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Saturday, October 31, 2009

BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966) -- movie review by porfle


I remember when Bat-mania hit. When the Adam West TV series premiered, millions of kids were glued to their sets. We thrilled to the colorful adventures of the Caped Crusaders, Batman and Robin, as they fought to keep flamboyant foes such as Joker, Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman from terrorizing the good citizens of Gotham City. It was like seeing the old Bob Kane comics brought to life, and we all went batty over it. In no time the Batman logo was all over T-shirts, lunch boxes, bubblegum cards--you name it. It was cooler than cool.

We didn't know it was a comedy. Most of our parents and older siblings didn't either--they just thought it was the silliest, stupidest thing they'd ever seen, and as we sat there watching each episode in Bat-ecstacy while the older folks poured on the derision, the jokes just went zooming like Batarangs right over all our heads. As I got a little older, I finally started to catch on to how dumb it was myself. But it wasn't till much later, when the Tim Burton movie prompted a lot of local stations to start showing reruns, that it finally dawned on me that "Batman" was one of the most deliriously funny comedies to ever hit the airwaves.

Meanwhile, back in my childhood...the show had been on for one season when word hit the playground that there was gonna be a movie. HOLY HOLLYWOOD, Batman! The local theater was packed to the gills with screaming kids on a Saturday morning back in '66 when BATMAN:THE MOVIE lit the place up. 

We sat in awe as our formerly TV-sized heroes went widescreen with bigger adventures, a bevy of bad guys, and better Bat-gadgets such as the Batcycle, the Batboat and the Batcopter, in addition to the already-awesome Batmobile. 

What we didn't realize at the time was that the movie was just as dumb as the TV series--maybe even dumber! Along with the POW!, WHAM!, and THUD! graphics that "Batman" was famous for, there might as well have been a giant ZOOM! above our heads as the jokes continued to sail right over them.


Back in the Batcave--that is, my livingroom, present day--I can now enjoy BATMAN:THE MOVIE as the wonderfully funny spoof that it is. Adam West as the wise, mysterious, somber Batman and Burt Ward as his earnest, straight-arrow yet boyishly-impetuous sidekick Robin are almost painfully deadpan. 

They take their responsibility as the Dynamic Duo, tireless protectors of Gotham City, with utmost seriousness, and they totally crack me up as they swoosh down their Batpoles, leap into the Batmobile, and Bat-a-pult into action against the nefarious foes of all that is decent.

Their dialogue is often hilarious, as in this Batcave think-session which features them trying to decipher two of the Riddler's fiendishly clever brain-teasers:

BATMAN: "Listen to these riddles, Robin...tell me if you interpret them as I do. One: what has yellow skin and writes?"
ROBIN: (after a moment's reflection) "A ballpoint banana!"
BATMAN: "Right! Two: what people are always in a hurry?"
ROBIN: "Rushing...people...Russians!"
BATMAN: "Right again. Now what would you say they mean?"
ROBIN: "Banana...Russian...I've got it! Someone Russian is going to slip on a banana peel and break their neck!"
BATMAN: "Precisely, Robin! The only...possible...meaning!"

Giving Batman and Robin a run for their money in the deadpan humor department is Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon. To him, each new outbreak of villainy is the gravest catastrophe and would spell certain doom for Gotham City save for the intervention of the Caped Crusaders. His constantly apprehensive expression and dead-serious line delivery are perfect. 

When it appears that Gotham's most foul enemies have become partners in crime, he's utterly crestfallen. "Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and now, Catwoman..." the commissioner solemnly intones. "The sum of the angles of that rectangle is too monstrous to contemplate!"


The bad guys, on the other hand, get to have all the fun. Back then, everyone wanted to play a super-foe on "Batman"--even Frank Sinatra tried to land a role--and people who hated or didn't "get" the show were astonished by the list of big-name guest stars lining up to be on it. Here, Latin romantic star Cesar Romero plays the treacherous trickster, the Joker, his trademark moustache covered in white greasepaint (he refused to shave it off!) 

Distinguished actor Burgess Meredith is delightful as the foul-feathered fiend, the Penguin, while well-known actor and impressionist Frank Gorshin goes nuts as the Riddler. Julie Newmar, who was busy filming something else at the time, is replaced here by the equally statuesque Lee Meriwether as the felonious feline, Catwoman. The scenes with all four of them together in their secret waterfront lair or in Penguin's submarine are sparked with manic intensity and unrestrained nuttiness as these actors get to ham it up without any of the usual restraints.

There's a story floating around somewhere, but it isn't really important. The villains kidnap a guy named Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny) in order to obtain his new invention that dehydrates people into powder so they can make off with a group of United World ambassadors and somehow end up ruling the world. Who cares? It's all just an excuse to have fun.

Highlights include: Batman on a rope ladder below the Batcopter with a rubber shark hanging from his leg ("Robin! Hand me down the Shark-Repellent Batspray!"); Batman scrambing all over the waterfront trying to find a safe place to discard a huge bomb he's carrying, but surrounded by nuns, mothers with baby carriages, and baby ducks ("Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"); Batman scolding a Pentagon offical over the phone for selling a war surplus pre-atomic submarine to a Mr. "P.N. Guinn", who didn't even leave his full address; and a long sequence involving Batman's alter ego, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, on a date with a Russian reporter named Miss Kitka, who is really Catwoman. 

Bruce becomes deliriously smitten with the lovely Miss Kitka, and the screen practically drips with romantic cliches that are played so relentlessly straight by Adam West that the result is almost excruciating.

Of course, since the TV series always featured a nail-biting cliffhanger every week, the movie is filled with certain-death situations for Batman and Robin. We also get to see the famous Bat-climb, and we're finally shown how Bruce Wayne and his youthful ward, Dick Grayson, always leap onto the Batpoles in their street clothes but end up at the bottom in full costume. ("An instant costume-change lever!" I remember thinking as a kid. "So that's how they do it!")

On the downside, the movie gets a bit draggy in spots, and the ending isn't exactly what I'd call a big pay-off. I've always been disappointed by the opening titles as well--no supercool "Batman Theme", no cartoon Batman and Robin POW-ing their way through a horde of evildoers. There's even a lame-joke foreword that betrays the mock seriousness of the whole concept. But most of the time, BATMAN:THE MOVIE is a colorful rush of nostalgic fun that raises pure, straight-faced Bat-silliness to a level rarely experienced by anyone who isn't huffing nitrous oxide. TO THE BATPOLES!
Buy it at Amazon.com
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Astro Boy (2009)


so with this remake/version, I'm didn't have too many preconceptions. it's pretty good, and at 94 minutes (at least 5 minutes of closing and BORING credits) it's just about the right length of time.

it is another retelling of Astro's origin, but done in about the same time as the original cartoon did it. it's set in the further future than "the year 2000", which is also fine. the rest of the story revolves around Astro finding his purpose in life. it gets a little cutesy with the introduction of the orphans, but right when you think it's gonna be sidetracked it brings it altogether for a pretty satisfying finish.

the actors all do a fine job as well. it's odd not to hear Billie Lou Watt as Astro though.

the CG characters look pretty good, but as none of Tezuka's original work was designed to be 3-D, they still look a little weird, especially Dr. Elefun. it's OK, but I kept thinking how much better a real cartoon would have looked. it was nice to see a few of Tezuka's characters there, including Hamegg. Mr. Moustache was in the credits, but I didn't remember seeing him in the movie at all.

so it's worth a look. it's apparently not making ANY money, but I think it will find a life on DVD, since it's pretty good. alas, they didn't use the original Astro Boy theme song, not even over those long extensive credits.

oh yeah, and Astro himself barely spent any time looking like his comic book counterpart- he was always in blue jeans and a shirt. weak.
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THE MIKE CONWAY INTERVIEW, part two


[Note: this interview was originally done in June 2006.]

In part one of our interview, jack-of-all-trades indie filmmaker
MIKE CONWAY filled us in on the making of his sci-fi film, TERRARIUM (aka WAR OF THE PLANETS). This time, we get to find out what went on behind the scenes of his latest production about a genetically-engineered superwoman gone nuts, THE AWAKENING, which cost roughly one-fifth of the budget it took to film TERRARIUM while surpassing it in just about every way. How does this low-budget auteur do it? Let's find out!


porfle: How did you get involved in THE AWAKENING?

