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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Undefeated

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (McLintock!), this post-civil war drama deftly balances the experiences that soldiers on both sides had acclimating to life once the fighting stopped. From the North, we have Col. John Henry Thomas (John Wayne) a successful campaigner who refuses to re-enlist once the South surrenders, opting instead to round up wild horses and sell them to the highest bidder. From the South we have Col. James Langdon (Rock Hudson) a defeated leader trying to get what’s left of his men and their families across the Mexican border before the bill for reparation is forced upon them. The film bounces back and forth from the two groups in interesting ways, leading to the predictable moment when The Duke and Rock meet, fight and, before all is said and done, join forces to battle some really bad hombres. It’s epic.

Monday, December 30, 2013

North to Alaska

One of the things that kept John Wayne’s career going for so long is that every now and then he’d make a movie that made fun of the legend he had created. This slapstick comedy from director Henry Hathaway (The Sons of Katie Elder) is a perfect example. In it, Wayne plays Sam McCord, a hard-drinking, hard-living frontiersman who’s just struck it rich mining gold in Alaska. While his partner (Stuart Granger) stays behind to cover the claim, McCord travels to San Francisco to get his partner’s fiancé to bring her back. Turns out she’s gone and got herself married instead of waiting, so McCord comes up with a plan to try and pass off another girl to his partner instead. It’s as silly as it sounds, but the film is filled with an infectious energy that makes even the most unbelievable moments a hoot to watch.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Omnibus: Gene Kelly – Dancing, A Man’s Game

Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas, Bob Cousy, Sugar Ray Robinson…and Gene Kelly? The mix of star athletes and the world famous song and dance man is not as strange as it looks on paper, especially once you’ve had the pleasure of watching this fascinating episode of the famous Omnibus series from 1958. Kelly uses the athletes to make a strong case for his belief that dancing is every bit as athletic and, yes, manly as throwing a football or hitting a home run. The way he does it, is fascinating.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Prisoners

It’s every parent’s nightmare: your child goes out to play and disappears, leaving you desperate to find out what happened to them and, if possible, punish whoever did them harm. Director Denis Villeneuve does an excellent job of preying on the phobias of the parents in the audience with this taut thriller, but he’s also clever enough to give his film a universal feeling of terror that will keep anyone watching on the edge of their seats. Hugh Jackman is excellent as the father of the missing child, perfectly encapsulating the rage and frustration anyone would feel at not being able to protect his own, while Paul Dano is palpably creepy as the guy that Jackman suspects abducted his daughter. Maria Bello is equally good as the wife whose inability to do anything but grieve drives her to the edge of sanity. The only really weak point of the story is the unconvincing work of Jake Gyllenhaal as the cop dedicated to solving the case by whatever means necessary.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wolf Children

In an anime world dominated by giant robots and buxom schoolgirls, it’s refreshing to watch a movie that tells a story without resorting to any of the usual anime extravaganzas. Instead, it takes a fantastic tale – the story of a man/wolf who falls in love with a human woman and fathers two human/wolf children – and tells it in a realistic way that makes the story all the more magical for it. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars), the film explores the concept of nature vs. nurture as the two young kids/cubs try to decide if they want to live their lives as a human or as a wild animal. The mother, after her mate dies, doesn’t have a clue how to raise her offspring, but the audience always feels the love she has for them, which is the key to making the magic of the story work. On top of all that, it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Broken

It’s not easy to put thoroughly unlikable characters up in the screen and still capture the audience’s imagination and heart, but first-time director Rufus Norris finds a way in this tense drama set in a claustrophobic cul-de-sac of a North London neighborhood. The film stars Tim Roth as Archie, a single dad raising two kids the best he can following the death of his wife. Archie also acts as the informal neighborhood attorney, whether it’s a property dispute or, as the violence in the story escalates, legal counsel for criminal attacks. Other residents of the area include an older couple raising a mentally challenged adult child, and another single dad with three of the most vulgar, nasty daughters you can imagine. Watching these people interact isn’t always pleasant; in fact, the movie can be tough to take at times. The reward of getting through it may not be the traditional happy ending, but it’s one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences you can get.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Trench

