HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Acorn’s new DVDs – Foyle’s War, Power of Myth 25th Anniv., Jessica Chastain, Hugh Bonneville, Kelly Reilly

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

  

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

Jan. 29

Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime: The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries – “A delightfully old-fashioned crime caper” (The Guardian) - Agatha Christie’s beloved crime-fighting couple returns to DVD. Packed with period atmosphere and playful banter, Partners in Crime follows Tommy (James Warwick, Lillie) and Tuppence (Francesca Annis, Cranford, Reckless) Beresford as they mix marriage and mystery solving. Broadcast on PBS's Mystery! (11 mysteries, DVD 3-Disc Set)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot & Marple Fan Favorites Collection – Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple have delighted PBS viewers for years with their quick wits and uncanny knack for solving thorny cases. This collection brings together the detectives’ 11 most popular mysteries, as voted by Agatha Christie’s fans. Broadcast on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery!, the series star David Suchet as Poirot, and Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple. Guest stars include Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty), Eileen Atkins (Doc Martin), Barbara Hershey (Black Swan), and Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius). (DVD 6-Disc Boxed Set)

Wodehouse Playhouse Complete (re-issue) – “Polished, joyous foolishness” (The Guardian) - All three series of the uproarious BBC comedy seen on PBS. P.G. Wodehouse has delighted fans with his razor-sharp wit and marvelously madcap plots for over a century. This sparkling BBC series brings 20 of his hilarious tales to life with Oscar® nominee Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) and real-life husband John Alderton (Upstairs, Downstairs) playing Wodehouse’s riotous eccentrics. Wodehouse himself loved the series and appears in Series One to offer introductions to each episode. (DVD 6-Disc Boxed Set)

Feb. 5

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers – 25th Anniversary Edition of the beloved PBS series on world mythology with new and expanded bonus features, including Moyers initial interviews with Campbell that were the precursor to the iconic series; expanded selections with George Lucas, who credits Campbell with helping to inspire his creation of Star Wars; and new introductions for each episode from Moyers. Twenty-five years ago, renowned scholar Joseph Campbell sat down with veteran journalist Bill Moyers for a series of interviews that became one of the most enduringly popular programs ever aired on PBS. (DVD 3-disc set)

Above Suspicion Set 2 (U.S. debut) – “The best UK police drama in years” (The Times) – Starring Kelly Reilly (Flight alongside Denzel Washington) and Ciarán Hinds and from the creator of Prime Suspect, the riveting detective series returns. This hit British police drama is a “younger, sassier successor to Prime Suspect” (The Telegraph). Rising star Kelly Reilly stars as a detective trying to prove herself while Ciarán Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter) co-stars as her hard-boiled, flawed, and charismatic boss. Set 2 includes the three-part program Deadly Intent (Series 3, 2011) with guest star Julian Sands (A Room with a View). (DVD Single)

Testimony of Two Men (DVD Debut) – Emmy®-nominated historical miniseries based on Taylor Caldwell’s Post-Civil War era novel debuts on DVD. The series stars David Birney (St. Elsewhere), Barbara Parkins (Peyton Place), and Steve Forrest (Mommie Dearest) with co-stars William Shatner (Star Trek, The Kent Chronicles), Linda Purl (The Office), Ralph Bellamy (Rosemary’s Baby), Tom Bosley (Happy Days), and Joan Van Ark (Knots Landing). In post-Civil War Pennsylvania, young surgeon Jonathan Ferrier relentlessly campaigns to improve the antiquated medical practices in his hometown. He faces vehement opposition from the town’s old guard, who will stop at nothing to destroy his career. Broadcast on Operation Prime Time in the late 1970s. (DVD 3-disc set)

She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens (DVD debut) – “Captivating twists and shocking betrayals” (Radio Times) – Captivating, new BBC documentary explores the lives of seven English queens. Hosted and based on the book by Cambridge historian Dr. Helen Castor, this series explores the lives of seven English queens who challenged male rule, the fierce and fiery reactions they provoked, and whether, in fact, much has changed. She-Wolves debuted on BBC Four in March 2012 and is currently airing on select public television stations. (DVD Single)

Feb. 19

Missions That Changed the War: The Doolittle Raid (DVD Debut) – Narrated by Oscar®-nominee and Emmy®-winning actor Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, CSI: NY), this gripping documentary recounts one of WWII’s most daring missions. Broadcast on the Military Channel in 2011, the series traces the plan for an airstrike on Japan led by famed aviator Jimmy Doolittle. Through historical footage, maps, expert commentary, and interviews with four crewmen who took part, it recounts a mission that not only raised the spirits of a nation but also changed the outcome of World War II. The DVD 2-vol. boxed set includes four episodes, plus a bonus interview with Doolittle Raider Edward Saylor (21 min.)

Feb. 26

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Long-awaited DVD Debut) – Geraldine McEwan (Agatha Christie’s Marple, The Magdalene Sisters) stars in the classic adaptation of Muriel Spark’s beloved novel. In the 1978 PBS series, McEwan gives an indelible performance that Spark herself considered the quintessential portrayal of the iconic character. She stars as imperious, unorthodox teacher Jean Brodie in this tale of an educator’s impact on impressionable ladies at a school in 1930s Scotland. (DVD 3-disc set)

Garrow’s Law: The Complete Collection – “One of the best historical dramas…in years” (Scripps Howard News Service) – All three series of the highly entertaining legal drama ripped from the pages of history and seen on BBC and PBS stations. Pairing sharp scripts and compelling performances with authentic historical detail, the riveting BBC courtroom drama arrives in a value-priced collection. Andrew Buchan (The Sinking of the Laconia, Cranford) stars as William Garrow, a revolutionary legal mind determined to defend the downtrodden in 18th-century England. Based on a true story, these three complete series follow Garrow as he advocates for prisoners’ rights and pioneers the idea of innocent until proven guilty, aided by his mentor (Alun Armstrong, Little Dorrit, New Tricks) and the lovely Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshal, Rome, Being Human, The Hours) as well as challenged by Rupert Graves (Sherlock, The Forsyte Saga). (DVD 6-disc boxed set)

Maigret Complete Collection – Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, The Singing Detective) stars in the acclaimed adaptations of Georges Simenon’s classic detective novels. Broadcast on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! in the early 1990s, the series follows Jules Maigret, the “wonderfully entertaining sleuth” (Austin American-Statesman), equipped with rigorous logic, uncanny judgment of character, and, of course, his signature pipe and fedora. This complete collection features a strong cast of familiar faces, including Brenda Blethyn (Vera, Pride & Prejudice), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), Barbara Flynn (Cranford), Jane Wymark (Midsomer Murders), Edward Petherbridge (A Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery), and Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon). (DVD 4-disc boxed set)

Mar 5

Murdoch Mysteries Collection: Seasons 1-4 (Blu-ray and DVD) – “Smart, fast-paced fun” (The Globe and Mail) – The charming hit mystery series features forensic sleuthing in the Age of Invention. The series combines the period appeal of Sherlock Holmes with the forensic fascination of CSI. Based on the characters from award-winning author Maureen Jennings, the acclaimed Canadian series has garnered 25 Gemini® nominations to its credit. Set in Victorian-era Toronto, this series stars Yannick Bisson as Detective Murdoch, a brilliant detective with a knack for inventing new crime-solving technologies as he investigates the city’s most challenging cases and encounters the famous figures of his day. (16-disc DVD boxed set and 12-disc Blu-ray set with 52 episodes)

Murdoch Mysteries, Season 5 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray, DVD) – Fifth season is available to U.S. audiences for the first time. In Season 5, Murdoch helps a woman accused of murder; investigates an Egyptian curse; experiments with time travel; and crosses paths with Jack London, Henry Ford, and his idol, Alexander Graham Bell. Season 5 debuted in Canada in 2012, and its sixth season is currently airing there only. (DVD 4-disc boxed set and Blu-ray 3-disc set, 13 episodes)

