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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON -- DVD review by porfle



When we last left AMC's "The Walking Dead" at the end of season three, there was one exasperating hanging thread--the fate of the Governor (David Morrissey), the charismatic but psychotic leader of a community of people who had come together to survive and help protect each other from the constant threat of the reanimated, flesh-eating corpses wandering the land like something right out of a George Romero movie.

But with Anchor Bay's latest 5-disc DVD set, THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON, that maddening bit of unfinished business is dealt with in such spectacular fashion that I didn't mind having to wait for it. In fact, the character of the Governor, who now calls himself "Brian Heriot", is fleshed out in such fascinating ways that we almost begin to root for him until, ultimately, he fully reverts back into the ruthless, power-mad whacko that we all know so well and forms yet another collective of blind followers.

All of this, of course, occurs even as former Georgia state trooper Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the series' hero and main character, is still trying to keep his own hardy band of survivors together within the walls of an abandoned prison that serves as their sanctuary. Last we saw, they'd just weathered a fierce assault by the Governor and his previous acolytes, many of whom have since seen the light and are now a part of Rick's group.


Picking up the pieces and getting on with the business of life is hard enough even if you don't have hungry hordes of zombies forever massing around your fenced-in perimeter in ever-growing numbers. Rick's still dealing with the death of his wife Lori last season while trying to raise their son Carl (Chandler Riggs) to be both a good man and a capable zombie killer. As always, the ever-present plague of the walking dead casts its shadow over every story element, giving even the most soap opera-tinged moments an undercurrent of twisted existential dread.

Scott Wilson (IN COLD BLOOD) returns as the group's current sage, Hershel Greene, whose calm wisdom is essential in enduring each new crisis. This is especially important during one of the season's most pressing concerns, a deadly flu epidemic which creates killer zombies who attack from within the prison itself when those infected start to die off. A rigidly-enforced quarantine seperates Hershel's daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan) from her beloved husband Glenn (Steven Yeun), who is in an advanced stage of the disease.

This storyline keeps things tense for much of the early part of the season, with many risking their lives in perilous supply runs in search of medicine which, needless to say, they must fight their way through armies of the living dead in order to procure. This gives us a chance to become reacquainted with such fan-fave characters as redneck outlaw-turned-hero Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus, BLADE II, MESKADA) and samurai sword-wielding Michonne (Danai Gurira), both loners who learn to thrive as valuable members of the group.


There's a lot of dramatic turmoil in that group as well.  Carol (Melissa McBride), formerly a timid abused wife, now displays such a fierce, unflinching resolve that her actions force a shocked Rick to send her into exile. Rick himself comes to blows with Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) after two of his friends are found murdered and their bodies burned, which the burly newcomer suspects Rick to have done.

We even see the strange effect the continuing zombie threat has on two small children, sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy), one of whom must watch as the other becomes more dangerously unbalanced with each passing day. Sharbino ("True Detective", CHEAP THRILLS) is especially good in her demanding role, with the sisters' storyline supplying some of the season's most stunning moments.

All of which leads to a mid-season finale which, action-wise, blows the doors off of everything that's gone before. When the Governor and his brand new army--now fortified with an honest-to-goodness tank in addition to plenty of other lethal weapons--show up at the front gates of the prison demanding that Rick and his people evacuate immediately, the situation erupts into a carnage-drenched clash between two living armies both of which quickly become engulfed by the resulting zombie feeding frenzy that we knew was inevitable since the season's first episode.


At this point, we understand why the whole business of defending the prison against the Governor took a whole season and a half to work out--it's because this is a tale that was worth taking the extra time to tell. The climactic battle is cathartic, exhausting, and, by the end, exhilarating because the catastrophic outcome takes the series back to its hardscrabble roots, with our beloved characters scrambling through the wilderness scrounging for food and eking out an existence amidst constant threat from both the dead and the increasingly desperate living.

Even worse, this time they've been broken up into small groups unaware of each other's location or even which of the others are still alive. Once again our peace-loving heroes come into contact with the most ruthless of roving survivors, including a band of bad boys led by Jeff Kober ("Sons of Anarchy", THE BABY DOLL MURDERS) whom Daryl immediately regrets falling in with. 


