'The Village In The Woods'
(Beth Park, Therese Bradley, Richard Hope, et al / DVD / NR / (2018) 2021 / 4Digital Media)
Overview: Every village, every person, has a secret.
None more so than the inhabitants of this isolated, murky village whose fate relies on the luring of two unsuspecting pawns to satisfy their appetite and determine their being.
DVD Verdict: Having sat down and watched this last night, much like a lot of these low (oh-so low) budget B-movies with an acting/directorial heart, sure it's not perfect, but it's brilliant, and subtle '70s homages all buttoned up tight within the grip of a modern day chiller makes this a quite brilliantly suspenseful film!
Chock full of twists and turns galore, all of them beautifully daunting and expertly played out and shot, the slow burning, menacing threat that runs throughout this debut film from Writer/Director Raine McCormack is fantastically woven, and highly effective from the very off (which also has a LOT to do with Cinematographer Berndt Wiese and his keen eye on all-things spooky!)
The storyline is basic, but it honestly doesn't need to be anything more than it is to get us to this spooky village.
Stuart Whitman is great as an impatient movie director looking for a remote location to make an atmospheric horror movie. His impatience with his crew leads him to seek out the location himself and so he subsequently gets lost in the English countryside.
Eventually stumbling upon an (seemingly) abandoned ye olde village in the deep and mist-laden woods (unbeknownst to him ruled by Demons and Ghouls, who feast on dead corpses from the local graveyard and where the only sanctuary from them is the old church), he LOVES it and gathers the troops to shoot there!
Now, don't get me wrong as this is NOT a horror film, per say, moreover 'The Village In The Woods' is better akin to more recent high budget brain-taunting releases such as both 'Midsommar' and the excellent 'The Witch.'
A quite stunning combination of art house and thrill spill, all cloaked within the lovingly tender, albeit perhaps false, embrace of intentionally unanswered questions and decisions made that have you shaking your head, 'The Village In the Woods' leaves you wanting more come the final act, trust me. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'The Village In the Woods' is out on VOD, Digital and DVD on January 19th, 2021 via 4Digital Media.
'The El Duce Tapes (Special Edition)' [Blu-ray]
(El Duce, Gwar, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2019) 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: In the early '90s, aspiring filmmaker (and General Hospital co-star) Ryan Sexton lugged a giant camcorder into some of the seediest clubs and the filthiest apartments in Hollywood.
There he filmed hour upon hour of VHS footage of the jaw-droppingly offensive Shock Rock band The Mentors, focusing on their infamous lead singer, El Duce.
30 years later, the team behind The Nightmare and Room 237 and the editor of Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist uncover this dusty stockpile of long forgotten and unseen footage.
They begin to piece together a picture of the man under the black executioner's hood and what his willfully offensive act and controversial views might tell us about 21st century America.
Blu-ray Verdict: In truth, 'The El Duce Tapes' is both a hard, shake of the head watch, whilst at the same time being something you simply cannot take your eyes off!
Of course, this film will only entertain a certain, and relatively small audience, one assumes, but their collective, and joyful appreciation for it will, without a shadow of a doubt, be heard around the world.
A collection of old VHS-taped footage filmed in 1990-91, 'The El Duce Tapes' center around lead singer for The Mentors, El Duce, but not always in a pleasant way, as you will quickly discover for yourselves.
Some will find what is revealed, aside from unnecessarily noisy, unappealing, invigorating, mind blowing, destructive, revealing, sad, appalling, poignant, and oh-so many other things!
Nothing much before now, some 30 years on and a new team have taken it under their wing and with the editor of Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist (David Lawrence) at the helm, they have dusted off this old, and unseen footage to allow it to finally breathe life.
The interviews are woven together nicely, the narrative on point throughout, and there's nothing hidden by anyone within frame, trust me.
Simply put, you get to witness the distressing to witness the dysfunctional, depression-laden and alcoholism-embraced fallout of the leader of one of the most unique early era punk-ish bands.
An incendiary, tragicomic documentary (midway between The Decline of Western Civilization and Crumb) which has been hailed as Essential Viewing by CineVue and called Dark and Irresistible by director John Carpenter, 'The El Duce Tapes' will chew you up, spit you out, and leave you floored! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Brand new audio commentary with 'The El Duce Tapes' crew
The Ryan Sexton Tapes 34-minute illustrated audio conversation between Ryan Sexton and producer Tim Kirk about the shooting of the original VHS footage
The Nilbog Tapes Video of the band recording the original score for the film
More El Duce Tapes A free-standing alternate assembly of unused material, sort of a sideways sequel
Tape 2: Hollywood Reservoir A piece of raw tape providing a peek behind the scenes of the process of shooting the footage and a candid document of El Duce and Ryan s rapport
El Duce Stories A humorous cut-up of a few of El Duce's famously long aimless stories into one completely incomprehensible and endless word salad
Return to Rape Rock Mountain A brand new interview with Steve Broy, aka Dr. Heathen Scum of The Mentors
Reality Check presents the all-female El Duce tribute band The Womentors
Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by John Pearson and reverse art by Benjamin Marra + FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing by Manish Agarwal
'The State Of Texas Vs. Melissa: Special Edition'
(Blu-ray / NR / (2020) 2021 / FilmRise)
Overview: Melissa Lucio was the first Hispanic woman sentenced to death in Texas. For ten years she has been awaiting her fate, and she now faces her last appeal.
Blu-ray Verdict: There’s an eeriness throughout 'The State of Texas vs. Melissa' that would make it seem as though Melissa Lucio had already been executed, despite the fact that she is the first person you meet in Sabrina van Tassel’s film chronicling her road to death row.
Relatives speak about Lucio in the past tense and both in her current disposition, speaking through a telephone behind glass, and the places she once was that the filmmaker retraces, all completely absent of other people, she appears to have been left behind the world at large - her only interaction with others being with her appellate lawyer Margaret Schmuckler since being convicted of murdering her prepubescent daughter Mariah 11 years earlier, if not for van Tassel’s visit.
Indeed, there may not be much hope for Lucio to avoid her sentence — 'The State of Texas v. Melissa' is unusual among contemporary advocacy docs in resisting making a legal crusade to get her out as its primary narrative thrust, as much as it disputes the case that was presented against her.
Instead, van Tassel creates a way for Lucio to leave a legacy regardless of whether she is successful with an appeal, pinpointing the flaws in the system that assured justice wouldn’t be served when so many turning points in her case were decided not by the facts of the case, but a presumption of guilt antithetical to the foundation of American law.
While Lucio may have all but disappeared behind bars, she had the right look for a quick conviction when she was taken in by Texas rangers in the border town of Harlingen as a poorly educated mother of 14.
Although she holds distinction as a rare woman to be sentenced to capital punishment, the film reveals that the local D.A. in Cameron County was hunting for such a case during an election year and police had brought him something relatively open and shut with Lucio confessing on tape not to the crime of murdering her daughter - after countless hours of questioning that ended at 3:15 in the morning, but to likely causing the head trauma that ended Mariah’s life.
The early morning interrogation, presented generously throughout 'The State of Texas vs. Melissa,' is sketchy enough in its particulars, but van Tassel builds a case that Lucio’s public defender had no interest in pursuing as just another file to get off his desk - interviewing Lucio’s kids who witnessed Mariah falling down some stairs the day before her death and her larger family, who describe the internal conflicts that could’ve led to the tragedy.
Like a trial, these witnesses aren’t presented as speaking to one another — and admirably van Tassel leaves the room to show how they all aren’t on the same page — but they come to form a picture that is far less damning of Lucio than how her confession was obtained, what crime she’d be tried for was determined and how the prosecution and defense in her case worked hand-in-hand out of convenience rather than in pursuit of the truth.
It may be Lucio who is thought to be lost at the start of the film, but by the end, it’s the sense that there can be fair trials in a country where political considerations and prejudices based on race and class so readily make their way into verdicts, no matter how impartial juries may present themselves, and 'The State of Texas vs. Melissa' proves there was criminal negligence, just not necessarily how you would think. [SS] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Interview with Director Sabrina Van Tassel
'Mean Man: The Story Of Chris Holmes' [Blu-ray]
(Chris Holmes, Stet Howland, Johnny Rod, Scott Ian, Dizzy Reed, et al / Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / Cleopatra Entertainment)
Overview: From iconic guitar player to construction worker, Chris Holmes has lived a life of highs and lows. After losing publishing rights of his own songs and dealing with addictions, the ex-W.A.S.P. member has had to start from scratch living in his mother in law's basement in Cannes, France.
He is now ready to take on Europe with his new band. As we follow him along, he meets many fans and proves that he still is the showman he was as a young and famous rockstar.
This musical journey draws parallel stories of the rise, fall and rebirth of Chris Holmes with archives, live performances, interviews and behind-the-scene footages.
Blu-ray Verdict: In truth, I knew nothing of Chris Holmes, but did indeed obviously know of W.A.S.P. from back in the day, so I went into this rockumentary with an open mind and willing to learn something rockin' facts.
Surprisingly, for me at least, this rockumentary is actually very interesting, even to the W.A.S.P. layman and reveals a man in Holmes that, to put it bluntly, has been through life's wringer and back, that's for damn sure!
Having had his unfair share of ups and downs, the former W.A.S.P. guitarist has managed to stick around, regardless of vodka binges and black out nights spent, well, shit, even he doesn't know where, and the story of his life and career is told with depth and love and conviction here in 'Mean Man: The Story Of Chris Holmes' from Cleopatra-Entertainment.
I'm sure you know what to expect from it, but it delivers on all those fronts and even adds a genuine heartbeat of care, from the viewer to the screen, thread throughout too.
Tackling his past history as well as his current state of mind and well-being, in the present tense, the rockumentary follows Holmes during 2015-16 while on tour in support of his second album, the aptly entitled Shitting Bricks.
Watching old footage along with seeing endless amounts of old photos of the wee skinny-assed 19 y/o guitarist before W.A.S.P. was even thought up, the film includes its fair share of interviews - with former bandmates, longtime friends and other people that were around during Holmes’ life. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
'Deep in Vogue: Special Edition' [Blu-ray]
(Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / FilmRise)
Overview: 'Deep in Vogue' celebrates the colorful, queer, emotional and political stories of Northern Vogue and its people.
Blu-ray Verdict: 'Deep in Vogue' explores the dancers behind the renewed popularity of the dance scene in England. Brought to the mainstream to many by Madonna’s 1990 hit of the same name, voguing dates back to the 1960s.
Today in Northern England, dancers have formed Houses that are as much about providing support as they are about having fun.
The documentary starts with interviews from members of the Houses. This provides a quick history that explains how voguing came to England.
There is also an explanation about how the Houses came to be. (Four Houses are featured: The House of Suarez, The House of Decay, The House of Cards, and The House of Ghetto.)
'Deep in Vogue' also deals with the prejudice faced by people. This includes racism, LGBTQ issues, and ideas of masculinity. These are personal tales told by a likable cast.
There is also talk about the lack of safe places and internal conflicts. The short length of the documentary prevents some of these stories from going as deep as they should, however.
This may be an intentional decision by the filmmakers. Deep in Vogue is filled with a sense of independence and fun. The stories being told may be more of an ends to a mean.
Issues are addressed, but nothing prevents anyone in the film from living their lives. The film does a great job of trying to take power away from ignorance without downplaying the severity of any issues.
'Deep in Vogue' does this by showing the passion of the dancers. These candid interviews provide insight into what has happened and how it changed their lives.
Still, there is a theatricality and color makes for a fun documentary. Nowadays, it can be hard to find a film that celebrates life and creativity.
'Deep in Vogue' looks at the vogue dance halls of Northern England. While it does deal with their struggles, there is also a sense of joy to the whole thing. [NM] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
'The Mary Millington Movie Collection' [Blu-ray]
(Mary Millington, et al / 5-Disc Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / Screenbound Entertainment - MVD Visual)
Overview: This is a Special Collector's Edition (numbered and limited to 3,000) and is the very first 5-Disc Blu-ray release that features: 'Come Play With Me,' 'The Playbirds' and 'Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair.'
The special packaging means these 5-Discs (which also include brand new extras, including short films/docs, audio commentary and more) are bound within a rigid slipcase and there's even an 80-page booklet entitled, "The Mary Millington Collection Book" by Simon Sheridan.
Blu-ray Verdict: Released to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Mary Millington's death(by British label Screenbound Pictures), this special edition Blu-ray box-set opens with 'Come Play with Me' (1977).
For reasons totally unknown to me and to everyone else who has ever reviewed this film down the years, one imagines, 'Come Play With Me' was a MASSIVE box office hit in the UK, breaking records to become the longest running film to ever grace a UK cinema screen (it also ran in cinemas for an incredible four years!)
The plot is as follows - two forgers go on the run from a bunch of crooks and hide out in a health farm. From there the plot expands to include a government official on their trail, along with the crooks, a health farm where there are virtually no staff, and a bunch of young women turning up on a coach to run said health farm.
Lots of familiar faces from the period show up in this film, including Alfie Bass, Ronald Fraser, Henry McGee, Bob Todd, Ken Parry and many others.
For none of these people is the movie their finest hour, but they are all fun to watch and the film is kept moving along nicely. And yes, it was the movie that introduced us to Mary Millington, who, along with 20 other "naughty nurses" brought everything she could to her role!
Next up is 'The Playbirds' (1978) where the cover girls of a famous sex magazine are murdered one-by-one and the easily baffled British police can only think of one solution: To send one of their own in undercover!
I won't name the killer, of course, but I can tell you that the suspects make a rather colorful line-up. Which also provides an excuse for some varied location scenes, ranging from Speakers' Corner through Newmarket racecourse to a forest where some rather extreme witchcraft rituals look like getting out of hand!
Funniest is the moment when the baffled detectives think it's time to send in an undercover female cop to charm the publisher into giving her a centerfold, so they have to start by holding auditions at Scotland Yard.
Millington carries no conviction whatever as a police officer, but she certainly makes one heck of a stripper, and should have exploited the surprisingly common policewoman fetish with plenty of slow peeling-off of the dark blue livery of the law!
Then we get the 'Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair' (1979) where Playboy David Galaxy is a suspect in a robbery case and needs an alibi, and the only credible witness to his innocence won't help. Oh, and he also has to prove his mettle with "the only woman in the world who's never had an orgasm"!
Sadly, I have to report, and even in this new 2K restoration, this movie is a quite dreadful addition to the kitchen sink sexploitation movie genre that Britain was well known for in the '70s.
It's particularly bad due to the central casting of the ultra-sleazy Alan Lake as some kind of super stud who has his way with pretty much every woman in the movie.
Lake is a truly repulsive character here and you wonder just what the casting director was smoking. The film is generally unappealing and unerotic, with an odd sense of humor that doesn't translate well for the viewer.
I mean, who thought the scene of Lake farting in bed was funny? The pseudo-crime storyline is particularly moronic and unending and character actors like Tony Booth and Diana Dors seem faintly desperate by appearing, in truth.
The one thing this film has going for it is a good supply of attractive women, Millington among them, and of course they do disrobe regularly, but it's hardly a proper movie and these actresses deserved better.
Next we get 'Queen of the Blues' (1979) where seedy striptease club in London's West End becomes the target for unpleasant crooks. The club's owners are blackmailed into paying out large wads of cash, but star attraction Mary Millington saves the day with her energetic stripping.
Sadly, 'Queen of Blues' was the last film Millington appeared in before she is reported to have committed suicide, citing worries about going to jail, tax issues and police harassment. She also ran her own sex shop in London where she would also serve her fans and customers personally.
As for the movie's storyline, well, the club has been bought by two brothers, on the proceeds of an unexpectedly generous gift of cash from their uncle, of whose business affairs they know nothing.
But where's there's brass, there's muck, and the brothers soon get the offer they (supposedly) can't refuse from Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty, played by the laddish Felix Bowness and the murderous Milton Reid.
The brothers are very poorly cast, especially the leader, played by the wimpish John East whose attempts to intimidate the gangsters are pathetically unconvincing.
He is almost as bad trying to impersonate Max Miller during the intervals, actually wearing one of the great man's suits. Incredibly, the two men had been close friends.
The elbow game is looking like a walkover by the mob until the surprise ending, which I won't obviously divulge, but which reveals how the uncle made his fortune and such.
Then we get 'Mary Millington's True Blue Confessions' (1980). For me, the life and early death of Mary Millington remains one of the saddest episodes of British cinema history.
A woman whose sexual honesty and openness was abused by business men who viewed her as little more than a cash cow.
This "tribute" has to be watched with open mouth as producer Sullivan uses it to make a quick killing and preach his own self-serving propaganda over someone else's grave.
Sex, death and politics don't really go side-by-side. We even have Marie Harper pretending to be Millington in her coffin!
Strangely the Millington story is an interesting one with rumors (let us be respectful of the dead) of cocaine running, high ranking prostitution, tax avoidance and hardcore pornography peddling (very illegal in the UK at the time.)
There was even a Channel 4 UK documentary 20 years after her death which used some of the very same footage.
Those wanting a sex film will be disappointed. Those that want to know more about the private life of Millington will be disappointed (they don't even tell us she was married).
Those that enjoy pornographers whining about their experiences and how they are shinning knights who operate at the cutting edge of media freedom will enjoy it though.
Lastly we get 'Respectable: The Mary Millington Story' (2015), an in-depth documentary chronicling her extraordinary life. According to this documentary, in her own sex shop that was aforementioned above, she would also sell under the counter materials which gained her the attention of the police resulting in raids.
However, she was a libertarian and campaigned to make adult materials available at a time when the UK had the most draconian laws in Europe.
Ergo, this eminently watchable documentary (so much more so than the one above) of the late, great Mary Millington, the porn star and glamour model who became a household name in 1970's Britain, is as full, as enriched and, at times, as sad as it needs to be.
The title actually comes from her quote: "I was born respectable, but I soon decided I wasn't going to let that spoil my life".
Through clips of Mary, including brief glimpses of her hard core loops, which seem playful, even innocent today, as well as interviews with family members, lovers, friends and colleagues, a fascinating story emerges.
Though it was to end in tragedy, there's lots of fun along the way, not least when Dudley Sutton amusingly disses and dismisses Mary's arch enemy, self-appointed Filth-Fighter General, Mrs Whitehouse.
Mary married Bob Maxted when she was eighteen, and he remained her husband to the end of her life, though it was an open marriage from early on.
The '60s and '70s were a time when the last vestiges of Victorian morality were breaking down, with their replacement by modern day taboos some way off.
Stories of suburban swinging and the legendary 'wife swapping' parties were rife, TV programs with sex scenes and partial nudity abounded, and for a time, newsagents and corner shops up and down the land were festooned with scores of different soft core sex magazines to an extent unimaginable today.
