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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks

Between her jobs helping Nazis run their death camps (Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS) and running a South American prison (Ilsa, the Wicked Warden), Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne) found the time to help a demented oil sheik (Victor Alexander) run a white slave business catering to the richest men in the Middle East. When an undercover agent of the American government arrives to shut the slave trade down, Ilsa is forced to make a choice between staying loyal to her master the sheik or following her heart and doing the right thing with the American she’s fallen in love with. The plot is as silly as it sounds, but who cares? You don’t watch an Ilsa movie for the nuance of the story; you watch for the most basic elements of exploitation movies like this: sex and violence. And on that level, it delivers.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Beat Hotel

This documentary from Alan Govenar may be a bit of an acquired taste: you really have to care a lot about the writers, photographers, designers and artists associated with The Beat movement to keep you attention from wandering as the story unfolds. The film is a balance of historical footage and photos and modern day interviews with the people who lived in the cheap no-name hotel in Paris circa 1957. It does a good job of setting the scene for the audience, and of recreating what it must have been like for a stranger to walk into the smoke-filled lobby of the hotel (mostly hash and pot smoke if the remaining beat artists’ memories can be trusted). It’s not as successful in making the connection between the sex drugs and cheap rent and the art that was created; the film assumes that you not only know about The Beats but that you admire everything they did. If you don’t, the film is not for you.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ozzy Osbourne’s Speak of the Devil

If all you know about Ozzy Osbourne is what you learned watching him on that miserable MTV show, The Osbournes, then you should be legally obliged to buy this concert film from his legendary 1982 Diary of a Madman tour. Fans of his music can tell you why this show is so important in the Ozzy cannon, of how it was the first tour that he did following the untimely death of his soul brother/guitarist Randy Rhoads. All you need do is settle back and listen. The set list, ranging from the new material of the time to some classic Black Sabbath, is strong, and while even the idea of a drum solo is a bit antiquated now, it’s fun to watch Tommy Aldridge bang away (but probably only the first time you watch the DVD). The best thing about the show though, is the crazy guy with the microphone. Osbourne’s voice is powerful throughout the concert, and his energy level is infectious. Sure there’s true madness in his eyes, but that only adds to the experience.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lost Empires

A very young looking Colin Firth stars in this fascinating journey through the back-stages of London musical hall life that follows the adventures of a young man as he leaves his privileged country squire life to serve at the foot (some might say the boot) of his actor uncle. The series certainly embraces the theatrical life in terms of documenting what life was like for the men and women who toured the countryside to bring entertainment to the masses, but director Alan Grint lets the fantastic elements of performance bleed into the world offstage in some unique and interesting ways. It’s only the bizarre scenery-chewing performance of Sir Laurence Olivier as the fading comic Harry Burrard that keeps the series from being as compelling as it wants to be. Every time Olivier shows up on the screen you attention wavers as you wait for him to leave.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Another Year

In Another Year, director Mike Leigh takes viewers on a completely unsentimental journey into the lives of Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) who are that rarest of cinematic coups, a happily married couple. It’s obvious that they love each other, but it’s equally obvious that Tom and Gerri are happy because they’ve been through rough times in the past and came through them only because they had each other. Unfortunately, the life lesson they have learned through experience are lost on their friends, especially the very lonely Mary (Lesley Manville) a woman who so desperately wants to be with someone that she’ll latch on to almost anyone who so much as looks at her. It’s the perfect movie for intelligent film fan looking for a movie that makes them think and feel things that most movies today have forgotten all about as they fill the screen with easy to digest cinematic pabulum and ignore the honest complexity of human emotions and relationships. Leigh doesn’t hand you any simple answers as you watch Another Year, but he gets you to think while he entertains, and that is indeed a rare gift from a director these days.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feathered Serpent: The Complete Series

