HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Friday, April 30, 2010

Just Announced: Titles Available This July From Vivendi Entertainment and RHI Entertainment

Return To Lonesome Dove Rides Onto DVD As A Two-Disc Set
July 6 And Tin Man Follows The Yellow Brick Road To Blu-Ray On July 20


RETURN TO LONESOME DOVE

Synopsis: Revisit the story that captured both the spirit of the Old West and the hearts of America in the continuing saga from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry. This gripping adventure follows three ex-Texas Rangers through riotous battles, deadly gunfights, soaring triumphs and shattered dreams.

Starring: Jon Voight (Deliverance), Barbara Hershey (Beaches), Reese Witherspoon (Walk The Line), Rick Schroder ("NYPD Blue"), and Louis Gossett, Jr. (An Officer And A Gentleman)


Price: $19.93
Order Due Date: June 1, 2010
Street Date: July 6, 2010
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 345
Catalog Number: RH01238
Language: English
Subtitles: English

Buy it at Amazon.com


TIN MAN BLU-RAY

Synopsis: In this cyber-twisted update of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a leather-clad, soul-sucking sorceress named Azkadellia has scorched the once-beautiful O.Z. into a desolate wasteland. Its only hope is with an "outsider" named DG, a young Midwestern woman, whose troubling dreams have summoned her to the doomed paradise. She not only changes the fate of the O.Z. but also discovers her own destiny in this strange new world.

Starring: Zooey Deschanel (500 Days Of Summer), Richard Dreyfuss (Mr. Holland's Opus), Neal McDonough ("Desperate Housewives"), Alan Cumming (X2), Raoul Trujillo (Apocalypto), Kathleen Robertson ("Beverly Hills, 90210); directed by Nick Willing ("Alice")

Price: $19.97
Order Due Date: June 15, 2010
Street Date: July 20, 2010
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 263
Catalog Number: RH02763
Language: English
Subtitles: English

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Naughty Bear Pre-Order Exclusive Slashes onto GameStop


AGOURA HILLS, Calif. - April 26, 2010 - 505 Games and Artificial Mind & Movement (A2M) today announced that gamers who pre-order Naughty Bear at GameStop will be awarded an exclusive Slasher Bear costume that can be used to terrify the elitist inhabitants of the Island of Perfection.

Slasher Bear features a fearsome goalie mask, intimidating jumpsuit and razor-sharp knife, all of which can be seen in the latest video for the upcoming comic mischief game.

Skulking up to store shelves this summer, Naughty Bear will bring terror to both Xbox 360™ and PlayStation®3 for an MSRP of $49.99.

To pre-order Naughty Bear via GameStop, please click here.


ABOUT NAUGHTY BEAR
Naughty Bear is an action video game featuring a unique blend of comic mischief and shamefully bad behavior. Players will take on the role of Naughty Bear, a bear driven to seek vengeance after the other bears don't invite him to the big birthday party. Scorned for the last time, Naughty Bear becomes hell bent on manipulating and terrorizing the blissful bears inhabiting the Island of Perfection. Featuring an array of weapons, objects and scare tactics, gamers strive to earn Naughty Points as they inflict physical and psychological harm on Naughty Bear's enemies. This all-new scare-based points system means players will win the most rewards for being deviant and maniacal. The variety allows for a completely new experience every time players pick up a controller and the ill-fated bears become more difficult to harass and terrorize as the game progresses.

For more information, please visit the official Web site at: http://www.naughtybearthegame.com/.
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FALLEN -- DVD review by porfle

There have been several movies about fallen angels over the years, and for me, the ABC Family miniseries FALLEN (2006-07) is better than most of them.

Paul Wesley (VAMPIRE DIARIES) plays Aaron Corbett, a typical high school kid who's on the wrestling team and has a really big crush on a pretty girl named Vilma (Fernanda Andrade). Though happy living with his foster parents Tom and Lori and their autistic son Stevie, Aaron wonders what his real parents were like. On his 18th birthday, he finds out--his father was a fallen angel (one of Lucifer's followers, banished from Heaven for rebelling against God) who married a human woman, and they gave birth to a being known as a "nephilim"--an abomination with the powers of an angel and the soul of a human.

Now that he's of age, Aaron's angelic side is manifesting itself in weird ways. He can talk to his dog Gabriel as well as other animals, he can speak any language, he can do some of the cool "amaze your schoolmates" stuff that Peter Parker did in the first half of SPIDERMAN, and, according to a bum named Zeke (Tom Skerritt) who claims to be one of the Fallen, Aaron just happens to be the Redeemer whose coming has been prophesied for centuries. As such, he has the power to "redeem" fallen angels who repent of their rebellious ways and send them back to Heaven. The downside is that now, he's the target of a group of really badass angels known as The Powers, whose job it is to track down both fallen angels and nephilim alike and kill them.


As if the usual growing pains weren't enough of a problem, this new wrinkle in Aaron's life proves quite an inconvenience during the three feature-length segments of FALLEN, which originally aired in 2006-07 in five parts. In order to keep his foster family out of danger, Aaron hits the road along with Camael (Rick Worthy), a former Power who believes the prophecy and is protecting Aaron. Together they seek out fallen angels so that Aaron can redeem them, with the help of Ariel (an appealing Ivana Milicevic, who played Le Chiffre's girlfriend in CASINO ROYALE), the leader of the Fallen underground.

But whenever Aaron uses his abilities, the Powers are able to pinpoint his location, which leads to a series of lively battle sequences. The best one--the high point of the whole movie, in my view--occurs early on at Aaron's rural family home when the dreaded Verchiel (Lisa Lackey, MULHOLLAND DRIVE) and her minions show up to take on Aaron and Camael. Lackey's sneeringly hostile performance as Verchiel is a real joy, and when she sprouts a pair of huge white wings and takes flight, it's just plain cool-looking. Armed with flaming swords that spring out of their hands like lightsabers, the winged opponents do aerial battle via some surprisingly above-average CGI. This scene is good enough to serve as the finale for most films, and is even better than the eventual showdown between Aaron and Lucifer in the last episode.


Another great character is Azazel (Hal Ozsan, "Dawson's Creek"), released from a 5,000-year captivity by Lucifer in order to befriend Aaron and lure him into the Dark One's clutches. Azazel ventures into the new world like a kid in a candy store, dressing up like Jim Morrison, hitting on every attractive female in sight, and gorging himself on his new obsession, french fries. With his motives and allegiances always in question, Azazel is one of the show's wild cards who help keep things interesting.

As the homeless Ezekiel, who first clues Aaron in on who he is and what's happening to him, Tom Skerritt provides a "big movie star" name to the cast while giving an oddly eccentric performance. Fernanda Andrade as "Vilma" provides the love interest for Aaron, although my initial fears that FALLEN would turn out to be TWILIGHT with angels instead of vampires proved totally unfounded. This is definitely not some gushy teen romantic fantasy.


All of this sounds like the set-up for an extended TV series--sort of an action-oriented update of "Highway to Heaven" or "Touched By an Angel"--but to my relief the story is resolved with enough finality to provide adequate closure while still leaving open the possibility of further episodes. With the Powers hot on their heels, Aaron, Camael, and company make their way toward their inevitable encounter with Lucifer (Bryan Cranston, "Malcolm in the Middle", "Seinfeld") in a mountaintop monastery. Their meeting may be a bit anti-climactic if you're expecting a really slam-bang finish, but it plays out well and offers a surprise or two. Directors Mikael Salomon and Kevin Kerslake handle it all with style and keep everything visually interesting, while David Williams contributes a robust, percussion-heavy musical score.


The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen and Dolby Digital stereo, with no subtitles. The sole extra is a trailer. "Fallen: The Complete Movie Event" (Parts 1-3) provides a total running time of 4 hours and 7 minutes, although the story is also available as two separate DVDs--"Fallen: The Beginning" (Parts 1 and 2), and "Fallen: Destiny" (Part 3).

FALLEN starts out a little iffy but just keeps getting better and better until it becomes very involving. I don't know how Biblically accurate it all is--I'm going to take a wild guess and say "not very"--but as an action-packed supernatural thriller it's a lot of far-out fun.