MIKE: Producer Kelly Johnston, bought a copy of my previous movie, TERRARIUM. He then emailed me and we hooked up. He told me about the story by Erik Manion and I liked it enough to collaborate.

porfle: What changes or additions did you make to the existing story?

MIKE: I told Kelly that I would do the project if I could make some alterations. He and Erik were very cool about this. I took out all but one of the narrations. It was better to just show. I added the scenes with Lara's mom and the doctor. With a lot of Kelly's ideas, we added a number of military scenes, including the Sergeant Benson character. I added in the SUV scene, where Lara throws it. The original ending was not a cliffhanger, so I added those final shots to spice it up a bit.


Erik's story nailed the characters and their attitudes, as well as the story's scope. A lot of dialogue got cut. It made my job easier, to have more than enough material. There was also a scene where Lara hovers off the ground, as well as some scenes where she shoots lasers out of her eyes. I got rid of that stuff, because I thought it went a bit too far, or wasn't as easily explained, like the radioactive super strength was. Some people might prefer that, but I wanted to keep it just outside the realm of feasibility.

porfle: What can you tell us about Tamra Ericson Frame, the statuesque blonde who plays superwoman Lara Andrade in the film?

MIKE: She is a part-time model and has been Kelly's business partner for several years. Kelly always had her in mind for the story. They did a 25-minute short, called GIRL OF STEELE. That was her only acting previous experience, so this was a tall order for her. I think she has the right kind of blond, sassy attitude, that plays well into the character's more confident moments.

porfle: What about the 6'4" (in heels) Heather Lei Guzzetta as the sinister mastermind behind the film's "Project Gladiator"? She makes quite an impression.

MIKE: Heather was actually a last minute replacement, when the previous actress got pregnant. She was in Greg Parker's indie movie, BLADE OF DEATH. Kelly and I met her at the premiere of that movie and never forgot about her. I'm not sure of the extent of Heather's acting background, but she's really good. She took that sinister part and just ran with it. Yes, being tall really added to her character's presence.


porfle: Did you enjoy playing a lead role ("David Andrade") this time? How challenging was it to do this in addition to directing the film?

MIKE: On this movie, I would have never suggested myself, but I'm glad that Kelly thought that I would fit. I really do love acting and who knows if I'll get the chance to play a leading character again, so I jumped at the opportunity. It was even better to play the husband of a pretty character, like Tamra's.

It did make some things challenging, especially since we didn't have a director of photography to shoot the scenes that I was in. It would have helped to have that critical eye, when I wasn't shooting. You probably noticed some of the whacky headroom in a few of those shots, eh?

On the flipside, our lead male actor was always available. When the role is that prominent, that is a good thing. I hope that I get that chance again.

porfle: How were the digital effects in THE AWAKENING accomplished? Some of them--replicating extras, Lara tossing an SUV--were pretty impressive considering the budget.

MIKE: The SUV toss was a model that was shot against a greenscreen. It was added into the real shot of Lara and the street. As for cloning extras, once I saw some of Kelly's practice footage, in After Effects, I understood what we could get away with. We bought 6 Black Ops uniforms and 6 Marine uniforms. Some of those shots show 12 actors! It was always the same 6 guys, put in different positions and shot a second or third time. When the footage was composited, you couldn't tell.

Our budget was so cheap that we only had one labcoat for a while. There is a scene with Donald and I, where I'm standing over a crate and he is talking to me. We are wearing the same labcoat! We shot the scene with me wearing it, then I handed it to him. Again, no one knows!

The other main effects were gunfire and blood, which Kelly became quite efficient at. To make a guy look like he was torn in half, Kelly would just erase his legs and use the mask of the real floor. It's really incredible.

porfle: The explosive climax of the film was done using greenscreen. Didn't you shoot that in your livingroom?


MIKE: Yes, I've got Tamra on my shoulder and the building blows up behind us. We set up a greenscreen behind us, then put a queen-sized mattress on the livingroom floor and fell onto that. In the final shot, it looks like we're outside, almost getting blown up.

porfle: One of the most memorable scenes is the one in which Lara backhands a Black Ops guy's head off--the body stumbles to the floor, while the still-living head continues to observe the rest of the scene. How was this done?

MIKE: We shot a plate shot of the empty corridor. Then, we had the actors stand in the corridor. Keith Ford had a mouthful of fake blood. When Tamra hit him, Keith started drooling the blood, staggering, then falling. Kelly took the two shots (empty corridor/actors) and simply masked out Keith's head. He used the drooling blood as a mask point, because that was easiest to follow. When you see the final shot, it looks like Keith has no head, but he still has a neck and chin!

As far as the head watching from the floor, we threw a dummy head, which rolls into place. We did the same thing as the corridor; we took a plate shot of the empty floor, then had Keith lay down into the shot. Kelly masked out his body, so all you see is Keith's head, with the blinking eyes.

porfle: In an earlier scene, Lara turns over a van in front of her house and then struts away--it's a beautiful shot. Was that a first take? Where was it done?

MIKE: For the overturned van shot, we moved from the street, where the rest of the scene was shot, into my backyard. Kelly tied a towstrap to the back of his truck and connected it to the roof rails of the van. Tamra put her hand against it and pushed, while Kelly's truck pulled it over. Yes, that was one take.

porfle: What about Lara's barfight scene? It looked to me as though someone had a really nice bar/poolroom in their basement that was dressed to look like an actual bar.

MIKE: Actually, that was a 2 level bar, called Jose Hogs. For some reason, the bottom level is closed, so we were able to shoot there, without having to close the place down. A couple of the extras at the bar doubled for Black Ops. The bartender, Shae Wilson, was Dena from TERRARIUM. Also, the pool player with the bandana, George Miklos, was one of the actors who played the monster in that movie.


porfle: What was the location used for the government research complex where your character, David Andrade, works?

MIKE: That was a combination of several different places, including a storage facility, an office building, a warehouse, my garage and my friend Mike Rick's house. All of these locations are several miles apart from each other.

porfle: Which sets were actually constructed and shot in your garage?

MIKE: We shot the truck scene, with David, the captain and sergeant, in there. We used a greenscreen and had people shaking the truck. We also built the Laboratory, Radiation room, Autopsy room and a mock version of one of the storage facility hallways. That last one was because we needed to get a little bloody.

porfle: Where did you get all those cool-looking military weapons used in the shootouts between the Marines and the bad guys?

MIKE: Most of those weapons belong to a Las Vegas Airsoft club. A lot of these guys are former vets who like to get together for wargames, on the weekends. Some of the guns, with modifications, can cost up to $1,300 or more.

Airsoft is the name of the company that makes the weapons. The guns are near perfect replicas of the real thing. Most of the rifles are electric, while many pistols use gas. This allows the guns to display realistic blowback action. Kelly would add the muzzle flashes with After Effects. Kelly also had a real M4 rifle and I had some Collector's Armoury blank firing pistols.

porfle: As I've mentioned before, Timothy S. Daley ("Capt. Harris") makes a great action-hero Marine. He also played the main authority figure in TERRARIUM. Is he anything like these characters in real life?

MIKE: I love that Tim really got a chance to shine, with this movie. I would have to say that his real-life persona is pretty close to his characters. The haircut stays the same and that low, authoritative voice can stop people in their tracks. That was why I picked him.


porfle: You had two extra crewmembers on the set this time. Do the Conway kids, Shawn and Carmen, appear to be picking up your interest in filmmaking?

MIKE: Supposedly, Carmen wants to be a veterinarian and a filmmaker! Shawn definitely likes being on a set. As you saw in the documentary [GUNS, GIRLS, & CLONES, which is included on the DVD], he gets very upset when we don't take him to a shoot.

porfle: Was the budget for THE AWAKENING really $5,000?

MIKE: We finally added up the receipts and it was $5,900. A good portion of that was taking the actors to T-Bird's restaurants! One of the reasons that the producer, Kelly, wanted me for this movie, was because I already had the camera, lights, mics, greenscreen, motorhome (with generator), etc. Because of that, the Steele Productions' equipment cost was pretty much just DV tape.

