Wednesday, October 31, 2007

SELENA (10th Anniversary Two-Disc Special Edition)

Written by Hombre Divertido

This somewhat lopsided story boasts strong performances, and for all-intensive purposes, tells the story of two talented performers coming of age. For the majority of this 127-minute bio-pic, we are treated to the telling of the life of Selena Quintanilla Perez, the gifted vocalist and Grammy winner who was murdered at the young age of twenty-three. Most may not have realized ten years ago that we were also being treated to the break-out performance of Jenifer Lopez, who does a remarkable job portraying the charismatic Selena.

Surrounded by a strong supporting cast including the reliable Edward James Olmos, and with a script that adopts the audience into the Quintanilla family, Perez shows great range in the role, as Selena matures from teenager to savvy businesswoman and performer.

The film takes us from Selena’s father’s foray into the music industry, to his recognition of Selena’s talent at a very young age, the development of a family group and business, and the trials and tribulations that went with making a go of it as entertainers.

Where the film, which was written and directed by Gregory Nava, falls short is in the events surrounding Selena’s death. The introduction of Yolanda Saldivar, the woman convicted of the murder of Selena, into the film is abrupt as she appears and is introduced as the president of the Selena Fan Club and business manager of Selena’s Boutiques. There are a few scenes that establish her as manipulative and a meeting with the family where accusations of theft are made, but it is all much too vague. Saldivar’s appearance and the scenes referencing the murder seem thrown into a film that previously contained extensive details into the life of Selena. As the movie was produced so quickly after the death of Selena, the facts surrounding her death may still have been in question, but more of an effort could have been made to round out the story.

The new 10th anniversary two-disc presentation contains the original theatrical versions, an extended version, and two documentaries: one on the making of the film, and the other entitled “Selena: Queen of Tejano,” both of which consist primarily of interviews with her family and others involved in the film. They are well made, enjoyable, and informative, but again, neither lend any insight into the events surrounding her death.

Recommendation: This is enjoyable family entertainment that is sure to increase your appreciation for the talent of Jennifer Lopez and the music of Selena. It will most likely send you to the music store to acquire Selena’s music, and to the Internet searching for more information on the events of her death.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wings: The Fifth Season

Written by Senora Bicho

I have never been much of a television sitcom fan. There are a handful of shows over my lifetime I have regularly watched and Wings was one of them. I was introduced to and fell in love with Tim Daly as the responsible brother, Joe Hackett, and longed to be as beautiful as his on-again off-again love interest Helen Chappel (Crystal Bernard). Wings is a quirky and fun show that still provides laughs.

The series aired on NBC from 1990 to 1997. It was created and produced by David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee. This highly successful television trio also wrote for and produced Cheers and was responsible for creating the critically acclaimed and multiple Emmy Award-winning series Fraiser. The comedy of Wings is in the same vein of these other more well-known shows and characters from Cheers even appeared in the early seasons. I actually prefer Wings to these other two programs. The characters are more likeable and I could relate to them much more.

Wings is a comedy based around the people working in a small airport on the island of Nantucket. Joe owns and operates Sandpiper Air. Brian Hackett (Steven Weber) is Joe’s reckless, carefree womanizing brother. Helen runs the lunch counter while dreaming of being a famous cellist. In addition to the three main characters, there is Lowell Mather (Thomas Haden Church) a lovable but dimwitted handyman, Fay Evelyn Schlob Dumbly DeVay Cochran (Rebecca Schull) an ex-stewardess with three dead husbands that works for Joe at the ticket counter and provides lots of motherly advice, Roy Biggins (David Schramm) the obnoxious owner of Sandpiper’s rival airline who drives everyone crazy with his high jinx and insults and Antonio Scarpacci (Tony Shaloub), the sweet Italian immigrant who provides taxi service to and from the airport.

The foundation of the series is the relationship between Joe and Brian. It began with the death of Joe and Brian’s father whose last request was the reuniting of his sons. Six years earlier, Brian ran off with Joe’s fiancé Carol. After Carol leaves him, Brian comes back to the island and Joe eventually forgives him with a job and a place to live.

Season Five provides several key storylines. Farrah Forke (Alex Lambert) joined the cast in Season Four as Brian’s potential love interest and in this season they get serious and move in together. Not surprisingly, they break up before the season is over. Joe has a mental breakdown and in an attempt to have more of a work/life balance makes Brian an equal partner in the airline. Helen gets a rich new love interest who ends up proposing in the season finale, which could be enough to finally get Joe back in the picture.

Several members of this stellar cast have gone on to other things. Shaloub is now best known for his three-time Emmy-winning performance in the USA series Monk. Church left the series after its sixth season to star in Ned and Stacey and became an Oscar winner for his supporting performance in Sideways. Daly has been in several television shows and can now be seen in the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Private Practice. Weber has been in many TV shows most recently Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and films including a great performance in the film Sour Grapes that was written and directed by Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. This is a hysterical film and is worth renting if you haven’t seen it. Bernard has been in numerous TV movies mostly shown on the USA network. If you have enjoyed any of these actors in other performances, you should definitely see them shine in Wings.

The DVD set offers no extras, only the 24 original episodes from Season Five. A great cast and excellent writing is what makes Wings such a delight, so get on board and prepare to takeoff for some laughs.

Metalocalypse: Season One

Written by Puño Estupendo

Could you imagine if The Beatles had decided to instill their music with hate and violence instead of love and peace? What if they had gotten so popular that they more or less operated above any law or authority, hated their fans, and you absolutely worshiped them for it? Well, with the invention of the fictitious band Dethklok, creators Tommy Blacha and Brendon Small have taken a similar concept, doubled it, and made their version "blacker than the blackest black times infinity."

This is beyond metal...this is a Metalocalypse!

Under Cartoon Network's [Adult Swim] lineup, fans of this animated metal fest can now enjoy the mayhem of Dethklok in the two-disc Metalocalypse: Season One DVD. Originally seen in 15-minute increments, this set collects all 20 episodes and splatters in quite a few "Easter Eggs" as well. Though there's no rating other than the disclaimer on the box that it may not be suitable for viewers under 17, know that this cartoon is not for the young ones.

Heavily infused with splatter, gore, and some sexual referencing, Blacha and Small have managed to not only tap into the easily parodied world of Metal, but they've pulled it off almost like a tribute. It's very obvious in watching the show that even though it's filled with jokes, these guys make no apologies for their sheer love of the music. If you're a metalhead like me, you don't feel stupid or ashamed for it even when the ridiculous nature of it all punches you in the throat. Metalocalypse doesn't attack the nature of heavy metal; it embraces it and glorifies the clichés.

Keeping with the attitude that runs rampant with metal, most of the humor relies on the need many metalheads have to keep things tough at all times. The band refers to keeping things "brutal" throughout and the machismo runs wild. There are quite a few in-jokes for metal fans, but you don't have to be a head-banger to enjoy the show.

What you “do” need is a liking for cruel and dark humor. People being torn apart, suicides, dead children with maggots in their face, drunk driving, eyes exploding out of their sockets, and an ocean of blood. If reading that list just made you wince, then this DVD is not for you.

At all.

In fact, not only is everything I've just listed used as a joke, but there are many other vile and gory situations all throughout every episode and I loved it. The violence is over the top but it's very essential in keeping with the theme; it works.

And then there's the music. Written and performed by Brendon Small, who voices Dethklok vocalist Nathan Explosion, the songs legitimately throw down. I don't believe I'm alone in thinking this since the Dethklok CD (which was released before the DVD) sold over 300,000 copies in its first week and now I'm hearing rumblings of a tour.

If this sounds like your cup of blood, then go out and buy Metalocalypse: Season One on DVD. Then "go forth and die."

The L Word: The Complete Fourth Season

Written by Senora Bicho

The L Word is a television drama that centers on a tight-knit group of female friends. Similar to Sex and the City, the women experience relationship ups and downs, job issues, and a host of other problems. What makes this show unique is that the women in this group of friends are lesbian and bi-sexual. While the show is overly dramatic, it does tackle real issues and brings subjects to light that are thought-provoking and that deserve to be discussed.

Ilene Chaiken is the creator, writer, and executive producer. Her previous experience includes The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Barb Wire, not a strong resume by any stretch. The show premiered on Showtime in January 2004. Production has started on Season Five and the season premiere will air in January 2008.

