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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Goemon

The first half hour or so of this epic fantasy adventure from director Kazukai Kiriya is almost too intense to watch. The intensity doesn’t come from bloodshed or martial arts action, although there is just enough of the first and plenty of the latter throughout the movie. The intensity comes from the amazing color and stylized visual imagery that Kiriya uses to introduce us to the story about a legendary robber battling against the warmongering rulers who want his head. Once the story settles down (or rises up to the level of the visual artistry), Goemon quickly becomes as interesting as it is beautiful. The acting, particularly the performance of YĆ“suke Eguchi as the legendary thief, is impressive, especially when you consider how good it has to be to stand out alongside everything else Kiriya throws on the screen.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lorna Doone

John Ridd (Clive Owen) has hated the neighboring Doone clan since the day as a child he watched them kill his father in cold blood. His passion against the clan has only intensified over the years to the point where he thinks of little else, until the day he meets a beautiful woman in the woods and falls in love with her, only to discover she is part of the Doone family. Directed by Andrew Grieve for BBC TV, the pacing in this epic of love is a bit too slow, but the performances, particularly from Owen and from Polly Walker as Lorna Doone, make it worth wading through. Sean Bean is also fun to watch as the evil head of the even more evil Doone clan.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Falco: The Rise and Fall of an 80s Pop Icon

To most American audiences — at least those old enough to remember his music — Falco was a two-hit wonder whose songs were so infectious it didn’t matter if they made sense (or were even sung in English). To the people in his home country of Vienna, however, he was a musical god…at least as long as his songs stayed on the charts and in the discos. Falco’s story comes across as the worst kind of rock and roll cliche, complete with the sex, drugs and egomania audiences seem to demand of their pop idols, but the film is saved from complete tedium by the absolutely hypnotic performance of Manuel Rubey as the man who made Rock Me Amadeus a brief , but memorable music sensation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gravitation

Young love and pop music are the themes of this yao-style anime series about a musician name Shuichi and his dreams of taking his band, Bad Luck, to the top of the Jpop charts. Suffering from writer’s block over lyrics for a new song, Shuichi takes his band mate Hiro’s advice and goes out looking for a girl to ease his tension. What he finds, though, is something he never bargained for, romance in the form of a famous novelist named Eiri Yuki. The story is  just unpredictable enough to keep you guessing what Shuichi will do next, but the endless repetition of Bad Luck’s hit song (at least through the first half dozen episodes) may drive you crazy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whitney Cummings Money Shot

Prowling the stage like an over-caffeinated cheerleader in a track suit, Whitney Cummings leaves no stone unturned in her search for the truth about men, women and what keeps them attractive to each other even though they are so obviously unsuited for it. While some of the areas she covers in her 48 minutes on stage are familiar, her insights are fresh, original and very funny. Cummings is the kind of comic that you want to hang out with off stage to get to understand the thought process that makes her so darn funny, so the lack of any extras on the DVD is a huge disappointment.

Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm

He may not be a household name along the lines of Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington, but in his own way Stan Kenton was not only a pioneer of jazz music, but perhaps one of its greatest proponents. On top of a grueling touring and recording schedule, Keaton started a jazz education program that featured live performances in high schools across America. As the rest of the DVD shows, Kenton’s determination to stay ahead of the pack when it came to musical styles and tastes helped him create a body of work that will last forever. His work in the schools made sure there will always be musicians to play it and an audience to listen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Road to Coronation Street

British viewers have been tuning in to Coronation Street to watch the goings on in the fictional town of Weatherfield for more than 50 years (it’s the world’s longest running TV soap currently in production). As this delightful movie shows, it almost never saw the light of day as executives and artists struggled with an idea that was too shockingly original for most tastes back in 1960. After all, people wanted glitz and glamor on their TV shows: Who would tune in to watch a bunch of working class people from the North of England go about their business and speak in those outrageous accents? As it tuned out, everybody would. Even if you’ve never seen an episode, the way the movie captures the hectic insanity of what happens in a TV studio is a pleasure to watch. The addition of the original premier show of the series as a bonus only sweetens the deal.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dallas: The Movie Collection

