Thursday, February 26, 2009


Written by Puño Estupendo

Director William Friedkin's 1971 cop thriller The French Connection has never looked this good.


By his own admission, in his taped intro to the film, this Blu-ray release of Friedkin's film is the best there's ever been and is the closest to his original vision when he shot it back in 1970. The gritty, dirty New York City of 1970 serves as the canvas for the story in which Detectives Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy Russo try to bust a shipment of heroin that's being smuggled into the city by freighter from Marseilles. A cat and mouse game evolves and what you end up with is one of the great masterpieces of the genre. More or less launching the careers of Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, this is as good a crime thriller as they come. Shot incredibly well by Friedkin and with a disturbing score by Don Ellis, this is a gem of a film for fans of the genre and should not be missed, especially with the release of this on Blu-ray.

With a complex system of color timing, the entire film has been digitally enhanced and looks incredible. In the low lit scenes, the grain of the film is almost palpable and my jaw was on the floor at the detail of this new transfer. One of the supplemental features created just for this release gives the viewer a rudimentary breakdown on how this was accomplished. This is not a recreation of how the film originally looked when it was shown in theaters in 1971, this is Friedkin kind of getting to play George Lucas with his film. The difference is that while many films that are revisited are inherently changed, The French Connection is just given a boost that makes it legitimately better. I know this movie well; I've seen it in every form including a 35mm print at a theater, broadcast television, VHS videotape, DVD (and now) Blu Ray. This is, without a doubt, the greatest version of it that I've ever seen.

For film aficionados, this is why you should invest in Blu-ray. I see this two-disc set as not only an awesome film with a load of interesting supplementals, but this is hitting a level that invests in the preservation of classic films. Included on the second disc are great featurettes covering everything from Gene Hackman's recollection of filming to William Friedkin meeting up with people that were the inspiration for the film in the first place. There's locations revisited, commentary tracks and just all sorts of good stuff as bonuses.

The 5.1 DTS audio track absolutely roars when it needs to but yet the dialogue is always right where you want it to be. There's no fidgeting back and forth with your volume like when a disc is too loud during the action but then the dialogue scenes are way too quiet. For those of you without the bigger audio set-up at home, you'll be pleased to know that it'll sound just fine to you as well, although you might want to turn it up a little louder so the famous chase scene really knocks your socks off. Don't know what chase scene I'm referring to? Well then there's another reason for you to get this disc!

William Friedkin's enthusiasm for this product is really apparent here. He's not the most charismatic guy or even an interesting storyteller verbally, but his appearances in so much of the featurettes (that were made specifically for the Blu-ray) kind of speaks for itself. This newest version of his film obviously impressed him quite a lot and I have to say it made quite the impression on me as well.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DEA: Detroit

Written by Fumo Verde

As an advocate for the legalization of marijuana and having my own run-ins with law enforcement personnel, along with my regards to our justice system in general, I tend to view shows such as this one with very jaded eyes. So to give myself a more balanced perspective. I decided to watch this two-disc set produced by SPIKE TV because right now DEA to me equals “total assholes.”

The show starts of with a caption reading, “The men and women of the DEA have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. For the protection…” and so on. So I hit the Internet and searched for the most dangerous jobs in the world. Ten websites, including Forbes, showed that law enforcement is ranked number ten—meaning patrolmen and women, because those folks are always on the beat, totally out in the open, and deal with the everyday craziness which runs around most modern-day cities. As of the last few years, it switches between logging and fishing. “Federal agents” I couldn’t find in the top twenty.

The narrator tells me again it’s one of the most dangerous jobs. Looks like they have the upper hand when it comes to firepower, at least from the opening scene. In the last year, this group has worked over 100 cases, seized over $9 million in cash and dope, and busted over 200 drug dealers. We meet the team and I’m stoked one of them is a Cowboy fan, or at least he’s wearing the hat. Now true, they chase some pretty murderous bastards at times so every mission is set for the “worst-case scenario” option, meaning set phasers for kill because this is no drill. I would consider this to be one of the most stressful jobs. They don’t know what the suspect they’re going after will try, so I understand the tactics they have to use.

First bust we get is crackheads. Lots of crack but no weapons, and not much cash either. Just a ton of rock. Special Agent Brad Ripken notes that “it’s all about money and everybody is trying to make that buck.” Hmm, what’s the budget for the DEA? Answer: around $2.35 billion. For the dealers it’s all about the money, but for the agents it’s all about the dope, which helps bring in the money, and then somewhere in there, according to Scarface, you get the women.

“Dope.” That word on the street usually refers to marijuana, but the DEA and other law enforcement uses “dope” for all drugs, giving the face of weed the same face as heroin, crystal meth, and the idiots who huff Raid Ant and Roach spray.

Next up is the dangerous heroin dealer who lives in the slums. The narrator informs us that it is nearly impossible to prosecute a drug dealer unless a DEA Agent goes under cover to make a buy. Of course, that overlooks the rat. To be a good criminal informant, the DEA must have you by the balls or at least act like they do. How long does it take for the DEA cases to get warrants issued? This is an answer I can’t seem to find. Why is that?

