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Saturday, November 30, 2013

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE -- DVD review by porfle

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006) is another throwback to the teen slasher flicks of the 80s, with its cast of horny highschoolers partying it up in a secluded location while an unknown stalker lessens their number "Ten Little Indians" style.  Sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes it's not so good.  Here, we sorta waver between the two wondering which one will win out in the end.

Amber Heard (AND SOON THE DARKNESS, THE RIVER WHY, ExTERMINATORS,  MACHETE KILLS) fills the bill as Mandy, the quintessential gorgeous virgin whom every guy (and some girls) wants to "get with" first.  Sure enough, she's the main attraction when she accepts an invitation to spend a party weekend at the isolated ranch home of nerdy-but-horny classmate Red (Aaron Himelstein, excellent as a young Austin Powers in GOLDMEMBER). 

Also vying for Amber's attentions are macho Jake (Luke Grimes, TAKEN 2) and token black dude Bird (Edwin Hodge).  The other girls in the gang are prissy blonde Chloe (Whitney Able) and earthy brunette Marlin (Melissa Price), whose own petty jealousies and insecurities have them constantly at each other's throats.   And trying to keep these rambunctious youngsters from wrecking the place in the absence of Red's mom and dad is ranch caretaker Garth (Anson Mount, HICK), an older Marlboro Man-type who arouses the interest of the girls.

But first--nine months earlier, to be exact--there's an interesting pool-party prologue in which rich, popular Dylan (Adam Powell) is egged on by Mandy's jealous friend Emmett (Michael Welch, TWILIGHT series) to perform a drunken stunt to impress her and is horribly killed.  After such a promising start, it's a bit disconcerting when the story then settles right into the usual groove of sex-obsessed high school kids making plans for the big weekend bash where we don't have to be psychics to predict pretty much how things will go.

Sure enough, the rowdy road trip to Red's ranch (during which they steal several kegs of beer from a hapless roadside merchant) and the giddy build-up to party time upon their arrival at the scenic location lead right into the standard booze 'n' weed blowout.  Besides being one of the most boring teen parties ever filmed (making it, at times, sadly realistic) it's replete with the expected romantic and other interpersonal conflicts resulting in bruised feelings and resentment, which in turn leads to various people going off into the night alone to sulk before being stalked and killed by an unknown murderer.  Betcha didn't see any of that coming, huh?

Since this movie has no urban legend-spawn local brute with a unique killing tool, getting revenge on all teens for some unfortunate incident in his past, we're left to wonder who the hell is killing Mandy's friends and why.  Is it one of the teens themselves, carrying out some hidden agenda?  Another classmate,  perhaps?  Or is it the seemingly sane ranch hand, Garth?  Why am I asking you? 

At least we know it isn't  Mandy, since we see her elsewhere during each murder.  At any rate, the script does a bland job of building tension between kills since everyone just sits around getting bored, revealing hidden insecurities, or trying to talk Mandy into getting romantic with them until finally people start passing out.  Not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff there. 

Anyway--not to reveal too much--the next day brings some welcome action and a few surprises which, while not earth-shakingly original, at least break up the monotony and get things percolating.  Director Jonathan Levine has a knack for moving the camera in interesting ways, using those wide-open spaces around Red's family ranch to good advantage and staging the action well. 

The emphasis is on Jacob Foreman's lean story rather than how graphic  the kills are, so, with some exceptions, there's a surprising lack of gore effects during the mainly conventional shootings and stabbings.  In fact,  while this film may fit snugly into the stalker-slasher genre,  it doesn't really qualify as a horror flick. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is an informative and personable commentary track by director Levine.

Despite being a mostly unexceptional example of its genre,  ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE is a good-looking film which manages to avoid being terminally boring.  The somewhat rousing finale edges it into "worth seeing" territory, and I wasn't left at the fadeout feeling as though I'd wasted  my time.

Buy it at


Friday, November 29, 2013

JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR -- Blu-ray review by porfle

With his latest Southern-fried saga, Billy Bob Thornton has heated up his very own hot tin roof and tossed on a whole carload of jittery cats.  JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR (2012), that is.

Billy Bob even name-checks Tennessee Williams at one point in the dialogue, but he might as well be ringing the venerable playwright's doorbell and running away.  Although his movie is loaded with familiar Southern stereotypes mixing it up with each other in the humid plantation-like halls of 1969 Alabama, the story is mainly an unfocused mix of turgid drama and near-farcical nonsense.

Robert Duvall is Big Daddy--I mean, Jim Caldwell, the narrowminded, hardheaded patriarch of a well-to-do but highly dysfunctional family.  Former army medic Jim has two sons who are also military vets--Carroll (Kevin Bacon), whose tour of duty has turned him into a longhaired peace protester, and the addlebrained Skip (Billy Bob), a decorated flying ace still living at home and letting life pass him by.  The only son Jim doesn't constantly butt generational heads with is non-military family man Jimbo (Robert Patrick), who in another life would be played by Jack Carson.  (An almost unrecognizable Shawnee Smith should delight her fans in the role of Jimbo's deceptively mild-mannered wife.)

While hashing over their usual dinner-table conflicts, they get a call informing them that former Caldwell matriarch Naomi, who long ago left Jim for a British gentleman named Kingsley Bedford (John Hurt), has died.  Since her last request was to be buried in her hometown, this means that Kingsley, his son Phillip (Ray Stevenson, KILL THE IRISHMAN), and daughter Camilla (Frances O'Connor, A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE) are on their way to Alabama to meet the Caldwells.  This is gonna be good, right?

Well, it's eventful, anyway.  Jim's problems with his sons bring similar resentments between Kingsley and Phillip to the surface, while this and other factors begin to draw the two older men closer together.  Skip and his brassy-blonde sister Donna (Katherine LaNasa), unhappily married to a fat boor who takes her for granted, find Camilla and Phillip's Britishness irresistible.  The script garnishes all of this with a variety of other seriocomic events hovering around the periphery like moths to a porchlight.

The story by Thornton and Tom Epperson tries to say something profound about Jim's obession with deadly auto accidents, which he visits after listening Godlike to his police band radio.  "There was a soul in this Volkswagen a little while ago," he gravely tells a highway cop as they gaze upon one such mishap.  "Now there ain't nothin' but a voice-throwed dummy a-layin' there."  Not only did this have me wondering "who talks like that?" but I spent much of the film trying to figure out the significance of his car-crash hangup. 

Meanwhile, Thornton fills JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR with more awkward, artificial dialogue being spoken by actors "playing" Southerners the way people play Hobbits and other fantasy creatures.  If Katherine LaNasa's "Donna" were any more of a faded Southern belle she'd have to have a trademark stamp.  As for Skip, his random, blathering monologues to Camilla are simply pointless until he finally, almost out of the blue, says something meaningful enough to surprise both her and us. 

But just when we think the film might be getting kind of deep, it cuts to Skip, his lip bleeding where he's bitten right through it, furiously masturbating to Camilla while she recites poetry in her British accent, naked.  We all know Billy Bob Thornton is a good writer--at least, us SLING BLADE fans do--but here, as in much of this wildly uneven narrative, he comes off like Horton Foote with Tourette's Syndrome.

The Blu-ray from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  A behind-the-scenes featurette is the sole extra.

I wanted to like JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR and, indeed, I did enjoy certain elements of it.  But like the cultural and generational differences among its characters, those elements just didn't get along very well.

Buy it at


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Up for a "SORORITY PARTY MASSACRE"? Take the pledge February 11th on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment!

...delivers red hot women and gruesome murders...SORORITY PARTY MASSACRE is a surefire winner!” - Screen Spotlight


Get Ready for Girls’ Fright Out On DVD Starting February 11, 2014

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Beautiful sorority babes. An isolated island with nowhere to hide. A crazed killer targeting them one-by-one. Ah, the joys of higher learning... On February 11, 2014, Anchor Bay Entertainment unleashes Sorority Party Massacre, a master class in girls, gore, carnage and comedy.  Guaranteed to tutor you in terror, Sorority Party Massacre will be available on DVD for an MSRP of $22.98.  Pre-book is January 15, 2014.     

