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March 14, 2007

So… where have I been?

Regular readers of this column – if there are any left – may remember my frequent, if often cryptic, references to various health problems in previous installments. Well, those myriad illnesses and symptoms were but preamble – last autumn, I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in one of my kidneys.

Needless to say, the following weeks and months were kind of crazy as I consulted with a seemingly endless parade of doctors and made long road trips from my home in rural Maine to bustling Boston, where the surgery was eventually carried out. Finally, at the end of January, I had my right kidney removed.

Now, as excuses go, that’s one of my best. Whatever spare time I had before the surgery was spent trying to keep up with paying jobs, and the last month and a half since the surgery have been pure recuperation. It’s only in the last couple of weeks that I’ve felt up to extended stints at the keyboard.

During that enforced absence, though, I found I really missed writing this column. I’ve finally learned not to make too many promises regarding this particular enterprise, but I will make a renewed effort to knock out fresh reviews as frequently as possible. I enjoy watching these flicks and writing about these discs, and a few people have even told me they like reading my reviews.

Hope you enjoy them, too.

As I’m trying to make up for lost time, for the next several columns, I’ll be mixing brand new releases with somewhat older DVD titles (although even those are mostly from within the last few months), and running extra “Capsule Reviews” at the end of every column.

Now, let’s get back to the Late Show… already in progress.

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One of my favorite action/horror films ever, William Lustig’s MANIAC COP (1988), has finally received the quality DVD release it deserves, thanks to the fine folks at Synapse Films.

Previously issued on laserdisc by Elite Entertainment and as a fuzzy full-frame DVD by a budget label best left unnamed, this new release is not only the finest the film has ever looked on home video, but includes all the great extras from the laserdisc as well as a few new features created by Synapse specifically for this edition.

When a psycho killer in a police uniform starts murdering innocent people on the streets of New York, the city is gripped in paranoia and afraid of their own police force. Soon, a young cop named Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell of EVIL DEAD and BUBBA HO-TEP fame) is wrongfully accused of being the “Maniac Cop” when his wife turns up dead and he’s arrested by his fellow officers. But while Jack may be an unfaithful jerk, he’s no serial killer, so it’s up to his policewoman mistress (Laurene Landon, HUNDRA, I THE JURY) and veteran NYPD detective Frank McCrae (the great Tom Atkins, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, LETHAL WEAPON) to find the real Maniac Cop – a scarred, Frankenstein-esque hulk named Matt Cordell (the imposing Robert Z’Dar of SOULTAKER) – stop him, and clear Jack’s name.

A great B-movie cast (which also includes William Smith, Richard Roundtree, Sheree North and Sam Raimi!), slick, noir-ish photography, a nearly perfect script by exploitation vet Larry Cohen (IT’S ALIVE, Q, BLACK CAESAR, ORIGINAL GANGSTAS), an evocative score by Jay Chattaway, and gritty direction by William Lustig (VIGILANTE, MANIAC) combine to create a top-notch, fast-paced entertainment, with plenty of thrills, impressive stunts and some genuine scares.

Synapse’s DVD presents MANIAC COP in a brand-new, high definition, 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer from the original vault materials. The movie looks amazing, with a level of clarity and detail unseen in previous video incarnations. The film has also been given a new DTS 6.1 surround audio mix as well as a crystal Dolby Digital 5.1 version.

There are plenty of extras, including a highly entertaining group commentary (ported over from the LD) with director Lustig, writer Cohen, star Campbell and composer Chattaway. There are several theatrical trailers and TV spots, a still gallery, a bunch of short scenes shot to pad out the running time for Japanese television (featuring Leo Rossi of Lustig’s RELENTLESS), and a new-to-this-DVD on-camera interview with Robert Z’Dar.

As you may have gathered, I’ve been a fan of this movie (and its first sequel) for years, and I’m absolutely thrilled to have this new edition for my DVD library. As I mentioned before, despite its long history on video, it has never looked or sounded as good as it does on this new DVD. Synapse is to be commended for putting in the effort to present this cult favorite in such a high quality package. Strongly recommended.

