Tuesday, September 30, 2008

SLEEPING BEAUTY (Two-Disc Platinum Edition)

Written by Puño Estupendo

As if the world needed another reminder of how wonderful Walt Disney used to be, here's the 50th Anniversary edition of Sleeping Beauty for you to marvel at in its two-disc glory. I haven't seen it in years, and if you haven't either, prepare to be bowled over. This is a wonderful digital restoration with an enhanced picture that gives you the full scope of the film frame. Once you see it like this (or if it's your first time ever seeing it), it's just a beautiful thing to look at. Sleeping Beauty seems to have dropped off in importance compared to other classics like Snow White or Cinderella, but after this version comes out, that might change.

This is all about the technical side of things. You know the story of Sleeping Beauty but you've never seen it like it's presented here, and that is the selling point. With an all-new 5.1 surround sound and a 2:55:1 widescreen enhancement, we finally have the tech side that can match its grandeur and scope. But don't let that turn you off if you don't have a huge, over-the-top setup at home. This is a wonderful fairy tale that would work on pretty much any color television. I can't see adults or children not being enthralled with this fantastic movie.

Disney has loaded the second disc with all sorts of goodies as well. The "Making Of Sleeping Beauty" documentary is quite extensive and is maybe geared a bit too much towards the movie snobs out there, but after seeing everything (and it seems as if everything is covered) that went into the production for this 1959 masterpiece, it's well worth sitting through. The level of detail that went into the film is mind-boggling, and through interviews and historians, I appreciate Sleeping Beauty on a whole new level and chances are you will, too.

There's also a "virtual tour" of the Sleeping Beauty castle attraction at Disneyland which has been closed for years. They recreated it visually as a walkthrough, even restoring original elements of the attraction that had been roped off years before they closed it down. By selecting a different audio track, you can get a verbal history of the original tour, and I highly recommend it. In fact, I think the making of and virtual tour are mandatory watching in this set. The supplementals here can be a bit long-winded, but they really give you added appreciation for the movie. Usually supplemental discs let me down, but this one is warranted and I enjoyed most of it. Deleted songs, alternate opening sequence add up to a long list of bonuses.

The only bad here is what everybody usually gripes about with Disney discs. The shameless self promotion and weak tie-ins to what they've got going on now are tiresome and insulting to this masterpiece. Having a video where "Hannah Montana's Emily Osment" sings the only musical number from the film, "Once Upon A Dream," is so out of place and without any need at all. It belittles the accomplishment of this release and I find it distasteful to have sullied this movie with that. Luckily though, there's an option you can select and bypass all of their commercials at the beginning of the disc. But seriously, I think it's ridiculous to even have to go through that trouble in the first place. Why they feel the need to soil what made the company is beyond me. Put that stuff on the Disney Channel releases, keep it off of your big guns. No place for it and it seems gross.

Having gotten that off my chest, I have to say you should pick this one up. If you have kids or even if you don't, it's a win-win situation. Following through on their "Limited Time Only" practice, you have no excuses not to grab it asap.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Written by Fumo Verde

When I was growing up Sunday afternoons meant one thing, Kung Fu Theater. My friends and I were so into it, we tried to make our own. That’s when video cameras where half the size of you or at least they weighed like it. Hence, I took a shot on The Rebel from Dragon Dynasty, and I was not disappointed. The story centers around the oppressive French rule of Vietnam or French Indo-China as it was known in 1922. The French use other Vietnamese to do most of their dirty work, and our hero is one of these men. As the film progress, the hero played by Johnny Tri Nguyen, comes to understand why the rebels are rebelling, he also falls in love for the heroine played by Veronica Ngo. As in most Kung Fu movies, the good guys suffer but in the end they defeat their enemies as they come to grips with their own internal problems. Director Charlie Nguyen captures this along with some incredible fight scenes.

The mindset of the early 20th century was still the same mindset of the past 200 years: if you weren’t a white European or a white North American, you were considered sub-human, so killing you, because you gave me the stink eye or whistled at my woman wasn’t a big deal. The brutality of most conquerors over their newly inherited subjects is usually one of disdain and contempt with a belief that these sub-humans should be thankful for us saving them. With this as the backdrop the viewer quickly identifies with the underdog, and has you waiting for the shift in momentum when the repressor gets repressed. I found myself shouting at characters urging them to fight their enemy. Charlie Nguyen artfully builds the climax and draws it out just a little more; this makes the viewer want to get up in there and fight.

Now they say on the back jacket Johnny Tri Nguyen is a double agent. You get the feeling from the start that he should be with the rebels, but it doesn;t happen until he meets the rebel girl played by the beautiful Veronica Ngo. Her character gets tortured and beat down, but she always rebounds and kicks ass.

