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Strange Worlds: The Latest DVD & Blu-ray Reviews


Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4K UHD

MPI Media Group

The title alone was enough to make this one famous, but it is of course a great horror picture in its own right. I found the horror aspects frightening and the humor aspects disturbing.

The infamous Leatherface is frightening because he seems mindless, impossible to reason with, ready and willing to kill at random. The other villains (Leatherface’s family members) are less powerful but just as frightening because they are well aware of what they do – and they see nothing wrong with it. They’ ll be perfectly happy to torture and kill you if they can get their hands on you.

It’s also unnerving how nearly everyone in the movie, including the good guys, seems jumpy and wired, as if they’d had too much caffeine.

This milestone movie initiates the now-famous horror-movie pattern where a group of carefree teens is attacked by bizarre killers and dispatched one by one.

Usually there is one girl who somehow survives, although never unscathed. Halloween and Friday the 13th are the two most notable follow-ups. I’ll let Joe Bob Briggs comment further: the movie is a strange shifting experience, part Grand Guignol and part gritty realism.  It is the first real youth-horror film… in which pampered but idealistic suburban children, distrustful of anyone older than thirty, are terrorized by the deformed adult world that dwells on the grungy side of the railroad tracks. It is thus usually considered the first bona fide slasher film, although Two Thousand Maniacs had similar elements a decade earlier, and Halloween crystallized the sub-genre a few years later.

Unlike contemporaries like Last House on the Left, Texas Chainsaw sprinkles its blood and horror with outrageousness and camp… not much, but enough for one to view the movie with some detachment. Yet there is a gritty cheapness in the production (as in Romero’s The Crazies ) that makes everything feel uncomfortably real. You can feel the heat, the sweat, and the dust. The atmosphere is pervasive and intense. The first part is weird, the second part nasty, the third part grueling to watch. The most famous sequence is the two-part chase through the shrubs at night. I do not love the film, but I admire it greatly.

There is some serious subtext. First, while the story was untrue as advertised, it was inspired by real-life murderer Eddie Gein who killed 15 middle-aged women in the 1950s and saved their body parts (Gein also inspired Norman Bates of Psycho, Buffalo Bill of Silence of the Lambs, and Ezra Cobb of Deranged). Hooper knew the Gein story and wanted to make a movie about a whole family of Ed Geins. Second, there is an apparent criticism of man’s treatment of animals, or at least a link between those who slaughter animals and those who slaughter people. Note that the chainsaw is rarely used to kill in this film; instead the teens are knocked on the head with a hammer, and then cut into parts afterwards, like cattle, and the skins are later used like leather. Leatherface even wears a butcher’s apron.  Extras are plentiful with four commentary tracks, four feature length documentaries, featurettes, outtakes and deleted scenes, interviews, bloopers, still gallery, trailers and tv & radio spots.

The early image of the poor hyperventilating calf is, for some viewers, one of the strongest in the film. Hooper maintained the slaughterhouse atmosphere by having art director Robert A. Burns procure an array of dead animals, stuffed animals, and animal bones. They even bought a dead dog from a veterinarian for the opening shot, but Hooper found it “just too gross” and replaced the shot with one of a dead armadillo (the footage survives, however, for those who are curious). Bones of cats, dogs, cows, chickens, and people were used to create the excellent and famous interiors of the houses. ( – David E. Goldweber)

She Said

Universal Studios

The 2022 movie She Said is a tough one to review. It’s an important film about an important subject and it has impressive performances from Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan as real-life NYT reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. My problem is that the film itself seems to have been patterned as a feminist version of All the President’s Men and, as such, comes across as surprisingly dull for much of its long running time.

The story of She Said is the story of the Times’ Pulitzer-winning investigation into a growing list of sexual abuse complaints against Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein.

The investigation ultimately led to Weinstein’s conviction and imprisonment, as well as opening the doors for other women to feel more comfortable bringing many other abuses to light within the film industry.

