HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Monday, January 31, 2011

LET ME IN -- DVD review by porfle


If you're a fan of the celebrated Swedish vampire flick LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, chances are you greeted the news of this remake with extreme pessimism.  My own feeling was that it would be a pale imitation rushed into production for the simple purpose of selling a copycat product to American audiences who don't like to read subtitles.  Finding out how wrong I was about this is one of the things that makes the mesmerizing LET ME IN (2010) such a pleasure to watch.

The snow-covered desolation of the New Mexico locations provides a suitable replacement for icy Sweden.  From the dramatic opening shot of a distant ambulance and two police cars screaming down a mountain road at night, we get our first hint of how interesting this film is going to look.  Matt Reeves' imaginative direction and visuals are consistently compelling, with a lushly dark color palette that's a refreshing change from the faded bluish tint of so many recent films.

After the opening flash-forward, we meet Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), an odd, introspective little boy who lives in fear of the bullies who torment him at school.  His parents' divorce has all but made them ghosts in his life, and he yearns for a friend.  Enter Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), a little girl who just moved into the apartment next door with her sullen father (Richard Jenkins).  Distant at first, she warms up to the smitten Owen and he finds her a sympathetic friend.  What he doesn't know is that she's also a vampire.


While her "father" goes about the ghastly task of procuring sustenance for her, Abby's bond with Owen grows stronger.  But when he eventually discovers her secret, their relationship becomes a strange, life-altering experience for the troubled boy.  Meanwhile, his harrassment at school reaches a potentially deadly level as a police detective (Elias Koteas) investigating a rash of violent murders in the area gradually closes in on Abby.

Director Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD) describes LET ME IN as a labor of love, and it shows.  His adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's screenplay (Lindqvist wrote the original novel as well) sticks pretty close to it most of the time but with a number of interesting and well-considered revisions.  Everything from the first movie is reimagined in such interesting ways that I found myself looking forward to seeing how each familiar occurrence would be reinterpreted.

The scenes with Owen's dad are dropped, although a phone conversation in which the desperate boy vainly reaches out to him serves the same purpose.  While the other tenants in his apartment complex are much less developed, the tunnel attack and that horrible hospital scene with the unfortunate Virginia are no less effective.
 

The police detective becomes a major player in this version, especially during a crucial moment in Abby's apartment.  The circumstances surrounding the Richard Jenkins character's nightly activities on Abby's behalf have been considerably fleshed-out and come to a dramatic conclusion.  Throughout the film, things that I thought couldn't be redone as well--particularly the climactic swimming pool scene--are artfully handled.

One thing that did disappoint me about the remake is how bad some of the CGI is.  When Abby attacks a jogger in a tunnel beneath a bridge, the movements are jerky and unconvincing.  Later glimpses of a CGI-Abby figure in action are similarly jarring.  Fortunately, though, a reprise of the original film's infamous "cat scene" isn't even attempted.

The juvenile leads are amazingly good.  Both Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen and Chloë Grace Moretz as Abby have haunting, expressive faces that convey deep feeling.  This isn't just child acting by imitation or rote--they give mature, fully-realized performances.  (Moretz is pretty creepy in her vamp-out makeup, too.)  Also noteworthy is Dylan Minnette as Kenny, the embodiment of the vile schoolyard bully.


As Abby's mysterious "father", Richard Jenkins displays his knack for portraying a deeply tragic figure with quiet subtlety.  Elias Koteas is equally good as the police detective, in whom we sense an innate humanity that makes it hard not to root for him.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a director commentary, "From the Inside: A Look at the Making of 'Let Me In'", "The Art of Special Effects", "Car Crash Sequence: Step-By-Step", some interesting deleted scenes (including how Abby became a vampire), green and red-band trailers, and a poster/stills gallery.  Also enclosed is a mini-comic book, "Let Me In: Crossroads", which is #1 in a four-part prelude to the film from Dark Horse Comics.

There's a fascination to watching a remake that's so good that it doesn't constantly draw unfavorable comparisons to the first film.  Dark and richly atmospheric, LET ME IN never feels like an imitation, nor does it self-consciously try to be different.  It's a remake that feels like an original.


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Sunday, January 30, 2011

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010) -- DVD review by porfle


As with Meir Zarchi's 1978 original, the 2010 remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE tells the simple story of a woman named Jennifer Hills who gets savagely gang-raped at her summer home in the country and then goes on a brutal revenge spree against her attackers.  I found the new version somewhat less satisfying as a film, but as an eyeballs-deep wallow in utter, sadistic depravity, it takes the bloody brass ring.

Judging from the "Dukes of Hazzard" accents, the location seems to have been switched from Yankie Land to somewhere way down South, where most of the demented yokels of moviedom seem to live these days.  (Naturally, one of them wears a Confederate flag bandana on his head.)  Another big difference is that Zarchi's film took the time to establish a deceptively tranquil mood before shattering it, with Jennifer's sense of security and well-being robbed along with everything else. 

Here, the music sets an ominous tone right off the bat, and Jennifer (Sarah Butler) is edgy and uncomfortable with her surroundings as soon as she arrives in the remote community.  Johnny the gas pump jockey (Jeff Branson) reveals his crudeness immediately rather than deceiving her with a folksy fascade (which this version of the character would be incapable of doing anyway) and the two start off on bad terms.


In addition to the interchangeable Stanley and Andy characters, the slow-witted Matthew (Chad Lindberg) returns as a plumber who fixes Jennifer's toilet and goes ga-ga when she gives him a friendly peck.  Johnny and company find such provocative behavior intolerable and, as they drool over Stanley's peeping-Tom videos of her, resolve to teach the uppity city gal a lesson while helping their mentally-challenged mascot lose his virginity.