My favorite character has to be 21 Jump Street's own, Dustin Tri Nguyen. He plays the role of the evil sadistic captain who follows out the French colonel’s orders with a coolness that Fonzie couldn’t even match. During the fight sequences, where everyone is going balls out, Dustin moves like he’s in slow motion. I started to call him "the Terminator" because nothing was stopping him. The only thing I didn’t like is how they made him wig out when the French called his mother a whore. They made him beat up a cement wall, and the wall didn’t win. It didn’t fit the character but it did come in useful at the end. The fighting style was called Le Fung Quin, and I do apologize if I hacked those words right there, but on the Extras, which is a separate DVD, Johnny Tri Nguyen is interviewed and this is the style he said they were using. It’s all ass-kicking to me and the energy brought to this film by the cast and crew never fades.

This movie was put together well and all the actors played their parts with a true passion. Being it's a DVD I had the option to either read subtitles or get it dubbed in English. Hell yeah I dubbed it and I’m not worried if I lost anything in translation because I would still be reading the English on the screen. This is why they give you the option. The Extras feature interviews with Johnny, Dustin, and Veronica along with a Martial Arts Demonstration by Johnny.

If this movie had played on my TV 20 some odd years ago on a Sunday afternoon, it too would have sent me outside with my younger brother and friends to recreate what we saw. The Rebel is a statement from the Vietnamese film community and it’s a loud and ass-kicking one. Watch for more films like this coming from Dragon Dynasty, powerful and poignant.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Legion of Super-Heroes, Vol. 3

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

As a young Musgo, my super-hero teams of choice were the Avengers, the Justice League (both the Of America and the International variety) and the occasional Teen Titan adventure. On TV there was no competition, it was the Superfriends and all of their incarnations. The Legion Of Super Heroes were one of the strange teams. They had a long history, having been around since 1958, but I didn't know any other kids who read the comics nor could I identify any member of the group that wasn't Superboy. Their stories took place 1000 years from current time and they seemed to have an inexhaustible roster of characters to choose from. The animated version of Legion Of Super Heroes debuted in 2006 on the CW network. Today, the super-hero team must compete on TV against Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, and even their own appearances in live-action form on Smallville.

My introduction to the animated world of Legion Of Super Heroes is in the Volume 3 DVD which contains the final five episodes of the First Season of the show. The core members of the series are "young" Superman (not referred to as Superboy), Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Bouncing Boy (elected leader in the "Chain Of Command" episode on this disc), Triplicate Girl, Brainiac 5, Phantom Girl, and Timber Wolf.

The disc opens with an episode called "The Substitutes" that closely resembles a Teen Titans episode that I recently reviewed. Much like that storyline, a group of heroes that don't make the team are forced to come together as a team while the main team is away on a mission. Just like the Titans story, here the group calls themselves the Legion Of Substitute Heroes and learn that heroes have to work together. Their battle helps solve the mystery of the Legion's main mission. It's a common plot device but it's effective here. The sheer amount of characters is daunting to keep track of and I felt like I needed a scorecard, but the heart was there. The rejected members weren't made to feel bad even if their powers seemed useless - Color Kid can just turn things different colors and yet his power actually finds a creative use in battle.

The remaining four episodes don't hold up as well. "Child's Play" and "Chain Of Command" are perfect comparisons as to why this series doesn't work as well as Titans. In that series, the main characters feel like real teenagers - videogames, pizza, cars, and falling in love. In their stand-alone episodes, they usually explore the motivations and pasts of one of their five main characters. These two Legion episodes lack that characterization aspect. "Child's Play" ultimately is about a spoiled kid with magic powers who hates rules. It doesn't play his powers off against a similar character like Phantom Girl. Instead, the focus remains solely on the villain. The conclusion leaves the viewer feeling empty.

The disc ends with a two-part story called "Sundown" that borrows liberally from different eras of the comic-book history. Unfortunately, it's filled with so many generic cliches that it never catches your imagination. There's the typical "training scenario" at the beginning followed by the villain (Sun Eater) escaping from prison (bleeding through floors much like Alien), becoming an invisible target (looking like Predator) and then attacking our Sun with a army of robots (designed like smaller versions of the Evangelion robots). So many heroes are brought into the story, that it seems just lazy. When a specific power is needed, it's almost like the Legion can just conjure a hero who happens to have exactly that power.

The season ends with young Superman going back to his time and deciding to move to Metropolis and become Superman. Having only seen five of the season's 13 episodes, I can't fully judge this decision, but there is not that life-changing experience in the final line that should lead Clark to make that decision. It could have been there - there's a moment when the team is coming together that a character makes an important sacrifice. But Superman's reaction is to get revenge. It's unclear how that would make him decide it was time to go back to Metropolis and become a hero.

There are no extras on this disc. I can only recommend this for that die-hard fan that has followed the Legion since younger days. The stories are aimed at a younger audience than Teen Titans and just don't have the same heart.


