HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Sunday, September 30, 2012

COMBAT! FAN FAVORITES 50TH ANNIVERSARY -- DVD review by porfle



During the initial TV run of the World War II drama series "Combat!" (1962-67) I couldn't get into it because it was too grown-up.  During its syndicated reruns, I was going through my "pacifist" phase and couldn't stand to watch anything war-related unless it was blatantly, even stridently anti-war.  Now, however, I'm blazing my way through Image Entertainment's 5-disc DVD set COMBAT! FAN FAVORITES 50th ANNIVERSARY like Patton making a beeline to Berlin.

Without a doubt, this is some of the best stuff ever done for series television.  Gritty, realistic (as far as I know, anyway), and unflinchingly adult, the adventures of Sgt. Saunders (Vic Morrow), Lt. Hanley (Rick Jason), and their battle-weary squad of American infantry veterans in post-Normandy Europe puts us right in the middle of all the action and lets us share some of the emotional and existential turmoil that haunts these soldiers every perilous step of the way.

No flag-waving here--these are simply stories about hot, tired, and, most of all, scared soldiers doing a grueling job and trying to stay alive on the front lines.  The streetwise Kirby (Jack Hogan), Lousiana bayou denizen Caje (Pierre Jalbert), gentle giant Littlejohn (Dick Peabody), and compassionate medic Doc (Conlan Carter) wade into the fray with guns blazing yet struggle to retain their humanity, always coming across as three-dimensional human beings and never simple action figures.


Moral quandaries and crises of the soul get just as much play in these well-written stories as gunfights and explosions.  The dialogue snaps, crackles, and pops, and so do the performances.  Method actor Morrow is terrific as the gruff but sensitive Sgt. Saunders, who always does the right thing no matter how painful it may be, and doesn't hesitate, when necessary, to bark out a speech such as the following: "Kirby, I'm only gonna say this once, and I'll say it to all of you.  Keep your mouths shut, your heads down, and your ears open.  Follow my orders and don't ask why.  Is that clear?" 

Saunders sometimes questions orders himself, but his commanding officer Lt. Hanley is equally terse: "Because we were told to."  Rick Jason's seldom-seen character may seem like weak stuff at first, but his depth comes through in less flamboyant but equally dramatic sequences such as in the flashback episode "A Day in June" which, on a TV budget and with generous amounts of stock footage, depicts the D-Day landing at Normandy.  Jason also gets to show his stuff in "The Enemy", a tense two-man conflict between him and a cunning German demolitions expert played by Robert Duvall.  (Anna Lee guest stars as a nun.)

These taut, riveting dramas are punctuated by explosive battle sequences blazing with some of the most thundrous and thrilling action ever filmed for television, often of feature film quality but without the big-money effects.  The beautiful black-and-white photography sometimes approximates the texture of a Joe Kubert-drawn war comic, and many episodes boast skillful direction by the likes of Robert Altman, Ted Post, Bernard McEveety, and Burt Kennedy.  (Morrow himself directs three titles in this set.)  Editing and other production elements are also first-rate.


A two part episode, "Hills Are for Heroes", holds its own with "Saving Private Ryan" or "Band of Brothers" for fierce non-stop battle action that's realistic, harrowing, and emotionally devastating.  Written by "Star Trek: The Original Series" veteran Gene L. Coon and directed by Morrow, it's the story of the squad's seemingly doomed effort to capture a hilltop bunker that's practically impregnable. 

Mutiny looms as the body count rises, with Kirby and the others threatening to disobey the relentless orders that a heartbroken Lt. Hanley is forced to convey from the top.  The awful burden of command is depicted in scenes of almost unbearable intensity, with Hanley privately lamenting to Saunders that the brass "with their maps and their lines...forget they're talking about flesh and blood...and men who die when bullets hit them."
 
Attack after harrowing attack is doomed to bloody failure as Vic Morrow's sometimes impressionistic direction puts us right in the middle of the action (the handheld camerawork of the series is outstanding for its time), even capturing the POV of a dying soldier whose world has just been shot out from under him. 


If you took the first twenty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" and extended the sequence to feature length (albeit on a much smaller scale), you'd have something approximating "Hills Are for Heroes."  In my opinion this incredible two-part episode, taken as a whole, constitutes one of the finest low-budget war films ever made.  By any standard, it's absolutely phenomenal television.

Each of the five discs in this DVD set follows a specific theme illustrated by four well-chosen episodes.  The first three themes are "Espionage", "New Replacements", and "The Squad", followed by "The Best of Hanley" and "The Best of Saunders."  "Espionage" begins the set with James Coburn as a German spy pretending to be an American G.I. in "Masquerade."  James Whitmore portrays a German officer trapped into impersonating a priest in "The Cassock", an episode that achieves a genuine kind of dramatic fascination when one of Saunders' men prevails upon the faux priest to hear his confession. 

"New Replacements" tells the stories of raw recruits--some fearful, some arrogant, and some just pitifully out of place--who, for better or worse, become attached to Saunders' squad.  Among the guest stars are John Cassavetes ("S.I.W."), Nick Adams, John Considine, Tab Hunter, and Buck Taylor.  "The Squad" shows us the day to day struggles, heartbreaks, and occasional victories experienced by the men under Saunders' command, with Lee Marvin giving his usual hardbitten performance as an abrasively uncompromising demolitions expert in "The Leader." 

"The Best of Saunders" begins with the Robert Altman-directed "Survival", probably my least favorite episode in the bunch, and steadily improves with the aid of some great stories and guest stars such as Rip Torn ("A Gift of Hope") and James Caan as a young German officer ("Anatomy of a Patrol").  "The Best of Hanley" contains some of the set's finest episodes with "A Day in June", "The Enemy", and "Hills Are for Heroes" parts 1 and 2.  Guest stars include Harry Dean Stanton, Sheckey Greene, a blink-and-you'll-miss-him Tom Skerritt (unbilled), and the aformentioned Robert Duvall and Anna Lee.

Other episodes not previously mentioned are "The Little Jewel", "The Long Walk", "Bridgehead", "Bridge at Chalons", "The Glory Among Men", "Rear Echelon Commandos", "The Celebrity", "The First Day", and "The Little Carousel."

The DVD set from Image Entertainment is in full frame (1.33:1) with Dolby Digital mono sound.  No subtitles or closed-captioning.  No bonus features.  Picture quality looks great to me, but my copy seemed to have a problem with occasionally jittery-sounding audio, particularly in the background music.  Not a dealbreaker for me, but audiophiles may want to give the set a test-drive before buying.

Perfect for Veteran's Day or any other day, COMBAT! FAN FAVORITES 50th ANNIVERSARY is solid entertainment all the way.  If you're into war movies or you just like first-rate, hard-hitting action and drama, television rarely gets any better than this. 


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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

THE TALL MAN -- DVD review by porfle



Whatever you think writer-director Pascal Laugier's THE TALL MAN (2012) is going to be about when you start to watch it, chances are you're going to be surprised.  At first, I thought it was going to be a horror flick.  Then I thought it was going to be a Dean Koontz-style "plucky woman singlehandedly confronts unimaginable evil" type of deal.  And finally, I thought it was going to turn into something that resembled a collaboration between SyFy and Lifetime.  And even after all that--I was surprised.

Jessica Biel emotes her buns off as nurse Julia Denning, who continues to run a small clinic in rural Washington after the death of her doctor husband.  Due to a mine closure, the town she lives in is dying and the people all seem to suffer from a sort of shared sickness of the soul, exacerbated by the fact that an enigmatic "Tall Man" is said to be kidnapping their children from their beds at will and carrying them off into the woods one at a time, never to be seen again.

When we see Julia happily playing with her little boy David after work we know that the same fate will befall them, and indeed it does.  But rather than submit passively, Julia runs down the Tall Man's escaping van and hangs on Terminator-style until she's somehow able to cause a crash.  After that she tracks the fiend through the woods despite her injuries and locates his secret hideaway, where...

Well, I can't really say any more, but this is the point where THE TALL MAN starts to get really surprising and go off in all directions, with not just one or two twists but a twist a minute, leaving us disoriented and wondering what the hell's going on.  I like that in a movie, as long as it's able to keep its own twists and turns sorted out and there's some definite point to it all. 

Here, there seems to be some kind of deep-seated evil coursing through the populace of Julia's hometown, her actions uncovering a potential conspiracy that she could never have suspected and we can only guess at.  You'll really wonder where it's all headed when Julia herself is accused of being behind all the kidnappings and the townsfolk start coming after her like rabid dogs. 

The mystery deepens despite the efforts of state police Lieutenant Dodd (a typically intense  Stephen McHattie) and local lawman Sheriff Chestnut ("The X-Files"' own Smoking Man, William B. Davis), who, for all we know, are in on the whole thing themselves.  And what does a disturbed mute girl named Jenny (talented young actress Jodelle Ferland) know about the Tall Man that would make her actually want to meet him?

THE TALL MAN is helped considerably by its setting, the dark, foreboding forests of the American northwest (actually Canada) where you never know what might be lurking.  From the start, it goes out of it way to be visually interesting--camerawork and editing have a pleasing flow to them--and establishes a melancholy ambiance that's maintained throughout. 

The film becomes a thriller with the first abduction, a pulse-pounding headlong rush of a sequence, but soon settles into Twilight Zone territory when everything we think we know suddenly goes askew.  Strangely enough, in spite of my initial expectations, it never really becomes a horror movie.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.40:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonus features consist of a deleted scene, a trailer, and a gallery of beautifully rendered production paintings.

