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Monday, April 30, 2012

The Muppets

More than 30 years after they first made the leap from TV to the big screen, The Muppets have a new movie out and, thanks in large part to star/co-writer Jason Segel, it’s not only a great nostalgia trip for longtime fans of the felt and fur performers, but a neat way to introduce the gang to a generation who don’t know who they are. The Muppets have always been a perfect blend of sweet irreverence that’s equally unafraid to step way out on a ledge for a joke or wear its heart on its sleeve. Segel gets that, and the wide-eyed grin plastered on his face throughout most of the movie is clear evidence that he’s not only having the time of his life acting alongside The Muppets, but that he’s also very proud of the fact that he’s been able to give The Muppets the showcase they deserve. The extras included with the disc are funny enough to stand on their own, especially The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

His name is never mentioned when people talk about great film directors, and that’s almost understandable given some of the schlocky films he’s made. But what he may not have in quality, Corman certainly makes up for in sheer quantity (more than 300 movies to date) and that deserves some sort of recognition. He is also responsible for giving some of the best actors, directors and filmmakers working today their first break. It’s hard to say that without Roger Corman there wouldn’t have been a Scorsese or a De Niro, but who knows when they would have gotten their start and where it would have taken them without films like Boxcar Bertha. And as Jack Nicholson, another Corman find, says in the movie, occasionally Roger Corman did make a good film, even if it was by accident. See this documentary, then start watching a body of work unlike any other.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Breakout Kings

The idea is a bit ridiculous: a band of prisoners are brought together to help a special government agency capture prisoners who have escaped from high security prisons across the country. It makes for a good pilot, but seeing the same basic outlined used episode after episode gets a bit tiring after a while. Or it would if the cast wasn’t so much damn fun to watch. The stories are paced pretty well so that each of the misfit Kings is given enough time to develop as a real character and not just a cliché personality. Jimmi Simpson is particularly good as the brains of the outfit, and Domenick Lombardozzi adds edge and depth to the stories as the cop leading the group.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Killer’s Moon

A quartet of mental patients breaks out of the hospital and go on a killing spree, which in this case means terrorizing a group of virginal school girls staying at a lonely mansion in the woods. The twist to the story is that while at the hospital the killers were all part of an experimental dream study involving lots of LSD, so that even though they know what they are doing as they hack and slash their way through the schoolgirls, they do so believing that it’s all taking place in a dream. The script isn’t smart enough to try and make any grand statements about dreams vs. reality or anything like that. It only wants to make you squirm, which it does with style.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wizards

This is one film where you may want to watch the excellent extras before you begin the feature film because listening to director Ralph Bakshi talk about the movie is the perfect introduction to the world of Wizards. Bakshi’s style of animation is so completely different than what most people are used to, particularly his visionary way of blending of live action and animation, that it can be a challenge to watch if you don’t have some sense of why he is doing what he does. With a little history under your belt, settle in for the epic struggle of good versus evil as only he can tell it, a story that is still as powerful as it was when it first hit theaters 35 years ago.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Titanic: The Complete Story

Can a DVD be made mandatory viewing? If so, then everybody who will be heading to theaters to see Kate and Leo get all mushy with each other in the 3D rerelease of James Cameron’s Titanic should be made to watch the three films in this fascinating set. The first film, Death of a Dream, uses archival footage to show not only how the ship was built, but how just the creation of such a mammoth vessel changed the world. The Legend Lives On chronicles the sinking of the ship in a way that makes Cameron’s film pale in comparison. The final chapter, Titanic’s Achilles Heel, gives us new insight into what might have gone wrong that night, and how it could have been prevented.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Absentia

