Blu-ray Movie Review – Popcorn (1991)

Popcorn
Directed by Mark Herrier
Courtesy of Synapse Films & CAV Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1991
Blu-ray Release Date: October 3, 2017

When it comes to entertainment, POPCORN is one of those films that delivers in bucket-loads. It is dubbed a horror-comedy, but I found it more horror than humorous, although it certainly does a few laugh-worthy scenes. Still, there’s no denying the fright factor when the killer is onscreen. As such, this almost-lost gem from the early 90s is a lot of fun, and it’s perfect for a Halloween night movie!

If you are not familiar with POPCORN, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Synapse Films and CAV Distribution:

What could be scarier than an all-night “Horrorthon”? A group of film students finds out when they stage just such an event at an abandoned movie palace. In addition to the three features MOSQUITO, THE ATTACK OF THE AMAZING ELECTRIFIED MAN and THE STENCH, they decide to screen a bizarre short called THE POSSESSOR, whose creator, Lanyard Gates, killed his family and set the theater on fire after its first showing. Maggie (Jill Schoelen, THE STEPFATHER) has been having frightening dreams that seem to be connected to THE POSSESSOR, and as the festival proceeds, the nightmare comes true for her and her friends as they are stalked and slain by a mysterious killer. Has Gates survived to continue THE POSSESSOR’s deadly legacy?

A loving homage to 50s/ 60s B-movies (the trio of flicks shown at the Horrorthon all have accompanying William Castle-style gimmicks), POPCORN is also an insanely fun horror/comedy in its own right. Pseudonymously written by Alan Ormsby (CAT PEOPLE, DEATHDREAM), who directed the films-within-the-film, it celebrates the joys of old-fashioned creature features and 80s-style stalk-and-slay, with a great cast additionally including Dee Wallace (THE HOWLING), Tony Roberts (AMITYVILLE 3-D), Ray Walston (THE STAND), Malcolm Danare (CHRISTINE) and Kelly Jo Minter (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5). Pop some popcorn of your own and settle in to watch this new high-definition transfer, which comes with a box full of bonus features!

I call POPCORN an “almost-lost” movie because it was out of print for a long time, and therefore it was very hard to come by. The DVD copies in existence were selling for quite a bit, and at one point, I think I recall seeing them go for as high as $70. I’m not sure if I would have paid that much for it, but it’s still a heck of a movie regardless.

POPCORN is shot well and looks great onscreen, particularly thanks to the HD transfer. I love how well this one conveyed to Blu-ray; the colors are vibrant and the picture quality is excellent. The sound is superb as well. The new 7.1 sound mix is a big improvement to the old version. I found the tension to be more immersive because of the surround sound.

The special effects are minimal but quite effective. The main source of gore comes from blood, however there’s one very nice mouth-ripping scene. I won’t go into specifics, but I’ll simply say you’ll want to see it to appreciate it. My mouth hurt just from watching it!

The plot is the biggest winner in this film, though. Its gooey, campy goodness just oozes from the start, and it never stops. The film offers a truly nice combination of corniness and scares, building up just enough tension to keep you on edge. I can definitely see why this movie was in such demand when it was out of print; it entertains on many levels!

POPCORN is a definite win for me, and it’s a film you’ll probably watch multiple times because it’s so much fun. Sure, it’s over the top in places, but that’s what makes it so entertaining. Grab some friends on Halloween night and give this film a look; it’s a great way to spend an evening.

Special Features:
• All-New 2K Scan of an Archival 35mm Interpositive
• All-New Blu-ray 7.1 Surround Sound Mix Supervised by Synapse Films (Original 2.0 Stereo Mix Included)
• Audio Commentary with Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Malcolm Danare, and Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls
• Midnight Madness: The Making of “Popcorn” featuring interviews with Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Derek Rydall, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ivette Soler, and Elliott Hurst, Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls, Composer Paul Zaza, and Distributor Executive Jonathan Wolf (55 minutes)
• Electric Memories An Interview with Actor Bruce Glover
• Original Theatrical Trailer, Television Trailer and TV Spots
• Still Gallery
• English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
• Blu-ray Reversible Cover Art by Chris MacGibbon
• All Region Encoded/Playable Worldwide!

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – Children of the Corn (1984)

Children of the Corn
Directed by Fritz Kiersch
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1984
Blu-ray Release Date: October 3, 2017

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll reiterate it now: when young children are involved with horror movies, they make the films so much more intense. As a parent, I sympathize with how the children respond to the terror they experience onscreen because I subconsciously relate it to how my own kids might react.

