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Saturday, January 31, 2009

THE ANGEL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON: LIVE AT THE UNION CHAPEL -- DVD review by porfle


"I had a dream that this guy was sentenced to death for attempting to commit suicide."

He has a beautiful voice, though it's rarely on key. His lyrics are often stunning and emotionally complex, though they don't always make sense. Each song is deceptively simple and touchingly heartfelt, yet on a technical level he'd probably get kicked out of a high school talent show.

No doubt about it, Daniel Johnston is one of the strangest musical stars of all time. Never heard of him? Just check out his new concert DVD, THE ANGEL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON: LIVE AT THE UNION CHAPEL, and get ready for something completely different. If you're a fan but, like me, have never seen one of his performances in its entirety, then this is your ticket to spend a little quality time in that cheerfully surreal dimension where Daniel lives.

If there was ever a self-made musician, this is the guy. As a kid, Daniel began recording himself singing his own songs of teenage angst and romantic yearning while banging out the music on a piano. Crashing an MTV taping in Austin in 1983 with a guitar and a handful of cassettes, he managed to get himself on TV and lay the groundwork for a growing cult following that would lead to concerts, a record contract, and a seemingly bright future. There was just one catch--Daniel was a severe manic depressive with a tenuous grasp on reality, and over the years his increasingly erratic and irrational behavior sabotaged any potential he had for breaking into the big time.


In my review of the brilliant documentary THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON, I described him as "a Syd Barrett who never gave up his music." These days he's an overweight, graying, middle-aged man who lives with his parents in Waller, Texas, but never stopped writing songs or dwelling upon his various muses. And after being discovered by some local musicians who were amazed to find the legendary Daniel Johnston living in their town, he found himself back onstage.

Recorded in July 2007 at London's beautiful Union Chapel, a spacious yet somehow intimate venue whose stained-glass atmosphere is a perfect setting for Daniel's often spiritual lyrics, the concert features over an hour of his best songs including some familiar oldies that sound better than ever.

With a jovial "Hi, everybody!", he begins by strapping on a guitar and performing "Mean Girls" while artlessly strumming the chords just like he did in the old days. "Mean girls give pleasure...it's my greatest treasure" he sings, still speaking for every awkward, lovestruck teenage boy who ever went down in flames.


Settling in behind a piano for the haunting "Love Enchanted", a song vaguely similar musically to "Hotel California" but with much more emotional resonance, Daniel holds the audience in rapt attention. The solo portion of the concert thus over, various musicians join him for the rest as he simply stands at the microphone and sings while reading his lyrics from a notebook, hands shaking. It can't be easy playing backup for Daniel because he doesn't always stick to the beat, but these guys are good at fitting the music to Daniel's style of singing.

The familiar "Some Things Last a Long Time" weaves a spell that continues through a series of quirky gems such as "Try to Love", "Speeding Motorcycle", "Walking the Cow", and his classic "Casper the Friendly Ghost", about a guy who had to die before anyone gave him any respect. His voice shifts constantly between caterwauling to high, Neil Young-type clarity and is often surprisingly poignant.

All in all, there are eighteen songs about life and love, brimming with vaguely Beatlesque melodies, from a cockeyed point of view that is sometimes disarmingly amusing and often strikes a deep chord with its honesty and perception.

As he sings, I can see flashes of that young kid that still lives inside him. As I once wrote about him, "it's as though the patron saint of guys who sing in front of the mirror took pity on him and made all his musical dreams come true (well, a lot of them, anyway), which is really an amazing sight to behold." Even now, he can't believe it himself--"Are you still with me?" he'll sometimes ask the audience between verses. And they always are.


Surrounded by a band and buoyed by the good spirits around him as the performance nears its end, Daniel's "Rock and Roll/EGA" progresses from a spare little tune into a rousing rocker with some impressive vocals. The beautiful "True Love Will Find You in the End" closes the show. As an encore, Daniel saunters back onstage and sings "Devil Town" all by himself, then waves goodbye to the crowd as they give him a standing ovation.

Director Antony Crofts provides a good no-frills record of the concert with some imaginative camerawork. The sound is available in both stereo and 5.1 surround. The bonus features include rehearsal footage of "Some Things Last a Long Time", plus two more solo songs from the concert, "There is a Sense of Humor Way Beyond Friendship" and "And I Love You So", that didn't make it into the final cut but are well worth having. There's also a post-concert interview with Daniel that finds him happily discussing, among other things, his obsession with The Beatles and his lifelong love for horror movies such as HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, Hammer films, and his favorite movie, KING KONG.

The way I see it, Daniel Johnston is a seemingly ordinary guy with an inner musical genius trying to get out, but he could never quite get all the way out. So his fans are gladly willing to meet him halfway in order to reap the rewards to be found in Daniel's songs and performances. When he eases into what I consider to be his theme song, "The Story of an Artist", he recalls his parents' long-ago admonition: "We don't really like what you do, we don't think anyone ever will." He says his family's still trying to figure him out. Good luck. I don't think anybody's ever really going to figure this guy out.


Available at Amazon.co.uk and Adjustableproductions.com
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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Original "Last House on the Left" on Collector's Edition DVD February 24th

Timed for the Theatrical Remake, Horror Mastermind Wes Craven’s Terrifying First Film Reveals Its True Nature On Collector’s Edition DVD February 24th From MGM Home Entertainment
Dripping With All-New Features Including Actors’ Commentary, Featurettes, Never-Before-Seen Outtakes, Craven’s Annotated Shooting Scripts And More

LOS ANGELES, CA – Mari, 17, is dying. But the worst for her is yet to come. From legendary writer-director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) comes one of the most unnerving and shocking horror films of all-time, when his debut feature film The Last House on the Left arrives in a DVD Collector’s Edition February 24th from MGM Home Entertainment. A collaboration with producer Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th), Craven’s 1972 classic is credited with introducing a sense of realistic and primal violence to the horror genre along with three of the most sadistic and terrifying killers to ever cross the big screen.

“A neglected American horror exploitation masterpiece on a par with Night of the Living Dead” (Roger Ebert), The Last House on the Left Collector’s Edition is packed with all-new bonus features including commentary by actors David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln and over 80 minutes of featurettes including all-new interviews with Wes Craven, a deleted scene featuring Mari dying at the lake, never-before-seen outtakes and Craven’s annotated shooting scripts, among others. The Last House on the Left Collector’s Edition DVD will be available for the suggested retail price of $19.98 U.S. / $21.98 Canada. Pre-book is January 28th.

