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Thursday, May 31, 2012

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON -- DVD review by porfle





Back in the 80s when Larry David was just a skinny, frizzy-haired young castmember of ABC's "Fridays"--which was sort of a bratty bastard nephew of "Saturday Night Live"--I didn't think he was particularly funny or talented.  His success, not to mention obvious comedic abilities, as co-creator of "Seinfeld" came as a big surprise.  And when he took center stage with HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm", scoring big both as the show's driving force and onscreen star, I finally had to admit that this former "Fridays" nobody really had something funny going for him. 

The 2-disc set CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON serves up ten episodes of what some consider to be the funniest show on television.  "Seinfeld" fans should have a ball watching it since it displays that show's brand of humor in its undiluted form, with no laugh track, sitcom trappings, or surrogates (such as Jason Alexander's "George Costanza") acting out Larry David's skewed outlook on life for him. 

Captured in an almost cinema verite' style that's often painfully close to real life, each scene is improvised by the actors as they work with a barebones story outline which is fleshed out mainly by their own spur-of-the-moment dialogue.  This makes everything seem more natural while yielding some wonderfully comic exchanges with a welcome spontaneity you won't find on the usual sitcom. 

Also undiluted here is the show's rich vein of "Jewish" comedy, which was evident on "Seinfeld" but rarely alluded to.  "I love being a Jew" says David's co-star Jeff Garlin (who plays his chubby best friend and manager) in disc two's panel discussion, and clearly one reason for this is the fact that it gives him a chance to play up the humorous aspects of his own religious and cultural background to the hilt. 

This includes the sort of clash between "casual" and Orthodox Jews that has Larry and Jeff gleefully patronizing a Palestinean chicken restaurant (with anti-Semitic owners) every day while their friends are busy trying to protest it out of business.  Larry's friend Funkhouser (Bob "Super Dave" Einstein), who's currently undergoing a reaffirmation of his Jewish heritage complete with yarmulke and lengthy mealtime prayers, catches him in bed with a gorgeous Palestinean woman who shouts such things as "Take that, you filthy Jew!" while an ecstatic Larry enjoys what he later calls the best sex of his life.

Larry's divorce from wife Cheryl (series regular Cheryl Hines) is complicated when he discovers that his lawyer, Berg ("Mr. Show" veteran Paul F. Tompkins), isn't Jewish but Swedish, prompting him to switch to a guy named Hiriam Katz who turns out to be a complete washout.  With the divorce, as you might guess, comes a whole new era of single-guy dating for Larry which supplies a wealth of hitherto unexplored comic material for the show.

As always, Larry's social forte is doing or saying whatever is the most inappropriate for any situation.  In one episode, the daughter of a friend comes to his house to sell Girl Scout cookies and suddenly has her first period, whereupon Larry gives her one of ex-wife Cheryl's tampons and barks the instructions aloud through the bathroom door. 

In another episode, Larry's tendency to speak his mind about what annoys him in others (making smacking noises after a sip of liquid, saying the word "LOL!" instead of actually laughing, using "smilies" while texting, etc.) results in him being dubbed "the Social Assassin", with friends soliciting him to point out such things to their own loved ones that they're afraid to mention.  Naturally, all of this eventually backfires on Larry as does just about everything else.

Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman play Larry's bickering married friends Jeff and Susie, an easygoing, henpecked schlub and an acid-tongued fashion disaster.  Richard Lewis is funny at basically playing himself, a neurotic, obsessive hypochondriac.  (In one episode, Richard is horrified when the stripper he's dating decides to get her breasts reduced due to an ill-timed remark from Larry.)  J.B. Smoove adds additional ethnic humor to the show as Leon, who seems to have permanently moved in with Larry in order to mooch off him.

Guest stars appearing as themselves include Rosie O'Donnell, competing with Larry for the affections of a gorgeous bisexual woman, Michael J. Fox, whose Parkinson's disease is actually mined for big laughs as Larry's infinite capacity for pettiness rears its head yet again, and Ricky Gervais, another victim of Larry's ability to turn any situation into a social minefield. 

Other guests include Michael McKean, Ana Gasteyer, Michael Gross, Harry Hamlin, Robert Smigel, Aida Turturro, Gary Cole, Wanda Sykes, Bill Buckner, and "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" legend Jo Anne Worley. 

The 2-disc DVD from HBO Home Entertainment is in 16:9 widescreen with English and French Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish.  Extras consist of "Leon's Guide to NYC" (to where the show relocates late in the season), and a lengthy roundtable discussion featuring Larry, Jeff, Susie, and Cheryl.

One of the few shows in which a line like "My father just died" gets a laugh, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is just the thing for those who thought "Seinfeld" was just a little too genteel.  If you want to find out the meaning behind phrases such as "chat and cut" and "sorry window", CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON is your gateway to inappropriateness.



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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

MONROE: SERIES 1 -- DVD review by porfle




I've never watched "House", which this has been compared to, so on its own merits I would judge "Monroe" to be a pretty compelling medical drama with an interesting lead character.  In Acorn Media's 2-disc DVD set MONROE: SERIES 1, the main emphasis is on how ace neurosurgeon Gabriel Monroe (James Nesbitt) navigates the considerable pitfalls of his personal and professional lives without losing his devil-may-care disposition.

Nesbitt's usual fine performance will be the main draw for fans of his outstanding undercover cop series "Murphy's Law", and he's no less watchable here.  His specialty seems to be maintaining an outwardly cavalier attitude that masks great emotional depth and turmoil, which is pretty much standard operating procedure for our nimble-fingered hero.

At first I thought the personal-life stuff was just going to be a drag on the show (as it was on "Barney Miller" before they simply dropped it entirely) but eventually his problems with wife Anna (Susan Lynch) and moptop son Nick (Perry Millward) gain their own resonance in relation to his everyday struggles with life. 

The fact that his own 13-year-old daughter Charlotte died of a brain hemmorhage following an accident (which prompted Monroe to have an affair, which is why Anna is now leaving him) figures importantly in his character, especially in the sixth and final episode. 

Sharing center stage with Monroe at the hospital is heart specialist Jenny Bremner (Sarah Parish, so impressive in her guest role as a shape-shifting troll in the second season of "Merlin").  Bremner is the consummate professional yet she lacks the patient empathy that Monroe exudes in such abundance. 
Naturally, her coldness masks personal concerns that we'll explore during the season along with her amusingly abrasive relationship with Monroe, especially when she starts to have a secret affair with Monroe's best friend, anesthesiologist Lawrence Shepherd (Tom Riley).  Parish's able handling of the character helps ground the stories and balance out all that breezy nonchalance that Monroe affects to help get him through the day.

As in most medical dramas, Monroe and Bremner give their interns hell at every opportunity in order to toughen them up for their chosen career paths.  Luke Allen-Gale is Monroe's main target as the privileged Daniel Springer, hovering between neurology and cardiology as he labors in vain to see which of the no-nonsense surgeons he can impress the most. 

Michelle Asante plays Kitty Wilson, a young black woman whose tendency to faint dead away at the opening of every skull tells us that she'll make it with flying colors--that's just how it works on these shows--while Christina Chong and Andrew Gower play Witney and Mullery, the chief objects of Bremner's harsh tutelage.

Unlike the barely-controlled chaos of "ER", "Monroe" has a comfy, unhurried feel in which even the sterility of the operating room has a warm glow.  The drama of the generally feelgood storylines is never heavy or jarring enough to impose on the homey-cozy atmosphere surrounding Monroe and his coworkers as they hang out together discussing their love lives, playing poker, or dealing with personality clashes that never get all that serious. 

This means that if you want really hard-hitting emotional turmoil you're in the wrong hospital, but if you're looking for the dramatic equivalent of comfort food, you're likely to find each episode of "Monroe" a full-course meal.  This is reflected even in the soft-focus, muted look of the show, which is often a little too visually interesting for its own good. 

Rarely will you see so much visual dilly-dallying including fadeouts within fadeouts, focus fiddling, meandering camerawork, odd compositions, and an overabundance of song montages to emo songs that I don't even like in the first place.  Mostly all of this works for such a relaxed, non-threatening show, but it can get to be a little much.  

Storywise, "Monroe" plays it safe with the usual tales of couples or families coping with the life-threatening illness of a loved one while caring doctors try to help them through it without getting too emotionally involved themselves.  Since there are so few surprises in that area, the main interest for me is in the operating scenes--it's just inherently fascinating to watch someone cut open another person's skull and try to fix their brain like a glorified TV repairman, or stick their hands into a patient's chest to try and get their heart going again.  The doctors' attempts to lighten things up--music, casual chatter, feigned nonchalance--merely heighten the feeling that something truly amazing and scary is going on.

The 2-disc, 6-episode DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby sound and English subtitles.  There are no extras.

While "Monroe" lacks the cutting (no pun intended) edge or sharp (okay, I intended that one) tone of the grittier medical shows, it makes up for this with interesting character interplay and a warm, humanistic approach.  There's also the fact that James Nesbitt and Sarah Parish are very interesting actors who are fun to watch, which lends MONROE: SERIES 1 those same qualities as well. 


