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Saturday, April 30, 2011
It's always interesting to come across an obscure, previously-unseen example of the classic 80s-era slasher flick. Few, however, are as obscure as SLEDGEHAMMER (1983), a super-low-budget chiller with the distinction of being the very first horror movie shot on video.
Writer-director David A. Prior, who went on to churn out such films as DEADLY PREY and HORROR WORKOUT, chose for his debut feature to delve into the horror genre made popular by such hits as HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH. After coming up with a screenplay that combined elements of those films with a few ideas of his own, Prior rented some commercial video equipment (thus avoiding the "camcorder" look of many later shot-on-video features), got some actors and friends together in his apartment, and managed to come up with something that a number of devoted fans are still watching and talking about almost thirty years later.
The story is pretty basic. A prologue shows a "bad mommy" (the cute Mary Mendez) locking her little boy in a closet so she can have some private time with the sleazy lover (Michael Shanahan) she's just left her husband for. But as they start to "get it on" in the livingroom, someone comes up from behind and bashes them to bits with a sledgehammer.
Cut to ten years later, when a gaggle of frat rats and their ditzy girlfriends pull up in front of the same house (which is in the middle of nowhere, of course) and come bursting out of their van ready to PAR-TEHHH! It doesn't take long for them to start getting killed off either one at a time or in pairs (right after having sex, natch) by a big scary-looking guy who wears a Halloween mask and wields a sledgehammer. Things get interesting when the story takes a supernatural turn, with the killer, the little boy, and the sledgehammer itself appearing and disappearing all over the place, giving us something to ponder about while seeing which of the erstwhile party-hearty bunch will make it out of the house alive.
I couldn't wait for this gang of beer-guzzling idiots to start getting sledgehammered, yet their antics are so ridiculous as to be almost delightfully entertaining in a way. While the acting isn't as horrible as it might have been and some of the players actually deliver dialogue fairly well, several scenes consist of nothing more than lengthy wide shots in which they all chatter away while engaging in drunken horseplay and, in the film's dumbest sequence, an utterly nauseating food fight at the dinner table.
I don't know how many guys would actually pour a bottle of mustard on their girlfriend's head as a whimsical lark, but our hero Chuck (the director's brother, Ted Prior) does just that, which doesn't set well with Joni (Linda McGill), who hits him in the face with a pie, setting off a blizzard of flying food. Later, our fun-loving dolts retire to the livingroom for alcohol-fueled activities such as pouring whiskey over their own heads, licking each other's faces, and falling out of their chairs. Brawny Bluto-equivalent John (John Eastman), who earlier amazed his friends by stuffing an entire sandwich into his mouth, entertains everyone by acting "gay" and planting a kiss on the lips of lighthearted loner Joey (Steve Wright).
Amazingly enough, there is some character development in the midst of all this. Chuck and Joni have some serious scenes in which they discuss his reluctance to get married, while pretty blonde Carol (Sandy Brooke) desperately urges handsome Jimmy (Tim Aguilar) to have sex with her and can't understand (nor can we) why he keeps putting her off. Perhaps Jimmy is aware of how dangerous it is to have sex in a slasher movie. Meanwhile, Mary (Jeanie Scheer) simply wishes that Big John would stop licking her face and evolve into something more closely resembling a human being.
The first murder comes in the middle of a seance that Chuck has arranged in order to invoke the spirits of the couple who were murdered ten years earlier. Here, both director Prior and his brother do some of their best work as Chuck dramatically recounts the creepy story (via flashbacks of the entire prologue) complete with some really good lighting and camerawork. Nobody seems to notice the absence of their murdered friend, but the discovery of two more chums bloodily bludgeoned in bed clues them in that something is amiss. In true slasher flick tradition, they decide not to flee the house but rather hole up in the livingroom until dawn, whereupon one of them wanders off alone and runs smack dab into the killer.
This is where the fun really starts, with 6'7" tall Doug Matley stalking the narrow hallway of David Prior's cramped apartment with his sledgehammer, wearing that creepy mask and popping up wherever our heroes least expect it. That pesky kid keeps turning up, too, and we're never sure what's going on with those two--are they both ghosts? Is the big guy a grown-up version of the little guy? David Prior doesn't even know. Anyway, some fairly exciting mayhem ensues and there's some homestyle gore here and there, too. Prior shows flashes of style at times and his actors rise to the occasion with some pretty enthusiastic screaming and groveling during the climactic scenes.
How much you enjoy SLEDGEHAMMER will depend largely on your tolerance for such no-budget shot-on-video fare. True connoisseurs of such VHS-era exploitation stuff will eat it up, while many viewers will find it unwatchable even though the video quality is good. The best way to appreciate it is to consider the conditions under which it was made and glean what good things are to be found, while enjoying its entertainingly bad qualities as well.
Prior does display some imagination in the supernatural aspects of the story, and his staging of scenes within the gloomy, white-walled confines of his sweltering apartment gives the film a strangely oppressive atmosphere. Not so appealing are the many slow-motion stretches used to pad the film to feature length--while some are eerily effective, others seem interminable. There is, however, a giddily perverse charm to Chuck and Joni's agonizingly slow romantic stroll in which it takes them two or three minutes just to walk twenty feet.
The DVD from Intervision Picture Corp., specialists in this kind of old-style VHS fare, is in fullscreen with Dolby Digital sound. A commentary track and a ten-minute interview both feature Clint Kelly of Riot Releasing patiently coaxing reminiscences about the film from a not-that-excited David Prior. A second commentary track with Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik of BleedingSkull.com is unreservedly fannish and a lot more fun. In addition to trailers for other Intervision releases, there are two brief featurettes--"Hammertime!" with Destroy All Movies!!! author Zack Carlson, and "Sledgehammerland" with Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald, whose big-screen showing of the film on Halloween 2008 garnered an audience of about twelve stalwart viewers.
While barely qualifying as a "movie" as most people think of them, SLEDGEHAMMER is actually one of the best shot-on-video cheapies I've seen and subsequent viewings have only increased my fondness for it. If you're nostalgic for the good old days of going to hole-in-the-wall video stores to rent worn VHS copies of horror titles now lost to the depths of obscurity, this odd little artifact of a bygone time will probably be right up your dark alley.
Buy it at Amazon.com
Friday, April 29, 2011
A richly imaginative mix of CSI-style forensic police procedurals and Victorian-era detective mysteries, Acorn Media's MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 3 is rousing good fun in every way.
Toronto of the late 1890s is the setting for the adventures of Inspector William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson), a brilliant young detective whose fascination with the scientific advancements of "The Age of Invention" gives him an invaluable advantage in solving the most baffling homicide cases. While his crusty boss Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig) is an old-school copper with a more sledgehammer approach to police work, he recognizes and supports the value of Murdoch's modern methods even when he doesn't understand them, giving him a free hand.
This is an impeccably produced series with outstanding period atmosphere. The stories, based on the novels of author Maureen Jennings, are well-written and filled with intriguing situations and wry dialogue laced with subtle humor. A wide range of baffling mysteries include everything from a locked-door murder in which the victim appears to have been cooked from the inside out ("The Tesla Effect") to an apparent haunting in a cursed mansion ("The Curse of Beaton Manor").