Written and directed by William Boyd, this tense drama takes viewers inside the trenches of World War I on the eve of one of the bloodiest battles in history, the battle of the Somme in 1916. Although the story gets a little too paint-by-numbers at times – you meet a character who tells an overly dramatic story from his past and BLAM he gets killed – the  acting  is strong enough to make even the most obvious moments work. Daniel Craig is particularly effective as the tough sergeant who has to rally the men to climb out of the trench when the time comes, and the always enjoyable Danny Dyer steals the show as a roguish man-about-town whose attempts to remind the lads what life is all about back home, through his collection of lewd girly photos, come back to haunt him.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Blackfish

Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top trainer. If he was a pit-bull or a pet snake, the authorities wouldn’t hesitate to issue an order for him to be put down. Because he’s the main attraction at Sea World and worth millions of dollars as both an attraction and in stud fees, though, Tilikum is getting away with murder. While her documentary is far from balanced, primarily due to the fact that Sea World never officially comments on camera, writer/director Gabriela Cowperthwaite makes a compelling case for more than just refusing to ever go to Sea World again. At its most successful, the film raises important questions about the nature of the relationship between wild animals and the humans who try to train them, underlining the important fact that while you can take such animals out of the wild, you can never take the wild out of those animals.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Only God Forgives

And the Oscar goes to… It may seem a bit presumptuous to begin a review with those words, but it won’t to anyone who has watched Kristin Scott Thomas deliver her amazing performance in this gorgeous thriller from director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive). The film tells the story of two sibling drug dealers in Thailand, one of whom is brutally beaten to death by the father of the young girl he raped and murdered. When the surviving brother (played by Ryan Gossling) doesn’t seek retribution for the crime, believing his brother got what he deserved for the murder he committed, his mother (Thomas) steps in to get the job done. The film is absolutely gorgeous to watch, with Refn combining images, lighting and music to virtually hypnotize the audience. It lulls you, and then shocks the hell out of you. There are sporadic scenes of graphic violence, to be sure, but the most stunning violence takes place every time Mom opens her mouth to say something. The experience is both visceral and breathtaking.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Conjuring

After unleashing the blood-fueled Saw franchise on the world, horror filmmaker James Wan decided to take the less is more approach to scaring audiences, at least in terms of gore, with this surprisingly bloodless, yet bone-chilling tale. The film stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, a happy, loving couple whose belief in otherworldly beings leads them to investigate the strange goings on in a Rhode Island farm house owned by the Perron family. Wan is an expert at building tension in his films, but the intensity in The Conjuring is cranked up to 11 thanks to the fine performances of the entire cast, particularly Wilson and Farmiga who have that rare ability to make you wholeheartedly believe what their characters believe. And in this case, that’s a terrifying idea.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Blood –C: The Last Dark

This sequel to the successful Blood + series follows the seemingly normal Saya Kisaragi as she battles a host of demons threatening to destroy our world. In The Last Dark, Saya teams with an underground revel organization known as Sirrut to solve the mystery of an organization known only as Tower rumored to be conducting experiments involving human beings. The plot is a bit too complicated, especially if you are not already familiar with the series that spawned it, but the animation is interesting, especially in the fight scenes between Saya and her victims. The dream sequences that enable Saya to piece together her past and solve the mystery and both beautiful and disturbing. The movie may not be the best place for anyone new to Blood + to start, but it should be incentive enough to go back and watch the source material.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Oka!


Given only a few months to live due to oncoming liver failure, a young musicologist named Larry (Kris Marshall) travels to Africa to record the sound of an ancient pygmy instrument being played before it’s too late. Along with the problem of staying alive long enough to find the instrument, as well as a musician who can play it, Larry finds himself up against greedy Chinese businessmen, corrupt government officials, the dwindling pygmy habitat and, as if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, a pygmy wife who wants him to put down his microphones and learn to hunt for their supper. It’s all a bit overwhelming for Larry –and for the audience. But there’s a generous spirit in the way director Lavinia Currier paces the film that allows you to follow along at your own pace. Marshall is, as always, an engaging presence on the screen, although his choice of/ability to do an American accent is unfortunate.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Vikings

Rape, murder, plunder: Just another day for the characters in this popular History Channel series. Or at least that’s what’s on the surface, and if that’s all you want from a TV show, it delivers. But there’s more going on with Vikings, from political intrigue to family values, and all of it brought to pulsating life thanks to some great writing, pinpoint direction and excellent acting. Travis Fimmel leads the way as young Viking Ragnar Lothbrok, a brave warrior chaffing under the iron fisted control of his chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne). Ragnar secretly strikes out on his own, makes a very successful raid and sets in motion the wheels of history as the Vikings discover the New World. Although the series, like the Viking world, is very male-dominated, it’s to the credit of the producers that they expand the plot to include some very strong feminine characters, too, particularly Ragnar’s wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), one of the fiercest female characters ever created.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Abducted