Written by Puño Estupendo

For the people of the world with (let us just say) weaker constitutions, the films made by Dario Argento probably aren't too well known. Regardless of if they actually scare you or not, the man's artistry at taking gore to new heights is worshipped by those who have that cinematic bloodlust. Viewers that want to see a body have such horror put upon it, butchery in ways they've never seen, and with nothing out of bounds. Well damn, if he doesn't deliver those goods with his newest film. Starring his daughter Asia Argento as the horribly named Sarah Mandy, Mother Of Tears tries to weave a tale of horror, but with terrible dialogue and questionable acting, the gore is the definitive highlight in this one.

Mother Of Tears completes his trilogy of "witch" films that was started with Suspiria in 1977 (which is a masterpiece of filmwork and horror) and followed by Inferno in 1980. Though there are a couple of nods to these in Mother Of Tears, it doesn't really matter at all if you've seen the earlier two films. Fans of them will appreciate these points, but all you need to know is that basically you have three witch sisters that hole up in three different cities, each one getting their own movie. This film is set in Rome and deals with the youngest, most beautiful and most vicious of the sisters, Mater Lachrymarum.

An urn is unearthed from an excavation and sent to a museum where our intrepid Sarah Mandy (ugh, what a crap name!) and her co-worker decide they can't wait for their boss to return before they crack that seal and open up the movie's can o' doom. There's a lot of fun to be had already by this point. At the excavation site where this urn is discovered, there's a coffin that's pulled out of the ground with a smaller box chained to the top of it with all sorts of pentagrams and runic symbols etched all over this thing. Look, most of you already know this, but let me give you a refresher...if one finds The Book Of The Dead, one does not read aloud from said book. Thusly, if one unearths a coffin and sealed bonus package that has evil symbols etched into it, one should most assuredly leave said seal intact. Of course they don't and all hell breaks loose, pitting Sarah Mandy (blech!) against the forces of evil. Figuring out the mystery of what's happening, how to stop the witch Mater Lachrymarum, all while developing a new relationship with her dead mother who appears (in ghost form like Obi-Wan) to aid you in your trials.

It's this lack of originality that just kills this movie. The dialogue is painful for sure, but that's pretty standard in Italian horror. But Dario's been doing this a loooong time and he doesn't get the free pass on how unoriginal so many of his plot points are. You've made a shitload of flicks Dario, you know better! I mean, I wasn't expecting a screenplay the likes of On Golden Pond or anything, but this one's flat even by standards that have been set to mediocre. And poor Asia Argento. I love her but she's rough in this one. I've gotta believe it was the curse of her character's name. Seriously, you think it reads bad? Say it aloud:

Sarah Mandy (groan!)

Okay, let's get to what's good here. The murders are gloriously old school Dario. He obviously wanted to match the opening death scene from Suspiria, and he does. Not visually but viciously. It's way over the top and when I originally saw this in the theater, several people actually screamed out loud.

Side Note: For those that haven't seen Suspiria, the opening murder is horror film royalty. It's still insanely brutal even by today's standards, but with the advantage that it was shot beautifully. This is what's built the legend of Dario Argento: his ability to combine scenes of complete revulsion with a visual look that is able to hit amazing highs. This contradiction of ugly and beauty combined is what makes his fans and many filmmakers very, very loyal to him.

I could pick several more things to bitch about at length here. I was going to do a whole comparison between Dario's trilogy and Lucas' Star Wars trilogy, with Sarah Mandy's (stab my eyes!) bargain basement Obi-Wan Mom ghost tying it all together, but it would just be mean for the sake of being an Internet douche, which I try very hard not to give in to.

The DVD features have a rare interview with Dario where he actually speaks in English. Good English as well, to the point where I was kind of pissed at all of the interviews on U.S. discs where he speaks in Italian and it's subtitled. I remember hearing George Romero say something once about the fact that Dario understands English a lot more than he ever let's on. Because of this, the interview put a huge smile on my face. There's also a pretty unremarkable making-of that consists of too much random video camera footage from someone walking around on set for it to have any coherence.

Gore hounds are probably all over this already. Casual viewer? I have to stress caution because this can easily turn out not to be your cup of tea, but I dare you to try it. Bitch about the story and acting all you want, but I dare you to not give out a "holy shit" at key moments.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Fourth Season

Written by Pollo Misterioso

By the fourth season of any show, there should be a certain groove established, a flow to the stories and a certain understanding of the characters that allows them to grow as the viewer continues to watch. With the fourth season of Grey’s Anatomy there seems to be a definite pattern established, unfortunately it plays like every other season, leaving the characters back at square one, with the same problems that we were introduced to way back when this all started. The show has not completely flatlined, but remains static in a coma that it does not know how to get out of.

Returning this season is the cast of regular characters, with a few changes. That means our lead character, who also narrates most of the episodes, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), and all of her friends and colleagues; Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), Dr. Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), Dr. Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) and Dr. George O’Malley (T.R. Knight). All of the attendings are back as well, including Dr. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and Dr. Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey). But this season begins with new characters along with others who have left.

The end of season three left off with Dr. Yang alone on the alter and Meredith telling the audience that it is over, a quiet metaphor for her relationship as well. O’Malley did not pass his intern exam and had to stay back as an intern for another year. So this is the season of fresh starts, right?