Synopsis
When two young girls are kidnapped and brutalized by a vicious group of escaped convicts, one of the victim’s parents takes matters into his own hands and seeks ultimate vengeance.
Special Features
Widescreen feature film
Audio Commentary with actors David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln
Wes Craven featurette
Celluloid Crime of the Century
Scoring Last House
Tales that Will tear Your Heart Out
Deleted scene – Mari Dying at the Lake
Never-before-seen outtakes
Wes Craven’s annotated shooting scripts
Photo gallery

The Last House on the Left Collector’s Edition
DVD Price: $19.98 U.S. / $21.98 Canada
Order Due Date: January 28, 2009
Street Date: February 24, 2009
Catalog Number: M111494
Total Run Time: 84 minutes
Rating: R
Screen Format: Widescreen
Audio Features: English Mono
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish/Closed Captioned
Buy it at Amazon.com

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"NIGHT COURT" The Complete Second Season -- DVD review by porfle

For some reason, some of the television shows that I had absolutely no interest in seeing during their original weekly run turn out to be pretty entertaining when I can sit down and watch them one after another, without commercials. This holds true for NIGHT COURT, whose three-disc second-season collection is a fun time-waster that goes down like a bag of peanuts.

Harry Anderson stars as Judge Harry T. Stone, the wackiest darn judge you ever saw, by cracky. He's constantly cracking bad jokes, doing magic tricks, and generally letting his inner child run free. But he's also a wise, caring person with a big heart (awwwww) who tries to help the poor souls that end up before his bench. "Informal" is hardly the word to describe the circus atmosphere in Harry's Manhattan courtroom as the nights drag on and the kookier denizens of the naked city get dragged in, including, of course, a good number of improbably-good-looking hookers.

The supporting cast is way better than most of the material. Richard Moll plays the tall, scary-looking bailiff Bull, who could pass for a Universal monster but is really just a big, nerdy kid at heart. The diminutive Selma Diamond is world-weary, chain-smoking bailiff Selma, who gets the lion's share of deadpan one-liners and manages to make some of them funny. Charles Robinson plays happy-go-lucky court clerk Mac, and Ellen Foley, best known as Meat Loaf's duet partner on "Paradise By The Dashboard Light", is very likable as spunky public defender Billie Young. Everyone will have their own favorite, of course, but for me the show's standout is John Larroquette as the vain, self-centered, would-be womanizer Dan Fielding, the assistant D.A. Larroquette is hilarious in the role and his timing and delivery liven up some of the most groan-worthy gags and contrived situations.

Speaking of which, this show is often a veritable hailstorm of bad jokes that fly so fast and furious at the viewer that some of them can't help but connect. Every once in a while there's even a genuine belly-laugh. Most of the time, though, the show is carried by its appealing cast, who are simply a lot of fun to hang out with. The show is at its worst when it flirts with sentiment (badly), or tries to get too cute with its storylines (such as the time Harry and Billie are tied up together in her apartment by a bumbling burglar). It's at its best when simple plotlines are established as jumping off points for a barrage of wisecracking vaudeville patter, burlesque situations, and nonstop set-up/punchline dialogue.

Another fun aspect of the show is its parade of guest stars. Venerable actors John McIntyre and Jeanette Nolan are a hoot as Dan Fielding's backwoods parents who show up unannounced bearing head cheese. John Astin is his usual wonderful self as Harry's hypochondriac hospital roommate. A young Pamela Segall, the voice of Bobby Hill on "King of the Hill", does a surprisingly convincing job as a girl pretending to be a boy. A pre-Kramer (and pre-"WTF?") Michael Richards shows up as a nut who thinks he's invisible.

Other notable guests include James Cromwell, Lou Ferrigno, Eugene Roche, Elisha Cook, Jr., Gordon Jump, Leonard Stone, Hal Smith, Jack Riley, Oliver Clark, Miriam Flynn, Alan Oppenheimer, and my favorite, the great Terry Kiser (WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S) as Al Craven, a slimy tabloid reporter sneaking around the courthouse digging for stories. GREASE alumni Dinah Manoff and Michael Tucci are reunited in one episode. In another, future cast regular Markie Post makes her first appearance as public defender Christine Sullivan, who will later take over for Ellen Foley.

The DVD set contains 22 episodes on three discs in a keepcase with a slipcover. It's full-screen, of course, and it looks and sounds just like it did when I wasn't watching it during its original network run. Alas, no extras.

NIGHT COURT has that cheesy look of a mid-80s live-audience sitcom shot on videotape, and is often executed with less finesse than a throwaway sketch on "The Muppet Show." But there's something about it that's simply enjoyable on a very basic level, and I had fun breezing my way through this collection. (Get ready--here comes my clever closing remark.) Verdict: funny as charged.
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Sam Raimi Gets Evil Again On 5/29/09

Director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man trilogy, Evil Dead series) returns to the horror genre with DRAG ME TO HELL, an original tale of a young woman’s desperate quest to break an evil curse.
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is an ambitious L.A. loan officer with a charming boyfriend, professor Clay Dalton (Justin Long). Life is good until the mysterious Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) arrives at the bank to beg for an extension on her home loan. Should Christine follow her instincts and give the old woman a break? Or should she deny the extension to impress her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), and get a leg-up on a promotion? Christine fatefully chooses the latter, shaming Mrs. Ganush and dispossessing her of her home.

In retaliation, the old woman places the powerful curse of the Lamia on Christine, transforming her life into a living hell. Haunted by an evil spirit and misunderstood by a skeptical boyfriend, she seeks the aid of seer Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) to save her soul from eternal damnation. To help the shattered Christine return her life to normal, the psychic sets her on a frantic course to reverse the spell. As evil forces close in, Christine must face the unthinkable: How far will she go to break free of the curse?
Genre: Horror
Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Jessica Lucas, David Paymer, Dileep Rao
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi
Produced by: Rob Tapert, Grant Curtis
Executive Producers: Nathan Kahane, Joseph Drake
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New "Wolf Man" DVD to Accompany Release of Upcoming Remake

Monsters From The Vault editor/publisher Jim Clatterbaugh has posted the following information from author and Universal Studios Home Entertainment publicist Scott Essman on the Classic Horror Film Board:

"You didn't hear this from me, but there is going to be a new WOLF MAN DVD... you also didn't hear this from me, but in addition to the Lon Chaney Jr. doc (see below), there is going to be an all-new doc on the history of lycanthropy on the DVD. And you still didn't hear this, but there is going to be an all-new AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON DVD with a new expansive doc by a young filmmaker in England.

"This week, I was privileged to get a sneak peek on the nearly finished Lon Chaney, Jr. documentary destined for an upcoming Universal disc to coincide with the new WOLF MAN movie. Can't say too much except it was an exceptionally made, lovingly executed, thoroughly researched and presented doc, akin to the one I participated in for Jack Pierce. Some top names are in the doc in addition to some unique participants - lots of surprises in here for even the most ardent fan. This doc asserts that Chaney Jr. should stand tall alongside Karloff, Lugosi, and dare I say his father in the pantheon of great actors at Universal in the 20s-40s."
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

"THE WOLFMAN" -- Bad Moon Risin' On 11/6/09

Inspired by the classic Universal film that launched a legacy of horror, THE WOLFMAN brings the myth of a cursed man back to its iconic origins.

November 6, 2009 is a date for werewolf fans to mark on their calendars, because that's when the full moon will rise on the upcoming remake of Universal's 1941 horror classic THE WOLF MAN.