Season Four provided a lot of excitement for the group along with adding a few new faces. Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) are dealing with the aftermath of their breakup and custody of their daughter Angelica. Tina has also started dating a man, which creates some interesting dimensions and hostilities in the group. Shane (Katherine Moennig) left her fiancé at the altar at the end of Season Three and is trying to get her life back on track. She ends up with custody of her brother. This has a dramatic impact on her outlook on life and attitude towards responsibility. One of the most interesting storylines is about Max (Daniela Sea) and her desire to physically transition into a man. The hostility that she faces from her co-workers and family is very disturbing and authentic. Alice (Leisha Hailey) continues to host her radio show while building her Internet site based on “The Chart” and becomes involved with a military officer who ends up being called back to Iraq. Jenny (Mia Kirshner) has published a book about the group that hits a little to close to home for some of the ladies. Kit (Pam Grier) has a relapse with her alcoholism when she encounters some relationship problems.

Cybill Shephard, Marleen Matlin and Janina Gavankar joined the cast in Season Four. Shephard is the Executive Vice Chancellor at the university where Bette starts working. After 23 years of marriage and two children, she realizes she has been living a lie and is really a lesbian. Matlin is an artist at the university and Bette’s new love interest. Both provide good performances and are welcome additions. Gavankar plays Papi, whose conquest totals crash Alice’s website. Alice becomes fascinated with her and sets out on a mission to track her down.

While the DVD cover promised special features, there are none to be found about the show itself. There is an episode of The Tudors and Californication, a message from a couple of the stars on pet rescue, the announcement of some contest winners, biographies, and a photo gallery.

The L Word is a fun and entertaining show that one can easily be sucked into. It is also great to see a show that is based all around strong, independent women that also empowers the gay community. If you have Showtime and enjoy melodramatic television, give it a chance as some of the storylines are intriguing. I can’t recommend purchasing the DVD collection unless you are a die-hard fan of the show and plan on owning every single episode.

My Name is Earl: Season Two

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

One of the most important things for a sitcom is that the premise is simply explained in the credits. In the case of Two And A Half Men, it's all summed up in the show title. In classics like Gilligan's Island or The Brady Bunch we meet all the characters in the opening credits and know the central backstory through the theme song. The same applies to My Name Is Earl. We see Earl scratching a winning lottery ticket and then getting hit by a car. The narration tells us that he was a bad guy and now he's making up for his bad karma by crossing items off his list of things he's done wrong.

The first season of Earl followed a pretty predictable pattern. Some event caused Earl to decide to fix a particular item on his list. The easier the task sounded, the harder it was to solve. Sometimes, solving one problem, lead to having to solve two or three others before the first was righted. Each of the episodes introduced us to fun new characters of Camden County. And we got to know more about main characters Earl Hickey (Jason Lee), Randy Hickey (Ehtan Suplee), Joy Turner (Jaime Pressly) and Darnell Turner aka Crabman (Eddie Steeples). But at the end of each episode, we were usually back where we started.

Season Two starts what will become a much different tact. In "Very Bad Things", Earl wants to fix #183 - "Never Took Joy's Side." Joy wants to get a "disappearing TV" like she saw on the Britney & Kevin TV show. When it won't fit in her trailer, she's unable to return it to the store because she got Fruit Stripe gum on the receipt. This innocuous moment is the catalyst for the next 23 episodes of the 2nd Season. While we'll still follow Earl and his list, this brilliant move creates a new energy that most sitcoms can't come up with in their second seasons. From a writer's point-of-view, you have a built in B-Story for every episode. But it's not that simple.

In "Jump For Joy," Joy's problem returning the TV has turned into her being arrested for stealing a delivery truck. This is her "Third Strike" and she's facing years in prison. This episode's A-Story is all about raising money to bail Joy out of jail. But the offshoot of this will be to start the other ongoing storyline of Catalina (the maid at the motel where Randy and Earl live). Catalina's story will weave in and out of the storylines, while Joy's will be a constant background through the season. This episode clearly defines the relationship between Catalina and Joy with Catalina's quote, "Joy's a butt bag. A bag of butts."

When not featured, Joy's story will be a solid B-Story, like meeting her lawyer (Marlee Matlin) in "Sticks & Stones." Or as a catalyst for Earl's list. Like when he's helping Joy volunteer at a nursing home and he meets #50 - "Kicked The Lead Singer Out Of My Band." As the season progresses, Catalina will go back to Mexico and eventually return to Camden. Joy will get pregnant, further complicating her upcoming trial. The looming trial and pregnancy put this season squarely on her character and give us viewers the feeling of forward progress that wasn't present in the first season.

The show makes great use of guest stars. They are written into the stories very naturally and don't feel forced. This season features fun appearances of Burt Reynolds, Roseanne Barr, Norm MacDonald, Jenny McCarthy, Marlee Matlin's recurring lawyer character, Amy Sedaris, and a memorable performance by Christian Slater as a stoner named Woody.

The two best episodes of the season show how this fresh approach has improved the show. In "Sticks & Stones," Earl sets out to fix #91 - "Made Fun Of Maggie Lester." Maggie is now a bearded lady living in an apartment building with other carnival folks. Earl is reminded of a time that he wouldn't go swimming as a youngster because of his hairy nipples. And he's never jumped off the high dive since then. The B-Story has Joy meeting her lawyer and initially dropping her because she doesn't want a deaf lawyer. In the end, everyone learns not to run away from their problems and it's set to the Cat Stevens' song "If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out."

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out/ And if you want to be free, be free/ 'Cause there's a million things to be/ You know that there are

Earl, Maggie and her carnival friends, and Joy all learn to face their fears.

In, "Buried Treasure," the usual plot threads are dropped in order to spin a fun tale. This Rashomon-type story is divided into "My Name Is Earl," "My Name Is Joy," "My Name Is Darnell," and "My Name Is Randy" as each fills in part of the story of the "Buried Treasure" from different points of view (even including Dotty the librarian). This self-referential parody gives us insight into the characters through narration that we're not used to and is a fun break from the structured plots of the first half of the season.

The ongoing story arcs make this a very enjoyable season. The DVD has a nice collection of deleted scenes and commentary tracks, giving it extra value for those that have seen the episodes in their original airings. The only complaint here is the replacement of some of the music with some very generic sounding background music. The show's feel is fresh and new still. Like Randy tells Catalina about the list, "Sometimes you're doing one thing and Bam! It's something else." And that "something else" is exactly what makes you want to keep tuning in for the next episode.

Monday, October 29, 2007

DAY WATCH (Unrated)

Written by Puño Estupendo

In 2004 Russian director Timur Bekmambetov surprised the fantasy world with his film Nochnoy dozor, translated for our English senses as Night Watch. The film did surprisingly well over in the U.S. and garnered a lot of attention from the geek community. When was the last time you remember a Russian fantasy/action/horror film making the rounds? Exactly my point, it was quite an accomplishment.

In Night Watch, Bekmambetov created a modern Moscow that was inhabited by a supernatural community broken into two warring factions. Those of Light have battled those of the Dark for longer than any of us have been around and the film's central character was Anton Gorodetsky, a member of the forces of Light. However, if haven't seen it, there's not a whole lot of reason to watch Day Watch, its 2006 sequel, because it starts running right out of the gate and doesn't stop to catch you up on what's been established previously. This is awesome if you have a fantastic memory for Night Watch, but if you don't, you might want to re-watch it first.

At the beginning of Day Watch there is a flashback sequence of the 14th century warlord Tamerlane and his attempt to gain the Chalk Of Fate. Whoever has it can use it to write their own destiny and control the fate of the world. These things are usually a mixed blessing and you know right away that the Chalk is going to play a big part somewhere down the line.

Cut to modern day Moscow and Anton is on patrol with his overly eager trainee Svetlana. A call comes from dispatch and asks them to investigate an attack by a Dark One which throws the viewer right back into Bekmambetov's world established in the previous film. The heavies are reintroduced and Anton's problems pick right back up.

Konstantin Khabensky handles the role of Anton effortlessly and makes you very sympathetic with everything that happens to him. He's definitely a tragic figure but you want him to succeed; you want things to go better for him than they did in Night Watch. It also doesn't hurt that a great ensemble cast surrounds him. Mariya Poroshina's Svetlana flows well with him onscreen and the charisma there helps pull you into the troubles coming their way.

And man, Anton's about to have some major troubles. Bummer for him and his pals, good stuff for you and me.

Now not wanting to give a play-by-play, and as I'm not reviewing Night Watch, I'm just going to lay down the good and the bad here. Day Watch is shot beautifully. It's got style and a really nice cut to it and even though we've seen the look before, that doesn't mean it's not well done. Though a little slower in pace than I'd like at times, the cast keeps you involved. Everyone seems to have an interesting face and they're so not Hollywood. The acting is well done and is what gets you through the slower spots.

