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Monday, May 31, 2010

LIVELIHOOD -- DVD review by porfle

Of all the zombie spoofs that seem to be clawing their way out of the grave these days, LIVELIHOOD (2005) is probably the cheapest. Director Ryan Graham managed to put it together for about four-thousand bucks, building much of his own equipment such as lights, camera dollies, and even a makeshift crane. He also put together a cast of enthusiastic performers who zapped their wacky characters into vibrant life and helped turn this off-the-wall screenplay into an often hilarious romp.

The story follows the lives (and deaths) of three main characters. First, there's 80s hair-metal rocker Billy Jump (Steve Thomas), who electrocutes himself one night just as he's finally discovered the perfect riff. Then there's perpetually cheerful shlub Alexander Keaton (Scott Graham), who thinks he has a wonderful marriage although his shrewish wife despises him, and thinks he's on the fast track to a promotion at work although his surly, abusive boss treats him like dog poop. While working late one night, Alexander is chased through the halls of his office building and then beheaded by a screaming samurai warrior. Finally, we have Roger and Jean (real-life couple Lewis and Amy Smith), whose marriage would be just peachy if Roger's domineering, over-possessive mother, Vida (Michelle Trout), didn't live with them and make Jean's life miserable. That is, until someone poisons the old bag and she croaks facedown in her tapioca pudding.

As so often happens in zombie movies, the dead suddenly start returning to life for no reason. This time, though, they're not interested in killing people or devouring their flesh--they just want to return to their former lives as though nothing had happened, which becomes a problem for the living when these reanimated corpses start showing up again. In Billy's case it actually turns out to be an advantage when shifty record exec Kris Kashgrab (John Bennett) conjures up a scheme to transform Billy's return into a big comeback event. Alexander has no such luck, however--he staggers home, duct tapes his head back onto his neck, and discovers his wife in bed with another woman. Ordered out of the house, he returns to work to find that he no longer has a job. As for Roger and Jean, the horribly decayed Vida's sudden reappearance as the mother-in-law from hell turns Jean's life into a waking nightmare, although mama's boy Roger is tickled pink.

The "Billy Jump" segments are okay although I found this storyline a bit tiresome after awhile. His bandmembers are pretty funny, and are played by actual members of the Dirty Maramaduke Flute Squad, which also includes director Graham on guitar. Putting the old band back together a la THE BLUES BROTHERS, Billy discovers that his lead guitarist and bassist are now an openly-gay couple, while his deaf keyboardist Beat Ovin (Mike Bennett) is tinkling the ivories in a snooty restaurant.


Alexander, who reminds me of alien leader Mathesar from GALAXY QUEST, finds forbidden love with his boss' misfit Goth daughter Zoey (Kara Webb), but their subplot isn't really all that exciting, either, until the surprise conclusion. The best part of LIVELIHOOD for me was the mother-in-law story. Amy Smith's energetic performance as Jean is consistently good, and the escalating tensions between her and Vida, with doofus Roger in the middle of it all, finally culminate in a wild free-for-all battle to the death that's wonderfully staged.

Gross-out moments include the vomit-inducing tapioca pudding scene (the second one, that is), a couple of groupies collecting Billy's body parts to sell on eBay, the equally vomit-inducing apple cobbler scene, and other comically disturbing highlights. The return of the dead also results in some great new television programming, such as a soap opera entitled "The Dead and the Breathless", a take-off on those Matthew Lesko infomercials which promises "Free Money Now!" for the dead, and a really wrong commercial for a product that claims to cure the zombie malady known as Deteriorating Bowel Syndrome.

As can be expected from a movie with so many gags flying fast and furious, LIVELIHOOD is pretty uneven and some sequences tend to drag. Still, the cast is so talented and the script (by Ryan and Tracey Graham and Curtis Crispin) so packed with bizarre jokes and ridiculous references that I was kept fairly entertained most of the time. Several of the scenes resemble good sketch comedy found on such series as Mr. Show. In fact, there's a fake music video by country singer Junior "The Senior" Young Jenkins III for his song, "Leave the US to the Livin'", which bears a striking similarity to the fake country music videos featured in Mr. Show's "Blow Up the Moon" episode.

One of my favorite sequences is the one in which Roger's abrasive, zombie-hating boss, Larry Tate (Davon Hall), shows up for dinner on a Rascal scooter with his bimbo wife Lucy, while Vida does everything she can to disrupt the occasion and get Roger fired (leading to the aforementioned "apple cobbler" scene.) I think this entire storyline could've easily been expanded into a separate movie of its own.

As for extras, not only are there two cast and crew commentary tracks, but a second disc of stuff as well. The deleted scenes are mostly better off deleted, and some of them, such as Alexander's long, dead-serious monologue to Zoey about his parents getting killed by a drunk driver, make you wonder what the hell they were thinking. The bloopers are pretty good but are interesting mainly for some glimpses of low-tech SPFX wizardry such as the "flying plates" scene. This is also true of the featurette "MacGyver DIY Filmmaking", in which Ryan Graham gives a highly-instructive demonstration of how to build your own moviemaking equipment on the cheap. Finally, there's a short about the Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad ("The Real Billy Jump Band"), which is interesting although I don't plan on purchasing any of their CDs anytime soon.

Watching LIVELIHOOD is like going through a buffet blindfolded--you have to take the bad with the good. But it's a respectable effort for such a low-budget flick and the talent in front of and behind the camera makes it pleasantly watchable and, at times, downright funny.




(Note: This review was originally posted at Bumscorner.com in 2008 and covers the DVD edition that is pictured above.)

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Carter Stevens' Guide to TCM This Week (June 1-14)


Been occupied with health issues for the last several weeks so I'm going to try and catch up a little. Hope somebody out there missed me.


JUNE 1

1:00pm  Some Like It Hot (1959)  
Two musicians on the run from gangsters masquerade as members of an all-girl band.
Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft Dir: Billy Wilder BW-121 mins, TV-PG


Only Billy Wilder could take a one joke film and make it a classic. And Marilyn just walking away from the camera out acts everybody else.

10:00pm  Rocky (1976) 
A dimwitted boxer fights to prove he can go the distance against a glamorous champ.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers Dir: John G. Avildsen C-120 mins, TV-14


For years everyone thought Stallone was that guy but everyone always forgets he wrote the original screenplay.  Forget the endless sequels see this original masterpiece.


JUNE 2

9:30pm   African Queen, The (1951)  
A grizzled skipper and a spirited missionary take on the Germans in Africa during World War I.
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull Dir: John Huston C-105 mins,
TV-PG

Action, Adventure, but most important it's a tender love story told by a master director with two great actors.


JUNE 3

4:45pm  Operation Petticoat (1959)  
During World War II, the crew of a decrepit submarine takes on a team of Navy nurses.
Cast: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Joan O'Brien, Dina Merrill Dir: Blake Edwards C-121 mins, TV-G


Cary Grant shows how easily he did "Cary Grant". Tony Curtis studied his every move so he could channel him for "Some like it Hot", but all in all a cute film.

JUNE 4

10:00pm  20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)  
A renegade sea captain uses a pioneering submarine to force peace on the world.
Cast: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre Dir: Richard Fleischer C-127 mins, TV-G


Disney does Verne. (actually does him well too.)


JUNE 5

5:15am  Perversion For Profit (1965)
This anti-porn documentary shows a floodtide of filth engulfing the country in the form of newsstand obscenity
Cast: George Putnam narrates. BW-31 mins, TV-MA

EVERYBODY needs to see this film. A laugh a minute. Light up a joint, put one of my porn films in the DVD player for afterwards and enjoy.

12:00pm  Paint Your Wagon (1970)  
Two California miners share a gold claim and a wife.
Cast: Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, Jean Seberg, Harve Presnell Dir: Joshua Logan C-159 mins, TV-14


Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood sing!! Not really, I wouldn't call it singing, but Harve Presnell does "Maria" justice. Over done but I still love this film.


JUNE 6

10:15am   Strangers On A Train(1951)  
A man's joking suggestion that he and a chance acquaintance trade murders turns deadly.
Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Leo G. Carroll Dir: Alfred Hitchcock BW-101 mins, TV-PG


I know some people will argue but...Hitchcock never made a better film.