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BCI Eclipse has acquired the old Crown International exploitation film library, and has been making good use of these classic drive-in crowd pleasers. Crown was around from the Sixties through the Eighties, and their prodigious output covered the gamut from horror films to action flicks to teen comedies – any genre that could be produced cheaply and profitably appeal to a young audience.

JOCKS (1986) is one such Crown “classic” from BCI, a college sports and sex comedy with a decidedly unusual supporting cast for the genre.

Directed by exploitation veteran Steve Carver (LONE WOLF MCQUADE, BIG BAD MAMA), JOCKS’s performers include a very young Mariska Hargitay (LAW & ORDER SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT), Tom Shadyac (who later directed the Jim Carrey vehicles LIAR, LIAR and BRUCE ALMIGHTY) and B-movie stalwarts Richard Roundtree (SHAFT) and Christopher Lee (HORROR OF DRACULA, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT).

The story follows a small college tennis (!) team made up of misfit players (including Donald Gibb, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, BLOODSPORT) who travel to Vegas for a tournament, unaware that if they fail to win the championship, their dean (Lee) will shut down the tennis program. Of course, the boys are more interested in partying in the pre-Disneyfied Sin City than playing tennis, and their coach (Roundtree) finds it nearly impossible to ride herd on them. Will they win the tournament and save their team? More importantly, will they get laid?

What, haven’t you seen one of these flicks before?

Despite the racy cover art, the film is relatively tame sexually, with only a little bit of female nudity (not Hargitay, unfortunately) and lots of innuendo. While JOCKS is utterly predictable, the cast is appealing, the pace is good, and the movie is fairly entertaining, if not particularly memorable; the kind of movie that used to endlessly run on Cinemax in the wee hours.

BCI’s DVD is quite nice. It’s a bare-bones package, but the 20-year old movie is given a solid, sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that belies its age and low budget. The film looks damned good. The disc also includes trailers for four other Crown teen comedies of the era, THE BEACH GIRLS, WEEKEND PASS and the popular cable programmers TOMBOY and MY CHAUFFEUR – all of which will (hopefully) soon be on DVD from BCI, if they’re not already.

If you happen to remember this movie or just have a fondness for teen comedies of the era, JOCKS is an inexpensive, nicely packaged trip back to the Eighties.

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Disney/Buena Vista has really dropped the ball when it comes to their handling of the Roger Corman film library. They acquired the movies last year with some industry fanfare, assuring Corman and his fans that the company was uniquely positioned to handle the DVDs better than any other studio. Well, a year later, the releases have slowed to a trickle, they continue to offer the titles in an unmatted, full-frame format, and seem determined to give each title the ugliest, most misleading cover art imaginable.

Case in point: Ron Howard’s 1977 directorial debut, the light-hearted car crash comedy GRAND THEFT AUTO, which has been packaged as a FAST AND THE FURIOUS clone and labeled as a “Tricked Out Edition.” Sigh.

In 1976, actor Ron Howard, who was then starring in the hit sitcom HAPPY DAYS, played the lead in a low-budget, rural car chase movie for Roger Corman entitled EAT MY DUST. The movie was hugely successful on the drive-in circuit, and Corman wanted an immediate follow-up in the same vein. Howard was agreeable – but only if Corman allowed him to direct the movie as well. Corman agreed. Immediately, Ron and his father, veteran character actor Rance Howard, began to put together the script for a fast-paced, funny car chase flick they called GRAND THEFT AUTO.

Here’s the plot: young Sam (Howard) and Paula (Nancy Morgan) are madly in love and want to get married. Unfortunately, Paula’s wealthy parents object – they intend for her to marry rich, spoiled Bigby Powers (Barry Cahill) instead. Paula’s the headstrong type though, and after storming out of her parents’ house, she and Sam steal the family’s Rolls Royce and head for Las Vegas to elope. Paula’s father puts a $25,000 bounty on his daughter, and soon the two young lovers find themselves chased by a motley assortment of pursuers – including amateur bounty hunters, inept private eyes, various cops, an ambitious radio DJ in a helicopter, and Paula’s spurned fiancé.

