Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Bedtime stories are great for kids, and good ones can be fun for adults, but Adam Sandler’s new film Bedtime Stories offers little for either.

Sandler had nowhere to go but up after the summer disaster that was You Don't Mess with the Zohan, and this is certainly a far more enjoyable film, but that isn’t saying much as Zohan is sure to appear on many “Worst of 2008” lists. Bedtime Stories isn’t a bad film, and there is enough (barely) to keep young children entertained, but the writing is far too forced and predictable for adults, and when the stories come to life, they lack the energy and visual impressiveness that we know Disney is capable of.

While babysitting his niece Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) and nephew Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit), hotel handyman Skeeter (Sandler) realizes that any addition by the kids to the bedtime stories he is crafting for them, actually come true the next day. Skeeter attempts to use this new power to finally get the job he has always wanted. Unfortunately the writing Bedtime Stories breaks down as attempts to justify the additions to the next day’s developments are forced upon the audience with little success.

Sandler manages to give us enough of his standard character to make Skeeter endearing without alienating the young Disney audience, and he is surrounded by a talented but underutilized cast, but there is little range for them to show with the script provided. Keri Russell plays the convenient and obvious love interest. Russell Brand is the comedic sidekick whose reason for being in the film is only less clear than that of the kids’ pet guinea pig Bugsy (Rodent), who possesses digitally enhanced Marty Feldman eyes, and seems to add nothing to the film other than to give kids something to laugh at, like someone making faces at a baby. Courtney Cox, who looks unhealthily thin, plays a Monica-esque sister to Skeeter and Guy Pearce is the stiff antagonist.

So the concept and cast are good, but the execution seems to have been too much for screenwriter Matt Lopez and director Adam Shankman. Perhaps putting more effort into making the visualization of the stories cinematically attractive, and providing the cast with characters that posses some dimension, and less time trying to figure out how to justify the ridiculous plot points thrown in by the children, would have made for an all-around more enjoyable film for the entire family.

Recommendation: This has DVD rental written all over it. There is nothing here for adults, and the visual effects are not worthy of a “see it on the big screen” endorsement.

Monday, December 29, 2008

GHOST (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

Ghost has always been one of my fondest movie memories. My girlfriends and I saw it multiple times when it was in the theaters in hopes that one day we would find a love like Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. Ghost came out in 1990 and was a big box office success and even earned Whoopi Goldberg an Academy Award for best supporting actress.

Ghost is the story of Sam (Swayze) and Molly (Moore) whose relationship is cut short when Sam is killed during a robbery. At the time of Sam’s death he has the chance to go into the light but he goes back to Molly instead and is then stuck living as a ghost. Soon after his death, Sam discovers that it was not just the result of a botched robbery but was part of a larger scheme and is determined to solve his own murder. There is one big problem, however, he can’t communicate with the living and is worried that Molly might be in danger. As luck would have it, Sam comes into contact with a spiritual advisor who can actually hear him. Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg) has been a fraud up until her encounter with Sam and has a hard time believing he is really a ghost and that she actually has psychic abilities. Sam eventually convinces her to go and talk to Molly. Unfortunately, Molly doesn’t believe her and so it seems that he has hit a dead-end. As Sam is trying to figure out what to do next, he comes across another ghost who is able to make things move with his mind and he teaches Sam how to do it too. Armed with this new ability, he goes back to Oda Mae with a plan to bring his killer to justice and to save Molly.

Ghost is far from being a complicated murder mystery but it adds an interesting dimension to the love story. The chemistry between Swayze and Moore is the foundation of the movie and Goldberg steals every scene she is in. Goldberg portrays the con artist with a heart perfectly and still makes me laugh out loud in several scenes. The other aspect of the movie that made it such a huge hit and that is still well known for today is the love scene involving pottery and “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers. The scene also helped to revive the song originally recorded in 1965 and garnered it billboard and radio success.

Ghost is still an enjoyable and touching love story. There is one scene towards with end that utilizes one of Oda Mae’s abilities that bothered me when it first came out that is supposed to be help bring closure to the relationship between Sam and Molly but I still think it is ridiculous. Aside from that, it still managed to make me cry in the end.

The special features on the DVD have all been offered in previous editions. There is a commentary track by director Jerry Zucker and writer Bruce Joel Rubin. “Cinema’s Great Romances” offers clips from the American Film Institute’s list “100 Years, 100 Passions” on which Ghost was ranked number 19. “Ghost Stories: The Making of a Classic” is a retrospective featurette which includes interviews of the cast and crew. “Inside the Paranormal” offers interviews with real life psychics and mediums. “Alchemy of a Love Scene” highlights the big love scene and the reasons why it is so iconic. The theatrical trailer and a photo gallery are also included.

The video looks good for a movie that is almost twenty years old. The colors are slightly muted. The detail and texture are clearer, but that’s actually a detriment because the special effects, like when the ghosts pass through solid effects, are more obvious and look terrible.

The English 5.1 Dolby True HD is wasted on this presentation. The movie is mainly dialogue. The surround is barely used, just for ambiance and music. The subwoofer also hardly gets used, mainly when the subways pass. For some reason the audio with the DVD menu is louder than the movie.

The Blu-ray disc I reviewed has English subtitles set as a default, which is rather annoying to have to turn off when starting the movie. Maybe a ghost in the machine.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

This Gran Torino Goes Nowhere

Clint Eastwood is certainly capable of carrying a film, and has proven his ability to direct and act in the same endeavor, but this film displays a severe lack of capability by anyone in front or behind the camera. Let us hope that this is not the last time we see Eastwood on the big screen, because this is a terrible film.

It was obvious that the audience was in trouble in the very first scene of the movie when the two sons of widower and Korean War Veteran Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) are having a conversation during their mother’s funeral. It becomes very clear early in the scene that the conversation is horribly contrived, and that neither person involved can act.

Though one might optimistically hope that some of the newcomers to the big screen might actually have some acting ability, unfortunately it is only Eastwood that displays any thespian chops in this one hour and fifty-six minute outing, and he is saddled with a one-dimensional character.

The story surrounding Kowalski is full of holes, and plays out like a Karate Kid imitation where Eastwood is the mentor who teaches his young introverted neighbor how to be a man. Add in the fact that Kowalski is a loudmouth, curmudgeon bigot living in a Detroit neighborhood he no longer fits into, and counting his outrageous racial slurs becomes the only entertaining way to get through the film.

Obviously you cannot fault the other actors in the film for taking their respective roles, but the performances are so bad that they detract and distract from the film and make it virtually impossible to sit through.

You can fault screenwriter Nick Schenk for a predictable story that only contains a few turns, many of which make little sense, dialog that is horribly contrived, and the slight character development allotted to Eastwood’s Kowalski is without motivation.

Ultimately the blame lies with Eastwood for choosing such a poor script to direct and star in, and for allowing himself to be surrounded on screen by incompetent performances.

Eastwood manages some nice moments simply because there is nostalgia in seeing this icon bark like he did in Heartbreak Ridge or get tough like he did so many times as Dirty Harry. The nostalgia doesn’t get you too far as the story that is Gran Torino runs out of gas long before your child-size seven-dollar bag runs out of popcorn.

Recommendation: Wait for it to come out on DVD and then don’t rent it. TBS and TNT will have it soon enough. Spend the holidays praying for Eastwood to give it another go in front of the camera. It can’t end like this.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It / The Shuttered Room

Written by Fantasma el Rey

It / The Shuttered Room now available from Warner Home Video on one DVD is a decent combination of movies, although one is a better than the other. One film is about a museum and a Golem while the other is a gothic tale of terror that involves a creepy family’s past. It is not to be confused with the Stephen King story, at all, and The Shuttered Room is the film to watch. Consider It as a bonus film and you’ll feel a bit better in the morning…if you can survive this “terror twofer.“

The DVD starts off with The Shuttered Room so let’s begin there. The film stars Gig Young as an older man who takes his younger wife, the stunning Carol Lynley, back to her shadowy roots on a New England island uncovering insanity, murder, and family secrets locked away in The Shuttered Room. Right from the start island folk warn of the curse of her family and that Gig should take his lovely wife off as soon as possible. The couple shrugs off all warnings and press on to the old millhouse where the lass was born. Along the way they get tormented, chased, and beaten by island “youth” who get their kicks by fondling the island hussy, converse with a doll of an old aunt, and unleash the terror of The Shuttered Room, which turns out to be a bit of a let-down in the horror department but that’s okay because we get to see a couple of hot chicks nearly naked and Gig gets to kick some ass, proving that old guys rock. The film is more a suspense/mystery than monster or murder horror and is fueled by the crazy Miles Davis-like jazz soundtrack that adds to the creepy atmosphere. There are also some good camera shots and angles, first-person dizziness and window reflections.

A couple of interesting side notes about Gig Young include the fact that after he played a part in the Bruce Lee film Game Of Death, he committed suicide after killing his young wife, the whole story is shrouded in mystery as well. James Dean fans will remember him as the guy who interviewed Dean for the last time, the interview in which Dean talks of safe driving because “the life you save may be mine” and was just a short time later killed in an auto wreck.