Turns out it was all just the tip of an epidemic iceberg, and it had been covered up for decades by hush money, threats, and career intimidation. In a way, it goes back to the age-old “casting couch” tradition in the movie industry in which men in positions of power felt they could demand sexual favors from women in exchange for furthering their careers. Harvey Weinstein and his Miramax company worked their way up to being the most successful film production company of recent decades and Weinstein himself must have felt completely untouchable.

Spoiler: He wasn’t.

The movie, though, like the Redford and Hoffman classic it evokes, is essentially a methodical journalism procedural that blurs fact and fiction, going so far as to have Ashley Judd play herself along with the real-life voices of Gwyneth Paltrow, and even Donald Trump. Lots of leads, phone calls, follow-ups, meetings, interviews, “No Comment,” “Don’t quote me,” and a little bit about the reporters’ personal lives. It’s as frustrating to watch as it no doubt was to the actual reporters.

There are also a few re-creations of what supposedly happened between Harvey and some of the women, or the after-effects of same. Some of these, while no doubt traumatizing for the real women involved, seem to be filmed here for maximum, dramatic effect. This is a problem with any movie with an agenda, no matter how righteous and important it may be. It was also a problem with All the President’s Men.

The Watergate film was enhanced by its stellar cast. In the case of She Said, there aren’t as many recognizable names but the stars are still the best part. I’ve been a big fan of actress Carey Mulligan for about a decade now and she does well with the showier role here. I was surprised to find that actually preferred the more straightforward performance of Zoe Kazan, an actress with whom I was not previously familiar. The two women have good chemistry together, despite most of their scenes being solo. Extras are light with a featurette and trailer.

For much of my adult life, my closest friends have been women, and a terrifying number of those women have faced sexual abuse and/or harassment at multiple times in their lives. It’s a societal issue, of course, but Hollywood’s big names on both sides have, for good or bad, made show business the focal point of it. Weinstein was just one of many, now and in the past. Undoubtedly, more will continue to come out. She Said is a story that needs to stay in the public consciousness. I just wish it was a better movie. ( – Steven Thompson)

Bones and All

Warner Bros.

Before we begin, you should know this film is creepy and every time you think you’re done being creeped out, it finds a deeper level of creepy. If you don’t like disturbing thrillers with a touch of cannibalistic vampirism, this ain’t the film for you.

Taylor Russell is an incredibly gifted young actress and she carries this film from beginning to end. She’s in almost every scene and plays the overwhelmed, understated Maren with professionalism and skill. She’s elegant, even in a dressed down role and she commands attention every time she’s on the screen.
Timothèe Chalamet similarly delivers a deep and emotional performance as the somewhat benevolent drifter Lee as he tries to live life on the fringe while maintaining some morality in an existence that is beyond morals.
Mark Rylance was the genius Halliday in Ready Player One, who gave off a disheveled genius vibe.
Now pretend Halliday was a cannibal who, using the same voice, referred to himself in the third person and you know, ate people all the time. Rylance is so believably off the charts creepy it is truly amazing. It was really something to watch.
While the framework of the film was based on a truly disturbing premise, the questions it asks are universal. Who am I? How did I become who I am? How do I live with the things I do, whether I want to do them or have to do them? These are incredibly challenging questions in real life. Now imagine trying to answer them while only being able to survive on the flesh of other humans. It takes surviving trauma to a new level.
Director Luca Guadagnino takes us on a journey, from the emergence of Maren’s predilection for flesh to the equally disturbing conclusion and that journey, is down. One trauma after another drives Maren forward and downward in her journey. Her complex relationship with Lee becomes the backbone of her evolution, right until the film’s inevitable conclusion.
There is a little wasted motion in the film, scenes that go on a bit too long or have too much awkward silence, but it never really detracts from the story. The pregnant pauses amplify the creepiness at times. But were a tad distracting others. There are some lovely exterior shots near a lake and in the forest. The interiors are mostly muted and I think this is an artistic choice versus poor lighting, but it’s hard to tell. The editing and pacing are spot on, and the effects are excellent, and in certain circumstances just awful to see, like the long chain of human hair Rylance carries around. It’s chilling.
Extras are five unnecessary behind-the-scenes featurettes which in total run for approximately ten minutes.
This isn’t the type of film I generally review favorably, but then again, this isn’t a typical horror film. It’s more of a thriller, coming of age film with an aspect of horror throughout. It is well written, well acted and professionally constructed and you cannot ask much more from a relatively low budget indie flick. It takes some chances and trusts the audience. I like writers and directors that don’t treat me like an idiot.
I enjoyed it. If you give Bones and All a chance, you may enjoy it too.  ( – David Landsman)

