HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" on Blu-ray and DVD February 21

GET CAPTIVATED BY ELIZABETH OLSEN IN THE GRIPPING PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER

Featuring the Award Winning Short Film “Mary Last Seen”
Only On Blu-ray and DVD February 21


Los Angeles, CA (December 20, 2011) – From 2011 Sundance Film Festival “Best Director” winner Sean Durkin, in his feature film debut, and featuring breakout star Elizabeth Olsen in her “Best Female Lead” Film Independent Spirit Award nominated role, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE arrives on Blu-ray and DVD February 21 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

After escaping from a dangerous cult and the watchful eye of its charismatic leader, a young woman named Martha (Olsen) tries to reclaim a normal life with her family. But the haunting memories from Martha’s past trigger a chilling paranoia — and nowhere seems safe as the fragile line between her reality and delusions begin to blur.

Supported by unforgettable powerhouse performances from Academy Award® nominee John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, American Gangster) and Sarah Paulson (Down With Love, What Women Want), the MARTHA MARCY MARY MARLENE Blu-ray and DVD is rich with feature special features, including “Mary Last Seen,” the chilling short film by writer/director Durkin that started it all.

Pre-book date is January 25.

MARTHA MARCY MARY MARLENE Blu-ray Features:
--Mary Last Seen
--Spotlight on Elizabeth Olsen
--The Story
--The Making of Martha Marcy May Marlene
--A Conversation with Filmmakers
--The Psyche of a Cult
--"Marcy's Song" Music Video by John Hawkes
--Theatrical Trailer

MARTHA MARCY MARY MARLENE DVD Features:
--Mary Last Seen

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE BLU-RAY: (Catalog # 2277170)
Street Date: February 21, 2012
Pre-book Date: January 25, 2012
Screen Format: 16:9 (2.40:1)
Audio: 5.1 DTS-HD-MA
Subtitles: English / Spanish
U.S. Rating: R
Total Run Time: 02:36:27
Closed Captioned: Yes

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE DVD: (Catalog # 2277163)
Street Date: February 21, 2012
Pre-book Date: January 25, 2012
Screen Format: 16:9 (2.40:1)
Audio: 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English / Spanish
U.S. Rating: R
Total Run Time: 2:02:03
Closed Captioned: Yes

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Friday, December 30, 2011

On DVD Jan. 3rd from Acorn - U.S. Debut of "Windsors" Doc, Joanna Lumley Soap Series, and Conclusion to "Man in a Suitcase"


Absorbing 2011 documentary traces the recent history of the British monarchy; From the real King George VI (Portrayed in The King’s Speech) Through Prince William’s recent wedding

THE WINDSORS: FROM GEORGE TO KATE

U.S. Debut on DVD from Athena January 3, 2012


Silver Spring, MD —Providing a window into the captivating lives of the British Royal Family, The Windsors: From George to Kate, makes its U.S. debut with the DVD release from Athena on January 3, 2012. The intriguing 2011 documentary gathers archival film footage and photographs from nearly a century of the House of Windsor’s history. Narrated by actor Brian Blessed (I, Claudius), The Windsors presents a unique look at the pomp and pageantry that surround these fascinating figures. The DVD comes with a wealth of bonus materials, including a 16-page viewer’s guide, clips from the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, archival footage about King George VI, the subject of the 2011 Oscar® winner The King’s Speech; biographies, and more ($29.99, www.AcornOnline.com).

While most monarchies have crumbled, the British royal family remains essential to the nation’s identity. Today, the House of Windsor continues to capture the world’s imagination, most recently for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, watched by a global audience of millions.

This documentary gathers archival film footage and stills from nearly a century of official events. Highlights include the Silver Jubilee of King George V (1935); the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth, formerly Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1937); the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip (1947); the coronation of Elizabeth II (1953); the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer (1981); Diana’s funeral (1997); and the announcement of Prince William’s engagement to Catherine Middleton (2010). Full of pomp, pageantry, ritual, tradition, and sheer splendor, these historic films portray the Windsors at their most noble.

BONUS FEATURES: Clips from the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (8 min.); archival footage about King George VI; the subject of the 2011 Oscar® winner The King’s Speech (17 min.); biographies of select Windsors; and a 16-page viewer’s guide with a Windsor family tree; articles about royal titles and last names, coronation regalia, and protocol; and fascinating facts about the Windsors. Additional timeline and royal fun facts at AthenaLearning.com  

Street Date: Jan. 3, 2012                              SRP: $29.99  
DVD Single - Approx. 106 minutes, plus bonus – Documentary - SDH subtitles

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Conclusion to the thrilling 1960s spy series; Features candid and unfiltered, 69-minute interview with star Richard Bradford

MAN IN A SUITCASE, SET 2

Debuts on DVD January 3, 2012

A Rogue Agent for Hire in 1960s Europe

Stylish action-adventure series” —The Independent
Intrigue and suspense…not to be missed” —Library Bookwatch


Silver Spring, MD — Brimming with mystery and suspense, the conclusion to the atmospheric Cold War-era spy series, Man in a Suitcase, Set 2, debuts on DVD from Acorn Media on January 3, 2012. Richard Bradford (The Untouchables, Cagney & Lacey) stars as the savvy and adventurous “Mac” McGill, a cynical yet honest spy who has been disavowed by his American bosses and is on the run from a host of international enemies. Sharply written and featuring a host of superb guest stars, the intriguing drama had national broadcast exposure on ABC in 1968. Set 2 includes the last 15 episodes of this stylish series, plus a bonus 69 min. interview with star Richard Bradford offering a frank and unfiltered look at the series and his career (DVD 4-Disc, www.AcornOnline.com, $59.99).

After 10 years working for U.S. intelligence, “Mac” McGill knows a thing or two about living by his wits and getting the job done. But after his employment is terminated under mysterious circumstances, he has to look for work among those prepared to pay for his services. From his base in London, McGill travels all over Europe and beyond, taking on the jobs no one else can handle, tracking down the people no one else can find.

This action-packed drama features a host of superb guest stars, including Donald Sutherland (Pride & Prejudice), Felicity Kendal (Rosemary & Thyme), Peter Arne (The Return of the Pink Panther), Ray McAnally (My Left Foot), Colin Blakely (The Beiderbecke Affair), Philip Madoc (A Mind to Kill), and Edward Fox (Gandhi).

Bonus Features: Photo gallery and interview with Richard Bradford (69 min.; 2005)

Street: January 3, 2012                                SRP: $59.99
DVD 4-Disc Set: 15 episodes - Approx. 780 min., plus bonus – British drama – SDH subtitles

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Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) stars in the hilarious soap send-up

DR. WILLOUGHBY

Debuts on DVD January 3, 2012

Wonderfully witty” —Manchester Evening News
Sharp, literate…a memorable British sitcom” —Sunday Herald


Silver Spring, MD — A hilarious behind-the-scenes television satire in the vein of The Larry Sanders Show and Soap, Dr. Willoughby, starring fan favorite Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous), debuts on DVD from Acorn Media on January 3, 2012. Lumley stars as Donna Sinclair, an actress desperately clinging to her fading career. On the sleazy daytime soap in which she stars, Sinclair plays the competent and compassionate Dr. Willoughby. Off-screen, Sinclair is a holy terror—conniving, vain, and utterly insincere. The series is from the production team behind the long-running hit Brit-com Birds of a Feather, and it broadcast in 1999 on ITV and was syndicated on public television. The DVD Single includes all six episodes of this sharply written comedy ($29.99, www.AcornOnline.com).

On-screen, she’s Dr. Willoughby, a compassionate surgeon who saves lives with skill and a scalpel. Offscreen, she’s Donna Sinclair, a ruthless actress fighting to control her fading career and the sleazy daytime hospital soap in which she stars.

Joanna Lumley is deliciously bitchy as the aging, vain Sinclair in this hilarious send-up of British television. She’ll stop at nothing to keep her place in the spotlight, from betraying her fellow actors to terrorizing her producer, pilfering toilet paper from the supplies closet, and lying her way out of a charity gig. Dr. Willoughby also stars Brian Protheroe (Holby City, North & South), Isobel Middleton (Cracker), and Paula Bacon (Bad Girls). 

Street Date: Jan. 3, 2012                                         
SRP: $29.99              
DVD Single - Approx. 144 min. – 6 episodes - British comedy - SDH subtitles
Contains coarse language

About Acorn Media
Headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C., Acorn Media U.S. distributes distinctive home video releases to North America with a special focus on the best of British television. 2011 releases include Upstairs, Downstairs: 40th Anniversary Edition and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; U.S. debuts of new series Garrow’s Law, Vera, and Single-Handed; more episodes from New Tricks, Doc Martin, Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Marple, George Gently, Murdoch Mysteries; and the Blu-ray debut of Brideshead Revisited. Athena releases provide an authoritative and entertaining learning experience through high quality, informative, documentary programming. Athena’s 2011 releases include The Making of the President: The 1960s, HBO’s The Battle for Marjah, Art of the Western World, The Genius of Design, Discovering Hamlet, Genius of Britain, Weapons Races, Joseph Campbell: Mythos III, and several acclaimed programs from Bill Moyers and Mike Wallace. Clips are available at www.athenalearning.com.

