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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

'Ultra Q' CS BD: Japanese Blend of 'Twilight Zone' and Early 'Lost in Space'

Mill Creek Entertainment begins an epic journey with the October 15, 2019 separate Blu-ray, and Blu-ray steelbook releases of the mid-60s Japanese sci-fi classic "Ultra Q" and the follow-up series "Ultraman." These two more-than-ready-for-primetime series are the first of roughly 40 "Ultra" shows,

A related note is that the surprisingly strong production values and delight associated with these series is worthy of marathons that justify sleep deprivation, However, rationing them out to savor over an extended period is advised. They truly do not make 'em like that anymore.  

MCE is honoring the unprecedented track record of this 50 year-old phenomenon by releasing other sets of programs over the next several months. One can only hope that the entire franchise ultimately sees the light of day.

Our discussion of "Q" (just ahead of a "Man" post) begins with an hearty endorsement of the steelbook editions of "Q" and "Man." Both series look and sound crystal-clear in BD. Further, the well-designed sturdy steelbooks are stylish and have spines that add to "the big picture" as future "Ultra" series hit real and virtual store shelves. 

Both BD versions of the "Ultra" series include a "must-own" collectible booklet that commences with an informative essay on how each show makes it on the air. This includes both the collaboration and the "circle of life" elements of the productions. 

The booklets go on to provide detailed episode recaps; truly last but not least is an index (complete with photos) of every monster from that series. 

The following description of "Q" that is "borrowed" from the MCE website is a comprehensive overview of the lore and the themes of this fanboy fave. 

"After co-creating the iconic movie monsters Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra for Toho Studios, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya launched his own company, Tsuburaya Productions. The first production under his new label was ULTRA Q, a 28-episode series that brought the theatrical spectacle Tsuburaya had become known for to television.

The black & white sci-fi drama focused on Mainichi Shimpo photojournalist Yuriko Edogawa (Hiroko SakuraiUltraman), Hoshikawa Airlines pilot/SF writer Jun Manjome (Kenji Sahara) and his co-pilot Ippei Togawa (Yasuhiko Saijo), who partnered to investigate mysterious events occurring in and around Japan. These phenomena often involved aliens and giant monsters, many of whom would return in future Ultraman shows and movies.

One of the most expensive TV programs produced in Japan up to that time, ULTRA Q was a ratings smash that paved the way for Tsuburaya Productions' first color series... ULTRAMAN!"

A "True Tokyo Story" aspect of "Q" from the aforementioned booklet is sure to delight at least one teen Swedish girl. We learn that the original title of this series is "Unbalance" and that it is intended to show how Mother Nature fights back when man disrupts the balance between the natural and the industrialized worlds. 

On a more relatable note to mainstream North American audiences, "Q" evokes strong thoughts of the original "Twilight Zone" and the (black-and-white) first season of "Lost In Space" before the influence of "Batman" '66 makes the latter far brighter and more campy. This element of east meets west extends beyond all three series including exposition (and context) providing narration.

The look and tone of "Q" is very similar to that of "Zone" and "Space." The production techniques show that Irwin Allen of "Space" fame and his brother from another continent Tsuburaya are of one mind. 

The aptly titled "Defeat Gomess" starts "Q" on a terrific note that reflects a timely "television killed the movie star" vibe by having a well-executed "Godzilla" theme. This story begins with construction of a train tunnel giving the titular beast both a rude awakening and an exit strategy.

This adventure includes a "little child" shall lead them element that is prominent in "Q" and "Man." A young boy takes an "it takes a Klingon to defeat a Klingon" attitude by being instrumental in inviting the arch-foe of Gomess to the party. The rest is pure scifi history.

Speaking of "Trek," "Q" (no relation) regularly having a boy hero seems to inspire a prominent feature in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." One of countless expressions of intense disdain for prodigy Wesley Crusher prompted a friend to agree but note that Wesley allows tween boys to fantasize about being respected members of the Enterprise crew. 

"Q" next takes a wonderfully goofy turn in "Goro and Goro." This one has a monkey whisperer do his thing when a science experiment gone awry causes a simian to become a (non-grape) great ape, The humanitarian outcome is a nice alternative to having the "monster" plummet from a skyscraper. 

