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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON -- DVD review by porfle



When we last left AMC's "The Walking Dead" at the end of season three, there was one exasperating hanging thread--the fate of the Governor (David Morrissey), the charismatic but psychotic leader of a community of people who had come together to survive and help protect each other from the constant threat of the reanimated, flesh-eating corpses wandering the land like something right out of a George Romero movie.

But with Anchor Bay's latest 5-disc DVD set, THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON, that maddening bit of unfinished business is dealt with in such spectacular fashion that I didn't mind having to wait for it. In fact, the character of the Governor, who now calls himself "Brian Heriot", is fleshed out in such fascinating ways that we almost begin to root for him until, ultimately, he fully reverts back into the ruthless, power-mad whacko that we all know so well and forms yet another collective of blind followers.

All of this, of course, occurs even as former Georgia state trooper Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the series' hero and main character, is still trying to keep his own hardy band of survivors together within the walls of an abandoned prison that serves as their sanctuary. Last we saw, they'd just weathered a fierce assault by the Governor and his previous acolytes, many of whom have since seen the light and are now a part of Rick's group.


Picking up the pieces and getting on with the business of life is hard enough even if you don't have hungry hordes of zombies forever massing around your fenced-in perimeter in ever-growing numbers. Rick's still dealing with the death of his wife Lori last season while trying to raise their son Carl (Chandler Riggs) to be both a good man and a capable zombie killer. As always, the ever-present plague of the walking dead casts its shadow over every story element, giving even the most soap opera-tinged moments an undercurrent of twisted existential dread.

Scott Wilson (IN COLD BLOOD) returns as the group's current sage, Hershel Greene, whose calm wisdom is essential in enduring each new crisis. This is especially important during one of the season's most pressing concerns, a deadly flu epidemic which creates killer zombies who attack from within the prison itself when those infected start to die off. A rigidly-enforced quarantine seperates Hershel's daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan) from her beloved husband Glenn (Steven Yeun), who is in an advanced stage of the disease.

This storyline keeps things tense for much of the early part of the season, with many risking their lives in perilous supply runs in search of medicine which, needless to say, they must fight their way through armies of the living dead in order to procure. This gives us a chance to become reacquainted with such fan-fave characters as redneck outlaw-turned-hero Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus, BLADE II, MESKADA) and samurai sword-wielding Michonne (Danai Gurira), both loners who learn to thrive as valuable members of the group.


There's a lot of dramatic turmoil in that group as well.  Carol (Melissa McBride), formerly a timid abused wife, now displays such a fierce, unflinching resolve that her actions force a shocked Rick to send her into exile. Rick himself comes to blows with Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) after two of his friends are found murdered and their bodies burned, which the burly newcomer suspects Rick to have done.

We even see the strange effect the continuing zombie threat has on two small children, sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy), one of whom must watch as the other becomes more dangerously unbalanced with each passing day. Sharbino ("True Detective", CHEAP THRILLS) is especially good in her demanding role, with the sisters' storyline supplying some of the season's most stunning moments.

All of which leads to a mid-season finale which, action-wise, blows the doors off of everything that's gone before. When the Governor and his brand new army--now fortified with an honest-to-goodness tank in addition to plenty of other lethal weapons--show up at the front gates of the prison demanding that Rick and his people evacuate immediately, the situation erupts into a carnage-drenched clash between two living armies both of which quickly become engulfed by the resulting zombie feeding frenzy that we knew was inevitable since the season's first episode.


At this point, we understand why the whole business of defending the prison against the Governor took a whole season and a half to work out--it's because this is a tale that was worth taking the extra time to tell. The climactic battle is cathartic, exhausting, and, by the end, exhilarating because the catastrophic outcome takes the series back to its hardscrabble roots, with our beloved characters scrambling through the wilderness scrounging for food and eking out an existence amidst constant threat from both the dead and the increasingly desperate living.

Even worse, this time they've been broken up into small groups unaware of each other's location or even which of the others are still alive. Once again our peace-loving heroes come into contact with the most ruthless of roving survivors, including a band of bad boys led by Jeff Kober ("Sons of Anarchy", THE BABY DOLL MURDERS) whom Daryl immediately regrets falling in with. 


 Like characters out of Stephen King's "The Stand", they're drawn to a distant place that promises sanctuary, in hopes that their loved ones will also be there, but is this place known as "Terminus" really the end of their struggle--or just the beginning of a whole new fight for life?


The 5-disc DVD set from Anchor Bay Entertainment (also available in Blu-ray) is in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Surround 2.0 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Disc 5's many bonus features include:

Featurettes:
•Inside THE WALKING DEAD (covers each individual episode)
•The Making of THE WALKING DEAD (covers each individual episode)
•Drawing Inspiration
•Hershel
•The Governor Is Back
•Society, Science & Survival
•Inside KNB EFX
•A Journey Back to Brutality
•Deleted Scenes
 Cast and crew commentaries for episodes 1, 5, 12, and 14 (also for episode 9 on Blu-ray).
 Episodes 9 ("After"), and 14 ("The Grove") are extended on the Blu-ray™ only.

As usual, I devoured THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON in just two or three marathon viewing sessions and was left ravenous for more at the cliffhanger conclusion. This is, without a doubt, one of the most compulsively watchable and addictive series in television history, and one which, according to some people I've talked to, you don't even have to be a monster fan to appreciate.

But it helps, especially if you're a gorehound, because--also as usual--this show is a non-stop, total indulgence in state-of-the-art zombie and gore effects. The SPFX artists that make the show's title come alive (so to speak) just keep outdoing themselves, and even when we think we've become numbed to such sights, they think of new ways to flabbergast us. Still, it's always the fascinating characters, and the riveting storylines, that keep bringing us back for more.

