Monday, August 28, 2017


When a sequel is released following in the footsteps of a popular and well-loved movie the bar is set high by any and all going to see it. Expectations are high and if the follow up doesn’t equal that of the first film it could result in the end of a series or low box office figures. Termed the “sophomore slump” more than one second film has fallen prey to this occurring.

I’ve loved all of the Marvel Universe films (and Netflix series) to date, more so than any that DC has released where only WONDER WOMAN has succeeded. I enjoyed GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY immensely, a perfect combination of action, comic book love, special effects and humor. When the sequel, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 came out I was there the first week to see it. I left disappointed feeling it hadn’t lived up to my expectations. So I was anxious for it to come out on disc so I could watch it again and see it through different eyes, eyes not filled with expectations of the previous film. I’m glad I did.

The movie starts in the distant past as Peter Quill’s mother Meredith rides down the road in an open topped convertible singing “Brandy” as her handsome young beau (Kurt Russell) drives. They end up in a woods where he shows her something he has planted in the ground and both convey their love for one another. Fast forward to outer space.

The Guardians have been hired by the Sovereign to protect their all-important batteries from a marauding inter-dimensional monster. As it arrives the battle begins as does my favorite part of the film. Baby Groot hooks up a sound system to play music, something Peter aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) enjoys. With the tune “Mr. Blue Sky” blaring from the speakers baby Groot dances across the battlefield oblivious to the raging fight taking place around him. If it doesn’t make your heart dance with joy to see him you have no heart.

The team is victorious and get their reward – Nebula (Karen Gillan) Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) sister. Peter warns them to be cautious as the Sovereign are an easily offended group which of course results in Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) cracking wise at their expense. Heading out into space they are then attacked by the Sovereign, looking for the batteries stolen by Rocket which he failed to mention. As things appear to be at their worst another spaceship shows up with a man on top who obliterates the remaining Sovereign ships.

Crash landing and beginning repairs that same spaceship lands and out walks a man known as Ego who informs Peter that he is his father. Here before him is the man he’s been searching for all these years. A man who has been searching for Peter as well. While Rocket and Groot remain behind to fix the ship, with Nebula still a prisoner, the rest go with Ego to his planet at the far edge of the galaxy. But what is it that he really wants? This will become the problem all face eventually.

As this unfolds we also find out what has become of Yondu (Michael Rooker), Peter’s once father figure and the man who was tracking him down in the first film. We learn that his particular group of Ravagers were exiled because of his taking Peter years ago. At his lowest he is approached by the Sovereign to find the Guardians and retrieve their batteries.

Two themes run throughout this film. The first is that of family and fathers in particular. The Guardians are more than just a rag tag group of adventurers. Each has lost something or someone in their past and they have bonded together as a family in their time together. And each father figure has some flaw that makes them not the father they could have been but all attempt to redeem themselves for the most part save one. This presents a much deeper film than one would expect from a comic based movie.

The movie entertains on all levels from the stunning special effects visuals to the story telling itself. The acting is amazing when you consider that beneath the bluster and wise cracking heroics on display is that search for answers to familial matters. This includes not just fathers but sisters as well with Nebula and Gamora trying to find their own answers. In addition to that there are some belly busting funny moments as well, nearly all involving Drax (Dave Batista) who does a fantastic job with them.

On second viewing, without preconceived ideas in mind, I loved this movie. It might not be equal to the first but it is very close. The concepts that run through this film strike at the heart which is never a bad thing when handled well. Here it is handled exceptionally well. This is a movie to be added to any and all collections and watched more than once.

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One word describes the latest season of THE WALKING DEAD, season seven: brutal. When we last left the show the previous season we were introduced to the main bag guy, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Fans of the comic book knew right away things would not be pretty. Let me back up a second first.

If for some reason you’ve never watched the series you need to start. Binge watch it. Get caught up. Don’t pooh pooh the series as nothing more than flesh eating zombies and a horror series. It’s much more than that. It has more to do with survival and dealing with day to day situations. It’s more about interpersonal relationships during the worst case scenario, people coming together, working together. And along the way different groups face off against one another, perhaps more often than they do against the zombies. In short, it’s more drama than horror.

Back to season seven, perhaps the most controversial. Negan has captured Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and has them kneeling before him. He tells them up front that they had the chance to obey his demands but failed. Now one of them must pay the price for the entire group. Not only will this be his form of “justice”, he knows that it will force Rick to realize how hopeless his situation is. No spoiler alert here, I won’t tell you who dies.

That was what had most tuning in for the season premiere when it aired. The aftermath was that while it drew a large number of viewers it also cause some long-time fans to abandon the show. Yes, the sequence was that upsetting to so many. A character was bludgeoned to death in front of us with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. It is perhaps the most vicious, brutal and graphic moment ever seen on TV.

There was a reason for this that those who tuned out may have missed out on. Moments like these have happened in the past but not nearly as graphically as this one. Those moments have been placed there to move the story forward, to provide impetus for characters to develop into something they weren’t before or to change them further down the line. In the case of this season it forced Rick to realize that he stood to lose so much if things didn’t go his way. And no, things definitely did not go his way here.

