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Columns



The M.O.D. Squad

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edited and compiled by Paul Mavis

M.O.D. discs. That's "manufactured-on-demand" discs.

"Manufacturer-of-dreams," more like it.

Welcome to DVDTalk's inaugural edition of The M.O.D. Squad column, where we'll cover everything concerning the latest wrinkle in the DVD evolution: manufactured-on-demand discs (and downloads, too), available directly from the studios for purchase on-line. Every couple of weeks, you can stop here and find the latest news about M.O.D.s, along with information on upcoming sales and discounts, new releases and announced titles, as well as reviews of selected discs by our staff here at DVDTalk. In addition to that, the good folks at Warner Brothers have given us an exclusive coupon that's good for 10% off any single disc Warner Archives movie! Just click here or on the banner below to get this DVDTalk exclusive deal! (The discount will appear in your shopping cart. Offer good until Firday 6/17/2011.)

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Now...if you've never ordered an M.O.D. from one of the on-line sites―Warner Bros. has cornered the market on this particular media with their Archive Collection site, releasing not only their own line of terrific titles, but also by providing a venue for the release of Columbia/Sony M.O.D. titles― (and M-G-M has their own line too, available through Amazon) you may be wondering why this particular development in the DVD market deserves a column of its own. And from such an august site like DVDTalk, no less.

We like that kind of skepticism here at DVDTalk.

Let's answer that measured doubt with a question posed to you, the reader: how many times, in how many different formats, have you bought, say...Thunderball, over the years? You bought the first full-screen VHS. Then you bought the remastered full-screen VHS. Then you bought the widescreen VHS. Then you bought the laserdisc. Then you bought the first DVD. Then you bought the remastered DVD with extras. Then you bought the remastered remastered DVD with extra extras. And here comes the Blu-ray (don't you wish you had all that money back?). You don't have to use Thunderball as an example, though. You could use some other "classic" film, like that recent gift set for The Ten Commandments ("Oy veh! The stone tablets are disc holders!"), or Sweet Smell of Success, or Vertigo, if you want (you'll be ditching that faux-velvet Masterpiece set on Ebay the minute the Blu-ray version is announced). The point is: those titles and a few hundred others will always be in print, regardless of what media delivers that particular content. When the whiz-bang boys figure out how to pump movies directly into our skulls and onto the back of our eyelids, our first choices guaranteed will be The Sound of Music, Star Wars, Goodfellas, and Gone With the Wind.

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But...will the same be said for...Marjo Gortner's Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw? Or director William Berke's Cop Hater? Or Jack Webb's The D.I.? Or Saturday morning favorite, Thundarr the Barbarian? Or Jason King's Burn, Witch, Burn! (Peter darling will always be Jason King to me)? Or TV's The Deliberate Stranger, with the world's greatest actor: Maaaak.....Haaaaaaaaamon. It's tough to say. It's rather remarkable that these library titles are available at all on disc, considering the fact that not only brick and mortar stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy probably consider them iffy prospects for sales, but also on-line giants like Amazon.com, too. It's entirely possible that producer Irwin "Master of Disaster" Allen's entire output of disaster-genre television work will forever be available for download...but that's a gamble, pal. Right now, you can get your copy of Flood! or Fire! at Warner's Archive Collection, and finally sleep at night, knowing they're safe and sound on your DVD shelf. The point is: Raging Bull and Wild Strawberries will always be around...but you better grab Bad Ronald while you can.

Oh. Okay. We know what you're thinking, though: if a title is only available through a M.O.D. on-line service, it somehow isn't "good enough" for a wide pressing and subsequent release into stores. It's not a "classic" from Hitch, or Scorsese, or god forbid, Spielberg. Oh, you awful snobs. Of course these movies are good enough. We'll go you one better on that: these marginal titles are the stuff of dreams, movie lover. Have you ever seen a "film enthusiast" pontificate over the significance of Citizen Kane? It ain't pretty. But you mention Rock Hudson's pervy, hilarious Pretty Maids All in a Row at your next block party, and you'll see your mild-mannered neighbor blossom right out of his shell, his eyes all crazy with the memories as he recounts how he watched that tease-fest 17 times on Showtime in naughty, delicious secrecy, all those years ago. Those "left behind" titles, those forgotten box office successes from many decades past, those second-tier cartoons that still grind on and on in your head, those "failed" mainstream films that no one particularly liked back when they were released, and that no one remembers today, those are exactly the kinds of movies that inspire wild, passionate, and wonderful defenses from lovers of movies and cartoons, not sniff sniff, "films." Because if you're honest about these so-called marginal, "failed," financially unsuccessful, or just plain forgotten titles, lost in the sea of time, amid an ever-youthful commercial culture that scorns anything 5 minutes old, you'll realize those abandoned movies are "film history." They are the mortar of what we call our collective movie pop culture, because there's a hellava lot more of those efforts out there than the relatively paltry collection of your Lawrences of Arabias, your assorted Godfathers, and your various Dark Knights. These movies are the rest of the story, if you will. And they're important.

