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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

'The Death of Stalin' Theatrical/DVD 'Veep' Russia Style

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Watching this Region 2 DVD requires an international DVD player in the United States and many other parts of the world.]

A desperate desire to see the 2017 "ripped from the headlines" dark political comedy "The Death of Stalin" by Armando Iannucci of "In the Loop" and the HBO comedy series "Veep" prompted the desperate measure of ordering the DVD of this film from the U.K. The good news is that it seems that this "funny because it is true" film finally is getting a limited U.S. run.

The best aspect of this "Strangelove" for the 2010s is that it is one of the bravest movies to come along in recent years. Pulling back the curtain in a manner that shows national heroes as buffons mostly by recounting their actual exploits is only the tip of the iceberg. Out of respect for this boldness, this review is going to explicitly state that Iannucci knows that he goes to far in the verbal and physical humor but clearly does not give a fuck.

The fun extends beyond providing the most entertaining history lesson ever. "Stalin" is the equivalent of an ideal extended pilot of a Russian version of "Veep," complete with idiotic incompetent bickering bureaucrats. The major difference is that titular pol Selena Meyer can only cause the career of a vexing rival to go up in flames.

The following YouTube clip of the official "Stalin" trailer  (complete with profanity and dark humor) provides a strong sense of the aforementioned greatness.

"Stalin" opens with the titular future corpse holding a high-level meeting with the Russian equivalent of a presidential cabinet. This elite group includes "Number 1" Georgy Malnkov (Jeffrey Tambor), future "Captain" Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and diplomat Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin) of "cocktail" fame.

Seeing these agents of harm acting like political leaders across both time and the world is only the warm-up act. The action soon shifts to a concert at which the aforementioned officials comically scramble to stage a repeat performance (complete with a captive audience) in response to a demand from Stalin. The general idea is that the boss may not always ship you to Siberia, but he always is the boss.

This command performance leads to Stalin experiencing the highly embarrassing episode that ultimately leads to the titular demise. The antics in the interim include a "Weekend at Bernie's" moment and learning that a particular purge has negative consequences regarding the current situation.

Entertainment that is highly relatable in 2018 comes via the offspring of Stalin. His daughter is a clearly favored child who belongs to his inner circle, and his son is a loose cannon black sheep.

The titular demise drives the remainder of the film as the job of planning the funeral is humiliatingly assigned, implementing reforms being hindered by someone effectively not receiving the memo, and power grabs leading to hilarious confrontations and more humiliation. In other words, business as usual regarding running a nation.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Stalin" is strongly encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, March 19, 2018

'Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in' S3 DVD: Here Come Lily Tomlin

Time Life once again awesomely socks it to us with the March 20, 2018 DVD release of the 1969-70 S3 of the unique "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." The S2 review provides a good introduction to this phenom of a Swinging '60s borderline burlesque sketch-comedy show that features both Hollywood royalty and young lions.

One surprise is that second-season newcomer Dave "Reuben Kincaid" Madden does not return for the third season despite "The Partridge Family" not premiering until 1970. High-profile new kids on the block for S3 include '60s sex kitten Pamela Rogers and Britcom star Jeremy Lloyd of "'Allo 'Allo" and "Are You Being Served." Having fellow Brits Peter Sellers and Michael Caine as guests early in S3 further demonstrates that legendary producer/creator George Schlatter recognizes the incredible comedic talent of our former oppressors.

Further, the Ready for Primetime Players that also include Ruth Buzzi, Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, and Henry Gibson demonstrate that talented "kids" offering hip and subversive comedy goes back before the mid '70s.

The mod lightning-paced format intersperses song-and-dance numbers with one-liners by the cast, the special guest-stars, and the Burbank and Hollywood royalty who stop by to deliver either one line or to make a similar very brief appearance. An example of the later is Bob Hope literally popping as a brother-in-arms of the "very inteeeresting" German soldier character of Arte Johnson.

A perfect instance of all the above is Sellers appearing as the twin of  Johnson's dirty old man Tyronne F. Horneigh to join that character in sandwiching Buzzi's frumpy spinster Gladys Ormphby on the park bench that Horneigh and Ormphby frequently frequent.

Rowan and Marin personally awarding the "Fickle Finger of Fate" to a well-deserving individual or entity is the most blatant example of political humor that often risks making the Smothers Brothers state that "Laugh In" goes to far.  The first presentation goes to a judge who does not reduce the sentences of two black men who cause minor damage in retaliation for a KKK attack; the "rest of the story" is that the judge admits that the punishment is unduly harsh.

S3 is particularly notable for adding Lily Tomlin to the cast mid-season. She states in an interview that is an S3 bonus feature that that comes about as a result of Schlatter watching her audition for another series. Tomlin shares during the tribute to Schlatter for his MASSIVE donation to Pepperdine University that is the other bonus feature that Schlatter would ask Worley to perform the light-blue material regarding which Tomlin did not feel comfortable.

Tomlin beginning this run with her portrayal of Ernestine the operator gets things off to to a strong start that never wanes. Her sharing in her DVD interview that Schlatter sneaks a subliminal message in those skits is hilarious.

Early S3 episodes also stand out for bringing popular music stars of the day to the show. Diana Ross, Sonny and Cher, and The Monkees show up on subsequent weeks and prove the philosophy of Carol Burnett that the best guests on a variety show are the ones who can both sing and do comedy. Ross outshines the group in both regards by fully embracing the "Laugh-in" spirit. Ringo Starr does not show up until late in the season.

As cliched as it sounds, they simply cannot make 'em like "Laugh-In" these days. At the outset, the hostile political divide in 2018 ensures that any form of gutsy political humor prompts calls for boycotts by half of the audience. Second, the public appetite for good corny humor sadly is greatly diminished. The people mostly demand insults and/or genuinely blue material.

Finally, we are more of a culture of personalty than genuine talent these days. On top of this, most celebrities have a more narrow following than the generation of matinee idols before them. They also typically lack their sense of humor.

A prime example of this contrast is Greer Garson being an incredible sport each time that she appears on "Laugh-In." One cannot imagine Meryl Streep even agreeing to appear on such a show or being a total goof if she makes the trip to beautiful downtown Burbank. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls Ricki.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

'Sunstroke' DVD: Period Piece of Russian Soldier in Times of Love and War

The Icarus Films February 20, 2018 DVD of the 2014 Russian period drama "Sunstroke" is a nice indication that the spirit of Merchant Ivory lives on. The strikingly different styles in the periods just before and just after the Russian Revolution are adequately compelling to warrant watching this one.

The impressive accolades for this film by Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhalkov ("Burnt by the Sun") includes Best Feature and other honors at the 2015 Golden Eagle Awards in Russia. "Sunstroke" also is the winner of the Best Cinematography award at the 2015 Shanghai International Film Festival.

"Sunstroke" centers around "The Lieutenant," who experiences the best of times in the portions of the film set in 1907 and the worst of times in the events that occur in 1920. The film opens in the latter period when Lieutenant is on the losing team that is being processed into a prison camp where the Communist army offers the choice of playing for the other side or essentially leaving on the next stagecoach and never coming back.

In contrast to the overcast weather and equally drab clothing and surroundings of 1920, Lieutenant is wearing a brilliantly white uniform while taking a several days boat trip in 1907. The engaged man immediately becomes entranced with "Strange Woman," who is married with children.

Our love-struck member of the army of the Tsar makes a complete fool of himself, almost is caught redhanded (no pun intended) in stalking of the object of his affection, and has a highly symbolic prized possession get smashed in the process of getting closer to Woman.

The title of the film directly refers to the climax (no pun intended) of the shipboard forbidden romance and indirectly to the pre-revolutionary period in general.

The ensuing parallel events relate to Lieutenant continuing to pursue Woman after the lady vanishes and he and his fellow soldiers/prisoners waiting to learn more about their fates. A cool (but predictable) aspect of this is a connection between developments near the end of both periods in the life of this Russian soldier.

