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Sunday, January 29, 2012

THE DEAD -- DVD review by porfle




With the release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it turned out that George Romero, in addition to creating a classic zombie movie, had established a basic premise that would inspire a seemingly endless number of variations, continuations, and reimaginings.  One of the latest chapters in the saga of what happened after "that night" is the Ford Brothers' THE DEAD (2010), a rich and surprisingly moving horror-adventure tale set in the wilds of Africa.

As usual in the post-Romero zombie apocalyptic world, no explanation for the fact that the dead are rising and eating the living is necessary before we're plunged right into the story.  This time an American Air Force engineer named Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) is on a doomed evacuation flight attempting to flee a zombie-ridden Africa before going down near the coast.  Making it to shore, Murphy then sets out through the perilous bush country to find another means of escape so that he may somehow rejoin his wife and daughter.

Meanwhile, an African soldier named Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia) returns to his ravaged village to find his wife dead and his son having been taken to a distant military base.  He and Murphy eventually hook up and, after a slow process of gaining each other's trust, become allies in their mutual quest to survive the inexorable zombie onslaught as they travel through the wasteland in an abandoned truck. 

While delivering the sort of gruesome stuff one expects in this type of film--namely, an abundance of exploding heads, dismembered limbs, entrails, gory, gooey flesh feasts, and horrific makeups--there's a lot more to THE DEAD than a series of shocks and gross-outs.  In fact, the journey of Murphy and Daniel sometimes feels as much like a behind-enemy-lines war movie than a horror flick, with the ever-present zombies as the occupying enemy force.  Much of what we see in the wake of the marauding ghouls resembles actual newsreel footage of war-torn Africa. 

Freeman and Oseia sell their characters with restrained, realistic performances that are never less than totally convincing.  These guys aren't super soldiers or action heroes, just a couple of fathers yearning to find their families while doing what they have to in order to survive.  Their relationship is well-developed as an initial mistrust gives way to a growing bond and concern for one another's well-being.  The script gives them several moments in which their humanity is explored, adding depth to their characters rather than simply having them go through a series of stock horror situations.

There is, however, an abundance of shivery suspense and all-out shock as they encounter the living dead at every turn.  Instead of a group of humans fending off attack from within a fortified location, THE DEAD's protagonists must make their way unprotected through open terrain from which zombies may appear in growing numbers at any moment (sort of an extended version of the gas pump scene in NOTLD).  These are the slow-moving, shuffling Romero-style ghouls instead of the track-and-field stars of later films, yet their sheer numbers and the fact that they never stop advancing lends a constant menace and suspense to their frequent appearances.

Shots of ghostly zombies flickering in and out of the truck's headlights at night are particularly eerie, as is the sight of several of them slowly closing in from all sides as Murphy and Daniel race to perform a task such as gassing up their vehicle before it's too late.  When the two men creep through an abandoned village or some dense foliage the threat of attack is always skin-crawlingly imminent, and even the act of stopping to rest and replenish themselves leaves them dangerously vulnerable and exposed.  Later in the story, the fortress-under-siege element comes into play as hordes of the living dead force their way into a military base with no escape for the terrified humans cowering within. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a fine commentary track by the Ford Brothers, a brief behind-the-scenes short, and a deleted scene.

The authentic African locations and extras lend an invaluable visual richness to the film that is beautifully captured by co-directors Jonathan and Howard J. Ford, who, along with their cast and crew, endured hellish conditions and near-fatal bouts of malaria to get their long-simmering screenplay on film.  The fact that THE DEAD is a hard-earned labor of love shows both in the intensity of the lead performances and in the quality of the finished product.  More than just your usual zombie flick, it's an emotionally gripping journey that will stay with you after the disquieting fadeout.


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Saturday, January 28, 2012

OUTRAGE: WAY OF THE YAKUZA -- DVD review by porfle




When the CEO of a corporation decides to downsize, you get a pink slip with your paycheck.  But when the big cheese of the Yakuzas thinks it's time to whittle down the old workforce, you're more likely to get ventilated.  In Takeshi Kitano's OUTRAGE: WAY OF THE YAKUZA (2010), you need a program to keep up with all the guys who are being forcibly retired the hard way.

The Yakuza boss known as "Mr. Chairman" looks like a Japanese version of Dennis Mitchell's neighbor Mr. Wilson, a prime example of the banality of evil who orders executions as offhandedly as one might ask you to pass the salt.  When an underling named Ikemoto is told to cold-shoulder rival family boss Murase, with whom he made a "sake pact" in prison, the resulting bad blood erupts into a domino effect of killing with a body count that would make Jason Voorhees green with envy.

This chain reaction of graphic violence has guys getting shot, beaten senseless, or maimed in just about every other scene.  In fact, every time someone walks into camera range we wonder just when and how he's going to get it and who's going to do it.  We never really get to know any of the loads of characters who pop up in the first part of the film just long enough to get whacked, and the dry, somewhat disjointed narrative doesn't become involving until well past the halfway point when it finally settles on one or two key players we can root for, relatively speaking.

Not that we really care about any of them--like one of the taglines says, they're ALL bad guys--but actor-writer-director Kitano's character of capo Otomo, a hangdog, workaday mobster who still retains a shred of honor from the old-school days, seems to have one redeeming quality, which is that he prefers to kill people according to some legitimate business strategy.  With Kitano (who I'll always think of as Sgt. Hara in MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE) giving his usual good performance, Otomo's fight to keep himself and his crew from becoming obsolete is what keeps the film from being just a string of brutal vignettes.

Otomo expects to be treated fairly by his superiors, so he's understandably miffed when they betray the hell out of him after he's brutally murdered everyone on his to-do list.  One of the most interesting things about OUTRAGE, in fact, is seeing whose dirty tricks, betrayals, and reprisals will ultimately prove most effective against everyone else in the ongoing power struggle.  Unlike GOODFELLAS, it skips the part that shows the gangsters enjoying their criminal lives before greed and paranoia turn them against each other.

With all the killing going on in this movie, it's a wonder the surviving Yakuzas have anyone left to order around.  Besides the old bang-bang, Otomo engages in some creative dentistry that will have you cringing, while his sense of humor comes to the fore when he orders someone to stick his tongue out and then cuts it off with an uppercut to the jaw.  Another impromptu execution involving a noose, an automobile, and a guy who's in the wrong place at the wrong time displays more than a little ingenuity.  Meanwhile, more conventional modes of killing and maiming occur in abundance yet their impact is lessened by our lack of emotional investment in them.

The DVD from Magnolia's Magnet label is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Japanese Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include two making-of docs, various cast and crew interviews and Q & A's at Cannes, U.S. and international trailers and TV spots, and trailers for other Magnolia releases.

It's only in the last twenty minutes or so that the various characters and plot threads begin to gel enough for us to be fully invested in what's going on, as the web of deceit closes in around Otomo and his men and Mr. Chairman plays his final cards.  The ending is so matter-of-factly unsentimental that I found it strangely exhilarating.  I only wish that the rest of OUTRAGE: WAY OF THE YAKUZA, as superficially entertaining as it may be, was as engaging.


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THE DOUBLE -- DVD review by porfle




Sometimes you like to sit down to a long, complicated game of chess.  Other times, you just want to play a little air hockey.  Compared to the drawn-out chess games of a Le Carre' spy thriller such as TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, director Michael Brandt's THE DOUBLE (2011) is the equivalent of a few brisk rounds of air hockey--breathless and exciting, without the need to expend too many grey cells in order to appreciate it.

Playing the role of retired CIA agent Paul Sheperdson, Richard Gere shows what a deceptively subtle yet effective actor he's become over the years, especially now that he's no longer perceived mainly as an ambulatory fashion ad (although he stills look better than I do on his worst days).  He's fun to watch here, using his understated skill to fully inhabit his character without having to overdo anything.  Matching him all the way is former sitcom star Topher Grace ("That 70s Show") whose talents as a dramatic actor are fully realized as young FBI agent Ben Geary.

With the apparent reappearance of long-sought Soviet superspy "Cassius" in the USA--and his suspected assassination of a senator--Sheperdson is called back into service to resume the hunt for him while unwillingly saddled with the callow Geary as his partner.  Naturally, they form a grudging respect for each other while seeking out the elusive Cassius, with Sheperdson becoming fearful that Geary, who has a wife and two kids, is unaware of the threat their ruthless quarry poses to himself and his family. 


Their search is an exciting one which begins with a prison visit to former Russian spy "Brutus" (Stephen Moyer, "True Blood"), who then stages a frantic escape attempt, and leads a Cassius associate named Bozlovski (the imposing Tamer Hassan, KICK-ASS, FREERUNNER) whom they suspect of actually being the mysterious spy himself.  Former boxer Hassan is an imposing and very physical actor who gives Shepherdson and Geary's attempts to capture Bozlovski a generous measure of hard-hitting excitement. 

While simpler than your usual spy thriller, THE DOUBLE does have its share of big plot twists, one of which is revealed right there in the trailer.  I'm giving it away in this paragraph (if you don't want to know, skip ahead) since writers Brandt and Derek Haas originally intended for it to be known from the start that Shepherdson himself is, in fact, Cassius, and has been working as a double agent all along.  This amps up the tension between him and Geary and enriches his character by having him develop an attachment to the eager young agent and his family.  What we don't yet know, however, is why Cassius is now acting on his own and what his secret agenda is.