The result was a kowtowing Rick, afraid to put forth an idea, afraid to fight, afraid to be the leader that he was. The entire season was watching him change once more as we’d seen him do in the past. We first had a character with no idea what happened, we had a wandering character, we had an attempt at homesteading and we had an attempt to find a cure character. As this season progresses from that first moment, we see a different character again and one we’re not comfortable with. The question is will he remain that way.

We also find something else out in this season. There is more than one groups of survivors establishing settlements in this post zombie explosion world. While we learned of the Hilltop Colony last year this year we find the Kingdom. Ruled by Ezekiel (Khary Payton) it is a peaceful community with its own police force of sorts. Ezekiel is an interesting character and not just because he has a full grown tiger who sits by him most of the time. His is a land that has made peace with Negan but a tentative one at that.

While Rick is still suffering from the onslaught at the beginning of the series other members of the group are trying to form alliances with the small groups we discover this season. The hope is to unite them all to take down Negan and his group ironically as the Saviors. It becomes a game of politics of sorts as well as that all present quest for survival in an inhospitable world. Zombies still run amok and with each death their numbers grow. But the biggest dangers are less the undead as they are the people who continue to live and fight to control anything left of the old world.

As with each season we were left with a cliffhanger. We witnessed not one but several main characters we’ve grown to love lose their lives. Each death of those characters had an important role in moving the narrative forward, none were senseless when it came to storytelling. And while we might not like having to wait till the next season to find out what happens, it retains those who are now loyal fans.

While I’ve focused on storytelling here the fact remains that this is one of the best series technically on the air as well. Direction, cinematography, locations, make-up, costuming…everything comes together like a well-oiled machine to present some of the best drama on television today. One can only hope that they continue doing this for many more years.

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I’ve written about the movie THE RE-ANIMATOR more than once. That’s because various versions have popped up over the years since its initial release on disc. Of those the one issued by Image (I believe) was perhaps the best out there offering the movie in blu-ray format with a slew of extras. All that has changed with this new version from Arrow Video.

A quick synopsis for those who’ve never seen the film. It tells the story of Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), a scientists who dreams of finding a way to beat death. He comes up with a formula that does so but at the same time returns the dead to mindless creatures instead of who they once were. His research carries on with his roommate Dan (Bruce Abbott) helps him with his research and along the way jealous Dr. Hill (David Gale) finds out what is up. Planning on taking credit for the find West kills Gale and decapitates him. In a fit of curiosity he re-animates the head only to find it controls the body. Gale escapes, takes Dan’s girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton) prisoner since he had a thing for her and a final battle follows.

The movie was a breath of fresh air when it was released, a combination of horror and dark comedy that used gore to full effect but not nearly as much as it did quick witted writing. The barbs that come from West throughout the film are memorable, my favorite being “Who's going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.” Taken from a story by H.P. Lovecraft fans were pleased with the final effort. It spawned several sequels only the second of which deserved much attention.

The movie did launch director Stuart Gordon’s career. After this film he made FROM BEYOND, DOLLS, FORTRESS and ROBOJOX. What surprised me at the time and to this day is that Combs never rose to mega-stardom. I’ve yet to see a performance in anything he’s done that wasn’t wonderful to view. In addition to the sequels he was the star of DOCTOR MORDRID and had parts in THE FRIGHTENERS, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, roles in several STAR TREK series and the series THE 4400.

So what make this particular edition of the film worth adding it to your collection even though you already own the film on blu-ray? Lots. Like lots and lots of extras, some available before but plenty to satisfy the most discerning fan.

To begin with Arrow Video presents the film in a 4k restoration of both the unrated and integral versions of the film. It has newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson, a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer Michael Gingold, a reprinted copy of the original 1991 comic book based on the film, audio commentary track by director Gordon, audio commentary track by producer Brian Yuzna, Jeffery Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbot and Robert Sampson, RE-ANIMATOR RESURRECTS a documentary on the making of the film featuring interviews with the cast and crew, an interview with director Gordon and producer Yuzna, an interview with writer Dennis Paoli, an interview with composer Richard Band, Music Discussion with Band, an interview with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone, an interview of Crampton with journalist Alan Jones, deleted and extended scenes, trailers and tv spots and A GUIDE TO LOVECRAFTIAN CINEMA a brand new featurette that examines the filmed works based on Lovecraft’s work.

I’m not a huge fan of extras on most movies since the majority are nothing more than press kit packages made for newer films. But when something like this comes along you can spend more time watching the extras and enjoying every minute of them. That’s part of what makes all releases by Arrow Video so special. Not only do they attempt to offer the cleanest and clearest version of the film you can find they put together a package of extras worthy of being watched. It’s what makes this version of the film the ultimate one to buy.

If you’ve never seen the film then by all means find a way to do so in whatever way possible. I would still suggest that you seek this copy out and enjoy not just the film but the extras I’ve mentioned. If you’re a fan already then by all means pick this edition up. If you don’t you’ll only be angry at yourself later for not doing so. What you can expect is a fun movie with enough scares tossed into satisfy your need for horror. I can’t recommend this one enough.

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