Friday 26 May 2023

Cocaine Bear (2023)

"She Snorts. A Lot"

Elisabeth Banks' nature-gone-wild comedy horror that's based (very loosely, obviously) on a true story gets a 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download release from Mediumrare Entertainment.

In 1985 a cocaine smuggler did indeed have to dump their cargo out of an aeroplane, and a black bear was later found dead next to an open sack of the stuff. That's 'Real Events' enough for any amount of exploitation daftness and the only surprising thing is that it's taken this long for a project like COCAINE BEAR to see the light of day.

And here we finally are, firmly in AIP-style nature-gone-wild territory, with a group of disparate characters wandering through a forest unaware that a coked-out bear is eyeing them up for a bit of chill-out entertainment. They include Ray Liotta (in his last role) as the gangster looking for his lost consignment, Margo Martindale as a forest ranger and Keri Russell (from DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) as the female lead (apart from the bear herself, of course).

It's all good, silly, gory fun with the bear chasing an ambulance a ridiculous highlight. It could easily have been even more over the top, but as it is, a movie called COCAINE BEAR doesn't really deserve to be as good as this turned out (garnering it a cinema release), and a lot of that is down to Elisabeth Banks' direction, which embraces the spirit of those good old-fashioned 1970s DAY OF THE ANIMALS-style pictures with plenty of humour while never skimping on the gore. 

Extras on Mediumrare's disc include a commentary by Banks and producer Max Handelman. 'All Roads Lead to Cokey' is a nine minute making of featuring interviews with members of the cast (but not Liotta) and crew, 'UnBEARable Bloodbath' is eight minutes of looking at the movie's kills, and 'Doing Lines' is four minutes of various members of the cast and crew reading scenes from the script. There are also deleted and extended scenes (four minutes), a gag reel (just the two minutes) and an alternate ending. 

Elisabeth Banks' COCAINE BEAR is out on 4KUHD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download on Monday 29th May 2023

Thursday 25 May 2023

The Pope's Exorcist (2023)

"Highly Entertaining EXORCIST rip off-style hokum"

It's got Franco Nero as the Pope and Ralph Ineson as a demon trying to possess Man of God Russell Crowe. What's not to love about Julius OVERLORD Avery's new trashsploitation shocker, out now on digital from Sony?

Based on the 'true' accounts of the Pope's actual exorcist Gabriel Amorth who, before he shuffled off to meet his maker (one hopes), wrote a number of books about his experiences, THE POPE'S EXORCIST kicks off with Father Gabriel (Russell Crowe doing everything right that Anthony Hopkins in THE RITE got wrong) performing one of the rituals attributed to Christ by casting a demon into a totally underserving pig that then gets its head blown off.

Meanwhile in Spain, widowed Julia (Alex Essoe, always watchable but underused in this) has brought her two children to the abbey owned by her late husband and left to them in his will. Before you can say THE BEYOND the film stays true to its EuroHorror origins by having two workman uncover Something Nasty in the basement which quickly takes possession of son Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney). Pretty soon Father Gabriel is called in to solve the problem. This involves all the usual EXORCIST-style jibber jabber plus a little bit of EVIL DEAD influence as well. Things build to an appropriately hysterical climax before a bit that feels it was shot much later 'in case there's a sequel' and the final fadeout includes a caption that insists the real Father Gabriel's books 'are good'.

THE POPE'S EXORCIST is trash but it's highly entertaining trash and hearkens back to the days of 1970s Italian EXORCIST ripoffs. The photography and production design are lovely, Jed Kurzel's score is appropriately atmospheric, and director Avery keeps everything moving along at a clip. It's a shame that older audience members will have seen it all before, but even so the appealing presences of both Crowe and Nero (and Ineson) make this one definitely worth a watch. Here's the trailer:

Julius Avery's THE POPE'S EXORCIST is out on Digital from Sony now

Tuesday 23 May 2023

Little Bone Lodge (2023)

After its premiere at Glasgow Frightfest the new film from director Matthias Hoene, probably still best known for 2013's highly entertaining COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES, gets a digital release from Signature.

Don't expect laugh a minute stuff here, though. LITTLE BONE LODGE is a very different beast from its director's debut feature. Maisy (Sadie Siverall) lives in an isolated farmhouse with her mother (Joely Richardson) and wheelchair-confined, essentially paralysed father (Roger Ajogbe). One night during a storm two men come seeking shelter after what they claim has been a terrible accident. One of them, Jack (Neil Linpow who also wrote the screenplay) has a piece of wreckage protruding from his belly that will likely kill him if it isn't removed. Luckily mother has a medical history and is able to stitch him up, not realising that the two men are criminals on the run with a stack of cash and other villains in hot pursuit. But the villains themselves are in for some nasty surprises.

