HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Deadly Dolls of DEATH RACE

This summer's high octane smash-em-up, DEATH RACE, features a rogue's gallery of psycho convicts racing for their freedom in souped-up deathmobiles. But more importantly, it also features their navigators, a bevy of bodacious babes such as the lovely and gracious Melantha Blackthorne (SINNERS AND SAINTS, PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED), who supplied us with these cool behind-the-scenes photos.

Mel ("Pachenko's Navigator" in the film) is the knockout blonde on the far right. Not only is she a fine actress with several freaky indy flicks to her credit, but she's also a director in her own right as well as a cinematographer, screenwriter, stuntwoman, and co-founder of Robomonkey Productions.

I don't know about you, but I'd follow her anywhere!


Saturday, August 30, 2008

NOISE -- DVD review by porfle

If you're like me, you love your peace and quiet. And you hate for it to be constantly shattered by everyday noises such as jackhammers, back-up beepers, sirens, leaf blowers, cell phone yakkers, and the like. Ever wish you could do something about it?

In the 2007 comedy NOISE, David Owen (Tim Robbins), a successful businessman with a wife and daughter, is finally driven over the edge by the constant racket of New York City and goes on a one-man rampage that centers on his most hated source of unwanted noise--car alarms. After an opening titles montage of nerve-wracking city noises, the movie begins with a comical essay on how useless car alarms are, since even the police have learned to ignore them as they blare away unheeded. But David no longer ignores them as they blast him awake at night, keep his baby daughter crying at all hours, and finally even cause him to be impotent with his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan). So, with a hammer and a pair of wire cutters, he begins to disable every car alarm he hears and vandalize the cars.

This lands David in and out of jail and puts a strain on his marriage when his wife just can't understand his sonic fanaticism. After she kicks him out, he pursues his quest in earnest as "The Rectifier", stalking the streets in shades and a hoodie and eventually gaining a measure of support from the locals. One of his victims, a beautiful young Russian woman named Ekaterina (Margarita Levieva), becomes fascinated with David and joins him in his crusade, refining his methods by helping him organize a petition to ban car alarms. (They also have an affair, of course.) But standing in their way is the crooked, abrasive Mayor Schneer (William Hurt), who has about as much regard for "The Rectifier" as J. Jonah Jameson has for Spiderman.

Writer-director Henry Bean, who based the screenplay on his own wire-snipping exploits, gives much of NOISE a casual, freewheeling visual style. Split-screens show us how certain situations might be ideally resolved (David calmly and politely handling a couple of cops) and how they actually end up (David freaking out and getting thrown in the slammer). The non-linear narrative fiddles around with the story in interesting ways as David meets Ekaterina early on and fills her in on his history in a series of flashbacks that eventually fit together like puzzle pieces.

David's anti-noise obsession and his feelings of helplessness in the face of the general public's weary acceptance of such affronts comes to represent the way people have gradually relinquished their rights over time and become willing pawns of those in power. As Robbins says in an interview segment: "We're dealing with a lot of encroachments on our peace of mind, we're dealing with it simply by accepting it." Strangely enough, Robbins the well-known liberal plays David as a Wall Street Republican type, since the moral relativism of his own political persuasion would necessitate the philosophy of "I think that's noise, but you don't--and that's okay." So, interestingly, Robbins felt the need to get into conservative mode in order to say "This is wrong, dammit, whether you think so or not."

It may not sound like much of a comedy, but there's a lot of funny stuff here. Tim Robbins is good at being the everyday guy going quietly over the edge until he can't take it anymore, expressing his rage with a sort of suppressed, indignant disbelief. And it's fun to see him bashing car windows so he can pop the hoods and snip the battery cables, or simply taking a hammer to various alarms and other noisemakers after reasonable requests for their deactivation have fallen upon deaf ears.

His friend Judson (Michael J. Burg), a reformed car thief who runs a garage, advises him on the best ways to deal with offending autos. In one of the best scenes, Judson helps him create a sort of sonic deathmobile packed to the gills with ear-splitting car alarms, which David uses to blast Mayor Schneer's vitally important meeting with some Japanese businessmen all to hell. The final courtroom sequence is fun but tends to get a tad farcical at times, and doesn't quite come off as the fist-in-the-air finale that the film needed. Nor is there a Travis Bickle-type "go for broke" ending that I halfway expected. The biggest "WTF?" moment in NOISE, perhaps, is a crude, softcore-porn scene with David, Ekaterina, and her friend Gruska (MarĂ­a Ballesteros), whose dissatisfaction with the aesthetic appearance of her genitals leads David to a philosophical epiphany that didn't really require three naked people lounging around gabbing about their junk.

With a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and Dolby 2.0 surround, the DVD looks and sounds good, although much of that sound is, as you might guess, noise. Extras include almost forty minutes of interview segments with the cast, director, and producers, a director commentary, some behind-the-scenes footage of the courtroom sequence, and a trailer.

