Monday, March 30, 2009
On March 24th Disney released Lilo & Stitch in a 2-Disc Big Wave edition. This 85-minute animated film was a huge success when it was released in June of 2002, and is still an interesting and visually exciting film, but this new release appears to be, well, stitched together.
Lilo & Stitch take the E.T. formula and turns it upside down as the aggressive and nearly indestructible genetic experiment 626 escapes his prison sentence, makes his way to Earth, and is adopted by the also aggressive Lilo, who loves her unusual-looking dog. Take the antics of the two main characters, throw in Lilo’s overextended guardian and older sister Nani, a mysteriously stern, man-in-black social worker named Cobra Bubbles, and an alien comedy team sent to capture Stitch, put them all in the serene Hawaiian islands, and set all the action to some classic Elvis songs, and you have a film that children are sure to enjoy.
The film has some unusually violent tendencies for a Disney film, as Lilo is certainly not the standard Disney youngster. She hits, bites, and talks back, but the film is about growth and change as both characters display a well-crafted evolution in who they are and how they relate to their environment and those in it. There are some good messages to be found in this film, though parents may need to break it down for children, as the story is a bit busy.
The vocal talents of Daveigh Chase and Tia Carrere, as Lilo and Nani do a wonderful job of capturing the local dialect, as does Jason Scott Lee as the local boy interested in Nani. Co-writer/co-director Chris Sanders has fun creating the sounds emanating from Stitch; and David Ogden Stiers, Ving Rhames, Kevin McDonald, and Kevin Michael Richardson round out a talented cast of vocal artists who bring great energy to this project.
It is the look and sound of the film that will endear it to adults. The watercolors give this film a look that combines the beauty of classic Disney animation with the technology of today, creating images that jump off the screen and settings that draw the viewer in. The imagery is truly some of the best in the Disney vault, and it is hard to go wrong with a soundtrack full of Elvis songs. The entire soundtrack is worth owning as it contains great rock ‘n’ roll along with wonderful songs that are sure to transport you to the islands.
It’s almost seven years since the film hit the big screen and had its eventual DVD release, an animated television series would follow the next year, and then a straight-to-DVD sequel in 2005, so it had to be time for a new release. Disney certainly had enough time to put together something really special, so why does the 2-Disc Big Wave edition seem so thrown together? From no information as to which pieces of material are on which disc, to repetitive content, games listed as samples that aren’t, a ridiculously short hula lesson, and a painfully long documentary, this is a mess.
The reselling of a film on DVD is always about the bonus material, and there is certainly a lot here, but how about putting some effort into the presentation. The second disk is an embarrassment. It loads to an amateurish menu that leads to a documentary which follows the making of the film from inception to premiere, and is exhaustively thorough at over two hours. If that is not enough, the second disk also includes footnotes from the documentary and “Deleted Scenes and Early Versions,” though both features contain a lot of the same material.
The first disk contains the feature as well as some pleasant and educational bonus features including audio commentary featuring producer Clark Spencer and directors/writers Sanders and Dean DeBlois, DisneyPedia: Hawaii – The Islands of Aloha, and the theatrical trailers that creatively inserted Stitch into classic Disney films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin.
Whereas the documentary on the second disk was too long, some features on the first disc are far too short. The Hula lesson will disappoint kids as it could have easily been a terrific piece by providing some quality instruction rather than the three-minute glance that it is, “Burning Love” is nothing more than watching Wynonna standing in front of a microphone singing the song, and though “A Stitch in Time” is certainly long enough at three minutes, it makes little sense.
Recommendation: If you don’t own the wonderfully edgy Lilo & Stitch, than this is a fine way to add it to your collection. If you do already own the DVD, and really want to know more about the film, there is some quality bonus material here, but the presentation certainly could have been better as could some of the content.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Season two of The Riches debuted on March 18, 2008 and consisted of seven episodes. The first season received critical acclaim including several Emmy nominations and was a ratings success as well. The second season received positive reviews but not the ratings; the series was canceled several months after the season ended.
The Riches is the story of the Malloy family, traveling con artists who have managed to steal the American dream after the accidental death of a wealthy couple. The season one finale included the arrival of Dahlia’s (Minnie Driver) cousin Dale (Todd Stashwick) looking for stolen money and Pete (Arye Gross), the best friend of the real Doug Rich, looking for answers.
