Wednesday, December 31, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

GHOST (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

This Gran Torino Goes Nowhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

It / The Shuttered Room

Written by Fantasma el Rey

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chamber Of Horrors / The Brides Of Fu Manchu

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rawhide: The Third Season Volume Two

Written by Fantasma el Rey

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gunsmoke: The Third Season, Volume 1

Written by Hombre Divertido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

HAPPY DAYS: The Fourth Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

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

Written by Hombre Divertido

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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

Written by Senora Bicho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Petticoat Junction: The Official First Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

Written by Pollo Misterioso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

Shock Festival by Stephen Romano

Written by Fantasma el Rey

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

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

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

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

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

Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume Two

Written by Senora Bicho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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