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Saturday, November 3, 2018

'Nightwing' & 'Shadow of the Hawk' Blu-ray Double Feature: '70slicious Tales of Terror on Indian Reservations

Mill Creek Entertainment embraces the true Halloween spirit regarding the October 23, 2018 Blu-ray double-feature release "Nightwing" (1979) and "Shadow of the Hawk" (1976). The common theme of both is terror on American Indian reservations. The other shared element is both shoot-on-location films greatly benefiting from the crystal-clear BD images showcasing the beauty of the Southwest and the the Pacific Northwest respectively.

"Nightwing" awesomely melds old-school horror with social commentary that remains relevant nearly 40 years after its theatrical release. The surprisingly strong pedigree of this entertaining B-movie includes director Arthur Hiller ("Love Story"), prolific composer Henry Mancini (original "Pink Panther" films), and star NIck  Mancuso. The A-list continues with the film being based on a story by well-known thriller noveilst Martin Cruz Smith, who additionally is a "Nightwing" screenwriter. 

The IMDb description "killer bats plague an Indian reservation in New Mexico" reflects the traditional "animals gone wild" element of "Nightwing." Hiller and Smith stick to the script by having the horror begin with discovering mutilated horses with mysterious wounds. That brings reservation lawman Youngman Duran (Mancuso) literally and figuratively into the picture, 

The tried-and-true continues with scientist Phillip Payne (David Warner) arriving on the trail of the aforementioned air-borne threat. He has been tracking the caravan of that threat to homeland security from south of the border and has dire news for the locals. The immediate potential for harm extends to two-legged animals; the bigger picture is that this swarm is using the area to fuel up before going to more populated feeding grounds. 

Of course, even Duran does not initially believe Payne but changes his tune after a comically campy attack on a group of not-so-good Christians. It is equally predictable that the rest of the population remains skeptical, 

The climax regarding this comes down to Duran going on a risky mission that runs the dual risks of his becoming a bride of Dracula and having his plan blow up in his face. The one certainty is that he is in deep guano. 

The new-school elements revolve around issues related to tribal politics; relative traditionalist Duran already is at odds with the leader of a more prosperous neighboring tribe that our hero believes has sold out to the white man. Discovering a valuable natural resource on the land of the tribe of Duran at the same time that the bats show up further complicates matters. 

The fun of "Nightwing" relates to the variation on man v. weaponized spiders, or bees, etc. These films provide plenty of thrills and chills while making us wonder if mosquitoes ever will become more of a threat than being a highly annoying insect.

"Hawk" has a more eerie feel. Jan-Michael Vincent stars as fully assimilated American Indian Mike who is enjoying an office job and good lifestyle when his grandfather Old Man Hawk (Chief Dan George) literally goes off the reservation to track down Mike and convince him to return to his roots. The rest of the story is that Hawk is tasked with keeping a legendary witch and her "monkeys" at bay; Hawk being convinced that he is about to die prompts a mission to get Mike to take his place regarding this effort. 

This reunion leads to Mike abruptly leaving a swinging bash at his bachelor pad to escort his grandfather home. The aforementioned minions are in hot pursuit and drive the pair (as well as the love interest who largely is along for the ride) off the road and into the woods. 

The eerie moments include Hawk and Mike each having several disturbing visions; we further get Mike engaging in a highly symbolic mission that culminates in an equally symbolic battle. 

The fun of "Hawk" begins with the generation gap that the roughly 50-year age difference and greatly divergent world views exaggerates. The extra enjoyment relates to the American Indian beliefs/superstitions. This is not to mention the '70slicious fight scenes.

The bottom line is that they do not make 'em like these anymore. The cast and crew all know their stuff; the premises are entertaining, and the gore is minimally, 

Director Tommy Avallone Tells Tales of Making 'Bill Murray Stories' Documentary

A telephone conversation with filmmaker Tommy Avallone the day before the October 26, 2018 VOD premiere of his (reviewed) Gravitas Ventures documentary "The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons From A Mythical Man" aptly was mythical. "Murray' and an earlier Avallone joint "I Am Santa Claus," which chronicles the off-season lives of men who play St. Nick, show that this guy has equally strong imagination and curiosity levels that he exercises in a manner that enriches audiences in the same manner that Murray popping up at a kickball game or a college party enhances the lives of those who are there.

The titular urban legends in "Murray" are seemingly purely random visits by the titular star of "Saturday Night Live" (a.k.a. "SNL") and cult-classic '80s film comedies such as "Stripes" and the original "Ghostbusters" films. Hearing about those encounters puts the idea of "Murray" in the head of Avallone; obtaining the coveted toll-free telephone number that Murray uses in lieu of an agent or a manager created hope that the man the legend would participate in the film.

First Contact 

Scenes throughout "Murray" depict Avallone either rehearsing a message for the voicemail of Murray or recording and deleting one. We also see his mother get into the act. This illustrated the challenge of summoning Murray; he is like a cat in that he ignores those who attempt to entice him but literally or figuratively jumps in the laps of people who ignore him. 

