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Saturday, March 31, 2018

'The Railway Children' DVD: Filmed Live-Stage Production of Classic Children's Tale A Delight For All Ages


Two April 2018 DVD releases from Film Movement proves that good-quality foreign indie films are not just for adults anymore. The April 3, 2018 release of an expertly filmed York Theatre Royal and National Railway Museum live-stage production of the Edith Nesbit 1905 children's book "The Railway Children" is a perfect example of both an incredibly staged production and a story that truly appeals to EVERYONE from 8 to 80.

This broad likability relates to "Railway" being an adorable well-acted presentation with great humor. Much of this amusement relates to the cast regularly breaking down the imaginary fourth wall that separates them from the audience. The best example of this is a character commenting on a perverse expectation of the audience being incompatible with this "family entertainment."

Movement follows up this release with an April 10, 2018 DVD release of the Australian film "Jasper Jones," which tells the tale of any everymate young teen simultaneously getting involved with the local outcast and the mystery regarding the disappearance of a teen girl. A review of this one will be posted soon.

The titular "Children" are three youths in turn-of-the-century England. Level-headed and bossy eldest daughter Roberta (Bobbie) is roughly 13, typically whiny Peter is 10,  and youngest child Phyllis is roughly eight. These siblings keeping to themselves and having adventures evokes moderate thoughts of the Belcher kids on the current Fox animated series "Bob's Burgers."

The actors portraying the siblings in the play are roughly 10 years older than their characters at the time of the events of the production. Watching a 20 year-old man act like a pouty pre-adolescent is particularly amusing.

The narrative begins with the children and their parents living a happy and comfortable upper-middle-class existence in London. All that changes when two men show up and initiate proceedings that lead to Father becoming a guest of the monarch. The sheltered kids only know that he is away on an extended journey.

A resulting need to economize necessitates moving to a rented cottage in rural Yorkshire. The encountered hardships on arriving in their new community immediately show the children that they are not in London anymore.

The title refers to the habit of the children going to the station each day to wave at the London-bound train each day; their objective in doing so is to send their love to their father, whom they believe to be engaged in important business.

The railway also prominently figures in the adventures of the children throughout the film. These include a heroic act that leads to a ceremony that charmingly shows that boys will be boys. We also see the family separately take in two notable strays. An equally constant element is "the old gentleman," who becomes an increasingly prominent individual in the life of the family.

This being a children's book ensures there being both more major life lesson and a happy ending.

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









Friday, March 30, 2018

'shadowman' DVD: Documentary on Rollercoaster Career of '80s Street Artist Richard Hambleton


The Film Movement January 2, 2018 DVD release of the 2017 documentary "shadowman" about titular avant-garde artist Richard Hambleton is a good follow-up to the (reviewed) Movement December 2017 DVD release of the documentary "Maurizio Cattelan: I'll Be Right Back" about that titular avant-garde artist. Both films achieve the genre ideal of equally informing and entertaining.

One claim to fame of Hambleton is being a founder of the street-art movement in the '80s. The nickname that provides the film its title relates to his painting scarily realistic shadow figures on the outside walls of high-crime areas on the Lower East Side of New York. Other early work includes painting accurate murder-scene body outlines (complete with paint that closely resembles blood) in cities across the country.

A combination of celebrity status (including a close association with Andy Warhol) and talent earns Hambleton high regard and large sums of money at the height of his career. An already borderline personality and seemingly insatiable appetite for drugs leads to poverty, homelessness, and rampant death rumors.

The primary impetus for "shadowman" is a pair of art dealers being the latest in a long string of supporters who undertake the seemingly futile task of getting Hambleton to get his life on track. His literally self-destructive behavior that includes destroying new paintings as quickly as he creates them is one of many reasons that most people give up on him. The most amusing exchange in the film has an art dealer tell Hambleton that holding an art show requires that Hambleton provide art.

The spoiler is that virtually every time that Hamnbleton is on a good path, he crashes and burns in a completely avoidable manner. This occurs even when doing so literally puts him back out in the street.

The bigger picture is the related art scene and drug-fueled edge of '80s-era New York. Director Oren Jacoby shows the ease with which one can get his or her drug of choice. We also get copious reminders of the gritty look of the city before Disney and developers like Trump take over. This provides nostalgia for Gen Xers and a history lesson for younger. It also shows how ignoring the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" advice and not believing that a brain can fry like an egg can lead to millions that come in going out to dealers just as quickly.