What follows is the nocturnal home invasion which becomes the basis for Jennifer's inevitable revenge, with writer Stuart Morse pulling out all the stops to make these guys as unforgivably reprehensible as possible.  As with Zarchi's film, the sequence is designed to justify the filmmakers' indulgence in extreme violence against the rapists later on.  Still, it lacks the lingering impact and immediacy of the original (not to mention Camille Keaton's searingly realistic performance) and seems almost by-the-numbers, as though the film can't wait to get it over with and fast-forward to the juicy revenge stuff. 

At this point, the remake starts to throw in some new wrinkles, such as the introduction of a not-so-helpful sheriff (Andrew Howard), which makes it easier to judge on its own terms.  In fact, once Jennifer disappears from the film for what turns out to be quite a spell (which, unfortunately, means that we're not nearly as engaged with her character this time around), it's almost a completely different story.  When she finally returns, she has become a hardcore killing machine who stalks and dispatches her prey like a cross between Jason Voorhees and Rube Goldberg.

 
The second half of the original movie is positively sedate compared to this one, which is pretty much a torture porn free-for-all.  The filmmakers go all out to surpass the 1978 version by taking it to a new level that's beyond gratuitous.  "What are the most ghastly things you could do to a guy?" they seem to be thinking.  "Whatever they are, we get to show them, hee-hee, because by gum, these scumbags raped Jennifer!"  As such, the execution scenes are diabolically elaborate and profoundly depraved--so much so, in fact, that you might even start feeling sorry for these guys after awhile.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a director-producer commentary, a "making of" featurette, deleted scenes, trailers, and a radio spot.

Whether you're rooting for Jennifer or just turned on by this kind of stuff, the cumulative payoff is pretty intense.  If you fit into neither category, then you're probably watching the way wrong movie.  Hard to believe that anything could make the 1978 I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE look like a model of restraint in comparison, but the no-holds-barred (and, let's face it, repulsive) remake manages to do so.  While it fails to surpass the original in some ways, fans of brutal cinematic sadism and extreme gore definitely won't be disappointed. 


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Saturday, January 29, 2011

PAULA-PAULA -- DVD review by porfle


For his 209th movie, prolific Spanish director Jesús "Jess" Franco has made what he calls "an audio-visual experience" entitled PAULA-PAULA (2010).  In literal terms I suppose that's an accurate way to describe it, but holy cats, is this thing boring.  You could probably have an equally rewarding audio-visual experience by putting an album on and watching a lava lamp for an hour.

The story begins with a distraught, disoriented Paula (Carmen Montes) being taken into custody, apparently for having killed her friend who was also named Paula (Paula Davis).  Under questioning by a female officer (a briefly-seen Lina Romay), Paula-1 claims not to have done it although she hated her.  Then she lets slip that she has tried to kill her numerous times without success.

Later, we see Paula-1 dancing naked in a room, aware that a young police sergeant is peeking through the door.  If I had to choose a favorite part of the movie it would be this scene, since Carmen Montes is beautiful, has a great body, and isn't moving in super slow-motion.
 

Intercut with this are flashbacks of Paula-2 dancing in an apartment.  She wears a belly-dancer's outfit and undulates in front of a silver mylar backdrop, moving ever-so-slowly as a mirrored split-screen effect turns her body into abstract shapes.  Sitting in a chair in a revealing dress, Paula-1 watches her with fascination.  From this point on, the pace becomes practically glacial.

About halfway through, Paula-1 relates a brief story which will come into play at the end.  Then the two Paulas finally get together for about twenty minutes of mild softcore sex, all in maddening slow-motion that had me struggling to stay awake.  (This is the first film I've seen in ages that literally put me to sleep.)  After some more split-screen effects, PAULA-PAULA mercifully ends pretty much the way we expect it to.

This is the sort of thing you might've stumbled onto a roomful of stoned hippies watching back in the 60s while muttering "wow, man..."  With much of the film's running time consisting of plotless, enervating visuals, I began to appreciate the hot freeform jazz score by Friederich Gulda which plays continuously with no direct connection with the actions onscreen.


The DVD from Intervision is in widescreen with Dolby 2.0 sound.  Language is Spanish with English subtitles.  Extras consist of three Franco featurettes--an introduction to the film, a more detailed discussion of it, and, most interesting, the venerable director's thoughts on the state of contemporary filmmaking.

According to the titles, this is based on Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde story, but it might as well have been based on "Green Eggs and Ham" for all the relevance this has to the film.  Although PAULA-PAULA seemingly aspires to be a cinematic equivalent to its frenetic jazz score, what it basically amounts to is Jess Franco dicking around for 67 minutes.


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Friday, January 28, 2011

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) -- DVD review by porfle


No doubt about it--rape has always been a prime motivator for the revenge movie.  Whether by the victim herself or a husband, lover, or relative, audiences tend to excuse whatever horrendous acts they commit in the name of vigilante justice, and even cheer them on.  Open with a rape scene, and the filmmakers are free to make with the bloody violence.

Such is the case with the infamous I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, aka "Day of the Woman" (1978), one of the most extreme examples of this unsettling subgenre.  (One of its alternate titles is the built-in spoiler "The Rape and Revenge of Jennifer Hill.")  To me, the debates about the "deeper meaning" that this film has stirred up since its release are all a bunch of hogwash--depending on who you ask, it's either virulently misogynistic or "the ultimate feminist movie."  I think it's really just a case of cooking up a scenario in which the bad guys are so irredeemably vile that the filmmakers are free to depict the most violent and gruesome revenge sequences their hearts desire, and if people read more into it then so much the better.



