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Thursday, February 27, 2014

"THE NUTTY PROFESSOR" 50th Anniversary--Jerry Lewis Classic Debuts on Blu-ray June 3

The Jerry Lewis Classic Debuts on Blu-ray™ June 3 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment with All-new Featurette, Storyboard Book, Cutting Script with Director Notes, Special Production Booklet and More

Lewis’ Cinderfella and The Errand Boy DVDs and
rare Phoney Phone Calls CD also included in 4-Disc Set

Burbank, Calif., February 27, 2014 – The Nutty Professor, one of Jerry Lewis’ most celebrated comedies, will be released on Blu-ray™ by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) June 3 in a brand-new 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition. Lewis directed, stars in, and co-wrote (with Bill Richmond) the parody of the classic “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” tale which was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004.

WBHE is releasing the four-disc Collector’s Edition with personal input from Mr. Lewis, who has helped compile lots of entertaining extra content for this release. Highlights include a new featurette, Jerry Lewis: No Apologies, an intimate look at “The King of Comedy”; a 48-page book of the film’s original story boards; a 44-page book of excerpts from Jerry's cutting script with personal notes; and a recreated “Being a Person” book, written by Jerry exclusively for the film’s crew. Adding to the offering is the very funny CD collection, Phoney Phone Calls, 1959-1972, with private prank calls secretly recorded by Lewis during those years.

The Nutty Professor 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition ($54.99 SRP) will include the film in DVD format as well as Blu-ray, along with DVDs of two other well-known Lewis comedies, Cinderfella and The Errand Boy. Also currently available from the Warner Archive Collection ( are Lewis’ films, Family Jewels, Cracking Up (aka Smorgasbord) and Which Way to the Front?

In a personal letter included with the new Blu-ray, Lewis notes, “[This] is a very special film with a lot of heart and soul. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, directing, acting, editing, scoring and extensive promotion of the film. It is what I always dreamed of doing when I was growing up, watching Charlie Chaplin on the big screen.

“I am so happy to offer the unique elements of this collection for the first time, and I’m thankful to Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures for the opportunity to collaborate on this great release of The Nutty Professor, my very special child.”

A Jerry Lewis Production, The Nutty Professor also stars Stella Stevens and features Del Moore, Kathleen Freeman and Howard Morris. Ernest D. Glucksman produced.

More About the Special Features:

The Nutty Professor:
    Jerry Lewis: No Apologies NEW!  An intimate look at the artist who has entertained and educated audiences for more than eight decades
    Directors Letter NEW! A letter specially written by Jerry to present this new collection
    Recreated “Being A Person” book: 96-pages made up of drawings and quotes inspired/written by Jerry Lewis and drawn by his personal illustrator. 250 copies of this book were originally made and distributed to members of the cast and crew of The Nutty Professor after the director heard of general conflicts among them.
    CD: Phoney Phone calls 1959-1972: Years before the Jerky Boys were harassing unwitting shop clerks, housewives and businessmen, Lewis perfected the art, as these recordings show. Released in 2001 on the Sin-Drome label, this is a collection of private prank calls secretly recorded by Jerry Lewis over the years.
    48-Page Storyboard Book
    44-Page Cutting Script with Jerry’s notes
    Commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence
    The Nutty Professor: Perfecting The Formula Behind-The-Scenes Footage
    Jerry Lewis at Work
    Jerry at Movieland Wax Museum with commentary by son Chris Lewis
    Deleted Scenes
    Jerry and Stella Promos
    Screen Tests
    Original Mono Track

    Commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence

Errand Boy
    Select Scene Commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence
    Promo Spots
    Theatrical Trailer

Synopsis of The Nutty Professor
The title’s eponymous professor is Julius F. Kelp (Lewis), a shy, bumbling chemistry teacher who has a mad crush on his student Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens). When he tires of being made fun of, Kelp develops a magic potion that turns him into smooth and smarmy nightclub singer Buddy Love. Stella is drawn to Buddy but unfortunately, the potion’s formula is unstable and Buddy keeps slipping back into Julius at the most embarrassing moments. In the end the professor’s ploy is revealed, but not before he delivers a speech calling for everyone to learn to love themselves first before others can return the favor. Stella realizes she loves him for who he is and, needless to say, the ending is a happy one.

About Jerry Lewis
Consummate entertainer and world-renowned humanitarian, Jerry Lewis is a cultural icon in the U.S. and France. He is also the only entertainer ever to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

With worldwide box-office receipts in excess of $800 million (when most tickets were sold for 25-50 cents), Jerry was the top box-office star from 1952-56 with Dean Martin and from 1957-64 solo. Jerry’s groundbreaking brand of physical comedy has influenced generations.

First on stage at age five, Jerry performed in Vaudeville alongside his parents and later began performing stand-up at the age of 15. His meteoric rise to fame began in 1946 at the age of 20, when he teamed with Dean Martin. “They were the biggest stars in the world as a comedy team,” said Billy Crystal about the duo, who caused Beatles-esque pandemonium wherever they went.

Jerry has appeared in more than 50 films, directed a dozen movies, had 13 television specials, three television series, an NBC radio show, recorded numerous records and albums; been the hero of a comic book series; authored four books (and been the subject of many more); and made thousands of other appearances on TV, stage (including a hit Broadway and tour run in Damn Yankees from 1994-97) and in nightclubs all over the world.

Additionally, Jerry Lewis was a major innovator in motion pictures. Director Francis Ford Coppola once noted, “Jerry’s invention of putting a video camera next to the motion picture camera (the Video Assist) so he could play it back and direct himself, has been used for decades by every director in the movie industry.”

Some of his other hit films include Who’s Minding the Store?, The Disorderly Orderly, The Patsy, The Ladies Man, The Bellboy, Visit to a Small Planet, The Geisha Boy, The Delicate Delinquent, and 16 Martin & Lewis films, 1949-1956.

Jerry has been honored with numerous awards including two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; the Governor’s Award at the Emmy® Awards; a Career Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; a Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy at the American Comedy Awards and many more.

Enormously popular in Europe , particularly France, Jerry was awarded that country’s two most distinguished honors in 1984, making him a Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters and inducting him into the Legion of Honor by the Decree of President Francois Mitterrand.

Jerry has long been a tireless and dedicated philanthropist. For more than 60 years, he has been the driving force behind the fight against muscular dystrophy. As national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Jerry raised more than $2 billion for patient care and research and made the term “Jerry’s Kids” a part of the modern American lexicon. His creation, the MDA Labor Day Telethon, is the most successful fundraising program in the history of television and established a new benchmark in charitable giving.

Jerry has received numerous awards for his charitable endeavors, including: the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (2009); the American Medical Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award (1996), the U.S. Defense Department’s highest civilian award; and the Medal for Distinguished Public Service (1985), among many others.

The Nutty Professor 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Street Date: June 3, 2014
Order Due Date: April 29, 2014
$54.99 SRP
Cat/UPC: 1000477604/ 883929404872

About Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) brings together Warner Bros. Entertainment's home video, digital distribution and interactive entertainment businesses in order to maximize current and next-generation distribution scenarios. An industry leader since its inception, WBHE oversees the global distribution of content through packaged goods (Blu-ray Disc™ and DVD) and digital media in the form of electronic sell-through and video-on-demand via cable, satellite, online and mobile channels, and is a significant developer and publisher for console and online video game titles worldwide. WBHE distributes its product through third party retail partners and licensees, as well as directly to consumers through and WBUltra.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

DEAD KIDS (aka STRANGE BEHAVIOR) -- Blu-ray/DVD review by porfle

I can't explain exactly why I like this movie so much.  But it struck me in just the right way the first time I saw it on Cinemax back in the 80s (under the title STRANGE BEHAVIOR) and I've regarded it fondly ever since.

