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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dangerous Babes

If for no other reason, you should pick up this 12-movie set for the sheer pleasure of watching the 1978 ‘classic,’ Sextette, starring Mae West, Timothy Dalton and a host of curious cameo appearances ranging from Tony Curtis as a Russian diplomat to Alice Cooper as a singing bell boy. It’s a musical, of sorts, about Mae trying to make her marriage to her 6th husband work despite the fact that husbands one through five keep interrupting her honeymoon: It’s gloriously bad. The other movies in the set range from the sleazy (French Quarter) to the silly (Yellow Hair & The Fortress of Gold), but all of them are campy enough to rate high on the guilt pleasure meter

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gungrave

Based on the video-game of the same name, this action-packed anime begins with violent scenes of a Frankenstein-like gunfighter battling a horde of giant one-eyed monsters. The story switches gears abruptly in the second episode as we meet the gunslinger when he was a soft-spoken human named Brandon Heat working his way up the ladder of the local mob. The shift in tone is a bit disconcerting, but the stories grow in intensity and complexity as we see what happened to Heat to make him the monster of that first episode. The voice work is strong throughout, as is the use of music to heighten the drama, and underscore the action throughout the series. The artwork is detailed and impressive.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mick Jagger – The Roaring 20s

Using some archival interview and concert footage, as well as an endless series of talking heads to comment on the action, this unauthorized documentary does a good job of exploring the formative years of one of the greatest front-men ever. Watching Mick develop from a guy too shy to do more than stand still and sing to become the strutting sex symbol we all know today is fascinating. The film does a good job, too, of showing us that although he has a reputation for being a shallow social climber (at least at times), Jagger was and is a passionate advocate of the blues music he heard as a young man.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Young Justice, Season 1, Volume 1

The idea of adding life to a long running comic book series by showing the heroes as they were when they were young has been done before, and not always in a good way. This Warner Brothers Animation series takes a slightly different tact by giving us the young proteges of the established Justice League heroes and infusing them with personalities that aren’t just carbon copies of the older super mentors. Sure, there’s a lot of teenage angst to be explored, but that isn’t the only thing these young heroes have to deal with. There’s plenty of action in each episode, and a surprising amount of humor, too. The art work is impressive as well.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Clone Returns

A lot of movies come with warning labels, but it’s hard to resist a DVD that has “Warning: Contains Significant Amounts of Philosophy” printed on the back. And it’s not a scam, either, because writer/director Kanji Nakajima gives you a lot to think about in this strange sci-fi story about an astronaut who agrees to have a clone of himself made just in case he doesn’t come back from a dangerous space mission. The ethical issues get complicated when the space man dies and his clone turns out to be a damaged copy of himself. The scientist decide to scrap the first clone and make a second, but the original one has escaped into the world in a desperate attempt to get home

Friday, August 26, 2011

Just William

Set in a quaint English village in the 1950s, this delightful television series follows the adventures of William Brown and his band of merry pranksters as they find ways to pass their idyllic summer days. The stories are well-written and avoid the usual cliches of family programming, but it is the acting that really makes the shows fun to watch. Adrian Dannatt is particularly amusing to watch in the title role, as is Bobbie Langord as his pretty, but vacant sister. The adults who try to control William and keep him out of trouble are well-developed, too, and not just here to yell at William when he breaks the rules.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

We Are What We Are

When their father dies, a trio of siblings are forced to take on the responsibility of providing for their family, which in the case of the family in director Jorge Michel Grau’s movie means finding people they can bring home to ritualistically kill and eat. It isn’t too long before the kids discover they’re not really good at the family business and the police are soon on their trail. While Grau certainly has the style to make the bloodier moments of the movie hard to watch, what makes the story work is the way he builds the family drama over the course of the film. The clan could be fighting over the best way to run the family watch repair business and it would still be intense to sit through. The fact that they are cannibals only cranks the tension up to 11.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Leon Morin, Priest

A year after redefining movie cool in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, Jean-Paul Belmondo donned a priest’s robes to star in this Jean-Pierre Melville classic about the relationship between a lonely widow and a man of the cloth in an occupied village during World War II. The dialogue covers a lot of religious and philosophical topics, ranging form the nature of God to the role man plays in His ultimate plan, but the debates of the mind take a back seat to the passionate sparks that fly between Belmondo and his costar, the beautiful Emmanuelle Riva. This isn’t your usual melodrama, though,and the turns the story takes are always unexpected.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Johnny Winter Live at Rockplast 1979