The DVD extra consists of 30 minutes of bonus footage that a time constraint precluded watching.

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




Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wentworth By The Sea Hotel: Jason and His Argonauts Provide Perfect Lodging, Dining, and Spa


The third time truly was the charm at the Wentworth By The Sea Hotel on the small island of New Castle near genuinely historic (and New England trendy) Portsmouth New Hampshire. The only guilt related to taking all of the "just right" things from Baby Bear; the only flaw was not following personal advice regarding a fully rejuvenating trip there requiring at least five nights. The better news is that three nights at the hotel still does a great deal of good.

Two other highlights were wearing "indoor shoes" the whole time despite the snowy ground outside and the equally valued ability to charge items to the room allowing leaving my wallet in the room safe. These small luxuries greatly contributed to relaxing.

A year-old post on the first of three visits to the Wentworth provides a good sense of this hotel that dates back to 1874 but has reliable WiFi and several charging options in each room. A perfect example of both the service and the modern technology is the front desk providing a spare charger on your not-so-humble reviewer discovering that his no longer works. Being told to keep the charger was the icing on the cake.

Reading the aforementioned article provided memories of deja vu all over again in the form of severe winter storms being factors regarding both the desire to decompress at the hotel and travelling there between nor'easters. Fortunately, the weather behaved better than expected this year. Additionally, general manager Jason Bartlett and his fantastic crew (a.k.a. Argonauts) are magnificiently accommodating regarding weather-related reservation changes.

A relevant tale regarding the service and the weather is that the Wentworth was booked (and accordingly staffed) at 10-percent occupancy when one of the four-easters this March caused wide-spread power outages that led to last-minute 100-percent occupancy. On asking Bartlett in an interview for this article if he both cleaned rooms and worked at the front desk that night, he stated that he did not do either. He then praised his staff for meeting the challenge as he was confident that they would.

The sense of "been there, done that" also exists regarding the praise for the King Suite in the 2017 article. Repetitive thoughts regarding the comfort and modern luxury in that accommodation reinforce that it is the perfect spot to recover from anxiety related to weather and the many other ills of life. One difference is that the most recent watched Disney Channel fare was "Bizaardvark," rather than "Liv and Maddie."

The following photo of the suite living room provides a good sense of the Utopia there and of the joy of making the space your own. (Alas, the well-written rare book on the history of the Wentworth is a personal item; the better news is that there is SOME hope that the hotel will reprint it and make it available to guests.)


As spectacular as the suite is, going for a misleadingly named standard room only sacrifices the living room. You still get the posh and very comfortable bedroom and high-end bathroom.

An endorsement of the bed is the stay at the hotel being the first time sleeping through the night since an August 2017 visit to the Wentworth. Sadly, the king mattress and soft bedding are too large to smuggle out in a suitcase.

Salt of the Earth

The desire to follow the "I ain't goin' nowhere" pledge of the current trip contributed to eating every breakfast and dinner in the Salt Restaurant off the Wentworth lobby. The perfection regarding every aspect of every meal hardly made this a sacrifice. This reflects the pride and the work of restaurant manager Joshua, who wears the awarded hotel pin that recognizes his exceptionalness as an actual badge of honor.

The beef tenderloin with the whipped potatoes and the charred broccolini was so tender and perfectly seasoned to require getting it two of the three nights. The four-cheese tortellini with guzzle-worthy cream sauce the third night was equally good and only slightly less decadent. The wood-fired pizzas are planned meals for the next visit.

Fortunately, the ideal temperature and chlorine-level pool allows swimming enough to work off these gourmet feasts.

The below photos show various seating areas in Salt. The snowy weather made the window tables with the club chairs and the fireside space equally desirable. The domed ceiling is original to the hotel and allows the same form of eavesdropping as the Capitol dome.




Spatastic

Time in the hotel spa was a significant part of the plan and did not disappoint. This facility has the low lighting, soothing music, and subtly scented air that make these places great. There also are well-appointed locker rooms (complete with dry-heat saunas) that more than meet your needs in transitioning between this safe space and the real world.

Scott the masseur exceeded expectations regarding the two massages during this stay; he provided the ideal pressure and literally hit all the right buttons regarding tension points.

As nice as the current spa is, Bartlett shared that it is going to improve in the near future. He stated that the spa is going to be expanded regarding both space and services and further sound-proofed. Thought not promised, one can only hope for Jacuzzis and steam rooms in the locker rooms.