Buy it at Amazon.com:
Fallen: The Complete Movie Event (Parts 1-3) DVD
Fallen: The Beginning (Parts 1 and 2) DVD
Fallen: Destiny (Part 3) DVD
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Grindhouse Releasing Presents Duke Mitchell's GONE WITH THE POPE, Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD


Oscar-Winner Bob Murawski to Introduce Festival Screenings

LOS ANGELES - Grindhouse Releasing is proud to announce that Duke Mitchell's long-lost 1970s crime saga GONE WITH THE POPE will be shown on screens across the country following the film's successful world premiere in Hollywood.

A renowned nightclub entertainer, singer and movie actor known as "Mr. Palm Springs," Mitchell directs and stars in GONE WITH THE POPE as an ex-con who hatches a plan to kidnap the Pope in exchange for the ransom of "a dollar from every Catholic in the world." The movie has been described as "the holy grail for lovers of B-movies" and "a true gem from the American underground."

GONE WITH THE POPE was shot in 1975 but remained unfinished at the time of Duke Mitchell's death in 1981. The film reels sat in his son's garage until Grindhouse Releasing owners Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski offered to take a shot at piecing the movie together. Murawski took charge of the restoration and spent 15 years giving Mitchell's low-budget movie an A-list treatment in between editing Sam Raimi's SPIDER MAN 1, 2 & 3, DRAG ME TO HELL, and THE HURT LOCKER.

Murawski and wife/partner Chris Innis won Best Film Editing Oscars for their work on THE HURT LOCKER the same week that GONE WITH THE POPE premiered at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

"The audience response to the movie at the Hollywood premiere surpassed my wildest expectations," Murawski said. "The turnout was incredible, with the Egyptian Theatre filled to almost capacity. And the crowd was with the movie the entire time - laughing, gasping and cheering at all the appropriate places. The film ended to a thunderous applause that lasted a full minute. It was like a Cannes Film Festival screening. Or a rock concert. After 15 years of hard work finishing this movie, the feeling of accomplishment was tangible and profound. My only regret was that Duke himself was not with us to share it. However, I'm certain he was there in spirit. I feel we have done something truly special in finishing GONE WITH THE POPE, and am excited that audiences across the US and beyond will get a chance to experience the movie on the big screen in its upcoming theatrical tour."

The buzz from the film's debut caught the interest of Landmark Theatres, which has been working with Grindhouse on the revival of Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD. GONE WITH THE POPE is scheduled to open on Landmark screens in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Houston, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

Murawski will travel to Copenhagen to introduce GONE WITH THE POPE at the CPH PIX Film Festival this month. He will also attend a festival screening at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in May.

Meanwhile, Grindhouse Releasing reports success with its ongoing North American tour featuring Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD. The horror classic will screen April 3 at the Alamo Drafthouse in WInchester, Va., and April 10 at the Alamo Drafthouse Westlakes in San Antonio, Tx., on a triple bill with EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS.

"EVIL DEAD is a movie that will never die," said David Szulkin, head of theatrical bookings for Grindhouse Releasing. "Thanks to Landmark Theatres, the Alamo Drafthouse, and other exhibitors, we've been able to bring the movie back to the fans who love it. Recent screenings of EVIL DEAD at the Nu Art Theatre in Los Angeles, the Alamo in North Austin, and other venues were sold out completely. The movie will continue to play through the end of 2010."

For more information and updates, visit www.GrindhouseReleasing.com and www.GoneWithThePope.com. For press, stills, and bookings, e-mail David Szulkin at info@grindhousereleasing.com.

L.A. Weekly review of GONE WITH THE POPE by Karina Longworth

VARIETY coverage of GONE WITH THE POPE premiere by Carole Horst


GONE WITH THE POPE

May 6 - George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
May 10 - Doc Films, Chicago
May 21 & 22 - E Street Cinema, Washington, D.C.

June 4 & 5 - Sunshine Cinema, NYC
June 11 & 12 - Uptown Theatre, Minneapolis
June 18 & 19 Main Art Theatre, Detroit
June 25 & 26 River Oaks, Houston

July 2 & 3 Inwood Theatre, Dallas

EVIL DEAD

April 30 – May 1 – Music Box Theatre, Chicago

May 2 – 5 – Alamo Ritz, Austin, TX
May 14 – 15 – Hi-Pointe Theatre, St. Louis
May 21 – Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, MI
May 22 - Hudson Horror Show, Poughkeepsie, NY with PIECES and ZOMBIE
May 28-29 – Oaks Theater, Oakmont, PA

June 5 – Cedar Lee Theatre, Cleveland
June 12- 13 – Palace Theatre, Syracuse
June 12 – Ken Cinema, San Diego
June 19 – Ritz East, Philadelphia
June 25 – Art Theatre, Long Beach, CA

July 9-11 – Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA
July 24 – Circle Cinema, Tulsa, OK
July 31 – Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington, NY

August 21 – Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee

September 4 – The Screen, Santa Fe, NM
September 10 – 11 – MIDWAY DRIVE-IN, Dixon, Ill., with S.F. Brownrigg’s SCUM OF THE EARTH and more!

October 15 – Castro Theatre, San Francisco
October 29 – 30 – Main Art Theatre, Detroit

About Grindhouse Releasing:

Owned by actor/director Sage Stallone and Academy Award-winning film editor Bob Murawski, Grindhouse Releasing has restored such notorious exploitation-horror films as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CANNIBAL FEROX (a.k.a. MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY), Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND and CAT IN THE BRAIN, PIECES, and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. Renowned for its commitment to excellence, the company has been called the Criterion of cult movies (Film-Talk.com). In addition to its DVD releases, Grindhouse distributes its films in theaters. Grindhouse Releasing partnered with Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder to release THE BEYOND in theaters and in 2010 launched a nationwide re-release of Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD.
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Monday, April 26, 2010

GEISHA ASSASSIN -- DVD review by porfle

If you like plenty of furious swordfights and other assorted mayhem without a lot of story getting in the way, then GEISHA ASSASSIN, aka Geisha vs. ninja (2008), should keep you happy for awhile.

The film follows a simple path all the way to the end, with few variations or surprises. Mysterious geisha Kotomi (Minami Tsukui) wants revenge on samurai Katagiri Hyo-e (Shigeru Kanai) for killing her father. But to get to him, she must chop her way through a series of opponents who get harder to defeat as she goes along. In this way, the film reminded me of a videogame where the difficulty level keeps increasing till you reach the final challenge.

We get to see Kotomi in full geisha mode during a lovely title sequence, after which she begins to stalk a seemingly blase' Hyo-e at a secluded house in the country. He tells her to check back with him if she survives his gauntlet of bodyguards and disappears for the rest of the movie. Thus begins the episodic series of bloody encounters.

Nobody takes Kotomi seriously at first--their mistake--until she's sliced and diced her way across the rural countryside leaving sushified samurais and ninja nuggets in her wake. Meanwhile, we're teased with bits of Kotomi's backstory along the way--as a little girl, her samurai father insists on training her as a warrior while she practices to be a geisha behind his back--until finally the whole secret behind her quest for revenge is revealed.


Two things make all of this worth watching--Gô Ohara's stylish direction, some really nice low-budget cinematography, and the consistently entertaining fight scenes. Okay, three things. The film is deliberately paced and takes its time establishing the atmosphere and mood of each scene, displaying what appears to be a Sergio Leone influence in the lead-up to some of the swordfights, which are all well-staged.

Kotomi's clash with the Ainu woman (Kaori Sakai) begins with several long closeups of their determined faces as they square off in silence, gently pelted by a sudden rain shower. (Their bout degenerates into a cool bare-knuckle catfight.) The final face-off is a bit reminiscent of the final gunfights in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.

