HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box
Thursday, April 24, 2008
IT'S A BOY GIRL THING -- On June 17, Anchor Bay Entertainment Unveils the Hilarious Romantic Comedy on DVD
BURBANK, CA –Anchor Bay Entertainment is proud to release the high-jinx romantic comedy, It’s A Boy Girl Thing, on DVD June 17, 2008 (prebook May 15) starring Samaire Armstrong (“Dirty Sexy Money,” Just My Luck, “The OC,” “Entourage”), Kevin Zegers (Transamerica, Zoom) and Sharon Osbourne (“The Osbournes”). Executive produced by Elton John, It’s A Boy Girl Thing is the cute and clever story of two high school enemies who switch bodies… now she’s on the football team and he’s wearing mini skirts and make-up!
A mix of The Hot Chick and Mean Girls, It’s A Boy Girl Thing was a big success in the UK, and it looks to repeat that in North America. Sugar called it “Body Swapping Brilliant” and Reelfilm.com said, “Armstrong and Zegers are cute and charming in their respective roles.”
Adding to the fun are a great host of bonus materials including a “Making of It’s a Boy Girl Thing” behind the scenes featurette, interviews with Samaire Armstrong, Kevin Zegers and Elton John, an interactive “Are You More Boy or Girl?” Quiz, a “History of the Aztec Statue” feature, cast bios and the original theatrical trailer.
Nell Bedworth (Armstrong) and Woody Deane (Zegers), life-long sworn enemies and next-door neighbors, wake up one morning to find they have swapped bodies. At first, they’re disturbed by the occurrence, but soon realize they can use the opportunity to ruin each other’s high school reputation! Devoting so much time and attention to each other has never been as much fun – but with each day, their hatred for each other dissipates. Suddenly, they realize they no longer hate each other, in fact, quite the contrary. Sometimes falling in love can be an out of body experience.
Directed by Nick Hurran (Little Black Book, Girls’ Night) and written by Geoff Deane (Kinky Boots), It’s A Boy Girl Thing is also produced by Steve Hamilton Shaw (Gnomeo and Juliet) and David Furnish (Gnomeo and Juliet, Billy Elliot the Musical) of Elton John’s Rocket Pictures. Martin Katz (Hotel Rwanda, Spider) of Prospero Pictures also serves as producer.
It’s a Boy Girl Thing features a hip soundtrack including a new cover of Tiffany’s ’80s hit, “I Think We’re Alone Now” performed by Girls Aloud. Other recognizable songs include “Let's Get it Started” (Black Eyes Peas), “Shake Ya Ass” (Mystikal), “Hush“ (Deep Purple) “Goodbye to Romance” (Ozzy Osbourne), “High” (James Blunt) and last but not least, “Candle in the Wind” by Elton John.
Street Date: June 17, 2008
Prebook: May 15, 2008
Run Time: Approximately 94 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Bonus Features: Are You More Boy or Girl? Quiz, A History of the Aztec Statue Feature, Behind the Scenes Featurette, Interviews with Samaire Armstrong, Kevin Zegers and Elton John, Cast Bios, Theatrical Trailer
Monday, April 21, 2008
Steve (William Mapother, WORLD TRADE CENTER, THE GRUDGE) is part-owner of a failing glowstick company who sees dollar signs when some dairy farmers come up with a new use for his product that could revolutionize dairy farming. I'm not going to describe it--you'll just have to find out for yourself. So things are finally looking up for Steve and his partner Harry (Daniel Baldwin), and it's about time, too, since they're both having really bad financial and marital problems. But in order to cash in, they have to strike a deal with an exceptionally sleazy corporate shark named J.T. Montgomery (Douglas Hutchison) who you just know is gonna screw 'em over big time.
I had a bad feeling about this movie thanks to its punny title (MOO-LA, get it?) and wince-inducing tagline ("How now, cash cow?"), but this began to dissipate as soon as I found out that it's really a genial, rather heartfelt story that doesn't try too hard to be laugh-out-loud funny and is sufficiently grounded in reality that you can actually care about the characters as real people. Steve and his estranged wife Nora (Charlotte Ross) have realistic problems and so do Harry and Louise (Annabelle Gurwitch, "Dinner and a Movie", DADDY DAY CARE), although the latter couple's antics are played more for laughs. And their high-level business dealings with crooked dairy industry mogul J.T., in which they're woefully out of their league, generate real suspense.
William Mapother, funny and endearing as Steve, heads a terrific cast. I've liked Daniel Baldwin ever since he played a cop on "Homicide: Life on the Streets", and comedy-wise, he's settled into that cuddly, Fred Flintstone thing that seems to affect all Baldwin brothers sooner or later. Curtis Armstrong of REVENGE OF THE NERDS and "Moonlighting" is on hand as Steve and Harry's semi-inept legal consultant, and the gorgeous Charlotte Ross, who used to be a regular on "NYPD Blue" although I remember her most fondly from the "Teacher Pets" episode of "Married With Children", is convincing as someone Steve would desperately yearn to get back together with. Treat Williams also turns up in a couple of scenes to give the film a little added star power.
The standout, however, is Douglas Hutchison as J.T. He's such an effective actor that I actually savor his performances, whether he's playing one of "The X-Files"' most memorable villains, Eugene Tooms, or the palpably vile Percy Wetmore in THE GREEN MILE. This may be a comedy, but Hutchison gives us a character that is no less effective for that. His Percy Wetmore-like J.T. is wonderfully greedy, slimy, conceited, self-centered, and petty--a genuinely formidable nemesis for our hapless heroes--and adds a whole extra dimension to the film.
