HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

THE ENTITLED -- DVD review by porfle


Kevin Zegers of the recent FROZEN and one of my guilty pleasures, IT'S A BOY GIRL THING, stars in the low-profile but effective Canadian thriller THE ENTITLED (2011).  It isn't Hitchcock, but with a capable cast and an edgy script that keeps us wondering what'll happen next, I wasn't complaining.

Zegers plays Paul Dynan, a bicycle courier working his way through college and trying to better himself for the benefit of his sick mother, who can't afford her pills and is about to get thrown out of her house.  Putting his sharp wits to work, Paul devises a scheme to kidnap three rich kids (Dustin Milligan, Laura Vandervoort, John Bregar) and squeeze their dads for a million bucks apiece.  But his two mentally unstable accomplices, Dean (Devon Bostick) and Jenna (Tatiana Maslany), are more interested in anarchy than money and throw a monkey wrench into the works. 

What seems at first like a simple and not that exciting story gets more tense and unpredictable as Paul's plan goes haywire.  With the three hostages bound and blindfolded in a basement while their dads scramble to transfer funds into Paul's account, Dean and Jenna can't resist toying with these privileged progeny and bringing them down a peg or two.  As you might guess, one of them goes too far and suddenly Paul's intention of returning the three spoiled rich kids unharmed is violently derailed.  This is where the story starts getting more interesting.



Meanwhile, the frantic fathers wait anxiously by the phone and eventually start going at each other with suspicions and accusations.  This part of the film resembles a cracking one-act play with some powerful actors--Ray Liotta, Stephen McHattie, and Victor Garber (TITANIC)--getting steadily more intense and watchable.  The drama increases when one of them can't come up with his million and devises his own sneaky scheme to dupe one of the others into paying it. 

While Liotta and McHattie appear to be walking through their roles in the beginning, they start to bring it on after things heat up.  Garber enters the scene later and adds a whole new dimension when his character discovers that the others have been deceiving him about the situation.  Before long, he--and we--begin to suspect that one of the others might even be in on the whole kidnapping plot himself.

The film is nice-looking and director Aaron Woodley's style is clean and unobtrusive.  Writer William Morrissey maintains a deliberate pace throughout and never rushes things, letting the twists and turns of the plot hold our interest till the end.  With three separate dramatic situations going on concurrently--the desperate fathers whose friendship is falling apart over money, the kidnappers with vastly conflicting interests, and the terrified hostages trying to escape with their lives--the story generates a fair amount of suspense without resorting to graphic violence or shock. 



The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with English 5.1 and Spanish mono.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Bonuses consist of a behind-the-scenes featurette and an alternate ending. 

THE ENTITLED isn't what I'd call a "riveting" or "pulse-pounding" experience, nor does it really aspire to be.  It's just a slick, engrossing minor thriller that's good for a couple of hours of popcorn-munching entertainment.


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THE FEEDING -- movie review by porfle




After some pretty cool opening titles that make the movie look more expensive than it is and give us a sample of the full-bodied musical score that is one of its main assets, THE FEEDING (2006) fades in to a couple of redneck hunters getting wasted by a large, hairy creature out in the woods.  It's no big loss, since the guys playing them aren't very good actors anyway, but it does let us know that there's something really big, dangerous, and pissed-off out there.

Ace game warden Jack Driscoll (where have we heard that name before?) is called in to coordinate the park rangers and get all the campers off the mountain so they can go after the beast, which is believed to be a large mountain lion or wolf with an anger management problem.  Not-so-ace game warden Amy gets on Jack's bad side right off the bat by showing up late for his briefing, setting up their mildly confrontational relationship as they head off into the woods together in his jeep. 

Meanwhile, there's a group of horny, obnoxious teenagers (surprise!) who are also making their way into the woods on foot for a fun-filled week of hiking, camping, smoking mary-joo-wanner, and doin' what comes natural. In other words, they're what's for dinner.  The group consists of three couples and a partnerless fifth-wheel type who, if history has taught us anything, will be the lone survivor after all the sexually-active teens have been slaughtered.


We witness another attack as a hapless forest ranger stumbles onto the scene of the initial carnage and has his own unfortunate encounter with the creature, but other than that, the first half of the movie is pretty uneventful.  Game wardens Jack and Amy continue to trade barbs and rub each other the wrong way in just that age-old cinematic tradition that lets you know without a doubt that they're bound to fall in love before the fade-out. 

The campers, of course, smoke more weed, have more sex, spout more incredibly inane dialogue, play spin-the-bottle, give bad performances, and go skinny-dipping (boobies!)--exactly the kind of stuff they're supposed to do while waiting around to be killed.  We do get to know them somewhat during this time, though, and maybe even sorta like them, perhaps enough so that when the monster starts taking them out one by one we might even care just a teeny bit.

As the unsuspecting campers gaily cavort, Amy tries to grab some shuteye in her sleeping bag while Jack sits in a tree with his rifle.  But Amy can't sleep, so she calls Jack on her walkie-talkie and they have one of those cute conversations in which they begin to warm up to one another at last.  It's such a cute conversation that the movie cuts back and forth between it and the teenagers three times before finally, without warning (and, for some reason, without any suspenseful buildup whatsoever), the creature pops out of the darkness and starts rampaging through the teenagers' camp.  At first it appears as though it's going to kill them all at once as it swings its massive claws and sends them flying backward into trees amidst showers of blood. 

It's here that we first get a really good look at it, and instead of being some CGI concoction or cable-controlled puppet, it's actually an old-fashioned "guy-in-a-monster-suit" monster with a big snarling werewolf head on top. (The face doesn't move, except for a mouth that sorta goes up and down.)  At times impressive, at other times a little funny-looking, the werewolf (for that is indeed what it is, as Amy, in a startling leap of logic, will later figure out) makes a pretty cool and menacing monster.  It also helps add to my impression that this movie, despite the sex and gore, is ultimately a welcome throwback to the low-budget B monster flicks of the 50s.


Jack and Amy make their way to the scene and shoot at the creature until it retreats.  Then Jack goes off on his own to track it while Amy is left to lead the survivors back to the jeep.  On the way they are picked off one by one and we get to see plenty of blood and gore (one of them even has her spine ripped out, which is something you don't see every day) that is very nicely rendered by the special-effects guys.  At last, the quickly-dwindling group stumbles upon an empty farmhouse from which they must make their final stand against the monster. 

