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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Law

There are just so many reasons to recommend seeing this uncensored French-language version of Jules Dassin’s The Law. The story about life in a small Italian village is well written and well acted. The black and white cinematography of Otello Martelli looks fantastic. Heck, even the score by Roman Vlad is impressive. But let’s be honest, one look at the box cover art says it all: Gina Lollobrigida. Shot back in a time when ‘full figured’ wasn’t a bad thing for an actress to be, The Law makes the most of Lollobrigida’s physique, whether she’s strutting down the village street or sweetly seducing the man she wants to marry (a charming Marcello Mastroianni). Yet it never does it in a gratuitous or salacious way because one look at the sharp eyes of the lady in question and you know she wouldn’t stand for it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Corpse Princess Shikabane Hime, Part One -- Aka

What happens when a person dies filled with regrets or unfulfilled passions? According to this anime series, they turn into evil demons called Shikabane who feed on the living in a twisted attempt to atone for their lives. A mysterious group of monks use specially created demons called Shikabane Hime to send them back to their graves. It’s a twisted story, filled with amazing art, particularly in the creative use of imagery to show us what a Shikabane really looks like once the outer human shell is torn away.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Just Wright

Just Wright may be a Queen Latifah movie, but the real star of the film is Common, the rapper turned actor who takes the poorly written part of an NBA player trying to find an honest woman and turns it into the kind of suave, sophisticated leading man role you thought Hollywood had forgotten all about. It’s pretty generic stuff, for the most part, but what separates Just Wright from just about every other romantic comedy to come out in the past year, is the fact that the guy in the movie isn’t a one-dimensional hound dog looking to get lucky, or a loser who needs to be taught a lesson or any one of a dozen clichés used in this kind of movie to give the girl something to fall in love with and fix. As played by Common, Scott McKnight doesn’t need fixing. He is an honest, up front guy who treats his women with honor and respect. He’s good looking, dresses well and has good manners. He likes and respects his mom and genuinely seems to enjoy his life and the people who are part of it. He’s everything we want a leading man to be but almost never see any more, and Common makes it work on the screen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hetalia Axis Powers, Season One

This is, without a doubt, one of the strangest anime series you will ever see, strangest and, once you surrender to its offbeat charms, one of the most delightful, too. It’s the story of the creation of the Axis Powers at the start of WW II told as a reality show starring cute boys and girls whose knowledge of history is, to say the least, scandalously inappropriate. It’s politically incorrect, borderline offensive and, above all, hilarious.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Eric Clapton: The 1960s Review

Long before he became the elder statesman of the electric guitar and made millions of fans – and millions of dollars – with such radio friendly hits as Tears in Heaven and I Shot the Sheriff, Eric Clapton was a guitar god. In fact, in the 60s, all you had to do is look around and soon you’d find some graffiti saying just that. This fascinating documentary explains to the uninitiated just why he was worshiped so ardently by fans and fellow musicians in the first place.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Robin Hood

Take everything you know about the legend of Robin Hood – the robbing from the rich to give to the poor, the band of merry men, the swashbuckling swinging from tree to tree in Sherwood Forest – and throw it out the window. Now you are ready to enter the word of Robin Hood as re-imagined by director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe. Crowe is both rough and charming as Robin Hood, and Cate Blanchett is equally excellent as a no-nonsense maid Marion who puts Robin in his place long before she lets him into her heart.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Secret of Moonacre

This is one of those rare family films that really will appeal to the entire family. There are enough princesses and rainbows for little girls, and enough fighting and adventure for little boys, (or vice versa if that’s the way you want to think about it). There is also an intelligent story about a family feud that’s lasted for generations and some strong performances from the grownups in the cast. It’s an unexpected treat.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Night of the Living Dead Reanimated

This is a work of sheer genius. Nearly 150 artists from around the world were given the chance to pick a scene from the classic George Romero zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead, and re-imagine it in any way they wanted. The film creators then took all the footage they had and, using the complete soundtrack (including dialogue) from the original masterpiece, rebuilt the movie to be something that is completely different, but chillingly the same. The scares from the movie you remember are still there, underscored with some fresh ones you won’t see coming until It’s too late. Trying to figure out exactly what why they put the footage together they way they did, at least form a visual standpoint, will drive you crazy. (You can watch the extras to find out.) It’s best to just let it flow and enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Solitary Man