Universal Studios

M3GAN is not your standard modern horror movie. In fact, in some ways it’s closer to the original Boris Karloff Frankenstein in that a scientist creates a form of life never before seen and then attempts to destroy it when it becomes uncontrollable. Dressed up in modern-day trappings, that’s exactly the plot of M3GAN. Similarly, there’s an unspoken warning about playing with forces humans perhaps shouldn’t be playing with.

Playing, in fact, is the essential concept behind M3GAN. The title character is a life-sized, lifelike little girl doll powered by artificial intelligence.

She’s created by toy company scientist, Gemma. When Gemma’s niece, Cady, comes to live with her after her parents were killed in a traumatic car accident where she was the only survivor, M3GAN is used to pacify Cady. The two are bonded together by the doll’s programming, with Cady now being her “person.”

With a capacity to learn and add to her own programming as she goes along, M3GAN acts as a friend, a counselor, a teacher, and a protector to Cady. At first Gemma is thrilled, and her company begins to prepare to market the $10,000 toys to an eager world. But then things start happening.

An obnoxious boy at a school camp steals M3GAN and is found killed by a car after falling down a hill. An accident, plain and simple…but when another body turns up, Gemma slowly becomes suspicious. When M3GAN begins to show more and more autonomy and Cady more and more dependence on her, Gemma slowly becomes concerned, then scared.

The movie works as a straight suspense narrative, with top-notch performances all around, particularly from Allison Williams (daughter of TV anchorman Brian Williams) as Gemma and young Violet McGraw as Cady. There’s a surprising emotional layer to the film, also, though, that might even bring some viewers to tears.

Step back a bit further and you see it’s actually a dark comedy, both parodying the current and future state of the art as far as AIs go, and at the same time celebrating same…and warning of its possible dangers.

The real star of the picture, of course, is M3GAN “herself,” fresh from the uncanny valley. Credited on IMDB to Amie Donald in the mask and Jenna Davis’s voice, the effect is stunning and, presumably because of the leaps and bounds of progress we’ve seen in Artificial Intelligence, we not only accept her, we LIKE her.

Unlike, say, Chucky, M3GAN is not a monster, even if she seems like one by the end of the picture. She’s a likable personality who finds herself in a situation where in order to follow her basic programming to protect Cady, she has to ignore Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics:  A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Extras include featurettes.

There’s an unrated, gorier version with more cursing, but it’s not needed. Director Gerard Johnstone paces everything perfectly in the basic version, allowing the violence when it comes to be more of a shock. In fact, M3GAN overall is a bit of a shock. Unlike movies like Hellraiser, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc, this little bit of science fiction really does seem just around the corner. ( – Steven Thompson)

Strange World


Disney’s Strange World is a lush, soaring adventure that tragically falls short of Disney greatness.

Strange World grabs your attention from the start as you’d expect from any animated Disney production.  T

]he comic book styled prologue tells us the story of adventurer Jaeger Clade, voiced by Dennis Quaid, and his play-it-safe son Searcher, voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal, perfectly setting the tone and the heart of this story; a father/son relationship.

The pre-industrial people of Jaeger and Searcher’s world live in a valley surrounded by unpassable mountains. Jaeger is on a mission to pass through the unpassable with his teenaged son.

However, when Searcher discovers a glowing green plant that produces a type of electricity, Searcher sees greater potential in the plant than in whatever could possibly lie beyond the mountains.

Jaegar, driven by his spirit of adventure, leaves Searcher behind and is never heard from again.

Many years later, Searcher’s discovery has transformed his world. By cultivating the glowing plant, this charming civilization has invented flying machines as well all sorts of 20th Century modern conveniences.

