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The DVD-Blus: 50 Home Media Reviews

Not sure what to watch?

Thanks to FOG!s very own AV Squad we’ve put together 50 reviews of recent Blu, 4K, and Digital releases!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fire up your queue, prep your wish list, and ready your shopping csrt!

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (4K UHD)

Warner Bros.

Batman: The Animated Series is, by now, so firmly ensconced in both fans’ and the general public’s minds as a great piece of pop art that it seems hardly necessary to talk it up any more.

That said, for the sake of context it’s probably best to invest a little time talking about why the show worked as Mask of the Phantasm is an outgrowth of the show at the height of its cultural significance.

B:TAS was the rare occurrence in television where the absolute right creative team (In this case producer/directors Bruce Timm and Eric Randomski had been working on Tiny Toon Adventures, a love letter to classic WB animation when the call came down that they wanted pitches for a new Batman show, and the two threw all their love of classic animation and comics into a pitch that blew away the execs.

They were soon joined by Paul Dini, a talented TV writer who was interested in fleshing out the psychological maladjustments to Batman and his regular gang of antagonists.) was given the right material and precisely the right moment (in between Tim Burton’s visionary films that had made the character a cultural phenomenon in the late 80’s and early 90’s) to produce something special.

That is to say, that the show was not simply an excellent example of an action cartoon for children (in the way that the contemporary X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons were) but a show that redefined how good stories in that form could be. It had cinema quality music, top notch voice acting, perfect art direction, and excellent scripts. In every possible way, it over delivered: from the cinematic title cards that opened every episode to the Elfman inspired theme that closed every episode. And, for once, it was recognized in its time as being not just great, but special. It captured Emmys, and Fox saved certain episodes for prime time airings. It was the only children’s adventure show to the point of its creation that felt like it had real adult emotional stakes– that it was not only potentially enjoyable for an adult but that it was capable of surprising and delighting one.

So, in 1993 when this team was tasked with the creation of a feature length film for the Christmas season they over delivered once more and got their film, Mask of the Phantasm upgraded from DTV stocking stuffer to theatrical treat. The most cinematic cartoon in the history of American television was going to the silver screen, and the resulting picture is interesting and in many ways admirable though I would contend it is a bit disappointing if you’re expecting a quantum leap forward from the stories of that first season of Batman television.

The one area where there is an unquestioned leap is technically: this is the very best animation and presentation that Batman: The Animated Series ever got. I don’t normally make a big deal out of production values in these reviews but in the case of animation, it’s the whole essence of the visual storytelling so it needs to be addressed foremost. From the opening credits where the camera flies by a digitally rendered Gotham City while a gorgeous choral variation on the television show’s theme plays, you know that this is going to be bigger than any of the episodes. A few minutes later when The Batman is swinging his first punch, it’s almost jarring how fluid and fine all the movement is. This is just a hair below a classic Disney animated feature in terms of its technical excellence within the medium.

Quick note here: the 4K restoration is so perfect that you can now pause the film and see literally every imperfection in any single cell of animation in the picture. The color grade has no distortion and the audio is cleaner than I remember it being from repeated DVD viewings. The technical excellence of the film is reflected in this case by the skill of its new presentation and picture quality. I have no complaints.

What I am going to complain a little about is the script.

Now don’t worry, I’m not in the business of slaughtering sacred cows every time I get a little peckish, but I have seen people declare this the best Batman film of all time and I think it’s important to really break things down and analyze it. The performances are uniformly great: the late Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are in top form; guest star Dana Delaney is so good that this won her the role of Lois Lane when the team moved on to Superman two years later. There’s also wonderful character beats throughout: like when a mobbed up councilman who is blaming Batman for a murder he didn’t commit indicates that there are policemen who agree with him and Bullock winces, pulls up his collar and turns in the background. Not a word spoken or a shot spent but you know exactly where he stands. Many live action films don’t have supporting characters who feel this alive.

That said, the film is almost too beholden to its film noir influences. It is primarily developed through a series of flashbacks that, while interesting, grind the pace of the film to a halt. Another major problem is the Phantasm itself: for a show that got so much mileage out of its villains when they went to the big screen they crafted a dude. Phantasm is an adaptation of an 80’s villain, The Reaper, but the mystery plot demands he be kept at arm’s length for most of the picture and the limits of the PG rating mean that all the sadistic menace of that character is bled away. The problem is so jarring that The Joker must be recruited to give the film a spark, and Hamill ends up stealing the whole picture. Where Phantasm still seems neutered by the relaxed censorship standards of the film over the TV show, Hammil’s Joker would not be this wonderfully evil again until the Batman Beyond film years later.

The other structural problem is built into superhero storytelling: in a real film noir action built to a climax where only one character, and maybe no one at all, would be able to walk away. In Batman stories though you know Batman and the Joker are coming back next week so the World of Tomorrow finale feels hollow. Three characters look at one another and decide the town isn’t big enough for all of them and no one dies. I’m not blaming the writers for the censorship they labored under, but you have to work towards a payoff you can actually deliver.

Extras include a featurette on the late Kevin Conroy.

Now, even with that said: this is an easy recommendation. It perfectly captures the tone of the series and the main character: serious but not overly grim as some contemporary interpretations have been. This is a home run for any kid or (kid at heart) who loves Batman and the new 4K presentation enhances the experience. See it.  (– Will McGuire)

Promising Young Woman (4K UHD)

UPHE

A stylish, candy-colored revenge thriller with a razor-blade center, Promising Young Woman stars Carey Mulligan in a career-best performance.

She plays 30-something Cassie, who pretends to be falling-down drunk at clubs, then lets herself get picked up by “helpful” men, who are more than willing to take advantage of her inebriated state.

She waits until they’ve taken her back to their place and revealed themselves as opportunistic predators before pulling the rug out from them: She’s stone cold sober.

Maybe they’ll think twice about preying on vulnerable women in the future, especially since she tells one of her marks there’s another woman who does this kind of thing — only she carries a pair of scissors.

Her secret nocturnal revenge, which leaves the men shaken but unharmed, takes a new direction when she runs into Ryan (Bo Burnham), who went to medical school with her.

There’s an immediate attraction between them, but, more importantly, it puts her back in touch with the people who created the tragedy that derailed her life. Her best friend Nina was raped by a fellow student and (presumably) killed herself after everyone wrote off the incident because Nina was drunk at the time.

Cassie calmly finds a unique way to terrify each person from her past, who have excuse after excuse about why they didn’t help or believe Nina.

Meanwhile, she and Ryan are growing closer and closer. And then things take a turn.

To say more would be to ruin one of the year’s best movies, which is the first feature film from Killing Eve producer Emerald Fennell.

In one of the most striking scenes (pardon the pun), Cassie stops her car at an intersection, ready with a crowbar for the misogynistic jerk who stops to yell insults at her. The scene is set to music from Wagner’s tragic opera Tristan and Isolde, but even in scenes with songs by Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, the movie is in full operatic mode.

Like all good revenge thrillers, it asks when enough is enough and who should pay for the damage done.

Even Nina’s mother (Molly Shannon) asks her to let go of the hate that has consumed her all these years, but Cassie is too close to her goal now to stop.

Extras include commentary and featurettes.

It’s a film that will likely leave you nearly as shaken as one of Cassie’s marks.  (– Sharon Knolle)

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (4K UHD)

Paramount

Transformers are a monolith of pop culture thanks to the myriad of characters that exist in the visual media franchise spawned from the Hasbro toy line just shy of four decades ago, which saw the glorified toy showcase taken from animated series to animated feature and eventually live action with 2007’s Bayhem extravaganza Transformers.

A box office smash hit, this first Michael Bay-helmed Transformers film would spawn an additional four films directed by Bay, each film somehow more bloated and convoluted than the last.

Deciding to step down from directing any additional franchise entries, the smoke had hardly lifted from Bay’s final bout of pyrotechnics-laden robot rampage before a stand-alone Bumblebee film set in the 1980s was announced.

While still being a film about giant robots engaging in awkward comedy set pieces before the inevitable over-sized punch-ups, Bumblebee was nonetheless quite different from the Bay films, not only due to the action being less over-the-top, but the spin-off also had a degree of heart that had been sorely missing from the Bay films.

And that brings us to the latest film in the franchise.

Adding 1990s favorites from the Beast Wars series to the mix, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts continues in the nostalgic lane the Bumblebee film had veered into, this time taking us back to 1994’s New York City, which is well-established with a great soundtrack, fashion and pop culture paraphernalia that will transport viewers of a certain age back to the 90s in a flash.

Plot-wise, we know the drill; the fate of the world hangs in the balance, MacGuffins must be located and kept out of the baddies’ hands, and the humans somehow end up playing an integral part of the puzzle in spite of how powerful the Autobots are compared to us.

For those who struggled with the quintet of films helmed by Bay but found Bumblebee more palatable, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts sandwiches itself between the two approaches, as the latest entry acknowledges both styles and tries to find a middle ground that ties it all together.

While far from elevated, the cringe factor of the humor is dialed down significantly compared to the Bay films, and while it is not quite as good as 2018’s Bumblebee, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts nonetheless manages to maintain a degree of kinship with the Bumblebee solo outing.

Much like Hallie Steinfeld introduced much-needed sincerity with her character of Charlie in Bumblebee, Anthony Ramos’ Noah is similarly grounded in his performance, making him easy to root for as he stumbles upon the Autobots in his misguided quest to raise funds to support his family and, in particular, the treatment of his younger brother’s sickle cell disease.

Of the Autobots, Pete Davidson’s Mirage is given the most screen time, during which his interactions with Ramos garner sufficient laughs, as the majority of his jokes land well thanks to Davidson’s knack for delivering his trademark humor in a way that suits the cocky robot in Porsche disguise, but your mileage may vary if you struggle with Davidson’s style of comedy.

As for Optimus Prime, Peter Cullen of course continues to voice the figurehead of the franchise, but unlike the previous live action films, Prime does not start out as the self-assured and stoic leader happy to cooperate with humans in this film. Instead, Prime is skeptical of the humans’ involvement with the Autobots mission to stop the Terrorcons, and this makes Prime more interesting than he usually is in live action.

Regarding the Maximals, we get to spend a fair amount of time with Michelle Yeoh’s Airazor and Ron Perlman’s Optimus Primal, but Rhinox and Cheetor are unfortunately little more than set dressing. As a result, fans of the Beast Wars series may feel a little underwhelmed, but the animation of the characters helps to lend more texture and diversity to the action scenes.

While the action does not reach Bayhem levels, there is, however, plenty of highly entertaining set pieces throughout the film, and while everything becomes awfully convenient in the finale, it is still entertaining enough to appease your inner nerdy kid who just wants to smash Transformers toys together.

Extras include featurettes and deleted & extended scenes.

Much like fans of the Fast & Furious franchise are not concerned with the laws of physics, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is not concerned about delivering anything substantial except for the size and scale of its characters and their conflicts. As such, while it has more heart and better humor than the Bay films, this is ultimately about giant alien robots beating each other into scrap metal, and sometimes that is all you need to have a good time.  (– Leyla Mikkelsen)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Digital UHD)

Disney

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny feels like your last high school class reunion where you spot old faces and gossip about missing ones.

Oh look, Harrison Ford with his Traveller hat! Yanking on his leather whip! Oh, look John Rhys-Davies as Sallah driving a yellow cab! Oh, and isn’t that–?

Yes it is now shut up we aren’t meant to spoil anything (that’s a job for TikTok).

Was Antonio Banderas as Renaldo part of the original series? No, but he’s such a warmly grizzled presence we should grant him honorary membership anyway. Was Toby Jones as Basil Shaw? No, but he’s a crucial part of a flashback sequence so he’s in on a pass. Was Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Basil’s daughter (and Indy’s goddaughter) Helena? No, but she’s part of the newer generation meant to draw us into this creaky franchise; she gets a shiny fresh badge all her own.

Is someone missing? Yes, but not anyone on-camera.

Steven Spielberg handed directing reins for the first time down to James Mangold, a filmmaker I’ve always considered more adept at drama (Heavy, Copland) than action (3:10 to Yuma; The Wolverine) though apparently he much prefers mixing genres (Logan).

For the record, not a fan of Logan; it comes up with an interesting premise (mutant superhero nearing end of his career), doesn’t quite follow through on said premise (falls back to yet another anti-mutant conspiracy plot confronting yet another superpowered foe when what we really want to see is Logan confronting his estranged mutant superpowered daughter– one physically or mentally taking down the other, preferably the latter).

More, Mangold is a competent director of actors and teller of tales– he knows all about emotional beats and dramatic resonance– but can’t quite give the film the editing rhythm or visual style to would elevate it above its genre.
Same here: Spielberg’s absent and we miss his gift for intricate Rube Goldberg sequences, the way disparate elements can fall apart and fall together in surprising, often hilarious ways– I’m thinking of the opening to Temple of Doom (arguably the best Indy movie) where a diamond, a poisoned glass of champagne, and a blonde in glittery red sequins singing Noel Coward in Mandarin all join in a delightfully intricate dance / chase sequence. Anything goes, all right, or at least do here.
You don’t get that in this picture, though Indy toppling library stacks comes somewhat close. There’s a foot chase on a train at night, and while the moonlight gives everything a lovely silver sheen, some of the long shots of men running atop the cars look awkwardly digitized.

Ford was reportedly de-aged for this opening but I strangely didn’t mind much, the process having improved since Scorsese inflicted it on Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in The Irishman and Gareth Evans inserted a barely alive Carrie Fisher in his Rogue One; at least Ford here doesn’t look like a broiled blankfaced lobster. More perturbed by the fact that the chase feels exhausting rather than inventive, lacks the snap crackle and pop that Spielberg might have brought to the party.

In Tangiers there’s a fast-paced pursuit involving a car (later two cars) and a tuktuk (later two tuktuks) but the mayhem is so confusingly shot and edited you can’t keep track of what’s chasing what, who’s driving who, in what direction, and why– a pity because some of the stunts look genuinely impressive, if not dangerous. There’s so little set-up and the payoff’s so quickly brushed aside that none of it really registers.
Talk about brushing things aside (skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie!): Mads Mikkelsen’s Jurgen Voller is meant to be a villainous Nazi, one of many in Indy’s career who leaves a trail of dead bodies in his wake, but Indy seems oddly unfazed.

Oh, he pauses to bend over a murdered colleague or two, but– is he really in that much of a hurry to recover the stolen Archimedes’ dial or does he really not care about his university workmates? Either way it would be nice to hear his thoughts on the subject. Later Banderas makes an appearance as the gregarious Reynaldo, and we eagerly wait to see how his character might develop but Voller cuts those expectations short as well. Ford as Indy looks suitably dismayed, and later snaps at goddaughter Helen for being so callously exultant, but quickly forgets about his friend as they move on to the adventure’s next chapter. I’d especially like to hear his thoughts on this man’s passing, at least in one of the several quieter downtime moments when they’re in a train or boat or plane and there’s little else to do; Indy may not care about his New York co-workers but Reynaldo talks and acts like he’s known Indy a long time, that they’ve shared plenty of adventure together. You’d think Indy would be more affected.

Getting back to my chief complaint: we don’t have Spielberg we have Mangold, so the chases or fights or other kinds of action are basically filler material to put the ‘action’ in a supposed action movie. I would have imagined the better decision would have been to lean into Mangold’s strengths and just cut out as much of the action as possible, maybe emphasize Indy’s doddering senior-citizen status and all; the bad back, the steelplated knees, the nine bullet wounds. Have him do stunts that an eighty year old can believably do (bookcases yes, maybe some walking-stick fencing) and leave most of the running and leaping to Helen and her young pickpocket/car-thief/sidekick Teddy Kumar (Ethann Isidore).

Indy can complain about ‘damned kids’ and maybe discuss his digestive issues in detail– the chronic constipation, the occasional bouts of diarrhea thanks to a diet of worms and bugs and expired mystery meat (don’t get me started on mystery meat– your best chance at guessing its true identity comes, you might say, at the end).
And Indy can grouse all he likes about his son Mutt. Yes we’ve heard about how actor Shia LaBeouf has real-life issues with anger management, instability, substance abuse; that’s actually not a problem but a perfect way to introduce the character. Mutt popping up in Indy’s life strung out on drugs would be the archetypal ’60s thing to do, not to mention a more interesting issue than Archimedes’ dial with all its ‘mysterious powers’ (my unpopular opinion is that ‘mysterious powers’ have been done to death in these movies.

In Raiders they’re an elaborate imitation of the wraiths that flit about Bald Mountain in Disney’s Fantasia (which itself was inspired by Murnau’s masterpiece Faust); in Temple of Doom they’re limited to a brief attempt at open-heart surgery (a hilarious metaphor for George Lucas’ divorce proceedings, and yet another reason why I like this second installment best despite the racism); in The Last Crusade it’s the relatively restrained image of a lonely armored figure guarding a collection of cups for hundreds of years (one of several reasons this is my second favorite of the franchise); in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull it’s a giant digitally rendered saucer rising to the air, sucking up most of of the movie’s budget in its wake).

Besides, the dial turns out to have a hidden purpose devised by Archimedes that overturns Voller’s or Indy’s intentions, whatever they may be.