Murdoch Mysteries, Season 2 (Blu-ray debut) – Season 2 makes it Blu-ray debut. Acorn debuted Season 2 on DVD in May 2010. (Blu-ray, 3-disc boxed set)

Mar 12

Foyle’s War: The Home Front Files, Sets 1-6 - Value-priced collection of the acclaimed British mystery returning in September 2013. Michael Kitchen (Out of Africa) stars as Christopher Foyle, the laconic detective chief superintendent of a coastal English town, investigating crimes on the home front as World War II rages. The 22 mysteries in this collection follow the course of the war and its aftermath from 1940 to 1945. One of the most highly acclaimed and popular programs on PBS, the series co-stars Honeysuckle Weeks and Anthony Howell with guest stars Julian Ovenden, Corin Redgrave, Rosamund Pike, David Tennant, and James McAvoy. (22-disc set, $149.99, same price as previous collection which only included Sets 1-5)

Coming in late March/Early April:

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Series 1, No Job for a Lady: The Complete Collection, Chance in a Million Complete Collection, A Mind to Kill Complete Collection, Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases, and Dirk Gently (U.S. Debut) starring Episodes Stephen Mangan

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

Earlier 2013 Releases Still Available

From Acorn: Doctor Zhivago starring Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement), Hans Matheson (The Tudors) and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park); Trial & Retribution, Set 6 (U.S. Debut), the final episodes of the gripping crime series from Lynda La Plante; Lillie starring Francesca Annis (Reckless, Cranford, Madame Bovary; and Midsomer Murders Set 21 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray and DVD), Acorn’s top-selling series returns with a new top cop.

From Athena Documentaries:

The Story of Math Collection makes the most complex concepts accessible and engaging in these three fun BBC documentaries; and Bill Moyers: Becoming American, the four-time Emmy®-nominated 2003 PBS documentary tracing the history of Chinese Americans

An RLJ Entertainment, Inc. company, Acorn Media Group is headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C. Its Acorn line specializes in the best of British television on DVD and Blu-ray. 2012 releases included I, Claudius: 35th Anniversary Edition, Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Early Cases Collection, The Crimson Petal and the White, and Damian Lewis in The Forsyte Saga Collection. 2013 releases include: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Doctor Zhivago, Dirk Gently, and more episodes from Foyle’s War, Case Histories, New Tricks, Murdoch Mysteries, Midsomer Murders, Above Suspicion, George Gently, Vexed and Vera.

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, January 30, 2013

ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE -- DVD review by porfle



Some superhero movies are multi-million-dollar epics that dazzle, amaze, and enthrall.  And then there's ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE, aka "Vs" (2011), which barely manages to keep from falling apart at the seams, or simply imploding due to lack of substance, long enough to limp to the fadeout.

Granted, it's a game effort for such a low-budget film (less than $1 million) but I've seen a lot more done with a lot less so it really should've turned out better.  In fact, director Jason Trost's other 2011 film THE FP is superior in every way, not the least of which being that it's way more entertaining.  Here, it seems as though the goal of putting together something that qualifies as a "superhero movie" was accomplished with minimal thought or artistic effort.

Taking place in a seemingly deserted small town during the course of a single night, the story begins with three superhero-garbed men and one woman waking up in different locations, each with some kind of wrist implant.  The implants, it turns out, rob them of their superpowers so that their arch-enemy, Rickshaw (James Remar), can force them to participate in a series of life-or-death challenges for his revenge and amusement, with the lives of various innocent people in the balance. 

The heroes, who (we learn in passing) gained their powers from a fallen meteor, have a stormy personal history that caused them to disband years earlier.  Charge (Trost), the nominal leader, and Shadow (Sophie Merkley), sort of a "Sue Storm/Invisible Girl" knock-off, are former lovers, while the younger Cutthroat (Lucas Till, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) still resents Charge for treating him like a kid brother.  The Wall (Lee Valmassy, who gave an outstanding performance as the bad guy in THE FP) is a rather nondescript character who doesn't get much to do for most of his screen time. 

One distinctive feature of this team is that they have some of the chintziest costumes in superhero history.  Even taking into account the fact that they don't have people like Lucius Fox or Martha Kent designing their threads, this poor man's Fantastic Four would probably get thrown out of a Halloween costume party.  Charge is especially guilty of fashion fail, with a costume that looks like he just threw himself on a live grenade and landed on his face.  Perhaps this is intentional, since the hokiness of these characters is probably pretty close to what it would look like if actual people suddenly decided to become superheroes (a la Kick-Ass). 

Remar, who served as narrator for THE FP, is the traditional "name star" coming in to do a day or two of low-impact acting (in this case, mostly sitting behind a desk egging on the main characters via a TV screen to a dreary version of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata") as cackling bad guy Rickshaw.  His evil plan for our heroes has them running from place to place trying to save various groups of wired-to-explode civilians and, in most cases, failing. 

In one instance, Charge's solution to Rickshaw's challenge is so utterly nonsensical as to throw the whole movie out of whack, storywise.  It's, like, literally the last thing you'd expect a superhero to do because it's so...well, dumb.  Only occasionally does the dialogue manage to make things a bit more bearable, as in the following exchange:

Shadow: "What about the garage?  Isn't there something in there that could help, medicine or something?"
Charge: "Vitamin C isn't going to remove a 12-inch stab wound from his lower intestine, Jill."

Elsewhere, they come up against a couple of flamboyant goons played by more veterans of THE FP, Sean Whalen and Nick Principe (who also co-starred in the first "Chromeskull" film, LAID TO REST), in some bland battle action that does little to juice things up.  Principe is Sledgesaw, a relatively nondescript strongman character, while Whalen is the flamethrower-wielding Manpower, who dresses like a psychotic Uncle Sam for some reason.  Besides some generic Rickshaw henchmen in funny-animal suits, these are the film's only "super" villains. 
With their wrist implants conveniently taking away their powers, the word "super" doesn't even apply to our main characters.  This makes things easier on the filmmakers and less interesting for the viewer.  The closest we come to seeing a hero exercise a superpower is during a flashback when Shadow disappears (off-camera) after a lovers' tiff with Charge.  That's literally all the film has to offer in that department.

The rest of the time, everyone stands around and argues a lot or jogs through the deserted streets to the next location where they argue some more as civilians continue to explode around them.  Some actual suspense is briefly achieved a couple of times, but it's not enough to prevent the film from having what I found to be a rather enervating effect before long.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Closed-captioned but no subtitles or extras.

With neither the fun of a "Spiderman" or "X-Men" flick or the substance of a "Dark Knight" tale, the main impression left by ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE is an overall dreariness that's even a bit depressing at times.  Minimal production values, uninspired cinematography, barely passable acting, and a scattershot plot amount to what might be considered a pretty fair student film but hardly something you'd want to go out of your way to see.


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Monday, January 28, 2013

MIDSOMER MURDERS: SET 21 -- DVD review by porfle



At the end of MIDSOMER MURDERS: SET 20, we saw John Nettles' "Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby" pass the baton to his successor and fade away into a well-deserved retirement with his wife Joyce (Jane Wymark), bringing his 13-season run as rural England's finest homicide detective to a bittersweet end. 

With Acorn Media's MIDSOMER MURDERS: SET 21, Tom Barnaby's younger cousin John takes over in the form of actor Neil Dudgeon, who, while capable enough, still has a ways to go before he'll even begin to feel like a regular part of the show.  Naturally, this is played up by the writers as the character of John Barnaby finds himself treated as an outsider by the citizens of his adopted village of Causton, not to mention his co-workers on the police force. 

This is especially true of his cousin's former partner, Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), an ambitious young detective who had designs on taking over the vacated Chief Inspector's spot himself.  Hughes, in fact, is the main element of continuity within the series thus far, along with Barry Jackson as medical examiner Dr. George Bullard. 

Also helping to maintain a feeling of consistency with earlier seasons are the show's usual fine production values, intriguing stories, quaintly rustic setting, and often stellar guest cast.  Thus, while Dudgeon has his work cut out for him as the new guy trying to fit in, the show itself continues to cruise along like a well-oiled and finely-tuned machine.