The 1:85:1 widescreen image and Dolby 5.1 sound are just fine for a movie like this. I mean, we're not talking LAWRENCE OF ARABIA here. Extras include a brief promotional featurette, about ten minutes of deleted scenes, and trailers for this and other Allumination Filmworks releases. The opening titles themselves are a lot of fun, with a series of "Far Side"-type animated cow cartoons by Leigh Rubin of the Illusion Factory.
Oh yeah, and there's also an informative commentary by director Don Most. You may recognize him better as "Donny" Most, who played Ralph Malph on "Happy Days", and as a director he seems to know his way around the other side of the camera quite well. Although it's hardly likely to earn a hallowed place in the comedy film pantheon, MOOLA is well-acted, capably made, and (forgive me, but I don't get to use this pun very often) "udderly" enjoyable. (GROAN!!!)
NINJAS, NINJAS, NINJAS!!! Seriously do I really need to add anything more than that? Well, yes I probably should. Rarescope via BCI hits kung fu fans with some wonderful and gloriously goofy films from Five Venoms chorographer and grumpy gus (just watch an interview with him on one of the earlier Rarescope DVDs) and early international Italian/Chinese co-production which used Shaw Brothers actors. Essentially you’re getting Robert Tai’s Shaolin goofiness (which usually means great wire-based kung fu and just jaw-droppingly absurd stories and plot points). It’s not high art by any means, but both films feature excellent martial arts work and a story that is well anything but boring. Rarescope and BCI release these two Robert Tai films together on one DVD-9 (no flipping discs or that crap). Amazon vs Supermen is released by itself; it’s interesting and worth a check out for a truly bizarre mix of film styles and sensibilities.
Video: Considering the rarity of these films and the fact that the only appearance has been on crappy PanMedia bootlegs, it’s great to see a legit release of these two Robert Tai films. The print is not mint and has damage, but it’s not horrible and very watchable and honestly pretty decent. The fact is that the retail price at HK Flix for the set is 10.95, one cannot expect Celestial quality. Both films are full widescreen which is always a must for a kung fu movie. However, the films are only letterbox. It would have been nice if the films had been anamorphically enhanced. Due to the print quality, it was felt that the trade off of greater resolution for perhaps worse quality was not worth it. Amazon vs Supermen is also fully widescreen and only letterbox. Picture quality is decent also, and pretty good with only mild print damage and deterioration.
Audio: Shaolin vs Tai Chi has embedded English and Chinese subs with Mandarin Audio. The other films have an English audio track. The sound is mono for all of them. They are in decent condition with some crackles at time, but are generally pretty good.
Extras: Some trailers, but that’s about it.
Overall. For a grand total of $17 at HK Flix or another retailer, you can get three kung fu movies in full widescreen from Rarescope and BCI. If you have any love of the wacky world of Robert Tai or a weird co-production, then Rarescope has a great package of kung fu for you.: it’s an easy buy if any of those conditions apply to you.
If you’re like me and your mother loves sharks and shark-related shows and movies, then you probably grew up watching a lot of stuff about sharks. The side effect of this is that I always love watching documentaries about sharks. Sharkwater is no exception and a great documentary about the myths and realities of sharks and how they live and interact with the world. It’s composed of some excellent and gorgeous footage of the ocean and obviously sharks.
DVD and Blu-ray Video: We tested both the Standard Definition and Blu-ray version of Sharkwatcher. Both version are anamorphic and look wonderful. The Blu-ray obviously features the better picture, but that has more to do with one being in High Definition and the other being Standard Definition. There is a change when the filming source does switch from an HD cam to a regular camera. However, these are materials inherent in the differences in the sources and not anything dealing with encoding. Both are anamorphically enhanced at 1:85:1 and the Blu-ray is encoded at 1080p.
Audio: Both BR and DVD use a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and sound great. Much like the BBC Natural History Collection and to an extent even more so you get to hear the deep seas and the creatures that inhabit it. Once again it helps to build an immersive experience.
Extras: The DVD and BR share the same extras including a making of, a vintage military shark defense video, a trailer and image gallery. The extras are not as extensive as say the BBC sets, but are still very nice additions given to us by Warner Brothers. Also some extras are in HD and others SD.
Overall: If you have any interest in sharks or nature documentaries, this is an easy must buy: a mixture of wonderful underwater footage and informative discussion about the plight and reality as opposed to Hollywood (or if you like Italian films Cruel Jaws and the Last Shark).
Today, we finish a massive undertaking in finally reviewing the recently released BBC Natural History Collection made by the BBC and distributed by Warner Brothers. This package collects some of the most well known natural history documentaries made by the BBC including Planet Earth, The Blue Planet: Seas of Life, The Life of Mammals, and The Life of Birds. Normally, most of these sets retail for nearly $60-$100 apiece. The excellent and reasonably priced collection can be found on Amazon for only $180, which even if you were able to get each set at bargain prices, the Natural History Collection is still nearly a $60 dollar savings. It’s an excellent way to experience the world around us and the creatures that inhabit it; if you live in a crowed city, it’s always wonderful to see just how much of the world is still lush, vibrant, and wild. This collection is a wonderful purchase for nature lovers, schools, and people who just love watching wonderful visuals. I can actually attest to the second point as students for Earth Day at the Robert E. Lamberton Public School in Philadelphia are watching Planet Earth from our box set that we loaned out to the school.