Silence is indeed golden, and if it weren't for the constant ringing in both my ears, I'd enjoy it as much as possible. So I could really identify with the hero of NOISE and root for him as he smashes and destroys things that make noise for noise's sake. There's even a small bit just for us cell phone haters--while David and Helen are having an emotional discussion about the state of their deteriorating marriage, her cell goes off and she instantly grabs for it, prompting David to snap, "Go ahead and get that--it's not like we're having a conversation or anything." Amen!

Friday, August 29, 2008


For Abbott and Costello fans, this complete Univeral collection looks like something to die for. Or at least feel a little dizzy for awhile.

Aside from the 28 films and some cool extras, we also get several audio commentaries from guys (like Tom Weaver and Bob Furmanek) who know their stuff. Hey, Abbott--this sounds really awesome! Here are some of the details:

- All 28 Universal films - first time available together in one collection
- Includes IT AIN'T HAY (1943) - available to own for the first time ever
- Digitally remastered for optimum picture quality
- 15 single-sided discs
- Highly collectible trunk packaging
- Exclusive book "Abbott & Costello: The Universal Story"
- 6 audio commentaries
- 20 original theatrical trailers
- Production notes on all 28 films
- Retail price is set at $119.98


To find out more, here's a lively and informative discussion of this set that's going on right now at the Classic Horror Film Board. Add your two cents if you want--it don't cost nothin'. (Except two cents.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" Season 3 DVD Coming Sept. 9

--Jonathan Storm, Philadelphia Inquirer

Three-Disc Set Captures Every Wildly Inappropriate Moment
From The Laugh-Out-Loud Hilarious FX Original Series
Arriving On DVD September 9th From Fox Home Entertainment
All-New Bonus Features Including Gag Reel, Making Of Featurettes, Character Profiles, Cast Commentaries and More

CENTURY CITY, Calif. – Welcome back for another round of crass humor and over-the-top outrageousness at Paddy’s Pub with the craziest bunch of unwholesome friends ever when the ridiculously hilarious third season of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” comes to DVD September 9th from Fox Home Entertainment.

Continuing to gain a hardcore cult viewer fanbase as Season 3 earned the series’ best ratings to date, the FX original comedy chronicles the completely dysfunctional lives of a group of inappropriate dive bar owners – Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson), along with their twisted father figure Frank (Danny DeVito) – as they relentlessly dig their own graves via constant scheming and numerous poor judgments to get ahead by leaving no politically incorrect issue unexamined.

In utterly crude and indecent style, the gang tackles such hot-button topics as racism, sweatshop labor, dumpster babies, sex offenders, the homeless, serial killers, transgender lifestyles, international terrorism, drug dealers, organized crime, vigilante justice, the mentally challenged, among others. Packed with irreverent bonus features including behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, character profiles, select episode cast commentaries and TV spots, the “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” Season Three DVD set will be available for a suggested retail price of $39.98 U.S. / $54.98 Canada.

The gang is back! Join Mac, Charlie, Dennis, Sweet Dee and Frank, five ne’er-do-wells who own and operate Paddy’s Pub in Philadelphia, where mentally challenged rappers rub elbows with sex offenders, and where business as usual means sabotaging the bar down the street, selling coke for the mob and adopting dumpster babies for kicks. Join the wildly inappropriate gang at Paddy’s as they wreak dysfunctional havoc on their customers — and each other! Sick and twisted political incorrectness has never been this laugh-out-loud hilarious!

DVD Features:
The “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” Season Three DVD collection includes all 15 episodes presented in full screen format (1.33:1 aspect ratio) with English Dolby Surround sound. Individual disc content as follows:

Disc 1
• The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby
• The Gang Gets Invincible
• Dennis and Dee’s Mom Is Dead
• The Gang Gets Held Hostage
• The Aluminum Monster vs. Fatty McGoo
• The Gang Solves The North Korea Situation
o Commentary with Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton

Disc 2
• The Gang Sells Out
• Frank Sets Sweet Dee On Fire
• Sweet Dee’s Dating A Retarded Person
• Mac Is A Serial Killer
• Dennis Looks Like A Registered Sex Offender
o Commentary with Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton
• The Gang Gets Whacked Part 1

Disc 3
• The Gang Gets Whacked Part 2
• Bums: Making A Mess All Over The City
• The Gang Dances Their Asses Off
• Special Features
o Sunny Side Up – Volume 2 making-of featurette
o Meet The McPoyles featurette
o Dancing Guy featurette
o Gag Reel
o Season 3 FX promo spots

A recognized global industry leader, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC (TCFHE) is the worldwide marketing, sales and distribution company for all Fox film and television programming on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray Disc (BD) as well as acquisitions and original productions. The company also releases all products around the globe for MGM Home Entertainment. Each year TCFHE introduces hundreds of new and newly enhanced products, which it services to retail outlets from mass merchants and warehouse clubs to specialty stores and e-commerce throughout the world. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC is a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a News Corporation company.

