COMING SOON...

COMING SOON...

THE COMMANDER COMPLETE SERIES, LOVING VINCENT, EAST WEST 101 SEASON 1 and DUCKMAN THE COMPLETE SERIES

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL: BURDEN OF IMMORTALITY

If you're not familiar with the works of director Takashi Miike then by all means become so. This Japanese director has been making feature films since 1995 and is recognized as one of the most influential directors of his generation. His first major splash in the US came with the film ICHI THE KILLER, a yakuza film known for its brutal depiction of violence. Here we are 22 years later and Miike has just unleashed his 100th film as a director. No small feat, especially or perhaps in spite of his not being a member of Hollywood. And BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is an amazing film to behold.

Based on the manga comic of the same name the movie tells the story of Manji, a Samurai on the run after killing a corrupt official and his bodyguards. Unfortunately he's done so in front of one of the guard's wife who goes mad. Now he feels obligated to protect her. It isn't long before bounty hunters track him down, kill the woman and launch Manji into a fit of rage with him attacking all 100 of them. Mortally wounded an 800 year old nun approaches him and gives him new life by placing magical bloodworms inside his body, providing him with immortality.

50 years pass and Kagehisa Anotsu and the Itt-ry clan are making their way across Japan and giving fencing schools the option of either joining them or being eliminated. One of the schools they approach refuses and the school's leader is killed in front of his young daughter Rin. Rin escapes and swears revenge. Seeking help she learns of Manji and approaches him to help her and he refuses.

That all changes when Rin is attacked by Sabato Kuroi, a member of the Itt-ry clan, who approaches her with her mother's head mounted on his shoulder. Manji comes to the rescue and agrees to be Rin's bodyguard.

As well as training Rin, Manji protects her by fending off attacks from other various members of the Itt-ry clan. Each battle displays his weaknesses to both Rin and his attackers and each one uses those weaknesses to their advantage. While Manji is immortal it doesn't mean he can't be severely wounded.

As this is going on more plotlines are moving forward, in particular and offer delivered to Kagehisa Anotsu from the Shogunate to train the leader's warriors. Before doing so he plans on visiting a dojo leader on Mt. Takao. But as with most stories neither plot moves in a straight line and crosses and double crosses on both sides occur leading to a climactic battle involving one of the largest and most impressive swords battles ever captured on film.

If all of this weren't enough there are two subplots taking place here as well. The first is the revenge motif on display not just from Rin but from Anotsu as well. One segment has him explain why he's doing all of this. The second is the question of immortality. Some would think it a blessing but here we see it as a curse. To live forever and to watch others fall while you carry on, to have next to no purpose in life and yet be forced to live on watching others move forward it the burden that Manji bears. When he meets another immortal, a warrior who has lived 800 years and wants nothing more than death, he's forced to confront his reason for existence.

Miike's use of extreme violence is well on display here but far less than has been seen in his previous films or for that matter in any number of gore drenched horror films in recent years. While blood may flow at various times it isn't the gushing display seen in most movies these days. Here the violence ties into the story and the times it takes place in, a time when razor honed swords wound their way through flesh like a hot knife through butter. This was the way of life for a warrior in Japan then and Miike captures it with flair.

But the story is not based on fact, the immortality should have given that away, but on a story that melds comic book mentality with legends of long ago. Call it a disturbing fairy tale with hints of dark comedy thrown in for good measure. Miike takes these elements and mixes them with his own style to create a fascinating movie.

On top of a great story this movie looks amazing. The cinematography here, much of it taking place outdoors and with a vast number of extras in huge battle sequences, is a sight to behold. And those fights involve stunt work and blade avoidance that flawless.

There may be movies more familiar with movie fans or renters released this week but for me this was the best being offered. Dubbed for those who hate subtitles, make sure you look for this one.

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ACCIDENT MAN: NOT A TEAM PLAYER

Back in the 80s and 90s mainstream martial arts action flicks were a staple that filled the box office screens with the high flying kicks of folks like Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. The vacancy left behind with the death of Bruce Lee was soon filled with these stars and a few tried to follow, not too successfully, in their path. Then these movies lost favor with audiences, in large parts to the lead actors thinking they knew what was best rather than allowing more creative writers to pen their projects.