You have to hand it to Michael Douglas. At an age (66) when most actors have gracefully retired from the screen, the man takes on a challenge that actors half his age wouldn’t even consider, thinking it would be career suicide. He plays a thoroughly unlikable character with little – if any – redeeming value. And he plays it to the hilt. In Solitary Man, Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, a disgraced car salesman trying to get his life back on track after being convicted of fraud. While he desperately needs the money, Ben really wants to be back in the spotlight, to be that guy in all those television commercials that everybody remembers and not the guy they remember being led off in handcuffs when his financial house of cards collapsed. Ben just wants to be liked. Too bad he’s one of the most unlikable guys you will ever meet. The details of Ben’s fall need to be seen to be believed. No mere description with words will capture the way Douglas brings them to life. The movie is paced to give Ben Kalmen plenty of opportunities to redeem himself, and it’s fascinating to watch Douglas tee off on every one and drive them right into the nearest hazard.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ondine


Finally, after years of seeing him waste his talent in crappy films like Alexander and Miami Vice, Colin Farrell has been given a chance to really prove he’s more than a pretty face thanks to writer/director --- and fellow Irishman -- Neal Jordan. Ondine is a modern day fable about a small town fisherman named Syracuse (Farrell) whose live is changed when he pulls up his nets one misty morning to find a half-drowned girl trapped along with his meager catch of fish. She’s alive, but seems reluctant to tell him who she is and, more importantly, how the heck she ended up in his net. Syracuse – known in the village as Circus on account of his clownish behavior when he was drunk – takes the mystery in stride, even when circumstances start him thinking there’s something supernatural about the leggy lady who slowly works her way into his heart.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Harry Brown

Just as every action movie star feels the need to make a comedy, like Sylvester Stallone doing Oscar or Arnold Schwarzenegger doing Junior – every action star, if they live to be old enough to still be making movies in their golden years, wants to make a grumpy old man revenge movie. Charles Bronson did Death Wish. Clint Eastwood did Gran Torino. Now Michael Caine has given fans his version of the angry old man movie, Harry Brown, a gritty thriller about a lonely guy living in fear in a rundown British council flat. Caine, who has spent the last few years living in Batman’s shadow playing Alfred the Butler, seems to relish the chance to really dig in and play the part of Harry Brown. The film gives him just enough time to establish how fearful Brown’s life has become before turning him loose on the world. But Harry Brown isn’t a simple revenge film, and it’s certainly not designed to make you cheer as Brown battles the punks who killed his friends. Like Eastwood’s epic western, The Undefeated, Harry Brown is a meditation on violence, not a celebration of it, and it is by avoiding the clichés of the usual revenge movie that Harry Brown gains the resonance that stays with you long after you’ve left the theater.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Black Cauldron


This mostly forgotten Disney classic is a sort of transition film as directors Ted Berman and Richard Rich try to find a way to blend the old school style of animation the studio built its reputation on and the new computer generated graphics that were replacing hand-drawn animation back in the 80s. It’s an uneasy fit at best. The scenes of the skull-headed bad guy raising an army of zombies are almost too intense for children. The studios insistence on adding cute/annoying talking animals to the mix is too much for adults.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Everly Brothers Reunion Concert Live at Royal Albert Hall


Do yourself a huge favor, before checking out the show, take a look at the Rock and Roll Odyssey bonus feature that traces the careers of The Everly Brothers from their early days as child performers on a Kentucky radio station to the big reunion show. Because of the innocent quality of their tunes, watching the struggles they went through to get to the top of the early rock world makes the sounds they make at Albert hall that much sweeter.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

America: The Story of Us


The History Channel has been explaining the world’s past for years now, so it’s about time it turned its jeweler’s eye for detail on America. And the results will astound you. Even if you’ve been a scholar of US history for most of your life – or are just a devoted watcher of the popular cable channel -- chances are you will discover a surprise or two. Each chapter is extremely well written and the list of talking heads they use to underscore each of the eras being talked about is informative, unexpected and entertaining. What may go overlooked is the high level of performances each of the actors brings to their reenactment roles in the series. It’s not easy bringing a legend like Daniel Boone or George Washington to live, particularly given the plethora of performances that are already a part of the audience’s subconscious, but the actors in The Story of Us make it work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Laughology