Buy it at Amazon.com:

Blu-ray
DVD
Limited Edition Blu-ray

Third Season Review
Second Season Review
First Season Review

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Friday, August 22, 2014

HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL -- DVD review by porfle



When two great tastes go together, it can create something magically delicious. Thus, when someone back in 1958 had the bright idea of mixing the cool-cat teen angst of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE with the old-fogey paranoia toward the dreaded marijuana of REEFER MADNESS, out hopped the hipster hoot HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (1958) to tickle our cinematic taste buds.

The film declares its intention to lure the nation's youth by opening with none other than Jerry Lee Lewis belting out the rockin' theme song from the back of a truck that's toodling slowly by the titular institution. Following closely behind is bad-boy new kid in school Tony Baker, played by Russ Tamblyn (who still had the highs of WEST SIDE STORY and the lows of DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN in his future).

Russ looks like the kind of guy girls used to beat up back in high school, but here, he's the most bad-ass thing to hit the hallowed halls of Hop-Head High since ducktails and saddle shoes. Why, he even pulls out a "reefer" in the Principal's office! No doubt about it, this slang-spoutin' kid's a rebel.


We then get a load of the rest of the cast, and it's a doozy--Jan Sterling as Miss Williams, the hot teacher with the heart of gold, Diane Jergens as gullible student Joan, who's being led down the path of marijuana addiction by the creepy J.I. (played by Drew's dad John Drew Barrymore), and--as Tony's aunt, "Gwen Dulaine", no less--the torpedo-chested blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren.

There's also Jackie "Uncle Fester" Coogan (continuing his upward climb from dreck like MESA OF LOST WOMEN to better material that would also include THE BEAT GENERATION and SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE, which reunited him with Mamie van Doren) as local drug kingpin "Mr. A", Charles Chaplin, Jr., Mel Welles of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, William Wellman, Jr., Ray Anthony, Ed Wood regular Lyle Talbot as a shady police inspector, and the previous year's "Teenage Werewolf" himself, a pre-"Bonanza" Michael Landon. (I haven't found Gil Perkins or William Smith yet.)

Our boy Tony wastes no time demonstrating to everyone how tough and super-cool he is, and letting it be known that he's in the market to deal some weed to his classmates in need. This gets him introduced to Mr. A, but first he makes a little time with both Miss Williams and the jittery Joan, who is fast acquiring a marijuana monkey on her back. Of course, there's also the expected run-ins with various tough guys from school including J.I. and his gang of jock-types known as "The Wheeler-Dealers", whom Tony smirkingly blows off by waving his switchblade around.


In lieu of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE's nerve-jangling "chicky run" is a nocturnal auto race that ends with Tony and Joan being hauled in by the cops when Tony's bag of reefers pops out of his hubcap, which we could've told him was a dumb place to hide them right before an auto race anyway. The fact that there's a horrifying car crash in which the driver emerges bloodied but unharmed (and even smiling cheerfully) seems to tell young viewers that such dangerous activities are okay as long as they remain unsullied by the evil weed.

An incessant amount of jive lingo is the order of the day for these young punks. "Man, you sure told off the fuzz in the pokey!" "Crazy!" "What a drag--you bugged this jam like a real L-7!" There's a coffee-house hangout reminiscent of "The Purple Pit" from Jerry Lewis' 1963 hit THE NUTTY PROFESSOR in which hot jazz is accompanied by some of the worst beat poetry ever recited by kids who appear to be in their 20s, and in some cases 30s.

When Joan tries to light up at their table, Tony lets her have it: "Hey, you torchin' up? Now don't be a drag, kitten--we don't wanna get caught with the reefer again! I had enough of the pokey and all that jazz." But even here, the mood is on the brighter side of sleazy, and by the last fifteen minutes or so the whole thing starts to resemble an episode of a high-end 50s cop show, including a brawl and a shoot-out.


When Tony finally gets a meeting with Mr. A, Coogan deftly lays on the sleaze as he describes how poor Doris, suffering in agony from heroin withdrawal in the next room (the inevitable result of smoking reefer), wouldn't cooperate with his offer to turn her on if she'd work in his "nice little 'home' upstate. But--heh--she wants to be a 'lady.'" At this point Tony definitely seems to be in over his head and looking at a forecast of unexpected danger with the possibility of scattered bullets.

The film boasts the usual solid direction by 50s superstar Jack Arnold (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, and numerous other classics) and the DVD print displays good, crisp quality for the most part, albeit a little rough and imperfect in spots--which, with a movie like this, is just the way I like it.

Arnold seems to have a ball directing some of this fun-filled stuff, especially one sparks-filled dialogue scene between competing blondes Mamie Van Doren and Jan Sterling in which super-slinky Mamie delivers her sassy, hardboiled dialogue with dazzling aplomb. Later, she's like a female barracuda as she tries to seduce her "hunky" nephew Tony, cooing "What's cookin'?" as he gets dressed and telling him he'd better "tell that Staples kid to drop dead!"


The DVD from Olive Films is in 2.35:1 widescreen with English mono sound. No subtitles or extras.

HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL may deliver pretty much the same "marijuana leads to ruin" message as REEFER MADNESS, but not nearly as stridently or with as strong an intent to shock or scare. There's a bizarre curtain call ending in which the narrator assures us all is well and that from now on, "Joan will confine her smoking to regular cigarettes." But a final blast of that theme song by Jerry Lee Lewis seems to portend a little something called "the 60s" that was just around the corner.

Buy it at Amazon.com:

Blu-ray

DVD

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

LITTLE FISH -- movie review by porfle




(NOTE: This review was originally posted at Bumscorner.com in 2006.)

