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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Acorn’s Brit Alternatives to Summer Reruns – Star-studded U.S. Debuts w/ Patrick Stewart, Iain Glen, and Amanda Redman – Summer DVD Calendar

"Acorn Media, chief curators of the best Brit TV" --TIME Magazine

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

May 28:

George Gently, Series 5 (U.S. Debut) – “Great, bordering on brilliant” (Esquire) – Available to U.S. audiences for the first time with its release on DVD and Blu-ray, the fifth series of the acclaimed BBC mystery series features an upstanding detective in 1960s England. Award-winning actor Martin Shaw returns as Inspector George Gently, a former Scotland Yard detective now tackling crime in the north of England. Shot in stunning high-definition, these powerful dramas boast clever scripts, stylish direction, and distinguished casts, and unfold against the beautiful backdrop of rural Britain. George Gently has run for five series, with a sixth series in production. (Blu-ray 2-disc, DVD 4-disc set)

George Gently Collection: Series 1-4 – The first value-priced collection of the popular BBC detective drama featuring Martin Shaw as an incorruptible cop transplanted from London to Northumberland in the mid-1960s. These 11 feature-length mysteries teem with intrigue, wit, and style. (DVD 11-Disc Collector’s Edition, Blu-ray 6-Disc Set)

June 4:

Vexed Series 2 (U.S. Debut) – “Moonlighting 2.0, but with a much sexier male lead...witty and irreverent British hit” (Advocate) – Toby Stephens (Jane Eyre, Die Another Day, and the lead in Michael Bay’s upcoming STARZ series Black Sails) and Miranda Raison (MI-5, My Week with Marilyn, Sugartown) star in charming British cop drama. The series features sharp scripts, strong performances, and an enjoyable mix of comedy and crime solving with a twist. As partners on the London police force, the two detectives bicker and banter as they learn to work together, despite their very different styles. Broadcast on BBC Two in 2012, Series 2 has not aired in the U.S. and is available to U.S. audiences for the first time with this DVD release (DVD 2-Disc Set, 6 episodes).

The First Churchills – The landmark BBC miniseries that launched Masterpiece Theatre as the venue for acclaimed British productions. Based on Sir Winston Churchill’s biography of his ancestors the first Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, this addictive BBC drama was Emmy®-nominated for Outstanding Drama Series (1971). The classic miniseries follows the couple from their budding romance in the bawdy court of King Charles II through five tumultuous decades and five Stuart monarchs. The series stars John Neville (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The X-Files), Susan Hampshire (Monarch of the Glen, The Pallisers) in an Emmy®-winning performance, and Margaret Tyzack (I, Claudius) in a BAFTA-winning role. Now with SDH subtitles and slimmer packaging (DVD 3-Disc Set, 12 episodes).

The Politician’s Wife – “One of the best dramas the Masterpiece Theatre ever produced…Brilliant” (The Boston Globe) – Award-winning psychological drama of politics, lust, and revenge seen on PBS, stars Juliet Stevenson (The Hour, Bend it Like Beckham), Trevor Eve (Kidnap and Ransom), and Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting). The best drama winner at the International Emmys® and the BAFTA awards in the mid-1990s, the miniseries stars features a betrayed wife who publicly stands by her man while secretly orchestrating a political power play against him. Broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre in the U.S. in 1996, the DVD includes the complete U.K. broadcast edition. Milne also recently wrote The Politician’s Husband starring David Tennant and Emily Watson, which premiered in the U.K. in April 2013.

June 18:

Springhill Series 1 (U.S. Debut) – From the creators of Shameless, State of Play, and Queer as Folk – A British family faces dark secrets in this soapy British drama mixed with mysterious, supernatural elements. The series is created by Paul Abbott (Shameless, State of Play, Cracker) and Frank Cottrell Boyce, veterans of Britain’s Coronation Street, and buoyed by strong screenwriters including Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who, Queer as Folk). Springhill melds elements of Twin Peaks and EastEnders as it follows the Freemans family’s shocking revelations and electrifying confrontations, with few taboos left untouched. Broadcast in 1996-1997 in the U.K., the program has not aired in the U.S. (DVD 4-Disc Set, 26 episodes)

Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces (U.S. Debut) – View masterpieces as you’ve never seen them before. New, captivating documentary puts masterworks under the microscope and offers an entertaining and accessible look into their fascinating histories. This exceptional series documents the Louvre’s study days, in which works by major artists were collected, removed from their frames, and set on easels, replicating the feel of an artist’s studio. Curators, historians, restorers, and scientists from around the world came to examine and discuss them in total freedom. Featuring expert commentary and engaging animations to explain and simplify complex language and concepts, the documentary showcases the works of Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Watteau, and Poussin. (DVD 2-Disc Set, 5 episodes)

June 25:

Jack Taylor Set 1 (U.S. Debut) – Iain Glen (Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey) stars in the gritty Irish detective drama based on the bestselling crime fiction by Ken Bruen. A noir thriller in the vein of Case Histories and Single-Handed and filmed on location against the rugged backdrop of western Ireland, the program follows a forty-something ex-cop trying to earn a living as a private detective in his native Galway. Self-destructive, pig-headed, and overly fond of the bottle, Taylor has burned a lot of bridges, but he still has a knack for uncovering ugly truths. Broadcast on in the U.K. in 2013 with new episodes in production (DVD 3-Disc Set, 3 mysteries).

New Tricks Season 9 – Retired cops solve cold cases in Britain’s highest-rated TV drama. The series has enjoyed ongoing broadcast exposure in North America on PBS; however the DVD set features the unedited UK edition. For eight years, the old dogs of the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad—veteran detectives Jack Halford (James Bolam), Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong, Garrow’s Law), and Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman, The Sweeney)—have been a close-knit team led by Amanda Redman. Then Jack drops a bombshell: he’s retiring. Before long, they find a replacement in retired detective Steve McAndrew (Emmy® nominee Denis Lawson, Bleak House, Star Wars). (DVD 3-Disc Set)

Honest (U.S. Debut) – Featuring sharp scripts, an outstanding cast, and a deft mix of comedy and drama, this critically acclaimed British dramedy follows the fortunes of the criminally minded Carter family after their patriarch is sentenced to four years in jail for robbery. Amanda Redman (New Tricks) stars as the beleaguered mother determined to keep her family out of trouble. The compelling cast also includes Danny Webb (The Bill), Sean Pertwee (Cold Feet), Matthew McNulty (The Syndicate), and Laura Haddock (Upstairs Downstairs). Honest aired in the U.K. on ITV in 2008, but never aired in the U.S (DVD 2-Disc Set, 6 episodes).

July 2:

Falcón (U.S. Debut) – Marton Csokas (The Lord of the Rings) and Hayley Atwell (Captain America) star in new cinematic crime thriller making its U.S. debut. Featuring compelling characters, an outstanding ensemble cast, and complex, haunting mysteries, the critically acclaimed new crime series is based on the bestselling novels by Robert Wilson. Set in the magnificent Spanish city of Seville, Falcón follows a smart, intuitive detective bent on exposing hard truths and corruption. The British production features a seductive beauty and sinister undercurrent all to its own, along with stunning cinematography and stylish direction. The series co-stars Emilia Fox, Santiago Cabrera, Charlie Creed-Miles, and Kerry Fox with guest stars Bernard Hill, Robert Lindsay, Bill Paterson, and Rosie Perez. The two feature-length mysteries premiered in the UK in Nov. 2012 but have not aired in the U.S. (DVD 2-Disc).

Patrick Stewart in North & South (U.S. and Home Video Debut) – The classic BBC miniseries makes its long-awaited home video and U.S. debut. The outstanding BBC period drama stars Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Star Trek, I, Claudius) in a classic British romance in the vein of Pride and Prejudice and Middlemarch. This popular program is based on the celebrated novel by Elizabeth Gaskell (Cranford, Wives and Daughters) and depicts the tensions of the Victorian era, as traditional society clashed with the coming of the modern world. Both a slow-burn romance and a clear-eyed view of the Industrial Revolution, North & South captivates with a magnetic performance from future star Patrick Stewart. Though broadcast on the BBC in 1975, the series likely never aired in the U.S., so this release is the first opportunity for U.S. audiences to see the miniseries (DVD 2-Disc, 4 episodes).

July 16:

Joanna Lumley’s Nile – A fascinating four-part documentary hosted by the witty and enthusiastic Joanna Lumley, half of the iconic duo from Absolutely Fabulous. Traveling by fishing boat, ferry, cruise ship, plane, train, car, and Zapcat, Joanna follows the world’s longest river from mouth of the river in the Mediterranean Sea to its source in Sudan. Along the way, Joanna visits five African nations and some of the most inhospitable landscapes on Earth. The ideal travel companion, she’s game for almost anything—from sleeping on a crowded deck to slogging through mud and judging an “Ancient Egypt Night” contest. Featuring a deft mix of education and entertainment, the program premiered in 2010 on ITV and has since aired on public television in the U.S. (DVD 2-Disc Set, 4 episodes).

Bill Moyers: On the Hudson – Called “Surprising and delightful” (The New York Times), this fascinating PBS documentary explores the history of the mighty Hudson River. Legendary journalist Bill Moyers discusses the river’s 315-mile course from its source in the Adirondack Mountains to its outlet at New York harbor—and its impact on much of the nation’s history, literature, and art. On the Hudson debuted on PBS in 2002 and is Athena’s sixteenth release from Moyers’ acclaimed library of programs (DVD 2-Disc Set).