An isolated town full of sexy college girls has a dangerous secret:  one girl has gone missing each year for the last 20 years.  A big-city cop, in danger of losing his badge, agrees to aid the town’s sheriff in investigating these unsolved disappearances. Quickly they realize that they are dealing with a psychotic killer whose brilliance has been twisted into a taste for terror, torture and sorority sister torment. But when this party gets started, who will graduate – and who will be held back?

Directed by Chris W. Freeman and Justin Jones, and featuring a headline cast including Tom Downey (Mirror Image), Kevin Sorbo (“Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”), Ed O'Ross (“Six Feet Under”), Leslie Easterbrook (The Devil’s Rejects), Richard Moll (“Cold Case”), adult film legend Ron Jeremy and new Scream Queens Marissa Skell, Eve Mauro and Yvette Yates, Sorority Party Massacre teaches old school terror exploitation.  This party is comedy camp at its shocking, slashing, sexy best!

Bonus features on the Sorority Party Massacre DVD include:
·        Audio Commentary by Producer/Writer/Director Chris W. Freeman and Producer/Director Justin Jones;
·        Deleted Scenes;
·        Outtakes;
·        Paige Fight Scene;
·        Barney Lumpkin Campaign Ad.

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,

Sorority Party Massacre DVD
Street date:                               February 11, 2014
Pre-book:                                 January 15, 2014
Catalog #:                                DV61387
UPC:                                        013132613871
Run time:                                 103 Minutes
Rating:                                     R
Subtitles:                                  English SDH, Spanish
SRP:                                        $22.98
Format:                                    Widescreen
Audio:                                     Dolby Digital 5.1


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

WOLF CHILDREN -- Blu-ray/DVD review by porfle

Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda (THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME, SUMMER WARS) opens WOLF CHILDREN (2012) with a scene reminiscent of Miyazaki's KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE--a young girl gazing up at the sky while lying in a field of grass that's gently swaying in the breeze. 

Each girl is about to mature beyond her placid childhood existence, but the differences between that chipper coming-of-age tale and this sometimes tragic, sometimes soaring ode to the love and self-sacrifice of a single mother for her "special" children" soon becomes heartrendingly apparent.

The girl in this high-stakes "coming-of-age" story,  Hana,  will meet a mysterious older boy who's sitting in on some of her classes at school.  A long getting-to-know-you period allows us to settle into everyday urban life in Japan (Mamoru Hosoda has a keen eye for the mundane) as the two of them fall in love.  Then comes the shock: he reveals to Hana that he is, in fact, a "wolf man" who can change into feral form at will. 

Not only does Hana's love for him hold fast, but they're soon expecting a baby girl whom they deliver themselves to avoid "surprising" the maternity doctor.  A baby boy follows soon after, and the couple are happy in their modest lives as apartment dwelling parents.   Then, in the film's first emotional shock, the Wolf Man meets a tragic fate, leaving Hana to raise their increasingly unusual children by herself.

With the older child, Yuki, becoming more and more wild--she loves to switch from human to wolf form in order to run rampant through the apartment or throw tantrums--and even her more timid and humanlike younger brother Ame becoming harder to pass off as "normal", Hana moves the family to a secluded old house in the Japanese countryside.  Here, she believes, Yuki and Ame will be free to decide which life path they want to take, whether it be human or wolf.

At this point WOLF CHILDREN takes on some of the attributes of another gentle, pastoral Miyazaki tale, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, with the two curious children exploring unfamiliar natural surroundings while their single parent gets help settling into country life by a group of kind and sympathetic neighbors. 

But this film lacks the more fanciful elements of TOTORO despite its premise.   (No cat-buses or cuddly giant forest gods here.)  Her wolfishness being an unsubtle metaphor for adolescence, Yuki finds herself longing to attend school and mingle with other children as her human side comes closer to the fore.  It's a transition which will have its share of dire consequences, and we don't know if she can pull it off.

Ame, on the other hand, begins to overcome his timidity and get in touch with his feral side.  To evoke Miyazaki yet again, Ame's excursions into the wild to commune with its denizens in an increasingly profound way recall the title character of PRINCESS MONONOKE, with a similar artistic evocation of nature's insistent lure.

With the opening segment--a mini-movie in itself made all the more devastating by the matter-of-fact portrayal of the Wolf Man's demise--we know we're in for a potentially painful experience.  One, in fact, that I feared would be as bleak and intensely downbeat as the notorious GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, which it very well could have been since the viewer is just as emotionally invested in  these characters as those in the earlier film. 

Yet instead of trying to put our feelings through a ringer, WOLF CHILDREN is a gentle and sensitively told narrative with moments of joy as well as melancholy and brittle nostalgia.  And it's surprisingly mature, appealing as strongly to adults as well as children and perhaps even more so.  This is Hana's story more than anything else, and her experiences will no doubt be easy for many parents to identify with as she struggles to raise her children while dreading the day they will leave her.

The subtlety of expression and "acting" by these animated characters is impressive.  Hosoda uses fairly realistic character design in the adults, but is a bit more fanciful in depicting the wolf children who are comically drawn during their toddler stages and boast a potent mix of human and animal "cuteness."  It's interesting to watch them grow as fear and uncertainty, as well as increasing awareness, begin to creep into their expressions.

Certain sequences, such as Hana and her children running happily through a snowy forest or a lone wolf racing up the face of a mountain amidst misty waterfalls, are exhilarating achievements despite the mix of traditional animation and CGI.  I feared that the use of digital animation to augment the cel work would mar the film but quickly became accustomed to it. 

Much effort is expended by the animators in depicting mundane, everyday images of life which are also reminiscent of Miyazaki--Hosoda and his artists seem to revel in such throwaway sights as bicyclists passing by and pedestrians going about their business in the backgrounds.  To animation fans, of course, such lovingly-rendered detail is irresistibly immersive.  Other scenes achieve the kind of visual poetry that gives anime its own unique beauty.

The Blu-ray/DVD combo from Funimation is in 16x9 widescreen with Japanese and English soundtracks in Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  Subtitles are in English.  Extras include an actor and staff commentary (U.S. version), several stage appearances by the cast and crew, a live performance of "Mother's Song" by composer Masakatsu Takagi and singer Ann Sally, and a variety of promo videos and trailers for the film.  Feature and extras are combined on one Blu-ray and two seperate DVDs for a total of three discs.

It's been a while since I shed tears of joy over a movie, but the indescribably lovely finale of WOLF CHILDREN reaches a crescendo of genuine emotion and beauty which afforded me that welcome catharsis in a big way, and for that I'm grateful.    Even listening to the exquisite theme song during the closing credits threatened to get me going all over again.  Being given such a feeling by a movie is rare, and I cherish it.

Buy the Blu-ray/DVD combo at


Sunday, November 24, 2013

DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC -- DVD review by porfle

I'm a sucker for the art of magic, and a movie that's able to incorporate it into the storyline in interesting ways can't be all bad.  Fortunately, DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC (2013) wouldn't be all bad even without the magic, but it certainly helps. 

Some close-up sleight of hand with a deck of cards during the opening titles (printed on the cards themselves) lets us know that we're going to see the real thing during this movie, without fancy camera tricks or special effects.

Then we settle into the story of office drone Jason Kant (writer and co-director Joe Tyler Gold,  who based the story on his own experiences) trudging through another work day while dreaming of being a full-time magician. 

After his perceptive boss releases him from the bondage of employment ("consider this a fire-a-tunity" he says encouragingly) Joe hooks up with former "magic camp" buddy and successful magician Steve (a very likable Jonathan Levit, WAR OF THE WORLDS 2: THE NEXT WAVE,  UNSPEAKABLE) to help him make the transition into the wonderful world of magic.

This bright, cheerful low-budget effort has already begun to ingratiate itself when Jason runs into blonde cutie Stacy (Valerie Dillman, veteran of a bunch of TV ranging from "Dexter" all the way back to "Murder She Wrote") in a magical meet-cute--she's a shill  for a street hustler specializing in the old shell game--that results in their hatching a plan to enter an upcoming magic competition together. 