Along with capturing one of the world’s greatest guitarists in concert, this German television show, shot more than 30 years ago, caught Johnny Winter at a crossroads in his life and career as he was making the transformation from rock icon to full-time bluesman. The song selection salutes the great bluesman who inspired Winter to pick up a guitar in the first place, and he plays them with style and passion: There aren’t too any guitarist who can stretch a song out for 17+ minutes, like he does playing Willie Bronw’s Mississippi Blues, and make it exciting from the first note to the last.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hitler’s Bodyguard

Adolf Hitler survived more than 40 assassination attempts over the course of his career as leader of Nazi Germany. Looking back on it, armed with the knowledge of what Hitler did while he was in power, we can understand why people wanted to kill him. The big question raised, and answered, by this fascinating box set is why anybody would want to risk their lives to save his. The set uses some amazing archival footage to bring you inside Hitler’s inner circle to let you see his bodyguards at work, while taking the time to introduce you to the players and give you a sense of the interplay that went on between them as they fought to gain the Fueher’s favor.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kate Bush — A Life of Surprise

More than 30 years ago, a young singer shook the pop music world when she combined her ethereal voice and the ghostly images from an Emily Bronte novel to make one of the most unique songs to ever climb the charts. A lot of people thought her Wuthering Heights song was a gimmick and she would end up a one-hit wonder, but as this fascinating documentary proves, Kate Bush was soon to become a musical force unlike anything the world had seen before. There are a lot of rock critics to help put here career in perspective, but what makes this double-disc set worth watching are the interviews with the artist herself, along with plenty of clips for the artistic videos she made to go with her songs.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dumbstruck

Ventriloquists are the red-headed stepchildren of the entertainment world. Unless you’re Terry Fator and signed a $100 million contract with a Vegas casino, chances are people look at you like you’re crazy when they find out you spend your time talking without moving your lips with your hand up the backside of a wooden doll. This fascinating documentary, which focuses on five ventriloquists including Fator before and after he became rich and famous, will help change the way you think about ventriloquists. Along with giving you some great insight into what it takes to do it right — there’s a lot more to it than talking through a clenched jaw — it’s an enlightened look at why ventriloquism can be a unique form of art, too.

Limitless

Just when he thinks his life can’t get any worse, a really down-on-his-luck writer named Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) runs into the one person he doesn’t want to see — his sleazy ex-brother-in-law. What could have been an awkward situation turns out to be the day that changes Morra’s life when the brother-in-law turns him on to a new designer drug that allows him access to the 80 percent of his brain that he’s never used before. Watching Morra spiral up and out of control in Limitless is a lot of fun, thanks in large part to the charm that Cooper brings to the role.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight

Directed by Michael Dowse (It’s All Gone Pete Tong), Take Me Home Tonight does a great job of capturing the look, the feel and the fashion madness of the1980s, from the Flock of Seagull haircuts to the Men Without Hats dance moves. What separates it from the mass of similar movies that seem to hit theaters every five years or so ever since Animal House first made being dumb and drunk in college popular film fodder, is the strong script and the equally effective acting. While it, unfortunately, still thinks a movie like this has to have its share of gross out scenes to be effective, Take Me Home Tonight balances the scale by also giving us something to think about as we watch it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Music Room

Satyajit Ray changed the way the world looked at Indian cinema when he released this classic drama about the fading fortunes of a once-rich landlord. Instead of filling is film with big musical production numbers, the hallmark of so-called Bollywood films, Ray made the bold decision to only use music if it added something to the drama of the story. The result, more than 50 years later, is still compelling, as is the performance of Chhabi Biswas as the landlord who risks his fortune and family name to host one final recital at his mansion just to prove his family is more important than that of his upstart neighbor.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mayor Cupcake

When her daughter puts her name on the local election ballot as part of a homework assignment, hardworking mom Mary Maroni doesn’t think too much about it. After all, who would ever vote for her. When the incumbent mayor suddenly dies, though, Mary quickly discovers that a few people actually did vote for her and that is enough to get sworn in as the new mayor. It’s a slim thread of an idea to hang a movie from, but the excellent cast, especially Lea Thompson as Mary, do  enough with it to make it a lot of fun. far too many family films swing between being too edgy or too silly in the hopes of catching some audience only the marketing department has eve seen. Mary Cupcake uses a different recipe, using simple ingredients in effective ways. The result is an unexpected treat.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 6

