Monday, June 30, 2008

ER - The Complete Ninth Season.

Written by Hombre Divertido

It’s rare that the jumping of the shark in a television series can be spotted so easily, but there it is in all its gory glory in the first episode (“Chaos Theory”) of season nine of ER. The proverbial shark in this case turned out to be the rotor blade of a helicopter that famed surgeon Dr. Robert “Rocket” Romano (Paul McCrane) manages to walk into resulting in the amputation of his arm. This shockingly graphic plot twist would eventually lead to the ruining of one of the greatest antagonists on television. Though attempts would be made in future years to introduce similar characters, none have been as well acted or appreciated.

Season nine also marks the first full season without the stabilizing force of the now deceased Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards). That absence is felt throughout the season, as other leaders such as Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) and Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) attempt to be a calming force in the ER. No help is given by other characters such as Luka Kovac who spends most of the season going from one bed and problem to another or Abby Lockhart RN (Maura Tierney) who spends a substantial amount of time dealing with her family and her relationships.

The family issues of Abby do allow for all-star gust appearances by Sally Field as her mother and Tom Everett Scott as her brother. Unfortunately the characters are one-dimensional, and the writing allows for little range by these talented actors.

The success of ER was built on the stories revolving around the patients coming into the hospital. After a trend that began years earlier, the ER storylines really hit a low point in season nine as the focus is solely on the lives of the doctors and little screen time is spent on the stories of the patients.

Along with the set-up for the departure of the Rocket, we see the slow departure of Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) and the second departure of Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) as the writers struggle with writing for women in a season dominated by male characters.

This season is not without good episodes. The opening episode of the season is certainly shocking, and the last (“Kisangani”) would lead to many great episodes in season 10. The writing is fine, but the focus could certainly have been more diverse. Season nine also includes appearances by Academy Award-nominated actor Don Cheadle as the Parkinson-stricken medical student Paul Nathan. Though the performance is solid, the character appears to only serve the purpose of giving Dr. Corday something to do.

Not a lot of extras here. The deleted scenes are interesting in a few cases, but for the most part it is clear why they were deleted. The gag reel is fun.

Recommendation: This is only for the true fans. Generally the writing and bringing in of guest stars seems desperate. Better episodes in season eight and ten.

Hiya, Kids!! A '50s Saturday Morning

Written by Puño Estupendo

Shout Factory always attracts my interest with just about every release from their company. Even if I'm not particularly a fan of the disc, or aren't really familiar with them at all, I always like to give their releases a look. Hiya, Kids!! A '50s Saturday Morning did exactly that. It caught my interest even though I don't consider myself a fan of 1950's television. The programs represented here range from shows you've most likely at least heard about (Howdy Doody, Lassie, or Kukla, Fran And Ollie), to maybe lesser remembered programs such as Ding Dong School and Juvenile Jury.

The shows themselves are really not all that captivating. Kukla, Fran And Ollie, for example, drove me a little nuts with its solitary camera shot and scriptless performances. The only time there's a cut to another camera is when the characters do an on-air commercial in the middle of the show, but this actually brings me to what I do like about these discs: the lead ins/outs and the ads. I've only ever seen most of these shows by way of clips on one documentary or another, but seeing them as full episodes is really different than that. They don't cut away like modern TV shows do. Some have title cards with the sponsor's name before the show and some even do the commercial as part of the actual show. That might sound unimportant, but you finally get a feeling of what it was like to actually watch these shows if you had been a kid in that era. That's really the draw with this set, the overall nostalgia and not just an interest in one show or another. I enjoyed the vibe here, the feel of "this is how it aired," "this is how my parents saw television."

But be prepared to do some heavy duty watching. Hiya Kids!! has 21 shows spread out over four discs with an accumulative running time of 9 1/2 hours. Not really stuff that'll wow you as far as the actual shows, but you might enjoy it for its time-trip aspect. I'd still recommend watching in small doses though, as I think a marathon viewing would probably disagree with most people.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Written by El Fangorio

Thanks to the phenomenal success of The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series, these days pretty much any children’s book can be made into a film franchise so long as it contains a wizard, a dragon, or an ogre. The Spiderwick Chronicles series of books, written by Holly Black and illustrated by Tony Diterlizzi, tells the adventures of the three Grace siblings, twins Jared and Simon, and their older sister Mallory, after they move into the mysterious Spiderwick Mansion and discover a world of faeries, goblins, and other magical beasties. Condensing the five novels into one story, the film does a great job of keeping it simple enough for those unfamiliar with the series without disappointing the fans. Most importantly, it’s one of those rare instances where a genre film keeps its fantasy rooted in reality so that the viewer can understand what’s going on without having to be enrolled in wizard school. The film is further aided by the work of its talented young cast, some stellar voice acting, and a bevy of impressive creature effects.

Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) has dedicated his life to studying the secret world around us, something he discovered by accident. Invisible to the naked eye, this realm is populated by creatures that live amongst us either as friend or foe, preserving peace or creating chaos. All of his discoveries are kept in a large tome called Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. In it are highly detailed records of how each species came to be, where it lives, and what its various strengths and weaknesses are. Spiderwick soon learns the danger of recording all their secrets when the evil ogre Mulgarath learns of the book and seeks it as a means to conquer and destroy. Arthur decides to protect himself and the book by hiding it and placing a magic protective barrier around the house. Not knowing of the book and the dangerous world around her, his six year-old daughter Lucinda is attacked by one of the invisible creatures hoping to use her to find the book. Arthur is able to save the child but not before a legion of fairies step in to aid him by whisking him away safely to their world, leaving Lucinda fatherless and with one hell of a story for the police.

Cut to present day as Helen Grace (Mary Louise-Parker), along with her three children, twins Jared and Simon (both played by Freddy Highmore) and their older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger), has moved into the creepy Spiderwick Estate after Aunt Lucinda has given it to her. We learn that Lucinda (now 86) has been in a psychiatric hospital ever since her encounter with the invisible world, presumably since nobody would believe her story.

Later that night, Jared hears something moving in the walls. He breaks into the wall and discovers a hidden dumbwaiter that leads to a secret room. It’s Arthur’s study and locked away in a trunk is the field guide. There is a warning on the book from great-great uncle Arthur saying to never open it. Of course Jared ignores the warning and stays up all night reading about the unseen world around him. One of the creatures he reads about, a ‘brownie,’ sounds like the one he may have heard rustling in the walls. He learns that they are appeased by honey and after finding out what “appease” means by his smarter half Simon, Jared sets out to find the creature by sitting up all night in the secret room.

He awakens to ThimbleTack who tells him all about the book and it’s importance. He explains that magical creatures are invisible but can reveal themselves at will. He also tells him of the protective barrier around the house and gives him a stone with a hole in it that allows one to see these fantastic creatures. He warns him though that since he opened the book, that there will be others coming to find it. Per usual, nobody believes Jared about the book he found. It isn’t until Simon is snatched away by Mulgrath’s goblins that Jared is able to convince his sister that there is an unseen battle going on that needs their help.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a good example of what you get when the right creative team takes on the right material. Because the market is so saturated with fantasy films for children, lesser-known works such as this are going to need a little extra help in front of and behind the cameras in order to compete with the more popular films being made. It’s not that Spiderwick isn’t a solid story but let’s face it, it isn’t the first time we’ve seen children battling ogres. In fact, it isn’t even the first time we’ve seen the lead actor battling foul creatures invisible to the naked eye.

Easily the hardest-working kid in showbiz right now, Freddy Highmore (Finding Neverland, Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, The Golden Compass) has been through this before and you’d be forgiven for skipping this film thinking you’ve already seen it as it’s almost the same premise as his earlier Arthur and the Invisibles. But whereas that film was animated, Spiderwick is a live-action film and for my money, a far superior one. There is a more palpable sense of awe and wonder when watching real humans react to their fictional surroundings than watching their animated counterparts doing the same. It’s also worth noting that Highmore plays dual roles in this film, playing both of the twins, and does an excellent job when you consider the only physical difference between the two is a haircut.

Rounding out the rest of the family is actress Sarah Bolger who plays Mallory Grace. As with British actor Highmore, this actress also has a thick foreign accent (Irish in her case) off camera though you would never know it to watch her here. She has some nice dialogue to work with here (due to John Sayles’ tweaking of the screenplay) being the sarcastic teenage sister, and her delivery is quite good. Unfortunately, Helen Grace could have been played by anybody so Louise-Parker's acting chops are hardly given a workout here but this is fine since we rarely see her character in the film anyways. In fact, most of the action takes place while she’s sleeping or at work. The rest of the Spiderwick clan amount to little more than cameos with Joan Plowright as Aunt Lucinda and ‘80s teen-film staple Andrew McCarthy as the recently split Mr. Grace.

The rest of the film is populated with CGI characters with perfectly cast actors providing their voices. Martin Short plays ThimbleTack, the gentle Brownie that turns into a hot-tempered ‘Boggart’ when he doesn’t get his honey, and his penchant for playing overtly stressed-out characters is no different here. Also playing one of the good guys is Seth Rogan as Hogsqueal the Hobgoblin. Typical of anything he does, Hogsqueal is hilarious as the pig/bat/monkey fusion with serious attention deficit disorders. The bad guys are just as impressive with Nick Nolte playing the evil Mulgrath and Ron Pearlman in an uncredited role, voicing the henchman Redcap, leader of the goblins.