It on the other hand is a monster movie, starring Roddy McDowall and Jill Haworth as the young women of his dreams. It falls apart fairly quickly as the story is unbelievable and filled with holes. McDowall plays a museum curator’s assistant who comes into control of a golem and goes insane with his newfound power, but we know he’s a nut ball already after it’s revealed early in the picture that he talks to his rotting mother’s corpse a la Norman Bates. He commands the golem to kill people and destroy bridges, the cops get involved an American trying to purchase the golem for his museum becomes the hero, Haworth is half nude (hubba hubba) in a strange dream of McDowall’s, and then the army gets involved to destroy the golem. Destroying the golem is truly the hard part as not fire, nor water, nor force will do the trick and to the army’s dismay neither will heavy artillery nor a small nuclear bomb. Hokey as hell last minute rescue of Haworth on a motorcycle make this one even more laughable but fun as it seems to become an Ed Wood film (the miniatures and overall story concept) with slightly better production. The golem itself is pretty much a statue that moves like Frankenstein’s monster, not too big a deal.

It / The Shuttered Room is an all-right double feature for suspense on one end and unintentional laughs on the other, an interesting package for sure. It seems as though It was tacked on for the hot bare chick aspect. The other similarity is that both were made by English studios and the director of It wanted his movie to resemble the films being turned out by the folks over at Hammer Studios. So fright fans, I’d pick this up for the creepy aspect and atmosphere of The Shuttered Room and the laughs and questions that It provides. Like I say, if you’re entertained for a few hours, then the film has done its job.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

Yes, the formula is obvious and reminiscent of Liar Liar, but this film is not as predictable, and succeeds by simply being more genuine.

Jim Carrey plays Carl Allen, a man who retreated into self-imposed seclusion after suffering through a divorce, routinely says no to any offer that might lead him from his dreary existence.

Carl is curious enough about the life of old friend Nick (John Michael Higgins channeling a young David Leisure) to attend a seminar run by a miscast Terrence Stamp, who motivates Carl into agreeing to say yes to everything, and thus our one-dimensional plot is born.

Generally the situations created by the premise work simply because Carrey keeps his normally outrageous antics in check and plays this character with a sincerity that works for the most part. The occasional return to Carrey’s outrageousness of old, such as the often-seen trailers with him hyped-up on Red Bull or with a face wrapped in scotch tape, actually seem forced and out of place in a film that is generally more low key than what one might expect.

Unfortunately the story takes some turns that just don’t work for anyone that brought their brain into the theater with them. Obviously all the “yesing” can’t reap only success and Carl and his newfound love, Allison (Zoey Deschanel in an understated but endearing performance), can’t just end-up together without overcoming some type of roadblock, but said obstacle is poorly constructed, and it is at this point in the film where the writers clearly ran out of ideas. The turn of events leads to an abrupt and disappointing ending.

It is the performances of the cast and the relatable characters created that makes this 104-minute outing worth your money. The script by Nick Stoller, based on Danny Wallace’s autobiographical book, runs out of steam before it gets to where it should have gone and leaves the audience stranded, if not lost. Considering the simplicity of the premise and the success of the book on which it was based, the writing should have come easier and been better. The unnecessary antics and geriatric sexual encounters are sophomoric and insulting to the audience, and do nothing but cheapen a film that actually has some class.

Recommendation: Jim Carrey may be a bit weathered to play such parts, or the antics may just be tired, but he is still a capable character actor who can be successful when given the right vehicle. This may not quite be it, but there are enough pleasant moments and solid performances to make this worth seeing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chamber Of Horrors / The Brides Of Fu Manchu

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

My first clue should have been that Warner Bros. debuted their "Warner Bros. Horror Double Features" discs in December. The series has the promising tag of double features of horror films that have never been released on DVD. But, if you really had some gems from the huge Warner's vaults, wouldn't you debut the series in October? I'm afraid this first set answered my question.

The first film on the disc is Chamber Of Horrors. This 1966 horror film is an amalgam of the horror film trends of the mid-'60s and an illustration of how television had changed the horror genre. The movie starts with a "grave warning" - one that would make William Castle proud - that there will be scenes so terrifying that management has put visual and audible warning in place for the viewer. There is the Fear Flasher (a flashing red light around the screen) and the Horror Horn (a wailing siren) to warn you when to turn away and close your eyes.

This gimmick is actually pretty clever. The viewer is warned that it will go off at "four supreme fright points" during the film. One, that creates the suspense of waiting for the warnings. Two, the sound of the siren and the flashing red lights caused more stress for me than the "fright points" they were warning me about.

The movie, while American, is solidly based in the British tradition of horror films. The setting is turn-of-the-century Baltimore. But the foggy Baltimore of the movie would easily pass for London. The film starts with Jason Crevette (played wonderfully by Patrick O'Neal) forcing a reverend to marry him to a dead bride. Once turned in by the minister, Jason disappears and the police are at a stand still.

Enter our next British influence, Draco and Blount are owners of a local wax museum (very British) that specialized in Murder Through The Ages. They also seem to play the parts of Sherlock Holmes and Watson - operating outside the police to help solve murders. They are played off the police (who might as well be Scotland Yard) by an Inspector that doesn't want their help and a Sergeant (played by future Trapper John from M*A*S*H - Wayne Rogers) who's their friend. Draco and Blount are helped by my favorite horror genre tradition - a dwarf named Pepe.

Once on the job, Draco and Blount quickly solve the murder with the help of Pepe and Jason is sentenced to death. This felt like the end to a TV show episode. In fact, the movie comes from a pilot about a wax museum where these two would solve murders each week. The Second Act of the film starts quickly - it's nice to see the plot pick up again just as it was lagging. Jason escapes his transport to prison and during a "Supreme Fright Point" loses a hand.

That's an important plot point because it transitions the film to essentially what becomes the second episode of the film. This one is a very British take on Jack The Ripper. It also bears some resemblance to the Vincent Price thriller The Abominable Dr. Phibes. The wax museum boys assume that Jason is dead and that they're solving a completely different set of murders. Little do they realize that Crevette has a whole slew of attachments for his hand including cleavers, scalpels, and hooks.

Once again, Sherlock and Watson (Draco and Blount) are clever in the way they resolve the "second" case of the film. You can really see where this might work in a television format. The direction is solid - although a little derivative of the British horror films look and sound. The wax museum angle is a nice diversion that allows the additional telling of murders by our heroes. It reminded me in parts of the way Night Gallery used the paintings to tie into the story they would tell.

The second film in the set is The Brides Of Fu Manchu. This 1966 is British, but unlike Chamber, it doesn't embrace the trappings of the horror genre. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to even call this a horror film. The film is equal parts mystery and spy film - with much of the suspense coming from detectives trying to solve the mystery of disappearing women.

The Brides Of Fu Manchu is the second in a series of five Fu Manchu films. Brides follows the successful The Face Of Fu Manchu. In all five films of this series, Christopher Lee plays the lead character. Fu Manchu is a typical villain, always looking to take over the world. He's equal parts Ra's Al Ghul (a Batman villain that would come about in the early '70s) and Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers' universe.

The film starts very abruptly with what is probably the last couple minutes of the first film in the series. Everything blows up and Fu Manchu has obviously been killed. But a minute later he's back with a new plan. The plan is about as basic as a thriller plot can get. Fu Manchu is kidnapping the daughters of leading scientists to force them to help him build a Death Ray. What's funny is that his description of the Death Ray device sounds like they are building him an iPhone.

Fu Manchu stays one step ahead of Scotland Yard from his evil lair. The mystery isn't really a mystery and the thriller isn't that thrilling. Lee doesn't get enough of a chance to overact as the title character. But he's definitely the bright spot. There are some fun scenes with ninjas popping in and out of London locales to kidnap the daughters.

Brides is a let-down after the promise of Chambers on this disc. You don't get any extras with the "Horror Double Feature" - so the movies have to carry the day. This double feature comes up one film short. I'm going to keep my eye on this series - Warner's has a ton of great films that haven't seen the light of day on DVD. Maybe their saving their best for next October.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rawhide: The Third Season Volume Two

Written by Fantasma el Rey

“Head ‘em up! Move ‘em out! RAWHIDE!” That’s right, Season Three Volume Two is out and ready for market. Fans will certainly enjoy roping in this four-disc set, packed with fifteen of the thirty episodes from season three which aired from February to June of 1961. Begun in 1959, Rawhide would run until 1966 and span eight seasons before being pulled from the airwaves. Along the way many sagebrush tales were told, many “beeves” were driven through town to sell, and one of the shows stars would make a name as the man with no name.

Besides “trouble always saddlin’ up a fresh horse, preparing to ride with you,” Rawhide had a couple of things you could count on through the years: one was that it would open and close with its moving theme song of the same title belted out by Frankie Lane (yes, the same tune made popular again by The Blues Brothers stirring rendition) and the other was the episode titles would begin with the word “incident.” Aside from being dropped for a bit in later seasons, it was always there. Examples include “Incident Of The Running Iron,” “…Near Gloomy River,” “…In The Middle Of Nowhere” and “…Before Black Pass.” It seems a bit redundant, but it works for the stories being told and gives a feeling of adventures that happened along the last trail.

Stories range far and wide, covering many classic topics and some with a bit of a twist, disabled cattlemen and a ballet troupe performing in the desert. There are yarns about Indian chiefs, cattle rustling (of course), army outposts, bank thieves, and bounty hunters mixed in with the average cowboy romance. Y’know, ladies and “domestic triangles.” And there are always some good shots to open and close the show of wide-open spaces that fire up the imagination. The camera captures the herd and cowpokes from different angels as they drive cattle through streams, dry landscapes, and mountain passes.

These campfire entertainments involve many of the supporting cast in the lead role for the episode, which is good as we get to see more stories and how the different characters would handle such situations. Although most do focus around the young, tough ramrod Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) and the strong, straight-arrow man of justice, trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming), a few do involve top hand Pete Nolan (Sheb Wooley) and the cook “Wishbone” (Paul Brinegar). Also along the trail many guest stars would appear and some would go on to star in other varied television shows. Jack Lord (Hawaii Five-0) stops by for an episode as does Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) and lets not forget the numerous beautiful women who look lovely in period dress.