Season two begins with the family on the run. They have drugged Pete and are about to take off for Mexico when they have trouble with the RV. Wayne (Eddie Izzard) and Dahlia go back to the house to get another car and Wayne decides to go in and bribe Pete. Dahlia takes off with the three kids and neighbor Nina (Margo Martindale) who has decided to run away from her boring life. Once back in the house, Wayne discovers that Dale has killed Pete. While Wayne is trying to figure out how to deal with Dale, his boss Hugh (Gregg Henry) shows up with a brilliant new moneymaking scheme. After some trouble ensues, Dahlia and the group are reunited with Wayne who convinces them to go back to Eden Falls for one last big score so that they can really live a normal life. The season ends with several cliffhangers that we will never know the resolution of which is disappointing.
All of the reasons that made season one so good are still in place in season two: an excellent cast, a well-written and interesting story, and unique characters. The heart of the show is a simple family drama about parents struggling with issues that arise with their children, relationships, and day-to-day suburban life. I thought season two was just as thought provoking and intriguing as season one and the performances just as brilliant. Minnie Driver is especially phenomenal; I can’t take my eyes off of her when she is on screen. Watching her character develop and the issues she faces and tries to overcome is the best part of the show.
There are certain aspects that I didn’t care for. I could care less about Hugh and his storyline for example, but overall the season is definitely worth watching. It is unfortunate that a show as original and well done as this didn’t make it while ‘The Bachelor” and other such nonsense continues to live on. If you didn’t get a chance to see season two when it aired, this is your chance to see what you missed.
The only special feature included is “Eddie Izzard: Revealed,” a featurette focused on Izzard’s character.
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Gulliver’s Travels was Max Fleischer’s and Paramount Pictures answers to Walt Disney’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and is just as visually pleasing if not as overall entertaining. The Fleischer brothers, Dave and Max, with their studio were pioneers of many of the innovations used to further the art of animation and it shows in the work that they achieved with their 1939 masterpiece. Dotted with song and comedy, Part I of the classic Jonathan Swift tale is brought to life and delivers its still powerful message while providing seventy-seven minutes of cartoon entertainment.
The “giant” Gulliver loses his ship during a rough sea storm and is washed ashore in the land of Lilliput, which is inhabited by tiny little people that fit into Gulliver’s hand. Discovered while passed out on the beach by the fussy Gabby, Gulliver is finally set upon by the Lilliputians at the request of the king and brought to town. Once awake and after their initial fright the Lilliputians take to Gulliver very well, cleaning, shaving, clothing, and treating him to a feast and festivities of song and dance. Gulliver is also persuaded to aid the people against the attacking army of the king of Blefiscu. Now the whole feud between the two kingdoms started over what song was to be sung at the wedding of the prince of Blefiscu and the princess of Lilliput.
The kings could not decide, began to quarrel, and war was declared. Gulliver intervened only to stop any loss of life and not really to see one side win. After witnessing the young couples true love, Gulliver comes up with a plan to combine the two songs and bring the two warring kingdoms to peace again. Gulliver does help bring peace, but after the prince nearly loses his life while saving the giant’s, only then do the people of both kingdoms realize that fighting over a song is trivial and friendship is a better option. With all well again Gulliver and company build a small boat for him to sail off into the sunset on, back to the land of giants.
The film contains many great scenes and some good comic moments from the kings and mostly Gabby. Gulliver pulling ships together as they attempt to attack Lilliput is a sequence which has stuck in my mind since I saw the feature as a child on television as well the scene of the giant’s discovery. Gulliver himself is another aspect of the film that has always lived in my mind for the fact that he looks like a real human, through rotoscoping, and not a cartoon individual. The color is great and keeps the eye alive to the movements and scenery. The songs are okay, Gabby’s opening song and “It’s A Hap-Hap-Happy Day” are highlights. “Happy Day” is the centerpiece of the film and was used in numerous other Fleischer cartoons.
Entertaining even though the plot is, it’s a tad thin and the songs don’t pop the same way the Disney features do. Side by side with Snow White, Gulliver’s Travels does fall short. But with its antiwar message, goodhearted vibe and great animation, children should adore the film in the same way that generations before have.
As a DVD bonus there are two Gabby shorts (“Swing Cleaning” and “King For A Day”) that were pieced together from unused portions of the film and in that sense they are interesting but again lack the flair of other toon shorts of the time. A five-minute vintage documentary (“The Making Of A Cartoon”) on the Fleischer studios by the Fleischer studios is interesting to watch as we see the way animation studios used to work.
