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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL: SEASON TWO, PART 1 -- DVD review by porfle




"This is the really-real world," T-Bird reminds us in THE CROW, and it's up to the viewer to decide whether or not there's room in it for the spooky antics of GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL: SEASON TWO, PART 1.  Part of the fun may be not knowing if the ghosts are real, or even, for that matter, whether our earnest, intrepid ghost-hunting heroes are for real (I think they are) or if we're all just having our collective leg pulled.

The show seems to take all of this stuff dead seriously, and it's easy to let yourself buy into it if only for the sake of being pleasantly entertained.  The ghost hunters themselves seem sincere enough, especially since they put as much effort into debunking this stuff as they do verifying it.  One of the most interesting things about the show, in fact, is seeing what logical explanations they can come up with for various accounts of seemingly paranormal activity.

Team leader Robb seems to have lightened up a bit since we reviewed season one, part one of GHI and heads things up with a casual confidence.  Tech guy Barry, the Irishman with the unfortunate soul patch, still reacts comically to sudden noises and movement but seems to have overcome his tendency to run away from them.  New guy Dustin has settled in quite well as a key member of the team even though he still wears that geeky backward-inverted visor.  Three new players, case manager Brandy and investigators Ashley and Joe, also handle themselves well, as does temporary member Paul, who brings with him some cool new tech gadgets for the team to play with.

As always, each episode consists of the same three-part formula--the GHI team investigates a site, analyzes their data, and reveals their findings to whomever has summoned them there.  This is usually either someone who's frightened by the ghost stories and wants them debunked, or someone who has a stake in the location's tourist appeal, and, therefore, does not.  In the latter case, a negative finding by the team is obvious cause for disappointment. 

The investigation itself takes place in total darkness, with night-vision cameras giving the team and their surroundings an unnervingly ghostly look right off the bat.  After "lights out", they creep around in some of the spookiest places on earth trying to provoke the ghosts into either showing themselves for their cameras or letting their voices be heard on various recording devices.  Electromagnetic fields and changes in temperature are also monitored.  Often these readings indicate the presence of otherworldly entities and can even be used to apparently converse with them in simple yes-or-no terms. 

A major part of each investigation consists of "personal experiences", which are the team members' own feelings, sensations, and sightings that can't be proven or disproven but which add weight to the belief that a particular site is haunted.  Sometimes it can be a sudden chill or sick feeling, but there are more concrete examples such as being poked or prodded, hearing discernible voices, or witnessing a shadowy shape moving about.  In these cases, it's hoped that these experiences can be verified during the exhaustive analysis process later on. 

Even for viewers not inclined to believe in ghosts, the show is an interesting travelogue of strange locations all over the world.  In this set, the GHI team travels to places such as Ireland, Italy, Argentina, Malaysia, Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Chile.  They don't visit the usual tourist haunts, though--more likely, they'll be wandering around in crumbling castles, hellish prisons, sanatoriums, and other places whose histories are filled with misery and death.  Even without the ghosts, these dark, foreboding locations are creepy enough to make me glad I'm not the one having to make my way through their winding passageways.

The first episode of the set, "Wicklow's Gaol", gets things off to a rousing start as the old Irish prison, where life was cheap and torture was the norm, appears to give up many of its ghostly secrets to the team.  We get everything from strange lights on the video, disembodied voices and footsteps, and team members claiming to have felt themselves being tugged.  The gaol's curator, Marie, is so moved by the results that she's in tears by the end of the reveal.  After an episode ("Skeleton in the Closet") that consists mainly of debunking, "Gate to Hell" takes the team to Houska Castle in Prague where accounts of actual demonic activity have them jumping at shadows and being genuinely scared, especially new member Ashley.

In "Silver Shadow", Dustin sees his first-ever apparition, and the ghosts of a rather unlovely couple appropriately named the Crawleys tell the team to "get out."  Two prison hellholes, "Port Arthur Penitentary" (Australia) and "San Lucas Prison" (Costa Rica), give GHI a wealth of scarifying experiences including physical contact, voices, and a photograph that catches a ghostly figure in mid-stride.  "Quarantine Station" in Sydney, Australia, is another one of those sites whose tragic history yields a surfeit of spine-tingling supernatural activity.  In all, these thirteen episodes represent some of the most intriguing and downright scary excursions into the supernatural that the GHI team has faced.

The 4-disc set from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital stereo.  No subtitles or closed-captioning.  Disc four consists of deleted and extended scenes, most of which aren't all that interesting out of context.

It's not often you see a show--outside of the Saturday morning serials--that not only claims to feature "Hitler's Ghost" but has its stars take him on mano a mano.  It's that kind of almost unwitting audacity that helps make GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL: SEASON TWO, PART 1 such a fun bit of schlock, whether it's really-real or not. 


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Monday, February 27, 2012

CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL -- DVD review by porfle




Like HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE, CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (2011) is a fun, well-constructed, and informative documentary tribute to an influential producer-director whose films continue to entertain us.  But while both are loaded with testimonials from friends and coworkers, Corman's are considerably more high-profile.  That's because he gave some of the biggest names in the film industry their first break.

CORMAN'S WORLD takes us from his first screen efforts in the 50s (THE MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) through his historic association with the groundbreaking American-International Pictures and successful exploitation of the burgeoning teen market, to his break from A-I to form New World Pictures and achieve creative freedom, and all the way to his current cheesy-but-fun monster flicks for the SyFy Channel (SHARKTOPUS, DINOSHARK).

The road is paved with a wealth of fun clips that document Corman's growth as a filmmaker from the crude early efforts such as ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, IT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, and THE WASP WOMAN to his more critically-acclaimed Poe adaptations (HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM).  "I never had the opportunity to go to film school," he says.  "My student work was being shown on the screen."  Of all his hundreds of pictures, none (save for the anti-racist message film THE INTRUDER with William Shatner, which was a labor of love) ever failed to make a profit, which, to the penny-pinching Corman, was of paramount importance.


The roster of names contributing their (mostly glowing) testimonials reads like a who's who of Hollywood.  Martin Scorsese recalls directing his first studio picture, 1972's BOXCAR BERTHA with Barbara Hershey and David Carradine; Ronny Howard enthuses about his own big break as a director with 1976's car-crash epic GRAND THEFT AUTO; Robert DeNiro and Bruce Dern look back on their early roles in such films as BLOODY MAMA and THE TRIP.

The list goes on--Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, David Carradine, Pam Grier, Peter Fonda, Jonathan Haze, Polly Platt, Penelope Spheeris, Gale Anne Hurd, John Sayles, Peter Bogdanovich, and William Shatner also pay tribute to Corman, while others such as Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino, who never worked with him but peg him as a key influence in their careers, testify to his importance as a filmmaker.  Rarely has one man had such a profoundly positive effect upon such a wide array of creative artists.

Aside from a few amusing montages, the lean, straightforward documentary by director Alex Stapleton doesn't try to be cute or to funny things up with cartoony humor or clever cinematic flourishes which, considering the wealth of material at hand, are entirely unnecessary.  Corman himself is seen happily going about his life with wife and producing partner Julie, seemingly as content as ever with the way things have worked out even as he continues well into his 80s.  (A highlight is his being presented, at long last, with an honorary Oscar.)  His own philosophical observations and practical advice regarding the moviemaking business are both fascinating and invaluable. 


Of all the famous faces yakking about Corman during the course of the film, my favorite is longtime associate Jack Nicholson.  The venerable Hollywood legend fondly recalls his early days on such films as THE CRY BABY KILLER, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (with its famous "dentist office" scene), and THE TRIP, which he wrote.  Best of all is hearing Nicholson talk about that infamous patchwork quickie THE TERROR (directed in turn by Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Nicholson himself, and possibly others) in which he co-starred with Boris Karloff, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze, and his then-current wife Sandra Knight amidst sets temporarily left standing from THE RAVEN.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include extended interviews, personal messages to Corman, and the film's trailer.

An unexpected moment near the end finds Nicholson suddenly overcome with emotion, on the verge of tears as warm feelings toward his old mentor rush to the surface.  If you can inspire this kind of heartfelt sentiment in a salty old cuss like Jack, then your world must be a pretty nice place to live in.  And CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL is an ideal way for us to visit it for awhile.


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Sunday, February 26, 2012

ZAAT -- Blu-Ray/DVD Review by Porfle




If the idea of being attacked by a giant walking catfish has ever given you sleepless nights, you may not be able to handle ZAAT (aka "Blood Waters of Dr. Z"), a 1972 indy horror flick made on a shoestring in and around Jacksonville, Florida.  But if thoughts of catfish simply make you hungry, and you don't have anything more exciting to do for the next hour and a half, then this good-natured, pleasantly boring little fish story should go down pretty easy.

