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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Zazie dans le metro

Although he was best known for his powerful dramatic movies, like Alamo Bay and Au Revoir Les Enfants, French director Louis Malle had a flair for comedy, too, as can be found in this colorful 1960 family film It’s the story of a young girl named Zazie (the charming Catherine Demongeot) spending a weekend with her relatives in Paris. When her dreams of riding the Metro are canceled due to a strike, Zazie runs wild in the city with often hilarious results. Watching the bonus interview with Malle talking, quite intensely, about how the movie is a serious satire of modern city life is a nice juxtaposition because it lets you go back and watch the film again through different eyes.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wired

It all starts innocently enough as young bank executive Louise Evans (Jodie Whittaker) agrees to set up a phony bank account in exchange for some quick and badly needed cash. Once she starts taking money from the bad guys, though, the action quickly escalates to the point where Louise has to risk everything she has, including the life of her young daughter, to keep from landing in jail for a long, long time. The pacing of this British mini-series is tightly controlled, giving the audience plenty of ‘holy crap’ moments as the bad guys start closing in. The love story between Louise and a detective named Crawford (Toby Stephens) is less effective. Whittaker, however, is fantastic in every scene.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Weapons Races

Given the plethora of war documentaries available today, it takes a truly unique vision to make any box set rise above the rest to capture our imagination. This Military Channel set does it, and with style. Rather than be an overview of the war, it concentrates on the weapons that make modern warfare possible and gives us a detailed history of how it came to be, how the weapon changed the way men fight and some insight into how the future of war will be changed as the weapon evolves. It’s especially fascinating to watch the way different cultures work on on the same ideas at the same time without ever knowing what the other is doing. Watching them fail along the way is equally exciting.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall

Based on the book by Spike Milligan, this silly comedy follows a wise-cracking big band trumpet player (Jim Dale) through basic training for World War II. The jokes are a bit old, but Dale’s energy and charm make even the most tired puns and pratfalls worth at least smiling at. What makes the film work, though, is the way director Norman Cohen guides the cast through the emotional moments where the harsh reality of war comes crashing in on all the frivolity. It’s not an easy balance to find, but they pull it off with style.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bad Company Live at Wembley

Bad Company is, without a doubt, one of the most influential band to ever plug in and play rock and roll. Why? Because they gave the world a series of simple catchy songs that inspired a generation of wannabe rockers to pick up a guitar and learn how to strum along to “Can’t Get Enough.” They may be a bit older and grayer than they were when their songs were staples on the FM dial, but the remaining members of the band — singer Paul Rodgers, guitarist Mick Ralphs and drummer Simon Kirke — play with the enthusiasm of men half their age. Rodgers, in particular, gives a performance that is a blueprint for anybody who thinks they have what it takes to lead a band and entertain a crowd.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

After two films playing legendary kung fu master Ip Man, reigning movie martial arts king Donnie Yen branches out to bring a new action hero to the screen with fantastic results. The film, directed by Wai-keung Lau, is a gangster movie with a twist, set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Yen plays the right hand man of the local mob boss who moonlights as a masked crime fighter. The story is a bit overcomplicated at times, but the fight scenes are always top-notch. As an added bonus, the film looks gorgeous, particularly the sets that recreate Shanghai as the center of opulence/decadence.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Deep Purple’s Phoenix Rising

The concert footage is good, although the fact that there is only 30 minutes is a bit of a letdown given the high energy the band puts out on the eight songs they play. What makes this DVD worth watching, though, is the 90-minute Getting Tighter documentary that’s included in the package which captures the classic rock band at a critical point in its career as Deep Purple tries to reinvent itself after he departure of three of it’s key members (guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover). It’s a fascinating look at the rock and roll lifestyle gone off the rails, told through the stories of the ones who survived.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Elvis Costello, Spectacle Season 2

Elvis stumbled a bit through his first season as a talk show host. He was fine when it came time to perform with his guests, but looked uncomfortable when it came down to actually sit and talk with them. The Elvis in season two of Spectacle is much more confident in his approach and in his ability to get his guest to open up about the things that interest him, both as a musician and as a person. (Unlike most talk shows, Elvis doesn’t ask questions just to give the audience what they want.) The range of guest is eclectic and impressive, from Bono and The Edge to a strange and wonderful episode where he lets actress (and non-musician) Mary-Louise Parker turn the interview camera on himself. The culmination of the season, a two-part interview with Bruce Springsteen, is simply magical.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kiss Me Deadly