Aliens and their penchant for probing helpless humans has been fodder for horror movies for a long time and, to be honest, most of them are about as much fun to sit through as the probing would be. Don’t let your past experiences (cinematic or otherwise) keep you from watching this entertainingly original riff on the theme, directed by Lucy Phillip and Glen Scantlebury. Like a lot of horror movies, the film starts out showing us a happy loving couple who are out having the time of their lives, not knowing that disaster awaits in the form of alien abductors. The key here is the actors, Tessa Ferrer and Trevor Morgan are actually believable in their roles, and the film gives us enough time to really get to know them before the mayhem begins. And when it does, the film is smart enough to avoid predictability – and an overdependence on gore – resulting in a rare treat for fans of any film genre. It all derails a bit at the end, but the ride is so much fun you can hardly complain.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Embrace of the Vampire

Based, loosely, on a 1995 movie starring Alyssa Milano, this film from director Carl Bessai tells the story of a virginal young Catholic school girl named Charlotte (Sharon Hinnendael) whose transfer to a co-ed university rocks her world in more ways than one. In between erotic dreams of her classmates, Charlotte stats having horrific hallucinations that lead her to believe she’s in a fight for her very soul. While the plot is a bit strained at times, Bessai has a real talent for filling the screen with unforgettable images to illustrate the story in new and imaginative ways. Hinnendael is likable in the lead, not an easy thing given the dialogue she’s forced to speak. Watching her go through some of the film’s more gory scenes makes you root for her even more.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Curse of Chucky

There’s a new Chucky movie? Even hardcore fans of the killer doll series may be surprised that there’s a new Chucky movie; they’ll be even more surprised at how good it is. The film is less a continuation of the story than a reboot, with the cornball antics of the last few films (Chucky getting married too another doll and having a kid?!?!) tossed out for a return to old fashion scary stuff. The doll, voiced by veteran character actor Brad Dourif, is still creepy as hell to look at and it’s a lot of fun to watch him be all cute in the beginning because you know what Chucky can – and will – do. The cast does a pretty good job selling it, too, especially Dourif’s daughter, Fiona, as the girl in the wheelchair. The real star here, though, is writer/director Don Mancini (director of some of the less than stellar Chucky films) who has developed the sense to let the doll do what it does, while concentrating on tweaking the tension levels in the rest of the film. This time, he really gets it right.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Eyes Without a Face


The horror classic from French film director Georges Franju tells the story of a grief stricken doctor who is desperately trying to find a way to cure his daughter, who was horribly disfigured in an automobile accident. His solution is to kidnap young girls who look similar to what his daughter use to look like, surgically remove their faces and graft them onto his little girl. It’s a twisted tale and, for 1960, it can be pretty gruesome to watch, particularly in the surprisingly gory surgery scene that details just how the doctor removes his victim’s face. The film is more than a cheap thrill, though, thanks to Franju’s inventive directorial style, the gorgeous photography of Eugen Schüfftan (The Hustler) and the haunting image of the mask the daughter wears to hide her face to the world.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lost and Found


A young boy’s life is forever changed when he answers his door one day to find a penguin on the doorstep. Assuming the flightless bird is lost, the boy decides he must take the penguin back home. There’s a wonderful charm in the way the boy simply decides that taking the penguin home is the right thing to do, a charm that fills every frame of this of delightful animated tale. And before you snub your nose at the idea of watching an animated family film like this, take a deep breath and get over yourself because a great story is a great story, no matter what medium is used to tell it. And this is a great story, form the dazzling animation to the lovable narration from Jim Broadbent. You don’t need to think twice: get it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Chasing Ice

Like a lot of people, National Geographic photographer James Balog knew in his heart that global warming was a real threat to the planet. Unlike a lot of people, however, he had a plan to prove it. So he trudged out to some very remote locations in Alaska, Greenland and, believe it or not, Montana, set up some time elapse photo equipment and recorded what happened to the landscape over a three-year period. The end results are amazing. So is the story of the man behind the cameras and the lengths he went to to get the footage he needed. While it’s disappointing to see the reaction his work got from the people who oppose the idea of global warning for their own personal reasons (greed), it’s inspiring  to see one man fight so passionately for what he believes in.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Call Me Kuchu