But there are more surprises ahead which keep the story interesting enough while the action moves things along.  The finale, which takes place in a warehouse district on the Potomac River (with Detroit standing in for Washington, D.C.), allows director Brandt to stage a good old-fashioned car chase between Gere and Hassan that's like something out of the gritty 70s.  It's a cracking good sequence (which the editors of QUANTUM OF SOLACE would do well to study) that ends in a spectacular car crash stunt before proceeding to the final good spy/bad spy showdown and a parting plot twist that'll have the less prescient among us doing a mental doubletake.


The supporting cast is top-notch, including Martin Sheen as CIA director Tom Highland and Chris Marquette in an amusing turn as an FBI office drone eager to get points by helping Geary on the case.  Odette Yustman (AND SOON THE DARKNESS, OPERATION ENDGAME) is winsome as Geary's unsuspecting wife Natalie, who helps to spark Shepherdson's humanity during a cozy family dinner.  As the unpredictable Brutus, Stephen Moyer is all raw nerves and kinetic desperation.

Brandt and Haas, who also scripted 3:10 TO YUMA, WANTED, and 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, have fashioned a Lite version of the old Cold War tales updated to modern times and adjusted to appeal to shorter attention spans.  That's not always a bad thing (remember my clever "air-hockey" metaphor), and, in this case, results in a breezier than usual dash through spy-thriller territory.  The film itself lacks that "A-list" look but is stylishly directed and nicely photographed.  John Debney's musical score benefits from the participation of Rush lead guitarist Alex Lifeson, whose own composition "Don't Look Back" graces the closing credits crawl. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include trailer, behind-the-scenes featurette, and an engaging commentary track with Brandt and Haas.

Lean, fast-moving, and fun, THE DOUBLE isn't the kind of spy thriller that involves the viewer on a deeper level like one of Le Carre's torturously taut epics, nor is it anywhere near as memorable.  But it is entertaining, and sometimes that's all a movie really needs to be.


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

NUDE NUNS WITH BIG GUNS -- DVD review by porfle




Wanting to be a cult film so bad it hurts, NUDE NUNS WITH BIG GUNS (2010) gives its intentions away in the title but fails to be more than a mildly interesting exercise in giddy bad taste.

A lot of filmmakers post-GRINDHOUSE have been trying their hand at revisiting those dusty drive-in days of cheap, bad-but-good exploitation flicks that tried to be as extreme as possible while substituting shock and titillation for quality and production values.  Here, one thing that's meant to blow our minds is the concept of crooked priests in cahoots with bikers in Mexico's heroin trade who force strung-out nuns to make the stuff (along with having to perform other, more degrading acts).

The other thing that's meant to hook us and reel us in is the sight of an avenging nun named Sister Sarah (Asun Ortega) gearing up Rambo style and going Nun-inator on the bad guys.  (Habit optional, of course.)  Having survived a dope deal gone bad in which psychotic biker prez Chavo (David Castro) offed several of her sisters, Sarah is then inducted into the local whorehouse where she's addicted to heroin and then beaten almost to death by a horny priest (Bill Oberst, Jr.).  Nursed back to health by a sympathetic old medicine man, Sarah's drug-warped mind now believes that God has instructed her to go out and kill bad guys. 


With that set-up, all NUDE NUNS WITH BIG GUNS has to do now is live up to its moniker while reveling in graphic debauchery, poking fun at Catholicism, and dabbling in any other naughtiness it can think of.  This includes Sarah's lesbian love affair with another nun, the timid Sister Angelina (Aycil Yeltan, a cute actress who nonetheless bears a distinct resemblance to Zeppo Marx) and frequent voyeuristic visits to Chavo's strip club to check out the topless dancers. 

Lesbian motel owner Butch is seen getting it on with her girlfriend, and then with Sarah herself after the nun seduces her in order to escape capture (this scene follows the original short film on which the feature is based).  The film's blue-plate special of kink, however, seems to be rape--not only does the hapless Sister Angelina suffer the offending loins of Chavo, but his hulking stooge Kickstand has his way with a nun who appears to be in her seventies in a freaky, shocky-funny scene that had me wondering who in the hell it was supposed to appeal to and why.  And then, of course, there's the family of unsuspecting tourists who pull into Chavo's gas station for a service and--you guessed it--get raped.

There's not much story here, just enough to hang stuff like this on while we're waiting for Sister Sarah to get around to killing off some of this scum.  Unfortunately, the balls-out action scenes we're anticipating are few and far between.  It's pretty cool when Sarah executes a vile priest in a confessional or invades a heroin-making lab with guns blazing, and her scene with Butch has a certain flair, but it isn't until the last minutes of the film that we get a sustained shoot-em-up sequence with any real kick. 


It would've helped if Sister Sarah's character had been more interesting, yet we know nothing about her before the junk drives her bonkers and turns her into a remorseless killing machine.  Her drug-induced "vision from God" leaves her with no moral uncertainties to explore, and the fact that she's clearly nutzo renders the character and her subsequent crusade of vengeance rather shallow--a little more complexity here would've gone a long way.  Her appeal, basically, is based on a juxtapositon of religious imagery with wanton carnality, violence, and perversion.  It also helps that she has a great ass.

Technically, the film has a low-budget but visually creative look with a sunbaked Southwestern ambiance.  It seems to have come out of the same kit Larry Bishop used to shoot HELL RIDE, right down to the freeze-frame introductions for each character and reliance on neo-grindhouse style over substance along with various nods to Tarantino and Rodriguez. 

The direction is pretty creative at times, with heavy use of the zoom lens (at times it seems every other shot is a zoom-in) which you'll find either dynamic or irritating.  It looks like they had a ball in the editing room on this one.  The interesting score contains spaghetti western elements (as does the film) along with some old-style country songs and the usual hard rock bombast.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of the original short film and the trailer.

After starting out like a solid, slyly self-aware knock-off of the drive-in action potboilers of the 70s, NUDE NUNS WITH BIG GUNS eventually disappoints rather than fulfilling its potential the way the recent BITCH SLAP managed to do.  A film as morally twisted as this one needs to have a certain zing that makes its gleefully offensive excesses somehow perversely exhilarating.  Here, however, we're expected to simply wallow in the tawdry for awhile until a nude nun comes along to waste enough of these thoroughly unpleasant characters on our behalf to make it all stop.



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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

AGATHA CHRISTIE POIROT: SERIES 1/ AGATHA CHRISTIE POIROT: SERIES 2 -- DVD reviews by porfle






Having been introduced to the British ITV series "Agatha Christie Poirot" through some of the later feature-length episodes, I was surprised to find the earlier seasons (circa 1989-90) of this long-running show to be faster-paced, funnier, and much lighter in tone--in general, more fun.  Not to disparage the more darkly dramatic ambience of the post-2000 ones, which are superb entertainment in their own right, but I like this lighthearted and mischievously sly side of Poirot much better.

The first ten one-hour episodes are collected in AGATHA CHRISTIE POIROT: SERIES 1, beginning with "The Adventure of the Clapham Cook" (which features a brief appearance by a young Danny Webb of ALIEN 3 fame).  Here, we're first introduced to Poirot's associate Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), a hale fellow with a boyish enthusiasm for things like automobiles and cricket.  Hastings isn't too quick on the uptake, at least not alongside a genius like Poirot, but he's good at following people, tackling escaping suspects, and serving as an appreciative audience for the vain Poirot's feats of deduction. 

Also on hand is Poirot's prim and efficient secretary Miss Lemon.  As played by Pauline Moran, she's made up to look just plain enough to render her strangely sexy, despite the fact that her character is as properly straitlaced as can be.  In Poirot's office-apartment in a magnificent old hotel complex, the three frequently engage in breezy banter that's often more fun than the mystery plots themselves.  This early incarnation of Poirot, unlike his later self, delights in playfully teasing his associates and exercising his exquisitely dry wit at their expense.

David Suchet's portrayal of the title character is, as always, absolutely impeccable.  His Poirot is an unwavering obsessive-compulsive who's fastidious, fussy, finicky, and mortified at anything that's out of place in his well-ordered world.  This, along with the sheer joy he derives from solving puzzles using his beloved "little gray cells", is what compels him to make right the wrongs that he encounters through his often desperate clients.  Another impetus is his friendly rivalry with Chief Inspector James Japp (Philip Jackson, also seen only in the early seasons of the show), a doggedly by-the-book cop who is continually baffled by Poirot's unconventional deductive skills.

"Murder in the Mews" begins with Poirot's infuriating battle with a Chinese laundry over the amount of starch in his collars and progresses to include a puzzling locked room murder made to look like a suicide.  In "The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly", the parents of a small boy are warned in advance that their son is going to be kidnapped at a particular time and place, which happens despite the presence of several police and Poirot himself.  "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" concerns the suspicious deaths of two estranged brothers within a short time of each other.