This time, Benicio del Toro (SIN CITY) will take over the role of Lawrence Talbot from his predecessor, Lon Chaney, Jr. And succeeding the distinguished makeup artist Jack Pierce is the current master of horror makeup, Rick Baker, who will be creating his werewolf the old-fashioned way--with applied makeup instead of CGI.

How successful this reimaging of the original film will be remains to be seen. But for classic horror fans, the prospect is definitely intriguing and the anticipation is as sharp as a werewolf's frothy fangs.
(L to R) Mr. Conliffe (ROBERT EAST), Lawrence Talbot (BENICIO DEL TORO), Gwen Conliffe (EMILY BLUNT) and Sir John Talbot (ANTHONY HOPKINS) in the action-horror inspired by the classic Universal film that launched a legacy of horror, The Wolfman.

Synopsis:
Inspired by the classic Universal film that launched a legacy of horror, The Wolfman brings the myth of a cursed man back to its iconic origins. Oscar® winner Benicio Del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, a haunted nobleman lured back to his family estate after his brother vanishes. Reunited with his estranged father (Oscar® winner Anthony Hopkins), Talbot sets out to find his brother...and discovers a horrifying destiny for himself.

Lawrence Talbot’s childhood ended the night his mother died. After he left the sleepy Victorian hamlet of Blackmoor, he spent decades recovering and trying to forget. But when his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), tracks him down to help find her missing love, Talbot returns home to join the search. He learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been killing the villagers, and that a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline (Hugo Weaving) has come to investigate.

As he pieces together the gory puzzle, he hears of an ancient curse that turns the afflicted into werewolves when the moon is full. Now, if he has any chance at ending the slaughter and protecting the woman he has grown to love, Talbot must destroy the vicious creature in the woods surrounding Blackmoor. But as he hunts for the nightmarish beast, a simple man with a tortured past will uncover a primal side to himself...one he never imagined existed.

Genre: Action-Horror
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Screenplay by: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self
Based on the Motion Picture Screenplay by: Curt Siodmak
Produced by: Scott Stuber, Benicio Del Toro, Rick Yorn, Sean Daniel
Executive Producers: Bill Carraro, Andrew Z. Davis

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

KING OF THE HILL -- DVD review by porfle

More survival-of-the-fittest backwoods suspense a la DELIVERANCE comes our way with the Spanish thriller KING OF THE HILL, aka EL RAY DE LA MONTANA (2007). Having just watched the thoroughly gripping EDEN LAKE, also on the Dimension Extreme label, I was all set for more of the same. But as this one unfolded, I just kept getting less and less.

A young guy named Quim (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is driving cross-country toward what he hopes will be a reconciliaton with his ex-girlfriend. After an impromptu sexual encounter with the pretty young Bea (María Valverde) in a gas station restroom, Quim discovers that she has stolen his wallet.

Spotting her car later on, he turns off the main road and gives chase, quickly getting hopelessly lost. When he catches up with her, they both suddenly find themselves the targets of one or more unseen snipers who seem intent on shooting them full of holes, and end up running for their lives through the woods as their hunters relentlessly pursue them.

The direction and photography are simple but effective, as is the script which is light on plot and exposition and concentrates mainly on plunging us into one suspense scene after another. The downside to this is that we really don't care much about Quim and Bea as characters. Thus, the first part of the film is fairly absorbing in a superficial way while our emotional involvement is pretty much zippo. Quim turns out to be such a self-centered whiner that it's hard to empathize with him (although to be honest, I'd probably be the same way in a similar situation). Bea fares a bit better, overcoming our initial distaste for her by displaying some bravery and actually saving Quim's sorry hide a couple of times. Still, we hardly get to know her. The actors, meanwhile, do their best with the roles.

All of this becomes moot about three-quarters of the way through, when the identity of the killers is revealed and we suddenly begin to see the rest of the story from their point of view. Who and what they are, and why they're doing what they're doing, is intended to be a mind-boggling twist, but instead it's simply another example of what lately seems to be a trend in this sort of story. At any rate, this shift in the film's POV interrupts the build-up of suspense and henceforth we simply observe the killers on the prowl. Some of this is done in first-person-shooter style, which is meant to suggest that these trigger-happy sociopaths have honed their killer instincts and shooting skills with the help of those mind-warping videogames.

KING OF THE HILL tries to get us back on the edge of our seats with a final cat-and-mouse confrontation in a deserted village, but by this time it's pretty much a slow fizzle. The killers are no longer mysterious, the protagonist is no longer someone I'm really all that concerned about, and what is meant to be a morally complex, emotionally-charged "meaningful" climax simply left me thinking, "Is that it?" The way in which the final moments are shot and performed, it's clear that director Gonzalo López-Gallego means to leave us stunned with emotion. Instead, I was disappointed and unmoved.

Presented in matted widescreen format with Dolby Digital sound, the DVD features both the original Spanish soundtrack and a dubbed English version, with Spanish and English subtitles. There are no extras.

Dimension Extreme has been putting out some pretty entertaining stuff lately, but for me, KING OF THE HILL is a letdown. It isn't even "extreme", since most of the violence consists of some squib hits and, in one scene, a rather nasty broken leg. It's pretty tame in all other respects, too, and with the exception of some tense moments and one somewhat memorable death scene, it fails to deliver anything more gripping or meaningful than your average TV-movie. To be fair, however, I must add that several reviewers have practically swooned over this film--in fact, I seem to be one of the few who didn't. So either I just didn't get it, or it just didn't get me.
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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Soul Men" starring Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac on DVD Feb. 10th

Soul isn't the only thing in The Weinstein Company and Genius Products' newest comedy release, SOUL MEN, singing its way to shelves February 10th. This hilarious DVD is filled with numerous featurettes including tributes to both its star Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes.

Twenty years after an argument that destroyed their friendship and soul band, lead singers Louis and Floyd must re-connect in order to honor their late bandleader at his funeral. In a trip that takes them on across-country road trip, the old friends are forced to find a way to bring their lives, and their music, back in sync.

This smart, witty comedy stars two-time Golden Globe nominee Bernie Mac (Transformers, Oceans 13), in his last feature film role, and Academy Award nominee Samuel L. Jackson (The Spirit, Pulp Fiction) as the soul singing legends Louis and Floyd. They are supported by an outstanding cast including Grammy winning R&B greats Isaac Hayes and John Legend, Jennifer Coolidge (For Your Consideration), Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace") and Sharon Leal (Dreamgirls), all under the direction of Malcolm D. Lee (Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins). Bursting with bonus features, SOUL MEN is not to be missed.