But when children are responsible for the horror, well, that puts a whole new spin on things: it makes the movie even more fun! And how can it not? Kids are supposed to convey the essence of purity and innocence…so when they are the ones butchering adults, it turns our brains upside down.

Such is the case with CHILDREN OF THE CORN, the 1984 adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic short story. While it is a bit tame compared to today’s standards, the film is still a hell of a lot of fun, and it still packs a visceral punch in certain places. This is perfect for Halloween-viewing, though, and its release date is great timing, given the close proximity to the holiday.

If you are not familiar with CHILDREN OF THE CORN, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution:

HE WHO WALKS BEHIND THE ROWS
From the mind of celebrated horror author Stephen King, the man behind such classic terror tales as The Shining, Carrie and It, comes one of his most chilling offerings yet Children of the Corn.

A young couple on a road trip find themselves lost in the backroads of rural Nebraska, eventually winding up in the seemingly abandoned town of Gatlin. But the town is far from empty as the pair soon discover, it’s inhabited by a twisted cult of murderous children thirsty for another blood sacrifice…

Adapted from King s eponymous short story first published in 1977 and starring Linda Hamilton (The Terminator) and Peter Horton (thirtysomething), Children of the Corn has gone on to spawn one of the most enduring horror franchises of all time.

I absolutely love the cover that Arrow and MVD designed for this release. It simply exudes terror, and it captures the unrefined terror of the movie’s plot.

CHILDREN OF THE CORN is shot well and looks great onscreen. The HD transfer is clear, and even the darker scenes contain only the slightest bit of graininess here and there. I was curious as to how well this film would transfer to high definition, and thankfully, it exceed expectations.

The special effects in the film are good, although I would have preferred more gore. From what I’m told, the remake (which came out in the 90s, I believe) has more, but I think it would have worked great here. Still, this is just a personal preference and does not impact the horror of the film in any way. I particularly like how the ground is disturbed when “He” shows up. This is a neat effect, and it reminds me of “TREMORS”, which would arrive a few years later.

A big part of what makes CHILDREN OF THE CORN so good is the acting. Sure, Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton are great as the adults, but the prize-winners are the children…or rather, the young adults that acted as children. Ok, so technically John Franklin was 25 years old when he shot this, but he is still excellent and creepy as the sadistic leader, Isaac. He is joined by Courtney Gains, who plays the brutish Malachai. Gains was 19 at the time of filming, but that doesn’t make him any less menacing. The rest of the cast is great as well.

CHILDREN OF THE CORN is a great piece of early 80s horror, and I definitely recommend giving it a look. As I mentioned, it’s excellent Halloween fare, so pop this in while you’re getting ready for tricks and treats. In addition to the film, it boasts a slew of features, such as:

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio options
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Brand new audio commentary with horror journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan
• Audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains
• Harvesting Horror: The Making of Children of the Corn retrospective piece featuring interviews with director Fritz Kiersch and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains
• …And a Child Shall Lead Them a brand new interview with actors Julie Maddalena and John Philbin
• It Was the Eighties! an interview with actress Linda Hamilton
• Field of Nightmares a brand new interview with writer George Goldsmith
• Return to Gatlin brand new featurette revisiting the film s original Iowa shooting locations
• Stephen King on a Shoestring an interview with producer Donald Borchers
• Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn an interview with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias
• Cut from the Cornfield an interview with actor Rich Kleinberg on the infamous lost Blue Man Scene
• Disciples of the Crow 1983 short film adaptation of Stephen King s story
• Storyboard gallery
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
• FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Sullivan and Lee Gambin

The film is available now.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – Phenomena (1985)

Phenomena
(aka Creepers)
Directed by Dario Argento
Courtesy of Synapse Films & CAV Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1985
Blu-ray Release Date: September 12, 2017

For as well versed as I consider myself to be in horror films, I am still sometimes surprised by the number of 80’s and 90’s “classic” horror films that I have not seen. I stress the word “classic” because this is an obviously debatable subject. But by my definition, these are films that are prominent in most horror-lovers canons.