You have to give the cast of this 1976 British TV drama a lot of credit: It couldn’t have been easy to keep from laughing — let along say your lines with any sense of real drama — while dressed up in the ridiculous costumes created for the show. (To be fair, maybe they didn’t look so silly 35 years ago.) To their credit, the performances are strong enough to make you stop giggling at the clothes after a few episodes so you can settle down and watch what is basically a soap opera about Pharaohs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Black Limousine

David Arquette gives a fascinating performance in this bleak tale of a Hollywood musician named Jack whose thriving career writing music for the movies comes crashing down in the aftermath of a personal tragedy involving a car crash that killed his daughter. Jack spends his days as a limo driver shuttling around the people he used to call his peers, and his night trying to find the muse he lost the night his daughter died. Writer/director Carl Colpaert weaves a complicated narrative…almost too complicated. People come in and out of Jack’s life but the audience – let alone Jack – is never sure who is real and who is a figment of Jack’s swiftly declining mental health. There’s a method to the madness, though, even if you won’t be able to figure it out until the second viewing. Don’t worry about what it all means. It’s enough to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday

Lee Marvin and Oliver Reed star in this slapstick western about an aging hero of the west and a renegade half-breed Indian out to get back the money stolen from them by a rascally politician (Robert Culp). It hasn’t aged well — Reed’s performance as a Native American is borderline offensive — but the comic energy level of the film is contagious. Somehow, you wind up laughing — or at least amused — even when you now it’s not that funny to begin with.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Stone Temple Pilots Alive In The Windy City

You don’t have to know a single song they play in the set to be hypnotized by Stone Temple Pilots in this intimate – yet extremely loud – show filmed in Chicago’s Riveria Theater in 2010. All you have to do is keep your eyes on vocalist Scott Weiland as he seduces the audience with his sinewy movies and sonic vocals. The rest of the band does a great job of creating a wall of sound (it’s amazing how much noise they make for only three guys). They play tight and, for the most part, seem to be having a good time up there. It’s Weiland’s show, though, and he takes it by the throat for the opening number (Vasoline) and never lets go. He’s a throwback to the frontmen of classic rock (a mix of early Mick Jagger movies with early Robert Plant swagger), with a voice that’s more powerful than both.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Drive Angry

Nicholas Cage takes a walk on his wilder side playing John Milton, a man on a mission to save his granddaughter before she can be sacrificed by a charismatic cult leader with a plan to literally open the gates of hell. Along the way he picks up a diner waitress named Piper (Amber Heard) who decides her life is so bad that hooking up with a crazy guy driving a fast car and carrying an ancient gun called The God Killer is a good decision. The movie is little more than a series of scenes where Milton and Piper get cornered by a faction of the cult and have to fight their way out. Given the fact that the movie is rated R and was released in 3D, each of the fights is, in turn, little more than an excuse for things — axes, bullets, severed limbs, buckets of blood – to look like they are flying off the screen right at you. And you know what? That’s enough. Directed by Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine), the movie isn’t trying to be anything but a modern day grindhouse film. It has no pretense of being art, unlike the grindhouse films Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made back in 2007. All Lussier wants to do is make each scene in the movie as exciting as possible, and he does it with style.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Boris and Natasha The Movie

Is it a good movie? No. Not by a long shot. Is it fun to watch? Yes, especially when you compare it to the tedious attempt to bring Rocky and Bullwinkle to the big screen in 2000 (the one with Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader). Directed by Charles Martin Smith, this movie features Dave Thomas and Sally Kellerman as Potsylvania’s greatest spies as they pretend to defect to America so they can track down a famous scientist who has invented a computer chip that can reverse time. Although they start out with a single-minded determination to make their country proud, it isn’t long before Boris and Natasha are seduced by the excesses of American life. Natasha is particularly swept away once she becomes a pop culture icon inspiring women around the world to adapt her look from the straight black wig right down to the ebony cigarette holder. There’s a lot of silly slapstick and some moderately funny word play, but what makes the movie watchable is the sheer gusto that Thomas and Kellerman bring to their performances.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Casa de mi Padre