The next dealer is in his sixties. He’s been dealing for more than thirty years, been to federal prison. He’s an old guy, got nothing to lose. Special agent John Greer also notes that the target is old and sick but he’s selling drugs and when your selling drugs you usually have weapons with you. As usual, the DEA comes at the crack of dawn, so no resistance, but this is an allegedly gun-carrying, sick heroin dealer they are approaching. The bust happens so quick your eyes can’t adjust to the cameras that show one angle, then another, and then two more within a two-second clip. We find the dealer high on his own dope. Of course, he’s on heroin; that’s also why he sells it. Oh, and I love it when law enforcement knows that you are too good of a person to be selling or using dope. Heroin users have needles and lots of them have AIDS because they share needles. Special Agent Hoyt won’t take any of his target’s paraphernalia home; it’s contaminated. Besides he probably has enough keepsakes from his tour with the army.

Two ounces of heroin get you twenty in federal joint unless they flip you. Remember DEA likes to act as if they have the final say on if you will do time and how much; they don’t. You just need to talk to the District Attorney. They are the ones with the power and authority to lessen your sentence or not charge you at all. Most people are stupid. Others aren’t, such as the heroin dealer. He won’t flip, so their case against him ends with him, and he’ll make his deal with a federal prosecutor. The narrator says, “The suspect refuses to cooperate. It’s a decision that could send him to prison for the rest of his life,” which is possible, but at his age and health it’s more likely he’ll die while waiting court appearances, and he doesn’t have the bail money, so yes he’ll probably be in a prison waiting on court appearances when he dies.

Next up is another heroin dealer. Agents say every time an informer goes to see her she always has a weapon on her, so approach with caution. This is where we learn about the DEA Stack. Man #1 has a BlackHawk Hallagan Tool, a fireman’s axe. Man #2 has a Mono Shock Ram #X-TE122 which generates over 19,000lbs of greater kinetic force. Man #3…okay enough. This is where my notes must end and I have to really give you the lowdown on this over-inflated COPS show.

True, these guys risk their lives but we all do when we ride on the freeways in our nation with the exception that we aren’t looking for trouble, they are. Only super-egos can take a job like this, and the DEA has done this surprisingly well. Using fear and the art of bullshit works, and as I sat and watched disc two, nothing changed. Sure they went after different bad guys and kept biting their way up the drug chain. I would laugh if it ended with Merc or Pfizer.

Every episode has that “they could die at any minute” feel to it, but when all is said and done, it never happens. These teams are that good; I’ll give credit there. You won’t know what hit you until your face is planted in the dirt and Agent Woody’s eight-inch shoe is halfway up your two-inch asshole. This is why they don’t come in under the dangerous category because that’s rated by fatalities on the job, and depending on how many people hold that job in relation to the deaths of that particular job. DEA agent is definitely, I would say, one of the most stressful jobs, because they don’t know who’s behind the door and if that person is going to come out shooting.

If you like to watch cops bust people, then this show is for you. If not, then don’t bother, nothing you haven’t seen before is going to come from this. My feelings towards the DEA have changed though, and I respect how they perform their tasks, and I can say the more I watch them, the more I learn, and I thank them for it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Friday the 13th Part 3 3-D (Deluxe Edition)

Written by Tío Esqueleto

Friday the 13th Part 3
picks up directly where Part 2 left off. Actually, Part 3 and The Final Chapter (Part 4) are direct continuations of the second installment, each one picking up where the last left off. I realize that that has them taking place on the completely not scary Saturday the 14th and well into the week of Monday the 16th but, really, if your going to scrutinize the timeline of this series, you had better just press “Eject” now. Suspend disbelief, embrace the clichés (it’s all part of the formula), let yourself get scared, and have a damn good time. This is Friday the 13th Part 3…IN 3-D!!!

So Part 2 ends in Jason’s terrifying shack in the woods, where Ginny whacks him a good one with the machete, and she and boyfriend, Paul, flee into the night. Omitted here is the “just when you thought it was safe” scare where Jason blasts through the window. Instead, Ginny and Paul leave the shack where we cut to Jason still lying on the ground. He reaches over, picks up the bloody machete, and begins to wriggle his way across the floor and towards the door. Pan up to Pam Voorhees’ rotting, severed head, sitting on the table, and it is right into the in-your-face credit sequence

The story (body count) for Part 3 centers around Chris (played by the wonderfully awful Dana Kimmell) and her friends as they make there way to her family cabin at where else, but Crystal Lake. There are seven of them in all, including a pregnant girl and her boyfriend (who’s prone to walking on his hands), a stoner couple, a feisty Latina, and a chubby prankster. Then there’s a couple of local storeowners, a trio of bad-ass bikers, and Chris’ boyfriend Rick (who’s already at the lake). Throw in some sex, some drugs, some really bad decisions, and, of course, Jason Voorhees, and you’ve got the next Friday the 13th movie. Throw in, for the very first time, a hockey mask and (literally) eye-popping 3-D effects, and you’ve got it in 3-D.

Steve Miner returned for his second stint in the director’s chair, for this third installment in the series where 3-D was the clear gimmick of choice. A pitchfork, a harpoon, a yo-yo, popping popcorn, a hot poker, a passed joint, a striking snake, and eyeballs popping out are just some of the scares thrown directly in your lap now that we’ve added this new dimension, this third dimension, in terror. Duck!