This season begins with our favorite interns as the residents (except for O’Malley). They now get to be the bosses of their own interns, but they remain unchanged and unaffected by their shift in power. With their move up in the hierarchy of hospitals, they have lost the tenacity that gave the show a bite.

Meredith continues to carry the same emotional baggage that she has for the past three seasons. She is still unable to commit and has problems with her dead mother and father who abandoned her. It used to be that these problems were relatable and relevant, but now they are simply trite and create for a despairing lead character. If one can get past her complaining, you can begin to see where true passion of this show lies, with its supporting cast.

Dr. Burke has left the show, but one of the newest interns is Meredith’s sister, Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh) and that brings up all sorts of family issues between the two. One of the best episodes titled “Haunt you Every Day” has Meredith deal with her family problems dead on, as she carries her mother’s ashes around the hospital. The later episodes show growth in the show, as work and private lives begin to conflict. Dr. Bailey has constant problems with her newborn baby, husband, and life as Chief Resident. By the end of the season, she grows to be more than just a brilliant character, but a strong force that becomes a backbone that the show can rely on.

But for a true Grey’s fan, the season delivers in all the ways that it is used to—with remarkable and grueling medical traumas, surrounded by melodrama that is accompanied by an awesome soundtrack. Twice during this season there are episodes broken into two parts. “Crash into Me” is probably the most grueling—an ambulance crash outside of the ER provides the backdrop of intense drama that includes white supremacists and needles in the chest.

There are many redeeming moments and developments in this season, especially for fans of the show. It will be interesting to see what develops within the supporting cast by next season. Unfortunately the major problems linger and do not allow for any real change from one episode to the next, leaving the bulk of the show to seem tiresome.

There is a reason that this show is on the air and it isn’t simply because there are a bunch of good-looking people on screen. There is always a sense of drama and urgency that makes it interesting. But as a whole, the show is not challenging itself, pushing the viewer to engage in a deeper and more connected way. Our characters have become predictable and although that is comforting, it can’t last for much longer if it stays this way.

The DVD extras that accompany this season are worth watching. They include deleted scenes and very funny gag reels, under “In Stitches.” There is even a feature that gives you a brief overview of all the drama that has happened in the show, that way you can catch up.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

Too Much To Look At From Lakeview Terrace.

Samuel Jackson plays a high-strung police officer raising two children on his own. Jackson's daughter played by Regine Nehy is rebellious towards her strict yet uneven father. An interracial couple played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington, who have numerous issues within their marriage, move in next door and fail to react to the situation as most normal people would have. As the numerous stories progress the neighborhood is slowly threatened by Southern California wildfires.

For the most part the performances are acceptable yet one-dimensional with the exception of the miscast Wilson whose uneven performance is extremely distracting. Jackson's performance is intriguing but the material prohibits this fine thespian from truly hitting his stride.

The previews of this film are reminiscent of the Ray Liotta/Kurt Russell vehicle Unlawful Entry but Lakeview Terrace is not that good simply because it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Had the story focused on the power of police office against the civilian neighbor, and allowed the protagonist/antagonist relationship to develop, a good film might have been the result. Unfortunately there is too much left unexplored on Lakeview Terrace.

Some interesting moments are certainly presented only to be too rapidly pushed aside by distracting sub-plots. Director Neil LaBute seems to possess a good sense of how to create tension, but the script by David Loughery and Howard Korder fails him.

If you look hard you can see the attempts to make statements about racial relations, stereotypes, and there are many metaphors floating about, all of which are ruined by the standard mechanics utilized to create excitement, ruining that which could have added true depth.

Recommendation: Listed at one hour and forty-six minutes, this film seems much longer. Fans of Samuel Jackson will enjoy his performance, but the unexplored plots and limited performances make this a rental at best.


Written by Hombre Divertido

People slow down as they get older. Just because actors get older their films should not have to get painfully slow.

When Deniro and Pacino last appeared on film together in Heat, other than the climactic shootout, they only shared one scene together, and the gunfight on the streets of LA was so ridiculous, that it degraded the integrity of the film. Could the new collaboration of Deniro and Pacino possibly be less believable?

As Righteous Kill opens the audience is asked to believe that Pacino and Deniro are thirty-year police veterans, detectives and partners reporting to Brian Dennehy, and that Deniro is in a relationship with a fellow police officer that appears to be half his age. Okay.

Deniro seems to be channeling Robert Duvall from the equally disappointing bringing together of legendary thespians in Secondhand Lions, as he takes the bad cop role opposite the apparent rational Pacino. So our two heroes are attempting to solve the case of the poetry-writing killer alongside two young bucks consisting of wasted performances by John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg.

With scenes where Deniro and Pacino actually appear to be having difficulty walking, this script may simply be too much for these seasoned veterans. The story takes too long to get going, and when it does, it literally leaves are elderly stars behind. There is not enough action to hold the attention of the audience, and though there are a few laughs, the overall dialog is not nearly as strong as the one conversation our two stars had over coffee in Heat.

