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Monday, October 29, 2012

"Method Of Madness Of Jerry Lewis" -- from ANCHOR BAY Entertainment on DVD January 22



ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT BRINGS YOU THE TRUE KING OF COMEDY

"Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis" On DVD January 22, 2013



On January 22nd Anchor Bay Entertainment releases Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis on DVD. This hilarious and insightful new documentary that premiered on the Encore channel last year and was an official selection at a dozen international film festivals, including Cannes, examines the career of one of the nuttiest and most innovative comedic minds of all time.

From his early days on the road with vaudevillian parents, to his amazing rise to fame with partner Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis has lived an amazing life and has become one of the most influential people in the world of cinema and silliness. The SRP is $19.98. Pre-book date is December 26th.

Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis is a contemporary look at a true living legend through in-depth and candid interviews with Jerry Lewis, never-before-seen film footage and contributions from some of Lewis’s most famous devotees.

Director/Producer Gregg Barson explores the superstar comedian from a fresh perspective. Barson is the only filmmaker granted unlimited behind-the-scenes access to Jerry Lewis, resulting in unfiltered reflection on an 80-year career in show business. Plus, travel the world with the ever-vibrant and charismatic man himself as he continues his comedic reign at the ripe, young age of 85.

So join Alec Baldwin, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Carl Reiner, Quentin Tarantino, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Carol Burnett, Richard Lewis, Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Woody Harrelson, Richard Belzer and more, as they look back on the classic days of Hollywood movies and pay tribute to a talented actor, writer, director, producer, singer and dancer, who changed the world of comedy thanks to his creativity, vision and pure audacity!

Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis – DVD
Street Date:                  January 22, 2013
Pre-book:                     December 26, 2012
Cat. #:                          DV59952
UPC:                           01313259952680
Run Time:                    116 minutes
Rating:                          Not Rated By MPAA/TV-PG
SRP:                            $19.98
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Audio:                          Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                      English and French Subtitles for the Deaf & Hearing Impaired


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"Ghost Hunters Academy" -- IMAGE Entertainment Presents TV's #1 Paranormal Franchise Spin-Off Series On DVD January 15th!



“GHOST HUNTERS ACADEMY”

THE #1 PARANORMAL FRANCHISE ON TELEVISION RETURNS WITH HIT SPIN-OFF SERIES


On January 15th, Image Entertainment leads you to the world of haunted dining halls and dorm rooms with “Ghost Hunters Academy.” This new adventure features a group of aspiring ghost hunters fresh from college exploring some of the world's most haunted locations. Led by veteran ghost hunters and TAPS members Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango, “Ghost Hunters Academy” comes to DVD for an SRP of $24.98. Pre-book is December 18th.

The new recruits tackle new paranormal hotspots as well as favorite old haunts from the “Ghost Hunters” series. If they make the grade, the Academy members may be invited to investigate alongside the Ghost Hunters teams. If they don't, they'll be sent packing. Who will prove to be the worthiest paranormal investigator in this exciting elimination competition?

This special collection includes all 12 memorable episodes from “Ghost Hunters Academy,” plus never-before-seen bonus footage, and is a must-have for any paranormal fan!

Ghost Hunters Academy features all-new investigations:

• USS North Carolina Museum
• Eastern State Penitentiary
• Essex County Hospital
• Waverly Hills Sanatorium
• Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
• Mark Twain House
• The Stanley Hotel
• And more!


Ghost Hunters Academy DVD
Street Date:                 January 15, 2013
Pre-Book:                    December 18, 2012
UPC #:                        014381793420
Catalog:                       ID7934PGDVD
Audio:                         Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles:                     N/A
Retail Price:                 $24.98
Genre:                         Television, Special Interest, Mystery / Suspense, Ghosts, Haunted Houses, Myths / Legends, History / Events, Documentary
Rating:                        Not Rated
Run Time:                   528 minutes
Year:                          2009
Special Features:        Never Before Seen Bonus Footage



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Saturday, October 27, 2012

EVEN THE RAIN -- DVD review by porfle



Sometimes a movie that I'm not all that interested in watching at first becomes one of my most memorable viewing experiences of recent years.  EVEN THE RAIN (2010) is all that and more.

A Spanish film crew arrives in the Bolivian jungle to make a revisionist historical drama about Christopher Columbus and his enslavement of the "Indians" in the name of the Church, the Queen, and Spain in general.  The filmmakers, led by idealistic young director Sebastian (Gael García Bernal) and penny-pinching producer Costa (Luis Tosar), initially fail to see the irony in their own treatment of the Bolivian natives as they take advantage of them by using them as extras and laborers for a mere two dollars per day.

Another parallel lies in the way a foreign water company moves in to claim sole water rights in the entire area (including "even the rain" that falls from the sky), forcing the natives to do without and even shutting down their attempts to build a ditch to bring water to their villages.  Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), whose natural assertiveness and courage prompted Sebastian to hire him for a lead role in his film, finds himself living the part in real life as he leads his people in an increasingly violent rebellion against the water company and, eventually, the combined forces of the police and militia. 

EVEN THE RAIN starts out fairly low-key and takes a while to get wound up--in fact, I had no idea that this "diary of a film" would eventually evolve into such a highly-charged and deeply emotional political thriller.  The story focuses primarily on Sebastian's film at first, as its world-weary star, Antón (Karra Elejalde of TIMECRIMES), immerses himself in the role of Columbus during rehearsals.  Hints of the past exploitation of the "Indians" begin to emerge in the present as both Sebastian and Costa take unfair advantage of the Bolivians as a cheap and easily manipulated labor resource. 

It isn't until their key indigenous actor Daniel becomes the leader of the growing revolt against the water company that the filmmakers take an interest in the villagers' plight, and then only in relation to how it affects their project.  The first street violence occurs offscreen as cast and crew rub shoulders with local government and begin to feel pangs of social conscience.  "People earning two dollars a day can't afford a 300% increase in their water bill," Sebastian gently chides one city official.  "Isn't two dollars a day what you're paying your extras?" the man responds.

Since Daniel's presence is crucial to finishing their film, Sebastian and Costa become more and more involved in keeping the rebel leader out of jail and in one piece as the violence heats up.  While Sebastian remains obsessed with the project, Costa gradually feels shamed by his attitude and becomes increasingly sympathetic toward Daniel and his family, to the point where he's willing to sacrifice everything to help them. 

This is where EVEN THE RAIN kicks into high gear and draws the viewer into gripping political suspense reminiscent of such films as THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY and THE KILLING FIELDS but on a smaller, more personal level.  Direction by Icíar Bollaín is confident but restrained, with excellent performances all around and a moving score by Alberto Iglesias.  The film-within-a-film sequences we see as Sebastian and company labor over their "Columbus" movie are so well done that you may find yourself wishing you could see the entire finished product. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 Spanish soundtrack.  Subtitles are in English, Spanish, and French.  The sole extra is a trailer.

EVEN THE RAIN starts out slow and gradually gains in power until it is thoroughly involving, with an emotionally resonant ending that's both haunting and cathartic.  It's a film I won't soon forget.


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Friday, October 26, 2012

CARRIE (2002) -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2007 at Bumscorner.com.  Yet another remake, this time starring Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role, will be hitting the big screen in the near future.  Those who haven't seen either the 1976 or 2007 version should be advised that spoilers abound.)


A remake of a classic film is like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're gonna to get.  (I just made that up.)

Some people hate the very idea of remaking a movie which they feel should be regarded as a unique work with no need for reinterpretation, and bemoan the dearth of new and original ideas that spawns so many remakes in the first place. Others contend that a remake doesn't "replace" the original, so what's the problem if someone simply makes a new version?

I fall about halfway between the two camps. For example, I thought the remake of THE FOG was pretty bad, and wholly unnecessary, and the less said about Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO, the better. But I liked the new DAWN OF THE DEAD and THIRTEEN GHOSTS. Cronenberg's THE FLY is one of my favorite horror movies, as is John Carpenter's THE THING.

