Friday, September 30, 2011

Return of the Magnificent Seven

Like a lot of sequels, this one pales in comparison to the original, particularly in terms of casting, but the second adventure of the hired gunman named Chris (Yul Brynner) is still worth watching. This time Chris gathers six of his peers to rescue a band of kidnapped Mexican farmers who are being used as slave labor by a nasty bandito to rebuild a village church in tribute to his dead sons. The film doesn’t give any of the heroes time to establish themselves as more than the good guys, and the fight scenes get a bit repetitive after a while, but Brynner’s stoic performance is still a blueprint for movie cowboy cool.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Magnificent Seven

The ‘making of ‘extras included on this Blu-ray do a good job of explaining why this reinterpretation of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is such a classic, but all you really need to do to understand why it’s such a beloved film is sit down and watch it. The story, about a band of American gunfighters banding together to protect a small Mexican village from a gang of marauding bad guys (lead by Eli Wallach), is compelling, but it is the performances that will say with you. Director John Sturges gives each actor plenty of time to establish his character, which in the case of this cast means making each good guy act as cool as he can. The scenes of Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen subtly upstaging each other are a delight. The fight scenes are explosive and well choreographed, too.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


For the past few years, Jason Statham has been cranking out generic action movies that are the cinematic equivalent of fast food: Cheap and filling, but hardly satisfying. This British film from director Elliott Lester is a big departure from the assembly line the actor has been on. It gives Statham a chance to prove he’s more than well-choreographed beefcake by giving him a role that depends more on making his lines believable than making his fights look cool. n the movie, Statham plays a South London cop investigating a serial killer that is targeting other police officers. It may sound familiar, but the story has some nice twists along the way and Stathan, joined by Paddy Considine as an openly gay inspector and Adan Gillen as the killer, gives his best performance in years.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For a Few Dollars More

When Fistful of Dollars proved to be a such a hit in America, director Sergio Leone and actor Clint Eastwood were quick to cash-in with this quickly cobbled together sequel about two bounty hunters who reluctantly join forces to bring a Mexican bad guy to justice. While a lot of it is a carbon copy of the first movie, For a Few Dollars More turns out to be a better movie because of the addition of Lee Van Cleef as Clint’s rival bounty hunter. Van Cleef doesn’t just support Eastwood in the movie, he steals it from him with cooler guns, cooler lines and a cool pipe that makes Clint’s trademark cheroots look cheap.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fistful of Dollars

It was almost 50 years ago that a young Italian director named Sergio Leone and a young American actor named Clint Eastwood launched their careers when they got together to make the world’s first spaghetti western. Revisiting the movie n Blu-ray is a treat. It looks great and there are lots of extras to give people new to the movie a great sense of its history and how it reinvented the western and the audience’s sense of what a movie hero could be. It’s cool to watch a young Eastwood take the role of a drifter playing a fast con on two rival gangs in a small Mexican town and make it something special. Heck, he even breaks into a grin every once in a while.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Thomas Hardy Collection

Gorgeously photographed and beautifully acted, these two stories from novelist Thomas Hardy are perfect reminders why these stories are considered classics of literature and, in this case, of film. In Tess, Justine Waddell (Dracula 2000) gives a luminous performance as the poor country girl who is seduced, and abused, by the evil Alec d’Uberville. Pretty as she is, though, it is the spirit that Waddell brings to the part that makes this one of the best versions of the film you will ever see. Likewise, it is the lead performance of Ciran Hinds that makes the story of The Mayor of Casterbridge come alive. Hinds knows how to play the drunken bad guy of the beginning of the film t perfection, but the passion he brings to the part as the Mayor starts to see his past come back to haunt him is heartbreaking.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Killing

Before he expanded our cinematic minds with 2001: A Space Odyssey — or scared the crap out of us with The Shining — director Stanley Kubrick raised film noir to the level of art with this taut heist film about a group of guys knocking off a race track. The film is extremely well-plotted, and the acting, particularly from Sterling Hayden as the brains of the operation, is top-notch. It’s the visual style of the film, though, that will blow you away, especially in repeated viewings. Watch the tracking shot Kubrick uses to follow Hayden as he walks through his seedy apartment and you’ll start to see flashes of the brilliance of the director and understand why he changed the way we watch movies forever. The second disc of the Blu-ray includes an early Kubrick film, a caper film about a Boxer and a dance hall girl, that’s almost as good.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Big Lebowski