Although writer-director Meir Zarchi's inspiration for the script was a real incident in which he gave aid to a woman who'd been raped in the park, the film is hardly a "Lifetime" special.  What it does, though, and quite effectively, is to present one of the screen's most convincing depictions of the physical and emotional devastation endured by a victim of violent rape.  The film is no less exploitative for this, yet the fact that Zarchi treats this aspect of it so seriously prevents it from being anywhere near the irredeemable trash it might have been.

Big city girl Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) sets things into motion when she drives to a rented summer home in the country to commune with nature and work on her novel.  The attractive stranger draws the attention of four unsavory locals, led by pump jockey Johnny (Eron Tabor).  Turned on by her looks but resentful of what they imagine to be a teasing and superior attitude, they begin to harrass Jennifer and then brutally rape her in a marathon ordeal, setting the stage for her bloody revenge.

These guys are the most cartoonishly sexist pigs that Zarchi could cook up--they're even vile and offensive when they're fishing.  Jennifer, on the other hand, is as sweet and innocent as the heroine in a dark fairytale, which this somewhat resembles.  We see enough of her friendly and open demeanor in the early scenes to sense it being destroyed during her dehumanizing assault.

The early part of the film is very slow, almost tranquil, as Jennifer is lulled into a false sense of security in her hammock under the trees or floating on sun-dappled water in a canoe.  Twenty minutes in, the assault begins and doesn't end until over half an hour later.  The utter simplicity of the story gives Zarchi time to dwell on the key events and explore them fully enough to make us feel as though we're experiencing them too--not as one of the rapists, as some contend, but through Jennifer's eyes.  The fact that almost the entire story is told from her point of view, and never encourages us to identify with her tormentors, is what makes it tolerable.



The almost cinema verite feeling of the film is largely due to the complete lack of music (ambient sounds and silence establish the mood) and the director's matter-of-fact, near documentary style.  This gives the harsher events an inexorable quality and a sense of immediacy.  There's so little film artifice to hide behind that viewers can't distance themselves from the terrible things that are happening, and there are no timely cutaways to relieve the tension.  When the final and worst attack occurs in Jennifer's own house, it's as though we're in the same room.  This is probably one of the things that bothers some people so much about this movie.

After the halfway mark, Jennifer's long, contemplative healing process gives way to her resolve to get revenge herself rather than go to the police.  At this point the film shifts noticeably from realism to improbable fantasy, with Jennifer becoming a fearless, seductive femme fatale with almost supernatural cunning and luck.  Those looking for the charnel-house massacre promised by the film's famous tagline may be disappointed--while Jennifer's killings display showmanship, only the cringe-inducing bathtub scene is truly shocking.  These scenes do, however, provide the necessary cathartic resolution to all that has gone before.  

Keaton (who later married director Zarchi) is a good enough actress for the most part, but during the rape scenes she becomes harrowingly convincing.  At times it's as though she isn't even an actress performing for the camera but someone who's being caught on film during an actual event.  The actors playing Johnny's friends give broad performances, especially Richard Pace as the semi-retarded Matthew, which serve the story while distancing us from them as human beings.  Eron Tabor as Johnny is a better actor and his character is fleshed out more--he has a family and talks fondly about his kids--giving an added dimension to the film's notorious latter-half setpiece.



The Director's Cut DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, and is definitely a step up from the Wizard Video VHS edition I bought back in the 80s.  Extras include a half-hour interview with Meir Zarchi, a poster and stills gallery, trailers, TV and radio spots, a clip of the alternate main title "Day of the Woman", and two commentary tracks.  Zarchi's is informative while the one with drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs is delightfully entertaining.

Despite the horrified misgivings of a number of critics, including an aghast Roger Ebert, I can't imagine very many people besides the truly twisted few who would identify with the rapists in this story and vicariously enjoy their actions.  As for myself, I find I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE to be a meticulously well-made film that's too sympathetic to its female protagonist to be as reprehensible as it's often made out to be.  An interesting thing to consider is that, after the more realistic events of the first half, what happens in the rest of the movie is so wildly improbable that it might simply be Jennifer's own revenge fantasy. 


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Read our review of the 2010 remake here


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Thursday, January 27, 2011

MERLIN: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON -- DVD review by porfle


I thought this series was going to be hard to get into, but after only one episode I had settled comfortably into the magical world of BBC-TV's MERLIN: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON.  For fans of the legend of Merlin, Arthur, and Camelot, all the familiar elements are here--they've just been taken apart and reassembled in very different ways.

This time,  Merlin (Colin Morgan) is an awkward, callow young apprentice to the wizened old court physician, Gaius (Richard Wilson), who is like a father to the boy.  Merlin was born with magical powers but must keep them secret since King Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head) has outlawed sorcery of any kind in Camelot.  Only Gaius, a former sorcerer himself, knows Merlin's secret.  Uther's ward, the beautiful Morgana (Katie McGrath), is also developing similar abilities which keep her in a constant state of anxiety.

Prince Arthur (Bradley James) shows the potential of becoming the wise king we know he'll someday be, yet remains arrogant and vain.  As Arthur's personal servant and friend, Merlin tries to help him develop his better qualities while also secretly using his magic to protect the prince, and Camelot itself, from harm.  The object of Arthur's affections is Morgana's trusted maid, the dusky-hued beauty Gwen (Angel Coulby), although we know, of course, that she will someday be smitten by dashing Lancelot.  Or will she?  In this version, you can never be sure.