 Like characters out of Stephen King's "The Stand", they're drawn to a distant place that promises sanctuary, in hopes that their loved ones will also be there, but is this place known as "Terminus" really the end of their struggle--or just the beginning of a whole new fight for life?


The 5-disc DVD set from Anchor Bay Entertainment (also available in Blu-ray) is in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Surround 2.0 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Disc 5's many bonus features include:

Featurettes:
•Inside THE WALKING DEAD (covers each individual episode)
•The Making of THE WALKING DEAD (covers each individual episode)
•Drawing Inspiration
•Hershel
•The Governor Is Back
•Society, Science & Survival
•Inside KNB EFX
•A Journey Back to Brutality
•Deleted Scenes
 Cast and crew commentaries for episodes 1, 5, 12, and 14 (also for episode 9 on Blu-ray).
 Episodes 9 ("After"), and 14 ("The Grove") are extended on the Blu-ray™ only.

As usual, I devoured THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON in just two or three marathon viewing sessions and was left ravenous for more at the cliffhanger conclusion. This is, without a doubt, one of the most compulsively watchable and addictive series in television history, and one which, according to some people I've talked to, you don't even have to be a monster fan to appreciate.

But it helps, especially if you're a gorehound, because--also as usual--this show is a non-stop, total indulgence in state-of-the-art zombie and gore effects. The SPFX artists that make the show's title come alive (so to speak) just keep outdoing themselves, and even when we think we've become numbed to such sights, they think of new ways to flabbergast us. Still, it's always the fascinating characters, and the riveting storylines, that keep bringing us back for more.

Buy it at Amazon.com:

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Limited Edition Blu-ray

Third Season Review
Second Season Review
First Season Review

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Friday, August 22, 2014

HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL -- DVD review by porfle



When two great tastes go together, it can create something magically delicious. Thus, when someone back in 1958 had the bright idea of mixing the cool-cat teen angst of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE with the old-fogey paranoia toward the dreaded marijuana of REEFER MADNESS, out hopped the hipster hoot HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (1958) to tickle our cinematic taste buds.

The film declares its intention to lure the nation's youth by opening with none other than Jerry Lee Lewis belting out the rockin' theme song from the back of a truck that's toodling slowly by the titular institution. Following closely behind is bad-boy new kid in school Tony Baker, played by Russ Tamblyn (who still had the highs of WEST SIDE STORY and the lows of DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN in his future).

Russ looks like the kind of guy girls used to beat up back in high school, but here, he's the most bad-ass thing to hit the hallowed halls of Hop-Head High since ducktails and saddle shoes. Why, he even pulls out a "reefer" in the Principal's office! No doubt about it, this slang-spoutin' kid's a rebel.


We then get a load of the rest of the cast, and it's a doozy--Jan Sterling as Miss Williams, the hot teacher with the heart of gold, Diane Jergens as gullible student Joan, who's being led down the path of marijuana addiction by the creepy J.I. (played by Drew's dad John Drew Barrymore), and--as Tony's aunt, "Gwen Dulaine", no less--the torpedo-chested blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren.

There's also Jackie "Uncle Fester" Coogan (continuing his upward climb from dreck like MESA OF LOST WOMEN to better material that would also include THE BEAT GENERATION and SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE, which reunited him with Mamie van Doren) as local drug kingpin "Mr. A", Charles Chaplin, Jr., Mel Welles of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, William Wellman, Jr., Ray Anthony, Ed Wood regular Lyle Talbot as a shady police inspector, and the previous year's "Teenage Werewolf" himself, a pre-"Bonanza" Michael Landon. (I haven't found Gil Perkins or William Smith yet.)

Our boy Tony wastes no time demonstrating to everyone how tough and super-cool he is, and letting it be known that he's in the market to deal some weed to his classmates in need. This gets him introduced to Mr. A, but first he makes a little time with both Miss Williams and the jittery Joan, who is fast acquiring a marijuana monkey on her back. Of course, there's also the expected run-ins with various tough guys from school including J.I. and his gang of jock-types known as "The Wheeler-Dealers", whom Tony smirkingly blows off by waving his switchblade around.