Before you settle in to watch the three movies in this box set, take the time to watch the reunion show that gathers together most of the surviving members of this popular series for a trip down memory lane. Original Dallas fans will appreciate getting to spend some time with the people they tuned in to watch every week on CBS for 13 seasons; those unfamiliar with the cult phenomenon of the Ewing clan will get just the right introduction they need to make the other three movies worth watching. Of the three, the two with the original cast members are as juicy as anything the series ever did, with the possible exception of the Who Shot J.R. episodes, and the origin show stands on its own,

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Third Reich

With the plethora of WWII documentaries available these days a DVD needs to offer something really special to separate itself from the pack. This History Channel show does it by avoiding the usual suspects who caused the war and focuses its cameras instead on the ordinary German people as they ride the tide of nationalism to great heights on the first disc, then skips forward to show how far they dropped in the eyes of the world (and of each other) when the war was over. It’s absolutely fascinating.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Goodnight for Justice

Luke Perry stars as a cheesy frontier lawyer who gets promoted to the post of territorial judge, more as a last chance for him to clean up his act than for any legal expertise he brings to the job. The promotion does him a world of good as he rediscover why he studied law in the first place. He even finds a girl. But when he has to confront his past, in the person of the man who murdered his family in front of his eyes when he was a child, he has to decide if the consequences are worth it when a judge takes the law into his own hands. It’s a made-for-TV movie, so the pacing is slow (and full of commercial breaks) but Priestly does a good job of keeping things interesting

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Incredibles

This story of a family of superheros trying to live a normal life is one of best movies ever to come out of the Pixar studios. Directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant), it stars Craig T Nelson as Bob Parr, a mild-mannered insurance salesman who dreams of donning his tights once again to fight crime, if only the government hadn’t outlawed superheros because of the collateral damage their crime fighting caused. When a mysterious woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Pena) hires him for a covert operation, Parr puts on his Mr Incredible suit once again, with dire (and hilarious) results.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Last Continent

An intrepid team of scientists heads down to the Antartic to spend a year in the frozen wasteland to study the effects of global warming. They get there and it’s so warnm that none of their plans can be carried out. The ice doesn’t freeze so they can’t properly anchor their ship. The temerature stays unseasonable high, so the food supplies they buried in the snow thaw and rot. The weather is so awful they can’t even get off the boat for very long, causing tempers to flare on a regular basis. Never has a botched expedition made for better filmmaking, all beautifully narrrated by Donald Sutherland.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Prince of Poisoners

When was the last time you really booed at a villain in a movie. You’ll find it hard not to when you watch Keith Allen’s amazing performance in this PBS Mystery! movie. In it, he plays William Palmer, a village doctor with the nasty habit of poisoning people who cause him any trouble, be they the bookie he owes money to or his own mother-on-law. The great thing about the show is that it’s not played out as your typical whodunit: You know who he killer is a few minutes after the opening credits end. The fun is watching the world close in on Palmer as his increasing need to kill makes him sloppier with each execution. You’ll cheer when he gets his just desserts in the end

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Secret of the Urn

There’s nothing really new about his 60′s kung fu spectacle with the notable exception that the hero of the piece isn’t your usual good-looking hunk. In fact, Samanosuke (Kinnisuke Nakamura) is a one-eyed, one-armed samurai with a really bad attitude. When he finds himself at the center of a battle between two warring clans searching for an urn full of money, he decides to take everybody on and keep the money for himself. The action is pretty standard for this kind of flick, but the joy that Nakamura has playing such a bad good guy makes it worth watching.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Third: The Girl With the Blue Eye

Honoka is a young girl who makes her living roaming a post-apocalyptic desert in a giant, fully armed tank looking for freelance jobs that can use her powerful swordfighting skills (and powerful tank) without really hurting anybody.Surprisingly, she’s frequently employed. When she runs afoul of the technology-oppressing group known as The Third, Honoka is forced to forget about her clients and fight for herself and her friends. The series depends a little too  much on generic giant robot combat scenes to pad out some of the episodes, but the characters are well developed and the artwork is impressive.