"The Curse of Cornelius Sigan" gives us our first look at Merlin's power as he battles an evil sorcerer whose soul has inhabited the body of a weaselly con man named Cedric.  This one features a full-scale attack on Camelot by some flying CGI gargoyles that are pretty well-done.  (Overall, the show's digital effects aren't bad for a weekly series.)  It also introduces us to the Great Dragon (voiced by John Hurt) who is chained in a vast cavern below the castle and from whom Merlin often seeks magical advice, with the promise of someday releasing the creature.

A bounty hunter hired by Uther's sworn enemy King Odin stalks Arthur in "The Once and Future Queen", which advances the story of Arthur's growing love for servant girl Gwen against the backdrop of a jousting tournament.  "Lancelot and Guinevere", with Gwen being mistaken for Morgana and held for ransom, brings future knight Lancelot into the mix and begins the ill-fated love triangle that will someday bring ruin to Camelot.  (Maybe...)  In "The Nightmare Begins", Morgana discovers her true nature and flees to a Druid village for some sympathetic advice.  Here, we meet the child Mordred. 

One of my favorite episodes is the two-parter "Beauty and the Beast."  Sarah Parish guest-stars as a hideous troll who uses a magic potion to impersonate a noblewoman and bewitch King Uther into marrying her.  Parish wears some highly effective makeup and a body suit which transform her into one of the most revolting creatures ever--she makes Jimmy Durante look like Jayne Mansfield--and her unrestrained performance in both guises is outstanding. 

It's also fun when she drops the "ladylike" act in private and reverts to her usual trollish behavior while still looking like Lady Catrina.  This is probably the season's most overt dive into broad comedy, especially when the blinded-by-love Uther gets romantic with his nightmarish, flatulent bride.  You may need to keep a barf bag handy for this one.


Charles Dance gives a gleefully sinister portrayal of "The Witchfinder", hired by Uther to sniff out sorcery in Camelot by any means necessary.  His efforts result in Gaius being sentenced to burn at the stake.  In "The Sins of the Father" we meet the beautiful and mysterious sorceress Morgause, who turns Arthur against his father.  This episode builds to one of the more intensely dramatic endings of the season.

"Lady of the Lake" gives Merlin a chance to fall in love when he helps a lovely sorceress escape from a ruthless bounty hunter, only to find that she hides a deadly secret.  "Sweet Dreams", another comedic story, finds Arthur and a rival king's insufferable daughter bewitched into falling madly in love during a royal peace summit. 

The final three episodes in the set--"The Witch's Quickening", "The Fires of Idirsholas", and "The Last Dragonlord"--are full of exciting surprises as the season builds to its finale.  Morgana's story takes some drastic turns with the return of Morgause and Mordred, while Camelot itself comes under attack from supernatural forces that threaten to destroy it.  A major revelation for Merlin comes shortly before he and the Great Dragon face off as enemies at last, in a season ender which, thankfully, doesn't completely leave us hanging.

While at times poking a bit of fun at itself with a few deliberate anachronisms in speech and behavior, MERLIN's indulgences in lighthearted comedy have none of the hokiness of a show like "Xena" or "Hercules."  The more realistic tone allows the writers to include frequent moments of high drama that elevate the show above the norm.  Several episodes are surprisingly moving, while others simmer with intrigue.  Action-wise, the stories are filled with swordfights, monsters, and colorful villains.
 

The production values are lavish, with elaborate set design and costumes and scenic locations (including an actual 14th-century castle in Paris) contributing to the overall atmosphere.  Each episode is enhanced by a stirring musical score fit for a big-budget fantasy epic.  The lead actors are engaging, particularly Colin Morgan as Merlin and Richard Wilson (HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING) as Gaius. 

The 5-disc DVD set from BBC-Warner is in 16:9 with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  Disc #5 contains the special features, which include the 34-minute featurette "The Making of Merlin", a cast and crew introduction to season two, a photo gallery, and desktop wallpapers.  The set also includes cast and crew commentaries for selected episodes, plus cool animated menus. 

The highlight of the special features disc is the BBC series "Merlin: Secrets and Magic" consisting of 14-minute segments covering each episode in detail.  My favorite is the one showing Sarah Parish's amazing makeup transformation into the hideous troll from "Beauty and the Beast."

With a fine cast of characters and a vibrantly  healthy sense of wonder, MERLIN: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON is total fantasy fun all the way.  It may play fast and loose with the legend, but it's nice wondering what's going to happen next instead of just waiting for all the familiar pieces to click neatly into place.


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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CHAIN LETTER -- DVD review by porfle


In the dark stalker flick CHAIN LETTER (2010), five twenty-something high school kids discover that modern technology isn't necessarily their friend. 

The film opens with a crackerjack pre-titles death scene which sets the morbid tone of the story.  Switch to a bustling high school campus where teens text while walking together, have continuous music blasting in their earbuds, and scoff when a creepy teacher (Brad Dourif, whose slogan could be "We do creepy right") warns them that there's a dark side to the pervasive technology they enjoy so much. 

Going down the usual check list of stereotypes, we find that our main characters include the jock, the nerd, the rebel, the good girl, the bitchy girl, and the black guy.  When the nerd receives a spooky chain letter on his computer one night instructing him to forward it to five other people, under penalty of death, the unlucky five naturally ignore it.  The only questions now are--when and in what order will they die, and how gruesome will their demises be?