Acorn’s and Athena’s DVD sets are available from select retailers, catalog companies, and direct from Acorn Media at (888) 870-8047 or www.acornonline.com and www.athenalearning.com. For the complete press releases, please visit: www.acornmedia.com
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

"KILL LIST" Opens February 3, 2012 at IFC Center In NYC -- Available Jan. 4th on VOD

IFC MIDNIGHT PRESENTS "KILL LIST"

WINNER -- 4 AWARDS AT FILM4 FRIGHTFEST
(Best Film / Best Screenplay / Best Kill / Best Actor)

WINNER -- SITGES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Melies d’Argent for Best European Film

NOMINATED -- 6 BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS
(Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor,
Best Screenplay, Best Achievement in Production)

WINNER -- BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS
(Best Supporting Actor – Michael Smiley)

Official Selection -- SXSW Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and AFIFest


Eight months after a botched job in Kiev, Jay (Neil Maskell) is an out-of-work hitman with no job, money, health insurance and a wife constantly on his case. But when his business partner Gal (Michael Smiley) comes over for dinner and pressures Jay into taking a new assignment, Jay quickly finds himself back in the game with the promise of a big payoff after three assassinations. Although the hits start off without incident, soon things begin to unravel and Jay's paranoia reveals itself as he is plunged into the heart of darkness.

The second feature from British director Ben Wheatley (DOWN TERRACE) KILL LIST (which premiere at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival) features incredibly natural rich performances, jet black humor and nail-biting suspense that work to keep the audience always off-guard. Moving from kitchen-sink drama to character study to crime thriller, KILL LIST ends up at something more fundamentally profound and wonderfully disturbing.
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"THE SON OF NO ONE" with Channing Tatum, Katie Holmes and Al Pacino -- coming to Blu-ray and DVD February 21st from Anchor Bay Films

ANCHOR BAY FILMS AND MILLENNIUM FILMS PROUDLY PRESENTS A NU IMAGE PRODUCTION "THE SON OF NO ONE"

Written and Directed by Dito Montiel

STARRING CHANNING TATUM, TRACEY MORGAN, KATIE HOLMES, RAY LIOTTA, JULIETTE BINOCHE, AL PACINO and JAKE CHERRY

Exhilarating and Powerful” -–Avi Offer, NYCMovie Guru

Available on Blu-ray™ and DVD February 21, 2012


BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Anchor Bay Films is proud to announce the release of The Son of No One on Blu-ray™ and DVD, February 21, 2012.  A 2-disc Blu-ray™+DVD combo pack will also be available.  Hailed  as   “A riveting piece of filmmaking [featuring] one of the best casts of the year” by Joel Amos, MovieFanatic.com, The Son of No One is a gripping thriller about how far one police officer will go to keep his dark past hidden and protect his family.  The release also contains deleted scenes and audio commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Dito Montiel and Editor/Executive Producer Jake Pushinsky.

Jonathan (Channing Tatum 21 Jump Street, The Vow) is a second-generation cop who gets in over his head when he’s assigned to re-open a double homicide cold case in his Queens neighborhood. An anonymous source feeding new information on the long-unsolved murders to a local reporter (Juliette Binoche Cosmopolis, Dan In Real Life, ) leads to evidence suggesting a possible cover-up by the former lead detective (Al Pacino The Godfather, Scarface) who was on the investigation. As Jonathan digs deeper into the assignment, a dark secret about the case emerges, which threatens to destroy his life and his family.

Channing Tatum delivers a gritty and memorable performance, while New York mainstay writer and director Dito Montiel (Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) is at the top of his game. Also starring Tracy Morgan (NBC’s “30 Rock”), Katie Holmes (Batman Begins), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) and Jake Cherry (Night at the Museum), The Son of No One is a tense and powerful thriller filled with suspense, secrets and lies.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

REDLINE -- DVD review by porfle


Sizzling with supercharged action, the simple plot of director Takeshi Koike's sci-fi anime REDLINE (2009) serves as a backdrop for some of the most mindblowing, audacious cartoon animation to ever blaze its way across the screen. 

The pre-titles sequence features a qualifying "Yellowline" race in the desert that already makes the podrace from THE PHANTOM MENACE look like a frog-jumping competition.  We meet J.P., who resembles a brawny Ricky Nelson with a skyscraper pompadour and, thanks to his crooked partner Frisbee, has a reputation for fixing races.  Sure enough, Frisbee's in deep with the mob on this one and sabotages J.P.'s car near the finish line, landing him in the hospital.

When some of the qualifiers for the Redline drop out, J.P.'s back in the game along with his heartthrob Sonoshee, a lovely lass with more interest in machines than men.  But the location for the race turns out to be Roboworld, a militaristic society whose leaders are so opposed to the competition taking place on their world (and possibly having some of their military secrets broadcast galaxy-wide) that they declare all-out war against the racers.  In order to win this one, J.P. will have to battle it out against ruthless drivers (including Sonoshee), the entire military force of Roboworld, and perhaps even his own sidekick Frisbee.
 


Fans of non-CGI animation should have a ball reveling in this 100% hand-drawn visual feast, whose creators invested seven years and 100,000 drawings in its making.  Each frame of this dazzling tribute to old-school cartoon wizardry is as insanely detailed as panels from the more extravagant underground comix of the 60s and 70s, and unlike digital cartoons you can see the artists' and animators' hands in every painstaking detail. 

The dynamic, hard-edged drawing style, a eye-pleasing mix of both the futuristic and retro, yields a wealth of beautifully-rendered character designs and backgrounds that are then brought to vivid life.  Surreal touches, such as J.P.'s gravity-defying hairdo and an endless parade of grotesque aliens, rub shoulders with the hard-edged yet wildly-imaginative hardware of cars, spaceships, and other machinery. 

The over-the-top character design (by co-writer Katsuhito Ishii, who also worked on the anime sequence from KILL BILL, VOL. 1 and helped create REDLINE's outstanding soundtrack) goes well with the film's larger-than-life cast of oddballs.  These include J.P.'s multi-armed canine mechanic Pops, the towering cyborg Machine Head, and the various other racers whose bizarre appearance and unique personalities keep things interesting.  Even the crowd scenes are filled with a vast array of colorful "extras."
 


While the plot busies itself with various concerns such as J.P.'s wooing of the reluctant Sonoshee and Frisbee's conflict of loyalties between him and the mob, REDLINE roars to life during its many spectacular action sequences.  The imposing Colonel Votron and his Roboworld army launch a full-scale attack on the racers that begins when they leave the mothership and attempt to land their shuttle vehicles on the planet.  The race itself is a non-stop series of thrilling setpieces which lead to the activation of the Roboworld president's ace in the hole, an out-of-control behemoth known as "Funky Boy" who proceeds to destroy everything in sight.  

The DVD from Anchor Bay's "Manga" label is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks in both Japanese and English, with English subtitles.  Extras consist of a 24-minute making-of featurette and the film's trailer. 

Thrilling, funny, and endlessly watchable, REDLINE is chock-full of some of the most visually-stunning racing action and futuristic warfare ever created for an animated film.  Best of all, it's a return to the glory days of hand-drawn animation which, in the words of its creators, offers something new by doing things the old way again. 


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Monday, December 26, 2011

"GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL SEASON 2 PART 1" on DVD March 13th from Image Entertainment

COMING TO DVD FROM IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT: “GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL SEASON 2: PART 1”

Syfy hit series is back for its second season!


On March 13, Image Entertainment invites you on a second exploration of the series that debuted as the number one reality series telecast in Syfy channel history with “Ghost Hunters International Season 2:  Part 1,” a collection of 13 episodes bringing the world’s most frightening supernatural locations to your home entertainment system.  This three-disc DVD set will be available for an SRP of $24.98. Pre-book is February 14.

Fans can’t get enough of “Ghost Hunters” - celebrating eight seasons as the #1 paranormal franchise on cable television. In the second season of this hit spin-off of Syfy’s popular series, witness the fearless investigators exploring an ancient castle in Czech Republic, an 18th Century prison in Ireland, the Palazzo Ducale in Italy and even a castle said to be constructed over a portal to Hell.  With these and many other unique locations, who knows the kinds of twisted discoveries awaiting these paranormal enthusiasts!

The bone-chilling investigations taken in “Ghost Hunters International Season 2: Part 1” will arouse curiosity in even the most skeptical of viewers:

Wicklow’s Gaol
Skeleton in the Closet
Gate to Hell
Witches Castle
Spirits of Italy
Holy Ghosts
Hitler’s Ghost
Silver Shadow
Quarantine Station
Port Arthur Penitentiary
Tasmania Death Sentence
San Lucas Prison
The Legend of Rose Hall   


So prepare yourself for another round of supernatural experiences spanning the globe as “Ghost Hunters International Season 2:  Part 1” reminds you the important details are found in what you can sense, not what you can see. 

“Ghost Hunters International Season 2:  Part 1”
Genre:              Mystery/Suspense, Special Interest, Television, Ghosts, Haunted Houses, Myths/Legends
Rating:              Not Rated
Languages:       English 
Format:             1.78:1 (16x9 enhanced)
Audio:              Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles:          N/A
Year:                2011
SRP:                $24.98
Street Date:      March 13, 2012
Length:             572 minutes (approx.)
UPC:                014381793222
Cat#:                ID7932PGDVD

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT -- DVD review by porfle


In order for me to enjoy it to any degree, I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (2011) already had three major strikes against it.  One, it's a chick flick.  Two, it has Sarah Jessica Parker in it.  And three, it's a chick flick with Sarah Jessica Parker in it.  The fact that I didn't totally hate it, and even sorta liked most of it, means that it must be doing something right.

Of course, being about a harried working mom it has to portray harried working moms as the most harried and overworked people in the universe.  Kate (played by you-know-who) has two kids and a between-jobs husband (Greg Kinnear as "Richard") who, naturally, has everything easier than she does.  (Why, he doesn't even keep a mental "to-do" list!) 

We first see her after a hard day's work, buying a pie for her daughter's kindergarten bake sale because the deli was out of baking supplies.  "Out of baking supplies"?  You get the feeling that Allison Pearson, who wrote the novel upon which this is based, hasn't done a whole lot of baking.  And in the entire city of Boston, there isn't a single all-night WalMart?