Now that we're 20-30 years past those days there are a few action heroes trying to bring the genre back to life. Among them is Scott Adkins. With supporting roles in films like THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM and THE EXPENDABLES 2 and having starred alongside the aforementioned Van Damme in ASSASSINATION GAMES and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING, Adkins has made a name for himself as the heir apparent to the genre. But others have come and failed in the past. Can he achieve the success they missed? With ACCIDENT MAN it appears that there is a distinct possibility.

Adkins stars as Mike Fallon, one of a team of professional assassins for hire that work out of a bar owned by ex-killer Big Ray (Ray Stevenson). Each has their own particular style and abilities with Fallon's being able to make a murder seem like an accident. When the film opens he's killed one man making it look like suicide. He visits a nearby pub to work off the adrenaline by duking it out with a few unsavory types and then heads to Big Ray's bar.

At the bar we find Milton (David Paymer) in charge of making the arrangements for each kill. Fallon is given two assignments, the second of which he finds himself a potential target. Then word reaches him that his ex-girlfriend Beth has been killed during a random break in. In addition to that he also learns she was pregnant with his child. Visiting the crime scene, accessing the police department's files on the case he can tell this was not the work of two crackheads. In fact he recognizes it as the work of two fellow team mates.

This sets in motion a series of events that find Fallon facing off against his team mates as he tries to uncover the person responsible for placing the contract on his ex. Each step of the way he gains more information but with each new clue the potential for one of those members to show increases. Now he not only has to find who is responsible but face those members as well, discovering who is best in the process.

Adkins has that potential to be a bigger star than he is already. With gruff good looks and tremendous ability in martial arts skills women will fall in love and men will enjoy the action sequences. In addition to that his acting skills rate higher than most as well.

The rest of the cast is equally adept at the fight sequences with some of the best names in the business. One pair, Mike and Mack, are played by Michael Jai White (SPAWN, BLACK DYNAMITE) and Ray Park (Darth Maul from STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE), get into an amazing fight scene with Adkins that has him battling both men at the same time. It's an extremely well-choreographed scene that moves the story forward without any of the three losing their life. Actress and stunt woman Amy Johnston also has an amazing fight sequence with Adkins that is amazing.

One nice thing about the movie is that it never takes itself too seriously. What could have been bogged down as a man looking for revenge focusing more on the plot line as to why it happened instead plays out in comic book format here with over the top bad guys and assassins, never going deep into the motives for what happens as much as just using that to move the story forward and providing sensible reasons why the fight scenes take place. In other words rather than try to be high-brow it instead becomes a fun and darkly humorous story with plenty of action taking place.

The odds that this film ever played in a theater nearby are slim but it is readily available to buy or rent and for those who enjoy this sort of film you won't be disappointed. If cursing, high body counts, gruesome gore and all around mayhem aren't your thing you might want to miss it. If it is your thing then by all means look for this one and have a fun filled night.

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ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES: BETTER THAN EXPECTED

I can remember back in 1977 when a low budget film began to get noticed and discussed, even though it never played where I lived. It was called ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES and it was hailed as being one of the worst movies ever made. Considering the amount of bad movies out there that's a bold statement to make. And yet that was the reputation the movie had.

A spoof of the old giant monster/Godzilla films it featured a secret government organization aided by the military facing an organized attack from, well, tomatoes. Yes, the concept seems silly (and it is) but the tomatoes eventually grow to enormous size and are able to face off against those protecting humanity.

Leading an elite team, and I use the term loosely, is Mason Dixon (David Miller), an FIA agent who hasn't worked since the Bay of Pigs. His team is composed of a master of disguise (a black man wearing a white fake nose and glasses), an Olympic swimmer, an underwater expert complete with scuba gear and soldier Lt. Wilber Finletter (J. Stephen Peace) who comes equipped with his own parachute...which he drags behind him throughout the film. As the team tries to find out more about the tomatoes and their plans they also face the press in the form of Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor).

The battle between man and fruit rages on with solo attacks on the team by the tomatoes and a co-conspirator helping them as well as the occasional major attack by the military with plenty of explosions. Eventually a secret is found that will help overcome the terrifying tomatoes and the entire population left in San Diego come together at the nearby stadium with secret weapon in hand. But is it enough?