Street Date: September 9, 2008
Prebook Date: August 13, 2008
DVD Price: $39.98 U.S. / $54.98 Canada
Catalog Number: 2252599
Feature Running Time: 450 minutes
TV Rating: TV-MA
Closed Captioned: Yes



Okay, I didn't see THE SCORPION KING with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, so I can't compare it to this 2008 direct-to-video prequel, THE SCORPION KING: RISE OF A WARRIOR. It's a fairly self-contained story, though, so I can surmise that a familiarity with the first movie isn't necessary in order to appreciate it.

In the ancient Middle East kingdom of Akkad, the elite warriors who serve as the king's bodyguards are known as The Black Scorpions. When the greatest of them, Ashur, is murdered by one of King Hammurabi's ambitious generals, Sargon (Randy Couture), Ashur's young son Mathayus swears revenge. So he goes into training as a Black Scorpion and returns six years later (now played by Michael Copon of DISHDOGZ and POWER RANGERS TIME FORCE) to discover that Sargon has assassinated King Hammurabi and now sits upon the throne.

Mathayus tries to kill the new king but fails due to Sargon's knowledge of the black arts. After fleeing the city, he plans his revenge with the help of a boyhood friend, girl-warrior Layla (Karen David), and an erudite young Greek poet named Ari (Simon Quarterman), who suggests that they try to acquire the invincible Sword of Damocles with which to defeat Sargon. Trouble is, the sword is currently in the possession of the dreaded Astarte, Queen of the Underworld (Natalie Becker), who is in league with Sargon.

The movie starts out as though it might be a rather straight-faced affair, with rich production design and a potentially somber narrative. But as we begin to notice the flashes of cartoony CGI and the often contemporary-sounding dialogue (such as "You were going to tell us this--when?" and "Nice place to visit, but..."), it becomes apparent that SCORPION KING 2 is little more than an exceptionally nice-looking B-movie. Which is fine, once you realize this and start to enjoy it as you might enjoy earlier Universal B-pictures such as THE MUMMY'S HAND. If you're looking for "great", you'll be disappointed. If "okay" is enough, then grab the popcorn.

The cast is adequate and likable enough. Copon, David, and Quarterman have a lot of amusing dialogue between them and play it with a light touch, with Quarterman giving what is probably the best performance as the heroes' cowardly but resourceful sidekick. David is the typical "you go, girl" wannabe-warrior without being tiresome about it, and thankfully the script is never desperate enough to have her spouting things like "male chauvinist!" at anyone. As the young man who will someday grow up to be The Rock, Copon manages to convey a goodnatured self-deprecation one minute and then switch easily into steely-eyed badass warrior mode the next.

As Sargon, real-life UFC champ Couture makes up for whatever refinement may be lacking in his acting skills with an imposing physique and sheer presence. He reminds me of the excellent character actor Patrick Kilpatrick, only about twice as big and half as talented. It's exciting to see this skilled fighter in action, and I was really disappointed when, during the final battle between Sargon and Mathayus, Couture is replaced by a huge black scorpion that looks like it escaped from a defective 80s videogame.

Bad CGI rears its cartoony head in several other areas as well, including a none-too-convincing minotaur that threatens to eat Mathayus and his pals, and a "gateway to the Underworld" sequence that looks like something out of TRON. You can get JURASSIC PARK effects with a Spielbergian budget and ILM-level technicians, but otherwise, most of this stuff looks about as realistic as Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry the Mouse. On the plus side, though, the practical effects during the creepy Underworld sequence, complete with lots of dead bodies, skulls, doomed souls growing out of trees, and slimy creatures slithering around in a swampy, moss-ridden hell, are well done.

Director Russell Mulcahy, who practically invented what is now referred to as "MTV-style" filmmaking, isn't quite as flashy and hyper as he was back in his HIGHLANDER days. He makes good use of his actors and locations and, for the most part, stages the action scenes well. Still, he retains an annoying tendency to tinker around with the editing, needlessly weighing down entire action sequences with endless speed-up/slow-down effects, distracting Shaky-Cam, and other cinematic frou-frou. On the whole, though, he shows marked improvement and acquits himself fairly well here.

Directorial noodlings aside, the fight scenes are pretty cool and are a nice mix of swordplay and martial arts. We even get a brief chick fight between Layla and Asarte (Natalie Becker is obviously having a great time playing her evil character), although it isn't a patch on the thrilling gold-standard sequence from THE MUMMY RETURNS. Michael Copon knows how to look good with a sword and can sidestep a slow-motion spear with the best of them, while Randy Couture pretty much owns the screen whenever he goes into action. A bonus featurette, "Fight Like An Akkadian: Black Scorpion Training Camp" details the rigorous training the cast endured to make these scenes work, and it was time well-spent. "On Set With The Beautiful Leading Ladies" covers the same ground from the female perspective.

