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Friday, November 30, 2012

Incredibly Ever After

For years, superheroes Gazer Man and Aroma Woman have been fighting crime and helping the needy in their villages, but when they finally meet in a head-to-head match to see who is the greatest superhero of the day, something strange happens. Instead of fighting, they fall in love. Soon, they decide to hang up their costumes and try to lead a ‘normal’ live as husband and wife running a noodle shop in a small out of the way village. Of course, it isn’t long before the drudgery of normality — paying bills, running the restaurant, falling prey to neighborhood gossip — has them both longing to put on their masks once again to add a bit of spice back to their lives. Director Vincent Kok (Dragon Reloaded) finds the perfect balance of action and romance in telling the story, but it is the charming performances of Sandra Ng as Aroma Woman and Louis Koo as Gazer Man that make the movie really work.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Comes a Bright Day

A high-end jewelry store robbery doesn’t sound like the perfect setting for love to begin, but somehow writer/director Simon Aboud makes it work in this excellent romantic thriller. The film stars Craig Roberts (Submarine) as Sam Smith as a gofer for the manager a local ritzy hotel. Although he’s clearly low man on the management totem pole, Sam dreams of bigger things, like owning his own restaurant with his mate, Elliot (Anthony Welsh). Until his ship comes in, though, Sam does what he’s told and it is while running an errand for the hotel to have an expensive watch repaired that he ends up a hostage in the robbery. What happens next is a delicate balancing act between the tense action of the crime and the more delicate blossoming of affection between Sam and the posh girl that works at the shop (Imogen Poots). In the hands of a less talented cast, it wouldn’t work, but the actors Aboud has assembled are at the top of their game, especially Timothy Spall as the store owner and Kevin McKidd as the robber.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Predator Collection

If you are looking for films about aliens with dreadlocks and ray guns that hunt down humans, then you have been mislead by the title. And that’s a good thing because you are about to be introduced to a word that makes that Hollywood Sci-fi stuff look tame by comparison. The set contains four documentaries from the Smithsonian Channel — Big Cats of the Savannah, Cheetah: Price of Speed, Witness Lions in Battle and Diving with Crocodiles – that take you on an up close arm adventure to look at the world’s most fierce predators do what they do best: Hunt and eat other animals. Granted, some of the footage is difficult to watch, particularly if you are squeamish, but it’s never too graphic, even for younger viewers. The movies are more than just a series of gory killings though. There’s lots of science to be learned, although it’s done so you’ll never know you’re learning as you watch.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nacho Mountain

Keefer (Jay Larson) is good at three things: eating, drinking and getting high. Ok, four if you count his encyclopedic knowledge of porn. When he gets fired from his office job (for watching porn on company time) he decides to take a look at his life and put his talents to good use and organizes a series of underground eating competitions. It isn’t long before his plans to make money without really having to work for it take on bigger implications when he goes up against the mayor who is trying to turn his town into the healthiest place in the country. As can be expected in a comedy about competitive eating, there are plenty of gross-out moments in Nacho Mountain. What’s unexpected is the smart script and sharp performances of the cast. Of course, if you don’t think naming one of the competitive eaters Entrée the Giant is smart and funny, then Nacho Mountain might not be to your taste. Well, give it a try anyway. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Flirting Club

When his parents give him an ultimatum to either find a girl on his own to wed or get married to the piggish plus size woman living across the street, Jamie (Richard Di Gregorio) seeks out the help of a strange dating organization that teaches people how to flirt with the opposite sex. Through a series of increasingly hilarious misadventures and really, really bad attempts to put what he’s learned into practice, Jamie finds what he was looking for was already waiting beside him waiting to be noticed. Directors James Bedford and Alexander Jovy take a simple premise and spin it into comedy gold. They occasionally go for the cheap laugh, to be sure, but they also give their actors, particularly Di Gregorio, a chance to stretch out and build a character we can care about when all the madness slows down. The smooth blend of belly laughs and real heart is a real treat.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stray Cats Live at Montreaux