Kate's housewife acquaintances, whom she refers to as "mini Martha Stewarts" and "The Momsters", are barely a step away from cows on the evolutionary scale, whiling away their time at the fitness spa with no burdens or responsibilities while Kate toils like a rower on a Roman galleon (albeit one with a 9-to-5 nanny).  Needless to say, this paeon to working mothers is massively front-loaded in their favor. 

Fortunately, Kate's best friend Allison (Christina Hendricks) is there to verbalize all of this stuff about how they have it tougher than the blatantly-caricatured Momsters (and, of course, men in general) so that certain viewers can nod and tsk-tsk "That is sooo true" while Kate herself doesn't come off as a whiny, self-pitying bore.  Allison is beautiful, smart, funny, and sassily sarcastic, qualities that non-working moms apparently have liposuctioned out of them soon after high school.

Kate works at a "high-powered law firm" where she has to try twice as hard as her conniving rival, Bunce (Seth Meyers), because, you guessed it, he's a guy, and when she gets a shot at a big business deal involving a high-level executive named Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan) it causes her to miss out on even more family-type stuff.  Her kids resent her for this and we keep expecting Richard to go totally guilt-trip on her, although to the film's credit this aspect of the story is handled rather well. 

Sarah Jessica Parker deftly applies her acting and comedy skills to their best advantage to create a fairly likable and sympathetic character.  Her scenes with the always impeccable Brosnan are done just right (even during the inevitable awkward proposition) and she and Kinnear, also a fine actor, make an appealing couple.



Kelsey Grammer and Jane Curtain come off nicely in smaller roles.  Olivia Munn's subplot concerning Kate's overachieving coworker Momo is an interesting diversion which, surprisingly, fails to endorse abortion as the ideal answer to a working woman's unexpected pregnancy. 

Director Douglas McGrath keeps the pace popping like microwave popcorn and the script is dotted with funny gags.  (I like that this movie isn't afraid to have its heroine suddenly come down with a severe case of head lice.)  I was also pleased that the dreaded infidelity plotline--indeed, any of the usual maudlin, tacked-on plot twists that often crop up in stories of this nature to laden them with added dramatic weight--failed to materialize even though all signs seemed to point in that direction.

Instead, we get a very nice scene in a bowling alley and some believable complications in Kate and Richard's relationship that aren't straight out of a bad drama class exercise.  While the story's resolution isn't exactly straight out of reality, the whole thing's more of a fairytale than a docudrama anyway--it could almost be a vehicle for Hilary Duff. 

The DVD from the Weinsteins and Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is a brief conversation with author Allison Pearson.

While going a bit overboard in elevating the working mom above all the other cows in the lowing herd, I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT manages to keep a breezy tone most of the time and barely wades in up to its knees in the melodrama pool.  Once I got over the initial horror of watching a chick flick with Sarah Jessica Parker in it, I found myself grudgingly admitting that this is one movie of its kind with a few of its baking supplies in the right place.


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Saturday, December 24, 2011

MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: THE SINATRA LEGACY -- DVD review by porfle


Every once in a while we get something like this to review, and while my initial reaction is decidedly less than enthusiastic, it usually ends up appealing to that small part of me which actually enjoys this kind of stuff.  First it was Barry Manilow, then Stephen Sondheim, and now comes Image Entertainment's MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: THE SINATRA LEGACY (2011), a concert film that fans of Frank Sinatra and/or Michael Feinstein should like at least as much as I did.

Five-time Grammy winner Feinstein, referred to by many as "the keeper of the classics" and an authority on what's known as The Great American Songbook, takes the stage of the beautiful and spacious Palladium in Carmel, Indiana for this tribute to Sinatra and his musical legacy.  Backed by musical director Bill Elliott and an orchestra which is, as you might assume, impeccable, he pays homage not only to the man himself but also to the many influences that shaped his style and those that he himself influenced.



The show opens with the rousing "Once in a Lifetime", which introduces novices such as myself to the energetic singer and his easy way of connecting with the audience.  Feinstein doesn't have the powerhouse pipes of Sinatra, Tony Bennett, or Dean Martin, but he loves to belt out a pop standard or showtune with emotion and a style that alternates between hammy and intimate.  His performance never gives way to empty bombast, thank goodness, although a song's finale will sometimes find him standing on the piano working one of those sustained breath-busting end notes.

This lively opening segues into the cool jazz of the Sinatra standard "I Thought About You", followed by "Fly Me to the Moon", which Feinstein performs as a slow ballad the way it was originally intended.  The arrangement is very sparse--guitar and plucked bass only--and it's interesting to hear the song done in this way.

After doing a dead-on impression of Paul Lynde that should please his fans (myself included), he delivers a simmering version of "Put On a Happy Face/A Lot of Livin' to Do" from "Bye Bye Birdie" which starts with him showing off his considerable skills on the piano.  The Lynde imitation is our first sample of Feinstein's knack for both mimicry and getting laughs out of his listeners. 

After explaining why Cole Porter, a Gentile, wrote the most Jewish-sounding pop songs of his era we get a demonstration by way of a virtuoso piano intro to Porter's "So In Love."   A later instrumental number, Ary Barroso's "Brazil", will be an even bigger workout for Feinstein's nimble fingers.



Taking time out to recount a funny anecdote about the first time he actually met Sinatra as a young up-and-comer, he performs a lesser-known Sinatra tune, "There'll Be Some Changes Made", which was first recorded by Billie Holliday and Ethel Waters.  Feinstein uses this as an example of how musical influences are passed down from one singer to another over the years.  Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine", a hit for Sinatra in the 40s which he then dropped from his repertoire, is given a fantasy arrangement in the style of Sinatra's collaborations with Nelson Riddle in the 50s.  

"For Once In My Life", a later hit for the legendary singer, is included to show his desire to keep adding new songs to his arsenal rather than resting on his laurels.  Feinstein then performs "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret" as a nod to his friend Liza Minelli, and finally finishes with the usual bells and whistles of "New York, New York" while standing on the piano and belting out another one of those final notes that almost make you run out of breath yourself just listening to it.  The show ends with Feinstein making a quick exit and leaving them wantin' more.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 sound.  There are no subtitles or extras.

If The Great American Songbook doesn't do anything for you, then you probably should regard MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: THE SINATRA LEGACY the same way a little kid does when presented with a hot, heaping plateful of spinach.  I happen to like spinach, though, and this batch goes down pretty easy.


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Friday, December 23, 2011

SINNERS AND SAINTS -- DVD review by porfle


Yet another cop flick set in post-Katrina New Orleans, 2010's SINNERS AND SAINTS thankfully dispenses with the blah-blah politics this time and simply takes advantage of the stricken city's inherent appeal as a gritty and noirish backdrop for war in the streets. 

Much of the film is the usual run-of-the-mill renegade cop vs. vile villains stuff which, in itself, is far from interesting or imaginative enough to hold our interest.  What really makes this one worth watching is the fact that when the cop(s) and the bad guys clash the result is bullet-riddled, bone-crushing 80s-style action.

Johnny Strong (BLACK HAWK DOWN, GET CARTER) stars as Detective Sean Riley, one of those fearless, hardbitten cops with nothing to lose whose file gets a lot of wear and tear down at Internal Affairs.  A series of horrific murders in which victims are set alight, extinguished, and then ignited again repeatedly prompts inexperienced homicide detective Will Ganz (Kevin Phillips) to seek Riley's help, and these unlikely partners get involved in a (mostly negligible) web of intrigue woven by a group of ex-military assassins led by stone-cold killer Crowe (Costas Mandylor, DINOCROC, the SAW series).



Once we learn a bit about Riley's tragic history, Ganz' idyllic home-and-family life, and something about why the bad guys are going around offing people, that's about all we need to know.  After that, we can just sit back and wait for the four or five kickass action setpieces that come along every now and then to raise the film to a higher level.  The opening sequence gets things off to a rousing start as Riley and his associates track down some perps to their hideout and get caught up in a blazing shootout that ends with Riley executing their leader (he deserved it), which then gets him in hot water with his stern-but-sympathetic precinct captain (PLATOON's Tom Berenger in a minor role). 

Before long the bullets start flying again when Riley and Ganz interrupt an immolation and get into another gunfight, this time with the villains being led by Louis Mandylor (BARE KNUCKLES, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING) doing a bang-up job as Crowe's psychotic second-in-command, Cole.  Ordinance aplenty is expended by pistols and machine guns as innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire and a gum-chewing Riley coolly pops caps. 

Later, mayhem ensues again in a mostly abandoned neighborhood as more automatic weapons fire chews up a number of ravaged houses along with various unfortunate people on both sides, ending in a good old-fashioned explosion.  The final action scenes are highlighted by a delightful exchange in which Riley is in the clutches of a whole group of big ugly mofos and manages to take them all out Bruce Willis style before going after the Big Cheese himself.



As Riley, Johnny Strong reminds me somewhat of William Petersen's "Chance" in TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.--another cocky, renegade cop with a casual disregard for the rules--only not quite as good.  Kevin Phillips, for whom SINNERS AND SAINTS is a definite step up from the horrible ROCK THE PAINT and the boring PRIDE, does an okay job as the more sedate, by-the-book Ganz, while Costas Mandylor excells as Crowe by not overplaying the part. 

Making brief cameo appearances are Jürgen Prochnow as the Russian crime lord behind it all and the great Kim Coates (who will always be "Chet" from THE LAST BOY SCOUT to me) as a cop who zigs when he should've zagged.  "Star Trek: Enterprise" co-star Jolene Blalock turns up in one scene about halfway through, and Method Man is effectively scary as a vengeful drug dealer named Weddo whose little brother falls victim to the heinous baddies.

Like the script by co-writer Jay Moses, director William Kaufman is merely okay during the talky parts but first-rate when the action heats up.  A lot of the effectiveness of the performances and dialogue scenes is drained away by an overbearing musical score (composed and performed by Strong) that's slathered all over everything like too much mustard on a ham sandwich.  Production values are modest but efficient. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a very brief (about four minutes) "making-of" short and some deleted scenes.