As always, we also get to enjoy MIDSOMER MURDERS' droll humor, while missing the funny bits that were derived specifically from John Nettles' character--his love of a quiet Sunday afternoon in front of the telly, his matter-of-fact interactions with others, and his warm though sometimes prickly banter with wife Joyce. 

So far, attempts to humanize new guy John Barnaby consist of giving him a cute dog named Sykes with whom he carries on intimate conversations, and a wife named Sarah (Fiona Dolman) whose job as headmistress of the local primary school leaves her little time for such things.  Their chemistry as a believable married couple is pretty much nil, something the writers are seriously going to have to work on beyond the cursory attempts demonstrated in these episodes.

On the job, Dudgeon's character quickly establishes himself as a man not to be trifled with, much like his predecessor.  Stepping up to help keep the show on track is Hughes' Sgt. Jones, enjoying a larger role than before and displaying a marked improvement as a detective--no doubt putting to good use all the things he learned from his former mentor. 

The relationship between the new partners is a bit touchy at first, even to the point of Ben making light of the fact that John has a degree in psychology.  But it doesn't take long for them to begin to get used to each other and develop a mutual respect, with Ben acting as a go-between for John in his dealings with a dubious local citizenry.

The first episode in the set, "Death in the Slow Lane", is yet another story revolving around a murder which takes place during a festive local event, this time a classic car show held at an exclusive girls' school.  The guest cast includes venerable actor David Warner and a well-preserved Samantha Bond, who was Miss Moneypenny to Pierce Brosnan's 007.  Various unsavory goings on between her and her precocious schoolgirl daughter, including drug dealing to students, are topped by a decidedly unusual murder involving a car crank through the chest.

In "Dark Secrets", Barnaby and Jones investigate the suspicious death of an annoying social services employee who seems to have stuck his nose where it didn't belong.  The terrifically twisted and at times perverse plot features some wonderfully eccentric characters, including an outstanding Edward Fox and Phyllida Law (THE TIME MACHINE) as reclusive, addlebrained hoarders who never leave their dusty old mansion.  Also appearing as a mysterious "horse whisperer" named Jennifer is Haydn Gwynne of "Sherlock: The Great Game."

"Echoes of the Dead" guest stars Sarah Smart ("Monroe",
"Identity") and Pam Ferris ("Rosemary & Thyme") in a brutal serial killer tale that sets aside the show's trademark drollery for some genuine "CSI"-type gruesomeness.  In particular, some graphic shots of a dismembered corpse in a wicker basket are downright horrid for those not yet numbed by such sights.  With little of the series' usual rustic charm, this one resembles the standard, downbeat homicide-cop drama.

Finally, "The Oblong Murders" gives Sgt. Jones a chance to shine when he goes undercover as a member of a New Age cult in order to search for a missing girl.  We get to see a lot more of Jason Hughes here than usual--more, in fact, than I really needed to see during a brief rear-nudity shower scene--in an episode that comes closer to recapturing the traditional feel of the show. 

The 4-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby stereo sound and English subtitles.  Each episode is on a separate disc in its own slimline case.  No extras.

MIDSOMER MURDERS: SET 21 is still good fun for fans of this long-running chronicle of the bloodiest county in all of England, but with the absence of John Nettles, a key element of the show's appeal is jarringly missing.  Neil Dudgeon does his best as his replacement and is, in fact, quite good.  But as to how well he's going to fit into this already well-established series, the jury--as far as I'm concerned anyway--is still out.


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Saturday, January 26, 2013

AGATHA CHRISTIE'S PARTNERS IN CRIME: THE TOMMY & TUPPENCE MYSTERIES -- DVD review by porfle



While I was aware of Agatha Christie's keen sense of humor from watching the delightful "Poirot" and "Marple" television adaptations of recent years, it wasn't until I met Tommy and Tuppence Beresford that I encountered Dame Agatha's downright silly side.  Their one-season, 11-episode TV series from 1983 can now be found in Acorn Media's 3-disc DVD set AGATHA CHRISTIE'S PARTNERS IN CRIME: THE TOMMY & TUPPENCE MYSTERIES, but how much you appreciate them depends on your tolerance for screwball detective shenanigans of a distinctly lightweight nature.

James Warwick, almost a dead ringer for a young Michael Palin of "Monty Python", plays wounded World War I vet Thomas Beresford. In the feature-length pilot "The Secret Adversary", Tommy returns to London after his military discharge and is reunited with Prudence "Tuppence" Crowley (Francesca Annis, "Lillie", "Cranford"), the beautiful, vivacious army nurse who helped him recover from his injuries.  Naturally, they fall in love, but are both desperate to find work. 

After a few improbable contrivances, the soon-to-be-married couple find themselves working undercover for the British government in an adventure that feels more like a low-rent espionage yarn than a mystery story.  While there's a McGuffin of some sort that I can barely recall, this is simply an excuse to put our hero and heroine in and out of mildly dangerous situations for an hour and a half while dealing with guest stars George Baker ("I, Claudius"), Honor Blackman (of "The Avengers" and GOLDFINGER fame), and Gavan O'Herlihy (Richie Cunningham's phantom older brother on "Happy Days") as Julius P. Hersheimmer, an American millionaire who may or may not be in cahoots with the bad guys.

"The Secret Adversary" has that dreary, overcast look typical of filmed British teleplays of the era, which I actually regard with much nostalgia.  The story is more serious than the later series, with more gravitas and character depth.  Period trappings do a good enough job evoking the atmosphere of the post-WWI "flapper" era, especially in the rather lavish costuming.  All in all, it comes off as something Agatha Christie might've written to give her brain a rest from its usual rigorous literary workouts.

The first episode of the series proper, "The Affair of the Pink Pearl", comes as something of a shock since it features that odd-looking tendency of early British television to mix gloomy filmed exteriors with brightly-lit videotaped interiors, which never fails to look jarring and artificial.  Tommy and Tuppence have taken over a detective agency despite their having no experience in the field whatsoever--they rely mainly on sheer luck and pluck to get by--with their movie-obsessed young butler Albert (Reece Dinsdale) serving as receptionist and general comedy relief buffoon. 

The series has the look of a sitcom with everyone playing their roles in a broad, theatrical manner.  The mysteries Tommy and Tuppence are called upon to solve are quickly and easily dealt with for the most part--anything more complicated, in fact, would be beyond their limited capabilities--leaving plenty of time for frivilously romantic banter between the charming but sometimes sickly-sweet lovebirds. 

"Pink Pearl" is a simple, even paper-thin drawing room mystery involving the theft of the title item amidst an upperclass household of eccentrics.  Francesca Annis' Tuppence is flightier and sillier than ever, yet she's more naturally clever at solving puzzles than Tommy, a sturdy, reliable chap who enjoys letting his playful side show through in her presence.  Guests include William Hootkins of STAR WARS, BATMAN, and HARDWARE, and Graham Crowden of BRITANNIA HOSPITAL.

"The House of Lurking Death" is more like it, living up to its lurid title quite nicely with a better balance of seriousness and humor.  Half the characters we're introduced to in the first scene are killed off by poison, putting Tommy and Tuppence into a situation that's much grimmer and more genuinely involving than usual.  (Joan Sanderson, the crabby old deaf lady from "Fawlty Towers", guests.)  After this, "The Sunningdale Mystery" is positively inert, with our leads wandering around a golf course discussing a murder mystery and poking around for clues until they figure things out and go home.  

"The Clergyman's Daughter" is a fun one about a supposed mansion haunting with the usual "Scooby-Doo" plot enhanced by Tuppence's masquerade as a spiritualist.  "Finessing the King" gives Tommy and Tuppence a chance to dress up as Holmes and Watson for a costume ball and revisit some old romantic haunts from their past, one of which becomes the setting for the inevitable murder.  After that, "The Ambassador's Boots" is about as bland as the title suggests.

