HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Monday, December 31, 2012

SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN -- Blu-Ray review by porfle



A fairly interesting and involving fact-based war flick that first aired on the National Geographic Channel, SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN (2012) moves like it's on a mission to cover all the bases without lingering on anything long enough to either get boring or go very deep. 

The device of intercutting interview segments into the action speeds up exposition and character development in a rather superficial way, while actual footage of terrorist attacks (including still-disturbing shots of the stricken Twin Towers) reminds us of what's at stake in this quest to take out the infamous al-Qaeda leader.

We meet Seal Team Six during a mission in Afghanistan in which an ambush takes the life of a member named "D-Punch" (Tait Fletcher), then follow their intensive training for what will turn out to be the big one.  The main characters include young team leader Stunner (Cam Gigandet, PANDORUM, TWILIGHT) and his friendly rival Cherry (Anson Mount, HICK, STRAW DOGS), easygoing but tough family guy Mule (Xzibit, "Pimp My Ride", CONSPIRACY THEORY), and PLANET TERROR's Freddy Rodríguez as Trench.  The story lingers on their personal accounts and long-distance exchanges with family members just enough to make us vaguely familiar with them. 

On the civilian side, CIA analyst Vivian Hollins (Kathleen Robertson, HOLLYWOODLAND) explains why she's obsessed with taking out Bin Laden as new intelligence gives his possible location as a fortified compound in Pakistan.  Much of the film's drama centers on the CIA's attempts to verify this intel and the decision whether or not to raid the compound without conclusive evidence, which, as history has shown, could have disastrous results. 

The latter point allows the filmmakers to establish President Barack Obama as one of the film's major characters, through extensive stock footage and speech excerpts.  So much so, in fact, that the whole thing begins to resemble a reverent campaign ad at times, with Obama coming off as the wise, assertive military tactician whose "go get 'em" attitude is opposed by the likes of John McCain, Mitt Romney, and (whoops) Joe Biden.  Obama's generous inclusion here, in fact, even rivals the pervasive presence of Bill Clinton in the sci-fi thriller CONTACT. 

As Seal Team Six trains for their mission with mock invasion scenarios, we become accustomed to the rapid-fire editing and fluid camera moves of director John Stockwell's engaging visual style.  This allows him to depict the events of the big night in a way that reflects the chaos and confusion while keeping the action easy to follow, with a bit of the flavor of Ridley Scott's BLACK HAWK DOWN but on a lesser scale. 

Stockwell, also an actor familiar to those who remember his starring role in John Carpenter's CHRISTINE, gives much of the film that distinctive black-and-blue look seen so often these days and uses lots of cross-cutting among various participants in the mission to build suspense.  Once the raid begins, the film is riveting, conveying a real sense of the overwhelming danger and intrigue of the actual events.  As far as the film's historical accuracy goes (the fact that it's highly-fictionalized is pretty obvious) I'll have to leave that to the historical experts. 

Performances are adequate with a few standouts, including Robert Knepper (TRANSPORTER 3, HITMAN) as the team's Lieutenant Commander and William Fichtner being his usual awesome self as CIA boss Guidry.  An outstanding techno score helps keep things moving along at a brisk pace. 

The Blu-Ray disc from Anchor Bay is widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Included is a behind-the-scenes featurette.

SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN isn't on the same scale as the epic war films but it easily rises above the usual made-for-TV fare.  With a subject of such major importance, any lesser treatment would be conspicuously cheap.  Here, however, we get a modest war film that's both satisfying and, given the personal feelings each viewer brings to the experience, somewhat cathartic. 


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Friday, December 28, 2012

"GHOUL" Coming From Image Entertaiment January 8th on DVD and Digital Download



TIME FOR SOME OLD FASHIONED CHILLS WITH IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT’S "GHOUL"

Coming to DVD  and Digital Download on January 8th


CHATSWORTH, CA -- Image Entertainment presents Ghoul on DVD and digital download. Directed by Gregory Wilson (The Girl Next Door), Ghoul stars Nolan Gould (“Modern Family,” Friends with Benefits), Andrea Frankle (21 Jump Street), Mattie Liptak (The Odd Life of Timothy Green), Glen Warner (Django Unchained), Zach Rand (The Woman), Brett Lapeyrouse (21 Jump Street) and  Barry Corbin (No Country for Old Men, "The Closer"). SRP is $27.97.

Something ghastly haunts Golgotha Cemetery – an entity of unspeakable evil…and insatiable hunger. It is the summer of 1984, a time that should be full of lazy, carefree days for 12-year-old Timmy (Gould) and his two best friends, Doug and Barry. But when a teenaged couple goes missing among the gravestones of the local cemetery, the bloodcurdling legend of a horrific ghoul begins to seem more like reality than myth. As the body count rises, Timmy and his friends are forced to confront their worst fears when they unearth long-buried secrets and unleash not only their personal demons…but also the one lurking underground!

Ghoul is based on the eponymous novel from the multi-award winning, best-selling horror writer Brian Keene, the man who helped re-introduce the Zombie sub-genre into literature with his groundbreaking book The Rising.

Ghoul DVD
Street date:                   January 8, 2013
Genre:                          Horror, Action / Adventure, Based on Book, Myths / Legends,
Feature Film
SRP:                            $27.97
Catalog #:                     MDG8269DVD
UPC #:                         014381826920
Rating:                          Not Rated
Run time:                      81 minutes
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio:                          Dolby Digital 5.1

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

THE DEAD INSIDE -- DVD review by porfle



Travis Betz, the eccentric writer-director of 2009's delightfully dark indy flick LO, gives us another chapter of "how to make a dazzling film on a dingy budget" with the effortlessly compelling supernatural musical THE DEAD INSIDE (2011). 

It looks like it's going to be a zombie comedy at first, with living dead couple Harper (Sarah Lassez) and Max (Dustin Fasching) frustrated by a locked bedroom door that keeps them from their human prey.  When Harper moans the word "Braaains!" while beating on the door, Max chides her for using such a hoary cliche'.  "Besides, you're a large intestine girl," he reminds her. 

Such amusingly banal exchanges between the two zombies (whose makeups are outstanding) will recur throughout the film, but only as fictional scenes from a novel that pulp author Fiona (Lassez) is writing as part of her best-selling "The Dead Survive" series.  The locked door is a metaphor for both her own dwindling inspiration and the stalled dreams of her husband Wes (Fasching), a photographer reduced to snapping wedding pictures. 

Their first song together, "My F**king Heart", is an impassioned lament that leads into a hilarious wish-fulfillment fantasy about how much fun it would be if a zombie apocalypse came along to relieve them of their responsibilities.  Later songs grow darker and more impassioned as the plot twists into increasingly somber territory, with Fiona's behavior displaying signs of possible possession by an unknown entity that threatens to take her over completely.

While some recent films have thought it would be a cute idea to be musicals without actually having decent songs or the proper sensibilities (or, worse yet, having the cast dance around like idiots while singing them), the catchy, hook-filled music and lyrics by Betz and composer Joel Van Vliet are first-rate and advance the plot while being highly entertaining.  The two leads have the talent to deliver them very effectively as well, especially Lassez who really knocks her solo vocal performances out of the ballpark every time.

Betz and cinematographer Shannon Hourigan, who have the visual sense of good comics artists, don't waste a frame in designing a succession of beautiful and imaginatively staged shots that often have the rich look of saturated colors on a black canvas.  Betz manages to maintain our interest in what is basically a two-location story with two actors playing dual roles (Lassez actually ends up playing a third role when her ghostly passenger takes full control of her body).

The DVD from Monarch Home Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with 5.1 surround sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of a behind-the-scenes featurette, a deleted song, and a trailer, along with two entertaining and funny commentary tracks on which Betz is joined by cinematographer Shannon Hourigan and actors Lassez and Fasching.

When we learn the truth behind what's happening to Fiona, the story takes on an emotional resonance that gives her final song, the beautiful lullaby "Ghosts Begone", a genuine poignancy that is, well, haunting.  What happens next, both in the "real" world of Fiona and Wes and in the fictional lives of zombies Harper and Max, should keep THE DEAD INSIDE creeping around inside your mind for quite awhile.


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Friday, December 21, 2012

Man From Shaolin Arriving on February 26 Available on DVD, Digital Download and Video On Demand From Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Get ready for a smashing martial arts fight fest when Man From Shaolin debuts on DVD, Digital Download and Video On Demand February 26 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

The action-packed film, directed by and starring Kung-Fu super star Li Zhang, chronicles a well-known Shaolin fighting monk's quest to protect his Kung-Fu school from a ruthless promoter. The Man From Shaolin DVD includes an interview with filmmaker Li Zhang as well as deleted scenes and will be available for the suggested retail price of $26.98.

