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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wartime Britain

While the DVD world is filled with action/adventure movies about World War II, there are far too few good movies about the lives of the people on the homefront: This excellent set features three of the best. Island at War is an epic, yet intimate, look at the Britons living on the tiny Channel Island during the German occupation, while The Heat of the Day shows the seedier side of patriotism as a sinister government agent tries to blackmail a woman into bed. The third film, Housewife, 49, tells the story of a timid housewife who discovers her inner strength and independence through the volunteer work she does to help the war effort. The acting in all three is top-notch, particularly Victoria Wood’s performance in Housewife, 49, and Michael Gambon’s as the sinister seducer in The Heat of the Day. The entire cast of Island at War is phenomenal, particularly Philip Glenister as the sinister Baron Von Rheingarten.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

GBH

It takes a while to get involved in this complicated tale of British politics, but the effort is worth it. Robert Lindsay is absolutely fascinating to watch as the egomaniacal Labour party leader as he tries to mold the country to his vision of what it should be, but it’s Michael Palin’s dramatic turn as the emotionally troubled school administrator who stands up to him that steals the film. (Palin’s commentary on Episode 1 is well worth your time, too.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

The September Issue

The film is a behind-the-scenes look at Vogue, without a doubt the bible of fashion that tells the world what is in and what is out. And if Vogue is the bible of fashion then the Messiah is editor in chief Anna Wintour. While she may have the legendary reputation of being a grueling dictator, this documentary does great job of detailing the demanding, strenuous job she has being the final judge of practically every item of clothing that we see when we step into a mall or department store.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

200 Motels

If touring is anywhere near as strange as it is depicted in this cult classic, then we’re lucky there are still bands left for us to hear. Directed by Tony Palmer, the film stars Frank Zappa and his band, The Mothers of Invention, singing about everything from tuna fish sandwiches to nun suits painted on a box as they cavort around a soundstage acting out their weird and wonderful stories of life on the road. Fans of the musician and his unique blend of silly lyrics and truly complicated compositions will love seeing Zappa and his musicians perform (on and off stage). The rest of the world may have trouble getting into this unique – and oh so 70s – vision. But it’s worth it, in a weirdly satisfying way.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Public Enemies

The story of notorious depression-era bank robber John Dillinger, a charismatic outlaw who was hated by the cops but loved by the people, is the kind of edgy mainstream role Johnny Depp seems custom made for, and he makes the most of it in this explosive Michael Mann movie. Marion Cotillard, who plays Dillinger’s main squeeze Billie Frenchette, gives the movie just the right touch of soul. The high def video resolution, which looked like crap when projected in theaters, works much better on DVD.

Chris Angel Mind Freak Collectors Edition

The tricks – sorry, illusions – that magician Chris Angel does on his show, Mindfreak, are amazing. The way he brings them out of the showroom and to the people on the street is cool, too, although their astonishment at watching him float on air or do a fancy card tricks feels phonier and phonier the more you watch the show. The big problem with watching Mindfreak, however, is the freakish man behind it all. You admittedly need a big ego to do what Angel does, but the man’s endless talking about himself and how great he is gets a little old after a while. Having family and other sycophants on hand to agree with him all the time doesn’t help.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Case Closed Phantom of Baker Street

Fans of this popular anime series, about a young detective solving complicated cases like his hero Sherlock Holmes have been waiting for a long time to see Jimmy Kudo actually work with the legendary Baker Street detective on a suitable mystery. Well, the wait has been worth it. A time-traveling virtual reality game gets the two of them together and the pair is soon pursuing none other than Jack the Ripper through the foggy streets of Victorian England. And even if you aren’t a fan of the series (yet) the mystery and adventure still work.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Naruto Shippuden Box set

Three years after leaving the Hidden Leaf Village for a training journey with Jiraiya, Naruto Uzamaki comes back to face the greatest challenge of his life. While this new series in the ongoing Naruto adventures retains some of the madcap zaniness of the original episodes, the tone is, like its leading man, more mature. And that’s a good thing, adding a layer of nuance to the adventures that makes them much more interesting. The fights scenes, fans will be happy to know, still kick ass.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Concert by the Lake

Don’t let the over- privileged black tie and gown crowd in the audience fool you. This conert, filmed at the historic Wintershall Estate in Surrey, England, is anything but stuffy. While rock veterans like Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Gary Brooker (from Procol Harum) seem to coast through a few of their numbers, the spark from young singer Katie Melua ignites them to try a bit harder to win the crowd over. By the time you get to the obligatory everybody on stage encore (I Can’t Dance) you’ll be holding your lighter high for another encore.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The House of the Devil

With the recent rash of horror movie remakes, where about the only difference between the remake and the original film is a penchant for turning the gore up to 11 whether it’s called for or not, it’s great to watch a director like Ty West turn the tables a bit to create something both new and very familiar with this story of a baby sitter menaced by Satan worshippers. The House of the Devil is definitely set in the 70s – the Farrah Fawcett haircuts and portable cassette players are proof enough – but the sensibility of what makes a movie scary is exhilaratingly fresh.