The film opens with stock footage of various predatory fish as we hear mad scientist Dr. Leopold (Marshall Grauer) chuckling to himself about his scheme to take over the universe by creating catfish people.  Like a poor man's Vincent Price, he gloats:  "They'll have fish a size they've never seen before...walking fish!  Heh, heh...they'll like human flesh."

After the exciting main titles sequence, which shows the doctor slowly making his way from the ocean shore to his laboratory in the basement of an abandoned building, we see his decades-long experiments reach fruition when he injects himself with a special formula--"Z, sub a, and A, sub t"--and climbs into a water tank.  (The sight of him removing his shirt and pants is probably the most horrifying thing in the entire picture.)  What emerges from the tank is Zaat, an eight-foot-tall human catfish. 


Played by 6'8" actor Wade Popwell in a suit which consists of mounds of painted silicon over a scuba outfit and an oversized monster head, Zaat then begins his reign of terror by swimming around in Silver Springs (where Tarzan and the Creature From the Black Lagoon once frolicked) spraying radioactive waste out of a squirt bottle.  The color photography of the monster moving about these crystal-clear waters is actually quite nice. 

Director Don Barton stages a pretty cool attack sequence when Zaat stumbles upon one of the scientists who once ridiculed his experiments, overturning his fishing boat and killing him and his family.  Later, he kidnaps a woman camper (Nancy Lien, who looks terrific in a yellow bikini) and unsuccessfully tries to turn her into his catfish bride.  These and a few other acts of violence fail to generate much fear--Zaat is such a goofy-looking and clumsy creature (Popwell couldn't see too well in that big monster head and frequently stumbles over things as he galumphs around just trying not to fall over) that my main reaction was to feel sorry for him.

Meanwhile, the typical "comical redneck sheriff", Sheriff Krantz (Paul Galloway) and a young marine biologist named Rex (Gerald Kruse) are checking out some watery fauna when two agents show up from INPIT (Inter-Nations Phenomenon Investigations Team) just in time to get in on the monster action.  Blonde cutie Sanna Ringhaver and studly hero-type Dave Dickerson supply the film's cursory romantic element as the mismatched foursome try to track down Zaat before he can kill again.


While we may laugh at much of ZAAT's dumber dialogue and visuals, at least it's an earnest attempt to be a real monster movie and doesn't poke fun at itself with a lot of coy self-awareness.  The film's only deliberate humor comes from Sheriff Krantz and his gangly deputy, especially in a curious sequence in which the sheriff, Pied Piper-like, leads a ragtag group of hippie Jesus freaks down the street to jail (for safety from the monster) as one of them croons an earbending folk song (he inflicts the titles tune upon us as well). 

Even Zaat himself is only the second funniest thing about the movie.  The hands-down funniest has to be the sight of actual walking catfish flopping around on a miniature set that makes THE GIANT GILA MONSTER look like JURASSIC PARK. That aside, the notion of Barbie and Ken INPIT agents on the "weird science" beat in their specially-equipped RV is pretty comical in itself.

Technically, the film has little to be ashamed of for such a low-budget effort.  Direction and editing are well-done, while the photography and lighting, especially in the nighttime and underwater scenes, look pretty good for a drive-in flick that just turned forty.  None of the actors do an outstanding job (although Galloway is pretty good) but they're not really too awful, either.  With the abduction by Zaat of the female INPIT agent for the purpose of turning her into his mate, the story builds to a surprisingly somber finish that shows some imagination. 


The 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Film Chest's Cultra and HD Cinema Classics labels is in 16x9 widescreen and standard Dolby audio.  Spanish subtitles only.  Extras consist of a genial cast and crew commentary, outtakes, trailer and TV spots, a before-and-after restoration demo, and a radio interview with Ed Tucker and Wade Popwell.

As with other "so bad it's good" cheapies, your reaction to ZAAT will depend entirely upon whether or not you decide to like it.  Some will find it unwatchable, while others have already embraced it as a beloved cult film.  Although actual excitement and suspense are non-existent, I found it so pleasant to watch in its own easygoing way that it rarely becomes painfully boring.  But it really did make me hungry for some catfish.  


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Saturday, February 25, 2012

I, CLAUDIUS -- DVD review by porfle




A massively impressive achievement in series television, the BBC's 13-episode production of I, CLAUDIUS (1976) is a hypnotically watchable small-scale epic that deftly serves up equal measures of the garish and the beautiful, the lurid and the sublime, as scathing political intrigue rubs shoulders with some exquisitely high-class soap opera.

Ranging from about 24 B.C. to 54 A.D., it's the multi-generational saga of Roman emperor Augustus Caesar and his successors during the last years of the monarchy.  A beardless Brian Blessed plays Augustus as a firm but jovial figure whose scheming wife Livia (Sian Phillips) is the real power behind his throne.  Not content with being the wife of an emperor, Livia's plan to have her son Tiberius (George Baker) succeed Augustus results in seemingly endless acts of treachery and murder in which no one is spared.  Just when you think you've seen it all, she sets things into motion that outdo Michael Corleone at his most vindictive.

While all of this is going on, along comes the twitchy, stammering, clubfooted Claudius (Derek Jacobi), unloved by his own mother Antonia (Margaret Tyzack) and wrongly perceived as an idiot by those around him.  These very qualities are what enable Claudius to survive until finally, through a bizarre series of events, he himself becomes emperor.  But even then, those closest to him continue to plot his demise to advance their own unquenchable ambition.

Adapted by Jack Pulman from the novels of Robert Graves, I, CLAUDIUS brims with scintillating, powerful, and frequently funny dialogue ("Does Lucius know you're plowing his mother's furrow with such ferocious skill and energy?") and is studded with familiar faces from the British stage and screen, all doing excellent work bringing their colorful characters to life. 

Blessed is almost cartoonishly bigger-than-life as Augustus, while Sian Phillips was born to play Livia with a steely, coldblooded witchiness that dominates the first episodes of the series.  In one scene, Livia's vitriolic exhortation to a bunch of gladiators to put on a good, bloody show--no pussy-footing around, no pretending to be dead--is chilling.

George Baker, whom I liked a lot as Lewis Carroll in 1965's "Alice", plays Livia's son Tiberius as a frustrated, impotent failure who begins to fall apart both physically and spiritually as soon as he's installed as emperor.  This occurs with the help of his trusted guardsman Sejanus (a mop-topped Patrick Stewart), who later makes a violent bid for the position himself.  Ian Ogilvy, John Rhys-Davies, and Simon McCorkindale also turn up in brief roles along with other recognizable faces. 

Best of all, perhaps, is John Hurt as the incredibly vile and decadent Caligula.  His mad reign as emperor, dominating the middle episodes of the series, borders on the surreal once he begins to believe he's the reincarnated Zeus and cuts a swath of insanity and perversion through the heart of the Roman empire. 

Not the least of his twisted acts are his marriage to sister Drusilla (which doesn't end well) and the brutal execution of a boy for coughing too much, the results of the latter being one of the series' more graphically grotesque sights.  (Although this is rivaled by Hurt preening his way though a lewd interpretive dance dressed as a harem girl.)

But the show belongs to Derek Jacobi and his wonderful portrayal of Claudius from innocent youth to increasingly cynical and world-weary old man.  Claudius' image as a halfwit, laughed at by both his own family and the citizens of Rome, allows him to pass relatively unscathed through a gauntlet of perilous encounters with some of history's most ruthless characters, including his own conniving friends, relatives, and wives (with Sheila White most impressive as the beautiful but abhorrent Messalina). 

Direction by Herbert Wise is excellent, with several scenes played out in long takes filled with fluid camera movements.  Wise displays an impressive knack for alternating between the theatrical and the intimate, having his actors play it big one moment and then moving in for dialogue exchanges of quiet subtlety.  

The 5-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  Disc one features a combined version of episodes one and two that has minor differences from the individual episodes.  Disc five contains bonus features including "I, Claudius: A Television Epic" (74 minutes), a ten-minute Derek Jacobi interview, and a look at the cast and director's favorite scenes (36 minutes). 

Also of great interest to film fans is the 71-minute documentary "The Epic That Never Was", in which Dirk Bogarde narrates a look at the aborted 1937 film version of "I, Claudius" by producer Alexander Korda and director Josef von Sternberg which would have starred Charles Laughton as Claudius, Flora Robson as Livia, and Merle Oberon as Messalina.  Surviving rushes and some semi-completed scenes give us a teasing glimpse of what this film might have looked like if production hadn't been halted due to Oberon's auto accident.

Irresistibly absorbing once you settle into it, I, CLAUDIUS lets us savor the efforts of some excellent performers acting the hell out of a brilliant script.  It's the kind of immersive, richly fulfilling drama that doesn't come along every day.