It's at this point that I suddenly realized that I was really enjoying this movie.  What first seemed to be just another boringly predictable slasher flick (the slasher, in this case, being a werewolf), with a faceless gaggle of goofy, sex-crazed teens being served up in turn for death, was ultimately turning out to be a pretty exciting monster movie that actually managed to show some imagination, turn a few of my expectations inside-out, and serve up a surprise or two.  And best of all, everyone both in front of and behind the camera seemed to be getting better as the movie progressed. 

All the technical stuff--directing, camerawork, editing, etc.--was in fine form, and the actors themselves (the ones that were left, anyway) seemed to thrive once relieved of the inanity of the earlier dialogue and situations.  It all leads up to an exciting climax that pays off in a satisfying way, thankfully devoid of the usual "Chucky Syndrome" false ending that I'm so sick of.  There's even a nice twist ending right before the credits that sends the movie off well and left me feeling pretty good about having seen it. 

Maybe it's a good thing that the first half of THE FEEDING seems so ordinary and predictable, because that makes it just that much better when it finally turns into a good old-fashioned monster movie.  Don't get me wrong--it's by no means a great film.  But I ended up having a lot of fun watching it, which is just about all I could ask from a low-budget werewolf movie.



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Monday, August 29, 2011

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE -- DVD review by porfle


Director Adam Wingard's low-key chiller A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE (2010) looks like it's going to be another torture fest, but the brief, sometimes subliminal gore shots are secondary to the film's unsettling atmosphere and steadily mounting suspense.

The story is simple--a serial killer named Garrick Turrell (A.J. Bowen) escapes from custody and makes his way cross-country to rejoin his girlfriend Sarah (Amy Seimetz).  Or does he intend to get revenge on her for discovering his grisly hobby and turning him in to the police?  Meanwhile, Sarah has just begun a tentative romance with fellow Alcoholics Anonymous member Kevin (Joe Swanberg), a mild-mannered sort who has no idea that Sarah's homicidal ex-boyfriend is on his way.

Flashbacks of Sarah's former life with Garrick bubble up to the surface amidst present-day scenes that switch between her current furtive existence and the escaped killer's body-strewn journey to reunite with her.  Often it's up to us to put it all in chronological order (our main timeframe reference seems to be Garrick's beard or lack thereof).  The shaky, documentary-style camerawork lends a roughhewn intimacy--it sometimes resembles a home movie and is only occasionally annoying--while the blur-in, blur-out transitions give things a hazy dreamlike quality.
 


Among other creative visual effects, Wingard shoots an awkward sex scene between Sarah and Kevin through a constellation of Christmas lights that she has hanging in her apartment.  Everything is imbued with a wintry gloom that adds to the film's downcast mood along with its mundane sense of realism.  Performances are naturalistic as is the dialogue, with Seimetz particularly good at portraying an everyday woman haunted by the past and responding to Kevin's stumbling overtures with some small hope of future happiness.  

Bowen, on the other hand, offers a disturbing depiction of a coldblooded maniac who looks outwardly normal and often seems reluctant to give in to his evil impulses.  We see behind this bland exterior during his Hannibal Lecter-like escape and dread the fates of those women whom he forces to drive him through police roadblocks despite calm assurances that he's going to let them go.  We're never quite sure what he's capable of until we see the ample bloody evidence, which heightens our concern for the unsuspecting Sarah. 

A brutal murder close to home drives Sarah and Kevin into hiding at his parents' cabin in the woods, which is where A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE takes its most nasty turn.  In the final sequence, writer Simon Barrett has some startling surprises in store for those of us who don't see everything coming, as Sarah finds herself in a hopeless situation that generates a good deal of gripping suspense.



The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a director/editor commentary and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Somehow, the climax of A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE isn't quite as powerful as it might have been--it's told so matter-of-factly that it seems to go by without delivering the shattering impact we expect.  Maybe one reason is that the current crop of horror films are so rigidly lock-stepped into giving us the most arbitrarily grim, downbeat endings imaginable that when this doesn't happen, it seems like something new.


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"CAESAR & OTTO'S SUMMER CAMP MASSACRE" Goes Theatrical Sept. 9th, Followed by Oct. DVD Release


If you've been keeping up with our Caesar & Otto coverage--and who hasn't?--you'll be pleased to know that the wacky slasher comedy CAESAR & OTTO'S SUMMER CAMP MASSACRE is finally being distributed by MM Gertz Entertainment and Maxim Media, and is headed for an October 4th DVD release.  Not only that, but starting September 9th the film will get a limited theatrical release as well. 

You can read all about Caesar & Otto's bloody summer-camp hijinks in our review, in which we also cover the previous film that introduced the dysfunctional duo to the world.


The upcoming DVD for SUMMER CAMP MASSACRE will contain as an added bonus the short film CAESAR & OTTO MEET DRACULA'S LAWYER, which we also reviewed here.  Numerous other extras include:

Two director commentaries
Cast and crew commentary
"Behind the Massacre"
"25 Minutes with Joe Estevez"
"60 Second Making Of"
Alternate and deleted scenes
Trailer vault
4 (count 'em 4) Easter eggs
A preview of the upcoming sequel CAESAR & OTTO'S DEADLY X-MAS with Linnea Quigley, Felissa Rose, and Troma's Lloyd Kaufman

And if you check out the review quotes on the back of the DVD box, you just might recognize the name of a certain totally-awesome website!  (Hint: you could be visiting it right now.)


Here's the official press release for the DVD:

The buddy comedy/slasher spoof, "Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre", is set for a September 9th Limited theatrical release through Nocturnal Features, followed by an October 4th DVD release. Director Dave Campfield (Dark Chamber) and Paul Chomicki star as the title halfwit half brothers. They are joined by cult stars, Brinke Stevens, Joe Estevez, CKY lead singer Deron Miller. The movie also stars Felissa Rose in a role that lampoons her performance as a transgender killer in the original "Sleepaway Camp".

"If Harry and Lloyd from 'Dumb and Dumber' happened upon 'Sleepaway Camp,' you'd essentially get 'Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre,' a comedy horror that succeeds in delivering raucous laughs" says Film Threat’s Felix Vasquez Jr. It has been called "funny and unashamed" by Dread Central, and "like Abbott and Costello meets something from the Troma vault" by Horrornews.net.

This indie comedy received acclaim at the 2009 Fright Night Film Festival, and a best editing award at the same year’s Long Island Film Festival.