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Monday, May 28, 2012

MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 4 -- DVD review by porfle



With all the CSIs and their ilk jamming the airwaves, we seem to take for granted the fact that, long ago, somebody had to come up with all those brilliant forensic investigation techniques that hasten the resolution of all those baffling murder mysteries.  And that somebody, according to MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 4, is a Victorian-era Toronto police detective named William Murdoch.

He's back in this 4-disc DVD set from Acorn Media with 13 more episodes of delightfully droll and absorbingly interesting mysteries to spin the cogs of his wildly inventive mind.  It's Canada of the late 1890s--the "Age of Invention"--and Murdoch is on the cutting edge of it all, to both the delight and bafflement of his tough but indulgent boss Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig). 

As wonderfully played by Yannick Bisson, Murdoch is the most straitlaced, unassuming, and rigorously moral of gentlemen, a devout Catholic who crosses himself at every crime scene and eschews glory for the satisfaction of inventing new ways of fighting crime. 

During season four alone he invents the security camera (or as he calls it, the "scrutiny camera"), sonar for locating a sunken steamboat with an illicit cargo, explosive dye cannisters to foil bank robbers, phone-tapping, the pistol silencer, photo faxing, and a host of other rudimentary yet charmingly "futuristic" gadgets that somebody else got the credit for later.

Murdoch's main foil is Constable George Crabtree (Johnny Harris), an intelligent but overly enthusiastic young cop whose delight in such scientific advancement goes hand in hand with a geeky fascination with anything weird or seemingly supernatural.  In "Bloodlust", Crabtree's excitement over the new Bram Stoker sensation "Dracula" actually aids in solving a murder in a girls' boarding school which is apparently plagued by a vampire. 

Crabtree also has a penchant for inadvertently inventing things--in the episode "Downstairs, Upstairs", for example, his examination of Murdoch's scale model of a mansion where a murder took place, including locations such as the library and the observatory, leads him to create the board game "Clue"!  (Which Murdoch, of course, scoffs at--who'd want to play a game about murder?)

Another scale model figures prominently in one of the season's finest episodes, "Dead End Street", in which an idiot savant named Lydia (Liisa Repo-Martell) builds a perfect replica of the street she lives on, complete with her view of a murder she witnessed through a nearby window.  In an example of the show's endlessly creative visual style, Murdoch imagines himself doll-sized as he strolls the tiny street looking for clues among the tiny stand-up figures of Lydia's neighbors. 

Just as season three ended with Murdoch fumbling the ball in his romantic relationship with beautiful medical examiner Dr. Julia Ogden (the stunning Helene Joy), this one agonizes over the awkward situation of Murdoch and Ogden continuing to work together while she's engaged to another man (Jonathan Watton). 

In "Murdoch in Wonderland", this builds to a season-ending wedding which coincides with Murdoch being jailed himself as the prime suspect in a murder that occurs during an "Alice in Wonderland" party (the Mock Turtle gets bludgeoned by a croquet mallet with Murdoch's "fingermarks" all over it).  Even with all this, Murdoch finds a way of getting into even deeper trouble for the season cliffhanger.

The series is beautifully designed and richly mounted, with a strong period atmosphere augmented by well-chosen locations and some fairly nifty CGI overviews of the city.  Direction is uniformly fine, with Bisson himself helming the episode "Buffalo Shuffle" in which Murdoch travels to a children's hospital in Buffalo at the request of Dr. Ogden, who suspects foul play in a little boy's death.  

In "Tattered and Torn", the discovery of three dismembered bodies encased in cement blocks puts Murdoch at odds with a stuffy, old-fashioned medical examiner from Scotland Yard (Paul Rhys, marvelous in a recurring role) who's filling in for Dr. Ogden.  Victor Garber (TITANIC) guest stars.  "Kommando" features a series of murders within a Toronto military regiment, with a terrible shared secret as the motive.

"Monsieur Murdoch" is a scintillating mistaken-identity mystery in which Murdoch works with a flamboyant French detective, Inspector Marcel Guillaume (Yannick Soulier), whose vastly different methods and scandalously uninhibited lifestyle have the conservative Murdoch reeling.  "Confederate Treasure" puts forth an interesting premise--that certain Canadians wanted the South to win the Civil War and set a dastardly plot in motion to help achieve that goal! 

"Dial M For Murdoch" has some delightful bits of business concerning a spunky telephone operator (Rachel Wilson) who overhears a murder on the phone and insists on helping Inspector Crabtree solve the case.  (This is the one where Murdoch invents the phone tap.)  The twist ending is somber and unsettling.  In "The Black Hand", that pistol silencer comes into play as a ruthless assassin from the dreaded USA crime syndicate starts racking up victims in Toronto. 

"Voices" features Michelle Nolden as Murdoch's estranged sister Susannah, who is Mother Superior in a convent where the partially-buried body of a murdered priest is discovered in a grave intended for a deceased nun.  In "The Kissing Bandit", a woman present at a bank robbery finds herself smitten with the dashing thief who gives her a big wet one before making his getaway.  Later, the Robin Hood-style robber drastically alters his tactics by coldbloodedly shooting down one of his victims.  But is it the same man behind the mask?

The four-disc set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of several brief featurettes.  A 3-disc Blu-Ray edition is also available.

With Yannick Bisson's earnest and endlessly endearing Murdoch leading a stable of very likable characters through some fascinating and richly atmospheric mystery adventures, MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 4 provides a wealth of rewarding entertainment that fires on all cylinders--just like one of those newfangled internal combustion engines.


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Sunday, May 27, 2012

BAD ASS -- DVD review by porfle




If you've followed actor Danny Trejo's career from the young prison boxer (which he actually was at the time) of RUNAWAY TRAIN to the fearsome knife-throwing assassin in DESPERADO to the even more fearsome killing machine Machete in MACHETE, then no doubt the lively trailer for BAD ASS (2012) made you think "Hey, this could really be cool."  And if you're like me, actually watching the movie made you think "Hey, this is really...ehh."

Not that seeing perennial bad ass Trejo, now in his late 60s, as a geriatric do-gooder bopping around in a baseball cap, baggy shorts, and sneakers isn't funny and somewhat endearing.  The scene in which he intervenes between two hostile skinheads and an old man on a city bus, kicking their butts and becoming a YouTube hero in the bargain, is feelgood stuff that satisfies my urge to vicariously dole out vigilante justice to those who deserve it. 

Other scenes with Trejo's "Frank Vega" character taking on various attackers and administering gut-busting stomach punches and granite-knuckled haymakers, all in a quest to find the killers of his best friend Klondike (Harrison Page) while the police do nothing, have a similar visceral appeal.  But the movie surrounding all of this is a hit-and-miss affair that resembles some cheesy 70s flick you might have paid scant attention to at the drive-in whenever there wasn't something kinetic taking place on the screen. 

Of course, this may have been director and co-writer Craig Moss' intention and, if so, he has succeeded.  The cheese factor begins early with a flashback of young Viet Nam veteran Frank (Shalim Ortiz) unsuccessfully readjusting to civilian life while wearing what looks like a Halloween wig that was cut and styled at a dog-grooming parlor.  The actress playing the elder Frank's mother (Tonita Castro) later on appears to be between 5-10 years older than him at most. 

When Frank comes to the rescue of pretty young Amber (Joyful Drake), the battered wife next door, their May-December romance is handled in about as embarrassing a fashion as you might imagine.  Amber's son Martin (John Duffy) sports a 70s-style 'fro and is one of those hip wisecracking kids we're supposed to find funny even though we actually want to place-kick him through a bay window.  The dialogue during all this is pretty wince-inducing although Danny, bless his heart, brings his best game to the whole thing, even giving us a crying scene at one point.

Forgetting the film's dumber elements and concentrating on the action is your best bet.  Ron Perlman makes a brief appearance as the city's crooked mayor, but it's his henchman Charles Dutton who gets quality screen time with Frank when he discovers that the local hero is in possession of a flash drive (given to him by Klondike) that could send the mayor to prison. 

Once Frank is captured and tortured via some painful-looking booby electrodes, Dutton does the actor equivalent of Hulking out with some big, and I mean really big-big bad-guy acting that culminates in one of those epic dirty fistfights that makes you wish the camerawork and editing were better.  And right before that, we get a crash-tastic chase between two city buses which pretty much makes the whole movie worth watching. 

The DVD from 20th-Century Fox Home Entertainment is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.  Extras consist of a director's commentary track and a making-of featurette.

The oddest thing about this film is that in the midst of Frank's occasionally lighthearted quest for justice (Danny Woodburn, the midget from "Seinfeld", has a funny cameo) there's a jarringly nasty scene that's so violent, with the basically decent Frank suddenly turning so heartlessly sadistic, that it's like something out of a torture porn flick.  Yet in his commentary, director Moss seems to regard this as just another cool scene topped off with a couple of funny zingers.  It's just this sort of thing that makes BAD ASS such a disjointed and not particularly cohesive movie--not really bad but not all that good, either.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Anchor Bay Entertainment Proudly Presents "THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON" on Blu-ray and DVD August 28th!



ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT BRINGS BACK THE DEAD WITH “THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON” ON BLU-RAY™ AND DVD AUGUST 28, 2012

A LIMITED EDITION ZOMBIE HEAD DESIGNED BY MCFARLANE TOYS ALSO AVAILABLE


BEVERLY HILLS , CA – The series Variety called "creepy from the first frame" gets a release on Blu-ray™ and DVD that will make the dead rise! Anchor Bay Entertainment proudly releases the AMC original series THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON on August 28th, with an SRP of $69.99 for the Blu-ray™, and $59.98 for the DVD. A truly unique and very limited edition zombie head case created and designed by McFarlane Toys will also be available as Blu-ray™ only for a SRP of $99.99.  Pre-book is August 1st.  The 4-Disc sets will contain all 13 episodes of the second season and will be loaded with exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, featurettes and audio commentaries.

THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON is the much anticipated next chapter to the acclaimed post zombie apocalypse series. When we last left the “The Walking Dead,” the characters were in the midst of a high-intensity struggle to survive, fleeing the CDC as it burst into flames. In Season 2, they are still fighting zombies, and each other, facing more threats and obstacles than ever before.

Based on the hugely successful and popular comic books, written by Robert Kirkman, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” captures the ongoing human drama after a zombie apocalypse. The series follows a group of survivors, led by police officer Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln (Love Actually), who are traveling in search of a safe and secure home. However, instead of the zombies, it’s the living who still remain that may be the biggest threat. Jon Bernthal (Rampart) plays Shane Walsh, Rick's sheriff's department partner before the apocalypse, and Sarah Wayne Callies (“Prison Break”), is Rick's wife, Lori. THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON cast also includes Laurie Holden (Fantastic Four), Steven Yeun (My Name is Jerry), Norman Reedus (The Boondock Saints), Jeffrey DeMunn (The Shawshank Redemption), Chandler Riggs (Get Low), Iron E. Singleton (Seeking Justice) and Melissa McBride (The Mist). Guest stars for the second season include Lauren Cohan (“Chuck”), Scott Wilson (Monster) and Pruitt Taylor Vince (Constantine).

“The Walking Dead” is a hit with both audiences and critics.  The first season won the Emmy® Award for Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Miniseries, Movie or Special and was nominated for Emmys® in Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series and Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series. Season 1 also garnered a Golden Globe® nomination for Best Television Series - Drama, and was named to the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Top 10 Programs of the Year (2010), among other accolades.

Season 3 of “The Walking Dead” premieres on AMC in October.

About AMC
AMC reigns as the only cable network in history to ever win the Emmy® Award for Outstanding Drama Series four years in a row, as well as the Golden Globe® Award for Best Television Series - Drama for three consecutive years.  Whether commemorating favorite films from every genre and decade or creating acclaimed original programming, the AMC experience is an uncompromising celebration of great stories.  AMC's original stories include “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” “The Killing” and “Hell on Wheels.”  AMC further demonstrates its commitment to the art of storytelling with its slate of unscripted original series, as well as curated movie franchises like AMC’s Can’t Get Enough and AMC’s Crazy About.  Available in more than 97 million homes (Source: Nielsen Media Research), AMC is owned and operated by AMC Networks Inc. and its sister networks include IFC, Sundance Channel and WE tv.  AMC is available across all platforms, including on-air, online, on demand and mobile.  AMC: Story Matters HereSM.

About Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment is the home entertainment division of Starz Media, LLC. It includes the Anchor Bay Films and Manga Entertainment brands. It distributes feature films, children’s entertainment, fitness, TV series, documentaries, anime and other filmed entertainment on Blu-ray™ and DVD formats. Headquartered in Beverly Hills , CA , Anchor Bay Entertainment has offices in Troy , MI , as well as Canada , the United Kingdom and Australia . Starz Media is an operating unit of Starz, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Liberty Media Corporation.


THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON Blu-ray™
Street Date:                 August 28, 2012       
Pre-book:                     August 1, 2012
Cat. #:                         BD25260
UPC:                           0 1313 25260-9 6
Run Time:                   Approx. 600 Minutes
Rating:                        Not Rated
SRP:                            $69.99
Format:                        Widescreen Presentation 1.78:1
Audio:                         English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and French Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:                     English and Spanish

THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON DVD
Street Date:                 August 28, 2012       
Pre-book:                     August 1, 2012
Cat. #:                         DV25247
UPC:                           1313 25247-9 5
Run Time:                   Approx. 600 Minutes
Rating:                        Not Rated
SRP:                            $59.98
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio:                         English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:                     English and Spanish

THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON Limited Edition Blu-ray™
Street Date:                 August 28, 2012       
Pre-book:                     August 1, 2012
Cat. #:                         BD25332
UPC:                           0 1313 25332-9 2
Run Time:                   Approx. 600 Minutes
Rating:                        Not Rated
SRP:                            $99.99
Format:                        Widescreen Presentation 1.78:1
Audio:                         English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and French Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:                     English and Spanish


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Must-see DVDs - "Doc Martin", "New Tricks", and Home Video Debut of a Classic ABC Miniseries on June 5 from Acorn



On June 5th, Acorn has three must-see DVDs, including "Doc Martin, Series 5", Acorn’s newest best-selling series, and a perfect alternative now that House has ended; the long-awaited home video debut of the classic, Emmy®-winning ABC miniseries "Washington: Behind Closed Doors"; and another season of one of the most-watched shows on British television, "New Tricks, Season 7."

---------------------------

DOC MARTIN, SERIES 5
Debuts on DVD on June 5, 2012

Smash-hit British dramedy starring Martin Clunes; Currently airing on public television

“Sweet, stirring, and completely addictive” —Slate
“Delightfully quirky” —Los Angeles Times
“Outstanding” —The Globe and Mail
“Absolutely bloody hilarious” —London Evening Standard
“This show is just what the doctor ordered.” —TV Times


Silver Spring, MD —The huge hit dramedy currently airing on public television stations across the U.S., Doc Martin, Series 5 debuts on DVD from Acorn Media on June 5, 2012. Akin to House and Northern Exposure, BAFTA Winner Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly, Shakespeare in Love, Reggie Perrin) stars in the series as a misanthropic, socially maladjusted doctor forced to relocate to a rustic seaside village, where he immediately clashes with the town’s eccentric citizens. Emmy® winner Eileen Atkins (Cranford, co-creator of Upstairs, Downstairs) joins the cast in Series 5. The DVD 2-disc set includes eight episodes, plus 62-minutes of behind-the-scenes segments ($39.99, www.AcornOnline.com). Doc Martin is a huge hit in the U.K. with 10 million viewers, and its gaining momentum on public television; it’s the highest-rated program on KCET/Los Angeles. A sixth season will begin production in 2013.

In Series 5, fatherhood hasn’t softened the dour Dr. Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes). He’s about to take a new position in London when events conspire to keep him in Portwenn. His infant son with Louisa (Caroline Catz, Murder in Suburbia) needs a name, his replacement doesn’t seem up to the job, and he receives devastating news. Like it or not, he’s stuck in the scenic Cornish village with its quirky inhabitants—most of whom have grudgingly grown rather fond of the grumpy doctor.

Although Martin has largely mastered his fear of blood, he still has no clue how to manage his life. How can he cope with sleepless nights, an aunt with issues, a flaky new receptionist, Louisa’s hippie mother, and the usual village dramas?

Filmed in the idyllic Cornwall village of Port Isaac, Doc Martin won the Best TV Comedy Drama at the British Comedy Awards. The series premiered on ITV in the U.K. in 2004 and has aired for five series. Series 5 premiered on public television in April 2012. Acorn Media previously released Doc Martin, Series 2 – 4 in individual sets (2009-2010) and a Doc Martin Collection: Series 1-4 (2011).

BONUS: Behind-the-scenes segments (62 min.), cast filmographies, and photo gallery

Street: June 5, 2012                                      SRP: $39.99

DVD 2-Disc Set: 8 episodes on 2 discs; approx. 368 min., plus bonus; 16:9 widescreen; SDH subtitles

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WASHINGTON: BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Emmy-winning political drama seen on ABC; Starring Cliff Robertson, Jason Robards, Stefanie Powers, and Robert Vaughn

Home Video Debut on DVD June 5, 2012

“Fascinating political intrigue” —The New York Times
“Very entertaining” —The Washington Post


Silver Spring, MD —Showcasing high-stakes political intrigue at its best, the award-winning miniseries inspired by the Nixon presidency, Washington: Behind Closed Doors, debuts on home video from Acorn Media on June 5, 2012. Based on the post-Watergate novel, The Company, by former Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman, the seven-time Emmy® nominated program stars Cliff Robertson (Falcon Crest, Spider-Man, and Best Actor Academy Award for Charly), two-time Oscar winner Jason Robards (All the President’s Men, Julia), two-time Emmy nominee Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart), and Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven), who won for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series. Broadcast on ABC in 1977, the acclaimed miniseries co-stars Andy Griffith (Matlock) and John Houseman (The Paper Chase). The DVD 3-disc set includes six episodes, plus an 8-page viewer’s guide with articles on the historical background of the program ($59.99, www.AcornOnline.com).