Black Dynamite

Not quite a spoof and not quite an homage, Black Dynamite is a strange hybrid of the best and the worst of Blaxploitation films. Directed by Scott Sanders, the movie looks and feels like it could have been released alongside such genre classics like Shaft and Coffy, if the Wayans brothers had been making movies 30 years ago. Michael Jai White is hilarious as the lead character, and the rest of the cast seems to know enough about the style of movie they are paying tribute to to play it with a wink and a smile. That’s the good news. The band news is that Black Dynamite has all the weaknesses of the original Blaxploitation films, including taking itself a little too seriously at times. Still, fans of the original films will find plenty to like in this cinematic time traveling experience.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Soul Eater Part 1

With its trippy eye-popping art and cast of increasingly strange characters, it may take a while to do anything but stare at the screen with your mouth hanging open as you watch this hugely entertaining series. Once you get over the initial wow factor, though, you’ll discover that the epic story of the students from the Shinigami technical school for weapon meisters battling to defend Death City from creatures more evil than their principal, the Grim Reaper Death himself, truly lives up to the visual pyrotechnics. 4 stars

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dante's Inferno

While a case could certainly be made for the great Italian Poet Dante Alighieri spinning in his grave for what director Jonathan Knight did to his story of a lovesick warrior literally going through hell for the woman he loves, it’s just as easy to imagine him being psyched by it, too. While it may not have the same poetry as Dante’s epic, Knight makes up for it with some truly beautiful scenery, strong characters and lost and lots of violent action – just like in the poem. Fans of the popular video game interpretation of The Inferno that the film is based on will agree. This anime Inferno is a feast for the eyes and, thanks to some top-notch voice talent (including Mark Hamill and Victoria Tennant), it’s eventually good for the soul, too.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Wanda Sykes Ima Be Me

A little more than a year after causing controversy when she accused Rush Limbaugh of treason and compared him to Usama bin Laden at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, comedian Wanda Sykes returned to Washington DC to prove to anyone who will listen that she has a lot more to say. And say it she does in this gut-busting stand up special. Whether she’s thanking Obama for being elected because it means she no longer cares about White people staring at her when she buys a whole watermelon at the grocers or talking about her mid-life body and the stomach bulge from hell, Sykes gleefully gives the audience –and the world – lots to think about as they laugh their asses off. And she does it without the anger most comic mistake for insight these days.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Life and Times of Tim

Tim is an idiot. Or he may be the perfect guy. It all depends on your sense of humor when watching this hilarious HBO series created by and starring Steve Dildarian as Tim, a corporate peon who has more adventures – and misadventures – than almost any other badly animated character you can think of. Tim’s stories aren’t for children; two minutes into the first episode, Angry Unpaid Hooker, will prove that. But fans of adult humor, animated or otherwise, will quickly become addicted.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Callan Set 2

In the first set of this BBC drama, we watched British secret agent David Callan try to overcome his fears (based on being shot and nearly killed while on an assignments) to try and see if he still had what it takes to be the top man in his organization. By the end of the season, you felt he had. So imagine the shock you get when Season 2 opens with Callan’s funeral. He actually turns up only half dead after spending weeks in a Moscow prison, but Callan’s path on being rescued soon winds through the agency in ways you can hardly imagine. Each episode is an absolute nail-biter.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Song of the Sparrow

Set in any country in the world, this heartfelt story of a father working hard to provide for his family would work. Being set in Tehran makes it a compelling must see for anybody whose knowledge of Iran and its people begins and ends with today’s nightly news. Mohammad Amir Naji is terrific as the father, Karim, the recently fired worker of an ostrich farm who finds a new life – and new temptations – driving a motorbike taxi in the big city. The relationship he builds with his son will break your heart…in a good way.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Endgame

While there have been many movies made about apartheid in South Africa, few have been able to capture the intensity of the ideologies behind both sides of the issue as this compelling drama, directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point). People without a degree in South Africa studies may find it a little tough to get into because of the film’s assumption that you already know a lot of South African history, but the impeccable cast quickly gains our confidence enough for us to follow them as they remind us all that wars are not always begun and ended on the battlefield, but in the boardroom.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Omnibus: King Lear

