Saturday, July 31, 2021

Review: The Jungle Cruise (2021)

Disney's latest attempt to turn a theme park attraction into a movie franchise succeeds in delivering a breezy popcorn-muncher, but the thrills are gone all too soon. 

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of fun to be had. Dwayne Johnson's turn as a jungle cruise skipper who delivers groan-inducing puns and one-liners while also swinging from the trees to battle bad guys is the stuff that blockbusters are made of. Similarly, Emily Blunt's portrayal of a brash, no-nonsense botanist who won't let any obstacle stand in her way makes for easy viewing. Let's be honest, these are two of the most charming, likeable people working in Hollywood today; the camera loves them, the audience enjoys them, and this is a fantastic bit of casting that helps this movie go down easy. There's even nice character work delivered by Paul Giamatti (American Splendor) and Jesse Plemons (The Irishman). 

I just wish these actors had more to do. This is another case of one of the major studios serving up MacGuffin: The Movie, in which our characters have to find a thing to go unlock a thing, save a thing, or stop a thing from happening. Character moments are broad and trope-ish, the action fairly generic, especially in the age of big CGI spectacles filled with lots of chases and battles. This movie is as conventional as blockbusters come: take likable heroes, send them on a quest for a sacred object, insert dastardly, mustache-twirling villain, add a supernatural threat, sit back and wait for the money to roll in. 

If you've seen Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Mummy (1999) and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), then Jungle Cruise holds no surprises for you. In fact this movie borrows so liberally from each of those smash successes that it seems to have lifted entire elements, character relationships, and even scenes directly from those established hits. The quest for a sacred, mystical object is straight outta Indy. The bookish, attractive lady adventurer with a foppish brother and the rakish, dashing male expedition leader is lifted from The Mummy. The supernatural element--which I won't spoil here--was already used to good effect in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. "You best start believin' in formulaic blockbusters, missy...you're IN ONE!" 

As a fan of the theme park ride on which this movie is based, there's a lot that I appreciate. Dwayne Johnson delivers entire chunks of the Jungle Cruise ride banter, and his passengers groan accordingly. In fact, almost all of the elements from the ride are included in the movie. The Jungle Cruise theme park attraction is one of the kitschiest, campiest, and deliberately-goofy experiences that still exists on Disney property, which is precisely why so many Disney parks nuts (like me) love it so much. The filmmakers realize this, and instead of trying to outrun these cheesy elements, they've embrace them fully. For Disney aficionados, there are TONS of Easter Eggs just waiting to be picked up by savvy audience members. 

But Easter Eggs don't make a memorable movie. There's enough pulp adventure and serial-era fun to satisfy audiences in the short term, but the problem is that nothing sticks. Yes, we have lots of chases, CGI animals and jungle shenanigans, but it's hard to shake the feeling that the movie is just one action scene after another, connected by the thinnest of character motivations or development. This is corporate cinema at its biggest. Those seeking evidence of Disney's usual agendas will find exactly what they're looking for, and audiences everywhere get to play their favorite game, "let's spot the gender swap."

Also, we have to talk about the Metallica song. The film opens with a flamenco-flavored rendition of the metal legends' hit "Nothing Else Matters." As soon as the Disney castle is shown, the familiar guitar arpeggio begins in what is unmistakably a new version of one of classic rock radio's favorite songs. Later in the movie, the promise of that flamenco guitar doodle is delivered upon, with a full-on Metallica performance, distortion turned to 11. Stay through the credits and you'll see that sure enough, James, Kirk, Lars, and Robert are credited for both the songwriting AND the performance. This is in a South American jungle adventure set in 1916? Odd choice. Hey, it worked when Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle used Guns 'n Roses, why not here? In fact, that's probably exactly why that song is in this movie.

If it seems like I'm being overly-critical, I want to make it clear that I DID enjoy Jungle Cruise. I laughed when I was supposed to laugh, I had fun watching the two leads stay one step ahead of certain death while learning to like and trust each other, and I especially love the post-WWI pulp/serials adventure vibe. The problem is that I just saw the movie a few hours ago as I write this review, and I'm already forgetting large chunks of the film. There's a massive exposition dump that kicks off Act III, and I can't remember most of it. This is not a movie built on plot or character, it's a movie designed to be a spectacle, but in an era that's positively bursting with other $200 million dollar spectacles, it doesn't do much to stand apart from the Jumanjis or the Fast and Furiouses that now compete so heavily for our dollars. 

Jungle Cruise is a fun way to spend a couple of hours. The characters are likable, the action is enjoyable, and the setting harkens back to some of the most exciting adventure stories in all of cinema. As an adaptation of an admittedly tired Disney theme park ride, it's wildly successful. The audience I saw this movie with loved it. They clapped when it was over! If the box office returns and Disney Plus viewings meet expectations, no doubt we'll be back here again in 2024 for Jungle Cruise 2, and then another sequel, and probably another after that. And if that happens, I'm very happy for Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Hey, it couldn't happen to a nicer couple of people. But this is a potato chip of a movie. Heck, it's the whole bag of potato chips: tasty in the moment, but gone all too soon. 

Jungle Cruise is now playing theaters and on Disney+ via Premiere Access. 