It’s one of the best loved — and best — comedies of the past 25 years, and if you don’t understand why this deluxe Blu-ray/Book set will go a long way to helping you get on the Lebowski bandwagon. Directed by the Coen brothers, the film tells the story of the ultimate slacker, The Dude (an hilarious Jeff Bridges), as he is hired by a mysterious millionaire to rescue his kidnapped wife (Tara Red) Battling anarchists and other assorted weirdos, The Dude does his best to save the day, while at the same time racking up a winning score for his bowling team. It’s surreal and seriously twisted. It’s also hilarious. The extras in the set, from the U-control features to the exclusive on-set photos from Bridge, only add to the experience.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cameraman The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Even if you don’t recognize the name, chances are you’ve seen his work. Jack Cardiff is a Hollywood legend, a cameraman and director who created some of the most indelible images every caught on celluloid. Along with interviews with Cardiff, and testimony from the filmmakers who either worked with him or grew up watching his work before creating his own, the movie is filled with clips from the films he made, from the certifiable classics like The Red Shoes and The African Queen, to guilty pleasures like The Vikings and Rambo II. It’s both eye-opening and inspiring. Be sure to watch it with a pen and paper handy so you can start making a list of his movies to watch again and again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season Two Part One

With the Caped Crusader getting all to serious in graphic novels and movies these days, it’s great to see him in a series that doesn’t deny the comedy of his comic adventures. The addition of guest heroes from the DC Universe adds just the right amount of variety to the shows, although just how much you enjoy each episode may depend on how mch you enjoy each hero (the show with Aquaman going on a family vacation, for example, is for die-hard fans of the King of the Seas). Deidrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show) is perfectly cased as The Batman.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Elvira’s Movie Macabre: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die & The Manster

Although her job is to make fun of the movies she’s showing, the key to a good night of Elvra’s Movie Macabre is matching her sharp wit with movies that are actually fun to watch (even if they are terrible). That makes this the perfect Elvira package.The Brain that Wouldn’t Die is a creepy classic about a scientist who, after she is almost killed in a car accident, uses his skills to keep his girlfriend’s head alive in the hopes that he can then go out and find a hot body to attach it to. The Manster, the story of a scientist who discovers a serum that causes test subjects to grow a second head, is too weird for words.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cuba: Island of Music

While it’s hardly a definitive story of whether the country or its musical tradition, there’s an infectious charm to  this documentary thanks in large part to the enthusiasm of director/host Gary Keys. It’s a patchwork portrait, with the camera jumping all over the place as it gets distracted by the locations, but instead of making you dizzy the jumpy editing seems to reflect the way any tourist would react to seeing a country that most Americans are forbidden to visit thanks to some antiquated embargo. And if Keys seems to concentrate a bit too much on the shapely curves of the female population, so what? The pulsating rhythm of the music makes their gyrating hips look like art.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


To rescue her daughter from the clutches of an evil mob kingpin, a tough chick named Trinh (Veronica Ngo) must steal a laptop full of state secrets from some French mobsters. She puts together a gang and goes after the computer, only to run into a series of double and triple crosses that forces her to make some deadly decisions. Intricately plotted and very well acted, what makes this Vietnamese action film worth watching again and again is the high energy performance from Ngo, a beautiful woman who can easily go toe-to-toe with any other action hero on film today. Johnny Tri Nguyen is almost as fun to watch as the strong silent type who helps her get her daughter back, but it is Ngo’s acting and action sequences that make the film unforgettable.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dream Home

When was the last time a movie truly shocked you? Even hardcore horror fans will have a hard time sitting through some of the scenes in Ho-Cheung Pang’s violent thriller about a young woman determined to get the condo she dreams about living in at any cost. As disturbing as the images can be in the movie, what makes it worth watching is the strong plot and even stronger acting, particularly from Josie Ho as the potential homeowner. There’s a reason she wants the home so much, and the script does an excellent job of weaving the details into the film to give you just enough information to almost forgive the girl as she stalks and brutally murders another victim. As a result, the story is almost as haunting as the graphic way it is told. Almost.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Captain America

It’s unfair to compare this 1990 low-budget film with the Marvel extravaganza that it theaters this summer. They may feature the same comic book superhero battling his arch nemesis, but after that it’s comparing apples and oranges. If you cut it some slack, though, and judge this one on its own merits, it can be a heck of a lot of fun. Matt Salinger does a good job filling in the boots of America’s first super hero, no mean achievement given the cheap plastic look of the costume they give him. Screen veterans Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Darren McGavin all bring a wink and a smile to their cheesy roles as the people trying to help (or in McGavin’s case hurt) the Captain as he fights to save the world from being destroyed. Scott Paulin steals the show as the Red Skull.