It’s unnerving to sit in a land that is slowly, state-by-state, beginning to recognize the rights of same gender people to be legally wed and watch a documentary about a country where homosexuality is actually illegal. Unnerving, aggravating and, hopefully, inspiring. Written and directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, the film follows David Kato's historic fight for gay rights in Uganda and the high price he paid for being an outspoken advocate for human and civil rights. The film is filled with a sense of place, and pride, for the land and people of Uganda, a country best known by people outside its borders as the land of former dictator Idi Amin. The sense of freedom the rest of the country feels following the end of his regime only underlines the struggle that Kato, his friends and his family fight. It’s a great story, extremely well told, that needs to be seen and remembered.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Beast With Five Fingers

A reclusive wheelchair-bound concert pianist comes to a mysterious death when his chair – with him in it – is pushed down a huge flight of stairs. While the relatives bicker about who should get what from his massive estate, even stranger thing are starting to happen. As the body count starts to rise those left alive start to believe the house is haunted by the severed hands of a dead pianist. Sure, it’s a really weird idea, and director Robert Florey uses every trick in his arsenal to keep the weirdness cranked up to 11 until the final reel. The end result is a bit overheated, but the time you spend getting there is a lot of fun.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

In the Flesh

Just when you thought there wasn’t any new way to tell a zombie story along comes this delightful three-part BBC series to prove you wrong. Set in a post-apocalyptic future following the great zombie uprising, the series follows the efforts of an undead individual named Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) as he tries to fit back in with the society he was trying to eat just a few short months ago. No amount of flesh tone make-up and tinted contacts can keep the dreams of his undead days from plaguing Kieren and making him wonder how long he can pretend to be alive. Having supportive parents; helps, but having a sister who’s a leader in the paramilitary force dedicated to eradicating the zombie population once and for all doesn’t. If it was played for laughs, it wouldn’t work. Because it’s played as a real life drama, it works brilliantly.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Robot Chicken Season 6

Robot Chicken is, hands down, one of the funniest shows on TV, a weird combination of childhood fantasy – after all, the show is little more than stop -motion skits using action figures and dolls – and cutting edge, intelligent – OK, geeky – comedy. It’s also an acquired taste, which you can try for yourself by popping the disc in and watching the first episode. If you don’t howl out loud laughing at the Inspector Gadget gag, then it’s probably not your cup of tea. Hang in there a bit longer, though, because the jokes come so fast and furious in Season 6 that you’re bound to find something to make you laugh before too long. For those already indoctrinated into the RC cult, you can enjoy the season, and then spend time exploring the hours of extras added to the set including hilarious outtakes and behind the scenes footage.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I Married a Monster From Outer Space

It may rank as one of the worst titles ever slapped on a movie marquee, but you only have to spend a few minutes viewing this 1958 sci-fi classic to know it’s a lot better than its name. Just watch the unusual and effective tracking shot that director Gene Fowler Jr. uses to establish the opening of the movie and you have an idea of what’s to come. It’s the story of a young guy named Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon) who, on his way home from his bachelor party, stops to see if the body lying across the road is in need of assistance. Turns out it’s an alien and it doesn’t need help; it needs Bill Ferrell’s body so he can mate with earth women and save his race. It isn’t long before the men of the town are all infected and the women are all heading to the altar (since it’s 1958 and nobody, not even aliens, will be having sex out of wedlock). It’s creepy and cool.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Horror Stories

A team of talented Korean directors lend their efforts to this quartet of terror tales, and the results are uneven. It starts with 'Don’t Answer the Door' from Jung Bum-shik, the ineffectual story of a brother and sister who forget their mom’s warning and let a bad man into their apartment. Next up is 'Endless Flight' from director Lim Dae-woon, the story of a serial killer being transported to prison on a commercial flight. The way he escapes and starts killing off the passengers and crew is unbelievable, but a lot of fun. 'Secret Recipe' from Hong Ji-young is the best of the bunch, a genuinely creepy story of a well preserved older man and the sinister way he uses his young brides to keep him young, too. Finally, there’s the total gore fest called 'Ambulance on the Dead Zone' by Kim Gok and Kim Sun. It’s the claustrophobic tale of a team of paramedics transporting a young girl who may or may not be infected to the hospital. The tension is almost unbearable, broken only by the waves of blood the director’s splash around the inside of the ambulance.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Future Diary LE Part 1 & 2