There was a time, and it was right around the same time that this concert was filmed, when the Stray Cats mattered. They weren’t just another pop group; they were a statement, form their slicked-back hair and tattoos to their rockabilly sound. They may just be a footnote on pop music history now, but watching them perform is a reminder of how much fun they were – and are – to listen to. The show looks and sounds fabulous on Blu-ray, but you could watch The Stray Cats – guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer, upright bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom – on a snowy black and white TV and the energy they put our would still make you wanna dance. The hits are strong, with the band really firing on all cylinders in a rousing rendition of Rumble in Brighton, but it’s the way they take a classic like Be Bop A Lula and make their own where the guys really shine.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Klitschko

If you are a fan of professional boxing, then you probably already know the story – or think you know the story — of these two Ukrainian brothers and their dominance of the sweet science for the past decade. But this film, from director Sebastian Dehnhardt, isn’t really about boxing; it’s about the life of the brothers outside the ring ad how that life is what allows them to be such powerhouses when the bell rings. Too say that Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko didn’t have an easy life growing up is a gross understatement yet even when Vitali takes a trip to visit the one room apartment his extended family grew up in there isn’t any remorse or regret or anger on display, It is, he says, what it is. He also lets you know that he never forgot where he came from and how much he enjoys the view of his past he has from his expensive Florida home. As for the ultimate sports question – when will the Klitschkio brothers face each other in t he ring – the film gives an answer that says more about them men than anything you will her on Sportscenter.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fire With Fire

Bruce Willis, Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio…looking at a cast that strong and realizing this movie never made it into theaters will lead you to the conclusion that this movie must really suck. Well, surprise, surprise. It doesn’t In fact, it’s pretty damn entertaining. The story centers on a fireman (Duhamel) who witnesses a murder in a convenience store and decides to do the right thing and testify even though the killer is a psychotic mob boss with a knack for violence. To keep him safe for the trial, the fireman is put into witness protection, but it isn’t long before his whereabouts becomes known to the killers and the chase begins. Veteran television director David Barrett (The Mentalist, Castle) does a good job keeping the tension cranked up to 11 throughout most of the film, and that keeps the energy levels high enough to forgive the occasional gaping holes in the plot. Of course, all he really needs to do is keep the camera focused on D’Onofrio whose performance as the killer is absolutely chilling throughout the film.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Rags and Riches: The Mary Pickford Collection

Mary Pickford was the first international superstar of the silent film era, and it’s about time that modern audiences discover why by watching this excellent set of films. The set starts with Poor Little Rich Girl, a dramedy (to use the modern term) about a young girl named Gwendolyn who tries anything to get her parents to pay attention to her. It’s only when she accidently dies from an overdose of sleeping syrup given to her by the cook (who wants to go out to the theater with her boyfriend) that the parents wake up to what they would miss of their little girl dies. The film is a bit melodramatic, but the trippy dream sequence that Gwendolyn goes through as she slips away is brilliant. Sparrows is a gothic drama about Mollie (Pickford) leading a band of children in a daring escape from a Louisiana baby farm, and it has to be seen to be appreciated. The Hoodlum repeats the poor little rich girl scenario, this time played for comedy. Put together, it’s a treasure trove of cinema and a welcome introduction to one of the industry's brightest stars.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wolf Lake

Lou Diamond Phillips stars as a Seattle Police detective investigating the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend and discovering that the legends of the local Native Americans tell about people with the ability to change into wolves aren’t just scary bedtime stories. While it may feel like it was rushed into production to cash in on the Twilight fever, but the story is based a lot more in ‘reality’ than the land of love-sick teenagers peopled by werewolves with six pack abs and sullen, sparkly vampires. The scripts are smarter than that, even if they do cross the line of credibility as the series progresses. It’s a big plus that the people who can become wolves – called skin walkers – turn into actual animals and not just teenagers in rubber masks. The young cast members of the series are all pretty generic, so it’s up to the veterans – Phillips, Tim Matheson (Animal House) and Graham Greene – to put some honest edge into the stories.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

