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Monday, June 30, 2008

DAPHNE -- DVD review by porfle

Sizing herself up in the mirror before attending a stuffy party, Daphne du Maurier frowns at her fancy evening gown and mutters, "Why can't I just wear velvet trousers and a boyish belt?"

Based in part on her own letters and memoirs, the BBC TV-movie DAPHNE (2007) is all about the famous author wishing, like Pinocchio, that she were a boy. A bisexual boy, that is. The main emphasis is on Daphne's all-consuming infatuation for her American publisher's beautiful, outgoing wife, Ellen Doubleday, whom she meets while in the states to contest a plagiarism charge. Daphne finds Ellen an irresistible ray of sunshine in contrast to the increasingly distant relationship she endures with her troubled WWII veteran husband, Tommy (Andrew Havill).

After restraining her fierce romantic impulses as long as she can, Daphne finally professes her love to Ellen and is painfully rebuffed. "Love is love," she frets. "How can there be different ways?" She then finds rebound solace in the willing arms of the flamboyant stage diva Gertrude Lawrence, although their torrid affair leaves Daphne frustrated and unfulfilled. Interestingly, Daphne doesn't consider herself a "lesbian" at all--she despises the word, in fact. In her mind, if not her body, she has always been a boy.

I was expecting to see a serious, comprehensive look at the life of Daphne du Maurier here, so I didn't start getting into this movie until I realized that it's actually the sort of gaudy, hand-wringing upperclass soap opera--complete with furiously overwrought musical score--that people like Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman used to star in. Except in this case, the Rock Hudson role is played by the lead actress. Once I got what it was about, this handsomely mounted, well-played melodrama about unrequited love and gender identity, and how these feelings and experiences served as an inspiration in Daphne's writing, became fairly involving.

Geraldine Somerville ("Lily Potter" of the Harry Potter series) plays the troubled author of "Rebecca", "My Cousin Rachel", and "The Birds" with a long-suffering wistfulness which will appeal to either your empathy or your apathy. Elizabeth McGovern, aging nicely these days, is likable as the winsome social butterfly over which Daphne goes sweetly ga-ga. Best of all is Janet McTeer as brassy broad Gertrude Lawrence, who is the kind of woman Daphne finds exciting but wouldn't want to marry. The only other role I've seen McTeer play was Nelly in the 1992 WUTHERING HEIGHTS, so this is quite an interesting change which she handles beautifully.

The DVD image is 1.77:1, with Dolby Digital sound. The sole bonus feature is a du Maurier-penned documentary entitled "Vanishing Cornwall", which runs about half an hour and was directed by her son, Christian Browning. The author herself appears briefly at the beginning of this dry, rather dull look at the history of her beloved homeplace.

DAPHNE is the kind of smart, stately, yet tastefully decadent soap opera that you can indulge in like an unhealthy confection. That is, if you have the taste for such things. Otherwise, it may just leave you with a queasy stomach.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

THE VICTIM -- DVD review by porfle

Remember that "really scared" feeling you used to get when you watched horror movies as a kid, but hardly ever experience now that you're a grownup and movies don't affect you that way anymore? Well, I'm feeling it again right now after watching the 2006 Thai terror film THE VICTIM from Tartan Asia Extreme. Jeepers, this sucker is flat-out scary.

The story begins with an aspiring young actress named Ting (Pitchanart Sakakorn) who gets a gig playing the murder victims in police reenactments. She's so enthusiastic and convincing at this that she actually starts to develop a fan base. Fearing that she may anger the souls of the victims she portrays, she offers prayers each time to assure them that her intentions are good--while, unseen by her, their spirits surround her. When a popular beauty queen named Meen disappears and evidence points to a brutal murder, Ting becomes so wrapped up in accurately portraying her that she begins to receive supernatural help which leads her to the killer, endangering her own life in the process.

Pitchanart Sakakorn is cute as a button and her character is a lot of fun. Her story, while containing some scary elements, is also a tantalizing mystery that comes to a suspenseful conclusion about halfway through the movie. And then, suddenly, something deviously unexpected happens that pulls the rug out from under the viewer and transforms THE VICTIM into a whole different movie altogether. And this one is a lot darker, stranger, and scarier than before.

Now, the emphasis is on a film crew shooting a movie about Meen's death and Ting's involvement in the aftermath. Strange things start to happen on the set, and spectral images show up on the film during editing. Worse, the actors and crew begin to experience terrifying ghostly encounters and die off one by one. May, the actress portraying Ting in the film, shows indications of being possessed by Meen's vengeful spirit. And things just get worse from there.

Director Monthon Arayangkoon displays great skill at building a tense, tautly-drawn aura of dread and luring the viewer into one blood-chilling "gotcha!" scene after another. Usually I get numb to these after awhile, but here, almost every one of them had me jumping as though I were being poked with a cattle prod. Whenever a character turns around, chances are something awful's going to be standing there. When the camera moves slightly off center during a closeup and reveals empty space behind the actor, we just know something horrible's going to pop up. And knowing it doesn't help.

There are some really good makeup effects here, and the staging of the scare scenes is excellent. A few of them are flawed by obvious CGI, though--by now we all know what it looks like, and it can really kill the mood when it's too cartoonish-looking. But many of the images, especially one of a ghoulish, decayed Likae dancer jerkily lurching toward us, are utterly nightmarish.

The DVD image is 1:66:1 with 5.1 Dolby Digital, featuring a Thai soundtrack with optional subtitles. Both music and sound design are memorably creepy.