In lieu of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE's nerve-jangling "chicky run" is a nocturnal auto race that ends with Tony and Joan being hauled in by the cops when Tony's bag of reefers pops out of his hubcap, which we could've told him was a dumb place to hide them right before an auto race anyway. The fact that there's a horrifying car crash in which the driver emerges bloodied but unharmed (and even smiling cheerfully) seems to tell young viewers that such dangerous activities are okay as long as they remain unsullied by the evil weed.

An incessant amount of jive lingo is the order of the day for these young punks. "Man, you sure told off the fuzz in the pokey!" "Crazy!" "What a drag--you bugged this jam like a real L-7!" There's a coffee-house hangout reminiscent of "The Purple Pit" from Jerry Lewis' 1963 hit THE NUTTY PROFESSOR in which hot jazz is accompanied by some of the worst beat poetry ever recited by kids who appear to be in their 20s, and in some cases 30s.

When Joan tries to light up at their table, Tony lets her have it: "Hey, you torchin' up? Now don't be a drag, kitten--we don't wanna get caught with the reefer again! I had enough of the pokey and all that jazz." But even here, the mood is on the brighter side of sleazy, and by the last fifteen minutes or so the whole thing starts to resemble an episode of a high-end 50s cop show, including a brawl and a shoot-out.


When Tony finally gets a meeting with Mr. A, Coogan deftly lays on the sleaze as he describes how poor Doris, suffering in agony from heroin withdrawal in the next room (the inevitable result of smoking reefer), wouldn't cooperate with his offer to turn her on if she'd work in his "nice little 'home' upstate. But--heh--she wants to be a 'lady.'" At this point Tony definitely seems to be in over his head and looking at a forecast of unexpected danger with the possibility of scattered bullets.

The film boasts the usual solid direction by 50s superstar Jack Arnold (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, and numerous other classics) and the DVD print displays good, crisp quality for the most part, albeit a little rough and imperfect in spots--which, with a movie like this, is just the way I like it.

Arnold seems to have a ball directing some of this fun-filled stuff, especially one sparks-filled dialogue scene between competing blondes Mamie Van Doren and Jan Sterling in which super-slinky Mamie delivers her sassy, hardboiled dialogue with dazzling aplomb. Later, she's like a female barracuda as she tries to seduce her "hunky" nephew Tony, cooing "What's cookin'?" as he gets dressed and telling him he'd better "tell that Staples kid to drop dead!"


The DVD from Olive Films is in 2.35:1 widescreen with English mono sound. No subtitles or extras.

HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL may deliver pretty much the same "marijuana leads to ruin" message as REEFER MADNESS, but not nearly as stridently or with as strong an intent to shock or scare. There's a bizarre curtain call ending in which the narrator assures us all is well and that from now on, "Joan will confine her smoking to regular cigarettes." But a final blast of that theme song by Jerry Lee Lewis seems to portend a little something called "the 60s" that was just around the corner.

Buy it at Amazon.com:

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

LITTLE FISH -- movie review by porfle




(NOTE: This review was originally posted at Bumscorner.com in 2006.)

Labeled a "psychological thriller" and promoted with a trailer promising a dark tale that'll have you on the edge of your seat, LITTLE FISH (2005) only qualifies as such for five or ten minutes near the end, and even then just barely.

The rest of the time it's simply the story of a reformed heroin addict named Tracy (Cate Blanchett) who dreams of buying a video store in the "Little Saigon" district near Sydney, Australia where she's worked for the past four years, but she can't get a bank loan to save her life. She's also busy trying to help her surrogate father Lionel (Hugo Weaving), a former national rugby hero, who is fighting his own losing battle against heroin now that his dealer-slash-lover Brad (Sam Neill) has retired from the drug underworld.

But Brad's underling Steve (Joel Tobeck) secretly keeps the business going on his own and eventually enters into a big drug deal with Tracy's ne'er-do-well brother Ray (Martin Henderson) and her ex-lover Jonny (Dustin Nguyen), who has just returned after spending four years in Canada trying to get his drug-addled life back together.