"The Third Floor Flat" finds Poirot's little gray cells atrophying during a long stretch between cases, until a murder in his own hotel has him sizing up all the various suspects as only he can.  "Triangle at Rhodes" benefits from gorgeous location photography with a vacationing Poirot getting drawn into the murder by poisoning of a woman whose husband is infuriated by her infidelity with another guest.  Another vacation, this time on board a cruise ship, is marred by a "Problem at Sea" when a wealthy but thoroughly unlikable woman is found stabbed in her cabin with the door locked.  Everyone including the woman's henpecked husband seems to have a strong alibi, giving Poirot a particularly challenging mental workout. 

"The Incredible Theft" is steeped in pre-WWII intrigue as a woman suspected of being a Nazi sympathiser is accused of stealing the plans for a new fighter plane in order to pass them along to German agents.  Old movie fans should get a kick out of "The King of Clubs", as a tyrannical studio boss is murdered in his mansion and the main suspect is a popular actress with whom he's been known to be at odds.  One of the perks of this episode is the use of an old-style glass shot during a soundstage scene, while another is the appearance of a young Sean Pertwee as the brother of the accused actress (Niamh Cusack). 

Finally, "The Dream" has something of an "Avengers" vibe as a crotchety old meat-pie tycoon complains to Poirot that he keeps having a recurring dream of committing suicide in his office at a particular time.  When he actually does just that, and at the precise time of his dream, Poirot finds himself with a real puzzler.  Joely Richardson guests as the man's daughter, while Alan Howard delivers a marvelously theatrical performance as the abrasive old coot.

Each story is bathed in the nostalgic glow of an old magazine illustration, with finely-rendered production design (art deco fans will be in hog heaven) and ideal locations lending an exquisite period atmosphere to every scene.  Direction is first-rate as are the uniformly excellent guest performances.  Unlike the denser and sometimes meandering plots of the later "Poirot", these episodes are briskly uncomplicated and easy to follow in addition to featuring much delightful character interplay that will be missing (and missed) when Poirot becomes a more solitary and stern character later on.  Captain Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp in particular are the perfect uncomprehending foils for Suchet's brilliant Poirot.

The three-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles, with the titles newly remastered and in the original UK broadcast order.  There are no extras.  (Also available in a two-disc Blu-Ray version.)

Continuing right where season one left off is AGATHA CHRISTIE POIROT: SERIES 2, with nine more mysteries on three discs.  "Peril at End House" guest stars Polly Walker (PATRIOT GAMES, CLASH OF THE TITANS) as a beautiful heiress whom Poirot meets while staying at a Cornish resort.  The young woman's stories of a rash of recent life-threatening mishaps leads Poirot to believe that someone is trying to kill her, especially when a stray bullet zips through her bonnet as they're chatting by the seaside.  This story boasts some really nice twists and turns along with an appearance by Paul Geoffrey (EXCALIBUR, WUTHERING HEIGHTS). 

"The Veiled Lady" finds the portly detective helping another enchanting young lady, this time a blackmail victim imploring him to recover an incriminating letter.  A highlight of this adventure is Poirot and Hastings becoming cat burglars as they break into the blackmailer's house to conduct a search which results in their being arrested by none other than Chief Inspector Japp.  An imposing Terence Harvey of FROM HELL and PRIME SUSPECT 3 plays the formidable cad here, which seems to be his specialty. 

A foray into Chinatown to solve the murder of a Chinese businessman and the theft of his map to "The Lost Mine" leads Poirot into a winding maze of mystery.  In "The Cornish Mystery", the Belgian detective has a rude awakening when he's too late to save a woman who suspects her husband of trying to poison her.  Her tragic death fires him up big time, and woe to the killer when a fired-up Poirot aims his razor-sharp intellect at him (or her).  Freda Stanton, who played the hapless Princess Elspeth in DRAGONSLAYER, guest stars. 

Kenneth Colley, a familiar face to fans of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, plays a banker who steps out of his house into the fog one day and is never seen again in "The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim."  Sharp-eyed viewers will guess the secret behind this one pretty quick but it's still fun watching it play out.  "Double Sin" is a real twister with the delivery of some priceless antiques to a potential buyer ending in theft during a bus trip.  Here, Chief Inspector Japp bets the boastful Poirot that he can't solve the mystery without leaving his house, giving Hastings a rare opportunity for some solo detective work. 

"The Adventure of the Cheap Flat" finds a lucky young couple getting a lovely apartment for a steal, unaware that they're being set up for murder.  (The wife is played by Samantha Bond, who was Moneypenny to Pierce Brosnan's 007.)  Poirot and Hastings do a little more cat burglary in this one with similarly unfortunate results, while the search for some stolen submarine plans brings in William Hootkins (Porkins in STAR WARS, Eckhardt in BATMAN) as a visiting FBI agent played in stereotypical blustery "American" style.

A crackerjack mystery ensues surrounding "The Kidnapped Prime Minister" as Poirot infuriates police with his methodical and seemingly nonsensical approach to solving the crime as the seconds tick away before a crucial international arms summit.  Finally, "The Adventure of the Western Star" is the intriguing tale of a pair of priceless diamonds owned by two women who receive letters informing them that the gems are to be stolen in order to return them to the mystical idol from which they were taken.  Sure enough, this occurs--seemingly--but Poirot suspects that there's more to the case than meets the eye, and, as usual, he's right.

The three-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles, with the titles newly remastered and in the original UK broadcast order.  There are no extras.  (Also available in a two-disc Blu-Ray version.)

As with the first set, AGATHA CHRISTIE POIROT: SERIES 2 is the kind of cozy entertainment you can snuggle up with as you would a volume of engrossing short stories on a rainy evening.  With their endlessly appealing blend of sumptuous production design, intriguing stories, and fascinating characters--not the least of which being David Suchet's masterful portrayal of the dazzling and strangely endearing Belgian detective himself--the adventures of Hercule Poirot are a feast for mystery fans. 


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Best British TV on DVD - I, Claudius, J.R.R. Tolkien, Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, Prime Suspect creator



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

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

*Acorn Media on Facebook and Twitter


January 31

AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT, Series 1 and 2 (Blu-ray debuts, DVD) – The first and second series of Agatha Christie’s beloved Belgian detective starring David Suchet. Blu-ray debut and DVDs are newly remastered and restored to their original U.K. broadcast order. 

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

February 7

NORTHERN LIGHTS: The Complete Collection (Home Video Debut) – Robson Green (Being Human, Wire in the Blood, Touching Evil, Reckless) and Mark Benton (Career Girls, Waterloo Road, Murphy’s Law) star in the lighthearted buddy Britcom. Broadcast on BBC America and produced from 2004-2008, the ITV series follows lifelong friends and rivals Colin Armstrong (Green) and Howard Scott (Benton) on a hilarious series of misadventures. Features all 12 episodes and two movies plus a 46 min. behind-the-scenes bonus feature.

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

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

February 14

BATTLEFIELD DETECTIVES (Athena, DVD Debut) – Seen on the History Channel, the series features new scientific insight into history’s greatest battles. Investigators re-create the conditions of history’s major battles using 3-D computer models, maps, artifacts, original footage, and dramatic reenactments. From the muddy fields at Hastings to the sweltering jungles of Vietnam, a variety of experts offer compelling new evidence on the wars that shaped the modern world. Produced in 2003.

ROBIN OF SHERWOOD, Set 2 (Blu-ray debut) – The conclusion to the definitive retelling of the Robin Hood legend with breakthrough roles for Jason Connery and Ray Winstone (Indiana Jones, The Departed, Sexy Beast). Presented in stunning high-definition, the Blu-ray 3-disc/DVD bonus disc set includes 13 episodes and more than nine hours of special features, including several now on the 2007 DVD release.

SHADES (DVD Debut) – “A quirky romantic comedy of life after death” (The Times), this poignant drama stars Dervla Kirwan (Ballykissangel) and Stephen Tompkinson (Wild at Heart). They meet in London under unusual circumstances…both are recently deceased. The two mismatched souls find themselves still in this world, thrown together in a weird and wonderful afterlife. This touching and gently humorous British drama explores what it means to have a chance to help—or hinder—those left behind. Produced in 2000.

February 28

MIDSOMER MURDERS, Set 19 (U.S. debut, DVD, Blu-ray debut of series) – Acorn’s best-selling series debuts on Blu-ray. John Nettles stars as the unflappable DCI Tom Barnaby, with Jason Hughes (This Life) as his earnest, efficient protégé. Guest stars include James Wilby, Kenneth Cranham, and Neil Dudgeon in his first appearance as DCI John Barnaby. These episodes were produced in 2009 and have not aired in the U.S. The Mysteries: The Made-to-Measure Murders, The Sword of Guillaume, Blood on the Saddle, and The Silent Land. PaperMag says about the series, “Phenomenally enjoyable… this show has only gotten better and better through the years…A sumptuous feast for mystery lovers.”

FRENCH FIELDS Complete Collection (DVD Debut) – The sequel to Fresh Fields offers a classic domestic comedy in the tradition of I Love Lucy. William Fields (Anton Rodgers, May to December, Lillie) and his wife, Hester (Julia McKenzie, Agatha Christie’s Marple) move to France. The complete collection includes all three series (1990-93).

THE BRIEF Complete Collection (DVD Debut) – From the creators of Inspector Morse, Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek) stars in the seriocomic misadventures of clever criminal law barrister, whose every day is a juggling act between surviving his messy personal life and pleading cases only he can win. Produced in 2004-05 and syndicated on public TV.