In addition to a trailer and TV spots, there's a 22-minute "The Making of 'The Victim'" which is scarier than the film itself. We learn that the murder scenes Ting reenacts were not only based on real events, but shot on the actual locations as well. The actors were kept in the dark about this particular factoid, though, so as not to distract them, and were understandably freaked out when this was finally revealed to them. Worse, we're shown several pieces of footage(which were used in the movie itself) that appear to have authentic ghostly images on them. It's like one of those Fox TV specials--you don't know if it's true, or if they're just pulling our chains--but it's told in a straightforward manner, with corroborating testimony from cast and crew, and is just plain disturbing.

You may be more desensitized to stuff like this if you've seen a lot of scarier Asian horror films, but it's been a couple of hours since I watched THE VICTIM and I'm still feeling uncomfortably nervous and spooked-out. At this rate, I'm gonna have to pop a Walt Disney antidote into the DVD player and happy myself up before I go to bed.


Greenfan Announces UK Release of "Ninja in Ancient China"

The guys at Greenfan are so hyped about their upcoming UK release of NINJA IN ANCIENT CHINA, they've even taken to complimenting us here at HK and Cult Film DVD News on our looks and intelligence. Talk about a stretch! Just listen:

You are some of the most beautiful (on the inside, not usually on the outside)people in the world. You're also so smart... fair... charismatic... funny.
Did we mention funny? Oh you guys crack us up. In short, you're awesome.

Do these guys have impeccable taste or what? I think they really captured me in particular. But more importantly, they're out to capture our palpitatin', ninja-lovin' hearts and asked us to convey to our smart, fair, charismatic, and funny readers the following announcement:

It's with much jubilation that we bring to you news of our company. We have recently signed a sales and distribution deal in the UK. What that means is our
titles will be available at all major high street stores and e-tailers. This means that many more people will now be able to purchase our product. It's a big step for us and one that we're excited about. We have big ambitions and this is another step towards them. On Monday June 30th 'Ninja in Ancient China' will be released in the UK. To celebrate this development we have changed the artwork to something that is far sexier and eye-catchier. Check it out....

Ninjas are awesome,
The Greenfan Team


Saturday, June 28, 2008


You can pretty much tell from the title TCHAIKOVSKY: THE TRAGIC LIFE OF A MUSICAL GENIUS (2007) whether or not you're going to be interested in this. If you don't like classical music, you'll doubtless want to steer clear. Me, I love it, and found this BBC production to be fairly interesting, especially the concert segments.

Originally broadcast in 2007, it examines the life and music of 19th century Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in two parts, each hosted by conductor Charles Hazlewood. First, "The Creation of Greatness" tells of the fragile boy genius troubled by all the music swirling incessantly through his mind. The loss of his mother at a young age is something from which he never recovers. Later, we see him as a tortured homosexual living in fear that public exposure of his scandalous secret will ruin his career, while at the same time he struggles to gain acceptance for his daring musical ideas in the face of stodgy skepticism.

Part two, "Fortune and Tragedy", tells of his disastrous marriage of convenience to young female admirer Antonina Milyukova, despite the warnings of his younger brother Modest and the knowing ridicule of his friends. We also learn of a mysterious benefactor, a wealthy widow named Nadezhda von Meck, who finances Tchaikovsky for years although their only communication is through the written word. Tchaikovsky's fame and the Russian people's reverence for him grow to stellar proportions, but shortly after the unsuccessful premiere of his magnificent Sixth Symphony, "The Pathetique", he dies of cholera at the age of 53.

While well-mounted and interesting, the dramatic reenactments of certain events in Tchaikovsky's life don't build much momentum as they are intercut with actual concert footage, interviews with concert musicians in whom the distinctively Russian spirit of Tchaikovsky still resides, and narrative interludes with Hazlewood. In fact, the emphasis here is on the music itself as much as the composer.

Watching his First Piano Concerto being performed by the Maryinsky Young Philharmonic with an amazing solo performance by Natasha Peremski is a particular thrill, and it's deftly integrated into the scene in which Tchaikovsky first auditions the piece before his scoffing mentor, Anton Rubinstein, who is shocked to hear such "vulgar" passion expressed in music. Interesting that something we take for granted for its familiarity was once considered, in Hazlewood's words, to be "radical, raw, and shocking."

"Romeo and Juliet", an erotically-charged work composed during an early love affair with a music academy student named Edward Zak, has become somewhat of a cliche these days after having been used for so many movies and spoofs as diverse as TARZAN THE APE MAN and A CHRISTMAS STORY, but its performance here is stirring. This is also true of excerpts from some of Tchaikovsky's ballets, such as SWAN LAKE and THE SLEEPING BEAUTY. Best of all, however, is the climactic performance of the tragic "Pathetique", which is one of the most moving works ever written.

If not for these dynamic musical passages, which the filmmakers obviously staged and photographed with great feeling, the production would be unremittingly dry and somber. The biographical scenes serve mainly to illustrate how the passion and turmoil of Tchaikovsky's personal life was the rich inspiration for his music, and more than anything, the dramatic segments are supportive of and serve as backdrops for the musical passages.

Included as a bonus is an episode of the BBC series "Omnibus" entitled "Who Killed Tchaikovsky?", which effectively challenges the cholera explanation for the composer's death with theories of suicide or even murder, and hints at a mysterious and potentially scandalous cover-up. Biographer Anthony Holden travels to New York and St. Petersburg to do some detective work, uncovering tantalizing bits of evidence amidst a general unwillingness of the Russian people to risk casting aspersions on their revered national composer. The mystery is left unsolved, but raises some intriguing and rather chilling implications.

TCHAIKOVSKY: THE TRAGIC LIFE OF A MUSICAL GENIUS is informative regarding the volatile emotions behind Tchaikovsky's work, and competently acted by THE PIANIST's Ed Stoppard and a good cast. But it's the concert segments that really make it worth watching.

