‘Macon County Line’ Blu-ray Review: Jethro Goes Loco

January 11, 2018


The Jan. 16 release of Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray debut of Macon County Line is not apt to draw nearly the same heat as the low-budget movie’s original theatrical run in 1974.  Back then, raw ’70s filmmaking was beginning to bloom, and indie productions with expanded limits of sex and violence could make waves amid the studio big boys.

Macon County Line, in fact, became the biggest grossing independently produced film of that year. And to think: it was written and produced by Jethro — that is, actor Max Baer Jr., billed here simply as Max Baer, who went solo as a filmmaker shortly after the nine-season run of The Beverly Hillbillies ended in 1971.

Baer also appears in the film as a small-town Southern sheriff in 1954 who doesn’t take kindly to three drifters: brothers with two weeks to kill before reporting for military duty and a girl they pick up on a hell-raising yet harmless uneasy ride through the Deep South.

After a slow slog at the start, the film picks up when the trio are mistakenly perceived by Baer as responsible for a heinous crime. Much fear, loathing and gun-totin’ violence ensues, with Baer’s lawman going full-bore, shotgun-blasting loco.

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‘Matinee’ Blu-ray Review: How I Saved the Galaxy

January 8, 2018


Any review by me of Shout! Factory’s excellent new Blu-ray debut of 1993’s Matinee must begin with the frightening truth: I battled Mant, the title monster of the movie within the movie, thus saving the galaxy. Or something.

Actually, it was all just another day at the office back when I was covering film and entertainment for the Houston Chronicle. In the fine hammy showmanship tradition celebrated by Matinee itself, Universal sent someone in a “half man, half ant — all terror!” costume to the newspaper, where the famous battle occurred, as seen above.

Silly, right? But also great fun, as is Matinee, despite the fact that it opened with a thud. Universal was stumped on how to sell director Joe Dante’s picture, which certainly fit no readily exploitable mold.

Horror movie? No — just an affectionate mocking of the genre. Comedy? Yes, but the very real threat of atomic bomb annihilation also hovered over the proceedings, with 1941-style panic (and we all know how that Spielberg film fared at the b.o.).

In truth, Matinee (due at retail on Jan. 15) was more of a nostalgia piece for Baby Boomers who remembered A-bomb “duck and cover” drills, the scariness of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, the big bug movies of the ’50s and perhaps even the showmanship of film producer William Castle,  channeled by the producer played by John Goodman in Matinee.

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Houston Astros World Series Collector’s Edition Review: Batter Up

December 5, 2017


If you’re a Houston Astros fan like me, you saved each World Series game (well, each game the Astros won, at least) on your DVR and have been re-watching them since the Spacemen won it all on Nov. 1. But now you have a better option.

Today (Tuesday, Dec. 5), Shout! Factory and Major League Baseball release the Houston Astros 2017 World Series Collector’s Edition — an eight-disc set on Blu-ray and DVD featuring all seven World Series games against the Los Angeles Dodgers as well as Game 7 of the American League Championship Series versus the New York Yankees.

Also due today from Shout! Factory and MLB is a 90 minute 2017 World Series Film produced by MLB and giving closeups and behind-the-scenes looks at the epic event. For my review of that, please see the preceding link.

As for the new box set with those eight games in their entirety, yes, you’ve seen them already. But now you can see them without commercials and free up space on your DVR. And beyond that, there’s an extra feature which really boosts this set into orbit: alternate audio tracks.

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Houston Astros World Series Video Review: Can-Do Team for a Can-Do City

November 28, 2017


As a longtime Houstonian, I’ve had my share of suffering with our sports teams. In fact, I’ve had more than my share when it comes to the Astros, who ended one recent 100-plus-loss season on a 15-game losing streak, and who’d come agonizingly close to glory in the years before that.

Yet for many reasons, the team named for our astronaut neighbors at NASA has always been closest to my heart. And when the Astros finally won a World Series on Nov. 1, I did what many people did.

I cried.

I’m not ashamed to admit it. I take pride in it. I cared that much. And my tears of joy made me no different than the team’s soon-to-retire veteran, Carlos Beltran, or Astros President Reid Ryan. They knew what it meant, too.

Since that wonderful night, I’ve clung to such emotions by rewatching some of the games and postgames. I’ve read everything I could find about the team and the experience. I’ve savored photos of the triumph and caught every appearance by Astros players as guests on TV.

And now, I’m watching a preview copy of Major League Baseball’s official World Series video, available Tuesday, Dec. 5, from Shout! Factory on Blu-ray and DVD. (Also due that day is an eight-disc Collector’s Edition box set with all seven World Series games and Game 7 of the ALCS.)

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MST3K Vol. XXXIX DVD Review: End of the Line

November 12, 2017

MST3K 39

And lo, it came to pass that many years of steady DVD releases of MST3K are ending. That end comes with Nov. 21’s release by Shout! Factory of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXXIX.