Fiddler on the Roof

The movie is a classic, and it looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray. What makes it worthwhile now is the abundance of extras they’ve put on this 40th Anniversary edition,  ranging from audio commentary with director Norman Jewison and star Topol, to a deleted song (Any Day Now) and a retrospective at this Oscar-nominated work of art. It’s also a great reminder of just how entertaining a big screen musical can be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rory Gallagher Irish Tour ’74

The concert scenes are a great reminder of what powerful a performer Gallagher was; nobody works up a sweat like he does as he gives himself over body and soul to the sounds he can squeeze out of his beat-up electric guitar. It’s the archival interview footage in the film that is the real treasure here. The way there are scattered throughout the concert footage instead of just gathered into a single documentary is a bit frustrating, but the effort is worth it as you get to know a bit about the man who rocked Ireland — and the world — with a passion that few musicians have ever matched.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Anywhere USA

This just could be one of the funniest American comedies of the past decade. Actually, make that three of the funniest films, since it contains three separate segments that all stand on their own as mini-masterpieces, and for very different reasons. The first is a tale of two rednecks trying to find out if the girl one of them is dating is a terrorist (after all, she eats pistachios, the preferred nut of the Taliban). The second is a dark story of a young girl going to extreme lengths to find out if the tooth fairy really exists. The last segment follows the adventures of a rich man (with a great beard) who realizes one day that he doesn’t really know any Black people, and its about time he met one. Directed by Chusy, it’s bold, brash, thought-provoking, haunting and utterly hilarious.

The Secret of NIMH

As the fascinating extras on the Blu-ray edition prove, Don Bluth risked a lot when he made his break from the Disney Studios to make his own animated feature films. It’s nice to see that the fruit of his labors still looks great nearly 30 years after it was first released. The story of a pack of mutated mice who escape a sinister science lab (NIMH stands for National Institute for Mental Health) is far creepier than just about any other animated movie you’ve ever seen, although the comic relief of a talking crow named Jeremy (Dom DeLuise) does a good job of breaking the tension when young viewers need it the most.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story

It may be hard for some of today’s impatient audiences to sit back and let this story unfold at its leisurely pace, particularly when all the action seems designed to end just in time for a commercial break (that can happen when you watch a 30-year-old TV miniseries). The effort is worth it, though. Not only is the heroic tale of a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazi’s well worth telling, but the cast, particularly Richard Chamberlain as Raoul Wallenberg, does such a fine job of bringing it all to life that even when the plot starts to plod in places, they still give you plenty to focus on.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Antique Bakery

If for no other reason, you should watch this anime series to see how beautifully the creative team behind Antique Bakery can make food look. The bonus is that while you are drooling at the images, you will also be treated to a fun, adult story about four very different guys trying to make their bakery the best in Japan. Some of the story lines go a bit too over-the-top,but the pacing of the series gives you time to really get to know each main character so you start to understand why they react to things the way they do. It’s a rare gift from the storytellers.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Evangelion 2.22

The second installment of the Evangelion relaunch takes the promise of the first film and knocks it out of the park. The action is thrilling as we watch the young teen pilots power up their EVA units to save the planet from the invading Angels, but it’s the development of the characters and their interaction that really makes the film more than just a cool anime. The introduction of new characters helps, but it is the growing relationship between the reluctant pilot Shenji and his quiet co-worker Rei that gives the movie heart.

Tron/Tron Legacy

A lot more than time separates these two Disney Sci-Fi films. Tron: Legacy (2010) may have a lot more cinematic bells and whistles to splash across the screen, but the heart of the movie is as cold as the technology. The original Tron (1982), on the other hand, is obviously a labor of love by director Steven  Lisberger and his crew who were boldly going where no other filmmakers had gone before when they decided to show the world what the inside of a computer would look like if you only had enough imagination. Be sure to watch the extras and see just how the original Tron effects were stitched together (literally) in the days before all a director had to do was punch a computer button.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Taqwacores