As with most genre films of today, this one places its main title sequence at the end of the film. This is always a hindrance when you end up spending the entire time trying to figure out “who’s playing that voice?” but in this case it’s a testament to the technical crew when you end up being impressed by what you see without knowing (ahead of time) that some huge names are responsible. In this case, we have the recently accomplished director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday (2003)), cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Black Stallion, The Passion), and special creature effects by Phil Tippet (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back). These are some pretty impressive credentials and their work on Spiderwick sets it apart from the rest of the children’s films being made right now. The film is shot beautifully and the creatures look awesome, especially Mulgrath once he shows his real face (they don’t cater to the easily frightened with this guy). It also helps that Nickelodeon Movies produced this film, meaning kids can say “hell” and mass amounts of phlegmy substances will be flown.

All of this makes for a great Blu-Ray viewing experience as pretty much anything that relies on CGI effects is going to be infinitely better when viewed in high definition. Needless to say, Spiderwick’s Blu-ray is a definite improvement over its SD release. Deschanel’s striking photography compliments the digital effects on display and both are rendered beautifully in HD. He doesn’t fill the screen with overtly saturated colors instead relying on a natural palette, making it harder to toss it all off as being “done by a computer”. Black levels are pitch perfect (Mulgrath’s crow comes to mind) and there isn’t a single grain to be found. If there is anything to complain about, it might be that it suffers the same fate as most HD transfers in that it’s got an overall darkness that is most likely the result of the studio wanting to make sure the consumer doesn’t confuse intentional film grain as film noise. This is unfortunately a practice that will continue until everyone realizes that HD doesn’t mean “without grain.”

Its audio, here in Dolby 5.1 TrueHD is a little on the soft side at times. I would assume this is because it’s a children’s film though I hardly doubt they kept that in mind when creating Mulgrath so why can’t his scenes be equally as powerful in this department? The rest of the film sounds fine and the score by James Horner is nicely enhanced, though it does sound an awful lot like his Something Wicked This Way Comes (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

The Spiderwick Chronicles comes with a plethora of supplemental features though I will never understand the process behind splitting up over an hours worth of footage over seven parts, especially now that everyone knows the sham. You can’t list a making-of feature with a running time of 18 minutes and expect people to be impressed. Instead, break it up into three six-minute featurettes and you give the impression of there being more than there really is. But here we have at least an hour’s worth of extras and, trust me, a 75-minute documentary on the making of Spiderwick would have been more than enough justification to go the old route. It is worth noting that all of the special features are presented here in HD.

First off is “Spiderwick: It’s All True!” which is little more than a six-minute intro by the director. As with the rest of the initial supplements, the information given is as if this magic really exists. Mark Waters tells us that he’s a firm believer in all of this and that you should be too. He asks us to protect ourselves with the tools from the film so that we can watch the rest of the features without worrying about Mulgrath and Co. coming to get us. Kind of cute (a word I rarely use).

Next is the seven-minute “It’s a Spiderwick World” which further blurs the line between fantasy and reality with author and illustrator of The Spiderwick Chronicles informing us of the origin of the series. Apparently they received a letter from the Grace children themselves, though the kids’ real names have been changed here (to protect them from ogres and inevitable asylums). The letter described the story of discovering the Field Guide and their venture into the unseen world around them. Black decided to put this all in story form, while her partner Diterlizzi came up with the impressive illustrations that make up the Field Guide used in the series of books. To be honest, this was a little too much for me to chew on and made me want to back away slowly from the couple. Still, kids are sure to eat this up and I sort of wish I wasn’t so old and cynical to enjoy the ruse.

“Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide” is a cool way to see the pages of the book, their beautiful illustrations, and the helpful info used to describe each species. It’s obviously inspired by the popular Gnomes book from the ‘70s. Like the film itself, it’s kept simple and a good way to brush up on the creatures and the various protections used to ward them off. Exclusive to the HD release is a “Virtual Field Guide” option that allows you to access the book during key scenes of the film. For example, when Hogsqueal enters the scene for the first time, a little icon appears where if you access it with the remote, you will be taken to his section within the book.

The remaining three featurettes are production-based with nobody claiming that’s it’s all true. These are lengthier pieces ranging from 15 to 20 minutes in length. You get some nice on-set interviews with the cast in “Spiderwick: Meet the Clan”. Again, it’s hard to believe that these American characters are played by heavy-accented foreigners but then again who hasn’t walked around on St Patty’s Day pretending to be a Leprechaun? I imagine it’s just the reverse for them. It also includes some fun footage of Rogan working on the voice of Hogsqueal. “The Making of Spiderwick” is just that as it details everything from production design to props to stuntwork. Interviews with key players behind the cameras are here. Finally, “The Magic of Spiderwick” focuses on the key players in post-production including Phil Tippet and his company of animators. There is also some nice footage of the different forms that Mulgrath took before deciding to go ‘the scary route’. Also included are three deleted scenes (character scenes, no extra monsters) and the film’s theatrical teaser and trailer.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is an easy recommendation, both as a film and as a Blu-ray. With so many densely storied fantasy films on the market, it’s easy to forget to how successful they can be when kept simple. Now that I’ve seen it, I totally regret not catching it in the theater, let alone in Imax. Again, it’s not a coincidence that practically everyone involved, from in front of the camera to behind, is some of the best working today. It’s a perfect mix of talent from the past (Deschanel, Tippet, Short) and present (Walker, Highmore, Rogan) coming together to make a pretty perfect film. My only gripe is that being a conglomerate of all of the books in the series, this inevitably means that this Spiderwick film will be the only Spiderwick film to come. Alas, I would have loved to see more.


Written by El Fangorio

Okay, this is what happens to the discerning viewer within the first 20 minutes of watching 1979’s King of the Gypsies:

Ethnic music starts to play. Sounds Italian. You may even say to yourself, “Kind of sounds like The Godfather.” Credits start to roll. Sterling Hayden (“Love that guy. Can’t be playing a gypsy though”), Shelley Winters (“Fat and awesome”), Susan Sarandon (“She’ll make a good bug-eyed gypsy”), Judd Hirsch (“No shit? I wish he was my shrink!”), Brooke Shields (“Dude. Some major star power going on here”), Annette O’Toole (“Another natural beauty of the ‘70s. Keep ‘em coming”), Annie Potts (“Ghostbusters!”), and introducing Eric Roberts (“I thought Star80 was his first”).

Fade-in to a gypsy camp during the 1950s while Eric Roberts’ heavy Brooklyn-accented voice-over describes the life of the gypsy. He says it’s great being a gypsy. You’re immune to a lot of laws because you have no birth certificate, therefore you don’t exist in the system. The world is pretty much yours for the taking. You’ll never know an honest day’s work and still live a rich man’s life.

A car bursts into the camp, causing quite the commotion. Out steps the self-proclaimed ‘King and Queen of the Gypsies’ played by…Sterling Hayden and Shelley Winters. He’s got a spray-painted dark beard that resembles burnt cat hair, while she sports long black locks and smokes a Sherlock Holmes pipe. This lily-white Colonel Sanders type is supposed to be King of the Gypsies? Is that a red flag I see?

The leaders of this camp approach the couple. More familiar faces as he’s from Godfather II and his wife is that creepy subway lady from Jacob’s Ladder. The two leaders bicker over the arranged marriage of their two children. Sterling and Winters’ son, Groffo, is to marry this couple’s daughter, Rose, but she does not want to marry him. A promise is a promise though. They will let the elders decide.

Cut to a gypsy bash later that night where the elders decide that the children do not need to get married. They also demand that the King needs to stop calling himself as such and haul ass back to New York where he belongs. The King resents being “fucked like a three-dollar whore” and drives off but not before kidnapping their daughter and running over a few gypsies in the process. Probably not the best way to handle public relations with future in-laws but gypsies are crazy.

The rest of the credits roll: Music by David Grisman (“Never heard of him”), edited by Paul Hirsch (“De Palma’s boy. Very cool”), Director of Photography Sven Nykvist (“Hoorah! I know I’m happy”), produced by Dino De Laurentiis (“Uh-Oh”), and directed by Frank Pierson (“Who is he?”). Better check the IMDB.

It is at the IMDB that you will learn the track record of Mr. Frank Pierson. Let’s see, he makes his first feature film in 1969, The Looking Glass War. It must have bombed because he doesn’t make another film until 1976, the remake of A Star is Born starring Barbara Streisand’s wardrobe, which despite being one of the biggest turkeys known to man, still made a katrillion-jillion dollars thanks to her fanbase alone. The film gods give Pierson one more chance and send him Dino. It is here, with King of the Gypsies, that you will notice his filmography ends, not to pick up again for another seven years (kind of like bad credit), where it will be limited to only TV work. Needless to say, this is red flag #12 and it’s only the prologue.

The arranged couple grows up to be Judd Hirsch and Susan Sarandon, who in turn have two children, David and Tita. These kids learn from an early age, the virtues of gypsy life, which is to lie, cheat, and steal anything that isn’t nailed to the floor. Sarandon (alternating between various accents) is the breadmaker in the family, usually conning the rich out of their money with her fortune telling. The father is a raging alcoholic that beats the kids for trying to attend school.