When news arrives that a relative has been killed in an accident, Li Bao (Zhang), rushes to New York to become the guardian of young, orphaned Janie.  There, "Uncle Li," a renowned Shaolin Fighting Monk, is convinced by a former student to open a traditional Kung-Fu school.  But when his plans collide with those of a brutal promoter and his skilled young fighter, Li harnesses every bit of martial arts power he has to fight for Janie and his dream.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES*
    * Interview with Filmmaker Li Zhang
    * Deleted Scenes

*Subject to change

PROGRAM INFORMATION
Year of Production: 2011
Title Copyright: © 2012 1T ENTERTAINMENT. All Rights Reserved.
Type: Home Entertainment Premiere
Rating: PG-13 for Violence and Martial Arts Action
Genre:Martial Arts, Drama
Closed Captioned: English
Subtitles:  English and Spanish
Format:  16x9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Feature Running Time: 86 minutes
DVD Audio Status: English 5.1 Dolby Digital

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Anchor Bay Entertainment Presents The Thrilling and Chilling British Crime Drama "Thorne" on 2-Disc DVD Set March 5th

On March 5th, Anchor Bay Entertainment will release the gritty and uncompromising British crime drama “Thorne” on DVD. Centering on the complex and unpredictable Detective Inspector Tom Thorne (David Morrissey, now starring as The Governor on “The Walking Dead”), these two episodes originally aired on ENCORE as part of their Big Mini-series Showcase. Adapted from two favorites in Mark Billingham’s bestselling series of novels, we follow Det. Thorne on an intense chase through chilling crime scenes, deliberately manipulated clues and the darkest depths of London.

Along with Morrissey, the cast features Natasha McElhone (“Californication”), Sandra Oh (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes), Aidan Gillen (“The Wire”), and Joshua Close. The SRP for the two-disc DVD set is $29.98. The pre-book date is February 6th.

In the first story, “Sleepyhead,” the detective is dragged back into the nightmares of his past when young girls begin falling victim to sadistically induced strokes. Thorne knows there are more deaths to come, as the skillful predator enjoys toying with Thorne just as much as pursuing his sick fantasy.

In the second, “Scaredy Cat,” two female victims turn out to be killed in the exact same way and Thorne finds himself on the hunt for not one, but two serial killers. Are they working together, yet killing separately? The answer will unravel a case that reaches back ten dark years.

Prepare to be thrilled and chilled in equal measure, because in “Thorne”, nothing is done by the book.

“Thorne”  DVD Set
Street Date:                  March 5, 2013
Pre-Book:                     February 6, 2013
UPC #:                         01313259503080
Item:                            ST59503
Audio:                          Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                      English SDH
Retail Price:                  $29.98
Genre:                          Crime/Thriller, Drama, TV on DVD
Rating:                          Not Rated
Run Time:                     274 minutes
Year:                            2010

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Monday, December 17, 2012

KILTRO -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2006.)

KILTRO (2006) is one of the best martial arts movies I've seen in a long time.  The best Chilean one, anyway.  It starts off looking like a garish 80s-style cheeseball flick, but this somehow adds to the overall likability of the film and makes its good qualities even more outstanding.

The main character, Zamir (Marko Zaror), is basically a big, well-meaning lug who comes off like one of those six-foot twelve-year-olds who matured too fast.  He's got a schoolboy crush on a pretty Korean girl named Kim (Caterina Jadresic) and beats up anyone who touches her, although she keeps giving him the big brush-off.  Maybe it's because he has a permanent hangdog expression, wears huge, floppy bellbottoms, and sports a really bad mullet that looks like it has orange chicken feathers hanging out of it.

Zami demonstrates his fighting skill early on by not only making quick work of Kim's new boyfriend, Maniac, but also by taking on all twenty students of the fighting school run by Teran, Kim's father.  Teran tells Zami that although he's good, the skills he's learned on the streets lack refinement and, without proper teaching, will never improve. 

During these early scenes it gradually becomes apparent that KILTRO has its own rough-hewn visual aesthetic that will also become more refined as it goes along.  After a particularly crushing rejection by Kim, there's a cool nighttime tracking shot of Zami shuffling dejectedly down an alley to the tune of Bowie's "Modern Love."  He turns onto the sidewalk and starts to run, picking up speed little by little until finally he's sprinting as fast as he can while the background blurs past and the camera flies to keep up with him.  (Later, when circumstances lead him on a long sojourn into the desert, the film surprises us with scenes of sweeping beauty.)

The story takes a dramatic turn with the arrival of Max Kalba (Miguel Angel De Luca), a steely-eyed, nattily-dressed killer whose claw-handled cane conceals a deadly sword.  This guy's intense, and looking for some serious CGI-blood-splattered revenge.  "Feel honored to be the first one," he mutters to an unfortunate soul he skewers when he gets to the school in search of Teran.  They have a long-standing score to settle which also involves Kim, Zami's father whom he never knew, and a Middle Eastern guy named Farah (Luis Alarcón).  I won't go into all the details, but suffice it to say that Kalba is super-pissed-off and itching for a little--no, make that a lot--of the old ultra-violence.

He lays waste to Teran and all of his students without breaking a sweat, and when Zami shows up to defend Kim, Kalba offs his crew and kicks his ass, too.  The injured Zami is cared for by a robed dwarf named Nik Nak who is one of the last remaining members of a secret sect of invincible warriors, the Zetas, to which Zami's father also belonged.  Nik Nak sends him into the desert to be trained by the mysterious master Soto until he's ready to return for a final reckoning with Kalba and his gang of thugs.  This sequence is filled with the usual mystical mumbo-jumbo ("There is no technique", "Velocity does not exist", etc.) but also some welcome comedy as Zami stumbles his way through the early sessions until he's fully pumped, able to snatch the pebble from his master's hand, and ready to return for a final rock 'n' roll rumble with the bad guys.

To enter the building where Kalba is holding Kim and her father hostage, Zami has to go through dozens of opponents at once, and it's an exhilarating fight scene.  The CGI blood spray has an anime look to it as Zami uses his razor-sharp spurs to kick and slash his way through the horde of attackers.  The choreography and editing here are awesome.  A bonus featurette shows these guys in the gym practicing their moves for the fight, and there's a live-action storyboard in which the entire sequence was taped and edited to serve as a template for the finished version. 

Marko Zaror's Zami is funny because he's so serious, and cool because he's so uncool.  Miguel Angel De Luca is a formidable presence as Kalba, making him one of the most interesting and intimidating villains in recent cinema.  Their final face-off has a Sergio Leone flavor to it, right down to the music, and it's every bit as exciting as the Neo vs. Agent Smith subway battle in THE MATRIX--minus the distracting special effects--with a coup de grace that's delightfully inspired.

Although the middle section is rather slow going at times, it's kept interesting by some beautifully photographed flashbacks of the young Kalba (a well-cast Pablo Cerda) enduring the tragic circumstances that turned him into such a huge stinker.  And the stunning fight sequences in the last act, buoyed by fine performances all around and the audacious direction of Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, bring what is already a highly-entertaining flick to a dazzling finish.  KILTRO may not make Chile the new Hong Kong, but it's definitely a kick in the right direction.


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Friday, December 14, 2012

IN SEARCH OF...THE COMPLETE SERIES -- DVD review by porfle




For those of us who caught it during its first run, almost every episode of "In Search Of..." was a guaranteed dose of pure "sense of wonder."  Each week, host Leonard Nimoy explored the world's most tantalizing mysteries with an open mind, allowing us to bask in their intoxicating strangeness in an atmosphere free of rigid, buzzkill skepticism.

Now, Visual Entertainment Inc. (VEI) has collected all 152 episodes of this classic show, which ran from 1976-1982, in their 21-disc DVD collection IN SEARCH OF...THE COMPLETE SERIES.  I reviewed a screener with two half-hour Nimoy episodes, "In Search Of...Mayan Mysteries" and "In Search Of...UFO Coverups", both pretty representative of the show as a whole. 

Low-budget photography makes this independently-produced syndicated show look older than it is, but it was that way even when it was new.  No matter, since the fascinating subject matter and wealth of both exclusive film footage and well-chosen stock shots easily make up for this.  Nimoy, one of the finest narrators of all time, lends the show much-needed gravitas even during its most outlandish forays into the unknown. 

The Mayan episode poses a series of teasing questions about this mysterious ancient people such as: why, if they incorporated the wheel into their children's toys, didn't they employ it for practical purposes?  How did they conceive such complicated systems of mathematics and astronomy, among other things?  And why did they suddenly disappear from recorded history?

Even more up my alley is the look at UFO cover-ups, which opens with some familiar footage of a possible flying saucer but focuses mainly on the famous Roswell, New Mexico incident.  Actual interview clips of Air Force officer Jess Marcel, a major participant in the purported saucer crash investigation, and footage of Hangar 18 itself, where the wrecked saucer and alien bodies are said to have been housed, make this of special interest to UFO enthusiasts. 

There's also a first-hand account from a scientist who claims to have been taken to the crash site by U.S. Air Force officials and is only now breaking his silence.  As usual, the show is aggressive and non-apologetic in its insistence that anything is possible regardless of how farfetched it may seem to the skeptically minded.

