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Sunday, March 31, 2013

EARTH'S FINAL HOURS -- DVD review by porfle



If you're a regular viewer of SyFy original movies, chances are you've seen our Armageddon-prone little planet on the verge of total destruction more times than you can shake a Shaky-Cam at.  Anchor Bay's new DVD release of EARTH'S FINAL HOURS (2012) is the latest example of how worldwide apocalypse, SyFy-style, is only a bad CGI effect away at any moment.

Of course, these movies are like sausage--if you like one, you'll probably like the next one.  (The director, David Hogan, also churned out the SyFy potboiler BEHEMOTH.) This one follows the usual recipe in which some odd scientific anomaly occurs, escalates, and threatens the whole world unless our heroes can figure out a way to stop it, often with some secret-government bad guy opposing them in pursuit of his own selfish agenda. 

In the meantime, there's a lot of tense dialogue between people who are either in closed rooms or standing around out in fields--in other words, budget-friendly locations--talking a lot about the ongoing crisis that is mostly a bunch of techno-babble occasionally depicted in a few brief SPFX shots. 

The imminent apocalypse of EARTH'S FINAL HOURS involves some pseudo-science that sounds even less probable than usual, originating from something known as a "white hole."  This is the other side of a black hole--that is, what the black hole sucks in, the white hole spits out.  Unfortunately for us, a nearby white hole has just expectorated some incredibly dense matter, a baseball-sized chunk of which burrows into North America and comes out the other side of the world in Australia. 

This slows the Earth's rotation to a crawl and neutralizes the Van Allen Belt, making the weather unseasonably warm in addition to creating these neat energy squiggles that descend from the sky and sweep over the ground disintegrating bad guys who happen to be holding the good guys at gunpoint (this happens at least twice).  One good thing about these SyFy flicks is that the cheap CGI is starting to look a little better these days although it's still pretty blah.

Robert Knepper ("Stargate: Universe", SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN) gives a pretty good performance as John Streich, one of the rare government agents who's an honest-to-goodness good guy, as does Julia Benson (also of SGU) as science consultant Chloe.  They're investigating a rogue scientist who's working on the impending problem on his own when the first white-hole debris hits our atmosphere and, out of all the billions of people on the planet, just happens to blow a bowling ball-sized hole through the scientist's torso. 

It isn't long before Streich and Chloe discover a sinister conspiracy behind the whole thing which prompts his superior, the evil Lockman (Michael Kopsa), to hunt them down even as they seek out the original scientist's partner Dr. Rothman (Bruce Davison, WILLARD, X-MEN) who's being held in a government-run sanitarium. 

With Rothman's help, Streich and Chloe race to locate the hidden command center for two satellites that can correct the Earth's rotation (don't ask me how) before the bad guys can get there first and use it all for their own nefarious purposes.  (I'm not a rocket scientist or anything, but I'm going to have to call B.S. on about nine-tenths of the "science" involved in this story.)

Davison does his part as the old reliable semi-big-name guest star while Knepper and Benson keep the story lurching along.  Not so great is Cameron Bright of the "Twilight" saga as Streich's son Andy, one of those annoying teenaged rebel-geniuses who can magically "hack" into top-secret government files as easily as using Google.  As you might guess, Andy pretty much saves the world with his laptop while renewing his troubled relationship with his dad in the process (awwww). 

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

A great deal of low-budget sound and fury and lots of frantic altercations and scurrying around in circles make EARTH'S FINAL HOURS seem a lot like the feature film edit of an old serial.  (A pounding musical score by Michael Neilson makes it all seem more exciting than it really is.) It's kind of hard to summarize because none of it really makes any sense, which matters little if you just switch off your mind the same way the filmmakers seem to have done when they came up with this largely unfathomable tall tale.


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Friday, March 29, 2013

Acorn DVD/Blu-ray Calendar--Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Broadway Musicals, Lord Peter Wimsey, Shakespeare and More


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

Acorn has earned the reputation for bringing the best contemporary and classic mysteries and dramas to home video, and the upcoming releases uphold that tradition.

Acorn has the U.S. debuts of several highly entertaining new detective series, including a glamorous 1920s "lady" detective in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a rollicking adaptation of Douglas Adams’ (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) quirky Dirk Gently detective series, and George Gently Series 5, the newest season of the acclaimed BBC mystery series set in 1960s England. The taut and addictive BBC drama The Syndicate (U.S. Debut) follows the fortunes and misfortunes of recent lottery winners, and ABC is currently adapting it for U.S. TV. Also, the classic Emmy®-Award winning drama The Scarlet Pimpernel stars Anthony Andrews (Brideshead Revisited), Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen.

Documentary specialist Athena features the DVD debut of the 2013 PBS hit Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy, an engaging, humorous, and star-studded documentary exploring the leading role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the creation of the modern American musical; the U.S. debut of  Shakespeare: The King's Man, a captivating 2012 BBC documentary exploring the dark, complex plays of Shakespeare’s last decade; and Bill Moyers: Beyond Hate, a provocative PBS documentary tackling big questions about hate.

Additionally, Acorn has value-priced collections of two of its bestselling series Doc Martin Special Collection: Series 1-5 + The Movies, last year’s breakout public television hit; and George Gently Collection: Series 1-4, the popular BBC detective drama set 1960s England; as well as two complete collections of classic series, The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries starring Ian Carmichael in the original BBC adaptations, and Judi Dench in the charming romantic Britcom A Fine Romance.

For more info on these releases, please see the detailed April-May 2013 release calendar below.

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

March 26

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Series 1 (U.S. Debut, DVD/Blu-ray) – “If you’re a Sherlock fan, check out Miss Fisher…(she) is a fashionably beautiful investigator with some definitively wicked ways.” (tellyspotting) – New, glamorous “lady detective” series makes its North American debut. Based on the popular detective novels by Kerry Greenwood, the gorgeously costumed and evocatively shot mystery series features Essie Davis as the Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher, a sly sleuth and thoroughly modern woman of the late 1920s operating in a mostly male-dominated detective world. Miss Fisher was filmed on location in Melbourne with stellar production values. The DVD release coincides with its premiere on select public television stations in April 2013. (Blu-ray 3-Disc set/DVD 4-Disc set, 13 episodes)

Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases – “Simply the most entertaining mystery series in TV history…Absolutely addictive” (ICv2) – Acorn’s top-selling series returns with this fifth value priced collector’s set. Beloved British mystery series stars John Nettles in his final cases (15 stand-alone mysteries, Series 12-13, 2009-2011).

April 2

Dirk Gently (U.S. Debut) – Based on the novels by beloved author Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Stephen Mangan (Episodes opposite Matt LeBlanc) stars as a quirky but endearing detective. Broadcast on BBC in 2010 and 2012 and available to U.S. audiences for the first time with its DVD release, this four-part dramedy follows Dirk Gently, a perpetually insolvent yet uncommonly talented holistic detective. This rollicking adaptation also features Helen Baxendale (Friends) and Bill Paterson (Traffik). (DVD 2-Disc set)

April 16

Shakespeare: The King's Man (U.S. Debut, Athena) – Available to U.S. audiences for the first time, this captivating 2012 BBC documentary explores Shakespeare’s later plays. American scholar James Shapiro examines the dark, complex plays of Shakespeare’s last decade—King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest, among others, which mirrored both royal life and the era’s profound social changes. The DVD 2-disc set includes three episodes, plus a bonus disc with the BBC’s 1983 production of Macbeth (148 min.).

Sugartown (U.S. Debut) – Charming BBC comedy pits brother against brother in a battle over love and business. This lighthearted, 2011 BBC comedy stars Miranda Raison (Vexed, MI-5), Shaun Dooley (Red Riding) and Tom Ellis (Miranda). Life isn’t so sweet in Sugartown. Faced with the decision of what to do with the town’s struggling candy company, Jason Burr is determined to keep the factory open and his family’s legacy alive, while his posh brother, Max returns with plans to change Sugartown forever.

April 30

The Syndicate Series 1 (U.S. Debut) – Currently being adapted for U.S. television by ABC, this taut and addictive BBC drama follows the fortunes and misfortunes of recent lottery winners. Broadcast on the BBC in 2012, the series follows five cash-strapped supermarket employees bracing for their store’s imminent shutdown as their lottery pool wins big. It seems like a godsend—but the syndicate soon learns that good fortune can come at a high price. The cast includes Timothy Spall (The King’s Speech), Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter films), Joanna Page (Love Actually), Matthew McNulty (Single-Handed), and Lorraine Bruce (Eden Lake).

The Scarlet Pimpernel – Brimming with romance, action, and period atmosphere, this Emmy®-Award winning drama stars Anthony Andrews (Brideshead Revisited), Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) and Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings, X-Men). The tale follows a dashing young Englishman who masks his identity to save French aristocrats during the chaotic days of the French Revolution. Broadcast on CBS in the 1980s, the miniseries won the Emmy® Award for Outstanding Costume Design and was nominated for Outstanding Drama Special and Art Direction.

The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Complete Collection – “Eternally appealing” (NPR’s Fresh Air) – All five of the classic mysteries from the original BBC series seen on Masterpiece Theatre. Hailed by critics as one of the finest mystery series ever filmed, Ian Carmichael (The Wind in the Willows) stars as the ever aristocratic and always urbane Lord Peter Wimsey. Its success on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre inspired the spin-off Mystery! Running at least three hours each, these dramas do full justice to Dorothy L. Sayers’s vivid characters, trenchant wit, and lavish 1920s settings. (DVD 6-Disc boxed set)

May 7

Doc Martin Special Collection: Series 1-5 + The Movies – “Sweet, stirring, and completely addictive” (Slate) – Last year’s breakout public television hit now available in value-priced collection. Akin to House and Northern Exposure, BAFTA Winner Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly) delivers an uproarious lead performance, aided by outstanding supporting casts, in this award-winning fish-out-of-water comedy about a misanthropic, socially maladjusted doctor forced to relocate to a rustic seaside village. Doc Martin is a huge hit in the U.K. with 10 million viewers and is a huge success in the U.S. on public television as well. The DVD 13-Disc set includes 38 episodes, two TV movies that inspired the series, and 62-minutes of behind-the-scenes segments. Doc Martin Series 1 is also being released on Acorn DVD on May 7th.

