of "The Shield" on December 11, 2018.

Anyone who wants to seem cool is encouraged to give the special offbeat Millennial or Gen Xer in his or her life one or more of these sets this holiday season.

Leary puts his textbook caustic wit and love/hate feelings regarding his Irish heritage to good use in playing veteran New York firefighter Tommy Gavin. An amusing related aspect of this is that Worcester, Massachusetts native/graduate of Emerson College in Boston Leary regularly inserts subtle and not-subtle references to his home turf in this Gotham-based series,

Fellow Massachusetts native Peter Tolan reunites with Leary after their work on the HILARIOUS shorter-run series "The Job," which stars Leary as an NYPD detective who essentially is Gavin with authority to have a gun. Tolan writes all 93  "Rescue" scripts. "Job" star Lenny Clarke also transitions to this series.

Giving the equally witty and compelling "Rescue" a portion of its due is well beyond the scope of a review that strives to remain below novella length; the series is a genuine original that most likely will never have an equal. This is ENTIRELY due to the genius-level dark humor and other quirks that make Leary a god.

The best mainstream comparison is to think of "Rescue" as a working-class version of "Seinfeld" that has the edge associated with being a 10:00 p.m. basic cable show. Thinking of Jerry as a foul-mouthed chain-smoking alcoholic with a fraction of his already limited morals is a good start. A ripped from "Rescue" example would be purposefully setting up George with a transvestite despite that good friend not knowing that she is the girl with something extra.

Centering "Rescue" around a fire station without glamorizing that profession provides insight into a world that is foreign to the general population; setting it in the post-911 era in which life is back-to-normal for most of us provides rich material for an ideal blend of humor and drama. This relates to Gavin and his crew seeing that indisputably tragic event as a figurative get out of jail free card and payment for anything that they desire for a seeming endless period perfectly illustrates this.

A hate-hate relationship with the NYPD is another entertaining theme. Watching Gavin wrangle with the boys in blue until he has a compelling reason to play nice is must-see TV.

The "Rescue" crew is populated with every working-class stereotype; the skill of Leary and Tolan avoids them becoming caricatures.

We have middle-aged Irish middle-manager Jerry Reilly; he is just as profane and dark as the younger guys. His at-home drama includes a gambling addiction and a wife suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.

We also get young dim-witted stud Sean Garrity; he shines early in the season regarding a waxing of his naughty bits going hysterically wrong. It also is recalled that his is the firefighter who gets caught in a compromising situation regarding a cancer scare related to his pride and joy.

One of the more interesting characters is female firefighter Laura, who must endure more than her share of abuse from her peers. Watching her evolve from showing that she can take anything that they can dish out and is not afraid to assert her rights when necessary, to showing that she can dish it out as well, and finally becoming one of the boys is awesome.

Sweet and naive Mike Silletti is a personal fave. His joining the crew at the beginning of the series earns him the name "Probie" and requires that he do all the grunt work. His early shining moments including having to build a deck and provide the beer as his co-workers sit around and give him intense grief. His asserting his rights nicely illustrates how this puppy becomes a full-grown Dalmatian.

The aforementioned naivete also lands Silletti in the most amusing and/or interesting sexual situations. These begin with his initially being clueless about the motive of a man who is strongly pressuring him to go to dinner and even gets him to move in with him after unwanted sexual contact. Our boy then deals with dating an overweight woman with bulimia. A later relationship confirms the thoughts of some viewers and fulfills a fantasy of a subgroup of those fans.

The incestuous home life of Gavin is just as darkly amusing as his work life. His oft on-again-off-again relationship with wife Janet seems to perfectly reflect the lives of literal and figurative firefighter widows, who struggle to maintain the same level of intimacy that their men share with their co-workers.

​The incest extends beyond the merging of work and home life via Gavin not allowing his desire to reconnect with Janet stopping him from "dating" Sheila, who is the actual widow of Cousin Jimmy. This intercourse provides the main context for informing the audience of a Bro Code that prohibits a relationship with the woman of a fellow firefighter.