There's some nice foggy atmosphere in "The Man in the Mist" but it gives way to tedium as Tommy's longwinded re-enactment of yet another murder goes on too long.  The episode is saved by a chuckle-inducing ending.  "The Unbreakable Alibi" is an interesting tale of a woman who claims to have been in two places at once, with a solid alibi in each instance.  Fairly intriguing, until the most obvious solution to the mystery turns out to be the right one.

In "The Case of the Missing Lady", Tommy and Tuppence infiltrate a country asylum where an Arctic explorer's missing fiance' is thought to be held captive.  This is one of the most comedy-heavy episodes, with Tuppence, disguised as a famous Russian ballerina, keeping staff and inmates occupied with a prolonged shaggy-dog version of "Swan Lake" while Tommy searches the place disguised as a scraggly old gardener.  A last-minute revelation makes the story even more lightweight than previously thought, but with amusing results.  "The Crackler" sends the series off with a pretty interesting tale of counterfeit bank notes floating around an illicit gambling club.

The 3-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  There are no extras.

If you're up for this sort of frothy, lightweight entertainment, then there's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy AGATHA CHRISTIE'S PARTNERS IN CRIME: THE TOMMY & TUPPENCE MYSTERIES to some extent.  Just as long as you're not expecting something with the same rich atmosphere and emotional resonance as Christie's more substantial filmed works.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

"NAKED CITY!" Image Entertainment Presents A True TV Classic On DVD Februrary 19th!



“There are eight million stories in the Naked City…”

IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT PRESENTS A TRUE TV CLASSIC

Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes

Featuring Hollywood’s Biggest Names Including Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall--And Many More!

On DVD February 19, 2013


On Feb 9th Image Entertainment releases Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes on DVD. The hard-boiled classic TV series that aired from 1958 to 1963 on ABC was a groundbreaking drama in style and substance with a “semi-documentary” format that told gripping stories of real-life in the big city.

Starring Paul Burke, the show features many great guest stars including Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Fonda, William Shatner, Dustin Hoffman, Telly Savalas, James Caan, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jack Klugman and many more. The SRP for the 5 DVD set is $24.98.

One of television's finest police dramas, “Naked City” puts a human face on crime, going beyond a simplistic portrayal of good vs. evil to delve into the complex personal dramas of the people involved.

Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes is a landmark collection featuring many classic episodes from the acclaimed Emmy® Award-winning series and a list of guest stars that would make up some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

“Not just another cop show.” – Time Magazine

Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes DVD
Street Date:                   February 19, 2013
Pre-book:                     January 22, 2013
Cat. #:                          ID8383CBDVD
UPC:                            014381838329
Run Time:                     16 Hrs. 12 minutes
Rating:                          N/A
SRP:                            $24.98
Format:                        Original 1.33:1
Audio:                          Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles:                      No

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT & MARPLE: FAN FAVORITES -- DVD review by porfle



They have very little in common besides their love for a good mystery--Hercule Poirot, a fussy little obsessive-compulsive Belgian gentleman who revels in well-deserved recognition for his brilliance as a detective, and Miss Jane Marple, a humble, unassuming little old lady who so delights in solving mysteries that she doesn't mind letting some grateful young police inspector have the credit.

An unlikely pair, but they're two of legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie's most celebrated characters, and they're together in Acorn Media's 6-disc DVD collection AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT & MARPLE: FAN FAVORITES.  Each character gets a separately-boxed 3-disc set that has been previously released, with six of Poirot's most popular adventures and five of Miss Marple's.

All of these have appeared in the regular season sets, and if you collect those then you probably own these titles already--thus, "Fan Favorites" is recommended either as an introduction to the characters or for fans who simply want a well-chosen sampling.  (I've already reviewed several of these episodes as part of their original season sets and will refer to my previous comments when appropriate.)

The most delightful surprise for me was my first viewing of the celebrated Hercule Poirot classic "Murder on the Orient Express."  Having seen the theatrical version starring Albert Finney many years ago, I was unprepared for the excellence of this moody, somber made-for-TV adaptation, with its exquisite art deco design and period atmosphere (familiar hallmarks of this series) combined with fine direction and cinematography to create a most compelling and often riveting entertainment.

An exciting train trip through the mountains is brought to an abrupt halt when the locomotive engine plunges into a wall of snow.  As a quirky and mysterious array of passengers helplessly await outside aid, one of the them--a thoroughly unpleasant man with a dark secret--is murdered in his bed.  Poirot, naturally, is pressed into service to weed out the killer.  But there are several likely suspects, each with a motive and opportunity.

David Suchet does his usual outstanding job as Poirot, imbuing the character not only with his familiar humorous quirks which never fail to delight, but also with an emotional depth that seems to grow as both the series and Poirot himself age.  Indeed, Suchet's performance reaches an emotional climax at the end which is stunning.  This comes after one of the most intensely dramatic "reveals" in the entire series, as Poirot leads the assemblage of suspects through his painstaking deductive processes until the murderer is exposed.

The next case, "Hercule Poirot's Christmas", is described in my review of POIROT: SERIES 6 as "the familiar story of a rich, hateful old man (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME's Vernon Dobtcheff) and a houseful of potential heirs (including Sasha Behar of INJUSTICE), each of whom would benefit from his death and be a likely suspect when the old man eventually does turn up murdered.

"As usual, Agatha Christie takes these well-used elements and makes them seem new again with interesting characters and circumstances, along with the usual wonderful bits of business with Poirot himself straining his brain to solve a classic 'locked door' murder as suspects pile up like presents under a Christmas tree.  Speaking of which, the scene in which Poirot unwraps the gift given to him by Inspector Japp may have fans of the series laughing out loud.

"Poirot's characteristically theatrical 'reveal' here is drawn out even longer than usual to allow him (and us) to fully savor it, raking each suspect over the coals as he is wont to do--especially those he doesn't particularly like--before finally unveiling the true identity of the killer.  For the patient viewer who has followed every torturous twist and turn of the story, these sequences can be particularly rewarding."


"The Mysterious Affair at Styles" is a typical English estate murder mystery involving a colorfully dysfunctional upper-class family, and is of interest mainly because we get to see Poirot and his good friend and associate Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) at the start of their partnership.  "The ABC Murders" is an unusual one for Poirot in that it involves a serial killer who announces his murders in advance as a challenge to the celebrated detective.  A group composed of survivors of the victims bands together to help Poirot, although one of them might actually be involved with the killer.

"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" (as described in my review for POIROT: SERIES 5) is "the classic story of archeologists who open up an ancient tomb and then start dying off one by one due to some dreadful curse.  Only this time, Poirot suspects that the curse is due to a modern-day killer trying to cover his tracks by way of ancient superstition.

"The episode establishes such a crackerjack setting and mood that it doesn't seem to go on long enough--it's a bit like an old 'Mummy' movie without the Mummy, or a boys' adventure yarn for adults.  The ending wraps up the story neatly with Poirot demonstrating a bit of his usual understated sentimentality which is always both unexpected and disarming."


And finally, "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" concerns the suspicious deaths of two estranged brothers within a short time of each other.  Here, even the identity of the victim is in question, as witnesses--including Poirot himself--saw him dining in a local cafe' at the moment he was supposed to have been murdered.

The five Miss Marple selections begin with the delightful "The Murder at the Vicarage", which features Geraldine McEwan as the title sleuth whose idyllic English village becomes the scene of a shocking murder surrounded by all kinds of smalltown intrigue.  A stellar guest cast includes Mark Gatiss (currently a producer, writer, and co-star of the successful BBC "Sherlock" series), Derek Jacobi, Jane Asher, Jason Flemyng, Herbert Lom, Robert Powell, Janet McTeer, and Julie Cox.

"A Murder is Announced" is a crackerjack whodunnit that begins with the title announcement appearing in the local newspaper.  Sure enough, a lighthearted gathering of friends who regard the whole thing as a prank ends in death, with suspects including guest stars Zoë Wanamaker, Sienna Guillory, Virginia McKenna, and Cherie Lunghi (EXCALIBUR). 