This semi-serious look at the reasons human beings laugh follows investigative reporter Albert Nerenberg on a global quest to regain his sense of humor following a series of personal tragedies. The serious side of the story works best, particularly Nerenberg’s interviews with a yoga instructor who uses laughing the way other gurus use stretching and bending. It’s the sillier side of the story, like the caveman reenactments that are so obviously Nerenberg and his friends in fake caveman suits that drag the story down.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Bride is a Mermaid, Season 1 Part 2


Picking up where the first part of season 1 ended, this enormously entertaining anime follows the continuing adventures of high school student Nagasumi as he tries to come to grips with the fact that he’s engaged to be married to the mermaid who saved him from drowning over summer vacation. The stories are a bit repetitive, but the visual style of the series if so utterly delightful you don’t really care that the stories fall short every now and then.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Parenthood Season 1


You almost need a scorecard to keep track of all the characters and story lines that get crammed into each episode of this hit NBC series, which is based on the equally popular 1989 Ron Howard movie. Like with the film, it’s the strong cast that helps guide you through the turmoil these rather inept parents go through on a daily basis. And like the movie, it’s the adults who are worth watching; the kids are downright annoying. Lauren Graham deftly captures the humor and sadness of being a single parent in ways that feel particularly fresh.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Full Metal Panic! The Complete Series


It starts out as a comic high school story about a nerdy boy trying to protect a popular girl from some unseen bad guys. Before long, however, the truth behind the boy and his actions comes out and Full Metal Panic turns into a high octane action anime complete with plenty of giant robot battles. The story switches back and forth between the two styles a little too much for its own good, but the strong voice work and powerful anime style keep it interesting throughout.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stephen Fry in America

Celebrity travel shows are a dime a dozen these days, but what separates this delightful series from the pack is the charm, intelligence and insatiable curiosity of its host, Stephen Fry. The English author/actor not only brings a new set of eyes to scenes that travel shows have been milking for years, but his quest to drive through all 50 states takes him to some very unusual places that only a foreigner would recognize as quintessentially American. Watching Fry explore America will inspire you to look at the world – especially your own back yard – with renewed enthusiasm.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection

Best know these days for her Oscar-winning portrayal of The Queen of England, Helen Mirren made her reputation as an actress with this gritty BBC drama about a female police investigator named Jane Tennison and the battles she goes through – personal and professional – to prove herself in the male-dominated world of law enforcement. The cases she works on are brutal, and it’s to the series credit that not all of them get solved in a satisfactory way by the end of each episode. What makes Prime Suspect works so well, though, is the way the stories follow Tennison through the emotional aftermath of each investigation. It gives Mirren plenty of room to create a strong, believable – and above all female – character the likes of which is rarely seen in any kind of television program, particularly a police drama.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season

If you like your vampire stories full of gore and gratuitous nudity, like you get each week in the HBO series True Blood, then this CW hit series may be too tame for you. And that’s too bad. Sure, it’s a bit too-teen centric for its own good, and the shows depend way too much on the cheesy pop music soundtrack to sell the emotions in each scene, but the stories are fun and the acting is pretty good, especially Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder as the sibling bloodsuckers.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Survival of the Dead


Fans of director George Romero don’t need much of an excuse to go see whatever the man makes; if it has “Dead” in the title, so much the better. They know that they will get plenty of action, plenty of gore and plenty of laughs. His latest film, Survival of the Dead, continues the zombie resurgence Romero kicked off with his 2005 film, Land of the Dead. This time, the action takes place on a remote island off the coast of Maryland where two warring families are battling each other over the best thing to do with all the undead people stumbling around the place. The head of the O’Flynn family (Kenneth Walsh) wants to kill them all. The head of the Muldoon family (Richard Fitzpatrick) thinks the living dead can be trained to perform simple tasks, like zombie servants, and eventually made to lose their hunger for living human flesh and learn to survive on horses and other farm animals. When a team of professional zombie killers (a rogue band of army deserters last seen in Diary of the Dead) gets stranded on the island, the battle over who has the best plan heats up and it isn’t too long before the living are up to their ankles in zombie bodies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Electric Light Orchestra: The Early Years