Jonny's return complicates Tracy's already messed-up life, especially when he persuades her to "borrow" money from the video store where she works and invest it in the drug deal, which will supposedly pay off enough for her to buy it at last. But as usual in stories such as this, such a scheme seems destined to fail.

Cate Blanchett gives a casual and restrained performance as Tracy and is a likable main character whose struggle to better herself keeps this very leisurely-paced film interesting throughout. Hugo Weaving is also very good as the drug-ravaged ex-athlete who maintains a strong fatherly relationship with Tracy long after breaking up with her mother, and it's fun to see him in a role so different from the ones he played in the MATRIX and LORD OF THE RINGS trilogies (Blanchett is also miles away from her "Galadriel" character from RINGS).

Sam Neill gives his usual reliable performance, and the rest of the cast is good, especially Noni Hazlehurst as Tracy's long-suffering mother Janelle.


Director Rowan Woods' informal, documentary-style camerawork gives the story a contemplative, dreamlike quality that makes us feel as though we're inside Tracy's head, viewing all the inevitable uncertainties of life from her disoriented point of view. As events spin slowly but surely out of control, this dreamlike quality threatens to turn nightmarish at any point, but never quite does. The brief scenes of tension and suspense near the end of the film as the drug deal threatens to go wrong (as we feared it would) never reach a real crescendo, and the film ends with a frustrating lack of resolution.

I didn't exactly feel as though I'd wasted my time watching it, but I certainly expected more of an ending than seeing three people silently strolling into the ocean at dawn and splashing around for awhile. They seem to be cleansing themselves of the horrid events of the night before, which is nice, but all of the problems that the story has saddled them with thus far still remain and the fade-out comes at least a scene or two too early to satisfy me.


So, while I did enjoy watching it to a certain extent, LITTLE FISH left me unfulfilled and wishing that scriptwriter Jacqueline Perske had taken the time to think of an ending.

Buy it at Amazon.com



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Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Batman 25th Anniversary Two-Disc Edition" from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Nov. 11




Celebrating 75 Years of Caped Crusader Entertainment…
 
Batman 25th Anniversary Edition
Debuts November 11
in New Diamond Luxe Packaging
 

Burbank, Calif., August 14, 2014 To help mark Warner Bros. Entertainment (WBE) and DC Entertainment’s milestone 75th anniversary of DC Comics’ popular Batman character, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) will release Batman 25th Anniversary Two-Disc Edition, a new Blu-ray™ edition debuting November 11 (at $24.98 SRP) in the studio’s distinctive new sleek Diamond Luxe collector-style packaging. With its state-of-the-art sophisticated and durable design, the new packaging is perfect for those wishing to add this edition to their home libraries. Also included is Batman: The Birth of the Modern Blockbuster -- a look at the phenomenal marketing, extensive merchandising and franchise foresight that set the template for the next 25 years of tentpole pictures.


WBHE and DCE’s year-long celebration, befitting the world’s most popular Super Hero, will boast new products from WBE and DC Entertainment in numerous areas comics, TV, Interactive Entertainment, Consumer Products and more. There is a new commemorative 75th anniversary Batman logo and an exclusive "Cape/Cowl/Create" art exhibit, featuring 20 contemporary artists’ interpretations of The Dark Knight’s iconic cowl headpiece and cape from the new Batman: Arkham Knight video game. Various other events are taking place throughout the year.

In addition to releasing Batman 25th Anniversary Two-Disc Edition, WBHE will also feature the highly anticipated release of the 1960s Batman: The Complete Television Series for the first time ever. Other new home entertainment releases include animated films Son of Batman and Batman: Assault on Arkham.

In announcing the Batman 75th anniversary initiative in March, WB Chairman and Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara noted, "Batman is an incredibly important property with multi-generational appeal across all of the Studio’s businesses, and we’re proud to celebrate this milestone anniversary. From billion-dollar blockbuster films to TV, home entertainment, video games and consumer products, The Dark Knight continues to resonate with audiences worldwide and rightfully deserves his place as a global pop culture icon for the ages."

About the Movie
In 1989, director Tim Burton breathed new life into one of the most complex and intriguing characters in popular culture. Burton cast off the 1960s camp depiction of the Dark Knight and launched for Warner Bros. one of the most popular comic book film series ever. Batman was the top-grossing movie that year and subsequently became a global phenomenon.

