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Sunday, September 14, 2014

SPARTACUS: THE COMPLETE SERIES -- Blu-ray review by porfle


 
 
"This show is what you get when you cross a riveting, exquisitely-produced story with a meat grinder." That's how I described the first season DVD set ("Blood and Sand") of the shockingly graphic, richly dramatic, and blazingly entertaining Starz series "Spartacus", with subsequent sets ("Gods of the Arena", "Vengeance", and "War of the Damned") matching if not surpassing it with each hypnotically watchable episode.


If you're new to the series, or have missed parts of it along the way, fear not. Anchor Bay and Starz have collected the entire sweeping saga in the 13-disc box set SPARTACUS: THE COMPLETE SERIES (available in either DVD or Blu-ray+Digital HD with Ultraviolet™) containing all 39 episodes and original bonus features plus an extra all-new bonus disc. And if you're like me, this just might become your brand new stranded-on-a-desert-island pick of the week, month--maybe even year.


Those with even a passing knowledge of the historical account and/or the Stanley Kubrick film will be familiar with the story of Spartacus, a free man cast into slavery by the Romans circa 73 B.C. and forced to fight in the gladiatorial arena until at last he led a slave revolt whose growing legions, for a short while anyway, threatened to conquer Rome itself.





While hailed by the arena's bloodthirsty spectators as its greatest and most heroic gladiator of all, Spartacus' growing horror at the mistreatment and oppression of his fellow slaves, coupled with an overwhelming lust to avenge his beloved wife's death at Roman hands, finally drives him and his followers into all-out war at the mind-boggling climax of "Blood and Sand."

But first we get to see our hero's constant struggle to survive one harrowing fight for life after another against a never-ending procession of the deadliest foes ever to wield swords and shields. And the clashes continue even in the gladiators' off-time as well, as Spartacus must coexist not only with brave allies like Varro (Jai Courtney) and harsh but noble trainer Doctore (Peter Mensah, 300), but with such bitter rivals as super-warrior Crixus (Manu Bennett)--whose aid he'll desperately court when the time comes to revolt--and various others who wish his downfall either through fair competition or more devious means.

When it comes to deviousness, however, none can match that of the spoiled, entitled Roman elite who enjoy lives of leisure and idle intrigue while using their slaves as either beasts of burden or objects of sexual and sadistic gratification. Of these, most entertaining are John Hannah (THE MUMMY) as gladiator master Batiatus and his scheming wife Lucretia, played to perfection by "Xena: Warrior Princess" herself, Lucy Lawless.



Joining them in the delightfully dark and sinister goings-on of the Roman upper class is Viva Bianca (SCORNED) as vain, condescending Ilithyia, wife of super soldier Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker), who will one day be charged with defeating Spartacus in battle. Ilithyia proves a vile young seductress who feigns friendship while forever plotting against Lucretia and Batiatus to improve her social status.

At times, the lengths to which these characters will go (perhaps "stoop" would be a better word) to outwit each other are dazzlingly perverse, as are many of their diversions. "Spartacus" is rife with more steamy softcore sex than a whole month's worth of "Cinemax After Dark", and whether you fancy the male or female form in all its unfettered glory, you're sure to get more than an eyeful with each episode. Careful, though--several of these sexual couplings have not-so-happy endings.

What impresses most about this series, however, are the battle scenes--perhaps the goriest and most graphically violent ever filmed, and without a doubt some of the most exciting. No horror film ever boasted this level of carnage--heads roll, limbs are severed, blood fills the air--all done with a combination of practical and computer effects that match the semi-unreal green-screen ambience of the series as a whole (which I find appealing in its own way).



Both arena and battlefield fights are a blend of styles from such films as 300, THE MATRIX, and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, using lots of bullet-time shots and super-slo-mo tableaux that resemble splash pages from exquisitely-drawn comic books. All of which is of feature-film quality and keeps us entertained on a purely visceral level while also moving the plot relentlessly forward.

With star Andy Whitfield sidelined by illness (which, to every fan's great sorrow, the likable and talented actor would not survive), the producers chose the prequel path as a follow-up to season one. "Gods of the Arena" concentrates on the gladiator business with John Hannah and Lucy Lawless coming to the fore to enact some of their characters' most outlandish dealings in both the gladiatorial and social arenas.

