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Friday, November 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

'Dating Game Killer' DVD: Comprehensive Docudrama of Genuine Lady Killer

The November 13, 2018 Lionsgate DVD release of the 2017 Investigation Discovery docudrama "Dating Game Killer" offers awesomely nostalgic not-so-guilty-pleasure fun. The titular murderer/excitable boy Rodney Alcala (Guillermo Diaz) interrupts his at least decade-long killing spree to compete on the titular game show in the late '70s. It is estimated that his total body count is approximately 130.

Diaz ("Scandal") does such a good job playing a seducer/lurer of girls and women who range roughly from 8 through mid-20s that the audience gets a strong sense of watching Alcala himself. The impact of this performance includes Alcala fitting the pattern of being quirky but not not so outwardly creepy to raise suspicions. 

The victim who changes everything for Alcala is a young girl in the late '60s. Police detective Jim Hamell (Robert Knepper of "Prison Break") is at the right place at the right time in that he sees Alcala zero in on the girl when Hamell stops to use a pay phone. The spidey sense of Hamell results in hot pursuit that still is too late to save the girl.

The narrative shifts ahead 10 years; photographer Alcala (of course) lives with his blissfully ignorant mother and is fresh off his national television debut. This also coincides with Alcala perving on two teen girls at the beach.

The audience (and a not-so-good Samaritan) know that Alcala is keeping one of the teens at a wilderness area; we also know that the girl suffers her inevitable fate. The rest of the world only knows that the girl is missing and that a sketch of the man at the beach is a good likeness of that individual. 

This incident ties "Killer" together, The circumstances of the case adequately mirror the modus operandi of Alcala to prompt Hamell to come on the scene and impose his services on investigating officer Detective Ryan (Matt Barr). Hamell briefing his new partner-in-crime-solving on the activities of Alcala in the interim between the cold case and the warm one is an effective exposition tool. A primary aspect of this is the legal system repeatedly setting Alcala free to keep preying on women. A '70s element is the clear message that you do not want to get Alcala angry (or scorned). 

A really creepy period between the two crimes around which "Killer" centers around is a WTF stint as a photographer at girls' camp in New York state. The shock and awe commences with learning that an adult male manages to use a fake name to obtain a job that allows him largely unfettered access to underage girls. The disbelief continues with Alcala keeping that job after figuratively triggering enough red flags to be visible from space, 

"Killer" provides the additional perspective of Carol Jensen (Carrie Preston of "True Blood"), who is the mother of the missing girl. Having a child suddenly vanish without a trace is adequately traumatic; not knowing the fate of that offspring greatly compounds the issue; being certain of the identity of the perpetrator but the proof being insufficient to even bring him in for questioning seems unbearable. 

Hamell and Ryan subsequently and literally keep their distance as they watch Alcala to the legally allowed extent. This results in Ryan increasingly embracing the cause of making his suspect a guest of the state.

"Killer" literally saves the best for last in focusing on the legal proceedings that ultimately determine the fate of Alcala. The awesomeness of this includes virtually every entertaining aspect of the Hollywood depictions of trials, This further demonstrates that context is everything regarding whether such developments are amusing, pathetic, or tragic, 

The effectiveness of "Killer" relates to the story sadly being one with which the viewing public is very aware; the distinguishing elements are the quality of the people in front of and behind the camera. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

'Who Is America' S1 DVD: Sacha Baron Cohen Shows What Fools These Pols Be

CBS Home Entertainment chooses wisely regarding releasing the 2-disc DVD set of the 2018 Sacha Baron Cohen (a.k.a. Borat and Bruno) Showtime series "Who is America" on election day (a.k.a. November 6, 2018), This return of Cohen to a premium cable network series 15 years after HBO aired "Da Ali G Show" epically combines the best of in-your-face documentarian Michael Moore and character-driven comedian Tracey Ullman by having extreme alter-egos interview well-known politicians and activists and some relative and complete unknowns. 

"America" is best known for prompting the resignation of Georgia State Representative Jason Spencer after his inadvertent appearance on the second episode of the series. Cohen transforms himself into unconventional Israeli anti-terrorism expert Erran Morad to trick Spencer into figuratively and literally transforming himself into an ass regarding both identifying and repelling terrorists. The highlight of this hilariously absurd segment is Spencer dropping trou. (and boxer briefs) in an exercise that is designed to show him how to send a terrorist running for the hills.

The initial outing of Morad is even better and arguably is the best bit in the entire series. His S1E1 debut has him interview a gun-rights advocate who supports training children as young as three to use guns. The ensuing hilarity includes a video that promotes guns encased in stuffed animals. These include the Gunny Rabbit and the Uzicorn.

Two other characters who represent the polar opposites of the  political spectrum do "America" just as proud as Morad. Billy Wayne Ruddick, Jr. is an scooter-bound ultra-conservative. Watching both Senator Bernie Sanders and legendary newsman Ted Koppel shoot him down is beyond awesome. These segments additionally demonstrate the astonishing cool of Sanders and Koppel.