Friday, June 27, 2008

305 -- DVD review by porfle

If you haven't already seen the smash hit YouTube video "305", which has gotten several million hits since its July 2007 debut, then you may want to do so now--I'll wait.

Okay, now that you're back, you may be interested to know that this clever take-off on the recent Spartans vs. Persians epic 300 has been expanded into a feature-length mockumentary, also titled 305 (2008). The plus-five guys are the same group of cowardly rejects from the earlier short, ordered by King Leonidas to guard a goat path but ultimately responsible for the defeat of the Spartan army. They're forced into hiding, but two years later, as Persia prepares to launch a final assault on Sparta, our five non-heroes--Claudius, Darryl, Shazaam, Demetrius the Blind, and Testiclees--must band together once again in order to thwart the enemy and save the day.

It sounds stupid, and it is. It's also pretty funny--not riotous, but about as funny as good sketch comedy like SCTV or Mr. Show, with a wonderfully deadpan absurdity that carries almost every scene. With elements of THE OFFICE and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, the satirical targets include LORD OF THE RINGS, THE MATRIX, and THE ODYSSEY, among other things.

When Claudius is kidnapped from his job at a family restaurant called Spartie's and imprisoned by the Persians, the rest of the group set off on a perilous journey to rescue him, encountering such characters as an angry giant and a huckster who sells them worthless crap like "invisibility powder" in exchange for their food and water. Meanwhile, Claudius cheerfully endures endless whippings ("it's like hundreds of tiny kisses") while organizing several of the guards into an enthusiastic book club.

The five main characters are wonderfully fleshed out for the feature. Tim Larson is great as the portly Claudius, with his ever-present coffee cup that never seems to run out. Co-scripter Brandon Tyra plays the comparatively competent Testiclees like a dazed beach bum. Sunny Peabody is Demetrius the Blind, now tickling the ivories in a tavern along with his faithful dog Zeus. Ed Portillo plays the ethnically-ambiguous Shazaam, and Heaven Peabody rounds out the group as Testiclees' love interest, Aurillia. On the Persian side, Les Jennings is the comically nasty commander (his pep talk to the troops includes the reminder "Charge in the same direction as everyone else"), and Nate Hopkins returns as the scary guy with the carrot sticking out of his forehead.

My favorite, though, is the supremely conceited yet grossly stupid and cowardly Darryl (David Schultz). Darryl seems to enjoy the Persians' dreaded Purple Nurple torture a little too much, and when the mystical Oracle that they seek for guidance turns out to be a wildly flamboyant "he-she" who prances like Britney Spears, it's love at first sight for the clueless Darryl. Visually, he's like a pudgy office drone at a medieval-themed costume party.

The audio and (1:85:1) video are much like that of the YouTube short, only bigger. Almost the whole movie uses green screen with lush, well-rendered backdrops, giving it an agreeably cartoonish quality. In addition to two (directors and cast) commentaries, bonuses include the original short, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted material (including an alternate ending and an electrocution scene that should've been in the final cut), and bloopers.

With a very small budget and limited resources, directors Daniel and David Holecheck have managed to put together a pretty nifty comedy here. There's even a fairly good battle scene at the end, and an overall sense of imaginative fun throughout. 305 may not be non-stop uproarious hilarity, but it's so good-natured and loaded with goofy gags, slapstick, and funny dialogue (much of it improvised) that I couldn't help but enjoy it. Not bad for an expanded YouTube video.


LOST COLONY THE LEGEND OF ROANOKE claims it is based on true events. Yes, Roanoke was the first English colony in the New World, and yes, the colonists mysteriously disappeared after a few years. But I think I can assure you that the colonists were nothing like Adrian Paul and Viking ghosts that look like Amy Winehouse's lungs didn't suck out their souls. You might be able to make fun of the ye olde English style of talking, but other than that, the movie is pretty barren of anything interesting. White people slaughter the natives of course. The chief provides mystic guidance of course. And the 3 ghosts show up and kill lots of people throughout. There's a child sacrifice plot thread thrown in that never really goes anywhere and exists only to provide a motivation for the ghosts to attack. Not that any is necessary. Need I go on? My Amy Winehouse joke is really the sole reason for writing the review.

The video/audio presentation is as good as you'd expect. It's a film shot mostly with cold grays and blues and dark greens which are faithfully reproduced. The audio mix is acceptable. There are no extras worth mentioning.

Grizzly Park DVD Review

I admit to being neither an expert nor a fan on the slasher genre, so I have no idea why Ian passed this disc along to me. Much to my surprise, GRIZZLY PARK is a halfway interesting take on the slasher genre. While I'm sure it's derivative of other films, I couldn't tell you which. It was a fresh experience in my eyes.

A group of teenagers convicted of various misdemeanors are sent to a national park for a week to help clean up trash and reflect on their choices in life. There's a rich white boy with the sweater vest, a quiet white supremacist, a spoiled rich white girl, a Latina gang member, an Asian girl, a black computer hacker, a dumbass white guy, and a really ditzy white girl. It's the kind of group you'd see on the cover of a university's pamphlet in a desperate attempt to prove they're diverse. The only thing missing is a guy in a wheelchair with a basketball in hand. Meanwhile, a serial killer has broken out of prison and escaped into the park. So it looks like we're heading for a straightforward serial killer movie... until a grizzly bear eats the killer.

The serial killer was a cheap plot device, you see, to get the kids totally isolated in the park. On purpose, the teens are written and performed to be extremely annoying. Only Aaron Pierce from 24 helps anchor the movie and prevented me from fast forwarding. He plays the park ranger guiding them through the park and keeping them in line. As the movie progresses, each teen reveals unashamedly the crime they committed that got them in community service, almost every one of which actually being a horrific act of inhumanity. When the Nazi turns out to be the most likable of the group, you know you got some screwed up kids on your hands. Bears and wolves feasting on their flesh composes the rest of the movie.

