Saturday, November 29, 2008

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

Written by Hombre Divertido

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2008

WALL·E (Three-Disc Special Edition)

Written by Pollo Misterioso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

SABRINA: The Centennial Collection (1954)

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

KUNG FU PANDA (Blu-ray)


Written by Senora Bicho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hawaii Five-O: The Fifth Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

JOHNNY CASH'S AMERICA

Written by Fantasma el Rey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah Montana - The Complete First Season

Written by Guest Reviewer Jordan Richardson

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

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

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

Obviously Miley Cyrus has my number.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Odd Couple: The Final Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

The 4400: The Complete Series

Written by Hombre Divertido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 07, 2008

1800 Essential Artist Tequila

Written by Caballero Oscuro

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

HELL RIDE

Written by Fantasma el Rey

From writer/director/star Larry Bishop (yes, Joey’s son) comes Hell Ride! A romping, stomping, “whopper of a chopper opera” that moves fast and is filled with “bikes, beer, and booty.” It may not be fun for all, but if you find classic biker flix to your liking, then Hell Ride is the ride for you. There are no major plot twists or turns that come out of nowhere (Bishop is wise to leave that sort of thing to a guy like Scorsese), and there is a bit too many naked girls running around (if it’s truly possible to have too many) but for 83 minutes I was lost in the spaghetti-western, B-movie film-noir yarn of biker law and honor.

The plot is a simple one that revolves around the biker brotherhood of The Victors MC settling an old score with revived rival outlaw biker clan The Six-Six-Six-ers and its leader Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones). Cool names abound as Victors’ prez Pistolero (Bishop) attempts to finally close the case and keep his word to a murdered love (Cherokee Kisum played by Julia Jones) lost 32 years ago in a drug deal gone bad. With his two lieutenants, The Gent (Michael Madsen) and the young Comanche (Eric Balfour), who is more than he appears to be, at his side Pistolero aims to right past wrongs, purge his crew of traitors and turncoats, and put to rest some of the demons that have plagued his heart and soul for over 30 years.

Along the way the bonds of brotherhood are reaffirmed, throats are cut, people set a blaze, mysteries solved, and the outlaws ride off into the sunset to continue living the dream. There are also biker orgies to attend, booze to consume, wonderful weapons of all kinds to use, and old friends to revisit as the “classic” outlaw lifestyle of the never-ending party is played up as well as biker lore of how one earns their colors, wings, and other honors.

With 20 days and not a lot of cash to shoot this thing Bishop delivers a film that is at times a bit overplayed, hokey (the peyote scene), and a tad too deep into “the pussy,” yet overall entertaining. Bishop stays clear of tired antics to try and make his film appear as a lost gem of the past. There are no grainy film prints or missing frames. Just a simple attempt to continue and improve upon the way he made movies nearly 40 years ago when he put out films like The Savage Seven. Bishop has turned out a modern western with motorcycles replacing horses and leather vests in place of black hats.

The cast played a big part in the shaping of Hell Ride as well. If not already bike savvy, they became so while adding what they could to the characters they portrayed. Madsen is the strongest as The Gent, with his idea to play the role in a tux; as horrid as that sounds he pulls it off well. Dennis Hopper and David Carradine have small parts that stand out just as much as Leonor Varela and Laura Cayouette in roles of the important women in Pistolero’s life.

The DVD special features do a fine job in going into what Bishop was trying to do with Hell Ride and why those involved got on board. The extras also include a closer look at the authentic and very mean-looking bikes used in the movie as well as the chicks used in the film. There is also audio commentary that cracks open the wacky mind of Bishop who is fun to listen to as he explains his reasons and inspiration for certain shots and scenes.

So if a simple run through the desert with badass bikers, hot girls, and a straightforward story with a few holes sounds like a good time, check out Larry Bishop’s Hell Ride. I did and got a kick start out of it, but then again, I love such dirty, bloody, lowdown tales of outlaws that blur the lines of good and evil. Some are better than others, but if you can forget the world for an hour and a half and lose yourself in another one, then mission accomplished.

Comedy Central Salutes George W. Bush

Comedy Central has always been a great cable channel with tons of laughs, but our 43rd President really helped them shoot up to the top of the charts. There has been a plethora of material which George W. Bush has given comedians over the last eight years and here on this DVD is some of that laughter. It features a few stand-up comics like Lewis Black and Patton Oswald and also includes episodes from shows like Lil’ Bush, Mind of Mencia, and South Park. This collection has a lot to laugh at, and if you watch Comedy Central on a regular basis, you may have already seen what’s on here.