The ironically titled "Gift From Space" has our not-so-favorite Martians respond to rocket scientists boldly going where no man has gone before. There never has been a more clear example of Yankee, go home. 

The fun continues with variations of "The Thing" and "The Little Shop of Horrors" (complete with a vampire plant that literally can be thought of a a big prick). This leads to an imminent explosion of Mt. Fuji involving a bear boy and another slumbering monster whom the misdeeds of man has awoken.

"Q" wraps this up several episodes later with a "Dr. Who" style adventure involving a train that can travel through time and space. The "Zone" style destination in a land that is free from the consequences of incidents that shows what fools these mortal be. 

The kicker to all this there is much more to discover and adore about "Q" and the entire franchise. MCE deserves high praise for doing such an exceptional job making this possible. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

'Gunsmoke' S15 V1 & V2 DVD: 26 Ways to Delight in the Old West

CBS Home Entertainment aptly shows that it has absolutely no intention to get out of Dodge by separately releasing "Gunsmoke" S15 V1 and V2 on October 1, 2019. This leaves only five more seasons to go as to being able to own this series that spans the period from the '50s to the '70s. 

Comparable to the love that CBSHE shows a plethora of other "TV Land" shows, such as the (reviewed) "The Beverly Hillbillies" and the (reviewed) "The Love Boat" DVD sets, this studio expertly remasters ORIGINAL BROADCAST versions of "Gunsmoke" and includes episode promos. 

Of course, the (reviewed) recent CBS massive epic "Brady Bunch" 50th anniversary set deserves a very special mention. This one includes EVERY "Brady" series and films sans the variety show and the reality series. 

"Gunsmoke" is a prime example of the exceptional shows on which many of us miss out due to an unwarranted prejudice against westerns, The ignorant aspect of ignoramous fully applies to folks, which includes your previously unenlightened reviewer, who write off these dramas as not much more than excuses for saloon fights and high noon showdowns.

Much of the entertainment relates to comic relief part-time deputy Festus Haggen, who clearly is the Bany Fife to Marshal Matt Dillion. Dillion amusingly getting out of Dodge for several episodes allows his right-hand man to take the lead as to maintaining law and order. 

The "Andy Griffith Show" vibe extends to a coming-of-age S15 episode in which Ron "Opie" Howard plays a teen boy coming to grips with his relationship with the indian woman who is the second wife of his father. The catalyst for this drama truly is a case of my boyfriend's back, and there's gonna be trouble. 

Howard also is connected to "Gunsmoke" in that setting the series in the Old West reflects the wisdom of "Happy Days" creator Garry Marshall. Marshall recognizes that setting a '70scom in the '50s and the '60s prevents it from ever looking dated. 

Of the 14 episodes watched for this post, there was only one showdown. That one was an element of an old west mashup of the Hatfields and the McCoys. This time, the offspring of two feuding families in Dodge City planning to get hitched coincides with the arrival of a man who has gun, will travel. 

The rest of this story is that an assumption as to who is going to be the newest resident of Boot Hill leads to twist that takes the episode in a new direction. All of us can relate to someone faster and overall better threatening our way of life. 

We also get a still relevant life lesson in an episode in which three prisoners come to Dodge to work as as an alternative to remaining a guest of the territorial governor. Two end on the farm of a couple that seem to be Quakers. and the third gets his last-minute second-chance at the Long Branch saloon run by Miss. Kitty. The ensuing rehabilitation efforts show that some men can be saved and that others are irreparably born bad. 

We further get social commentary in an episode in which an indian scout in both senses of that word makes a valiant effort at  a mother and child reunion while on a mission from Grant. This surprisingly
candid adventure relates to the brutality that the woman experienced while being held captive by the tribe of her offspring. 