The Captain Speaks

Visiting with Bartett and touring the two-story suites that occupy the three observation towers was another highlight. The frosting this time was Bartlett stating with his gracious smile that I would need to try one of those accommodations sometime. This graciousness further proves that he makes head honcho Peter McDermott in the (reviewed) ABC soapy "Love Boat" style anthology drama "Hotel" look like the manager of a hot-sheets motel.

The manner in which Bartlett responds to Trip Advisor reviews is a general manifestation of his good work. He writes specific responses to every five and one-star review, and NEVER turns criticism onto the guests as is the case regarding many counterparts at other properties.

He further noted that he and his staff "make every effort to accommodate guests' needs" and that they "try to be fluid." The final highly reasonable note on this subject was that "if a guest is genuine, we do what we can." An element of this is a guest being much less prone to get angry when something goes awry if the service provider is pleasant and friendly from the first interaction. This clearly is so at the Wentworth.

This discussion of hospitality included asking about the Wentworth getting a hotel dog; Bartlett responded that there were no plans to do so but that his dog might fill that role if he adopted one. He added that dogs up to 35 pounds were welcome but required paying a $75 fee. There are additional thoughts of creating a package of treats for canine guests.

A funny coincidence was meeting Bear the Schipperke as he was checking in that evening. We quickly established who was a good boy and who wanted a belly rub.

Wentworth history that is relevant to the talk with Bartlett is that current owner Ocean Properties purchased the (then dilapidated) property in the late '90s and completed a massive three-year restoration. Current Properties Director of Operations Tom Varley was the first GM. Although this hotel is a Marriott franchise, that corporation did not invest one cent in enhancing it beyond its former glory.

The Marriott role also relates to the reply of Bartlett when asked to provide general information about his most challenging guest. He replied that visitors with Marriott elite status "expect a lot" and sometimes negatively commented about the closet size and other aspects of the room. He added in a very friendly manner that "we are not a cookie-cutter Marriott."

The above comment reflects a strong preference of your not-so-humble reviewer. Historic hotels and B and Bs are favored because they are not cookie-cutter properties. Many Unreal TV hotel reviews refer to an episode of an ABC '90s "Seinfeld" clone with a forgotten name in which an ongoing joke is that the quartet of misfits discover on visiting several hotels in a chain that they are the same down to the staff and the guests. A personal pet peeve is staying in a hotel that could be in any city.

Additionally, I brought at least five days' worth of clothing in two large suitcases and two large tote bags on the recent trip to the Wentworth; the several folks who offered help with this load included the housekeeping inspector who saw me outside my suite.

I did not even fill half the closet, that closet had more than enough room for my luggage, and the dresser had a great deal of empty space. (Darn you "Modern Family" for making me notice the whisper-quiet gliding drawers.)  On top of that, most of toiletries fit in the bathroom drawers; the counter space was ample for the rest of it.

The final individual note regarding Marriott v. Wentworth relates to general customer service. Sheer stupidity by a third party ultimately led to accidentally debiting credit in one loyalty program and crediting my Marriott loyalty program with 70,000 points. The resolution included a statement that those Marriott points were mine to use.

A very aggravating subsequent effort to utilize the points resulted in learning that Marriott allowed them to essentially be stolen. Marriott refused to do anything to make this right. Bartlett personally strongly advocated for me.

Now returning to our primary topic, Bartlett managed the Properties-owned Sable Oaks complex before coming to the Wentworth roughly one year ago,. That resort near Portland, Maine has two hotels and a gold course. Proving himself in that role earned him the privilege of stepping in when the former manager resigned.

The aforementioned book on the Wentworth prompted asking Bartlett about his background. That tome noted that the strong appeal of the hotel included its history of having owners and managers that either were raised in the hospitality industry or had a natural talent for it. Current guests get the twofer of Bartlett having uncles in the "business" and his belief that "ultimately hospitality is just in my blood." He added that he "loves working with and talking to people."

Bartlett further enforced the vibe associated with the Wentworth in stating that the owners maintain the historic integrity of the hotel while "seamlessly incorporating modern style and amenities."

Shared enhancement plans in addition to expanding the spa largely focused on the summer season. Bartlett stated that the hotel planned to offer croquet and other family-oriented outdoor activity. This is in addition to plans to build a fire pit and otherwise increase the amenities at the marina suites.

Checking Out

As this lengthy article indicates, the Wentworth literally and figuratively is a personal "go to" place for breaks from the real world. Part of this reasoning is that visiting there avoids the high price and sense of being a prisoner getting processed in the big house associated with flying these days.