But as soon as Jason mentions the word "assistant", she leaves in a huff.  Make that a minute and a huff.  At any rate, she balks at being anybody's "assistant" and enters the contest as Jason's competition.  Abashed, Jason writes a brand new act in which the assistant turns the tables on the magician and takes over the act.  But now he can't even get Stacy to read it.

What all this leads to is the usual romantic-comedy complications made more tolerable, and a lot more fun, by being laced with plenty of wonderful displays of legerdemain by both the leads and a host of masterful guest performers in lesser roles.  Gold and Levit are old hands at this stuff,  while novice Dillman amazes with some deft moves of her own, with her character's autobiographical audition act for the magic competition being a highlight. 

Of course, we know that Jason and Stacy are eventually going to get back together and perform the new act that he's written,  but until then one of Steve's ardent groupies, Ellen (Sascha Alexander), steps in to take her place and get Jason into the finals.  Alexander makes Ellen a wonderfully, vibrantly ditzy comic character without going over the top, enriching the film's comedy quotient while the other plot elements work themselves out in pleasantly-unsurprising fashion.  

The film is deftly directed (Gold's co-director Tammy Caplan appears briefly as a harried mom who orders a "magic-gram" which Jason must perform for her sullen kid) and looks good for such a low-budget production, with a brisk pace and a jazzy, energetic musical score. 

The two stars have a good natural ability at both acting and magic,  and manage to be quirky without getting cutesy.  John Getz, who was such a magnificent bastard in David Cronenberg's THE FLY, gets to play a much toned-down version of that here as a crotchety, combative magic contest coordinator. 

I like the way we're invited into the magicians' fantastical subculture, getting to vicariously participate in the easy comraderie shared by its willfully eccentric denizens.  These scattered moments when we get to stop and watch someone perform are what make the movie as fascinating as it sometimes is, and I wish there was more of that.  But I guess they had to squeeze a story in there somewhere to keep it from turning into a documentary.

The DVD is in 16x9 widescreen with stereo sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of a chummy commentary with directors Gold and Caplan,  a deleted scene, a behind-the-scenes slideshow,  and a trailer.

DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC never really gets all that desperate--it's mainly just a sparkly, magic-tinged romp through rom-com territory that manages to get its second wind whenever the plot threatens to get bogged down. The ending, while pleasant, is rather abrupt as well as being extremely predictable.  Still, I wanted this movie to end as I predicted it  would, and it did, so I can hardly complain.

Buy it at
HD Instant Video
Standard Instant Video

Official website


Thursday, November 21, 2013

THE BOYS & GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN -- movie review by porfle

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

I dreaded watching THE BOYS & GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN (2006) because I thought it was going to be some drearily hip or tiresomely raunchy modern-day teen sex comedy. But it didn't take long to discover that it is, instead, a smart, inventive, and thoroughly rewarding mock-serious examination of the mores and rituals of the urban party scene and its denizens.

Presented in a tongue-in-cheek instructional tone similar to an educational film (or certain parts of HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY) and augmented by the appropriate graphs and diagrams, it's meant to be the result of exhaustive research on the subject by a group of earnest, clueless scientists.

At times we see them comparing the behavior of drunk and stoned lab mice interacting in a miniature bar, or putting an inebriated mouse behind the wheel of a tiny sportscar and watching it weave recklessly down the sidewalk. Another researcher is shown trying to procure drugs for their experiment and getting totally burned by some street corner dealers while having no earthly idea what he's doing.

The main portion of the story, though, concerns the activities of a large cast of characters during an evening of clubbing, bar-hopping, and house partying, with step-by-step advice on the right and wrong ways to score sex and/or drugs and the proper social behavior for any given situation.

The movie doesn't bother with character development and stuff--we already know the types. Heck, we already ARE some of the types (if you're old enough, you may have been several of them over the years), so there's no need to get bogged down in such details.

Every type is represented--hip-hoppers, punks, dopers, boozers, horndogs, teasers, smoothies, losers, even "fauxmosexuals" (straight guys who pretend they're gay just to get laid)--in a variety of settings such as bars, shi-shi clubs, and, best of all, the mansion of none other than an unsuspecting Dennis Haskins ("Saved By The Bell"s Mr. Belding), who's out of town.

Guys walking into a party setting scope out and evaluate all the girls Terminator-style, while girls weigh the attractivenss of the guys depending on standards such as height, wealth, and what kind of drugs he's willing to share.

Our diligent scientists have used their research to compile this helpful guide replete with "formulas and paradigms that can be followed to achieve the maximum fun with the least stress." Their findings are divided into several sections such as carnal knowledge, booze, drugs, getting past bouncers into exclusive clubs, house parties, the basic differences between boys and girls, and pussy power. The latter is demonstrated by a knockout blonde who wields the equivalent of Jedi mind tricks to effortlessly get what she wants from drooling guys.

The cool thing about all this is that the advice offered is actually good, sensible, usable stuff. This may be a comedy, but unlike the more farcical GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN and its ilk, BOYS & GIRLS GUIDE is one of the most beneficial and instructive comedies I've ever seen. Watching it could definitely help you avoid a few pitfalls here and there while making your way through the minefield of the singles scene.

The script by writer-director Paul Sapiano plots its course to a tee and carries it out consistently to the end--unspooling a non-stop series of great gags and funny scenarios, this movie hits a steady stride right off the bat and never runs out of steam. (It helps that it looks great and has a really cool soundtrack, too.)

There are no big slapstick moments or over-the-top fantasy antics designed to evoke huge, bug-eyed bellylaughs (as in frat-boy "epics" such as PORKY'S or SPRING BREAK)--everything is exaggerated yet realistic.

Packed with timeless, universal stuff that party animals of all ages and backgrounds will be able to identify with, THE BOYS & GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN is for anyone who parties or still remembers when they did. Me, I identified very strongly with one or two of the guys in this movie, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna tell you which ones.

Buy it at


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"ZOMBIE HAMLET" chews the scenery December 31, 2013 from Level 33 Entertainment


Hilarious Comedy Feature Film with All-Star Cast Hits Stores on December 31, 2013

Los Angeles, CA – The All-Star comedy feature film, ZOMBIE HAMLET, will be available exclusively on DVD from Level 33 Entertainment beginning on December 31, 2013 at an SRP of  $14.99. 

Following a successful film festival run, the movie sets its sights on entertaining audiences everywhere that DVDs are available for rental or sale by capitalizing on a uniquely funny story and a long list of recognizable names and faces including: Travis Wester, Jason Mewes (Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back), Emmy® Award winner Shelley Long (“Cheers”), Vanessa Lee Evigan, with Emmy® Award nominee John Amos (“Good Times”) and June Lockhart (“Lost In Space”).

Directed by John Murlowski, written by John McKinney, and produced by Tom Shell, Kristi Culbert and Ricki Maslar, ZOMBIE HAMLET tells the story of first-time film director, Osric Taylor (Travis Wester), as he finally manages to get his dream movie financed, Shakespeare's HAMLET, set against the epic backdrop of the American Civil War.  Osric heads to a small Louisiana town to start filming when his production funding unexpectedly dries up. 

With no other options, he agrees to accept southern matron Hester Beauchamp's offer to finance his movie, as long as he throws some zombies into the film to attract a wider audience.  When Hester suddenly dies mid-shoot -- and with the local sheriff and ambitious news reporter Shine Reynolds (Shelley Long) hot on his trail -- Osric is thrust into one precarious and hilarious situation after another in a desperate attempt to keep ZOMBIE HAMLET alive.

ZOMBIE HAMLET also includes original music composed by Jackson Rathbone (“The Twilight Saga”).  The DVD will be available for purchase at major retailers including and available for rent at all major DVD rental outlets.

About Level 33 Entertainment
Los Angeles based Level 33 Entertainment is an entertainment company dedicated to redefining the landscape for independent film distribution.   Level 33 provides innovative sales, marketing and distribution services for feature films and entertainment content, delivering a flexible and transparent distribution solution for all platforms including Theatrical, Home Entertainment, Digital and Broadcast.



Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Silent Night, Bloody Night" - Available on DVD Dec. 10 From Film Chest

Film Chest Proudly Presents
"Silent Night, Bloody Night"

The Mansion … The Madness … The Maniac …
And There’s No Escape!

HD Restoration from 35mm Film of Classic Horror Flick
On DVD Dec. 10th

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Dec. 1, 2013 — For Immediate Release — It’s Christmas Eve in a small town, but the local children aren’t dreaming of sugarplum fairies in Silent Night, Bloody Night, on DVD Dec. 10, from Film Chest.

A ’70s drive-in, B-movie flick, Silent Night, Bloody Night  gained notoriety in the mid-1980s when it was featured on Elvira’s Movie Macabre, gaining a dedicated cult following. Now don’t miss a bloody drop … Enjoy this thriller in HD for the first time ever!

In Silent Night, Bloody Night, a young man inherits a mansion once used as an insane
asylum … and in which his grandfather died in a fire.When he puts it up for sale, an axe-wielding madman – who has been hiding in the residence – threatens anyone who comes near. Who is this deranged murderer … And why are the local townspeople acting so strange?

Starring John Carradine (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach), Patrick O’Neal (Under Siege, The Way We Were) and Walter Abel (Island in the Sky, Mr. Skeffington, Holiday Inn, Fury). Directed by Theodore Gershuny (TV’s Tales From the Darkside).

Silent Night, Bloody Night is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 16x9 and mono sound.

About Film Chest:
Founded in 2001, Film Chest offers high-quality content for a wide variety of production and distribution needs, boasting one of the world’s largest libraries (10,000+ hours) of classic feature films, television, foreign imports, documentaries, special interest and audio—much of it restored and digitized in HD. Headquartered in Bridgeport, Conn., with offices in New York City, the company also produces and distributes collector’s DVD sets for its American Pop Classics, CULTRA and HD Cinema Classics labels.Visit us online:

Silent Night, Bloody Night
Film Chest
Genre: Horror
Original Release: 1973 (Color)
Rated: R
Format: DVD Only
Running Time: Approx. 81 Minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $11.98
Pre-Order Date: November 12, 2013
Street Date: December 10, 2013
Catalog #:  FC-491
UPC Code:  #874757049199

Buy it at


Friday, November 15, 2013


(NOTE: This article, in slightly different form, originally appeared at in 2005.)

In 1961, former FCC chairman Newton Minnow described television as a "vast wasteland."  But rarely in the medium's history did this wasteland ever seem quite so vast, or quite as wasted, as it did when the unmitigasted disaster known as "Saturday Night Live '80" polluted the airwaves.

"NBC's Saturday Night" premiered in 1975, and immediately became a hit with young people who had never seen anything this fresh, hip, and irreverent on television before.  The brainchild of Canadian producer and former "Laugh-In" writer Lorne Michaels, the show introduced the world to up-and-coming stars Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Chevy Chase (Bill Murray later stepped in to replace the Hollywood-bound Chevy) and made household names of such unlikely characters as Belushi's Samurai ______ (fill in the blank), Radner's Baba Wawa, and Ackroyd's Beldar Conehead. 

The unpredictable subject matter encompassed uvula care, blender drinks made out of bass, wolverines, "puppy-uppers" and "doggy-downers", and a brand of jam called "Painful Rectal Itch."  ("With a name like 'Painful Rectal Itch', it's got to be good!")

 Although the series had its ups and downs, and was thought by many to be running out of steam as the decade drew to a close, the show (which was renamed "Saturday Night Live" as soon as ABC's Howard Cosell series of the same name was cancelled) maintained much of its quality and popularity until Lorne Michaels decided to leave, along with the original cast, at the end of the 1979-80 season.   

Michaels' choice to replace him as executive producer was SNL featured player and writer Al Franken, but Franken's relentless on-air bashing of NBC president Fred Silverman (culminating in his harsh "Limo For A Lamo" Weekend Update monologue) put the kibosh on that idea. 

Eventually show staffer and Woody Allen pal Jean Doumanian was appointed the task of rounding up a brand new cast and getting the show ready for the fall season in only two months, with less than half of the million-dollars-per-episode budget Michaels had been getting. 

The show began to fall apart long before the first new episode was aired.  Doumanian wasn't an experienced television producer, and she had little knowledge of how to deal or get along with comedy writers or network executives, resulting in bad relations with both.  And worst of all, she didn't really understand SNL-type humor all that well to begin with. 

But there was nothing else to do but forge ahead, assemble a group of untried performers, somehow get some sketches written and produced, and stick the results in front of a skeptical television audience, with critics already sharpening their knives in anticipation.

On November 15th, 1980, I was at a friend's apartment where several of us had been waiting for hours for the new show to appear.  As fans of SNL since its George Carlin-hosted premiere, and unable to imagine how it was going to be with none of its original cast on hand, we were intensely curious to see the results of the show's first major cast and staff overhaul. 

I was doubtful, but cautiously optimistic.  After all, NBC wouldn't allow such a successful and highly-rated staple in its late-night programming to go to the dogs, would they?

And then, finally, after all the months of build-up and anticipation, it was time.  "Saturday Night Live '80" was on the air.

The show opened with the entire cast in bed with host Elliott Gould.  If Elliott seemed a bit dazed, it was because he had shown up for rehearsals earlier that week with no knowledge of the cast change, completely unaware that he had just stepped into the hallowed halls of television infamy. 

The sketch was about -- well, I don't remember what it was about.  I know the very first sketch of the very first episode in '75 was about wolverines, because it was memorable.  But this one?  Not a clue.  All I remember is that it was lame.  Just a bunch of nobodies in bed with Elliott Gould.

After the familiar "Live!  From New York!  It's Saturday Night!", veteran announcer Don Pardo  introduced the new cast:  Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon, Joe Piscopo, Gail Matthias, Gilbert Gottfried, and Ann Risley. 

It wouldn't be until the next week's episode that an ambitious young comic named Eddie Murphy would make his first small (non-speaking!) appearance on the show, but not as part of the cast.  He would, of course, break out and become SNL's most popular player later on, after being allowed to fill in a few unexpected extra minutes at the end of one fateful episode with his audition stand-up routine, which, although not one of his best performances and delivered with understandable nervousness, qualified as a home-run with audiences and network executives. 

But that was later.  This particular night would see no break-out performances or home runs. 

The list of sketches included: "Jimmy Carter's Libido" (punchline: "It was either the erection or the election", ha-ha), "Billy-Gram," "Gail Matthius's Breast Exam," "Nose Wrestling," "The Accordian Killer," "Speed Listening," "The Rocket Report," and "Foot Fetish." 

Not a very encouraging line-up, and the sketches were about as funny as the titles.  The only thing I recall as being remotely of interest was Gail Matthias' "Vicky the Valley Girl" -- in fact, she's the first person I can remember ever doing such a character, and probably the best. 

But the rest of the show slid gradually downward into the abyss.  (I remember it mainly as a disorienting blur of unfunny.)  After slogging their way through it, the cast stood onstage for the traditional goodbye as Elliott Gould pronounced:  "We're gonna be around forever!"  I don't know what other startling predictions he's made during his career, but I hope they turned out more accurate than this one.

In the weeks to follow, viewers were treated to dubious delights such as:

Denny Dillon's S & M Weather Girl whipping a slave-outfitted Charles Rocket who was strapped across her map in the "Leather Weather Report"

Joe Piscopo's gratingly obnoxious "Paulie Herman" character ("I'm from Joisey!  Are you from Joisey?  Heh, heh, heh!")

More sketches with unfortunately descriptive titles such as "White Baby Salesman", "Stop-A-Nut", "Don't Look In The Refrigerator", and "Chapstick Celebrities"

And, perhaps most infamously, the "Who Shot C.R.?" episode (a spoof of the "Who Shot J.R.?" season finale of "Dallas") featuring a running gag in which various cast members are suspected of shooting Charles Rocket.  During the show-closing goodbye, Rocket is seen sitting in a wheelchair, and host Charlene Tilton (a "Dallas" regular) asks him what it's like to get shot.  "Oh, man," Rocket mumbles, "it's the first time I've ever been shot in my life.  I wish I knew who the f*** did it." 

