Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Sword With No Name

The fight sequences in this movie from director Yong-gyumn Kim are spectacular, particularly the final battle scene where a single palace guard, dedicated to saving the life of his queen, takes on an entire army by himself. What makes this movie so epic, though, is the beautiful love story woven between the battles. It starts with a young woman (Soo-Ae) whose last wish before going off to marry the king is to go see the ocean. She hires a local man (Seung-woo Cho) to day and her day of solitary reflection turns into something more as romantic sparks fly between the two. Promised to another — and the King, no less — the woman decides to keep the day as a perfect memory of her life, and not pursue it further. The man, smitten to the bone, decides to dedicate his life to protecting the woman he may never know. It’s beautiful, sumptuous and romantic as hell.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Complete Series

When it was first aired back in the early 1950s, this gritty series was attacked by critics and viewers for it’s “excessive and gratuitous violence.” More than five decades later, it may not be as shocking, but it’s just as intense. Darren McGavin stars as Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane’s tough-talking private eye, and he does a terrific job of making Spillane’s tough-guy talk come to life, whether he’s wising off to a thug or sweet talking a dame in a tight dress. The cases Hammer solves from episode to episode are pretty routine by today’s CSI-saturated standards, but yo don’t really watch them today to see how Hammer will solve he crime. Yo watch it to listen to the razor-sharp dialogue, waiting to see if it leads to a killing or a kiss

Monday, November 28, 2011


It’s been 70 years since audiences still saw an elephant fly for the first time, but this classic Walt Disney animated feature is as much fun as anything that’s been releases since. Maybe even more. The story, about an elephant who is ostracized for his over-sized ears, is classic and the songs, even the lullaby “Baby Mine” avoid the usually sugary sweetness of a Disney soundtrack. Above all, the animation is amazing, particularly when the artist let their animation run wild to show what might be running through a baby elephant mind if he accidentally got drunk on cheap champagne (Pink Elephants). Be sure to watch the extras and discover how a tight deadline and even tighter budget helped make this movie the success it was.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


One look at the poster, showing a row of tough looking women dressed in fluorescent pink dresses and you might think Bridesmaids is just another chick flick. Think again. Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids is an hilarious comedy about the lengths friends will go to when they need them most. It’s a buddy film and a raunchy comedy, wrapped up in a smartly written script that’s filled with strong characters brought to life by actors who know what it takes to make an audience laugh.
It just happens to star six of the best comediennes in show business. Leading the pack is Wiig, best known for her comedic work on Saturday Night Live and her dramatic work in films like Whip It and All Good Things. In the movie, Wiig plays Annie, a struggling single woman faced with the biggest challenge of her life: The need to make sure her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) has the perfect wedding day. (Read out interview with Kristen Wig by clicking HERE)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal

The cinematic adaptations of movies based on author Terry Pratchett’s Disc World series of novels have been a mixed bag, from the good (The Color of Magic) to the godawful (the animated Soul Music). This latest film, directed by Jon Jones (Northanger Abbey), ranks among the best. It’s the story of a conman named Moist Von Lipwig (Richard Coyle) who escapes the gallows only by agreeing to becoming the Post Master and restoring the Ankh-Morpork mail service so it can compete with the primitive Internet-style services provided by the evil Reacher Gilt (David Suchet). There are a lot of in- jokes for fans of the original novel, but the story is clear enough for all to enjoy. The acting, particularly Suchet’s performance, is superb.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Glee Season 2

With all the hype surrounding it’s first season’s success, there was bound to be some critical (and fan) backlash as the singing students from William McKinley High School battle back from losing the Regionals at the end of Season 1. Well, don’t believe the hype because Season 2 is better than you expect. Much better. The music is more diverse throughout the season, but the way they dedicate single episodes to the music of Britney Spears or The Rocky Horror Picture Show is inspired. The Glee Music Juke Box extra on the Blu-ray lets you enjoy all the songs and videos on their own, but why would you when you can watch the them while waiting for the awesome Sue Sylvester (Emmy Award winner Jane Lynch) to walk on camera and steal the scene.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Brand New Day

When the budding romance for a local girl (Jessica Mauboy) starts making him have conflicting feelings about his calling for the priesthood, a young Aborigine named Willie (Rocky McKenzie) decides to head home to see if there’s more to life than religion. It may sound like a dry and serious subject, but under the delightful direction of Rachel Perkins this high- energy musical (that’s right, musical) is an absolute delight. The songs are catchy as hell — don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing ‘Nothing I Would Rather be (Than an Aborigine)’ for days after you see it — and the dancing is energetic and well filmed. The two leads give good performances, but it is Geoffrey Rush’s work as the priest who wants the boy to come back into the fold that steals the show.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