All in all, my little look at a television classic was a good romp through the mind of some well-versed and imaginative western writers. The stories are played well as the entire cast does a fine job in keeping the show interesting. Strong leading men surrounded by solid supporting characters with a good western yarn to tell will always wrangle my attention. I had seen an episode here and there along the way but never really paid much thought to Rawhide, thinking it was simply the vehicle that almost launched Eastwood’s career. Now I can appreciate what fans would wide have known for years, and I liked Rawhide - Season Three Volume Two well enough that I will search out the first two seasons along with the first half of season three. There’s only one thing left to say and it’s that “My hearts calculating/ my true love will be waitin’/ waitin’ at the end of my ride. Head ‘em up! Move ‘em out! RAWHIDE! YA!”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gunsmoke: The Third Season, Volume 1

Written by Hombre Divertido

After starting on radio in 1952, Gunsmoke came to television in September of 1955 and remained for a record-setting twenty years, which will finally be broken in the 2009 television season by The Simpsons. On December 9th Paramount released 19 Episodes from the third season of this classic western.

With the six-foot seven-inch James Arness as the imposing Marshall Matt Dillon imparting both the legal system and sometimes his own brand of justice, these episodes play out as simple good-versus-evil short plays that are both well written and well acted.

Arness is usually accompanied by well-meaning Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver), who is listed in some publications as his deputy though his specific role is not particularly clear in these episodes, as they solve various crimes, and assist Dodge City’s Doctor Galen ‘Doc’ Adams (Milburn Stone), and Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), who ran The Long Branch Saloon, with any troubles they might be having.

Many of the episodes in this three-disc set seem surprisingly violent for the era with innocent bystanders being shot, women being beaten, Dillon and Goode often burying bodies, etc. There is also a high level of drama as these episodes are far more dialog-driven than one might expect which could be a reflection of the show’s radio roots.

Much of the credit of the success of the show has to go to Arness whose demeanor was tough, but possessed an engaging smile, and occasionally displayed an endearing sense of humor. Marshall Dillon often attempted to resolve issues with peaceful logic, but could draw his gun or throw a punch as fast as necessary, when his peaceful resolutions were failing.

Some of the guest star appearances in these episodes are priceless as we get to see the likes of Pernell Roberts, Jack Lord, and Jack Klugman playing villains. Morey Amsterdam also makes a fun appearance in an episode entitled “Joe Phy.”

There is not a lot of bonus material here, but this release does include sponsor spots featuring Arness in several commercials. The ads are primarily for cigarettes, including a morbidly amusing one in which Arness is give a carton of cigarettes as a Christmas present. With these episodes only running thirty minutes when aired, Paramount could have given us all thirty-nine episodes in one release rather than breaking it up into volumes.

Recommendation: For those looking for action-packed westerns full of shootouts and fights, Gunsmoke may actually seem tame or slow, but for those who can appreciate the solid performances of the actors and the nostalgia associated with classic westerns of the fifties, this is a worthwhile addition to any collection.

Friday, December 12, 2008

HAPPY DAYS: The Fourth Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

In 1980 ABC launched the Saturday-morning animated show Fonz and the Happy Days Gang. Unfortunately, the television show Happy Days had become a cartoon five years earlier.

As was common in the seventies and eighties, a series was created, and once a breakout star was established, said star was exploited, even to the detriment of the series. The show from whence the term “Jump the Shark” originated actually did so before that notorious act was carried out. In season three Happy Days became The Fonzie Show, and the innocence of high-school kids in the fifties portrayed so well in the first two seasons was gone. So was the integrity of the show.

One certainly can’t argue with the decision to focus the show on Fonzie (Henry Winkler), as season four was the highest rated in the show’s history. Paramount has now released all twenty-three episodes in a four-disc set.

From the start of season four, it was obvious that the only important thing was to give Fonzie as much airtime as possible, no matter how ridiculous the writing. The season opens with a three-part (or two-part depending how technical you want to get) episode entitled “Fonzie Loves Pinkie” featuring Roz Kelly as his love interest. These three episodes have all the elements of a cartoon and a major-fromage factor. The rest of the season follows suit with contrived episodes that, for the most part, sadly pushes the rest of the cast to supporting roles.

The episode where Fonzie gets baptized certainly takes a religious turn for a show of that era, and does have a surprising level of poignancy. There are also some brief instances of the other actors getting a chance to display their comedy chops, for instance: Ron Howard in “A Place of His Own” and Anson Williams in “Fonzie Hero” to name a few. Nonetheless, the show hits a new low in “Spunky Come Home” which revolves around Fonzie losing his dog.

Winkler was and is a talented performer who portrayed Fonzie with true commitment, but he didn’t deserve to be required to carry the whole show.

The season does include some pleasant guest appearances but most of the following talent is wasted: Marc McClure, Charlene Tilton, Diana Hyland, Nancy Walker, Dick Van Patten, Linda Kaye Henning, Eddie Mekka, and Conrad Janis.

The only listed “Special Feature” in this set is certainly generously titled. Since the third anniversary episode is the standard flashback episode, which was poorly constructed and executed, and was broadcast as part of the season, it seems a bit unethical to call it a bonus feature.

Recommendation: This is trite television that wastes the talents of Ron Howard, Tom Bosely, Marion Ross, Donnie Most, Anson Williams, and others. Happy Days was better when it was an ensemble show. This is only for the true fan.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – 2-Disc Special Edition

Written by Hombre Divertido

Though clear that 20th Century Fox has put together the 2-Disc Special Edition of the classic 1951 science-fiction film to help promote its release of the 2008 version of the same name, due to hit theatres on Friday December 11th, it’s always a good time to revisit this classic, and some of the new bonus material is both entertaining and informative. As poignant and enthralling as it was in its day, The Day the Earth Stood Still remains an incredibly subtle look at our culture under the guise of the flying saucer-themed camp so prevalent in the fifties.

After being tracked around the world, a flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. on a beautiful summer day. After being surround by the military, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and Gort (Lock Martin) emerge from the ship, announce that they have come in peace, and though baring a gift, Klaatu is shot by an over-zealous young soldier. After escaping from his hospital, Klaatu befriends Bobby (A pre-Father Knows Best Billy Gray) who gives Klaatu a tour around Washington and some insight into the culture. As he is tracked by the military, Klaatu will eventually be assisted by Bobby’s mom Helen (a slightly mis-cast Patricia Neal) and Professor Barnhardt (the always-reliable Sam Jaffe). Though shot again by the military, with the help of Helen and her delivery of the classic line “Gort, Klaatu Barada Nikto,” Klaatu manages to make his way back to his ship, and deliver his classic speech before speeding back from whence he came.

This film has a subtle elegance to it as it dabbles more in film noir than the typical monster-invasion films. From the lighting and set design to the dialogue-driven story combined with the classic theremin-filled soundtrack, this film was well ahead of its time in both special-effects technology as well as storytelling.

As this film has been released on DVD previously, as well as shown on television regularly, the question is: should you buy this new 2-Disc Special Edition? The answer is a qualified “Yes.”

Someone would really have to be a huge fan to want to scan through each page of the working script, or listen to all the available commentary and a reading of the original Harry Bates short story on which the film was based; all of which is certainly available here. Some of the more entertaining features include numerous galleries of photos and articles of the day, and some well-crafted documentaries on the making of the film. The interviews with the daughters of Edmund H. North are particularly entertaining, and finding out what became of the stationary Gort, or that Spencer Tracy was considered for the role of Klaatu, which would have resulted in Father Flanagan emerging from the flying saucer, certainly makes the bonus material worth owning.

Recommendation: Yes, over the years the meaning behind this simple film may have been over analyzed, but in some ways that only adds to its charm. Those looking for an action-packed science-fiction film should look elsewhere. This is a thought-provoking story told in vintage form by masters of the craft. A must-have for the true fan of classic films, and a must-see for those who have yet to experience Gort and Klaatu. Let us hope that the new rendition does it justice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sex and the City: The Movie - Extended Cut (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

Sex and the City
first aired on HBO in 1998 and ran for six seasons. I was 25 years old and was instantly captured by this show about four strong women bound together by friendship. I identified with their struggles, dreams and desires. For me it was so exciting to have a show that focused on smart and strong women and I couldn’t get enough. My friends and I would have viewing parties and were extremely sad when the show came to end. As soon as talk of the movie started I was scared, scared that they would mess it up and ruin all my fond and wonderful memories. But despite my fears I ran to the theater anyways. I laughed, cried, and fell in love all over again.

It picks up four years after the series left off. Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) is still in a relationship with John James "Mr. Big" Preston (Chris Noth) and they are moving in together. The apartment they are going to share is an expensive piece of real estate that Mr. Big offers to take care of. With Carrie concerned about what would happen if they split up, Big suggests they get married and the fun begins.

Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) and her husband Steve (David Eigenberg) are struggling and she is trying to find a balance between work and family. Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) has moved to Los Angeles and is living Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis), who is now a successful television star. Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) is enjoying marital bliss with Harry (Evan Handler) while raising their adopted daughter Lily.

While it may appear that the women are all living the lives they have dreamed of, problems arise, friendships are tested, and heartbreak abounds. But through it all the theme of the show that was always the foundation of what made it great shines through: friendship conquers all.