Video: All of the shows (which combined is roughly 33 hours) with the exception of Life of Birds (which is nearly ten years old) is in anamorphic widescreen and looks wonderful. The Life of Birds is in its original full screen aspect ratio. All of the shows are wonderful and a joy to watch visually and experience the beauty of the Earth. It sparks the imagination as you see the opening of Planet Earth and the emergence of a polar bear from hibernation with her new cubs, just how a creature can sleep for months with no food except what it stored up. The picture is clean, clear, and free of any print damage of any sort. Despite the extreme running times on these DVDs, there is no compression artifacts or any other digital defects.
Audio: All of these shows give your audio system a workout as they were filmed with some of the most advanced sound equipment. The specs will vary with each set, but you will get a clear and immersive sound environment that makes you feel like you are there watching the action as it unfolds instead of just watching it on your television.
Extras: You may be expecting this set to be a simple repackaging of older releases for a lower price; well you would be wrong in that case. To list all of the extras would be an exhaustive process. However, the extras that appear are quite substantial including episodes of related shows that did not appear on the original DVD release.
Overall: This is a wonderful set for those who love nature and those who want to spread that love to others (friends, children, students), and the BBC makes a double dip for some an easy choice by putting all of their best documentaries together, with new extras, and for a very reasonable price. If you have the interest and the money, this is a must buy.
Heroes Two is considered by many to be one of the quintessential and milestone Shaw Brothers films. Cheng Cheh with the help of choreographers Tang Chia and Lar Kar Leung and actors Chen Kwan Tai and Alexander Fu Sheng deliver a truly remarkable kung fu film with the use of real martial arts and a wonderful tale of revenge and brotherhood. The film is set in the Qing Dynasty after the burning of the Shaolin Temple by the Manchu’s. It’s not exactly a tale told once, but with Cheng Cheh and cast and crew, it’s a tale told well! This is the first Shaw Brothers release from Media Blaster and an amazing DVD film with excellent extras and options that make this DVD a MUST BUY!
Video: Heroes Two is anamorhpically enhanced and looks wonderful Media Blasters, like Dragon Dynasty before and BCI in the future has utilized HD masters for their transfers which help to alleviate any of the problems associated with PAL to NTSC conversion (ghosting, smearing, softness) as seen on releases by IVL in Hong Kong or by Image in the United States. Heroes Two suffers from none of these problems. The disc has strong vibrant colors, excellent detail in the picture, and no damage or issues with the source material. In short until Heroes Two has a Blu-ray release, the image quality is not going to be better anywhere else.
Audio: The disc contains English Mono, Mandarin Mono (with English Subtitles or Slates for signs, notes, etc) and English 5.1. The English 5.1 remix I suspect was done by Media Blasters as it does not suffer from added sound effects or music. It simply expands the music and sound effects giving it a wider range. It is quite nice to hear the theme in 5.1 without any added effects or additional “music”. All the tracks are clear and free of any damage and sound great with clean audio that is easy to hear and understand.
Extras: This disc has a bevy of incredible extras that just scream buy me! The first one is an excellent audio commentary by Kung Fu Film Historian Linn Haynes. Linn’s commentary is amazing with rarely any downtime and a great sense of humor that listeners will greatly enjoy. The facts the Linn displays shows why he was the king of Kung Fu film knowledge. That aside this is a really wonderful track and gives you a great history of the film and the people who made and starred in it. The bar for Shaw Brothers Kung Fu Commentaries has now been set quite high.
Tragically though this is the only commentary track that Linn Haynes recorded, he sadly died in a car accident shortly after. Media Blasters included a slate after their credits (after the movie) in memory of Linn. I can say personally from knowing and talking to Linn frequently in the last two years, that I had never meet anyone before someone so kind and generous with, and boundless in their knowledge of martial arts movies. He will be greatly missed and I thank Media Blasters for including the memorial.
There is also a short, but excellent ~8 minute interview with Chen Kwan Tai (more parts will be appearing on future Media Blaster Shaws DVD release, such as I suspect The Master coming out in May). The interview is quite detailed as one would expect as something produced by Mike Leeder, Editor of Impact magazine and know for his work on the extras for Hong Kong Legends and Dragon Dynasty among others.
The DVD also features the short feature Three Styles of Hung Fist that preceded the movies by a few weeks in theatres and later attached to Heroes Two during its theatrical run. This short feature discusses the type of martial arts that will be in Heroes Two featuring demonstrations by the actors and including narration (even referring to the actor’s real name). There is an option to watch this separately or seamlessly attached to the movie. This feature is anamorphically enhanced looks great and is in Mandarin with English subtitles. Media Blasters also includes the English language version of this feature, taken from a European VHS source. It is certainly strange to hear the dubbers refer to the actors who they portrayed by their real name. This feature is a pretty beaten up and with foreign subtitles embedded on it. However, the fact that Media Blasters was able to include this extra (which also comes with the original English language credits and title fonts) is incredible and the unremastered nature of it (which is noted before any non-Celestial footage) is irrelevant. The original Mandarin trailer (along with a Celestial video promo) is also included along with the original English Language Export trailer sourced from a foreign VHS tape (but is still anamorphically enhanced). This trailer is something I’ve never seen and will be a real treat for fans. There is also a stills galley and Tokyo Shock trailers for other upcoming releases (including the original Mandarin trailer for the Master).