Of course the plot is just there to link the car stunts together, and it works marvelously. In fact, it’s great fun, with plenty of well-staged car crashes, comedic appearances by Ron’s whole family (or, at least, father Rance and brother Clint) and HAPPY DAYS mom Marion Ross, and even a little bit of pointed media satire.

The Buena Vista DVD presents the film in an unmatted, non-anamorphic full-frame 1.33:1 transfer that makes a mockery of Gary Graver’s fine cinematography, leaving far too much image information on the top and bottom of the screen. Picture quality is good, but there’s a bit of dirt and debris that probably could have been digitally cleaned up, if anyone had cared enough to do so. The audio’s been given a decent 5.1 Dolby Digital remix, and it sounds fine.

As for the “Tricked Out” extras, there’s a documentary called “A Family Affair” which is essentially an on-camera interview with Rance Howard and son Clint. Director/star Ron, however, is mysteriously and disappointingly absent. There’s a short introduction to the film by Roger Corman, and the amusing original theatrical trailer.

The best extra, though, is the audio commentary by Corman and Ron Howard, who clearly has fond and vivid memories of his directorial debut. Corman doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the discussion, but the two clearly are enjoying hanging out and watching the movie again, and they’re obviously proud of the film.

And they should be. It’s unassuming, funny, and damned entertaining. I recommend picking it up, even with Disney’s stupid packaging and substandard transfer.

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Originally announced for last November, Classic Media has finally released their first follow-ups to last year’s near-definitive DVD presentation of the original Godzilla film, GOJIRA.

GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (GOJIRA NO GYAKUSHÛ, 1955) is not only the first Godzilla sequel from Japan’s Toho Studios, but it, much more so than its predecessor, firmly establishes the formula and feel of the long-running and popular kaiju eiga (”monster movie”) series.

Tsukioka, a spotter for a Japanese fishing fleet, is forced to land his plane on a small, uninhabited island. When his fellow pilot, Kobayashi, shows up to rescue him, they witness two giant monsters engaged in mortal combat nearby. Before long, the Japanese authorities realize that a monster closely resembling the first Godzilla (which was definitively killed in the first film) is on the rampage, along with a new creature they call Angurius. Eventually, the two monsters make landfall in Osaka where they resume fighting, and the military once again finds itself helpless before the destructive might of the prehistoric titans.

Directed by Motoyoshi Oda as a quickie follow-up to the surprisingly popular and profitable original, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN is nonetheless a nifty little monster movie in its own right, and a decent sequel. The tone is somewhat less Apocalyptic than GOJIRA, released just one year before, although not quite as light as later entries would become. It’s also the first in the series to pit the Big G against another monster – in this case Angurius (a/k/a Angillas), a mutated ankylosaur. The human characters – mostly employees of a large fishing collective – are normal, working-class civilians instead of the military professionals and educated scientists of the first film (and most American giant monster flicks of the era), a trend that would continue in subsequent features.

Classic Media’s DVD is another excellent presentation, featuring both the original Japanese version of the film, and the U.S. English-dubbed and edited version (originally released as GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER, although this print does not bear that title, at Toho’s insistance). The two versions look very good for their age – although both sport some age-related specks, scratches and other minor damage – and are presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratios. The U.S. version includes a commentary track by Godzilla expert Steve Ryfle, and there’s an informative featurette on “Suit Acting,” along with a slide show of rare stills and advertising art.

For Godzilla and kaiju fans, this disc is essential. Casual viewers might find it a bit slow and technically primitive, but as far as I’m concerned, they should check it out anyway.