Another memorable segment has NPR t-shirt wearing Dr. Nira Cain-N'Degocella, whom press materials for "America" describe as "a Democratic activist and far-left lecturer on gender studies," conduct a public hearing in Kingman, Arizona. The meeting announcement includes that the topic is economic development; this notice also instructs attendees to leave their guns at home. The reason for essentially requiring checking your gun at the door is that group soon learns that the proposed project is a record-setting mosque. Suffice it to say that the residents do not support the project. 

Flamboyant aggressively heterosexual ultra-rich Italian fashion photographer Gio Monaldo earns mention for two segments. The girlfriend of Monaldo blatantly granting him sexual satisfaction while he discusses purchasing a huge state-of-the-art yacht is only the tip of the iceberg. (Pun intended.) The real shock and awe is in the form of the broker going along when Monaldo makes it increasingly clear that he intends to use the yacht for a horrendous criminal purpose. 

A later episode has Monaldo meeting with O.J. Simpson; Monaldo is representing himself as the liaison of a wealthy third-party who wants to meet Simpson. Monaldo lightly discussing killing a significant other while Simpson laughs along is highly effective, This definitely qualifies as one of the most disturbing bonding moments in television history.

The success of "America" relates to Cohen simply giving people enough rope with which to hang themselves. He does get them on camera under false pretenses and presents outlandish premises. However, he does NOTHING to coerce their responses. The lesser foils definitely all play along because the set up supports their views. Further, they seem to revel being in the spotlight just as much as any reality-show star. It is equally awesome that Sanders and Koppel distinguish themselves by not playing along.

The copious extras include deleted scenes and extended interviews. The latter include additional footage of a discussion between Morad and Dick Cheney. Highlights of the Cheney interview include Cheney autographing a waterboard and them discussing then Vice-President Cheney shooting a friend in the face during a hunting trip. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

'Play the Devil' DVD: Sugar Daddy Corrupts Innocent Boy

The Breaking Glass Pictures DVD release of the 2016 drama "Play the Devil" combines the two best genres in the Breaking catalogs; edgy indie films and gay-themed movies about mutual objects of affection facing strong internal and external pressures. The copious symbolism and social commentary are icing on the cake.

The accolades for this one include major wins at the Nashville and Woodstock film festivals.

The following YouTube clip of a festival trailer shows how tone and style perfectly convey the nature of the central relationship.

"Devil" begins with the mother of all non-sequiturs that writer-director Maria Goven artfully ties into the final moments of the movie, which qualifies as the mother of all symbolism in films. These opening scenes are of two young guys apparently engaged in a rite.

The action then shifts to teenage prodigy/thespian Gregory stealing the show with his starring role in a high school non-musical with an aptly strong "Equus" vibe. This leads to successful middle-aged businessman James (who has a daughter in the cast) coming backstage after the performance to nag (pun intended) James to attend a party at his house. The combination of the overture and this being a Breaking release makes it abundantly clear that James wants to get Gregory on his casting couch and that that effort will succeed.

The early scenes further establish that Gregory fits several stereotypes in both his impoverished community on Trinidad and in inner-cities in the United States. He is a bright, ambitious, likable teen living with his loving grandmother because his parents are not equipped to raise a child. Gregory also has an older brother with a drug habit and a live-in girlfriend.

The pure methods of James regarding his relationship with Gregory include a desire to mentor him and to use his resources to help him pursue his dreams, which clash with the aspirations that his grandmother has for him. The impurity comes via desiring benefits from the unlikely friendship.

The not-so-subtle seduction escalates to James luring Gregory to his luxury beach house for a sleepover. The more subtle response of our boy clearly shows that he accepts with full knowledge that the older man wants something other than gas or grass for that ride.

Getting Gregory into bed does not require plying him with wine (drugged or otherwise). At the same time, our innocent seems to be acting mostly out of obligation and has serious regrets the next morning.

Gregory wanting to end things, but James wanting more relatively free milk drives much of the conflict in the remaining portion of "Devil." Multiple desperate times leading to desperate measures in the form of accepting further assistance from James does not help.

All of this occurs in the period leading up to the annual Carnival festival, which centers around a confrontation with a symbolic devil. The nature of the event this year is particularly personal for Gregory.

The drama this time begins with the two worlds of James colliding in a manner that may end him up in divorce court and estranged from his daughter. We also see that he once again makes a misdirected civic-minded gesture.

This leads to the inevitable final confrontation between James and Gregory. Even folks who are unfamiliar with the nature of Breaking releases know that this conversation will either end with a kiss, bloodshed, angry words, or some combination of the three. The final outcome is more surprising.

The appeal of "Devil" is the aforementioned substance of the film. Most of us want someone younger and cuter; many upstanding members of the community with an outwardly ideal life that includes a loving wife and offspring feel repressed in one or more ways, and help always comes at least with a sense a obligation. The almost impossible challenge relates to achieving a measure of joy in a manner that does not leave scars.

The DVD bonus features include a "making-of" film and a separate extra that has interviews with Gowan and producer Abigail Hadeed.

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

Saturday, November 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Contact 

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

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

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

Truth or Fiction

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

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

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

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

Murray on Murray

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

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

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

Waldo on Weed 

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

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

Final Word

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

Thursday, November 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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