Other bonus material includes an interesting profile of Couture, who originally tested for a lesser part before being "bumped up" to play Sargon. There's also a "making-of" featurette (in which director Russell Mulcahy comes off as a really fun guy who runs an efficient but happy set), brief looks at the production design and visual effects, some deleted scenes, and a gag reel. The DVD features 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

If you're a fan of THE SCORPION KING, you'll probably want to see the origin of the character and how he became the invincible warrior that he is (or was, anyway, until his somewhat unpleasant fate in THE MUMMY RETURNS). But even if you're new to the character, THE SCORPION KING 2: RISE OF A WARRIOR is a lighthearted, action-packed adventure that looks good (save for the bad CGI) and can be quite entertaining if you accept it for what it is--a competently made B-movie that makes the most of its budget and doesn't take itself too seriously.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wild China DVD Review

Wild China

Just in time for the Beijing Olympics the BBC and Warner Brothers have released a fantastic look at the beauty and splendor of China in such detail, that few have been able to enjoy.

Video: This review is only for the DVD version (if you have Blu-ray, just buy that). Warner Brothers and the BBC has released a gorgeous and wonderful looking series that is anamorhpically enhanced for widescreen TV’s. It is free of any defects both in the print and transfer. Really there is not much to say other than that the video quality is flawless and you will be able to enjoy all the splendor and detail as allowed by current technology.

Audio: Because the series was filmed in HD, it has a 5.1 sound mix. The mix is great for being allowing one to be enveloped with all the rich and natural noises that accompany the show and helps to give you a feeling that you are their with the film makers. The mix balances narration by Bernhard Hill, the music, and the natural sounds quite well, ensuring that it provides a seamless viewing experience.

Extras: There is a brief ~25 minute making of documentary called Hunting Dragons about the creation of the program and does a nice job at showing viewers how the documentary was made in terms of cameras and equipment and filming conditions.

Overall: If you have any interest in seeing the natural beauty and wonders of China, then this is the program for you and one that is: Highly Recommended.



The Criterion Collection brings out one of the most sought after horror films of the Golden Age, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s VAMPYR. The question is how will the often battered film looks in this presentation from Criterion? The answer is considering the history; great, and with excellent extras

Video: We are greeted with a text message informing us that VAMPYR no longer has any original extant prints left and that what we are viewing is based on a marriage of other sources. With that in mind most of the film is quite good visually, there are a lot of scratches, grain (not just the natural grain), and a lack of sharpness (which to an extant was the directors intentions), but it comes with the sources. The encoding and transfer side of the equation are fine with no compression issues or ghosting from a bad PAL transfer. It’s rough going, but given the state of the elements available, I think the restoration of VAMPYR is a success, but you can check for yourself in screencaps that will shortly follow this review.

Audio: The audio quality is fine and for the most part free of any distortion. One really cannot say too much about the audio, because of the fact that the film has little dialogue. Criterion has given viewers the choice or watching the film with either English subtitles or new English inter-titles in a situation that should please all.

Extras: Like most Criterion Collection discs VAMPYR comes with a number of extras. This includes an excellent audio commentary by scholar Tony Rayns (who has actually written some nice works on Hong Kong Films). There is also a vintage documentary about Dreyer by J. Roos. A visual essay talking about the influences behind the film and a radio broadcast featuring Dreyer reading an essay on filmmaking. Criterion also included a wonderful booklet with commentary on the film and a reprint in book form of the original script and the story that influenced Dreyer.

Overall: If you like VAMPYR (and even its greatest admirers admit it can be a love it or hate it film, then this is the set for you. Highly Recommended.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bigfoot Body Press Conference Delivers Nothing of Value - More Empty Promises by Tom Biscardi Fail to Impress Informed Media

By Tom Yamarone

August 15, 2008

Bigfoot Body Found – Really? DNA evidence and photo evidence to be presented at a

PRESS CONFERENCE – Really? Well, Bob Dylan summed it up in an obscure song title from 1970 – “Nothing Was Delivered.”

The common person with an interest in the bigfoot phenomenon was excited as could be. The mystery is solved, a body is found! There were high hopes leading up to this press conference held in Palo Alto, California yesterday. The media descended in droves upon the hotel conference room driving the temperature up towards 90 degrees. One local reporter said this was the most press he’d seen since the infamous Scott Peterson murder trial in nearby Redwood City, CA.