Low-key and pretty much confined to the farm where all the action takes place, LITTLE BONE LODGE goes from 'obviously all is not as it seems here' at the beginning to 'this is completely barking ridiculous' by the end. Those good at shutting the logic bit of their brains off entirely will enjoy it the most, but everyone else will be questioning every single increasingly implausible plot twist as the film goes on. Linpow has given himself a lot of the explanatory dialogue which is a shame as, whether through accident of recording or other reasons, his voice is the most difficult to understand. Veering from suspense thriller to nasty horror and ending up in a Western-style shootout, LITTLE BONE LODGE is all over the place, but at least it shows that on the basis of his filmography so far Matthias Hoene is incapable of making anything boring, and for that at least he deserves praise. Here's the trailer:

Matthias Hoene's LITTLE BONE LODGE is out on digital from Signature Entertainment on Monday 22nd May 2023

Saturday 20 May 2023

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1997)

Terry Gilliam's vividly imaginative adaptation of Hunter S Thompson's 1971 gonzo-style roman à clef gets the UHD treatment from Arrow Films.

Raoul Duke / Hunter S Thompson (a committed performance from Johnny Depp) and his attorney Dr Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro who in Terry Gilliam's own words on the commentary track 'had no shame') travel to Las Vegas where Duke has been assigned to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race.

Fully dosed with psychoactive substances before they even arrive, once they get to the city they ingest even more before embarking on a lunatic tour of various Las Vegas night spots getting into plenty of trouble along the way, including running up an exorbitant hotel bill that necessitates Duke's rapid exit from the city. But Las Vegas isn't quite finished with him yet.

Following on from the more sober and carefully realised productions of The Fisher King (1991)  and Twelve Monkeys (1995), FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS sees him returning to the world of the bizarre, the weird and the grotesque in which he seems most at home. Claiming he was surprised he got the job as he had never taken a drug in his life, Gilliam's imagination is almost as much the star of the show as Depp and Del Toro are, offering a rich concoction of brightly coloured nightmare scenarios as viewed through a mescaline haze. The movie is peppered with Thompson quotes, the voice-overs adding to rather than detracting from the atmosphere, and the result is one of Gilliam's best films.

I'd also agree with Ian Christie who suggests it's one of the best films about Las Vegas in Savage: Finding the American Nightmare, a short 12 minute piece from the author of Gilliam on Gilliam. Other extras for this edition include The Gonzo Papers, a 20 minute interview with producer Laila Nabulsi; Grim Memories and Bad Flashbacks in which Benicio Del Toro reminisces about the making of the film; and Ignore this Terrible Day - a 30 minute making of featuring interviews with crew members including the director of photography, production designer, costume designer and editor. 

There's a commentary track by Terry Gilliam (moderated by Phil Stubbs) who has excellent recall about the making of the picture. There are 12 minutes of deleted scenes and these are also worth watching with Gilliam's optional commentary. Archival material consists of an electronic press kit from 1998 (location report, behind the scenes, interviews with Gilliam, Depp and Del Toro) plus trailers, TV spots and an image gallery. The disc also comes with a booklet featuring writing on the film from Andrew Keen

Terry Gilliam's FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is out in a 4K restoration on UHD from Arrow Films on Monday 22nd May 2023

Saturday 13 May 2023

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

The director's cut of Christophe Gans' visually stunning, bodice-ripping, action-packed period genre piece gets a brand new 4K restoration and a release on UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and downloads formats from Studio Canal.

1764. Something is killing people in the French province of Gevauden. Naturalist Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Buhan) and his Iroquois companion Mani (Mark Dacascos, best known now for JOHN WICK 3) are despatched by King Louis XV to capture the creature and bring it back to Paris for dissection. During their investigations they encounter a number of colourful characters including Jean-Francois de Morangais (Vincent Cassel) whose right arm was mangled by a lion, and Italian courtesan Sylvia (Mominca Bellucci) who works at the local brothel but might be more than she seems. As the body count rises it starts to become less clear as to what might actually be committing the killings and before they know it Grégoire and Mani find themselves involved in a secret and bloody conflict between church and state.

Christophe Gans is best known to mainstream audiences for directing the movie version of the video game SILENT HILL (2006). He was also responsible for the outstanding first segment (The Drowned) of the Brian Yuzna-produced Lovecraft anthology horror film NECRONOMICON (1993). Both of those movies exhibit a considerable degree of his directorial panache but it's BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF that's the real standout in his filmography and whose deserved success should have led to a full-fledged renaissance of French genre cinema. Sadly it didn't, but at least we still have this, a film which looked gorgeous on its original cinema release and looks fantastic in its 4K restoration.