CIA director Bill Martin (Cliff Robertson) knows that an incoming president means a new direction for the country—and another set of eyes on the top secret Primula Report. Martin tries to build a rapport with his new boss, but President Richard Monckton (Jason Robards) is more interested in settling old scores and cleaning house with the help of the FBI.

Against the backdrop of a war in Southeast Asia and antiwar protests at home, this political drama tells the story of an increasingly paranoid president, an administration under siege, and a reckless group of White House aides desperate to hold on to power.

BONUS: 8-page booklet with articles on the historical background of the program, the Vietnam War, peace movements in America, Nixon’s visit to China, and the Watergate scandal; plus brief biographies of the political figures of the period

Street: June 5, 2012                                      SRP: $59.99

DVD 3-Disc Set: 6 episodes; approx. 550 min.; 4:3 full screen; SDH subtitles

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NEW TRICKS, SEASON 7 Debuts on DVD June 5, 2012

One of the most-watched shows on British television; Seen on BBC and PBS

“Mysteries are top notch, twisty and ingeniously solved…Great fun”—PaperMag
“Well-cast cop drama” –The Independent
“Drama of the highest quality” –The Mail on Sunday
“Fresh and clever” —London Evening Standard


Silver Spring, MD — Featuring strong writing, wry humor, and a splendid cast, the long-running, award-winning series New Tricks, Season 7 debuts on DVD from Acorn Media on June 5, 2012. Amanda Redman (Sexy Beast), Dennis Waterman (The Sweeney, Circles of Deceit), Alun Armstrong (Garrow’s Law, Bleak House, Patriot Games), and James Bolam (The Beiderbecke Affair) star as a team of semi-retired and somewhat curmudgeonly detectives investigating cold cases. In this wildly popular series, aging cops and traditional sleuthing trump high-tech gadgets and modern criminology. New Tricks has run on the BBC for eight seasons since 2003 and has already been renewed for a ninth and tenth season. The series has enjoyed ongoing broadcast exposure in North America on public television, garnering fans on both sides of the Atlantic.  The DVD 3-disc set includes all ten episodes from Season 7, plus a bonus behind-the-scenes featurette and bloopers ($39.99, www.AcornOnline.com).

James Bolam, Alun Armstrong, and Dennis Waterman star as three detectives pulled out of retirement to unravel cases that stumped the Metropolitan Police. Their beautiful boss, Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman), keeps them on track and mostly out of trouble as they follow their hunches and bend the rules. This time around, the team has its hands full with unsolved murders, an 18-year-old abduction, and a 30-year-old robbery that threatens the team’s very existence. Guest stars include Rupert Graves (Death at a Funeral), Paul Rhys (Chaplin), Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey), and Siân Phillips (I, Claudius).

Episodes: Dark Chocolate, Good Morning Lemmings, It Smells of Books, Coming Out Ball, Dead Man Talking, Fashion Victim, Left Field, Gloves Off, Where There's Smoke, The Fourth Man

Street Date: June 5, 2012                 SRP: $39.99

DVD 3-Disc Set: 10 episodes; approx. 582 min., plus bonus; 16:9 widescreen; SDH subtitles

BONUS Behind-the-scenes featurette (8 min.) and bloopers (10 min.)

Acorn Media previously released New Tricks, Seasons 3-6 as DVD 3-disc sets ($39.99).


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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Monday, May 21, 2012

THE COLLAPSED -- DVD review by porfle




The making-of featurette is called "Apocalypse on a Budget", and you'll get the idea when all of civilization falls apart during the main titles--via a brief newsclip montage of rioting in the streets--and we join the Weaver family's struggle to survive already in progress.  There have been so many end-of-the-world thrillers by now that we don't need any more exposition or explanation than that.  All we need is a new and creative variation on the premise, which THE COLLAPSED (2011) manages to provide very well despite that modest budget.

For the first ten or fifteen minutes, you might think you're watching a loose remake of Ray Milland's minor classic PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962).  There's Mom and Dad and Bro and Sis, making their way into the sticks to escape the chaos of a fallen city and facing their own descent into savagery as they're forced to defend themselves against ruthless marauders. 

Again, dear old Dad steps up to his new responsibilities with a hardness that surprises the others.  This time, though, Mom and Sis aren't such weepy, whiny pacifists, and Bro is the one who tends to get a tad angsty and existential about the whole thing.  Still, there's a familiarity to their flight from gun-toting bad guys and subsequent cross-country trudge to a small community where another son is hoped to have survived. 

But just when we think we have the rest of the story pretty well figured out, THE COLLAPSED pulls the rug out from under us with a plot twist that's shockingly unexpected, leaving PANIC IN YEAR ZERO behind and taking us down a path where we don't know what the hell's going to happen next. 

Add to this the fact that during their entire trek, an unseen and seemingly demonic presence has been following them every step of the way.  As each family member senses it with some growing, fundamental dread, we begin to wonder just what really happened in lieu of the usual zombies, nuclear war, or natural disaster to bring the world to its current state. 

This mysterious supernatural element is the kicker that sends THE COLLAPSED from its cozy "I know what's gonna happen next" comfort-viewing status into the realm of the really weird, making it one of the most suspenseful and surprising of the recent indy post-apocalyptic thrillers. 

It's a good example of how some enthusiastic filmmakers with a little imagination can transcend things like unpolished acting (although the cast acquit themselves well), limited settings (most of the story takes place in the woods), and an almost total lack of SPFX save for some early shots of the ruined city and some minor gore effects here and there.  The story is straightforward and simple but the places it goes will keep you guessing right up until a final revelation that scores high enough on the "WTF?" meter to place it smack dab in the middle of the Twilight Zone.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 sound.  Subtitles are in English (and whoever wrote them had a field day describing that mysterious supernatural presence).  Extras include one commentary track with writer-producer-director Justin McConnell and co-producer Kevin Hutchinson, and another with actor John Fantasia ("Dad" Weaver).

There's also a music video for the end-titles song "Devil in Disguise" by Rob Kleiner, trailers, a photo gallery, cast and crew bios, and a weblink to unlock the "Apocalypse on a Budget" making-of documentary.  Kleiner's entire musical score is available as a free MP3 download but you can also listen to it in its entirety here, uninterrupted, essentially making the DVD a soundtrack CD. 

THE COLLAPSED currently enjoys an IMDb score of 2.9 out of 10 (from 110 votes), so, needless to say, my mileage varied.  I found it as entertaining as one of those little TV-movies on "The ABC Movie of the Week" back in the 70s--like BAD RONALD or DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK--that would strike a chord with viewers and become a cult favorite over the years.


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Sunday, May 20, 2012

CORIOLANUS -- DVD review by porfle




This is one of those movies where the early notes I jot down are pretty unfavorable, but as it begins to grow on me I find myself having to rethink what I've written about it.

Not that I'm totally sold on director-star Ralph Fiennes' updated Shakespeare drama CORIOLANUS (2011).  Ever since filmmakers started trying to transplant the Bard's plays verbatim into modern settings, the results haven't always been pretty.  For one thing, I just don't think 21st-century characters can recite Shakespeare's poetic prose in a casual way without viewers being constantly distracted by the utter incongruity of it all.

But Fiennes, along with screenwriter John Logan, tries to get us accustomed to this early on with Senator Menenius (Brian Cox), of "a place that calls itself Rome", awkwardly conversing with Coriolanus' mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) about the military hero's recent victory over Volsce invader Aufidius (Gerard Butler).  Cox, always a fine actor, struggles manfully while the great Vanessa Redgrave does as well as anyone possibly could to make her lines seem conversational.

After we get through this gulp of unwieldy dialogue, the rest doesn't taste quite as bad.  This is especially true in the more confrontational scenes such as Coriolanus' vicious hand-to-hand battle with Aufidius, a former friend turned arch enemy, as they utter some of literary history's most elegant putdowns.  (The gritty urban warfare scenes themselves are nothing special, sporting the usual artless, faux-newsreel shaky-cam, so it's a good thing the film focuses on drama over action.)

Later, when Coriolanus is prodded into running for high office despite his steadfast unwillingness to pander to the people ("Good mother, I would rather be their servant in my way, than to sway with them in theirs"), it's fun listening to his devious political foes Sicinius (James Nesbitt, "Murphy's Law") and Brutus (Paul Jesson) spinning their plot against him and exhorting the fickle crowds to demand his execution or exile.  A sort of televised "town meeting" provides the setting for one heated exchange, while TV news anchors and political pundits serve as the play's chorus.

Cox and Redgrave have settled comfortably into their roles by this time and start reeling off the Shakespeare like the old pros that they are.  When Coriolanus' forced exile takes a drastically unexpected turn, Redgrave is particularly outstanding when the prideful mother must beseech her son to alter his current course of vengeance against Rome and its people. 

Fiennes himself dominates the film with a heady combination of Shakespearean intensity and tough-guy bombast (with the help of the burly Butler as Aufidius), wading through early scenes in a horror-show mask of gore before settling into the character of the battle-scarred warrior unfit for political gamesmanship.  The latter persona is the more interesting, as Coriolanus stands unyielding against the internal corruption he feels is more destructive to Rome than its external enemies. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay and the Weinsteins is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a director's commentary and a "making-of" featurette.  The film also comes in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack.

