Monday, January 31, 2011

The Agatha Christie Hour, Set 2

Fans of the current state of television mystery shows, where crimes are solved with forensic evidence instead of the conversational skills of smart British people, may have a hard time adjusting to the slower pace of these clever episodes. The effort, however, will be worth it. Based upon the adventures of some of the ‘lesser-known’ protagonists invented by the Queen of Crime Drama, the stories are still clever and well-written and the acting from the series’ ensemble cast is superb.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Alex (Romain Duris) is more than just a gigolo. In fact, his services never include the physical act for which a gigolo is used. But if you want to break up a relationship, say that of a daughter in love with an unsuitable man, then Alex is the one who, for a price, can sweep her off her feet to show her what life has to offer her beyond the bad choice. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before Alex meets the woman he can’t convince to fall in love with him, and his failure drives him to romantic extremes.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Zorro: The Complete Series

Chances are that unless you have kids — or a child-like enthusiasm for Zorro stories — you probably missed this series when it was on the Family Channel. Now that it’s on DVD, you should give it a shot. Sure, the stories are a bit hokey at times, but the cast does a good job of selling them no matter how silly they get. Duncan Regher does a nice job in the title role, and the list of guest stars, ranging from Daniel Craig to Andre the Giant, is impressive. The extras, including the Douglas Fairbanks silent classic The Mark of Zorro, are excellent.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Enter the Void

Prepare yourself for a movie experience unlike anything you have seen in years. Whether or not that’s a good thing, however, will depend on your tolerance for director Gaspar Noé and his determination to push his audiences to the limit. (Anyone who watched the brutal murder by fire extinguisher in his last film, Irreversible, knows what that can mean). It’s the story of a brother and sister – he’s a junkie ad she’s a stripper – and what happens when one of them dies only to have their spirit roam around Tokyo looking at what it left behind until its time to be reborn.

Santa Sangre

It’s almost unfair to try and describe the plot to this Alejandro Jodorowsky film, because the story is just too bizarre. But here goes: A circus ringmaster is caught cheating with the tattooed lady by his wife. She kills him, but not before he cuts off both her arms. The son who witnesses all this is so traumatized he ends up in a mental hospital. Years later, his armless mother finds him and helps him escape. They soon get together — literally — to perform on the stage. It isn’t too long before the bodies start piling up around them. It’s weird and, in it’s own way, wonderful.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Informant

After years of watching Matt Damon kick ass on a global scale in three Bourne movies, it takes a while to get used to seeing him as a flabby, toupee-wearing goofball in The Informant! That uncomfortableness you feel watching him, you discover by the end of this outrageous new comedy, is just one of the things that Damon and director Steven Soderbergh use to play with your head in this very smart and very funny movie. In The Informant!, Damon plays Mark Whitacre, an up-and-coming executive at a food additive manufacturer who becomes disillusioned when he uncovers a price fixing plot with global ramifications. Seeing himself as the guy wearing the white hat, Whitacre contacts the FBI and convinces them to start an investigation. The Informant! is the kind of movie that you will want to see a second time – at least – just to watch these two very talented filmmakers work their cinematic confidence game on the audience because even after you know where you will end up, The Informant! is still a hell of a ride.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Phantom, Requim for the Phantom, Part One

Good animes start with a strong story and peel away the layers to let the audience discover the mystery underneath it all. Phantom turns the usual on its head by giving us a string story n episode one and ten piling on the layers until you no longer know what story is being told, but you just can’t stop watching. A young tourist witnesses a brutal murder and barely escapes with his life. He wakes up in a dingy room with no memory of what happened or how he got there; in fact he has no memories at all. When an attractive young girl tells him he’s been selected to be trained as an assassin he thinks he’s having a nightmare. the fact that he turns out to be good — very good — at killing people doesn’t help. And if you think you now where the story is going to go, pay close attention because the end of Part One will floor you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Paper Man