As the scintillating mystery that sustains THE TALL MAN for most of its running time winds down, the film seems to get a little talky and, surprisingly, starts to wind up a little too pat.  But just as the extended ending threatens to get a little sappy, the last shot manages to strike just the right chord to give the film a disquieting, yet satisfying, fadeout.  I'm not sure how you'll react, but one thing's for sure--it's one odd, unexpected movie.


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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

HARRY O: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON -- DVD review by porfle



David Janssen was always good at playing a character who was wounded in some way.  His celebrated portrayal of Dr. Richard Kimball in the classic TV series "The Fugitive" showed us a man perpetually devastated by his wife's murder and his exile from society after being wrongly convicted of it. And with his soulful expressions, hesitant half-smiles, and awkward body language, Janssen made us feel his pain.

On a much lighter note, HARRY O: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Archive, 6-disc DVD) gives us another wounded Janssen protagonist, only this time the injury is more physical than psychological.  Former police detective Harry Orwell has been forced into retirement by a bullet lodged near his spine, and now lives in a beachfront cottage in San Diego making his living as a private detective.

But unlike the terminally ill-at-ease Dr. Kimball, "Harry O" allows David Janssen to play an amiably world-weary guy who doesn't really have to give a damn unless he feels like it.  He's amusingly grouchy but too softhearted to be a total cynic, with a kind of guarded optimism that keeps him afloat (unlike the battered boat that he's perpetually working to restore).  Those who come to him for help will find him loyal and compassionate if they deserve it, and grumpily dismissive if they don't.


The series, which ran for two seasons from 1973-76 (including two pilot movies), is rich in the kind of 70s cop-show nostalgia one expects while being a few notches above the standard Quinn Martin-type product.  Harry himself is more wistful and introspective than the usual TV cop of the era, and thanks to his physical condition he sometimes has to stop and catch his breath during an exciting chase scene.  Not only that, but with a car that spends more time in the shop than on the road, Harry often arrives at the scene of the crime by bus.

While mainly serious, a wry humor permeates the show even in its darkest moments.  Much of it is contained in Harry's gruff voiceovers ("Personally, I don't mind being tailed...if I were ashamed to be seen someplace, I wouldn't go there") while the dialogue is often laced with amusing zingers such as when Harry calls on a woman known for her psychic abilities.  "Is she expecting you?" the maid asks at the door.  "If she's psychic, she is," Harry answers.  Most of the fun comes from Harry's pleasantly abrasive relationship with Lt. Manuel "Manny" Quinlan (Henry Darrow) of the San Diego police and his rookie assistant Sgt. Frank Cole, likably played by future cult actor Tom Atkins. 

Although the writing is consistently good, much of the appeal of "Harry O" is simply the chance to hang out with these characters and enjoy watching them go through their paces along with a variety of familiar guest stars of the era.  The first regular episode, "Gertrude", is a nifty enough mystery about a highly eccentric woman whose brother is missing from the navy, but seeing the appealing Julie Sommars in the quirky title role is what makes it worth watching. 


"Coinage of the Realm" not only gives us the great Kenneth Mars (YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) but also shows that Dawn Lyn was actually a fairly promising child actress despite the idiotic "Dodie" character she played on "My Three Sons."  And speaking of child actresses, Lisa Gerritsen of "Phyllis" fame gets a surprisingly adult guest role in "Ballinger's Choice" as Paul Burke's 16-year-old lover, with Juliet Mills and Tim McIntyre also in the cast.

Episodes 11 and 12 form the season's only two-parter, "Forty Reasons to Kill", which features Joanna Pettet, Craig Stevens, and Broderick Crawford.  "The Last Heir" is a delightfully offbeat whodunnit in the Agatha Christie mold, with Harry stranded in a desert hacienda with a family of kooks trying to kill each other over an inheritance.  Jeanette Nolan is outstanding as the eccentric millionairess, with Whit Bissell and Katherine Justice lending support.

With episode 15, "For the Love of Money", comes a retooling of the series that finds Harry transported from San Diego to Santa Monica--thus losing co-star Henry Darrow, regretfully--and moving into another oceanfront abode, this time next door to a bevy of beautiful stewardesses!  (Which, not surprisingly, brightens Harry's disposition considerably.)  Billy Goldenberg's gorgeous cool-jazz musical theme is altered as well, while the opening titles sequence reflects a more action-guy persona for Harry (more running and shooting, less bus travel). 


Anthony Zerbe joins the cast as Lt. K.C. Trench, whose relationship with Harry will be alternately friendly and contentious, and Farrah Fawcett debuts in episode 19 ("Double Jeopardy") as a tentative romantic interest for the now inexplicably irresistible Harry.  The season's next-to-last episode, "Elegy for a Cop", features the shocking demise of a regular character in one of the season's most serious episodes (penned by series creator Howard Rodman).  The final episode in the set, "Street Games", is notable for giving us "Brady Bunch" alumnus Maureen McCormick as a teen drug addict.

Other guest stars featured during season one include Linda Evans, Jim Backus, Cab Calloway, Leif Erickson, Sharon Acker, Charles Haid, Stephanie Powers, Barry Sullivan, Linda Evans, Anne Archer, Gordon Jump, Lawrence Luckinbill, David Dukes, Rosalind Cash, Margaret Avery, James McEachin, Jack Mullaney, Diane Ewing, Marla Adams, Michael Strong, James Olson, Barbara Anderson, Robert Reed, Jerry Hardin, Sharon Farrell, Bernie Kopell, Mariclaire Costello, John Rubenstein, Diana Hyland, Kathleen Lloyd, James Wainwright, William Sylvester, Jack Riley, Lawrence Pressman, Kurt Russell, Ben Piazza, and Karen Lynn Gorney.

The first of two pilot TV-movies for the series--"Such Dust as Dreams are Made On", with Martin Sheen, Sal Mineo, Margot Kidder, Will Geer, and Marianna Hill (Fredo's wife in THE GODFATHER PART II)--is included on disc six, but not the second pilot, "Smile Jenny, You're Dead", which, sadly, is missing here. 


Sheen, an extremely familiar television presence at the time, plays Harlan Garrison, the petty thief who shot Harry years earlier during a hold-up and forced him into early retirement.  A young Cheryl Ladd appears briefly under her real name, Cheryl Jean Stoppelmoor.  The frantic motorcycle chase finale, with Harry hightailing it after a fleeing Sal Mineo, would be reused in its entirety for the episode "Elegy for a Cop."  

The six-disc DVD set from Warner Archive is in the original full-screen with Dolby mono sound.  No subtitles.  Picture quality shows its age a bit at times but still looked fine to me, although videophiles will no doubt notice every scratch.

While enjoying respectable ratings during its second season, "Harry O" would nevertheless be cancelled by ABC president Fred Silverman in favor of the jigglier "Charlie's Angels", causing a disillusioned David Janssen to pretty much retire from series TV altogether until his untimely death in 1980.  But we're lucky to have two good seasons of "Harry O", the first of which is now preserved in HARRY O: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON for 70s cop show fans to enjoy and wax nostalgic over. 


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Saturday, September 22, 2012

UNDISCOVERED -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com way back in 2005.)


The dog rides a skateboard!

I'm serious! She pushes it along with one paw, and then jumps on and whizzes down the street! Holy smokes! It's freakin' awesome! The DOG rides a freakin' SKATEBOARD!

And when she rounds the corner and disappears, then the last thing that might possibly elicit any interest in the movie known as UNDISCOVERED (2005) also disappears. But I'll always have that memory--the dog rides a skateboard. (sigh)

And now, the review proper:

Aspiring musician Luke Falcon (yes, that's really his name in the movie) encounters a woman on the subway who is REALLY HOT, according to the script. Her name is Brier (Yes! Holy gosh, yes! That's really her name!) and she's a model, and she thinks he's really hot too! But before they can consummate their bond of mutual hotness, a closing subway door comes between them. Brier picks up a glove that Luke has dropped and holds it up. "You dropped your glove!" she astutely observes. Luke, being the quintessential romantic guy that women who read romance novels swoon over, immediately throws the other glove at her just as the door slams shut. Oh, my garsh! He's the king of the "meet-cute"!

I first encountered the term "meet-cute" thanks to Roger Ebert. I think he made it up, but I could be wrong. Anyway, to me it seems as though as soon as Roger identified the phenomenon of the "meet-cute" then sensible filmmakers would begin to avoid it lest they be accused of indulging in cliche'. But not the makers of this film. They embraced it. They began their film with a classic, nerve-wracking, teeth-grinding "meet-cute."

Not only that, but right afterward Luke informs his brother that he has been "smitten." Guys, how many times have you ever told another guy that you've just been "smitten"? Enough times to get your ass kicked? Well, just minutes into the movie it's overwhelmingly apparent that Luke should get his ass kicked but good, but he doesn't. He's too busy moving to L.A. to pursue a career as a rock star. A rock star that you may listen to, but not me, because his songs suck. Oh, my gompers, do they suck. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Guess what? Brier's moving to L.A., too. She's a model, but she wants to be an actress, so she's going to take acting lessons and try to break into the acting business. Can she act? Only as well as the actress playing her, which, unfortunately, means "no." But who cares, because--oh, joy--one of her fellow acting students is none other than Ashlee Simpson! Yippee! It just keeps getting better!

Can Ashlee act? That's a pretty interesting and important question, since acting would seem to be a real career booster for her. Lots of successful singers have become big-time actresses, thus bolstering their "double-threat" entertainment value. Will Ashlee be one of them? No, she won't. Her acting style consists of goofy smiles, googly eyes, and coy, cutesy expressions. But it fits right into this coy, cutesy movie, so all's right with the world, eh? Harrumph!