Also of note with Part 3 is the introduction of the now-iconic hockey mask. Whether or not they knew what they were doing, remains to be told. All I know is that part way through the movie Jason walks out of the barn, now wearing a hockey mask, and the rest is history. It isn’t on the poster. It wasn’t marketed as the new face of Jason, or anything like that. It just all of a sudden was, and it was and remains perfect.

Part 3 seemed to ramp the gore factor up again. While it wasn’t quite back to the level we saw in Part 1 (and, eventually Part 4), it was definitely a step in the right direction with some of the nastiest scenes to date.

The 12 kills are:

  • meat cleaver to the temple
  • knitting needle to the back of the head
  • pitchfork impalement through the neck
  • pitchfork to the stomach
  • throat slashed
  • spear gun to the eye
  • chopped in two while walking on hands
  • knife through the chest from underneath
  • electrocution
  • hot fireplace poker to the stomach
  • head squeezed until eyeball pops out
  • hit with a pipe; hacked with machete

The handstand halving is something to behold all cleaned up and in 2.35:1, as well as the after shot of him stacked one half on top of the other. Certainly, most of the kills were designed with 3-D in mind. The spear to the eye and the head crushing with the eyeball popping out into the camera are the most notable. They were talked about on the playground, on the bus, and just about anywhere else young boys with a taste for this sort of thing got together, as was usually the case with any recently released Friday film at the time. It was movie lore until you finally saw it for yourself, and this head crushing/eye popping scene was quickly becoming the Holy Grail.

While Friday the 13th Part 3 isn’t necessarily the best in the series, it does have its merits. First off, it is the birth of the Jason we’ve come to know and love, but just before he becomes the clichéd caricature of himself in the sub-par Friday films following The Final Chapter. We’ve added the hockey mask and, overall, Jason just seems more intense in this one. Where in the last one he seemed a bit more oafish and childlike, in this one he is fast and precise and seems to have only one thing on his mind and that is killing young kids like the ones who killed his mother. This time he is on a mission. There will be no slipping on Mom’s sweater and reasoning with this new Jason.

Friday the 13th Part 3 is also the only film in the series that is widescreen, 2.35:1, and that’s certainly a leg up in my book. Again, the handstand death is the first thing that comes to mind. Gorgeous.

The newly released Deluxe Edition DVD of Friday the 13th Part 3 is actually in 3D. Well,…kind of. Yes, they’ve included the 2-D version and the 3-D version (both on the same disc), as well as two pairs of traditional red-and-blue lens 3-D glasses. Does it work? I think that depends on the viewer and, possibly, the TV it is viewed on. I viewed it on a standard 27” screen, and after 20 minutes of trying (I tried it sitting way up close, way far back, and right in the middle, as well as with my eyes crossed, squinted, and slightly rolled back) I almost threw up and had acquired quite the headache. Technically, I could get the 3-D moments to work, but there was a lot of pain involved, and even with my Goldilocks-seating method, the screen was always either a little reddish, or a little bluish, but never quite rightish. In the end I just went back and watched all of the kills in 3D and that was enough, I guess. I finally got to dodge the eyeball as Jason squishes Rick’s head and it was worth it just for that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The American Future – A History

Written by Fumo Verde

What lies in store for our country as we step into this new century? As of this moment our future looks troubled and we as a people, the American People, must deal with it, be it bailouts that save those hardworking top-level executives who did such a bang-up job driving their companies into the ground, or the government trying to put a freeze on foreclosures, which I hear from some political talking heads that doing so would freeze the market as well, though the last year of people losing their homes seemed to have helped kill the market, too. With whatever eye you see our country’s future in, you must remember the lessons of the past and that is what Professor Simon Schama has given us here with this two-disc four-hour series. Shedding light on past events may not always hold the correct answers but the directions chosen give a template of what or what not to do.

Schama presents us with four major questions facing our nation right now using the 2008 elections as a backdrop for his scenic tour through American country and its history. War, faith, immigration, and the dwindling of resources, both natural and economic, are the four questions being broken down and examined as Schama visits places in our nation that played a role in events, which shaped our country and people. A small introduction is first made by Schama, an immigrant himself from Great Britain, as he sets the tone of the film. Most documentaries I watch give the viewer a feel of looking in on the subject at hand but not here. The professor doesn’t make this film a lesson, rather a discussion, though you, as the viewer, can’t add much, but the people he talks to do. Be it the farmers in Southern California and along the dwindling Colorado River, or the Border Support civilians along the Texas part of the U.S.-Mexico border who tell anyone who they think is illegal to “Get the hell out.” Voices on both sides of each issue are heard, then a look back to see what our forbearers had to do when a similar problem arose.

When it comes to American public, we seem only to get mad when the issue hits us in our bank accounts. The price of gas was outrageous when this film was being made and everybody was angry. There was a lot of talk via person to person and on the Internet about boycotting or marching to congress. As of last month when this played on the BBC and PBS networks, gas was less than two bucks a gallon. Right now, February 17th 2009, the five stations in my general vicinity are all over two dollars and fifteen cents. Yet not a peep from any of us, myself included. Oil, a recourse we can’t live with right? How about water? What if it cost us two bucks for a gallon of water? How about five dollars a gallon? Schama notes that weather patterns have changed and the rain fall in regions such as eastern California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico continues to become less each season. Rather that using some kooky kat with a Doppler radar doing Storm Watch 2000 and whatever, he gets his facts from the farmers, you know the people who read weather patterns, so they can prepare for what’s to come.