Friday, July 30, 2021

Review: The Green Knight (2021)


 David Lowery's big screen interpretation of one of medieval literature's most famous tales is complex, ambitious, thoughtful, and provocative.

The Green Knight (2021) is the latest in a long line of screen adaptations of the 14th century story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a classic tale in the romantic, chivalric tradition that recounts the tale of one of Arthur's knights and a quest for honor against the titular Green Knight, a supernatural character that seems to promise certain death. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) plays Gawain, a young man (here he is Arthur's nephew, though our weary king is never identified as the mythic monarch) who is brash, headstrong, and seeking adventure. When The Green Knight--here, literally a man who is composed of nature itself, as if he was formed from a living, moving tree--rides into the King's hall on Christmas day and issues a challenge in the guise of a game, Gawain accepts. The consequences of this challenge set Gawain forth on a quest that will push him beyond his limits and forge him in fire...if he survives. 

Part quest, part romance, part fable, part morality play, the story itself is full of danger and mystery with elements that horror fans will likely receive well. And yet, director David Lowery has made something that will not likely appeal to mainstream audiences used to popcorn-fueled spectacles, nor is his film likely to please fantasy film fans who flocked to theaters to visit of Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. 

The Green Knight is more complicated. 

Lowery has made something that is unapologetically medieval. Gone are the sprawling symphonies from massive orchestras that stir our sense of adventure. In its place are medieval instruments, monastic chants, and the kind of vocalizations that one might expect to hear at a Catholic Mass. This is a deeply-personal journey for Gawain, and as such, the music supports this introspection. Moments of tribulation, danger, and astonishment are supplemented by digital bass drops and horror movie audio techniques to wonderful effect. 

The movie also takes its time and doesn't rush. This is not an action film, it's a quest for identity, for honor. Those expecting battles and swashbuckling derring-do will likely find themselves disappointed. The audience accompanies Gawain on this quest, and we learn of his quality as the film unfolds slowly, through his deeds and how he treats others. This is the sort of movie that is best described as a "slow burn." I found myself thinking of this movie, distributed by A24, as an extension of the spirit embodied by Handmade Films, the British production and distribution company founded by ex-Beatle George Harrison and Denis O'Brien, which specialized in quirky, eccentric, unconventional films that had a strong authorial voice. 

It's also a movie oozing with an unconventional style that mixes stark realism with dark magic. The kingdom itself (Camelot is never mentioned) is brown, dry, dead. Arthur is in decline, and he now struggles to lift his sword. Think John Boorman's Excalibur by way of Terry Gilliam, as Lowery clearly has a sense of humor and whimsy that at times feels delightfully at odds with the serious tone of this tale. This is also a world that is deeply rooted in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. There are Christian beliefs, but pagan ones as well. Magic is real, and nature has a voice. Much care and attention has been taken to make this movie look and feel like a glimpse into the long-distant past of the England of long, long ago, complete with the reality of the supernatural. 

Performances are uniformly fantastic with Dev Patel carrying most of the movie on his capable shoulders and conveying the journey of his character--the physical and the emotional. Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider) has multiple roles to embody (no spoilers) and brings something unique to each of them. Joel Edgerton seems to embrace his role with relish, and long-time Arthurian movie fans will note that he played Gawain in the 2004 film King Arthur, which brings a nice passing of the torch to The Green Knight

This is a hard movie to recommend because it's absolutely not for everyone, but that's what makes me appreciate it so much. For the right audience, there's so much to admire and appreciate. Director David Lowery's fingerprints are all over it (he also wrote the screenplay), bringing this movie a sense of personality that is very uncommon for a movie with this subject matter. The Green Knight is perhaps best viewed as a study in contrasts: darkly horrific, but also whimsical. Mercilessly realistic, but also full of magic and the supernatural. Driven by a singular quest, yet in no hurry to arrive at its destination. 

I think I love The Green Knight. I certainly can't stop thinking about it, admiring the dark, medieval elements that would have made Professor J.R.R. Tolkien smile and nod in appreciation (Tolkien himself famously adapted this tale from Middle English), but the movie is also not afraid to have a unique style and a playful tone. The tale of Sir Gawain and the challenge of the Green Knight has been told at feasting tables and around campfires for over 600 years. And that's what David Lowery's film adaptation feels like: a campfire tale told with new techniques, but retaining the same mysticism, chivalry, and excitement that it undoubtedly embodied on those cold medieval nights, hundreds of years ago.

The Green Knight is now playing in theaters.



Fresh Flavors - Vincent Price and International Horror!


In our latest new release spotlight, we've got a quartet of Vincent Price movies, shot-on-video shenanigans, and horror movies from all over the world!

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

New Christmas Music Classics feat. Eric Grigs from Pop Trash Museum (Christmas in July)


Eric Grigs from Pop Trash Museum stops by to celebrate Christmas in July and discuss some of his favorite NEW Christmas songs!

Check out this Christmas in July Spotify playlist, curated by Pop Trash Museum!

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Review: Flight to Mars (The Film Detective)

The Film Detective has just served up another outstanding slice of retro awesomeness with their new Blu-ray of FLIGHT TO MARS (1951), featuring a stunning new restoration and special features from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures! Full details about the film and the features in this review!