If the story and overall approach are different enough to warrant interest on their own, and the reinterpretation of the previous film contains original ideas and fresh ways of looking at the subject, then a remake can definitely be a worthwhile companion, or supplement, to the original. Which is how I feel about the 2002 TV-movie CARRIE, a remake of Brian DePalma's morbid masterwork from 1976.


Seeing the used DVD for sale at Blockbuster, with a cover photo of Angela Bettis in her blood-soaked prom dress, piqued my curiosity. How could anyone pull off a remake of such a well-known and popular film as the original version?

So I picked it up and gave it a whirl, not really expecting much. It wasn't long before I could see that this is a very different take on the original, with enough differences in story and style to make it worth watching on its own.

The basic story is the same--Carrie White (Bettis), a painfully shy high school nobody with an overbearingly religious mother, is endlessly tormented by the popular kids. When her first menstrual period kicks in one day in the shower after gym class, the clueless Carrie, whose mother never told her that this would happen to her someday, thinks she's dying and freaks out.

The other girls have a field day taunting and humiliating her, and later on her mother, Margaret (Patricia Clarkson), tells her that her sinful thoughts and deeds have brought on this "curse of blood" and drags her kicking and screaming into a closet to pray for deliverance. But Carrie merely takes out her hidden stash of teen magazines and dreams of being like a "normal" teenager.

Carrie's sympathetic gym teacher, Miss Desjarden (Rena Sofer), subjects the rest of the girls to a hellish week of detention for their treatment of Carrie, and one of the more popular girls, Chris (Emilie de Ravin), who gets banished from the upcoming prom for her refusal to attend detention or show any remorse whatsoever, plots revenge against Carrie.


Meanwhile, Sue Snell (Kandyse McClure), who feels sorry for Carrie and regrets her bullying, enlists her handsome jock boyfriend Tommy Ross (Tobias Mehler) to ask Carrie to the prom and give her an evening she'll never forget.

But when Chris finds out about this, her revenge takes shape. She gets her juvenile delinquent boyfriend Billy Nolan (Jesse Cadotte) to help her slaughter a pig and drain its blood. Then she plots to have Tommy and Carrie elected King and Queen of the prom, and while they're standing on the stage receiving their accolades, Chris will pull a rope that will overturn a bucket hidden in the rafters, drenching Carrie with the pig's blood.

What she doesn't know, however, is that Carrie has been exhibiting an increasingly powerful ability to move things with her mind--"telekinesis", Carrie discovers after an internet search--and this final humiliation will unleash her powers upon everyone at the prom, with devastating results.

Bryan Fuller's teleplay offers a fresh look at the story by drawing more heavily from Stephen King's novel than the original version. Most of it is told in flashback as survivors of the prom are questioned by Detective John Mulcahey (David Keith, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, FIRESTARTER), and it's interesting to see how the various versions of events begin to fall into place even as the actual cause of the prom disaster remains a baffling mystery. All he knows is that everyone involved seems to believe that it all has something to do with Carrie.

Another nice touch from the novel, which DePalma ultimately had to scrub from his version, is a scene showing Carrie as a little girl, curiously asking the sunbathing young woman next door about her breasts. ("Mommy calls them her 'dirty pillows', says Carrie, "and she says good girls don't get them.") While being punished by her wrathful mother for consorting with the "slut", Carrie unintentionally wills the house to be bombarded by flaming meteorites that she has called down from the sky (stones in the novel), as shutters slam open and shut and furniture crashes through the windows.

Later, as the teenaged Carrie nervously paces the floor waiting for Tommy to arrive for their prom date, all the furniture in the house rises up and hovers over the floor, and when the doorbell rings it all comes down with a crash.

Director David Carson (STAR TREK:GENERATIONS) uses handheld, off-kilter camerawork throughout which distinguishes the film's visuals from DePalma's more classical style and effectively gives us a sense of the way Carrie sees things from her unstable viewpoint--her whole life seems to be a waking nightmare.

However, this quirky, off-balance look is also used for a lot of scenes that don't involve Carrie, so are we supposed to feel that the whole world is teetering on the verge of chaos? I think these scenes would've worked better if done in a more traditional style, to contrast with those involving Carrie.  Much of what happens after the prom, in fact, is shot in the latter style, as though the catharsis of the experience, despite the horror and guilt she suffers from it, has finally given Carrie a stabilizing inner focus.

Interestingly, there are a few scenes, such as Carrie's famous shower, where Carson seems to duplicate some of DePalma's camera angles. It's as though he's saying, "This can't be done any better, so I'm not going to do it differently just to be arbitrarily different."

The prom sequence itself is pretty fascinating, if only for a chance to see how Carson and Fuller manage to do something substantially different from the familiar DePalma version. It isn't nearly as formally constructed and shot, and there's less of a fairytale quality to Carrie's "dream date" with Tommy--we simply see a very happy girl in a more naturalistic environment, while Tommy is portrayed more as a regular nice guy than the ultimate Prince Charming.

But our joy at seeing Carrie's dreams finally coming true is the same, and the scene in which she gently brushes Tommy's shoulder so that she can tentatively place her cheek against it while they dance is heartbreaking.


When all hell finally breaks loose (and those of you who either haven't seen the first movie or read the book probably should skip a few paragraphs), the sequence is rife with new elements that help it stand on its own alongside DePalma's tour-de-force. A fantasy sequence showing Tommy and Carrie in a romantic spotlight dance as King and Queen of the prom is cut short when Carrie notices a drop of blood falling on her hand. She looks up, and--SPLAT--the pig's blood hits its mark, traumatizing her and setting loose her telekinetic powers.

A force wave ripples outward to push back the crowd, the doors slam shut, and people start to die. Old scores are settled, while the innocent suffer as well. Fires rage as columns of CGI flame rise toward the ceiling. Water from the overhead sprinklers and burst pipes begins to mix with electricity in very hazardous ways. Panicked teens crowded at the doorways and caught in the middle of the gym floor freeze in their tracks and die like flies.

The resourceful Miss Desjardin, meanwhile, has pried the cover off a ventilator shaft and is trying to get as many people off the killing floor and out of the gym as she can. The last one to go, she tips over the chair she's standing on and finds herself hanging from the shaft's opening over the electrified floor, inches from death.

Carrie begins her slow walk toward the front door as the water parts for her (for a TV-movie, some of the CGI is pretty good). As she leaves the gym, the camera rises to show the raging flames finally engulf the collapsing roof. It's here that we get to see something from the book that was left out of the original film--Carrie's destruction of most of the town itself during her long walk home.

Some of the CGI here is sorta fake-looking, but I went along with it. An overhead shot of the devastation is pretty cool, as is the fate of Chris and Billy as they have their final encounter with Carrie.

What ultimately happens between Carrie and her mother is different here than in DePalma's film (again, closer to the book), and not nearly as flamboyantly cinematic, but I liked it anyway, and the performance of Angela Bettis (MAY, TOOLBOX MURDERS) helped make it work. She's awesome as Carrie. Her fugue states while in the thrall of her telekinetic powers are very convincing, as is the helpless, yearning despair she shows while so utterly failing to fit in with her peers. She makes the character her own just as much as Sissy Spacek did before her, giving us a Carrie that in no way suffers in comparison.

One major difference is that Bettis' Carrie is more effectively shown to be much less willful in the use of her powers--when she awakens from her trance in a bathtub filled with blood-red water, she's horrified at what she might have done.

The rest of the cast is fine as well. With the spectre of Piper Laurie's amazingly over-the-top portrayal of Margaret White looming over her, Patricia Clarkson goes in the opposite direction and gives us the same character with a cold, unsettling calmness that belies the simmering religious fanaticism within. Kandyse McClure is a sassy, self-confident Sue Snell, while Emilie de Ravin is the equal of Nancy Allen as the spiteful bitch Chris.