Production money went to Lara's costume ($300), 6 Black Ops and 6 Marine Uniforms ($1,100). $600 was "incentive" to a warehouse manager and staff. There was also 3 paid cast days (after which, we ran out of money), props and food.

porfle: How long did it take to complete principal photography and post-production?

MIKE: Usually, we shot very short days, 5 - 6 hours, because a lot of the cast was unpaid and Tamra couldn't be away from her kids for more than a few hours. Shooting days totalled up to 43, spread out over an 8-month period. I usually can't get weekends off, so we would shoot on a Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on what everyone's schedule was.

There was about 6 months of post-production, including the documentary. It got spread out more than that, because Lionsgate wanted a lot of fixes on TERRARIUM. That meant shutting down THE AWAKENING for most of that summer.

porfle: As a personal accomplishment, how does THE AWAKENING compare with TERRARIUM and your earlier efforts?

MIKE: I think that THE AWAKENING is an awesome improvement and is my best movie yet. But, I still have some people tell me that they prefer TERRARIUM, because of the story and scope of that project. A lot of that has to do with the huge ship set and 16mm film.

THE AWAKENING has the edge with the action and much more realistic FX. The story is big, there are 40 actors and the locations are numerous. Unlike the dubbed TERRARIUM, THE AWAKENING is sync sound, so the acting comes off much, much stronger, particularly Tim Daley's.

porfle: I'm interested in seeing what you have in store for us in the future--where do you go from here? Oh, and any chance we'll ever get to see that "superchick" battle that's hinted at in the final shot?

MIKE: Though the movie ends with that superchick cliffhanger, there are no plans for a sequel. I kind of threw the cliffhanger in, because the original story ended with David and Lara in their home, getting away scot free. After all of the carnage that resulted from their doings, I couldn't settle for that. I didn't have "sequel" in mind, as much as "what comes around, goes around."

As for where I go from here, my main goal is to improve my filmmaking skills with each new feature. After being so stretched out on the massive TERRARIUM project, my last thought was to take on a 40-actor project, which was as ambitious as THE AWAKENING's script was! I feel that we pulled it off about as good as we could for the near zero budget. My goal is to go "smaller." I want more technical control and less people to deal with. What you'll see, next, is something a lot more polished and tight.

I have another pet sci-fi project that I want to get off of the ground. I also have a horror idea about a reptilian/human hybrid. There is also the possibility of doing a hitman type of movie. It just depends on finances. If I had my wish, I could leave my day job and make all 3 of these movies, in the next 12 -18 months. I like horror, sci-fi and suspense themes.

porfle: Mike, thanks for speaking with us today! It's been a real pleasure.

MIKE: Thank you!


http://www.terrariumthemovie.com
http://www.theawakeningmovie.com
http://www.midnightsunent.com
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

THE MIKE CONWAY INTERVIEW, part one


[Note: This interview was originally done in June 2006.]

His backyard is an alien landscape where you might find a crashed spaceship. His garage is the nerve center for genetic experiments and sinister government conspiracies. He's independent filmmaker
MIKE CONWAY, and the world is his soundstage.

Director, screenwriter, actor, editor, composer--Mike does it all, with the help of a dedicated stock company of friends and family caught up in his infectious enthusiasm for making movies. And he does it with less money than most directors spend on coffee and doughnuts.

I recently got Mike to stand still long enough to tell us a little about, among other things, the making of the sci-fi/horror thriller TERRARIUM (released by Lionsgate as WAR OF THE PLANETS) and his latest low-budget epic THE AWAKENING.



porfle: What kind of home movies did you make when you were growing up, and how did this experience help you later on?

MIKE: I made Super 8mm sound movies, which covered a lot of genres - horror, sci-fi, comedy, western, etc. The biggest help was learning how to achieve physical effects, by cutting away and editing certain shots together. You learn that you can achieve an awful lot, just through editing. For instance, a man changes into a werewolf, so you show his face with stubble, then cut to hair on his hand, then back to his face with even more fur on it. You can achieve gunshots, without needing squib effects. A simple shot of the shooter, then a closeup of the gun firing, then a shot of the victim grabbing his chest and falling. If you cut it right, you can imply anything. That carries over to future work.

porfle: How did you first get into independent filmmaking?

MIKE: Those Super 8mm shorts turn into 16mm shorts, which in turn flame the desire to do a whole feature.

porfle: I haven't seen your first feature, THE BLACK CRYSTAL. I know from the trailer that it stars TERRARIUM's Lily Santoro ("Kim"), though her character here appears rather more, well, "wanton." What can you tell us about it?

MIKE: I shot THE BLACK CRYSTAL as a Super 8mm feature. I transferred the film to broadcast video and then got picked up by Rae Don Entertainment. The movie got some U.S. and overseas release, back in 1991.

Lili Santoro plays a witch in that movie, named Daphne. She has lost respect for most men and won't hesitate killing someone for crossing the line. It's not a very good movie, but the idea and characters are pretty good. I play the main character, Will Harper, who finds the Black Crystal (a power channeler) and falls for the witch. Unfortunately, her ex-lover, Daniel, is a powerful warlock. He will stop at nothing to get the Black Crystal. The fact that Will is lovenesting with Daphne is motivating him to do harm.
After Rae Don's bankruptcy, I eventually got THE BLACK CRYSTAL back. Someday, I may find a place to transfer the 1" tape reels. Being that it was shot on Super 8mm, as well as being my first feature, I'm not in a particular hurry for people to see it, again. [laughs]


porfle: Where did the idea for TERRARIUM come from?


MIKE: TERRARIUM must be a good concept, because people keep asking me that. I took care of a friend's tarantula, for about 5 months. I would put crickets inside its terrarium and it would just let them crawl around. A week later, all of those crickets had been sucked dry. I imagined the crickets as people, so I made them into the astronauts of the movie. Nothing as twisted as real life, eh?

porfle: What was it like designing and building a spaceship in your backyard? Is this where most of your $27,000 budget went?

MIKE: $8,000 went into the 64' long, lifesize spaceship. Another 12K was for buying film, processing and transfer. Also in the budget was the 16mm camera and a Sony Vaio computer. That left 3K to buy uniforms, props, food and just make the movie.

I designed it, kind of like you would a space station. Though it was a long fuselage, it was made up of 3 modules - the Storage module, the Cryo module and the Control module. I was thinking of an octagonal shape, with the angles of the ceiling, wall and floors. When it came to actually building it, my stepdad, Arley Steinbrink, framed it like a house. He also figured out a way to curve the outside shell, instead of the octagonal shape. Arley was the main builder, assisted by my then roommate, Paul Folger and myself.

porfle: What was the reaction of your neighbors and city officials to this rather unusual structure?

MIKE: Considering you could see it from a mile away, it's no wonder that the city ordered us to tear it down. The neighbors were pretty cool. They would come over and I would give them a tour of the ship.

porfle: Like many independent filmmakers, you have a day job--you're a banquet waiter in a Las Vegas hotel. Did you cast TERRARIUM chiefly with coworkers?

MIKE: Yes, our bartender, Tim Daley, played the captain. My supervisor, Jim Hendrickson, played Robert, the architect. Our Audio Visual tech, Jason Hall, played Leonard, the engineer, etc., etc. The other half of the cast was actually made up of actors from STAR TREK: THE EXPERIENCE, at the Hilton. I didn't have money to pay them, so it was all volunteer. So far, we have broke even on the costs. I'm hoping for a few more territory sales, so that I could actually pay something.

porfle: Where did you film the press conference scene at the beginning of the movie? It obviously wasn't in your garage.

MIKE: That was on the ballroom stage of the hotel that we work at.

porfle: Speaking of your garage, which scenes in TERRARIUM were filmed there?

MIKE: The alien lair, where the human autopsy was.


porfle: What was it like filming the scenes in the spaceship's interior?

MIKE: Usually, it was pretty hot, since it was August, in Nevada. I did have an airconditioner in there, but that was a big structure to try and cool down. The experience was pretty authentic, because the switches would light up and all of the cryochambers had their own lights. We had sliding doors. It was awesome.

porfle: Your wife, Sheila, is perhaps the most talented actress in your stock company. Has she had any actual training in this area?