Long before the detectives realize that our murderer is a cop, the audience will have figured out the standard climactic plot twist. So there are no surprises here other than the fact that Pacino and Deniro picked this endeavor to re-unite.

Recommendation: These are of course two of the greatest actors of our time, but these roles are simply no longer within their range. It is unfortunate, but their one scene together in Heat makes it a better rental than Righteous Kill. Let us hope that they will grace the screen together again in a more dignified effort worthy of their skill and maturity.

Samantha Who?: The Complete First Season

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

The list of great female comedians that can carry a TV sitcom is short and almost dead today. But their success is usually spectacular or at least notable. The genre brings to mind the brilliance of I Love Lucy or The Mary Tyler Moore Show of the TVLand distant past. Or maybe there's still a Nick-At-Nite memory of the fun that both Roseanne and The Ellen Show brought to our screens in the Nineties. What each of these shows had in common was the lack of a gimmick. Each had a home or work setting in a "normal" (usually Midwest) location and played the comedy off the everyday situations of friends and family.

But it's now 2008 and every show needs a hook - something that's easy to tease and will draw viewers to a sitcom genre that's already in shambles. Samantha Who? starts the "Pilot" episode with a premise that can be encapsulated before the first commercial break. Samantha from Chicago has been hit by a car, spent eight days in a coma, and has retrograde amnesia, forgetting everyone including her mom, dad, best friend and boyfriend. Obviously, the comedy will generally stem from storylines featuring her lack of memory.

It's great to see Christina Applegate starring on network TV again. It's easy to forget how easily she played Kelly Bundy on Married With Children with some really crappy scripts the last few years of their ten-year run. But what really showed her chops as a comedic actress was the often forgotten Jesse. This show starred Applegate and ran in the after-Friends spot on NBC from 1998 to 2000. Despite great reviews the show couldn't bring in the kind of ratings that NBC needed in that Thursday spot and was cancelled. It was only a matter of time before she found the right material to get back into comedic television.

The show quickly reminds you of at least two other contemporary shows which could be an issue as the series continues into its Second Season. The first two episodes - "Pilot" and "The Job" run parallel to the set up of My Name Is Earl. Like Earl, Samantha is a bad person - evil to her co-workers, greedy and selfish. Once she is hit by a car (same as Earl) she becomes a new person (hence the name Samantha Newly). Instead of karma, Samantha has amnesia, but like Earl, her quest is to undo the bad things that Evil Sam did in her past life. In Earl, some of the best scenes are the flashbacks to "Evil Earl." In Samantha Who?, almost every episode during the First Season features a flashback as a storytelling device where Samantha "remembers" something that is usually related to the main story. It's a nice device when used right - like in "Hypnotherapist" when Samantha is convinced that she's adopted, the flashback memory is timed perfectly. When it's used in almost every episode, it becomes predictable like her conflict with the bride in "The Wedding." Samantha's narration throughout the series very closely fills the same role as Earl's voiceover in his show.

The show is dominated by Samantha and her two friends - Andrea (Jennifer Esposito who I recognized from Spin City) and Dena (Melissa McCarthy from The Gilmore Girls). Andrea is the bad influence, co-worker, and bar friend who loves the Evil Sam. Dena is the childhood friend who only comes back into Samantha's life after the accident. Each plays their role well and it's like Sam having the little Angel and the little Devil on each shoulder. But when you put the three together the series often steers itself straight down the Sex In The City alley. It's too easy and a little lazy for the show to try to fill this relationship-based show genre. And too often it tries to with too little commitment. "The Hockey Date" shows how this just doesn't work. In this episode, Sam is getting back into dating after realizing that her old boyfriend is not going to take her back. The episode has a funny concept of her new boyfriend taking her to a hockey game without realizing that Evil Sam's been banned from the stadium for impersonating a handicapped person to get better seats. By concentrating on the problems that causes to the relationship, you lose the comedy gold of her trying to get into a stadium that she's been banned from.

The basic issue with the premise is rules. In My Name Is Earl, the rules are made very clear from the start on how Earl is going to cross someone off his list. In Samantha Who?, the rules of her amnesia aren't clear and often used however is convenient to the story. Sometimes it's funny - like when Sam doesn't remember she's afraid of elevators or when she doesn't remember that she was having an affair with her boss. Other times it's just confusing like when she doesn't remember not to put foil in a microwave. The further the series evolves, I forsee the amnesia becoming less an influence on the storylines.

The best episode of the season had little to do with her amnesia. In "The Restraining Order", Sam encounters a man that runs away from her screaming. It turns out that Evil Sam was cruel to him and he had to have a restraining order on her. The more that Good Sam tries to convince him that she's a changed person, the more trouble she gets into. There's a clever use of "We Got The Beat" by The Go-Gos and the lesson learned helps her refocus on getting back with her boyfriend.