Whoa, Charles!  This is live, network TV in the early 80s, remember?  Well, I guess for one brief, exciting moment, he didn't remember.

This ad-lib ended up costing Rocket his job, and it didn't set well at all with NBC executives who weren't pleased with Jean Doumanian or her stewardship of the show, which had gone steadily downhill in ratings and popularity since its inception. 

The Rocket incident, it turned out, was the excuse they needed to fire her as well -- and just like that, the worst era in the entire history of Saturday Night Live, from 1975 to the present, lurched to an ignominious end.

After that, former ABC producer Dick Ebersol -- who had originally hired Lorne Michaels -- took over, and the purge of the "Really, Really Not Ready For Prime-Time Players" began.  Charles Rocket (naturally), Gilbert Gottfried, Ann Risley, and, later, the rest of the cast with the exception of Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo -- bit the dust. 

Personally, I didn't care at all for most of their replacements, such as the annoying Tim Kasurinsky and the non-descript Robin Duke and Tony Rosato, and I actually thought Gilbert Gottfried and Gail Matthias had shown promise if only they'd been given better material to work with (Gottfried bounced back with a fairly successful solo career, while Matthias later showed up in a syndicated comedy series called "Laugh Trax", which, while no SNL, did indeed give her a chance to be funny at last). 

Jean Doumanian went on to produce a string of films including BULLETS OVER BROADWAY and SUNBURN.  Denny Dillon continued to make small appearances in movies (GARBO TALKS, HOUSE IV, the voice of "Glypto" in ICE AGE) and television (a regular role on HBO'S "Dream On"). 

Charles Rocket never achieved post-SNL stardom but managed to stay busy in the years to come, landing a number of roles in films such as WAGONS EAST, MURDER AT 1600, and DUMB AND DUMBER, as well as showing up on the small screen in "Moonlighting", "The X-Files", and "Law And Order."  He committed suicide near his Connecticut home in October 7, 2005.

Ann Risley appeared in about nine films after SNL, mostly made-for-TV.  Joe Piscopo had a fairly eventful career for awhile after leaving the show, but never emerged from the shadow of his SNL rival, Eddie Murphy, and today appears in movies that you'll probably never run across.  As for Eddie Murphy, well...

In the years since 1980 there have been several cast changes, with some groups coming close to rivalling the original line-up (especially when outstanding performers such as Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Will Farrell, Molly Shannon, and Cheri Oteri were involved), while others threatened to drag the show down to its lowest level once again (just name a few of your least-favorite performers). 

But there's little chance that there will ever be a season as hideously unremittingly just-plain that rancid, maggot-ridden slice of TV history known as "Saturday Night Live '80."

(Thanks to Wikipedia,, and IMDb for some of the factual information used in this article.)


Thursday, November 14, 2013

PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED -- movie review by porfle


(NOTE: This review was originally posted in 2006 at, based on an advance screener.)

Remember how scary Jan de Bont's multi-million-dollar remake of THE HAUNTING was? And how much fun it was to watch, with its all-star cast and oodles of CGI effects? Me, neither.

That's why I love independent horror films like PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED (2006), made by people who know what they're doing and how to do it on a tight budget. It only took around $250,000 and eight intensive days of shooting to create this spooky tale of "urban archeologist" Rayna Bloom (Susie Adriensen, UNDER THE RAVEN'S WING, THE BLOOD SHED) and her four-person crew as they tape a documentary inside New York's Buffalo Central Terminal.

Writer-producer David R. Williams' (KILLER ASYLUM, ICE QUEEN) fictitious history of this cavernous, long-abandoned train station includes a horrendous train crash that killed hundreds of people, a serial killer who tortured and murdered several victims within its walls, and a period in which the terminal was used to house the criminally insane.

During this dark time the inmates preyed upon each other in horrible ways while twisted doctors performed ghastly Mengele-like experiments on them. And, of course, the vengeful spirits of those who died violently are said to still roam the terminal, with evil intent toward anyone foolish enough to venture inside.

Venturing inside, Rayna and her crew make their way through the upper floors of the building and the dark, labyrinthian passageways below. (I don't think I've ever seen a low-budget movie with a better "found" location than this -- the Buffalo Central Terminal is an incredible visual for a horror film.)

Aurora (Demona Bast, who also contributed to the score with a stunning closing-credits song) is there because of her psychic abilities, and becomes more and more disturbed by the ghostly eminations she's perceiving, while jocular nerd Jason (Jim Vaughn, in his first film), who resembles a grown-up version of Spanky from "Our Gang", catches everything on videotape.

Despising everything and everyone involved with the endeavor is the beautiful but deeply-disturbed Kansas (Melantha Blackthorne, AVERSION, SINNERS AND SAINTS), who is there only because Daddy will cut off her funds if she doesn't participate in something constructive once in a while. Rounding out the group is the childlike, highly-excitable Nessie (actress and stand-up comic Noel Francomano), the character I most identified with because she spends much of the movie in a state of gibbering terror.

Director-editor D.W. Kann takes his time setting up the story and letting us get to know the characters, which is fun because Williams has written some really good dialogue for them and the actors make the most of it. Jason constantly tells Kansas bad jokes and mistakenly calls her "Iowa" or "Missouri" at different times, which eventually leads to the following exchange:

AURORA: "What happened to you?"
JASON: "Nothing, I walked into...uh..."
KANSAS: "My fist."
JASON: "Yeah."

The eccentric Aurora and the ill-tempered Kansas spend a lot of quality "in-your-face" time together ("I just love women," Jason delightedly remarks after each of their near-catfights), and Nessie's wet-poodle giddiness is often pretty funny. All of which makes it that much more involving when the wrathful spirits finally descend upon them and really bad things start happening to these characters.

The first one to totally flake out, not surprisingly, is Nessie, who flees in a blind panic down the dark underground corridors and gets hopelessly lost. The others separate to search for her, and it is here that the film becomes a non-stop series of surrealistically horrifying situations, some of which evoked the same creepy feeling I had watching the final scenes of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

The hapless Jason has a decidedly unexcellent adventure which involves the ghosts of some psychotic doctors who like to perform unnecessary surgery; Aurora finds herself locked in a room filled with a bunch of scary dolls and a baby with a face that only a mother could love; Nessie encounters a guy who scarcely even has a face.

And Rayna -- well, she may be obsessively dedicated to her work, but maybe she shouldn't have gone back downstairs to retrieve that video camera. This is really good low-budget filmmaking, with skillful cinematography, sharp editing, and a talented director bringing a well-written script to life.

In addition to all that -- and I'd feel remiss not to mention it -- you may have heard that PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED features Melantha Blackthorne (or "Countess Bathoria" to many of her fans) in her first topless scene. It does, but it's not the usual gratuitous "boob shot" you see in a lot of exploitation films.

The film opens with a long sequence of Kansas in a cheap hotel room, languishing in a delirium as she struggles with some past trauma that has filled her with self-loathing and a compulsion to cut herself ("The flesh parts...the lipless a baby bird wanting to be fed..." she murmurs as she slowly slices her wrist).

She then applies a piece of broken mirror to the front of her shirt (nobody ever made "braless" look better, by the way) and rips it open, and we see by the faint scars that she's done this before. It's a jaw-dropping scene, to be sure, but well-integrated and significant in giving us a deeper understanding of a character that otherwise might have seemed shallow later on.

Strangely enough,  the sequence is vaguely reminiscent of the opening from APOCALYPSE NOW, with Martin Sheen going through a similar self-crisis in a hotel room, and it ends with her lounging in the bath in the dark, mesmerized by the flickering flame of a candle. It's very nicely-done, and Melantha Blackthorne's performance is hypnotic -- all in all, pretty impressive stuff.

