Popatopolis, The Jim Wynorski Story Is Terrific!

Guys, guys!  If you haven't seen Popatopolis yet, the 2009 documentary about B-movie director Jim Wynorski, you must.  It's so good.  And listen, I didn't rush to see it either.  It popped up on my radar because, as you can tell from this site, I'm pretty big into cult films and documentaries.  But I wouldn't call myself a Jim Wynorski fan.  I'm a Chopping Mall fan, and there are elements I appreciate from a few of his other films... Everybody should probably watch Lost Empire once in their lives.  But usually, honestly, seeing Wynorski's name attached to a project means not for me.  It means renting Evil Toons and finding out the evil cartoons have about ten seconds of screen-time in the whole movie.  It means cynical, direct-to-cable TV softcore porn with titles like Busty Cops & The Bare Wench Project (not to be confused with The Erotic Witch Project), and bewildering, unconnected sequels to franchises that weren't so great in the first place.  I mean, who knew the Ghoulies franchise could sink so much farther than it started out?

Update 9/14/17 - 5/31/24: Just in time for the Hush Money Verdict comes Stormy Daniels in Terror Vision's brand new blu-ray edition of Popatopolis!
The title (if you don't get it, just read the "let's pop some tops" quote from Wynorski plastered right across the top of the poster), trailer and even the film's opening scenes make it look kind of a like a cheap, misogynistic exercise, inviting us to laugh at the airhead babes of Hollywood B-movies.  From the very beginning where Jim repeatedly calls an actress auditioning for a role in his latest "erotic thriller" stupid for showing up late and neglecting to bring a resume, to him showing off the Howard Stern books in his pantry, I was buckled in for a fairly sleazy experience.  But this film is really an insightful, compelling piece of filmmaking.
This film really comes at us from two angles.  One half is an immediate documentary of Wynorski making his latest feature (at the time), The Witches of Breastwick, which he is determined to complete in three days.  The documentarians are on set the whole time, and it's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a level of filmmaking that we don't usually (ever?) get to see.  This is very far removed from the 4-hour Prometheus blu-ray doc.  As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong shooting a feature in three days with plenty of nudity out in the woods, and we get a very funny, thorough first-hand perspective of that experience.  Even if The Witches of Breastwick is the last sort of film you'd ever find yourself watching, the 'making of' is an entirely different, fascinating experience.
And that's just one half of what's on offer here.  The other is a career-spanning retrospective of Wynorski, with clips from his biggest films, interviews with his biggest peers and collaborators from Andy Sidaris to Julie Strain to Roger Corman, and even a visit to his mother's house.  Popatopolis does a great job in finding the joy in his body of work and unraveling the layers of an ultimately charming curmudgeon who clearly loves film and takes pride in doing the best he can with the dwindling budgets he's given to work with.  There's some sad discussion about the death of roles for softcore B-movie actresses who are being replaced by hardcore pornstars that don't have a problem doing whatever they're asked.
And that brings up another great strength of this picture.  This is no puff piece.  I mean, sure the cast and crew complain about the hardships and stress they're under making a film in three days.  In a scene where several of the actresses are reading over the script, Monique Parent comments that the man who wrote this clearly hates women.  And Julie K. Smith replies, yeah, when they start drinking "the anger comes out," later pointing out where the stage directions refer to her as "the cow."  But beyond just those candid little moments, people like Smith and Corman really open up about their long histories working with Wynorski, and the disappointments he's had in his career.  Corman talks about the popular "I'm sick of all these Jim Wynorski movies" reaction his films were getting in the 90s.  It's certainly an affectionate look, and you'll probably come out of this liking Wynorski more than you did going in, but it's far more honest than your usual DVD documentary where everyone answers softball questions and calls each other brilliant.  In Popatopolis, Jim calls everybody stupid.
admittedly, not the most exciting screenshot I could've selected
Now, probably the most exciting aspect of Terror Vision's new blu is the addition of the original 3-hour workprint of the film.  That's more than twice as long as the film itself, and it's missing some scenes from the final cut, like Roger Corman's interviews and clips from any of Wynorski's films.  But that just means this has a mega-ton of previously unseen material, and it's all pretty great.  As a fan of the original, I was delighted watching this extended cut, and never once bored.  It is a little rough, missing inserts, on-screen text and effects, and at one or two points they just show a test pattern while they play audio from an interview where the video was presumably lost.  If you just want to watch a light doc about the entertainment industry with friends, the final cut will probably go over better.  But if you're ready for a deep dive, the option is here and it's very satisfying.
1) 2009 Imaginaut DVD; 2) 2024 Terror Vision BD.