Synopsis:
Upon learning about the death of their former friend and bandleader, two estranged soul music legends reunite for a final memorial performance at New York's historic Apollo Theatre. They have just five days in a car to bury the hatchet on a 20-year old grudge.
Special Features:
Commentary By Director Malcolm Lee
The Soul Men: Bernie Mac & Samuel L. Jackson
The Cast Of Soul Men
Director: Malcolm Lee
A Tribute To Bernie Mac
A Tribute To Isaac Hayes
Boogie Ain't Nothin': Behind-The-Scenes
Bernie Mac At The Apollo

BASICS
Price: $28.95-Standard DVD--$34.99-Blu-Ray
Street Date: February 10, 2009
Rating: R
Run Time: 98 minutes
Languages: English
Dolby 5.1-Standard DVD--English Dolby 5.1, English 5.1 True HD-Blu-Ray Subtitles: English and Spanish
Closed Captioned
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

February Releases From CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment

Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Third Season
The ultimate fish-out-of-water story. The Clampett's strike it rich in oil and move from their mountain cabin to the upscale neighborhood of Beverly Hills. They're in culture shock as much as their neighbors.

Actors: Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Donna Douglas, Max Baer
Format: Box set, Color, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC
Language: English
Number of discs: 5
Rating: Not rated
Studio: Paramount DVD
Release Date: February 17, 2009
Run Time: 868 minutes

Buy it at Amazon.com

Friday the 13th The Series: Season Two (U.S. only)
The suspense-drama series that brought back the serial horror genre to television features intense pyschological terror and chilling suspense. Each eerie episode centers on two distant cousins who inherit a shop full of rare and mysterious antiques from an uncle who was killed after making a sinister pact with the devil. Joined by an eccentric antiques dealer, the team must race against time and fate to retrieve each diabolically cursed item sold from the hexed store before it unleashes its deadly force.

Actors: Louise Robey, John D. Lemay, Chris Wiggins
Format: Box set, Color, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC
Language: English
Number of discs: 6
Rating: Not rated
Studio: Paramount DVD
Release Date: February 10, 2009
Run Time: 1181 minutes

Buy it at Amazon.com

Dave's World: Season Two
The second season of Dave's World returns to DVD. Based on Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry's syndicated columns, the popular 1990s sitcom stars Harry Anderson ("Night Court") as Dave, a newspaper columnist dealing with the absurdities of adult life while raising two sons in the suburbs of Miami with his wife Beth. Dave's college buddies, Kenny and Shel, and his not-so-bright next-door neighbors are there to provide comic relief and fodder for Dave's column. This 3-disc set includes all 25 season two episodes on DVD for the very first time.

Actors: Harry Anderson, Zane Carney, DeLane Matthews, Meshach Taylor, Shadoe Stevens Format: Box set, Color, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC
Language: English
Number of discs: 3
Rating: Not rated
Studio: Paramount DVD
Release Date: February 3, 2009
Run Time: 583 minutes

Buy it at Amazon.com

Also available in February:

Becker: Season Two
Melrose Place: Season Five, Volume One
Sabrina, The Teenage Witch: Volume Five
Girlfriends: Season Six
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

COLD PREY -- DVD review by porfle

Another throwback to the old stalker-slasher tradition, the Norwegian thriller COLD PREY, aka FRITT VILT (2006) concentrates less on graphic violence and gore than simply trying to keep us on the edge of our seats. It's familiar stuff, and quite predictable, yet it still manages to be a fun and entertaining spookhouse ride.

The gang of young victims-to-be follows the same template as, among other films, both versions of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. There's the hero couple, Jannicke and Eirik, who are responsible and level-headed; the make-out couple, consisting of cute, immature dude Mikal and dumb-blonde babe Ingunn; and finally, the fifth-wheel loner Morten, who playfully admits to having an intense love affair with his own hand.

While everyone else is crowding into packed ski resorts, Eirik whisks the gang off to a remote mountain location for some snowboarding, despite recent news reports of a rash of skier disappearances in the area (like, around 110). It only takes Morten about a minute to break his leg, and, wouldn't you know it, nobody can get a signal on their cell phones. Jannicke, quickly asserting herself as the most useful member of the group, sets the broken bone herself and then spies an abandoned hotel in the distance where they can hole up for the night. All of this occurs within the first fifteen minutes, so it's clear that this movie is wasting no time moving things right along.

The secluded hotel itself is an awesome actual location that helps to give this familiar story its own unique feel. Made to look old and disused, it has plenty of long, dark hallways, creepy basements, and other cobwebby nooks and crannies that are just right for a mysterious killer to lurk around in. Director Roar Uthaug keeps the tension taut as one by one his hapless characters find themselves alone in various parts of the building, gradually realizing that they're being stalked. When all hell finally breaks loose, an exhilarating level of suspense is maintained to the very end, punctuated by some pretty effective jump scares. And since we don't really care all that much about most of these characters, it's generally a fun experience rather than a dark and disturbing one.

This good-looking film is slickly directed and photographed and has plenty of chilly, gloomy atmosphere but surprisingly little gore. The cast is capable, especially Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Jannicke, whom I'd definitely want to have along if I were in a similar predicament. Her character is brave and resourceful--she coolly Super-Glues the gaping wound on Morten's leg shut--while at one point allowing herself a rather stunning act of cowardice that somehow makes her a bit more believable. As Ingunn, Viktoria Winge lends the film what little sex appeal it has as she runs around in her skimpies while avoiding the killer's pickaxe. Among the male leads, Rolf Kristian Larsen is the most noteworthy as Morten. The killer himself is pretty generic, and is most effective when off-camera.

The DVD image is 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby Surround 5.1 for the Norwegian soundtrack and 2.0 for the English one. You'll probably want to listen to the Norwegian soundtrack with subtitles after getting a load of the bad English dubbing, which sounds kind of like the Disney version of a Miyazaki cartoon. Somehow I don't think Norwegian translates very well to English, or at least not in this case.

A generous helping of extras includes: an alternate ending with shots from the movie augmented by storyboards; a making-of featurette; brief looks at the visual FX, sound design, and other aspects of the production; the evolution of the opening car scene, from rehearsal to final editing; eight minutes of bloopers (some of which lose a little in translation); two short films; a music video; and trailers and TV spots.

COLD PREY doesn't really offer anything new to those of us who have seen our share of slasher movies, and, lacking any real emotional depth or memorable moments, is soon forgotten after the fadeout. But with its atmospheric setting, likable characters, and frantic pace, it holds up well as a crisply-executed and chillingly suspenseful thriller.
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wes Craven's and Sean Cunningham's THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT Revisited in 2009

Rogue Pictures has just debuted the eerie new trailer for the upcoming suspense thriller The Last House on the Left, only on Apple.com.
Masters of horror Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham revisit their landmark film that launched Craven’s directing career and influenced decades of horror films to follow: The Last House on the Left. Bringing one of the most notorious thrillers of all time to a new generation, they produce the story that explores how far two ordinary people will go to exact revenge on the sociopaths who harmed their child.