One such film is the subject of today’s review: Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA. Also known (primarily in the U.S.) as CREEPERS, this is a film that I’ve heard talked about for many, many years, but only recently gotten the opportunity to watch. And thanks to the fine folks at Synapse and CAV, I got to watch it in style. Their Blu-ray version of this film contains three different cuts of the film, and despite the fact they’re not much different from each other, they all look and sound great. If you’re a fan of Argento or 80’s horror, you’ll definitely want to add PHENOMENA to your library.

If you are not familiar with PHENOMENA, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Synapse Films & CAV Distribution:

The young Jennifer Corvino (played by Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly, in one of her first film roles) is sent to a private Swiss academy for girls where a vicious killer is on the loose, brutally murdering students. Jennifer is a “gifted” girl with the strange ability to communicate with insects, and Dr. McGregor (Donald Pleasence, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN series, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) enlists her to help locate the killer. Jennifer finds herself in a bizarre murder plot with maggots, mutants, and razor-wielding chimpanzee mayhem! Can she uncover the killer’s identity before becoming a victim herself? Daria Nicolodi (TENEBRAE) and Fiore Argento (DEMONS) also star in this strange, unique and gory film from Italy’s Master of Horror, Dario Argento. PHENOMENA also features fantastic soundtrack music from progressive-rock favorite Goblin, British Heavy Metal masters Motörhead & Iron Maiden, Andi Sex Gang, Bill Wyman and Simon Boswell!

Synapse Films is proud to present Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA on a 2-disc Blu-ray containing THREE different cuts of the film re-mastered in stunning high-definition.

All three versions of the film are shot well and look great, particularly thanks to the HD transfer. I only recall one grainy scene, which can be found early in the movie, when a young girl falls into a window in slow motion. This scene is dark, which could be the cause for the graininess, but it’s certainly not a huge detractor.

The acting in the film is great, with a young Jennifer Connelly headlining the cast. Connelly was about 15 years-old when she made this, but you can see the budding young talent even back then. She is joined by Donald Pleasence, who is always a pleasure to see onscreen. The rest of the cast does a great job as well, however these two are the only noteworthy names.

The special effects in PHENOMENA are typical Argento fare: some are great and some are slightly corny. But regardless, you can’t deny they are effective. I particularly like the insect swarming effects. I read how these were accomplished (look it up), and I’m impressed with the ingenuity of the special effects time.

To top everything off, the film boasts an excellent soundtrack that includes heavy metal music from Iron Maiden and Motorhead, as well as synth-tracks from Goblin. The music really helps set the tone for the film, and it helps add a nice dose of tension as well.

PHENOMENA is a big win for me, and I highly recommend it. In addition to the HD picture and remastered sound, the Blu-ray boasts some cool special features, such as:

• THREE different cuts of PHENOMENA, all available in high-definition for the first time ever in one collector’s edition package!
• Audio Commentary Track on PHENOMENA (110 Version) from Argento scholar and author, Derek Botelho and film historian, journalist and radio/television commentator, David Del Valle
• Two completely different sound mix options on PHENOMENA (110 Minute Version), including the original 2.0 stereo mix, along with a rare alternate mix containing different sound effects and music cues
• English/Italian Hybrid Audio and Complete Italian Audio Options for PHENOMENA (116 Minute Version)
• DARIO ARGENTO’S WORLD OF HORROR Documentary. A fascinating look at the early films of director Dario Argento, including PHENOMENA, SUSPIRIA, DEMONS, DAWN OF THE DEAD, INFERNO and many more! Containing candid interviews and awesome behind-the-scenes footage, DARIO ARGENTO’S WORLD OF HORROR gives us a look into the mind of Italy’s Master of Horror and is an essential viewing experience for all Argento fans.
• Interview with Andi Sex Gang
• PHENOMENA International Theatrical Trailer
• CREEPERS U.S. Theatrical Trailer & Radio Spots
• Optional English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard for Hearing on PHENOMENA (110 Minute Version)and CREEPERS Version)
• Multiple optional subtitle selections on PHENOMENA (116 Minute Version), including one for just the foreign English language segments of the hybrid version, complete English subtitles for the entire feature, and complete English subtitles for the Italian version of the film.

PHENOMENA is available now.