"At Bertram's Hotel" boasts gorgeous production design and photography, while dripping with richly-hued period atmosphere.  The mystery itself--a young hotel maid is strangled on the roof while waiting there for reasons unknown--is scintillating and complex, with a sensational reveal that has Miss Marple skillfully untangling multiple mysteries which keep us guessing until the very last revelation.  A wealth of droll humor and clever touches, in additon to a guest cast including Francesca Annis and Danny Webb (ALIEN 3) make this one of the most outstanding romps in the series.

"A Pocketful of Rye" introduces Julie MacKenzie as a less impish and more reserved Miss Marple in another of those gloomy-mansion tales of an upperclass family beseiged by a series of murders.  It's all a baffling replay of the familiar fairytale (reminiscent of Poirot's "Four and Twenty Blackbirds") but with a murderous twist.  Another "Sherlock" alumnus, Rupert Graves ("Detective Lastrade"), plays the family's prodigal son and one of the main suspects.

Finally, the set ends with one of the best of the best, "The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side" (previously adapted as a feature film starring Angela Lansbury, with the shortened title THE MIRROR CRACK'D), which, as I described in my review of MARPLE: SERIES 5, "blends the pastoral setting of Miss Marple's hometown with the tacky decadence of old Hollywood when Marina Gregg (Lindsay Duncan), a fading movie queen on the comeback trail, moves into a nearby mansion with her young husband and current director, Jason Rudd (Nigel Harman).

"During a gala party in which the actress is feted like royalty by her local fans, a townswoman dies from poisoning after downing a drink meant for Marina.  Miss Marple's brassy friend Dolly Bantry (the returning Joanna Lumley) recalls a peculiar detail--as Marina and the doomed woman were chatting earlier, a strangely blank look fell over the actress' face.  Was it fear of someone she saw entering the room?  Or something more mysterious?  Further attempts on her life and a gaggle of likely suspects with various motives keep Miss Marple's inquisitive mind busy as she helps a stuffy police inspector and his bumbling assistant sort it all out."


The 6-disc DVD collection from Acorn Media is in both 16:9 widescreen and 4:3 full screen, with stereo and mono sound.  The sole extra is a booklet entitled "Delicious Death", containing a cake recipe inspired by the story "A Murder is Announced."

Whether you're a longtime fan of these rich, vivid characters or just getting to know them, AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT & MARPLE: FAN FAVORITES is an ideal sampling of some of their most baffling and enthralling cases.


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Monday, January 21, 2013

"Earth's Final Hours" on Blu-Ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment April 2nd



Where will you be at the end?

On April 2nd, Anchor Bay Entertainment releases the end of the world thriller Earth’s Final Hours on Blu-ray™ and DVD. When dense matter from an imploded white hole threatens our planet, a group of government agents are the only ones who can save the world from a new ice age. This wild tale of natural disaster debuted on the Syfy channel last year and stars Hamza Adams (“Sanctuary”), Julia Benson (“SGU Stargate Universe”), Cameron Bright (Twilight Saga: New Moon, Twilight Saga: Eclipse) and Sage Brocklebank (“Psych”). The SRP for the Blu-ray™ is $24.99 and $19.98 for DVD. The pre-book is March 6th.

When bizarre radiation storms suddenly erupt, defense systems are wiped out, polar outposts are incinerated and space debris blasts holes clear through our planet. Now a tough federal, a cool government scientist and his rebel genius son have uncovered a magnetospheric nightmare that could stop the Earth’s rotation. Do a disgraced inventor and an archaic satellite hold the sole keys to our survival, or is the clock ticking towards the annihilation of mankind?

Directed by David Hogan (Behemoth) Earth’s Final Hours is an intense apocalyptic shocker that will leave you shaking and looking to the skies.

Earth’s Final Hours Blu-ray
Street Date:                   April 2, 2013
Pre-Book:                      March 6, 2013
UPC #:                          0 1313 26033-5 3
Item:                             BD60335
Audio:                           Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles:                      English SDH and Spanish
Retail Price:                  $24.99
Genre:                          Sci-Fi/Horror
Rating:                          PG-13
Run Time:                     91 Mins
Year:                            2011

Earth’s Final Hours DVD
Street Date:                  April 2, 2013
Pre-Book:                     March 6, 2013
UPC #:                         0 1313 26033-4 6
Item:                            DV60334
Audio:                          Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                      English SDH and Spanish
Retail Price:                  $19.98
Genre:                          Sci-Fi/Horror
Rating:                          PG-13
Run Time:                     91 Mins
Year:                            2011

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DVD
(Blu-Ray order info to come)
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

"THE MASTER"--Anchor Bay Entertainment and the Weinstein Company Mesmerize Audiences on Blu-Ray and DVD Combo Pack Feb. 26th



THE MASTER Heads To Retail On February 26, 2013

“One of the great movies of the year.” -- Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
“Mind-Bending Cinematic Landmark.” -- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
“5 Stars.  Simply Unmissable” -- Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Nominated for Three Academy Awards® and Three Golden Globes®
Directed by Academy Award®-Nominated Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson


BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein Company announced today the Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD release of THE MASTER, the innovative film that has won over audiences and critics alike.  Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), the 1950s-set drama centers on the relationship between a charismatic intellectual known as “The Master” (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Moneyball) who creates a belief system which catches on with other lost souls – and a young WW-II veteran (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator) who becomes his right-hand man.  In addition to Hoffman and Phoenix, the film also stars Amy Adams (Doubt) and Laura Dern (Little Fockers). THE MASTER heads to retail on February 26, 2013 for an SRP of $39.99 for the Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and $29.98 for the DVD.

Haunted by his past, WW-II veteran and drifter Freddie Quell crosses paths with a mysterious movement called The Cause, led by Lancaster Dodd aka “The Master” and his wife Peggy.  Their twisted relationship is the core of this film that is “a glorious and haunting symphony of color, emotion and sound with camera movements that elicit an involuntary gasp and feats of acting that defy comprehension (A.O Scott, The New York Times).”

Joe Neumaier of The New York Daily News declared THE MASTER, "the season's first Oscar contender." THE MASTER received the following 2012 Academy Award® nominations -  Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Amy Adams for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.  The film received three Golden Globes® Nominations including Best Actor in a Drama Joaquin Phoenix, Best Supporting Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams.

Awarded Best Actor for both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix and Best Director for Paul Thomas Anderson at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, THE MASTER is a film “that casts a spell like a fever dream (David Ansen, Newsweek).” 

Stunningly photographed in 65mm, THE MASTER stands as an undeniable cinematic experience. Will Freddie be able to outrun his past?  Will The Cause help or hurt him? Can this tortured, violent creature be civilized?  Or is man, after all, just a dirty animal?

THE MASTER Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD special features include: “Back Beyond” which features outtakes and additional scenes edited to music by Johnny Greenwood; “Unguided Message,” an 8 minute short / behind the scenes; Teasers/ Trailers.  The Combo Pack also includes an additional special feature “Let Their Be Light (1946), John Huston’s landmark documentary about WW-II veterans.”  Note: Special features are subject to change.

THE MASTER BLU-RAY™ Combo Pack
(Blu-ray™ + DVD+ Digital Copy)
Street date:                               February 26, 2013
Pre-book:                                 January 30, 2013
Catalog #:                                BD59719
UPC:                                        01313259719580
Run time:                                 138 Minutes
Rating:                                     R
SRP:                                       $39.99
Format:                                   Widescreen
Audio:                                     DTSHD-MA 5.1

THE MASTER DVD
Street date:                                February 26, 2013
Pre-book:                                 January 30, 2013
Catalog #:                                WC59717
UPC:                                        01313259717180
Run time:                                 138 Minutes
Rating:                                     R
SRP:                                      $29.98
Format:                                   Widescreen
Audio:                                     Dolby Digital 5.1

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

GHOST HUNTERS ACADEMY -- DVD review by porfle



My first experience with this franchise was the DVD set "Ghost Hunters International Season One: Part 1", which was pleasant enough except that in the first few episodes it looked like they were aiming to include the usual reality TV-type interpersonal intrigue, back-biting, etc. rather than straight ghost-hunting, which I feared would get old fast.  Thankfully, they dropped that angle early on.