Again, arena action dominates all else as we get to see not only the origin of Crixus, but the introduction of a new gladiator hero known as Gannicus (Dustin Clare), a devil-may-care fighter with the insouciant air of a rock star. At first superficial, Gannicus will eventually reveal a depth that makes him and his story both fascinating and moving. Getting to know Crixus better also enriches his backstory, enhancing his later relationships with Spartacus and others. The "Star Wars" saga's own "Jango Fett", Temuera Morrison, appears as Batiatus' head gladiator-trainer.



In elevating his status in Roman society, John Hannah's Batiatus proves so cunning, willful, and prone to sudden bursts of extreme violence that his plotlines often have the feel of a Mario Puzo underworld thriller from an earlier time. Lucy Lawless' Lucretia, of course, is involved in equally calculating pursuits of her own. Both will be taken aback when Batiatus' domineering father returns from exile to take over the family gladiator business from his errant son. As in season one, the storylines all come together to end in jarring fashion that will leave viewers breathless.

The third series, "Vengeance" (officially referred to as "season two", with "Gods of the Arena" being considered a separate miniseries), introduces Liam McIntyre in place of the late Andy Whitfield as Spartacus. The change is jarring at first, to be sure, but give him time--eventually McIntyre will make the role his own. We finally get to rejoin the slave revolt already in progress, with Spartacus' army increasing in number with each Roman household they lay waste to and each group of slaves that they liberate.

Cynthia Addai-Robinson replaces Lesley-Ann Brandt as Naevia, former "body slave" to Lucretia who is now the love of Crixus' life. In time, Naevia will become a fierce warrior herself and fight alongside Crixus and the others as Addai-Robinson, like McIntyre, grows into the character.
 


Ilithyia returns in a surprising new storyline, as does her husband Gaius Claudius Glaber, who leads the Roman forces against Spartacus and finds the slave army and its leader--who is fast becoming a living legend to both slave and Roman alike--more formidable than he dared imagine.

It all leads up to the final season, "War of the Damned", in which the series reaches a level of visual spectacle and dramatic intensity that serves as a fitting climax to the saga. Battlefield action rivals that of RETURN OF THE KING, with each blood-drenched clash topping the last in a fury of blunt and bladed weapons thudding and slicing their way through oceans of writhing combatants.

The title character now fully belongs to Liam McIntyre, who plays the role with a conviction and depth much improved over the previous season. Manu Bennett's Crixus and Dustin Clare's Gannicus are also far more rounded characters who add to the series' dramatic tension as well as continuing to provide some of its most thrilling battle action.
 


One ambitious plotline involves the conquering of an entire city as a home for Spartacus' forces, which will prove as hard to hold as it is to manage when a brash young Gaius Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance, who recalls Brad Pitt in TROY) infiltrates their ranks and leads a devastating attack from within.

But Spartacus has an even greater new foe, perhaps his most fearsome of all, in the brilliant military leader Crassus (an outstanding Simon Merrells, THE WOLFMAN), a vastly wealthy man who, after being implored by a beleaguered Roman senate, purchases an army of 10,000 men with his own money and leads them into battle against the rebels.

While ruthless and unyielding, Crassus proves a more interesting antagonist than the usual "boo-hiss" villain in that he respects Spartacus as both man and warrior, and displays emotional depth in his dealings with an ambitious but incompetent son, Tiberius (Christian Antidormi), and a beautiful slave woman, Kore (Jenna Lind), whom he loves over his own wife.



The usual liberal doses of softcore porn are depicted with the same matter-of-fact frankness as the battle scenes. The latter are, as always, rendered with the utmost imagination and visual creativity. Often an impeccably choreographed moment is staged and frozen in time as to resemble a Barry Smith painting or Jim Steranko gatefold brought to life.

As usual, there's more blood and gore here than in just about any horror film you can imagine. Nothing is held back in the depiction of extreme, graphic violence that shows in hyper-realistic detail just what carnage would reign during one of these vicious hand-to-hand battles with thousands of men and women ferociously flailing and hacking away at each other in close quarters.

With the slave revolt an ever-growing threat to Rome's way of life, Spartacus and Crassus continue to match strategy and armed might in a battle of wits that has heartrending repercussions for both sides. In this, the final season, beloved characters fall and the unthinkable happens time and again.



Because the characters are, by this time, so familiar and well-drawn, the dramatic passages carry an impact just as riveting if not more so than the action scenes, especially since history already tells us that this story, at least in some key aspects, won't have a happy ending. But as far as that goes, the writers still have a number of ways to keep things from being too downbeat and predictable as we near the inevitable conclusion.