MSB

DVD Movie Set Review – Phantasm: 5 Movie DVD Collection

Phantasm: 5 Movie DVD Collection
Phantasm
Original Year of Release: 1979
Phantasm 2
Original Year of Release: 1988
Phantasm 3: Lord of the Dead
Original Year of Release: 1994
Phantasm 4: Oblivion
Original Year of Release: 1998
All Directed by Don Coscarelli
Phantasm 5: Ravager
Original Year of Release: 2016
Directed by David Hartman
Courtesy of Well Go USA
DVD Set Release Date: September 12, 2017

Two of my favorite horror films growing up were PHANTASM and PHANTASM II. I watched them both at least a couple of times a month, and they are still on my Top 25 list today. So when I heard Well Go USA was releasing the whole PHANTASM set, I knew I instantly I wanted to give it a look. I’d never seen anything past part 2, so I was eager to see where the franchise went afterwards.

Interestingly, the PHANTASM series did not go in the direction I thought it was headed. This is not a bad thing at all, and I’m happy to report I enjoyed the later three films just as much as I enjoyed the originals. Even the transition of directors for part Five (Ravager) was still just fine. I was worried the film might not have the same feel, but director David Hartman does a great job of capturing the tone and atmosphere of the previous four movies.

As a result, Well Go’s PHANTASM 5 MOVIE DVD COLLECTION is an absolute must-have for horror fans that missed out on the Blu-ray run.

If you are not familiar with the PHANTASM series, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of IMDB.com:

A teenage boy and his friends face off against a mysterious grave robber known only as the Tall Man, who keeps a lethal arsenal of terrible weapons with him.

Each PHANTASM film is shot well and looks hideously great onscreen. I am truly impressed with how foreboding directors Coscarelli and Hartman make these films feel; the tension and suspense just ooze off the screen, which is a big part of why I liked them so much back in the day. PHANTASM is the epitome of horror, and each subsequent film only compounds the reputation.

The acting is great, and again, I am impressed with how the directors managed to keep the same actors in place to reprise their characters, year after year. The original film came out almost 40 years ago, but both A. Michael Baldwin and Reggie Bannister stayed through all five films. This continuity is a true testament to the franchise, and it is, again, a major factor in what makes the series so good.

The special effects in each film are fantastic, and there’s plenty of carnage to please even the staunchest of gore-hounds. Both directors will make your stomach churn with some of the best eye-popping death scenes you’ve ever seen. I will not go into detail, but I will say that those infamous silver orbs are not to be trifled with.

Well Go’s PHANTASM 5 MOVIE DVD COLLECTION is a major win for me, and I definitely recommend it. I personally would prefer Blu-ray, but this set is an excellent follow-up if you missed out on the other. In addition to the films, you’ll get some nice Special Features, such as:

-PHANTASM: REMASTERED
(Standard Definition (1.78:1)/Dolby Digital Audio 5.1, Mono and Stereo / 1978 / Color / R /90 minutes)
SPECIAL FEATURES:
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Don Coscarelli, Michael Baldwin (Mike), Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man), and Bill Thornbury (Jody)
Graveyard Carz Episode
Interviews from 1979 with DOn Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm
Deleted Scenes
Trailers
-PHANTASM II: THE BALL IS BACK
(Standard Definition (1.85:1)/Dolby Digital Audio 5.1 and Stereo / 1988 / Color / R / 95 minutes)
SPECIAL FEATURES:
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Don Coscarelli and Stars Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister
The Ball is Back: The Making of PHANTASM II
Deleted Scenes
Workprint Scenes
TV Spots and Trailers
-PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD
(Standard Definition (1.78:1)/Dolby Digital Audio 5.1 / 1993 / Color / R / 91 minutes)
SPECIAL FEATURES:
Audio Commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and Editor Norman Buckley
Balls of Steel: Bob Ivy’s Stunt for the Ages
Trailer
-PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION
(Standard Definition (1.78:1)/Dolby Digital Audio 5.1 / 1998 / Color / R / 90 minutes)
SPECIAL FEATURES:
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Don Coscarelli and Stars Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm
Behind the Scenes
Trailer
-PHANTASM V: RAVAGER
(Standard Definition (1.78:1)/Dolby Digital Audio 5.1 / 2016 / Color / NR / 86 minutes)
SPECIAL FEATURES:
Audio Commentary with Director David Hartman and Writer/Producer Don Coscarelli
Behind the Scenes
Deleted Scenes
Phuntasm: Bloopers and Outtakes
Trailer

The PHANTASM 5 MOVIE DVD COLLECTION is available now.