Ten years after it all began the movie was released in the theaters and it met all of my expectations. It is a super-sized episode that felt like coming home. They stayed true to all of the characters and did a wonderful job bringing even more depth to all of these special women. I was sad once again when it came to an end but considering how successful it was I am counting on the sequel. My only complaint would be the storyline for Charlotte; I think they could have done so much more with it and just took the easy way out.

The high definition picture is amazing, presented in 1080p and 1.85:1 widescreen. The city and fashion come alive assisted by the vibrant colors and the great detail. There is some slightly perceptible noise in dark places, but nothing that ruins the moment. The audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 with English being the only option. However, the movie is basically dialogue, so your system won’t get much of a workout. On the whole, it felt similar to what I remember experiencing in the theatre.

The special features included with the DVD are well done. There is a commentary by writer/director Michael Patrick King. At first I was disappointed that none of the women were included but soon realized it would not have provided the in-depth detail that he on his own could provide. Since King was also intimately involved with the television show, his depth of knowledge is immense and interesting. “A Conversation with Sarah Jessica Parker and Michael Patrick King” is exactly as the title indicates. While a lot of great behind-the-scenes information is presented here, their enthusiasm and genuine love of the show and movie is what drew me in and had me wanting more. “The Fabulous Fashion of Sex and the City” provides all of the women the opportunity to talk about their amazing clothes and highlights the talents of costume designer Patricia Field. Fashion was always such a large part of the television show and here it is elevated to another level so it is great to hear and see more about it. “Fergie in the Studio” is again what the title implies and shows Fergie in the studio recording the soundtrack. Lastly, there is additional footage, which helps enhance the story with some good character and plot information. The additional footage is incorporated into this extended cut or can be accessed separately. A digital copy of the .

Even if you never saw the show, Sex and the City - The Movie stands firmly on it own for new viewers. It provides an interesting and engrossing story, wonderful acting, and many touching moments. If you loved the movie as much as I did, you will buy the DVD right away and place it on the shelf next to your collection of all of the television episodes.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Petticoat Junction: The Official First Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

In 1963 Paul Henning was basking in the glow of one of the most successful situation comedies of all-time, The Beverly Hillbillies, which he had created. He took the simple fish-out-of-water premise of a country family striking it rich and moving to Beverly Hills and turned it into a rating smash. In 1965 Henning would reverse the premise, and send an affluent lawyer and his ditsy wife from Park Avenue, New York to live in the country, and would strike ratings gold again with Green Acres.

In between these two juggernauts, Henning also launched Petticoat Junction. A simple show based on the childhood memories of Henning’s wife. Petticoat Junction starred Bea Benadaret as Kate Bradley, the mother of three beautiful girls, Billie Joe (Jeannine Riley), Bobbie Joe (Pat Woodell), and Betty Joe (Linda Kaye Henning) who ran the Shady Rest Hotel along with Kate’s Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan). The Shady Rest was located just outside of Hooterville, and could be accessed by a ride on the Cannonball, which was part of the C&FW Railroad.

Despite a shaky premise for a series, substantial cast turnover, and a first season full of episodes with thin plots, America embraced this show depicting a simple life, and it lasted for seven years. On December 16th 2008, CBS will release all thirty-eight episodes of the first season.

The cast is solid in this kindhearted series, but the characters are not quite fleshed out yet, and the writing in the first season lacks depth, and often makes little sense. What this new release may lack in comedy writing, it certainly makes up for in bonus material.

Whereas CBS has made a habit of releasing series from the sixties with no bonus material, there is some fun and informative extras here. Each episode includes an optional introduction by original cast members Pat Woodell, and Linda Kaye Henning (daughter of show creator Paul Henning). Their brief introductions, which occasionally include memories of the filming, are as charming as the show itself. Other extras include in-depth interviews with Ms. Woodell and Ms. Henning, an interview with Paul Henning, original sponsor spots featuring cast members, and a photo gallery. Ms. Woodell and Ms. Henning provide introductions to all the extras and for all intents and purposes serve as hosts and guides for this trip down memory lane. You can applaud CBS for making the viewing of previews for its other releases optional when loading the discs.

Some of the episodes are fun, especially “The Ladybugs” in which Uncle Joe attempts to capitalize on Beatlemania by forming a rock group with his nieces. It’s fun to watch the girls don wigs, and rock out, but like many other episodes in this first season, it is the performances that make this episode enjoyable, as the plot and details are extremely weak.

Along with the talented cast, the first season also includes some fun guest appearances by a pre-Batman Adam West, Ken Osmond from Leave it to Beaver, and a young Dennis Hopper.

Recommendation: Petticoat Junction has always had a strong and loyal following, and though the first season was certainly not the best of the series, the insightful bonus material makes this new release well worth owning.

[Editor's Note] While CBS DVD has a habit offering television series edited in some manner, the packaging states that “some episodes may be edited from their original network versions,” and actress Linda Kaye Henning claims in the introduction to “Bobbie Jo and the Beatnik” that her character appears in the episode played by her stand-in even though it doesn't, DVD Co-Producer Jim Pierson assures fans “all 38 episodes from Season 1 appear on the Official First Season DVD in complete form as originally aired on CBS-TV in 1963-64, with nothing missing and no music changed.”

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

Written by Pollo Misterioso

The title of this film immediately connotes “chick flick.” Not only does it seem to be a movie only about women, there is a magical element that refers to jeans that can travel. But there is something much more to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and it isn’t just that it is the sequel. This film is a wonderful testament to young women and the relationships that they have, even if it does connect them by a pair of pants that can fit them all.

Based off the book Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood writer Ann Brashares has allowed her second novel to be auctioned into the second Sisterhood movie. Directed by Sanaa Hamri and with its original cast, including Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) and America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), with some new faces, the story stays true to the friendship between the four girls, picking up right where it had left off.

Carmen (Ferrera) is that familiar narrator that ties the story together, struggling to keep her friends close as they all go separate ways for the summer. With a short montage in the beginning of the film, we find out where these girls have gone—all to different colleges, pursuing different things. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is at NYU and has to stay there over summer to re-take a screenwriting class. Lena (Alexis Bledel) is back from Greece and is taking a life-drawing art class for the summer. Bridget (Lively) is off to Turkey for an archeological dig, leaving Carmen to go to a theater workshop as a stagehand so that she will not be alone all summer.

The pants play a very minor role this time around. They are still mailed to each girl in a certain rotation, connecting their storylines and only slightly referencing the magic that occurs from wearing them. Apparently when the pants are worn, they work in mysterious ways, not only being that they fit each girl, but helpful—as when Tibby has a pregnancy scare; she wears them and soon after gets her period. Lena is faced with her old love, Kostas, reappearing in her life after she finds out that he had been married and then later divorced. Bridget wears the pants in Turkey and realizes the importance of family and that she must reconnect with her father and grandmother. Carmen takes on a new role as the lead actress in the summer production, battling with mixed emotions about her friends and her needs.

Refreshing to most female-oriented films are the problems that these girls face, separately—coming together and reaching out when they need help from one another. There are family problems, relationship bumps, and personal struggles challenging each one of these girls as they are trying to find themselves. But however far apart they are, they always stay connected, not through pants, but a female bond that cannot be so easily worn.

Life is not always picture-perfect, as many chick-flicks have it seem, and Sisterhood 2 captures moments and fears that are realistic and therefore they are heartfelt and redeeming. The tagline for this film is “some friends just fit together” and like your favorite pair of jeans, true friends are reliable, comfortable, and perfect even with all the flaws.

The DVD extras include a funny gag reel that is fun to watch if you really enjoy watching how close the girls got on set. There is a deleted scenes feature that the director introduces, making it interesting to hear why they decided to cut or ever why they shot the particular scene. The most interesting featurette would have to be the documentation of how they decided to add the final scene into the film. It is the cliff jump and I’ll just say that it came from real life before it was put on screen.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Shock Festival by Stephen Romano

Written by Fantasma el Rey

B-movie nut/screenwriter Stephen Romano has put together a nifty 356-page color book salute to “101 of the strangest, sleaziest, most outrageous movies you’ve never seen” of the late 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s from an alternative universe. He along with comic artist/film designer Tim Bradstreet (Hellblazer) and film actor/director Thomas Jane provide good back stories, interviews, and excellent poster art. Drawing it all together to bring forth and create interest in films possibly lost to the sands of time or known only to cult fanatics and monster-tattooed freaks. And that’s only one story contained within these horror-filled pages of wonder and dread.

Romano writing is easy to read and makes the subject appealing for those that may not have a big interest in such movies. For those of us that dig this whacked-out, creepy, over-the-top, oddball “art,” the book is fascinating and reads at a quick pace. The pages are filled with photos and reprints of the posters that Romano has plastered all over his office walls, desk, ceiling, and, I believe, floor. He includes pictures of the office and his living room to verify that it is indeed plushed out so. The photos interject perfectly while not blocking or disrupting the text. The subject matter is kept at a digestible length as said photos spur you on to the next page. I would call it a page-turner but as I received an electronic copy the “book” kept me scrolling down to the next page.

The book covers too much material and way too many people to mention them all but a few names that stuck out and are repeated time and again include a particular Roc Benson (who starred in many of his own films as well as wrote, directed, and produced them) while a bunch of others where produced by Jayne Juanita Chance. Many of the chosen flicks star a dashing young man named Scott “Jetskie” Michelle along with the super-hot Natalya “Natalie” Ustinov. Some of these films I want to watch for her alone, well along with the fact that these films have interesting names that span many genres.

Popular genres range from space epics a la Star Wars to slashers and zombies pics right alongside cops, gangsters, monsters, mutants, barbarians (think Conan), bad girls exposed, and of course blaxploitation. I won’t even mention the titles of the last category but from some of the others we have great ones like Starfire and Raygun, Shark Hunters, The Wrong Idea, and for westerns with a twist we have Judge Blackheart and my personal favorite Nunslinger. That’s right, they did her wrong and she’s after an eye for an eye. I must find these films, I must, I must. Seriously. Wait, wait! I left out Lone Star Living Dead Axe Maniac Showdown. How could I forget that one? It’s like the father of them all. Zombies and axes; crazy shit I tell ya.

Anyway, ghoulies and creepy sorts, if gory, racy, kick-ass monster art is what you’re wanting to see and read about then go out and hunt up Stephen Romano’s Shock Festival. You won’t be disappointed with its “over 600 exclusive images including still photos and other rare memorabilia.”

Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume Two

Written by Senora Bicho

Jake and the Fatman
aired on CBS from 1987-1992. The crime drama stars William Conrad as J.L. “Fatman” McCabe, a Los Angeles District Attorney, and Joe Penny as his private investigator/sidekick Jake Styles. The series is a loose spin-off; Conrad played a similair character, district attorney James L. McShane on two episodes of Matlock. Jake and the Fatman spawned a spin-off of its own when Dick Van Dyke guest starred in Season Four, which resulted in Diagnosis Murder. TV trivia fans should keep that under their hat.

McCabe is a hardnosed police officer turned district attorney. He is a tough old bird who is stubborn and stuck in his ways. Styles is handsome, easy going, and quite the ladies’ man. Their personalities often clash as they try to solve the toughest of crimes. In Volume Two of Season One the crimes include, rape, theft, and lots of murder. All of the episodes start off with the crime taking place and the home viewer as an eyewitness. Then, it is up to Jake and McCabe to figure it out.

I have never been a fan of this format; I like to try and figure it out the mystery along with the crime fighters. I find it boring and anti-climatic but some viewers may enjoy waiting to see how the criminal messes up. It is also interesting to now watch a crime show that is devoid of forensics. Here, gut instinct and hunch detective work are the crime-solving methods and they usually work.

Season One was comprised of 23 episodes, this DVD collection contains the last 11, which aired from January through April 1988. The only extra included in the DVD collection is episodic promos for a select number of episodes.

If you never watched the show or are not a fan, I really see no reason to start now. There are so many better, more interesting crime shows worth trying out first. However, this is a non-graphic, simpler drama, so if you like the older style crime dramas in the vein of Murder She Wrote, Magnum P.I. or Matlock this just might be the show for you.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (3-Disc Collector's Edition)

This worthy sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe gets the royal treatment as the 3-disc collectors edition from Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media hits shelves Tuesday December 2nd.

Our four stars are back as is equally important director Andrew Adamson whose ability to bring the work of C.S. Lewis to life is indispensable to the success of the series. Yes, the innocence is gone in this sequel and the story is much more simple as our experienced and restless warriors return to Narnia, but the pacing in this second outing is much quicker, and there is certainly more action.

Our heroes, Georgie Henley (Lucy), Skandar Keynes (Edmund), Anna Popplewell (Susan), and William Moseley (Peter) have only been back in our world for a year, but 1300 years have passed in Narnia when they are summoned back by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) who is fleeing for his life from his evil uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), who is out to secure the throne for himself and eventually his son. Caspian is befriended by the long-thought-extinct Narnian creatures that have been in hiding, and he and our four heroes lead the Narnians in an epic battle against Miraz and his mighty army.

Though the violence in the film may be too much for young children, a clear effort has been made to insure that the result of the deadly blows remains just out of the range of the camera.

The bonus material in this new release will have you longing to visit the sites where the film was shot as much as seeing the movie will make one long for a visit to Narnia. The in-depth documentaries cover not only the computer visualization of the film prior to a single frame being shot, but the extraordinarily beautiful locations, the numerous logistic and environmental challenges faced by individuals and the team as a whole, and the choreography of the exciting duel between Peter and Miraz as well.

The standard blooper reel leaves something to be desired and for the most part it is clear why the deleted scenes were indeed cut, but the audio commentary by Adamson is extremely informative as he pulls us into the process of storytelling here as well as throughout all the bonus material.

Recommendation: With the film itself running at a healthy 149 minutes, there is enough bonus material to keep the whole family entertained for an entire rainy afternoon, and the digital copy that is included will be great for road trips. Fans of the first installment may grow impatient waiting for Aslan to return, but his arrival and the subsequent scene with Lucy are well worth waiting for. As long as the parents are aware of the violent nature, there are enough cute characters, and light humor to keep all entertained.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. - The Final Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

Whether it was because CBS was canceling all its rural comedies, or because the simple fish-out-of-water premise that served as the basis for Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. had run its course, the fifth season was the last for this classic series. All 30 episodes of the final season, which ran until September 1970, are available on a four-disc set. Though the episodes look and sound great, and the chemistry between Gomer (Jim Nabors) and Sgt.Vince Carter (Frank Sutton) still plays well, some of the stories are tired and appear to be retreads of previous efforts.

There are some wonderful guest appearances by Carol Burnett, Rob Reiner, and Ellen Corby in this season, but considering that our stars took a trip to Hollywood, which was a very common practice for sit-coms of that era, we certainly should have expected some cameos. Unfortunately there is little star-power in the four-part trip to Hollywood. It’s fun to spot a young Jamie Farr and Barry Williams, and the legendary George Fenneman and Sheldon Leonard, but considering that our Marines were in Hollywood to shoot a movie and most of the four episodes took place at a movie studio, one would certainly be justified in asking where all the stars were.

The fifth season also marks the return of Ronnie Schell as Duke Slater. Duke, who had formerly been a member of the platoon and a good friend of Gomer’s, returns as the company’s new corporal. Though the return of Schell certainly added energy to the show, the lack of growth in our characters was showing by the fifth season and it ended with little fanfare. A thirty-minute episode with a few flashbacks, serves as the ending of the series, but more importantly shows us the Sergeant Carter does indeed care about Gomer, as he arranges to keep him right where he is. Though heartfelt, the writers might have been better suited to promote Gomer long before the end of the series, than to leave him where he was. There were no longer any regulars amongst the platoon for Gomer to play off of as there had been in pervious years, and thus the stories had to rest solely on the shoulders of our two stars. As talented as they were, some growth would have helped.

Allan Melvin made regular appearances as Sergeant Hacker, and though his character will always be appreciated, it forced the stories to be more about his competition with Sergeant Carter, and how Gomer was the pawn, rather than Gomer being at the forefront of the stories.

Sure, this was a show with a simple premise, but five seasons and 150 episodes is an accomplishment for any show. Casting was the key to the success here. Though the loss of Gomer to The Andy Griffith Show was certainly felt, both faired well after the departure.

Recommendation: Perhaps not the best season of the series, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. - The Final Season is certainly still worth owning. Nabors and Sutton continue to give a lesson in comedic teaming and timing that makes the show worth watching for comedy fans of all ages. Some bonus material certainly would have made this set more attractive, but it remains a solid addition to any collection.

Friday, November 28, 2008

WALL·E (Three-Disc Special Edition)

Written by Pollo Misterioso

Pixar films have a way of making the familiar, unfamiliar; creating unknown worlds around the ordinary. With Toy Story we entered into the world of the children’s playroom, with Finding Nemo we journeyed underwater where marine life lives like humans but without them, and in A Bug’s Life where the smallest of insects can do the greatest things. Within these beautifully animated worlds, there are always lovable characters that are driven by instinct and simple desires, forming an intricate story that relies on the basics of storytelling and WALL·E is no different, presenting our world as we have never seen it -- hundreds of years into the future, where robots have more humane instincts than us and we can no longer inhabit Earth because of pollution.

WALL·E stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth class -- and his job is to clean up Earth. He is one of the last robots on Earth compacting the trash that has overrun the planet and made humans live on cruise ships in space. Already a very sentimental and caring robot, he finds new inspiration when EVE comes to Earth. She is a robot designed to find life on Earth, making it habitable again. When WALL·E shows her a plant, she shuts down to be picked up and taken to space—where WALL·E ends up following her. EVE’s directive is to deliver the plant, but this would cause the ship to return to Earth and the robots are under different orders.

It is here on the ship that we are given a glimpse of life hundreds of years in the future, when humans are dependent upon robots and technology. The main narrative follows the two robots on the ship, but weaved around it are clear criticisms of our culture as we see what life is like in the future. Everything to eat comes in a cup, nobody walks anymore as they are hover-crafted around -- making the body turn into a giant jellybean, and all communication occurs on a screen in front of you. In a world where technology is cutting more corners, these images hover over you causing you to really think about our own lives. But this movie never alienates or offends the viewer, something that only Disney/Pixar films are able to get away with.

Within this world WALL·E reminds us of the simpler things, even how important handholding can be. His directive changes after he has met EVE, following and protecting her because she gives him hope for love. One of the most beautiful and classic scenes takes place between WALL·E and EVE as they dance in space. They take something familiar and very human and transfer it between machines that are more life-like than people. It is here that they share a spark -- literally touching in a way that connects them by an electrical charge. What looks to be our equivalent to a kiss, it is represented as a deeper connection between two things. Classic.