Labeled a "psychological thriller" and promoted with a trailer promising a dark tale that'll have you on the edge of your seat, LITTLE FISH (2005) only qualifies as such for five or ten minutes near the end, and even then just barely.

The rest of the time it's simply the story of a reformed heroin addict named Tracy (Cate Blanchett) who dreams of buying a video store in the "Little Saigon" district near Sydney, Australia where she's worked for the past four years, but she can't get a bank loan to save her life. She's also busy trying to help her surrogate father Lionel (Hugo Weaving), a former national rugby hero, who is fighting his own losing battle against heroin now that his dealer-slash-lover Brad (Sam Neill) has retired from the drug underworld.

But Brad's underling Steve (Joel Tobeck) secretly keeps the business going on his own and eventually enters into a big drug deal with Tracy's ne'er-do-well brother Ray (Martin Henderson) and her ex-lover Jonny (Dustin Nguyen), who has just returned after spending four years in Canada trying to get his drug-addled life back together.


Jonny's return complicates Tracy's already messed-up life, especially when he persuades her to "borrow" money from the video store where she works and invest it in the drug deal, which will supposedly pay off enough for her to buy it at last. But as usual in stories such as this, such a scheme seems destined to fail.

Cate Blanchett gives a casual and restrained performance as Tracy and is a likable main character whose struggle to better herself keeps this very leisurely-paced film interesting throughout. Hugo Weaving is also very good as the drug-ravaged ex-athlete who maintains a strong fatherly relationship with Tracy long after breaking up with her mother, and it's fun to see him in a role so different from the ones he played in the MATRIX and LORD OF THE RINGS trilogies (Blanchett is also miles away from her "Galadriel" character from RINGS).

Sam Neill gives his usual reliable performance, and the rest of the cast is good, especially Noni Hazlehurst as Tracy's long-suffering mother Janelle.


Director Rowan Woods' informal, documentary-style camerawork gives the story a contemplative, dreamlike quality that makes us feel as though we're inside Tracy's head, viewing all the inevitable uncertainties of life from her disoriented point of view. As events spin slowly but surely out of control, this dreamlike quality threatens to turn nightmarish at any point, but never quite does. The brief scenes of tension and suspense near the end of the film as the drug deal threatens to go wrong (as we feared it would) never reach a real crescendo, and the film ends with a frustrating lack of resolution.

I didn't exactly feel as though I'd wasted my time watching it, but I certainly expected more of an ending than seeing three people silently strolling into the ocean at dawn and splashing around for awhile. They seem to be cleansing themselves of the horrid events of the night before, which is nice, but all of the problems that the story has saddled them with thus far still remain and the fade-out comes at least a scene or two too early to satisfy me.


So, while I did enjoy watching it to a certain extent, LITTLE FISH left me unfulfilled and wishing that scriptwriter Jacqueline Perske had taken the time to think of an ending.

Buy it at Amazon.com



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Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Batman 25th Anniversary Two-Disc Edition" from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Nov. 11




Celebrating 75 Years of Caped Crusader Entertainment…
 
Batman 25th Anniversary Edition
Debuts November 11
in New Diamond Luxe Packaging
 

Burbank, Calif., August 14, 2014 To help mark Warner Bros. Entertainment (WBE) and DC Entertainment’s milestone 75th anniversary of DC Comics’ popular Batman character, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) will release Batman 25th Anniversary Two-Disc Edition, a new Blu-ray™ edition debuting November 11 (at $24.98 SRP) in the studio’s distinctive new sleek Diamond Luxe collector-style packaging. With its state-of-the-art sophisticated and durable design, the new packaging is perfect for those wishing to add this edition to their home libraries. Also included is Batman: The Birth of the Modern Blockbuster -- a look at the phenomenal marketing, extensive merchandising and franchise foresight that set the template for the next 25 years of tentpole pictures.


WBHE and DCE’s year-long celebration, befitting the world’s most popular Super Hero, will boast new products from WBE and DC Entertainment in numerous areas comics, TV, Interactive Entertainment, Consumer Products and more. There is a new commemorative 75th anniversary Batman logo and an exclusive "Cape/Cowl/Create" art exhibit, featuring 20 contemporary artists’ interpretations of The Dark Knight’s iconic cowl headpiece and cape from the new Batman: Arkham Knight video game. Various other events are taking place throughout the year.

In addition to releasing Batman 25th Anniversary Two-Disc Edition, WBHE will also feature the highly anticipated release of the 1960s Batman: The Complete Television Series for the first time ever. Other new home entertainment releases include animated films Son of Batman and Batman: Assault on Arkham.

In announcing the Batman 75th anniversary initiative in March, WB Chairman and Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara noted, "Batman is an incredibly important property with multi-generational appeal across all of the Studio’s businesses, and we’re proud to celebrate this milestone anniversary. From billion-dollar blockbuster films to TV, home entertainment, video games and consumer products, The Dark Knight continues to resonate with audiences worldwide and rightfully deserves his place as a global pop culture icon for the ages."

About the Movie
In 1989, director Tim Burton breathed new life into one of the most complex and intriguing characters in popular culture. Burton cast off the 1960s camp depiction of the Dark Knight and launched for Warner Bros. one of the most popular comic book film series ever. Batman was the top-grossing movie that year and subsequently became a global phenomenon.

Tim Burton’s vision and Michael Keaton’s performance as the Caped Crusader combine perfectly to capture Gotham City’s sinister atmosphere and Batman’s brooding nature. Jack Nicholson stars in a memorable performance as the maniacal Joker and Kim Basinger is Vicki Vale, the beautiful and resourceful photojournalist desired by both men. Featuring songs by Prince and a score by Danny Elfman, Batman won the 1990 Oscar® for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Anton Furst and Peter Young).