Slightly over-the-top sermonizing over, never to be repeated here (admit it: we sold you on all that). We'll let our reviews in The M.O.D. Squad do the talking from now on as the weeks roll by, as well as giving you sweet info on sales and new releases, courtesy of the studios who make all those dreams available at the click of a button.

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Glancing over our inaugural offerings in this first M.O.D. Squad column, it's a blast to see so many different kinds of genres represented here, in projects that range from quickie independent knock-offs, to Saturday morning cartoon fare, to big-budget studio efforts. We've got a little bit of everything here to satisfy your niche cravings this first time out...as well as a hellava good marathon for weekend viewing. Now, we don't know about you, but the staff here at DVDTalk likes their morning TV filled with the happy sounds of animated characters smashing each other over the skull, so you'll want to read our reviews of Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles, Space Kidettes and Young Samson, and Thundarr the Barbarian: The Complete Series. Reviewer and head cheese around here, John Sinnott, says of Frankenstein, Jr.:

"Originally broadcast during the 1966-67 TV season, Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles is a fondly remembered show, full of humor and action (the later of which would soon disappear from Saturday morning cartoons). The program is good, clean fun and is still entertaining all these years later. Happily, Warner Bros.' Archive Collection has dug another classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon out of its vaults, releasing the entire 18 episode series on two discs." (full review here).

John also writes about Space Kidettes and Young Samson:
"An odd pairing, the first is an outer space comedy aimed at young kids while the latter show is an exciting adventure program (that has aged rather well). While these two cartoons are very different in style and are aiming for different audiences, they're both enjoyable in their own way and a heck of a lot of fun." (full review here).
Reviewer Kurt Dahlke makes some noise when he takes a look at another Hanna-Barbera classic, Thundarr the Barbarian. Kurt writes:
"Thundarr the Barbarian: The Complete Series rides a steed of nostalgia into your beating adolescent heart. Though in many ways primitive, the appeal of the show, with numerous monsters and plenty of action, is clear. What is also clear is that the show is simply a childish romp, appearing sillier than ever with the passage of time. Simplistic humor, repetitive plotlines and now-quaint animation hold ironic interest as well, meaning you can get a silly kick out of this series on multiple levels. Children of the '80s now swimming in money might enjoy putting this on the shelf, to pull out and sample a few episodes on those evenings when your past beckons." (full review here).

After the cartoons, what's next for our movie marathon? How about some B-programmers? Reviewer Casey Burchby takes a gander at the nasty little quickie, Cop Hater, from M-G-M:

"The clingy heat of a New York summer hovers over the characters in Cop Hater with the same oppressive quality as the paranoia that grips their Manhattan precinct as a killer stalks its officers. Adapted by producer-director William Berke―an extraordinarily prolific and largely forgotten specialist in low-budget quickies―this B-grade adaptation of Ed McBain's first novel of the 87th Precinct series (which would span dozens of volumes over nearly half a century) succeeds thanks to good performances and the authenticity of its setting. Loggia is excellent, exuding great if restrained charisma as Carelli. The supporting actors are all fine, with O'Loughlin particularly convincing as a weary blue-collar kind of guy (if anything, Loggia is almost too handsome for the role). Keep an eye out for terrific early appearances by Jerry Orbach as a street tough, and Vincent Gardenia as a hopheaded informant." (full review here).
Reviewer Jamie Rich saddles up for the surprising Western, Man From Del Rio:
"A low-grade cowboy movie transcends its meager beginnings with a script that challenges racial prejudice and a visceral performance from Anthony Quinn. In terms of shooting style and narrative mechanics, Harry Horner's 1956 western Man from Del Rio is nothing special, but there is just enough going on under the surface to make this minor B-picture rather interesting. It doesn't go everywhere you think, and Quinn is formidable to watch. You want to stick around to the conclusion, because the way the dust settles makes the whole thing worth it." (full review here)
Reviewer Paul Mavis likes his kitties naughty in American International Picture's cult fave, High School Hellcats:
"A trim, amusing little AIP teen exploiter from 1958 starring Yvonne Lime, Bret Halsey, Jana Lund, and Suzanne Sydney, High School Hellcats hits all of the marks of the celebrated "Arkoff formula," making for a zippy, fun trip down the path of teenaged dissolution and damnation...before their parents get wise and start listening. You dig? Sure it plays goofy today, and maybe High School Hellcats got laughed at by the 1950s kids who saw it at the bottom of a drive-in double bill, too...if they bothered to look up from their make-out sessions. However, it's fast and funny, with an interesting P.O.V. skewed directly at female viewers. High School Hellcats gives you your tame AIP thrills in a nice, neat little B&W package. As expected." (full review here).
And reviewer/editor John Sinnott catches heat with the one and only Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire:
"At long last Warner is releasing the eight Mexican Spitfire films from their vaults. These RKO B-films star the talented and charismatic Lupe Velez in the title role and the terribly under-rated Leon Errol. Warner's Archive Collection has released the whole series in one nice set and though they are unrestored the image is excellent. For fans of Lupe Velez this is a must-own and for those who haven't been exposed to this wonderful actress, it's a great chance to see her in action." (full review here).

Changing the mood of our marathon to keep things interesting, let's move onto more somber ground with some pretentious art house drama, shall we? Reviewer Paul Mavis (known for his appreciation of the effete), tackles The Ceremony:

"Pretentious, I suppose, and talky at times certainly...but visually exciting and in the end, its allegorical message works. Released by United Artists in 1963, The Ceremony was produced and directed by its star Laurence Harvey, with Sarah Miles, Robert Walker, Jr., John Ireland, Ross Martin, and Jack MacGowran lending solid assistance. With a screenplay by Ben Barzman, and striking cinematography from the master, Oswald Morris, The Ceremony is talky at times, and obvious...but also quite passionate and emphatic. If you don't go into it expecting a standard action film, you may find it quite intriguing." (full review ).

Desperate to get happy after that one, a bright, sunny musical would go down a treat right now, so check out Ken Russell's cult classic, The Boy Friend, reviewed by Casey Burchby:

"The Boy Friend is equal parts throwback and time capsule―an homage to the great Warner Brothers musicals of the 1930s choreographed by the legendary Busby Berkeley, and a record of an era in filmmaking (1971 to be precise) that fostered experimentation beyond the traditions of the Golden Age studio system―even at major studios such as Warner Brothers, which financed and distributed Ken Russell's adaptation of Sandy Wilson's smash Broadway musical. I suspect a judicious editor could easily shed 20 or more of the movie's 138 minutes and not harm the film's narrative flow or spectacular dance sequences. Still, that is the only real caveat I can think of. The Boy Friend is old-fashioned filmmaking that captures a classic feel while pushing the cinematic form of the musical forward in ways that still look clever forty years later." (full review here).

Our moods lightened considerably by Twiggy and Tommy Tune, let's find something funny to watch as we head into the stretch of our marathon. Reviewer and jokester Stuart Galbraith IV lends his expertise to 1952's Abbott & Costello Meet Captain Kidd:

"Warner Archive's release of Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd is particularly welcome even though the movie is only so-so. Until now it's been among the hardest Abbott and Costello movies to see, especially in its original SUPERCINECOLOR. Back in the 1970s, most stations that did air it ran black and white prints. It looks cheap even with the color, however, and isn't especially funny though co-star Charles Laughton seems to be having a whale of a time. Equal parts of their concurrent Universal movies, the team's half-hour TV series, and the sketches they performed as regular guests of The Colgate Comedy Hour, Captain Kidd starts promisingly, with several wild sight gags and good one-liners, but by far the best thing about the picture is Laughton, who for years secretly wanted to learn the art of the double-take. He's as broad as the rest of the cast and can't hide his amusement. As with other Warner Archive Collection titles, this is a no-frills release. It's remastered and looks better than ever." (full review here).
And reviewer Paul Mavis sinks his teeth into Paramount's 1973 spoof, Old Dracula, starring that most unlikely vampire, David Niven:
"Not 'so bad it's good,' but rather, 'so tacky it's watchable-like-a-minor-car-wreck'...if that makes sense. Old Dracula, the British blaxploitation horror-comedy filmed under the title Vampira in 1973, which was released by Columbia Pictures in the U.K. in 1974...and which was subsequently acquired by American International Pictures in 1975 for release here in the States (with a re-title to cash in on the explosive success of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein). Starring a handful of familiar British faces (among them some Hammer alumni beauties), along with the singular personification of debonair suavity, David Niven, Old Dracula won't scare you, nor will it elicit maybe more than a chuckle or two (or "titter," if we're going along with the film's few Carry On double entendres). However, it probably is necessary viewing for fans of Niven, considering the incongruity of the casting, as well as for lovers of 70s British horror films." (full review here).