MSB

TV Show Review – Criminal Minds, Season 12

Criminal Minds, season 12
Courtesy of CBS Television
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Ok, I confess: I didn’t start watching CRIMINAL MINDS until just a few months ago. My son, who is a huge fan of the show, convinced me to watch one of the season finales, and I have to admit: I was hooked immediately. The show is a tension-filled race against the clock, and even after 12 seasons, it is still exciting and relevant. If you’ve been hesitant to give CRIMINAL MINDS a look, do yourself a favor and overcome that uncertainty. CRIMINAL MINDS is a heck of a thriller, and you’re missing out if you’re not watching.

If you are not familiar with CRIMINAL MINDS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of CBS Television:

The pulse-pounding series revolves around an elite team of FBI profilers who analyze the country’s most twisted criminal minds, anticipating their next moves before they strike again. The Behavioral Analysis Unit’s most experienced agent is David Rossi (Joe Mantegna), a founding member of the BAU, who is essential in helping the team solve new cases. As the team evolves together, the BAU continues its dedication to using their expertise to pinpoint predators’ motivations and identify their emotional triggers in the attempt to stop them.

Season 12 carries the same high standards as each previous season. The writing in each episode is fluid, the dialogue is crisp, and the intensity never ratchets down.

Several new characters are introduced and fleshed out this season. I’ve read other season 12 reviews where viewers did not like the fact familiar characters were leaving the show. I can understand the disappointment (because we all have our favorite faces), however I enjoy the new people; they bring fresh personalities and perspectives to the BAU. I feel that after a certain amount of time, a show can sometimes grow stale, if left with the same cast year after year.

If I were forced to find a flaw with this show, I simply could not do it. The premises are gripping, and the writers have a keen knack for getting inside the minds of the deranged. If you want good, solid television, pick up season one of CRIMINAL MINDS and binge-watch it to catch up. You will be greatly entertained, however you might never look at people in general the same way again…

MSB

Movie Review – The Mummy (2017)

The Mummy
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
Courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: September 12, 2017

When I first heard about THE MUMMY, I automatically assumed it was going to reboot the Brendan Fraser franchise. I never imagined Universal would be updating their classic movie monsters for a new generation. And when I discovered Tom Cruise was attached to the project, I knew I had to give it a look. Even after all these years (I’m just a decade younger than him), Cruise usually entertains me. I figured the film would be a high-impact thrill ride that would keep me glued to my seat.

And I wasn’t disappointed…for the most part.

This version of THE MUMMY is a visual appealing spectacle with some nice tension and decently intriguing storyline. But it’s got a couple of glaring flaws, one of which almost ruined the whole movie for me. Yet despite its faults, I have to say I enjoyed the film as a whole, and I do recommend seeing it.

If you are not familiar with THE MUMMY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment:

Tom Cruise stars in this spectacular version of the legend that has fascinated cultures all over the world since the dawn of civilization: The Mummy. Thought safely entombed deep beneath the desert, an ancient princess (Sofia Boutella) whose destiny was unjustly taken from her is awakened in our current day. Her malevolence has grown over millennia and with it come terrors that defy human comprehension. From the sands of the Middle East through modern-day London, The Mummy balances wonder, thrills, and imagination.

THE MUMMY is shot well and looks great onscreen. I had the pleasure of watching it on Blu-ray, however I would recommend it in 4k if possible. The vibrancy of the picture would look amazing in Ultra HD, I wager. The production value appears high, and the production team does a good job of utilizing the film’s budget (estimated at $125 million).

The acting is solid, with Tom Cruise headlining a great cast. He is joined by Annabelle Wallis, who portrays his love interest, Jenny; Sofia Boutella, who does a stunning job as the mummy, Ahmanet; Russell Crowe as Henry Jekyll; and Jake Johnson, who fans will recognize from THE NEW GIRL, as Nick Morton’s (Tom Cruise) best friend, Chris Vail.

As mentioned, the special effects are eye-dazzling, although the use of CG is very apparent in certain scenes. Still, it would be difficult to achieve what the production team desired using practical effects. I particularly like the sandstorm scene, where an approaching storm is about to overtake the plane. This shot reminded me of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, and it looks just as impressive.

Unfortunately, the storyline in THE MUMMY is where I start having some issues.

For one, there’s no real sense of “world-ending tension” anywhere. Sure, Ahmanet is menacing, and she’s after Morton to use him as a fleshy vessel for her dark god…but I never felt like anybody else in the film was worried about what she might do. The characters are lackluster to a degree, and nobody ever projects a true sense of peril. I was actually expecting more horror and less action…or at least more focus on the Mummy. The film quickly shifts from a horror movie about an ancient being to a platform for Cruise to perform action and stunts.