Some cartoonishly wacky wirework makes an appearance when Kotomi goes up against three ninjas who have the ability to swoop around like Peter Pan on pep pills. A ninja woman (Nao Nagasawa) then steps in for a rather elegant session that features some impressive sword-soccer. Next up is a 7" tall Lurch-like monk (Satoshi Hakuzen) who looks like he could swallow Kotomi in one gulp, in a one-sided fight that would stretch our credulity like taffy if the movie weren't already so over the top.


Best of all, however, is the appearance of a really weird old man (Shuji Korimoto) with the useful ability to turn into an army of grotesque demons who can remove their heads and launch them at our heroine like hairy bowling balls. This sequence is pretty spooky and is one of the film's many stylistic shifts which suit each phase of Kotomi's ordeal.

The DVD from Well Go USA, Inc. and Jolly Roger is in 2.35.1 widescreen with a Dolby 2.0 Japanese-language soundtrack and English subtitles. The original trailer is included.

Clocking in at a brisk 79 minutes, GEISHA ASSASSIN is filled with ultra-frenetic swordfights that are beautifully and very convincingly choreographed, with lots of long takes that demonstrate much skill and careful rehearsal on the part of the actors. Couple this with Gô Ohara's imaginative direction and pretty Minami Tsukui's energetic lead performance and you've got a fun little film that's short on substance but long on pleasing visuals and rousing action.

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Get Ready for THE CRAZIES -- coming to DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download June 29th from Anchor Bay Entertainment

WELCOME TO THE ALL-AMERICAN NIGHTMARE!

“Truly terrifying and suspenseful.” -- Ain’t It Cool News

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Something strange is happening in the picture-perfect Midwestern town of Ogden Marsh . One by one, the inhabitants are transforming into mindless killers…and no one is immune. On June 29th, Anchor Bay Entertainment will unleash The Crazies on DVD and Blu-ray™ (Pre-book May 27, 2010). A terrifying reinvention of the George A. Romero classic, the Overture Films release shocked audiences with its nightmarish vision of the American Dream gone horribly wrong, as a husband and wife find themselves battling for survival as their friends and family descend into homicidal madness. Directed by Breck Eisner (Sahara) and starring Timothy Olyphant (“Deadwood,” “Justified”), Radha Mitchell (Surrogates), Joe Anderson (Across The Universe) and Danielle Panabaker (Friday the 13th), The Crazies are ready to overtake America all over again! In addition, the film marks the first time an Anchor Bay Entertainment title will be available day-and-date for digital download via iTunes.

The Crazies DVD and Blu-ray™ features more than 90 minutes of bonus features, including several behind-the-scenes featurettes, storyboards, theatrical trailers, TV spots, and much, much more. Look carefully and you might even find an Easter Egg! SRP is $29.98 for the DVD and $39.98 for the Blu-ray™ edition, which also contains a bonus disc with a digital copy of the film. Among the featurettes are a tribute to the original film’s creator George Romero and an insider’s glimpse into the startling special makeup effects created by makeup wizard Robert Hall (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” Laid To Rest).

When a mysterious toxin accidentally enters the water supply, one by one the townspeople fall victim to an uncontrollable urge for sadistic violence and horrific bloodshed. In an attempt to contain the epidemic, the military steps in, using deadly force to close off access into and out of town, but also abandoning the few healthy citizens to the escalating carnage. For Sheriff Dutton (Olyphant), his pregnant wife Judy (Mitchell), medical assistant Becca (Panabaker) and deputy Russell ( Anderson ), Ogden Marsh is now a bloody arena bordered by wheat fields and farms. Unable to trust former neighbors and friends, targeted by the authorities and terrified of contracting the illness themselves, they are forced to band together, in a desperate attempt to escape both their murderous neighbors -- and their government captors.

Fangoria Magazine called The Crazies “A fast-moving, exciting thrill ride that builds to a flat-out apocalyptic conclusion,” while Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune declared it “a slick fearjerker.” BoxOffice Magazine said “This shocker will have horror fans jumping out of their seats,” while Marshall Fine from The Huffington Post bluntly warned the film “will scare the crap out of you.”

The Crazies standard definition DVD and Blu-ray™ exhaustively chronicles the film’s creation, including an audio commentary from director Eisner; the behind-the-scenes featurettes “Behind The Scenes with Director Breck Eisner,” Paranormal Pandemics, “The George A. Romero Template,” “Visual Effects in Motion,” and “Make-up Mastermind: Rob Hall in Action;” The Crazies Motion Comic Episodes 1 and 2; the teaser trailer and three theatrical trailers; ten TV spots; The Crazies Motion Comic Trailer; Storyboards: Building A Scene; and a Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery.

THE CRAZIES DVD
Street Date: June 29th, 2010
Pre-book: May 27th, 2010
Cat. #: OV21395
UPC: 0 1313 21395-9 3
Run Time: 101 min
Rating: R
SRP: $29.98
Format: 2.40:1 / 16x9
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Bonus Features:
• Audio Commentary with Director Breck Eisner
· Behind The Scenes with Director Breck Eisner
· Paranormal Pandemics
· The George A. Romero Template
· Make-up Mastermind: Rob Hall In Action
· The Crazies Motion Comic Episode 1
· The Crazies Motion Comic Episode 2
· Visual Effects In Motion
· Teaser Trailer
· Theatrical trailers (3)
· TV Spots (10)
· The Crazies Motion Comic Trailer
· Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery
· Easter Egg
· Storyboards: Building A Scene (DVD-ROM)
· Screenplay (DVD-ROM)

THE CRAZIES BLU-RAY™
Street Date: June 29th, 2010
Pre-book: May 27th, 2010
Cat. #: BD21398
UPC: 0 1313 21398-9 0
Run Time: 101 min
Rating: R
SRP: $39.98
Format: 2.40:1 / 16x9
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1; PCM 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Bonus Features:
• Audio Commentary with Director Breck Eisner
· Behind The Scenes with Director Breck Eisner
· Paranormal Pandemics
· The George A. Romero Template
· Make-up Mastermind: Rob Hall In Action
· The Crazies Motion Comic Episode 1
· The Crazies Motion Comic Episode 2
· Visual Effects In Motion
· Teaser Trailer
· Theatrical trailers (3)
· TV Spots (10)
· The Crazies Motion Comic Trailer
· Storyboards: Building A Scene
· Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery
· Easter Egg
· Extra DVD disc with a Digital Copy of the film

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

AVATAR -- DVD review by porfle

I missed AVATAR (2009) at the theater, which is hardly surprising since I rarely go to the theater anymore unless I'm having my house sprayed or something. In a way that's good since, with the release of James Cameron's blockbuster sci-fi epic on DVD, I can now judge it without being bowled over by the whoopty-doo big-screen 3D experience. And as far as I'm concerned, it pretty much lives up to all the hype. Unless you simply have an aversion to James Cameron films, which I don't.

Everyone probably knows the story by now: in the future, a paraplegic Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) travels to the distant planet of Pandora and takes his deceased twin brother's place in a research project aimed at studying an indigenous alien race called the Na'vi. To do so, team members such as Jake, Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore), and crotchety project leader Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) mind-jump into cloned Na'vi bodies ("avatars") which also contain their own DNA (which is why Jake was chosen to take over for his deceased twin).

Jake gets more than he bargained for when circumstances bring him into direct contact with a Na'vi tribe which is initially hostile toward the intruder. He falls in love with the tribal chief's daughter Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who has been charged with teaching him their ways, and learns to appreciate their amazing physical and spiritual connection with nature,eventually becoming accepted as one of them. But a greedy corporate executive, Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), wants the Na'vi off their mineral-rich holy ground and tasks his ex-military security force, led by the extremely hostile Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) to get the job done even if it means using deadly force.


AVATAR is James Cameron's love letter to tree-huggers everywhere, and his message does resonate within the context of the film (although after awhile you just get a little tired of how perfect the Na'vi are compared to us horrible humans--even their deity is realer than ours). The familiar story contains elements of, among other things, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kipling's "The Jungle Book", Disney's POCOHANTAS, DANCES WITH WOLVES, LITTLE BIG MAN, and, of course, a certain story about some starcrossed lovers named Rose and Jack.