Does anyone survive a night in the PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED? The final shot of the movie lets us know. At first I thought the ending was a little abrupt, but after watching it again, it felt right -- one of many images that lingered in my mind long after the fade-out.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

THE BAT -- DVD review by porfle

What if you grew up shivering to the spine-tingling antics of "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?", but the cartoon just doesn't do it for you anymore now that you've reached adulthood?  Fear not (or rather, keep on fearing) because now you can keep your chill factor frosty with 1959's "old dark house" potboiler THE BAT. 

Newly-restored and given the HD treatment, Film Chest's DVD release of this moldy oldie from Allied Artists gives us two greats--Agnes Moorehead and Vincent Price--in a stagey (based on a play) but suitably atmospheric black-and-white production that looks like a cross between HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL-era William Castle (but without the supernatural trappings) and an episode from some vintage TV suspense anthology. 

Directed by prolific HOUSE OF WAX co-scripter Crane Wilbur, THE BAT centers around a spooky old mansion called The Oaks which has been rented by murder-mystery author Cornelia van Gorder (Moorehead) as a place to get away from it all with her faithful companion Lizzie (Lenita Lane, Crane Wilbur's real-life wife at the time). 

But Cornelia's working vacation is interrupted by a mysterious masked murderer known locally as "The Bat" who seems to be after something hidden inside the house and will kill--with razor-sharp steel claws--anyone who gets in his way.  (There are various other plot elements floating around but you won't care about any of them.)

For anyone who managed to pass Logic 101 back in first grade, the most advisable thing for Ms. van Gorder to do would be to get the hell out of The Oaks.  Of course, she doesn't,  not even when the bodies (with their throats ripped out, no less) start to pile up.  (Shades of INVISIBLE GHOST!)  Moorehead, however, is talented enough to keep her character from coming off as a total dope, almost making us believe that Cornelia would keep hanging around the multiple murder scene as inspiration for a new story. 

The movie actually manages to generate a few genuine chills now and then, especially when the ladies first realize someone's creeping around the house and lock themselves in Cornelia's room.  Later, she hosts a couple of houseguests for the night, including a grown-up Darla Hood of "Our Gang" fame in her final movie role, and sure enough,  they find a dead body hanging in a hidden wall  panel.  Most of us would say "See ya later!" and be halfway back to town by then, but of course the houseguests remain, shivering behind locked doors, until a bump in the night draws them out for yet another deadly Bat-encounter.

Cornelia's eccentric demeanor and Lizzie's more down-to-earth reactions lend some of their scenes a tongue-in-cheek humor, while the film, for the most part, pretends to take itself seriously.  Vincent Price barely has to break a sweat to breathe life into his character of devious Dr. Malcolm Wells, who happens to be on hand every time a murder is committed at The Oaks.  His own scientific experiments with bats in his garage laboratory would seem to incriminate him...or is that too obvious? 

And what about Lt. Andy Anderson (Gavin Gordon, barely recognizable here as the actor who played Lord Byron in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN), the police detective who always arrives too late to stop the killer?  Or Cornelia's new chauffeur Warner (John Sutton, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS), who, it turns out, has a police record?  You'll be guessing who's behind The Bat's black pullover mask right up until the "Scooby-Doo" ending, and chances are you'll guess right.  ("And if it hadn't been for those meddling old ladies, I'd have gotten away with it, too!")

The DVD from Film Chest is in 16x9 widescreen with mono sound and a running time of 80 minutes.  There are no subtitles and no extras.  The print used isn't perfect but looks good for its age.   This new-and-improved version debuted on Turner Classic Movies October 24th, 2012 and hits DVD shelves on November 12th.

While a bit on the dull side at times, THE BAT is pleasantly old-school spook stuff that should keep you in a state of mild suspense and/or euphoria.  And if movies like THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN still scare you, this probably will, too. 

Buy it at



My first real cinematic brush with James Harold Doolittle, one of the most decorated fliers in U.S. military history, was from watching Alec Baldwin rather broadly pretend to be him in the "Doolittle Raid" segment of Michael Bay's PEARL HARBOR.  A considerably more accurate and in-depth account of the raid would come later with my viewing of the Military Channel's excellent documentary "Missions That Changed the War: The Doolittle Raid."

Still, I had zero knowledge of the man's life before and after this one historic event, which I now realize--thanks to the 2013 documentary WINGS OF A WARRIOR: THE JIMMY DOOLITTLE STORY--was as packed with spectacular feats of courage and daring as any fictional character such as Indiana Jones. 

While other accounts begin and end with the celebrated Tokyo raid--America's answer to Japan after their infamous December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II--WINGS OF A WARRIOR introduces us to the adventurous little boy whose family traveled from California to Nome, Alaska in the early 1900s just in time to miss the gold rush. 

Both his early interest in flying and his nerves of steel become apparent during his first harrowing glider experiments as a teenager in Seattle, and later in 1919 when he joins the Signal Reserve Corps Aviation Section.  During the formative years of military aviation Doolittle would display a bravery sometimes verging on recklessness which tended to rankle his superiors even as he racked up numerous flying records and achieved such milestones as being the first person to fly from coast to coast in less than a day.

Death-defying plane crashes and other thrilling deeds of daring-do lead, invariably, to the aforementioned raid on Tokyo.  Considered by many to be a suicide mission, it involved Doolittle and his fellow bomber pilots actually taking off from the deck of an aircraft carrier at a much greater distance from the Japanese coast than originally planned, which seriously lessened their chance of survival. 

But the story doesn't end there.  After leading over 20 missions, Doolittle would eventually earn the rank of general along with an endless array of decorations including both of the United States' highest awards,  the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of  Honor.  Alternating between military and civilian life during his remaining years, his triumphs would be tempered  by tragedy in the form of his son's mysterious suicide in the late 50s. 

WINGS OF A WARRIOR is a labor of love by Jimmy's cousin Gardner Doolittle, who produced, wrote, and directed as well as serving as on-camera narrator.  It has the roughhewn look of a low-budget project with none of the slick production values familiar to viewers of A&E or the History Channel.  Yet there's an infectious earnestness to the project that keeps it watchable even when it tends to drag. 

This applies to Gardner Doolittle as well--his folksy quality makes up for a lack of professional polish, and the fact that he knew the subject personally adds heft to his words.  But the film never lapses into "talking head" mode, offering a continuous wealth of old photographs and motion picture footage which depict the actual events whenever possible.

The DVD from Shelter Island is in 1.78:1 widescreen with 2.0 sound.  No subtitles.  The sole bonus feature is a ten minute interview in which Gardner Doolittle engagingly recounts his meeting and working with the film's charismatic subject.

Low-key and leisurely paced, WINGS OF A WARRIOR: THE JIMMY DOOLITTLE STORY  is short on flashy production values or snappy storytelling--you might even call its narrative rather dry at times.  Still, it's a worthy effort, and Doolittle's life was so inherently fascinating that one feels compelled to learn more about it while forgiving the film for whatever minor shortcomings it may have.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

THE MESSAGE -- Blu-ray review by porfle

Syrian-born filmmaker Moustapha Akkad, best known today as the producer John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN and its sequels, dreamt of sharing the true meaning of Islam with those who had little knowledge or understanding of it.  The result is his 1977 religious epic THE MESSAGE,  aka "Mohammad, Messenger of God", an impressive directorial debut (his only other films as director would be the all-Arabic version of this one entitled "Al-risâlah", filmed simultaneously, and the 1981 LION OF THE DESERT) which stands today as a worthy effort that's somewhat hit-or-miss in execution.

The film opens (circa 600 A.D.) with some thrilling shots of three horsemen riding flat-out over scenic desert vistas, then splitting up in order to deliver "The Message" to three different kings at the same time.  Not surprisingly, these stuffy, self-important dictators reject the Prophet Muhammad's divine decree--which states, among other things, that there is only one true God and all the hundreds of others currently worshipped by the populace are false--with varying levels of haughty dismissiveness.  Well, that's what happens when you're trying to start a new religion. 

Not only that, but a lot of people tend to get downright hostile towards you, which the Prophet's followers discover when they're driven out of Mecca after much persecution, torture, and death.  They flee to Abyssinia where, after a prolonged exchange of philosophies (one of the film's more interesting dialogue scenes), the Christian king decides he has much in common with them. 