Successfully blending these two (almost feature-length) stories that separately are feature-length leaves no doubt that Mikhalkov knows his stuff. Largely making the earlier period "Titanic" and the latter one "The Empire of the Sun" makes the entire film very audience friendly.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

'The Wonder Years' CS: SUPER-DELUXE SET of That '60s 'Goldbergs'/'Young Sheldon' Show (Part One)

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A desire to attempt to do justice to the phenomenal design of the complete series locker edition of "The Wonder Years" and to the series itself requires a two-part review. This initial discussion focuses on the set itself and the early seasons. The follow-up covers the later seasons, including the precedent-setting series finale.]

Time Life very aptly extends its recent pattern of releasing DVD sets of variety shows (including the reviewed "Laugh-In" and also reviewed "Carol Burnett Show") from the '60s and '70s to rerelease a CS DVD set of the 1988 -93 dramcom set in the '60s and the '70s "The Wonder Years." This one is the product of  Carol Black and Neal Marlens, who also are the show runners of the '80s ABC famcom "Growing Pains."

The figuratively mind-blowing special-edition locker set requires beginning this discussion of "Wonder" with details regarding this set that deserves every design award out there. The Unreal TV library includes roughly 20 deluxe CS DVD sets, and this one far outshines all of them in cleverness and construction quality.

Our accolades begin with the locker itself being good quality metal that does not bend or warp. It sits on four small padded feet that keep the locker steady.

The delight continues with opening the locker and discovering more-than-ample room for the two loose-leaf binders that will bring back memories of personal wonder years; you also get a yearbook. The "but wait, there's more" item is a set of magnets for adorning the locker.

Each sturdy binder consists of the discs, complete with detailed episode synopses, of three of the six "Wonder" seasons. Each disc is in its own sleeve that allows removing it without any risk of scratching it.

The equally sturdy yearbook begins with fun autographs by most of the cast and crew; we also get copious photos and profiles from both back in the day and the present.

Moving on to the actual show, this early 30-minute series with almost equal "dram" and "com" also almost certainly is the first in which an adult narrator (Daniel Stern in this case) comments on his "wonder years" roughly 20 years earlier; this concept dates at least to the early '60s in which teen Dobie Gillis regularly breaks the fourth wall in the spectacular "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" sitcom.

"Years" is notable as well for following the wisdom of the '70s sitcom set in the '50s "Happy Days." Producer Garry Marshall builds that series around the concept that a series that is based in the past does not look dated in the future.

An observation in the aforementioned yearbook addresses the use of era in the series. This notes that we do not see how our childhoods parallel national events and trends until we achieve full adulthood.

Future television show director and occasional adult actor Fred Savage plays "Years" lead Kevin Arnold. The expressiveness of Savage and talent for expressing non-offensive disgust at the stupidity of peers and parents alike show the reason for casting him in the classic film "The Princess Bride." (Seeing him get in the spirit of "Years" fantasy scenes also is fun.)

Despite a well-known predictable element, the "Years" pilot deserves classic status. We meet 12 year-old Kevin during the summer of '68 before he enters the newly renamed Robert F. Kennedy Junior High. Early narration includes commentary that the suburban setting of the titular period in the life of Kevin lacks the benefits and the disadvantages of the city and the country but provides a pretty good place to grow up.

A related amusing aspect of this is that the series is set in the northeast (most likely New Jersey) but that wide shots clearly show that the neighborhood is in California.

Older brother Wayne gets right down to humiliating and pummeling Kevin without provocation; this sets the stage to establish the appeal of literal boy-next door Brian Cooper, who is the big brother of series-long love interest/ literal girl-next-door Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar).

Nineteen year-old Brian has gorgeous blonde hair, a rock-hard body, a cool car, and smokes. He steals his first scene by calling out to Wayne to either leave Kevin alone or endure the same punishment that Wayne is dishing out.

The narrator sharing that Brian goes onto Viet Nam makes the fate of this character predictable even to new comers to this series.

Other '60stastic early episodes center around Kevin and nerdy best friend Paul getting excited to reap the benefits of the brand-new law requiring adding sex education to the public school curriculum, the Apollo 8 mission to orbit the moon and safely return to earth, oldest Arnold child high-school flower child Karen entering a relationship that is more open than she understands with a radical college student (John Corbett of "Northern Exposure" and "Sex and the City,") and a Christmas episode in which the Arnold children and their housewife mother Norma try to persuade gruff middle-management job holding Dad to buy a color television.

All of this works because the Arnolds are a real family with real issues that are nor presented in an overly comic or dramatic fashion. No one is extreme, and the problems often are not solved in 30 minutes. One early example is Kevin still incurring some wrath from his friends and classmates after mercilessly ridiculing them. There is not any third-act grand-gesture by our everyboy.

The spectacular copious special features include a 2014 cast reunion.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Wonder" is strongly encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, March 16, 2018

'About us' DVD: Novel Approach to Screenplay on Course of Gay Relationship

The TLA Releasing March 6, 2018 DVD release of the 2017 Brazilian drama "About us" is a clever film that further proves that many gay-themed movies are mainstream. This "one who got away" film relates to the relationship between 20-something photographer (portraits a specialty)/aspiring filmmaker Diego and 20-something architecture student/environemntalist Matheus.

The action begins in the present with now-filmmaker Diego observing the still of the night from his high-floor apartment. He soon sits at his computer to begin the screenplay of his romance with the love of his life 10 years earlier. The aforementioned imaginative aspect relates to this text altering and somewhat idealizing that relationship. This begins with changing a name to protect the not-so-innocent and fictionalizing the means of meeting from an online dating site to a cuter chance encounter. These post-adolescents being virtually the only characters in "us" further emphasizes the intimacy of the film.

The boys are adorable as Diego strives to get Matheus to lighten up, and this serious boy tries to get the new guy in his life to grow up some. Much of the drama relates to the aspiration of Diego to attend film school in California that plays a role in Matheus "getting away."

The interaction between these two boys in love provides much of the appeal; it coming from the perspective of Diego a decade after these events puts an interesting spin on things. We see a highly energetic Diego literally and figuratively climbing all over a more reserved Matheus. This particularly comes out in a cute scene in which Diego adds a risky erotic element to a walk in the woods. His directly addressing an inability to keep his hands of his man rings true to most of us regarding at least one relationship.

The closing monologue both proves the relatability of the story and emphasizes the fantasy element of it. The general idea is that we all tend to idealize life events that do not conclude with a Hollywood ending.

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

'I, Tonya' DVD: Honey Boo Boo On Ice

Every few years a movie comes along that is so horrible that it calls for offsetting the generally positive or glowing Unreal TV reviews with severe criticism. Past films have included "Magic Mike" (The Decline and Fall of Soderbergh) and "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" (The Devil Is in Lack of Attention to Detail). The latest entry in this Hall of  Lame is the 2017 biopic "I, Tonya."

Better news regarding current films from a reviewer who considers "Downsizing" A Damon Paynefully horrible movie is that "Game Night" is better than generally believed. It is not particularly crude, and Sebastian the Westie puppy does not get "doused" in blood as reported. The main issues are that it is a little long and has too many false endings.

"Tonya," which has a March 13 2018 DVD release, conversely makes one wonder the literal or figurative price that director Craig Gillespie pays for the high praise for this film. At the outset, it is notable that the evolution of Hollywood has taken us from biopics of the greatest (i.e., Mozart and John Nash) and most courageous (i.e., Gandhi) to a foul-mouthed self-proclaimed white-trash ice skater whose claim to fame is involvement in kneecapping a rival.

Alison Janney does deserve praise for her portrayal of abusive stage mother LaVonna Harding. Her tough exterior and interior come through, and she conveys more with facial expressions than he co-stars communicate with their dialogue. Conversely, not-so-talented Margot Robbie portrays the modern-day titular skater despite being 3 years old when Nancy Kerrigan is attacked.

Either Harding, ex-husband Jef Gillooly, or their partner-in-crime Shawn Eckardt state roughly halfway in "Tonya" that they are getting to the aforementioned hobbling and that that is why people are watching the film. This person is absolutely correct to the extent that the film WIDELY misses the mark in not SOLELY focusing on that incident and the aftermath.