To say Yuki isn’t good with people is a gross understatement. He’s the kind of high school student who spends more time detailing the minutia of his life into his phone than he does actually speaking to any of his classmates. Even his friends are virtual … or are they? The creatures he thinks he has created challenge him by giving him a special phone that can predict the future…or at least his future. Then these same creatures pit Yuki against a group of people with similar phones to fight a battle to the death. The last one standing will be declared the new God of Time and Space. The story gets a bit ridiculous at times, but the characters are developed enough to sell it even at its silliest.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Michuko & Hatchin: Complete Series

The only way they could improve this awesome anime would be to edit all the individual episodes into one feature film. It tells the story of a criminal named Michiko – one of the sexiest anime characters ever created – as she rescues a young girl called Hatchin from her abusive foster parents. They make the unlikeliest duo you can imagine, but their fates are intertwined by a mysterious man from the past.  Their adventures along the way are action-packed, and extremely cinematic, but the story never forgets to take time to let the characters breath a bit and get to know each other. The voice acting is perfect, too, especially the sexy purr of Monica Jean Rial as Michiko. If you’ve ever wondered what separates anime from ‘cartoons,’ this is a perfect place to start.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

In the Fog

Most war movies focus on the big picture, meaning that all of the character and drama is there only to support the cinematic spectacle of the big battle. This fascinating film from director Sergei Loznitsa takes the opposite approach: It shows audiences how the big events of the war impact the life of one man, an innocent rail worker named Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy). Sushenya is mistakenly arrested as a saboteur when a train is derailed near his village and, instead of being killed with the others, he is set free by the Germans. His freedom comes with a price, however; the price of being suspected of collaboration by everyone in his village. The movie moves at a slow, at times glacial, pace which takes a bit of getting used to. Loznitsa knows what he’s doing though, as the rhythm of the movies goes from slow to hypnotic as the story progresses, setting you up for a nerve-shaking climax.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Top Gear: The Worst Car in the History of the World

For more than a decade, the men of Top Gear have been getting behind the wheel of just about every great car ever made, racing them around a test track and reporting to their millions of fans, in no uncertain terms, just what they like and didn’t like about each one of them. So it’s a delight for them to turn their laser-sharp insights – and razor-sharp tongues – on finding the worst car in the history of the world. (And no spoilers here – watch and find out for yourself who the winner is.) The show features only two of the three Top Gear hosts – the curmudgeonly Jeremy Clarkson and the overly meticulous James May – and the rapid fire repartee they exchange is better than the dialogue you’ll find in almost any of the latest movies.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wild Things With Dominic Monaghan: Deadliest Creatures

Every other nature show and travel show host needs to learn a lesson from Dominic Monaghan about  how to be genuine – and genuinely interesting – on camera. The idea of stalking through rain forest and jungle to find deadly creatures and creepy crawly insects may be most people’s idea of a nightmare, but Monaghan makes it seem like the most natural ---and coolest -- thing in the world. The way the show pretends that this episode maybe the one where they don’t find the animal they are looking for gets a bit old at times, but you almost forgive Monaghan and his crew because they turn up so many other cool things to look at along the way. A big part of the fun in it all is that, unlike guys like Jeff Corwin or Jack Hanna, Monaghan is not a trained professional. He’s just a geek who loves animals.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mulan: Warrior Princess

It’s a story most will know from the 1998 Disney girl-power cartoon with the sappy songs and Eddie Murphy as a tiny dragon doing basically the same shtick he would do three years later as a Donkey in Shrek.  This film from directors Jingle Ma and Wei Dong, is a much grittier, more realistic telling of the tale of a young girl who disguises herself as a man to take her ailing father’s place in the emperor’s army. And, for anyone over the age of 12, it’s also much better. Sure, it’s hard to believe anyone would ever believe Wei Zhao was a man, even when she’s dresses up in armor, but her performance is strong enough that you won’t worry about it too much after the action starts. Speaking of which, the fights scenes in the movie are first rate, especially the big battles. The directors make sure, however, that the grand scale of the war never overshadows the drama being played out beneath the armor.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Halloween Home Haunts