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Purchase here: https://amzn.to/2VlcFUo

Christmas in July Contest Winners Announced, Plus MORE Chances to Win!


It's time to announce our latest Christmas in July contest winners PLUS we've got even more chances for you to win prize packs! 
LifeAfterMovies.com
YouTube.com/lifeaftermovieswebshow

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Review: Invaders of the Lost Gold (Severin Films)


Saddle up as we review Invaders of the Lost Gold, a 1982 action/exploitation film brand new to Blu-ray courtesy of Severin Films!


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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Unscripted: Masters of the Universe Revelation and Thoughts on Modern Fandom!


We've seen the first five episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelation and we've got LOTS of UNSCRIPTED thoughts about this show AND the fan reaction!

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Review - Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins


Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins blasts into theaters everywhere this weekend and Cereal At Midnight has your non-spoiler review! Yo Joe!

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Friday, July 23, 2021

Mail Call - HorrorPack and Severin Films!Mail Call!


In this episode, we're digging into the latest HorrorPack and a Severin Films Blu-ray! 


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Thursday, July 22, 2021

Unboxing July Titles From Mill Creek Entertainment!


New titles have arrived from Mill Creek Entertainment! Join Heath for this unboxing episode and see what's hot off the replicators!

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Thrift Store 26: Truth, Consequences, and Tap Dancing


In our latest thrift store video, we return to the hallowed hall of bargain buys to plunder the treasures of media history! 

see ALL our thrift store videos HERE

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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Review: Initiation (2020)

Initiation is a thoughtful new slasher film that offers an interesting twist on an old formula. 

The setting is familiar: a university campus, dorm rooms occupied by frat boys and sorority sisters looking for a good time. The party gets out of hand and things go too far. There's an assault, a cover-up, and then the murders begin, perpetrated by a masked killer who uses an impact driver to impale his victims with long metal spikes. 

It's not surprising to find out that the director of Initiation, John Berardo, has adored Scream, Wes Craven's reinvention of the slasher genre, since he saw it as a ten-year-old in 1996. Just like Craven flipped the script on expectations 25 years ago, Berardo has brought his own post-modern twist to the slasher film through the addition of social media itself as a character in the film. 

Scream invited viewers to play along by acknowledging the rules of the horror film. Similarly, Initiation brings things into the social media age where everyone holds onto their phones like lifeboats in the middle of the ocean. It's actually a clever addition that brings a lot of freshness to a genre that's been explored, reimagined, and innovated seemingly to death. The audience is privy to every text message, blocked call, and even decision to go into Do Not Disturb mode from each of its characters. The filmmakers have thoughtfully chosen to add these elements to the movie screen itself via special effects so that we're fully immersed into this digital hell. In some scenes, it even adds to the tension as we see characters that can't call for help because they have no service. 

Initiation stars Lindsay LaVanchy (who is also one of the writers), and she's a breath of fresh air: independent, smart, and strong yet vulnerable. Her character begins the film as a carefree personality, but she becomes more withdrawn and traumatized as the story unfolds. Like Neve Campbell in Scream, LaVanchy plays things internally. She's a scream queen, but she belongs to a new era. The movie also co-stars Lochclyn Munro, who older fans will remember from 1998's Dead Man on Campus. He portrays a university authority figure here, but this movie brings him full circle with a touch of irony.

The movie succeeds as a slasher whodunnit with a list of suspects a mile long. It has interesting and creative kill scenes, including one that I don't believe audiences have ever seen before and that will stay with viewers. The film is deliberately paced, and some may be surprised at how much time and energy is spent on non-horror elements like the relationships among the characters themselves (which some would argue is simply a different kind of horror). 

The new Blu-ray from Lionsgate (this independent film was distributed by Saban Films) includes two behind-the-scenes features which run a combined 36 minutes and offer a really fantastic, honest look at the production of the film itself. Through these supplemental materials, we learn about the director's deep love of Scream, that he is a graduate of USC, and that making this one film has been the director's life-long goal, with it taking seven years to get made. 

We also learn that this was conceived under the title Dembanger (a slang term for an exclamation point) and even exists as an earlier short film under that name. Shame that the Dembanger short film wasn't included as an extra feature here! In fact, after learning so much about the production of this film and knowing where it came from creatively, I'm come to the opinion that Saban Films and Lionsgate have done no favors to Initiation in their release of the movie. The new title is fairly generic and the poster art is uninspiring, giving us little to separate this movie from the hundreds of bottom-shelf direct-to-streaming horror films that occupy store shelves and digital services. This movie is better than that. 

Initiation is an interesting and fresh take on a very familiar subgenre of horror. It's acted well, the script does a wonderful job at showing how much more complicated the lives of young people have become thanks to smartphones and social media, and it's a horror film that takes lots of time to display what our characters are thinking and feeling. For some, this will be a negative, but for me, it's a positive. It's also clearly a work of passion from a small team who spent years of their life making this story a reality. There's a lot that the movie tries to unpack: changing societal norms, the #MeToo movement, a deconstruction of horror movie misogyny, and an awareness that social media has changed how we interact with each other forever. There's no shortage of ideas here--there may actually be too many ideas for one movie--and the more I think about Initiation, the more I admire it. 