The supporting cast is solid. Sam's old boyfriend, Todd (Barry Watson) is a fresh character that doesn't just fall back in love with Sam. They've done a great job of playing his character as equal parts friend and boyfriend so that they can go either way with him in the future seasons. Regina and Howard (Jean Smart and Kevin Dunn) are fun as Sam's parents but their roles have been relatively stereotypical through the First Season.

It's hard to tell where this series will go in the future. It's Monday night scheduling will make it tough to last if ABC isn't truly committed. Ratings were much better until it was moved back 30 minutes where it goes up against Two and a Half Men (the highest rated sitcom on TV the past few seasons). With Heroes and Monday Night Football as competition on the other networks, it has the advantage on paper of being the only show aimed at females on at this time. I think that Applegate can easily carry this show but it has to find a better core. Let Samantha exist in her Chicago world with a quirky family and odd set of friends. It doesn't have to be about relationships and it doesn't always have to be about the differences between Evil Sam and Good Sam. But that takes a level of trust in the viewers that networks don't typically show. The show about an identity crisis ultimately suffers from an identity crisis.

The DVD set comes with the expected Bonus features - a blooper reel, a couple deleted scenes and commentary on only one episode. I'd like to have heard a little more from the creators and Christina on their vision for the show. If this doesn't end up being the "one" for Miss Applegate, I'm not worried she's going to have another shot down the road.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

The story is predictable, the music is bubblegum, the performances are one-dimensional, and a lot of the humor is lowbrow, but The Rocker has an innocent quality that is endearing. It is not trying to be anything more than a simple "slacker rises above adversity" story, and on that level it is successful.

Rainn Wilson from The Office attempts to parlay his television success into big screen dollars in his first starring vehicle. He plays Robert “Fish” Fishman, star drummer of one of the hottest up-and-coming bands of the eighties. Just before the band hits it big, Fish is cut loose. His former band rises to Hall-of-Fame status over the next twenty years as Fish ends up living in his sister’s attic.

Luckily, Fish has a nephew named Matt, played with a subtleness that most Judd Apatow movies could use, by Josh Gad. Matt has a band that is set to play their high school prom when they lose their drummer. In steps Fish and the rest is 102 minutes of cheap humor stemming from Wilson being thrown into this band full of innocent high school kids.

Surprisingly, it is the innocence of the high-school kids that makes this film work rather than Wilson's humor or the predictable, yet far-fetched, romance between Fish and the mother (Christina Applegate) of the band’s lead singer (Teddy Geiger). The band (Gad, Geiger, and Emma Stone) is made up of talented kids who are sincere in their love of making music. Yes, the insertion of Fish into their innocent world creates some good “Fish out of water” comedic moments, but it is the coming of age moments of the three youths that leaves the audience wanting more.

The similarities to School of Rock are obvious, unfortunately however, the characters are not fleshed out as well, and the humor is more crude. This movie leaves too many stones unturned as we see Fish showing the wear and tear that being a rock drummer has on a middle-aged man’s body, but it is never discussed, nor is his talent as a drummer. There is much angst amongst the young band mates that is played out in subtle look after subtle look. For her part, Applegate brings a nice energy to the screen but is underutilized here.

Recommendation: You will see every turn on this trip coming a mile away. Wilson is good, but his training on The Office has him focusing more on facial expressions, and he has yet to develop into the physical comedian that is needed here. Yes it’s predictable, but the kids and their story make this film worth renting when it hits the shelves.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Legion of Super-Heroes, Vol. 3

Written by Hombre Divertido

This animated series from The Kids WB is based on characters appearing in the DC Comics series. The series centers on the young Superman’s adventures in the 31st century, fighting alongside a group of futuristic superheroes known as the Legion of Super-Heroes. Volume three contains five episodes from season one of the series. Why the series is being released in such a sporadic fashion is certainly curious, and if these episodes are a reflection of the series as a whole, than it is clear why the series only lasted two seasons.

This release gives no explanation of the situation on which the series is based nor does it give any backstory on its heroes. One would have to be a fan of the series, or at least know the history of The Legion to appreciate this release, but even said knowledge may not guarantee appreciation.

For those who don’t know: according to the official press release, the premise of the first season is that a group of teenagers from the 31st century travel back in time to recruit Superman in their fight against evil in their time. Unfortunately, they go too far back and land in a time when Clark Kent was younger and was about to move to Metropolis, already aware of his powers but undecided about his destiny. Taking him back to their future, the young Superman helps the Legion in fighting evil and upholding the laws of the United Planets. It is described as a "fast-paced, character-driven action comedy". It is indeed fast-paced and character-driven, and is even well animated with good sound quality. The problem, in the case of these five episodes, is the stories. They are too busy, have too many characters, and make little sense. Perhaps this is appealing to children, but maybe the series would have lasted longer had the stories contained even the slightest bit of continuity.