DVD left; BD right.
So, the 2009 DVD from Imaginaut isn't the most amazing PQ to look at, but I imagine it's about as good as the film can be presented.  The fact that Terror Vision's BD looks almost the same is testament to that.  It's a fine SD presentation: anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with no interlacing or other issues.  During the film we watch Jim shoot his film with an old HD camcorder on DV tapes, and we know the filmmakers are using smaller cameras.  This is just a micro-budget 2009 digital film, and the DVD has probably exactly the same image that they screened at festivals.  Which isn't to say the BD is 100% identical.  It's basically the same 1.78 image, but they've done a little work to it.  A lot of compression noise has been smoothed away, but at the cost of making the image generally softer.  We don't really lose any detail, but it comes out as sort of an arbitrary distinction: 10% better, 10Z% worse, resulting in a tie that'll boil down to personal taste, for the very select viewers who would even notice a difference.  Like, look at that 400% close-up.  We get rid of some overly enhanced edges, but we get a weird sort of pixelated jagged edge to them instead, and we maybe lose some light shading detail, but nothing you'd see in motion anyway, so it's basically a wash.

The back of the DVD touted a 5.1 mix, but it was really just your basic 2-channel track with optional English and Portuguese subtitles.  That 2.0 has been upgraded to lossless DTS-HD for the blu, and still has the English subs, though the Portuguese ones have been dropped.
2024 Terror Vision BD.

The workprint, on the other hand, doesn't look as good.  That's usually how it goes with workprints, so that's not too surprising.  But since it's all digital footage being shared around, it makes you wonder how some of it got that way.  The film slightly shifts from 1.78 to 1.77, but a lot of the footage, like in the second comparison shot, has been vertically stretched into the clearly wrong AR, chopping off the top and bottom of the image and making everybody look like Slenderman.  Gah!  The top shot, though, shows it hasn't all been stretched, which makes it all the more perplexing.   Even the non-stretched footage is clearly in worse condition, though, with additional combing and loss of fine detail.  Also, the audio is lossy and this version's not subtitled.  Oh well.  That's usually how it goes with workprints.
The care given to these releases is especially evident in the special features.  You're really going to want to pick up the disc as opposed to just catching this on some streaming site.  First of all, starting with the DVD, there are two audio commentaries.  One is by the filmmaking team, and it's pretty solid; they're certainly in good spirits.  Also in good spirits are actresses Monique Parent and Antonia Dorian, but their commentary is very skippable.  They have little to say, leaving long stretches of silence or simply laughing at the film, and it also doesn't help that their commentary is mixed so low that it's often very hard to hear them over the sound of the film "in the background."