Unlike the aloof, arrogant, and coldly-methodical Sherlock Holmes, Murdoch (as wonderfully played by Bisson) is an unassuming gentleman of deep moral and spiritual conviction--he crosses himself whenever he discovers a dead body--who is driven by a sense of propriety and compassion. This sometimes hinders his impartiality and in certain cases causes him to arrive at incorrect conclusions, though he always reasons his way to the truth eventually. The fact that Murdoch possesses certain fallibilities, along with a tinge of Victorian rigidity that conflicts with his more liberal convictions, makes his master-detective character all the more complex and disarmingly appealing.
In a particularly interesting ongoing storyline, Murdoch's suspicion that eccentric millionaire-inventor James Pendrick (Peter Stebbings) is a criminal mastermind behind a series of high-profile crimes will lead to several scintillating encounters culminating in the exciting season finale. While Pendrick proves a challenging intellectual match for Murdoch, his beautiful and mysterious wife Sally (Kate Greenhouse) becomes a tempting distraction as her relationship with Murdoch grows almost indecently bold.
The retro-futuristic concepts and devices which are so cleverly woven into each plotline are consistently intriguing without veering into the improbable or becoming mere gimmicks. These run the gamut from simple things such as Murdoch's use of "fingermarks" in identifying suspects, to larger concepts like eugenics and a microwave death ray as conceived by Nikola Tesla (Dmitry Chepovetsky). One of the show's many pleasures is watching Murdoch dazzle the admiring Inspector Brackenreid time and again with his newfangled techniques while leaving their stuffy, skeptical superiors in a state of consternation.
Also on the cutting edge of science as well as the burgeoning women's movement is the precinct's ace medical examiner, Dr. Julia Ogden (a radiant Helene Joy). Dr. Ogden applies her up-to-date forensic skills to an endless parade of murder victims and comes up with evidence that would've been undetectable using more antiquated methods. Bisson and Joy have a warm chemistry together during the scenes in which their characters pursue a long and chaste courtship, which reaches a crisis stage in the season cliffhanger with Dr. Ogden making a fateful decision about her medical career.
Additional characters include Jonny Harris as Constable George Crabtree, a bright but callow young officer eager to follow in Murdoch's footsteps, and Lachlan Murdoch as comic-relief bumbler Constable Higgins. In addition to Nikol Tesla, Murdoch also meets author H.G. Wells (Peter Mikhail) in the eugenics-based episode "Future Imperfect." Fans of the homespun Canadian comedy series "The Red Green Show" will be pleased to find regulars Patrick McKenna ("Harold Green") as an inept visiting detective in the season opener "The Murdoch Identity" and Peter Keleghan ("Ranger Gord") as a shady government agent in "The Tesla Effect."
Other noteworthy episodes include: "Me, Myself, and Murdoch", a study of multiple personalities with a dazzling performance by guest star Anastasia Phillips as a troubled girl found with a bloody axe in her hands after the murder of her father; "Rich Boy, Poor Boy", in which Inspector Brackenreid's own son Bobby is kidnapped after being mistaken for a millionaire's son; "The Great Wall", a tale of anti-Chinese racism with Murdoch's investigation of a cop killer possibly implicating members of a rival precinct; and "Love and Human Remains", in which the mummified bodies of three people challenge Murdoch and Dr. Ogden to solve a 60-year-old murder mystery. Season opener "The Murdoch Identity" finds the amnesia-stricken detective in a quest to track down his own past while eluding a gang of unknown men who are out to kill him.
The four-disc, 13-episode DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital stereo sound and English subtitles. Extras consist of three brief featurettes (making of, costumes, makeup) and an alternate ending for episode 13 "The Tesla Effect" which wraps up a dangling storyline in the event that the series wasn't picked up for a fourth season (it was).
Nicely blending a hazy atmosphere of Victorian antiquity with intriguing flashes of the modern, MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 3 is a satisfying, finely-rendered detective series brimming with creativity and imagination. Best of all, it's stocked with characters that you'll enjoy spending time with.
Buy it at Amazon.com:
Thursday, April 28, 2011
OSCAR WINNER© NICOLAS CAGE STARS IN THE SUPERNATURAL ACTION-ADVENTURE "SEASON OF THE WITCH"
Arrives on Blu-ray and DVD June 28
LOS ANGELES, CA (April 28) – Oscar© winner Nicolas Cage ('National Treasure', Best Actor, ‘Leaving Las Vegas’) and Ron Perlman ('Hellboy', TV’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’) star in SEASON OF THE WITCH, a supernatural action adventure about a heroic Crusader, Knight Behmen (Cage) and his fellow soldier, Felson (Perlman) who must transport a woman accused of being a witch to a remote monastery. The arduous journey across perilous terrain tests their strength and courage as they discover the girl's secret and find themselves battling a terrifyingly powerful force that will determine the fate of the world.
Directed by Dominic Sena (Gone in Sixty Seconds, Swordfish), SEASON OF THE WITCH comes to Blu-ray and DVD June 28 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and includes a shocking alternate ending, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentaries (Blu-ray only) and more.
SEASON OF THE WITCH was released theatrically by Relativity Media and produced by Atlas Entertainment.
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 Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment on Twitter @FoxHomeEnt
SEASON OF THE WITCH Blu-ray (Catalog # 2275600) U.S.
Street Date: June 28, 2011
Pre-book Date: May 18, 2011
Screen Format: Widescreen 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio Format: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA; Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital; French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Languages: Dubbed English, French & Spanish; Subtitled English, French & Spanish
MPAA U.S. Rating: PG-13
Total Run Time: 95 Minutes
SEASON OF THE WITCH DVD (Catalog # 2275593) U.S.
Street Date: June 28, 2011
Pre-book Date: May 18, 2011
Screen Format: Widescreen 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio Format: English 5.1 Dolby Digital; Spanish Dolby Surround; French Dolby Surround
Languages: Dubbed English, French & Spanish; Subtitled English, French & Spanish
MPAA U.S. Rating: PG-13
Total Run Time: 95 Minutes
Buy it at Amazon.com:
It's the same old love story you've heard a million times--boy meets girl, boy falls madly, obsessively in love with girl, girl eventually becomes creeped out by boy and gets engaged to another guy, boy freaks out and hires thugs to throw acid in girl's face. Okay...maybe we haven't heard this one that many times.
There's enough material right there for a pretty good story, but CRAZY LOVE (2007) just keeps getting crazier. This has got to be the most bizarre love story I've ever heard, or at least in the top three. It's all true, too--nobody could make this stuff up. And, like Forrest Gump or Zelig, the strange saga of Burt and Linda is laced with famous people and historical events that make it even more compelling. But before it's all over, they're pretty famous themselves.
It all started the day a young ambulance-chasing lawyer and B-movie producer named Burt Pugach, described by one interviewee as resembling the nebbishy actor Arnold Stang, laid eyes on a beautiful young woman name Linda Niss on a street corner in the Bronx back in 1957. Burt's aggressively full-throttle courtship of Linda began immediately, and while she wasn't nearly as taken with him, his extravagant lifestyle was attractive to her--until she found out he was already married and his current wife had no intention of granting him a divorce. With that, she ended their "engagement" and began to seek romance elsewhere.
Burt did not take this well. What follows is an increasingly outrageous series of events that include the aforementioned acid incident, Burt's bizarre trial in which he served as his own defense and ended up in prison for several years (where he was almost killed during the Attica uprising), and his eventual parole, when--sure enough--he started stalking Linda all over again.