11 Samurai

While out hunting, a Japanese nobleman accidently crosses the border to a neighboring fief. He is confronted by officials of the offended noble who, seeing the rank of the hunter (he’s Nariatsu, the son of the former Shogun) decide to let him go with a warning. Rather than being please with their decision, Nariatsu responds by shooting an arrow into the eye of the lead official, a move that sparks a war which nobody but Nariatsu thinks is necessary. So, it’s up to a band of rogue samurai to come up with a plan to stop Nariatsu before the war can begin. The story may be familiar, especially to fans of the other two films in the trilogy from director Eiichi Kudo (13 Assassins and The Great Killing) but the fight of the poor and suppressed to over throw tyrants never gets old, particularly when it’s fought by samurai. Shot in gorgeous black and white by cinematographer Sadaji Yoshida (Return of the Street Fighter), the film is both stylish action-packed.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Total Tinsel Collection

It’s been a while since a new holiday series has come along that is not only worth watching, but is worth keeping around for future celebrations. The adventures of Prep and Landing fill the bill nicely. The short animated films tell the adventures of Christmas elves Lanny and Wayne who work for Santa’s Prep and Landing division, which means they visit the house before the sleigh arrives to make sure there are no creatures stirring, that the milk and cookies are in place, that there’s enough room under the tree for the presents and, most importantly, that the landing lights are set up on the roof for the reindeer to guide them to a safe landing. In the first movie, Prep & Landing, Wayne doesn’t do a very good job of making sure the children are snuggled all snug in their beds and they get caught. In the second, they have to battle a young girl who has hacked into Santa’s main frame on Christmas Eve to change everybody’s status to naughty. The stories are smart and funny, the animation better than expected and the voice talent, particularly Dave Foley (A Bug’s Life) as Wayne, is excellent.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Javier Bardem 3-Film Collection

With his latest turn as a Bond villain in Skyfall, it seems only fitting to take a look back on the career of Javier Bardem, and this fascinating three-movie collection is a great place to start. The film most familiar to viewers will be No Country for Old Men, the 2008 Coen Brothers movie for which he earned a well-deserved Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. It’s still a great movie, and Bardem’s performance as the evil Anton Chigurh is mesmerizing. Bardem is just as fascinating playing a completely different role in Biutiful, the story of a petty criminal trying to provide for his children with what he makes running deals and scams on the streets of Barcelona. It’s a beautiful performance, mainly because Bardem doesn’t play it to gain out sympathy in any cheap pr easy way. Rounding out the collection is Mondays in the Sun, the story of a band of unemployed shipyard worked on the coast of Spain. It’s obviously a story that resonate with the world today, and they way Bardem and his fellow actors portray men who won’t let life beat them down is inspirational.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Doug Stanhope: Before Turning The Gun On Himself

Doug Stanhope is an acquired taste, and you will know if you have acquired it within in a few minutes of his stand-up performance. If you are a fan, you’ll be in Stanhope heaven watching this set, recorded in Salt Lake City. Stanhope is as abrasive as ever, but he’s also sharper than ever, whether he’s skewering the cult of celebrity rehabilitation of arguing the “Keynesian Economic Theory as Applied to Private Sector Independent Contracting” (one of the show’s funniest bits). The fact that he can offend as he enlightens is a rare gift for any performer, and it is fun to wonder which Stanhope enjoys more. (His fans, at least at this show, seem to prefer the more grating style of his personality.) And if you are not a fan … give him another chance. Yes, he may say things that will keep you awake at night if you are easily offended, but he will also make you laugh if you relax and let him.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sunset Boulevard

Directed by Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard is one of the creepiest movies ever made. It’s also a classic movie that has a lot to say about Hollywood, fame and stardom, but what will stick with you long after it’s over is the cold, clammy feeling crawling up your spine as you watch it. The movie stars William Holden as Joe Gillis, a struggling screenwriter who, while trying to get away from the repo men who want to take his car, gets a flat tire and has to hide out in the garage of what he thinks is an abandoned old mansion. He quickly discovers that the house is occupied by fading silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her butler Max (Erich von Stroheim) who mistake him for a handyman hired to help in the burial of a beloved pet chimpanzee. Rather than run for the hills like he should, Joe hangs around hoping to find a way to make money off the crazy old actress, but his plans are pitiful compared to what she ends up doing to him.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cut to the Chase: The Charley Chase Comedy Collection