July 30:

Midsomer Murders Series 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in individual season sets – Now in original U.K. broadcast order, the first five series of the beloved, star-studded mystery series are available in collectible, repackaged individual series sets with SDH subtitles ($59.99 each set). The English village mystery gets a contemporary spin in this hit British television series that has earned a worldwide following. Bucolic settings harbor macabre crimes and eccentric characters that are no match for nice-guy detective Tom Barnaby (John Nettles, Bergerac) and his eager assistant, Sergeant Troy (Daniel Casey). Continually among Acorn’s best-selling series, Midsomer Murders premiered in the U.K. in 1997 and more than ninety feature-length episodes have aired with new episodes still in production. The first five series have featured a wide array of famous faces, including Orlando Bloom, Emily Mortimer, Honeysuckle Weeks, Toby Jones, Imelda Staunton, Trudie Styler, James Bolam, Samantha Bond, Anthony Bate, Kenneth Colley, Celia Imrie, and Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey). (DVD 2 or 3-Disc Sets)

Coming in August/September:

Foyle’s War, Set 7 (DVD debut of three new episodes), Smiley’s People on Blu-ray, Midsomer Murders Set 22, star-studded Tales of the City: 20th Anniversary Collection, Trial & Retribution: Complete Collection, Blandings, War and Peace, Line of Duty Series 1, and Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection on Blu-ray.


Earlier 2013 Releases Still Available

From Acorn: The Syndicate Series 1 (U.S. Debut, adapted as Lucky 7 by ABC), The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Complete Collection, Doc Martin Special Collection: Series 1-5 + The Movies, A Fine Romance: Complete Collection, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Series 1 (U.S. Debut, DVD/Blu-ray), new, glamorous “lady detective” series; Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases; Dirk Gently (U.S. Debut), based on the novels by beloved author Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy); Sugartown (U.S. Debut), charming BBC comedy; Foyle’s War: The Home Front Files, Sets 1-6, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Long-awaited DVD Debut) starring Geraldine McEwan (Agatha Christie’s Marple), Garrow’s Law: The Complete Collection, Maigret Complete Collection starring Michael Gambon, Murdoch Mysteries Collection: Seasons 1-4 (Blu-ray and DVD), Murdoch Mysteries, Season 5 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray, DVD), Murdoch Mysteries, Season 2 (Blu-ray debut), No Job for a Lady: The Complete Collection (DVD Debut), Chance in a Million Complete Collection, A Mind to Kill Complete Collection, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime: The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries, Agatha Christie’s Poirot & Marple Fan Favorites Collection, Wodehouse Playhouse Complete, Above Suspicion Set 2 (U.S. debut) starring Kelly Reilly and Ciaran Hinds, Testimony of Two Men (DVD Debut), Doctor Zhivago starring Keira Knightley, Trial & Retribution, Set 6 (U.S. Debut), Lillie starring Francesca Annis, and Midsomer Murders Set 21 (U.S. Debut, Blu-ray and DVD).

From Athena Documentaries:

Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy (DVD Debut), Bill Moyers: Beyond Hate, Shakespeare: The King's Man (U.S. Debut, Athena), a captivating 2012 BBC documentary exploring Shakespeare’s later plays; Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers – 25th Anniversary Edition, Missions That Changed the War: The Doolittle Raid (DVD Debut) narrated by Gary Sinise, She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens (DVD debut), The Story of Math Collection, and Bill Moyers: Becoming American

Best British TV streaming service Acorn TV is featuring a free 30-day trial for complete access to the 18 different series plus marathons. Thereafter, a subscription is just $2.99/mth or $29.99/yr. Each week three new seasons are added and three are removed. The press login/password for complete access is readily available upon request. Currently streaming programs include: the U.S. premiere of Falcón, a new cinematic crime thriller set in Spain and starring Martin Csokas (Lord of the Rings) and Hayley Atwell (Captain America; Wired, an edge-of-your-seat financial thriller starring Toby Stephens (Jane Eyre, Die Another Day, and the lead in Michael Bay’s upcoming series Black Sails), Upstairs, Downstairs spinoff Thomas & Sarah; the U.S. premiere of Springhill, from the creators of Shameless, State of Play, and Queer as Folk; The Norman Conquests, based on the celebrated plays by Alan Ayckbourn; and the star-studded documentary Playing Shakespeare featuring Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart and David Suchet; the complete series of the Pie in the Sky mystery series (40 episodes) starring the Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter films); the U.S. premiere of Honest starring Amanda Redman (New Tricks); black comedy Dirty Tricks starring Martin Clunes (Doc Martin); Australian drama Cloudstreet starring Essie Davis (Miss Fisher); the star-studded drama The Sinking of the Laconia; the romantic afterlife series Shades; Callan starring Edward Woodward (The Equalizer); a marathon of the hit Victoria-era detective series Murdoch Mysteries (65 episodes); among many others. Press access readily available upon request.

An RLJ Entertainment, Inc. brand (NASDAQ: RLJE), Athena releases provide an authoritative and entertaining learning experience through high quality, informative, non-fiction programming. Athena’s 2013 releases include: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth: 25th Anniversary Edition, She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens, Missions That Changed the War: The Doolittle Raid, Shakespeare: The King’s Man, The Story of Math Collection, and Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy.

An RLJ Entertainment, Inc. brand (NASDAQ: RLJE), Acorn specializes in the best of British television on DVD/Blu-ray. 2013 releases include: Jack Irish starring Guy Pearce, BBC’s The Syndicate, The Fall starring Gillian Anderson, North & South starring Patrick Stewart, Falcón starring Marton Csokas, Jack Taylor starring Iain Glen, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Doc Martin Special Collection, Helen Mirren’s Prime Suspect and Smiley’s People on Blu-ray, Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently, star-studded Tales of the City: 20th Anniversary Edition, and more episodes from Foyle’s War, George Gently, New Tricks, Murdoch Mysteries, Midsomer Murders and Vera.

Acorn’s and Athena’s DVD sets are available from select retailers, catalog companies, and direct from Acorn Media at (888) 870-8047 or and Select series are streaming at Acorn TV, the first British TV-focused streaming service, at


"Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection" Available on DVD July 9

Visual Entertainment Incorporated Proudly Presents "Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection"

Acclaimed Sci-fi Author Sir Arthur C. Clarke Investigates History’s Greatest Paranormal Mysteries From Around the Globe … and Beyond

Quintessential Sci-Fi Documentary Series Available for the 1st Time in Any Home Entertainment Format, July 9th

TORONTO — July 1, 2012 — For Immediate Release — For the first time in any home entertainment format anywhere in the cosmos is this out-of-this-world exploration of the universe’s most bizarre and seemingly inexplicable mysteries in Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection, available July 9 in a special collector’s set from Visual Entertainment, Inc. (VEI).

Hosted by acclaimed sci-fi author Sir Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey), Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection investigates the inexplicable, abnormal and mind-boggling wonders of the world. Included in the set are three popular, documentary series originally aired on Britain’s ITV network.

Mysterious World (1980), narrated by author, actor and newscaster Gordon Honeycomb (Then She Was Gone, The Medusa Touch), looks at unexplained phenomena from Stonehenge to the Loch Ness Monster. Narrated by English journalist Anna Ford, World of Strange Powers (1985) investigates goose bump-raising paranormal activity from haunted houses to magical spirits. Mysterious Universe (1995), narrated by British TV personality Carol Vorderman, examines mystical secrets from the ancient world.

In each episode, Clarke tackles the daunting task of finding a reasonable explanation for some of the most bizarre phenomena ever known to mankind from such “mysteries of the first kind” as solar eclipses to the more inexplicable, including messages from beyond the grave, the stigmata, lost planets, UFOs and zombies … Making Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection a must-have for every science-fiction fan!

INCLUDES: 52 episodes on eight discs (approx. 22 hours). Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection is presented in its original full screen format (aspect ratio: 4x3) and 2.1 stereo. 

About Visual Entertainment, Inc.
Visual Entertainment, Inc. (VEI) releases contemporary and classic television programming, across a wide variety of genres, on DVD and Blu-ray. Launched in 2004 and headquartered in Toronto, Canada, VEI boasts a library of 80 titles, licensed from Universal/NBC, MGM, CBS and ITV, among others. VEI serves the collectible, fan marketplace with contemporary hit series (Hell’s Kitchen), popular classic series (Cagney & Lacey, McMillan & Wife, Diagnosis Murder), hard-to-find television (The Invisible Man), cult (Earthworm Jim); and more. Visit us online at:

Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection
Visual Entertainment, Inc.
Genre: Sci-fi/Documentary
Not Rated
Format: DVD Only
Running Time: Approx. 22 Hours
Suggested Retail Price: $59.99
Pre-Order Date: June 4, 2013
Street Date: July 9, 2013
Catalog #:  VE-6470
UPC Code: # 773848647033


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Anchor Bay Releases “SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON” on Blu-Ray and DVD September 3rd

“Beautifully filmed, engagingly good and filled with the most gorgeous men on TV.” – Linda Stasi, New York Post



Three-Disc Set Contains All 10 Episodes and Bonus Features!