For her part, Sheila alternates between man and women; her personal drama includes an emotionally and physically abusive relationship.

Teen Gavin daughter Colleen seems to take a cue from Sheila; she also has both boy and girl trouble.

Clarke steals the show as "Uncle Teddy," who provides Gavin plenty of angst. This three-hundred pound senior citizen with the mentality and the energy of a 12 year-old boy has no sense of moderation. Dragging his brother Michael (Charles Durning) (a.k.a. Dad) into his misadventures only fuels the fire from the perspective of Gavin.

Tatum O'Neal adds star power as quasi-estranged Gavin sister Maggie; many of us can relate to this sibling only showing up when she believes that doing so is in her best interest.

The copious special features provide additional reasons to buy the set; the blooper reels are predictably hysterical. We also get behind-the-scenes looks and hear from actual New York firefighters. All of this wraps up with "The Creators' Last Call."

The apt final note to this lengthy discussion of this once-in-a-lifetime (if not longer) series is that is from the last days of the American public having some form of sense of humor. It is very sad that scenes such as one in which dumb Mick Gavin and his crew gleefully hurl rapid-fire ethnic insults at each other to show that it does not mean anything likely would not even be allowed on premium channel series. The best way to put this in context is to predict that the current attitude of Denis Leary is to say get a fucking sense of humor assholes. ​

Monday, December 3, 2018

'The Love Boat' S4 V2: High Fashion, 'Seven Brides' Reunion, and Charo

CBS Home Entertainment awesomely celebrates the best of the '80s with the recent DVD release of "The Love Boat: Season 4  Volume 2." This coincides with CBS releasing the (reviewed) S4 V1 set of "Boat." The broad appeal of this "TV Land" classic about the titular cruise ship (typically) making round-trip voyages between Los Angeles and Mexico include the A-to-Z list celebrities that guest-star each week. Watching the sun and fun while suffering through a polar winter is another strong benefit of the series. 

A special two-hour outing that centers around a fashion show is the most notable episode among the truly strong offerings in this collection from the second half of the fourth season of "Boat." This begins with having virtually every top designer of the '80s (Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein apparently miss the boat) appear and have models show their creations. The A-List includes Halston, Geoffrey Beene, and Gloria Vanderbilt. We further get a cameo by celebrity pianist Bobby Short.

This episode additionally may be the only one that exceeds the three vignettes (four in the frequent 90-minute and two-hour episodes) format. We get a whopping five stories, which overlap to a greater extent than most plots in a "Boat" voyage.

These wonderfully silly stories are exceptionally true to the "Boat" spirit. They include McLean Stevenson (M*A*S*H) as the husband/co-owner of a modeling agency who is clashing with his wife/business partner (Anne Baxter) regarding an age-based decision to have firing a model walk the plank. The rest of the story is that the former "It" girl is romantically involved with Captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin MacLoed). 

We also get Robert Vaughan ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") as a cosmetics company owner who may or may not be looking to hire the current object of his affection. This is not to mention the corporate spy who falls in love with a fictional designer whose sketches he is trying to steal. The fun continues with the daughter and the assistant of another fictional designer striving to prevent Dad from discovering numerous secrets that include their marriage. 

But for the epic quality (including a grand fashion show) of the very-special episode described above, another S4 V2 offering would earn top honors for this collection. This one reunites Jane Powell and Howard Keel ("Dallas") of the 1954 musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." Powell plays the formerly ultra-wealthy aunt of assistant purser Burl "Gopher" Smith; Keel plays a self-made businessman. The ensuing hilarity relates to the Powell character trying to hide her current position as maid to a nasty old woman (Mary Wickes) from both her nephew and current beau. A cute scene in which Gopher and his aunt have a heart-to-heart is an episode highlight. 