For what it is, the movie was well-done. Some very nice photography of the forests. Some good gore effects if that sort of thing's your bag. It's a passable way to spend an hour and a half. I didn't hate it, and normally I hate slasher movies.

The video quality of the DVD is about as good as you could reasonably expect it to be. Not too many noticeable compression flaws. Accurate colors and a nice level of detail. Print was pristine from what I could tell. The soundtrack is undemanding but is clear, and the roar of the bear has some strong bass to it.

The extras are more extensive then I would've guessed. There are a few making-of videos that are essentially EPK fluff. There's also a commentary track that goes through the experiences filming the movie, particularly working with a live bear.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don May Jr. announces Synapse's first two Blu-Ray Titles!

In response to a question at AVmaniacs forum Don May Jr., President of Synapse films discussed his companies Blu-Ray Plans.

Well, we have been quietly working on a few BLU titles already... we just didn't blast the public with the info using press releases for titles that have no release dates yet, because, well, we don't know when they'll be ready at this time.

I actually DO have a nice Blu-Ray of our MANIAC COP at home right now, sans menus, though... a beauty of a VC-1 encode with uncompressed PCM 5.1! You'll all get to experience it probably close to the beginning of 2009.

We're working on MANIAC COP, plus THE IMAGE (with a SMOKIN' brand-new HD transfer... we were even able to get rid of the green scratch during the cafe scene) as our first two BD titles.

More to come, obviously, if we actually succeed in making some money with those two. Probably STREET TRASH is the next candidate.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

WEREWOLF SHADOW and CURSE OF THE DEVIL -- Two Paul Naschy Wolf Man Reviews by porfle

I grew up seeing pictures of Paul Naschy's werewolf character in "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine and, since Universal's Wolf Man was my favorite monster, I always wondered what Naschy's Spanish version would be like. Now, with the special edition DVD releases of 1971's WEREWOLF SHADOW (aka "La Noche de Walpurgis") and 1973's CURSE OF THE DEVIL (aka "El Retorno de Walpurgis"), I finally get to see what all the howling was about.

WEREWOLF SHADOW opens with a scene reminiscent of the first minutes of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, as two medical examiners summoned to check out the dead body of Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky character (the Spanish equivalent of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s "Larry Talbot") foolishly remove the silver bullets from his chest, bringing him back to hairy, fang-baring life. Flash forward a bit, and we join Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and her painfully-cute cohort Genevieve (Barbara Capell) in the French wilderness searching for the lost tomb of legendary vampire woman Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy. They run into Waldemar, who is living in isolation with his demented sister Elizabeth (Yelena Samarina), and he invites them to stay in his villa while he helps them with their search.

Needless to say, they eventually uncover the tomb and release the revived Countess (Paty Shepard), who turns Genevieve into a vampire and then sets her sights on Elvira. But a lovestruck Waldemar, armed with the same silver cross that first killed the vampire woman back in the old days, comes to the rescue, turning into the Wolf Man just in time for a climactic werewolf vs. vampire woman showdown.

Naschy's outlandish werewolf makeup and bug-eyed overacting make for a really fun monster, which is quite the opposite of his effectively restrained demeanor as Waldemar. Gaby Fuchs, on the other hand, is almost comically expressionless most of the time. As the vampire woman, Paty Shepard wears flowing black clothing and runs around in slow motion a lot. My favorite non-werewolf character, though, is Genevieve, simply because Barbara Capell is just so gosh-darn cute.

The film is marred by ultra-pedestrian direction, photography, and editing and a wildy-inappropriate musical score, and it creeps by at a snail's pace from beginning to end. Some scenes, such as the one in which Elvira's detective friend Marcel (Andrés Resino) questions the mayor of a nearby village, are almost lethally boring. Night scenes take place in broad daylight so it's often impossible to tell what time of day it's supposed to be.

But for all its faults, WEREWOLF SHADOW is still interesting to watch if you're a classic horror fan and you want to see where Spanish horror really began. Naschy's Wolf Man is a hoot, and there's an abundance of low-budget 70s-style gore and brief, gratuitous nudity--while watching it, I felt transported back to the old drive-in theater where I wasted many hours in my youth. Presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the image quality is outstanding considering this is a low-budget exploitation flick from 1971--the print used looks almost flawless to me. Both the original Castilian and dubbed English soundtracks are available, with subtitles.

In addition to a large stills gallery, the disc includes the U.S. release version of the film, known as THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN. The print used here is somewhat battered in spots, which gives it more of that "grindhouse" feel. There aren't many differences between the two versions, although some of the nudity is gone, the opening and closing titles are altered, and that deadly scene with Marcel and the mayor has gone to cutting-floor hell where it belongs.

Moving on to better things, the 1973 follow-up CURSE OF THE DEVIL is a vast improvement. A prologue takes us back to the Middle Ages in which an earlier Daninsky slays the head of the Satan-worshipping Bathory clan and then executes the rest of them by hanging and burning. While being roasted alive at the stake, the widow Bathory puts a curse on Daninsky and his descendants, which will eventually include our hero, Waldemar. We join him in 19th-century Transylvania, where he lives in a castle with his loyal servants Bela and Malitza, who raised him.

After inadvertently shooting a werewolf while hunting, Waldemar finds himself the object of a gypsy curse. He's seduced into bed by a beautiful gypsy woman for his first-ever sexual experience, but she then chomps him in the chest with a wolf skull dripping with her own blood, which turns him into a werewolf. Fortunately, not everything that happens to poor Waldemar is such a total bummer--he meets a beautiful blonde babe named Kinga (Fabiola Falcón) who lives nearly with her parents and younger sister Maria, and they fall in love. But when the full moon comes, Waldemar goes bestial and starts terrorizing the countryside. And before it's all over, Kinga and her family may be his final victims.