The new release contains no extras, and thus must be marketed towards only the fans of the show. That would seem to be somewhat limiting as said fans only massed enough viewership to keep it on for two seasons. Perhaps adding some extras with some backstories on the heroes and the bringing of the series from the pages of the comic books to the small screen might makes this a more attractive purchase.

Recommendation: If you watched the show when it was on, and liked it enough to want to invest the money in collecting all the volumes that it may take to complete the 26 episode series, then pick this up. If you are looking for something reflective of the comic books, this is not for you.

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (Deluxe Edition)

Written by Hombre Divertido

It’s Halloween and Linus is in the pumpkin patch anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. Sally is enamored with Linus and thus gives up her first trick or treat outing to spend Halloween in the pumpkin patch. Charlie Brown manages to get invited to a Halloween party and struggles with making a ghost costume. He also has a run-in with a football-pulling Lucy. Snoopy is a flying ace off to battle the Red Baron. That’s a lot to cover in twenty-five minutes and this story is quite busy. Though generally considered a classic, when you really break this one down, it is a collection of scenes, many of which contain storylines that raise questions and remain unresolved.

We never really understand where Linus gets the idea that there is a Great Pumpkin, or why Charlie Brown is receiving rocks from people instead of candy. The Snoopy adventure never really goes anywhere, and as always, the parents are missing, so it is Lucy that gets up in the middle of the night to put Linus to bed. Add to that, Linus appears to be balding and Charlie Brown is bald.

This new remastered release certainly looks and sounds great, but the memories brought back may leave you wondering why you ever enjoyed this outing as it fails in comparison to the far superior Thanksgiving and Christmas Peanuts classics.

The new release contains some enjoyable special features including a Peanuts adventure entitled It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, which is simple and cute, but lacks the quality vocal talents of earlier endeavors. The best part of this set is a documentary entitled “We Need a Blockbuster, Charlie Brown” that chronicles the pressure that Charles Schultz and producers Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez were under to follow up the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The pressure may have been too much as they seemed to have struggled to fill the entire twenty-five minutes.

Recommendation: The documentary alone makes this new release worth owning, and a true Peanuts fan needs to have this in their collection. On the surface this is simple fun with a classic score that will thrust you back to your childhood. Once engulfed in the memories, it will be easy to overlook the flawed storytelling.

This new deluxe edition was released on September 2, 2008. On this same day the Peanuts family lost a valuable member. Bill Melendez died at the age of 91. Aside from his work on Great Pumpkin, he went on to produce, direct, or animate some 70 Peanuts TV specials. He was an extremely versatile and talented artist who will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Pushing Daisies - The Complete First Season

Written by Senora Bicho

Pushing Daisies
is latest creation of Brian Fuller whose previous credits include Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me. His newest show is original, witty, and delightful. While being an incredibly fun show to watch, it is also extremely well done and earned 12 Emmy nominations for its inaugural season.

Pushing Daisies is the story of Ned (Lee Pace), a pie-maker who has a very special power; he can bring dead people back to life. While this may seem like a blessing, there are a few catches to his ability. When he reanimates someone for longer than one minute, someone else must die, and if he touches the reanimated person for a second time they die again, this time forever. Once Ned fully understands his gift, he decides to keep it a secret and to live a life of solitude. That is, until he meets Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), a private investigator who learns Ned’s secret and talks him into using his powers to solve crimes.

One day Ned discovers that his childhood sweetheart, Charlotte "Chuck" Charles (Anna Friel), has been murdered so he goes to find out who killed her, but when the minute is up, he can’t bring himself to kill her again. He explains everything to her and she understands that she now must now live in secret. This secret is especially hard to keep from the two aunts that raised her, Vivian (Ellen Greene) and Lily (Swoosie Kurtz), agoraphobic, retired synchronized swimmers. The cast of characters also includes Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth), Ned’s waitress at The Pie Hole, who also happens to be madly in love with him.

Due to the writer’s strike the first season was cut short, resulting in only nine episodes. All of the details of the show are very thoughtful, from The Narrator (Jim Dale) who helps to tell the story to the distinctive visual look and camera work, all of which help bring this imaginary world to life. The picture on the DVD looks amazing; the colors are bright and beautiful. The only bonus feature is “Pie Time – Time for Pie,” an extensive interactive featurette that serves up lots of great behind-the-scenes information about the series.

Pushing Daisies is a wonderful fairy tale with charming and quirky characters. Pace is dreamily handsome. He offers a sweet innocence and vulnerability that is endearing. Friel and Chenoweth are perfect as the women yearning for Ned’s affections for very different reasons, and Green and Kurtz are terrific as the kooky sisters.

I am happy to report that the show has been renewed for a second season, which starts on October 1st, and I can’t wait. Due to the shortened first season, they will be providing enough background to capture new viewers. However, there is no reason to wait for this tasty treat when you have the opportunity to dive right in to all that Season One has to offer right now.

COOL HAND LUKE (Deluxe Edition)

Written by Hombre Divertido

An all-star cast, award winning performances, and legendary quotes. Does it get any better than this? This is the ultimate dick flick.