Initiation is now available on Blu-ray and digital

Watch our interview with director John Berardo HERE

Monday, July 19, 2021

Review - Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (2021)


"The Journey Changes You."

Anthony Bourdain was a lot of things: chef, author, travel host, punk philosopher, iconoclast, and reluctant figurehead, to name a few. He was thrust onto the international stage in 2000 with a tell-all book, Kitchen Confidential, that quickly rose through the ranks of the bestseller list. This led to talk show appearances, and then to a new career as the host of a travel show with food and culture under the microscope. Before anyone would have expected, Bourdain's frank, no-b.s. attitude, coupled with an intense and deeply-analytical interest in the world around him, created a superstar. Hundreds of hours of television and multiple books were produced over the next 18 years. On June 8, 2018, Bourdain committed suicide in France, seemingly in reaction to tabloid reports that his lover, film director Asia Argento, was seeing someone else. The story had come to a shocking, tragic end.  

Or had it? Does his death define that story, or can we examine the rich life that he lived, instead?

The stellar new documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain seeks to unravel the man himself. Yes, his final days are chronicled in as much detail as possible, but the film is far more interested in exploring the complicated figure, as well as the deep relationships that he formed along his restless, gypsy journeys. 

Full disclosure: I've struggled with how to approach this review. On one hand, there's the detached, professional path that speaks of the merits of the film itself and examines the narrative. But then, there's the other hand, the path that is personal and vulnerable, even uncomfortable. Bourdain was a man of passion, a man of restlessness, a man with standards that nobody could live up to, including himself. Failed relationships, failed marriages, a darkness that was both a friend an an enemy at once. Above all, he was a runner, an addictive personality who didn't do anything in small measures, be it food, drink, substances, or even work itself. 

Roadrunner crystalizes what we knew all along: Bourdain was a patron saint of restless souls, and that is my tribe. Some people create because they have to. The voices in their head won't be silent until they've exorcised them onto a page, or a video, or journal. To not create, to not express what is within, is tantamount to death. Or if that seems too dramatic, perhaps a little death, a little chip away at one's soul, leaving one diminished. But here's the rub: sharing too much of oneself can also have a similar diminishing effect, like ice cream melting in the hot summer sun. Seekers don't stop. No, that's not accurate; they can't stop, even when they want to. For seekers and runners, happiness is elusive, perhaps around the next corner, the next meal, the next trip, the next purchase, the next glass, the next hit. Nothing is more painful than stagnation, nothing more offensive than mediocrity. Runners are nomadic creatures, if not physically, then definitely within the realm of their own minds. Like gypsies, always in search of the next place to set up camp. But each camp is not a permanent destination, and before long, it's time to move on. 

This was Anthony Bourdain. It's also a lot of other people who are wired exactly the same way. The real gift that Roadrunner offers the audience is a look at the many different sides of a man that may very well have been misunderstood by almost everyone. Shyness easily mistaken for arrogance. Self-loathing mistaken for aggression. High expectations of others actually a manifestation of low self-esteem. Lack of patience with his travel producers that was actually a desire to make up for lost time and seize every moment in the most real, genuine way possible, not filtered through artifice and television fakery. 

Through archival footage, b-roll, and interviews with those who knew Bourdain best, we're given unprecedented access to the real life of a man who, admittedly, rarely put on a happy face for the camera and never pretended to be something he was not. We see his earliest success after the publication of Kitchen Confidential and a man who is (justifiably) suspicious of authority, the media, and anyone offering a free lunch. To paraphrase a quote when someone asks him if he's happy about his success: "I don't trust anything outside those kitchen doors." Control. We see the birth of Bourdain the world traveler, swallowing the still-beating heart of a cobra, and we also see how his need to be 100% genuine changes and alters the course of the production. We see the heart of darkness as he retreats within and coldly slaughters animals for the table while the documentary hauntingly compares Bourdain to Marlon Brando's Col. Walter E. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, a movie he loved and quoted often. And yet, we also see the tender side: the husband, the father, the romantic. A man who valued relationships and loved his friends, but who was always in search of ever-elusive happiness. The duality is complicated. Contradictory. 

The tagline of the film is "The Journey Changes You." Indeed, we see as Bourdain transforms from an intellectual introvert who lives his dreams through books and film into an experienced globe trekker. We see his reticence at being a part of the media evolve into the authority to transmit his message and his voice to the largest audience possible. And we see the toll that this takes on him as he becomes tired, angry, and withdrawn from too many miles, too many strangers who know his name, and the realization that there's nowhere in the world that he can go to get away from himself and the fame that he was given--no, not given. That he helped create. 

All of this information is deftly woven together into a brisk and deeply-engaging narrative by the film's producer and director, Morgan Neville. Some readers may recognize Neville from his masterpiece examination of minister/children's show host Fred Rogers in the 2018 documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? as well as a whole spate of music documentaries covering the likes of Brian Wilson, Sam Phillips, Muddy Waters, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Keith Richards. That Neville would turn his attention to Anthony Bourdain with the same fervor as rock and roll's greatest legends says a lot. Though Bourdain wasn't known for music, he embodied the same uncompromising lifestyle that made him a respected figure among the rock and rollers who also exist at the fringes of society. One of the many talking heads in Roadrunner is Josh Homme, the co-founder of the bands Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, and Eagles of Death Metal. It's also no surprise to learn that Bourdain was also a long-term penpal with musician/actress Alison Mosshart. 