It also is nice to have flexibility associated with not having to catch a flight. On top of this, you can bring a great deal of luggage without paying a high fee for the privilege of waiting 30 minutes for it to show up battered and bruised while you get jostled at baggage claim.

The most apt way to wind up all this is a highly relevant happy note by Bartlett. He states that he "wants guests to leave happy, and want to return, and want to spread the word."

Anyone with questions or comments regarding the Wentworth or the general New Hampshire seacoast is strongly encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.





















Tuesday, March 27, 2018

'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' DVD: Oscar-Winning Classic Early Talkie of Timeless Horror Tale of the Beast Within Everyone


Warner Archive continues giving Golden Age fans a chance to "catch 'em all" regarding the 1,000s of "Must See" films of that era with the aptly March 27, 2018 DVD release of the 1932 Frederic March version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr, Hyde." As the DVD liner notes remind us, the Patty Dukeesque acting of March earns him a Best Actor award for that role.

This tale has the same substantial depth as fellow classic horror films "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" of the era. This one centers around the fact that dressing man in finery and developing him to a level of refinement that makes Emily Post seem like a literal two-bit whore does not change that we all have a savage nature that includes carnal desires. The credible speculation regarding the real-life Jack the Ripper being an outwardly respectable London gentlemen (perhaps an actual royal) supports the theory of the fictional Dr. Jekyll.

The related live-stage and melodramatic vibes of "Jekyll" are very apt both for this early period in the film industry and the nature of the story. The aforementioned award-winning portrayal of Hyde as a combination of Neanderthal Man and the Wolf Man strongly contributes to this theatrical sense.

The film opens with a busy day for respected Dr. Jekyll. He is off to deliver a lecture on his theory that man (and woman) has two distinct parts. They essentially are the respectable socially acceptable portion of ourselves that we present to the world and our "dark passenger" that represents the savage nature that remains despite our lengthy evolution. The rest of the story is that Jekyll believes that he can separate these aspects of us so that we essentially have the "good" one and the evil twin with the figurative goatee.

This medical practitioner then goes to the hospital where he first helps a young girl recover the use of her legs and then works overtime to personally operate on a scared old woman. The latter humanitarian gesture makes him late for a formal dinner at the home of his fiancee Muriel Carew and her strict and humorless father Brig. Gen. Danvers Carew (ret.).

Jekyll being late already incurs the wrath of Daddy; politely but firmly resisting a demand to postpone Muriel's wedding adds fuel to the fire.

Jekyll wraps up his day by coming to the aid of damsel-in-distress/dance hall girl Ivy Pearson. This loose woman seems to be one bad performance away from working a street corner and offers our hero tit for tat regarding both his medical services and his kindness.

The hardest working man in medicine next goes to his home office/man cave to work on his formula to separate the beauty from the beast. As the film title suggests, he succeeds. Surprisingly, the transformation is one of the least melodramatic moments of the film and does not even involve smashing test tubes or beakers.

The newly born Hyde then goes on the town in search of Ivy; he soon finds her and follows the still modern tradition of having the bartender summon the object of his affliction to his table. These leads to a situation in which Hyde provides tat in the form of a love nest that is a step up for our fallen woman.

Jekyll sowing his wild oats in the guise of Hyde predictably threatens his engagement and lowers his already not great status in the eyes of The General. The Carews leaving for an extended trip to Boston is an additional complication.

Meanwhile, the Hyde side exerts himself even stronger to the extent that his behavior deteriorates and takes control even when Jekyll does not drink the transformation formula. The clear moral is to not let the genie out of the bottle.

This all culminates with a variation of the villagers storming the castle of the monster. The twists at the end that purport to deliver justice are interesting and almost definitely influence the outcome in the Hitchcock Jekyll and Hyde film "Psycho." Both films clearly show that we all go a little mad sometimes.

The most fun special feature is the 1955 Bugs Bunny cartoon "Hyde and Hare" in which the titular wascally wabbit learns the lesson about being careful about the things for which you wish. In this case, it relates to convincing kindly Dr. Jekyll to adopt him as a pet. A particularly cute scene has Bugs adopting the guise of a cute little rabbit as opposed to the stinker whom we all know and love.

Archive additionally provides the highly atmospheric and clever theatrical trailer for the 1941 Spencer Tracy version of "Jekyll."