 

Special Features

Batman: The Birth of the Modern Blockbuster (NEW) Discover how the film's phenomenal marketing, extensive merchandising and franchise foresight set the template for the next 25 years of tentpole pictures.
 

Note: All enhanced content listed above is subject to change.


Academy Awards® and Oscar® are both registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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

Warner Home Video Blu-ray Discs™ offer resolution six times higher than standard definition DVDs, as well as extraordinarily vibrant contrast and color and beautifully crisp sound. The format also provides a higher level of interactivity, with instant access to extra features via a seamless menu bar where viewers can enjoy features without leaving or interrupting the film.


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 WBShop.com and WBUltra.
 



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Thursday, August 14, 2014

FORTY SHADES OF BLUE -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review was originally posted at Bumscorner.com in 2006.)

FORTY SHADES OF BLUE (2005) won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, which just goes to show that the Sundance Film Festival probably isn't a very fun film festival to go to. In fact, they probably shouldn't use a term that's derived from the word "festive" in their name if this is the sort of film that turns their crank. Maybe "Sundance Film Ordeal" would be more fitting.

I'm not saying I hated or even actually disliked this movie, just that if I were on that jury I wouldn't have voted for for something so slow and boring. The main credit for whatever interest I had in it goes to the two lead actors, especially the great Rip Torn as Alan James, a Memphis music-biz legend with a long career as a top rhythm and blues performer and record producer.


Offstage and away from his admiring public, he tends to be a puerile old fart who throws tantrums in the recording studio and can only relate in a meaningful way with groupies and little kids, such as his three-year-old son, Sam, with whom he gleefully plays children's games.


Sam's mother is Alan's current love interest, Laura, a wispy, introspective Russian beauty who met him while he was on a business trip in Moscow. Laura is played by Dina Korzun, who is another reason this movie is as watchable as it is. At first I didn't like her distant, disaffected manner much, but eventually I began to appreciate Korzun's eccentric acting style more and more as she slowly revealed the nuances of her character.

Laura's main problem is that she doesn't really love Alan anymore, and is tired of being left alone at parties and stood up for dinner dates while Alan wanders off with his latest sexual distraction. She tolerates this because he actually loves her in his own way, and because he gives her a pampered lifestyle she never could've had back in Russia, but without even realizing it she's begun to yearn for something more. Which is where Alan's son comes into the picture.

Michael (Darren E. Burrows of TV's "Northern Exposure") is Alan's semi-estranged offspring from a former marriage, whom Dad has invited to come help him celebrate his winning a lifetime achievement award of some sort, and also to hopefully patch things up between them. Well, before you can say "wuh-woh", Michael and Laura start to develop feelings for each other that soon lead to clandestine bed-ins in various hotel rooms. Yes, of all people, they "complete" each other.


Although, of course, their unlikely relationship is doomed from the start. To make things worse, Michael really cares for his wife, who is pregnant with their first child, and Alan, bless his heart, has chosen this unfortunate moment in time to finally, and very publicly, ask Laura to marry him--even though he's beginning to suspect that things between Laura and Michael are getting disturbingly intimate.

Burrows isn't very interesting as Michael--he may resemble a young Michael Parks, but his morose presence is far removed from Parks' inventively oddball acting style. Dina Korzun is rather fascinating to watch as the movie progresses and Laura becomes more and more conflicted, until finally she is unable to hide an overwhelming despair.

But it's Rip Torn's performance that is the main reason to stick it out all the way to the end. He's a great actor, and makes the most of his character. When Alan finally realizes that he's lost Laura--probably his one true love in life--for good, Rip makes us feel it.

All artsy-fartsy trappings aside, FORTY SHADES OF BLUE is pure soap opera--an updated version of the kind of stuff people like Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson used to star in--but it's pretty good soap opera if you can just stay awake long enough to see it through. I didn't like the abrupt ending very much, though, because just when it started getting good, it was over. Hmm...I couldn't wait for this movie to end, but it ended too soon? Talk about conflicted.

Buy it at Amazon.com

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

H.G. WELLS' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS -- DVD review by porfle



(This is a repost of my very first online movie review, posted at Bumscorner.com in 2005. I had just bought the DVD of Timothy Hines' notorious H.G. Wells adaptation--the original version, that is--and decided to choose it as my debut title. Thanks to Mike Eschelman of Bumscorner for giving me my start.)

This certainly is a familiar title these days! I haven't seen the mega-bucks Steven Spielberg version or that other one with C. Thomas Howell and Jake Busey in it yet, but it's a pretty good bet that the absolute worst of the current bunch is "H.G. Wells' The War Of The Worlds" (Spielberg didn't mention Wells in his title, and the other one only has one "The" -- that's how you tell them apart), which is now available on DVD.

I'd seen the trailer online and was aware that this film's budget was way too small for cinematographer/editor/writer/director Timothy Hines to afford any really expensive CGI. But the shot of Big Ben getting blown in half by a Martian heat ray and crashing into a bridge looked pretty decent, and the quick glimpses of advancing tri-legged Martian war machines didn't seem too bad. I figured at that price (under nine dollars) I couldn't go wrong, so I picked up a copy and gave it a chance. Three seemingly interminable hours later I was wanting my money back really, really bad.


The script by Hines and Susan Goforth (who also produced and plays a role in the film) sticks close to Wells' novel, retaining the original period and locations and much of the text itself. The costumes are very authentic-looking. But as soon as we see the main character of the film sitting there with what resembles a glob of spinach glued to his upper lip, we know something's wrong. (Actor Anthony Piana also portrays this character's twin brother later in the film, without the fake mustache.)

From the very first scene this film looks like it was done by the same people who shoot dramatizations for shows like "Unsolved Mysteries" and "America's Most Wanted." It's hard to believe that anyone ever considered releasing this to theaters instead of directly to DVD -- I can't imagine sitting in a movie theater witnessing this amateurish effort actually being projected for an audience.

