Category Archives: Film

“BULLDOG”— Teen Angst

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“Bulldog”

Teen Angst

Amos Lassen

“Bulldog” is quite basically a look at how psychological abuse goes hand-in-hand neglect, alienation, and racism. It opens with Sean Kang moving into his new home in Bayside, Queens with his depressed and uncommunicative mother.

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Sean Kang (Vin Kridakorn) is a teen with a volatile personality. During his first day at a new school, he moves slowly and as the day passes we see him doing ordinary things like taking out the garbage. He also worries about his mother of whom he is especially protective.

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He seems to be an average “normal” kid until we see that he is filled with angst and frustration and this comes to us as the day passes (in just seventeen minutes). We soon understand that his father is not around and this has affected the family and caused the family’s seemingly constant moves from place to place.

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Since Sean is Asian he sometimes feels being discriminated against because of that and when that goes had in hand with the alienation that he feels and the pain from his father being gone, it is easy to understand how he has gotten to where he is. There is some hope seen at the end of the film but how this happens among all of the ill feelings is something of a surprise.

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This is not an easy subject to deal with and Benjamin Tran has made a fine filled that is filled with emotion. There is no sugarcoating here and we really see where Sean’s pain comes from.

There is no trailer available.

“HIRED TO KILL”— Not a Regular Fashion Shoot

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“Hired to Kill”

Not a Regular Fashion Shoot

Amos Lassen

 Quite basically, “Hired to Kill” is about a fashion photographer and seven models who travel to a South American island fortress, ostensibly to do a fashion shoot. In reality, the photographer is a mercenary and their job is to free an imprisoned rebel leader. Nico Mastorakis directed.

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Brian Thompson is Frank Ryan, a mercenary. One day, Thomas (George Kennedy) a government guy contacts him with a new mission: to free (or kill) an imprisoned rebel leader in order to create a revolution in the little republic of Cypra. The president of this banana republic is Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed), a guy with a big moustache and an even bigger appétit for women! Ryan goes under-cover as a gay fashion designer and his team of five female mercenaries is ready to kill.

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Mastorakis delivers a very stylish and slick production which has great cinematography by Andreas Bellis. Once it begins there is a lot of action. There are lots of slow-mo, explosions and a high body count (with lots of blood). Brian Thompson is wonderful with weapons and kills with charm and talent.

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The last half hour is the best, with all its action and mayhem and Oliver Reed is fun to see as the obese dictator. There is even a gay kiss between Ryan and Reed in order to prove that he is a gay man.

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As a mercenary, Frank Ryan he plays by his own rules. But when Thomas approaches him with a new assignment but he is wary. His assignment is to travel to the small country of Cypra and rescue a political prisoner named Rallis (Jose Ferrer). But in order to do this, he must pretend to be a gay fashion designer and have a retinue of seven fashion models. These aren’t ordinary women, they’re all specially trained in the fighting arts. The only real obstacle standing in their way is the president of Cypra, Michael Bartos and his boys.

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Co-written by Kirk Ellis, “Hired to Kill” is a well paced but very by-the-book thriller with few surprises, most of the twists would be quite easy to predict for anyone who has seen a few other genre films.. A few interesting themes do crop up during the storyline, particularly the idea that George Kennedy’s character is controlling revolutions for the highest bidder, but nothing is really developed here and even the one unpredicted twist late on that seems to pose quite a dilemma is left unresolved and simply forgotten by the rather simplistic ending.

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Brand new 2K restoration of the film, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Original Stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio Commentary with editor Barry Zetlin
Hired to Direct – a brand new interview with director Nico Mastorakis on the making of Hired to Kill
Undercover Mercenary – a brand new interview with star Brian Thompson
Original Theatrical Trailer
Stills Gallery
Original Screenplay, entitled Freedom or Death (BD/DVD-ROM Content)
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver

“MR. PREDICTABLE”— An Israeli Romantic Comedy

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“MR. PREDICTABLE”

An Israeli Romantic Comedy

Amos Lassen

Adi’s father died when Adi was five years old. Before his death, his father made his son that he would be a good boy, help his mother and be responsible.