The present-day Burt, a normal-enough looking older guy, sits cheerfully recounting his craze-o past while you can almost see the image of his beloved Linda still swirling through his mind and lighting up his eyes. Meanwhile, there sits a barely-recognizable Linda somewhere else (somewhere far away from Burt, we hope), "bald and blind" as a friend describes her, wearing an obvious wig and dark glasses, puffing a cigarette and giving her side of the story. We aren't told the present circumstances of the two for a long time--it's an intriguing mystery that runs through most of the film and isn't resolved until the final act, which left me almost numb with disbelief.
This offbeat documentary by Dan Klores, who gave us the excellent VIVA BASEBALL! two years earlier, and co-director Fisher Stevens, is loaded with on-camera interviews with many of the people involved, which are all smoothly linked together with old photographs and home movies of Burt and Linda, vintage stock footage from the New York State Archives and other sources, and lots of news footage. There's also a killer soundtrack with songs from Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis, Edie Brickell, and several others, plus a cool original score by Douglas J. Cuomo, all nicely evocative of the period.
But it's those interview segments with Burt and Linda that get ya the most, especially when CRAZY LOVE reaches its final minutes and the true craziness of the whole thing is finally revealed. Everybody loves a love story, they say, but I'm not sure everybody's quite ready for this one.
Buy it at Amazon.com
Monday, April 25, 2011
Best British TV on DVD - U.S. Debuts, Blu-ray, Keeley Hawes, Genius of Britain, New Tricks, Doc Martin
Following the critically-acclaimed release of Upstairs, Downstairs: 40th Anniversary Edition, Acorn Media’s upcoming DVD release calendar features several highly entertaining British series previously unavailable to U.S. audiences, including Identity, a slick identity theft series with Upstairs, Downstairs revival star Keeley Hawes and The Wire’s Aidan Gillen; and the inspiration for the star-studded American remake in development at ABC.
Additionally, the U.S. debuts of the third season of Murdoch Mysteries (DVD and Blu-ray) - the critically-acclaimed Sherlock Holmes meets CSI series; The Feathered Serpent Complete Series, the cult classic set in ancient Mexico featuring Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who, The Omen); Circles of Deceit, riveting spy thrillers featuring Dennis Waterman (New Tricks) and guest stars Derek Jacobi, Corin Redgrave, John Hannah, and Leo McKern; and Genius of Britain: The Scientists Who Changed the World a new documentary featuring Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, James Dyson, and David Attenborough discussing the legacies of their heroes.
Also, Robin of Sherwood, Set 1, the definitive retelling of the Robin Hood legend makes its Blu-ray debut with more than eight hours of extras; starring Michael Praed (Dynasty) and Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Departed); and New Tricks Season 4, the must-see, smash hit crime series seen on public television; featuring a brilliant cast, deft writing, and an irresistible blend of compelling drama and dry humor.
This week: The must-see PBS hit series Doc Martin Collection: Series 1-4 starring Martin Clunes as a British version of House; as well as the light-hearted WWII-era comedy drama Demob also-starring Clunes; and 20th Century with Mike Wallace: America at War, featuring expert analysis from David Halberstam, Robert S. McNamara, and Sen. John McCain.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
If you love dogs, you'll understand why Avery Ludlow (Brian Cox) won't rest until he gets justice for the senseless shooting of his best friend RED (2008), and you'll root for him all the way. Needless to say, it's hard to see a good dog get murdered by bad guys, as happens in such films as HONDO, BIG JAKE, and THE ROAD WARRIOR in scenes that I still find painful to watch. Here, the incident occurs early and serves to light the slow fuse for the powderkeg we know will go off before the movie's over.
Like SLING BLADE, this is a leisurely-paced character study that takes place in a rural setting and slowly builds toward a violent climax. Here, the main character of Avery Ludlow is an older gent who lives with his beloved canine companion Red, having tragically lost his wife and two sons years earlier. While enjoying a lazy afternoon's fishing at a secluded lake, Avery is accosted by three young punks--brothers Danny and Harold, and their friend Pete--who first try to rob him and, discovering that the old geezer doesn't have enough cash to bother with, shotgun his dog just for the sadistic hell of it.
Crushed beyond words, Avery tracks down the identity of the shooter and confronts the boy's father, McCormack (a blonde Tom Sizemore), in the hope of at least inspiring a little parental discipline. But it turns out that the father is just as much of a punk as the kid, and a rich, influential one at that, so Avery's only recourse is to pursue legal channels. This not only proves fruitless but eventually escalates into a feud between him and the McCormack clan that we just know aint a-gonna end well.
Brian Cox brings the same quiet intensity to the role of Avery Ludlow as he did when brilliantly portraying the screen's first Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann's MANHUNTER, although here, needless to say, he's a much more benign character. Any other actor might have given in to temptation and chewed several large chunks of scenery along the way (I'm looking at you, George C. Scott) but Cox maintains a firm resolve throughout, making his moments of silent grief and barely-restrained anger more effective.
He gets one particularly dramatic single-take scene in which he recounts the lengthy tale of what really happened to his wife and sons to a sympathetic TV reporter named Carrie (Kim Dickens), and it's almost as riveting as Robert Shaw's "Indianapolis" story in JAWS. Even when worst finally comes to worst, he never loses his cool, and never seeks the kind of revenge we're used to seeing in stories like this--all he wants is for somebody to own up to what happened and do right by him and old Red.
Tom Sizemore is just right as the sort of rich redneck who buys his delinquent son a shotgun for his birthday and doesn't give a damn what he does with it. Noel Fisher succeeds in making us hate his guts as Danny, the kid who pulls the trigger on the dog, while Kyle Gallner as his guilt-ridden brother Harold is somewhat reminiscent of a soulful young Eric Roberts. In lesser roles that are little more than cameos, Robert "Freddy" Englund and the always unpredictable Amanda Plummer play the weaselly parents of one of the boys, while HELLRAISER's Ashley Laurence is McCormack's abused wife.
The direction, begun by Lucky McKee (MAY, THE WOODS) and completed by Trygve Allister Diesen, isn't particularly outstanding and the cinematography tends a bit toward the murky side, but both are adequate. I haven't read the original novel by Jack Ketchum so I can't attest to the faithfulness of Stephen Susco's screenplay, though I can say that it's well-written. The give and take between opposing sides keeps things interesting as it progresses from rocks to baseball bats to arson, and then, finally, to things that go "pow."
Once you get past that difficult early scene in which the dog dies--and if you're like me, it's indeed hard to do, especially after we're shown what devoted buddies Avery and Red are--this is a slow but engrossing tale that makes its way inexorably toward the final showdown between a man who won't compromise and a group of lowlifes just begging for some good old-fashioned comeuppance. RED delivers, just as long as you aren't expecting to see it dished out Charles Bronson style.