Soon little David is in on the act, accompanying his mother to a high-end jeweler where they put on a production involving the kid pissing on the floor and distracting officials long enough for him to swallow a big diamond. Cut to a close-up of the kid’s pooper sitting on a rusty saucepan, his hand scratching his butt cheek the entire time. A high-pitched fart is heard, followed by a plinking sound as the diamond shoots out of his ass.

It is now official: the King of the Gypsies, both literally and figuratively, is going to be a shitter.

But unlike most bad movies, Dino’s films are usually a blast to watch. For not only does the DEG logo come with the promise of high production values and star power galore, most importantly it comes with trash. His King Kong, Orca, Flash Gordon, White Buffalo are all shameless rip-offs of more famous films and King of the G’s is no different with its sprawling tale, covering three generations of a strong ethnic family and their struggle to retain power over all others. There are marriage montages, baptism montages, and crime montages. In other words, it’s a big fat Godfather rip-off.

We get one more incarnation of David at the age of nine, running away from the sordid drama of gypsy life and hitting the streets, before Eric Roberts enters the role. Though he is estranged from his family and their people, he still relies on scams to make a living (walking into traffic in the hopes of getting hit, feigning a spill at a supermarket). When he’s not on the make, he’s partying with the upper elite as “everyone wants to make it with a gypsy.” I assume so long as they don’t smell like one and they look like a young Eric Roberts. (Gypsies don’t have computers, right? Just making sure).

Finally, he decides to go legit and finds work as a singing waiter. It is here in the story that the family locates him in the hopes of seeing him return and taking up the role of King of the Gypsies. Grandfather has died and left the role of king to David. Sibling Tita has grown into the beautiful Brooke Shields (here wearing the worst black wig this side of October 31st) but she is still the victim of her father’s abuse. She has been sold, as is the gypsy tradition, to be married. Worse yet, she hates her future husband, as he is fat and ugly. Will David take up the crown and use his power to stop this arrangement? Will his father, already scorned for being passed over as the next king, let David stand in his way to make a buck from this marriage?

It’s interesting that few viewers point out how bad this film is. In fact, most fans seem to recollect this one with nothing but fond memories. Of course most of these people list the shot of Sarandon’s tits as the highlight of the film. Scary stuff considering said scene is the result of Hirsch’s character ripping open her blouse and forcing their grown adult son onto her, the whole time yelling “fuck her. Go on fuck her!” Classy.

I will agree that Eric Roberts (here looking even prettier than his famous sister) does a good job in the film. In later years, his straight-to-video roles would rarely allow him to display some of the raw emotion that landed him his next role in Star80. There is even some eerie foreshadowing to that film when, later on, we see his character brandishing a shotgun, his face splattered with blood. As for the rest of the cast, all have done much better work on other projects.

Fans will be doing a gypsy jig when they get their grubby thieving hands on Legend Films’ recent release. Taken from the vaults over at Paramount, the 1.78 anamorphic transfer does a great job at preserving an otherwise beautiful looking film. Nykvist’s tendencies to use natural lighting and soft-focus can make for a difficult transfer but not here as the results are excellent. There are a few moments of heavy grain but that was probably intentional as these are mostly during low-lit exterior scenes. We are given one sound option, that being its original mono audio track. Subtitles would have been beneficial as many of the actors sound like a cross between French vamp and Brooklyn vampire. Once again, Legend Films wisely uses the film’s original artwork for the DVD case. There are no other extras, not even a trailer so it may not warrant an actual purchase.

I say Dino De Laurent-it, and if that fails, steal it!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Written by Senora Bicho

Charlie Barlett
is the story of a troubled high school senior. This in itself is not very original, what is novel about the film is that this senior, in his effort to fit in and achieve the popularity every teen seeks, becomes the school psychiatrist working out of the boy’s restroom. While the story contains some interesting concepts, there is never a strong connection with the characters and the film relies too heavily on stereotypes and overly dramatic moments.

The film opens with Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) getting expelled from a private school for selling driver’s licenses to the student body. Charlie’s mom (Hope Davis) is unable to buy him out of his troubles and since he has been expelled from a number of prestigious private schools, Charlie must now attend public school. His first day goes as expected: he doesn’t fit it and gets beat up by the resident punk. In an attempt to determine whether or not Charlie has attention deficit disorder, his psychiatrist prescribes Ritalin. After a bad reaction to the drug, Charlie attempts to befriend the punk by making him his business partner in selling the rest of the pills to the student body. This brings him instant popularity and in an effort to continue his bout of fame, he begins conducting therapy sessions and prescribes drugs that are easily obtained by duping various real psychiatrists.

While helping to solve the student’s problems, Charlie falls for the principal’s daughter, Susan (Kat Dennings), gains the popularity he so deeply desired, and learns some important lessons along the way. Of course, the punk turns out to have a heart of gold, the head of the cheerleaders only wants a guy to take her out on a real date, and the captain of football team yearns to be an artist. No surprise, everything magically works out in the end for all involved and everyone is much better off after Charlie’s meddling. While there are certain elements of the film that are thought provoking, overall it is predictable and heavy-handed.

What is most disappointing about the film is the underutilization of some great actors. Robert Downey Jr. does the best he can, with a weak script and poor dialogue, as the high school principal with an alcohol problem; his scenes are the only somewhat bright moments of the picture. Hope Davis is also good as the mom struggling to help her son while trying to deal with her own problems but her character is never fully developed and she comes off at times as just plain crazy.

The special features do not warrant much discussion. There is a commentary track with the director Jon Poll, Yelchin, and Dennings. This is Poll’s directorial debut; his experience is in film editing which is questionable after watching the film. A music video for “Voodoo” by Spiral Beach is also included.

If you are looking for a good film about teenage angst this isn’t it, instead of wasting 90 minutes on this unforgettable mess go with a classic instead, such as The Breakfast Club.


Written by Hombre Divertido

Mike Myers has developed another character with comedic potential, but fails to provide said character with a script, supporting cast, director, or editor, to round out the comedic equation.

Guru Pitka (Myers) is hired by the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Jessica Alba) to council lovelorn superstar Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco). Vern Troyer is thrown in as the coach of the team so that Pitka can make jokes about the vertically challenged Troyer. The addition of Troyer is indicative of the film as a whole. The character of Pitka is funny, but the story is not, subsequently gags are inserted in an effort to add humor where there is none. The technique would work in a post 12:30 Saturday Night Live sketch, but it simply is not enough over the course of this 88-minute disappointment.

Justin Timberlake gives an energized performance as the well-endowed nemesis of Roanoke, but he is the only bright spot in the supporting cast. Alba, Malco, Troyer, and the horribly miscast Ben Kingsley are simply not funny and leave Myers longing for Mindy Sterling, Seth Green, or himself in another character.

Comedic announcers have become a standard in sports-themed films, and here the talented Jim Gaffigan and Stephen Colbert are employed to bring laughs to the hockey scenes. Unfortunately, the writing is so bad, that the only hope for hockey humor is to make Colbert a recovering addict. No goal.

Writers Myers and Graham Gordy manage some funny acronyms for Pitka to spew on his faithful followers, but the well-wishes expression “Mariska Hargitay” went over the heads of the audience. Almost as far over their heads as this assignment went over the head of first time director Marco Schnabel. The pacing is uneven and the set-ups for the jokes are horribly obvious and heavy handed.

Recommendation: The fecal funnies and booger bombs may appeal to the young, but the Myers faithful will be disappointed by this effort. Not enough comedy for a film that is less than an hour and a half long, and certainly less than enough comedy for you to spend your money on.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Written by El Fangorio

When you first look at the artwork for Paramount’s 1973 film The Optimists, you would be think it’s a musical. It’s got a colorfully drawn image of Peter Sellers in period costume, smiling away, holding a ukulele and clicking his heels. There’s even a cute little mutt next to him, standing on its hind legs, seemingly dancing. Within this illustration is imagery implying more dancing and singing. Even the lettering used for the title has little suns and stars within its bright blue and gold font, implying sunny days and golden moments of happiness. Alas, you’d be better off sitting outside in the rain writing a suicide letter, than trying to ring some cheerfulness out of this dreary little flick. A self-proclaimed pessimist, I have no problem admitting that I hated The Optimists.

The film concerns itself with the poor ex-vaudevillian Sam (Peter Sellers) who is trying to make a living as a street musician singing the songs of a time gone by that obviously nobody cares about anymore. Even his feeble dog’s attempt at feigning a lame leg seems to go unnoticed by the busy passerby, that is until it catches the attention of two children, siblings Liz and Mark (Donna Mulane and John Chaffey). Their boredom, matched with the unwelcoming situations going on back home, cause them to gravitate towards this seemingly cheerful character and his cute little mongrel. At first Sam is annoyed by their presence as he’s become somewhat jaded of children being alone for so long, but they soon grow on him as he realizes that they look to him for some sort of parental guidance. He goes on to show them some of the important lessons in life (such as responsibility, hard work, even death) and in the end, though the sun still hasn’t come out, they’ve all learned that life isn’t all that bad even in the dreary old perpetually muddy slums of London.