Well, in a nod to cinematic believability, it turns out that Ashlee (or Clea, as she in known in the movie) is Luke's best friend, and she takes Brier to the nightclub where Luke is performing his insanely crappy songs. Yes, that's right -- two strangers who had a brief "meet-cute" in New York and then seperately moved to L.A. just happen to run into each other just as soon as they get there. Why, it's fate! Or bad writing, or something.

But there's Luke (played by Steven Strait, now appearing as "Stevie" in the Starz series "Magic City"), singing his boring widdle butt off in a nightclub while record company executive Fisher Stevens (a welcome sight since he's the only person I recognize so far besides Carrie Fisher, and he actually sorta knows how to act) describes him in a manner that I can readily agree with: "This guy here...he sings from his heart. I wanna throw up."

Anyway, Luke (whom Clea describes as a cross between Jeff Buckley and Elvis Costello, although Jeff Foxworthy and Lou Costello would be more apt musical comparisons) seeks to resume his aborted acquaintance with the lovely and talented (OMG!) Brier ("When are we gonna break outta the 'friend zone'?", he asks -- no, really!), but she rejects his romantic advances because she just can't seem to shake her squishy feelings for the genuine big-time rock star she's been dating. That is, the grunge relic who cheats on her with a succession of groupies and doesn't call her for months at a time. Oh, good choice, Brier.

But Clea talks some sense into her, or at least what she can manage to approximate as sense ("I don't think you fall out of love until you fall into someone else" she actually says, which I can't believe wasn't the official tagline for this movie), and they both suddenly devise a brilliant plan to create such a buzz about Luke that he will become an honest-to-goodness big-time rock star for real! And THERE'S THE SET-UP! TA-DAAAA!

Brier calls her former modeling agent, played by the unfortunate Carrie Fisher, to help out with the big Luke Falcon publicity blitz. Carrie is older and plumper than she was in her Princess Leia days (not that there's anything wrong with that), and appears to be less than ecstatic about being seen in this huge, gobbling turkey. She's probably wishing that Han Solo would swoop into the frame and lug her away. Or at least shoot her.

Well, things trudge boringly along after that--Luke's hot for some committed-relationship action, but Brier keeps vaccillatin', Luke loses his record deal, etc.--I don't want to spoil the plot for you, blah blah blah, and after some more stuff happens, there's a sickly-sweet happy ending. There's always a happy ending in these stories, right? Except for THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, one of the worst teen comedies ever made, which, incredibly, is better than UNDISCOVERED.

That movie had a very, very sad ending, but it made me very happy since I couldn't stand Lawrence Monoson, the blubbering idiot who starred in it. But that's neither here nor there, although for some reason talking about one really bad movie inspires me to yap about all the other bad movies that have contributed to the living hell that is life on this here fab-u-licious Earth of ours.

On the technical side: the meandering camerawork seems to have been done by a near-sighted wino with ADD, because he keeps wandering around finding interest in other things besides the actors. And someone keeps screwing around with the focus, too. Is this what they call "MTV-style" cinematography? If it is, then MTV sucks. I could find three-year-old kids who could handle a camera better than this.

The editing, of course, is an entirely different thing altogether. That is, what is meant to represent editing in this film is entirely different from whatever is generally known in film circles as "editing." But what the hell--as long as the kids get their "MTV-style" fix, if indeed that's what they're looking for when they go to the movies, then here it is. Total crap, wrapped up in a badly directed, poorly edited "MTV-style" package--so EAT IT, KIDS! YUM-YUM!

Watching this filmic endeavor, I kept being reminded of another really bad movie that seared itself onto my cerebral cortex several years ago--IF EVER I SEE YOU AGAIN, the magnum opus of producer/director/writer/composer/star Joe Brooks of YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE fame. Both movies are really, really BAD-bad, both feature sappy love stories with plenty of awful, grinning-like-a-loon, super-duper cutesy-poo bad acting and blood-curdling music, and both left me feeling as though I had just been fished out of a vat of toxic chemicals at the Axis Chemical Company. It's not often that I compare a movie to IF EVER I SEE YOU AGAIN, my personal fixation of total, gibbering cinematic horror, but in this case I'm going to make an exception. UNDISCOVERED is just as bad. It's the IF EVER I SEE YOU AGAIN of a new generation.

I should probably say something in conclusion, even though I think I've already pretty much said everything I wanted to say about this movie, so I'll end with one of those cleverly snarky movie review-type comments: "UNDISCOVERED is a movie that should REMAIN undiscovered!" (LOL!) But, to be fair, it wasn't a total loss. There was, after all, the skateboarding dog. HOLY STUPID PET TRICKS! THE DOG RIDES A SKATEBOARD! YEEE-HAAAA!!!


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Friday, September 21, 2012

Acorn Media (British TV) and Athena (Best Documentaries) DVD Release Calendar

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

This week/Sept. 18:

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: MYTHOS – The Complete Series and UNDERSTANDING ART: IMPRESSIONISM (U.S. Debut)

Sept. 25:

THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE (DVD Debut) – “The outstanding drama of the year” (The Times) – DVD release coincides with recent broadcast premiere as the first program in Encore’s “The Big Miniseries Showcase” on Sept. 10-11. Based on the sensational novel by Michel Faber, this new provocative period drama boasts a stellar cast and a boldly original look and feel. This BBC psychological thriller won three Royal Television Society awards and was nominated for five 2012 BAFTAs, including best miniseries and best actress. The gripping drama follows the fortunes of Sugar (Romola Garai, The Hour, Atonement, Emma), an ambitious prostitute, as she navigates the dark underbelly of Victorian London in pursuit of a better life. The miniseries co-stars Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids, The IT Crowd), and Gillian Anderson (Bleak House, The X-Files).

SPECIAL BRANCH, SET 1 (U.S. Debut) – A gritty, realistic procedural akin to spy classics Callan, Man in a Suitcase, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, this classic British spy drama provides a suspenseful ride through the underbelly of Britain’s international affairs and the Special Branch of London’s Metropolitan Police—a force dedicated to stopping terrorist activities. Stars George Sewell (Get Carter), Patrick Mower (Callan), and Richard Leech (Doctor Who). Aired on ITV in the U.K. for four series from 1969-1974 but is available to U.S. audiences for the first time with its DVD release.

NEW TRICKS, SEASON 8 (DVD Debut) – “Mysteries are top notch, twisty and ingeniously solved…Great fun” (PaperMag) – Another season from Britain’s highest-rated TV drama in its unedited UK edition. Amanda Redman (Sexy Beast), Dennis Waterman (The Sweeney), Alun Armstrong (Garrow’s Law, Bleak House, Patriot Games), and James Bolam (The Beiderbecke Affair) star as a team of semi-retired and somewhat curmudgeonly detectives investigating cold cases. Aired on BBC for eight seasons so far and has ongoing broadcast exposure on public television; however the DVD set features the unedited UK edition, which includes an additional six minutes per episode not seen on public television.

MIDSOMER MURDERS: MAYHEM & MYSTERY FILES – “Simply the most entertaining mystery series in TV history…Absolutely addictive” (ICv2) – Acorn’s top-selling series returns with fourth value priced collector’s set. Beloved British mystery series stars John Nettles. Set features the next 15 stand-alone mysteries in broadcast order with the episodes from Series 10 and 11 (2006-2008)

Oct. 2:

VEXED, SERIES 1 (U.S. Debut) – Featuring sharp scripts, strong performances, and an enjoyable mix of comedy and crime solving, this ongoing series features Toby Stephens (Jane Eyre, Die Another Day, Wired) and Lucy Punch (Doc Martin, Bad Teacher) in a fresh approach to the police procedural as two mismatched police detectives who banter and bicker their way through London’s toughest cases. Broadcast on BBC Two in 2010 and a second series in 2012, Vexed has not aired in the U.S. and is available to U.S. audiences for the first time with this DVD release.

KIDNAP & RANSOM, Complete Series 1 & 2 (U.S. Debut) – Acclaimed new thriller about international kidnapping makes its U.S. debut from Patrick Harbinson (Persons of Interest, 24, Law & Order: SVU). Featuring outstanding casts and a gritty, realistic feel, the series revolves around master negotiator Dominic King (Trevor Eve, Waking the Dead) as he travels to exotic locales to bring kidnapping victims home, offering a captivating look inside a dangerous business. Filmed on location in South Africa, the series also stars Helen Baxendale (Cold Feet, Friends, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman) with guest stars John Hannah (The Mummy, Spartacus). Aired on ITV (2011-12), but this release makes it available to U.S. audiences for the first time.

THOMAS & SARAH – The follow-up to the blockbuster British series, Upstairs, Downstairs, features two beloved characters. Real-life couple John Alderton (Little Dorrit, Calendar Girls) and Oscar® nominee Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) return as two of the series’ most colorful characters: the wily chauffeur and the sassy cockney parlor maid. In these 13 episodes, the scheming pair embarks on adventures of smuggling, swindling, matchmaking, and magic. Aired on ITV in the U.K. in 1979 but never broadcast in the U.S.

