Thursday, January 27, 2011

ER: The Complete Fourteenth Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

In a season scheduled to be its last, fans actually benefited by the writers’ strike, as ER was brought back for a fifteenth season. Unfortunately the fourteenth season, released on DVD from Warner Home Video on January 11th, 2011, is extremely uneven in its storytelling. Luckily the performances of the actors, both guest and regular, make this season worth watching.

Most notable of the excellent performances by a guest is that of Stanley Tucci as Dr. Daniel Moretti whose subtle brilliance as the new head honcho brings a sense of class to the show from his appearance in the season opener: "The War Comes Home". Despite the fine performance of Tucci, the impact of a new chief on the ER has simply been seen too many times before, and thus the first few episodes of season fourteen seem disappointingly familiar. Like many of the storylines throughout the season, that of the restrained Dr. Moretti takes an abrupt turn as writers struggle to get rid of someone who had not signed on for a fifteenth season. The same can be said for many relationships throughout the season, as storylines begin and end awkwardly.

In anticipation of the end of the series, the cast of regulars had been whittled down to just six (Parminder Nagra as Dr. Neela Rasgotra, Linda Cardellini as Nurse Sam Taggart, Scott Grimes as Dr. Archie Morris, John Stamos as Dr. Tony Gates, Maura Tierney as Dr. Abby Lockhart, and Mekhi Phifer as Dr. Greg Pratt) and that allows for not only the audience to truly appreciate those that are there, but also for each of the talented actors to be given plenty of time to shine. Tierney takes full advantage of the opportunity as Abby runs the gambit of trials and tribulations throughout the entire season. One could only hope that Abby would find happiness in season fifteen, because there is not much to be had here.

Season fourteen includes the 300th episode which is celebrated with a unique episode in which Dr. Morris wagers three hundred dollars that the ER can treat 300 patients in one 24-hour period. This storyline is wrought with forced comedy that fails to payoff. Other disappointments in this numerically historic episode include a return appearance by former regular Goran Visnjic as Dr. Lukka Kovac and a guest appearance by legendary actor turned infomercial host Peter Fonda. Fonda’s character is dealing with a terminally ill wife and an introduction to a son with Downs Syndrome that he had given up at birth. Visnjic and Fonda never share any screen time in this episode but still manage to compete for the most stoic and one-dimensional performance. Episode 300 does include a pleasant but far too brief look back and some of the more memorable patients that have stopped in to the ER.

Other guest appearances in season fourteen include: Charlotte Rae, Eddie Mekka, Hal Holbrook, Patrick Cassidy, Jesse Borrego, Howard Hesseman, and Steve Buscemi who appears in the final episode of the season. Buscemi works well with what he is given, but the cliffhanger to ponder over the course of the summer, like most of season fourteen, is far too contrived.

The bonus features include ER at 300: Highlights from the ER 300th Episode Tribute at the Paley Center for Media featuring cast and crew, Gag Reel, Outpatient Outtakes: Unaired Scenes, and Subtitles. Like in previous season releases, the gag reels seem staged and simply aren’t enjoyable to watch. Even more disappointing is the tribute which is poorly edited and will leave you wondering why they didn’t give us the whole event. The reasons for exclusion of the Outpatient Outtakes: Unaired Scenes will be obvious when you watch them.

Recommendation: This release has potential to irritate the most loyal of fans for many reasons, the least of which is that Warner Home Video changed the size of the packaging from the previous thirteen releases. Thanks for ruining the uniformity of the collection guys. The episodes are a mixed bag full of good performances lost in poor storytelling.

Season fourteen is worth buying for the performances and for the true fan that needs to complete the collection and does not care how it looks on the shelf.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

AVATAR - Extended Collector’s Edition

Written by Hombre Divertido

Yes, there are people out there that never saw Avatar on the big screen. Actually, there are seventy-three of us, and we have meetings.

So, to the other seventy-two of you, I address this review:

Well, gang, I’m not sure if this will get me kicked out of our big holiday party at the Skate-O-Rama, but I watched Avatar on a standard definition television (remember those? I know you do, Todd cuz your mom told me that is what you have in your basement bachelor pad) and we may have missed the boat. Considering how everyone raved about seeing the film in 3D on the big screen, it must have been visually amazing, because the story is predictable and the characters are one-dimensional no matter where you see the film.

On November 16th Twentieth Century Fox gave James Cameron's epic the royal treatment by releasing the three-disc Extended Collector’s Edition which consists of three versions of the film (original theatrical release, Special Edition Re-Release with eight additional minutes, Collector's Extended Cut with sixteen additional minutes), the documentary “A Message From Pandora” which chronicles the efforts of Cameron and many other s to stop the building of a damn that will threaten the rainforest right here on Earth, and “Capturing Avatar” which explores in detail the making of Avatar.

I know what you are thinking: If you have the Collector's Extended Cut why would you need the other two shorter versions. I asked the same question. Then I watched the Collector's Extended Cut. It is soooo long, and slow, and plodding, and predictable, that it sucked out of me any desire I had to be a “collector”.

In this Dances with Starship Troopers big-budget extravaganza we meet Jake (Sam Worthington), a former marine who was injured and is now paralyzed from the waist down. Jake had a brother who was killed while working on a special project. Since Jake has matching DNA to his brother, the government sends him off to the planet Pandora where his mind is placed inside an alien body that us Earthlings have managed to create so that he can infiltrate the local culture. He’s kind of an Avatar. Get it? So he goes in, learns everything, meets a girl (Zoe Saldana), falls in love, and changes loyalties. I know! Not a new story, and there is nothing here that you won’t see coming a mile away. The military and government characters are ridiculous stereotypes, and the message in the film is obvious. So what was all the hype about? Apparently the movie looked amazing on a big screen in 3D. So amazing that no one noticed everything that was wrong with the film as a whole.

In the bonus feature “Capturing Avatar” we learn that releases were designed specifically for the screens they would be shown on to ensure that all audiences would view the film in the most technologically optimum environment possible. Unfortunately that does not hold true when it comes to television. Like the film itself, “Capturing Avatar” is also a bit too long, but certainly tells a more entertaining story. It delves into the technical aspects of making the film, and thus will be a big treat for you geeks out there, and you know who you are (Neal and Allen).

The new release also includes 45 more minutes of deleted scenes, most of which you can clearly see why they were deleted, and a Family Audio track that allows for the viewing of the film with all objectionable language removed. Unfortunately it does not remove the objectionable content i.e.: The stereotypical characters.

Recommendation: Perhaps there are fans out there that will want three copies of the same film, with each being painfully longer than the last, but if you saw Avatar on the big screen, then viewing it in a lesser form has to be a disappointment. Without the 3D effects, it’s just a cheesy cartoon in more ways than one. “Capturing Avatar” is the piece of this pie worth consuming.

So let’s plan on watching “Capturing Avatar” at our next meeting. See you guys in the rec room on Tuesday. Andy, it’s your turn to call the Bingo numbers, and Ned's turn to bring the pork snacks.

Article first published as DVD Review: Avatar - Extended Collector's Edition on Blogcritics.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is a more recent Christmas special from 2002 and it is a nice little cartoon featuring the lovable gang created by Charles M. Schulz. This new DVD release also includes a bonus special Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown in which the gang faces the sad fact that two of their pals are moving away. So let’s join Charlie Brown and his mischievous pooch on two more of their TV specials newly put on DVD.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is the first special on the disc for obvious reason and it’s a cute little (and I do mean little as it clocks in at only 18 minutes) collection of vignettes featuring various members of the Peanuts gang in different Christmas themes. In the opening piece, Lucy and Snoopy twirl on the ice as Snoopy shows off for Lucy. Next, we have Snoopy dressed as Santa on the street corner ringing his bell and playing accordion for donations which leads to Lucy’s baby brother Rerun (remember him?) confronting “Santa” about some gifts that he never got. This leads to Snoopy snapping at him, which is funny to see.

The next segment, “Yuletide Greetings From Linus” features Linus trying to write his letter to Santa Claus and having trouble getting to know the new girl in class who sits behind him and constantly blows him off. We then move to “Seasons Greetings From Sally” that has Charlie’s little sister writing up her list to Samantha Claus and going out to “fall down” a tree because she can’t cut one down. One does fall down in some ugly kid’s lawn and she manages to take it home much to the ugly kid’s dismay. We later find out that she gets laughed at in school for the ”Samantha” blunder, and she and the ugly kid patch things up before Christmas day.

From there we head to a segment called “Peace On Earth From Lucy,” which really just has Lucy being her crabby self while spreading a bit o’ holiday cheer, her way. And finally there’s “Merry Christmas From Charlie Brown” that centers on Chuck trying to write the perfect card to the Little Red-Haired Girl. Of course he fumbles through it and we stumble to the end where we get to see some off the Christmas Day activities of some of the gang and what happened to some of their presents that got delivered to the wrong place.

The second special is actually funnier than the Christmas special and better written. Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown is from 1982 and finds the Peanuts gang facing the issue of two of their most loved friends having to move away. Linus and Lucy Van Pelt are forced to move as their father has gotten a new job in another part of the country. Some of the best scenes involve Snoopy in multiple disguises and roles. As he tries to steal Linus’ blanket in the very beginning, we see him hide behind a bush then try again as a blind man complete with pencil cup. Snoopy’s next role is as the replacement psychiatrist at Lucy’s therapy stand where he has his little round glasses on and a classic therapist goatee. From there Snoopy caters the Van Pelt children’s going-away party with dog treats while sporting his chef’s hat.

Meanwhile, Schroeder winds up missing Lucy’s harassment as he plays Beethoven on his baby piano and sad Snoopy cherishes the blanket that Linus left behind just for him. Then there is the best part of the story where Peppermint Patty deals with the fact that she is “sweet” on old Chuck. This realization leads to her calling Chuck at 2 a.m. and a more than half asleep Chuck answering the phone (the sleepy look on his face is priceless) and replying in gibberish to her idea for them to go out on a date and eventually falling asleep standing at the phone.

Once he wakes up a bit and wonders why he’s on the phone with no one, he’s wide awake and can’t sleep. This leads to him pondering if he’ll ever fall asleep again or if he’s dead, which for some reason had me cracking up with laughter. He then falls fast asleep, and that date never happens as Chuck has no idea what was said over the phone and can hardly remember answering at all. In the end of course all ends well as Linus and Lucy’s father decides to turn down the new job and the family moves back. Snoopy gives Linus back his beloved blanket, Lucy resumes her crabby nature around the block, and all is right with the world again.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales on DVD is worth it for fans who can’t get enough of the Peanuts gang and especially for the bonus gem of Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown. None of the later Christmas specials can top the original but for fans and younger children this disc will be well worth the 45 minutes it takes to sit back and enjoy the wonderful world of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts gang. Happy Holidays.

Article first published as DVD Review: Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales on Blogcritics.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Cher: The Film Collection

Written by Hombre Divertido

Few performers can rival the career of Cher and few can fill their case with the awards she has received including an Academy Award, a Grammy, an Emmy, and more. Not only does she hold the Hot 100 record for the longest hit-making career span with 33 years between the release of her first and most recent number one singles, she also starred in her first motion picture (Good Times) in 1967 and returns to the big screen in 2010’s Burlesque.

It is the release of Burlesque that prompts MGM to package six of the actresses performance into Cher: The Film Collection which hit shelves on November 2nd 2010. Though the set does not include some of the films you may expect such as Mask; The Witches of Eastwick; and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmie Dean, Jimmie Dean, the set does provide one with the evolution of an actress. The exclusion of the above-mentioned films certainly has more to do with studio politics than with their respective worthiness.

The films in the collection include six films for the true Cher fan, but only three for movie fans. Opening with Good Times we are introduced to Cher, and then husband and performing partner Sonny Bono, playing themselves trying to come up with an idea for a movie in which they can star and thus capitalize on the fame currently being generated by their hit records. Good Times combines the camp of the era's beach movies with the sketch comedy that Sonny and Cher would display in their hit television show. The comedy sketches on the The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour usually lasted about five minutes, which is how much actual good time can be found in this bomb.

Two years later Sonny would write and produce Chastity in an attempt to showcase Cher as a serious actress. Unfortunately the film showcases a lack of writing and direction, and Cher appears to be wandering aimlessly through the film in both character and performance.

Luckily for Cher, she would stay away from the big screen for more than ten years. The absence allows the few movie-goers who experienced Good Times and Chastity time to get over those weak efforts, and time for Cher to grow as an actress. Though it does not appear to be a big stretch for her, Cher’s performance in Silkwood displays substantial growth from her previous endeavors and garnered her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Silkwood is a powerful film that clearly belongs to Meryl Streep, who portrays Karen Silkwood, the nuclear facility worker who takes on a huge corporation. Despite Silkwood being a starring vehicle for Streep, Cher holds her own alongside both Streep and Kurt Russell.

Two years later, Cher would cement herself as a leading lady in Mask. Unfortunately it is not included in this collection. Up to this point there was a similarity in the characters Cher portrayed, but in 1987 she would truly show her range by starring in The Witches of Eastwick, Suspect, and Moonstruck. The latter being the only one of the three included in this collection, and clearly the gem in Cher's storied career as she sheds all pre-conceived notions as to who she is and what she can do in this Academy Award-winning performance. Cher portrays Italian widow Loretta with subtle brilliance in this Norman Jewison-directed romantic comedy that also features Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, and Vincent Gardenia.

Unfortunately Cher would follow Moonstruck three years later with the disappointing Mermaids. Though surrounded by a talented cast including Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, and the always enjoyable Bob Hoskins, Mermaids drowns amidst a sea of eighties tripe. This pointless story follows single-mom Cher and her two daughters (Ryder and Ricci) from town to town as Cher attempts to avoid scandal. Mermaids is full of squandered potential in both storytelling and performance, as all lack development.

The Film Collection is rounded out by Tea with Mussolini; an elegant endeavor set in pre-WWII Florence Italy where the elite meet. Surrounded by a legendary cast of actresses including Dame Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and Lily Tomlin, Cher plays an American performer and lover of art who invades the serenity of the English ladies environment, and eventually becomes their savior amidst the outbreak of war. Tea with Mussolini is an investment as it takes time for the story to develop and to appreciate Cher's performance as her portrayal of the brash American is so strong, that it seems jarringly out of place in the first hour of this stylish film.

Though a perfect Christmas present for any Cher fan, and certainly priced to move, this new offering may struggle during the holiday-shopping season simply due to an audience that already owns the popular inclusions, and has no interest in films they quite possibly have not heard of. The lack of bonus material does not help the situation.

There are certainly fans of Mermaids out there that will balk at the review, but it is Silkwood, Moonstruck, and Tea with Mussolini that make this collection worth owning. Good Times and Chastity are fun for a few minutes simply to see the early years, but not worth owning.

Recommendation: Buy the collection if you don’t already own the films, and give away Good Times and Chastity as white elephant gifts.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

KNIGHT AND DAY (Three-Disc Combo)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

June Havens (Cameron Diaz) was in Wichita picking up some new parts for her father’s GTO in order to restore it as a wedding gift for her sister. But little did she know that she was about to have an “accidental” run in with rogue agent Roy Miller (Tom Cruise).

Initially she thinks it’s a lucky coincidence that she keeps running into Roy. But after she boards a supposedly full commercial jet to return home with but a handful of passengers aboard, she begins to get a little suspicious. After quickly dismissing that thought from her mind, she is surprised to find that while she was visiting the lavatory Roy not only killed all the other passengers but the pilots as well.

Once Roy manages to crash land the plane into a cornfield, he promptly tells the hysterical June that he works for the government and some of his colleagues have turned against him. He warns her to be careful of anyone that comes looking for him, that they will tell her that he is crazy, and if they say the words "safe" or "secure", that they are planning on killing her. Roy offers her a drink and she immediately passes out.

June wakes up the next morning in her own bed thinking that what happened the previous night was a dream. But she quickly finds out that it was real when FBI agents pick her up outside her house and want to take her to a secure location so she will be safe. As she begins to worry about her safety, Roy shows up and frees her during an elaborate high-speed chase on the streets of Boston.

The two are now partnered together in order to clear both their names and to protect the Zephyr, a secret invention that is a perpetual energy battery which is the size of a regular flashlight battery and can power an entire city.

In order to keep the Zephyr out of the wrong hands and the inventor who created it, Simon Peck (Paul Dano), their journey will take them around the world to Spain, a secret island in Jamaica and on a train through the Alps.

The three-disc set contains a Blu-ray, DVD and a digital copy of the film. The Blu-ray is presented in Widescreen 2.40:1 ratio with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The audio immerses you in the action with gunshots and explosions going off all around you. The video quality is a completely different experience. There’s a little graininess at the beginning and some warping when looking at the screens displaying the flight schedules. There’s also a number of times when the characters seem to really pop out compared to the background making it look like they are standing in front of green screens, but as some of the special features attest to, everything was shot on location and no green screens were used.

There are several features on the disc showing the making of the film, how the action scenes were filmed and what locations were used. The most interesting of the features was “Knight and Someday” where Tom Cruise flies into London to watch a Black Eyed Peas concert and then meets up with the band for the after party where they play the new song “Someday” that Tom had asked them to write for the film. Watching Tom chat up the members of the band seems a little surreal and then watching them all dance around while they play a recorded version of the song to a crowd of people foaming at the mouth behind barricades is just weird. And to top it off, the song isn’t very good.

The other cool but strange aspects of the bonus features section are the two viral videos “Soccer” and “Kick”. In the first one you watch Tom and Cameron from a distance as they are kicking a soccer ball back and forth. Suddenly they start doing a bunch of tricks. In the second one Cameron is practicing her karate kicks with a trainer and a giant cushion. Tom comes over and takes the cushion from the trainer and tells her to kick him as hard as she can. After a couple kicks, Tom gets distracted and looks away only to have Cameron kick him through a table and halfway across the lawn.

The film tries to walk a fine line between being an action film or a comedy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t walk it well enough to be either one. The comedy aspect isn’t pronounced enough. It gets close, but is then yanked back too abruptly into the seriousness of the situation. The action should be amazing. They used real locations. They set up good stunts and Cruise does his own. So why doesn’t it work? For some reason several of the stunts look fake. Even after watching the feature “Wilder Knights and Crazier Days” where they show how the stunts were done and how real they were, they just visually don’t work in the film.

Overall Knight and Day is not a bad film. It’s just an average film. The acting is good. There are plenty of exotic locations. There are a number of well-choreographed action scenes. There are many reasons why the film should succeed, but ultimately it just doesn’t live up to its full potential.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Knight and Day (Three-Disc Combo) on Blogcritics.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

TREK STARS GO WEST

Written by Pirata Hermosa

Before the famous crew of the Starship Enterprise boldly went where no one had gone before, they went to Hollywood and acted in various television shows and films waiting for that one big break. In this two-disc DVD set we find Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (Deforest Kelley) and Scotty (James Doohan) exploring the frontier of the wild west in a variety of different roles.

Tate - "Comanche Scalps”: One episode of the short-lived series about a one-armed gunslinger who helps a friend home after he finally took vengeance on the man who killed his brother. The only problem is that while he was away from home, his younger brother marries his girlfriend. So he must return home to kill his own brother. Leonard Nimoy plays a Comanche indian who shows up to threaten the men and attack their farm. He is only in it for a minute or two.

Bonanza - "The Ape”: One of the worst episodes of this series ever to be made about a big ugly strong and unintelligent man who gets angry when people tease him. Leonard Nimoy plays a card shark that makes fun of him and helps the local saloon girl swindle him for money. Once again, Nimoy is only in the episode for a few minutes.

Outlaws -"Starfall Part I & II”: It’s a two-part episode about a group of men who were pushed into becoming outlaws after their side lost in the war. Their leader is one of their former commanders, Wayne (Shatner). It’s now several years later and the government is offering amnesty to anyone who is willing to sign papers agreeing to settle down and become honest men. The only problem is that the townsfolk don’t want them around and the richest man in town plans to have them all killed one way or another. This is by far the best show on this DVD set. Shatner is great in his role and there’s enough action to keep you on the edge of your seat to see what’s finally going to happen.

The Lone Ranger - "The Legion of Old Timers”: The only show featuring DeForest Kelley as a man who just inherited the family ranch and finds himself being swindled out of the property by a new foreman who beats him, locks him in a room, and forces him to sell the ranch. While this episode is obviously targeted at a younger audience, it’s a little silly and a little fun as the Lone Ranger and Tonto must gather up the old ranch hands to retake the ranch.

The Last of the Mohicans - "The Way Station”: James Doohan plays a bloodthirsty indian, Tonkawa, who tries to kill one of his tribesman in order to blame it on Hawkeye and start a war with the settlers. It’s another fun episode worth watching. There is also a brief clip from the previous week’s episode with Doohan playing an angry villager.

Outlaws - "Shorty”: Another solid episode from this series about a hotheaded gunman who decides to build a fence around his farm blocking the right of way of his neighbor. When the Marshall steps in and makes him take down his fence, Shorty kills his neighbor and then hires an assassin (Nimoy) to kill the only witness. Again Nimoy makes just a brief appearance in the episode.

White Comanche is a full-length motion picture that William Shatner shot during the original run of the Star Trek series. In the film he plays two brothers that are half-blooded Comanche Indians. One brother, Notah, has convinced his tribe that he will lead them to victory over the white man while the other, Johnny Moon, travels from town to town fending off bounty hunters who think he is the White Comanche. Eventually Johnny gets fed up with his brother’s ways and challenges him to a fight to the death. After watching the rest of the selections on the DVD and contrasting them against this movie it’s really not that bad. It’s a little dull, but it doesn’t having any glaring issues that would make it unwatchable.

For any Star Trek fan this is a nice addition to your collection. It would have been better if more of the selections contained bigger roles. About half of them don't contain any substantial amount of camera time for the future stars. Even so, it’s still an interesting group of westerns that gives you a smattering of what was on television and a look at some of the actors’ first roles.

Article first published as DVD Review: Trek Stars Go West on Blogcritics.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas by Alonso Duralde

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Let it be said first and foremost, in the spirit of full disclosure, that Musgo loves film guides. It really borders on an obsession. My love of reading about films dates back to my youngest days and the TV Guide. One of the best sections of the non-listings was "This Week's Movies" by Judith Crist. I remember the subtle way the movies were described and reviewed at the same time in very conversational paragraph form - letting you know which of the 8-10 movies airing on network TV would be worth watching during the week. I can see today how that style has overtly influenced my own writing about film.

As my movie-watching possibilities expanded with the arrival of cable and VHS, my movie-review reading increased also. The local video store was full of potential favorite films but I needed a way to see beyond the hype on the covers of the packages. That's where my obsession with film guides began. There are two distinct types of guides in my collection - the comprehensive guide (one that lists the movies with brief descriptions and maybe a star rating) and the depth guide (one that compares fewer movies - often limited around a theme and offers a more in depth review). Each of them have their place and time.

For years, my basic go-to book was the simple Leonard Maltin yearly guide. I remember the years when it jumped from 750-800 pages to up near 1000 pages and now way beyond. Not much on cross referencing but for basic info about a film and a very brief review, it couldn't be beaten. In the years since - I've grown to love both the Halliwell guide and the Videohound Golden Movie Retriever guide. They approach the films the way I like to use the books - with lots of lists and indexes. If I like an actor or director or movies about alien cops - I want to be able to find other similar movies and read quick little reviews.

So when the opportunity to branch out and review a book came Musgo's way and it was a film guide, I jumped at the offer. This holiday season, Limelight Editions has released a guide to Christmas-themed movies - Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas by Alonso Duralde. He has put together an interesting more in-depth guide - covering around 125 movies with each listing having roughly a page-long descriptive review of the film followed by some Fun Facts. The author tries to find a unique niche by expanding the traditional definition of a Christmas film to include films that are set or even only partially set around the holidays. Each chapter is built around a theme - Christmas Comedies, Holiday Horror, Christmas Classics, etc. The best way to review a book of reviews is to take a look at a couple examples.

Christmas Holiday (1944) (reviewed in "Movies For Grown-Ups") I will give Mr. Duralde instant cred for including this often forgotten film in his reviews. As he states, based on a W. Somerset Maugham novel, it is a great film noir holiday film. Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly play against type in this more serious film but the "holiday as healing" theme is still universal. I agree with the author that a DVD release is due and that's what a good film book can do - put that bug in your mind until you see it come available years from now.

Less Than Zero (1987) (reviewed in "Movies For Grown-Ups") Less impressed at this addition to the same section. The movie is set in Los Angeles over a Christmas vacation from college for the Andrew McCarthy character. But unlike other films set during the holidays, none of the film's themes revolve around the spirit of the holidays. I don't even recall the scenes of Christmas in L.A. to be particularly memorable.

Love Actually (2003) (reviewed in "Christmas Comedies") I appreciate the inclusion of this film as a holiday comedy. It is set during the Christmas holidays in London but the strong British cast and director Richard Curtis (Bridget Jones' Diary, Four Weddings) often makes people rank this as a Chick Flick or love story over a Christmas film. The movie is either loved or hated by many - for such a polarizing film, I would have liked the author to take more of an opinionated stand. Here he simply admits that while being "arguably indefensible" that it's "shamelessly entertaining".

Meet John Doe (1941) (reviewed in "Holiday Tearjerkers") Another movie that seems to have left the holiday genre over the years. This Frank Capra flick starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck compares favorably to even It's A Wonderful Life in the way we are left with the carry the spirit of Christmas with you throughout the year message. Once again, a good review book will remind you of a film that you may long have forgotten and need to see again.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) (reviewed in "Holiday Horror") This film is another reach for a holiday film. It happens to be set with the background of a group of orphans spending the Christmas holiday at the Forrest estate - run by the totally crazy Shelley Winters. It's a really great creepy film that plays better at Halloween than at Christmas. I don't recall Christmas being more than a catalyst to move the plot forward. That doesn't take away from the genius of the film and its watchability. But it's hardly fair to put it up against Silent Night, Deadly Night or Black Christmas in the genre.

The book has an Appendix of recommended Christmas films not included in the main part of the book. Some of these I'm left wondering what connection to Christmas they may have in any way. There is an index of names and of titles, in case you are trying to find a specific listing.

Does it all work? A little but it leaves you wanting more. There are far too many films with direct relations to the holidays that could be reviewed with more common standards. As I read a number of the reviews - especially within a sub-genre - I wasn't sure that each film was being judged against the others. Instead it felt as a detached group of opinions. If multiple people were reviewing these films, that would make more sense. The fun of reading a book of reviews by a single person is getting to know their standards and how they compare to your own. It is hard to compare Eyes Wide Shut to Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, but if you have set forth your criteria in a series of reviews it can be done. I like the Fun Facts section but I'd love more pictures and maybe more info on DVD or Blu-ray releases of the films. Instead of an Appendix at the end of the book that seems disjointed - I would have offered a list at the end of each chapter of films not included under each heading and which ones were noteworthy.

As a whole, it's not a bad addition to your film guide library. It's not the last holiday movie guide you'll need but it has its place.

Article first published as Book Review: Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas by Alonso Duralde on Blogcritics.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scooby-Doo Where Are You! - Season One, Volume Four: Spooked Bayou

Written by Musgo del Jefe

Musgo and Scooby-Doo have a relationship dating back to little Musgo's earliest Saturday morning memories in the early 1970s. For the past few years, my review path has crossed my old friend for the past five movie releases. Some have been positive like Chill Out, Scooby-Doo! and others not so much like Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo. But what these movies have all had is the ability to take the past and move the story forward for a new generation. I've had mixed responses on their success in these areas but at least they are trying to move it forward. With new live-action films, new video games, the new animated films and a continuing run of new TV shows - I found it interesting to see a collection of "classic" episodes arrive in the mail.

This DVD collects four episodes of the original series that started it all. Since the show has been such a constant prescence on television since it debuted in 1969 - many don't realize that the original incarnation Scooby-Doo: Where Are You! only lasted two seasons - producing a mere 25 episodes. Episodes of this series have been widely available on VHS for decades and the complete first and second seasons were released on DVD in 2004 and will get a new box set release this November. So beyond the review of the product on the disc, the real question is "Why break the series down into smaler chunks?" Is it for the impulse buying at a lower price point at the big box stores? Is it an attempt to confuse the customer who may already own more complete collections? This is Volume 4, so my assumption is that whatever the marketing ploy - it's working.

Volume 4 collects four episodes on to one disc - picking up where Volume 3 left off. Included are episodes 13 - 16 of the first season. Presumably this will be a six-volume set that will allow the consumer to complete collection of the episodes included on the complete DVD sets. For parents, the four-episode collection is a nice length because it's roughly equivalent to the length of one of the Scooby-Doo movies (clocking in at 88 minutes).

"Which Witch Is Which?" - The punny subtitle of this collection comes from the setting for this mystery. This was one of the episodes I looked forward to in repeats more than almost any other. There's a great combination of elements at play here that make this the star of the disc. The group are returning from a fishing trip and get lost in the swamp. The Southern bayou is ripe for ghost stories and they would revisit it later in an animated film for another great story - Scooby-Doo! On Zombie Island. The plot leads us into a weird little village for clues and some voodoo and then back out into the swamp. This mystery is one that should be on everyone's top-episodes list for Scooby-Doo!

"Go Away Ghost Ship" - A rather tame episode in general after such a promising set-up. The villain here is Redbeard The Pirate. I'm not a fan of the character design but his ghost ship is interesting. Shaggy and Scooby play a bit more of a comedic role in the episode and the mystery ends up being very typical of the series. In fact, I think that the whole "you did it for the insurance money" scheme wasn't nearly as prevelant as I remember but this episode doesn't help.

"Spooky Space Kook" - Another episode with a promising beginning that just doesn't deliver. The Mystery Machine runs out of gas again - that thing must have like a two-gallon tank - they were always running out of gas in the country. There's a mysterious craft that could be a "space ghost". The plot could really have been played up with more of an alien angle. There's not much of a mystery and the clues aren't nearly as interesting as many other stories.

"A Night Of Fright Is No Delight" - This is another strong episode for the disc. The concept of Scooby-Doo being named an heir by millionaire Colonel Beaureguard Sanders and having to spend a night in his scary mansion with four other heirs is part horror film and part Agatha Christie mystery. The plot would be recycled in a few different variations for future films and TV episodes. This version is everything I want in a 22-minute mystery - quick set-up, fun characters (lawyers called Creeps and Crawls!), a mystery with clues that make sense if you are paying attention to detail and a fun ending.

Two of the four episodes on this disc represent some of the best that this first season of Scooby-Doo: Where Are You! has to offer and that makes it worth the price right there. But at the expense of a full set? No, not at all. This is a show that pays off by watching multiple episodes - not just the same ones over and over. There's joy in seeing the patterns over a whole season and from one series to another.

The disc includes an episode from the recent series Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get A Clue called "Lightning Strikes Twice". It's a decent episode but it pales next to the four on the disc and extremely so in the animation style. Why not include another episode of the original series? Or why not include something from Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated - the latest series?

If you must divide up your Scooby-Doo! purchases - this might be the way to go but remember - there's so many mysteries out there to solve. Our gang has been at it for over 40 years. Use this as your appetizer if you must but I encourage you to buy the whole meal.

“Green Ghosts”











Article first published as DVD Review: Scooby-Doo Where Are You! - Season One, Volume Four: Spooked Bayou on Blogcritics.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I AM (2010)

Written by Hombre Divertido

This faith-based film was distributed to churches for preview purposes prior to its release to the public on November 2nd by 20th Century Fox. This also allowed for many people to pray for its success, as it is bound to struggle without divine intervention. Like a preacher who is trying too hard and eventually loses his audience due to overselling the message, I Am is over written, over produced, and far too often over acted.

This story of the impact of not abiding by the Ten Commandments, and the implications there of, is extremely loosely played out in modern-day Southern California in a film that tries far too hard to look like C.S.I. (Christian Scene Investigations).

It is clear that writer, director, and actor John Ward had the best intentions, and certainly the technical ability, but just because you can does not mean you should. The philosophy of keeping it simple seems to evade Mr. Ward here as "I Am" attempts to weave multiple stories together, and fails on too many fronts. Said stories, which include a terminally ill billionaire (Christinna Chauncey) who wants to be cryogenically frozen, an up-and-coming lawyer/politician (John Ward) who is dating a woman (Amy Holland) with an illegitimate child, an aging rock star (former Major League Baseball star and one of the producers of the film Todd Zeile) who is tormented by the death of his son, and several others that are not as clearly defined, fail to come together in any logical fashion and leave the audience trying to understand how they are tied to the commandment that is displayed on the screen as the story progresses. The ending reveal of the mysterious character is far too obvious in comparison to the web of stories woven throughout.

Getting any film made these days is an accomplishment, and having it be faith based is even more challenging, and thus Ward and his team are to be commended. They would most likely agree that if the film reaches one person, they have made a difference. Hopefully, Ward and his team will continue in their efforts, and perhaps next time focus on the simple aspects of storytelling and attention to detail (the city is Marina Del Rey not Ray), and less on what our current television-watching society thinks is entertaining.

The DVD includes an opening introduction by Ward and Zeile in which they express a hope that the film will prompt conversation. The film is sure to leave the audience talking, but it may not be the specific topics that the filmmakers had hoped for.

Recommendation: I Am looks flashy and has a good soundtrack and thus may feed an audience starving for such fare. It also may frustrate most audience members, but said frustration may lead them to ask important questions. Ultimately, the film lacks continuity and is full of one-dimensional overdone performances. Sadly, in the case of I Am, you shouldn’t.

Article first published as DVD Review: I Am on Blogcritics.

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

LEGENDS OF THE SUPERHEROES

Written by Mugo del Jefe

Musgo should know better. When you ask for companies to empty their vaults, sometimes you get just what you asked for. The Warner Archives Collection may be one of the more wonderful things that a company has done for the movie lovers in the past decade. Instead of milking some of their more obscure releases for anniversary editions or part of holiday promotions, they've made no-frills editions of the movies available online as made-to-order DVDs. This has been a boon to those of us who have scoured used VHS racks for previously out-of-print films. This collection has given us Brewster McCloud, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, Bad Ronald, Slither, and Americathon. These films wouldn't survive on the shelves at a major retailer but they find their homes on the Internet.

The same company that has released Goober & The Ghost Chasers and Funky Phantom collections has recently released two episodes of a lost show from the Seventies - Legends Of The SuperHeroes. For those of us old enough to remember - the name is a way that NBC tried to link these two live action episodes back to the Super Friends cartoons airing on Saturday mornings. In January 1979 when these episodes aired the Super Friends was an hour long Saturday morning show featuring Challenge Of The Super Friends as the second half hour - still one of the most entertaining of the incarnations. At the same time, the early Seventies creations of Sid and Marty Krofft including H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Land Of The Lost were still finding audiences on daytime and Saturday morning television through syndication. Out of this odd mixture of influences came two specials - The Challenge and The Roast.

The specials aired on consecutive Thursday nights on NBC in January of 1979. As an 11-year-old, young Musgo immediately found the ads for these shows in his TV Guide. They promised live-action versions of superheroes that I hadn't seen except in comics or cartoons. At the time, there were repeats of the Batman live-action series and there was Wonder Woman. That was the beginning and end of DC characters I could see in "person" on TV. And my big screen Superman was still a year or two away.

The Challenge is an hour-long traditional comic book story. The Justice League of America consisting of Batman, Robin, Flash, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Black Canary and Huntress are gathered to celebrate the retired Scarlet Cyclone's birthday (a great bit on Superman). At the same time, the Legion Of Doom (Mordru, Solomon Grundy, Riddler, Weather Wizard, Dr. Sivana, Giganta and a funny moustached Sinestro) unleash a deadly bomb that will blow up the Earth in one hour. The plot has our heroes spreading out to find the bombs, losing their powers, having a chase on cool '70s-era jet skis, and trying to disarm the bombs with seconds to spare.

The Roast is a gathering of the superheroes at a celebrity roast hosted by Ed McMahon. There are several side skits that have little to do with the roast including an entertainment-style report by Rhoda Rooter, a song by Mordru, and a stand-up routine by Ghetto Man.

Both specials are shot on videotape with a very obvious laugh track to simulate a live audience. The special effects are largely done with a green screen and sound effects. They have the same feel as the ones being used on the Krofft shows of the day including Wonderbug, Bigfoot and Wildboy, and Dr. Shrinker. Green Lantern and Sinestro's rays from their rings could be right out of an episode of Magic Mongo. The look of videotape does not go well with the stylized world of comic book heroes. It's disconcerting to see Batman and Robin battling Solomon Grundy at a gas station while cars pass by and onlookers from the Italian place across the street look on.

The acting is another interesting combination. There are familiar faces from the Batman series - Adam West and Burt Ward play Batman and Robin again, as does Frank Gorshin as a very disinterested Riddler (check out his belly as he lounges in his chair in The Challenge). And then there's the odd casting like Charlie Callas as Sinestro. I never imagined Sinestro with a Wise Guys Brooklyn accent. The best casting might be Howard Morris as Dr. Sivana. The character usually battles Captain Marvel as an evil genius. But here Howard, best known as Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show plays him completely over the top in a way that only would be matched by an early Robin Williams.

The roast is where the show really can't find its mark. It runs more like another Krofft product - The Donny & Marie Show or other variety shows of the day - more than it resembles a Dean Martin Roast. Ed McMahon is a perfect straight man but in many of the skits it's clear that no one in the cast is up to the level of Johnny Carson to take advantage of his skills. There's a skit with William Schallert as the Scarlet Cyclone. It's one of the more cleverly written skits on the show and even with Schallert's talents it just screams for Johnny Carson or a Jonathan Winters to play this elderly character.

It's not surprising that these two episodes never turned into anything more. The ratings were horrendous and it disappeared quickly. But as with most things related to superheroes - especially the big names like Batman, the show became a thing of legend. Copies of it from really bad VHS copies circulated at comic conventions for years. People were curious to see what they had missed and people who were 11 years old at the time remembered it fondly 20 years later. But in its DVD glory here - the memories become too real. What looked presentable on a grainy, fourth-generation VHS copy - looks just as grainy and bad on DVD. The show hasn't aged well, even as a cult item, there's little to recommend. There's a tiny excerpt of a deleted scene and outtakes and even that feels accidentally left on the disc.

But play on Warners. This is what we asked for. Warts and all. If every one of Legends Of The SuperHeroes helps to unearth more classics like Macabre and the upcoming Classic TV Christmas Collection then bring it on. And now Musgo must fly away like Ghetto Man . . . "Kareem!".

Available only at the WarnerArchive.com

Article first published as DVD Review: Legends of the Superheroes on Blogcritics

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