The film is also filled with other figures from Bourdain's life, including celebrity chefs such as David Chang and Eric Ripert, artist David Choe, Bourdain's second wife Ottavia, and many, many more. The most notable absence in the new conversations recorded for the film is also the most understandable: though such a key component to the story (and finale) of Bourdain's life, Asia Argento is not featured in the interviews. 

Are there any messages to be gleaned from this beautiful film? After all, life is not a Hollywood production and loose ends are rarely tied up neatly in a bow with a happy ending. As Orson Welles said, "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop the story." And yet, for all the sadness and heartache contained in the documentary, there's so much joy. If life is judged by how much it is lived, Bourdain left this world with nothing held back. Dozens of trips around the globe, no meal off the table, no wine left uncorked. He approached people and cultures in the same way he approached each new travel opportunity, with his whole heart and mind wide open to the experience. Director Morgan Neville has the wherewithal to fill his documentary with rock and roll revelry, from the music choices to the editing style to the kind of outsider aesthetic that sums up Bourdain so succinctly. This is not a funeral dirge, it's a raucous riot. 

In the interview that kicks off the film, one of the participants asks the director what the goal is for the documentary. Neville replies that he wants to show who Bourdain was. 

In that monumental task, he has succeeded.  

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is currently in theaters. 


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Christmas In July CONTEST WINNER Announcement and TWO MORE CHANCES TO WIN!


Christmas In July continues, and we're giving away more presents to YOU! In this episode, the winner of our first prize pack is announced, along with your next TWO chances to win!

Friday, July 16, 2021

Review: Spiral (2021)

For those keeping score, Spiral: From the Book of Saw is the ninth movie in the splatter horror franchise that built a name on elaborate death traps and perverse morality. For this latest entry, Chris Rock takes the lead as a police detective investigating an ever-growing pile of bodies left behind from a copycat of Jigsaw, the twisted mastermind of the series. Rock's character is the son of a famous cop, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and in addition to solving the murders, he's got a lot of baggage from a complicated father/son relationship. 

The reader may be wondering "what does this movie bring to the table that's fresh and unique?" The answer? Not much. Because we finally seem to have moved on from Jigsaw, we've got a new mystery to unravel and new victims, even new faces leading the charge against these horrific crimes, but really, Spiral offers more of the same that we've come to expect from this series. That's either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your affection for the Saw films.

Chris Rock has been making an effort to stretch outside of his comedic wheelhouse into more dramatic fare, and he actively pursued this horror part. As he mentions in the behind-the-scenes documentary that accompanies the 4K/Blu-ray/Digital release, he saw an opportunity to bring a bit of humor to the lead role of Spiral. Unfortunately, most of the humor seems missing, or just doesn't work. This is one of Chris Rock's darkest, angriest performances, and it's such a dramatic departure from what we've come to expect for him, I'm not sure most of it works. He feels in over his head for most of the film. When Samuel L. Jackson shows up, he makes everything seem effortless by comparison. The movie co-stars Max Minghella (The Social Network) as Chris Rock's protege, and Marisol Nichols (TV's Riverdale) as the police captain. 

Because this is a cop drama as well as a horror film, there's an interesting theme of corruption that surrounds the film. It's worth mentioning that the movie was completed in 2020, but put on hold due to the global pandemic. Therefore, certain timely elements of the story concerning police brutality and revenge against cops are even more relevant than they were when the movie was being filmed. 

Unfortunately, even though delayed for a year, the movie still feels rushed. Certain plot points feel unexplored, and the third act has an interesting premise that it ultimately fails to deliver upon. The film is not helped by bad dialogue, either. When a character asks to borrow Chris Rock's phone, he replies "don't drain my battery watching Twilight." What an odd reference. When exploring the evidence after a murder, he says "I've been staring at this s**t for 5 hours. I don't even look at porn that long." Even the great Sam Jackson is not safe from bad lines: when he clashes with his son on the case, he says "I knew I never should have let him become a cop." Such lines are clunky, unfunny, and unnecessary. 

Still, for a Saw movie, everything we want and expect from the series is here. Fresh elaborate traps that would make Rube Goldberg proud? Check. Creepy puppets and masks? Check. Outrageous gore, done mostly with practical effects? Check. Even the tried-and-true music video editing techniques are here, though they don't feel nearly as fresh as they did back in 2004. For a franchise that built a reputation on one new film every year for an astonishing seven consecutive years, familiarity is part of the charm. 

Something else worth praising is the fact that this is a $20 million dollar movie. In today's movie marketplace, it's not at all uncommon for budgets to bloat upwards of $50 million or even much higher, so Spiral is something to celebrate: a modest budgeted horror movie with big-name talent that doesn't compromise what fans expect. The film was written and directed by veterans of the Saw movies. Screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger wrote the prior installment Jigsaw together, and director Darren Lynn Bousman has now shepherded four of the nine films to the screen, going all the way back to Saw II in 2005.  