It’s the craziest idea Will Ferrell has ever had. It‘s probably one of his best, too. In his new movie, Casa de mi Padre, Ferrell plays Armando, the somewhat slow-witted son of a Mexican rancher who spends his days riding the range, herding the cattle and trying to hand-roll a cigarette that doesn’t fall apart before he can bring it to his mouth. It’s an idyllic life for Armando, a life he thinks will be made even better when his older brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns to the family ranch. It isn’t long, however, before Armando discovers Raul is dealer mixed up in a drug cartel war that could destroy his whole family. The humor of Casa de me Padre is hard to describe, and will lose a lot in translation from the big screen to a few words in a review. If you read that in one scene that Ferrell approaches a calf in the field to pick him up, but in the shot of him holding the calf it has been replaced with an obviously fake animal, you will wonder what’s so funny about that. Yet seeing it is hilarious.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Three Stooges

The Three Stooges isn’t a biopic about the trio of vaudeville comics who made eye gouging, hair pulling and face slapping an art form in their classic series of short movies in the 1930s and 1940s. It isn’t an updating of their antics to appeal to a new generation of moviegoers… or at least that’s not all it is. The Three Stooges is a celebration, a shameless tribute to one of the best physical comedy teams to ever step in front of a camera, as well as a love letter to the fans, like the Farrelly brothers, who grew up watching them, most likely on television. But what’s the new film about? Basically, it’s the story of how Moe, Larry and Curly — played with real comic gusto by Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso – as they try to earn enough money to keep the orphanage they were raised in from being closed. The basic joke is that after spending most of their lives at the orphanage, the boys have absolutely no clue how to deal with the real world, so every situation they find themselves in is a set up for their Stooge-like behavior. In other words, there is a lot of eye gouging, hair pulling and face slapping. There’s a good amount of verbal slapstick, too, an important part of the original act that The Stooges never got enough credit for. There’s also a lot of heart, too, even if it is buried deep beneath the eye gouging, hair pulling and face slapping.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Diamond in the Mind: Live 2011

Even if you don’t play them anymore, if you listened to pop music in the 80s, you know the music of Duran Duran. Watching them in concert, though, is more than a trip down your musical memory lane because when you strip away the slick production of their hit singles you discover that they’re a good live band. It’s not always easy to see, given the over-the-top stage they play on and the frantic editing of the concert film, but there are enough moments in it where the camera settles down enough to just show them playing to make it worth the effort. Singer Simon Le Bon is in particularly good form for the show, from the opening number, Before the Rain, which really showcases his voice, to the hits he runs through during the show, like The Reflex and Rio. Watching the Blu-ray extras you get a better sense of just how important a document the Live 2011 film really is because the voice of Duran Duran was almost silenced for good when a throat injury made it impossible for Le Bon to sing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lockout


The president’s daughter is being held hostage in a maximum security prison located in outer space, and there is only one man good enough – and cool enough – to rescue her. A guy named Snow. Don’t laugh. Although it sounds like the plot for a cheesy straight-to-video action movie, Lockout is actually a highly entertaining sci-fi film with strong production values, a decent script and a really cool performance from an unlikely action hero, Guy Pearce. That’s right, the guy who played a drag queen with an ABBA fetish in Priscilla Queen of the Desert is the star of Lockout and he nails it. Looking really buff, and looking like he’s as surprised/impressed with his body as the audience is, Pearce is a reluctant action at best. You get the feeling that Snow would rather be on the couch watching TV – or at the gym watching TV — than chasing after bad guys or trying to save the world. But you also know he needs an audience, not to watch him fight or do cool things, but to say cool things as he kicks ass or, because he’s such a reluctant hero, gets his ass kicked first.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Screen chemistry is such an elusive thing that when it works, it almost doesn’t matter what the rest of the movie is like. When you find it in a well made movie from a talented, visionary director like Lasse Hallström, it’s cinematic gold. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the story of a crazy idea and how trying to make it happen changes the lives of the people involved. A rich sheik (Amr Waked) comes up with the idea of building and stocking a salmon run in the desert. The Sheik contacts his London investment firm, where a woman named Harriet (Emily Blunt) springs into action by contacting a local salmon expert, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) to see what he thinks of the plan. Dr. Jones frankly thinks it’s rubbish and wants nothing to do with it. And that’s that until the British government, desperate for a ‘good news’ from the Middle East latches onto the idea and decides to back it to the hilt. McGregor and Blunt are simply fantastic together. Like all great screen couples, they make even the early days of their relationship – the days when they really don’t like each other very much – feel absolutely real. That’s no small achievement given the fact that we all know how the story will end.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Treasure Planet