The Blu-ray and DVD box sets from Anchor Bay/Starz are in 1.78:1 widescreen with English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish mono sound. Subtitles are in English and Spanish. Runtime is 2173 minutes for Blu-ray and 2136 minutes for DVD. (A complete list of bonus features follows this review.)

All in all, SPARTACUS: THE COMPLETE SERIES is one of the most solidly and consistently compelling series I've ever seen. With endlessly impressive battle scenes filled to the brim with action and excitement, and dramatic storylines that are shocking, suspenseful, and scintillating, it belongs on any hardy cinephile's bucket list of must-see entertainment.

Buy it at Amazon.com:

Blu-ray
Limited Edition Blu-ray
DVD


1st season ("Blood and Sand") bonus features:
DVD and Blu-ray™ bonus features:

Featurettes:
•Gladiator Camp
•History Rewritten
•Make-up Effects
•The Hole

And more!
•Audio Commentaries
•Episodes with Enhanced Digital Effects
•Behind-The-Scenes Footage
•Bloopers
•Trailers

 
Exclusive Blu-ray™ bonus feature:


•Four "Directors’ Cut Extended Episodes" personally selected by Executive Producer Rob Tapert


Prequel season ("Gods of the Arena") bonus features:

Blu-ray and DVD bonus features include:

•Starz Studios: Gods of the Arena
•Weapons Of Mass Disruption
•Battle Royale: Anatomy Of A Scene
•On Set With Lucy Lawless
•10 Easy Steps To Dismemberment
•Post Production: The Final Execution
•Enter The Arena: Production Design
•Dressed To Kill
•Convention Panel
•Arena Bloopers

Exclusive Blu-ray bonus features include:


•3D "Ring Of Fire" Battle Sequence
•Extended Episodes
•Audio Commentaries On All Episodes (including: Writer/Creator/Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight, Executive Producer Rob Tapert and actors John Hannah, Lucy Lawless, Dustin Clare, Jaime Murray, Peter Mensah – and more

2nd season ("Vengeance") bonus features:

•Starz Studios: Spartacus: Vengeance
•The Making of Spartacus: Vengeance
•Behind the Camera: Directing the Rebellion
•On Set with Liam McIntyre
•The Legend of Spartacus
•Famous Last Words
•Bloopers


•BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE – 9 Extended Episodes and Audio Commentaries!

3rd season ("War of the Damned") bonus features:

•SPARTACUS: The Legend Retold
•The Price Of Being A Gladiator
•A Bloody Farewell
•The Spoils Of War Revealed: Visual Effects
•Adorning The Damned
•The Mind Behind SPARTACUS

 
•BLU-RAY™ EXCLUSIVES – Extended Episodes and Audio Commentaries!

 

New Bonus-Disc Features:


•SPARTACUS Fan Favorites With Liam McIntyre
•Scoring A Hit: Composer Joseph LoDuca
•An Eye Full: Roger Murray
•SPARTACUS: Paul Grinder
•The Last Word: John Hannah

 
 


 

 


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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

BORN TO RACE: FAST TRACK -- DVD review by porfle



Racing enthusiast Alex Ranarivelo's BORN TO RACE: FAST TRACK (2014) is the sequel to his 2011 directing and co-writing effort BORN TO RACE, and offers yet more visually stimulating but largely inconsequential auto and racing porn for the undiscerning fan.

Smalltown boy Danny Krueger (Brett Davern) is an aspiring young racer who lucks into a scholarship to a renowned racing academy run by a gruff but caring Corbin Bernsen. Danny's fellow students include two bad-guy Italian brothers named Enzo and Paulo Lauricello, who burn up the track like nobody's business while laughing derisively at everyone else, especially the insecure and inexperienced Danny.

The rest of them are the usual stereotypes such as (God help us) yet another hick Texan, an Asian-American from Iowa who says "dude", and a girl who can race just as good as a guy, dammit. When one of these is injured due to Danny's incompetence on the track and must drop out, Danny is in need of a new racing partner. The only person available, impossibly enough, is one of the bad guys from the original movie, Jake Kendall (Brando Eaton).


Will Danny and Jake learn to forget their differences and work as a crack racing team who'll graduate from Corbin Bernsen's racing academy and have a chance of beating the wicked Italian brothers in the upcoming "big race"?