In addition to the 152 regular series episodes, the VEI collection also includes two Rod Serling-hosted "In Search Of..." specials which aired in 1972, plus the entire eight-episode run of the 2002 reboot with "The X-Files" star Mitch Pileggi.  The screener I watched contained one from 1972 and one from 2002.

"Twilight Zone" creator and host Serling takes us on an exploration of ancient astronauts that covers all the familiar territory in highly compelling fashion, including the baffling stone heads of Easter Island and the enigmatic Nazca lines in Peru.  While the Serling episode is quite similar to the later Nimoy series, the flashy Pileggi-hosted show from 2002 is the sort of lurid exploitation fare you might see on SyFy, with gruesome stories about stigmata, Haitian zombies, and murder scenes haunted by restless ghosts.

While I can't speak for the entire collection as a whole, the picture and sound quality of the 4-episode screener I watched was good for a low budget syndicated series from the 70s.  You may be bugged by the VEI logo in the lower right hand corner but I forgot it was there after awhile.  

Being a loyal viewer of the show back in its heyday, I can personally attest that, content-wise, the rest of "In Search Of..." is chock full of fun and often spooky stuff about the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, conspiracy theories, unsolved murders and disappearances, bizarre phenomena both natural and supernatural, and just about anything else that this weird world has to offer.  While learned astronomer Carl Sagan may consider the subject at hand to be unsupported by "a smidgeon of compelling evidence", you'll probably find an avalanche of it in IN SEARCH OF...THE COMPLETE SERIES.


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Thursday, December 13, 2012

FORCED TO FIGHT -- Blu-Ray review by porfle



I haven't seen that many movies featuring kickboxing champion Gary Daniels of THE EXPENDABLES fame, but the ones I have seen (TEKKEN, HUNT TO KILL) were more exciting than FORCED TO FIGHT (2011).  And that's not really saying much.

Daniels plays family guy Shane, a former underground fighter who now owns his own auto shop.  When kid brother Scotty (Arkie Reece, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, JOHN CARTER) tries to flee the fight scene after ripping off ruthless crime boss Danny G. (Peter Weller, ROBOCOP, "Dexter"), he's beaten within an inch of his life.  Shane then finds that he must re-enter the world of underground mixed martial arts in order to pay back Scotty's massive debt to the evil gangster. 

But the fighting life not only causes Shane to revert back to his old, violent self--alienating his wife Connie (Alexandra Weaver) and sensitive son James--but also proves difficult to leave once it has its hooks in him.  As Shane's fights gain massive pay-per-view hits on the internet, Danny G. has no intention of letting him go until he's used him up, even if it means threatening Shane's family so that he'll be...forced to fight.

With a visual style that only occasionally has its moments and a wavering hand-held camera that gets a little old after awhile, director Jonas Quastel and his co-writers have assembled a simple and very familiar plot out of parts we've seen several times before.  Shane's agreement to fight again leads right into the usual training montage, which gives way to the standard fighting-his-way-back-to-the-top montage, which is interspersed with scenes detailing the rapid breakdown of his family life as he reverts to an angry, contemptuous ogre practically overnight.
 
The fights themselves are meat-and-potatoes stuff, not that well choreographed or edited and directed in rather lumbering, unimaginative fashion.  A parade of uninteresting opponents engage Shane in fights with little variety or suspense, even when he must take on the most fearsome fighter of all, Dracul the Killer (Florin Roata). 

Performances are adequate at first but get worse as the story's dramatic requirements increase.  Daniels and Weaver are stiffly unconvincing in their emotional confrontations, while the direction and dialogue are equally awkward. 

As Scotty, Arkie Reece is fairly good in his scenes with Corbin Thomas as nephew James, where the two of them have an appealing chemisty.  Thomas, in fact, gives one of the film's most effective performances, as the insecure James loses one father figure and clings desperately to another.  Main acting honors, however, go to old pro Peter Weller who emotes broadly as the sadistic Danny G. and is a fun villain for us to root against.

The Blu-Ray disc from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with DTS-HD master audio 5.1 and English subtitles.  Extras consist of the featurettes "Behind the Scenes with Peter Weller" and "Filming the Fights", plus a trailer.

FORCED TO FIGHT trudges along a well-worn path to its inevitable all-or-nothing fight finale.  If you find yourself hard-up for entertainment and in a very undemanding mood some time, you might want to check it out.  As for me, I doubt if I'll ever feel compelled to see it again.  Unless, of course, I'm...forced to watch.


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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

PARTNER(S) -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2006.)

I've watched four new movies this past week, and the only one I really liked was -- believe it or not -- the "romantic comedy."  I know, I can't believe it, either.  Judging from the DVD cover, I thought PARTNER(S) (2005) would be nauseating, but it turned out to be pretty funny.

Dave (Jay Harrington) just broke up his girlfriend because she took a bath ("She's disgusting!  She just lies around in her own filth...yecch!") and moved in with his gay pal, Christopher (Michael Ian Black, from all those VH1 "I Love The 60s-90s" things).  He runs into Christopher's sexy neighbor, Lucy (Brooke Langton, SWINGERS) in the hallway, and -- shockingly -- they don't "meet cute"!  This movie's off to a good start already.  Trouble is, though, she thinks Dave's gay.

Meanwhile, the law firm Dave works for has an opening for a partner, and Dave will be competing against the resident witch, Katherine (Julie Bowen, HAPPY GILMORE).  He's afraid she has the edge since the firm doesn't have any females in that position, until a thought strikes him -- they don't have any gays, either.  So Dave decides to come out of the closet. 

Katherine doesn't believe it for a second -- after all, she and Dave actually had sex once -- but everyone else is convinced, and Dave lands an important case helping a big company fight a discrimination lawsuit brought by a man who claims he was fired for being gay.  Coincidentally, the company is owned by Lucy's father, and she's an executive.  And they both think Dave's the perfect lawyer for the job since he's gay, even though he really isn't.

With Christopher's help, Dave fine-tunes his gayness.  He learns about tops and bottoms, scooping out your bagel ("carbs are the enemy"), and the difference between being in shape and being in "gay shape."  But Katherine makes it her business to expose him, while stealing the big case and the partnership away from him at the same time. 

This is the kind of "romantic comedy" I can go for -- it's intelligent without being self-conscious about it, it's full of gay humor without being either grossly un-PC or having a preachy, pro-gay axe to grind, and it doesn't let the "romantic" get in the way of the "comedy."  As you probably guessed, Dave and Lucy fall in love, giving rise to all the predictable complications inherent in such a situation, but this is peripheral to the rest of the proceedings and refreshingly devoid of cuteness.  

Although it isn't an all-out screwball comedy (don't expect LA CAGE AUX FOLLES II) or a slapstick farce (the Farrelly Brothers might've had a field day with this premise, but it would've been an entirely different movie), PARTNER(S) has a droll, understated sense of humor with an abundance of funny dialogue in place of pratfalls and goofy doubletakes.  Here's Dave's two assistants discussing his recent admission:

"I've been thinking about it, man -- the signs were everywhere!  You remember how, during the Olympics, how into figure-skating he got?  And he knew all the names of the jumps and everything?  He was like 'Oh, that's a mistake...that was only a double skow-cow, and'...you remember that?"
"That...wasn't Dave.  That was me."
"Oh.  I didn't mean --"
"And for the last time, it's SOW cow.  SOW...COW."

And Dave's boss (Saul Rubinek of TRUE ROMANCE and UNFORGIVEN) anxiously confides to his wife as they wait for Dave and Christopher to join them at dinner:

"I don't think I've ever had dinner...with gay people before."
"You probably just didn't realize it, darling."
"Oh right, right...Edward Banks.  What am I thinking?  Edward Banks is gay, and I've had dinner with him plenty of times."
"Edward Banks isn't gay, darling.  He's just British."

The entire cast is fine, especially Julie Bowen -- her deft underplaying as cast-iron bitch Katherine makes the character funnier.  Wendel Meldrum (the boss' wife, Sandy) you may recognize as Kramer's "low-talker" girlfriend from the "Puffy Shirt" episode of "Seinfeld."  Jay Paulson and Josh Cooke, as Dave's assistants, provide a lot of the funniest moments as they solemnly discuss the mysteries of gayness.  Michael Ian Black's Christopher is a believable gay character devoid of the usual prissy schtick.  And Jay Harrington as Dave comes off well just by playing it straight -- so to speak.

PARTNER(S) isn't hilarious and doesn't move at a breakneck pace, but it makes the most of its premise without having a bunch of boa-bedecked drag queens flouncing around in tight skirts and skyscraper heels.  And if you're in the right mood, you should have a gay old time watching it.