If turning a Shakespeare play into a modern-day war movie with the original dialogue intact sounds like a dumb idea to you, you're not alone because that was my first impression as well.  But the conceit gradually becomes more interesting than awkward, ultimately generating a strange fascination that I found pretty involving.  You may want to turn the subtitles on and read along with the actors while watching CORIOLANUS, because the dialogue goes by pretty fast and, more than anything else, it's what this movie is about.


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Friday, May 18, 2012

MEMORIAL DAY -- DVD review by porfle




Some war flicks serve up non-stop, blazing battle action for us to pound down popcorn by, while others are dark political nightmares that have us suffering the existential horror of it all.  And then there's MEMORIAL DAY (2011), the kind of war movie that just wants to get inside some soldiers' heads for awhile.

While Staff Sergeant Kyle Vogel (Jonathan Bennett) serves in Iraq, his experiences keep drawing him back to a lazy Memorial Day in 1993 when, as a 13-year-old boy in Minnesota, he found his grandfather's WWII footlocker filled with "souvenirs."  Bud Vogel (James Cromwell) tells Kyle to put it back, but the boy insists on hearing some of the old man's war stories.  Bud makes a deal--three items, three stories, and if Kyle behaves like a man, Bud will talk to him like one.

That special afternoon between Bud and Kyle on the porch, embued with all the golden-hued notalgia of a lemonade commercial, is the heart of MEMORIAL DAY, when the mentally failing old man recalls his precious stories one last time for the boy who is now mature enough to appreciate them.  Kyle's first choice, naturally, is a pistol, but rather than yielding a tale of daring adventure it takes the old man back to one of those days that still haunts him deep in his soul. 
All of the action we see during these flashbacks is peripheral to such emotional trauma, with soldiers such as Bud not only losing beloved comrades but sharing moments of grief and anguish with the enemy as well.  A battle in a Belgian forest in '44 serves mainly to establish the bond between the men involved (along with how Bud happened to get shrapnel from a potato masher in his butt), while another confrontation ends with Bud losing his best friend via an almost anticlimactic final shot. 

Director Samuel Fischer handles the WWII sequences in a more traditional style than the "Saving Private Ryan"/"Band of Brothers" look we expect nowadays.  The latter is used during the present-day Kyle's day-to-day experiences in Anbar Province, Iraq, which are also shown to consist of long periods of dull drudgery and mounting tension punctuated by moments of horror and chaos.  Again, the brief battle scenes are practically beside the point, and one mission to capture a terrorist leader, which is given considerable build-up, is aborted before it begins.

When a shrapnel injury lands him in the hospital, a sympathetic nurse (Emily Fradenburgh) allows Kyle to wax reminiscent himself, his stories often containing parallels to those of his grandfather as he harkens back to that long-ago Memorial Day.  Thus, we learn that a soldier's life is pretty much the same no matter the time or place, with the emotional significance of an event taking precedence over anything else.

Cromwell, who by now could probably play a part like this in his sleep, gives his usual sturdy performance as old Bud, while his son John plays the younger version in flashbacks.  The fact that John looks and sounds so much like his old man, in addition to being a pretty good actor himself, gives these scenes added authenticity.  As the older Kyle, Jonathan Bennett underplays enough to come across as a regular guy. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Extras consist of a commentary from director, producer, and actor John Cromwell, and a very brief behind-the-scenes short.

If you're expecting lots of action, be prepared to spend a leisurely afternoon on the porch with Grandpa during much of MEMORIAL DAY, which lives up to its title in a wistful, contemplative, and melancholy way.  This is the story of everyday soldiers doing a job which, at times, happens to exact an overwhelming emotional toll that stays with them for the rest of their lives.  However, chances are that this well-meaning but ultimately rather bland movie won't affect you nearly that long, because although it does what it sets out to do fairly well, it never comes close to the kind of emotional crescendo that it labors to achieve.


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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Monroe w/James Nesbitt, Murdoch Mysteries 4 make U.S. debuts on DVD from Acorn



James Nesbitt (Murphy’s Law, The Hobbit) stars in new medical drama MONROE, Series 1 -- Makes U.S. Debut on DVD May 29, 2012

“Blessed with heart and brain” —The Sunday Times

“Sharply written” —The Guardian


Silver Spring, MD — With a dose of House’s dark humor and an infusion of humanity and warmth, the gripping medical drama, Monroe, debuts on DVD from Acorn Media on May 29, 2012. Acclaimed Irish actor James Nesbitt (Murphy’s Law, Woody Allen’s Match Point, and the upcoming Hobbit films) stars as Dr. Gabriel Monroe, a neurosurgical genius with a quick wit and a heart to match his titanic ego. Following no rules but his own, Monroe infuriates colleagues and terrifies interns with his glib repartee and arrogant self-regard. Monroe offers a riveting look inside the high-stakes medical profession (DVD 2-disc set, 6 episodes, $39.99, www.AcornOnline.com). Series 1 premiered on ITV in March 2011; a second season has been commissioned. Monroe made its U.S. debut on Acorn’s streaming service, Acorn TV, earlier this year but has not aired on U.S. television.

Pitting his formidable skills against high-risk medical emergencies is only one of Monroe’s challenges. He and his team must also navigate the toll that medicine takes on patients and doctors—especially when dealing with their personal lives. As slick as he is with a scalpel, Monroe struggles at home as a husband and father, and at work he clashes with brusque heart surgeon Dr. Jenny Bremner (Sarah Parish, The Pillars of the Earth). Tom Riley (Lost in Austen) also stars.

Street: May 29, 2012                         SRP: $39.99

DVD 2-Disc Set: 6 Episodes; Approx. 274 mins. – British drama - SDH subtitles

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Forensic Sleuthing in the Age of Invention; Fourth season of the charming period mystery on Blu-ray and DVD; Available to U.S. audiences for the first time

MURDOCH MYSTERIES, SEASON 4 -- U.S. debut on Blu-ray and DVD May 29, 2012

“If you haven’t seen it, you must” —The Globe and Mail

“Excellent adventure” —Midwest Book Review

“Truly outstanding” – The Fort Bend/Southwest Star

“Yannick Bisson is perfect as Murdoch.” —Deseret News

“Smart, fast-paced fun” —The Globe and Mail


Silver Spring, MD —Combining the period appeal of Sherlock Holmes with the forensic fascination of CSI, Murdoch Mysteries, Season 4, debuts on Blu-ray and DVD from Acorn Media on May 29, 2012. Based on the characters from award-winning author Maureen Jennings’ Detective Murdoch novels, the acclaimed Canadian series has garnered 25 Gemini® nominations to its credit, including Best Writing and Best Dramatic Series. Set in Victorian-era Toronto, this smart, compelling series follows Yannick Bisson (Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye) as Detective William Murdoch as he pushes the boundaries of criminal science to solve the city’s most baffling murders. Distributed by ITV Studios and available to U.S. audiences for the first time, the 4-volume DVD boxed set and 3-disc Blu-ray set include all 13 episodes from season four, plus a behind-the-scenes featurette ($59.99 each, www.AcornOnline.com). A fifth season has already been produced, and a sixth season begins production in spring 2012.

Season 4 pits the kindhearted Detective Murdoch against a would-be vampire, a costumed killer, and ruthless mobsters, inspiring him to whip up a slew of innovative crime-fighting techniques along the way. But while Murdoch nabs the culprits with the help of politically ambitious inspector Thomas Brackenreid (Thomas Craig, Where the Heart Is) and eager constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris, Hatching, Matching & Dispatching), he struggles to subdue his feelings for former sweetheart Dr. Julia Ogden (Gemini® winner Hélène Joy, Durham County).

The series guest stars Victor Garber (Alias, Titanic), Simon Williams (Upstairs, Downstairs), Peter Keleghan (The Red Green Show), and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in a cameo.

Season 4 debuted in Canada on CityTV in June 2011. Acorn Media previously released Season 1-3 on DVD as well as on Blu-ray for Seasons 1 and 3. The Murdoch Mysteries website is www.murdochmysteries.com

Special Features: Behind-the-scenes featurette (15 min.), and alternate love letters (2 min.)

Street: May 29, 2012 - 13 episodes – Approx. 598 min., plus bonus - SDH subtitles

Blu-ray 3-Disc Set (SRP: $59.99) / DVD 4-Vol. Boxed Set (SRP: $59.99)


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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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Classic Romance-Thriller "CASABLANCA" To Be Screened One Night Only On Facebook



HUMPHREY BOGART-INGRID BERGMAN CLASSIC “CASABLANCA” TO BE SCREENED FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY ON FACEBOOK

MOVIE FANS CAN WATCH A COMPLIMENTARY SCREENING AND COMMENT IN REAL-TIME DIRECTLY ON FILM’S FACEBOOK PAGE

SCREENING TO TAKE PLACE THIS WEDNESDAY AT 7 PM ET/PT


BURBANK, CALIF., May 15, 2012 – Here’s looking at you kid! Warner Bros. Digital Distribution today announced the legendary film “Casablanca” – which critic Leonard Maltin calls “the best Hollywood movie of all time,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and winner of three Academy Awards®, including Best Picture (1944), can be viewed directly on the “Casablanca” movie Facebook Page.  On Wednesday, May 16 movie fans across the United States are invited to microwave some popcorn and gather by the warm glow of the computer monitor to enjoy a complimentary showing this timeless love story at 7 pm ET and 7 pm PT.