First off, this film isn’t a musical. The only tunes to be heard are the little numbers he plays for the public and though they are certainly more enjoyable than his lack of tips would imply, they are few and short. As for dancing, the dog hopping on one leg is the closest thing you’re going to get. Even that is sort of depressing as again, nobody gives a shit if he’s crippled. Did I mention the dog dies? Now you don’t have to watch the film.

It’s also important to note that this film was originally made with Danny Kaye in mind who would have probably made all the difference since, even when he’s playing a sad man, he still looks like the friendly type you just want to hug and pet on the head. Sellers, probably because he wanted to show a more dramatic side to his persona (this is still six years before Chance the Gardner), plays this part with too much seriousness. I’m pretty sure he would scare most kids, eventually warming up to them and boring them to death.

As for the kids, they do a decent enough job. Like most British children in film, everything they do seems more charming than their American counterparts. I’m pretty sure all parents wish their kids talked with funny British accents and acted like little adults. I know I would if I had children.

The setting are just as cheerless as the kids come from a rotten home where the dad works all day in the factory and the mom stays at home bitching about it. They are so poor that the little boy has to crap in a plastic bowl. Sam also lives in squalor with the pained memories of his dead wife who he still talks about as if she were alive. He’s probably even a little daft but that is to be expected given his situation. Needless to say, these usually don’t make for uplifting cinematic moments unless there’s Gene Wilder and a nearby candy factory involved.

Also, this film takes place entirely on overcast days, making this one dreary little flick. It’s too rainy to even be a ‘rainy-day movie.’ I would understand if it was so that the inevitable breaking of the sun in the end would indicate that all is well again but even then, the sky stays gray. If you’re anything like me, certain films play better at certain times, sometimes certain seasons even (horror films in the evening, Westerns in the summer), but you’d be hard pressed to find the ideal time to watch this. Maybe after a favorite uncle dies? I don’t know.

It’s probably a British thing that I don’t grasp but The Optimists does have its fair amount of fans. Legend Films has done them a favor by rescuing this from the vaults at Paramount with a proper release that boasts a fine transfer considering the elements at hand. Though in a perpetual gloom, the scenery does make for some nice cinematography as only the early ‘70s could, rendering the film’s palette to appear much richer than it really is with its royal blues, burgundy reds, and forest greens. The mono audio isn’t the strongest but that’s probably because everyone talks like bloody fucking Londoners that only bloody fucking Londoners can understand. Needless to say, subtitles would have been a most welcomed addition (something that Legend Films has yet to learn). Like most of their recent releases, Legend Films graces the film’s DVD cover with the original artwork, a practice that I can’t help but commend every time.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Written by Fumo Verde

Totally Baked is a hybrid, a mix between a movie and a documentary or as they call it a “Pot-U-mentary” which makes even harder to follow for non-stoned people. Director Lee Abbott blatantly comes out by trying to disprove the lies that have been embedded in our society since the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. The film’s main story centers on a high school debate reunion (you had to be high to even come up with that), but it cuts back and forth between stand-up comics, sketches, and what at times feels like real people who smoke pot discussing how it has affected their lives.

As stoners, new stuff coming at us on the screen is cool and trippy. Was I high when I watched this? What are you high? Come on, my pen name translates into "I smoke green." But even with the generous puffs I was taking of the bud, the movie only got some jaded laughs from me. I, like all of you who fire up the sweet herb, already know the facts, so this story was preaching to the choir. Let me break it down so we all don’t get confused and forget where the lighter is.

The captain of the debate team has his old high school team over, but just before the party starts, two medical marijuana activists take refuge from the law and hold the team hostage. Enter the captain’s ex-wife with smoking hot teenage daughter in tow. The ex is having a conniption because she found a roach in the girl’s purse. She then lights up a cig, and facts appear on the screen telling the deaths caused by cigarettes each year. She then takes a swig of scotch and again the screen fills with facts about alcohol-related deaths. As this part of this story goes on, the “activists” get the debate team stoned off their asses, so eventually the captain has to talk seriously about weed to his smoking-hot teenage daughter, a thing most parents never seem to get right.

In plain stoner truth, the storyline was weak, but the way over-the-top acting was crucial to make the stereotypes palatable. The smoking-hot daughter, played a normal character; everyone else in the film part was way outside. The documentary parts gave me a chuckle or two. William Atherton, who I love as Jerry Hathaway in Real Genius, plays the CEO of Fun Onions. His performance was the best in this whole flick. He made me laugh, and the idea of telling people that smoking pot keeps you from becoming gay was rich.

I understand and highly agree with Abbott, but this film won’t change the current situation on the laws regarding pot and it won’t be seen by anyone but stoners. Slowly things are changing, and as the narrator, who could only be seen by the stoned people in the movie, and us of course, said it best, as the next generation gradually takes over the laws will change.

This movie is a sidebar to what we all recognize as a futile effort to keep people from doing what they want to do. I applaud the cast and crew and Mr. Abbott for taking a shot at what we see as hypocrisy against the chemical Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, but even smoking bowls of Train Wreck couldn’t make this movie any better. I bet if I were sober it would have really sucked. The extras, oh yeah, there wasn’t anything good at all. If you find it in the 99-cent bin in your local CVS, then maybe, but you would have to be pretty baked to get it and think it was cool. If it comes on cable and you got time to blow, go for it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Written by El Fangorio

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), is one evil S.O.B. His quick rise from poor prospector to oil baron has left many a casualty in his wake. He is the type of man who will exploit a child (newcomer Dillon Freasier), claiming him to be his son, to get families to trust him. And once this child becomes a burden, he will move along and find another face to use. He will take advantage of your generosity, trust, and lack of knowledge and when it comes time for payback, he will still drive you into the dirt. He will admit to wrongdoing only to gain back trust, and then when the time is right, he will remind you how foolish you were to believe him.

Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is a preacher man but is no less corrupt than Plainview. He also has dollar signs in his eyes and when Plainview comes to offer his “help”, he jumps at the chance to make a profit. Under the guise of building a church, his demands for riches far exceed his needs and his delusions of grandeur blur the line between divine intervention and personal gain. He will use his faith to gain support but if given the opportunity to fatten his pockets with a non-believer, he will denounce it without hardly any hesitation.

It is when these two men converge that we are given the timeless epic struggle of Evil against Evil; Money vs. Religion; Oil vs God. No different now than it was over a hundred years ago when this film takes place, the themes at hand are played out with The Good being caught in the crossfire.

An exercise in filmmaking gone by, There Will Be Blood’s deliberate pacing reminded us that it wasn’t that long ago that films weren’t edited with a Cuisinart. Like Kubrick’s before him, Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera lingers on scenes for minutes on end before cutting away, leaving its imagery burned into your memory. His precise mastering of light evokes the past works of Zsigmond, Almendros, and Willis. And like Scorsese, he still accomplishes originality while channeling the masters. The church construction from McCabe and Mrs. Miller, the nocturnal blaze from Days of Heaven, even the bucket spill from Carrie is on hand for those keen enough to notice. It opens like 2001, with its dissolve into landscape and when the titular promise is finally fulfilled, we are reminded of the same film and early man’s first attack with the animal bone.

When There Will Be Blood was released on standard DVD back in April, it made many a reviewer’s top pick for best transfer to date. It set the bar for image resolution which was no easy feat considering the elements used during the filming. It was released as two different editions, a film-only single-disc edition and a Special Collector’s edition with a second disc of special features. Many special collectors were disappointed to find that the second disc consisted of only an hour of supplements, 30 minutes of which being a B&W vintage documentary on oil. The rest of the goods consisted of a slideshow, two trailers, and three deleted scenes. That’s it. As SD consumers await the inevitable release of a quadruple-disc edition (and this film warrants one), will the Blu-ray camp get it right the first time out? And can the already near-perfect image even be improved on? It’s a mixed answer of no (sigh) and YES (!!!).

Ring the double-D alert; we have here a 'demo disc.' This is the one you pop in the player when you want to show off the "miracle of Blu-ray" to friends and neighbors. Hell, this one makes you want to show strangers too. They say that great high definition sometimes results in the image appearing to come off the screen, like 3-D without the aid of special glasses. There are multiple instances in which the film achieves this.

As early as the opening scene of Plainview’s excavating a near-pitch mine, the sparks caused by his pickaxe almost look dangerous. Candlelit faces, surrounded by total darkness, appear to hover like ghosts and you almost feel guilty for not helping out with some of the ropes that seemingly float up and down the screen.

The sound is also an improvement in that, unlike its standard counterpart, it comes uncompressed via 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. This might not be as obvious in its many dialogue scenes but it does play a big factor in some of the louder scenes. Oil gushers cause many a jump while Jonny Greenwood’s shrieking strings jangle the nerves appropriately. And when the film is silent, it is true silence without the hiss that comes with compressed audio.

As for the special features, they are the exact same as the standard release. No joke. 50 gigs of memory available on a Blu-ray disc and they fill it with less than a gig of material. One good thing is that, except for the slideshow, all of the supplements are presented in high-def, something we will soon be taking for granted but for now, really does make a difference when viewing special features on HD systems. And the special features themselves really aren’t that bad as all of it is beneficial to the viewer.