Directed with a rough-hewn but imaginative style by Carlos Aured, CURSE OF THE DEVIL is briskly-paced and filled with exciting werewolf set-pieces, including some extremely cool transformation scenes that harken back to the old Universals. That studio's style is also represented by torch-wielding villagers and some character names (Bela, Malitza), plus some similarities to the script of the original THE WOLF MAN. Director Aured seems influenced by the 50s Hammer horrors as well, particularly CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

The rustic locations are excellent, and the performances this time are entirely adequate. There's some nudity here and there, as well as copious amounts of gore as the Wolf Man chalks up quite a body count during his many nocturnal outings (which are now actually filmed at night with much more creepy, shadowy atmosphere). Naschy's makeup is very different this time--it looks as though he's wearing an over-the-head mask--but he's still just as fearsome and feral as ever. Also in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the print quality here is almost as good as in WEREWOLF SHADOW, albeit a little rougher early on, and I seemed to notice a distracting jerkiness in the actors' movements on several occasions. The English dubbed soundtrack is good, while the Castilian version seems to have a slight droning noise in the background throughout. There's no U.S. release version this time, but we do get the English and Castilian trailers (skip the U.S. one if you haven't seen the film yet--it gives away the ending).

Both DVDs also contain liner notes by "The Mark of Naschy" author Mirek Lipinski, with some cool photos and a wealth of information. The menus are well-designed, and the DVD box art has a delightfully retro look to it.

Now that I've finally seen Paul Naschy's Wolf Man in all his glory after all these years, I'm glad I did. WEREWOLF SHADOW and especially CURSE OF THE DEVIL are good old-fashioned monster movies that I'll be revisiting now and then for a long time to come. Like Chaney's Larry Talbot, Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky is the kind of werewolf that I love--no cartoony CGI, just an actual actor in cool monster makeup, giving an actual performance.


"ER: The Complete Ninth Season" DVD Review by porfle

"ER" used to be one of my favorite TV shows, but for some reason I gradually stopped watching it along with just about everything else on network TV. Years went by, different actors and characters came and went, and I pretty much forgot about it.

Now, with the release of the 6-disc, 22-episode DVD collection "ER: The Complete Ninth Season", I've been able to catch up with "ER" and find out all over again why this is one of the best TV shows ever produced. Many of the old main characters I remembered are gone, but the ones that replaced them are just as good in their own way, always three-dimensional and displaying both noble qualities and human failings. The stories remain incredibly fast-paced, emotionally involving, occasionally very funny, and consistently surprising.

Of the old cast, I miss Eriq La Salle's abrasive Dr. Benton most of all, because I liked the way he was always riding callow intern Carter (Noah Wylie). Now, Carter's the experienced old pro and Sharif Atkins is the new guy, Gallant. George Clooney's smarmy pediatrician Dr. Doug Ross has been replaced by Goran Visnjic as Dr. Luka Kovac, a soulful Croatian immigrant whose effortless charm with women often gets him into trouble.

Other welcome additions to the cast since I last watched the show are Maura Tierney as Carter's girlfriend and head nurse Abby Lockhart, Mekhi Phifer as Dr. Gregory Pratt, Ming-Na as Dr. Jing-Mei Chen, Leslie Bibb as intern Erin Harkins, and Paul McCrane (immortalized by his role in 1987's ROBOCOP) as supremely arrogant surgeon Dr. Robert Romano.

The lovely Alex Kingston's Dr. Elizabeth Corday is still around, having just returned from London, where it seems her years of Americanization now cause her to be regarded as an outsider in her native country. Also still on staff is Sherry Stringfield's down-to-earth Dr. Susan Lewis. But my favorite character of all is and has always been Laura Innes as Dr. Kerry Weaver. I was surprised to find that Dr. Weaver is now an out-of-the-closet lesbian trying to have a child with her partner, a female firefighter named Sandy (Lisa Vidal). Weaver's pregnancy, along with her fiercely competitive run-ins with Dr. Romano, are fodder for some intense storylines. It's also apparent that, due to her frank and curtly efficient manner, Dr. Weaver is still just as disliked and misunderstood by her co-workers as ever, which has always gained her my sympathy. I find her to be the most complex and fascinating character on the show.

Any doubts I had about the level of quality this series had maintained through its ninth season were put to rest with the first episode in the set, "Chaos Theory", which begins with Chicago's County General Hospital in the midst of a virulent monkeypox epidemic that forces the evacuation of patients and the quarantine of much of the staff. While doctors are on the roof frantically loading patients onto helicopters, something so utterly unexpected and shocking happens (involving a rotor blade) that I couldn't believe my eyes. After that, this show definitely had my full attention once again.

One episode after another reaches a breakneck pace early on and manages to sustain it till the end. The interpersonal relationships between the characters are interesting and quirky, and are integrated into the action in such a way that they rarely slow down the foreward momentum. Often the show hits the ground running from the fade-in, with rapidly intercutting storylines, intensely dramatic situations, and smart dialogue that snaps, crackles, and pops. And when it does slow down to linger over something particularly dramatic, the stylish direction and compelling performances often combine to produce some exquisitely memorable moments.

The guest cast is filled with so many familiar faces that I often end up wracking my brain trying to identify them. Of course, there are also quite a few noteworthy star turns as well. Don Cheadle is extremely moving as Paul Nathan, a middle-aged intern whose dream of being a doctor is severely compromised by his advancing Parkinson's Disease. Sally Field appears in several episodes as Abby Lockhart's bipolar mother, Maggie. Other outstanding guests include Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, Ed Asner, Patrick Fugit, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Bruce Weitz.