Couldn’t Mutt and Indy hash out their absent father/rebel son issues on some college campus, in the middle of an anti-war demonstration– have Mutt race around in a love bug and Indy do wheelies on a wheelchair while evading the campus police? Couldn’t they practice free love in some Greenwich Village crash pad with a pair of archeological groupies, come together over a bong, maybe?

What we get– including the linute surprise guest who yes, is a genuine regular in the original series– works out fine, is actually fairly moving thanks to Mangold’s skill with drama and light comedy (the closing scene based on a routine from the original Raiders), but the finale comes after a wearying series of big-budgeted battles and mostly digitized bloodshed. The movie that lives in my mind rent-free plays more to everyone’s strength, and sounds a helluva lot more fun.

Extras include feature length documentary broken down into featurettes. and trailer. ( –Noel Vera)

Joy Ride (Blu-ray)

Lionsgate

Nothing says “summer fun” like gathering your friends and going on a road trip. It’s never the destination as much as the company — well, except for when your road trip is an international journey to close a major deal while finding your birth mother during your first visit to your home country.

Joy Ride is a raunchy, joyful, and extremely unfiltered R-rated comedy from first-time feature film screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao that punches hard from the first scene.

Under the direction of Adele Lim, the witty and wild ensemble of Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Sabrina Wu, and Stephanie Hsu balances lewd antics with sincerity in what is surely the best ensemble comedy in years.

Longtime best friends Audrey (Park) and Lolo (Cola) have differing levels of excitement to travel to Beijing.

Audrey is stressed by a significant opportunity to advance at her law firm that is tied to her status as the only Asian woman at the bro-filled office (nevermind that she knows little about her birth country and nothing of her adopted mother).

Lolo, a free-spirited but struggling artist, can’t wait to act as a translator for her friend while pursuing a promising side piece overseas.

The flashbacks of the two show an all too familiar tale of diverging goals.

Audrey is in all of the clubs, the honor societies, and embodies a “model minority” stereotype. Lolo bucks the system and convention at every turn, from her lack of financial independence (she lives in a tiny house in Audrey’s backyard) to her sexually explicit artwork.

Together, they are a perfect duo. But when we start adding more personalities, tensions arise and loyalties are tested.

On Lolo’s end, she immediately breaks her vow to focus on Audrey by inviting her K-pop loving socially awkward cousin Deadeye (Wu), along for the journey. Audrey is completely weirded out, but she has her own addition to the crew as her college roommate Kat (Hsu) has now become a major Chinese television star. Kat and Lolo are immediately threatened by each other but their snappy barbs fly in Chinese to make sure Audrey only sees the best in both. Deadeye is just happy to be along for the ride, and Wu’s straight-man comic relief provides some of the best laughs and warmest moments.

What begins in earnest as a professional business trip with a take-your-friend-to-work vibe quickly devolves into a comedy of errors filled with sex, drugs, a Baron Davis cameo, more drugs, some VERY surprising ink, a K-pop cover and one of the best twists I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s doubtful that you’ll see it coming, but it sets the film off down a surprising but rewarding path.

Every sight gag and dick joke lands, upping the bar for the next laugh. This is a dynamic foursome that manages to shine individually while seamlessly giving air to each other when needed. As the story gets more ludicrous the heartfelt bonds of sisterhood, chosen family, and self-discovery keep the audience grounded in the relationship between the 4 women. The film flies by, but the pacing deserves an award all its own. Clocking in at well under two hours, every scene feels needed and there isn’t a moment where the story drags while shifting from comedy to drama and back again.

Joy Ride gives the audience an experience deeply rooted in culture, from female friendships to transracial adoptions to Chinese family relations. Lim carefully guides the cast through the stellar script, making what could be a Road Trip style farce into something more earnest and entertaining than viewers will be expecting.

Extras include featurettes, deleted scene, and trailer.  (– Kristen Halbert)

Rock Around the Clock (Blu-ray)

Sony

Rock Around the Clock captures the essence of a pivotal moment in music history when rock ‘n’ roll burst onto the scene and forever changed the way people listened to and danced to music. The movie is a delightful journey back in time and a celebration of the infectious energy of rock ‘n’ roll.

The story revolves around the orchestra manager Steve Hollis, brilliantly portrayed by the charismatic Johnny Johnston. Steve’s realization that big-band music is losing its appeal and that the younger generation craves something fresh and invigorating sets the stage for the film’s central theme.

As Steve and his companion Corny, played by the affable and talented character actor Henry Slate, embark on their journey to discover the next big thing in music, they stumble upon a small town called Strawberry Springs.

Here, they witness a cultural phenomenon in the making – a local band led by Bill Haley and His Comets, who are pioneering the new sound of rock ‘n’ roll. The scene at the Town Hall is electrifying, and the young audience’s excitement is palpable.

The film beautifully captures the transition not just in music but in dancing as well. The introduction of new dance styles by the siblings Lisa and Jimmy Johns (Lisa Gaye and Earl Barton) adds an extra layer of vibrancy to the story. The enthusiasm and creativity of the characters showcase the dynamism and innovation that rock ‘n’ roll brought to American culture.

The heart of the film lies in the transformation that Steve envisions for the band and their dancers. His recognition of the potential of this new music genre is portrayed with passion and enthusiasm. The portrayal of the business side of the music industry, including the dealings with top agent Corinne Talbot (Alix Talton), adds depth to the narrative. The tension between Steve’s passion for the music and his blossoming romance with Lisa John creates a compelling dynamic.

One of the standout aspects of “the film is its stellar soundtrack featuring the iconic title track, performed by Bill Haley and His Comets. The film’s music is a driving force that encapsulates the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, and it perfectly complements the plot.

Rock Around the Clock is a joyous cinematic celebration of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, featuring charismatic performances, a foot-tapping soundtrack, and a story that captures the essence of a musical revolution. Extras include an audio commentary. This film is a testament to the enduring power of music and the timeless appeal of a genre that continues to influence and shape our culture. ( – Stefan Blitz)

The Flash (4K UHD)

Warner Bros.

Warning: plot discussed in explicit detail

Was The Flash a waste of time? I don’t know.

Some good things: Sasha Calle is a fresh charismatic face as Kara. She recalls Bruce Wayne’s reluctant admiration of her cousin in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns: “There’s just the sun and the sky and him, like he’s the only reason it’s all here”– only she doesn’t ruin anything by talking; unlike her cousin she’s a newly hatched chick who can go either way, deadly or demure, perhaps a combination of both.

Michael Keaton– welcome back, even if that’s a stunt double doing your action sequences for you. Lined faces with wary eyes are a rare gift in comic book movies today, the creases having only deepened after almost thirty years. A lot of history is evoked thru surrounding details– the cobwebs, the neglect, the airless feel of a life the world has left behind.

Michael Gough’s Alfred is remembered through a faded photograph; the weight of Bruce’s isolation is implied in throwaway words, that Gotham “is one of the safest cities in the world.” Again recall Frank Miller’s comic, and Dr. Wolper’s lunatic theory that the public psyche is “a vast moist membrane” which Batman has dealt “a vicious blow…a whole generation of young people will be bent to the matrix of Batman’s pathological self-delusion.” What if Wolper was right all along? Does Bruce brood over his city, knowing his absence keeps things quiet, the tone of his deliberately hidden life informed by the passing of his one remaining surrogate parent? I feel a whole world of story in this brief passage, and keeping it brief only makes the teasing glimpse all the more memorable.

As for Ezra Miller– yes he’s a creep and a jerk; his performance onscreen tho sells the movie, from comic white-collar worker perennially late for his day job to annoying adolescent hyped at the idea of becoming a superhero to griefstricken son mourning his beloved mother. Whole plot hinges on whether or not we believe these incarnations of Barry Allen through differing points along his timeline; some won’t, can’t blame them for it, but I do, and I suspect Miller (Ezra not Frank) was instrumental.

The story–well Dr. Who dealt with the premise before, in Nick Hurran’s “The Day of the Doctor” (from a script by Steven Moffat) and “Father’s Day;” before that there’s Shane Carruth’s extraordinary (and extraordinarily low-cost) Primer, and before that Robert Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps” (Carruth’s is arguably the most intricate, Heinlein’s arguably the earliest, Moffat’s the funniest). The script by Christina Hodson is a streamlined version of Geoff Johns’ Flashpoint comic series– have not read them, but based on the screenplay it’s a reasonably entertaining example of the subgenre.

Arguably the weakest link in this (when you think about it) fairly solid daisy chain of talent is Andy Muschietti’s direction. Saw his horror short Mama, liked it; not a fan of the feature based on that short (even with Guillermo del Toro producing). Have not caught the It adaptations, but from what I’ve seen he doesn’t have a distinct enough visual style to make the whole shebang take flight. Allen running on his Speed Force looks faintly ridiculous, with Miller miming a leisurely loping gait and the whole world whizzing by as if on rear projection (or the digital equivalent); the orb that forms round Allen representing his diverging timelines is an intriguing initial image, but when orbs from alternate universes arrive and start colliding with each other the whole thing feels like a battle of multi-colored disco balls, or a deleted scene involving 3D holograms from Logan’s Run.

Too bad so close, but the sight of Keaton’s grizzled mug prompts me to think about what remains my favorite superhero movie of any universe (take a wild effing guess). Whereas The Flash ends in a brutal twenty-minute (feels like an hour) desert showdown between Kryptonians and the US military, Batman Returns strings along a series of visual gags (a Batarang strikes down three thugs, is captured by a dolled-up poodle; a deviled clown spews fire at bystanders– Batman spins his vehicle around, roasts the horned creature where he stands with the car exhaust) that carom into the next plot point. It’s almost as if Tim Burton wasn’t really interested in fist fights or plot (insert horrified emoji here) so much as he’s interested in gags like clockwork toys marching straight out of a boy’s nightmare, a gothic mix of the grotesque and the childlike. When bat meets cat, Burton kicks things up a notch: suddenly the fights are frankly sexual encounters, Bruce and Selina flirting and sparring like screwball comedy lovers with martial-arts training. Returns‘ ending doesn’t make a lick of sense but I suspect it isn’t meant to; we’re in love with the characters (or at least I am), and all we want is some kind of apotheosis for each according to his or her spirit animal: for the penguin, an icewater grave, for the cat a drastically reduced (but stubbornly viable) lifespan, for the bat eternal damnation.

Extras include featurettes, deleted scenes, and previews from a Flash scripted podcast.

The Flash for all I know is the DCU’s (or Warner/Discovery’s) $220 million idea of what passes for entertainment. Returns offers Burton’s idiosyncratic take: an alternate universe where digital effects are minimal and visual texture gorgeous; an alternate universe where logic is shoved out a high window and bats and cats and penguins reign supreme, exchanging comic banter and karate blows and kisses like they mean it. Now that’s a world worth altering one’s timeline for.   (– Noel Verra)

Insidious: The Red Door (Blu-ray)

Sony

Insidious: The Red Door is a disappointing addition to the horror franchise that fails to recapture the terror and intrigue of its predecessors.

Despite the return of the original cast, this supposed final chapter of the Lambert family’s saga feels more like a desperate attempt to milk a dying franchise for one last drop of profit.

The plot is a convoluted mess that tries to delve deeper into the mythology of The Further, but instead, it ends up making the whole concept even more confusing and less compelling. The decision to focus on Josh (Patrick Wilson) and a college-aged Dalton (Ty Simkins) might have been an interesting twist if it were executed well, but their character development is virtually nonexistent. The audience is left with little reason to care about their journey into the netherworld.

The scares in this film are uninspired and often rely on cheap jump scares and loud noises to elicit a reaction from the audience. The tension and atmosphere that made the original Insidious so effective are largely absent here. It’s as if the filmmakers forgot what made the franchise successful in the first place and settled for generic horror tropes.

The introduction of new and more horrifying terrors behind the red door is nothing more than a shallow attempt to up the ante. These new threats lack the uniqueness and creativity that the franchise once possessed. Instead of delivering memorable and chilling entities, we are presented with forgettable monsters and clichéd horror imagery.

Character motivations are murky at best, and it’s hard to invest emotionally in their journey when they make questionable decisions and display inconsistent behavior. The family’s dark past, which is supposed to be a central theme in this film, is explored in a rushed and unsatisfying manner, leaving more questions than answers.

Insidious: The Red Door also suffers from pacing issues, with a sluggish first half that struggles to hold the audience’s attention. By the time the film starts to gain some momentum, it’s too little too late, and the lackluster conclusion fails to deliver any meaningful resolution to the franchise’s overarching storyline.

Extras include two brief featurettes and trailers.

In the end, Insidious: The Red Door is a lackluster and forgettable entry in a once-promising horror series. It relies on tired horror tropes and fails to offer anything new or exciting to fans of the genre. Instead of concluding the Lambert family’s story on a high note, it leaves the audience with a sense of disappointment and missed potential. It’s a sad reminder that not all horror franchises should continue until the bitter end.  ( – Stefan Blitz )

Spider-Man Across The Spider-Verse (4K UHD)

Sony

In Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, celebrity singer and TV host Jason Taverner passes out in a medical facility, having been treated for an attack from a ‘Callisto cuddle sponge,’ a dangerous parasite (alien, judging from the name) thrown at him by a former lover.

He wakes up in a cheap motel, learns he’s not only not famous but his friends don’t know him, and he has no identification papers– dangerous situation in Dick’s version of 1988 United States, where if you can’t prove who you are to one of many police checkpoints in Los Angeles you can be arrested and sent to a forced labor camp.

Slipping past the bonds of reality is a common enough trope in Dick’s novels– in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, police officer Rick Deckard ends up in a police station he’s never heard of, surrounded by androids and accused of being an android himself.

In The Man in the High Castle judo instructor Juliana Frink learns from novelist Hawthorne Abendsen that their world is actually a lie, and in the real world the Japanese and Germans lost World War 2.

Much as I love those titles, they don’t inspire quite the same level of terror as this one does: one moment you’re dying from poisoned tendrils digging into your chest, the next you’re in a world where you literally do not exist. More disturbing I submit than finding yourself on an alien planet: for one you travel to said planet, and the journey helps you prepare for new sights and sounds (okay there’s teleportation, but put that aside a moment); for another you’re not in a totally different environment but a slightly different environment– might take hours even days before you spot the difference.

Helps that Dick takes the time and effort to realize each universe so that there’s a wealth of accumulated details; when the details change, however slightly, your carefully heightened senses are immediately, unaccountably jarred. In Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and the Spider-verse movies, moving across realities is more like channel surfing; you spin your trackball and the screen goes cray-cray. Your reaction to said worlds, the alienation and fear they may possibly provoke don’t matter; anyway, you’re a spider-bitten superhero not a fleshed-out but vulnerable human figure, you can probably handle anything those pesky multiverses can throw at you.

Which is my roundabout way of summing up my feelings about this whole trending thing. Oh, I like Raimi’s loose-limbed funny way with cartoon narratives, and I like Everything Everywhere‘s low-budget aesthetics (though if you want something even lower budget but just as fun I recommend Martika Ramirez Escobar’s Leonor Will Never Die), but my limited reserves of goodwill seem to have run out with these Spider-Verse pics. Not sure why; maybe it’s because unlike in the Spider-Verse movies, I can sense a sensibility shimmering through their shiny surfaces (Raimi’s, the Daniels’, Escobar’s); maybe it’s because the low-budget productions are so wonderfully low-tech (in the Daniels’, weird light effects are achieved through a wheel of spinning light bulbs; in Escobar, a man joins his mother in the next universe by ramming his head into a TV screen).

Maybe it’s because of something Michael Chabon once said in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay: doesn’t matter what the superhero can do, what matters is why he does it. Bruce Wayne’s fascinating because his parents were killed when he was a child, and he’s been fighting that trauma ever since; Bruce Banner is fascinating because he was irradiated by gamma rays, and when he gets angry he loses his sense of self. Peter Parker– at least as Steve Ditko and Stan Lee conceived him– was bitten by a radioactive spider, but that wasn’t what made the character interesting; instead he thought he was on top of the world, a punk with super powers, whereupon his Uncle Ben taught him a different lesson, dying from a gunshot wound Peter failed to prevent.

Morales at least in the movies feels uninteresting, tho not without some charm; yes his uncle dies– but he’s a criminal uncle, and his handsomely chiseled police officer dad and lovely housewife mother are available to provide him unconditional love and support. The family’s dialogue mostly revolves around Mile’s seeming irresponsibility, and Miles’ continued frustration that his parents ‘don’t understand me’– they’ve got the skim-milk wholesomeness of a Disney movie.

Peering at Miles’ Wikipedia entry (have not read the comics), I notice that Miles’ dad was actually a reformed criminal; now that sounds like something the writers can build a more interesting relationship on– but of course these movies are multi-million dollar efforts, hence aimed at the general public including the kids; you can’t afford to present a less-than-perfect role model to kids.

Extras include commentary, featurettes, deleted scene, and lyric videos.

That’s basically it, my gripe against the movie. Would like to note that Daniel Kaluuya’s Spider-Punk and the ’90s Sex Pistol poster visual style surrounding him is a lot of fun, and the watercolor style of Hailee Steinfeld’s Spider-Gwen is appropriately moody– tho with artificial intelligences all the rage today, one wonders if maybe the animators didn’t just mumble into a microphone (“give me watercolors in the style of Bill Sienkiewicz”) and 3D printers did the rest. Unfair, I know, but still. (– Noel Vera)

Stargirl: The Third and Final Season (DVD)

The third season of DC’s Stargirl was a major disappointment. After the first two seasons, which had plenty of excitement and a compelling narrative, the third season lost its way with lackluster storylines and a sense of finality that was ultimately a relief.