And while we're worrying about all that, there's (A) the little matter of Danny's girlfriend Jessica (Nicole Badaan) and her pesky desire to go to lawyer college on the opposite coast instead of staying in L.A. with Danny, and (B) the fact that no, Danny and Jake CAN'T learn to forget their differences, which gets them both kicked out of the racing academy and out of the running for the aforementioned big race. Omigosh, it's the dreaded "lowest point for our heroes" part of the plot that we all fear when watching movies like this!

But not to worry, because there's absolutely nothing surprising about the plot of BORN TO RACE: FAST TRACK including the eventual "everything turns out okay just like you thought it would" ending. The story is kept simple so as not to get in the way of the racing fun, as are the stereotypical characters and non-stop cliches. In other words, the plot doesn't advance as much as it's merely checked off one point at a time.


Every scene is edited like an action scene--exposition and character development fly by fast and furious (so to speak) in this baby. It just can't sit still for a second, as though its motor is always revved up and ready for the director to pop the clutch yet again for more vroom-vroom stuff. The movie can barely contain itself long enough to whiz through some rigged up plot developments which, amazingly enough, will somehow allow Danny to enter the big race after all.

The guys who edited QUANTUM OF SOLACE's action sequences into an incomprehensible mess could've learned a thing or two from whoever put this movie's racing scenes together. There's the usual rapid-fire editing here, but compared to QUANTUM's visual confetti, shots are held just long enough--sometimes a mere fraction of a second longer--and linked with enough storytelling skill to allow us to actually perceive what's happening while still being dazzled by the lightning-fast images.

Still, if you want more than just adrenaline-rush racing action, such as a meaningful story and genuine human interaction, you'll have to mine for it here like an old prospector panning for gold dust. The story, as it is, alternates between action and moments of superficial sentiment awkwardly shoehorned in like something out of a low-budget Michael Bay movie. You almost expect the racers to launch into an ear-bending rendition of "Leavin' On a Jet Plane" right before the race.


The DVD from Anchor Bay, which comes in a cool lenticular 3D sleeve, is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. The sole extra is a making-of featurette entitled "Fast Track: Behind the Scenes."

If you stop expecting a real movie and just realize from the start that you're pretty much watching a live-action cartoon, you're sure to enjoy BORN TO RACE: FAST TRACK a lot more. It may not be FAST AND FURIOUS (whose star, Vin Diesel, is humorously name-checked at one point), but at least the auto action and crash stunts are all 100% real and CGI-free. Which should be enough to get some racing fans revved up and ready to follow this flick around the track a few times.

Buy it at Amazon.com:

Blu-ray

DVD

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Monday, September 8, 2014

"Gone with the Wind" 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Arrives Sept. 30


 
“America’s most popular film. Enormous in every way.”
Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan
  
75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Arrives September 30
Limited & Numbered, With New Collectible Packaging, New Memorabilia and New Special Features
Nationwide Celebrations Scheduled
On September 30, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) will honor one of the most celebrated motion pictures of all time with the Gone with the Wind
75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray™ and Digital HD with UltraViolet.
 
Gone with the Wind -- the quintessential Hollywood epic and still history’s all-time domestic box-office champion ($1.6 billion[1]), with more tickets sold than any other movie ever made – is a “must have” for classic film collectors. It will be fittingly presented in limited and numbered sets, with new collectible packaging, new enhanced content and new collectible memorabilia. The memorabilia includes a replica of Rhett Butler’s handkerchief and a music box paperweight playing Tara’s theme with an image on top of the Rhett-Scarlett kiss. Also included is a 36-page companion booklet featuring a look at the immortal style of Gone with the Wind, written by New York fashion designer and Project Runway finalist Austin Scarlett, whose signature look reflects the romantic elegance of the Gone with the Wind era.
 
The new special features include footage of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh attending the original movie premiere in Atlanta and Old South/New South, a journey through today's South, revisiting the real-life locations depicted to see how the world of the Old South continues to inform life in the New South’s cosmopolitan world. Gone with the Wind 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition will be available for $49.99 SRP.
 
75th Anniversary Celebrations Nationwide
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Gone with the Wind, the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin will launch the exhibition, “The Making of ‘Gone With The Wind.’” For the first time in more than 25 years, three original gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, including the iconic green curtain dress, will be exhibited together along with replicas of the film’s other gowns. Additionally, more than 300 items from producer David O. Selznick’s archive will be displayed, including behind-the-scenes photographs, storyboards, correspondence, production records, audition footage and fan mail. Turner Classic Movies is one of the sponsors of the exhibition which runs from September 9 – January 4, 2015.
 