DEAD KIDS (1981), as it's known on DVD, is a low-budget independent film that was made in New Zealand (which doubles for smalltown Illinois) at the height of the slasher-film craze, but there's more to it than just waiting for the next gory kill.  Along with a pretty sweet cast (veterans Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher, Fiona Lewis, Scott Brady, Arthur Dignam, and Charles Lane, along with likable youngsters Dan Shor, Dey Young, and Marc McClure) the film takes ample time establishing a bucolic smalltown ambience and introducing us to some characters that we get to know and don't mind spending a little time with.  That way, we're actually concerned when bad things start happening to them.

Shor ("Ram" in the original TRON), whom I've always liked for some reason, is a typical teen named Pete Brady whose dad John (Murphy) is the town's "top cop."  SUPERMAN's Marc McClure plays an even quirkier nerd here as poodle-perky school chum Oliver, who tells Pete that he can earn some extra money as a guinea pig for a local research lab run by primly sexy Dr. Parkinson (Fiona Lewis, THE FURY, LISZTOMANIA). 

Pete feels like a million dollars after the lady doctor first gives him some kind of magic pill, but their second session (one of the film's most harrowing sequences) is another thing entirely--I'm talking strapped down, hypo in the eyeball, pissing blood, falling face-first into somebody's pizza territory here.

But the real horror that gives DEAD KIDS the sort of subtle creepiness that sneaks up on you is the fact that the young people of the town are suddenly starting to kill each other in gruesome ways for no apparent reason whatsoever.  The film opens with such a murder as a young man played by co-scripter Bill Condon (who would later write and direct such films as DREAMGIRLS and GODS AND MONSTERS) gets stalked and stabbed in his own shadow-strewn house while the power is off. 

Director Michael Laughlin (STRANGE INVADERS) shows us his schizo style right of the bat by skillfully establishing an effectively chilling situation and then diluting it when the actual murder is awkwardly staged.  Time and again for the rest of the film Laughlin continues to show real talent as a director and then undermines himself by allowing certain scenes to come out kind of half-baked. 

Still, the good stuff is solid, and even some of the lesser passages get by on a sort of lanky charm.  You can't go wrong by giving Murphy's police chief character a male secretary played by the delightfully cranky Charles Lane, and the way a rumpled Scott Brady (as a state cop sent to aid in the murder investigation) just wanders into the movie during a slow scene and starts regaling Murphy and Lane with stories  of his most gruesome crime scenes is some kind of wonderful.

In order to get the most out of it, you meet this kind of film halfway or not at all.  The rewards--a creepy shot here and there, some suspense, a bit of shocking gore (makeup-effects man Craig Reardon's rushed efforts pay off more often than not), a neat plot twist--keep it all delectably compelling.

There's a party scene that seems to be straight out of 80s teen-movie central (at one point a roomful of dancers actually look choreographed) and is so unabashedly cheesy that I can't help but enjoy it.  This leads to another murder sequence--featuring Elizabeth Cheshire who played the cute little girl in AIRPORT '77-- with Laughlin's patented style of mixing the good, the bad, and the lackluster to come up with something all his own. 

Louise Fletcher, after her Oscar-winning turn as the loathesome Nurse Ratched in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, gets to let her hair down here as a warm-hearted good ol' gal helping John Brady get over his widowerhood.  (The only drawback is that she isn't in the movie nearly enough.)  Murphy (MANHATTAN, MASH) is his usual easygoing self until his character is reminded of his late wife, who died mysteriously while working for the equally mysterious, also-dead Dr. LaSange (Arthur Dignam) at the research lab now run by LaSange's assistant Dr. Parkinson. 

See how it all ties together?  Strange experiments, kids murdering each other, an evil villain reaching out from beyond the grave, and the cold but somehow perversely sexy Fiona Lewis making me feel all tingly in bad ways.  Oh yeah, and in the "cannot be unseen" department, Dan Shor's butt.  What's up with that?  ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL's cute Dey Young shows up as Dan's new girlfriend to help us recover from that sight, but it's too little too late.

What really stays in the mind after watching DEAD KIDS--besides its effectively ominous score by Tangerine Dream--is the exquisitely staged sequence in which matronly housekeeper Mrs. Haskell (Beryl Te Wiata) enters a client's home one night and stumbles into a situation which, thanks to Michael Laughlin hitting all the right notes for a change, is teasingly suspenseful, effectively gruesome, and genuinely, deliciously scary in ways that wouldn't even occur to the usual FRIDAY THE 13TH clone. 

Ditto for the film's nail-biting climactic sequence, which, aside from a tank-sized plothole which I've been trying to figure out for the past thirty years, builds to just short of Cronenberg-level intensity as father and son Bradys fall victim to the heinous evil that infests their formerly horror-free existence.  There's even a twist that I'd forgotten about, so it came as a surprise to me yet again.

The Blu-ray/DVD combo from Severin Films is in 2.35 :1 widescreen with English mono sound.  No subtitles.  Extras include a dry commentary from director Laughlin, a much livelier one featuring co-writer Condon along with stars Shor and Young, an isolated Tangerine Dream musical score, U.S. and international trailers, and a newly-shot interview with makeup-effects artist Craig Reardon.  Running time is 99 minutes.

Why do I like DEAD KIDS (aka STRANGE BEHAVIOR) enough to keep getting that good old-fashioned horror movie vibe from it after all these years, when so many other fright flicks of its era don't even rate a rewatch?  I don't know.  There's just something about the ambience Laughlin manages to create that does something for me.   Strange, huh?

Buy the Blu-ray/DVD combo at


Monday, February 24, 2014

Starz Digital gets pumped with GENERATION IRON, available on Digital Download, On Demand, and DVD




Narrated By Mickey Rourke, This Critically-Acclaimed Documentary Follows Seven Larger-Than-Life Competitors Vying For Glory At Mr. Olympia

NEW YORK, NY – Starz Digital Media presents Director Vlad Yudin’s critically-acclaimed documentary, GENERATION IRON, from the producer of the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron. 

GENERATION IRON takes an honest and in-depth look at the professional sport of bodybuilding today, giving audiences front-row access to the lives of the top seven bodybuilders as they fight to bring home the coveted Mr. Olympia title. 

Narrated by Academy Award®-nominee Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), GENERATION IRON will be available on iTunes and other digital platforms on April 4th, On Demand on April 15th, and on DVD on May 13th.

Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News wrote, “The oversized men who compete for the title of Mr. Olympia in this illuminating documentary are articulate and serious-minded, with some muscling through adversity to find a way to their dreams.”

This critically-acclaimed documentary follows seven larger-than-life competitors vying for glory in the 2012 Mr. Olympia, the ultimate bodybuilding contest that catapults its winners into fame and stardom. 

From the producer of the classic Pumping Iron and narrated by Academy Award®-nominee Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), this true story of dedication, rivalry, victory, defeat, and triumph follows an array of magnificent bodybuilders as they prepare for, then participate in, the Olympia showdown in Las Vegas. 

These athletes include 2011 Mr. Olympia-winner Phil Heath, Brooklyn underdog Kai Greene, Texas maverick Branch Warren, Japanese expatriate Hidetada Yamagishi, Germany's Dennis Wolf, Curacao-born Roelly Winklaar, and the forward-thinking Ben Pakulski.  Featuring Lou Ferrigno (TV’s “The Incredible Hulk”), Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight, Fast & Furious 7), and more.

Digital download bonus footage includes an interview with Lou Ferrigno, as well as a Making-Of featurette.