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The same can be said of Classic Media’s presentation of MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (MOSURA TAI GOJIRA, 1964), directed by original Big G director Ishiro Honda. MVG is probably the best Godzilla film of Sixties, a bright, colorful fantasy with powerful, striking imagery, and some of the series’ most memorable scenes and characters.

When a typhoon leaves a giant egg washed up near a small coastal village, enterprising entrepreneurs buy it from the villagers and make plans to build a theme park around it. Soon, two small, fairy-like women appear, and beg the greedy businessmen to return the egg to its parent, Mothra, the giant moth god of Infant Island. If the egg is not returned, they warn, there’s gonna be trouble. Of course, they are rebuffed and their warning ignored. Meanwhile, Godzilla reawakens from a coma and digs his way out of the ground where King Kong had left him buried in the previous film, and sets out for the the freedom of the sea – and coincidentally(?) making a beeline toward Mothra’s egg. Let the rumble begin!

Like the other new Classic Media Godzilla discs, MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA includes both the original Japanese version as well as the American version, originally released in the U.S by American-International Pictures under the title GODZILLA VS. THE THING.

While both transfers are very sharp and vivid, the U.S. version is presented in an incorrect aspect ratio. Instead of the “Tohoscope” 2.35:1 ratio, the best and most complete print of GODZILLA VS. THE THING that Classic Media could get their hands on had been cropped to 1.85:1 dimensions, losing a bit of picture information on both sides of the screen. Personally, I can live with it – I’m probably only going to be watching the Japanese version from now on anyway – but I can understand why some fans, especially those who grew up with the AIP version, might be unhappy.

Extras include a commentary by kaiju experts Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle, an animated still gallery/slideshow, the original theatrical trailer, and a biography of musical composer Akira Ifukube.

Despite the aspect ratio problem on GODZILLA VS. THE THING, I still have to recommend this disc to fans of the Big G and the giant monster genre. It’s the best presentation of the film available domestically and the first time the Japanese version’s been released on U.S. home video.

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Another favorite Saturday Morning television program from my childhood, Filmation Studio’s live-action SPACE ACADEMY – THE COMPLETE SERIES (1977) has made its way to DVD due to the fine folks at BCI Eclipse.

Set in the “Star Year” 3732, the short-lived series (it mutated into JASON OF STAR COMMAND a year later) chronicled the adventures of a group of young space cadets lead by handsome Chris Gentry (Ric Carrot, THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS) and his telepathic sister Laura, (popular 60’s and 70’s child actress Pamelyn Ferdin). Other cadets include Brian Tochi, Ty Henderson, Eric Greene and the incredibly hot Maggie Cooper (AN EYE FOR AN EYE). Under the tutelage of their teacher, Commander Isaac Gampu (Jonathan Harris of LOST IN SPACE), the earnest young cadets learned important lessons about honor, duty and life while exploring the galaxy and unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

Shot on a very low budget, SPACE ACADEMY is surprisingly well crafted, with good production values, set and costumes, not to mention high-quality, pre-CGI special effects that rival those produced for other 70’s sci-fi projects, including the vastly more expensive SPACE: 1999. Nowadays, it’s common to call such handcrafted, painstaking miniature work “cheesy,” especially when compared to today’s hi-tech, computer-created effects, but that’s just insulting, ignorant and inaccurate. SPACE ACADEMY boasts damned fine effects work and it adds immeasurably to the show’s charm. In fact, effects supervisor Chuck Comisky went on to supervise the effects on Roger Corman’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, and some of his crewmembers worked on STAR WARS and its sequels.

Scripts are a mixed bag – ranging from some thought-provoking sci-fi and effective character studies to childish kid’s space adventures, but the cast is likeable and every half-hour episode is entertaining, each delivering the obligatory moral just before the end credits.