JUNE 7

4:15am  Defiant Ones, The (1958)  
Two convicts, a white racist and an angry black, escape while chained to each other.
Cast: Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, Charles McGraw Dir: Stanley Kramer BW-96 mins, TV-PG


A white guy chained to a black guy (and a better looking guy at that). They sure knew how to punish those white boys in the south..


JUNE 8

It's  The Saint day on TCM.  6 different  Saint movies in a row and the first one stars my favorite movie Saint... Louis Hayward. (But here is a shout out to Roger Moore who was a much better Saint on TV then he was a James Bond in the movies)


JUNE 9

7, count them 7 Bride movies in a row. (and not one Brother. Come on TCM no 7 Brides for 7 Brothers? And why not program them on the 7th.  Which programer missed that one.).  Not to the taste of this 3x marriage loser.


JUNE 10

8:00pm  Diabolique (1955)  
A cruel man's wife and lover plot to kill him. Cast: Paul Meurisse, Vera Clouzot, Simone Signoret, Charles Vanei Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot BW-116 mins, TV-14

The French do Noir. And do it damn well.

2:15am  Deadly Affair, The (1966) 
A secret agent investigates the tangled affairs surrounding a government official's suicide. Cast: James Mason, Simone Signoret, Maximilian Schell, Harriet Andersson Dir: Sidney Lumet. C-107 mins, TV-14

Lumet does La Carre, and nobody does it better than La Carre.


JUNE 11

A full day of  Jacques Cousteau. 19 full hours of the undersea world. Don't tell me, I'll bet it's his Birthday. What's that you say,  you don't like underwater footage...swim for your life.


JUNE 12

12:30am  Bullitt (1968) 
When mobsters kill the witness he was assigned to protect, a dedicated policeman investigates the case on his own.
Cast: Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Don Gordon Dir: Peter Yates C-114 mins, TV-MA


Forget the famous car chase (which is just as good as it is reported to be).  This film is a taunt tight little cop film that stands on it's own without the chase.


JUNE 13

3:00pm   Judgment At Nuremberg(1961)  
An aging American judge presides over the trial of Nazi war criminals.
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich Dir: Stanley Kramer BW-179 mins, TV-14


I'd watch Spencer Tracy read the phone book. And Burt Lancaster acts against type. A damn powerful film.

9:30pm  All the King's Men (1949)  
A backwoods politician rises to the top only to become corrupted.
Cast: Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Derek Dir: Robert Rossen BW-110 mins, TV-PG


A film so good it almost makes me forget about that damned book report I had to write in college.


JUNE 14

1:45am   Rebel Without a Cause(1955) 
An alienated teenager tries to handle life's troubles and an apron-wearing dad.
Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Dennis Hopper Dir: Nicholas Ray C-111 mins, TV-PG


James Dean shows why he is a legend even with so few films to show and Jim Backus makes you forget all about Mr. Magoo.
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

THE FALLING -- movie review by porfle

Archangels come to Earth to do battle once again with the minions of Lucifer in THE FALLING (2006), only this time they aren't allowed to get directly involved so they recruit a human cop named Grayson (Scott Gabelein) to get jiggy with Ol' Scratch. And since the budget is practically non-existent, we get home-video-level cinematography, acting that's not all that hot, and long stretches of dull dialogue between a few action scenes. On the plus side, some of this almost accidentally manages to be mildly entertaining.

At least everyone involved takes it seriously and seems to be trying their best. The main archangel, Michael (Rory Colin Fretland), who looks a bit like a clean-shaven Ron Jeremy with icy-blue contacts, reveals the existence of a lost book of the Bible--"The Proclamation of Michael"--to a priest named Father McQueen (Donovan Marley). It tells of a coming war between the forces of God and Lucifer which will decide the fate of Mankind forever and all that. Big L himself (Michael Ayden) shows up looking like a nattily-dressed male model, calls himself Eric Laceon, and goes around sneering at the archangels and putting the moves on Grayson's sister Kristy (Tellier Killaby). After struggling with his faith for awhile, Grayson finally mans up enough to go mano-a-mano with Lucifer in a field somewhere with the archangels solemnly looking on.

Writer-director Nicholas Gyeney tries to make some of the dialogue scenes seem more kinetic by whipping the camera back and forth between characters, which just gives the direction a haphazard look. When Grayson takes on Lucifer's motley minions, Gyeney (with his editor's hat on) does a pretty good job of piecing together the snippets of action to make them flow. He also comes up with some fairly cool images here and there, such as the scene in which Lucifer stands on a dock and brings forth a couple of naked goons from the boiling water of a lake. As this is his first time as a director, Gyeney may have the potential for better films in his future.


The acting, on the whole, is pretty amateurish. Gabelein has his moments as Grayson, and Ayden is somewhat effective as a low-key Lucifer, especially when he's filling an uncertain Grayson's ears with persuasive lies and half-truths. Fretland's "Michael", on the other hand, looks as though he's been scarfing a little too much angel food cake, and the rest of the archangels seem to have been recruited from a bus stop somewhere. Marley is pretty good as Father McQueen, who gets kidnapped by the bad guys early on and makes a surprise reappearance at the end. Justin Dillon and Jason Thayer are adequately vile as Lucifer's lackeys Belial and Leviathan.

The story takes forever to get going, and after what feels like an endless amount of build-up the movie's already almost over. What's more, the ending is so wide-open and full of loose ends that it practically screams "continued in next movie." While THE FALLING isn't all that bad for a no-budget actioner, I'm not sure I'm all that excited about a sequel.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Anchor Bay Entertainment prepares you for the AFTER.LIFE! Coming to DVD and Blu-ray August 3rd


LIAM NEESON, CHRISTINA RICCI, AND JUSTIN LONG STAR IN THE ANCHOR BAY FILMS’ THRILLER "AFTER.LIFE"

On DVD and Blu-ray™ Tuesday, August 3rd


BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Liam Neeson (Taken, Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace), Christina Ricci (The Addams Family, Penelope), and Justin Long (He’s Just Not That Into You, Drag Me to Hell) star in the psychological thriller After.Life, on DVD and Blu-ray™ on Tuesday, August 3rd from Anchor Bay Entertainment (Pre-Book July 1st).  Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, and released theatrically by Anchor Bay Films, After.Life tells the story of a young woman (Ricci) caught between life and death and a funeral director (Neeson) who appears to have the gift of transitioning the dead, but might just be intent on burying her alive.  SRP is $29.98 for the DVD and $34.98 for the Blu-ray™ edition.

The After.Life DVD and Blu-ray™ bonus features include audio commentary with Co-Writer/Director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Delving Into The After.Life: The Art of Making a Thriller, and the theatrical trailer.How often do we appreciate something only when we lose it?  In After.Life, Anna’s (Christina Ricci) quest for love and happiness takes a macabre turn when, after a car accident, she wakes up to find the local funeral director Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) preparing her body.  He calmly tells her she’s dead. Her funeral is in three days time.  As Anna is forced to face her deepest fears and accept her death, her boyfriend Paul (Justin Long) begins to suspect Eliot may not be who he appears to be.  Does Eliot truly have the gift to talk to the dead and help them transition to the afterlife?  Or is he concealing a more sinister secret?  With its constant edge of menace, After.Life is a stylish psychological thriller that provocatively blurs the razor thin line between life and death.  