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








'Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero' BD: Awesome Follow-up to Warner Archive "Mask of the Phantasm' BD


The Warner Archive March 27, 2018 Blu-ray of the 1998 animated movie "Batman and Mr. Freeze: Subzero" comes on the heels of Archive rocking the 2018 WonderCon in Anaheim and a few months after the spectacular (reviewed) Archive BD of the 1993 theatrical release "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm." All of this precedes the rumored Archive BD release of "Batman: The Animated Series." One can only hope that the picture and sound quality of the BAS release equals that of the two film releases.

"Subzero" stands on its own even for non-batfans. However, the good folks at Warner provide a primer and other context in the form of two BAS, a "New Batman Adventures," and a "Batman Beyond" episode from the "Subzero" era. We also get the "Subzero" theatrical trailer and a lesson in drawing Batman.

Veteran Batman voicer Kevin Conroy stars as the titular Dark Knight; his co-star is Man of 195 IMDb titles (and former Mr. Barbara Eden) Michael Ansara. Fellow Batvets Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (Of "The F.B.I." fame) and Robert Hasting respectively voice Alfred and Commissioner Gordon.

"Subzero" opens with titular mad scientist Dr. Victor Fries (not to be confused with Captain Cold) happily going about his business in his literal Arctic lair when the outside world equally literally crashing in creates the crisis that sets the action of the film in motion.

Desperate times in the form of disrupting the cryogenic state of ill spouse Nora Fries requires the initial desperate measure of kidnapping cryogenic expert Dr. Gregory Belson (George Dzundza), who is experiencing his own desperation, and forcing him to treat Nora.

This leads to the subsequent desperate measure of kidnapping Batgirl/Commissioner Gordon offspring/Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Robin) love interest Barbara Gordon ("South Park" voicer Mary Kay Bergman) because of her suitability as an organ donor for Nora. Barbara not being dead is a minor technicality in the mind of the grieving almost-widower.

The abduction, which occurs while Barbara and Dick are on a date, leads to one of the best scenes in  "Subzero." Dick takes off in daring hot pursuit of the kidnappers and goes out on a limb in an effort to save his boo. The Boy Wonder ending up in the hospital in contrast to his guardian/partner-in-crime-fighting walking off comparable injuries in the Batcave is one of many subtle separations between the men and the boys in the film.

Another notable element relates to early 20-somethings Dick and Barbara planning a weekend getaway. This leads to the explicit language and almost equally graphic sexual activity in the 21st century direct-to-video DCU films. This includes the incarnation of Robin in the 2017 future classic "Batman and Harley Quinn" having very kinky S&M sex with a titular character.

This nabbing leads to Barbara fending off her captors as The Dynamic Duo tries to locate her.

The extended climax occurs when our heroes arrive at the lair of Freeze. The ensuing battle royale strongly reflects the Batcode of not allowing either innocents or those whom no one would blame the heroes in fetishware leaving behind to perish. This culminates in a fairly literal cliffhanger that contributes to the Batguilt that shines in live-action and animated 21st century Batfare.

The aforementioned good production values and above-summarized interesting story makes "Subzero" well worthy of this release that shows the film proper regard. The bigger picture is that Archive gives DCU fans a chance to add to their home-video collection at a time that Warner Prime is producing copious new material and the good folks who purvey the classic material are giving us new chances to either revisit or to discover that which comes before it.

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





Monday, March 26, 2018

'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' VOD/ DVD/Blu-ray/4K: Historic Step Toward Star Wars: The Next Generation


Several elements warrant lauding "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which Disney is releasing on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K in various combinations on March 27 2018 a week after a VOD release. This praise includes the 95-minute "making-of" documentary "The Director and the Jedi" on the bonus disc.

The bigger picture (no pun intended) is that "Star Wars" arguably is the coolest franchise out there that also does the best job spanning generations. Setting the films in a far far away galaxy at a time that is long ago prevents any of them from looking old. Further, reuniting the band each time avoids debates regarding which Luke or Han is the best.

It is equally cool that being adequately ancient to have seen "New Hope" in the theaters is a badge of honor, rather than a basis for thinking that Grandpa is telling his boring stories again. Personally seeing it as a lad of tender years was particularly special for reasons that include it being one of three films to which my father ever took me (the other two are "The Goodbye Girl" and "Private Benjamin"), and he kept his promise to take me despite his friends pressuring him to see "Annie Hall" in the next theater.

The final note regarding this is that the kids of today cannot imagine the thrill of the introduction to this saga being in a theater with a full-size screen and hearing the classic Williams soundtrack as the innovative scrolling intertitles that become a "Star Wars" staple begin rolling.