It all starts when a tragedy brings a pair of sisters together: After seven years of waiting, Tricia (Courtney Bell) is going to sign the legal documents to declare her missing husband dead in absentia, and younger sister Callie (Katie Parker) is there for moral support. The pressure of taking that final step, though, is having a weird effect on Tricia as the ghost of her dead husband keeps popping up. Then the actual guy – alive and not a ghost—shows up too scared to even tell people where he’s been and what happened to him. And his return is only the start of the family’s problems. Writer/director Mike Flanagan does a fantastic job of cranking the tension up to 11 throughout the movie without ever needing to resort to the kind of cheap tricks most horror movies are made of today. Instead, he gives us a character study of people who may or may not be going mad, which is 10 times more frightening.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Town Ultimate Collector’s Edition

If you already own a copy of The Town, even on Blu-ray, you will still want to seriously think about investing in this excellent set and not just because it gives you the director’s cut with the alternate ending, or a map of Charlestown – absolute gold for locals where the movie was shot — or any of the other cool stuff packed into the box. The reason why you need it is the way it gives you an up close and personal look into how –and why — Ben Affleck made the movie to begin with. There was a lot of pressure on Affleck to prove himself with The Town after the critical and commercial success of his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, and the fact that he cast himself to star in the picture only cranked that pressure up to 11. The end result that made it into theaters – one of the best action/caper/thrillers of the past decade – proved he has the chops to be a good director. The chance to watch the cut he always wanted audiences to see shows he can be great.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Young Adult

Directed by Jason Reitman, Young Adult is the story of Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) a writer of YA (Young Adult) fiction struggling to finish the final book in a once-popular series. One day while she’s avoiding deadline by reading her emails, she discovers a birth announcement from her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Thinking it odd to get such an email unless it was a cry for help from someone trapped in a loveless marriage (Buddy was the one who got away from her in the past), Mavis jumps in the car and heads back to her hometown to steal Buddy from the life she imagines he hates. Young Adult never goes for the easy answers when it comes to human relationships. Diablo Cody’s script is painfully blunt at times, but refreshing in the way it avoids clichés and audience expectations. Reitman does the smart thing and uses the camera to frame the actors and let them do their thing without a lot of forced visual flair. You barely know the camera moves, so when it does, you pay attention.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Happy Feet Two

The story, about a bunch of penguins unable to feed themselves after an iceberg closes off their only route to the ocean, is barely enough to hang the musical numbers from, and the big musical numbers, which would be more at home in a Busby Berkley movie, take cuteness to the point of absurdity. But so what? You’d have to be tone-deaf and heartless not to succumb to the rhythm once the birds start tap dancing and singing their troubles away, especially when one of them, Gloria, is voiced by pop singer Pink, and the sound of the tap dancing webbed feet is provided by Savion Glover. As cute and catchy as it is, the penguin adventure can only hold your attention so long. What keeps it from getting too tedious and, in fact, takes it to a whole new level of fun, is the addition of Matt Damon and Brad Pitt as the voices of two krill – Will (Pitt) and Bill (Damon) – who leave the safety of the millions of other krill floating through the ocean currents, to strike out on their own to see what life has to offer them beyond just waiting to be eaten.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Three Musketeers

This retelling of the classic tale from director Paul W. S. Anderson is unlike any Three Musketeers film you have ever seen, and that’s a good thing. The story is basically the same, but Anderson tells it with a visual style and flair that purists may find just a bit too strange. It’s not just the flying ships that fill the sky over Paris or the Mission Impossible-style gadgetry used by Milady de Winter (a delightfully sexy Milla Jovovich) to infiltrate the castle that makes you sit up and take notice, either. It’s the high level of energy that makes this film spark, both in the action scenes and in the way the actors make the dialog crackle. Christoph Waltz is absolutely fascinating to watch playing Cardinal Richelieu, while the patter between the Musketeers is a joy to listen to.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Week With Marilyn

Directed by Simon Curtis, this lush biopic tells the story of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), A young man working at a London film studio and the week he spends on the set where they are filming The Princess and the Showgirl, starring Lawrence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. According to the film, based on the real Clark’s memoirs, the young man not only became a confidant of the troubled young actress, but her lover and friend, too. Whether you believe it really happened or not isn’t relevant to the cinematic thrill of watching the movie, thanks to the stunning performance of Michelle Williams. Many actresses have tried to imitate Marilyn in the past, but none have managed to go beyond imitation to capture the essence of the woman the way Williams does.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Neverland