My one major problem with the disc is the menu. It’s hard to determine what chapter or feature you want to select or jump to; other than that the film and packaging are fine.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Written by Fumo Verde
It’s a crapshoot the way I do reviews. I read a blurb, maybe see a trailer on website, but most times is a roll of the dice, sometimes you win and sometimes it’s a Drake Bell CD. Most of the time I can count on documentaries to at least bring a small piece of knowledge into my life that I absorb like a Shamwow and this little doc did just that.
I find nothing compelling about moving a house nor Southern white families tracing their roots back to nobles of old Europe or African Americans tracing their roots returning to those houses of those white people who used to own said people. There’s nothing wrong with any of it but I just didn’t think I would be interested. These are the times I love when I’m wrong. Moving Midway hooked me and I never left the monitor.
This is a story of a family, their house, and the slaves who built it. Director Godfrey Cheshire by blood is a Hinton. What or who is a Hinton? Let’s start from square one: John Hinton (1715-1784). This guy came to North Carolina with a land grant from the king of England in 1739 and it is his bloodline that runs through Godfrey Cheshire. Next significant Hinton to make this all possible was Charles Lewis Hinton (1783-1861). Family lore says he built the house at Midway Plantation for his son David. It’s called Midway Plantation because it was the midway point between two other plantations owned by the Hinton family. Charles Lewis Hinton also fathered a son from one of his slaves, and his name was Ruffin Hinton. So right there we have a story line of a family, black and white, coming together to meet each other for the first time. For a history freak like me, this was pretty interesting because you would think people would have issues with others, but everybody was cordial. If there were issues, Cheshire didn’t put it on the screen.
The other story being told was one that demythologizes the lore of a Tara type of plantation. Immortalized by Gone with the Wind, this legendary idea of a huge manor house on vast acres of land was made up. As filmmakers and historians have found out, the southern part of our nation is not covered with plantation houses and cotton fields, yet when the term “the old South” is muttered, this is the concept most bring to the forefront of their mind. It also explores films such as Birth of a Nation, which may be considered one of the greatest films ever by film historians and to this day the only movie which has out sold it was Titanic, or so the expert on the disc tells us, but it reeks with racism and fear of the black man. The ideas conveyed about the South of the past still shadow the South of present, and though time heals all wounds, money and progress can only patch the scars.
The final story is about the house itself and how and why it moved. It seems the plantation was sold off due to a new interstate, which would come right through the backyard of the Midway house. To keep this “plantation feel” the heir of matriarch Mimi Hinton, Charles Hinton Sliver, whose job was to keep the myth/legend of Midway Plantation alive, felt it better to preserve the old house than to be run over by Target. How this move happens is also a sight to see, and Mr. Mike Blake is the man who makes it all happen. With years of experience Blake & Co. treat this house with kid gloves as they slowly hall it through the back lands of North Carolina.
This film, now on DVD, surprised me and I found that it tells more than just the story on the cover. It opens up doors and asks questions while showing us why certain ideas still remain. Two things didn’t surprise me. Number one comes from the white side of the Hinton family: the idea that the Hintons were definitely kind to their slaves because the entire family are so kind and nice, and everybody in jail is innocent, just ask them. Second, comes from the black side of the Hinton family—they wanted to know why the plantation land was divided up and given to all the members of the Hinton family.
Truth is all our bloodlines are connected and can be traced back to algae, it doesn’t mean I can lay claim to the pond. As we change, we still stay the same.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Written by Hombre Divertido
In September of 1964 animation innovators and pioneers William Hanna and Joseph Barbara again broke all molds by bringing an animated action series to prime-time television. Though the adventures of 11-year-old Johnny Quest, his best friend Hadji, dog Bandit, father Dr. Benton Quest, and Roger “Race” Bannon would only run in primetime on ABC for one year, it would become a cult classic on Saturday mornings as the original 26 episodes would have a run on each of the three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) over the next fifteen years.
In 1986 the series was re-tooled for a 13-episode run in syndication. The new effort included the original cast, plus Jesse Bradshaw, an independent, eighties teenage girl, and (heavy sigh) Hardrock, a subterranean warrior who was made of stone. This outing had some of the good qualities of the original series, but ultimately not enough.
In 1996 the Cartoon Network would bring the latest incarnation of Jonny Quest to television in the form of The Real Adventures. On February 17th, 2009 Warner Home Video released Volume One (13 episodes) of the first season in a two-disc set.
