HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Monday, February 28, 2011

"BLACK SWAN" on BD and DVD March 29


EXPERIENCE THE TWISTED YET INSPIRED MASTERPIECE LIKE NEVER BEFORE

Capture the Electrifying Thriller That Has Audiences on the Edge of Their Seats On Blu-ray and DVD March 29



Los Angeles (February 28, 2011) – Starring Natalie Portman in her Academy Award® winning role*, BLACK SWAN is a seductive yet haunting film that will leave you breathless. Directed by innovator Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), this Best Picture nominated film boasts a wealth of talent including Portman (Closer), in the performance of her career, as well as Mila Kunis (Date Night), Winona Ryder (Girl, Interrupted) and Vincent Cassel (Ocean’s Twelve).

In the film that Daily Variety hailed as "...wicked, sexy and ultimately devastating... fascinating," Natalie Portman’s mesmerizing transformation into the Black Swan leaves you breathless – and wanting to see it again. Become part of the haunting phenomenon and own BLACK SWAN on Blu-ray or DVD on March 29th from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

BLACK SWAN follows the story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina in the New York City Ballet trying to make it to the top. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), also impresses Leroy and becomes Nina’s competition. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly with her innocence and grace, but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan with her fiery personality. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

The BLACK SWAN Blu-ray disc contains special features not included on the DVD including exciting behind-the-scenes looks at the filmmaking process and interviews with the cast and director Darren Aronofsky. With the best-available sound and picture quality, the Blu-ray format provides viewers the premier way to experience the stunning Academy Award®-nominated cinematography, memorable character performances and flawless choreography of BLACK SWAN.

BLACK SWAN Blu-ray Disc Features:
Metamorphosis: A Three-Part Series--A behind the scenes look at the filmmaking process from Darren Aronofsky’s visionary directing, to the physically-demanding acting, to the stunning special effects.
Behind the Curtain--An inside look at the film’s costume and production design.

Ten Years in the Making--Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky discuss their creative journey, from “preparing for the role” to “dancing with the camera.”
Cast Profiles – Roles of a Lifetime--Presented by Fox Movie Channel, the stars reflect on the their challenging and rewarding characters

BLACK SWAN DVD Features:
Metamorphosis: A Three-Part Series--A behind the scenes look at the filmmaking process from Darren Aronofsky’s visionary directing, to the physically-demanding acting, to the stunning special effects

*Best Actress in a Lead Role, Natalie Portman

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.

Black Swan Blu-Ray: (Catalog # 2271513 U.S. / # 2271514 Canada)
Street Date: March 29, 2011
Pre-book Date: March 2, 2011
Screen Format: Widescreen
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD-MA
 French 5.1 Dolby Digital
 Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English and Spanish
U.S. Rating: R
Total Run Time: 233 minutes
Closed Captioned: Yes

Black Swan DVD: (Catalog # 2271506 U.S. / # 2271507 Canada)
Street Date: March 29, 2011
Pre-book Date: March 2, 2011
Screen Format: Widescreen
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital
 French 2.0 Surround Dolby Digital
 Spanish 2.0 Surround Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English and Spanish
U.S. Rating: R
Total Run Time: 179 minutes
Closed Captioned: Yes

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LEONARD COHEN: I'M YOUR MAN -- movie review by porfle


Record producer Hal Willner's tribute to the legendary Leonard Cohen, entitled "Came So Far For Beauty" after one of his songs, was performed by various artists at the Sydney Opera House in 2005, and director Lian Lunson recorded it for posterity.  She also interviewed the people involved, who reverently recount how Cohen has influenced them, and Cohen himself, who seems rather pleasantly unaffected by it all, and the result is LEONARD COHEN: I'M YOUR MAN (2005), a sporadically interesting documentary that sometimes manages to rise above the often dreary interpretations of Cohen's songs. 

Some of the singers, in fact, display such reverence for the songs with which they've been entrusted it's almost as if they're standing in the First Church Of Leonard, treating the songs like fragile antique crystal that they're afraid to take out of their padded boxes and handle lest they break them.  Martha Wainwright, in particular, paces momentously before approaching the microphone, as though a higher state of mind must be reached before uttering Cohen's words, and then works herself into such a state of restrained agitation that she seems to risk a seizure just to emit the simple, wispy melody of "The Traitor."  And when she sings "Winter Lady" with her mother and aunt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, it's one of those crystalline female harmony pieces that threatens to beat you over the head with its ethereal beauty.

Beth Orton looks like a farm girl in her Sunday-go-to-meetin' dress and seems so bad at first that I kept imagining Simon Cowell running out and kicking her off the stage, although her performance of "Sisters Of Mercy" sorta grew on me toward the end.  Just about the only time anyone is allowed to have any fun with their song is when Nick Cave does his casual, I'm-so-cool rendition of "I'm Your Man" at the beginning of the film.  Jarvis Crocker comes close to lightening things up a bit with "I Can't Forget", which sounds almost like a theme song for an old Western, but I found his performance unaffecting.  Later, a duet on "Anthem" with former Cohen backup singers Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla is so self-consciously overwrought that the defenseless song doesn't stand a chance against them.

Antony, a shy, overweight guy with long hair hanging in his face, is a bundle of nervous gestures that recall the class nerd trying to ask a cheerleader for a date.  So he surprised me with his clear, trilling voice as he sang "If It Be Your Will" with such a gradual build-up of genuine feeling that it turned out to be the most soulful segment of the concert.  He loses himself in the song, seems surprised and disappointed when it's over, and quickly leaves the stage as though embarrassed to have revealed himself so intimately in front of an audience.  Of all the performers here, Antony's probably the only one I'd actually like to hear more from. 

Bono: "The rest of us would be humbled by the stuff he throws away."

Leonard Cohen sometimes takes longer to write a single song than most people take to record an album, get it into the stores, and receive their Grammy for "Best New Artist."  He says that on a good day he'll get maybe ten words done.  One reason for this is that he doesn't rhyme "baby" with "maybe" or "waitin'" with "anticipatin'."  I hate to call song lyrics "poetry", but these come as close as it gets without coming off as pretentious.  "Poetry is just the evidence of life," he says.  "If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash."

I enjoyed the interview segments with Cohen the most and was let down whenever they faded out and another concert performance came creeping in.  "Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey...I ache in the places where I used to play" he tells us in song, but it looks like he's settling into his later years quite gracefully.  He's an impeccably-dressed gentleman, intelligent, genial, low-key, thoughtful, self-effacing, spiritually complex, and interesting to listen to, especially when he recounts the period in which he actually became a monk in order to simplify his life.  Throughout the film we see examples of his artwork, which is often quite beautiful, and a wealth of photographs and home movies of his earlier days.
 


All during this tribute concert I was sure Cohen would appear onstage at last and sing one of his own songs as a finale, to the tumultuous reception of the worshipping crowd.  But instead, his performance takes place on the small stage of a burlesque club in New York City with no audience, just the members of U2 gathered close around him as his backup band.  The camera stays tight on his face with that wry, knowing smile, and that low voice which he says "can barely carry a tune" sings "The Tower Of Song" the way no interpreter of his songs ever could. 