He may not be as familiar to modern cinema fans as his contemporaries — as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd – but Charley Chase was one of the pioneers of silent film comedy and this collection of more than five hours of his classic short films is a fantastic chance to rediscover what he was all about. Like a lot of his peers, Charley built his success by playing a stock comedy type in all his films, his choice being a dapper kind of wimp who gets bullied in the first part of the film then finds his spine just in time to exact his revenge – or at least try to — before the movie ends. His humor works best when it gets a chance to play at a slower pace, like it does in Be Your Age where Charley has the time to build a character and not just be a joke machine. His style gets a bit stale, too, if you watch too many of the shorts back-to-back, but in small doses, say a movie or two at a time, he’s one of the best.

Shamus/Physical Evidence/The Anderson Tapes/Breakout – 4-pack

There was a time when the heroes in movies didn’t wear spandex or have super powers; they were just tough guys (usually with cool mustaches) who stood up for what was right, or at least made doing the wrong thing look cool enough to make it feel right. This four-movie set is proof. Burt Reynolds, THE box office king at one time, star in two of the movies, playing a private investigator in one (Shamus) and a suspended police officer in the other (Physical Evidence). They’re entertaining, and it’s nice to compare the Burt of 1973 (Shamus) with the Burt of 1989. Breakout, the story of a wealthy socialite hiring a guy to break her husband out of a Mexican jail, isn’t a very good film, but it’s always fun to watch Charlie Bronson do his thing. The best movie of the set may be The Anderson Tapes, starring Sean Connery as robber released from serving 10 years in prison and his plans to pull off a heist in a world that’s very different than it was when he went away.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Muppet Christmas Carol

There are many, many film versions of the Dickens classic about a crusty old miser finding the meaning of Christmas spirit, but not all of them have a felt frog playing the part of Bob Cratchit or a creature know as The Great Gonzo playing the part of Dickens. Released to theaters 20 years ago, this movie has more than its share of problems, like the saccharin songs of Paul Williams, but there’s enough inventive Muppet fun to make it worth watching. Heck, it’s worth it just to watch Statler and Waldorf, the grumpy old guys who sit in the balcony in The Muppet TV show, as Scrooge’s old business partners, Jacob and Robert Marley. And let’s not forget the human lead in the cast, the fabulous Michael Caine, who delightfully chews the scenery as Ebenezer Scrooge. If only he didn’t sing at the end.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Am: SMTOWN

The music, surprisingly enough, is the least interesting thing about this concert film that features 32 of the biggest musical acts of K-Pop (Korean Pop). If you are a fan of K-Pop or of today’s heavily processed pop sound, then you can sing and dance till you heart’s content to KANGTA, BoA, Super Junior and the rest. It’s the film surrounding the stage show that’s truly interesting, even if you don’t enjoy the music. You get a close-up view of the bands rehearsing their numbers, which is interesting, but you also get a lot of one-on-one time with the various performers that takes you behind the glamor to see the passion that made these young performers rise to the top. It’s a bit strange to hear them talk about their stage personas in the third person, but when you see the confusion American pop stars have telling the difference between the performer and the person, maybe there’s a lesson to be learned.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hollywood to Dollywoood

After living in Hollywood for a few years, identical twins Gary and Larry Lane decide to try and make their screenwriting dreams a reality by driving cross country in an RV to present their script to the actress they wrote it for, Dolly Parton. While a small part of the film is about the men and the movie they want to make, the bulk of the story is actually about the battle that Gary and Larry went through trying to be accepted by their conservative North Carolina family once they came out as gay. They spend a lot of time on camera sharing their story, detailing the way their family – particularly their mother – disowned them once they told the truth. It’s a story that’s both fresh and familiar; you’ve heard it before, especially if you or anybody you know has experienced the same thing, but the brothers have a healthy attitude about the people who wronged them that is missing from most of the stories that came before. They’re not angry. They know it’s their mom’s own upbringing and environment that is working against them, and not the lady they love.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hungarian Rhapsody – Queen Live in Budapest