I didn’t live through the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and I doubt anyone reading this did either, but it wasn’t drought alone that caused the dirt under the prairie farmers’ feet to get whisked away by those strong winds. Poor crop rotation are over farming were also culprits, but the one big one was the deep plowing of the virgin top soil of the prairie lands which were also called the Grass Lands. Once the grass had been removed there was nothing to hold the dirt down once the winds came. We have learned since then and with far less technology than we have today. Schama doesn’t point to any one answer that will secure any of our natural resources. He presents the situation and lets you ponder the ways to it could be handled. Some say desalinization is the way to go, but right now it costs too much, but I’ll bet you that some good old Yankee ingenuity could solve that and make it less expensive, and we still would have to ship it to the interior of the country. At the end of this story Las Vegas looked as if it had the right template for dealing with this problem. They have water cops and fines are heavy. Is that the future for water?

This is the same for the other three questions, such as the second one, War. Why and where America fights all depends on who or what we are fight for. Many have strong feelings about our military such as myself, and though we maybe a world superpower, I don’t think our military should be the world police. What does it take to bring the full weight of U.S. power onto oneself? Bin Laden really needs to find out, but the allies we have in the region aren’t much help. When America goes to war the reasons behind it become clouded.

Starting with the Spanish-American War, where we were liberating Cuba and the Philippines from the tyrannical grip of Spain. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly but carry a big stick,” and use it when you need to show you are not weak. His contemporary at the time, Mark Twain, felt this way when he first heard of the attack on the U.S.S. Maine, but later felt to fight for democracy is needed and to fight for the democracy of others is noble, but to be led down the path to war with no real truth behind it is an evil this country needs to stay away from. It doesn’t matter if you are for or against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or Democrat, there always seems to be this underlying argument about how much our freedom costs where we should pay for it. Again, these answers don’t come easy and they never will. This debate will last as long as we do as a nation.

The third question has to do with faith, religious faith, a belief in god. Faith is part of this country’s fabric, yet some would like their distinct brand of faith to be the faith of the nation, we must remember why those “faith-filled” pilgrims came to this new world, to escape religious persecution. When the country united and formed a government, the leaders felt it was better to keep the state separate from the church so that hands of power may never tie the people into one kind of religion or force them to do so. Thomas Jefferson wrote a separation clause in the Virginia State Constitution called “The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom;” it states the reasons for this separation and why it must be this way. I think this debate will last long after this nation turns to dust.

The last hour of this series comes down to another fabric that has sowed this country together: immigration. To relate to how a lot of Americans feel today about the illegal entering of immigrants to these shores, Schama reminds us of how every nationality was treated when they first arrived. The Irish, Italians, Slavs, and Asians were all considered sub-human and were branded with bringing crime and disease wherever they went. Cries about these “people” taking over our country raged in local papers and violence erupted from a fearful American public. It was then as it is now, some feel the immigrants, legal or illegal, are taking over our country and our dream. But what is the American Dream and really, who’s allowed to have it? To Americans, the “American Dream” is to own a house and have a family; this would be you A-typical idea if you were born here. If you came from another country, the American Dream is to live free and make a better life for you and your family or to escape tyranny and oppression.

French nobleman J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, who immigrated to America and became a gentleman farmer and writer, gave millions the idea of the American Dream with his stories about farming and living on the New Frontier. They were published in Europe and gave hope to those who wanted to liberate themselves for whatever reasons they had. However you want to split it, stopping immigration to America, legal or illegal is like trying to hand out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. Still some would rather forget the words from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lighting, and her name
Mother of Exiles, From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

If you have four hours and truly want to get an idea of where we might be headed, or even if you are confused and need to find out where we came from, The American Future – A History will give you the chance. It isn’t political, it isn’t partisan, it asks the up-front questions about who we are and how will we adapt to the changes coming our way. Schama is optimistic but he also knows what might happen if the American Future slips away.


Written by Puño Estupendo

I have to be honest, I've never read a Chuck Palahniuk novel. The closest I came was watching Fight Club and I admit that that's not even close to the same thing as reading a novel. I liked it though, twistedly wrong and yet greatly entertaining. For this version of another of his novels, Choke, I'm getting the feeling that the man likes characters with issues. The characters here not only have issues, they're positively overloaded with them. Victor Mancini sets a fairly high bar of dysfunction and thanks to the charm of actor Sam Rockwell, you can't help but fall for the guy. A sex addict with no apparent scruples, he cares about the people around him even though he doesn't seem to have any regrets about his shameless activities. Indulging in all sorts of blush-worthy sexual behavior, Choke is not a tale for those easily disturbed by fetish heavy acts. Victor's best friend Denny is a chronic masturbator and is almost as fun as Victor is. The two work at a Colonial themepark (which neither seems to be good at or even likes) and you see the world through their sex-obsessed minds.