But more importantly than either commentary are the deleted scenes.  There's some great stuff in here, including interviews with some people who never even made it into the finished film.  There's also a festival talk where Jim goes into some great stories working on his biggest films, and during the Deathstalker 2 clip, we suddenly cut to a whole exclusive interview with its star John Terlesky, which is exclusive to just that deleted scene.  And there are more deleted scenes tucked away as easter eggs, which are also great (Julie Strain takes you on a tour of her house, dances for us, and talks to her maid who once cameo'd in a Wynorski film), so you should definitely hunt those down, too.  Finally, there's the trailer and a cute Chopping Mall-related video where a remote controlled killbot travels around the UK promoting an upcoming screening.  They even threw in an autographed postcard when I ordered it off the official website (which has shut down since I first posted this article).
2024 Terror Vision BD.
And happily, except for the postcard, that's all been ported over to the blu-ray, including the easter eggs.  And they've included a bunch of new stuff.  There's a brand new interview with Wynorski about the documentary ("if it wasn't about me, I'd be laughing my ass off, okay?  But it is about me, so I'm kind of embarrassed by it all"), and a long one with the director of the doc itself.  And the best new addition is probably the new interview with Monique Parent that pretty much delivers everything you might've hoped for from her commentary.  There's also a silly tongue-in-cheek video essay about Wynorski's body of work that I could've done without.  And impressively, although something I doubt I'll ever watch, is the inclusion of the entire Witches of Breastwick film that Wynorski was filming in the doc.  It's 1.77:1 and, having been shot in actual HD, looks light years better than the main feature.  The audio is lossy and there are no subtitles, but as they pointed out in Popatopolis, nobody's watching this for the dialogue.

Terror Vision's blu comes in a nice, thick slipcover, and my pre-order came with a sticker, fortune telling fish and a pixie stick.
This movie's great and the DVD was even better.  I was a little bummed that most fans probably weren't going to take a shot and order it from their website despite my strong recommendation.  So now that Terror Vision's come along and given it an even better release, I hope none of you guys will miss out!  And if you're one of the few who does have the DVD, no the PQ isn't much of an upgrade, but the workprint and additional features still make it a very worthwhile double-dip.

The Fletch Chronicle: Fletch, Fletch Lives & Confess, Fletch

I've been planning a Fletch post for a while.  But then Confess, Fletch came out, so I decided to wait for that.  And then Kino's 2k restorations of the first two films were announced, so I decided to wait for those.  Now a lot of time has passed, and this post has become a taller and taller order, but I'm glad to finally unveil the complete Fletch chronicle on home video.
Chevy Chase has had a handful of great roles... in Caddyshack, the Vacation movies.  He's been fun in plenty of movies like The Three Amigos, Dirty Work and Spies Like Us.  But I daresay this is his greatest, defining role.  Based on the series of detective novels by Gregory McDonald, Fletch walks a satisfying line between his natural improv comedy style and a more serious mystery.  Newcomers might be a little disappointed if they're expecting more of a pure comedy (especially given Chase's silly disguises), but once you get the tone, you'll see Michael Ritchie has directed a real cracker here: the highlight of his career.  The supporting cast is spot-on with great performances from Joe Don Baker, George Wendt, M Emmet Walsh, Tim Matheson (Animal House) and a young Geena Davis.  It's got a fantastic Beverly Hills Cop-inspired synth score and a first rate theme song by Stephanie Mills.

Universal first released Fletch as a barebones DVD in 1998, which they then updated to a semi-special "Jane Doe" edition in 2007.  And naturally they reissued it a bunch over the years (we'll take a look at one, the "Triple Feature Film Set" we saw on my Mallrats page.  In 2009, they released it on blu, which they also reissued a bunch over the years.  I bought a Double Feature set because, back when I was shopping for Fletch at an FYE, the version with Uncle Buck was actually cheaper than the one without.  So, okay, I'll take a free second movie.  And now in 2024, Kino has just come out with a new special edition, restored in 2k with more features.
1) 2007 Universal DVD; 2) 2009 Universal DVD; 3) 2009 Universal BD;
4) 2013 Universal BD; 5) 2024 Kino BD.