And speaking of characters, there is one in particular that almost ruined the movie for me: Henry Jekyll. The minute I realized this was the character from the literary world, I almost shut off my TV. I was assailed with flashbacks from the atrocity that was THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, and I physically had to force myself to finish THE MUMMY. Jekyll’s character has no place whatsoever in this movie, and putting him in it appears to be the only way the company could provide a basis for a standalone project down the road. Even the fact that Russell Crowe portrayed him is no saving grace.

But even so, I still enjoyed THE MUMMY, and I recommend giving it a look. Its low box-office intake is a testimony to how big Hollywood names will not always assure success, but the film is thankfully decent enough to provide enjoyment as a whole. The film hits store shelves tomorrow.

Special Features include:

• Digital Copy of The Mummy (2017) (Subject to expiration. Go to NBCUCodes.com for details.)
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Cruise & Kurtzman: A Conversation
• Rooted in Reality
• Life in Zero-G: Creating the Plane Crash
• Meet Ahmanet
• Cruise in Action
• Becoming Jekyll and Hyde
• Choreographed Chaos
• Nick Morton: In Search of a Soul
• Ahmanet Reborn Animated Graphic Novel
• Feature Commentary with Director/Producer Alex Kurtzman and Cast Members Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, and Jake Johnson

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Set Review – New Battles Without Honor & Humanity

New Battles Without Honor & Humanity
New Battles Without Honor & Humanity
Original Year of Release: 1974
The Boss’s Head (aka Head of the Boss)
Original Year of Release: 1975
Last Days of the Boss
Original Year of Release: 1976

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distributing
Blu-ray Release Date: August 29, 2017

I will always consider Kinji Fukasaku a legendary director for a couple of reasons, but the primary being that he made BATTLE ROYALE, a film that makes THE HUNGER GAMES look like Sesame Street. But even so, I cannot get onboard with all of his previous works. I enjoyed the first BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY films because they were vibrant and gut-wrenching…but for some reason, the NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY didn’t strike a chord with me.

Now I’m not saying they’re not good films. Quite the contrary. They are shot very well, the acting is top-notch, and the violence…oh, boy! Not to mention the HD transfer to Blu-ray is excellent. But despite all of these positives, I feel like Fukasaku sorta repeated himself with these in a sense. Sure, the stories are different…but they don’t have the same feel.

As such, I’ll have to summarize my feelings on this NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY set by stating you’ll simply have to watch them to decide for yourself whether or not you like them.

If you are not familiar with the NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY series, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distributing:

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity
New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss’s Head
New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss

In the early 1970s, Kinji Fukasaku’s five-film Battles Without Honor and Humanity series was a massive hit in Japan, and kicked off a boom in realistic, modern yakuza films based on true stories. Although Fukasaku had intended to end the series, Toei Studio convinced him to return to the director’s chair for this unconnected, follow-up trilogy of films, each starring Battles leading man Bunta Sugawara and telling separate, but fictional stories about the yakuza in different locations in Japan.

In the first film, Bunta Sugawara is Miyoshi, a low-level assassin of the Yamamori gang who is sent to jail after a bungled hit. While in stir, family member Aoki (Lone Wolf and Cub’s Tomisaburo Wakayama) attempts to seize power from the boss, and Miyoshi finds himself stuck between the two factions with no honorable way out. In the second entry, The Boss’s Head, Sugawara is Kuroda, an itinerant gambler who steps in when a hit by drug-addicted assassin Kusunoki (Tampopo’s Tsutomu Yamazaki) goes wrong, and takes the fall on behalf of the Owada family, but when the gang fails to make good on financial promises to him, Kuroda targets the family bosses with a ruthless vengeance. And in Last Days of the Boss, Sugawara plays Nozaki, a laborer who swears allegiance to a sympathetic crime boss, only to find himself elected his successor after the boss is murdered. Restrained by a gang alliance that forbids retributions against high-level members, Nozaki forms a plot to exact revenge on his rivals, but a suspicious relationship with his own sister (Chieko Matsubara from Outlaw: Gangster VIP) taints his relationship with his fellow gang members.