Beverly Hills, CA – All hail the conquering hero for his final and fiercest battle. Anchor Bay Entertainment releases the conclusion of the acclaimed Starz Original series “SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED - THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON” on a mighty three-disc Blu-ray™ and DVD set September 3rd. From executive producers Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Josh Donen and Steven S. DeKnight here are all 10 heroic episodes, plus bonus features including ‘Making of’ featurettes, behind-the-scenes footage, a fun farewell and much more! Plus the Blu-ray™ contains exclusive extended episodes and audio commentaries from cast and creators. SRP is $59.99 for the Blu-ray™ and $49.98 for the DVD. Pre-book is August 7th.

“The final season of Spartacus was an emotional journey for all involved and hopefully a satisfying conclusion for the fans," says creator and executive producer Steven S. DeKnight. "We wanted to make the Blu-ray™ and DVD release reflect our gratitude for their enthusiastic support. It's packed with bonus features, extended episodes and commentary tracks that add an extra, exciting dimension to the world of Spartacus.”

“SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED - THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON” takes place following the defeat of Roman commander Gaius Claudius Glaber. Spartacus and his men have amassed major victories against the Romans after the Battle of Vesuvius. These victories have not only forged the legend of Spartacus, but have greatly increased the ranks of the rebellion slaves to more than 30,000. Rome is indeed beginning to tremble at the threat Spartacus now represents.

Bonus Features:

•SPARTACUS: The Legend Retold

•The Price Of Being A Gladiator

•A Bloody Farewell

•The Spoils Of War Revealed: Visual Effects

•Adorning The Damned

•The Mind Behind SPARTACUS

•BLU-RAY™ EXCLUSIVES – Extended Episodes and Audio Commentaries!

“SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED - THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON” features Liam McIntyre (Radev) in the role of Spartacus, Manu Bennett (30 Days of Night) as Crixus, Dustin Clare (“Underbelly”) as Gannicus, Dan Feuerriegel (“Home and Away”) as Agron, Simon Merrells (The Wolfman) as Crassus, Todd Lasance (“Cloudstreet”) as Caesar and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (“FlashForward”) as Naevia.

This is it - an epic conclusion to a legendary journey, “SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED - THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON” is the greatest battle of them all.

About Anchor Bay Entertainment

Anchor Bay Entertainment is a leading home entertainment company. Anchor Bay acquires and distributes feature films, original television programming, including STARZ Original series, children's entertainment, anime (Manga Entertainment), fitness (Anchor Bay Fitness), sports, and other filmed entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray™ formats. The company has long term distribution agreements in place for select programming with AMC Networks, RADiUS, and The Weinstein Company. Headquartered in Beverly Hills, CA, Anchor Bay Entertainment has offices in Troy, MI, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Anchor Bay Entertainment ( is a Starz (NASDAQ: STRZA, STRZB) business,

About Starz

Starz (NASDAQ: STRZA, STRZB) is a leading integrated global media and entertainment company with operating units that provide premium subscription video programming on domestic U.S. pay television channels (Starz Networks), global content distribution (Starz Distribution) and animated television and movie production (Starz Animation),

Starz Networks is a leading provider of premium subscription video programming through the flagship STARZ® and ENCORE® pay TV networks which showcase premium original programming and movies to U.S. multichannel video distributors, including cable operators, satellite television providers, and telecommunications companies. As of March 31, 2013, STARZ and ENCORE serve a combined 56.7 million subscribers, including 21.6 million at STARZ, and 35.1 million at ENCORE, making them the largest pair of premium flagship channels in the U.S. STARZ® and ENCORE®, along with Starz Networks’ third network MOVIEPLEX®, air more than 1,000 movies monthly across 17 linear networks, complemented by On Demand and authenticated online offerings through STARZ PLAY, ENCORE PLAY, and MOVIEPLEX PLAY. Starz Distribution develops, produces and acquires entertainment content, distributing it to consumers globally on DVD, digital formats and traditional television. Starz Distribution’s home video, digital media and worldwide distribution business units distribute original programming content produced by Starz, as well as entertainment content for itself and third parties. Starz Animation produces animated TV and movie content for studios, networks, distributors and audiences worldwide.


Street Date: September 3, 2013

Pre-book: August 7, 2013

Cat. #: BD60089

UPC: 01313260089580

Run Time: 562 Minutes

Rating: Not Rated

SRP: 59.99

Format: Widescreen Presentation 1.78:1

Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish Mono

Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish


Street Date: September 3, 2013

Pre-book: August 7, 2013

Cat. #: ST60088

UPC: 0131326088880

Run Time: 553 Minutes

Rating: Not Rated

SRP: $49.98

Format: Widescreen Presentation 1.78:1

Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Mono

Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish


While I enjoyed watching the TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's "Tommy and Tuppence" mysteries, it just about made me reach my limit as far as the "anyone can be a detective if they're cute and quirky enough" genre is concerned. I expected pretty much the same experience with Acorn Media's 4-disc DVD set MISS FISHER'S MURDER MYSTERIES, SERIES 1, but there was no need for concern--this is top drawer stuff, the real thing, and it's as good as any detective series I've ever seen.

Smart, savvy, witty, and endlessly sophisticated--but with a boundless sense of fun--are just a few of the ways to describe both the show and it's main character, Phryne (pronounced fry-nee) Fisher. This free-spirited independent woman, having spent World War I as an ambulance nurse, is determined to live life to the fullest despite any restrictions that polite society in Melbourne, Australia in 1928 might try to place on her.

After becoming involved in a baffling murder case (episode 1, "Cocaine Blues") and discovering she has a knack for solving mysteries as well as getting herself into trouble, she decides that the most logical course of action is to go into business as a private investigator. In true detective fiction fashion, Miss Fisher develops a friendly rivalry with local chief inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) which, in this case, promises to eventually turn romantic. They often join forces after Jack begins to grudgingly admire her deductive skills, while his callow apprentice, Officer Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), becomes not only a staunch believer in her abilities but also a behind-the-scenes ally.

The wealthy adventuress then moves into a mansion with her hardy butler, Mr. Butler (Richard Bligh) and goes about accumulating an extended family worthy of a John Irving novel: rough and ready cabbies Bert ( Travis McMahon) and Cec ( Anthony Sharpe), who are happy to act as her legmen after she buys them a brand new cab; devoted servant and companion Dot (Ashleigh Cummings), a devout Catholic girl who fears electricity but ends up going on dangerous undercover missions herself ("Death by Miss Adventure") when not being courted by the bashful Officer Collins; and an Artful Dodger-type street urchin named Jane (Ruby Rees Wemyss) who becomes Phryne's ward.

A series of scintillating murders leads Miss Fisher through the dark underbelly of "Roaring Twenties" Melbourne--with frequent detours through decadent high society--often with only her pistol, knife (which she keeps tucked in a garter), and judo skills to protect her. And like a female James Bond, she takes full advantage of any sexual opportunities that might come along. Behind all this, however, is the lingering memory of her sister Janey, who was abducted as a child by the loathesome Murdoch Foyle (Nicholas Bell), a sort of combination Moriarty and Hannibal Lecter whose eventual escape from prison will give series one its rivetingly suspenseful and emotionally involving two-part finale ("Murder in the Dark", "King Memses' Curse").

Painstakingly realistic period atmosphere and lush production values mix with top-notch direction and camerawork to make the show a visual treat. (Even the occasional shaky-cam is used expertly and unobtrusively.) Each episode brims with delightful jazz songs and instrumentals from the era, while props, costumes, automobiles, and settings are all wonderfully authentic. The Agatha Christie-like "Murder on the Ballarat Train" features a period steam engine, while "The Green Mill Murder" boasts a mint-condition biplane for Miss Fisher to pilot. The one-million-dollars-per-episode budget always shows up on screen, particularly in the beautifully-designed sets and the use of CGI to recreate such sights as a 1928 Melbourne skyline or a docked ocean liner.

Supporting performances are all fine, but it's Essie Davis as Miss Fisher who really sells the show. Miss Fisher is a fun-loving feminist without being stuffy or preachy about it--she leads by example--and the stunning Davis, hardly recognizable here as the fair-haired, ill-fated "Maggie" in the MATRIX sequels, exudes both lighthearted fun and emotional gravitas in the role, creating a detective character who's admirably intelligent but realistically so rather than coming off as a superhuman brainiac with the mind of a computer. Miss Fisher is the kind of woman who not only knows artists, which is scandalous enough for the time, but poses naked for them as well. The series is refreshingly adult but with a tasteful dose of whimsy that makes it all the more fun when it isn't being dark and dangerous.

The 4-disc, 13-episode DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles. Several informative featurettes make up the bonus features, including a 19-minute short about the look of the show, a profile of its creators, a set tour, cast interviews, costumes, etc. Original author Kerry Greenwood is a charming presence as she gushes enthusiastically about how well her imaginative visions have been captured onscreen.

Exceedingly first-rate in all respects, MISS FISHER'S MURDER MYSTERIES, SERIES 1 is the sort of entertainment that's so good I hate to come to the end of it. Considering the low expectations I had for it at first--a flapper detective?--it comes as one of my most pleasant surprises of recent years.

Buy it at

Blu-Ray (3-discs)


Sunday, May 26, 2013


Say, kids! What time is it?