The portion of "Tonya" that discusses the genesis of the idea to injure Kerrigan, the planning of that crime, and ensuing notoriety is decent and SCREAMS for a Coen Brothers joint. It has the trifecta of dim-witted lower-class characters, a comically dark plot, and betrayal (as well as intense stupidity) during the investigation of the assault.

The larger issue with "Tonya" is that it adheres to the reality television model that is responsible for Unreal TV existing. The best parallel is "American Idol" focusing on the hard-knock life of contestants. People whose childhoods consist of a string of foster homes, losing a parent to a horrific disease, or other hardship deserve sympathy. However, that has NOTHING to do with singing ability.

"Tonya" takes things further by having much of the film consist of modern-day Tonya, LaVonna, Jeff, and Shawn repeatedly discussing the same events as they give interviews while staring directly into the camera.

Another parallel is "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." Seeing LaVonna make three year-old Tonya show her stuff to a reluctant skating coach and wet herself on the ice a few years later creates a strong image of Mama June. The abusive relationships among most of the primary characters and with their spouses further enhances this vibe. A remark of a friend years ago that we have enough horrible people in our lives that we do not need to watch them on television aptly describes a major flaw of such productions.

The aforementioned acknowledgement that Kerrigangate is what the audience wants indirectly admits that the life of Harding does not warrant a feature film. Many kids from lower-income backgrounds work very hard to achieve success in sports, the arts, or business. Very few of them demand the spotlight.

The larger reference this time is one of the creators of "South Park" commenting in an early season of that series that many of us are the fat kid, the poor kid, or the Jewish kid at some point in our childhood. Very few of us are blessed to have brains, beauty, and the coolest stuff. Further, our peers from K-to-12 are always glad to repeatedly point out our flaws.

The final commentary regarding all this is that a film about an underdog works best when you want that modern-day Horatio Alger to succeed.

Anyone with CIVIL questions or comments regarding "Tonya" is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

'Harmonium' DVD: Hitchcockian Tale of Man Struggling to Keep His Dark Past From His Wife

The Film Movement DVD of the 2016 drama "Harmonium" provides a chance to see the likely result of a coupling between Hitchcock and Ibsen. The related intense drama and the family issues provide perfect examples about the consequences of the sins of the father.

The accolades for this film with a strong live-stage vibe includes a 2016 Cannes Un Certain Regard award for writer-director Koji Fukada and the distinction of being a The New York Times  Critics' Choice selection.

As is the case in many classics from the masters mentioned above, "Harmonium" begins with what seems to be a typical day for machine-shop owner Toshio, his wife Akie, and their young daughter Hotaru. They are having a breakfast that does not seem to be any more tense than the morning meal of many nuclear clans across the world.

The archetype face from the past who jeopardizes future happiness comes on quiet and unassuming Yasaka appearing at the small machine shop when the workday commences. Soon learning that Yasaka and Toshio are long-time friends and that Toshio feels guilt about not staying in touch with recently released prisoner Yasaka during his unfortunate incarceration is only the tip of the iceberg.

Another initial sense that Toshio puts his friend on the payroll and allows him to move into his home due to an unstated debt also only is a small part of the story.

Both the reveals and the integration of Yasaka in the family life of his host escalate in roughly the first half of the film; as often occurs, a family outing (including Yasaka) is the beginning of a mid-point climax in "Harmonium." This includes taking a photo with copious symbolic value.

This mid-point climax involves a major incident involving Horatu; the remainder of the film is divided between dealing with the aftermath of that event and discovering the deep-dark secret of the new employee who also is close to the family.

The final climax begins with a stereotypical drive in the country regarding which everyone may not make it back home. In classic drama style, this involves the same issues of justice and revenge that make "Harmonium" compelling throughout. The evil deeds themselves are bad enough; discovering the extent of the "crazy" of a spouse is deeply unsettling.

Movement lightens things up (and gets highly creative) with the bonus Fukada short film "Birds" that it pairs with "Harmonium." This one that mostly involves a man, his wife, and his mistress sitting around a dining room table has even more earmarks of a classic drama than "Harmonium" despite the ultimately lighter tone.

Just about every line in this scene in which the wife confronts the husband about his affair brings a new reveal. This leads to things becoming totally unpredictably bizarre a few minutes before the end of "Birds." The manner in which this all is shown to make sense will alter a perception of every viewer.

The DVD special feature is a New York Asian Film Festival interview with Toshio portrayor Kanji Furutachi,

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Harmonium" or "Birds" is strongly encouraged to email me; you alternatively can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy,

Monday, March 12, 2018

'Lazarus Man' CS DVD: Robert Urich Seeks Answers and Confederates After Being Left for Dead in 1865

The Warner Archive February 13, 2018 5-disc CS  DVD release of "The Lazarus Man" offers a second bite at the apple regarding a creative show that you probably never saw. This TNT anthology Western drama stars seemingly Man of 1,000 Series Robert Urich as the titular amnesiac who tries to reconstruct his life after digging his way out of a grave on Halloween night1865.

The aforementioned uniqueness relates to "Lazarus" combining many great staples of television dramas throughout the years. The most prominent aspect is that of a lone wolf encountering adventure at every stop in a journey to fulfill a mission; we also get the related element of a hero who does not know his identity and battles a powerful force.

The pilot involves a young boy witnessing the man (initially) with no name crawling out of the earth in Texas; this innocent subsequently convinces his family to take in the stranger and gives him the name that he has through much of the series. Doing so makes our hero the namesake of the well-known biblical zombie.

"Lazarus" starts out with a strong story that is very relevant and true to the times. Texas being a state and the war being over does not prevent a sense that the U.S. Army is an occupying force in San Sebastian where that feature-length episode is set. Memories of Civil War battles are very fresh on both sides, soldiers are wrongfully taking resources from locals, and a Klan-like secret group is dishing out vigilante justice to southerners and Yanks alike.

Having no memory of his identity prompts Lazarus to go along with the crowd when he is identified as an Old West hitman. This results in his striking a bargain that calls for him to carry out a high profile assassination for the vigilantes in exchange for mercy for his own personal savior.

A woman who practices a profession that dates to earlier than biblical times (but who charges more than two bits for her services) apparently recognizing Lazarus from his pre-near-death days sets the action for the second episode.

The quest for identity has Lazarus traveling to New Orleans at Mardi Gras time to learn what his belle du jour knows. His more specific destination is The Palace of Dreams, where the proprietor is adept at what looks to be voodoo. This leads to a high-stakes game and a search for a woman whom Lazarus believes also has important information regarding him.

Another Reconstruction Era plot has some locals having trouble respecting the authority of a black man who represents the federal government. We additionally get introduced to both a precursor to even silent movies in a story that also shows one way in which tall tales are created.

A more timeless plot has an Old West pimp cruise the docks and distressed wagon trains comparably to his modern counterparts hanging out in bus and train stations in search of vulnerable young girls to add to their stables.

Another episode that shows that some things have not changed much in 150 years revolves around pillaging an archaeological site for ruins to sell on the black market. The Old West elements once more include at least brutal (if not illegal) conduct by the military and the conflict between Indian and white man ways.

Generals Ulysses S. Grant and George Custer are among the real-life historic figures with whom Lazarus crosses path. The former seems to be a decent sort, but the portrayal of the latter will have most folks rooting for the Indians. The underlying circumstances of leaving Lazarus for dead and the efforts to make his resurrection be short-lived.

An especially notable "Lazarus" comes mid-way in the series and is almost straight out of the Aaron Spelling '70s procedural "Vegas" starring Urich. Our hero is riding the trail alone when he learns of a prospector who seems to have chosen poorly regarding his partner. Lazarus investigating the mystery involves a heavy dose of humor and ends with awesome frontier justice.

The riding-into-the-sunset potion of this discussion is that "Lazarus" reflects both the good and the bad of the Reconstruction Era and the basic-cable series that hit the air 130 years later.

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

'Fear the Walking Dead' S3 DVD & Blu-ray: Brings New Meaning to 'Meanwhile Back at the Ranch'

In the same vein (pun intended) as the (reviewed) Lionsgate March 13 2018 DVD and Blu-ray releases of the second season of the AMC action-adventure series "Into the Badlands" a few weeks before the S3 premiere, the Lionsgate March 13 S3 DVD and Blu-ray releases of the AMC action-adventure series "Fear the Walking Dead" provides a chance to watch these episodes before the Tax Day S4 premiere.