The second episode in S4 V2 is notable for including regular guest-star Charo, who (like Florence Henderson) boards "Boat" 10 times. Each time, Charo plays April Lopez, who embodies the professional persona of her portrayor. The broken-English speaking April makes her debut as a stowaway who becomes a professional lounge singer. 

The S4 story "April the Ninny" has this Mexican jumping bean hanging up her guitar to become the governess of the two rambunctious children who are on the ship with their negligent father (Larry Linville of "M*A*S*H). "Return of the Ninny" a few weeks later revisits the root of the Lopez lore. April and the kids come aboard to say goodbye to Dad but end up getting stuck on the ship.

The S4 season-finale is notable for setting the stage for one of the biggest real and reel events in "Boat" history. A romance for a crew member is the beginning of the end for the actor who plays that individual; this relates to a very '80s-style scandal. All of this leads to the very-special S5 season premiere that has the crew sailing to Australia. 

Folks who are old enough to remember the incredible impact of "Boat" on the cruise-ship industry and the personal glee of coming inside from the dark and the cold to watch beautiful people enjoy the good life under bright skies do not need to be sold on these sets; Millennials who spend most of their time inside should trust their elders and believe that this is an ultimate entertaining series and that the S4 V2 episodes are especially good.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

'Robin Williams: Comic Genius' DVD: MASSIVE Released & Virgin Material Becomes A Legend Most

The anticipated response of fans to the aptly titled Time Life 22-disc release "Robin Williams: Comic Genius" perfectly reflects the spirit of Williams and the set.  Said reaction relates to a classic "Mork and Mindy" episode that is not among the equally memorable (including the two-part pilot) offerings in "Genius."

The omitted episode centers around naive alien Mork (Williams) becoming a home shopping addict. A hilarious scene has him frantic to purchase more junk from that service. Straight woman Mindy (Pam Dawber) asks her roomie from another planet if he really needs the item. Williams responds by transforming into his hilariously manic persona and states that he does not "need" it but really really wants it. That is a very valid reaction to "Genius." The larger picture is that the collectibles in the home page photo of this site reflect the lifelong influence of the episode (and Williams) on your not-so-humble reviewer. 

personal memories post a few days after the August 11, 2014 passing of Williams further reflects high regard for that performer. An aspect of this relates to another classic sitcom. A scene from "Chuckles Bites the Dust" in the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" has the minister who is eulogizing the titular clown state that that performer would have hated people to cry and would have wanted them to laugh. 

Having a clear (but not delusional) image of Williams telling fans to not be sad about his passing and then going into an improved bit about having his way with 72 virgins in Heaven both provides solace and makes "Genius" very special.

A still "too soon" aspect of the passing of Williams prevents watching the 2018 documentary "Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind" that "Genius" includes. The excellent hype regarding that film indicates that it is must-see for Williams fans who can handle hearing about his life. 

A "Mork" episode in "Genius" relates to the above. While "Mork Meets Robin Williams" could have been fully played for laughs (and is a bit sappy), it reflects the psyche of Williams that is an early warning of things to come. 

Much of the humor of "Meets" relates to Mork being mobbed because fans think that he is Williams. The meeting of the reel and real Williams has a more serious note in that the actor tells the alien that giving so much exhausts him but that he hates disappointing people. Hilarity soon awesomely ensues when Mork then immediately asks Williams to give. Williams agreeing to do so reflects his character (no pun intended). 

The following YouTube clip of the trailer for "Genius" further reinforces the value of the set. The good folks at Time Life amazingly include clips that reflect most of the range of Williams. We see him go off script and off-the-rails during talk-show performances, do his HYSTERICAL cat marking territory monologue from his 2002 "Live on Broadway" special, gleefully add his own spin on the Bob Newhart telephone conversation bit, liven up award shows, etc.

We also get glimpses of the many celebrity interviews (including Dawber) who express their love for that wild and crazy guy.