The picture is presented in matted widescreen format. Image and sound quality are fine. Extras include deleted scenes for almost all episodes, a seven-minute gag reel, and optional subtitles which are a great help whenever all that complicated med-speak is flying fast and furious. The packaging and menus are nicely designed.

I'm glad I got to reacquaint myself with this show because it is quite simply one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of dramatic television. Whether you're a long-time resident of County General Hospital or just an intern, "ER: The Complete Ninth Season" should keep you on your entertainment meds for quite some time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

DUKES OF HAZZARD TV-Movie Double Feature Comes to DVD

"Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion!" and "Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood" in a Two Movie Collection From Warner Bros.

What's more fun than 10 in the tank and four on the floor? Tom Wopat, John Schneider, Catherine Bach and more of your Dukes of Hazzard favorites together again!

In "Reunion!", folks come home to Hazzard and discover a plot to turn Hazzard Swamp into a theme park...leaving the swamp critters high and dry. Before you can say wait a durn minute, the cousins are back in the General Lee, tearing up the roads to stop the nefarious scheme.

Then they head west for "Hazzard in Hollywood" and a big-time recording deal. It turns out the deal includes a Russian mobster, a sultry songstress from the 'hood, and a beautiful blonde vice'mayor with the hots for Enos. Double the Dukes - double the down home fun!

One of the most popular series of all time, The Dukes of Hazzard, remains a current fan favorite thanks to the recent feature film remake and Warner Home Video’s DVD releases of Seasons 1-7. Now, fans of the show will be thrilled to remember “what happened next” to the characters they had grown to love as Warner Home Video (WHV) gets set to release The Dukes of Hazzard: TV Double Feature on June 10, 2008. The southern lovin’ DVD set includes two full length made-for-TV films, Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! and Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood, in a 2-disc collection.

Format: Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC
Language: English
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 2
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: June 10, 2008
Run Time: 178 minutes


PRIDE 34 and SHOCKWAVE 2006 DVD Reviews

Pride 34 and Shockwave 2006 Review

We take a look at some of the latest PRIDE FC releases by BCI. These are notable for the fact these are the first released by Zuffa, owners of the UFC, since the transfer of PRIDE from Dream Stage Entertainment to Zuffa. Fans have been worried that the DVD releases would be stopped or otherwise damaged because of a lack of interest by Zuffa. This early test indicates that the answer will be no.

Video: Both events are presented in 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is interesting because of the fact that PRIDE never released any of these events in Widescreen. However, as some will know often certain fights appeared in Widescreen on the Japanese Region 2 release of PRIDE DVDs. It seems Zuffa is simply using a widescreen master that Dream Stage had, but only used for certain fights. To the best of my knowledge none of the fights look cropped at all and in a more telling way, US announcer footage (produced by PRIDE USA) are in regular full screen (and presented the way ESPN does with certain non-widescreen ads or programs on its HD channel). The picture quality is great and it’s nice to see PRIDE events in Widescreen (and not cropped to achieve it).

Audio: The audio uses a standard stereo mix and sounds fine. It is important to note, as is somewhat obvious by the appearance of Kill The Messenger’s Music Supervisor credit, certain music has been replaced. The most notable example of this is the insane J-Pop song that played during the intro for Shockwave 2006 and replaced with a generic angry nu-metal sound. It’s a shame, but DSE routinely cut intros for rights reasons, and the costs to license the song and others may not have been in Zuffa budget for the DVD release (Zuffa does this with their own UFC releases). Still the fights sound great, so fans should still enjoy the contests themselves.

Extras: Each disc contains certain extra fights. PRIDE 34 has the only in the Japan match up of Butterbean vs Zulu’s son. It’s a shame the Japanese TV version couldn’t appear on the disc as the promotion of the Super Heavy-Weight Grand Prix is pretty funny. Essentially all fights that occurred at each event should be on the discs. There is a lot of editing on the PRIDE 34 DVD as the main feature is less than 90 minutes. The fights are uncut, but a lot of the closing events and waiting for the fight setup has been cut (PRIDE 34 was a long event live).

Overall: If you are looking for low-priced ways to view some of the last events PRIDE put on these DVDs are a great way besides importing the expensive Japanese DVDs. While some of the production end decision Zuffa made, but all the fights are present and they picture and audio quality are good. So I would recommend picking these DVDs up if you’re a fan of PRIDE events.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's Alive From Larry Buchanan Mini-Review

Slow, talky, and even a little dull, but there is something about this film from Azalea pictures and Larry Buchanan that I just really enjoyed. The story was quite interesting and if you just say this isn't going to be a monster film (say in comparison to The Lorely's Grasp), its actually quite an effective psychological thriller and quite grim and depressing movie about an insane man and his beast. The scene where the main villain chases the teacher through the woods in slow motion, has an almost beauty poetry in the way its filmed and comes across on the screen. I know Larry Buchanan wasn't a talent for the ages, but this film was a good little picture. While the massive nearly 20 minute flashback of the teachers capture may grind the movie to a halt, in itself its a very well done act of the breaking down of a human being of their ability to resist. I've also read the story is pilfered from a Richard Matheson, which may account for it being pretty good.

You can find this on a Retro-Media double feature paired with In the Year 2889 or on tons of PD sets.

VCI Entertainment Announces Classic DVD Sets On The Way



Honey West (Anne Francis), sensual and glamorous female private eye, was something of a trendsetter, she was one of television’s first liberated females. In an era when actresses were restrained to sedate housewives and girlfriend roles, this series marked an exceptional and original departure. In 1965 the character was introduced to television audiences in a Burke’s Law episode, "Who Killed the Jackpot?" and true to form, Honey outwitted the suave detective played by Gene Barry. Producer Aaron Spelling spun the character off into a separate thirty-minute series which premiered in the fall of 1965. Honey West was the first dramatic TV show with a female star in an action-adventure role.