On the other side of the coin were those whose interest in the subject exceeds what they see on the History Channel. We came well aware of the background and history of Tom Biscardi and his self-promoting antics. We had seen the insipid videos produced by the bigfoot trackers from Georgia. (Those are now removed from their YouTube account in an attempt to “clean up their act.”) Actually, many of the media present seemed aware of the dubious nature of this claim that a body had been found, but all were required to show up “just in case.” Some of the questions were fairly soft initially, but there were plenty of hard-hitting questions asked of the participants. Their answers were not very forthcoming.

The press release from Tuesday, August 12th repeatedly stated that evidence would be presented at this time. They had released a photo of an alleged creature in a freezer with the top open. There was nothing very compelling about the photo. In fact, it raised more questions due to the similarity of the head to a widely available sasquatch costume. And how does a 7 foot 7 inch creature fit into a 6 foot freezer? Never mind – that’s not important.

The press conference started with Tom Biscardi spinning one of his endless, self-centered yarns about how he got involved. They wanted the real bigfoot hunter to come verify their claim. Yes, we all find this to be slightly hilarious as Tom has never come across as a serious researcher. He does not present data in a fashion that can be shared and analyzed by others. And he’s been associated with hoaxes and previous empty-promise episodes.

Matt Whitton, one of the men from Georgia, took the podium and briefly described finding the body near a creek many miles back in the wilderness from any road. He said he waited with the body while Rick Dyer (the other guy) went for a truck and some help to move the carcass. He stated that he waited 9 hours until Rick returned and that all was quiet during that long wait, although when they began to drag the body out of the woods, they were accompanied by 3 or so bigfoots who stayed just out of sight. Really?

The press was hitting them from all sides about the account and their answers were less than convincing. When the time came to distribute the additional photographic evidence, there was a mad rush to the front table. Tom Biscardi handed out color print-outs to anyone with a press credential – glad I had mine from this website! I was the West Coast editor for a day representing HK & Cult Film News!

The first photo was of the teeth and tongue of the alleged creature and it was quickly brought into question because of the number of (apparent) incisors pictured – 6 to be exact. A question from the assembled crowd pointed out that this would be a unique primate to have 6 incisors! “They look like cow teeth,” according to someone next to me who knows animals.

The other photo was supposed to be “the clearest and best photograph” of a bigfoot yet according to Matt Whitton. The bigfoot creatures were all around them when they discovered the body. Yet, they were not evident during the 9 hours he waited for Rick to return. Hmmm? Back to our photo. Yes, basically nothing more than a dark figure some distance back in the trees obscured by a branch in the foreground. And when will people learn that merely presenting a photograph is egregiously insufficient? We require data and, if possible, a comparison photo with a subject of known height. The data should include the estimated distance from the camera to the subject, time of day, lighting conditions, etc. Not surprisingly, this is how Tom Biscardi rolls – “Here’s a couple of more photos. That’ll tie you over until the autopsy.” Really?

The press packet had a printed email from Curt Nelson, a professor at the University of Minnesota, stating that the DNA tests had resulted in 1 sample of 3 being 100% human, 1 sample being 96% possum and the 3rd one failed. Their answer to the possum match was that the tissue sample came from the intestine. In fact, an anonymous source in very close contact with Curt Nelson stated that the sample was a 2 inch square of muscle tissue. Someone from the Road Kill Diner is walking around with a big band-aid on their butt apparently.

So goes the media circus that seems to travel with Tom Biscardi. There was even a wookie-clad gentleman carrying a cardboard sign stating “Now you know why we hide.”

Well, now you know why most of us studying this subject cringe when these big claims reach the mass media. Thankfully, the empty promise of an autopsy to be arranged with the “best scientists” he can find did not excite anyone present.

The general feeling after the event was one of disappointment but not surprise. We got what we expected – nothing much! Hey, did you hear that Bob Gimlin, Dr. Jeff Meldrum, Rick Noll, Kathy Moskowitz Strain and newcomer David Paulides participated in an excellent sasquatch conference in Felton, CA on August 9th? No? Well, now that I’m done with this “time-waster” I can get back to writing up the real bigfoot news for August!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Creeping Terror Screencaps from BCI's Drive-In Cult Classics Vol. 2

Whoever thought The Creeping Terror would look this nice. Nice Job BCI!


A Look at BCI's Upcoming September and October Releases

LOT's of Great Stuff Coming From BCI. Even Better most of these titles are 9.99 or 14.99. We'll have reviews and also full specs for all of these titles in the coming months.