The general premise of the "Dead" franchise is that roaming hordes of flesh-craving zombies requires those of whose hearts still beat to spend most of our time on the run; the related threats of our fellow men (and woman) resorting to our baser instincts to survive and/or profit also requires constant vigilance and regular travel.

"Fear" centers around typical middle-class Los Angeles mom Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), her early 20s recovering heroin-addict son Nick (teen idol Frank Dillane), and her (mostly) good teen daughter Alicia. Hunky boyfriend Travis Manawa rounds out the central group.

Reviewed (special-edition BD) S1 centers around the initial outbreak of zombieism and somewhat revolves around the common theme of a harsh lesson regarding the "big three" lie of "I'm from the government; I'm here to help." Also reviewed S2 has the clan and their inner circle fleeing LA and taking to the open waters in search of a better life in Mexico.

Although S2 is perfectly good, S3 follows the pattern of a film franchise of a third installment being better than the first sequel in a series. The main reason for this assessment is that S3 involves less movement and focuses on human threats more than the prospect of foolhardiness literally costing you an arm and a leg.

The S3 premiere episode finds our family reunited at a base where young sadists gleefully conduct brutal experiments to determine the period between dying and becoming a zombie. Meanwhile, American psycho Troy Otto (Daniel Sharman of "The Originals") is taking a shine to Madison (and gets a shiner in return).

These events lead to the group (including Troy) heading out to the survivalist ranch of Troy's father Jeremiah. One aspect of this journey is that the Clark clan still does not seem to recognize the risks of separating.

Otto family drama surrounds around oldest brother Jake being the golden child, and Troy being the black sheep. Troy further clashes with Nick for reasons that extend beyond Madison being a MILF in the eyes of the former.

The larger conflict at the ranch relates to resentment by the long-term residents regarding the Clarks waltzing in and reaping the benefits of decades-worth of hard work. On top of this, a local tribe is on the warpath regarding old and new resentments. One spoiler is that most efforts to create a treaty fail.

Meanwhile brutal-soldier-turned-barber Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades) experiences a couple of figurative (and perhaps one literal) miracles as he travels through Mexico in search of both redemption and his daughter Ofelia. This leads to his primary relatively safe haven being a dam that a brutal tyrant who clearly does not give one operates. This facility effectively having a lion pit provides some sense of the conditions.

All the worlds collide when Madison, an ally with whom she has a rough history, and her newly reunited traveling companion/"snake" Victor arrive at the dam to negotiate for badly needed water. The phrase "meanwhile back at the ranch" takes on special meaning during this period as natives other than the members of the local tribe get very restless.

This portion of the series further gives us the highly notable element of a "Dead" version of "A Christmas Carol" complete with Tiny Nick.

The last several episodes lead to a explosive climax that prompts counting down the days to the April 15 S4 premiere. The regularly reunited members of the core ensemble once again regroup and face perils that stem from malicious intents and/or a desire to promote the greater good.

The special features consist of deleted and extended scenes.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

'Frankenstein Jr, and the Impossibles' DVD: Another Example of Awesome Evolution of Hanna-Barbera

The Warner Archive 2-Disc DVD release of the 1966-68 Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning series "Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles" provides a good chance to see the "missing link" in the vast (and growing) HB catalog. Both the content and the format of this series reflect the major changes in the studio modus operandi from the early days to the '70s.

This series is one of the last ones in which HB uses the format of three shorts, rather than the 30-minute sitcom style of most of their '70s programs. One rare practice that terrifically reflects the "equal time" principle has the series alternate between sandwiching a "Frankenstein" cartoon between two "Impossibles" offering and reversing that the next week. This is in contrast to the more common HB method of either always airing one cartoon with the "B" star between two outings of the "A" lister or showing one cartoon each of the three series that make up the set.

The following YouTube clip of the opening credits for "Frankenstein" provides a good sense of the concept and of the groovy '60slicious pop art look of the series.

"Frankenstein Jr." particularly reflects the transition from the talking animals (i.e., Wally Gator and Magilla Gorilla) weekend fare of the studio to super-heroes series (such as the reviewed "Space Ghost" and also reviewed "Birdman") in the later '60s in response to Spider-man and ALL his amazing friends invading the turf of HB. "Frankenstein" revolves around Jonny Quest clone (complete with acclaimed scientist father) boy genius Buzz Conroy and his "creation" (the titular "iron giant") fighting villains who often are mad scientists. Ted Cassidy of (the reviewed) HB live-action/animated series "The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" voices Junior.

"Frankenstein" particularly emulates "Ghost," which includes an epic-length multi-episode "Legion of Doom" style saga, in the wonderfully titled early two-part episode "The Alien Brain from Outer Space" that finds our heroes pitted against the titular brother from another planet. The most awesome ability of this undocumented non-citizen is the power to make zoo animals enormous creatures that he can control.

"Alien" P1 ends on a note that is awesomely laughable to anyone over the age of seven. Our heroes are in "Batman" '66 style peril, and the narrator (Paul Frees) announces that escaping requires that Buzz reach the ring that he uses to control Junior. Most folks will not need to tune in the next week to see if Buzz manages to do so.

It is even more funny that Dr. Conroy encourages his pre-pubescent offspring to jump on the shoulder of an enormous root and rocket off into space to battle a well-armed psychopath. Apparently, the HB universe lacks any form of child protective services.

This spectacularness (and well-deserved cult status) earn Junior a prominent cameo in the exceptional modern Scooby movie "The Mask of the Blue Falcon."

"The Impossibles" most directly paves the way for the (reviewed and sadly largely overlooked) 1973-74 HB 30-minute series "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids" with a David Cassidy clone as the front man. Both series involve a rock band consisting of secret agents who use their musical careers as a cover for battling villains.

Conversely, the more Hitchcockian series "Josie and the Pussycats" has the titular band and their entourage being "innocents" who find themselves involved in intrigue as they travel the world playing their music.

"Impossibles" additionally is an early version of the (also reviewed) "The Super Globetrotters" from the 1979-80 television season. That series has animated versions of the clown princes of basketball using their tours as covers for their secret agent activities. The similarities extend to the alter-egos of the Globetrotters being comically meta-heroes. The "Impossibles" version of this is having the trio consist of  Coil Man (turns into a human slinky), Fluid Man (converts to a purely liquid state and back again at will), and Multi-Man (can form a human chain by almost instantaneously creating numerous linked clones of himself.)

"Impossibles" gets off to a rock (pun intended)-solid start with their premiere adventure. They are on site to play at a beauty pageant that an Elroy Jetson-like young shah is set to judge when The Bubbler encases the royal in a bubble and floats him away to hold him for a king's ransom. The lad constantly hurling "you sir are no gentleman" insults at his captor is hilarious.

Another (equally good) early cartoon has Fluid Man proving that Bounty is the quicker-picker-up but not being in a rosey situation, The villain du jour is holding this paper towel over a flame to cremate our hero; this seems a tad dark for a light-hearted Saturday morning cartoon.

The better news is that our boys continue to rock soft and hilariously save the day throughout the run of the series.

The best news is that the good folks at Archive make all this great stuff  available when virtually (if not every) cable network and streaming service has vaulted it. The combination of talent at Hanna-Barbera particularly in the '60s truly is lightning in a bottle. Further, Saturday morning cartoons have gone the way of Dino.

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

Friday, March 9, 2018

'Lon Chaney Collection' DVD The Man of 1,000 Faces Shines in Four Films That Include Long-Lost Classic

The Warner Archive February 27, 2018 2-disc DVD release "Lon Chaney Collection" gives modern audiences a chance to see why this Phantom of the Opera and Hunchback of Notre Dame is known as The Man of 1,000 Faces. We also receive additional evidence that he apparently often plays the Popeye in melodramatic love triangles that are reminiscent of the rivalry between that sailor and the larger Bluto (or Brutus) for the love of Olive Oyl.

An another equally awesome universal aspect of these films is that they are accompanied by spectacular orchestrations that will make you wish that you could have heard that music live in the '20s.