On September 22, WBHE will partner with The Actors Hall of Fame in a special 75th Anniversary Gone with the Wind fundraising gala to benefit dramatic arts education in schools. Hundreds of stars and industry leaders will arrive ‘in costume’ at the historic Culver Studios where many key scenes of the movie were filmed. The gala will be streamed live from the Mansion on digital and social media around the world. Planned highlights of this special evening include the dedication of the Olivia de Havilland Dramatic Arts Education Center and a recreation of the famous Virginia Reel dance scene from the movie, with student actors in period costumes and a silent auction including Gone With The Wind memorabilia. For additional information on the events, go to www.hrc.utexas.edu and http://actorshalloffame.org/  respectively.
 
About the Movie
Gone with the Wind, lauded as one of the American cinema’s grandest, most ambitious and spectacular pieces of filmmaking, was helmed by Victor Fleming in 1939, the same year as the director’s The Wizard of Oz. It captured 10 Academy Awards®[2] including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel, the first Oscar awarded to an African-American actor. Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, on which the film is based, has been translated into 16 languages, has sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide, and even now, continues to sell 50,000 copies a year.
 
Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard and Hattie McDaniel star in this classic epic of the American South. On the eve of the Civil War, rich, beautiful and self-centered Scarlett O'Hara (Leigh) has everything she could want - except Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). As the war devastates the South, Scarlett discovers the strength within herself to protect her family and rebuild her life. Through everything, she longs for Ashley, unaware that she is already married to the man she really loves (Gable) - and who truly loves her - until she finally drives him away. Only then does Scarlett realize what she has lost ... and tries to win him back.
 
Special Features:
  • Featuring footage including Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh attending the original movie premiere in Atlanta
  • Old South/New South NEW! Take a journey of discovery through today's South, revisiting the real-life locations depicted in Gone With the Wind, from Gettysburg to Atlanta to New Orleans, to see how the world of the Old South - and the themes depicted in the film - continue to inform life in the cosmopolitan world of the New South.
 
Gone with the Wind 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Street Date: September 30, 2014
Order Due Date: August 26, 2014
Pricing: $49.99 SRP
Cat/UPC: 1000446620/6000079798
 
Note: All enhanced content and premiums listed above are subject to change.
Academy Awards® and Oscar® are both registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Blu-ray Disc™ and Blu-ray™ and the logos are the trademarks of Blu-ray Disc Association.
Warner Home Video Blu-ray Discs™ offer resolution six times higher than standard definition DVDs, as well as extraordinarily vibrant contrast and color and beautifully crisp sound. The format also provides a higher level of interactivity, with instant access to extra features via a seamless menu bar where viewers can enjoy features without leaving or interrupting the film.
About Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) brings together Warner Bros. Entertainment's home video, digital distribution and interactive entertainment businesses in order to maximize current and next-generation distribution scenarios. An industry leader since its inception, WBHE oversees the global distribution of content through packaged goods (Blu-ray Disc™ and DVD) and digital media in the form of electronic sell-through and video-on-demand via cable, satellite, online and mobile channels, and is a significant developer and publisher for console and online video game titles worldwide. WBHE distributes its product through third party retail partners and licensees, as well as directly to consumers through WBShop.com and WBUltra.
 
ABOUT DIGITAL HD WITH ULTRAVIOLET
Digital HD with UltraViolet allows fans to watch a digital version of their movie or TV show anywhere on their favorite devices. Digital HD with UltraViolet is included with the purchase of specially marked Blu-ray discs. Digital HD with UltraViolet allows consumers to instantly stream and download movies and TV shows to TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones through UltraViolet retail services like CinemaNow, Flixster, Target Ticket, VUDU and more. For more information on compatible devices go to wb.com/ultravioletdevices. Consult an UltraViolet Retailer for details and requirements and for a list of HD-compatible devices.
 
Stream rare and hard-to-find movies and TV shows at Warner Archive Instant; purchase discs at Warner Archive Collection. Even more at www.wbshop.com or www.wbultra.com
  

[1] Domestic gross. adjusted for inflation (according to www.boxofficemojo.com)
[2] 1939 (12th)                   ACTRESS – Vivien Leigh
                                                ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE  – Hattie McDaniel
                                                ART DIRECTION  – Lyle Wheeler
                                                CINEMATOGRAPHY (Color) – Ernest Haller, Ray Rennahan

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THE FORBIDDEN GIRL -- DVD review by porfle



I'm not sure what I just watched, but it was called THE FORBIDDEN GIRL (2013) and it was about...uhh...give me a minute...