Making their English-language home video debut in this limited edition set, the New Battles Without Honor and Humanity films are important links between the first half of Fukasaku’s career and his later exploration of other genres. Each one is also a top-notch crime action thriller: hard-boiled, entertaining, and distinguished by Fukasaku’s directorial genius, funky musical scores by composer Toshiaki Tsushima, and the onscreen power of Toei’s greatest yakuza movie stars.

As I mentioned, the HD picture on these films is excellent. I’m not sure what the quality of previous releases has looked like, but I would wager they were nowhere near as good as MVD and Arrow’s release.

Each film is made well and looks great onscreen. The production values are decent, and the sets are right out of a dime-store yakuza novel. Also, the acting is very good, with Bunta Sugawara headlining the cast of each film.

But probably what stands out the most in each film is the violence. It’s brutally realistic and, despite what some reviewers have stated, very necessary for each film. It is not meant to be the centerpiece of each scene, but more of an antagonistic way of adding tension to the plot.

I think the attempts at dark humor throughout each film is a part of what did them in for me. Yakuza films should not be funny for the most part, unless the humor is easily caught. I guess it didn’t stick for me with the NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY trilogy, and that is why I consider them flat.

Still, fans of 70’s gangster/yakuza flicks will probably love this set. It is crammed full of extras, including:

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
• High Definition digital transfers of all three films
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• New optional English subtitle translation for all three films
• Beyond the Films: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
• New Stories, New Battles and Closing Stories, two new interviews with screenwriter Koji Takada, about his work on the second and third films in the trilogy
• Original theatrical trailers for all three films
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist
• Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films, the yakuza genre and Fukasaku’s career, by Stephen Sarrazin, Tom Mes, Hayley Scanlon, Chris D. and Marc Walkow

Even though I didn’t care for them, the NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY Blu-ray trilogy is a fine-looking set, and it’s definitely one to consider for the genre-lover in your life. The set is available now.

MSB

TV Show Review – Elementary, Season 5

Elementary, season 5
Courtesy of CBS Television
Release Date: August 29, 2017

When I was in my early teens, I tore through a couple of Sherlock Holmes books. Now, I’m talking about the ORIGINAL books, such as “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “A Study in Scarlet”…not any modernized versions of the character. But for as much as I greatly enjoyed those two, the other books written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fell flat for me. Thankfully, this did not dissipate my fondness for Holmes, but it did make me more critical of everything pertaining to him.

As I aged, I began to branch out and read other authors’ takes on the legendary sleuth. Some were spot on, while others missed the mark completely. Just recently (within the past couple of years), I added movie adaptations and television shows to the mix, such as the Robert Downy Jr. travesties and SHERLOCK, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, as well as ELEMENTARY.

I initially thought I’d hate ELEMENTARY because it is such a drastic departure from the original material…but I’m happy to report I enjoy it immensely. Granted, I had to change my mindset, but once I did, I found the gem hidden amongst the stones. This show will probably not be for everyone, but it’s a lot of fun and greatly entertaining.

If you are not familiar with ELEMENTARY, here is the show’s plot synopsis courtesy of CBS Television:

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is a recovering addict who meets Joan Watson (Lucy Lui) as his ‘sober companion’. Initially their relationship is strictly professional, and somewhat frosty, but they grow to understand and work with one another, eventually forming a friendship and partnership. Together they assist Captain Gregson and Detective Bell of the NYPD, where Holmes’ observational abilities and deductive talent unravel a series of complicated cases.

Alongside his police work, Sherlock struggles with a past he left behind in London involving an ex-girlfriend Irene Adler, a ‘nemesis’ in Moriarty, and an absent father.

To enjoy ELEMENTARY, I didn’t lower my standards or anything crude like that. Instead, I came at it like an outsider, as if I knew nothing about the Sherlock Holmes in classic literature. Obviously, this was not easy to do. But once I got past my preconceptions of Holmes in the literary sense, I was able to look at Johnny Lee Miller’s portrayal with fresh eyes. The result was a welcome jaunt into somewhat familiar territory.

And speaking of Miller, he’s an absolute joy to watch. I’ve loved his work since HACKERS way back in the day. The same can be said for Lucy Liu. She is also a delight to see onscreen. Both actors accent each other well in the show, and the chemistry between them is very evident. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well.

The storylines in ELEMENTARY are fresh and intriguing, and some appear to have come straight from today’s news headlines. Even so, the show is a nice mixture of intense mystery and light humor. I enjoy the “baggage” that Holmes carries because it makes him even more of a real person. Season five deepens the relationship between Holmes and Watson, but it also begs more questions that we will have to dwell upon until season six.