The DVD contains over six hours of content, including:

* three commentaries
* several featurettes and
* a bonus short sequel, "Caesar & Otto Meet Dracula’s Lawyer" which features cameos from Lloyd Kaufman, Debbie Rochon, Paul Ehlers (Madman), Desiree Gould (Sleepaway Camp) and Robert Lee Oliver (star of Flesh Eating Mothers).

Director Campfield is currently in post production on "Caesar & Otto’s Deadly Xmas". The feature length sequel send up of the Christmas slasher subgenre features an appearance from Silent Night, Deadly Night ‘s Linnea Quigley.

"Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre" is currently available for pre-order at most on-line DVD retailers.

www.caesarandotto.com
DVD trailer
videos and photo gallery

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

CAMELOT: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON -- DVD review by porfle


One of these days I'm going to sit down and read the original legend of King Arthur just so I'll be able to sort out all the differing cinematic versions of the tale.  It certainly inspires filmmakers to come up with their own interpretations, as we've seen in everything from John Boorman's stunning EXCALIBUR (still my favorite King Arthur movie) to the recent TV series "Merlin."  I guess the good thing about this is that instead of getting the same old rehash every time, with all the elements dutifully falling into place as expected, we're treated to some surprising retellings each with its own unique spin.  "Camelot", a Starz original series, is one of the latest and most interesting of these.

During the ten-episode saga of the DVD set CAMELOT: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (2011) we see an origin story stripped of much of the usual pomp and wizardry, grounded in the grimy, oppressive atmopshere of a Dark Ages-era England struggling to climb out of destitution and disarray.  The murder of King Uther Pendragon prompts the wizard Merlin (Joseph Fiennes, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) to reveal the existence of Uther's bastard son, Arthur, who has been raised by foster parents since being taken from his mother Queen Igraine (Claire Forlani) at birth.  Now barely out of his teens, Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower of the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" films) is suddenly informed that his destiny is to rule England as heir to the Pendragon throne, with Merlin as his manipulative mentor.

Complicating things is Arthur's half-sister Morgan Pendragon, who believes herself the rightful heir to the crown and will stop at nothing to get it.  With her piercing eyes and haughty, intimidating presence, CASINO ROYALE's Eva Green steals the show as Morgan and is without a doubt its most watchable asset.  She plays the role with such intensity and obvious relish that we almost sympathize with the evil Morgan as she plots against Arthur within the walls of Pendragon castle and conspires to turn his subjects against him.
   


No gleaming fortress of silver and gold, the Camelot in which Arthur and his men take up residence is a crumbling, overgrown ruin overlooking the sea.  Everything we take for granted in an Arthurian film is developed from the ground up here, including Arthur himself.  As played by Bower, he initially has more in common with Jeff Spicoli than a royal personage and comes off as the sort of arrogant horndog that you might have hated in high school.  It's a long, tough character arc for this callow Arthur before he begins to gain our respect (roughly around the last couple of episodes), especially when he can't keep his hands, among other things, off the bride-to-be of his most gallant warrior, Leontes (Philip Winchester).  The lady in question, of course, is Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton), burdened by guilt after a wedding-day roll on the beach with Arthur.

Playing the role of Merlin even more offbeat than EXCALIBUR's Nicole Williamson, a bald and beardless Joseph Fiennes surprises by being smaller-than-life and eschewing sorcery.  The dark arts, we find, are both addictive and hazardous to one's health, forcing Merlin to rely on his wits more than we're used to.  Fiennes' interpretation of the character takes some getting used to but he began to grow on me after a few episodes.  His counterpart in sorcery, the scheming Morgan, uses her powers with much less restraint and, while suffering the consequences, manages to create a good deal of havoc in Camelot. 

"Camelot" is in no hurry to plunk all the pieces of the story as we know it into place or to reveal them in ways we expect.  Rather than portraying a legend, it depicts gritty, realistic events that will become legend in the retelling.  This is particularly true when we see how the tales of the sword in the stone and the lady of the lake are handled, with Merlin often twisting the facts and making up future history as he goes along. 

With verdant Irish locations, plus great sets and production design, the series looks fantastic.  It does, however, resemble the sort of semi-juvenile television fare seen so often in recent years, yet with occasional attempts at a more adult sensibility that are often jarring.  While most of the episodes would be suitable viewing for kids, there are several softcore sex scenes which seem out of place, especially when, during their romantic beach rendezvous, Arthur drops his pants and starts humping Guinevere like a dog.  And while I must admit finding it quite nice to finally get a look at Eva Green's outstanding assets, it really isn't necessary for "Camelot" to try and come off as adult-oriented entertainment along the lines of the recent "Spartacus" series and indeed sacrifices some of its sense of wonder because of this.



A definite plus is the lack of moronic comedy relief or bad-CGI monsters, with the supernatural elements kept to a more believable minimum and no hinky-looking dragons popping up to pad out the scripts.  Dialogue is modern-sounding but rarely overly so.  The stories are a bit episodic but the overall story arc is enough to bind them together. 

Supporting characters are finely cast, with Sinéad Cusack a standout as Morgan's devious cohort, Sybil, an evil nun riding the aspiring Queen's coattails to the throne, and Claire Forlani as Arthur's true mother, Igraine.  Forlani has a field day in the episode in which Morgan takes on Igraine's physical appearance to cause unrest in Camelot.  Guest stars include Sean Pertwee as Arthur's foster father Ector and James Purefoy as one of Morgan's early allies against Arthur.

While there isn't an abundance of action, "Camelot" does have a number of exciting sword battles that are well-executed.  The season finale, "Reckoning", features a vastly outnumbered Arthur and his men desperately fighting off Morgan's soldiers even as, back in Camelot, she is on the verge of ascending the throne.  Major characters die, and there are enticing hints of what's to come including a foreshadowing of the imminent appearance of Lancelot (who, as we already know, will give Arthur a taste of his own medicine in the heartbreak department). 

There are few nagging cliffhangers as such (I hate season cliffhangers), but one of the most intriguing events in the Arthurian saga is wonderfully and surprisingly depicted in the last scene, setting us up for season two with keen anticipation.  We're also left with the initial core of Arthur's brave knights along with the first wedge of the fabled round table.

The three-disc set from Anchor Bay and Starz is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of eight featurettes including behind-the-scenes, character profiles, scene breakdowns, and bloopers. 

As an addition to the host of King Arthur movies and TV series, CAMELOT: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON holds its own while not quite slashing its way to the front of the pack.  Fans of the legend will definitely want to give it a look.