Although there are a few false-alarm "gotcha" scares at first, complete with piercing musical stings, the first elaborate murder setpiece pays off with some quick cuts of extreme gore.  A second victim gets his top half seperated from his bottom half, and later on another one gets "the hook", so to speak.  Rabid gorehounds may find these moments to be too few and far between, though an unsettling mood of paranoia sets in as the other teens figure out the "chain letter" angle and start looking over their shoulders.

In addition to using modern technology to stalk and terrorize his victims, the killer favors the creative use of actual chains during his diabolical misdeeds.  He lacks the playfulness of a Michael Myers or the wit of a Freddy Kruger--and is definitely no Jason Voorhees--but strikes an imposing enough figure nonetheless.  What he lacks in personality is compensated for by an interesting motive, which the investigating homicide detective (Keith David) eventually pieces together. 

The nice girl, Jessie, is played by Nikki Reed (TWILIGHT), who makes a likable lead.  Noah Segan, so effective as the twisted "J.T." in DEADGIRL, plays Dante, the member of the ill-fated five who is so totally out there that he (gasp) doesn't even own a cell phone.  As the two homicide cops, Keith David is joined by former teen-movie queen Betsy Russell, currently best-known for her roles in the SAW films.  Comedian Charles Fleischer also makes a brief appearance.


Direction (by Deon Taylor) and visuals are alternately gritty and TV-commercial slick, with some pretty well-staged suspense scenes.  The soundtrack is ear-splitting at times--I thought the mood in some scenes might've benefitted from less noise rather than the "louder is better" approach. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  There are no subtitles and the sole extra consists of the film's trailer.

To us no-cell-phone Luddites, the atmosphere of inescapable technology eroding our privacy may be the queasiest aspect of CHAIN LETTER.  As a horror flick, it isn't one of the scariest or most shocking splatterfests I've seen, but it's definitely a respectable addition to the genre.  If nothing else, you won't soon forget that ending.


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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

HandMade Films' FIVE CORNERS and A PRIVATE FUNCTION coming to Blu-ray and DVD Feb 8 from Image Entertainment

On February 8, Image Entertainment will release two titles from the esteemed Handmade Films library:  Five Corners and A Private Function.  Both will be available on DVD and Blu-ray™, with an SRP of $17.97 for the Blu-ray and $14.98 for the DVD .  Prebook is January 11.


Starring John Turturro (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), two-time Academy Award® winner Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs) and Academy Award® winner Tim Robbins (Mystic River, The Shawshank Redemption), Five Corners is a unique story about life, love, and the unexpected twists of fate for a group of friends living in the Bronx in the early 1960s.  In this chaotic time Five Corners has a battle of its own to face,  when Heinz (Turturro), newly released from prison, returns with his heart still set on Linda (Foster) – the woman he attacked – and his hatred still burning for Harry (Robbins) the man who tried to protect her.     This is an acclaimed indie thriller - a true original!

A Private Function is an outrageous comedy of manners taking place during a time of extreme food rationing in England following World War II.  One town’s upper class bends the rules by illegally fattening a prize pig for a feast to celebrate the upcoming royal wedding, but when a timid podiatrist (Michael Palin, A Fish Called Wanda) and his bossy wife (two-time Academy Award winner Maggie Smith, A Room with a View) learn of the plan, they seize the chance to climb the social ladder by kidnapping the pig…who has a few unpleasant surprises of its own in store. This hilarious, critically-acclaimed British cult comedy offers proof that some people will truly do anything to get ahead!

Five Corners Blu-ray™
Genre:                         Drama, 80s, United Kingdom
Rating:                        R
Rating Reason:            N/A
Languages:                  English 
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)      
Audio:                         PCM 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles:                     English
Year:                           1987
SRP :                            $17.97
Street Date:                 February 8, 2011
Pre-Book:                    January 11, 11
Length:                        94 minutes
UPC :                           014381677850
Cat#:                           ID6778HHBD

Five Corners DVD
Genre:                         Drama, 80s, United Kingdom
Rating:                        R
Rating Reason:            N/A
Languages:                  English 
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles:                     English
Year:                           1987
SRP :                            $14.98
Street Date:                 February 8, 2011
Pre-Book:                    January 11, 2011
Length:                        94 minutes
UPC :                           014381657326
Cat#:                           ID6573HHDVD 

A Private Function Blu-ray™
Genre:                         Comedy, 80s, Screwball , United Kingdom
Rating:                        R
Rating Reason:            N/A
Languages:                  English 
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio:                         PCM 2.0
Subtitles:                     English
Year:                           1984
SRP :                            $17.97
Street Date:                 February 8, 2011
Pre-Book:                    January 11, 11
Length:                        92 minutes
UPC :                           014381658354
Cat#:                           ID6583HHBD

A Private Function DVD
Genre:                         Comedy, 80s, Screwball , United Kingdom
Rating:                        R
Rating Reason:            N/A
Languages:                  English 
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio:                         Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles:                     English
Year:                           1984
SRP :                            $14.98
Street Date:                 February 8, 2011
Pre-Book:                    January 11, 2011
Length:                        92 minutes
UPC :                           014381658026
Cat#:                           ID6580HHDVD
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Monday, January 24, 2011

THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF -- DVD review by porfle

 
Incredibly prolific Spanish filmmaker Jesús "Jess" Franco has a devoted following, but the uninitiated might be puzzled as to why after watching THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF (1973).  It's not an awful film, just exceedingly bland.

Montserrat Prous plays Melissa Comfort, an heiress who has been paralyzed from birth.  Plagued by a recurring nightmare in which she wanders the darkened mansion as a little girl and witnesses the violent death of her late father (Franco himself in a cameo role), Melissa is placed in the care of eminent psychiatrist Dr. Orloff (William Berger) by her aunt, Lady Flora Comfort. 