First off is the 1923 documentary, The Story of Petroleum. This B&W silent film, created as a promotional tool for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, chronicles the oil business during the 1920s. It’s a pretty interesting piece and I would even recommend viewing it before the film as it helps put the film in its proper context. Also serving as a reference piece is the slideshow, here titled 15 Minutes. Set to the score of the film, these various elements include vintage photographs, postcards, maps, and newspaper clippings that aided in researching the film. Images are followed by the actual scenes from the film that they inspired, proving once again the depth at which Anderson will go to achieve authenticity. The three deleted scenes, unlike most you see on other releases, are actually quite good. Had they been left in the film, you would even recall them as somewhat key scenes. Rounding out the supps is the film’s teaser and theatrical trailer.

Given the price of this Blu-ray release, there isn’t going to be many laymen that see justifying a double-dip. Supplements, though presented here in HD, are usually the deciding factor for most consumers. However, the improvement in picture quality is more than enough reason for me to recommend it because after all, isn’t image the reason you have Blu-ray? Add to this the fact that Mr. Anderson has a tendency to produce more definitive editions of his films more than a year after their initial release, and you’ve got more than enough justification to go the Blu-ray route.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

After the underappreciated and misunderstood Lady in the Water, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan attempts to return to the simple intensity of his successful Signs, but fails to include any of the elements that lead to said success.

In The Happening, something in the air is causing masses of seemingly normal people to commit suicide. Though the film is full of disturbing imagery that certainly would appeal to the fans of horror movies, it lacks too many other qualities of a good scary movie.

Primarily, no reason is given for us to care about the stars. In fact, exactly the opposite. Our lead characters, if anything, are annoying. Mark Wahlberg plays a high school science teacher who you want to believe early on will figure all this out and solve the problem, but that is not the case. Our hero leads his wife (a horribly miscast Zooey Deschanel) his best friend and fellow teacher (John Leguizamo), and the friends’ daughter (The under-utilized Ashlyn Sanchez) out of the city, cuz that is what you do in all of these movies, except Signs. Hello? M. Night? Signs was good, The Happening isn’t. Let’s learn from this.

The problem is that there is absolutely no character development in this film, and subsequently no attachment to the characters by the audience. Instead, a problem in the marriage of Wahlberg and Deschanel is contrived in an amazingly ridiculous fashion, which doesn’t matter because no one in the audience would ever believe the two of them to be married anyway. In the case of Leguizamo and his daughter; the wife and mother, whom we never meet, is unable to make the same train out of the city, and the uncertainty of her survival is somehow supposed to endear the characters to us.

At only eighty-nine minutes, a substantial amount of time dedicated to properly developing the characters could easily have been added to this film. What was the rush M. Night? Remember in Signs when you invested much of the runtime to introducing us to the family? Did you just feel that you gave us too much story in Lady in the Water, so you thought that you would go the other way in The Happening? Wrong turn.

Also lacking are the subtle “whistling past the graveyard” comedic elements so prevalent in Shyamalan's previous endeavors. The comedy in The Happening, like so many other aspects of this film, simply feels forced. The actors are not able to pull off the scenes involving the subtle comedy due to what appears to be a combination of a poor script and lack of skill.

The one shining star in this dull (M.) Night is Betty Buckley. She gives a nice albeit brief performance as the owner of the country house that serves as refuge for some of the survivors, and she is actually one of the scariest parts of the film. Why? Cuz we learn more about her and her motivation in the brief time she is on camera than all the other characters combined!

Recommendation: As this film bears some similarities to Signs, both versions of War of the Worlds (1953 and 2005), and the recent awful television production of The Andromeda Strain, you would be much better off spending your time and money on Signs, and the 1953 version of War of the Worlds. Note and appreciate the character development in both.


Written by El Fangorio

I was two months late catching Cloverfield in the theater. In Michigan, it had already ended its run, but thanks to a trip to Chicago, I was able to catch it in its last week there at a busy downtown Cinema. There were probably nine people total in our particular theater, and as the film unspooled, I wondered how many would be left by the end, as I’d heard of so many people walking out due to the hand-held camera technique (known now as The Blair Witch Effect).

About 20 minutes in, after the first moments of suspense started to build, my mates and I noticed a couple a few rows ahead get up. Thinking they were leaving due to the shaky-cam effect, we were surprised to see they were just moving down a few rows to the non-stadium seating below. I didn’t pay much attention to them until my friend pointed out that the woman had moved onto her boyfriend’s lap, her feet on the seat ahead of her. Awesome! It was the sign of a great, scary film - so I thought.

Little did I know this couple would embark on some of the most hardcore sex one could ever witness in public (without paying). Because the action onscreen had me in such a state of suspense, dread, and terror, I missed all of it. I didn’t even notice them. We are talking multiple positions, legs in the air, heads-a-bobbin, the whole 69 yards. I know this because one of my friend’s did the opposite and missed all of Cloverfield. I can’t help but talk about this whenever I bring up this film. On the one hand, because it’s probably my only chance of witnessing a crazy-ass spectacle like that, but on a more important note, because it was truly a testament to how effective that film was for me.

For those who don’t already know the plot of the film (and I strongly urge you to stop reading after this paragraph as there be mucho spoilers ahead), a bunch of 20-somethings in NYC throw a going away party for their bud the eve before his departing for Japan. It is this same night that a giant monster rises out of the harbor to wreak havoc on the city and it’s inhabitants.

Since one of the attendees has decided to document the party with their camcorder, we are there to experience the first sign of the monster’s presence, that being a massive rumbling sound. Of course everyone fears that it is another terrorist attack. As they all rush to the balcony to see what’s going on, they witness multiple explosions resulting in buildings crashing down exactly like 9/11.

It isn’t until the Statue of Liberty’s gigantic head comes hurling through the air and crashing down the street that people start to realize that this could be something far worse than a terrorist attack. We soon realize it is worse, and as the rest of panic-stricken Manhattan tries to evacuate the island, five of our heroes attempt to rescue a friend that is trapped in the heart of the action, all the while documenting it with that camera. For the entire film, we see the action unfold as it happens, via this lone camcorder.

I’m well aware that this film has its detractors, but I seriously wonder if they even got it. I don’t think they let themselves experience it as intended by the filmmakers. Almost everyone, while describing the theory of using the first-person method, states, “It’s so you feel like you are there”. Though that it is a result of the process, I don’t think it’s the filmmaker’s intention. If that were indeed the desired affect, then why would the filmmakers even acknowledge the character shooting it? That is to say, why not film the entire thing as if the camera were your eyes?

Instead, like The Blair Witch, the first words on the screen tell us that we are watching discovered footage of something horrible, ‘discovered’ being the key word, because it indicates that it was found by itself, without ownership. How else could it get from these kids to the government unless they handed it over to them, resulting in changing the term from ‘discovered’ to ‘donated’ or ‘with permission from’? No, this much overlooked introduction indicates “these guys are dead now.” It is this sense of dread from the very beginning that we should be feeling, knowing that we are about to actually see how they died as it happened.

I think this misconception is also what causes people to suffer from motion sickness. Since they believe it’s being shot this way so that we feel like we are there, then they are going to process it accordingly, and wish their “eyes” would go where they want (though I’m pretty sure if you were being attacked by Cloverfield, you would not be standing still either).

When you watch somebody’s home movies, would you do the same thing? Would you assume that the amateur filming it was making an attempt to have you feel like you are him? Hell, no. He is documenting. Otherwise we’d be busting out dolly tracks to smooth out that walk over to the new car you’re showing off. Trust me, if all of a sudden, in the middle of this home movie where you were showing off your new car, a big fucking monster popped out, you would not be calm about it. This is exactly what Cloverfield is, though: a home movie where all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a gigantic creature comes charging into the scenery.

For the easily nauseated, quit watching the film like it’s one of those IMAX A Flight Over the Swiss Alps where you look straight ahead and feel like you are actually flying over those damn Swiss Alps. This is a movie, and people who don’t care about anything happening on the screen unless it’s in the center (full-screen idiots, I’m looking in your direction), are going to make the mistake, and start getting sick.

Does this film translate to Blu-ray? Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that it looks even better than standard DVD (and it sure as hell does) and probably even better than in the theater. You can see the creature more clearly and the destruction of the city looks even more realistic, which is quite the feat considering most Blu-ray expose CGI for what it is: fake.

This improvement in total clarity, though, and all around professionalism sort of defeats the purpose of making this film look like it was shot by an amateur with a camcorder that anyone could own. Even some of the grain that was apparent in both the theatrical and DVD versions is missing, which in any other type of film would be an improvement, but here sort of takes away it’s intended gritty realism - but hey, who cares? So long as we can see that awesome monster better, it could be shot in 3-D and I’ll still suspend my disbelief long enough to ‘feel’ this film.