If you answered "Howdy Doody Time!" then you just might be ready to take a nostalgic trip back to Doodyville to see what Howdy, Buffalo Bob, Clarabell the Clown, and the rest of the Doodyville gang are up to. And this 5-disc DVD set, called (take a deep breath) SAY KIDS...WHAT TIME IS IT? IT'S HOWDY DOODY TIME: THE LOST EPISODES (is that a long enough title or what?) is just the right vehicle to get you there.

Beginning in 1947 as "Puppet Playhouse" on the fledgling NBC network, the name was later changed to "Howdy Doody" after its freckle-faced marionette star and continued to air until 1960. Bob Smith played the buckskin-garbed Buffalo Bob, and Bob Keeshan, who would go on to great success in children's programming as Captain Kangaroo, co-starred as the horn-honking, seltzer-spritzing Clarabell the Clown, along with a supporting cast of live actors and marionettes. On each show they would entertain a studio audience of kids known as the "Peanut Gallery" with skits, songs, games, and silent movies narrated by Buffalo Bob. As Clarabell, Keeshan's successor Lew Anderson remained silent throughout the series, communicating only by sign language and by beeping his horn, until the final episode when he ended the show with a tearful "Goodbye, kids." (I'm getting verklempt!)

Thus, the lights went out in the Doodyville studio...until 1976, when the show was resuscitated for another 130 episodes before going down for the last time. Taped in Miami, Florida, "The New Howdy Doody Show" was a worthy successor to the original, at least judging by the few 50s episodes I've seen. Somehow the new version seems brighter, faster-moving, and more fun, but I was too young to catch the old show so nostalgia isn't a factor for me--you older Peanuts may disagree.

Buffalo Bob's older here, and I think that works in his favor. He's somehow more lovable and endearing now, and his enthusiastic, yet easygoing demeanor and keen sense of humor set the tone for the show. He loves to perform, singing and mingling with the Peanut Gallery (which has now greatly expanded to include not only dozens of kids but their giddy baby-boomer parents as well). Lew Anderson is a delight as the mischievous Clarabell, who loosens things up considerably by constantly pulling pranks and spraying everyone with his seltzer bottle. It's funny how agitated the Peanuts get whenever they see Clarabell sneaking up on an unsuspecting victim like the show's groovy bandleader, the leisure-suited, white Florsheim shoe-wearing Jackie Davis.

Of course, more than a few of these kids look as though they're being held hostage--even by the 70s, this sort of innocent nonsense was an alien concept to the more "sophisticated" sensibilities of some of the junior cynics in the Peanut Gallery. In one episode, there's a little blonde girl scout with glasses who I swear looks like she'd go postal if she could get her hands on a machine gun. So in a weird way, watching the various reactions of the kids to this old-fashioned brand of children's entertainment is pretty interesting in itself.

But you might as well leave that attitude behind, Missy, when you pop one of these discs into the DVD player. Because in Doodyville, the kids compete in "Good Behavior" contests and one of the most anti-social things you can do is to pop someone's balloons. Howdy Doody is everyone's favorite kid, of course, but his pal Dilly Dally runs a close second. Other marionette characters include the sweet-tempered Indian maiden Princess Summerfall Winterspring, the broomstick-riding cutup Sandy Witch, and, my favorite, the irascible old grouch Mayor Phineas T. Bluster. He's definitely the funniest thing about the show, whether strutting around self-importantly spoiling everyone's fun for his own selfish reasons or gleefully proclaiming his own greatness as he does in his hilarious ode to himself, "Bluster's Love Song":

"Oh, why oh why does everyone admire me so muh-uh-uch,

Oh, why oh why do people think I'm groovy?

Can it be because I happen to be so good-looking

Can it be they think that I should star in a movie?

"Oh, as a star I know that I would be the hottest, de-spite the fact I'm always shy and modest

I'm diligent, intelligent, I ring your chimes so I know they will put me on the front cover of Ti-ime...

"...oh, why oh why does everyone think I'm divine and I'm a saint

That's not only your o-pin-ion, it's mine

That's not only your o-pin-ion, that's not only your o-pin-ion, it's my opinion, too, because you see

I love, love, love, love...meeeeeeeee!"

This musical number cracks me up, especially when they cut away to everyone reacting in horror and covering their ears. And when Mayor Bluster's bratty nephew Petey, who looks like a short-pants version of him, joins the cast, it gets even funnier--they're a great comedy team. Rounding out the assortment of stringed characters are Mambo the Dancing Elephant, Tommy the Turtle, and the delightful Flub-A-Dub, a creature made up from parts of eight different animals.

A new live-action cast member is Marilyn Patch as Doodyville's schoolteacher, "Happy Harmony." With dimples deep enough to park a truck in, she's so perky she makes Mitzi Gaynor look like Ed Sullivan and provides viewers with ten times their daily minimum requirement of sweetness and light. At times, her zippy, wide-eyed energy makes even the kids in the Peanut Gallery regard her with puzzled amazement. But she's incredibly cute, giving us older Peanuts an added incentive to watch the show. And as a Harvard-educated Ph.D. in children's television research and human development, who starred in her own Saturday morning kid's show called "Marilyn and Calico" at age 11, she isn't just some happy-faced bimbo they hired off the street. Knowing that she has such a lifelong dedication to educating children through the media adds considerable weight to her character.

Each of the five discs in this set represents a week's worth of episodes with its own story arc. The self-explanatory titles are "Doodyville Arts Festival", "Dilly Dally's Birthday", "Good Behavior Contest", "Doodyville Laugh-A-Thon", and "Songfest." In all, there are 25 episodes for a total running time of about 600 minutes. The discs are beautifully packaged in a colorful fold-out box that fits into a metal tin and comes with a 20-page booklet with pictures, show info, and trivia (example: the Canadian version of the original "Howdy Doody" show featured Robert Goulet as "Timber Tom").

IT'S HOWDY DOODY TIME is bright, breezy fun, and surprisingly funny once you get into the spirit of it. There's zero irony, and none of the kind of humor that's funny for kids on one level and really funny for adults on a "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" level. I don't know about you, but darn it, sometimes I just get a craving for something like this between viewings of PULP FICTION, BOOGIE NIGHTS, and HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. It's pure kid stuff, and if you're open to that sort of thing when it's done really well, you can have a ball watching these shows.

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Read our interview with Marilyn (Patch) Arnone

Friday, May 24, 2013

DIRK GENTLY -- DVD review by porfle

A more down-to-earth Douglas Adams is still a pretty way-out Douglas Adams, as we find when the wildly imaginative author applies his skewed sensibilities to the private detective genre in DIRK GENTLY.

Based on Adams' "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" books, this one-season British TV series follows the adventures of the incorrigibly eccentric Gently (Stephen Mangan) as he applies his theories on the cosmic interconnectedness of all things in the universe to such relatively mundane pursuits as investigating possible marital infidelity or locating a little old lady's lost cat.

With Dirk Gently on the case, however, things have a tendency to get weird, like when an attractive woman enlists him to track down her stalker--who, it turns out, is Dirk--or when a paranoid conspiracy nut who tells Dirk he's being watched by the Pentagon is, in fact, being watched by the Pentagon.

Dead bodies crop up at every turn, with Dirk possessing an amazing talent for stumbling upon crime scenes and looking as guilty as possible in the eyes of his nemesis, Detective Inspector Gilks (Jason Watkins). After using hypnosis to persuade erstwhile college chum Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd, who was an excellent John Cleese in the Monty Python biopic HOLY FLYING CIRCUS) to invest $20,000 in the "Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency" and act as his assistant, the two operate out of the most derelict-looking office in detective fiction while their hostile, unpaid secretary Janice ( Lisa Jackson) continues to show up for work only to harangue her employers.

Gently's methods don't make a lot of sense at first until you start getting used to the seemingly nonsensical way he pieces ostensibly unrelated bits of information together to come up with solutions that can ultimately be rather astonishing--or at least seem so if you don't think them through too carefully. Stories straddle the line between everyday realism and comical farce so adeptly that there's never a jarring transition from one to the other--just when a scene appears to be getting uncomfortably sentimental or emotional, something rather delightfully irreverent punctures the mood.

I like the constant hostility that exists between the two leads--Gently and MacDuff are like the anti-Holmes and Watson--and the fact that Gently resolutely refuses to display any positive traits designed to make us "like" him more. He's a likable character despite all the evidence we're given to the contrary, or perhaps because he's so craven, self-centered, vain, greedy, and overwhelmingly irresponsible, in addition to being refreshingly unconventional. Lack of sentimentality is a strong point with this series.

Season one--and with the show's apparent cancellation, the only one--begins with a pilot episode that introduces us to the characters and shows how Dirk and MacDuff manage to become partners. This is the one where Dirk is hired to find the old lady's cat, but with Douglas Adams at the helm, the story comes to include such fanciful elements as time travel. How the two are interconnected gives the story a delightful twist. Next, Episode 1 is a frenetic mish-mash of (interconnected) loose ends such as the aforementioned Pentagon surveillance, mysterious computer programs, and whether or not astrology really controls our lives. (Dirk is skeptical.)