Later, they migrate to Medina where much of the basis for Islam is established along with a rapid increase in converts.  Here, they must do battle against Mecca's ruthless leader Abu Sofyan (Michael Ansara) and his armies on several occasions.  Finally, however, a truce allows them to return at last to their beloved Mecca where their religion really begins to thrive. 

At almost three hours in length, THE MESSAGE is a long, arduous viewing experience scattered with inspirational moments, scenes of impressive scope, and some thunderous battle sequences.  It has much of the same solemnity and melodrama of the standard Biblical epic, and those not spiritually attuned to it may find a lot of it rather taxing.  Even so, there's quite a bit of action and sheer spectacle along with some of the same audience-pleasing violence and sadism found in the standard sword 'n' sandals epic. 

Akkad (with the help of regular screenwriter H.A.L. Craig) is also capable of effectively staging moments of real sentiment and raw emotion, such as when a mother tells her son how she survived her own birth because her father couldn't bring himself to bury a third daughter alive (I don't even want to know about this custom) in accordance with some god or man's decree.  Her conversion to Islam at her son's behest leads to a tragic scene in which he must watch her being tortured to death in a vain attempt to make her renounce her new faith. 

After a lot of wandering through the desert to escape persecution, the Prophet finally relays word from God that the Muslims are allowed to fight back against their relentlessly pursuing foes.  This is when THE MESSAGE delivers the goods as an action epic with spectacular hand-to-hand battle sequences of a kind rarely seen these days. 

Instead of millions of generic CGI-generated figures swarming around like cartoon insects, here we get hundreds of real flesh-and-blood extras going at each other with blades swinging and bows shooting.  (Fortunately, unlike the later LION OF THE DESERT, few if any harmful horse-tripping stunts are involved.)  Knowing that what we're seeing is actually happening in front of the camera instead of being "generated" by a computer somehow makes it more exciting despite the smaller scale of the battle. 

But even when the extras aren't fighting, Akkad manages some impressive large-scale crowd shots that can verge on the mind-boggling.  Production design and other visual elements are generally first-rate, and a lush musical score by Maurice Jarre enhances the story at every turn.  The film benefits greatly from Moustapha Akkad's own personal style of lean, efficient direction.

As Muhammad's uncle Hamza, a dynamic Anthony Quinn gets to be much more of a badass here than in the later LION OF THE DESERT, first rescuing Muhammad and his followers from an angry mob and then becoming their champion in battle against Mecca's legions.  Michael Ansara as Abu Sofyan is his usual awesome self, with the exotic Irene Papas wonderfully sinister and conniving as his Hind, his wife.  Also appearing are Johnny Sekka ("Roots: The Next Generations"), Michael Forest (Apollo in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Who Mourns For Adonis?"), and Robert Brown, who took over the role of "M" from the late Bernard Lee in the 007 series.

The most curious aspect of the film is the fact that we never see or hear its main character.   While an opening text announces that  the factual details of the story have been verified by the appropriate theological experts, we also find that, in accordance with Sunni beliefs prohibiting depictions of Muhammad, neither his image nor voice are to be represented.  In other words,  the main subject of this biographical film doesn't appear in it at all.

To overcome this, Akkad relies mainly on P.O.V. shots accompanied by an ethereal musical cue on the soundtrack.   People talk directly into the camera when addressing the Prophet and then listen to his responses, which we can't hear (narrator Richard Johnson sometimes fills us in on what we're missing).  While strangely compelling at times, this conceit is mostly a distraction that takes us out of the movie and hinders our ability to relate to the Prophet as a person involved in the story rather than as an idea.   Still, it's interesting. 

The Blu-ray disc from  Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 widescreen with 5.1 sound.  Running time is 171 minutes.  There are no subtitles or extras.

The story behind this film tends to overshadow what's on the screen--its various troubles and controversies included violent protests by some who believed Anthony Quinn was actually portraying Muhammad, while Moustapha Akkad and his daughter Rima were later killed in Jordan by a suicide bomber sent by al-Qaeda.  But for those who wish to know more about the roots of Islam, in a form that's artistically flawed but fairly entertaining, THE MESSAGE is a worthwhile experience. 

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

LION OF THE DESERT -- Blu-ray review by porfle

For many of us, the name "Moustapha Akkad" is a long-familiar one--it's the first name you see at the beginning of the credits for HALLOWEEN. But the Syrian-born producer of John Carpenter's classic fright-fest (killed in Jordan in 2005 along with his daughter during an al-Qaeda bombing) was also an accomplished director,  and in 1981 he came up with something rather epic--a sweeping saga of Muslim desert fighters fending off Mussolini's invading military forces in 1929 Libya, and particularly their wise and brave leader Omar Mukhtar, known as LION OF THE DESERT. 

Anthony Quinn plays the grizzled old teacher-turned-warrior as you might expect, as a warm, conscientious sage of deepest humanity and highest principle whose every statement resonates like a carefully-considered quotation.

It's less a performance than it is Quinn posing for a portrait of Omar Mukhtar as reverentially painted by Akkad. 

In contrast, Oliver Reed gets to indulge his broader acting impulses as General Rodolfo Graziani, sent to Libya by Il Duce to solve the Mukhtar problem which, as the film begins, is now in its twentieth year.

Graziani is a brash, temperamental primadonna who loves being a soldier and fighting one-sided battles that allow him to demolish his opponent and be recognized as a brilliant strategist.

Reed plays the part like a passionate musician--I love to watch him act.  When he's agitated he always seems on the verge of turning into a werewolf as he did in the Hammer classic CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

But here, he eventually reels himself in and in doing so becomes even more fascinating to watch, whether gloating over a victory or, later, savoring each nuance in a one-on-one philosophical exchange with the captured Mukhtar.  

And he's a model of restraint compared to Rod Steiger as Mussolini, who gets to stomp around like a big baby and yell his head off to his heart's content in big, echo-y rooms (the sets in his headquarters in Rome are stunning).

However, the role of Il Duce seems to lend itself to this style of boisterous overacting--in fact, in a couple of pre-WWII comedy shorts he was portrayed by none other than superstooge Curly Howard!

The film itself qualifies as a bonafide epic thanks to some scenes of genuine visual sweep and grandeur.  This is evident mostly during the many spectacular battles but also in the sprawling concentration camp scenes as well, which feature some  emotionally-charged moments such as a young woman bravely facing the gallows as her mother (Irene Papas) hides her son's face from the sight,  or a conscience-stricken young Italian officer risking court-martial and execution himself for refusing to hang civilians.

To my delight, Gastone Moschin, the guy who played Fanucci ("The Black Hand") in THE GODFATHER PART II, gets two of the most powerful scenes--one in which he leads an invading force into an unsuspecting village with devastating results, and another in which the Bedouin defenders launch a surprise retaliation.

Raf Vallone, who was Cardinal Lamberto in THE GODFATHER PART III, is quietly effective as an Italian colonel who actually admires Omar Mukhtar and wishes to sit down and reason with him on friendly terms--as long as that reason involves his eventual concession to Italy's invasion of his country.  Also in the cast are John Gielgud and Andrew Keir.

Despite all of its good points, however, it took me a few sittings to get through LION OF THE DESERT because a lot of it isn't exactly edge-of-your-seat entertainment.  The thrilling action sequences hit fast and hard, sometimes grandly staged and with some startling stuntwork (although, unfortunately, an abundance of horse tripping).  But the story advances in fits and starts, with static dialogue scenes jumping abruptly into blazing battle sequences without warning and then back again.

Much of the first half of the film is slow and dry, at least until we become accustomed to its particular style of storytelling.  Fortunately,  I was able to gear down and begin to appreciate the subtleties of the performances and Akkad's understated but assured direction.

As for Anchor Bay's new Blu-ray release of the film, I noticed right off the bat that the opening titles were slightly compressed, which means that the 1.78:1image is, to some extant, cropped from its original aspect ratio.  This doesn't bother me all that much, but those looking for a definitive version of the film will be disappointed. 