AFTER.LIFE DVD
Street Date:               August 3, 2010
Pre-book:                   July 1, 2010
Cat. #:                         AF21688
UPC:                           0 1313 21428-9 0
Run Time:                   103 minutes
Rating:                        Rated R for nudity, disturbing images, language and brief sexuality.
SRP:                           $29.97
Format:                       2.40:1 / 16x9
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                    English SDH, Spanish
Bonus Features:        Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
                                    Delving Into The After.Life: The Art of Making a Thriller
Theatrical Trailer

AFTER.LIFE BLU-RAY™
Street Date:               August 3, 2010
Pre-book:                   July 1, 2010
Cat. #:                         BD21691
UPC:                           0 1313 21691-9 4
Run Time:                   103 minutes
Rating:                        Rated R
SRP:                           $34.98
Format:                       2.40:1 / 16x9
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 5.1
Subtitles:                    English SDH, Spanish
Bonus Features:        Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
                                    Delving Into The After.Life: The Art of Making a Thriller
Theatrical Trailer

Buy it at Amazon.com:
After.Life [Blu-ray]
After.Life
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CULT BRAND TARTAN BRINGS IN NEW LEADERSHIP TO REVIVE BRAND


LOS ANGELES — For immediate release ­ Vin Roberti, Chairman of Palisades Media Corp., announced today that veteran industry executive, Soumya Sriraman, has been named President and CEO of Palisades Tartan US and UK.

"Soumya's executive background with the studios and entrepreneurial spirit coupled with her fresh perspective and keen insights make her an ideal fit for our growing company," stated Roberti. "We are looking forward to her immediate contributions."

Sriraman added, “Vin’s track record of success with Palisades is reflected in the amazing catalog and team he has built.  I am a huge fan of the Tartan catalog and plan to aggressively rebuild the brand and introduce US audiences to a new collection of cutting-edge and remarkable films.”

Palisades Tartan has emerged as one of the premier distributors of independent and arthouse cinema in the US and UK and has been on the forefront of consumer trends.  Straddling both continents, their film line-up boasts an impressive repertoire in the UK including the Ingmar Bergman library, Takashi Miike’s AUDITION, horror phenom THE RING and INFERNAL AFFAIRS, which was successfully remade in the US and titled THE DEPARTED. Apart from many favorites such as Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs and Carlos Reygadas’s Silent Light, the US library is anchored by Park Chan-wook’s Cannes jury prize winner, OLDBOY, the film that famously introduced the Western World to the Asia Extreme brand.

Roberti and Sriraman added that they planned to aggressively build the Palisades Tartan brand in the US and UK territories with new strategic acquisitions and mergers over the coming year.  Sriraman remarked that despite shrinking shelf space, newer delivery mechanisms including digital represented a significant opportunity offering consumers many viewing modes to whet their appetite for independent films.

Sriraman entered into an undisclosed multi-year contract with the company and will be relocating to New York from Los Angeles.  She will immediately begin representing the company at the major film markets worldwide and aggressively source new partnerships.

Most recently, Sriraman was Senior Vice President at Universal Music and Video Distribution¹s filmed entertainment arm, Vivendi.  As one of the early members on the Vivendi core executive team, she helmed the growth of the company¹s home entertainment, theatrical and TV divisions, contributing to their successes.  Prior to Vivendi, she was at Warner Home Video where she spearheaded core initiatives in the TV franchise division like Friends Finale, the rebranding efforts on ER etc.  Earlier, at Universal Home Entertainment, she was a pioneer in the DVD catalog space, leading the successful re-launches of Scarface and Animal House, the former considered the most successful catalog relaunch in the history of DVD.

Ms. Sriraman has over 12 years of experience in the filmed entertainment space in a vast range of disciplines including category management, brand marketing, sales analysis, theatrical distribution and TV licensing.  An engineer by education, Soumya holds a M.S. in Transportation Engineering from Texas A&M University and a MBA from University of California, Irvine.

ABOUT PALISADES TARTAN

Tartan Films was originally founded in 1984 in the UK and is credited with bringing Asian Extreme film to the West as well as some of the most compelling art house films of the last quarter century. In May 2008, Palisades Pictures acquired Tartan Films US library assets and two months later, acquired a majority of Tartan Films UK’s 400+ film library assets. The new company Palisades Tartan has operations both nationally and internationally. Palisades Tartan will continue to expand an already distinctive and provocative slate of films by focusing on quality film acquisitions, thus significantly increasing the size of their overall library in both territories. Palisades Pictures and its parent company Palisades Media Corp is a prestigious financier of print & advertising for the independent film market.  Together with its affiliate, Palisades Media Asset Fund, Palisades has securitized and financed more than 550 films. www.PalisadesTartan.com
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

SHAW BROTHERS COLLECTION II -- DVD review by porfle

(Brothers Five/ Holy Flame of the Martial World/ Journey of the Doomed/ Brave Archer and His Mate)


More lightning fists, flying feet, and clanging blades collide in SHAW BROTHERS COLLECTION II, a four-disc DVD set containing further fantastic adventures in the "Sword Masters" series. 


BROTHERS FIVE (1970), a raucous frenzy of clashing swords and impossible feats of derring-do, has just enough story to string together one blade brawl after another. We're back in ancient China again, where evil Long Zhen Feng (Feng Tien) and the villainous cutthroats of Flying Dragon villa keep the countryside in a state of terror.  Young swordsman Gao Wei (Yueh Hua) travels there to settle an old score with Long Zhen Feng, who murdered his father and took over the villa from him. 

On his way there, he meets beautiful Miss Yan (Cheng Pei Pei), who informs him that he has four brothers and that it was his father's dying wish that they someday reunite and avenge him.  Eventually the five brothers--Gao Wei, burly blacksmith Gao Hao, scholar Gao Zhi (Kao Yuan), dashing bandit Gao Xia (Lo Leih), and Security Bureau chief Gao Yong (Chang I)--join forces to take on the bad guys.

Once the exposition is taken care of, the story barely gets in the way of a succession of battle scenes that seem to crop up every few minutes or so.  Blacksmith Gao Hao settles an altercation in the street with the Flying Dragons by swinging his mighty hammer with deadly effect, while Shaolin-trained bookworm Gao Zhi has a nifty battle against two of them in a restaurant.  Gao Yong's Security Bureau men are ambushed and wiped out on an isolated road, and his assistant Chu, played by a very young Sammo Hung, is killed. 

Most of the fighting takes place in and around the Flying Dragon villa, with the brothers going up against impossible odds time after time.  The group choreography is excellent, with foreground fighters surrounded by several other fairly realistic battles going on all around them.  There's plenty of sword-clanging action and some pleasingly fake wirework, including one astounding shot in which kung fu mistress Miss Yan makes her escape by suddenly and inexplicably flying away like Superman.  The drawback here is that a monotonous sameness begins to set in after awhile, with one drawn-out clash beginning to pretty much resemble the next.  But it's all solidly directed by Wei Lo and expertly performed.


The topper comes after Miss Yan introduces the brothers to the special Five Tigers kung fu technique ("Five tigers, one heart") which requires five men with different skills to pull it off.  During their climactic free-for-all against a seemingly invincible Long Zhen Feng, they go into their rotating Five Tigers formation, which resembles one of those razzle-dazzle cheerleader formations and is pretty funny to look at.  The five brothers whirl around in this position for awhile, which seems to confuse Long Zhen Feng and leave him open to attack, so they start leaping at him.  I won't give away the exciting conclusion.

With nice period atmosphere, furious swordplay and martial arts mayhem, and likable characters (Miss Yan is particularly captivating and the brothers are a robust bunch), BROTHERS FIVE overcomes a tendency toward occasional monotony and is ultimately a pretty colorful and entertaining adventure. 


Making just about every other movie in the world seem slow-moving and mundane in comparison, HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (1983) is about as close to a total cinematic freak-out as you could imagine. 

Wan Ching Chung and his wife are killed by white-haired, bushy-eyebrowed Grand Master Jing Yin (Leanne Lau) and her associate Monster Yu (Jason Pai Piao) after they're forced to reveal the location of the Creed of the Holy Flame.  The Phantom (Philip Kwok) swoops in and rescues the dead couple's baby boy Wan Tien Sau, pledging that in 18 years the boy will return to get revenge.  Jing Yin takes their baby girl Dan Fung and raises her as a warrior in the all-female Er Mei clan, telling her that the Phantom killed her parents. 