The computer effects look like something out of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force", only slightly less realistic. I read somewhere online that Hines actually created them on his laptop, and I don't doubt it. As a viewer, it's really hard to suspend your disbelief when everything looks like really bad video game graphics.


Not only that, but almost every shot uses some kind of inept computer effects, even for simple backgrounds, both indoors and out, and the green-screen stuff is so bad that the contours of the actors' heads keep changing when they move. Distant soldiers and horses look like cartoons; people riding in carriages are manipulated against fake backgrounds like characters on "South Park." And some scenes which are supposed to take place at night are filmed in broad daylight, with a strip of star-bedecked black added to the top of the frame.

It just keeps getting worse. The first casualties of the Martian death ray burst into flames, become computer-generated skeletons, and then keep on thrashing around even after all their flesh has been totally vaporized. The Martians themselves are just plain dumb-looking -- sort of like Fruit Roll-Ups with eyes and tentacles. Their war machines look okay, but are clumsily-animated.

The performances fall into two categories: bad silent movie-type mugging, and tiresome overacting. Director Hines is no help, though, making his actors walk, trot, or sprint from one place to another in several unnecessary scenes, or simply having them stand there and make faces denoting various emotions as they pretend to witness spectacles that the special effects can never hope to depict. Much of his direction appears to have consisted of phrases like "Okay, look sad! Action!" or "Okay, look horrified! Action!", or "Quick! Jog over there! Action!"


Did I mention that this thing is three hours long? And those are doctor's office waiting room hours, not Happy Fun Theme Park hours.

There is one pretty good thing about this movie -- the music. The opening titles, in fact, are the best thing about it, with an impressive theme (the synth often sounds convincingly orchestral) and the cool way that the text slowly moves forward like in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome." Sometimes I pop the DVD in and watch this first minute or so just so I don't feel like I totally wasted my money on it. There's a danger in doing this, though -- if I'm not careful, I actually see part of the movie before I can hit the "stop" button.

Buy it at Amazon.com

Originally posted Tuesday, June 28, 2005

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

LOW WINTER SUN: THE COMPLETE SERIES -- DVD review by porfle



After seeing him play good guys in the fairly interesting psychological thriller ANNA and now this, AMC's one-season cop show LOW WINTER SUN: THE COMPLETE SERIES (a 3-disc, ten-episode DVD set from Anchor Bay), I have now officially forgiven Mark Strong for being the totally boo-hiss Frank D'Amico in KICK-ASS. (The fact that I hated him for that in the first place is a testament to his acting skills.) So now, I can accept him in the role of a morally conflicted homicide cop who's the good guy except for one tiny little catch--his cop character is also a cop-killer.

That's right, the term "good guy" can be pretty relative. Here, Strong plays Detroit homicide detective Frank Agnew, a former hero whom you might call a "faded flower" of departmental integrity. We know this isn't going to be your standard police procedural when the series opens with Frank and fellow detective Joe Geddes (Lennie James, "The Walking Dead") murdering Geddes' now-former partner Brendan McCann in cold blood and disposing of the body by staging a fake suicide.

The viewer is thrown for a loop from the first minutes. Here we have the show's two lead cops pretending to investigate their fellow detective's brutal homicide while actually doing their best to sabotage said investigation until the case goes cold. When a witness crops up claiming to have seen a tall, bald white guy and a medium-sized black guy--namely, Frank and Geddes--plunging the dead McCann's car into the river, they respond by contradicting, confusing, and discrediting him until he doesn't know what he saw.


The first episode (entitled, simply enough, "Pilot") establishes the basics--crooked good cops, crooked bad cops, crooked bad guys. In short, crooked everything. Interdepartmental tension grows when Internal Affairs sets the small but tenacious Lt. Simon Boyd (David Costabile) loose in the squad room. McCann, it seems, has been under scrutiny for quite awhile due to his shady dealings with drug traffickers, leading to the murder of some small-time dealers and the disappearance of a prostitute-witness named Katia (Mickey Sumner).

To complicate things even further, Frank was in love with Katia and is now obsessed with finding her. Geddes, on the other hand, doesn't want her found because she knows too much about his own involvement with McCann's extracurricular activities.

The plot is so twisted that lead characters Frank and Geddes alternate between working together to stall the case, and being at each others' throats due to their wildly conflicting motives. Their boss, Lt. Dawson (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), just wants everything to work itself out in any way necessary so he can move up the ladder and get a corner office with a view. Perhaps the biggest threat to Frank and Geddes, strangely enough (aside from Internal Affairs man Boyd), is Detective Dani Khalil (Athena Karkanis), since her honesty and integrity have yet to be hopelessly corrupted.


While all of this is going on, we get to know the criminals with whom McCann was secretly dealing and, at times, even empathize with their ambition to break out from under the thumb of local Greek crime boss Alexander Skelos (Alon Aboutboul) and make it on their own. Husband and wife team Damon and Maya Callis (James Ransone, Sprague Grayden) know they're playing with fire, especially when Damon hatches a dangerous plan to hit Skelos which Maya is strongly against because of the danger it poses to their children.

And yes, our heroes Frank and Geddes themselves have a long personal history with the two which, like just about everything else in this show, leads to plenty of complications down the line.

We're meant to be ambivalent toward almost all of the main characters in LOW WINTER SUN, and for the most part the writers pull this off. This can be rather stimulating to watch as standard good-bad stereotypes are manipulated to make us wonder sometimes who we should be rooting for or against. It also makes for storylines that are wildly unpredictable, especially since most of these characters are a highly volatile bunch prone to violent acting out.