This DVD was just all right. The shows that are featured were good, but if they would have just featured Bush being himself it would have been a lot funnier. First off, there should have been more stand-up comics. These spotlights came from the shows Last Laugh '06 and '07. Come on, only these clips were the comics that ragged on Bush for the past eight years. Really? Black, Oswald, and Greg Geraldo when doing their stand-up still made me laugh, as well as Black’s Root of All Evil where the featured episode was “Dick Cheney vs. Paris Hilton”, but when it came to the South Park episode where Eric blames 9/11 on Kyle and they meet the President, it really wasn’t centered on the Bush. If you saying that you are highlighting the follies of W, then it would have been better to show him on the job. Oh, it was a funny South Park show, but the crazy twist to the end was half-assed at best and the President’s part was idiotic and not in a “decider” kind of way.

I watched the first season of Lil’ Bush and liked it but not enough to keep it on the “record” list for my DVR. One episode they picked out was the one where Lil’ George and crew go to Iraq to find something good to give to his dad on Father’s Day was weak, and though my short-term memory eludes me, I know there were other funnier episodes. Even the other episode where Lil’ George has to have a girl kiss him to win a bet gave me a chuckle, but it just wasn’t that funny.

When it came to the Mind of Mencia, again there were better clips that Comedy Central could have used, and considering that they used two episodes from Lil’ Bush and two from Bushed, they could have used those spaces on the disc to add a little more Mencia.
You would think, or at least I did, that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report would have a bunch of episodes included. Well, think again. The shows which were featured by both of these late-night monarchs could have been better, but “Marines in Berkley” and “Tip/Wag Afghanistan” were funny but there were better shows. I laugh every time I see bears as America’s number-one threat and when Jon does his Bush impersonation; Hee hee hee.

Yes, this DVD is funny, but it could have been better. If Comedy Central did it in a rush, it shows. A few comedians have stated that with Bush you couldn’t write better comedy, and some of the funniest things I have seen have been just Bush in action, like the infamous, “Fool me once…” quote where he ended it with a Who lyric. How do I rate this? If you see it in the discount bin and you’re as high as a kite, then get it. If not, then don’t worry about it, you aren’t missing anything.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Blu-ray)

Written by El Fangorio

This film sucks. I hate it. I gave it three chances: once in the theater on opening day, once at a drive-in, and this last time on Blu-ray. Each and every time, I hated it (with the drive-in being the most painless). And let me state for the record that I love the franchise almost as much as I love the Star Wars trilogy. I love them in the order that they were made (yes, Temple of Doom over Last Crusade; I am willing to fight over it) and find them pretty much flawless. Granted I was the perfect age for them but then so was everyone (parents included) and you would think that if Lucas and Spielberg decided that after 20 years, it was worth bringing Indy back, that it must have been for a hell of a good reason. Why did I think the man that used to be “George Lucas” (seriously, who is this hack imposter?) would be capable of pulling this off? He sucks. He takes great pleasure in taking something beloved and making it totally asinine. Did I mention yet how much this film sucks?

Let’s start with the mandatory-to-the-series opening shot where, in all three prior films, the opening Paramount logo (the mountain) dissolves into the opening shot of the film, matching it perfectly. In Raiders, it segues into a mountain in South America; in Temple of Doom, it’s a gong in the Club Obi-Wan; and in The Last Crusade, it becomes a cliff in some landscape from Indy’s past. This one opens up on a fucking CGI groundhog hill (you know because it costs so much to build a real one these days) and out pops a fucking CGI prairie dog (because apparently they’re extinct now) to let us know that from here on out, this film is going to blow.

Still, this apparent crossover from Over the Hedge is only the tip of the digitally manipulated iceberg. There are CGI monkeys (because real ones are invisible to the camera eye and cannot be filmed) and CGI giant ants (because real ones don’t exist because God knew how damn stupid they would look). There’s a big CGI triple-decker waterfall and everyone goes “whoooaaaaa” every time they go over a level, each time surfacing from the 500-story foot drops onto the jagged rocks below, unscathed and laughing. There’s also a CGI warehouse, a CGI Russian camp, a CGI jungle, a CGI plane, a CGI Classroom, a CGI Library, a CGI Mountain, a CGI temple with a big CGI entrance…the only thing that isn’t CGI are the actors which would have all been better off computer generated.