When you see the names of directors Ridley Scott and Tony Scott as producers at the start of this History Channel special about the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil, you have a pretty good idea that what you are going to get — an intensity level cranked up to 11. The show starts out with a bang and never lets up. You’ll be so wrapped up in the action (it’s not too many history shows on TV where the blood splatters into the camera lens) that you may not even realize how much you are learning about the war and the people who fought it. This is one TV show that deserved to be seen up on the big screen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lee & Grant

One is a gentleman from the South and one is a drunken reprobate from the North. So much for the cliches, which is about all most people will remember about the two generals who held the future of America in their hands for the long and bloody years of the Civil War. This fascinating portrait of the two men does more than set the record straight, it fleshes out the facts to give viewers a fully-informed look at how Lee and Grant were different, how they were similar and how a few decisions made by either one became the key to why one won the war and one went home in defeat.

Monday, November 21, 2011

3rd Rock From the Sun, Season 1 and 2

For five years, John Lithgow and company ruled the airwaves with this delirious blend of slapstick and verbal gymnastics to tell the story of what would happen if aliens really did land on the planet. They’re not here to take over, though. They just want to study our habits and learn from them. The results are hilarious, whether it’s the leader Dick (Lithgow) trying to understand the romantic feelings he is developing for his coworker (Jame Curtain) or the heroic fighter of the group (Kristen Johnston) trying to understand why he got stuck in a hot earth women’s body. French Stewart and Joseph Gordon -Levitt round out the stellar cast. It’s a trip worth taking again and again.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

That 70s Show, Season 1 and 2

It was the launching pad for some of the hottest young talents in Hollywood today — Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher to Mila Kunis — and it’s a hoot to watch these shows and see how young they were. They’re pretty funny, too, especially Kunis as Jackie Burkhart the relatively straight-laced girlfriend who likes her man (Kutcher) kept on a very short leash. Watching the series now, though, it’s the parents who come across as the really funny people. Debra Jo Rupp is fantastic as Kitty Forman, the slightly off-center wife of the hilarious patriarch of the Forman clan, Red (Kurtwood Smith). Some of the 70s references may feel a little dated, but the parents in the show are timeless.

We Are the Night

A trio of fashionable female trendsetters have a dark secret. When they aren’t partying at the local discos or racing their expensive sports cars through the streets late at night, they’re killing people. Killing them for food. Louise, Charlotte and Nora (Nina Hoss, Hennifer Ulrich and Anna Fisher) are vampires. Not the moody and angst-ridden vampires of Twilight, but blood-thirsty feminist vampires who have, over the years, slowly culled all the men from their nocturnal world of the undead. Louise, leader of the pack, is still unsatisfied, though, because she can’t find the love of her life. That is, until a troubled young girl named Lena (Karoline Herfurth) enters their world and changes it forever. It’s stylish, gory and a hell of a lot of fun.

Friday, November 18, 2011

3 Women

Ah, the 70s. A time when a director could convince a studio to give him the money to make a movie without having to show them a finished script, or even a complete outline of what the final film would be. You didn’t need a finished script, the studio would say, if the director in question was an artist like Robert Altman. While it isn’t nearly as polished — or purposeful — as Nashville, this weird little mystery is one of Altman’s best thanks to the freedom he gives his two leading ladies to create — and ultimately destroy — their characters. Sissy Spacek is stunning as Pinky Rose, a little lost lamb of a girl who slowly adopts, then consumes, the personality of her roommate Millie (Shelly Duvall). Unfortunately, the addition of the third woman (Jancie Rule) to the story is underdeveloped and feels tacked on.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Revolutionary

Directed by Paul Williams (Miss Right), this 1970 drama stars John Voight as A, a disillusioned young man frustrated by the way his so-called revolutionary friends talk a big game, but ultimately do nothing to change the way of the world. When he falls out with his intellectual friends, A starts hanging out with a more militant crowd, the kind of people who think words are OK, but nothing settles an argument more effectively than a bomb. It’s more than a bit dated, both thematically and cinematically, but Voight gives a good performance, as does Robert Duvall as a radical union leader and Seymour Cassell as the hard-line revolutionary.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Office Season 7

Fans of the show know that the cast of The Office are experts in the art of making emotionally painful moments hysterically funny. In the seventh season, the last one for star Steve Carrell as office manager Michael Scott, they pull out all the stops in their effort to make you cringe as you cry out with laughter, whether it’s watching (Ed Helms) flop on the stage of a community production of Sweeney Todd when his cell phone goes off, or being a fly on the wall during Scott’s anger management sessions. Because of the attention the series was getting with Carrell’s departure, the season is packed with special guest appearances from Timothy Olyphant (Justified) to Ricky Gervais (start of the British series the show is based on). Some of them work better than others, primarily because the challenge of stepping into the well-oiled comedy machine the cast has built over six seasons is just too big a challenge. The regulars, especially Jenna Fischer as Pam, make each show a master class in how to be funny. Includes Threat Level Midnight: The Movie as part of a plethora or extras.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Leading Ladies