The new 4K disc looks very good for a movie shot digitally. Saturation is deep, colors are rich, and the textures of fabrics and even stubbled faces look fantastic. The film is accompanied by the aforementioned behind-the-scenes feature, The Consequences of Your Actions: Creating Spiral--also presented in 4K--which runs nearly one hour and is packed with stories from the production. It's interesting, if not surprising, to learn that this movie began life as a completely different film that would once again feature Jigsaw. How and why the story changed, how Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson were brought aboard, and how the film ultimately took a new direction are all subjects that are explored in depth throughout the feature. The executive producers even speak about their fatigue after the first seven films and why a break, or even an end, was a necessity. The disc also includes featurettes on the traps (visualized through schematics), and the marketing of the film. Two audio commentaries are included: one with the director, one of the writers, and the composer, and another with two of the producers. 

For those that love the very specific brand of horror found in the Saw films, Spiral presents more of what we expect. This is the franchise that spawned an entire style of horror, and has been imitated endlessly. The presence of Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson bring something new to the table, and the arrival of a copycat killer offers a twist on a well-established formula. On the other hand, this is the ninth movie in the series, and one can't help but wonder how much life is left in the series. Nevertheless, technical merits are high, and horror hounds can feel confident in adding the latest story in the long-running splatter series to their shelves. 

Christmas in July: THE NIGHT BEFORE feat. Lisa Downs


Filmmaker Lisa Downs (Life After Flash, Life After the Navigator) stops by Cereal At Midnight to discuss one of her favorite Christmas movies, THE NIGHT BEFORE, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie! Pop it! 

Twitter: LifeAfterMovie3
Instagram: LifeAfterMovies

Want EVEN MORE Cereal At Midnight? We've got you covered! Support us on Patreon and gain access to our huge vault of exclusives, which includes over 90 videos that aren't available anywhere else! Find out more at Patreon.com/CerealAtMidnight!

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Review: Punk the Capital


At first glance, the heart of American democracy may seem like a strange place for punk music to take root. Upon further examination, it makes perfect sense. Punk--bourne out of rebellion, inspired by injustices and the malaise of society, institutions, corporations, WHATEVER--will thrive in the places closest to the source of that frustration. What could be a better breeding ground for outspoken voices than the capital of the United States?

Punk the Capital documents the Washington, D.C. punk movement from its birth in 1976 through 1983 and chronicles all the tumult and uncertainty of that era. Through first hand-accounts of those who were there, as well as archival footage of news items, live shows, even radio interviews, we're a fly on the wall as a spark becomes a flame. We see how the resentment toward commercial radio, the corporatization of art, and the dissatisfaction of the status quo leads to the gestation of new, wild sounds that harken back to the earliest days of rock and roll. Dangerous music. Music with a message. Music that is the manifestation of rage, defiance, dissatisfaction, ambition, pride.

The film covers seven years of punk history, but it feels like a lifetime. In terms of cultural trends, seven years might as well BE a lifetime. Many different subgenres of punk are covered, often by those who lived it, from old hippies through the hardcore movement, and even the straight edge scene in which substances like alcohol and drugs were abstained from as a statement against the excesses of the era. Through it all, we're guided through this living history by music and stories from Teen Idles, Minor Threat, The Slickee Boys, Bad Brains, Black Flag's Henry Rollins, and more. It's so interesting to see how these wild teens have developed into adults that still exist on the fringes and retain their outlaw spirit, but have also grown in surprising ways. Punk never dies. It can start a business, see commercial success, become respectable in the community, and even exist within an establishment, but the punk mentality never goes away. 

Punk the Capital does an outstanding job of weaving together compelling narrative--an audio/video assault on complacency--but also in letting us hear (and almost more importantly, SEE) the music, the anti-fashion, and the power (danger) when people come together with a shared mission and ideology. It's a beautiful thing. 

All in all, the documentary runs about 89 minutes, but one can't help but think that the archives must be packed with hours upon hours of interview and footage. The DVD and Blu-ray of Punk the Capital contains four additional bonus films totalling 50 minutes, including a look at Scream, Dave Grohl's pre-Nirvana band. 

Punk can often be an overlooked chapter of rock and roll history, but it's such a vital part of the story.  Musicologists and rebels will do well to check out Punk the Capital, which is available on disc, video on demand, and virtual screenings. 

PunkTheCapital.info

Punk the Capital on Dischord Records


Christmas In July: A CHRISTMAS STORY feat. Bree!


Christmas in July continues as Bree discusses her favorite holiday movie, A Christmas Story! 

Check out all of our Christmas coverage HERE

Want EVEN MORE Cereal At Midnight? We've got you covered! Support us on Patreon and gain access to our huge vault of exclusives, which includes over 90 videos that aren't available anywhere else! Find out more at Patreon.com/CerealAtMidnight!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Review: The Devil's 8 (1969)


"All they had was a skill for violence and nothing to lose but their lives!"

1969's The Devil's 8 is often compared to The Dirty Dozen, which had wowed audiences two years before by combining the familiar "men on a mission" story with rich character development and gritty violence. In truth, this sort of nihilistic approach was becoming more and more popular in the Vietnam-era, and films with expendable characters from the wrong side of the tracks were big audience draws. Exploitation/genre studio American International Pictures had been riding a huge wave of success off the back of a string of bikers-gone-wild pictures such as 1968's The Savage 7, and the appeal of watching a group of anti-heroes take on insurmountable odds while dying in the process seemed like a safe box office bet. 