One of the more intriguing episodes is a "what if" outing, Dillon is summoned to intervene in a kangaroo court murder trial occurring in a town that is a bizarro version  of Dodge. The buildings and many of the townfoks are virtually the same. The primary difference is that the absence of a dedicated lawman such as Dillon allows a rich widow to run the community with an iron fist. Her comeuppance awesomely is a mix of frontier and poetic justice, 

A more universal theme is that an actual or assumed stranger comes to Dodge City with a chip (but not a Chippewa) on his shoulder. This new kid in town may be gunning for Dillion based on their personal history, seeking vengeance against a former partner-in-crime who shows that there is no honor among thieves, or merely is there to deal with a family issue, One of the latter involves a scheme to compensate for a lack of alimony before heading for the border. 

The only fitting way to conclude this tribute that easily could be of epic length to this timeless classic is to state "I told you so." The value of "Gunsmoke" clearly extends well beyond the stereotypes of its genre.

Friday, October 11, 2019

'High Strung Free Dance' Theatrical: Wonderfully Reminiscent of '30s Musicals

Former "The Young and the Restless" hunk/rocker/notable sitcom guest star Michael "Flyman" Damian once more puts his diverse background to good use in producing/writing/directing "High Strung Free Dance." This sequel to the (reviewed) 2016 Damian joint "High Strung" opens theatrically on October 11, 2019. The ONLY "complaints" about this sequel are that it lacks the term "Electric Boogaloo" and does not recreate the awesome violin bow duel from the original. 

On a serious note, Damian also takes advantage of his decades of show business experience by following the general rule of making a sequel more grand than the original, He does buck the trend of a first sequel being horrible only to have the franchise rebound with the third entry. This creates great expectations as to a third "High Strung" movie.

Damian (perhaps inadvertently) also reflects the wisdom of the mid-70s Saturday-morning series "The New Scooby-Doo Movies" that a fan base can handle a more mature offering than the series that brings them to the table. The post on "High Strung" notes that it seems to be geared to a tween girl audience but appeals to a broad age group, 

The final aside before fully discussing "Free Dance" is that the "cast of 1,000s" listed as producers of this crowdfunded movie shows that it would be cool to see your name on the silver screen. These contributions to indie films that value art over commerce also help talented folks such as Damian continue to "rock on."

The following trailer for "Free Dance" highlights how it is brighter, grander, and more adult than its excellent predecessor. 

"Free Dance" takes its name from the epic Broadway show around which the film revolves. The link with "High Strung" is that both films feature Jane Seymour as highly demanding dance instructor (ala Lydia Grant of "Fame" fame) Oksana in both films. One difference this time is that Oksana has a highly personal interest (and rocky relationship) as to central dancer Barlow (Juliet Doherty).

The asides this time are that we know that Seymour is not an ex-wife of Henry VIII but do not know whether Oksana considers Anna Karenina her favorite author.

Damian pays a wonderful homage to the past by bringing the epic '30s musicals back in a much bolder and brighter fashion in the 21st century. The choreography and cinematography require a Blu-ray when "Free Dance" is released on physical media.

This ode to yesteryear includes Barlow initially not making the cut as a background dancer for the titular extravaganza of fabled choreographer Zander Raines (Thomas "Harry Hook" Doherty of the "Descendants" franchise). Barlow not taking "no" for an answer puts right what once went wrong.

Our classic tale continues with deli delivery boy/aspiring pianist Charlie (Harry "Vampire Boy" Jarvis) getting his first lucky break in terms of one chance encounter connecting him with a reclusive retired famous pianist.  A subsequent series of fortunate (and one seemingly not-so-fortunate) circumstances leads to Charlie getting the gig as the on-stage pianist for the show, Barlow being his muse helps the production while contributing to backstage drama. 

Related asides this time are that casting Thomas and Harry reinforce that Michael (who casts "handsome devil "Nicholas Galitizine in the first film) has a good eye for talented British pretty boys and that Jarvis shares in an interview for another outlet that "Free Dance" prompts him to resume his piano studies after a long absence. His exceptional playing proves that he is an apt pupil.

Much of "Free Dane" centers  around the trauma and drama of rehearsing for the show, The vintage-style shifting fortunes of Barlow drive much of the action. 