But while Cameron once again gets to indulge the romantic side which bubbled to the surface of his roiling id in TITANIC (all that's missing, unfortunately, is a "cry moment" at the end), what really gets his moviemaking mojo in gear is the massive battle between the humans and the Na'vi which takes up the latter third of the film. Huge warships and helicopters maneuver around the floating mountains, firing incendiary bombs and other nasty things into the heart of the Na'vi habitat, while ground forces in mechanical power-suits (which are like a combination of similar creations in both ALIENS and MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS) do furious battle with thousands of bow-wielding Na'vi warriors. These battle scenes are spectacular and are my favorite part of the movie. I suspect they're Cameron's favorite part, too.


The SPFX are consistently amazing, providing the viewer with some of the best eye-candy to ever grace the screen. We've already come a long way from, for example, those beautiful vistas of Naboo in THE PHANTOM MENACE--Cameron's alien planet is filled with bizarre flora and fauna amidst a kaleidescope of vibrant colors (especially at night when everything turns luminescent), and looks like a conglomeration of Yes album-cover artist Roger Dean's wildest fantasies brought to life. The flying reptiles ridden by the Na'vi are especially impressive, although some of the other forest creatures look somewhat less convincing than one might expect.

The Na'vi themselves are the last word in CGI motion-capture technology, their performances every bit as expressive as those of the live actors. Worthington, Weaver, and Moore are, by necessity, recognizable in their alien form (it's really fun seeing Weaver's face on one of these things), while the faces of the native characters played by Zoe Saldana, Wes Studi, and CCH Pounder are creations of the FX artists which allow us to get to know them as individuals without any preconceptions.


Sam Worthington is good as the "stranger in a strange land" hero, making a convincing transition from dedicated Marine to Na'vi convert (some would say traitor), and Zoe Saldana is very appealing as Neytiri. Sigourney Weaver is her usual awesome self as Dr. Augustine, although for someone who's supposed to be a nicotine addict she smokes a cigarette like she had a fishing worm dangling out of her mouth. The versatile Giovanni Ribisi is hilarious as the cartoonishly greedy, self-obsessed "unobtanium" (THE CORE, anyone?) tycoon Parker Selfridge, a kindred soul to ALIENS' Carter Burke. My favorite, though, is equally versatile Stephen Lang (MANHUNTER, TOMBSTONE) as the quintessential hard-ass military ogre, Quaritch, who's itching for a bloody showdown with the Na'vi "hoss-tiles" regardless of provocation or lack thereof. And lest I forget, Michelle Rodriguez makes the most of her role as a spunky military pilot who sympathizes with the scientists.

The DVD from 20th-Century Fox is a barebones affair unless you consider chapter selections and subtitles to be "special features." Not surprisingly, a super-duper edition is in the works for later this year. If you can't wait to own it, though, and simply want the movie itself, this will do. Image and sound quality are very good as you might expect.


So, AVATAR is a colorful, fanciful comment on the displacement of indigenous populations by encroaching interlopers, the destruction of the rain forests, U.S. military intervention into other countries, etc., etc. I don't care about any of that stuff. Cameron can exorcise his white liberal guilt and make big statements reminding us that racism=bad and the environment=good, and have the greenest mansion, land yachts, and private jet in Hollywood for all I care. I just happen to get a big kick out of the massive, powerhouse feats of action-adventure cinema this often underestimated and derided filmmaker manages to successfully pull off at great risk and expense (in addition to his earlier, lower-budgeted stuff, of course). While I don't love the guy with a fanboy's zeal (and am, quite frankly, glad I don't ever have to be around him in real life, ever), I find his movies visually sumptuous and incredibly entertaining, which fits quite nicely into one of the most vital niches of my movie lover's soul.


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Saturday, April 24, 2010

STEEL -- DVD review by porfle

I'd heard that STEEL (1997) was pretty bad, so of course I couldn't wait to see it. Would it be fun-bad or just bad-bad? Or, as sometimes happens, would I be one of the few people who, in my own insane sort of way, actually thinks it's good? Don't forget, I liked STAN HELSING.

Well, okay--I just got through watching this movie, and I didn't think it was good. In fact, it's not only stupid, it's the champagne of stupid. However, this has got to be one of the most entertaining bad-superhero movies ever made. First of all, it's got lovable lug Shaquille O'Neal as the superhero, and he can't act. That's worth a whole bunch of fun points right there. Second, Shaquille wears a homemade steel suit of armor that makes him look like a giant cockroach, and I never get tired of watching him bop around in it like a big clumsy kid. When he shoots a grappling line out of his wrist band and all two tons of him get reeled up into the air, it's almost surreal. Third--and this is important--it's got the one and only Judd Nelson as the over-the-top evil villain. Scoooore!

Loosely based on the DC Comics character, John Henry Irons is an Army officer who designs top secret weapons but becomes disenchanted with his job when a fellow officer, Susan Sparks (Annabeth Gish), is crippled during a demonstration for a visiting senator. The mishap is caused by Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson), an ambitious officer seeking wealth and glory. When they're discharged from the Army, John Henry goes to work in a steel mill and lives with his grandma, while Burke takes over an illegal weapons business and starts selling top secret arms to terrorists.

Using local gang members in a heavily-armed Humvee, Burke begins a city-wide crimewave that prompts John Henry into action. With a wheelchair-bound Sparks at the keyboard of his junkyard nerve center and his uncle Joe (Richard Roundtree) providing the junkyard, "Steel" suits up and goes into the amateur superhero business. He has a bit of trouble maintaining his secret identity, however, since there aren't that many 7'1" black guys running around the neighborhood, and it isn't long before Burke targets his family. Steel tracks Burke down to a warehouse where he's conducting business with terrorists from around the world, but is ambushed and powerless to act when Sparks and his teenage brother Martin (Ray J.) are held hostage.


STEEL was made in 1997, but it looks an awful lot like one of those 70s-era superhero movies that came out before Hollywood learned how to make superhero movies that didn't suck. Kenneth Johnson, creator of such television series as "The Incredible Hulk" and "Six Million Dollar Man", directs in the same pedestrian style as one of those shows except with a much bigger budget to throw away. In other words, it's like a wonderfully elaborate but crappy TV show episode.

Some of the effects are okay, such as the sonic cannon that blasts things with amplified sound waves, and the grand finale is so packed with explosions that things I didn't even know could explode were blowing up all over the place. Not so impressive, however, is Steel's magnetic suit capability--when guns, knives, and trashcan lids start flying at him and sticking to his suit, it looks like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon. Shaq looks a little weird tooling around on his motorcycle, too, since his bulk makes it look like a minibike. One of the goofiest things about the movie, however, has got to be Steel's junkyard lair, with a scrap heap secret entrance that opens up so he can scoot in and elude the police.

The dialogue tries to be clever but rarely rises above the level of this remark from Burke to one of his young lackeys: "Eat the hot dog. Don't BE the hot dog." (Now that's some useful advice!) Richard Roundtree gets to remind us of past glories when he admires Steel's gadget-filled hammer--he especially likes (you guessed it) the "shaft." Later, he reacts to a surprising development by uttering the classic line, "Well, I'll be dipped in shit and rolled in bread crumbs." Grandma (Irma P. Hall) funnies things up with her attempts to open up a restaurant called Black and Bleu, featuring recipes combining fancy French cuisine with soul food. In one running gag, her special hominy souffle' keeps falling because her big old grandson keeps makin' too much noise around the house.

Judd Nelson is at his wonderful worst as Burke and is a joy to watch, coolly dispatching a rival coworker (the stunning Claire Stansfield, who played the Jersey Devil on "The X-Files") in an elevator "accident" or hawking super-weapons to terrorists as though he were in a lethal infomercial. Annabeth Gish hits what is probably a career low here but is likable as Sparks, while Richard Roundtree seems to enjoy playing the old geezer role. Other familiar faces that crop up here and there belong to the likes of Charles Napier, Rutanya Alda, Kerrie Keane, and Gary Graham.

The DVD, part of the Warner Archive Collection, is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital, and image and sound are good. The only extra here is a trailer.