ELEMENTARY is a heck of a good show, I highly recommend it. Season five is available now.

MSB

Movie Review – The Evil in Us (2017)

The Evil in Us
Directed by Jason William Lee
Courtesy of RLJ Entertainment
Release Date: August 29, 2017

When I read the press release for THE EVIL IN US, I made the decision to review it based on the tagline alone: “Side effects may include: insomnia, rage, cannibalism.” How can you NOT want to see a film that is described like that? Needless to say, I was pretty excited when the film finally arrived.

After watching it, I can definitely say I was entertained. Is it perfect? Well, no…but it is a movie definitely worth checking out, and I suggest you do so. THE EVIL IN US will leave a lasting impression upon you, regardless of what you think about it.

If you are not familiar with THE EVIL IN US, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of RLJ Entertainment:

Six school friends meet up for a Fourth of July celebration on a remote island off the Washington coast for a weekend of fun and partying. But the good times quickly turn into a nightmare when they unknowingly take a new bio-active drug containing a virus that causes fits of psychotic rage. Only one girl, Brie, doesn’t take the drug and she alone must fight to stay alive as her friends slowly turn into bloodthirsty cannibals. Trapped on the island, Brie must endure the unimaginable in a desperate battle for survival.

First, the good stuff.

THE EVIL IN US is shot well and looks great onscreen. The direction seems solid, and the cinematography is well-planned. Also, the production value appears high.

The acting is above average, although nobody really gives a standout performance. Still, I enjoyed Debs Howard as Brie, and I look forward to seeing her in future projects.

The gore is top notch, and there’s quite a bit of it. Once the carnage appears onscreen, it is almost a constant. The special effects team does a great job, and the results are very visible.

But for as good as these aspects are, THE EVIL IN US has a couple of pretty hefty negatives.

First, the storyline is a bit too jerky. We start off with an incident in an apartment building, but then shift gears to our main characters getting ready for a trip. A short while later, we are thrown off once again with an enigmatic man who has apparently kidnapped a random couple. These transitions were not well done, and they confused me to start with. I feel like a little more lead-in or even a different way of transitioning would have made this feel less spasmodic.

Secondly, the characters are honestly not that likable. They’re loud, rowdy, and, well, obnoxious. Thus, when the crap hits the proverbial fan, I wasn’t too upset. I never made a firm connection with any of them, therefore I didn’t really care if they were dying or not for the most part.

But even so, THE EVIL IN US is still a fun film overall, and I suggest giving it a look. If you can overlook its faults, you will have a good time.

The film is available now.

MSB

TV Show Review – NCIS, Season 14

NCIS, Season 14
Courtesy of CBS Television Studios
Release Date: August 29, 2017

NCIS is one of those shows that refuses to die. Not that I think it should, by any means…but no matter how many changes it faces, the show perseveres. The fact that the series just wrapped up its 14th season says quite a bit: fans and critics alike both still enjoy it.

I’m definitely in one of those categories. I like the show just as much now as when I first watched it a few years ago. Season 14 continues the high standard set by previous seasons, and it’s a must-have for fans of quality television.

If you are not familiar with NCIS, here is the series’ plot synopsis courtesy of CBS Television Studios:

From murder and espionage to terrorism and stolen submarines, NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) is more than just an action drama. With liberal doses of humor, it’s a show that focuses on the sometimes complex and always amusing dynamics of a team forced to work together in high-stress situations involving Navy or Marine Corps ties.

I confess I was nervous about this season of NCIS, as it was the first season without DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) and a few new faces were introduced. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Despite the fact the atmosphere of the show changes a little without Weatherly’s character, the group dynamic of the team remains just as charged as ever.

The new additions to the cast mesh well with existing members, and I foresee plenty of opportunities to flesh out the newbies in full. I can’t say I have a favorite in regard to the new faces, however I am very intrigued with the character of Nick Torres, portrayed by Wilmer Valderrama. I will be watching closely to see where storylines involving him go.

I said last year (when I reviewed Season 13) that NCIS is like comfort food for your brain, and the statement still holds up well. There’s nothing like coming home from a rough day and plopping down on the couch to join Gibbs, McGee, and the others as they fight to keep our country safe and bring justice where needed. I’m excited to see where the next season takes us…I just wish we didn’t have to wait so long to take the journey.

Season 14 is available now.

MSB