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Thursday, February 23, 2012

FATHER'S DAY -- movie review by porfle




I didn't know quite what to expect when I started watching FATHER'S DAY (2011), a condition which persisted throughout the entire movie.  Just when you think you've pretty much figured out what it is you're watching, it turns into something a whole lot weirder and several times nuttier.

Written, directed, and starred in by a group of Winnipeg filmmakers who call themselves Astron-6, it's an unashamedly stupid, gore-drenched grab bag of tongue-in-cheek tough-guy action-horror-comedy antics done in the fake-grindhouse style of PLANET TERROR, but with real grindhouse production values and attitude. 

Most nostalgic of all for me, it's presented as though home-taped sometime during the 80s off a late-night cable station called ASTR-TV, complete with promo bumpers, smarmy announcer, and a mid-movie faux trailer for something really, really cheesy called STAR RAIDERS.

The story begins in semi-sane fashion with corpulent "Father's Day Killer" Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock) raping and butchering dads, including that of gay street hustler Twink (Conor Sweeney).  This repellent character also killed the father of young Ahab and cut out his right eye in the bargain. 

Now grown up, Ahab (Adam Brooks) is a growly-voiced, eye-patched "Snake Plissken" type out for revenge along with his stripper sister Chelsea (Amy Groening), the addlebrained Twink, and a jittery young priest named Father John (Matthew Kennedy) whose blind, aging mentor also met a horrific Fuchman-related fate. 

What follows makes ARMY OF DARKNESS look like a Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedy as this simple revenge flick gets progressively more absurd.  Characters obsess "Monty Python"-style over simple figures of speech, as when Ahab tells Father John that it's time to harvest his maple syrup before it turns bitter and Father John wrongly interprets this as a metaphor for Ahab and his sister Chelsea, after which a confused Ahab spends five minutes trying to figure out why Father John just compared him to a tree.

Twink, meanwhile, begins the film as a deceptively serious character grieving over his dead dad (Billy Sadoo's acting while being murdered by Fuchman is strikingly realistic), making his descent into extreme goofiness even more pronounced.  Elsewhere, Father John's odyssey takes him from a meltdown in the pulpit worthy of Richard Burton on laughing gas (in a scene which may have been inspired by the opening to NIGHT OF THE IGUANA) to a hostage situation in Heaven with the desperate priest holding God (Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman) at gunpoint. 

While all this is going on, Fuchman continues his reign of terror complete with a cornucopia of wet 'n' wild gore effects including entrails, exploding heads, and one shocking moment that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "eat me."  None of this, however, is quite as disturbing as the image of a full-on naked Mackenzie Murdock displaying his eye-watering genitalia and humping everyone in sight. 

Just when you think our heroes have defeated the bad guy and made everything right with the world again, FATHER'S DAY pulls out all the stops and goes totally off the deep end with Ahab, Twink, and Father John descending into Hell to rescue Chelsea, who's been kidnapped by Fuchman to be the bearer of his evil seed or whatever. 

While this may sound pretty horrible, it's all basically just an excuse to ramp up the bizarre off-the-wall comedy to even greater heights (or should I say depths) of calculated idiocy.  Along with even more squishy gore effects, of course.  Oh yeah, and I almost forgot to mention the extreme incest sequence and the buxom, chainsaw-wielding stripper played by my future wife, Zsuzsi. 

As nastily nostalgic as the more expensive, star-studded PLANET TERROR and packed with more grindhouse-verite' style than HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, the gleefully horrendous FATHER'S DAY will be a riotous romp for some, a nauseating nightmare for others.  You probably know which camp you're in by now. 


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MURDER INVESTIGATION TEAM: SERIES TWO -- DVD review by porfle




If you like shows about murder investigation teams, then chances are you'll like MURDER INVESTIGATION TEAM: SERIES TWO, a two-disc DVD from Acorn Media.  It's not the best of its kind that I've seen, but it's a solid and slickly-made cop series that manages a few nifty surprises along the way.

Even if you missed out on the first season as I did, it doesn't take long to get to know these characters. (It doesn't hurt to check out the character profiles on disc one before watching, though.)  There's DC Rosie MacManus (Lindsey Coulson), a wise, seasoned cop who acts as the squad's conscience and mother figure; DC Jed Griffiths (Will Mellor), the cocky ladies' man; DC Simon Tait (Abhin Galeya), a shy, mild-mannered type; and DC Barry Purvis (Richard Hope), the obligatory tech geek who gathers info and peruses CCTV tapes all day.

Keeping everyone on their toes and generally shaking things up is DS Trevor Hands (Michael McKell), a hardheaded bantam rooster with an abrasive personality.  When he isn't bumping heads with his lady boss, DCI Anita Wishart (Meera Syal), he's giving the new girl in the squad a hard time.  Diane Parish plays DC Eva Sharpe, the usual rookie character who must prove herself before she's accepted by her new peers.  Sharpe does so by living up to her name as well as handling a nightstick like a pro, but thankfully her character is believably written rather than coming off like a superheroine.

Following the standard template for this type of show, each episode gives the team a new murder to investigate while they work out various professional and interpersonal conflicts.  We don't spend as much time obsessing over the forensic details as a show like CSI--this is more of a traditional procedural where the plot is driven mostly by relentless interrogation, dogged detective work, and meticulously putting together the puzzle pieces yielded by their efforts. 

Unlike some cop shows, we don't follow these guys home every night and get bogged down in their personal lives--we may learn about such things and see how they affect the characters as they go about their jobs, but their professional interactions yield more than enough material for strong drama. I cringed during a later episode at an attempt to ramp up the melodrama by having one cop surprise another with an unwelcome kiss, which is just the kind of predictable nonsense this show doesn't need.

With a longer running time (69 minutes), there are only four episodes in this series rather than the previous eight.  "Phone Tag" gets the ball rolling with a mysterious icepick murder during an otherwise harmless party game, leading the team into a search for a shadowy internet entity lurking amongst violence-inciting websites and threatening to strike again.  Clare Higgins of HELLRAISER guest stars. 
"Viper's Nest" begins with a young doctor falling to his death from a hospital balcony, which opens up an investigation into why a woman died needlessly after a minor surgery.  The extended cat-and-mouse interrogation scene with Anthony Head ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Merlin") as an arrogant surgeon under suspicion is riveting.

"Professional" is about the death of a famous footballer whose perceived betrayal of his team may have incited a sports-crazy stalker to violence.  The final episode, "Sexual Tension", is the best of the lot, with a serial killer on the loose and none other than a member of the Murder Investigation Team as one of the main suspects.  (Danny Dyer guests in this one, and look for Jaime Winstone in a bit part.)

The show is nicely shot with a brisk pace and cool incidental music.  Mostly these are the usual sort of murder-mystery cases seen on shows of this type, but the crackling character interaction and the occasional stand-out scenes really spice things up.  There are plenty of red herrings to throw the viewer off so that the identity of the killer isn't too obvious, and while there is some humor, the dialogue is refreshingly free of wisecracks and obvious gags.  Performances by the cast are consistently top-notch.

The 2-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby stereo and English subtitles.  Extras consist of character profiles and a 12-minute interview with star Michael McKell and producer Jonathan Young.

While MURDER INVESTIGATION TEAM: SERIES TWO didn't quite blow me away, it's still one of the most entertaining shows of its kind that I've seen.  The four episodes in this set start out good and keep getting better and better, until I was left wishing that this team had stayed together longer than a mere two seasons. 


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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

SINGLE-HANDED: SET 2 -- DVD review by porfle




Returning to a breathtakingly picturesque rural Ireland with Acorn Media's 3-disc DVD set SINGLE-HANDED: SET 2, we find that the only lawman for miles around still has his hands full dealing with all the ugliness that goes on beneath the lovely exterior of his sleepy little hometown.

Sgt. Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell), who has taken over as "Garda" from his late father, finds it difficult to avoid the corruption that was once a standard feature during his father's tenure.  While less prone to violence or intimidation, he also commands less respect and loyalty from the townspeople.  Still, he insists on doing things his way and going by the book as much as possible. 

Making this harder for him is a deputy whose own loyalties are divided.  Having served under the elder Driscoll, Garda Finbarr Colving (David Herlihy) is now torn between doing things the old way and trying to live up to his new boss' expectations of him.  Being in debt to a conniving local businessman named Costello (Sean McGinley), who owns the pub and hotel along with various other shady interests, often makes the unwilling Finbarr a liability to Jack. 

As always, one of the most interesting things about SINGLE-HANDED is the fact that with every case Jack handles, he must deal with people he's known his whole life.  Even his own widowed mother Eithne (Ruth McCabe), still fiercely loyal to his father, is often at odds with him ("What kind of Driscoll are you?" she accuses him at one point).  Because of this, there's much more at stake in each story than simply dealing with the problems of a bunch of strangers.  And Jack can never just leave these problems at the office at quitting time.