A Fine Romance: Complete Collection – “Delightful Dench” (The Washington Post) – Judi Dench stars in this charming romantic comedy alongside her late husband Michael Williams (Educating Rita) as two middle-aged misfits embarking on an unlikely romance. A classic of the genre, the collection features all four series of the affable comedy that earned Dench one of her 10 BAFTA Awards for best actress and aired on public television from 1981-1984. Newly packaged and now with SDH subtitles, the DVD 4-Disc set includes all 26 episodes.

Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy (DVD Debut) – Engaging, humorous, and provocative, this 2013 PBS documentary explores Jewish contributions to Broadway and features performances by Barbra Streisand, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, and many more. Bonus disc features three hours of additional performances and interviews not seen on PBS. Narrated by Tony® and Academy Award® winner Joel Grey, the film examines the leading role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the creation of the modern American musical and showcases the work of legends such as Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim. Alongside standout performances and archival footage, the film co-mingles cultural history with illuminating perspectives on the origins and meanings of some of Broadway's most beloved songs, stories, and shows.

May 14:

Bill Moyers: Beyond Hate – Provocative PBS documentary tackles big questions about hate through examining the roots of hate and how to cope with it. Legendary journalist Bill Moyers travels across the country and around the world, from Jerusalem to South Central, Los Angeles, from Elie Wiesel’s Anatomy of Hate conference in Oslo, Norway, to a classroom in Brooklyn, New York to tackle critical discussions about racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and sectarianism. Praised for its in-depth reporting on a difficult topic, the DVD Single includes the bonus program, Facing Hate with Elie Wiesel and Bill Moyers (58 min.). Interviews include Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter.

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 from Series 1-4 teem with intrigue, wit, and style. (DVD 11-Disc Collector’s Edition, Blu-ray 6-Disc Set)

Coming this June:

Iain Glen in the U.S. debut of Jack Taylor Set 1, Vexed Series 2, The First Churchills, The Politician’s Wife, Springhill Series 1, New Tricks Season 8, and Honest

Earlier 2013 Releases Still Available

From Acorn: 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:

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. Currently streaming are all previous episodes of the universally acclaimed WWII detective drama Foyle’s War, the complete miniseries of Lost Empires starring Colin Firth in one of his early roles, the U.S. debut of The Syndicate, which ABC is currently adapting for U.S. television; the 1980s classic The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Anthony Andrews (Brideshead Revisited), Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), and Ian McKellen; Callan starring Edward Woodward; among many others. Acorn TV is available at acornonline.com/TV

An RLJ Entertainment, Inc. brand (NASDAQ: RLJE), Acorn specializes in the best of British television on DVD and Blu-ray. 2013 releases include: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Dirk Gently, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime: The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Maigret, Doc Martin Special Collection, Jack Taylor, and more episodes from Foyle’s War, Case Histories, New Tricks, Murdoch Mysteries, Midsomer Murders, Above Suspicion, George Gently, Vexed and Vera.

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


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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

FALL INTO ME -- movie review by porfle



(This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2008.)

After a computer-animated titles sequence that looks like it cost more than the rest of the movie, FALL INTO ME (2006) introduces us to Steve (Ron Menzel), a literary-minded ex-advertising whiz who drives an elementary school bus while trying to forget his old flame Brandy (Meisha Johnson).  Which he does as soon as he cute-meets Maria (co-writer Heidi Fellner) at a coffee shop and then again at the hospital where she's a counsellor for chronic disease patients.  After a rather twisted plot contrivance, Maria believes that Steve suffers from something called Addison's Disease, a notion that Steve oddly finds himself unable or unwilling to dispel.

For some reason, we're led to believe that Steve must continue to pretend that he has Addison's Disease in order to get Maria to like him.  The fact that Maria already likes him, and indeed is a bit creepily attracted to him right off the bat--she looks as though she's ready to fall into Steve from her very first adoring closeup, although I was at a loss to figure out why--makes the charade seem not only unnecessary but tiresomely contrived. 

Anyway, Steve finds out what the symptoms of Addison's Disease are--including hair loss, vomiting, and diarrhea--so that he can imitate them.  This is really more than a little distasteful, not to mention just plain dumb.  Later, Steve finds that Addison's disease is incurable, meaning that he must continue the charade indefinitely.

"It makes sense if you think about it," Steve tells his sister Angela (Stacia Rice), whom he lives with (some swingin' bachelor, eh?)  To which she replies, "This...will not work."  Shoulda listened to Sis, Steve-o.

Steve's former ad agency partners, Ian and Jason (Andre Samples and Ian Justen Jones), need their old "Happy Steve" back in the creative saddle with them again, so they encourage this weird courting ritual.  At the same time, Maria's overprotective roommate Sonja (Kimberly Morgan) keeps a suspicious eye on Steve, while the brainy 12-year-old Marlon (Tony Williams), one of Steve's school bus regulars, gives him valuable life advice based on the behavior of animals such as possums and octopi.  Wow...that looks really dumb when I write it down, but Marlon is actually a pretty good character.

As this situation dragged on, I kept thinking, "Why are we messing with this sub-sitcom-level Addison's Disease crap?"  Especially since we know that somewhere down the line the truth is going to come out and create this big artificial stumbling block in their relationship, and we'll have to suffer through all the obligatory developments that follow until the eventual reconciliation.  I won't tell you how this happens except to say that Steve has an ace up his sleeve that has something to do with his talents as an ad man.

Most of this is so lightweight that it's barely more substantial than the simulated construction paper cutouts in the title animations, with performances that often look as though director Tim VandeSteeg just secretly filmed the initial script run-through to save time.  The dialogue tries to be light but ends up being turgid, with clunky punchlines to end every joke with a thud and every romantic encounter with a cold shiver of sickly-sweet creepiness.  Fortunately, the musical score supplies plenty of continuous boppity-poppity funky-lite or tinkly romantic piano music to remind us of how adorably cute everything is.

Just about the only time the movie lights up is when Steve and Maria actually do fall into each other for the first time after Steve shows up for their second date at 7:00 am instead of 7:00 pm.  And then we get the only really funny joke after they have sex, when she asks him "Why did you come so early?"

There is a surprise twist to it all, though, which gives the whole thing a new dimension even if you see it coming a mile away, and in the last act things get rather serious and emotional in a good way.  Or least, not as bad a way as most of the goofy stuff that comes before it.  The movie ends much better than it begins, but by that point a pretty good ending isn't quite enough to make watching the rest of FALL INTO ME seem preferable to falling into a peaceful slumber.


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Monday, March 25, 2013

HANK AND MIKE -- movie review by porfle



(This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2008.)

Mike's a cheerful, fastidious, gentle soul who's too shy to tell the girl he works with that he's secretly in love with her.  Hank's a skirt-chasing slob who's usually drunk, stoned, and puffing cigarettes by the carton.  Besides sharing an apartment, these two guys have absolutely nothing in common.  Except for one thing.  They're both Easter bunnies.

HANK AND MIKE (2008) begins with the title characters on their Easter rounds, breaking into the houses on their route and leaving chocolate eggs for the kiddies.  But irresponsible Hank misses a house, which results in a devastated little girl and a nationwide scandal that's splashed all over the TV news.  And since Easter Enterprises is in the midst of a downsizing process spearheaded by sleazy head-office bean counter Conrad Hubriss (Chris Klein), both bunnies are fired even though Mike is a former winner of the Golden Egg award for excellence.  Out of a job, Hank and Mike must now struggle to fit into a workforce that has little use for two washed-up Easter bunnies.

Hank:  "Easter just used us...and spit us out.  Easter was our pimp."
Mike:  (with sudden awareness) "We were Easter bitches."

These bunnies take their job seriously.  They may be just a bunch of regular slobs in bunny costumes (which they never take off), but their interactions are every bit as tense and aggressively competitive as the fighter pilots in TOP GUN.  Mike still wears a leg brace from the knee injury he suffered while delivering eggs in Bosnia.  Hank is a world-weary stoner who unwinds in a local strip club with his usual, a steak and a face-dance.  Their hostile encounters with a thick, steroid-pumped Russian bunny skirt the dangerous edges of violence. 

I'll just come right out and say that I love this movie.  The whole thing is played almost documentary-style straight, with an endless parade of unexpectedly outlandish gags and painfully deadpan situations.  It's delightfully unsentimental, too--after being fired, a sullen Hank casually flicks his cigarette butt into a passing baby carriage and later dream-fantasizes about visiting the little girl who blew the whistle on them as she sleeps and leaving an exploding egg that blows her to bloody, blazing bits, laughing maniacally over the flames.  And remember, these are guys in Easter bunny costumes.  It's the sight gag that just keeps on giving.

Their visits to the employment office and subsequent attempts to find work result in a series of gags that had me in stitches.  "I'm a semi-professional breakdancer," Hank tells the almost catatonic interview, Miss Schytt.  "I've got my own cardboard."  In one scene, they find themselves skinning rabbits for a psycho butcher who loves his work too much, and what they do to him before walking out is priceless.  In another, they're UPS men, but can't resist hiding the packages they deliver.  And then they end up working in an elementary school, where janitor Hank regales the fascinated kids with horrid Easter war stories while cafeteria chef Mike cooks up chocolate hamburgers, chocolate dogs, chocolate tacos with chocolate sauce, and for dessert, chocolate, all of which becomes ammunition in a colossal food fight with the kids which gets the two ousted again. 