MIKE: None. She is a natural.

porfle: How did you manage to shoot around her very obvious pregnancy at the time?

MIKE: We put her in a baggy cryosuit and flightsuit. I framed her from the chest up, or had her partially blocked by the other actors. For the sniper scenes, I dug a hole in the ground, big enough for her pregnant belly, so she could lay flat.

porfle: You write and perform all the music in your movies, which I find very effective. Could you give us an idea of how this is done?

MIKE: I have about a dozen synthesizers and samplers. I manage to get some huge layered sounds out of them. I'll come up with the themes and then lay tracks down with a sequencer. I tweak a lot of sounds to get the tone I want, for each movie. For example, I recorded a creaky, metal gate and transposed the pitch down. It sounds utterly eerie.

porfle: Most of your cast seem to double as crewmembers in your movies. In fact, judging from the documentary A SPACESHIP IN THE BACKYARD, as soon as you say "Cut!" they break character and immediately join in the behind-the-camera-type duties. Do you find this to be a good way to work?

MIKE: Some of the actors are fantastic about lending a hand. It's not the most effective way to work, though. I could really use a couple of production assistants and a director of photography.

The problem comes from my work schedule. I don't get weekends off and the shooting is sporadic. It's hard to have a dedicated crewmember around, so that's why you see the actors jumping in.

porfle: Are the gore effects and other SPFX a group effort as well? Or do you have an specialist in this area who handles such things?

MIKE: Usually, I handle physical effects, like squibs, blood or Brandon's head exploding onto the terrarium glass. With THE AWAKENING, Kelly Johnston created a lot of gore with After Effects. For scenes, like Lara pulling the guy's heart out, Sheila gave us a raw chicken breast! Food is always effective.

porfle: In hindsight, would you have done anything differently in the making of this film if you could?

MIKE: Because the city ordered the ship to be torn down, we were under pressure to get it done, quickly. I really wish I could have spent more time lighting and moving the camera. In hindsight, I would have built a smaller, more concealed set. I would change the alien to something more reptilian. There's a lot that could be different and better.

porfle: TERRARIUM had its premiere in a movie theater in Las Vegas. Can you tell us what this was like? Did you get the audience reaction you were hoping for?

MIKE: The audience reaction was good. Of course, it was louder and bigger in a theater. There are a lot of atmospheric sounds that really come off well, in a surround environment like that. When you get a crowd of 200 people together, they tend to feed off of each other. When the monster tried to grab Leonard through the half open door, everyone jumped! They were even jumping at little scenes, like some of the false scares with the captain.

porfle: How did you manage to get a deal with Lion's Gate to release TERRARIUM, and what led to the changes that were made in it before its DVD release, including the title change to WAR OF THE PLANETS?

MIKE: The main changes were urged by a different distributor, Silver Nitrate. Their representative wanted something happening on the planet, right away. That's when I contacted FX man, David Rosler, about adding a spaceship crash. The poor guy only had a couple of weeks to pull off about 20 FX shots. Then, the rep from Silver Nitrate switched jobs to another company and they didn't end up buying it.

I listened to a lot of suggestions and ended up cutting some key character scenes, as you saw in the TERRARIUM version. The whole backstory with the captain's wife, daughter and drinking problem was cut, as was most of the main character introductions in the longer press conference. I think you'll agree that substituting FX for those story scenes really hurts the narrative of the movie. The people who are watching the WAR OF THE PLANETS version are looking at some rushed FX and not getting the story that TERRARIUM viewers better responded to.

Anyway, my producer's rep, Darlene Cypser, sold TERRARIUM to Mainline/Lightning Ent. The people at Mainline had a brainstorm to change the title to WAR OF THE PLANETS, since the Steven Spielberg movie, WAR OF THE WORLDS was coming out. Once the movie had that title, Lionsgate bought it from Mainline/Lightning.

porfle: Some extra special effects were added to the film free of charge by veterans of STAR TREK:VOYAGER and BABYLON 5. How did this come about?

MIKE: Chuck Carter and Bart Anderson were in the audience, at the theatrical premiere. They got a hold of another artist, PJ Foley and invited me to lunch. They did 7 shots, including the moons over the ship shot, when the astronauts finally come out.

porfle: All in all, did you accomplish what you set out to do in the making of TERRARIUM?

MIKE: Yes and no. I think it's good that people don't realize that it's a dubbed movie. The sound editing was a success, even if it made the actors seem more cardboard. As I stated, there were things that should have been better, but I did finish a 16mm sci-fi feature. Good or bad, I'm grateful for the amazing exposure that it got. Like anything at this stage of my career, it was a learning experience.

Thanks to Mike Conway for giving us the inside scoop on the making of TERRARIUM (aka WAR OF THE PLANETS). Stay tuned for part two, which will cover the making of Mike's action-packed follow-up, THE AWAKENING.


Buy "War of the Planets" at Amazon.com
"Terrarium" official website
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THE AWAKENING -- DVD review by porfle



(This review was originally posted at Bumscorner.com  in April, 2006.)

 Some people have cookouts in their backyards. Mike Conway makes movies in his.

The wrecked spaceship in his previous film, WAR OF THE PLANETS (aka TERRARIUM) was literally constructed and shot in his backyard. And for his latest effort, THE AWAKENING (2005), he used his garage as a soundstage for several of the sets. This sort of below-low-budget filmmaking can be very interesting if done by someone with a good imagination and a passion for making movies--both of which Mike Conway apparently has--and if you can get past the fact that the production values are on about the same level as an episode of "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger."

THE AWAKENING is the story of David Andrade (Conway, who also directed, edited, scored, and co-wrote the film along with Kelly Johnston and Erik Manion), a research scientist working on a top-secret government project involving the use of radiation to genetically improve the human body. When his wife Lara is diagnosed with terminal cancer, David sneaks her past the military security where he works, hooks her up to an experimental machine, and zaps her with radiation. Presto!--her cancer's cured overnight. But as time goes by, unexpected side-effects begin to develop, and Lara eventually becomes Supergirl. Well, not exactly, since her aggression, hostility, and penchant for violence have increased along with her physical abilities. So, "Super Bitch" would be more like it. (But don't call her that, or you're really in for it.) She even designs her own costume, Peter Parker-style, complete with black cape and thigh-high dominatrix boots, and goes out looking for excuses to kill people.

This, unfortunately, includes her husband David, since the big killjoy actually liked her better the other way and has been trying to find a means of reverting her back to normal. So Lara invades the research facility looking for him and starts throwing Marines around. When she finds David in his lab, he springs a trap that knocks her unconscious and prepares to reverse the super-power process.


Around this point in the movie, I'd already seen just about all the shots that were used in the trailer, and figured the story must be about played out by now. Which would've made it "ehh, pretty good", but nothing to get excited about. So I checked the running time to see how many single-digit minutes were left, and was startled to find that the movie was only half over. Hmm...what could possibly happen next...?

To my increasingly pleasant surprise, THE AWAKENING was just getting started. It seems the powers-that-be behind "Project Gladiator" are using David's research to aid in their quest to create super soldiers, and the last thing they want is for anything bad to happen to the first successful test subject. So while the Marines are trying to take her out, project director Michelle Richards (the striking, 6'4"-in-heels Heather Guzzetta) and her delightfully unlikable toady, Major Craig Konrad (Keith Ford) have called in a bunch of black-ops guys to take out the Marines and retrieve the "cargo." Naturally, this doesn't sit well with the gung-ho, old school Marine Captain Harris (Timothy S. Daley) in charge of security, so he enlists the aid of his trusted cohort Sgt. Benson (Clay Finan) and David Andrade to put some serious hurt on the black-ops guys and throw a monkey wrench into Project Gladiator.

I don't want to give any more of the plot away because it's too much fun to find out for yourself what happens next. But there's lots of shooting, explosions, gory death scenes, and outrageous situations, and it's all a lot more fun than any movie this low-budget has a right to be. I was constantly amazed at the inventiveness Mike Conway and his crew displayed in pulling off scenes that were visually stunning despite the cheap-looking special effects (while also making good use of desert locations around Las Vegas).

