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Monday, May 31, 2010

All My Friends are Funeral Singers

This weird and wonderful film tells the story of what happens when a young medium starts losing favor with the spirits who help her predict the future or contact the past for her clientele. Angela Bettis (Drones) is mesmerizing as Zel, the spiritualist who doesn’t just contact spirits from the other side, but shares a house – and her life -- with them. The actors playing the spirits are good, too, but it’s the spooky soundtrack from underground music phenoms Califone that gives the film its undeniable atmosphere.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

SciQ: The Complete Box Set

Although it’s obviously aimed at kids, adults can have just as much fun watching this entertaining series that takes a silly, yet scientific look at how things work. The wide range of topics covered makes for an uneven series, but the good thing is that the wide range of topics covered means there is something here for everyone, whether they are interested in movie special effects or a glimpse into the untold story of poop.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Virginian

There was a time, and it really wasn’t that long ago, when westerns were as popular with TV audiences as police procedurals are today, and this classic series that ran from 1962 to 1971 is one of the primary reasons. Each episode plays out like a mini movie as The Virginian (James Drury) tries to manage life on The Shiloh Ranch out in the Wyoming Territory of the 1890s. It’s not always easy, given the cast of notable character actors who visit the show each week to make The Virginian’s like more complicated, but the stories never get too routine and the solutions he comes up with are usually inventive and entertaining. The regular cast is excellent, particularly Lee J. Cobb as Judge Garth, owner of the ranch, and Doug McClure as the jovial ranch hand.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tupac: Live at the House of Blues

Fans already know all about the magic that rapper Tupac Shakur brought to the stage, so for them getting this deluxe concert film is a no brainer. It’s the uninitiated who need to watch this entertaining disc to discover for themselves just how charismatic the man was. Armed with only a microphone, Shakur paces the stage like a caged panther, passionately rapping stories over the bass-heavy beats of the DJ. The fact that the show is a double bill with Snoop Dog is a bonus, particularly when you compare the two different styles the men bring to their art.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jermal

When his mother dies, Jaya, a bookish young boy, is sent to live with the father he never knew on an isolated fishing platform (called a Jermal) in the middle of the ocean. What starts out as an Indonesian Lord of the Flies, with the more experience boys turning on Jaya with increasing violence, slowly turns into a heartfelt story about love and family. The film features great performances by young Iqbal S. Manurung as Jaya and the imposing Didi Petet as his dad.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Disappeared

Although it’s being marketed as a horror movie, this is more an intense psychological thriller than your normal ghost story. The film stars Harry Treadaway (Control) as Matthew, a troubled teen haunted by the fact that his little brother was kidnapped from the local playground when he was off getting drunk instead of watching over him. Recently released from a mental institution, Matthew is having trouble adjusting to normal life, mainly because the ghost of his brother keeps coming after him. Or is it all in Matthew’s mind?

Monday, May 24, 2010

California Dreamin'

If it had been made by an American director, say Robert Altman (M*A*S*H) or Norman Jewison (The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming), this story of a NATO peacekeeping force getting stuck in the red tape of Romanian small town politics would have been a comedic satire of the American military complex. Because the film has been made by Romanian director Christian Nemescu, however, the film is a far more nuanced – and honest -- look at the way the world sees America, both as the last real land of opportunity and as the biggest bully of the block. Nemescu does an excellent job of weaving the different narratives of the film into a single story, letting the audience see how the dreams of a young girl looking to escape her dead-end village life are tied into the passionate need for revenge her father feels for the Americans who never came to rescue him as a child during World War II.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tokyo Sonata

Few films have captured the impact that the current economic crisis has on an individual family like this heartfelt drama from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. It’s the story of a hard-working father who is too ashamed to tell his families that he’s been downsized, so he leaves for work each day then spends the day looking for a new job and commiserating with the dozens of other middle-aged men he meets that are in the same position. The film takes the time to explore how the man and his lies impact each family member, from the long-suffering wife to his prodigy son.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Honk Kong Godfather

Filled with enough red paint to coat a dozen buildings, this energetic action movie isn’t exactly filled with memorable characters or thought-provoking ideas. But when the bodies are flying like they are in this Lung Wei Wang epic, who cares? The story follows three young gangsters as they fight to protect their family from a hostile takeover, which is just enough of a story to hang two hours of fierce fighting from. If it had been made with today’s special effects, meaning the blood looked more like blood than red paint, this movie would be almost too intense to watch. As it is, it’s still going to be tough for the squeamish to make it to the end.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sherri: The Complete Season One

A Lifetime Network show about a single mom trying to balance raising a son with a career and a dream of being an actress. What would possibly make you want to watch that? Two words: Sherri Shepherd. This talented lady, best known for her co-hosting duties on The View, makes every scene in this series work. She’s funny and sassy, but also gives her character the emotional depth it needs to be more than a standup performance. Her costars, particularly her coworkers Tammy Townsend and Elizabeth Regen, are more than comic foils for the funny lady, too, which is a relief.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense

This is the kind of movie you will want to watch with a pen and paper handy so you can jot down the names of all the fascinating young musicians featured in it, then head to the store when it’s over to pick up their music. It’s more than proof that jazz music is a vibrant art form; it’s a call to all viewers to stop being sheep listening to whatever the music media is selling you and start thinking for yourselves about what makes music great.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On the Road with Charles Kuralt, Set 2

Along with being a fascinating look into America circa 1970/1980, this collection of stories about real people that the legendary reporter met as he drove his RV across the country, is a look back into a time when journalist – and their audience – weren’t just interested in the latest scandals, but had an honest curiosity about the people and the world around them. Today, the story of an 80-year-old woman who pilots a plane would be on America’s Funniest Home Video, but only if she crashed. With Kuralt, her story of fighting for the right to fly in the then male-dominated skies makes her an American hero.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's Complicated