Jeff Daniels stars as an author with writer’s block who retreats to remote house on Long Island to try and write his next novel. Instead of sitting down and getting it done, he goes off n a series of quirky adventures lead by his alter ego/invisible best friend Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds). It’s all a little bit too cute for its own good, but some strong performances, particularly from Reynolds and Emma Stone (Easy A) make it work in the end.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Top Shot: The Complete Season One

You may think they had to scrape the bottom of the reality TV barrel to come up with a show about people who shoot guns at targets, but there’s something that’s absolutely addictive about Top Shot. The challenges themselves aren’t that interesting, although watching them mix it up and make the marksmen use everything from medieval longbows to ancient muskets to hit their targets is kind of fun. It;s the personalities behind the sites that keep you coming back week after week to see who gets cut.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Foghorn Leghorn & Friends: Barnyard Bigmouth

We all have our favorite Looney Tunes Super Stars, ad for those who enjoy a little southern friend humor with their cartoons, nothing beats this set of 15 classic Foghorn Leghorn classics. The great thing about the giant rooster with an attitude is that even though he might not win in the end, Leghorn always gets his shots in against the dogs and weasels of his world who want to keep him down, and he does it while delivering classic corn-pone comic lines.

Friday, January 21, 2011

King of Paper Chasin'

First time feature director La Monte Edwards may lean a little too much on the cliches of the urban drama for his own good, but thanks to a charismatic performance from his leading man, Dwayne “DL” Clark, the familiarity of the film doesn’t breed contempt. Clark plays Carter Blanche, an ex-drug lord trying to make an honest buck by way of his popularity as an underground rapper. Like the hip hop soundtrack, there’s a feeling that you’ve seen t all before watching the movie, but Edwards adds just enough of his own flair to almost make it work.

Kathleen Madigan: Gone Madigan

Kathleen Madigan isn’t vulgar. She doesn’t work ‘blue’ or, like a lot of comedians these days, base her entire comic persona on making fun of other (usually more famous) people. She just stands up there with a microphone and says funny (and smart) things abut herself, her own family and the world we all live in. The result is a little over an hour of some of the best stand-up you can find.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Perfect Getaway

A Perfect Getaway is by no stretch of the imagination a ‘good’ movie. But it sure is a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Directed by David Twohy (The Chronicles of Riddick), Getaway is the story of a pair of newlyweds who go off on a hiking adventure in Hawaii for their honeymoon. They soon discover that a pair of deranged killers, whose last victims also were in Hawaii on their honeymoon, is hiding out on their island paradise. In fact, they could be any one of the other couples they meet along the way … A lot of movies, particularly the recent rash of dumb PG-13 teenage slasher films, have been built around a similar pretense, but from the start you can tell Getaway is going to be a cut above the rest; it’s just got too good a cast. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich star as the couple, Cliff and Cydney, and their natural chemistry together is a big reason you get sucked into the story. Likewise, Timothy Oliphant and Keile Sanchez have just the right mix of sexy and scary to make them totally believable as Nick and Gina, the slightly strange couple that Cliff and Cydney bond with on their trip.The film gets a little too frantic in the last half hour or so as it builds to its climax, and Twohy’s use of split screen, slow motion and other cinematic tricks to amp up the energy levels are more annoying than effective. But the film has enough shocks and surprises along the way to make you forget everything else but the fun you are having watching it.

Julie & Julia

Even if your knowledge of the culinary arts doesn’t stretch far beyond the ability to make a bologna sandwich, you will find Julie & Julia a cinematic feast that’s hard to resist. By interweaving two unique stories – the struggle of legendary chef Julia Child to learn her craft and the battle that blogger Julie Powell had trying to actually make the recipes from Child’s classic cook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking – director Nora Ephron takes the audience on a delightful journey that covers everything from the struggle to create art to the struggle to make a decent beef bourguignon. The centerpiece of the film, of course, is Meryl Streep’s performance as Childs. Much more than a mere imitation, Streep manages to take all the famous mannerisms of the well-known chef, especially her unique voice, and makes them come alive on screen. And while the broader aspects of her acting are the ones that are immediately appealing, be it just hearing her say “bon appetit’ or watching her nonchalantly toss an omelet in a pan an miss catching most of it – it is the nuance that Streep brings to the film’s quieter scenes, especially the intimate moments she shares with her husband Paul (a wonderful Stanley Tucci) that makes the whole thing work.