When her sister Sheri (Melanie LaPatin) has to pull out of a ballroom dance competition because she’s pregnant, Toni (Laurel Vail) reluctantly agrees to take her place on one condition, that she get to pick her own dance partner. When that partner turns out to be her new girlfriend Mona (Nicole Dionne), all heck breaks loose, especially since nobody knew Toni was gay to begin with (least of all Toni). Directors Daniel Beahm and Erika Randal Beahm throw everything they can up on the screen to make the comedy as zany as possible, and most of it works, too: The dance number set in a grocery store is priceless. The real thrill here, though, is discovering newcomers Vail and Lapatin as the sisters who would love to dance if only their dominating stage mother (the wonderful Shannon Lea Smith) didn’t hover over everything they do. The first dance between Toni and her new girlfriend Mona is pure poetry.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Le Quattro Volte

When a goat herder in a remote Italian village dies, his soul travels into the body of a newborn goat. When the goat dies, his spirit is taken up by the roots of young tree. When the tree dies, it is made into charcoal which, still containing the spirit of the man, the goat and the tree, is sold in the village as fuel. The villagers breathe the spirit into themselves from the smoke of the coal fires and the cycle begins again. Sure, it all sound a bit too metaphysical to be entertaining, but writer/director Michelangelo Frammartino tells the story with such pure cinematic poetry — and hardly a line of dialogue — that it just sweeps you up and takes you away

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scotland Explored Weir’s Way

For more than two decades, Tom Weir, a “wee fellow in a knitted tam”, took Scottish viewers on a series of travel adventures that showed them the parts of their country they never got a chance to visit themselves, like  Glen Affric and Eriskay. Unlike the majority of the Travel Channel show hosts these days, Weir didn’t have to have a gimmick, like eating bizarre foods, or having an entourage following him from place. Armed only with a cameraman or two, a sound guy and an insatiable curiosity for the people and places of his motherland, he made it all come to life. Sure, some of the shows look a little rough, but it all adds to the charm.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sons of Anarchy Season 3

Biker stories have a bad reputation, thanks to a plethora of D movies from the 70s like The Glory Stompers, Satan’s Sadists and others. This exciting — and hugely entertaining — FX series about the MC Motorcycle Club will make you forget them all. The stories are edgy, the action is some of the best on television — ever — and the actors/characters are fantastic, the perfect antidote to the fashion weenies found in most TV series (and that means you, Mad Men). Season Three picks up with the MC’s recovering from the kidnapping that ended Season 2, and just roars from there to a season ending show involving a Russian gun deal that will blow you away. It’s absolutely addictive.

Friday, November 11, 2011


The movie stars Australian beefcake Chris Hemsworth as Thor, son of Odin and heir to the thrown of the Norse gods who live in a place called Asgard (a gaudy, gold palace that looks more like an enormous Vegas men’s room than a palace). Thor is also big brother of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the jealous God of Mischief who is about to hatch an elaborate plot to disgrace his brother so he can become king. Thor, not the sharpest knife in the Marvel Universe, falls for Loki’s plan and gets banished to earth where he meets and falls in love with Natalie Portman, which would  be enough for most men to say the hell with Askard and stay where they are. Thor is nothing if not thick-headed, though, and the bulk of movie is taken up with his fight to get back to the Norse heavens and get back what is rightfully his.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

True Legend

After rescuing a prince from a bunch of bad guys, all General Su Can (Vincent Zhao) wants to do is go home to his family, despite being offered a job as governor by the thankful royalty. He recommends his brother-in-law Yuan (Andy On) for the job and rides off into the sunset thinking he’s done a good deed. If only he knew what a twisted jerk his wife’s husband really was, he might have killed him instead. The next time they meet, Yuan has mastered the deadly fighting style of the Five Venom Fists and is using it to get revenge on the man who killed his father, who happens to be Su Can’s father. The intrigue woven throughout this film, directed by Yuen Woo Ping (Iron Monkey), is well plotted, but it never gets in the way of what Ping does best — filling the screen with amazing martial arts battles.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meek’s Cutoff

The pacing of director Kelly Reichardt’s bleak tale of a wagon train crossing the Oregon trail in 1845 is slower than molasses in winter, but give it a chance. It’s so worth it. The story follows the families as they follow a grizzled trail master whose reputation (and boasting) is a lot more impressive than his actual knowledge. It isn’t too long before the families realize they’re lost, almost out of food and about to die of thirst. They’re also in the middle of nowhere with no option except to plod on and hope there’s food or at least water over the horizon. Michelle Williams stars as the wife of one of the families in the wagon train, and her performance alone is worth buying the movie.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Paul Rodgers and Friend Live at Montreux