Starz Digital Media is a leading distributor of digital and on-demand content. Starz Digital Media distributes original programming content (Starz and AMC), feature films (The Weinstein Company, Anchor Bay Films), anime (Manga Entertainment) and other filmed entertainment utilizing various business models including download-to-own/electronic sell-through, video-on-demand, pay-per-view, subscription video-on-demand and ad-supported streaming. Starz Digital Media also programs and supports numerous ad-supported broadband channels and develops games, applications and other related content from many of its properties for distribution worldwide. Starz Digital Media is a Starz (NASDAQ: STRZA, STRZB) business,

Street date:                  April 4, 2014 (iTunes and other digital platforms); April 15th (On Demand)
Run time:                    107 Minutes
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 5.1
Rating:                        PG-13
Subtitles:                     English Subtitles for the Deaf & Hearing Impaired.
Distributor:                  Starz Digital Media

Street date:                  May 13, 2014
Pre-book:                     April 16, 2014
Catalog #:                    AF62032
UPC:                           01313262032980
Run time:                    107 minutes
Rating:                        PG-13
Subtitles:                     English Subtitles for the Deaf & Hearing Impaired; Spanish Subtitles.
SRP:                            $24.98
Format:                       Anamorphic Widescreen
Aspect Ratio:              1.78:1
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 5.1
Distributor:                  Anchor Bay Entertainment



Checking out the first three volumes of Tracie Long's LONGEVITY fitness DVD series reminded me of how
I grew up watching the god of fitness, Jack Lalanne, teaching us how to struggle in vain to look one percent of how great he looked, and then later his chipper rival Debbie Drake, who introduced something she called "dancercize" into the fitness mix which we kids found fascinatingly nutty and fun to dance along with.

Still later, "dancercize" would evolve into "aerobicize", and suddenly the biggest audience for these shows was beer-bellied guys with no intention of following along with the strenuous routines.  The shows were now populated by gorgeous model types in tight leotards (like THE TERMINATOR's Bess Motta) who made love to the camera and seemed more interested in showing off their bodies than shaping up ours. 

Nowadays, of course, the fitness game has gotten real again with the success of tapes and DVDs promising "buns of steel" along with tuning up various other body parts.  The most successful of these, a series known as "The Firm", introduced the world to South Carolina native Tracie Long, a no-nonsense fitness instructor who now offers her own line of DVDs (along with associates and fellow "Firm" alumni Stephanie Lasek and Allison Foster) while managing Long Training Studios in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, John.

A 46-year-old mother of two herself, Tracie's chief aim is to help 35+ mothers get back into shape by choreographing her own rigorous workouts designed to tone every muscle, incinerate calories, and get that heart rate going pitter-pat all over the place.  TRACIE LONG LONGEVITY SERIES: DEFINING SHAPE (VOL. 1) gets things started with Tracie's own brand of strength and fitness training in which she pretty much has participants working their butts off nonstop for about 50 minutes. 

Weights are used extensively during this volume which amps up the exertion level considerably and, according to the DVD description, it's designed to help the "hips, butt, inner thighs and shoulders."

The set itself is attractive and functional, with a faux brick wall, a couple of fake windows, a potted fern, a rack of colorful medicine balls, and a painting that looks like an abstract grouping of--what else?--colorful medicine balls.  The simple three-camera coverage and static shots keep things basic  and focus attention on the tasks at hand, while the driving (and suitably monotonous) disco-funk musical backing nudges it all along.

This isn't the kind of aerobicize where you hop around and jog in place while flailing your arms and smiling like a loon.  It's an intensive training session that mixes extended calisthenics-style routines with floor work that includes lots of push-ups, sit-ups, and whatever else Tracie can come up with to work that bod. 

There's no flirting, small talk, funny patter, being bubbly, seducing the camera, or any of the other fluff that some might expect, and no tearful self-esteem speeches.  You come to her when you're ready to work it, and she obliges by putting you through your paces like a benign drill sergeant.

There isn't even any introductory chatter or pep talk--when the DVD starts, the viewer is thrust right into the
action from the git-go and it doesn't let up until Tracie abruptly calls a halt to things during the cool-down stretch and the session ends. 

Tracie (who has no qualms about exhorting viewers with "Okay, it's time to squat!") is attractive in a hunkette sort of way and has a pleasant demeanor, but she's also a super-fit athlete who obviously works out a lot and has more stamina than the Energizer bunny. 

With TRACIE LONG LONGEVITY SERIES: STAYING POWER (VOL. 2), she trades her long pants for shorts (affording us a view of those finely-chiseled legs at last) and finally gets one of those medicine balls off  the rack and into the action. 

As usual, she wastes no time delving into a brisk metabolic-boosting cardio-conditioning workout (I read that somewhere) which, as the handy DVD description informs me, is aimed at "sculpting sexy shoulders, increasing core strength and leaning out" (whatever that means) "through the hips, butt and inner and outer thighs." 

If that's what it's meant to do, then I'm convinced after watching Tracie relentlessly  put us through our paces that it indeed does exactly that.

Seeing her in a tank top and shorts,  it's obvious that Tracie practices what she preaches and has a physique that would have made her Ms. Olympia material a few decades ago and today would probably put her in the running as a top fitness contender. 

Inspired by her football-player father to stop starving herself to lose weight and start exercising, she changed her college major from "pre-med biology"  to "exercise science", and the rest is history. 

It's clear from watching her here, even to the uninitiated such as myself, that she knows her stuff as she drills her virtual students through a non-stop series of exercises each of which has a specific body-shaping purpose.

Things get down to the nitty-gritty on the third DVD in the series, TRACIE LONG LONGEVITY SERIES: STEP FORWARD (VOL. 3), which could very well be the downfall of those who don't possess the "right stuff."  It's the most grueling sweat session yet, and would appear to be totally exhausting for anyone participating at home, which I most definitely am not. 

I've noticed that some hardy reviewers evaluate these workout DVDs by actually working out along with
them.  I, on the other hand, prefer to watch them while eating dinner in the comfort of my recliner and/or playing with my cat.  If, in fact, I were to attempt to partake in this particular gut-busting workout, I would in all likelihood keel over dead as a doornail within the first five minutes.

Tracie, of course, hits the ground running and doesn't stop until the bitter end, using a step-up board most of the time and getting the full use out of this deceptively simple apparatus.  I'm not kidding when I say that this exhausting fitness ordeal would make soldiers in boot camp drop like flies.  It's like calisthenics times a hundred.  The old phrase "I got tired just watching it" would be perfectly applicable in this case. 

One thing's for sure, TRACIE LONG LONGEVITY SERIES: STEP FORWARD is not a workout for beginners--even fitness veterans might find themselves huffing and puffing before it's over.  It's supposed to be good for your legs, which I'm sure it is if you can still walk when you're done.  As for me, if I even thought about doing this one I might end up in traction for six months provided that I actually lived through it.

Each DVD from Shelter Island is in 1.78:1 widescreen with 2.0 sound and contains a workout lasting approximately 50 minutes.  No subtitles.  Also included are "pre-mixes" that combine various segments of the main action in condensed form to concentrate on specific areas of the body. 

Before now, the closest I'd ever come to watching a bonafide fitness video was owning a copy of "Linnea Quigley's Horror Workout."  (Not to mention renting a couple of those "X-ercise" tapes with porn stars fine-tuning some of the more neglected muscle groups.)  But with Tracie Long's LONGEVITY series, I feel as though I've gotten a good look at the state of fitness today with someone who is at the top of her game.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

20FT BELOW: THE DARKNESS DESCENDING -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review is based on a barebones screener so there's no mention of the final DVD's tech-specs or bonus features.)