September 2nd
PRIDE 32 The Real Deal
The Gleam
September 9th
A Day at The Beach
The Kidnapping of the President/Deathrow Gameshow
September 16th
Beyond the Door
Exploitation Cinema Cemetery Girls/Vampire Hookers
Exploitation Cinema Satan’s Slave/Terror
September 23rd
Savage Streets: Special Edition
Final Exam

October 14th
Ultraman Boxset Collection
Drive-In Cult Classics Volume 3
Exploitation Cinema Galaxina/Star Crash
Exploitation Cinema Mausoleum/Blood Song
Sweet Sixteen Directors Cut
3 Sexy Comedias Mexicanas Vol. 1
3 Sexy Comedias Mexicanas Vol. 2
October 21st
Paul Naschy Collection
Stanley Two Disc Special Edition
Hot Moves
October 28
Kitaro on DVD and Blu-Ray
Jason of Star Command/Space Academy

I GOT THE FEELIN: JAMES BROWN IN THE 60s -- DVD review by porfle

While I've always liked James Brown, I was never what you'd call a big fan. Now, after viewing Shout! Factory's 3-disc set I GOT THE FEELIN': JAMES BROWN IN THE '60s, I have a much deeper appreciation for both his talent as a musician and the important role he played in the civil rights movement. The biggest surprise for me, in fact, was the discovery of an incident in Boston following Martin Luther King's assassination, which makes this DVD set not only an irresistible record of Brown's musical prowess at the time but also the compelling account of a fascinating moment in American history.

I wanted to save the Boston stuff for later and indulge in some pure entertainment right away, so the first disc I watched was "James Brown Live at the Apollo '68." Originally broadcast as a television special entitled "James Brown: Man to Man", the image and sound quality are pretty rough at times--the early color video is especially bad at first, although it improves as it goes along. It helps to think of this as a priceless recording that we're lucky to have, warts and all, rather than dwelling on its imperfections. For me, they were soon forgotten as I became engrossed in James Brown's electrifying performance before a fiercely appreciative audience in the legendary Harlem theater.

Sweat pouring from his face, Brown earns his nickname as "the hardest working man in show business" as he gives his all during each number, belting out one classic after another with his heart and soul. The songs include "I Got the Feelin'", "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World", "I Feel Good", "Please, Please, Please" and twelve more, usually with one segueing right into the next. The backup band is hot, and with each song Brown gets into a groove and works it for all it's worth with his customary showmanship, including those patented dance steps, mike stand acrobatics, and that delightfully dramatic robe routine as a finale. The direction is really terrible during the show and the psychedelic '60s camera effects are a major distraction, but that's the way stuff like this was usually televised back then and the whole thing serves as a time capsule of its era.

A brief documentary portion shows Brown walking the streets of Watts and Harlem, commenting on what should be done to improve conditions in such communities ("My fight now is for the Black America to become American.") With a running time of almost fifty minutes, the Apollo show is augmented by James Brown's 1964 performance of "Out of Sight" on THE T.A.M.I. SHOW, plus two more songs from a 1967 show at L'Olympia in Paris.

The next disc I watched was "James Brown Live at the Boston Garden", taped during his historic April 5, 1968 show only 24 hours after Martin Luther King's assassination. With cities burning across America and angry riots raging in the streets, Brown's scheduled appearance there was turned into a televised memorial concert and an opportunity to relieve tensions in a peaceful way. The mood is initially tense as Boston's sole black councilman Thomas Atkins and the city's mayor Kevin White introduce Brown while urging everyone to honor Dr. King's legacy of non-violence. Then James Brown takes the stage and performs full-throttle for over an hour.

The public television station WGBH in Boston was unaccustomed to covering such a concert, especially at such short notice, but they do a magnificent job here. The direction and camerawork are outstanding, with uncommonly rich black-and-white videography that looks almost cinematic at times, and dramatic lighting which is particularly effective in the backlit shots from behind the stage. A few awkward moments occur, and at one point the video is missing for a minute or so, but these are negligible in light of how well this impromptu telecast turned out. On the whole, this is an amazing document of what is perhaps the most important performance of James Brown's career.

What almost turned it into a disaster comes in the latter minutes of the concert. With people crowding forward and starting to climb onstage, Brown's security men brusquely shove them back one by one and are soon joined by Boston police in flinging people off the stage. Brown calls a halt to this with the assurance that he can handle his people, but in no time is surrounded by a swarm of rowdy fans who refuse to back off. Brown strongly expresses disappointment and exhorts them to show him some respect ("We're Black--don't make us all look bad!") and let him finish the show, which he is finally allowed to do. Everything ends well, although for a few moments there it's a tense situation that could've gone bad in a heartbeat. All in all, pretty fascinating stuff. As an extra, the audio of Brown's eight-minute speech to the crowd before the show is played against an old-fashioned Indian chief test pattern.

Having watched the concert itself, I was really ready for the third disc, director David Leaf's excellent 2008 documentary THE NIGHT JAMES BROWN SAVED BOSTON. The backstory of King's murder, the resulting nationwide chaos that came after it, and the tension-filled situation in Boston are presented in well-chosen archival footage along with narration by Dennis Haysbert ("24", THE COLOR OF FREEDOM) and interviews with Mayor White and Councilman Atkins, Brown's manager Charles Bobbit, Boston deejay James Byrd, Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Cornel West, various bandmembers and concert attendees, and several others. (Bonus footage of these interviews is included on the disc along with a panel discussion which followed the film's premiere.)