Action fans know this: when you get your scenes, you really get your scenes. One of the biggest compliments I can give this film is for the special effects in the action scenes. Now before you can roll your eyes and sarcastically say "Yay, it has awesome special effects," let me explain. What makes the effects take such hold isn't in their quality. It's mostly CGI you've seen a hundred times before and you're not going to be wowed by seeing them for the hundred and first. The cool thing is the originality in which they're used. There's some scenes that I feel pretty safe in saying you haven't seen anything quite like them before. A sports car and a skyscraper. Watch it and tell me that it wasn't cool; I dare you.

Now for the bad. Day Watch suffers from taking a lot for granted with its audience, kind of like old Italian giallo flicks. The plot takes a couple of turns that I found myself scratching my head over, not believing that they would be viable enough for the characters to go with. There's a frame-up, to be exact, but there's really not anything concrete that happens enough to where I thought the characters would act upon it. It's kind of like someone shouting, "You did it!" without any real proof, yet everyone just goes with it and suddenly you're wanted. But for the sake of the movie you just have to let it get past that line of thought. Also, I believed this to be the second movie in what was to be a trilogy, but the ending seemed pretty final. I could be wrong with this guess and, if so, the third movie should prove to be very different from the first two.

If you've seen Night Watch and liked it, then you'll not be hurt by seeing Day Watch at all. It's a fine sequel and has the same impact as Night Watch: it doesn't blow you away but it's definitely worth watching. And if you haven't viewed the first one yet, then do so, and you'll know right away if this is something you should check out. It's cool enough to where I'll happily watch a third if it gets made and I'm guessing my review will probably end up pretty much just like this one.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Twisted Terror Collection

Written by Tío Esqueleto

Not surprisingly, the new releases in the niche DVD market have shifted heavily towards “horror,” “thriller,” and “suspense” over the last few weeks. Many of these titles are making their way to the shelves for the first time, while others are simply finally getting the treatment they’ve always deserved. A perfect example is Warner Brothers Twisted Terror Collection, although I have to believe that a couple of these titles weren’t released, so much as they escaped.

With six titles to offer – The Hand, Someone’s Watching Me!, Eyes of A Stranger, From Beyond The Grave, Deadly Friend, and Dr. Giggles (the latter two being those that escaped), at an average price tag of just under forty bucks, fans of the genre have a lot to get excited about this holiday season. With the exception of Dr. Giggles, the remaining five titles are making their DVD debut. Two of these titles, The Hand and Deadly Friend, have been long-time fan requests via numerous online petitions. Warners is notorious for owning libraries of sought-after, out-of-print, genre films (most notably the harder to find titles in the Hammer Films catalog), with no intention of ever letting them see the light of day, despite evidence that the audience is there and the discs will sell. Whether intentional or not, they picked their six titles in twos. With each film running an average of ninety minutes, they make for great, drive-in style, double bills.

First up are The Hand and From Beyond the Grave. Upon first reading about this collection, these were the two titles I was the most excited for. I’ve signed more than one online petition to see The Hand released, and From Beyond The Grave is a lost AMICUS classic that certainly deserves its due. Both take me back to my childhood, as they were both staples of the after-school/Saturday afternoon horror shows bought in packages, and played in syndication, in the early 1980s.

The Hand (1981) stars Michael Caine as Jon Lansdale, a successful cartoonist (think Prince Valiant meets John Carter of Mars) who loses his hand and his livelihood in a horrific car accident. The hand is never recovered from the scene of the bloody collision, but still manages to make its way back into Lansdale’s life as a creeping, murdering, instrument of revenge. Everybody who angers Jon Lansdale, from his ex-wife, to his fellow teaching faculty (he takes on a job at a university after his ex-wife leaves him for her yoga instructor), to his trampy student lover, all fall victim to his not-so-phantom limb. Lansdale, now an alcoholic (it is fair to say the old boy’s been through a lot), blacks out whenever the murders occur, leaving the audience to wonder if it is really the severed hand, or Lansdale himself, committing the murders. Is it all in his head? You’ll have to watch and see. The Hand is presented in a matted widescreen format, preserving its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It also comes with a commentary track from screenwriter and director, Oliver Stone. Yes, that Oliver Stone.

From Beyond The Grave (1973) is an AMICUS horror anthology that stars the great Peter Cushing as the owner of an antiques shop (aptly titled Temptations LTD.) whose customers often get more than they’ve bargained for. Like every other AMICUS anthology, the film presents moral tales as each customer swindles Cushing out of whatever it is they desire from his shop, only to take it home and unleash a fate far worse than the few extra dollars it would have cost to go the honest route. Four tales make up this particularly fun anthology. From a haunted mirror to an old wooden door that leads to an ancient evil, nothing in Temptation LTD is what it seems, nor is the seemingly kind old man that sold it to you.

Guest stars include such great British character actors as David Warner (The Omen), Donald Pleasence (Raw Meat), and Ian Ogilvy (Witchfinder General); with the rest of the cast supplying enough British charm to fill the Tower of London. While not nearly as flawless and exciting as earlier AMICUS offerings, Tales From The Crypt or Asylum, From Beyond The Grave still delivers when it comes to quaint, British, horror anthologies. Aside from a gorgeous transfer in its original, 1.85:1, aspect ratio, the only other extra is a beautiful original British theatrical trailer.

Next up are two top-notch stalker thrillers. Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) is a made-for-TV movie directed by a young John Carpenter. It is the story of Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton), a live-television director who moves from New York to L.A., only to end up the victim of a ruthless stalker killer, watching her through the windows of her high-rise apartment, and torturing her via telephone. While not a completely original idea, it is the cast, and Carpenter’s direction, that really take this thriller above and beyond.

The cast is rather likable. Hutton’s Michaels is a strong, funny, female lead who, while a bit overly quirky at times (she does a lot of talking and laughing to herself for expositional purposes) has the viewer pulling for her with each step closer to fingering the party responsible for her torment. Also in tow are Carpenter’s future wife Adrienne Barbeau as Hutton’s extremely likable and openly gay assistant, Sophie; David Birney as Hutton’s love interest, Paul; and Carpenter staple, Charles Cyphers (Halloween/The Fog/Escape From New York) as the skeptical detective assigned to the case.

Someone’s Watching Me! is presented in a matted, 1.85:1 aspect ratio which worries me as it was made for TV. Regardless, the transfer is great and, who knows, it could very easily have been shot it open matte. The only special feature is a phenomenal little featurette, “John Carpenter: Director On the Rise,” in which Carpenter goes on to explain how it directly influenced the way he shot Halloween (Someone’s Watching Me! was shot prior to Halloween, but aired the following November), his first real dealings within the studio system (he is and was notoriously independent), working with Hutton, and just what a positive experience it was overall. He is very proud of it, and for a little made-for-TV movie, he certainly should be.

Also included, and in the same vein, is Eyes Of A Stranger (1981), a little grittier, lot gorier, thriller where Lauren Tewes (The Love Boat’s Julie McCoy!) plays Jane, a Miami reporter who learns that a man living in the high rise across from hers (sound familiar?) is, in fact, a notorious serial killer/rapist whose been terrorizing the city. A nineteen-year-old Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Tracy, her younger sister who, due to Janet’s neglect, was kidnapped and raped as a child, the trauma leaving her psychosomatically blind and deaf. It doesn’t take long for the killer to learn who she is (after all, she is a television news reporter), and that she is on to him, and targets her helpless sister. Terror ensues as this sleazy thriller comes to a head that is part Rear Window, part Wait Until Dark.

Eyes Of A Stranger is directed by Ken Wiederhorn who is best known within the genre for the Euro-horror, Nazi-zombie classic, Shock Waves, and not much more. The real star behind the scenes here is special make-up effects legend, Tom Savini. This is an obscure blip on a resume that, to name a few, includes Dawn of The Dead, Friday the 13th, and Creepshow, and with no special features (other than a really crisp, uncut, transfer), is ultimately why this disc is to be celebrated.

Last, and certainly least, we come to Deadly Friend, and Dr. Giggles (groan). Not sure how they got included in the first place, but they certainly belong together. Both hail from the horror genre’s nosedive that started right around 1985’s Fright Night (one of the last great ones), and continues right up through, oh, let’s say, Dr. Giggles.

Deadly Friend (1986) is a Wes Craven-directed, Frankenstein story of sorts, about a genius teen scientist (Albert Ingalls himself, Matthew Laborteaux) whose unhealthy love for science and his friend’s next door neighbor Samantha (Kristy Swanson) and a really, really, really lame robot named BB (I can’t begin to stress how very lame!), translate into what has to be one of the worst offerings of the late ‘80s slump.