The low-budget thriller 20FT BELOW: THE DARKNESS DESCENDING (2014), which is based on the five-episode 2009 web series "The Darkness Descending", has the look  and feel of a small-scale project that didn't quite gel despite the fact that its creators really cared about it. 

Frank Krueger  wrote, executive-produced, and stars in this story of good vs. evil homeless people living in the subway tunnels of New York.  He plays Jake, an ex-cop who chooses to live "twenty feet below" to escape a reality that includes the tragic death of his wife.  Krueger gives an earnest performance and sorta reminds me of Patrick Wayne.

Kinga Philipps (Austin Powers' mom in GOLDMEMBER), also a producer, plays plucky investigative journalist Chelsea, who brings her camcorder into the tunnels to get the scoop on the disenfranchised and encounters more than she bargained for when she runs into the evil Angel (Danny Trejo at his yakkiest), a would-be revolutionary against...oh, you know, the usual stuff, giving a bunch of the punkier tunnel dwellers a vague motivation to be really hostile.

Ex-cop Jake, of course, will be forced to help his fellow good-guy homeless people against Angel and his MAD MAX rejects while the experience helps him overcome his own despair.  During this process we'll meet his colorful friends including graffiti artist Harmony (Wylie Small, NAKED GUN 33 1/3: THE FINAL INSULT), a comfortingly maternal presence to all the younger subterraneans, and Gabriel (Tiffany Adams), who organizes the underground nice into sort of a kumbaya campout klatch who sit around the campfire basking in each other's good vibes. 

Aside from a couple of kooky (but harmless) characters here and there, this is one of the most idealized depictions of homelessness I've seen.  More than anything, they seem like a community of happy, well-adjusted people who live fairly fastidious lives save for a few tastefully-applied makeup "smudges" and clean but comfortably rumpled clothes. 

Jake showers under a conveniently broken water pipe and lives in what looks to be a private apartment, while Gabriel herself is practically fit to model for the cover of "Good Housekeeping."  I'm not saying all homeless people should be depicted as unkempt and mentally ill, but geez. 

Joining Chelsea as representatives of the surface world are good cop Smitty (Kristoff St. John, "The Young and The Restless") and Louis Mandylor (SINNERS AND SAINTSBARE KNUCKLES) as homeless-basher Lockeheed.  Some of the film's best moments are the clashes between these two opposing cops, with Mandylor doing his usual reliable job of portraying a sleazy slimeball.

Trejo, on the other hand, is forced to scowl and bellow endlessly as he creeps in and out of the darkness portraying the resident boogeyman of the story.  In fact, everyone ends up wandering around in the dark as though trapped in an abandoned warehouse that's standing in for underground New York.

This helps disguise the meager production values but also renders much of the film murky and claustrophobic, with clunky camerawork that stays too close to the actors and often seems a little off during the action scenes.  An overly intrusive and often jarringly nerve-wracking musical score doesn't help. 

Worst of all is one of my pet peeves--the writer's convenience/contrivance of having people reveal their innermost thoughts into someone's camera.  "Stargate: Universe" suffered greatly from this with its "kino diaries", and here, Chelsea's status as an investigative reporter gives scripter Krueger a chance to indulge his characters in endless reflective monologues that often turn maudlin and/or pretentious.  What's worse, these interludes continue to occur even when the middle section of the film is already creeping along at a snail's pace.

Things finally get a little more exciting when Angel's crew whip up some homemade pipe bombs to detonate in various points within the subway station itself.  Officers Smitty and Lockeheed, with their conflicting agendas and methods, add to the tension and give Jake yet another problem to deal with while trying to stop Angel and protect his fellow societal outcasts. 

But the uneven pacing and awkward staging of the climactic scenes work against what director Marc Clebanoff (BREAK, THE PINK CONSPIRACY) is trying to achieve.  Add to this a general lack of realism and a tendency toward the melodramatic, and 20FT BELOW: THE DARKNESS DESCENDING never quite manages to ascend to the surface. 

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fox Celebrates ALIEN 35th Anniversary & Releases First-Ever Action Figures of Ellen Ripley and Much More!

Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products Celebrates the 35th Anniversary of ALIEN and Releases First-Ever Action Figures of Ellen Ripley

NECA, SEGA, Sideshow Collectibles, Diamond Select, Super7 x Funko and 10 More Partners to Roll Out Exclusive Branded Toys and Collectible Merchandise Worldwide to Celebrate ALIEN Franchise


Los Angeles, CA – February 18, 2014 – 35 years later, fans are still “screaming” in space as Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products celebrates the 35th anniversary of the ground-breaking film ALIEN, one of the most enduring sci-fi horror franchises of all time, with multiple iconic partners for exclusive branded merchandise available worldwide.

National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA), an entertainment conglomerate and global leader in licensed consumer goods, in association with Fox Consumer Products, announces today the first-ever action figures of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley that feature the likeness of actress Sigourney Weaver, who was nominated for an Oscar® and Golden Globe® for ALIENS in 1987.

The officially licensed Ripley action figures from NECA will span multiple movies within the ALIEN saga: initial plans include a figure of Ripley in her Nostromo jumpsuit from the original 1979 film, to be followed later by a Ripley figure based on the 1986 movie ALIENS, directed by James Cameron.

“As we celebrate the 35th anniversary of one of the most successful film franchises of all time,  we are thrilled to introduce an array of commemorative products across different categories in partnership with iconic brands including NECA, SEGA and many more,” said Jeffrey Godsick, president of Fox Consumer Products.

“In addition to the highly anticipated release of Alien: Isolation™, hardcore fans can finally add Lieutenant Ellen Ripley to their ALIEN collections as we welcome her NECA figures into the family of officially-licensed merchandise. Many other exciting first-time and limited edition products will also release to celebrate this exciting milestone this year.”

Prominent partners participating in the ALIEN global anniversary campaign include:

    Bandai - Bandai’s premium collectors label “Tamashii Nations” will release super-articulated S.H.MonsterArts figures featuring diecast material. S.H.MonsterArts ALIEN Big Chap will be available May 2014.
    Dark Horse Comics – A new comics program will debut later this year which includes Alien, Prometheus, Predator and Aliens vs. Predator.
    Diamond Select Toys and Collectibles – New collectibles including MiniMates block figures, vinyl banks, bottle openers and a reproduction of the original 18-inch Alien figure, available this summer/fall.
    Insight Editions will produce a highly-illustrated and a detailed guidebook to the Alien creature.
    NECA - Figures, board games, bobbleheads, plush and toys will hit major retail stores beginning in March 2014. Prototypes of the Ripley figures will debut later this summer at San Diego Comic-Con.
    SEGA – The highly-anticipated first person survival horror game Alien: Isolation will be available on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC in late 2014.
    Sideshow Collectibles – High end, limited edition Alien franchise products, including an immense bust of the Big Chap Alien design, available for pre-order in April 2014! Check out for Alien Franchise products, and more!
    Super7 x Funko – Glasses and retro ReAction Figures currently available online.
    Titan Books will release all-new canon fiction novels based on the film franchise, followed by a 35th anniversary retrospective called “ALIEN: Archives” which will be the most comprehensive book ever created about the ALIEN franchise with new exclusive interviews with Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver and content that has never been released. 

Other partners include Hollywood Collectibles for highly-detailed prop replicas, Upper Deck for an all-new collectible card game, Hallmark for ornaments, Square Enix for Aliens: Colonial Marines Play Arts KAI action figures, Titan Merchandise for stylized mini vinyl figurines, Rizzoli for wall calendars and Rubie’s Costume Company for amazingly detailed Halloween costumes in addition to even more partners with apparel and additional collectible merchandise to be released throughout the year.

About Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products
A division of 21st Century Fox and recognized industry leader, Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products licenses and markets properties worldwide on behalf of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox Broadcasting Company, as well as third party lines. The division is aligned with Twentieth Century Fox Television, the flagship studio leading the industry in supplying award-winning and blockbuster primetime television programming and entertainment content.

About NECA
National Entertainment Collectibles Association Inc. is a media and entertainment company operating in the United States and internationally, with three segments: Consumer Products, Filmed Entertainment and Online Retail/Digital Distribution. NECA is the leading designer, marketer, and worldwide distributor of licensed entertainment consumer goods based on some of the world’s most established and beloved properties, providing products across all consumer categories and distribution channels. Together, NECA’s divisions provide a comprehensive, end-to-end solution to elevate each property, maximizing exposure and reach, while protecting the vision of the creator. As a result of NECA’s singular passion and reverence for the intellectual property backing its products, some of this generation’s most recognized content creators enjoy working with NECA, allowing us to help bring their vision to their audience. For additional information, visit


Get ready for "INDEPENDENCE DAYSASTER"! Invading DVD on May 27th from Anchor Bay Entertainment

On May 27th, Anchor Bay Films lets freedom ring with the release of the explosive "INDEPENDENCE DAYSASTER" on DVD

This Syfy Original Movie puts a small town firefighter and a rag-tag team of do-gooders up against some very evil space invaders that make the Transformers look like kids toys!

Directed by W.D. Hogan (Earths Final Hours), Independence Daysaster stars Ryan Merriman (“Pretty Little Liars”), Andrea Brooks (“Supernatural”), Emily Holmes (Metro Storm) and Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do!). The SRP is $19.98. The pre-book is April 30th.

It’s the 4th of July, and America is celebrating. But when a hostile force attacks from both outer space and within Earth itself, our planet may be on the menu for a holiday barbecue.

Can a small-town fireman, a physics-loving teen, a rogue scientist, two nerd hackers and the stranded President of the United States now find a way to stop the invasion, nuke the alien mothership, and set off the biggest fireworks display of all?

Keenan Tracy (“Bates Motel”) co-stars in this wild intergalactic tale from the producers of 12 Disasters and End of the World.

Independence Daysaster is a high-octane, nonstop, extraterrestrial mayhem with a war of the worlds that puts the heart of the heartland in danger. It’s a wild whirlwind of fighter jets, alien drones and threats of nuclear annihilation that sure isn’t your traditional 4th of July picnic.

Independence Daysaster shows our country up against some very insurmountable odds, but wasn’t America founded on odds like that?

Independence Daysaster DVD
Street Date:                 May 27, 2014
Pre-Book:                    April 30, 2014
UPC #:                        013132612638
Item:                            AF61263
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                     English SDH, Spanish
Retail Price:                $19.98
Genre:                         Sci-Fi
Rating:                         PG-13
Run Time:                   90 Minutes
Year:                           2013


Saturday, February 15, 2014

BLOODLUST! -- DVD review by porfle

I've never seen BLOODLUST! (1961) get the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, but it would certainly seem like a suitable subject.  It's cheap, somewhat sub-par in most production aspects,  not overly well-written, and, suffice it to say, a bit silly at times.  And the fact that Robert Reed plays the lead teenage hero is, by itself, enough for a buttload of "Brady Bunch" jokes.

(In one scene, the bad guy shoots a ceramic horse with a crossbow and shatters it.  The horse--wouldn't you know it--looks almost exactly like the one in the Bradys' livingroom.  Hence the line "Mom always said, don't shoot crossbows in the house" simply writes itself.)

The thing is, though, once you get past the TEENAGE ZOMBIES vibe of the opening minutes (two flaky teenage couples discover a heretofore unknown island and romp merrily into the clutches of the evil recluse who owns it), the film rises above its potential Jerry Warren-level awfulness and approaches the relatively higher quality of FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER--which was directed by BLOODLUST!'s cinematographer, Richard E. Cunha--or perhaps even Ray Kellogg's minor classic THE KILLER SHREWS

Wilton Graff (LUST FOR LIFE, LILI) helps lend gravitas to the proceedings as Dr. Albert Balleau, former military sniper who now continues his passion for hunting humans on his private island and is delighted to have such fit new specimens to grace his trophy room.  Johnny (Reed) and his nerdy pal Pete (Gene Persson) get to be the designated prey, while their lucky girlfriends, pretty blond judo expert Betty (June Kenney, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER) and jittery Joan (Jeanne Perry), face induction into Dr. Balleau's Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Femmes. 

Also giving the film a leg-up in quality are first and only time director Ralph Brooke's brother Walter--the insanely-prolific character actor who would gain screen immortality with the single word "Plastics" in 1967's THE GRADUATE--as reluctant Balleau cohort Dean, and the equally-familiar Lilyan Chauvin (SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, PREDATOR 2) as Balleau's beautiful but miserable wife Sandra.  She and Dean are secret lovers who dream of escaping the island together, which now seems doable with the help of the four captive teens.  This plan works out about as well as you might expect, as long as you keep your expectations nice and low.

Bad movie lovers will enjoy the low-rent look of the interiors of Dr. Balleau's mansion (although the jungle sets and rock-walled trophy room aren't half bad) and relish the sight of young Robert Reed all puffed up in a tight T-shirt while giving his character the same easygoing suavity  and mild horndoggishness that he would later ooze as Mike Brady.  He also adopts his familiar fatherly tone in dealing with his more weak-willed pals Pete and Joan, who prove rather useless during the whole ordeal. 

The more capable Betty, meanwhile, gets to use her judo skills when she flips an oncoming henchman into a vat of acid, which, through the magic of cutaway editing, disintegrates him nicely.  BLOODLUST! is generally pretty gory at times for 1961, especially when Pete and Joan observe Balleau's chief lackey Jondor (Bobby Hall) arranging dismembered body parts to be stuffed for the trophy room. 

Jondor himself emerges from  a pit of quicksand later on with a host of live leeches squirming on his face, one of the film's lovelier images, and the whole thing ends with one of the cast skewered on wall spikes as blood gushes freely.  But somehow, perhaps due to the above-average cast taking the whole thing seriously, the film doesn't exude nearly the kind of lurid, H.G. Lewis-type aura it might have.

The DVD from Film Chest has a 4 x 3 aspect ratio with original mono sound.  No subtitles, but scrolling closed-captioning is available.  No extras. 

Touted as an "HD restoration from 35mm film elements", it still has some rough spots--particularly during the main titles and reel changes--along with occasional specks throughout the entire film.  Still, this print looks way, way better than the ragged PD copy I have on a Mill Creek collection, and is generally pretty nice-looking.  (Stills used for this review are not taken from the Film Chest restoration.)

While this modest (to put it mildly) reworking of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME isn't exactly riveting, it remains fairly entertaining from start to finish and I had a good time watching it.  The mood is effectively morbid, the jungle hunt sequence sufficiently suspenseful, and the ending particularly satisfying.  If you're the kind of person who has a sweet tooth for flicks like TEENAGE ZOMBIES, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, and THE KILLER SHREWS, then BLOODLUST! may actually belong in your very own trophy room.

Buy it at


Friday, February 14, 2014

Stephen King's "The Shining": A Play



A Fundraiser for the Benson Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska
The "Torrance" Family -- "Jack, Wendy & Danny" Cast Photo from First Rehearsal of Historic First-ever Stage Adaptation of  the Classic Horror Novel

Omaha, NE (February 14, 2014)  For the first time ever on stage, the tragic story of the Torrance family, Jack, Wendy and Danny, and their battle against the inhuman forces of the Overlook Hotel will come to life at Omaha’s Sokol Auditorium in the world premiere event STEPHEN KING’S “THE SHINING,” A PLAY.