This is especially true in the first of three feature-length stories, "The Lost Boys", when Jack meets long-lost cousin Brian (Matthew McNulty) and his fiance' Gemma (Simone Lahbib) who are searching for Brian's father whom he's never known.  The missing man turns out to be Eithne's troubled older brother Sean (a soulful Stephen Rea) who spent his boyhood in a hellish reform school and was treated afterward as though he'd never existed. 

Brian turns out to be more trouble than Jack could have imagined in a variety of ways, including his attempt to take over the family home and land as his own.  Compounding the problem is one of those romantic developments that you just know is going to be trouble as Jack and Gemma start falling for each other.  Meanwhile, the death and possible murder of an elderly man after tangling with some boys from a nearby "Boys Town"-like school ties in with all of this in unexpected ways. 

Costello's involvement in a shady housing development is brought into question in "Between Two Fires" when a dead woman is found in one of the houses after it has been gutted by fire.  A former cop himself, Costello becomes a major thorn in Jack's side as he schemes to get him kicked out of the Garda while using the debt-ridden Finbarr as a pawn.  Once again, the woman's death forces Jack to alienate old friends as he searches for suspects, while his troubles with Brian and Gemma get deeper. 

Finally, "Cold Heaven" ramps up the drama of the continuing plotlines while introducing us to a 17-year-old girl named Maired (Charlie Murphy) who's being sold as a prostitute by a sweet-talking young pimp.  Jack promises to help her but is suspended from the Garda after a moment of anger at Brian gets him into serious trouble--which Costello plans to take advantage of in a big way.  Things look bleaker than ever for Jack in this one, with not only his own life falling apart but also those of the people he's trying most desperately to help.

The entire cast is excellent as before, with Owen McDonnell giving a low-key, restrained, yet intense performance as Jack.  The writing is sharp with such a wealth of scintillating dialogue exchanges and plot twists that there's no need to tack on the usual "action" scenes or ramp up the pace.  Direction and other technical aspects are top-notch as well, with those exquisite Irish locations used not only for their beauty but also to convey a windswept sense of isolation and melancholy--after awhile, all that green starts to get a little oppressive.

The 3-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby stereo sound and English subtitles.  Each disc contains a brief photo gallery.

Moreso than in previous episodes, the three two-part stories in SINGLE-HANDED: SET 2 are tied together by dramatic story threads that keep winding tighter throughout the entire engrossing narrative.  As much as I love John Ford's idyllic vision of Ireland in THE QUIET MAN, this warts-and-all look at the emerald isle through the eyes of one lone lawman makes for some richly rewarding entertainment.


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Monday, February 20, 2012

Purge! Kill! Three New DVD Releases from Tromaville: The Place Where Movie Magic Lives




New York, NY - Greetings from Tromaville! Cyperpunk, classic horror stories and brutal games with deadly consequences are featured in three new Troma Team Video releases coming up in the next few months: Kill, Purge and Where Evil Lives.

Releasing in May is David King's smash "Ozploitation" film Purge. A must-see for lovers of cyberpunk, Purge takes place in a utilitarian, genetically engineered parallel universe. Layla, a BDSM mistress, just wants to fit in and be happy, but her nemesis won't let her. Check out http://www.purgefilm.com.au/ to find out more.

In Kill, six strangers, winners of a dream vacation contest, awake to find themselves terrorized by insane Tiki-men in masks and taunted by their deranged captors. It soon becomes clear than only one thing will save them: kill or be killed! Directed by Chad Archivald and Philip Carrer, get Kill on DVD in April!

Where Evil Lives, a buried treasure from 1991 directed by Stephen A. Maier, Kevin G. Nunan & Richard L. Fox Jr, consists of three 30-minute horror stories as told by Jack Devlin (Claude Akins). The stories feature a mass murderer, a vampire, and a modern day witch who helps the police stop a demented doctor. Where Evil Lives will be available in May.

Established in 1974 by Yale friends Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, Troma Entertainment is one of the longest-running independent movie studios in United States history, and one of the best-known names in the industry. World famous for movie classics like Kaufman's The Toxic Avenger, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, Class of Nuke'em High, Mother's Day and Tromeo and Juliet, Troma's seminal films are now being remade as big budget mainstream productions by the likes of Brett Ratner, Richard Saperstein, Akiva Goldsman, and Steven Pink. Among today's stars whose early work can be found in Troma's 800+ film library are Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Jenna Fischer, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Costner, Fergie, Vincent D'Onofrio and Samuel L. Jackson. Visit Troma at www.troma.com, www.lloydkaufman.com, www.twitter.com/lloydkaufman, and www.tromapast.tumblr.com.


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Saturday, February 18, 2012

THE BURNING MOON -- DVD review by porfle




If you're looking for a pic to put next to the definition of "splatter" in your dictionary, there's a charnel house full of choice moments to choose from in THE BURNING MOON (1997), one of the goriest horror flicks I've seen since H.G. Lewis bought his first bottle of ketchup.  And while the first few minutes of this low-budget, shot-on-video German indy didn't exactly have me tingling with anticipation, it wasn't long before the earnest and surprisingly accomplished effort started to win me over in a big way.

We first meet writer-director Olaf Ittenbach as sullen slacker Peter, a drug-addled leech who'd rather shoot up and rumble with his gang than babysit his cute widdle kid sister.  His job interview sequence is pretty amusing--the interviewer has to remind him of the office's "no smoking" policy as he's rolling a joint--and the gang fight scene later on is nicely chaotic. 

After mainlining some "H" and imagining the moon as a huge, roiling ball of fire, Peter barges into his sister's room and insists upon telling her some horrific bedtime stories.  The first, "Julia's Love", begins with a nice girl named Julia (the cute Beate Neumeyer) enjoying her blind date with a nice guy named Cliff (Bernd Muggenthaler) until a radio news reporter's description of a recently-escaped psycho killer matches Cliff right down to his license number.  She flees his car at the first opportunity but makes the grave mistake of leaving her wallet behind.

What you think will happen next happens next, leading to one grisly and graphic killing after another as Julia's family is reduced in number one by one while she's upstairs.  Here, we get our first good look at Ittenbach's knack for devising convincing and sometimes flabbergasting practical gore effects and then shooting them in creative fashion.  Limbs are hacked off, throats are slashed, heads roll, and one person finds out why a machete definitely doesn't make a good toothpick.  When Julia finally discovers something's amiss, the segment rushes headlong to its exciting bloodbath finale. 

Since li'l sis hasn't quite drifted off to dreamland yet, Peter then proceeds to regail her with his next brain-boggling bedtime tale, "The Purity."  In this one, a series of murders in a small village has everyone blaming a mild-mannered farmer named Justus (André Stryi), although the real culprit is twisted priest Ralf (Rudolf Höß), a sweetly-beaming nutcase whose pious exterior hides the soul of an underworld denizen.  Ralf believes that death is purifying for the soul, and gleefully proceeds to purify several of his fellow villagers by raping, shooting (squibs abound), and throat-slashing (a startling effect). 

As if this weren't enough, the segment ends with one of the innocent Justus' persecutors taking a trip to Olaf Ittenbach's version of Hell, which turns out to be a stomach-churning free-for-all of gore, gore, and more gore.  For about fifteen straight minutes, the screen is filled with some of the most gruesome splatter effects you'll ever see this side of a Tom Savini fever dream. 

It's amazing that the director was able to pull off some of this stuff on such a low budget, it's so well done.  In addition to a veritable ocean of entrails and body parts, we witness a power drill to the teeth, eyeballs plucked out, faces pulled off, and--in what is probably the film's piece de resistance--a guy's legs pulled apart until his body literally splits up the middle.  In other words, it's party time for gorehounds. 

While THE BURNING MOON does look as cheaply-made as it is, Ittenbach's direction and staging are surprisingly sophisticated at times--you can tell that there's a genuinely talented filmmaker at work here, making the best of his limited resources with a good deal of creativity and enthusiasm.  His cast range from adequate to above-average, with Rudolf Höß as Ralf turning in a particularly strong performance and Ittenbach himself not bad as Peter.  Beate Neumeyer makes a winsome Julia in the first story segment while her co-star Bernd Muggenthaler plays the role of Cliff with just the right combination of feigned normalcy and giddy insanity. 

The DVD from Intervision is full-screen with Dolby 2.0 sound (in the original German) and English subtitles.  Extras include trailers for this and two other Intervision features, plus the 47-minute documentary "The Making of 'The Burning Moon'" which is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how to put an effective horror movie together on a shoestring.

One of the best of the obscure cinematic curios that Intervision has released so far, THE BURNING MOON ("Uncut, Uncensored, Unconscionable" the box proclaims) rises above its modest budget to provide a wealth of well-rendered shocks to the hardy souls who appreciate this sort of thing.  More sensitive viewers, beware.  Gorehounds, rejoice.