This complimentary screening of “Casablanca” celebrates the recent launch of the “Casablanca 70th Anniversary Three-disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Edition” from Warner Home Video.  This limited and numbered gift set edition will introduce two never-before-seen documentaries – “Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic,” and “Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of.”  The new documentaries will complete the most extensive collection of content in one gift set -- more than 14 hours of bonus material that also includes a compilation of three comprehensive feature length documentaries: “The Brothers Warner, You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story” and “Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul.”  The “Casablanca 70th Anniversary 3-Disc Blu ray + DVD Combo Edition” is now available for $64.99 SRP.

This special screening event also celebrates “Inside the Script,” a new digital publishing initiative that gives movie fans an innovative new way to go deep inside their favorite films.  “Inside the Script” is a series of highly illustrated eBooks that contain the film’s actual shooting script, rare materials from the Warner Bros. Corporate Archive and much more. The first series of “Inside the Script” titles are based on cinematic treasures including, “Casablanca,” “Ben-Hur,” “An American in Paris” and “North by Northwest,” and are currently available via iBookstore, Kindle and NOOK by Barnes & Noble. 

“Inside the Script” offers movie fans an all-access pass to go behind-the-scenes of the films they know and love. Every “Inside the Script” title includes the film’s complete shooting script in a customizable eBook format; dozens of chapters about the script and the film that detail the movie’s development; rare historical documents such as production notes, storyboards and candid photos; and an interactive image gallery of costumes, on-set stills, movie posters, set designs and behind-the-scenes photos. 

Highlighted elements from “Casablanca: Inside the Script” include:
- Jack Warner’s telegrams and memos
- Producer Hal Wallis’ script and production notes
- Production Code Administration letters, notes and seal of approval
- Telegram from producer Hal Wallis refuting his fight with Jack Warner

Note: Movie fans must begin watching “Casablanca” prior to 9 pm PT through the film’s Facebook Page.  Only one screening per Facebook account is permitted.  Additional details on the screening can be found at the “Casablanca” movie Facebook Page.      

About the Film
“Casablanca” has remained a beloved favorite for almost seven decades, and was voted the screen’s greatest love story and the #3 film of all time by the American Film Institute (AFI). This classic wartime romance also took Oscars® for Michael Curtiz (Directing -1944); Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch (Writing – Screenplay -1944 ) and the studio (Outstanding Motion Picture -1944 ).

“Casablanca”: easy to enter, but much harder to leave, especially if you're wanted by the Nazis. Such a man is Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), whose only hope is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical American who sticks his neck out for no one - especially Victor's wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), the ex-lover who broke his heart. Ilsa offers herself in exchange for Laszlo's transport out of the country and bitter Rick must decide what counts more - personal happiness or countless lives hanging in the balance.

About Warner Bros. Digital Distribution
Warner Bros. Digital Distribution (WBDD) oversees the electronic distribution of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group’s content through Video-On-Demand, Pay-Per-View, Electronic Sell-Through and Subscription Video-On-Demand via cable, satellite, online and mobile channels.   WBDD also distributes content through third party digital retailers and licensees.  A worldwide industry leader since its inception, WBDD also manages the Studio’s E-commerce sites that include WBShop.com and WarnerArchive.com.  Twitter: @WBDigitalDist

Buy the Casablanca 70th Anniversary 3-Disc Blu ray+DVD Combo Edition at Amazon.com

Academy Award(s)® and Oscar(s)® are both registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Blu-ray Disc™ and Blu-ray™ and the logos are the trademarks of Blu-ray Discs Association

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Anchor Bay Entertainment takes the ride in "BLACK LIMOUSINE" coming to DVD July 10th

IN HOLLYWOOD SOME PEOPLE TAKE THE RIDE...OTHERS HAVE TO DRIVE

"BLACK LIMOUSINE" STARRING DAVID ARQUETTE AND BIJOU PHILLIPS

Rolls out on DVD July 10 from Anchor Bay Entertainment


BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Tinseltown isn’t always as bright as it may seem. Anchor Bay Entertainment is proud to announce the release of Black Limousine on DVD July 10, 2012.  Directed by the founder of Cineville Carl Colpaert (G.I. Jesus), this surreal Hollywood story created a buzz on the film festival circuit, winning the audience award at the Santa Cruz Film Festival. Black Limousine is stylish and unique with a top-notch cast and memorable performances by David Arquette (Scream 4, “Dancing with the Stars”), Bijou Phillips (Almost Famous), Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill Vol. 1), Nicholas Bishop (“Body of Proof”) and Lin Shaye (There’s Something About Mary).

Jack MacKenzie (Arquette), once a hot Hollywood composer, has fallen on hard times.  Having resorted to taking a draining job as a limo driver just to make ends meet, he is a broken man, trying to put his life back together by picking up the pieces of a shattered family and career. Jack’s sprit and sanity have been crushed by the loss of his first daughter and he has turned to alcohol to deal with the grief.

Jack catches a break when he is assigned to drive A-List Actor Thomas Bower (Bishop) back-and-forth to the set of his latest film, during which time the two build a friendship of sorts. Bower remembers the score Jack had previously written for a science fiction epic, and appears interested and willing to help him get re-established. Jack also strikes up a sexually charged relationship with Erica Long (Phillips), a model and singer, who is struggling with demons of her own.

Battling his repressed memories, depression and addiction, Jack starts to lose control of the one thing he values most - his mind. He must now pull himself together before something goes horribly wrong. However, in the city of dreams…life isn’t always at it seems.

With powerful performances and thought-provoking themes, Black Limousine will bring to mind the recent critical hit Drive. Here is a beautiful and haunting examination of a man driven to the brink of madness, dreamlike and harrowing; Black Limousine is truly an unforgettable ride.

Black Limousine DVD
Street Date:                 July 10, 2012
Pre-book:                    June 13, 2012
Cat. #:                         AF25057
UPC:                           0 1313 25057-9 4
Run Time:                   110 minutes
Rating:                         Rated R
SRP:                           $22.98
Format:                       Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio:                          Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                     English

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

TARA ROAD -- movie review by porfle




(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2005.)

"Sometimes you must lose your life to find a new one."  Oh, brother...

What do you do when your life falls apart around you?  Well, if you're Marilyn (Andie MacDowell), a well-to-do New England wife who's feeling estranged from her husband after their teenaged son gets killed during his 15th birthday party, and Ria (Olivia Williams), an Irish mother of two who just found out that not only is she pregnant again, but so is her husband's mistress...

...you swap houses.  Yes, that's the gimmick that TARA ROAD (2005) uses to take these two hapless women on an emotional journey of self-discovery and all that stuff.  After a handy plot contrivance, Marilyn ends up in Ria's house in Dublin and Ria leaves her kids with her cheating husband and his girlfriend and whisks off to New England to move into Marilyn's house.  But they're not just swapping houses, they're swapping lives.  And learning about themselves...and growing, and...excuse me, I think I'm gonna barf...

First of all, Ria's a wuss.  Her husband Danny (Iain Glen) makes his shocking announcement--you know, about his girlfriend being pregnant and whatnot--and all she can do is desperately clutch at him and practically beg him to stay with her.  Marilyn, on the other hand, is a cold fish who has a faithful husband who loves her, yet she rejects him because she's so wrapped up in her own self-pity.  In one early scene, she's so upset about the loss of their son that she even knocks her glass of iced tea off the table while sitting by the pool.  So these two women damn well better learn about themselves and grow and all that stuff during this movie, or I'm really gonna be ticked off.

When we see them wandering through each other's houses, it's supposed to be a meaningful "moment", judging from the soft string music and the solemnity on their faces.  For some reason, going through each other's underwear drawers and tripping over each other's kid's toys is meant to be a deeply emotional experience for them and us, although I didn't really get why.

Of course, a big part of the story will be the alternately zany and heartwarming culture shock that is generated when Ria and Marilyn encounter each other's friends.  Ria discovers that Marilyn has the standard "brassy broad" gal pal who seems to constantly flounce from one of these movies to the next--the frizzy-haired, obnoxious fashion disaster, Carlotta ("Ab Fab" script editor Ruby Wax).  There's also a funny black friend named Heidi (Jia Francis), because rich white women always have a funny black friend.  Ria is invaded by them upon her arrival and is flustered and nonplussed by their raucous American behavior since people aren't brassy and obnoxious and black in dear ol' Dublin, doon't ya know, and they get tipsy and have girl-talk and it's all just so delightful!  Not.