The third season fails to deliver on the promise of its premise.

Starman is back from the dead, and he is supposed to train Courtney while she helps him adjust to his new life in Blue Valley.

However, this storyline does not really go anywhere.

Instead, the focus shifts to a murder mystery, and even this plotline fails to really capture the audience’s attention. The ultimate revelation of the mystery is also underwhelming and does not leave the audience with any sense of satisfaction or closure.

The cast uniformly is the best part of the series, with Brec Bassinger, Luke Wilson, and Joel McHale standing out among the ensemble.  Jonathan Cake recurs as the immortal Shade and proves to be the series’ M.V.P., commanding the screen with every moment, providing a voice of authority, humor, and levity.

Unfortunately, Stargirl was never as good as it was during it’s first season and despite being chock full of DC characters (Two teams of Justice Society, The Injustice Society, etc.), the season feels particularly sluggish and uninspired, ultimately failing to leave the audience with any sense of satisfaction and worse, entertainment.  ( – Stefan Blitz)

The Meg 2: The Trench (4K UHD)

Warner Bros.

Some folks may find it hard to believe (having trouble myself) but The Meg and its present sequel Meg 2: The Trench are adapted from a pair of science-fiction novels by Steve Altern, with a possible six more books if this installment makes money (indications suggesting it will).

Adapted by three writers no less, which raises the question: can you even tell?

Meg 2 is a mess, no question of that: a cold open with Jonas (Jason Statham) moonlighting as environmental warrior battling a shipful of radioactive waste polluters that ends with our hero scooped out of hostile waters by a flying amphibian, then dumped into the latest Mana

One expedition exploring deeper regions of the Mariana Trench thermocline, where the megs (short for Otodus megalodon) have been chillin.

The plot developments come fast and confused: turns out Mana One has been studying a captive meg named Haiqi, who breaks out of her enclosure and heads towards the thermocline, probably to mate; turns out the Mana One research facility has become a cover for illegal mining operations (rare earth elements crucial to tech including computers, radars, lasers, sonars); turns out select staff in Mana One are collaborating with mercenaries not just to extract rare earths but kill anyone that finds out.

Some of this is from Altern’s book, some likely additions to showcase Statham’s martial arts and kickboxing skills (he’s executive producer) since martial arts and kickboxing aren’t effective against 75-foot sharks but do work fine against armed goons. Billionaire media mogul Li Ruigang’s China Media Capital co-produced so a handful of Altern’s characters have been converted from Japanese to Chinese (including actor and martial artist Wu Jing (Tai Chi Boxer, The Wandering Earth) as Jiuming Zhang, present owner of Mana One), and much of the dialogue is in subtitled Mandarin. Yes the movie opens wide in American theaters but the market the movie’s really eyeing is China.

If the script resembles some stitched-together Frankenwhopper creature don’t be too surprised; what is surprising is seeing Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field in England, In the Earth, High Rise) in the director’s seat. Apparently Wheatley was tired of dark and depressing and wanted to do something different; the producers in turn saw Wheatley’s Free Fire and wanted for their sequel that kind of fast-paced free-for-all.

So once more into the trench my friends, with a diverse (read: motley) cast and crew out to achieve who knows what– somewhere past the halfway point you start to suspect they haven’t the faintest idea either.

Doesn’t start well: for the first hour we watch Wheatley struggle with big budgeted underwater effects a la The Abyss, and remember why James Cameron spent 47 million in 1989 dollars or $115 million today (some say $70 million or $170 million today) and over a year of his life on the production: underwater action is difficult to film and often looks unthreateningly slow on the big screen. This murky poorly lit first half is punctuated with scenes of our hero taking out mercenaries here and there, the high point being Statham deliberately breathing in water prior to swimming out an airlock without diving equipment– you’re again reminded of The Abyss which in turn quotes a similar Hail Mary gambit in 2001: A Space Odyssey— the hero ventures out into hostile environment practically naked, in the hopes of being born again.

Jonas succeeds and so improbably does the movie. Tossing plausibility out the window (or rather blowing it out an airlock) liberates Wheatley into having fun– and whaddaya know we end up in Fun Island (actually a beach in Thailand) where not one but three megs hunt shapely swimmers in scanty g-strings through shallow water, mercenaries shoot at good guys, and nasty velociraptorlike creatures called Snappers chase the slow and incautious. Oh, and a giant octopus freshly escaped from Robert Altman’s production of Popeye threatens everyone else.

It’s silly summer fun that recalls the chaos of Wheatley’s own Free Fire, only with teeth and tentacles replacing high-velocity ammunition. Characterization and dramatic exposition is kept at minimum but the movie does play up the easy camaraderie struck between Statham’s Jonas and Sophia Cai’s Meiying, the little girl in the original Meg grown into awkward tweener. One noticed a lot of affection between the two as co-conspirators in the first movie, whispering sophisticated adult banter at each other when no one else was listening; here the dynamic has become exasperated teen against helicoptering parent but the banter is no less funny and no less heartfelt– an odd nevertheless refreshing little detail in a noisy production about monster sharks.

Other holdovers from the original Meg have also, improbably, developed a character arc: Cliff Curtis’ Mac Mackreides turns into an unlikely action hero, fighting off Snappers and taking the bad guys’ escape chopper up in an attempt to rescue an endangered Meiying; Page Kennedy’s DJ, once a helpless shrieker who couldn’t even swim, is Mac’s equally unlikely action-movie buddy, kickboxing goons and toting a small emergency pouch complete with .50 caliber pistol and a strip of foiled Trojans.

Even Wheatley arcs a little over the course of the picture, from overwhelmed big budget director to subversive shitkicker shaking off his various executive producers and having the time of his life restaging highlights from favorite film: Jurassic Park and The Lost World (the opening beach sequence, the Snappers); Jaws (the creature stalking unwary swimmers from below, Jonas sliding down an upended pier into a shark’s wide-open jaws); Deep Blue Sea (“You can relax…this place? Meg proof.”); even Clash of the Titans (“Release the Kraken!”). One is reminded of Hong Kong action pics that drag in every genre under the sun to help satisfy the audience’s many whims: the scuba divers, the jet skiers, the kickboxers, the kaiju freaks, even parents toting their kids to the movies (“See that? She’s obeying her father after all”).

Extras include two featurettes.

In no sane universe can I even begin to say this is good or even enjoyable (that first hour!) but for the masochistic and perverse you may find yourself unexpectedly rewarded. (­ – Noel Vera)

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (4K UHD)

Sony

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is an absolute travesty of a horror film, one that fails on virtually every level. This pathetic attempt at a sequel to the already mediocre I Know What You Did Last Summer is a textbook example of everything that can go wrong with horror movies.

From its uninspired plot to its laughable attempts at scares, this film is an exercise in tedium and predictability.

A year after the events of the first film, we are once again subjected to the tormented life of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character, Julie James. Her trauma from the previous film is stretched beyond any reasonable measure, and it’s just painful to watch. Instead of any character growth or development, we’re forced to endure her constant whining and fear. This time, her inexplicable decision to go on a vacation to the Bahamas with her friends strains the limits of credulity.

Why would anyone with her history willingly put themselves in such a vulnerable position? It’s a contrived setup that reeks of desperation to keep the story going.

The return of Muse Watson’s Ben Willis is nothing short of absurd. Somehow, he survives being run over and then hooks his way into another movie. The entire premise is laughable, and the film’s attempts to explain his survival are downright insulting to anyone with a shred of intelligence. It’s a lazy plot device used to milk the franchise for all it’s worth, and it fails miserably.

The so-called “scary” elements in the film are so clichéd and telegraphed that they elicit more eye rolls than screams. The threatening notes Julie receives are a weak attempt at building tension, and they only serve to remind the audience of how far this film falls from its genre’s classics. The scares are so formulaic that it’s hard to take them seriously.

The characters in this movie are one-dimensional, and the cast’s performances are lackluster at best. Jennifer Love Hewitt, who showed promise in earlier roles, is reduced to a caricature of a horror movie victim, while returning cast members Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar walk through their underwritten roles. Brandy and Mekhi Phifer are given little to work with in terms of character development, and their performances suffer as a result.

Extras include commentary, interview, featurette, trailer, and music video.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is a prime example of Hollywood’s penchant for milking a successful idea until it’s been drained of all creativity and originality. This sequel is nothing more than a cheap cash grab that tarnishes the memory of its already underwhelming predecessor. It’s a forgettable and utterly regrettable entry in the horror genre, and it should be avoided at all costs.  ( – Stefan Blitz)

The Legend of Zorro (4K UHD)

Sony

The Mask of Zorro was a surprise hit in 1997 when it paired the simmering sex appeal of leads Antonio Banderas and then unknown Catherine Zeta-Jones with the assured action direction of GoldenEye director Martin Campbell. It was a throwback genre film updated successfully with a modern sensibility: smart, sexy, and with a winning hint of malice that made a swashbuckler feel contemporary to the audience.

Eight years later they made a sequel, The Legend of Zorro and while the film retains almost all the principal creative team from the original and made its money back at the box office it has almost entirely fallen out of the public consciousness. Why?

For me, the problems begin at the screenplay level: First, The Mask of Zorro was built around the sexual tension between its leading actors, but they finished the film married and awaiting a child.

There’s no way to replicate the same animal danger between a couple that has become thoroughly domesticated.They attempt to rectify this by introducing a contrived separation and a romantic rival for Banderas in Rufus Sewell’s Count Armand but it never plays believably because it’s stretched out too long. In any adventure film we rationally know that the good guys will prevail and the hero will get the girl.

Goldfinger could get audiences to be afraid that the villain would bisect Bond for two minutes, but if they had stretched the scene to an hour the tension is probably not sustainable.

Secondly, the first film was a training montage film like many martial arts pictures or Rocky where the old Zorro mentored Banderas’ bandit into heroism and the promise of revenge taken with honor over the course of the film. This is a sure fire way to get the audience invested in the hero and his journey but again, by the end of the film he’s Zorro and he’s learned everything there is to learn about being Zorro.

There’s no easy fix for this one, and the film only compounds the issue by being much more talky and slower paced than its predecessor. As so much of the script is dedicated to Zeta-Jones’ Elena and whether she is or is not going to return to Alejandro as well as the villains’ plot to keep California from becoming a state there’s a lot less room for free wheeling action scenes and the film suffers from it.  Extras include audio commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes and trailers.

Still, I like the way it leans more heavily into the iconography of the Western given that its set in the 1850’s and it still retains much of the charm of the original. Unfortunately the film lacks the original’s spark of magic and only suffers from comparison. ( – Will McGuire)

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (Blu-ray)

Universal

Some of us went through high school as the princesses, and some of us went through thinking we were the monsters. In this latest coming-of-age tale from DreamWorks Animation, Ruby Gillman (Lana Condor) knows exactly which one she is. When trying to live out your teenage years hiding with your family of mythical sea creatures, it’s hard to channel anything but “different”. With help from all corners of the ocean, Ruby realizes that accepting and celebrating her unique traits is the only way she can save everything she loves in the above-ocean world.

She may have gills but Ruby is a perfectly wonderful ball of awkward human teen angst. Sighs and cringes abound when she is talking to her parents, but Ruby stumbles over her limited words when trying to ask out her crush, Connor (Jaboukie Young-White). Does it matter that she finds prom “a post-colonial, patriarchal construct”? Not as much as if she finds a date.

All of the classic teen notes are there from mother-daughter tension to testing boundaries to social media storms. Each is translated into a kraken-friendly version: while some teens try to stay out past curfew, Ruby’s boundary is an all-out ban on touching the ocean from her mother (Toni Collette), lest her powers become known to everyone. The jump from this ridiculous rule (they live in a seaside town!) to an act of rebellion is not that far. While preteen and younger viewers will be on the edges of their seat, parents may find the story sweet but very predictable.

The voice cast is strong, ranging from Sam Richardson of  I Think You Should Leave to Annie Murphy of Schitt’s Creek fame to the iconic Jane Fonda as Grandmama. Fonda brings a strength and sassiness to her portrayal of the warrior queen of the krakens, and has some great one-liners to illustrate her hard-nosed positions, like “Mermaids are selfish, vain, narcissists with mediocre hair.” For her own part, Murphy shines as Chelsea Van Der Zee, the Regina George of mermaids. She gives sugar & spice right up to the climax.

The script is light so everyone feels like they are having a bit of fun with it. Given the gentler touch on some potentially heavy topics, there are many opportunities for building on the more introspective moments with your kids after the credits roll. Pixar’s Turning Red certainly seems to have set off a series of teen animated films for the under-12 set.

Extras include audio commentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes.  The film covers intergenerational strife, self-esteem, trust issues, and more.

There is a fair amount of symbolism that may go over the heads of younger viewers, however, friendly ocean designs and a feel-good soundtrack works out for everyone. For their first female leading feature, Dreamworks only wades into the shallow end but sometimes that’s where the most fun is had.  (– Kristen Halbert)

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (Blu-ray)

Sony

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is an absolute train wreck of a horror movie that not even the most dedicated fans of the genre can salvage. This film, the third installment in the I Know What You Did Last Summer franchise, is so incredibly terrible that it makes you wish you could unsee it. The fact that none of the original actors returned should have been a warning sign, but the lack of talent in front of the camera is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this disaster of a movie.

The film attempts to rehash the same tired formula as its predecessors, with a group of teens covering up a terrible secret and then being stalked by a mysterious killer. But this time, the writers decided to set the story in Broken Ridge, Colorado, and center it around a Fourth of July prank gone wrong. The result is a plot that’s so laughably unoriginal and predictable that it’s impossible to take seriously.

The characters are one-dimensional at best, and it’s nearly impossible to care about their fate.

Amber, Colby, Zoe, Roger, and PJ are nothing more than cardboard cutouts who exist solely to be terrorized by the laughably generic, hooded menace. The film’s attempt to create tension within their group is ham-fisted at best, and the dialogue is so cringe-worthy that it’s hard to believe that anyone actually approved it.

The absence of the original cast is keenly felt, as the new ensemble are simply not up to the task. Their performances range from wooden to downright terrible, and you’ll find yourself wishing for the charisma of the original cast to bring some life to this lifeless mess of a movie.

The scares in I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer are about as scary as a fluffy bunny. The film relies on jump scares and cheap tricks to try and frighten the audience, but it’s all so predictable and poorly executed that you’ll find yourself rolling your eyes instead of cowering in fear.

To make matters worse, the identity of the killer is painfully obvious from the get-go, and the film doesn’t even try to build any real suspense or mystery. It’s as if the filmmakers weren’t even trying, and they expected the audience to be too dumb to figure it out.

In conclusion, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is a complete waste of time and money. It’s a slap in the face to fans of the original film, and it’s a testament to everything that can go wrong with a horror movie. If you’re looking for a genuinely scary and well-crafted horror film, look elsewhere, because this one is a total dud. Don’t waste your time or your sanity on this abomination of a movie.  ( – Stefan Blitz)

After Dark, My Sweet (Blu-ray)

Kino Lorber

Of the great noir writers, none was more ruthless than Jim Thompson who set up shop in the intersection of mentally damaged men and ruthless women and churned out American classics like The Killer Inside Me and Pop. 1280. During the noir revival of the 80’s, director James Foley adapted one of his best novels, After Dark, My Sweet and basically updated the cars and haircuts and nothing else. The resulting film is a powerful, uncompromising, noir that unfortunately didn’t find an audience in its day and stands as an example of that backhanded compliment: “hidden gem.”

After Dark… stars Jason Patric (Narc) as “Kid” Collins a mentally damaged former prizefighter who becomes infatuated by a seductive widow, Fay (Rachel Ward), and allows himself to be drawn into a scheme from her friend Uncle Bud (the great Bruce Dern) to kidnap the scion of a wealthy family for quick cash.

The magic of the film is the mental war between Collins and Bud with Fay running interference for control of the plan, and how Collins gradually reveals himself to the audience and his co-conspirators as far more adept and insightful than he appeared to be. Patric’s performance is stellar: alternately vulnerable and determined he continually finds ways to surprise the audience and brilliantly conveys that something is wrong without ever overplaying it. Again and again what draws me into noir is the ambiguity: of motive, of control, of meaning. The facts of this film’s plot are so simple that they can be relayed in a couple sentences but what makes the film come alive is how each audience member is allowed to “translate” Collins’ actions and develop their own picture of what may or may not be running through his head at any given moment.

Collins seems like a natural patsy to Dern’s Uncle Bud, but over the course of the action of the film he turns the tables several times until his would-be manipulators find themselves hemmed in by his physicality and will and must begin taking actions to protect themselves behind his back. Incredible suspense is generated when their plans are defused and they return to this patronizing prattle to try and calm Collins down, as his capacity for sudden violence ticks upwards like a bomb that will inevitably go off.

All of this leads to a series of pleasing ironic reversals in one of the tightest third acts I can remember: planners are revealed to be amateurs, femme fatales are broken women trying to defend themselves, and as in all noir, good people get destroyed for doing the right thing.Extras include commentary, interviews with Patric and Dern, and a trailer.