The story aside, this film is visually incredible. The detail and perspective just in the beginning of the film gives a haunting and desolate look at our Earth. This little machine is the only form of life that maneuvers through the waste (of course he does have another companion who is a cockroach). The first third of the film is without dialogue, relying solely on images and sounds created by our character, developing WALL·E through his actions and movements. Never removing himself from the world created around him, everything is new to us, the way that it is new to WALL·E. His collection of trinkets and “trash” fascinate and amuse him, making his job worth while everyday. It’s funny when he has no idea where to place the spork he has taken home; it is not a fork, not a spoon.

And that is what this film is about: discovery. WALL·E’s understanding of “love” comes from the videotape Hello, Dolly and holding hands—but he soon learns that it takes a lot to get there and EVE also learns that “that is all that love is about.” WALL·E is a simple love story that is pleasing in everyway. But being that Pixar is so crafty, there are deeper and more universal themes that run throughout. Every little detail makes this film fun to watch again and again. So let’s learn something from these robots and enjoy the simpler things.

For those that loved this film, I suggest getting the DVD because the extras are absolutely wonderful. In the 3-disc Special Edition it comes with the film, a bonus disc with more special features and a digital copy that can be uploaded to computers and portable devices. The Bonus features on the first disc are some of my favorite. They include a short film called “BURN·E” which follows the robot BURN·E after he gets locked out of the ship. His story aligns with the narrative in the original film, expanding on what else is going on in the ship. “Presto” is the short film that played before WALL·E in theaters and is one of my favorite Pixar shorts. There are four other featurettes on this disk, including deleted scenes, a tour of the universe, and audio commentary. What I found most interesting was the “Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds from the Sound Up.” This explains the intense work that went into making this film. It is really fascinating for anyone that is interested in how they make sounds for films and cartoons.

The second disc is separated for families and for film lovers. There are additional deleted scenes and a section on Buy n Large shorts, giving a background story on how it began. The “Behind the Scenes” feature has six different shorts that explain different parts of the movie, including the score and WALL·E and EVE. One of the best features on this disk is an entire second documentary film called The Pixar Story which shows the beginning of Pixar and its collaboration with Disney. This is a very informative and fun documentary to watch for any Disney fan. For families, the fun featurettes include “Bot Files” which introduce all of the robots, “Lots of Bots” which is a storybook read-along for kids, and my favorite “WALL·E’s Treasures and Trinkets” which are a collection of shorts with WALL·E and all of his gadgets -- it is very funny and worth watching.

Monday, November 24, 2008

SABRINA: The Centennial Collection (1954)

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Ten years before she would play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn transformed herself from the daughter of a chauffeur to a sophisticated woman as the lead in Sabrina. This DVD release is one of three new releases in the new Paramount Centennial Collection. Also part of this initial release are other 1950s classics, Sunset Boulevard and Hepuburn's initial introduction to American audiences, Roman Holiday.

The plot of Sabrina seems very dated at first glance. Hepburn plays Sabrina Fairchild, the daughter of a chauffeur to the rich Larrabee family on Long Island. Sabrina is in love with the young, playboy David (played by William Holden). But she is ignored by him to the point that she attempts a suicide. This initial plot twist seems very melodramatic and seems extreme based on only one illustration of Sabrina being snubbed by David. Nor do we see any reason that David would be such an attractive catch.

Sabrina is accidentally rescued by David's older brother, Linus Larrabee (played by Humphrey Bogart). Bogart is eleven years removed from his role in Casablanca and shows every bit of his 54 years in his face and demeanor. He seems too far removed from William Holden, who seems much more of a romantic choice at the age of 36. Even a slightly younger Cary Grant (the first choice to play Linus) would have seemed more plausible.

Sabrina is sent off to Paris to attend culinary school. Once again, these scenes seem a little hurried. It's too bad because they are some of the better comedic scenes of the film. Sabrina's transition from young girl to sophisticated woman are only quickly glanced. I would like to have witnessed more of her change in Paris and some of the characters that helped this happen.

Her return to Long Island sets the main plot into action. Sabrina's new found sophistication is illustrated by the great Edith Head costumes that she wears. She immediately attracts the attention of David, who is already betrothed to another socialite. Linus steps in to entertain Sabrina while David recovers from an injury and tries to extricate himself from his impending nuptials. In the meantime, the worst kept secret from the viewers is that Linus is falling in love with Sabrina. He may not want to admit it but it's unmistakable and really could've been acted a little better.

The film finishes with a flourish as Sabrina is headed to Paris - either alone or with one of the the Larrabee brothers. Since this is Hollywood in the 1950s, you know that it won't be alone, but what brother will win out in the end? The one thing that keeps this film from becoming a sappy, run-of-the-mill 1950s Hollywood romance is Billy Wilder's directing. Wilder is in the middle of an incredible run of films in this decade. He's just come off Sunset Boulevard (starring William Holden) and the incredible Stalag 17 (also with Holden) and he's going to follow this up with The Seven Year Itch, Witness For the Prosecution and Some Like It Hot before the '50s end.

Wilder believes in the power of words over style. His direction is simple and very effective in a story like this. The black and white environment of Long Island and of the business world of New York are very rich in texture. But the shots are not obtrusive. The camera rarely moves and holds on characters long enough to see dialog and reaction. In a romance, this can be of utmost importance. And that's where Hepburn completely outshines her co-stars. Holden and Bogart feel a little cast against type. This is not the Holden from Stalag 17 nor Sunset Boulevard, he seems a little one-dimensional as the playboy brother. Bogart feels way out of his league as the hard businessman with a sensitive soul. But somehow Hepburn's combination of innocence and sophistication brings out the best in both men, in the end. Audrey Hepburn shines in a way that few actresses ever do and you can't take your eyes off of her in any scene. Her vibrancy makes her attempted suicide seem even more out of character.

This release comes with some interesting extras but not the type I would expect for such an important film in the Paramount collection. There are no commentaries. Instead, you do get some generic documentaries about Hepburn's Fashion, a good feature on the supporting cast, an interesting piece on the career of William Holden that should have been twice as long and a few others. Many of these feel like they could be generically placed on any film of this Centennial Collection.

Overall, the film doesn't feel as dated as it seems. The lead female has more depth than expected. She is not going to be manipulated by the brothers. Audrey Hepburn steals the show with her energy. The older men can only hope to shine in her brilliance. Sabrina's father instructs her, "Don't reach for the moon." She hits the nail on the head when she corrects him, "The moon is reaching for me."

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Written by Senora Bicho

Po (Jack Black) dreams of being a kung fu master but being an overweight, uncoordinated panda makes working in his father’s noodle restaurant seems more appropriate. One day the tortoise Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) has a vision that Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a kung fu master who went bad, will escape from prison so Oogway calls for a ceremony to select the Dragon Warrior, who legend says is to be a supreme kung fu master. The red panda Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) believes that one of the Furious Five [Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen) or Crane (David Cross)], whom he has trained, will be chosen. Due to a series of wacky events, Po ends up being selected as the Dragon Warrior.

Shifu and the Furious Five reject him at first and believe that Po is an embarrassment to the group. Shifu is determined to get Po to quit. Po discovers Tai Lung was raised and trained by Shifu and both believed that Tai Lung was to be the Dragon Warrior. When Oogway disagreed, Tai Lung became enraged and attacked the village and that is what caused his imprisonment. Shifu was very hurt as he loved Tai Lung and has refused to love anyone since. Tai Lung does escape from jail and Shifu eventually comes around and trains Po. The Furious Five try and fight Tai Lung themselves but are unsuccessful. Once Po’s training is complete he is given the dragon scroll but it is blank so he returns home and Shifu is going to fight Tai Lung. Once home, Po’s dad teaches him that what makes something special is to believe that it is special. With this knowledge Po rushes off to fight Tai Lung.

The video is presented in 1080p and 2.35:1 ratio and the artwork looks absolutely stunning. This is the disc to impress people who are curious about upgrading to Blu-ray. Just make sure they are prepared to have their eyes pop and their jaws drop. The colors are amazingly vibrant and the detail is extremely impressive from the animals’ fur and feathers to textures of objects that are inconsequential to the movie. The opening sequence has a great style all its own. It’s sad but true that this digital-to-digital transfer weakens the argument for fans of hand-drawn cel animation.

The audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The action sequences make great use of the surround and the subwoofer gets a good workout, but the sound team also treats the quieter moments with just as much attention.

The disc has a lot of extras with a mix for children and adults. The Blu-ray exclusives are “Animator’s Corner,” which uses picture-in-picture to show storyboards and interviews to explain the film’s creation, and “Trivia Track,” a pop-up feature that is self-explanatory. Both can be accessed while the movie is running. BD-Live feature offers “A Day in the Life: A Shaolin Monk in Training” and “Po Around the World.”

Most of the other extras are presented in high definition. “Meet the Cast” is a featurette that introduces the characters and their voice actors. “Pushing the Boundaries” highlights the animation, and “Sound Design” focuses on the sound of the movie. “Mr. Ping’s Noodle House” is a standard-definition segment featuring Alton Brown the host of Iron Chef America that illustrates how to make noodles, and “How to Use Chopsticks” is just what it says. “Conservation International: Help Save Wild Pandas” provides information about pandas, encourages protecting them and tells how. “Dragon Warrior Training Academy” is a game that gives players the opportunity to become a dragon warrior. “Printables & Weblinks” is accessible through a computer. There’s also a music video for “Kung Fu Fighting” by Cee-Lo, “Learn the Panda Dance”, “Do You Kung Fu?”, a DreamWorks animation jukebox, DreamWorks trailers, and more.