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Friday, August 26, 2011

Critically-acclaimed Documentary "MAKE BELIEVE" on DVD September 20

FIREFLY: THEATER & FILMS and LEVEL 22 PRESENT "MAKE BELIEVE" on DVD September 20

The critically acclaimed feature documentary, Make Believe, will be released on DVD September 20, 2011. Winner of the prize for Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival, the DVD will be available at  Amazon, Netflix, local magic stores, and at www.makebelievethemovie.com.  SRP is $20.00

A coming of age journey set in the quirky subculture of magic, Make Believe follows six of the world’s best young magicians as they pursue the title of Teen World Champion and take us on their personal journeys of transformation through magic. The film travels from back rooms of the world famous Magic Castle in the Hollywood Hills to the most important international magic competition, the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas, as the teens face the mounting pressure to win the competition and move to the next stages of their careers.

The DVD includes over an hour of bonus materials, including in-depth profiles of each of the film's subjects, a featurette of the Masters of Magic with Lance Burton, Neil Patrick Harris, and other magicians talking about the meaning and performance of their art, and ten learn-it-yourself tricks taught by the teen magicians featured in the film.

In addition the DVD will employ an innovative affiliate program that enables consumers and organizations of all types and sizes to generate immediate and recurring revenues by offering the DVD to their community through Facebook. By using specially-coded links and banners, all orders originating from Facebook are tracked and a pay out of 20% on each DVD order is fulfilled. It’s easy and quick to join by contacting info@crowdstarter.com.

Director J. Clay Tweel follows six adolescent outsiders who all share an extraordinary passion:the art of magic. We meet Krystyn Lambert, a member of the Magic Castle, a classic beauty who hails from Malibu and seems to have it all but she just doesn’t fit in; Bill Koch, a 19 year old from Chicago who has no time for second best and has one last shot to win the title before he ages out; Hiroki Hara, who lives in a remote Japanese village where he practices magic 8 hours a day and dreams of performing around the world; Derek McKee, the youngest, a very serious 14 year old from Colorado who has found the one skill he has that makes people take notice is magic; and Siphiwe Fangase and Nkumbozo Nkonyana from Capetown, South Africa whose energy and excitement for the art is contagious to all. Along the way, Make Believe incorporates interviews with Neil Patrick Harris, Lance Burton and several magicians who share these teens' passion.

Directed by J. Clay Tweel. Produced by Steven Klein of Firefly: Theater & Films. Executive Produced by Ed Cunningham and Seth Gordon(Horrible Bosses and King of Kong:A Fistful of Quarters).

For more information visit www.makebelievefilm.com


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SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA -- DVD review by porfle


With the bloody slave revolt and slaughter of their Roman masters which ended SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND with such a resounding bang, it was hard to imagine that a prequel about earlier events not even involving the title hero would amount to much.  SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA (2011), however, proves a worthy follow-up that almost matches its predecessor.

Not only do we already know that Batiatus (John Hannah), who runs a gladiator-training school (or "ludus"), and his equally scheming and ambitious wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), are dead, but we're shown how it happened in a brief recap of the earlier season finale.  Next thing we know, it's years earlier, and Batiatus has just begun his quest to become top dog in his chosen field amidst a host of more powerful and influential men (including Jeffrey Thomas as his own domineering father, Titus, who will make a highly unwelcome return from exile to take over).

Hannah and Lawless delight in playing this scheming couple united in their lust for power and social status, and we find ourselves rooting for them since they're often the lesser of many evils.  These include Tullius (Stephen Lovatt) and his young toady Vettius (a wonderfully supercilious Gareth Williams), vile competitors who pull the city's strings and run their business like an ancient version of the Mafia.  In fact, much of the brutal retribution, terror tactics, and ruthless strategies that result from Batiatus' rivalry with them are reminiscent of THE GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS, and often result in the unexpected and violent deaths of major characters.



As in "Upstairs, Downstairs", the activities of the privileged class are contrasted with the trials of their indentured inferiors--in this case, the gladiators and other household slaves.  Chief among these is Gannicus (Dustin Clare), greatest of all gladiators despite his cavalier attitude.  Much of the series involves a tug-o-war over him by Batiatus and Tullius, each of whom want him as their prized gladiator in the grand new arena that's under construction.  A somewhat superficial character at first, Gannicus soon reveals a depth that makes his story the most compelling one of all and leads to the season's emotional climax.

Back from last season is Peter Mensah as Oenomaus, not yet the ludus' Doctore (head trainer) as the position is filled by an almost unrecognizable Temuera "Jango Fett" Morrison.  His beautiful wife Melitta (Marisa Ramirez) is Lucretia's personal slave and struggles against a doomed mutual attraction to Gannicus.  Barca (Antonio Te Maioha) returns along with the cowardly Ashur (Nick Tarabay), who demonstrates why he was so reviled in the previous series.  Of particular interest is the origin of Crixus (Manu Bennett), who will one day be champion but is now seen as a lowly recruit fighting to stay alive and gain stature in the eyes of his peers.

With all of this going on, there's never a dull moment in SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA.  Batiatus and Lucretia's devious machinations are an endless source of amusement, with Lucretia's recently-widowed friend Gaia (Jaime Murray) aiding their cause in hopes of landing a man with a fat purse while renewing lustful intentions toward Lucretia herself.  This leads to some of the show's many softcore sex scenes, which erupt with such eye-popping regularity that it's like a month's worth of "Cinemax After Dark" crammed into each episode. 

While the gladiators enjoy their post-arena "rewards", jaded, repellent Romans indulge in perverse sexual scenarios with hapless slaves.  Lucy Lawless fans are apt to freak out during Lucretia's frenzied lesbian couplings with Gaia, with an enthusiastic Batiata squeezing in for the occasional threesome.



Aside from the carnal aspects of the series, however, the main attraction is what goes on in the arena.  Amidst frenzied crowd reactions (people either cheer like they're at a rock concert, flash their boobs at the gladiators, fight amongst themselves, get splattered with blood, or screw), each bone-crushing battle between these bloodthirsty behemoths is a heady concoction of wildly stylized visuals, eye-pleasing SPFX, and imaginative staging.  Slow-motion is used very well to accentuate and prolong particular moments that would normally pass too quickly to be fully savored. 

A street brawl between one of Vettius' men and a blindfolded Gannicus (the result of a poorly-worded challenge taken literally) is an early highlight.  The older, smaller fight venue provides a more intimate setting for most of the clashes seen here, with spectators being liberally doused with errant gore or even finding themselves minus a few fingers.  The inaugural games of the massive new arena end the final episode with a spectacular free-for-all pitting all of Batiatus' men against those of his two-faced friend Solonius (Craig Walsh Wrightson) in a battle royale. 