All of this leads to the epic opening night; a twist during this frantic period will cause many viewers of this compelling film to yell out a word that rhymes with "witch" when it seems that nice guys once again finish last. 

Damian fully delivers as to the final performances that include an truly grand finale. This fully leading to a classic Hollywood ending removes any doubt that Damian honors the past.

The epilogue to all this is that the post on "High Strung" encourages folks to disregard embarrassment related to seeing a very good film that is geared to tween girls; there is ABSOLUTELY no cause for such concern as to "Free Dance." 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

'The Reflecting Skin' BD: Little Doll's House on the Prairie

The Film Movement Classics August 6, 2019 Blu-ray release of the 1990 Ibsnesque dark familycentric drama "The Reflecting Skin"  once again provides an exceptional chance to see a high-quality film. that may of us miss the first time around. The opening scenes of the characteristic vibrant wheat fields and grotesque bullfrog of 1950s Idaho are the first of copious examples of this release being much closer to 4K than to Blu-ray, 

The festival accolades includes several awards at the 1990 Locarno International Film Festival and a win at the 1990 Stockholm Film Festival. 

The following Classics trailer for "Skin" release validate the universal sense that this is a haunting Gothic film; adding captivating to this list is mandatory.

Fully appreciating how this directorial debut of Philip Ridley is spot on in absolutely every regard from the script, to the direction, to the casting, to the cinematography requires watching it. It truly is not like much that you have seen before, and you never will forget it, 

Our central character is 8 year-old everykid Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper). His woes include his domineering  "witch" of a mother Ruth Dove (Sheila Moore) and his beaten-down submissive father Luke Dove (Duncan Fraser), who operates the dilapidated gas station next to to the isolated farmhouse that this unhappy trio calls home.

Lindsay Duncan steals the show as British widow/next-door neighbor Dolphin Blue. This creepy lady who is the regular subject of pranks/curiosity by Seth and his pals relishes in validating the belief of Seth that she is a vampire who stays young by stealing the youth of boys and objects of her affection. This Midwestern Morticia Addams has more credibility as to her claim of finding the husband who brought her to Idaho hanging from the rafters in the barn.

The appearance of a group of young guys who have stranger danger written all over them and subsequent disappearance of a peer of Seth fully sets our story in motion. 

An incident in the distant past of Luke that Ruth and the local sheriff will not let him forget makes him the prime suspect even before the boy is found in a condition that further points to Luke as the culprit.  This leads to a highly symbolic act by Luke that has just as large of an impact on Seth.

This leads to much older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen in an early role) cutting his military service short to return home to become the man of the house. His experience with the victims of A bomb testing gives the film its most direct symbolic value. The inability of vampires to see their literal mirror images is a close second.

Worlds fully collide in this universe with similarities to that of "Twin Peaks" when Cameron begins a romance with Dolphin Blue, a.k.a. Mrs. Robinson. This triggers great concern for his brother by Seth.

All of this lead to even more intense trauma and drama that leads to a conclusion that is far from a happy ending.

A 43-minute DVD bonus feature that discusses Ridley and the film adds wonderful context to the film. A written essay provides further insights. The joys of both are too special to spoil by saying more.

We further get audio commentary by the auteur himself.

The bottom line regarding all this is that it is difficult to imagine anyone not valuing the artistry, depth, and humor of "Skin." 

Friday, October 4, 2019

'Doom Patrol' S1 DVD & BD: Embraces All Things DCU & MCU

Editor's Note: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.

The Warner Bros. Home Entertainment October 1, 2019 separate Blu-ray and DVD releases of S1  of DC Universe streaming service series "Doom Patrol" nicely reminds us that the range (and legacy) of the DCU extends beyond the broadcast network friendly exploits of the Arrowverse shows, Common executive producer Greg Berlanti clearly lets his inner excitable inner boy out to play in "Patrol."

As an aside, the Warner Brothers section of this site has posts on the recently released WBHE BD sets of the 2018-19 seasons of every Arrowverse series except for "Legends of Tomorrow." 