BCI/Eclipse’s DVD set includes all 15 episodes of the single season on 4 discs. The full frame transfers look very good for their age. Not pristine, but much better than the ARK II episodes that BCI released on DVD last year. Like their previous Filmation sets, BCI has included plenty of nostalgic bonus features, including a half-hour documentary/cast reunion and two episode commentary tracks with producer Lou Scheimer, cast members Carrot, Tochi and Greene, and effects supervisor Comisky. There’s an extensive still gallery, all the episode scripts on DVD-ROM, commercial bumpers and more.

The only disappointment in this fine DVD set is that neither Pamelyn Ferdin (Laura) nor Maggie Cooper (Adrian) were involved in the reunion/documentary. It’s a shame, because Ferdin was one of the most prolific and familiar child actresses of the era and probably has some great stories, while Maggie Cooper was… well, a babe.

For anyone who bought the company’s previous ARK II release, this would make a great companion set (and not just because frugal Filmation recycled the fiberglass nose section of the Ark for the “Seeker” spaceship!). Highly recommended for fans of 70’s sci-fi television, and aging genre buffs like me.

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No doubt expecting resurgence in interest about the late George Reeves after the release of the big-budget docudrama/murder mystery, HOLLYWOODLAND, VCI has recently issued two of the SUPERMAN television star’s 50’s B-movies together on a new disc. The resulting DVD, THE GEORGE REEVES DOUBLE FEATURE – THUNDER IN THE PINES/JUNGLE GODDESS (both 1948), is an entertaining if old-fashioned double bill, featuring the charismatic actor in a couple of decent low budget adventures.

In THUNDER IN THE PINES, George is a lumberjack, who is roped by Lyle Talbot (GLEN OR GLENDA, MESA OF LOST WOMEN) into a logging competition with his best friend (original DICK TRACY serial star Ralph Byrd) for both the love of a sultry French tart (Denise Darcel) and a lucrative lumber contract.

Presented in full-frame sepia tone, this Robert Edwards-directed, hour-long programmer is an amusing time-killer that benefits greatly from the good old boy chemistry between the male leads, plenty of logging stock footage, and a playful script full of good-natured humor.

The companion feature, JUNGLE GODDESS, once again teams Reeves and Byrd, this time as African adventurers who set out into the wilderness in search of a missing heiress. Of course, when they find the beautiful blonde (Wanda McKay), they discover that she’s become the “white goddess” of a hostile native tribe, and getting her back to civilization won’t be easy.

Clocking in at just over an hour, JUNGLE GODDESS is less fun than PINES, but fortunately too short to get really boring. Director Lewis D. Collins, who specialized in B-westerns, wrings what interest he can out of the simplistic script and cheap “jungle” sets, while Reeves and Byrd attempt to bring a little depth to their stock characters.

VCI presents both films, which are making their home video debuts, in decent full-frame transfers that show only minimal wear and age-related damage. The mono sound is clear and balanced. The disc is loaded with Reeves-centric extra features, including a multi-part documentary, a photo gallery, well-written bios, several text essays and more.

While neither film on this disc is a classic, they’re short, fun B-flicks that allow Reeves to ably demonstrate the charm and charisma that made him so memorable as TV’s Superman. For comic book fans, there’s also the added entertainment value of seeing “Superman” and “Dick Tracy” together on screen.

Recommended for Reeves fans and old movie buffs.

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I’ve been a fan of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy character since his first comic book appearance a decade or so ago. It’s been gratifying to see the character’s success over the years in both print and other media. I enjoyed Guillermo Del Toro’s live-action feature film, and looked forward with great anticipation to the direct-to-DVD/cable feature, HELLBOY ANIMATED: THE SWORD OF STORMS (2006).

Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

SWORD OF STORMS sends Hellboy (voiced by Ron Perlman, reprising his movie role) and his fellow BPRD (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) agents – pyrokinetic Liz (Selma Blair) and fishman Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) – to the Orient, where they must face off against demons of Thunder & Lightning, a dragon, and a bunch of cannibalistic floating heads. The story incorporates elements from a number of Mignola’s stories, and successfully captures the tone and feel of the original comics (and live-action film).