I’ll make this quick: Lame robot gets shotgun blasted to bits by crazy neighbor (Mama from Throw Mama From The Train) during failed Halloween prank. Genius boy can only save microchip brain, and is inconsolable. Coincidentally days later, neighbor girl is pushed down stairs by sexually abusive, alcoholic father and pronounced dead at hospital. Genius boy, and not-so-genius paperboy friend, drug not-so-genius mom, steal van, steal body from morgue, and insert robot brain chip. Problem solved, right? Wrong! Hybrid human/lame robot brain causes neighbor girl to wreak havoc on those who wronged her (and lame robot), leading to what has to be one of the single greatest scenes in Throw Mama From The Train lady’s short but illustrious career: a beheading (more of an explosion, really) by basketball! See she stole their ball earlier in the film, when it bounced over into her yard – Sweet comeuppance! I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.

Somehow, this is the same man responsible for The Last House On The Left and A Nightmare On Elm Street. I’m still not really sure how that’s possible; I only know it’s true. There are no special features here, only that after 90 minutes the movie ends. Oh yeah, and it is uncut…so you got that going for ya.

Dr. Giggles (1992) – don’t bother.

So, with six titles to choose from, either individually, or doubled up drive-in style, the Twisted Terror Collection offers quite a bit for your hard-earned Halloween buck. While they aren’t six great titles, each and every one of these titles deserves its DVD due for one reason or another, sans Giggles. From the early television works of now-legendary John Carpenter, to lost shockers, to obscure Savini splatter, this collection is more than worth it for the price. Even Deadly Friend was once the subject of countless online petitions for release (I know it’s crazy, but it is true), and here it is, uncut, in all its cult glory.

Now, if we can just get Warners to dip into that Hammer Films library. Vampire Circus, anyone?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Untouchables: Season 1, Volume 2

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Can I criticize an artist at the beginning of his career as he just starting to hone his craft? The artist in question is producer Quinn Martin on The Untouchables and the work is the new DVD release of The Untouchables: Season 1, Volume 2, which contains the second half of the 1959-1960 rookie season. Martin would go on to produce The Fugitive, The F.B.I., Barnaby Jones, and The Streets Of San Francisco among other hits. These shows would all be known for a distinctive and unique style. Does The Untouchables carry that same level of quality that I would come to expect from a Quinn Martin production?

The premise of the show is simple to set-up. The series is based on the real-life adventures of Eliot Ness (Robert Stack), a U.S. Treasury Agent who fought crime out of Chicago in the 1930s, and his group of agents called The Untouchables. Eliot's main nemesis is Al Capone (Neville Brand), but the series focuses on all kinds of mob crimes. Unlike the groundbreaking The Fugitive, the stories and quest to put Capone behind bars is not told in chronological order. In fact, a majority of the stories are set after Capone's arrest in 1931. Telling the stories out of order gives the writers more freedom from continuity, but it also disconnects the viewer from any ongoing drama. These standalone stories never gain momentum of a greater cause and it ends up feeling like an anthology show.

Some of the conventions of later Quinn Martin shows are here. There is a general structure that would later become the labeled Act title cards. There's a compelling narration by Walter Winchell that keeps each episode moving along. The typical episode starts with a short scene that will happen later in the show. I've always been confused by this structure - first encountering it in The Flintstones as a child. The narration of the title sequence, giving us the names of the actors and the title of the show sets a serious mood, but Winchell's narration isn't that of a storyteller. It's that of a newsman and makes the episodes too often seem like newsreels.

The episodes typically focus on the gangsters first. There's a moment in each episode where it looks like the bad guys are "untouchable". So often, someone won't testify against The Boss or there isn't enough evidence, etc. I was struck by the sadistic violence of the gangsters. In "The Star Witness," Jim Backus guest stars as an accountant that's going to testify against his boss. In order to bring him out of hiding, the gangsters run down his young dancer daughter in their truck, breaking both of her legs. But it's usually at this point that something breaks in the case, quickly leading to its resolution. In some episodes, that can be the final arrest of the gangster, or in many cases, their death in a bloody shootout.

The biggest downfall in the series is in production values. In The Streets Of San Francisco, the city is a vibrant, brilliant character. This period piece mostly takes place in and around Chicago and yet here are rarely city scenes. Most of the sets are stark interiors, needing little period dressing. Add to that, the procedural aspect of the show. Like many of the Quinn Martin productions, we get little personal background of the characters. Ness is a blank slate that solves crimes - much like his counterparts in The F.B.I. and The Streets Of San Francisco. Many of the stories end up feeling like a combination of Dragnet and the early Superman comic stories and serials.

When the stories even slightly add some humanity, you realize the potential that this series had. In "One Armed Bandits," my favorite episode on this collection, a man is released from prison who Ness had helped put away years earlier. Ness meets the man at the bus station right out of prison and the man talks about wanting to lead an honest life. He is pulled back into forcing slot machines into stores (a plot right out of an early Superman story) in order to protect his daughter, who herself doesn't even know her father is alive. At one point, the man is ordered to execute Ness to stop his investigations. Not only can't he bring himself to do it, but he saves Ness' life by killing another man. The convict is shot and dying, but in a moment of humanity we don't usually see, Ness takes the man to the daughter's wedding. Now satisfied, he dies in Ness' arms. Those little moments of humanity are what make later Quinn Martin shows so precious.

This release is an interesting step in the journey. Later productions would show a maturity that isn't present in all of these episodes. The casts are great, the action is superb, but the development of the QM signature style would put the shows into a different category. The DVD features an episode of The Lucy Show (this series is a Desilu production like The Lucy Show) in which Robert Stack plays his Untouchables' character to perfection. It's a nice addition to an otherwise bare-bones release.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Emmylou Harris: Songbird

Written by Fantasma el Rey

The sweet voice of Emmylou Harris is a country standard and it is represented well in a new box set titled Songbird: Rare Tracks And Forgotten Gems. With the sample disc I received, I got a good sense of a voice that has always grabbed my attention.

Emmylou Harris was born in 1947 to a military family stationed in Birmingham, AL and grew up in the south. While attending the University of North Carolina, she developed a serious liking for the folk music sounds of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Thus prompting her to form a duo, leave UNC, move to New York and engulf herself in the Greenwich Village scene. While there, she would make the friends that would help her complete her debut album Gliding Bird. After its release the record label went under, leaving Emmylou with nothing and forcing her to move back to her parents who now lived in Washington D.C.

In D.C. she met members of the Flying Burrito Brothers who would hook her up with the young country rock pioneer Gram Parsons. He had been looking for a female voice to accompany him on his solo records and Emmylou was it. She would tour with him and his band and sing harmony on his two albums G.P. and Grievous Angel, the latter would become his most significant solo album. Although he tragically died soon after its recording, it continuing to have an impact.

Not long after Parsons passed Emmylou signed with Warner Bros/Reprise and recorded numerous albums and singles with the label into the ‘90s. After leaving Warners and moving to Asylum Records, she continued to release new music, refusing to become a nostalgic stage act. Throughout her career Emmylou would perform with many other great voices including Roy Orbison, Neil Young, Rodney Crowell, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, and let’s not forget Willie Nelson and George Jones. But it was with Parton and Ronstadt that Harris would record the extremely popular Trio and Trio II albums, which produced the hits “To Know Him Is To Love Him” (the Phil Spector Classic) and “Telling Me Lies.” It is from Trio that I first heard Emmylou Harris’ angelic voice for the first time.

breaks away from being a greatest-hits box and focuses on material that might not have been heard before by most folks. This is great because it turns the focus from just a song’s popularity to her amazing vocals. My sample disc opens with “Beyond The Blue” and is a perfect example of the power of her voice. With lines like “This life is but a dream” she sounds as if she is a mother gently whispering comfort to her fallen child or consoling them after a death in the family.

“Clocks” is a tune that has piano and guitar work sounding like ticking clocks and the plucking of time as it moves along, bringing sunlight to a missing loved one’s face. Again with her humming, Emmylou sounds soothing yet sad and brings chills that make me play this somewhat dark tune over and over again.

Two gems of the disc are “Palms Of Victory” and “Softly And Tenderly,” which feature the trio that first set my ears alight. “Softly” begins with the heart-stopping sound of Emmylou’s voice and nothing else. After 35 seconds in another world, the gentle picking of a banjo slips in to lend a hand along with the soft strumming of a guitar and the slow bowing of a big bass fiddle. On many of the disc’s songs the traditional instruments of the bluegrass sound aid the magic of Emmylou’s voice.