While it’s always entertaining to watch David Suchet put on his carefully waxed moustache and Belgian accent to play Agatha Christie’s super sleuth, Hercule Poirot, the quality of stories he appears in can be a bit of a mixed bag. The good news about this set is that even though there are only three Poirot mysteries in it, all three are of excellent quality. The first, Three act Tragedy, is a  more traditional story, the kind where Poirot gathers everyone toegether at teh end to reveal who the killer is, The second, the Clocks, benefits from being set as Britain prepares for WW II. And the third, Hallowe’en Party, features the return of crime novelist Ariadne Oliver (a delightful ZoĆ« Wanamaker) to help Poirot solve the case.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Naked

While there’s a fair bit of nudity in this stunning Mike Leigh movie, the Naked of the title has much more to do with the soul-bearing performances of the cast than anything else. It’s the story of a Johnny (David Thewlis), a motor-mouth madman from Manchester who flees to London to escape a beating from the family of a girl he forced himself on. He hooks up with an ex-girlfriend (Leslie Sharp) but it’s soon obvious that Johnny isn’t looking for a reconciliation. He’s looking for anarchy — the kind of physical, emotional and spiritual anarchy he needs to help him feel there’s something more to life than just killing time until you die. The devastation he leaves in his wake doesn’t matter.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

No matter how handsome he may be or how good he looks with his shirt off, Matthew McConaughy will never be the romantic leading man Hollywood has been trying to force him to be in such miserable dreck as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Failure to Launch. He’s just not that kind of guy, at least on film. McConaughy has always been best playing sexy scoundrels, the kind of bad boys who dress well and have a twinkle in their eyes that you know will not be there in the morning because, no matter how much fun he had in the sack, there are bigger and better opportunities awaiting him on the other side of the bedroom door. The Lincoln Lawyer, which has McConaughy plating a sleazy lawyer defending a young, rich guy named Louis Roulet (played by Ryan Phillippe) accused of beating and raping a woman, gives him a chance to shine.

The Making of a President

With the political situation of the past few years (decades?) it’s hard not to be cynical when host T.H. White opens the first disc of this fascinating set by talking about the ‘noble art’ of politics. As an audience, we’re almost too jaded to not simply scoff and stop watching. But that would be a huge mistake, because the three presidential campaigns covered in the set — Kennedy Vs. Nixon in 1960, LBJ Vs. Goldwater in 1964, and Nixon Vs. Humphrey Vs. Wallace in 1968 — are among the most important of our lifetime. And that’s only partially because they are the birthplace of the kind of dirty politics that cause us to be so cynical today. The three films are not simply historical commentaries using archival footage. They were made during the actual campaigns and shown to audiences soon after, so there is a vibrancy to the stories they tell, minus any feeling of nostalgia, that makes them uniquely compelling.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich

Make all the jokes you want about his films. As director Uwe Boll explains in the extras included with his latest (and third) Bloodrayne movie, he doesn’t care. And neither do his fans. In his latest, the daywalking vampire Rayne (Natassia Malthe) is forced to fight a mad Nazi scientist (a hilarious Clint Howard) and stop him from creating an army of the undead for Hitler. It has everything you expect (or dread) from a Boll picture: over-the-top violence, gratuitous nudity, and dialogue so cheesy each DVD should come with a pack of crackers. And that’s just fine.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

13 Assassins

As an action movie, 13 Assassins ranks among the best in recent memory, and puts the flaccid products pushed out by Hollywood the past few years to shame.What raises the action to the level of art, though, is the skill director Takashi Miike uses to make each battle uniquely compelling. Some of the ways he does it are obvious: a lot of blood spilled in 13 Assassins, but every drop of it that gets splattered across the screen is an integral part of the story being told. It never feels gratuitous. Some of Miike’s style is more felt, than seen. During one of the bigger fight scenes where the assassins are facing off against 10 times as many bad guys, you may not even notice the way the director stops using any music and lets the clash of the swords (and the squishy sound of blood gushing out of sword wounds) be the soundtrack to the scenes.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hobo With a Shotgun

If the title makes you cringe, or roll your eyes in disgust or stick your nose in the air as if you can smell how bad it’s going to be just by reading what’s on the poster, then this movie, isn’t for you. Set in a poorly defined apocalyptic future, Hobo With a Shotgun tells the story of a hobo (Rutger Hauer) as he tries to scrape out a living collecting cans from dumpsters and garbage pails to get enough money for a little food, a little booze and, with any luck, have a little left over to save to make his dream of buying an old lawnmower and starting a grass cutting business come true. It’s insanely over- the-top and, for fans of films like this, extremely satisfying.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tom and Jerry: Fur Flying Adventures Volume 2