Archive kicks things off with arguably the best of the four feature-length films in this lot. The aptly titled 1921 silent "The Ace of Hearts" has Chaney playing Farallone, who is a member of a secret society of anarchists. His fellow members include the object of his affection Lilith, who is the sole female member of this small cabal. His romantic rival is brother-in-bombs Forrest.

The parallel plots are that the latest object of assassination of the group is the robber-baron figure "the man who has lived too long," whose sole crimes seem to be conspicuous consumption and exploiting the masses in ways that apparently do not violate formal law, and Lilith choosing Forrest over Farallone.

The drama builds regarding uncertainty as to whether Forrest will carry out his mission of no mercy and  Lilith imploring Farallone to protect Forrest from the group if he wimps outs. One spoiler is that not every character lives happily ever after.

A notable scene that is reminiscent of a Charlie Chaplin film makes particularly good use of the incredible expressiveness of Chaney. He spends a night that changes everything for him, Forrest, and Lilith on a stoop in the middle of a torrential rain. The companion who joins him also is pure Chaplin.

"Laugh, Clown, Laugh" (1928) is on par with "Ace" from an artistic perspective. Further, it seems familiar for reasons that extend beyond including the well-known phrase "laugh, clown, laugh though your heart is breaking." The problem with this one is that it has an incredibly creepy element even for a pre-Code film.

Chaney gives a superb performance regarding both the personal and professional personas of acclaimed clown Tito and the sometimes rapid shifts between the two. His life dramatically changes when (giving him every benefit of the doubt) he is in his mid-20s and is on a break from performing with long-time fellow clown Simon when he finds an abandoned roughly six year-old girl.

It is not creepy that Tito convinces Simon to have the girl join their family. It also is fine that Tito names the girl Simonetta out of a possible love that dares not speaks its name regarding Simon. The creepy part is when Simon falls in love with an adult (Loretta Young) if not teens Simonetta. The at least 20-year age difference is one factor; Simon being a father figure to the girl since her tender years is another.

Some solace regarding this ick factor is the opportunity to joke about a harlequin romance and the fact that Simonetta does not fall for every Bozo.

A less icky eleemnt is the Yoko-style threat that Simonetta poses regarding the band; the only issue here is a superstition of Simon.

The romantic rivalry this time involves Count Luigi, who becomes entranced with Simonetta when she crosses onto his estate. His subsequent gift of a pearl necklace has even greater significance 90 years after the making of the film.

The final scenes of "Clown" are among the best in film history and showcase the talent of Tito; his emotions are very clear, and we feel them as deeply as he does.

"The Unknown" (1927) is one of several collaborations between Chaney and writer/director Tod Browning of "Freaks." The Chaney character Alonzo, the circus performer with many secrets makes wonderful use of the talents of Browning and of the ability of Chaney to bring the id to the surface.

The reasons that Alonzo perpetuates an elaborate hoax regarding not having arms extends well beyond landing a gig in the traveling gypsy circus of Zanzi; this alleged condition allows him to literally get away with murder.

Great fun relates to having then Hollywood royalty Joan Crawford play Nanon, who is the daughter of Zanzi and is a fellow performer. Her burlesque-style striptease in a knife-throwing act is pure '20s fun.

The triangle this time is wonderfully pulp fiction. Malabar the strongman is the rival of Chaney this time. A point in the favor of Alonzo is that the checkered past of Nanon makes her very adverse to being touched. The downside is that Alonzo allowing Nanon to get close creates certainty of her learning his secret with consequences that extend well beyond discovering that he has been lying to her about his arms.

Of course, everything comes to a head at the end on concludes on a typically melodramatic note.

Archive wraps things up with a change of pace on many levels. Scrolling intertitles at the beginning of the aptly titled "London After Midnight" (1927), which is another Browning film, explains that there are not any known surviving prints of this film. This introduction goes onto explain that 100s (if not not 1,000s) of production stills that are interspersed with the intertitles for this silent film are the best possible reproduction of it.

The other difference is that "London" is a Browning take on a traditional British murder mystery. A nobleman in both senses of the word is found dead from a bullet wound in an apparent suicide, but suspicions remain.

The mystery is solved five years later at a time that two ghoulish figures who seem straight out of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" appear on the scene. This resolution is satisfyingly dark and complex.

The appeal of these films of cinephiles and horror fans is obvious; the remaining viewing public should rejoice regarding this chance to see silents in all their melodramatic glory and to watch a performer who is a star, rather than an actor.

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

'The Assistant' DVD: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Mother Scorned

The Icarus Films March 13, 2018 DVD release of the 2015 French thriller "The Assistant" is notable for several reasons. The first aspect that makes this one to watch is that it is the second (in hopefully an ongoing series) of Icarus releases of outstanding distraught parent dramas from arguably the leading country in European film. The first is the (reviewed) docudrama "In Her Name," which is based on the real-life decades-long effort of a father to see the man who rapes and kills his teen daughter held accountable for those crimes.

The second incredible aspect of "Assistant" is Nathalie Baye, who plays the titular secretary. This Gallic version of over-rated Meryl Streep has four Cesars awards, 8 other trophies, 14 additional nominations, and 102 IMDb credits. "Assistant" not netting Baye at least one more trophy is atrocious.

It is even more amazing that Baye is 67 when she films "Assistant" but does not look a day over 50. One can only hope that Baye lets the rest of us in on the secret regarding the enchanted portrait that she must have in her attic.

The larger level is the "Assistant," which screams for an American remake, is a prime example of the late '80s and early '90s Hitchcock homages on this side of the Atlantic. The general theme in films such as "Fatal Attraction" is that an innocent only learns of the crazy of the new person in his or he life after it is too late to easily rid yourself of him or her.

An equally relatable Hitchcockian twist on this in "Assistant" is the aspect of being held accountable for largely forgotten past sins. Folks whose youthful (or not-so-youthful) indiscretions have a figurative (and hopefully not literal) body count may want to give the new tenant in the apartment next door or the overly friendly guy at the gym closer scrutiny. This is especially so considering that the Internet facilitates tracking down everyone.

Nine years before she begins aiding aptly named urban planner Thomas Lemans, Marie-France is the loving mother of late-teens son Sebastian, who dies in a hit but not run with Thomas. This accident occurs while Thomas is rushing his wife Audrey to the hospital to give birth to son Leo.

Thomas does not know that Marie-France is the grieving mother of Sebastian when she becomes his temporary assistant in the present period of the film. Although "Assistant" does not address this, speculating that Marie-France injures the permanent assistant to create this temp. assignment is plausible.

Marie-France soon uses her proximity to Thomas to mess with him and his team at work and to increasingly become part of his home life with Leo. Describing Marie-France as not respecting boundaries is an incredible understatement.

The manipulation by Marie-France includes orchestrating things so that she first becomes a regular baby sitter of Leo and later formally joins the family. The aforementioned talent of Baye really comes through as her calm and friendly persona remains intact as she steps up her game to the climax that builds through roughly the entire second half of the film.

It is equally awesome that writer-director Christophe Ali avoids EVERY cliche of a psycho-chick on a mission of vengeance film. Marie-France conducts her puppet show in which the entire Lemans family is the marionettes virtually undetected until someone ends up with a cracked skull or a blade to the gut. Even then, no one suspects her history with the clan until roughly the final 10 minutes of the film. However, even that does not lead to a frantic chase around Chez Lemans.

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

'Into the Badlands' S2 DVD-Blur-ray: Kung-Fu Fighting and Constant Power Struggles Do not Allow a Dull Moment

The Lionsgate separate March 13, 2018 Blu-ray and DVD releases of the second-season of the AMC martial arts action-drama series "Into the Badlands" provides the proverbial good chance to either review or to catch-up on the story ahead of the April 23 S3 premiere.

The IMDb "Badlands" synopsis "a mighty warrior and a young boy search for enlightenment in a ruthless territory controlled by feudal barons" perfectly describes the series. The Unreal TV review of the S1 BD release of "Badlands" provides a chance to learn about the lore of the series.

The following YouTube clip of the AMC promo. for S2 demonstrates both why buying this series in BD is a no-brainer and why that network identifies that season as the one of "Justice, Redemption, and Family."

