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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

'Lifetime Double Feature' V1 DVD: 2 Guilty Pleasures Christmas Tales With Sabrina & Slater & Christine & Rosewood

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

This post is on the "A Very Merry Toy Store" and "Four Christmases and A Wedding" release; a review of "Wrapped Up in Christmas" and "Snowed Inn Christmas" is scheduled for the weekend of  October 19. .

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

The pattern begins with the movie being set in roughly mid-December. Our central character is a 30-something woman who is experiencing severe work-related stress that brings her in conflict with the 30-something man of her dreams and/or bane of her existence. They directly or indirectly clash until the woman finds a solution that makes both of them happy. This leads to a Christmas period kiss at or near the end of the film. The lesson for unattached folks who are looking for love in all the wrong places and in too many faces is to just wait for Christmas and find a bone of contention with spouse material.

The set du jour starts out with the personal favorite (and arguably most goofy) movie of the four. "A Very Merry Toy Store" stars Melissa Joan Hart of "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" as Connie Forrester, who owns the titular Mom-and-Pop retail establishment in New Britain, Connecticut. Connie and competitor Will DiNova (Mario Lopez of "Saved By the Bell") must at least partially kiss and make up to survive the threat that the owner (Billy Gardell of "Yes, Dear") of a large regional toy chain presents. 

The fun of this one extends beyond the dirty and not-so-dirty business tactics. The "Love Boat"caliber casting goes well beyond having Sabrina and Slater essentially play kissing cousins turned feuding neighbors. We get "Aunt Zelda" portrayor Beth Broderick as the mother of Connie, a slightly butched up Mario Cantone of "Sex and the City" as the mayor/realtor, and Dan Amboyer as the amusing goofy younger brother of Connie. This is not to mention voice actress Tara Strong as the love interest of a clueless Randy. 

The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Toy Store" provides a good sense of the aforementioned Lifetimey fun.

"Four Christmases and A Wedding" is more of a traditional Lifetime movie than "Store." The emphasis is on getting one chance a year to make it work with Mr. Right, rather than on dropping the fists and grabbing the hips.

This one has Arielle Kebbel of the "90210" reboot playing event-planner extraordinaire Chloe Taylor. Her "its complicated" relationship centers around dreamy corporate executive Evan Mathers (Corey Sevier). Fun casting comes in the form of having Markie Post of "Night Court" play the mother of Chloe and Judge Reinhold of "Beverly Hills Cop" play the love interest of Mom.

The "complicated" part relates to Evan meeting Chloe at the annual Christmas event that she plans; he is in town visiting his sister ahead of moving overseas. Evan returns the following year with a girlfriend in tow, his being single the year after that does not make things any easier for this not-yet happy couple.

The following YouTube clip of the trailer for "Wedding" shows how it combines the spirits of Lifetime and of Christmas.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

'Over the Wall' DVD: Fighting Irishman Learns That The Vocal Cord Is Mightier Than The Fist

The twofer that Warner Archive provides regarding the September 18, 2018 DVD release of the 1938 prison drama morality tale "Over the Wall" begins with this movie being a textbook example of the lost gems Golden Age B-movies that comprise a significant portion of the Archive catalog. The "two" begins with this release continuing the tradition of Archive leitmotifs. The theme this time is prison dramas, and the set includes the reviewed Warner Bu-ray release of the 1973 classic film "Papillon" about the obsessive efforts of the boy with the butterfly tattoo to escape from Devils Island.

The first of the numerous elements that make "Wall" Archive worthy begins with the unusual source material. This tale of hot-tempered brawling Irishman Jerry Davis is based on a book by real-life Sing Sing warden Lewis E. Lawes. The clear message that that well-known prison strives to rehabilitate, rather than punish, establishes both that it is the polar opposite of Devil's Island and that Davis either is going to be a better man for a dead one at the end of film.

"Wall" further reflects the studio system. The liner notes on the DVD back cover share that "Warner Bros.' celebrated 'Singing Cowboy' Dick Foran trades in his leathers for a prison jumper" to play Jerry. It is highly likely that most (if not all) the supporting characters and all the extras are largely selected based on who is available during the time allotted for making "Wall." 