Storywise, SINNERS AND SAINTS is just the same-old same-old that we've seen in countless other mid-level cop flicks.  But once the shooting starts, it's funtime for action fans.


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Thursday, December 22, 2011

THE SIMPSONS: THE FOURTEENTH SEASON -- DVD review by porfle


Whenever I hear that heavenly chorus singing the title as the camera's eye descends upon the town of Springfield--followed by one of the greatest TV sitcom themes of all time (thanks to Danny Elfman)--I know I'm in for a half-hour of almost supernaturally blissful cartoon comedy.  With 20-Century Fox's 4-disc DVD set THE SIMPSONS: THE FOURTEENTH SEASON, I get to experience this heady sensation 22 times! 

That may sound a little over-the-top, but aye carumba!, I love this show.  Breezy, colorful, and as addictive as only the most delectable mind candy can be, the irreverent and sharply satirical (yet often heartfelt) adventures of Homer and Marge Simpson and their kids Bart, Lisa, and Maggie easily earn a spot in the top ten greatest situation comedy series of all time.  Maybe even the top five.  Top three?  Arguably.

Some fans insist that the long-running show has long been running on fumes, but by season fourteen it was still going strong, netting an impressive array of guest stars, winning Emmys, and serving up some of its most memorable episodes with all the familiar panache.  As usual, each one reels us in with some intriguing situation which seems to be the main plotline until it unexpectedly veers into something entirely different.
 


A family jigsaw-puzzle obsession leads to Homer and Marge's sudden breakup; a disastrous trip to the Springfield Botanical Gardens morphs into a heartwarming love story between baby Maggie and eternal loser Moe the bartender ("Moe Baby Blues").  When movie star Ranier Wolfcastle holds an estate sale to pay off his debts, this gag-filled opening gives no indication of the trauma that will ensue when Marge is mugged on the way home and becomes a trembling agoraphobe hiding out in the family basement ("The Strong Arms of the Ma").

The season comes charging out of the gate with an outstanding Halloween episode, "Treehouse of Horror XIII", featuring three scarifying stories: "Send in the Clones", in which Homer acquires a magic hammock that generates even dumber duplicates of himself; "The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms", which tells what happens when the Old West's baddest outlaws rise from the grave to menace Springfield just after Lisa has succeeded in wiping out all handguns; and "The Island of Dr. Hibbert", a twist on the old H.G. Wells tale which has the Simpsons and other characters being transformed into manimals. 

This is followed by one of the series' most celebrated episodes, "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation."  After an inebriated Homer is caught dissing his family life on the reality show "Taxicab Conversations", Marge and the kids decide he needs a break and ship him off to a Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp presided over by none other than guest voice talent Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, Lenny Kravitz, and Brian Setzer.

"Barting Over" marks the milestone 300th episode (or does it?) with Bart suing to become an emancipated minor and becoming pals with skateboard ace Tony Hawk after moving into his own loft apartment. In "Pray Anything", Homer's ongoing turbulent relationship with God is further explored when he's awarded ownership of the church in an accident suit and turns it into party central. 

"Three Gays of the Condo" finds him exploring the world of homosexuality, not to mention his first guy-guy kiss, when yet another tiff with Marge results in him rooming with two gays including guest voice Scott Thompson ("The Kids in the Hall").  Marge's unconscious resentment of Homer surfaces with a string of attempts on his life in "Brake My Wife, Please", featuring the voices of Steve Buscemi, Jackson Brown, and Jane Kaczmarek. 



Other episodes in this collection include "Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade", "Large Marge" (a hospital mix-up results in Marge being given huge fake boobs), "Helter Shelter", "The Great Louse Detective", "Special Edna" (regular Marcia Wallace voices Bart's lovelorn teacher Miss Krabappel), "The Dad Who Knew Too Little", "I'm Spelling As Fast As I Can", "A Star is Born Again" (widower Ned Flanders has an affair with Marisa Tomei's sexy movie star character Sara Sloane), "Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington" (Krusty the Clown runs for Congress), "C.E. D'oh", "'Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky", "Dude, Where's My Ranch?", "Old Yeller-Belly", and "The Bart of War."

Some of the guest voices not already mentioned: Kelsey Grammer (returning as Bart's eternal nemesis Sideshow Bob), Tony Bennett, Jan Hooks, Adam West and Burt Ward, Baha Men, Larry Holmes, David "Squiggy" Lander, Little Richard, Elliot Gould, Pamela Reed, Ken Burns, Lisa Leslie, blink-182, George Plimpton, Jim Brooks, Helen Fielding, Joe Mantegna (as mobster Fat Tony), "Monty Python" star Eric Idle, "Weird Al" Yankovic, David Byrne, Andy Serkis, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Stacy Keach.

In addition to some beautifully designed menus featuring the entire cast being hosted for "dinner" by ravenous aliens Kang and Kodos, the set is overflowing with a wealth of fun special features.  These include an introduction by creator Matt Groening (bo-ring!), audio commentaries on all episodes, deleted scenes, lots of featurettes, sketch galleries, and several Easter eggs that can be accessed by pressing the "up" button on individual episode menus.  The packaging itself is an eye-pleasing double-sided pictorial foldout containing a sizable information booklet.  The only snag is having to fish the discs out of those snug built-in pockets.

Watching THE SIMPSONS: THE FOURTEENTH SEASON is similar to taking a trip through a theme park brimming with childlike delights, like Six Flags or Knott's Berry Farm (but not Dollywood, because Ned Flanders wouldn't approve) without the inconvenience of finding a parking space or having to walk.  If you're a Simpsons fan, the rewatchability factor is pretty much endless. 


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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

ICE QUAKE -- DVD review by porfle


ICE QUAKE (2010) is one of those made-for-SyFy movies that you can take or leave without it having any noticeable effect on your life either way.  If you take it, the extended forecast is "bland" with scattered moments of mild excitement. 

When a massive ice shelf collapses in the Russian arctic, one consequence is that people in a small town in Alaska start falling into gaping fissures, freezing to death from the escaping gases, or getting nailed by erupting ice geysers.  Most of this is occurring on a particular mountain, which--naturally--is where geologist Michael Webster (Brendan Fehr) takes his whiny family to look for a Christmas tree.  It isn't long before they're all menaced by the aforementioned natural hazards plus an avalanche or two.

Back at the base of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Col. Bill Hughes (Victor Garber) and his geek squad follow the impending disaster in the "Oh, My God" room, the place where people in SyFy Channel movies look at computer screens and say "Oh, my God" a lot.  They discover that a massive amount (gigatons, even) of methane gas is flowing underground and creating havoc wherever it goes.  As is typical of this type of low-budget disaster flick, the event has the potential of ending all life on earth, which gives the characters something exciting to talk about.



ICE QUAKE is the kind of effort that chugs along as well as it can within its limited resources without ever managing to be more than mildly watchable.  A big drawback is the Un-Steadicam camerawork that's distractingly wobbly (not counting the earth-tremor scenes that are supposed to look that way) and tends toward unintentional Dutch angles.  Performances aren't all that strong, either--Fehr is so bland as Michael that one wonders who the heck he beat out for the role, while Holly Dignard as his wife Emily expresses extreme emotion by putting on a "yucky" face. 

As a scientist trying to alert the military to the impending methane menace, Rob LaBelle (WATCHMEN, DARK STORM) isn't bad in his brief screen time.  Jodelle Ferland and Ryan Grantham are also pretty good as kids Tia and Shane Webster--Ferland, who was in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE and has been on "Stargate" a couple of times, even gets second billing.  The big puzzle is what Victor Garber (TITANIC) is doing in this, especially since he's pretty miscast as a military officer.  He spends much of his time in the "Oh, My God" room with a coffee cup grafted to his hand, and whenever he has a dramatic line he neutralizes it by taking a long swig of java.

The frequent use of CGI is pretty well done because, I suppose, it's hard to mess up snow and ice effects compared to rendering dinocrocs and sharktopi.  There's also an impressive shot of a helicopter in distress while trying to reel in an injured man on a stretcher, although the actual crash looks typically fake.  Some other vehicle-related CGI is similarly unconvincing, while the massive explosions seen in the finale are about as good as can be expected. 



The rest of the action consists mainly of people either running around in the snow dodging fissures or gaping at their computer monitors.  The film does manage to generate a moderate amount of suspense at the end as a series of detonations intended to stop the methane flow threaten to blow up some of our beloved main characters. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English and Spanish subtitles.  Bonus features consist of "The Making of 'Ice Quake'" and a trailer.

I didn't actively dislike ICE QUAKE, and it serves its purpose as a time-waster, but apart from that there really isn't much to say for it.  It's the kind of movie that you watch because the remote control is out of reach and you don't feel like getting up.


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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

CITY UNDER SIEGE -- DVD review by porfle


Some movies are like a feast for entertainment-starved viewers.  The Hong Kong action/sci-fi flick CITY UNDER SIEGE (2010), on the other hand, is like a big bag of potato chips.  But they're some pretty tasty potato chips.

Aaron Kwok (THE STORM RIDERS) stars as Sunny, a bumbling clown in a traveling circus that's passing through Malaysia.  Sunny dreams of following in his late father's footsteps and headlining in the "Flying Dagger" act, but the position is already filled by the vain, cruel Cheung Tai Chu (Collin Chou). 

When Cheung and his circus cohorts stumble across an underground laboratory left by the Japanese in WWII, their search for gold nets them all a lungful of experimental gas intended to create super warriors.  Sunny escapes before they can silence him, but everyone involved begins to mutate in alarming ways during the boat ride back to Hong Kong.  While Sunny undergoes an ultimately more benign change, the others transform into grotesque juggernauts intent on grand theft and citywide destruction.