The Frankenstein Syndrome

A group of scientists in a remote facility are doing illegal stem cell research. They come up with a serum that can reanimate dead tissue, and before you know it, they’re testing it on human subjects with disastrous results. Based on Mary Shelley’s novel, the basic outline of the story is familiar, but what director Sean Tretta and his cast do with it will still blow you away. The gore factor is pretty high, but it is the tension that crackles in just about every scene that will have you on the edge of your seat. Scott Anthony Leet’s performance as the security guard who becomes the ultimate creation will give you nightmares.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Fox and The Hound 1 and 2

This Disney classic is probably best remembers as the transitional film where the animators who created all those memorable movies that came before (from Snow White to The Rescuers) passed the torch to a new generation who would go on to make great films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Unfortunately, the end product of the historical moment hasn’t aged well. The story of the friendship between natural enemies isn’t really developed well, and the mix of comedy and drama (the film starts with the Fox’s mom being shot) is unbalanced. The straight-to-video sequel about the hound getting a gig as a singing stray in a circus is better, thanks in large part to a winning vocal performance from Reba McEntire.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Forget Capt. America and those overrated Avengers. This is the best super hero movie ever made; at least it is if you like super hero movies that are dark, edgy (and violent) comedies that have more to do with characters than anything done by anyone in a cape. Directed by James Gunn, it’s the story of a sad man named Frank (Rainn Wilson) who goes off the rials when his long-time girlfriend leaves him. He makes himself a costume, picks up a wrench and goes out to fight crime as The Crimson Bolt. Only he ‘s really bad at it. Things don’t get any better when he picks up a sidekick named Boltie (Ellen Page), either. But never forget that this isn’t a movie about Good Vs. Evil. It’s a move about a good man fighting for his very soul.

Monday, September 12, 2011


A lot of good actresses can play tough or bitchy, but few have the talent -- or the nerve -- to play just plain unlikable. So hats off to whoever decided to hire Brenda Blethyn to play DCI Vera Stanhope in this excellent series. Stanhope is the kind of a TV cop who sacrifices everything -- and then some -- to solve the crimes she gets assigned. Like a lot of good cop shows, Vera gives us a lot of interesting insights along the way into just why Stanhope makes the sacrifices she does. But there's a catch: We don't want to really know that much about her because we never want Sanhope to lose that nasty edge that drives her (and the series). It's OK to love the actress, because Blethyn is breathtaking in the show. And it's just as valid to dislike the lady she plays.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Burn Notice The Fall of Sam Axe

To fans, he will always be Ash of Evil Dead fame, but for the past six years, Bruce Campbell has been co-starring in the hit TV series Burn Notice, playing a rumpled ex-Navy officer who helps agent Michael Western (Jeffrey Donovan) solve crime in Miami. This spin-off from the series stands on its own as an entertaining adventure film about covert military operations in South America. It also stands out as one of the better films Campbell has ever done because he’s just so comfortable playing Sam Axe. The signature Campbell humor is there, but there’s also enough drama in the script to let Campbell remind people he’s more than that guy with the boom stick

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The King of Fighters

Based on the video game of the same name, this slick action film is a lot of fun thanks to some strong fight choreography and a winning performance from star Maggie Q. It’s the story of a martial arts tournament that takes place in another dimension, a dimension where fighters can go and beat each other’s brains out without getting hurt in the real world. That is until a bad guy named Rugal (Ray Park) comes up with a plan to merge the two dimensions into one. The story is a bit confusing at times, especially if you are not familiar with the original game, but it’s easy enough to just unplug your brain and enjoy the action.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Donnie Darko (10th Anniversary Edition)

There are legions of fans out there who absolutely worship Donnie Darko, a strange tale of a troubled young man (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the imaginary rabbit named Frank who tells him to do some terrible things. Directed by Richard Kelly, it wasn’t exactly a box office smash when it come out in 2001, but it’s developed a cult following of people who really do believe that ‘cellar door’ is the most beautiful phrase ever written. This deluxe package is the perfect opportunity for them to revel in all things Darko, since it contains the original version of the movie, an extended director’s cut and hours and hours of extras for them to rejoice in. The good news is that it also gives the uninitiated a chance to see what all the fuss is about, Ten years later, Darko may not be a great movie, but it sure is one heck of a ride.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