It's the sort of thing I was waiting for throughout the rest of LEONARD COHEN: I'M YOUR MAN, and it's too bad the whole movie couldn't have been like this, because listening to other people sing Leonard Cohen's songs just makes me want to hear him sing them himself.


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Saturday, February 26, 2011

NEW TRICKS: SEASON THREE -- DVD review by porfle


After watching only one or two episodes of Acorn Media's NEW TRICKS: SEASON THREE, it's easy to see why this is such a popular show in England.  This delightfully offbeat cop series, with its vivid characters and perfect blend of comedy and drama, is a total hoot.

With her career not exactly on the fast track, Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman) has been placed in charge of a cold case unit that operates out of what looks like a basement somewhere.  Her team consists of three retired detectives whose own careers went a bit off the rails for one reason or another, and they're eager to make a comeback.  As individuals they're somewhat eccentric, and as a group they tend to clash often, but their combined skills are formidable.

The oldest, ex-Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Halford (James Bolam), left the force after his wife, since deceased, was struck down by a hit-and-run driver.  A solid, reliable cop, Jack is considered a bit odd since he's often seen talking to his dead wife next to the shrine he's built for her in their backyard. 

Ex-Detective Chief Inspector Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman, who sings the show's opening theme, "It's Alright") is a thrice-divorced father of four whose devil-may-care attitude hides a lot of personal baggage.  A bit of a chauvinist, he often trades jabs with Sandra and offers his weary observations on female behavior in general.  He must be a pretty good guy, though, since his three ex-wives and four daughters still like him.
 


The team's brainiac tech whiz, ex-Detective Inspector Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong, THE MUMMY RETURNS), is a recovering alcoholic and a certifiable basket case if he goes off his meds.  The scenes with him and his long-suffering wife Esther (Susan Jameson), who never knows what to expect, are infused with warmth and humor.

Whenever a cold case gets dropped into their laps, the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS) lurches into action amidst the usual horseplay and bickering, with a harried Sandra often forced to act almost as a schoolmarm to keep their undisciplined and unconventional behavior in check.  While frequently hilarious--as when obsessive and downright peculiar Brian is off on some strange tangent, or Sandra's attempts at a social life go down in flames--the humor is well-integrated and does nothing to lessen the gravity of the cases themselves.  In these sharply-written stories, the professional and personal lives of the team are so deftly intertwined that the plots are equally driven by both.

The chemistry between the leads is considerable--by season three these talented actors are well-settled into their colorful roles and play them with conviction.  Their characters are flawed, overly emotional, and can actually be dead wrong at times.  In the first episode of the set, "Lady's Pleasure", even team-leader Sandra almost ruins an investigation with her personal bias against the main suspect, a man accused of killing his wife by sabatoging her car.  Viewers are invited to jump to the wrong conclusions right along with the team, making it all the more interesting when they finally manage to sort out the truth.



In "Old Dogs", a series of canine murders in which the organs are surgically removed baffles the UCOS while the killer lurks right under their noses.  "Diamond Geezers" is one of many instances of their past experiences coming back to haunt them, as a former adversary of Jack's returns wielding his trademark axe.  "Wicca Work", an investigation into the ritual killing of a male witch, introduces Gerry and Brian to a strange female mystic whose herbal tea supercharges their flagging libidos. 

The season finale, "Congratulations", showcases each character in grand style--Sandra is torn by the offer of a promotion that would break up the squad, Gerry meets a woman who claims to be his illegitimate daughter (played by his real-life daughter, Hannah Waterman), Brian's rekindled obsession with war-gaming may also bring on a return to alcoholism, and Jack, finally discovering who is behind the death of his wife, strikes out in homicidal rage.  This final revelation is one of the most powerful moments of the season and Bolam plays it superbly.



The 3-disc, 8-episode set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and English subtitles.  Extras include a 20-minute featurette with cast interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, plus cast filmographies. 

It's exciting to see this over-the-hill bunch take on cold cases and prove theirs to be a crack investigative team despite its disparate elements.  But as good as the stories are, they're mainly an excuse to give these wonderful characters something to do so we'll have the pleasure of watching them interact.  Once you've gotten to know them, NEW TRICKS: SEASON THREE is almost addictively fun.



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Gritty Psychological-Thriller "BOY WONDER" Screening at Chicago's C2E2, March 19th


Stars of Award-Winning Film to Make Appearance

"A dangerous, new superhero … Boy Wonder marks the debut feature film for Morrissey, but the result looks like he's done it before … One of the film's biggest strengths is its casting ..."
- TheHuffingtonPost

"… the indie superhero movie that could literally punch the throat out of the big boys this year … the performances are generally top-notch … a visceral ride full of white-knuckled suspense and gut-wrenching provocation … a great indie sleeper hit that will leave you hugging your own sanity a little tighter at night."
- 303 Magazine

"Some are good, some are great but few have the raw energy of Michael Morrissey's fantastic directorial debut Boy Wonder … a solid mystery, using a well-developed script and excellent editing as building blocks to the final reveal … a conclusion that is both satisfying and unexpected … I can't wait to see what Morrissey has up his sleeve for a follow-up."
- QuietEarth.us

"The perpetration of the final [scene] in the film was ingenious …"
- Film-Book.com


CHICAGO - Feb. 24, 2011 - For Immediate Release - The urban psychological-thriller Boy Wonder, written and directed by Michael Morrissey, will screen at the 2nd annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) in Chicago, March 18-20, at McCormick Place Convention Center. The popular fan event attracted nearly 30,000 attendees from across the country in its inaugural year, a number expected to increase substantially in 2011.

In sharp contrast to recent big-budget, Hollywood spandex-fests (even James Bond and Indiana Jones are fighting aliens), Boy Wonder stands apart as a gritty, realistic tale of loss and helplessness in a world that is far tougher than the fantastic worlds presented in the studios' superhero films.

Boy Wonder will screen:  Saturday, March 19 @ 5:30 p.m., Room #476, at the Expo
(Media can RSVP at 323-660-5800 or karen@greenleafandassociates.com)

Meet the director and stars at the screening during a Q&A and signing autographs on
the show floor:  Friday & Saturday, March 18 & 19, Booth #621



Said Morrissey, "We are very excited to be a part of C2E2 and to bring Boy Wonder to the comic book and sci-fi crowd. I've been a comic book reader for more than 30 years and I wanted to create a movie that spoke to those of us who love the dark, complicated side of comics. Boy Wonder is not about the tights and a cape … this is about what would happen if Peter Parker was real and had no super powers, just a burning anger fueled by grief.  It's about a complicated teenager who decides to take justice into his own hands, no matter what the cost-about revenge, rage, violence, love and everything in between. I made this movie for comic book fans and am excited for them to finally take a look."