March 6

ABOVE SUSPICION, Set 1 (U.S. Debut) - A riveting new detective series from the creator of Prime Suspect. This ongoing, hit British police drama is a “younger, sassier successor to Prime Suspect” (The Telegraph). Rising star Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes feature films) plays a rookie detective trying to prove herself in what is still mostly a man’s world. Acclaimed actor Ciarán Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Harry Potter, There Will Be Blood) co-stars as Anna's mentor. Includes two-feature length mysteries and behind-the-scenes segments.

AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT Series 3 (Blu-ray debut, DVD) - Newly remastered and restored to their original U.K. broadcast order, the impeccable Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) is back on the case in these 11 mysteries from the hit series. Series 3 previously aired in 1991. As seen on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery!

March 13

IN THEIR OWN WORDS (Athena, U.S. Debut) - Fascinating documentary with archival footage of great thinkers and novelists including J. R.R. Tolkien, Sigmund Freud, George Orwell, Jane Goodall, Salman Rushdie, Evelyn Waugh, Margaret Mead, and the only surviving voice recording of Virginia Woolf. Available to U.S. Audiences for the First Time with this release, this remarkable set gathers archival footage from BBC interviews, documentaries and films—much of it available for the first time since its original airing—with two programs British Novelists and Great Thinkers. The landmark programs were produced in 2010-11 but have yet to air in the U.S. With such rarities as J.R.R. Tolkien reading in his invented Elvish language and Jane Goodall discovering behavioral links between humans and chimpanzees, In Their Own Words serves as a real-life compilation of historic moments. As an overview of the social and political forces of the 20th century, it’s beyond comparison as compelling viewing and an exceptional glimpse of the geniuses who have shaped the modern world.

OUT (U.S. Debut) - Hard-edged BAFTA-winning crime drama makes its U.S. debut starring Tom Bell (Prime Suspect) in a BAFTA-nominated performance and Brian Cox. After an eight-year prison stint for a failed bank heist, Frank Ross returns to his old gangland haunts to find the snitch who sent him to jail. Available to U.S. audiences for the first time, the series aired in the U.K. in 1978 but never aired in the U.S.

March 27

I, CLAUDIUS: 35th Anniversary Edition (bonus packed with many previously unavailable extras) – Called “A true masterpiece” (San Francisco Chronicle) and rated one of the “100 Best TV Shows of All Time” by Time magazine, this epic BBC series spans the history of the Roman Empire from Augustus through Claudius, a stuttering scholar who learns early to play the fool and stay alive. Based on the novels by Robert Graves, it stars Derek Jacobi (The King’s Speech, Cadfael) in a career-defining role. Winner of an Emmy® and numerous other awards, this riveting tale of ambition, debauchery, and intrigue remains one of the most popular and acclaimed dramas in Masterpiece Theatre history. Siân Phillips (The Age of Innocence), John Hurt (The Elephant Man),  George Baker (The Ruth Rendell Mysteries), Margaret Tyzack (Cousin Bette), James Faulkner (The Bank Job), and Patrick Stewart (X-Men) also star. BONUS Extended original versions of episodes 1 and 2; “I, Claudius”: A Television Epic, a behind-the-scenes look at the series (74 min.); The Epic That Never Was, a documentary recounting the failed 1937 film adaptation (71 min.); NEW Derek Jacobi interview (12 min.); favorite scenes of the cast and director (36 min.); and more.

SINGLE-HANDED, Set 2 (U.S. Debut) - A lone cop fights crime and corruption in rural Ireland in a new, ongoing detective series. His position as local Garda sergeant puts Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell, Wild Decembers) at the heart of his community—and often at odds with it. Filmed against the spectacular and foreboding backdrop of Connemara, this second set contains three new feature-length crime dramas.

MURDER INVESTIGATION TEAM, Series Two (DVD Debut) - Called “The U.K.’s answer to our CSI” and seen on A&E, the series authentically profiles the gritty realities faced by the Special Crimes Unit of London’s Metropolitan Police. From the creators of The Bill, this critically acclaimed police thriller follows an intense team of investigators led by DC Rosie MacManus (Lindsey Coulson, EastEnders) and DS Trevor Hands (Michael McKell, Emmerdale Farm). Claire Higgins (Hellraiser), Kenneth Cranham (Rome), and Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) guest star in these final episodes.

Coming up in April 2012: The Commander Set 2, Secret War, Bill Moyers: Capitol Crimes, Agatha Christie’s Poirot Series 4, Monroe starring James Nesbitt, and the debut of the original Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on Blu-ray.

Early January Releases: The Windsors: From George to Kate (U.S. Debut, Athena), an absorbing 2011 documentary tracing the recent history of the British monarchy from the real King George VI (portrayed in The King’s Speech) through Prince William’s recent wedding; Man in a Suitcase, Set 2 (DVD Debut), the conclusion to the thrilling 1960s spy series features a candid and unfiltered, 69-minute bonus interview with star Richard Bradford (The Untouchables, Cagney & Lacey); Dr. Willoughby (DVD Debut), a hilarious behind-the-scenes television satire starring Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous); Bill Moyers: Amazing Grace (DVD Debut), an inspiring, Emmy-winning PBS documentary tracing the history of the beloved hymn; and George Gently, Series 1 (Blu-ray debut), likened to Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, Martin Shaw (Judge John Deed, The Professionals) stars as the principled detective George Gently during the tumultuous 1960s.


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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Image Entertainment goes "BENEATH THE DARKNESS" starring Dennis Quaid -- coming to Blu-ray and DVD February 28th


Dennis Quaid Stars In A Thriller That Will Take Your Breath Away

IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT GOES "BENEATH THE DARKNESS"

Coming to Light on Blu-ray™ and DVD February 28, 2012


CHATSWORTH, CA – The rural bliss of small town life has been celebrated as part of the American dream, but sometimes a small town is the perfect place to hide one’s secrets, one’s mistakes, one’s sins. And once discovered, it doesn’t take long for the American dream to become the American nightmare. On February 28th, Image Entertainment unleashes the small-town shocker Beneath the Darkness on Blu-ray™ and DVD. Starring Golden Globe™ nominee Dennis Quaid in a rare villainous turn and coming off a recent national theatrical release, this gripping psychological thriller entwines cold-blooded murder, sinister secrets and modern hauntings on Maple Street.  SRP is $27.97 for the DVD and $29.97 for the Blu-ray™, with pre-book on January 31st.

Directed by Martin Guigui (My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception, National Lampoon’s Cattle Call) and written by the late Bruce Wilkinson, Beneath the Darkness is a taut thriller pitting high school kids against a psychotic killer in a community where adults blindly refuse to see the ominous dangers right before their eyes.  Along with Quaid, Tony Oller (Nickelodeon’s “Gigantic,” Disney’s “As the Bell Rings”) co-stars as Travis and Aimee Teegarden (Scream 4, “Friday Night Lights”) co-stars as Abby. 

In the film Quaid plays Ely, the well-respected mortician of rustic Smithville Texas, where he was once a heralded high school football star.  Among the kids, however, he is legendary for a more sinister reason -- rumors that his house is haunted.  The truth is, this pillar of the community is actually a flesh-and-blood monster who buries his victims alive; a sociopath who befriends adults and police while openly flaunting his murderous intentions to the youths.  Beware Ely’s charming smile – it may be the last thing you see, looking up from your freshly dug grave...

Bonus features on Beneath the Darkness Blu-ray™ and DVD include a behind-the-scenes featurette and the original theatrical trailer.

ABOUT IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT
Image Entertainment, Inc. is a leading independent licensee and distributor of entertainment programming in North America, with approximately 3,200 exclusive DVD titles and approximately 340 exclusive CD titles in domestic release and more than 450 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 over 2,100 video programs and approximately 400 audio titles containing more than 6,000 individual tracks. The Company is headquartered in Chatsworth, California. For more information about Image Entertainment, Inc., please go to www.image-entertainment.com.

Beneath The Darkness Blu-ray™
Genre:                         Horror, Thriller, Slashers/Serial Killers
Rating:                        Not Yet Rated
Language:                   English 
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)  
Audio:                         DTS HD Master Audio 5.1               
Subtitles:                     English, Spanish 
Year:                           2011
M SRP :                        $29.97
Street Date:                 February 28, 2012
Pre-Book:                    January 31, 2012
Length:                        96 minutes
UPC:                           014381782059
Cat#:                           BTD7820BD

Beneath The Darkness DVD
Genre:                         Horror, Thriller, Slashers/Serial Killers
Rating:                        Not Yet Rated
Language:                   English 
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)  
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                     English, Spanish 
Year:                           2011
M SRP :                        $27.97
Street Date:                 February 28, 2012
Pre-Book:                    January 31, 2012
Length:                        96 minutes
UPC:                           014381780628
Cat#:                           BTD7806DVD

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Acorn's Biggest Contest Ever is Chance of a Lifetime for Mystery Lovers and Agatha Christie Fans



QUEEN OF CRIME SWEEPSTAKES OFFERS MYSTERY FANS CHANCE OF A LIFETIME

Grand Prize includes trip to London, visit to television production, tour of Agatha Christie’s holiday home, trip on Orient Express, and more

Leading Distributor of British TV in the U.S. Acorn Media Launches Its Biggest Contest Ever on January 15, 2012


Silver Spring, MD — Offering Agatha Christie and mystery fans the chance of a lifetime, Acorn Media announces the launch of the “Queen of Crime Sweepstakes” beginning January 15, 2012. This celebration of all things Agatha Christie marks the largest contest ever from Acorn Media, the leading distributor of British TV in the U.S. The Grand Prize package features a trip for two to London, England (5 days/4 nights) and Paris (1 day/1 night); a visit to the set of a Poirot or Marple production; a tour of Greenway, Christie’s holiday home; tickets to see The Mousetrap, the world’s longest-running play; one-day rail trip to Paris on the Orient Express; and a DVD library of Agatha Christie programs.