The big thing about this box set, which includes a live concert disc and two discs of music, isn’t how good the band looks and sounds but the fact that it was made at a time when Queen was close to not even being a band any longer. After years of being at the top of the charts, and fighting like hellions back stage, the four members of Queen – Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor – were ready to call it quits when Bob Geldof called them to perform at Live Aid and they rediscovered just how good they were and how much they liked being Queen. So the music they play here, the first major rock show to play in Budapest, is full of energy and while Queen has arguably always been better in the studio than in concert, they rock the stadium. The film also takes time to give each member a little off-stage vignette to let us get to know them a little better. It’s a bit cheesy, but fans will love it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fear and Desire

Writer/director Stanley Kubrick disowned the film, allegedly comparing it to a child's drawing on a fridge, and while it would be a crime if the first movie from the man who went on to direct 2001 and The Shining was lost forever, you can understand Kubrick’s feelings once you’ve sat through it yourself. Shot in black and white, with a running time of just 60 minutes, the film tells the story of a band of soldiers who crash land behind enemy lines and must make their way across miles of dangerous landscape to get back to their side. There’s a minimal amount of action in the movie; most of it shows the soldiers standing around spouting Kubrick’s painfully static dialog to each other. There’s an encounter with a sexy peasant girl (Virginia Leith) and a run in with some cliché Nazis. Some of the movie is interesting to see, but only because you know who shot it. If you didn’t, chances are you wouldn’t look for the man who did when you finished watching.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Mask

This 1961 horror classic from director Julian Roffman (The Bloody Brood) is being sold as the first and only 3D feature film ever produced by Canada. Canada should probably sue. Like a lot of 3D films in theaters these days, the 3D in The Mask is not only the least interesting part of the film, dramatically speaking, but is also incredibly cheap to watch, especially through the paper 3D glasses included with the DVD. The story is about a young archeologist who digs up an ancient mask and, evidently, the curse that goes along with it. The mask drives him to suicide, but before he kills himself he mails the mask to his psychologist (if for no other reason that otherwise the movie would be very, very short). If you ignore the effects, it’s a passable B…make that C … movie.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

C: Control – The Money and Soul of Possibility

The plot for this anime series is so complicated, it’s best to read about I from the experts at animenewsnetwork.com: “The Japanese government was rescued from the brink of financial collapse by the Sovereign Wealth Fund. For its citizens, however, life has not improved, and unemployment, crime, suicide, and despair are rampant. Kimimaro is a scholarship student whose only dream is to avoid all this and live a stable life as a civil servant. One day, however, he meets a man who offers him the chance to make money fast. From then on Kimimaro is drawn into a mysterious realm known as "The Financial District," where people engage in supernatural battles for the possibility of money.” Phew. Don’t let the details stop you, especially if finance and math aren’t your thing, because this series looks amazing and the heroes and villains are well drawn and acted enough to make the basic details interesting enough to stick with it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Uninvited

A fluffy orange cat escapes from a secret medical facility and goes on a killing spree. If you need to read that sentence again before deciding if you want to spend 90-minutes of your time watching this no-budget thriller from Greydon Clark (Satan’s Cheerleaders), because in a lot of ways it’s worse than you can imagine. If you like your movies cheesy, though — after all, the Uninvited is being distributed by the awesome Cheezy Flicks – this is cinema gold. The film stars Alex Cord as a Wall Street swindler named Walter Graham who, with his henchman Mike (George Kennedy), is fleeing to the Cayman Islands to get his ill-gotten loot before the SCE catches him. He cons a bunch of innocent young kids to join him on his yacht to give him additional coverage, and one of them brings along a cat they find in the dumpster at the pier. What follows is an hour of outrageous – and ineptly filmed – violence as the cat, and the creature that lives inside him, start killing the people in the yacht. It’s awful, and awfully fun to watch.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hellsing Ultimate Volumes 1-4