Boy Wonder, which marks the feature film debut of Morrissey, has received awards and accolades at film festivals across the country, including Best Feature Film, Best Director (Morrissey) and Best Actor (Caleb Steinmeyer) at the 2010 Williamsburg International Film Festival; Best Feature Film and Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the 2010 Sacramento Film Festival; Best Feature Film and Best Actress (Zulay Henao) at the 2010 Thrillspy International Thriller & Spy Film Festival; Best Feature Film at the 2010 Festivus Film Festival; and Best Editing (Douglas Fitch) at the 2010 Rhode Island International Film Festival. It is also an Official Selection at the upcoming 2011 Sedona International Film Festival, Feb. 20-27, and the 2011 Vail Film Festival, Mar. 31-April 3.

Beware the Hero …
In this riveting and gritty psychological-thriller, a young boy witnesses the brutal murder of his mother during a Brooklyn car-jacking … leaving him to be raised by his alcoholic father (Bill Sage, Handsome Harry, 2010 Best Picture-nominee Precious, If Lucy Fell). Now a 17-year-old loner, Sean Donovan (Caleb Steinmeyer, HBO's True Blood, ABC's Lost) is relentlessly haunted by his past and obsessed with finding his mother's killer.

Drawn into a nocturnal urban underworld, Sean's consuming rage is vented one night, defending himself from a chaotic attack by a drug dealer. Thus begins his life as a quiet, straight-A student by day and a self-appointed hero at night.

Investigating a series of vigilante murders, hot-shot new homicide detective Teresa Ames (Zulay Henao, Fighting, S. Darko, Feel the Noise) - broken by her own troubled life - takes an interest in Sean and his case. Yet the closer Teresa gets, the more suspicious she becomes. Engaged in a twisting game of cat and mouse, Sean and Teresa become allies by day … and enemies by night.

But what is a real hero? Who decides what is right or wrong? As the boundaries between justice and vengeance blur, Sean's dual life wears on his psyche and his two worlds careen dangerously close to colliding.

Like a graphic novel you can't put down, Boy Wonder challenges morality, distorting perceptions of what is right and what is justified, as it races to its shocking conclusion.

Also starring James Russo (Public Enemies, Extremities) and Tracy Middendorf (HBO's Boardwalk Empire).

Tickets for C2E2 may be purchased at www.C2E2.com
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Friday, February 25, 2011

TWILIGHT ZONE SEASON 4 Blu-ray coming May 17th from Image Entertainment


It’s time to enter the fifth dimension once again with The Twilight Zone: Season 4 on Blu-ray™ May 17th, 2011. All 18 episodes from the influential sci-fi/fantasy series’ fourth season are here, remastered and presented in pristine 1080p high-definition and uncompressed PCM audio. In addition, the 5-disc set includes hours of amazing bonus features, specially created for this Blu-ray™ release, as well as bonus features from the Definitive Collection DVD release. SRP is $99.98, and pre-book is April 19th.

This season of Rod Serling’s classic series was lengthened to an hour and contains many favorite episodes with great guest stars including Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall, Burgess Meredith, Anne Francis, James Whitmore, Burt Reynolds, Bill Bixby and Julie Newmar.

Season Four Episodes

In His Image, The Thirty-Fathom Grave, Valley of the Shadow, He's Alive, Mute, Death Ship, Jess-Belle, Miniature, Printer's Devil, No Time Like the Past, The Parallel, I Dream of Genie, The New Exhibit, Of Late I Think of Cliffordville, The Incredible World of Horace Ford, On Thursday We Leave for Home, Passage on the Lady Anne, The Bard.

EXCLUSIVE BLU-RAY FEATURES

-13 New Audio Commentaries, featuring The Twilight Zone Companion author Marc Scott Zicree, author/film historian Gary Gerani (Fantastic Television), Twilight Zone writer Earl Hamner, writer William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run), author Bill Warren (Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties), writer/producer Jeff Vlaming (NCIS, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica),writer/producer Joseph Dougherty (thirtysomething, Judging Amy, Saving Grace), authors/historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson (Night Gallery: An After Hours Tour), and writer/producer Jaime Paglia (Eureka).
-Vintage Audio Interview with director of photography George T. Clemens

ALSO INCLUDES

-Audio Commentaries by Marc Scott Zicree for Death Ship and William Windom for Miniature
Vintage Audio Recollections with Herbert Hirschman, Ross Martin, Burgess Meredith, Pat Hingle, Earl Hamner, Buzz Kulik and Anne Francis Video Interviews with Morgan Brittany, Anne Francis, Paul Comi and John Furia, Jr.7 Radio Dramas featuring Blair Underwood, Jason Alexander, Lou Diamond Phillips, H. M. Wynant, Mike Starr, Barry Bostwick and John Ratzenberger
-Isolated Scores for all 18 episodes featuring Fred Steiner, Van Cleave, Rene Garriguenc and others
-Rod Serling Promos for “Next Week’s” Show
-Rod Serling Blooper from He’s Alive
-Saturday Night Live Clip
-The Famous Writers School Promo with Rod Serling
-Genesee Beer Spot
-Twilight Zone Season 4 Billboards


The Twilight Zone Season 4 Blu-ray
Genre:              Sci-Fi. Television, 60s
Rating:              Not Rated
Languages:       English 
Format:            Black and white full-frame (1:33.1)
Audio:              PCM Mono
Subtitles:           English
Year:                1963
SRP:                $99.98
Street Date:      May 17, 2011
Pre-Book:        April 19, 2011
Length:             935 minutes
UPC:                014381642551
Cat#:                ID6425CUBD

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

MIDSOMER MURDERS: SET 17 -- DVD review by porfle


If you've ever joined one of those detective book clubs, you're probably familiar with the comforting feeling one gets from being in the company of a familiar, well-liked character, usually brilliant but a bit eccentric, as he or she solves baffling but rather generic murder mysteries at a leisurely pace.  Watching an episode of the long-running British TV series "Midsomer Murders", which debuted in 1997, is like cracking open one of those books and settling in for a good read. 

Acorn Media's four-disc DVD collection MIDSOMER MURDERS: SET 17 introduces the uninitiated such as myself to Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles), a middle-aged senior member of the local constabulary trying to keep a lid on homicide in pastoral Midsomer County.  (Like Cabot Cove in TV's "Murder She Wrote", the place seems to have an appalling murder rate.)  A former member of MI6, Barnaby has a sharp eye and a keen mind, while his no-nonsense approach to detective work is tempered by a friendly, optimistic demeanor and flashes of dry wit.  Soft-spoken and polite, he can't abide someone lying to him and is always attentive for some telling clue that will make everything fall into place.

Barnaby's third partner in the series, Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), is young and inexperienced but, unlike a lot of sidekicks, isn't a total buffoon.  There's a nice mentor-pupil relationship between the two and we can imagine Jones evolving into an ace detective someday with Barnaby as a role model.  Still, he's just enough of a bumbler to provide occasional comic relief.  On the homefront, Barnaby's wife Joyce (Jane Wymark) needles him to take part in social and leisure activities while he'd rather just kick back and watch telly on his days off.  Since they live in such a small community, her own activities often tie in with his investigations in various ways.



The four feature-length stories in this set begin with "The Dogleg Murders", which takes place at an upper-class golfing club.  A murder by putter near the 13th hole turns out to be the first in a series which may be somehow related to the efforts of certain people to gain membership to the exclusive club.  Other factors such as loan-sharking and domestic turmoil factor into the plot as well.  As usual, there are several suspects, all with a motive for murder.