While enjoying an RV holiday touring the hot spots of extraterrestrial activity in the American Southwest, a pair of English nerds run into an actual alien looking for a way to get back home. If it sounds like a family friendly film along the lines of ET, then be warned that Paul is definitely not for kids. It’s more for adults (OK, adult males) who never grew up. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, stars of Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, play the nerds in the mobile home and they are both very funny and absolutely charming. Seth Rogen provides the voice for the alien Paul and gives one of the best performances of his film career without ever actually appearing in the film. The real treat of the movie, though, is the performance by Kristine Wigg (Bridesmaids) as a deeply religious woman who has her world-view ruined when Paul touches her head and fills it with all his knowledge, as well as a perverse pleasure in swearing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Shin Chin Season 3

It’s almost impossible to explain what happens in any given episode of this hilarious anime series. Think of Eric Cartman cranked up to 11 and you’ve got an idea of the attitude of the lead character, a small boy with a bad attitude and a penchant for dropping his pants and adding his butt dance just for the hell of it (he never needs a reason). Foul as he is, though Shin’s antics often pale in comparison to the things the adult characters in the show say and do. It’s rude and crude, but it’s also one of the smartest comedies out there today, because  the show’s creators seem to have a sixth sense about pacing each episode perfectly: Just when you start to realize an episode doesn’t have a point, Shin looks at you through the camera and apologizes for the show not havng any point. Spooky.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series on Blu-ray

Fans of this popular series will not be happy until they own this Blu-ray edition of the show. Not only will they get the best high definition transfers of the series, but there is a plethora of extras (more than 50 hours of extended episodes, behind-the-scenes extras and commentary from the cast and crew) to keep them in Stargate Atlantis nirvana well into 2012. The great news is that even if you have never seen a single episode of any of the four Stargate series, you will find a lot to love in this box set. The episodes are well written, and the special effects are top notch. The characters are a bit of a cliche (the tough female leader, the quirky doctor with the Scottish accent), but the actors do a great job of making them come to live over the course of the series.

Monday, September 5, 2011

American Bully

Brandon O’Leary (played with raw intensity by Matt O’Leary) is one of the angriest teenagers you will ever see in a movie. He’s angry about school. He’s angry about his life and, in the months following the 9/11 terrorist attack, he’s mad at the world outside his limited middle-America range. Suspended from school for sending a fellow student a link to a graphic video of terrorists beheading an American soldier, Brandon spends the day drinking with friends and looking for trouble. He finds what he is after when he meets the student who turned him in over the video and decides to teach him a lesson. Passionately directed by Dave Rodriguez, the film is almost too relentless in its effort to portray Brandon’s anger. There’s no other point of view offered to any believable degree, and without it, the film lacks the balance it needs to make the story complete.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Baka and Test: Season One

With the preponderance of serious and seriously violent anime being brought out these days, its a relief to watch a show that’s seriously silly. The series follows the adventures of the students at Fumizuki Academy, a school where students can summon Avatars, pint-sized versions of themselves, to battle each other to settle any and all disputes between classes. The school losers of Class F, lead by the always poor and always hungry Akihisa Yoshii, take on all comers to better their standing in the school, leading to some eye-popping anime battles. It’s the interaction between the kids, though, that gives the show heart.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

John Pinette: Still Hungry

This concert DVD starts out kind of slow as Pinette, a big guy with a big appetite, centers all his jokes on food. It’s kind of funny, but kind of predictable, too. Around 10 minutes into the show, though. Pinette stops with the fat jokes and starts telling stories about his life, stories that grow increasingly hilarious as the show movies along. Sure, he still throws in a fat joke here and there, and some of them are pretty funny, especially when they’re not piled on top of each other, but it’s the humanity of his humor that makes Pinette such an enjoyable performer.

Stake Land

It starts with a man and a teenage boy driving down a dusty, deserted road. They aren’t talking and the silence is growing ever more oppressive. Then someone (or something?) starts pounding on the trunk. From the inside. Demanding to be let out. In a lot of ways, Stake Land is a modern day classic of its kind, a vampire movie with lots of gore, lots of grisly killings and lots of the undead being dispatched by the hero in some pretty intense and interesting ways. But it’s more than just a horror movie. With a strong script, a talented cast and the visionary flair of director Jim Mickle, it’s the kind of classic action movie genre fans thought filmmakers had forgotten how to make anymore.

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Part Five

Over the course of the preceding 52 episodes of this epic anime series, audiences have watched Edward and Alphonse Elric grow from two little boys who did a really bad thing (trying to bring their mom back from the dead using the power of alchemy) into two heroic young men who are willing to risk everything to save the world from an unholy enemy bent on wiping out the human race. It’s been a hell of a ride so far, and the final 12 episodes deliver the perfect ending. The action is still intense, but it is the way the various plot lines are brought together in such a satisfying way that makes you want to go back to the beginning after episode 64 and watch it all over again.