The highlights of "Genius" begin with the 24-page "Robin Williams: Uncensored" book that almost is worth the price of the set. In includes publicity and candid photos interspersed with jokes and insights from Williams. We additionally get quotes from his fellow comedians and from Barack Obama. 

The greatness of "Genius" continues with never-released material; examples are a 2007 stand-up performance at the MGM Grand Garden and a Montreal show on the final tour of Williams. We further get a meeting of comic titans in the form of Williams talking with David Steinberg.

The ONLY criticism regarding "Genius" relates to an omission; the seemingly countless clips of Williams making guest spots on television programs includes a special feature on a guest spot on "SCTV." This extra consists of a handful of skits in which Williams performs. We sadly do not get the hilarious "Bowery Boys in the Band" segment that is available on YouTube. The following clip fills that gap.

A clip of Jay Leno in the aforementioned trailer perfectly conveys the appeal of Williams; Leno essentially states that that genius has a charm that allows him to get away with being outrageous. A prime example of this is an interview for a German television program in which the host asks Williams why he thinks that Germany does not have any humor and he responds that it is because they killed all the funny people. This shows that Williams understood context in a manner that sadly is lacking in 2018.

This is not to mention the unparalleled improv. skill of Williams arguably making him the funniest man of the 20th century. Many others can skillfully  deliver their own material or that of their writers; it is hard to think of anyone who both can think as quickly on his feet as Williams and is brave enough to say what comes to mind. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

'The Sound of Music' Live: Celebrating Classic That is 60 Going On 61

A delay posting this review of the Shout! Factory November 6, 2018 separate DVD and Blu-ray releases of "The Sound of Music Live" (SOM) is collateral damage from circumstances beyond the control of Unreal TV. Your not-so-humble reviewer ached to honor the spirit of NBC airing the Julie Andrews film every Thanksgiving, Speaking of NBC, a nice surprise regarding this production is that it is NOT the Carrie Underwood version that that network aired in 2013. This one far outshines that noble experiment.

The bottom line regarding this SOM is that it provides a good chance to compare it to the Andrews version and to compare the film and stage variations of the story. Of course, the movie having Penny Robinson and Spider-Man in it gives it a big leg up. 

The better news regarding timing is that ample opportunity remains to give your favorite theater geek or child the the Shout! release for Christmas or merely to play it on an endless loop to keep the kids out of your hair. The FLAWLESS picture and sound (which look very 3Dish when played on a 4K machine and watched on a 4K set) screams to buy the Blu-ray version. 

British television network ITV aired this SOM on December 20, 2015; the twofer aspect is the broadcast being part of both the holiday programming of the network and a desire to air "event" specials. It is reported that the objectives of creative director Corky Giedroyc include this version being closer to the original stage production than to emulate the movie. An aspect of this is maintaining the political aspects that center around the Nazis increasingly taking over Austria.

The following YouTube clip of an ITV promo. for SOM nicely conveys the spirit of both the production and the literally behind-the-scenes feature on the Shout! release. 

The newer version is entertaining from stem to stern and maintains a perfect pace. Further, hearing all the classic songs provides a warm and fuzzy sense of nostalgia. "How Can Love Survive" is not in the film, but is in stage productions. 

The infamous "you can't face" line in a scene in which Maria receives a reality check continues to amuse those of us who embrace our inner 12-year-old boy. It is a near certainty that EVERY actress who portrays Mother Abess focuses on very carefully enunciating that dialogue, 

Two songs stand out in SOM. The "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" duet of eldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl and current delivery boy/future fascist pig Rolf has good charm and humor. It seems that the affection between those all Austrian kids is genuine.

All the kids steal the show in the first presentation of "So Long, Farewell." They are being sent packing during a party at Von Trapp Haus and perform the song as their exit strategy. The choreography and the performances of the Von Trapp Singers this time actually outshines the film version. It is a bit more lively and amusing. 