In Episode 2, Dirk returns to St Cedd's Institute of Science and Technology, Cambridge, where he first learned his holistic methods but was later expelled for cheating. As a security consultant, he's in charge of guarding a lifelike robot named Elaine, who naturally disappears along with an artificial intelligence program that has just achieved sentience. My favorite of the series, Episode 2 veers into deliciously dark "X-Files" territory with some of Adams' trademark scintillating sci-fi elements and a surprisingly resonant emotional core as Dirk meets and falls in love with the mysterious Jane (Lydia Wilson, "Midsomer Murders: Master Class"), who is involved in it all in some way.

With this excellent episode, the series shows its greatest promise for what might have been had it been allowed to continue. Episode 3 concludes the season with another entertaining foray into interconnectedness as Dirk's former clients start turning up dead and Dirk may be next on the list. As always, it's nicely yet modestly mounted, well-produced but not overdone, with a wonderfully capable supporting cast including Helen Baxendale ("Marple: A Pocketful of Rye") as MacDuff's long-suffering girlfriend Susan. The backbone of the series, of course, is Stephen Mangan as Dirk Gently, who plays the role with an almost cartoonish enthusiasm that's quite the opposite of his staid Inspector Bird character in "Marple: At Bertram's Hotel."

The 2-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles. No extras.

If you only know Douglas Adams from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", you owe it to yourself to see what his boundless imagination could do in a more mundane setting. DIRK GENTLY is a treat for fans of detective fiction, comedy, and sci-fi, once you learn to appreciate how interconnected they can be.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL -- DVD review by porfle

If you're like me, you've always wondered what the hell a "scarlet pimpernel" is anyway. Well, thanks to the 1982 British TV adaptation of Baroness Emmuska Orczy's 1905 novel THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL--now available on DVD from Acorn Media--I now know that it's a humble wayside flower, as well as the chosen symbol of one of literature's first superheroes.

As Bruce Wayne is the playboy alter ego to Batman, so is Sir Percy Blakeney (Anthony Andrews, THE KING'S SPEECH) the painfully foppish, effete, and rather silly fascade behind which the dashing Scarlet Pimpernel operates in his quest to free as many innocent French aristocrats as possible from the guillotine during the French Revolution's "Reign of Terror." And like both Batman and Sherlock Holmes (not to mention the Lone Ranger and Baretta), he's also a master of disguise, a talent used to great effect during some of his more daring rescues.

As filmed by director Clive Donner (WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT, THE NUDE BOMB), the story is nicely atmospheric but not especially dynamic at first, with a superficial quality that gives way only when we start discovering the fiercely principled and courageous crusader behind Sir Percy's mask of frivolity. He's exceedingly droll when flirting with the ladies or dealing with the likes of Chauvelin, chief agent for the Committee for National Security ( Ian McKellen), whose mission, besides keeping the executioner busy, is to find out the Pimpernel's secret identity at all costs.

Needless to say, Chauvelin eventually begins to suspect Sir Percy, which complicates the Scarlet Pimpernel's plans to rescue the child Dauphin, heir to the French throne. Adding to the story's dramatic entanglements is his marriage to the actress Marguerite St. Just (a stunningly beautiful Jane Seymour), whom Chauvelin will ruthlessly use as a pawn against him. The troubled relationship between Percy and Marguerite is nicely portrayed as mistrust and miscommunication keep them painfully aloof from one another.

While there's a decent amount of suspense during certain passages, THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL rarely generates much of a sense of urgency, and we find ourselves mainly appreciating it for its sometimes breathtaking locations and some very enjoyable performances from the leads. It's fun seeing a handsome young Ian McKellen handling such a juicy bad-guy role here, tastefully underplaying for the most part but with the occasional dramatic flourish.

As for Anthony Andrews, he seems somewhat superficial until we begin to see hints of the character's depth. Still, even the more cartoonish side of Sir Percy is fun--his frequent exclamations of "Odds fish!" and "Sink me!" have a certain goofy charm, and one can appreciate how much he enjoys pretending to be such a harmless fool until the time comes to take action. This is especially true during the finale, in which we get one of those honest-to-goodness fencing duels to the death between the good guy and the bad guy while the fair lady looks on.

The DVD from Acorn Media is in 4.3 full screen with Dolby Digital sound and subtitles in English. No extras. Picture quality is mostly good despite some flaws due to age.

I enjoyed THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL even though it didn't exactly keep me on the edge of my seat, thanks to the appeal of the stars (Jane Seymour is a particular joy to look at here), a fairly interesting script by William Bast (known as the first biographer of cult icon James Dean as well as a prolific author of TV scripts and such films as THE VALLEY OF GWANGI) and some lush production values. Plus, I can now scratch "find out what the hell a scarlet pimpernel is" off my bucket list.

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DELTA FARCE -- movie review by porfle

(This review originally appeared online at in 2007)

"Who farted?"

And with that, my friends, you get the perfect indicator of the level of humor that's in store for you when you recklessly insert DELTA FARCE (2007) into your DVD player. If you adjust your expectations accordingly, you may enjoy yourself. Otherwise--"well, we warned you." Maybe this film should open with a prologue from Edward Van Sloan, like DRACULA.

This is the first time I've ever seen Larry the Cable Guy, and judging from this, he wasn't really worth David Cross getting all that worked up about. He's just a comic playing the character of a politically-incorrect moron based on a particular regional stereotype, same as Andrew "Dice" Clay. The film opens with Larry as an inept waiter in a greasy-spoon restaurant ("Don't mind the hair--I've been usin' a new conditioner") being informed by his skanky girlfriend that she's pregnant. The joyful Larry cranks up the P.A. system and announces the good news to everyone, then proposes. His girlfriend takes the mike to inform him that the baby isn't his. It's a mildly funny scene, but not "guffaw" funny, which pretty much describes the rest of the film.

Bill Engvall plays Bill, the henpecked married guy who would love to get a divorce but can't because his wife has incriminating pictures of him, and whose vision of paradise is a murder-suicide pact. I like Engvall's hangdog style and low-key delivery, and "Bill" is my favorite character. Rounding out the trio is 97-pound weakling Everett, played by THE CORE's D.J. Qualls. He's a bit of a pervert who lives in a storage facility and likes to expose himself while brandishing a samurai sword. These are our heroes, god help us.

As members of the Army Reserve, these three morons are "weekend warriors", so to speak, but the base that they report to is so lax that their monthly duty is spent getting drunk and eating junk food--until super-scary pitbull D.I. Sgt. Kilgore (our old pal Keith David of THE THING and ARMAGEDDON) shows up to chew their sorry butts out and announce that they're being shipped off to Iraq. At that point, the unsuspecting Everett blows in with a sack full of beer and whips out a long, tubular meat product with the greeting, "Hey, Sarge! Snap into a Slim Jim!" Okay, I laughed. But it wasn't technically a guffaw.

During their flight to Iraq, the plane runs into trouble and the pilot is forced to dump their cargo, including a jeep that Larry, Bill, and Everett have crawled into for some shut-eye. Sgt. Kilgore gets tangled up in some rope and is also ejected. Thus, our heroes parachute into danger and find themselves in the middle of the Iraqi desert, ready to engage the enemy. They find Sgt. Kilgore, declare him dead, and bury him. Trouble is, he isn't dead. And on top of that, they aren't in Iraq--they're in Mexico.

Eventually, the three warriors happen upon a small village that is being pillaged and terrorized by bandits. When they decide to use their superior military training and resources to help the villagers, DELTA FARCE surprisingly becomes a deft modern-day retelling of Akira Kurasawa's classic THE SEVEN SAMURAI as filtered through John Sturges' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

Just kidding. It's more like a variation of THE THREE AMIGOS as filtered through the Three Stooges, sprinkled with leftover material from Jeff Foxworthy's act and shot on the Monogram backlot. Robert Rodriguez stock player Danny Trejo seems to be having a great time playing the bandit leader, Carlos Santana (people keep asking him, "Carlos Santana, the guitar player?" and he angrily retorts, "No! I'm the real Carlos Santana!") The grateful villagers fall in love with Larry, Bill, and Everett (well, maybe not Everett) and I enjoyed seeing them basking in the adoration. For sheer novelty value, I also enjoyed seeing Keith David in a red, see-through nightie, which actually happens in this movie. Really, I never thought I'd ever see that particular thing.

Other memorable moments: Danny Trejo belting out a karaoke version of "I Will Survive"; Keith David's torture by the bandits, which consists of him being forced to participate in a duet of "I Got You, Babe" with a fat guy in drag; a feel-good ending with "where are they now?" updates; and deleted shots, bloopers, and a cool version of "Oye Como Va" by Los Lonely Boys during the closing credits. And just when I thought the movie was starting to drag towards the end, it suddenly got its second wind and stayed pretty entertaining right up to the fade-out.

I realize that I'm supposed to hate this movie, and I could've hated it if I tried, but I didn't find it nearly as backward and objectionable as some tacky, painfully unfunny load of cheap smut like PORKY'S. (Doesn't mean I'm gonna go out and start buying "Larry the Cable Guy" DVDs, though.) It's just a long, good-naturedly dumb joke about some likably idiotic rednecks and their unlikely adventures in Mexico. As Douglas Adams might've said, it's "mostly harmless." I might even have guffawed a time or two if I'd been on drugs when I watched it.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

TOMORROW YOU'RE GONE -- DVD review by porfle

Some people enjoy a slow, experimental, rub-your-nose-in-it indy flick, while others would rather be entertained by something more down-to-earth that moves fast and doesn't require you to figure out what the hell's going on with every cryptic movement or utterance. TOMORROW YOU'RE GONE (2012) might as well have a dividing line between these two groups of viewers painted right down the middle of it.