Starting with Harrison Ford. Did he have a stroke and not tell anyone? Throughout the entire film, he acts like a retarded old man that doesn’t understand what’s going on. The film could just as easily been called Regarding Henry Jones. As for the eagerly awaited return of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen)? Her performance is totally ruined, likely by an intake of anti-depressants from being out of work for so long. Seriously. She doesn’t stop smiling for the entire duration of the film and looks insane. As for their son Mutt, I have to admit, I was shocked to find that the one thing I thought could sink the film (I was so na├»ve) was actually the only thing that didn’t. Shia LaBeouf (“not quite a nerd, not quite a hunk”) is actually decent. His lines are all tailor-made for his already patented delivery so it’s kind of hard to fail on his part. Wait a minute, he totally sat back and let George and Steven run this idea by him and said “I’ll do it”: We want you to swing on CGI vines with CGI monkeys through a CGI jungle. So forget what I said. Shia LaBeouf, you’re an asshole! Oh yeah, Cate Blanchett is in it and believe it or not, she sucks. She does. Watch it and tell me how scary she is compared to Raiders’ Toht, Doom’s Mola Ram, and Last Crusade’s…well, just compare her to those first two. She sucked! And oh my god….John Hurt. I’ll say he did, too. What an awful, awful role.

And what an awful, awful film (for lack of a better transition). Still, George and Steven have a pretty good excuse: they’re almost 70 years old. Swear to god. How many films does your grandpa direct? Whatever. Lucas has been rolling out the stinkrockets for a loooong time now. He is no longer “George Lucas”. He is one of the lizards from V (that’s a guinea pig lodged in his throat) that plans on making the whole world CGI. As for Spielberg, he made Jaws (and about 15 other total masterpieces), but that doesn’t excuse his going along with this script. To think he actually sat there and listened to George suggest that Indy should survive an atomic fucking blast by hiding in a refrigerator (“we’ll show a close-up of the label on the door indicating that it’s made of lead so we should be fine”)? Next time, just keep it to yourselves. You are obviously too out of touch with today’s film audience, which is pretty much the same one you entertained the first three times out of the park.

Indian Jones and the Crystal of the Kingdom Skulls of Tinytown (or whatever the hell it’s called) is on Blu-ray. Hoo-ray. And like my dear old grandmother used to say, “You can’t polish a turd.” It’s still the same film so who cares? And truth be told, I wasn’t that impressed with the picture quality. Yes, you can see detail down to the individual hairs on their heads, the tiny threads of their costumes, the deep cavernous wrinkles of the skin on almost all of the actors but everything else around them is fake and now really looks like it. And director of photography Janusz Kaminski’s typical unrestrained lighting schemes do not help. The promise Spielberg made early on in production that he and Kaminski were going to try their best to make this film look like the originals? All lies. Yes, they shot on film (instead of digital) but they still ran it through a computer and manipulated the hell out of it. Check out the subtle lighting in just the classroom scene. Those students are literally glowing like something from the afterlife. It’s this kind of photography (hyper-overexposure) that is the proverbial smoke and mirrors as it helps to blend what is real and what is digital but it’s as if the format is working against it, revealing all its digital trickery.

As for the audio, you really can’t go wrong here. Granted the skin-crawling banter between Ford and Allen is there in all it’s TrueHD 5.1 glory but then so are the action sequences that at least sound real even if they do look like a video game. The score by regular collaborator John Williams isn’t as memorable as you’d like (okay, you hum the new theme then) but it sounds great and is never incidental. So if you’re into purchasing Blu-rays based solely on sound design, or if you’re blind, then I would definitely recommend this purchase. But only you guys.

As for the special features available, all are taken over from the standard DVD release except they are all shown in HD which is always nice even if it like putting a silk scarf on a pig in this case. There’s a Pre-Production Featurette (11:00) and a plain old featurette titled “The Return of a Legend” (17:34) along with a longer production diary titled “Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” which clocks in at a healthy 80 minutes. There is absolutely no mention of Harrison Ford’s stroke, Karen Allen’s addiction to goofballs, or Lucas and Spielberg’s playing an enormous joke on the fans so I wouldn’t trust anything this “special” feature has to say. Also, divided into six parts (to make it look longer) are various clips about various crap (most of it CGI). There are also three pre-vis sequences that prove how difficult it is to film actual animals and locations and why everything from now on should be CGI. There are two art galleries and one of these is easily the only worthwhile thing on the release: Stan Winston Studio. Okay, I have to go cry now ‘cause he’s dead. It was this film that did it I tell you. Last but not least, there are some production photos showing everyone having a good time at the expense of the fans. There are also portraits and behind-the-scenes photographs, which apparently aren’t the same as production photos.

So what are you running for? Sit, don’t stand and reconsider watching this film lest you risk tarnishing the admiration you have for this franchise and its creators. It’s a serious mess with flaws of such a ridiculous level. Seriously, the kind you only see in poorly made films (how in the fuck did Indy and Mutt go from that holding room where Hurt’s character was supposed to be to the top of that mountain where all the idiots hop in and out of holes?). Here’s to hoping that Lucas holes himself up at the Skywalker Assisted Living Ranch and that Spielberg’s hearing aide is turned off the next time his buddy has a great idea for a movie.