In the show, Honey inherited her spying business from her late father, a top private eye. She also got his partner in the deal, rough and handsome Sam Bolt, played by John Ericson. In addition to being television’s first modern, independent, self-sufficient woman, Honey frequently engaged in fight scenes and shootouts. She was expert at judo and held a black belt in karate. She is also the first character, male or female, on U.S. television to use martial arts as self-defense.

900 minutes, B&W, 1.33:1, NR,1965-1966


James Best
Bert Parks
Maureen McCormick
Herschel Bernardi
Kevin McCarthy

Format: DVD
DVD # 8515
UPC: 089859851520
SRP: $39.99
Product Specs: 4-DVD9/Dolby Digital/NTSC/All Region/English Language
Special DVD Features: Photo Galleries, Vintage Commercials
Street: 09/02/08



Director: Dick Brown
Cast: Ned Lefebver, Margaret Kerry, Hal Smith

Scott McCloud is the Space Angel, a secret agent for EBI (Earth Bureau of Investigation), who together with his friends, Taurus, Crystal, and Professor Mace, travel far and wide from their base on the space station Evening Star, on board the spaceship Starduster. Whether it’s battling a mass exile, or stopping a brainwashing mad scientist, it’s all in a day’s work to secure the welfare of the solar system. Space Angel was an animated science fiction television series produced from early 1962 through 1964. It used the same Synchro-Vox (live-action moving lips over the mouths of the animated characters lips) technique as Clutch Cargo, the first cartoon produced by the same studio, Cambria Productions. The science fiction stories were serialized with five episodes comprising each adventure. Voices included Ned Lefebver as Scott McCloud, with Margaret Kerry and Hal Smith providing other incidental voices. This DVD has 9 complete episodes and each episode is 25 minutes and in 5 segments.

TRIVIA FACT: Margaret Kerry stated that Gene Roddenberry’s character "Scotty" from Star Trek was inspired by Space Angel’s Scottish engineer.

225 minutes, Color, 1.33:1, NR, 1962

Format: DVD
DVD # 8533
UPC: 089859853326
SRP: $14.99
Street Date: 7/29/2008
Product Specs: DVD9/Dolby Digital/NTSC/All Region/English Language
Special DVD Features: An Interview with "Tinker Bell" – An exclusive one on one interview with actress Margaret Kerry, the voice actress for Space Angel & Clutch Cargo and the original alter-ego, actor and reference model for the famous pixie from Walt Disney’s "Peter Pan."



Directors: William Witney, John English
Cast: Ralph Byrd, Phylis Isley (Jennifer Jones), Irving Pichel, Ted Pearson,
Walter Miller, George Douglas

Nicholas Zarnoff, master spy and the most hated man on Earth, is sentenced to die in the gas chamber. By using a secret drug, which does not permit the gas to enter his lungs, Zarnoff cheats death and escapes. Dick Tracy, the government’s ace investigator, is assigned the task of tracking down Zarnoff and bringing him to justice. For 15 episodes Dick Tracy and Zarnoff battle it out on land, on sea and in the air. Jennifer Jones, seen at the outset of her distinguished career, plays Gwen, Dick Tracy’s loyal secretary.

263 minutes, B&W, 1.33:1, NR, 1939

Digitally restored and re-mastered from the 35mm fine grains.
15 Pulse-pounding chapters!

Format: DVD
DVD #8504
UPC: 089859850424
SRP: $29.99
Street: 07/29/08
Product Specs: 1-DVD9 & 1-DVD5/Dolby Digital/NTSC/All Region/English Language
Special DVD Features: Scene Selection, Trailer, Intro by Max Allan Collins, Adlets
The Lunatics - Review

The Lunatics, made in 1986, is an anomaly of a Hong Kong film. An unapologetic social commentary, its themes and story telling have no precedent and have yet to be revisited by Hong Kong film makers. At the time of its production the new wave of directors had cast a near revolutionary light on output, with some films style being more documentary led. The Lunatics is a natural progression in this style, with realism, in the main, being the order of the day. Making his directorial debut, Derek Yee took a real chance in the making of the film. Those among you may remember him as an actor from numerous Shaw Brothers swordplay and Kung Fu movies, including Shaolin Prince and Shaolin Intruders, both classics of the genre. The style of The Lunatics could not be more different from these fantastical martial arts old skoolers. Since making the film Yee went on to direct such well-regarded movies as Mon Cherie, Amour and the recent One Night in Mongkok. He has yet to recreate the raw, savage and meaningful film-making of The Lunatics. The film, not well received on its original release, has since then been marketed on the roles of Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung Chiu Wai. Actually both actors play small parts as mental patients, in two roles completely divorced from any of their other performances. The star is Stanley Fung, a known comic actor (especially in Sammo Hung’s Lucky Stars series), with support from Deannie Yip. Tony Leung appears at the start and end of the film, lending an unhinged intensity to his role as Doggie.

Leung blurs the lines between comic and tragic with his opening portrayal of Doggie, whose attempts at playfulness with the customers at a fish market ends up with him wielding a machete. In steps Fung as Doctor Tsui to handle the situation. A news reporter (Yip) arrives at his office, wanting to do a story about mental illness and the people who suffer from it in Hong Kong. The plot follows the two episodically as they go around from patient to patient. It should be noted that the patients who are depicted are all extreme cases, many of them prone to violence without the right medication. Chow Yun Fats role occurs in the middle, as a schizophrenic whose living conditions are so bad his daughter is ill and son is dead, which is revealed in a shocking scene. The majority of the narrative concentrates on documenting the plight of the mental patients, how little people like Fung can do for them. The main patient is painted at first as a success story, as he is living at home and is seemingly fine, but his story becomes the focal point of the tragic elements of the story.