Long before they gained notoriety for their elaborate stage shows, which at one point included the band performing inside a giant space ship, The Electric Light Orchestra was just another working rock band, albeit a working rock band with a three-piece string section and a penchant for turning well known classical pieces into mini-rock operas. This DVD recaptures ELO before success spoiled them. Fans will enjoy the trip down memory lane, but it is the casual listener, the ones who may only know ELO from commercials and movie soundtracks, that will relish the experience.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Black Blood Brothers


Set in a time when vampires and humans live side-by-side under an uneasy truce, this action-packed anime is a fantastic blend of fights and folklore. When the truce between the living and the animated dead is threatened by a new breed of vampire called the Kowloon Bloodline, a breed that thrives on not only feeding on, but infecting every human they can find, an ancient vampire family called the Black Bloods rises to the challenge. The art is strong, particularly the fight scenes, and the story is layered enough to keep you hooked from episode to episode.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Made for Each Other


If you saw this on the shelf, you’d probably look at the cover and think it’s just another lame straight-to-DVD comedy that isn’t worth renting, let alone owning. Well, think again. Buoyed by a daring cast who aren’t afraid to look ridiculous if the laughs is big enough, this film is both smarter and funnier than you imagine. It’s the story of a young married guy so frustrated with not having sex with his wife during the first three months of their marriage that he sleeps with her sister. Rather than confess his sin, he comes up with a plan to find a guy to sleep with his wife so she’ll feel guilty, too. It sounds insane, and it is…in a good way.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire


Long before he became the musical elder statesman he’s morphed into, Leonard Cohen was a passionate poet/musician who traveled the globe to share his art with audiences at shows that transcended the usual concert experience to become something truly special. At least on most nights, because as this documentary of Cohen’s 1972 European tour shows, not every night can be perfect no matter how hard you try. Legendary British director Tony Palmer does a great job of capturing both sides of the experience, giving audiences a compelling look into the life of an artist like no other.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Red Riding Trilogy

It’s a fascinating experiment in cinematic story telling: three films by three different directors all centering around the same story of a series of grisly murders in Northern England. Although each of the films is supposed to be able to stand on its own, it’s the cumulative effect of watching them back-to-back that makes them truly compelling. At least, that is, to a point. As the story unfolds, the crimes take a backseat to the political intrigue and police corruption that may be behind them. It works for a while, thanks to some truly incredible acting from the stellar cast, but the rush to pull all the various strings together in the final film falls far short of the mark. After investing so much in the series, it’s ultimately disappointing to watch the payoff go so wide of the mark. You’re not just surprised at whom the killer is, but disappointed at the way the crime is wrapped up so quickly and neatly.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Best of Soul Train

The clothes, the hair, the dances. You almost need a time capsule to travel back to 1972 to truly appreciate this delightful set of shows that gave audiences “60 minutes across the tracks of your mind into the exciting world of soul”. Thankfully, the performances captured on the show are timeless. Sure some of them are so badly lip synched they make Britney Spears look downright talented, but there are plenty of people playing live that make the passion of their performances come across the years to be as fresh as anything you see today.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Young Victoria

Big costume dramas are always a crap shoot. Either you get a cast that’s talented enough to make the period come alive or you get the cinematic equivalent of a bunch of wax dummies standing around in museum quality clothes. The Young Victoria, the story of the first years of Queen Victoria's rule and her enduring romance with Prince Albert, falls somewhere in the middle. Emily Blunt (Sunshine Cleaning) is absolutely mesmerizing in the title role. She allows us to see not only the struggles that Victoria went through as she tried to learn how to rule a country (and not simply be the pawn of the men who wanted to rule through her), but gives an endearing glimpse into the life of a young woman falling in love for the first time. If the rest of the cast had done even half a good a job at bringing their clothes to life, The Young Victoria could have been a great film. Unfortunately, with the exception of James Broadbent’s hilarious work as the drunken King William, none of the actors in the film seem to have the energy to out-act their costumes.