STEEL is definitely as bad as I've always heard, but I had fun groaning at the funny parts, laughing at the dramatic parts, and marveling at how flat-out cheesy it all was. It's consistently entertaining in spite of itself, and, best of all, it isn't boring. So if you're a junk film junkie like me, check it out! If not...you should probably watch something else.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

EVIL TOONS: 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION -- DVD review by porfle

The story behind EVIL TOONS (1990) is probably more interesting than the movie itself--famed exploitation filmmaker Fred Olen Ray was asked to come in and do some nude scenes to punch up another film that was nearing completion, and when he saw all the locations and equipment right there for the taking, with the rental still paid up for several days, he figured it would be the perfect opportunity to do another project he was currently trying to finance. So he teamed up with producer Victoria Till and in eight days shot the "naked girls terrorized by a cartoon monster in a haunted house" flick he'd been wanting to make.

Whether or not it's very good is a matter that each individual viewer must judge. When four good-looking babes are hired to spend the weekend in an old mansion and clean it up for the new owners, only to find an EVIL DEAD-type book that produces a hellish creature after the wrong incantation is read aloud (when will people learn?), it seems as though we'll be in for a whole heap of rip-snortin', blouse-rippin' fun.

As it turns out, the movie is pretty bland--I found it much less lively than, for example, that old "USA Up All Night" staple H.O.T.S. But it does have its own low-budget charms. The lead actresses are mostly former and future "adult" stars who aren't exactly the most talented comediennes in Hollywood. Monique Gabrielle (AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON, BACHELOR PARTY) is probably the best of the bunch as brainy nerd Megan, who manages a few funny moments and is a really good screamer. Suzanne Ager (THE BIKINI CARWASH COMPANY), also a first-class screamer, is appealing as Terry and gets better when her character has more action-oriented stuff to do.


Porn star Barbara Dare, here billed as "Stacey Nix", is the weakest of the bunch. Not bad, really, just not very memorable. The most energetic performance comes from Madison Stone as Roxanne, who not only does a bouncy striptease but later gets possessed by the monster from the book and goes on a bloody rampage. (Her "creature" voice is dubbed by none other than Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry.) Madison plays the monster role to the hilt, and always manages to rip her victims' tops off before sinking her big, pointy teeth into them.

The "evil toon" himself is interesting simply because the presence of a cartoon monster interacting with live actors is pretty rare for a film with such a low budget. The fact that he's very crudely animated and appears for only a short time is to be expected in these pre-CGI times when such effects were more costly and difficult to achieve. He does have a few amusingly horny reactions to Roxanne (a la the wolf character in the old MGM cartoon "Red Hot Riding Hood") and the scene in which he attacks her is relatively complex. His voice is dubbed by Fred Olen Ray himself, who is a much better director than he is a voice actor. He does get the film's best line: "You little bitch--I'll get you for this in the sequel!"


Probably the most interesting and disturbing thing about this movie occurs in the opening minutes when, in an extremely ironic coincidence, David Carradine's character hangs himself. (Yikes.) As Gideon Fisk, the man responsible for discovering the book and unwittingly unleashing its evil upon the world, Carradine obviously has a bit of a struggle taking the part seriously, yet seems to enjoy playing his mysterious caped character. His scenes were all shot in one day but are well-distributed throughout the film, and he has a major role in the semi-exciting finale.

Also adding a little name value to the cast are perennial fave Dick Miller and "Laugh-In" alumnus Arte Johnson. Dick plays Burt, the owner of the cleaning company the girls work for, and as always he's fun to watch even though he doesn't really have much to do. The scene in which he watches himself on TV during a late-night airing of BUCKET OF BLOOD provides the film with one of its best moments. Arte Johnson, as creepy neighbor Mr. Hinchlow, is strangely reserved and manages to come off as more genuinely creepy than funny (although he relishes delivering the film's closing zinger).

America's sweetheart Michelle Bauer (HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA, BIKINI DRIVE-IN, etc., etc.) makes a cameo appearance as Burt's wife which lasts all of twenty seconds. She does manage to get topless in that brief amount of time, and looks about as sweet as ever here, but I was sorely disappointed that she wasn't in the rest of the movie.


The DVD from Retromedia and Infinity Entertainment Group is in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital. Extras include the original trailer, a "making of" featurette which consists mainly of Ray enthusiastically addressing the camera, a "workprint" clip that shows one of the later scenes in its unfinished form, a lengthy suite composed of themes from Chuck Cirino's synth score, and a "Nite Owl Theater" segment starring Ray, his wife, and various other lovely ladies, which is probably the funniest thing on the DVD.

Most interesting of all, I think, is Ray's commentary track which was recently recorded for this 20th anniversary edition. While many of his comments are scene-specific, he also delivers quite an informative monologue on the joys and hardships of independent filmmaking on a tiny budget, and laments the fact that, unlike the old days, the market for small but decent product is pretty much gone and he doesn't know where it went. We learn about fascinating things such as gate weave, short ends, and lens flare, how the cartoon effects were achieved, and how doing a small film such as EVIL TOONS just the way he wanted to is like a vacation compared to taking orders from some bean counter on a larger production.

I'm sure that some will find EVIL TOONS unbearably dull and lacking in entertainment value of any kind. Admittedly, it's a bit on the boring side at times and even when it goes into high gear near the end it's kind of like a Three Stooges comedy without the comedy. But darn it, there's just something endearing about this earnest little flick and I like it. I guess the magic of movies is a strange and unpredictable thing.

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May 11 releases from Magnolia Home Entertainment

Maggie Grace Stars In A Modern, Erie Twist On A Classic Tale, MALICE IN WONDERLAND, Arrives On Blu-ray Disc and DVD May 11 From Magnolia Home Entertainment

An explosive twisted thriller, MALICE IN WONDERLAND follows American law student Alice (Maggie Grace- Lost, Taken), who after being knocked down by a London taxi, finds herself miles from anything familiar and very out of her element. With the cab driver Whitey, the two begin a dark and dangerous journey home, attempting to dodge the violent underworld full of gangsters, pimps and prostitutes, and avoid a shadowy group determined to take Alice captive. Engulfed in this distorted world, the duo soon realizes the only way out is to fight for their freedom.

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From The Company That Brought You The Protector And Ong Bak Comes The Epic Sea Quest, LEGEND OF THE TSUNAMI WARRIOR Arriving On Blu-ray Disc And DVD May 11 From Magnolia Home Entertainment Under The Magnet Releasing Label

“Expect to find enough action, adventure, melodrama, and magic for an entire trilogy.”
- eFilmcritic.com

Filled with sorcery, swordplay and a touch of romance, a battle on the high seas for coveted ocean treasures rages between a rebel Prince, Black Raven Pirates, the Queen and a village orphan gypsy. Boasting a $20 million-plus production budget and packing a whirlwind of action sequences and amazing marine cinematography, while merging realistic Thai boxing with Hong Kong style stunts, LEGEND OF THE TSUNAMI WARRIOR opened the 2008 Bangkok International Film Festival and was an official selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

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There Is No Escape When TIDAL WAVE Crashes On Blu-ray Disc And DVD May 11 From Magnolia Home Entertainment Under The Magnet Releasing Label


“Thoroughly entertaining…”
- Variety

“Grand in scale…”
-San Francisco Chronicle

“Whips up a satisfying tempest of visual and special effects…”
-The Hollywood Reporter

One of the most expensive and highest-grossing productions in Korean history, TIDAL WAVE brings to the screen a mighty sea of CGI and special effects creating unprecedented sequences of destruction. When seismic activity detects an impending mega-tsunami is barreling towards the picturesque shores of a tourist-packed sliver of a beach resort, the oblivious vacationers aren’t even going to know what hit them. As a marine geologist races to alert the authorities, he encounters his ex-wife and the daughter he never knew he had, just as the massive wave heads their way at 500 mph.