Here, as in every other episode, the gore factor is sky-high--H.G. Lewis himself never imagined the graphic carnage on display thanks to skillful use of both practical effects and CGI.  The screen is splattered with geysers of blood, severed limbs, and jaw-dropping (in one case, literally) acts of bodily harm.  Gorehounds will be in hemoglobin heaven. 

The look of the show is a non-stop wallow in lush visuals with so much detail that I often had to rewind to catch dialogue I'd missed while taking it all in.  Speaking of dialogue, these characters are such serious potty mouths--every other sentence contains the word "cock" and/or crude references to various bodily functions--that listening to them talk is consistently amusing.  In one scene, a drunken Gannicus favors us with the song "My Cock Rages On", while elsewhere the prospect of having sex with him prompts Gaia to remark, "One moistens at the very thought."  All our other favorite four-letter words are generously and creatively featured as well.

The 2-disc, six-episode set from Anchor Bay and Starz is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of ten featurettes focusing on behind-the-scenes, weapons, costumes, SPFX, post-production, production design, and other aspects of the show.  Also included is a ComicCon panel session, "On Set With Lucy Lawless", and bloopers.

A must for anyone who enjoyed the earlier saga, SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA is like crack for fans of sex, violence, and gore done with impeccable production values and no-holds-barred storytelling.  Now if only Andy Whitfield can return from his unfortunate illness so we can resume the story of Spartacus himself. 


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Thursday, August 25, 2011

On DVD - "Midsomer Murders 18" and HBO's "The Battle for Marjah" on Sept. 6th from Acorn Media


MIDSOMER MURDERS, SET 18--Debuts on DVD September 6, 2011

Episodes available to U.S. audiences for the first time--Three new, contemporary, stand-alone mysteries from Acorn’s top-selling series

“Spectacularly entertaining as always” —PaperMag.com
“Superbly acted and filmed, and a great joy to watch” —British Heritage
“Great bloody fun” —San Francisco Chronicle


Silver Spring, MD — Available to U.S. audiences for the first time with this release, Midsomer Murders, Set 18 debuts on DVD from Acorn Media on September 6, 2011 with three new, contemporary, stand-alone mysteries from the top-selling British mystery franchise. Fan favorite John Nettles (Bergerac) returns as Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby in these engrossing full-length mysteries set in England’s picture-perfect but perilous Midsomer County. Set 18 includes three mysteries never before seen in the U.S., along with a bonus 23 min. interview with star Jason Hughes ($39.99, www.AcornOnline.com).

The cozy villages of Midsomer County reveal their most sinister secrets in these contemporary British television mysteries. Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, modern master of the English village mystery, the series stars John Nettles as the unflappable Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, with Jason Hughes (This Life) as his earnest, efficient protégé, Detective Sergeant Ben Jones. Guest stars include Margaret Tyzack (Match Point, 2001: A Space Odyssey), Jenny Agutter (The Invisibles), Nickolas Grace (Robin of Sherwood, My Family), Caroline Blakiston (Brass, The Avengers), Paul Shelley (Doctor Who), and Paul Chapman (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes).

The Mysteries:
Small Mercies—Little Worthing’s model village is the highlight of its tourism trade—until a dead body disfigures it.

The Creeper—A cat burglar’s robberies expose the dark secrets of a prominent family.

The Great and the Good— A village school’s possible closing leads to murder, mayhem, and a sleepwalking schoolteacher.

BONUS FEATURES: Interview with star Jason Hughes (23 min.)

Midsomer Murders premiered in the United Kingdom in March 1997. Since then, more than eighty feature-length episodes have aired with new episodes still in production. In the U.S., the series has been seen on A&E and The Biography Channel, however the episodes in Set 18 are the second part of Series Twelve (2009-2010), which never broadcast in the U.S.

Street: September 6, 2011                                      
SRP: $39.99

DVD 3-Vol. Boxed Set: Three mysteries of approx. 100 min. each - SDH subtitles - Contains brief nudity

Acorn Media previously released Sets 1-17 with three to five mysteries per set ($39.99 to $59.99) as well as The Early Cases Collection (19-vol. collector’s set which includes Sets 1-3, 5), Barnaby’s Casebook (19-vol. collector’s set which includes Sets 4, 6-8) and Village Case Files (16-vol. collector’s set which includes Sets 9-12). Each set ranked in Acorn’s top 10 best-sellers for its year and sales of each new set consistently gain momentum.




THE BATTLE FOR MARJAH

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Debuts from Athena on September 6, 2011--Acclaimed HBO documentary reveals realities of Afghanistan War

“A tremendous film that everyone…should watch. A+” —Newsday
“Both an absorbing record of combat on the ground an attempt to assess the larger battle for hearts and minds”—The New York Times


Silver Spring, MD —Seen on HBO in February, The Battle for Marjah debuts in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Athena on September 6, 2011. Written and produced by award-winning journalist Ben Anderson (Taking on the Taliban), The Battle for Marjah documents the U.S. Marine Corp’s dangerous operation against a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, offering a view of the war like never before. The release includes both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the program, along with a 12-page viewers’ guide, biographies, timelines of the war, and much more ($34.99, www.AcornOnline.com).

On February 13, 2010, American-led coalition forces launched the biggest military operation since the beginning of the Afghanistan War. Their target was the town of Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. There, the Marines had four tasks: remove the Taliban, hold all ground seized, build infrastructure and governance, and transfer control to Afghan security forces.

In this powerful account, award-winning journalist Ben Anderson tells the story of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, and its commanding officer, Captain Ryan Sparks. At the battle’s outset, Sparks and the 272 men of Bravo are flown 12 miles and dropped into the center of Marjah, where the Taliban lie in wait. For the young Marines, their first task begins. Embedded with Bravo Company, Anderson provides an intimate and sobering look at the realities of counterinsurgency warfare

Journalist Ben Anderson covers Afghanistan for the London Times and regularly writes for BBC World Service, GQ, Independent on Sunday, and the Guardian. His recent works include the BBC documentary Taking on the Taliban.

Bonus Features
• 12-page viewer’s guide with articles on the histories of Afghanistan, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, the U.S. Marine Corps, counterinsurgency warfare, and more
• Timeline of the Afghanistan War and biographies of Ben Anderson and photographer Goran Tomasevic
• Plus an explanation of IEDs, the story of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, and discussion questions at athenalearning.com

Street: September 6, 2011              
SRP: $34.99               Approx. 84 min.