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Monday, December 10, 2012

CREEP VAN -- DVD review by porfle



First of all, it's called CREEP VAN (2012).  Not "Gone With the Wind" or "Lawrence of Arabia", but "Creep Van."  Not only that, but it's a cheapo DTV comedy slasher flick called "Creep Van."  So it's not like you're going to watch it and think, "Oh my gosh, 'Creep Van' isn't as good as I expected."  On the positive side, though, it may not be quite as bad as you'd expect, either.  But that's not saying much.

Watching it, I get the feeling that director Scott W. Mckinlay and company are filmmakers who are so excited by the idea of making movies that waiting for a decent script to shoot is just a bothersome formality.  Thus, the dishwater-thin story here is about a guy named Campbell (Brian Kolodziej) who can't find a good job because he doesn't have a car. 

He sees a beat-up van for sale, little knowing that it belongs to a serial-killing "creep" who is about to become fixated on Campbell for some reason, making his life a waking nightmare.  That's about it, storywise.  Oh yeah, and Campbell inadvertently saves the life of a New Age drug dealer named Swami Ted (Collin Bernsen) who then pledges to come to his rescue if he's ever in trouble, which alert viewers will recognize as "foreshadowing."

It's enough to hang some fairly well-executed (yes, pun intended) kill scenes on, which, in this case, is the important thing.  A group called Almost Human (of LAID TO REST and CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 fame) has come up with some gore effects that look quite good for a film this low-budget, with hapless victims getting cut in half by power windows, skewered by spiked airbags and seats, and mangled by contracting seat belts, among other horrific manner of death.  Not only that, but the Creep also enjoys running people down and smashing them against walls the old-fashioned way. 

While none of this may sound like "fun", so to speak, these scenes are played mainly for laughs and more lighthearted than shocking in tone.  In fact, CREEP VAN is decidedly tongue-in-cheek for most of its running time, with nary a moment that might be described as "scary." 

A funny montage of Campbell's earlier attempts at holding a job is followed by goofy hijinks at the car wash where he finds work alongside two worthless slackers and a ditzy boss.  His clumsy courtship of coworker Amy (Amy Wehrell) is complicated by roommate Bob (Justin Kolodziej) and his gorgeous girlfriend Danni (Veronica Adkinson) having wild sex all over the place including the dog house in the backyard.  The gory death scenes almost always involve some kind of humorous set-up that lessens the impact of the graphic visuals. 

While all of this is smoothly directed and competently shot, with performances ranging from adequate to amiably inept and a few amusing moments here and there, CREEP VAN suffers from a lethargic pace and is often downright boring. 

Interesting touches come and go--a cameo appearance by Troma's Lloyd Kaufman, a topless Veronica Adkinson looking really hot, and a truly impressive stunt involving the van crashing into a house and taking out a lovemaking couple on a couch--but the story fails to involve us or generate any real suspense until the final moments, when things take an abruptly serious turn.  Amy's kidnapping by the Creep and Campbell's attempt to rescue her with Swami Ted's help does manage some action and a nasty surprise, but it's still nothing memorable. (Although Almost Human's final gore effect is, I must say, a showstopper.)

The DVD from Inception Media Group is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  No subtitles, but closed-captions are available.  Extras consist of a jovial filmmaker commentary, theatrical and original finance trailers, brief actor interviews, a deleted scene, and two featurettes--"Creep Van: Under the Hood" and "Anatomy of a Killer Van Smash."

This movie knows that it's a cheapo slasher flick called CREEP VAN and does just enough to live up to the title.  After that, it's up to potential viewers to encounter it in a rental store or on Netflix, think to themselves "Hmm...'Creep Van', eh?" and then decide if that sounds like a diversion worth sacrificing an hour and a half of their lives on.



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Friday, December 7, 2012

BUTTER -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle



"I believe in America.  I believe we are the best.  I believe we're number one." 

As Laura Dean Pickler (Jennifer Garner) archly intones these patriotic sentiments to a curdled rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic", BUTTER (2011) lets middle-class white conservatives in flyover country know that, yes, you are about to be ridiculed once again by rich Hollywood liberals attempting to translate their smug condescension into nyuk-nyuks.

Which wouldn't be quite so bad if the movie were funny, but whoops--it isn't.  Garner, not generally known for her comedic skills, is notable here mainly for looking really hot as the tall, leggy, overbearing wife of Iowa state champion butter-sculptor Bob Pickler (the ever-laconic Ty Burrell) who sees her husband's butter mastery as a stepping stone to the governor's mansion or maybe even the White House.  When Bob meekly complies with a suggestion that he step aside and let someone else win for a change, the enraged Laura enters the competition herself.

Meanwhile, a ten-year-old black girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) decides that "white people are weirdos" after being bounced through a series of foster homes peopled by fundie homeschoolers who think dinosaur bones are fallen angels (those dumb white conservatives again!) and, even worse, old people.  (We never learn why she's only placed with white couples.)  When she ends up with the very nice and supportive Julie and Ethan (Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry) who seem too good to be true, she considers them "the whitest people she's ever met" and wonders, "Are these crackers for real?" 

Anyway, long story short--which, in this case, would be a blessing--Laura and Destiny both end up competing in the state butter-sculpting contest, with Destiny's tribute to Harriet Tubman threatening to eclipse Laura's laughably all-American depiction of a family saying grace before dinner.  As you might guess, Laura turns to the dark side, in the form of old high school flame Boyd Bolton (a very un-Wolverine-like Hugh Jackman), to gain the advantage, thus showing the true colors of not only herself but those wascally, wacist wepublicans in general. 

But while BUTTER is laying on its political message with a trowel (Bob's winning sculptures include one of Newt Gingrich on horseback, and when Laura bemoans the "liberal media" we're expected to dutifully acknowledge this as a comic absurdity), its comedy foundation is pretty weak.  Garner huffs and puffs her way through her role, cutting a striking figure but lacking any real comic timing or finesse--her character exists mainly to be mocked for having too much of a typically American "can-do attitude."  Burrell is barely there as Bob, coming to life only in brief flashes of deadpan humor.

Even less adept at comedy are Olivia Wilde (COWBOYS AND ALIENS) as Brooke, a stripper trying to extort money from Bob after a sexual fling, and Ashley Greene as Laura's sullen stepdaughter Kaitlen.  A lesbian subplot between Brooke and Kaitlen fails to be either funny or titillating.  On the plus side, Corddry and Silverstone are at least rather likable, and work well with the semi-cute Yara Shahidi.  Kristen Schaal in the small role of Laura's ditzy friend Carol-Ann Stevenson comes the closest to actually being funny, which isn't saying much for the film as a whole.  An attempt to serious things up for the finale doesn't help much.

The 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Anchor Bay and the Weinsteins is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a gag reel and deleted/extended scenes, with additional bloopers during the closing credits. 

Director Jim Field Smith seems a bit out of his element doing this sort of satirical comedy, as some scenes are shot and edited to appear as though they belong in other genres entirely.  What this sort of material needs in order to be successfully put over is the kind of directorial touch demonstrated in films such as "Cold Turkey" and "Smile", both of which were collaborations between filmmakers and actors who understood comedy and knew how to create it.  Aside from the occasional chuckle-inducing gag, such as Bob's butter sculpture entitled "T-Rex Eating Girl", BUTTER spreads itself pretty thin.


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ROMULUS, MY FATHER -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2007.)

Based on the true account of author Raimond Gaita's troubled childhood, ROMULUS, MY FATHER (2007) is the sort of slow, almost depressing descent into melancholy that I would normally avoid like the plague.  But there's a somewhat hynoptic fascination in watching this quiet, slow-motion train wreck of a story unfold, and the understated simplicity of its just-right ending is cathartic.

Romulus is a nice, simple guy who deserves some measure of happiness in his life that always seems just out of reach.  His nine-year-old son Raimond's a nice kid who should be happy too, but the problem is that his mother, Christina, is an irresponsible nutcase.  She disappears for long periods of time and then returns to their shack in rural Australia to pal around with Rai, sleep with Romulus, and take off again.  When she's gone, father and son do their best to get by with each other's love and support, hoping that someday she'll come back for good.

This all changes when she marries Mitru, the brother of Romulus' friend Hora, and has a baby.  Romulus continues to give them money while Raimond stays and helps care for the infant since Christina is too listless and disaffected to do it herself.  Things go from bad to worse--Mitru catches Christina joylessly boffing other men, different people start committing suicide with varying degrees of success, and, finally, Romulus goes off the deep end himself.  Through it all, Raimond must struggle to get by as everyone he depends on slips away.

This could've been a melodramatic potboiler in lesser hands, but director Richard Roxburgh (VAN HELSING's Count Dracula) keeps things real with the help of Nick Drake's well-written adaptation of Raimond Gaita's memoirs, and a strong cast.  Eric Bana brings quiet depth to the role of Romulus, while Franka Potente (RUN, LOLA, RUN) ably portrays the sad hopelessness of the doomed Christina.  The rest of the cast is fine, especially Kodi Smit-McPhee (LET ME IN) as Raimond.  The whole thing hinges on his performance, and he carries it off very well with his soulful face and ability to realistically convey strong emotion.