Assorted bits of bizarreness abound in this dementedly original screenplay by Thomas Michael (Hank) and Paolo Mancini (Mike).  Their weird neighbor Leon shows up at the door in his underwear, desperately trying to sell them his waffle iron.  A bum sitting next to Mike on a park bench talks lovingly to his best friend, a watermelon with a happy face painted on it.  Chris Klein's Conrad Hubriss, a role he was born to play, gets plastered at the strip club and winds up onstage belting out a tortured, ungodly love song like a crazed Bryan Ferry ("Love is like an interstate...it gets you from place to place...but it's littered with dead raccoons..."), as a full band and backup singers swell gloriously in support. 

Finally, fed up with the injustice of it all, Hank and Mike dress in gangster suits and march in RESERVOIR DOGS-style slow-motion toward the Easter Enterprises building to a driving rock beat (the original song score for this movie is really cool), headed for a final showdown with Hubriss and the rest of the executive board that will end in comedic death. 

I know, I'm just reeling off a list of things that happen in HANK AND MIKE, but that's the best way I can think of to review it.  If it sounds funny to you, then you'll probably get just as much of a kick out of it as I did.  If not, then you may want to skip it.  As for me, I think Ted Turner should start showing this for 24 hours straight every Easter.

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DAY OF THE FALCON -- DVD review by porfle



An intermittently impressive semi-epic set in 1930s oil-boom Arabia, DAY OF THE FALCON, aka Black Gold (2011) is interesting to look at, and occasionally quite thrilling, without ever being all that involving.

The film benefits from beautiful settings even in the desert sequences.  Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (QUEST FOR FIRE, THE NAME OF THE ROSE) moves the story along so briskly that we never get to know the characters in much depth, yet there's always something pleasing to look at especially within the lavish palace of Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas). 

Much information is conveyed visually and with great economy.  It takes only a few minutes to tell of how Nesib and his rival, Sultan Amar (Mark Strong), form a truce in which Nesib will raise Amar's sons Saleeh and Auda as insurance that he won't resume hostilities, with the land between their domains--a stretch of desert known as "The Yellow Belt"--designated as neutral territory owned by neither.

Saleeh (Akin Gazi) grows to be strong-willed and courageous like their father, while Auda (Tahar Rahim) is a timid bookworm.  Still, it's the quiet one who catches the eye of Nesib's lovely daughter, Princess Leyla (Frieda Pinto, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,
IMMORTALS), although she is promised to another.  This will provide what fleeting romantic interest the story has to offer.

Meanwhile, Nesib, frustrated by how backward his country is compared to more developed Western nations, is thrilled when Texas oilmen inform him that there's a colossal fortune in oil beneath the Yellow Belt.  Breaking his agreement with Sultan Amar, whose traditional religious beliefs shun such pursuits, Nesib throws himself fully into the exploitation of this wildly lucrative natural resource. 

The culture clash that follows puts Saleeh and Auda in the middle of an impending war between their two father figures--one forward-thinking and open to new ideas, the other firmly entrenched in his fundamentalist beliefs.  One of them will join his father against Nesib and manage to recruit several adjoining tribes for the cause, eventually becoming an almost mythically heroic figure in their eyes as he leads them across the scorching desert and into battle.

At this point, DAY OF THE FALCON comes through with some terrific desert battle scenes that are exhilarating to watch, which will be good news to viewers who have been waiting over an hour for something to actually happen.  It's sword-wielding men on horses and camels versus armored battle vehicles with blazing machine guns in one sequence that will have you on the edge of your seat. 

In a later attack that takes place amidst a forest of burning oil derricks, hundreds of riders (the usual mix of real people and CGI figures) engage in a thundering charge that will recall large-scale epics of yesteryear.  Unfortunately, what truly gorgeous photography there is in these scenes alternates with bad handheld camerawork and some rather choppy editing.  Still, Annaud manages to stage a wealth of scintillating shots throughout the film which are interesting without drawing too much attention to themselves.

Tahar Rahim, Frieda Pinto, and Akin Gazi are adequate in their roles, but the most interesting performances come from the older actors including Antonio Banderas in a surprisingly modulated turn as Nesib.  As the solemn and unyielding Sultan Amar, Mark Strong creates a character light years removed from his monstrous "Frank D'Amico" of KICK-ASS.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a 40-minute making-of documentary, a visual effects featurette, and some storyboard-to-screen comparisons.

While presenting a seemingly favorable and balanced portrayal of Islam and the Arab world in general, DAY OF THE FALCON leaves it up to us to decide whether it's best to remain firmly entrenched in the traditions of the past or give in to progress and change.  Is it mere greed or concern for his people that motivates Nesib?  The film doesn't take the easy way out by portraying him as a simple bad guy.


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Sunday, March 24, 2013

KEMPER -- movie review by porfle



(This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2008.)

You'd expect a film called KEMPER (2008) to be really dark and grim, and possibly hard to watch, but this loosely fact-based tale plays more like an episode of some really low-budget made-for-cable cop show.  It's not as bad as it could've been, but nowhere near as good as it should've been.

The opening set-up is practically a pitch for a series-- a small-town police detective named Tom Harris (Christopher Stapleton) solves murders with the secret help of a quiet, highly intelligent and perceptive house painter who lives with his domineering mother.  The trouble is, the guy helping the cop is none other than infamous "co-ed killer" Edmund Kemper, who's contributing to the town's body count himself while helping Detective Harris track down the rest of the local psychos. 

This fictional friendship between Harris and Kemper is the main thing that keeps the film from being a genuine portrait of the actual serial killer, which might have yielded a truly frightening and disturbing tale on its own.  It also sets up the cat-and-mouse game that follows Harris' discovery that Kemper is a murderer (after he offs his mother with a hammer and then dismembers her) and his subsequent hunt for him.  Kemper keeps in constant phone contact with Harris, wishing to continue their relationship and even helping the detective get reinstated after his suspension from duty.  This he does by kidnapping a young woman and sending a videotape to the mayor in which he threatens to kill her unless Harris is reassigned to the case. 

As our hero, Detective Harris, Stapleton is pretty much a stiff.  The rest of the cast is either fair or below-par, with the exception of Robert Sisko as Kemper.  His face framed by shaggy hair and thick glasses, Sisko keeps the character reined in throughout and never overacts, while deftly making him just sympathetic enough to keep us from regarding him as a total monster.  In this, he's helped by some flashbacks that give us an idea of how he turned out the way he did.  Not the intimidating hulk that the 6'9', 300-pound Kemper must've been in real life, Sisko makes up for this by giving us a character that's consistently interesting to watch rather than scary. 

Jack Perez' screenplay rarely provides any chills, either, and while occasionally coming up with some wit or a good bit of dialogue here and there, it's sometimes cringe-inducingly dumb.  An early scene shows Harris and Kemper puzzling over a picture sent to them by another killer, which features the words "ynoga" and "ysatsce."  Any schoolkid could figure this out in about two seconds flat, yet it takes our brainy detectives forever to accidentally stumble upon the solution.  "Could be Slavic...or Native American," Harris muses to another cop at one point. OR, it could be "agony" and "ecstasy" spelled backwards...DUH.

The bland direction by Rick Bitzelberger is often about as unimaginative as it gets, though he, too, seems to have his moments of inspiration.  The murder scenes aren't very excitingly staged, with the exception of an impulsive act of violence by Kemper that comes as a shock.  There's a fair amount of gore, decapitated heads, and other nasty business, but this isn't anywhere near the sort of gorefest that films of this kind often are.  To its credit, KEMPER takes itself seriously and rises above the dregs of the genre on occasion, even giving us a titles sequence that's an amusing rip-off of SE7EN. 

At its best, KEMPER is a mildly entertaining time-waster that's neither very exciting nor exceedingly boring.  The climactic confrontation between cop and killer is nicely done, and there's a final scene that's just good enough to bump my rating up half a notch, thanks mainly to a freak convergence of director, writer, and actor Sisko hitting just the right notes before the fadeout.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Quentin Tarantino's "Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature" Arrives on DVD April 16th From Lionsgate Home Entertainment



Quentin Tarantino's "Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature" comes to DVD April 16th from Lionsgate Home Entertainment and Miramax

This DVD compilation offers a sampling of films from the specialty label Rolling Thunders Pictures, which was launched by Tarantino and Miramax in 1995 to release older exploitation movies and undiscovered imports to the mainstream movie-going audience. 

Tarantino brought these films back to life, even personally recording intros and outros for the home video releases.  The release of Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature coincides with the home entertainment release of Tarantino's latest, Academy Award® winning film, Django Unchained. A must-have for Tarantino fans, this classic collection will be available on DVD for the suggested retail price of $14.98.  


THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN SYNOPSIS

Treat yourself to one of the funniest and campiest movies ever made: The Mighty Peking Man! After a colossal ape-like creature is captured in the jungle and brought to civilization - along with the scantily clad blonde bombshell he protects - the fearsome beast breaks loose and goes looking for giant-size payback!

CAST

Evelyne Kraft--Lady Dracula, The Fifth Commandment
Danny Lee--The Killer, City on Fire

DETROIT 9000 SYNOPSIS

Jam-packed with nonstop action, sexy distractions and funky music, this hip crime story follows two Detroit cops, whose pursuit of a dangerous gang responsible for a high-society heist ignites a powder keg of corruption and violence!