Grandpa is limiting other "Star Wars" memories to two more. The first is arriving at a mid-morning opening weekend screening of "Phantom Menace" just in case a ticket might be available, inadvertently buying a (discounted) forged ticket from a tween scalper, having another scalper literally pushing me into the usher on my warning his customer, and the usher accepting that ticket.

The final memory is attending (with validly issued tickets) opening day midnight showings of Chapters II and III. The amazing acrobatic pre-show fan lightsaber duels and other senses of community were fantastic.

The most general notable element regarding the home-video releases of "Jedi" is that this is the first "Star Wars" film that receives a 4K release. The superb advance 2-disc BD release that Disney is providing press outlets looks wonderful using a 4K player and set, but watching this visually stunning film with a perfect John Williams soundtrack and equally good sound effects on 4K seems very worthwhile.

Fully giving this release its deserved kudos is impossible without this review being a novella. A reasonable effort requires confessing leaving the theater in January with mixed feelings that include liking "Jedi" but also dubbing it "Deathstar Galactica" and "Star Wars: Voyager." The good news is that the standard experiment of watching a film on Blu-ray or 4K after seeing it in the theater paid off as if often does.

The following YouTube clip of the official "Jedi" trailer awesomely expresses both the observations provided above and the recap that comprises the rest of this post. It further highlights the stunning visual elements and the exceptional soundtrack of the film.


As the scrolling intertitles in "Jedi" state, the big bad New Order has almost complete control over the galaxy; only a small band of Resistance (rebel scum to the Order) fighters remain. Fan favorite (and righteous dudette on-and off-screen General Leia Organa (the sadly late Carrie Fisher)) leads the troops.

The opening scenes perfectly illustrate the benefit of seeing "Jedi" a second time. The Order is closing in on a Resistance base as Leia and her followers are scrambling to escape into space ahead of an attack. The Han Soloish rogue (in a few senses) fighter pilot Poe Dameron is using a prank as old as the innovation of the telephone to torment the commander of the attacking ship.

The first impression of this exchange (no pun intended) is that a tired childish prank has no place in a "Star Wars" film; the second impression, which the deleted original opening sequence enhances, is that Poe is cleverly using a ploy to buy the ground troops more time to take to the skies.

This sequence give Poe his Leia moment that the other two members of "The New Class" also get. This one is particularly special in that it has very personal elements for Leia. Only a bitter reference to this General being a a princess would have enhanced it.

Meanwhile on Skywalker Ranch, strong-willed Force-laden Leiaish Rey is trying to convince Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to end his self-imposed Elba-style exile on what he considers the most isolated spot in the galaxy. He truly wants to be left alone.

The angst of Luke includes the outcome when faced with the "Star Wars" equivalent of the decision of whether to take advantage of a chance to kill Hitler before his rise to power. Further, a battle-weary Luke realizes the truth of his world and ours that ending one war does not prevent another one.

The thoroughly awesome Leia moment that Luke gets involves the best humor in the film that relates to one of the most iconic elements of the franchise. It provides one of the more special last memories of Fisher before her death.

Rey ultimately gets arguably the best (and most Leia-like) confrontation in a two-fer scene. She is the defiant prisoner of evil overlord Snoke (voice and action motion-capture god Andy Serkis) while Darth Vader grandson/Han and Leia son/Luke nephew Kylo Ren looks on. One spoiler is that Rey is not wearing a harem girl style bikini.

This scene provides several climaxes that include the moderately awaited reveal regarding the parentage of Rey. It also involves a a chance for her to follow the lead of Luke in letting the Order and the Resistance work things out without her.

Meanwhile, boy-next-door next generation Luke/former stormtrooper Finn is on his own mission that is very true to the objective in "New Hope." This ventures partners him up with the smooth operator who fills the void left by roguish Lando Calrissian.

All of this leads to a siege in which things seem helpless; this seemingly hopeless (pun intended) situation involves the Ayn Rand Libertarian philosophy that runs throughout "Jedi." The Resistance leaders that fairly literally are facing the wolf at the door come to realize that help is not on the way and that they must fend for themselves. The resolution involves a nice mix of self-reliance and support being available when you exhaust your resources.

These final moments also include what has become the "Star Wars" staple of the death of a major character. In this case, this better paves the way for the new kids to take over.