While I prefer Betty Buckley as the gym teacher (goodness, was she ever hot), Rena Sofer is quite up to the task, especially when she's very aggressively putting the cowering Chris in her place. And Jesse Cadotte's Billy Nolan has a much more psychotic edge than John Travolta's somewhat likably-goofy portrayal.

Alas, as I discovered after seeing this for the first time, the TV-movie version of CARRIE was intended as, of all things, a pilot for a series, which necessitated a contrived, open ending that's different from both the '76 version and the novel. There's a half-hearted attempt at a final "shock" to match the one that had audiences of the original film jumping out of their seats, but it doesn't quite work, followed by the set-up for the series (which was never to be, due to low ratings for this movie).

It's nice in a way, I guess, to let Carrie have a more optimistic fate after all she's been through, but it would've been even nicer if the movie could have followed through with its own particular conviction to the very end. But this one fault notwithstanding, I can say, as a devoted fan of the original CARRIE, that this remake is a surprisingly solid effort and deserves to be seen and appreciated on its own terms.



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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle



Like most feature-length condensations of a TV series or serial, Funimation's ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR hits the high points of this action-packed Korean television series (which ran for one season in 2010) while skipping lightly over characterization. 

The film opens with a bang as agents of a Korean anti-terror task force called NTS (National Anti-Terrorist Service) infiltrate a high society party in full formal attire and end up pretty much blowing it all to hell.  Here we meet agents Lee Jung-Woo (Woo-sung Jung) and the beautiful but deadly Yoon Hye-In (Soo Ae, THE SWORD WITH NO NAME), who, in due course, will complicate their working relationship by falling in love.

But that's not the half of it, because Hye-In is a double agent also working for the bad guys--a terrorist group called Athena--and is also in love with their ruthless leader, Son Hyuk (Seung-won Cha).  To make matters worse, Hyuk has managed to become the head of an American intelligence group ostensibly working with NTS to prevent the kidnapping of nuclear scientist Dr. Kim, currently on the verge of completing work on a vital nuclear reactor.

With just shy of two hours' running time, ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR dispenses with the finer points of all this drama and concentrates on two things--the doomed romantic triangle between Jung-Woo, Son Hyuk, and the lovely Hye-In, and lots and lots of action.  The former tends to get a bit sappy at times, especially with Jung-Woo and Hye-In basking in the romance of Italy between assignments and a drawn-out ending which stops just short of being maudlin.  Soo Ae does play her tortured indecision between the two men quite well--even while she's kicking bad-guy ass, we sense her emotional anguish.  (All of the lead performances, in fact, are fine.)

And kick ass she does, with the able help of the film's three directors and its nimble editors piecing together rapid-fire camera shots into coherent fight scenes.  Direction is sleek and brisk, giving these made-for-TV action sequences a pleasing feature-film veneer that is enhanced by some exhilarating location photography.

Various suspenseful situations such as the kidnapping of the Korean president's daughter or Dr. Kim himself lead to extended battle sequences filled with bullets, explosions, and gritty hand-to-hand combat.  The film occasionally drags as we keep ending up back at NTS headquarters for numerous briefings and other exposition, but the next stimulating shoot 'em up, car stunt, or chase scene is never far away.  Needless to say, all of this leads up to Athena's final and most devastating terrorist attempt yet, with our heroes risking life and limb to stop it.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Funimation is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 Korean and English soundtracks (subtitles in English).  Extras consist of a trailer and previews of other Funimation titles.

There's nothing chintzy about this TV-derived feature, although the necessity of hitting the high points of an entire season's story arc (while understandably concentrating on the more action-oriented stuff) tends to render things a bit superficial.  Still, while not entirely memorable, ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR is quite an enjoyable way for fans of Bond-style espionage exploits to be entertained for a couple of hours.



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Monday, October 22, 2012

Two Times the Scary this Holiday Season! "Silent Night Deadly Night" Double Feature Collection on DVD December 4th from Anchor Bay Entertainment!



On December 4th, Anchor Bay Entertainment releases the remake of the 80s cult classic Silent Night, Deadly Night. But to celebrate the future, one must first honor the past...


The same day, Anchor Bay Entertainment opens the vaults to re-release the original 1984 Silent Night, Deadly Night, along with the 1987 sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night 2. For the horror fan, the “alternative Christmas movie” fan and everyone in-between, this deadly double feature arrives with a stocking-stuffer friendly SRP of $14.98 for the collection. Pre-book is November 7th.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Years ago, little Billy saw his parents murdered by an escaped killer wearing a Santa Claus costume. The experience left indelible scars on his psyche, made all the worse by his subsequent years languishing in an orphanage, where his life was made a living hell by the cruel and domineering Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin, Universal Soldier). With the help of the sympathetic Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick, Slaughterhouse-Five, Starting Over), the 18-year-old Billy (Robert Brian Wilson, “Search for Tomorrow”) secures a job at a toy store. But when the store’s regular Santa is injured, Billy is called upon to don the red suit. But as he does, he becomes a ticking time bomb. The traumatic memories of his parents’ murders, combined with the abuse he has suffered at the hands of the Mother Superior, propel him into a state of psychotic rage. Santa Claus is coming to town, and he’s got murder on his mind...

Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)

Billy's younger brother Ricky (Eric Freeman) follows in the family tradition of Christmas carnage. Psycho Santa is back...to deck the halls with chunks of bodies!


SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT COLLECTION DVD

Street Date:     December 4, 2012
Pre-Book:        November 7, 2012
Catalog #:        DV60078
UPC #:            0 1313 26007 8-9
Run Time:        173 minutes total
Silent Night, Deadly Night: 85 minutes / Silent Night, Deadly Night 2: 88 minutes
Rating:             Silent Night, Deadly Night: Not Rated / Silent Night, Deadly Night 2: R
SRP:                $14.98
Format:            1.85:1 / 16x9 (both films)
Audio:              Dolby Digital mono (both films)
Bonus:              Silent Night, Deadly Night: Audio Interview with Director Charles E. Sellier, Jr.; Poster & Still Gallery; Santa’s Stocking of Outrage;

                        Silent Night, Deadly Night 2: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Lee Harry, Writer Joseph H. Earle and Actor James Newman; Trailer; Poster & Still Gallery; Screenplay (DVD-ROM)

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gifts for Anglophiles and Fans of Mysteries and Dramas from Acorn/Athena--Latest Release Calendar


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

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


This Week/Oct. 16

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

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

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

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

Oct. 23

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

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

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

Nov. 6:

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

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

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

December 2012: No Releases

Coming in January/February 2013:

From Acorn: Midsomer Murders Set 21 (U.S. Debut), Trial & Retribution, Set 6 (U.S. Debut), Doctor Zhivago (re-issue) with Keira Knightley, Lillie (re-issue), Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime: The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries, Agatha Christie’s Poirot & Marple Fan Favorites Collection, Wodehouse Playhouse Complete (re-issue), Above Suspicion Set 2, Testimony of Two Men, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Garrow’s Law: The Complete Collection, and Maigret Complete Collection

From Athena: The Story of Math Collection, Bill Moyers: Becoming American, She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens, Missions That Changed the War: The Doolittle Raid, and Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers 25th Anniversary Edition

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

January – Oct. 4, 2012 DVDs:

From Acorn: THE FORSYTE SAGA COLLECTION starring Damian Lewis (Homeland, Band of Brothers); THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE (DVD Debut); SPECIAL BRANCH, SET 1 (U.S. Debut); NEW TRICKS, SEASON 8 (DVD Debut); MIDSOMER MURDERS: MAYHEM & MYSTERY FILES; VEXED, SERIES 1 (U.S. Debut); KIDNAP & RANSOM, Complete Series 1 & 2 (U.S. Debut); THOMAS & SARAH; THE COSTUME DRAMA CLASSIC COLLECTION; THE KENT CHRONICLES (DVD Debut); Agatha Christie’s POIROT, SERIES 6 (Blu-ray and DVD); HOLY FLYING CIRCUS (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Debut); DOC MARTIN, Series 5 (DVD Debut); LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE (long-awaited DVD Debut) starring Judi Dench; THE BEST OF FOYLE’S WAR; MIDSOMER MURDERS, Set 20 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray and DVD); GEORGE GENTLY, Series 4 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray and DVD); MONROE, Series 1 (U. S. Debut); MURDOCH MYSTERIES, Season 4 (U.S. Debut, DVD/Blu-ray); I, CLAUDIUS: 35th Anniversary Edition (bonus packed with many previously unavailable extras); BBC’s TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Now on Blu-ray); ABOVE SUSPICION, Set 1 (U.S. Debut); AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT Series 1-5 (Blu-ray debut, DVD); and POLDARK: The Complete Collection (Value-priced collection).