Overall: Buy it. I really should not need to say anything else. This is a wonderful package Media Blasters has put together for Heroes Two. I cannot wait to see what The Master (due around May 13th) is like.
Just click http://www.hkflix.com/xq/asp/filmID.545350/aid.85597/qx/details.htm and grab your copy!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
"Hard-core fist-for-fist action…nail-biting tension" --The Hollywood Reporter
SANTA MONICA, CA – Breaking Hong Kong box office records last year with its high-energy action sequences and fierce kung fu clashes, FLASH POINT explodes to DVD April 22 from Genius Products, under the company’s acclaimed Dragon Dynasty label. Arriving as a Two-Disc Ultimate Edition and featuring intense performances by seasoned martial arts experts and some of Asian action’s brightest stars Donnie Yen (Hero, Kill Zone), Louis Koo (Robin-B-Hood, Zu Warriors) and Collin Chou (The Matrix trilogy, The Enforcers), FLASH POINT is a visually stimulating cavalcade of destruction and mayhem that highlights the pulse-pounding combat with a new dynamic mixed martial arts action style. The film follows an intense detective who after years of painstaking pursuit closes in on his archenemies, a merciless gang of three brothers. With the arrest of one of the brothers, witnesses suddenly start dying and evidence is destroyed. When his undercover partner is exposed and becomes a target, he goes after the brothers directly – no holds barred. An audience favorite at the Toronto and San Francisco Asian Film Festivals, FLASH POINT is "…an entertaining action blowout" (LoveHKFilm.com). This two-disc collection will include three deleted scenes, an exclusive interview with the film’s star and action director Donnie Yen and much more. FLASH POINT will be available on DVD for the suggested retail price of $24.95.
Like the flashy sports car he controls, Detective Sargent Jun Ma of the Serious Crimes Unit is precise and brutal. Determined to destroy his criminal nemeses Archer, Tiger and Tony, a gang of three powerful brothers, Jun Ma infiltrates their corrupt organization with the planting of a mole, Wilson. When Wilson’s dual role is exposed, he becomes the last living witness to testify against Archer and now Jun Ma must battle to protect his partner from the murderous thugs to ensure they are put out of business permanently.
3 Deleted Scenes
Feature Length Audio Commentary By Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
Collateral Damage: The Making of Flash Point
Flash Point Explored
The Ultimate Fighters
M.M.A. on Display
On Dangerous Ground: An Exclusive Interview With Leading Man and Action Director Donnie Yen
Trailers, Teasers, TV Spots
Street Date: April 22, 2008
Order Due Date: March 11, 2008
Catalog Number: 81150
Run Time: 88 minutes
Screen format: Widescreen
Languages: Cantonese Dolby 5.1, Cantonese DTS, English Dolby 5.1
Subtitles: Spanish, English
Action Speaks Louder Than Words When Stylish Cop Thriller From Legendary Hong Kong Director Johnny To Arrives On Special Edition DVD March 25
SANTA MONICA, CA – As the lights go down on the dangerous streets of Hong Kong, police forces and street gangs will meet with the cruel hand of fate as the latest Dragon Dynasty release, PTU: POLICE TACTICAL UNIT debuts on DVD from Genius Products and The Weinstein Company. The martial arts masterpiece boasts an assortment of awards for renowned director Johnny To (The Mission, Running Out of Time) including Best Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards, Asian Trade Winds Award at the Seattle International Film Festival, and the Special Jury Prize at the Cognac Festival du Film Policier. Additionally, the film swept the Golden Bauhinia Awards winning for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor.
With notable performances by Hong Kong talents Simon Yam (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Kill Zone), Lam Suet (Kung Fu Hustle, Fatal Contact) and Maggie Siu (Election), PTU: POLICE TACTICAL UNIT follows a band of night patrol cops on one of their worst nights. After a gang leader is mysteriously murdered and a sergeant, in pursuit of a suspect, loses his gun, a tenacious police tactical unit and their iron-willed leader find themselves in the middle of a war between two gangs, building towards an explosive and violent conclusion. Gritty, stylish and unpredictable, "the suddenness and ferocious beauty of the film’s violence is trumped only by its unexpected wellsprings." (slantmagazine.com) PTU: POLICE TACTICAL UNIT DVD features all-new exclusive content (see below for details) and will be available for the suggested retail price of $19.97.
During one dangerous night on the streets of Hong Kong, a tough and single-minded police tactical unit has until dawn to recover a cop’s stolen gun and clean up the accompanying mess, but things take a deadly twist when their mission intersects with a web of gangland crimes.
Feature Commentary With Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
On The Trail Of The Smoking Gun: An Exclusive Interview With Leading Man Simon Yam
Into The Perilous Night: An Exclusive Interview With Acclaimed Director Johnny To
Cool As A Kat: An Exclusive Interview With Leading Lady Maggie Siu
Street Date: March 25, 2008
Catalog Number: 80639
Run Time: 85 minutes
Screen format: Widescreen
Languages: English Dolby 5.1and Cantonese Dolby 5.1
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
The snowy Yukon setting is the same, though. Filmed on scenic Vancouver locations, this is the story of a turn-of-the-century frontier town and the trappers, prospectors, and other characters who inhabit it. Miles Challenger (Shane Meier) is a young man who lives with his mother, Adoley (Rachel Hayward) and stepfather, John Thornton. Thornton is determined that Miles finish school, but the boy is in a hurry to grow up and wants to become a guide as soon as possible.