The only problems Victor is concerned with are the problems with his mother, Ida. Suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Victor is paying for her care at an expensive clinic and the money he makes from his themepark job just isn't enough to cover it. Through another aspect of his dysfunction, he supplements his income by intentionally choking on food in restaurants, forming a bond with the people who "save" him, and then conning them out of money.

Sound weird? It is.

It totally works though. Sam Rockwell plays Victor with such skill that he charms the viewer just as he charms the good Samaritans he takes advantage of in the restaurants. He's not a good person, he goes out of his way to prove it, and yet it's hard not to think he's great in his messed-up way. Through visits with his mother (who always confuses him with one of her lawyers), you see Victor try to work through everything that's messed up in his life, trying to come to terms with the childhood that still troubles him and is the cause of why he can't have healthy relationships with people in his adulthood.

First-time director Clark Gregg has done a great job by taking themes and behaviors that are extreme to most and lets you see right through them to the people underneath. This is all about character and the sexual subjects shouldn't be a red flag for you nor should they be thought of as sexy or titillating; it's just who these people are.

With a fantastic cast including Anjelica Huston as Victor's mother Ida, you can't help but be taken in to their world and wishing the best for them. You want things to work out for Victor but you're just as unsure of how he should go about it as he is. This is a great film and has a charm to it despite the craziness everyone in it has. This is the second movie now that has me thinking that maybe I should get around to reading one of Palahniuk's books fairly soon.

The extras are loaded up on this disc: commentary, making-of, outtakes, and a discussion between Palahniuk and Gregg. The deleted scenes don't add much, but they let you see a bit more of the characters you just fell for; delaying having to let go of them for a couple of more minutes after the film is over. This is a great movie, dysfunctional as hell, but a great movie nonetheless.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Written by Senora Bicho

I absolutely adore Diane Lane and figured that Nights in Rodanthe would be the perfect choice for Valentine’s Day. So I curled up on the couch with a blanket and a latte, ready for romance.

Nights in Rodanthe is based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks which tells the story of Adrienne (Diane Lane), the mother of two whose husband Jack (Christopher Meloni) left her for another woman but now he wants her back. Her relationship with her teenage daughter is also strained, so she finds herself questioning what she should do.

When a friend asks her to watch over her Bed and Breakfast, located on the beach in the small town of Rodanthe, it provides the perfect opportunity for Adrienne to go and do some soul searching. Once there, Adrienne finds herself joined for the weekend by only one guest. Paul (Richard Gere) is a surgeon who recently lost a patient during an operation. While heading to see his estranged son, Paul stops over in Rodanthe at the request of the former patient’s husband.

Adrienne and Paul bond quickly over their personal dilemmas. When a hurricane hits, they turn to each other for support, which naturally leads to romance. It is this romance and mutual support that gives them each the strength to take care of their unresolved problems and changes their lives forever.

The chemistry between Diane Lane and Richard Gere, in their third film together, is strong. A great supporting cast that includes Scott Glenn, Viola Davis and James Franco joins them. Unfortunately the actors can only do so much with the material. The supporting cast is completely underutilized and the story is predictable and non-engaging. Do not waste your time on this overly sappy tale. If you want to see Lane and Gere in action you are much better off checking out 2002's Unfaithful.

The DVD doesn’t offer any extras, but it does offer the movie in widescreen and full-screen formats. There is also the opportunity to download a digital copy of the film.

Friday the 13th, Part 2 (Deluxe Edition)

Written by Tío Esqueleto

Friday the 13th, Part 2 opens two months after the horrific events of the original. We see Annie, the heroine and sole survivor from Part 1, is still living in the town of Crystal Lake trying to put her life back together. A phone call from mom and a quick shower later, Jason is jamming an ice pick into her temple as she stares at the rotting, severed head (her own handy work form the climax of the previous film) of Jason’s mother, Mrs. Voorhees. Revenge has been served, establishing our new killer, setting the tone for the next 80 minutes.

Now, why Annie didn’t leave Crystal Lake (or New Jersey, altogether) is the first thing to come to mind, but if you’re looking for convention and logic in this series, or any fine slasher film for that matter, then you should probably just leave the room and make it easier on the rest of us who are well aware of what we are in for, and eager to play along.

So, now it’s five years later and a new group of kids has gathered at a near by camp to train as counselors for the upcoming season. Paul, the guy in charge, assures everybody that the past is the past: Jason drowned, his mother was killed, and “Camp Crystal Lake is off limits.” The only thing he’s right about is Jason’s mother being dead.

What ensues is a killing spree as Paul and half of the team goes out to the local bar, while the other half stay back to fuck and get high. Teen stuff. The staples of the genre. Paul and Ginny, his girlfriend and this chapter’s heroine, return to find the carnage and the masked man responsible. Before we know it, we are in Jason’s all-too-creepy ramshackle shack, deep in the surrounding woods, for the final showdown and eventually Jason’s first ever unmasking.