Meanwhile, Marilyn is ransacking her way through Ria's private photographs and looking wistful as sad music plays on the soundtrack.  At this point I have absolutely no emotional investment in this character, yet I'm supposed to be all weepy over her.  Actually, I can't stand her.  Anyway, she encounters Ria's restauranteur-gardener friend, Colm (Stephen Rea) and her other friend Rosemary (Maria Doyle Kennedy), and they're so low-key and sweetly encouraging and relaxing to be around--just what poor Marilyn needs, bless her heart.  Various other people flit in and out of her vicinity and talk Irish at her, which she finds enchanting.  It's as though she's stumbled into some kind of Tolkien fantasy full of playful hobbits.

I check the DVD time and find that only one-fourth of the movie has elapsed so far.  Oh...my...god.

Ria meets Marilyn's brother-in-law Andy (Jean-Marc Barr) and they hit it off because he's one of those fantasy chick-flick guys who is soft-spoken, wimpily handsome, and talks about his feelings yet knows when to listen, so it looks like a romance is in the offing.  I can't believe I'm talking about this stuff.  Please shoot me.

Did I mention that Marilyn has two giddy, flamboyantly-gay friends who supply comedy relief by queening it up whenever they're onscreen?  Of course she does.  Ria cute-meets them and gets a job cooking in their bakery.  Then she goes out with Andy for a romantic, emotional dinner that ends with Irish coffee by the pool.  She's finding herself!

Things get more complicated when Danny's business goes bust and he starts running around doing desperate things and turning into even more of a bad guy.  And Rosemary is revealed to be not quite the good friend to Ria that she was thought to be, so Ria must learn to be more assertive and self-reliant at last.  While all this is going on, Marilyn begins to inch her way back to happiness when she's reunited with her husband and finally learns to accept her son's death.  And yes, both women grow in the process.  Hallelujah!

This movie wants to take us on an emotional rollercoaster ride but it's more like getting stuck in traffic with a carload of people you can't stand and nothing on the radio but Barry Manilow.  The story is dotted with scenes meant to elicit instant reactions from us without really trying--a crying scene here, a party scene there, another plot complication, more crying--like a bad painter dabbing colorful flower petals on a bland still life. 

It's all deadly slow and lifeless, and when it was over, I felt like I'd just been released from bondage.  If you have a high tolerance for boring chick-flicks you may enjoy TARA ROAD, but it's definitely not my cup of Sleepytime Herbal Tea.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON -- movie review by porfle




(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2005.)


"It was my fate to become famous. And, uh...also to be damned."

That's just one of the enlightening statements made by the severely whacked-out title character in the kaleidescope of self-revelation that is writer-director Jeff Feuerzeig's THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005). As a study of someone who leads an extraordinary life outside society's norms it's as fascinating a journey as FORREST GUMP, ZELIG, BEING THERE, LUST FOR LIFE, or any of a number of films about individuals whose mental "differences" are what make them great artists or noteworthy people.

But whereas those were fictional (or fictionalized) accounts, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON is a documentary, and is all the more interesting because this guy is real. That's right, he's really out there somewhere. And I do mean "out there."

Which kinda makes me wonder about myself, because up until the point where Daniel starts exhibiting disturbing symptoms of manic depression, his life story is one I could strongly identify with. He grew up loving comics, cartooning, and music, and was the family jokester who always had his home movie camera whirring away.


But as time went by, it looked as though he would never learn just how to straighten up, buckle down, get a job, and begin to lead a more "well-rounded life" (his mother's phrase during one of her frequent harangues, one of many things Daniel recorded on his tape recorder over the years and an inspiration for an early home movie in which he portrays her as a crazed, rolling pin-wielding harpy).

Although art was a consuming passion, music began to dominate his interests, and he became a prolific songwriter who taped dozens of songs as he sat at the piano and banged out the accompaniment. He gradually imagined that he was actually recording albums on tape, for which he decorated the covers with his own cartoon characters.

Wow...so far, this is my life story, too, except my mom wasn't on my back all the time (although my dad griped at me for not getting a job and for having such a flaky, non-"Dukes Of Hazzard"-type sense of humor). Daniel was even more of a no-account college student than me--I was able to fake my way to graduation--and soon returned home, where the signs of his manic depression began to manifest themselves more and more overtly over time. (This is where our life stories begin to part company--I was never manic).


As his behavior became stranger, he was sent to live with his brother, who evicted him soon after. Then he lived with his sister for awhile before buying a moped and running off to join the carnival. One day a large, hostile carny knocked him senseless for taking too long in the port-o-potty, and Daniel wandered into the nearest Church Of Christ for help while the carnival left town. It sounds like I'm making this stuff up, but I'm not.

Anyway, he eventually ended up in Austin, Texas, where he conned his way into a taping of MTV's "The Cutting Edge", which was covering Austin's burgeoning music scene, and performed some of his songs for a national audience. He soon became a cult figure in Austin and word of his unusual talent began to spread even as his mental problems increased to the point where the people who had to deal with him on a daily basis began to have him committed to mental institutions. Somewhere along the line he started dropping acid, which was pretty much the genesis of his lifelong battle against Satan and the forces of evil.

If this were a SPINAL TAP-type mockumentary instead of one of the most entertaining and compelling documentaries I've ever seen, it couldn't be any more far out. Thanks to Daniel's overriding compulsion to tape-record his thoughts on a regular basis, we get to hear much of the story in his own voice at the time it was happening, which is augmented by dozens of his freaky cartoons that serve to illustrate his mental state at the time.

There are also interviews with many of his friends and associates, including Jeffrey Tartakov, the guy who tried to be his manager for several years and even got Elektra Records and Atlantic Records into a bidding war over him--while he was still in a mental institution--before Daniel fired him for no discernible reason. He finally signed a contract with Atlantic and released an album, "Fun", which sold 5,800 copies. (He was dropped less than two years later.)

His parents also provide many of their own bittersweet recollections and insights, including the time his father was flying him home after a triumphant appearance before thousands of fans in Austin and Daniel suddenly turned off the engine, took over the controls, and sent their small plane spiralling headlong toward earth. His father managed to get back into the pilot's seat and crash-land in a forest. Daniel, who thought he had just accomplished something marvelous, was proud of himself.


In addition to tape recordings and interviews, there is a lot of home movie and video footage to keep this from being anything but a talking-head movie. We get to see Daniel's ill-fated trip to New York to record with Sonic Youth. We see him performing passionately before admiring crowds from Austin to Stockholm, always with the same cracking voice and awkward guitar-strumming that somehow manages to captivate people. And we see him going farther and farther off the deep end, his delusional behavior always returning to sabotage everything that goes right in his life.

Daniel is now an overweight, gray-haired, middle-aged man who lives with his parents in Waller, Texas. He reminds me of a Syd Barrett who never gave up his music. In fact, after being discovered one day by a local rocker who was blown away to find the legendary Daniel Johnston living in his very own home town (he was being attacked by dogs while walking), Daniel is now the frontman for an honest-to-goodness rock group called Danny And The Nightmares.

As for Daniel's music--well, he still sounds to me like a guy singing and playing badly in front of his bedroom mirror and pretending to be performing for an admiring crowd. Which I, myself, might have done a time or two over the years. Only he isn't pretending--he's really doing it, and his songs display a cockeyed lyrical talent that is often surprisingly poignant.

It's as though the patron saint of guys who sing in front of the mirror took pity on him and made all his musical dreams come true (well, a lot of them, anyway), which is really an amazing sight to behold. Only Daniel would argue that it was Satan who granted him musical fame, which is why he is damned, which is why he spends so much time and effort preaching to whoever will listen and warning them to turn away from evil.

"Don't play cards with Satan, he'll deal you an awful hand," one of his songs tells us. But I don't think he's damned at all. Like a somewhat more benevolent Norman Bates, he just goes a little crazy sometimes.

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Read our review of THE ANGEL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON: LIVE AT THE UNION CHAPEL



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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

JULES VERNE'S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND -- movie review by porfle



Never having read the original novel (I have to save some of the classics to help occupy my golden years) I can't point out all the ways in which JULES VERNE'S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (2010) differs from its source material.  For Verne's sake, though, I'll assume that most of the dumber stuff is new.

This SyFy Original Movie starts off during the last days of the Civil War, with a group of Union soldiers escaping their rebel captors in a hot-air balloon which then gets sucked into a time vortex within the Bermuda Triangle and deposited on the titular island.  I sense one or two deviations from Verne already.

We can tell which ones are the Confederate soldiers because they all have googly-eyed hick expressions, holler "Woooo!" and "Yee-haa!", and are either bad guys like Pencroft (J.D. Evermore) or deserters like Tom Ayrton (Lawrence Turner), both of whom also end up on the balloon.  Lochlyn Munro's Captain Cyrus Harding of Boston, on the other hand, is Mr. Wonderful. 

Cyrus' men are the semi-wonderful Neb (Edrick Browne), a black soldier who trades racial sneer-downs with Pencroft, and comical derp Private Herbert (Caleb Michaelson).  Pruitt Taylor Vince appears briefly as roguish journalist Gideon Spilett, but his character manages to fall out of the balloon right after takeoff. 