There are also no extras and no subtitles, the latter being of special interest to me since I've become a bit hard of hearing over the years (although this is such a visual movie that the dialogue doesn't really matter all that much anyway.)  Maurice Jarre's musical score is expansive and often overpowering.

The final ten minutes or so, depicting the captured Omar Mukhtar's eventual fate at the hands of General Graziani, are most unusual for an epic movie filled with such intense battle scenes and shocking violence.  The whole thing plays out slowly, deliberately, and in almost total silence.  I was captivated and deeply moved, and I found myself mulling it over long after the closing credits began.  Whatever its faults, LION OF THE DESERT has an understated emotional power that resonates. 

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Amber Heard Stars in "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" on Blu-ray and DVD on Dec. 3rd from Anchor Bay and RADiUS-TWC

It’s The Kind of Party Where Everyone Gets Wasted.



Starring Amber Heard and Anson Mount, The Shocking Cult Horror Film Heads To Retail On December 3, 2013!

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Anchor Bay Entertainment and RADiUS-TWC announced today the Blu-ray™ and DVD release of Jonathan Levine’s (Warm Bodies, 50/50) directorial debut, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE. 

A story about a teenage beauty’s getaway weekend gone wrong, the film stars Amber Heard (Machete Kills) in her first leading role, along with Anson Mount (“Hell On Wheels”), Whitney Able (Monsters), and Michael Welch (The Twilight Saga). 

Part slasher, part coming-of-age film, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE heads to retail on December 3, 2013 for an SRP of $29.99 for the Blu-ray™ and $24.98 for the DVD.

Amber Heard (Machete Kills) stars as Mandy Lane, an untouchable Texas high-school beauty who is invited by her classmates to a weekend getaway at a secluded ranch.  But, as the sun goes down and the party rages on, the festivities take a disturbing turn. And for lovely Mandy Lane, a night of endless horror has just begun. 

Anson Mount (“Hell On Wheels”), Whitney Able (Monsters), and Michael Welch (The Twilight Saga) co-star in this acclaimed and controversial shocker from director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies).

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE Blu-ray™ and DVD special features include feature commentary with director Jonathan Levine.

Street date:                   December 3, 2013
Pre-book:                     October 16, 2013
Catalog #:                     BD60930
UPC:                            013132609300
Run time:                      90 Minutes
Rating:                          R
SRP:                            $29.99
Format:                        Widescreen Presentation 2.40:1
Audio:                          5.1 DTSHD-MA

Street date:                   December 3, 2013
Pre-book:                     October 16, 2013
Catalog #:                     WC60928
UPC:                            013132609287
Run time:                      90 Minutes
Rating:                          R
SRP:                            $24.98
Format:                        Anamorphic Widescreen Presentation 2.40:1
Audio:                          Dolby Digital 5.1

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Hindenburg--The Last Flight" soars on DVD February 11th from Anchor Bay Entertainment

On February 11th, Anchor Bay Entertainment releases “Hindenburg - The Last Flight” on DVD

This unforgettable fictionalized account of one of the most shocking accidents of the 20th Century originally aired in two parts on ENCORE's Big Miniseries Showcase.  Filmed in Germany this is an alternate history of the tragic event that rocked the world and imagines passengers in a desperate search for explosives that have been planted onboard the aircraft by a ruthless businessman. The SRP is $29.98. The pre-book is January 15th.

The year was 1937, the world was on the verge of war and the Hindenburg was the pride of powerful Nazi Germany. “Hindenburg - The Last Flight” is a fictional account of one of the most devastating accidents in aviation history, which reveals an insider look into the story before the airships fatal destiny.

Maximilian Simonichek (The Foster Boy) leads an international cast of seasoned actors, as Merten Kroger, a young engineer who led the design of the legendary Zeppelin. A man of meager means, he falls in love with a wealthy socialite that is beyond his reach. Lauren Lee Smith (“The Listener,”) stars as Jennifer van Zandt, the daughter of Edward van Zandt, played by Golden Globe® winner Stacy Keach (The Architect, The Bourne Legacy), a wealthy, American oil industrialist with power and privilege. Edward van Zandt's desire to gain riches will stop at nothing, even if it means putting the Hindenburg, its passengers and crew in danger.

Unlike anything you’ve seen before, “Hindenburg - The Last Flight” is an intense dramatization of a piece of history that includes intrigue, murderous conspiracy, and ultimately, a devastating disaster that the world will never forget.


AMBUSHED -- Blu-ray/DVD review by porfle

Teaming ex-EXPENDABLES Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Vinnie Jones all together in one action flick is a sure-fire recipe for awesome, right?  Not if that flick is the lame cops 'n' drug dealers mish-mash AMBUSHED (2013). 

Frank (Daniel Bonjour), a young strip club owner, and his partner Eddie (Gianni Capaldi) venture into the cocaine trade.  But after Frank wastes a couple of rivals in a bid to move into the big leagues, they run afoul of ruthless kingpin Vincent (Vinnie Jones).   Meanwhile, LAPD detective Reiley (Randy Couture), the quintessential dirty cop, sees red when the double homicide investigation is taken over by DEA agent Maxwell (Dolph Lundgren) and his team.

Although Lundgren's purehearted fed is the nominal protagonist, we're meant to like and identify with Frank even though he's a coldblooded, opportunistic slimeball with no compunctions against blowing away a couple of unsuspecting cohorts simply to advance himself.  He even narrates the story at certain points, although the movie often forgets that it's being told from Frank's point of view. 

I think we're meant to regard Frank as a compelling "bad boy" not unlike Ray Liotta's Henry Hill in GOODFELLAS, but despite his goal to someday start a normal life with his straight-arrow girlfriend Ashley (the appealing Cinthya Bornacelli), he's thoroughly unlikable.  The last thing I need is for this criminal asshat to be narratively lecturing me about the "war on drugs" (this is writer Agustin addressing the USA as a whole) or chattering at length with his flakey partner Eddie about such things as "Yosemite Sam" cartoons or whatever wannabe Tarantino characters are yakking about these days. 

Other pointless dialogue exchanges and weak attempts at characterization get in the way of the simple, barebones cop-movie plot  that's trying to break through while director Giorgio Serafini bombards it all with "style."  There's an abundance of overly busy visual doo-dads throughout, such as mulitiple split screens in which the little black divider lines that slide in and out of the picture make swooshing noises (camera pans and optical wipes make noise too), and several montages in which people invariably speed up and slow down while walking as bad hip-hop drones incongruously on the soundtrack.

Serafini's camera swoops and swirls around everybody and covers even the simplest scenes from several angles, including peering in at characters through the window, just so he can edit them all together in a rapid-fire visual cacophony.  All of this stuff really cranks up when there's an action scene, as "hip" camerawork and choppy editing make it hard to tell what's going on and drain the suspense out of everything.  When Lundgren and Couture finally go at it for their climactic shaky-cam clash, it's almost as though the various camera shots were all tossed into the air and edited together at random. 

This anti-climactic hand-to-hand battle is one of the few times we see the underused Lundgren (THE KILLING MACHINEMISSIONARY MAN) and former UFC champ Couture (HIJACKED, THE EXPENDABLES) together in the film, while Vinnie Jones (HELL RIDEJOHNNY WAS) makes a good early impression as a totally badass crime boss and then drops out  of the picture entirely before the halfway mark. 

Acting honors, surprisingly, go to Couture for his hardbitten portrayal of a detestable cop who tries to extort the bad guys and, facing prosecution, ends up going off the deep end.  His final hostage-crisis freakout leads to a frenetic and somewhat confusing shoot-em-up finale that, again, wants to be Tarantino-esque (some QT titles are even name-dropped here and there) but is mainly just an over-edited mess.

The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack  from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is a making-of featurette. 

Watching AMBUSHED is like eating fast food and washing it down with a diet drink.  Despite its brisk pace and a couple of interesting performances, it's basically just a bunch of empty calories--and hardly a feast for action fans.

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Blu-Ray/DVD Combo