It soon becomes apparent that there's a plot against Melissa which may involve members of her own family, including her Aunt Flora, step-sister Martha, and perhaps even Dr. Orloff himself.  Melissa is aided by faithful servant Mathews (José Manuel Martín) and a concerned neighbor, pop star Sweet Davey Brown.  But when people around her start dying off one by one, it may be only a matter of time before she's next.  The question is--who's really doing the killing?


The third of Franco's "Dr. Orloff" films, this is remarkably tame stuff for someone known for his exploitation flicks.  The slow-moving story features the occasional murder, but all are quick and relatively bloodless.  Aside from an incidental glimpse of nudity during one of the killings, there's nothing here that one couldn't find in a standard made-for-TV thriller from the era.

A reliance on handheld camerawork and shaky zooms gives the film a crude look, although it's hardly unwatchable.  Franco does display a few flashes of imagination in his direction and keeps things moving along well enough that patient viewers won't have much trouble sticking with it to the end.  The story itself is utterly predictable and there's little actual suspense until the mildly exciting finale, all of which is accompanied by a melodramatic organ and piano score.

Performances are adequate for this type of movie, though it's admittedly hard to judge the actors' dialogue delivery since I understand very little Spanish.  William Berger isn't all that sinister as Orloff and is, in fact, pretty dull, even when we get a closeup of those titular eyeballs.  Montserrat Prous is okay as Melissa--more interesting, though, are Loreta Tovar and the lovely Kali Hansa as spoiled socialites Martha and Aunt Flora.
 

As Davey Brown, Robert Wood is notable mainly for his awful 70s wardrobe and insipid singing.  His scenes with Edmund Purdom as Inspector Crosby, in which Davey struggles to convince the policeman that something rotten is going on in the Comfort manor, give the film what scant comedy relief it has.  Franco regular Lina Romay appears briefly as Davey's girlfriend.

The DVD from Intervision is full-screen with Dolby 2.0 Spanish mono soundtrack and English subtitles.  Picture quality is good although that Eastmancolor doesn't age very well.  On my copy, the subtitles disappeared for a few minutes around the 46-minute mark.  The bonus feature is a recent 18-minute interview with Jess Franco. 

THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF is a nice low-budget effort that's fairly painless to sit through if you keep your expectations low.  Just don't expect it to be very sinister. 


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SINGLE-HANDED: SET 1 -- DVD review by porfle


I've never seen the Emerald Isle look more beautiful than in SINGLE-HANDED: SET 1, which takes place in a picturesque Irish village by the sea and features one breathtaking vista after another.  It's almost enough to make you forget that even in a remote place like this, dark deeds and bad people lurk beneath the surface.  But Sgt. Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell), the only lawman for miles around, is reminded of it every day.

Jack's dad, Gerry (Ian McElhinney), was a tough, old-school cop not above bending the rules to catch a crook, something his son would rather avoid.  When Jack gets transferred from the Dublin police force to his hometown to replace his retiring father as head "Garda", he'll uncover things about Gerry's past, both professional and private, that will have him reeling.  It doesn't help that Jack's only assistant, Garda Finbarr Colving (David Herlihy), is part of the old guard whose allegiances are often suspect.

Part of what makes "Single-Handed" interesting is the fact that with such a small and close-knit population, every case involves people Jack knows personally.  His private life always gets tangled up in things, sometimes to an agonizing extent.  In the first episode, "Natural Justice", the apparent murder of a pretty young immigrant girl forces Jack to investigate some of the town's leading citizens, including Gerry.  Even his burgeoning love affair with a girl from his past becomes part of a series of revelations that keep this episode consistently absorbing.  Before it's over, the story takes some turns that are truly unexpected and for Jack, traumatic.


In "The Stolen Child", a young mother's baby is kidnapped and her heroin-addicted ex-husband is the suspect.  Her two volatile brothers hinder Jack's investigation with their strong-arm tactics, but when he resorts to violence himself in order to force a confession, his own integrity is called into question.  His romance with the town doctor causes his love life to get dragged into things again when they bitterly disagree on how to handle the drug-addled suspect. 

As the story of the missing child keeps us in suspense, retired cop Gerry is called before an internal affairs tribunal to account for old indiscretions, which dangerously raises his blood pressure.  The return of a mysterious man from his past complicates matters even more, and as usual the various plot elements turn out to be connected in surprising ways. 

"The Drowning Man" brings two agents from the big city into town on the trail of a drug smuggling ring that may involve some leading citizens.  This episode crackles with danger and intrigue when Jack drags the body of a teenage boy out of the bay, and ends up trampling over the agents' undercover investigation.  One of them turns out to be an old flame, which heightens the drama when Jack begins to disagree vehemently with their methods.  One of the best moments in the series occurs during a confrontation between Jack and their ruthless team leader, and the episode ends with an tense shootout.


Jack's no Sherlock Holmes, but he's dogged and tenacious.  It's fun watching him slogging his way through these baffling mysteries with his limited abilities and resources, while his job constantly intrudes upon his personal life in substantial ways.  Owen McDonnell gives an everyday realism to the role, and the supporting cast, including Ruth McCabe as Jack's long-suffering mother Eithne, is consistently good. 

Each script by Barry Simner is smartly-written and filled with scintillating dialogue exchanges.  You never know when the story is going to stop twisting and turning--there always seems to be one more surprise waiting to crop up before it's over.  Production values are fine and the settings are lushly atmospheric.

The DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  Each of the three discs contains a feature-length episode of the 2007 series.  Extras are text-based and include an interview with the producer plus other production notes.