Indeed, some of these were becoming increasingly explicit, particularly those owned by David Sullivan, and it was these that brought Mary her fame. These are all Brand New 2K Restorations from Full Screen Presentations (1.66:1 - 1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
NEW! 'The Playbirds' audio commentary by biographer Simon Sheridan and director Willy Roe
NEW! 'Queen of the Blues' audio commentary by biographer Simon Sheridan and actor Allan Warren
NEW! 'Mary Millington's True Blue Confessions' audio commentary by biographer Simon Sheridan and executive producer David Sullivan
NEW! 'Ten Million Dirty Words' - a brand new featurette about Harry Knights, the Nottingham-based porn writer who helped create Mary's image
'Confessions of a Pixie' - an interview with Josie Harrison Marks, the daughter of 'Come Play With Me's director George Harrison Marks
'Mary on Location - Then and Now' travelogue revisiting the main locations in Mary's life and films
Respectable: The Mary Millington Story - audio commentary by director Simon Sheridan and the BFI's Sam Dunn
8mmillington - compilation of the 'tamer' sequences from Mary's hardcore 8mm films
Response - 8mm softcore short film (1974)
Wild Lovers - 8mm softcore short film (1974)
Party Pieces - 8mm softcore short film (1974)
Sex Is My Business - 8mm softcore short film (1975)
Mary Millington's World Striptease Extravaganza (1981)
'Come Play with Me- - original 1977 trailer
'Let Him Go'
(Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville, et al / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital / NR / 2021 / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Overview: Following the loss of their son, retired sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) leave their Montana ranch to rescue their young grandson from a dangerous family living off the grid.
They soon discover that the Weboy family has no intention of letting the child go, forcing George and Margaret to fight for their family.
Blu-ray Verdict: 'Let Him Go' is Thomas Bezucha's captivating and heartbreaking family drama that is skillfully executed and is based on Larry Walson's 2013 bestselling novel.
It tells the story of a retired veteran Montana sheriff George Backledge, and his wife Margaret, magnificently played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane in two sensational Oscar worthy performances, who's beloved son is killed in a freak horse riding accident; leaving behind his young wife Lorna, superbly played by Kayli Carter, and baby son Jimmy.
Lorna soon remarries an abusive man named Donnie Weboy, well-played by Will Brittain, who is viewed by George and Margaret as suspicious. Even more so when he, Lorna and Jimmy move into town away from George's farm.
Concern presents itself when one day when Margaret witnesses Lorna and Jimmy being physically abused by Donnie and then without any word he relocates them to North Dakota to live with his twisted mother Blanche, chillingly played by Lesley Manville in a brilliant scene-stealing performance (let alone the rest of her psychotic family!)
Margaret persuades George to go after them for the sake of their young grandson Jimmy, but when they get to North Dakota it soon turns into a very disturbing and dangerous encounter with the Weboy clan that will have some tragic consequences for both sides.
Chock full of rather astute direction by Bezucha, with absolutely stunning cinematography by Guy Godfree, and a wonderful score by Michael Giacchino, it also features some exceptional supporting performances by Booboo Stewart, Jeffrey Donovan, Ryan Bruce, Adam Stafford, Bradley Stryker, and Greg Lawson.
To say that 'Let Him Go' is one of 2020's finest films is an understatement as if you are a self-proclaimed lover of all-things wondrously cinematic, you simply need to have this new BR in your collection, trust me. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
The Making of Let Him Go
The Blackledges: Kevin Costner & Diane Lane
Lighting the Way: Thomas Bezucha
'Let Him Go' [Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital] will be available February 2nd, 2021 via Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
(Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw, Gemma Jones, James McArdle, et al / Blu-ray / R / 2021 / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Overview: In 1800s England, acclaimed but unrecognized fossil hunter Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) works alone on the rugged Southern coastline.
With the days of her famed discoveries behind her, she now searches for common fossils to sell to tourists to support herself and her ailing mother. When a wealthy visitor entrusts Mary with the care of his wife Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan), she cannot afford to turn his offer down.
Proud and relentlessly passionate about her work, Mary initially clashes with her unwelcome guest, but despite the distance between their social class and personalities, an intense bond begins to develop, compelling the two women to determine the true nature of their relationship.
Blu-ray Verdict: For those not in the know, the protagonist here is a real-life figure, although not exactly historic. In her field, however, she had made ample contribution which, alas, were not even credited to her own name, in the male-dominated era she was born into.
Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) was a paleontologist in England in the 1840s. A deprived childhood in abject poverty molded her into something as hard as the fossils she gathers at the rugged Dorset seashore, a passion and a livelihood. She shares her life with just her mother, but only in the sense than they live under the same roof.
Honestly, I cannot think of any actor who can best Winslet in portraying the bottled up resentment and resignation. Winslet accomplished this with an unsmiling, taciturn face that is subtly eloquent.
Additionally, there's a half-nude shot of her back which shows the hardened, developed muscles from climbing and digging - where Winslet must have worked physically hard on, or, perhaps, it is simply just superb make-up.
When a fellow scientist pays her a friendly, albeit unexpected, visit, her cold handshake signals rejection rather than welcome.
But it is this man's wife that changes Anning's life forever. Delicately beautiful and vulnerably fragile, Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) is described by her husband as one suffering from "mild melancholia".
Without saying in so many words, he leaves a clear impression that she is something of a burden. A rich man, he can afford to pay Mary to look after his wife while he has important business to do all over Europe. While Mary does not particularly need a burden either, the money is handy.
The rest of the film, depicting the development of the relationship between these two women, is a joy to behold. Trying to describe the mesmerizing performance of these two actors would ruin the enjoyment of the film.
Very little is known about the private life of Anning. Therefore, director/writer Francis Lee had a free hand in showing his artistic creativity, which he accomplished brilliantly.
The narrative is opening-ended, in a wordless scene showing the two protagonists gazing at each other across the glass display case in a museum, with their hitherto persona somewhat reversed.
Just that one shot will stay with you for a long time, let alone the entire film.
In closing, and in summary, 'Ammonite' is a quiet, contemplative drama that consistently engaging and often affecting. Francis Lee crafts a poetic film that impresses with its poignant storytelling, stunning cinematography, and incredible performances delivered by the titanic talents of Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan at the forefront. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of:
The Making of Ammonite
In this Special Feature, stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan join filmmakers to discuss how they were able to convey the extraordinary depth of the film’s two main characters, Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison.
'Ammonite' [Blu-Ray] arrives on Digital, Blu-ray™, DVD and On Demand January 12th, 2021 from NEON and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
'Betty White's Pet Set: The Complete Series'
(Betty White, et al / 6-Disc DVD / NR / 2021 / MPI Home Video)
Overview: In an unparalleled television career spanning over 70 years, the beloved Betty White has brought laughter and joy to millions of fans of all ages with her acclaimed performances in the hit series The Golden Girls, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Hot In Cleveland.
In 1971, just prior to Betty's sitcom superstardom, she created and hosted a weekly program, BETTY WHITE'S PET SET, celebrating her lifelong love of animals.
Produced with her husband Allen Ludden (Password), BETTY WHITE’S PET SET - not seen in decades - gave Betty the opportunity to welcome celebrity friends with their dogs, cats and horses in additional to a wide range of wild animals including tigers, bears, elephants, lions, wolves, gorillas, chimps, cougars, cheetahs, seals, kangaroos, zebras, eagles, snakes, penguins and many more creatures both in the studio and on location!
DVD Verdict: For those not in the know, although I fail to see who that could possibly be (save for the young 'uns, of course, Betty White has received eight Emmy Awards in various categories, three American Comedy Awards, three SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS and a Grammy Award, among many others.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is a 1985 Television Hall of Fame inductee, and a 2009 Disney Legend. Dubbed "the first lady of game shows," she was the first woman to receive a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host.
A television pioneer, she was one of the first women to exert control in front of and behind the camera and is recognized as the first woman to produce a sitcom, Life with Elizabeth, which led to her receiving the honorary title Mayor of Hollywood in 1955.
Here in the always-fun, always-enlightening, and always-delightful 'Betty White's Pet Set: The Complete Series' we get Betty, as always, as a delightful, and youthful host and trust me when I say that the legendary guest stars just are a dream to behold for anyone who loves classic TV and film stars.
Then there are the amazing wild animals that are so much fun to see with Betty plus all the celebrity dogs and cats. Having now watched all 39 episodes and having thoroughly enjoyed them all, along with all the great behind the scenes material and tons of cool stuff from Betty never seen before, I have to say that this is, without a shadow of a doubt, the ultimate Pet Set collection.
Oh, and just in case you weren't aware of just how interwebs savvy the lovely Betty is today, she recently tweeted this: "Would you believe it?! It's my 99th birthday which means I can stay up as late as I want without asking. I am also very pleased to let you know about the re-release of my long-lost series after fifty years! I am just so proud of the Pet Set. I hope everyone is safe and well".
FYI: The 39 episodes of BETTY WHITE'S PET SET feature the following guest stars: Carol Burnett, Doris Day, Jimmy Stewart, Mary Tyler Moore, Burt Reynolds, Shirley Jones, Michael Landon, Barbara Eden, James Brolin, Della Reese, Vincent Price, Paul Lynde, Eva Gabor, Eddie Albert, Agnes Moorehead, Jim Nabors, Peter Marshall, Rose Marie, Bob Crane, Bill Bixby, Beverly Garland, Lorne Greene, Bob Barker, Mike Connors, Barbara Bain, Dennis Weaver, Eve Arden, Johnny Mathis, Donald O'Connor, Merv Griffin, Barbara Feldon, Rod Serling, Pat Carroll, Peter Lawford, Vikki Carr, Amanda Blake, Arte Johnson, Sue Ane Langdon, Miyoshi Umeki, Richard Deacon, Nancy Kulp, Billy DeWolfe, Allen Ludden and exotic animal expert Ralph Helfer of Africa U.S.A.
These are all Full Screen Presentations (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Betty White's Pet Set: Behind The Scenes
The Pet Set Promo Spots
Betty White: Game Show Goddess
Betty & The Pets Photo Gallery
Betty & Allen
Betty Public Service Spots
'Betty White's Pet Set: The Complete Series' [6-Disc DVD] will be available February 23rd, 2021 via MPI Home Video.
'The Bloodhound: Special Edition' [BR]
(Liam Aiken, Joe Adler, Annalise Basso, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2020) 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: First-time feature director Patrick Picard brings a fresh take to one of the best-known stories from the master of mystery and the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, in his new slow-burner horror-thriller 'The Bloodhound.'
Francis (Liam Aiken, A Series of Unfortunate Events), a dispossessed young man, is summoned to the secluded home of his wealthy childhood friend, JP Luret (Joe Adler, The Maze Runner), who is suffering from a mysterious affliction.
Upon his arrival, Francis realizes that JP and his ethereal twin sister Vivian (Annalise Basso, Ouija: Origin of Evil) are the sole surviving members of the privileged Luret family, whose legacy has been one of depression and self-destruction, and the only occupants of their family estate.
As the old friends attempt to reconnect, a number of inexplicable incidents begin to occur within the house, and Francis finds himself drawn into a world of malaise and despair, where an act of betrayal might provide his only way out.
Blu-ray Verdict: Super reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos films, specifically Dogtooth - that stilted, other worldly, dialogue with a tone that bounces between absurd hilarity and mysterious horror - this is all emphasized by the fantastic performances and dynamic between Liam Aiken and Joe Adler.
They really do a great job at portraying that intimate yet slightly awkward relationship between two friends who once we're very close but haven't been in contact for a while.
The increasingly unusual goings on during their time together really do keep you wondering where things will end up.
Major props to the production design on this one. There's some really great costume choices and a really great filming location, that being this '60s or '70s era home that looks like it was a passion project by an architect.
It is not a long movie, at just some70 minutes, but it is engrossing from start to finish and is also extremely sweet. If you don't mind some purposeful slowness, this film deserves a watch, especially considering that I haven't heard anybody talking about this (so I went into it completely oblivious to external thoughts, which was very refreshing!) This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Brand new audio commentary by director Patrick Picard and editor David Scorca
Four experimental short films by director Patrick Picard: bad dream, the muffled hammerfall in action, the mosaic code and wiggleworm
On the Trail of The Bloodhound: Behind the Scenes of a Modern Chiller, exclusive 45-minute making-of featurette + FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel
'Shogun's Joy Of Torture: Special Edition' [BR]
(Teruo Yoshida, Fumio Watanabe, Masumi Tachibana, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1968) 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: From the outrageous imagination of cult director Teruo Ishii (Orgies of Edo, Horrors of Malformed Men) comes this infamous omnibus of three shocking tales of crime and punishment based on true-life documented cases set during the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate.
The first tale sees the beautiful Mitsu (Masumi Tachibana) going to horrifying lengths to tend to her older brother Shinz (Teruo Yoshida), a carpenter injured in a work accident, but the law catches up on them and metes out a terrifying retribution after they violate the ultimate taboo.
In the second, unfettered passions in a Buddhist nunnery are not allowed to go unpunished after abbess Reih (Yukie Kagawa) and her attendant Rintoku (Naomi Shiraishi) encounter a virile young monk from a neighboring temple.
In the closing segment, a sadistic torturer (Fumio Watanabe) attempts to show a tattoo artist (Asao Koike) how to depict convincing expressions of faces of pain in his work by allowing him to sketch a selection of Europeans as they are tortured for entering Japan with the aim of spreading Christianity.
Blu-ray Verdict: In truth, Teruo Ishii may never be regarded in the same exalted terms as fellow Japanese cult heroes like Norifumi Suzuki or Koji Wakamatsu (though to be fair much of his work remains pretty rare), but he was certainly no slouch, and was a solid and stylish contributor to many genres.
'The Joy of Torture' is probably the best I've seen from him so far, the start of his eight strong ero guro series. An anthology film indicting Edo era savagery, while not especially graphic its a classy and even moving work with some memorable scenes.
The first story is the weakest of the three, seeing a woman driven to desperation and aberrant love by her injured brother. Interesting enough, but (for me, at least), a little underdeveloped, it's a set up that would have benefited from a full length treatment.
Or, at the very least, greater levels of emotional intensity where high melodrama should have been the style, but its actually relatively subdued.
Still good stuff though and its theme of love binding characters to their doom leads nicely into the next story, a tale of nuns driven wild with lust for a neighboring monk!
This one really ups the ante, with escalating hysteria mounting into interesting torture scenes and bloodshed, including a hilarious use of loaches.
However, the best is truly saved until last though, where a dedicated tattoo artist seeks to create his finest work by watching the torture of Christian missionaries.
This segment combines interesting obsession with the most protracted torture scenes of the film, lots of beating, wheeling, burning and so forth of a multitude of screaming semi naked ladies to unsettling, yet undeniably erotic effect!
Plus the ending is (relatively speaking) pretty upbeat. So its a decent mix, but at the same time somewhat flawed. Some inconsistencies nag, most notably the aforementioned slightly flat opening story.
The film is thematically inconsistent too, flitting from the tragedy of love to the mania of excess to the excess of torture, taking in the harshness of social strictures, cruelty of individuals and passion of torture along the way.
Although the stories are united by recurring torturer Nambara and his (relatively) nice guy assistant, there's a slightly scattershot feel to the general critique that detracts from the overall effect.
The social justification is a tad cheesy as well, which wouldn't be a bad thing, but the film is exploitative enough to seem hypocritical while not exploitative enough to be hilarious in having higher pretensions.
There isn't much gore either, but then its still fairly strong for its time. Altogether still a very worthy film chock full of nudity, nastiness, solid plotting and beautiful cinematography, it's definitely worth a watch for vintage Japanese exploitation fans. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
Optional English subtitles
Audio commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes
Teruo Ishii: Erotic-Grotesque Maestro an exclusively newly filmed interview with the author Patrick Macias
Bind, Torture, Thrill author and critic Jasper Sharp discusses the history of torture in Japanese exploitation cinema
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips + FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mark Schilling
'The Invisible Man: Special Edition' [BR]
(Ryuji Shinagawa, Takiko Mizunoe, Chizuru Kitagawa, Yoshiro Kitahara, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1949/1957) 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Finally released outside Japan for the very first time, these unique riffs on H.G. Wells classic character (though undoubtedly also indebted to Universal's iconic film series) are two of the earliest examples of tokusatsu (special effects) cinema from Daiei Studios, later the home of Gamera.
In 'The Invisible Man Appears,' written and directed by Nobuo Adachi in 1949, a scientist successfully creates an invisibility serum, only to be kidnapped by a gang of thugs who wish to use the formula to rob a priceless jewel.
In addition to being the earliest surviving Japanese science fiction film ever made, the film's entertaining special effects were an early credit for the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, five years before he first brought Godzilla to life.
Eight years later, Mitsuo Murayama s exciting 'The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly' tells the story of a series of mysterious murders where the only clue is strange buzzing noise at the scene of the crime could this be linked to secret wartime experiments in shrinking humans to the size of insects? And can a scientist who's just invented an invisibility ray be the one to stop it?
Blu-ray Verdict: Loosely based on the H.G. Wells 1897 classic novel The Invisible Man, the Japanese take on the story ('The Invisible Man Appears,' 1949), still has a scientist using a special chemical to become invisible, but that's about it.
The story begins when jewel thieves becomes interested in an invisibility formula invented by Professor Nakazato. The thieves kidnap the professor and want to use his invention to acquire a diamond necklace called the Tears of Amour.
There are a lot of twists and turns in this film, as to who is the Invisible Man and why. The Japanese Invisible Man looks just like Universal’s 1933 version played by Claude Rains, with bandages and an overcoat.
Oh, and of course, the formula has the same adverse symptoms which effect the nervous and drive the user insane.
Nothing new under the sun here, but very charming, an enthusiastic entry in a rather lovely tradition. Not quite as quirky / pulpy as Oda's 1954 version, a bit more basic, focusing strictly on the premise itself, meaning the invisible man gets a lot of invisible screen time, and also several pov shots.
Some of those lingering, voyeuristic long takes, when it's no longer completely clear whether we are still seeing through invisible eyes or whether we are just a bit too curious, are quite interesting, though we're, of course, not yet in Verhoeven territory here.
Eight years later we got 'The Invisible Man Vs. The Human Fly' (1957), again filmed in black and white, a series of ghastly murders is being committed with the one similarity in each of the murders being that a weird buzzing sound is always heard right before the murder occurs.
Is the killer invisible or possibly some other incredible creature?
In truth, this was the first Daiei movie I'd seen since the Yokai and Daimajin trilogies a couple of years ago, and it was nice to see more of their output.
It uses the powers of The Invisible Man (or The Transparent Man, depending on who translated it) and The Human Fly, of course, but in different ways from the originals, with heavier emphasis on detective work and a noir-type, serial killer slant.
That alone makes this more serious in tone overall, but on top of that, there's the nightclub dancer. My oh my! As with other classic sci-fi horror movies, I find there's an element of "non-hamminess" to Japanese ones, or at least a different kind of earnestness to that of American ones that can elevate them a little higher with the same basic material.
That mostly holds true here, though maybe not as much as with other examples, especially during scenes featuring The Fly. Still, the cast performed well and it has enough twists to keep things lively.
A nice combination of goofy, serious and even a little sexy thrown in, 'The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly' is interesting and definitely fun, that's for sure.