There are songs that take on different country styles like the prairie, western campfire leanings of “All I Left Behind” with its acoustic guitars and lament of things left behind on the lost highway. Another number about the lonesome road is “Highway Of Heartache” with Carl Jackson supplying male vocals. This tunes picks up the pace a bit and has a solid rhythm section with a low yet driving beat that shows Emmylou can move along just fine with something that swings a bit faster.

“Waltz Across Texas Tonight,” “Snowin’ On Raton,” and “Gone” are the songs outside of the Trio set I remember and love the most. “Waltz Across Texas” is a honky-tonk classic putting Emmylou in the company of country outlaw greats. “Gone” gives a wink and a nod to her hero Bob Dylan in its structure and lyrics. With piano, banjo, and electric and acoustic guitars these tunes bring it all together and capture the overall Emmylou Harris sound perfectly.

Her sweet and haunting vocals are soft yet contain a power that can move mountains and cause devils to cry. Even with great instruments and musicians behind her, Emmylou’s voice is what draws you in and holds you until she is done with a song. Her vocals take you wherever she goes, moving from a low whisper and quite hum to a soaring high-end note, held with perfection and marking a word with importance and forcing you to look at it and see it through her beautiful eyes. And yes, I do think that the woman is truly beautiful and it is reflected not only in her voice and good looks but in the way she carries herself in the media and throughout her life. Songbird is a wonderful look at that life and career.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

J.J. Cale - Rewind: The Unreleased Recordings

Written by Anonimo

Who is J.J. Cale? Let’s see, only one of the most influential musical figures in American music. Being a fan of music with more of an electronic flair, I would have never known that Cale has had an impact on major artists spanning generations and genres. His songs have been covered by artists such as the likes of Johnny Cash (“Call Me Breeze”), Eric Clapton (“After Midnight” and “Cocaine”), Santana (“The Sensitive Light”), The Band (“Crazy Mama”), Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Bringing It Back” and “Same Old Blues”), and Widespread Panic (“Ride Me High”) just to name a few.

I had the pleasure of being introduced to the music of Cale through his newest album, Rewind: Unreleased Recordings, a treasure of songs, the first three of which (“Guess I Lose,” “Waymore’s Blues,” and “Rollin’”) were my favorites. However, after falling in love with what is known as the “Tulsa Sound,” (a musical style that originated in Tulsa, Oklahoma consisting of a mix of rockabilly, rock 'n' roll, and blues sounds of the late 1950s and early 1960s) I’ve come to love the whole album.

It is a compilation of songs recorded in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, which may be Cale’s most influential years. He seduces us in “Guess I Lose,” whispering the lyrics as if they were sweet nothings into our ears. “My Baby and Me” makes me want to grab a bottle and drink to alleviate my inner turmoil, although I’m not much of a drinker. I could go on, but that would spoil the anticipation of Cale devotees looking forward to his laid-back style and shuffle rhythms.

What will surely be of interest to his fans is the inclusion of covers, a rare occurance. Cale performs Eric Clapton’s “Golden Ring,” Leon Russell’s “My Cricket,” Randy Newman’s “Rollin’,” and the previously mentioned “Waymore’s Blues” by Waylon Jennings. On that last track, Cale makes me realize I’m not the only man with a wandering eye when he sings: “Well I got a good woman/ what’s the matter with me/ What makes wanna love/ every woman I see.”

Bottom line the album is a must-have for all J.J. Cale fans, country-blues listeners, or fans of bands that owe their sound to the influence of his music. I consider myself lucky for the opportunity to have in my hands some of the greatest American music ever written.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Josie and the Pussycats: The Complete Series

Written by Hombre Divertido

Yes, before The Waitresses, The Go-Gos, or The Bangles, there was the all-girl rock and roll group Josie and the Pussycats.

Born in the pages of Archie Comics at the hand of Dan DeCarlo, and brought to the small screen by the legendary Hanna Barbera in a cartoon that combined the adventures of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and the music group format of The Archie Show, Josie and her Pussycats made for some good Saturday morning fun. In watching the complete series (16 episodes) recently released on DVD as part of the Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection, it would appear to be an overly used template, but in 1970, it was quite fresh. Hanna-Barbera would repeat it in many forms over the years: The Funky Phantom, Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, The Great Grape Ape, Fangface, Captain Caveman, and the list goes on. The difference with Josie and the Pussycats was they were a rock group that got involved in adventures.

Josie, the leader of the group, would sing in each episode backed up by dingy comedic vehicle Melody on drums whose singing voice was supplied by future Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd, and Valerie who was the brains of the outfit, working out on two tambourines. She would constantly get the gang out of jams by rewiring machines, robots, etc. Valerie is also credited with being the first regular appearing African-American character on a Saturday morning cartoon show. Also along for the ride were their roadie and Josie’s boyfriend Alan, their manager Alexander, who was voiced by Shaggy himself Casey Kasem, Alexander’s sister Alexandra, and Alexandra’s cat Sebastian.

In each episode Alexandra, who had a crush on Alan making her jealous of Josie, would attempt to get some quality alone time with him for who knows what. Her antics would invariably send the group off in the wrong direction where they would run into some evil character who would take them prisoner. There was rarely a mystery to solve as in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? which premiered a year earlier.

If anything was lagging in these shows it was the music. Unlike The Archies who played complete songs and had a hit with “Sugar Sugar”, in most of the Josie and the Pussycats episodes we got brief pieces of songs usually played over chase scenes. Nonetheless, the characters were memorable enough for Hanna-Barbera to invest in again. After the conclusion of their one-season run, they were immediately brought back in a new show entitled Josie and The Pussycats in Outer Space that lasted for two seasons (16 episodes).

There is only one extra in this two-disc set, “The Irresistible Charm of Dan DeCarlo: The Man and His Art.” It profiles the creator of Josie and the Pussycats with an in-depth look into the life of this talented artist. This is a well-made documentary that leaves you wanting to know more.

Recommendation: More extras would have been nice, but this is fun stuff to be watched in doses.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bee Gees: Greatest

Written by Hombre Divertido

In seeing that title now, many songs may come to mind, and true fans may have turned up their noses in 1979 when the collection was originally released because it contained none of their early works, but one cannot ignore all that the Bee Gees accomplished between 1975 and 1979, especially when taking the time to review this collection. To have created all this great music in the span of four years, and to consider all that the brothers Gibb accomplished before and after as performers, writers, and producers, truly elevates them to music pioneers, geniuses, and legends.

So, a more accurate title might be Bee Gees Greatest: The Disco Era. With that said, the 2007 re-release of this collection is an enjoyable romp through a more peaceful time. The quality of the recordings is excellent, and may give you the desire to break out the platform shoes, though you may want to give some serious thought to why you still have them.

More extras in this collection would have been nice. Maybe some photos, info on the Bee Gees during that period, etc. What we do get are four remixes of the classics including: “You Should be Dancing,” “If I Can’t Have You,” “Night Fever,” and “How Deep is Your Love.”

At first listen to these remixes, one might react as if someone has just stepped on your memories with those platform shoes. The bass line is intense, and the effort to give the songs a more current feel is a bit heavy-handed, but there is some very interesting and detailed mixing here, if you can get over your initial reaction, and give it a chance. Should take about three listens per song to really appreciate what has been done here. Though a shock to the system, you will certainly feel the desire to dance with these new versions, but you probably won’t be doing the Hustle.

Recommendation: Other than the remixes, there probably is not anything here you have not heard before. The quality is excellent, and the remixes are fun, but it’s a tough set to recommend simply because there should have been more to it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

CHEECH AND CHONG'S UP IN SMOKE (Special Collector's Edition)

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

In the mid-to-late 70's, there were three comedic acts that every household seemed to own albums from - George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Cheech & Chong. My young friends and I would always sneak a listen with someone acting as our lookout and the others plunked in front of the speakers trying to memorize the acts. It was always Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" or Pryor's "Acid" or Cheech & Chong's famous "Dave."

Cheech and Chong's Up In Smoke is being released 29 years later in a new 30th Anniversary package. Over the next six years, Cheech and Chong would follow this film with five more with these same characters. It should serve as a blueprint for today's current crop of comedians, but it really only drives home the point that this success just doesn't happen in today's instant-gratification media.