Blu-ray: 1080i/16:9 widescreen - 5.1 DTS-HD MA/5.1 Dolby Digital/2.0 stereo PCM - SDH

DVD: 16:9 widescreen - 5.1/2.0 Dolby Digital - SDH subtitles

Contains strong language, violence, and graphic and disturbing images

Athena releases provide an authoritative and entertaining learning experience through high quality, informative, non-fiction programming. Athena’s releases include 20th Century with Mike Wallace: America at War, Genius of Britain, The Making of the President, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers: God & Politics, Cosmos-A Beginners Guide, The Genius of Design, Discovering Hamlet, Playing Shakespeare, The Story of Math, and World War I in Color. Clips are available at www.athenalearning.com. Athena’s DVD sets are available from select retailers, catalog companies, and direct from Acorn at (888) 870-8047 or www.acornonline.com.
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Witness "THE HOWLING REBORN" from Anchor Bay Films -- coming to Blu-ray and DVD October 18th

A legendary horror franchise that redefined a genre returns to scare a new generation...

ANCHOR BAY FILMS “BAYS” AT THE MOON WITH "THE HOWLING REBORN" ON BLU-RAY™ AND DVD

A New Moon Rises October 18th


BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Get ready to run with the pack again, as Anchor Bay Entertainment unleashes The Howling Reborn October 18th on Blu-ray™ and DVD. An all-new, original chapter directed by Joe Nimziki, the much anticipated Anchor Bay Films release stars Lindsey Shaw (“Pretty Little Liars,” “10 Things I Hate About You”), Landon Liboiron (Fox’s upcoming series “Terra Nova,” “Degrassi: The Next Generation”) and Ivana Milicevic (Casino Royale, Vanilla Sky). Described within industry circles as “Twilight with bite,” The Howling Reborn deftly combines romance, action and thrills that will have audiences worldwide embracing their inner lycanthrope! SRP is $26.98 for the DVD, and $29.99 for the Blu-ray™. Pre-book is September 21st.

Anchor Bay SVP of Marketing Jennifer Roberts stated:  “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the picture, and are excited to get “The Howling: Reborn” out as quickly as possible for this Halloween. We truly believe this picture will re-launch the franchise and lead to even bigger and better new chapters ahead.”

The creatures for The Howling Reborn were brought to life by 2010 Academy-Award® nominee Adrian Morot (300, Night at the Museum 2), and the score produced by award-winning composer Klaus Badelt (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean).

On the eve of his high school graduation, Will Kidman (Liboiron) finally looks up from his books to catch the eye of the girl he’s longed for the last four years –the mysterious Eliana Wynter (Shaw). He’s always been the shy kid, flying under the radar, but when he discovers a dark secret from his past— that he is heir to a powerful line of werewolves -- he finds he has a choice to make between succumbing to his primal nature, or turning against his own, and maintaining his humanity. In order to fight the destiny of his legacy, and save Eliana – as well as himself – he must battle not only his growing blood lust but an army of fearsome beasts bent on killing him, Eliana...and then, us all.

Bonus features on The Howling Reborn Blu-ray™ and DVD will include filmmakers’ commentary and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

The Howling began enthralling fans more than 30 years ago, with the 1977 publication of Gary Brandner’s best-selling novel and the 1981 film adaptation written by Academy Award® nominated screenwriter John Sayles (Lone Star, The Spiderwick Chronicles) and directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, InnerSpace). The film’s success ushered in a new era of screen werewolves, as well as the six “Howling” sequels that followed.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Good Neighbors" Stalks Blu-ray & DVD September 27



YOU NEVER KNOW WHO MIGHT BE LIVING NEXT DOOR

A Terrifying Adventure That Will Chill Viewers To The Bone Arrives On DVD And Blu-ray Debut September 27 From Magnolia Home Entertainment

What a deliciously dark surprise!” Fangoria.com
If you have the chance to see this film, do so.” TwitchFilm.com


LOS ANGELES, CALIF. – Following its critically acclaimed debut at the 2010Toronto Film Festival, the haunting thriller Good Neighbors will terrify on Blu-ray Disc and DVD September 27 from Magnolia Home Entertainment. From writer/director Jacob Tierney (This Is My Father) this “gem that’s well-worth checking out” (Bloody Disgusting.com) stars Scott Speedman (Underworld: Evolution, Barney’s Version, “Felicity”), Emily Hampshire (The Trotsky) and Jay Baruchel (She’s Out Of My League, Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder).

Set in Quebec, Good Neighbors follows three neighbors as they bond over a recent string of murders taking place in their community. As the trio learns more about each other and the horror of what lies outside escalates, dark secrets unfold and they soon learn that nowhere is safe. Combing smart dialogue, strong performances and jarring thrills, this riveting mystery is loaded with unique bonus features including the making of Good Neighbors and HDNet: A Look at Good Neighbors. The Good Neighbors Blu-ray and DVD will be available for the suggested retail prices of $29.98 and $26.98 respectively.

Synopsis
When a recent string of murders terrorize their community, neighbors Spencer (Scott Speedman) and Louise (Emily Hampshire) quickly bond over their shared fascination with the tragic events. When a new tenant named Victor (Jay Baruchel) arrives in the building, all three quickly hit it off, but they soon discover that each of them has their own dark secret. As the violence outside mounts, the city retreats indoors for safety. The more time these three spend together in their apartment building, the clearer it becomes that what they once thought of as a safe haven is as dangerous as any outside horror they could imagine.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

DARK WORLD -- movie review by porfle


Harry has his share of problems.  He's an aging, cynical cop who was recently shot in the foot; his shady ex-wife Nicole has just shown up on his doorstep again, one step ahead of some Las Vegas mobsters out for her blood and concealing a dark secret; he's struggling to sort out a baffling case involving a brutal serial kidnapper-killer; and, worst of all, his niece Grace has just become one of the missing. 

Certains elements of his life, on the other hand, are almost too good to be true.  He lives in a storybook suburban neighborhood that suits him just fine, he has a loving son, and his sleazy partner Bob's gorgeous wife Zoey can't keep her hands off of him.  In DARK WORLD (2008), these two sides of Harry's life will begin to clash in ways that neither he nor the viewer could possibly suspect. 

Writer-director Zia Mojabi has concocted a corker of a tale and visualized it as one of those sun-bleached southern California film noirs complete with Harry's world-weary voiceover.  ("There was a time when they killed people for something," he muses after we witness a gruesome double murder.  "Greed, power, love...or at least lust.  Now they just kill.")