For starters, though similar, the 2007 and 2009 DVDs are not identical, but the 2009 BD and the 2013 BDs are.  The Double Feature set is just the exact same 2009 BD in a new case with a 2011 Uncle Buck blu.  But Fletch and Happy Gilmore has been squeezed onto the same, new DVD.  They seem to be using the same master, but are clearly different encodes... and that's not the only difference, as we'll see later.  Honestly, though, none of these releases look all that different from each other.  They're all 1.85:1 with nearly identical framing.  The new Kino has a sliver extra picture along the edges, but I mean slivers.  More important is that the old BD features edge enhancement and other tinkering that detracts from the image, which Kino thankfully does away with.  At 2k, there's not really any new detail to be found, but the compression on the old blu present sparse and smudgy film grain.  The grain is still a bit light on the Kino, but it's much better than what Universal gave us.  They've also cleaned up the color timing, though those improvements are subtle.

Here's where the 2009 DVD really sets itself apart, in a bad way.  The original DVD and the 2007 Jane Doe edition include the original stereo track, but the Jane Doe also created a new 5.1 remix.  The 2009 DVD, unfortunately, keeps the 5.1 but drops the original track.  And while both previous DVDs include English and Spanish subtitles (and also French for on the 2007), the 2009 has none.  So yeah, you were definitely getting a stripped down inferior edition if you tried to save with the triple feature.  And that's not all the bad news.  The blu-ray has all three subtitle tracks, but still only the 5.1 remix track, albeit in DTS-HD.  Happily, the Kino brings back the original stereo mix, now in DTS-HD, along with the 5.1, and keeps the English subtitles, though not the Spanish and French.
Now the original DVD had nothing but the trailer, and the 2009 DVD doesn't even have that.  But the Jane Doe Edition earns its (corny) title by having cooked up some genuine special features.  Primarily, there's a half-hour retrospective featurette, which by and large is pretty great.  It features candid interviews with the screenwriter and producers, and gathers a good number of supporting cast and crew to share their memories of the filmmaking.  Unfortunately, though, the DVD producer decided to cast himself as a Fletch-like character who keeps doing skits in between all the interview footage, and that material is downright embarrassing.  It's one of the more notorious extras in DVD history.  But the interviews are really worth pushing through for.  Besides that, there's a brief but fun featurette with the effects artist and producers about Chase's disguises.  And there's a third featurette, but it's just a series of clips from the film with no original content, so you'll want to skip that one.  And that's about all you got, but it also came packaged in a fancy, holographic slipcover.

The Universal blu-ray just carries over the Jane Doe extras, but happily, the Kino takes things further.  Yes, all the Jane Doe stuff is back, but now we get an all new audio commentary by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry.  And boy, is it good.  The usual batch of slack, self-indulgent "expert" commentators we tend to get these days should take notes.  They've read the Fletch novels and have a wealth of info and insight to share, quoting articles and interviews throughout the film.  That's the primary new extra, but Kino has also tracked down an old promo interview with Chase.  It's very short, but finally adds his voice to the supplements.  They've also dug up four TV spots and thrown in some bonus trailers, including Fletch Lives.  It also comes in a much classier slipcover than the old Jane Doe one.
Fletch Lives is a distinct step down from the original, and notably not based on a McDonald novel.  But it's still a fun, Fletch caper with more emphasis on comedy.  Chase dons more silly disguises, and some of the supporting cast are playing broader characters, particularly Randall Cobb as Ben Dover.  They wouldn't have put someone like him in the original film, and even though there's some justification, Cleavon Little plays an over the top Southern stereotype in a cartoonish way that fails the original's standards.  On the other hand, other supporting players like Hal Holbrook and R. Lee Armey are consistently first class, while walk-ons from players like Richard Belzer, Dennis Burkley (Cal!) and Phil Hartman add color.  And it's great to see original supporting players Richard Libertini and George Wyner return, even if they're little more than cameos, to provide some continuity to the series.  It's the rough equivalent of Ghostbusters 2, an amusing sequel that re-captures at least some of the magic of the original, so long as you don't expect it to live up to the same standards of quality.