With more than 15 years of experience, the acclaimed CGI specialists of Polygon Entertainment (The Perfect Storm, The Day After Tomorrow) supervised by Geoff Heron (Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Transformers, Terminator Salvation) bring the spectacular wave to life. In the likes of The Host, TIDAL WAVE captures the raw energy of mother nature while exploring the delicate, interwoven relationships of the many characters scrambling to escape the wrath of the ocean.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

DISGRACE -- DVD review by porfle

A quietly troubling film on first viewing, DISGRACE (2008) just keeps getting more perplexing and, well, messed-up the more I think about it. Although definitely well-made and well-acted, it nevertheless seems to have left me feeling cranky and generally bummed out.

John Malkovich plays David Lurie, a bland and ineffectual poetry teacher in a South African college, who yearns for human contact but seems unable to engage anyone on an emotional level so he settles for indulging his urgent sexual cravings instead. This compels him to maneuver his way into an affair with a pretty young student, Melanie (Antoinette Engel). While she is increasingly reluctant to continue, his obsession with her grows until he finally gets himself kicked out of his job in--you guessed it--disgrace.

David's lesbian daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines) lives on a small farm in the country, so he decides to move in with her for awhile and volunteers to help out at the animal clinic that's run by Lucy's friend Bev (Fiona Press), where he helps euthanize and incinerate unwanted dogs. Also living on the farm is a black man named Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney) who's building a house for his new wife and her family to move into. One day when Petrus is away, three black youths attack and terrorize David and Lucy, raping her and almost burning David alive. When the identity of one of the attackers is revealed, David is shocked to find that Lucy refuses to prosecute.

Well, since this story takes place in post-apartheid South Africa, neither David nor Lucy can make a move without having the specter of collective white guilt hanging over their heads at every turn. I'm not sure if the script is telling us that this is unfair, or if we're supposed to agree with the notion. Lucy, a gentle soul who just wants to be left alone, seems to accept the idea that getting raped and beaten by these three thugs is the price she must pay in order to get along with Petrus and the rest of the community, and in a larger sense help make amends for the injustices committed by white South Africans in the past.


Moreover, she seems to liken her violent rape with David's sexual relationship with Melanie. True, he was an authority figure taking unfair advantage of a student, but she wasn't forced into their relationship and was free to leave it at any time. When Lucy accuses David of being like her attackers--a typical predatory male--and worse, when David starts to believe it himself, I really had to wonder what this movie was actually trying to tell me. In addition to this, a major development which occurs later on and the manner in which Lucy chooses to deal with it led me to the inescapable conclusion that her character is a blooming idiot.

Director Steve Jacobs renders all of this with a very austere and well-ordered style. Early events unfold in an almost placid cause-and-effect way that leaves the viewer unprepared for the down-and-dirty shock of the attack sequence and its increasingly troubling aftermath. Jacobs' non-sensational style gives the film a sun-blanched realism that's almost mundane, and he creates a sense of unease by building tension gradually rather than in bold strokes. Malkovich is perfect as the self-styled Byronic outcast who's forced to question his own principles, while Jessica Haines, Eriq Ebouaney, and the rest of the cast are fine.


The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound with English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include cast and crew interviews, a "making of" featurette, and a trailer.

Does DISGRACE really want us to believe that whites in South Africa should submit to random abuse--to take on the disgrace of their people--in order to make amends for apartheid? Surely not. Is it warning us that they're no longer able to safely go about their lives as rightful members of the community without being terrorized by newly-empowered blacks? I'm not sure how I'm supposed to interpret this story or the motives and behavior of some of the characters, and I really don't care to. The film eventually ends on a note of quiet resignation which I found utterly dispiriting.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Paul Wesley ("Vampire Diaries") stars in "FALLEN: THE THREE PART MOVIE EVENT" coming May 4th on DVD from Image Entertainment

"So you're telling me that in order to save Earth...I have to send the Devil back to Heaven?”

Chatsworth, CA – The Nephilim have been called “warrior giants.” In the Book of Genesis, they are the “men of reknown.” On May 4, Image Entertainment will release the epic fantasy series “Fallen” on DVD . Originally broadcast on ABC Family, “Fallen” charts the saga of an Earth-bound nephilim – half human, half angel – caught up in the everyday problems of growing up, just as he is trapped in a celestial maelstrom between good and evil. “Fallen” will be available in several incarnations: the entire series with a blissful SRP of $27.98, Parts 1 and 2’s “The Beginning” for an equally heavenly $19.98 SRP and Part 3’s “Destiny” – also for $19.98 SRP . Pre-book is April 6th.

Based on the popular books by Thomas E. Sniegoski, “Fallen” centers on Aaron Corbet (Paul Wesley, “The Vampire Diaries,” Extra’s Breakout Star of 2009), a high school student with a promising future. Aaron harbors a secret crush on Vilma Rodriguez (Fernanda Andrade, “ CSI : Miami ”), a classmate from Brazil , and the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. On his 18th birthday, Aaron has more than unrequited love to occupy his mind when he learns that he is a nephilim -- a “Redeemer” -- who can return fallen angels to Heaven. Aaron holds the world’s destiny in his hands, as he battles warrior seraphs and ultimately confronts the diabolically proud angel that has tormented his dreams (two-time Emmy-Award winner Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad,” “Malcolm in the Middle”).


Combining wit, drama and romance, “Fallen” was nominated for a Saturn Award® and boasts an epic supporting cast to portray the forces of light and dark: Emmy® winner Tom Skerritt (Alien, Top Gun), Ivana Milicevic (Casino Royale), Rade Serbedzija (Snatch, Batman Begins) and Monique Ganderton (2012).

Angelic hosts. Demonic enforcers. Prom night. It’s a lot for a student to deal! “Fallen” is a soaring saga that takes on the greatest battle of all. Can Aaron save the world from falling into oblivion, as well as the girl he loves – and still pass mid-terms?

Fallen: The Complete Movie Event (Parts 1-3) DVD
Genre: Family/Adventure/Fantasy
Rating: Not Rated
Languages: English
Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles: N/A
Year: 2009
SRP : $27.98
Street Date: May 4, 2010
Pre-Book: April 6, 2010
Length: 247 minutes
UPC : 014381646825
Cat#: ID6468QPDVD

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Fallen: The Beginning (Parts 1 and 2) DVD
Genre: Family/Adventure/Fantasy
Rating: Not Rated
Languages: English
Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles: N/A
Year: 2009
SRP : $19.98
Street Date: May 4, 2010
Pre-Book: April 6, 2010
Length: 167 minutes
UPC : 014381655223
Cat#: ID6552QPDVD

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Fallen: Destiny (Part 3) DVD
Genre: Family/Adventure/Fantasy
Rating: Not Rated
Languages: English
Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles: N/A
Year: 2009
SRP : $19.98
Street Date: May 4, 2010
Pre-Book: April 6, 2010
Length: 80 minutes
UPC : 014381655322
Cat#: ID6553QPDVD

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

KINGDOM OF THE VAMPIRE -- DVD review by porfle

If you're a fan of movies that look like they were shot with a camcorder (mainly because they were), yet are somehow--perhaps inexplicably--fun to watch, then J.R. Bookwalter and Tempe Entertainment have come up with another fun way for you to waste a few hours of your life that you probably wouldn't have done anything productive with anyway.

The most interesting thing about the KINGDOM OF THE VAMPIRE disc is that it's a double-feature containing the original 1991 flick directed by Bookwalter and shot in Ohio for about $2,500, plus its 2007 remake by Canadian director Brett Kelly (THE BONESETTER, MY DEAD GIRLFRIEND). With sixteen years of cinematic progress separating the two, you'd think that Kelly's version would be a significant improvement. And technically speaking, you'd be correct--it isn't nearly as hokey and slapdash as the original. But somehow, it isn't quite as much fun, either.

As the 1991 version begins, we meet Jeffrey (Matthew Jason Walsh, who co-scripted with Bookwalter), a nebbishy, inept night-shift clerk in a convenience store. When he drags himself home after work--to the only house in the neighborhood that is permanently draped in a shroud of ground fog--he's forced to clean up the blood-splattered Girl Scout currently decorating the kitchen after trying to sell cookies to Jeffrey's mom, who happens to be a vampire.