The Devil's 8 switches up the setting from the battlefields of war to the backroads of moonshine country. The plot in brief: federal agent Faulkner (Christopher George, Grizzly, Enter the Ninja) springs a group of hardened criminals from prison. Each of them had been serving a life sentence with no chance of freedom, and each of them is adept at a certain skill. We have a mechanic, a driver, a fighter, and so on. The mission is simple: infiltrate a moonshine smuggling operation and uncover evidence to bring down the ringleader, played by Ralph Meeker, who also appeared in--you guessed it--The Dirty Dozen. Faulkner has a short amount of time to whip his team into shape and send them on a suicide mission from which they may not come back. 

In terms of setting, The Devil's 8 carries the same story DNA that we'd see in everything from pulp novels (The Executioner series featuring Mack Bolan also began in 1969) to comic books (The Suicide Squad from DC Comics, adapted into two feature films), but the switch to rural backwoods does wonders to keep the action feeling fresh and fun. Instead of sniper towers and military barracks, we've got moonshine stills and rundown log cabins. Instead of Nazis and disciplined soldiers, we're given country folk in trucker hats and bar fights. AIP is leaning on all the proven exploitation traditions here, with lots of car chases, stunt driving, and the sort of outlaw spirit that movies like Smokey and the Bandit would take to even more mainstream commercial success during the 1970s. 

Christopher George is no Lee Marvin, but he plays both sides of his character well. We see him as both the smooth, tuxedoed government agent and the rough-and-tumble, grubby man of action. His handsome face carries stubble and a sneer for most of the film. Former teen idol Fabian gives a nice turn as an alcoholic with a noble streak. Ross Hagen (The Hellcats, The Mini-Skirt Mob) is a former moonshine runner who serves as the linchpin to the whole operation. 

Another thing that sets The Devil's 8 apart from its peers is its soundtrack. There's a jaunty country-rock twanger that runs under virtually the entire film, offering counter-balance to some of the violence on screen. Think of the music from The A-Team and how the catchy, hummable theme song plays against huge machine gun and grenade warfare and massive amounts of property damage. The catchy song from The Devil's 8 accompanies several major on-screen deaths and when the climactic showdown occurs at the end of the film, the music kicks into high gear, as if to say "don't forget to have fun!" Finally, when the film ends and the credits roll, we get the FULL payoff in the form of the FULL theme song complete with lyrics that describe the plot of the movie and each of the characters! It's absolutely magnificent. 


This drive-in gem is also notable as the first feature film co-screenwriting credit for John Milius, a USC grad who would soon rise to higher prominence as one of the faces of The New Hollywood thanks to films like Jeremiah Johnson and Big Wednesday. Milius is not particularly proud of his early work, but watching The Devil's 8 serves as a reminder that everyone starts somewhere and that interesting ideas can often be found in surprising places.  

Scorpion Releasing have partnered with MGM and Kino Lorber to bring The Devil's 8 to Blu-ray with a new 2K scan. The source is not in the best condition, with visible damage in certain scenes. There are also soft shots that result from opticals and editing techniques. In short, this this was never a beautiful movie. However, for drive-in fare such as this, what we're presented with is quite serviceable and probably as close as we're going to get to how the movie looked when it first played on screens over 50 years ago. The restoration team is to be commended for serving up such an accurate warts-and-all presentation, and at times the film does look really fantastic. A new 2021 interview with actor Larry Bishop (Kill Bill Vol. 2), who played Tim aka "Fingers" in the movie, is included and features some behind-the-scenes information on the shoot itself. Bishop speaks of his friend, producer/director Burt Topper, with great affection and discusses their other collaborations.

At only 98 minutes, The Devil's 8 is a breezy and fun movie filled with all the rougher, jaded elements of 1969, but filtered through multiple layers of big commercial fun. It's endlessly enjoyable to watch anti-heroes that we identify with take on moonshiners armed to the teeth in a new kind of war, one that felt much closer to home. All these years later, the action is fantastic, the music is memorable, and the performances from our flawed-but-likeable band of misfits are satisfying. Exploitation and genre movie fans take note. 

Order from Kino Lorber
Order from Amazon

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Christmas In July Contest #1: Win This Prize Pack!


Announcing the first contest of Christmas in July! In this video, you'll see some of what you can win and--more importantly--find out HOW you can win it! Contest ends Friday, July 16th at 11:59 p.m.! Good luck and MERRY CHRISTMAS IN JULY!

Friday, July 9, 2021

BIGGEST Kino Lorber Spotlight Ever! Over 75 Titles Including FIRST LOOK Releases, Sale Haul, & MORE!


It's our biggest Kino Lorber spotlight to date! In this episode, we discuss over 75 titles from the distributor, including your FIRST LOOK at new pre-orders that won't hit the street for weeks, our recent "June Swoon" SALE HAUL, and DOZENS of other films from the Kino Lorber catalog! This is the BIG ONE!