Looking for a cool way to decorate your house this Halloween? Then this is the ultimate guide for you. Granted, it’s not exactly a “how-to” video, but seeing the lengths that the people in it go to decorate their houses every Oct. 31 should at least inspire you to do more than buy a couple crappy banners at Walmart and think you’ve decorated the house. The film divides itself between the people that simply decorate the outside of their houses – simply being a bit of a misnomer given the lengths they go to – to those who create special interactive environments for people to walk through and have the wits scared out of them. Although the tours the movie gives of each unique environment are fun to watch, the best part of the movie may just be meeting the people who do it all and hearing why they dedicate so much time, energy and money to scaring others once a year.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Sean Connery had already starred in four James Bond movies by the time this bleak masterpiece from director Martin Ritt gave audiences an inside view of what life really was like for a spy – dull, dreary and debilitating to the soul of any poor bastard who signed on for the job. Richard Burton stars – and gives a terrific performance --- as Alec Leamas, an almost washed-up operative who is called to task after his plan to get an informer out of East Germany only gets the agent killed at Checkpoint Charlie. His bosses use his blunder as a cover story for his quitting the agency to become an informer for the very person who foiled his plan. There are plenty of twists and turns to the story, all made without any real action taking place outside of the war of words Burton fights with every speech he makes. Despite the lack of babes and bombs, though, it’s far more exciting to watch than anything Bond ever did on screen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Haunting of Helena

After losing her first tooth, a young girl starts having visions of the Tooth Fairy hiding in her closet, demanding more teeth. Naturally, her mom is a bit upset and tries to get her daughter help, but everywhere she turns, she just finds weird details that add to the mystery in dark and disturbing ways. Directors Christian Bisceglia and Ascanio Malgarini do an excellent job of giving their film a tense, atmospheric feel that will make the hairs stand on your neck, while at the same time keeping it firmly grounded in a twisted sort of reality that makes even the strangest visual images seem real. The acting is top notch, particularly Harriet MacMasters-Green as the mom. Good as it is, the film rockets into the realms of greatness when the real mystery is revealed in the final reel.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Complete Season 8

It’s virtually impossible to explain in words the inspired madness that takes place in each episode of this popular FX series. Reading that Dennis and Dee (Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson) are faced with the moral question of whether or not to pull the plug on their grandfather may make you think the producers are making a message episode. By the time its over – grandfather is a Nazi, Frank (Danny DeVito) is searching for hidden Nazi treasure, Charlie and Mac (Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney) are on the hunt for a missing painting by Adolf Hitler – you have a much better idea what the show is really all about. And it just gets wilder with every episode. The writing is sharp and the dialogue on target, but it’s the perfect timing of the comedic cast, honed by seven previous seasons, that makes following their wacky adventures such a hilarious treat.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

This sequel to the 2009 blockbuster reboot of the Star Trek franchise is one of those rare second films that surpass its predecessor in virtually every way. Not only are the actors more confident in their roles, particularly Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock, but the story itself, based on a character created for the series and then featured in the best of the original franchise movies, is much stronger. Seeing it on the big screen – especially in 3D or Imax – when it played in theaters was a treat, but seeing it at home on Blu-ray is better because  it gives you a chance to watch the details in those performances, which wasn’t easy to do with the special effects that dominate the film. Kudos go to Benedict Cumberbatch for taking an iconic villain – Kahn – and making it his own instead of merely updating it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Goodbye Mr. Chips

This is the kind of movie you wish came with a time machine so you could go back and see it in a theater with audiences for the first time. Seeing it today is still good, but it may be difficult for today’s audiences to identify with the extreme “Englishness” of the story; cricket just isn’t that important to most people, but it’s the ultimate English sport to the students at the university where the movie is set. The movie follows the career of a teacher named Chippington, Mr. Chips to his students and friends, as he goes from stern novice educator to beloved old mentor of generations. Robert Donat won an Oscar for his performance, which may be part of the whole Anglophile fever surrounding the picture that year. Still, it’s hard to deny the heartwarming nature of the story, no matter where you come from or when you see it.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Master of Ballantrae

When the political pressures between England and Scotland become too great and it looks like war will break out, a pair of Scottish brothers come up with a plan: One of them will join the rebels and go off and fight the English, while the other stays at home and pretends to be loyal so the family estate will stay intact. What sounds like a good plan to keep the family together soon has brother battling brother as the rebels fail and the siblings are set against each other. Although it has the kind of narration you usually find in historical documentaries, this movie from director William Keighley (The Adventures of Robin Hood) only uses the facts as a way to make sure that star Errol Flynn gets plenty of time to fight bad guys and make the ladies swoon. And he does it with such style and grace that you forget all the minor irritations along the way.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Mole Man of Belmont Avenue