The setting for this episode is apt, since the game pretty much typifies the quiet, low-key, and unhurried style of the show itself.  Little violence is shown and the emphasis is on character interplay and Barnaby's methodical detective work rather than action, with the small exception of Jones' pursuit of a suspect through the woods.  (A later episode even pokes some fun at the show's lack of emphasis on sensational thrills by having Jones set out on foot after a suspect driving a tractor.)

In "The Black Book", a previously unknown painting by a legendary local artist turns up and causes quite a stir, with certain parties involved in its auction meeting rather grisly fates.  This is one of the more absorbing tales in the set as suspicion falls on a number of likely suspects in turn and we never know who the next victim will be.  There's also some fun business about how to detect a forged painting by its anachronistic details.  Gavan O'Herlihy (Richie's phantom older brother on "Happy Days") appears as an American art collector. 

"Secrets and Spies" concerns Barnaby's efforts to solve a murder which takes place among a group of MI6 agents, with their security clearance rendering them off-limits to him.  Here we see Barnaby, in his quiet, unassuming way, take on the bureaucratic authority that stands between him and his job and make it clear he's not someone to mess with.  Alice Krige (GHOST STORY, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT) gives an exciting guest performance.



Just as golf set the tone for the first story in the set, "Secrets and Spies" begins with a long cricket match, with a reluctant Barnaby having been drafted as an umpire.  The funny thing is, he starts to enjoy the feeling of power this gives him after awhile.  This is a good opportunity for Nettles to show the subtle humor in Barnaby's character, which he always plays with a twinkle in his eye.  Later, when some of the victims display wounds that appear to have been caused by a vicious mythical beast, Barnaby's dogged realism immediately discounts any "Hound of the Baskervilles" notions and focuses on less fanciful possibilities.

The final tale, "The Glitch", revolves around a biking club's outings in the English countryside and the rancor between them and the souped-up sports cars that force them off the road.  When one of the bike riders is run down, Barnaby suspects that it may have something to do with a dispute between a software designer who has discovered a glitch in his own creation, and the businessman who stands to lose millions if the program isn't marketed.  Again, there's plenty of mystery and smalltown intrigue here, along with Barnaby's one big action scene--he gets to hop behind the wheel of a muscle car and zoom to the rescue of the killer's final victim.  Still, with our hero struggling to keep the powerful machine on the road and honking at bike riders toodling along in front of him, it's not exactly a "Starsky and Hutch" moment.

The main appeal of "Midsomer Murders" isn't the mysteries themselves, but the pleasant, autumnal atmosphere and amusing character bits along the way.  (I'll admit, I have trouble just keeping all the suspects' names straight.)  In the supplemental material, Nettles points out the "extraordinarily silly murders" which give even the darkest plots a lighthearted undercurrent.  Another quote reveals his view of why the show has lasted so long:  "I sometimes wonder if the series is an odd reflection of English society.  We're so ill at ease with ourselves that we'd love to kill each other, and this provides a kind of safety valve." 

The 4-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital stereo and English subtitles.  Each disc contains one separate episode (approx. 100 minutes each) and comes in its own slimline case.  Also included on each disc are text-based production notes, interviews, and trivia. 

Needless to say, if you're the impatient type who craves constant thrills, MIDSOMER MURDERS: SET 17 will bore you to tears.  I don't know from cricket, but think of it like baseball--even though it's slow-moving and hardly anything exciting happens, there's just something fun about watching the players make their way around the bases.  Barnaby's methodical murder investigations have the same appeal, and when he gets to home plate at the end, it feels good.


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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SINEATERS With Tim O'Hearn, Melantha Blackthorne, and Debbie Rochon Starts Shooting In March


SINEATERS is the story of a lone drifter (Tim O'Hearn) who has come to the end of a violent and bloody journey. He has the power to consume the sins of evil-doers, and the power to heal with his hands, part faith healer and part gunslinger. He loses the spiritual struggle with the Grim, a manifestation of all the evil he has removed from the world, and is turned against his sineater comrades by the cult known as the Vessels of Wrath.

Working with a twisted preacher, Brother Aaron, and a darkly alluring woman who seems to guide the preacher's every decision, the Sineater hunts down his friends one by one, as the battle for his soul rages on.




Multi-talented actress and filmmaker Melantha Blackthorne (SINNERS AND SAINTS, COUNTESS BATHORIA'S GRAVEYARD PICTURE SHOW) tells us more: "It's my second film with director Sean Michael Argo, the first being 'Fable: Teeth of Beasts', and we are shooting in Arkansas starting Feb.28th. Debbie Rochon will be playing a badass sineater named 'Carpenter' and I'll be playing the mother of all evil, 'The Grim Lady.'

"She discovered the existence of the Grim, and has become attuned to them, in many ways a servant of them, and is very in touch with her own inner darkness. A dark crusader as it were."

Bekah Kelso, who plays "Booth", recently told her Facebook readers:  "Co-wrote and acting in the new film 'Sineaters' which starts shooting next week in Arkansas. The ever-awesome Ian Argo and I are co-producing this little baby together, with the talented Mr. Ripley, I mean Sean Michael Argo, as director...and actor, co-writer, co-conspirator, co-abomination.

"So stoked to be on board with this talented team and to be working with kick ass actors/human beings Tim O'Hearn, Debbie Rochon, Melantha Blackthorne, Ryan Loyd, Jason Bolton and his chin.

"What's that? You're hungry, little fella? Need something to eat? Well have some of my Sin. Its in season and its de-LICIOUS!"


 
CAST:
Vaughn - Tim O'Hearn
The Grim Lady - Melantha Blackthorne
Carpenter - Debbie Rochon
Brother Aaron - C. Jason Bolton
Booth - Bekah Kelso
Harris - Sean-Michael Argo
Miller - Ryan Loyd
Alexander McBryde - Ian Argo

Director - Sean-Michael Argo
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DINOSAURS OF PATAGONIA Headlines Three Image Entertainment Blu-ray 3D titles in March


Image Entertainment, Inc., in their continuing association with Big Picture Digital Productions, announces the March 2011 releases of three new Imax® 3D titles in the 3D Blu-ray™ format. On March 1st, return to the Jurassic era with the Blu-ray™ 3D and DVD (2D version) release of Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia. Then, on March 29th, hieroglyphics leap off the screen in Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs and the heavens beckon in the soaring drama Ultimate G’s: Zac’s Flying Dream starring Superbad’s Michael Cera, both landing exclusively on the Blu-ray™ 3D format. SRP for the Blu-ray™ 3Ds are $24.98, and $19.98 for the DVDs.


Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia (IMAX® 3D Format)

Narrated by Donald Sutherland, this fascinating film focuses on the history, evolution and extinction of the dinosaurs. In larger-than-life fashion as only IMAX® can, you will explore a subject matter whose mystique and appeal are unquestioned.  Dinosaurs are amongst the most fascinating animals to have ever walked the Earth. We are captivated by their enormous size and intrigued by the fact that they disappeared millions of years ago. Take an unprecedented and unique journey into the world of the largest known dinosaurs and, in the process, explore some of the great paleontological discoveries of modern time. Done in close collaboration with the foremost scientists of the domain, the movie will show never seen before computer generated footage of the Giganotosaurus and the Argentinosaurus to name a few.