The animation is quite nice – maybe not Disney quality, but very good for a direct-to-disc production. The character designs may not be 100% faithful to Mignola’s comic book drawings, but they are attractive and well conceived. The voice work – by most of the first film’s cast – is top notch across the board. Overall, it’s a very respectable effort by director Tad Stones and his crew, and I can’t wait for the already in-production sequel.

Anchor Bay presents SWORD OF STORMS in a crystal-sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, augmented by a vibrant Dolby 5.1 sound track. The disc is heavily loaded with a half-dozen slick featurettes covering all aspects of the production, and a commentary track by creator Mignola, director Stone and co-director Phil Weinstein. There are even teaser trailers for the sequel film and a forthcoming Hellboy video game.

Personally, I loved it, and can’t wait for the sequel. Highly recommended for fans of the character and animation buffs in general.

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VOODOO MOON (2005) is one of several recent horror movie releases from Anchor Bay and director Kevin VanHook (THE FALLEN ONES). I really hope the others are better.

Filled with familiar genre personalities such as Eric Mabius (THE CROW: SALVATION, RESIDENT EVIL), Charisma Carpenter (TV’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL), Jeffrey Combs (RE-ANIMATOR, THE FRIGHTENERS), Dee Wallace (THE HOWLING, THE FRIGHTENERS) and John Amos (BEASTMASTER), the inexplicably titled VOODOO MOON has a decidedly comic book plot (fitting, as director Van Hook is a former comic book writer and artist), some slick special effects, and an unfortunately sluggish pace.

Twenty years before the film’s story begins, two siblings (Mabius and Carpenter) survived a demonic massacre in their Southern hometown. Now, the brother, Cole – who has apparently become something of an occult super-hero in the intervening years – has returned to recruit his sister (who is prone to prophetic, plot-vital visions) for a final confrontation with the demon responsible for the deaths of their family and neighbors. Joining them are several other folks, all people that Cole has helped fight evil over the years, including an outlaw biker (Amos), a traumatized cop (Combs) and a neurotic healer (Wallace).

The creakily familiar storyline might have worked in more capable hands, but damn, is VOODOO MOON talky! I fell asleep repeatedly during the running time, and when I tried watching the second half again for this review, I dozed off again. I guess this played on the Sci-Fi Channel, and maybe with lots of long commercial breaks the slow pacing wouldn’t seem quite so noticeable, but still…

It doesn’t help that the villain, when we finally meet him, isn’t particularly intimidating, nor that “voodoo” has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the plot of a film called VOODOO MOON.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is up to its usual high technical standards, with a virtually perfect 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and crisp Dolby 5.1 sound. There are two “making of” documentaries that are somewhat more involving than the feature, deleted scenes, a still gallery, and trailers for this and other Anchor Bay horror titles.

Ultimately, a good cast and slick computer effects can’t make up for a weak script and uninspired direction. Here’s hoping that the other VanHook titles on my desk (SLAYER and DEATH ROW) are better.

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When I was in high school, the A-V department used to get these thick, phone book-sized catalogs for 16mm rental films. Along with the expected “educational” variety of cinema, there were hundreds of entertainment features included; many of the listings illustrated with the original newspaper ad slicks. Since the school usually discarded these catalogs, I snagged them whenever I could. For an embryonic film buff in the pre-video era, these catalogs were far more educational and exhaustive than most available reference books, listing movies across the broad spectrum of cinema – everything from foreign art house fare to Hollywood “classics” to the most obscure drive-in programmers. It was in one of these catalogs that I first saw the listing for THAT MAN BOLT, and became obsessed with seeing it.

It only took me nearly thirty years…!

THAT MAN BOLT (1973) begins with international freelance courier Jefferson Bolt (Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, HELL UP IN HARLEM, BUCKTOWN, THREE THE HARD WAY) practicing martial arts in a Macao prison cell. Soon, he’s visited by a “government” operative (the nation involved is never named, but the agent certainly appears to be British), who offers him a job carrying a cool million in American currency from Hong Kong to Mexico City, via Los Angeles.