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Adi kept his promise: he helped more than enough at home, at kindergarten, at school, in the military, in his marriage and he became the most thoughtful man you can imagine. In reality, Adi became a “sucker” who was exploited by his mother, his wife, his son, his boss and nearly everyone he ever met.

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This changes when Adi meets Natalia – a sweet, young, wild dog walker who entices Adi into a life full of emotions, passion and romance. Now Adi has to choose between love and reason, between dreams and reality and between Natalia and his family. To find out what he does, you will have to see the film.

“RAY HARRYHAUSEN: SPECIAL EFFECTS TITAN”— A Celebration

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“Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan”

A Celebration

Amos Lassen

“Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan” is a celebration of the life and work of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. For those who are unfamiliar with Ray Harryhauser, he is an auteur of special effects whose fantastical monsters are the stuff of movie legend. He is now the subject of filmmaker Gilles Penso’s latest documentary that celebrates what he has done and how he has influenced some of today’s greatest living mainstream directors, including Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson (who all are seen here). We begin in 1949 with “Mighty Joe Young and move forward to 1981 and “Clash of the Titans”.

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When he was a youngster, Harryhausen studied early SFX movies and the work of Georges Méliès, evolving their processes while he developed his own techniques. Here we have directors sharing the scenes that have been influenced by Harryhausen.

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For many, Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations that he calls ‘creatures’ remind us of our youth and the films that are distinctively his. Penso’s documentary crucially allows us to see these creatures out of context, often no bigger than a foot tall and we get a chance to appreciate the level of detail and care the artist put into his creations. We go to his London workshop where the beloved characters are now stored – showing off the tremendously prolific out-pouring of clay beings of all kinds and sizes that could be manipulated at a painstaking pace to create the desired effect.

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The film puts Harryhausen into proper perspective and we see him as most innovative and important special effects artist. Harryhausen’s place in cinema history is richly deserved not only because of his technical skill, imagination and sheer love of creation the man brought to all of the projects he was involved with but also because he has been such a gentleman.

This is a straightforward, talking-head documentary, spliced with film sequences, dailies, test shots and newly released on-set footage but it also an loving, illuminating and constantly entertaining.

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Bonus Materials include:

Interviews with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Peter Lord, Rick Baker

12 Interview outtakes with Joe Dante, John Lasseter, Nick Park and more!

A message to Ray

Deleted Scenes

On the set of Sinbad

Paris Cinematheque Q&A

London Gate Theater Q&A

Audio commentary with the filmmakers

Original Trailer

Ray Harryhausen Trailer Reel

“AMATEUR NIGHT AT CITY HALL: THE STORY OF FRANK L. RIZZO— From Cop to Mayor

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“Amateur Night At City Hall: The Story Of Frank L. Rizzo”

From Cop to Mayor

Amos Lassen

The meteoric rise of Frank L. Rizzo rose from a cop on the beat to law and order police commissioner to controversial mayor. We first began hearing about Francis Lazarro “Frank” Rizzo when he was a tough, headline-grabbing Philadelphia cop-on-the-beat in the 1960s. His personality led to a 4-year stint as a crusading law-and-order police commissioner and then 8 years as Philadelphia’s most polarizing mayor of modern times. Many of white working class citizens of Philadelphia saw Rizzo as their protector-in-chief in a threatening urban environment, minority citizens, liberal and wealthy whites, civil libertarians, and others saw Rizzo as an authoritarian and bully who created a climate of fear and repression throughout the city. 

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This film was shot throughout 1977 and was released in early 1978 and in it we see the key events from Rizzo’s colorful and controversial career and we get something of an attempt to analyze causes and effects of his actions. Although the film was originally released before Rizzo’s controversial assault on radical group MOVE, it chronicles attacks he ordered on Black Panthers and on young people idling in Rittenhouse Square. We see his failed polygraph test, and his routinely tough talk (“I’m gonna make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.” 

The film’s primary theme is “politics as show business,” and it includes many amateur musical performances from South Philadelphia’s Triangle Tavern. Among the many interviewees are broadcast journalist Andrea Mitchell, local politicians including future Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, and stripper Blaze Starr who discusses her reputed affair with the self-proclaimed family man. (His speech can be called early Donald Trump).