Between Sunday, January 15 and Monday, April 30, fans can enter via Acorn’s popular catalog, www.acornonline.com/Christie, with one entry per day. At the end of the sweepstakes, one lucky fan will be chosen to win the Grand Prize (Value: $12,000). One runner up will receive a DVD library of Agatha Christie programs with more than 50 DVDs (Value $1,100).

The “Queen of Crime Sweepstakes” is open to legal residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are at least eighteen (18) years old at the time of entry. Winner drawn at random. Please visit www.acornonline.com/Christie for official rules and prize information.

Headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C., Acorn Media Group is the leading distributor of British television in the U.S. Acorn Media has released several DVD sets of television productions based on Agatha Christie’s works, including Agatha Christie’s Poirot with David Suchet, Agatha Christie’s Marple with Geraldine McEwan (Series 1-3) and Julia McKenzie (Series 4 and 5), The Agatha Christie Hour, Agatha Christie Mystery Lovers Collection, among others. In 2012, Acorn Media is releasing Agatha Christie’s Poirot in its original U.K. broadcast order and on Blu-ray for the first time; starting with Series 1 and 2 on January 31st with additional seasons to follow throughout 2012.

Having just celebrated its ten year anniversary, the Acorn catalog and its companion website offer Acorn Media U.S. DVDs along with third-party home video products and other high-quality gifts. The catalog’s 2011 circulation was 15 million.

In July 2011, Acorn Media launched Acorn TV, the first British TV focused streaming service, which offers a full season of 10 critically acclaimed, classic and contemporary British series to watch online. The content is refreshed weekly and has included several Agatha Christie programs.  


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Thursday, January 19, 2012

"CORMAN'S WORLD" Invades Blu-ray and DVD March 27th From Anchor Bay Entertainment





ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT PROUDLY INVITES EVERYONE TO ENTER "CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL"

Available on Blu-ray™ and DVD March 27th

“CORMAN’S WORLD is for anyone who’s in love with the movies...” -- Peter Gutierrez, Twitchfilm

A hellzapoppin’, surprisingly heartfelt look at one of cinema’s most creative (and frequently overlooked) visionaries...” -- Drew Taylor, IndieWire’s The Playlist

A delightful tribute...” -- Dennis Harvey, Variety


BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Anchor Bay Films proudly announces the March 27th Blu-ray™ and DVD release of one of the best reviewed films of 2011: Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. Fresh from its theatrical release – where it received rave reviews from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Daily Variety, The Village Voice and more – Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel presents a tantalizing and star-studded tribute to Roger Corman, Hollywood’s most prolific writer-director-producer, and seminal influencing force in modern moviemaking over the past 60 years. SRP for the Blu-ray™ is $29.99, and $26.98 SRP for the DVD. Pre-book is February 29th.

Roger Corman is perhaps the most prolific and influential Hollywood filmmaker in the history of the medium. His immeasurable imprint on American cinema not only spans over six decades, but has resulted in creating an indelible cinematic body of work as well as a legacy of training the next generation of actors, writer, directors and producers – many of whom have created cinema masterpieces of their own. 

Directed by Alex Stapleton, Corman’s World interview roster boasts such modern Hollywood icons and cinematic luminaries as Oscar® winners Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jonathan Demme, and Ron Howard; Eli Roth, David Carradine, Peter Fonda, William Shatner, Pam Grier, John Sayles, Brett Ratner, Bruce Dern, Paul W.S. Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, and many more actors and filmmakers.

Bonus features on the Corman’s World Blu-ray™ and DVD include extended interviews, special video messages to Roger from select interviewees and the theatrical trailer.

About Anchor Bay Films
Anchor Bay Films is unique in that it offers the creative community a fully integrated distribution capability on all platforms and an international solution extending beyond the U.S. Anchor Bay Films is a division of Anchor Bay Entertainment and is on the ground providing quality distribution with operations in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, as well as distribution capabilities in other key territories. The company focuses on a platform release strategy for its films with an eye toward maximizing their potential across all ancillary distribution platforms. The company recently released the critically acclaimed comedy City Island starring Andy Garcia and Solitary Man starring Michael Douglas, Kill the Irishman starring Ray Stevenson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, as well as Sundance Audience Award Winner happythankyoumoreplease starring Josh Radnor, Malin Akerman, Kate Mara, Tony Hale and Pablo Schreiber.  Upcoming releases include, Meet Monica Velour with Kim Cattrall and Toronto International Film Festival award-winner Beautiful Boy with Maria Bello and Michael Sheen.  Anchor Bay Entertainment is a subsidiary of Starz Media, LLC (www.starzmedia.com) which is a controlled subsidiary of Liberty Media Corporation attributed to the Liberty Starz tracking stock group.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NEW TRICKS: SEASON SIX -- DVD review by porfle





We rejoin the crack--and slightly cracked--team of UCOS (Unsolved Cases something something) where we left off with Acorn Media's NEW TRICKS: SEASON SIX, and find out that the fun just keeps on going as these three retired geezers and their lady boss hit the streets to close those nagging still-open cases. 

Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman) is put in charge of unsolved crimes after her career hits a snag.  The low-priority, no-glamour position also forces her to act as den mother for the trio of crotchety ex-cops who bring both their extensive expertise and unpredictable personalities to the job. 

James Bolam (since retired from the show) plays Jack Halford, the most stable of the three despite the fact that his wife was run down by one of the criminals they're trying to get the goods on.  Dennis Waterman, who sings the show's theme song "It's Alright", is politically-incorrect ladies' man Gerry Standing, still getting along famously with his three ex-wives.  As uber-geeky, obsessive-compulsive, recovering alcoholic Brian Lane, Alun Armstrong is as technically brilliant as he is emotionally unstable, as his long-suffering wife Esther (Susan Jameson) will attest.

One of the joys of watching this BBC show is the relationship between these characters, which is often much more interesting than the cases they're called upon to reopen.  We get to know them so well as people that their scenes shift easily from comedy to drama and back several times during each episode, within a comfort zone of familiarity that makes them fun to hang out with.  More often than not their workday ends with a trip to the local pub, despite the fact that their professional interactions can be abrasive, overly intimate, and sometimes downright volatile.

Episode 1, "The War Against Drugs", begins with Brian entering a rehab clinic run by monks.  Naturally, he stumbles across an unsolved murder which took place there several years earlier, and against his wife's wishes the team infiltrates the place in hopes of finding the killer.  Episode 2, "The Truth Is Out There", starts out well with an alleged UFO crash near a U.S. Air Force base eliciting some lighthearted skepticism from all but space-case Brian, but becomes rather turgid as the story gets a little too dramatic and soapbox-y for its own good.

Episode 3, "Fresh Starts", is a scintillating mystery with a distraught young widower insisting that he's seen his dead wife walking around.  "Shadow Show" is a good one for film fans with newly-released outtakes from an aborted movie project showing up on the net and allegedly depicting what may be clues to an unsolved murder.  This episode gives us a behind-the-scenes look at fabled Pinewood Studios (home of the 007 soundstage) and ends with a hostage situation with Brian, of all people, acting as negotiator.

"Death of a Timeshare Salesman" is one of those stories in which the busy and not-all-that-interesting plot takes a backseat to our enjoyment of simply spending time with these characters as they try to sort it all out.  Episode 6, "The Last Laugh", heats things up again as the alleged killer of Jack's wife, a loathesome crime boss named Hanson, pops up on UCOS' radar once again and gives the team another crack at finally nailing him for good.  James Bolam gives yet another fine performance as Jack and displays the full depth of his emotionally scarred character, while David Troughton as Hanson plays the kind of smug, sociopathic thug you really want to see taken down hard.

"Blood Is Thicker Than Water" is one of the more interesting mysteries of the season, with the question of who was responsible for the deadly collision of a tugboat and a yacht leading to some searing revelations within two opposing families.  This is topped, however, by the season capper, "Meat is Murder", which goes from a gruesome unsolved murder in a butcher shop to one of the most devastating events in DS Pullman's life.  A jarring blow-up between her and Gerry Standing adds heat to the dramatic flames fanned by this cracking story, but it's Sandra's overwhelming personal discovery that serves as a tantalizingly unresolved season ender. 

As usual, this set of "New Tricks" tales is well-mounted and filled with outstanding guest performances.  Series regular Anthony Calf is on hand again as the team's supercilious overseer, D.A.C. Strickland, who takes the team lightly until their diligence garners accolades for him to bask in.  The show's evocative musical score is the work of talented and prolific father-son team Brian and Warren Bennett, the former being not only a member of Cliff Richard's group The Shadows but also once part of 007 composer John Barry's band.