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Friday, February 17, 2012

BENEATH THE DARKNESS -- DVD review by porfle



Usually any horror movie featuring a weirdo mortician with a yen for necrophilia can't help having at least some measure of giddy, ghoulish fun.  But BENEATH THE DARKNESS (2011) manages to have very little fun with its subject at all.

The bland acting of the leads doesn't help, especially Tony Oller's dead-fish performance as apathetic high-schooler Travis, who drifts through life after apparently seeing a ghost at his dying sister's bedside.  Aimee Teegarden (SCREAM 4) tries a little harder as his cheerleader girlfriend Abby, but with dialogue that doesn't ring true and a by-the-numbers plot, neither she nor Travis and Abby's fun-loving friends Brian and Danny (Stephen Lunsford, Devon Werkheiser) come off as anything more than cardboard cutouts. 

After a somewhat interesting prologue which demonstrates early on just how crazy Dennis Quaid's mortician Mr. Ely is, the story settles into a snail's pace and stays there.  As nothing else seems to be going on in their sleepy Texas town, the kids start spying on Ely's supposedly haunted house until they spot his silhouette on the windowshade, dancing with a woman in his arms. 

Since his wife's been dead for two years, they suspect--well, I'm not really sure what they suspect, but they break into his house while he's gone and make a bizarre discovery, which, of course, no one will believe when they report it, even after one of the kids turns up dead as a result. 

With the sheriff (Brett Cullen) and everyone else taking Ely's side in the matter, it's up to Travis and Abby to get the goods on him by breaking into his house yet again.  This time they get into even deeper hot water while sending Ely all the way over the edge into what passes, in the case of a not-really-trying-all-that-hard Dennis Quaid, for total gibbering coo-coo. 

Unfortunately, Quaid's character just isn't developed anywhere near its potential as an eccentric oddball, and what should've been a really giddy-creepy spook tale turns out to be sub-par movie-of-the-week stuff that feels more like a low-level suspense thriller (or run-of-the-mill TV episode) than a macabre chiller. 

Ely isn't much of a menacing figure, so we never feel as though Travis and Abby are in any more danger than the kind the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew faced on a regular basis.  And their actions are often improbably stupid, as when Ely grabs a fleeing Abby and Travis simply runs away and leaves her there in order to get his wounds attended to.  (He comes back for her later, but really...)

There are a few attempts to generate chills, with Ely displaying a penchant for burying people alive in addition to his uncomfortably close relationship with his long-dead wife.  Still, none of it is morbid enough to be really macabre, nor is it funny enough to qualify as black humor--in fact, the film has very little actual humor at all.  Everything finally comes to a mildly suspenseful conclusion that depends largely on Geoff Zanelli's driving musical score for excitement. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a very brief making-of short and a trailer.

BENEATH THE DARKNESS qualifies as mildly passable entertainment if you're in an undemanding mood.  But it's worth watching only on the most basic time-waster level, and after you've spent an hour-and-a-half on it you might feel kind of like the guy in the old commercial who used to whack himself in the head and lament, "Wow--I coulda had a V8!" 



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Thursday, February 16, 2012

METAL SHIFTERS -- DVD review by porfle




As I've mentioned before, "cool" and "stupid" can be a pretty winning combination when it comes to junk films.  (I've tried to think of a name for such a combination, but all I can come up with is either "cupid" or "stool.")  Qualifying as both cupid and stool is the SyFy Channel monster flick METAL SHIFTERS (2011), aka "Iron Invader", which, considering the subject matter, is quite literally junky as well.

In a sleepy little town set somewhere in the Great American Northwest, brothers Jake (Kavan Smith, "Stargate: Atlantis") and Ethan (Colby Johannson) are renovating the family inn when they witness the crash of a Russian satellite in a nearby field.  Unaware that the meteor which knocked it out of the sky was carrying a strange alien bacteria, they sell the scrap to old Earl the junk man (Donnelly Rhodes), who is busy building a 17-foot-tall metal "golem" for the town's centennial.  (And of course, what small town doesn't celebrate its centennial with a golem?)

Unfortunately, the alien bacterial goo fancies the big robotlike statue and adds the satellite scraps on which it now resides to the golem, bringing it to life.  Thus, the town is terrorized by the rampaging statue as it seeks out humans for their iron-rich blood, sucking the life force from their bodies.  Since the town is curiously underpopulated--there seem to be only about ten people living in it--it's up to Jake and Ethan, along with Jake's high-school sweetheart Amanda (Nicole de Boer, "Star Trek: Deep Space 9"), her daughter Claire (Merritt Patterson), old Earl and his grandson Max (Jesse Moss), and a few other less-than-stalwart individuals to combat the metallic monstrosity.

Clearly, this is one of the dumber monster-origin stories you'll come across, yet once it's established and the story gets going, the pace doesn't let up for a minute.  And the golem turns out to be a pretty cool monster, especially since the CGI used to render it is acceptably realistic for a change.  This is due mainly to the fact that it's a hard-edged mechanical thing rather than some over-animated, underdeveloped fantasy beastie.  I was reminded of the robot from HARDWARE, particularly during the scene in which it reassembles itself after a run-in with a pickup truck.

In addition to CGI, lots of practical effects are on display including puppetry (a big monster hand is careful to reach through its victims' windows rather than cause expensive property damage), reverse photography, and plain old pull-it-on-a-string stuff.  When the golem's disassembled, bacteria-ridden parts start crawling around on their own it's pretty funny (but in a good way) as our main characters hole up in a bar a la NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or THE BIRDS.  A fire axe splattered with the alien goo comes to life in one scene and goes after a guy's foot, which is just plain hilarious. 

Paul McGillion, also of "Stargate: Atlantis", plays the usual hard-to-convince sheriff, who finds it unlikely that a robot is sucking the life force out of the local citizenry until it comes after him.  There are comedy relief characters such as Tony the cowardly bartender and his redneck customer Harry, but thankfully the film itself is dead serious without any pesky attempts at self-awareness.  Somehow, this just makes the ridiculousness of the story even more entertaining.  And, of course, the obligatory groan-worthy reference to that famous line from JAWS makes its appearance as one character tells the sheriff, "You'll need a bigger gun." 

Christopher Nickel's pounding score, worthy of a big-time action flick, drives the lively plot to its fairly suspenseful conclusion as things just keep getting wilder and nuttier every minute.  Paul Ziller's sometimes slapdash direction, combined with some messy camerawork, actually enhances the action while the performances of the leads are convincing enough to carry it all along.  The final solution to the monster problem is a pip, leading to the rather amusing sight of a guy with a spray cannister filled with whiskey chasing an errant robot part down the street.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a making-of featurette and a trailer.

For sheer deadpan nuttiness and old-fashioned cheapo monster movie fun, METAL SHIFTERS is about as entertaining as one of these SyFy Channel flicks gets.  It's in no danger of shoehorning its way onto my "favorites" list any time soon, but I got a kick out of it anyway.



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"Ghost Hunters International Season 2 Part 2" coming to DVD May 22 from Image Entertainment



On May 22nd, Image Entertainment sends you on another paranormal exploration around the globe with “Ghost Hunters International Season 2:  Part 2,” a collection of 13 new episodes brimming with the world’s most historically haunted locations.

This four-disc DVD set with never-before-seen bonus footage will be available for an SRP of $24.98. Pre-book is April 24th.

With an increased focus on the backstories of the locations, join these real supernatural investigators during Season 2 as they explore the 900-year-old Ostrich Inn in England, which served as the inspiration for Sweeney Todd, Hamlet’s Castle in Denmark, a facility in Nicaragua where many employees were forced to quit due to the high level of paranormal activity and many more! 

“Ghost Hunters International Season 2: Part 2” features the following bone-chilling investigations that will cure any doubt of the uncanny:

The Spirit of Robin Hood
Sweeney Todd
Wolf’s Lair
The Devil’s Wedding
The Demons of Nicaragua
Pirates of the Caribbean
Ghosts of the Eastern Bloc: Ukraine and Poland
Unfaithful Spirit: Germany
Amsterdamned: Netherlands
Army of the Dead: Serbia
Shadows in the Dark: Scotland
Soldiers of Misfortune: Puerto Rico


“Ghost Hunters International” debuted as the number one telecast in Syfy history and shows no signs of stopping with its third hit season currently airing!


“Ghost Hunters International Season 2:  Part 2”
Genre:              Television, Ghosts, Haunted Houses, Mystery/Suspense, Myths/Legends
Rating:              Not Rated
Languages:       English 
Format:            1.78:1 (16x9 enhanced)
Audio:               Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:          N/A
Year:                2011
SRP:                $24.98
Street Date:      May 22, 2012
Pre-Book:         April 24, 2012
Length:             500 minutes (approx.)
UPC:                014381793321
Cat#:                ID7933PGDVD

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Voting For The TENTH ANNUAL RONDO AWARDS Has Begun!