Despite these achievements, Searcher himself remained humble, becoming a farmer of the plant as well as a family man with his wife Meridian, voiced by Gabrielle Union and teenaged son Ethan, voiced by Jaboukie Young-White.

This is where Strange World excels with it’s inventive and utopian world building. The art design is gorgeous. Everything from the flying machines down to the unique clothing. The human inhabitants of this world live with a spirit of community, in harmony with each other and the land.

I especially applaud this film and Disney for being very forward thinking by portraying marriages and relationships of all types as commonplace. And there’s also Legend, the Clade family’s three-legged dog.

When Calisto Mal, voiced by Lucy Lu, arrives with dire news that Searcher’s technology enabling plant is dying in outer regions, the adventure to discover the cause, and hopeful cure to this disease begins.

This is also where  Strange World regrettably begins to fall flat.

The strength of Disney’s most successful films relies on the strength of their characters and their relationships with their family. Particularly interpersonal conflicts. Woody vs Buzz. Elsa vs Anna. Simba vs Mufasa.

The heart of this film is the lost relationship between Jaeger and Searcher and Searcher’s fear of Ethan becoming Jaeger. Strange World fails by pulling its punches and neglecting to show us how Searcher’s relationships with his Father and his Son profoundly affect him as character and inform his important decisions early in the film.  In other words, this film is less character driven than I would have hoped and fails to resonate.

Otherwise, Strange World is a stunning film.

Flying the airship, The Venture, into the same mountain pass Jaeger and Searcher traveled years before, our heroes eventually encounter wild and menacing creatures that force them into an underground cavern. A whole separate world really, that neither they, nor we the audience has ever seen before.

The art direction goes into overdrive.

This world has its own set of rules with creatures flowing through the air like schools of fish and six legged puffy dinosaurs lumbering about with small jelly-like blobs living on their backs. The animation of these creatures are different visual textures that heighten the sense of new reality and wonder.

What truly I love about this world is that we come to discover that there is a rhyme and reason to every detail.

As we would expect, despite Searcher’s insistence that Ethan remain behind, Ethan (and Legend!) of course stow away on The Venture. Searcher, after being separated from the others, is soon saved by none other than his father, Jaeger. With Meridian showing up in search of Ethan, Strange World is now a full Clade family adventure.

The climax of the film truly delighted me.

Reaching the other side of the unpassable mountains, we’re blown away by a discovery I wasn’t expecting.

A giant eye in the mountain.

The Clade family and its people live on the back of giant creature sitting alone on ocean planet.

Upon this discovery, we learn that the glowing green plant is actually a kind of virus and is killing this colossal life sustaining creature. The plants dying was the creature’s immune system taking action, aka, some of the incredible ominous creatures we’ve encounter along the way destroying the plant’s root system.

The environmental theme evident, a heart wrenching choice must be made; save the creature or save their way of life. In spite of resistance from the non-Clade party members, the green virus is destroyed giving new life is given to the creature.

Suffice to say, the concept of living atop a massive creature appeals to my sense of imagination and wonder as well as a lover of adventure, fantasy and science fiction. Especially being a Jules Verne fan. This reveal also made me reevaluate everything I’ve experienced this entire movie. My favorite reaction to any film. Those schools of flying creatures we’ve seen throughout? Blood cells flowing as if through a vein.

This also frustrates me as such a great concept was ill-served by characters that aren’t quite up to par with characters we would expect from Disney. But, I suspect the higher-ups at Disney were well aware of this film’s shortcomings which might explain the minimal marketing.  Extras include featurettes, outtakes, and deleted scenes.

On a whole, Strange World is a great family film and well worth checking out whether it be by yourself, with a like-minded date, or especially your children.  ( – Anthony Sword)

The Long, Long Trailer

It must have been tough for viewers in 1953 to think of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, the two protagonists of MGM’s The Long, Long Trailer, as anything other than Ricky and Lucy Ricardo, everyone’s favorite TV neighbors at that point. I mention that because it was a bit tough for me, 70 years later, here. Poor Fred and Ethel must have felt left out.

The picture’s title gives away its basic plot.