Of course, speaking with someone who had the highly sought-after number required asking Avallone to share it, His denial of that request was less surprising than if he had divulged that information. Avallone added that "I can't tell you how I got it; it was a friend of a friend." Avallone emphasized that that friend was not a celebrity. 

Avallone added that he regularly called the number for a year-and-a-half to no avail; these calls continue at less frequently.

Truth or Fiction

Avallone stated that a reported Murray sighting that he included in the cold open of "Murray" was the first one that he heard. He then speculated that it was partially true.

This tale involved Murray coming up behind a man who was using a urinal at a bar; the rest of the story was that Murray put his hands over the eyes of the man. Avalllone opined that Murray did walk up to someone at some time and put his hands over the eyes of his "victim."

This led to discussing people making up Murray stories in reliance of limited documentation of many true one. Avallone provided a perfect response in stating that "I know people who do that; I don't like that. I am a documentary filmmaker; I like the truth."

This final word on this topic was that "What's great about the Bill Murray stories is that 99-percent of them are true."

Murray on Murray

Avallone shared that he has no indication that Murray has seen the film; he added that Bill's brother Joel has seen it and likes it a great deal. The documentarian added that he likes to think that Murray would like "Murray."

Avallone expressing the fantasy that Murray would show in the back of a theater and give him a thumbs up during a post-screening discussion expresses the thoughts of Murray fans everywhere. 

Another expressed desire regarding the impact of "Murray" was that viewers "start to think more like Bill Murray." he added that Murray reminded him of Santa in that "he comes in and leaves them smiling." 

Waldo on Weed 

Only knowing that the latest project of Avallone is titled "Waldo on Weed" prompted asking if the title character was either a cannabis expert or a stoner. It turns out that Waldo is the son of a friend of Avallone; the title refers to the boy using cannabis oil to treat cancer. 

The statements that "Brian and Waldo are really fun characters," and that the film is about "what a father would do to save a son" provide to good reasons to discover where''s "Waldo" when it is released.

Final Word

The similarities between Avallone and Murray extend beyond sharing a great offbeat sense of humor; they both passionately pursue their bliss and seek to provide the rest of us with the same. There is no doubt regarding the truth of the tale that they both awesomely succeed. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

'Lost Child' DVD: Gothic Tale From the Trailer Park

One reward of more than a decade of reviewing home-video releases of indie films is watching already loved studios and distributors expand their catalog beyond their original scope.

Philadelphia-based Breaking Glass Pictures is a prime example. The recent Breaking DVD release of the 2018 drama "Lost Child" reflects this and provides a good companion to the (reviewed) Breaking August 2018 DVD release of the day in the life of teenage redneck film "Moss." These edgy southern-fried films are a great expansion from the edgy more substance than skin gay-themed films that Breaking continues adding to its catalog. 

A perfect example of the not-so-missing link in this evolution is the Breaking April 2017 release of "Fair Haven." This reviewed film has Tom Wopat of "The Dukes of Hazzard" playing the widowed father of a kind and gentle farmboy who returns from conversion therapy that does a great deal of harm and no good. 

The following YouTube clip of the Breaking trailer for "Child" highlights the Blu-ray worthy cinematography that features the Ozarks. This promo. additionally conveys the Southern Gothic vibe of the film.



"Child" opens with a seemingly obligatory scene for "you can't go home again" films about a boomerang kid who is a native son or daughter returning after leaving in disgrace years ago. The first images either are a bus rolling through the bucolic landscape of the area or get right to that public transportation pulling up to the center of the arena of action. The main character disembarks and gets into the old pickup of the ride to the childhood farm or shabby house in the woods that has a key role in the underlying angst.

Our tortured soul this time is recently discharged soldier Fern. She is returning to Clampett country after teen trauma that results in her moving out of the family home and then enlisting in the army. She moves back into the family house in the wake (no pun intended) of the death of her father, This relocation ties into a mission to find and care for her brother Billy. 

Life experiences taking their toll and general unease related to being a woman living alone in a cabin in the woods are enough to put Fern ill at ease. A neighbor with good intentions strongly urging her to get either a gun or a dog and the man down the street looking like he is straight out of "Deliverance" contribute to the tension.

Fern meeting the titular dirty but civilized 10ish boy Cecil in the nearby woods is the final element that puts all the pieces in place for "Child." The lad ain't talkin' but agrees to come home for vittles and to spend the night. A one-night stand returns to haunt Fern when she learns that the day job of bartender Mike is a social worker. Fern not wanting to subject Cecil to the evils of a foster home prompt her to agree to let him stay with her a bit longer.

Fern mysteriously getting sick and literally aging overnight prompts consulting a country doctor. This licensed professional attributing this condition to the presence of Cecil indicates this his method of providing healthcare does not significantly differ than that of Granny in "The Beverly Hillbillies."

The essential folklore is that a malevolent forest-dwelling spirit takes the form of a young boy and convinces a good Samaritan to take it in so it can do plenty of harm. Odd behavior by Cecil proves that he is own worst enemy.