"Recognizing the best in monster research, creativity and genre appreciation."

It's that time of year again, fan boys and girls!  Nominees for the TENTH Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards are ready and waiting for YOUR votes!

For a ballot and instructions on how to cast your vote, visit the CHFB's "Official Ballot" thread here.  You'll also find it along with lots of information about the Rondos at the official site here.

In the words of David "taraco" Colton of the Classic Horror Film Board:  "These awards are by fans, for fans. Every Rondo nominee...is being recognized for a significant achievement in the genre during the year [of 2011]. So take a look at the ballot and please let the nominees know how much we appreciate their work by voting.

"Thanks again to the thousands who have voted every year. We look forward to hearing from you again. Thanks everyone!"



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Sunday, February 12, 2012

ABOVE SUSPICION: SET 1 -- DVD review by porfle




I get depressed just looking at Kelly Reilly because of EDEN LAKE--that's how effective I found both the film and her performance.  In the case of ABOVE SUSPICION: SET 1, however, that depression soon turns to disappointment and, finally, disinterest. 

It's not all her fault, though.  The character created for her by author Lynda Le Plante, who follows up her endlessly impressive "Prime Suspect" series with yet another story of a female homicide detective making her way in a male-dominated force, is nowhere near as rich and multi-dimensional as the earlier show's protagonist Jane Tennison, played to perfection by Helen Mirren.  And without Mirren's talent or screen presence, Reilly is unable to supply the character of Detective Constable Anna Travis with the depth she lacks on the written page.

"Above Suspicion" begins with the callow young DC Travis joining a squad led by her late father's friend DCI Langton (Ciarán Hinds).  Langton is the stereotypical gruff, blustery, chauvinist boss who orders the female officers to fetch him coffee and food and makes the occasional sexist remark.  Fortunately for Anna, however, even this sort of character has evolved somewhat since Jane Tennison's day, and the young DC doesn't face nearly the sort of ridicule and discrimination suffered by the earlier heroine.  (The other women in the squad seem to regard their boss fondly even as they're running errands for him.)  In fact, being that Anna is the daughter of a former, highly-respected colleague, Langton pretty much nursemaids her along. 

Not that she needs much help, since she's one of the luckiest rookie cops ever.  After throwing up at her first murder scene and fainting dead away during the post-mortem (which is understandable considering the realism of the worm-ridden, ultra-gruesome dead bodies concocted for the show by its FX staff), she begins to stumble upon major pieces of evidence with amazing providence and happens to notice little things overlooked by her experienced peers.  At one point during their investigation of a series of prostitute killings, Anna's intuition leads to the discovery of a secret closet compartment filled with evidence.

The initial two-episode pilot is interesting enough, as the identity of the serial killer is narrowed down to two suspects, one of which happens to be a world-famous film celebrity.  Jason Durr gives an impressive performance as movie star Alan Daniels, whose interrogation scene is perhaps the most harrowing and intense sequence in the entire series.  Here, "Above Suspicion" (the title referring to arrogant suspects whose obvious guilt is frustratingly difficult to prove) lives up to its promise in a way that is rarely seen.

Next comes the three-part story "Above Suspicion: The Red Dahlia", in which a copycat killer re-enacts the notorious Black Dahlia murder.  Surprisingly, neither Langton nor anyone in his squad have heard of the original case (it's only one of the most famous unsolved murders of all time) so it takes them forever to make the connection.  There's another extremely gruesome body from the FX department, plus some horrific actual photographs of a post-mortem Elizabeth Short (the real-life "Black Dahlia") whose exploitative overuse for the sake of shock value seems gratuitous.

After coming out of the gate with such brilliance in her first case, Anna's subsequent newbie mistakes tend to make her seem a bit dense at times.  This is particularly true in her naive dealings with inquisitive newspaper editor Richard (Edward MacLiam), who woos and beds her with such transparent intent that we're not the least bit surprised to see the sneaky cad rifling through her case folders while she's asleep.

This is such an incredibly stupid lapse on Anna's part that henceforth it's hard to have much respect for her character.  Strangely enough, though, it finally puts some dramatic spark into the story when she's subsequently chewed out by Langton and ostracized by her co-workers, serving to derail her storybook rapid-advancement (that is, until her next brilliant flash of intuition puts her right back on track again).

This time, the suspect who fancies himself "above suspicion" is Charles Wickenham (Simon Williams), the patriarch of an upper-class but incredibly dysfunctional family whose kinky eccentricities and other downright weird behavior give the story some nicely twisted moments.  Not only is there evidence of the family engaging in incestuous BDSM sessions, but Wickenham's two-fisted daughter Justine actually pounces on DC Travis in one scene and pummels her senseless.  Despite its shortcomings, the story is pretty engaging and ends on a nicely morbid note.  Venerable actress Sylvia Syms is a welcome presence as the family's housekeeper and nanny, Mrs. Hedges, who knows more than she's telling.

The two-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby sound and English subtitles.  Extras include two behind-the-scenes docs, cast and crew interviews, photo galleries, and more.

While lacking the gravitas of La Plante's earlier work and not nearly as memorable, "Above Suspicion" is brisk, fast-moving storytelling that is shot, as one castmember describes it, in "the American style."  But the main character advances so quickly in the first couple of episodes that we wonder how much room has been left for her to grow and learn as a detective.  And the hint of an impending and ill-advised romantic relationship between Anna and Langton at the end of episode five just doesn't bode well at all.  (More interesting is Langton's affair with his no-nonsense female boss Commander Leigh, well-played by Nadia Cameron-Blakey.)  While passably entertaining, ABOVE SUSPICION: SET 1 is pretty weak tea after "Prime Suspect" and fails to leave one with a sense of keen anticipation for more. 



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Saturday, February 11, 2012

"THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW: CARL REINER'S FAVORITES" -- coming May 1st from Image Entertainment



On May 1, Image Entertainment is proud to release twenty classic episodes personally handpicked by comedy genius and creator/producer Carl Reiner with The Dick Van Dyke Show: Carl Reiner’s Favorites.

These special selections from the man behind the legendary series will be available for an MSRP of $24.98.  Pre-book is April 3rd.

A winner of 15 Emmy® Awards – including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Comedy – “The Dick Van Dyke Show” is not only one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, but one whose immediate and subsequent enduring success literally changed the face of episodic TV comedy.  Starring Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins, “Diagnosis Murder”), Mary Tyler Moore (“Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Ordinary People), Rose Marie (“Alan Richter Controls the Universe”) and Morey Amsterdam (“Love, American Style”), this timeless series remains as popular – and relevant -- as ever.

Episodes:

Never Name a Duck, The Attempted Marriage, Hustling the Hustler, A Bird in the Head Hurts, Gesundheit, Darling, Will You Two Be My Wife?, Ray Murdock's X-Ray, Don't Trip Over That Mountain, The Sam Pomerantz Scandals, Divorce, Laura's Little Lie, Very Old Shoes Very Old Rice, The Life and Love of Joe Coogan, The Plots Thicken, The Return of Edwin Carp, Pink Pills for Purple Patients, Baby Fat, No Rice at My Wedding, A Day in the Life of Alan Brady, Obnoxious Offensive Egomaniac Etc.

The Dick Van Dyke Show: Carl Reiner’s Favorites (DVD)

Genre:             Classics, Comedy, Television, Classic Comedy, Classic Television, Comedy Series, 60’s
Rating:            Not Rated
Languages:      English
Format:            Full-frame
Audio:             Dolby Digital Mono
SRP:                $24.98
Street Date:     May 1, 2011
Pre-Book:        April 3, 2011
UPC:               014381801729
Cat#:               ID8017PBDVD


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Thursday, February 9, 2012

"THE TWILIGHT ZONE: MORE FAN FAVORITES" 5-DVD set coming May 8th from Image Entertainment




May 8, Image Entertainment will release, by popular demand, another round of classic episodes from the series Daily Variety called “The best that has ever been accomplished in half-hour filmed television.”

The Twilight Zone: More Fan Favorites, a new 5- DVD set containing another twenty unforgettable episodes from the legendary series – over 8 hours of content – will be available for an SRP of $29.98. Pre-book is April 10th.

Featured stars include:

William Shatner                       
Buddy Ebsen                           
Buster Keaton
Cliff Robertson                       
Cloris Leachman                      
Dennis Weaver
Lee Marvin                              
James Best                              
Lee Van Cleef
Richard Kiel                            
Shelley Berman            
And more!