CAST

Alex Rocco--The Godfather, Smokin' Aces, STARZ's "Magic City"
Hari Rhodes--TV's Roots, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
and Vonetta McGee--TV's "L.A. Law," Repo Man
Herb Jefferson, Jr.--TV's "Battlestar Galactica," TV's "The Devlin Connection"
and Ella Edwards--Dirty O'Neil, Mr. Ricco, Sweet Sugar

SWITCHBLADE SISTERS SYNOPSIS

A riotously entertaining mix of sex, jealousy and massive firepower, Jack Hill's Switchblade Sisters is the action-packed story of the toughest gang of teenage girls to ever hit the streets - the Dagger Debs. Bad to the bone, these outrageous high school vixens go where they want...and create mayhem wherever they go!

CAST                                     

Robbie Lee--Big Bad Mama, The Therapist
Joanne Nail--Full Moon High, The Gumball Rally
Asher Brauner--The Boss' Son, American Eagle, Merchants of War
Kitty Bruce--Bad
Janice Karman--TV's "The Chipmunks," TV's Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Marlene Clark--TV's "Sanford and Son," Lord Shango, The Baron
and Monica Gayle--TV's "General Hospital," Nashville Girl


PROGRAM INFORMATION

Year of Production: 

The Mighty Peking Man:1977
Detroit 9000: 1973
Switchblade Sisters: 1975
Title Copyright: © 2013 Miramax, LLC

Type: DVD Collection Premiere

Rating:

The Mighty Peking Man:PG-13 for violence and sensuality
Detroit 9000, Switchblade Sisters: R

Genre: Action, Drama

DVD Closed Captioned: NA
Subtitles: NA

Feature Running Time:

The Mighty Peking Man:90 minutes
Detroit 9000: 106 minutes
Switchblade Sisters: 91 minutes

DVD Format:

The Mighty Peking Man:16x9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
Detroit 9000: 16x9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Switchblade Sisters: 16x9 Widescreen (1.85:1)

DVD Audio Status:

The Mighty Peking Man:English 2.0 Dolby Digital
Detroit 9000, Switchblade Sisters: English Monaural Dolby Digital

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Acorn TV Streams Foyle’s War Marathon plus Colin Firth, Iain Glen, and Patrick Stewart Series

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

Acorn Media on Facebook and Twitter

Athena on Facebook


Starting this week, Acorn TV, the first British TV focused streaming service in North America, has the complete Foyle’s War Marathon featuring all previous episodes of the universally acclaimed WWII detective drama. With a Free 30-Day Trial, new subscribers can catch up on all 22 feature-length mysteries (Series 1-7). These episodes were also released last week on DVD in a value-priced collection, Foyle’s War: The Home Front Files. Foyle’s War has been called "Like a gift from the gods" (The New York Times) and "A triumph from start to finish" (The Wall Street Journal) and returns this September on Masterpiece Mystery! with three new episodes as Foyle joins the intelligence community.

Also starting March 18th are the complete miniseries of Lost Empires starring Colin Firth in one of his early roles; the most recent season of popular 1960s detective series George Gently; and the classic Father Brown series. Still streaming are the U.S. debut of The Syndicate, which ABC is currently adapting for U.S. television; the 1980s classic The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Anthony Andrews (Brideshead Revisited), Jane Seymour, and Ian McKellen; the classic spy series Callan starring Edward Woodward (The Equalizer); as well as a Midsomer Murders Marathon (19 feature-length episodes) and seasons from Blue Murder starring Caroline Quentin, Cracker starring Robbie Coltrane, Cadfael starring Derek Jacobi, A Fine Romance starring Judi Dench, among many others.

Coming up on Acorn TV

March 25: Vexed, Series 2 (U.S. Premiere), Eleventh Hour starring Patrick Stewart, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

April 1: The U.S. Premiere of Jack Taylor starring Iain Glen (Downton Abbey, Games of Thrones),

Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, and Single-Handed

Specializing in the best British mysteries and dramas, Acorn TV features a free 30-day trial for complete access to the 18 different series, plus multi-episode marathons, with an average of 177 hours of weekly content and more than 170 episodes in March. Thereafter, a subscription is just $2.99/mth or $29.99/yr. Each week three new seasons are added and three are removed.

Acorn TV is available at AcornOnline.com/TV and through Roku, iPhones, iPads, Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Tablet, Apple TV, Google TV, among others.

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

Acorn Media/Athena DVD Release Calendar:

Mar. 5: Murdoch Mysteries Collection: Season 1-4 (DVD/Blu-ray) and Murdoch Mysteries, Season 5 (DVD/Blu-ray)

Mar. 12: Foyle’s War: The Home Front Files (Sets 1-6)

Mar. 19: No Job for a Lady: The Complete Collection, Chance in a Million Complete Collection, and A Mind to Kill Complete Collection

Mar. 26: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series 1 and Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases

Apr. 2: Dirk Gently


An RLJ Entertainment, Inc. brand (NASDAQ: RLJE), Acorn specializes in the best of British television on DVD and Blu-ray. 2013 releases include: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Dirk Gently, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime: The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Maigret, Doc Martin Special Collection, Jack Taylor, and more episodes from Foyle’s War, Case Histories, New Tricks, Murdoch Mysteries, Midsomer Murders, Above Suspicion, George Gently, Vexed and Vera.

Acorn’s and Athena’s DVD sets are available from select retailers, catalog companies, and direct from Acorn Media at (888) 870-8047 or www.acornonline.com and www.athenalearning.com.  Select series are streaming at Acorn TV, the first British TV-focused streaming service, at AcornOnline.com/TV.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ARMAGEDDON -- movie review by porfle




(This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2006.)

Sometimes I just like to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch a big, dumb, action-packed space opera with awesome special effects, a great cast, and a script that's funny and engaging without taxing the old grey matter too much.  Of course, I'm describing ARMAGEDDON (1998), in which a huge asteroid is discovered to be hurtling directly toward Earth and all life will be wiped out unless NASA can figure out a way to avert it.

By now, many of you have already seen ARMAGEDDON and may be thinking, "Ye gods!  My hatred for that movie shatters galaxies!"  I can understand that, if you're someone who likes his/her sci-fi serious and scientifically accurate, or you hate Michael Bay movies, or both.

If so, you would probably prefer the other asteroid-on-a-collision-course-with-Earth movie, DEEP IMPACT, which came out the same year and was more serious and scientifically accurate.  Or, if you're like me, you like them both in the same way that I like both filet mignon and beef jerky, or Beethoven and the Jingle Cats.


I find ARMAGEDDON hugely entertaining on the Jingle Cats level.  It starts out with the extinction of the dinosaurs by a six-mile-wide meteor smashing into Earth, narrated by Charlton Heston (who else to talk us through a catastrophe of Biblical proportions?), and then skips to the present day with a meteor shower destroying an orbiting space shuttle and taking out much of New York City.

This, it turns out, is merely a prelude to an approaching asteroid the size of Texas (a Rhode Island-sized asteroid would've been bad enough, or even Vermont, but somehow "Texas" sounds better) which will hit the Earth in eighteen days and kill everybody.  Finding a way to stop it, needless to say, shoots right to the top of our government's "Things To Do" list.

The top brain-boys at NASA come up with the only possible solution: they must send two teams of deep-core oil drillers to land their shuttles on the asteroid, drill a really deep hole, and plant a nuclear bomb that will split it into two halves that will spread apart and narrowly miss our planet.  So the world's greatest deep-core driller, Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), and his ragtag team of roughnecks are enlisted to accompany NASA's astronauts on the mission.


Watching these idiots go through an astronaut crash-course and magnificently flunk most of their medical and endurance tests is a highlight of the film.  Udo Kier (ANDY WARHOL'S DRACULA) even pops up as a psychiatrist who is shocked by some of the stuff going on in these guys' heads.

This is where a lot of that "great cast" I mentioned comes in.  There's Bruce, of course--one of my favorite actors--supported by guys like Will Patton (THE POSTMAN), Steve Buscemi (FARGO, CON AIR), Michael Clarke Duncan (THE GREEN MILE), Owen Wilson (THE WEDDING CRASHERS), and Ben Affleck.  Ben Affleck? 

Okay, they're not all "great", exactly.  But Ben does a pretty good job as Harry's irresponsible protege', A.J., who gets Harry's dander up by falling in love with his daughter Grace (the ever-popular Liv Tyler).  Harry don't want his li'l girl marryin' no roughneck, so A.J. must prove himself worthy, which he eventually does, of course. 

And then there's Billy Bob Thornton (SLING BLADE) as Dan Truman, the NASA head honcho who coordinates the mission, Jason Isaacs (SOLDIER) as NASA's Mr. Wizard, William Fichtner (CONTACT, THE DARK KNIGHT) as shuttle pilot  Colonel Sharp, Keith David (JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING) as a military officer who is skeptical of the mission's success, and Peter Stormare (FARGO) as Lev, a cosmonaut who ends up on the mission when the Russian space station he's been stuck on for months explodes while the shuttles are refueling.  Like I said, this is one awesome cast.  And Ben Affleck.


The special effects are awesome as well.  The initial shuttle explosion and meteor shower on New York city get the movie off to an explosion-packed start, despite a few instances of hinky CGI.  Most of the other CGI is well done, but there's also a lot of great model work for us more old-fashioned sci-fi fans to enjoy.  The comparatively simple act of refueling the shuttles at the Russian space station results in a tense, SPFX-laden sequence where a lot of stuff blows up real good. 

The shots of the asteroid are often striking, especially in one incredible sequence where the two shuttles are slingshotting around the moon to gain speed and circle around behind the huge rock, and then head straight into a dense hail of debris in the asteroid's trail.  This is the highlight of the movie for me, and, as the old trailers used to proclaim, it's "thrill-packed." 