SINGLE-HANDED: SET 1 proves that there's a lot more to rural Ireland than bogs, shamrocks, and little people.  This trio of tales about a quietly-seething small town and the diligent cop who has his hands full policing it is solid, satisfying entertainment--perfect for those times when you feel like pouring yourself a pint of stout and curling up with a good DVD.


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Saturday, January 22, 2011

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA: SEASON FOUR VOLUME TWO -- DVD review by porfle


Not one of my favorite shows as a kid, I regarded the truly schizophrenic "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" as either too grown-up for me in its early episodes or too childish and silly later on.  After the adult-oriented first season, the network urged producer-director Irwin Allen ("The Time Tunnel", "Land of the Giants") to turn the series into a kid's show, and boy, did he ever. 

At times, the final half season contained in the DVD set VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA: SEASON FOUR VOLUME TWO makes Allen's "Lost in Space" look like FORBIDDEN PLANET.  Yet, some episodes are fairly straightforward sci-fi action thrillers.  This makes the collection a bit like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates--you never know what you're going to get.

Now that I'm a grown-up (so to speak) I get a big kick out of watching the more absurdly juvenile science-fantasy episodes.  It's fun to see just how cavalierly the writers will disregard logic and scientific accuracy to concoct colorful adventures that sometimes resemble the world of Adam West's "Batman", only totally lacking the self-mockery.

Things often don't make sense on the Seaview--the laws of physics operate in certain ways just because the writers want them to, while situations and character behavior may seem totally illogical.  Plot holes are blithely ignored and the juxtaposition between serious drama and deadpan farce is fascinating.





Based on the 1961 film which was also written and directed by Irwin Allen, the series takes place in the (then) near-future of the 70s and 80s and follows the adventures of the colossal atomic submarine Seaview and her crew.  Richard Basehart plays ship's designer Admiral Nelson (replacing Walter Pigeon, who starred in the film), a brilliant scientist whose research institute coordinates Seaview's missions along with the government.  David Hedison is Captain Lee Crane, the dynamic young skipper.  Rounding out the main cast are Robert Dowdell as executive officer Chip Morton, Del Monroe as sonor man Kowalski, and Terry Becker as Chief Sharkey.

The DVD collection sets sail with one of the dumbest episodes imaginable, "The Return of Blackbeard", with the titular pirate (Malachi Throne) somehow taking over the will of crewman Kowalski (Del Monroe) and others, and wreaking havoc aboard the Seaview.  Throne plays the character as though he were cavorting blind drunk through a dinner theater production of "My Favorite Year", and the episode is padded with so much empty action that it resembles a chapter from a bad serial. 

I remember seeing the preview for the next episode when I was a kid and being flabbergasted to find the Seaview menaced by...a leprechaun?  "Terrible Leprechaun", in fact, features twin leprechauns, both played by an ideally-cast Walter Burke.  The evil one is bent on using the submarine to obtain a horde of gold coins buried beneath the ocean floor, while the good one is out to stop him.  This episode just had me shaking my head in disbelief the whole time.


"The Lobster Man" boasts one of the hokiest monster suits in TV history.  Ditto for "Abominable Snowman", although it's surprisingly serious and not a bad story--a good example of how some of the plots straddle the line between adult and juvenile fare.  Fortunately, these are the last segments which feature such ridiculous-looking creature suits.

In between the two is the first truly riveting episode in the set, "Nightmare", which harkens back to the more grounded-in-reality feel of the first season despite its fantastic elements.  While piloting the Flying Sub, Crane spots a UFO in the vicinity of the Seaview.  He returns to the ship to find the crew gone and encounters a mysterious stranger (Paul Mantee) who claims to be a UFO expert sent by the military. 

A morose Nelson, Morton, and Kowalski suddenly appear and subdue Crane by force, sentencing him to death and announcing their plan to fire nuclear missiles at Washington, D.C.  With a darker, less kid-oriented tone and more real drama, this one's a corker.

Mark Richman guests in the exciting "Secret of the Deep" as a double agent trying to keep the Seaview from discovering a hidden underwater base while the sub is attacked by a number of impressive sea monsters.  "Man-Beast", with Lawrence Montaigne ("Stonn" of ST:TOS' "Amok Time"), is a genuine old-fashioned horror yarn with Captain Crane turning into a hairy, snarling werewolf after a failed extreme-depth experiment in the ship's diving bell. 

Next comes "Savage Jungle", in which an alien (Perry Lopez, CHINATOWN) smuggles three silver-skinned soldiers aboard in doll form so that they can use the Seaview to turn the entire world into a jungle.  The aliens of "Flaming Ice" are Frost Men who sport Flock of Seagulls hairdos and are led by an almost unrecognizable Michael Pate.  The story takes place beneath the polar ice cap and gives Kowalski another chance to freak out, which he's prone to do with disturbing regularity.


"Attack!" is a lively conglomeration of more aliens, more flying saucers, and more jungle scenery as Nelson and his crew struggle to stop a full-scale invasion from space which begins with the destruction of an entire fleet of ships.  Kevin Hagen ("Little House on the Prairie") leads a force of hostile spacemen in really bad uniforms while the great Skip Homeier totally awesome-izes the episode as peaceful alien Robek.  This one makes the next tale, "The Edge of Doom", seem almost mundane by comparison, although the story of a Seaview officer being replaced by an enemy lookalike bent on destroying the ship will keep you guessing.

The jungle set is reused yet again in "The Death Clock", the first of two time-traveller tales.  In this one, the evil Mallory (Chris Robinson) creates a time warp in which a future version of Captain Crane murders Admiral Nelson, then strands the crew in another dimension where they'll be blown to bits when the device of the title counts down to zero. 