FYI: During the American Occupation, Eiji Tsuburaya was blacklisted from the studios for what was regarded as his work on propaganda films during the war.
He got around this by starting an independent company to supply "special techniques" (special effects) to the studios. His company was contracted by Daiei to do the special techniques for this film.
He would later close his company when he was allowed to be hired by Toho. This film is regarded as a prime example of his pre-"Gojira" (1954) (Godzilla) accomplishments in the science fiction/horror genre. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition (1080p) transfers of both films on one Blu-ray disc
Original lossless Japanese mono audio on both films
Optional English subtitles for both films
Transparent Terrors, a newly filmed interview with critic and genre scholar Kim Newman on the history of 'Invisible Man' in cinema
Theatrical trailer for The Invisible Man Appears
Image galleries for both films
Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork by Graham Humphreys + FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors' booklet featuring new writing by Keith Allison, Hayley Scanlon and Tom Vincent
'Watching TV With The Red Chinese'
(Keong Sim, James Chen, Gillian Jacobs, Ryan O'Nan, Leonardo Nam, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2012) 2021 / MVD Video)
Overview: A trio of Chinese exchange students, Tzu (James Chen, The Walking Dead), Wa (Keong Sim, Dead To Me) and Chen (Leonardo Nam, The Fast and the Furious: Toyko Drift) arrive in New York City in 1980, eager for what America has to offer.
They make friends including a literature teacher named Dexter (Ryan O'Nan, Queen of the South) and his girlfriend Suzanne (Gillian Jacobs, Community).
But as they try to adjust to the New York City atmosphere, they become disillusioned with America, eventually buying a firearm for self-defense in this critically acclaimed film directed by Shimon Dotan based on the novel by Luke Whisnant.
Blu-ray Verdict: For those not in the know, 'Watching TV With The Red Chinese' is based on a Luke Whisnant young-adult novel that co-writer/director Shimon Dotan (Diamond Dogs), but, sadly, seems to have fed into a blender!
The film begins in garbled flickers of animation giving way to live-action footage, a portentous voiceover (“Everywhere there’s meaning, order, shared knowledge”), a doctor’s interview, and home-video clips.
The timeline jitters out of order, dropping viewers into a scenario it takes far longer than necessary to discover is straightforward and self-seriously soap operatic.
Ryan O’Nan stars as a New York-dwelling English teacher who befriends three Chinese exchange students who move into his building in 1980. One of them, Leonardo Nam, becomes romantically entangled with O’Nan’s flaky ex, Gillian Jacobs, while also growing increasingly paranoid and unstable after a mugging.
Would-be documentarian Michael Esper films the foreign trio’s experience while spouting phrases like “It is my lifelong aesthetic mission to purge cinema of its decadent narrative element.”
It’s hard to say whether the story’s Summer Of Sam-lite urban-hothouse setup (here, John Lennon’s assassination serves as a pivotal point) would work on its own; Dotan’s initial indulgent fragmentation certainly doesn’t add anything except confusion, and from the occasional use of black and white to Esper’s quoting of Marshall McLuhan, it’s often wincingly pretentious.
The film has a talented cast—Nam and Jacobs have shown off their comedic gifts in, respectively, The Perfect Score and Community, but their roles here aren’t guided by personalities, just the needs of the plot.
Jacobs’ character in particular comes across as a series of irrational impulses, as she sleeps with, then breaks things off with different guys seemingly just to steer the film toward its tragic conclusion.
In essence, simply put, 'Watching TV With The Red Chinese' is a film about how being dipped into a chaotic moment in American history affects three naïve foreigners hoping to experience life in the U.S. while remaining separate from it.
It’s especially frustrating, then, that the film depicts so little interaction between the Chinese men and the pop media that’s supposed to provide them with a cultural bridge.
No time is spent on actually watching TV—instead, characters rant about it (“TV has corrupted them, ruined their minds!”) in the same way they monologue about Charles Bukowski and The Beatles.
It’s as though they know this is too small a production to afford the rights to these entities’ work, so they’re determined to suck the joy out of them in some other way.
FYI: Many of the film's crew played small parts in the film. Nat Osborn, the film's composer, played Michael, Dexter's student. Sameer Butt, the producer for the film, played the blind man, and Netaya Anbar, the film's co-writer, co-producer, and editor, had an uncredited cameo as a woman in the police station! [AW] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of an Original Theatrical Trailer.
'Wild West Days' [Blu-ray]
(Johnny Mack Brown, George Shelley, Lynn Gilbert, Frank Yaconelli, Bob Kortman, et al / Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / VCI Entertainment - MVD Visual)
Overview: This classic Western serial is now available on disc for the first time! Restored from the Studio Film Masters in 4K.
This action-packed serial presents the dangers, hardships, and glorious triumphs of the early western pioneers.
Kentucky Wade and his two buddies ride to help a couple who are being threatened by outlaws. Kentucky and his pals also keep busy fighting their way across the plains and mountains to battle a tribe of Indians led by Red Hatchet.
Shortly they also contend with false reports of a strike, which starts a gold rush and exciting hair-trigger action.
Blu-ray Verdict: For my reviewing dedication to the cause, I watched this brand new Blu-ray 4K remastered series 'Wild West Days' over a period of about five days, and have to say, it was compelling from start to finish.
Containing all 13 episodes from the serial, every one of them was filled with plenty of action and plot twists. Too often a serial can be described as "they fight over here, then they fight over there, and then they fight over here again," but not this one.
For in 'Wild West Days' there are many times where the action takes place in the same locations, but the plot is well served by the repetition.
Indeed, there were no boring episodes in this story-driven serial and something that makes the plot different from other westerns is that a man finds a platinum mine - rather than a gold mine.
The bad guys search for the location of the platinum, but Kentucky Wade's determination to stop them are the reasons for this adventure serial.
Instead of a trio we get four cowboys plus a strong willed rancher fighting the bad guys and trust me when I say that Johnny Mack Brown looked every bit the part of a '30s western hero in his role as Kentucky.
He was taller than most of the people around him and he was always the best dressed. Oh, and Brown's deep voice also made him a natural leading man, of course.
Frank Yaconelli was perfect as the comical, yet serious Mexican comrade, Mike and George Shelley, as Dude, got to court the girl and do all the singing.
Although Yaconelli's guitar playing was for show rather than accompaniment during Shelley's songs, it was nice to learn that he really was a musician as opposed to an actor faking playing a guitar.
Bob Kortman was the sharp and wise gunslinger, Trigger. I was used to seeing him as a bad guy, so this was a fun turnaround. Frank McGlynn, Jr. is Larry Munro, but he really does not do too much until halfway through the episodes.
To balance the good guys, there are a lot of bad guys: The Secret Seven, who are able to use the nearby Indian tribe to do their dirty work or just simply round up men whenever needed to go out to commit their crimes.
The worst of the bunch are Keeler (Russell Simpson), Buckskin (Charles Stevens), and Steve Claggett (Al Bridge, whose name was at the bottom of the credits).
Chief Thunderbird was a real Indian, and as Chief Red Hatchet, to my mind he really added authenticity to the Indians in the serial.
Every character was well defined and their personalities were well developed by the end. It made me wish for more adventures, in truth, as I'd never seen these before today.
Also, not only were the characters well portrayed, the costuming was unique for every cowboy. The businessmen wore suits that may have been slightly different, but each cowboy could be identified immediately by his clothes.
Dude, Trigger, Larry, and Claggett could be identified by their vests alone. Mike had his vaquero outfit. Buckskin had his buckskin outfit. Kentucky Wade had the most incredible clothing and was very conscientious about it too.
Indeed, more than once he mentions having to change clothes or asking someone to get him a new shirt. In fact, Kentucky knew that a hat and shirt must go together in order to look like the western hero that he was.
For a couple of the episodes, Kentucky wears a white shirt and white hat instead of the black shirt and hat worn through the rest of the serial.
The reason, of course, was so an old shot of a cowboy and horse leaping off a cliff into some water could be used. It was cheaper to have an actor change clothes than to recreate the stunt! [SH] These are all black and white, Full Screen Presentations (1.37:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Santo in The Treasure Of Dracula: The Sexy Vampire
(Santo, Aldo Monti, Noëlla Noel, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1969) 2021 / VCI Entertainment - MVD Visual)
Overview: After inventing a time machine, Mexican wrestler, El Santo, uses it to go back in time to track down the location of Dracula's hidden treasure.
This is with the noble intention of using the treasure to help fund a children's hospital. In his quest to obtain the treasure, he is forced to face down and battle Dracula and his bevy of beautiful, vampire vixens.
The original 1969 release of Santo en El Tesoro de Drácula was black-and-white and featured no nudity. The film was simultaneously shot in color featuring full frontal nudity for European markets and finally released in Mexico in 2012 as El Vampiro y el Sexo.
Blu-ray Verdict: Now released as a brand new Blu-ray 4K remastered version, restored in 4K and for the first time ever on DVD and BR in English and color, this is one of the best known films of Santo.
Especially because there are two versions: The original in black and white, a routine gothic horror production marketed under the title 'The Treasure of Dracula', and one in color with some spicy nude scenes that bring it closer to the softcore genre (a version that was believed lost for many years, to the point that several of the Saint's followers and Mexican wrestling films came to consider its existence just an urban legend).
We have several elements along the footage that enrich the plot: On the one hand, science fiction (The Saint shows us here his scientific side, with the creation of a time machine "to better investigate past civilizations"), the more traditional Gothic horror (with the prototypical story of vampires taken from the Stokerian novel), the gangster cinema (with the "Black Hooded" and his henchmen, who try to take advantage of our hero's invention), wrestling (the fight Santo must have in the ring against the son of the Black Hooded man).
And in the most explicit version, we also find sensual busty vampires who show their flesh with lust and profusion. All these sub-genres, seasoned with comedy (some of this comedy is involuntary and some not) are brought together in the film - resulting in a highly entertaining filmic experience. This is a Widescreen Presentations (1.37:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'The Croods - A New Age: 4K Ultra HD'
(Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, et al / Blu-ray+Digital / PG / 2021 / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Overview: The first prehistoric family is ready for another rocking adventure! The Croods have survived fanged beasts, natural disasters, and even young love, but now they must face their biggest challenge yet: another family!
In search of a new home, the Croods discover a walled-in paradise created by the sophisticated Betterman family (emphasis on the “better”).
As they try to coexist, the differences between the two families escalate into a full-blown feud, but when a new threat forces both families to embark on an epic adventure, they must all learn to work together ... or they’ll all go extinct!
Blu-ray Verdict: Universal Pictures is expanding their 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray catalog offerings this month with the release of the brilliantly clever, and gloriously colorful 'The Croods - A New Age’ in the expansive 4K Ultra HD video format this February 23rd, 2021.
For my money, this 'The Croods - A New Age: 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital' combo pack's sharpness takes a fairly large step forward from others in their 4K Ultra HD catalog and even comes with HDR (High Dynamic Range) for the complete 4K Ultra HD experience, of course.
So, what we have is 'The Croods - A New Age' presented to us as a two-disc combo pack with a sheet for a Digital HD Copy. Other stand out points you should know are: Codec: HEVC / H.265; Resolution: 4K (2160p); HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10; Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; and Original Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1.
Featuring Dolby Vision and HDR10 for brighter, deeper, and way more lifelike colors, as with most all 4K UHD's, everything that we watch features these qualities - but somehow, this film gloriously shines within them all.
Noticeably crisper with the overall clarity receiving an obvious boost here on this release, what's more is that it's enjoyably noticeable.
For as well as some new nuances to the somewhat drab palette courtesy of Dolby Vision we also get to witness sudden bright pops of color; such as the truly adorable Croods Meets Bettermans Scene! Possibly one of the loveliest within the movie, when Dawn and Guy meet up again and hug and both sides of each family look in, well, it's as real as it gets, my friends!
Indeed, the picture enjoys the fruits of the added resolution in terms of bringing out the aforementioned extremely fine facial and some of the yellow graded material - notably the scene of morning awakening and the infamous "Dad always says the pack stays together" where everyone (and everything) is up early and off and running, the colors and sparks that fly around from just those scenes alone are enough to light up a dark night sky!
As for the audio, well we have: English: Dolby Atmos; English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); Spanish: Dolby Digital Plus 7.1; and French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1.
Overall, this is a very strong 4K HDR Blu-ray presentation, and, for the most part, the audio track remains fairly similar to its DTS-HD counterpart; with much of the action occupying the surrounds with outstanding directionality and placement where effects flawlessly pan between the sides and rears.
OK, well, as for the actual movie, well, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, this has got to be one of the most exhilarating and bubbly animated movie ever made!
Thankfully I was just in the mood for something perky, not too childish but not too sober, so overall it was a positive experience.
They really weren't kidding about "a new age". The tale presumably takes place in early prehistoric times, but really it reflects way more on our contemporary society than it does to people living in the stone age.
Expect tons and tons of hilarious references to modern culture and society sprinkled throughout the movie, of course, much like the original had.
I definitely had my laughs. However, some ideas/references/analogies could come off as a bit forced or rushed or just plain cringeworthy, sorry. For example, Thunk's abrupt realization that the "window" is a distorted view of reality was honestly one of those moments, where they attempt to convey the concept of media bias.
There's also the much toned down, but still palpable feminist agenda (ie: WYMEN!) and then there are all these other random instances of modern analogies that just seem to develop out of nowhere (ie: the 'bro love' scene with Grug and Phil!).
These instances may not detract from the movie, especially not for kids, but it still rankled this adult a wee bit (you could tell that this movie was made in 2020, for sure).
Regardless, and moving on from all that, as I honestly really did like this movie (and have since watched it twice now!), the characters were all true to their previous outings, the story was engaging, though admittedly not tremendously original, vocal performances were good, the animation was upped and taken to a new level from the original, and there were most definitely many parts that were simply just laugh out loud funny!
Personally, I liked that they showed the aforementioned bromance between Grug and Phil, that Gran and Ugga were main characters this time around (Ugga especially got screen time which I'm happy about, she was solely in the background in the first movie) and I'm glad there was a true friendship between Eep and Dawn (not the cliché of fighting over a boy). It promoted current social values like female friendships and community while being funny, which was refreshing.
I had hoped for more Nicolas Cage as Grug, him being my favorite of the cast, but he still makes it fun with what he has. And overall, it's obvious that Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds are the standout stars of this film, as they both do some rather tremendous voiceover work, that's for darn sure.
In closing, 'A New Age' us far more jokey than the first installment and sure, this follow-up does cruise on its unending charm and inventiveness.
But that simply gives people at home a worthy successor to the Flintstones (after a couple of bloated live action takes years ago, it should be noted!) with the voice acting aces and the colors very much resplendent on the eyes. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of:
Includes 4K UHD, Blu-ray and a digital copy of The Croods: A New Age
Dear Diary: World's First Pranks
Family Movie Night: Little Red Bronana Bread
The Croods' Family Album
The Evolution of...
How to Draw: Caveman Style
Stone Age Snack Attack
Feature Commentary with Director Joel Crawford, Producer Mark Swift, Head of Story Januel Mercado and Editor Jim Ryan
Join Grug, Eep, Guy and the rest of the Croods as they face off against the more-evolved Bettermans, releasing on Digital February 9th, 2021 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray™ and DVD February 23rd, 2021 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
'Horizon Line' [Blu-ray]
(Allison Williams, Alexander Dreymon, Keith David, et al / Blu-ray / PG-13 / 2021 / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Overview: Former couple Sara and Jackson board a single-engine plane for a routine and casual flight to their friend's tropical island wedding.
However, within minutes of takeoff, their pilot suffers a fatal heart attack, leaving them with no idea where they are, and no clue how to land the plane.<>
With nothing but miles of ocean and sky in every direction, and a terrifying storm that's about to envelop them, Sara and Jackson have only one shot ... and there's no going back.
Blu-ray Verdict: The plot follows Sara (Allison Williams) and Jackson (Alexander Dreymon) who are having a conflict as a "couple" due to the fact they both live in different countries!
When they are invited to a mutual friends wedding they both hop aboard a small plane to fly over to the island, but when the pilot has a heart attack, Sara is left trying to fly the plane!
Oh, and then there's an impending, and bad storm a'coming, of course! They now have limited fuel and no land to be found out in the sea to come safely down on, so it's all hands to the pump, as they say!
The plot is decent and you start to feel for the couple up there after the first bout of turbulence. And sure, their "relationship" is tested when they are both fighting for survival in the skies, but overall it's a very suspenseful film, in truth.
The film does have some thrills also, like when Jackson tries to patch a broken fuel line while in the air or when Sara tries to refuel while hanging on the planes wing!
The cast performances were also good with Allison Williams and Alexander Dreymon at the helm of their lead roles.
Personally, I liked the suspense and edge of seat moments in this film. I can't recall seeing Allison Williams in anything before, but I thought she played a fantastic, believable character in this film.
I'm also a HUGE fan of Alexander Dreymon and so it was a refreshing change of pace to see him in a different role other than Uhtred in The Last Kingdom (which happens to be one of my favorite shows ever).
Indeed, I look forward to seeing Alex in many more roles in the years to come in his career that steer him away from LK.
In closing, yes, for sure 'Horizon Line' is a predictable, farfetched thriller, but aren't most movies? Isn't the purpose of movies to entertain the audience with the "impossible" and "unrealistic"? If so, which it is, this qualifies as a GREAT film! This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.37:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Bonus Feature of Deleted Scenes.
'Horizon Line' [Blu-Ray] arrives on Digital, Blu-ray™, DVD and On Demand February 16th, 2021 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
'The Last Vermeer'
(Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps, Roland Møller, August Diehl, et al / DVD / R / (2019) 2021 / Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Overview: While Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a Dutch Jew, was fighting in the Resistance during the Second World War, the witty, debonair art connoisseur Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) was hosting hedonistic soirées and selling Dutch art treasures to Hermann Göring and other top Nazis.
Following the war, Piller becomes an investigator assigned the task of identifying and redistributing stolen art, resulting in the flamboyant van Meegeren being accused of collaboration — a crime punishable by death.
But, despite mounting evidence, Piller, with the aid of his assistant (Vicky Krieps), becomes increasingly convinced of Han's innocence and finds himself in the unlikely position of fighting to save his life.
DVD Verdict: In truth, 'The Last Vermeer' paints an intelligent, intriguing picture of World War II involving art, Nazis and an unlikely Dutch hero.
Dan Friedkin's directorial debut manages to deliver a thriller while offering instruction on the art of Johannes Vermeer. Guy Pearce stars and gives a work of art performance as the flamboyant Han van Meegeren, a Dutch painter, art dealer and enigma who became famous for selling a rare Vermeer to Hitler's second in command, Hermann Göring.
This act led Meegeren to be tried in 1945 as a war criminal. Captain Joseph Piller, played by actor Claes Bang, is the former Dutch Resistance officer who believes Meegeren's innocence, helping and defending him in court.
The screenplay, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (writers of 2007's quite stunning 'First Snow,' also starring Guy Pearce) and John Orloff, is based on an adaptation of Jonathan Lopez's, 'The Man Who Made Vermeers' and holds up pretty well alongside it.