At first I thought it was going to be an intense fright flick which would go for the sort of RING-type scares that are so common nowadays. Toby McClift (Peter Gadiot, NIGHT WOLF, "Caesar") is secretly meeting his girlfriend Katie (Jytte-Merle Böhrnsen) in a crypt at night when suddenly she's carried off screaming by some kind of jerkily-edited demonic entity surrounded by black CGI smoke. Hmm, looks like this might get scary.

But this spook tale is even more fanciful than THE RING because Toby's father--a pastor who's your stereotypical fundie religious fanatic--has "forbidden" him to experience normal relations with a woman lest he release evil into the world. (One of the disadvantages of being some kind of mystical "chosen one", y'see.)


Well, Toby ends up in the nut house over the whole thing, but when he gets out he manages to score a tutoring position in a huge Gothic mansion for a reclusive young girl named Laura Wallace who is actually, as it turns out, his beloved Katie.

And just as we're muttering "No way!" to ourselves, we meet the mistress of the house, Lady Wallace (Jeanette Hain, THE WHISTLEBLOWER), a bedridden old crone who seems to be undergoing a HELLRAISER-style rejuvenation process, and her protector-lover Mortimer (Klaus Tange), a blonde bundle of sinewy hostility with a penchant, we soon learn, for turning into that black CGI smoke monster we got a glimpse of earlier.

Anyway, the whole affair quickly develops into the sort of shadowy, leaf-strewn Gothic romance blather that we used to read about in comic books like "House of Mystery", with Toby pledging to free Laura/Katie from the lonely bondage of her tower room while the power of his love conquers whatever Lady Wallace and Mortimer can throw at him with whatever supernatural powers they eventually turn out to have. And boy, do they ever have plans--evil plans--for the both of our hapless young lovers.


What those plans are finally start to emerge from the murky enigma that is THE FORBIDDEN GIRL until some late revelations put a little life into the largely dopey and dull story. What gets us by until then is that exquisite Gothic setting and some lush production design, which, although weighed down by lots of unfortunate CGI (when will they ever learn that CGI isn't scary?), will serve as the backdrop for a confusing but lively climax featuring generous amounts of rather fine boobage.

Still, none of this is very scary or menacing. In fact, some of the earlier passages, in which Toby doubles for the usual female heroine in this "stranger in a creepy mansion" sort of story, are almost ADDAMS FAMILY-like. Gadiot's stiff, rather childlike acting style and a sometimes almost whimsical musical score also add to what amounts to a kind of precious theatricality to the proceedings.


Till Hastreiter, a capable director, goes for some lightweight Ken Russell/David Lynch surrealism in an early dream sequence but reverts to the "kitchen sink" style of throwing anything that might stick at the film's blustery finale, which will either have you thinking "Hey, this is pretty cool, and...boobs!" or scratching your head at the sheer eye-boggling inanity of it all.

The DVD from Inception Media Group is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and English subtitles. A trailer is the sole extra.

I'm still not even quite sure whether or not I was entertained by THE FORBIDDEN GIRL, but I do know that it was mildly interesting for awhile, and then it got all "Wow! Stuff's, like, happening!" near the end, and then there was one ending too many, and then the fadeout left me thinking, "Well, that was--huh?"

Buy it at Amazon.com

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Friday, September 5, 2014

GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS -- DVD review by porfle



The most recent movie trailer compilations I've seen have been theme-oriented--namely, the self-explanatory OZPLOITATION TRAILER EXPLOSION and VIDEO NASTIES: A DEFINITIVE GUIDE--which is as good a way to watch a bunch of trailers as any.

But as demonstrated by Intervision's new DVD release, GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS, you don't really need any kind of an excuse at all to watch a bunch of trailers, just as long as they're shamelessly exploiting the most down-and-dirty sex, violence, horror, and gore flicks that ever snaked their way through a hot projector.

If you can make it past the startling cover pic of a severed female zombie head with blank, demonic eyes chowing down on a dismembered hand--or are, in fact, lured in by it--you know this is your kind of entertainment. What you're in for during the next 129 minutes is fifty-five stomach-churning, mind-warping trailers for the kind of titanic trash that kept grindhouses and drive-ins in business back in the 60s and 70s.