The downside of this series is that all of the good stuff takes a while--several episodes, in fact--to come together enough to demand our attention and make us insatiably eager to see what happens next. At times, the show tries too hard to be "gritty" (in one scene, Frank tells Geddes that they're trying to push a "square turd down a round toilet") and the early going is filled with long, uninteresting dialogue scenes that make us yearn for the next sudden shock or explosive confrontation.


Around the third disc, however, things heat up to the point that I was watching in rapt attention as Frank, AWOL from a pressing court date while being sought by his own police department, goes through a life-shattering meltdown--a magnificent, self-destructive breakdown of epic proportions. (Mark Strong has a field day in these final episodes.) Geddes, meanwhile, continues to be an increasingly complex character who knows he's sold his soul but is trying to salvage what's left of it even as we keep being surprised by what he is capable of.

Stylistically, the series is a bit murky-looking at times but keeps the handheld-camera thing on an acceptably functional level like the old show "Homicide: Life on the Streets" rather than going full-out "NYPD Blue." Much of the show's "gritty" quality comes from its production design--the squad room, in particular, looks like it should either be totally renovated or condemned for demolition.

The 3-disc DVD set from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Extras include the featurettes "A Look at 'Low Winter Sun'", "Detroit Grit", and "Designing the Precinct." There are also brief featurettes for each episode and a wealth of deleted scenes.

With its excellent leads and a fine supporting cast, LOW WINTER SUN rewards patient viewers who can make it through the slower early going until the final episodes catch dramatic fire. It's a shame the series wasn't picked up for a second season and given a chance to get even better--it would've been interesting to see where the writers went with it. But these ten episodes are fairly self-contained and supply enough of a resolution to not leave us hanging.

Buy it at Amazon.com


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Friday, August 8, 2014

TCM: Three New Greatest Classic Films Collections


 
New from Turner Classic Movies & Warner Home Video
December 2
Three New Greatest Classic Film Collections Include
Cary Grant Vol. 2, Taylor & Burton and Bogie & Bacall
 
BURBANK, Calif. , August 5, 2014 – Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc. (WBHE) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) are adding three new collections to their TCM Greatest Classic Films: Legends line, which spotlights Hollywood’s greatest legends. Available December 2, the newest additions are Cary Grant Vol. 2, Taylor & Burton and Bogie & Bacall.  Each collection features four classic films and is affordably priced at $27.92 SRP.
 
To build further momentum for these titles, WBHE has set the street date for the collections to coincide with the airing of one film from each collection on TCM. Additional promotional support will include on-air promotional spots on TCM and print advertising in TCM's Now Playing guide.
 
ABOUT THE COLLECTIONS
 
TCM GREATEST CLASSIC FILMS: LEGENDS – CARY GRANT VOLUME 2
 
 
  SYLVIA SCARLETT (1935) - Katharine Hepburn is Sylvia Scarlett, a woman who disguises herself as a man to evade the law. Cary Grant is jewel smuggler Jimmy Monkley, a competing young grifter. The two find themselves cooperating on a heist...and caught in a web of romantic entanglements.
 
GUNGA DIN (1939) - Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. star as cheeky British soldiers armed with battlefield gallantry as they combat a murderous sect in colonial India. Director George Stevens orchestrates teeming battles and boisterous humor from a screenplay by Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol.
 
DESTINATION TOKYO (1943) - Grant plays the captain of a submarine making its battle-strewn way from San Francisco to the Aleutians and into the enemy’s front yard. Delmer Daves (who co-wrote with Albert Maltz) directs, while John Garfield leads an array of costars playing boys-next-door gone to war.
 
ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944) - Frank Capra breezily directs this classic farce written by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein based on the Broadway hit. A frazzled drama critic’s two maiden aunts put a secret ingredient in their wine – and the result is howlingly hilarious, with Grant at his comic best.
 
 
TCM GREATEST CLASSIC FILMS: LEGENDS – TAYLOR & BURTON
 
 
THE V.I.P.s (1963) - Fog rolls in, grounding air traffic. Over the next fateful night, elite passengers awaiting London-to-U.S. flights must face problems instead of fleeing them. Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and more deliver romantic melodrama mixed with wry comedic flourishes.
 
THE SANDPIPER (1965) - Rapturous Big Sur is the backdrop as a minister (Burton) is torn between his yearnings for a beautiful free spirit (Taylor) and his love for his wife (Eva Marie Saint). Directed by Vincente Minnelli from a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson.
 
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) - Taylor and Burton are ideal as malevolent marrieds in first-time film director Mike Nichols’ searing film of Edward Albee’s groundbreaking play (written for the screen by Ernest Lehman). The movie won a total of five Oscars®[1] and remains a taboo-toppling landmark.
THE COMEDIANS (1967) - Romantic and political passions are set ablaze in Haiti during the brutal rule of Papa Doc Duvalier. Burton and Taylor lead a ‘who’s who’ cast of stars caught up in the strongman’s reign of terror in a story as disturbing and redeeming as mankind’s conflicted heart.
 
 
TCM GREATEST CLASSIC FILMS: LEGENDS – BOGIE & BACALL
 
 
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) - World-weary Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) changes his mind about helping the Free French when a sultry siren (19-year-old Lauren Bacall in her screen debut) comes along. Full of intrigue and racy banter, this is the thriller that brought Bogart and Bacall together.
 
THE BIG SLEEP (1946) - L.A. private eye Philip Marlowe (Bogart) takes on a blackmail case and trails murderers, rogues, the spoiled rich and more. Bacall costars under Howard Hawks’ brisk direction of William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman’s ace adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel.
 
DARK PASSAGE (1947) - Bogart is a prison escapee framed for murder who emerges from plastic surgery with a new face. Bacall is his lone ally, and the chemistry between the leads is undeniable. Agnes Moorehead plays a supporting role as a venomous harpy in Delmer Daves’ stylish film-noir thriller.
 