The aforementioned liking "Jedi" much more on the second showing strongly relates to the final scenes. The first impression is having wasted substantial time and money on theatrical and home-video viewings (and lots of "collectibles") of "Star Wars" films. The second showing reveals that writer-director Rian Johnson is leaving things on a more ambiguous note than borrowing a narrative technique from the '80s primetime soap "Dallas."

Speaking of borrowing, as the personal alternative titles to "Jedi" indicate, Johnson brings in several elements of "Star Trek: Voyager" and the 2000s "Battlestar Galactica" to the extent of prompting a "please state the nature of the medical emergency" joke. However, additional consideration results in cutting him slack and finding it cool that the film incorporates other favorites.

Johnson does equally well leaving the audience with a good starting point for Rey and her boys to wrap up the intended nine chapter saga of Leia and her boys. It is fully expected that this will lead to another nine chapters of the adventures of these space cadets.

Regarding the "Director" documentary, very recent Hollywood Star of Fame honoree Hamill Himself steals the show with his candidness, charm, and graciousness. He really gets in the spirit of "Jedi" and has a great scene in which he is very gracious to a extra who also is an adoring fan who inadvertently jostles his idol. He shows equally good humor when the crew literally leaves him hanging.

We additionally see that the budget for "Jedi" is not unlimited, that filming on Luke's Island presents even more logistical nightmares than the audience believes, and that Johnson seems to genuinely be nice.

Another great extra shows Serkis performing the aforementioned climatic scene in his elaborate motion-capture suit.

The deleted scenes makes one ache for a director's cut that restores them.

Your not-so-humble reviewer thanks readers who have reached this point of this epic review. Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Jedi" is strongly encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.




Saturday, March 24, 2018

'The Nine Lives of Marion Barry' DVD: HBO Documentary on Buddy Cianci of Washington, D.C.


The IndiePix Films February 2018 DVD release of the 2010 HBO documentary "The Nine Lives of Marion Barry" focuses on a perfect subject for a study of an Energizer bunny politician who miraculous keeps going despite having his hand caught in the cocaine jar; this also provides a perfect context for the history of Home Rule in Washington, D.C. The subject of an elected leader whom even hard time cannot undermine also reflects the story of Providence favorite son Buddy Cianci.

Filmmakers Toby Oppenheimer and Dana Flor follow the documentary model of introducing their subject in the recent past; in this case, it is during a 2008 city council election in which Barry supporters treat their candidate as if he is a rock star.

Florenheimer intersperses coverage of that campaign with discussion of the long history of political activity of Barry. This man comes on the DC scene in the '60s as a founder of Pride, Inc. that help young black men improve their futures. The Washington of that era is poor city with a 70-percent black population. Further, the federal government runs the city.

The Home Rule that the Watergate docudrama "All the President's Men" mentions becomes effective in the mid '70s. This provision for the city to govern itself opens the door for Barry to run a successful campaign for the newly formed city council.

What arguably is an "F Troop" incident in which Barry takes one for the team when he is at the wrong place at the right time arguably plays a large role in his soon winning his first of several terms as mayor. This leads to an underlying theme of the condition of the city coinciding with the condition of Barry.

"Lives" does not hold back in covering the dark side of Barry that involves womanizing, drug use, and living large on public money. Prominent talking head Barry ex-wife Effi Barry discusses the charm of the man-of-the-hour and the extent to which she stands by him.

Other talking heads include veteran black politician Jesse Jackson and legendary D.C. newsman Jim Vance.

This unbiased coverage that represents the documentary ideal includes the infamous 1990 FBI surveillance footage of a married Barry hitting the pipe in an intimate moment with a woman who is not his wife. His lust for her body seems equal to his desire for the crack. This scene includes the well-known "the bitch set me up" utterance by Barry as the feds are nabbing him.

The effectiveness of the charm offensives by Barry is no more apparent than in scenes from 2008 in which the 14 year-old godson of this career politician campaigns for him with almost a religious zeal; this young man heavily discounts the sordid life of his idol.

The lad further stars in a deleted scene that is the most cute one of the film. He is speaking with two peers and prompting them to have a back-up plan regarding the same unrealistic dreams for the future that most adolescents of every race and class possess. The kids ending the conversation by expressing a need to "bounce" is adorable.

Much of the depth of "Lives" relates to the Svengali effect that politicians, other public figures, and ordinary citizens can have on various populations; those of us who do not fall under the spell are amazed that the blessed one gets away with so much "stuff" but recognize that we simply do not see things in the same manner as the faithful. This includes wondering how the boob in the next office soars up the corporate ladder and/or keeps his or her job after breaking every rule in the literal book.