Here, you get all the good scenes smashed together (it seems like every trailer was a "red band" trailer in those days) and liberally garnished with some of the most purple prose ever to gush from the mouth of an overheated voiceover guy. In fact, you're in for a letdown if you actually see some of these flicks after checking out the trailers.

After the classic "Prevues of Coming Attractions" bumper to get our nostalgic juices flowing comes the first selection, the infamous double bill of I DRINK YOUR BLOOD/ I EAT YOUR SKIN. Another double feature, BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE and I DISMEMBER MAMA, is heralded by faux news footage of police dragging a man out of the theater after the films have driven him berserk.

Next comes Tarantino favorite SWITCHBLADE SISTERS followed by Barbara Steele in the women-in-prison classic CAGED HEAT. (Paul Frees fans will recognize his dulcet tones in the voiceovers.) The lurid EYEBALL ("You may not live to see the end of it!") is followed by the even more twisted Ed Gein-inspired DERANGED with Roberts Blossom.


More kill-crazy caged women and soapy shower scenes follow in THE BIG DOLL HOUSE with beauties Pam Grier and Roberta Collins and the less-than-beauteous Sid Haig. Then comes statuesque blonde Dixie Peabody on "a roaring rampage of revenge" in the biker classic BURY ME AN ANGEL, which my older sister took me to see at the drive-in when I was a kid. (Thanks, sis!)

LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which I really don't like, gives way to another Tarantino fave, THE STREET FIGHTER with Sonny Chiba, and the grandmammy of all Nazisploitation flicks, ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S. starring the gorgeous Dyanne Thorne (who will later turn up in ILSA: HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHIEKS with Ushi Digard and Joyce Mandell).

Also on the maniacal menu: Bernie Casey as DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE, DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW, rappin' Rudy Ray Moore as THE HUMAN TORNADO ("I got a dong as big as King Kong!"), the skin and sadism of CAGED VIRGINS, "angels of vengeance on a massacre marathon" EBONY, IVORY, AND JADE, and the mind-boggling boobs of Chesty Morgan in the Doris Wishman sleaze-tacular DEADLY WEAPONS.


And that's not even the first hour. More titles include TORSO, THEY CALL HER ONE-EYE, DEATH SHIP with George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, and Kate Reid, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, THE THING WITH TWO HEADS with Rosey Grier and Ray Milland ("A white bigot's head on a black soul brother's body!"), and David Cronenberg's early horror shocker THEY CAME FROM WITHIN (aka "Shivers").

There's a lot more, but you get the idea. The DVD from Intervision is in anamorphc widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles. A gallery of grindhouse poster art is accompanied by the gorgeous Emily Booth hosting a featurette entitled "Bump 'N' Grind."


But it's those gloriously sleazy, lurid, and credulity-straining GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS that make this a must-see for anyone who enjoys a good wallow in cinema's most celebrated sewage.

Buy it at Amazon.com

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

THE RIDDLE -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com on March 15, 2007. In April of that year THE RIDDLE became the first movie to premiere as a free DVD insert in the U.K. newspaper The Daily Mail.)

 
"A box without hinges, key, or lid...yet inside, a golden treasure's hid."

Are you one of those people who knew right away that the answer to this was "an egg" because you're good at solving riddles? Mike Sullivan isn't. It takes him almost a whole movie to sort out the answer to THE RIDDLE (2007), a low-key, deliberately-paced mystery thriller with a literary bent, set along the muddy banks of London's Thames River. But that's a good thing, because it's a lot more fun watching him get to the bottom of things the hard way.

Mike (Vinnie Jones) is a tabloid journalist who wants to graduate from covering dog races to crime reporting. His aggressively nosey foray into the suspicious death of a construction worker puts him at odds with a shady police detective named Willis (P.H. Moriarty), who seems to have other interests in crime besides solving it.


Mike's boss, Roberta (Vanessa Redgrave), also has reasons for wanting him to stay off the case and gives him the sack when he refuses. But he does have an ally--smart, perky Kate (Julie Cox, of the "Dune" TV miniseries), a police press officer who takes a liking to Mike and wants to help him sort out the truth.