Piller and Van Meegeren existed in real life, and though some dramatic license is taken, much of what we see actually happened. Art experts and politics collided and so it's not surprising that egos ruled the day (not unlike today).
The twist may or may not be a shocker to those who know the story, but it's still fascinating that folks would risk their lives in such a manner during the darkest of times.
It seems opportunists exist regardless of the era. Mr. Bang and Mr. Pearce are both excellent here, and it's quite fun to watch their verbal wranglings and I'm happy to say that Director Friedkin adds an Epilogue that will surely bring a smile to most viewers' faces. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'The Last Vermeer' [DVD] will be available February 23rd, 2021 via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood: Tigertastic 50 Pack
(3-DVD / G / 2021 / PBS KIDS)
Overview: Join Daniel Tiger for 50 tigertastic tales here in this wondrous 3-Disc DVD Box-Set!
Four-year-old Daniel Tiger invites young viewers directly into his world, giving them a kid's eye view of his life and making them feel like one of his adventurous neighbors.
DVD Verdict: For those of you that are not aware, 'Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood' is an animated continuation to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, where all the original characters are now grown up with their own preschool-aged children.
Personally, I loved Mr. Rogers Neighborhood as a kid, and although this is a very different, more modern show, I am pleased to see the good moral underlining and joy that this show brings to him while still keeping true to the same themes.
I love the little songs that have more meaning than rhyme and the lessons in the show along with the story lines.
Contained in this brand new 3-Disc DVD (that runs an AMAZING 9 hours and 56 minutes) are fifty (5) grr-ific tales that will keep your kids comfortably contented for days upon days!
Come visit the Neighborhood and watch as Daniel picks out a cake for his birthday at Baker Aker’s Bakery, visits Dr. Anna for his checkup, takes a trip to the crayon factory with his friends Miss Elaina and Katerina Kittycat, and lots more!
As always, this Daniel Tiger DVD set is filled with tales of friendship, caring about other’s feelings, and experiencing new things!
And with the overall message to head outdoors and explore – because it’s always a beautiful day in the Neighborhood - well, here in this fun-packed new 50-episode 3-Disc DVD Box-Set, there truly is a lot to explore when you’re outside!
So come join Daniel Tiger and his friends as they have a whole lot of fun and learn life's little lessons.
This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Hero Elementary: Sparks' Crew Pet Rescue!'
(DVD / G / 2021 / PBS KIDS)
Overview: Its Sparks Crew to the rescue in ten pet packed adventures!
When an egg hatches and an unfamiliar bird emerges, Sparks Crew vows to reunite the bird with its parents. Then, a little girls kitten is on the loose!
Can the team observe how animals use their tails and apply that information to a rescue that will save the day?
DVD Verdict: For those of you that are not aware, 'Hero Elementary' is an American-Canadian children's animated television series created and produced by Portfolio Entertainment and Twin Cities PBS.
The series premiered on June 1ST, 2020 on PBS Kids and was created by co-creators Carol-Lynn Parente and Christine Ferraro, who previously worked on Sesame Street.
The series involves the students of the Sparks' Crew — Lucita Sky, AJ Gadgets, Sara Snap and Benny Bubbles — who are trained in superheroics by their quirky and enthusiastic teacher, Mr. Sparks.
Together the students work as a team, using their own unique superpowers as well as the "Superpowers of Science" to help people, solve problems, and try to make the world a better place
Contained in this brand new DVD release (that runs an AMAZING 125 minutes) are ten (10) high-flying tales that will keep your kids comfortably contented for hours!
The animation and art are a mixed bag, sure, but most times it's smooth and definitely reminds me of some old style comic books (which is always comforting).
The writing isn't as smart as 'Let's Go Luna' or 'Ready Jet Go,' but there are some funny jokes here and there and the show is educational, teaching kids about making science observations.
But, for me, the show's biggest strength is its characters. They're all likable, relatable, and diverse. For example: Lucita and Mr. Sparks are Latinos, Sara is biracial, AJ is Black and autistic, and Benny is plus-size. They're all good role models for kids, and are not brats, contrary to popular belief.
AJ is my personally favorite because I, too, am on the autism spectrum, and the way he's depicted is realistic. He has special interests, sensitivities to water and loud noises, and stims by flapping his hands sometimes.
Oh, and the theme song is really catchy, and the rest of the soundtrack is upbeat jazz-like music that fits the superhero theme well.
In closing, and with regard the main show, let alone all these smaller, 10 minute or so, pet-related videos, with deep characters, an expansive world, and fast pacing, 'Hero Elementary' is yet another hit show for PBS. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Mister Rogers Meets New Friends Collection'
(4-Disc DVD / NR / 2021 / PBS Kids)
Overview: It's always a beautiful day in Mister Rogers' neighborhood! Join Mister Rogers as he puts on his trademark cardigan, changes into his sneakers and introduces the day’s topic.
Each of the 30 episodes on this fun-filled collection features Mister Rogers meeting new neighbors and visiting new places, including the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the United States Postal Service.
DVD Verdict: Just to bring you up to date a wee bit, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was an American half-hour educational children's television series that was created and hosted by Fred Rogers.
The series originated in 1963 as Mister Rogers on CBC Television, and was later re-branded in 1966 as Mister Rogers' Neighborhood on the regional Eastern Educational Network (EEN, a forerunner of today's American Public Television).
The national U.S. debut occurred on February 19, 1968, and it aired on NET and its successor, PBS, until August 31, 2001. The series is aimed primarily at preschool ages 2 to 5, but has been stated by PBS as "appropriate for all ages".
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was produced by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania public broadcaster WQED and Rogers' non-profit production company Family Communications, Inc., previously known as Small World Enterprises prior to 1971; the company was renamed The Fred Rogers Company after Rogers' death.
In May 1997, the series surpassed Captain Kangaroo as the longest-running children's television series, a record the series held until July 2002, when Sesame Street beat Mister Rogers' record.
Here on this brand new 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: Mister Rogers Meets New Friends Collection', which groups together some of the classic episodes from 1979-2000, we watch along as Mister Rogers helps children learn the importance of being kind to others, appreciating what makes everyone unique, and much more.
Plus, this DVD contains a very special bonus episode – a visit from Bill Nye the Science Guy!
In closing, and in truth, Mr. Rogers did what few artists have done in the history of mankind - strengthened and supported his audience so profoundly and so generously that he became a transformative force in their lives. I feel fortunate to have learned from him.
In all too many homes, Mr. Rogers was and is the only voice of understanding, gentleness and positive reinforcement. Imagine how different our world would be if more young people could be exposed to his philosophy of acceptance and love.
There are so many children who never hear their parents say the words "I love you" - not once, not ever. And then they hear Mr. Rogers sing of all the ways people say "I love you," like "the cooking way" and "the eating way," and it's a comfort and reassurance beyond words.
No other public figure provides this kind of life-changing insight to the people most in need.
All contained with these simply divine 30 episodes of the classic series from 1979 to 2000, spread over 14 hours of happiness, it was a comforting show and it felt as if Fred Rogers welcomed you into his own world for that half hour and that you were the only one there.
From the traffic lights, to picture picture, to the fish tank, to the opening of the show, it will always remain close to my heart. The show was timeless and it is a tragic loss that Fred Rogers is no longer alive but his legacy in children's programing will live on forever. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'WWII The Long Road Home'
(Elliott Hasler, Matthew Wyn Davies, Pete Walsh, et al / DVD / NR / (2017) 2021 / 101 Films)
Overview: 'The Long Road Home' depicts an escaped British POW's epic battle for survival whilst on the run in war-torn Italy, as his wife and young son anxiously await news in England. shot across five countries and over three years in production.
DVD Verdict: 'WWII The Long Road Home' is an incredible, and true story, beautifully filmed that was written by, starred in, filmed by, edited by, and directed by 16 year-old Elliott Hasler, about his Great Grandfather in WWII.
Made on a shoestring budget over three years, the film may well house the storyline of a true human hero, but it's the creative telling of a young father's WWII experience (as he strives to return home to his family) that notably showcases the creative talent of the teenager at the helm, young Hasler.
Having had many conversations with his Great-Grandfather over the years, Hasler allows his story to unfold over several months, the most pertinent coming early on when young Charlie is first captured by the Italians in Africa.
Interspersed with scenes from home in Brighton, England, as his young wife Tup (played, in her own powerhaus performance, by Alice Rogers) struggles to bring up their young son, Charlie encounters both friend and foe as he travels North and, ultimately, home.
As you would expect, over the 75 minutes we bare witness to senseless killings and loud explosions and, well, war at its "finest" from all angles, all shot here with great control for a more cinematic approach to them (rather than needlessly bloody).
Shot throughout in a sepia-toned haze, everything has evidently been second and third guessed to ensure complete authenticity - save for some rather dodgy Italian accents, of course - and so the end result is a quite wondrous film that roars with life and fervent admiration for a man who went to war for the love of his family. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
(Sarah Booth, Daved Wilkins, et al / DVD / TV-14 / (2019) 2021 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: The critically acclaimed film 'Last Call' tells the story of two strangers destined to intervene in each other's lives after a misdial fates them together forever.
Beth is a late-night janitor who accidentally answers a call from Scott who believes he has dialed a suicide prevention hotline.
Shot in real time and presented in split screen, 'Last Call' showcases both ends of a life-changing conversation.
DVD Verdict: In truth, I've never, ever seen quite a film created in this manner in my life, and I doubt you will have either.
Filmed as a split screen, real-time feature film, the entire movie is comprised of two single-take shots, merged together and without cuts as the film plays out with two camera crews in different parts of a city as we follow each character through their happenstance encounter.
This innovative, gripping cinematic feat is anchored by two incredible performances by Sarah Booth and Daved Wilkins who between them, and no matter which side of the screen your eyes fall upon, keep you as riveted to the storyline as you ever were throughout the 77 minutes.
Whether it be Booth's gut wrenching arc from casual call picker-upper, through to interested party, on through to an imploring, compassionate and wholly invested person in trying to keep the caller alive, or it's Wilkins as the wrong number dialer, who still stays connected, and throughout is seen to escalate rapidly, and yet every now and again decrease in anger for the proposed job at hand, only to accelerate hard again toward it, 'Last Call' is simply magnificent theatre from start to finish.
Oh, and the score for the film was also composed and recorded in real-time by Adrian Ellis to add to the ephemeral aesthetic of this groundbreaking film. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'On-Gaku: Our Sound' [Blu-ray + DVD]
(Shintaro Sakamoto, Ren Komai, Tomoya Maeno, Tateto Serizawa, Kami Hiraiwa, et al / Blu-ray+DVD / NR / 2021 / Shout! Factory Entertainment)
Overview: When you're a bored teenager looking for thrills, sometimes the only thing you can turn to is rock 'n' roll.
Having no skill, money, or even a full set of drums, a feared trio of high school delinquents nevertheless decide they are destined for musical glory in a quest to impress their only friend, avoid a rival gang, and — most importantly — jam out.
Animated almost entirely by director Kenji Iwaisawa, and featuring a lead performance by Japanese alt-rock legend Shintaro Sakamato, 'On-Gaku: Our Sound' presents a highly original take on the beloved slacker comedy: a lo-fi buddy film with a blaring musical finale that will leave you wanting an immediate encore!
Blu-ray Verdict: In what is, essentially, a quite basically staged, low rent animation, that is light on dialogue and even lighter on background animation, 'On-Gaku: Our Sound' is (quite easily) one of my Top 5 films of 2021 thus far!
With deeply, and penetratively paused breaks aplenty during stages of conversation preserving the feature's spare mood, the crystal clear dialogue exchanges interact with the ranging musical excerpts just perfectly.
Watching along as our, for the most part, expressionless trio stumble into becoming a band, on a whim, forgoing their video games, the film most definitely rides a wave of ranging bouts of percussion and throbbing bass, through to rock (and, at times, folk) guitars expertly.
Ok, sure, and as you might have already guess from the front cover, there are deep nods toward the Beatles, but there are (to my eye, at least) also some loving gestures of respect toward the more visual comedy of days gone by - none more so than Monty Python's brilliant Terry Gilliam.
Instilled with a lot of footage of the trio walking back and forth, up and down, in and out, we watch along as they start off raw, but soon realize that they actually have something as their playing skills drastically improve.
'On-Gaku: Our Sound' isn't a long film at just about an hour or so, but by no means is it a "short" either, so have no fear. Encapsulating all a real life band would go through from band birth to live gig explosion, throughout the musical tone is spot on for what we are witnessing.
In closing, whether it be the even, if not strategically paced flow of the character conversations or the musical thread that stitches the entire film together, 'On-Gaku: Our Sound' is a visual delight and a film for the ages, please believe me.
'On-Gaku: Our Sound' was an official selection at the 2020 Annecy Film Festival, and winner of the Nelvana Grand Prize at the 2019 Ottawa International Animation Festival and was in U.S. theaters on December 11th, 2020. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Bonus Features of:
- The Making of On-Gaku: Our Sound
- Our Movie: Behind the Scenes
- Live Musical Performance
- On-Gaku (Demo)
- 4 Short Films by Kenji Iwaisawa
'1942: Unknown Battle'
(Sergey Zharkov, Ivan Batarev, Oleg Gayanov, et al / DVD / NR / (2019) 2021 / MPI Home Media)
Overview: WWII 1942: Rzhev, USSR. After one of the many brutal battles between the Red Army and the Nazis near the village of Ovsyannikovo, only half of the Red Army's company survives.
Freezing cold, with little to no reinforcements, the company receives the impossible order from Soviet headquarters to keep the village at all costs.
DVD Verdict: While pinned in this crucial strategical position, half their members dead, the other half of the company struggling to cope with their fear, all whilst finding the strength to believe in their unlikely chance of survival, we watch along as the bitterness of not only war, but the freezing cold elements begin to take ahold.
With the weight of his soldiers lives on his shoulders, the company commander faces the choice between sending his unit to a sure death in battle or death by court-martial. We know what choice he makes, but the way that he struggles on screen within himself is an acting class of the highest order, trust me.
Like a drop in the ocean, this one battle reveals the honorable, yet tragic depth to which the Red Army fought to help defeat the Nazis in WWII.
Ergo, '1942: Unknown Battle' (from MPI Home Media via Capelight Pictures) is an incredibly well filmed and wholly cinematic tale that unfolds via battle scenes that are top notch throughout.
Featuring a wonderful, cultured set of lead actors, and directed in fine standing by Igor Kopylov ('Leningrad 46,' TV Series), the way his camera work follows the trials and tribulations of most all these soldiers on screen is simply amazing.
An incident that has been labeled the turning point of World War II, '1942: Unknown Battle' is both captivating and enthralling from start to finish, with such bombastic explosions during battles that, should you have surround sound, you almost feel you're out there in those snow-laden fields with them! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Godzilla: 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital
(Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, et al / 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray+Digital / PG-13 / (2014) 2021 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: In this gritty, realistic sci-fi action epic, Godzilla returns to its roots as one of the world's most recognized monsters.
Directed by Gareth Edwards and featuring an all-star international cast, this spectacular adventure pits Godzilla against malevolent creatures that, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.
Blu-ray Verdict: Warner Bros. is expanding their 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray catalog offerings this month with the release of the cagey and compelling remake of 'Godzilla’ in the expansive 4K Ultra HD video format this March 23rd, 2021.
For my money, this 'Godzilla: 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital' combo pack's sharpness takes a fairly large step forward from others in their 4K Ultra HD catalog and even comes with HDR (High Dynamic Range) for the complete 4K Ultra HD experience, of course.
So, what we have is 'Godzilla' presented to us as a two-disc combo pack with a sheet for a Digital HD Copy. Other stand out points you should know are: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: Upscaled 4K (2160p), HDR: HDR10, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, and Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1.
Featuring Dolby Vision and HDR10 for brighter, deeper, and way more lifelike colors, as with most all 4K UHD's, everything that we watch features these qualities - but somehow, this film gloriously shines within them all.
Noticeably crisper with the overall clarity receiving an obvious boost here on this release, what's more is that it's enjoyably noticeable.
For as well as some new nuances to the somewhat drab palette courtesy of Dolby Vision we also get to witness sudden bright pops of color; such as when the monster is first spotted headed toward the underside of the boat they are on and the Army sends down bright orange/red flares to see where they are shooting, that scene is really eye-catching "alive" now!
Indeed, the picture enjoys the fruits of the added resolution in terms of bringing out the aforementioned extremely fine facial and some of the yellow graded material - notably the scene of clearing and mourning the "demise" of the stricken Godzilla in the crumbled streets, only for his eye to open, his body to reach back for the sky, and for him to walk off, which all now comes across way more "touchable" of a moment.
As for the audio, well we have: English: English: Dolby Atmos, English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), German: Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1, French: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1.
Overall, this is a very strong 4K HDR Blu-ray presentation, and, for the most part, the audio track remains fairly similar to its DTS-HD counterpart; with much of the action occupying the surrounds with outstanding directionality and placement where effects flawlessly pan between the sides and rears.
OK, well, as for the actual movie, well, in truth, "monster movies" seem to have a pattern. There is always a family, some military involvement and the works.
'Godzilla is not an exception. What is exceptional though, is the way these things were handled. Yes, sometimes I cringed at some family matters, but other times (especially when Cranston was on screen) I was almost moved.
Bryan Cranston naturally does fine, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the lead. He is the character that is everywhere at almost all times. He's sometimes more of a plot vehicle than a character, and this movie isn't surely worth watching because of him, but at least he didn't annoy me as much as I feared - and the movie managed to get to the point I was waiting for without making me hate the wait!
Ken Watanabe, too, is handled mainly as an exposition machine or is tasked with setting up the mood, but he's always enjoyable to watch and when he's on screen everything feels a lot better.
The monsters, what they are and what they do, are set up well enough. We get some impressive visuals and decent build-up even before the first full-on action scene. The creatures are introduced nicely, and when they get to business, trust me, it's all nice to watch!
Godzilla is of course the main character, and many people complain that he isn't shown much in this film. That is not a moot criticism, and I understand that. However I enjoyed our hero of a monster more this way for when he was on screen, it was more special and worth the wait.
While this is (at least on the human side) a fairly serious movie, I found something uplifting in the monster action itself. The little boy inside this grown man cheered and even though a lot of buildings and property got smashed, I didn't get tired or annoyed about it like in, say, Man of Steel!
Additionally, this movie is just fresh. It stands out from all your other token blockbuster flicks like Spider-man and Xmen because of the way the story builds and feels.
What's great about the themes/subtexts of the film is that it respects and pays homage to the original 1954 Gojira, but it doesn't wink to the audience or cut short on the ideas.
Early character arcs are established to show nuances within the tone of the film and the screenplay by Max Borenstein complements this with appropriately fantastic writing and dialog - much resemblance to classics like Jurassic Park and Jaws.
In the end, everything comes full circle and Godzilla is shown as an anti-hero - the way he should be.