Meanwhile, Fern reuniting with Billy involves the most surprising and disturbing twist in this extremely gothic film. Not only is he not glad to see his sister, he considers her a primary root of all past and present evil.

A familiar aspect of this is one sibling running off and not only failing to protect a brother or sister but leaving that person behind to contend with all the highly toxic family drama. In many respects, this is analogous to an alcoholic wanting to put things right with someone whom that drunk seriously hurt. The intent is noble and the need for redemption is strong, but related righteous resentment remains high.

The stress of Fern leads to drama with Cecil that supports the theory that he is not like other boys; this leads to the lad experiencing dreaded trauma. It additionally involves Fern playing Nancy Jo Drew by pursuing a lead regarding the identity of Cecil. 

All of this culminates in conclusions that make sense for a story set in a rural area that has a large of population of poorly educated people raised on superstition and harsh discipline. Breaking deserves strong credit for bringing this tale that does not sensationalize this culture to us city folks.

The quartet of DVD extras is equally consistent with the art-house style of "Child." Each special feature examines an aspect of the making-of the film. These include the production "process," the "story & performance," the Ozarks, and writer/director Ramaa Mosley. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

'Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection' DVD: 'The Facts of Life' For the '90s

Shout! Factory releasing "Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection" on October 2, 2018 is the latest example of Shout! awesomely furthering the Unreal TV mission of saving classic and cult-classic sitcoms from obscurity. The scope of this set including EVERYTHING from "Bliss" to "Vegas" allows once-and-future fans and newbies to the halls of Bayside High to fully embrace the Zack Attack spirit of the series, Shout! releasing comparable complete series sets of virtually every program that this post mentions provides a sense that that distributor is the perfect home for "Bell."

Shout! notes that the presentation order of the episodes has the seal of approval of producer Peter Engel. Further, it seems that the episodes are the original broadcast versions. 

The main thing that earns "Bell" its place in pop culture history is the perfect blending of elements that begin with arguably a happy accident, The majority of the cast first appear in the 1988-89 Disney Channel series "Good Morning, Miss Bliss." The intended focus of that series is the titular eighth-grade teacher (Hayley Mills of "The Parent Trap") in Indianapolis. In true Disney-style, John F. Kennedy Junior High is clean and lacks any of the ills that plague most junior highs and high schools,

The intended formula is an "A Story" that centers around the personal and/or professional life of Carrie Bliss; the "B Story" revolves around a tween problem of a student, who almost invariably finds equal parts solace and solution in the figurative arms of Bliss. 

The pilot illustrates both the aforementioned formula and the reverse lesson of most sitcoms that the adults provide most of the appeal in the series. Bliss starts a romance at the same time that cute and charming scamp Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) faces his summer-camp girlfriend being a JFK student. The "sit" that provides the "com" this time is that eighth-grader Zack told the girl that he was in the ninth grade. 

The classmates of Zack include nerdy Samuel "Screech" Powers (Dustin Diamond) and BAP Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies). Richard Belding (Dennis Haskins) is their principal. 

The talent of Disney for finding cute young male actors with the exuberance of puppies on caffeine pills pays off large both for Gosselaar and for tweens, teens, and tweens and teens at heart all over the world., This demographic adores Goselaar, who can be considered the older brother of  Ross Lynch of the Disneycom "Austin and Ally." Early clips of Lynch show that he has the same charm and enthusiasm as "Bliss" era Gosselaar. The parallels continue with both actors subsequently literally showing in mind and body that they are all grown up.

Disney not renewing "Bliss" sets the mental gears of Engel in motion; he sees perfect symmetry between the "Bliss" kids and the dearth of Saturday-morning fare that targets the aforementioned 12-and-up demographic, This leads to transferring all of the aforementioned characters except Bliss to Bayside High in southern California.

The copious insight in the numerous special features include the intended homage to classic sitcoms in "Bell." Casual observance indicates that this show is a modern-day "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis." The central everyteen embroils his oddball outcast best friend in schemes to make high school easier and/or best his rival for the hot girl. We learn that Engel actually has "The Phil Silvers Show" (a.k.a. "Sgt. Bilko) in mind with charming conman Zack lavishing praise on authority figure Belding while running circles around him. 

The aforementioned appeal of Gosselaar results in Zack immediately establishing himself as the center of "Bell" and the BMOC at Bayside. Introducing jock/Army brat A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) brings in a Reggie to give "Archie" serious competition before those boys figuratively (if not literally) kiss and make up later in the series, The two other new kids on the block are girl next-door/object of the affection of both Zack and Slater Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) and literal girl next-door/feminist/scholar Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley).

Both the high school and "College Years" of the gang largely focus on comic variations of teen and post-adolescent angst. We have boys making fools out of themselves in elaborate efforts to get girls, boys seeking to take rivals out of the picture, trying to pass driver's ed., facing tough teachers, outlandish schemes to earn money to conceal "sins," rifts between friends, etc. 