Visit the official teaser site

Stay tuned for updates on the website coming soon!
Synopsis:
The night she arrives at the remote Collingwood lakehouse, Mari (Sara Paxton) and her friend are kidnapped by a prison escapee and his crew. Terrified and left for dead, Mari’s only hope is to make it back to parents John and Emma (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter). Unfortunately, her attackers unknowingly seek shelter at the one place she could be safe. And when her family learns the horrifying story, they will make three strangers curse the day they came to The Last House on the Left.
Release date: TBD
Genre: Suspense thriller
Cast: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Sara Paxton, Garret Dillahunt, Martha MacIssac, Riki Lindhome
Directed by: Dennis Iliadis
Screenplay by: Carl Ellsworth
Based on the Film by: Wes Craven
Produced by: Wes Craven, Marianne Maddalena, Sean Cunningham
Co-Producers: Jonathan Craven, Cody Zwieg

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Friday, January 16, 2009

"My Bloody Valentine" Poster Auction For a Bloody Good Cause

On behalf of Lionsgate, we are pleased to announce eBay charitable auctions for five posters from "MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D" signed by Jaime King, Jensen Ackles, Kerr Smith, Edi Gathegi, and Megan Boone.

All the proceeds will benefit the The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

All items will be sent with a signed letter verifying their authenticity. Auctions begin today and will continue through the weekend, ending Tuesday, January 20th, 2009. Interested fans and collectors should be aware there are only a limited amount of posters and items available.

Included In This Package:
--A Signed Poster from Jaime King, Jensen Ackles, Kerr Smith, Edi Gathegi, and Megan Boone
--A Hand Signed Letter from a Lionsgate Executive

Please click on the following links to view the auctions:

SYNOPSIS: Ten years ago, a tragedy changed the town of Harmony forever. Tom Hanniger, an inexperienced coal miner, caused an accident in the tunnels that trapped and killed five men and sent the only survivor, Harry Warden, into a permanent coma. But Harry Warden wanted revenge. Exactly one year later, on Valentine's Day, he woke up...and brutally murdered twenty-two people with a pickaxe before being killed.

Ten years later, Tom Hanniger returns to Harmony on Valentine's Day, still haunted by the deaths he caused. Struggling to make amends with his past, he grapples with unresolved feelings for his ex-girlfriend, Sarah, who is now married to his best friend, Axel, the town sheriff. But tonight, after years of peace, something from Harmony's dark past has returned. Wearing a miner's mask and armed with a pickaxe, an unstoppable killer is on the loose. And as his footsteps come ever closer, Tom, Sarah and Axel realize in terror that it just might be Harry Warden who's come back to claim them...

Presented in stunningly real, cutting edge 3-D projection, MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D stars Jensen Ackles (TV's "Smallville" and "Supernatural"), Jaime King (THE SPIRIT, SIN CITY , SIN CITY 2) and Kerr Smith (FINAL DESTINATION, " Dawson 's Creek"). A remake of the 1981 horror classic, MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D is directed by Patrick Lussier from a screenplay by Todd Farmer and Zane Smith, based on a screenplay by John Beaird, story by Stephen Miller, and is produced by Jack Murray.


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Check out 5 Minutes from "TAKEN" in Theaters 1/30/09

TAKEN, to quote the synopsis on IMDb, is the story of "a former spy (who) relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been forced into the slave trade."

The new French thriller from director Pierre Morel, which stars Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, and Xander Berkeley, is being released in the U.S. on January 30, but you can view a five-minute clip from the film by clicking here.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Shaw Brothers' "THE BRAVE ARCHER" Rescheduled


The following update comes to us courtesy of Richard York, Media Blasters Production Supervisor:

As you may have noticed, THE BRAVE ARCHER did not come out in December 2008 as originally announced. We encountered some technical snafus that delayed the release. We've since remedied those problems and we're rescheduling the release for April. Right now, the date is set for 4/7/2009 and so far there are no apparent reasons for it to be delayed any further. We apologize for the delay but we're confident that you'll be pleased with the results. With that said, here's what you can expect.

THE BRAVE ARCHER
Running Time: Approximately 121 minutes
2.35:1 Anamorphic (and progressive)
English Mono and newly created 5.1
Mandarin Mono with English Subtitles
English Subtitles: Brand new translation!
Audio Commentary with Asian Film and Pop Culture Critic Brian Camp
Extensive Image Gallery provided by Brian Dyer and Celestial Pictures
Shaw Brothers Trailers

Right now the next Shaw title we'll be releasing is MARTIAL CLUB, whichis tentatively scheduled for March. Thanks for your patience and support!

Richard York
Media Blasters Production Supervisor
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George Romero's Classic TV Series Comes To DVD February 10th

"Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But... there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit... a Darkside."

The first season of the edge-of-the-seats creepy horror anthology series TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE makes its DVD debut February 10 from CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment.

In the vein of “The Twilight Zone” and “Creepshow,” each episode of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE depicts a short, strange tale... with a twist. From Executive Producer George Romero, each episode of the acclaimed series boasted eerie and suspenseful story lines and took audiences on a new journey from the worlds of horror, fantasy and science fiction. The ground-breaking iconic series from the 1980s also featured an array of acclaimed performances from stars including Christian Slater (“My Own Worst Enemy”), Danny Aiello (“Do The Right Thing”), Tippi Hedren (“The Birds”) and Justine Bateman (“Family Ties”).

Featuring all 24 episodes from the show’s inaugural season and commentary on the pilot episode from Romero, the three-disc TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE set is a definite must-have for any horror fan. TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: The First Season will be available for the suggested retail price of $39.99 US and $42.99 CAN.

Available at Amazon.com
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Monday, January 12, 2009

HENRY POOLE IS HERE -- DVD review by porfle

The trailer made HENRY POOLE IS HERE look like it was going to be a dopey-cutesy irreverent comedy, but it isn't. Instead, it's a refreshingly uncynical comedy-drama with its heart on its sleeve and a surprising number of genuinely moving moments. And after just watching one of the most depressing movies ever made (EDEN LAKE--great flick but I almost needed grief counseling when it was over), this was just the ticket to lift my spirits for awhile.

Luke Wilson stars as Henry, who just got some real bad news from his doctor (a welcome cameo appearance by the venerable Richard Benjamin) and has moved back into the neighborhood where he grew up to lie around in a funk and wait for the inevitable. All he wants is to be left alone, but when a bad stucco job on the back wall of his house begins to resemble the face of Christ (a la various tortillas, oil stains, and other items you may have read about in the news), he suddenly finds people making the pilgrimage to his backyard looking for a miracle.

As his perky Mexican neighbor Esperanza, Mexican actress Adriana Barraza brightens things up with her lively performance. Esperanza has seen bad times herself but refuses to give up her faith and optimism, trying to nudge Henry out of his gloom and back into the light. Radha Mitchell (PITCH BLACK) plays Henry's other neighbor Dawn, the mother of a little girl named Millie (the elfish Morgan Lily) who hasn't spoken a word since her father abandoned them. Until, that is, she touches the wall and is cured. When the same thing happens to a near-blind checkout clerk (Rachel Seiferth) who suddenly attains 20-20 vision after a visit to the wall, Henry's dogged refusal to belief in miracles is challenged.

