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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.