Atkins' idea of using the James Brown concert to quell impending violence had to be sold to a dubious mayor, but an even more dubious Brown, it turns out, was fit to be tied when he discovered that his concert was to be televised for free--several times, in fact--and people were already cashing in their tickets. The drama that occurred during the closing segment of the concert is recounted by witnesses including David Gates of Newsweek, who was there that night and attests to the air of anxiety that hung over the situation ("It could've gone up like a torch," he recalls.) But perhaps the most compelling part of this documentary is James Brown's subsequent role as one of the most influential leaders of the civil rights movement, a racial ambassador helping to bring people together, and a crucial proponent of Black pride in America.

The three discs are boxed in slimline cases with achingly cool retro design and a 23-page booklet by Rickey Vincent, with an introduction by David Leaf. As a whole, I GOT THE FEELIN': JAMES BROWN IN THE '60s is a treasure trove of invaluable concert footage and real-life historical drama that's ultimately both enlightening and inspiring. If you're a James Brown fan already, this is a must-see. If not, watch it and you just might get the feelin'.


Monday, August 4, 2008

The Scorpion King 2: The Rise of a Warrior on DVD August 19th


Newest Universal DVD OriginalTM Arrives on DVD and Blu-ray Hi-Def on August 19, 2008 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment

“Bone-crushing excitement and non-stop action!”
-– Pete Hammond,

Universal City, August 4, 2008 – Experience pulse-pounding action and see how the Scorpion King legend was born when the highly-anticipated prequel The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior comes to DVD and Blu-ray Hi-Def on August 19, 2008 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. An adrenaline-fueled adventure of epic proportions, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior takes viewers back to the beginning of the saga of Mathayus, the young warrior who would become the fearsome Scorpion King. Directed by Russell Mulcahy (Resident Evil: Extinction, Highlander), the film stars world-renowned, five-time Ultimate Fighting Championship winner Randy Couture. The DVD is priced at $29.98 SRP and the Blu-ray version at $39.98 SRP .

In addition, a special Scorpion King Warrior Pack will be available day and date, containing the new DVD as well as the original action blockbuster DVD, The Scorpion King starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, priced at $36.98 SRP .

“By far Universal’s most ambitious DVD OriginalTM to date, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior raises the made-for- DVD bar to the next level with production values that deliver theatrical-style action, adventure and excitement,” said Craig Kornblau, President of Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Universal Pictures Digital Platforms. “Our strong track record in this arena has encouraged us to pursue this market even more aggressively as of late. With The Mummy continuing to successfully build on its global popularity and appeal at the box office, we saw a unique opportunity to offer home entertainment consumers a new, engaging experience that embraces the iconic elements they love about this franchise.”

The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior is the latest in a series of top-selling Universal DVD Original® releases that includes American Pie Presents: Beta House and Bring It On: In It to Win It. Both the DVD and Blu-ray are packed with behind-the-scenes interviews, exciting deleted scenes and outtakes, and astonishing Scorpion King secrets.

In addition to Couture, the cast of The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior features Michael Copon (Bring It On: In It to Win It), Karen David (Batman Begins) and Natalie Becker (The World Unseen).

The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior DVD contains an arsenal of exclusive bonus material, including:
THE MAKING OF THE SCORPION KING 2: RISE OF A WARRIOR: An inside look at the making of the film, featuring interviews with director Russell Mulcahy and actors Randy Couture, Michael Copon, Karen David, Natalie Becker, and other key members of the cast and crew.
FIGHT LIKE AN AKKADIAN: BLACK SCORPION TRAINING CAMP: Stunt fight coordinator “Mo” Marais takes us through the intricacies of Black Scorpion warrior training and demonstrates some of the moves he used to create the true Akkadian-fighting style.

BECOMING SARGON: ONE-ON-ONE WITH RANDY COUTURE: Highly-celebrated Mixed Martial Arts legend Randy Couture discusses how he prepared for the role of the villainous King Sargon.
ON SET WITH THE BEAUTIFUL LEADING LADIES: Natalie Becker and Karen David discuss the physical demands of their roles and what it was like working with the guys as we watch them learning the choreography of their fight sequences.
CREATING A WHOLE NEW WORLD: This piece explores both the specially constructed sets that bring the film to life and the amazing South African locations that give the film its authenticity.
THE VISUAL EFFECTS OF THE SCORPION KING 2: RISE OF A WARRIOR: Through interviews with both the design and visual effects teams, supplemented with b-roll and pre-visualizations, we discover how movie magic created an alternate reality for the actors to play in (such as the Labyrinth and Thorn Forest) and produced exciting sequences like Sargon’s transformation into an invisible scorpion.