The story begins during an almost idyllic period in the lives of Romulus and Raimond, as they go about their peaceful lives amidst a beautifully-photographed pastoral setting in rural Australia.  When things start to go wrong, though, it's like a domino effect of relentless gloom and doom, with the filmmakers almost sadistically piling as much sorrow as possible on these poor characters.  I kept watching just to see how their lives would be screwed up next and if they'd be able to endure it. 

As it turns out, ROMULUS, MY FATHER is one of those movies where I'm not really aware of how affecting it is until the end.  I'll admit it, I almost started crying right after the fadeout--not quite, but there was a definite semi-sob.  I wasn't even sure why.  But all that unrelieved, accumulated heartache is resolved in a last underplayed moment of hope, and ROMULUS, MY FATHER ultimately left me more than a little verklempt.



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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

ASHANTI -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle




From what I've seen, Richard Fleischer was a director who ran hot and cold, or at least hot and lukewarm.  Next to his sci-fi classics SOYLENT GREEN and FANTASTIC VOYAGE, fact-based thrillers THE BOSTON STRANGER and TORA! TORA! TORA!, and lurid exploitation fare such as MANDINGO, his turgid sand-and-sadism potboiler ASHANTI (1979)--now on Blu-Ray/DVD from Severin Films--simmers like a kettle of aromatic yet somewhat weak tea.

The once-controversial film (as it is described) explores the horrors of Africa's slave trade, which a foreword tells us is still in full swing as unsuspecting U.N. doctors David and Anansa Linderby (Michael Caine, Beverly Johnson) arrive at a remote village to administer vaccinations.  After the locals entertain them with some colorful tribal dancing and singing, Anansa slips off for a nude splash at the nearby beach and is promptly captured by slavers led by the portly Suleiman (Peter Ustinov), beginning an odyssey that will take her across the continent with frantic husband David in hot pursuit.  

After a fast-paced start which includes David's near-death in a helicopter crash, ASHANTI settles into a slow groove that's alternately diverting and boring.  Caine--known best these days as Alfred in Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy--gives a pleasantly bland performance, coming to life only when grappling with a bad guy or two as he follows the trail of his wife's captors from the jungle to the vast expanses of the Sahara desert and finally into the bustling heart of Saudi Arabia.


Caine's main co-star during the film's languid middle section is Kabir Bedi as Malik, an intense, black-garbed desert warrior who also seeks revenge against Suleiman for destroying his family.  Malik resembles a cross between a young Bela Lugosi and Oded Fehr of Stephen Sommers' THE MUMMY, and his violent treatment of anyone associated with the slave trade gives the story much needed action.  Meanwhile, Anansa's arduous desert trek with her fellow captives features scenes of sadism including the off-screen rape of a young African boy.  An incident involving a voodoo doll lends the story an unexpected supernatural element that's interesting but out of place.

Shot on location in Africa, Israel, and Sicily, the film is so sumptuously picturesque that the desert scenes alone make it a visually splendid travelogue.  A noteworthy cast wanders in and out of the frame, including the venerable Rex Harrison as Mr. Walker of the "Anti-Slavery Society", an aging but still dynamic William Holden as mercenary Sandell, and a smarmy Omar Sharif as Prince Hassan, who will ultimately purchase Anansa for his own unsavory purposes. 

Peter Ustinov makes the most of his role as the vain, fussy Arab slave trader Suleiman, managing as only he could to turn such a vile character into the film's one source of comedy relief (aside from Caine's clumsy attempts to ride a camel).  Suleiman initially tries to pass Anansa off as a virgin to prospective buyer Hassan, but when it's discovered that she is not only married but a doctor, the quick-thinking slaver promotes her as "capable not only of rendering infinite pleasure, but of curing numerous illnesses."


Fleischer's direction is also capable and the production values are fairly good, although the musical score never rises above the level of a bad 70s TV-movie or an episode of "Fantasy Island."  The film's main point of interest, of course, is lovely model-turned-actress Beverly Johnson, whose performance as Dr. Anansa Linderby, while perfectly adequate, depends more on natural appeal than acting skills. 

The 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Severin Films is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby mono sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of a trailer and an interview with a still-lovely Beverly Johnson in which she enthusiastically dishes at length and in depth on the making of the film. 

Despite almost causing me to nod off a time or two, ASHANTI suffices as passable entertainment that managed to hold my interest without ever being all that involving.  What it doesn't do, surprisingly, is offer up anything approaching the kind of "Cinemax After Dark" softcore sex stuff I was expecting.  Beverly Johnson's only nudity occurs early on during her brief beach scene, after which the film is straight action-adventure without any onscreen hanky-panky.  Whether or not that's a good thing is up to the individual viewer to decide.


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Sunday, December 2, 2012

"In Search of … The Complete Series" -- Classic TV Fave Comes to DVD on December 4th



VEI Proudly Presents "In Search of … The Complete Series"

Hosted by the Iconic Leonard Nimoy, a Look at History's Greatest Mysteries, the World's Most-Enduring Myths & Things That Go Bump in the Night

Complete Series Available in for the 1st Time in Any Home Entertainment Format, Dec. 4th


TORONTO - Dec. 1, 2012 - For Immediate Release - Entering our galaxy for the first time in any home entertainment format is In Search of … The Complete Series, available Dec. 4th in a special DVD collector's set from Visual Entertainment, Inc. (VEI).

Hosted by the iconic, Emmy Award-winning Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek), this popular, documentary television series (1976-1982) traversed the globe with a team of researchers, scientists and highly skilled technicians to conduct in-depth investigations of a wide variety of mysteries and to explore the unexplained.

So popular, it spawned six books, In Search of … took a fresh look at such controversial and mystifying topics as the paranormal; witchcraft, notorious murders; infamous cults; conspiracy theories; missing persons, cities and ships; naturally occurring phenomena; scientific breakthroughs; age-old myths; the lore surrounding historical events and figures; and the downright peculiar!

From the rumored existence of Nazi plunder to the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Holmes to tracking the Loch Ness monster to reincarnation to UFO cover ups (and much more!), it's an entertaining romp that no sci-fi fan, mystery enthusiast, scientific devotee or history buff will want to miss!

INCLUDES: 152 episodes on 21 discs (approx. 63+ hours). BONUS: Two Rod Serling-hosted specials, which aired prior to the start of the Nimoy-hosted series; and the re-launched 2002 series (eight hour-long episodes) hosted by Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files).

In Search of … The Complete Series is presented in full screen (aspect ratio: 4x3) and stereo.

About Visual Entertainment, Inc.
Visual Entertainment, Inc. (VEI) releases contemporary and classic television programming, across a wide variety of genres, on DVD and Blu-ray. Launched in 2004 and headquartered in Toronto, Canada, VEI boasts a library of 80 titles, licensed from Universal/NBC, MGM, CBS and ITV, among others. VEI serves the collectible, fan marketplace with contemporary hit series (Hell's Kitchen), popular classic series (Cagney & Lacey, McMillan & Wife, Diagnosis Murder), hard-to-find television (The Invisible Man), cult (Earthworm Jim); and more. Visit us online at: www.visualentertainment.tv

In Search of … The Complete Series
Visual Entertainment, Inc.
Genre:  Sci-Fi/Documentary/Classic TV
Not Rated
Format:  DVD Only
Running Time:  Approx. 63+ Hours
Street Date:  December 4, 2012
Catalog #:  VE-5580
UPC Code:  #773848557134

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Friday, November 30, 2012

THE WILD GEESE -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle




When THE WILD GEESE (1978) first played theaters, I actually went to see it a couple of times.  This doesn't necessarily indicate how good a movie it was but how boring my college days were, especially before home video.  (I also went to see Gil Gerard's dopey "Buck Rogers" movie twice.) 

Now that Severin Films is releasing it on Blu-Ray/DVD, I find it enjoyable for three reasons: nostalgia, an entertainingly cheesy ambience, and a wealth of genuinely thrilling action sequences.

One of Maurice Binder's lesser quasi-007 main titles creations gets things off to an interesting start, accompanied by a tweety Joan Armatrading theme song that took a while to grow on me.  (Joan gets a picture credit along with the cast at film's end.)  We find further Eon touches in the presence of co-star Roger Moore (circa MOONRAKER) and editor/second-unit director John Glen, who would go on to helm FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and other 007 adventures.  Even Sean Connery's stunt double Bob Simmons is the action coordinator.


Director Andrew V. McLaglen's work (CHISUM, McCLINTOCK!, THE UNDEFEATED) has always been blandly competent at best, but his stodgy, get-'er-done style is what helps make THE WILD GEESE such perverse fun.  From the first scene, the bad dubbing and chintzy production values play right into the film's pleasantly tacky 70s ambience. 

As an actor, Richard Burton's bad performances were just as interesting to watch as his good ones, and here he straddles the line in fine form as Colonel Allen Faulkner, a mercenary hired by wealthy bigwig Sir Edward Matherson (a nicely stuffy Stewart Granger) to lead a dangerous mission in Africa.  ("I don't discuss fees," Faulkner tells Matherson.  "I get what I want.") 