When Lara approaches an SUV on the highway after the driver stops to render assistance, I expected her to turn it over or something. Instead, she throws it, and then watches its downward progress with a smirk until we hear an off-camera crash. Later, she backhands the top of a soldier's head off, and the body staggers to the floor as the still-living head watches it. Sheesh--sure it looks fake, but by this point I didn't even care anymore.


The cast does a nice job as well. Most of them aren't really that great as actors, but they manage to make their characters interesting anyway. Tamra Ericson Frame starts out sorta "blah" as Lara, then gets better and better as she has more fun playing the over-the-top aspects of her character. Timothy S. Daley (one of several veterans of WAR OF THE PLANETS who show up here) makes a great no-nonsense Marine. Heather Guzzetta is a towering presence--literally--and is convincingly sinister. And Mike Conway, who will probably never win a "Best Actor" Oscar, does pretty well as David Andrade--his somewhat bland character anchors the rest of the movie.

The DVD features a making-of documentary called GUNS, GIRLS, AND CLONES (now there's a great movie title right there) that lets us see how a film like this is made on such a shoestring budget. It includes bloopers, cast and crew comments, and lots of behind-the-scenes footage that is especially interesting when showing us how some of the special effects were accomplished (a shot of Lara ripping a guy in half was inspired by the fact that their only stunt dummy broke in two during a take!) There's some digital wizardry that I didn't expect, mainly used to convincingly replicate the limited number of extras--in fact, there's a scene where two cops confront Lara, and the same actor plays both of them. We also get to see Conway and his cast and crew having a really good time making this movie.

To tell you the truth, WAR OF THE PLANETS wasn't all that exciting, so I really didn't expect a lot from its follow-up--which is what made it such a hoot to watch when it turned out as good as it did. I've seen plenty of gazillion-dollar movies that were boring. THE AWAKENING may have been partially filmed in a garage, but it isn't boring!


Read our interview with Mike Conway:
Part One
Part Two

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

YELLOWSTONE: BATTLE FOR LIFE -- DVD review by porfle


I always thought of Yellowstone National Park as just this nice, pretty park with a big geyser. And also the place where Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo live (sorta). But now I feel almost like Ash in ALIEN when he says, in awe of the strange planet: "It's almost primordial." And as presented in this DVD for the impeccably-made "BBC Earth" documentary series YELLOWSTONE: BATTLE FOR LIFE (2009), it's also fascinating, beautiful, and utterly awe-inspiring.

I never realized there were so many interesting things to know about Yellowstone, the world's first national park. "Perhaps the most treasured wilderness in the world" as the dulcet-voiced narrator Peter Firth tells us, "a hard, cold plateau 8,000 feet up, surrounded by the spires of the Rocky Mountains." This 50-mile-wide bowl rests over a vast underground volcanic chamber--which could erupt again at any time--which causes geysers such as Old Faithful to spew thousands of gallons of boiling water up to 150 feet in the air. This underground furnace also reacts in interesting and unpredictable ways with the often frigid temperatures on the surface.

The first episode in the series is entitled "Winter", and what a winter it is--at forty degrees below zero and beyond, with four feet of snow covering the ground and the lakes and streams frozen over, survival for most of the wildlife is a constant struggle. Packs of Druid wolves stalk the elk, great bald eagles battle each other over carcasses, and massive bison use their thick necks to sweep the snow aside as they search for grass to eat.

With "Summer" comes a brief respite from the cold which heralds the return of the pronghorn antelope, who evolved in order to outrun a now-extinct North American cheetah (becoming the fastest antelope on earth), and the emergence of the grizzly bears and their cubs from a long hibernation. A variety of birds from as far away as the Arctic and Mexico come to feed. Teeming with life, Yellowstone is, for a short time, a lush paradise of incredible beauty.


"Autumn", the shortest season, brings the end of the easy life and the beginning of a frantic dash to store food for the coming winter and the need to breed. Like scenes out of THE LOST WORLD, we witness life-or-death battles between male elk, bison, and Bighorn rams for dominance over the pack and the right to procreate. Elsewhere, a mother grizzly fends off a male to protect her cubs in a furious clash of claws and teeth.

And just as compelling in its own way is the industrious beaver, cutting down whole trees with its teeth and engineering dams and canals with admirable skill. You may even find yourself deeply involved in the symbiotic relationship between the Clark's Nutcracker and the whitebirch pine. These are but a few of the compelling creatures who are shown going about their daily routines in the continuing struggle to survive.

We see all of this through some of the most gorgeous photography imaginable, which captures the breathtaking grandeur of Yellowstone and follows the lives and activities of its inhabitants in intimate detail. In scene after scene, an almost otherworldly beauty is depicted in painterly images that no special effects could surpass. Combined with a rich and emotionally powerful musical score, the result is almost intoxicating.

The DVD from BBC Warner is 16 x 9 with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo and English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired. Image and sound quality are very good. Bonus features consist of three featurettes entitled "The People of Yellowstone", which tell the stories of some dedicated geyser gazers, a man whose job is to shovel snow off the roofs of Yellowstone's buildings in winter to keep them from caving in, and a human fish whose love affair with the Yellowstone River reminded me of the character in "B.C." who always had his head underwater.

Naturally, this isn't the sort of DVD you'll want to pop in for a houseful of rowdy drunk guys after the Super Bowl. But whenever you're in the mood to drift away with something that's engrossing, educational, and utterly enchanting--after the guys have all gone home, of course--then YELLOWSTONE: BATTLE FOR LIFE will take you there in style.

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Just Announced - THE BEST OF STAR TREK: TOS, TNG Vol. 2 on DVD November 17 from CBS and Paramount Home Entertainment

EXPERIENCE MORE OF THE CULTURAL PHENOMENON


THE BEST OF STAR TREK®: THE ORIGINAL SERIES and THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION® VOLUME 2


More Sensational Episodes Arrive On Two DVD Collections November 17 From CBS Home Entertainment And Paramount Home Entertainment

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (October, 26 2009) - Go deeper into the world of one of the greatest action-adventure sagas of all-time with THE BEST OF STAR TREK®: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, VOL. 2 and THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION®, VOL. 2 landing on DVD November 17 from CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment.

The original and iconic series set in the 23rd century where Earth has survived World War III and humans have moved on to explore the stars, STAR TREK®: THE ORIGINAL SERIES explores many strange worlds and new civilizations with the fantastic adventures of Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and the Starship Enterprise crewmembers. THE BEST OF STAR TREK®: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, VOL. 2 features four of the series' most memorable episodes including Where No Man Has Gone Before, the series' second pilot episode where audiences meet Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Scotty (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei); Journey to Babel, that introduces Spock's parents, Sarek and Amanda; Space Seed; and A Piece of the Action. Digitally remastered with brilliant picture quality and enhanced special effects, THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, VOL. 2 serves as a perfect way to further explore the epic and legendary world of Star Trek®.

The only syndicated series to ever receive an Emmy® nomination for Best Dramatic Series, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION®is hailed as "one of the greatest television shows of all time" by TV Guide. The long-awaited successor to the original series is set in the 24th century and follows the all-new Enterprise crew under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Commander William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) as they travel to distant planets to seek out new life forms and boldly go where no man has gone before.

THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION®, VOL. 2 features episodes including Relics, starring original series cast member James Doohan reprising his role as Montgomery Scott; The Inner Light, one of the official Star Trek website's highest-rated episodes of all the Star Trek® series; Cause and Effect, guest starring Kelsey Grammer; and Tapestry, which delves into Picard's back story and lays all his secrets bare.

Affordably priced for new and loyal fans, both DVD setswill each be available for the suggested retail price of $14.99 U.S. and $15.99 CAN.


THE BEST OF STAR TREK®: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, VOL. 2 and THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION®, VOL. 2 are each one-disc DVDs presented in Full Screen with English 5.1, LAS Mono and Brazilian Portuguese Mono as well as English, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese subtitles. Both DVDs are Not Rated in the U.S. In Canada, THE BEST OF STAR TREK®: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, VOL. 2 is rated G, while THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION®, VOL. 2 is rated PG. THE BEST OF STAR TREK®: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, VOL. 2 has a total running time of 3 Hrs. and 21 Min and THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION®, VOL. 2 has a total running time 3 Hrs. and 01 Min.