Oct. 16

WATERLOO ROAD, SERIES 1 (DVD Debut) – U.K.’s most popular drama series makes its North American DVD debut. Featuring contemporary settings, sharp scripts, strong characters, and realistic dialogue, the smash-hit BBC America (2006) serial drama follows the students and teachers at the beleaguered Waterloo Road Comprehensive School as they confront issues ranging from teen pregnancy to bullying. Series 1 stars Jason Merrells (Lark Rise to Candleford) and Jamie Glover (Emma). The highly popular program has aired for seven series on BBC One in the U.K. with several more in production.

BRAVE NEW WORLD (U.S. Debut) – Hosted by Stephen Hawking, fascinating documentary explores the recent headline-grabbing advancements in machines, health, technology, the environment, biology, and physics. Hosted by famed professor Stephen Hawking, the series travels the globe to explore the amazing research and awesome inventions that will change the course of the world. Hawking is joined by a stellar cast of notable scientists offering expert commentary on today’s scientific revolutions, including naturalist David Attenborough, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, physicist Kathy Sykes, and reproductive-medicine pioneer Robert Winston. Broadcast in the U.K. on Channel 4 in 2011, the series is available to U.S. audiences for the first time with its DVD release.

BILL MOYERS: A WORLD OF IDEAS II – GREAT THINKERS – Peabody Award-winning PBS interview series features conversations with winners of The Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer, an Academy Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Bill Moyers (Moyers & Company, PBS) sits down with 16 of the world’s smartest people for comprehensive conversations about American life. Eclectic, engrossing, witty, and profound, A World of Ideas shows “how good television can be” (San Jose Mercury News).

THE COMPLETE RED GREEN SHOW: HIGH (QUALITY) QUANTITY COLLECTION – Bringing together all 300 episodes/15 seasons (1991-2006) of the cult classic Canadian comedy and longstanding PBS hit in value-priced collection in nice collectible packaging. 50-disc collector’s edition is perfect for fans of all things manly, Canadian, and duct taped and offers the perfect excuse to grab a seat, crack open a cold one, and put off your next home-improvement project ($299.99, Very limited quantities available).

Oct. 23

AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT: THE EARLY CASES COLLECTION (DVD, Blu-ray) – First six series of Agatha Christie’s beloved mysteries in a value-priced collector’s edition; 45 mysteries remastered and in original U.K. broadcast order. Seen on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! and A&E, David Suchet stars as Agatha Christie’s mustachioed mystery-solver as a “near-perfect Poirot” (USA Today). Brimming with opulent 1930s period details, these lavish adaptations look better than ever. Agatha Christie’s Poirot has aired on ITV1 in the U.K. since 1989 and on PBS and A&E in the U.S. The 13-disc Blu-ray and 18-disc DVD sets include all 45 mysteries from Series 1-6, now with SDH subtitles and collectible foil packaging ($249.99/$199.99, Very limited quantities available). Guest stars include Damian Lewis (Homeland)

THE DUCHESS OF DUKE STREET COMPLETE COLLECTION – Value-priced collector’s set of the beloved BBC series seen on Masterpiece Theatre. Created by Emmy® winner John Hawkesworth (Upstairs, Downstairs) and fondly remembered from its Emmy®-nominated PBS Masterpiece Theatre run (1979-80), The series remains a standard of BBC excellence to this day. Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Sense and Sensibility) stars as Louisa Leyton, a culinary wizard who ascends from servant to manager of a posh London hotel. Christopher Cazenove (A Knight’s Tale, TV’s Dynasty) co-stars as Charlie, the dashing love of her life. Nominated for an Emmy® and multiple BAFTAs, including Best Drama Series and Best Actress.

WISH ME LUCK: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION – “Impossible not to be hooked” (The Guardian) – All three series of the riveting British WWII drama about British heroines who crossed enemy lines to work undercover with the French Resistance. Broadcast on ITV from 1988-1990 and U.S. public television in the 1990s, these three complete, acclaimed series feature plots rife with tension and danger and outstanding casts including Kate Buffery (Trial and Retribution), Jane Asher (A Voyage Round My Father), and Julian Glover (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Filmed on location in Britain and France, Wish Me Luck features strong female characters, historical authenticity, and spectacular scenery. (6-Disc Set, 23 episodes)

Nov. 6:

VERA, SET 2 (U.S. Debut) – “One of the best mysteries…in the last decade” (The Baltimore Sun) – Two-time Oscar® nominee Brenda Blethyn (Little Voice, Secrets & Lies, Pride & Prejudice) returns in the acclaimed British mystery series, which returned to record ratings in the U.K. in 2012. Based on the award-winning novels by Ann Cleeves, the ITV series stars Blethyn as Vera Stanhope—a brilliant police detective with a disheveled exterior, a sharp tongue, and an uncanny ability to solve crimes. The first series of Vera currently airs on select public television stations, however, the DVD release of Set 2 marks the first time the second series is available to U.S. audiences.

NARROW ESCAPES OF WORLD WAR II (Original uncut U.K. broadcast edition) – “Extraordinary tales of wartime courage” (The Daily Telegraph) – Riveting new documentary reveals the exploits of bravery that helped shape the outcome of the WWII. Broadcast on the Military Channel in May 2012, the series explores 13 daring escapes by Allied and Axis forces including the Doolittle raid, the Amiens Prison raid, and the siege of Kohima. The DVD 4-vol. boxed set features the original uncut U.K. broadcast edition with more than 65 minutes of additional footage not seen on the U.S. broadcast.

CORNWALL WITH CAROLINE QUENTIN (U.S. Debut) – Appealing to fans of Rick Steves and Samantha Brown, this lighthearted travel documentary, explores the glorious scenery and fascinating people of the Cornish coast. Hosted by two-time British Comedy Award winner Caroline Quentin (Blue Murder, Men Behaving Badly), this eight-part documentary takes a rollicking ride through southern England’s coastal playground where surfers catch big waves, vintners harvest sun-ripened grapes, and pirates swarm over a medieval fortress. Broadcast on ITV in January 2012, the production features exceptional cinematography and stunning views of the coast and countryside.

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Acorn Media on Facebook and Twitter

ACORN TV: Full press access upon request. Streaming now are the Upstairs, Downstairs spin-off THOMAS & SARAH, Judi Dench in A FINE ROMANCE, U.S. debut of VEXED, beloved period drama POLDARK, a new cop dramedy, Robson Green in TOUCHING EVIL, James May’s 20TH CENTURY, and hit detective series: VERA, Agatha Christie’s POIROT and MARPLE, MIDSOMER MURDERS, GEORGE GENTLY, PIE IN THE SKY, and SINGLE-HANDED. Acorn TV streams full seasons of critically acclaimed, classic and contemporary British series. Acorn TV is available on Roku, Nook, iPhone, iPad, among others.

January – Sept. 4, 2012 DVDs:

From Acorn: THE FORSYTE SAGA COLLECTION starring Damian Lewis (Homeland, Band of Brothers); THE STORY OF THE COSTUME DRAMA (U.S. Debut); THE COSTUME DRAMA CLASSIC COLLECTION; THE KENT CHRONICLES (DVD Debut); INJUSTICE (DVD Debut); Agatha Christie’s POIROT, SERIES 6 (Blu-ray and DVD); HOLY FLYING CIRCUS (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Debut); CLOUDSTREET (DVD Debut); YOUNG JAMES HERRIOT (U.S. Debut); THE SINKING OF THE LACONIA (DVD Debut); GARROW’S LAW, SERIES 3 (U.S. Debut); DOC MARTIN, Series 5 (DVD Debut); WASHINGTON: BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (Home Video Debut); LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE (long-awaited DVD Debut) starring Judi Dench; THE BEST OF FOYLE’S WAR; MIDSOMER MURDERS, Set 20 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray and DVD); GEORGE GENTLY, Series 4 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray and DVD); MONROE, Series 1 (U. S. Debut); MURDOCH MYSTERIES, Season 4 (U.S. Debut, DVD/Blu-ray); I, CLAUDIUS: 35th Anniversary Edition (bonus packed with many previously unavailable extras); BBC’s TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Now on Blu-ray); ABOVE SUSPICION, Set 1 (U.S. Debut); AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT Series 1-5 (Blu-ray debut, DVD); and POLDARK: The Complete Collection (Value-priced collection).

From Athena: JAMES MAY’S 20th CENTURY (U.S. debut); BILL MOYERS ON ADDICTION: CLOSE TO HOME and CAPITOL CRIMES; THE CODE (U.S. Debut); THIS IS CIVILIZATION (DVD Debut); TIME TEAM: UNEARTHING THE ROMAN INVASION (U.S. Debut); TREASURE HOUSES OF BRITAIN (DVD Debut); IN THEIR OWN WORDS (Athena, U.S. Debut); SECRET WAR (DVD Debut); BATTLEFIELD DETECTIVES (Athena, DVD Debut); and THE WINDSORS (U.S. Debut, Athena).

About Acorn Media:

Headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C., Acorn Media U.S. releases the best of British television on DVD/Blu-ray, while Athena releases provide an authoritative and entertaining learning experience through high quality, informative, non-fiction programming. On April 2, 2012, RLJ Acquisition, Inc. (OTCQB: RLJAU; RLJA; RLJAW) entered into agreements to acquire each of Image Entertainment, Inc. (OTCQB:DISK) and Acorn Media Group, Inc., two highly complementary media businesses to create one of the largest independent distributors of digital and video content globally. The new combined company will be named RLJ Entertainment, Inc.

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



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Thursday, September 20, 2012

KING OF THORN -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle



What starts out as an intriguing sci-fi tale loses its way in director Kazuyoshi Katayama's KING OF THORN (2010), which ends up as a collection of hit-and-miss scenes searching for a satisfying whole.