Faulkner's task will be to rescue progressive African leader Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona) from the military dictator who has taken over his country, with the help of old friends Capt. Rafer Janders (Richard Harris) and Lt. Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore), plus a handpicked platoon of fifty soldiers-for-hire.


Back in 1978, an action film could start out slow and then gradually build toward the good stuff without audiences fidgeting in their seats like speed freaks.  Here, Burton takes his time recruiting old pals Harris (who would rather spend dad-time with his son Emile than return to the field of battle) and Fynn (Moore's introduction is a corker of a scene in which he forces a heroin dealer at gunpoint to eat his own product), after which they and the fifty other soldiers are trained quick and dirty by gruff old sergeant Sandy (Jack Watson, EDGE OF DARKNESS).  The wonderful Hardy Kruger (FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, HATARI!) also joins the group as South African explosives expert Lt. Coetzee, who just wants a ticket back home.

Once these guys finally get to Africa, THE WILD GEESE shifts into high gear with a stunning parachute sequence that has the entire platoon pouring en masse out the back of the plane and into an exhilarating freefall before opening their chutes.  The assault on the military dictator's compound features a scene that I found queasily disturbing in 1978 and still do--dozens of sleeping soldiers literally being exterminated in their bunks like bugs as the mercenaries silently move down the rows spraying them with cyanide.  This ruthless manner of neutralizing the enemy is shown in a matter-of-fact way that leaves the viewer to deal with his or her own moral/emotional reaction to it.

Next comes the usual machine-gun blasting, grenade-chucking battle action as President Limbani is rescued and our heroes head for a nearby airstrip for extrication.  But they've been double-crossed by Sir Edward (which comes as no surprise considering Stewart Granger plays him with an extra helping of slime) and discover that they must make their own way out of Africa as hundreds of hardcore African soldiers known as "Simbas" start coming out of the woodwork with guns blazing. 


This is where THE WILD GEESE really hits its stride and director McLaglen manages to string together a series of explosive action setpieces that almost rival the edge-of-your-seat excitement of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. 

Burton, of course, in unrivalled when it comes to delivering such lines as: "Me, I'll work for anybody as long as they pay me...it's an ineradicable flaw in my character."  The always quirky Harris gives the Janders character his own off-kilter persona and makes us sympathize with his desire to spend Christmas with his son (we fear he'll never get another chance).  Moore, meanwhile, is all cigar-chomping badassedness, which he seems to be having a lot of fun playing at even though he's definitely no Lee Marvin. 

Frank Finlay (LIFEFORCE), Jeff Corey (TRUE GRIT), Ronald Fraser (FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX), and Barry Foster (SMILEY'S PEOPLE, FRENZY) make brief but welcome appearances.  As the racist Coetzee and the wounded African leader whom he must carry on his back, Hardy Kruger and Winston Ntshona bring another vital emotional element to the story, with Coetzee gradually realizing the error of his ways.


The 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Severin Films is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 2.0 sound.  (I noticed a slight flutter in the music during a couple of scenes.)  No subtitles.  In addition to a trailer and a juicy commentary track featuring Sir Roger, producer Euan Lloyd, and second unit director John Glen, extras consist of several choice featurettes.  These include interviews with Andrew V. McLaglen and ex-mercenary military advisor Mike Hoare, a profile of maverick producer Euan Lloyd with appearances by Roger Moore, Ingrid Pitt, Joan Armatrading, and others, a vintage making-of short, and a star-studded Movietone newsreel of the film's royal charity premiere. 

While liberally topped with finely-aged 70s cheese and at times a bit rough-hewn technically, THE WILD GEESE remains an impressive large-scale independent production that delivers big-time on the kind of battle action that war movie fans crave.  It may not be the equal of the all-time great war epics, but it certainly deserves to be on the same shelf with them.


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Thursday, November 29, 2012

SILENT NIGHT -- DVD review by porfle



I'm not sure who first had the idea of turning Santa Claus into a psycho killer, but I do recall sitting at the drive-in and thrilling to the sight of a not-so-saintly Saint Nick menacing Joan Collins in the original TALES FROM THE CRYPT.  Later, the home video age allowed me to witness Linnea Quigley's celebrated antler-skewering in 1984's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT in the comfort of my own recliner.  And now, with Anchor Bay's release of SILENT NIGHT (2012) on DVD, the jolly old elf with the axe and the attitude problem stalks the snow-swept streets yet again.

The pre-title sequence gets things off to a nice start with some teasing glimpses of Psycho Santa gearing up to go medieval on a couple of squirming home-invasion captives.  One guy's harrowing electrocution, complete with exploding eyeballs, gives us a foretaste of the film's generous gore content which will include plenty of slashings, choppings, piercings, dismemberments, and other mischief all done with old school 80s-style practical effects. 

Strangely enough, though, we've seen all this stuff so many times before that even the ghastliest effects have a "been there, done that" quality.  It's the staging of the mysterious killer Santa's attacks that makes the difference, with director Steven C. Miller doing his best to inject new life into very familiar situations.  He's already shown that he can do horror on a small budget (AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION) and handle action scenes with skill (THE AGGRESSION SCALE). 

Here, both are done with Miller's usual competence, although little that happens is original or over-the-top enough to really impress us on the level of, say, HALLOWEEN--which this movie resembles a bit in its earlier scenes of a placid Midwestern town lazily gearing up for a holiday amidst ominous glimpses of a murderous masked intruder.  As slasher killers go, this hulking Santa with the plastic mask has the size and imposing bearing for the job, yet lacks the personality needed to make him truly memorable in the "Michael Myers" vein.

Jaime King, who was the beautiful Goldie in SIN CITY, does a fine job in a non-glamorous role as a woman who actually looks like she might be a smalltown deputy.  Having just lost her husband, she's getting moral support from her parents over the holidays but is called in to work when Deputy Jordan (Brendan Fehr, COMEBACK SEASON) fails to show up--for reasons we're already aware of. 

As the killings escalate and a Santa-suited slasher is identified as the main suspect, the investigation is made doubly difficult by a plethora of Saint Nicks wandering the streets in preparation for the big Christmas parade.  Red herrings and false leads abound, including Donal Logue as an amusingly cynical fake-Santa who likes to make the kiddies cry by telling them the truth about Christmas.  Playing a crotchety old sheriff who looks forward to dealing with something exciting for a change, Malcolm McDowell is a welcome presence and seems to enjoy lending this earnest little horror flick some name value.

King's acting talent is given full range as her character's vulnerability and shaky self-confidence are evident in a series of close calls with suspects and some disturbing crime scenes including the murder of a little girl (who, as we see earlier, is an insufferable brat who richly deserves her fate!)  Equally shocking ends are in store for a stereotypically lecherous priest and an even more stereotypically sex-crazed teen couple whose lusty liason is rudely interrupted.  (The latter includes a direct homage to SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT that echoes a similar re-enactment by Linnea Quigley herself in CAESAR AND OTTO'S DEADLY XMAS.)

The gore effects are hokey but fun, with a crudely inventive woodchipper scene being perhaps the most genuinely unpleasant sequence.
Miller uses his modest budget to good effect and his movie looks pretty good (the Christmas ambience is especially well done) except for when the camera starts spazzing out during the murder scenes.  A frenetic flamethrower finale inside the police station isn't all that exciting but is rather impressively staged. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 soun and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of some deleted scenes and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette.

Like most good yuletide horror movies, SILENT NIGHT is melancholy and atmospheric, and actually generates a bit of Christmas spirit with which to contrast its brutal carnage.  While in no danger of becoming a perennial cult favorite along the lines of BLACK CHRISTMAS, and not particularly memorable in general, it's a morbidly fun way to pass the time while waiting for your chestnuts to roast.


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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN" on Blu-ray & DVD on January 8th from Anchor Bay



Based On The True Story Behind The Biggest Manhunt In American History…

ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT and THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY PRESENT SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN ON BLU-RAY™ AND DVD

 A Gripping Portrayal Of The Real-Life Mission Authorized by President Obama, SEAL Team Six: The Raid On Osama Bin Laden Heads To Retail On January 8, 2013!



BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein Company announced today the Blu-ray™ and DVD release of SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN, from director John Stockwell (Into The Blue) and Academy Award®-winning producer of The Hurt Locker, Nicolas Chartier.  Based on true events, framed by real-time footage, SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN, recounts the dramatic behind-the-scenes decisions that brought the world’s most wanted man to justice. 
Starring Cam Gigandet (Burlesque), Anson Mount (AMC’s “Hell on Wheels”), Freddy Rodriguez (Grindhouse), Xzibit (Derailed), Kathleen Robertson (The Starz Original Series, “Boss”), Eddie Kay Thomas (American Pie) and Kenneth Miller (The Company You Keep), the feature-length film heads to retail on January 8, 2013 for an SRP of $24.99 for the Blu-ray™ and $19.98 for the DVD.