Eighteen years later, Wan Tien Sau (Max Mok) is sent off to seek the Holy Flame.  Along the way, he rescues the beautiful Juan Er (Mary Jean Reimer) from the evil Blood Sucking Clan and she inadvertently gains great power in her index finger after touching an enchanted snake's bladder.  Meanwhile, Jing Yin, who possesses a Yin version of the Holy Flame, sends Dan Fung to avenge herself against the Phantom and retrieve the Holy Flame's Yang counterpart, which will give Jing Yin great power.  This sets the stage for a series of battles like you wouldn't believe between Wan Tien Sau, Dan Fung, Jing Yin and Monster Yu, Monster Yu's impetuous young apprentice Duan, Golden Snake Boy, the wacky Eight Righteous Clans, and Juan Er's Mighty Finger.


I just don't know what to think about this movie.  It's like taking an acid trip on a rollercoaster.  I'd call it cartoonish, but I doubt if even Tex Avery ever made a cartoon with such a breakneck pace and rapid-fire editing, nor such a dizzying, non-stop bombardment of bizarre images.  Director Tony Liu Jun-guk couldn't be less concerned with how realistic the wirework is, which doesn't matter anyway because characters continuously zip around all over the place in fast-motion like a bunch of flying speed freaks.  In addition to this is the precision fight choreography that is quite impressive, and lots of colorful FX animation.

The characters also display a wonderful variety of super-powers.  The Phantom's main weapon is his "Ghostly Laugh"--he sits crosslegged and convulses with broad, forced laughter, creating a deadly cyclone all around him which terrifies Jing Yin and Monster Yu until they learn how to make their ears close up by themselves.  In return, they attack with the horrific Bone Incineration By Fire and Merry-Go-Round techniques.  Wan Tien Sau is able to make his Devil Sword fly around as though he were operating it with an invisible remote control. 

Blaring music and an endless cacophony of sound effects bombard the viewer along with the freakish visuals.  One of the best sequences is when a 1,000-year-old corpse, which Lam May Heung brought home from a trip out West, comes to life spouting English phrases such as "I KILL YOU!" and, sure enough, decides to kill him.  Another is Wan Tien Sau's search for the Holy Flame inside the Moon Cavern, where he's attacked by cool cartoon ghosts and giant Chinese text that pops off the floor and flies around trying to do him in. 

From the moment this utterly kooky film bursts out of the gate it just doesn't stop, plunging headlong through a rapid-fire succession of breathtakingly off-the-wall scenes until the hilarious conclusion.  Possibly the downright nuttiest movie I've ever seen, ever, HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD is funny, exciting, stupefying, and wonderfully endearing.


After HOLY FLAME, 1985's JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED seems positively sedate.  Despite some comedy here and there, it's mainly a tale of tragic romance with intermittent swordplay and some surprisingly adult elements.

The madame of a classy brothel, Big Sister, gets in hot water with an evil client named Mr. Duan after he cruelly breaks in a new girl whose best friend, Shui-erh, an orphan whom Big Sister has raised since childhood, throws a snake at him.  Shui-erh is actually the illegitimate daughter of a prince who's next in line to become Emperor, and Big Sister figures that this scandalous information will be valuable to the second-in-line prince so she reveals it to him in return for squaring things with Duan.  Second Prince sends the Three Knights--Fei-hsia, Xi Ma Cross, and Swallow 13--to capture Shui-erh so he can show her to Dad, while First Brother sends bad warrior Shan and two murderous Black Dragon Order swordswomen, Spicy Double Wind Eel and Monkey Lin, to kill everyone in the brothel.

Shui-erh escapes into the woods and is helped by a handsome young fisherman whom she calls "Knight."  It turns out that he is the younger brother of Spicy Double Wind Eel, which complicates things a bit.  Shui-erh and Knight fall in love while living in the secluded beach shack of a kindly mute girl, but Shui-erh becomes jealous of her and runs away, falling into the hands of the Three Knights.  Fei-hsia, who is in love with Shan and under his hypnotic spell, makes off with Shui-erh before she can be taken to the palace and delivers her to Shan at the Mysterious Fire Village, where a fierce battle between Shan and the Knights takes place over the fate of the future princess.

Director Chuen-Yee Cha's JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED has few major action setpieces compared to most Shaw Brothers films, and there isn't a lot of effort put into making the characters' fighting skills look all that convincing.  The main emphasis is on the love story, which is less than riveting.  Much of the middle part of the film resembles one of those BLUE LAGOON-type flicks about young lovers cavorting in the wild, with Shui-erh's spoiled brattiness getting a bit trying after awhile.  The lack of chemistry between the two actors is obvious when they kiss--she keeps her lips pressed firmly together as though being forced to eat spinach, while he practically tries to suck her entire face into his mouth.

Still, leather-clad babe Monkey Lin is entertaining whether taking on a bunch of inept guys just for fun or having it out with Spicy Double Wind Eel when she tries to kill her brother.  Most startling is the sequence in which Monkey and Spicy slaughter the prostitutes of Big Sister's brothel, and the final battle at Mysterious Fire Village is impressively staged.  There isn't much wirework here and fantasy elements are kept to such a minimum that when animated light beams eminate from Shan's eyes as he hypnotizes Fei-hsia, it seems almost out of place.


What sets this film apart is the nudity and softcore sex.  An early scene with Big Sister and her brothel partner gettin' it on is totally gratuitous, but the fact that she's so gorgeous makes it my favorite part of the movie.  Mr. Duan's session with the virgin Xio Cai is considerably less romantic, as he whips and even brands her while roughly availing himself of her supple body.  Later, things get sappy during Shui-erh and Knight's idyllic wilderness interlude, which even includes one of those cutesy montages set to the tune of a bad 80s power ballad.  This entire sequence slows the movie down and it doesn't pick up again until we get to the Mysterious Fire Village.

After recently watching several Shaw Brothers films which are loaded with wall-to-wall action and fantasy, JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED comes as a letdown.  It does have its charming moments and a certain amount of excitement, but it isn't a film I'll feel compelled to revisit any time soon.


Probably the most frustrating movie in the collection is Chang Cheh's BRAVE ARCHER AND HIS MATE (1982), because while it features a generous amount of impressive hand-to-hand combat, acrobatics, and swordplay, the story is a cluttered patchwork that makes little sense.

I won't even begin to try and unravel the knotty plot with all of its superflous and dead-end elements except to say that it begins with hero Kuo Tsing (Philip Kwok) and his beloved wife Huang Yung (Gigi Wong) becoming the guardians of an orphaned baby boy named Yang Guo after a deadly encounter with the evil Ouyang Fung (Wong Lik) in Iron Spear Temple.  The baby grows up to become a flakey slacker (Alexander Fu Sheng) who gets picked on by his foster parents' other kung fu pupils until he discovers Ouyang Fung still living in the abandoned temple.  The crazed old man, who has lost his memory, desires a son and offers to teach Yang Guo his invincible Frog Skill kung fu if he'll call him "father." 

Still a goofball but now armed with the power of the Frog technique, Yang Guo is tricked into thinking that his real father, Yang Kang, was a hero who was murdered by Kuo Tsing and Huang Yung.  His ill-fated alliance with Ouyang Fung seems to set up the rest of the plot until the movie takes a sudden left turn and ends up in a monastery where Kuo Tsing takes Yang Guo and fellow pupil Wu Sau Man (Chin Siu-Ho) to be mentored by his former teachers.  There's a whole other subplot about suitors coming to the monastery in order to duel for the hand of a mysterious woman who lives in a tomb (it's a long story).  Between the ardent suitors and the hostile apprentices of the monks, Kuo Tsing and his two charges find themselves in one furious battle after another until the movie simply screeches to a halt as though the DVD had gotten stuck.

I haven't seen any of the other "Brave Archer" films (this is the fourth) but I assume that they must have some archery in them since this one doesn't.  There is, however, a lot of carefully-staged action that is worth wading through the muddled plot for.  The melodramatic early scenes in the Iron Spear Temple are overly laden with exposition but feature some good fights, while the climactic sequence in and around the Quanzhen Sect's monastery is non-stop sword-clanging and kung fu fun.  In between, the business with crazy old Ouyang Fung returning to make trouble leads to some good clashes as well.  What weighs the film down, however, is the fact that all of this action is unsupported by a coherent story.