To try and update the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story for a younger audience, the Disney Studios gave Jim, Long John Silver and the salty cast of characters from Treasure Island a sci-fi makeover that left audiences cold when it was first released in 2002. Looking at it 10 years later, the film still has its problems, from the clumsy way the computer generated imagery doesn’t always blend with the traditional artwork. It also features one of the most annoying characters Disney has every created, an amorphous pink blob called Morph that takes the place of the parrot on Long John Silver’s shoulder. There is some good to be found in the film, though. The story is well written, and the voice acting is pretty good, especially Emma Thompson as Captain Amelia and Brian Murray as Silver. Despite its faults, Treasure Planet is a trip worth taking again.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cherry Bomb

A stripper is lured into the champagne room where a group of drug-addled idiots beat and rape her. When the police don’t believe her side of the story, the stripper – whose stage name and real name are both Cherry Bomb – decides to seek revenge on her own terms. Written and directed by Kyle Day, Cherry Bomb doesn’t bring anything new to the revenge movie genre, but there’s a low-budget grittiness to it from being a complete waste of time. Julin (Killer School Girls From Outer Space) is unbelievable as the stripper/vigilante, whether she’s dancing on the stage or aiming a gun, which is a big problem since she’s in about every scene. The bad guys are a bit more believable, especially Allen Hackley as Bull, the professional hit man the rapist hire to kill Cherry before she kills them.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Freak Dance

If there is one thing you can count on in Hollywood it’s that once a movie – or movie genre –becomes a success there will be a spoof movie made about it, be it westerns (Blazing Saddles), horror movies (Scary Movie) or action movies (Hot Shots). Some of the spoofs are good – some are even better than the movies they are spoofing – and some of them should never have been made in the first place. Freak Dance, from the creative minds of the Upright Citizens Brigade, falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, but considering the genre it’s spoofing – primarily the Step Up dance movies – it’s enough that it’s funny. Dumb, but very funny. The story , not that it matters, involves a street dance gang trying to raise $3023 to save their dance space. They do it by entering an underground dance off where they will have to perform the dangerously sexy ‘freak dance’ to win. Oddly enough, the dancing in the movie isn’t too bad, and the music is catchy enough to make you think about getting the soundtrack. Hats off to the cast, too, for taking being so silly so very seriously.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chesty Morgan's Bosom Buddies

You can tell from the opening shot of the first movie in this trilogy, the legendary soft-core sensation, Deadly Weapons, if this is the kind of movie you will enjoy or not. It’s a close-up – an extreme close-up – of what made the star of the movie, the aptly named Chesty Morgan (born Liliana Wilczkowska), a star – her 73-inch chest. Watching her use her assets to seek revenge by smothering the men who killed her boyfriend is hilarious, cheest fun once you get over the initial shock. And remember, the movies presented here, all directed by Doris Wishman, a little remembered director with 30 titles on her resume, were made long before plastic surgery and fake breasts were a ‘norm’ in movies like this. While it’s fitting that the movies are being released on the “Something Weird” label, it doesn’t mean you won’t get a kick out of watching at least one of them even if you aren’t just looking for a ‘weird’ cinematic experience.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Home on the Range