Stephen Dorff (IMMORTALS, BLADE) is compelling as Charlie Rankin, a soon-to-be-released convict whose mentor, The Buddha (Willem Dafoe), promises to take care of Charlie if he'll just do him the favor of rubbing out one of his enemies. But the hit goes dreadfully wrong, and Charlie dreads the prospect of returning to the crime scene the next night to fix it. Especially after meeting Florence Jane (Michelle Monaghan, (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III, MR. & MRS. SMITH), a sweetly eccentric porn actress who falls inexplicably in love with Charlie and tries to bring out the good qualities buried deep within him before he destroys himself.

Charlie is troubled with a capital "T"--director David Jacobson (DAHMER) has a field day depicting how constant mistrust, paranoia, and nightmares from his past skew his perception of reality until viewers themselves can't really tell what's real and what isn't. This calls for a variety of camera effects that some will find irritating, along with some creative editing that plays around with reality (he sees people who aren't there, including himself) to the point where you start wondering if you're watching an extended "Twilight Zone" episode.

After their "meet-cute" on a bus (actually, it's more of a "meet-weird"), we also wonder what the deal is with Florence and why Charlie is so instantly, irresistibly appealing to her. Is she an angel? Is she a figment of his imagination? Or is she just totally nutso? After the botched hit, the film becomes a mini-road movie when they buy a car and drive around the city all day waiting for nightfall when Charlie will deal with his unfinished business once and for all.

In one scene, they end up in a church as Florence urges him to open up a line with God and see if it isn't too late for a little redemption of his tortured soul. The rest of the time she's cajoling him to have sex with her as though she'd just gotten out of prison instead of him. I like her character, and Monaghan is very appealing in the role, but Florence is just too good, or too wild, or too weird to be true.

Eventually, the inevitable hour arrives when Charlie must either make good or lose his soul forever, with Florence and The Buddha (Willem Dafoe with his usual menacing performance) representing God and the Devil. After all the existential angst and art-house tomfoolery, it's nice that this meandering, disorienting character study manages to give us a semi-satisfying resolution that I found emotionally resonant.

The DVD from RLJ Entertainment is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. No extras.

I liked TOMORROW YOU'RE GONE enough to watch it again and found the second viewing much more rewarding than the first, mainly because I could stop trying to figure out the plot (such as it is) and concentrate on all the hidden meanings (such as they may be). But a lot of you won't like this movie at all, and to you my description of it alone should serve as adequate warning.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

BARRYMORE -- Blu-Ray review by porfle

"We [the Barrymores and the Drews] were the theater's royal family, and I was the clown prince."

If you're a younger viewer who knows "The Great Profile" John Barrymore only as Drew's granddad--if at all--then the melancholy, almost ghostly nostalgia stirred by the opening moments of BARRYMORE (2012) may be lost on you. Those with a fond affection for both old Hollywood and the Shakespearean stage may find themselves getting wistful right away. But when Christopher Plummer takes the stage in the title role and goes to work, his bravura performance of this stunningly well-written play should captivate anyone who sees it.

A belated filmization of a 1997 Tony award-winning Broadway success that has reportedly been improved with the retelling, the story begins with an over-the-hill Barrymore, circa 1942, hiring a theater in which to rehearse for a backer's audition that will hopefully return him to the classical stage as King Richard III in "Hamlet." From his first moments onscreen Plummer is a joy, capturing Barrymore's voice and physical traits while bringing his own sense of humor and fun to the role. While guzzling the booze that would ultimately destroy him, the already-tipsy actor elegantly recites crude limericks and bawdy anecdotes with a naturalistic gusto and at times almost giddy enthusiasm that one can't help but share.

The first segment is filmed before a live theater audience, whom we understand is a figment of the egotistical actor's imagination as he awaits the arrival of his young prompter, Frank (John Plumpis, 'TIL THERE WAS YOU). Plummer so chummily interacts with this audience that one misses their delighted reactions during the later scenes in which Frank's presence prevents Barrymore from "imagining" them.

Still, Plummer is never less than riveting even when performing to an empty house, and the script by Erik Canuel (screen adaptation) and William Luce (original play) is brimming with a non-stop barrage of hilarious one-liners which he delivers with expert timing. Barrymore constantly confounds the impatient Frank by taking time out to reminisce about his youth, growing up with brother Lionel and sister Ethel, surviving an equally alcoholic father, and serving as a political cartoonist for the Evening Journal before eventually settling into the family business of acting, which he derides as "a scavenger profession."

Every time it looks as though the aging thespian is getting down to work, a certain line from Shakespeare brings on a fresh wave of memories. What seems to bring him up short more than anything else are his recollections regarding women, particularly his four ex-wives ("For 20 years, Katherine and I were ecstatically happy--and then we met"). He also regails us with tales of less than complimentary reviews from the likes of Louella Parsons and George Bernard Shaw, and the dubious account of how one of his departed friends was such a lush that when they tried to cremate his body the funeral home exploded. More laughs come in the form of exchanges such as this between Jack and the brutally frank Frank:

"Frank, do you think my fans will remember me when I'm a has-been?"

"Of course they do, Mr. Barrymore."

But behind all the often black humor is the unspoken tragedy of Barrymore's extreme alcoholism, how it has ruined his life and the lives of his steadily decreasing number of old friends, and how it has rendered him unfit to perform his beloved Shakespeare before an audience without requiring a prompter's assistance to remember every single line.

It's deeply satisfying to watch an actor so talented at both expertly interpreting Shakespeare and bringing to life a profane, drunken, irreverent figure of fascination such as Barrymore as though the man himself were speaking directly to us. Whenever the Bard's words serve to express the lead character's own feelings, Christopher Plummer delivers these timeworn quotes with a depth and passion that gives them new life and meaning.

The Blu-Ray from RLJ Entertainment is in 1.78:1 high-definition widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound. The bonus feature is an hour-long documentary, "Backstage with Barrymore", which provides a glowing, heartfelt history of the play and film with appearances from co-stars Helen Mirren, Julie Andrews, and Zoe Caldwell.

For something that's basically a one-man play (Frank is a shadowy presence whom we never see clearly) committed to film, BARRYMORE never suffers from staginess thanks to Erik Canuel's impeccable direction and some really gorgeous, richly-hued cinematography. As for Plummer, he's nothing less than exhilarating--watching him perform this role seems so much like a guilty indulgence that you'd almost think it's fattening.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A COMMON MAN -- DVD review by porfle

A USA-Sri Lanka co-production, director Chandran Rutnam's A COMMON MAN (2012) wants to be one of those riveting, intensely suspenseful thrillers about a mad terrorist bomber but, despite trying really hard, succeeds only in being a barely average one.

The best part about it is Ben Kingsley (GHANDI, SEXY BEAST), although it's hard to appreciate his performance until one fully understands his character--which only happens during the final minutes. Until then, we see him calmly going about the task of planting bombs in various locations around the city of Colombo in Sri Lanka, and we find ourselves studying his bland exterior for any signs of how this makes him feel. When he arranges his detonators on the roof of a deserted building with a panoramic view of those bomb-laden locations, he might as well be making cucumber sandwiches for lunch. Just how coldblooded is this guy?

Ben Cross, on the other hand, plays Deputy Inspector General Morris Da Silva of the "Special Task Force" in such a generally unconvincing manner that I can only attribute it to poor direction and some really bad dubbing. Usually a reliable actor (as when playing Spock's father Sarek in J.J. Abrams' STAR TREK), here he seems to constantly veer between subtlety and an almost amateurish overplaying as he deals with Kingsley's demands over the phone. Which, unsurprisingly, consist of the release of four imprisoned terrorists who are to be taken to the nearest airport and allowed to fly to freedom. Or else--kaboom.

The dynamic quality lacking in Cross' character is mirrored by the flaccid direction and photography of the task force scenes, which also suffer from poor editing as well as some pacing problems. All of this works against the scenes that should be gripping us in suspense rather than keeping us on the verge of dozing off.

Even a cop vs. suspect foot chase through the heart of the city--something just about any TV cop show can pull off without breaking a sweat--is marred by slapdash execution. Granted, such scenes manage to carry the plot along as required, but there simply isn't anything special or out of the ordinary about them. And the fact that most of the supporting cast give subpar performances doesn't help.

On the plus side, Kingsley is always interesting to watch. So is Ben Cross, even under less than ideal circumstances. And there's a late plot twist that really perks things up even if you see it coming from a mile away. Finally, the last scene brings it all together in such a way that one feels satisfied at the fadeout, thanks mainly to the two stars and to director Rutnam finding a bit of inspiration at last.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound. No subtitles or extras.

Despite its potential as a nail-biting suspense thriller, A COMMON MAN never really rises above being bland almost to the point of tedium. It does, however, manage to deliver the minimum amount of entertainment required to qualify it as a passable time-waster instead of--all together now--a bomb.

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THE LONGEST YARD -- Movie Review by Porfle

(This review originally appeared online at in 2007. Warning: may contain spoilers.)