When first released, it won several awards and now it has been transferred to HD and restored. It is a simple movie yet it dazzles the eyes by combining footage of Rizzo as mayor with scenes from performances by amateurs at the Triangle Tavern, a well-known bar in South Philadelphia that was Rizzo’s political and emotional base.

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The film is very professionally put together and tries to relate the man and his “style” to the kind of cheap, third-rate entertainer. It is well-researched and very professionally put together but remains a tongue-in-cheek interpretation-assessment of Rizzo’s career. 

“FIDELIO: ALICE’S ODYSSEY”— Quite a Woman’s Journey

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“FIDELIO: ALICE’S ODYSSEY”

Quite a Woman’s Journey

Amos Lassen

Lucie Borleteau’s “Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey” is the story of thirty-year-old Alice (Arianne Labed), a sailor about to embark on a journey she will not soon forget. Leaving her fiancé Félix ashore, she joins the crew of the Fidelio an old cargo ship, as a mechanic. Once on board, Alice discovers that she is replacing a man who has just died and that Gaël, her first great love is the ship’s captain. Life aboard does something to Alice and desire takes over and she begins a love affair with Gael. As a result, she also faces a difficult decision about what will make her truly happy when she gets home.

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What a beautifully provocative film this is. Labed as Alice gives a mesmerizing performance as the only female in a man’s world. She shows her confidence and independence and is fully in command of who she is and her sexuality as she struggles with conflicting desires. What Gael and Alice share is an intense sexual relationship that is depicted graphically yet perceptively and actually shows something about the characters. This is a film that not only has a female led plot, but also strong female production. The premise itself isn’t new but the way it is presented shows us something we rarely see. Once at sea, Alice is a women in a man’s world. Alice is in love with Felix, her boyfriend back on shore and she struggles not being with him and without intimacy. But then the captain of her latest voyage turns out to be her first love and she is not sure that she can control her desires?

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“Fidelio” looks at love, and Alice’s fidelity to Felix and her fidelity to herself— to the person she thinks she is. She is madly in love with Felix, and she misses him despite being able to Skype and talk on the phone as well as sending letters. Nonetheless there is that little part of her that desires Gael, something that she at first tries to ignore. After a few drinks she crosses that line of deceit thinking that ‘what happens on the ship, stays on the ship’ and this is her justification. Lucie Borleteau (who also wrote the screenplay) has placed a woman into a position that would traditionally be associated with a male. Traditionally, it would be a male going out to see and succumbing to his desires when presented with temptation.

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Borleteau sees that although a woman can have all the strong attributes and characteristics of a male, she can also have all of the weak ones too. Labed’s Alice is a woman of passion and incredible depth. She displays Alice’s pure and unquestionable lust, as well as her pain, her anguish and her independence. Although some of the supporting cast are not quite up to par, Labed emotionally and physically takes the audience on Alice’s journey, both physically and emotionally and presents a fascinating portrait of a liberated female sailor who is free of the conventional life.

“SEX, LOVE AND THERAPY”— A Comedy About Sex Addiction

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“Sex, Love and Therapy” (Tu veux… ou tu veux pas?)

A Comedy About Sex Addiction

Amos Lassen

Lambert (Patrick Bruel) is an addict. A sex addict. It once cost him his pilot job, but he’s now trying to work it out through a support group and a new career as couple’s therapist. Judith (Sophie Marceau) is a nymphomaniac who’s delighted to sleep with everyone she likes and particularly the men she works with until doing so causes her to lose her job. She is staying with her uncle until she can support herself. Judith applies for a job at Lambert’s practice and they are immediately attracted to each other. However, the more she tries to seduce him, the more he puts her off— he wants to build a healthy relationship with her.

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I found the film to be totally unrealistic but great fun to watch. Unfortunately there is little that is romantic or funny in director Tonie Marshall’s film about a reformed sex addict who hires a non-reformed sex addict to work alongside him as a marriage counselor. The ending comes as expected but getting to it required suspending belief. Judith has no qualifications for the job and the main question we face is whether the two will have sex or not.