Eleven of the beloved cowtown puppet show’s 176 broadcast episodes remain unavailable, and you know the culprit: film rights. But before you get utterly bent out of shape, please know that rights issues are perfectly legal and are common in the TV/movie business. That’s why the original 1960s Batman TV series remained in video limbo for decades until its release in 2014.

But give the heavy thinkers at Shout! Factory this: With only three available episodes for Vol. XXXIX, unlike the usual four, and with 11 episodes taboo, what the hoo, they’ve added a fourth disc collecting all host segments from those 11 shows.

So there, balky movie rights owners. We’ve got three hours of Best Brains madness from those missing programs, at times even including stills and glimpses of the films.

Not only that, but the usual DVD extras, as so often, are special, including Showdown in Eden Prairie: Their Final Experiment and Behind the Scream: Daniel Griffith on Ballyhoo.

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Ernie Kovacs’ ‘Take a Good Look’ DVD Review: Early Edginess

October 13, 2017


You don’t expect to find old TV game shows on DVD, but the wacky work of early tube comedy master Ernie Kovacs is an exception. Rife with historic value, his series and specials already are widespread on DVD. And now his 1959-61 ABC series, Take a Good Look, joins them in a nearly complete box set.

The weekly show lasted 53 episodes, and a whopping 49 come to light via Shout! Factory’s Oct. 17 release of a seven-disc Ernie Kovacs: Take a Good Look: The Definitive Collection.

The show is — well, what? A parody, a mocking, a send-up, an homage, a rip-off?  You decide. But it clearly follows the essence of other popular game shows in which a panel of celebs tries to guess someone’s identity. (Think What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth and I’ve Got a Secret.) Kovacs’ spin was to add brief film clips, sketches and sight gags as vague clues.

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‘Green Acres: The Complete Series’ DVD Review: The Place To Be

September 29, 2017


If you’re pondering buying the first-ever release of Green Acres‘ six seasons in a DVD boxed set, you probably don’t need to be sold on the show.

You don’t need to be told that the 1965-71 series starring Eddie Albert as a big-city lawyer turned farmer and Eva Gabor as his flamboyant, ditzy wife was a huge hit among producer Paul Henning’s rural rube sitcoms, which also included The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction.

Instead, you need knowledge of the many extras on Green Acres: The Complete Series, the 24-disc, 170-episode set coming to DVD Oct. 17 from Shout! Factory.

First, simply having the last three seasons on DVD is an extra in itself. Only the first three seasons had been issued previously — individually, back in 2004 and 2005.

But as far as this set’s formal bonus features go, you’re also in luck. They’re almost all on the final disc (which merited a guiding notation on the box that they didn’t get), so let’s take a look:

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‘Sleeping Beauties’ Book Review: Like Father, Like Son

September 24, 2017

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties (Scribner, 700 pages, due Tuesday), Stephen King’s first novel with son Owen, is a sprawling, horrific page-turner with scads of interlaced, potent characters and gut-punch stabs at the dark sides of human nature.

In other words, it reads like a Stephen King novel, and son Owen is clearly on board with that.

I’m unfamiliar with Owen King’s work, so I can’t say what he brings to the fear feast at this table. But I do know Sleeping Beauties will make his papa’s legions of fans pop up — and the father-son collaboration should make papa pop with pride.

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Pink Panther Box Set Claws to Blu-ray

June 23, 2017

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Reissues of vintage films rarely can be considered “new,” but Shout! Factory’s June 27 release of The Pink Panther Film Collection Starring Peter Sellers (how’s that for a meandering monicker?) does have firsts.

Among them: This is a complete box set of all six films featuring Sellers as inept police Inspector Jacques Clouseau — unlike a 2004 set missing 1975’s Return of the Pink Panther due to rights issues. Also, it’s the first time the six films all have been issued on Blu-ray. And, there are ample new extras scattered across the discs, from interviews to commentaries.

As for the films, if you’ve seen them, you still haven’t seen them as handsomely as in these crisp versions. But then, the bigger question is, are they worth it?

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‘Apollo 8’ Book Review: Historic Epic

April 24, 2017

Apollo 8

With a Neil Armstrong movie in the works — sure to focus on Apollo 11’s first manned lunar landing — and with Apollo 13’s dramatic space rescue already an honored film of the same name, it’s about time a book was written about a space mission just as meaningful and historic as those: Apollo 8.

Thankfully, Jeffrey Kluger has done it with Apollo 8, new at retail on May 16 from Henry Holt and Co. (in hardcover and audio CD).

The same author who co-wrote Lost Moon (later retitled Apollo 13) with former astronaut James Lovell has interviewed Apollo 8’s Lovell, Frank Borman and Bill Anders — along with many others — to tell the tale of the first humans to leave Earth’s gravitational pull by voyaging to another celestial body. They also became become the first humans to orbit the moon, the first to see its far side directly and the first to see Earth in its entirety in a single view, from a quarter-million-mile distance.

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