The S2 season premiere finds prematurely retired soldier of little fortune (a.k.a. clipper) Sunny literally and figuratively shackled to textbook frienemy Bajie (Nick Frost of "Shaun of the Dead" and so much more). These unlikely friends are slave labor in a mine that excavates treasures from our long-dead society.

Meanwhile, rebel with a righteous cause M.K. is studying martial arts at a monastery; his main objective is comprehending the loss of his inner demon that is the reason for not liking him when he is angry. The response in this show by the guys behind "Smallville" includes training M.K. to acknowledge and accept the two competing sides of his personality.

The separate physical journeys of our soldier and his one-time "colt" respectively are to return to the titular region to reunite with his baby momma and their infant son and to locate the "Oz" that is an S1 objective.

The third piece of the puzzle is the ruling class known as the barons; they typically acquire that status by killing the current person with that title.

The baron known as The Widow is the center of the copious bloodshed and related power struggles among those leaders. This action starts with an assertive (but arguably justified) move by The Widow. This leads to an ill-advised summit to determine whether to vote this woman off the island. Heads do roll and alliances and related loyalties seem to change as often as hygienic folks put on clean undergarments.

In true style of any drama with a season-long plot, Sunny and M.K. reunite in a place that is unlikely on many levels. This sets the stage for the multi-episode season-ending arc in which Sunny ultimately learns the truth about making a deal with the devil. M.K. obtains his own enlightenment, and we discover a great deal about the role that Bajie plays in the lore of the series.

The season-finale guarantees a terrific start to S3; our two main boys are facing major changes, and Bajie literally is poised to prove that you cannot stop the signal.

Memorable plots throughout S2 include Sunny experiencing his ideal life only to have it ultimately turn sour, the old guard and the new guard at Chez Widow clashing (and involving a highly important apparent death), and M.K. entering a mentor-student relationship that proves to be deja vu all over again.

The home-video special feature is a series of deleted scenes.

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

'Breakdown Lane' DVD: Fighting Coyote Ugly Zombies in the Desert

The May 16, 2017 Breaking Glass Pictures DVD release of the 2017 horror film "Breakdown Lane" adds creative twists to the dual threats of getting stuck in the desert and getting caught in a zombie apocalypse. This inadvertently untimely discussion of this film aptly comes a week before the DVD/Blu-ray release of the second season of  "Fear the Walking Dead"" and roughly a month before the S3 premiere.

Aptly named Kirby Lane is en route to a booty call when her SUV breaks down in the aforementioned desolate land. Her link (pun intended) to the outside world is NorthStar operator Max.

The following YouTube clip of the zombilicious trailer for "Breakdown" provides a glimpse of the entertaining carnage of the film.

Things are not so dire at the start, Kirby believes that a tow truck is on the way and has no reason to fear the walking dead. A subsequent conversation to which many of us can relate regarding Max telling Kirby that he is the only one to whom she can speak at NorthStar provides the initial sense that something is badly amiss.

A wrench is thrown in the first contact between Kirby and the breathing impaired. This leads to her encountering a group of survivalists who show that they are not picky eaters. Max is with Kirby throughout this and her other adventures.

The climatic scene involves the typical large-scale showdown that involves the typical death of at least one well-liked character.

The notable elements of "Breakdown" include a tough-but-kind female lead, beautiful scenery, and good production values. If you see only one indie zombie apocalypse movie this year, see this one.

The DVD extra includes a behind-the-scenes feature.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Breakdown" is encouraged to email; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

'The Devout' VOD: Biopic of Father Convinced Terminally Ill Child Lived Before

LevelFILM nicely follows up the (reviewed) January 9, 2018 VOD release of the 2016 Irish landscape architect biopic "Dare to Be Wild" with the January 16, 2018 VOD release of the 2015 biopic "The Devout." The latter focuses on the effort of a science teacher with a strong Christian faith to prove that his terminally ill daughter is living at least her second life.

The impressive accolades for "Devout" include taking home "Best Motion Picture" and numerous other honors at the 2016 Leo Awards, which celebrate the best of British Columbia film and television. Additionally, director Connor Gaston is the recipient of the BC Emerging Filmmaker Award at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Devout" expertly conveys the eerie aspects of this odd topic.

"Devout" opens what looks like fictional home-movie footage of interviews with young children. These youngsters seem to be pretending to be someone else. The well-paced reveals throughout the film ultimately suggest that this is footage of real children discussing a past life.

Darryl and Jan are the parents of four-year old Abigail, who has a life-threatening medical condition that "Devout" does not divulge. Jan particularly is focused on making the limited remaining life of Abigail a happy period for that child. This includes ice cream sundaes for dinner.

The subtle financial assistance and other compassionate support from community members provides hope that there still are places where your friends and neighbors eagerly help you through tough times.

We additionally see Abigail initially express interest in rocket ships and have that evolve into stating that her name is the same as that of an Apollo One astronaut. This young girl repeatedly accurately discussing details of space travel generally and the Apollo One mission specifically despite it being impossible that she has that information is even more eerie.

Jan not having the same belief as Darryl that their daughter is a girl with something extra causes a rift that widens throughout the film. Darryl returning from a secret trip with a black eye and the smell of alcohol on him does not help matters.

That undisclosed mission is to see Dr. Fisher, who works with children who are believed to be the reincarnations of people who have passed away. The evidence that he presents to Darryl provides reason to believe that this is an actual phenomenon.

As is the case regarding reel and real stories of this nature, the strain of Darryl believing that his daughter is the current incarnation of a dead astronaut just as strongly as Jan is convinced that that is not the case escalates the already existing drama regarding the disease of Abigail to the breaking point.

The resolution comes surprisingly quickly and involves the same ambiguity that always is present regarding matters of faith.

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

Saturday, March 3, 2018

'Blue World Order' DVD/VOD: Jake and the Fat Man Try to Save Post-Apocalyptic World

The Random Media January 16, 2018 DVD and VOD release of the 2017 Australian action-adventure film "Blue World Order" presents a provocative spin on the nuclear Armageddon genre; including elements of the "The Maze Runner" franchise provides good entertainment.

The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Order" provides a good primer on the concept and the style of the film; it further evokes nostalgia regarding the SyFy Channel event movies.

Australian hunk Jake Ryan plays studly Jake Slater. Slater seemingly is the only adult in the not-so-distant-future of the 2020s who is immune to a disease that spreads across a large portion of America and other countries following an attack that targets bedroom communities rather than large cities. Slater daughter Molly is equally unique in that she is the only child survivor of these events.

The rest of the story is that the titular powers-that-be use unique methods to maintain the peace; they additionally conduct horrific experiments that include one inexcusable test involving a fluffy white puppy.

Jake bringing Molly to a facility for medical care triggers the primary action; he soon finds himself separated from his offspring and strapped down in preparation for a not-so-pleasant effort to discover what makes him the chosen one.

Jake subsequently finds himself a somewhat unwilling partner of portly resistance fighter Madcap; Jake primarily wants to save Molly, and Madcap hopes to free mankind from their current oppression and apparent imminent demise. This pair encounters several genuine surprises (including a highly unexpected reunion) during their adventures.

One of the most enjoyable scenes involves watching the annoying Madcap trying to be defiant during torture. The most amusing segment involves Jake concluding that with great power comes great potential for juvenile humor.

Writers-directors Che Baker and Dallas Bland save the best for last; we learn more about the initial attacks, get a literal look at the true nature of the problem, and discover the motive for the seeming madness of the "bad guys." One lesson is that desperate times can call for desperate measures. A related message is that not every powerful electro-magnetic pulse is a bad thing.

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

Friday, March 2, 2018

'The Paris Opera' DVD: Behind-the-Scenes at Classic Opera and Ballet Theater

The Film Movement March 6, 2018 DVD release of the 2017 documentary "The Paris Opera" joins the (reviewed) recent Movement release "Conduct! Every Move Counts" in showing the potential for reality TV. "Conduct!" documents a competition among the folks who wave a baton in front of an orchestra; "Opera" shows a season-in-the-life of Stephane Lissner, who is the executive director of the National Opera of Paris.