The broadest insight that Engel provides in special features in "Collection" is that "Bell" relatively accurately depicts the high school experience. A stated objective is to support viewers who either are in high school or are anxious about what they will face on achieving that milestone. The effectiveness of that effort including most of the cast portraying his or her actual age evokes thoughts of Gosselaar once dissing fellow teen series "Beverly Hills 90210" by commenting that he was not 30 when he was in high school.

The comments of Engel triggered the thought that kids often are included in a series to provide a relatable character for their real-life counterparts; this led to memories of being a prep. school boy whose academic career paralleled that of the older "Facts of Life" girls. That particularly enhanced the experience of watching  the high-school years of Blar and Jo. 

The parallel continues with "Life" undergoing significant S2 changes that set the tone for the rest of the nine-year run of that show. 

Like "Life," the high-school years of "Bell" are the best. "Jessie's Song" that has the titular over-achiever develop a hilariously dramatic addiction to caffeine pills is cemented as a top-ever campy TV episode. We also get Zack using his powers (no pun intended) for good rather than evil when he learns that Kelly cannot afford to attend the prom. This arguably is when Kelack becomes destined for the "Wedding in Vegas" around which the 1994 TV movie that wraps up their story is centered, Zack having to become an American gigolo with Gilbert Gottfried playing his pimp is one of several ways that that film supports the policy that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. 

The comprehensiveness of "Collection" allows the enjoyment of "Bell" to extend beyond seeing Zack proportionately physically and emotionally mature; the detailed episode guide facilitates picking and choosing your favorite episodes and/or eras. The aforementioned bonus features, which include interviews with most cast members, provide additional perspective that evoke happy thoughts in current fans and will encourage new devotees to embrace the spirit of the series. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

'Black Sails' CS Blu-ray: Michael Bay Tales of 'Treasure Island' Pirates of the Caribbean

The Lionsgate October 16, 2018 complete-series Blu-ray release of the lush and lavish 2014-17 Starz series "Black Sails" is the perfect way to get in the mood for lush and lavish Oscar contenders that are sure to hit the big screen in December. A related note is that the beauty and the well-orchestrated complexity of the 38 episodes in this four-season series require savoring it as much as "binging" on a gourmet meal ruins the experience and makes you feel unwell after the experience. 

The two Sound Editing and one Special and Visual Effects Emmys that "Sails" wins illustrates that executive producer Michael Bay puts his talents for grandeur and explosions to good use. Shooting the series on location further enhances the episodes. 

The first bit of shameful commerce is that the incredible audio and video of the Blu-rays and the copious truly special features (more below) make choosing this set over watching it on Starz or streaming it a no-brainer. A related note is that these attributes make this roughly $50 set a perfect gift for anyone who likes period pieces, pirates, and/or the Caribbean. Although stealing it from a brick-and-mortar store honors the theme of "Sails," such behavior is completely unacceptable in 2018.

The first confession is admitting to never having read the source material of this prequel to the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island. The only recognized name in "Sails" is that of a pre-Long John Silver, whose fame extends to having a descendant  with a successful film career. The second confession is that "Sails" not being conducive to binging limits the scope of this review to the first two seasons; the final two will be watched in the next several weeks.

Our tale of the courage of the fearless crew that pirate captain leads begins in 1715, which is roughly 20 years before the time period of Island. The "civilized" world allows pirates to rule New Providence Island and the capital of Nassau. There is prosperity and more peace than can be expected in a place that operates in this manner.

The pilot episode perfectly sets the tone and hooks the audience; Silver soon shows himself to be the Dr. Smith of the merchant ship on which he is a crew member. Rather than help his fellow seamen fend off an attack by dread pirate Captain Flint and his pirates of the Caribbean, Silver hides in a locked room. While there, Silver obtains paper with the information that Flint is seeking.

Silver subsequently further keeps up with the Smiths in falsely asserting to the pirates that he is the cook, which is a valued position on any ship. This leads to Silver literally jumping ship to join the crew of Flint. A later incident shows why Jewish people label pork as trayf. 

The pilot also educates viewers about the rules of law that govern pirates; Flint soon learns the harsh reality of any pirate captain being like a prime minster in that he serves at the pleasure of the crew and can be voted out anytime. A related aspect of this is that pirates are compensated in the form of a percentage of the booty that they plunder. Raids such as the one in which Silver is the catch-of-the-day that do not net any treasure result in Flint facing a challenge to his leadership.

This law of the sea is fascinating because it illustrates both that not much has changed in 300 years and that the means by which formal governments operate is not much different than the rules that pirate ships follow. The response to the new candidate for captain include below-decks politics that are equivalent to back-room deals. The more entertaining part is the false accusations and a confrontation that many politicians clearly would relish.

After surviving the challenge to his leadership, Flint once again devotes most of his attention to pursuing his personal white whale. The object of his obsession is the Urca de Lima, which is a ship that Flint believes is heavily laden with gold. The contribution that Silver can make regarding that quest is the only thing that has him avoid walking the plank.