Describing SOM as understated is only intended to put it in context regarding the film. Kara Tointon ("Mr Selfridge" and "EastEnders") projects the same level of "Keep Calm and Carry On" emotion throughout; she also has a wonderful voice and seems to literally hit every note but does not put her heart and soul into the songs ala Andrews.

Similarly, Julian Ovendon (Downton Abbey) plays Captain Von Trapp with far less emotion and passion than Christopher Plummer. This sadly prevents feeling any connection with this central character.

As mentioned above, the bigger picture is the rise of Nazism in Austria. Watching this production as an adult in 2018 puts a whole new perspective on the story.

Being an adult in 2018 also screams for escaping the increasing level of fascism and dystopia in the world by watching a new version of a childhood favorite. Keeping the flame alive by watching it with a keyboard kid provides hope that memories of a kinder and gentler period will persist.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

'Dracula A.D. 1972' Blu-ray: Goth Meets Psychedelic

Warner Archive goes all-out Nightmare Before Christmas in releasing a series of Christopher Lee Dracula horror films from Hammer Studios on Blu-ray in this period of Santa and candy canes. These include "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" and "Horror of Dracula." 

The Archive Blu-ray release of  "Dracula A.D. 1972" from 1972 is our current topic. The moderately well-known spectacular film chemistry between Lee and co-star Peter Cushing in all their joint projects is the tip of the wooden stake regarding the quality of this one. 

Virgins in the context of "1972" are in for an exceptional treat regarding this film far exceeding all expectations. Anticipating an entertaining low-budget production that is equal parts cheese and camp leads to sheer delight in finding a well-crafted film with performances that range from good to excellent and a compelling story that makes sense in the context of Dracula lore. The one exception regarding the production values is a spurting blood scene that is reminiscent of a volcano that is a school science-fair project. 

The jazzy soundtrack adds an element of unintended humor; this fast-paced music and the strong early '70s vibe of the film create an expectation of the words "A Quinn Martin Production" appearing on the screen.

The bigger picture (pun intended) is that the usual expert Archive resurrection of classic and cult-classic films for Blu-ray releases makes "1972" seem as if it has risen from the grave and been entirely reborn. It truly looks and sounds mahvelous, simply mahvelous. 

The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "1972" is notable for the opposite reason that the film is must-see. This promo. inexplicably underplays the quality of the movie. The narration is thoroughly cheesy and does not properly showcase the production values; it does include a good sense of the plot and the "Clockwork Orange" aspect of the production.

Our story begins in 1872 as a spokesperson narrates a battle between Dracula (Lee) and Lawrence Van Helsing; this high-stakes confrontation concludes with the defeat of Dracula. 

We quickly jump ahead a century as a group of uninvited hippies are throwing a wild party in the home of a wealthy woman in London; the planning and the execution of the exit strategy of the young people provides good humor.

The plot begins to thicken on group leader/minor league Manson Johnny Alucard convincing the group to participate in a Satanic ritual at an abandoned church. The naivety of the gang prompts them to go along with this plan for what they think is innocent fun.

Young unwitting Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham of "Dynasty") is unaware both that the rite of passage is intended to raise Dracula and that she is his bride in an arranged marriage courtesy of Johnny. Her rude awakening comes when everything gets very real.

Other good humor enters the picture when Dracula acts like an ungrateful genie freed from a bottle; Johnny expects a major pat on the head and barely avoids a kick in the pants. Dracula finding that his fiancee is not his intended does not help matters. 

Current Van Helsing patriarch Lorrimer (Peter Cushing) enters the picture on Jessica acting oddly and expressing an interest in the occult. The police soon coming knocking after finding the mangled body of the most recent Countess Dracula provides the final piece of the puzzle.

Hilarity and horror ensue as Lorrimer confirms to Johnny that you cannot trust anyone over 30. The relentless manner in which the man attacks the boy is highly cathartic for all of us who must deal with Millennials. We also a "Batman '66" style battle as Jessica is lured into a fiendish trap that is designed to get her to the church on time. 