The 3-disc, 8-episode DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  As a bonus, a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette gives us the lowdown on the show's ADR and foley elements along with an interview with the Bennetts on scoring the show.

I've seen three seasons of "New Tricks" so far and still find it effortlessly engaging, even when I don't know what the hell's going on with the occasionally overly-busy plots (too many rapid-fire details to keep up with and my mind shuts down).  As usual, it's what goes on between the plucky Sandra and her geriatric but inexhaustably lively charges that make NEW TRICKS: SEASON SIX an open-and-shut case of murder most fun.


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Season Three review
Season Four review
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Film Chest Proudly Presents "ZAAT" on the CULTRA & HD Cinema Classics Labels



Taking Cult to a Whole New Level … You Can't Keep a Bad Monster Down!

Sought-After '70s Classic Never Before Available on Video is Newly Restored & Remastered in HD

DVD/Blu-Ray Combo Pack Out Feb. 21st


NEW YORK CITY - Feb. 1, 2012 - For Immediate Release - Is the monster man, fish or devil?  Everyone's dying to know (literally) in ZAAT - restored and in HD for the first time ever - available in a special DVD/Blu-ray combo pack Feb. 21 from Film Chest on the CULTRA and HD Cinema Classics labels.

Find out why ZAAT is an underground cult favorite, amassing an ever-growing legion of loyal followers over the past 40 years. See why scores of fans have refused to let this funky classic from the '70s die in obscurity! 

In ZAAT (also known as The Blood Waters of Dr. Z), an obsessed scientist, Dr. Kurt Leopold (Marshall Grauer) - who has been scorned by his peers - is convinced he can transform humans into fish. In his isolated backwoods laboratory, he proves his hypothesis by turning himself into a horrible, vengeful creature (played by Wade Popwell) that is part man, part walking catfish!

Armed with his mutagenic chemical compound, ZAAT, the monster is bent on revenge, determined to turn the tables on humanity by making his fishy friends the dominant species on Earth.  All that stands in his way are a small town sheriff (Paul Galloway), a dedicated young biologist (Gerald Cruse) and a couple of swinging agents (Sanna Ringhaver, Dave Dickerson) from the Inter-Nations Phenomenon Investigations Team (INPIT).  Also starring Archie Valliere and Nancy Lien. 

It's a southern fried fight to the finish (Florida style!) with the ecological state of the entire planet at stake!

Available on video for the first time in its original glory, digitally restored in HD and transferred from original 35mm elements, this DVD/Blu-ray combo pack contains a whole tackle box full of extras, including: feature-length audio commentary by cast and crew; original 35mm trailer; television spots; outtakes; radio interview; before-and-after restoration demo; and an original movie art postcard.

Produced and directed by Don Barton and written by Ron Kivett and Lee Larew. 

Zaat is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 16x9 and Standard Dolby Audio.  Includes Spanish subtitles.

About Film Chest:
Founded in 2001, Film Chest offers high-quality content for a wide variety of production and distribution needs, boasting one of the world's largest libraries (10,000+ hours) of classic feature films, television, foreign imports, documentaries, special interest and audio-much of it restored and digitized in HD. Headquartered in Bridgeport, Conn., with offices in New York City, the company also produces collector's DVD sets, released on three labels. HD Cinema Classics are films painstakingly restored in HD - utilizing state-of-the art digital technology - from original film assets. American Pop Classics features classic American film and TV shows from the '30-70s. CULTRA showcases the best (and worst) of cult cinema, a cinematic cesspool of films that are surreal, eccentric, controversial, comical and scary but ultimately engaging and entertaining. With directors who were both visionaries and crackpots, these films were originally misunderstood and rarely a box office success, achieving status by word-of-mouth and underground distribution. Film Chest releases theatrically, on DVD and digitally on iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, Verizon FIOS and more. Visit us online at www.FilmChest.com

ZAAT (2 Discs)
Film Chest
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Original Release: 1971 (Color)
Not Rated
Format: DVD/Blu-ray Combo Pack
Running Time: Approx. 100 Minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Pre-Order Date: January 13, 2012
Street Date: February 21, 2012
Catalog #:  HDCC-010
UPC Code:  #851169003100

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

THE NINES -- movie review by porfle

 

THE NINES (2007) is a hard movie for me to talk about because I really don't want to tell you anything about it.  I derived a great deal of pleasure from watching this scintillating mystery unfold and go places I never could have imagined at every turn, so I'm hesitant to reveal anything that might deprive those of you inclined to like it as much as I did of the same experience. 

If you're still curious, keep reading and I'll give away stuff that you shouldn't know in the next four paragraphs.  But you can skip them if you want because I'll tell you up front:  this is definitely one of my favorite movies that I've seen in a long time.

Part One (of three) is the story of a young TV actor named Gary who burns his own house down while torching some stuff his ex-girlfriend left there.  The accidental arsonist is placed under house arrest, which he serves in the temporarily vacated home of a scriptwriter who's off shooting a television pilot.  His "warden" is a smiling-but-stern publicist named Margaret who's determined to make sure Gary serves his time without further incident or damage to his career.  Sara, a mysterious blonde woman next door, displays an aggressively romantic interest in Gary and then turns weird when he and Margaret begin to form a strong attachment. 


During this time, Gary starts to notice some very strange things going on.  He hears noises and feels as though someone else is in the house.  A little blonde girl who can't speak shows up one night and beckons to him, then disappears.  He turns around one day and, for an instant, sees himself standing there.  He finds a note that reads "Look For The Nines", which is in his handwriting although he didn't write it.  Every time he rolls a pair of dice, he gets a nine.  Sara tells him to stay away from Margaret because he's a nine and she isn't.  He overhears a heated exchange between Sara and Margaret which indicates that they know what's going on, and when the increasingly distraught Gary questions Margaret about it and demands the truth, she calmly explains that he is actually a...darn it, I just can't bring myself to give it away. Sorry.

Part Two is about a scriptwriter named Gavin who just shot a television pilot and is trying to sell it to a network with the help of an aggressive blonde producer named Susan.  The pilot, called "Knowing", is about a couple and their little girl who break down in the middle of nowhere.  When the husband goes off for help he never comes back, and the wife suspects that their mute daughter somehow knows what happened to him.  Gavin tries hard to get his close actress friend Melissa cast as the wife, but when he's told that she's been dropped from the show, he has to break the news to her and they have a bitter falling out.  Matters get worse when Gavin and Susan blow up at each other over the issue, and then they get really weird when he starts to see numbers floating over people's heads.  He's a nine, by the way.

Part Three is about a couple, Gabriel and Mary, and their little girl, Noelle, who break down in the middle of nowhere.  When the husband goes off for help he never comes back, and...well, you get the picture.


Trying to figure out what's going on in this movie and how it all ties together makes for one of the most fun and involving viewing experiences I've had in quite a while.  It starts out with a deceptively lighthearted attitude which gets darker and more serious as things get more complicated, finally reaching an emotional level that lingers after the fadeout.  Although there's no single revelatory moment as in THE SIXTH SENSE--in fact, much of the secret is revealed along the way--there's still a lot of satisfaction in watching the pieces of the puzzle fall into place one by one.

It helps to know that the six main characters are played by only three people.  Ryan Reynolds (VAN WILDER, BLADE:TRINITY) is Gary/Gavin/Gabriel, always the guy who's in the dark about the strange things happening around him.  Hope Davis (AMERICAN SPLENDOR, HEARTS IN ATLANTIS) is Sarah/Susan/Sierra, the blonde woman who keeps trying to clue him in.  And Melissa McCarthy ("Gilmore Girls") plays Margaret/Melissa/Mary, who, for some reason, doesn't seem to want him to find out the truth.  They all give excellent performances, while Dakota Fanning's younger sister Elle is very good as the little mute girl, Noelle.

This is the second directorial effort (after 1998's GOD) by John August, who also scripted.  His other screenplays include BIG FISH, CORPSE BRIDE, and both CHARLIE'S ANGELS movies.  The latter two seem to indicate that August is prone to turn to the dark side now and then, but otherwise he has a wonderfully vivid imagination that's on full display here. 

With its mind-bending "through the looking glass" premise, THE NINES reminded me somewhat of THE MATRIX.  But once Neo takes the red pill, the mystery is revealed and it turns into an action movie.  Here, the main character doesn't fall down the rabbit hole.  He's already in it--he just doesn't know it yet.  Although early on, he comes closer than he realizes to figuring it all out when it dawns on him, for the first time, that he doesn't have a bellybutton.



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Sunday, January 15, 2012

"The Killing" Season One on Blu-ray and DVD March 13




DISCOVER AMC’S RIVETING EMMY® AND GOLDEN GLOBE ®NOMINATED CRIME DRAMA

The Complete First Season Comes to Blu-ray and DVD on March 13


LOS ANGELES (Jan 12., 2012) – Season 1 of AMC’s critically acclaimed new show “THE KILLING” comes to Blu-ray and DVD on March 13 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. With exclusive Blu-ray and DVD features, including an extended season finale, loyal fans and new viewers alike will dive deeper into the captivating mystery and complex characters that garnered the freshman series six Primetime Emmy® nominations and one Golden Globe® nomination. Catch up on the show that everyone will be talking about when “The Killing” returns to AMC for season two this Spring.