In vampire law, Hellsing — van Hellsing, to be precise – is the heredity name of the family line devoted to ridding the world of bloodsuckers forever. In this truly twisted anime, it’s the name of an organization made up of vampires who battle the really evil forces of the world – Nazis and the Catholic Church – to keep it safe for the rest of us. Making the vampires the heroes of the tale is just the first of the surprises awaiting viewers as the series progresses (just don’t expect us to spoil the fun of watching for yourself by giving away too much here). The story follows The Hellsing organization, their top henchman, a vicious killer named Alucard, and a police girl-turned-vampire, Seras Victoria, through a series of adventures that gradually tie together into the kind of story Hollywood only dreams of having the guts to tell. And speaking of guts, younger fans beware: Hellsing is about as graphic as an anime can get. From start to finish, it’s a hell of a ride.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ella Enchanted

Anne Hathaway stars as a young girl cursed with the ‘gift’ of obedience – she literally has to do anything anybody asks of her. Being at everybody’s beck and call (even if they didn’t know they were doing it) made growing up a miserable experience, and it looks like her young adulthood won’t be any better especially after her father remarries a wicked woman with two even more wicked daughters. Sick of being a doormat, Ella sets off on a quest to find the fairy who gave her the gift in the first place so she can get back her free will and live a life where she makes her own decisions. The script is smart, and director Tommy O’Haver (Get Over It) keeps the action movie at a lively pace. The supporting cast, especially Lucy Punch as one of the evil stepsisters and Minnie Driver as a good fairy, is top notch, and Hugh Dancy makes a perfect prince for Ella to win in the end. The real treat of the film, though, is Hathaway and her charming comic timing.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

D.L. Hughley: Reset!

One of the original Kings of Comedy, D. L. Hughley has been doing standup for more than 20 years and as this live show, taped before a wildly enthusiastic New Jersey audience, he hasn’t lost any of the edge that made him one of the best cultural commentators of our time. Hughley has a razor sharp sense of timing; watching him work the crowd is a lesson for anybody who thinks they are good enough to stand up alone on a stage and tell jokes for a living. He’s also one of the smartest stand-ups in show business, able to share his strong opinions on politics, relationships, race and a host of other topics with an audience without every talking down to them or going for a cheap laugh when he’s got something to say. He’s not the kind of comic that audiences will be quoting as they walk out of the show. He’s more the kind they will think seriously about for weeks to come.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Slut

Do you have to like a movie to admire it? That’s the challenge of sitting through The Slut: The story is deeply disturbing and difficult to sit through, but the art involved in bringing it to the screen is so undeniably powerful that you can’t stop watching. Written/directed and starring Hagar Ben-Asher, the film tells the story of a single mom named Tamar (Asher) trying to make a life for her family on a desolate chicken farm. Tamar has a unique barter system set up among the men of the neighborhood where she offers certain sexual favors in exchange for help around the farm and although it’s an unusual system, it seems mutually beneficial to everybody. That is until a man from Tamar’s past returns to the village and the spark they once shared is rekindled. Will Tamar remain faithful to man or will she continue to see the other men in the village? What will happen if the man find out? The film answers those questions in dark and disturbing ways that will shock most viewers.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Athena Goddess of War

Soo Ae (The Sword With No name) stars as Yoon Hye-in, a sexy spy working as a double agent whose love for men on both sides of the law force her to make se serious decisions. And if you think that sentence sounds complicated and confusing then get ready to watch this movie with a notepad to keep everybody’s alliances straight in your head as the story progresses. While there are plenty of actions scenes in the movie, including some big, complicated battle scenes, the focus of the movie is more on plot that pyrotechnics. There’s lots of pithy dialog (which probably loses some if its pith in translation) and a complicated game of red herring posturing between Hye-in and the two men in her life, one who is the good guy and one who is the bad guy. It all feels a bit overcomplicated at times, but the effort it takes to figure it all out is worth it.