Philip Kwok is always a welcome presence in these films and Gigi Wong is beautiful and appealing as Huang Yung, while Wen Hsueh-erh is cute as a button as their daughter, Guo Fu.  Unfortunately, her character disappears halfway through the movie.  Wong Lik is a lot of fun as Ouyang Fung but he also drops out long before the extended end sequence. 

Worst of all is Alexander Fu Sheng's supposedly funny Yang Guo, who would be more at home in a "Bill and Ted" movie than in this one.  The relentlessly unamusing Yang Guo gets harder to take as the story progresses, ultimately becoming rather repellent.  The film ends with a freeze-frame closeup of him mugging like an idiot while the story remains frustratingly unresolved.

It would be nice if BRAVE ARCHER AND HIS MATE had been about Brave Archer and his mate, instead of devoting so much of its running time to the painfully uninteresting and pointless Yang Guo character.  As it is, the film fails to weave a compelling story out of its various plot threads and is watchable mainly for its furious action scenes. 

As with the first Shaw Brothers collection, each of the four DVDs in this set from Well Go USA, Inc. and Celestial Pictures is widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Soundtrack is in Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles.  The theatrical trailer for each film is included.  SHAW BROTHERS COLLECTION II is a mixed bag, containing two rousing and highly-entertaining adventures along with a couple of somewhat less successful efforts.  As with most SB films, all are worth watching, but you may not find them all worth re-watching.

Buy it at Amazon.com
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

HE WAS A QUIET MAN -- movie review by porfle

Unappreciated and often bullied in his menial job, office drone Bob Maconel (Christian Slater) sits in his cubicle fondling a gun and seriously entertaining the notion of blowing several of his co-workers away before offing himself. Suddenly he hears gunshots and sees people falling. Incredibly, another sad-sack employee has had the same idea and beaten him to the punch. Bob then spots the unrequited love of his life, Venessa (Elisha Cuthbert), lying wounded on the floor while the shooter takes aim to finish her off. Grabbing his own gun, Bob fills the guy full of holes and becomes a life-saving hero.

At first I thought HE WAS A QUIET MAN (2007) was going to be yet another account of a disturbed loner who goes postal and starts killing people, but after this early sequence I realized it might be somewhat less predictable than that. As a reward for his bravery, Bob gets bumped upstairs to a higher position that ends up being just as demeaning as his previous one, but with a window. When he goes to the hospital to visit Venessa, who is now paralyzed from the neck down, she spits in his face. Later, after she stops blaming him for her plight and they begin to form an emotional bond, she asks Bob to help her commit suicide. But he can't let go that easily now that the chance to win her love actually seems to be within his limited grasp.

For me, the most unforgettable scene takes place on the night Venessa plans to die under the wheels of a subway train. After spiriting her out of the hospital, Bob takes her to a swanky restaurant for an extravagant last meal, and then to a small karaoke bar where Venessa insists on taking the stage. She sings a heartfelt rendition of "Midnight Train to Georgia" in which Bob, after some urging, actually comes out of his shell enough to croak backup. As the smiling audience warms up to them, it seems for a moment that the now-joyful Venessa's suicidal urge is fading. Then, suddenly, something so utterly appalling happens that I couldn't believe writer-director Frank A. Cappello would actually do this to these characters! Venessa is humiliated beyond belief, and the scene is about as emotionally devastating as it gets.

Then it's on to the subway station, where Bob is supposed to release the wheelchair and allow the sloped platform to carry Vanessa over the edge and under the train. This sequence is so powerful it could stand alongside the best scenes from any classic film, while Elisha Cuthbert reaches an emotional peak in her performance that is heartrending. Whew...this is pretty dramatic stuff.

Christian Slater is fascinating to watch here, hardly resembling the same guy we've seen before. Not only has he been physically transformed, but his intense performance as Bob Maconel conveys the repressed rage and self-hatred that seem to eminate from his body, while the struggle to contain them renders him a perpetually hunched-over bundle of raw nerves. Even when basking in the presence of his beloved Venessa, he remains pathetic and unstable. There's plenty of room for humor here, though, since Bob is basically such a dork and his reactions to suddenly being treated like a hero are comical. Elisha Cuthbert ("24", CAPTIVITY) brings the character of Venessa to radiant life even though she only gets to act from the neck up throughout most of the movie. And as Bob's increasingly demanding and derisive boss Mr. Shelby, the great William H. Macy makes the most of his ability to portray a character whose sickly-sweet exterior masks an inner sleaze.

The inventive direction and camerawork keep things visually interesting, while Jeff Beal's outstanding musical score is almost deviously clever. I could've done without the fish, though--Bob's tropical fish talk to him in his mind, you see, and they're rendered with a half-realistic, half-cartoony CGI that takes me out of the movie whenever they appear.


The story continues to get more gripping as things go downhill. Mr. Shelby openly mocks the lovestruck Bob for thinking he may have a chance in hell with a classy babe like Venessa, especially if she were ever to regain her self-reliance. A company psychiatrist (John Gulager) nosing into the facts behind the office shooting begins to suspect that Bob isn't quite what he seems. And when Bob finally asks Venessa if she really loves him, his sanity seems to hang precipitously upon her answer.

All of which leads to the stunning conclusion, where the unrelieved tension we've seen roiling inside him since he first contemplated murder finally drives Bob to his last desperate act. The twist ending is a bit confusing at first--Cappello actually wrote and shot three alternate versions before deciding on this one, which indicates that he was a little confused himself--but there's a weird logic about it that seemed right even before I had time to think about it. And after the fade-out, HE WAS A QUIET MAN left an unquiet impression.

He Was a Quiet Man
He Was a Quiet Man [Blu-ray]
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition on Blu-ray June 29


IT CAME FOR THE THRILL OF THE HUNT

Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition on Blu-ray June 29

Arnold Schwarzenegger Stars In The Original Sci-Fi Action Hit Arriving On Blu-ray June 29 Featuring An All-New Digital Restoration Of The Film And Retrospective Documentary

Includes $10 Movie Money For Predators – In Theaters Everywhere July 9



LOS ANGELES, CA (May 20, 2010) – “If it bleeds, we can kill it…” The ultimate warrior faces the ultimate enemy when Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition arrives on Blu-ray with a stunning new restored transfer on June 29 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Available just in time for the theatrical debut of Predators on July 9, the Blu-ray includes $10 in Movie Money to see the latest film in theaters across the country.

Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger; The Terminator) wages an all-out war against an unseen enemy, a force more powerful and deadly than any on Earth-because the Predator is not of this Earth. As he leads an elite group of commandos on a rescue mission deep into the jungle, Dutch and his team quickly learn that their foe kills for pleasure and hunts for sport. However, this time….it picked the wrong man to hunt.

Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard), Predator also stars Carl Weathers (Rocky), Michael Biehn (The Terminator) and Jesse Ventura (The Running Man). Along with a complete digital restoration of the film, the all-new Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition Blu-ray is loaded with extras including a sneak-peek at the upcoming Predators, an all-new documentary entitled “Evolution of the Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection” featuring interviews with Predators producer Robert Rodriguez, director Nimród Antal and original Predator producer John Davis, a feature-length commentary by John McTiernan, making-of documentaries, behind-the-scenes footage and much more. The Blu-ray will be available for a suggested retail price of $29.99 U.S./$37.99 Canada.

Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition Blu-ray Special Features: (Catalog #2268509)
-ALL-NEW Digital Restoration of Predator
-ALL-NEW Sneak Peak at Predators
-ALL-NEW “Evolution of the Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection” Featurette
-Feature-Length Audio Commentary by John McTiernan
-Text Commentary by Historian Eric Lichtensfeld
-“If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It” Making-Of Documentary
-“Inside The Predator” Documentary
-Special Effects Featurettes
-Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
-Short Takes
-Theatrical Trailers
-Photo Galleries
-Predator Profile


About Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC (TCFHE) is a recognized global industry leader and a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a News Corporation company. Representing 75 years of innovative and award-winning filmmaking from Twentieth Century Fox, TCFHE is the worldwide marketing, sales and distribution company for all Fox film and television programming, acquisitions and original productions on DVD, Blu-ray Disc Digital Copy, Video On Demand and Digital Download. The company also releases all products globally for MGM Home Entertainment. Each year TCFHE introduces hundreds of new and newly enhanced products, which it services to retail outlets from mass merchants and warehouse clubs to specialty stores and e-commerce throughout the world.