Comedy and pathos jostle for our attention throughout CITY UNDER SIEGE with Kwok initially playing Sunny for laughs.  An early manifestation of the virulent gas results in him temporarily ballooning in size as Kwok dons a pretty convincing fat suit.  While waddling down the road, Sunny encounters TV newslady Angel (Qi Shu, THE TRANSPORTER) and fixes her flat tire.  Angel later loses her job at the station and becomes Sunny's manager, exploiting him when his burgeoning superpowers turn him into a local hero. 

Things finally kick into high gear when the bad mutants go after Sunny, convinced that an antidote for their painfully extreme ugmo-ism can be found in his blood.  The first fight scene is lots of frenetic fun, reminding me somewhat of the mutant clashes in the "X-Men" movies (to which you'll probably catch a couple of obvious references). 

Jacky Wu (KILLZONE) and Jingchu Zhang are very good as Suen and Tai, two soon-to-be-married cops who specialize in catching supernatural criminals.  The combination of their martial arts skills (Wu is in typically good form here) with plenty of hokey-looking wirework results in some pretty thrilling combat action.  The choreography is good, the CGI isn't overdone, and the direction by Benny Chan (ROBIN-B-HOOD, NEW POLICE STORY) is crisp and stylish, with little or no shaky-cam or distracting editing. 

A slow middle section tracks Sunny's comical rise to fame as a hero and explores the usual mushy relationship stuff.  This is followed by a dazzling battle sequence in a TV studio that pulls out all the stops, filled with fireworks, explosions, lots of hand-to-hand combat and imaginative destruction, and further horrifying mutations as the bad guys continue to evolve (the CGI-enhanced makeup effects are fine) and get even more evil. 



The film takes a sharp turn into tragedy at this point, going for our tear ducts with a maudlin death scene and a sappy song montage that grinds things to a halt.  Finally the action gets back on track when a lovestruck Cheung, now in full body-suit monster mode, kidnaps Angel as Sunny follows in hot pursuit.  Their final clash takes place on a busy four-lane highway with vehicular mayhem galore--the super-powered chaos may remind you of SUPERMAN II at times--and is loaded with some amazing stunts.  (Even the fake wirework is impressive.)  It all comes down to those flying daggers in the end, and another tearful scene of the sort that Hollywood is always getting derided for these days. 

The DVD from Funimation is in 16:9 widescreen with Cantonese and English 5.1 surround sound.  Subtitles are in English.  Bonus features consist of a making-of featurette and trailers for this and other Funimation releases.  The film comes as a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack--this review is for the DVD only. 

While probably in no danger of becoming a classic any time soon, CITY UNDER SIEGE comes through with enough mindless mayhem and agitatin' action to feed the part of our brains that craves hokey cinematic junk food.  It's all that and a bag of greasy chips.


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Monday, December 19, 2011

H.P. LOVECRAFT'S PICKMAN'S MODEL -- DVD review by porfle


There have been several adapatations of this H.P. Lovecraft short story over the years, including a segment of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" and a collection from Lurker Films (reviewed here) which includes three different ones on one DVD.  Fierro Films' H.P. LOVECRAFT'S PICKMAN'S MODEL (2008) offers yet another unique interpretation which remains faithful to the original story while condensing or omitting much of the colorful detail.

As usual, the story begins with a severely shaken Thurber telling his friend Eliot of his recent experiences with Richard Upton Pickman, a strange man whose sick, grotesque paintings have gotten him expelled from a high-brow art club ("Ghoul Feeding" being the last straw) while fascinating Thurber with their dreadful realism.  After being invited to Pickman's secret studio in Boston's North End, Thurber sees artworks that go beyond any imaginable horror, and then discovers Pickman's true inspiration for these ghastly visions after visiting the sinister artist's dark cellar.



This twenty-minute short is shot on video, using some particularly well-chosen locations, and the direction and cinematography by Gary Fierro are good considering the miniscule budget.  There are some exceptional moments, including a cool closeup of Pickman's wicked grin as tendrils of cigarette smoke swirl through his nicotine-stained teeth, and another shot of his face slowly emerging from the darkness to leer over Thurber's shoulder.  The camerawork and lighting during the scenes in Pickman's cellar, pitch dark save for the flickering flame of a lantern, are very atmospheric. 

Jesse Murphy as Thurber and Derek Meinecke as Eliot do a capable job with their exposition-heavy dialogue.  But Conor Timmis (KREATING KARLOFF) is the main attraction here, clearly relishing the chance to portray the cackling, repellent Pickman with an old-school acting style similar to that seen in the early Universals.  He's very good here, and I'd like to have seen him get the chance to develop the character over a longer period of time.

A little more time might also have helped in laying the groundwork for the story and building up to its surprise conclusion; as it is, I'm not sure how effective the ending will be for someone unfamiliar with Lovecraft's story.  In it, Pickman is a talkative loon, and the things he tells Thurber give the tale much of its flavor, along with Thurber's horrified descriptions of the subject matter of Pickman's work (nicely represented here by some suitably grisly paintings by Fierro himself).

Justin Tacchi's script, co-written with Fierro, skims over many of the juicy details that might have given richer meaning to Pickman's strange past, the mystery of his cellar, and the reason why Thurber will no longer ride the subway.  And just as this film was starting to grab me with its spooky atmosphere and its effective portrayal of Pickman, it was over. 

A twenty-minute "making of" documentary featuring the cast and crew is informative, though rather static.  More entertaining is "Creating a Villain", a look at the process by which makeup FX artist Norman Bryn (CLOVERFIELD) turned Timmis into the vile Pickman, and a commentary track featuring Timmis, Fierro, and Tacchi.  Also included are a brief behind-the-scenes slideshow, a trailer, and, last but not least, the entire text of Lovecraft's original short story.

H.P. LOVECRAFT'S PICKMAN'S MODEL is neither the best nor the worst adaptation of the story that I've seen.  But for a production whose budget totaled little more than a few hundred dollars--and despite a rushed ending--it's a respectable effort, and worth a look if you're a Lovecraft fan.


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Sunday, December 18, 2011

THE ABC OF LOVE AND SEX AUSTRALIA STYLE -- DVD review by porfle


Ozploitation director John D. Lamond returns to titillate us once again with 1978's THE ABC OF LOVE AND SEX AUSTRALIA STYLE, a by-the-letters primer on "doin' it" that manages the remarkable feat of making sex boring.

Unlike the previous Lamond documentary we talked about, AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK, this one eschews the scattershot approach and focuses on a single subject.  Assuming we know little or nothing about it ourselves, the film opens during Professor Leonard Lovitt's sex education class for kids and invites us to join them in listening to his lecture.  This sequence is done with stop-motion animated puppets and is pretty much the only marginally charming part of the whole thing. 

As the professor starts his projector, the film proper begins with two women in leotards dancing badly around some giant alphabet blocks to an innocuous disco tune.  This gives way to a letter-by-letter journey through the alphabet beginning with "A" for "anatomy", in which we're introduced to the differences between male and female genitalia.  (More on that when we get to the letter "G.")  "B" is for "birth", offering some extreme close-ups of a nursing baby that had me thinking, "Huh?"



"C" for "contraceptive" seems to be an excuse for some product placement along the lines of the "Budget Rent-a-Car" shots in AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK, and "D" for "dreams" informs us that people like to dream about sex.  Surprisingly, "E" for "erotic", while managing to define the word, comes up short actually demonstrating it.  An attempt to mimic the "erotic" eating scene in TOM JONES consists of two stiffs staring meaningfully at each other while gnashing chicken, grapes, and bananas in an affected manner.  

Elsewhere, another couple pretend to have oral sex in a movie theater--mainly we just see the guy's face--and then join the "mile-high club" by kissing real hard in an airplane.  Kissing real hard seems to be the prevalent means of simulating the sex act in many of these vignettes. 

"F" for "fun" shows us a couple of people hopping around in a bubble bath.  "H" for "homosexual" is an excuse to indulge in "funny" stereotypes as a bunch of queens camp it up during a gay party, followed by a somewhat more enjoyable lesbian encounter.  "Innocence" is equated with "ignorance" as virginity gets the bird.  The scenario used to illustrate "J" for "jealousy", in which a woman tries to pick up a man in a bar, is intended as a startling role-reversal while having nothing at all to do with "jealousy."  As you might guess, "K" for "kiss" shows various couples kissing real hard.

Onward we slog through the rest of the letters as "love", "masturbation", something starting with an "N" that I can't recall, and of course the big "O" are similarly dramatised in lighthearted but relentlessly dull fashion as narrators Michael Cole and Sandy Gore drone monotonously.  This isn't just a parody of a dry, clinical sex manual--it often comes off as one, even throwing in the occasional comment by some Swedish sexologist who resembles Quasimodo's mom.  For anyone actually trying to get off to this movie, her appearances would be the equivalent of thinking about baseball. 



It's hard to imagine this tepid pseudo-educational film appealing to the raincoat crowd, though, or even the "watch naughty movies on cable after Mom and Dad have gone to bed" faction.  Observing various (mainly unattractive) couples acting out the enervating voiceover isn't the kind of thing one might want to use as a sex aid, or see at a drive-in or grindhouse.  So who the heck is this largely unerotic sex movie meant to appeal to?  Even the captive audience of an actual "Introduction to Sex" class would find it hard to sit through.

Aside from a snippet of cuteness here and there (the elevator-sex scene reaches the film's peak of verbal humor by deftly including the words "lift" and "elevate" in the narration), the only interest is in the brief bits of nudity, including, at around the halfway point, some actual shots of penetration. 

However, for any couples desperate enough to be using this film to put a cheerful charge into their love life, up jumps "R" for "rape" to throw some cold water on it with a jarringly out-of-place lapse into grim seriousness.  Lamond cheats a bit by giving us "X" for "excellence", and then "Y" for "you" gives him an excuse to recap the entire film with a montage of scenes that were already dull the first time.  As for "Z"...well, he couldn't think of anything for "Z."  What about "zipper"?  Or "zoo"?  Okay, maybe not "zoo."