The DVD extras include other scenes in addition to the aforementioned footage of the boys in the 'hood, archival photos, and the trailer for "Lives."

People with questions or comments regarding "Lives" are encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.





Friday, March 23, 2018

'Agenda: Payback' VOD/Theatrical: A Bitch Ensures Hustler Gets Karma


The Level 33 Entertainment VOD and limited theatrical release of the Austin-based Smokehouse Media film "Agenda: Payback" provides the almost unanimous majority whom a trusted special someone betrays wonderful catharsis. It further has an interesting concept and creative narrative technique that add fresh twists to the highly satisfying perverse revenge film. The final general note regarding this is that "Payback" only partially adheres to the principle that going down a dark path leads to ending up either in jail or in the ground.


The following YouTube clip of a "Payback" trailer provides a strong sense of the plot and the style of the film.

The strong '90s mob films vibe of "Payback" makes casting Sean Patrick Flanery (whose career begins with playing Young Indiana Jones in the eponymous ABC series of that era) as fast-talking hustler Steve Walsh apt. As the script-style text scrolling across the scene establishes, Walsh is living large in a luxury hotel suite with the wife of a "friend" when the film begins.

The nightmare of Walsh (and the fantasy of the rest of us) begins on him being knocked out and tossed in the trunk of a car within the first 10 minutes of the film. This occurring as Walsh is hyping his current big deal makes this particularly exciting.

The action soon shifts to the main arena of this film with a strong live-stage vibe. A literally bloodied-and-beaten Walsh is strapped to a chair in the basement of screenwriter Peter Farrell (Eric Balfour of "24"). Stating that misguided faith in Walsh costs Farrell virtually everything is not much of an exaggeration.

Balfour being a producer of "Payback" contributes a fun element of real-life to the film.

The cool part comes on soon learning that Farrell is pursuing the titular course of action for both fun and profit by selling other victims of Walsh sessions in the basement. One of the best of these confrontations effectively enforces the terms of a pinkie swear and should make Walsh happy he did not pledge one of two parts of his anatomy that surely is very dear to him.

"Payback" also awesomely proves that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. One client wants to ensure that she gets her money's worth; another visitor enjoys the mother of all revenge f**ks that may involve giving Walsh a taste of prison life.

The aforementioned clever narrative technique elevates "Payback" from being a made-for-basic-cable flick to a decent indie production from the cool capital of America. Team Balfour doing more than having a physically (but not verbally) restrained Walsh endure the wrath of his investors also contributes something special. Our boy gets his chance at his own payback.

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









Thursday, March 22, 2018

'The Coming War on China' DVD: John Pilger Documentary Explores Tension Between Western & Eastern Super Powers

The exceeded expectation of excellence regarding the February 20, 2018 DVD of the 2016 documentary "The Coming War on China" relates to this being a John Pilger film that is a collaborative effort of Icarus Films and Bullfrog Films. Icarus/Bullfrog joint joints always are good, and the (reviewed) Pilger documentary "Utopia" about the deplorable treatment of Aborigines in Australia is exceptional.

"War" gets a well-deserved hall pass regarding not meeting the documentary ideal of equally educating and entertaining; there is more than ample education, and there is nothing entertaining about the topic.

The sense of the atrocities and of the relevant issues in the following YouTube clip of the official trailer for "War" should compel everyone to get the film.


Although the title of "War" suggests that it focuses on economic issues, the general subject is the ring of U.S. bases that encircles the Asian nation. Aerial footage of a mass of dark blue water that marks the former location of an island is one of many stunning images of America using the region as a testing area for nuclear weapons beginning in the years immediately after the end of World War II.

The many ills that Pilger documents includes the American military requiring the natives of the area to stay on their islands during the testing; this is to provide data on the effects of the weapons on people.

The modern negative impacts of the bases in the region include the essentially slave labor regarding the natives who perform landscaping duties and provide other services that make life luxurious for military personnel and their families. Pilger additionally discusses service personnel inflicting various degrees of sexual assaults on local women.

Regarding China, maps clearly show that the U.S. has that country penned in; footage of a military exercise offers further proof that we are prepared to stop any ships from either leaving or entering that country.

The epilogue to "War" is that recent political events supports the view of the film that armed conflict with China is inevitable; the possibility of this being sooner rather than later seems to increase each day.

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


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.