Unfortunately, GHOST HUNTERS ACADEMY jumps into all that with both feet and wallows around in it.  Image Entertainment's 4-disc DVD collection of this two-season spin-off series (2009-10), which lasted for only twelve episodes, is the standard elimination-style competition (a la "Survivor") in which contestants for a spot on "Ghost Hunters" are not only evaluated for their performances after each session but goaded into revealing who they think should be given the axe at episode's end.

It's like "Ghost Hunters" with a mean streak, with host-instructors Steve Gonsalvez and Dave Tango--mere second stringers on the main show--coming off like a couple of bullying, know-it-all doofs who have suddenly been given too much authority.  They seem to thrive on putting the earnest, nervous contestants on the spot and making them sweat ("WHY did you place a camera where NO VISUAL ACTIVITY has been reported?  WHY?") or lavishly berating them for not performing to their own elevated standards. 

Familiar locations are revisited, such as Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Shawshank Prison, the creepy Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Colorado's Stanley Hotel (the inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining"), and, my favorite, the Buffalo Central Terminal where the indy horror flick PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED was shot.  The investigations seem rather cursory this time, however--there's no reveal to the site's host, only a caustic evaluation by Steve and Tango of the contestants' grievous failings. 

In fact, it occurred to me somewhere around episode five or six that there hadn't been a single convincingly paranormal event in the entire series thus far, besides those in "Ghost Hunters" flashbacks.  The episode titles themselves tell the story, pointing out the emphasis on personal drama rather than eerie encounters: "Web of Deceit" (referring to one contestant's failure to disclose her psychic abilities), "The Honeymoon's Over", "Back to Basics", "Drama Queen", "The Blame Game", and so on. 

Episode seven introduces a new group of hopefuls and a slightly new format in response to what were probably less than stellar ratings.  TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) co-founder Jason Hewes comes on to help whip the show into shape and the "cadets" as they're called seem more down-to-business.  But the "Survivor" template is adhered to even more closely, with everyone dishing the dirt on everyone else as bad feelings and grudges are encouraged. 

This second stage of the series does seem to get a little more into the "spirit" of the investigations, so to speak--there seems to be a bit more paranormal hoo-hah going on in these episodes.  But there's also a lot of boring down time, with a giggling Steve and Tango playing practical jokes on the contestants that are ostensibly meant to "test" them but come off mainly as simple pranks of the kind that are an anathema to this kind of show.

It's almost disheartening to hear the contestants' interview segments in which they speak excitedly about joining the GH team and becoming bonafide paranormal investigators, only to see them get bogged down in this superficial show's uninteresting machinations.  (The fact that we already know the second season's winner--since he's a part of the regular "Ghost Hunters" team already--eliminates much of the show's suspense as well.)
 
The 4-disc DVD set from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby stereo sound.  No subtitles.  Disc four consists of several deleted and expanded scenes. 

There's no joy or catharsis when the final winner of GHOST HUNTERS ACADEMY is announced, only the feeling that we've just been through a lot of unpleasant rigamarole for nothing.  With the lack of paranormal activity throughout most of these episodes, you also get the distinct impression that the spirits themselves didn't consider the series worth showing up for.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

THE JAZZ SINGER -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle




It wasn't really the first time the movies had talked.  But when Warner Brothers released "The Jazz Singer" in 1927, it was the first such film to become a commercial sensation, thus heralding the ultimate demise of the silent era.

Warner Home Video's 3-disc set THE JAZZ SINGER gives film buffs and novices alike the opportunity to view the original classic in all its pristine glory, with a practically flawless print and a robust soundtrack taken from the original recording discs once used to accompany the film when projected.  This Blu-Ray presentation also comes with two DVDs containing a wealth of extras that reflect the diligent work of various film preservationists.

As for the film itelf, it's the story of a young jazz singer named Jakie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson) whose rigidly conservative father disowns him because he refuses to become a cantor in the synagogue.  Despite five generations of Rabinowitzes being cantors, Jakie would rather sing songs like "Toot Toot Tootsie" and "Dirty Face, Dirty Hands" under the name "Jack Robin" than to serenade the faithful, which will eventually drive his father to his deathbed as his heartbroken mother looks on in anguish.

When Jakie meets and falls in love with Broadway star Mary Dale (a sparkling May McAvoy), she recommends him for the lead role in a Broadway revue that promises to propel him to stardom.  But the night of his debut coincides with the services for the Day of Atonement, in which Jakie must perform as cantor lest his father die of disappointment.  It's the classic dilemma, plunging both Jakie and the viewer into a world of heartrending melodrama.


It may be difficult to understand now, but at the time Al Jolson was considered the world's greatest entertainer.  Indeed, he's earnest and engaging when performing even though his material seems incredibly corny and even maudlin nowadays.  While the majority of THE JAZZ SINGER is silent, Jolson's performance numbers are done with sound, including his ad-libbed patter between songs.  His famous quote "Wait a minute, wait a minute...you ain't heard nothin' yet!" is the line that first introduced most viewers to the world of talking cinema. 

Later, when the banished Jakie comes home to visit his beloved mother, he serenades her at the piano as Jolson ad-libs up a storm between lyrics.  His extensive dialogue here is what most impressed initial viewers and critics who found this synchonization of picture and sound to be irresistibly exciting.  Jolson's performing style continues to carry the film to new heights in the final Broadway sequence, in which he makes cinematic history belting out his heart-on-the-sleeve rendition of "Mammy" on bended knee.

While his use of minstrel-style blackface continues to be a sticking point for many viewers--Warner Brothers leads off the lengthy enclosed booklet with a disclaimer about "ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society" and is careful to feature a white-faced Jolson on the DVD cover--Jolson himself doesn't stress the usual stereotype while in the makeup and uses it mainly to get into character for his sentimental songs.  How tolerable one finds this is up to the individual viewer.

Storywise, THE JAZZ SINGER mixes the lighthearted jazz scenes and the warm, stereotypically Jewish humor with strong somber overtones that are reflected by the lovely theme music by Louis Silvers (overture and exit music are included here and are a treat).  Director Alan Crosland's lean, efficient work is augmented by some priceless opening shots of New York's lower east side.  


Swedish actor Warner Oland, who would become famous for his portrayal of Chinese detective Charlie Chan, makes an impression as Jakie's unyielding father, the quintessential old fogey, while Eugenie Besserer is Jakie's long-suffering mother Sara.  Otto Lederer adds to the Jewish-related humor as neighborhood kibitzer Moisha Yudelson. 

But it's Jolson who makes THE JAZZ SINGER as fun and involving as it is, despite being about as creaky and over-the-top sentimental as a story can be.  (Critics of the time thought so, too.)  While his performing style takes some getting used to, he's unfailingly charming and enthusiastic every second he's on the screen, giving his all during every musical number and applying himself diligently in his acting requirements as well.  It makes one wonder just how effective he must have been while interacting with a live audience.  

Disc One contains not only the film itself but also a wonderfully informative commentary by film historians Ron Hutchinson and Vince Giordano.  A 1926 Vitaphone short, "The Plantation Act", features Jolson in blackface in a performance that prompted the Warners to cast him as "The Jazz Singer" over George Jessel, who had made the role his own on stage and expected to be a shoo-in for the screen version. 

Also included are the short, "An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Bros. Silver Jubilee", the Tex Avery cartoon "I Love to Singa", the shorts "Hollywood Handicap" and "A Day at Santa Anita", a 1947 Lux Radio Theater broadcast featuring Jolson, and the film's trailer.

Disc Two begins with a feature-length documentary, "The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk" and two rare Technicolor excerpts from the lost film "Gold Diggers of Broadway" (1929).  Also included are the following WB studio shorts: "Finding His Voice" (1929 animated cartoon produced by Max Fleischer), "The Voice That Thrilled the World", "Okay for Sound" (1946), "When Talkies Were Young" (1955), and "The Voice from the Screen", a 1926 demonstration film which explains the new technology in incredibly boring fashion.