All of this culminates in the predicted battle royale between Lorrimer and Dracula that brings the film full circle back to the beginning. ​

All of the aforementioned aspects of this unexpectedly good film provide a good reminder that horror need not be unduly graphic, exploitive, or otherwise excessively perverse. You simply need good source material and adequate talent on both sides of the camera that can make the story seem plausible. 

'World Without End' Blu-ray: CinemaScope Post-Apocalyptic Epic

The Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the 1956 CinemaScope scifi film "World Without End" once again proves the Archive commitment to releasing DVDs and Blu-rays that fit in awesome leitmotifs. In this case, it is bright and bold CinemaScope scifi B flicks.

The recently reviewed Archive Blu-ray release of "The Queen of Outer Space" starring Zsa Zsa Gabor is another member of the low-budget sci-fi movies section of the seemingly endless Archive catalog. Of course, these releases make a great double-feature gift for fans of good bad '50s scifi movies. A related note is that the back-cover liner notes for "World" state that it is the first CinemaScope scifi thriller.

Warner does its usual excellent job remastering both "World" and "Queen" for Blu-ray. The flawless images are crystal clear and incredibly vivid; the audio literally would allow hearing a pin drop. 

The numerous similarities between "World" and "Queen" are attributable to Edward Bernds directing both; he pulls double duty as writer on "World." A synopsis of the films is that red-blooded American astronauts crash their ship and get tangled up with space babes. This screams for a book on the psyche of Bernds. 

One difference is that "World" has more of an Irwin Allen feel than "Queen." This begins with a strong lost in space vibe, continues with stronger camaraderie among the macho men leads, and includes the stronger cheesy creature element. 

The four astronauts in "World" are on a data-collecting mission when a freak storm near Mars causes their ship to go wildly out-of-control. They awaken to find their vehicle stuck in the mother of all snow banks. 

The formulaic fun begins with the quartet discovering a massive spider web and soon wrangling with the not-so-sweet Charlotte who is its creator. The manner in which the group fends off this comical mutant establishes their approach to defending themselves from every savage foe.

The next adventure is straight out of "Queen." The men in both cases pay the price for lacking the foresight to assign someone to stand watch while the others sleep in their alien environment. The rude awakening in "World" comes courtesy of mutated cavemen.

The ensuing cat-and-mouse game results in the astronauts seeking refuge in a cave; that temporary refuge becomes more permanent on this tactic leading to the group entering the fortified underground world of the civilized inhabitants. This leads to reveals regarding where the space travelers have landed in time and space.

The honeymoon period quickly ends on the guests learning that their very timid hosts are unwilling either to help them repair their ship or use the resources that allow establishing an outpost on the surface. The aforementioned eye candy is some consolation; the new arrivals being far more macho in mind and body than the wimps who rule the place further enhances their status.

Of course, things soon come to a head in a manner that requires that every male man up. This initially leads to a wonderfully campy power struggle. This results in which is a happy ending on the surface (pun intended) but is horribly wrong from a more enlightened 21st-century perspective. 

The happy ending for us higher beings is that Archive allows us the treat of a "World" and"Queen" double feature. They truly do not make 'em like that anymore.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

'In the Shadow of Women' DVD: French New Wave Style Look at Intricacies of Infidelity

The Icarus Films DVD release of the 2015 French drama "In the Shadow of Women" proves that this primarily documentary home-video distributor looks for "innovative and provocative" titles regarding its fictional titles as well. The strong documentary elements of "Woman" make it a particularly apt addition to the Icarus catalog.

The festival love for this future art-house classic include the Best Film honor at the 2015 Athens Panorama of European Cinema and the Best Actress win at the 2015 Seville European Film Festival.

The most overt documentary element in "Women" is central character Pierre being a documentarian whose spouse Manon fills several roles that include researcher and film editor. Additionally, filmmaker Philippe Garrel regularly provides exposition via voice-over narration. Having the camera largely follow the characters around and simply record their conversations and reactions to events further contributes to the cinema verite vibe of the film.