Mike Bradecich and John LaFlamboy star as Marion and Jarmon Mugg, two drunken slackers who make their living as slumlords at an apartment building left to them by their mother. When residents start reporting missing pets, the brothers launch a lazy investigation and find they have an uninvited guest living in their basement. Blending horror and comedy is never easy and almost never successful, but Bradecich and LaFlamboy, who wrote and directed the film, pull it off with style and, believe it or not, charm thanks to the great screen chemistry they share. The horror is more silly than scary, but it fits well with the generally silliness of the story. The cameo appearance of Robert Englund as a sex-crazed tenant is an added bonus.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

Ever wonder what happened to television, how so-called reality shows took over the industry and made it possible for the most obnoxious and outrageous behavior to rise to the top even if the people acting that way don’t actually have talent or do anything to earn their money and attention? This fascinating documentary from directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger makes a very strong case that it all boils down to a loudmouth jerk and his highly influential talk show. The film goes beyond the mouth that roared across cable television from 1988-1989 to give the audience a look at both the softer side of Mort --- he was a ballad singer just like his old man – as well as his more psychotic episodes, like the alleged attack by skinheads that just happened to take place when the show’s ratings were in the toilet. You may not love the guy when it’s over, but you will have a better idea of what he did to change the world.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Loved One

Any movie that advertises itself as being “The Motion Picture With Something to Offend Everyone” is either brilliant or a piece of filth. Luckily for viewers picking up a copy of this 1965 classic directed by Tony Richardson (Tom Jones), it’s brilliant. The film stars Robert Morse as Dennis Barlow, an English poet who travels to Hollywood to live with –and off – is uncle, Sir Francis Hinsley (John Gielgud), a renowned artist who makes his living doing sketches for the movie studios. The film starts out as a kind of demented travelogue, with the two Englishmen giving very droll accounts of life in LA LA Land. The comedy keeps getting darker and darker as Sir Francis dies, leaving Dennis to wander through the hidden world of undertakers where he finds, love, lust and the American Dream. Keep your eyes peeled for a slew of fantastic supporting performances and cameo appearances, like Liberace as a casket salesman.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Regular Show: Fright Pack

Outside of It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, it’s hard to think of an animated feature  that families can sit around and watch to get ready to celebrate Halloween. Until now. This collection of scary-themed episodes form the popular Cartoon Network series is not only perfect for kids looking for something a little more mature than Linus in a pumpkin patch (great as it is), but will prove equally enjoyable for parents in search of the same, The set kicks off with “Terror Tales of the Park II,” the 2-part Halloween special wherein Mordecai, Rigby, Margaret and Benson take turns telling scary stories on their way to a Halloween party. It’s a familiar format, but the creative team behind the series adds some twists that will leave you howling, especially if you’ve ever been caught egging a house. The set rounds off with a collection of episodes form the first four seasons of the show which are worth watching in order on this disc, even if you’ve seen them before. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Da Vinci’s Demons

To say this new series from David S. Goyer (writer of Man of Steel) gives audiences the "untold" story of Leonardo Da Vinci, is an understatement, but one that even the most serious scholars of the Renaissance genius will forgive once they get lost in the sheer fun of it all. It stars the charismatic Tom Riley in the title role and he plays the part of Da Vinci as part tortured soul and part action hero, with a good dose of yummy TV hunk thrown in for good measure. As rollicking as the show can get at times, though, it always stays grounded in the idea that Da Vinci was a tortured genius who couldn’t stop inventing things if he tried, or if others tried to force him, which seems to happen with every episode. The inventive visual ways the show keeps coming up with to illustrate Da Vinci’s ideas, as well as his pain, is impressive, walking a fine balance of giving the audience something to make their mouths hang open in wonder while never neglecting the need to inspire their brains to think about what it all means.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Revolution: The Complete First Season

Picture the frustration you feel when you go to turn on a light or you laptop and nothing happens. Nothing. The same goes for your cell phone and every electrical device you use on a daily basis. Now imagine everybody in the world experiencing the same thing at the same time. Forever. That’s the premise of this NBC series set in the world 15 years after the Blackout. Civilization has crawled up from the ashes, in a manner of speaking, and divided itself into those who can build homesteads and those who have the power to dominate them. The only hope is a rumor or a power source that can restore the world or destroy it, depending on who finds it first. Although the story gets a bit overblown at times, the cast does a good job of selling even the silliest ideas. Billy Burke is particularly effective as the swashbuckling, yet still reluctant hero of the show.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Blandings Series 1