The DVD from Intervision Picture Corp. is widescreen with Dolby 2.0 sound.  No subtitles.  There's a commentary with director Lamond and "Not Quite Hollywood" director Mark Hartley.  The box mentions a trailer reel but I couldn't find one.

A mildly interesting peek at 70s sexual mores and dull filmmaking, THE ABC OF LOVE AND SEX AUSTRALIA STYLE (which, incidentally, has absolutely nothing to do with Australia) pits lots of nudity and some brief scenes of hardcore sex against unrelenting boredom in a touch-and-go battle that left me teetering on the edge of indifference.  Around about the twentieth time some random couple was shown toying with each other's buttons and kissing real hard, I found myself wishing the alphabet wasn't so damn long.
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

THE H.P. LOVECRAFT COLLECTION, VOLUME 4: PICKMAN'S MODEL -- DVD review by porfle


THE H.P. LOVECRAFT COLLECTION, VOLUME 4: PICKMAN'S MODEL, conceived and produced by Andrew Migliore for Lurker Films, is part of their continuing effort to bring us the best of the short films based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  The previous volumes were entitled "Cool Air", "Rough Magik", and "Out of Mind."  Here, Lovecraft's chilling tale "Pickman's Model" is presented in three different interpretations, supplemented by two other short films.  Collectively, they add up to a couple of hours of solid entertainment for the Gothic horror fan.

I was unwilling to start another Lovecraft film review with the disclaimer "I've never read any of his stories, but...", so I found a website containing his complete works and gave "Pickman's Model" a read.  It's the eerie story of Richard Upton Pickman, a deranged artist whose paintings depict scenes of carnage and depravity so realistic and repellent that he is shunned by the "tea table" art crowd.  All except for a man named Thurber, who is morbidly fascinated by Pickman's work and wants to see more.  Pickman obliges him by inviting Thurber to the dark, haunted cellar where he does his most gruesome work and showing him exactly from whence springs his malevolent inspiration.  Which, as you might guess, turns out to be a rather unsettling experience for the unsuspecting art lover.

It's a very short story told in flashback by Thurber to his friend Eliot after the fact, and any filmization must be augmented by extra dialogue and events.  At 43 minutes, the 2000 TV-film "Chilean Gothic", directed by Roberto Harrington from an adaptation by Gilberto Villarroel, is the longest and most altered version on this disc. 

Here, the "Thurber" character is a journalist named Gabriel (Rodrigo Sepúlveda) who is investigating the violent death of his friend Anibal, whose last known whereabouts were in the company of the renegade artist Pickman.  He interviews Pickman's only friend, an eccentric old professor named Mattotti, and the slovenly caretaker of a crumbling apartment house where Pickman once lived.  Both meet a violent end on the same night that Gabriel is lurking through the hidden tunnels beneath the apartment house, where he finds human remains. 



Tracking Pickman down to a remote island, he finds him inhabiting a large, shadowy mansion surrounded by paintings and sketches of unimaginable, otherworldly horror.  Here, Pickman is played by Renzo Oviedo as a frizzy-haired wild man--the other versions will each interpret him quite differently.  Gabriel's confrontation with Pickman leads to an event which is common to each of these films, which is the emergence of some terrifying, unnameable beast from a brick well within the cellar of Pickman's house.  This leads to a final revelation for Gabriel which is unique to "Chilean Gothic" and not found in any other version.  It comes as a pretty satisfying shock ending.

Sepúlveda and Oviedo are intense in the lead roles and the film unfolds as a scintillating mystery that is well told, with an atmosphere of dread that lets us know things aren't going to end on a happy note.  Aside from some shock cuts of Aribal's ravaged body, most of the horror is left to the viewer's imagination, including Pickman's paintings themselves.  As Thurber tells his friend Eliot in the short story: "There's no use in my trying to tell you what they were like, because the awful, the blasphemous horror, and the unbelievable loathsomeness and moral foetor came from simple touches quite beyond the power of words to classify."  Director Harrington reveals only oblique glimpses of the paintings to give us an idea of their content, with one notable exception: a full-on view of Francisco Goya's horrific "Saturn Devouring His Children", which will also pop up in the Italian version next on the disc.

Producer-director Giovanni Furore's "Pickman's Model" (2003) begins with a young woman answering an ad for a painter's model and ending up as an entree for the creature in Pickman's cellar.  Then we veer a bit closer to actual Lovecraft territory as a distraught Howard (Vittorio de Stefano) stumbles into the home of his friend Russel (Alessandro di Lorenzo) one night with a cloth-covered painting and a strange story.  The painting is a Pickman original, which piques the interest of art-lover Russel, and the story is similar to Lovecraft's, with Howard and Russel standing in for Thurber and Eliot. 

This time, the Pickman that Howard meets at an art exhibition is portrayed by Lorenzo Mori as a twisted, spidery hunchback with a really evil leer.  He leads Howard through some creepy old Italian backalleys to a dark, spooky house with stone passageways dripping with water and a cellar with the usual brick well.  As before, the content of Pickman's paintings is only hinted at, but this time we get a disturbing impression of them via subliminal flashes of some truly demented photographs--you'll want to go back and do some frame-advancing to get the full effect.  At one point, the wooden lid to the well starts to rattle violently, and Pickman grabs a gun and locks Howard out of the room, saying something about "rats."  Well, once we hear the blood-chilling racket going on in there, we know it ain't rats--the sound effects alone are enough to give you a large case of the willies. 

The rich cinematography here is nice after the grainy visuals of the Chilean effort, and Lorenzo Mori's scuttling, sinister Pickman is delightfully loathesome.  The story builds nicely to an ending that explicity follows the one in the short story, right down to a shot of the cellar creature itself.  It's still a bit less than our imaginations are capable of conjuring up, but the set-up and pay-off for the twist ending are well-handled. 

Next comes my favorite of the bunch, Texas director Cathy Welch's 1981 college thesis film "Pickman's Model."  The low-budget black and white photography makes it look like something out of the 60s--in fact, the dark, moody atmosphere and nightmarish locations give it the same oppressive aura that hung so heavily over Francis Ford Coppola's DEMENTIA 13 and Herk Harvey's CARNIVAL OF SOULS.  This time we finally get an actual Thurber, although his friends call him "Bill" (Mac Williams), and he's relating his strange story to his gal-pal Ellen (Nancy Griffith), which is pretty close to "Eliot." 

Bill and Ellen are members of an art club that consists mainly of straight-laced conservatives with little appreciation for the ghastly canvases of the eccentric Pickman (the director's brother, Marc Mahan).  As Bill enthusiastically tells Ellen, "Pickman dredges up our darkest fantasies...the ancient terrors in our collective subconscious," while she cautions him, "There's a trick to being fascinated with the perverse without becoming perverse yourself." 

Marc Mahan portrays Pickman as a man with a deceptively bland yet somehow ominous appearance which masks the keenly decadent and ultimately dangerous intellect within.  When he is expelled from the art club, Bill goes with him, intent on finishing his manuscript about Great Painters He Has Known with a special section on Pickman.  He gets invited to the man's house for a look at some of his latest works, and after proving his worthiness, is then taken to Pickman's super-secret studio where he does his really undiluted and downright freaky stuff. 



Deep in the heart of old Boston, a richly-historical setting haunted by the ghosts of the past and resonating with leftover evil from the days of the Salem witch trials, Pickman's crumbling old mansion is a nightmare-inducing spook house.  The well in the cellar, which in the other versions of the story is simply a generic doorway to Hell, is here directly related to the Salem witchcraft days in that it is a doorway to the underground passageways that were said to allow the witches and other creatures of the night to secretly commune with one another, and which may still contain something best left alone.  Pickman himself is part of that lineage--as he tells Bill, his four-time great-grandmother was hanged as a witch under the stern gaze of none other than Cotton Mather. 

Bill becomes increasingly disturbed by Pickman's paintings as we finally get to see some of them as described in Lovecraft's short story.  The renderings are crude but interesting, especially a portrait of a Puritan family in quiet prayer.  They're all bent in solemn communion with God except for the little boy, who is leering at the viewer with anything but pure thoughts.  Other paintings show victims being attacked and devoured by strange canine-human hybrids in graveyards and subways.  One of them, which depicts one of these beasts killing a boy, is brought startlingly to life in a shocking makeup-effects shot that is cheap but effective.  But most disturbing to Bill is the fact that Pickman's paintings are starting to dredge up primal fears within him that seem to be connected to past experiences that his memory has suppressed.

The sequence in which the unknown creature begins to emerge from the well is handled better here than in any of the other versions.  Bill is locked out and must listen to the blood-curdling noises behind the door until finally Pickman emerges.  There's something different about him now--he's hairier, his hands and face are twisted, and his teeth are sharper--in other words, he's beginning to resemble one of those creatures in his paintings.  At that point, Bill suddenly remembers something he had to do somewhere else, and gets his hindquarters out of there.

Lovecraft's story ends with the main character revealing that he swiped a photograph that was pinned to one of Pickman's canvases and stuffed it in his pocket.  Pickman always took photographs from which to better render the background details for his paintings--or so he said.  In the short story, as in this and the Italian film version, a final revelation concerning Pickman's photographs supplies the twist ending.  But here, there's an added sequence that pushes Cathy Welch's interpretation of the story even further into horror film territory and gives it a chilling ending that's right out of your worst nightmares.  Which is just one of the reasons I consider this film to be the highlight of the collection.