This being SyFy, I was expecting a menagerie of giant bad-CGI creatures to be roaming the island and was disappointed to find our heroes menaced only by a bunch of guys in hairy monster suits.  There is an oversized octopus who attacks anyone trying to leave by boat, but we see only its undulating tentacles (which seem to be a SyFy specialty). 

Things get relatively interesting when a small airplane flies out of the time vortex and crashes, the only survivors being Julia "Jules" Fogg (Gina Holden) and her incredibly annoying kid sister Abby (Susie Abromeit), whom I desperately wanted to see get eaten by, well, anything. 

They're from the year 2012 so they update the olden-times guys on things such as who won the "Civil War", who our current President is (Neb gets to say "neener-neener" to Pencroft over this one), and how being a rock star has nothing to do with actual rocks.  Jules is clearly intended for our man Cyrus romance-wise, while Abby seems to prefer Neb at first and then switches to Herbert since they have more in common, like stupidity.

Eventually they all stumble onto a mansion which turns out to belong to none other than Captain Nemo of the super-submarine Nautilus (William Morgan Sheppard), who has lived there since he created the time vortex and got sucked into it himself along with his now-dead crew.  Sheppard, recently seen as the stuffy Vulcan Science Academy dude in STAR TREK, is a distinguished actor with an impressive history, but here he just seems tired and not very excited by the whole thing.

About halfway through the movie, Jules finally notices the enormous active volcano right outside their doorstep, which is currently threatening to erupt and kill them all.  This adds an element of urgency to the meandering story (at around 91 minutes, this movie has a lot of time to kill) and gives the characters something to do as they endeavor to rebuild their balloon and power it with Nemo's electrical engine. 

With not a whole lot going on during much of its running time, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND could have benefited from some of those hokey CGI monsters SyFy churns out like sausage.  At the very least, they might've evoked pleasant memories of the Ray Harryhausen version with its awesome stop-motion creations.   

Production values are meager while technically the film is barely a cut above Timothy Hinds' infamous H.G. WELLS' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.  Mark Sheppard (who in flashback plays the younger Nemo to his father's elder one) directs as though he's doing a longer segment of "Battlestar Galactica", and the same style that works for a television episode just doesn't carry over well to a feature film.  The doggedly generic musical score doesn't help. 

The DVD from Green Apple Entertainment is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  I watched a screener so I can't comment on extras if any.

Bland and at times inept, JULES VERNE'S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND still manages to be mildly entertaining if you happen to be in a particularly undemanding mood.  But the unresolved ending, which leaves things open for either a sequel or yet another "lost in time" TV series, may have you wanting to eject the DVD and Frisbee it into the nearest waste vortex.   


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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

THE WOMAN KNIGHT OF MIRROR LAKE -- DVD review by porfle



What I first thought was going to be a dry-as-dust biopic quickly turns into a superb action-drama that gives equal time to both the heartrendingly emotional and pulse-poundingly exciting aspects of the life of Qiu Jin, THE WOMAN KNIGHT OF MIRROR LAKE (2011).

Huang Yi, who looks really sharp in a mannish jacket and tie, gives a stirring performance as a woman in early 20th-century China whose life becomes dedicated to rebelling against two things: the systematic oppression of women, and the Qing Dynasty's grievous mismanagement of the government. 

The young Qiu Jin is seen cutely refusing to have her feet bound and then being educated along with her brother in everything from literature to martial arts.  When reminded of her future marriage and subjugation to her prospective husband, her reaction lets us know that things aren't going to work out that way. 

Leaving the poor tradition-bound sap and her two children to attend school in Japan, Qiu Jin's fierce campaign for gender equality is soon eclipsed by a different revolutionary fervor when she meets Xu Xilin (Dennis To, Huang Yi's co-star in THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN, also directed by Herman Yau) and joins his band of political warriors who are planning the violent overthrow of the government. 

The film's furious fight action gets underway right off the bat with the group's assassination attempt on an elderly governor, prompting fierce and meticulously choreographed combat between police and rebels within two schools that serve as their training ground. 

After Xu Xilin is defeated the governor's lieutenant Liu Xiao Ming goes after Qiu Jin and her students, the result being a no-holds-barred fight sequence (the first of many) involving fists, swords, guns, wires, and things that explode.  More bloody, action-packed skirmishes will occur throughout the rest of the film as well.

Qiu Jin's capture and subsequent mockery of a trial, during which she is brutally tortured, evokes memories of THE PASSION OF JOAN D'ARC and forms the framework for well-integrated flashbacks of her life up to that point.  (Anthony Wong of EXILEDand THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR appears as a sympathetic but powerless magistrate.) 

There's a deft counterbalance between the violent and more tender moments, with Huang Yi aptly conveying Qiu Jin's personal anguish over the life she could have had as well as the quiet fervor of her revolutionary spirit.  Qiu Jin is so unassumingly righteous in her beliefs that it's no more shocking to see her engaged in a blazing gunfight with police in the streets than weeping over her decision to disappear from her family's lives. 

As the film heads inexorably toward Qiu Jin's conviction and execution, the flashbacks bring us back to where we began, only this time the armed uprising is seen in all the thrilling detail that director Herman Yau can muster as armed police lay siege to Xu Xilin's training school. 

The prolonged hand-to-hand fight between Xu Xilin and Liu Xiao Ming (an intense Xiong Xinxin) as the battle rages around them is a particular highlight, one of the most furious I've seen in a long time and filled with a wide variety of martial arts styles, weaponry, and even some semi-hokey wirework.  Not even all this action, however, can overpower the emotional impact that the story manages to convey as it draws to a close and we learn Qiu Jin's fate.

The 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Funimation is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround in Mandarin and English.  Subtitles are in English.  The sole extra is a "making of" featurette. 

While I have no idea of how historically accurate THE WOMAN KNIGHT OF MIRROR LAKE is, I sorta doubt if the real-life Qiu Jin could fly around like Darth Maul and fight off hordes of armed attackers singlehanded.  It does make for a more interesting biopic, though.  And aside from all the other good things about the film, Huang Yi's exciting performance alone makes this one worth watching again. 


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Monday, May 7, 2012

DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER -- DVD review by porfle




From director Fumihiko Sori (TO, VEXILLE) comes the CGI/anime epic DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER, a USA-Japan collaboration which takes Sori's familiar visual style from the hard sci-fi of TO into the realm of sword and sorcery.

When Funimation came calling with a proposal to do the videogame "Dragon Age" as an anime, Bioware creative director Mike Laidlaw was rightfully enthusiastic about the idea.  The result is a dark, mystical adventure filled with magic, dragons, knights, and other fun elements along with a story and characters that are both exciting and involving.

A prologue brings us newbies up to speed pretty quick.  In the land of Orlais, the Divine One rules along with her priestesses known as The Chantry.  A force of knights called the Templars keep order, but it's the stalwart Seekers who guard against corruption in the ranks of the citizenry, military, and ruling elite. 

Those who still practice magic, the Mages, are split into two groups--Circle Mage, who are loyal to the Chantry, and Blood Mage, the rebellious evildoers who abuse their magical powers.  When Blood Mage leader Frenic kidnaps a young Mage girl named Avexis who can control animals, it's part of a plot to use dragons to attack the Ten Year Gathering when all members of the Chantry will be in one place. 

It's up to apprentice seeker Cassandra and Circle Mage member Galyan to find out the truth behind all this and expose the conspiracy of corrupt insiders, but Cassandra's utter hatred of all Mages complicates their accidental partnership.  Cassandra, of course, is a knockout--what fictional warrior woman isn't?--and a fierce fighter, but it's fun watching her discover how much she still has to learn about politics, combat, and human relationships.  Her interplay with the kindhearted Galyan and their eventual friendship are nicely handled. 

When they're framed for murder and treason, Cassandra and Galyan find themselves battling both Templars and Blood Mages in a series of visually stunning battle setpieces, some of which involve monstrous trolls and golems.  Quieter moments allow for some dramatic character interaction that adds depth to Jeffrey Scott's story.

The finale during the Ten Year Gathering is a spectacular sequence in which the two main characters must escape the executioner's axe in time to protect the Chantry from a gaggle of enormous firebreathing dragons bent on destruction.  Fumihiko Sori's soaringly cinematic handling of this thrilling sequence is impressive as are the epic-scale set design and effects.

Fans of TO will appreciate the character design here.  Again, it's a pleasing blend of CGI mock-reality and comic-art style that's neither too realistic (avoiding the "uncanny valley" effect) nor too cartoonish-looking.  Motion capture is used very well and skillful rendering of facial details allows for some very subtly expressive characters.  Vocal performances in both English and Japanese language versions are good.  

The 3-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Funimation contains the English language version on both DVD and Blu-Ray format and the Japanese language version on DVD. Image is 1.77:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of a 20-minute "making of" featurette, a tour of Bioware by Mike Laidlaw, production sketches, and trailers for other Funimation releases.

What first seems like a dense, tortured tale that would only appeal to gamers turns out to be an enjoyably accessible adventure with plenty of visual and dramatic appeal.  I've already come across some more hardcore fan reviews comparing it unfavorably with this or that, or pointing out ways in which the animation, voice acting, etc. fall short of the norm, but as for me DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER is just plain fun.


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