Premiering on the National Geographic Channel on November 4th, SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN became the network’s most-watched World Premiere movie in 2012, drawing 2.7 million viewers.  America’s very first look at the real story behind the historic manhunt and raid that took down al-Qaeda’s notorious leader, the events portrayed in SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN were vetted by a team of experts, including a recently retired Navy Seal, a top CIA operative, and one of the most renowned bin Laden historians.

A break in the manhunt for Osama bin Laden serves as the backdrop for the gripping story about an extraordinary group of U.S. Navy SEALs who undertake the mission of a lifetime.  Despite inconclusive evidence that bin Laden is inside the compound, and ignoring the possible ramifications of an unannounced attack on Pakistani soil, the Pentagon orders the attack.  SEAL Team Six bands together in the most daring military operation of our generation, completing their mission of justice in a riveting final showdown.

The SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN Blu-ray™ and DVD special features include a “The Making of Seal Team Six: The Raid On Osama Bin Laden” featurette.  Note: Special features are subject to change.

SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN BLU-RAY™
Street date:                               January 8, 2013
Pre-book:                                 December 12, 2012
Catalog #:                                 BD60265
UPC:                                        013132602653
Run time:                                  90 Minutes
Rating:                                      Not Rated
SRP:                                        $24.99
Format:                                    Widescreen Presentation
Audio:                                     5.1 DTSHD-MA

SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN DVD
Street date:                               January 8, 2013
Pre-book:                                 December 12, 2012
Catalog #:                                 WC60263
UPC:                                        013132602639
Run time:                                  90 Minutes
Rating:                                      Not Rated
SRP:                                        $19.98
Format:                                    Widescreen Presentation
Audio:                                     Dolby Digital 5.1

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CACHE' (HIDDEN) -- movie review by porfle




(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2006.  Contains spoilers.)


Watching CACHE' (HIDDEN) (2005) is like reading a really intriguing mystery thriller and then discovering that not only has the author deliberately left out the last chapter, but it was never really a mystery thriller after all, silly. 

For most of the film's running time, director Michael Haneke (THE PIANO TEACHER) leads us to believe that we're watching a mystery that will eventually be resolved, but the joke's on us because it turns out to be a sociopolitical shaggy dog story--Haneke wants to comment on past mistreatment of Algerians by the French in particular, and racism in general--and our reward for sitting through it to a staggeringly inconclusive ending is a nagging puzzlement over its meaning.  Not about racism--that's bad, I get it--but about what the heck happens at the end of this story about a French family of three who suddenly start receiving anonymous videotapes that look like surveillance videos of their daily lives.

It seems the man of the family, Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil), has a dirty secret.  When he was a little boy, an Algerian family worked for his family, and when the parents were killed during a protest in which French police massacred many Algerian immigrants, Georges' parents decided to adopt their orphaned son, little Majid.  But Georges was jealous, so he told his parents bad things about Majid, and Majid was sent away. 


So now the Laurent family is getting these videotapes, and one of them shows an apartment house in another part of town.  A street sign is visible on the tape, and the video ends at the front door of a flat and reveals the apartment number.  Georges goes there and finds that the grown-up Majid (Maurice Bénichou) is living there.  But he claims not to have sent the tapes, and we believe him, although Georges warns him to desist.  Shortly thereafter, the Laurents receive another videotape of this conversation between Georges and Majid, taken by a hidden camera within Majid's apartment.

Later, the Laurents' son Pierrot disappears, and the parents have a fit, calling the police and having them roust Majid and his son and take them to jail.  But it turns out that Pierrot went to a friend's house to spend the night and neglected to tell his parents (or so he claims).  When his mother Anne (the wonderful Juliette Binoche, who played Catherine to Ralph Fiennes' Heathcliff in 1992's WUTHERING HEIGHTS) confronts him about this, he counters by accusing her of having an affair with a family friend, Pierre (Daniel Duval).  Is Pierrot involved in the making of the mysterious videotapes?  Does he want to prove to his mother that she is under his watchful eye?

Up until the point at which one of the characters does something truly and shockingly unexpected, I really thought I was watching one corker of a mystery.  All that was missing was the ending, but since CACHE' was so engaging until then, I was pretty certain that I was in for a dramatic revelation before the end credits, one that would cleverly explain everything and leave me with the satisfaction that comes from watching a good movie.  After all, nobody makes a mystery flick with a build-up like this and then just lets it come to a dead end, do they? 


But, as it turns out, we weren't supposed to expect a traditional "ending" after all--in fact, it was rather unsophisticated of us to do so.  Instead, we're supposed to think, "Oh, look at all these wonderful social and psychological loose ends for us to ponder.  Here is a truly unique filmmaker at work."  And the end is not only open, it's gaping.

The final shot is another surveillance-like view of Pierrot's school letting out. (Is it real, or is it another videotape?)  Kids come through the doors and hang around on the front steps, waiting to be picked up by their parents.  They stand there talking.  They wander around.  This is the point where, if something's going to happen, it has to happen now.  And then--the credits begin to roll. 

I rewound a few times to make sure I hadn't missed some vital piece of information that would make sense of everything.  Sure enough, if you look closely at the lower left side of the screen, and you've got pretty sharp vision, you'll recognize two of the people amidst the crowd talking with each other.  But this raises more questions than it answers, and if you're watching it in a theater and don't happen to notice it the first time, you're out of luck. 

CACHE' has won several awards and been critically acclaimed. 


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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

CHRISTIE'S REVENGE -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2008.)

From the Canadian producing team of Pierre David (SCANNERS) and Tom Berry comes another example of what they seem to do best these days, which is to put together moderately entertaining domestic thrillers that liven up the Lifetime Channel a bit before landing on DVD shelves. 
One of the better ones I've seen, CHRISTIE'S REVENGE (2007) comes from the prolific pen of screenwriter Christine Conradt, based on a story by Julia Stan & Glenn Pineau, and fulfills its purpose of keeping us entertained for a couple of hours.

Poor Christie...first her mom walked out on the family, and now her dad has popped a cap in his own ass, leaving Christie lonely, confused, and extremely angry.  She ends up living with her kindly uncle Ray (John Wesley Shipp of TV's "The Flash") and aunt Miranda (Cynthia Gibb), which would be lovely except that Ray, whom she blames for her father's suicide, is the person she's extremely angry with. 

And with the help of a devious, money-hungry blonde named Selene (Anastasia Phillips), Christie sets into motion a complex scheme to totally ruin Ray's life.  What we don't know at first, though, is just how far she plans to go.

This is one of those movies that gives us most of our information up front and then simply lets events play themselves out, and in this case being able to predict what's going to happen next only adds to the suspense.  Still, there are a few surprises here and there, such as why Christie's father really killed himself and just how far she's planning to go in exacting her revenge.  Which turns out to be pretty far. 

It's all nicely-done and fairly involving for a TV flick of this kind, leading inexorably to a life-or-death finish that had me inching toward the edge of my seat.  Not completely up to the edge, mind you, but pretty close.

The acting is adequate as this type of story doesn't really require stellar performances.  John Wesley Shipp, whom I always liked from "The Flash" and his soap opera days (yes, I am a recovering soap-a-holic), is a solid Mr. Nice Guy type.  Cynthia Gibb is pretty good, too, although it makes me feel a little old seeing her playing the mom here--I still picture her as the plucky young ingenue.  Annie Bovaird plays Ray and Miranda's bratty, belligerent daughter Haley, who manages to overcome her "I-can't-stand-her" status when she begins to suspect cousin Christie and dig up usefully incriminating stuff on her. 

As Christie, Dani Kind does a nice job of alternating between artificial sweetness and creepy, glaring malevolence. Ironically, in the earlier Lifetime domestic thriller MAID OF HONOR, she herself played the suspicious young daughter trying to expose Linda Purl's two-faced villainess before she could wreck her family.  Here, she graduates to the bad girl role and makes it her own.

Not content with simple blackmail or even framing the hapless Ray for murder, Christie eventually reveals the sinister depth of her evil intent as it builds to its deadly conclusion while Miranda races against time to stop her.  Although the DVD box indicates that CHRISTIE'S REVENGE is being marketed as another HARD CANDY, it isn't.  It's simply a Lifetime Channel-type psychological thriller which should be aimed at the people who go for this kind of thing, because as far as that goes, this one delivers.


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LAWLESS -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle



In director John Hillcoat's 2005 film THE PROPOSITION, he took a familiar genre--the American Western--and gave it a distinctly Australian spin that practically turned the Outback into Monument Valley.  With LAWLESS (2012), he and screenwriter Nick Cave bring this Western sensibility forward into the Prohibition era with a stunning backwoods mash-up of gunfighters, moonshiners, and Chicago-style gangsters. 