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

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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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

MAXIMUM CONVICTION -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle



"When two great Saints meet," Paul McCartney once said about John and Yoko, "it is a humbling experience."  Well, that may be, but when two great Steves meet--as do Seagall and Austin in the low-budget, high-octane action flick MAXIMUM CONVICTION (2012)--it's the bad guys who are not only humbled but thoroughly ass-kicked in every conceivable way, shape, and form.  I believe names are taken as well.

The story, which, at first, is vaguely reminiscent of "Assault on Precinct 13", begins in a military prison which is being decommissioned and its prisoners moved.  Among them are two women, one of whom (Steph Song as "Samantha") is a CIA courier claiming unjust persecution.  Seagal and Austin play former Special Forces operatives hired to oversee security during the move, which is pretty routine until a deadly force of mysterious mercenaries show up and start shooting up the place.  Their goal is to make off with Samantha and whatever secret information she carries, but they have to go through the two Steves to do it.

Hard to imagine this being the first time the two action icons have been paired in the same movie.  Pro wrestling star Austin, of course, lends his gruff, bulldog presence with all its droll machismo and deadpan good humor, while being totally convincing as a Black Ops veteran equally at home in a fistfight or a firefight.  His dialogue reflects a calm, no-nonsense attitude, as when he addresses his team: "They'll be going after him [Seagal].  We need to assess enemy strength, engage, kill, clear access for him.  He'll find us."

And then there's the overweight, scowling "Big Enchilada" himself.  Long past his lithe, whiplash-quick prime, former martial arts champion Seagal is now simply a cinematic force of nature who need only show up, mumble a few cool quips, and go through the motions of vanquishing opponents like a sledge hammer driving tent stakes into the ground.  When he does a fight scene these days it's more of a special-effects and editing trick than actual choreography, and is largely dependent on the skills of whatever director he happens to be working with at the time. 

But what the heck, it's Seagal--he carries more weight at this point by just who he is than what fancy moves he makes.  We know the bad guys are screwed simply because he exists, so the actual fight scenes, then, are just a formality.  His line delivery, as always, is often priceless in its unabashed bad-assedness.  As his character tells Samantha: "If you listen to me, do what I say, I'll kill them before they kill you, y'hear?"  Then he tells the other female prisoner, Charlotte (Aliyah O'Brien), whom he knows nothing about, to behave or "...I'll kill you just like I kill them.  We cool?"

While both Seagal and Austin bring to this bloody, bullet-riddled party just what's expected of them, so director Keoni Waxman holds up his end of the deal by surpassing his work on Seagal's THE KEEPER and the Austin vehicle HUNT TO KILL, which were mere practice runs for this film's sustained mayhem and suspense.  The tension never lets up as Waxman, with the aid of some impressive cinematography, keeps the viewer off guard and on edge during a lively series of hardbitten, violent action setpieces. 

Steph Song and Aliyah O'Brien are effective as the two female prisoners who, for some reason, are the targets of the invading mercenary force.  Old fave Michael Pare' (STREETS OF FIRE) is excellently cast as Blake, the ruthless leader of the bad guys--he's frightening when dealing with an uncooperative prison warden, and his final hand-to-hand clash with Seagal gives the film its most satisfying payoff.  Martial arts and soap opera star Bren Foster appears as part of Steve Austin's commando team and gets to engage in a little extreme fighting of his own.  A superb musical score by Michael Richard Plowman keeps the tension taut from start to finish.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 widescreen with 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a commentary with director Waxman and co-executive producer Binh Dang, plus brief featurettes about the making of the film and working with its two action icons along with interviews with Steve Austin and Bren Foster.

With "B" movies such as this, you never know whether you're going to get an above-average effort or a piece of junk.  But despite an unfortunately generic title, the slickly-made MAXIMUM CONVICTION is one of the best movies of its kind I've ever seen, especially for fans of the two Steves.  It's a minor league action flick that's major league fun.



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Monday, October 15, 2012

247°F -- DVD review by porfle



247°F is supposedly the temperature at which the human body turns into crepe paper or your head explodes or whatever.  But in film terms, 247°F (2011) is the point where a "predicament" thriller about people trapped in a sauna can become nap-inducingly dull.

The story is "based on true events", we're told, which is hardly a recommendation these days.  The titles sequence is effectively tragic--Jenna (Scout Taylor-Compton, HALLOWEEN) and husband Jamie are in a car crash directly after their wedding reception and Jamie is killed, while the bride is trapped with him in the smoking wreck for hours. 

Three years later she's still an emotional wreck, so her friend Renee (Christina Ulloa, "Charmed") invites her to a lakeside cabin for the weekend along with Renee's party animal boyfriend Michael (Michael Copon, "One Tree Hill") and his single buddy Ian (Travis Van Winkle, TRANSFORMERS).  Naturally, Jenna will be reticent to join in any of the fun, and it will fall upon the gentlemanly Ian to try and coax her out of her shell.

Michael, on the other hand, only wants to drink, get stoned, and have sex, so we've seen his character, his character's relationship with the Renee character, and their basic situations and dialogue a million times before.  In fact, up to the point where that sauna door closes for the last time you could stick just about anything you wanted after this by-the-numbers set-up, including a mad slasher, a supernatural menace, or a school of flesh-eating mutant catfish.

The cabin belongs to Michael's uncle Wade, who is played by "X-Men"'s Sabertooth, Tyler Mane, and co-directors Levan Bakhia and Beqa Jguburia enjoy making us wonder whether hulking yahoo Wade is a nice guy or a secret psycho who likes to trap people in his basement sauna and watch 'em bake.  Either way, after we're teased a few times by the inevitable prospect, that predatory sauna finally traps its prey and our protagonists start to simmer. 

Renee immediately starts to lose whatever mind she had to begin with, freaking out and practically climbing the walls as Christina Ulloa is asked to perform well beyond her acting range while spouting some of the worst dialogue a film of this type can offer.  Five minutes into their ordeal and Renee's already berating eternal widow Jenna for not having a "life." 

Considering the relatively short time actually spent in the sauna, the usual build-up to panic and madness you'd find in films such as OPEN WATER and FROZEN is accelerated to such an extent that these people come off as wildly unstable and prone to bursts of irrationality at the drop of a hat.  (What's more, we never even really get a sense of how hot it's supposed to be in there.)

Even so, Jenna and Renee find time to ruminate about their past friendship and how circumstances have changed them over the years, which means nothing to us because we don't really care about either of them anyway.  Such empathy, along with a certain element of realism, is what helps make other predicament thrillers effective. 

Here, unfortunately, the people and situations are so artificial and their actions so unrealistic that it becomes tiresome waiting for whatever happens to them to finally happen.  There's even a scene in which Jenna and her trapped companions are screaming through a wall at a dog named Beau and begging him to help them. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a  commentary by producer-director Levan Bakhia and some brief deleted scenes.