The DVD disc breakdowns are as follows:

THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, VOL. 2

Where No Man Has Gone Before - After the Enterprise attempts to cross an energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy, crewmembers develop "godlike" psychic powers.

Space Seed - The Enterprise discovers an ancient sleeper ship, led by war criminal Khan Noonien Singh, who attempts to commandeer the Enterprise.

A Piece of the Action - The Enterprise visits a planet with an Earth-like, violent, 1920s gangster culture.

Journey to Babel - While transporting dignitaries to an important peace conference, the Enterprise crew discovers an assassin.

THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, VOL. 2

Relics - The Enterprise investigates a vessel that crashed on the surface of a Dyson Sphere 75 years ago. An away team discovers Scotty who has been kept alive within a transporter diagnostic loop.

The Inner Light - A space probe creates a telepathic tether and causes Picard to experience a lifetime as a married man on a world long destroyed.

Cause and Effect - The Enterprise becomes stuck in a causality loop, each time ending in a crash with another Starfleet ship, and it's up to Data to savethem.

Tapestry - An accident gravely injures Picard and he awakens in a white limbo to find Q, who takes him back to a turning point in his past.


THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, VOL. 2
Street Date: November 17, 2009
Pricing: $14.99 US/ $15.99 CAN
Catalog #: 075634
Runtime: 3 Hrs., 21 Min.
U.S. Rating: Not Rated
Canadian Rating: G
Buy it at Amazon.com

THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, VOL.2
Street Date: November 17, 2009
Pricing: $14.99 US/ $15.99 CAN
Catalog #: 075644
Runtime: 3 Hrs., 1 Min.
U.S. Rating: Not Rated
Canadian Rating: PG
Buy it at Amazon.com
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"SMOKIN' ACES 2: ASSASSINS' BALL" From Universal Home Entertainment 1/19/2010


THE DIRECTOR OF SMOKIN’ ACES AND NARC PRESENTS:

A New Target and More Murder, Mayhem & EXPLOSIVE ACTION than Ever…

Own The Unrated and rated versions of the movie Exclusively on Blu-Ray™ Hi-Def, DVD & digital download from Universal Studios Home Entertainment January 19th, 2010


Universal City, California, October 27, 2009 –Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball, the all-new movie about the adrenaline-pumping world of blood, bullets and badasses, is blasting its way onto Blu-ray™ Hi-Def, DVD and digital download January 19, 2010. Executive produced by Joe Carnahan (Narc), the writer-director behind the shockingly edgy hit Smokin’ Aces, and directed by P.J. Pesce (Lost Boys: The Tribe), Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball features a sexy cast, whip-smart script and hyper-kinetic visuals. And, with the return of infamous assassins Lazlo Soot and the Tremor Brothers from the original theatrical film, audiences will experience a furious frenzy of explosive action that will keep them guessing until the very last scene. Both the Blu-ray™ and DVD editions include the rated and unrated versions of the movie and an arsenal of explosive bonus features.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents a Working Title Production of Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball, starring Tom Berenger (Training Day), Clayne Crawford (Brooklyn to Manhattan), Martha Higareda (Street Kings), Ernie Hudson (“Heroes”), Michael Parks (Grindhouse), Autumn Reeser (“Entourage”) and Vinnie Jones (X-Men: The Last Stand, Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels), as well as returning stars from the original theatrical release Tommy Flanagan (Sin City), Maury Sterling (Smokin’ Aces) and Christopher Michael Holley (Smokin’ Aces).

The latest in Universal’s DVD Originals™ series, Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball lives up to its predecessor with an all-star group of assassins, vicious sociopaths and other murderous freelancers who battle to bring down a single, high-priced target. The Universal DVD OriginalsTM line of high-quality, aggressively marketed features has included some of the most successful, live-action, non-family made-for-DVD titles of all time including Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, Bring It On: All Or Nothing, American Pie Presents Band Camp, American Pie Presents The Naked Mile and Bring It On Again.

BONUS FEATURES EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY HI-DEF:

· BD-LIVETM – Fans can access exclusive online and interactive features through their Internet-connected Blu-rayTM player, including:
· MY SCENES SHARING – Show your BD-LiveTM friends your favorite scenes from the film.

BONUS FEATURES AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY HI-DEF AND DVD:

· Deleted Scenes
· Gag Reel
· Behind the Scenes with Joe Carnahan: Executive producer Joe Carnahan, producer Mike Elliott, writers Olatunde Osunsanmi and Olumide Odebunmi and director P.J. Pesce talk about the process of jumping back into the world of Smokin’ Aces.
· CONFESSIONS OF AN ASSASSIN: director P.J. Pesce and the stars of the movie take us through production, from the ground, amidst the mayhem, blood, guts, bullets and all.
· Ready, Aim, Fire: the weapons of smokin’ aces 2: Meet the armorer who equipped the gang with the over 20 guns in the film.
· CUE THE CLOWN: A behind the scenes look at what it took to produce one of the most explosive stunts in the movie.
· The Bunker Mentality: designing the set: Production designer Chris August, along with director P.J. Pesce and executive producer Joe Carnahan discuss the Art Deco look and feel of the sets as well as the little details that gave them the freedom them to shoot quickly and in every direction.
· Feature Commentary with executive producer Joe Carnahan and director P.J. Pesce

SYNOPSIS

Federal agents once again match wits with a cadre of creative killers in the high-octane feature-length film Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball. Walter Weed (Tom Berenger) is an unassuming desk jockey at the FBI when the Bureau uncovers a plot to assassinate him. A team of degenerate, psychotic assassins dispatched by mystery man Hal Leuco to win a huge bounty includes a resourceful beauty who has a unique method of killing her prey (Martha Higareda), a power-tool wielding psychopath (Vinnie Jones) and a deadly master of disguise (Tommy Flanagan). Also in the hunt is the fan-favorite Tremor family from the original film, featuring nymphomaniacal gun-nut (Autumn Reeser) and her lethal kinfolk (Maury Sterling, Michael Parks and C. Ernst Harth). Baker (Clayne Crawford), the agent in charge of the operation, puts himself and his team in the line of fire to defend Weed, but it’s not until the smoke clears on the film’s explosive climax that the surprising identity of the plot’s mastermind is revealed.

www.smokinacesdvd.com

CAST AND FILMMAKERS

Cast: Tom Berenger, Clayne Crawford, Tommy Flanagan, Maury Sterling, Martha Higareda, Christopher Michael Holley, Ernie Hudson, Michael Parks, Autumn Reeser, and Vinnie Jones
Directed By: P.J. Pesce
Screenplay By: Olatunde Osunsanmi & Olumide Odebunmi and Tom Abrams, P.J. Pesce
Story By: Olatunde Osunsanmi & Olumide Odebunmi & Joe Carnahan
Based on Characters Created by: Joe Carnahan
Produced By: Mike Elliott
Executive Producer: Joe Carnahan
Casting By: Nancy Nayor Battino CSA, Sean Cossey CSA, and Stuart Aikins CSA
Director of Photography: David Geddes
Production Designer: Chris August
Edited By: Angela M. Catanzaro
Costume Designer: Kerry Weinrauch
Music By: Tim Jones

TECHNICAL INFORMATION --Blu-rayTM Hi-Def
Street Date: January 19, 2010
Copyright: 2010 Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Selection Number: 63112382
Running Time: 1 Hour 26 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 1.78:1
Rating: R for bloody violence and language
Technical Info: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish and French DTS Surround 5.1; English SDH, Spanish and French Subtitles

TECHNICAL INFORMATION--Single Disc DVD
Street Date: January 19, 2010
Copyright: 2010 Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Selection Number: 63104821
Running time: 1 Hour 28 Minutes
Layers: Dual Layers
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Rating: R for bloody violence and language
Technical Info: English, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1; English SDH, Spanish and French Subtitles
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Kick or Treat! Have a JET LI Halloween!

Like most people, you've thought of dressing up as martial-arts superstar Jet Li for Halloween. But do you know enough of his legendary moves to successfully pull off such an impersonation without looking like a doofus? Are you able to lay waste to everyone else at the costume party without breaking a sweat, using only a few well-placed chops and kicks? And look really cool doing it?