It’s one of the simplest formula in cartoon history, and one of the best: Tom the Cat chases Jerry the Mouse. Sometimes they chase each other in the house (Saturday Evening Puss), sometimes they chase each other across a concert stage (Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl). And while you know Tom will never win, the joy of watching these classic toons is all about the lengths he will go to (and the abuse he suffers) to get that darn mouse. Like the first volume, the episode mix on Fur Flying Adventures 2 is a bit uneven, but the imbalance is more a matter of taste; some people just don’t like what Chuck Jones did with the battling pair after he took over the mantle of creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, and some love it. With 14 episodes on the disc, you’re bound to find more than a few that will delight you.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Best of Sesame Street Spoofs Volume 1 & 2

Even if you’re too embarrassed to admit you own it, you will still have a lot of fun watching the gang from Sesame Street skewer everything from Mad Men to Grey’s Anatomy in their quest to teach viewers how to add, spell or just learn good manners. The classics from the Jim Henson era of the show work best, mostly because their humor is more free-wheeling and border-line surreal. Along with TV shows and movies, there is a selection of Muppet-style music videos, including a clever send up of Madonna’s Material Girl and Bruce Springsteens’s Born to Run. It’s a fun DVD to share with kids or watch as an adult.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sound of the Sky

Although it’s set in a post-apocalyptic future where the world is teetering on the brink of destruction, this series from director Mamoru Kanbe is not all doom and gloom. In fact, it’s the story of a young recruit name Kanata Sorami who joins the army not to battle bad guys or fight for her country, but to learn how to play the bugle. Assigned to the all-girl 1121st Platoon of the Helvetian Army, Kanata and her crew have a series of mini-adventures, but the fact that the single tank in their tank corps doesn’t even work lets you know that the series is family friendly and a lot of fun. The addition of a plotline involving the past of one of the members in the last few episodes of the series comes along just in time to add some intrigue to the girly adventures add some depth to the story.

Friday, August 5, 2011

White Lightnin'

Jesco White never had a chance for a normal life, at least not since that first day he discovered that inhaling gasoline fumes made you feel like the pain of everyday existence in the Appalachian Mountains never existed. After years of bouncing between juvenile halls and mental institutions, Jesco discovers that he has a talent, passed down from his daddy: The talent to dance. So he hits the road seeking fortune and fame, but it isn’t too long before his personal demons return with a vengeance. It’s an intense and frightening story, featuring some terrific performances, particularly from Edward Hogg as Jesco and Carrie Fisher as the love of his life, Cilla.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Underwater Universe

Killer Shockwaves, Predators of the Deep, Fatal Pressure, Tides and Currents of Death … not since Jaws first hit the big screen has a single DVD done more to make you fear going into the ocean than this fascinating History Channel series. The fact that a lot of the disasters depicted in the series are being played out in the daily news only underscores what you see. Like the majority of History Channel series, the information in Underwater Universe is presented in an entertaining way that makes even the driest details feel exciting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tetsuo: The Bullet Man

You think the Hulk had problems when he got angry? All that happened when Bruce Banner got upset was that he got big, green and strong. That’s nothing compared to what happens to Anthony, the lead character of this twisted tale from writer/director Shinya Tsukamoto. When Anthony gets mad he turns to metal…literally. Tsukamoto’s aggressive style of movie making may be too much for most audiences to sit through, but if you get beyond the frantic editing and industrial soundtrack, you’ll discover a cool sci-fi story with heart

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubins Story

It’s ever mother’s nightmare. When her ex-husband asks to bring his son to Disney World for a bonding vacation, Tiffany Rubin (Taraji P. Henson) reluctantly agrees. When she finds out that her ex lied to her and instead of going to Florida actually took her son back to his homeland of South Korea, Tiffany springs into action to get her boy back. Directed by Gary Harvey, the movie has plenty of tense moments, but never really plays itself out to be an adventure film. It’s a straightforward drama about the lengths one mother is willing to go to to make sure her son is safe, even if it means taking on both the US and South Korean governments. And Henson is brillant in making it come to life.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Rideback

When her career as a prima ballerina is cut short by injury, young Rin Ogatagoes back to school to see what life has to offer her after dance. She finds her answer when she joins a club for people who enjoy ridebacks, a motorcycle/robot fusion vehicle that she soon learns to master. The story of Rin and her riding habits is just a cover for this series, though, and it is soon replaced by a political action thriller involving shadow governments, terrorists, freedom fighters and world domination. It is as the world she knows crumbles around her that Rin starts to find out just what her place in the world can be, and she goes after it at top speed.