As for sound, it’s the same double-edge sword. Whereas we’ve already accepted the fact going into the film, that there is no way that this tiny amateur camcorder can record sound like this, it’s not such an obstacle to get over. After watching the standard DVD and thinking that the monster’s attacks weren’t nearly loud enough (certainly not as loud as it was in the theater), Blu-ray has corrected that with its TRU HD sound system. This is definitely one to pop in to demonstrate the sound that only Blu-ray is capable of. Shit will fall off the walls if you turn it up loud enough and Grandpa Simpson may even pipe in with a “Turn…it…down!” It’s that powerful. It should be since the loudness of sound plays a huge part in unsettling you (much like that of the aliens in the recent War of the Worlds).

As for extras, it’s unfortunately the same as the standard DVD release, though there is one feature exclusive to Blu-Ray that some will find either cool or stupid. I found it to pretty damn cool. Though this still includes an ample amount of supplements, I say “unfortunate” because you just know that this film is going to get re-released with even more supplements in the future (which appears to be standard procedure).

This practice is justified with standard DVD when a single disc becomes a double disc because of the amount of information that will fit on a standard disc. With Blu-ray, though, we all know that you can fit up to six times the amount of information of a single standard DVD, so why not give it all to us now - especially considering the price difference between the two formats. On the plus side, all of the features were originally filmed in HD, so here we have them in perfect clarity and in a film that relies heavily on digital imagery. This is a major improvement.

Document 01.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield and Cloverfield Visual Effects are two of the longer supplements on the disc, running approximately 30 minutes each. While Document includes interviews with JJ Abrams, the cast, and the director, Visual Effects focuses more on the technical aspects of the film. Both are above average features as they give a lot of information that viewers can benefit from.

The shorter extras are also worth viewing. I saw it! It’s Alive! It’s Huge! is easily the coolest feature on the disc as it not only gives you a better look at the somewhat elusive creature, but it also explains why it acts the way it does. Knowing that the creature is basically a frightened baby going through abandonment issues really makes you look at it’s behavior in a whole new way.

The alternate endings and deleted scenes, per usual, are justified as being omitted, though I do recommend viewing the alternate endings with the commentary as it explains what little was changed. There are also some bloopers on hand with Cloverfun. Add to this an informative commentary by its creator, JJ Abrams, and you have a decent amount of supplements that should satisfy most customers.

As for the exclusive feature titled Special Investigation Mode, you get the option of viewing the film along with a government affiliated GPS tracking device on the side of the screen, informing you of where the creature is, the heroes are, and the location of the incoming military. You also get little blurbs of ‘live’ information (as opposed to film trivia) from the government, including character statistics and analysis of the events unfolding. It’s a lot like watching a DVD with pop-up trivia, only here the information (which is ultimately fictional) is played out as real. It’s supplements like this that justify the extra price of Blu-ray as it’s something that couldn’t have fit on any standard DVD single disc release.

It’s pretty much a no-brainer for this release whether you’re a fan of the film or just a fan of the format. The suspension of disbelief needed was already established in both its theatrical and standard DVD release. With Blu-ray, you may have to keep reminding yourself a little more often, “It’s only a home movie…It’s only a home movie…It’s only a home movie.”


Written by Hombre Divertido

This Hulk is credible at best.

Perhaps better than previous theatrical efforts, this new Hulk is still lacking in many areas.

In the opening credits we are filled in on the events that lead Dr. Bruce Banner to be hiding in Brazil exploring techniques to control his temper. For those familiar with the story, this is an adequate way to provide the information, but those new to the Hulk may be left confused before the film ever gets started. From there director Louis Leterrier delivers 112 minutes of loud action that will go well with a bucket of popcorn and the summer movie season.

That may be enough for some, but those looking for more will be disappointed. The talented cast of Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner, Liv Tyler as love interest Betty Ross, William Hurt as General Ross, father of Betty, and military force behind the original project that resulted in Banner’s Hulk, and Tim Roth as the new military weapon, all give amazingly one-dimensional performances that result in the audience longing for The Hulk to appear. The story too is somewhat one-dimensional, though wel-paced, there is not a lot that is new here.

The special effects that produce the Hulk are for the most part believable though there are scenes where are anti-hero does look a bit cartoonish. The climactic battle scene between our two gamma-induced creatures is fun for a while, but like this film, never really goes anywhere, and leaves the audience scratching their heads as to how the Hulk manages to subdue his opponent long enough for an unexplained transition to occur in the film. Yes, it is obviously left open for a sequel, but that’s no reason not to provide a conclusion to this scene.

There is a musical homage to the classic television series, as well as a nod to Bill Bixby, and the cameo by Lou Ferrigno is sure to put a smile on the face of any true Hulk Fan. On the other hand; the cameo by Robert Downey Jr. lacks the fun that should have been generated by the introduction of the Avenger Initiative and Nick Fury in Iron Man. The required appearance of Stan Lee simply served as a wasted opportunity for what should have been a fun scene and special effects opportunity had the writers bothered to explore the concept rather than just tell us that his character had been exposed to Gamma poisoning.

Recommendation: A fun summer movie for the kids, but simply too one-dimensional and too many missed opportunities for adults. Catch Iron Man instead.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

You can mess with the Zohan all you want, but under no circumstances should you ever pay money or spend time on this film.

In my review of Leatherheads I had touted it as the worst movie of the year. Zohan makes Leatherheads look Oscar-worthy. How the brilliant comedic minds of writers Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, and Judd Apatow were able to take such a ripe premise, and spend 113 minutes yielding so few laughs, is in itself quite amazing.

In this disaster Sandler plays the Zohan, a superhuman commando who longs to leave the Middle East for peaceful life in the U.S. as a hair stylist. In a battle with his arch nemesis The Phantom (John Turturro, who continues to take roles that distance himself from a career as an actor), the Zohan manages to fake his death and make his way to America where he does indeed become a hair stylist and more.

There is little else here. The cast is talented, but even the usually funny Rob Schneider is left to chew scenery. Some of the bits would not work regardless as they just go on too long. The scene in which the Zohan is attempting to prove himself at the salon by insuring that no hair ends up on the floor is a perfect example. It is smile-worthy, but is completely overdone. Director Dennis Dugan, whose credits primarily consist of Sandler vehicles or productions, appears to be completely in over his head here, though the ultimate blame has to go to the writers. This material simply isn’t funny.

There are some interesting casting choices as well. Michael Buffer as the rich American trying to tear down the neighborhood where the Zohan now resides has the audience waiting for a “Let’s Get Ready To Crum-ble!” in reference to his career. It is equally disturbing seeing John McEnroe dance with his shirt off, and Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) from The Facts of Life in a stage of undress. They did manage to make Chris Rock look unfunny, Mariah Carey look stiffer than usual, and give Barry (Ernie from My Three Sons) Livingston a nice role.

On the bright side; the cinematography is pleasant to look at, and the soundtrack is fun.

Young kids may find the physical antics of the Zohan amusing; unfortunately the crude and sexual content should preclude their attendance.

Recommendation: No, No, No! Being tied up and forced to watch Billy Madison and Mr. Deeds on TBS would be more enjoyable than messing with the Zohan again.


Written by Fantasma el Rey

The senior prom looms and all poor Otis wants is to take the lovely “Kim” as his date. He has the kick-ass tux, the hot car, and those wicked dance moves. All he needs is Kim and her family to say yes. Too bad Otis is a complete psycho and his prom was twenty years ago. So follow me now, if you dare, into the sick and twisted world of Otis. I shall be your guide on the ten-peso tour of the dark comedy, horror movie that turns the happy suburban sitcom world on edge as well as provides a new look at a played-out genre.

Otis, directed by Tony Krantz, is a clever play on the gore fest, teen slashers that most folks love and tend to think is what horror should be. It opens straight away with whom the serial killer is, how he tortures his victims, and why he does what he does to them as he catches it all on camera. After the accidental death of victim number five, we even get to see how he abducts the girls. So with that, we’re not spending the film looking for a killer, leaving what happens next the fun of Otis and why I kept watching for just over an hour and a half.

Otis (Bostin Christopher) and his new “Kim,” real name Riley (Ashley Johnson), he names them all “Kim,” begin to spend quality time in his torture garage, where he builds different makeshift sets to act out his courtship. He asks her out after the football game, takes her to a movie, and drives her around in his cooler-than-ice Trans Am. He is even proper enough to ask her parents for permission to escort her to the prom. What a guy, just a sweet kid really, who has gone a bit nuts after his parents have died and he is watched over by his older brother (played brilliantly by Kevin Pollak), who has a life of his own.

The family of Otis’ latest captive (father Daniel Stern, mother Illeana Douglas, brother Jared Kusnitz) decides to get involved as days go by and the seemingly inept and rude F.B.I. agents have no leads. The family takes matters into their own hands after receiving a call from the now-free Kim, who escaped on the hilariously sad prom night. So with Riley safe in the hospital and armed with household weapons and an evil, vengeful plan from Hell, they skulk off to the run-down residence of one Otis Broth.

Once inside the fun really begins as they wait for Otis to arrive after a long shift of pizza delivery. The door opens and the family rains down bloody havoc on the savage that abused and raped their loved one, torturing him to a brutal end; too bad it’s Otis’ brother. Oops. Once they find this out, the family of crazed killers must cover their tracks and stay cool.