The six-minute short that follows is a distinct change of pace.  Based on a single sentence from an unfinished story by Lovecraft, Holland's "Between The Stars" (1998) features Jos Urbanis as Minnekens, an increasingly self-absorbed office drone whose only pleasure in life is to lie on his back with his head sticking out the window and gaze up the airshaft between the surrounding apartment buildings at a single square of star-bedecked night sky.  Another beautifully-shot black and white entry, Djie Han Thung's film is reminiscent of David Lynch's ERASERHEAD in style and content.  We really get into this guy's head as he wanders totally detached through his daily life, preoccupied with the facial pores of a chattering coworker or the miniscule white specks in the printed letters of a book.  A strangely upbeat ending ties this odd entry off rather neatly.

Finally, we get some primitive, old-school computer animation in the form of Geoffrey D. Clark's adaptation of Lovecraft's "In The Vault", the story of a vile cemetery caretaker named George Birch.  This drunken old sot isn't above tossing the dear departed into mismarked graves, robbing them of their valuables, or burying two of them together to save the effort of digging separate holes.  When a long freeze makes gravedigging impossible, the bodies are stored together in a vault until the spring thaw.  As fate would have it, George gets locked into this vault one night and must figure out a way to escape.  But before he does, the meanness and cruelty he has shown to his vault-mates in both life and death comes back to haunt him in a big way.

Clark's rendition of the story is short and simple--more of a childlike fairytale than a horror story--and it comes and goes leaving little lasting impression.  So I read the original story to see if there was more to it than that, and sure enough, it's a dark and disturbing tale of terror that could've yielded a much better adaptation than this.  As it is, Clark's "In The Vault" is a pleasant diversion, sort of like the cartoon that theaters used to play along with the feature, but it had the potential of being memorably frightening if only the source material had been better utilized.

I'm glad I watched THE H.P. LOVECRAFT COLLECTION, VOLUME 4: PICKMAN'S MODEL, because not only did it prompt me to finally start reading Lovecraft after all these years, but it also provided me with a highly-enjoyable evening's worth of really good Gothic horror.  Seeing how a single short story can yield such a mix of wildly-different styles and interpretations makes it consistently interesting.  And it's a great example of how mood and atmosphere can be just as effective, and sometimes more so, than a bunch of shock cuts and gore effects.


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Friday, December 16, 2011

BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP -- movie review by porfle


I'm not sure how the average H.P. Lovecraft fan will react to it, so my impressions of BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP (2006) were based solely on the movie itself and not on how well or how badly screenwriter Barrett J. Leigh adapted it from Lovecraft's short story.  As such, I found it to be one of the creepiest and most over-the-top horror films I've seen in recent years.

The story takes place in one of those nightmarish insane asylums (circa 1911) in which the grievously abused and neglected patients serve as guinea pigs in the mad experiments of crazed doctors.  Young Dr. Eischel (Fountain Yount) is conducting his own really interesting experiment on a catatonic, cadaverous-looking woman named Ardelia--strapped to a chair, her skull has been sawed through for easy pop-top access to her brain, into which Dr. Eischel sticks electrodes that are hooked up to a device he uses to stimulate various nerve centers.  I was never really sure what his goal was (something about harnessing the enery of thought), but it didn't really matter because the whole thing was wonderfully weird and horrific. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Wardlow (Kurt Hargan), a profoundly cruel, power-mad alienist (okay, I had to look it up--"alienist: n. 'A physician who has been accepted by a court of law as an expert on the mental competence of principals or witnesses appearing before it'", according to www.answers.com) is presiding over the hearing of a wretched piece of human flotsam named Joe Slaader (William Sanderson, BLADE RUNNER, "Newhart"), who has been caught butchering a bunch of his fellow inbred hillbillies and running around in the woods with one of the severed heads.  Dr. Wardlow delights in pointing out Joe's myriad less-appealing qualities, including a large hump in his back that resembles a human face--the result of a fetal twin that didn't quite successfully make it through the gestation process. 

Wardlow, who can't wait to get this guy on an operating table for some good old surgical fun, applies leeches to Joe's body to "suck out the madness" and suggests cutting out the malformed twin, but Dr. Eischel contemptuously derides him as an idiot, initiating an intensely confrontational relationship between the two.  When Dr. Eischel later finds the chance to examine Joe on his own, he discovers that the fetal twin is alive and conscious--in fact, it is the dominant consciousness within the shared body, coming to the fore whenever Joe goes to sleep and telekinetically ripping people to bloody shreds (one of the few coherent things Joe ever says is the chant, "I kiss my loved ones...I go to sleep...I wake up with bad things").  Giddy with anticipation, Eischel vows to circumvent Dr. Wardlow's surgical plans and get Joe hooked up to his brain machine. 



And that's just for starters.  Believe me, this is one weird movie, and it gets weirder by the minute, eventually culminating in a grand, blood-drenched finale in which skulls are drilled, electrodes are implanted into living brains and the brains of several severed heads on spikes, and a terrifying Netherworld creature named Amducious claws its way into our dimension (via some not-so-great CGI). 

Along the way, some of the patients in the asylum find themselves hanging upside-down in their cells by some unseen force as all the flesh is ripped from their bones, and the lovely Ardelia, her body reanimated by Amducious' will, pries the head off of the recently-ousted asylum director who has discovered her in the basement, just as he is about to gleefully rape her.  One thing you have to say about this movie--it's pretty eventful.

It's also very deliberately stylish, and stylized--filmed in black-and-white, with color appearing only in the scenes in which Amducious' presence is felt, BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP is a dizzying collage of wild camerawork and sometimes rapid-fire editing, especially in the deeply unsettling dream sequences.  The most unique thing about it, though, which is also the thing that will turn off many viewers, is the highly stylized acting.  Everyone in the cast attacks their characters as though they were performing in a silent movie or perhaps the most melodramatic Grand Guignol theater presentation imaginable, manically emoting for the people in the back row, and this effect is even carried over into the stagelike makeup, costumes, and set design. 

It's purely intentional on the part of directors Barrett J. Leigh and Thom Maurer, and contributes to the heavy layer of black humor that permeates the entire movie, as well as its oppressive sense of unenlightened antiquity.  I'm sure a lot of people will simply regard this as horrible acting, which, in some cases, it may be.  But it worked for me. 

Will Lovecraft fans like this movie?  I have no idea, but judging from their reactions to most of the previous cinematic adaptations of the author's works, probably not.  On its own terms, however, I found it to be a wildly inventive, nightmarish, shocking, funny, and unabashedly bizarre experience that was enough fun for me to disregard its faults.  Plus, it's a visual feast for gorehounds, who will also be pleased to see Tom Savini in an all-too-brief role early on. 

BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP is a film that is definitely not for everyone, but if you get hooked into it just right, you may have almost as much fun as Ardelia does when Dr. Eischel sticks an electrode into the pleasure center of her brain and turns up the dial.


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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Anchor Bay Films acquires "SEEKING JUSTICE" starring Nicolas Cage, January Jones and Guy Pearce


ANCHOR BAY FILMS ACQUIRES "SEEKING JUSTICE" - THE ENDGAME ENTERTAINMENT THRILLER STARRING NICOLAS CAGE, JANUARY JONES AND GUY PEARCE

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Anchor Bay Films has picked up the U.S. rights to the Nicolas Cage thriller, Seeking Justice.  Slated for a March 16th theatrical release, the film co-stars January Jones (X-Men: First Class, Anger Management) and Guy Pearce (The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech) .  Directed by Roger Donaldson (The Bank Job, Dante’s Peak), Seeking Justice was produced by Endgame Entertainment’s James D. Stern, along with Ram Bergman and Material Entertainment’s Tobey Maguire and Jenno Topping.  Bill Clark, President of Anchor Bay Entertainment, made today’s announcement.

“Seeking Justice is a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action thriller and Cage is outstanding in it,” commented Kevin Kasha, Executive Vice President, Acquisitions and Co-Productions. “This crowd pleaser is a great addition to the Anchor Bay Films line-up.” 

“We are thrilled that Seeking Justice has found a home with Anchor Bay,” stated Endgame CEO James D. Stern.  “We look forward to working with them on delivering Roger Donaldson’s stellar work and outstanding performances from Nicolas Cage and January Jones.”

In Seeking Justice, Cage stars as Will Gerard, a happily married and dedicated inner-city high school teacher.  His wife, Laura (Jones) is an accomplished musician and they enjoy a comfortable life until one fateful evening shatters everything.  Laura is brutally assaulted and while awaiting an update on her condition, Will is approached by a well-dressed man (Pearce) who quietly offers to dispense immediate justice.  Required to make a spontaneous decision in a distraught frame of mind, he accepts the proposal and is pulled into an underground vigilante organization that leads to increasingly frightening and dangerous consequences.  The film was previously entitled The Hungry Rabbit Jumps.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Best British TV" on DVD/Blu-ray--Acorn Media's Early 2012 Release Calendar



Acorn Media, chief curators of the best Brit TV” –TIME Magazine

January 3, 2012
The Windsors: From George to Kate (U.S. Debut, Athena) – An absorbing 2011 documentary tracing the recent history of the British monarchy from the real King George VI (portrayed in The King’s Speech) through Prince William’s recent wedding. Providing a window into the captivating lives of the British Royal Family, The Windsors gathers archival film footage and photographs from nearly a century of official events. Full of pomp, pageantry, ritual, tradition, and sheer splendor, these historic films portray the Windsors at their most noble. Narrated by actor Brian Blessed (I, Claudius).

Man in a Suitcase, Set 2 (DVD Debut) – A rogue agent for hire in 1960s Europe. The conclusion to the thrilling 1960s spy series features a candid and unfiltered, 69-minute bonus interview with star Richard Bradford (The Untouchables, Cagney & Lacey). Bradford stars as the savvy and adventurous “Mac” McGill, a cynical yet honest spy who has been disavowed by his American bosses and is on the run from a host of international enemies. Sharply written and featuring a host of superb guest stars (Donald Sutherland, Felicity Kendal, Philip Madoc, and Edward Fox), the intriguing drama had national broadcast exposure on ABC in 1968.