The following DCU trailer for "Patrol" offers a good primer on the lore of the series and nicely conveys its awesomely quirky vibe. It additionally reinforces that spending a few extra dollars to opt for Blu-ray over DVD is well worth it.

he mandatory starting point is that "Patrol" is tailor-made for a streaming platform, which presumably can push the FCC decency standards even further than premium networks such as Showtime and HBO. One of numerous examples is that the f-bomb seems to be weapon of choice of the misfits of science that comprise the titular team.

The central premise is a wonderful mash-up between the Sci-Fi Channel series "Sanctuary," which stars Amanda Tapping of the "Stargate" universe as a woman who looks very good for her age and uses her enormous mansion to shelter and aid all sorts of disfigured and/or meta entities, and "X-Men." The wheelchair-bound men-of-letters scientist/protector is Niles Coulder/Chief (Dalton, Timothy Dalton). 

The central motley crew that struggles with their meta and their human elements evokes thoughts of the castaways on "Gilligan's Island" to the extent that both have a movie star in their midst. The members of both Team Gilligan and Team Coulder all have significant flaws but remain highly loyal to their "family" with whom a series of unfortunate circumstances have thrown them.

Former NASCAR star Cliff Steele/Robotman (Brendan Fraser) can be considered the brains of the organization in that this man whose War of the Roses with his equally toxic wife ultimately leads to his vital organ being implanted into a metallic body. His related angst includes not having been a good father to his young daughter and his effort to re-establish a relationship with her. 

Next up is dashing closeted gay test pilot Larry Trainor/Negative Man (Matt Boomer). His "something extra" is a space being who inhabits him but goes solo when his services are needed. Larry still struggles with his love for a male member of his flight crew (insert your own cockpit joke here) and more generally with being restrained from being true to himself.

The aforementioned B-movie actress is Rita Farr/Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby); varying percentages of her body become a disgusting blob.

Last but not least is woman of 64 meta-personalities Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero). Jane often lacks any control when a resident of the "underground" portion of her mind exerts herself. Each of these temporarily dominant personalities comes with a special power that she does not necessarily use for good, rather than for evil.

The new kid on the block who fills the role of DCU star "slumming" with the B team is Vic Stone/Cyborg (Joivan Wade). Cyborg and his Dad/mechanic have a history with Coulder that leds to Cyborg playing the role of nerd who tries to assume leadership of the class when the teacher leaves for an extended period.

As arch-villain Mr. Nobody/Eric Morden (Alan Tudyk) states in his frequent (and witty) narration, he plays the necessary role of bad guy. The exceptional talent of Mr., Nobody to simultaneously gleefully play mind games and wage psychological warfare makes him a formidable foe and a source of intense entertainment for those of us who do regularly relive our worst moments.

This extended discussion of the intriguing lore of "Patrol" leads little time to share the wonderfully surreal S1 events . 

The band being assembled leads to an ill-advised field trip to the nearby town; Mr., Nobody subsequently captures old foe Coulder and imprisons him in a form of phantom zone. The search of the gang for their leader includes a (non-sexual) disgusting encounter with a donkey, a visit to an incredibly accepting (but shifting) talking street, the evil research facility known as The Ant Farm. and a visit to what can be considered the Justice League predecessors The Justice Society of America, 

Our folks who simply want to avoid their own demises also come up against a wonderfully warped cult that is going to use a (presumably) virgin sacrifice (who presumably reeks of Axe body spray) to bring about end times. They further must go "Magic School Bus" to enter the mind of Jane to return her to a relative state of normalcy.

This is not to mention The Brotherhood of Evil and the Bureau of Normalcy (nee the Bureau of Oddities) creating trauma and drama.

Things really get weird in the final S1 episodes. Our thoughts of suicide squad learn that Chief is the source of much of their discontent and has an "Alice in Wonderland" style ulterior motive for his outward peace, love, and understanding. This leads to a showdown with a true survivor and a sidekick with a "Princess Bride" style vendetta.

Much of the group being in "Wonderland" state at the end of S1 sets the stage for a spectacular S2. 

WBHE supplements all this with unaired scenes, a gag reel,m and an entertaining "Come Visit Georgia" PSA that shows how the versatility of the Atlanta area makes it a good place for location filming.