Miles' life is changed when he first encounters an amazing sled dog named Buck. The first half of the movie tells of his unsuccessful attempt to buy Buck at a sled dog auction, losing out to a mail carrier named Swede. During their first run together, Buck tangles with Swede's vicious lead dog, Spitz, and almost dies while dragging Swede and the other dogs to safety after a terrible snowstorm. The second half finds Swede forced to sell Buck to some traveling tenderfeet from the city, the Levants. Miles takes on the job as their guide so that he can care for the still-recovering Buck, but finds his survival skills put to the ultimate test when the spoiled, irresponsible Levants get a whiff of gold along the way and carelessly lead the party into grave danger.
Shane Meier (THE MATTHEW SHEPARD STORY), who at 15 played Clint Eastwood's young son in UNFORGIVEN, now plays the 15-year-old Miles at age 23. So he's definitely adept at appearing younger than he really is. Meier is a good actor who's convincing in the role of a headstrong, yet conscientious youth who must learn from his mistakes. The rest of the characters are well-cast, especially Miles' stepfather, Thornton--as a Nick Mancuso fan from all the way back to his 1979 horror flick NIGHTWING, I'm always happy to see him in a good role. In a brief epilogue, Hugh O'Brian makes a welcome appearance as the older Miles. And, as dog performers go, Buck himself is pretty awesome--he should definitely win some kind of doggy Oscar for this.
The DVD features a standard full-screen image with Dolby Digital sound. Extras consist of a trailer, previews of other Allumination Filmworks releases, and Spanish subtitles. The film is enhanced by lush cinematography and a heroic score which suggests that composer Hal Beckett is an Elmer Bernstein fan.
This is pretty solid family-friendly entertainment for a TV pilot, with a rich sense of period authenticity and fine production values. The ill-fated journey of Miles and the Levants is particularly exciting and suspenseful, ending with a perilous attempt to cross the cracking ice of a not-quite-frozen river. If you're a sucker for this kind of atmospheric, Jack London-inspired Yukon adventure stuff like I am, CALL OF THE WILD is well worth curling up with on a cold, snowy night. Or whatever your local weather happens to be at the moment.
Monday, April 7, 2008
With a cute little puppy dog gazing at me from the DVD cover and a title like MIST: THE TALE OF A SHEEPDOG PUPPY, I approached this 2006 British telefilm with a queasy feeling, fully expecting to hurl robustly at some point during its 75-minute running time. But I needn't have worried, because it's really a rather enjoyable little production that not only entertains, but actually manages to be quite moving in spots. Don't tell the guys I said that, though, or I'll be in for the razzing of my life.
Shot on video for what must've been a pocket-change budget, MIST takes place at the rustic Borough Farm which overlooks the ocean. Gail the sheepdog has just given birth to three puppies named Storm, Drift, and Mist. Her father, the grizzled old veteran Sir Gregory, puts the puppies through sheepdog boot camp, teaching them the rules and tricks of the game.
Mist proves the most adept and stays on to finish training at the farm while Storm and Drift are given away to other families. The other sheepdogs include Jake, the genial comedy-relief whose main attributes are his long legs and his knowledge of sticks; Swift and her son Ernie; and Fern, a jealous conniver whose vanity is threatened by the up-and-coming Mist. Fern supplies most of the drama as she constantly plots against our heroine and gets her into all kinds of trouble.
Technically, this is as far removed from the CGI-enhanced realism of BABE as you can get. It took a while to get used to entire conversations consisting of dog closeups with the dialogue dubbed in, but before long I caught myself going along with it. Most of it is scripted, while some of the best parts are the ones in which the dialogue is tailored to fit various serendipitous bits of footage (such as two dogs joining paws as though sealing a pact). As the story progressed, I became familiar with the characters and their individual traits and found the whole thing pretty engaging.
These Border Collies are actual working sheepdogs and when we see them expertly going about their jobs it's pretty fascinating. The rest of the time, what must have been copious amounts of raw footage are mined for their most usable shots and pieced together to form the narrative. You have to hand it to the editors for managing to construct sequences such as Swift and Ernie cornering a protective mother sheep so that her lamb can be tagged with an ID number.
Some segments have considerable charm, as when Mist fails her first test as a sheepdog and sits sulking beside a nearby pond. A flock of ducks named Josie, Jessica, Joyce, Janet, and Steve obligingly offer to help her practice by pretending to be sheep and letting her herd them. She herds them right into the farmhouse where the ladies help themselves to a cake sitting on the Boss' kitchen table. "What is it with you lot and cake?" asks Steve.
While not always matching up with stunning precision to the images, the voice work is first-rate. The cast includes Brian Blessed, best known as FLASH GORDON's Prince Vultan, as Sir Gregory, and Derek Jacobi of GLADIATOR and THE RIDDLE serving as narrator. The dialogue is fun--after her initial failure at sheepherding, Mist tells the ducks, "I'm a rubbish sheepdog." Fern's spiteful remarks early on prompt one of the puppies to exclaim, "She called me Parrot Face!" And Mist calls after a naked sheep who's just been sheared: "Hey, ewe! You forgot your coat!" Okay, maybe you had to be there.
The story reaches its high point when one of the rams gets stranded halfway down the face of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Despite Sir Gregory's two main rules of sheepherding--stay away from the rams, and never go head-to-head with a sheep--Mist is forced to attempt a daring rescue when Fern's fear of heights immobilizes her. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK it ain't, but I found myself getting into it.