All proceeds will benefit the Benson Theatre in Omaha, NE.  Stephen King granted the rights for three performances of the play on March 21 & 22 and approved the script written by Omaha residents Benson Theatre Artistic Director Jason Levering and Aaron Sailors. The cast has been locked and will start rehearsals this week, announced Levering, who is also directing the play.

“Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Stephen King, we have a unique opportunity to bring his horror masterpiece to the stage for a great cause.   A little known fact is that Mr. King originally conceived “The Shining” as a sort of play - a tragedy with five acts - but it instead evolved into a novel with five parts,” commented Levering.

Christina Rohling as "Wendy," Marc Erickson as "Jack" and Christopher Levering as "Danny" in Stephen King's "The Shining," A Play.
(c) 2014 Benson Theatre (Photo by Marc Longbrake)

STEPHEN KING’S “THE SHINING,” A PLAY offers theatergoers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a brand new, never produced piece of theatre, based on a classic novel,  brought to life, from a script that no one has ever seen, and encounter all of the joys and obstacles that come with a first run production.  Individual tickets are $30.  VIP tickets are $60 and include:  seats closest to the stage, access to meet and greet with cast members after the show, and special numbered souvenir tickets.

Supporters of the theater can also make donations through the Benson Theatre website any time and through the crowd-funding campaign, which offers a variety of incentives at different contribution levels, currently running on through February 20.

The Benson Theatre is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that fosters the success of artists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and underserved populations within the historic community of Benson in Omaha, Nebraska. The nonprofit is currently raising funds to acquire and restore the historic Benson Theatre building in Omaha to serve as a shared community space for business education and artistic performance. The Benson Theatre will offer independent programming and serve as an alternative stage in north Omaha for existing nonprofits, schools, and performing arts organizations. To learn more, visit
Sokol Auditorium :
2234 S 13th St Omaha, NE 68108

Click Showtime for Tickets:
  Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.                                               
  Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.

BensonTheatre Contact: 
Executive Director 
Amy Ryan  


Thursday, February 13, 2014

BATTLE OF THE DAMNED -- DVD review by porfle

A modicum of exposition comes flying at us with the breakneck succinctness of a movie trailer before we join BATTLE OF THE DAMNED (2013) already in progress as a squad of mercenaries, hired to enter a beseiged city in Southeast Asia and extract a millionaire's teenaged daughter from a biological nightmare zone, find themselves up to their necks in crazed, highly manic zombies.  And yes, these are the fast-running kind of zombies.

I'm a Dolph Lundgren fan, and, as I stated so eloquently in my review of MISSIONARY MAN, I think he's a good actor, a capable director, and a crackerjack action star.  So whenever I get a new Dolph Lundgren action DVD to review, it gives me somewhat of a giddy feeling of anticipation that only the potential crappiness of the actual movie can eventually ruin.

Fortunately, BATTLE OF THE DAMNED manages to maintain a passable interest level  as Dolph's character, Major Max Gatlin, stumbles upon his target and finds that she has become somewhat of a junior commando herself in order to survive on the mean streets of Zombievania. 

As Jude, Melanie Zanetti does a good job of playing the headstrong teen brat without making us hate her.  She takes Gatlin to meet the group of survivors she's been staying with, including quietly calculating leader Duke (David Field), swordsman Elvis (Jen Kuo Sung), babes Lynn and Anna (Lydia Look, Oda Maria), and THE MATRIX's "Mouse" himself, Matt Doran as Jude's boyfriend Reese.

This development not only gives the plot a whole new direction--Gatlin must now convince Jude to leave her comrades and go with him, although we pretty much figure he'll end up leading them all in a frantic exodus--but now there suddenly seem to be large, stormtrooper-esque robots marching up and down the streets.  Wait a minute...did I just say "robots"?  Yes, robots.  Or, as one character puts it: "What the hell...robots?"

These robots end up being part of the action in a big way, which, after you get used to the movie suddenly being a lot science-fictionier than it started out, doesn't really do much besides give the SPFX guys a chance to pack in a bunch more CGI that would've looked a lot more impressive back in the 80s than it does now.  The robots do have  some pretty engaging personalities, however, and give Dolph a comic foil or two with which to demonstrate his lighthearted side.

As for the film's zombies, which are technically not the actual living dead but just brain-dead people with a kind of zombie-rabies, they start out vaguely Romeroesque--there's the traditional zombie feast upon a screaming victim early on--but ultimately just become a non-scary horde of relentless attackers to be mowed down en masse.  And since they're not dead they don't rot, so we don't get much elaborate makeup.  Most of the violence and gore are of the standard action-flick variety, with massive amounts of shooting and stabbing with the kicking and the hurting.

After a slow-paced middle third in which various issues are hashed out between Gatlin and the others (including the revelation that Jude's evil-businessman father started the whole biological disaster in the first place) it's time to get the hell out of Dodge before the whole place is firebombed.  Before this extended action sequence begins we already suspect several things in advance, including (1) it will have shaky-cam, (2) it will have wildly hit-and-miss editing, (3) it will have dumb dialogue, and (4) it will be an uneven mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

What usually makes the difference in a film such as this is whether or not its director can assemble all those elements into a watchable and hopefully fun flick.  I haven't seen either of Christopher Hatton's other directorial efforts (ROBOTROPOLIS, SAMMYVILLE) but here he demonstrates the skill necessary to put together a direct-to-DVD shoot-em-up that qualifies as a worthwhile time-waster.  And without a lot of crappy slow-motion, too!

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is a brief behind-the-scenes featurette. 

Sometimes a movie like this happens to hit so many of the right buttons that I say to myself, "Damn!  This is cool!"  BATTLE OF THE DAMNED doesn't quite reach that level,  although I did find myself thinking, "Damn!  This is mildly entertaining in a satisfactory kind of way!"  And also, robots.

Buy it at


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

THE INSOMNIAC -- DVD review by porfle

I like a good "gradually going crazy" movie, whether it's really extreme like TAXI DRIVER or sort of on the funny but still kind of crazy-scary side like THE KING OF COMEDY.  Or, more recently, THE INSOMNIAC (2013), which richochets around all points in between like a jittery pinball. 

It starts out almost like a rom-com that promises to put its protagonist through a series of screwball complications, with up-and-coming young exec John Figg (Eddy Salazar) finding his life going a little too well--not only has he just been promoted into a corner office with a secretary, but he's planning to spring a sparkly stone on his lovely girlfriend Martha (Clare Grant,  BLACK SNAKE MOAN, WALK THE LINE) that very weekend.

Sounds like quirky comedy's in the cards when all this good fortune suddenly takes a nosedive, eh?  But unfortunately for John,  he lives in the really-real world where things go really bad instead of funny-complications bad. 

It starts when the car belonging to his late father,  whom he worshipped, disappears from his driveway during the night.  It gets worse when his house, which also belonged to his late father, is broken into and burgled of some of John's most priceless possessions left to him by--you guessed it--his father.  But worst of all, the thieves knock over an urn containing dear old Dad's ashes, leaving them in a scattered heap on the floor.  (Oh yeah,  and they steal his dog, too.)