This visually compelling anime epic begins with some gorgeous shots of New York City, where the suicide of a young girl suffering from the dreaded Medousa virus--she leaps from a tall building and her petrified, dried-white body shatters on the pavement--heralds the start of a catastrophic new epidemic that will threaten the world's population.  Billionaire chemical tycoon Coral Vega offers to place 160 lucky subjects into "cold sleep" pending a cure, in a Scottish castle science facility overseen by his shadowy religious cult "Venus Gate." 

When this "Noah's Ark" of preserved humanity is inadvertently awakened after some unknown calamity within the facility, they find themselves surrounded by huge, thorn-covered plants and beseiged by vicious mutant creatures that seem inspired by somebody's nightmare (which they were, thanks to their computer caretaker "A.L.I.C.E." reading their thoughts during cold sleep).  Seven survivors find themselves in a fight for life as they try to escape the castle and discover what has happened to the world during their sleep, however long it may have been. 

After an extended sequence in which much exposition is delivered via simulated news broadcasts, we see the 160 traveling by bus caravan to the Scottish castle in a series of semi-photorealistic shots that mimic reality but with a heightened pictorial beauty.  It's one of my favorite passages in the film and some of the lush backgrounds here look as though they may have come from Studio Ghibli (which is mentioned in the closing credits). 

A couple of typical anime schoolgirl types, Kasumi Ishiki and her twin sister Shizuku are on one bus with Katherine Turner, an introspective woman who likens their current situation to the "Sleeping Beauty" fairytale, and a little boy named Tim who will find striking parallels in the perilous events to come with the videogames he plays on his Game Boy.  (Neither of these similarities will be coincidental.)  Kasumi has been chosen for cold sleep and her sister is merely there to see her off, but they will both play key roles in what occurs later on. 

Other characters include wisecracking bad boy Marco Owen, a convicted computer hacker with a hidden agenda; Ron Portman, a burly African-American; Alexandro Pecchino, an Italian senator who bought his way into the program; and Peter Stevens, an engineer who, as it turns out, created the cold sleep capsules for Venus Gate only to then contract the Medousa virus himself. 

Once inside the facility, KING OF THORN becomes an uneasy combination of clinical-looking sci-fi and feverish gothic fantasy-horror.  While the survival story is intermittently suspenseful, with plenty of shoot 'em up action and serial-style escapes, I found the group's constant clashes with the "demonsaurus" creatures and other fanciful beasts to be tiresome after awhile. 

Likewise with Kasumi's constant angst-ridden memories of twin sister Shizuku and all the teasing glimpses of how both girls secretly fit into the overall scheme by Venus Gate to do whatever it is they're scheming to do, which I found more unfathomable with each passing scene.  The plot becomes unnecessarily complicated to the point where I had no idea what was going on half the time, and thus found myself merely concentrating on the impressive but confusing visuals.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Funimation is in 16x9 widescreen with English and Japanese 5.1 sound and English subtitles.  Extras include a Q & A with the director and producer, a director interview, and several trailers and TV spots. 

Based on a manga that is comprised of several volumes, KING OF THORN perhaps tries to squeeze too much story into its running time and ends up cluttered and uninvolving after a promising start.  I would recommend it to anime fans for the animation and artwork alone (although it relies a bit too much on CGI for my taste), because it really is nice to look at.  But what is obviously intended as a deeply emotional finale left me feeling pretty indifferent to it all.


Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD combo at Amazon.com




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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Commemorate Veteran’s Day with these War-Time Classics from Image Entertainment



America will honor all those who serve in the armed forces with the Monday, November 12th observance of Veteran’s Day. Originally called “Armistice Day,” the holiday was enacted by Woodrow Wilson in 1919. From all of us at Image Entertainment, we salute and celebrate our men and women in uniform for their devotion and sacrifice.

The story of the U.S. soldier also goes back to the history of American cinema itself.  Image Entertainment marks Veteran’s Day 2012 with a sampling of the films and television shows that chronicled, documented and ultimately celebrated the triumphs and tragedies of those who answered to our nation’s highest calling.

COMBAT! FAN FAVORITES 50th ANNIVERSARY (DVD)

One of television’s most popular shows, the 1960s’ groundbreaking series COMBAT offers a gritty, unflinching look at American soldiers battling on the front lines in Europe during World War II, confronting imposing odds and demonstrating remarkable levels of ingenuity and courage. Vic Morrow and Rick Jason head a stellar cast in this long-running war drama featuring an incomparable list of guest stars as well as top directorial talent. This special 5-DVD collection includes 20 classic episodes from the series and includes guest stars include Lee Marvin, James Coburn, John Cassavetes, Tab Hunter and more!

For REAL fans of the iconic series, there’s the 40-disc COMBAT! THE COMPLETE SERIES DVD box set, containing all 152 episodes of this action-packed series, including the final season in color, and featuring over 30 hours of bonus features, including audio commentaries, video interviews, “oddities” and bloopers!

MEMORIAL DAY (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Video)

It’s Memorial Day 1993, when 13-year-old Kyle Vogel stumbles upon his grandfather Bud’s (James Cromwell, The Artist, Babe) World War II footlocker. Though reluctant to discuss the war with his grandson, Bud strikes a deal with Kyle: He’ll tell the stories of any three objects from the footlocker that Kyle chooses. As we flash back to see Bud’s WWII tales from Europe unfold through his souvenirs and memories, we also flash forward to see how the present day SSgt. Kyle Vogel’s (Jonathan Bennett, Mean Girls) experiences in Iraq parallel them—and how that day on the porch with his grandfather will affect how he ultimately deals with the losses, regrets and moral dilemmas that unite all soldiers across all wars and generations.

IWO JIMA: 50 YEARS OF MEMORIES (DVD, Digital)

It was one of the last major battles of WWII, fought on a tiny Pacific island only eight miles square. And when it was over, nearly 30,000 American and Japanese men were dead, with thousands more wounded. This is the story of Iwo Jima, told entirely through the voices of American servicemen who survived the hell that was "Operation Detachment." Interviewed 50 years after the last shot on Iwo was fired, many of these brave men had never before spoken to anyone about their experiences on "Sulpher Island" — a silence that haunted them for decades. Originally broadcast on PBS, IWO JIMA: 50 YEARS OF MEMORIES has been digitally remastered with added footage and photographs, including additional maps and archival film not previously available to the public.

WWII: THE COMPLETE HISTORY (10-DVD SET)

World War II was different from other wars due to the unparalleled scope of rare and, in some cases, previously unseen images from archives around the world. Now these images have been brought together in one of the most powerful documentary series on the 20th century's greatest conflict. This is the complete Second World War from the islands of the Pacific to the frozen Steppes of Russia. From the rise of Hitler to the celebration of VJ day, you will learn about the hardware, the heroes and the heartbreak of war.

VIETNAM: WAR IN THE JUNGLE (10-DVD SET)

The Vietnam War was one of the worst horrors of the second half of the 20th century and the causes behind it continue to baffle people to this day. How did it start? What were the justifications for America's involvement in Nam? Could it have been avoided altogether? Now in this stunning and detailed five-disc collection, see the war as it was – warts and all. This extraordinary series, produced with the official cooperation of the U.S. Army and U.S. National Archive, features hours of rare, recently declassified film footage, making this the ultimate Vietnam War collection.


Buy COMBAT! FAN FAVORITES 50th ANNIVERSARY at Amazon.com


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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

GONE HOLLYWOOD -- DVD review by porfle



If you like your comedy on the bland side because you're afraid of the potential internal injuries that actual laughter may inflict on you, then the almost terminally low-key GONE HOLLYWOOD (2010) may appeal to you.  Otherwise, watching it might make you appreciate the relative pleasures of being in a coma.

Fernando Carrillo plays Al, a down-on-his-luck TV actor who returns to his tiny south Texas hometown after his father dies because in order to inherit the old man's billiard bar--and then sell out to a radio station owner who wants to demolish it--he has to work in it for thirty days.  Of course, the employees are like a family and don't want him to sell, so they go about selling Al on keeping the place. 

One of the fun things about the bar that's supposed to make Al want to keep it is "Mariachi Madness Night", which consists of a lot of people filing onstage in mariachi outfits and playing instruments.  Yeah, that's pretty insane, all right.  Another big selling point is "Chicken Poop Bingo", a Sunday tradition that involves actual chickens picking the bingo numbers by pooping on them.  Whoa, stop it--my sides are hurting. 

The really weird thing about these scenes is that there are no reaction shots of the bar's customers.  The camera remains pointed at the stage the entire time, as though we're watching a local cable-access broadcast from a cheap bar.  There aren't even any "people" sound effects.  It's a little on the nightmarish side, which tends to counteract the happy comedy feeling the movie is supposed to be instilling in us.
 
Other detrimental factors are the film's murky photography, sluggish pace, and Demetrius Navarro's amazingly uninspired direction--the whole thing just sits there like an undercooked comedy pancake that's been smothered in molasses.  The acting is goodnatured but not very good, and everything's so dead-calm that the funniest gags involve a gang of senior citizens on scooters who are fans of Al's TV reruns (only old people like his show) but angry with him for wanting to sell the bar. 

Erlinda Orozco is kind of cute as bar maid Nena, whom we know will get together with Al because this movie isn't about to do anything surprising, and the rest of the cast perform with such a talent-show earnestness that it's hard not to give them pity points.  Carrillo himself, as washed-up TV star Al, reminds me of what might happen if you took a young Joaquim de Almeida (DESPERADO) and replaced his brain with half a pound of potato salad and a hamster wheel. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78.1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Closed-captions but no subtitles or extras.  The closing credits feature some behind-the-scenes tomfoolery.