Whether or not your kids will like it depends on their attention span, I guess, since this is a leisurely-paced story that depends more on character and the appeal of the leads (no, I'm not kidding) than any kind of razzle-dazzle. If your young 'uns would fidget during an episode of "Lassie", this most likely isn't for them. Me, I enjoyed it and most probably would've gotten into it back in those halcyon days when I was but a wee lad. I even shed a tear--almost--during one particularly moving scene, but if you tell anybody that, I'll deny it.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Film: Cloverfield has been a bit of a polarizing film, but for me it’s the greatest monster movie I’ve seen in years. It’s everything that the American Godzilla wanted to be and failed miserably. While short, it has a lot in common with the 1950s Sci-Fi Monster movies of old (and not just running time). Simply put you a get a cool monster, lots of city destruction, and the military fighting said monster. It’s a simple formula, but a damn good one if you ask me and worked wonderfully. It also helped that the movie was filled with a cast that was very enjoyable and felt very natural in their roles. I never really paid to me attention to any of the online tie in stuff (too complicated for me and besides others will do it and pass on the info), so as a standalone it was a great movie. Movies like Cloverfield are why I go to the theater in the first place.
Video: Cloverfield comes from Paramount in an excellent anamorphiclly enhanced transfer. The transfer is very clean (no unintentional grain or video distortion effects) and the colors are perfect. The grain is just right, as it was meant to be in the film, but still clear and with a lot of detail. Since the film is so short, a high bit-rate was allocated for the main picture, meaning excellent picture quality.
Audio: You get English, French, and Spanish 5.1 tracks. The tracks are excellent with good directional effects and use of ambient sound. When there is intentional distortion, it’s carefully mixed so conveys the action, but isn’t painfully to ones ears. Considering the audio is meant to be coming from a source, while hi-tech, is not professional equipment, the mix makes excellent use of echoes and other audio effects to help create immersion into believing that anyone with commercial video equipment could be filming this. I’m really surprised at the lack of a DTS track as there was definitely enough space. Maybe it’s meant for a special edition, I assume the eventual Blu-ray will not just be a 5.1 mix. It’s funny since Skywalker Sound did work on the film, that there is only a 5.1 mix. Still, it’s a good mix and is quite enjoyable.
Extras: I was a bit fearful the DVD would be filled with a bunch of fluff pieces or Lost style games. Thankfully this was not the case as there is nearly an hour (give or take a couple of minutes) worth of features solely based on the making of the movie. One deals with the shooting aspect of the film and is a video dairy of the filming of the picture (setting up takes, stage dressing, etc). It’s excellent. My favorite is the visual effects one where EVERY visual effect is dissected and explained. It’s a lot of fun to watch and see just how much was done with green screen work. Matt Reeve’s commentary is an extension of these documentaries and talks about the production and the shooting of the film and overcoming various difficulties, such as the helicopter evacuation that nearly wasn’t shot and how the famous monster shot at the end was almost not in the movie. A really neat fact was that Akira Ifukube’s score for the original Godzilla was the temp tracking at the end. There are also some deleted scenes, mostly small dialog shoots, the hentai one is quite funny. The alternate endings are mostly just re-workings of the theatrical ending using the same concept, but with different scenes. Both of these also come with optional commentary from Matt Reeve’s. There are some cute outtakes too. There is a short fluff promo piece, its nice but, it is what it is. Rounding out the extra’s is a link to a website (which is not running yet) promising more info on Cloverfield. There are some trailers too (for the new Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies).
Overall: Unless you already have Blu-ray (which then I would save give the film a rental for the extras and hold out for the Blu-ray) and you liked the movie the DVD is a must buy, despite having some small misgivings on the lack of DTS, this is still an excellent DVD from Paramount. Nonetheless, I won’t be surprised if a Special Edition with more features isn’t in the work for later.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Returning to India with his friend and fellow soldier Avtar after fighting with the British in WWII, Gian (Jimi Mistry) looks forward to a peaceful life as a farmer in his tiny village in Punjab. But he can't escape the hatred and killing that surrounds him. The end of British rule in India has partitioned the country into two nations--Islamic Pakistan and secular India--and religious refugees from both sides are being massacred as they flee persecution. Avtar (Irfan Khan) urges Gian to join his band of marauders and kill Muslims, but Gian has had enough of violence and refuses.
A young Muslim woman, Naseem (Kristin Kreuk) narrowly escapes death from Avtar and his men and is taken in by Gian despite vehement objections from the other villagers. Eventually they fall in love, marry, and have a son, while the other people in the village gradually begin to accept her. But when Naseem's surviving family members are located in Pakistan and she travels there to see them, her mother and two brothers refuse to allow her to return to her Sikh husband. So Gian, with his small son in tow, is forced to pose as a Muslim in order to enter the country and try to rescue her.
Veteran director Vic Sarin, who co-wrote the script with Patricia Finn, based the story on a tale he heard as a boy growing up in India, about doomed lovers who drowned themselves in a river rather than face separation. It's clearly a labor of love for him and everyone else involved. Filming took place both on location in India and in British Columbia, with Sarin serving as his own director of photography, and he has captured beautiful images of both breathtaking scope and quiet intimacy. Each aspect of the film is meticulously crafted, from production design to costuming, and Brian Tyler's moving score is an orchestral blending of Eastern and Western influences that underscores the emotional impact while only occasionally overwhelming it.