By now, I was pretty sure THE INSOMNIAC wasn't going to be a comedy.  In fact, from this point onward it turns into a pretty fascinating portrait of a guy who has just stepped onto the fast track to "coo-coo" as his initial feelings of helplessness and impotence quickly transform into a toxic mixture of hostility, paranoia, and irrational suspicion of everyone around him, including his best friends, the police who are sent to investigate, and eventually even Martha.
Director Monty Miranda keeps things percolating briskly along as Eddy Salazar plays his role with a crumbling restraint that gives way to explosive bursts of scattershot rage.  One of these takes place during a meeting with a shady business client whom John suddenly suspects of being the burglary culprit.  Since the client is played by Danny Trejo, whose character doesn't appreciate being accused of things, the situation escalates into some cracking good drama aided by veteran actor John Heard as John's formerly easygoing boss, Paul.

And that's just on the professional front.  Back in the 'burbs, John also suspects his new neighbors' teenage son Tommy (Brett DelBuono, the oldest juvenile delinquent from LET ME IN) of the dastardly deed.  When John goes commando on him, Tommy's good-natured dad Ted (Keith Szarabajka of THE DARK KNIGHT) hops off the welcome wagon and wades into the fray with disastrous results. 

And since John suspects everyone equally, even his co-worker and best buddy Andrew (Spencer Berger) gets the red-headed stepchild treatment when he drops by the house to--well, I won't reveal any more here. 

Suffice it to say that somewhere around this point in the film, the things we've been dreading were going to happen actually start to happen.  And a few things we didn't even see coming start to happen too, and some of them are pretty shocking in a "did I just see that?" sort of way. 

Even without the usual cheats and fake-outs, the script by Salazar and co-writer Peter Kenneth Jones keeps us guessing as to how much is real and how much is a result of John's wildly delusional state of mind brought on by his absolute refusal to sleep (he chooses to be an insomniac) lest he lose focus and let his guard down.   We never know just how far he's going to go, or what he'll do with that gun he just bought when he gets there.

The DVD from Grand Entertainment Group (GEG) is in 1.33:1 widescreen  with 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo sound.   No subtitles.  Extras consist of a trailer and some deleted scenes.

Somewhere during the tragic inevitability that is THE INSOMNIAC, we even begin to wonder if John Figg may be right about at least one of his suspects as he furiously dashes off notes about everyone and wallpapers his house with them, displaying the same singleminded obsessiveness as Russell Crowe's character in A BEAUTIFUL MIND.   While some may think John's descent into madness a bit too abrupt or precipitous, it's still pretty riveting to watch him skirt the fringes of nightmare territory before doing a graceless swan-dive into its depths.

Buy it at


Monday, February 10, 2014

UNHITCHED (THE BEST MAN) -- movie review by porfle

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

Ollie (Stuart Townsend, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) has two best friends--the handsome, successful James (Steve John Shepherd), and Ollie's roommate, a nebbishy Seth Green-lookalike named Murray (Seth Green).  James and Murray hate each other.  When James decides to get married and picks Ollie as his best man, comedy-type complications ensue when Ollie falls in love with the prospective bride, Sarah (the very cute Amy Smart of RAT RACE and STARSHIP TROOPERS). 

So, Murray hatches a devious plan to break up James and Sarah and get her and Ollie together.  (Okay, now watch this--I'm about to work the film's title into my next sentence.)  In other words, Murray is determined to keep James and Sarah...UNHITCHED (2006).  (See?  Clever, huh?)

This is a romantic comedy, so there are certain things you just know are going to happen.  First, Sarah is going to fall in love with Ollie and regret being engaged to James.  That's a given--we've seen this sort of thing before. 

Second, James is going to turn out to be a real jerk after all, so that instead of feeling sorry for him, we'll be glad when he loses Sarah to Ollie. 

Third, all of this is going to be alternately too cute and too sappy, and the comedy relief character--Murray--will be relied upon to funny things up now and then, with varying results. 
And fourth, I will never, ever watch this movie again, ever.  But of course, that's just me.  If you're into chick flicks, this may be right up your alley.

Ollie and Sarah first meet at a get-together she and James are having to celebrate their impending nuptials.  Ollie, whose bitchy boss Dana (Anna Chancellor) has kept him overtime again at the Women's Self-Help Books Publishing Company, where he works taking phone messages for her although he dreams of being an author but suffers from terminal writer's block, arrives late covered in pigeon crap (don't ask), falls down the stairs into the livingroom, and almost kills the bride's parents with a nine-iron when he tries out James' new virtual golf game, splitting the crotch of his pants in the bargain. 

This sequence reminded me a bit of Blake Edwards' hilarious comedy THE PARTY with Peter Sellers, and it looked as though UNHITCHED might be a pretty funny movie.  But alas, such amusing antics would turn out to be sporadic at best. 

Anyway, Ollie and Sarah meet, like I said, and yes, they meet cute. In fact, just about every time they encounter each other from then on, it's one "meet cute" after another.  Well, it's love at first sight for Ollie, and strangely enough, Sarah seems smitten with him right off the bat as well. 

So we're thinking, "Ah-ha!  This James guy must be a huge turd!"  But no, he surprises us by seeming like a pretty nice guy--boring, but nice--and we think, "Hey, wait a minute...we're supposed to feel good when Ollie steals Sarah away from him!" 

Sure enough, when Ollie's friend Murray (the guy who looks just like Seth Green because he's played by Seth Green) wages a successful smear campaign that has Sarah on the verge of walking out on James, we feel bad, and darn it, that's just not how these things are supposed to work. 

But never fear, because about three-quarters of the way through the movie, James suddenly turns into a callous, insensitive, womanizing a-hole.  Yay! 

But let's back up a bit, because one of the pivotal scenes occurs when we still think James is okay, although Sarah, deceived by Murray's devious anti-James activities, is on the verge of walking out on him, as I mentioned before.  James doesn't know what to do, because he's not as sweetly romantic as Ollie, so Ollie has an idea--write Sarah a goodbye letter, tell her all this mushy love stuff that will melt her heart, and make her come crawling back. 

But James doesn't know what to say, so he asks Ollie to write the letter for him.  Which gives Ollie the perfect chance to secretly tell Sarah how he really feels about her.  The letter ends up being a novella-length romantic fantasia of wonderfulness that shatters Ollie's writer's block!  And makes it possible for him to pee in public restrooms again!  (No, that isn't a non sequitur.) 

It's such a wonderful, heartfelt love letter, in fact, that we just know Sarah is bound to find out Ollie wrote it, which will unleash gushing torrents of feel-good wonderfulness before the movie's over.  But wait--there's still that little matter of the wedding. 

A wedding which, of course, must be crashed.  Earlier, we discover that Sarah works as a movie tester--that is, she screens movies for random audiences and questions them about it so the filmmakers can use their answers to make their movie better.  Ollie attends a screening (which, needless to say, James never did--hisssss!) of a comedy that ends with a wedding being crashed by a stoner on a skateboard, carrying a chihuahua named Dave.  This shows the bride how much he truly loves her and she runs off with him. 

Okay, I may be wrong, but I think that's what they call "foreshadowing."  Well, in the grand tradition of THE GRADUATE and a million other movies that came after it, Ollie will eventually find himself trying to get to the church on time while Murray does everything in his power to delay the ceremony, including faking a heart attack.

Will Ollie get there before the preacher makes that fateful pronouncement?  Or will he slink home in defeat, blubbering like a baby, like Lawrence Monoson at the end of THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN?  What do you think? 

This movie has "feel-good ending" stamped all over it, so it's pretty much a no-brainer.  The overall premise is so familiar by now that the only thing that might distinguish it is the originality of the details, which aren't very original. 

Seth Green does his best to liven things up (since the movie's set in London, his character is basically a feature-length version of the voice he used to mimic Jason Statham's "Handsome Rob" in THE ITALIAN JOB) though the script doesn't give him all that much to work with, and Stuart Townsend is saddled with a character that has to be alternately funny and sappy.  Steve John Shepherd is quite good as James, and Amy Smart is as winsome as ever. 