It's not as sharp as a big-budget studio production, but Mojabi renders this deliberately-paced story with a good deal of style, mixing the hazy aura of normality with dark, jagged slices of the slasher genre.  He also injects it with lots of amusingly offbeat touches without being overly cute about it. 

And talk about a cast--wow.  Michael Pare' plays Harry with just the right mix of medium-boiled toughness and wry humor, while Theresa Russell proves that she's not only still a babe but an interesting actress as well.  Julie St. Claire is a knockout as Zoey, the quintessential woman in red.  Steven Bauer (SCARFACE's "Manny") is on hand as Nicole's boyfriend Rick, while James Russo (DONNIE BRASCO) is his usual awesome self as her brother Charlie. 

As Harry's vile partner Bob, Charles Arthur Berg doesn't have the most refined acting talent but he's just right in this role, as demonstrated by the following exchange:

BOB: (referring to his ex-stripper wife, Zoey) "Every time I sit there, and I think about how that cow stripped down naked and rubbed herself up against every pervert in every titty bar in this town...once a whore, always a whore."
HARRY: "You're talking about the mother of your son."
BOB: "That retard?  I don't know much, but I know one thing...that wackjob ain't no son of mine."
 


The darker side of the story features a mysterious hooded figure who binds his captives and locks them in coffin-like boxes inside an abandoned desert warehouse, occasionally doing away with one of them in gory fashion.  How all this ties in with Harry, Nicole, her permanently-drunk brother Charlie, and Harry's sleazeball partner Bob doesn't start to become clear for quite awhile--I was wondering when Harry would stop poring over police files and keeping tabs on Nicole, in addition to fighting off Zoey's aggressively amorous advances, and actually start trying to track down the killer.  But it all comes together near the end in one of those 180-degree twists that turns everything that's come before on its ear.  You may be one of those "saw it coming a mile away" types, but I was, to say the least, duly agog.

One of the user comments regarding this film on IMDb describes it as "absolute trash", so you might want to take my opinion with more than the usual grain of salt.  However, despite a few rough spots and some scenes that could have used a little more polish, I found DARK WORLD to be a fun flick imbued with more than enough imagination and finesse to make it a satisfying and worthwhile view.  And by the time you find out exactly what the title really means, you may think so, too.


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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Secrets In The Walls" Arriving On DVD September 20



Jeri Ryan Stars In The Paranormal Thriller Arriving On DVD September 20 From RHI Entertainment And Vivendi Entertainment

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – When a family moves to their dream house life seems perfect until things start to go bump in the night in Secrets in the Walls, a chilling thriller arriving on DVD September 20 from RHI Entertainment and Vivendi Entertainment. Single Mom Rachel Easton relocates her two daughters from a crowded Detroit apartment to a beautiful old house in the suburbs to get the fresh start they need. Everything goes according to plan until they start to hear terrifying cries from beyond the walls. When the haunting intensifies and the fear escalates, Rachel must unravel a horrifying secret and solve the 50-year-old mystery that has been haunting the house in order to save their lives.

Previously premiering on Lifetime Movie Network, the paranormal thriller stars Jeri Ryan (“Body of Proof,” “Star Trek: Voyager”), Kay Pananbaker (“No Ordinary Family”, Fame), Peyton List (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules), and Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Without a Trace”, Takers). Just in time for Halloween, the modern-day haunted house mystery Secrets In The Walls will be available on DVD for the suggested retail price of $14.93.

Synopsis:
Rachel Easton (Jeri Ryan, TV’s “Body of Proof”) just purchased a dream home. It’s spacious, charming and offers a new beginning for her and her daughters, But as the days pass, a sinister evil begins to take possession of their lives and the home’s violent past slowly becomes clear. Tormented by terrifying screams, distant scratches and a haunting female figure, Rachel will do everything she can to remove the insidious darkness hell-bent on haunting her family forever.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

CLASH OF EMPIRES -- DVD review by porfle


Malaysian historical legend gets a retelling in the small-scale epic CLASH OF EMPIRES (2011), aka "The Malay Chronicles: Bloodlines."  But while providing some entertainment and the occasional "ooh, ahh" moment, it's not quite the stirring and inspirational saga it aspires to be. 

You have to hand it to director/co-writer Yusry Kru for being ambitious and trying to wring as much spectacle as he can out of what appears to be a non-Hollywood budget.  There's some sweep to the story (circa 120 A.D.) of a Roman prince and a Chinese princess whose pre-arranged marriage on a neutral shore is interrupted by an attack by the dreaded pirates, the Garuda. 

Their most ruthless warrior, Kamawas (Khir Rahman), whose magic amulet gives him invincibility, kidnaps the princess for ransom.  Merong, a Malaysian rogue hired to guard the prince, leads the local tribesmen in battle against the Garuda after discovering that he is the great warrior whom prophecies foretell will unite them in victory. 

CLASH OF EMPIRES blends elements of high seas adventure, historical warfare, and romance with generous doses of mysticism and sorcery.  The paunchy Garuda chieftan Taji gestures broadly at the gods to bring thunderbolts down on his enemies while armies on the seashore engage in speeded-up combat that's impressively violent while not being especially well shot or choreographed.  What the battle scenes lack in finesse, however, is made up for by the sheer amount of slice-and-dice action.



Stephen Rahman Hughes as Merong displays some martial arts dexterity and lots of enthusiasm along with a welcome sense of humor.  Much of the first half of the film, in fact, in played rather lightly, especially with the corny romantic banter between Prince Marcus (Gavin Stenhouse) and the reluctant bride-to-be, Meng Li Hua (Jing Lusi).  The antics of the Princess' handmaiden Ying Ying (Nell Ng) may even start to grate on your nerves after awhile.

Things get serious, however, with the Princess' abduction and Merong's realization of his true destiny.  As his ships near the Geruda camp, the film does its best to expand to epic proportions while not quite getting there.  Merong's "sword day" motivational speech to his men doesn't have that RETURN OF THE KING vibe it strives for although it seems to have the intended effect of making them all willing to die. 

The magical element returns when Merong unveils a death ray he's constructed from broken mirrors, which causes the enemy to burst into flames and flop limply out of their boats.  Flabby fight choreography tends to drain the excitement out of much of the subsequent battle, while some low-level CGI gives certain scenes a rinky-dink veneer. 