Buy it at Amazon.com
Friday, April 22, 2011
From Award-Winning Genre Director Brad Anderson, The Lights Go Out On
Blu-ray Disc And DVD May 17 From Magnolia Home Entertainment
When the city of Detroit is suddenly plunged into complete darkness, a group of strangers will need to band together in Vanishing On 7th Street, debuting on Blu-ray Disc and DVD May 17 from Magnolia Home Entertainment. Directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9) and starring Golden Globeânominee Hayden Christensen (Takers, Jumper), Emmy winner John Leguizamo (The Lincoln Lawyer, The Happening), Thandie Newton (For Colored Girls, 2012) and young R&B sensation Jacob Latimore, Vanishing On 7th Street taps into one of humankind’s most primal anxieties: fear of the dark. As the survivors gather at an abandoned tavern, they realize they have found their enemy in the darkness itself, with only their limited light sources available to keep them out of harms way. With time running out, they must face the horrific terror hiding in the shadows.
“A nicely calibrated mix of intellectual dread and visceral shock,” (MSN Movies), the Vanishing On 7th Street Blu-ray Disc and DVD includes suspenseful bonus features including a making-of featurette and commentary by Anderson. The Blu-ray Disc and DVD will be available for the suggested retail price of $29.98 and $26.98, respectively.
An unexplained blackout plunges the city of Detroit into total darkness, and by the time the sun rises, only a few people remain—surrounded by heaps of empty clothing, abandoned cars and lengthening shadows. A small handful of strangers that have survived the night (Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo and newcomer Jacob Latimore) each find their way to a rundown bar, whose gasoline-powered generator and stockpile of food and drink make it the last refuge in a deserted city. With daylight beginning to disappear completely and whispering shadows surrounding the survivors, they soon discover that the enemy is the darkness itself, and only the few remaining light sources can keep them safe. As time begins to run out for them, darkness closes in and they must face the ultimate terror.
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Roger Corman Presents DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR coming July 12th on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment
“Dino-Mite, Croc-Tastic! Goofy fun all the way.” – Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly
“An Awesome B-Movie Slice of Saturday Night Fun!” – April MacIntyre, MonstersandCritics.com
ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT AND ROGER CORMAN PRESENT "DINOCROC VS. SUPERGATOR"
The Showdown Begins July 12th on Blu-ray™ and DVD
BEVERLY HILLS , CA – Monster smackdowns are as old as the movies themselves. Frankenstein vs. The Wolf Man. Godzilla vs. King Kong. Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. Freddy vs. Jason. But now Anchor Bay Entertainment proudly unleashes the ultimate Monster (S)Mash: Dinocroc Vs. Supergator, from Oscar®-winning executive producer Roger Corman. Dinocroc Vs. Supergator reunited Corman with cult star David Carradine (Death Race 2000, Kill Bill), in one of his final performances. SRP is a bite-size $19.98 for the DVD, and a tasty $24.99 for the Blu-ray™, with pre-book on June 15th.
Scientist Jason Drake (Carradine) has been holed up deep within a secret island laboratory of an unscrupulous biotech corporation. Doing what? Meddling with the laws of nature, of course! When he turns his attention from mutating fruits and vegetables to alligators, crocodiles and dinosaurs, something’s bound to grow to horrific proportions – and escape! Now, two of his most terrifying creations are loose on a tropical island paradise. Bullets won’t stop them. Explosives only tick them off. And their ravenous appetite for scientists, tourists, mercenaries and swimsuit models keeps growing.
In pursuit of the scaly beasts are an undercover investigator (Corey Landis), a sexy Fish & Game officer (Amy Rasimas), and a cold-blooded swamp hunter known only as “The Cajun” (Rib Hillis). But how can they stop two forces of perverted science that can outrun SUVs, crush buses, and snack on sleazy producers in hot tubs? When these monster lizards ultimately meet in battle, will mankind be the defeated species? Get ready for a bone-crunching, body-chomping, earth-trembling battle to the death!
About Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment is the home entertainment division of Starz Media, LLC. It includes the Anchor Bay Films and Manga Entertainment brands. It distributes feature films, children’s entertainment, fitness, TV series, documentaries, anime and other filmed entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray™ formats. Headquartered in Beverly Hills, CA, Anchor Bay Entertainment has offices in Troy, MI, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Starz Media (www.starzmedia.com) is a controlled subsidiary of Liberty Media Corporation attributed to the Liberty Starz tracking stock group.
DINOCROC VS. SUPERGATOR Blu-ray™
Street Date: July 12, 2011
Pre-book: June 15, 2011
Cat. #: BD22968
UPC: 0 1313 22968-9 0
Run Time: 87 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Bonus Features: Commentary by Roger Corman and director Jay Andrews
DINOCROC VS. SUPERGATOR DVD
Street Date: July 12, 2011
Pre-book: June 15, 2011
Cat. #: DV22489
UPC: 0 1313 22489-9 6
Run Time: 87 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Bonus Features: Commentary by Roger Corman and director Jay Andrews
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An odd buffet of kid-friendly comedy, violent crime, and bone-crushing fight action, MUAY THAI GIANT (aka "Somtum", 2008) goes down pretty easy.
Seven-foot-tall former wrestler Nathan Jones (THE CONDEMNED, THE PROTECTOR) plays Barney Emerald, an Australian tourist stranded in Thailand without money or passport after being mugged. When Dokya (Sasisa Jindamanee, BORN TO FIGHT) and her adopted sister Katen (Nawarat Techarathanaprasert) are menaced by thugs in an alley, they run to Barney for help, but he turns out to be as meek as a kitten despite his size.
The girls take Barney to their mother's humble cafe' where he is urged to try some of her somtum. The spicy dish drives him wild and he wrecks the place in a fit of mindless rage. Vowing to pay for the damages, Barney enters a local fight competition but is a washout. Kickboxer Dokya is also thwarted when her larger male opponent cheats. During the fight, pickpocket Katen steals a key from some jewel thieves and our heroes get caught up in a major heist operation with some ruthless characters. Will Barney conquer his fears and come through for the girls?
As the gentle giant Barney, Nathan Jones is a likable lug who takes to this sort of light comedy pretty well--his early scene with a tiny, curious girl in a police station waiting room is charming--and is convincing enough as a lily-livered lummox. He seems to enjoy playing the pratfalling oaf who shrinks from violence until his character gets a mouthful of somtum and goes Popeye on the bad guys. One of the film's funniest moments is a fantasy segment in which he imagines himself earning extra money as a male stripper.
Jones also has great chemistry with the two young female leads, who are exceptional actresses both in the lighter moments and the more dramatic ones. Nawarat Techarathanaprasert handles the latter with the most feeling, while junior national Muay Thai kickboxing champion Sasisa Jindamanee throws herself into the frenetic fight scenes like an old pro.
Thai action legend Panna Rittikrai, the film's fight coordinator, comes through with a series of clashes that combine slapstick with his trademark hard-hitting style. Food is a major theme with one fight taking place in a kitchen and involving various cooking utensils as well as some blinding lime juice, with guest star Dan Chupong (ONG BAK series) managing to dice a few vegetables while mopping the floor with various opponents. Later, Dokya is accosted again by neighborhood thugs in a sidewalk marketplace and gets some help from Kessarin Ektawatkul (CHAI LAI ANGELS, FINAL TARGET) as a papaya vendor who uses her wares as high-speed projectiles.
Everything leads up to the climactic free-for-all between the good guys and the diamond thieves in a wild mish-mash of Muay Thai, wrestling, and the kind of go-for-broke stunts common to many Thai action films (along with a few instances of realistic gangster-style violence that seem somewhat out of place). Here we get to see the kind of dazzling stunts and choreography that we're used to seeing from Panna Rittikrai, as the actors and stunt players perform with fearless abandon.