Meanwhile back in Nassau, 18th-century Ivanka Trump Eleanor Guthrie is operating the brokerage business of her absent father, The basic system is that Eleanor buys the cargoes that the pirates liberate from their former owners; Guthrie then sells the goods. The risks to her continued good fortune include the sins of her father and a push to terminate the rule of the pirates. 

A whorehouse with relatively liberated employees is the third side of the commerce triangle in Nassau; the first season shows how all three elements inter-relate and make strange bedfellows.

Speaking of prostitution, one of the best S1 scenes involves a negotiation for a recreational facility during the 18th-century equivalent of dry dock. One spoiler is that this discussion prompts the fun of chanting "Fuck Tent! Fuck Tent! Fuck Tent!" This also involves a cute scene in which an invitation for a "quick fuck" clearly involves pup tents but does not necessarily include the filthy whore.

We additionally get flashbacks to the aforementioned civilized world; these provide context that include showing how becoming a pirate makes Flint an entirely new person in more ways than one; this insight includes other members of the "Sails" crew. 

The pursuit of the Urca is central to much of the S1 action; we also see how the related issues of maintaining peace and conducting commerce in Nassau create strange and shifting bedfellows; a notable aspect of this is a pirate crew learning the true meaning of the expression "don't fuck with me, boys." Another scoundrel who cannot produce a strong and sturdy mast discovers that Hell hath no fury like a prostitute left unsatisfied. 

S1 ends on a terrific note that demonstrates the true meaning of the expression "so close, yet so far away."

As other reviewers note, "Sails" fully finds its sea legs in S2; it seems like deja vu all over again when we see pirate captain Charles Vane raid a merchant ship. The defeated crew peacefully surrendering creates an expectation that Vane is going to do things the easy way. We soon learn that Homie the pirate don't play that. This leads to Vane even more aggressively seeking dominance over the pirate community. 

S2 additionally provides the second chapter in the pursuit of the Urca treasure, which aptly becomes a bargaining chip in pursuits of happiness. The S2 finale aspect of that aptly is pure gold and heightens excitement regarding S3. 

The new girl in town also becomes a bargaining chip on a few levels, She is being held hostage for ransom but also is a valuable peace offering in events that determine the future of Nassau. This prompts a sort of a homecoming in which more secrets are revealed and regarding which it seems that thieves are the only one with any honor. All of this (and several other developments) offer Bay a chance to stage the epic battles for which he is so well known. Other mayhem comes in the form of slit throats and orchestrated "accidents."

Students of history and folks who use a Google search as a half-assed form of cheating know the outcome of the power struggle for New Providence Island; "Sails" shows that getting there is all the fun.

The bigger picture this time is Bay putting a more realistic spin on "The Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise and "The Pirates of Penzance" operetta sparks interest in early 18th-century world history. Everything is even more connected in that era than it is now, and we see how things evolve. We further learn that there are at least 50 shades of gray between the titular canvases under which the pirates sail and the white sails of the "good" guys.

The Blu-ray for each season has copious spectacular special features that demonstrate the love of the cast and crew. The S1 bonuses focus on creating the series and the oft-mentioned historical context. This culminates in several S4 roundtable features on topics that include "The Legends of Treasure Island" and "Fearless Fans."

This incomplete discussion of "Sails" proves that there is more than enough reason to get on board regarding the series; it truly is a unique series with feature-film quality acting and cinematography.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

'Key Largo' Blu-ray: More Proof that Bogie and Bacall Had It All

The Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the 1948 Blu-ray release of the 1948 noir classic "Key Largo" provides a chance to add it to your collection of perfectly remastered films (including the recently reviewed "Dark Passage") starring Mr., and Mrs. Humphrey Bogart. The magic of Blu-ray allowing custom-made marathon viewings validates that the sexual chemistry between Bogart and Bacall equals that of Affleck and Damon. One difference is that no pop songs celebrate the magic regarding Batt.

This John Huston film further is notable for having a particularly strong Orsonian quality is that it has the look and themes of a Welles films. This is on top of the live-stage feel that is attributable to "Largo" being based on a play of the same name.

The opening scenes prove that the reputation of Bogart precedes him. The audience believes that his character Frank McCloud is involved when the local po po stops the bus on which he is traveling to search for less than honest injuns who are fugitives from justice. We quickly learn that McCloud is as clean as a brothel on a Tuesday afternoon.

The real fun begins when a hostile motley crew provides McCloud an unfriendly welcome on his arrival at a tourist hotel on the titular Florida island. This shady lot includes drunken floozy Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor in an Oscar-winning role). Dawn aptly steals the show in a later scene in which mob boss Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) literally makes her sing for her liquid supper. 

The reception thaws on the group learning that WWII vet McCloud is there to visit the family of a man who served under him and who died in combat. Bacall plays Nora Temple, who is the widow of the dead soldier. Lionel Barrymore shows much of his broad range in playing the wheelchair-bound father of the man/hotel owner James Temple. The beloved James additionally is the unofficial mayor of Key L:argo. 