Set up as a prequel to the original story, this two-part TV mini-series follows young Peter (Charlie Rowe) on his first trip from the rough streets of London to the land where he will never grow up. Oddly enough, the mythos of the story and how it fits in to what will become the story of Peter Pan is the least interesting part of this tale. Much more enjoyable is the story of James Hook (Rhys Ifans), back before he lost one of his hands to a crocodile, and his romantic adventures with the pirate queen (Anna Friel) who has been stuck in Neverland for a lifetime before he even shows up. The chemistry between Ifans and Friel is sharp and believable, which is just what the story needs to keep in anchored.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

La Terra Trema

Using a cast of non-professional actors – the actual fishermen and people who lived in the villages where the movie was shot – director Luchino Visconti takes a very specific story and makes it universal (as well as thoroughly entertaining). The film focuses on one particular family who decide to fight back against the virtual master/slave relationship they have with the fish buyers they work for and the grinding poverty they face every day. They mortgage their house and set up their own fish selling operation and, for a while, life is very good. Then the boat is caught in a storm and nearly wrecked. Without the money to fix it, the family finds itself back where it started, only this time with a crippling mortgage to pay. It’s bleak, to be sure, but somehow Visconti makes it beautiful, too.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bellissima

The magnificent Anna Magnani stars as a mother desperate to get her little girl into the movies in this brilliant movie from director Luchino Visconti. Released in 1951, the film would be worth watching if only for the behind-the-scenes look it gives the audience into the legendary Cinecittà studios. It would also be worth your time just for the way it tells the story of a mother so desperate for a better life for her daughter that she’ll risk everything to make it happen, even if the world she dreams of only really exists on celluloid. What makes this film worth owning, and watching over and over again, though, is the stunning performance of Magnani. She not only beautifully (and heartbreakingly) captures the essence of the desperate mother, but uses the few scenes she has without the daughter to show us who the mother is as a person, and it’s a richly satisfying portrait that she paints.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Savage Sisters

One of a dozen or more low-budget action movies shot in the Philippines in the 1970s, this one, directed by Eddie Romero, separates itself from the pack by keeping the exploitation to a minimum and concentrating on action and acting instead. The results are a mixed bag, to be sure. Gloria Hendry, a veteran of this kind of movie, is great as one of the three women who band together to bust up a corrupt dictatorship, and the always enjoyable Sid Haig hams it up for laughs as the revolutionary leader. The rest of the cast, though, is pretty weak, especially John Ashley as the great white adventurer, and there are too many subplots for the actual story to support. But you don’t rent a movie with a title like this looking for art, do you?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sinful Davey

Directed by John Huston, this bawdy story tells the story of young Davey Haggard (John Hurt) who spends his life trying to live up to the legacy of his father, one of Scotland’s most notorious highwaymen. Problem is, though, that Davey just isn’t very good at being very bad. Having his childhood friend Annie (Pamela Franklin) dog is every step trying to convert him from his evil ways doesn’t help, neither does the band of fellow thieves he pals around with. They all want him to be something other than he is, and Davey just wants to be like his dad. The story gets a wee bit silly as it rolls along, but there’s a charm to it all coming from Houston’s playful direction and Hurt’s delightful performance.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Immortals

After the miserable 3D mess that was The Clash of the Titans, you may look at this and figure it’s just another sand and sandal epic telling the same old story in the same old way. Well, look again. The story may be familiar, but the way director Tarsme Singh tells it is unlike anything you have seen before. The movie is filled with stunning visual imagery, from the stylish look of the fight scenes to the jaw-dropping beauty of the backgrounds. It may sound crazy, but the movie looks a lot better without the 3D glasses you had to use in theaters, and not just because the colors are brighter when you aren’t wearing sunglasses in a darkened theater. Immortals is more than a visual feast, though. The story and the acting, from Mickey Rourke as King Hyperion to Freida Pinto as the virgin seer Phaedra, are just as original and creative.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