In a day when far too many rock concerts are calculated events where everything is perfect (including the computer-enhanced vocal  pitch), it’s great to watch a veteran rocker like Paul Rodgers hanging out with his friends on stage, playing music and not really caring if it’s played perfectly or not because they play with passion and seem to b e having a blast doing it. The set contains the obligatory hits from Rodgers career with Bad Company and Free, all delivered with muscle and commitment, but it’s the blues numbers and early rockers that let the band, and the singer, really shine.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Samurai Girls

Muneakira Yagyu is a samurai with a special gift: He can turn hot young girls into master samurai warriors just by kissing them. Naturally, the scantily clad ladies are soon lining up to lock lips with him, but they quickly learn there’s more to his gift than meets the eye. This 12-episode anime series is a nice blend of comedy and action, with more than a little gratuitous nudity thrown in for good measure. The story — which eventually evolves into a battle of good vs. evil for control of Japan — starts out strong but feels a bit rushed as the story progresses and the ultimate plot is revealed. The artwork, though, which combines beautiful water color illustrations with cutting edge animation, is beautiful enough to fill in any gaps in the plot.

Oz & James Big French Wine Adventure

They’re such an odd couple they make Oscar and Felix look like identical twins. Wine connoisseur Oz Clarke and car aficionado James May (Top Gear) seem to have absolutely nothing in common beyond a common dislike for each other, but somehow that makes them the perfect pair to drive around the French countryside looking for the best wine and the people who make it. The scenery is gorgeous and chances are you will even learn a thing or two about wine before the series ends, but even if you never go to France or drink a glass of wine again, you can celebrate good entertainment watching Oz and James bicker hilariously with each other.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Straw Dogs

A nerdy math professor and his extremely hot young wife move to a remote Irish farmhouse looking for some peace and quiet. What they find, however, is a lot of trouble in the form of the local lads who make it clear from the start that they have plans of their own for the wife. Released 40 years ago, this movie shocked audiences with its graphic depiction of rape and murder, particularly in the way that director Sam Peckinpah so lovingly photographed both in his trademark arty slow motion. The film is less shocking now, but the creepy edge of the story is still as sharp as ever, thanks to a strong performance by Dustin Hoffman as the nerdy guy with the deeply repressed violent streak.

Disco Worms

Don’t let the title stop you from checking out this silly and surreal animated tale, even if you hate disco music and have a crippling case of scoleciphobia (fear of worms). It’s the story of a young worm named Barry who dreams of a bigger life than following in his father’s footsteps at the composting heap. He finds a disco album in a box of memorabilia and discovers that worms can be funky, too. All he needs to do is convince his family and friends that you don’t need arms or legs to dance to the beat. The story is pretty predictable, but watching the worms in action is weirdly hypnotic. Jane Lynch (Glee) as the voice of a budding disco diva is perfect.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Barbar: The Classic Series: Best Friends Forever/School Days

The messages delivered in these family friendly DVDs is a bit heavy handed at times, but the award-winning HBO series is still well animated and well acted. Best Friends forever follows Babar the Elephant on a series of adventures showing how the friends he made as a young prince helped him learn the ways of man as he travels from the jungle to the city. The four episodes in School Days depict Babar dealing with everything from bullies to not making the basketball team. They are great DVDs to watch with youngsters, but also good enough for adults who love animation to enjoy on their own.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Battle for Marah

Directed by Anthony Wonke, this compelling HBO documentary takes viewers into the heart of the battle as a company of Marines tries to capture a Taliban stronghold under some very harsh circumstances. The film doesn’t focus on the actual battle scenes (most of the shooting takes place off screen), but it does a perfect job of capturing the tension the Marines face as they wait to see who is shooting at them, where it is coming from and whether or not they have the OK to shoot back given their orders to only fire back when fired upon. It is the aftermath of their efforts, when we watch the frustration they face from their efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people they rescued from the Taliban, that the true madness of America’s longest war hits home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Vidal Sassoon The Movie

Even if you still get your hair cut at the barber shop and only comb it with your fingers unless it’s a formal occasion (in other words if you’re a regular guy), you will learn a lot watching this documentary from writer/director Craig Teper. Of course, you will learn a lot about Sassoon, a poor English lad who worked his scissor-holding fingers to the bone to make something of himself. And you will get a master-class level introduction into style and fashion, particularly on how Sassoon’s at-the-time revolutionary geometric style of haircut changed the world for women forever. More importantly, though, even if you think you have absolutely no interest in in a movie about a guy who cuts hair, you will learn how inspirational his life was, is and will be for generations.