I can't totally diss GONE HOLLYWOOD simply because it's so inoffensive.  As a comedy, it's almost passive-aggressive.  You may want to watch it just so you don't hurt its feelings.  Better yet, turn on the DVD player and then sneak out of the house while it isn't looking.


Buy it at Amazon.com



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Friday, September 14, 2012

WRESTLEMANIAC -- movie review by porfle



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

Movies in which a cast of young people gets whittled down "Ten-Little-Indians" style by an unstoppable killer are a dime a dozen these days, and the only things which distinguish any of them from the pack are a good story, competent (at least) execution, and a unique antagonist.  WRESTLEMANIAC (2006) gives us a passably good story which is very well executed by writer-director Jesse Baget and a talented cast. 

As for the antagonist--he's a psychotic Mexican wrestler named El Mascarado who was created by evil scientists (using the bodies of three other Mexican wrestlers) and then abandoned in an isolated ghost town after he went uncontrollably, kill-crazy nuts.  Okay, that's pretty unique.

Adam Huss plays Alphonse, a brash, cocky dude with a pimp goatee and a cowboy hat who's hauling three girls and a couple of other guys down to Mexico in a van to shoot a porn video.  Jeremy Radin is Steve, his pudgy cameraman, and Zack Bennett plays Jimbo, a typical stoner-type who's there mainly because it's his van.  The girls include a couple of blondes--the vivacious Debbie (Margaret Scarborough) and the wasted Daisy (Catherine Wreford)--and a sultry brunette babe named Dallas, played by WWE Raw Diva Leyla Milani (recently seen in THE BOYS AND GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN), who should be receiving my marriage proposal in the mail any day now.

On the way to wherever it is they're going, they stop at a gas station that looks like it hasn't seen a drop of gas since 1957 and meet a weird old geezer (familiar character actor Irwin Keyes) who warns them not to stop in the haunted ghost town called La Sangre De Dios.  Whatever you do, he stresses repeatedly, do not stop in the haunted ghost town of La Sangre De Dios.  So what do they do?  They make a beeline for La Sangre De Dios.  Why?  Because, as Alphonse confidently informs everyone, a haunted ghost town would make the perfect location for a porn video.

No sooner do they get there, however, than strange things start happening and members of their group begin to disappear.  They do, of course, find time to start work on their video, which gives us a chance to see a scantily-clad Dallas and Debbie making out on the bar of the saloon.  For those of you who are keeping score at home, Debbie gets topless.  Unfortunately, so does Alphonse.  Daisy, meanwhile, wanders off somewhere to throw up and is never seen again.  Jimbo goes looking for her, and is never seen again.  As darkness begins to fall on the spooky old town, it gradually dawns on the others that something may be amiss.

When the hulking, terrifying Mexican wrestler El Mascarado appears and starts coming after them, they realize that something is definitely amiss.  This is when the fun really starts.  Director Jesse Baget does a good job of keeping the old stalk-and-kill formula interesting, with lots of action and some genuinely suspenseful sequences.  There's also a generous amount of gore, mainly because El Mascarado studiously observes the number one rule of Mexican wrestling: when you defeat an opponent, you rip his mask off.  Our protagonists, of course, don't wear masks, so El Mascarado simply rips their faces off instead.   Yowch!  That's gotta hurt!

I'm not into wrestling myself, but I like to see this sort of horror flick done well, and in this case it's done very well.  If you're into both wrestling and horror, you should really get a kick out of this, especially since El Mascarado is played by none other than Mexican wrestling superstar Rey Misterioso.  He makes a pretty intimidating monster, and when the overweight, out-of-shape Steve squares off with him to try and rip his mask off (which, theoretically, will force him to "retire" and leave them alone), you just know it ain't gonna turn out good.  Forget about the ol' Lone Ranger--Jim Croce should've been a lot more worried about this guy.

Did I mention that every time Dallas or Debbie run away from the killer, the camera zooms in for a closeup of their rear ends?  I didn't notice this myself, of course (ahem) but I believe it's mentioned in the commentary track by Baget, Huss, and director of photography Tabbert Fiiller.  This is just one of the spoofy elements that let you know WRESTLEMANIAC isn't meant to be taken seriously--but, with that in mind, it's still a full-blooded, action-packed horror movie that throws most of the current stalker flicks right out of the ring.


Buy it at Amazon.com


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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

GOATS -- DVD review by porfle



When David Duchovny left "The X-Files" for a movie career, I'm sure one of his fondest dreams was to play "Goat Man" in a movie called GOATS (2012).  Or not. 

Looking like a cross between Billy Gibbons and Gabby Hayes, Duchovny plays an overaged dope-smoking slacker who came to clean the pool and never left.  Now he's the live-in surrogate father and mentor for 15-year-old Ellis (Graham Phillips) and a companion for Ellis' wacky, dissolute New Age mom Wendy (Vera Farmiga), who lives off a perpetual trust fund in a hacienda in the Arizona desert.

Growing up with these two delirious hipster-doofuses, there's no way Ellis would be as well-adjusted as he seems to be, especially with Javier (Goat Man's semi-real name) feeding him lungfuls of weed at every turn and taking him on "goat treks."  But the kid wants to go to prep school, the same one his father attended in fact, and seems to be a bit of a genius.  He even wants to get to know his estranged dad Frank (Ty Burrell) over his mom's strenuous objections, and meet Frank's new wife Judy (Keri Russell), now pregnant with Ellis' new half-brother.

We're supposed to care about Ellis as he deals with the various disparate influences that are trying to dominate his life, but he never seems to get all that upset about anything and indeed doesn't really have it all that bad.  His main conflict, in fact, is with his overweight, insecure roommate Barney (Nicholas Lobue), whose biggest problem is a somewhat neglectful mom.  Ellis' mom Wendy may be an insufferable nut but she loves him, and his dad never really abandoned him but was forced out of his life by a spiteful Wendy. 

Frank, it turns out, is a pretty cool guy even though he's a bit overly protective and straightlaced, and Ellis seems slightly confused because Frank's conservative lifestyle is somewhat attractive to him after years of bong hits and goat treks.  This constitutes pretty much the extent of the main conflict in GOATS, so as far as that goes, it's a dramatically bland movie.  Which leaves us with the comedy.

Wendy's over-the-top New Ageism supplies us with a few fairly hearty chuckles as she chatters about spirit guides, "healing vortex" workshops, primal screaming, and veggie Thanksgiving dinners with tofu turkeys.  But she tends to get rather annoying after an hour-and-a-half of this, and she also comes off as a fairly spiteful bitch when we discover how she has deliberately alienated Ellis from his dad all those years. 

As for Goat Man, a little of his character goes a long way, especially when he's roaming around naked (I saw as much of Duchovny as I needed to on "The Larry Sanders Show").  Humorwise, the movie is at its most fun during the conflicts between Goat Man and Wendy's latest romantic interest, Bennet (Justin Kirk), a slimey, conceited gigolo trying to weasel his way into her bank account.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.40:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a brief making-of featurette, deleted scenes, a trailer, "Home Movies", and something called "The Mailman's Lament" (audio only). 

A mildly amusing and, at times, blandly wistful story about the not-so-earth-shaking experiences of a pampered prep-school brat, GOATS is a take-it-or-leave-it flick that I wouldn't go out of my way to either see or avoid.  It helps, though, if you enjoy watching an inordinately hirsute David Duchovny cavorting with goats in his birthday suit.


Buy it at Amazon.com
DVD
Blu-Ray


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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TOUCHBACK -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle


Sort of a cross between a guy flick and a chick flick (a "Chuck" flick?), TOUCHBACK (2011) mixes the rah-rah suspense of a gridiron yarn with the heart-tugging emotion of a Hallmark Channel weepie.  And it pretty much works, or at least it did for me.

Scott Murphy (Brian Presley, END GAME) is a former "Mr. Football" who quarterbacked his tiny high school's team to the state championship before sustaining a career-ending injury while making the game-winning touchdown.  Now a bitter and down-on-his-luck bean farmer stuck forever in Coldwater (or as he calls it, "Backwater"), Scott suffers a series of setbacks that finally prompt him to attempt suicide so that his wife Macy (Melanie Lynskey, HEAVENLY CREATURES) and two daughters will benefit from his life insurance.

TOUCHBACK starts out as a seriously downbeat flick as things just keep going from bad to worse for Scott, coming to a head when frost threatens to ruin his entire bean crop.  But then, suddenly, his aborted suicide becomes a trip back in time to his senior year in high school and the story takes an abrupt left turn into fantasy territory.  ("What's going on?  Am I dead?" he asks himself.)

Faced with the chance to do it all over again, Scott is now able to tweak everything so that it all turns out better than before, with his main emphasis being to avoid his career-ending injury and go on to become a big-time pro football player. 

This is where Scott's plan hits its biggest snag, however.  His injury, it turns out, was the reason he met his future wife Macy, a volunteer hospital worker when she wasn't playing in the school band.  Lacking this special circumstance, Scott is destined to marry his high school flame Jenny (Sarah Wright), a blonde homecoming queen who dreams of becoming Mrs. Football. 

Scott's desire to get back together with his beloved Macy despite everything else is what forms the emotional heart of TOUCHBACK, along with his attempts to make right other bad relationships he's had with various people (i.e.,"nerds") whom he previously felt were beneath him.  Another heart-tugging aspect of the story is his reunion with his late mother Thelma (Christine Lahti), a factory worker who toils endlessly to make him happy while trying to teach him the really important things in life. 