Twisting, twisting, the story goes as Otis discovers the video of his mean-spirited brother’s demise and the Feds find out the truth to boot. But have no fear the Feds are hep and understand the wrath of a family in pain; they let them slide and do confide that if they could, they would do the same. No charges pressed and no striped suits to detest so all ends happily ever after, right? Wrong. What of Otis and his fate? We know he must avenge the death of his brother and reclaim his “Kim,” the genre demands this. Yet, alas my fiends that is a story for another film or is it?

Seriously that’s how it ends, well pretty much. I can’t spoil the very end of the film for you, Ghoulies, you’ll have to see it for yourselves. I do hope that Otis goes without a sequel though; leaving the film as it is gives it more meaning. A “part two,” which I do admit could be interesting if we get more of a back story about the original Kim, would put it in the same bag as all the other stupid movies it pokes fun at. I would hate to see it go on and on past its potency much like the horror films and spoofs that go beyond a second outing.

The uncut DVD has a few extras that are interesting like the audio commentary from director Krantz and writer Erik Jenderson. Two good extras to look upon are the “festive” alternate ending and the showing of the movie that Otis brings Kim to. Those two add a bit more to the movie as far as what Big O does to his girls and the alt. ending makes you wonder which is best. The DVD also includes a making of featurette with a closer look at what the cast and crew think of the film. So check it out I did and got a kick out of it once I got past the gore for gore sake's, which isn’t all that much anyway.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Like teleportation, we are thrown into Jumper with a “whoosh” of information and left a little bit shaken. Unfortunately, the rest of the film never really regains a firm footing.

Based on a novel by science-fiction writer Steven Gould, Jumper, directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) introduces us to the life of David Rice (Hayden Christensen), a teleporter, or jumper, who must try to survive in a world where he is being hunted by paladins, i.e. people that kill jumpers.

Before credits are rolled, an older David tells us of his past and his first encounter with teleportation. During a near fatal accident, he teleports himself to his town library and realizes that this secret cannot be told to anyone, so he leaves. Years later, David is living in a beautiful apartment in New York City, where he can be anywhere in the world. When he journeys home and meets up with his childhood sweetheart Millie (Anna Sophia Robb) whom he takes on a trip to Rome, he gets himself in trouble with another jumper and the paladins, headed by Roland played by Samuel L. Jackson.

David is a stubborn and pompous young man. It is very hard to like a character that lives a life so privileged without consequences and who doesn’t seem to care about anyone else but himself. In fact, when Millie is re-introduced into his life, she asks no questions of where he has been, but falls in love with him anyway.

The fight becomes part of a war between good and evil, right and wrong. But Roland wants to kill David just for being different; David has only committed small crimes, not worthy of a death sentence. There is never an explanation of why he is being hunted. Roland has an intense hatred of jumpers and puts himself in a position to restore morality and normalcy to humanity. Apparently, jumpers take advantage of a normal society, but they have supernatural powers, why not use them?

The fantasy of this film is incredible. David moves from London to Rome to Egypt in a way that is pleasing and fun to watch. But these escapist moments are overdone and become meaningless once they are repeated so many times.

Even with beautiful CGI techniques and awesome action scenes, the story is so loosely put together that it becomes more unbelievable than its premise. There are holes in the back-stories and no development within the characters, so the jumping becomes the most interesting thing to watch. Whoosh.

With the idea of unlimited travel and hints of paranoia and discrimination Jumper should make for an awesome sci-fi action film, but it travels as fast as David, and not all of us can catch up.

The DVD extras on “Jumper” include commentary by the director and producers along with deleted scenes. But there are many extras that one should take a look at if they wanted more from the film. These include “Making an Actor Jump” which explains how they figured out to teleport someone. This is very helpful and interesting for anyone that wants to know more about the techniques used in action films.


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Apparently everyone has marriage on the mind, but this is not new. Hollywood loves the idea of a happy endings and that means tying the knot to secure it. Not saying that this is an outdated idea, but when it is forced down young women’s throats that women can only be happy when married, it leaves you with a more uncomfortable feeling than a bad bridesmaid dress.

27 Dresses stars Katherine Heigl and is directed by Anne Fletcher, a famous choreographer, and features Edward Burns and James Marsden as the leading men. That is a nice little cast, but pretty faces only go so far.

We begin with the back-story of Jane’s (Heigl) obsession with weddings. She sees them as a calling; the same way great artists or composers are drawn to their craft. Flash forward and she is a New York assistant to a self-made businessman George (Burns) whom she is in love with. Her true calling is weddings, not only being the maid of honor, but also submersing herself into every aspect of the occasion. And yet, for someone that claims weddings are her calling, she is still unhappy. When she introduces her sister to George, they fall madly in love and Jane is then asked to plan the wedding for her sister to the man she is in love with. In the middle of all this, she meets Kevin Doyle, her favorite wedding announcement writer, who falls for her, but uses her to further his career.

It is not that this film did not have good intentions, it’s just that all the ingredients weren’t mixed right—and that is frustrating in a predictable genre. Heigl’s character seems to be the perfect leading lady, but she comes off as pathetic and self-loathing. Desperation is never fun to watch on screen, especially when it deals with marriage. The biggest problem is her lack of action in any situation that she is in. The whole world knows she is in love with her boss, but she does nothing. She claims to have a strong bond with her sister, but she says nothing. She is left pouting and doing things she doesn’t want to do.

The only smart character in the film, Kevin (Marsden) ends up getting punished for his actions and made to look ridiculous. He is always the voice of reason, even coaching Jane to say “no” because she is simply too nice. He gets what he wants, makes mistakes and falls in love, all without pouting or being untrue to himself.

Beneath the veil of marriage comes the very important theme of one’s own happiness and the idea of knowing when to say “no.” But even this very important backbone to the film, is never developed and at the climax of the movie, when Jane finally says something to her sister, she is punished and must pick up the pieces. The film is about being true to oneself, but Jane only gets that when she is the one walking down the isle.

Every single girl gets a strange slap of reality after attending a wedding, questions of when and to whom one will get married run through our heads. In 27 Dresses Jane keeps saying how much she loves marriage and weddings, but really she is passively hinting at her own need for a perfect wedding. But marriage isn’t the ultimate happiness; one must be true to themselves. 27 Dresses tries to remain cute and pleasing to watch, but it doesn’t really know what it is trying to say, and like a slap of reality from weddings, it’s uncomfortable.

The DVD extras for this film are definitely for lovers of weddings and dresses. These include deleted scenes from the film, a making of, along with a couple of featurettes that are fun to watch. A favorite being “You’ll Never Wear that Again” which gets into all of the dresses that were chosen for this film.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

Written by Pollo Misterioso

Blood, aliens, predators, and carnage. Not much more is needed in a cult science fiction film. Directors of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Colin and Greg Strause kept it that way and it is exactly what it needed to be.

This would be the fourth film that Predator has made an appearance and the sixth for the creatures referred to as Aliens. Being that the first AvP was so successful, it was time to make a sequel where the war between the two species continues.

AvPR begins with the creation of Predalien- an alien that came from a Predator host. Once this species takes over the Predator ship, it crashes into Earth and begins its usual breeding rituals. From the Predator homeland, a Predator is sent out to destroy this creature and other aliens that are there. The humans, not knowing what is happening in their town, call in the National Guard, and only our nuclear weapons can save us.

The war between Aliens and Predators in this film plays out more like a game of cat and mouse. The Aliens get to have all the fun, terrorizing this innocent town. Predator is on clean-up duty—erasing all evidence of what has happened, all while trying to track down the Predalien to seek revenge.

The film plays like a silent movie. Many of the scenes are without dialogue, being that our main characters do not speak. In fact, with the very few lines of dialogue that there are, there is no real information given. Unlike the first AvP humans are not friends and the humans are not what drive the story. The people are not what matters here, they just play as carnage.

This film is eye-candy for Alien and Predator lovers. There is a creation of a new creature and the death toll is impressive and graphic. Let’s say that they don’t bother with any horror genre codes: the children, the women and even the pregnant women are killed off. Before, humans had stumbled into their territory, now the creatures have fallen into ours and the humans are not ready for it.

Of course, there are many expectations to be held in a movie like this. AvPR tries to pay homage to its proceeding films, but these moments are forced and shallow. One of our characters screams, “Get to the chopper!”—but if it’s not Arnold, don’t remind us that it’s not Arnold.

In previous films, there was always a seriousness and undertone of technology and man. AvPR does not carry this tone, but makes an interesting point by the end of the movie. It is the humans that end up killing off both of the creatures and our government that okayed for the killing of the entire town to do so. In the last moments of the film, there is a chilling reality that we are our worst enemy.

This film plays perfectly within the genre that it is a part of, never taking itself too seriously all while being entertaining. If you are in the mood to see some of the most famous sci-fi creatures battle on screen, with lots of human wreckage, see this film.

The DVD extras are definitely for true fans of these films. Some of my favorite featureetes include “Creating the Predalien” and “Building the Predator Homeworld.” There are three other featurettes, deleted scenes, still photo galleries and commentary by the directors and producers. This is worth watching if you are interested in the production and background of these characters.


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Rob Reiner is good at making feel-good movies. Somehow they always make us cry and laugh during the same viewing. The Bucket List is more proof of Reiner’s working model, but it also brings up interesting views of age, life, and family.