An American crime classic. Highly recommended.  (­– Will McGuire)

Palmetto (Blu-ray)

Palmetto, the captivating neo-noir film, directed by Volker Schlöndorff, is a thrilling adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s 1961 novel Just Another Sucker.

The movie stars Woody Harrelson as Harry Barber, a good-hearted man who attempts to embrace a life of crime but finds it more challenging than he could ever imagine.

The film unfolds in the sultry town of Palmetto, where Harry has just been released from prison, serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. Despite his bitterness and disillusionment, the only thing keeping him in Palmetto is his devoted girlfriend, Nina, portrayed brilliantly by Gina Gershon. However, Harry’s life takes an unexpected turn when he encounters Rhea Malroux, played by the enigmatic Elisabeth Shue. Rhea offers him a deal that becomes increasingly difficult for him to refuse, setting the stage for a web of intrigue, suspense, and moral dilemmas.

Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Harry Barber is nothing short of remarkable, as he delves into the character’s inner turmoil and complex emotions. Gina Gershon’s performance as Nina adds depth to the emotional stakes, making the audience care deeply about the characters’ fates. Meanwhile, Elisabeth Shue’s Rhea is captivating and mysterious, introducing a layer of tension and unpredictability to the plot.

Palmetto skillfully creates a neo-noir atmosphere with its dark and sultry setting, shadowy characters, and a plot that’s rife with double-crosses and suspenseful moments. The film pays homage to classic film noir while still feeling fresh and original in its execution.

The screenplay by E. Max Frye, is sharp and engaging, with dialogue that crackles and keeps the audience engrossed in the characters’ moral dilemmas. As Harry’s commitment to staying honest is constantly tested, the film navigates through a series of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end.  The lone extra is the trailer.

For fans of crime fiction, Palmetto is a must-watch, as it successfully translates the essence of the source material onto the screen, capturing the novel’s intriguing characters and dark, sultry atmosphere. With strong performances by the ensemble cast and a suspenseful storytelling style, the film is a hidden gem that leaves a lasting impression, making you ponder its themes long after the credits roll.  ( – Stefan Blitz)

Wichita (Blu-ray)

Wichita is the prototypical B-western, with a twist.

Hollywood produced literally hundreds of Westerns from the dawn of the studio system, but by 1955 they were facing competition for the first time from television, which allowed millions of people to experience the Western heroes they loved for free every week. Wichita, directed by studio stalwart Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past), stands as a prime example of how Hollywood planned to compete with this new enemy within.

Each and every shot in Wichita is built around maximizing two technical advantages that television wouldn’t have enjoyed: Technicolor and CinemaScope. Now, neither innovation was new for this film but the application of both to what was otherwise a bog standard B-western is a sign of how Hollywood was planning to differentiate its own product from the television westerns that were already buoying nightly schedules.

Thematically, Wichita is pretty standard.

It mythologizes Wyatt Earp’s time in Kansas painting the titular town as a kind of proto-Vegas ensconced in sin and lawlessness and supported by a collection of roughnecks and land barons. There is none of the modern complexity we associate with portrayals of Earp: he literally materializes from the ether at twilight and rides back off into it. He is not a person, so much as an archetype of decency and will that tamed the West from opportunists and cads. He’s as mythic in morality as he is in everything else: he refuses to accept death as a natural consequence of quelling the town, and even the life he takes feels like a minor defeat.

Joel McCrea plays Earp in much the mold of a Randolph Scott hero in a Ranown western. He’s supported by a young Vera Miles, and I kept watching her wondering if this was the film where she caught Hitchcock’s eye and he decided she was to be his next “project.” Lloyd Bridges and Jack Elam are perfectly cast as wild guns.

What is worth talking about most here is photography: ever shot in conceptualized and storyboarded to maximize the CinemaScope format’s panoramic vistas and most of them are also staged to maximize the reds and yellows of the vivid technicolor against the greenish-blue of the night skies and the beige desert vistas. Even dialogue scenes which ought to be so bland they escape all memory are framed in medium length so as to allow the actors to be filmed in the wide. And when the action is deployed Tourneur’s wonderful economy, which again recalls Boetticher’s Ranown Westerns to this critic, produces death as fast as any samurai’s sword.  Extras include two vintage Tex Avery animated shorts.

When we talk about the great aspects of the studio system, too often we focus on outliers: Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain, The Searchers and it takes films like this to remind the true virtue of the studio system was that all the best talent in the world were herded into move making factory and for a time, made so many great films that it feels like no one could remember them all. (– Will McGuire)

Blue Beetle (4K UHD)

Warner Bros.

When I was a kid, I actually discovered the Blue Beetle before I ever even saw a Batman comic book.

This was Charlton’s rather bland “Dan Garrett” version of the character who was first created as a Green Hornet clone way back in the late 1930s. Bland or not, I liked the blue-suited superhero. I liked him even more when Steve Ditko and writer Joe Gill completely reinvented and redesigned the character.

In fact, I still consider the costume of the “Ted Kord” Blue Beetle to be one of the best-designed super suits of them all!

Both Dan Garrett and Ted Kord turned up in various places through the years, especially after being assimilated by DC Comics and, in the post-Crisis world of the mid-80s being set in the main DCU. This allowed for the latter to be prominently featured as a long-running character in the Justice League. That is, until he was murdered.

This being comics, that was hardly the end for Ted, but it did eventually lead to the creation of yet another newer version of the character, this time a young Mexican-American man named Jaime Reyes, who found a piece of alien tech that resembled an Egyptian scarab and was empowered by it—as well as given one of those complicated, hard to draw outfits so popular in comics and comics-related movies these days.

Speaking of movies, that’s where the Jaime Reyes Beetle has been seen most recently, in DC’s 2023 movie, The Blue Beetle. I am sorry to say I may never remember the name of the actor who plays Jaime—Xolo Mariduena—because I am old and it’s hard. I’ll remember the actor, though, as he is handsome, charismatic, and heroic throughout.

The Blue Beetle is about family. It’s about Jaime’s family but it’s also about the Kord family. Victoria Kord has inherited the late Ted Kord’s tech company and has finally found the alien scarab she can use to create an army of OMACs—as in Jack Kirby’s One-Man Army Corps. The problem comes when Jaime falls for Jennifer Kord and Jenny steals the scarab to prevent her power-mad aunt from succeeding.

Jaime just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and Jenny hands it to him to keep ‘til she comes for it. Only the scarab “chooses” Jaime and begins to symbiotically bond with him. The rest of the movie deals with Victoria and her goonish right-hand man attempting to steal it back—even if that means killing Jaime.

But despite all the loud explosions and property destruction, that’s not what this picture is about. As I said, it’s about family. The Beetle character is incidental as it’s Jaime we are led to care about. We meet his sister, his parents, his wonderful grandmother, and best of all, his looney Uncle Rudy (or Cesar if you don’t know him well). In Latino culture, family means everything, and that’s shown here as every single family member plays a major role in the picture, and not just as victims! The love between all of the characters is evident, even if a somewhat surprising number of Latino stereotypes creeps in.

Toward the end, even Victoria’s big ol’ bad guy minion, by that point in an Iron Man-like suit of his own, gets humanized as we see flashbacks to his family as well.

Besides our wonderful lead actor, Susan Sarandon is marvelously villainous as the conscienceless Victoria Kord, and George Lopez is both funny and impressive as the crazy Uncle we all have somewhere in our family trees.  Extras include several short featurettes.

As DC superhero movies go, The Blue Beetle is one of the better ones I’ve seen and recent reports are that Xolo Mariduena will be back. An end-credits scene neatly sets up what looks like a fascinating sequel idea. I hope we get to see that plot!  Booksteve ( – Steven Thompson)

The Exorcist: 50th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD)

Warner Bros.

The Exorcist is usually presented in the context of the reputation it received in its initial 1973 theatrical release: as the scariest movie ever made.

I want to avoid that conversation for two reasons: First, given how visceral horror films have become in the fifty years since its release, anyone looking for the most extreme horror film ever made from this film is going to be disappointed.

Second, and more importantly, because The Exorcist is a much heartier stew than just a horror film, and its primary concern is not to scare the audience but to depict the struggle to believe in a materialist, reductionist, world.

The Exorcist takes seriously questions of religious faith in a world that is spiritually bankrupt, and to participate in that faith through a Church that all too often seems to be as frail, fallen, and materialistic as the rest of society.

Part of growing into adulthood is opening our eyes to the depth of human suffering and, as we do, we must decide whether we believe that suffering precludes the existence of God or whether that suffering has a context and meaning in an objective sense. These existential concerns are at the center of The Exorcist, and place it more in the family tree of the films of Ingmar Bergman than those of the Universal Monsters.

The universality of this conflict is why the Iraq prologue is so necessary: Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is a Jesuit archeologist who is excavating ruins from the “cradle of civilization” (and the Biblical site of Eden) and encounters a nameless evil. In a few scenes, mostly without dialogue and hypnotically photographed, we get the sense of its age, malice, and power. From the moment we see it stop a clock’s pendulum: representing both its agelessness and power beyond the technical prowess of mankind, we know that there’s a battle coming between this grizzled old priest and this force of evil.

We cut from desolate, alien Iraq to Georgetown in the 1970’s and from the archeological dig of Father Merrin to a Hollywood picture being filmed on campus starring Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn).  No one in MacNeil’s world has any concrete beliefs: exhibiting outward success and living deep seated insecurity, barely repressed rage, and substance abuse. The liberal priest who totally gets that organized religion isn’t your thing sings show tunes after he’s had a few too many. The director is an alcoholic and a libertine. The ideals of the film they’re making are in style this season and will be dated in three months.

And then Chris’ daughter Regan (Linda Blair) gets sick, and she won’t get well.

The persistence and severity of her illness shatter all the comfortable layers of fat that have insulated these people from the primal questions of life. Money and fame won’t help. The best scientists and doctors are baffled. No treatment can be found which is bad enough, but even worse the nature of the problem cannot be articulated and elements of it witnessed by the mother will not be believed because they challenge the comfortable underpinnings of her life so strongly.

Into this wanders Father Karras (Jason Miller), who has burnt out all his passion for his vocation. He’s not just a modern priest, but a priest-psychologist, his existence almost implicitly draws attention to the Church’s waning ability to treat the souls of the people who constitute it. Dealing with not only the death of his mother, but the extreme poverty in which she was treated because he decided to enter the priesthood, Karras listens all day to the neuroses of men, some of whom probably shouldn’t be in the cloth.

Now he’s confronted by the essence of his vocation in the most immediate terms: A soul is suffering. You’re a priest, aren’t you?

Into this heady brew, finally, arrives Father Merrin: genius and priest. For whom there are no doubts– his only weakness is his body. The war is not to drive the demon from the girl, but to summon the mustard seed of faith that would make that task elementary. Exhausted and drained from their first encounter, Karras asks how this could happen and Merrin simply responds: “To make us lose our faith.” For him the background noise of the world cannot cut through what is ancient, constant, eternal. Between Merrin’s will and Karras’ body, you’d have a perfect priest, but this isn’t a perfect world and this film records to the showdown between good and evil in each of us and the capacity of it to transform us if we allow it to.  Extras include theatrical and Extended Director’s cut, and multiple commentaries.

One of the best films about faith ever made.  (– Will McGuire)

Malone (Blu-ray)

Kino Lorber

Burt Reynolds never stopped working.

Looking back from a modern perspective, though, it’s easy to see that his career as a movie star peaked—and peaked as big as they come—from about 1972 to about 1982. Not only did good vehicles start to become few and far between after that but major film projects in general did. For every Boogie Nights (1997), there were a dozen like Cop and a Half or The Maddening. Depending on how you look at it, Malone, released in 1987, was released either at the tail end of the good period or a little way into his lesser period.

In Malone, he’s not the Tonight Show Burt Reynolds and certainly not the Smokey and the Bandit good ol’ boy Burt, nor is it the serious Deliverance Burt. If comparisons have to be made, this is closer to the Sharky’s Machine Burt I guess. He’s tough, he’s stoic. He doesn’t know how to smile.

Malone isn’t his real name.

He’s a retired CIA assassin whose car breaks down in a small town. While waiting for a part to come in to repair it, he’s befriended by the mechanic and his daughter and finds himself getting involved in local dirty politics. Specifically, the town bigshot is trying to force residents to sell to him and intimidates them when they don’t. He also just happens to be the head of a crazy right-wing “patriot” organization.

To complicate matters, as often happens in these types of films, Malone’s former employer doesn’t relish the idea of him out there on his own. When they find out, they send his female ex-partner after him. Instead, she nurses him back to health after the bad guys nearly kill him and then—spoiler—they kill her! Malone had tried to stay out of things but nobody would let him. Now he’s mad.

Despite his rather obvious curly-haired toupee, Burt’s good in Malone, adopting almost a Charles Bronson deadpan style for most of the film. Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson contrasts with a slightly hammy performance (nowhere near as hammy as his “Shame” on TV’s Batman!) as the “patriot” leader that hits a little too close to home in 2023. Lauren Hutton, who had previously co-starred with Burt in Gator, sill shows good chemistry here with him but she isn’t in it enough. Cynthia Gibb, then just coming off her run on the TV series Fame, scores as the mechanic’s young daughter who develops a crush on Malone. A number of other familiar character faces appear, as well, including Tracey Walter and Kenneth McMillan.

My big problem with the picture is the pacing. In the first few minutes, we see our protagonist  failing at his latest assignment, deciding to quit, being told nobody ever just quits, and then his car breaking down many states away out in the country where the broken part conveniently has to be ordered in. I get that you don’t want to wait too long to get to your main plot but that was a tad too quick in my book! Then there are slow sections, sections that feel incomplete, sections that are never resolved such as the organization trying to find him, and what exactly was Cliff Robertson’s character trying to do with a barn full of weapons?

Extras include commentary and a trailer.

As a nearly lifelong Burt Reynolds fan, I admit I enjoyed Malone to some extent but it needed a better director, or at least a better editor. Preferably both. Unfortunately, there was more like this ahead for Burt, and plenty worse vehicles. But he never stopped. He enjoyed the heights and he didn’t seem to mind the depths all that much, either. Burt was always working. Isn’t that what an actor is supposed to do?  ( – Steven Thompson)

Three Days of The Condor (4K UHD)

Kino Lorber

Somewhere between the grim realism of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the pulp fantasia of James Bond, Three Days of the Condor remains in the public consciousness as one of the great Cold War spy movies. Helmed by the reliable thriller director Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford in the middle of his peak of critical and commercial success came out during the creative outburst of Hollywood in the mid 70’s and seared its reputation on the movie going public.

I think, with the benefit of time passing, we can distill almost all of this mystique to the first twenty minutes. The film has one of the all time great set ups in Hollywood history: Redford plays Condor, a CIA analyst working in a clandestine office in New York City, analyzing written material for possible encoded messages. We see him arrive late (which is clearly not uncommon given his boss’ reaction), pass through security which is droll in that way that Cold War spycraft always was and is, pitch his current project to a skeptical supervisor, and make time with his girl.

Then he’s sent out to pick up lunch at the local deli and every one of his coworkers is massacred by Max Von Sydow, who with disconcerting politeness tells Condor’s girlfriend (Tina Chen) to “move away from the window, please” before shooting her with only the office teletype as soundtrack. It’s a shocking moment, right up there with Jake’s nose being cut in Chinatown or Solozzo’s murder in The Godfather– a splash of cold water that wakes the audience up that this will not be a typical run of spy versus spy at the movies.

It is both a compliment to that scene and a faint condemnation of the film that I think the next two acts never really live up to it.

This is a review and not a synopsis and so I’ll forgo further description to keep the reader spoiler free but suffice to say what follows is a cat and mouse game between Condor and an organization that he is both a part of, and fundamentally alienated from because the overarching theme of the picture is that contemporary intelligence is so divorced from accountability and morality that it has become incoherent, a hydra cutting off its own heads with the assuredness that it serves the greater good. If the classic utilitarian calculus is the submarine captain who seals off a deck with a few sailors on it to save the ship, then the section chiefs of Condor are willing to drown their men because it’s raining hard.

The film was adapted from a hit thriller by Lorenzo Semple Jr, who will probably be better known to readers of FOG as the man behind the 60’s Batman and Flash Gordon. However, the script is devoid of camp operating in what was then considered a hyper-realistic style for a thriller. The performances of most of the supporting players are excellent, especially Von Sydow and Cliff Robertson (Spider-Man) as the ranking CIA chief in the city. Faye Dunaway co-stars as a photographer inadvertently drawn into Condor’s escape and I don’t think she ever gels with the rest of the film. Her subplot feels like one of the earliest examples of imposing a romantic subplot on a film that doesn’t need one for commercial reasons.

Extras include multiple commentary tracks, archival documentary on director Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford interview and trailer.

What I like most about the film is how the ruthless Watergate era cynicism of the piece is deployed in all sorts of unexpected ways. In a spy movie we expect friends in the guise of enemies and the reverse but everyone is so driven by the perceived necessity of their work that their actual personalities and characters can surprise the audience in all sorts of delightful ways. Von Sydow, who in a conventional thriller would be the final antagonist of the piece, embodies this cleverness to the full. By film’s end we certainly admire his professional killer Joubert for his frankness and professionalism more than we do any of the people we’re introduced to who claim to have people’s best interests at heart.  Recommended. (– Will McGuire)

Night of The Comet (4K UHD)

Shout! Factory

The time is 1984.

There is a major event about to occur that hasn’t happened in over 65 million years.

The Earth is about to pass through the tail of a rogue comet and the world is going to celebrate the “event of a lifetime”.

Everyone, that is, except Regina and Samantha Belmont. When these two sisters wake up the next morning they are going to discover something is very, very “off”. When they finally meet up the next day they discover they may very well be the last people on Earth.

That they have survived the Night of The Comet.

This super fun apocalyptic romp shot for a measly $700,000 bucks is the brainchild of writer and director Thom Eberhardt.

It is a film that I absolutely adore. If you were a child of the 80’s and you had cable TV you probably saw this film many, many times. I know I did. And only partially because it starred two amazing diametrically opposite badass ladies toting machine guns and going on shopping sprees while killing zombies and mutants.

Catherine Mary Stewart of The Last Starfighter fame plays the straightlaced, video game playing cynical older teen and Kelli Maroney (Chopping Mall) is her younger cheerleader, sort of ditzy, but actually really smart younger sibling. They have great chemistry as they bicker and fight but ultimately come together to make a plan to survive this new apocalyptic hellscape called Los Angeles.

Joining them is Robert Beltan, Commander Chakotay from Star Trek Voyager, as Hector Gomez, a truck driver who wound up sleeping in the back of his truck and “missed” the comet event. Along the way the trio hijack a radio station, meet up with scientists and fight off a slew of mutant zombie-like people.

This movie is such a fun, silly movie. I love the humor and the story. It is a perfect amalgamation of the valley girl aesthetic and Return of the Living Dead with a little teenage coming of age film sprinkled throughout.

Extras include audio commentaries, cast and crew interviews, galleries, and trailer.

Taking full advantage of the newly created PG-13 rating, Night of The Comet’s only real issue, if you can even call it that, is that it really doesn’t know how to act. Not quite violent enough for true zombie movie fans and not enough T&A for the teenage romp film crowd, this probably accounts for its relatively poor reception when it first came out. The film, like a lot of the early PG-13 films, sits squarely on the fence and never chooses exactly whether it is a PG movie or Rated R film. I, myself, love this film and am so happy that the rest of the world seems to have finally come around. Thankfully it lives on as a beloved cult classic.

My hope is that even more people discover this quirky movie and revel, as I do, in how cool this film is. ( – Benn Robbins)

Spinout (Blu-ray)

Elvis Presley spent most of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s in his own unique little limbo concocted by Colonel Parker and Hollywood, even as the musical innovations he created and popularized evolved away from him, leaving him in the dust.

It’s generally accepted that this was a bad move for Elvis himself, but that’s not to say that the end results weren’t entertaining in their own ways.

One such example is 1966’s Spinout.

Although once unfairly chosen as one of the 50 worst movies ever made, Spinout today comes across as a time capsule not of the real world but of the campy world of ‘60s pop culture. A couple of the scenes even have Batman angles and colors! Elvis plays, as he often did, a charismatic rock ‘n’ roll singer who also happens to like to drive fast, cool cars.

We open with a bouncy but slyly portentous opening theme before we meet Mike McCoy, Elvis’s character, as he’s doing the latter, zooming around dangerous curves in an effort to stay ahead of a speedy young woman with dangerous curves of her own who also likes to move fast in other ways—Shelley Fabares. He ends up running his cool sportscar off the road into water while she remains blasé about the whole thing and drives off without so much as her name or her insurance info.

Then we meet his band, consisting of Jack Mullaney (also in Tickle Me) and Jimmy Hawkins (also in Girl Happy). They play Curly and Larry, although that would seem to make Elvis Moe. The quartet’s drummer is another fixture of early ‘60s teen musical comedies, Deborah Walley (Beach Blanket Bingo). She’s here got a pixyish bob and, in a running gag, is always treated like a boy instead of a girl. She has an unrequited crush on Mike.

That is until a police officer played by Will Hutchins (Sugarfoot, Hey Landlord) begins wooing her as much for her gourmet cooking expertise as for any other reasons. Hutchins once told me that Elvis said he liked him because he didn’t try to steal scenes from him. Not here, he doesn’t, but Hutch shows up in Clambake a year later with a much bigger role and a fun-to-watch habit of effortlessly stealing scenes from Presley without even trying!

What passes for a plot in Spinout occurs between all the usual innocuous, forgettable songs that are still the main reason to catch most Elvis Presley pictures. (Of course, none of the actors are actually playing their instruments anyway and Elvis is clearly accompanied by his regular backup singers, The Jordanaires, even though no one is visibly seen singing backup.) In this case, the plot has the father of the super cute Shelley Fabares’ character, who has a major crush on Mike, attempting to first hire Mike and his combo to sing one single song for his daughter’s birthday in exchange for a lot of money, but also with the ulterior motive of wanting McCoy to drive his new super-charged race car in an upcoming race.

After various refusals, the band is ultimately forced to go along with the former, but Mike, in spite of temptation, still refuses the latter. He’s going to drive his own car in the big race.

Along with all that, there’s also a silly subplot with Diane McBain as an author stalking Mike as she’s decided he’s the perfect mate for her. So three girls really chasing Elvis here—McBain, Walley, and Fabares, all with the stated intent of taking away his prized bachelorhood.

Fabares’ gazillionaire father in the picture is played, appropriately enough, by authoritative actor Carl Betz, who had then just completed multiple seasons playing the role of her father on TV’s The Donna Reed Show.

There’s also a clever choreographed camping scene, a gorgeous vintage automobile, aging actress Una Merkel (the pride of my home town of Covington, KY), and lots of beautiful bikini-clad babes in a couple of party scenes, all leading up to a climactic racing scene. As slight as it is, and despite its rather unsatisfying and silly ending, Spinout has a surprising pedigree. One of the movie’s writers was Theodore J. Flicker, who immediately went on to write The President’s Analyst and later the pilot for TV’s Barney Miller. Spinout’s director was 1930 Academy Award winner Norman Taurog (Skippy), who spent most of the 1960s helming Elvis Presley vehicles, including my personal favorite, 1967’s Double Trouble, which was the first of the King’s flicks I actually caught on the big screen in first run.

Extras include two vintage Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry shorts, song selections menu, an dtrailer.

Elvis Presley movies overall weren’t as enjoyable as your average Frankie and Annette beach flick aimed at roughly the same audience but they were a bit classier. Almost live-action musical cartoons, with unrealistic characters and situations, Elvis movies were practically a genre unto themselves. All that mattered, really, was that you had the mesmerizing presence of the ever-charming Elvis himself. All the cars, girls, and guitars were just window dressing. Spinout offers everything that’s needed, and it doesn’t matter if you could speed race cars through the plotholes or that in the end none of it ever really made much sense. I still enjoyed it.  Booksteve recommends. ( – Steven Thompson)

Hardcore: Special Edition (Blu-ray)

Kino Lorber

Gene Siskel once characterized the work of writer/director Paul Schrader as being about “a man with traditional values coming up against the new permissiveness which seemingly has very few values.”  This is, in the case of Hardcore, only somewhat correct.

Hardcore is the story of a man, in this case played by the great George C. Scott, who discovers the world has always been a sordid disaster and that the depravity of Man, which previously only existed to him as a hypothetical theological concept, cannot be simply avoided by being white and upper class and an earnest believer in God.

The world has shrunken, and the blood in the street can no longer be benignly ignored.

Hardcore was infamous upon its release for its frank depiction of the pre-VHS, pre-Internet, hardcore pornographic industry.

As with so many films, the initial shock of the subject matter has dissipated over time and what now jumps off the page is very different from how Hardcore must have read to its intended audience.

Scott’s character, Jake Van Dorn, is deeply religious and is allowed to keep his dignity and masculinity and is not presented as merely a weak-minded cultist which feels a lot more grounded and honest than any contemporary depictions of Christianity in popular fiction.

This verisimilitude, no doubt a product of Schrader’s own Calvinist upbringing, allows for the movie engage in its real central thesis with intellectual honesty: that the ultra-religious right and the so called permissive, liberated, left have more in common than either is comfortable admitting. Now, this is not entirely satirical as it was in Margeret Atwood’s famous dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, though the film certainly has elements of that outlook. Rather, there is a call for recognition of common humanity even amongst the violence and sleaze.

Nowhere is this expressed more clearly than in Scott’s scenes with Season Hubley, who plays a young prostitute with surprising insight. Just as Van Dorn is portrayed with nuance and sympathy, Nikki (Hubley) defends her life, outlook, and dreams rhetorically with humanity and wit. In a film with so much violence and sex, the real sparks are in the dialogues between the two where they discuss everything from the relative importance of sex to the basics of Calvinist theology.  Extras include two audio commentary tracks, and trailer.

Recommended. A far smarter and more balanced film than most filmmakers are capable of today even in this more permissive environment. ( – Will McGuire)

Theater Camp (Digital UHD)

Disney

The IMDB description of theater camp says, “The eccentric staff of a rundown theater camp in upstate New York must band together with the beloved founder’s bro-y son to keep the camp afloat.”  Can we agree, if the word “bro-y” lives anywhere near your film, you might have a problem?

Ben Platt is a brilliant singer. Ben Platt writes beautiful songs. Ben Platt, from what I understand, is a passionate and brilliant stage actor. When it comes to the screen. He just misses. (Pitch Perfect aside. He was so much fun in that)

Now that we’re off to a rollicking start I must confess two things:

First, generally speaking, mockumentaries like Theater Camp are just lost on me.

They never deliver. For the people that love Best In Show and This is Spinal Tap, please understand you may love this film, but I don’t.

And second, films that build to one joke, no matter how brilliant the joke, are also lost on me. For the people that love Little Miss Sunshine please understand you may love this film, but I don’t.

This film is based on the venerated Stagedoor Manor theatrical camp which fostered the development of a large number of stars of stage and screen including, but not limited to, Natalie Portman, Robert Downey Jr, Zach Braff, and my brother. Of course my brother became a brilliant insurance executive and not an actor of note.

The camp runs into trouble when the beloved owner takes ill just as camp gets into gear for the summer and hilarity ensues while she is incapacitated. Except it doesn’t. All we see is a mish mosh of incomplete Saturday Night Live level skits, manufactured relationship conflicts between the staff, the campers and evil neighboring camp that is scheming to take over.

Side bar: Ayo Adebiri steals every scene she is in. She outshines the script by 1000 miles and should be cast in anything and everything, immediately. If you haven’t watched her brilliance in The Bear, please check it out immediately. You get to see her shine in something that is incredibly well written vs this, which is, decidedly not.  End side bar.

The entire plot of the film builds to the end of summer play. Ben Platt and Molly Gordon play out a relationship conflict that could have been solved with a text message or simple conversation. Jimmy Tatro bro’s it up credibly trying to save the camp while screwing things up even worse. A stage hand emerges as a beautiful butterfly at a key moment to prevent disaster (sort of) and the whole film resolves in a wholly unsatisfying manner.

That being said, the end of summer show is brilliant. The music they wrote for it is amazing and the whole thing is absolutely laugh out loud funny. This is the problem with one punchline films. They get me so irritated by the end I don’t care anymore whether the joke is funny and this film didn’t have Alan Arkin to carry everyone else the way Little Miss Sunshine did.  It didn’t even have Amy Sedaris who bookends the beginning and end of the film in a minor role as the camp’s matriarch.

Technically the film is as middling as the plot and most of the acting. It’s very muted visually, but doesn’t go so far as to appear grainy the way some mockumentaries do. The editing is fine. The lighting is fine. The music is excellent, especially the aforementioned end of summer show original music.

Extras include a featurette, deleted and extended scenes, showcase reels, and and outtakes.

Unfortunately the few good things in this film don’t remotely outweigh the general meh feeling the rest of it gives me and I can’t in good conscience recommend it, except in the circumstance that you like these types of films in general and don’t necessarily care about the content.

For mockumentary and one punchline fans: 4 out of 5 stars / For everyone else: 2 out of 5 stars. (– David Landsman)

American Pop (Blu-ray)

Sony

1981 saw the release of Ralph Bakshi’s American Pop, a unique and ambitious animated film tells the story of popular music in the United States, spanning several decades, from the early 20th century to the late 1970s. It stands out as a significant work in the realm of animated filmmaking, as it combines animation with an engaging narrative that explores the history of American popular music.

Employing an episodic narrative structure, American Pop follows the journey of a family of musicians over several generations. This structure allows the film to cover a wide range of musical genres and historical periods, from jazz to rock ‘n’ roll, effectively mirroring the evolution of popular music in the United States.  The film focuses on the personal stories of the central characters within the family, which adds depth to the narrative. It explores their struggles, triumphs, and the impact of their choices on the trajectory of American music.

Effectively capturing the spirit and evolution of American music, while showcasing significant events and movements such as the Great Depression, World War II, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the rise of punk rock. It combines these elements with fictional storytelling to create a compelling narrative that mirrors the changing social and cultural landscape.

Bakshi’s distinctive animation style, characterized by rotoscoping and a gritty, urban feel, adds a unique and edgy dimension to the film. The film incorporates a wide range of iconic songs from various musical eras. The music is integral to the storytelling and effectively captures the emotions and cultural significance of each period.  The soundtrack features tracks by Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, George Gershwin, The Mamas & the Papas, Herbie Hancock, Lou Reed and Louis Prima.

American Pop offers a broader commentary on American society’s evolution through its music. It touches on themes like the American Dream, social upheaval, and the counterculture movement, giving viewers a sense of the era’s social and cultural climate.  A unique and ambitious animated film, American Pop effectively captures the history of popular music in the United States. Its blend of animation, music, and storytelling provides a compelling exploration of the cultural and social dynamics that shaped American music over the decades. Forty years after its release, the film is a cult classic and should be considered an important addition to the history of animation. ( – Stefan Blitz)

Barbie (4K UHD)

Warner Bros.

It goes without saying that I am not the target audience for the 2023 movie, Barbie.

In my own youth, I never owned a single Barbie doll. Oh, I did have Barbie’s English friend, Stacey, but only so I could turn her into superheroines for my Captain Action to date.

Still, I have to say I quite enjoyed Barbie! Like Adam West’s Batman, it works on several different levels.

On its most basic level, it’s a colorful, musical, and skewering satire of corporate greed, commercialism in general, and the million-dollar concept of a toy where one has to buy a ton of accessories to truly enjoy it.

Mattel Toys is treated so mercilessly if they weren’t actually involved in it, I have no doubt they would have had major grounds for a lawsuit!

Secondly, of course, Barbie serves as an empowering feminist statement, championing girl power of all types at various different ages, as well as demonstrating the vast power in women of all types standing together.

Barbie doesn’t stop there, though, but goes on to make a devastating indictment of the concept of patriarchy, using horses as apparent sexual metaphors and parodying the current political climate in which decisions about women’s roles are often made by exclusively male committees.

All of this is wrapped neatly into a story in which one of many Barbies in Barbieland finds herself losing her Barbiness. Weird Barbie tells her that she has to go to the real world and find the little girl playing with her in order to get back to normal. Her friend Ken stows away and accompanies her.

They get to the real world surprisingly easy but it’s nothing like the utopian female-led society they had been led to expect. Barbie is immediately lost and out of place but Ken becomes enamored of male-dominated society. Mattel discovers that its dolls are in the real world and sets out to recapture them. Before they can do so, Ken returns alone to Barbieland and convinces all the other Kens to join him in remaking the world in their own image.

Margot Robbie, who co-produced, is, of course, perfectly cast as the perfect Barbie, and carries off Barbie’s humanizing equally well. Ryan Gosling doesn’t really look like the basic Ken doll but he perfectly plays the role of the male who only exists to be noticed by the female. As with the actual dolls, there are scores of variants including the upcoming new Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa, as a black Ken and John (Peacemaker) Cena as a hunky merman Ken.

A standout among the many Barbie variants is former SNL MVP Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie, whose owner mistreated her but now she’s like the wizened witch up on the hill who sees all and knows all. Ms. McKinnon walks away with every scene she’s in. Given the right vehicle, she’ll someday soon be a major film star.

That said, my favorite character was the mom played by TV’s former Ugly Betty, America Ferrara. Although low-billed on IMDB, it’s this character and her daughter around whom much of the second half of the film revolves.

The only other recognizable names to me in the very large cast are Will Ferrell as the sleazy toy company CEO, singer Dua Lipa, Rhea Perlman from Cheers, and no less than the great Helen Mirren as the narrator who even gets in a fun fourth-wall breaking narration joke!

Directed by and co-written by Greta Gerwig, the political satire is sharp, the social satire even sharper, the cheerleading message of female empowerment a much-needed boost in these often helpless-seeming times for women. The music is loud and bouncy if not—at least to an old fogey like me—particularly memorable. The Barbieland sets are amazing!

Extras include several featurettes.

I feel like the fate of Ken, and really all the Kens, is kind of tossed away right at the end in favor of a more Pinocchio-like ending for Barbie, but the ultimate message seemed to me to be that we are all, men and women, in this mess we call life together and need to be kind to each other in every way rather than playing silly one-upmanship games.

Barbie isn’t really a movie for little girls, although some might like it, but older girls, teens, and adult women of all ages will pick up on the film’s strong message of girl power. I, myself, though, am proof positive that Barbie can be entertaining and even a little enlightening to old dudes, too!  Booksteve recommends!  ( – Steven Thompson)

Pennyworth: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)

In the ever-expanding Batman mythology, Pennyworth emerges as a hidden gem, providing a unique and captivating perspective on the early life of one of the most iconic characters in the DC Universe.

This thrilling television series, which premiered in 2019, serves as a prequel to the Batman universe, from creators Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon (Gotham, The Mentalist), Pennyworth offers a fresh take on the world of Alfred Pennyworth and the intricacies of the Gotham City we’ve come to love.

One of the standout features of Pennyworth is its character development. The series delves deep into the lives of familiar characters while introducing us to new ones.

Alfred Pennyworth, portrayed by Jack Bannon, is a complex and multi-dimensional character. Bannon’s performance is nothing short of outstanding.

He successfully portrays a younger Alfred with the perfect blend of vulnerability and strength, giving us insight into the origins of the steadfast butler and future mentor to Bruce Wayne. It’s fascinating to witness his transformation from a British SAS soldier to the capable and loyal man we know from the Batman lore.

Joining Alfred in this origin story is the enigmatic Thomas Wayne, played by Ben Aldridge. The dynamic between the two central characters is a highlight of the series, showing us how their bond was formed long before Bruce Wayne’s birth. This version of Thomas Wayne, a brilliant doctor, carries an air of mystery and idealism, setting the stage for his eventual role as a key figure in the Batman mythos.

Moreover, Pennyworth introduces compelling original characters such as Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), who eventually becomes Thomas Wayne’s love interest, and the Machiavellian Lord Harwood (Jason Flemyng), a formidable antagonist whose presence adds an intriguing layer to the storyline.

Pennyworth distinguishes itself by delivering a thrilling narrative that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. The series is set in 1960s London, and the historical backdrop adds a layer of authenticity and nostalgia to the storytelling. The showrunners skillfully blend espionage, political intrigue, and the criminal underworld with the budding superhero mythology, creating a unique fusion that keeps the audience engaged.

The series begins with Alfred Pennyworth transitioning from his military service into the private security sector, setting the stage for his journey to Gotham City. We witness the origins of his unwavering sense of honor and duty, which will later shape his role as the Wayne family’s loyal butler and Bruce Wayne’s guardian. The plot is filled with twists and turns, espionage, and political conspiracies, making it much more than just a superhero origin story.

The emergence of the No-Name League, a mysterious and extremist group, adds an element of suspense and intrigue to the show. Alfred becomes entangled in their machinations, leading to thrilling action sequences and intense character development.

As the series unfolds, we see the birth of Gotham City as a cesspool of corruption and criminality, setting the stage for its eventual need for a caped crusader. The series beautifully bridges the gap between the past and the future, giving viewers a deeper understanding of the complex world that will eventually give rise to Batman and his rogues’ gallery.

The ensemble cast deserves immense praise for their performances. Jack Bannon’s portrayal of Alfred Pennyworth is the linchpin of the series, delivering a believable and relatable character who evolves before our eyes. Ben Aldridge as Thomas Wayne exudes charisma and depth, making us eager to learn more about his character’s arc. The chemistry between these two actors is palpable, providing the heart of the show.

Supporting characters like Martha Kane, Lord Harwood, and Bet Sykes (Paloma Faith) are all portrayed with remarkable skill, adding depth and layers to the narrative. The ensemble cast collectively succeeds in immersing the audience in the gritty, complex world of 1960s London and the birth of Gotham’s dark underbelly.

Pennyworth stands out as an exceptional addition to the Batman mythology. With its rich character development, engaging storyline, and outstanding performances, the series successfully provides a fresh perspective on the origins of beloved characters, enriching the lore of Gotham City and the Caped Crusader. This prequel not only pays homage to the Batman universe but also crafts a compelling narrative that can stand on its own, making it a must-watch for both fans of the Dark Knight and newcomers alike. It is a testament to the enduring appeal of Gotham and its enduring status as a cultural touchstone. ( – Stefan Blitz )

Scooby-Doo! and Krypto, Too! (DVD)

Warner Bros.

It’s time to gear up for another Scooby-Doo adventure with Mystery Inc. as they join forces with Krypto, the Superdog, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the Justice League.

Scooby-Doo! and Krypto, Too! is the latest collaboration between Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics.

It’s part spiritual successor and another part straight-up sequel to the famed ensemble cartoon of the 70s and 80s, Superfriends.

There’s plenty of Easter eggs to gawk at for old-school fans.

Visual callbacks, familiar sounds, and musical cues transport a prior generation back to their cherished Saturday morning cartoons while seamlessly providing unencumbered viewing for the uninitiated.

For some, a food truck vendor who uses the Superfriends font on the packaging of their delicious french fries is like, “Wow, they did the thing.” For others, they’re colorful containers Shaggy will quickly destroy as he devours them fries.

Speaking of food, you guessed it. Scooby and Shaggy bring their enormous appetites, causing plenty of kitchen-raiding shenanigans to ensue. When you think our reluctant detectives can’t possibly make their sandwiches any bigger, Scooby and Shaggy never cease to amaze.

If nostalgia is not your thing, the Hall of Justice is littered with weapons, vehicles, variant costumes, cosmic treadmills, and more. It’s a comic fans’ cornucopia of iconic items, and scanning for them makes for a fun time.

Velma gets a lot of screen time here, which is expected since no mystery would be solved without her. However, Velma’s presence was heightened more than usual, which could be the result of the polarizing Velma series on HBO Max that divided fans but got everyone talking about it. While the universe this film inhabits is not connected to its adult-themed counterpart, marketing is a funny thing, and Warner Bros Discovery could be going all in on Velma in various ways.

There’s an abundance of DC Comics’ supervillains wreaking havoc throughout the film. When the Justice League is gone, the bad guys come out to play. Metropolis is under siege by the worst of the worst, yet its residents go about their routine while lamenting for their missing heroes.

Please remember all of the characters are portrayed through the kid-friendly lens of Hanna-Barbera. This is why Scooby and Shaggy find themselves surrounded by The Joker, Harley Quinn, Solomon Grundy, Giganta, General Zod, Non, and Ursa and walk away completely unscathed.

Do you want to know who doesn’t get much screen time?

Batman.

He doesn’t appear in the movie at all. The Caped Crusader’s presence is felt through the use of various bat items, but no Dark Knight this time around.

Batman and Scooby-Doo have been boys since their first team-up in 1972. While many characters from different genres have worked with Mystery Inc. over the years, it’s their adventures with Batman that set the standard for crossover goodness.

Batman’s absence is likely a creative decision to ensure the spotlight stays on the titular guest star, Krypto. After all, Batman is the Taylor Swift of the DC Universe. He takes the spotlight away from everybody.

So, how does Krypto fare in a feature role? Honestly, the writing ultimately fails our super pooch. Krypto gets lost in the shuffle of his own movie due an overstuffed narrative. He’s an afterthought until he’s given a proper time to shine in the third act.

The big mystery surrounding the Justice League’s absence is a letdown. It’s not only too predictable; there is barely anything to figure out at all. The expired cherry on top is the animation of the haunting entities in the film suddenly changing shape, spoiling the mystery minutes before Velma solves the case.

Extras include three bonus Scooby-Doo and the Guess Who? episodes.

Despite its narrative weaknesses, solid animation and a pace that aptly keeps the ball rolling through the good, the bad, and the hilarity makes Scooby Doo’s thirty-eighth entry in his direct-to-video film series a good enough watch for most of its seventy-five-minute runtime. If nothing else, seeing Scooby wield a Green Lantern power ring is sure to conjure a few smiles.  ( – Atlee Greene)

Sympathy For The Devil (Blu-ray)

RLJ Entertainment

Nicolas Cage is one of those actors who is so much fun to watch most of the time. He’s capable of nice subtle acting but he seems to tend to prefer scenery chewing. That’s the version of Nic Cage we get in Sympathy for the Devil.

The movie is a modern noir film with very little actual plot. Just as he’s about to enter the hospital late one night where his wife is having a baby, our hero, played by Joel (Suicide Squad) Kinnaman, is abducted by a fancy-dressed bearded man with a gun and forced to drive…just drive.

That’s the movie.

The characters don’t even get names in the credits. We have the Driver, the Passenger, the Cop, the Waitress, etc. Cage as the Passenger chatters on and on and on like the raving looney he’s meant to be and the audience, and the protagonist, are completely in the dark most of the time.

In fact, the picture’s in the dark pretty much all of the time. Every scene is dark—in the car, at a gas station, at a restaurant, on the road…All dark. There are some nicely composed shots, and some well-chosen music, starting with Scott Walker’s “The Old Man’s Back Again.” I was particularly impressed that the film managed to avoid the obvious use of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” I can only imagine how much willpower that took.

The violence of the picture is stark and disturbing, if not as gory as a lot of other recent movies. When we finally find out what’s going on, it’s all pretty complicated and we aren’t really ever given much reason to actually care about it.

Extras include interviews.

With Cage’s offbeat character, and the film’s mix of black comedy and violent drama, Sympathy for the Devil seems to be trying to concoct a Pulp Fiction style with varying degrees of success, but Tarantino has nothing to worry about. The movie’s undeniably entertaining on a certain score but it’s dark, confusing, has a disappointing climax, and any viewer’s level of enjoyment will be strongly influenced by his feelings about this particular version of Nicolas Cage.  ( – Steven Thompson)

The Boogeyman (Digital UHD)

Disney

Few things in life are certain except for death, taxes, and Stephen King adaptations.

Being the latest in the never-ending stream of said adaptations, Rob Savage’s The Boogeyman is based on the 1973 King short story of the same name.

Here, the contents of the short story make up the first act or so of the film, with the majority of the screenplay being penned by writers Scott Beck, Mark Heyman and Bryan Woods, all of whom are largely unknown except for a handful of horror and suspense credits in recent years.

In terms of the filmmaking, there is no questioning the craftsmanship here, as the film looks great and flows along rather nicely, but once one begins to scratch the surface, it becomes apparent that The Boogeyman is the epitome of generic horror movie storytelling.

The performances are all fine, and the film has a handful of rather atmospheric moments, which makes The Boogeyman ideal for disposable, one-off viewing, but that is about all it has going for it.

The themes of grief and trauma, and how they may or may not be tied to the titular entity, continuously make The Boogeyman feel like a great value brand version of the The Babadook, and this bland regurgitation of themes that have been explored better in both the aforementioned 2014 contemporary classic and 2023 horror highlight Talk To Me only serves to cement that The Boogeyman is sorely lacking in originality.

By extension, the characters also become increasingly dull and flat the more time we spend with them, with the protagonists being generic and bland to the point of being hollow vessels who are merely going through the motions while the viewer’s investment in them decreases by the minute as they make predictably poor choices.

This becomes particularly frustrating when, in spite of the protagonists figuring out that one of the best ways to stay safe from the Boogeyman is to keep the lights on, they counterintuitively continue to sit it darkened rooms even after having had multiple encounters with the titular entity, which in turn makes it difficult to invest in characters incapable of making smart decisions.

That is not to say that horror movie characters have to be smart at all times, as humans are inherently flawed after all, but there is a difference between emotionally investing in a flawed character and a character that does not realize that simply keeping as many lights on as possible may solve or at least diminish their problem until a solution can be found.

This in turn causes The Boogeyman to lose some of its potential scare factor, and other middle-of-the-road horrors have indeed done a better job at playing around with the innate fear of what lurks in the dark, with even the jump scare bonanza Lights Out doing a better job at making one think twice about turning the lights off.

Extras include EPK and outtakes.

Disappointingly, The Boogeyman is as formulaic as horror in 2023 gets, as it ticks all the boxes for contemporary horror tropes in terms of themes, performances and how it was filmed and edited, making it yet another entry in the endless list of horror movies that are perfectly fine to sit through once but offer nothing that merits revisiting and ultimately makes the film disposable and forgettable.  ( –Leyla Mikkelsen)

Jules (Blu-ray)

Decal Releasing

Two major films released in 1982 that couldn’t be more different from each other were Gandhi and Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial.

The former was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won eight, including Best Actor for Ben Kingsley. The latter was nominated for nine and won four. One was about a peaceful old man and the other about a family who helps an alien from outer space.

Now here we are 41 years later and we have Jules, with Ben Kingsley giving yet another impressive performance starring as a peaceful old man helping an alien from outer space. The distinguished actor loses himself completely in the role of a senior citizen in a small town whose flower beds are ruined when a spaceship crashes into them.

He takes it all in stride but no one believes him.

Things get a tad more complicated when a being out of the ship turns up in his yard a few days later. Although he likes to keep to himself, a neighbor lady trying to be helpful comes over and sees the alien being. She names him Jules. Another, nosier neighbor lady spies her way into the mix. She thinks he looks more like a Gary than a Jules.

Jules or Gary, he (or she?) becomes a fixture around the house, with the ladies dropping by regularly to visit in between times when he’s trying to repair his spaceship. Meanwhile, the government is searching for the spaceship and slowly honing in on the small town.

Not that it’s been kept a secret as our hero has tried telling various people and no one believes him. Which brings us to the real trick of this story. Despite its sci-fi trappings and Spielberg-like warmth, Jules is, throughout, a study in how elderly people are viewed and treated by society, by their adult children, by doctors, by local governments, how they’re often pushed aside and not really listened to or believed.

Kingsley continues his long list of memorable roles as he is totally and completely believable. Harriet Sansom Harris offers warmth and vulnerability as the first female lead, while Jane Curtin is given her best role in ages as the busybody friend who renames the alien.

Jules is a fascinating creature, the standard small “gray man” of so many UFO stories. He (she?) is deadpan, emotionless and yet clearly coming to feel some genuine affection for the three old humans helping him. Stuntwoman Jade Quon completely submerged in full body makeup plays the role and somehow manages to give a subtle but richer performance than was probably necessary. Impressive.

The filmmakers give direct winks and nods to not just E.T. but other now-classic franchises such as Cocoon, Men in Black, and even TV’s ALF.  Extras include a featurette.

On the strength of E.T.’s success, Steven Spielberg was greenlit to create Amazing Stories in 1985, a two-season Twilight Zone-ish anthology built around the director’s trademark feels even in episodes where he himself wasn’t directly involved. In the end, Jules—with no Spielberg involvement at all—feels like a long episode of Amazing Stories, and that’s not a bad thing.  Booksteve recommends…but don’t watch it with your cats. ( – Steven Thompson)

Air (Blu-ray)

Warner Bros.

Directed by Ben Affleck, Air is a captivating journey that takes us back in time to witness the birth of an iconic partnership, an incredible athlete’s rise to glory, and a cultural revolution that transcends the boundaries of sports.

This movie is an exhilarating tribute to the indomitable spirit of innovation, determination, and belief.

At the heart of this remarkable story is the rookie sensation, Michael Jordan, whose journey from a promising young player to the greatest basketball legend of all time is truly inspiring.

Despite Jordan’s character never appearing onscreen, Air captures the essence of his unwavering dedication to the game and his ascent to stardom.

The supporting cast is nothing short of star-studded.

Matt Damon’s portrayal of Sonny Vaccaro, the man with the vision, is both charismatic and insightful. Ben Affleck as Phil Knight, the driving force behind Nike, delivers a performance that showcases the relentless pursuit of greatness. Jason Bateman’s role as Rob Strasser is convincing, and Viola Davis, as Deloris Jordan, brings an emotional depth to the story that tugs at your heartstrings.

But it’s not just the outstanding cast that makes Air shine; it’s the narrative itself.

The film beautifully illustrates the critical gamble made by this unconventional team, where everything is on the line, and the resilience to turn a vision into a reality. The portrayal of Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris Jordan, as the unwavering pillar of support, adds a poignant layer to the story, reminding us of the importance of family in the journey to greatness.

Air also delves into the creation of the iconic Air Jordan brand, which not only revolutionized the world of sports but also left an indelible mark on contemporary culture. The way the film encapsulates this cultural shift is nothing short of impressive, making you appreciate the lasting impact that Air Jordans have had on fashion, music, and society.

Affleck’s direction, combined with the stellar cast makes Air one of the year’s best.  ( – Stefan Blitz )

Cobweb (Blu-ray)

Lionsgate

‘Tis the season for all things scary, and for those who missed Cobweb during its inexplicably ill-timed original theatrical release in July, where Barbenheimer mania ruled the box office, watching it in the fall months makes a lot more sense.

Having an autumnal color palette and taking place in the lead-up to and during Halloween, Cobweb is undoubtedly a much better fit for the current time of year, and the film has a solid unsettling atmosphere for those seeking out new horrors to binge as we approach Halloween.

Woody Norman’s character of eight-year-old Peter as the central protagonist does a good job of conveying the fears many of us had at that age, and while his performance is nothing to write home about per se, it is nonetheless a perfectly grounded performance for such a young actor.

Portraying the father of the family at the center of the story, Anthony Starr brings a different flavor of the unsettling energy he also imbues the unhinged Homelander from the subversive success The Boys with. Obviously much less overtly unhinged here, the baseline of Starr’s performance nonetheless has a similar energy, which helps the viewer’s investment in the story.

Similarly, Lizzy Caplan also imbues the character of the mother of the family with an anxious, unnerving energy that helps you invest in her character to the same extent as Starr’s, and the pair have some rather excellent moments in the film.

One of these moments is a delightfully devious plot twist, which will likely provoke gory glee in many horror fans thanks to the eclipsingly dark humor underlying this particular moment, and after this scene ends, the film goes off the hinges for the finale.

Unfortunately, it does not exactly go off the hinges in a good way.

In the finale, Cobweb ultimately succumbs to being confused about what it wants to be, as the third act and the reveal of what is hiding in the walls of the house suddenly sees this otherwise gently paced horror mystery frantically segue in and out of various imitations of a handful of better horrors in a manner that takes the viewer out of the film, at times even garnering laughs that probably were not the intention of the filmmakers.

This is not to say that the film is bad or unwatchable as such, but the constraints of the budget shows in certain special effects in the finale, and whereas the first two thirds of the film were a cohesive, slow-paced horror mystery befitting of the Halloween season, the third act is an incoherent mishmash where the filmmakers seemingly threw a barrage of different ideas into the mix, presumably for fear of the film underwhelming with a simpler narrative.  Extras include three very brief featurettes.

Alas, sometimes less is indeed more, and Cobweb would have had a chance of becoming an October staple if it had stuck the landing better, but instead it will likely be largely resigned to gathering dust and cobwebs in the annals of the horror genre.  ( – Leyla Mikkelsen)

Dreamin ‘Wild (Digital HD)

Roadside Attractions

Dreamin’ Wild is an incredibly heartwarming and inspiring film that showcases the power of music, family, and the enduring spirit of human creativity. Bill Pohlad’s direction and the brilliant performances of the cast makes this true story a touching and memorable cinematic experience.

The narrative revolves around Donnie Emerson, portrayed with remarkable depth and emotion by Casey Affleck, whose life takes an unexpected turn when an album he and his brother recorded in their youth is rediscovered after three decades of obscurity. The sudden acclaim from music critics as a lost masterpiece thrusts Donnie and his family into the spotlight, providing them with a second chance at achieving their dreams.

What makes this film so special is its ability to capture the complex dynamics of family and the power of music to heal and bring people together. The performances of the cast are nothing short of exceptional, and each actor brings a unique depth to their characters, making us truly connect with the Emerson family’s journey of redemption and self-discovery.

Zooey Deschanel is a standout as Nancy, Donnie’s supportive and loving wife, who faces the challenges of newfound fame with grace and resilience. Walton Goggins delivers a powerful performance as Joe, Donnie’s brother, dealing with the emotional baggage of their past and the burden of expectation. Beau Bridges brings gravitas to the role of Don Sr., the patriarch of the family, whose own dreams and disappointments are skillfully portrayed.

Pohlad’s direction infuses the film with a sense of nostalgia, beautifully capturing the essence of the ’70s and the timeless power of music. The soundtrack, based on the original album by Donnie and his brother, adds an extra layer of authenticity and emotion to the story.  The lone extra is the film’s trailer.

Dreamin’ Wild is not just a tale of musical rediscovery but a story of love, reconciliation, and the pursuit of one’s passions. It’s a reminder that it’s never too late to chase your dreams and find redemption, no matter how long they’ve been buried. The film’s uplifting and heartfelt message is bound to leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.  ( – Stefan Blitz )

Prey (Blu-ray)

Disney

The 1980s gave us some of the most bombastic action movies of all time, and 1987’s Schwarzenegger-led Predator still stands out as one of the most memorable entries from the decade.

Aside from the epic action, massively muscular men and cheesy one-liners, however, what made Predator an enduring classic was the suspense and sense of dread that kept mounting as the film went on, making it abundantly clear that the Yautja hunter was a force to be reckoned with.

For once, a barrage of bullets and heavy duty machismo alone was not enough to defeat the baddie, and thus the technologically advanced alien hunting humans for sport had secured its place as a pop culture icon alongside the xenomorph, the two terrors butting heads in two underwhelming crossover movies after both franchises had fizzled out due to less-than-great sequels in the 1990s.

For the Predator franchise specifically, it was expanded with three sequels, and while 1990’s Predator 2 possesses a certain nostalgic, cheesy charm, the nail-biting suspense from the 1987 original was largely missing.

In 2010, Robert Rodriguez’ Predators had many good moments, but this sequel ultimately suffered from a needlessly convoluted narrative, resulting in the film losing steam as it progressed.

Then came 2018’s The Predator, and the less said about that, the better.

At this point, few expected the Yautja to receive any worthwhile opportunities to once more showcase its hunting prowess, but with the prequel Prey, the franchise returns to its roots of humans versus extraterrestrial in a barebones, intense, and deadly cat-and-mouse game.

Set in the Northern Great Plains in 1719, we follow young Comanche warrior Naru as she seeks recognition from her peers, exhibiting a talent for hunting and fighting that is not taken seriously until it becomes apparent the Yautja will require everyone to band together to do their utmost if the humans want to stand even a small chance of surviving their foe.

After so many years with lackluster entries that could not contend with the original, what Prey excels at is creating an atmosphere where the film maintains a suspenseful momentum with the Yautja once again feeling like a genuine threat.

The human characters are also some of the best the franchise has had to offer to date, as a substantial amount of research went into ensuring the Comanche were represented in a manner that emphasizes historical accuracy, which in turns serves as a great juxtaposition to the extraterrestrial hunter that grounds the film.

The stakes are also elevated thanks to fleshed out characters that feel real and relatable rather than a disengaging afterthought that merely serves as fodder for the alien hunter.

Allowed plenty of character development, Amber Midthunder’s Naru as the lead cements herself as a badass sci-fi heroine rarely seen since the likes of Sigourney Weaver’s career-defining Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise one inevitably holds the Predator franchise up against.    Extras include audio commentary, making of, FYC Panel with cast & crew, and deleted scenes.

Well-paced, beautifully filmed and packed with excellently choreographed action set pieces, Prey is an action sci-fi triumph that establishes a fully realized world that at once feels both fresh and familiar, making it not just a great Predator movie but also a great action thriller in general, which bodes well for the future of the franchise  (– Leyla Mikkelsen)

King of Killers (Blu-ray)

Lionsgate

King of Killers is an uneasy marriage of fun action sequences with dramatic connective tissue that is often distractingly bad.

Writer/Director Kevin Grevioux is a veteran producer of the Underworld films and here he adapts his own graphic novel into a screenplay that feels like it’s killing time between gunfights, exposition-dumps that would make pulp writer blush, and acting that ranges from pretty good (Stephen Dorff and Frank Grillo, in particular seem to be having the right amount of fun with this) to borderline non professional.

Grevioux’s heart is in the right place: he clearly doesn’t just worship the John Wick films, he’s set up a shrine to them that sells oil to the disabled. We’re dropped into a world of hitmen who are juggling family life and hitmen who hire other hitmen to kill them while rattling off their crazy back stories in a plot that only makes sense as a clothesline upon which to hang action sequences upon.

It feels slapdash in the way that modern, compressed, comic books can sometimes and it needs a lot more visual care and a few more takes to get the right reads from its actors to work.

The action is competent, and in places, very exciting but the flavor, the texture of not only the John Wick films but the Chinese and Korean films they take inspiration from is missing. Think of all that wonderful foreshadowing in the first act of John Wick, or the emotionally fearless performances of Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung in John Woo’s films, or even the shocking moments of irony in The Man From Nowhere. Yes, all those films had great action but they had emotional inroads and fine performances to raise the stakes for the audience with characters we cared for. This film operates entirely in cliche.

King of Killers is akin to listening to someone learn the piano by playing a familiar song: the notes are there…eventually, but there’s no meter, and there’s no music. All the elements you could want if you were itemizing “cool stuff from action movies” but they’re in service of a story and characters who have nothing to say and reveal nothing to the audience about themselves or the world to us.  Extras include a featurette and trailer.

Not recommended. You could do much better if you want fights and gunplay. ( – Will McGuire)

Shortcomings (Blu-ray)

Sony

Randall Park’s film adaptation of Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel, Shortcomings effortlessly captures the essence of Tomine’s work and brings it to life in a way that is both relatable and refreshing.

Exploring the intricate complexities of relationships, identity, and self-discovery with both humor and heart the film focuses on Min’s Ben, a struggling filmmaker grappling with insecurities and obsessions. His portrayal is delivered with a depth and authenticity that is not only both touching and relatable, but also makes you root for his character from start to finish despite his perpetual unlikability..

Sherry Cola’s performance as Alice, Ben’s best friend, is nothing short of outstanding. Her character is a queer grad student and serial dater and who’s relationship with Ben often feels strongest when they share their constant unhappiness.

Cola is naturally charming and funny and her chemistry with Min shines as they both seek a satisfying relationship.

Ally Maki, as Miko, brings a depth of emotion to her character as she navigates her internship in New York. Her portrayal highlights the challenges and uncertainties that come with long-distance relationships, and Maki’s performance beautifully conveys the struggles and triumphs of Miko’s journey as she moves beyond her connection with Ben.

Randall Park’s direction is masterful, seamlessly translating the comic into a visually engaging and emotionally resonant film. Park’s keen eye for detail, coupled with his understanding of the source material, results in a movie that captures the essence of Berkeley, California, and the vibrant world of Ben, Miko, and Alice.

Beautifully exploring themes of cultural identity and the Asian American experience is presented through Miko’s work with a local film festival. It’s a refreshing and essential aspect of the story, underscoring the importance of representation in the arts.

Shortcomings offers a fresh and nuanced perspective on modern relationships and the pursuit of happiness. The characters feel like real people, grappling with real issues, and the film chronicles an authentic journey of self-discovery and growth.  Shortcomings is a true cinematic gem that deserves recognition and applause. ( – Stefan Blitz )

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (4K UHD)

Paramount

When John Carpenter’s low budget autumnal slasher Halloween debuted in 1978, it would not only launch the career of Jamie Lee Curtis, it would also serve as a catalyst for the slasher genre that would define the horror landscape of the 1980s.

With sequels of varying quality in the 80s and 90s, a duo of reboot films in the 2000s, and a trilogy that retconned the timeline once more in recent years, The Shape has remained a slasher icon alongside fellow fiends Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger.

While Curtis had sworn off returning after her second bout with Michael Myers in 1981’s Halloween II, she nonetheless felt compelled to reprise her character of Laurie Strode with Halloween H20: 20 Years Later in return for the diabolical Michael being killed off for good.

Obviously, this promise fell through as Michael not only survived, and a disgruntled Curtis would return to her role several times after the 1998 entry.

After the success of Wes Craven’s 1996 blockbusting classic Scream, the interest in slasher horror geared towards teens was once again on the radar for studio executives, and a retcon of the Halloween franchise was soon underway.

Serving as a direct follow-up to the 1981 sequel, the 1998 film is set two decades after the original, the story revolving around Laurie living under the identity of Keri Tate, the headmistress of private boarding school Hillcrest Academy in California.

Haunted by the ordeal of having her friends murdered and subsequently being stalked by her homicidal brother, Laurie struggles with alcoholism and constant clashes with her teenage son, John, who feels smothered by his mother’s overprotectiveness.

As Halloween approaches, Laurie’s PTSD worsens, however, this time she has cause for concern as Michael has escaped once again and managed to track down her down, leaving bodies in his wake as he approaches Hillcrest Academy.

Very much a product of its time, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later sits somewhere in the middle of teenage slashers of the era.

In terms of the Halloween franchise up until this point, having Curtis back helps elevate the stakes, just as it removes the film from the increasingly nonsensical cult plot of the fourth and fifth films.

However, outside the central conflict of Laurie versus Michael, the film is largely formulaic with generic characters, though, there are decent performances from then-newcomer Josh Hartnett and Dawson’s Creek cast member Michelle Williams, and LL Cool J’s security guard Ronny also adds some much needed personality to the film.

Stripping the narrative back down to basics works in the film’s favor, and the score and cinematography helps create a suitably atmospheric setting with serviceable kills, all of which makes the film very watchable without it necessarily being mandatory viewing when revisiting the murderous antics of Michael Myers through the years.  (– Leyla Mikkelsen)

Father’s Little Dividend (Blu-ray)

A delightful follow-up to the heartwarming classic Father of the Bride, and it continues to capture the essence of family dynamics and the inevitable challenges that come with them. This film is a wonderful testament to the enduring charisma of its talented cast and the timeless charm of its story.

Spencer Tracy, once again, shines as Stanley Banks, who now faces the unexpected news that his daughter, Kay, played brilliantly by a young Elizabeth Taylor, is pregnant. The film masterfully explores the generational shift as Stanley grapples with the idea of becoming a grandfather. Tracy’s performance beautifully encapsulates the emotions of a father who is torn between his anxieties and his unconditional love for his daughter.

Joan Bennett, as Ellie, the mother of the bride, brings her own unique charm to the story. Her character adds a layer of humor and warmth to the film, creating a perfect balance to Tracy’s character. Their on-screen chemistry is a joy to watch.

One of the film’s remarkable aspects is its ability to capture the essence of the family experience. Stanley’s reluctance to openly accept the impending arrival of his grandchild is something many parents can relate to. It’s this authenticity that makes Father’s Little Dividend so endearing. The film portrays the familial bonds, the bickering, the worries, and the eventual acceptance and celebration of life’s changes in a heartwarming manner.

The film also delivers its message with a wonderful dose of humor. The scenes in which Stanley struggles to adapt to the idea of becoming a grandfather are not only amusing but also touching. The way his character evolves over the course of the film is a testament to the exceptional writing and character development.  Director Vincente Minnellli also returned for the sequel maintaining a level of quality and continuity that was palpable on the screen.

Father’s Little Dividend is a beautiful journey that explores the complexities of parenthood, the inevitability of change, and the enduring love that binds families together. It’s a touching and often hilarious exploration of the universal theme of growing older and embracing life’s surprises.  Extras include two restored Tom and Jerry shorts, a 1951 comedy short, and trailer.

If you’re only familiar with the Charles Shyer updates with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton, you’re in for a treat as Minnelli’s two films are timelesss classic that captures the essence of family life, filled with humor, emotion, and an exceptional cast that delivers memorable performances. Father’s Little Dividend is a heartwarming film that will continue to resonate with audiences for generations to come. ( – Stefan Blitz )

Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen Part Two (4K UHD)

Warner Bros.

The long awaited continuation to the Justice League and RWBY Crossover event is here!

Warner Bros Animation and Rooster Teeth have brought their thrilling story of these two very different but not so different hero teams to an extremely satisfying conclusion.

When we left the story at the end of Part One, Team RWBY and The Justice League, with the help of Team JNPR were able to stop Killgore in the digital world he created and return to their own worlds victorious… or were they?

After a brief recap by Part One via voice over we join the Justice League as they discover that their trials and tribulations in Remnant were just the beginning!

Earth has been overrun with Grimm! But how?!? Meanwhile, Team RWBY are back in the fray against the Grimm as they continue to clean up in the aftermath of the fall of Atlas.

The team are beginning to notice that Ruby is acting more cavalier than they have ever seen before. What is going on with her?

The Justice League are finding that they are having a much harder time fighting these new versions of the Grimm as they keep adapting to counter the powers of each individual member as they fight. Killgore is revealed to have a partner in all this, but who could it be? And are they from Earth or are they from Remnant?

Finding a way to contact Team RWBY they are able to transport them to Earth to assist them in discovering who is behind Killgore’s new powers, how to defeat this new foe, and restore peace and order back to Earth once again.

Justice League x RWBY Part Two is a lot of fun. In fact, I might even say that I enjoyed it even more than Part One.

Look, as I stated in my review for Part One, I kinda liked the teenage JL in the same way I loved the episode “Kids Stuff” from the first season of  Justice League Unlimited. I loved all the interactions with the two teams of characters. Now, however, we get the adult JL we know and love and while I was a little disappointed to not have certain members of the RWBYverse back, I was happy to see some old familiar DC characters I love as well as some villains to boot. That cameo was *chef’s kiss* and all that was needed. The team-ups this time are just as fun and the pairings continue from the first part as members of each team help one another to fight both Grimm and individual inner demons as well.

Written by Meghan Fitzmartin who penned Part One keeps up the quality and fun of the first film as well as packing the story with lots of action packed fight scenes. Directing reigns have been handed over to RWBY series director Yssa Badiola and RWBY lead animator Dustin Matthews. Part One’s director Kerry Shawcross is the supervising director this time around. The trio cram a whole lot of story and feelings into this 75 minute finale.

Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen does not disappoint.

As I stated earlier I enjoyed this more than I did the first one and I hope to see more quality RWBY animation from Warner Bros and Rooster Teeth. As I said to Liz as we watched this, “Get that WB monies RT!” It looked so good and the animation quality and storytelling was top notch.

All the RWBY vocal talent have returned as you would expect along with some surprise voices. Joining them this time as the normal aged Justice League, replacing the teen younger ones from the first film, are the voices of Jaime Chung as Black Canary, David Dastmalchian as The Flash, Troy Baker as Batman, and Laura Bailey as Wonder Woman. As one would expect they are all incredible. I honestly will say that DC Comics really nails animation for the most part with the exception of a few terrible missteps. Looking at you Killing Joke

But I digress. I hope this does well and that this partnership continues between the WB and RT because like so many other fans of RWBY out there I kinda need Season 10 of RWBY sooner rather than later. I miss these characters and their story and where they left off in Season 9 is unacceptable for there not to be a season 10.

Extras includes two featurettes.

May you enjoy  Justice League X RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen Part Two as much as I did and may it be successful enough for Warner to deem it necessary to make a season 10 of RWBY!  Happy Hunting! ( – Benn Robbins )

Loki: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

Disney

The first season of Loki begins during the events of Avengers: Endgame with 2012 Loki (Tom Hiddleston) obtaining the Tesseract and escaping. He is captured by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), an organization tasked with maintaining the Sacred Timeline.

Loki is introduced to Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), a TVA case worker who recruits him to work for the TVA. This decision leads to conflict with Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Mobius’s high-ranking friend who prefers pruning Loki.

Together with TVA agents, Loki embarks on a mission to stop another variant of himself, Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), who is hiding in various apocalyptic events to avoid detection. Loki and Sylvie form a bond and decide to confront the Time Keepers, only to be attacked by Renslayer’s agents.

Using a TVA TemPad, Loki and Sylvie travel to Lamentis-1, a moon facing destruction. There, Sylvie reveals that TVA agents are actually variants of real humans with erased memories.

Sylvie’s and Loki’s growing bond creates a branch in the timeline, which the TVA can track. Mobius is placed in a memory loop, and Renslayer prunes him, resulting in Loki and Sylvie confronting the Time Keepers.

The Time Keepers are revealed to be androids. Loki is pruned by Renslayer, leading him to a void at the end of time, where he encounters other Loki variants.

They warn him about Alioth, a destructive creature in the void. Loki and Sylvie, along with Mobius, encounter each other. Mobius decides to return to the TVA, while Sylvie stays.

Classic Loki (a wonderful Richard E. Grant) sacrifices himself by creating an illusion of Asgard to distract Alioth, revealing a path to a citadel beyond the void.

At the TVA, Renslayer leaves to find “Free Will,” and B-15 shows other agents they are variants. In the citadel, Loki and Sylvie meet He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors), who explains his role in preventing a multiverse war.

He offers them a choice: kill him and unleash chaos or replace him and maintain the timeline. Sylvie kills He Who Remains, resulting in the multiverse’s unleashing.

Loki warns Mobius and B-15 about the variants, but they don’t recognize him. Instead, Loki sees statues of He Who Remains variants, signifying a major shift in the MCU.

And there you go. Marvel Studios continues its trend of mistaking storytelling for set-up of future properties.  Since the beginning, the MCU has used their intellectual properties to simply set up other properties.  And in this particular case, Majors’ He Who Remains is simply used as a tool to set up the Marvel multiverse and establish his role as Phase Six (Who knows at this point), antagonist Kang The Conqueror.  And with that decision, Marvel officially made me not care about the future of its cinematic universe.

The performances are solid throughout, but the series itself often felt like a chore to get through. It’s been over two years since Loki debuted and despite every attempt to make the series “important,” it far too often feels like Doctor Who fan fiction.  If you’re a die hard Marvel Zombie, you’re already a fan, but personally, it just feels like a multiverse of mediocrity.

Extras include Making Of documentary, featurette, animated short, gag reel and deleted scenes. ( – Stefan Blitz )

Rosemary’s Baby (4K UHD)

Paramount

Rosemary’s Baby remains a classic of Hitchcockian paranoia and slow building dread.

All great horror movies play on relatable feelings but the secret of Rosemary’s Baby and why it remains ensconced in the public consciousness despite its age is how universal and terrifying the anxieties it plays on are: that your family has somehow turned against you, that you’re being patronized and lied to by the people that you trust the most, that everyone in your life is aware of some secret about you and you’re the only one out of the loop.

Mia Farrow plays Rosemary Woodhouse, a young wife to a struggling actor Guy (John Cassavetes) who moves into a Manhattan apartment complex with a dark history. Soon after Guy befriends their elderly neighbors his career begins to take off and the young couple decides to have a baby.

After Rosemary is drugged and dreams about copulating with a demon, she begins to suspect that her husband is colluding with a coven of witches and that her baby isn’t what it seems to be.

The film was released five years before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision federally protected abortion rights and it’s easy to interpret the film within the scope of Women’s Liberation. Indeed, much of the tension of the film is derived from how easy it is for Guy to discount Rosemary’s justified paranoia to any outside observer by playing on stereotypes of the “hysterical woman.” Much of the escalating tension of the second act is garnered from Rosemary taking bolder and bolder action to uncover the truth and Guy and the coven slowly dropping the pretense of familial love and getting nastier to put her in her place.

Rosemary’s Baby prefigures the “New Hollywood” movement of the 1970’s but shares many characteristics with its triumphs: producer Robert Evans (The Godfather, Chinatown) saw the potential in updating a classic genre with modern sensibilities and, in what was a fairly novel approach for the time, prioritized hiring a dynamic filmmaker behind the camera. According to legend, Hitchcock was offered the piece and when he turned it down Evans used the project to lure Polish prodigy Roman Polanski from the British film industry to Hollywood.

The choice was inspired: Polanski displays not only the same capability for suspense he did on previous films Knife in the Water and Repulsion but displays also a brilliant talent for irony and contradiction that give almost every character in this film an additional layer of depth: we’ve talked about how the film is built largely on what is between the lines when Farrow and Cassavetes are speaking but this is extends to the smiling menace of the elderly neighbors and the camp that undercuts them any time they’re actually engaging in Satanism which gives the piece an additional subversive edge with regards to religion that wasn’t present before Polanski’s involvement.

That said, the central star around which the whole film revolves is Mia Farrow who delivers a career best performance. Polanski wanted to cast an actress who more easily projected strength initially, but it’s precisely Farrow’s apparent weakness and waifish frame add so much to the tension– she literally seems as if she’s about to be broken at any moment and so the strength of her resolve feels even more courageous than it would from an actress who played things “tougher”. Not only that, but the final moment where she comes into her own gains enormous power because it reveals a depth and menace to Rosemary that we never saw previously.  Extras include a retrospective, an archival featurette, and trailers.

Similar to The Exorcist this is a horror classic that transcends its own genre: reflecting the anxieties of the age and signaling the entrance of bold new talents into the dying American studio system. Rosemary’s Baby is not merely a good thriller but one of the finest American films of the 1960’s and a time capsule of the period that still rings effectively true to this day.  Recommended.  ( – Will McGuire )

The Flash: The Ninth and Final Season (Blu-ray)

Warner Bros.

How the mighty have fallen.  At one time, The Flash was my favorite series airing with solid writing, well crafted characters, and an engaging cast.  Somewhere though, the show lost its way, and never recovered.  In its final seasons, convoluted storytelling, cast changes, and an overall lack of direction, culminating in one of the worst wrap ups in the history of television.

Under the direction of showrunner Eric Wallace, the series managed to not only waste the talents of stars Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, and Danielle Panabaker, but also drive such talent as Jesse L. Martin and Tom Cavanagh away for most of the season.  Even guest appearances from Jessica Parker Kennedy, Rick Cosnett, Teddy Sears, John Wesley Shipp, Stephen Amell, David Ramsey and Keiynan Kibsdale proved to be nothing more than Band Aids on a gaping wound.  The noticeable absence of Carlos Valdes only served as a final nail in the series’ coffin.

Extras include a featurette, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

The lackluster final season of The Flash not only marked the end of the CW Arrowverse (the final series, Superman & Lois, retconned itself out of the Arrowverse prior), and successfully served as a mercy kill to a once great television universe.  (– Stefan Blitz)

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (4K UHD)

Paramount

Most franchises tend to stagnate as they go on, but Tom Cruise & Co. have gone against the grain and somehow managed to make each installment of the Mission: Impossible film series better than the last.

With Fallout being an immensely successful and celebrated franchise entry in 2018 before Cruise took a filmmaking detour to revisit the character and film that made him the action star he is today with the long overdue but practically perfect sequel Top Gun: Maverick, he is now back with Christopher McQuarrie and the rest of the crew to continue the high octane shenanigans of the IMF.

Favorites Luther, Benji and Ilsa are back alongside main man Ethan Hunt, and with a new roster of memorable baddies, as well as love-to-hate-them characters the White Widow and slimy IMF director Kittridge, there are plenty of obstacles for the team to contend with once more.

Outside the usual disposable henchmen and easily outsmarted law enforcement, Esai Morales’ Gabriel feels like a genuine threat as an effectively eerie villain with a stoic callousness, and Pom Klementieff plays against the gentle demeanor she is known for with Marvel’s Mantis as Gabriel’s devilishly deadly right-hand woman, Paris.

As one has come to expect, the action set pieces are expertly handled and are once again in a league that in terms of Hollywood productions is only matched by the John Wick franchise, all the while not being derivative of what Stahelski and his team have become famous for.

Instead, there is a degree of charm and humor present here that gives Dead Reckoning: Part One a feel not unlike that of the summer blockbusters of the 90s that always seemed to be larger than life. The only difference is of course that the action is elevated to the standard that has become synonymous with Cruise, and while it does not seem possible, he will certainly find a way to outdo himself for Dead Reckoning Part Two.

With a hefty runtime of 2 hours and 43 minutes, the latest installment is the longest in the franchise thus far, but the pacing maintains a good balance that keeps feeding the tension between the various players due to what is at stake, peppering in the action at well-executed intervals that secures they refresh the viewing experience without undermining the story.

As a result, the spy thriller element is never neglected, and the stakes genuinely feel like the highest the team has contended with up until now, as many of the regulars find themselves outsmarted and outmatched at some point or other during the film.

This in turn makes the film feel like it has come full circle since Cruise’s first turn as Ethan Hunt in 1996, but this is not to say that there is fan service as such, but rather an acknowledgement of what has come before and how it all fits into where the franchise is now.

Despite the runtime, the film is essentially only half a movie, and the main concern with that is always how much the viewing experience is impacted by only telling half the story. Thankfully, the film neatly wraps up at the end, giving the audience a sense of having watched a complete film, even though the larger conflict is still roaming large by the time the credits roll.  Extras include commentary, isolated score, and featurettes.

While Fallout is arguably the best film in the franchise yet, Dead Reckoning: Part One is nonetheless an incredibly satisfying first half of the latest IMF adventure, and at this point it is safe to say that Hunt is better than Bond.  ( – Leyla Mikkelsen)

The Giant Gila Monster (Blu-ray)

Film Masters

This routine and uninspired movie verges on uselessness, but it does include multiple scenes with historical interest. The very handsome hero is a car mechanic who enjoys converting 1930s sedans into 1950s roadsters. So we get some good classic car shots. This multi-talented young man is also an amateur singer-songwriter. So we also get some fun songs, including an acoustic performance on a banjo-shaped ukulele, and then a dance in the town hall. The weird lyrics are worth paying attention to. Impressively, the actor (Don Sullivan from Monster of Piedras Blancas) wrote and performed these songs himself. I was also surprised by the scenes with the hero’s polio-stricken little sister. But as a monster thriller, it’s not even so-bad-it’s-good. Few attempts are made to make the Gila seem giant; only at the conclusion does it actually feel menacing. There are only three brief action scenes. No characters outside the hero’s family are interesting or memorable.

The same producer-director team did far better with The Killer Shrews, which is included as part of the release.  The Killer Shrews, a low-budget B-flick that’s far more energetic and at times delirious, with credit to director Kellogg, who keeps the pace tight, and builds tension with skillfully intercut “incoming shrew” shots where we see the monsters either running towards us, or peeping and snarling through holes in fences. Kellogg builds a sense of claustrophobia, allowing us a few brief breaks, and then thrusts us into an intense (some would say laughable) conclusion.

Credit should go next to the actors, all of whom work diligently with trite dialogue. James Best plays our Southern hero, and he was in fact raised in Kentucky. Baruch Lumet (father of director Sidney Lumet) plays the old professor. Ken Curtis plays the drunken ex-boyfriend,  and he also produced the film. Gordon McLendon plays the gleeful young professor and is the most interesting of all. McLendon was a multimillionaire Texas landowner who became a radio visionary and made almost ten times his initial $100K investment.  Extras include commentaries. interview, featurette, radio spots and trailer.

Finally, credit should go to story/screenwriter Jay Simms who keeps this movie logical from start to finish. We understand why the scientists are on the island and why they have not called the Coast Guard. Motivations are made clear. The film is a bit of a laughable camp-fest. But, as often with 1950s B-pictures, camp augments the excitement.  The conclusion is both logical and original. For once the hero doesn’t stumble upon the One Thing that will beat all the monsters at once; he simply must escape alive.  ( – David E. Goldweber)

Goodbye Mr. Chips (Blu-ray)

Goodbye Mr. Chips is a timeless cinematic gem that continues to enchant audiences with its heartwarming story, exceptional performances, and enduring legacy. This film, based on the best-selling novel by James Hilton, transports us to a bygone era, providing a glimpse into the life and transformation of Charles Edward Chipping, portrayed with exquisite talent by Robert Donat.

The plot of the movie is a beautiful journey of growth, love, and resilience. We are introduced to Mr. Chipping, a strict and initially feared Latin instructor at a Victorian-era English public school. Donat’s portrayal of Mr. Chipping’s evolution is a tour de force. He takes us on a remarkable transformation, from a reserved and stern figure to a beloved and cherished educator.

It’s a joy to watch his character evolve through the decades, and the nuanced subtlety of Donat’s performance is truly something to behold.

Greer Garson’s spirited performance as Katherine Ellis adds a brilliant layer of depth to the story. Her character is a suffragette who brings warmth and vitality into Mr. Chipping’s life. The chemistry between Donat and Garson is undeniable, making their love story one of the most endearing and timeless aspects of the film.

What makes Goodbye Mr. Chips even more special is its ability to resonate with viewers of all generations. The film spans the years from the late 19th century through the devastating events of World War I. The way it captures the historical context and the impact of these times on the characters is both poignant and emotionally stirring. It’s a testament to the power of storytelling when a film made in 1939 can still resonate deeply with modern audiences.

The film’s enduring appeal lies in its universal themes of love, personal growth, and the enduring influence of dedicated educators. It has also inspired multiple adaptations and continues to be a reference point for future films that explore the world of education and the profound impact of teachers on their students.  Extras include a trailer.  ( – Stefan Blitz)

The Devil Doll (Blu-ray)

The Devil Doll is a unique combination of mad scientist tale and revenge tale. Despite the title, it’s science fiction rather than horror. It includes a great Frankensteinian lab scene early on, and a nutty female scientist who looks like a combination of Ernest Thesiger and the Monster’s bride.

Shrunken people, used briefly for camp in Bride of Frankenstein, here become essential to the plot. Escaping from prison, a falsely-accused banker (Lionel Barrymore) joins up with scientists who plan to shrink people to doll size in order to save the world’s food supply.

Shrunken people, however, can only move if controlled by “will of another.” The story is patently preposterous (i.e. what about the Shrunken people however can only move if controlled by the will of anotherThe story is patently preposterous (what about the how can the commanders see through their eyes?), but the movie is far better than most viewers will expect.

The “dolls” are fun to watch – people, dogs, and a horse. The script contains surprises, including an unusual extended ending.

But the real key is Barrymore in one of the most unlikely successes of his long career. He gets a few minutes as himself at the beginning tracking down the three bank managers who framed him 17 years before. He is excellent, and I don’t think it’s going too far to call this movie one of his greatest moments on screen. This movie also features the feisty and gorgeous Maureen O’Sullivan (Just Imagine, Tarzan and his Mate). Extras include audio commentary, two restored Looney Tunes shorts and trailer. ( – David E. Goldweber )

Little Women (Blu-ray)

The 1933 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a classic cinematic masterpiece that beautifully captures the essence of the beloved novel.

Directed by George Cukor, the film brings the March sisters’ story to life with authenticity and heart, and it features a standout cast that delivers remarkable performances.

Katharine Hepburn leads the cast as the spirited and headstrong Jo March, delivering a memorable performance that truly embodies the character’s unique blend of independence and vulnerability. Her portrayal is a testament to her remarkable acting prowess. The chemistry between the four sisters, portrayed by Joan Bennett (Meg), Frances Dee (Beth), and Jean Parker (Amy), is palpable, creating an authentic and heartwarming bond that is at the heart of the story.

One of the standout elements of this adaptation is the deep exploration of the March sisters’ individual journeys. We witness their unwavering optimism in the face of adversity and their determination to pursue their dreams. The character development is rich and multifaceted, making each sister’s story engaging and relatable.

Douglass Montgomery takes on the role of Laurie, a pivotal character in the March sisters’ lives. His portrayal infuses Laurie with charm and charisma, adding a layer of romance and camaraderie to the narrative. The interactions between Laurie and Jo are particularly enchanting, and Montgomery’s performance enhances the character’s likability.

George Cukor’s meticulous direction ensures that the film authentically captures the ambiance of 19th-century New England. The period-appropriate costumes and intricate set design add to the immersive quality of the film, allowing the audience to step back in time and fully engage with the story’s historical setting.

Extras include two classic WB shorts, two classic animated shorts, audio featurette and trailer.

The 1933 adaptation of Little Women not only remains true to the spirit of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel but also brings its characters and their stories to life with incredible warmth and authenticity. It’s a heartwarming and enduring classic that continues to resonate with audiences of all generations, celebrating the unbreakable bonds of family and the enduring spirit of hope and love.  ( – Stefan Blitz )

 

 

 

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