KEY LARGO (1948) - Outside, a hurricane swells. Inside, a sadistic mobster (Edward G. Robinson) holds a hotel owner (Bacall), her invalid father-in-law (Lionel Barrymore) and an ex-GI (Bogart) at gunpoint in this classic from director John Huston (who co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Brooks).
 
                                                             Order Information:
Street Date: December 2, 2014
Order Due Date: October 28,, 2014
SRP: $27.92 for each collection
 
TCM Greatest Classic Films: Legends -  Cary Grant Vol. 2
MAT: 1000491025
 
TCM Greatest Classic Films: Legends -  Taylor & Burton
MAT: 1000491021
 
TCM Greatest Classic Films: Legends -  Bogie &  Bacall
MAT: 1000491023
 
 
Academy Award(s)® and Oscar(s)® are registered trademarks and services marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
 
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 WBShop.com and WBUltra.
 
About TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection
TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection is a partnership between Warner Home Video and Turner Classic Movies. The initiative combines the strengths of the companies in serving both serious film buffs and a new generation of movie lovers. The TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection builds on the success of previous joint initiatives between Turner Classic Movies and Warner Home Video, including the TCM Archives series and the TCM Spotlight series.
 
Warner Home Video, which owns the world’s largest film library, has more Best Picture Oscar® wins than any other studio and its films have garnered more than 300 Academy Awards®.
 
Turner Classic Movies is currently seen in more than 85 million homes and will support Warner Home Video and the new collection with extensive marketing. TCM’s marketing plan includes print ads in TCM’s popular Now Playing guide, banners on tcm.com, and on-air mentions by the network’s renowned primetime host, Robert Osborne.
 
 
About Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is a two-time Peabody Award-winning network that presents great films, uncut and commercial-free, from the largest film libraries in the world. TCM, which is available in more than 85 million homes, features the insights of hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, plus interviews with a wide range of special guests. Currently in its 20th year as a leading authority in classic film, TCM offers critically acclaimed original documentaries and specials; film series like The Essentials, hosted by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore, and Friday Night Spotlight; and annual programming events like 31 Days of Oscar® in February, Summer Under the Stars in August and TCM Essentials Jr. during the summer. TCM also connects with movie fans through such events as the annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood and the TCM Classic Cruise, as well as through the TCM Classic Film Tour in New York City . In addition, TCM produces a wide range of media about classic film, including books and DVDs, and hosts a wealth of material online at tcm.com and through the Watch TCM mobile app.
 
TCM is part of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner company. Turner Broadcasting creates and programs branded news; entertainment; animation and young adult; and sports media environments on television and other platforms for consumers around the world.
 
Connect with TCM:
 
Website: http://tcm.com

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THE MARSH -- movie review by porfle




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

You know how nerve-wracking it is when you think you're alone and someone sneaks up from behind and grabs you? THE MARSH (2006) loves to do that. It does it so frequently, in fact, that you begin to expect it and the effect is diminished, although every once in a while your guard is down and it grabs you again. But is it really scary? No.

Claire (Gabrielle Anwar) is a children's book writer/illustrator who has been having horrible nightmares about a little girl and a scary old house, and when she happens to see the house on TV, she travels to the sleepy community where it's located and rents it. Before long, she starts seeing the ghosts of the little girl and a teenage boy who seem to be trying to tell her something. These random appearances are where some of the movie's best "gotcha!" moments occur--the "shock" makeup on the boy is particularly effective.

The town's newspaper editor and local historian, Noah Pitney (STARGATE: UNIVERSE star Justin Louis, who also played Sarah Polley's husband in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake) seems immediately attracted to Claire and supplies her with information about the house--years ago, a boy named Brendan and a little girl named Rose were lost in the nearby marsh and never found--but is skeptical of any ghostly manifestations. Eventually Claire begins to suspect that he's holding something back from her and can't quite trust him.

She finally seeks the help of a paranormal investigator named Hunt (Forest Whitaker) after finding his business card under a sofa (he's been summoned there before). After touring the house, Hunt advises Claire to check into a motel. She doesn't, so he agrees to help. "What do they want from me?" she asks at one point, to which he replies, "I don't know, but one thing's for sure...it's you they want it from."

Their investigation will soon turn up evidence of foul play involving some of the town's leading citizens, for which certain entities in the spirit world now seem intent upon seeking revenge. And somehow, Claire herself is connected with the whole thing.

THE MARSH wants to be really scary but only knows how to startle you now and then. There's some good CGI whenever Claire's bedroom reverts back to its original state on the night Brendan and Rose disappeared, but as the remake of THE HAUNTING so effectively demonstrated, CGI isn't scary. Neither are a bunch of wind effects, flashing lights, and a loud soundtrack. As evidenced in an early scene, a mere shadow on the wall can be a lot more frightening than any of that over-the-top stuff.

But like so many of these haunted house movies, the filmmakers give us a spooky set up with some potential and then, throwing sublety aside, try to hammer us with a lot of frenetic activity. It's interesting to look at but it isn't scary, and ultimately ends up being rather pedestrian. Rod Serling churned out more effective stuff than this on a weekly basis back in his "Night Gallery" days.

The final resolution of the mystery is okay but not all that interesting, with a twist that we've seen numerous times before. What we're left with is a mildly entertaining spook story that looks good, with some nice performances (especially from Forest Whitaker, who's always worth watching), but not nearly enough of the truly spine-chilling stuff that the first half of the movie sets us up for. Then again, I didn't think THE CHANGELING with George C. Scott was all that scary, yet I know people who still shiver at the mention of it. So your mileage may vary.