By the time this movie hit theaters in the fall of 1978, Cheech & Chong had five albums released since 1972. The skits and characters in the film were known to most teenagers and had been honed over hundreds of live performances. In the first scene as Pedro (Cheech Marin) wakes up on a sofa to the sound of "Merrie Melodies" and proceeds to pee in a laundry basket, we are already familiar with the character and the universe he lives in. Anthony (Tommy Chong) is introduced to us in a scene that could be right out of Rebel Without A Cause. He's making a protein shake while being yelled at by his father (Strother Martin), who could be yelling, "What we have here is a failure to communicate," but what he says is the crux of the whole film, "When are you going to get your act together."

The brilliance of this film that most comedians transitioning to film don't get is the simplicity. Cheech and Chong albums had sold millions and people wanted to see these characters. The film is essentially divided into three acts that are just 30-minute connected skits. And to further play into their core audience, the film is about rebellion against authority figures. Even more simply put, it's about drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll.

Act I takes place mostly in the set piece of Pedro's Low Rider. Pedro picks up now-homeless hippie, Anthony. The adolescent bragging of Cheech - "I can smoke anything" and Chong producing a Quarter Pounder-sized joint let's us know exactly who the intended audience of this film is (although the "Don't Go See It Straight" line in the trailer should be a clue). The boys get high, are "framed" by "the Man" and forced to appear in front of Judge Gladys Dykes. Like all authority figures in the film, the police and the judges are incompetent boobs. There's an excellent deleted scene on the disc with Harry Dean Stanton as a prison guard that's a rare deleted scene that should've been left in the original film.

Act II starts with the boys out of jail and getting ready to practice with their band. First they must "score a lid," so they head off to visit Cheech's cousin, Strawberry (Tom Skeritt). The brilliance of the throwaway line "Pedro's not home" by Strawberry is that it refers back to the "Dave" skit without calling too much attention to itself. "That's not funny," responds Cheech. This extended set ends with incompetent cops, including Sgt. Stedenko (Stacy Keech) from the Los Cochinos album, deporting the band to Tijuana where they need to go to play in a wedding.

Act III has the boys heading back from Tijuana in a van made of marijuana being chased by Sgt. Stedenko and his bumbling comrades. These cops are certainly precursors to the folks of Reno 911 and their humor has aged the best. After losing the van in L.A., Stedenko radios in a "Code 347 - completely lost due to incompetence".

The boys finish the film with a good old-fashioned rebel teen dream of winning a Battle Of The Bands to get a record contract. What better way to give the finger to authority? Well, it's not just a rock fight; it's a punk rock contest. Very timely in 1977, it's a fun timepiece now.

The finale builds up to what most viewers at the time would be looking forward to: everyone gets high and Cheech and Chong play their famous song, "Earache My Eye," as Cheech, playing Pedro, plays another alter ego, Alice Bowie. "Earache" sums up the whole movie with its rebellious lyrics. "My momma talkin' to me tryin' to tell me how to live/ But I don't listen to her 'cause my head is like a sieve," and ends with the famous line, "And I only know three chords!"

The 30th Anniversary edition isn't overdone, but it befits what this movie is. There are a few deleted scenes (although it appears that pretty much everything filmed made it into the final product), a featurette and a fun trip down memory lane with commentary by Cheech and producer/director Lou Adler (the gray-bearded guy you often see sitting next to Jack Nicholson at L.A. Lakers games).

The commentary shows the movie to be a small independent movie made on a small budget with actors that knew their characters from years of work in clubs. Today's comedians don't get years to work their characters. One successful skit on Saturday Night Live might get your character a movie deal and without all the substance, there's the need to build a plot around the shallow character. Cheech and Chong may be playing simple characters, but they know what's funny.

Like the dope that Chong brings out, Up In Smoke "has a little Labrador in it." But there's a pleasure here in watching these pros that I just don't get in today's movie. Part of me wants to invite my boyhood friends over to watch it again. Who's going to be our lookout?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Umphrey's McGee: Live at the Murat

Written by Fumo Verde

To start off, I’m sorry not to have been at either of these shows. Umphrey’s McGee played the Murat Egyptian Room in Indianapolis, IN on April 6th & 7th 2007, and just from listening to this dual-disc set I wish I had seen this show. This coming from a kat who has seen them only three times, and each time they get better and better. Live at the Murat is typical UM, high energy, unbelievable improvisation, inspiring lyrics and powerful jams. These katz are professionals and they pride themselves on giving it all when on stage, and from the shows I have seen along with reviews from others who have seen them live, UM never disappoints.

I don’t know if either night started with “The Kitchen” but Disc One does. The number came in four parts with the band jamming for almost twenty minutes, revving up the crowd and getting them involved right away. From there they bust into “Higgins” followed by the “The Fuzz.” These two songs rip the top off the scene as the band goes supernova into “Nothing Too Fancy.” While Myers and Farag drive the rhythm with drums and percussion, the guitars face off between Bayliss and Cinninger, rocketing skyward like a dogfight between fighter jets. The raw power the band generates can be felt through the sound of the crowd with their screams and cheers. When you scream at an Umphrey’s McGee show, it is in between the gasps of breath you try to take in while sweating like a beast, grinning from ear to ear.

Disc Two is more of the same and that’s not a bad thing. “40’s Theme” opens up and once again the crowd is immediately involved. Chanting back the lyrics and responding in unison, the crowds at UM shows play a big part. The band feeds off the energy of the audience and vice versa. “Push the Pig” slows things down a bit, giving the crowd a rest as Bayliss and Cinninger tickle their guitar strings. Cummins has some super-spacey sounds coming out of the keys as Stasik thumps about along with the rhythm. This all goes down between the new segments the band just rehearsed backstage before the show (I found this out via the liner notes). “White Man’s Moccasins” opens up an array of sound the band produces due to the talent they have. Cummins’ piano-playing along with the percussion sounds Farag keeps mixing in give off images of lush tropical islands with crystal-clear waterfalls dropping from black lava rock mountains. The guitars, drums, and bass join in almost making this track operatic: bold, full, energetic.

The tracks on this album were picked by the band, and not only do they play well, they are great judges of their own music. It’s hard for bands to put together a live show but Live at the Murat is one of those special times when a great band has an unbelievable performance and it’s edited just right so the listener comes away feeling like they were there. The liner notes said that this is their first “live” CD; I think they did a fine job.

Thank you, UM. This is a great set.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Medium: The Third Season

Written by Senora Bicho

is a crime drama based on real-life, self-proclaimed psychic Allison DuBois, who utilizes her abilities to assist law enforcement agencies in solving crimes. In the series, the main character works for the Phoenix district attorney’s office and her abilities include seeing and speaking to the deceased along with having dreams that give her clues for solving the crimes. Patricia Arquette masterfully plays the lead role and has won an Emmy and Golden Globe for her performance. Glenn Gordon Caron is the creator, executive producer and writer. He has written for many successful television shows such as Taxi and Remington Steele before creating great shows of his own including Moonlighting and Now and Again. Caron likes to refer to Medium as ghost stories for adults.

Season Three was originally slated to start in early 2007. However, due to an early cancellation of another NBC show, it was brought back in November 2006. Besides starting the show later in the season, the network also changed its time slot, moving it from Monday at 10 p.m. to Wednesday at 10 p.m. I missed the majority of this season primarily because of these factors. This seemed to impact others viewers as well as the show fell in the ratings from #35 during Season Two to #61 (it had also dropped tremendously from Season One where it was ranked at #19). I am happy to report that the network has renewed the show for another season, but again as a late addition and with another changed time slot. This time around it will be a replacement for NFL football on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. starting in January.

It is a shame that more people didn’t watch Season Three but hopefully the DVD release will provide an opportunity for them to see what they missed. The season started with a two-hour movie premiere. This extended episode alone is reason enough to at least rent the collection. It focuses on the dreams that Allison and her daughter Bridgett are having about the same murders. Since Bridgett is only 10, her dreams of the crimes are animated featuring monkeys as the criminals. The cartoons look incredible and add an interesting dimension to the episode. One of the set’s special features is a featurette about the time and effort that went into making the cartoons.

The other reason that I missed a lot of the season was that it was just another crime drama. While I didn’t know when it started or what its time slot was, I didn’t make the effort to find it either. I had more than enough TV shows in my lineup and was grateful to have one less to watch. However, Season Three was a departure from the traditional crime drama formula used in previous seasons. This one focused more on the peripheral characters and their stories in addition to seeing more of Allison’s personal and family life. At home all of the daughters deal with different levels of their own paranormal abilities. Joe DuBois, played by Jake Weber, has a much more prominent role and is no longer relegated to being the listening board for his wife’s struggles. He is involved in a hostage situation at work which causes some psychological problems and results in him being unemployed at the season finale. The season finale was the conclusion of an extremely well done three-part storyline. Jason Priestly and Neve Campbell were guest stars in all three episodes.