But UNHITCHED, though sporadically enjoyable, just can't figure out how to blend the "romantic" with the "comedy" well enough to keep both from coming out undercooked, and, ultimately, the funniest thing about it is the postscript during the closing credits where we get to see the stoner and the dog again.

Buy it at


Sunday, February 9, 2014

WELCOME TO PARADISE -- movie review by porfle

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

In WELCOME TO PARADISE (2007), Debbie Laramie (Crystal Bernard) is one of those unconventional young assistant pastors who does shocking things like taking off her robe when it's too hot in church, or suddenly hollering out during services: "Why don't we all stand up, look to the person next to ya, give 'em a big high-five, and say 'You have never looked better in yer life!'"  So the uptight head pastor (Nick Searcy) boots her out of the big-city church and sends her off to preach in a hick town called Paradise, Texas.

Debbie's a single mom with a teenage son named Hayden (Bobby Edner, SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER) who feels neglected because she's always off preaching somewhere--she doesn't even know he's dyslexic and having trouble in school.  In Paradise, he'll also have to contend with bullies such as Scott (Michael Seaman) whose dad, John Sullivan, happens to be the guy Debbie beat out for the head pastor job, so he already hates her.  He's also a car salesman for his wife Helen's wealthy daddy, Bobby Brown (real-life father and daughter Brian and Elizabeth Dennehy). 

John's a conniving skunk with his sticky fingers in the church treasury and he's not above using questionable means to get rid of Debbie.  As played by Christian stand-up comic Brad Stine, he's one of those cartoonishly stereotypical Texans whose face continuously convulses with broad expressions, winks, etc. 

Several of the other actors seem to be similarly afflicted--it's as though they studied the dialect by watching Deputy Dawg cartoons--and when some of the local gals get together for a gossip session in the beauty shop, it's almost farcical. 

Thank goodness Brian Dennehy's around to keep things grounded to some extent, along with some good performances by Beth Grant as a homeless woman named Frances and co-scripter William Shockley as Kent, a gym coach who befriends Debbie and Hayden.  

It takes Debbie about five minutes to win over her extremely skeptical new congregation, because she's armed with some of those surefire parables that are so simple and meaningful that they blow everyone away.  "I just tell it like it is!" she blurts out in one scene. 

Not only does she invite homeless people to the church (gasp--one of them's even gay!), she also asks a black street singer named Trevor (Lou Beatty Jr.) to sing for the congregation.  One emotion-filled pot luck supper later, and everyone's bursting with love and acceptance.  This is severely tested, however, when Frances the homeless woman accidentally burns down the church. 

Since the weaselly John Sullivan failed to pay the last two insurance premiums, the head bishop (Ken Jenkins, who played Molly Ringwald's father in THE STAND) has decided not to renew the church's charter, leaving Paradise without a church and Debbie without a job. 

But hey--one of the flock has an old barn!  And if they can all get together and turn it into a church before Sunday morning, the bishop will reconsider.  Thus, WELCOME TO PARADISE is transformed into a deluxe, feel-good episode of "Monster House."

This movie wants to be a combination of LILIES OF THE FIELD and ANGEL IN MY POCKET, but it's too superficial and, at times, just plain goofy to rate with them.  Everything's so on-the-nose, from Frances' weepy speech about homelessness at the pot luck supper to the scene where Trevor tells Debbie, "Lady, you're somethin' special" and Frances exclaims "She IS something special!"  There's hardly any actual spiritual depth to the story--Debbie's more of a chipper cheerleader than a spiritual guide. 

But in the final scenes, WELCOME TO PARADISE pulls off something I didn't think it was capable of--it evokes the same kind of feeling I get seeing Sidney Poitier write "Homer Smith" in the wet cement of the church he's just built.  The last few minutes of this movie are outstanding, reaching a level of genuine, heartfelt emotion and sincerity that brings the story to a satisfying end and forces me to boost my rating a notch. It's too bad the rest of the movie couldn't have been that good.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

DEATH OF THE VIRGIN -- Blu-ray review by porfle

A collaboration between Canadian and Italian filmmakers has spawned the dark and disturbing DEATH OF THE VIRGIN (2009), which comes off like a fresh new approach to horror by stylishly recalling the past.

May (Natasha Allan) is an introspective young Canadian woman troubled by memories of her mentally-ill mother and visions of blood and violent death.   Having decided to get herself to a nunnery in the Italian town of Caravaggio, she's joined on the way by an irreverent art student and ditzy English blonde abroad.  The three women find themselves staying in a crumbling and very creepy old Italian villa staffed by a host of strange characters.

Here, May continues to have terrifying dreams that seem to foretell the actual murders which begin to occur around her.   It all has something to do with a supposed appearance of the Virgin Mary centuries earlier to a little girl who appears in May's visions.  These and other weird occurrences, including more horrific, ritualistic deaths, lead May into a maelstrom of evil that may spring from the depths of Hell itself.

With a distinct look and feel of 70s-80s Italian cinema, DEATH OF THE VIRGIN resembles lesser Argento with SUSPIRIA-like supernatural overtones mixed with touches of giallo.  But director Joseph Tito has a fluid, extremely deliberate camera style all his own and works overtime to keep things visually involving.  The art direction itself seems inspired by the paintings of the artist Caravaggio which will figure prominently in the story (including, of course,  the 1606 work "The Death of the Virgin").

The setting is intoxicatingly atmospheric, with interesting contrasts between the sun-dappled daylight idyll of the secluded villa and the shadowy, haunted nightmare world it becomes when darkness closes in.  Tito's camera takes its time picking out various details to show us before pulling back to reveal the entire scene.  The pace is stately as the visuals and atmosphere maintain our interest along with the ominous behavior of just about everyone May encounters. 

These include a stern directress with an anger-management problem, a bald, leering handyman with a satyr-like appearance, an old mute woman who incessantly plays the same dissonant chords on a piano, and an oddball mother-and-son pair distinctly lacking in social skills.  As May, Natasha Allan maintains a reserved and timid presence until the screaming starts.  Sicilian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, IL POSTINO) is earthily attractive and intriguing as Claudia, a wryly sardonic cook who seems to know more about everything than she's telling. 

May's dream sequences, while never quite as scary as they're straining to be, are always full of strange and interesting imagery and several of the now-requisite jump scares accompanied by blasts of music, which are unnerving.  The old "slow down-speed up" thing is effective at first but quickly becomes overused. 

Still, director Tito and his co-scripter Silvio Oddi (who appear prominently as, respectively, an art teacher and a police inspector) are brimming with imaginative ideas here, many playing on the ancient trappings and imagery of Catholicism which filmmakers seem to delight in exploring to nightmarish effect.

Violent, shocking deaths punctuate the story, none quite as extreme as Argento's opening setpiece in SUSPIRIA (although the "fish-hook" beheading comes pretty close) until the film heads into its outrageous final act.  All  of our patience with the film's slow and steady pace and comparative restraint is rewarded with approximately ten minutes of utter depravity that will leave all but the most hardened gorehounds aghast (but pleasantly so, if you're into this sort of thing) while springing a semi-predictable surprise or two on us. 

The Blu-ray disc from Indican Pictures is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby surround sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of trailers for this and other Indican releases. 

Argento fans should appreciate the effort DEATH OF THE VIRGIN makes to recall a time when directors relied less on CGI and more on atmosphere and imagination to evoke fear.  It doesn't quite achieve the stark terror that it's going for, but stylishly explores a sumptuous nightmare world of morbid, perverse imagery and ideas.

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