The only complaint regarding "Opera" is the incredibly cinematography and the grandness of the setting make a lack of a Blu-ray release irksome.

The following YouTube clip of the official U.S. trailer for "Opera" offers a good look at the theme of the film and includes several highlights.

The primary duty of Lissner is to oversee every aspect of staging massive opera and ballet productions at the two grand and historic venues that his employer operates. "Opera" director John-Stephane Bron fully grabs our attention early on in documenting the logistical challenges related to having a bull named Easy Rider being a star in the season-opening opera "Moses and Aaron."

The two-legged competition of Easy Rider for most entertaining participant is 21 year-old Russian bass baritone Mikhail Timoshenko. He shines right from the moment that we hear him react over the telephone to the news that he is selected to sing with the Opera. Subsequent entertainment comes as this adorable German-speaking guy strives to also learn French.

The seeming (sometimes realized) constant threat of a strike is a primary obstacle to the efforts of Lissner to ensure that the show goes on. This also illustrates his tough balancing act regarding supporting his artists and administrative staff and being fiscally responsible.

Finances also play a role in a meeting in which Lissner and his team discuss ticket prices; the director validly notes that a relatively high price impacts a couple to the point that they both cannot afford to attend a performance and have a negative view of the Opera because it is priced beyond their means.

This reflects a similar dilemma of theater-goers in the United States; a $200 tickets for even a touring company of a Broadway show puts a minimum price of $400 for two people to sit in cramped seats between two large people for a two-hour show that they cannot see or hear very well. Parking and dinner can easily add $100 to the cost of the evening; the same $500 can buy a weekend at a B&B, a good quality 4K TV on sale, or many other things that provide more than an evening worth of entertainment.

The bottom line regarding this is that arts are wonderful and regularly attending the theater is a great fantasy for many. The sad truth is that many performances across the world are priced out of the range of average folks and are a luxury that stretches the budgets of those of us able to afford some "wants."

A more direct threat to the show going on comes in the form of an opera singer insisting a few days before an opening that he is not up to going on. Some of the drama relates to indications that this announcement may reflect something other than a fear of damaging his voice.

This requires that Lissner decide whether to pressure his star to sing, to cancel the performance, or to call in a last-minute replacement to perform with minimal rehearsal. The funny thing is that this is almost literally is a case of it being over if the fat lady does not sing.

The drama described above and the other realistically tense moments in the film fully illustrates how documentaries such as "Opera" provide high-quality alternatives to the reality shows that pollute the airwaves. The bigger picture is that "Opera" perfectly hits the high note in terms of the genre ideal of equally entertaining and educating.

The DVD extras include an interview with Bron.

Movement further maintains its tradition of excellence regarding the bonus short film that it always includes with the featured release of the month. "Les Indes Galantes" is a six-minute look at a urban dance battle staging of the titular opera-ballet on the Bastille-Opera stage of the Opera.

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

Thursday, March 1, 2018

'I'm Fine' S1 DVD: Lives and Loves of WeHos

The TLA Releasing October 2017 DVD release of the 2016 S1 of the dekkoo web series "I'm Fine" makes a perfect companion to the (reviewed) December 2017 release of the Dekkoo Films "Coffee House Chronicles: The Movie." Both projects take equally honest and amusing looks at gay dating in the 2010s.

The following YouTube clip of a "Fine" trailer highlights the drama and the trauma of the queer as folk boys living in West Hollywood whose lives are the things of which the series is made.

"Fine" centers around 30-ish Nate, who is suffering the pains of being on the rough end of a tough break-up with kickball jock Joey. The love-hate relationships among his friends help (and hinder) his navigating these tough times and provide the audience great entertainment.

The shifting narrative begins in the wake of the aforementioned breakup and later establishes that Natey begins when Joey stands up for Nate during an amusing confrontation at a party from Hell. Subsequently entanglements hilariously ensue when Nate encounters Joey and a date in the immediate afternath of a disastrous hook up regarding which many gay man can relate. One lesson regarding that wham-bam-thank-you-sir is that taking one for the team is difficult when your heart is not in the game.

The indications of writer-director Brnadon Kirby being in the head of the viewer are particularly strong in one scene. On arriving at a coffee shop to meet Joey, Nate orders a beverage with extra flavoring only to have the barista repeatedly harangue him; this is on the heels of a similar Starbucks experience in which being challenged about requesting extra peppermint syrup and then being asked if they should add a shot of insulin prompted changing the order (and disliking the drink).

The ensuing events are equally relatable but more pleasant. The adorable young guy in line behind Nate concocts a cute approach and makes a charming sincere expression of a desire to get to know him better. This type of encounter is fairly common during the period that one is young and cute and is especially nice when it leads to a good relationship.

Yet more relatabilty ensues when best friend Jeff confesses his attraction to Nate; suffice it to to say that the impulsiveness of Nate causes this tricky situation to explode in a manner that affects their entire group.

As alluded to above, the importance of productions such as "Fine" and "Chronicles" is that it shows the vast numbers of gay men who lack many reference points that their experiences are typical for men who date men and yearn for sharing a dream home with Mr. Right.

The bigger picture is that folks who are at the hetero end of the Kinsey Scale see that gay men do not connect as easily or as regularly as pop culture often suggests; these breeders further learn that hurt feelings when the one whom you love does not share those feelings and/or moves onto someone else lack sexuality boundaries. The one who got away still is the one who got away.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Fine" is encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

'The Birdman of Alcatraz' Blu-ray: True Tale of Jailbird Turned World-Class Orinthologist

A hilarious endorsement of the sound and picture quality of the Olive Films February 27, 2018 Blu-ray release of the 1962 John Frankenheimer ("The Manchurian Candidate") biopic "The Birdman of Alcatraz" requires a brief diversion into blogland.

The cat of your not-so-humble reviewer became mesmerized during the scenes that depicted the beginning of the orinthology career of titular scientist Robert Stroud (Burt Lancster) with the decades-long unfortunate incarceration. This member of the feline family then ran to the television, puts his front paws on the television stand, and intently stared with his nose inches from the screen. The intended takeaway is that Olive does a great job remastering this highly stylized black-and-white classic, rather than that cats are dopes.

The second aside of this review is that "Birdman" is a companion release of the Olive Blu-ray of the (reviewed) 1965 Lancaster comic Western "The Hallelujah Trail."

The realism of this film on the life of Stroud begins with Edmond O'Brien starting it with narration in character as real-life Stroud biographer Thomas E. Gaddis. This exposition introduces us to our subject in the 1910s as he is on a train from Alaska to begin his prison sentence in Leavenworth for killing a man in defense of a prostitute. An incident on that journey quickly establishes that Stroud is an angry young man who does not work or play well with others.

The arrival of Stroud at what is intended to be his home for the rest of his life further establishes that he does not adhere to the philosophy of following the indisputably strict rules and not causing trouble. Almost Norman Bates level mommy issues exasperate an already not great situation.

The turning point of the film comes when a purely random event triggers the subsequent developments that lead to the outside world knowing Stroud by his nickname decades after this evolution and more than 50 years after the release of "Alcatraz."

The mix of substance and depth comes regarding Stroud using his third-grade education as the starting point to developing a medicine for birds and becoming a leading expert on them literally without leaving his small cell. A parallel development is his enhancing his people skills. A turning point regarding that is a confrontation by a guard who calls Stroud on his lack of gratitude for the kindnesses shown him.

The larger picture regarding this is the nature of the prison system, which is another area of study by Stroud. The underlying issue there is the balance between incarceration rehabilitating and punishing with the related analysis as to the extent to which a prisoner can reasonably expect to be treated with dignity. Much of this centers around the long-term interaction between Stroud and warden Harvey Shoemaker (Karl Malden), who takes great pride in his management of prisons.

Another more relatable issue is that "Alcatraz" provides an interesting perspective regarding institutional life. Anyone who has lived in a boarding school and/or psychiatric hospital can relate to the frustration of Stroud being denied privileges to which he believes that proving himself to be a model member of the community entitles him.