In addition to the perfect picture and purest digital sound available, the Blu-ray version includes:
• INTERACTIVE TIMELINE BAR: Track where you are while watching the film without interrupting your viewing experience
• MY SCENES BOOKMARKS AND CLIPS: Bookmark your favorite scenes while watching the movie
• SCREENSAVER FEATURES: Protect your television screen from image burn-in with this feature

See how the legend of The Scorpion King began! When a young Mathayus witnesses his father's death at the hands of the king ( UFC Champion Randy Couture), his quest for vengeance transforms him into the most feared warrior of the ancient world. From the producers of The Mummy and the director of Resident Evil: Extinction and Highlander comes a heroic adventure filled with heart-stopping action and thrilling visual effects!

For more information, log on to:
DVD and Blu-ray Hi-Def
Street Date: August 19, 2008
Copyright: 2008 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Price: DVD SRP $29.98
Blu-ray Hi-Def $39.98
Scorpion King Warrior Pack $36.98

Selection Numbers: 63102083 Widescreen; 63104072 Full Frame
Price: $29.98 SRP
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
Layers: Dual Layers
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1; Full Frame 1.33:1
Rating: PG-13 for violence and sexual content including references
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 1

BLU-Ray Hi-Def
Selection Number: 63105509
Price: $29.98 SRP
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
Layers: BD-25
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1; Full Frame 1.33:1
Rating: PG-13 for violence and sexual content including references
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 1


Friday, August 1, 2008

SHADOWS LIGHT -- DVD review by porfle

The opening titles sequence of the supernatural thriller SHADOWS LIGHT features an exorcism and contains what are probably the most effective images in the entire movie. Father Cuth Abelard (Tom Phillips), who apparently specializes in such work, succeeds in expelling the evil force but is physically and emotonally exhausted. Thus, he's ordered to return to his hometown in Kentucky for a two-week vacation, little suspecting that here he will encounter the most grueling and perilous good vs. evil battle of his lifetime.

Father Cuth meets a pretty blonde waitress named Dana (Tucky Williams), whose sister Evan (Jessica Kline) works as a stripper. When Evan starts running with a fast crowd that revolves around mysterious local tycoon Ashton Lagares (John Schoering) and eventually becomes romantically involved with him, Dana begins to fear for her safety. And for good reason, since Lagares is a pawn of Satan. Father Cuth discovers Lagares' plot to spread his evil influence over the entire community and beyond, and must spring into action with the help of a warrior angel (Marshall Fields) and an immortal creature known as a Djinn (Vince Bingham), who is part angel and part human but lives in the shadows between their worlds.

Director Stephen Zimmer and his cast and crew display plenty of enthusiasm and conviction, but they generally lack the finesse to carry it out. Action scenes aren't that well-staged, with one lightsaber battle (okay, they're flaming swords, but they look like lightsabers) between Lagares and the Warrior Angel looking particularly awkward. Much of the exposition is conveyed by having people talk while taking leisurely strolls, which tends to get a little repetitive.

As for the acting, there are two or three standouts among the cast, including Cynthia L. Allen as Lagares' delightfully wicked accomplice Lily. A malicious MILF who literally sucks the life out of her hapless male and female partners, Lily is the most interesting and exciting character, and you may be surprised when you see the actress who plays her without the wig and makeup--they look almost nothing alike. Vince Bingham is also good as the Djinn, thanks in large part to a pretty cool makeup job, and Tucky Williams is likable as Dana. The rest of the cast tend to come off as either amateurish or overly melodramatic, but at least they give it their all.

Aside from some nice makeup effects on Lily and the Djinn, we also get a cool Grim Reaper-like creature known as the Soul Collector and a not-so-cool monstrosity that Lagares morphs into right before the climactic battle. The Warrior Angel looks pretty stunning the first time we see him--wings outstretched, eyes aglow, he seems to be wearing a reflective outfit that makes him appear to be made of light. Later, though, he just looks like a guy with a white wig, white clothes, a couple of limp wings sticking out of his back, and boots. It's too bad they couldn't have sustained the impressive effect of that first shot. A lot of poor-man's green screen and cartoony CGI are used here as well, and the effect varies widely in quality. Even when these fantastic creations and visuals aren't entirely successful, however, it's still fun to see talented SPFX artists doing what they can with a meager budget.

The DVD is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with 2.0 sound. There are actually three commentary tracks here--director, cast, and production--along with a photo gallery, a 17-minute featurette of actor interviews, and an almost 40-minute-long conversation between effects artists Dave Workman, Sven Granlund, and Matt Perry.

I can't really urge you to run right out and get SHADOWS LIGHT expecting it to be awesome. As an epic battle between good and evil, its reach exceeds its grasp by a wide margin. But as with all low-budget independent features by filmmakers who actually care about what they're doing, it's interesting to see how Zimmer and company try to overcome their limited resources to create the best and most impressive movie they possibly can.