Imagine character actress Kathleen Freeman or "Everybody Loves Raymond"'s Doris Roberts as a frumpy, yet bloodthirsty vampire in curlers, a housecoat, and fuzzy slippers. That's Jeffrey's mom. Cherie Patry is hilarious in the role, always furiously nagging Jeffrey to stop trying to be normal and be more of a vampire like his late father and herself.


She wistfully regails him with stories about how vampires used to rule the world, with humans as their cattle, until they began to be hunted down and wiped out over the centuries. Then she frumps back to her comfy chair in the livingroom to watch TV and munch on Girl Scout cookies and stray kitty cats. And when she's not doing that, she's beating the bloody bejeepers out of Jeffrey with a big wooden crucifix while screaming at him like a bull moose in heat.

Well, Halloween's a-comin', and Mom's planning to snag herself a tasty trick-r-treater or two to snack on, while Jeffrey dreads having to help with the slaughter. Mom gets all done up as a wicked witch, and really looks natural in the part. She invites a mother and her little boy, who's dressed up like Robot Ninja ("He's cool! He kills people!" the kid gushes) into her house and the horrific fun begins, with Jeffrey as a reluctant accomplice. But before long, the resulting missing-persons investigation will lead the local law dog, Sheriff Blake (Tom Stephan) right to Jeffrey's doorstep.

Meanwhile, a pretty young girl named Nina (the cute Shannon Doyle) starts hanging around the convenience store and becoming romantically interested in Jeffrey for some damn reason that I couldn't quite fathom. She does explain at one point that he reminds her of a pet mouse she once had. So I guess I was just wasting my time back in high school, trying to get girls to like me by acting "cool" instead of behaving more like a pet mouse.


Anyway, Jeffrey's attraction to Nina rouses his mother's ire to rabid-dog proportions and the whole thing inevitably ends in a bloody showdown between Jeffrey, Mom, the sheriff, and some torch-wielding townsfolk, with poor Nina caught in the middle of it all.

This early J.R. Bookwalter effort is, to put it mildly, "unpolished." But it's also a lot of fun, especially the scenes with Jeffrey and his crazed vampire mom. The acting is a mixed bag, with some of the cast giving pretty solid performances (I love watching Matthew Jason Walsh and Cherie Patry screaming at each other at the top of their lungs and emoting their asses off) while others range from fair (Tom Stephan as the sheriff reminds me of a poor man's Kevin Spacey and does a pretty good job when he isn't staring directly into the camera) to totally inept.

But that doesn't matter. The script is tongue-in-cheek fun (despite Bookwalter's efforts to make it serious, Walsh insisted it be more in a NIGHT OF THE CREEPS vein), the story toodles along at a nice pace, and, except for a too-abrupt ending, KINGDOM OF THE VAMPIRE '91 is a fairly entertaining flick overall.



So now, on to Brett Kelly's 2007 remake. This time, the story is taken a lot more seriously (as executive producer Bookwalter originally intended) and the movie is not only better photographed, but contains some nice stylistic touches, a good score that reminds me a little of the music from PHANTASM, and a more consistently talented cast.


Kelly himself plays Jeffrey, who works in a video store this time, while Karen Landstad gives us a totally different take on "Mom." This time, she's sexy--sort of like an older Morticia Addams--and retains an air of the decadent vampiric royalty that existed long ago. Nina (Anastasia Kimmett), no longer an innocent high school girl, is now a streetwise drug addict who falls for Jeffrey because he's so unlike the abusive punks she usually hangs around with.

Brett Kelly gives his remake a good deal of atmosphere and draws some pretty deft performances from his cast while doing an okay job himself as Jeffrey. The story is tweaked quite a bit by scripter Janet S. Waltham, with some scenes switched around and altered (mostly for the better), and, as mentioned before, some characters are changed extensively.

Chip Hair (who might want to consider changing his stage name) is solid as Sheriff Blake, and a long exposition scene in which he tells his secretary why he believes there just might be vampires roaming their streets is placed much earlier in the story for better effect. The ending is a tad better, too. And this time, for those of you keeping score at home, Jeffrey actually gets past first base with Nina.


Of the two Jeffreys, Matthew Jason Walsh's portrayal is my favorite. A gawky, painfully shy scarecrow hiding behind long locks of stringy black hair, cowering like a whipped dog one moment and exploding with suppressed rage the next, Walsh's goofball energy and intensity compensate for his lack of acting refinement.

In comparison, Brett Kelly's portrayal is competent but rather bland, and far outshined by his skill as a director. And while Karen Landstad is exquisitely decadent and sexy as "Mom", Cherie Patry's dowdy, bug-eyed harridan is a pure delight and easily the highlight of this disc.

The DVD contains both films, a bunch of trailers for these and other Bookwalter and Kelly flicks, and a couple of talky, informative commentary tracks by the directors. For those of us who enjoy independent filmmaking on the low, low end of the budgetary scale, by people who obviously love to make movies, KINGDOM OF THE VAMPIRE is a whole evening's worth of breezy fun and an interesting double-take on the vampire mythos.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

EXILED -- movie review by porfle

EXILED, aka FONG JUK (2006) is a classic case of one thing leading to another. It all begins with a simple knock on a door, and ends with a bunch of guys lying around a blood-splattered hotel lobby, riddled with bullets. How the one thing leads to the other is a tense, exciting, and unconventional narrative that is as visually and emotionally involving as it is violent.

Wo (Nick Cheung), a former member of Boss Fay's gang, has returned to town to settle down with his wife and baby. Boss Fay, however, hasn't forgotten that Wo once tried to assassinate him and sends hit men Blaze and Fat to Wo's place to kill him. But Wo has an ally--another gang member, Tai (Francis Ng), who participated in the assassination attempt but got away clean because Wo took the rap for him. Tai and his main man Cat show up at Wo's at the same time as Blaze and Fat, and their tense stand-off turns into a blazing gun battle right there in Wo's livingroom.

Complicating things is the fact that all five men grew up together and are are boyhood pals. Eventually Wo convinces Blaze to allow him time to earn some money for his family to live on before he's whacked. So after a friendly sit-down dinner and a few waves of nostalgia and good spirits among the men (they even help Wo finish moving his furniture into the house), they all set off to see Jeff, the guy who lines up jobs for Boss Fay's men. Jeff offers them a high-paying assignment to kill an up-and-coming rival gang kingpin, Boss Keung.

The hit is to take place in a restaurant that night, but Boss Fay and his bodyguards show up unexpectedly and there's an awesome gun battle with the three rival groups blasting away at each other. Wo is severely wounded and is taken to an underground surgeon, but Boss Fay shows up there as well to get his painful groin injury patched up (ha ha, he deserves it), and there's yet another incredible shoot-out that is often--dare I say it?--"balletic." (Ooh, I said it!)

The gunfight sequences in this movie are fast, loud, and beautifully directed and edited, as well as being very imaginatively staged. Sometimes things happen so fast, in fact, it's hard to keep score. But they're a visual treat, as is most of EXILED.

As things go from bad to worse for our five heroes, with both bosses out for their blood and nowhere to run, their rekindled bond of friendship grows ever stronger. They soon find themselves becoming increasingly protective of Wo and his family, and their feelings of brotherhood and loyalty to one another begin to overrule all else.


The story by Kam-Yuen Szeto (who co-wrote the awesome 2005 action/thriller KILL ZONE) and Tin-Shing Yip just keeps on taking us places we don't expect to go, right up to the bullet-riddled finale. There's an armored truck robbery that takes an unexpected twist, and when Wo's wife Jin (Josie Ho) gets involved in the whole mixed-up mess herself and falls into Boss Fay's clutches, his former gangmembers must decide which is more important--loyalty among friends, or their lives.

Prolific Hong Kong director Johnny To takes his own sweet time getting from one action scene to the next, but each sequence in between is fully mined for its pictorial potential (and backed by a really cool musical score). There's so little verbal exposition to guide us through what's going on that at times it's like watching a silent movie--you have to pay attention because the images are telling the story, which is what cinema is all about in the first place.