Tim Burton’s vision and Michael Keaton’s performance as the Caped Crusader combine perfectly to capture Gotham City’s sinister atmosphere and Batman’s brooding nature. Jack Nicholson stars in a memorable performance as the maniacal Joker and Kim Basinger is Vicki Vale, the beautiful and resourceful photojournalist desired by both men. Featuring songs by Prince and a score by Danny Elfman, Batman won the 1990 Oscar® for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Anton Furst and Peter Young).

 

Special Features

Batman: The Birth of the Modern Blockbuster (NEW) Discover how the film's phenomenal marketing, extensive merchandising and franchise foresight set the template for the next 25 years of tentpole pictures.
 

Note: All enhanced content listed above is 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.
 



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Thursday, August 14, 2014

FORTY SHADES OF BLUE -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review was originally posted at Bumscorner.com in 2006.)

FORTY SHADES OF BLUE (2005) won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, which just goes to show that the Sundance Film Festival probably isn't a very fun film festival to go to. In fact, they probably shouldn't use a term that's derived from the word "festive" in their name if this is the sort of film that turns their crank. Maybe "Sundance Film Ordeal" would be more fitting.

I'm not saying I hated or even actually disliked this movie, just that if I were on that jury I wouldn't have voted for for something so slow and boring. The main credit for whatever interest I had in it goes to the two lead actors, especially the great Rip Torn as Alan James, a Memphis music-biz legend with a long career as a top rhythm and blues performer and record producer.


Offstage and away from his admiring public, he tends to be a puerile old fart who throws tantrums in the recording studio and can only relate in a meaningful way with groupies and little kids, such as his three-year-old son, Sam, with whom he gleefully plays children's games.


Sam's mother is Alan's current love interest, Laura, a wispy, introspective Russian beauty who met him while he was on a business trip in Moscow. Laura is played by Dina Korzun, who is another reason this movie is as watchable as it is. At first I didn't like her distant, disaffected manner much, but eventually I began to appreciate Korzun's eccentric acting style more and more as she slowly revealed the nuances of her character.

Laura's main problem is that she doesn't really love Alan anymore, and is tired of being left alone at parties and stood up for dinner dates while Alan wanders off with his latest sexual distraction. She tolerates this because he actually loves her in his own way, and because he gives her a pampered lifestyle she never could've had back in Russia, but without even realizing it she's begun to yearn for something more. Which is where Alan's son comes into the picture.

Michael (Darren E. Burrows of TV's "Northern Exposure") is Alan's semi-estranged offspring from a former marriage, whom Dad has invited to come help him celebrate his winning a lifetime achievement award of some sort, and also to hopefully patch things up between them. Well, before you can say "wuh-woh", Michael and Laura start to develop feelings for each other that soon lead to clandestine bed-ins in various hotel rooms. Yes, of all people, they "complete" each other.


Although, of course, their unlikely relationship is doomed from the start. To make things worse, Michael really cares for his wife, who is pregnant with their first child, and Alan, bless his heart, has chosen this unfortunate moment in time to finally, and very publicly, ask Laura to marry him--even though he's beginning to suspect that things between Laura and Michael are getting disturbingly intimate.

Burrows isn't very interesting as Michael--he may resemble a young Michael Parks, but his morose presence is far removed from Parks' inventively oddball acting style. Dina Korzun is rather fascinating to watch as the movie progresses and Laura becomes more and more conflicted, until finally she is unable to hide an overwhelming despair.

But it's Rip Torn's performance that is the main reason to stick it out all the way to the end. He's a great actor, and makes the most of his character. When Alan finally realizes that he's lost Laura--probably his one true love in life--for good, Rip makes us feel it.

All artsy-fartsy trappings aside, FORTY SHADES OF BLUE is pure soap opera--an updated version of the kind of stuff people like Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson used to star in--but it's pretty good soap opera if you can just stay awake long enough to see it through. I didn't like the abrupt ending very much, though, because just when it started getting good, it was over. Hmm...I couldn't wait for this movie to end, but it ended too soon? Talk about conflicted.

Buy it at Amazon.com

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