In The Real Adventures Jonny and Hadji are now teenagers and are joined by a young teenage girl, who in this case is Jesse Bannon, daughter of Race, who also participates in the team’s adventures along with Jonny’s father Dr. Benton Quest. Bandit appears in some of the episodes but is certainly not as prevalent as he was in the original series. Alas, Hardrock does not appear in this series.
The Quest Team continues to travel the world assisting others and solving mysteries. These new stories look and sound great on DVD, though, in certain cases the animation looks more like a computer game than an animated television show.
Generally it is the writing that let’s this new series down. The writers fail to appreciate the group dynamics that made the original series so popular, and many of the stories simply try too hard to be more than they should. The relationships between the team members were instrumental in the success of the original series, and are all but lost here, as the group is constantly split up and Hadji is under utilized.
A computer-generated world titled Questworld plays a key role in too many of the episodes as it simply serves to give children something to look at, but serves little purpose and often distracts from what should have been entertaining stories as in episode two “Escape to Questworld.”
The vocal talents are adequate in the show, though adults may find the extremely recognizable voice of George Segal to be distracting as Dr. Benton Quest. Robert Patrick as Race Bannon is also recognizable, but is overshadowed by his inconsistent performance that includes a southern drawl that seems to disappear and reappear from scene to scene.
The sole special feature in this release is the short documentary: “Jonny Quest Returns: Modernizing a Classic for a New Generation of Fans.” It is informative and entertaining as the various people involved in this project convey their respective goals in bringing Jonny Quest back to television, but it would have been more realistic had they given a more even perspective and conveyed the areas in which they failed.
Recommendation: Children may enjoy the look of the series, but adults will be annoyed with some of the ridiculous and convoluted storylines. Fans of the original series will be disappointed with what has been done to the classic ensemble chemistry that was Jonny Quest of the sixties.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
In conjunction with the release of Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain, the studio has gone back to the vault to re-release Escape to Witch Mountain and Return to Witch Mountain.
Escape was originally released in 1975 and is based on a novel of the same name by Alexander Key. The story follows siblings Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards) Malone. When we join the kids, they are being dropped off at orphanage due to the death of their foster parents. They standout from the rest of the kids very quickly as Tony jumps to unbelievable heights to catch a ball and we see them able to talk to each other mentally.
One day while in town, Tia has a premonition and approaches Lucas Deranian (Donald Pleasence) to warn him about getting into his car. The car is smashed shortly thereafter and leaves the man very curious. Deranian runs to his employer to report the incident. Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland) is a millionaire who believes in the supernatural and wants to exploit it to expand his fortune. Deranian and Bolt doctor documents to convince the orphanage that Deranian is the children’s long lost uncle. Tony and Tia are then whisked away to Bolt’s castle. Even though they are tempted by toys and luxury, they know they need to run away and find the place located on a map hidden in Tia’s star case. During their escape they run into Jason O’Day (Eddie Albert) who is traveling cross-country in his Winnebago. The children are able to melt the heart of this crotchety old man and he helps them uncover the truth.
I didn’t remember much about this movie, and after revisiting, I think I must have blocked it out. The story has the potential to be interesting but the acting is bad, the dialogue uninspired, and the children do not elicit any sympathy at all. I found them rather annoying. Eddie Albert was so lovable in Green Acres but in this he is unbelievable in his attempt to be the mean old widower. In addition, the special effects look terrible.
As I started Return, I had hopes that it would be better than its predecessor. Alas, it was not.
Based on an original idea, it is three years later and Tony and Tia are back for a vacation in Los Angeles. Not long after coming into town, Tony saves a man from falling off of a building and is subsequently kidnapped by two observers, Dr. Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee) and Letha Wedge (Bette Davis). Dr. Gannon uses a mind-control device to test out Tony’s powers. He wants to use Tony’s powers to conquer the world but Letha just wants to make money.
Tia, while trying to find Tony, runs into some street kids who are being tormented by another gang. She protects them and in turn they help her search the city for Tony, all the while trying to stay clear of a truant officer, Mr. "Yo-Yo" Yokomoto (Jack Soo). Tia finally finds Tony but gets captured in the process. The street kids then come to Tia’s rescue and together with Mr. Yo-Yo they are off to save Tony and the world.