The Twilight Zone: More Fan Favorites includes the following episodes:

The Passerby                          
The Grave                              
Death’s Head Revisited
Perchance to Dream              
The Hitch-Hiker                     
King Nine Will Not Return
Shadow Play                          
Third from the Sun                 
The Shelter
To Serve Man                         
The Fugitive                           
Nick of Time
The Prime Mover                   
It’s A Good Life                     
The Mind and the Matter
The Last Flight                      
Once Upon a Time                 
The Trouble with Templeton
The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank
A Hundred Yards Over the Rim


The Twilight Zone:  More Fan Favorites
Genre:             Sci-fi/Fantasy, Television, 60’s
Rating:            Unrated
Languages:      English 
Format:            N/A
Audio:             Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles:         N/A
Year:               1959 - 1964
SRP :                $29.98
Street Date:     May 8, 2012
Pre-Book:        April 10, 2012
Length:            500 minutes
UPC :               014381801620
Cat#:               ID8016CUDVD


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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

SMILEY'S PEOPLE -- DVD review by porfle




If someone were to walk in on you watching the last ten minutes of SMILEY'S PEOPLE (1982), they'd have no idea that it was the exciting conclusion to a six-part BBC spy thriller and that you were on the edge of your seat in suspense.  John le Carre's story is one of the most low-key and relatively static of spy thrillers that you'll ever come across, yet in its own modest way it is as powerfully engaging and full of intrigue as one of the early Bond films.

That exciting conclusion, which consists solely of some people waiting patiently for a man to walk across a bridge at night, comes at the end of a long and arduous investigation by former British intelligence agent George Smiley.  Alec Guinness, once again playing the role to perfection as he did in the previous series TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (1979), shows remarkable restraint throughout his portrayal of the withdrawn, meticulous, and emotionally distant protagonist.

This time, the murder of an elderly Russian double agent who once worked for the British (Curd Jergens as "The General") threatens to open up a can of worms that the British government wants to stay closed.  Their supercilious liason, Lacon (Anthony Bate), enlists the retired Smiley to wrap the matter up discreetly, but when it's revealed to be merely one element in a conspiracy involving Smiley's old nemesis Karla, the Russian intelligence mastermind whom he once dedicated his life to apprehending, then all bets are off. 

Smiley's rogue investigation takes him through a maze of mystery involving current and former agents and peripheral characters who each hold some clue that he must discern in his doggedly persistent manner.  One of them is a Russian woman (Eileen Atkins) who defected to France years ago but is being lured back by the promise of a reunion with the daughter she abandoned, the offer coming from a vile little man named Oleg Kirov (Dudley Sutton) with sinister ulterior motives.  Another is The General's lieutenant, Otto Liepzig (Vladek Sheybal, best known as SPECTRE agent Kronsteen in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE), who holds damning evidence against Kirov that could turn the tide in Smiley's favor.

Since it isn't dependent on action to maintain our interest, the aptly-named SMILEY'S PEOPLE gets its strength from Smiley's often riveting dialogues.  Beryl Reid is once again the crotchety old Connie Sachs, whose photographic memory Smiley mines for information during a melancholy afternoon in her retirement hovel, while Bernard Hepton returns in a marvelous performance as old inner-circle colleague Toby Esterhaus, a key ally itching to get back into the game.  Michael Gough and Ingrid Pitt make small but welcome appearances as The General's devoted staff. 

As current head of intelligence Saul Enderby, Barry Foster's delightfully impish performance turns a top-secret bull session between Smiley and his former associates into an amusing sequence filled with subtle wit.  Best of all, perhaps, is Michael Lonsdale (MOONRAKER) as the henpecked Grigoriev, an unwitting pawn in Karla's mysterious scheme.  His capture and subsequent interrogation by Smiley and Esterhaus provides some of the most scintillating dialogue in the entire series, with Lonsdale's twitchy performance a joy to watch.  There's a nice bit of symbolism when Grigoriev is slowly surrounded by Esterhaus' team just as the pieces in the chess game he's watching surround their oppenent's king.

The key attraction of the series, of course, is Guinness.  Where a faster-paced film might cut briskly from one dialogue scene to the next, this story is as much about Smiley himself as anything--how he gets from one place to another, what he does when he gets there, and what thoughts and feelings we can read on his face during moments of contemplation.  We're interested in how he deals with people in a seemingly impersonal manner even as they try to make a personal connection to him, and wonder how much emotion he's suppressing or if he's even feeling anything at all.  This is especially true when he meets with his estranged wife Ann (Sian Phillips, DUNE), who once had an affair with a fellow agent, and treats her in a calculated way that gives little hint of what lies beneath the surface.

While less complicated and dense as its predecessor, and lacking its sheer number of characters and plot points to juggle, SMILEY'S PEOPLE is nevertheless the kind of mentally involving story that demands careful attention lest the viewer be lost.  This, of course, is one of the things that makes it such a satisfying watch as we weave our way along the investigative trail with the main character.  John Hopkins' screen adaptation of the novel is delectable, and Simon Langton directs in an unobtrusive but keenly capable style.  The stately score by Patrick Gowers is a perfect compliment to the somber, "Cold War Europe" mood of the series. 

The three-disc set from Acorn Media is in 4:3 fullscreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  Extras include an interview with John le Carre, a biography of the author, filmographies, and production notes.

The fascinating George Smiley, so aloof and efficient throughout SMILEY'S PEOPLE, allows his fascade to slip ever so slightly at the prospect of ensnaring the elusive Karla (once again strongly portrayed by Patrick Stewart without a single word of dialogue) after so many years.  The prospect is so overwhelming, it even seems painful for him to bear.  Unlike Ahab, however, Smiley is less apt to self-destruct when denied his prey as much as he'd simply fade slowly out of existence.  But this sharp old former spy is too cunning, and much too solid, to let that happen.



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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"ROBOTROPOLIS" -- Coming to DVD April 17th From Image Entertainment




On April 17th Image Entertainment drops you in the middle of Robotropolis, an action-packed sci-fi thriller where the human race’s moment of triumph and innovation becomes a struggle to escape extinction. Coming to DVD with an SRP of 27.97. Pre-book is March 20th.

Mankind has taken the next step forward, with the unveiling of a state-of-the-art city called New Town, fully serviced by robots fulfilling all of the functions previously held by humans.  Covering this revolutionary achievement is GNN reporter Christiane Nouveau (Zoe Naylor, The Reef) and her crew members.  But when a robot suddenly murders an innocent football player in the backdrop of her newscast, a day of advancement becomes a fierce battle for survival. 

Capturing every stunning development in the shocking robot revolution live on camera, Christiane records each frenzied moment, as our last great hope becomes our worst nightmare. Filled with explosive special effects and relentless action, this chilling sci-fi vision of the future will blow you away!

Robotropolis DVD
Genre:                          Action/Adventure, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Feature Film 
Rating:                          Not Rated
Language:                     English 
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Audio:                          Dolby Digital 5.1
Year:                            2011
SRP :                            $27.97
Street Date:                  April 17, 2012
Pre-Book:                    March 20, 2012
Length:                         84 minutes
UPC :                            014381797329
Cat#:                            BLE7973DVD


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Monday, February 6, 2012

SANDS OF OBLIVION -- movie review by porfle




Oh, no!  Another Sci-Fi Channel movie with Stephen Baldwin in it!  Oh, wait--that's Adam Baldwin.  Whew!  Okay kids, false alarm--you can all come out from under your desks now.

As Sci-Fi Channel movies go, SANDS OF OBLIVION (2007) is pretty good.  The premise is interesting--while filming the original silent version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS in 1923, Cecil B. DeMille has a lot of genuine Egyptian artifacts shipped out to his California desert location, and along with one of them comes an evil curse that results in violent death for several crew members.  When the movie wraps, DeMille has everything--artifacts, sets, the whole shebang--buried beneath the sand in hopes of containing the curse for all time.

Eighty some-odd years later, however, it all gets dug up again by some film historians led by Alice Carter (Morena Baccarin, "Firefly", SERENITY) and her estranged husband Jesse (that's Adam Baldwin), thus reactivating the curse and resurrecting the jackal-headed monster god Anubis.  After several gruesome deaths, Alice and her site coordinator Mark (Victor Webster, MUST LOVE DOGS), an Iraq war vet with whom she's been getting awfully chummy lately, must find a way to defeat both Anubis and the new pizza-faced version of Jesse, who is now possessed by the evil entity. 

There's a lot of CGI in this movie, and most of it looks pretty fake.  This works in the ancient-Egypt prologue due to its storybook quality, but later when it's used to show DeMille's massive sets being torn down or to depict various evil creatures, it tends to come off a tad on the crappy side.  Anubis himself (itself?) is a guy wearing a big flap-jawed jackal head, which is okay in quick shots but not so much whenever we get a good long look at him.  He sometimes gives the movie the feel of a cheap 50s horror flick, but maybe that's not such a bad thing since it doesn't take itself all that seriously in the first place.