No, this is not a serious movie. And the fact is it was never intended to be one. The makers state quite clearly in the extras here that they set out to make a bad movie on purpose but to give it their all. And the biggest surprise is that it isn't as bad as many have found it to be.

The production values are low lever but then so was the budget. For all that they did here, which includes an actual helicopter crash with one of the major stars of the film (Jack Riley who was Mr. Carlson on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW) in it at the time (everyone survived the crash and then got into it, insisting they shoot footage with them nearby as it was in flames), giant tomatoes, costumes galore and a theme song that will stay in your head long after the movie is over.

As I said I'd seen the movie once long ago and remembered bits and pieces but watching it again I was stunned at just how funny the movie actually was. There are tons of jokes in the film that had me laughing out loud. To even describe some of them would be to ruin it for anyone that is watching this film for the first time so I won't. I will say that I found the jokes in this film to be funnier than anything I've seen on SNL in the past few years.

The movie has been restored with a 4k transfer and it looks amazing considering the source material. I know watching it I thought it looked far better than the last time I saw it back when VHS was the source material for most movie fans. Looking good might not make it a great movie but it does make it easier to watch.

The extras on this one are numerous and include and audio commentary track by writer/director John DeBello, writer/co-star Peace and creator Costa Dillon, 3 deleted scenes, LEGACY OF A LEGEND a collection of interviews, CRASH AND BURN a discussion about the helicopter crash scene, FAMOUS FOUL an interview with the San Diego Chicken, KILLER TOMATOMANIA a number of interviews with people on the streets of Hollywood about the film, WHERE ARE THEY NOW? tells you what the cast and crew are up to these days, WE TOLD YOU SO! takes a look at the fact that the topic at hand here is now news with people upset over GMOs, SLATED FOR SUCCESS an interview with the slate girl on the crew, GONE WITH THE BABUSULAND the original 8mm short that inspired the film, the original theatrical trailer, a production design photo gallery, radio spots, Eater eggs, a collectible small poster and for the first pressing only a limited edition retro 'Video Store Style' slipcover/O-card.

The release is the second of MVD's Rewind Collection, films that were not the most popular titles but that lined the shelves of video stores across the country. Here's hoping that they continue to do as good a job with their following titles in the collection. This one is not the throw away item that most would think it was from past reviews or hearing about it back in the 70s. Instead it's a movie that one you see will be one to keep on hand. It makes a good movie to get a laugh out of or to put on during a party one night. The end result is the movie isn't nearly as bad as those making it hoped it would be.

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BOSOM BUDDIES THE COMPLETE SERIES: AIN’T LIFE A DRAG

It's been 37 years since this show first appeared and we were presented with the acting abilities of two young men beginning their careers. Peter Scolari would go on to more TV work in series like HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS and NEWHART. The other actor you may have heard of starring in more big screen movies. His name was Tom Hanks.

BOSOM BUDDIES told the story of Kip Wilson (Hanks) and best friend Henry Desmond, two young men with dreams of making it as an artist and writer respectively, who work at an ad agency. When the building they're living in is demolished they look for somewhere else to stay. Agency secretary Amy (Wendie Jo Sperber), who openly longs for Henry, offers them a place for the weekend staying at her apartment. What she fails to mention is the fact that she lives in an all woman's apartment building. In an effort to "skirt" the regulations Kip and Henry borrow some ladies clothing from their workplace and waltz into the apartment complex as Buffy and Hildegard, sisters to Kip and Henry. When they realize how nice and affordable the place is they decide to make it more permanent and rent the room across the hall from Amy.

Making the place all the more attractive is the fact that Amy's roommate is Sonny (Donna Dixon), a beautiful blonde that Kip immediately falls in love with. Of course this leads to all sorts of shenanigans as Kip tries to woo Sonny while his alter ego Buffy continues to tell Sonny all about how wonderful a catch her "brother" is.

The series was successful enough to garner two full seasons and as a fan I never understood why it disappeared. Reading about it now it seems the ratings just weren't there for the show. Then again when you discover the same thing about a series like CHEERS it makes you wonder why TV executives don't to more to promote their shows and give them a bigger opportunity. The fact that the series has developed a bit of a cult following shows that it could have gone on longer.