The aforementioned mommy issues are a focal point of a heavily Freudian aspect of "Alcatraz." Thelma Ritter receives a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her portrayal of loving mother Elizabeth Stroud, who viciously turns on her baby when Stella Johnson enters his life and enters the mother of all marriages of convenience with Robert.

As the nickname of Stroud indicates, he ultimately ends up on The Rock. This quickly provides him a strong sense that he is not in Kansas anymore. It further helps ease him into the modern world.

All of this leads to an ending that is as happy as possible considering the subject matter.

The DVD extras are the theatrical trailer and audio commentary by a Stroud biographer.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Alcatraz" is strongly encouraged to email me.

'The Hallelujah Trail: It's a Mad. Mad, Mad, Mad Wagon Train

The Olive Films February 27, 2018 Blu-ray release of the 1965 Western-comedy "The Hallelujah Trail" is a forerunner of  the Mel Brooks classic "Blazing Saddles" in that it shows the great comic potential of horse operas.

This Burt Lancester film with the proverbial cast of 1,000s does not have quite as many stars are there are in the heavens but includes enough big names to warrant a comparison to the epic comedies of the era "The Great Race" and "It's a Mad. Mad, Mad, Mad World." "Trail" also makes a good double-feature with the (soon-to-be-reviewed) Olive February 27, 2018 BD release of the Lancaster film "The Birdman of Alcatraz."

The behind-the-camera star power includes director John Sturges of "The Great Escape" and "The Magnificent Seven." His wise contributions include having a narrator help the audience follow the multi-front action.

Lancaster plays peacetime career Calvary officer Colonel Thaddeus Gearhart in 1867, which follows the ends of the Civil War and the Indian (my people call them Native Americans) Wars. However, he does not miss the hostilities.

Throwing this by-the-book soldier in chaos related to unruly women, a trouble-making tribe (whose numbers include a comical chief whom Martin Landau plays), a prominent businessman on a mission, and miners desperate for that mission to succeed evokes thoughts of the (reviewed) recent Olive BD release of the Blake Edwards military comedy "Operation Petticoat."

"Trail" centers around the hard-working hard-drinking citizens of old West Denver facing the crisis of a dry winter during what is expected to be a particularly snowy several months. The predictions of hard-drinking sage Oracle Jones (Donald Pleasance of 234 IMDb credits) enhance their concerns.

This prospect (pun intended) prompts placing an order for 40 wagons filled with kegs of whiskey from Frank Wallingham (Brian Keith) 100s of miles away. The challenges facing Wallingham include a group of women assertively promoting temperance and several tribes of Indians with a thirst for this cargo. This is on top of maintaining labor relations with unionized Irish workers with a special mission on the wagon train.

The leader of the women is titanium-willed twice-widowed Cora Templeton Massingale (Lee Remick). Her troops include the daughter (Pamela Tiffin) of Gearhart. Handsome and charming second-in-command Captain Paul Slater (Jim Hutton) is the love interest of said offspring.

Gearhart ultimately ends up with the tasks of protecting the precious cargo, Team Wallingham, the women, and a contingency of Denverites against the indians and each other.

The first half of "Trail" concludes with a chaotic meeting of the groups; the post-intermission action begins with an effort to avoid further chaos and attacks. One group escalating the tension drives much of the action.

This leads to a mad dash that rivals the chariot scene in the Charlton Heston version of "Ben Hur" in complexity. However, a literal element of being mired down is one indication that things are not entirely calm once the dust literally settles.

All this shows that the Olive-worthy appeal of "Trail" extends well beyond the well-written and expertly choreographed comedy of the film. Setting it in the past helps it remain timeless; an additional sense of eternity relates to funny always being funny and the themes of greed, a craving for alcohol, folks who fanatically campaign against any consumption of that substance, and maintaining a (in this case literally uneasy truce) with a hostile enemy remain issues more than 50 years after the release of this comic tale.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Trail" is strongly encouraged to email me; you alternatively can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

'Hair' DVD: Infectious Musical Tale of Free Love in the Time of Vietnam

The Olive Films February 27, 2018 DVD of the 1979 film adaptation of the 1968 Broadway musical "Hair" is further proof that Olive reflects the criterion for DVD and Blu-ray releases of art house and cult films. This release coinciding with separate Blu-ray releases of the very different Burt Lancaster films (the soon-to-be-reviewed) "The Birdman of Alcatraz" and (the reviewed) "The Hallelujah Trail" further proves this.

As a first aside, the Lancaster releases follow simultaneous Olive Signature extras-laden Blu-ray releases of the Cary Grant films "Father Goose" and (the reviewed) "Operation Petticoat."

As a second aside, this remastered DVD presents the film in a scope with a sound that is better than seeing it in a theater in 1979 and is ALMOST as good as watching a live-stage production.

The third aside is that folks who are only familiar with the stage musical will notice several differences. Most of the alterations make sense, and all of them enhance the social conscience aspects of the production.

The awesomeness of "Hair" extends well beyond the iconic soundtrack (the title song, "Good Morning Starshine, "The Age of Aquarius," etc.) and the famed nude scene. This phenomenon has enough social commentary for three productions.

Director Milos Forman ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Amadeus") "Hair" opens with "Aquarius" accompanying aptly drab scenery of the Oklahoma countryside as local farmboy/draftee Claude Bukowski (John Savage) waits for the Trailways bus to take him to New York. His awkward goodbye with his father, who is torn between wanting his son to do his duty (and to not end up either in jail or Toronto) but knowing that he probably is going to die in Vietnam, perfectly represents that aspect of that era.

Bukowski arriving in bright, sunny, colorful Central Park is comparable to Chez Gale crashing down somewhere over the rainbow. He soon encounters a "tribe" of Broadway/Hollywood friendly hippies led by George Berger (Treat Williams). (One spoiler is that the film version of "Hair" excludes a look at the treat of Williams and everyone else.)

The other fateful encounter at that time involves making extended eye contact with horseback riding debutante Sheila Franklin (Beverly D'Angelo). All three worlds collide with the hippie shenanigans/harassment of Franklin lead to Bukowski jumping on a horse and showing the entire group his mad riding skills.

In a manner that remains true to the vibe of two strange dogs literally and figuratively sniffing each other out during this entire portion of the film, Berger soon convinces Bukowski the Okie to abandon plans to visit the Empire State Building in favor of hanging out and smoking hash. Suffice it to say that our hero soon adapts to his new environment.

The next morning brings heavy symbolism as Berger defaces an image of Sheila in a highly meaningful way and then essentially whistles over a retreating Bukowski and convinces him to join the pack in crashing a party at Chez Franklin. Watching the long-haired tye-dye wearing interlopers and Bukowski in his ugly brown polyester suit from Sears among the impeccably dressed one-percenters cannot get any better until it does when a patriarch sends a wimpy preppy school boy over to confront the group.

The real fun begins when all assembled gather for a formal sit-down lunch and efforts to oust Berger leads to an elaborate "Coyote Ugly" style song-and-dance number. Seeing Charlotte Rae get into the spirit of things in full Edna Garrett fashion is the icing on the cake. (Another fun moment comes on recognizing the voice of Nell Carter ("Gimme A Break") emanating from a Central Park hippie.)

The aftermath involves a wonderfully enthusiastic "Chicago" style song-and-dance number involving the titular tune; this portion of the film also provides greater insight into Berger.

The hi-jinks continue until Bukowski and his fellow draftees undergo a purposefully humiliating induction procedure; this being "Hair," a hilarious raucous counter-culture song-and-dance number lightens the mood.

The film then moves in a different direction in every sense as Berger convinces his people (and a few tag-alongs) to take a road trip to the Nevada Army base where Bukowski is undergoing basic training. This leads to further counter-culture mischief with a surprise twist on the end that everyone knows is coming.

The ending is very true to the spirit of both the musical and the film. The genocide of boys-next-door in Vietnam was to benefit the people who stayed at home. Further, going over there was a rite-of-passage that sobered up boys who either were cruising around suburbs and small towns in their American cars or were smoking hash and taking acid in the big city.

Either way, their deaths destroyed their futures and devastated all who loved them. This is not to mention the guys who made it back but still are screwed up 50 years later.

The DVD extra is the extended theatrical trailer.

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