College freshman Yusef (Bobby Naderi) gets a lot more than he bargains for when he moves off-campus into a house full of the most unorthodox young Muslims he’s ever known. And that’s a good thing, for him and for the audience of this energetic look at what it’s like to be young, angry and deeply religious Muslims living in Buffalo, New York. Director Eyad Zahra uses the hardcore Muslim punk music scene called Taqwacore to frame his story, but the music takes a back seat to the passionate debates the characters have between themselves about what it means to be Muslim in this day and age. It’s a discussion that needs to be heard wrapped in a movie that needs to be seen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

500 Days of Summer

It’s hard not to fall in love with 500 Days of Summer … even if the movie does everything it possibly can to remind you that it is not a love story. Directed by Marc Webb, 500 Days of Summer chronicles the romantic lifespan shared by Tom and Summer, two coworkers at a greeting card company who meet, date, fall in love and then … well, why spoil it. Rather than use a straightforward story line to tell us how the lives of Tom and Summer intertwine, the film uses a sort of cinematic roulette wheel for its narrative: Numbers from 1 to 500 spin on the screen and we see what happened on the day that comes up when the numbers stop. One day we see them blissfully staring into each others’ eyes and – spin the wheel – the next time we see them it’s months later and they are ready to tear each others’ eyes out. It takes a little while to get used to the pacing such a device sets for the story, but the scenes are so delicately layered against each other that you’re able to sit back and get a much fuller impression of the ups and downs of their romance than you would in a more traditional style.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sunshine Cleaning

The worst part about Sunshine Cleaning is the ending. It’s not that the story ends badly – in fact, it ends on an almost perfect note. It’s just that after 90-minutes of watching this great cast tell such a good story, you don’t want it to end at all. Directed by Christine Jeffs (Sylvia), Sunshine Cleaning stars Amy Adams as Rose Lorkowski, a single mom who makes her living as a maid at a home cleaning service. To make enough money to get her son into a private school (he’s been kicked out of three public schools), Rose decides to switch careers and open her own business as a special kind of cleaning service, cleaning crime scenes. Anyone looking for some sort of CSI experience watching the movie will be sorely disappointed, but fans of quirky independent films that serve up a satisfying slice of life will fall in love with Sunshine Cleaning.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Upstairs, Downstairs Complete Series: 40th Anniversary Edition

Don’t be afraid at the size of this 21-disc box set; think of it as an investment that you will be enjoying for 57 hours (not to mention 25+ hours of extras). And you won’t be bored for a single minute of it.  This landmark BBC series perfectly captured life in Edwardian England by telling the stories of the rich and powerful — those who lived ‘upstairs’ — and those of the people who served them — the ones who spent their lives ‘downstairs.’ What made it so engrossing is the way each episode reveals how the two classes interacted with each other, formally and informally, and how those exchanges changed their lives no matter what class they represented.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Girls, Guns and G-Strings

OK, so maybe they aren’t the greatest movies ever made, but that all depends on what kind of criteria you measure them against. Andy Sidaris, the legendary filmmaker responsible for the 12 movies in this set, will never be mentioned in the same breath as Scorsese or Spielberg, but so what? Like Roger Corman before him, Sidaris knew what he wanted to make (movies for guys) and he made them. Some of the films are better than others (Malibu Express is a classic), but none of them ever fail to deliver what the title of the box set promises to show you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Apocalypse: World War II

You may think you’ve already seen just about every documentary ever made about World War II, but there’s enough declassified, colorized and restored footage in this fascinating series to prove how wrong you can be. The set is more than just as series of amazing images, though. By concentrating on the people who fought the war (the soldiers and the politicians) as well as their victims, it humanizes the conflict in fresh and unexpected ways.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dirty Pair TV Series DVD Collection 2

The intergalactic adventures of Kei and Yuri continue in this excellent collection of original TV shows first aired in Japan in 1985. The adventures are boiler-plate detective stories, but the way these scantily clad young women solve them is anything but predictable. The shows in this second set are more imaginative than the ones in the first, particularly in terms of the visual style. The adventure where Kei gets trapped in a computer program that controls her mind is downright trippy.