When Orson Welles wanted to test the waters of live TV he jumped into the deep end with this fascinating recreation of the Shakespearean classic. Trimmed down to a running time of under 80-minutes (host Alistair Cooke explains that all the unnecessary subplots have been cut out), Welles gives a compact, compelling performance that conquers the technical difficulties of 1953 TV (he never seems to know where the cameras are) to tear at our hearts. The supporting cast is equally impressive, particularly Margaret Phillips and Beatrice Straight as his thankless daughters, Goneril and Regan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

One Step Beyond

“What you are about to see is a matter of human record….” Premiering 10 months before The Twilight Zone, this classic television series presents mysteries that host John Newland claims are absolutely true. Whether they are or not doesn't really matters as you watch since the stories – and the acting – are all compelling enough to be taken on faith. There’s a few clunkers in this four-disc set, but even at their most outrageous, the stories being told are more interesting than most of the ‘mysteries’ on TV today.

Triangle

Its hard to imagine any three American film directors collaborating on a movie without making a total mess of it, but Hong Kong mavericks Ringo Lam (Point of No Return), Johnnie To (The Heroic Trio) and Hark Tsui (Once Upon a Time in China) don’t have any trouble dividing up the duty in this artfully done mystery about an ancient golden armor and the lengths people will go to get it. The action is top notch, but it’s the quirky characters that steal the show.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Double Feature

Timed to coincide with the release of the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law film, this repackaging of two classic Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films – The Spider Woman and The Voice of terror – is a mixed bag. The Spider Woman, where Holmes investigates a series of ‘pajama suicides’ is by far the more entertaining, and features a great performance by Gale Snodgrass as the villain. The Voice of Terror, where Holmes battles Nazi spies, is less successful, primarily due to its dated patriotic themes. 3 stars

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Zombieland

Let’s face it, when you go see a comedy called Zombieland, you want two things for the price of admission: Buckets of blood and bellyfuls of laughs. You definitely get your money’s worth of both in this twisted tale of life on earth as it is lived by the few people who haven’t been turned into flesh eating monsters. Like all great road comedies, the joy of Zombieland is in the journey, and the adventures these mismatched survivors have along the way are both hysterical and horrible.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Planet Hulk

Finally. After years of bad big budget movies and even worse animated series (not to mention an unintentionally campy TV show) Marvel Comics ultimate bad boy finally gets a movie worth his big green talent. Directed by Sam Lui (Superman/Batman: Public Enemies), and based on the best selling comic book series written by Greg Pak, Planet Hulk begins as the Green goliath wakes up on board a space ship to hear a message from his fellow Avengers that they’re fed up with his violent mood swings and decided to pack him up and send him to another planet where he can’t do any harm. Being tricked by his ‘friends’ only makes Hulk angry and we all know what happens when Hulk gets angry: He destroys the ship before it can get to its preplanned destination. He lands on a desert plant where he’s forces to fight as a gladiator, each victory convincing the locals that The Hulk is their savior sent to set them free.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Super Robot Red Baron

If you love cheesy monster movies, the kind where you can tell the monster is a guy in a rubber suit and the city he is wrecking is a scale model, then you will have a blast watching this entertaining Japanese television series from the 1970s. The story, about how members of the Super Science Institute use their newly created Super Robot Red Baron to battle the Iron Mask Party and their evil leader, President Deviler, is absolute nonsense. But so what? Sit back and watch the rubber suited guys wreck the models.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Monty Python Almost the Truth

This exhaustive documentary tells you just about everything you ever wanted to know about the six men whose comic talents created the iconic Monty Python television show and films. It has lots of celebrity interviews from people reminding us of how funny they were, and also includes a disc of arguably some of the best skits the group ever came up with. Nothing beats just listening to one of the guys talk about what he thought about any moment in the groups history, though, particularly when its followed by another Python member remembering it in a totally different way.

Patton 360

Most of what people remember about General George S Patton comes from them having seen George C. Scott’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1970 epic movie directed by Franklin Schaffner. Good as that movie is, it pales in comparison to this intelligent and thought-provoking study of the man and his work as a general during World War II. Using a combination of historical footage and state-of-the-art recreation graphics, Patton 360 lives up to its title and gives viewers a complete picture of the man, the myth, the legend and the reality of “Old Blood and Guts.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

Evangelion: 1.01 You Are (Not) Alone

This legendary anime series gets a well-deserved re-boot with this new DVD. Like a lot of anime, it’s the story of a young boy with a talent for piloting a giant robot war machine. Unlike the other characters in the anime world, young Shinji Ikari doesn’t want to be a hero. In fact, he’s terrified at the mere thought of getting into the cockpit of his robot, but he does it for the love of its creator, his father. The story holds up well, and the film looks fantastic.