Disc Three offers over three and a half hours of vaudeville stars in musical, dramatic, and comedy performance shorts, many of which have been newly restored by film archivists and historians.  They run the gamut from the hilarious verbal comedy of Shaw and Lee in "The Beau Brummels" and Burns and Allen in "Lambchops" to the song stylings of Baby Rose Marie ("The Child Wonder") and the music of Dick Rich and his Melodious Monarchs.  Most of these shorts are in fine condition, but some have been pieced together from existing footage.

Some may find THE JAZZ SINGER a bit of a chore to sit through.  I myself was a little bored now and then upon first viewing, but I found that it really started to grow on me after watching it for the second or third time.  It's best to pretend that you're sitting in the audience for a crowded, anticipation-charged showing in 1927, and witnessing firsthand the triumphant advent of sound as a blackfaced Jewish guy belting out "Mammy" rings the death knell for silent cinema.


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Friday, January 11, 2013

Get ready for a living nightmare! Anchor Bay Entertainment presents "MIMESIS" – coming February 12th to Blu-ray and DVD!



“Delivered true horror…Mimesis is a horror fan’s dream concept.” – WeGotThisCovered.com

“A cult classic in the making.  A must watch, get your friends and know that you are going to have a blast.” – WickedChannel.com

"Mimesis is one hell of a fun film. Don’t miss it!” – HorrorNews.Net

ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT PRESENTS THE NEXT EVOLUTION IN HORROR CINEMA -- "MIMESIS"

Turning the classic horror film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD into a real life nightmare February 12th on Blu-ray™ and DVD


Beverly Hills, CA – Why watch a horror film when you can live one?

For over a century, fans have had their blood curdled and spins chilled by the vicarious thrills of horror films. Whether populated by ghouls, slashers, zombies or vampires, fans flocked to have their pulse quickened and exercise their scream-generating skills. But one thing remained constant: eventually the story ended, because it was only a movie. What if it didn’t have to end? What if the next level of horror was to experience a horror film from the inside?

Already the fan and critical favorite from over 15 notable film festivals, Anchor Bay Entertainment presents the next evolutionary turn in horror entertainment with the February 12th release of Mimesis on Blu-ray™ and DVD. Starring genre favorites Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn, Back to the Future) and Sid Haig (Rob Zombie’s Halloween, The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses), with a special cameo by original Night of the Living Dead star Bill Hinzman and featuring a song from the multi-platinum selling band Insane Clown Posse, Mimesis is already on its way to becoming the next great cult horror film! SRP is $24.99 for the Blu-ray™, and $22.98 for the DVD, with pre-book on January 16th. Fans will also have the opportunity to experience Mimesis at special event screenings across the country.

*Mimesis, as defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary: “imitation, mimicry.”                               

Mimesis’ inventive concept has won over fans at festivals spanning the globe, including FesTerror in Barcelona; Fantastic Estepona in Spain, where it won awards for Best Director and Best Original Score; the Shock Stock Horror Convention in Ontario, Canada; CineQuest in San Jose; the Los Angeles Fear & Fantasy Film Festival, where it won Honorable Mention for Best Picture; awarded Best Screenplay at the La Samain du Cinema Fantastique in Nice, France and most recently winning Best Feature Film at the 2012 Living Dead Film Festival.

In the film, a group of horror fans find themselves unwilling participants in a living nightmare that pays homage to a classic horror film. Seven complete strangers whose only common link is a love for classic era horror films are invited to attend an exclusive “horror fan” party at a remote farm. But as the sun sets, these strangers soon find themselves within a real life version of the 1968 George Romero cult horror classic Night of the Living Dead!

Mimesis is directed by Douglas Schulze, with screenplay by Joshua Wagner and Schulze. Kurt Eli Mayry, Schulze and Gavin Grazer produced, with original music composed by Diego Navarro.

Mimesis Blu-ray™
Genre:             Horror
Rating:            R
Languages:      English
Format:            Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio:             Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Year:               2011
SRP:                $24.99
Street Date:     February 12, 2013
Pre-Book:        January 16, 2013
Length:            95 minutes
Subtitles:         English SDH, Spanish
UPC:               0 1313 2600758-8 0
Cat#:               BD60075
Bonus:             Audio commentary with Director/Co-Writer Douglas Schulze and Co-Writer Joshua Wagner

Mimesis DVD
Genre:             Horror
Rating:            R
Languages:      English
Format:            Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio:             Dolby Digital 5.1
Year:               2011
SRP:                $22.98
Street Date:     February 12, 2013
Pre-Book:        January 16, 2013
Length:            95 minutes
Subtitles:         English SDH, Spanish
UPC:               0 1313 2600741-8 0
Cat#:               DV60074
Bonus:             Audio commentary with Director/Co-Writer Douglas Schulze and Co-Writer Joshua Wagner

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

LOVE ME -- DVD review by porfle



After a promising start--a smalltown girl is stalked by an unseen figure in a black car, then shows up on a "missing" sign--LOVE ME (2012) gradually settles into the comfortable mediocrity of a Lifetime Channel thriller. 

Artistically-inclined high schooler Sylvia Potter (Lindsey Shaw, THE HOWLING REBORN) makes intricate shoebox dioramas and runs the projector at a revival theater while waiting for true love to come her way.  Enter enigmatic, poor little rich kid Lucas Green (Jamie Johnston, "Degrassi: The Next Generation"), a handsome but troubled transfer student who once dated Sylvia's friend Dalyn (Kaitlyn Wong) until it ended badly. 

Dalyn's warnings go unheeded by the smitten Sylvia, who thinks Lucas a sensitive soul (he makes "mix CDs" for her with just the right songs on them!) until she discovers that he's the main suspect in the murder of that girl in the opening scene.  Not only that, but he has an anger management problem that surfaces when Sylvia is accosted by bullies from her former school.

The usual elements of the teen romantic drama fall into place before taking a sinister turn.  Sylvia's budding relationship with Lucas begins with a cute-meet and progresses to soulful dialogue exchanges and soft-focus romantic dalliances (their obligatory sex scene at his family's cabin is tastefully restrained), which alienates her disapproving prep school pals. 

Especially put off by it all is the wimpy Harry (Jean-Luc Bilodeau), whom Sylvia has relegated to Friend Zone Hell despite his burning desire for her, and who, along with Dalyn, has resolved to make her see the truth about Lucas before it's too late.

Director Rick Bota, who was DP on such films as BARB WIRE and the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL remake, keeps things very subdued and low-key throughout, rarely overplaying his hand while unspooling this nice-looking but minor mystery tale.  But aside from one or two slightly nail-biting passages--including a creepy scene of Sylvia trapped in her projection booth while someone slowly turns the doorknob--the results are bland. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of two featurettes, "Love Me: Behind the Scenes" and "Love Me: Stories From the Set."

The plot thickens when we discover that Lucas was involved with the missing girl from reel one.  Is he really the killer?  Or might it be someone less likely, perhaps even one of Sylvia's friends?  With a few red herrings to keep us guessing, LOVE ME manages to maintain interest as long as you don't happen to have anything better to do, and you keep your expectations low. 


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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Acorn TV Streams U.S. Premiere of the Next Must-See Mystery Series - "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries" plus Judi Dench, Midsomer Marathon

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

Acorn TV is featuring a free 14-day trial for complete access to the 18 different series with an average of 175 hours of weekly content (up 40% from the 125 hours in Sept.) Thereafter, a subscription is just $2.99/mth or $29.99/yr. Each week three new seasons are added and three are removed. The press login/password for complete access is readily available upon request.

Please consider trying out and covering Acorn TV. Acorn TV is available at acornonline.com/TV and through Roku, iPhones, iPads, Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Tablet, Apple TV, Google TV, among others.