So sure, there is childish excitement to be found in this movie, even though you'd have to wait for it some time, and overall, the special effects were beautiful (and I love the new Godzilla design and the M.U.T.O.'s were both creepy and a little beautiful in their own ways as well! This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of:
ULTRA HD BLU-RAY & BLU-RAY ELEMENTS:
'Godzilla' Ultra HD Blu-ray contains the following previously released special feature:
• MONARCH: Declassified - Discover explosive new evidence not contained in the film that unravels the massive cover-up to keep Godzilla’s existence a secret
o Operation: Lucky Dragon
o MONARCH: The M.U.T.O. File
o The Godzilla Revelation
• The Legendary Godzilla - Go behind the scenes with filmmakers and cast for an even deeper look at the larger than life monsters in the film
o Godzilla: Force of Nature
o A Whole New Level Of Destruction
o Into The Void: The H.A.L.O. Jump
o Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment announced today that 2014’s 'Godzilla' will be released on Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack and Digital on March 23rd, 2021.
An epic action adventure directed by Gareth Edwards (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”), Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ 'Godzilla' marked the long-awaited big screen return of the King of the Monsters.
'Breaking News in Yuba County' (Blu-ray + Digital]
(Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Juliette Lewis, Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes, Ellen Barkin, et al / Blu-ray + Digital / R / 2021 / Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Overview: After her husband goes missing, Sue Buttons (Allison Janney), an under-appreciated suburban wife, gets a taste of being a local celebrity as she embarks on a city-wide search in Yuba County to find him.
In an effort to prolong her newfound fame, she stumbles into hilarious hijinks as her world turns upside down, dodging a wanna-be mobster (Awkwafina), a relentless local policewoman (Regina Hall), her half-sister (Mila Kunis) a local news reporter desperate for a story, and her husband's dead-beat brother (Jimmi Simpson), who all set out to uncover the truth behind the disappearance.
Blu-ray Verdict: During the nineties there was a certain type of indie movie that hit that sweet spot for murder, mayhem and a ridiculous but clever storyline!
Movies such as 'Clay Pigeons' and 'Happy Texas,' to name just two of many. 'Breaking News in Yuba County' brings those great memories back with a bang and with a deliciously superb cast to boot!
Simply put, 'Breaking News' is the story of one character, Sue Buttons (Allison Janney). Caught in a difficult situation she is absolutely not prepared for, she tries to navigate it as best as she can, with, well, let's say some rather uneven results!
It's Sue's birthday, but no one has remembered, not her news reporting sister, Nancy (Mila Kunis), her cheating husband, Karl (Matthew Modine), nor any of her co-workers.
After Sue catches her husband in an affair, he dies from shock, leaving Sue with an opportunity to finally get some long overdue attention after hiding his body and claiming he was kidnapped.
However, the attention she draws comes from a suspicious and relentless cop (Regina Hall), local criminals (Awkwafina & Clifton Collins Jr.), the disgruntled mistress (Bridget Everett) and a flashy talk show hostess (Juliette Lewis) attempting to exploit her for a story.
One wrong choice begins a domino effect of mishaps, mayhem and a trail of dead bodies!
Jimmi Simpson and Wanda Sykes team up to provide some comic relief and a madcap sub-plot as Sue's brother-in-law (Petey) and his boss (Rita) who set out to rescue Karl from the non-existent kidnappers.
The story is fun and the characters are engaging but it's difficult to label this adventure. It's promoted as a madcap comedy, but it's unexpected twists take a very dark turn and delivers a violent, dark, comic, crime-caper instead.
More in the vein of a tightly-wound film in the style of 'Fargo,' the focus here is the strength of the characters, and the stellar acting by Janney.
I mean, this movie has it all, as aforementioned. A bit of comedy, a bit of crime and suspense, and a bit of drama. It's the perfect mixture, with a good plot and more than decent acting from the whole cast involved.
One including the very under appreciated Allison Janney, Juliette Lewis, Ellen Barkin, Matthew Modine and Regina Hall, 'Breaking News' provides all the ingredients of a great body count murder mess up!
In closing, sure, Yuba County is apparently not that well known in California, but after this movie, I'm guessing it will be now! This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
The dark comedy 'Breaking News in Yuba County,' which is available on Digital and in select theaters now from MGM’s American International Pictures (AIP), will arrive on Blu-ray and DVD on March 23rd, 2021.
(Jackie Chan, Yang Yang, Lun Ai, Miya Muqi, Ruohan Xu, et al / Blu-ray + Digital / PG-13 / 2021 / Lionsgate Films)
Overview: International superstar and martial arts legend Jackie Chan leaps into action as Tang, CEO of the covert security company Vanguard in this gripping action-thriller.
After wealthy businessman Qin rats out his corrupt partner in an arms deal gone fatally wrong, he and his family become targets of the world’s deadliest mercenary organization — and the fighting power of Tang’s team is their only hope to survive.
Set in locations across the globe — including London, Zambia, India, an Arabian desert, and Dubai — 'Vanguard' delivers electrifying thrills from start to breathtaking finish.
Blu-ray Verdict: In truth, and stick with me here, 'Vanguard' is probably one of the corniest action flicks I've seen this year, BUT it has enough non stop action, to pull it off!
From start to end there's lot of martial arts and weapons play to keep the viewer happy. Jackie Chan's trade mark is everywhere to be seen with a large doses of the kind of semi-comical, choreographed fight scenes, that made him famous.
On top of this is are large dollops of sugary, overly sentimental family and very tame romance scenes. I know from my time in China audiences there love this stuff.
That said, it doesn't travel well and many Western viewers, like myself, will see it as downright corny.
I mean, the characters are so thin that they are almost inexistent. The plot is so weak that it can barely be called that way. The actresses and actors look great but don't showcase any talent beyond some stunts and stylish looks.
The fact that Chinese security guards in this film can freely roam the entire world, intervene anyplace without any restrictions and shoot up dozens of foreigners to save a greedy businessman who backstabbed his own dangerous partner should tell you everything you need about the questionable self-perception of the filmmakers!
BUT if you can look past this, and I truly think (and hope) you should, there's enough excitement, fun and pure entertainment on offer here, to keep the majority of action fans more than satisfied.
In conclusion, 'Vanguard' gives a welcome occasion to switch your brain off and have some fun for almost two hours. In times like these, one should be thankful for this, trust me.
Oh, and there's outtakes on the end credits, as per usual, which also features a song sung by Jackie Chan, and one of the outtakes has Jackie Chan in the drink as his jet ski capsizes!
What we learned from Bela Lugosi in 'Bride of the Monster' and Boris Karloff in 'The Terror,' is don't get the old guys wet. The water is cold and they never recover! This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of The Making Of Vanguard.
Jackie Chan is back in action when 'Vanguard' arrives on Digital March 2nd, and on DVD and Blu-ray™ (plus Digital) March 9th from Lionsgate.
'The Berenstain Bears: The Complete Collection'
(5-Disc DVD / G / 2021 / PBS Kids)
Overview: It's time for fun-filled adventures with Brother and Sister bear! Watch all episodes of The Berenstain Bears series in one value-packed DVD set!
These 80 stories tell tales of getting along with others, caring for friends and family, working hard to succeed in school, and lots more!
From participating in a school talent show to flying a big red kite with Papa, children will love watching the many adventures Brother and Sister have in Bear Country each and every day!
DVD Verdict: For those not in the know, 'The Berenstain Bears' began as a children's literature franchise created by Stan and Jan Berenstain and continued by their son, Mike Berenstain; who assumed partial authorship in 2002, and full authorship in 2012 following Jan's death.
The books feature a family of anthropomorphic grizzly bears who generally learn a moral or safety-related lesson in the course of each story.
Indeed, since the 1962 debut of the first Berenstain Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt, the series has grown to over 300 titles, which have sold approximately 260 million copies in 23 languages.
Of course, as we know, 'The Berenstain Bears' franchise has also expanded well beyond the books, encompassing two television series and a wide variety of other products and licenses.
While enjoying decades of popularity and receiving numerous awards, the series has been applauded for portraying many tales of bravery, caring for others, and learning responsibility well beyond The Bears' young years.
Furthermore, 'The Berenstain Bears' is sensibly written to appeal to younger children (preschool and kindergarten age) and teach them values at the same time.
In this age of redundant stupidity in entertainment, parents need a show like this one to help illustrate how fair life should be, and give a firm footing to children, not overwhelm them with glitz, glam and gloss.
By keeping plots simple and allowing children to follow along at their level, this show simply teaches children how to be fair, consider other's feelings and have good sportsmanship.
These are core values which are not being taught to children at daycare dumps or underfunded public schools, in my humble opinion.
Here in 'Berenstain Bears: The Complete Collection' we get an incredible 17 hours of tales spread over 5 discs encompassing 80 singular episodes!
Included in this massively entertaining new collection, we have truly wonderful value for money with great variety in plots galore.
Indeed, overall, The Berenstain Bears is one of the only remaining children’s programs that have morals built in to the story as well as real-life problem solving.
In closing, 'The Berenstain Bears: The Complete Collection' is oh-so sweet and teaches multiple valuable lessons, just like the books. You cannot beat that price considering how many episodes there are either! Highly and most definitely recommended. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Overview: Join Pinkalicious and her brother Peter for five pinkatastic adventures in Pinkville!
DVD Verdict: For those not in the know, 'Pinkalicious & Peterrific' is an American half-hour children's television program based on the Pinkalicious books by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann.
The program premiered on PBS Kids on February 19th, 2018 and the animated series is designed to encourage preschool-age children to explore the arts and develop their creativity.
The show's story follows Pinkalicious and her brother Peter as they imagine how the world looks through her artful eye. Each episode will include two 11 minute stories and live action. Indeed, WGBH is working with Sixteen South to produce 38 episodes in 2019.
Ok, so, let's get this straight from the start - for all the people I've encountered complaining about the pink laden throughout the show, come on now ... the title of the show should have clued you into what to expect!
Sure it can be a bit much, especially if young boys are watching, but at least you know full well that the girls in your family will love it, trust me.
That said, Peter also likes the color pink which is important in showing that colors are just colors and there’s no need to bring gender into it.
Due to one of the DVD releases prior to this one ('Pinkalicious & Peterrific: Pinkamagine It!'), my young daughter knows all of her letters, numbers (up to 10), many animals and shapes and plenty of other things far ahead of schedule. Equally important, she knows how to share and use problem solving skills.
Now we have this new PBS Kids release, 'Pinkalicious And Peterrific: Playtime With Pinkalicious!' and she might as well have assumed it was Christmas Day! Seriously, she almost bit my hand off to get it out of its factory-seal and into the DVD player!
Now that's just how much kids these days love Pinkalicious series!
Here on this new DVD we get ten (10) Pinkalicious adventures:
A Birthday Party for Kendra
Norman Plans a Playdate
Sing in the Spring
A Pinkapurrect Pet
Gnome More Nonsense
Jumping for Joy
It’s time for fun and games with Pinkalicious! Join Pinkalicious and her brother Peter as they put their gnome thinking caps on to help Norman the Gnome plan the perfect playdate.
Then, Pinkalicious and her friends have fun playing with their dolls. But when one of the dolls get hurt, the game changes to playing doctor. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables: 3 Movies
(Ella Ballentine, Sara Botsford, Martin Sheen, et al / 3-DVD / G / 2021 / PBS)
Overview: True to the beloved classic that has enchanted fans across the world for over a century, this trilogy of family films bring to life the story of the determined, spirited little girl who touches the lives of everyone she meets.
Includes: L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars: and L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables: Fire & Dew.
DVD Verdict: I'll admit it - I'm a huge fan of the Anne series of books. I fell in love with this book when I was 9 and was, initially, disappointed with the Kevin Sullivan rendering of 1985 because adaptations are rarely as good as that which unfolds through the unfettered lens of our own imaginations.
Eventually, I came to appreciate the TV mini series and have a soft spot in my heart for the translation from page to screen which Sullivan, et al accomplished.
First up in this trio of delightful tales is 'L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables,' the original retelling of L.M. Montgomery's story of Anne Shirley, an orphan who is accidentally sent to a couple looking to adopt a boy instead.
The movie is refreshing and so well done that I hoped it would have been longer. Martin Sheen, Sara Botsford and Ella Balentine were so excellent in their parts. All the acting added to the story line. The scenery was beautiful and the farm delightful. I hope to watch this movie over and over.
This is a must-see movie remake of the classic novel with a very fine level of acting and a proper dose of credibility and even a spark of beauty. I watched it with a smile on my face and cried at the end - just as if I was a little girl reading this novel for the first time.
Next up is 'L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars' where L.M. Montgomery's spirited heroine, Anne Shirley, faces numerous milestones, including first sleepovers, culinary misadventures and shifting relationships, all while embracing her inquisitive nature.
Here Anne is 12 going on 13. She grows up with her bosom friend Diana Barry and school rival/love Gilbert Blythe. Matthew is suffering from increasing dementia. This ends with Gilbert's rescue of Anne.
The events can be episodic in their nature, but everything flows neatly, if you allow it to. Here Ella is closer in age to the character in the books and that works quite well.
She's good, although I want her hair to be redder, of course, but overall the acting is excellent and the production is bright and good TV level, as always.
Lastly we get 'L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables: Fire & Dew,' where with guidance and encouragement from her spirited new teacher Miss Stacy, Anne Shirley commits to her studies and earns a spot at Queen's College in far-off Charlottetown.
But when Anne departs for Queen's, Matthew and Marilla feel a sudden emptiness in their lives, especially when Marilla's failing eyesight and Matthew's poor health make life more difficult on the farm.
And in Charlottetown, Anne is overwhelmed by loneliness, city life, and the pressure of intense competition - especially from Gilbert Blythe.
Facing difficult choices, will Anne find that the dark cloud over her life does have a silver lining?
Ella Ballentine does a superb performance bringing her character to life. She as well can lead an audience in any direction and not disappoint in any way or form.
A human firecracker in the making and an array of feelings that will bring you back to childhood with a convincing connection, that's for sure.
Sarah Botsford did an awesome job with her character. Her ways of motherhood and friend locks you into her character and takes you for a ride that will for sure not only get you thinking; but I actually was hoping for acceptance from her character as if she was my own mother.
Martin Sheen's character blended in so naturally that you forget while watching that it's a movie. He brought a as he put it a kindred spirit to the audience.
If there were ever a dad figure you would want to grow up with, it would be with Matthew Cuthbert. Thus, 'Fire & Dew' more than works as a stand alone and as a sequel. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Finding Your Roots: Season 6'
(Isabella Rosselini, Anjelica Huston, Mia Farrow, Melissa McCarthy, Eric Stonestreet, et al / 3-Disc DVD / PG-13 / 2021 / PBS)
Overview: In sharing their stories, 'Finding Your Roots' uses every tool available, from cutting edge DNA research to old school genealogical sleuthing to reveal long-buried secrets.
Spanning the globe, the series compiles family trees that trace throughout the United States and Canada; Latin America and the Caribbean; and Germany, Poland, Ireland, Russia and more.
DVD Verdict: 'Finding Your Roots' continues the excellent PBS series with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as host with research provided by professional genealogists as Prof Gates explores major personalities' genealogies with them.
What this series demonstrates is that by visiting one's ancestral roots' locations, one can come to appreciate their ancestors even more than just using computers to do research. And, it helps all of us recognize that we are not isolated but all one very large family that share many common ancestors, no matter what our heritage.
As we quickly learn, genetic genealogy has helped tremendously within this viewpoint and so I would not have known about it without Dr. Gates, Jr. or this incredible show. African Ancestry.com has been a real disappointment, but Ancestry.com has the largest libraries of DNA, and has an incredible service and supportive website and resources.
The stories of these people, some of which I fully admit I had never heard of before, are so moving that you find yourself searching out their movie/TV history on IMDB.
This sixth season advances this journey with a special focus on the experiences of individual families across time, looking at how our ancestors have preserved and redefined cherished traditions as they've crossed the globe.
Indeed, the series (also written by Gates, Jr.) moves fluidly from Asia and Africa to Europe and the Americas, uniting us all through emotional moments that enrich and enlighten - encouraging us to look at our world through a wider, more inclusive lens.
I particularly liked the Zac Posen episode. He is an American fashion designer, who discovers that he descends from a long line of Russian tailors and shoe makers! Also from season six, it is revealed that host Henry Louis Gates Jr, who is a phenomenal host, and proud African American, shares an Irish grandfather with guest Norah O'Donnell.
They both were amazed and seemed proud to discover that they are cousins! It just goes to show that we are all probably more alike, than we are different!
Just a great show and taken together, their stories illuminate the vast kaleidoscope of culture, race, and experience that make up our nation and world. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Jekyll and Hyde'
(Tom Bateman, Donald Sumpter, Natalie Gumede, Stephanie Hyam, Enzo Cilenti, et al / 3-Disc DVD / PG-13 / (2015) 2021 / PBS)
Overview: Critically acclaimed writer Charlie Higson transforms the classic story of good versus evil in this stylish fantasy adventure immersed in the golden age of Hollywood horror.
Opportunity fills the air in 1930s London, but for the young, sensitive and naïve Doctor Robert Jekyll (Tom Bateman, Beecham House, Vanity Fair), a dark past lurks in the shadows.
Jekyll has inherited his grandfather's curse, and in extreme moments is overcome by an inexplicable power - Hyde. Superhuman and uninhibited, the devilishly alluring Hyde is everything Jekyll isn't.
DVD Verdict: For my money, 'Jekyll and Hyde' is a Devilishly stylish, polished 30's horror drama that hits all the right buttons.
From the storyline to the narrative, special effects, sets and acting 'Jekyll and Hyde' is a real winner. In spite of the fact this series is loosely based on well trodden ground, it still manages to be highly imaginative and original.
It takes core elements from the original tale, written by Robert Louis Stevenson and then, in a fusion like blend, adds in intriguing extras.
For starters there's the very heady 1930's British flavor of the whole series, which recaptures the latter days of the British empire. The whole series is '30s chick with a capital "C". Stylish cars, sets and people sit alongside the more worker day aspects of life and times, of the period.
Adding to the mix, are Gothic elements and monsters, reminiscent of any early 20th century horror flick. Not to mention proper "British" secret organizations, both good and bad.
Groups that tap into the mystical world these monstrous creatures inhabit. A world that sits just beneath the thin skin of normalcy, most people call reality.
The acting in 'Jekyll and Hyde' is of a high standard and the cast are well chosen. The narrative is intelligent, for the most part, only occasionally overplaying the '30s thing.
The story in spite of its layers of complexity, holds together well too. Its a credit to the writers, director and producers, that they manage to create such a cohesive tale, with so many creative concepts in play.
In closing, personally, I loved this series for its a remarkably refreshing take on a classic tale. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with over 25 minutes of Bonus Video: Introduction - The Power of Two - Tom Bateman - Monsters - Behind the Scenes.
'The Black Church' [2-Disc DVD]
(3-Disc DVD / PG-13 / 2021 / PBS)
Overview: 'The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song,' hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr, chronicles the rich history of an institution at the heart of the African American experience.