If not, have no fear. All you need in order to learn how to be the very best butt-kicking Jet Li impersonator that you can be (while enjoying some of the greatest action flicks of all time) is to check out the following thrill-packed DVDs from Dragon Dynasty. Watch and learn!


THE ENFORCER
Special Collector's Edition

Martial arts legend Jet Li explodes off the screen in this high-octane, bone-crushing hit. Li is at his lightning-quick best, starring as an undercover detective embedded with a ruthless gang. When another cop (Anita Mui, Rumble in the Bronx) accidentally blows his cover, the only way to protect his family is to take on the gang’s psychopathic leader head-to-head. Featuring an astonishing kung fu performance from the fiery Tse Mui (New Legend of Shaolin) as Li’s young son and groundbreaking fight scenes from acclaimed director/action choreographer Corey Yuen (The Transporter), The Enforcer is a "slam bang, balls-out action film" (DVDCult.com).

SPECIAL FEATURES
FEATURE COMMENTARY BY HONG KONG CINEMA EXPERT BEY LOGAN
CROWD PLEASER: An Exclusive Interview With Legendary Producer Wong Jing
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: An Exclusive Interview With Star & Former Child Prodigy Tse Miu
BORN TO BE BAD: An Exclusive Interview With Super Kicking Nemesis Ken Lo
Buy it at Amazon.com


FIST OF LEGEND
Two Disc Ultimate Edition

Widely regarded as the greatest film of two legendary careers, Fist of Legend teams superstar Jet Li with martial arts choreographer Yuen Wo-ping (The Matrix) for "some of the best fight sequences you will ever see" (Dan Mitchell, IGN Movies). In this tribute to Bruce Lee's classic The Chinese Connection (aka Fists of Fury), Li radiates sheer power and coolness as a kung fu phenom living abroad who returns home to avenge the death of his master and save his martial arts school. Shifting effortlessly among diverse fighting styles, Li even fights blindfolded and wields his belt as a deadly weapon. Fist of Legend is essential viewing for any Jet Li fan and "the promised land for kung fu cinema" (HongKongCinema.com).

SPECIAL FEATURES
DISC 1
Feature Length Commentary by Hong Kong Cinema expert Bey Logan

DISC 2
The Man Behind The Legend - An Exclusive Interview With Director Gordon Chan
Brothers In Arms - An Exclusive Interview With Kung Fu Impresario Chin Siu-ho
The Way Of The Warrior
An Exclusive Interview With Japanese Action Legend Kurata Yasuaki
The School Of Hard Knocks - A Screen Fighting Seminar At The Celebrated Kurata Action School
A Hollywood Look At Fist Of Legend With Director Brett Ratner & Critic Elvis Mitchell
Deleted Scenes
Trailer Gallery
Buy it at Amazon.com


TAI CHI MASTER
Special Collectors Edition

Superstar Jet Li shows off his legendary speed, power, and agility at the peak of his martial arts prowess in this sweeping action epic. In an age of swordsmen and rebellion, two best friends and fellow martial arts students are expelled from the storied temple of Shaolin, only to meet again on the battlefield -- one a power-hungry general, the other a freedom-fighting rebel, both mortal enemies. Featuring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Michelle Yeoh and directed by the celebrated Yuen Wo-ping (action choreographer of The Matrix films), Tai Chi Master is a quintessential martial arts classic.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Feature Length Commentary By Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
Nemesis: An Exclusive Interview With Star Chin Siu Ho
The Birthplace of Tai Chi: On Location In Chen Village
Meditations On The Master: Director Brett Ratner And Critic Elvis Mitchell On Director Yuen Wo-ping
Twin Warriors: Critic Elvis Mitchell And Director Brett Ratner On Stars Jet Li And Michelle Yeoh
Original Home Video Trailer
Buy it at Amazon.com


THE LEGEND OF FONG SAI-YUK
Special Collector's Edition

Jet Li stars as a carefree young martial arts expert who gets involved with a government official’s daughter just as he discovers his family is part of a rebel resistance movement. While his fighting ability and charm made him a local champion, his epic battle for freedom would make him alegendary hero. Acclaimed choreographer Corey Yuen (The Transporter) directs Li at his jaw-dropping best, including an unbelievable sequence fought entirely atop the heads of stunned onlookers. Winner of Best Action Choreography at the Hong Kong Film Awards, The Legend ranks "waaaaay up there on the list of great Hong Kong Cinema experiences" (LoveHKFilm.com).

SPECIAL FEATURES
FEATURE COMMENTARY BY HONG KONG CINEMA EXPERT BEY LOGAN
HIT HARD & FLY HIGH: An Exclusive Interview With Director & Legendary Hollywood Fight Choreographer Corey Yuen
THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD:
An Exclusive Interview With Writer Jeff Lau
Languages: Cantonese Mono, English Dolby 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish, English SDH
Buy it at Amazon.com

For more up-to-date info, visit Dragon Dynasty's website or check out their pages at:
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Monday, October 26, 2009

ATTRACTION -- DVD review by porfle


attraction aka nerosubianco aka black on white (1969) is a story told in images and sounds about a woman wandering through her life unsatisfied, not knowing what she wants, she seems to be experiencing a sexual awakening, a growing awareness that's beginning to dawn on her as she observes the changing world around her, a new way of thinking and behaving that she's drawn to but afraid to embrace

stream of consciousness images in the park, on a city street, her mental musings merging with ambient voices and snippets of radio ads that are mostly sexual in nature, ads about sex aids and orgasms

freestyle editing of a cascade of images, a constant wave of visual impressions

a musical group seems to appear wherever she goes and sings about what she's seeing and feeling as she drifts through one montage of images and sounds after another

a handsome, mysterious young black man begins to fascinate her and she fantasizes about him, we see snippets of her fantasies, as he follows her, his civilized fascade, the wild man she imagines him to be chasing her naked through the forest

naked people boldly romp in public, and she imagines herself naked, shedding inhibitions

she ducks into a beauty salon and imagines the customers as cows, and her emotionless lover calling a doctor to treat her nonresponsiveness, and the doctor becomes the black man

she relaxes on a ferry and observes the lives of people in peephole-vision through their windows, surreal images that seem to be only in her mind, she smiles

she recalls watching television with her husband and he becomes so unresponsive as to grow as stiff and malleable as a doll

the boat ride becomes a heady experience as she drifts through fantasies of mechanical lovemaking with her lover becoming indistinguishable with repetitive fitness exercises while a woman's voice speaks of whether or not it's a sin to have orgasms while doing chin-ups, she pictures herself naked in a steamy spa that's like the misty recesses of her subconscious

she runs outside into the rain and the black man is there with an umbrella, she sees her lover at the door and shoots him with a toy gun, her lips and the black man's lips almost touch over the lover's body

she goes to a seaside amusement park and takes a ride through the love tunnel, but instead of fanciful things she sees real people with painted faces behaving impulsively, and the black man keeps appearing over and over, all very symbolic innit

her lover appears as a glowering priest and sternly announces that all prohibited scenes of nudity and lovemaking will now be replaced by acceptable scenes of violence and war, racial injustice and horror, and sure enough we're bombarded by a visual assault of shocking images that are like a splash of cold water in the face

she finds herself at an anti-war rally and the black man is there too, at the dawning of her political awareness--"now you see the people in another light, and it plays upon your brain" the singer sings

a wonderfully comic moment at a photo booth devolves into a clockwork orange-like nightmare, the woman begins to be overcome by her irrational fears as she is overwhelmed by the ugliness of the world around her

finally she returns to the park where it all started--will she take the next step? bite the apple? does she really even want to?