Once the shuttles have landed (one not quite as successfully as the other), the drillers encounter a variety of hazardous and hostile conditions that hamper their progress and threaten to derail their mission.  Several of our favorite characters get killed.  At one point, the effort to drill a hole deep enough for the bomb looks so hopeless that the military decides to remote-detonate it on the surface, which would not only have no effect on the asteroid, but would also seriously vaporize our heroes. 


And as the clock ticks down to the final deadline for averting global destruction, one of the main characters must make the ultimate sacrifice.  Who will it be?  Will Bruce die hard?  Will GIGLI fans be devastated?  Will Steve Buscemi no longer be "the sexiest man alive"? 

Anyway, I love this stuff.  I don't care if it's scientifically-inaccurate, lowbrow, sappy, or cheesy.  (It's all of those things, and more.)  Michael Bay, one of the most hated directors on the planet, has never made an action movie that I didn't find entertaining in some way.  If I have to put my mind on hold to enjoy THE ROCK, I'll do it (I like putting my mind on hold now and then).  If I have to wade through a crappy love story to get to the mind-boggling action sequences in PEARL HARBOR, fine. 

And if I have to fast-forward through any part of ARMAGEDDON that features an Aerosmith ballad or most of the cast singing a brain-frying rendition of "Leavin' On A Jet Plane", that's okay, too.  It's worth it to enjoy this much pure, unadulterated entertainment that is filled with so many of my favorite actors.  And Ben Affleck.


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Sunday, March 17, 2013

THE EYE 3 -- movie review by porfle



(This review first appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2008.)

First off, THE EYE 3, aka "Gin gwai 3" (2005) is directed by the Pang brothers, who also directed THE EYE and THE EYE 2. But the international English title for it is THE EYE 10. And according to IMDb, Tsui Hark is in the process of directing another movie called THE EYE 3. Also, this film is known in some European countries as THE EYE: INFINITY, which I guess clears things up, not.

Now we've gotten all that out of the way, I'll admit that I haven't seen THE EYE 1 or 2. But from reading their summaries I see that they are referred to during an early scene in which five young friends--one living there in Thailand, the other four visiting from Hong Kong--are staying up late telling ghost stories. When these stories fail to produce sufficient giddy scares, the Thai dude, Chongkwai (Ray MacDonald), whips out a book he found one night in a dark, mysterious bookstore. The book claims to contain ten surefire methods for calling forth ghosts. This, of course, gets the other youngsters all goose-pimply with excitement and they can't wait to try them out, which they will later learn to deeply regret.

These early scenes let us know that at least part of THE EYE 3 is pretty much a comedy laced with mildly scary elements. As I watched the five friends using the various tips from the book to conjure up ghosts and then writhing in rubber-faced terror, it reminded me, of all things, of Don Knotts' THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN. As in, more amusing than actually scary. The ghosts look pretty cool and there are some fairly good goose-shots here and there, but very little of this is truly creepy or disturbing. Much of it, in fact, might even be labeled "family friendly" Halloween-type fare.

Things start to get somewhat more serious when one of the rituals backfires and Gofei (Chris Gu) disappears. When days go by with no sign of him, cousins Ted (Chen Po Lin) and May (cutie-pie Kate Yeung) dejectedly return to Hong Kong while Gofei's inconsolable girlfriend April (Lok-si Leung) stays behind to continue the search. A series of frightening ghostly encounters in Hong Kong drives Ted and May back to Thailand to put the matter to rest once and for all, with the help of Chongkwai and his spirit guide mother. Meanwhile, April has turned up missing as well.

All of this is nicely directed and shot and the performances are good. Little of it is very scary, though. May has a run-in with a ghost in the hallway of her apartment building, and when Ted comes to her aid he gets possessed and ends up in a break-dancing contest with a couple of teenagers, which he wins by walking on the ceiling. We also get the old "between the knees ghost peek", which gives the Pang brothers a chance to offer us a great view of May's rear baggage compartment.

Later, when Ted and May enter the spirit dimension in search of Gofei and are surrounded by hostile ghosts, they discover that the best way of warding them off is by--get this--farting. I don't know about you, but watching some intrepid ghostbusters farting back a bunch of oncoming wraiths doesn't exactly send chills up my spine. So, even in the midst of what should be the most frightening place of all, we get more of a sense of amusement than fear or dread.

There's a bit of a surprise at the end, and it fades out on a serious note that's rather poetic and haunting (pun intended) and somewhat sad. If the whole movie had maintained this sort of feeling in addition to ramping up the scare factor, it might have been memorable. As it is, though, THE EYE 3 is much like those ghost stories the kids tell each other early on--good, giddy fun for awhile, but soon forgotten.


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Friday, March 15, 2013

"BARRYMORE" -- Image Entertainment Presents Academy Award Winner Christopher Plummer on Blu-ray and DVD May 7th



IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT PRESENTS ACADEMY AWARD™ WINNER CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER IN "BARRYMORE"

An Acting Legend Portrays An Acting Icon In An Astonishing Tour de Force


CHATSWORTH, CA -- Image Entertainment, Inc. (OTCQB: DISK) is proud to announce the upcoming release of Christopher Plummer's critically heralded cinematic portrayal of Barrymore, available on Blu-rayTM, DVD,  and Digital Download on May 7th.  Hot on the heels of Plummer's Best Supporting Actor Oscar™ for Beginners last year, the octogenarian star of stage and screen delivers his most affecting performance yet. 

Barrymore was released theatrically by BY Experience and Image Entertainment in New York and Los Angeles in November of 2012.  The Los Angeles Times then enthused, "Christopher Plummer is a mischievous delight as the great John Barrymore, intent on a stage comeback."  Barrymore was also recently nominated for two PRISM Awards including Performance in a Feature Film.

The screen version of the William Luce play by the same name, Barrymore had its world premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.  It was adapted by writer-director Érik Canuel from the 1996 Broadway production for which Plummer won a Tony™ Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in 1997.  Plummer, 82, has long had a fascination with the title character, and it shows. 

The Village Voice exclaimed, "Christopher Plummer re-creates his Tony-winning performance as the charming louse in his booze-addled final days. Blessed with a script that is witty, insightful to the workings of the narcissistic Hollywood psyche, and often wonderfully bitchy, the film is also a wistful look at faded dreams and opportunities lost due to both the vagaries of the business and self-sabotage."

Of Plummer's performance, noted critic Rex Reed proclaimed, "It’s the role—and the performance-- of a lifetime, and he plays every color, nuance, mood shift and variety of vocal power and body language in his enormous range.  The artistry leaves you with your mouth wide open."  Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter exclaims, "Christopher Plummer could be back in Oscar contention this fall for his portrayal of legendary actor John Barrymore."  And the New York Times' Manohla Dargis succinctly sums it up with, "The performance is the thing."

Special features on the Blu-rayTM and DVD include a behind-the-scenes documentary, Backstage With Barrymore, featuring Helen Mirren, Julie Andrews and Zoe Caldwell.

Barrymore on Blu-rayTM
    * Release Date: May 7th, 2013
    * Catalog Number: ID8465YRBD
    * UPC: 014381846553
    * Rating: Not Rated
    * Run Time: 84
    * Color Format: Color
    * Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
    * Language: English

Barrymore on DVD
    * Release Date: May 7th, 2013
    * Catalog Number: ID8459YRDVD
    * UPC: 014381845921
    * Rating: Not Rated
    * Run Time: 84
    * Color Format: Color
    * Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
    * Language: English

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

SHADOW PEOPLE -- DVD review by porfle



Sometimes I don't really know how scary a movie is until after I've watched it, when I have to walk in and out of dark rooms at night by myself or go to the bathroom down at the dark end of the hallway.  And especially after I go to bed and lie there with my thoughts, the scariest of which always seem to pick that time to start swirling around in my mind.  (Which is why I refuse to ever watch THE EXORCIST again.)

Yes, I'm pretty susceptible to suggestion, which the 2012 horror film SHADOW PEOPLE, now on DVD from Anchor Bay, exploits for all it's worth.  First of all, it tells us that what we're seeing is a true story, complete with purported documentary footage and interviews with the actual participants, and that, yes, people have died terrifying deaths due to the film's subject. 

Then it tells us that we're all vulnerable to such a fate, the likelihood of which has just been increased simply by our having watched the movie!  Oh, well, thanks a lot.  Like I really needed that.

Anyway, I'm mentioning all this because the movie itself isn't all that consistently scary beyond a few scenes in which people have chilling bedtime experiences with sleep paralysis and fatal visitations from "shadow people", which are well-staged and quite unsettling.  The rest of it plays like a conspiracy thriller, with late-night talk radio host Charlie Crowe (Dallas Roberts, WALK THE LINE, 3:10 TO YUMA, THE RIVER WHY) getting a call from a troubled teen plagued by terrifying visions who later dies mysteriously in the hospital. 

Following up on the story, Charlie discovers that people are dying after his brief contact with them simply because they're now aware of the shadow people and are thus prone to being visited by them.  He uncovers suppressed information surrounding the strange research of a Dr. Ravenscroft, who induced unnatural sleep states in test subjects and inadvertently captured a shadow person on film during one of his controlled experiments. 

As Charlie delves deeper into this mystery, his own growing fear and crippling paranoia are vividly depicted by Roberts (who reminds me of John Ritter) and director Matthew Arnold, who keeps the swiftly-paced story consistently tense.  The "X-Files" level oddness and oppressive conspiracy-theory aura are augmented by frequent intercutting of the real Crowe and other witnesses in documentary footage, including a CDC (Center for Disease Control) agent named Sophie Lacombe who joined forces with Crowe in an attempt to discover a biological contagion responsible for the deaths.
 