Coming up on Acorn TV

January 14th:

The U.S. premiere of the hugely popular period mystery series Murdoch Mysteries, Edward the King, and A Woman of Substance Trilogy

January 21st:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie starring Gerladine McEwan, Blue Murder, and Murder Investigation Team

January 28th:

Upstairs, Downstairs Complete Series Marathon, Dirk Gently starring Episodes Stephen Mangan, Simon Callow and Brenda Blethyn in Chance in a Million, and Tommy & Tuppence Set 2

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Athena on Facebook

Acorn Media/Athena DVD Release Calendar:

Jan. 8: Midsomer Murders, Set 21

Jan. 15: The Story of Math Collection and Bill Moyers: Becoming American

Jan. 29: Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime: The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries, Agatha Christie’s Poirot & Marple Fan Favorites Collection, and Wodehouse Playhouse Complete

Feb. 5: Above Suspicion Set 2, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers: 25th Anniversary Edition, She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens, and Testimony of Two Men

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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Friday, January 4, 2013

THE MILLENNIUM BUG -- DVD review by porfle



With a rather bland title and an opening ten minutes that makes it appear as though we're in for yet another generic tale of city folk terrorized by backwoods maniacs, THE MILLENNIUM BUG (2011) gradually escalates into one of the most stunning blood-and-thunder monster flicks to assail the senses since...well, 1999.

It begins on December 31st of that year with the Haskin family--Byron (Jon Briddell), his new wife Joany (Jessica Simons), and Byron's teen daughter Clarissa (Christine Haeberman) camping out in the deep forest of the Sierra Diablos mountains, far from any potential difficulties due to the dreaded Y2K bug.  They're nice, but boring, and it looks like the film is going to be boring too, even when some inbred hillbillies have a run-in with the local game warden nearby and he ends up being sucked underground by an unseen monster. 

Cut to the interior of the Crawford family's remote cabin, and suddenly, from out of nowhere, the film takes on the surreal quality of a giddy, hysterical nightmare.  While Granny (Sandi Steinberg), Uncle Hibby (Trek Loneman), and the rest of the clan look on, Pearlene (Ginger Pullman) is on the kitchen table giving birth to what turns out to be yet another genetic mutation to be taken out and shot. "We need some new blood in this family!" Granny announces. 

Enter the hapless Haskins family as unwilling breeding stock, starting with young Clarissa, and THE MILLENNIUM BUG shifts into horrendous high gear.  What follows is a funny, horrific, and lavishly gory descent into domestic chaos, demented-hillbilly style.  After eldest Crawford son Billa (John Charles Meyer) "marries" Clarissa during a deranged wedding ceremony, Byron and Joany break loose and engage the psychotic yokels in battle.  Other elements add to the horror, including Byron's dark-basement encounter with Orpheus, the creepiest and most demented of the Crawford clan. 

But wait--there's more.  Because not far away, cryptozoologist Roger Patterson (Ken MacFarlane) is on the trail of that giant underground monster, which only comes to life once every thousand years.  MacFarlane, veteran of all three "Caesar and Otto" comedies including the most recent CAESAR AND OTTO'S DEADLY XMAS, gives his usual delightfully-eccentric performance, but we wonder--why is this tacked-on monster subplot even necessary given how much is already going on in the Crawfords' cabin?
 
This question is answered in spades when the towering creature finally comes to life in all its shambling, scaly, fanged glory.  Writer-director Kenneth Cran (THE NIGHT CALLER) wanted to make an old-school giant monster flick with absolutely no CGI, instead relying on every trick in the "practical effects" book to take monster fans back to the glory days of suitmation, models, puppets, and full-scale mock-ups, along with great miniature sets, finely-rendered optical effects, and elaborate makeups. 

Thus, this giddily grotesque cross between "The Hills Have Eyes" and Sid and Marty Krofft morphs into a colossal creature invasion that will have city folk and yokels alike running for their lives.  But even with the wonderfully executed Millennium Bug Monster crashing through scale-model sets and gnashing people in its full-sized jaws, there's still time for some exquisitely repellent side trips into awfulness such as Pearlene trying to entice an unwilling Roger Patterson with her hideous three-nippled breasts, or later being subjected to a full-body monster bukkake courtesy of what we can only assume are the creature's sex organs.

The DVD from Green Apple Entertainment is in 16 x 9 (1.78:1) widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound.  No subtitles.  Extras include an informative commentary with writer-director Kenneth Cran, producer James Cran, and production designer Dustin Yoder (who plays "Orpheus"), along with deleted scenes and a "making-of" featurette that those interested in indy filmmaking will find enlightening.  Andrew Spence's bombastic synth score is alternately overpowering and exciting.

With the way, way over-the-top acting and cartoonish antics of the Crawfords leading to the mammoth creature's bloody, slime-drenched rampage, THE MILLENNIUM BUG just gets more fun and more outrageous as it goes along.  And for those who, like director Cran, are simply tired of pervasive, non-stop CGI, the old-school special effects alone will be a prime reason why this lovingly-crafted monsterfest should not be missed. 


Buy it at Amazon.com
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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

STRAYS -- movie review by porfle



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


I didn't know what to expect when I started watching STRAYS, Vin Diesel's 1997 writing, directing, and acting debut (aside from an unbilled appearance in AWAKENINGS), but I was hoping that it would surprise me by being an unpolished gem.  As it turned out, the only surprise was that I was able to make it through the whole thing without toppling over backwards.

Vin plays Rick, a lower-class New Yorker who deals weed (not for a living, you understand, but just to make money) and spends most of his time cruising for tail with his bros, three preening hard-ons named Fred, Tony, and Mike.  They really are a bunch of meatheads, and so much time is devoted to endless scenes of them hustling airheaded chicks or hanging around engaging in largely improvised and pointlessly stupid conversations that the story, as it is, often advances at a snail's pace. 

Rick is becoming disillusioned with the hump 'em and dump 'em lifestyle, however, and wonders if he shouldn't try to grow up and find a real relationship.  So he starts courting a pretty young country girl named Heather (Suzanne Lanza) who's just moved into the building next door.  At first he manages to attract her by concealing his more subhuman qualities.  But whenever he seems to have won her over, his hostile and violent nature reveals itself and she flees in revulsion. 

In the early scenes, the movie plays like a bad teen comedy in which the extreme crudeness of the characters is the joke.  But unlike ANIMAL HOUSE, which has a veneer of fantasy that allows us to find guys like Bluto and D-Day endearing, STRAYS shoves us into cramped quarters with this group of utter dickheads and makes us listen to them spout posturing, semi-coherent inner city nonsense at each other until we're screaming to get away.

Later, when the movie's troubled love story begins to emerge, writer-director Vin follows the basic pattern but has trouble filling in the blanks.  In one scene, after Rick and Heather first meet at a party (which is thrown by some incredibly stereotypical gay guys from the neighborhood), Rick shows his tender side by telling Heather to close her eyes and then croaking "If I Only Had a Heart", the Tin Man's theme from THE WIZARD OF OZ. 

One verse would've been enough to give her and us the message, but he sings the whole damn song.  When he's done, and "cutely serenade her" has been checked off the "romantic things to do" list, they just start talking about something else as though it never happened.

Subsequent scenes alternate between Rick and Heather's clumsy love affair and more quality time with the morons.  Whenever the plot really needs to advance, Vin drops another five-minute bullshit session with these slobs right on top of it like an anvil.  A lot of independent films may overcome their budgetary limitations by being showcases for delightfully witty and/or insightful dialogue, but this isn't one of them. 

Of course, we're supposed to feel for the guys in Rick's posse because they're all "strays" who grew up without fathers, and thus have formed a tight bond of brotherhood against life's adversities.  Rick is the only character who comes close to deserving our empathy, but when he finally blows up at his friends for being such selfish, immature bastards, and for having no ambition or desire to better themselves, Vin just doesn't have the skill (not in '97, anyway) to convincingly pull off the big, weepy emotional scene he's concocted for himself.

The only thing I really liked about STRAYS was the ending.  In the last minute or so, the story resolves itself in a way that's unexpectedly mature and thought-provoking, instead of just by-the-numbers.  If only everything leading up to it weren't so unpleasantly dull.  I've gotta hand it to the Vin Man for managing to write, direct, and star in his own debut, but I found it to be all rough and no diamond.


Buy it at Amazon.com
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