McCloud shows bad timing for him and perfect timing for the audience in arriving hours before a highly symbolical hurricane is due to hit the island. Everyone in front of and behind the camera plays his or her part especially well regarding the increasing barometic and other pressures ahead of the weather event, 

Things escalate to the point of Rocco holding McCloud and the Temples hostage as Rocco, his thugs, and his moll both wait out both the storm and the arrival of a business associate.

Huston PERFECTLY stages the confrontations between Rocco and McCloud and/or Temple. These typically include exchanging philosophies.

The foul weather ceasing does not coincide with the storm blowing over. McCloud and Rocco still have a score to settle and Nora needs to discover if she can connect with her "Nick" in time. 

The above discussion of "Largo" provides many reasons why this Blu-ray is worthy of inclusion in your film library. The broader perspective is that the film is a perfect example of how great they used to make them and of they don't make 'em like that anymore. 

It is difficult to imagine assembling a dream team that is comparable to a director like Huston working with such a talented cast that both can give nuanced performances and play off each other as well as this group, 

Friday, October 26, 2018

'Bad Ronald' Blu-ray: We Need to Talk About Ronald

The Warner Archive October 9, 2018 Blu-ray release of the 1974 TV Movie "Bad Ronald" reminds us of the Golden Age of such guilty pleasure gems. This one has the bonus of the still-modern element of having a psycho covertly living in the walls of your home. This cult status also favors buying the Blu-ray, rather than relying on almost surely spotty inclusion on a streaming service, 

This variation of "Psycho" begins with the titular excitable high-school senior (Scott Jacoby) enjoying a birthday party with his domineering mother Elaine (Kim Hunter). She is sharing her high aspirations for her boy when he cuts things short to visit the object of his affection over the objection of his mother. 

The reception that dorky Ronald receives on showing up when the girl of his dreams  and the other cool kids are swimming is either hilarious or heartbreaking depending on your perspective, It does prove that kids say the cruelest things.

Ronald is fresh off this experience when a subsequent encounter is the straw that broke the camel's sanity in that push comes to fatal shove. This sends Ronald into the arms of the one woman who loves him; Elaine responds in a manner that leads to Ronald simultaneously breaking the records for the amount of time that a teen boy spends locked in the bathroom and goes without changing his tightie-whities.

The plot thickens when Ronald ventures out one day to find Elaine gone and the house empty of all furniture. This changes when Mr. and Mrs. Wood move in with their three teen daughters. Fun casting related to this includes having ubiquitous '80s actor Dabney Coleman play Mr. Wood.  We also get Ted Eccles of kidcom "Dr. Shrinker" fame as Duane Matthews, who is the object of the affection of one of the Wood girls and the brother of the homicide victim, 

A combination of Duane telling the Wood family the history of the house and of Ronald increasingly haunting the abode particularly puts the younger members of the family ill at ease. A relatable aspect of this is the many times throughout our lives when we are certain that we had now missing food or that an object seemingly has been tampered with.

The aforementioned modern aspect enters the picture in this regard. One sign of our Dystopian Days is the regular urban myths and facts about a former owner of a house restricting his residence to a concealed area out of economic necessity and/or a disturbed mind. The really scary part is that this often can continue for extended periods before being discovered.

The tension nicely builds as Ronald increasingly loses his grasp on reality in proportion to becoming obsessed with the girls next door. Things proverbially hit the fan when the mice going away prompts the cat to prey. A highlight of this is Duane ending up in a position that will delight folks who fall within the overlap between people who enjoy S&M and "Shrinker" fans.

Things rapidly wrap up in an inevitable manner the removes any doubt regarding the erroneous belief of Elaine that Ronald is destined to be a brain surgeon. ​

Thursday, October 25, 2018

'Egon Schile: Death and the Maiden' DVD: A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man

The Film Movement October 9, 2018 DVD release of the 2016 Austrian biopic "Egon Schiele: Death and The Maiden" is particularly special for many reasons. The first accolade relates to this DVD being released a couple of weeks before the centennial of a notable date in the life of early 20th-century Viennese artist/Bohemian Schiele.

Another basis for praise is that Film of the Month Club selection "Egon" represents two elements that make Movement spectacular. It is right at home with the other biopics of European figures in the Movement catalog; the bigger picture is that it is one of the compelling foreign films that makes Movement a leader in releasing such films in North America. The ongoing copying of reviews of Movement releases from Unreal TV 1.0 and new posts such as the one to the Movement section of this site illustrate this grand tradition. 

The several 2017 Austrian Roma Gala awards generally speak to the quality of "Egon." The two Best Actress awards that Valerie Pachner wins for portraying Wally Neuzil, who is a muse/lover of Egon and is the model for the titular painting, reflects the quality of the performances by the entire cast. 

The well-executed contrasting time shifts are another element that makes "Egon" effective. The narrative begins on a gray and dreary 1918 day in Vienna. Gerti finds her brother Egon and his wife Edith extraordinarily ill in his stereotypical run-down artist's garret. A doctor is sent for just ahead of the action moving back eight years.