The film being in black-and-white enhances the French New Wave aspects of "Women."

The following YouTube clip of a film festival trailer for "Women" nicely highlights the artistry and overall Frenchness of the film.

The early scenes establish that Mannon working with Pierre is a holdover sacrifice from his days of struggling to establish his career. One reason that the couple still works together is that Mannon sees this as an opportunity to spend time with her husband.

The proverbial fateful encounter that jeopardizes many reel (and real) couples occurs when Pierre stops to help intern/grad. student Elisabeth bring several canisters of film to a parking lot. This leads to an affair that soon leads to indifference and boredom by Pierre, who believes that being a man entitles him to have an affair.

The response of Manon to the changes in Peter include starting an affair of her own. The response of Pierre to learning about that extra-marital activity is resentment and rage despite his knowing that Manon knows of his relationship with Elisabeth.

The "B Story" in the film revolves around Pierre and Manon interviewing a man about his experiences with the WWII French resistance for a film that Pierre is making on that topic. The drama related to that extends well beyond the subject being particularly personal to Pierre.

All of this leads to a somewhat surprise ending that shows the need for reflection and the related value of deciding what you will sacrifice for something that you think will more than offset that consideration,

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Woman" is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, November 26, 2018

'Benji's Very Own Christmas Special' Blu-ray + DVD + Digital: Santa Delightfully Goes to the Dogs

The Mill Creek Entertainment November 6, 2018 perfectly remastered Blu-ray + DVD + Digital widescreen release of the Emmy-nominated December 1978 television special "Benji's Very Own Christmas Story" provides a great reminder that cute and charming holiday specials outshine darker modern fare. "Story," which does not involve the titular dog desperately wanting a BB gun for Christmas, also continues the solid run of Creek releasing "Benji" fare.

A shameless commerce note is that any child or child-at-heart is sure to love finding a bundle of the four Creek "Benji" releases, three of which nicely tie together, under the Christmas tree or the Hanukkah bush. The reviewed "Benji" has our hero rescuing two children from kidnappers. The also reviewed "For the Love of Benji" has the dog star travelling to Greece with the former abductees. The (review pending) "Benji Off The Leash" moves things in a "Touched By A Pooch" direction by having our shaggy star help people who face proverbially daunting challenges. 

The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Story" describes the concept of the special and offers a glimpse of the rollicking fun of the story.​

Our story begins with Benji and his human co-stars Cindy Smith and Patsy Garrett from "Benji" and "Love" on a European publicity tour. We catch up with them in a charming Swiss village (which looks spectacular in Blu-ray) where Benji is scheduled to be the grand marshal of a Christmas Eve parade. The action commences when the trio meets the Kris Kringle (Ron "Fagin" Moody) who is going to drive the one-horse open sleigh in which they are going to ride. One fully expects that everyone will be laughing all the way. 

Kringle tells a portion of the story in asking his passengers to visit some fans who cannot attend the parade because they are working. The group agrees under the condition that they are back in time for the parade.

The grand tradition of abducting innocents (e.g., "The Polar Express") to visit the workshop of Santa continues with Kringle escorting his guests through a Narnia-style portal that transports them to where he and his elves make the magic happen.

This portion of "Story" includes an equally entertaining and educational segment in which Kringle utilizes clever exposition to show Benji et al. the images that many countries have of the man whom whom Americans call Santa. This ends with a truly delightful surprise.

The aforementioned rest of the story is that the Santa alleges that an injury prevents him from going on his appointed rounds. He already is preparing the elves to fill in but asks his new friends to help out as well. This portion of the program provides a reasonable believable explanation for Santa being able to deliver so many toys on Christmas Eve.

The inevitable happy ending comes via a clever twist at the end of a rousing musical number that puts the talents of Moody to good use. He is wrapping up an energetic song-and-dance routine when the final piece of the puzzle falls into place. This leads to the characters (and the audience) being in a better place than they were when the "Story"commences.