To Catch a Thief

Who knew dialog could be so damn sexy. Sure, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are beautiful to look at, but it’s the way they talk to each other that makes this one of the sexiest thrillers ever made. Grant plays John Robie, a retired jewel thief living in luxury on the French Riviera, His peaceful existence is thrown into turmoil when a copycat thief starts stealing from his rich neighbors. Kelly is a newly rich American girl touring the world with her mother, who is trolling for a future son-in-law. The plot is a bit light, but the performances are stellar.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blade of Kings

This is one of the wilder action movies to come out in a long time, a perfect blend of martial arts, cinema magic, romance and comedy. It’s set in an Amazonian land where women rule and men live only to serve them. The Queen of the land is taking things a bit too far, though, and the people are desperate to find a balance in their lives. A prophecy about a mysterious sword named Excalibur is their only hope, and it’s up to two battling babes and their reluctant male servants to get it and save the day. Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung are feisty and gorgeous as the two women; their fight scenes alone are worth the price.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Footloose

Yes, it’s a remake of the original movie, but the two don’t share much more than a title, some plot points and that damn Kenny Loggins’ song. In other words, this one is good enough to stand on its own, thanks to the great work of young actors Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough in the lead roles. Basically it’s the story of a Boston kid named Ren (Wormald) who, after his mom dies, moves in with relatives in a small Texas town. His ‘wild’ looks, loud music and bad Boston attitude don’t fit in well in the town, which is so conservative it’s banned dancing and loud music as a way to ‘protect’ their kids. Will Ren be able to convince the townspeople to let him dance again? The answer is obvious, but watching him do it is a lot of fun.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Cook’s Tour

On his popular Travel Channel show, No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain is a pretty ‘polished’ TV personality. He’s a bit too gruff and too grizzled to be mainstream just yet, but he’s smart, funny and opinionated. He also knows how to make great TV. That’s why it’s such a hoot to go back to this great series and see where it all began. The Anthony Bourdain in A Cook’s Tour is painfully unpolished. He wears his heart and his attitude on his sleeve for all to see, convinced that this TV thing he’s doing probably won’t last another show. So why not have fun? If you’re going to be a chef on TV, why not devote an entire show to showing folks just where the meat they love really comes from in gory detail. If you’re gonna smoke, smoke on camera. If you’re gonna drink, drink a lot. And if you are going to really share your passion for food and the people who make it around the world, don’t worry about what the audience or the executives want to see. Just be yourself. And that's made him a star.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hugo

The acting in Hugo is first rate, from the soulful performance of Asa Butterfield in the title role to the comic relief provided by Sacha Baron Cohen as the train cop charged with keeping everything in the station running like clockwork. Ben Kingsley is perfect as the toy shop owner, Georges Méliès, and if that name is not familiar to you then you are in for a real treat because along with telling the story of a boy trying to make a connection with his lost father, Hugo is a joyful celebration of cinema and the people who helped take it from out of the sideshows and into the theaters. And although it’s clear that Martin Scorsese loves Hugo and the other characters in the story, his passion for cinema is really at the heart of what makes Hugo such a great movie.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bounty Hunters

WWE wrestler and fitness personality Trish Stratus makes her big screen debut in this direct-to-video story about a group of bounty hunters who somehow get involved with the case of a mob informer who is being hunted down by the mob. There isn’t a really original moment in the entire movie, but it doesn’t matter: Bounty Hunter is still a lot of fun to watch. Stratus is good as Jules, the buxom bombshell of the crew. The script doesn’t ask much of her, but she’s believable, particularly in the WWE-style fights in the movie: The fights between Stratus and a hit woman named Ruby (Andrea James Lui) are the best thing about the movie. If you don’t over-think it, or worry too much about the logic of it all, it’s a lot of mindless movie fun.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Justice League: Doom