Obvious wirework is kept to a minumum and the main emphasis is on sheer physical mayhem and destruction, with Sasisa Jindamanee getting right into the middle of things along with the big boys. Jones finally gets to show his stuff when a fresh dose of spicy somtum turns him into a rampaging human rhinoceros who takes on a private jet full of escaping bad guys head-on.
The DVD from Magnolia's Magnet label is in 1.78:1 widescreen with English and Thai Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Extras consist of "making of" and "behind the scenes" featurettes, the international trailer, and trailers from other Magnet releases.
A lightweight comedy that never takes itself too seriously, MUAY THAI GIANT also has its heartfelt moments as well thanks to some appealing performers playing likable characters. Best of all, it delivers a full order of the kind of action that should leave wrestling and kickboxing fans well satisfied.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011
LARRY: "And what might your name be, lass?"
LORNA: "Perhaps you've heard it, 'tis Lorna Doone."
SHEMP: "Hi, Lorna! How ya Doone?"
This exchange from the Three Stooges short "Scotched in Scotland" was pretty much all I ever knew about Lorna Doone, never having read R.D. Blackmore's 1869 novel, seen any of the previous film adaptations, or eaten the cookies. Now, Acorn Media's DVD release of the Thames Television production of LORNA DOONE (1990) brings me up to speed on the story, although not quite as entertainingly as I might've liked.
It gets off to a good start with a prologue showing how young John Ridd's father was murdered by Carver Doone (Sean Bean, FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, GOLDENEYE) of the Doone clan, a once-noble family now known as marauding outlaws. This sequence is quite well done and gives John his first glimpse of Lorna, whom Carver has just kidnapped after killing her parents. It also introduces us to the vast, gloomy countryside that plays such a major role in setting the mood of the film.
Twelve years later we find the older John (Clive Owen, SIN CITY) living with his sister Annie (Jane Gurnett) and mother Sarah (Billie Whitelaw, THE OMEN) on their small farm beneath the ever-lowering sky of rural England. A chance meeting with the now-grown Lorna (Polly Walker) sparks a forbidden love that stirs things up big-time between the Ridds and the Doones, leading to a deadly feud involving half the local population.
Being a fan of Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights", I was expecting a tempestuous romance similar to that of Heathcliff and Catherine, but the match-up of John and Lorna is a rather tepid affair. It begins with a 17th-century "meet cute"--John tumbles over a waterfall while fishing and is plucked from the water by Lorna--and never really gets all that passionate or even convincing. Clive Owen's stiff performance doesn't help, and Polly Walker's Lorna scarcely resembles Bronte's feral nature-child Catherine.
The most warm and heartfelt love affair, in fact, is the one between John's sister Annie and their cousin, notorious highwayman Tom Faggus (Miles Anderson), who comes to the farm seeking asylum. Tom is a likable rogue and the story comes to life when he's onscreen, whether courting Annie or helping the Ridds fend off the attacking Doone clan in one of the film's two major battle sequences.
It's here that LORNA DOONE sparks the most interest, although the direction and editing during these scenes is somewhat clumsy. Sean Bean does all he can with his one-note character and is an effective scenery-chewing villain. A later attack on the Doone compound by John and his fellow farmers, after the local militia fails to take action, is another relative highpoint.
Still, it's a pretty bland affair, with uninspired direction and unremarkable performances in the lead roles. The script seems to be checking off the main parts of the story in rather cursory fashion, while the Cliff Notes dialogue lacks depth. It all gets much more involving when we begin to learn of Lorna's true origins, with some pretty grand surprises in store for the Ridd family, but little of it truly effects us on an emotional level.
Supporting performances are strong, with Jane Gurnett and Miles Anderson as Annie and Tom being the most likable members of the cast. Billie Whitelaw, of course, can't help but be good no matter what she's in. As Carver's young son Ensie, who is later adopted by John, the diminutive Euan Grant MacLachlan is wonderfully expressive.
The DVD from Acorn Media is in fullscreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles. Text-based extras consist of cast filmographies and a biography of novelist R.D. Blackmore.
I probably shouldn't be too picky, since this is a television production that was probably done on a low budget and a tight schedule. It does manage to maintain interest throughout its running time, with a rich period atmosphere and a smattering of fairly good scenes here and there. But in the end, this version of LORNA DOONE does little more than make me want to seek out a better one.
Buy it at Amazon.com
On DVD May 3 - Identity with Keeley Hawes, currently being remade by ABC, and Murdoch Mysteries Blu-ray debut
Starring Keeley Hawes (Upstairs, Downstairs, Ashes to Ashes) and Aidan Gillen (The Wire); North American DVD Debut on May 3, 2011
American version starring Angela Bassett and Wentworth Miller in development at ABC
“Superlative. Watch it.” —The Observer
“Stylish, gripping and well acted”—The Sun
Slick British crime series delves into the shadowy world of identity theft; Available to U.S. audiences for the first time
Silver Spring, MD — ITV Studios’ slick, high-tech crime procedural Identity makes its highly anticipated North American debut from Acorn Media on May 3, 2011 on DVD. Keeley Hawes (Upstairs, Downstairs revival, Ashes to Ashes, MI-5) and Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Queer as Folk UK) star in this British series about an elite police team charged with investigating the high-stakes world of identity theft. Broadcast on ITV in the U.K. in July 2010 and available to U.S. audiences for the first time, Identity features realistic plots and intelligent writing and offers a riveting glimpse into one of the 21st century’s most ubiquitous crimes. The DVD 2-Disc Set includes six episodes, as well as text interviews with the cast, and cast filmographies ($39.99, www.AcornOnline.com). An American remake is currently in development at ABC starring Angela Bassett (ER) and Wentworth Miller (Prison Break).
Uncovering the dark side of reinvention, Identity follows an elite police unit tracking identity thieves and their unwitting victims. DSI Martha Lawson (Keeley Hawes) assembles a crack team of investigators, betting her reputation on their results. Cavalier DI John Bloom (Aidan Gillen) has undercover experience and knows exactly what it’s like to live a lie. Ambitious DS Anthony Wareing (Shaun Parkes, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries) clashes with Bloom about his questionable past and even more questionable methods. Rounding out the group are cocksure DC José Rodriguez (Elyes Gabel, Casualty) and IT expert Tessa Stein (Holly Aird, Waking the Dead).
The cases reveal the many reasons for adopting a new persona, from simple greed to far more sinister motives. Solid detective work and high-tech investigative tools unmask the criminals but discord within the team may derail the operation.
Second Life, Chelsea Girl, Pariah, Reparation, Somewhere They Can’t Find Me, and Tomorrow Comes Early
Street: May 3, 2011 SRP: $39.99
DVD 2-Disc Set: 6 episodes - Approx. 279 min.