Finally, a good, swift kick in the teeth is called for to round up this M.O.D. marathon―we like our action hard-core here around the halls of DVDTalk, so let's close out with Paul Mavis' look at the unforgiving Dark of the Sun:

"Slam-bang, lightning-fast, crude, vital actioner...with something on its mind. Dark of the Sun, the 1968 M-G-M hit about mercenaries in the strife-torn Congo starring he-men Rod Taylor, Jim Brown, and Peter Carsten, with Yvette Mimieux and Kenneth More lending good support, was notorious in its day for its levels of violence and sadism, and which has now gained some cult cred based on the endorsement of a certain director (who has watched this movie very carefully...). Dark of the Sun ranks up there with the very best of 1960s big-scale actioners like The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare, blending a gritty, unrelenting savagery with the added bonus of a fascinating subtext on the nature of violence and its exploitation, both personal and political. Rod Taylor and Jim Brown have their best roles here, and the speed of the film is relentless, with the action down and dirty. Everything you could possibly want in a big-screen actioner...with something to think about at the end." (full review here).

Whew! Time for a breather. Let's cool out with a fast look at the new releases from Warner Bros.' Archive Collection:
Adventure prevails for the upcoming Father's Day holiday, so Warners has dug up some sweet actioners Dad would love to get his hands on (he's got all the ties and barbecue aprons he needs―give him a break and let sit down and watch a movie, okay?). New releases from the WB Archive include Lamont Johnson's zippy mystery from 1968, Kona Coast, starring Richard Boone. Icy Patrick O'Neal heads an all-star cast including Joan Hackett, John Gielgud, Herbert Lom and Oskar Homolka in 1968's mystery, Assignment to Kill. Realty and "reel-ality" mix with humorous results in the comedy actioner, Hearts of the West from 1975, featuring winning performances from Jeff Bridges and Andy Griffith (supported by a superlative cast including Donald Pleasence, Blythe Danner, and Alan Arkin), in director Howard Zieff's well-remembered cult favorite. Director John Derek directs himself and gorgeous wife Ursula Andress in 1966's Once Before I Die, the WWII actioner co-starring Richard Jaeckel and Ron Ely. You get two Yuls for the price of one in 1967's The Double Man, starring Yul Brynner, the luscious Britt Ekland, Clive Revill and Anton Diffring. Franklin Schaffner directs this British spy yarn. The behind-the-scenes drama of Avalanche Express (both the lead actor and director died during production) only adds to the cult value of this much-sought title. Lee Marvin, Robert Shaw, Maximillian Schell, and Mike "Touch" Connors round out this he-man espionage tale. New cult TV favorite Southland has its second action-packed season premiere on disc, too. And finally, with Dad exhausted from all that subterfuge and gun play, he may just want to sit back and listen to some opera: The Great Caruso comes to DVD, starring the incomparable Mario Lanza.

And watch for these pre-orders from Warner Bros.' Archive Collection:
More toon fun from the Hanna-Barbera factory with The Herculoids from 1967, as well as H-B's 1987 special, The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones, featuring the voice talents of George O'Hanlon, Henry Corden, Penny Singleton, Jean Vander Pyl, Don Messick, Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Frank Welker, and Brenda Vaccaro. Director Jean Renoir's dreamy, unsettling romantic drama, The Woman on the Beach, starring Joan Bennett, Robert Ryan, and Charles Bickford, finally comes to DVD, while HBO's 2010 documentary, Triangle: Remembering the Fire, about the horrific 1911 Triangle Waist Factory fire in New York City, comes to disc this fall.

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