Buy it at Amazon.com

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

PROUD -- movie review by porfle




(This review was originally posted at Bumscorner.com in 2006.)

As a history lesson, PROUD (2004) serves its purpose pretty well. But as a movie, it's about as exciting as one of those educational films they used to make you suffer through in school.

As our story opens, we find grumpy old grampa Ossie Davis awakened by some of that awful hippity-hoppity music his visiting grandson Larry and his two friends are playing in the living room. He drags himself out of bed to wander in there and yell at them, and to tell them that the noise they've been listening to isn't real music and that they should listen to some of his old blues records because this singer that he likes from the old days could sing the blues like nobody else. So he orders Larry to go fetch his old record player and makes them listen to one of his records, and sure enough, the blues singer that Grampa likes so much really does sing the blues like nobody else, which is good because she's freakin' horrible.

But that doesn't matter, because while grabbing the record player Larry also digs out Grampa's old World War II scrapbook that tells of his service on the USS Mason, a warship with an all-black crew. How, asks one of the persnippity youngsters, could he have fought for a country that had such a history of prejudice against his race? To which Grampa responds that he was fighting for his home and his people, and that for better or worse America is his home and he is proud (key word there) to have have helped defend it.

 Tell us more, Grampa!, the young whippersnappers excitedly urge as a sudden thirst for knowledge overwhelms them, and before you know it Grampa is happily strolling down memory lane toward the foggy banks of flashback-land.

We next see the young Grampa (whose actual name is Lorenzo DuFau) in a Navy uniform with his two best buddies, Skinny and James, serving aboard the USS Mason along with their other black shipmates. Right away we are shown how the crew are treated as second-class sailors or worse (the ship's chief is an especially huge jackass), and how some enraged dockworkers almost storm the ship after seeing the black sailors dancing with some white female USO entertainers.

The Navy itself looks down upon the Mason as an "experiment" that will probably fail, expecting the all-black crew to jump overboard at the first sign of danger. But as history shows (yes, this is a true story) this was hardly the case, as the crew of the USS Mason performed with valor in a number of hazardous situations.

The trouble with PROUD, unfortunately, is that these potentially exciting experiences are depicted with about as much dramatic impact as a film strip. The camera angles for the scenes on the USS Mason's deck are obviously designed to hide the fact that they are all filmed on a stationary ship, and these are intercut with actual black-and-white WWII footage and clips from old movies, which only emphasizes the static, artificial look of the new scenes.

Just when it appears that we're about to see something exciting, as when the ship encounters a German U-boat that fires a torpedo at them, all we get are a few tense close-ups, some black-and-white stock footage of a torpedo going by, and Grampa's voiceover announcing, "We DID it! We outsmarted that U-boat! And that torpedo went right by us."

 Later, a sequence showing the Mason trying to stay afloat during a fierce storm on the Atlantic while leading a convoy to England is similarly deflated before it even begins to pick up steam. A few tense looks, some stock footage of a storm-swept ship, and it's frustratingly over. It's like movie night at the old folks' home, as though the filmmakers were afraid a little excitment might be bad for our digestion or something.

There's a sequence in which the ship docks in Ireland, and Lorenzo and the gang are denied shore leave until their sympathetic captain ignores his orders and lets them go. There, they are treated with respect and regarded simply as "Yanks." They go to a pub where they are given free pints of dark, yucky ale -- which they seem to like more and more with each refill -- and meet up with Barney (Stephen Rea, best known as the guy who got such an eye-opening surprise in THE CRYING GAME), who takes them to a party with lots of traditional Irish singing and dancing.

During a stirring rendition of "Danny Boy", Barney encourages James to go AWOL and stay in Ireland, never having to return to America again and suffer the racism that he has faced previously. This sounds great to James at the time and he takes off. As the clock ticks toward the deadline for them to make it back to the ship, Lorenzo -- that's young Grampa, remember -- and Skinny go cross-country in search of James, and for a few moments it seems as though this subplot will develop into something suspenseful. But then they find James. And go back to the ship. And that's it.

Later, they get some time off in America and visit Skinny's mother (Denise Nicholas) and sister. James falls in love with the sister and they get married. During the post-nuptial party the radio announces that Germany has surrendered. Everyone sorta goes "Yaaa-aay." And after a while the flashback segment of the movie finally fizzles out, since all the main story points have been duly laid out for us in as perfunctory a manner as possible.

When we return to the present, we find that Larry has become all fired up by Grampa's stirring tales of heroism and vows to petition the Navy to finally grant the crew of the USS Mason the recognition they deserve. It turns out that Larry's dad knows a senator who might be able to help them, but Larry's dad is mad at Grampa for not giving him enough Dad-time when he was a kid.

However, this subplot gets worked out before we're in any danger of getting excited about it, and we finally get to see a ceremony in which Grampa and his crewmates are given an official commendation by the US Navy, whose negligence in appreciating their valiant efforts is rectified at last.

There's even some actual footage at the end showing President Clinton with the real-life Lorenzo DuFau and other surviving members of the USS Mason's crew on board a new ship that has been given the same name in their honor.

PROUD, written and directed by Mary Pat Kelly and based on her book, "Proudly We Served", was Ossie Davis' last movie, and he turns in his usual strong performance as the older Lorenzo DuFau. My guess is that he believed strongly in this project, and intended it to enlighten more than to entertain -- which it does -- so he'd probably be happy to have it as his swan song. I'm certainly glad to have learned the story of the USS Mason and her crew.

But cinematically, PROUD is a dull, lifeless experience. It makes the perilous adventures these men had on the high seas during WWII seem about as thrilling as one of the slower episodes of "The Waltons", and as dry as a history textbook. And while I watched it, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't going to be tested on it later.


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