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Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs (IMAX® 3D Format)

In mind-blowing IMAX® detail, unravel the enshrouded human time capsules that have become the most fascinating mystery of our time – Egypt’s mummies. Probe ancient tombs to uncover these carefully hidden phenomena, and experience the dramatic adventure of their excavations. Follow top scientists as they embark on a modern-day forensic investigation of the mummies, extracting clues from our past that could have an enormous impact on medical science in our future. Narrated by the legendary Christopher Lee.

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Ultimate G’s: Zac’s Flying Dream (IMAX® 3D Format)

Eleven-year-old Zac (Cera) is constantly inventing flying machines with the help of his friend Laura. As the two grow up they separate, but both become pilots. Sixteen years later, while visiting Laura at her aerial mechanics shop in Arizona, Zac is challenged to an aerobatic duel by a rival. The result is a thrilling flying sequence over the Grand Canyon. Filmed in 3D, Ultimate G'S: Zac’s Flying Machine puts you in the front seat of an Extra 300 aerobatic monoplane.

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Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia (IMAX) Blu-ray™ 3D
Genre:                         Special Interest, Dinosaurs, Documentary, Family, IMAX, Prehistoric Times
Rating:                        Not Rated
Languages:                  English, French
Format:                        Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
Audio:                         DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Year:                           2006
SRP :                            $24.98
Street Date:                 March 1, 2011
Length:                        40 minutes
UPC :                           014381704358
Cat#:                           ID7043UGDVD

Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia (IMAX)  DVD (2D)
Genre:                         Special Interest, Dinosaurs, Documentary, Family, IMAX, Prehistoric Times
Rating:                        Not Rated
Languages:                  English, French
Format:                        Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 5.1
Year:                           2006
SRP :                            $19.98
Street Date:                 March 1, 2011
Length:                        40 minutes
UPC :                           014381704129
Cat#:                           ID7041UGDVD

Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs (IMAX) Blu-ray™ 3D
Genre:                         Special Interest, Ancient Egypt, Documentary, Egypt, History/Events, IMAX, Mummies
Rating:                        Not Rated
Languages:                  English, French, Spanish
Format:                        Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
Audio:                         DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Year:                           2007
SRP :                            $24.98
Street Date:                 March 29, 2011
Pre-book Date:            March 1, 2011
Length:                        39 minutes
UPC :                           014381676952
Cat#:                           ID6769JGBD

Ultimate G’s: Zac’s Flying Dream (IMAX) Blu-ray™ 3D
Genre:                         Special Interest, Airplanes/Aerial Action, IMAX
Rating:                        Not Rated
Languages:                  English, French 
Format:                        Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
Audio:                         DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Year:                           2005
SRP :                            $24.98
Street Date:                 March 29, 2011
Pre-book Date:            March 1, 2011
Length:                        37 minutes
UPC :                           014381704457
Cat#:                           ID7044UGBD
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Monday, February 21, 2011

BEAUTY & THE BRIEFCASE -- DVD review by porfle


First of all--if you like Hilary Duff, you'll probably like the ABC Family original movie BEAUTY & THE BRIEFCASE (2010).  End of review.  And now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about the movie behind its back just for fun.

The story is typical romantic comedy stuff but without the actual "comedy."  Hilary plays Lane, an aspiring writer whose assignment is to find her perfect man in the world of big business.  As she explains in her terminally-giddy voiceover: "I just got hired by Cosmo--the world's greatest magazine--to go undercover and date hot men in suits.  Does it get any better than this?"  I don't read Cosmo, but I'm betting that it does.

Because the interviewer thinks she's "funny"--always a plus in the highly-competitive world of investment banking--Lane blunders her way into one of those magic "George Costanza" jobs where she doesn't actually have to do or know anything.  Tom (Michael McMillian), her easygoing and gullible boss, doesn't seem to notice this because she cleverly disguises her incompetence by behaving like a mentally-challenged sixteen-year-old and ogling guys' butts all day.  For someone who's supposed to be a writer, you get the impression that Lane couldn't research a laundry list without consulting Google.
  


While this tactic may work for her, I think Hilary Duff may need to start thinking about getting a new schtick now that she has outgrown the Disney Channel.  At this rate she's going to end up playing teachers and moms on other people's teen sitcoms.  She's still bubbly and cute and all, but at her age those qualities start getting kind of obnoxious after awhile.

Anyway, Lane has a ten-point "perfect guy" checklist and nobody in the office is making the grade.  Then she meets Liam (Chris Carmack), an incredibly handsome and charming Brit who seems to be a total eleven, and falls head over heels in love.  Trouble is, he's the wrong type for the article.  So Lane has to falsify it by transposing Liam's awesome qualities into boring co-worker Seth (Matt Dallas) and hoping the Cosmo editor doesn't notice. Meanwhile, Tom accidentally stumbles onto the whole truth and is horrified that there's an undercover Cosmo writer loose in the office.  And just when he was starting to like her, too.

You now have all the information you need to write the rest of the story yourself, since it hits all the expected plot points like a pinball.  This would be okay if only it were funny instead of just busy.  Hilary Duff, who has energy to spare, gamely attempts to radiate some of it into her dull scenes and cheerlead the movie into being more entertaining, but it's a hopeless cause.  The only time I felt like laughing was when Liam first asks her out to dinner and she blurts, "I love you.  I mean, I'd love to."

Amanda Walsh is quirky-flaky as Lane's photog friend, Joanne, who sums up the movie's vibe with the line, "This is like junior high.  I feel like I'm at a sleepover."  As Tom, Michael McMillian adequately conveys a "he's all wrong for her so we know he's really Mr. Right" quality.  I wracked my brain trying to remember where I'd seen Kevin Kirkpatrick, who plays Lane's coworker John, until I looked it up--he was Bryce "The Stalker" on (the crummy) season two of "The Joe Schmo Show."
 


Her greatness Jennifer Coolidge makes one all-too-brief early appearance as an aging playgirl, and the ever-enchanting Jaime Pressly bestows her regal presence upon the film as Lane's demanding Cosmo editor.  People should be writing entire movies around these two ladies instead of just bit parts.

While BEAUTY & THE BRIEFCASE is mostly sophomoric, it's just "adult" enough at times to make me wonder how it qualifies as a "family" film.  So, you can say "bastards" and talk about kinky recreational sex (with chocolate and feathers), along with various other titillating elements, on ABC Family?  Call me old-fashioned, but how does that work?  Come to think of it, this story would probably work great on Cinemax After Dark with some softcore porn thrown in.  But then it wouldn't be a Hilary Duff movie.  Heck, I respect her for not going that route, or at least not yet.  Maybe she should stick to this kind of stuff after all.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, with English and Spanish subtitles.  The sole bonus feature is a trailer.