"Wall" not being shy about depicting the stereotypes of the era is another source of entertainment. Jerry is a perfect depiction of a 20-something New York punk who needs very little provocation to bust a window or a head; his much-younger brother Jimmy seems destined to head down the same road. Jimmy additionally represents the humorous stereotype of a prepubescent boy of the '30s who looks and sounds like a grown-ass man. This makes a scene in which the lad must relinquish the death seat and move to the bitch seat in the car of Jerry funny.

The Irish stereotype continues with the father of Jerry and Jimmy having a brogue that makes him sound as if he is fresh of the boat even though his wife lacks any Irish accent, The man who is at least in his 60s picking a fight with Jerry helps complete the picture. 

Other period-specific glee relates to the spinning headlines that provide substantive exposition and a swinging pendulum of a clock accompanying months flying by to indicate the passage of time. 

True to form with this type of film, Jerry barely avoids becoming a guest of the state the first time that he gets his Irish up. Of course, he ignores the advice to temper his temper.

The impetus for the events that lead to the unfortunate incarceration of Jerry is his sleazy fight manager setting him up for a literal fall in a fight that is the venture of a legitimate businessman. Emotional and physical pain prompts our raging bull to track down his manager. That altercation leads to the manager pushing up daises. 

The judicial proceeding that concludes with convicting Jerry of manslaughter occurs in what aptly can be described as a boxing kangaroo court. This leads to his getting locked up in the aforementioned correctional institution.

The arrogance and related defiance of Jerry on going inside figuratively (and hilariously)  places  him in the bitch seat in a manner that provides numerous highlights, Modern audiences know that the real-life wake-up call would have involved a badly bruised body and Jerry becoming the wife of one or more inmates. 

Prison chaplain Father Neil Connor is the primary force behind the effort to provide Jerry a form of deliverance other than the type described above. Of course, that initial effort fails.

​The first turning point occurs when Jerry passes a test of character. His showing his true nature reaps immediate benefits, We next get a '30s version of a jailhouse rock that lets Foran showoff his singing voice. A positive aspect of this is that his songs provide the same type of pleasant surprise as when Jim Nabors demonstrates that his singing style is nothing like the high-pitched Southern accent of Gomer Pyle. A less-nice aspect of this scene in "Wall" is that a stereotype involving two black inmates is not laughable but is excusable in the context of the era. 

The climax commences with Jerry getting a chance to prove his innocence; this results in a fast-paced final 10-minutes as Connor and other supporters try to prevent Jerry both from reverting to his old ways and from being his own worst enemy, Seeing these men team up in the name of truth, justice, and the American way strongly suggests that they would go on to star in a television series about street-wise detectives if "Wall" was made in the '70s.

Additional appeal of this highly dated fable is that it reminds us of a much happier time in which prisons had some success at rehabilitating inmates and did not just release them on the streets stronger and more crime savvy than when they entered. On the "order" side of things, this period also is known for having a judicial system with proper due process, participants who favored justice over wins and/or expediency, and in which one went wrong was more easily put right, 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

'Lyle' DVD: Thriller on Sacrificial Deal With Devil to Have Child

Breaking Glass Pictures stays true to its commitments to distributing edgy and/or gay-themed fare regarding the DVD release of the 2014 thriller "Lyle." This one has "Transparent" star Gaby Hoffman as expectant mother Leah, who has reason to believe that something is Satanic in the state of Williamsburg (Brooklyn).

The following YouTube clip of the SPOILER-LADEN "Lyle" trailer shows the mix of indie film and big-budget thriller that makes the film unique.

The nature of the relationship between stay-at-home mom Leah and long-term partner/professional musician June most likely is the basis for Breaking adding "Lyle" to its impressive catalog; the theme of this couple being just like many straight ones in that Mom stays home with the titular toddler while pregnant with the second child and "Dad" works long hours (which strains the "marriage") and largely views Mom as a hysterical female is true to the Breaking philosophy that movies with gay leads can be just like ones in which the main characters are straight.

In typical New York City horror movie style, "Lyle" opens with our couple and their child touring a too-good-to-be-true Brooklyn apartment. Although Leah is skeptical from the beginning, June essentially tells her not to worry her pretty little head about it. The incredible deal on the place and weird landlady Karen being obsessed with getting knocked up are the primary sources of the angst of Leah.

The first indication that Leah has good reason to worry her pretty little head is that Lyle begins acting very strangely; a subsequent indication that Karen is not being truthful regarding a statement that a child never has lived in the apartment triggers additional concern.