The biggest attraction of the series was the quirky nature of the comedy involved here. Hanks and Scolari play well off one another and it's easy to see, more so when you read about it, that there are many improvisational items in the series that made it one of the funniest things on TV at the time. Watching it all these years later it is still hilarious and enjoyable.

But there is something else interesting to note here. There is no way possible this series could be made in now. The timing of this release, completely unintentional, rides on the coat tails of the #metoo movement and many items in the show would simply not fly in today's politically correct atmosphere. They are harmless and often revolve around the natural attraction between men and women. In fact much of the time when either Kip or Henry act like lecherous males it's to their detriment. And by living lives as women part time they discover the other side of the coin.

One episode does a great job of looking at how men look at women as mere meat rather than as entire entities. A night out in drag they're looked over by the men at a local singles bar causing Henry to get angry that the men don't find them attractive enough to bother to ask them to dance. His outrage becomes vocal as Kip tries to remind him that their NOT women and that it's probably in their best interest not to have men attracted to them. Later on Henry realizes that while he was angry at the treatment he received he's been doing the same thing with Amy for some time.

There are a number of jokes in the show that are hilarious and yet would cause the latest social warrior to demand a safe space to recover from being forced to listen to them. But the fact remains that comedy is supposed to make us uncomfortable at times, it's supposed to make us think and consider all there is around us. BOSOM BUDDIES did just that with each episode and made us laugh at the same time. It shows what is lacking in most comedies today, a sense of what is right without trying to shove it down your throat while watching. This more subtle approach unites rather than divides, never taking sides like many of today's comedies do. In the end it will make this the better series to remember and be enjoyed and will reach a larger audience.

The single seasons have been released in the past but CBS Home Entertainment is releasing it now in the complete series format in a single box that will most likely take up less shelf space and keep it all together in one spot. If you've never seen the show then by all means pick this one up. You'll find yourself laughing start to finish and in addition to that get exposed to the crazy antics of Hanks in a very different light than seen in recent years. He's become such a great actor and while that's apparent here he's more inclined to remind you of Robin Williams than the star he is today. Pick up a copy and see why.

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THE VIOLENT YEARS: FOR ED WOOD FANS

Ed Wood's name is synonymous for bad movies. It's not that he didn't try or even that all of them were intentionally bad. But most of them ended up that way with his film PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE being hailed as one of the worst movies ever made. But Wood had a passion for film (and for cross dressing in angora sweaters) that pushed him to make movies in whatever way possible.

And so it is that AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) is now releasing THE VIOLENT YEARS to blu-ray. AGFA is making a name for themselves releasing movies that are not on the most watched list, not on the most wanted list and not on the best movie ever made list. What they've done is saved movies that have a historic value to film lovers, restoring them and offering them in the best format possible. It doesn't matter if the movie is a stinker, all movies deserve to be preserved for history's sake if nothing else. And in the end there is a certain fan base out there who will clamor to pick up a film like this, reveling in just how bad it is.

The story here, as in most Wood films, is fairly flimsy. Paula Parkins is the once bright and shining teen who, due to neglect and no attention from her parents, turns down the wrong path. She leads a pack of degenerate girls into a gang doing things like robbing a gas station, pajama party orgies (if you can call them that) and eventually murder. If it weren't for the bad writing and terrible dialogue you might think this was one of those government films from the 50s warning of the dangers of girl gangs. Instead it's just a low budget movie that was probably a filler at some point.

Just to be clear Woods didn't direct this film. Instead he was the writer on the film and that dialogue I spoke of becomes clear with each second of film that runs on screen. With such memorable lines as "I shot a cop. So what!" be read by actors in need of acting lessons it's easy to see why this film garners laughs today.

If that weren't enough there's a second feature on this disc as well. Count them, two for the price of one! What a bargain! Well it would be if it were a good movie. Instead it's another movie along the same lines as the first. This time though we have a young man whose brother is a condemned killer sent to the electric chair causing him to seek vengeance on those who sent him there. More bad acting, bad dialogue and weak production values makes this a perfect companion piece to the main feature.

