DVD Review ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXXIV’: RIP AIP

November 29, 2015


Two trailers, two Frank Conniff intros running three minutes total and one Ballyhoo featurette? That’s all the extras for Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXXIV, new Tuesday from Shout! Factory?

Yes, that’s all. But it turns out that’s a lot.

The four-disc set’s sole featurette — on the history of American International Pictures — runs 92 minutes, or longer than many of AIP’s own movies. That makes it the most ambitious documentary of Ballyhoo’s many look-backs at films, filmmakers and film studios for MST’s box sets, and given its many films used on MST, AIP was well worth it.

Playing off the absurdly long title of one of the four AIP films in this set (The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent), the retrospective is named It Was a Colossal Teenage Movie Machine: The AIP Story.

Laced with vintage clips and recent interviews of film historians and filmmakers — including Roger Corman — the story is classic Hollywood stuff, putting AIP’s birth and growth in historical perspective: Baby Boom teens with wheels and rock music wanted rebellious film fare made for them. You could say AIP pandered, but didn’t any studio trying to make a buck?

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‘The Bazaar of Bad Dreams’ Book Review: Short ‘n’ Sweet

November 18, 2015


Ask many people to name Stephen King’s occupation and they’d say “novelist.” And they’d be wrong.

Yes, King has written a library’s worth of novels, some of them topping 1,000 pages. But he’s also written hundreds of short stories — enough to make The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, new from Scribner, his 10th such collection. And short stories, I’d argue, are clearly among his narrative strengths, especially in his beloved horror genre.

As King himself says in the book, “There’s something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience.”

I agree. The Stand may be a page-turner, but that’s too many pages to turn in one riveting experience. “A Death,” on the other hand, which is one of Bazaar’s most compelling reads, clocks in at 14 pages.

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‘The Rebel’ Season Two DVD Review: War is Over

November 16, 2015

The Rebel S2Something didn’t add up. The Rebel had 36 Season One episodes, then a whopping 40 for Season Two. Then the 1959-61 half-hour western series was canceled?

Shout! Factory’s release of Season Two on DVD Nov. 17 clears that up, thanks to a generous sixth disc loaded with extras. They explain how a botched negotiation with ABC caused the highly successful show — the network’s top Sunday night drama — to be axed.

Even so, The Rebel amassed 76 total episodes of stark if not dark western dramas — episodes with strong casts, plots, direction and performances. And with the new bonus features, we can gain an even greater appreciation and perspective for this standout in a vast herd of TV oaters.

They start with Looking Back at The Rebel, a 66-minute interview by Bob Anderson of writer-producer (he’d say producer-writer) A.J. Fenady, a classic, cigar-puffing Hollywood raconteur.

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Blu-ray Review ‘Hackers’: The mouse that roared

August 30, 2015

Hackers-CastMy most vivid memory of 1995’s Hackers (just out from Shout! Factory) wasn’t watching the early computer-geek flick, but interviewing stars Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller when they visited Houston to promote its release.

How young were these then-relative unknowns! And how in love! (They married in ’96, then divorced in ’99.) And how high on life — or something.

This was a one-on-two. We did the interview jointly at Houston’s Ritz Hotel (now the St. Regis), and the two stars were about as happy and agreeable as any actors I’d ever met.

Yes, their romance fizzled — as did the film, which grossed a paltry $7 million for a budget of $20 million. But I’ll be damned if Hackers didn’t turn out to be surprisingly prescient and on-target about the computer-driven world in which we now live. And its teen characters played by 20-something actors at least rollerbladed, went to school, partied and got entangled in adventures, meaning they did more than zone out all day in front of a computer monitor or an iPhone. (Today’s cell phone zombiefication would have ruined Hackers.)

The film also gets some respectfully elaborate extras for its Blu-ray debut, notably three series of interviews with the likes of director Iain Softley and actors Matthew Lillard and Fisher Stevens (but not Angelina or Jonny — I feel so special).

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DVD Review ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume 1’: Reprise to please

August 30, 2015

MST Vol. 1Oops. Out of print copies of Rhino’s Mystery Science Theater: Volume 1 may not be fetching $200 or so now that Shout! Factory is obligingly reissuing the four-disc set Tuesday for a more modest price. But even if you have the original, you may want to pick this up.

Yes, there are extras — a good many, in fact, starting with the “bumpers” between commercials which were omitted by Rhino. Beyond that is a fetching array of material from our friends at Ballyhoo, and a theatrical trailer for The Creeping Terror.

In fact, its disc is crazy for Creeping. There’s much more for the so-bad-it’s-good-in-an-Ed-Wood vein el cheapo monster mash in which a walking carpet terrorized teens. To wit: an extended trailer (seven minutes!) for The Creep Behind the Camera, a 2014 film about making the ’60s movie — or, more precisely, about its oh so dark creator, actor-writer-director Art Nelson, aka Vic Savage, about whom “creep” is an understatement and a relative compliment.

There’s also a 17-minute panel and Q&A for the film at the 2014 Screamfest in Los Angeles, hosted by MST’s own Frank Conniff.

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DVD Review ‘The Rebel: Season One’

August 16, 2015

nick-adamsGiven recent uproars about Confederate flags representing modern-day racism, The Rebel: Season One, new from Shout! Factory Tuesday at Warlmart, is timely. (A Complete Series set also is available online.)

Is it racist? Does it emblazon the screen with Confederate images?

No and no. Instead, this stark and stout Western drama, whose two seasons aired on ABC from 1959-61, has a lone wandering hero, Johnny Yuma (Nick Adams, who also co-created), possessing a strong moral compass — and it doesn’t just point South.

For all the treacherous varmints Johnny meets while roaming the West in 1867, the former soldier’s saga has humanism and compassion at its heart, as he helps the innocent and defies the prairie scum. Though he still wears a Rebel cap, Johnny rarely mentions the war (he served from Texas, on the Confederacy’s fringe), which seems to have both scarred and spurred him to seek meaning in a troubled world, as he conveys in journals he keeps as an aspiring, soul-searching writer.

“There’s different kinds of wars,” Johnny says. “There’s wars that go on inside.”

He also wields a mean double-barreled sawed-off shotgun given to him in the first episode. Groovy.

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DVD Review Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXIII: No Harm, No Foul

July 12, 2015

mst 33 dvdI never know how Shout! Factory determines which MST3K episodes to group in boxed sets. All I know is that the latest, Volume XXXIII (due July 28), is top-heavy with films from the stuffy, repressed, often repugnant ’50s, those being Daddy-O, Teen-Age Crime Wave and Earth vs. the Spider.

The sole ’60s rep is the faux-groovy spy romp Agent for H.A.R.M. It’s also cheap, but hey, at least it’s in color and has bikinis.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate ’50s flicks, which can make for merry movie mocking. But one can only take so many blurry, black-and-white shots of 30-year-old actors pretending to be teen hep cats by smoking cigarettes. Of course, that’s why we have Mike, Joel and the ‘bots at our side.

And in this case, loads of bonus features. In fact, I count around an hour and a half of extras — the length of an MST episode.

So let’s get on with it:

The Daddy-O disc has a 9-minute Beatnick Blues: Investigating Daddy-O. The usual film historians recount its creation, along with good old Roger Corman. They peg the film as more of a crime drama than a typical AIP youth exploiter with hotrods, alleged hipsters and crappy music pretending to be rock. Then MST Hour Wraps round out our look-back.

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Blu-ray Review ‘The Outing’: A Fright at the Museum

July 8, 2015

OutingWhen The Outing — then called The Lamp — was filmed in Houston in 1987, I covered the production as an entertainment writer for the Houston Chronicle. Unlike RoboCop 2 or The Evening Star, it was a homegrown effort, written and produced by Warren Chaney and starring his wife, Deborah Winters, who both still live here.

The production company was Fred Kuehnert’s H.I.T. Films — though the name did not prove prophetic. The Outing had meager theatrical distribution.

After minimal home video exposure over the years, The Outing comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory on Tuesday, July 14, topping a double bill with 1980 chiller The Godsend.

This is not the full-length 105-minute cut often cited for director Tom Daley’s The Lamp, but rather an 89-minute version, and the disc sports no extras. But sometimes the movie is enough, and The Outing, given its low-budget parameters, is a surprisingly effective horror romp with a cast that largely sells the premise, despite its shaky foundation.

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Book Review of Stephen King’s ‘Finders Keepers’: A Keeper

June 6, 2015

Finders KeepersOne conceit I’ve always allowed Stephen King even while resisting it is his tendency to make everyone an avid reader. In book after book, diverse, hard-pressed characters in duress will suddenly reflect on a passage by an author they loved, as if this would happen in real life. But King himself is an avid reader, not just writer, and it pleases him to lace his narratives in beloved literary contexts.

With his new Finders Keepers (Scribner), as with Misery years before it, King’s narrative isn’t just laced with anecdotal references to literary affections — it’s utterly and dangerously galvanized by obsession with a novelist.

In this case, the obsession starts with a 1970s bad bongo, Morris Bellamy, who murders reclusive writer John Rothstein not just for his cache of cash but for a rumored treasure trove of writings he’d penned and squirreled away since retiring at his career’s peak after producing three acclaimed novels about a Holden Caulfield type character.

Cut to 2009, when Bellamy nears release from prison after decades and is hell-bent on recovering the writer’s notebooks he hid near his home in Ohio — a home now occupied by a teen, Pete Saubers, who coincidentally shares his obsession with Rothstein and coincidentally uncovers the treasure where it’s buried nearby. (Yes, coincidences do happen — but in this book they happen a lot.)

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‘Glee: The Final Season’ DVD Review: Fond Farewell

May 20, 2015

Glee S6 DVD

Revisiting Glee’s sixth season on its new DVDs not only provides a  fond farewell to my favorite show, but also reminds me what a great season it was. Sorry, Kevin McHale, but Glee did not “jump the shark” just because Cory Monteith died. Glee remained a superb, richly entertaining ensemble series through its almost fully satisfying end, with 13 more episodes of great songs, great performances and great character moments.

Now, why did I say “almost fully satisfying”? Well, we never can have it all, can we?

In this case, I’m referring to the series’ two-part finale, when it time-jumped to reveal happy endings for its characters as a payoff not only for them and the actors who played them, but also for longtime fans.

The problem for me and many fans (“Samchel” supporters, I’m talking to you) was that the “happy ending” desired by Lea Michele conflicted with what her character, Rachel Berry, would have wanted.

There’s no way in God’s universe that Rachel should have wound up with Jesse St. James — a smug, vain, egotistical clod who once threw eggs at her and was hated by her true love, Finn. Besides, Glee’s creators spent much of Season 6 developing a credible romance between Rachel and Sam, who was easily as sweet and earnest and tender toward her as Finn had been, only to squander it at the end with the head-scratcher of jerk Jesse suddenly taking his place.

But I know why they did it. They did it for Lea, not Rachel. In fact, one of two fine behind-the-scenes featurettes on Disc 4 explains it all with one telling remark.

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