The spidey sense of Leah goes off the charts after a tragic event involving Lyle. This prompts an investigation that uncovers evidence of prior nefarious doings in the building. All this supports the theory that just because someone is paranoid does not mean that no one is watching.

In classic thriller style, the conflict escalates to a point that Leah does not trust anyone, and all efforts to soothe her fail. This leads to a climax and ending very similar to another film in which a mother-to-be fears that evil forces have a role in her pregnancy.

Hoffman does a good job carrying most of the film; her portrayal of Leah is sympathetic and mostly believable; harm befalling a child is tough for most mothers, and feeling that you cannot trust your life partner is distressing. Throwing in a threat to an unborn baby is enough to stress out anyone.

Breaking further follows its successful formula by including a short film by "Lyle" writer/director Stewart Thorndike. This one involves the bizarre home life of a child.

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

'Invasion of The Body Snatchers' Blu-ray: Best Pod Cast EVER

The bad news is that the 1956 scifi horror thriller "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" being a prominent topic in film study and political science courses precludes giving the Olive Signature division of Olive Films October 16, 2018 Blu-ray release of this classic due regard. The first good news is that the copious in-depth and insightful bonus features do show "Body" proper regard and give current students a good shot at boosting their grade at least a notch.

Audio commentary by "Body" stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter (and by Gizmo's birth dad Joe Dante) further enhances the Signature release of the film. 

The second good news is that the recently beefed-up Olive Films section of Unreal TV 2.0 includes reviews of other cult classics that Signature has shown tremendous love. The first releases are the 1952 classic Western "High Noon" and the more campy 1954 Joan Crawford Western "Johnny Guitar." This collection including the lesbiancentric 1996 neo-noir film "Bound" demonstrates the range of Signature, 

"Body" is based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. The aforementioned special features shows how this tale of the fruit of seeds from outer space replacing ordinary townfolks in a '50s Everytown U.S.A. speaks to (hilariously named) producer Walter Wanger. We additionally get the perspective of director Don Siegel. 

As the oft-mentioned extras remind us, one aspect of "Body" that makes it notable is being the first in a long series of "pod people" films that still entertain movie goers and provide sitcom writers who are desperate for a Halloween episode script fodder for a dream-sequence. However, this does not prevent Siegel and his team from borrowing from "Citizen Kane" and many other classics.

Just as "Kane" opens with the death of the titular William Randolph Hearst pod person and goes on to portray the key events in the life of the clone, the first scenes in "Body" show a crazed and disheveled Dr. Miles J. Bennell (McCarthy) restrained in a hospital and ranting about the titular offensive. This leads to a psychiatrist agreeing to hear his story in order to calm him down. 

"Body" then depicts an equally standard opening scene; we see a train pull into the station at Santa Mira, California. The protagonist (Bennell) disembarks and meets his nurse. The audience learns on the ride to the office both that Bennell has good-natured arrogance and that he is returning from a two-week trip to a medical conference. Bennell learns that chaos in the form of people flooding his office with claims of replicas replacing locals has erupted in his absence, 

The mystery deepens when Bennell finds his office empty and all seeming quiet on this western town front. Things get more interesting when Becky Driscoll (Wynter), with whom Bennell has an "its complicated" past, shows up after an extended absence, This reunion leads to a joke about divorce that is shocking for the '50s but very funny in 2018.

The initial investigation by those "meddling kids" Bennell and Driscoll bears little fruit until they experience a major breakthrough. This phase of the investigation ultimately leads to hot pursuit of Bennell and Driscoll that includes era-apt propaganda in the form of coaxing the couple by telling them that they will be much happier if they no longer think or feel.

The bonus regarding this is that falling asleep creates a significant risk of a fate different then death, Seeing Bennell being particularly clever in evading his former friends and neighbors is another aspect of "Body" that distinguishes it from other '50s scifi fare. 

The quality continues to the end; the opening scenes establish that Bennell does not lose his humanity. However, suspense remains whether "Abner" believes "Gladys" that "witches" are among us. The outcome demonstrates why "Body" has endured so long. 

The final mention of the numerous short documentaries and related material in the Signature release is that the filmmmakers never divulge their intents regarding "Body" being right or left-wing propaganda. That ambiguity adds to the fun of the film and reminds us of a kinder and gentler (although equally paranoid) era, ​​