Released in 1981, Part 2 saw Sean Cunningham handing director duties over to producer and longtime friend Steve Miner, who would also go on to direct the series’ next installment. With the tagline “The body count continues,” Friday the 13th, Part 2 was to be bigger and bloodier than the last, and apparently it was, until the MPAA got a hold of it. They had been gearing up for it since the last one, which they had obviously slept through the first time around. What results are ten delightful kills where the payoffs remain on the cutting-room floor. Unlike the cut scenes from the first film, these scenes are not included here, are said to be lost forever, and will likely never be seen again.

The 10 kills are:

  • ice pick to the temple
  • barbed wire strangulation
  • claw hammer to the head
  • upside-down throat slitting
  • stabbing
  • machete to the face
  • double impalement
  • knife to the stomach
  • One presumed death (Paul)

The most notable of these being the Jeff and Sandra sex-kabob, and of course wheelcahir-bound Mark’s machete to the face and push down the stairs in the pouring rain. Now Texas isn’t the only place where wheelchairs aren’t off limits.

While it’s hard to pick a hands-down favorite in the franchise, I do feel Part 2 is the scariest. With this sequel we see the birth of Jason Voorhees as our killer. He’s not the unstoppable killing machine we’ve come to know over the years. You’re not rooting for him the way it came to be around the sixth installment in the F13 franchise (where it all went downhill in my opinion). In this one he’s terrifying as fuck and you just want him to go away. Say what you will about his now-iconic hockey mask, but Jason has never been scarier than with the potato sack, with the one eye cut out, over his head.

The newly released DVD, sadly, isn’t anything to rush out for. The transfer looks suspiciously similar to past releases and the featurettes are pretty goddamn rotten. It does have the infamous theatrical trailer with the continuing body countdown (“14…15…”), which is a real treat, but nothing new to past purchasers. There is one featurette with the author of Crystal Lake Memories, Peter M. Bracke. While the feature itself is pretty worthless, it is a great plug for the book, which I cannot recommend enough. It is a must -have for any fan of all things Friday. It really is the definitive companion, and a huge resource for this review. In fact, don’t spend your money on the new DVD (keeping in mind it has nothing to do with the film, rather this particular release), and instead save up for this book.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Why do cop films try to not be cop films? Trying to expand on the genre is always refreshing, but when you deny the genre completely, what are you left with? Pride and Glory, the Warner Brothers film featuring Edward Norton and Collin Farrell, has the skeleton of a cop film, but it misses the meat that makes films like these so entertaining and worth watching.

Director Gavin O’Connor attempts to make a film that is more about the psychological nature of cops, showing what is happening behind the badge and the gun, but it never goes far enough into the characters and fails to short in the plot.

The stereotypes for a cop film are all there. You have the bad cop and good cop. Ray (Norton) is introduced with a scar on his face, which is the visual indicator that this man is emotionally wounded. He is about to get a divorce and has a troubled past. Don’t worry, he also seems to be the only person that can speak fluent Spanish, making him a valuable translator later in the film. Jimmy (Farrell) is the bad cop that is more of a hoodlum and thief than most people on the streets of New York. They are brother-in-laws, and both are cops with the NYPD.

Four cops are killed in the beginning of the film. Ray is asked by his father, played by Jon Voight, to head the task force to find the killer. Farrell and his men are after the same guy, but for reasons to cover up themselves in their own misdealing. Ray’s older brother Francis (Noah Emmerich) is also involved because it was his men that were killed. It turns out, that as Ray gets closer to finding the truth, the family becomes more involved and the consequences grow larger as we find out how everyone is involved in the crime. As it turns out, Jimmy is the ring leader for the corruption that is happening within the system.

The problem here isn’t hard to identify. Movies of this genre get its suspense and entertainment from solving the crime. It is the way that the film presents the problem that creates confusion and concern for a cop movie. O’Connor spends a good part of the film establishing the family and its importance to our characters. Unfortunately, the way that it is shot and edited together, the small vignettes with loved ones, become unnecessary flashes that seem more like forced sympathy than anything with substance. Francis’ fiancé just got engaged and is battling cancer, but I had no idea what her name was. A little too forced?

Unfortunately, the writers are to blame for this one. The cop characters become such stereotypes when they are trying to play against it. They are tough, but sensitive; troubled and lost within the system. It seems to be written as a series of short films that are strung together by the characters and loose plot line. But in jumping from scene to scene, the development that wants to be created, is lost. In fact, there is just too much emotion that drives each small scene, that there is no grit.

There is no connection to any of the characters, no interest in the crime, instead we are left watching cops think, cry, and emote about what is going wrong. This is not to say that there isn’t any good violence (there is a scene involving Farrell, a baby and an iron that gets very intense), but even this can’t straighten out the plot that is supposed to drive the film. The drunken father-figure Jon Voight says “keep the rage, cut the rest of it loose”—if only the movie could have taken some of its own advice.

The DVD extras that accompany this film are almost better than the movie itself. There is only a documentary on the special features entitled “Source of Pride: The Making of Pride and Glory” that is worth watching. You get to see the kind of training and preparation the actors went through to participate in this film. In trying to make the actors more like real cops, they followed around NYPD officers for weeks on the job and some of the stuff they did is very intense and they talk about their experiences with it. If only the movie were this interesting to watch.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (I Love the 80's Edition)

Written by Hombre Divertido

In 1980 the Zucker Brothers (Jerry and David) and Jim Abrahams would bring their Airplane to the big screen in a spoof of the classic disaster films of the seventies, and the genre has yet to come in for a landing, yet few have flown as high as this talented trio.