Follow TCFHE on Twitter @foxhomeent

PREDATOR: ULTIMATE HUNTER EDITION BLU-RAY  
Street Date: June 29, 2010
Prebook Date: June 2, 2010
Screen Format: Widescreen – 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, English 4.0 Dolby Surround, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and French 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English/French/Spanish
U.S. Rating: R
Total Run Time: 108 minutes
Closed Captioned: Yes

Predator (Ultimate Hunter Edition) [Blu-ray]
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Sunday, May 23, 2010

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE -- movie review by porfle

Few novels have yielded as many movie adaptations as Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Jekyll-and-Hyde story. This tale of the eternal conflict between good and evil within every individual is not only a fascinating story, but it serves as a jumping-off point for filmmakers to come up with a seemingly endless number of variations and interpretations--DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE, DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, MARY REILLY, and even THE NUTTY PROFESSOR come to mind--with wildly varying degrees of success.

Now we can add writer-director John Carl Buechler's THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (2006) to the list. This time the story takes place in the present, retaining just enough elements of the original novel to justify using the title. Golden-voiced genre fave Tony Todd (CANDYMAN, THE CROW) stars as Dr. Henry Jekyll, a research scientist working for a corporation that's funding some kind of nano-technology experiments on chimps. He's developed a nano-serum that, when injected into the bloodstream, can drastically alter the physical makeup of the subject and devolve it to a more beastly state.

It goes without saying, of course, that Jekyll has been unwisely using the serum on himself. I'm not sure why, since this version of the character doesn't seem to be motivated by the idea of separating the good and evil sides of his nature. The fact that the serum turns him into a murderous human monster seems to be an unforeseen side-effect. But I guess it doesn't really matter, since this film doesn't aspire to be anything more than a gory monster movie--which it succeeds in doing pretty well.

This time Hyde isn't just a mean guy who murders a couple of people--he's an unstoppable killing machine whose frequent rampages result in several graphically violent murders. Buechler uses his well-known makeup-effects skills to good advantage in these scenes as Hyde disembowels people and bites off various parts of their bodies, all while gleefully entertaining them and us with Freddy Krueger-style wisecracks.

He's pretty scary, too, especially in the transformation scenes in which people who are in the company of the innocuous Jekyll suddenly find themselves confronted by the horrible Hyde. Buechler goes all out in the final scenes as Hyde's body goes out of control and starts morphing into a series of hideous forms.

It all looks low-budget and cheesy but that adds to the fun. This goes for the dialogue, too, as in this early exchange between Jekyll and Hyde:

"What the hell did you do...you murdering...ASSHOLE!"

"Tsk, tsk. Sticks and stones may bust my bones--but an asshole never hurt me."


And then there's the scene where Lt. Hamilton (Peter Jason) is scolding investigating homicide detective Karen Utterson (Tracy Scoggins) for never carrying a gun because of what happened to her former partner:

"The gun exploded in HIS hand, not yours."

"Yeah, I was there, remember? A piece of his SKULL hit me in the EYE!"

 

As indicated here, a tenuous connection is made to Stevenson's novel through the use of various character names. Scoggins is Karen Utterson, while her partner (Stephen Wastell) is named Enfield. Vernon Wells ( "Wez" of THE ROAD WARRIOR) plays Jekyll's friend Lanyon, Deborah Shelton is the ill-fated corporate executive Donna Carew, and Jekyll's personal assistant (Peter Lupus III) is named Poole. Tim Thomerson shows up in a couple of scenes as a medical examiner, but his character is named--Arnie Swift?

When Jekyll's wife Renee (Judith Shekoni) decides to throw an "Opera Night" party at the club that she manages, this finally gives Buechler an opportunity to dress his Jekyll/Hyde in the familiar top hat, tails, and cane outfit that we're accustomed to. Hyde poops the opera party big-time and heads back to the lab--leaving a trail of bodies along the way--where the police catch up to him and there's a wild free-for-all finale.

Tony Todd isn't very memorable as Dr. Jekyll, but his Mr. Hyde is delightfully horrible and over-the-top. Which is a pretty good way to describe THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Despite the literary lure of the title, it's nothing more than a gory, goofy monster movie. And sometimes that's enough.
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Friday, May 21, 2010

STARGATE UNIVERSE (SGU 1.5): THE LATEST SPACE SENSATION IS TRANSPORTED ONTO BLU-RAY DISC AND DVD ON JULY 27


Featuring An All New Survival Instinct Game And Over 90 Minutes Of Extras
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (May 20, 2010) – The latest hit series from the creators of “Stargate SG-1” makes a date with destiny when “SGU 1.5” debuts on Blu-ray Disc and DVD July 27 from MGM Home Entertainment. Featuring the final 10 episodes of season one, the story continues to follow a group of soldiers, scientists and civilians that was unexpectedly transported to the other side of the universe. Stranded billions of miles from Earth on an Ancient ship known as the Destiny, the passengers encounter adventures beyond their wildest dreams as they struggle to survive.

“Stargate Universe” recorded the highest Friday night series premiere since “Battlestar Gallactica” debuted in 2005, drawing in 2.7 million viewers. The bold and original show features an out of this world cast including Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty), Brian J. Smith (Hate Crime), David Blue (“Ugly Betty”), Jamil Walker Smith (“Hey Arnold!”), and Canadian actors Louis Ferreira, Alaina Huffman, Patrick Gilmore and Elyse Levesque. Plus fans will enjoy special appearances by original cast member Richard Dean Anderson (“MacGyver”).

Fans can also enjoy “Stargate Universe’s” very first interactive experience, the SGU: Survival Instinct Game, offered exclusively on the “SGU 1.5” Blu-ray Disc. The brand new game challenges players to use their knowledge, intelligence and skillfulness to jump through a series of time loops in order to return to the Destiny. In addition, the “SGU 1.5” Blu-ray Disc and DVD feature a universe of bonus materials including 15 behind-the-scenes featurettes, video diaries and commentary on every episode. The “SGU 1.5” three-disc Blu-ray will be available for a suggested retail price of $39.99 U.S./$49.99 Canada and the three-disc DVD will be available for $ 29.98 U.S./$37.98 Canada. A special on pack sleeve will be included for fans to combine SGU 1.0 and SGU 1.5 into one complete set. Prebook is June 30.

Blu-ray Disc Specs (Catalog # M122161):
Disc One:
Episodes
-Space
-Divided
-Faith
-Human
Special Features
 Destiny SML
  ¦ David Blue: An Interview with the Creators of SGU
  ¦ Designing A New Race: Space Aliens
  ¦ Tanked! Elyse Levesque Goes for a Swim
  ¦ Chatting With The Cast: Peter Kelamis
 Kino Video Diaries
  ¦ One Long Endless Night
  ¦ Horrible Accident
  ¦ We Volunteer to do This
  ¦ Wait For It
 Commentary by Cast and Crew on each episode

Disc Two:
Episodes
-Lost
-Sabotage
-Pain
Special Features
 Destiny SML
  ¦ Brian J. Smith: An Interview with the Creators of SGU
  ¦ The Destiny of General O’Neill
  ¦ A Day in the Life of Louis Ferreira
  ¦ Chatting with the Cast: Julia Benson
  ¦ Out for a Spacewalk with Jamil Walker Smith
  ¦ Finding Destiny: A Tour of the Destiny Set with Chris Beach
 Kino Video Diaries
  ¦ Drop the Sirs
  ¦ Like a Hug
  ¦ Painful Moments (Part 1)
 Commentary by Cast and Crew on each episode

Disc Three:
Episodes
-Subversion
-Incursion (Part 1)
-Incursion (Part 2)
Special Features
 Destiny SML
  ¦ Alaina Huffman: An Interview with the Creators of SGU
  ¦ Chatting with the Cast: Jennifer Spence
  ¦ A Behind the Scenes Look at “Incursion”
  ¦ Two-for-One: Behind the “Incursion” Double Ratchet Stunt
  ¦ Chatting with the Cast: Patrick Gilmore
 Kino Video Diaries
  ¦ All the Stages
 Commentary by Cast and Crew on each episode