However, what’s surprisingly absent is the 25-minute animated film Secrets of the Furious Five that is available on DVD. It’s almost inexplicable that it wouldn’t be included, but this is no doubt some terrible idea by some marketing weasel. Even if there were no room to add on the disc in its current state, surely fans would be willing to pass on some of the extras to have this altogether. If it doesn’t appear on the Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray, Dreamworks should be embarrassed and I will encourage people to steal themselves a copy.

I really enjoyed Kung Fu Panda, the story was fun and interesting and can captivate both kids and adults. The characters are well developed for a cartoon and the voice selections are perfect. Jack Black is the star of the show and doesn’t disappoint; he is perfect as the bumbling lovable panda. Plus, the Blu-ray disc is marvelous. Even if you don’t have children, you should give this one a chance.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hawaii Five-O: The Fifth Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

Hawaii Five-O had enough going for it to keep it on the air for twelve seasons. Not only did it have the beautiful background of Hawaii, but it also had a solid cast that stuck with the show virtually until the end, excellent writing, and much more. One of the big keys to success was the pacing. Though slow compared to today’s fast-paced editing style, in 1972 during the fifth season of this classic television police drama, you really got to see not only the story develop, but each individual scene as well. Many other crime-investigation series would take their lead from Hawaii Five-O, and fill the networks throughout the seventies.

Season five continually displays the evolution of the series from a show that focused on the boss Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) to more of an ensemble. McGarrett was clearly still, and would remain, the brains of the outfit, but there is a clear evolution of supporting characters from season one to season five.

Though sorely missed was one of the most underutilized and enjoyable of the supporting characters for the first four seasons; Kono (Zulu), who rarely had the opportunity to show his thoroughly enjoyable sense of humor, left the series after four seasons and was replaced by Al Harrington as Ben Kukua. Ben was an enjoyable addition, and fit well into the team, but Kono was continually missed. Along with Ben, Steve was supported by the wildly popular Danny “Danno” Williams (James MacArthur) and Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong).

There was good chemistry amongst the cast who had really settled into their respective roles by the time season five hit the airways. The format of the shows had also reached a solid level of consistency, as the audience had come to appreciate. Primarily each show would run the same. We were shown the crime, watched our tan team pick up the case, overcome roadblocks, the customary action sequences, and the big reveal at the end. Well formatted, acted, and executed each week.

One of the most enjoyable storylines that was often utilized on Hawaii Five-O, was that of the small time crook inadvertently getting caught up in a much bigger crime, or somehow crossing the wrong people. These episodes often displayed the writers attempts to put humor in the show. A good example in season five is “I’m a Family Crook — Don’t Shoot” starring Andy Griffith as a small-time grifter, who swindles the wrong guy, with the help of his wife and daughter. Though the humor does not always work, this and other episodes following the above mentioned format are enjoyable to watch.

There are several fun aspects to watching these classics on DVD: having the option to watch previews or not, looking for performances by established actors of that era as well as future stars, and picking up on continuity errors. Performances by future stars and established actors abound in season five as do the continuity errors. You can see reasonably good performances by young Dirk Benedict, Erik Estrada, Mary Frann, Meg Foster, Richard Hatch, as well as the previously mentioned Anny Griffith, and also, George Chakiris, Ricardo Montalban, William Shatner, Keenan Wynn, Carol Lawrence, and Patty Duke.

One of the aspects of the continuity issue is the over use of several of the character actors. Too often in this season we see the same character actor playing different parts. Though effective in the roles, the over use is distracting. Also noticeable are wardrobe disappearances and reappearances, as if the wardrobes of that era are not distracting enough. Look for ties and scarves to disappear and reappear in “Chain of Events.” An interesting episode that deals with venereal disease. Also notice how awful the campaign poster is in this episode.

There are a ton of enjoyable and interesting things to look for in these old shows. In one episode McGarrett even refers to an Asian suspect as “Oriental.”

Season five contains a three-episode story line in which McGarrett and his team take on three generations of the same family. An interesting premise that is not executed to its fullest potential as the stories lack depth. The performances of the guests including Harold Gould make these episodes worth watching.

Recommendation: This is good television. All 24 episodes look great and are sure to keep you entertained for years to come. The only bonus material is the promos for next weeks show as narrated stoically by Jack Lord, who ended each one with: “Be here, Aloha.” Hopefully before all the seasons are released, we will get some more extras, but this six-disc set is definitely worth owning.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Written by Fantasma el Rey

Johnny Cash’s America is a great look at how the country shaped his songwriting and how Johnny Cash shaped America. The DVD is a documentary that takes you on the trip through some of these places and presents the thoughts of those that Cash had a major effect on, be it in their lives or on the music that some of them went on to create. From senators to other country artists and rap world icons, Cash hit a chord with them all. Here on this 88-minute disc we get to see and hear a bit of that along with the Johnny Cash story told in his own words as well as by those who knew and loved him best.

The DVD opens with a wonderful salute to the way that he would open his shows. Many of the people interviewed for this project say in their own way, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” and it works masterfully, setting the tone for the film and how it will run as the footage that rolls around them flashes images of the Man In Black at his peek. Saying hello are Ozzy Osbourne, Merle Haggard, and Snoop Dogg to name a few of those that gave their thoughts and stories to the cameras. These people of various backgrounds are what set this documentary apart from others that glance back on the life of Mr. Cash, born simply J.R. and dubbed “Johnny” while in the Air Force.

The documentary traces the life of Johnny Cash using old footage and interviews but we rarely see him giving these interviews; we hear them over images of the places he’d been, wrote, and sang about. What we do see laced throughout are the on-camera interviews with the people of the land that Cash had a major effect on. From the cotton fields of Dyess, Arkansas and death of his brother Jack at an early age, to his travels in the armed forces and around the world with his tours, we hear from the man himself how it was and how he was inspired to write his songs. And even though plagued by personnel demons, Cash never backed down from singing what he though was right.

Senator Lamar Alexander reminds us that Johnny Cash was always invited and welcomed at the White House by the Presidents; Al Gore also shares his thoughts and memories of Cash who never chose a political side but always stood for what he thought was worth fighting for. While family members give their versions of what life was like at different times in his life. Cash’s sister takes us back to the home that they knew as children as his son John Carter tags along and brings a new generation of Cashes to the land where the legend took root. Daughters Roseanne and Cindy reflect on how it felt when their father was home from the road in their youth and in later life and how his love for his wife June Carter fueled his everyday life to the end of hers and his.

Fellow outlaw country artists Haggard and Kris Kristofferson tell tales of wild, sober, and wise Cash as another American original. Bob Dylan lets us in on what it was like to work with him on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. We also hear from rapper Snoop Dogg about what his friends thought of his listening to Cash and how Snoop came to own his first Cash record. Snoop’s take is one of the highlights of this DVD as it’s always good to hear how Johnny Cash can make a connection to anybody anywhere by his simple music and lyrics of life, love, and devotion.

The companion CD is worth owning for the fact that it mirrors the DVD and contains some songs not found on other best-of CDs. It has the alternate and rare versions of a few key tunes used on the DVD. “Ride This Train” and “What Is Truth” are two examples of how Cash can give more of a talking-blues delivery as used in his “Singin’ In Vietnam Talkin’ Blues,” a true nod to his friend Bob Dylan. “I Am The Nation” is Cash performing spoken-word poetry and doing it well with a force that reaches beyond chest-thumping and hits home, making you smile as you think how much he loved his country and makes you feel the same way with his words and voice.

Other tunes on the CD do a good job in covering the many aspects of Cash’s music. His gospel side (“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord),” “Children Go Where I Send Thee”), songs inspired by the history of our nation (“Big Foot,” “Ragged Old Flag,” “All God’s Children Ain’t Free”) his early hits (“Big River,” “Folsom Prison Blues (Live at Folsom),” “Cry, Cry, Cry,”) and the latter-day reflective reworking of a Nine Inch Nails’ classic (“Hurt”). Overall a nice collection of songs for the casual fan while hardcore Cash fans will enjoy the unreleased takes.

Hannah Montana - The Complete First Season

Written by Guest Reviewer Jordan Richardson

As I sit here attempting to iron a Hannah Montana transfer on to my hooded sweatshirt, I’m reminded of my personal journey with Miley Cyrus and I start to wonder how it all came down to this. I first discovered Disney’s Hannah Montana juggernaut courtesy of my landlord’s kids. Curious, I checked it out one day and found myself unable to turn away.

The show was colorful, bright, and energetic. It also wasn't very good, brimming with the type of cheese that Disney loves to infuse family-friendly comedy with and utilizing every worn-out Full House format in the book. The setup-problem-solution-lesson foundation ran through each episode, but this time Bob Saget’s Danny Tanner was replaced with Billy Ray Cyrus’s Robby Stewart.

Then came July 2008 and I checked out Miley’s Breakout disc, fully expecting to hate it. I didn’t. Next month, in August, I reviewed Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds 3-D Concert Movie and once again I expected to hate it. And once again, I didn’t. What was happening to me?

Obviously Miley Cyrus has my number.

So with the third round bell echoing in my ears, I got in the ring with Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season 4-Disc Collector’s Set. Right smack dab in time for Christmas, this is one DVD set that will be finding itself under many trees. Most people aren’t on the fence about Hannah Montana and won’t need to be convinced to purchase (or avoid) this.

Produced by It’s a Laugh Productions in association with Disney, Hannah Montana is a television series with a basic premise and a ridiculous laugh track. Interestingly, the idea for Hannah Montana came about as the result of an episode of That’s So Raven. Before Cyrus was tapped for the role, pop singer JoJo was considered. After she turned it down, Cyrus (who had originally auditioned for the role of the “best friend”) was cast.