The incredible contrast between the appearance and circumstances between Egon in 1910 and 1918 makes one want to find out what occurs in the intervening 8 years; writer/director Dieter Berner does an excellent job filling in that gap. We meet younger Egon shockingly painting a gleeful nude 16 year-old Gerti. The bad touching that this sibling revelry includes is completely playful.

The circumstances of the conversation introduce an odd element to Egon that she is too young to join him and his artist friends for an evening at a club at which naked performers stage tableaus. This outing introduces the audience to exotic (and erotic) Moa Mandu, who the first in the string of models that Eqon seduces into his studio and his bed.

The strongest sense of the Bohemian lifestyle soon follows as Egon, Gerti, Moa, and the artists with whom Egon has formed a cooperative go on an extended vacation at a rented home. Folks who have tried a comparable social experiment can relate to the jealousies and other resentments that ensue. This is not to mention the additional elements of siblings testing the limits of their modern relationship and Egon not realizing that being a kept man is a privilege, rather than a right. 

The ongoing pattern of shifting between the 1918 present of the film and the past continues with the narrative returning to badly bed-ridden Egon. The audience learning the tragic news garners tremendous sympathy.

The story advances to Egon meeting the very independent and modern Wally, who truly is his match. This coincides with the rising fame of the latter, It also is the beginning of the end in many ways as The Great War becomes an increasing strong presence in the lives of our characters. 

Seeing how the war affects Egon both provides fascinating insight into his character in both senses of that term and highlights the contrasts of the impact of the war among those with some form of elite status and ordinary boys who become cannon fodder. One aspect of this is the degree to which a man who can avoid many of the horrors of war decides to do his duty.

The war years also are among the most interesting in the personal life of Egon. By this time, the audience knows how the relationship between him and the sisters who obtain great entertainment from living across the street from his studio. This also puts a seemingly harsh attitude in 1918 in perspective,

The roughly final 15-minutes of "Schiele" occurs in 1918; the excellent instincts regarding this extend beyond allowing the audience to see how the principals get there and the bases for their principles. This alone makes the film particularly powerful; the epilogue really drive the point home.

The broadest perspective regarding all this that makes Egon a perfect subject for a film set in the 1910s is that those eight years of his life perfectly reflects the times. This includes seeing how a radical move by his father shapes his psyche for better and for worse. 

Movement enhances the "Schiele" experience by choosing particularly wisely regarding the short film that accompanies every Club selection. The artistic sketches that comprise the animation in the 2017 "Nothing Happens" tell the tale of townfolks who gather for no apparent reason other than a desire to go along with the crowd. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

'Lifetime Double Feature' DVD: Two More Yuletide Yarns About Christmas Business Making Strange Bedfellows

Lionsgate separately releasing two double-feature DVDs of 2017 Lifetime Network Christmas movies on October 23, 2018 provides both a chance to be alternative on Halloween and to start getting in holiday spirit. Watching all four on one day provides a chance to relive memories of marathon viewings during family reunions at which these movies are the only thing that everyone likes.

This post "Wrapped Up in Christmas" and "Snowed Inn Christmas" follows the recent review of the "A Very Merry Toy Store" and "Four Christmases and A Wedding" release.

One spoiler for folks who lack time to read these articles because they already are frantically decking the halls and searching online (R.I.P. Toys R Us) for the hot new toy is that the general theme of all four films is the same; the distinguishing characteristics are the actors of the '80s and '90s who star in them and the nature of the conflict of the couple that we know will end up together in the end, 

The pattern begins with the movie being set in roughly mid-December. Our central character is a 30-something woman who is experiencing work-related stress that brings her in conflict with the 30-something man of her dreams and/or bane of her existence.

This Sam and Diane directly or indirectly clash until the woman finds a solution that makes both of them happy. This leads to a Christmas period kiss at or near the end of the film. The lesson for unattached folks who are looking for love in all the wrong places and in too many faces is to just wait for Christmas and find a bone of contention with spouse material,

Starring Kim "Tootie" Fields of the '80scom "The Facts of Life alone earns "Wrapped" most-favored nation status. Fields plays Courtney, who is the busy executive/mother who is the sister of shopping mall executive Heather (Tatyani Ali of the 80scom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.") The '80s fun continues with having Jasmine Guy of "A Different World" play their mother. Joseph Marcell of "Prince" plays their father,. 

The conflict this time is that the loud and flashy boss ('80s personality Jackee Harry) is conditioning Heather getting a long-coveted promotion on Heather implementing a Christmastime plan to cancel the leases of low-performing mall tenants to clear the way for more profitable stores. 

Brendan Fehr of "Roswell" playing disillusioned former attorney/current aspiring artist Ryan who is helping his surrogate mother Aunt Patty at her toy store in the mall predictably puts that shop in the crosshairs of Heather. The clever resolution is notable and should inspire real-life malls in this era in which even Nordstroms are closing their doors. 

The very romcomcentric companion movie "Snowed-Inn Christmas" has Bethany Joy Lenz of "One Tree Hill" play online journalist Jenna Hudson. Andrew Walker of "Radio Active" plays her polar-opposite co-worker Kevin Jenner. The conflict this time is a "Glengarry Glen Ross" competition in which it is heavily implied that first prize is continued employment and second prize is a chance to try writing for another webzine.