At times the film suffers from murky cinematography that looks like its been tinkered with too much digitally--a few more bursts of vivid color here and there would've greatly improved the visuals.  Exotic locations and good production design are a big help, as is Edry Abdul Halim's lively score as performed by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is a theatrical trailer.

CLASH OF EMPIRES is an earnest depiction of Malaysian folklore that tries hard to match the grandeur of other epics but can never quite rise above its own limitations.  Still, it's relatively entertaining in its own modest and rather endearing way. 


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Monday, August 15, 2011

Celebrate "STRAW DOGS" 40th Anniversary Blu-ray on September 16


EVERY MAN HAS A BREAKING POINT

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of a Sam Peckinpah Classic, The Blu-ray Disc Arrives For The First Time Ever September 6

Theatrical Remake Premieres Everywhere September 16


Los Angeles, CA (August 11, 2011) – How far will one man go to protect his wife and his home? One of the grittiest and controversial thrillers of all-time and banned in the United Kingdom for over 18 years, STRAW DOGS debuts on Blu-ray Disc September 6 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Released in celebration of the film’s 40th Anniversary and in anticipation of the upcoming theatrical remake, this violent and suspenseful tale from legendary director Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, The Getaway) stars two-time Academy Award® winner Dustin Hoffman* (The Graduate, Little Fockers) and Susan George (Mandingo, The House Where Evil Dwells).

To escape the Vietnam-era chaos in the U.S., American mathematician David Sumner (Hoffman) moves with his British wife Amy (George) to an isolated English village. Their presence provokes antagonism among the village’s men. Escalating from routine bullying to vicious brutality, David finds his pacifist self being backed into a corner and responds in the violent and gruesome manner he abhors.

The STRAW DOGS Blu-ray has been carefully restored and is presented with all-new 5.1 audio.

*1980; Best Actor in a Leading Role; Kramer vs. Kramer
1989; Best Actor in a Leading Role; Rain Man


STRAW DOGS Blu-ray Special Features
--Original Theatrical Trailer
--Three Original Television Spots

Follow Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment on Twitter @FoxHomeEnt

STRAW DOGS Blu-ray (Catalogue # M125141)
Street Date: September 6, 2011
Screen Format: Widescreen
Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
U.S. Rating: R
Total Run Time: 118 minutes
Closed Captioned: Yes

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

BEREAVEMENT -- DVD review by porfle


I haven't seen Stevan Mena's MALEVOLENCE yet, but it's just as well since BEREAVEMENT (2010) is a prequel to the 2004 slasher.  Now I can watch the rest of the story in chronological order, with the addition of a planned third film to complete the trilogy.  In the meantime, this middle entry stands on its own as a well-made and absorbing horror tale that's more than just a wallow in torture porn.

In the small Pennsylvania town of Minersville (hmm, I wonder if that's anywhere near Coaltown) a serial killer is abducting women and killing them in his abandoned slaughterhouse of horror.  Continuing the family business in such an unorthodox way is Graham Sutter, whose psyche was twisted like a pretzel as a kid when forced by a domineering father to slaughter animals.  Now, haunted by the old man's ghost, Sutter kills his victims seeking some kind of redemption that I never was too clear on, but it doesn't really matter. 

A few miles down the road, farmer Jonathan Miller (Michael Biehn) and his wife have adopted his late brother's teenage daughter Allison (Alexandra Daddario, THE ATTIC) who finds the rural life stifling after Chicago and rebels when Jonathan disapproves of her new boyfriend William (Nolan Gerard Funk).  While jogging one day, Allison spots a little boy in a window of the old slaughterhouse and investigates.  Her subsequent discovery of Sutter's crimes will involve her and her new family in a nightmare of terror and death.



The little boy, Martin, is well-played by young Spencer List, whose sister Peyton portrays the Millers' daughter Wendy.  Martin, kidnapped by Sutter five years earlier to be his surrogate son, has a disease which makes him unable to feel pain and thus has no empathy for Sutter's victims.  We're never quite sure what's going on in his head--is he good or evil?  With his silent, unaffected manner and cold eyes, he's one creepy kid.

Mena (whose previous film was the 2007 mockumentary BRUTAL MASSACRE: A COMEDY) takes full advantage of his locations and contrasts some beautiful photography of wide open skies and rolling farmland with the foul decay of the slaughterhouse (an actual building that's one of those ideal "found" locations for a film).  The murders are shocking but he doesn't linger too long on them--much of the film's first half is a leisurely-paced introduction to Allison and the Millers which gives us time to get to know and care about them. 

We also see Sutter going through a lot of inner turmoil while raising Martin to be a junior version of himself, continuing the deadly cycle started by his father.  Brett Rickaby (THE CRAZIES) throws himself into the role and emphasizes the character's pathetic, almost sympathetic qualities as much as his sadism.  As a screen serial killer, Sutter is interesting but not scary, certainly not in a traditional slasher-film kind of way. 

In fact, I was beginning to wonder when BEREAVEMENT would start trying to be scary, until I realized that's not what Mena is going for here.  The film is shocking, to be sure--Sutter's meathook murder of a captive waitress is strong stuff--and has its fair share of gore, but it's more of a dark and somber emotional experience than a screamfest. 

Around the halfway mark it becomes unsettlingly apparent what a disturbing turn this story is going to take when the characters we've come to depend on to eventually make everything okay prove unable to do so.  This keeps the viewer off-balance and on edge as Mena ruthlessly toys with our emotions and expectations.  The downbeat and wildly violent finale, in which Sutter goes on a rampage against the Miller family and Martin finally shows his true colors, is a disheartening cavalcade of carnage that we feel helpless to stop.
 


Biehn is his usual awesome self as you might guess, giving us a strong character to lean on when things get bad, and Alexandra Daddario brings a haunting quality to Allison in addition to a couple of other outstanding assets.  The always-interesting John Savage makes a welcome appearance as William's bitter wheelchair-bound dad, Ted, who hates Chicago.  Other supporting players are fine as well, including a diminutive Chase Pechacek as the younger Martin.  Valentina de Angelis makes the most of her screen time as Melissa, the Sutter victim whose demise is the most horrific.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a making-of featurette, a "First Look" short, deleted scenes, director's commentary, theatrical trailer, TV spot, a stills gallery, and the film's screenplay (DVD ROM). 

BEREAVEMENT may not satisfy those looking for the fun, giddy scares of a traditional slasher flick.  But as a disturbing, above-average shocker that confounds expectations and puts our emotions through the wringer, it's well worth checking out.


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