Bonus Features: text interviews with the cast and cast filmographies
Contains violence and graphic images
MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 3
Forensic Sleuthing in the Age of Invention; Third season of the acclaimed period drama debuts on Blu-ray and DVD May 3, 2011
“Excellent adventure” —Midwest Book Review
“Smart, fast-paced fun” —The Globe and Mail
“As much a wild science lesson as it is a classic mystery”—The Globe and Mail
“Truly outstanding” – The Fort Bend/Southwest Star
“Yannick Bisson is perfect as Murdoch.” —Deseret News
“Mesmerizing” —The Sun
Silver Spring, MD —Combining the period appeal of Sherlock Holmes with the forensic fascination of CSI, Murdoch Mysteries, Season 3, debuts on Blu-ray and DVD from Acorn Media on May 3, 2011. This set marks the first Blu-ray release of the series. Based on the characters from award-winning author Maureen Jennings’ Detective Murdoch novels, the acclaimed Canadian series has garnered 25 Gemini® nominations to its credit, including Best Writing, Best Actor and Best Original Score. Set in Victorian-era Toronto, this engrossing and charming series follows Detective Murdoch as he uses revolutionary forensic techniques to solve the city’s most mystifying crimes. Distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment and available to U.S. audiences for the first time, the 4-volume DVD boxed set and 3-Disc Blu-ray set includes all 13 episodes from season three, plus a behind-the-scenes featurette and more ($59.99/$69.99, www.AcornOnline.com). Season 1 is currently airing on public television via APT and a fourth season has already been produced.
This sharp, sophisticated mystery series features Yannick Bisson (Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye) as William Murdoch, a Toronto police detective at the cutting edge of Victorian science. Together with a forward-thinking pathologist (Gemini® winner Hélène Joy, Durham County), he applies revolutionary criminology techniques to crack the toughest cases. This season finds Murdoch making the acquaintance of H.G. Wells, teaming up a second time with Nikola Tesla, investigating art forgery, and using the fledgling science of psychology to out the era’s most elusive murderers.
The series co-stars Thomas Craig (Where the Heart Is) and Jonny Harris (Hatching, Matching & Dispatching) with guest stars including Patrick McKenna (The Red Green Show), Lisa Faulkner (Murder in Suburbia), Ashley Leggat (Life with Derek), Sarah Gadon (Being Erica, Happy Town), Dmitry Chepovetsky (ReGenesis), and Peter Keleghan (The Newsroom).
Season 3 debuted in Canada on CityTV in February 2010 and a fourth season has already been produced. Acorn Media previously released Season 1 in June 2009 and Season 2 in May 2010 as 4-Vol. DVD Boxed Sets ($59.99).
Murdoch Mysteries is based on the characters from Maureen Jennings’ Detective Murdoch novels. The first in her Murdoch series, Except for Dying, was released in 1997; followed by six more novels in the series. Jennings is a creative consultant on the television series. Series website: www.murdochmysteries.com
Special Features: Behind-the-scenes featurette (9 min.), and Episode 13 alternate ending
Street: May 3, 2011
13 episodes - Approx. 624 min., plus bonus
Blu-ray 3-Disc Set (SRP: $69.99) / DVD 4-Vol. Boxed Set (SRP: $59.99)
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Four bubbly high school girls join the Light Music Club and provide light entertainment in K-ON! VOL. 1 (2009), Bandai Entertainment's first DVD volume of the Japanese anime series based on a popular manga.
Yui, a clumsy, scatterbrained girl who's easily distracted, freaks out on her first day of high school because she can't decide what club to join. Meanwhile, Mio and Ritsu are crushed to find the Light Music Club is disbanding since it lacks the minimum four members. They persuade pretty blonde rich girl Tsumugi, a talented keyboardist, to join, but are still one member short. Desperate, they cajole a reluctant Yui to complete the foursome as lead guitarist of their band even though she can't play a note, and afterwards spend most of their time in the music room gorging themselves on gooey pastries and cakes.
That pretty much describes the first episode, "Disband the Club!" K-ON! (from the Japanese word keiongaku, meaning "light music") is a frenetic series of mildly comic situations done in a colorful, breezy style that doesn't place all that much emphasis on plotlines. Basically, it's a "hang-out" show--once you get to know these characters and their particular quirks, it's fun just to hang out with them, enjoy their girlish antics, and groove to the eye-pleasing artwork and animation.
The four lead characters are your standard cute young anime schoolgirls. Bass-player Mio is, in Yui's words, "tall and pretty, and gives off a real 'cool, grown woman vibe'." Before long, however, we discover that she's a bundle of debilitating phobias and neuroses and often goes blank from fear of things like strange people and barnacles. Her friend Ritsu, the band's drummer, is "a cheerful girl who's full of energy" but is also a hyperactive ditz. Much of the show's slapstick humor comes from anger-prone Mio whacking Ritsu over the head and raising cartoony egg-shaped knots. Mild-mannered Tsumugi, the pampered princess, is funny because of her inexperience and is thrilled when asked if she "wants fries with that" during her first trip to a fastfood restaurant.
The simple plots take a single idea and follow it to the end with all the light-comedy embellishments, screwball physical humor, and sight gags, with frequent use of fantasy interludes and flashbacks. The second episode, "Instruments!", is all about finding an affordable guitar for Yui, with the girls taking temp jobs to help pay for it. At first, the motivational message here is about being selfless and helping others, but eventually it becomes "you can afford that expensive guitar if your rich friend's dad owns the store."
"Cram Session!" finds Yui barred from membership in a club after failing mid-term exams. The girls urge her to study for her makeup test, but she just can't keep her mind on her books and off her cool new guitar. Dropping by to help out, the girls have their usual sugary snacks and meet Yui's little sister Ui, amazed to find her vastly more polite and mature than Yui.
The episode gets off to a weird start as Yui becomes hypnotically fascinated by how squishy Mio's string-hardened fingertips are. Meanwhile, the easily-annoyed Mio manages to raise at least two ostrich egg-sized knots on Ritsu's head this time out. Typical of the series, the relatively realistic design of the characters becomes exaggeratedly cartoonish whenever they experience extreme emotions, resulting in some pretty funny-looking reactions.
The most visually-pleasing episode, "Training Camp!", boasts some gorgeous artwork as Mio organizes a trip to the country so the band can practice for the upcoming Fall Festival. They end up at one of Tsumugi's luxurious family vacation homes on the beach where Yui and Ritsu spend most of their time romping around in the surf while Mio tries in vain to get them to concentrate on their music.
Mio's first appearance in a bikini leads to a strangely comical moment with the two girls being stunned to discover that she has--BOOBS! Later, a nighttime fireworks display adds even more visual interest to the episode while inspiring fantasies of the girls' most cherished ambition--to perform at Budokan before high school is over.
Mio is at her most freaked-out and violent in this episode, repeatedly whacking Mitsu over the head and going nuts after accidentally touching some barnacles. In the last shot, she hoists Yui off her feet by the neck and strangles her for taking an uncomplimentary photo of her during their vacation. The lesson here, I assume, is that even the pretty and seemingly self-assured girls in your school can be dangerously unbalanced.
The four-episode DVD (approx. 100 minutes) from Bandai Entertainment is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with both Japanese and English Dolby 2.0 sound. Subtitles are in English. Extras include a ten-minute interview with Stephanie Sheh, the voice of Yui in the English dub, and trailers from other Bandai releases. Three more volumes of the series are planned.
Yui and her friends don't get very far musically in this collection, but the opening and closing titles feature two catchy tunes, "Cagayake! Girls" and "Don't Say 'Lazy'", which indicate that by the series' end the band will finally be ready for Budokan. Till then, K-ON! VOL. 1 catches them doing what they currently do best--eating snacks, being kooky, and having fun.