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Marshall seems to be saying something about the male sex drive using the idea that men want meaningful relationships and Judith seems to be the ultimate male fantasy-– a beautiful, sensual woman who loses all inhibitions after a couple of drinks and wants sex with any available man.

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Bruel does not have the facial expressions and body language he needs to play this role and Marceau is fine for the part as a beautiful, sexy woman who draws male attention from just walking into a room. I want it hard to see why she has to connive to find sex. Yet the comedy depends on the two actors and while it is fun to watch the dynamic, it just does not ring true. Nonetheless the movie is light with quirky characters that cause us to have a few laughs.

“SUTURE”— Quite a Thriller

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“SUTURE”

Quite a Thriller

Amos Lassen

“Suture” is a film that looks carefully at the nature of identity. It begins when the wealthy and self-assured Vincent (Michael Harris) meets his blue collar half-brother Clay (Dennis Haysbert) at their father’s funeral and is immediately struck by their similarity. He decides to murder Clay and take his identity but Clay survives the assassination attempt and has no memory of it all. He is mistaken for Vincent and here comes the trick— the fact that Harris is white and Haysbert is black makes this look at identity all the more interesting. The film holds our attention and is splendid to look at, but after it’s over we realize that there wasn’t much there, really, except for the visual ideas.

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When Clay sees Vincent he remarks about how much they look alike even though their races are as different as black and white. In reality, they do not look alike in any way. However, the entire plot rests on the fact that everyone else thinks they look alike, too, we have to accept their “resemblance” however we like to do so.

The movie’s plot, which is never taken very seriously, is a double-reverse. Vincent knows he has an “identical” half-brother, but no one else does. Therefore, Vincent can murder Clay, whose body will be identified as Vincent’s and then he can murder their rich father and disappear with his fortune while everyone thinks he is dead.

SUTURE, from left: Dennis Haysbert, Sab Shimono, 1993, © Samuel Goldwyn

SUTURE, from left: Dennis Haysbert, Sab Shimono, 1993, © Samuel Goldwyn

The plot is played out, with black and white photography, in a series of very stark settings. Everything is seen in terms of light and shadow emphasizing the notion of black and white. It’s a fine approach but unfortunately self-consciousness takes over. Scott McGehee and David Siegel seem to be more concerned with how the movie looks than how it plays.

“Suture” tends to be an atmospheric B-movie melodrama filled with modish existentialism and pared-down film noir. Everyone seems vaguely hypnotized, no one’s particularly nice to each other, and fate ticks away in the monochromatic background.

“Suture” is also compelling from the moment it begins. Two long-lost half brothers are supposed to strongly resemble each other but we immediately see that they don’t. Vincent makes the remark, “Our physical resemblance is striking.” Here I scratch my head. No one seems to notice that the two men are of different races and we realize the film is playing with the idea that people define themselves by physical appearance, family connections, income, the past and the future, among other things.

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Vince’s original plan did not work and this gives the movie a whole new twist. The plan bomb in Clay’s car did not kill me but he is so badly burned that plastic surgery is necessary. It seems his memory was burned with the rest of him and he is told that he is Vincent even though we know that he is Clay. I cannot say another word of the plot without giving something away. What I will say is that the film very cleverly turns the spotlight on the viewer and not on the actors. How that happens, you will have to see for yourself.

This is a director approved special edition with many extra features:

– Brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative

– High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD Presentations

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

– Audio commentary with writer-directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee

– All-new interviews with Siegel, McGehee, executive producer Steven Soderbergh, actor Dennis Haysbert, cinematographer Greg Gardiner, editor Lauren Zuckerman and production designer Kelly McGehee

– Deleted scenes

– Birds Past, Siegel & McGehee’s first short film, about two young San Franciscans who journey to Bodega Bay along the path set by Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s classic, The Birds.