The early scenes of Gian hiding the traumatized Naseem in his house and gently caring for her are very sweet, and their growing love for each other is allowed to develop in a deliberate, believable manner without the standard romantic trappings. As portrayed so well by the sad-eyed Jimi Mistry (ELLA ENCHANTED, THE GURU), Gian is a soulful, melancholy man whose wartime experiences have given him an utter intolerance of violence and hatred of any kind. This doesn't mean he won't stand his ground, though--when a vengeful Avtar comes for Naseem, Gian calmly tells him, "If you enter my house...one of us will die." The exotically beautiful Kristin Kreuk ("Smallville") is equally effective as Naseem, giving her a lost and vulnerable quality that evokes our empathy.
Neve Campbell is given one of her best roles ever as Gian's English friend Margaret, who uses her influence with the Indian government to help locate Naseem's family. When she discovers that the "child" Gian's been caring for is actually his wife and the mother of his son, there's a great moment in which the look on her face betrays the unspoken feelings she's had for him all along. It's very subtle and non-explicit where another movie might have beaten us over the head with it or even cranked it up into an added subplot--which is indicative of a lack of sensationalism and melodrama which adds to the film's appeal.
The aforementioned featurette, "The Making of Partition: A Journey of the Heart" is about 47 minutes long and contains a lot of good behind-the-scenes footage along with in-depth comments from Sarin, producer Tina Pehme, and other principals. Also included are the trailer, previews of other Allumination Filmworks releases, and optional Spanish subtitles. The 2:35:1 widescreen image and 5.1 audio are excellent.
PARTITION doesn't spare us the horrors of the Muslims vs. Sikhs conflict, with some early scenes of bloody violence and mass murder, but at its heart it's a "Romeo and Juliet" love story filled with genuine tenderness and warmth. Naseem's imprisonment by her own family and Gian's perilous journey to reclaim her add a great deal of suspense and an uneasy sense of impending tragedy, resulting in a richly-rewarding cinematic experience that may stay with you long after it's over. Hey, if all love stories were this good, I might even watch more of them.
I have enjoyed this musical since I was a young child (I think I went to see this when I was 7), and I’ve watched this particular special most likely a thousand times on PBS. The DVD from BBC America via Warner Brothers comes in a nice package, and includes two discs. The first disc is the 10th anniversary performance in London in 1995, and the second includes all sorts of great extra features, including a fantastic montage of all the different men who have played Jean Valjean and a documentary about the history of the musical. Who should appear as the Japanese Valjean but Chairman Kaga himself from the original Iron Chef! That is truly worth the price of the DVD alone to see Kaga sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in Japanese. The picture and audio quality of the set are excellent. Anyway, this is a great buy for those who enjoy Les Miz and wanted to know more about the musical itself and its various international versions. I highly recommend it!
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Film: Well, I don’t know how you decided to celebrate Christmas morning, but Jess and I took in (well I dragged her, lest it appears voluntary) Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, which as you can tell from our earlier podcast I did with Derek that I liked it quite a bit. Yeah, the acting was a bit painful, but then again, it did have Alien vs. Predator (to paraphrase from Homer Simpson’s musing about a football in the groin). The best way to go into the film is to treat it as a monster film with lots and lots of violence, but still rooted in the ideas of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man and King Kong vs. Godzilla. If that description sounds good to you, then give it a try. This two disc unrated edition contains added scenes that were left out for various reasons (explained in the commentary) in the theatrical cut.
Video: Fox delivers an anamorphically enhanced transfer for Alien vs Predator: Requiem. However, since we received a screener copy, I can’t give a final comment on the video (similar to what DVDTalk does). I don’t expect any problems in the retail copy as Fox DVDs (from my own experience) generally have excellent video quality. The transfer (as it was when it played in theatres) is dark as was the director’s original intentions.
Audio: Unlike the video, I can comment on the audio: It’s Excellent! The DVD features both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround Options (along with French and Spanish Dolby Surround tracks) and they sound great. It’s no surprise that a major Sci-Fi/Horror/Action film should feature an extremely robust soundtrack and Alien vs Predator: Requiem does just that. Brian Tyler’s excellent score, which features great new music mixed with chestnuts from the previous Predator and Alien films, comes thorough expertly mixed: never too quiet, nor too loud. The sound effects (blasts, roars, etc.) are excellent and also very immersive. This will be a great movie to test out your system. I expect the Blu-ray to be an excellent aural experience too.
Extras: Fox really went to town on this release in terms of extras. First, is a feature that allows you to see when footage was added to the film by way of a digital marker. Then we have a pair of audio commentaries, the first with directors The Brothers Strause and Producer John Davis. They open up discussing the issues of Predator indigestion, but soon go into discussions of their goal with the unrated edition and the tech end of the film (such as work going into the construction of the suit). The next one is with Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gilis who discuss the special effects work done in the film in more detail than the first track. In addition, there is around 50 minutes of original featurettes about the film dealing with the making of the Alien and Predator (and PredAlien) suits and the making of the film in general. They were very informative and will be of great interests to fans of the film. There are also various still galleries and two trailers (including the Red Band trailer which is why most of us went to see the film in the first place).
Overall: Simply put this is a must-buy DVD for fans of the film and those who want to see a great monster battle film. If you have Blu-ray, go and get the unrated Blu-ray version. Fox really put together an excellent DVD for Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
This story of San Francisco as a hub of creative expression begins about as far back as one can go, with Eadweard Muybridge and his photographic studies of horses and people in motion. Next comes the founding of Essanay Studios by Western star "Bronco Billy" Anderson, who wisely snatched Charlie Chaplin away from Mack Sennett and gave him full control over his own movies. Chaplin later compared the different creative settings: "In San Francisco, one felt the spirit of optimism, of enterprise. Los Angeles, on the other hand, was an ugly city, hot and oppressive."
