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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The King Speaks

Almost more than tell us the real life story of King George VI and the struggles he had to go through to tame his speech impediment so he could address his subjects (after his brother Edward abdicated the thrown to marry an American divorcee), this documentary is proof of just how great a job Colin Firth did portraying the man in his Oscar-winning role in The King’s Speech. (Watch them back-to-back and see for yourself.) In addition, it features a series of interviews with past patients of Lionel Logue, the therapist whose unorthodox methods help save the King and all of England.

Rubber

If Samuel Beckett made low budget horror movies instead of writing novels and plays, he might have made this darkly hilarious film about a radial belted serial killer. Thank goodness director Quentin Dupieux has the Irish writer’s same sense of the comically absurd. Rubber is the story of an abandoned tire who wakes up one day in the desert, digs itself out of the sand and starts rolling down the road looking for things to destroy with his telekenetic powers. It doesn’t matter if it’s an empty beer bottle, a cute little rabbit or a human being. If it gets in the tire’s way, it’s going to explode. Why the tire is killing things or how it got the power to do it in the first place is beside the point. It just does.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kaboom

This is one of the weirdest Sci-Fi movies ever made, but that’s par for the course for director Greg Araki who wouldn’t make a straight (pun intended) narrative film if you paid him. It’s the story of a bunch of beautiful horny California college students trying to decide who they are (and who they want to sleep with). Their lives get even more complicated when they discover their small college town is home to a mysterious and deadly cult. Haley Bennett and Thomas Dekker are great as the lesbian/bi-sexual best friends who discover the mystery.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Yu Yu Hakusho: The Complete First Season

Yuseke Urameshi is a jerk. His mom doesn’t like him (at least when she’s been drinking, which is often). His fellow classmates are afraid of him (except for Kayko who has known him since they were kids). His teachers hate him (except for the school principle who still has hope for him).  When Yuseke gets hit by a car and killed in the first episode, then, it’s kind of unpredictable where the story will go as the bad boy is faced with a challenge to change his ways so he can get his life back. The comedy is a bit uneven, dipping to often into just plain silliness, but the characters are always entertaining and interesting,

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Screamadelica live

Unless you are already a fan of the band, Primal Scream,  you may want to start this DVD by watching the Classic Album show included in the extras. It really helps put the band, their music and their influence on 1990s pop culture in perspective. Then settle back and watch the band play all the songs from the album that made them famous, Screamadelica. Take a break and then watch the second eight-song “rock set” featuring highlights from the rest of their career. Hardcore fans will love it; best of all, even novices who have never heard Primal Scream before are in for a sonic treat.

Louvre City

Documentary filmmaker Nicolas Philibert uses his unique way of telling a story to show us what goes on at the Louvre in Paris after the visitors have gone home and the doors are locked. Like most of his work, it takes a while to get into the rhythm of the film since Philibert doesn’t use a narrative of any kind to tell us what we are looking at or why. Instead, he gently moves his camera through the museum’s quiet halls to show us everything from a group of workers unfolding an enormous canvas for a new exhibition to a group of employees arguing good naturedly about the way they look in their uniforms. The end result is fascinating.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Black Death

It has the look and feel of a horror movie, but this gritty film from director Christopher Smith is more historical drama than gore-fest. And that’s a good thing. There’s still plenty of action as we follow a soldier named Ulrich (Sean Bean) as he travels to a remote village to find out why the  residents haven’t succumb to the plague like almost everyone else in the movie: Is it witchcraft? An act of god? Or just dumb luck? What we guess as viewers doesn’t matter, because the real fun of the film is watching Ulrich and his gang try to figure it out for themselves before it’s to late.

Red, Rise, Roar

David Byrne proved he was one of the most photogenic rock stars on the planet when he hooked up with director Jonathan Demme in 1984 to make the visually stunning (and fun to dance with) concert DVD Stop Making Sense. He may not still be with the Talking Heads, but he’s just as much fun to watch on his own in this new concert DVD, directed by Hilman Curtis. The thing that makes this new disc even better (if only slightly) than SMS is the way it combines the extras that are usually just dumped as an afterthought in the bonus features and weaves them into the story. It gives you some fabulous insight into what it takes to make such a great show work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Best of the Dean Martin Variety Show

Dean Martin didn’t just break the mold for what a television variety host had to be, he refused to even bother thinking what anybody else did in the first place. He showed up, had some laughs with some friends, sang a song or two then said goodnight. And America loved him for it. They ate up the loosey-goosey nature of the show. So what if nobody can keep a straight face long enough to do a skit or even finish singing a song. That was the beauty of what Dean did, and this two-disc set is a great reminder of just how well he did it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Swamp People: The Complete Season 1

You can’t make this stuff up. In fact, if you watched a movie or a dramatic series (or comedy) with the same cast of characters as you will find in this History Channel reality show, you wouldn’t believe a second of it. But spend a few minutes with Junior and William or Troy and Jacob as they cruise around the swamps of Louisiana looking for alligators to kill and you will be a believer. You’ll also be hooked, not only to watch them do what they do best — catch and kill prehistoric animals that outweigh them by hundreds of pounds — but you’ll come to really enjoy spending time with the gator hunters and their kin when they’re off the water, too.