Two years later our team of three would attempt to bring their brand of comedy to the small screen with Police Squad, which would spoof the classic cop shows of the sixties and seventies. Leslie Nielsen played bungling detective Frank Drebin who fumbled his way though gag after gag in this thirty-minute sit-com. Though the comedy was certainly as creative as that found in Airplane, the show lasted a mere six episodes.

Even though the sit-com had been a failure, six years later our three comedic minds would once again delve into the files of Police Squad and bring the interesting case of The Naked Gun to the big screen. Drebin would again attempt to solve cases and prevent crimes surrounded by an equally inept police force and criminals portrayed by an all-star cast. The comedy was extremely creative and even exceeded Airplane in its depth of story.

Paramount released The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad as part of the I Love the 80’s collection which would appear to include a total of 67 (Why not 80?) different films. Taking advantage of the popular show on VH-1 to market a collection of films from the decade of the eighties would certainly appear to be a good marketing plan, but may serve to irritate fans. It’s certainly not unreasonable for fans to expect that a new release of such films would include additional material often entitled “Bonus” or “Special Features.” Not so in this case. The new release contains no new material. There is a commentary, which is informative and humorous, and the original theatrical trailer, but these were included in previous releases. The packaging does list Widescreen Version enhanced for 16:9 TV’s, Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround, French Mono, and English Subtitles as Special Features, but that is a bit generous.

To be completely accurate, the new release does include a CD entitled Music from the 80’s, which includes four, yes four, songs from the decade. “Lips Like Sugar” by Echo & The Bunnymen, “Chains of Love” by Erasure, “Need You Tonight” by INXS, and “Take On Me” by a-ha. Now this would be a great way to encourage people to buy the new releases in hopes of building their music collection, unfortunately all releases in the “I Love the 80’s” DVD collection include the same four songs.

Recommendation: The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad is an innovative, and creative endeavor that is brilliant in its execution, though some simply may not appreciate that type of humor. Rated PG-13 for some content, it is generally a fun film for the majority of the family.

The new release is generally disappointing in its lack of new material. Where are the cast interviews, outtakes, deleted scenes, etc? Hopefully we can expect more from a 25th anniversary release.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Friday the 13th: Uncut - Deluxe Edition (1980)

Written by Hombre Divertido

In 1980, wanting to piggyback the success of Halloween, which had hit the big screen two years earlier, director/producer Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller sent some kids out into the woods. Said outing would spawn 10 sequels and a 2009 remake due to hit theaters Friday February 13th.

The kids sent into the woods were camp counselors set to reopen Camp Crystal Lake despite the opposition of the local town folk who had tagged the place Camp Blood, after two counselors had been murdered there many years earlier. Our new soon-to-be-corpses would go about their business not realizing until far too late that they were being killed in grizzly fashion one by one.

The film did exactly as intended in that it scared audiences and raked in money. Almost thirty years later, it still manages to be frightening, but the thanks for those goose pimples need to go directly to Harry Manfredini who was responsible for the intense music that brings true terror to what is essentially an incredibly weak story.

Though excitement is easily created as an unknown assailant kills our camp counselors in creative fashion such as an axe to the face, and arrows from under the bed that penetrate the throat of anyone not footloose enough to get away, and the blood-dripping special effects were certainly innovative for their time, but too many opportunities were missed from a storytelling perspective. Had even the slightest amount of time been dedicated to story and character development, this could have easily been an excellent “who dunnit?” as well as the innovative slasher film that it was.

The newly remastered release with a 5.1 surround mix in holograph-covered packaging looks and sounds great, but includes some less than spectacular bonus features. The standard commentary is reasonably entertaining and informative, as are “Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th,” and “The Man behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham”, though the insight tends to get repetitive. “A Friday the 13th Reunion” is scary in its awkward geekiness as it serves to perpetuate the tacky stereotype of all such conventions and those who attend. The addition of previously excluded unrrated footage goes virtually unnoticed and “Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 1” screams: “College production!“ and should have remained lost. The original theatrical trailer is not only wonderful to watch and makes it easy to see how horror fans of that era were enticed to see this film, but will be appreciated more when you see the trailer for the 2009 film.

Recommendation: A rainy Saturday night, a bowl of popcorn, and this film will certainly make for a fun evening and have you yelling at the screen as weapons are left behind and rooms fraught with danger are backed into. Even if this isn’t your cup of blood, the bonus feature “A Friday the 13th Reunion” is worth watching for all the wrong reasons.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

HULK VS (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Written by Puño Estupendo

There's always something a little disturbing about seeing a cartoon aimed at thirty-something-year-old comic-book guys. Now I'm not talking about animated movies aimed at an older audience, I mean something that has the look, design and feel of a Saturday morning superhero action fest but is aimed right at the middle-aged fanboy. Even though I am said fanboy in a lot of ways, it just kind of throws me off a little bit. For this reason, I was surprised when the over-the-top action of Hulk Vs started up.