When the bank tries to foreclose on their home, a trio of cows head out to the big city to try and raise money to pay their owner’s debts. They learn of a bandit with a price on his head that would cover their bills so the cows saddle up to catch the bad guy and get the bounty. Sure, it’s a crazy idea, but it works, thanks to some really great animation, as well as the vocal talents of Roseanne Barr, Judy Dench and Jennifer Tilly as the cows. In terms of plot, it’s a pretty straightforward Disney cartoon, but the art used to tell it takes a walk on the wild side in the few final scenes that raises the film to a whole other level. There is a chase sequence that takes place on the mining car tracks of an abandoned gold mine that is exciting to watch, and a fluorescent yodeling scene – yes you read that right — that’s downright trippy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wind Blast

On the surface, it’s the story of a bounty hunter trying to capture a killer and bring him to justice before a pair of assassins can put him in the ground. Directed by Qunshu Gao (The Message), it’s both stylish and action packed, and the performances are all strong, particularly that of Yihong Duan as the killer and Francis Ng and Yu Nan as the assassins. What makes Wind Blast more than just another good Chinese action movie is the way Gao frames his story as a modern day western. He sets the story in the kind of barren desert landscape John Ford used to such great effect in his John Wayne westerns, and although there’s a clear understanding of who the good guy is and who is the bad guy, he gives the story a revisionist twist that reinvents the genre in subtle and surprising ways.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Planeat

A spoonful of sugar, we learned from Mary Poppins, helps the medicine go down. It’s a lesson that directors Shelley Lee Davies and Or Shlomi put to good use in this thought-provoking documentary. Using the testimony of experts ranging from Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic and medical advisor to President Bill Clinton, to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a man who explored the link between diet and disease for more than 20 years, the directors build a solid case for viewers to change their diets and improve their health. Listening to experts lecture you on what’s wrong with your life, though, is not everybody’s idea of a good time at the movies, so Davies and Shlomi spice up their film with plenty of shots of cooks making delicious looking vegan and vegetarian meals to seduce viewers into seeing things – particularly diet and food – their way, And it works, too.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bikini Spring Break

After a topless video shot in the girls locker room is accidentally broadcast on the jumbo-tron at the tryouts for a national competition, a group of marching band coeds from a small conservative college get a chance to strut their stuff at Ft. Lauderdale during Spring Break. All they have to do is get to the competition on time, but they aren’t on the road for more than a few hours when their bus breaks down and they have to find ways to pay for repairs. If you are waiting to find out whether the girls get to the competition or not, then you are watching the wrong movie. Bikini Spring Break is little more than a series of comic sketches designed to get at least one of the band girls topless. Thankfully, the jokes are funnier than expected, and the girls show more personality than the audience is looking for, which makes this not-so-raunchy sex comedy fun to watch even when they have their tops on.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

High School Hellcats

The innocent new student at a small town high school quickly discovers that if she wants to be accepted she’ll have to join the all-girl gang that runs things in and out of the classroom. Who knows how ‘cutting edge’ this one was when it first hit theaters in 1958, but it’s hard to keep from rolling your eyes when the gang initiation involves tricking the new student into wearing slacks to school (gasp!). The script reads more like a Public Service Announcements on the dangers of teenage life (circa 1958), but there’s a camp factor that makes it a guilty pleasure.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mirror Mirror

In taking on the well known fable of Snow White, director Tarsem Singh creates a visually chilling landscape to serve as the backdrop – which makes perfect sense (even if it comes across as kind of lazy) given the frigid nature of the Evil Queen. His choice of landscape lets his creative impulses run riot through the costume department, but rather than support the story, the outlandish outfits the cast are forced to wear in Mirror Mirror are just a silly distraction. You want to watch the young princess Snow White as she starts to fall in love with the handsome prince at the royal ball, for example, but it’s hard to listen to what she’s saying while she’s wearing a giant swan head on her head. Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen is the only one who appears to be having any fun in the movie. Her performance walks a fine line between camp and creativity that’s delightful to watch. She plays the queen as more of a bitch than evil, at least at the start of the film, and she does it with the kind of energetic abandonment you don’t see in films any more.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Shark Divers – Documentary Collection