Buy it at Amazon.com:
The eight feature-length episodes that appear on Acorn Media's 4-disc set A MIND TO KILL: SERIES 3 wrap up the popular Welsh TV series, which ran sporadically between 1994-2002, with a solid collection of somber tales which should be a real treat for fans of unusual police procedurals.
The aging but still highly capable Detective Chief Inspector Noel Bain (Philip Madoc) returns from hiatus to find himself in charge of a station house whose jurisdiction covers a wide area. This takes him from the shadowy streets and back alleys of the big city to those quaint little villages where the citizens are close-knit, tight-lipped, and suspicious of outsiders.
Two examples of the latter are "Shadow Falls" and "The Little House in the Forest", both of which use the dreary Welsh countryside to add an element of gloom to the stories. "Shadow Falls" first aired in 1998, a full three years before the next installment in the series, and at this point the show still has the feel of a Detective Book Club selection that one might curl up with on a stormy night. The story of two suspicious suicides that take place ten years apart and the three couples who share a terrible secret regarding the victims is interesting though not altogether engaging. But it's a good start and things get better from here.
"Shadow Falls" introduces us newbies to Bain's personality and methods. A veteran who's seen it all, he's quietly unflappable and a bit curmudgeonly, a genial cynic with a wry sense of humor and a faintly-flickering spark of faith in humanity. Refreshingly, Bain is neither a supercop, a renegade loner cop, nor an eccentric genius with the near-supernatural deductive skills of a Sherlock Holmes--he's simply a world-weary detective using his sharp mind, finely-honed instincts, and years of experience in the dogged pursuit of criminals.
Two other important characters make an appearance here. The first is Sharon Morgan as the serenely cheerful Professor Margaret Edwards, master medical examiner and nominal love interest for Bain (their relationship is kept enticingly enigmatic until the final episode). The second is Bain's independent-minded teenage daughter Hannah (Ffion Wilkins), who trades good-natured barbs with her dad but admires him enough to want to follow in his footsteps. In this episode we see her begin to give unsolicited aid in Bain's investigation by questioning suspects on her own; in subsequent stories, she's a newly-graduated rookie cop assigned to her father's department.
"Box" (2001) is the bizarre urban tale of a serial killer haunted by a childhood of abuse and a severe identity crisis, whose motives for murder are almost pathetic enough to garner sympathy. It marks a transition between the somewhat rough-hewn qualities of "Shadow Falls" and the later episodes that gradually become more finely-rendered and intriguing, in terms of both story and production elements.
The first really fine episode, "The Little House in the Woods", keeps us guessing as to the identity of a young girl's killer, focusing also on the devastation of the victim's parents and how the lust for revenge results in even more violence and death. The discovery of a convicted child-murderer living in the woods near the victim's house after being released from prison complicates things even further. (William Thomas gives a fine performance as the enigmatic Beckwith, as do most of the supporting and guest players throughout the series.)
On the home front, Bain's relationships with the women in his life provide some drama as he plans to house-share with Margaret (teaching her how to tango leads to some coyly understated romantic overtures) and tries to help an insecure Detective Sergeant Leila Hamoudi (the slightly butch-looking but gorgeous Sara McGaughey) through her first case as lead investigator without stepping on her toes. Hannah, meanwhile, learns not to jump to conclusions after overhearing part of a heated locker room exchange between Sgt. Tom Swann (Ieuan Rhys), whom she considers a "sexist bastard", and another officer.
The show just keeps getting better with "Soundbites", in which an aspiring local policitian and popular talk radio host who advocates vigilante justice (Phil Reid) is torn when his own troubled son is accused of arson and attempted manslaughter. This darkly moody story is beautifully directed and shot and is technically and visually the best of the lot so far, with a sinewy musical score and strong guest performances. "Colour Blind", a twisted tale of racist skinheads vs. Pakistanis and the hit-and-run murder of a young student named Kasim, is another winner.
In "The Inner Life of Strangers", a pop star suddenly trades the spotlight for the quiet life in a remote village but is hounded by a homicidal stalker who starts offing her friends and working his way to her. "Engineer" is another revenge tale in which a surgeon whose carelessness puts a young girl into a coma finds his own daughter kidnapped by the girl's father. The final episode, "Blood and Water", ends the series in grand style as the brutal murder of a young woman in an alley leads to one man's agonizing conflict over whether or not to help his estranged brother beat the rap, while grappling with his own morbid obsessions and crippling guilt over a past deed.
Sharply directed with a natural, non-melodramatic style, A MIND TO KILL eschews sensationalism, flashy camerawork and editing, and pulse-pounding music in favor of a somber, mature style that's absorbing and consistently rewarding. As Bain, star Philip Madoc (DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE, JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN) is interesting to watch because of his restraint, refusing to imbue the character with the standard kit of theatrical eccentricities or bursts of show-stopping histrionics. This is true of the rest of the cast as well, all of whom are consistently fine and help give the show its air of realism. An interesting side note is that each episode was shot twice, both in English and Welsh (the Welsh title is "Yr Heliwr").
The DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital stereo sound and English subtitles. A text-based extra on disc one features three of "The Women of 'A Mind to Kill'"', with comments from Sharon Morgan, Ffion Wilkins, and Gillian Elisa (who appeared in some earlier episodes as "DS Alison Griffiths").
As I've mentioned before, I liken British cop shows such as this to Detective Club mystery novels, those leisurely-paced, atmospheric tales with great characters and absorbing plots that make for a good, slow read. If you don't have the patience or attention span for that brand of entertainment, then A MIND TO KILL: SERIES 3 will probably have you snoozing within the first five minutes. Otherwise, settle in and enjoy this above-average collection of bleak mystery tales.
Buy it at Amazon.com
Sunday, April 17, 2011
I've never read Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers", but through the years have become familiar with the storyline thanks to various other filmizations and, yes, the "Classics Illustrated" comic book version. So I know enough to recognize some rather drastic liberties the 2005 Canada/France/UK/Czech Republic production THE 4 MUSKETEERS takes with the story, not the least of which being the fact that Milady de Winter is presented as not just evil, but a full-fledged diabolical sorceress in league with Satan. I guess if you're going to make alterations to the original story you might as well go all out.
The basics: a young commoner named D'Artagnan travels to Paris to become a musketeer. He manages to offend three different musketeers and is challenged to separate duels by all three, but when the cardinal's guards arrive and try to arrest them for dueling, the four join forces against them and become friends. Subsequently, they end up trying to foil a plot by Le cardinal de Richelieu to discredit the Queen with the help of the evil Milady de Winter. Dark intrigue and lots of swashbuckling ensue.
The initial meeting of D'Artagnan and the three musketeers isn't handled as well in this version as I've seen it done before, but it's there. The affair of the Queen's necklace with the twelve diamond tags is pretty nicely portrayed, and other original story elements appear frequently in one form or another. It seems a strange decision, though, to turn this into a supernatural thriller with sorcery, pacts with the Devil, and other fantasy elements. There's even a "wuh-oh" ending so overly-familiar to viewers these days, a jarring replacement for the rousing, triumphant fade-out one might expect. At any rate, director-screenwriter Pierre Aknine gets points for trying something different.
Dumas' novel has been filmed numerous times dating well back into the silent era--even the Ritz Brothers took a crack at it in 1939. Richard Lester's 1973 THE THREE MUSKETEERS is probably the best--the theater audience I saw it with at the time stood up and applauded at the end, then cheered enthusiastically when a preview of the follow-up, THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, came onscreen.