Split up between two short features, Hulk Vs breaks into "Hulk Vs Wolverine" and "Hulk Vs Thor." In the first, you have a small Canadian town that's been destroyed. Carnage everywhere, military taking control of the investigation, and everyone's favorite X-Man being asked to go after The Hulk (who is being blamed for the destruction). In fast form, Wolverine tracks the "toxic scent" of The Hulk and is stupefied when all he finds is a scrawny little crybaby of a man wearing tattered purple pants. Doesn't take too much to figure out what happens next, bring on the fight! And fight they do, crazy style!

I was honestly surprised at how brutal it was: blood, stabbing, severe pummeling...that's when you realize it's aimed at the fanboys. The problem was that it kind of made me laugh at how blatant it was about it. Once the fighting started (of which there is a lot of), it came off like it was trying to live up to robots fighting alien werewolves while Jessica Alba ran around in a skimpy outfit; completely blatant in who it was targeting.

Aside from that, it was a fairly fun ride. There's actually a bit of story thrown in between the fighting, and the appearance of several more villains make for a slug-fest of proportions you would expect from something that has The Hulk and Wolverine in it. Wolverine actually turns out to be more of a focus in this than Hulk does. There's flashback sequences to his origin and the villains are all from his past: Deadpool, Omega Red, Lady Deathstryke. The Hulk just serves as a vehicle for a Wolverine story. Not that that's such a terrible thing at all, but it came off as kind of a bait and switch to me.

Sort of the same can be said for the second feature of the set, "Hulk Vs Thor." This time around the Hulk is brought to the mythical realm of Asgard where he is possessed by Thor's evil brother Loki and is used as a weapon against all that is good. The beatings commence, and it's a whole lot more fighting.

These are not necessarily for the young ones. The violence is the prominent factor and it's not exactly adults only, but there's blood, severed limbs, head-bashing and even a pointblank gunshot to the face courtesy of Deadpool in the Wolverine segment. It's machismo with superheroes and it's fun stuff if you're into that. I did like the character designs quite a bit, more so with the Wolverine movie than the Thor one, but both are nicely done. As a comic-book fan, it was a treat to see some of these characters handled like this and I would definitely be interested in more.

A surprising amount of extras are included for both movies including making-of's and plenty of behind the scenes interviews with the directors, writers, and designers. Each film runs 40 minutes so they really did include more bonus features than a lot of films twice their size. Hulk Vs is the kind of fun where you just check your brain at the door a bit, kick back, and watch the mayhem unfold. Fans of these characters won't be disappointed but probably won't exactly be blown away either, but should definitely give them a watch if you've been sitting on the fence about it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Night Court - The Complete Second Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

In the early 1980s the landscape of television situation comedies began to change from the trite stories that served to move from one punch line to the next that spotted the television horizon of the late ‘70s, to stories of depth that found humor in well-developed characters. Many series did not survive the transition. Night Court which began in January of 1984 managed to evolve and subsequently become a hit, breaking into the Neilson top-30 (#11) in 1985 and the top-10 (#7) from ‘86 to ‘88. Yes, the show certainly benefited from being a part of NBC’s stellar Thursday night lineup, but Night Court benefited more from growing along with the taste of the audience.

In the first few seasons, Night Court was more like a series from the ‘70s, driven by obvious “set up and punch” humor. As it matured, the characters were developed, an ensemble was formed and utilized, and the stories were allowed to drive the comedy rather than the other way around.

Warner Brothers Home Video has released the complete second season on DVD. Though this well packaged three-disc set is enjoyable, at this point in the show’s evolution, it is more reminiscent of a ‘70s sit-com than that of the time period in which it was aired, and thus has a more nostalgic feel to it than one might expect.

Following the goings-on at a New York Manhattan night court presided over by youthful Judge Harold T. Stone (Harry Anderson) who had a penchant for magic, jokes, and Mel Torme, Night Court not only featured a colorful cast of characters, but was consistently visited by some of the best comedic character actors in the business.

Anderson had made a name for himself in a few appearances on Cheers as con man “Harry the Hat,” and would anchor Night Court for its entire eight-year run. Also along for the entire run was John Larroquette, as assistant D.A. Reinhold “Dan” Fielding, who would manage to turn one of television’s most lecherous characters into a beloved comedic icon worthy of four Emmys, and Richard Moll as gentle giant bailiff Nostradamus “Bull” Shannon. The second season would also include Selma Diamond as wisecracking bailiff Selma Hacker, Charlie Robinson as court clerk Mac Robinson who was the calming influence in the room, and representing the accused was Billie Young played energetically by Ellen Foley.

This cast was good, but had yet to find its working chemistry this season. With respects to Ellen Foley who added much to the ensemble, the cast really came together with the addition of Markie Post as Christine Sullivan who appeared in one episode in season two and would become a regular the following season.

In season two much humor was generated by the constant flow of unusual characters through the courtroom on a nightly basis. These roles in season two included such stars as Michael Richards, Lou Ferrigno, John Astin, Stella Stevens, and many more.
The new release is packaged nicely and looks great, but includes no bonus material.

Recommendation: Though the series would get much better in future seasons and the constant set-up punch formula grows tiring, there is some fun here. It’s a nice addition to the collection of a true fan, or just someone who wants to hear what Dan or Selma our going to say next.