Monday, January 17, 2011


If you think about it too much, there’s no way Bandslam should be as much fun as it is to watch. The story, about a group of misfit teens winning the school’s music competition, is an overworked cliché. The actors, for the most part, are way too old to be convincing as teenagers. And the music, with the exception of the classic rock that fills out the soundtrack, is forgettable pop pap. But somehow, Bandslam turns out to be delightful. Part of the credit goes to Gaelan Connell, a slightly odd looking leading man who manages to capture both the intensity and anxiety of being a kid with a unique style all his own. The real treat of the film, though, is watching Lisa Kudrow play his mom, Karen. Not only can she make even the lamest line of dialogue shine, Kudrow has a natural ability to be physically funny without going over the top. The scenes of the band drummer trying to seduce her (thinking she’s her son's older, hotter sister) are exceptionally well done. Given its slick pop culture sheen, it’s easy to see why kids will want to see Bandslam. It’s the film’s other aspects – the good acting, the playful sense of character, the honestly rendered moments of drama – that make it worthwhile watching for film – and music – fans of any age.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Drag Me to Hell

After a huge chunk ofhis career slaving away to make the Spider-Man franchise the single most successful comic book crossover in history, director Sam Raimi has returned to his first love – horror movies – with the adrenaline-fueled thrill ride, Drag Me to Hell. The film stars Alison Lohman as Christine Brown, a loan officer at a small bank who dreams of being promoted to assistant manager so she can prove herself worthy of her successful psychologist boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) and his snobby family. To make her dream a reality, Christine starts being a hard-ass at work, but when she rejects the heartfelt pleas of an old woman to get a loan extension, she discovers it’s a lot better to be nice than be successful. The woman, played with great theatricality by Lorna Raver, turns out to be a gypsy who puts a curse on Christine that the devil will come to her in three days and take her soul to hell. Literally. Raimi is a master at blending horror and humor and he gleefully pulls out all the stops to make Drag Me to Hell as funny as it is frightening. Some of his humor is subtle, some of it is slapstick and some of it is little more than a cinematic release valve to keep you from screaming out loud, and all of it is done with style. Of course, as anybody who has seen his horror classics Evil Dead or Evil Dead II will tell you, Raimi’s not above using buckets of blood – or other bodily secretions – to up the gross-out factor in the film, but even when he’s trying to make you gag it’s done with a sense of humor: Sick humor, true, but humor nevertheless.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Proposal

It’s been many years since Sandra Bullock starred in a romantic comedy and 10 minutes into The Proposal all you can say is, Welcome Back! Directed by Ann Fletcher (27 Dresses), The Proposal is a sassy, sexy comedy that lets Bullock showcase her finely honed comedic talents -- both physical and verbal -- without forcing her to stoop to the low standards the genre has sunk to in the years she’s been gone: In other words, while there are plenty of adult-oriented moments in the film, as befits a love story between two adults, The Proposal never resorts to toilet humor or body fluids for cheap laughs. Instead, it gives the audience two fully developed characters with stories you can not only follow, but believe in, and lets the laughs build from there. Ryan Reynolds stars opposite Bullock as Andrew, her boss-whipped secretary who agrees to marry her so she can get a visa to stay in America and keep her job as a highly paid book editor and not be deported back to Canada. A gifted comic in his own right, Reynolds is man enough in The Proposal to step aside and give the spotlight to Bullock when she deserves it, but with the exception of the scenes where he’s supposed to be brow-beaten into submission, he is also smart enough to not just let her walk away with every scene. The result is some of the best screen chemistry between two stars in decades.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Sam Bell is a lonely guy. For almost three years he’s been alone on the moon working as a miner, his only companion the ship’s chatty computer. His long contract with the Earth-bound mining company is almost up, though, and his replacement – and his ride back home to friends and family -- is en route. Then something goes horribly wrong. Giving away anything else about director Duncan Jones new film, Moon, would spoil the fun of watching it. Suffice it to say that this highly entertaining Sci-Fi film is the kind of film that will not only give you your money’s worth while you watch it, but also give you the added bonus of having a lot to think about – and talk about –when it’s over. And while it isn’t the kind of movie that screams ‘Oscar bait’ it features one of the best performances you are likely to see on celluloid this year from the very talented Sam Rockwell. Most actors would have a very hard time holding your interest all alone – or virtually alone – up on the screen for more than a few minutes; Rockwell’s same Bell keeps you absolutely riveted.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Sword of Swords