Three-Disc DVD Specs (Catalog # M122162):
Disc One:
Episodes
-Space
-Divided
-Faith
Special Features
 Destiny SML
  ¦ David Blue: An Interview with the Creators of SGU
  ¦ Designing A New Race: Space Aliens
  ¦ Tanked! Elyse Levesque Goes for a Swim
  ¦ Chatting With The Cast: Peter Kelamis
  ¦ Brian J. Smith: An Interview with the Creators of SGU
  ¦ Finding Destiny: A Tour of the Destiny Set with Chris Beach
 Kino Video Diaries
  ¦ One Long Endless Night
  ¦ Horrible Accident
  ¦ We Volunteer to do This
  ¦ Wait For It
 Commentary by Cast and Crew on each episode

Disc Two:
Episodes
-Human
-Lost
-Sabotage
-Pain
Special Features
 Destiny SML
  ¦ The Destiny of General O’Neill
  ¦ Chatting with the Cast: Julia Benson
  ¦ Out for a Spacewalk with Jamil Walker Smith
 Kino Video Diaries
  ¦ Drop the Sirs
  ¦ Like a Hug
  ¦ Painful Moments (Part 1)
 Commentary by Cast and Crew on each episode

Disc Three:
Episodes
-Subversion
-Incursion (Part 1)
-Incursion (Part 2)
Special Features  Destiny SML
  ¦ A Day in the Life of Louis Ferreira
  ¦ Alaina Huffman: An Interview with the Creators of SGU
  ¦ Chatting with the Cast: Jennifer Spence
  ¦ A Behind the Scenes Look at “Incursion”
  ¦ Two-for-One: Behind the “Incursion” Double Ratchet Stunt
  ¦ Chatting with the Cast: Patrick Gilmore
 Kino Video Diaries
  ¦ All the Stages
 Commentary by Cast and Crew on each episode

Follow TCFHE on Twitter @foxhomeent

SGU 1.5
Street Date: July 27, 2010
Prebook Date: June 30, 2010
Screen Format: Widescreen – 1.78:1 (All)
Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital (BD)
English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish Dolby Surround (DVD)
Subtitles: English, French and Spanish (All)
Total Run Time: 556 minutes (BD)
537 minutes (DVD)
U.S. Rating: NR
Closed Captioned: Yes

STARGATE UNIVERSE TM & © 2010 METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER STUDIOS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Stargate Universe - SGU: Season 1.5 [Blu-ray]
Sgu 1.5 (3pc) (Ws Dub Sub Ac3 Dol)
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL SEASON ONE: PART 1 -- DVD review by porfle

I get scared walking down the dark hallway to my bathroom at night...especially after I've been watching something scary on TV.  So, needless to say, I only watched SyFy's GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL SEASON ONE: PART 1 in the daytime.  At first, anyway.  Eventually I got to where I was watching it later and later at night.  Not that it isn't spooky, because it is, but it isn't freak-me-out spooky.

This show is a spin-off of SyFy's "Ghost Hunters", and, according to some fan comments I've read, the new team is comprised largely of rejects from that and other shows.  I can only go by what I've seen here but in some cases I wouldn't doubt it.  (More on this later.)  Unlike the USA-bound "Ghost Hunters", the international version takes us to some truly fascinating locations around the world, where the supposed hauntings can date back several centuries.  This set focuses largely on the UK, in addition to scenic places such as Romania, Germany, and New Zealand, where the team gets to nose around in an awe-inspiring assortment of gloomy castles, citadels, and other medieval haunts.

After establishing the ghostly history of a location and setting up their equipment in the most likely spots, it's "lights out."  Imagine going to some of the scariest places on earth and creeping around in the dark all night, actually trying to wake the dead--I kept thinking, "What the hell's wrong with these people?  Are they nuts or what?"  There's a definite vicarious thrill to watching such a thing, imagining how it would feel to be chasing ghosts in Frankenstein's castle or hearing the growl of a devil dog in some pitch-black subterranean dungeon. 


Team leader Robb seems capable and level-headed enough, though a little humor-challenged and stiff.  Second lead investigator Andy refers to himself as the main debunker for the group, and due to his small size is often called upon to climb around precarious places or shinny through creepy crawlspaces with an admirable willingness.  In addition to coordinating the missions, these two meet with the caretakers of each location they explore and present them with the "evidence", or lack thereof, that they gather along with their pronouncement of whether or not a convincing case has been made for an actual paranormal presence.  (Those with a financial interest in the location's tourist-appeal are often visibly disappointed by a negative finding.)

The fact that Robb and Andy are as intent on discerning logical explanations for various anomalies as they are in declaring them "paranormal" adds to the show's credibility.  In one episode, the mysterious recurring aromas of cigar smoke and port wine are discovered by a hair-dryer-wielding Andy to be emanating from the furniture itself whenever it's warmed by the sun.  Strange noises, lights, and other unexplained events are often determined to be caused by any number of mundane things.  Entire segments of GHI, in fact, can consist more of debunking ghosts than encountering them, which some viewers may find boring despite the show's efforts to squeeze dramatic moments out of every creak, bump, shadow, chilly draft, tingly feeling, etc. 

Science guy Barry, an outgoing Irishman with a really bad soul patch, heads up the evidence evaluations.  He also tends to display the classic "feets don't fail me now" reaction to sudden ghostly activity.  Bantam rooster Brian is the "tech guy" in charge of the equipment, but his most notable trait is his confrontational style when dealing with spirits.  During their investigation of an opera house in New Zealand in which the architect is said to have committed suicide, Brian struts around like a twitchy street punk while shouting things like "Your theater sucks!"  I'm thinking that this may be one of the reasons Brian disappears from the show somewhere around episode nine.  His gangly, spikey-haired replacement, Dustin, known for wearing his visor cap upside-down and backwards, tends toward the dorky side but is less abrasive.


Case manager and local-history researcher Donna takes the opposite approach, settling in and spending forever gently and patiently asking questions such as "Do you like to knit or crochet?" to potential entities.  In one episode, this drives the jumpier and less-patient team member Shannon to fake Donna out by reaching around and banging on the wall behind her, leading to the show's first really classic "reality TV-drama" moment--Donna complains to Robb about Shannon's frivolous lack of devotion to their solemn mission and bad blood forms between the two which won't be resolved.  After a couple more episodes in which she clearly appears uncomfortable to be there, Shannon disappears from the show, leaving a triumphant Donna as Queen Bee until an unfortunate reoccurrence of Crohn's disease forces her to drop out.

While the team gathers reams of footage from both video and heat-sensitive cameras, we see little or nothing of the shadowy forms that often have them bug-eyed and breathless.  Most of the evidence comes from their ultra-sensitive sound recorders, which sometimes pick up what could be interpreted as human speech in response to their repetitive questions.  Occasionally a digital photo will reveal something that resembles a face if you use your imagination (which the team tends to do).  Needless to say, watching actual paranormal investigators methodically going about their jobs ain't quite the same as it is in POLTERGEIST.

Little in the way of conclusive evidence is ever found, although it's fun to watch the ghost hunters' reactions to what they call "personal experiences" such as being touched or hearing disembodied footsteps.  (The night-vision camera, which makes them all look like goggle-eyed albinos, gives everything an added element of eerieness as well.)  And the historic locations themselves, including the actual castle in which much of the silent horror classic NOSFERATU was filmed, are fascinating to explore under such ominous conditions.


The 3-disc DVD set from Image Entertainment has an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital stereo.  Discs one and two contain four episodes apiece, while disc three has the remaining three episodes and over an hour's worth of deleted and extended scenes.  The packaging is a tad inconvenient, as the discs are stacked on one hub and secured in place by a removable screw.  There are no subtitles or closed-captioning.