When done effectively, films such as 247°F can transport us into a situation of almost unbearable suspense and make us suffer right along with the people onscreen.  In this case, however, we suffer all right--but less from suspense, and more from sheer boredom.



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Sunday, October 14, 2012

EXCISION -- DVD review by porfle



Categorized on IMDb as "horror", EXCISION (2012) doesn't fully delve into that until the final stages of its main character's descent into the dark recesses of her own burgeoning insanity.  Till then, "really weird" would be a fitting enough descriptor for this dizzyingly offbeat tale, because it certainly is that and then some.

AnnaLynne McCord owns her half of the screen as (very) troubled teen Pauline, while former porn star turned darn good actress Traci Lords stakes a claim on the other half as Pauline's manipulative, overbearing, and intensely anal mother Phyllis.  Mom's desperate attempts to turn Pauline into a "normal" daughter and Pauline's increasingly crazed rejection of such normalcy supplies EXCISION with most of its domestic drama and off-kilter humor.

Dad (Roger Bart) isn't much help, since Phyllis has henpecked the poor slob into total wussitude, and little sister Grace (Ariel Winter) has her own problems--while happy to be the Little Miss Perfect that Phyllis yearns for, she suffers from cystic fibrosis.  Her painful plight spurs Pauline into a hopelessly unrealistic desire to become a doctor, which is further intensified by her fervent obsession with blood. 

Blood, in fact, is a major motif from the start as the film begins smack dab in the middle of one of Pauline's gore-drenched, necrophilia-based dreams in which her sick psyche is allowed to run free.  Writer-director Richard Bates, Jr. contrasts the pseudo-normal look of Pauline's home life, which is shot much like a standard family TV series, with her dreams' flamboyantly grotesque and perverse images of necrophilic love, graphic abortion, and the sort of horrific surgical procedures that Pauline finds morbidly fascinating. 


Bates pays tribute to David Lynch both in these surreal scenes and in the casting of "Twin Peaks" alumnus Ray Wise as Pauline's school principal.  He also gives us another artistic influence, John Waters (PINK FLAMINGOS, HAIRSPRAY), in a small but funny role as the nonplussed priest to whom Phyllis takes Pauline in lieu of an expensive psychiatrist, an arrangement which does neither of them any good. 

More interesting casting comes in the form of Marlee Matlin and Malcolm McDowell, both bringing nice comic touches to their brief roles, and FRAILTY's Jeremy Sumpter as the unfortunate boy to whom Pauline offers her virginity in what becomes a nightmarish consummation of her twisted sexual fantasies.  Another demented setpiece--one of several--is the cotillion Phyllis pushes Pauline into attending, which turns out to be filled with boys and girls much younger than she who are woefully unprepared for an encounter with her. 

The relationship between Pauline and Phyllis becomes more volatile as the girl's behavior grows increasingly erratic and abnormal, finally reaching an advanced "acting out" stage which pushes the film firmly into horror territory.  At times, AnnaLynne McCord even begins to resemble the undead title character in DEADGIRL with her bad skin, cunning glare, and intense facial expressions.  What happens during the film's final minutes is both tragic and mortifying, with a fadeout that leaves the dazed viewer with but one pressing question: "WTF?"

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The sole bonus feature is an enthusiastic commentary track with director Bates and star McCord.

It's pleasantly surprising to find that Traci Lords is a fine actress after all, and that first-time director Richard Bates, Jr. has managed to concoct such an impressive and darkly fun debut film.  But that's about all that's "pleasant" about EXCISION.  Mainly it's an intoxicating, disorienting descent into one psycho-teen's madness and perversion, and what happens when you take someone like that to see John Waters instead of a qualified psychiatrist.


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Friday, October 12, 2012

NEW TRICKS: SEASON EIGHT -- DVD review by porfle



The long-running BBC-TV cop series "New Tricks" slides into its eighth inning with Acorn Media's 3-disc DVD set NEW TRICKS: SEASON EIGHT.  And, to continue my clever baseball analogy, it's still hitting plenty of homeruns.

If you're already a fan of the show this set of ten episodes will be a welcome "New Tricks" fix, picking up where UCOS (Unsolved Crimes and Open Case Squad) left off last season with a whole new batch of scintillating cases to solve.  New viewers can just jump on at any point and go along for the ride--it doesn't take much effort to get into the spirit of this breezy but highly substantial show.

The top-notch cast just keeps getting better. Amanda Redman is Det. Supt. Sandra Pullman, whose assignment as head of UCOS was seen as a career roadblock until the group began to distinguish itself.  She's in charge of three retired cops pulled back into service to solve cold cases from their basement headquarters. 

They are emotionally unstable tech geek Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong), multiple-divorcee and self-styled ladies' man Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman, who sings the show's jaunty theme song), and Sandra's one-time mentor Jack Halford (James Bolam), the team's most distinguished member.  Halford is still troubled by his wife's murder even though UCOS eventually caught the killer, and his ongoing emotional unrest will increasingly affect his job performance as the season comes to an end.

As usual, the cases tackled by UCOS range from interesting to positively gripping.  Yet it's always the interplay between the main characters, whether it be intensely dramatic or delightfully comical, that makes the show such fun to watch.  This helps enormously during the occasional episode in which I'm hopelessly lost amidst a cascade of character names and plot points being batted about like ping pong balls.

"End of the Line" kicks off the season with the investigation of a tramp's unsolved murder on a tube train fifteen years earlier.  "Lost in Translation" is about some Albanian immigrants marked for murder in England, but the main point of interest is Gerry's sudden interest in French culture due to an attractive teacher in his cooking class.  "Old Fossils" finds them reopening the case of a palaeontologist whose death may not have been accidental after all. 

"Setting Out Your Stall" is the touching story of a mother who dies when her coffee is drugged by a serial rapist, with Sandra's turbulent dealings with her own mother coming into play.  "She's 'busied' herself right out of a relationship, a family, and a life," the older Mrs. Pullman observes at one point, and Sandra considers whether or not this is true in the poignantly inconclusive ending.

"Moving Target" contains some delightful bits of business concerning a female psychologist studying the UCOS team for a report on older men in the workplace.  "Object of Desire" features an old flame of Sandra involved in her investigation into an antiques scam, which complicates things when she's told by her superiors that he himself is to be kept under surveillance.

"The Gentleman Vanishes" is a crackerjack mystery almost as Hitchcockian as the title suggests before descending into dark spy intrigue worthy of Le Carre.  It's one of those cases in which the humble UCOS squad gets into something over their heads but performs impressively.  "Only the Brave" examines the murder of a biker-gang member who may have been a police informant.

"Half Life" concerns drug smuggling, but the highlight is skeptical Brian's reluctant visit to a hypnotherapist to cure his insomnia.
"Tiger, Tiger" ends the season with a suspicious death in a zoo, but the real drama stems from Jack Halford's mysterious reluctance to attend a ceremony honoring his life on the force.

The 3-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby sound and English subtitles.  The sole bonus is a 19-minute behind-the-scenes featurette dealing with ADR and Foley effects on the show.

This gang is so appealing that the show's directors seem to enjoy finding different ways to photograph them standing or walking around together--kind of like the Beatles.  They're good to hang out with whether grumpily browbeating a suspect, enjoying an after work pint at the corner pub, or just holed up in their basement headquarters having one of their usual rows.  NEW TRICKS: SEASON EIGHT, like the previous installments in this series, is simply a fun place to be.


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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

THE BARRENS -- DVD review by porfle



Is it a supernatural horror film?  Or is writer-director Darren Lynn Bousman (SAW II-IV) pulling the old dipsy-doodle on us by making us think it is and then rationally explaining everything at the last minute? 