HENRY POOLE IS HERE begins with all the excitement of a lazy afternoon lying in a hammock, and maintains that pace throughout. Yet it stays interesting because the characters continue to gain depth as the story itself becomes increasingly heartfelt and thoughtful, and almost somber at times. Albert Torres' script is simple but effective, with several scenes managing to evoke a variety of emotions without getting maudlin.

Director Mark Pellington (THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, ARLINGTON ROAD) handles the simple locations well and imbues the look of the film with a good deal of style. The wistful, new age-tinged score by John Frizzell is augmented by an assortment of sensitive songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, Badly Drawn Boy, and Blur. The frequent song montages usually seem like an intrusion at first, but each is worked well into the flow of the visuals.

Joining the rest of the capable cast are George Lopez in the uncharacteristically low-key role of Esperanza's priest, Father Salazar, and the always really cute Cheryl Hines as a real estate agent. Adriana Barraza is a delight as Esperanza, while Radha Mitchell and Morgan Lily are just right as Henry's surrogate family. But it's Luke Wilson's restrained, soulful performance as Henry that really carries the film.

The DVD offers both full-screen and 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras consist of a fifteen-minute "making-of" featurette (which surprisingly never mentions the kid), an audio commentary by the director and writer, a trailer, and a couple of music videos for songs used in the film. A printed insert (rare these days) contains Mark Pellington's account of how personal tragedy led him to make a life-affirming movie about healing, positivism, and coping with loss.

While Christian faith is portrayed in HENRY POOLE IS HERE, there's no reason why people of other beliefs or even atheists shouldn't be able to appreciate its message of hope and humanity. It isn't a religious tract meant to save souls--Henry, in fact, remains ambiguous about whether or not there's a divine image on his stucco--but merely an uplifting story about how a man at the end of his rope finds reasons to keep on living for whatever time he has left.
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

SUPERCOP -- DVD review by porfle

The plot of SUPERCOP (1992) isn't all that riveting--just your basic undercover cop stuff--but that doesn't matter since it's really just an excuse to present us with a series of cool fights and mindblowing stunts. And as far as that goes, this is the really good stuff.

Originally known as POLICE STORY 3, the film opens with Jackie as Inspector Chan Ka Kui being given a dangerous undercover assignment to infiltrate a major drug ring in mainland China. Posing as a convict, Jackie helps master criminal Panther (Wah Yuen) escape from prison and is introduced to the big cheese, Chaibat (Ken Tsang), who puts him on the payroll. Working with Inspector Jessica Yang of INTERPOL (Michelle Yeoh, here billed as "Michelle Khan"), who poses as his sister, Jackie then begins to throw various monkey wrenches into the drug overlord's crime machine.

This is Jackie Chan in his prime and he's in top form here, whether hanging from the rope ladder of a helicopter as it swoops back and forth over the city or fighting off bad guys atop a moving freight car. An early scene filmed in an actual police training school allows him to show off his martial arts skills. The rest of the time he's doing stunts that would have most action heroes screaming like little girls, while investing it all with his own brand of goodnatured, self-effacing humor.

Keeping up with Jackie every step of the way is Michelle Yeoh, who handles most of the frenetic martial-arts action and contributes some of the most breathtaking stunts in the film. One scene that continues to astound every time I see it is the one in which she jumps a motorcycle onto a moving train. No special effects, no stuntwoman--she just freakin' did it, and it took multiple takes, too! Her balletic fighting skills are on display throughout the film as well, and they're exhilarating to watch.

With some grand locations in and around mainland China at his disposal, director Stanley Tong stages some of the most amazing action sequences ever filmed and it's all for real--with the exception of some occasional safety wires--which makes it all the more exciting. The battle that takes place in a drug lord's rural compound is as explosive as the finale of a James Bond movie. The prison escape, the car chase with Michelle Yeoh hanging from a speeding van as various vehicles crash into it, Jackie's incredible helicopter ladder stunt, and the climactic fight atop a freight train add up to action entertainment at its best.

Dragon Dynasty's 2-disc DVD is their usual deluxe package. The film is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital, both of which are fine. You can choose to listen to it in either Cantonese or badly-dubbed English, with English or Spanish subtitles. Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan provides his usual enthusiastic, fact-filled commentary. The closing credits are accompanied by some startling footage of stunts gone wrong.

The second disc contains substantial interview segments with Jackie and Michelle, along with director Stanley Tong and Jackie's bodyguard and trainer, Ken Lo. Jackie talks about the making of the film and also expresses his disapointment with the editing changes made for the American release. Michelle reveals herself to be quite the adrenaline junkie as she describes her urge to continue doing bigger and more exciting stunts and the thrill that she gets from it. Hearing her describe that amazing motorcycle jump onto a moving train is especially interesting (she'd never even been on a motorcycle until a week before filming it!) She also talks about hanging off of a speeding van in heavy traffic and accidentally falling onto the pavement after crashing into the hood of a car. I don't mind saying that stuff like this takes a kind of nerve that I'll never have.

This ideal team-up between superstars Chan and Yeoh is an absolute must-see for their fans. Lighthearted and lightweight, but heavy with jaw-dropping action and stunts, SUPERCOP is Jackie Chan at his best.
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"REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA" Coming to DVD 1/20

"One of the most imaginative and spellbinding films to come out in recent memory" --Alternative Film Guide

"Guaranteed to attain [cult status]" – Fangoria.com
From the producers of the Saw franchise and director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV), based on a screenplay by Darren Smith & Terrance Zdunich from their original stage play, comes the new cult classic Repo! The Genetic Opera. A futuristic tale of horror that modernizes the "rock opera" genre with original music and rich, dark production design, the film features an eclectic cast that includes Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Brightman, Alexa Vega, Bill Moseley and Paris Hilton. The blend of Moulin Rouge style with The Rocky Horror Picture Show theatrics results in a unique viewing experience that comes to life on DVD and Blu-ray.

At the core of this entire project, however, is the music, which is born of many influences. This rock opera boasts an entirely original soundtrack that blends equal parts Goth and punk rock to form an eerie and powerful musical narrative. The DVD contains in-depth special features that include cast and crew audio commentaries and featurettes while the Blu-ray Disc includes those features plus video sing-a-longs, additional featurettes, deleted scenes and a bonus audio commentary with Paris Hilton and director Darren Lynn Bousman.

Repo! The Genetic Opera was an Official Selection of the Fantasy Film Festival, Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Sitges Film Festival, Atlantic Film Festival, Edmonton Film Festival and Austin Fantastic Film Festival and was hailed by horror fans and critics nationwide. The film was declared "a spirited, absorbing, astounding, thought provoking futuristic fulsome fable" (Horror.com), "fresh, unique and exciting…remarkable" (Bloody-disgusting.com), "an instant cult classic" (Fearnet) and "absolutely mind-blowing on a visionary level" (Horror-Movies.ca).