I'm not sure who BEAUTY & THE BRIEFCASE was intended for.  Guys (and lesbians) who like to gawk at Hilary Duff in a succession of tight tops and miniskirts, plus girls (and gay guys) who like to ogle hot guys in business suits, are all set.  People who like witty, sophisticated comedy, on the other hand, are out of luck.  As are tweeners looking for characters and situations they can relate to.  It's like "Sex and the Single Girl" meets "Clarissa Explains It All."


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Sunday, February 20, 2011

THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON -- DVD review by porfle


Doing a continuing series about a group of characters struggling to survive a zombie apocalypse is such a cool idea it's a wonder nobody's ever done it before.  Frank Darabont (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE) must've thought so too, so he and producer Gale Anne Hurd (THE TERMINATOR, ALIENS) have adapted the graphic novel "The Walking Dead" into an AMC television series that should have horror fans lurching through the streets in undead ecstasy.

Anchor Bay's two-disc set THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON contains the initial six episodes, which use George Romero's 1968 classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (along with a large dash of Stephen King's "The Stand") as a launching point for a whole new saga.  Darabont's intent was to stick close to the Romero vibe, with shambling, non-athletic zombies and an emphasis on the (living) human conflicts occurring amidst the carnage.  No punches are pulled on either front, as the visuals are exceedingly graphic and the stories are filled with dramatic tension and surprises.

Andrew Lincoln stars as Rick Grimes, a lanky Atlanta, Georgia sheriff's deputy who awakens from a coma to find the world ravaged by an undead armageddon.  The first episode, "Days Gone Bye", is probably the all-out creepiest of the bunch--it's like the ultimate "Twilight Zone" episode, with a dazed Rick wandering through the ruins of his hometown which is littered with rotting, partially-devoured corpses.  The fact that a good number of them are walking around and trying to eat him adds to the nervous tension this episode bristles with.
 

Luckily, Rick hooks up with a guy named Morgan (London-born Lennie James, OUTLAW) and his young son, living in a barricaded house.  Morgan's dead wife is one of the zombies (known here as either "walkers" or "geeks") that surround the house, but he doesn't have the heart to put her down.  The scene in which she staggers up to the front door and stands there, seemingly aware that he's inside, reminded me of a similar eerie moment in the Richard Matheson adaptation THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. It finally dawned on me later that Vincent Price's character in that movie was also named Morgan.

"Guts" finds Rick in Atlanta, where his hopes that the "authorities" will have things under control are dashed when he's overrun by hundreds of walkers and barely escapes with his life in a thrillingly suspenseful sequence.  Here, he meets a group of survivors who take him to their encampment outside of town.  To his joyous surprise, his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl are there, along with his former partner Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), who is the group's leader.  Thinking Rick dead, the headstrong Shane has staked a claim on Lori and Carl which he's reluctant to relinquish, a situation that will lead to growing complications as the season progresses. 

"Tell It to the Frogs" and "Vatos" find Rick leading a group back to Atlanta to rescue Merle (genre fave Michael Rooker), a violent racist whom they'd been forced to leave handcuffed on a rooftop during their escape.  Merle's little brother Daryl (Norman Reedus, who played "Scud" in BLADE II) is another hothead with an anger management problem, which makes him an asset in their frequent bouts with the walkers but a big liability as a team player.  At one point, Rick and young pizza-delivery guy Glenn (Steven Yeun) must hack a corpse to pieces and cover themselves with gore in order to pass unmolested among the undead.  This is the one scene in the series that's so over-the-top it almost invites laughs as the two sneak around in their blood-encrusted overcoats with severed limbs hanging from around their necks.
 

"Wildfire" deals with the aftermath of a terrifying zombie attack on the encampment and brings up an issue from the Romero films--what to do with friends and loved ones who have been bitten and, once dead, are doomed to return.  Rick comes up with a plan to pack up and travel to a military base for protection, hoping that their scientists are close to a cure.  In "TS-19", the final episode of the season, the survivors' hopes are raised when they reach the installation but are soon dashed by new revelations.  Shane's obsession with Lori takes a dark turn, while suicidal despair infects various members of the group.  An explosive finale leaves their final fate as doubtful as ever.

Once I started watching THE WALKING DEAD it was like eating potato chips--I couldn't stop until I'd scarfed the whole thing.  True-blue George Romero stuff all the way, it explores all the fascinating avenues of the premise set forth in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and its sequels with up-to-date effects, sharp writing, and the combined talent of some great filmmakers.  The estimable Darabont's enthusiasm for the project is one of its main assets, as is the incredible make-up artistry of Greg Nicotero and his team. 

While always in service to the story, the gore effects match or surpass just about anything we've seen on the big screen and are often jaw-dropping.  Delightfully hideous zombies chow down on their victims amidst gouts of blood and guts while the good guys blast, dismember, and behead them.  In one scene, an abused wife (Melissa McBride) makes sure her "walker" husband is good and dead by braining him repeatedly with a pickaxe until his head looks like a taco salad.  One of Rick's first "geek" encounters is with a female torso so desiccated that he, and we, are shocked to find it still horribly ambulatory.  Time after time, this cable-TV series serves up gore effects that might easily get a feature film stamped "X."


Production values are first rate, and scenes of zombies by the hundreds swarming through ravaged city streets have an epic quality that's impressive.  As for the cast, they're all on their best game.  In addition to those already mentioned, multitalented IronE Singleton is T-Dog, who clashes with brothers Daryl and Merle.  Laurie Holden (THE MIST, "The X-Files") and Emma Bell (FROZEN) play close-knit sisters Andrea and Amy, trying to protect each other as circumstances conspire to separate them.  Old-school character actor Jeffrey DeMunn has one of his best roles ever as the group's wise old sage, Dale.  As Rick, British actor Andrew Lincoln is a believable, non-glamorous lead who, with the right beard, might even make a convincing Abraham Lincoln.  After getting used to him in character, it's somewhat of a shock hearing him speak in his native accent in the bonus features.

The 2-disc DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include the half-hour documentary "The Making of 'The Walking Dead'", six behind-the-scenes webisodes, a visit with graphic novel author Robert Kirkman, a look at the makeup effects, a Comic Con panel with cast and producers, a trailer, and other assorted featurettes. 

With more time to develop its characters and situations and some first-rate filmmakers at the helm, THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON makes a lot of the recent living-dead films seem anemic in comparison.  For fans of both hardcore zombie horror and riveting serial drama, this is the good stuff.


Street date 3-8-11

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

THE KILLING JAR -- DVD review by porfle


Stay away from out-of-the-way diners after dark, THE KILLING JAR (2010) seems to be telling us, since you never know what kind of desperate character may come walking in.  And if he looks like Michael Madsen, you know you should've skipped the pecan pie and skedaddled five minutes ago.

This tense thriller by writer-director Mark Young (SOUTHERN GOTHIC) is one of those single-location movies that could easily be performed as a stage play, which means that the focus is on character and dialogue.  Neither are very deep here, but they get the job done pretty well, mainly due to a capable cast. 