THE PROPOSITION's star, Guy Pearce (MEMENTO, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL), is back as special deputy Charlie Rakes, a mildly grotesque-looking dandy with a severe haircut and a total lack of both eyebrows and scruples.  Rakes is a crooked lawman who intends to muscle his way into the booming moonshine business that makes Franklin County, Virginia "the wettest county in the world", but in doing so comes up against the tightly-bonded Bondurant brothers--Forrest, Howard, and Jack--who have no intention of giving the big-city interloper one red cent of their moonshine profits no matter how many gun-toting government goons he sends their way.

This, of course, leads to war.  Forrest (Tom Hardy, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, STAR TREK: NEMESIS), leader of the Bondurant boys, is a soft-spoken, taciturn lug with a reputation for immortality--he tends to survive even the most grievous injuries and no-win situations, until finally his fabled luck runs out on him in one of the film's most shocking scenes. Vengeance follows close behind, and with it an escalation of the violence into the realm of the horrific (to which director Hillcoat is no stranger). 


Hardy's simmering yet robust performance is among LAWLESS' many fascinations, notable in part for the sympathy and admiration evoked by such a sometimes ruthless character.  When city girl Maggie (Jessica Chastain, CORIOLANUS) seeks work at the Bondurants' rural roadhouse to escape a troubled past, Forrest's uncomfortable shyness in response to her romantic overtures is endearing. 

As de facto head of the family, he looks after his brothers the only way he knows how--by being a fearsome badass who never backs down to anybody.  This leads to some tense and exciting confrontations between him and various local and state lawmen who dare to stick their noses in his business.

Howard (Jason Clarke, DEATH RACE, PUBLIC ENEMIES) is older and brawnier than Forrest but not as smart or responsible.  He can go from affable to animalistic in seconds, and in one of the film's highlights, two deputies delivering an ultimatum from Rakes learn the hard way not to rile Howard when he's been on a stump-whiskey bender. 


The youngest Bondurant, Jack (Shia LaBeouf, A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS), is a crackerjack driver but lacks the cruel edge needed to be a gangster like his idol, "Mad Dog" Floyd Banner (a wonderful Gary Oldman).  Floyd pulls into Jack's sleepy town one day, whips out his Tommy gun, and coolly riddles a pursuing ATF man's car with bullets while the youngster looks on admiringly.

Jack has a harrowing brush with Floyd in Chicago later on while trying to move a load of moonshine along with his younger partner Cricket (Dane DeHaan, CHRONICLE), with Oldman making the most of his brief appearance in the role. 

Shia LaBeouf is at his best here as the callow, naive outlaw-wannabe preening like a peacock in his late father's suit, playing gangster while headed for a rude awakening as Rakes and his goons close in on the Bondurants.  Meanwhile his awkward romantic intentions are inflamed by a doe-like preacher's daughter named Bertha (Mia Wasikowska, THAT EVENING SUN), who finds him more appealing than does her fire-and-brimstone father.  Jack's coming-of-age is the main story in LAWLESS, as his innate humanity prevents him from fully transforming into that which he wrongly idealizes.


Hillcoat directs both the action and the quieter scenes with impeccable style, as finely-detailed production design captures the look and atmosphere of the era.  There's an oddly delirious intensity to the scene in which a drunken Jack visits Bertha's church just in time for a mutual foot-washing ritual that he finds unbearably erotic, while Maggie's late-night seduction of a bashful Forrest is both haunting and strangely amusing.  Such moments are offset by instances of sudden, bone-crushing violence that are unsparingly brutal.

The 3-disc Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo from Anchor Bay and the Weinsteins is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  There's an informative commentary track with director Hillcoat and author Matt Bondurant, who wrote the source novel "The Wettest County in the World" based on his own family history.  Extras also include deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a music video by Willie Nelson for the song "Midnight Run."

Strangely, the rose-colored glasses through which Matt Bondurant seems to view his relatives' unsavory past ultimately give us an ending that almost matches RAISING ARIZONA for smarmy sentimentality.  Despite their more admirable qualities, these guys are violent, ruthless criminals--cornpone Corleones, you might say--so I must admit I didn't get that warm family vibe that Bondurant intends to impart at story's end.  But until then, LAWLESS is thrilling, emotionally resonant, exquisitely rendered, and riveting.



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Monday, November 19, 2012

WANTED:DEAD OR ALIVE, SEASON TWO -- DVD review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com back in 2007.)

Three of the main things that make me glad I own a DVD player are Steve McQueen, Westerns, and classic TV.  So when WANTED:DEAD OR ALIVE, SEASON TWO fell into my hot little hands, my inner joy buzzer went haywire.  This is the good stuff, pardner!

Steve McQueen was effortlessly cool in whatever he did.  His "Josh Randall" character is a bounty hunter, but instead of the cold, ruthless type we usually associate with that occupation, he's more of a kind-hearted Good Samaritan who spends much of his time getting involved in other people's problems and helping them out.  This gives the stories a lot more variety than they'd have if Randall just tracked down bad guys all the time, although we often get to see him do that, too.  But even then, there's always some novel twist that makes it more interesting than the standard "good guy vs. bad guy" yarn.

Since Steve is the sole continuing castmember, the show's premise is similar to that of "Route 66", "Then Came Bronson", "The Fugitive", "The Incredible Hulk", etc., in that the main character travels from town to town interacting with a different set of guest stars in each episode and getting himself mixed up in their affairs.  (Josh Randall has one advantage over the others, though--he doesn't have to find a different odd job in every town.)  And if you enjoy watching great character actors as I do, the endless assortment of notable guest stars in these episodes is a constant source of delight.

In "The Hostage", Lee Van Cleef makes a very imposing outlaw who breaks out of his jail cell and threatens to kill the captive Josh Randall unless he's given safe passage out of town.  "The Empty Cell" features both classic horror icon Lon Chaney, Jr. and Star Trek's DeForest Kelley in fine performances.  In "Bad Gun", King Donovan plays a prissy gun salesman from the East who hires Randall to lead him into the badlands to track down "Curly Bill" Brocius, simply to exchange a defective gun that he sold him!  Even Tony "Scarface" Montana's mother, Miriam Colon, shows up in the episode "Desert Seed", along with Kurt Russell's real-life father, Bing, who would later appear with Steve in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. 

Other familiar guest stars include Brad Dexter and Robert Wilke (also of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), Warren Oates, Richard Farnsworth, John Carradine, Gloria Talbot, Dabbs Greer, John Dehner, child actor Richard Eyer (THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD), Everett Sloan, Royal Dano, Virginia Christine, Claude Akins, Beverly Garland, Philip Ahn, James Westerfield, Charles Aidman, Jean Willes, Jay "Tonto" Silverheels, Susan Oliver, William Schallert, Dyan Cannon, Martin Landau, Mara Corday, voice-over legend Alexander Scourby, R.G. Armstrong, Mort Mills, and Virginia Gregg. Wow!  As I've said before, this kind of consistently fine guest star line-up gives fans of these actors the feeling that they're watching an "all-star cast" during several episodes.

This DVD set consists of four discs in three attractively-designed slimline cases and contains 32 episodes from the classic series which ran from 1958-61.  They're so beautifully restored they could've been shot last week, and the cinematography is feature-quality.  Each episode is a 26-minute mini-Western that wastes no time in getting the story going and keeping things moving right up till the end.  Some of the scripts are penned by such familiar names as Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Star Trek's Fred Freiberger and Samuel A. Peeples, and contain some choice dialogue.  "Can you hit anything with this?" someone asks Randall in one episode, indicating his unusual gun.  "It's happened," he drawls.

My favorite TV Western of all time is still "The Rifleman", but "Wanted: Dead or Alive" is now a close second.  Like Lucas McCain, Josh Randall packs a distinctive weapon--the "Mare's Leg", a sawed-off 1892 Winchester lever-action rifle that he carries in a holster.  Unlike Lucas McCain, however, Randall rarely uses his gun, preferring to talk his way out of violent situations rather than shooting his way out, and the body count on an entire season of this show is lower than a few trips to town for Lucas McCain.  But the drama and excitement levels are just as high, and the fact that Randall isn't tied down by home and family gives him the chance to partake in a wide assortment of storylines that could never take place on shows like "The Rifleman" or "Bonanza." 

The sole bonus feature on this 4-disc set is a brief (approx. 11 min.) featurette entitled "The Women of Wanted: Dead or Alive", which is pleasant but not very informative.  But the 32 episodes of the show themselves are sufficient compensation for the lack of extras. 

Besides, the main thing that makes WANTED:DEAD OR ALIVE, SEASON TWO such fun to watch is that Steve McQueen is just so darn cool.  I'd watch this show just to see him even if it was a piece of junk, so the fact that it happens to be one of the finest Westerns in TV history makes it absolutely essential viewing for his fans.  Just out of curiosity, I checked jumptheshark.com to see when this series reached its "jump the shark" point, and the unanimous verdict was: never.  As one voter put it:  "The shark wouldn't stand a chance against Steve."


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