As the title implies, an element of "Snowed" is the couple getting stranded at a boutique hotel in Santa Claus, Indiana en route to their assignment a week before Christmas. Indications that Mr. and Mrs. Clause are their hosts both adds a particularly strong Christmas note and ensures that a Christmas miracle will occur.

The focus on thawing relations is especially strong in this one; Jenna learns a great deal about why Kevin lacks sentiment and seeks thrills. He sees the uptight "witch" from the office let down her hair and show her human side. This culminates in a grand gesture that helps seal the inevitable deal.

As the above musings demonstrate, the appeal of both films (and of the two in the other set) show the broad appeal of this fare, provides good escapism, and makes one think that a Christmas miracle is not entirely impossible. ​

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

'Exorcist II: The Heretic' Collector's Edition Blu-ray: Linda Blair and Richard Burton Raise Hell

"Exorcist II: The Heretic' star Linda Blair panning this 1977 sequel to the enduring 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist" in a new interview for this fabulous remastered Collector's Edition Blu-ray of "Heretic" from the Scream Factory division of cult film god Shout! Factory justifies following suit. HOWEVER, it is apt that the devil is in the details.. Blair simply neglects to put the John  Boorman ("Deliverance") film "Heretic" in proper context.

The Shout! goodness includes separate Blu-ray discs of the original 117-minute film and the 102-minute hone-video version. Watching the longer one is recommended. 

Before delving further into giving the devil his due, it is important to alert readers to a limited-time offer. Folks who directly order "Heretic" from Shout! will get a free 18X24 poster that features the Scream artwork for the film. The caveat is that Shout! has a limited number of this posters and cannot guarantee that you will get one. 

Returning to our main topic, wisdom of Jon Stewart during his "Daily Show" era includes that film versions of television programs generally fail because the premise of the program is initially deemed to not merit a movie. Similarly, sequels would be the first entry in a franchise if  they were as good as the original. Imposing a younger-sibling expectation that the second film will be as outstanding as the older brother or sister further strongly disadvantages a "II" film, "Heretic" is not great but does not warrant the scorn that Blair expresses. 

The other bit of context that Blair glosses over is that co-star Richard Burton does his usual spectacular job to an extent that Blair states that she is star-struck in her scenes with him. Having Burton star is "Heretic" is a far cry from Jamie Kennedy taking over for Jim Carrey in "The Son of the Mask" or having William "Herman" Ragsdale step in for Andrew McCarthy in the under-rated "Mannequin" franchise. 

The premise of "Heretic" is that Father Philip Lamont (Burton) is on a mission from God to preserve the reputation of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) regarding the classic epic death of Merrin in "Exorcist." This includes determining the circumstances of that demise and proving that Merrin is not one of the titular blasphemers.

Meanwhile apparently dispossessed teen Regan MacNeil (Blair) is living at a center for troubled children that Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher) operates. The primary objective of that therapy is to free Regan of the demons that still plague her. 

Blair rightfully criticizes Boorman for adding a tap-dancing Regan into the film mid-production, but she fails to put another silly aspect of "Heretic" in context. Much of the action stems from tech. of Tuskin that combines hypnosis with a mind meld in that a second person can share the experience of the hypnotized person.

This scene (and subsequent use of the device) reflects the emphasis on "sci" in sci-fi during the dawn of the computer era of the mid-70s. The brave new world equally fascinates and scares the American public during this period, 

In this case, Lamont (who is not a big dummy) witnesses the titular rite that is a central element of the first film. He further gets images of Africa that include the POV of a alocust. That sends that soldier of Christ to The Dark Continent in search of Kokumo (James Earl Jones), whom Lamont thinks can help. 

Meanwhile. Regan regresses to a point that she is a threat to herself but not others; she simply is experiencing hellish PTSD.

The real fun begins when Regan and Lamont reunite in New York; an irresistible force compels a not-so immovable object in the form of Lamont. The power of Satan compels him to return to the scene of the crime with Regan in tow.

The entertaining ensuing scene seems more like something out of the Leslie Nielsen "Exorcist" spoof "Dispossessed" than a horror film. We get a "Patty Duke Show" moment as demon Pazuzu uses a carrot (rather than a stick) to try to lure Lamont over to the dark side, Part of this mission involves making Regan disheartened. The result is good campy fun. 

The not-so-fatal flaw throughout "Heretic" is that it tries too hard to distinguish itself from its older brother; the possession element is less strong, and the music is not nearly as haunting as the timeless soundtrack the first time around. Even a scene at the iconic stairs from "Exorcist" lacks the same impact. 

At the risk of seeming like a titular non-believer, "Heretic" provides a good second chapter in the "Exorcist" trilogy but would have succeeded even better (and been better received) if it had been produced as an independent homage.

In addition to the Blair interview, Scream gives us audio commentary by Boorman and project consultant Scott Bosco. We also get an interview with editor Tom Priestly.