– US theatrical trailer

– European theatrical trailer

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm

“NIKKATSU DIAMOND GUYS” (Volume 2) Three Classic Films

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“NIKKATSU DIAMOND GUYS” (Volume 2)

Three Classic Films

Amos Lassen

Nikkatsu is the oldest film studio in Japan and in the 50s it began a star system finding talent and contracting them to a series of wild genre pictures. Volume 2 celebrates these “Diamond Guys” with three classic films from directors Buichi Saito (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril), Ko Nakahira (Crazed Fruit), and Haruyasu Noguchi, who is a new discovery for the West. In Saito’s “Tokyo Mighty Guy”, Akira Kobayashi stars as Jiro in the story of a chef who opens a restaurant in the busy Ginza district. His culinary skills and dashing good looks bring in the women as well as unwanted trouble. At just the same time an explosive political scandal s building around his girlfriend’s business.

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Jo Shishido, one of the most popular Diamond Guys in the West, stars in “Danger Pays”, a crime caper film from Ko Nakahira about counterfeiting. When one billion yen goes AWOL, “Joe the Ace” (Shishido) spies an opportunity to get rich quick. Things quickly go wrong and it turns out he isn’t the only one who’ll stop at nothing to get his hands on the missing cash.

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Shishido stars in Noguchi’s screwball classic Murder Unincorporated. When the mysterious “Joe of Spades” executes one of the bosses of a powerful syndicate, his colleagues, fearing for their own lives, call on the services of assassin agency Murder Unincorporated to take care of the problem. This unique entry showcases some of the most peculiar killing tactics to ever hit Japanese cinema! Presented on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time in the West, these thrilling genre films feature some of Nikkatsu’s leading talent at the top of their game.

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The DVD set comes with the following special extras”

– Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (3000 copies)

– High Definition digital transfers of all three films in this collection, from original film elements by Nikkatsu Corporation

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation

– Original uncompressed mono audio

– Newly translated English subtitles

– Specially recorded video discussions with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp on Diamond Guys Jo Shishido and Akira Kobayashi

– Original trailers for all three films

– Extensive promotional image galleries for all films

– Reversible sleeve featuring brand new artwork by Graham Humphreys

– Booklet featuring new writing on all the films and director profiles by Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes and Mark Schilling

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There is not yet a trailer for volume 2.

“RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES”— “The Vegetables Of Doom!”

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“RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES”

“The Vegetables Of Doom!”

Amos Lassen

If you have never seen a film in the “Killer Tomatoes” series, you will not understand my enthusiasm for this film. After seeing the first film in the series, I realized that I had just watched the worst film I had ever seen yet I loved it. These tomatoes are the ultimate in camp films and they are silly, witless and just plain non-professional yet they provide entertainment and that is one of the main reasons we go to the movies anyway. Now the tomatoes are back and on blu ray.

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“The Return of the Killer Tomatoes” takes place ten years after the Great Tomato War when mankind lives in fear of another uprising by them. Meanwhile, Professor Gangreen (John Astin) sets out to pursue his own evil ends by creating an army of tomato militia men (who just happen look just like regular men). This is the second tomato movie and it follows the 1978 success of the original “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” yet it has its own senseless silliness and leads to two more sequels, two television series and a video game.

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Dr. Gangrene, brews a new crop of tomato warriors who can impersonate human beings unless exposed to music. Among these is Tara, a wayward tomato girl who is horrified by the failed experiments her creator so casually discards. She falls for Chad, a pizza deliveryman Chad, who doesn’t understand the good fortune of having a hot girl land in his lap and who has no idea of how to relate to her. The have conflicting views on the rights of tomatoes and this threatens to drive them apart, especially once she’s discovered to be harboring a fuzzy tomato.

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What I think some people do not understand about these tomato movies is that they make fun of themselves. Just think about ridiculous the plot line above is. It seems to me that the intention of the filmmakers is to make a movie that it is so bad that it is good. That does not really work here since the movie is so bad. This is a truly awful film and like all such instant cult films, it is cynical about its badness. The movie ends with a song— “Big Breasted Tomatoes Take their Tops Down.” I honestly cannot think of a sentence to follow that.

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This release is filled with special features:

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

– Original Stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– Brand new audio commentary with writer-director John De Bello

– Brand new interview with star Anthony Starke

– Original Theatrical Trailer

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

– Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver