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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Father Brown: Season One

At times it feels a bit too much like the producers of this series had some sort of British Mystery checklist that they keep going to throughout each episode: Tea party… check ... upper class snobs and lower class ‘good’ people … check … bumbling coppers … check. It’s almost enough to make you stop watching because you’re sure all their heavy handed clues are leading you in one direction. But hang on. This isn’t the series you are expecting, particularly when the lead is played by the delightful Mark Williams, best known now as Arthur Weasley, Ron’s dad from all those Harry Potter movies. It’s a finely tuned performance, all smiles and charm when it comes to setting up the case, but Williams gives the father a bit of a bite when push comes to shove that can be downright exciting. The cases are generally well plotted, leaving plenty of clues along the way to keep you guessing whodunit. Only don’t be too embarrassed when you find out you’re wrong in the end.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Doctor Who: Deep Breath

The fact that they showed this episode of the long running British television series in movie theaters  -- to sell-out crowds dressed in all their Doctor Who finery – will give you some indication on just how wildly anticipated the arrival of the twelfth doctor was by fans. Was it worth all the hype? Definitely. Given the fierce popularity of the two men preceding him – David Tennant and Matt Smith – the new Doctor, played by Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, had some pretty huge shoes to fill. The joy of watching Deep Breath is that he doesn’t really seem concerned at the Doctors who came before him: Capaldi steps out of the Tardis as his own man the first time we see him and takes over the screen from that moment on. The script has plenty of references for him to help make the transition easy for those in denial, particularly the presence of Clara (Jenna Coleman) to add continuity (and a bit of confusion), but it isn’t too long into the episode before Capaldi stands on his own and becomes The Doctor. The story, about mechanized people trying to make themselves more human by taking body parts from living people, is a cracker, too.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bee People

Without bees, life as we know it on planet Earth would be impossible. That’s a scientific fact, but instead of banging us over the head with a gloom and doom scenario telling us how bad mankind has treated the bees of this world, this fun – and funny – documentary from director David G. Knappe focuses on the people who are doing something about it. Not scientists, mind you, but regular people who raise their own bees. What does it take to be a beekeeper, you ask? If these people are any indication, you have to be a little bit nuts, but in a good way. The film follows, among others, Gregg McMahan, Colorado's own 'Bee Guru' and Tony 'Bees' Planakis, NYPD's go to beekeeper as they go through their daily routine of not only tending their own hives, but rescuing wild bees who have built nests where nobody wants them. The way they refer to the bees as ‘girls’ gets a bit old (and a bit weird) after a while, but there’s a generous spirit to the film that makes it a lot of fun. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Midnight Special

‘Eclectic’ hardly covers the line-up presented in this six-DVD set; after all, it’s hard to think now that people who tuned in to The Midnight Special to see Aerosmith or Alice Cooper were happy to find Harry Chapin or John Denver on their television sets. But that was sort of the beauty of this long running show: You never knew what you were going to get beyond a live performance by some of the biggest and best musicians in the business. Since it made its debut in 1973 (at one o’clock in the morning) and lasted throughout the 70s and well into the 80s, you know that hairstyles and fashion trends are going to be just as interesting as the music being played, and if you wonder what some of the musicians were thinking when they put those clothes on, there are plenty of extras included in the package with the musicians themselves explaining it all. The quality of the shows is surprisingly good, as are the majority of the performances, whether you think you like the band playing or not. It’s all a bit of a time trip, to be sure, but one worth taking, even if you weren’t there when the shows first aired.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Words and Pictures

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But what if you are a poet who can’t write or an artist who can’t paint? How much is the finished product worth then? Although on the surface, this film from director Fred Schepisi (Last Call) seems to be about the value of the image versus the value of the printed word, you only have too scratch a bit to see it’s a story  about two lost souls struggling to find their muses and instead, finding each other. It’s a bit heavy handed, in story terms, but the fine performances from Clive Owens and Juliette Binoche make it work. Millions of words have been written about onscreen chemistry between actors, but nobody can tell you why some romantic pairings work and some don’t. In this case, it works very well. You appreciate the difficult journey the pair has to make to get to each other, but you are also rooting for them every step of the way. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Curse of Oak Island

A tale of pirates, the Knights Templar, buried treasure, secret booby traps, and a curse of death – what else can you ask for? How about the added pleasure of two rich brothers, Rick and Marty Lagina, who will stop at nothing to uncover the mystery behind (or beneath) this isolated island off the coast of Nova Scotia? It’s not your typical reality show, meaning there are not a lot of heightened emotions from the brothers fighting for more time on screen. It’s far more honest than that, and therefore more believable and, ultimately, more enjoyable. Do they solve the mystery? We’re not going to tell, but take our advice and watch the show in daily installments, even if you are tempted to marathon it through to the end. The wait is worth it. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hal - The Movie

Can a robot replace a human, not just physically but on an emotional level, too? That’s the compelling question asked in this gorgeous new anime movie from director Ryoutarou Makihara, and the answer may surprise you. The film tells the story of a robot that is asked to replace Hal, a young man who died in an accident, to help Kurumi, Hal's girlfriend, move on in life. As part of the process of earning Kurumi’s trust, and perhaps love, the robot Hal starts to learn that the flesh and blood person he’s supposed to replace wasn’t a good person in the first place. The robot tries to right the wrongs of Hal’s past in an effort to be a better “person,” but he quickly learns that there are some cuts that leave scars that are just too deep to be bandaged over. The story is well told, and Makihara paces it extremely effectively. The voice cast is strong, too, as is the beautiful artwork used to tell the tale. All in all, Hal is as beautiful a romance as you can find on film these days.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Aces High

A young man caught up in the excitement of war – at least the war he’s read about in the papers – enlists and becomes a flyer for the RAF. It isn’t long, of course, before the reality of flying, fighting and dying in battle squashes his dewy-eyed dreams and he’s forced to face his fears head on. Directed by Jack Gold (The Medusa Touch), the film is filled with just about every war movie cliché you can imagine, but it never really feels dull or dated thanks to some strong acting and thrilling aerial fight scenes. Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) stars as the war weary flight commander who can’t get into the cockpit until he’s had a few cocktails and it’s a relief to see a stock part like this played with humanity rather than gruff machismo. Christopher Plummer is also good as the old man of the squad whose bad leg keeps him from flying with his men. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Transformers Beast Machines: The Complete Series

Like every other show in the Transformer’s animated universe, there’s a lot of overly complicated plot layered in every episode of this cartoon series, and if you aren’t familiar with any of the shows that have come before it, you may start to feel lost soon after the opening credits start rolling. The fact that the computer generated animation isn’t that well done, either, may have you reaching for the stop button before the first commercial break. Relax. Give it a chance. While it may not be cutting edge, graphically speaking, this show is edgy enough to be entertaining. In the series, the Beast Wars are over and the Maximals (a Transformer/animal hybrid) return to their home planet of Cybertron to find the planet empty of their loved ones and patrolled by menacing Vehicon drones. (We said it was overly complicated.) What happens over the course of the next 26 episodes is, thankfully, simply a lot of fun.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Musketeers

The advantage of telling the epic story of the Three Musketeers over the course of a series like this instead of cramming it into a two hour movie (as has been done several times before) is that it gives the storytellers time to really develop the individual characters in the tale. In fact, at times this BBC series seems to take a bit too much time developing the characters, mainly because it keeps interrupting the stories with a lot of poorly filmed swordfights, but the cumulative effect of watching the entire season is well worth it. An early standout in the cast is the performance of Peter Capaldi (the new Doctor Who) as Cardinal Richelieu, a man so involved in setting up palace intrigues that you hardly notice the French cardinal has a Scottish accent. Santiago Cabrera plays Aramis well, too, particularly once he sets his seductive eyes on the queen (Alexandra Dowling).

Sunday, February 8, 2015

High School Confidential

Cool cats and hot chicks get involved with the local reefer dealer and it isn’t too long before their happy high school days end in deadly tragedy. Yes, it’s all a bit melodramatic and the lesson the story is trying to tell is passed along with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the forehead, but that’s part of what makes watching this 1958 exploitation film such a gas. Russ Tamblyn is a hoot as tough guy Tony Baker, a transfer student looking to score, and Jan Sterling is the perfect foil for him playing the part of the high school guidance councilor who thinks he can be a better man. On the less believable, but still highly enjoyable, side is the scenery chewing of Mamie Van Doren as Tony’s oversexed mom and Diane Jergens as the marijuana addict Joan. Heck, the movie even has Jerry lee Lewis on the back of a flat bed truck singing the theme song for the opening credits. It all adds up to one crazy ride.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jackpot

Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum) is having a really bad day, starting when he wakes up beneath a dead fat hooker in a sex shop, covered in blood and holding a shotgun, surrounded by dead bodies with the police standing over him, their guns drawn, ready to arrest him. Hard to believe that just a few hours ago, he’d won a multi-million dollar jackpot in a soccer pool. Discovering just how Oscar got under the dead fat hooker in the first place is the wild ride that writer/director Magnus Martens takes the audience on in this hugely entertaining movie that blends blood and buffoonery in some new and exciting ways. The cast is all very good, especially Hellum as the man who some very bad things happen to (again and again), and Henrik Mestad as the detective trying to piece Oscar’s unbelievable, but true, story together.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Vengeance Is Mine

Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata) is a thief and a killer. We know that because we see him be arrested and hear him confess at the start of the film. But this exciting story, from director Shôhei Imamura (The Pornographers) isn’t about who did it, but why. Why did Enokizu kill all those people? The answers, as Imamura presents them, are not easy to understand. The disturbing feeling you get as the story progresses that maybe he’s really just a bad man at heart is one that will haunt you long after the film ends. Imamura tells the story in a way that can hardly be termed chronological, given the way the plot jumps around from event to event, past to present and back again, but the cumulative effect of watching the story told this way builds in your mind exponentially. Thirty five years after it first shocked audiences, the film still thrills.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Deadbeat

Canadian comic actor Tyler Labine has been bumping around the edges of stardom for close to 20 years now, mainly showing up as comic relief in other people’s films and often ending up the only thing you remember from those films. So it’s nice to see him get a series of his own and the young funnyman certainly makes the most of it. In the show, Labine plays Kevin Pacalioglu, a spiritual medium who gets hire to investigate paranormal problems. The twist is that Kevin takes the cases to help the ghosts and not the people they are haunting. Sure, it gets a bit silly at times, but Labine has the comic energy to sell even the strangest tales the writers come up with. He also plays well with the others in  the cast, especially Brandon T. Jackson who plays his drug dealer, Roofie.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

75 Years of WWII

Using a blend of personal accounts and archival footage, this two-disc set from the History Channel does an excellent job of taking the audience out of their comfort zone for a close, and often disturbing, look at the horrors of war. D-Day in HD takes up half the set and it’s worth it. It’s one thing to watch the invasion in a movie, even if it’s as graphic a film as Saving Private Ryan, but it’s a lot more intense to hear a survivor of the invasion talk about how the air was filled with bullets, smoke and flying body parts as he desperately runs from the ocean to the beach. The two sea battle stories -- Bloody Santa Cruz recounting the vicious combat in the South Pacific in which the USS Hornet was lost and Enterprise Versus Japan detailing the battle when the USS Enterprise sends the Japanese Imperial Navy to a watery grave – are equally intense. The final chapter, Ultimate World War II Weapons, isn’t as frenetic as the others, but just as fascinating.