Savage County

It starts out like a lot of horror movies these days, with a bunch of scary weirdos in the woods killing any young kids who are dumb enough to get lost and set foot on their property. Just when you think it’s going to be predictable, though, director David Harris shows what a difference a strong sense of style, combined with some pretty good substance, can make in a horror movie. The actors playing the high school kids are all way too old to be convincing, and the way Harris uses one of them to be an online DJ feels more like an excuse to sell the soundtrack than anything to do with the movie. The insanely creepy guys he cast to play the backwoods Hardell family — Jeff Pope, Jimmy Crothswait and especially Patrick Cox — more than make up for any of the movie’s shortcomings.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Genius of Britain

The title may seem a bit egotistical, but after watching an episode or two of this addictive educational series you have to give it up to the British. They have a long and honored history of inquisitive minds whose quest to find answers about the world around them made the world we live in today that much better. Don’t let the ‘educational’ aspect of it keep you away, either, because the makers of this series did a fantastic job of finding just the right experts to talk about the geniuses in the stories. They’re not only smart and passionate about the topics they represent, but they have the gift of gab that makes you learn without ever knowing you are getting smarter with each episode.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rookie Blue: The Complete First Season

Your first reaction when you start watching this ABC series may be to shut it off after about five minutes: the actors just seem too pretty to be convincing as rookie police officers. Fight the urge to stop it, though, and give it a chance. The stories may not be that original, particularly if you are a cop show fanatic, but they get the job done, and the job of this series is to help us get over the pretty face prejudice and let the talented young cast do their job. And they do it pretty well, particularly Missy Peregrym (Stick It) as the daughter of a washed up cop trying to reclaim her family honor.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ballistica

Paul Logan rocks. Whether he’s battling giant man-eating fish in Mega Piranha or kicking Russian ass in this high energy action film, the guy is the modern day embodiment of all the action heroes who came before him, from Bronson and Eastwood to Stallone and Van Damme. He fights the bad guys, gets the girl and does it with out the preening and wise-ass remarks most action movie guys depend on these days. You can say all you want about his limited acting skills, but until you can stand in front of a camera and combine kung fu and gun fighting (the made-up martial art skill of the title) and make it look convincing, shut your mouth.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hotel Rwanda

Don Cheadle won an Oscar (and deservedly so) for playing the part of a Rwanda hotel manager who opens his resorts doors to let in the refugees from the horrible war that is destroying his country. While his performance is still powerful, a second viewing on Blu-ray gives you a chance to watch just how fantastic the supporting cast is, especially the great Sophie Okonedo as his wife. The making of documentaries in the extras, particularly the Return to Rwanda feature, make this disc a unique, and fulfilling, night at the movies.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Royal Wedding – William & Katherine

Talk about your quick turnaround. A little more than a month after Prince William and Catherine Middleton tied the knot (in front of the whole world) at Westminster Abbey, the BBC has released a DVD of their news coverage of the day. Those who set their alarms to get up in the pre-dawn hours to watch the festivities will probably enjoy reliving the big moment, while those who didn’t really see what all the fuss was about will still be unconvinced. It’s the mildly curious, those who didn’t see the live broadcast but who are interested (although they may not admit it) to watch the ceremony that will really enjoy this DVD.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Platoon

It’s impossible to watch this 1986 Vietnam War movie and not sit there in wonder at how young, healthy and talented Charlie Sheen used to be. Even though he’s saddled with one of director Oliver Stone’s more ponderous (and pontificating) scripts, Sheen makes the character of a raw recruit swirling down into madness absolutely believable. Willem Dafoe is a wee bit too fey playing the angelic Sgt. Elias, but Tom Berenger is still scary as hell as the scar-faced Sgt. Barnes. Keep you eyes peeled for an early Johnny Depp performance, especially in the deleted scenes (most of which really deserved to be deleted n the first place).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nénette/Animals and More Animals

This fascinating box set is a great introduction to the documentary world of French director Nicolas Philbert. In the first film, Nénette, he tells the story of a 40-year-old orangutan living in a Paris zoo by focusing the camera on her and letting the dialogue of the people who watch her from the other side of her glass-walled cage tell the story. It takes a bit to get use to the film’s unusual setup, but the result is hypnotic. In the second movie, Animals and More Animals, Philbert follows a group of scientists and museum workers as they prepare for the grand reopening of the Natural History Museum in Paris after being closed for almost 30 years. The story is a bit more structured than Nénette, but the visual imagery is just as strong, if not stronger, no mean achievement considering most of his ‘cast’ is dead and stuffed.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Great Dictator

This classic Charlie Chaplin movie (his first talkie) is still hilarious 71 years after it was first released into the world, but it is the bravery of the director to put it out in the first place (covered very well in this Criterion Collection’s DVD extras) that make it one of the great film achievements of all time. Watching Chaplin play the part of the mad dictator named Hynkel (a very thinly disguised caricature of Adolph Hitler) is thrilling when you consider he was doing it years before the world realized just how mad the real person was.