I just fished a copy of THE LONGEST YARD (1974) out of the budget bin at Wal-Mart. Sometimes you actually do find buried treasure in those big piles of dreck. This time I was able to get one of the greatest sports movies ever made (some call it the best football movie of all time) for five-and-a-half bucks.

Thanks to the release of the Adam Sandler remake, which I haven't seen yet (so far, so good), we have the original now in a special "Lockdown Edition" complete with two featurettes and a commentary track featuring Burt Reynolds and producer Albert S. Ruddy (THE GODFATHER). The commentary is relaxed, enjoyable, and informative, and slows down only when the two participants get caught watching the movie and forget they're supposed to be talking about it.

Burt stars as Paul Crewe, a disgraced former NFL quarterback who has a nasty breakup with his sugar mama (Anitra Ford) and, after leading the cops on a high-speed chase in her stolen car and then resisting arrest, ends up in a Florida prison in the middle of a swamp.

The stiff-arsed Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert) turns out to be a football fanatic who has arranged to have Crewe sent to his prison to help shape up his semi-pro team that is composed of the prison's guards, in exchange for an easy sentence. But this makes the captain of the team and head guard Captain Knauer (Ed Lauter) jealous, and he warns Crewe to refuse the warden's offer or suffer heapin' helpings of physical abuse. Crewe turns the warden down, and gets beaten up anyway.

After some horrific experiences on swamp detail and a stretch in the "hot box", Crewe gives in to the warden's request. But Hazen has a new plan in mind--Crewe will get together a team comprised of prisoners which will play a "tune-up" game against the guards. This easy victory will bolster the guards' confidence and make them more ready to take on the task of winning the championship of their division.

Crewe initially sees no chance of making a dent against the guards' team with the ragtag group of misfits at his disposal, but as the guards continue to heap abuse and indignity on the prisoners at every turn, he eventually begins to entertain the notion of actually beating and humiliating them and the warden in front of a crowd of spectators. All he has to do is overcome the prisoners' intial dislike for him, and entice the more hesitant ones with the promise of being able to get physical with the guards.

Burt Reynolds in his prime was a really good actor who could be suitably intense while often allowing a dry, self-mocking sense of humor to to permeate his demeanor. Much of the script, written by Tracy Keenan Wynn from a story by Ruddy, was intended to be straight drama until Reynolds and his castmates started playing around with their characters and making things more interesting and fun. But the humor never detracts from the seriousness of the situations, and the result is a story that can be enjoyed on both levels at the same time.

Crewe's best pal and manager of the prisoners' team, The Mean Machine, is the resident scrounger, Caretaker (James Hampton), who can get anything for anybody in the joint, including getting them laid. Hampton is one of the finest character actors in the business--his most recent high-profile role was as Dr. Jerry Woolridge in SLING BLADE--and deserves a lot more recognition than he's gotten over the years. Trouble is, as opposed to guys like Marlon Brando or Sean Penn who make great acting seem like a hernia-inducing ordeal, Hampton makes it look easy. Which is why he's so good.

The rest of the cast is pretty awesome as well. Eddie Albert was utterly convincing whether playing a sleazy suit-and-tie sadist like Warden Hazen or the lovable Oliver Wendell Douglas of "Green Acres." Ed Lauter as Captain Knauer is another fine character actor whose consistently good performances add to whatever he appears in. "Dick" Kiel, yet to make a big splash as "Jaws" in the James Bond series, is funny as one of the prisoners. Other fine supporting players include Charles Tyner, Sonny Shroyer ("Enos" of TV's "Dukes of Hazzard"), Harry Caesar, Michael Conrad ("Hill Street Blues"), Mike Henry, and an incredibly bee-hived Bernadette Peters ("You ever find any spiders in there?" Crewe asks her) as the warden's sex-starved secretary.

Several former pro football players such as Ernie Wheelwright and Ray Nitschke are on hand as well for added authenticity. This really pays off during the big game, which takes up almost 45 minutes of screen time. The plays are real--director Robert Aldrich (THE DIRTY DOZEN, FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX) simply filmed these guys playing grungy, hard-ass football and picked the footage that fit the script. No namby-pamby pretend tackling or "acting" here. One of the joys of THE LONGEST YARD for the sports fan is that, for the most part, this is real football played by real football players. The staged stuff which occurs here and there only adds to the excitement and hilarity of the situations, especially when Crewe comes up with a way of eliminating the scariest member of the competition, Bodanski (both onscreen and off--Ray Nitschke wasn't screwing around) with a forward pass to the groin, not once but twice. Various clotheslines ("I think I broke his f***ing neck!" Kiel's character rejoices), pile-ups, sucker punches, and other highly-unsportsmanlike activity also add to the fun.

The suspense is heightened when Warden Hazen, aghast at the sight of his guards losing to the convicts, makes Crewe a halftime offer he can't refuse--throw the game, or do hard time in prison for roughly twenty extra years. Crewe, always the type to look out for number one, must decide whether to give in or sacrifice himself for the sake of his teammates, whom he has given the chance to earn some dignity and self-respect for a change. And head guard Knauer, after seeing the warden for the slimeball that he is and gaining a grudging respect for Crewe, will soon be forced to make a decision of his own, which may include blowing Crewe's brains out.

If you love good movies, football, Burt Reynolds, big ugly sweaty guys rolling around in the mud, or all of the above, then THE LONGEST YARD is a film that should definitely be on your must-see list. Like I said, I haven't seen the Adam Sandler remake so I don't know how they compare, but I'm willing to bet that one of them will be remembered as one of the greatest football films ever made when the other is little more than a dim memory. I'll let you decide which is which.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

SOCCER MOM -- DVD review by porfle

While there are a lot of crossdressing comedies in which men dress up as women, women masquerading as men isn't nearly as common. But now here comes the family-friendly 2008 comedy SOCCER MOM to help fill the niche. It's no MRS. DOUBTFIRE or TOOTSIE, and it's certainly a far cry from THE CRYING GAME, but it'll probably keep your kids out of trouble for about an hour-and-a-half.

Haley Joel Osment's little sister Emily ("Hannah Montana", SPY KIDS 2 and 3) plays Becca, a middle-schooler whose dad coached her soccer team until his untimely demise. Now the heartsick and troubled kid must deal with her loss, along with a strained relationship with her frazzled mom Wendy (GALAXY QUEST's "Jane Doe", Missi Pyle) and the fact that her soccer team is now stuck in last place.

Things start looking up when her inept soccer coach, Kenny (Steve Hytner, "Seinfeld"'s ever-popular Kenny "It's gold, Jerry--gold!" Banya) promises the girls that his friend, world-famous Italian soccer star Lorenzo Vincenzo (Dan Cortese), is coming to replace him as the team's coach. But when it turns out that Lorenzo has no intention of coaching a girl's soccer team, Emily's mom Wendy comes to the rescue by disguising herself as him and serving as an inspiration to the team. Trouble is, this means Wendy can no longer show up as herself to support Emily, who feels increasingly neglected and distant toward her.

While there are a few moments of awkward melodrama along the way (the "You suck, Mom" scene comes to mind), most of SOCCER MOM is light, fluffy comedy that doesn't come close to the dizzying heights of wackyness we used to get from those old Disney comedies like FREAKY FRIDAY and SUPERDAD, but is still harmless fun. In fact, it's like an extended episode of some latter-day Disney Channel series, which should please the fans of that sort of thing.

Storywise, we get pretty much exactly the kind of zany complications you'd imagine from this premise, and they're all resolved in equally predictable fashion. There's the inevitable sequence in which Wendy and Lorenzo must both appear at the same championship game, leading to lots of quick changes and narrow escapes and is further complicated when the real Lorenzo shows up. Along the way we also get to see Wendy's male incarnation being hit on by her amorous friend Dee Dee, and what happens during a "guys' night out" when the real Lorenzo makes an appearance at the same bar as well.

Wendy, of course, manages to lead the team on the road to victory as Lorenzo, while dreading the inevitable moment when she must reveal her deception to Emily. And the final game between their team and the current champs, a group of snarky Malibu girls who are seemingly invincible on the field, is pretty much by-the-numbers.

Emily Osment doesn't display much of her big brother's acting depth here, but is good in a role that doesn't really require it. Hytner manages to be even smarmier than Kenny Banya, and Dan Cortese is pretty funny as the egotistical womanizer Lorenzo. The big draw here, though, is watching Missi Pyle's earnest and highly amusing impersonation of him. The makeup is great (Wendy's hairstyling co-worker just happens to moonlight as a movie makeup-effects artist), and aside from the fact that her voice is still way too high, she manages to pull off the deception quite convincingly.

The DVD image is 1.78:1/16 x 9 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Extras include a making-of featurette called "Heart of Goal", an interesting look at the creation of Missi Pyle's "Lorenzo Vincenzo" makeup, Spanish subtitles, and trailers for this and other Anchor Bay releases.

SOCCER MOM is just what I expected it to be--a lightweight farce that your kids should get a kick out of (soccer...kick...get it?) and that you might find a rather pleasant diversion as well.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

MISSIONARY MAN -- movie review by porfle

(This review originally appeared online at in 2007.)

I love pleasant surprises. So when MISSIONARY MAN (2007), an Andrew Stevens production starring and co-written by Dolph Lundgren--and directed by Dolph Lundgren--surpassed all my expectations and turned out to be a really good flick, I was definitely pleasantly surprised.