Included in the DVD collection are some great special features. There is commentary for the season premiere with Caron, Larry Teng (Producer), Aaron Lipstadt (Director and Supervising Producer) and Javier Grill-Marxuach (Writer). It is interesting to hear their vision of the season and this episode. Lipstadt was added as the supervising producer to give the series consistency and Grill-Marxuach is a new writer to the show who previously worked on “Lost”. The episode “Whatever Possessed You” also offers a great commentary by Miguel Sandoval, who plays Devalos and director of the episode, and Jessica Kender, Production Designer.

There are also some fun featurettes. “Directing with David Arquette” discusses brother David’s direction of the episode “1-900-Lucky.” “Acting is my Racquet” gives an inside look at the actors’ addiction to ping-pong. “The Story of Medium, Season 3” provides background on the decisions and thoughts behind the show and “The Making of Medium, Season 3” showcases what it takes to make the show and the intense production involved. You will also find deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Even with the changes that give more depth to the secondary characters, Patricia Arquette is the heart and soul of the show. Season Three was her strongest performance yet as she struggles and experiences many frustrations with her abilities and those who fight her on her instincts. I usually prefer my crime without the personal stuff, just give me the cases. However, this change in direction brought the show to another level. Medium offers well-written storylines, great performances and intriguing cases. I think it is the best crime drama out there so here is your chance to get caught up on Season Three before the next season starts. You can also give the show a test drive via reruns from all of the seasons on Lifetime Television. My dreams tell me that once you try it, you will like it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Written by Hombre Divertido

It’s been fifteen years since The Death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday, a virtually indestructible super villain, played out in the pages of DC comics. Now the story becomes available in an animated film from Warner Brothers and DC. Surprisingly, it is the Special Feature documentary “Requiem and Rebirth: Superman Lives!” that makes this DVD worth the purchase price.

The in-depth effort into how the DC comics team decided Superman’s fate, how it played out in the comics and in real life, and how the turn of events impacted the characters in the comics and the comic industry as a whole is engrossing. The story is told not only by the people who lived it, but is highlighted with personal stories, and graphics from the actual comic books. It’s a wonderfully told story worth watching more than once, and only increases one’s enthusiasm to read the comics again.

If only the same could be said for the animated film. For those totally unfamiliar with the story, this is an adequate Superman adventure, but any true fan will be disappointed, as this story over simplifies and trivializes this brilliant story.

What existed in the comics as several issues leading up to the epic battle, the actual death, and is followed by series entitled Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen, is jammed into seventy-five minutes that just leaves far too much out. Most noticeably missing are the other DC superheroes. In the version of the story told in the comics, the Justice League is defeated by Doomsday prior to Superman hooking up with him and meeting his demise. The funeral for Superman is attended by the entire superhero universe, and watching other heroes deal with the loss of an ally and a friend is one of the best features of the storyline, all of which is omitted in this animated feature. Even the fight between Doomsday and Superman is far too brief and less than spectacular.

This film does boast some excellent vocal talent including Anne Heche as Lois Lane, Adam Baldwin as Superman, and Swoosie Kurtz as Martha Kent, all of which do a fine job, though Heche’s voice is a little too familiar and that creates a distraction. The artwork here is fine though the facial features seem to have been drawn a bit heavy-handed.

Unfortunately, this was just going to be a tough product to produce and sell unless it met all the fans’ requirements. The fan base for the battle between Superman and Doomsday extends beyond the normal reader of the comics due to the excellent marketing done fifteen years ago, and most fans were looking for a retelling as extravagant as the effort to bring the Transformers to life this past summer. Unfortunately, we got a story as poorly told and without the brilliant CGI characters.

Other features include a commentary by Producer Bruce Timm, writer Duane Capizzi, Voice Director Andrea Romano, and Executive Producer Gregory Noveck, an Exclusive Sneak Peek at Justice League: The New Frontier, a “Behind the Voice” Featurette, and a game entitled “Superman’s Last Stand Challenge.”

Recommendation: Get it for the Special Features, but don’t watch the movie with any expectations whatsoever.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Written by Fantasma el Rey

Eight years ago House On Haunted Hill was remade and a new storyline was added whereby the house is an old insane asylum that had been run by a demented, torturous, mad Doctor. As in the original, starring Vincent Price, a diverse group of individuals were offered one million dollars to spend the night in that haunted mansion/insane asylum and only two of them survived. After years of trying to convince the world that the place is haunted and that she’s not crazy, one survivor, Sara Wolfe, is killed setting in motion a Return To House On Haunted Hill.

Her sister, Ariel, and her photographer friend are forced by treasure hunters to venture back inside the house to search for a demonic idol worth millions. Also involved is an archaeologist who had been working with Sara to retrieve the idol for study and storage in a museum. The connection of the two lays in the fact that a journal filled with the mad doctor’s dark entries about his obsession with the idol was somehow in the possession of Sara. Once in the house, all are united as the mystery unfolds and we soon find out many horrible truths.

Truths like the fact that there is a teacher-student relationship between archaeologist and treasure hunter leader (dunt-dunt-dun), truths of betrayal and cheating, conniving girlfriends (who hook up with treasures hunters), and above all we find out the truth behind the house’s tormented spirits. The idol is pure evil and drives men to madness and targets their brains like a sanity assassin with an evil rifle. The spooks gone wild in the house are trapped souls who where killed by the mad doctor and are now on the loose, killing anyone who double-dares to enter this dark house in the flat field of evil. (Did I mention that there’s evil going on here?)

As the house’s ghost hosts seal the windows and doors, those inside must find a way out and half of them want to locate the booty, which they are in search of. So the group separates and the blood flow begins. The ghouls get creative in this sequel as we get to see a guy pulled through a wall by his intestines, a big street-fighter type torn to little bitty pieces, and a strong female seduced by violent vixens gets her face removed with a scalpel. By the way, the ghost of the mad doctor does this himself with a few quick flicks of the wrist. The burning of the treasure hunter leader in a crematorium furnace is also full of giggles to watch. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for his desire, burning from the inside, to do whatever it takes to put five million in his pocket.

What I do like is that as each person is killed we get a piece of the story behind the doctor’s crimes, how his patients snuffed him out and how the house can be defeated. A ghost who has decided to communicate with her and show her their turmoil by touching her eyes reveals it Ariel. So the idol needs to be found and destroyed before anyone can truly escape the house. And found it is, as for destroyed? Well there couldn’t be a third movie if the thing was destroyed, so flushed from the house is the next best thing. The end goal is the same I suppose, rid the house of evil trinkets and set the innocent killer apparitions free. Haazaa!!!

Besides the boob shots, cliché cartoon-like villains, some standard modern horror film dialog, and setting aside the plot holes that come with the gory horror genre, Return To House On Haunted Hill isn’t too bad. As I always point out with these things, so long as Kats and Kittens are entertained a film has done what it set out to do. And for eighty-one minutes I was involved with nothing else but this movie, its characters, and most of all how they meet their ends.

Also on the unrated DVD are some extra features that don’t make sense. We get to see “confessionals” of the characters as if they were on a reality show. Which just makes you wonder if at one time the studio had a different idea for the plot and storyline or do they think that most fans are hung up on the Blair Witch, Survivor thing? And as the scenes are clearly adlibbed it shows that the actors are not so good at it and their skills aree a bit weak. But take a look for yourselves, ghoulies, and decide if Return To House On Haunted Hill is worth the trip through the silent hedges and over the hollow hills of horrordom.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Scooby-Doo and Mystery Inc. have spanned generations. I grew up in the era in the all-important Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour era. In that mid-‘70s time, Scooby and the gang aired with new mysteries and the classic episodes from the late ‘60s. By the time it reached The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour in the ‘80s, I had moved on. But that combination of mystery solving and monsters laid the groundwork for my lifelong obsessions with mystery films and books (I went directly into Sherlock Holmes stories and Hitchcock films from those years) and a preternatural obsession with the Universal Monster films.

Once I had kids in the late ‘90s, it was natural to want to duplicate that fun I had solving the mysteries with Fred, Velma, Daphne and Shaggy. But the group hadn't been together since I last left them in the ‘80s. They had taken on many incarnations with variations of cast members and even as young kids. Timing was on my side though. In 1998, Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island was released direct-to-video. The film reunited the original cast and used the format to tell a larger story that incorporated more music (like the first series) and actual supernatural events (not just men in masks!). Since then, there's been a new release just about every year.