Sophie is ably portrayed by the ever-lovely Alison Eastwood (TIGHTROPE, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL), daughter of Clint, with a shaky skepticism that gradually erodes as the evidence piles up.  When they discover the most convincing proof of all, Sophie tries to convince Charlie not to reveal it to the public due to the potential harm it could cause to the impressionable.  Facing termination from his radio job if his ratings don't rise, Charlie must make a decision: go public with the Ravenscroft film (which will then go viral on the Internet), or deny the whole thing and destroy his career. 

With all this other busy plot activity swirling around, SHADOW PEOPLE doesn't always have time to indulge in the kind of basic scary-type stuff we're expecting.  The few really spine-tingling scenes are effective enough to cast their lingering influence over the rest of the movie, though, while the mystery behind Ravenscroft's experiments and whether or not there really is a "shadowy" conspiracy to hide the truth keeps us guessing. 

Is there any validity to the claims that this is all based on fact?  Or that there's an actual disease called Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS)?  Or that the "documentary" footage we see during the film is genuine?  It all contributes to the creepiness of the movie, to be sure, but if you want to know more, you'll have to find out for yourself.  I have no idea and don't really care to follow up on it.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The bonus feature is a short documentary called "Shadow People: More to the Story." 

The scariest part of SHADOW PEOPLE is wondering how it will affect me later on, when I turn out the lights and get under the covers and my mind starts doing all those funny little things it seems to enjoy doing to creep me out.  That's when a movie that doesn't seem all that scary at the time can start doing things to your head.  The makers of this one are counting on that, too, considering that its tagline is "Now you will see them, too."  But if you're one of those non-impressionable, hard-to-scare people who laugh at such efforts to creep you out, you'll probably laugh this one off, too.
 

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY -- DVD review by porfle



What if the story of the Frankenstein Monster were true, with Mary Shelley's novel being a semi-fictionalized account of actual events?  And what if a modern-day descendant of Dr. "Venkenheim", the Monster's creator, set out to find the still-living creature in the frozen Arctic where it disappeared at the end of the original story? 

THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY (2013) adopts the old "found footage" approach made famous by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, among an ever-increasing number of similar films (ATROCIOUS, EVIL THINGS), to answer these questions.  Whether it does so to your satisfaction will depend on your own tolerance for this particular style of storytelling.  Those who sat through BLAIR WITCH wondering what the big deal was will probably find even less to sustain interest here; for others, however, this may turn out to be one of the more unsettling films they'll see this year.

Kris Lemche does an okay if not particularly realistic job as the perpetual bundle of nervous energy, Jonathan Venkenheim, who hires a rather reluctant film crew to accompany him on his trek into the Arctic wilderness.  Neither aspiring journalist Vicky (Heather Stephens) nor irreverent and often immature cameramen Brian, Eric, and Luke take Jonathan's "Monster" story seriously for a second, but she needs the career boost and they need the money.  So before long they find themselves way, way out of their element in the harsh wilds of the Yukon. 

Rough, tough wilderness guide Karl (Timothy V. Murphy, possibly the best actor of the bunch) leads their snowmobile convoy to a remote shack (known as a "yurt") where they seek shelter from the freezing cold while getting to know each other.  Karl, it turns out, is a bit like "Quint" from JAWS, an experienced but slightly nutty outdoorsman leading a group of amateurs into danger.  He even gets to do his version of Quint's "Indianapolis" story around the fire, only instead of sharks, it's about a hungry polar bear terrorizing the survivors of a plane crash. 

It's roughly around this point that I began to wonder if anything was actually going to happen during THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY.  Was there really a Frankenstein Monster lurking around out there in the icy shadows, or had the flaky Venkenheim simply led them all into yet another "predicament" thriller (a la BLACK WATER, THE REEF, and FROZEN)?  With the mysterious destruction of all but one of their snowmobiles during the night and the seemingly hopeless attempt of one of the crew to go for help, it could've gone either way.

Fortunately, this is also exactly where the film stops being boring and starts getting not only interesting but genuinely scary.  It begins with a terrifying growl in the middle of the night (which got my blood all nice and tingly) and intensifies when a search party runs across some bloody remains in the forest.  The "predicament" aspect of the story gives things an oppressive sense of despair as their situation grows more hopeless at every turn, while the feeling that they're being stalked by some unknown horror ratchets up the fear factor. 

Granted, this is one of those films where you have to use your imagination a bit.  First-time director and co-writer Andrew Weiner displays a knack for building up to an effective shock without being graphic about it--sometimes we even have to search the frame to find what we're supposed to see.  With a series of eerie revelations keeping us on edge, even the validity of Venkenheim's theory becomes irrelevant as a frantic struggle for survival becomes the only concern for our hapless characters.

Camerawork is of the usual cinema verite' style common to "found footage" movies, with good location photography putting us right into this very cold, very isolated setting.  Some viewers will consider the ending a disappointment--with no twists or turns or anything really clever happening, the story just comes to a rather matter-of-fact conclusion as the camera lingers on that last haunting image until the fade-out. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  No subtitles, but closed-captions are available.  No extras.

Of course, viewers pretty much have to meet any film of this type halfway for it to be effective at all.  THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY sets up an interesting premise to explore, and, after a long, seemingly uneventful build-up, delivers a fair amount of moody atmosphere and some blood-chilling scares.  But those expecting a meeting of the minds between a modern protagonist and the articulate, introspective creature of Mary Shelley's classic novel will find nothing of the kind in this entertaining but not all that remarkable monster movie.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

ZULU DAWN -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle



The Battle of Isandlwana is known as history's worst defeat of a "modern" army by native forces, and you'll see why when you watch Severin Films' Blu-Ray/DVD release of the rip-roaring ZULU DAWN (1979), a disheartening portrait of a pointless and utterly wasteful military massacre.

It's 1879, and the supremely arrogant Lord Chelmsford (Peter O'Toole), who commands the British Army in South Africa, is eager to declare war on the Zulu Empire for fun and profit.  He sends an unreasonable ultimatum to the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, which is rightly refused, giving Lord Chelmsford an excuse to go on the offensive.

"My only fear is that the Zulus will avoid an engagement," Chelmsford haughtily remarks, and a successful initial skirmish with a small band of Zulus reinforces his false confidence.  But unknown to him, King Cetshwayo has 30,000 fierce warriors ready to bring the fight to the advancing enemy, and when they clash with the unsuspecting British forces it quickly escalates into a terrifying one-sided slaughter.

Before this, however, ZULU DAWN takes its sweet time building up to the action as we watch the overconfident British forces at work and play in the town of Natal.  We see them as sophisticated gentleman soldiers dashing around self-importantly on horseback or engaging in spirited training exercises and bonding rituals as though living some curdled version of the "Boys' Adventure" tales.  Only Col. Anthony Durnford (Burt Lancaster) seems to have any understanding of the Zulus and how dangerous it is to underestimate them, but Chelmsford dismisses his warnings.

An elegant garden party gives officers and their families a taste of proper English life as realistic characters rub shoulders with familiar caricatures such as the achingly genteel Fanny Colenso (Anna Caulder-Marshall, WUTHERING HEIGHTS).  The party ends with the declaration of war and before long, horsemen and infantry are marching toward Zululand as their keen anticipation of battle grows.  "What a wonderful adventure we're undertaking!" one of them beams while riding briskly along on horseback.    

Meanwhile, we're given a preview of what they're up against when we see King Cetshwayo impassively viewing a fight to the death and reacting to Lord Chelmsford's ultimatum with a calm dismissal.  He's cruel and unyielding, ordering executions without trials and ruling with an iron fist, but we can't help but see his side of the issue and sympathize, as the film clearly aims to throw our loyalties for either side into conflict.  On one hand, the Zulus are protecting their homeland from outsiders and are portrayed as brave, loyal comrades.  On the other, honorable soldiers are being sent unprepared into a hopeless battle at the behest of unworthy superiors. 

When the two forces finally meet, it's like Custer's Last Stand multiplied by ten.  Current filmmakers like Peter Jackson can give us millions of CGI-generated soldiers in conflict, but there's still nothing quite as impressive as seeing thousands of actual people going at it on an expansive cinematic battlefield that's roiling with furious action. 

The clash of fighting styles is woefully evident as the smartly-dressed British line up in neat rows and fire in an orderly fashion while the Zulus stampede toward them by the thousands like a human avalanche.  Almost the entire second half of ZULU DAWN consists of such an overwhelming defeat of the British that there's barely even any suspense save the question of how long the massacre will last. 

Scattered vignettes depict small instances of valor that are somewhat redeeming, such as the attempt of Lt. William Vereker (Simon Ward) to rescue the battalion's colors and carry them to safety, and the heroism of C.S.M. Williams (Bob Hoskins) as he fights to the death in hand-to-hand combat alongside a callow young soldier with whom he has formed a fatherly bond.  We get to know some of the Zulus as well, as they're captured by the British and tortured before giving false information and, eventually, managing to escape as their erstwhile captors are then led into an ambush.

Peter O'Toole and Burt Lancaster are superb as they lead a remarkable cast including Denholm Elliott (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), Simon Ward, Bob Hoskins, John Mills, Freddie Jones, Ronald Lacey, Nigel Davenport, Phil Daniels, Michael Jayston, and Anna Calder-Marshall.  Composer Elmer Bernstein (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE) contributes a score that's passable but not up to his usual standards.

Director Douglas Hickox (THEATER OF BLOOD, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH) handles first unit photography in a consistently interesting and imaginative way, with the initial scenes evincing a drollness and dry wit that evolves into an epic grandeur that's often bracing.  The main drawback is that much of the film's first half is almost too dry and conservatively paced, although this is more than made up for by the continuous action that follows the halfway mark.
 
The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Severin Films is in widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and full HD resolution.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of "The History of the Zulu Wars" and "A Visit to the Battlefield" with author Ian Knight ("Zulu Rising"), "Recreating the War" with historical advisor Midge Carter, a theatrical trailer, and outtakes. 