The show took to the air for the first time on March 24, 2006. The first season, comprised of 26 episodes, took over a year to air.

Cyrus stars as Miley Stewart. In Jem-like fashion, Miley is pop star Hannah Montana but has to keep her identity a secret. Her best friend, Lily Truscott (Emily Osment), soon discovers her distinctiveness (in the first episode, actually) and the two of them go through school and life with the secret between them.

Miley’s father, played by her real-life dad Billy Ray Cyrus, also works as Hannah’s moustache-wearing manager. Jason Earles plays Hannah’s brother, Jackson. The first season also features a number of guest stars, including the legendary Vicki Lawrence as Miley’s grandmother (“Grandma Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Favorites"), Ashley Tisdale, and Dolly Parton as Miley’s godmother (“Good Golly, Miss Dolly”).

Along with all 26 episodes from the first season, the DVD set includes some “Backstage Disney” features. Miley Cyrus goes to the Cyrus Family Farm in Nashville, Tennessee in “Back Home Again With Miley”. It’s a cool feature that lets fans see another side of Hannah Montana. And “Hannah’s Highlights” offer some insight into Hannah/Miley’s favorite episodes with the odd pop-up.

As one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and as one of ForbesTop Twenty Superstar Earners Under 25, there’s no question that Miley Cyrus is taking the world by storm.

If you have tweens or youngsters, you probably already have this DVD set or you’re probably on your way to the store to pick up a copy. If you’re like me and you want to get an up-close look at the leader of a bizarre, sparkly cult bent on world domination, Hannah Montana – The Complete First Season is critical.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe my iron-on transfer is finished…

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Odd Couple: The Final Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

On Thursday September 24th, 1970, a television comedy about two divorced men trying to share an apartment without driving each other crazy debuted on ABC. Could a show based on a play and subsequent movie with such a simple premise, that would go through eight time-slot and day changes, and never crack the top twenty-five in the Nielsen ratings, actually last for five seasons and 114 episodes?

Yes, yes it could, by embracing two fundamental keys to success: keep it simple, and cast actors with chemistry. Jack Klugman as slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison and Tony Randall as fastidious photographer Felix Unger embraced and embodied their characters and played off each other in simply wonderful stories for five glorious seasons. This is character-driven comedy at its best, and Paramount/CBS DVD release all twenty-two episodes of the final season in a three-disc set on November 18th.

Some shows might have lost steam after four seasons, but The Odd Couple is still going strong here, and leaves you wanting more. In fact there are some story lines that were ripe for additional episodes. In “The Hollywood Story,” the boys are off to Hollywood, which was common for sitcoms of that era. What wasn't common was that it would be left to only one episode. Said episode is full of great scenes, a wonderful monologue by Felix, and a nice cameo by Bob Hope, but having the guys spend a few more episodes in Hollywood would have been fun.

Bob Hope is not the only great guest-star in this season. We get some great music from Paul Williams and Roy Clark, some wonderful visits from Richard Dawson and Howard Cosell, some fun performances from Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall, and much more. Keep your eyes peeled for a young Leif Garret as the son of Felix, and a few visits from legendary producer and director Garry Marshall. Klugman's son even portrays the young Madison in one episode.

There are some interesting casting choices of some of the lesser known character actors in this final season in that if you watch closely, you will see the same actor playing different characters in multiple episodes. Though distracting, it does give the show an ensemble feel.

The series ends on a nice, if not trite note, with a final episode that sends Felix back to his wife, and leaves Oscar back in his bachelor pad. Most series don't get the chance to wrap things up so nicely. Those that do tend to make it into a huge event. Not so here. They kept it simple and classy to the end.

Recommendation: Though some bonus material would have been a nice addition to this collection, it's still classic television at it's best. Randall and Klugman give an acting lesson in comedic timing and are surrounded by talented character actors in each and every episode. Don't worry about any let down in the quality of the show in the final season. It's as funny and fresh as when they started.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The 4400: The Complete Series

Written by Hombre Divertido

What if 4400 people who had vanished over the past sixty years were suddenly returned in a ball of light from space to Seattle?

Perhaps a better question would be: What if the USA network launched a serialized science fiction series with an ensemble cast two months before ABC launched Lost?

The 4400 actually began as a five-week miniseries on the USA Network in July of 2004. After strong ratings, it was renewed for a full season and would run until September 0f 2007. On October 28th, 2008, all forty-two episodes were released on DVD in well packaged box set.

More like a cross between The X Files and X-Men than Lost, The 4400 started strong with a simple premise ripe with possibilities. Creator Scott Peters (who too often brings in music from his Outer Limits series) presents us with 4400 people who have returned from absences ranging from months to years, who have not aged, and, except for one exception, seem to have no idea where they have been. So, where have they been? More importantly, what is to be done with them? How will they fit back into society? Agents Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch), whose nephew was one of the returnees, and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie), who takes in one of the youngest returnees, from NTAC (National Threat Assessment Command) are assigned to keep tabs on the 4400 and hopefully answer the many questions.

In what would prove to be an excellent choice in character development, Baldwin, who seems to be channeling Marc Singer from his days on the early eighties science-fiction series V, which 4400 creator Scott Peters happens to be working on bringing back to television, but I digress; Baldwin is more sympathetic to the plight of the 4400 than his by-the-book partner Skouris. Even though she adopts one of the young returnees.

Baldwin and Skouris are sent out each week to follow up on interesting circumstances involving the 4400. Said interesting circumstances are often the result of the unique powers that the 4400 would slowly begin to display. Within each episode we are also updated on the continuing stories of certain returnees. Had the writers stuck to that premise, there was a minimum of 4400 stories to tell. Unfortunately, things got a bit off track.

The 4400 had a big hurdle to leap when it was picked up as a series. Since it was originally written as a mini-series, huge plot points were given away in the finale. Most of which, as confirmed by some of the wonderful bonus material in this new release, the writers would have preferred to save for later revelations.

As season two begins (The five episode mini-series is considered season one); a year has passed (which is often annoying to viewers) since the 4400 appeared, most have begun to develop powers, while other non-returnees are being impacted by what is termed the “ripple effect.” The ripple effect indicates how the 4400 are changing things, and is extremely thought-provoking to the viewers. Unfortunately, the ripple effect is one of many attractive aspects of the series that would slowly get lost over the course of season two and three, as the writers take the series in a direction that would eventually lead to the demise of the show.

It is the writing that keeps the audience coming back to Lost, and probably would have sustained its core audience, and attracted new viewers to the USA Network series had it maintained the level established in the mini-series. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The series fails to “Dance with the one that brung ya” and heads away from the format established. Even that detour might have worked, but the writers seem to show a lack of respect for the audience. Characters disappear and are replaced with little or no explanation. There are plot points and obvious solutions ignored, and episode story lines that do little to move the series along..

The new release of the entire series contains excellent bonus material, within which, you get some insight to the choices made by the writers. In the material the writers display an arrogance and seem oblivious to the how their choices lead to the downfall of the show. Peters seems more in touch as he discusses where things went wrong. Along with several documentary pieces, the bonus material also includes deleted scenes, blooper reels, episode commentary, and more.

Recommendation: Serialized science fiction is a tough sell for television these days, and was even more so in 2004. For The 4400 to have lasted as long as it did was an accomplishment. The show looks great, for the most part is full of strong performances, includes stellar special guests, and even has a catchy theme song (Music from the series is available on CD).

The bonus material makes the set a must for fans of the show. True science-fiction fans will enjoy this for a while, but staying with it through season three may be a challenge. The final few episodes leading up to the end of season four are well crafted and do create excitement. Unfortunately what the audience is waiting to see is the war between the two factions and how the battle of abilities will play out. We never get The 4400 equivalent of X-Men III, and that will always be a huge disappointment.

Fans of the show should own the series, and science fictions fans should borrow it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

1800 Essential Artist Tequila

Written by Caballero Oscuro

As if the potent elixir in their tequila bottles needed any extra enhancement, 1800 has released a limited edition collection of art bottles featuring an eclectic group of emerging artists from around the globe. The art featured on the bottles has also been showcased as outdoor billboards and is due to appear on limited edition footwear. Each bottle has a run of only 1800 units and is individually numbered, adding a touch of exclusivity to the project.

1800 While the initial collection features art from nine different artists, my specific bottle is designed by Josh Ellingson out of San Francisco . It’s kind of hard to tell in the picture, but the artwork appears only on the back side of the clear bottle, leaving the rest of its pristine clear design untouched. It’s a nice piece and adds a cool touch to an already fine product.

To clarify, the tequila inside these bottles is their 80-proof Silver only, not their 100-proof Select Silver or any of their other varieties. My only prior experience with the 1800 line was the Select Silver, and I found the difference between that and the regular Silver to be quite noticeable. Paradoxically, the regular Silver seems a bit harsher to drink than the powerful Select. It doesn’t burn as much going down due to the lower proof, but it has a much more noticeable and lingering taste. Regardless, after a few shots the taste will magically smooth out, leaving pure tequila pleasure. You may also find the artwork come to life before your eyes depending on how much of the bottle’s contents you tackle, and the art makes it very easy to locate the bottle in any condition. Bonus!

The 1800 company has also opened the door to other aspiring artists via a contest on their website to design your own bottle. Top submissions through 12/14/08 have the chance to win a $10,000 grand prize, so if you have any design sense you may want to pay a visit to the website at their website. The company’s goal is to share 1800 essential artworks with the world via additional bottles, billboards, and shoes, as well as a nationwide ad campaign, so even if you don’t land the top prize you may gain some exposure for your artistic endeavors.