The suave, well-dressed Bolt never makes it to Mexico, though, as he’s waylaid in L.A. by mobsters that seem intent on snagging his briefcase full of cash. Soon, neither Bolt nor the audience is sure whether the money is real or counterfeit (and you know, I’m still not quite sure how it turned out), people are dying left and right, and Bolt’s on his way back to the orient for a kung fu confrontation in Hong Kong.

I love this movie. Can’t even begin to figure out the story, but I love the movie anyway. Fred Williamson’s always been my favorite Blaxploitation lead, and Jefferson Bolt is clearly his attempt at creating a more general-audience, mass-market hero along the lines of James Bond. Bolt is a former captain of U.S. Special Forces, graduate of Cal Tech and MIT with a master’s degree in physics, and a black belt in karate. He wears expensive suits, has several cool apartments around the world, uses telescopic sunglasses, and possesses an upscale persona right out of the Ian Fleming playbook. Even the sex scenes are handled tastefully off-screen, as in the early Bond films.

The pacing is fast, the Hong Kong photography is beautiful, the funky score is great, and the unbeatable combination of Williamson’s sideburns, Alpha male machismo and cigar-chewing charisma carry the film, even as the plot continues to deteriorate with each additional minute of running time.

THAT MAN BOLT is available on a “Soul Showcase” DVD from Universal, which presents the film in a beautiful, crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with clear, Dolby Stereo sound. There are no extras included.

A great Saturday afternoon time-killer and a must-see for fans of “The Hammer.”

 

 

CAPSULE REVIEWS!

In another attempt to catch up with the mountain of notable discs that piled up during my hiatus, I’m incorporating my own new “Bonus Feature” into DVD Late Show – “Capsule Reviews” – super short and to the point! To begin, here’s a half-dozen DVDs that are long overdue for some Late Show attention:

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GROOVIE GOOLIES “SATURDAY MOURNING COLLECTION” (1970-71). Another fine Filmation TV cartoon series set from BCI/Eclipse’s Ink & PAINT label, GOOLIES includes all 16 episodes of this amusingly macabre LAUGH-IN-inspired animated sketch comedy on 3 discs, and they look fantastic. If you can shut off or suppress your adult cynicism, your inner 10-year-old will love each pun laden, bubblegum pop song filled installment! Loaded with entertaining extras, including 2 episode commentaries, image galleries, liner notes, sing alongs, a strange 45-minute docu-comedy by fans of the show, and a candid interview with Filmation head honcho Lou Scheimer, GROOVIE GOOLIES is a trick and a treat any time of year for nostalgic monster movie fans!

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THE ROCKFORD FILES: SEASON THREE (1976-77). The third season of television’s finest private eye series comes to DVD in a no-frills, but well-produced 5-disc set from Universal. In this season, the writing took on a slightly sharper edge, and the show found a perfect balance of dry humor, action, and characterization, with series star James Garner at the peak of his skills. I don’t think there’s a clunker in the bunch. The DVD set includes all 22 episodes in remarkably well preserved 1.33 full frame transfers, and includes a bonus episode from the fourth season. Highly recommended.

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ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942). This Technicolor desert swashbuckler finally hits home video courtesy of Universal’s Cinema Classics label, and while one might hope for some more extras, one can’t argue with the quality of the film. Inspired by the classic Arabian Nights legends, this big-budget epic features Jon Hall as a heroic prince, lovely Maria Montez as the legendary Schereazade, and THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD’s acrobatic Sabu in a fast, funny and romantic tale of high adventure. The disc features a lush, 1.33:1 full-frame transfer, an introduction by Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, and the original theatrical trailer. Recommended.