Fans of British colonialism will probably want to skip ZULU DAWN lest they find it an ultimately dispiriting experience.  Anyone who gets off on seeing a "primitive" indigenous population repelling a superior invading force, on the other hand, should have a ball.  But those interested in military history and warfare, and war-movie fans in general, will be best served by this vivid and sweeping depiction of one of the most unsual battles ever fought.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

DEAD OF WINTER -- movie review by porfle



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

After having LSD secretly slipped into their drinks at a New Year's Eve party, Kevin (Al Santos, JEEPERS CREEPERS II) and his girlfriend Tiffany (Sandra McCoy, CRY WOLF) spend a terrifying night lost in the icy-cold woods, fleeing from a killer who may or may not be a figment of their drug-addled imaginations in 2007's DEAD OF WINTER (aka LOST SIGNAL). 

Prolific television actor Brian McNamara makes his directing debut while also playing the small-town police chief trying to locate the missing pair.  He does a pretty good job in both capacities, managing to squeeze a fair amount of suspense out of a script that consists mainly of Kevin and Tiffany running through the woods screaming and hallucinating a lot.  He also handles some of the character scenes nicely, especially the comeraderie between the easygoing chief (McNamara) and his staff, sassy 911 operator Nancy (Ella Joyce, BUBBA HO-TEP) and cute deputy Dani (Lindsay Thompson), with whom he's sweetly smitten.

The question of whether or not there's really someone after Kevin and Tiffany remains intriguing throughout most of the story, with the main characters' severely altered mental states causing them to experience some pretty weird things.  When they happen upon a group of workmen standing in the middle of a dark field and are unable to communicate with the silent, unmoving figures, it's "Twilight Zone" territory. 
When a snowcat suddenly comes to life and tries to mow them down, we get a vibe similar to DUEL or KILLDOZER.  And when Kevin finally goes off the deep end and suspects Tiffany of being the one trying to kill him, there's a reprise of the final sequence from THE SHINING in which Kevin even quotes Nicholson's Jack Torrence:  "I'm not gonna hurt ya, Tiffany...I'm just gonna bash your f**kin' brains in!" 

The icy, moonlit forest scenes have an eerie look to them and the production values are generally good.  I found myself wishing Ryan Demaree's musical score had eased off the "eleven" button a bit more often, though.  The cast, especially McNamara, Joyce, and Thompson, do the best they can with their roles, and while the two leads aren't all that impressive, they manage to convey prolonged terror and disorientation pretty well. 

Ultimately, DEAD OF WINTER is nothing special, but it's just well-done enough to make it fairly entertaining.  The closing scenes have a surprising emotional depth, and there's a final revelation before the credits which, while hardly mind-boggling, still wraps things up with a mildly satisfying twist.  I didn't regret sitting through it, but it's strictly a take-it-or-leave-it sort of flick.


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Friday, March 8, 2013

MAID OF HONOR -- movie review by porfle



(This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner.com in 2006.)

MAID OF HONOR (2006) is one of those rare Lifetime Channel movies I don't mind watching.  It was executive-produced by Pierre David (SCANNERS) and Tom Berry, who also gave us A KILLER UPSTAIRS and A LOVER'S REVENGE, and they're old hands at giving us this type of domestic thriller.  Some of them are misfires, but others are entertaining time-fillers that are well-made and provide a reasonable amount of suspense.  MAID OF HONOR falls into the latter category.

No time is wasted in setting up the story--in fact, before the opening credits are even over, we know that Richard Wynn (Linden Ashby of WYATT EARP and A KILLER UPSTAIRS) has lost his wife, Carrie, in a car accident and is raising his two kids, Molly and Danny, with the help of his sister-in-law, Laci (Linda Purl), who has sold her house and moved in with them.  We also know that Laci is fiercely jealous of the family and considers anyone who tries to get romantic with Richard, whom she secretly loves, as an enemy. 

Needless to say, Richard's lovely new bride-to-be, Nicole (Shannon Sturges, S.W.A.T.), has got to go.  "She can't have you," we hear Laci creepily say to herself right before the "produced by."  And just a few minutes later, there's a flashback which shows her abusing her elderly mother (Moira Wylie) who was in her care, and refusing to call an ambulance as the old woman crawls on the floor, dying.  "I'm sorry, Mother," she says coldly.  "I'm taking my life back."  What she really wants to do, however, is take her sister Carrie's life, husband and kids included.

So, with everything set up in the opening minutes and all the predictable consequences dancing through the viewer's minds, all that's left is for the filmmakers to carry the ball down the field and over the goal line without dropping it.  Which is pretty much what they do. 
Linda Purl, a longtime TV and movie veteran who cut her dramatic teeth on the old soap opera "The Secret Storm" back in the 70s and has been plying her trade constantly ever since, is an old hand at this sort of stuff and plays her character like a violin.  She can hold a closeup with the best of them, which is good because director Douglas Jackson likes to keep the camera right in his actors' faces.  The rest of the cast is capable as well, playing Ken Sanders' screenplay with just the right mix of realism and melodrama.

Just as you'd suspect, Laci begins a sneakily sinister campaign of character assassination against Nicole right off the bat, telling Danny that Dad loves her more than his family and that she will come between them.  But that's not enough--she also digs into Nicole's past and discovers that she's been married before, and that her ex-husband is serving time in the pen for distributing narcotics.  This revelation threatens to destroy the trust between Nicole and Richard, but a heartfelt explanation and a tearful reconciliation soon set their wedding plans back on track. 

So Laci must then resort to more drastic measures--which will include taking advantage of Nicole's allergy to nuts  (okay, that sounds dumb, but people can die from that) and even whacking the best man with a rock when he threatens to take his suspicions about her to the future groom.  Which then makes us uneasy about the safety of Richard's daughter Molly, who is also growing suspicious of her increasingly creepy Aunt Laci.

What at first appears to be the final showdown between Laci and Nicole, which seems even more predictable and disappointing than I originally feared, turns out to be merely a setup for the final act.  Thinking Laci to be dead, Richard and Nicole leave the kids at home after the wedding and honeymoon in a remote mountain cabin.  But just as they're about to romantically consummate their nuptials, the phone rings.  Richard answers, and we hear Laci's voice say, "Hi, Richard.  Do you know where your children are?"  Uh-oh!

Even though you can pretty much guess most of what's going to happen in this movie, it's how the filmmakers go about doing it that makes the difference.  In this case, they do a pretty good job, and MAID OF HONOR is definitely worth a look if you don't have anything better to do at the time.  Plus, it's not every day you get to see a thriller that features attempted murder by nuts.


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LAY THE FAVORITE -- Blu-Ray review by porfle



If you like Bruce Willis but are tired of seeing him play a cool action hero,  the slight semi-comedy LAY THE FAVORITE (2012) is your big chance to see him as a professional Vegas sports gambler named Dink Heimowitz.  Yes, Dink Heimowitz.

This bland exercise in tiresome whimsy is also a chance to zone out for awhile, watch a few big name stars flail around in search of a script, and ogle some hot babes.  Chief among the latter is the bubbly Beth (a truly hot Rebecca Hall), who quits her job as a "private dancer" in smalltown Florida to go to Vegas and be a cocktail waitress.  She ends up in the employ of the aforementioned Dink, which turns out to be a dream job with a fun boss and coworkers, great pay and benefits, and four-hour lunch breaks.

Unfortunately, Dink has a jealous wife named Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who forces Dink to fire Beth--despite her being something of a gambling prodigy--or else.  As Dink's luck goes straight down the tubes without her, a heartbroken Beth flees to New York and ends up working for Dink's friend Rosie (Vince Vaughn), whose irresponsible approach to sports gambling puts her and her new nice-guy boyfriend Jeremy (Joshua Jackson) in danger of ending up in a federal prison.  So Dink, Beth, and Tulip must settle their differences and join forces to solve each other's problems before they all end up on the skids.

As laborious as it is to describe, LAY THE FAVORITE is even more of a chore to watch save for the occasional moments when it's actually as amusing as it struggles to be.  Rebecca Hall tackles the role of Beth Raymer (upon whose autobiography the film is based) with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader trying her best to push the rest of the team down the field, although her chief contribution is the fact that she's stunning to look at.  It's to her credit that she handles some of the goofy things the script requires her to do and say without coming off as a total ditz, yet her character is so hyper that watching her in action is akin to having pigeons loose in your house.

As for Bruce, he's low-key and mildly amusing as Dink, the sort of character he's able to put over without having to exert himself too much.  The same can be said for Catherine Zeta-Jones as Tulip--nothing she's required to do could be considered a stretch by any means.  Besides Rebecca Hall, the one who works the hardest here is Vince Vaughn, who expends so much effort vainly trying to create a comic character out of what he's been given that he's exhausting to watch. 

Fans of "That 70s Show" may be interested in seeing a blond Laura Prepon as Beth's stripper friend Holly, who appears topless in an early scene while struggling with a Southern accent.  FARGO's "Norm Gunderson", John Carroll Lynch, plays an unlucky gambler whose refusal to pay the seventy grand he owes Beth sets up the big crisis that must be resolved before the film can finally call it a day.  An almost unrecognizable Corbin Bernsen appears briefly as Beth's dad, Jerry.

Director Stephen Frears (DANGEROUS LIASONS, THE GRIFTERS) does a workmanlike job although the film is about as unremarkable as something of this type can be.  D.V. DeVincentis' screenplay adaptation of Beth Raymer's memoir barely manages to maintain our interest before generating a modicum of suspense in the final minutes.  With a lame "where are they now?" wrap-up, the story simply runs out of steam and comes to a merciful fade-out none too soon.

The Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is a selection of deleted scenes. 