The film has its lighthearted moments, as when Scott, still dazed by his sudden transition back to youth, hits the field for his first practice session in several years and is knocked for a loop while still having the time of his life.  His tentative friendships with social "undesirables", including Macy herself, are both awkwardly amusing and touching, including his efforts at matchmaking between shy geek Todd (Kevin Covais) and a formidable blonde waitress named Sasha (Sianoa Smit-McPhee, lookalike sister of Kodi Smit-McPhee of LET ME IN).  

Naturally, the whole thing builds up to the big game with a powerhouse rival team--which we glimpsed at the start of the movie, including Scott's wince-inducing knee injury--and whether or not he has learned anything from his recent "instant replay."  Having gained a whole new appreciation for his hometown and the people in it, we get to see how his newfound enlightenment plays out on the field, particularly when one of the team's perpetual benchwarmers is summoned onto the field to take part in a major play. 

It's an exciting enough sequence that's very nicely directed (by Don Handfield) and choreographed so that even non-football fans should be able to keep up and stay interested.  Kurt Russell is a warm and likable presence as Coldwater's Coach Hand, the motivational heart of the team.  As the game winds down to its final seconds, we're wondering what course Scott will choose--the glittering road to success and fame in pro football, or the well-worn path of a humble farmer's life with Macy.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonuses are a making-of featurette and a commentary featuring Handfield and Presley.

I like the shots of quarterback Scott gazing over at his beloved Macy in her band uniform during the big game--heck, by that time I wanted to marry her myself.  What follows is a tearful wrap-up that aspires to the emotional heights of Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  I didn't find the climax of TOUCHBACK to be quite that effective, but was moved nonetheless. 


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Monday, September 10, 2012

Beware THE TALL MAN! Coming September 25th to Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from Image Entertainment



“Pascal Laugier’s film is brave and enjoys toying with our expectations” – JoBlo.com

“The Tall Man keeps you plugged in – right up until it pulls the rug out from under you.”– Marshall Fine, Huffington Post

“Spellbinding” – Horror News

IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT PRESENTS "THE TALL MAN"

Starring Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland and Stephen McHattie.

He’s Coming to Blu-ray™, DVD and digital download September 25th


Chatsworth, CA – When does myth give way to reality? For the tiny, isolated hamlet of Cold Rock, the line between what’s real and what’s not becomes all too frighteningly real... Coming off its national theatrical engagement, Image Entertainment unleashes The Tall Man on Blu-ray™, DVD and digital download September 25th.

Written and directed by Pascal Laugier (Martyrs), the film stars Jessica Biel (Total Recall, The Illusionist), Jodelle Ferland (Cabin in the Woods, Silent Hill), Samantha Ferris (Grace)  and Stephen McHattie (300, Watchmen), The Tall Man appears on Blu-ray™ for an SRP of $29.97 and DVD for an SRP of $27.97.

In an isolated, slowly dying mining town, children are vanishing without a trace – abducted, the townsfolk whisper, by a mysterious entity known locally as “The Tall Man.” Town nurse Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) seems skeptical…until her young David disappears in the middle of night. Frantic to rescue the boy, Julia lives every parent’s darkest nightmare in this terrifying, shock-around-each-corner thriller.

Filled with twists and turns that both thrill and chill, The Tall Man is an unforgettable journey into the dark recesses of what has been heralded as “the first sociological horror thriller ever” (Anything Horror).

Available in collectible “O-card” packaging, The Tall Man Blu-ray™ and DVD feature an 8-minute Deleted Scene, and a Visual Concepts gallery.

Please see www.tallmanthemovie.com for trailers and more information.

THE TALL MAN is a Minds Eye Entertainment, Radar Films and Forecast Pictures Co-Production in association with SND, Highwire Pictures and Ocean Films

About Image Entertainment:
Image Entertainment, Inc. is a leading independent licensee and distributor of entertainment programming in North America, with approximately 3,700 exclusive DVD titles and approximately 300 exclusive CD titles in domestic release and more than 550 programs internationally via sublicense agreements. For many of its titles, the Company has exclusive audio and broadcast rights, as well as digital download rights to approximately 2,600 video programs and approximately 400 audio titles containing more than 5,600 individual tracks. The Company is headquartered in Chatsworth, California. For more information about Image Entertainment, Inc., please go to www.image-entertainment.com.   

The Tall Man Blu-ray™
Genre:                         Thriller
Street date:                  September 25, 2012
Year:                           2012
Catalog #:                    SND8138BD
UPC:                           014381813852
Run time:                     106 minutes
Rating:                         R
SRP:                            $29.97
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (2.40:1)
Audio:                         DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

The Tall Man DVD
Genre:                         Thriller
Street date:                  September 25, 2012
Year:                           2012
Catalog #:                    SND8136DVD
UPC:                           014381813623
Run time:                     106 minutes
Rating:                         R
SRP:                            $27.97
Format:                       Anamorphic Widescreen (2.40:1)
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 5.1


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Saturday, September 8, 2012

CHESTY MORGAN'S BOSOM BUDDIES -- Blu-Ray review by porfle



When adult filmmaker Doris Wishman got together with bazooka-boobed Polish stripper Chesty Morgan in the mid-70s, the result was two of the most head-scratchingly cockeyed and totally off-the-wall nudesploitation flicks ever made.  "Deadly Weapons" and "Double Agent 73" are now together on the same Blu-Ray disc along with an unofficial non-Chesty follow-up, "The Immoral Three", to form the Something Weird Video collection CHESTY MORGAN'S BOSOM BUDDIES.

It was a match made in junk-film heaven--Wishman, a filmmaker with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm but little actual skill, and Chesty, a stunning human visual effect who nevertheless displays absolutely no natural talent whatsoever in front of the camera.  In fact, her absolute lack of any discernible acting skill makes everyone and everything else around her seem better by default.  And yet, with those mind-bogglingly huge all-natural hooters and preternaturally unaffected (some might say "spaced-out") expression, she somehow demands our disbelieving attention every second she's on the screen.

"Deadly Weapons" (1974) features Chesty (here billed as "Zsa Zsa") as the faithful wife of a mob wiseguy named Larry who gets whacked after he steals an incriminating address book and tries to blackmail his boss with it.  The grief-stricken Chesty vows revenge.  Overhearing one of her hubby's killers referring to his addiction to "burlesque", Chesty knows what she must do--get a job as a stripper and wait for him to show up at the club. 


Naturally, she has no trouble doing so after the bug-eyed manager gets a load of her blouse-bursting knockers, which gives Wishman a chance to include scenes from Chesty's burlesque "act" as part of the plot.  When the killer shows up, she gets him alone long enough to wield the only weapons at her disposal, smothering him to death with her enormous cleavage in a scene that has to be gaped at to be believed. 

Later, porn star Harry Reems (DEEP THROAT) meets the same fate despite sporting what must be one of the most formidable moustaches in film history.  But screenwriter Judy J. Kushner (Doris' niece) saves the most shocking twist for the final minutes of the film, which should leave viewers shaking their heads in dismay.

With "Double Agent 73", Chesty portrays secret agent Jane Tennay, who, in service of a plot that doesn't really bear keeping track of, has a camera surgically implanted into her left boob.  That way, whenever she kills an enemy agent she can snap a photo via her Nipple Cam for use back at headquarters in identifying the big cheese, "Mr. T." (no, not THAT "Mr. T."). 


This gives the robotic Chesty an excuse to doff a variety of hideously unflattering outfits throughout the story, beat up bad guys with her wrecking-ball boobs, and snap their pictures.  But first, we meet her while inexplicably sunbathing in a black bra, hot pants, and pantyhose while watching that old nudie-flick standby, naked coed volleyball. 

Later, there's a weird slow-motion sequence with her beating up an attacker with her boobs while taking pictures of him, leading to a hilarous speeded-up car chase that's like a cross between "Bullitt" and "The Road Runner."  In another highlight, Chesty's pretty blonde houseguest is mistaken for her by an assassin, giving director Wishman a chance to duplicate the shower scene from "Psycho" but with a decidedly different approach than Hitchcock.  To her credit, Wishman does manage a couple of semi-cool action scenes in which Chesty is manipulated into looking like she's actually doing something, a feat even Hitch probably couldn't have pulled off.

Wishman's directorial style is primitive, but it's always watchable.  She even shows a little imagination here and there, particularly during scenes of people getting beaten up, and there are flashes of rudimentary style.  But the main fun here (aside from the inescapably nightmarish 70s decor and fashions) is in watching Wishman try to coax a performance out of Chesty Morgan the way nature photographers attempt to manipulate animals into "acting" for the camera.  

While listening to breathless dramatic dialogue being dubbed over Chesty's expressionless closeups, to hilarious effect (Doris and her husband dubbed ALL the voices themselves), it finally occurred to me that these films reminded me of the 1970 TV series "Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp", in which footage of chimpanzees dressed as human characters was coupled with voiceover dialogue to create modest little spy spoofs.  Even the look of the film, sets, and costumes is similar, and it wasn't hard to imagine Chesty fitting right in as Lancelot Link's female sidekick Mata Hairy ("Oh, Lancie!"), albeit with less acting ability than the original ape actress.


Since there were only two Doris Wishman epics produced with Chesty Morgan as the star, the third film in this collection, "The Immoral Three", aka "Hotter Than Hell" (1975), is more of a generic offering.  That is, the three women who star in it have more generic physical endowments, although star Cindy Boudreau as "Genny" is still pretty conventionally stacked.