That's what you may be trying to decide while watching THE BARRENS (2012), which has all the ingredients of a supernatural horror film but tries out a different recipe than usual.  It begins with your standard "couple stalked and killed in the woods by an unseen beast" pre-titles sequence--could be a bear, or, as the title graphics suggest, it could be...the Jersey Devil. 

Well, as soon as we cut to the Vineyard family getting ready to go on a camping trip, we pretty much know that they're going to find out for themselves one way or another before this thing's over.  Richard (Stephen Moyer, "True Blood") is one of those dads who wants his kids to experience the joys of camping whether they like it or not because, damn it, he and his dad had such a great time when he was a kid.
 
His wife Cynthia, one of those eager stepmoms still trying to win over her new husband's kids, is played by Mia Kirshner, and it's funny seeing her in this kind of role since I still think of her as the teenage bad girl in the unjustly-maligned NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE.  She does a fine job, though--her emoting later on in the movie is very good as is that of co-star Moyer.

Peter DaCunha plays Danny, a whimpery little boy still pining over his missing dog Oscar, and Allie MacDonald (HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET) is teen daughter Sadie, who really, really doesn't want to go camping.  Maybe it's my age showing, but I'm starting to really hate the snotty teenage characters in these movies who don't want to go on the family camping trip.

Then again, considering how high-strung Dad turns out to be, I think I'd opt to stay home myself.  For some reason, and we suspect it has something to do with what happened when he was a kid, Richard starts to freak out as soon as they enter the park area and find themselves elbow-to-elbow with a bunch of other campers, including some horny young boys who take an interest in Sadie.  By the time he makes the family trudge miles deeper into the woods looking for a more secluded campsite, he's starting to get scarier than whatever's lurking around out there.

What's wrong with Dad?  Does he really think that the Jersey Devil's out there in the woods and is coming to get them?  Or is there something even more sinister going on in his rapidly-deteriorating mind?  There are some teasing glimpses of a misshapen monster (along with some pretty nice cinematography, especially in scenes of a fog-shrouded forest) but we never know if they're real or just images in Richard's fevered imagination. 

The suspense begins to build when his mental state makes him a clear and present danger to everyone in his family, as much or more so in his own way than Jack Torrence in THE SHINING.  And director Bousman does manage to ratchet up the tension as his film builds inexorably to its very dramatic (and startlingly abrupt) conclusion.  By now, I wasn't sure if I wanted a supernatural basis for what was going on or not--it would certainly work that way, yet, unlike in Tod Browning's MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, a rational explanation wouldn't seem like so much of a cheat in this case because it would be bizarre enough in itself. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonus features consist of a commentary track with director Bousman and director of photography Joseph White, and a deleted ending (added for the overseas version) that clears up much of what is left hanging in the original cut.

Real or fake?  You'll be wondering this about the Jersey Devil up until the final frames of THE BARRENS, a fairly entertaining little horror flick that held my interest despite being a rather unpleasant experience.  One thing's for sure--there is a monster in the film, but you'll have to see for yourself if it's a winged, mythical beast, or just dear ol' Dad.


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HOLLISTON: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON -- DVD review by porfle



For their very first original series, cable horror channel FEARnet has enlisted writer-director-star Adam Green (HATCHET) to come up with--a sitcom.  But it isn't just any old sitcom, because "Holliston" (named after a small town in Massachusetts) is a surrealistic, irreverent romantic comedy with graphic horror elements and non-stop references to just about everything.  In other words, it plays pretty much like a live-action Adult Swim cartoon. 

Image Entertainment's 2-disc DVD set HOLLISTON: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON brings us the first six episodes of the series.  The droll, deadpan Green and his partner in slime, Joe Lynch (WRONG TURN 2), play Adam and Joe, roommates who work at the local cable access company making commercials and hosting a horror movie show called "The Movie Crypt."  In their spare time, they're also trying to launch an independent horror feature called "Shin Guards" (about a zombie soccer team from Mexico) by piecing together a mock trailer. 

While the show strives to "break the mold" and "twist the rules" of the traditional sitcom (lots of fourth-wall breaking, self-references, etc.), it's pretty similar to all the other sitcoms over the years that have done exactly the same thing.  Still, despite the fact that there are very few genuine laughs to be had in all of Adam and Joe's raucous hijinks, the fast-moving show has a certain freshness and, yes, "quirky" quality that I found enjoyable in its own cartoonish way and appealing on a basic fanboy level. 

I could do without the heavy metal aspects, complete with ear-splitting transition music--not all horror fans like that stuff, and, in fact, some of us can't stand it--although this does give us Twisted Sister's Dee Snider in a funny turn as station owner Lance Rockett, who is also the long-in-the-tooth lead singer for a Van Halen cover band called "Diver Down."  Snider (who, admittedly, looks like "my grandmother in her coffin") is a hoot in the role, as his swaggering macho mannerisms sometimes set off Adam and Joe's "gaydar" in unexpected ways.  (Rob Zombie stock player Bill Moseley also turns up a couple of times as local business owner Crazy Max.)

The boys themselves are super geeks--their apartment overflows with monster figures and toys while they agonize over which of their old VHS horror movies to burn onto DVD--making them instantly identifiable to a lot of us viewers.  Much ado is made of their romantic problems, especially those of lovesick loser Adam and his unrequited obsession with high school sweetheart Corri (Corri English, who reminds me of Britney Spears), which yields its share of mildly funny comic complications.  Joe's perky but not-so-bright Colombian girlfriend Laura is portrayed by the incredibly cute and funny Laura Ortiz (CHILLERAMA), who plays "ditzy" like a virtuoso and rocks a pair of knee-high Chuck Taylors. 

You never know what kind of graphic violence is going to befall Adam and Joe via dreams and fantasy sequences (after all, this is FEARnet), including a sudden SCANNERS-style head explosion, a POLTERGEIST-inspired face shredding, and, most impressive of all considering the show's modest SPFX budget, a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK triple head melt.  Green gets hacked in bed by his own creation, the hideous killer from HATCHET, and skewered by Ghostface from SCREAM.  One episode ends with the entire cast being machine-gunned to death in a hail of CGI bullet hits. 

The stories are a mix of the bizarre with generous helpings of standard sitcom-style situations.  The pilot episode, "The Hooker", is practically a romp through rom-com territory with Adam trying to make Corri jealous by hiring a skanky hooker to pose as his girlfriend.  Some fantasy is supplied by Adam's imaginary friend, GWAR's Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie), who lives in his closet and dispenses not-so-sage advice while only managing to be occasionally funny. 

"Camera Rental" features a bland plotline about the boys renting out one of the cable company's expensive cameras for the weekend and then sweating over its return, while the girls liven things up by renting an extremely haunted apartment from guest star Ray Wise (CHILLERAMA, "Twin Peaks").  "Skunked" finds Adam and Joe sharing a bathtub after getting sprayed by the title critter, while Corri and Laura attempt to purchase large amounts of vinegar to counteract the odor but eventually must settle for fifteen boxes of douche and end up getting arrested for their trouble.

The great Tony Todd lends his considerable presence to "Candyman" as he moves in with Adam and Joe and then moves in on Corri, overstaying his welcome to the extreme while the boys try to think of a way to tell the overbearing actor to get lost.  In "Laura's Little Twitter", a cutely amusing subplot about accidental "cameltoe" in Laura's Twitter pic gives way to a welcome guest appearance by Seth Green as a schizophrenic SPFX expert who agrees to do the effects for the "Shin Pads" trailer for free.  Which is great until his alternate personality unexpectedly surfaces and goes nuts. 

Season finale "Weekend of Horrors" begins with that triple face melt after which the gang attend a horror convention and encounter Kane Hodder, Danielle Harris, and John Landis.  The latter is presented with a disc of Adam and Joe's "Shin Pads" trailer after they break into his autograph line pretending to be disabled.  