LAY THE FAVORITE is the kind of movie you start out hoping will be a pleasant surprise, and then eventually wish would simply hurry up and end.  You'd really have to be a hardcore fan of one of the stars for me to recommend it.  Otherwise, it's almost sure to disappoint.


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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

LEFT FOR DEAD -- movie review by porfle



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

The prolific Albert Pyun's career as a low-budget indie filmmaker has had its high and low points, sometimes within the same movie.  A good example of this is his latest effort, LEFT FOR DEAD (2007), a Western-horror combo which has all the elements of a really good movie but jumbles them into a puzzling, frustrating mess.

During the exposition-packed opening credits we learn that after a priest named Mobius breaks off an affair with town prostitute Mary Black (Janet Barr), she rounds up the other hookers and they wipe out every man, woman, and child in the small Mexican mining town of Amnesty (remember, these were the days before Prozac).  As they're flaying and disemboweling the bound Mobius, he makes a deal with the devil in which he gets to return as a ghostly gunfighter and haunt the now-empty Amnesty until the opportunity for revenge against Mary and her psycho-sluts presents itself.  He can't leave the town's limits, though, and he can't enter the church. 


Flash forward fifteen years, where we find gunslingin' babe Clementine Templeton (Victoria Maurette) on the prowl for her runaway husband Sentenza (Javier De la Vega).  She crosses paths with Mary and her cultish female followers, and discovers that they're looking for him, too, since apparently he's knocked up Mary's daughter (she claims rape) and pulled another disappearing act.  His trail, as it turns out, leads them all straight to Amnesty, where Mobius finally gets a chance to begin his bloody rampage of revenge as soon as they all cross the town border.  Blood, guts, bullets, and dramatic twists 'n' turns ensue.

The first thing I noticed about LEFT FOR DEAD is that it looks terrific.  Albert Pyun's directing skills have gotten better and better over the years, and he seems to have a first-class cinematographer in Alejandro Millán.  He also has a fine cast--Victoria Maurette makes a great gunfighter babe, with piercing eyes and a hard, darkly pretty face that Pyun explores in depth.  She looks cool in her tattered dress, ankle-length duster, and cowboy hat, and her attitude and accent are so convincing that I kept imagining how much better THE QUICK AND THE DEAD might be with her in place of Sharon Stone. 

As the vengeful, black-eyed Mobius, Andres Bagg reminded me of Johnny Depp in ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, giving the character a mocking, almost playful quality without the cliched villainy one might expect.  The rest of the actors are uniformly good, right down to the bit players, and the story itself is interesting.  Gorehounds will be pleased, especially when we're finally shown the horrifying extent of Crazy Mary's torture of the priest and his pregnant wife fifteen years earlier. 


So what's wrong with this movie?  It becomes clear pretty quick, when we notice that this film has been overly-edited and played around with all to hell.  Pyun uses dramatic freeze-frames like Michael Jackson uses crotch-grabbing--just way too much for comfort.  It looks cool at first when Clementine is bashing some attackers' skulls with a rifle butt and Pyun freezes on her intense face a couple of times, but when he just keeps doing it for the rest of the movie, sometimes giving us sequences in which every single shot ends with a freeze-frame and a fade to black, it just gets to be way too much.  Heaping helpings of slow-motion, long lap-dissolves, rapid-fire imagery, and other cinematic frou-frou thrown into the cuisinart also conspire to yank me right out of the movie whenever I start to get into it.

Rarely have I seen such post-production overindulgence so thoroughly sabotage what could've been a really cool flick.  I couldn't help thinking what LEFT FOR DEAD might look like if all the great footage that Pyun shot were handed over to someone like Robert Rodriguez to fool around with for awhile.  But he'd have to redo the soundtrack, too, since listening to it is like trying to watch TV in the middle of a construction site between two giant speakers playing Metallica at eleven.  Ear-piercing blasts of rock music alternate with screeching sound effects throughout, with even simple things like a pan from one actor to another accompanied by deafening noise.  After a few minutes of this ceaseless racket, I felt like a frantic old geezer grabbing for his nerve pills. 

Cheap-looking CGI mars several shots, especially when the advancing Mobius is getting shot full of holes like a T-1000.  On the whole, however, LEFT FOR DEAD is a visual feast--but like any other feast, too much seasoning ruins the flavor.  There's a cool movie in there somewhere, and I'd really like to have seen it, but a dizzying lack of restraint in the editing room proves deadlier than Mobius' haunted six-shooter.


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Monday, March 4, 2013

MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 5 -- DVD review by porfle



Still on the cutting edge of scientific evolution, Detective William Murdoch continues to fight crime in turn-of-the-century Toronto (that's the previous century, not this one) using the latest weapons in Acorn Media's 4-disc, 13-episode DVD set MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 5

The series is just as much fun as ever, with Yannick Bisson playing the title role to perfection every moment he's on the screen.  A strict Catholic who solemnly crosses himself at every murder scene, the brilliant young Murdoch is straight-laced and earnest almost to a fault, and always the very picture of studious propriety.  For someone who sees the underbelly of human behavior on a daily basis, he somehow retains a most endearing innocence, a childlike inquisitiveness and a gentle, kindly nature combined with a dogged sense of justice and, when need be, a rigid and uncompromising edge. 

But what really sets Murdoch apart is his fascination with the new technology at his disposal during the "Age of Invention" as the 19th century comes to a close.  To the delight of his hamfisted but endlessly supportive boss, Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), Murdoch employs the latest crimefighting techniques such as "fingermarks", a "truth detector", a primitive identi-kit, and various other devices, several of which he has invented himself. 

In this way, "Murdoch Mysteries" boasts much of the same steampunk appeal of "The Wild, Wild West"--albeit on a much more believable level--along with all the rich atmosphere of a period detective story along the lines of Sherlock Holmes but with its own unique appeal.  New advances in forensics also add an exciting element to the stories, as the wise Dr. Julia Ogden (Helene Joy, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women on television) and her eager young protege Dr. Emily Grace (the radiant Georgina Reilly) supply vital post-mortem data for Murdoch to evaluate.

Production values are impeccable, with lots of nicely-rendered CGI shots of 1899-era Toronto mixed with lovingly detailed sets and costumes.  The stories deftly shift from subtle whimsy to intense, straight-faced drama while exploring the most outlandish concepts in a way that rarely strains credulity. 

Much of the show's comedy is provided by Officer George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), a promising but sometimes bumbling student of Murdoch's techniques.  Season five continues the dramatic complications between Murdoch and Dr. Ogden, who retain an unrequited love for one another despite her marriage to another man, and explores her growing concern for the rights of women in an oppressive society.

The current set opens with a follow-up to last season's cliffhanger, which finds Murdoch panning for gold in the Yukon after resigning from the police force due to unfortunate circumstances.  "Murdoch of the Klondike" is a fine example of the series' frequent deviations from the norm as our hero discovers that, when a woman is charged with a murder she claims not to have committed, he can't run away from who or what he is quite so easily. 

"Back and To the Left" draws intriguing parallels to the Kennedy assasination as an attempt on the mayor's life is captured on the brand new medium of motion picture film.  "Evil Eye of Egypt" is the usual stuff about a mummy's curse during a museum exhibition, with Constable Crabtree's unexpectedly popular novel on the subject turning him into a local celebrity.  A marketplace bombing gives "War on Terror" its own similarities to current political events, with "The Red Green Show" alumnus Peter Keleghan returning as special agent Terrance Meyers.

"Murdoch at the Opera" guest stars Canadian opera diva Measha Brueggergosman in a twisted murder mystery directed by Yannick Bisson, which gives Thomas Craig a chance to shine as we discover Inspector Brackenreid's hidden obsession with opera.  Murdoch meets fellow inventor Henry Ford in "Who Killed the Electric Carriage?", which pits Ford's combustion engine against a primitive electric car whose inventor is suspected of murder.  A two-part episode, "Stroll on the Wild Side", reunites Murdoch with a lady friend from a previous episode who is being hunted by shadowy organized crime figures.

The essence of the show is wonderfully captured in "Invention Convention", in which a gathering of inventors--one of whom is mysteriously shot by an invisible assassin--finds a dazzled Murdoch in his element.  "Staircase to Heaven" features a murder amongst a group of "flatliners" seeking to experience the world beyond by dying and being revived, with one of them being a close colleague of Murdoch. 

This is followed by one of the series' finest episodes, "Murdoch in Toyland", a deliriously bizarre mystery that pits our hero against his own equivalent of Professor Moriarty as Dr. Ogden's life depends on Murdoch's ability to solve the most baffling puzzle (with the help of Alexander Graham Bell) in time to rescue her from a horrible fate.  This episode, reminiscent of the BBC "Sherlock" episode "The Great Game", could easily be expanded into a feature film.

"Murdoch Night in Canada" is about the suspicious death of a hockey player on the eve of the big play-off game, in a story that touches upon the early controversy of whether or not athletes should be paid (up to ten dollars!) simply to "play a game."  Wrapping up the season in fine style is "Twentieth Century Murdoch", which features the most outlandish invention of all--a time machine--in such a way that even Murdoch is convinced of its veracity.  For once, the season ends not with a cliffhanger, but with the satisfying resolution of a long-dangling plot thread.

The 4-disc DVD set (also available as a 3-disc Blu-Ray) from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby stereo and English subtitles.  Extras consist of a photo gallery and six entertaining featurettes including a season overview, behind-the-scenes peeks at episodes 1, 5, and 6, costume design, and sound bites from the cast. 

With MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 5, this delightful and at times enchanting series continues to take us along on some of the most inventive, thoughtful, and downright fun period detective adventures television has to offer.  I can't wait to see what's in store for Murdoch at the dawn of a brand new century. 

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