Based on the novel by Donn Pearce, Paul Newman plays the anti-hero sent to a workhouse after a drunken binge that included the destruction of public property (He cut the heads off of parking meters). The camp is run by a tough warden (Strother Martin), but the leader of the men is Dragline (George Kennedy in an Academy Award-winning performance). Though originally too tough for the situation, Luke (Newman) eventually wins over his bunkmates and becomes the leader, if not the deity, of the camp.

Though the film lacks continuity as it plays out more like a collection of scenes, and the music, though touted by the director in the special feature documentary, never quite gels with the situations, the all-star cast makes up for any shortcomings. Newman gives a performance full of subtle elegance, and is complimented well by Kennedy and the who’s who of character actors including: J.D. Cannon, Lou Antonio, Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, Harry Dean Stanton, Clifton James, Ralph Waite, Anthony Zerbe, Joe Don Baker, and many more.

This new restored edition on DVD looks and sounds great, and includes a well-made documentary entitled “A Natural-Born World Shaker: Making of Cool Hand Luke. The documentary includes some great interviews with cast, director Stuart Rosenberg, and more. Though it lacks any behind-the-scenes footage or photos, the stories told by the cast are not only insightful but entertaining as well. Input from Newman is noticeably missing, but the stories by Kennedy on working with Newman make the viewing worth the investment of time.

The additional extras include commentary by historian and Newman biographer Eric Lax, and a theatrical trailer that might make one wonder how this film was ever sold. The trailer makes little sense, is disjointed, and certainly would have a tough time enticing anyone to see this film.

Recommendation: A must for any fan of classic films. This is some of Newman’s best work, and it cements him as one of the best actors of the generation. Spotting actors before they were stars makes the experience even more enjoyable as does repeating all the classic quotes from the film, such as "Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand." Other then the legendary carwash scene, the film is actually surprisingly tame with little or no foul language.

There is no way this could ever be a failure to entertain.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Eli Stone: The Complete First Season

Written by Senora Bicho

I watch way too much television, and with every new fall season I am determined that I will not add any new shows to the line-up unless I remove something first. ABC managed to grab me with two of their new shows last season and Eli Stone is one of them. My curiosity was peaked when I heard that the premise of the show was based on George Michael songs and I was hooked after the first episode.

Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller) is a high-profile lawyer on the fast track to being a partner and is engaged to the managing partner’s (Victor Garber) beautiful daughter Taylor (Natasha Henstridge). His life is perfect when suddenly he starts hearing George Michael’s “Faith” and even sees George singing in his living room. He goes to an acupuncturist to try and stop his visions. The acupuncturist (James Saito), who believes that Eli is a prophet, helps him to flashback on important moments from his past to find the significance of the song he is hearing. It guides him in taking on cases and in doing the right thing.

The visions also help Eli learn more about his dead father whom he believed to be a drunk. He discovers that he has a brain aneurysm that could be the cause of his visions and that his father suffered from the same thing. As the visions become more frequent and his behavior more erratic, his law firm gets anxious to fire him. However, after his first post-vision win, his client makes the law firm sign an agreement that they will never fire him. So instead they try to make his life as uncomfortable and as difficult as possible in the hope that he will quit. Eli’s life continues to plummet after he calls off his engagement. He decides that he doesn’t want to subject Taylor to the life his mother had to endure with his father. Throughout the season, Eli struggles to find answers and seems to only find more questions.

For me, the key to this show is the George Michael music; it is fun and uplifting. It reminded me of how much I enjoy it and even got me to see him in concert. (One of the best concerts I have ever been to by the way. If you like his music and get the chance to see him, do it.) Each episode is titled after one of his songs, but it is not always included in it. There are fun musical numbers in just about every episode, which provide the opportunity for cast members to showcase their musical talents or lack there of. George even guest stars as himself in one particularly profound episode and it was my favorite of the season.

Eli Stone is not the best legal drama on television, the cases are weak at times but that is not the heart of the show. This is Eli’s story and what lessons he learns as a man struggling to do the right thing. The show provides life lessons for all of us and tries to teach us what is important. Jonny Lee Miller is wonderful in the title role; he is instantly likable and is able to garner the care and concern of the audience. The supporting cast is also worth watching and it is especially great to have Victor Garber back on TV. The show is original and you never know what direction it will take.

Some great bonus features are included in the DVD collection. There are audio commentaries for three episodes featuring the creators, some of the executive producers, cast members, and writers. The deleted scenes are actually worth watching and there is a blooper reel. The four featurettes provide everything a fan would want to know about the show and more: “Acting on Faith: Eli Stone and George Michael,” “Turning a Prophet: The Creation of Eli Stone,” “Creating Visions: The Effects of Eli Stone,” and “Inside the Firm: The Natasha Henstridge Tour.”

If you want something heartwarming, funny, and charming, give Eli Stone a try. In-between the laughs you might even learn something.