In the not-so-distant future, a worldwide epidemic of organ failures devastates the planet. Out of the tragedy, a savior emerges: GeneCo, a biotech company that offers organ transplants...for a price. Those who miss their payments are scheduled for repossession and hunted by the villainous Repo Men. In a world where surgery addicts are hooked on painkilling drugs and murder is sanctioned by law, a sheltered young girl searches for the cure to her own rare disease as well as information about her family’s mysterious history. After being sucked into the haunting world of GeneCo, she is unable to turn back, as all of her questions will be answered at the wildly anticipated spectacular event: The Genetic Opera.

*DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
Audio commentary with director Darren Lynn Bousman and actors Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega and Ogre
Audio commentary with director Darren Lynn Bousman, co-creators Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich and music producer Joseph Bishara
"From Stage to Screen" featurette
"Legal Assassin – A Repo Man on the Edge" featurette
Theatrical trailer
*Special features subject to change

*BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
Audio commentary with director Darren Lynn Bousman and actors Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega and Ogre
Audio commentary with director Darren Lynn Bousman, co-creators Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich and music producer Joseph Bishara
Select scene audio commentary with Paris Hilton and director Darren Lynn Bousman
Deleted scenes with audio commentary with Paris Hilton and director Darren Lynn Bousman
Video Sing-a-longs
"From Stage to Screen" featurette
Webisode featurettes
"Legal Assassin – A Repo Man on the Edge" featurette
"Zydrate Anatomy – Amber Sweet: Addicted to the Knife" featurette
"Chase the Morning – Blind Mag: The Voice of GeneCo" featurette
Theatrical trailer
*Special features subject to change
PROGRAM INFORMATION
Year of Production: 2008
Title Copyright: © 2008 Lions Gate Films Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Type: Theatrical Release
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, language, some drug and sexual content
Genre: Goth Rock Musical
Closed Captioned: English Closed Captioned
Subtitles: DVD: English and Spanish; Blu-ray: English SDH
DVD Format: Widescreen
Blu-ray Disc Format: 1080P High Definition Widescreen
Feature Running Time: 90 minutes
DVD Audio Status: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Blu-ray Disc Audio Status: 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Two Horror Film Legends Leave Us As 2009 Begins

BOB WILKINS, beloved host of San Francisco's "Creature Features" from 1971 to 1982, passed away on January 7th. This will undoubtedly come as a shock to all the Bay Area Monster Kids who grew up watching him on Saturday nights as he brought them such cinematic gems as THE CREEPING TERROR, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE. Scott Moon of Bobwilkins.net offers this tribute:

Dear Friends,
On January 7, 2009, Bob Wilkins passed away peacefully. As many of you know, Bob had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for the past several years and his family appreciates the concern, thoughts and prayers from his friends and fans.
When I first met Bob in 1995, he was still at the top of his game. Since then, I've been designing and maintaining his official website, and even produced (along with Mr. Lobo) two live Creature Features events in Sacramento. Its been an honor and a privilege to not only work with Bob, but to become friends with him and his family.
You can email your condolences to scottmoon@scottmoon.net and I will pass them along to the Wilkins family.
Scott Moon


Maverick independent filmmaker RAY DENNIS STECKLER, a legend in horror film fandom, also left us on January 7th. Working with budgets that wouldn't cover the catering bill on most productions, Ray's love of filmmaking drove him to produce a string of mind-boggling and fondly-remembered flicks such as THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, THE LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS, and RAT PFINK A BOO BOO, often appearing in them himself under the name "Cash Flagg." Film historian Tom Weaver conveys this message from Arch Hall, Jr., who starred in Ray's rock 'n' roll classic WILD GUITAR:

"Ray Dennis Steckler passed away last night. Ray had spent three or four days in the hospital in Los Angeles following the screening at the LACMA then was hospitalized again upon returning to Las Vegas until recently. Ray Dennis Steckler touched many in his life and it goes without saying that his talent and wit shall be greatly missed. I understand plans are underway for a funeral on Sunday January 11th? Specific details confirming time and location of service to follow. God bless him."
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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

EDEN LAKE -- DVD review by porfle

There's a grand tradition of movies in which happy-go-lucky city folk venture into some rural setting and wind up being terrorized by psychotic locals. Most of these movies, unfortunately, aren't nearly as good as, say, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or DELIVERANCE, and the formula more often than not results in just another inept, forgettable piece of cinematic flotsam with people running around in the woods screaming for an hour-and-a-half. Not so, however, in the case of EDEN LAKE (2008), one of the most harrowing, painfully suspenseful, and relentlessly downbeat horror thrillers I've ever seen.

It's a pretty simple set-up: Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) drive to the country to camp out on the shore of a beautiful, secluded lake, where Steve plans to pick just the right moment to whip out an engagement ring and pop the question. But their romantic sunbathing reverie is marred by a motley group of punk teens who blast their boom box, ogle the bikini-clad Jenny, and allow their scary-looking Rottweiler to menace her while Steve is taking a dip.

Well, Steve, of course, must do his "guy duty" and confront the surly bunch. Led by the older and considerably meaner Brett (Jack O'Connell), the kids steal Steve's land rover and go for a joyride. When Steve tries to wrestle the keys away from them, Brett's beloved dog is accidentally killed, which sparks Brett into a murderous rage. Steve and Jenny are forced to flee for their lives, but fate conspires against them at every turn, and they both end up tortured and brutalized beyond anything they could have imagined.

When EDEN LAKE was over, I felt as though I'd just awoken from an extremely vivid and disturbing nightmare. Everything that could possibly go wrong for Steve and Jenny does go wrong as they descend quickly and inexorably into hell. Much of the film is hard to watch--not because it's especially gory, but because the situations are so intense and realistic.

When Steve is captured and bound with barbed wire and Brett bullies the others into taking turns slashing him with knives and box cutters, it's effective on a realistic level because the violence isn't being committed by monsters like Leatherface or over-the-top caricatures of inbred hillbillies. These are just ordinary kids--on bicycles no less--giving in to their darkest impulses in a way that happens far too often in real life, stripping the story of the usual comforting veneer of fantasy that has us laughing along with Rob Zombie's cartoonish maniacs or wondering what cool method of execution Jason will use on his next faceless victim.

Jenny fares no better as she finds herself lost in the woods with no way to call for help and little chance of escape. Naturally, a metal spike goes through her foot at one point and she spends a lot of time crawling through mud and slime, reduced to the level of a terrified animal. One scene in which she locks herself in a shack with the injured Steve and tries desperately to tend to his grievous wounds, unable to stop the gouts of blood pouring from deep cuts, is difficult to endure simply because of the crushing sadness and despair that it evokes. And because the killers are still closing in and there's nothing she can do about it.

It gets worse. Eventually EDEN LAKE begins to resemble a twisted version of THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS with its nonstop series of horrors heaped one right after the other upon the hapless couple. Some instances, such as Jenny being forced to hide in a filthy dumpster and emerging with a coating of the most rancid slime imaginable, took me out of the movie for a bit as I thought, "Sheesh, what next?" But these moments actually help the film, serving to give us a breather from all the tension before sucking us right back in and ramping up the suspense again.