Chow’s performance, for him having such little screen time, highlights what a versatile actor he is. Considering the film was made in 1986, the same year as his breakthrough role in A Better Tomorrow, the two characters and films could not be different. However, even in portraying a mentally ill character his charisma and good looks tend shine through, making his characters plight a little less believable than intended. The performance by Paul Chun Pui as the main mental patient, is perhaps the best in a very strong array of performances, especially by Fung. The acting really carries the film, which is unusual for Hong Kong cinema at the time that concentrated mainly on aesthetics and action. Chun Pui conveys the development of his characters llness with disturbing force, providing two or three of the most uncomfortable moments of the film. There is no dodging of the subject matter here; the worst affects of mental illness are portrayed unflinchingly and powerfully. One criticism of the film is that in reaching an apotheosis of this it dissolves a little into sensationalism, but who is to say incidents such as those depicted have not really happened? Fung carries just the right air of desperation in portraying a man who feels he cannot really make a difference but gives it his best shot anyway. It is a rare dramatic performance that hints at hidden depths and brings a sense of authenticity to an already grimly realistic film.

In terms of style the film takes the lead from new wave productions such as Yim Ho’s Father and Son in addressing its subject matter in a realist way, with some scenes shot documentary style. There is a good balance struck between this and at times a more atmospheric, expressionistic approach when the time is right in the narrative. For instance the scene when Chow is running through the forest to find his son the visuals become darker and there is an impressive tracking shot following the characters. Also the music reflects this change in approach, with a thriller/horror like score used to good effect. This intertwining of styles serves to keep the viewer interested in events and highlight the films fictional elements despite its social connotations. The locations used are also of interest; with shooting on the streets of Hong Kong used to good affect. The slum buildings where Chow’s character lives are also exposed, conveying a side of Hong Kong rarely seen on the Jade screen.

Overall The Lunatics is one of the most important Hong Kong films of its era,and manages to captivate the audience in ways that create an antithesis to the normal entertainment value of Hong Kong films. It has not dated and looks and feels fresh and vital, with characters and themes that are still relevant today. One of the most important affects the film has on the viewer is to raise awareness of the problems of mental illness, perhaps still the most mysterious and thought provoking illnesses to be encountered in any age. Seek it out.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"305" -- The First Feature To Be Made From a Viral Video Comes To DVD

From Allumination Filmworks: What began as an on-line viral phenomenon; a low-budget, five-minute parody that hit the Web around the same time "300" hit theaters and was simultaneously featured on YouTube, MySpace TV and Yahoo! Video "305" was the #1 most-viewed comedy and the #2 most-viewed video on YouTube during July 2007, and became one of the 400 most-viewed internet videos of all time (as tracked by

The original short attracted such a rabid following that the writer/director team of Daniel and David Holechek were quickly approached to expand the idea. One month was all it took to shoot the entire feature-length film using the same onscreen talent as the short, making 305 the first viral video to transition to a narrative feature film.

305 is a mockumentary detailing the misadventures of five not-so-brave members of the Spartan army charged with guarding a seemingly ordinary goat path. But when their actions lead to the death of King Leonidas and his army of 300 men, the five are forced into hiding. But with Sparta cowering under the threat of Persian invasion, Claudius, Darryl, Demetrius the Blind, Shazaam and Testicleese must band together once more and become true warriors. Do they have what it takes to save the day? Smartly funny and based entirely on historical fact (allegedly), 305 proves that even the biggest losers get lucky sometimes.

The comically irresistible mockumentary feature film, "305" arrives on DVD on July 8 from Allumination FilmWorks. The DVD features extras including bonus scenes, commentary track, three featurettes, a blooper reel and the original 305 short film. Suggested retail price is $29.98.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008


How do you separate your personal life from your professional life? Not easily. And if you're on the emergency-room staff of Chicago's County General Hospital, it may be impossible.

Challenges at work and at home overlap in the series that remains the right prescription for powerful entertainment. Carter's playful office love affair becomes a 24/7 crisis. Kovac's partying affects his performance. And be careful what you wish for, staffers: Weaver is indeed promoted to a position outside the ER...but Romano replaces her. No wonder Kovac and Carter decide it's time for a change. They opt for assignment in Africa. What awaits them makes County General look like a stroll along the lakeshore.

Created by best-selling author Michael Crichton, the ninth Emmy® Award Winning season of ER explores the turmoil of Chicago’s public hospital emergency room and the lives of its devoted doctors who must make split-second decisions which determine life or death. The hard-working staff finds themselves in the throes of love affairs, promotions and oversea assignments as Warner Home Video sets to release ER: The Complete Ninth Season to DVD on July 17, 2008.

DVD Special Features

Outpatient Outtakes: Unaired Scenes
Cutups: Gag Reel

Product Details:

Format: Box set, Color, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Number of discs: 6
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Home Video
Run Time: 986 minutes
List Price: $49.98

DREAM 1 and 2 Japanese R2 DVD Release Dates Set

Picked this up from CDJapan's website today.

This will be a big boon since a Japanese version of DREAM 1 that is not clipped has yet to appear.

These DVDs are Region 2, but they will be in anamorhpic widescreen. CDJapan claims they will only have Stereo audio, but this is most likely based on early information they received.

DREAM 1 July 23rd for around 43 USD.

DREAM 2 July 23rd for around 43 USD


Monday, June 16, 2008

Thunderbold Fist (English Dubbed)

You never know what you'll find on youtube these days ;).

Don't worry we're coming back this week....

and we have a lot of great new content. Sorry for the short delay, but I promise you it will be worth it. :)