Hardier souls who laugh at the thought of ghosts and go traipsing around in dark, spooky places as though it were nothing will probably regard all of this with a derisive chuckle while simply enjoying the scenery.  But if the very idea of real-life hauntings chills your blood as it does mine, then GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL SEASON ONE: PART 1 should give you a pretty hefty case of the creeps. 

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND" The Complete First Season on DVD and Blu-ray September 21 from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Starz Entertainment


“A Bloody Good Time.” – The Washington Post

Four-Disc Set Contains All 13 Episodes, Armored In High-End Collectible Packaging and Armed With Bonus Features

Four Director’s Cut Extended Episodes Blu-ray™ Exclusive


Beverly Hills, CA – “SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND,” the monumental Starz Original series comes home when Anchor Bay Entertainment releases the critical and audience smash as an heroic four-disc DVD and Blu-ray™ September 21st. SRP is $59.97 for the DVD, with $79.97 for the Blu-ray™. Pre-book is August 25th. Both the “SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND - The Complete First Season” DVD and Blu-ray™ are clad in high-end collectible, book-style packaging.

Executive produced by Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Joshua Donen and Steven S. DeKnight, “SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND - The Complete First Season” on DVD and Blu-ray™ promises to take fans even deeper into the deadly brutality of gladiator games and the decadent machinations of Roman society with hours of bonus features delving behind the scenes into the making of a modern epic, including interviews and commentaries from the actors and filmmakers, augmented with rare production footage exploring the series’ ground-breaking visual effects, production and costume design.

Enhanced digital effects have been added to several of the episodes, and as a Blu-ray™ exclusive, four episodes have been personally selected as “Directors’ Cut Extended Episodes,” featuring content too risqué, even for cable TV!

“SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND,” the most highly anticipated original series in the history of Starz Entertainment, premiered on January 22, 2010 and was an instant hit with viewers and critics. The Miami Herald called it “compulsively watchable,” while the Associated Press remarked that the series “grabs you with visual pizzazz.” Entertainment Weekly declared it “the not-at-all guilty pleasure of the season,” while US Weekly gave it “3.5 out of 4 stars.” With a renowned international cast including John Hannah (the Mummy films), Peter Mensah (300), Manu Bennett (30 Days of Night), Nick E. Tarabay (“Crash”) and Lucy Lawless (“Xena: Warrior Princess”), and a star-making turn by UK-born and Australia-based Andy Whitfield in the title role, “SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND” literally re-wrote the book for television series.


“SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND” was inspired by the actual slave of the Roman Republic , who in 73 BC led a slave revolt that grew to more than 120,000 fighters. Torn from his homeland and the woman he loves, Spartacus (Whitfield), a Thracian warrior captured by Romans, is enslaved into a gladiator training school owned by Batiatus (Hannah) and his wife Lucretia (Lawless). He is forced to fight daily for his life against deadly foes, under the brutal whip of trainer Doctore (Mensah). He is condemned to the brutal world of the arena where blood and death are primetime entertainment. But not all battles are fought upon the sands. Treachery, corruption and the allure of sensual pleasures will constantly test him and his masters.

Against all odds, Spartacus’ rebellious instincts, his intense love for his wife Sura (Erin Cummings) and his powerful fighting skills drive him to win a series of near-impossible battles – setting in motion a revolution against the tyranny of Rome . To survive, he must become more than a man, more than a gladiator. He must become a legend.

The legions of “SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND” fans who have been anticipating the second season, were excited to learn earlier this month that Starz will air a six-part prequel in early 2011 that tells the story of the gladiator school before Spartacus arrives. It will focus on Batiatus and Lucretia, as well as some new characters that will be introduced.

The bonus features on “SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND - The Complete First Season” are anything but spartan. Hours of featurettes, behind-the-scenes footage, audio commentaries, interviews, and outtakes will get the “thumbs up” from the casual Thracian to the die-hard Roman!

DVD and Blu-ray™ bonus features:

Featurettes:
Gladiator Camp
History Rewritten
Make-up Effects
The Hole
And more!

Audio Commentaries
Episodes with Enhanced Digital Effects
Behind-The-Scenes Footage
Bloopers
Trailers

Exclusive Blu-ray™ bonus feature:
Four “Directors’ Cut Extended Episodes” personally selected by Executive Producer Rob Tapert



SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND - The Complete First Season DVD
Street Date:                  September 21, 2010    
Pre-book:                     August 25, 2010
Cat. #:                          ST21411
UPC:                            0 1313 21411-9 0
Run Time:                     640 Minutes
Rating:                          Not Rated
SRP:                            $59.97
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio:                          5.1 Surround


SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND - The Complete First Season BLU-RAY™
Street Date:                  September 21, 2010    
Pre-book:                     August 25, 2010
Cat. #:                          BD21420
UPC:                            0 1313 21420-9 8
Run Time:                     640 Minutes
Rating:                          Not Rated
SRP:                            $79.97
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1) 1080i
Audio:                          Dolby TrueHD 5.1

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

THE STRANGER -- DVD review by porfle

Former WWE wrestler Steve Austin may be a tough guy, but his biggest battle in THE STRANGER (2010) takes place in his own mind--which a group of shadowy bad guys from his past are doing everything they can to waste.

Steve plays Tom, a fugitive who suffers from amnesia due to some unbearable trauma in his past. Every once in a while his mind will create an entirely new identity for him, which he'll live out until his pursuers track him down and he must lose himself again. Two people especially interested in locating him are his concerned psychiatrist, Dr. Grace Bishop (Erica Cerra), and FBI agent Mason Reese (Adam Beach) who believes that Tom's mind holds the key to the identity of a Russian mole within the bureau. But they'd better find him fast, because every time he turns around someone else, including the Russian mob, is trying to kill him.

Surprisingly, THE STRANGER doesn't really have that many big action setpieces and is more concerned with telling a mysterious tale than getting our adrenaline racing. Flashbacks abound as snippets of memory keep darting through Tom's head, mostly centered on his wife and daughter apparently being killed while he's mixed up in some dangerous sting operation. We're teased with such scenes numerous times during the film as much of Tom's struggle is more internal than external. But while it's not that hard to piece much of it together ourselves, it's interesting to watch the characters slowly unravel the secrets of Tom's identity and discover a few other startling surprises as well.


There's still a good deal of action although it's mostly meat-and-potatoes stuff. The film begins with the standard foot chase through alleyways and over chainlink fences as cops pursue a long-haired and bearded Austin (now there's a sight) after he kills a gangster while foiling a kidnapping. A cop-car vs. motorcycle chase later on is similarly uninspired, while Tom's battle with a group of FBI agents in a junkyard features the usual stalk-and-disable stuff.

My favorite sequence is the one in which Tom is bound to a chair and tortured, then breaks loose and kills his way out of a Mexican police station. Austin is quite convincing performing this kind of stuff and his punches seem bone-crunchingly solid. He can also mumble a pretty good quip, such as the remark "I hope your fat ass floats" right before knocking a guy over the rail of a fishing boat.

As for acting ability, Austin has fifteen years of experience playing a WWE wrestling character and acquits himself well enough in this type of role. Erica Cerra is very appealing as Dr. Grace Bishop, who risks her life in order to help Tom put his own life back together, and Adam Beach (COMANCHE MOON) does his usual good job as FBI agent Mason Reese. (I wonder if screenwriter Quinn Scott intentionally named him after a former child actor?) The rest of the cast is good as well.


The film is adequately entertaining although the cinematography tends to be a bit murky at times and Robert Lieberman's direction is rather artless. Action junkies may be disappointed by the lack of constant visceral thrills or high-concept setpieces. The gradually unfolding mystery is interesting, yet its resolution seems like more of a set-up for part two than a satisfying conclusion. Thus, the film ends just when it should be kicking into high gear for the big finish, apparently saving the best part of the story for the sequel.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround and subtitles in English and Spanish. Extras include a brief "making of" featurette and a trailer.

I enjoyed THE STRANGER as much for its story as for the action scenes, which are okay but not all that awesome. But just when Steve Austin's character finally gets his head together, puts on a pair of cool shades, and hits the street looking for some big-time payback, the movie's over.


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