When his master dies, a young warrior inherits a magic sword that could mean the difference between his country being conquered or not. His determination to make sure it ends up in the right hands runs up against the powerful lusts of a greedy man who wants to use the sword to take over the country for himself. The story is a bit too complicated for its own good, particularly when the good guy loses his sight and has to fight the bad guys using his remaining four senses, but director Cheng Kang (14 Amazons) doesn't give you too much time to think about as he turns the action meter up to 11 and paints the screen in the red paint that the makers of this kind of chop sockey epic used for blood back in the day.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dirty Tricks

Martin Clunes stars in this saucy mystery about a poor language teacher whose taste for the finer things in life leads to murder and mayhem. As the series opens, the teacher's biggest problem seems to be trying not to be bored to death by his rich accountant friend, a sacrifice he's willing to make because the accountant has a terrific wine cellar. When the accountant's wife (Julie Graham) makes a pass for him, he decides to follow up on it with disastrous results. The body count rises as the teacher tries to deflect suspicion away from him and onto the people he doesn't like to begin with, like the angry headmaster at his language school. By the time he's enlisted a student to help him hide bodies and manufacture the evidence, you'll be hooked. The great news is that there is still a lot of mystery left to the man, even after the bodies have been discovered.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Shall We Kiss?

A woman waiting for a taxi instead accepts a ride to her hotel by a nice young man. They end up enjoying each other’s company so much they continue on to have dinner and drinks. The moment comes when he tries to kiss her goodnight and she declines, not because she isn’t attracted to him but because she knows that a kiss, especially a good kiss, can change everything. The woman then goes on to share a story that proves she knows what she is talking about. Written and directed by Emmanuel Mouret, who also plays the lead in the story within the story, Shall We Kiss? (Un baiser s'il vous plaît?) is a delightful romantic French comedy that explores the nature of love between friends and between lovers, and what happens to each partner when the line between friendship and love is crossed with something as simple as a kiss.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Sister's Keeper

Directed by Nick Cassavetes, My Sisters Keeper tells the story of Andromeda 'Anna' Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin), an 11-year-old child who, we soon learn, was 'created' by her parents through artificial insemination to be a genetic match to supply needed blood and bone marrow transfusions for her older sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), who has leukemia. When Kate becomes sick enough to need a kidney transplant, Anna decides things have gone too far and sues her parents for control over her body. If any of the storyline so far has you dragging out your soap box to proselytize about any of the issues being presented, just stop. There's a lot more to the tale being told than a simple us vs. them mentality, and Cassavetes and his cast do a brilliant job making sure the human element – meaning the emotional rollercoaster the people actually going through these events on the screen are going through – never gets lost amongst the thorny issues being raised.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE - OVA Collection

If you aren’t already familiar with this popular anime series about a band of unlikely heroes searching the universe (and its parallel dimensions) to collect a bunch of magic feathers, chances are you may feel a bit lost watching these two OVAs (Original Video Animations). They look great, and the characters are compelling and well acted, but you will have a heck of a time figuring out the plot, let alone the complex relationships that drive it. If watching it leads you to search out the series on DVD so much the better because it’s well worth the effort; if you are already a Tsubasa fan, get ready for an enchanting ride.