This time, agent Jane Tennay (also Boudreau) is murdered by a mysterious assailant.  We discover that she had three daughters who were the result of "carelessness" during missions involving sexual relations with the enemy.  The half-sisters Genny, Sandy (Sandra Kay), and Nancy (Michele Marie), strangers to one another until now, must find out who killed their mother and avenge her in order to inherit her $3,000,000 estate.

What follows is some dull softcore sex stuff such as a bikini-clad Sandy fellating a banana to entice the pool man and a drunken Genny doing a seductive dance in bra and panties (the elevator scene is actually kind of funny), mixed with scenes of abrupt, bloody violence as the girls' search for their mother's killer draws some desperate characters out of the woodwork.  The final minutes are rather intense in their own haphazard way, with a surprise ending from right out of left field.

The triple-feature Blu-Ray from Something Weird Video is in 1080p high-definition widescreen 1.78:1 with mono sound.  Bonus features are a gallery of Doris Wishman exploitation art and a sizable collection of entertaining trailers from her many films.

In recognition of one of his major influences, John Waters has the teenage son in "Serial Mom" breathlessly watching Doris Wishman's Chesty Morgan flicks on home video in the privacy of his bedroom.  I, too, rented these movies back in the early 80s and found them, while not exactly "sexy", to be delightfully odd artifacts from a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration of cinematic forces.  With CHESTY MORGAN'S BOSOM BUDDIES, we can revel once again in the bizarre.


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Friday, September 7, 2012

"Harry O: The Complete First Season" Starring David Janssen--Classic TV Series Comes to DVD




Beloved mystery man Harry O is finally on DVD!

HARRY O: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON


Harry Orwell is a decidedly different detective. And Harry O is decidedly different TV show. Forced off the force thanks to a bullet lodged near his spine, former police detective Harry Orwell gets by on his disability pension and the occasional private detecting gig (“100 bucks a day. Plus expenses”).

No flashy car for the downtrodden Harry – he’s as apt to get around town on bus as he is on foot. But he’s as savvy as he is sophisticated, and though he might have to avoid the slugfests, he can crack any case. Even if it sometimes breaks his heart.

Harry O features an actor at the top of his game--DAVID JANSSEN ("The Fugitive")--playing a character complex enough to contain his talents. This Six-Disc, 22-Episode Collection features the entire first season, co-starring Henry Darrow and Anthony Zerbe. Special guests include Stefanie Powers, Linda Evans, Martin Sheen, and Cab Calloway.

Special Bonus: Contains the Original Pilot – "Such Dust as Dreams Are Made Of"

#  Actors: David Janssen, Henry Darrow, Anthony Zerbe
# Format: NTSC
# Region: All Regions
# Number of discs: 6
# Studio: Warner Archive
# DVD Release Date: August 9, 2012
# Run Time: 960 minutes


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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

THE VICTIM -- DVD review by porfle




Inspired by the fake-grindhouse ambience of Robert Rodriguez' PLANET TERROR (in which he played a pivotal role), actor Michael Biehn promised the director of that exercise in old-school exploitation that he would someday make his own directorial foray into similar territory.  The result, THE VICTIM (2011), fulfills that promise by being not so much a self-aware homage as a genuine example of low-budget, anything-goes grindhouse filmmaking.

Biehn's film, in fact, resembles the sort of cheap exploitation flicks I used to watch at my local drive-in when I was growing up.  It has a small cast and crew (mostly friends and family), takes place mainly in that most cost-effective location of all--the woods--and contains generous amounts of affordable sex and violence.  It even boasts a slumming big-name star for marquee value, along with a cult fave (the bubbly Danielle Harris of those crappy HALLOWEEN sequels and other noteworthy genre films). 

There's just enough plot to get things going and keep them chugging along till the semi-suspenseful conclusion.  We join strippers Mary and Annie (Harris and Jennifer Blanc, Biehn's wife and a producer on the film) in the forest, making out with a couple of cops--virile young narc Cooger (Denny Kirkwood) and sheriff's department big wheel Harrison (Ryan Honey), whose political aspirations are placed into jeopardy when he accidentally breaks Mary's neck during some rough sex.


The coked-up cops decide they must cover up the crime--literally--which sends Annie fleeing for her life through the woods until she stumbles upon the secluded cabin of recluse Kyle (Biehn), whose troubled past has prompted him to shun society.  Suddenly finding himself with a screaming woman on his doorstep followed by two nosey cops searching for a "fugitive" forces Kyle to step up and get involved in a big way.

This leads to the aforementioned sex, as Annie uses her "feminine wiles" to convince Kyle to help her and they end up in a steamy softcore bump 'n' grind sequence.  This is followed quickly by a series of action-suspense scenes as Harrison and Cooger make their move and each side gains, then loses control of the situation. 

A red-hot tire iron becomes an incentive for the captive Harrison to reveal the whereabouts of Mary's body--the only proof of his crime that Kyle and Annie can offer police--until the tables are turned and Kyle finds himself in the hot seat while Cooger leads Annie outside to be executed.  Fights are realistically messy and awkward (little choreography was used) and in one instance ends with some quick but nasty graphic violence.


All of this is competently though rather artlessly directed by Biehn, who has a future in direct-to-DVD filmmaking but needn't start making room on his mantlepiece for any awards just yet.  His performance is as good as one might expect although he isn't quite channeling Stanislavsky here--in fact, he seems at times to be holding back in order to help the rest of the cast come off better than they actually are.

Biehn's screenplay (from a story by Reed Lackey) is similarly rough-hewn but contains a few zingy exchanges here and there, mainly between Kyle and Harrison, and allows Biehn to play one of his scruffier characters.  I like their first conversation as the two cops try to gain entry into Kyle's cabin:

HARRISON: "Can we come inside?"
KYLE: "No one's here."
HARRISON: "You seem nervous."
KYLE: "You seem nervous, too."

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonus features include a commentary track with Biehn and Blanc, and a lighthearted making-of featurette, "THE VICTIM: Behind the Scenes."
 
If you're looking for one of those startling revelations in which an actor proves himself an amazing new directorial talent, you're in the wrong place.  But if you'll settle for a fun night at the old grindhouse (or the local drive-in), take a chance on THE VICTIM and you probably won't be disappointed.


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Saturday, September 1, 2012

LAKE EFFECTS -- DVD review by porfle



Sometimes a chick flick is just good enough to be tolerable for people who hate chick flicks.  And then there's LAKE EFFECTS (2012), the kind that should be preceeded by a warning from Wilford Brimley that watching it may cause dia-beet-us. 

Jeff Fahey is Ray, a laidback retiree who gives his wife Vivian (Jane Seymour) a single pink rose every day (awwww...) and loves nothing more than gettin' up at the crack of dawn for a day of fishing on his beloved Smith Mountain Lake.  Ray's the most likable character in the movie, so naturally he gets killed in the first five minutes.  Don't worry, though, because thanks to dream sequences and flashbacks he'll manage to wear out his welcome in ghostly form.

Ray's death has a big effect on his three gals.  His wife Vivian withdraws into a morose, teary-eyed bore who could use a good dose of electro-shock therapy to snap her out of it.  His free-spirited daughter Lily (Madeline Zima, who used to be cute on "The Nanny" but now is just kind of odd) finds herself stifled and resentful because she has to stay home and take care of Vivian now that Ray's been gone for, like, two days.  And Sara (Scottie Thompson, "NCIS", "Trauma"), a business lawyer who got the hell out of there early on, resents having to come back to Hicksville for her dad's funeral. 

We know Sara is uptight because she wears a business-suit-and-skirt outfit that looks like a mobile torture device.  We know Lily is a free spirit because she does transcendental meditation and tells a little kid in her art class that it's okay to paint a green sky.  When they get together at the local bar to have a sisterly whine over old times, their fellow townspeople are all so warm, folksy, and eccentric that it would make even Garrison Keillor sick to his stomach.  It didn't take long before their stifling folksiness had me sympathizing with Sara's original desire to get out of there and never come back.

While Sara's inexplicably being excoriated by both Lily and Vivian for actually having a life, we're meant to be charmed by a subplot involving a group of emotionally-stunted geeks who believe there's a prehistoric monster living in Smith Mountain Lake.  The film tries to shoehorn such sitcom-level humor together with the teary-eyed stuff, which means that a scene featuring the unfunny lake monster geeks is followed immediately by one of Vivian bawling over a box of withered rose petals as the maudin music swells, and we're expected to switch gears into "cry mode" just like that. 

The entire film is like an emotional check list with a series of crappy emo ballads telling us how we're supposed to feel so the script won't have to.  The dialogue is so lame that one running gag between the sisters consists of the "in bed" thing--if you haven't heard that one, don't feel bad for being lost. 

Disjointed editing shuffles us from one scene to the next like an impatient tour guide, while the acting itself, with the possible exception of Thompson and Fahey, is surprisingly awful--Madeline Zima in particular just doesn't come off very well here.  Casper Van Dien is okay in a subplot featuring him as Sara's corporate pretty-boy fiance' Ash, who conveniently becomes the film's bad guy when it's discovered that he...well, I won't give away the big twist.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with English Dolby 5.1 and French 2.0 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Bonus features include some deleted scenes and a featurette, "The Ripple Effect: The Making of 'Lake Effects'." 

As much as I hate chick flicks, I'll give a good one the benefit of the doubt if it's clearly a cut above the rest.  But when you hook one as dull and dumb as LAKE EFFECTS, my advice is to throw it back.


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