Chill Out, Scooby-Doo
is the 11th release in the series. Since the first two films, there's been a return to the same plots and structure as the original series. In fact, this film feels like the plot of about three or four of the original episodes thrown together. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The extra budget and padding of the longer format works well right from the start. The opening credits set the perfect mood. The movie's theme is very James Bond-ish and the snowy settings let us know that this will be an Abominable Snowman villain like in "There's No Creature Like Snow Creature."

Act I sets up our non-Mystery Inc. characters - including Professor Jeffries (Alfred Molina) looking for Shangri-La, Alphonse LaFleur as an explorer looking for "the Creature," Pemba Sherpa, and Minga Sherpa. The problem in a longer format is that we need more than four characters to choose from as the villain. Process of elimination solves this mystery very quickly for those paying attention. The first Act also gets our Mystery Inc. to the scene. Unlike the old days when the group would be driving by on their way home from a dance in the Mystery Machine, this time Daphne, Fred and Velma are in Paris. Scooby and Shaggy think they're on their way to Paris, but it ends up being LaFleur kidnapping them to act as his guides on Mt. Everest. One lost cell phone call later (a sure sign that this isn't my old Scooby series), the group in Paris is loaded up in the Mystery Machine to make the quick 4600 mile jaunt to the Himilayas.

The same benchmarks are still here. The group all wear the same outfits they did in the original series, there's a chase scene set to music almost as quickly as the group arrives. The "Run Just As Fast As You Can" music video includes such classic bits as Scooby and Shaggy dressing up in costumes to fool the monster. A character from a previous "Loch Ness Monster" film makes an appearance here. It's Del Chillman, a totally chilled-out, conspiracy-loving, hippie dude. He's a nice character for the Scooby Gang to play off of and I expect to see him in more future entries.

The plot is slowly furthered with talk of relics and crystals. There's another long chase scene set to music to pad the timing. This second one involves snowboarding down the mountain and through the caves. It's a clever way to animate lots of smaller jokes and not have to illuminate the plot any further. I won't ruin the ultimate ending, but suffice it to say, we've returned to the comfortable days where a character gets to say, "I would've got away with it if it wasn't for you meddling kids." And we end back in Paris with everything as good as when we started.

This return to the "classic" episode format may seem a little dated compared to the Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get A Clue travesty that airs on the CW these days. But it works and I'll tell you that four-year-olds still eat it up. I may have guessed the villain early on, but my boy was totally enthralled and found every turn in the mystery to be fun and the chase scenes brought many smiles. I'll be back in line for next year's installment.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

POLTERGEIST (25th Anniversary Edition)

Written by Senora Bicho

It’s here! The newly restored and remastered 25th anniversary Poltergeist DVD is out in time to provide some chills and thrills for Halloween. It had been years since I last watched it all the way through and so I was looking forward to finding out whether or not is still holds up as one of the scariest films of all times.

originally hit the theaters in June 1982, but I rented it on home video much later on as I did with Jaws. Both films scared the living daylights out of me although Jaws has had more of a lasting effect. Being in a swimming pool alone can still frighten me. On the other hand, a stuffed clown might make me chuckle but doesn’t put me in mortal fear. While both of these horror classics have always had a connection in my mind, I was surprised to learn that Steven Spielberg was involved with both films. Tobe Hooper is the credited director of Poltergeist because contract obligations Spielberg had with Universal Studios required he only work on E.T. until its completion. However, from most accounts including those from both cast and crew, Spielberg was really the one behind the camera.

is the story of the haunting of the Freeling family home. This all-American family consists of parents Steve and Diane and their three children, Carol Anne, Robbie, and Dana. The problems begin with a common item found in almost every home, the television set. Five-year-old Carol Anne starts speaking into the TV one night while the rest of the family is asleep. She wakes them as she gets louder and louder trying to understand the voice on the other side of the static-filled channel. The late Heather O’Rourke wonderfully plays Carol Anne. It is a great creepy scene that sets the stage for the rest of the film.

Cut to the next day and an overview of the Questa Verde community. It appears to be the perfect suburban development with neighbors mowing lawns and children playing. That evening Carol Anne starts talking to TV again but this time a spirit appears and goes into a bedroom wall. As the family awakes Carol Anne delivers the famous “They’re here” line. Paranormal activity gets underway during breakfast the following morning. At first Diane (JoBeth Williams) is fascinated with the playful occurrences and is excited to share the activities of the day with Steve (Craig T. Nelson). This playful nature changes very quickly when a tree attacks Robbie and Carol Anne disappears.

The rest of the film revolves around getting Carol Anne back. At first, Steve and Diane seek assistance from a university parapsychology team. When it becomes apparent that the situation is beyond their expertise, they bring in a spiritual medium, Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein). With her help they are able to save Carol Anne and eventually flee the house just before it gets swallowed into a burst of light.

While there are great performances and some spooky moments, I wouldn’t consider this a scary film. It is a well-written story that is ultimately about the love and bonds within a family. Perhaps my lack of witnessing any paranormal activity firsthand along with not believing in ghosts played a role in my reaction to the film. Those that do believe in poltergeists and the idea of a haunted house might have a more frightful experience.

The digitally restored and remastered picture looks fantastic. It is crystal clear with vibrant colors. Some of the special effects look less than 100% realistic but it is the best it can be given the technology available in the early ‘80s. In addition, the remastered soundtrack in Dolby Digital sounds amazing.

Disappointingly, the DVD only offers one special feature. A documentary entitled “They are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists Revealed”. This is shown in two parts: “Science of the Spirits” and “Communing with the Dead”. Since I am a non-believer, I found this ridiculous and uninteresting as they spoke with real-life, self-proclaimed mediums and ghost hunters. I would have much preferred to see a making-of or a “behind the scenes documentary.” Especially since some consider the film to be cursed due to the early death of Heather O’Rourke, the murder of Dominique Dunne (who plays the older daughter Dana), and that they supposedly used real skeletons in some of the scenes.

Since there are no noteworthy special features, I can’t recommend that you run out and buy the DVD. If you are a fan of the film and would want it as a part of your collection to watch over and over again, you should be able to find it for less than $20. If not save the money and rent it on Halloween night instead.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tony Bennett Sings The Ultimate Songbook Vol. 1

Written by Fumo Verde

I grew up listening to Tony Bennett only because my parents had control over the car radio. It was much later when I truly began to appreciate the silky smooth sound of the man Frank Sinatra once called, “the best singer in the business.” Bennett is an American legend who has been singing for over half a century and has collected over a dozen Grammy Awards. He has been recording since the fifties and is still going strong. On this disk you get to hear some of his best work.

The Ultimate American Songbook Vol. 1
is an incredible collection from master songwriters such as Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, so who better to sing these poetic lyrics but the man who made his career singing them since they were new and fresh. After returning from WWII, he made his way as Joe Bari through the nightclubs of the late forties, performing hits like “It Had To Be You” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” He opened for Pearl Bailey in Greenwich Village, and then Bob Hope, who suggested he use an Americanization of his real name, Anthony Benedetto. Tony Bennett would see glory in the late fifties and early sixties. He faded away from the spotlight during the seventies when rock and disco ruled the radios. He reappeared in the late eighties and by 1994 the man was back on top of his game stronger than ever.

Bennett’s music ranges from upbeat rhythms and tempos like “Anything Goes” and “That Old Black Magic,” both have that big band energy to them, the kind of energy that even gets your momma up and dancing, to soft sweet soulful crooning in songs such as “The Very Thought of You,” a gem that was recorded in 1966 with Bill Hackett on cornet and an orchestra led by Cyril Ornadel. The sound of the brass mixed with the string section of the band fantastically accompanies Bennett’s vocal range.

Yet this CD isn’t just a collection of songs from Bennett’s past. In 1994 he did an MTV Unplugged show which he did a duet with k. d. lang. “Moonglow” was a hit with the audience and has made it on to this CD, and wow, what combo. Other songs come from Broadway shows like “Taking A Chance On Love” from Cabin in the Sky, which is the track that finishes the disk. In authentic Bennett style, it’s upbeat and snappy, which is what got him to where he is now.

The Ultimate American Songbook Vol. 1
has some great songs with beautiful and thoughtful lyrics sung with heart and soul. Bennett will go down in music history as a humble entertainer with a golden voice whose distinct sound transcends generations. He may have been forgotten for a time, but a person with such pure talent can’t be kept down for long.

With a younger generation of listeners discovering the sounds of Tony Bennett, I’m sure we will soon see a Volume 2.