To show the dedication AGFA has for movies like this consider the extras and work put into this release starting with the fact this is a 4k scan from the original 35mm camera negative. You'll also get a commentary track with filmmaker Frank Henenlotter and Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey, a collection of trailers from Something Weird, a memorabilia scrapbook and more.

The honest truth is that most will not want to add this to their collection let alone watch the movie. But from a historical aspect it does make for a somewhat interesting viewing. Fans of all things Ed Wood will not want to pass this one by. Lovers of bad movies will want to have it on hand as well. All others be warned in advance.


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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

THE SNOWMAN: MURDER IN NORWAY




Most won’t be aware that the film THE SNOWMAN is the fourth in a series of books written by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. The character is a nonconformist who works on the Oslo police force using unusual methods to get results. A sometime alcoholic and chain smoker he gets the job done he’s assigned. And much of his back story is missing with this, the first film to feature the character even though it’s based on the seventh book in the series.

The film opens in the past with a man coming to visit a woman and her young son. He’s instructing the young boy and bedding the mother who before he leaves threatens to tell his wife who the boy’s father is. When he abruptly leaves the woman gathers her son in the car, drives out onto an ice covered lake and then allows herself to drown after he gets out of the car.

Fast forward to the present where we find a man sleeping off a drunk on a park bench in the cold snowy land of Norway. He wakes and stumbles about, finally arriving at work where we discover his name is Harry Hole and he’s a lead investigator for the Oslo police. The early part of the film moves along at a snail’s pace and reveals bits and pieces without offering too much.

A woman goes missing and left behind is a snowman in the front yard, a reference Harry notices since before he left to join the investigation a card addressed to him with a poem and drawing of a snowman was delivered. Looking deeper into the case Harry begins to think this is associated with a killing that took place years ago with a similar style, again with a snowman left behind.

Several murders occur and Harry is assigned to the case along with two incompetent officers and a new recruit named Katherine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). As each case unfolds it soon becomes apparent that they are on the track of the first serial killer in Norway. Subplots are revealed, personal reasons for Katherine to be tracing the potential involvement of a millionaire named Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons) who may be the killer and other suspects and clues are followed.

Sifting through it all is Harry, dealing with issues of his own involving his teenage son and ex-wife Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as well as her new boyfriend, Mathias (Jonas Karlsson). Mathias does his best to help Rakel and the young boy when he can as well as attempting to befriend Harry as well. Several different scenes have him aiding Harry to stay connected to his son as well as offering him prescriptions to help him battle his alcoholism.

More clues mount and a past case involving another investigator named Rafto (an almost unrecognizable Val Kilmer) looking into the past acts committed by this same killer helps to provide clues as to who the killer might be. Both Harry and Katherine have connections to that past case and it helps to motivate them to catch the killer this time around. With some luck they will make sure the killer doesn’t have the opportunity to do so again.

What could have been a very good movie instead ends up being mediocre at best. The first third of the film is so incredibly slow that it becomes a chore to watch. Bits and pieces are involved in telling us who these characters are and their motivations behind their actions but to the point of losing interest so much that you miss some of the items presented. The second act of the film is a little better, tying up those various components to make a bit more sense and offering some more clues that help the viewer get a better idea of what is going on. It isn’t until the third act that things begin to make sense and move along at a more standard pace, offering a payoff by the film’s end.

Fassbinder felt wasted to me here. Having seen him in other films and enjoyed his performances in them I was surprised to see that he had little more to do here than act brooding, drunk or befuddled. From all I’ve read about the character I wouldn’t associate those traits with him but that seems to be the way he’s written in this screenplay. The rest of the casts fares better but not much. Well-known actors show up in bit parts and those in the lead feel under or wrongfully used.

If you’re going to set a film in a land covered in snow with a white or grey background for the majority of the time the action should make you ignore the setting and delve into the story. That doesn’t happen here. Perhaps had they begun with the first book and let the viewer get to know the character it might have been different but that wasn’t the case. The end result is a movie that’s so so but that made this viewer want to seek out the source material to see if it was any better. My guess is that it was. The end result is a movie that could have been a launch for a series of films but that did so poorly hopes for that are gone.


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