All a lot of people know about sharks from what they learned at the movies. This fascinating collection of documentaries put out by Mill Creek can help fix that. The first two films in the set – Shark Divers and Shark Business — are filled with experts trying to make a case that sharks are not the mindless killing machines of Jaws and its sequels. They’re misunderstood, downright cuddly once you get to know them; the fact that some of the experts have been severely bitten by the same sharks they want to cuddle is beside the point. The second two films, Whale Sharks: Gentle Giants and Giants of San Benedicto raise the stakes by showing us that the sharks we know from the big screen look like tadpoles when compared with the really big sharks of this world.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sound of Noise

A group of musical terrorists come up with a plan to disrupt the city by staging a series of unique protests based on a percussive score played on found objects. The disguise themselves as doctors and break into a hospital, for example, and play a suite for surgical instruments in an operating room, using the anesthetized body on the table as one of the instruments. As if that wasn’t strange enough, the cop assigned to track them down is absolutely tone deaf and hates music. Directors Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson do a great job of balancing the absurdity of the situations with a gritty realism that somehow keeps the madness rooted in reality. Bengt Nilsson is good as the tone deaf detective with the unfortunate name of Amadeus Warnebring, as is Sanna Persson as the conductor of the terrorist group. The real star of the film, though, are Fred Avril, Magnus Börjeson and Six Drummers who provide the really original soundtrack.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here

Driven into the global music spotlight with the success of their seminal album, Dark Side of the Moon, the members of Pink Floyd were at a crossroads when they went into the studio to record their follow-up record. They were also at each others’ throats as they tried to decide what the band and their music would evolve into once success came and kicked down their doors. The documentary does a good job taking viewers through the creation of some of the classic songs from the Wish You Were Here sessions, and it’s particularly fascinating to watch and listen to original recording engineer Brian Humphries breakdown the recordings at the sound board using the original master tapes. It’s the interviews with the band members, particularly Roger Waters and David Gilmour, that add depth to the experience.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Samurai Trilogy

When they think of samurai movies, most people think of some chop-sockey grindhouse flick from the Shaw Brothers, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The Samurai Trilogy from director Hiroshi Inagaki is a very different kind of movie, one that is far more about celebrating the code of the samurai than it is in thrilling audiences with a lot of intricately choreographed fight scenes. The three films in the set – and they really need to be seen in order to appreciate what the director is creating with the series – star Tohsiro Mifune as the legendary seventeenth century swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. Although he eventually became the epitome of everything a samurai warrior stands for, Miyamoto’s youth was as misspent as any and his only reason for picking up a sword in the first place was to get money, fame and women…but not in any particular order. Watching the character – and Mifune’s performance -- evolve and mature over the course of the films makes this set one that’s worth saving and savoring over the years.

Bachman & Turner Live at the Roseland Ballroom

They look pretty old when they take to the stage for this 2010 concert, but it only takes a song or two for you to forget about how they look and just listen to them as they rock out on the songs of your youth. The hits – Taking Care of Business, Roll on Down the Highway, Let it Ride – are the highlights of the concert, played with an enthusiasm that’s hard to deny. The lesser known songs, like Rock is My Life and Four Wheel Drive, don’t work as well, although judging from the reaction of the diehard fans in the audience during those songs that could be a matter of opinion. Both Bachman and Turner are in good voice throughout the show, and it’s fun to see Paul Schaffer from the David Letterman Show join them for the encores. The only drawback is a surprising lack of extras on the Blu-ray. After watching Randy Bachman and C.F. Turner play, you want them to sit down and talk about it.