Driving down a darkened highway through the desert, private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) picks up a mysterious woman (Cloris Leachman) with a deadly secret. Before he can figure out what she is afraid of, she ends up dead and Hammer gets caught up in a web of intrigue that could literally mean the end of the world. While the hero of most film noir movies like this is a cool cat with the smarts to bring the bad guys to justice, the fun thing about this one is that Hammer is a bit of a dullard who is just as likely to get the crap beat out of him as he is to beat up a bad guy. That, and the cool ending, make Kiss Me Deadly stand above the rest.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Glades

The cases solved by the cops in this ABC series are pretty generic, with the swampy flare of having the victim occasionally eaten by an alligator before the coroner can get to them. The characters, however, are pretty original, or at least they are in the hands of the talented cast assembled to tell the stories. Leading the pack is Matt Passmore as Jim Longworth, a Chicago detective who had to flee the Windy City before his captain could kill him…literally. His big city attitude rubs everybody the wrong way, but his big smile charm eventually wins them over. Kiele Sanchez plays Callie, a cute single mom/nurse that the detective wants to get to know better. The chemistry between the two is palpable, but the way Sanchez plays the part as his equal and not just his love interest makes it work.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

American: The Bill Hicks Story

While other kids grew up dreaming of being a professional athlete or a rock star, Bill Hicks grew up desperate to make people laugh, so it’s no wonder he started doing stand-up in clubs before he had his driver’s license. Like a lot of comics, Hicks eventually realized the power of laughter, as well as the inspiration to be found in drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t long before he was wrestling with his demons on stage as he tried to find and free the original comic voice hidden beneath the easy jokes. The fact that he found that voice after finally triumphing over his inner demons is a cause for celebration. The fact that he died of cancer before the world could really appreciate what he accomplished is a shame.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wiliam & Kate

Leave it to the experts (or the insanely anglophile) to argue whether or not the ‘facts’ presented in this quickly stitched together drama are accurate or not. It doesn’t matter if Prince William first noticed how hot Kate Middleton was when she appeared on a fashion show runway wearing little more than a see-through gown and a thong. Facts aren’t important here; this show is all about the cheesiness of our fascination with the romance of the royal couple and, let’s be honest,  it’s a hell of a lot more fun to watch than the TV pundits who spent hundreds of hours trying to latch onto the actual event as if that made them special, too. The acting is pretty good, especially from Camilla Luddington as Kate and Ben Cross as the befuddled Prince Charles.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

An unlikely pair of drag queens and an older transsexual get a job to bring their lip sync extravaganza to a remote town in the Australian outback. So they buy an old bus, paint it in outrageous colors and go on a a road trip that will change their lives — and the lives of the people they meet — forever. It’s a wacky story with a killer soundtrack that somehow gets raised to the level of art (albeit campy art) by the performances of the leading men, three guys’ guys who are more at home on screen undressing women than dressing up as them. Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) and Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) are excellent, but it is the heartbreaking, yet heroic, performance of Terrence Stamp as the aging Bernadette that steals the show.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Seargant Cribb

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. Patrick Macnee as John Steed. Some actors are so defined by the roles they play (mainly because they play them to perfection) that it’s as hard to think of them playing anything else as it is to think of anybody else playing those parts. To this list, you can now add Alan Dobie for his fantastic performance as Detective Sergeant Cribb, an absolute bloodhound of a police officer with a brilliant mind and a desert-dry sense of humor. The adventures Cribb goes though in this seven-disc set are all well written, and each has a fantastic sense of style that captures the era they’re set in, an era when walking marathons were mass entertainment and the telephone a relatively new invention. But it’s Dobie’s presence  at the center that makes each story come alive.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dance in the Vampire Bund

Given the current pop culture fascination with vampires and werewolves, this tale of the Queen of the Vampires and her obedient werewolf protector should be a big hit among the Twilight set. The good news for everybody elese is that the story is strong enough – and the animation good enough — for even those who can’t tell the difference between Edward and Jacob to enjoy watching the series. The story, about the vampire race’s need to establish a place of their own to live among the mortal world, is pretty much wrapped up in the first six episodes, and the series stumbles a bit after that trying to find another plot thread to follow, but once it’s on the right scent, the show grows more fascinating with each episode.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Utena, Revolutionary Girl, Set 1

When she was a young girl, Utena Tenjo was visited by a handsome prince and given a special ring that he said would lead him back to her once she had grown up. Now in high school. Utena discovers that while her prince may come someday, she’ll have to fence (literally) with a lot of bad guys before she can go to him. Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, this anime suffers from a high rate of repetition — there are only so many ways you can show a high school fencing duel and make it interesting — but the art is strong and there are occasional flashes of brilliance (like the shadowy Greek chorus and a killer soundtrack) that keep you glued to the story. The way- too-cute animated mouse who interrupts way too may scenes, however, is annoying.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes

There are just so many adaptations of the adventures of Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective that it’s hard to find one that’s not only original, but that stands on its own as well as being part of the Sherlock Holmes canon. Hence the utter joy of seeing Ian Richardson and Robin Laing bring a new twist on the dynamic duo of literary crime. In the film, Richardson plays Dr. Joseh Bell, a distinctly Holmesian instructor at a medical university who just happens to help the local police investigate crimes using the latest scientific methods. Laing plays Conan Doyle, not as a great writer, but as a struggling university student who gets assigned to assist Bell in his lab and on the cases he investigates. When a serial killer starts butchering the local ladies of the night, the pair swing into action in a most delightful way.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Insignificance

There’s a reason that the characters in this fascinating Nicolas Roeg film are listed in the credits by their stereotypes rather than the actual people they are obviously supposed to be — Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, and Joseph McCarthy. It’s too easy to think of them as the celebrities they represent, instead of as the iconic images they stand in for. Who is who doesn’t really matter, anyway, once Roeg starts digging deeper into the nature of celebrity, both for the ones who are caught up in it and the ones (we the audience) who put them there in the first place. Even if you don’t feel like delving into what it all means, you will still get a thrill out of watching what the actors in the movie do, from Tony Curtis’s sweaty portrait of a power crazed politician to Michael Emil’s gentle turn as a man who is happier living in his mind than among other people. Theresa Russell is absolutely transcendent as the actress in the billowy white dress.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Makioka Sisters

Calling this gorgeous film from director Kon Ichikawa a ‘soap opera’ makes it sound like a bad thing, but it’s so well crafted and well-acted that it raises the sometimes sappy story to the level of art. And that’s a good thing. It follows the adventures of four sisters who meet every year in Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms bloom. On the year the story takes place, though, the lives the sisters lead away from their family tradition are simply to turbulent to set aside for a walk in the country. The fact that their country is at war (the story takes place in the years leading up to the Pacific War) is woven into the sisters’ stories in subtle, but provocative ways, as are the generational differences of the siblings, some of who are clinging onto their traditions as a way to stabilize their life, and others who reject tradition as they search for a different way of living.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kingdom of War: Part 1 and 2

With a total running time of close to six hours, this biopic of King Naresuan the Great, who liberated the Siamese from the control of Burma, is an epic in every sense of the word. Don’t let the time commitment keep you from settling in and watching it, though, because it’s also one of the most fascinating epics of its kind. Part 1, which details the early life of the young king and his life in a Buddhist monastery, is a bit slow at times, but the intensity of the political intrigue surrounding his young life more than makes up for the lack of big action scenes you expect in a film from director Chatreechalerm Yukol. The fights in part 2 more than make up for it, anyway. And whether the characters are fighting or simply living their day to day lives, the setting for every scene in the movie is gorgeous.

Kids in the Hall: The Complete Series

Your first reaction is almost painful: They look so young! Sure, it’s only to be expected given the fact that these shows are more than 20 years old, but still it’s a shock to see how baby- faced they all look, particularly when they dress up as girls. (Compare the early skits to the way they look in the bonus disc for their 2011 movie, Death Comes to Town for the full effect.) Looks aside, the good news is that the comedy this Canadian team put together is as fresh now as it was when they first started doing it back in 1988. Like all sketch shows, the Kids have their fair share of flops, which is only to be expected given the sheer number of skits they did over the years, but their batting average is pretty high with plenty of home runs in the mix.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Blood Bath

Don’t let the title or the Gothic and gory cover of this DVD seduce you into expecting a night of blood-drenched horror, because this mid-60s thriller is practically blood free. What it lacks in guts, though, it more than makes up for in atmospheric creepiness in the story of a crazed artist (William Campbell) who murders women then poses them so he can capture their corpses on canvas. Is he insane? Or is he possessed by the spirit of a woman who testified against his great grandfather causing him to be burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft. Maybe he’s just a vampire who prefers to dine on beatnik chicks who pose for him. Who knows, and who cares? The less you think, the more you’ll enjoy this movie.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Housemaid

The movie starts with the suicide of a young woman. Why she decided to jump off the roof of a karaoke bar is never really explained, but by the end of this haunting thriller from director Sang-soo Im, you’ll have a complete understanding of why she did what she did without ever having been told. The film tells the story of a young woman named Eun-yi (the delicious Do- yeon Heon) who gets hired by a rich family to be their housemaid. With the wife of the clan very pregnant with twins, it isn’t long before the husband starts taking liberties with the hired help, liberties that leave her pregnant and unsure of her future. What the rich family do to the girl is horrible; what she does to get her revenge is almost as haunting.