Meanwhile, a vivacious older woman named Sadie (Vera Day), who runs the pub where Mike hangs out and has a penchant for riddles, stumbles upon a remarkable find in her cellar--an unpublished manuscript by Charles Dickens himself. But before she can parlay this discovery into untold riches, she's found dead on the riverbank.

Determining to find out who killed his friend and why, Mike soon begins to suspect a link between her murder and the death of the construction worker, along with the recent drowning of a young drug-addicted woman in the Thames. His investigation will eventually uncover questionable activities involving a sleazy construction company CEO named Roberts (Jason Flemyng) and a member of Parliament, Forsyth (Michael Fenton Stevens), who, it turns out, was a personal friend of Sadie.

All of this would make for a fairly interesting story on its own, but that's just the half of it. When Mike gets his hands on the Dickens manuscript (entitled "The Riddle") and begins reading it, the story seems to have odd parallels to his current investigation. Dickens (Derek Jacobi) himself narrates it for us, telling the tale of a young writer named Cedric Skenshal and his wife, who is slowly going mad. Her sister Alice moves in to help care for her, after which the tale soon darkens to include mysterious death, blackmail, and murder.


How this story is eventually resolved not only relates in a strange way to Mike's current concerns, but also seems to mean more to Dickens than a mere work of fiction--especially when the esteemed author starts whispering clues and warnings to Mike in his dreams. "I've got enough trouble with real crime, let alone made-up ones by Dickens," he complains to Kate at one point.

THE RIDDLE is writer-producer Brendan Foley's follow-up to 2005's kickass crime drama JOHNNY WAS--the script was a finalist in the 2001 Big Break international screenwriting contest--and his first film as director. He handles the job quite assuredly for a first-timer and shows some flashes of style, especially in the sequence where Mike gets drugged and seduced by a mysterious woman named Margot (Clemmie Myers). She waits for him to pass out in bed and then stands there in her bra and panties casually snapping pictures of his investigative notes to a driving techno beat. It may not sound like much in print, but visually it's pretty cool.

The darkly-lit Dickens scenes are seemingly intrusive at first, but become more interesting as the importance of the century-old tale grows in relation to the rest of the story. As in JOHNNY WAS, Foley shows a knack for exploring the seedier side of London, and makes the most of a relatively modest five-million-dollar budget to bring his smartly-written screenplay to life.


The cast is exceptional, especially Vinnie Jones (JOHNNY WAS, X-MEN:THE LAST STAND, LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS), who has recently become one of my favorite actors. He's convincing as anything from a ruthless killer to the likable sort he plays here, and, in the tradition of the classic movie tough guys, is always interesting to watch. Julie Cox gives a fun performance as Kate, whose quirky romance with Mike is one of the most appealing aspects of the film--they make a delightful non-glamorous movie couple as they gradually warm up to each other.

Still lovely at 67, Vera Day (LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, WOMANEATER, ENEMY FROM SPACE) shines in her brief scenes as the ill-fated Sadie. Ruthless CEO Roberts is played with plenty of slime by Jason Flemyng, familiar as the sniveling Netley of FROM HELL and Dr. Jekyll in THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.

Also notable are Mark Asante as Mike's construction worker friend Dwayne, P.H. Moriarty as the loathesome detective Willis, Shelly Goldstein as the mad Mrs. Skenshal, British comedian Mel Smith ("Not The Nine O'Clock News", THE PRINCESS BRIDE) as Dickens expert Professor Cranshaw, and, of course, the formidable Vanessa Redgrave in the small role of Mike's devious boss, Roberta.


Best of all, perhaps, is Derek Jacobi ("I, Claudius", UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, GLADIATOR) as a nameless old tramp who haunts the muddy shoreline of the Thames, scrounging for various discarded items and always on the lookout for the occasional "manna from heaven" that comes his way.

Long-haired and scruffy, the tramp sees and knows more than one might think, and his help, in exchange for coffee and sandwiches ("Beef!" is his favorite) proves invaluable to Mike and Kate. The tramp is a great character--funny, wise, prone to occasional outbursts of theatricality, and a bit mystical--and Jacobi, who also plays Dickens, gives a wonderful performance.

What is the secret behind THE RIDDLE? (Part of the answer lies in this review.) All is revealed in the exciting final scene, which includes murder, a confession or two, and a twist that is pretty surprising unless you're one of those people who are good at solving riddles and have already figured it out. Which Mike Sullivan isn't, thank goodness, or it would've been a really short film.

Buy it at Amazon.com

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