DVD Verdict: Beginning with enslavement, traveling through Emancipation, Jim Crow, the Great Migration, the Civil Rights movement, and ending in the present-day, Gates takes viewers on a journey through time, focusing on the key events, charismatic figures, political debates, and musical traditions that have shaped, and been shaped by, the Black Church.
Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the series also explores the complexity of these spaces of worship at a time when many believe it is at a crossroads.
A chorus of leading scholars, ministers, and cultural influencers who grew up in the Black Church will weigh in and give meaning to events past and present.
Episode 1: The Freedom Faith: Enslaved Africans, shipped to the shores of North America, found ways to preserve their culture and beliefs as a way to sustain them through the atrocities of slavery.
From hush harbors to praise houses to brick-and-mortar structures that stand today, host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. reveals the historic beginnings of the Black Church.
Episode 2: A Nation Within a Nation: Under slavery, the Christian faith provided a way for enslaved people to cope with the brutal and dehumanizing experience of bondage. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. reveals that with freedom on the horizon, independent Black churches helped the formerly enslaved navigate emancipation, the Civil War, and the promise of Reconstruction during this transformational period in American history.
Episode 3: God will Make a Way: The dawn of the 20th century was a pivotal period for Black churches socially, musically, economically, and politically.
Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr, shares how the “nation within a nation” expanded its reach to address the social ills of society and minister to those in need. At the same time, we see how a clear denominational divide emerged within the Black Church.
Episode 4: Crisis of Faith: After the violent loss of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, Black churches found themselves at a crossroads. Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. uncovers how Black churches grappled with their contradictory legacy of being an instrument of liberation, while at the same time battling class and ideological divisions that alienated vital members of their congregations.
Simply put, 'The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song' beings the extraordinary story of the Black church in this country to the fore and over 240 minutes tells us its tale in quite immaculate prose. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Europe's New Wild' [2-Disc]
(2-Disc DVD / NR / 2021 / PBS)
Overview: 'Europe's New Wild' is the inspiring story of the wild rebirth of a continent. Across four episodes, the series reveals the spectacular resurgence of nature across Europe's most varied and breathtaking landscapes.
DVD Verdict: From the Arctic Circle to rich river wetlands, from deep forest to rugged mountain peaks, witness Europe's most iconic wildlife thrive and flourish in the most unexpected places.
Episode 1: The Missing Lynx: Across the Iberian peninsula, food chains and ecosystems are being restored allowing a host of endangered animals, including the Iberian Lynx - rarest cat in the world - to flourish once again.
In Portugal's Coa Valley, the introduction of ancient species is transforming the landscape and heralding the return of the region's top predators.
We learn that by the turn of the 21st century, the Iberian lynx was on the verge of extinction, as only 94 individuals survived in two isolated subpopulations in Andalusia in 2002.
Conservation measures were implemented since 2002 which included improving habitat, restocking of rabbits, translocating, re-introducing and monitoring Iberian lynxes.
By 2012, the population had increased to 326 individuals, a number that increased to 855 in 2020.
Episode 2: Return of the Titans: In the Carpathian mountains and other wildlife strongholds, nature is being given a helping hand.
The reintroduction of European Bison and the spread of the Grey wolf across the continent signal a wildlife comeback which is benefiting not only other animals but humans as well.
Here we learn that the Carpathian Mountains form a 1,500km-long range in Central and Eastern Europe. They stretch west to east in an arc from the Czech Republic to Romania.
The Tatra range between Slovakia and Poland is a national park and has several peaks above 2,400 meters. More than half of the Carpathian range lies in Romania, where spruce forests are home to brown bears, wolves and lynxes.
Episode 3: Land of Snow and Ice: The wilds of Lapland have served as a home for the Sami people and their reindeer for thousands of years.
But with the modern world threatening their traditional way of life, the Sami are working with conservation groups to protect and rewild one of Europe's most extreme wildernesses. Now, Lapland is witnessing wildlife spectacles return to the land of ice and snow.
In this quite fascinating episode we learn that aside from Reindeer and Huskies and Eagles and Bears (the brown bear being the most common of the big omnivores in Lapland, there are Wolves, Lynx and the even the Wolverine).
Episode 4: Europe's Amazon: The Danube is the largest preserved wetland on the continent, a sanctuary for thousands of species - many are the last of their kind.
Every year the delta advances 30 meters into the Black sea, but its future depends on the efforts of conservationists working to preserve these unique and fragile habitats.
Here we learn that The Danube is Europe's second-longest river, after the Volga. It is located in Central and Eastern Europe.
Indeed The Danube was once a long-standing frontier of the Roman Empire and today flows through 10 countries. The river runs through the largest number of countries in the world. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'American Masters: How It Feels To Be Free'
(DVD / NR / 2021 / PBS)
Overview: 'How It Feels to Be Free' takes an unprecedented look at the intersection of African American women artists, politics and entertainment and tells the story of how six trailblazing performers: Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier changed American culture through their films, fashion, music and politics.
DVD Verdict: Lena. Abbey. Diahann. Nina. Cicely. Pam. The intersection of these trailblazing performers changed American culture through their films, fashion, music and politics.
'How It Feels to Be Free' tells the stories of Lena Horne, the first Black woman signed to a major studio. In 1942, Horne became that very first Black woman to sign a long-term contract with a major studio.
The actor has told the story of one particular meeting her father told MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer that his daughter was “not going to be in a Tarzan picture and run around in a leopard skin”!
Next we get Abbey Lincoln, the "Black Marilyn Monroe" turned protest singer and activist. Lincoln was known for her earthy, passionate vocal style and glamorous image and sure, she was sometimes called the "Black Marilyn Monroe," but in the latter stages of her career presented an dignified, earnest, almost somber performance style inspired by her heroine Billie Holiday.
Then we get Diahann Carroll, the first Black woman to both win a Tony Award and star in her own TV series in a role other than a maid. In 1962, Carroll won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, a first for an African American woman, for her role in the Broadway musical No Strings. In 1974 she starred in Claudine alongside James Earl Jones for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Up next is Nina Simone, the revolutionary musical prodigy. Her music spanned a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop. The sixth of eight children born to a poor family in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone initially aspired to be a concert pianist.
Then we get Pam Grier, the first female action hero. Of course, in the early '70s Grier was the reigning queen of Blaxploitation and the first female action star to have ever kicked some serious ass on screen.
In films like Coffy, Friday Foster, and Foxy Brown, the star portrayed three formidable female aggressors who represented a rarely seen mode of empowerment.
Last, but most certainly not least, we get actress Cicely Tyson, the proud race woman who uses her art as a form of protest. here was a time when Black dignity on screen wasn’t guaranteed. It had to be fought for and insisted upon, repeatedly.
And Cicely Tyson, who died Jan. 28th, 2021 at age 96, led a generation of pathbreaking Black American artists who did so, as both creators of and activists for Black humanity on screen and stage.
Through archival performances and 13 interviews with the trailblazers, new interviews with Diahann Carroll and Pam Grier, and interviews from some of the industry's leading entertainers such as Alicia Keys, Lena Waithe, Halle Berry and Samuel Jackson, 'How It Feels to Be Free' explores how these six women re-shaped the way Black women were represented on stage and screen and how Black female entertainers who came after them built off their success, learned from their failures and continue working to change the industry.
Based on the book How it Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement by Ruth Feldstein, this is most certainly an incredible insight into How It Feels To Be Free. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'American Masters: Flannery'
(DVD / NR / 2021 / PBS)
Overview: Explore the life and work of author Flannery O’Connor, whose distinctive Southern Gothic style influenced a generation of artists and activists.
DVD Verdict: With the Georgia farm of Andalusia as a backdrop, O'Connor's starkly, redemptive experiences — found in both her personal biography and her best-known works — come into focus.
Winner of the first-ever Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, Flannery includes conversations with Mary Karr, Tommy Lee Jones, Hilton Als, and others.
Flannery O’Connor, in full Mary Flannery O’Connor, (born March 25, 1925, Savannah, Georgia, U.S. died August 3rd, 1964, Milledgeville, Georgia), was a noted American novelist and short-story writer whose works, usually set in the rural American South and often treating of alienation, concern the relationship between the individual and God.
O’Connor grew up in a prominent Roman Catholic family in her native Georgia. She lived in Savannah until her adolescence, but the worsening of her father’s lupus erythematosus forced the family to relocate in 1938 to the home in rural Milledgeville where her mother had been raised.
After graduating from Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College & State University) in 1945, she studied creative writing at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Her first published work, a short story, appeared in the magazine Accent in 1946. Her first novel, Wise Blood (1952; film 1979), explores, in O’Connor’s own words, the “religious consciousness without a religion.”
Wise Blood consists of a series of near-independent chapters — many of which originated in previously published short stories — that tell the tale of Hazel Motes, a preacher’s grandson who returns from military service to his hometown after losing his faith and then relocates to another town, this one populated by a grotesque cast of itinerant loners, false prophets, and displaced persons on the make.
His lonely tragicomic search for redemption, which includes his founding of the Church Without Christ, becomes increasingly violent and phantasmagorical. Wise Blood combines the keen ear for common speech, the caustic religious imagination, and the flair for the absurd that were to characterize O’Connor’s subsequent work.
With the publication of further short stories, first collected in A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories (1955), she came to be regarded as a master of the form. The collection’s eponymous story became possibly her best-known work.
In it O’Connor created an unexpected agent of salvation in the character of an escaped convict called The Misfit, who kills a quarreling family on vacation in the Deep South.
Her other works of fiction are a novel, The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and the short-story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965).
A collection of occasional prose pieces, Mystery and Manners, appeared in 1969. The Complete Stories, published posthumously in 1971, contains several stories that had not previously appeared in book form; it won a National Book Award in 1972.
With oh-so much more to learn about this incredible person, in 'American Masters: Flannery' you get to watch never-before-seen archival footage, read newly discovered personal letters and hear her own published words alongside original animations and music to examine the life and legacy of an American literary icon. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with 4 Bonus Videos:
Watch The Making of 'Flannery': with Directors Elizabeth Coffman and Mark Bosco
Examine "The Geranium", O'Connor's first published story
Go inside the theatrical adaptation of "Everything that Rises Must Converge"
See how the 1939 premiere of Gone With the Wind led to "A Late Encounter with the Enemy."
'American Experience: Voice of Freedom'
(DVD / G / 2021 / PBS)
Overview: Follow the story of singer Marian Anderson, whose talent broke down barriers around the world.
Narrated by Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton, 'Voice of Freedom' interweaves Anderson's rich life story with this landmark moment in history, exploring fundamental questions about talent, race, fame, democracy and the American soul.
DVD Verdict: Telling the story of singer Marian Anderson, whose talent broke down barriers around the world, and hailed as a voice that “comes around once in 100 years” and widely celebrated by both white and Black audiences at home, her fame wasn’t enough to insulate her from the indignities and trauma of racism and segregation.
On Easter Sunday, 1939, she stepped up to a microphone in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Inscribed on the walls of the monument behind her were the words “all men are created equal.”
Barred from performing in Constitution Hall because of her race, Anderson would sing for the American people in the open air. Narrated by Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton), 'Voice of Freedom' interweaves Anderson’s rich life story with this landmark moment in history, exploring fundamental questions about talent, race, fame, democracy and the American soul.
One of the finest contraltos of her time, Anderson displayed vocal talent as a child, but her family could not afford to pay for formal training.
From the age of six, she was tutored in the choir of the Union Baptist Church, where she sang parts written for bass, alto, tenor, and soprano voices. Members of the congregation raised funds for her to attend a music school for a year.
At 19 she became a pupil of Giuseppe Boghetti, who was so impressed by her talent that he gave her free lessons for a year. In 1925 she entered a contest with 300 competitors and won first prize, a recital at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Her appearance in August 1925 was a great success.
Although many concert opportunities were closed to her because of her race, Anderson appeared with the Philadelphia Symphony and toured African American Southern college campuses.
She made her European debut in Berlin in 1930 and made highly successful European tours in 1930–32, 1933–34, and 1934–35. Still relatively unknown in the United States, she received scholarships to study abroad and appeared before the monarchs of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England.
Her pure vocal quality, richness of tone, and tremendous range made her, in the opinion of many, the world’s greatest contralto.
Anderson’s New York concert debut at Town Hall in December 1935 was a personal triumph. She subsequently toured South America and in 1938–39 once again toured Europe. In 1939, however, she attempted to rent concert facilities in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and was refused because of her race.
This sparked widespread protest from many people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who, along with many other prominent women, resigned from the DAR. Arrangements were made for Anderson to appear instead at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, and she drew an audience of 75,000.
On January 7, 1955, she became the first African American singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Before she began to sing her role of Ulrica in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, she was given a standing ovation by the audience.
All that and oh-so much more is revealed about this lady here in 'American Experience: Voice of Freedom,' which makes this one of the most powerful PBS releases, to my mind, that they have released in the past 10 years. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Overview: 'American Experience: The Codebreaker' tells the fascinating story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, the groundbreaking cryptanalyst whose painstaking work decoding thousands of messages for the U.S. government would send infamous gangsters to prison and bring down a massive, near-invisible Nazi spy ring in WWII.
DVD Verdict: A suburban wife and mother who led a secret double life, her remarkable contributions to the science of cryptology would only come to light decades after her death, when classified government files were unsealed.
But together with her husband, the legendary cryptologist William Friedman, Elizebeth helped develop the codebreaking methods that led to the creation of the powerful new science of cryptology and laid the foundation for modern codebreaking today.
In this utterly enthralling new PBS documentary, Elizebeth Smith Friedman - wife, mother, writer, Shakespeare enthusiast, cryptanalyst, and pioneer in U.S. cryptology - died on 31st October 1980 in Plainfield, New Jersey, at the age of 88.
Although she is often referred to as the wife of William Friedman, she enjoyed many successes in cryptology in her own right and has been dubbed "America's first female cryptanalyst."
In fact, although her husband is credited with numerous contributions to cryptology, it was Mrs. Friedman who introduced him to the field.
Mrs. Friedman's employment as a cryptanalyst for the U.S. Navy followed in 1923, which led to her subsequent positions with the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Prohibition and Bureau of Customs.
The net result of her career is quite significant and embraces cryptology against international smuggling and drug running in various parts of the world.
The smugglers and runners resorted to radio and encoded messages to conduct their operations, presumably with a great sense of security. This, however, became a mistaken notion after Mrs. Friedman came to Washington. A more detailed account of her cryptologic contributions has been presented in a previous Almanac article.
During the post-World War Two period, Mrs. Friedman became a consultant to and created communications security systems for the International Monetary Fund.
All this and oh-so much more is brought forth about this incredible woman here in 'American Experience: The Codebreaker' and although Mrs. Friedman worked closely with her husband William as part of a team, many of her contributions to cryptology were unique.
She deciphered many encoded messages throughout the Prohibition years and solved many notable cases single-handedly, including some codes which were written in Mandarin Chinese.
As has been determined, the complexity or difficulty mattered not. After fifty years at her business, Elizebeth Smith Friedman had indeed proved to be a pioneer in code breaking. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Overview: In Europe's highest mountain range, discover how Eurasian lynx, golden eagles, ibex, griffon vultures and other animals face extreme seasonal fluctuations from thunderstorms to avalanches in this epic two-part documentary event.
On every mountain slope, ridge or meadow, a natural world drama plays out as animals fight for survival in the Alps.
DVD Verdict: Spanning 750 miles from the Mediterranean Sea to the Adriatic Sea, the Alps connect eight European countries.
From sea level to peaks rising higher than 12,000 feet, and with many of the world's environments located within the Alps' boundaries, each mountain chain is more imposing and diverse than the next.
From the off we learn that The Alps, a small segment of a discontinuous mountain chain that stretches from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa across southern Europe and Asia to beyond the Himalayas.
The Alps extend north from the subtropical Mediterranean coast near Nice, France, to Lake Geneva before trending east-northeast to Vienna (at the Vienna Woods). There they touch the Danube River and meld with the adjacent plain.
The Alps form part of France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania.
Only Switzerland and Austria can be considered true Alpine countries, however. Some 750 miles (1,200 kilometres) long and more than 125 miles wide at their broadest point between Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and Verona, Italy, the Alps cover more than 80,000 square miles (207,000 square kilometres). They are the most prominent of western Europe’s physiographic regions.
Indeed, The Alps present a great variety of elevations and shapes, ranging from the folded sediments forming the low-lying pre-Alps that border the main range everywhere except in northwestern Italy to the crystalline massifs of the inner Alps that include the Belledonne and Mont Blanc in France, the Aare and Gotthard in Switzerland, and the Tauern in Austria.
From the Mediterranean to Vienna, the Alps are divided into Western, Central, and Eastern segments, each of which consists of several distinct ranges.
In 'Nature: The Alps' we further discover how Eurasian lynx, golden eagles, ibex, griffon vultures and other animals face extreme seasonal fluctuations – from the volatile thunderstorms and landslides of summer to the avalanches and frozen temperatures of winter – in this epic two-part documentary event.
On every mountain slope, ridge or meadow, a natural world drama plays out as animals fight for survival in Europe's majestic Alps. Fascinating from start to finish. Simply breathtakingly fascinating. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Overview: Some 30 million Americans have sent their DNA to be analyzed by companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, hoping to obtain clues to family origins and forecasts of their future health.
Some users have found family members and discovered lurking genetic risks. But what happens once the sample is in the hands of testing companies?
DVD Verdict: What are they looking at and how accurate are their results? NOVA explores the power of this information and the unintended consequences that can arise from sharing our data with these rapidly growing online databases.
DNA results that report on health risks can be misleading, and the discovery of intimate family secrets can tear relationships apart. Meanwhile, law enforcement is increasingly turning to the DNA-sharing website GEDmatch as an extraordinarily powerful tool for cracking cold cases, as demonstrated by the 2018 arrest of California’s notorious Golden State Killer after 42 years at large.
But what is the peril and promise of consumer DNA testing?
Well, as we learn, and as primarily aforementioned, for the most part, Genetics testing companies, like Veritas Genetics, Ancestry and 23andMe, are providing consumers with an unprecedented level of access to their personal genome.
Also, to be honest, privacy risks are not well understood by consumers and, of course, law enforcement and the federal government can pressure these companies to share your DNA.
The business of personal genetic-testing kits is booming, with consumers able to learn about their ancestry and health risks at the cost of just $99 to a few hundred dollars. So the question asked here is Should you be afraid?
Some individuals worry they will discover things about their DNA that will be frightening — namely, the risks they run of contracting various diseases — and not know how to move forward with the information.
Professional scientific skeptics contend the information may not even be as accurate as claimed, and lead people to make questionable health decisions. But there’s another type of risk that consumers aren’t focusing on as much, and it’s a big one: privacy.
There is nothing more private than your personal genetic information, and sending away for a personal genome kit means sharing your DNA with the testing companies. What do they do with it, beyond providing consumers with genetic and health assessments?
That’s a question consumers need to weigh as they consider genome testing.
Companies in this space, including 23andMe, Veritas Genetics and Ancestry, have a good reason to protect your DNA — their business future depends on maintaining the trust of consumers.