Blaze, as played by Anthony Wong, is a fascinating character. At first he seems like the standard, steely hit man with shades, a trenchcoat, and ice water for blood. But we soon discover that he's a thoughtful man with a sense of honor that gradually begins to override his loyalty to Boss Fay, who hardly deserves it. Simon Yam plays Boss Fay with loads of negative energy and is wonderfully monstrous--a far cry from his role as a crime-busting cop in KILL ZONE. The rest of the cast is fine as well, and the ensemble playing is good.

EXILED is about what happens when professional killers rediscover their souls--which can lead to all sorts of problems. It's also about choices, and how one thing leads to another. This is illustrated when Blaze acquires the habit of flipping a coin to conquer the indecisiveness his current situation has afflicted him with. Finally, there comes a point where he tosses the coin away after realizing that--probably for the first time since he can remember--his heart is telling him what to do, and he's listening.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Super-Sculptor Mike Hill Does It Again!


We've told you about master sculptor Mike Hill and his incredibly lifelike silicone sculptures which are based upon popular figures in classic horror, comics, etc. (Click here to read our original article, which includes some great pics and biographical info.)


This time, Mike has brought The Wolf Man and his alter ego, Larry Talbot, to life with these amazing life-size figures, recently on display at Monsterpalooza. You're not likely to see more exquisite work anywhere else.

That close-up view of the tormented Talbot fully conveys the inner turmoil Lon Chaney, Jr. was able to express so well. And Mike's rendering of The Wolf Man is simply awe-inspiring! Not only can you recognize Chaney beneath the "makeup", but ol' Wolfy has never looked more fang-tastically feral.

The creator himself with his latest creations. Mike's the one who's breathing.

As he reveals in this thread at the CHFB, Mike is currently at work on something that we're looking forward to with bated breath--a rendition of Oliver Reed's celebrated lycanthrope from Hammer's CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, along with lovely co-star Yvonne Romain. Now that's something wolf waiting fur!

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

RED CLIFF -- DVD/Blu-Ray review by porfle

(NOTE: Blu-Ray comments by Ian Friedman. This review is for the 148-minute Western edit of the film; in Asia, it runs 280 minutes and was released in two separate parts. The longer version is also available on the Magnet DVD label.)


"A dream for 18 years...five years of preparation...almost a year of principle photography" begins the making-of featurette for Magnet's new DVD release of John Woo's epic RED CLIFF (2008), and there's little doubt where all that effort went. I haven't seen all of Woo's films, but if this isn't his masterpiece then I can't wait to see the one that tops it.

The story is taken from the fact-based Chinese legend of the "Three Kingdoms" and begins in 208 A.D. Years of civil war have brought the defeat of the Northern warlords by prime minister Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang), a fierce military leader who now has his sights set on conquering the peaceful Southern territories. Browbeating a weak Emperor into declaring the two Southern rulers traitors, Cao Cao then leads his huge naval and infantry forces toward what he is confident will be certain victory. Achieving this, his next goal will be to usurp the throne of the Emperor himself.

When the soldiers and civilians under ruler Liu Bei are forced into retreat, he sends his brilliant military strategist Kongming (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to seek the help of the young and inexperienced ruler Sun Quan, hoping that their combined efforts might withstand Cao Cao's invasion. Sun Quan's viceroy Zhao Yu (Tony Leung) accepts the challenge and, with Kongming's help, sets about devising a battle plan with which their vastly outnumbered forces might stand a chance against overwhelming odds.

After the plot is set into motion, the first half of the film is a steady, suspenseful buildup to the initial clash between Cao Cao and the Southern alliance. This bloody battle between two mighty ground forces would suffice as a grand finale for most war films (which it does, in fact, for RED CLIFF PART 1 as released in Asia). After being lured into an ambush by Sun Quan's fearless young sister, Princess Shang Xiang (Wei Zhao), who is determined to help defend her homeland, the invading army is thwarted by Zhao Yu's brilliantly effective tactic known as the "Tortoise Formation." Here, soldiers mass together using their shields in unison to create a living maze which traps the enemy forces. The resulting battle is rife with Woo's distinctive flashes of imaginative imagery and technical prowess.


With this defeat, Cao Cao then establishes a base camp across the river from Red Cliff and plans a massive naval attack. Thus, the buildup of suspense begins anew as the two sides plot to outwit each other and gain the advantage in the impending sea battle, until at last RED CLIFF explodes into one of the most spectacular warfare sequences ever filmed. Arrows darken the skies, great wooden warships collide in raging walls of flame, and hundreds of soldiers engage in furious hand-to-hand combat and brutal swordplay. These are some of the most thrilling and mind-boggling visuals ever devised for a film of this kind, as Woo brings all of his accumulated skills as an action director to bear with a sustained intensity that is spellbinding.

With all of this, however, the story and characters are a major part of what makes RED CLIFF such a rewarding experience. Tony Leung gives a strong performance as the wise and valiant Zhao Yu, providing a stark contrast to the equally good Fengyi Zhang's arrogant, war-loving Cao Cao. In THE KILLER, Woo used cross-cutting to highlight the similarities between his adversarial main characters, while here, he does so to accentuate their essential differences. We see Cao Cao making his war plans and Zhao Yu anticipating them all; later, Zhao Yu shares tender moments with his devoted wife Xiao Qiao (Chi-Ling Lin) while a lovelorn Cao Cao, who adores Xiao Qiao from afar, seeks hollow comfort amidst his uncaring concubines.

Xiao Qiao's devotion to Zhao Yu leads to a pivotal sequence, beautifully crafted by Woo, in which she steals away to Cao Cao's camp and surrenders herself to him in order to delay his attack. The enemy warlord reveals a poignant emotional vulnerability here, giving his character a depth beyond that of the standard villain. As a climax to the monumental battle which follows, Zhao Yu's mad dash to rescue Xiao Qiao from certain death is portrayed in such exquisitely cinematic terms that the result is both thrilling and fiercely romantic. Here, Woo impressively demonstrates that his former melodramatic tendencies have matured into sheer visual poetry.


Other episodes throughout the film are memorable. A scene involving a little boy and an off-key flute introduces Zhao Yu's character in delightful visual terms, as does his stirring stringed-instrument duet with Kongming. There's a breathtaking CGI-enhanced passage in which Kongming releases a white carrier pigeon while the camera pulls back to track its progress as it flies past the scores of ships in Cao Cao's vast navy, over the shoreline and into the enemy encampment, all in one seamless shot. Woo's camera is constantly on the move, but always with purpose.

Technical aspects such as set design, costuming, and cinematography are all first-rate, and the stunts and fight choreography of the battle scenes are consistently exciting. CGI is well-used for the most part, adding scope to the film's endless masses of soldiers and warships and enhancing the pictorial splendor of many breathtaking shots. Yet there are enough flesh-and-blood extras and massive real-world sets to create a genuine sense of wonder and spectacle.

The DVD from Magnolia's Magnet label is in 2.35:1 widescreen with both Mandarin and English-dubbed Dolby 5.1 soundtracks. Subtitles are in English and Spanish. Extras include the featurette "The Making of an Epic: Red Cliff", a brief interview in which John Woo discusses the creation of the carrier pigeon shot, the promo short "HDNet: A Look at Red Cliff", storyboards, and trailers for other Magnolia releases.

The Blu-ray shows excellent color and detail with no sign of digital tampering. The clarity and vivid color work perfectly for an epic movie like Red Cliff, since it consists of huge armies and vistas. The sound mix is in a word, thundering, it really sounds like a battle from the period of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms in your living room. The sound separation is excellent with great directional support.

It's interesting to compare an early Woo film such as THE KILLER with this one to see how far an already great director has evolved over the years. He has refined his formidable skills to such an extent that watching a towering achievement like RED CLIFF makes me wonder how much better Woo can possibly get. It left me both exhausted and exhilarated, and glowing with renewed respect for John Woo as a consummate film artist of the first order.


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Buy the international version at HK Flix:
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Buy the theatrical version at HK Flix:
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