Universal first released it on DVD in 2010.  Universal released it on blu in 2017, but for reasons I can't remember, I went with the Fabulous Films blu-ray that came out the same year in the UK instead.  There's no particular advantage, I think I just came across a cheap used copy.  At any rate, they've both been rendered obsolete now by Kino's new 2k special edition... although, maybe not very obsolete.
1) 2010 Universal DVD; 2) 2017 Fabulous BD; 3) 2024 Kino BD.
All three editions of Fletch Lives are also presented in 1.85:1, though the Fabulous blu is closer to 1.84; and as with the original film, Kino's edition also features slim additions of picture information along all four sides.  It's almost the exact same case here as with the first Fletch, except to be fair, Universal's Fletch Lives blu-ray is a little less tinkered with.  But the Kino is still clearly the superior disc, with a more natural filmic look, slightly richer colors and more natural contrast.  For example, look at the white board behind Fletch in the first set of shots.  The detail is flared out on the DVD and first BD, but you can make it out now on the Kino.  Casual viewers might not appreciate the gains, but Kino's discs really are improved.

All three tracks include the original English stereo mix, in DTS-HD on the blus.  The US releases include optional English subtitles as well, but they're lacking on Fabulous's UK disc.  The DVD also includes both French and Spanish dubs and subs.  And again, Kino has also included a new 5.1 remix, also in DTS-HD.

No Fletch Lives disc has ever had any extras beyond the theatrical trailer on the DVD.  But Kino has rectified this unfortunate situation with another excellent commentary by Reesman and Evry.  They've also thrown in the original promo featurette and two very brief actor promos for Chase and leading lady Julianne Phillips.  The trailer's here, too, along with several TV spots and a handful of bonus trailers, including the original Fletch.
Like most O.G. fans, I assume, I approached the new Fletch with crossed arms.  It certainly didn't help that this was following an entire legacy of mediocre at best remakes of classic 80s films from Robocop to the Ed Helms Vacation.  But Jon Hamm does a great job of capturing the spirit Chase brought to the role without doing an imitation, and Greg Mottola directs a more faithful Fletch, without the silly costumes and once again adapting a mystery from one of the novels.  I went in ready to reject this completely, but came out hoping this could be the first in a complete series of Fletch films.  Bu unfortunately, I think the aforementioned legacy has kept too many people from giving this one the chance it needed to succeed on that commercial level.

So I suppose we're lucky to have physical media copies available at all.  Paramount released separate DVD and BD editions mid-2023 in the US, and few other parts of the world.
1) 2023 Paramount DVD; 2) 2023 Paramount BD.
Confess, Fletch is even faithful to the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, although the DVD is more like 1.86.  The blu-ray is naturally sharper and clearer than the DVD.  If you look at the sign by Fletch's head, it's an unreadable blur on the DVD, but can be made out to read "(Area Code) + Number ONLY" on the blu.  That's a level of gain even the Kino upgrades didn't provide.  Otherwise, of course, they're concurrent releases using the same master with identical color-timing, etc.  The advantages are all in the natural benefits of the format.  We get the proper 5.1 audio, in TrueHD on the blu, with an additional audio descriptive track, optional English subtitles, a Spanish dub as well as French and Spanish subs.

Unfortunately, there aren't any special features, not even a trailer.  That's a real shame; I would've loved a commentary by Mottola, or even just a brief promotional chat with Hamm giving a few comments on taking on the Fletch legacy.
I suppose you're curious about Uncle Buck, too?  Well, why not?  I'm not a huge fan of the film.  John Candy's great and it has its moments, but John Hughes has created too preachy and sappy a family film for my tastes.  However I did find something interesting about its history on disc, and I do happen to have a couple editions, including the original 2005 Universal DVD, the 'John Candy: The Comedy Favorites Collection: The Franchise Collection' DVD set from 2009, and obviously the Double Feature BD with Fletch.  But I should tell you Kino has already announced a 4k UHD, and I don't plan to upgrade, so don't expect an update here anytime soon.  So anyway, let's take a look.
1) 2005 Universal DVD; 2) 2008 Universal DVD; 3) 2013 Universal BD.
So, it's all ancient history now, of course.  But what was interesting is that the 2008 John Candy collection quietly included a rather substantial upgrade over initial DVD that had been released just three years earlier.  As you can see, it's the same master they'd eventually use for the blu with cleaner, more naturalistic colors and substantially more picture along all four sides.  Now that we have HD editions, of course it doesn't matter, as the blu-ray is more focused and clear than any DVD.  But it was a pretty neat surprise in 2008.

