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Thursday, March 26, 2020

'Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga' BD: Epic Part of Ultraverse

The Mill Creek Entertainment February 25, 2020 Blu-ray release of the 2016-17 12-part mini-series "Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga" is an exceptional addition to the incredible MCE catalog (including steelbooks) of Ultraverse titles. The basis for this praise extends well-beyond the obvious influence of  "Star Wars," "Star Trek," and more fundamental lore. The MCE gift of "Ultra Fight Orb," which is the "Orb" sequel, is the proverbial icing on the cake. 

The "you've come a long way, Baby" production values in this decades-long Japanese sci-fi franchise are as solid as the underlying story. The only "constructive criticism" is that editing the 23-minute episodes into a two-part feature-film format would have been a nice bonus. 

"Saga" is the prequel to "Ultraman Orb" (2016), which this site describes as a Nipponese "Captain Planet"/"Scooby-Doo." "Saga" opens with the titular interstellar hero (aka Gai) and his running buddy Jugglus Juggler, who inarguably is the most complex "Ultra" character and arguably is the most interesting, at Crusader's Peak on Planet 0-50. 

Our excitable boys are there to see who is deemed worthy of being transformed into the titular Crusader of Light. Juggler being passed over is the game-changer that makes him such a desirable character in a 'verse mostly populated by goody-goody teens and 20-somethings and buffonish adults. 

Juggler setting Gai on his path, which involves a stargate, to being a hero despite the understandable resentment of the former is one-half of the story that leads to a climatic "away game" on Earth.

These events coincide with deranged Dr. Psychi (with some help from his robot friend) taking an ends justify the means approach to making a universe a kinder and gentler place. He already has Queen Bezelves and his evil minion army of Devil Bezelves under his control. Fulfilling his plan requires prompting Empress Amate to transform into the Ultra creature The War Deity, which is a part of her royal legacy. Psychi further requires control over the Tree of Life on Amate home world Planet Kanon.

A "B-story" regarding a dedicated military officer who is wrongfully accused of betraying his Empress-In-Command contributes a wonderful narrative to the series. An unrelated epic early battle royale is a saga highlight. 

Meanwhile back on Earth, dedicated 20-something Shohei and his sidekick Yui, whose romantic interest in the boss goes comically unnoticed, discovering a seed of the Tree of Life soon prompts moving the action to our neck of the woods. Shohei and Amate developing a psychic bond while still literally being worlds away is a prominent element of fighting them over there not preventing the need to fight them here. 

This being an "Ultra" series, there are battles galore with monsters straight out of camp classic "Lost in Space" and wonderfully cheesy Japanese sci-fi. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

An exceptional team effort during the predictable final battle adds as nice of a note as learning how the power of the Tree of Life extends beyond making existence possible. 

The MCE synopsis of "Fight" does such a good job describing that special feature that the following summary of that battle-laden sequel is copied below.

"The vengeful spirits of deceased monsters provide power to Ghost Sorcerer Relbatos, a new enemy that rises the dead to fight Ultraman Zero and Ultraman Orb! Orb mounts an incredible defense using all kinds of Fusion Up forms."

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

'Trauma' BD: Neo-Modern 'Deliverance'

The Cinema Libre Blu-ray release of the Unrated Director's Cut of the 2017 film "Trauma" both shows that grindhouse and art-house can be compatible and that buying physical media rules. Not only is this version likely more graphic than what shows up on a streaming service or premium channel, the enhanced video and audio of the award-winning cinematography helps make the film compelling. 

Our story begins during the 1974 intense unrest in Chile. A man is brutally torturing his wife, who apparently has a communist lover. This horrific revenge ordeal includes an incredibly perverse rape that is an early indication that "Trauama" takes cues from the '70s cult classic "Deliverance." There additionally are some aspects, including a "hey, Mister. I've got your dog down here" element, that evoke thoughts of "Silence of the Lambs." 

The action soon shifts to 2011; urbanite Julia and her lover Camila wake and quickly prepare for their trip to the country with Camila sister Andrea and cousin Magdelana. We next see these girls riding in a car without boys as they head toward their retreat. Meanwhile, a man with a connection to that '70s horror show is lurking about in his dilapidated lair that does not seem to have been cleaned since that event,

The worlds collide when the visitors quickly antagonize the local rural folks on arriving near their final destination. 

The festivities really start when the women settle in and hit the wine hard; the half-naked dance is fun until someone loses much more than an eye, The prelude to this bloodbath is man-with-a-past Juan and the ill-conceived fruit of his loins crashing the party. This is akin to the locals catching up with the vacationers in "Deliverance,"

The "Trauma" team exceeds expectations by staging the morning after in the labyrinth of horrors that survivalist Juan calls home. The nearly dead woman chained to the wall is only the tip of the iceberg. Of course, not everyone walks out. 

Aside from respectable production values and good acting by the central quartet, "Trauma" is notable for going above-and-beyond regarding a premise for a horror movie. Not many of this films even think about tying in carnage with world events; this is not to mention the quarter-life crises of the prey and the relatively level playing field. 

The bigger picture is that "Trauma" shows that we all can get along; the art-house is large enough to provide every genre of  film shelter so long as it is an appropriate guest. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

'Whiskey Galore!'/'The Maggie' BD: Britastic Double Feature of Ealing Comedy Classics

The Film Movement Classics division of indie-film god Film Movement March 10, 2020 BD double-feature release of "Whiskey Galore" (1949) and "The Maggie" (1954) (aka "High and Dry") once again proves both that funny always is funny and that the Brits kick the arses of Yanks when it comes to comedy. This release also is the third Classics BD of Ealing Studios releases. This site has already covered the Blu-ray of "The Titfield Thunderbolt" (1953) and reviewed the Blu-ray of the 1949 farce "Passport to Pimlico."

These four never-a-dull-moment films make a wonderful home-based classic film festival. The copious in-depth special features that accompany these UK gems aptly give them the royal treatment and are well worth watching. 

One of the many common elements of "Whiskey" and "Maggie" is that the are both from Ealing director Alexander Mackendrick, who is better known for "The Ladykillers" and "The Man in the White Suit."

The following SPOILER-LADEN Classics trailer for "Galore" highlights the award-worthy restoration. This promo also provides a strong sense of the so-near and yet-so-far aspect of a small Scottish island that has its supply of the titular libation go dry at the same time that a ship with a large supply of that nectar rounds aground just off shore. Hilarity galore ensues. 

Classics does "Maggie" equally proud as to the trailer for that film. The primary "sit" that provides the "com" this time is that wily boat captain McTaggart responds to desperate times by undertaking the desperate measure of deceptively getting the job of transporting cargo that is very precious to American businessman Calvin B. Marshall. Once more, there is copious hilarity.

"Whiskey" is well-acted movie about eccentric antics of quirky residents of a small Scottish island that evokes strong thoughts of similar fare of days of yore such as "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down A Mountain" and "Waking Ned Devine." This is a nice contrast to the modern formula of placing the matinee or teen-boy idol of the week in a film that relies on crude and/or slapstick humor.

The quaint old world setting this time is the small community of Todday. Although the year is 1943, the only impact of the war is the local pub running out of whisky and not having any hope of replenishing its supply any time soon. The lack of a more serious threat is not stopping the "Dad's Army" style local Home Guard officer from maintaining road blocks and otherwise exercising undue diligence. This textbook self-righteous fool is easily frustrated by the "incompetence" of subordinates and the absurd manner in which the military operates.

The daily life of the Sam Druckeresque postmaster/shop keeper is being complicated by his youngest daughter and earnest school teacher George Campbell wanting to get married despite the strong opposition of Mrs. Campbell, who is the mother of all mothers. The engagement of the older  daughter to a soldier on leave is free of similar drama.

The conflict between the cold warring factions heats up when a ship that is transporting 50,000 cases of whisky runs aground off the shore of Todday. The locals want to salvage the titular beverage for their own use, and the Home Guard wet blanket wants to obey the letter of the law. This results in highly entertaining mad dashes on the land and on the sea, as well as hilarious scenes of concealing whisky bottles.

The humor and the action in "Whisky" is so well presented throughout that the film does not climax so much as it winds down. Some characters are a little wiser, others emboldened, and most quite a bit drunker.

An especially awesome of "Whiskey" is that it is funny because it is (somewhat) true.

"The Maggie" follows a similar figurative path; McTaggart encounters numerous obstacles in trying to deliver the goods, which is needed to literally keep his business afloat. This involves literal and figurative rocky moments; the real fun commences with Marshall literally (but not figuratively) comes on board after McTaggart evades earlier attempts to get things on the right course. The ending this time literally and figuratively is far from Hollywood.

Monday, March 16, 2020

'Leave it to Levi' DVD: Documentary on Hannah Montana of Gay Porn

The TLA Releasing January 28, 2020 DVD of "Leave it to Levi" fully embraces the modern tradition of gay-themed documentaries that fully show the naked truth. The titular model/porn star is Levi Karter; "Levi" is a production of Karter boss/CockyBoys co-owner Jake Jaxson that builds on amateur video by Karter that depicts his life.

The highly explicit opening scenes of Karter engaged in vigorous phone sex is misleading in that much of the film relates to more respectable aspects of the life of Levi. The latter, which is not the most "blue" content in "Leave," reflects the common theme of many films of this genre; the (usually young) pretty boys that we get to know largely are like everyone else with the exception that they use their good looks and sex skills for fun and profit.

Karter largely is a momma's boy, who loses Momma on her learning how her boy pays the rent; these developments are told in a highly amusing manner that has shades of the conspiracy theories regarding the JFK assassination. This dynamic further sets the stage for Momma to deliver arguably the most memorable line in the film; she states that she cannot imagine any parent wanting his or her child to grow up to be a porn star. 

Aside from the incredibly adorable dog of Karter, the scene stealer of "Leave" is Karter roommate/colleague Liam Riley. This guy who personifies youthful exuberance adds incredible energy to the film. His most memorable moment revolves around discussing outdoor sex. 

Things take an unexpected turn halfway through "Leave" when we meet Karter drag-queen alter-ego Sassy Frass. This reflects the gay-lesbian dynamic that is akin to cats and dogs. The basic conflict is that dressing in drag generally is consider the polar opposite of the dominant masculine theme of gay porn. This element of the life of Karter already strains the tolerance of Momma before Sassy has a sort of a homecoming; a scene in which Momma and son bra shop for the latter does lighten the mood. 

The parental relationship and the fact that the Karter can be considered the Hannnah Montana of gay porn is a compelling angle that sets "Leave" apart from the more typical fare that shows that the guys go make a career out of going Full Monty truly are the boys next door. We also see how those distinguishing characteristics impact the "day job" of Karter. 

The copious DVD bonuses include behind-the-scenes footage at the "Leave" premiere that shows that Karter also is a Daddy's boy who likely enjoys a good spanking. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

'The Miracle of the Little Prince' DVD: Classic Children's Book Gives Dying Cultures Royal Treatment

The Film Movement December 3, 2019 DVD release of the 2018 documentary "The Miracle of the Littlel Prince" serves the noble purpose of reminding us that so many world cultures have been lost as more dominate entities have moved in and taken over, The bonus is a multi-lingual reading of a WWII-era classic. 

A benign relatable example in the United States is the massive numbers of children, especially from Asia, who come here with their families and speak their native tongues at home only to struggle with having to speak English at school even in this age of ESL and overall greater cultural sensitivity. Of course, a big difference is that the US powers that be are not trying to kill off any other cultures. 

The following Movement trailer for "Miracle" expertly conveys the theme and the tone of the film. We see that the translations are as much of a labor of love as the movie itself.

Movement does just as well describing "Miracle" in writing as it does in the trailer. A passage from the text on DVD back cover states: "There are now versions of the beloved children' story in over 300 different languages. In this emotionally rich, globetrotting documentary director Marjoleine Boonstra travels to Morocco, Scandinavia, El Salvador, and Tibet to find people from diverse backgrounds and linguistic regions who have all chosen this cherished book to help keep their endangered languages and cultures alive."

The above also reflects the meta element of "Miracle." Making a film that highlights all but dead languages and their cultures helps prevent those things from entirely dying out. 

Although every segment in "Miracle" is strong and unique, the El Salvador story is the most interesting in that it centers around a ground of older woman helping keep the translation in in their traditional language as accurate as possible. An example of that it that language being able to describe a red flower but lacking a word for rose. The horticulture history lesson as to that is that the Spanish explorers introduce roses to the Americas.

The engaging man who is heading up the effort to translate "Prince" in Tibet also achieves the documentary ideal of being equally entertaining and educational. We also get a strong sense of the level of oppression in that country.

The true legacy of these efforts go back to when man first adequately evolved to communicate in a manner that helps keep early culture alive, We may have come a long way, Baby, but the folks featured in "Miracle" show the value of going old school.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

'Church & State' DVD: LDS v LGBTQ

The Breaking Glass Pictures January 21, 2020 DVD of the 2018 documentary "Church & State" provides a look at an early days of the campaign for marriage equality. It also reminds us that the religion of the Osmonds and Katherine Heigel is evil. 

The below trailer for "State" reveals the flaws that prevent loving it. Two of the biggest issues are that it does not break (pun intended) new ground and does address a (for now) moot point. A related observation is that the fight for marriage equality is so recent that the 10-percent have not forgotten the prelude to going to the chapel where they're gonna get married. 

Further, as the film points out, marriage advocate Mark Lawrence is not a very appealing spokesperson. He acknowledges this in the context of the literal poster boys whom he chooses as the face of the campaign. 

Additionally, directors Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox provide PLENTY of talking heads and archival footage but no entertaining graphics or amusing clips from films and television shows. This does keep things dry. 

On a broad level, "State" focuses almost exclusively on the passage of an anti-marriage-equality law in Utah and the subsequent legal battles to overturn it. Some mention is made of Hawaii legalizing same-sex marriage, but nothing is said of the lawsuits in Massachusetts and other states. Further, Team Tuckett does not touch on the numerous valid reasons that civil unions are not an acceptable option to marriage.

"State" deserves more props for addressing the need for a rush to the altar (or city hall) on the Utah court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. A related issue is legitimate concern as to having those marriages declared illegal either pending the outcome of an appeal of the decision or a reversal of it.

Personal experience is being on alert in Massachusetts to attend a wedding within minutes of a favorable judgment in the state in that case. 

Discussing the principle of states' rights is another positive aspect of "State."

On a more narrow level, it is difficult to imagine anyone being surprised to hear either that the Mormon church is ant-gay or that it is controls the Utah legislature. This is reprehensible but is no different than any other "largest employer" in a state dictating the policy in that jurisdiction. 

A clip of the Mormon pope does nicely illustrate a main point of "Church,"  This latter day saint has a huge smile on his face and is laughing while telling the tale of a Mormon elder who is physically beaten for propositioning his partner during their missionary position. 

The mouth of the Mormon says no no regarding this punishment for the guy attempting to get into the magic underwear of his friend; conversely, the eyes of  that chosen one say yes yes. A very sad aspect of this is that the Mormon faith holds that that guy will go to Heaven. For the record, your not-so-humble reviewer wants his next existence either to be in Dog Heaven or to be a vengeful spirit. 

The bottom line is "so far, so good" regarding the Trump Administration not trying to undo marriage equality; as such, "State" is not so timely in any regard.