The Ricky Gervais Show: The Complete First Season

Along with creating The Office and Extras, British comedian Ricky Gervais is famous on the internet for his podcast, as show where he sits around with friends Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington and riffs about whatever crosses his mind (the shows are probably scripted, but have an improvisational feel). Since a television show of them sitting and talking would be boring, they came up with the idea of doing an animated series of it for HBO. The result is generally hilarious, particularly once you get used to the way the three so rapidly riff off each other. The continuing gag of Monkey News is worth the price alone.

Friday, January 7, 2011


In Howl, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman do what hundreds, probably thousands, of literature majors, tenured English professors and wannabe hipsters have been trying, and failing, to do for years. Thanks to a strong script, some fantastic acting and the imaginative animation designs of Eric Drooker, they make Allen Ginsberg’s epic Beat Generation poem, Howl, accessible. They don’t necessarily make it comprehensible, mind you; they leave that up to the audience to work on for themselves once the film is done. But they do give them the key – or maybe a key – to get them inside the mind of the man who created Howl in the first place.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Lena Baker Story

Tichina Arnold has been making audiences laugh for years, though her work on TV (Everybody Hates Chris) and movies (Dance Flick). With the release of this powerful film by director Ralph Wilcox, fans get a chance to see the talented actress exercise her dramatic skills playing the part of a rural southern Black woman caught up in a violent and destructive relationship with the White man she is hired to care for. The facts of the story – Baker was found guilty of murdering the man despite acting in self-defense and eventually became the only woman to ever die in the electric chair in the state of Georgia – will appall you; the way that Arnold and Peter Coyote bring these dark characters to life in the film will amaze you. Everything about the film – the story, the cinematography, the soundtrack and the excellent acting from the entire cast – will stay with you long after it is over.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Soul Kitchen

Although it’s very popular with his friends, Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) knows that if his restaurant doesn’t start making money soon, he’s going to have to kick them out and close the door. So he hires a maniac gourmet chef to run the kitchen so he can concentrate on making money (while keeping an eye on his ex-con brother who gets hired to manage the place). Directed by Fatih Akin, Soul Kitchen is less about food than it is about the relationships people develop over a meal. The acting is good, particularly from the leads, and the soundtrack kicks ass.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part 3

The Elric’s brothers search for a philosopher’s stone to help them regain their original human bodies leads them to the barren north where they face some extreme challenges, meet some old friends, and continue to battle the hordes of homunculi that are out to stop them. Like the previous two parts of this epic anime series, the voice acting and animation are some of the best you will ever see. What separates Full Metal Alchemist from other anime series, though, is the intricate and intense storylines of each and every episode. The battle for Edward and Alphonse to recover their bodies is always at the center of the action, but there is plenty of exciting side stories to thicken the plot along the way.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Kamui Gaiden

A lone warrior wanders the world trying to keep the ninja clan he left behind from finding him and kicking his butt. His travels lead him to a secluded fishing village where he begins to realize his dream of a life at peace, a dream that is shattered when a band of pirates invade the village. The story gets a little confusing at times, but director Yoichi Sai does a pretty good job of pacing the action so we never really have time to think about the logic of the plot too much. By the time you get to the part where the pirates go shark hunting --- and use their kung fu to kill the gigantic man-eaters – any worries you have about where the story is heading should fade away in the fun you will be having.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Baseball’s Greatest Game

Baseball fans, the ones who actually watch old games on the classic sports networks, will salivate over this rare recording of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series between the Pirates and the Yankees. The series winning home run by Bill Mazeroski – the first walk off home run to ever win a World Series – is the stuff of legend and thought to be lost to all time until a rare print of the game was found in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar (the crooner was a one of the Pirate’s owners). But the good news is that non-baseball fan will enjoy watching this footage, too, particularly for a nostalgic look at how television was made a half century ago.