IRT: Deadliest Roads: Season 1

According to the facts provided by the filmmakers, a person dies along the ancient spice routes of the Himalayas every 4.5 minutes. That means that by the time you watch episode one, 10 people will have lost their lives. It’s a sobering though as you watch the best of the Ice Road Trucking bunch and their global challenge to drive across the crumbling infrastructure of India to bring supplies to a dam project. There’s plenty of thrills, but there’s also a lot of repetition watching the three drivers go over the same route.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chobitz: The Complete Series

Somewhere in the not too distant future, according to this popular anime series, the world will be filled with walking, talking personal computers called persocoms. The fact that the persocoms are all hot looking young babes is a clue that the world of Chobitz was designed to appeal to the young boys who spend far too much time on their computers in the first place. While the stories have a tendency to get too silly – there’s an entire episode devoted to the dilemma of a young guy buying underwear for his persocom, there is an overall mystery that weaves its way through the story that is compelling and, when it is finally solved, quite satisfying.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet

From the opening scene, when a tiny ceramic gnome walks out onto a stage to tell you that what you are about to see is a story that’s been told before… a lot … just as a giant hook creeps in from the wings to haul him out of there, you get a feeling that Gnomeo & Juliet has the potential to be a lot better than you’d imagine. A few minutes into the movie, after you’ve been bombarded with clever sight gags and some awful (but in a good way) Shakespearean puns, you can relax and settle in for a surprisingly good night at the movies.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town

The story of the Devil coming to a small own in Ontario to seek his revenge on a guy who is literally too fat to get out of his own house is full of comic ideas that never quite gel into an hilarious whole because instead of being in a single movie, it’s divided into an eight-part series. There are moments of brilliance to be sure, particularly in the way the Kids come up with insane characters to play just about every part in the movie, but the brief episodes always seem to end before their energy can really get you laughing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Destructors

There is a workmanlike efficiency in this taut spy thriller from director Robert Parish. Anthony Quinn stars as a rogue American agent who hires a hit-man (Michael Caine) to kill a drug dealer (James Mason) after he runs out of legal ways to get him off the streets. It’s set in the seacoast town of Marseilles, and one can’t help but get the feeling that the three leading men took the job more for a paid vacation than what was in the script. They’re such old pros, though, that they show up, do their job and still manage to give the story a believable edge.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Thousand Clowns

Jason Robards gives a fantastic performance as Murray, an out-of-work comedy writer who decides he’d much rather bum around New York City and see what the Big Apple has to offer him than get a job. That’s fine for him, but as the guardian of a young boy (Barry Gordon), he has certain responsibilities that the law, in the form of a social worker named Albert (William Daniles) won’t let him get away with it. Barbara Harris steals the show (no small feat against Robards) as the naive social worker who falls for Murray.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Patty Hearst

It’s strange to imagine that most audiences today probably know Patty Hearst more for her performances in a few John Waters films than for the real-life experiences she had in the 70s as a victim (if that’s the right word) of an American terrorist group called the SLA. This mesmerizing movie from director Paul Schrader will set the record straight. Natasha Richardson is fantastic in the lead role, letting the audience see the struggles — external and internal — that Hearst went through in making the transformation from prisoner to political outlaw, but it’s Ving Rhames work as the charismatic terrorist leader that will haunt you.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Almighty Thor

Cody Deal stars as the God of Thunder in this low budget version of the Norse myth about a god coming down from Valhalla to save the earth. He’s a bit too wooden to be believable, but few actors have what it takes to be believable dressed in ratty furs and fake armor as they stride around the back alleys of LA trying to look heroic. That’s why it’s so cool to watch Richard Grieco show the world how it’s done with his performance as the evil Loki.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Some Like It Hot

What else can be said about this Billy Wilder classic other than it you have never seen it, stop reading right now and go get a copy of your own. Make it a Blu-ray, too, not only for the extras, like the Nostalgic Look Back documentary, which enrich the experience, but because the lush black and white photography looks fantastic. The comic timing of Tony Cutis and Jack Lemmon as two Prohibition Era jazz musicians hiding out from the mob by posing as lady musicians in an all-girl orchestra is some of the best ever caught on film.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Leaving Las Vegas

Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for his portrayal of a failed Hollywood writer who decides to move to Las Vegas so he can drink himself to death, and deservedly so. Watching him self-destruct on the screen is a reminder of just how talented he is, especially when compared to the drek he’s been pumping out ever since. The real discover of watching this deeply disturbing film again on Blu-ray, though, is realizing that Elisabeth Shue matches him note for note wth her stunning performance as an angry Vegas hooker.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rivers of a Lost Coast

Two things may keep you from settlng in to watch this documentary: either you think it’s an angry film about how man has ruined mother nature or you think it’s some boring compilation of old guys sitting around talking about fishing. To be fair, there are elements of both to be found, but they are small bumps in an otherwise enjoyable ride through a world many of us may think we aren’t that interested in to begin with, the world of fly fishing. Tom Skerrit, who starrd in the ultimate fly fishing movie (A River Runs Through It) is the perect narrator.