The cast does a good job of selling it all. Kelly Reilly (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) is outstanding and entirely believable as sweet-tempered preschool teacher Jenny, while Michael Fassbender (300, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) is likable as Steve even when he isn't leaving well enough alone. All of the teen castmembers are good, especially Jack O'Connell as the monstrous Brett.

First-time director James Watkins does a very surehanded job working from his own screenplay and the cinematography is way above average. David Julyan, who has scored films such as MEMENTO, THE DESCENT, and OUTLAW, avoids horror cliches and emphasizes the emotional devastation of the lead characters instead. This is especially true in the final minutes, when the last grimly-ironic pieces fall into place with a sickening thud and the music becomes heartbreakingly mournful.

It's in this last act that the hopelessness running through the rest of the story is finally driven home in the most downbeat manner possible. You won't often see a scene this powerful and bleak. The situation is so nightmarishly awful that violence and gore are no longer even necessary here--by this time, writer-director Watkins has so thoroughly woven a web of tragedy and despair that we're left stunned and haunted by it all, which is his intention.

In 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound, the DVD looks and sounds good. Extras consist of a brief "making of" featurette and a trailer.

A highly-effective and skillfully manipulative piece of filmmaking, EDEN LAKE effortlessly rises above most other films of its ilk. It's hardly the usual horror flick that relies on shock cuts to make you jump or clever gore effects to make you say "Cool!" Instead, it batters the viewer with nonstop dread and ultimately becomes a deeply depressing experience. I was relieved when it was over, as though I'd finally woken up from the nightmare, but I still can't get it out of my mind.
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Monday, January 5, 2009

"MERCURY MAN" Comes to DVD 1/27/09

SUPERNATURAL. SUPERHUMAN. SUPERHERO.


From Acclaimed Director Of Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior

Justice Is Served When The Intrepid Thai Action Flick Debuts On DVD January 27 From Magnolia Home Entertainment

"--a rollicking atmosphere that makes the story of this super powered individual a blast." --Film Threat

After being stabbed with an ancient Tibetan amulet, a supernatural substance becomes embedded in the body of an unsuspecting fireman and transforms him into Mercury Man, channeling the ability to concentrate and contain heat. Aided by a young female guardian of the amulet, he faces a terrorist entity that seeks to use the amulet to target and destroy the United States.

Directed by Bhandit Thongdee, MERCURY MAN, on DVD January 27 from Magnolia Home Entertainment, features fantastic martial arts action sequences by Tony Jaa's Ong-Bak stunt coordinator Panna Rittikrai and is produced by Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew.

Available at Amazon.com


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Sunday, January 4, 2009

RIGHTEOUS KILL -- DVD review by porfle

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino--a pairing of dynamic acting talents that still gets one's attention the way it did back in '95 when Michael Mann first brought them together as the opposing leads in his bullet-riddled crime drama HEAT (although they only actually shared two scenes together). Perhaps the team-up of Bob and Al doesn't quite generate the same kind of heat in 2008 as it did then, but it's still a good deal of fun to see them on the screen together in Jon Avnet's cop drama RIGHTEOUS KILL, a vehicle that's almost but not quite worthy of them.

Veteran homicide detectives Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino) are old-school NYPD cops with a hands-on approach to handling bad guys. Turk in particular seems to have an anger management problem, and when certain vile criminals who have escaped justice due to legal technicalities start getting executed left and right, suspicion begins to fall upon him.

The fact that the film opens with Turk giving a videotaped confession would seem to render things a bit too cut-and-dried, and indeed we begin to consider other possibilities. Could he be taking the rap for his partner? Or perhaps even his forensic-specialist girlfriend, Karen (Carla Gugino)? The two younger cops who are working the case with them, Perez (John Leguizamo) and Riley (Donnie Wahlberg), seem exceedingly anxious to pin the murders on Turk. Might one of them be the killer?

One of the most interesting things about Russell Gewirtz' screenplay is the exploration of how much a cop may be capable of taking the law into his own hands when he has the power to do so. What if you know for certain that someone's guilty of a heinous crime, but he gets off? Is it right to frame him for something he didn't do, so that he'll get his deserved punishment? The moral dilemma is intensified when the vigilante action escalates from planting evidence to outright execution--the "righteous kill." And although Turk and Rooster both seem equally hard-nosed and ruthless, the difference between how far each is willing to go to exact justice may lead to ruin for one or both of them.

The casting of the two leads is great, but not the major event it might have been. Our overfamiliarity with Robert De Niro, especially as a comic figure in films such as MEET THE PARENTS, seems to have diluted the "actor" mystique he had back in the TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL days. Likewise with Pacino, no longer the riveting young talent from THE GODFATHER or SCARFACE, now the "hoo-ahh" guy with the big hair and the peacock strut who sometimes seems content to hang back and let his considerable presence carry a role. Which is enough, really, because each of these guys carries sufficient weight to make any film better, and who can resist seeing them playing off of each other?

They do seem to be on auto-pilot at times--De Niro's not really feelin' some of that less-than-thrilling dialogue, while Pacino often just seems to be having fun--but when they're on, as they are in several key scenes, we get some of that dangerous intensity that has always made them exciting. Especially De Niro, whose character starts to get a little scary later on because we really don't know what he'll do next. With Pacino, it eventually becomes apparent that his character's jovial fascade hides something more ominous than is first apparent, and he brings his old skills to bear when it counts.

Carla Gugino, who played Marv's gorgeous parole officer in SIN CITY, is well cast and makes the most of some juicy scenes with the two leads. Leguizamo and Wahlberg do good work here, as does the reliable Brian Dennehy as Lieutenant Hingis, who grudgingly begins to suspect that Turk is the killer. As the cocky criminal Spider, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson proves that he's as adept at pretending to be a gangsta onscreen as he is onstage. And in a smaller role, Melissa Leo of TV's "Homicide: Life on the Street" is very good as the distraught mother of a murdered child.

Jon Avnet's direction is workmanlike and unflashy, the look of the film hovering somewhere between top-grade gloss and assembly-line competence. Although there is quite a bit of violence and tension along the way, what's missing is a hard-edged, gritty realism that would've pushed this film to a higher level. Even so, the action and suspense keep things moving while the performances are often impressive. And although I actually saw the twist ending coming from a few blocks away, the final revelation and emotional ending (which has faint echoes of that last scene in HEAT) are rewarding.

The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image and Dolby Surround 5.1 sound are both good. Director Avnet provides an informative scene-specific commentary. Extras include two featurettes, "The Investigation: An In-Depth Look at 'Righteous Kill'" and "The Thin Blue Line: An Exploration of Cops & Criminals", the latter being of special interest as it exposes some of the real-life incidents that inspired the screenplay, with comments from actual cops. Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.

While this isn't quite the world-shaking pairing of De Niro and Pacino that some of us always wished for, RIGHTEOUS KILL is still a solid, exciting story for them to bluster around in. And there are definitely a lot of things in this world that are less fun than watching these two legendary tough guys playing out-of-control New York homicide cops with itchy trigger fingers. If that sounds like fun to you, then by all means check it out.
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