The final episode of the series, "No Way Back", features venerable character actor Henry Jones as Mr. Pem, whose time travel device whisks the Seaview back to Revolutionary War-era America and pits the crew against Benedict Arnold (Barry Atwater).  It sounds goofy, but it's actually one of the best episodes of the set and treats its subject pretty seriously.  

The distinguished Basehart (THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, MOBY DICK) is such a fine actor that his performances are always rock-solid even when he seems less than enthusiastic about dealing with pirates and leprechauns.  David Hedison, on the other hand, acts his way though each story as though his life depended on it.  I never realized how good he is before--he's always on his best game. 

The pacing of some episodes lacks momentum and tends to get a little monotonous.  However, the bizarre, anything-can-happen nature of the stories usually compensates for this.  The special effects are always interesting to look at, especially those beautiful models of the Seaview and the Flying Sub in action (much stock footage from the feature film is used).  Musical scores by composers such as Alexander Courage, Leith Stevens, and Harry Geller are consistently good.

An often-spoofed feature of the show is the "rock and roll", in which the actors hurl themselves repeatedly from one end of the set to the other as the camera lurches back and forth.  Unless I'm mistaken, this occurs in literally every episode of the set.  The ship's electrical circuitry bursting into flame or exploding as though packed with Roman candles is another familiar sight.


The DVD from 20-Century Fox is in full-screen with English and French mono sound and English subtitles.  The 13 digitally-remastered episodes are on three double-sided flipper discs.  Side six contains the special features, including a photo gallery.  Best of all, though, are two versions of the show's original pilot episode, "Eleven Days to Zero"--the unaired version, and the broadcast version complete with extra footage and original commercials, from a rare print furnished by Mrs. Irwin Allen.

This ragged black-and-white print is a priceless, dazzling piece of film that shows writer-director Irwin Allen at the height of his creative powers.  The opening alone is an audacious and breathtaking action setpiece, paving the way for a riveting sci-fi thriller that moves at a breakneck, almost frantic pace from start to finish. 

There's a sense of genuine gravity as the Seaview sets out to prevent a worldwide calamity with a powerful enemy trying to destroy them.  This malevolent organization, which resembles SPECTRE from the James Bond stories, is led by the mysterious Dr. Gamma (Theo Marcuse) and gives the film a Cold War vibe.  The Seaview is bombarded by depth charges and attacked by another sub (commanded by Werner Klemperer) while trying to stop an underwater earthquake which will flood the world's coastal regions.  A team of divers also encounter a giant octopus during a hazardous attempt to effect repairs. 

Lead performances are top-notch.  Baseheart, in particular, takes the whole thing as seriously as though he were starring in a big-budget war film.  Hedison is also sharp as a tack here, and guest star Eddie Albert lends even more weight to the episode.  Direction is lean and imaginative with some nice stylistic touches.  There's a robust musical score by Paul Sawtell (his main theme music became a permanent part of the series) which at times recalls Max Steiner's music for KING KONG.

Although uneven in tone and frequently downright silly, most of the thirteen episodes in VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA: SEASON FOUR VOLUME TWO are nevertheless wonderfully entertaining.  Fans of the show will know what to expect--others should just sit back and let this wildly unconventional series take their grasp on reality apart piece by piece.


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"Battle Of The Warriors" and "Scary Movie 4 (Unrated)" On Blu-ray From Vivendi Entertainment and the Weinstein Company


BATTLE OF THE WARRIORS

Synopsis:
House of Flying Daggers star Andy Lau delivers a power-packed performance in this epic tale of swords, valor, and Sun Tzu-style strategy from the action director of Jet Li’s Hero. In 370 B.C., a small kingdom lies directly in the path of a massive, advancing army. When all hope is lost, the people turn to a lone, mysterious stranger to rescue them from siege and conquest. Based on the sensational Japanese manga series Bokkou, Battle of the Warriors features a gritty, realistic style with an incredible level of historical detail that highlights each of its unparalleled, ferocious battles.

Bonus Features:
- Feature-Length Audio Commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
- The Making of Battle of the Warriors

Price: $19.97
Order Due Date: February 8, 2011
Street Date: March 15, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
Catalog #: WN3140
Run Time: 133 minutes
Languages: English, Mandarin
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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 SCARY MOVIE 4 (UNRATED)

Synopsis:
In “the best Scary Movie yet!” (Fox-TV), the lovable, dim-witted Cindy (Anna Faris, Observe and Report) and her overheated pal Brenda (Regina Hall, “Law & Order: Los Angeles”) return to help clueless hero Tom (Craig Bierko, Cinderella Man) save the world from a ruthless alien invasion.  In true Scary Movie tradition, the story weaves through a series of hilarious and twisted parodies of familiar films including War of the Worlds, The Grudge, The Village, and Saw.  Longer, funnier, and raunchier, with celebrity cameos from Shaquille O’Neal, Dr. Phil, Lil’ John and more, nothing is off limits in Scary Movie 4!

Bonus Features:
- The Scary Truth: A Conversation with the Filmmakers
- The Man Behind the Laugh: David Zucker
- Zany, Spoof Humor – Zucker Style
- The Visual Effects of Scary Movie 4
- The Youngbloodz
- The Cast
- Improvisation of Craig Bierko
- Bloopers
- Deleted and Extended Scenes

Price:  $19.97
Order Due Date: February 15, 2011
Street Date: March 22, 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Catalog #: WN3141
Run Time: 91 minutes
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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