I don't think audiences would cheer this version, though. Anyway, you might have to wake them up first--it's three hours long, and there's a heck of a lot more yakkity-yak than swordplay going on, at least when the characters aren't running, riding, or rowing from one location to the next. The bonafide swordfights one expects from a movie like this are few and far between, and these are marred by bad editing and camerawork which make it difficult to evaluate the merits of the fight choreography. There's even some iffy wirework and wince-inducing CGI involved to remind us that we're watching an action film made in an era in which such ingredients seem to be required by law.
Sumptuous production design and photography are highlights, as are some noteworthy performances. Emmanuelle Béart (MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE), easily the stand-out of the cast, is fascinating to watch as Milady de Winter, and Stefania Rocca (THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY) makes a lovely and dignified young Queen Anne D'Autriche. As Le cardinal de Richelieu, Tchéky Karyo ("Serge", THE CORE) is adequate but not nearly as impressive a presence as Charlton Heston was in the Lester version. As for the others, some really bad dubbing makes it difficult to evaluate their performances.
Most of the focus is on D'Artagnan (the original title is, in fact, D'ARTAGNAN ET LES TROIS MOUSQUETAIRES), and Vincent Elbaz, who looks like a cross between a hair-metal guitarist and a male model with a touch of "Weird Al" Yankovic thrown in, gives the character a strange mix of noble valor and goofiness that gets easier to take as the movie progresses. The actors portraying the three musketeers themselves capably fulfill what the script requires them to do, which isn't nearly enough.
Their characters are given short shrift here--they're like supporting players in their own story. Aramis (Grégori Derangère) is an amourous rogue, Athos (Heino Ferch) is haunted by his past association with Milady de Winter, and Porthos (Grégory Gadebois) is, well, portly. These bare-bones traits are just about all we're given to identify them with, which makes those frequent shots of the four musketeers riding together with triumphant music blaring in the background feel somewhat hollow.
The closing sequence is drawn out longer than necessary, and the movie ends on a downer. Along the way, if you can make it through all the talky scenes, there's some pretty exciting action, especially when Emmanuelle Béart's Milady de Winter goes into full-out attack mode (she's definitely the best thing about this version). The movie looks great but the direction and camerawork range from stunning to irritatingly offhand, and three of the main characters--that is, any of THE 4 MUSKETEERS who aren't D'Artagnan--are so disappointingly underdeveloped that they might have been played by the Ritz Brothers without affecting anything much.
Although sparsely entertaining during parts of its three-hour running time, it's not a movie I'd enthusiastically recommend you go out and rent--at least not if the much-superior (and much more fun) Richard Lester version is sitting next to it on the rack.
Buy it at Amazon.com
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Secret Key Motion Pictures brings us another nostalgic festival of 50s smut-filled sexploitation with their 2-disc set, SKIN IN THE FIFTIES. Loaded with old 8mm nudie loops along with the 1956 roadhouse feature THE FLESH MERCHANT, this titillating time-capsule is more fun than you can shake a stick at. Or whatever you happen to be holding at the moment.
THE FLESH MERCHANT begins as Paula Sheridan (Lisa Rack) gets a surprise visit from her kid sister, Nancy (the perky, voluptuous Joy Reynolds). Eager to escape her small-town existence and jealous of her big sister's success as a Hollywood "model", Nancy has come to the big city to get in on the action herself. Despite Paula's insistence that she turn around and go back home, the naive Nancy applies for a modeling job and quickly ends up as a prostitute servicing rich clientele at a swank hideaway called "The Colony." This joint is run by a violent scumbag named Vito Perini (Marko Perri) who slaps his employees around whenever they don't "cooperate"--which proves a painful lesson for Nancy after she initially rejects a wealthy customer's amourous advances.
Nancy's roommate is an over-the-hill veteran named Easy (Geri Moffatt) who is getting fed up with her life of sexual servitude. After blowing up at a customer one night, she's dealt with by a vicious Perini, who savagely beats her up and banishes the aging party girl to a cheap brothel on skid row. With Easy gone, Nancy gets a surprising new roommate--her sister, Paula. When Paula sees the sorry state her kid sister has ended up in, she rebels against Perini and the rest of the flesh merchants at the risk of her own life.
THE FLESH MERCHANT is an hour-long parade of softcore 50s-style titillation that's surprisingly entertaining. The story zips along briskly, rarely slowing down even when clips from various nudie loops are spliced in here and there to naked things up a bit. In fact, about halfway through this story I realized I was really getting into it.
This is especially true during the scene where Easy is called into Perini's office--as she desperately begs the heartless creep not to kick her down the ladder to skid row, only to be beaten within an inch of her life, the movie has suddenly become surprisingly effective. And when Paula lashes out at her bosses and the clients themselves for being a bunch of sick perverts, Lisa Rack's intensely dramatic performance during this well-written scene is riveting. This may be the first time I've sat down to laugh my way through a cheap, campy old sex flick and watched it morph into a relatively good movie before my eyes.
Technically, it's just below the level of a really low-budget 50s TV episode, with performances that range from adequate to fine. The nudie-loop inserts (the full versions of which are available as disc-one bonus features) are pretty well incorporated into the movie proper, though their film quality is markedly inferior. The print used for this DVD isn't in the best shape, but to me that adds to its grindhouse appeal. Unfortunately the original opening and closing titles appear to have been lost.
Moving on to disc two, we get a selection of nineteen short nudie films from the era. These bring back old memories of my younger days when I ordered some of these things from the back of adult magazines before home video made 8mm obsolete. Even the discs in this set are made to resemble 8mm movie reels, and a booklet insert, which includes a history of 50s sexploitation films along with a vintage Joy Reynolds pictorial, has the look of an old nudie digest.
Most of these loops look pretty ancient, some seemingly pre-dating the '50s a bit. There's full nudity, except for the "forbidden zone", of course. Some of the girls are pretty cute, while others are, well, frightening. Several shorts have rudimentary storylines, which tend to be downright nutty--in fact, "African Frenzy" is one of the most accidentally avant-garde films I've ever seen, and "Cocktails and Cuties" is so wacky it's hard to believe real people actually made it.
One nice-looking brunette does something called the "Danse de L'Ebandan" in which she slinks into a seedy bar and proceeds to freak out for three-and-a-half minutes as her clothes fall off. The rest of the performers seem to be second-rate burlesque dancers, some resembling a few of my grade school teachers. One pleasant surprise, however, was the appearance of an adorable young Jennie Lee in "Diamond Lil." Her segment is about as captivatingly sexy as one of these 50s loops can get, ending with Jenny performing her famous "tassle trick." At that moment, I was officially enjoying myself. And when another statuesque beauty resembling Blaze Starr showed up to do her routine to the sultry strains of "Harlem Nocturne", I think my TV started to smoke. Or maybe that was just me.
I didn't live during the heyday of these films, but mail-order warehouses everywhere were still clearing out their stock of this stuff well into the 80s. And now that it's on DVD, I don't have to crank up my old projector to see it. If you're still nostalgic for those times, or you just want to check out what they were all about, SKIN IN THE FIFTIES should be a welcome addition to your collection.
Buy it at Amazon.com