Amber Benson (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) plays weary waitress Noreen, who dreams of getting out of Silver Lake (where the tourists don't go anymore since the lake dried up) but works in a dingy diner for ill-tempered cook Jimmy (Danny "MACHETE" Trejo).  It's almost closing time on a hot night when news comes over the radio of four grisly murders not far away, with the ill-fated family's killer still at large. 

A likely suspect enters as Noreen is chatting with a mild-mannered traveling salesman named John Dixon (Harold Perrineau, "Link" of MATRIX: RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS) on his way through town.  The stranger is foulmouthed and surly, prompting local deputy Lonnie (Lew Temple, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS) to start Barney Fife-ing him.  This proves to be a bad move, and before long "Doe" is threatening his seven terrified captives with a pump shotgun and getting crazier by the minute.



Michael Madsen does a lot of glorified cameo roles these days, so it's good to see him sink his teeth into a part that's not all that different from the kill-crazy Mr. Blonde of RESERVOIR DOGS, only without the mordant sense of humor.  His "Doe" is scary dangerous in a wary, calculated way and when he goes off and gets violent, the character is coldblooded and unpredictable. 

Young, whose direction is efficient without drawing attention to itself, throws a few curves at us to keep the story moving.  These include the arrival of Mr. Greene (Jake Busey), a shady businessman who's there to meet a Mr. Smith, whom he's never seen before.  Is it Doe, or is Mr. Smith someone else in the diner?  It might even be trucker Hank (the always-fine Kevin Gage of HEAT and LAID TO REST). 

Young builds a fair amount of suspense as Doe singles out his captives one at a time to terrorize and interrogate them, and people do get killed badly.  Still, much of the drama is psychological, so don't expect a gorefest--aside from a couple of grisly shots here and there, you'll have to use your DVD players' frame-advance to see an exploding head or two.  While none of this is unbearably nailbiting and the major plot twists are fairly predictable, the finale is nicely played and ends the movie on a satisfying note.



The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.  A trailer is the sole extra.

THE KILLING JAR probably won't sear itself into your movie memory banks or have you swooning in cinematic ecstasy, but it's a solid little suspense thriller with some good performances and an absorbing story.  Best of all, it's a chance to see an aging Mr. Blonde at the end of his rope, going mental and getting trigger-happy one last time. 


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"MURDER INVESTIGATION TEAM: Series 1" Debuts on DVD March 1, 2011


Hit crime procedural reveals the gritty reality of police work; as seen on A&E

“Intelligent, edgy, and gripping” —The Times

“Well paced and intriguing” —London Evening Standard

“Dark and gritty” —The Guardian


Silver Spring, MD — A realistic, procedural crime drama in the vein of CSI, Murder Investigation Team debuts on DVD from Acorn Media on March 1, 2011. Broadcast on A&E in the U.S. and on ITV in the U.K. (2003), the suspenseful series follows a squad of elite detectives as they investigate horrific crimes in metropolitan London. Meticulously crafted to reflect real-life investigations, each episode brims with twists and tension.

The series stars a strong ensemble cast including Olivier Award-winner Samantha Sprio (The Bill, From Hell), Lindsey Coulson (EastEnders, Manchild), Richard Hope (Tipping the Velvet), Michael McKell (Doctors), and Richard Huw (Sword of Honour, The Bill). The DVD 3-Disc Set includes all eight episodes from Series 1, episode 1 commentary with series creator Paul Marquess and series consultant Jackie Malton, and an interview with actor Michael McKell ($49.99, www.AcornOnline.com).

From the makers of popular, long-running series, The Bill, Murder Investigation Team reveals the gritty reality of police work, where success is part grueling procedure and part gut instinct. Leaders of an elite squad of detectives, brusque DI Vivien Friend (Samantha Spiro) and intuitive DC Rosie MacManus (Lindsey Coulson) single-mindedly pursue those who do unthinkable deeds as part of the Special Crimes Unit of London’s Metropolitan Police.

Fast paced and brimming with twists and turns, the series details the course of an investigation from crime scene through profiling, forensics, and good old-fashioned detective work. Along the way, false leads, misdirection, and surprising resolutions fill each gripping hour, meticulously crafted to reflect real-life investigations.

Series 1 Episodes: Moving Targets; Daddy’s Little Girl; Rubbish; Reading, Writing, and Gangbanging; Red Heads; Lambs to the Slaughter; Models and Millionaires; and The Bigger the Lie

Bonus Features: Episode 1 commentary with series creator Paul Marquess and series consultant Jackie Malton, and an interview with actor Michael McKell (25 min.)

Street: March 1, 2011                                   SRP: $49.99

DVD 3-Disc Set: 8 episodes - Approx. 391 min., plus bonus - 16:9 widescreen - SDH subtitles

Contains strong language, violence, and graphic images.


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Friday, February 18, 2011

KITES -- DVD review by porfle


High-octane chick flick?  Or sensitive love story for guys?  Whatever you call it, the Indian film KITES (2009) is a dazzling achievement that starts out looking all flashy and superficial and ends up steeped in genuine operatic romance.  And shoot-outs.  And car chases.

When a bunch of Mexican farm workers descend on a freight train with pitchforks to unload bales of hay, an unconscious man rolls out with a bullet in his back.  As an elderly peasant removes it, flashbacks reveal the man as J (Hrithik Roshan), a pretty-boy con man from India who gives dance lessons in Vegas and marries illegal immigrant women seeking green cards on the side.  When one of his students, Gina (Kangana Ranaut), falls for him, he's uninterested until he discovers she's the daughter of immensely-wealthy casino kingpin Bob (Kabir Bedi). 

Gina's gangster brother Tony (Nicholas Brown) is getting married, and wouldn't you know it--his intended, Mexican beauty Linda (Bárbara Mori), is one of J's former green-card brides, and the only one he ever felt anything for.  When J sees how Tony abuses her, he takes action.  The result is that J and Linda are now on the run from Vegas' most powerful crime family, with every cop and bounty hunter in the state on their tail along with Tony and his henchmen.



It's been awhile since I finished watching KITES, and I still haven't come in for a landing.  This shimmering cornucopia of movie magic overflows with so much good stuff during its two-hour running time that it's almost like one of those lucid dreams you don't want to wake up from.  Brilliantly directed (by Anurag Basu), sumptuously photographed, and exhilaratingly cinematic, it's almost a throwback to the silent days with extended passages of compelling images that involve the viewer on a non-verbal level.

The dialogue, when not purely functional, is used mainly for both romantic and comedic effect as various language barriers (English, Spanish, Hindi) prove awkward.  Rajesh Roshan's poignant original score is a major element throughout, as are several spirited song montages.  Unlike a lot of other films, frequent lapses into slow-motion work because we're seeing everything from J's point of view and he's pretty much in a constant dream state.
 

The early scenes are lighter in tone, with J and Gina's electrifying performance in a breakdancing exhibition providing a lively interlude, and some of J and Linda's adventures on the road are fun.  But danger and desperation begin to darken the story as the fleeing lovers encounter peril at every turn, and this is when KITES turns into one of the most thrilling action flicks of recent years. 