From writer, executive producer and series showrunner Veena Sud (“Cold Case”) “The Killing” ties together three distinct stories around a single murder including the detectives assigned to the case, the victim's grieving family, and the suspects. Set in Seattle, the story also explores local politics as it follows politicians connected to the case. As the series unfolds, it becomes clear that there are no accidents; everyone has a secret, and while the characters think they've moved on, their past isn't done with them.

“The Killing” stars Emmy® and Golden Globe® nominated Mireille Enos (“Big Love)” as Sarah Linden, the lead homicide detective that investigates the death of Rosie Larsen; Billy Campbell (“Once and Again”) as Darren Richmond, Seattle's City Council President and now running for Mayor; Joel Kinnaman (“Snabba Cash”) as Stephen Holder, an ex-narc cop who joins the homicide division in the investigation to find Rosie's killer; Emmy® nominated Michelle Forbes (“True Blood”) as Rosie's mother, Mitch Larsen; and Brent Sexton (“W.”, “In the Valley of Elah”) as Rosie's father, Stan Larsen. The pilot was directed by Patty Jenkins (“Monster”).

“The Killing” Season 1 Blu-ray and DVD features all 13 episodes and is loaded with exclusive special features including extended season 1finale, unaired deleted and extended scenes, gag reel, featurettes, director and cast commentaries.

SPECIAL FEATURES (Blu-ray and DVD)
--Commentary on the Pilot with Veena Sud
--An Autopsy of The Killing
--Deleted Scenes
--Gag Reel
--ORPHEUS DESCENDING - extended season finale
--Commentary on ORPHEUS DESCENDING

About Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC (TCFHE) is a recognized global industry leader and a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a News Corporation company. Representing 75 years of innovative and award-winning filmmaking from Twentieth Century Fox, TCFHE is the worldwide marketing, sales and distribution company for all Fox film and television programming, acquisitions and original productions on DVD, Blu-ray Disc Digital Copy, Video On Demand and Digital Download. The company also releases all products globally for MGM Home Entertainment. Each year TCFHE introduces hundreds of new and newly enhanced products, which it services to retail outlets from mass merchants and warehouse clubs to specialty stores and e-commerce throughout the world.

The Killing Season 1 Blu-ray: (Catalog #2274800 U.S. / Canada)
Street Date: March 13, 2012
Pre-book Date: February 1, 2012
Screen Format: 16:9
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD-MA
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
U.S. Rating: TV-14
Total Run Time: 11:27
Closed Captioned: Yes

The Killing Season 1 DVD: (Catalog #2274797 U.S. / Canada)
Street Date: March 13, 2012
Pre-book Date: February 1, 2012
Screen Format: 16:9
Audio: English 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
U.S. Rating: TV-14
Total Run Time: 11:17
Closed Captioned: Yes

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

20-Century Fox and MGM Present Six Timeless Classics on Blu-ray For The First Time Ever January 24




HITCHCOCK, ALLEN and WILDER TITLES MAKE BLU-RAY DEBUT THIS MONTH WITH SIX MOVIE CLASSICS

AVAILABLE FROM TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT JANUARY 24


Los Angeles, CA (January 13, 2012) – Another round of MGM must-see fan favorites comes to Blu-ray January 24, 2012 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Six classics make this month’s new-to-Blu-ray releases some of the most exciting yet.

ANNIE HALL FAST FACTS:
UPC: 883904256427
Rating: PG
Total Run Time: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 1.85:1

ANNIE HALL SYNOPSIS:
Considered to be "Woody Allen's breakthrough movie" (Time), Annie Hall won four ACADEMY AWARDS® ® including Best Picture and established Allen as the premier auteur filmmaker. Thought by many critics to be Allen's magnum opus, Annie Hall confirmed that Allen had "completed the journey from comic to humorist, from comedy writer to wit [and] from inventive moviemaker to creative artist" (Saturday Review).

Alvy Singer (Allen) is one of Manhattan's most brilliant comedians, but when it comes to romance, his delivery needs a little work. Introduced by his best friend, Rob (Tony Roberts), Alvy falls in love with the ditzy but delightful nightclub singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). When Alvy's own insecurities sabotage the affair, Annie is forced to leave Alvy for a new life – and lover (Paul Simon) – in Los Angeles. Knowing he may have lost Annie forever, Alvy's willing to go to any lengths – even driving L.A.'s freeways – to recapture the only thing that ever mattered...true love.

MANHATTAN FAST FACTS:
UPC: 883904259671
Rating: R
Total Run Time: 96 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 2.35:1

MANHATTAN SYNOPSIS:
Nominated for two ACADEMY AWARDS® ,and considered "one of [Woody] Allen's most enduring accomplishments" (Boxoffice), Manhattan is a wry, touching and finely rendered portrait of modern relationships set against the backdrop of urban alienation. Sumptuously photographed in black and white and accompanied by a magnificent Gershwin score, Allen's aesthetic triumph is a "prismatic portrait of a time and a place that may be studied decades hence" (Time).

Forty-two-year-old Manhattan native Isaac Davis (Allen) has a job he hates, a seventeen-year-old girlfriend, Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), he doesn't love, and a lesbian ex-wife, Jill (Meryl Streep), who's writing a tell-all book about their marriage...and whom he'd like to strangle. But when he meets his best friend's sexy intellectual mistress, Mary (Diane Keaton), Isaac falls head over heels in lust! Leaving Tracy, bedding Mary and quitting his job are just the beginnings of Isaac's quest for romance and fulfillment in a city where sex is as intimate as a handshake – and the gateway to true love...is a revolving door.

NOTORIOUS FAST FACTS:
UPC: 883904252498
Rating: NR
Total Run Time: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Fullscreen 1:33:1

NOTORIOUS SYNOPSIS:
From legendary director Alfred Hitchcock comes this "torrid, tense, tinglingly suspenseful" (Cosmopolitan) film that ranks as one of his best. ACADEMY AWARD® Winner Ingrid Bergman* "is literally ravishing" (Pauline Kael), and Cary Grant and Claude Rains give "excellent performances" (Variety) in this "taut spy movie that delivers a romantic punch" (The New Yorker).

When troubled beauty Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is recruited by American agent Devlin (Grant) to infiltrate a German spy ring in postwar Rio, she accepts…but soon finds herself falling in love with Devlin. And when she receives orders to seduce a Nazi kingpin (Rains), Alicia must sacrifice the only happiness she's ever known for a perilous mission that could ultimately cost her and Devlin their lives.

REBECCA FAST FACTS:
UPC: 883904252542
Rating: NR
Total Run Time: 131 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Fullscreen 1:33:1

REBECCA SYNOPSIS:
For his first American film, Alfred Hitchcock teamed up with producer David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind) to create a "spine-tingling" (LA Weekly) romantic thriller that Won the ACADEMY AWARD® for Best Picture. Based on Daphne Du Maurier's timeless novel, this dark, atmospheric tale of fatal obsession features Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson, as well as a "haunting score by Franz Waxman" (Leonard Maltin).

After a whirlwind romance, mysterious widower Maxim de Winter (Olivier) brings his shy, young bride (Fontaine) home to his imposing estate, Manderley. But the new Mrs. de Winter finds her married life dominated by the sinister, almost spectral influence of Maxim's late wife: the brilliant, ravishingly beautiful Rebecca, who, she suspects, still rules both Manderley and Maxim from beyond the grave!

SPELLBOUND FAST FACTS:
UPC: 883904252528
Rating: NR
Total Run Time: 118 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Fullscreen 1:33:1

SPELLBOUND SYNOPSIS:
"The secret recesses of the mind are explored with brilliant and terrifying effect" (New York Herald Tribune) in this fascinating psychological thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. Featuring powerful performances from Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, this masterpiece of mystery, romance and suspense boasts an ACADEMY AWARD® -Winning score by Miklos Rozsa and a haunting dream sequence by Salvador Dalí.

Dr. Constance Peterson (Bergman) is a dedicated psychiatrist who puts all her passion into her work — until she falls in love with Dr. Edwardes (Peck). Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that Edwardes is an impostor — an amnesiac — who may or may not be a cold-blooded murderer. Pursued by the police, Constance must decide whether to turn in her mysterious lover...or risk her life by trying to unlock the dark secrets in his mind.

THE APARTMENT: COLLECTOR’S EDITION FAST FACTS:
UPC: 883904252627
Rating: NR
Total Run Time: 125 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 2:35:1

THE APARTMENT: COLLECTOR’S EDITION SYNOPSIS:
Winner of five 1960 ACADEMY AWARDS®, including Best Picture, The Apartment is legendary director Billy Wilder at his most scathing and satirical best. With audio commentary from film producer and AFI member Bruce Block and two featurettes— including a loving tribute to actor Jack Lemmon—this special Collector’s Edition is your chance to own one of "the finest comedies Hollywood has turned out" (Newsweek)!

C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) knows the way to success in business...it's through the door of his apartment! By providing a perfect hideaway for philandering bosses, the ambitious young employee reaps a series of undeserved promotions. But when Bud lends the key to big boss J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), he not only advances his career, but his own love life as well. For Sheldrake's mistress is the lovely Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), elevator girl and angel of Bud's dreams. Convinced that he is the only man for Fran, Bud must make the most important executive decision of his career: lose the girl...or his job.

About Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. is actively engaged in the worldwide production and distribution of motion pictures, television programming, home video, interactive media, music, and licensed merchandise. The company owns the world’s largest library of modern films, comprising around 4,100 titles. Operating units include Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc., United Artists Films Inc., MGM Television Entertainment Inc., MGM Networks Inc., MGM Distribution Co., MGM International Television Distribution Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Home Entertainment LLC, MGM ON STAGE, MGM Music, MGM Consumer Products and MGM Interactive. In addition, MGM has ownership interests in domestic and international TV channels reaching over 130 countries. For more information, visit www.mgm.com.

About Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC (TCFHE) is a recognized global industry leader and a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a News Corporation company. Representing 75 years of innovative and award-winning filmmaking from Twentieth Century Fox, TCFHE is the worldwide marketing, sales and distribution company for all Fox film and television programming, acquisitions and original productions on DVD, Blu-ray Disc Digital Copy, Video On Demand and Digital Download. The company also releases all products globally for MGM Home Entertainment. Each year TCFHE introduces hundreds of new and newly enhanced products, which it services to retail outlets from mass merchants and warehouse clubs to specialty stores and e-commerce throughout the world.
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Friday, January 13, 2012

KILL LIST -- movie review by porfle




One of those bad-vibes flicks that stays in your gut after you watch it like a meal that doesn't agree with you, KILL LIST (2011) is a movie that may not agree with you, either.  But it's well worth staying with till the end if you have a strong stomach.

Director Ben Wheatley's mix of traditional and documentary style camerawork keeps us right in the story of an out-of-work hitman named Jay (Neil Maskell, ATONEMENT) whose relationship with fiesty wife Shel (MyAnna Buring, THE DEVIL'S CURSE, THE DESCENT) grows more volatile each day.  During a disastrous dinner with old military buddy Gal (Michael Smiley, BURKE AND HARE) and his creepy girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer), Jay is offered a lucrative job in which he and Gal will eliminate a number of targets on a list given to them by a mysterious client.

After a long buildup showing Jay going through his everyday life with Shel and their beloved son Sam, the start of his murderous mission with Gal takes the movie down a dark path that gets more twisted and frightening with each new revelation.  The first victim is a priest, whom the two hitmen assume must be guilty of some sexual transgression and thus deserving of his fate.  The second is a man who refers to himself as a "librarian" and possesses some horrifying snuff DVDs that prompt an irate Jay to dispatch him as brutally as possible.  This sequence, involving some very realistic gore effects, will either have you glued to the screen or scrambling for the door.

What first appears to be simply an ultra-violent thriller makes a sudden detour through the twilight zone before veering into full-out horror territory after Jay and Gal begin to realize just how sinister their unknown clients are.  One tip-off for Jay is when victims 1 and 2 thank him for killing them.  Another, during a meeting in which a dubious Gal tries to pull out of the deal, is the threat that both they and their families will die if they don't complete their mission. 

Thus follows a descent into paranoia that infects every aspect of their lives as it becomes clear that they're part of a larger and more terrifying agenda than they could've imagined.  The final scenes, which take place in a dark forest in the dead of night, have an almost BLAIR WITCH vibe only much more visceral.

Lead performances are all fine, with Neil Maskell totally convincing as a violent man who's not inhuman--he loves his family--but frightening because he's a human capable of the most monstrous acts.  MyAnna Buring is a strong presence as Shel, making her love-hate relationship with Jay convincing and giving her character a no-nonsense resolve that will be amply displayed later on.  As Gal, Michael Smiley has a less showy but equally pivotal role, while Emma Fryer's Fiona is just plain spooky.  Much of the dialogue is improvised to give it a natural quality.

An early clue to where the story will eventually go is ominous: Fiona, excusing herself to go to the bathroom during dinner, scrawls a strange pagan symbol on the back of a mirror and then pockets a bloodstained tissue that she finds on the sink.  To give away any more of the plot would be a disservice to potential viewers, so I'll just say that the rest of KILL LIST is a journey into some really dark, claustrophobic horror that's both pulse-poundingly tense, relentlessly downbeat, and, finally, downright grotesque. 


(KILL LIST opens February 3, 2012 at IFC Center In NYC.)

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

MAN IN A SUITCASE: SET 2 -- DVD review by porfle




Richard Bradford's "McGill" returns for round two in Acorn Media's 4-disc DVD, MAN IN A SUITCASE: SET 2, containing the final 15 out of 30 episodes of this one-season wonder from 1967-68.

England's ITV network churned out some of the most popular shows of the 60s, such as "Danger Man", "The Saint", and "The Prisoner", and "Man in a Suitcase" is another popular though short-lived title in their illustrious roster.  The main character, known only as McGill or "Mac", is a former American intelligence agent framed for treason in order to protect the identity of a Russian double agent.  Unable to return to the US and still branded a traitor, McGill must now earn a living by hiring himself out to whoever has use for his unique talents.

These hour-long episodes are pretty nifty little yarns that can be anything from Cold War spy stories, action-adventures, mysteries, or whatever McGill happens to be involved in at the time.  Sometimes he has to go undercover ("No Friend of Mine"), and sometimes he acts as a bodyguard for someone in danger ("Blind Spot").  "Night Flight to Andorra", the final episode of the series, is interesting because it's a vastly scaled-down version of the familiar "breach the fortress" story which demonstrates how to get the most out of a limited budget and resources.

Due to his vulnerable position as an official pariah, McGill is often doublecrossed not only by the bad guys but by those who have hired him as well, causing him to be perpetually wary of just about everyone.  But unlike the cold, ruthless anti-heroes we're used to seeing, McGill has a soft spot for people in trouble and an easygoing manner that usually emerges around the ladies.

As usual, the most interesting thing about the show is simply watching the quirky Texas-born actor Richard Bradford act.  Never just walking through an episode by rote like many television series stars, the prematurely-grayhaired Bradford tries to find little things for his character to do in every scene to perk up the usual dialogues.  Sometimes it may be something as simple as a weird expression or unexpected attitude or reaction--one often wonders if it's McGill or Bradford who seems so amused by it all at times. 

I'm not even sure if Bradford's acting is all that consistently good, but it's always fun to watch.  He reminds me of another TV method actor, Michael Parks of "Then Came Bronson", who at times also seemed to be on an altogether different plane from his costars.  Bradford is constantly finding bits of business or interesting ways of interpreting his lines which will lend some added freshness to the standard situations in which his character finds himself. 

While far from lavish, the shows are well-produced and are helmed by talented directors such as John Glen (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), Don Chaffey (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.), and Hammer Films mainstay Freddie Francis.  The scripts, some of which are recycled from other shows, take McGill all over the world although in fact he rarely leaves the backlot. 

Although filmed in the late 60s, we rarely see the usual lame attempts to play up the "mod" angle so prevalent in shows of that era (a couple of exceptions prove rather awkward, however, with McGill bopping around amidst an undulating gaggle of ersatz hipsters).  As always, one of the best features of the series is its cool theme music by Ron Grainer. 

Familiar faces abound in guest roles, many of them much younger than we're used to seeing them.  Felicity Kendall ("Rosemary & Thyme") is cute as a button playing a blind girl in need of Mac's protection ("Blind Spot").  Colin Blakely, who also appeared in the first episode aired ("Brainwash"), does a fine job as a priest trying to avert a revolt by aggrieved Africans against their unscrupulous white employer in "The Whisper."  In a comical episode that is one of the series' worst, "The Jigsaw Man", actor-director Michael Sarne (MYRA BRECKINRIDGE) appears as a kooky sculptor sponging off of a free-spirited heir to a fortune in order to buy clay to complete his "masterpiece." 

Ferdy Mayne is menacing in "The Revolutionaries", which also features Bruce Boa ("General Rieekan" of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK).  In his second series appearance, Donald Sutherland is a trigger-happy psycho killing his way through his former crime partners to get to a fortune in stolen gold ("Which Way Did He Go, McGill?")  A star of his own successful series many years later ("A Mind to Kill"), a barely-recognizable Philip Madoc does two guest shots in this set.  50s and 60s horror/sci-fi stalwart Robert Hutton (THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY, THE SLIME PEOPLE, COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK) plays a man who hires McGill to find out whether or not his wife is going insane in "Who's Mad Now?"

The 4-disc set from Acorn Media is in 4:9 full screen with Dolby sound and, unlike Set 1, English subtitles.  Along with a photo gallery on each disc, the main bonus feature is a recent 69-minute interview with Richard Bradford which fans will not want to miss.  Honest, intimate, sometimes wistful, and occasionally rambling, the soft-spoken Bradford recounts his history as an actor and talks of his battles with indifferent execs and coworkers on "Man in a Suitcase" and his struggles to improve the show.  Happily, he seems content with his life as an actor: "I'm truly just one blessed human being on this planet."

Not quite a cop, secret agent, or P.I. but with qualities of all three, the McGill character engages in a pleasing variety of cases that are always surprising in some way.  While not as flamboyant as some of the other ITV series of its time, MAN IN A SUITCASE: SET 2 is solid entertainment that's heavy on 60s atmosphere and nostalgia. 



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