One big downside to the blu, though, is that it features a crappy lossy stereo track (even by lossy standards, it's underwhelming).  All three discs at least feature optional English subs and no remixes.  The original DVD also threw in Spanish subs and French and Spanish dubs.  The 2008 DVD dumped all the Spanish stuff, but kept the French dub.  And the blu-ray just has the English.  None of the releases have any extras except for the trailer on the DVDs.  The blu doesn't even have that.  Kino will hopefully help with all of that.  They certainly did with Fletch 1 and 2, and those weren't even UHDs.  But they're still highly recommended for any serious Fletch fans, and so is Paramount's Confess.

Coup de Chance Does Not Disappoint

"The new Woody Allen is here!  The new Woody Allen is here!"  That was the sound at every mailbox in America this week.  Or at least I assume so.  That was definitely the sound at my mailbox as I ran out to collect my release date guaranteed blu-ray copy of 2023's Coup de Chance (Stroke of Luck) from MPI Home Video.  And I'm taking it on faith that everyone else in the country was exclaiming that in unity with me as they shared in the identical experience, and I just couldn't hear them over the sound of my own joy.

I kid because 80% of the film community now seem to delight in busting the Woodman's balls for being hopelessly uncool, both for the obvious reasons in his personal life that I'm not going to re-litigate, and just the fact that he's 88 and extremely out of touch with the youngest generation.  And admittedly, this film starts a little slow.  But by the time I got to the scene of Melvil Poupaud (yes, the star of A Summer's Tale) stewing in the detective's office muttering, "I have no respect for anyone who relies on luck," this film is a delight and if anybody can't appreciate it, that's their loss.
Allen is back on an upswing.  I'll defend pretty much all of his films to some degree, but this is definitely superior to A Rainy Day In New York and Rifkin's Festival.  Once again he's working with Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now), who's been shooting all his stuff since Cafe Society, though some of those quirky, over-saturated blues and oranges from Rifkin's are back.  There are some humorous touches, but this is another one of his murderous dramas, probably closest in tone to Cassandra's Dream.  The whole cast is excellent, especially Poupaud and Valérie Lemercier as the mother.  Coup has a jazzy score, which on paper reads awfully predictable for Allen, but this isn't his usual 30s era dance band or Dixieland, he's using records like Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe," and it works great with the film.  Oh, and exhausted Allen defenders will be relieved to know all of the relationships depicted in this one are age appropriate. 😉
2024 MPI BD.
Coup is presented in what has become Woody Allen's usual ratio of 2.00:1.  All of Allen and Storaro's films are shot on digital, so we're not grading film grain or anything here.  But fine detail is crisp and nothing seems tinkered with in any of the all-too common ways.  Again, some of the colors seem a little too artificially boosted, but I believe that's the filmmakers' choice, and not an issue with MPI failing to properly present the official DCP on disc.  This film was also released on UHD in Italy, and I'd love to see how this looks in 4k; but this is the first English-friendly release to date, so we're stuck with this single layer BD.  And considering it's a relatively short film with a 20+GB encode, it seems perfectly fine for 1080.

We do get our choice of 5.1 DTS and 2.0 LPCM (which sound pretty similar if you play the 5.1 on a stereo set-up anyway) French audio tracks, with English and English SDH subtitles.
Woody Allen is pretty notorious as a "no extras" filmmaker, but this is actually the first Allen film in a long time not to include at least a brief featurette.  All we get this time is the theatrical trailer.  So it's not exactly a packed special edition.  But for those of us who just want a nice, HD presentation of Allen's 50th(!) feature film, this is it.  Those Italians are lucky, though.