Studio Canal's DVD offers the restored cut of the film plus two commentaries, one from Gans and the other from stars Cassel and Le Bihan. On Blu-ray you get a two disc set  - disc one content the same as the DVD, disc two containing two 78 minute making of features (ie just over two and half hours in all) plus a brand new interview with Gans that runs nearly 90 minutes. You also get ten minutes of scenes deleted from the theatrical cut and two trailers. The UHD release consists of 4 discs with the same content as the Blu-rays plus the original theatrical cut, another Gans interview and eight more featurettes not provided for review.

Christophe Gans BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF is out on UHD, Blu-ray and DVD from Studio Canal on Monday 15th May 2023

Thursday 4 May 2023

The Beta Test (2021)


"Top notch social satire"

The most recent film from Jim Cummings, director, writer and star of  2018's rather good THUNDER ROAD and 2020's THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW is getting a deserved Blu-ray release from Arrow in a two-disc edition.

Jordan (Cummings) words for a Hollywood talent agency and is due to get married very soon to Caroline (Virginia Newcomb from THE THEATRE BIZARRE's framework story). He received a mysterious card in the mail inviting him to an anonymous sexual encounter with someone who desires him. The card comes complete with sexual preference tick boxes for him to fill in.

Jordan's not sure what to do. We know it's a bad idea because we've seen the giallo-like prologue where a girl who has accepted the invitation, and confessed it to her lover, has met a bloody death at his hands as a result. But Jordan eventually goes ahead, spending an afternoon of blindfolded passion with someone who is also blindfolded. Both remain anonymous to the other. Meanwhile, more people who have accepted such invitations are being murdered by their partners.

A clever commentary on the power of social media, lack of privacy, the nature of relationships and how almost everything you do now might be stored permanently online somewhere, THE BETA TEST is an engrossing off-kilter thriller that almost qualifies as science fiction in its denouement and resolution - there's that sense of all that we see being no more than five minutes into the future. 

It's skilfully written and directed by Cummings and PJ McCabe who also stars as Jordan's best friend, while Cummings himself excels as the increasingly hysterical, almost Patrick Bateman-style agent who begins to lose control of his entire world. It's a great follow-on from THUNDER ROAD and marks Cummings and McCabe as talents to watch.

Arrow's two-disc set has the movie on disc one, along with a commentary track from directors Cummings and McCabe. There's also a Making Of and two visual essays, one from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas which is 11 minutes along and sticks to the film and its themes closely. The other, more freewheeling and more entertaining essay is from Guy Adams which explores the relationship between hotels and film in general. There's also an image gallery and trailer.

Disc two contains a collection of short films from the film-makers, as well as a look behind the scenes of the 2016 and 2017 Sundance Film Festivals, where the film-makers received awards, providing about two and a half hours of bonus material in all. The discs come with a reversible sleeve and a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel and the whole thing is housed in this lovely slipcase:

THE BETA TEST is out in a special limited two disc Blu-ray edition from Arrow on Monday 8th May 2023

Monday 1 May 2023

5-25-77 (2022)

"Utterly Charming SF Fan Biopic"

Writer-Director Patrick Read Johnson's endearing biopic, detailing how he went from movie-obsessed fan to Hollywood film-maker, is getting a digital release from 101 Films.

From the moment nine year old Patrick (John Francis Daley) sees Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in a cinema with his parents, all he wants to do is make movies. He's aided by his parents buying him model kits and a movie camera, and by family and friend eager to join in with his hobby.

But it's much more than that. Patrick becomes obsessed with film-making, and with his film-making idols, in particular video effects wizard and SILENT RUNNING director Douglas Trumbull. He resolves to get to Hollywood and become part of the industry he loves, but he lives in a tiny town (population 750) in rural Illinois so how is he to achieve his dream?

A phone call from his mother (Colleen Camp) to the editor of American Cinematographer magazine and Patrick is on a flight to LA, where he gets to meet not just Trumbull but Steven Spielberg on the set of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. And as if that wasn't enough, he's the very first member of the general public to see an early rough cut of a film called STAR WARS. But when he returns home he finds it more difficult than he thought to decide whether he wants to go remain there or go back to California.

Apparently a true story, 5-25-77 refers to the date STAR WARS was released, and while that film features prominently, fans of other SF movies of the period, especially 2001, will have a blast with this and see part of themselves in Patrick's enthusiasm and frustrations. At 132 minutes it's perhaps a little overlong but it's a film that can stand proudly in the subgenre of 'movie about movies', and especially those about movie fans. It's at its best when it's being honest about the burning all-consuming passion so many fans have for cinema, and there are several passages of dialogue that hit home and sum up perfectly why so many people have so much love for the movies. If you're an SF movie fan you'll want to see this and if you're not it will go a good way to explaining why so many people are. Here's the trailer:

Patrick Read Johnson's 5-25-77 is out on digital from 101 Films on Monday 1st May 2023