Partial compensation for such negatives is the fact that SANDS OF OBLIVION boasts some really nice cinematography, a good cast with appealing romantic leads, and a story that harkens back to those Mummy movies of the 40s while also giving us some pretty graphic images (one early death scene involving a runaway backhoe is worthy of THE OMEN).  The pace is leisurely at first but not boringly so, gradually picking up as Alice and Mark experience a series of narrow escapes. 

It's interesting to see Dan Castellaneta being Cecil B. DeMille instead of Homer Simpson for a change.  Charles Lister is funny as Buford, Mark's survivalist pal who supplies him with deadly weapons while getting henpecked by his wife.  In an all-too-brief cameo role, George Kennedy is a welcome presence as Mark's grandfather, who was there on the set of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS as a child and leads Alice and her crew to the location years later right before an unpleasant reunion with Anubis.

Unfortunately, the final moments of the film get pretty silly.  There's a really unnecessary dune buggy chase that isn't very well done, and a good guys vs. Anubis showdown that looks like it was finished in a hurry because everybody was tired and wanted to go home.  Anubis looks his dumbest here, and when he magically brings a bunch of two-dimensional painted warriors to life and they hop down off the walls to do battle with Mark, the man-against-cartoons effect is just plain dorky.

Be that as it may, SANDS OF OBLIVION is still a pretty fun movie that I enjoyed watching.  It does commit one major, unforgivable sin, though--it gives away the ending of CITIZEN KANE!  What the hell's that all about?  It's only, like, the numero uno spoiler of all time!  For this alone, co-writers Jeff Coatney and Kevin VanHook should have their butts kicked from one end of Hollywood Boulevard to the other. 


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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Troma's "FATHER'S DAY" Premieres in New York February 10




ONLY TROMA WOULD CELEBRATE VALENTINES DAY WITH FATHER'S DAY

February 1, 2012, New York, NY - Greetings from Tromaville! Bring a date and celebrate Valentines at the Sunshine, with the midnight premiere of Troma/Astron-6's Father's Day on February 10. We guarantee you'll never look at a priest the same way again! Hosted by Father's Day producer, creator of The Toxic Avenger and President of Troma Entertainment, Lloyd Kaufman, this ecumenical splatterfest with a dollop of patricide promises to make The Exorcist look like Bambi. A perfect date movie!

Variety calls Father's Day "a gleefully tasteless quasi-grindhouse nasty that's funnier than most of the many such parodic cheesefests that have been created since, well, Grindhouse!" Ain't it Cool News adds "Father's Day is over the top, tasteless, senseless, and completely hilarious."

The gritty, gruesome, grindhouse Father's Day follows that classic story we all grew up with: boy watches father murdered, boy grows into a vengeful one-eyed man, man teams up with a priest and a male prostitute to take down his father's killer. With good reason, Father's Day won Best Film, Most Original Film, Best Kills, and Best Poster at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and has been invited to other prestigious festivals all over the world. Sounds romantic, doesn't it?

Sunshine Cinema is located at 143 East Houston Street, New York. Father's Day starts at 12am on the night of Friday, February 10th, with another screening on February 11th. 

For more on Father's Day and additional theatres where the film will be presented, visit www.thefathersdaymovie.com

In the meantime, remember to lock up your fathers.


ABOUT TROMA ENTERTAINMENT
Established in 1974 by Yale friends Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, Troma Entertainment is one of the longest-running independent movie studios in United States history, and one of the best-known names in the industry. World famous for movie classics like Kaufman's The Toxic Avenger, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, Class of Nuke'em High, Mother's Day and Tromeo and Juliet, Troma's seminal films are now being remade as big budget mainstream productions by the likes of Brett Ratner, Richard Saperstein, Akiva Goldsman, and Steven Pink. Among today's stars whose early work can be found in Troma's 800+ film library are Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Jenna Fischer, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Costner, Fergie, Vincent D'Onofrio and Samuel L. Jackson. Visit Troma at www.troma.com, www.lloydkaufman.com, www.twitter.com/lloydkaufman, and www.tromapast.tumblr.com.
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Friday, February 3, 2012

OUT -- DVD review by porfle




First of all, this isn't about gay people coming out of the closet, which was the first thing that occurred to me when I saw the DVD cover for OUT (1978).  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if that's what you think you're going to see then you'll probably be disappointed when a hardboiled British crime drama from the late 70s pops up on your TV screen instead.

If that is what you're expecting, however, then chances are you'll be pretty much delighted by this six-episode miniseries from Thames Television (kicked off by their distinctive mirror-image logo) about a suave criminal named Frank Ross (Tom Bell) returning to London after an eight-year prison stretch and trying to track down the "grass" (Brit slang for snitch) who blew the whistle on his big bank job and betrayed him and his mates. 

Fans of the classic 90s series "Prime Suspect" will be interested in seeing a younger, cooler version of the guy who played lady cop Helen Mirren's narrow-minded nemesis DS Bill Otley.  Here, Tom Bell plays a steely, self-confident tough guy without being stereotypically coldblooded, callous, and cruel--his concern for his estranged wife and son, not to mention his former associates, humanizes him while his quiet restraint is more interesting and effective than if Bell had played the part more broadly. 

Still, he's not a good guy in the traditional sense because we don't get the feeling he's at all repentent for his earlier crimes, and he's not above threatening someone's girlfriend to persuade him to cough up info (although we feel he'd never actually follow through with the threat).  It's fun watching his self-assured handling of dangerous situations and the way he uses his wits--the sequence in which he cons his way through an illegal poker game to earn some cash is a particular highlight--and when he does have to get violent it's quick and businesslike. 

The first episodes are a long, deliberately-paced windup with several dramatic and action highlights along the way.  The scenes between Frank and his mad wife Evie are rather chilling, with Pamela Fairbrother giving an outstanding portrayal of deep-seated manic psychosis which, unfortunately, is probably the result of living with Frank.  There's an amazing sustained shot in episode four in which the camera slowly moves into an extreme closeup of her as she gradually reveals the depth of her insanity.

Other dramatic elements include Frank's doomed attempts to reconnect with his troubled son (Andrew Paul) and his turbulent relationship with Anne (Lynn Farleigh), an old flame who loves him but isn't sure she can't stand being with him.  Brian Croucher is very good as Frank's old friend Chris, one of the few people he can really trust and a big help in trying to get his personal life back together.  One of the show's funnier moments involves Chris trying to intimidate a bookish accountant who's come to collect a business debt, and then getting his own ass kicked by the smaller man instead.

All of this, however, is second in importance to Frank's unwavering quest for revenge, which is replete with gritty, hard-edged dialogue ("The way Frank's going he'll be back inside by Easter...or covered in dogshit in an alley with a white line drawn round him") and intense situations.  We meet a rogue's gallery of thugs, goons, and petty crime bosses as he makes his way through the London underworld, including a startlingly young and fit-looking Brian Cox (MANHUNTER, X-MEN 2) as Frank's main nemesis, the vile McGrath.  Tension mounts when McGrath hires a never-fail hitman to dispose of Frank, while further peril comes from the other side of the coin as old enemy Det. Insp. Bryce (Norman Rodway) and his men work tirelessly to put the troublesome ex-convict back behind bars.

Other notable supporting players include Katherine Schofield as the unwilling keeper of some dangerous information, Bryan Marshall as crooked cop Hallam, Hugh Fraser ("Captain Hastings" of "Agatha Christie: Poirot") as a surveillance expert helping Frank keep tabs on a few key people, and familiar character actor John Junkin ("Shake" in the Beatles' A HARD DAY'S NIGHT) as an old friend who serves as Frank's strong-arm goon in the lively and eventful final episode. 

With episode six, all the build-up finally pays off with some big revelations and a few low-key action scenes, though the story is mostly resolved though dramatic confrontations (Bell and Rodway are stunning in their last scene together) and delectable dialogue.  As with the rest of the series, Trevor Preston's screenplay is scintillatingly sharp with flashes of brilliance.  Jim Goddard's direction is equally good as he wields his modest television budget to often noteworthy effect.  That familiar old cheap-film look of many British dramas of the time gives the show a suitably dreary atmosphere, and the tacky late-70s period flavor is fun.

The 2-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby Digital stereo and English subtitles.  The sole extra is a final-episode commentary track featuring the show's producer, director, and writer.

While Tom Bell's gentleman outlaw Frank Ross is the hero-by-default of OUT and not the usual sadistic thug, we're never quite sure what he's going to do when he finally catches up with the guy who sent him to prison.  That's one of the things that makes his character interesting and keeps us guessing right up to the intriguingly inconclusive ending which, instead of setting us up for a sequel, just leaves us wanting more.



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