suddenly it occurs to me that i've pretty much described the entire movie scene by scene, suffice it to say that attraction is about a repressed and unfulfilled woman trying to find herself during a weird day filled with new experiences and sensations

attraction (originally released in the usa as a heavily-edited softcore sex flick retitled "the artful penetration of barbara") smashes 60s taboos all over the place and remains a fascinating and wildly experimental film experience from start to finish, with camerawork and editing and a sensibility not unlike that of the monkees' "head" except there's an actual story and it definitely isn't a comedy or as clumsily pretentious as this review

i like the actress (anita sanders) who plays the woman because she's beautiful and serenely expressive, while terry carter (the black man), needless to say has a million likability points already from being in stuff like "mccloud" with dennis weaver and the original "battlestar galactica"

each phase of the film is like a free-form late 60s acid-rock music video by freedom, a group consisting of the remnants of procol harum, and these guys are awesome

i want the soundtrack to this movie until i realize that the dvd itself is pretty much the soundtrack to this movie

i notice that this "cult epics" dvd release is an italy/uk co-production in 1.85:1 widescreen with dolby digital 2.0 sound, taken from film promoter radley metzger's rare 16mm print, and the dvd also features a lobby card gallery and trailers

i feel that attraction is, as they say "a trip", a cinematic carnival ride, an extended peek into a woman's psyche as she in turn observes us, a vivid waking dream by a wildly imaginative filmmaker (tinto brass), and i wouldn't be surprised if roger waters has seen it on acid at some point in his life and it blew his mind.

buy it at amazon.com
buy it at hk flix
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GENESIS II -- DVD review by porfle



Talk about a trip down memory lane...I don't think I've seen GENESIS II since it first aired way back in 1973. In those days we Trekkers went coo-coo whenever anything Gene Roddenberry-related was shown. After all, the original "Star Trek" was it--there were no movies, no spin-offs, no new episodes, nothing like the Trek glut that would come later. So the occasional failed pilot film from the Great Bird of the Galaxy would be aired, and we in our fervent Trek-fueled deliriums would wail: "Why? Why won't those idiots at the networks pick these up and make TV shows out of them? Why won't they ever learn?" Now, however, after a decades-long cooling off period and with considerably more hindsight, I can watch a Roddenberry pilot film like this and think, "Oh...so that's why."

Not to say, however, that watching GENESIS II isn't lots of fun in a nostalgic sort of way, because it is. For those of you who have never seen it--and who probably think it's the sequel to some movie called GENESIS--it's about a scientist (one of those handsome, action-guy scientists with a cool moustache, that is--not the boring, real kind) named Dylan Hunt (Alex Cord) who offers himself as the guinea pig in his own experiment in suspended animation which, if successful, will someday allow humans to travel great distances in space. But something goes wrong, and Hunt's pressurized chamber deep within Carlsbad Caverns gets buried during an earthquake. Dylan Hunt's experiment is a success, all right--he sleeps for 154 years, until he's discovered by people from the future.

They're a boring bunch, these members of the Pax group--a collection of pacifist, unisex intellectuals dedicated to restoring culture and civilization to a world ravaged by nuclear war. All, that is, except for the alluring and exciting Lyra-a (Mariette Hartley at her most alluring and exciting), who nurses Hunt back to health and then informs him that Pax is really an evil organization out to subjugate the weak and take over the world. She helps him escape Pax's Carlsbad Caverns headquarters and takes him via underground shuttle to her own city that's populated by genetically-superior mutants.

Yes, Lyra-a is half-mutant (Roddenberry always liked having a character who was half-something), meaning that she has two hearts and thus two navels. My main memory of GENESIS II from my younger days is Mariette Hartley casually stripping down to her undies to reveal her double navelage to Hunt (which was Roddenberry's revenge for not being allowed to show navels on "Star Trek") and announcing, "I'm a mutant." Hey, I was going through puberty--that sort of thing tended to stick in my mind.

Lyra-a's city bears a striking resemblance to the University of California campus (because the movie was filmed there) and is filled with snooty chicks and perfectly-coiffed guys who look like dungeon masters in a gay S&M club. ("Star Trek" alumnus Bill Theiss must've been watching ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW when he designed their campy costumes.) These butch dudes are none too subtle--their preferred method of keeping slaves in line is a rod (known as a "stim" because it stimulates pleasure and pain nerve centers) that springs erect (hello!) when activated (yeah, baby!)

Anyway, Dylan discovers that Lyra-a's people, the Tyranians (tyrants--get it?) are really the bad guys after all, and, along with some wimpy-looking Pax commandos, passes out a bunch of stolen stims to the slaves (who, for some reason, all have mall-hair) and leads a revolt. In a thrilling action sequence, the revolting slaves run around tackling mutants and poking them with their stims. Fist-pump!

Poor Liam Dunn pops up as one of the sniveling slaves in one scene, looking as though Mr. Hilltop from YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN has taken a really wrong turn somewhere. As for these Pax characters whose adventures we were supposed to want to follow every week, they're rather unlikable and I didn't have the slightest desire to hang out with them. (I'd never say that about the crew of the Enterprise. Except for Chekov.) They don't even believe in having recreational sex, for Pete's sake. Oh, I'm sure that, given half a season or so, Dylan would've eventually warmed up the dormant libido of cute little Harper-Smythe (Lynne Marta) with his manly 20th-century charms.

Percy Rodriguez is okay as their leader, and naturally Majel Barrett gets shoehorned in as a council member. You'll also recognize familiar character actor Titos Vandis as another good guy. The only really cool Pax dude is the great Ted Cassidy as "Isiah", and he looks embarrassed in the goofy wig and toga he's forced to run around in. As for Alex Cord, I'd forgotten what a dull actor he was. Thank goodness Mariette Hartley is still as hot as I remembered--I felt a little envious of her chamber slaves.

The Carlsbad Caverns headquarters of Pax looks pretty neat but has kind of an Irwin Allen vibe, although that underground shuttle is just plain awesome. There are some nice exteriors, too. But most of the interior sets are drab, and so is the photography by Trek vet Jerry Finnerman. John Llewellyn Moxey's direction is similarly uninspired.

Kind of like Homer Simpson banging on his TV and shouting "BE MORE FUNNY!!!", I can remember watching this back in the 70s and trying to will it to be better. The concept seemed pretty good, or at least it seemed like a way to make vaguely "Star Trek"-type stories on Earth instead of in space. The different countries which had evolved into strange, unknown civilizations since the big war would be kind of like alien planets...the sleek sub-shuttle that spanned all the continents of the world was sort of like the Enterprise...the Pax organization was a little like Starfleet...the sleep-dart guns were similar to phasers.

That is, if you really, really used your imagination. But wouldn't it be nice if Gene Roddenberry had used his imagination, so we wouldn't have to? That is, instead of coming up with something that was not only a bland rehash of "Star Trek", but pretty much a rip-off of "Buck Rogers", too? BANG BANG BANG--BE MORE GOOD!!!

Deep down, I knew that no matter how much I banged on my TV set, GENESIS II wouldn't be anywhere near as good as "Star Trek" even if it ever did became a series, which I also knew wasn't gonna happen any more than either SPECTRE or QUESTOR were going to become a series. "Is this it?" I thought at the time. "Was 'Star Trek' the whole load? No more goodies from the Bird?"

To make things worse, the film ends with the Pax leaders forcing action-guy Dylan Hunt to promise that, from now on, he'll never hurt or kill anyone. Somewhere along the line, Gene Roddenberry got the idea that totally non-militaristic and non-violent heroes would be irresistible to the viewing public. He even tried to retroactively convince us, and Paramount, that "Star Trek" had always been this way and that the upcoming movies should reflect this wonderfully pacifistic attitude. I don't know about you, but a bunch of non-violent wimps running around not hurting the bad guys isn't exactly my idea of action-packed thrills. (Harve Bennett and Nick Meyer didn't think so, either.) Besides, Captain Kirk used to beat the hell out of any green, scaly sucka who looked at him wrong!

The DVD is part of the Warner Archives Collection, in which films that would normally languish in their vaults are dusted off and burned to disc sans restoration. This means that the (1.33:1) picture and (mono) sound quality are about on the level of a late-night viewing on your local TV station. But since your local TV station shows infomercials now instead of movies like this, these no-frills DVDs are a nice way to be able to see obscure titles.

As a one-shot TV-movie that we were never in any danger of revisiting every week anyway, this attempt by Gene Roddenberry to get another sci-fi series on the air is still a novel experience for the old-school Trek fan or the young Trek-curious, and it's better than the follow-up, PLANET EARTH, with John Saxon. Less forgiving viewers will be tempted to rip into it MST3K-style. And even if you have fond, hazy memories of GENESIS II, don't be surprised if it disappoints.

Buy it at Amazon.com

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