Meryl Streep is, of course, great as the newly divorced woman having an affair with her ex, but the big treat of the film is the fearless performance of Alec Baldwin. Watching him try to seduce his ex-wife is both touching and hilarious, particularly when his plans for seduction keep blowing up in his face. What makes it a complete performance, though, is the way Baldwin lets the hurt and regret he begins to feel about letting her go in the first place shine through in everything he does. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy, even as you root for Streep to kick his ass to the curb…again.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dragon Ball Z Kai

The Dragon Ball Z franchise has been around for a long time, but even the most hard-core fan will feel like he’s watching the story for the first time with this excellent new series which goes back to the drawing board to make sure the story stays as close as possible to creator Akira Toriyama’s original vision. The action is still as intense and entertaining as you remember, but the animation and sound design have been improved greatly improved (listen to and episode on a pair of stereo headphones and you will hear the difference.) This is the way the Dragon Ball series was meant to be seen. And if you think you’re too old to watch a ‘cartoon’ like Dragon Ball Z Kai, then think again. The story of Goku -- the strongest fighter on the planet --- and the trials he must go through to save earth from the invading Saiyan warriors – is as exciting as almost any sci-fi adventure you can think of, and a lot more entertaining.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pulling John

If all you know about the sport of professional arm wrestling is what you learned from watching Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top, then you owe it to yourself to sit down with this beind the scenes look at the men who inspired Sly’s silly story. John Brzenk is fascinating as the ‘old man’ of the sport that all the young, hungry contenders want to topple. Up and coming Red Neck arm wrestler Travis Bagent is just frightening.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Five Minutes of Heaven

After watching him ham it up so shamelessly in Clash of the Titans, it felt like it would take a miracle for people to ever take Liam Neeson seriously as an actor again. Well, as this movie proves, miracles can happen. Neeson plays Alistair Little, the grown up version of a boy who killed an innocent man to prove his worth to the local IRA squad. James Nesbitt plays Joe Griffen, the brother of the deceased who witnessed the murder and has never gotten over it. A reality TV show thinks it would be a good idea to get them together in a room to hash things out. What happens will amaze you.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Andy Kaufman: World Inter-Gender Wrestling Champ

If you pick this up expecting to see a comedy, you may be disappointed. As part of the comic routine that was his life, Andy Kaufman spent several years traveling the country challenging women to wrestle him. If they pinned him within three rounds, he would not only pay them $1000, but shave his head and take them as his wife. It’s enough to be a silly skit on Saturday Night live, but the fact that Kaufman took it to such extremes is much more fascinating than funny.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Marcus Welby Season 1

You might hesitate in checking out this box set given the fact that the series is more than 40 years old, but if you let that stop you, you would be missing out on some really fine television drama. Robert Young is the perfect curmudgeon as the general practitioner who cares more about his patients than himself, but the series really belongs to James Brolin (Mr. Barbra Streisand) as the hip young intern who tries to help bridge the generation gap between Welby’s ideals and the modern world of medicine.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pride & Prejudice

Fifteen years ago, Colin Firth put on a top hat and velvet waistcoat and made women around the world swoon playing the egotistical (but irresistible) Mr. Darcy in this hugely popular BBC mini-series. Watching it now, it’s easy to understand why this adaptation of the Jane Austen classic launched his career (and set an impossibly high standard for all Darcy’s to follow). What’s especially nice this time around, though, is having a chance to see his co-star, the lovely Jennifer Ehle, create an even more memorable character for Darcy to play off, the prototype for all modern women, Elizabeth.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Severe Clear

Men have been making movies about war for as long as there have been movie cameras, but few of them even come close to capturing the madness and humanity the way director Kristian Fraga and star Marine First Lieutenant Mike Scotti do in this excellent documentary. The story follows Scotti and his fellow marines as they make the 2003 military invasion march across Iraq to capture Saddam Hussein, liberate the people and recover the weapons of mass destruction the soldiers (and the world) had been told the dictator was hiding. Whatever politics you may have had then, or have now, won’t matter as you watch Scotti and the Marines fight their way across the desert. Some of the images captured on video by the soldiers who were fighting will haunt you, but no more than the overall feeling you are left with that no matter what, you haven’t done enough to thank the men and women who were doing the fighting, whether you agree with the war or not.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Joan Armatrading/ Steppin Out

While the quality of the taping from this German television series leaves a lot to be desired, the music and the woman making it are still fascinating to watch. More than most pop performers, Armatrading had a true talent for connecting with her fans through her heartfelt lyrics and soulful voice. The selection of songs is impressive, showcasing her talent as a singer and a songwriter. The woman can really play guitar, too.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Formula 51

On the day he graduates from college with a degree in pharmacology, Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson) gets busted for smoking a celebratory joint and ends up in prison. He serves his time and gets out with a plan for a new designer drug that’s 51 times more powerful than cocaine, ecstasy and pot combined. Ha also has a plan for using his formula to swindle the local drug lord (Meatloaf) and make enough money to never have to work again. When the plan goes horribly wrong, Elmo joins forces with a Liverpool hood (Robert Carlyle) and his sexy assassin ex-girlfriend (Emily Mortimer) to keep the mob from smokin’ his ass. Directed by Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky) the action is top-notch, but it's the comic chemistry between the three stars that makes the film so much damn fun to watch.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Trinity Blood

Beautiful enough to watch with the sound off, this epic anime series takes the battle between good and evil and turns it up to 11 by combining intricate plotting with insane action. It’s the story of light versus dark, vampires versus men, the Holy Church of Rome versus an evil arch enemy out to destroy the world, and it even has giant vampires who fight other giant vampires. It gets a bit overcomplicated at times, but it’s well worth following to the brilliant end.