But there are thorny issues related to genetic privacy that still today don’t have easy answers or iron-clad legislative protections. And regulators aren’t convinced they are doing right by consumers.
A recent Fast Company report indicates that 23andMe and Ancestry are being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over their policies for handling personal info and genetic data and how they share that info with third parties.
“The key thing about your genetic data ... it is uniquely yours. It identifies you, so if you are going to entrust it to a company, you should try to understand what the consequences are,” says Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, whose research on the issue and interviews with individuals shows a lack of consumer knowledge.
Fascinating from start to finish and providing, at the very least, some answers as to who may profit on your DNA, 'NOVA: Secrets in Our DNA' is amust watch for those thinking of sending in their DNA. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
'Don't Tell A Soul'
(Rainn Wilson, Fionn Whitehead, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mena Suvari, et al / DVD / R / 2021 / Lionsgate Films)
Overview: While stealing money to help their sick mother (Mena Suvari), teen brothers Matt and Joey (Fionn Whitehead and Jack Dylan Grazer) are surprised by Hamby (Primetime Emmy® Award nominee Rainn Wilson), a security officer who gives chase and is then trapped in a well.
Over the next few days, Joey and Hamby forge an uneasy relationship. Hamby tells Joey he’ll keep quiet if Joey sets him free. But Hamby holds another secret, one that will threaten Joey and his family, in this twist-filled, cat-and-mouse thriller.
DVD Verdict: 'Don't Tell A Soul' is a quite fair psychological thriller film about two brothers Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Matt (Fionn Whitehead) who break into an elderly house to steal money.
Subsequently chased into the woods by a security guard named Hamby (Rainn Wilson), in the darkness he falls into a deep hole (that we quickly discover is actually an old, disused well).
Matt, the older brother, insists they leave him there to die whilst Joey grows anxious to help and save him. That doesn't sit well with Matt who quickly escalates to becoming hostile to his younger sibling, every time Joey thinks about saving Hamby.
'Don't Tell a Soul' is a very good watch, and at no time do you want to get up and check on something, or look at your phone, or check your recent FB posts, which is rather refreshing, in and unto itself.
OK sure, there are some truly baffling character decisions made in the film, and some tempo switches along with changing motives scattered amongst it, but what worked was the plot itself - along with a truly surprising twist (that may shock you and/or make you rewatch it all over again!)
And yes, the film digs itself a bit of a hole (so to speak) early on and, personally, I don't think the writers knew 100% how to get out of it early, or realistically, but with the interesting premise set up, a pretty decent, and somewhat logical next step is definitely employed to decent success.
In closing, I sadly have to agree with a slew of other readers and writers that I have spoken to about 'Don't Tell A Soul,' and that is the character and the overall acting from Mena Suvari is, and without a shadow of a doubt, where the film breaks apart - for her acting is as ridiculous and as unbelievable as quite anything I've seen in the past 20 years on screen!
That aside, 'Don't Tell A Soul' is a good watch, even at a very short 83 minutes run time, and lead character Hamby is portrayed magnificently by Rainn Wilson - for he is always fun to watch, and dedicated to any character he puts his mind to playing. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of:
• Flesh & Blood: Creating Don’t Tell A Soul
Some secrets should stay buried when 'Don’t Tell a Soul' arrives on DVD and Blu-ray™ (plus Digital) March 16 from Lionsgate.
'Don’t Tell a Soul' will be available on DVD and Blu-ray+Digital combo for the suggested retail price of $19.98 and $21.99, respectively.
(Jason Segel, Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck, et al / DVD / R / (2019) 2021 / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Overview: 'Our Friend' tells the inspiring and extraordinary true story of the Teague family — journalist Matt (Casey Affleck), his vibrant wife Nicole (Dakota Johnson) and their two young daughters — and how their lives are upended by Nicole's heartbreaking diagnosis of terminal cancer.
DVD Verdict: As noted, 'Our Friend' is based on a true story, that has been adapted from a magazine article titled 'The Friend', written by Matt Teague(Casey Affleck).
When married couple Matt and Nicole Teague (Dakota Johnson) receive some grave and tragic information, their best friend Dane Faucheux (Jason Segel) moves in with them. Dane then proceeds to leave a beautiful lasting a lasting impression on Matt, Violet and their children's lives.
Simply put, 'Our Friend' is an awe-inspiring film. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has given us a movie that will make you laugh, tear up and end up smiling again, all through the course of its 90 minute run time.
The fact that it's based on a true story refuels my faith in the innate goodness of human nature, let alone all the quite stunning cinematography by Joe Anderson. Simply gorgeous.
Jason Segel is spectacular as Dane Faucheux and for my money, gives us the best performance of his career thus far. Casey Affleck is also
rather outstanding as Matt Teague, with Dakota Johnson a head-above-shoulders character winner here as Nicole Teague.
Johnson has definitely moved on from her 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trilogy days and along with both Segel and Affleck, have this effortless camaraderie in all their scenes together which showcases the depth of her acting to a tee.
Isabella Kai is also quite phenomenal as Molly Teague. A young and relatively unknown talent that has a long and bright career ahead of her, Violet McGraw is adorable as Evie Teague.
In fact, the entire supporting cast is great which makes 'Our Friend' match-watch family viewing when one can witness the triumph of the human spirit in all its glory! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of:
• Behind the Scenes with the Cast & Crew
In this the filmmakers and cast - including Jason Segel, Dakota Johnson, and Casey Affleck - discuss why they were drawn to this true story and how they worked together to honestly portray the real people at its center.
Own 'Our Friend' on Digital March 23rd, 2021 and on DVD March 30th, 2021 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Wonder Woman 1984 [4K Ultra HD+Blu-ray+Digital]
(Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, et al / Blu-ray+Digital / NR / 2021 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: The fate of the world is once more on the line, and only Wonder Woman can save it. This new chapter in the Wonder Woman story finds Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) living quietly among mortals in the vibrant, sleek 1980s—an era of excess driven by the pursuit of having it all.
Though she’s come into her full powers, she maintains a low profile, curating ancient artifacts and only performing her superheroic acts incognito.
But now, Diana will have to step directly into the spotlight and muster all her wisdom, strength and courage in order to save mankind from a world of its own making.
Blu-ray Verdict: Warner Bros. is expanding their 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray catalog offerings this month with the release of the euphorically mesmerizing, and gloriously colorful 'Wonder Woman 1984’ in the expansive 4K Ultra HD video format this March 30th, 2021.
For my money, this 'Wonder Woman 1984: 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital' combo pack's sharpness takes a fairly large step forward from others in their 4K Ultra HD catalog and even comes with HDR (High Dynamic Range) for the complete 4K Ultra HD experience, of course.
So, what we have is 'Wonder Woman 1984' presented to us as a two-disc combo pack with a sheet for a Digital HD Copy. Other stand out points you should know are: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10+, Aspect ratio: 2.39:1, 1.90:1 and Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1.
Featuring Dolby Vision and HDR10 for brighter, deeper, and way more lifelike colors, as with most all 4K UHD's, everything that we watch features these qualities - but somehow, this film gloriously shines within them all.
Noticeably crisper with the overall clarity receiving an obvious boost here on this release, what's more is that it's enjoyably noticeable.
For as well as some new nuances to the somewhat drab palette courtesy of Dolby Vision we also get to witness sudden bright pops of color; such as the truly breathtaking fun to watch, lasso of truth scene I'll call "The White House Fight Scene"!
I mean, and aside from the pulsating, golden glow of the lasso of truth itself, WW's costume and fight techniques all come to the fore here in this corridor of power!
Indeed, the picture enjoys the fruits of the added resolution in terms of bringing out the aforementioned extremely fine facial and some of the yellow graded material - notably the now infamous opening scenes of the great race and where a young Diana is seen competing with her oh-so much older "family".
As for the audio, well we have a veritable smorgasbord of choice here: English: Dolby Atmos, English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), Italian: Dolby Atmos,
German: Dolby Atmos, Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1, German: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 and French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1.
Overall, this is a very strong 4K HDR Blu-ray presentation, and, for the most part, the audio track remains fairly similar to its DTS-HD counterpart; with much of the action occupying the surrounds with outstanding directionality and placement where effects flawlessly pan between the sides and rears.
OK, well, as for the actual movie, well, for my money, 'Wonder Woman 1984' delivers top notch, first class entertainment from start to finish!
This time the story is set in 1984, where Wonder Woman tries to save the world once again from an unlikely enemy while she still seems to be thinking about Chris Pine.
Yes, its a more emotional approach to a superhero and yes its more focused to a female perspective, but I liked it for what it is.
With a run time of two and a half hours, you'd think that it might get a wee bit boring along the way, but trust me when I say that the pace of the film is fantastic throughout.
The visuals and FX are pretty good throughout the movie too (save, sadly for Wiig as the "apex predator," of course), and the action scenes are well crafted, as one would imagine.
The cast is excellent also, with Pedro Pascal being a genuine stand out highlight on screen as Maxwell Lord. Gal Gadot is as stunning as always and sure, overall, Kirsten Wiig is also a great addition to the film, but the development of her character could have been more in depth so we could at least see her transformation being more justified.
On the contrary, the character of Pedro Pascal is well developed and layered and I was impressed by the tension that he adds throughout the entire film.
Furthermore, I was happy to see him seamlessly switching between drama and comedy and many points go to him for keeping the film's pace interesting also.
For me, the whole granting wishes thing concept of the movie just felt out of place, and like something that belonged in a whole different type of movie.
It just failed to captivate me, and proved to have little entertainment value in terms of being the focal point of a superhero movie.
But what did work was that aforementioned opening sequence, for it is one most all viewers must have gotten sucked into from the off.
Spectacular camera work takes us to a competition on Themyscira, as a very young Diana (Lilly Aspell returns) goes against the grown warriors, while Antiope (Robin Wright) and Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) look on and teach hard life lessons.
Not only do these actors return, but most of Ms. Jenkins' 'Wonder Woman' crew is back, including cinematographer Matthew Jensen. The changes include Film Editor Richard Pearson and Hans Zimmer provides the new score.
Overall, the style focus is excellent ('80s colorful extravaganza) and the subjective meaning of the movie is beyond positive, as only we could have ever hoped for.
Taking a peak at a couple of the Special Features and the lead on is the magnificently explorative and highly informative 'The Making of Wonder Woman 1984: Expanding the Wonder, where, and from the off, Patty Jenkins is so in love with Gal's golden suit of armor and how it fits here!
We get some lovely story board sketches and insight into how evolved this 'Wonder Woman' would be compared to the one before and what they thought she could now do, with all her powers now harnessed, but having been kept under wraps for so long.
As for how she was presented, at Gala's and such, given how colorfully mad the scenes and backgrounds were (let alone all the clothing worn by the actors and background), they wanted her to be "cool and elegant" in her own brand of sleek, uncomplicated whites, etc.
And in the :53 second 'Gal & Kristen: Friends Forever,' we get to see two gals goofing off, dancing, acting up and overall just hugging and genuinely laughing with one another throughout the long shoot!
And lest we forget the :58 second 'Gal & Krissy Having Fun' where the two ladies came together for a homemade "music video" for a Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show skit!
This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.39:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of:
• The Making of Wonder Woman 1984: Expanding the Wonder
• Gal & Kristen: Friends Forever
• Small But Mighty
• Scene Study: The Open Road
• Scene Study: The Mall
• Gal & Krissy Having Fun
• Meet the Amazons
• Black Gold Infomercial
• Gag Reel
• Wonder Woman 1984 Retro Remix
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of 'Wonder Woman 1984' will feature DolbyVisionTM HDR, which dramatically expands the color palette and contrast range, and uses dynamic metadata to automatically optimize the picture for every screen, frame by frame.
It will also feature HDR10+TM, a new HDR technology that optimizes brightness levels and contrast for each scene, making bright areas brighter and dark areas darker to deliver a lifelike viewing experience.
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of 'Wonder Woman 1984' will also feature a Dolby Atmos® soundtrack remixed specifically for the home theater environment to place and move audio anywhere in the room, including overhead.
To experience Dolby Atmos at home, a Dolby Atmos enabled AV receiver and additional speakers are required, or a Dolby Atmos enabled sound bar; however, Dolby Atmos soundtracks are also fully backward compatible with traditional audio configurations and legacy home entertainment equipment.
'Wonder Woman 1984' will also be available on Movies Anywhere. Using the free Movies Anywhere app and website, consumers can access all their eligible movies by connecting their Movies Anywhere account with their participating digital retailer accounts.
It’s time for a hero when 'Wonder Woman 1984' arrives on Premium Video on Demand (PVOD), 4K, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. The film is directed by Patty Jenkins and stars Gal Gadot ('Wonder Woman') in the title role.
• 'Wonder Woman 1984' will be available for 48-hour rental via PVOD for $19.99 SRP beginning on Friday, February 12th, 2021. The title will be available on participating digital platforms where you rent movies.
• On March 16th, 2021, 'Wonder Woman 1984' will be available to own in high definition and standard definition from select digital retailers including Amazon, FandangoNOW, iTunes, PlayStation, Vudu, Xbox and others.
• On March 30th, 2021, 'Wonder Woman 1984' will be available on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD.
'Death Has Blue Eyes: Special Edition' [Blu-ray]
(Jessica Dublin, Peter Winter, Maria Aliferi, et al / Blu-ray / R / (1976) 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: When local gigolo Chess (Nomikos) greets his vacationing friend Bob Kovalski (Winter) at Athens airport, the pair embark on a string of scams and erotic dalliances that eventually lead them to a pair of elegant wealthy woman, Geraldine Steinwetz (Jessica Dublin), and her glamorous daughter Christine (Maria Aliferi).
Geraldine blackmails the two bachelor boys into acting as bodyguards for Christine, whom it transpires has telepathic abilities and has had her eye on them for some time.
After fleeing from a series of assassination attempts, it soon becomes clear that Geraldine herself might not be quite whom she seems, as the two young men find themselves caught up in a political conspiracy of international dimensions.
Blu-ray Verdict: In his debut feature, 'Death Has Blue Eyes,' maverick filmmaker Nico Mastorakis presents us with a generous meze of non-stop car, bike and helicopter chases, a bevy of beautiful girls with guns, sensational softcore sex scenes, psychic thrills and Cold War political intrigue set against the picturesque landscapes of '70s Greece!
All presented for the very first time in a new HD master in both widescreen and full-frame versions from Arrow Films, arriving in Greece, Bob and Ches play a double act to steal everything they want, from flash cars and clothes, to the hearts of girls and cash!
Trying to get a free meal at a hotel via pretending be guests, Bob and Ches get caught out by real hotel guests Geraldine and her daughter Christine.
Cutting a deal with them, Bob and Ches start protecting Christine and Geraldine, who has a special ESP ability!
Shot before, but coming out after 'Island of Death,' writer/director Nico Mastorakis scrapes off the kerb a bucket load of Grindhouse sleaze, with sexy naked ladies (and naked men), action chase sequences shot guerrilla style, and loud '70s fashion all being wonderfully rolled into an un-hinged creation for our viewing pleasure!
For the editing, the uncredited editor goes for the unique approach of cutting it with a rusty hacksaw, which adds to the slimy atmosphere, as delightfully poor ESP Sci-Fi and frantic action scenes are cut with an axe!
Keeping in line with his directing, the wacky screenplay by Mastorakis scoops up boo-hiss bad guys, naked assassins and a peculiar mother/daughter ESP bond, as the blue eyes of death light up!
Told with mind bending style and color, music and eye popping sets, the audience is treated to all this and more by the director and boy, is it most assuredly a fun visual ride from start to finish! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Brand new restoration from the original camera negative approved by the director
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Two versions of the film: the widescreen 1.85:1 version and the full-frame 1.33:1 version
Original mono audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Exclusive new interview featurette with Nico Mastorakis
Exclusive new interview with actress Maria Aliferi
Dancing with Death: tracks from the Death Has Blue Eyes original soundtrack
Original Theatrical Trailers
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys + FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing by Julian Grainger
'Donnie Darko: Limited Edition' [4K UHD]
(Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Maggie Gyllenhaal, et al / 2-Disc Blu-ray / R / (2001) 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Fifteen years before Stranger Things combined science fiction, Spielbergian touches and 80s nostalgia to much acclaim, Richard Kelly set the template – and the high-water mark – with his debut feature, 'Donnie Darko.'
Initially beset with distribution problems, it would slowly find its audience and emerge as arguably the first cult classic of the new millennium.
Donnie is a troubled high school student: in therapy, prone to sleepwalking and in possession of an imaginary friend, a six-foot rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days, 06 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.
During that time he will navigate teenage life, narrowly avoid death in the form of a falling jet engine, follow Frank’s maladjusted instructions and try to maintain the space-time continuum.
Blu-ray Verdict: In all honesty, 'Donnie Darko' is a very thought provoking movie! It starts off just odd with your typical socially awkward teenager and a family that seems very stereotypical and standard for any Hollywood movie and it actually isn't until Donnie's first "dream" with Frank that the movie takes a very serious turn from your typical Hollywood cinema.
These "dreams" that Donnie experiences are very eerie and put the audience in a sense of unease and unknowing as to what is going on. I won't go into a lot of detail to avoid spoilers, but this is very much purposeful for later in the movie.
The idea of having this "imaginary friend" from a teenager helps explain that while adults an try and find ways to help, they will never truly know what is going on in a teenagers head.
This is a theme throughout the entire film. The mind of a teenager cannot fully be understood unless you're in their shoes and experiencing everything they are.
This and the theory of time travel that gets brought up throughout the film add to even more confusion. Whilst the brilliant Director's Cut (which I also own and have watched numerous times now with friends) does help explain all this confusion, the theatrical cut really just allows the audience to think more for themselves.
I mean, come on, at the best of times trying to understand the teenage mind is tough enough, but adding a more complex topic such as what is going on here, well, it most certainly makes for a very confusing, yet highly effective viewing experience.
Indeed, the movie combines these elements expertly in a way that is absolutely confusing, but once you take the time to think about what you are seeing, it all starts to slowly make sense regardless.