Starring Jack Nicholson as a billionaire named Edward and Morgan Freeman as a worn-down mechanic named Carter, these two pair up as the most unlikely of friends, and it works.

Both of these men find out that they have fatal cancer and will pass away within the year. They are in the same hospital room when they are both diagnosed and decide after their short time together that they will create a “bucket list” of all the things that they want to do before they die. With that, Carter says goodbye to his wife and Edward (who obviously has enough money to do all that they desire) are off. They travel to China, to France, and even to the Himalayas for Mt. Everest. But skydiving and tattooing are also a part of the list. Then there are the more personal goals, dealing with family and the ones that you love.

Both of these actors are phenomenal. Morgan Freeman’s voice is so reassuring, that with his opening narration to the film there is a sense that this movie is for everyone. Nicholson is hilarious to watch. Some of his expressions are priceless and with one eyebrow raise, he is your best friend and your worst enemy. By casting these two well-established actors, the film becomes inviting and people want to see it.

But these actors have clearly aged and that is what the film is about. The glamour is stripped away and you are left with a new pair of best friends that have been your best friends for years. Both Freeman and Nicholson are embracing their journey through Hollywood and now they get to sit back and play aging men. Piece of cake.

Besides coming to terms with one's own death, there are many other issues of the adult world that are explored in this movie. Carter is trying to come to terms with his wife, his high school sweetheart and the only woman that he has ever been with. It is a different kind of love that he must find and come to terms with. As for Edward, he has alienated everyone that he knows and does not want to die alone.

As the men cross off each item on the list, they test themselves and each other. But as Carter says to Edward “find the joy in your life,” the audience is left to reflect on what happiness, love and our joy we have.

This film is part of the perfect formula that Reiner has produced countless times. But the thing is, it works. “The Bucket List” makes you believe in the good in people and the struggles that we all go through to become better. And that is always nice to watch.

The DVD extras for The Bucket List include an interesting interview with the screenwriter Justin Zackham called “Writing a Bucket List” about his own bucket list that he made. There is also web access when the DVD is played in a computer and John Mayer music video for the song “Say.”


Written by Guest Reviewer Jennifer Dysart

As an hour-long special made for TV in 1997 (and reedited in 2005), Whose Land is This? uncovers the unique situation of contemporary land claims in British Columbia. Most of Canada’s land mass was divided up in treaties signed by the European newcomers and the Aboriginal peoples in the late 1800s and early 1900s that fundamentally acknowledged but diminished Aboriginal people’s rights to the land. However, this documentary effectively uncovers why land claims in B.C. are a current-day hot topic despite that bit of Canadian history: it is a little-known (but much studied) fact that unlike the other provinces, B.C. failed to deal with the legal issue of Aboriginal land title prior to joining confederation of Canada in 1871. Except for a few treaties that covered small parcels of land on Vancouver Island issued by Hudson’s Bay Company representative Sir James Douglas, B.C. did not make formal agreements that identified who has rights to what in B.C., which sets the stage for the high tensions that surround the issue more than a century later.

The filmmaker, Richard Hersley, interviews a wide range of people, including elders, academics who have studied the Aboriginal and provincial history and politics, and Aboriginal leaders who were integral to the long battle to have the issue revisited in Nation to Nation negotiations and/or litigation. What the experts agree is that indeed there is a strong case for land claims that will redesign the borders of the province.

As an educational special made for TV, this documentary takes a journalistic approach with its unidentified narrator, abundance of archival photos, and oral recounts of written and oral history. The research is impeccable, and the film excels at peeling away the layers of governmental jargon, media anxiety, and general misunderstanding that has plagued the land-claims issue for decades. Yet, with a re-edit completed in 2005, Hersley might have explored what developments (or lack of them) have surfaced in the eight years since the documentary was first shot.

Through the on-the-street-interviews with strangers of various ethnicities in Vancouver, B.C., filmmaker Richard Hersley gently teases out the discomfort and lack of awareness that non-indigenous Canadians have of the history of First Nations land claims and juxtaposes them with voices of the younger Aboriginal population. Their politically and culturally strong opinions about the meaning of land ownership in B.C. exemplifies that the question Whose Land is This? is worth asking, regardless of the decade in which it is asked.

The DVD can be ordered through the First Nations Films website.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Written by El Fangorio

I’ll try and make this one short and sweet as I’m sure many of you have fond memories of this 1981 spoof of slasher films: Student Bodies is pretty damn lame. Maybe it’s because we were 13. Maybe it’s because the conventions of the slasher film are no longer absurd enough to warrant a parody of them. Maybe it’s because we used to be a little bit on the retarded side. Who knows? All I know is that I probably laughed three times total during this film. With that said, it’s still a welcome addition to the format, and we have Legend Films to thank for reminding us that some films are worth unearthing if solely for preservation’s sake.

Toby, the school virgin, is losing all her friends to an unknown stalker, and everyone is a suspect. The killer is using such zany objects as paper clips and eggplants to do the job and when he’s not using a rubber chicken to make prank phone calls, he’s busy panting around in his goulashes, trying not to step on too much gum. If your pants are still dry after hearing those nuggets, fret not as there are also drooling phones, meowing dogs, and farting corpses. Throw in a giant, skinny, quadruple-jointed actor who goes by the name of “The Stick,” and you’ve got a film that plays infinitely better in your childhood memory. Because let’s face it, at the end of the day, it’s all about Malvert.

What surprises me most about this film is what little it has to do with particular slasher films of the time. There really is no reference to any actual one, just a jab at the formula, which is that if you are a teen and having sex, you will be killed with a bizarre weapon by an unseen killer. To be fair, the opening is both a riff on Halloween and When a Stranger Calls, but after that Student Bodies is usually just hoping that it can get by on POV shots and heavy breathing. The numbers that flash on the screen to let you know the body count used to be funny back when a body count seemed bizarre, but now it just wears thin as does the repetition of showing everyone having sex while offering no nudity. The filmmakers do find a way to still ensure an R rating and it’s one of the two laughs available here.

It’s not surprising then that the creators of this film chose to have their names removed. Its production is credited to one Allen Smithee, this being none other than Michael Ritchie who gave us such ‘70s classics as The Bad News Bears, Prime Cut, and Smile. Some have said that the Smithee is only due to the writers’ strike going on at the time but I beg to differ. Though it would explain all of the first-time actors on hand, it’s too much of a coincidence that this film is also a big POS.

Legend Films still manages to polish a turd by giving a terrific widescreen 1.78 transfer. Though a little washed out in some of the exterior scenes, I’m sure this is due to the source print and the monkeys behind the camera. The mono audio is decent enough and this time out, they’re able to provide us with a trailer, proving that they do think about these things when available. Another nice touch is the original artwork used for the DVD case as it was quite the iconic image from the days of “mom and pop” video shops.


Written by Fumo Verde

As heavy bombing from the allies started to hit the towns and cities of the Fatherland, German leaders came up with the idea of going underground with not only their ammunitions and supplies, but with entire factories. Director Michael Kloft gives us never-before-seen film footage of these tunnels and caves during their wartime-production heyday along with footage of what these facilities look like today. In these dark labyrinths where V-rockets were manufactured along with some of the world’s first jet planes, the audience gets to explore some of the deepest secrets the Nazis held.

Hitler and the German High Command were at first reluctant to put their production plants underground, but after the heavy and strategic air-bombing campaign carried on by the Allies, which really reeked havoc in the summer of ’43, Albert Speer was able to convince Nazi leaders into doing just that. Starting first by expanding mines that were already in use and utilizing the slave labor force they had gathered from their occupied territories, the Nazis were able to move entire war production plants deep under the earth. The Allies knew of about 300 by 1943, but German files bring the number to somewhere around 800 underground emplacements, which made bombs, planes, ball bearings, and other goods that fed the Nazi war machine. Some of the tunnels ran for miles, such as the one by the banks of the river Neckar in Baden-Wurttemberg. This place was used to also house NATO forces during the Cold War and is still in use today by the German government.

To see the massive size of some of these manmade caves really blew my mind. The labor that had to go into it was incredible and the poor souls who had to do it were there to work until they were dead. Even though these places were factories, making tools of war, they were also death camps of which a prisoner’s only way out was that final big sleep. All of these underground places were sealed up by the Americans and British but today the German government has opened some of the tunnels up to make sure they will not collapse in on themselves and destroy whatever may be above. This is how Kloft was able to go inside and give us a real picture of how big and how extensive the tunnels of the Nazis were. Even now, parts of these places are falling apart and it is up to the German government to decide on how to fix them or to destroy them altogether.

This is an interesting subject for those who are very involved in the history of WWII, but it never seemed to get up and go. It was like I was waiting with Geraldo and watching them open Capone’s vault all over again. Sure, some of the tunnels are in use, but we don’t get to see the inner workings of those places. This doc was one of those that is very interesting and has a lot of unknown facts, but it never really caught my attention. Admittedly, there was footage never seen before, but even this seemed to look the same as all the other Nazi atrocities I have watched over the years.

If The Reich Underground comes on the History Channel, then yes, I would watch it, but as for adding it to my already extensive WWII collection, I wouldn’t have bought it.