Friday, July 8, 2011

AC/DC Let There Be Rock

The concert, AC/DC in Paris in 1979, is legendary among fans of the pioneering rockers, so having the film of the show finally released on Blu-ray is a prayer come true. The good news is that the rest of the packaging surrounding the show — the documentaries, the interviews and the booklet contained in the special edition — do a great job of helping the rest of us understand that what we are about to watch is more than just another concert. It’s rock and roll lightning caught in a bottle. Be sure to check out the interviews of other musicians and journalist commenting on the band’s biggest hits. It’s both informative and hilarious.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Carancho

Sosa (Ricardo Darin) is an ambulance chasing lawyer who isn’t above staging accidents when there aren’t any ambulances to chase. Lujan (Martina Gusman) is an EMT so addicted to the thrill of going out on calls that she needs to inject herself with heroin to calm down after every shift. They’re not exactly the nicest people to be sure, but that doesn’t make the passion that erupts between Sosa and Lujan any less believable thanks to two incredible performances. The story has more twists and turns than an out of control roller coaster, and writer/director Pablo Trapero makes you feel every one of them. It’s a ride you want to go on again and again.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Who took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour

As much fun as it is to watch Le Tigre in concert in this movie, it is the interviews with the band’s three members — Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman and JD Samson – and the scenes of their interacting with each other and their fans that makes the film work so well. They make infectious pop music, but they never sing a song that doesn’t mean something to them or promote their pro-feminist agenda. Agree with them or not, the passion they bring to everything they do is impressive. The fact that they make you think as much as they make you want to dance is, too.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

TO

The stunning visual look of this pair of anime films from director Fumihiko Sori — created using stop motion anime — is unlike just about any other anime out there today. And that’s a good thing, even if it takes a bit of getting used to, especially the lifeless look of the characters eyes. Thankfully, the stories are strong and the voice-acting spot on. The first movie, Elliptical Orbit is an adventure about galactic terrorists trying to destroy the world’s energy supplies. The second, Symbiotic Planet, is the story of two star-crossed lovers whose romance is played out against the background of a planet-wide plague. They’re both good.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

Rather than just tell a straightforward Green Lantern  adventure, this DC Universe Animated Original Movie uses a GL adventure to introduce the audience to some of the less recognizable characters in their upcoming live action movie. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but the stories are so well told (and so richly animated) that it’s almost a matter of individual taste. Some may enjoy the story of Kilowog (voiced perfectly by Henry Rollins) while others may get a bigger kick out of Mogo’s story. The overall story of Hal Jordan (voiced by Nathan Fillion) trying to introduce a new recruit called Arisia (Elisabeth Moss) to her new career, ties it all together nicely.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

In Her Skin

When the perfect daughter of the perfect parents doesn’t come home from her dance class, the parents start hounding the local police to do something because, even though she’s only been missing for a few hours, they know in their heart that something is wrong. They’re right, too, but even a worried parent’s imagination can barely comprehend the full story of what happened until it’s too late.  Based on a true story, writer/director Simone North does a good job of unfolding the facts in a way that always keeps us guessing even if we think we know what will happen in the end. The cast, particularly Ruth Bradley as Caroline  Reid, the troubled young woman at the heart of the mystery, is excellent.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Every Little Thing

Documentarian Nicolas Philibert and crew take us on another interesting adventure, this time at the La Borde psychiatric clinic where the residents are rehearsing their annual production for friends and family. This time, they are doing the absurdist classic, “Operette,” by Witold Gombrowicz, a play whose dialogue and drama is stranger than almost anything the clinic residents see in their own imaginations. Since Philibert refuses to identify who is who, part of the fun of the film is trying to guess who is a patient and who is a physician at the facility, a task that only grows more complicated as the strange play starts to take form.

Nice Guy Johnny

Just when it looked like Ed Burns would wind up petering out his promising career as a filmmaker starring in an endless series of other people’s crappy movies (27 Dresses, One Missed Call), he falls back, regroups and delivers a fresh, funny and thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy. It’s the story of a young guy with dreams of having his own sports talk show on the radio and the nearly disastrous weekend he spends with his kinda sleazy uncle (Burns). It’s not only written and directed by Burns, but the movie gives him the best role he’s had in a long, long time. Welcome back.