In closing, and now here as an expansive Limited Edition 4K UHD, 'Donnie Darko' is definitely a movie that needs to be seen more than once in order to understand all the elements at play. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
New 4K restorations of both the Theatrical Cut and the Director's Cut from the original camera negatives by Arrow Films, supervised and approved by director Richard Kelly and cinematographer Steven Poster
4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentations of both cuts in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
100-page hardcover book featuring writing by Nathan Rabin, Anton Bitel and Jamie Graham, an in-depth interview with Richard Kelly, an introduction by Jake Gyllenhaal and contemporary coverage, illustrated with original stills and promotional materials
Double-sided fold-out poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by Luke Preece
Six double-sided collector's postcards
Limited Edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Luke Preece
DISC 1 - THE THEATRICAL CUT [4K UHD BLU-RAY]
Audio commentary by writer-director Richard Kelly and actor Jake Gyllenhaal
Audio commentary by Kelly, producer Sean McKittrick and actors Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross and James Duval
Deus ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko, a documentary by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures on the making of Donnie Darko, containing interviews with writer-director Richard Kelly, producer Sean McKittrick, cinematographer Steven Poster, editor Sam Bauer, composer Michael Edwards, costume designer April Ferry, production designer Alec Hammond and actor James Duval
The Goodbye Place, Kelly's 1996 short film, which anticipates some of the themes and ideas of his feature films
20 deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary by Kelly
DISC 2 - THE DIRECTOR'S CUT [4K UHD BLU-RAY]
Audio commentary by Kelly and filmmaker Kevin Smith
The Donnie Darko Production Diary, an archival documentary charting the film's production, with optional commentary by cinematographer Steven Poster
Archive interviews with Kelly, actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Noah Wyle and Katharine Ross, producers Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen, Hunt Lowry and Casey La Scala, and cinematographer Steven Poster
Three archive featurettes: They Made Me Do It, They Made Me Do It Too and #1 Fan: A Darkomentary
Cunning Visions infomercials
Music video: 'Mad World' by Gary Jules
Director's Cut Trailer
'A Ghost Waits' (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
(MacLeod Andrews, Natalie Walker, Sydney Vollmer, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2020) 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Tasked with renovating a neglected rental home, handyman Jack (MacLeod Andrews, They Look Like People, Doctor Sleep) quickly finds out why the tenants keep leaving in droves - this house is haunted.
The ghost in question is Muriel (Natalie Walker), herself employed from beyond the veil to keep the home vacant. Against the odds, Jack and Muriel find they have a lot in common ... pulse notwithstanding.
Having found a kindred spirit in an otherwise lonely existence, they must fight for their newfound affection as pressure mounts for them each to fulfil their 'cross-purposes'.
Blu-ray Verdict: From its opening spectral assault to its achingly poignant conclusion - as well as a witty depiction of afterlife bureaucracy in the vein of Beetlejuice and A Matter of Life and Death - 'A Ghost Waits' has shocked and surprised audiences around the world, and now makes its home video debut stacked with insightful bonus features that take you inside the process of creating this phantasmagorical monochrome marvel.
Artistically shot in black and white, a fully nailing a left-field Horror character introduction by Jack entering the house in order to do repairs as a blue collar worker, the writers take Jack's handyman skills as a opening to the quirky office politics of ghosting, with Muriel's glowing romance with Jack, under risk of fading out from newbie ghost Rosie being sent out to spook Jack from the house.
Having not even made a short film before, debut director/editor Stovall displays an impeccable subtle touch, closely working with cinematographer Michael C. Potter to cover the haunted house in icy monochrome, bringing a striking Silent Movie star quality to Muriel (played by a alluring Natalie Walker) thanks to emphasizing the delicate placement of white lights, rather than the traditional long shadows usually in a haunted house.
Gradually revealing that the real thing haunting Muriel and Jack (played with a rugged, dead-pan charm by MacLeod Andrews) are them each being in a marginal existence, Stovall conjures up lo-fi indie vibes to the final montage, turning what could be presented as tragedy, into heart-warming romanticism, as Jack waits for the ghost.
In closing, the acting here from the cast is fully top notch and the chemistry between the two leads is most definitely organic. Indeed, it goes without saying that the script is very smart, even funny in parts and made this cynic grow a heart like the Grinch!
Some may call it a Dark Comedy, but it is oh-so much more than that, as I hope you yourselves will also discover. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Original uncompressed stereo audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Audio commentary by writer/director Adam Stovall
Audio commentary by Adam Stovall and MacLeod Andrews
Audio commentary by the cast and crew
Humanity and the Afterlife in 'A Ghost Waits', a new video essay by Isabel Custodio exploring the film's themes and cinematic forebears
Eight interviews with cast and crew moderated by critic and programmer tt stern-enzi
Interview and post-film Q&A with Adam Stovall moderated by Alan Jones at Frightfest Glasgow 2020
Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Sister Hyde and original artwork by Julie Hill + FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors' booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann
'Switchblade Sisters (Special Edition)' [Blu-ray]
(Robbie Lee, Joanne Nail, Monica Gayle, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1975) 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Lace (Robbie Lee), the leader of inner city girl gang The Dagger Debs, meets her match when new girl Maggie (Joanne Nail) moves into the neighborhood.
Mistrust and conflict turn to friendship as the girls end up in Juvenile Detention together at the mercy of abusive guards.
Meanwhile, The Dagger Debs male counterparts The Silver Daggers have to contend with the arrival of a new gang, led by the villainous Crabs (Chase Newhart).
But when the girls get back on the streets, a planned retaliation strike in tandem with The Silver Daggers backfires and puts Lace in hospital.
Maggie assumes control, teaming up with Muff (Marlene Clark) and her gang of African-American militants from across town to declare all out war. But there s a traitor in their midst.
Blu-ray Verdict: The Dagger Debs, tough-talking high school broads with switchblade knives, benevolent snarls, attitude to spare, and propensity for violence, striking fear in the hearts of the citizens on the streets, are on equal footing with a the male Silver Daggers, a bossy, nasty brood whose harsh bullying ways leave the community they frequent cuckolded in a state of quivering angst.
Soon a rival gang must attend the Daggers' school due to theirs closing, and a struggle for dominance ensues. Each gang has their own turf, which the other doesn't dare cross into.
Crabs, quite old to be still in high school, has a much larger gang than his mortal enemy, Dominick, and runs high enterprise in dope-dealing through the façade of a community organizing group schmoozing with the mayor while selling drugs to the youth they're supposed to be helping.
Essentially, the film's central arch is a love triangle gone terribly wrong. Dominick(Asher Brauner), leader of the Silver Daggers, and Lace(Robbie Lee), leader of the Debs, are an item.
Enter Maggie (Joanne Nail), new to their side of the city who gets in an altercation with the Dagger Debs' Patch (Monica Gayle), showing her courage and strength, twirling a mean chain which trips her foes before assaulting them further.
Dominick is drawn to Maggie, it's a type of lust Patch recognizes, and capitalizes on when she notices this newcomer moving in on her best friend, Lace. Lace is completely obsessed with Dominick, although she's just a piece of ass to him.
When Dominick infuriates Lace after blowing up into a tirade towards her about the revelation of carrying his child, she gets even by informing Crabs of a strategic attack on them at a neutral site, a roller rink, resulting in a bloody shootout which takes out innocent bystanders, among other cataclysmic results.
With the Silver Daggers deeply wounded, the Debs must assume control, with Maggie more than willing to take the leadership position after Crabs kicked Lace in the stomach causing a miscarriage. Aligning herself with a bad ass group of sisters who follow the political teachings of Mao, led by Muff(Marlene Clark), the newly named Jezebels prepare to conquer Crabs, crushing his regime, disintegrating his stranglehold on the a specific part of the city.
But, what Maggie doesn't realize is that Patch and Lace are planning to murder her, getting rid of the one responsible for taking Dominick away from her.
Maggie wants to uncover the culprit behind informing Crabs of the proposed strike at the roller rink, not knowing that it was actually Lace. As expected, the two girls will have to duke it out for supremacy of the Jezebels.
With lots of quotable dialogue and campy performances, it's hard to resist such a film as Switchblade Sisters, certainly when you realize that the premise concerns a white girl gang who can actually cause fear in citizens.
Indeed, 'Switchblade Sisters' kind of reminds me of those '50s juvey films confronting the gang mentality and how it's controlling the school system and streets, breeding crime that's swallowing the youth, turning them into unlawful monsters.
Transplant such a genre to the '70s, add extra seediness, vulgarity, violence, and current themes of that time that were prevalent (there was a sentiment of anger towards the police and capitalist society) and it's easy to see why this would appeal to a cult audience.
And, as Jack Hill always did, inject a cast of babes in the roles of the protagonists. You gotta love the scene where Maggie knocks Don Stark (Dagger member, Hook, often slapping girls around) for a loop or Lace's psychopathy and mad ravings.
Oh, and Patch. Now this is a character that belongs in a Jack Hill gang film. 'Switchblade Sisters' is directed in such a way that you can't take it the least bit seriously, and if you accept it on it's own terms, I can't imagine an exploitation fan not enjoying it.
Robbie Lee isn't contained and lets it rip, playing her role as the confrontational Lace to the hilt, with Nail, in her short shorts, delivering her lines with gusto, staring her opposition right in the eyes, unflinchingly, ready for a fight.
Nail might be considered unacceptable in such a role in any other film, but Jack Hill made it work. Gayle is my gal, though, as Patch, a ferocious back-stabbing bitch who persuades Lace to commit unspeakable acts that cause major repercussions which change the landscape of their lives, disrupting a harmony her gang had before Maggie came along.
The juvenile prison scene, albeit brief, was a hoot as the girls lead a full on assault on the female guards who were on the verge of accosting Maggie.
The way the faculty are muzzled by the Daggers and Debs, completely overwhelmed psychologically, afraid to voice their concerns about the dissension of their students, is rather hilarious.
You actually get two great closing fights, the Jezebels and Muff's girls besieging Crab's soldiers, and the knife battle between Maggie and Lace.
And, in closing, the scene where Maggie, with a bloody face, warns the coppers that when they return, there'll be hell to pay, is just absolutely bloody priceless! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original uncompressed mono audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Brand new audio commentary by historians/critics Samm Deighan & Kat Ellinger
We Are The Jezebels, an archival documentary featuring director Jack Hill, producer John Prizer, casting director Geno Havans, production designer B.B. Neel, stunt coordinator Bob Minor, and stars Joanne Nail, Asher Brauner, and Chase Newhart
Gangland: The locations of Switchblade Sisters, an archival documentary in which Jack Hill and filmmaker Elijah Drenner revisit the shooting locations of Switchblade Sisters
Jack Hill and Joanne Nail at the Grindhouse Film Festival, a 2007 archival interview with the director and actor
Interview with Jack Hill, Robbie Lee, Joanne Nail, an archival 1990 s interview with the director and stars in conversation with Johnny Legend
Galleries of behind the scenes stills, international posters, video covers, and lobby cards
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil + FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors' booklet featuring new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Heather Drain
'Honor Killing' [Blu-ray]
(Mercedes, Jim Schumacher, Tina Alper, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2018) 2021 / Troma Films)
Overview: When a young woman is brutally attacked, she seeks the aid of her own flesh and blood, but her Father has other plans for her - a bullet to her head.
Now she lives, lives for vengeance. You can't keep a good woman down!
Blu-ray Verdict: Having survived the attempted “honor killing,” she hires a rugged bounty hunter named Viktor to train her to inflict pain.
Thus, she begins her journey to find her Father, and leaves a trail of savage men along the way. The film is written, directed and starring “Mercedes” (Evul Twinz, My Night Job) and is the second team up of the actress and actor Jim Schumacher following the film 'Rose and Viktor: No Mercy.'
For all intents and purposes, 'Honor Killing' is an exploitation film of the highest order and is held together in fine style by actress, director, and fetish model Mercedes.
Personally, I had already viewed (all be it a few years back now) her aforementioned other work 'Rose and Viktor,' and so I kinda knew going in what to expect from this one.
'Honor Killings' innate premise is about a young woman -- who has a love for learning but her strictly religious father does not want her to educate herself -- who on her way home from the library one day is raped and left for dead.
Of course, as one would fully imagine, her rape brings great shame to her family so her father takes her outside in the vast gardens of the house they own to kill her!
She survives, but loses an eye. Soon thereafter, her father leaves the surroundings in shame of what has happened to his daughter, but not for what he has done, and goes to stay with his brother.
But with Mercedes still very much alive, he passion for revenge is now boiling over and so now adorned with an old eye patch, she is propelled into a ruthless quest to find him and kill him (and any other evil-doing-men along the way, of course).
Overall, the acting is a little bumpy, but for the most part lands on its feet for all the major characters. Mercedes herself also takes the directing reins and does both sides of the camera very well.
In truth, some of the middling scenes are less than enthusiastic or eye-catching for the viewer, but the majority are rather brilliant and always well shot.
The supporting cast is solid too with some delivering some rather fun lines, spread in-between all the bloodshed and angst! Oh, and we also get to see (from 'Rose and Viktor') Jim Schumacher returning as Viktor; in a fun, all be it short-lived cameo.
In closing, 'Honor Killing' has some pretty bloody and fun kills, but nothing that ranks high in the pantheon of such things. Their use of visual effects are evident, but not over used, with most incorporated as practical effects.
Overall, 'Honor Killing' is worth its weight in gold to watch today, and now here on Blu-ray is a true viewers catnip for us collector's of such cinematic gems. This one is highly recommended. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Featurette: Test Kill - Early Test Footage
Featurette: Mercedes The Mop Boy
Featurette: The Tromette - Toxie Toy
Music Video: Escuela Grind - 'Honor Killing'
Trailer: Honor Killing - Hellfire
Trailer: Troma Now!
(George Stover, Karin Kardian, Jamie Zemarel, Tom Griffith, Don Leifert, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1982) 2021 / Troma Films)
Overview: An alien with an appetite for blood and disembowelment is set loose on a small town when its spacecraft crashes.
Sheriff Jack Cinder & local militia arrive on scene, a violent battle ensues, leaving only Jack, his deputy & a wild-eyed redneck as survivors.
With a corrupt mayor unwilling to stand up against the Nightbeast's reign of carnage, it's up to Jack to evacuate the townsfolk & save the day!
Blu-ray Verdict: Maryland-based, no-budget, hack junk genre filmmaker par excellence, Don Dohler hits an uproariously atrocious all-time low with this marvelously messed-up magnum opus of sheer awfulness!
A relentlessly wretched $1.98 amateur-night-at-the-movies sci-fi/horror evil alien splatterfest that's downright mesmerizing and often almost unbearably funny in its pure, distilled, unflinchingly shoddy woefulness, 'Nightbeast' is finally on Blu-ray!
A hefty homicidal lizard who resembles a pudgy version of the titular hokey reptilian fiend in "Track of the Moonbeast" crash-lands his spaceship in the drab podunk burg of Perry Hill, Maryland after said spaceship gets struck by a meteor.
The nasty, scaly, clawed lizard creature proceeds to rack up a substantial corpse tally (24 people in total!) by either zapping folks with its cruddy plastic toy raygun or graphically tearing 'em up with its sharp, talloned hands.
It's up to geeky, curly-haired string bean Sheriff Cinder (the bland, ungainly Tom Griffith), pretty Deputy Lisa (the extremely cute and sprite blonde looker Karin Kaisdan (who, at one particularly ridiculous point in the middle of all the action, finds time to bare her hot bod for a laughably gratuitous love scene with the sheriff), and selfless, stout-hearted good Samaritan Jamie (the gratingly insipid Jamie Zemarel) to kill the bloodthirsty intergalactic being before it decimates the entire populace of the town!
Chockablock with all the essential oddly entertaining so-utterly-wrong-it's-paradoxically-right stuff -- rancid emoting from a non-star cast (besides the three horrible leads, we also got the ubiquitous Grade Z film regular George Stover, in one of his standard wimpy bespectacled dweeb roles and the beefy Don Leifert as an odious woman-beating local roughhouse baddie), ineptly staged shoot-outs, chintzy scratched onto the negative laser effects, a judicious smattering of cheesy soft-core sex and nudity, ham-fisted direction, and a threadbare script (which does little more than loosely string together a steady series of gruesome murder set pieces!).
Oh and we also get eye-straining, under-lit nighttime cinematography, and more luridly gory ultra-violence than you can shake a double-barreled shotgun at, but you know what, damn it if 'Nightbeast' certainly earns its place in the hilariously horrendous down'n'dirty celluloid dreck epic Hall of Shame!
It's an enjoyably idiotic, low-rent and resolutely tacky all-thumbs affair that's a great deal of first-rate fumbling el schlocko high camp fun! Watch this film, with friends and find yourself a whole new cheesy, but truly excellent movie, to recommend to everyone you know! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Intro with Lloyd Kaufman
Outtakes and Bloopers
Visual FX Gallery
'Hercules & The Captive Women' [Special Edition]
(Reg Park, Laura Altan, Fay Spain, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1963) 2021 / The Film Detective)
Overview: Originally released in 1961 as 'Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide' in Italy, 'Hercules and the Captive Women' is the updated US version released for audiences in 1963.
Follow the chronicles of Hercules with Reg Park in his Hercules film debut! Action packed from the beginning, Hercules encounters Ismene (Laura Altan) when he must save her from a shape-shifting creature -- and that's just the beginning!
Ismene then brings Hercules to Atlantis where they come face to face with the evil Queen Antinea (Fay Spain), Ismene's mother, and try to prevent her dreams of world conquest. Will Hercules prevail?
Blu-ray Verdict: For those not in the know, the release was produced from rare 35mm archival elements beautifully restored from a 4K transfer in its original aspect ratio and features a showing of exclusive commentary and special features just as strong — if not stronger — than Hercules himself!
In truth, and having now watched it twice in five days, Vittorio Cottafavi's 'Hercules and the Captive Women' admittedly recycles the standard Hercules plot structure, but still manages to create something of, and unto itself.
Indeed, if you have seen any of its predecessors or descendants, of which I'm sure you have by now and after all these years, you have seen something very much like this film.
However, in this case, the entire army of evil-doers Hercules must confront are immortals from Atlantis who have been secretly infiltrating Greek politics! Ergo, most of the action takes place on Atlantis after Hercules, his son, and a couple of friends wash up there.
Hercules is played by Reg Park, a very beefy, in truth non-actor, built like a comic book superhero. Furthermore, Park seems to spend the first third of the film lounging about, and most of the next third flexing and fighting, before the final third when all things come to a mighty head.
His occasional lines are clearly spoken, but without a great deal of enthusiasm, but his acting overall is rather good, funnily enough. Overall, most of the character acting is good, but with no real stand out highlights amongst the leads in the cast, the film just plays out.
But therein lies its ultimate charm, especially now here in 2021, given that it has now been enhanced into a stunning 4K Restoration and comes complete with a slew of Exclusive Special Features! [See below].
As for the action sequences themselves, they are fairly entertaining, but don't compare favorably to the special effects saturated fight scenes of today, of course.
And when the guards all remove their helmets to show they all look the same - blonde haired, blonde bearded, blue eyed - having been created in the image of their fearless leaders beau, there does suddenly arise a certain nod of approval from the watcher for the creepy reveal.
Here they are more simplistic, artfully done, skilled in their moves, but cumbersome at times, for sure. Like many Hercules films, 'Captive Women' features lavish costumes and sets. The costumes are most definitely above average in standards for the day, and quite a few of the Atlantean sets are actually really nice and believable.
This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.20:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Full Feature, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K): Hercules and the Captive Women
Hercules and The Conquest of Cinema: A Swords and Sandals Documentary
Audio Commentary by film critic, Tim Lucas
The Duel of the Titans: full color insert booklet with an essay by C. Courtney Joyner
Introduction by MST3K writer and co-star, Frank Conniff
'Hercules and the Captive Women' will be available for purchase April 13th, 2021 on Blu-ray ($24.95) and DVD ($19.95). To learn more about this special-edition release or to pre-order.