No matter how bad the bad guys are, there’s always something predictable about super hero moves: you always know the good guys will win in the end. That’s why this latest DVD from DC comics is so intriguing. The members of the Justice League all have fights with various representatives of their criminal counterpoints, and they actually get their butts handed to them. It’s as if the bad guys all knew the secret to the one thing that the heroes can’t fight against. When it turns out they actually do have that kind of secret, the story takes an intense twist, followed by another when the source of their knowledge is revealed. Like all the DC DVDs, the art work here is bold and strong and the acting is excellent. This time, though, it’s the story that really shines through.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Track 29

Gary Oldman and Theresa Russell costar in this truly bizarre story of a lonely suburban wife whose fantasies come to life in the form of a punky British guy who claims he is the son she gave up for adoption when she was just 15 years old. Of course, the fact that we see Oldman appear out of thin air one hot afternoon is a clue to the audience that everything you are watching isn't what it claims to be, but such knowledge only underscores the creepy nature of the relationship that develops between the pair. Throw in Christopher Lloyd as the husband, a man who cares more about his toy trains – model railroads, that is – than he does his wife, and a sexy Sandra Bernhard as his nurse/lover and it isn’t too long before the story goes careening off the tracks into something really weird and wonderful.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

From Straight to Bizarre

Along with blazing his own path as one of the most original musician/composers to ever sing about Yellow Snow or the problems of Stink Foot, Frank Zappa helped a wide variety of disparate talents find a home on his Bizarre and Straight record labels. Some of them, like the certifiably insane paranoid schizophrenic/songwriter Wild Man Fischer were weird novelty acts who recorded a song or two and quickly faded away. Others, like Capt. Beefheart or Alice Cooper, went on to become both successful and influential. While it does a great job of detailing the history of the label and the performers, not to mention chronicling the LA music scene they were part of, the real fun of watching the documentary comes from the insight it gives you into Zappa as a businessman/producer of other’s work.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On the Bowery

Back in 1957, a guy by the name of Lionel Rogosin took his movie camera to the seediest section of New York City – The Bowery – to try and tell the story of the men and women who struggled every day to stay alive and, for most of them, drunk. He had no experience as a filmmaker to speak of, and that’s a good thing because without a set of established rules to guide him, Rogosin followed his heart and made one of the best documentaries you will ever see. Some may hem and haw over the way he mixes documentary footage with obviously scripted scenes, but such criticism misses the point. Like all great documentaries – and all great films for that matter – The Bowery takes you to a place you’ve probably never been before, to see something most of us can only imagine. It’s a fascinating journey to a devastating destination.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Deadly Spawn

A suburban family is trapped in their house and terrorized by an army of creatures from outer space with gigantic teeth and a hunger for human flesh. Sound like fun? If it does, chances are you are a fan of outrageous 80s horror movies and have already seen this trash classic before. If it doesn't, then nothing you read here is going to convince you to give it a shot. And that’s a shame. Sure, it’s silly and it’s ‘special effects’ probably weren't even that special when they first were used more than 30 years ago. The spawn creatures look – and move – like they are made of rubber and the blood looks like red paint… gallons and gallons of red paint. But if you can get into the spirit of the thing, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Manhattan

Woody Allen used the power he gained as a filmmaker from the success – not to mention the Oscars – of Annie Hall to create this stunning love letter to the city he calls home. Lushly photographed by Gordon Willis, the film tells the story of a middle aged guy (Allen) who feels pressured to end his relationship with a much younger girl (a stunning Mariel Hemingway). It doesn’t have many of the laugh-out-loud moments that Allen made a career of up to this point (1979), but the laughs don’t feel lost because of the maturity he brings to the story as a writer, a director and even as an actor. The film looks great on Blu-ray, but the lack of any extras is a disappointment.