There are at least three major car chases, one of which is jam-packed with incredible crash stunts that will leave you breathless.  The film doesn't skimp on bullets either, nor is there a lack of genuine dramatic tension when things really start to go wrong for our protagonists.  Along the way, we get to see J's character transform from superficial street hustler to a man willing to die (as well as kill bad guys) for love, which endows him with blind courage and a fiendish resourcefulness during the action scenes.

My estimation of Hrithik Roshan as an actor grew as I watched his character develop.  It may not be apparent at first, but beyond his male-model looks he's very good.  (He also, incidentally, has two thumbs on his right hand.)  As Linda, Bárbara Mori is more than just radiantly beautiful--she gives a thoroughly captivating performance that's at times deeply affecting, whether trading playful romantic barbs with J or facing death at the edge of a cliff.  All of the supporting players are fine as well, notably Nicholas Brown as the homicidally hostile Tony.


The two-disc DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.  There are no extras--not even chapter selections.  Disc one is the original 123-minute Bollywood version in all its glory, while disc two contains Brett Ratner's 92-minute "Cliff Notes" version.
 
Ratner's remix strips the original of all its more contemplative passages and musical montages, including the early dance sequence and other important scenes in their entirety.  Graeme Revell's less effective new score replaces the intensely romantic one by Rajesh Roshan, including the love theme (which, admittedly, is a rip-off of Enya's theme for Aragorn and Arwen from the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy), robbing the film of much of its heart.
 
Already a fast-paced film, the remix is downright ADD-friendly--trimmed and "time-compressed" the way syndicated TV episodes are carved up to make room for more commercials--and nowhere near the exquisite collaboration between images and music as the original version.  In his attempt to reshape the film into something more appealing to short attention spans (while adding a few more titillating shots here and there), Ratner rushes so impatiently through the story that even the deeply moving ending is seriously blunted.

Even if unabashed romanticism makes you uncomfortable, you might as well just give in to KITES and allow it to do its thing for a couple of hours.  Either you won't like it--and I imagine a lot of people won't--or it will be one of the most thoroughly intoxicating movie experiences you've ever had.  My advice is to let it sweep you up in its emotional and sensory embrace, and--heaven forbid--maybe even get a little misty-eyed at the end.  This movie earns it.


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Thursday, February 17, 2011

MILLENNIUM CRISIS -- DVD review by porfle

As Ted Raimi states in one of the DVD's bonus featurettes, you don't see that many low-budget independent sci-fi flicks that are much more than talking heads in rooms, yakking a lot of dialogue at each other. The makers of MILLENNIUM CRISIS (2007) have attempted to sidestep this problem by filling their shot-on-video space opera with plenty of really cheap-looking special effects and hoping we'll like the story enough to play along and really, really suspend our disbelief.

Fortunately, they did a pretty good job of this. The effects shots range from tolerable all the way down to the level of Monty Python-style animation, but I have to give them an A for effort. If you use your imagination, you might get into the cheapo atmosphere after awhile. The sets are minimal--some are even, well, subliminal--but much is done with a little sleight-of-hand and lots of weird lighting effects, with the help of a good ambient musical score by Aaron Paul Low which adds to the dreamlike quality of certain scenes. And yes, the story is interesting enough to have kept all of this from making me switch to hibernation mode.

I had trouble following some of it, but the main gist I got was that in the distant future, the warring Terrans and Andromedeans are enjoying a fragile period of truce. But a race of space vampires known as the Kluduthu are scheming to get everybody at each other's throats again so that they can enslave the survivors and feed off them. Which, I think we can all agree, isn't very nice.


A woman named Aurora (Clare Stevenson), who doesn't know where she came from or exactly what race she belongs to, is kidnapped by Kluduthu leader Harkness (a quietly effective Ato Essandoh of BLOOD DIAMOND) and his android cohort Lucretia (Olja Hrustic, who played one of the "Werewolf Women of the S.S." in GRINDHOUSE) because they suspect her to be the last of a species of aliens known as Bloodmasks, who can mimic the physical characteristics of any other species they come in contact with. Harkness and Lucretia plan to use Aurora to infiltrate a peace conference between the Terrans and Andromedeans and assassinate an important ambassador, thus sparking interplanetary war.

Clare Stevenson is a capable actress who makes Aurora a very likable character. She's a bit like Alice in Wonderland, wandering through one mind-boggling situation after another as she tries to find out who and what she is while doing her best to avoid being used as a secret weapon by the bad guys.

One particularly fun sequence aboard a space freighter has Aurora accidentally awakening some sentient androids, which then automatically awakens a Nosferatu-Class Neuronecromotron (really just an ugly bald guy who scowls and growls a lot) who is programmed to kill anything that moves in order to prevent any of the androids from escaping. I like the way the actors play these wide-eyed, innocent androids, and how Lucretia, the ancient android who's been around the galaxy a few times, sardonically informs them of the fruitlessness of their gosh-a-rootie plan to run away and live in freedom.


Ted Raimi appears in a few sequences as a flaky archeologist named Professor Keene, who gets mixed up in the whole thing and helps Aurora. Ted is probably the most experienced actor in the cast, but he gets barely enough screen time to justify giving him pole position on the DVD cover.

Lindsey Roberts (HUSTLE & FLOW) plays a Kluduthu assassin named Fiona, and if you like coldblooded warrior women she'll probably float your boat. There's a cool swordfight between her and Andromedean agent Murnau (Daryl Boling), in which Fiona just happens to accidentally be topless (oops!) for some reason. It's shot in what comes closest to being an actual honest-to-gosh set, is well-lit and nicely-choreographed, and makes this look a bit more like a real movie for a couple of minutes.

The best part of the movie for me is the Lucretia character. Olja Hrustic is a looker who plays the ages-old android with a cool, cynical detachment and air of mystery and superiority over everyone else. Lucretia's most startling feature is a long, metallic tentacle that springs from I-don't-know-where and can either mess you up, suck your life force, or just screw around with you. That, in addition to a cool chain-mail headdress and tight green bodysuit, helps to make Lucretia one of the most enjoyable visual aspects of the film.


On the negative side, the harsh lighting gets to be irritating from time to time, as does a frequent tendency of the editors to connect a sequence's shots together with an unnecessary white flashing light effect. There's a lot of imagination at work, though, in many of the futuristic elements of the different environments. And some of the images director/co-scripter Andrew Bellware has come up with are rather stunning--there's a reclining shot of Lucretia at about the halfway point that I swear I'd kill to have framed on the wall of my livingroom. Shortly before that, there's another shot of Aurora in repose inside her small living cubicle that would accompany it nicely.

The DVD from Shock-O-Rama cinema is in widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Bonus features include a director/producer commentary, interviews with Raimi and other castmembers, a visual FX documentary, and a Shock-O-Rama trailer vault.


It's all unmistakably cheap but hardly amateurish. There's a lot of talent evident here, making the best of severely limited resources in imaginative ways, which I will always find just as much fun to watch in its own way as most of the big-budget razzle-dazzle stuff. With an intriguing sci-fi story, a good cast playing interesting characters, and some resourceful talent behind the camera, MILLENNIUM CRISIS manages to rise above its barely-existent budget to become somewhat more than the sum of its parts.


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