Given the popularity of dramas like Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, it would be easy to forget that the British also have a very silly side. Thank goodness, this delightful BBC series is now out on DVD to remind us just how funny the upper crust can be. The show stars Timothy Sprall as Lord Clarence Emsworth, the befuddled head of Blandings Castle who devotes more time to making sure his prize pig is constantly being fed than to the crumbling empire that surrounds him. He has an almost as befuddled son named Freddie (Jack Farthing) who is so scatterbrained he drives his jaunty automobile into the same tree almost every episode. Thankfully, the dour matriarch of the clan, Lady Conny (Jennifer Saunders) is on hand to make sure things stay as properly British as possible. It’s all played frightfully seriously, which makes it even funnier to watch.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Song of the South: Duane Allman and the Rise of The Allman Brothers

Now they are part of the American music consciousness, the band that tours forever, the band who put the South in Southern Rock and taught all those new jam bands that it’s OK to play the same song for an hour or more as long as you’ve got the musical chops to make it interesting for the audience. There was a time, though, when the Allman Brothers Band was this close to being just a musical footnote in, of all things, the history of white soul music. That was the path they were taking – strictly middle of the road – until lead guitarist and driving force Duane Allman decided he was going to play the music in his head and nothing else. The results, as this great documentary proves, changed the world and is still changing it today, 42 years after Duane Allman died.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Love Me Tender

Given his popularity at the time (1956) it seemed logical to take Elvis Presley from the world of rock and roll and transplant him into a Hollywood movie. This first effort, directed by Robert D Webb, highlights the highs and the lows that can be found in every movie Elvis did after this one. The highs are the musical numbers and any scenes where Elvis can relax and use his natural charm to carry the story from point A to point B. The lows are the moments in the movie when Elvis actually has to act. As for the plot, it’s the story of a band of brothers serving in the Confederate army who rob a Union payroll. When they find out the war is over, they decide to keep the loot to start their new lives now that they can go home. On their arrival, they discover that the brother they left behind (Elvis) has gone and married the girl they left behind (Debra Paget). They all try to get along, but the hurt runs deep and tears the brothers apart. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Niagara

Anybody who says they don’t “get it” when it comes to Marilyn Monroe being a cinematic icon needs to check out this tawdry little thriller from director Henry Hathaway. It’s the story of a young couple (Jean Peters and max Showalter) whose honeymoon at Niagara Falls turns deadly when they meet a troubled Korean War veteran (Joseph Cotton) and his sleazy bombshell wife, Rose (Monroe). The movie is well plotted, with a neat little twist halfway through, but it’s Monroe’s performance that keeps you riveted to the screen. When she comes out of her motel room to crash a teenage record party, wearing a skin-tight vibrant pink dress that is cut so low in front “that you can see her knees,” the electricity that comes off the screen will make your cinematic spine shiver. Her performance is raw enough to be believable, especially when she’s belittling the husband she’s trapped with until death do they part.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

Let’s face it. If DC put out a DVD that had just The Flash on the title, chances are you’d pass it by. He may be the fastest man alive, but he’s also a bit of a one trick pony whose trick gets very old, very fast, So it was a genius movie to disguise the Flash story under the bigger umbrella of the Justice League. And it wasn’t the only genius move the filmmakers made. The story is told in an alternate universe where Barry Allen isn’t The Flash, Batman is actually Bruce Wayne’s father, Superman is trapped in an Area 51-style prison for alien invaders and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are going toe-to-toe in a World War III level fight for control of the planet. It’s such a cool universe that you almost don’t want the big secret to be revealed at the end so things can go back to ‘normal’. Thankfully, the creators carry off the big ending with the same level of style.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State

They are the unsung heroes who battle big companies and even bigger government bureaucracy to make sure bad people pay for doing bad things…unsung, and often unappreciated, unrewarded and, in a lot of cases, swiftly unemployed. They are the whistleblowers, people who see something so wrong happening at their workplace that they risk just about everything they have to drag those responsible out into the light, or at least out under the harsh light of the media. This fascinating – and inspiring -- documentary from director Robert Greenwald (Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price) takes the audience behind the headlines to meet the people and get a better sense of why they decided to drop the dime in the first place. It also gives viewers a clear picture of how the powerful use every means they have to not only squash the whistler before anyone hears the sound being blown, but the lengths they will go to to retaliate against anybody who dares accuse them in the first place.