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LOST CITY OF THE JUNGLE (1946). This fun thirteen-chapter serial stars Rod Stanton and Keye Luke (KUNG FU) as agents of the “United Peace Foundation,” who oppose the sinister plans of legendary screen villain Lionel Atwill (in his last role) as he searches for a deadly radioactive element in the remote Asian nation of Pendrang. Briskly directed by Universal vets Ray Taylor and Lewis D. Collins, LOST CITY OF THE JUNGLE employs more than its share of carefully-chosen stock footage and tricky editing to flesh out its four hour plus running time. VCI crams all 13 chapters onto a single disc, and although the source material is somewhat scratched and battered, considering the film’s age and rarity, it’s more than watchable, with no obvious compression artifacts or other digital blemishes. One of the more obscure 40’s cliffhangers, VCI’s disc should be a welcome addition to any serial fan’s library – just don’t expect a pristine presentation.

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MAXIMUM ACTION: 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA/KILLPOINT (1985/1984). Thanks to BCI/Eclipse, these two craptastic action flicks from the Crown International vaults are now available in one, handy, two-disc double feature set. In 9 DEATHS, Sho Kosugi (REVENGE OF THE NINJA) and Brent Huff (PERILS OF GWENDOLINE) battle a wheelchair-bound Nazi, his Amazon henchwoman, some midgets, and random evil ninjas in the Philippine jungle. In KILLPOINT, aging kung fu cop Leo Fong (ENFORCER FROM DEATH ROW) and FBI agent Richard Roundtree (SHAFT), are after a deranged Cameron Mitchell (SPACE MUTINY), who’s stolen a bunch of weapons from a National Guard armory and gone on a crime spree. 9 DEATHS, the more fun – if ludicrous – of the two flicks, is presented in a nice, but non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, while the dreary KILLPOINT is given a sharp, anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation. The discs include trailers for other Crown action “classics.” These flicks are bad – even by my usually undemanding standards, and are recommended only for Kosugi (or Fong?) completists.

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BACKLASH (2006). Stuntwoman Danielle Burgio turns action star as secret agent Skye Gold, in this somewhat incoherent but action-packed espionage thriller. On vacation in Trinidad, the pretty CIA agent finds herself marked for death by professional assassins and spends the rest of the movie running around the tropical island trying not to get killed. Fast paced and utterly brainless, this MTI direct-to-video B movie is still fun to watch, with some great fight scenes, nice photography and an attractive lead. There’s some really atrocious CGI effects in here, too, though (apparently the production couldn’t afford to rent helicopters) so be forewarned. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the disc includes a couple of fluffy featurettes, a music video, bios, and trailers for other MTI action releases (all of which appear to have the same cast). Undemanding fun, and maybe worth a rental.

Thanks for joining me today. Some of the titles I intend to cover in upcoming columns are: CHAINSAW SALLY, SLAYER, EMMANUELLE 2: THE JOYS OF A WOMAN, ONCE UPON A GIRL, CITY OF ROTT, HUNK, THE POM POM GIRLS, THE VAN, THE WICKER MAN, THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST, LAURA’S TOYS, RAPTOR ISLAND, THE CISCO KID COLLECTION, PUMPKINHEAD: ASHES TO ASHES, ALTERED, KILL BABY KILL, JET LI’S FEARLESS, CASINO ROYALE, Disney’s PETER PAN, more MR. MOTOs, a bunch of new super-hero flicks from the mind of Stan Lee… and more!

I hope you’ll join me.

For older Late Show columns (hey, the reviews are still good!), visit the DVD Late Show archive, and for my other pop culture musings, DVD previews and shameless self-promotion, you might enjoy checking out my blog.

Comments, DVD questions, review requests and offers of money can be sent to: dvdlateshow@atomicpulp.com

Comments:

2 Responses to “DVD Late Show: My Cancer Year”

  1. steve Says:

    do you know movie The Last Chase (1981 lee majors by Crown International released) ever release on DVD??

  2. Aramis Says:

    Re: Space Academy & Ark II…

    BCI eventually combined Ark II, Space Academy, and Jason of Star Command into “The Filmation Sci-Fi Box Set.” No new content, but all three DVD sets combined into one box.

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