Of course, it's derivative as hell, borrowing either small details or entire chunks out of several earlier movies such as SHANE, BILLY JACK, LAST MAN STANDING, THE STRANGER, and especially HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and PALE RIDER. Those titles alone should give you a pretty good idea of the plot, which takes place in a small southwestern town populated by whites and native Americans and run by an tyrannical redneck named Reno (Matthew Stephens Tompkins) whose auto dealership is a front for drug trafficking and other sordid activities.

When a young Indian named J.J. is murdered by Reno's men for interfering in their business, a mysterious, Bible-reading stranger named Ryder (Dolph) cruises into town on his Harley to attend the funeral of his friend and starts kicking ass and taking names all over the place. He befriends J.J.'s family, including a young sister named Kiowa (the cute and talented Chelsea Ricketts), which comes in handy when Reno orders the entire family's execution for interfering with his plans to have a big, juicy casino built on the reservation.

Reno's large stable of thugs gives Ryder plenty of lowlifes to kick the crap out of, and the following pre-fight exchange should sound awfully familiar to anyone who's seen BILLY JACK:

"What'cha gonna do now, preacherman?"

"Well...I'm gonna ask you to beg the Good Lord's forgiveness. But not before I take this knee...and break that nose. And you know what?"


"There ain't nothin' you can do about it."

Hints of Ryder's possible supernatural origin abound, which is where the film is most similar to the Eastwood western HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (they share almost identical closing shots) and its cycle-chick descendant THE STRANGER. At one point J.J.'s wise old uncle White Deer solemnly intones, "Our ancestors always spoke of a man who would come from the north, followed by an eagle..." There's also evidence that Ryder may very well be the ghost of a murdered man seeking revenge. A scene in which he revisits someone from his past, a crippled man who hands him a shotgun and says "This is the gun they shot you with", is left curiously unexplained.

Dolph Lundgren gives a solid performance as the taciturn hero, bringing to mind a less cartoony and more benevolent version of SIN CITY's "Marv." How is he as a director? Well, for a guy who's been in a ton of action scenes, Dolph doesn't quite have the hang of directing them himself. There's no fight choreography to speak of, just a bunch of quick cuts that don't always add up just right. Otherwise, with the exception of a few sloppy tracking shots and some other iffy moments, Dolph does an impressive job. The color has been drained out to the extent that the film often looks almost as sepia-toned as the bookend segments of THE WIZARD OF OZ, which was fine with me after I got used to it.

MISSIONARY MAN also reminded me of Walter Hill's LAST MAN STANDING, not only visually and storywise but in the deliberate pacing. (The character of the morally-ambivalent sheriff who eventually takes a stand against the bad guys is also common to both films.) Dolph the director is in no rush to get from one visceral thrill to the next, giving the story and characters plenty of breathing room. With a pace like this, the action scenes have to pay off big to justify the long build-up in between, and here we get enough bone-crunching violence to keep things entertaining.

As in SHANE, the main bad guy sends for help when the good guy proves invincible. But instead of a lone gunman, we get an entire biker gang (shades of PALE RIDER) led by a hardcore badass named Jarfe. This is where the movie really takes off. Jarfe busts Reno's balls for letting things get so screwed up, then starts blowing away deputies and civilians alike as he works his way to the final confrontation with Ryder, which doesn't disappoint. Dolph may not direct fistfights all that well but he does shootouts just fine, and this one gets pretty graphic. John Enos III does a fantastic job as Jarfe, and the scene where he enjoys regailing a cowering victim with the origin of his weird name before blasting him is a highlight. The rest of the cast is consistently good as well.

This movie does have its faults, and it's doubtful that it will ever attain classic status, but for me it was a lot of fun to watch. As long as you don't require a thrill-a-minute and feel like settling in for a solid action flick that reaches its inevitable conclusion in its own sweet time, MISSIONARY MAN is worth sticking with all the way.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

GRIM REAPER -- Movie Review by Porfle

(This review originally appeared online at in 2007. WARNING: Contains spoilers.)

Well, there's this circle of life, you see, and sometimes when you're about to die, the circle doesn't close properly and you pop out of it, or something, and you cheat death. Which makes the GRIM REAPER (2007) hopping mad since he doesn't get to cram his big, sharp scythe through your midsection. So he comes after you like Jason or Freddy Krueger, except they looked sorta cool and he's just a tall, uninspired bit player who looks like a half-wrapped mummy schlepping around in a hokey hooded cloak, which sucks since you'd think the freakin' Grim Reaper, of all people, would be the undisputed King Of The Scary Dudes.

Anyway, there's this fairly cute blonde stripper (she's supposed to be a stripper, that is, even though all she does is wander disinterestedly onstage in a white lingerie outfit with fuzzy angel wings, walk around the pole a few times, and then wander off, while all the extras jump around hooting it up as though Bettie Page were prancing amongst them in pasties and a G-string) named Rachel (the cutely-named Cherish Lee, AMERICAN HISTORY X) who, after leaving the strip club one night after work (it's supposed to be a strip club, that is, although it looks more like one of those abandoned warehouses that the Penguin or the Riddler used to hang out in), gets run over by a taxicab in a not-too-convincingly-staged stunt.

But instead of dying like she was supposed to, she gets up and staggers toward the wrecked cab to see if the driver's all right. Suddenly a homeless guy (James C. Burns) grabs her and says, "Stay in the light." His character isn't explained, but somehow he knows that if you cheat death, the Grim Reaper is going to come after you and your only defense is to stay in the light. He shows up again later on in the movie, but his character isn't explained then, either.

So Rachel and the cab driver are taken to the hospital, and when Rachel sneaks into the room where the cab driver is to see how he's doing, she witnesses the Grim Reaper cramming his scythe through the guy's midsection. The actor playing the cab driver spits out a big mouthful of fake blood, which is one of the film's most-used gore motifs. When the frantic Rachel tries to tell a sinister-looking nurse what she's just seen, the nurse jams a hypo in her arm and knocks her out.

Rachel wakes up in a dark, creepy mental institution and meets the chain-smoking Dr. Brown (Brent Fidler), a menacing figure with an eee-vil agenda. She also meets her fellow inmates, whom Rachel later discovers have also cheated death somehow. There's Tia (Turiya Dawn), a suicide survivor, and Katie, who was blinded with acid by a jealous boyfriend after he accused her of looking at other guys, although actress Rebekah Brandes has a hard time convincing us her character is blind since she always looks right at people when she's talking to them.

There's also Stuart (Mike Korich), an emotionally-disturbed schlub who is constantly sketching charcoal portraits of the Grim Reaper; Pete (Peter Bisson), who just can't seem to get enough of them meds; and Nick (Nick Mathis), who I can't really remember anything noteworthy about but it doesn't really matter since these characters are simply there to give the Grim Reaper more midsections to shove his scythe through. And since they aren't very good actors anyway, I wasn't all that broken up about it.

Meanwhile, Rachel's medical-school boyfriend Liam (Benjamin Pitts, who isn't a very good actor, either, but hey, it's his first movie) has been searching high and low for her and, thanks to the mysteriously all-knowing Homeless Dude, finds out that she's being held at St. Joseph's, a mental institution that was closed decades earlier due to inmate abuse. He shows up just in time to stumble into the middle of the Grim Reaper's fake-bloody killing spree, in which several of the inmates are dispatched by beheading, bisection (a fairly nice effect), electrocution, and having a scythe crammed through their midsections.

Not much of this is very scary or suspenseful, and the film tends to drag just when it should be picking up momentum. But at least we get to find out why they've all been brought to the institution--it seems Dr. Brown, who was about to die from chokin' down all them coffin nails, made a deal with the Grim Reaper in which, in return for his life, he would gather up all the people who had cheated death and bring them to one location so that the Grim Reaper wouldn't have to trudge all over town looking for them. No, I'm not making that up. Apparently the dreaded Grim Reaper is a lazy bastard who can't be bothered to just pop in on his victims wherever they may be, like we always imagined him doing. You can almost hear the MST3K robots shouting, "Hey! One-stop shopping!" But, incredibly, Dr. Brown beats them to it by using the phrase himself. D'OH!

It's here in the not-so-good doctor's office that Rachel discovers a really thick book, pages through it for about two seconds, and somehow comes up with the whole "cheating death/circle of life" thing that I mentioned earlier, which I didn't understand any more than the scriptwriters did and didn't really feel like rewinding in order to try and figure it out. But before we can be further confounded by such complexities Liam shows up and Rachel explains to him that the only way to beat the Reaper is for her to die and be brought back to life. Although all of this might seem a bit much for Liam to grasp in such a short time--since it's, like, totally nuts--it only takes about a minute before he's jamming a hypo full of deadly chemicals into Rachel's bloodstream. Which allows her to go into some kind of alternate spirit dimension where she can have a final showdown with the Grim Reaper and zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzz...

All in all, this was a pretty dumb movie, and the story didn't make all that much sense, and the Grim Reaper wasn't all that grim, really, but I didn't actually hate it or anything. In fact, it was mildly entertaining at times. But I'm not going to be giving it to anyone for Christmas, or telling people, "Hoo-boy, you gotta rent this sucker", or watching it again, ever. One good thing about it, though--if the real Grim Reaper is anything like this, then maybe death won't be all that scary after all.

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