As one might expect, the two main subjects of this documentary turn out to be Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, whose frustrating experiences within the studio system early on prompted them to seek more independent means of cinematic expression. Coppola tells of how the opportunity to direct FINIAN'S RAINBOW for Jack Warner while still in film school gave him a taste of the kind of regimented filmmaking he wanted to avoid, leading him to establish his American Zoetrope studio in San Francisco as a haven for film artists such as Carroll Ballard, John Milius, and George Lucas. When the new studio went into debt, the cash-strapped Coppola was forced to direct a quickie gangster flick for Paramount based on a sensational novel. After a long, difficult struggle to make the film his way against constant pressure from the studio, Coppola's epic THE GODFATHER went on to sweep the Oscars and become the highest-grossing film to date.
George Lucas, meanwhile, was having his own problems, with brilliant early films such as THX-1138 and AMERICAN GRAFFITI being misunderstood, mishandled, and badly edited by the studios. Despite this, the latter proved so lucrative (to the tune of over a hundred million 1973 box-office dollars) that Lucas was able to get a new sci-fi project off the ground amidst still further adversity from the suits, who grumbled that there was "no future in science fiction." The incredible success of STAR WARS revolutionized filmmaking and allowed Lucas total artistic freedom and independence from that point forward. This led to his creation of Lucasfilm, Skywalker Ranch, Industrial Light and Magic, and the development of computer graphics and digital filmmaking, motivated by his conviction that "an entirely new approach was needed to expand the boundaries of cinema."
FOG CITY MAVERICKS goes on to showcase the creative exploits of other cinematic pioneers such as Phillip Kaufman, Pixar's John Lassiter, actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood, and, representing the next generation, Coppola's own daughter Sofia. The career of legendary "maverick" producer Saul Zaentz, whose creative vision inspired such classics as ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, AMADEUS, and THE ENGLISH PATIENT, is also explored in depth. One reason for the success of Zaentz, who often gambled on his projects by financing them himself, is summed up by director Anthony Minghella: "A Saul Zaentz movie isn't going to be like any other movie because...it hasn't gone through a machine."
Rather than presenting each filmmaker's story in a series of isolated segments, writer-director Gary Leva weaves them together as integral, interlocking elements of San Francisco's collective moviemaking history in the 20th century and beyond. Stunning location footage is intercut with a wealth of interviews, film clips, photographs, and movie scenes to add to Leva's portrait of the city as a veritable utopia of creative expression.
FOG CITY MAVERICKS is a lovingly-crafted documentary that succeeds in both drawing a clear distinction between the artistic and purely commercial aspects of cinema, and celebrating the joy and wonder one can derive from it. The first aspect of the film's message is clearly stated by Zaentz: "Studios are like flies...they'll eat both honey and sh** with the same enthusiasm." The second is contained in Coppola's boyhood motivation for joining together with like-minded artists to make movies--the idea that "filmmakers could play together like children, making magic."
The tagline reads "3 men, 2000 miles, and a ton of ammo." Hmm...so far, so good.
According to the foreword, illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. are constantly being preyed upon by sadistic Mexican bandoleros. BORDER LOST (2008) is the story of a small U.S. task force trying to keep this from happening even as clueless politicians are trying to shut them down.
When one of their number is murdered and his fiancee kidnapped by the most vile outlaw leader, Hector, the three remaining "desert cowboys" (as they are called by the locals) ignore orders to stay out of Mexico and cross the border armed to the teeth and mad as hell.
Their leader is the hardbitten veteran cop Manny, played by Emilio Roso. Roso has an old style tough-guy face and a weighty presence, whether he's working over a bad guy or playing a tender love scene with the beautiful Vanessa (Marian Zapico).
His partner, Gabe (Protasio) is another experienced cop who's handy with a gun although he tends to go off half-cocked at times. Jake (Wes McGee), the rookie member of the group, is invaluable as a dead-eyed sniper.
In a harrowing scene early on, we see a group of illegal immigrants on a nighttime trek through the desert being robbed and terrorized by Hector's thugs, who rape and kill at their whim. Then we get our first look at the cowboys in action as they bust some bad guys in a dingy bordertown.
The action is lean, well-staged, and exciting. Plenty of shoot-outs and other graphically violent incidents occur along the way, with circumstances causing the agents to become increasingly ruthless and driven by rage, leading up to their daring and bloody siege against Hector and his men at their desert compound.
The freestyle direction by David Murphy and Scott Peck, which takes full advantage of some great authentic locations, is sometimes just as over-the-top as the acting, and the whole thing is often topped with a generous layer of Monterey Jack cheese. This isn't necessary a detriment, though, especially if you're jonesing for a quick action-flick fix.
DVD specs include a letterboxed 1:78:1 image, optional Spanish subtitles, and a trailer. Image and sound are good, with an effective Latin-tinged score by Christopher Peck.
The sun-bleached, documentary-style look of the film resembles the Mexico sequences in Steven Soderbergh's TRAFFIC. It also tries to duplicate that movie's realistic performances and verisimilitude, but this is most often overcome by action-movie cliches and pure melodrama. Strangely enough, the combination seems to work. BORDER LOST is, at its heart, a shoot-em-up revenge flick that Schwarzenegger and Seagal fans should enjoy, but with a unique ambience and attitude of its own.