There’s this trailer…and it’s long…really long…and Lucy and Ricky…I mean “Tacy” and “Nicky…” decide to buy it. Well, Tacy does…and Nicky gets talked into going along for the ride…or, as he comes to think if it, “taken for a ride.”

Despite it’s being little more than a bigger budget sitcom, the movie, of course, had no laughter other than what may have been heard live in the theaters, and it was in color! Anscocolor, but still color, as opposed to TV’s weekly black and white Lucy and Desi.

The whole concept of trailer living had been growing in popularity throughout the early years of the 20th century and by the 1950s was a full-blown fad, if not the actual movement it has become today. Trailer parks had popped up all across the country to accommodate traveling “trailerites.” This was a world still foreign, and thus intriguing, to the average American but shown in both good and bad light in The Long, Long Trailer.

One of the things I like best about this movie is that for most of its running time, it’s Desi who gets to showcase his comic talents, as opposed to his generally playing straight man to his goofy wife in people’s living rooms. For most of its running time, also, the picture is a study in increasing frustration. At times, Desi here reminds me of the perpetually exasperated Jack Lemmon in the much-later movie, The Out-of-Towners. There’s a torrential storm, a mountain to scale, and the wife’s relatives to meet.

Not that Lucy doesn’t get to showcase her talents, too! She isn’t quite as ditzy as Lucy Ricardo but she’s great in scenes such as the one where she tries to cook dinner in the trailer as her husband drives merrily along the highway, singing a happy tune, blissfully unaware of all hell breaking loose behind him.

There’s some outdoor location footage as well as some obvious studio sets made to look like outdoor shots. Lucy (in soft focus) and Desi also sing “Breezin’ Along with the Breeze” as we enjoy some lovely vintage scenes of mountains, waterfalls, and scenic vistas. We even get some nice scenes of small-town mid-century middle America. The vintage automobiles we see throughout are a definite highlight today, although they may not have been such at the time of release.

In the present day, I actually have a friend who, along with her husband, chucked it all a few years back and bought an RV so they could travel around the country. They post scenic videos that could well have come directly from this type of movie, as well as Facebook and blog posts about very similar frustrations but overall, they love the unique lifestyle, much as Tacy and Nicky come to do in the long run. I haven’t seen the movie in about four decades, but seeing it again now, knowing my friends’ experience with their own real-world version of the story, gives Tacy and Nicky’s struggles a new resonance with me.

From its stars, its setting in the early RV world, and its views of vintage America, The Long, Long Trailer offers an interesting color snapshot of the 1950s that’s alternately harrowing and amusing, but never really side-splittingly funny. In fact, it’s never as funny as a good I Love Lucy episode, but it wasn’t meant to be. What really makes The Long, Long Trailer work, though, is the chemistry between its long-married stars. Yes, they had issues—off-screen as well as on—but that chemistry is undeniable. He really did love Lucy… and that shows.  ( – Steven Thompson)

The Adventures of Batman: The Complete Collection

Warner Bros.

My first exposure to Batman was the 1966 live-action series, which I instantly fell in love with.  Several months later I discovered this series which was produced by Filmation Studios and in many ways it served as the fourth season to the live action series.

Featuring 34 short episodes (approximately 7 minutes each), the series features animation veterans Olan Soule as Batman and Casey Kasem as Robin.  Ted Knight (who would later serve as narrator on The Superfriends), narrated the series and also voiced several other characters including The Penguin, Commissioner Gordon, The Joker, Alfred, and Mr. Freeze).  Featuring supporting characters from the 1966 series such as Chief O’Hara, Catwoman, The Riddler, The Mad Hatter, Scarecrow and Batgirl, it was pure perfection for a five year old viewer.

Watching it now, it’s obvious that the series is very simply written and might not appeal to modern viewers.

But, alas, nostalgia rears it’s ugly head.  The restoration to HD is simply stunning with the colors popping off the screen.

Like most of Filmation’s output, animation is repurposed and repetitive.  I really could only watch a few episodes at a time before it became a bit mind-numbing. That being said, it’s a perfect introduction of the character to young fans.  ( – Stefan Blitz)


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