Thursday, July 8, 2021

$1 Record & CD Haul: Cocktails and Stripper Music (Patreon Exclusive)


New video for our Patreon supporters! Heath picked up a stack of fresh tunes 4th of July weekend for only a buck per album, and we're showing the haul in this exclusive episode! Expect singing, impressions, and even stripping...all done poorly, but always enthusiastically.
To find out how you can support us and gain access to over nearly 100 exclusive videos, visit Patreon.com/cerealatmidnight!

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Christmas in July: British Holiday Television Specials feat. Vanessa Buttino!


Heath is joined by Vanessa Buttino to kick off Cereal At Midnight's Christmas in July with a look at British Christmas Television Specials! Does your favorite make the list?

Follow Vanessa Buttino on Twitter @VanessaButtino

Want EVEN MORE Cereal At Midnight? We've got you covered! Support us on Patreon and gain access to our huge vault of exclusives, which includes over 90 videos that aren't available anywhere else! Find out more at Patreon.com/CerealAtMidnight!

Monday, July 5, 2021

Review: Summer of Soul (2021)

1969. Thousands gather peacefully to hear the music they love performed by some of the record industry's boldest and brightest talents, as well as to celebrate a sense of community and pride in who they are, where they have come from, and most importantly, where they are going. But the venue is not Woodstock, it's the Harlem Cultural Festival, a six-week, summer-long concert series that celebrated African American music, culture, and pride. 

Part documentary, part concert film, Summer of Soul (...Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) uses bold visuals and powerful music to take us back over 50 years ago to a music festival that has been largely forgotten by history. There are no multi-record collections, no box sets of the wonderful music performed and captured during the performances. As the film shows through new interview footage featuring those who were there--both in the audience and on the stage--many who were in attendance had begun to wonder if the event was as powerful as their fading memories would have them believe. 

It was. 

Throughout the film, we're treated to scintillating live performances from Stevie Wonder, The Fifth Dimension, Mahalia Jackson, The Staples Singers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, B.B. King, Mongo Santamaria, Herbie Mann, The Temptations' David Ruffin, Nina Simone, a blistering set from Sly and the Family Stone, plus many others. 

The question that the documentary seeks to answer: why was this incredible musical event, often called "the Black Woodstock," which saw hundreds of thousands in attendance and featured some of the biggest legends of the music industry, overlooked and then forgotten by history? 

Summer of Soul marks the feature directorial debut of Questlove as well as the first time much of this footage has been seen since it was first captured over half-a-century ago. The footage itself has been miraculously restored in high definition from the video tape masters that sat in a basement for 50 years, and in many ways looks and feels as if it were shot yesterday. The images have power and immediacy, the message itself angry, hopeful, and beautiful in equal measure. Though five decades have passed, in many ways, Summer of Soul feels like a look at the world we live in right now. The income gap, government spending on trips into outer space while thousands go hungry here at home, distrust in authority figures, but hope--always hope--at a brighter tomorrow, though little agreement on how to best make that tomorrow a reality. The line between yesterday and today has never been thinner. 

The documentary is a powerful document of an era that we're living all over again, filled with messages and music from voices that will not be silent. For those of us who consider 1969 to be a pivotal year in blending soul, funk, rock, psychedelia, jazz, gospel and blues into one auditory stew, the film is a goldmine. Here's hoping this attention on the Harlem Cultural Festival and the music made there further opens the door not just to getting these live performances into circulation, but more importantly, adds this festival to the short list of the most important musical and cultural events of the 20th century. 

Summer of Soul is currently in theaters and streaming on Hulu. 

 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Space Jam 4K, Dead & Buried 4K, Rugrats, and Ozploitation Classics--Now With Added Tarantino!


New hotness is hitting shelves everywhere, and Cereal At Midnight has you covered! Discussed in this review video: Space Jam 4K from Warner Bros, Dead & Buried 4K from Blue Underground, Rugrats: The Complete Series from Paramount, and a TON of amazing exploitation classics and goodies from Umbrella Entertainment--now with added Tarantino! 

Want EVEN MORE Cereal At Midnight? We've got you covered! Support us on Patreon and gain access to our huge vault of exclusives, which includes over 90 videos that aren't available anywhere else! Find out more at Patreon.com/CerealAtMidnight!

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Announcing Christmas In July! Month-long Celebration and Giveaways!

Announcing Christmas In July all month long at Cereal At Midnight! Tune in for discussions of our favorite movies, music, and so much more, plus GIVEAWAYS and PRESENTS for you, the Cereal At Midnight community. Full details in this video!


A Conversation With Ron Dante: From Sugar, Sugar to Copacabana and Beyond!


Ron Dante is a music legend! He's the voice of some of the most recognizable commercials ever, the vocalist on The Archies hit "Sugar, Sugar," and as a producer, he's collaborated on an unbeatable series of hits with Barry Manilow that sold tens of millions of records. Now he's on tour as the lead singer of The Turtles as part of the Happy Together Tour! In this episode, Mr. Dante sits down with Cereal At Midnight to talk about his origins and to celebrate decades of wonderful music!

Twitter: @RonDante 

Want EVEN MORE Cereal At Midnight? We've got you covered! Support us on Patreon and gain access to our huge vault of exclusives, which includes over 90 videos that aren't available anywhere else! Find out more at Patreon.com/CerealAtMidnight!