The high point for me is when Hodder decks Joe with one punch for a joke that Joe told about him earlier back at the apartment.  I also welcome any opportunity to see Danielle Harris, especially when she mentions the words "Last Boy Scout."  Meanwhile, scriptwriter Green makes the most of this opportunity to vividly illustrate the kind of unsavory convention fans he has encountered in real life.

The 2-disc DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  No subtitles or closed-captioning.  Bonus features include cast commentaries, deleted and alternate scenes, bloopers, and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.  (Also available in a 1-disc Blu-Ray edition.)

While seldom as funny as it thinks it is, HOLLISTON: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON gets by on its sheer enthusiasm and likability (and Laura Ortiz).  I can take it or leave it, but it isn't hard to take at all. 



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Friday, October 5, 2012

GABRIEL -- movie review by porfle




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


According to the somber 2007 Australian film GABRIEL, Purgatory is an actual city inhabited by lost souls for which Heaven and Hell fight for possession.  The angels that are sent into battle by each side--seven archangels (or "arc" angels as they're called in the film) from Heaven and seven fallen angels from Hell--must become human although they still retain healing powers and certain other supernatural abilities. 

When the seventh arc angel Gabriel arrives, he finds that evil has taken over the city under the leadership of the dreaded Sammael, and that the other arc angels are either dead, missing, or eking out the rest of their miserable lives in defeat. 

Gabriel tracks down the surviving arc angels, including the lovely Amitiel (Samantha Noble), now working as a drug-addicted prostitute named Jade in a brothel run by Sammael's narcissistic cohort Asmodeus (Michael Piccirilli). But the most powerful of their number, Michael, is MIA.


The rest of the ragtag remnants of the arc angels include Uriel (Harry Pavlidis), now an alcoholic who lives in a wrecked bus in an abandoned drive-in theater, and Ithuriel (Matt Hylton Todd), who runs a soup kitchen while tending to the gravely-wounded Raphael (Jack Campbell) in an underground hideout beneath it.

Among Sammael's forces are Ahriman (Kevin Copeland), a brawny black guy with long blonde dreads; the loathesome Balan (Brendan Clearkin); and a bloodthirsty dominatrix named Lilith (Erika Heynatz), who resembles a really scary Jean Kasem. 

Most of the "angels" in GABRIEL aren't all that different from the warrior vampires in UNDERWORLD (the two films share a similiar look as well).  They all dress like Goths, carry firearms, and engage in a lot of quick-cut, slo-mo fights. 

Purgatory itself is a bit like the title location of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK with a little BLADE RUNNER and SIN CITY thrown in.  Many of the visuals, from bleak derelict interiors to moody nocturnal landscapes with dark clouds rolling overhead, are richly atmospheric. 


As the brooding, melancholy Gabriel, relative newcomer Andy Whitfield does a good job with the dramatic scenes while capably handling the shoot-em-up stuff as well.  Samantha Noble is an effectively forlorn presence as the pale, haunted Amitiel. 

Unfortunately, Dwaine Stevenson's Sammael isn't nearly as frightening and intimidating as intended.  Stevenson does his best with the cliche-ridden role, with the usual sinister scowls and fake-iris leers, but his not-quite-shoulder-length black hair and pinched expressions cause him at times to resemble a deranged Courtney Cox in the midst of a Hulk-out.

Some of the action scenes are quick and to the point--Gabriel breaks down a door and POW! POW! the bad guys are dead--while others, like the extended Gabriel-Sammael showdown, are a bit overlong and not that sharply choreographed.  My favorite is the imaginatively-staged shootout which takes place in total darkness, with strobe-like gun flashes providing the only illumination. 

 Gabriel's fight with Asmodeus within his own brothel is also fun, although some of the speed-up slow-down effects come off as a bit dopey-looking.  The dramatic scenes in between the bang-bang stuff occasionally tend to drag a bit, but not to the point of actual boredom.

What impressed me the most about this movie came afterward, when I found out that it was done on a tiny budget of only $150,000 dollars.  (This isn't taking into account the fact that everyone's paychecks were deferred, but still...)  With that in mind, it's amazingly well-done, capable of standing alongside similar efforts with much higher budgets. 

If it performs well, first-time director and co-writer Shane Abbess plans to make this the first episode of a trilogy, which I wouldn't mind checking out.  The story of GABRIEL does have a satisfying stand-alone resolution, but it's a downer and leaves much room for further exploration.


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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

GHOST HUNTERS: SEASON SEVEN PART 2 -- DVD review by porfle



"I've just been goosed by a ghost!"

No, that isn't a quote from an Abbott and Costello movie.  It's one of the paranormal highpoints of Image Entertainment's 4-disc DVD set GHOST HUNTERS: SEASON SEVEN PART 2. 

As always, the SyFy Channel series "Ghost Hunters" follows the ectoplasmic exploits of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), whose founders Jason Hewes and Grant Wilson are Roto-Rooter plumbers by day and seekers of the supernatural by night. 

As they explain it, they want to help those who call on their services by getting to the bottom of whatever hauntings they're experiencing by either communicating with the spirits or debunking them.  (The fact that they expose so many sightings as natural occurrences and/or simple misperceptions seems to enhance their credibility, at least as far as I'm concerned.)

Some of the episodes in this set begin with the familiar dramatizations of Jason and Grant grimly struggling to fix someone's toilet when they get a call from TAPS case manager Amy Bruni, informing them of their next assignment.  Then it's off in their SUV caravan to the ghost-plagued location with the rest of the team, which includes tech guy Steve (who's in charge of all the equipment such as monitoring cameras, electromagnetic field and heat-seeking devices, spectral voice detectors, ion generators, etc.) and team members Amy, Dave, Adam, Britt, and sometimes K.J.  Maddie the dog returns but does little this time besides look cute and growl at a few things that aren't there.

I don't know why I enjoy watching this stuff so much, but somehow I just like hanging out with these guys on their investigations.  I do seem to be getting kind of used to the show by now, though.  "Lights out" isn't as scary as it used to be--guess I'm getting used to seeing them creeping around in these old buildings with the night-vision camera making them all ghostly white.  And all the disembodied footsteps, knocks, and other noises begin to take on a numbing sameness after awhile.  Even the TAPS gang don't get as giddy and freaked-out by this stuff as they used to.

But just when I think I'm immune to it, "Ghost Hunters" gives me the creeps in spite of myself.  Usually it isn't because of any one major scare, but just an accumulation of subtle events that are unsettlingly spooky.  Although every once in a while, the guys will visit a location--usually some hellish old prison or mental institution, or the site of a major tragedy--in which the haunting goes beyond some benign residual presence and ventures into the truly bizarre and frightening. 

"Dark Shadows" features the Seaview Terrace in Newport, Rhode Island, where exteriors for the famous horror soap-opera were filmed.  "Ghostly Evidence" takes place in a Lizzie Borden-type setting in Massachusetts, with both a solid debunking and some rather convincing visual evidence caught on camera.  In "Ghosts of Carnegie", the team experience several unexplained noises and voices in the Carnegie Library in Pennsylvania, followed by a disappointing night in a haunted police station that yields more debunkings than ghosts.

Yet more debunkings highlight "Harvesting Murder", both on a Hawaiian sugar plantation and in a Massachusetts mansion where the scariest occurrence is when Steve gets dive-bombed by a bat.  "Well of Horror" doesn't live up to such a promising title, and is notable mainly for the first appearance of Jason's daughter Haily as a sometime apprentice member of the team.

"Roasts and Ghosts" takes place at New York's famed Friar's Club, where the ghost of a comedian who died in the Frank Sinatra room still seems to be wandering the hallways.  A theater near Niagra Falls is home to a tragic female spirit in "Stage Fright", a spooky one in which the team experience all sorts of strange phenomena.  In another eerie episode, "Murdered Matron", a sailors' retirement home in Staten Island is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a woman killed by her developmentally-challenged son whom she'd been keeping chained up in the basement until his escape.  Guest ghost-hunter Meredith Viera joins the team on this very eventful case.