The special features include the cute "Benji at Work" television special. This one has '70s child-star Adam Rich host a behind-the-scenes look at our star making a movie. We additionally get a photo gallery of our pin-up pooch.

The bigger picture this time is that "Story" is the perfect holiday treat for what ails us. It reminds us of a kinder and gentler time in which reel and real people were pleasant and smiling; this was an era in which speaking your mind did not prompt counter-protests, scorn, and ridicule.

The world was not especially harmonious, but people at least were mostly courteous and did not declare war following even minor offenses. It even was a time that anyone could eat at any desired restaurants with confidence that he or she would not be ousted and/or harangued by fellow diners. 

The final comparison is that the term "whatever happened to peace, love, and understanding" is a lyric from an awesome song in the era of "Story" and a modern sense of what did happen to our regard for those who views clash with our own. Few can argue that this is one case in which the past is superior to the Christmas present. 

'La Familia' DVD Excellent Depiction of the Meaning of Family

The Film Movement October 2, 2018 DVD release of the 2017 drama "La Familia" provides a twofer regarding the always excellent foreign movies in the Movement catalog. This winner of two "Best Film" awards at the 2018 Miami Film Festival both presents a globally related story and provides American audiences a look at a world about which they know very little if anything.

The following YouTube clip of the official U.S. trailer for "Familia" illustrates the aforementioned aspects of the movie.

The early scenes center around the shockingly brutal life of 12 year-old Pedro in the slums of Caracas. The interactions between him and his fellow almost feral friends are brutal and shockingly crude.. A sadly relatable aspect of this is that it mirrors the life of inner-city kids in the United States. This is down to young kids recklessly playing with guns. 

An especially violent and emotionally disturbing confrontation ends in the accidental death of the malfeasor. Pedro catches a break in the form of his single father Andres discovering the fatally injured boy.

Immediately realizing that the incident puts an almost literal target on the back of Pedro prompts Andres to rush home and to just as quickly get his son to grab a few things and run. Typically of 12 year-olds everywhere, Pedro does not grasp the gravity of the situation. He properly notes that the victim is the aggressor but does not understand that that is irrelevant.

Most of the rest of "Familia" introduces Pedro to the life of his father. The real wake-up call comes when the the boy learns about the daily life of this man. The first stop is at the abode of a woman who seems to be a regular booty call., The not-so-warm welcome shows Pedro that adults have it rough, 

The next stop is the home of the wealthy woman who is having Andres doing painting. This lady of the house is perfectly represents the stereotype of the rich and/or famous. She and Andres discuss the work, and they haggle over his compensation.

Our pair then literally gets down to work. It is clear that Pedro dislikes this taste of the real world. The boy makes matters worse by generally whining and by nagging Andres about bringing him home. The dual frustration related to the haranguing involves Pedro creating the situation that requires staying on the run and his not understanding why he must be nomadic.

The subsequent events that further establish how hard Andres works to support Pedro also shows the rough life of working-class people in Venezuela. This involves working multiple service-industry jobs for little pay and less stability.

Filmmaker Gustavo Rondon Cordova literally and figuratively brings things home when Pedro returns to the scene of the crime. The news of the events since the unfortunate incident equally shock Pedro and the audience. 

Movement supplement "Familia" with the always well-paired bonus short that accompanies Film Club selections. The connection between "Les Miserables" and author Victor Hugo extends well beyond sharing the name of his arguably best-known novel. 

The common elements between"Familia" and "Miserables" begin with a street altercation in a rough part of town quickly going south. The 21st-century aspects of this tale of a rogue cop who exceeds the limits of his not-so-ethical partners include a drone capturing the incident.

The strong dystopian notes of both films reflect  modern poverty and the street justice that prevails. Th additional message in "Miserables" is the well-known 21st-century truth that a policeman no longer is your friend.