Dr. Willoughby (DVD Debut) – A hilarious behind-the-scenes television satire in the vein of The Larry Sanders Show and Soap, Dr. Willoughby stars fan favorite Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) as Donna Sinclair, an actress desperately clinging to her fading career. On the sleazy daytime soap in which she stars, Sinclair plays the competent and compassionate Dr. Willoughby. Off-screen, Sinclair is a holy terror—conniving, vain, and utterly insincere. The series is from the production team behind the long-running hit Brit-com Birds of a Feather, and it broadcast in 1999 on ITV and was syndicated on public television.

January 17, 2012
Bill Moyers: Amazing Grace (DVD Debut) – “Spectacular” (Los Angeles Times). An inspiring, Emmy-winning PBS documentary traces the history of the beloved hymn. Legendary journalist Bill Moyers explores the song’s origins and enduring power through 24 captivating performances including Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Jessye Norman, Marion Williams, the Boys Choir of Harlem, and more. Produced in 1990, the documentary features Jeremy Irons as the voice of John Newton. The DVD also includes Pure Pete Seeger, a 60-minute bonus musical portrait of the folk singer, songwriter, storyteller, and activist, filmed for Bill Moyer’s Journal at Seeger’s home in New York’s Hudson Valley.

George Gently, Series 1 (Blu-ray debut) – “Great, bordering on brilliant” (Esquire.com). The first series of acclaimed British mystery is now on Blu-ray. Likened to Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, Martin Shaw (Judge John Deed, The Professionals) stars as the principled detective George Gently in these three feature-length mysteries based on the long-running series of novels by Alan Hunter. Shot in stunning high-definition, these powerful dramas boast clever writing, stylish direction, and strong casts and unfold against the beautiful backdrop of rural Britain during the tumultuous 1960s. George Gently premiered in the U.K. on BBC1 in April 2007 and has run for three series, with a fourth series in production.

January 31, 2012
Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Series 1 and 2 (Blu-ray debuts, DVD) – The first and second series of Agatha Christie’s beloved Belgian detective debut on Blu-ray. The Blu-rays and new DVDs are newly remastered and restored to their original U.K. broadcast order. Fan-favorite and BAFTA nominee David Suchet stars as the brilliant Belgian detective. Based on the novels by Agatha Christie, these lavish adaptations capture every splendid detail of the Art Deco era. Poirot has aired on ITV1 in the U.K. since 1989 and on PBS and A&E in the U.S.

Poldark: The Complete Collection (Value-priced collection) – “The BBC production seduces us completely” (The New York Times). A must-see for costume drama fans, Poldark is now available in a value-priced complete collection. The Emmy® and BAFTA-nominated miniseries, based on the beloved novels by Winston Graham, tells the story of a dashing 18th century English army officer (Robin Ellis, The Good Soldier), who finds the trials and travails at home every bit as perilous as what he faced in war. Hailed as a British Gone with the Wind, the classic miniseries debuted on PBS in May 1977, was featured on “The Best of Masterpiece Theatre” special, and voted one of the 10 most popular shows in the series’ history in a 2007 PBS poll.

February 7, 2012
Northern Lights: The Complete Collection (Home Video Debut) – Robson Green (Being Human, Wire in the Blood, Touching Evil, Reckless) and Mark Benton (Career Girls, Waterloo Road, Murphy’s Law) star in the lighthearted buddy Britcom. Broadcast on BBC America and produced from 2004-2008, the ITV series follows lifelong friends and rivals Colin Armstrong (Green) and Howard Scott (Benton) on a hilarious series of misadventures in these four complete programs. From a stint in witness protection to an international Santa competition, there’s never a dull moment. Features all 12 episodes and two movies plus a 46 min. behind-the-scenes bonus feature.

New Tricks, Season 6 (DVD Debut) – Retired cops solve cold cases in this smash hit, ongoing BBC series seen on public television. Combining compelling stories, likeable characters, and a top-notch cast, this long-running series stars Amanda Redman (Sexy Beast), Dennis Waterman (The Sweeney, Circles of Deceit), Alun Armstrong (Garrow’s Law, Bleak House, Patriot Games), and James Bolam (The Beiderbecke Affair) as a team of semi-retired and somewhat curmudgeonly detectives investigating cold cases. New Tricks has run on the BBC for eight seasons and has already been renewed for a ninth and tenth season.

The Brontes of Haworth – This literary family biopic stars Michael Kitchen (Foyle’s War, My Week with Marilyn) in one of his early roles. Written by poet and playwright Christopher Fry (The Lady’s Not for Burning), this finely crafted portrait explores the soaring artistic achievements and personal tragedies of England’s most accomplished literary family (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights). Featuring a stellar ensemble cast (Alfred Burke, Barbara Leigh-Hunt) and an outstanding script, this acclaimed period drama is a sensitive exploration of the Brontës’ tender and tragic family history. The miniseries aired in the U.K. in 1973 but has not aired on U.S. television.

February 14, 2012
Battlefield Detectives (Athena) – Seen on the History Channel, the series features new scientific insight into historic battles. What explains the massacre at Waterloo? Why was Gallipoli such a disaster? What role did luck play at Hastings? Battlefield Detectives puts these and other famous battles under the microscope by revisiting the sites—some little changed, others transformed completely—where the fighting took place. Using 3-D computer models, maps, artifacts, original footage, and dramatic reenactments, investigators recreate the conditions at the scene. Produced in 2003-04.

Robin of Sherwood, Set 2 (Blu-ray debut) – History meets myth in a critically acclaimed classic. Connoisseurs of the Robin Hood legend call this action-packed British series the standard by which all other adaptations are measured. Rich with authentic historical detail and cunning plot twists, Robin of Sherwood adds a bit of sorcery and mysticism to the swordplay and social justice that have made the heroic outlaw so endearing and enduring. Starring Jason Connery (Sean’s son) and Ray Winstone (Indiana Jones 4, The Departed, Sexy Beast), this set includes the final 13 episodes of the series in stunning high definition, plus more than 9 hours of bonus features. 

Shades – Seen on public television, this poignant drama stars Dervla Kirwan (Ballykissangel) and Stephen Tompkinson (Wild at Heart). They meet in London under unusual circumstances…both are recently deceased. Maeve was killed by a hit-and-run driver, and Mark died during a routine surgery while his wife was giving birth to their son. The two mismatched souls find themselves still in this world, thrown together in a weird and wonderful afterlife. This touching and gently humorous British drama explores what it means to have a chance to help—or hinder—those left behind. Produced in 2000.

February 28, 2012
Midsomer Murders, Set 19 (U.S. debut, DVD, Blu-ray debut of series) – Acorn’s best-selling series debuts on Blu-ray. John Nettles stars as the unflappable Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, with Jason Hughes (This Life) as his earnest, efficient protégé. Guest stars include James Wilby, Kenneth Cranham, and Neil Dudgeon in his first appearance as DCI John Barnaby. These episodes were produced in 2009 and have not aired in the U.S. The Mysteries: The Made-to-Measure Murders, The Sword of Guillaume, Blood on the Saddle, and The Silent Land.

French Fields Complete Collection – The sequel to Fresh Fields. Frustrated with his daily commute and clients who don’t pay their bills, accountant William Fields (Anton Rodgers, May to December, Lillie) is ready for a change. His wife, Hester (Julia McKenzie, Agatha Christie’s Marple), is always up for something new, so when William gets headhunted for a job in France, both are willing to give it a try. The complete collection includes all three series (1990-93) of this warm and witty Britcom.

The Brief Complete Collection – From the creators of Inspector Morse, Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek) stars in the seriocomic misadventures of clever criminal law barrister Henry Farmer, whose every day is a juggling act between surviving his messy personal life and pleading cases only he can win. Working with tough colleague Cleo Steyn (Cherie Lunghi, Excalibur) and alongside a cast of colorful characters (including Christopher Fulford, Millions, and Linda Bassett, Calendar Girls), Henry will need all his wit and charm to secure justice for his clients and a reprieve for himself. Produced in 2004-05.

Coming up in March/April 2012
A bonus-packed anniversary edition of I, Claudius starring Derek Jacobi, the U.S. debut of Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion, Single-Handed Set 2, The Commander Set 2, Secret War, Bill Moyers: Capitol Crimes, Agatha Christie’s Poirot Series 3 and 4, Monroe starring James Nesbitt, In Their Own Words, Out, and the debut of the original Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on Blu-ray.

Acorn Media/Athena 2011 Highlights:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People starring Alec Guinness (Star Wars), Upstairs, Downstairs: 40th Anniversary Edition (21-disc bonus-packed collection), Jeremy Irons in Brideshead Revisited: 30th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray debut, DVD), Richard Griffiths in Pie in the Sky, James Nesbitt in Murphy’s Law, Aidan Gillen and Charlie Hunnam in Queer as Folk UK, Martin Clunes in the Doc Martin Collection, On the Road with Charles Kuralt: Americana Collection (Sets 1-3), and Midsomer Murders: Barnaby’s Top 10.

In 2011, Acorn’s documentary line Athena also released several thought-provoking, entertaining documentaries, including The Making of the President: The 1960s, Emmy® award-winning, landmark campaign documentaries making their home video debut; Art of the Western World; HBO’s The Battle for Marjah; Weapons Races (DVD debut); The Genius of Design (DVD Debut); The Cosmos: A Beginner’s Guide (U.S. Debut); Genius of Britain: The Scientists Who Changed the World (U.S. Debut);and several acclaimed programs from Bill Moyers

Acorn’s and Athena’s DVD sets are available from select retailers, catalog companies, and direct from Acorn Media at (888) 870-8047 or www.acornonline.com and www.athenalearning.com.

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