The huge, crumbling Missouri State Penitentiary is the site of "The Bloodiest 47 Acres", which sounds scary but is notable mainly for giving us (and some creeped-out TAPS members) a firsthand look at what it's like to sit in a darkened gas chamber and a dungeon still heavy with the aura of suffering and death.  "Distillery of Spirits" lightens things up as we tour a Kentucky bourbon distillery benignly haunted by its former owner, who may or may not be the spirit responsible for giving that ghostly goose to both Jason and Grant at the same time in different locations!

"Membership Denied" tells of an Elks' Club building where a deceased member doesn't seem to approve of the new rule allowing women to join.  "Christmas Spirit" takes us to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for the show's season ender, in which a sad little boy haunts one inn while a seemingly happy and playful little girl lingers in another.  One of the show's best pieces of visual evidence occurs when the dark figure of a little girl appears to be captured by one of the team's cameras. 

My favorite episode of the season, "Voices of Pain", takes the team back for a third visit to the Waverly Hills Sanitorium in Kentucky, voted in a viewer poll as the show's "Scariest Location" thus far.  The rambling compound of dark, decaying buildings, where 60,000 (!) inmates are said to have died over the years, doesn't disappoint, yielding a wealth of shadows, dark figures, loud knocks and other noises, and some eerily distinct disembodied voices that seem to be conversing amongst themselves.  This, to me, is "Ghost Hunters" at its best, the kind of spine-tingling foray into the unknown that makes me hesitant to watch the show after sundown. 

The 4-disc set from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby stereo sound.  No subtitles or closed-captioning.  Discs 1-3 contain the set's 13 episodes, while disc 4 is loaded with deleted scenes.

Even if you don't believe in the supernatural, it's still unsettling to watch these guys creep around such spooky locations in the dark of night, reacting to various sudden noises and movements with their familiar startled cry of "Wuh-wuh-ZAT?"  (Or its variant, "HELL-wuh-zat?")  And if you do believe, it's enough to have you sleeping with the lights on.  While GHOST HUNTERS: SEASON SEVEN PART 2 isn't quite as consistently blood-curdling as some other sets in the series, fans should still get a nice ghostly goose out if it.


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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

MAGIC CITY: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON -- DVD review by porfle



Like a tipsy drunk trying to pass a sobriety test, Starz' "Magic City" walks a fine line between Martin Scorcese toughness (think "Casino" Lite) and the kind of melodramatic behind-the-scenes industrial procedural that Arthur Hailey used to excel in (a la "Hotel").  In Anchor Bay's 3-disc DVD set MAGIC CITY: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, the result is a crime drama-soap opera combo that's sporadically entertaining but not quite involving or convincing enough to keep us glued to the screen.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as Ike Evans, the stern-but-fair head honcho of Miami Beach's biggest, swankiest resort hotel, the Miramar Playa, as 1958 draws to a close.  Ike's a family man with two grown sons--Stevie (Steven Strait), a chip off the old block, and Danny (Christian Cooke), an aspiring lawyer who wants to work in the state D.A.'s office.  Trouble is, the state D.A., Jack Klein (Matt Ross), is doing everything he can to nail Ike to get to his silent partner, a Chicago mobster named Ben Diamond (Danny Huston).

Huston does his best to make Diamond a silkily sinister mob figure but he's most effective when he isn't exploding in petulant outbursts of anger (the casual shooting of his wife's noisy dog during a phone call is his most unsettling moment).  Ike, a basically decent man, has made a deal with this devil to keep his hotel afloat and must accept all the not-so-decent stuff that goes with it, including the mysterious death of union organizer Mike Strauss (the ubiquitous Leland Orser) who threatened to picket the hotel during Frank Sinatra's New Year's Eve show. 

The hotel's most popular escort girl, Judi Silver (Elena Satine), is D.A. Klein's main link between Ross' death and the hotel, making her much sought-after by both Klein and Diamond.  This storyline, in addition to several increasingly hostile showdowns between Klein and Ike and an escalation of the violence by Diamond and his gang, gives "Magic City" its edgiest moments.  Even at its darkest, though, the series is too soft-edged and refined to deliver the heart-palpitating rawness of a Scorcese thriller or the subdued intensity of THE GODFATHER PART II (which it resembles at times in its look and musical score).

As Ike Evans' new wife Vera, the beautiful Olga Kurylenko is a much more charismatic and likable presence than she was in QUANTUM OF SOLACE, escorting us through some of "Magic City"'s more soap-opera-level subplots.  These include Vera's attempts to replace Ike's first wife as "Mom" in the eyes of his young daughter Lauren (Taylor Blackwell) and her desire to have children of her own--the latter leading to one of the show's most unnecessary sequences as Vera seeks supernatural help from a Santeria priest who ceremonially sacrifices a chicken to increase her fertility. 

On a less fanciful level, Vera's other dramatic concerns include trying to snare Jackie Kennedy as a special banquet guest and trying to talk Ike's father Arthur (THE GODFATHER's "Moe Green" Alex Rocco in a thankless role) into attending Lauren's bat-mitzvah despite his dogged aversion to religion.  We also see a spark of interest (on his part, anyway) between her and a former lover, a TV director overseeing a broadcast from the hotel, in a "will they? won't they?" situation that I'm hoping will be a dead-end.

The rest of the time Kurylenko serves as part of the show's seemingly endless supply of eye candy as she and Morgan function as one of several very active sexual couples whom we observe going at it like rabbits on a regular basis.  Another of these is son Stevie and his extremely ill-chosen sex partner, Ben Diamond's gorgeous wife Lily (Jessica Marais), as they go at it in a variety of locations including a public dressing room. 

Stevie's prediliction for photographing the two of them together with his Polaroid leads to a blackmail situation when the photos are stolen by a cat burglar working the hotel, in yet another subplot that does little for the show besides fill time between more important and interesting events.  Ditto for brother Danny's romance with pretty hotel maid Mercedes (Dominik García-Lorido), daughter of Ike's general manager Victor (Yul Vazquez), who is desperately trying to get his wife out of Cuba after the fall of Batista. 

During all of this, we actually get to see Ike trying to keep the hotel solvent by hosting live network television events such as the "Miss 1959 Pageant."  The prospect of snagging "The Garry Moore Show" will mean nothing to some viewers while igniting a warm spark of nostalgia for others, especially when the names of potential guests such as Jonathan Winters, Don Knotts, and George Gobel pop up.  Other name-dropping (the McGuire Sisters, "the Lawfords", Kim Novak) will go right over the heads of younger viewers.

The show basks, revels, even wallows in its period atmosphere and all the dirty-money decadence that goes with its particular setting.  Things look and feel just right most of the time, thanks partly to a faded, sunbleached look in the exteriors and opulent, smoky interiors (almost everybody smokes) that boast some of the most elaborate sets ever constructed for a television series.  Car lovers will be in heaven at the sight of all the beautiful vintage automobiles on hand here.  The show has a distinctive noirish look that's lush, romantic, and practically dripping with sexuality, with a main titles sequence worthy of a James Bond film. 

The 3-disc DVD set from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby English 5.1 and Spanish mono.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a making-of featurette, brief looks at the show's cars, styles, set design, and music, and a history of Miami Beach. 

While it's nice, for a change, to see this subject done without all the usual Italian mobsters stabbing, shooting, and dismembering each other, and with a main character who hasn't completely turned to the dark side, MAGIC CITY: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is only moderately as hard-edged and ruthless as it wants to be.  What it does right, though, is to be cool and sexy and to look good (I can almost hear Fernando Lamas say, "It is better to look good than to be good"), and to be marginally entertaining despite a tendency to meander down its own Memory Lane.


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