I will say on a positive note that Tony and Tia are much less annoying in the sequel but that is about all I can say. The story is boring and involves way too many long and drawn-out chases, which was a problem in the first one as well. Also Lee and Davis are completely underutilized as the villains.
The DVDs come with the same Special Features from the 2003 DVD releases and were obviously planned together as they are very similar. Escape has interview segments (“Making the Escape” with the cast all grown up and “Conversations with John Hough”), montages (“1975 Disney Studio Album” presents clips of what the studio was offering that year, and “Disney Sci-Fi” shows clips of science fiction in Disney films), and a cartoon short (“Pluto’s Dream House”). There is also the informative “Disney Effects – Something Special.” Return also has interview segments (“Making the Return trip” and “The Gang’s Back In Town” both present the cast all grown up. A great find is “Lost Treasure: Christopher Lee.” From 1978, it reveals a mustachioed Lee being interviewed and answering question in Spanish with English subtitles on screen.), montages (“1978 Disney Studio Album” updates the slate and “Disney Kids with Powers” shows clips of the aforementioned), and a cartoon short (Donald Duck starring in “The Eyes Have It.”) Both films come with a commentary track by Hough, Eisenmann, and Richards, and each offers an all-new feature that allows facts to pop up on screen.
Disneyphiles may go wild over the Special Features, but I can’t recommend either of the Witch Mountain films. You may want to see what The Rock has cookin’ and try Race instead, if you dare.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
After an extremely weak ninth season that marked the first full season without the stabilizing force of the now-deceased Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), whose absence was felt throughout a season that fraught with one-dimensional performances, limited storylines, and the shark-jumping helicopter accident that lead to the ruining of one of the best antagonists on television, one might have easily seen the ninth season as the beginning of the end to this long-running television drama. Luckily for fans of ER, the writers, producers, etc. bounced back with an extremely strong season filled with new cast members and well written stories for our veterans.
On March 3rd Warner Home Video released the complete tenth season of ER on a six-disc set, and from the opening segment of the first episode, “Now What?” in which Carter (Noah Wyle) returns from Africa to the bedside of Abby (Maura Tierney) in a moment so well-crafted visually and musically to be described as nothing less than elegant, just before Abby awakes and rips Carter’s heart out in a manner sure to make all men shudder, fans were notified that ER was truly back and this season was to be something special.
For the most part this season lives up to the expectations established by the opening segment of the first episode. Though the second episode does not take place in the ER, but rather in Africa as Carter returns in search of Lukas’ (Goran Visnjic) body after the staff is informed of his death, it contains some of the most dramatic, well-written, and well-acted moments of the series thus far.
The writing this season does, to an extent, return to the roots of the show, and allow for the stories of the patients to take more of the focus than in the ninth season, and this is a welcome relief. Yes, there are still plenty of wonderful storylines revolving around the cast including those already mentioned from the second episode, but the show was built on a balance of the two, and this season reflects a quality found in balance.
Bob Newhart makes several appearances in a heartfelt, Emmy-nominated performance as a suicidal elderly man, slowly losing his sight, who is befriended by Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield). There are many other well-written storylines that revolve around visitors to the ER including a mother who sets fire to herself in front of her son in “Out of Africa,” a visit from some Amish teenagers in “Missing,” the family in crisis in “NICU,” and many more.
Unfortunately not all the stories are golden. Dr. Romano (Paul McCrane) now only has one arm, and though this situation creates some reasonably enjoyable moments as in “Dear Abby,” the character is no longer as much fun as he used to be. The writers have fixed something that was oh so far from broken, and it just does not work. The final appearance of Dr. Romano in “Freefall” marks some of the worst writing of the season, and the loss of the best antagonist ever to hit the ER before or after. McCrane deserves much praise for his performance, as the likes of the Rocket will not be seen again on television anytime soon.
There is great chemistry in the cast, but simply not enough for everyone to do. They would be thinned in coming years, and though some members will be missed, it is for the best. Though the tenth season marks the introduction of some fine new characters including Scott Grimes as Dr. Archie Morris and Parminder Nagra as Neela Rasgotra, both of which play key roles in the success of the show beyond this season, Linda Cardellini takes a bit longer to settle into her shoes as youthful take-charge nurse Sam Taggert. Her storylines are simply too contrived during this season, and the performance is inconsistent.
As in previous releases there is not a lot of bonus material. For the most part the deleted scenes entitled “Outpatient Outtakes” have been deservedly deleted. The exception may be the clips from “Blood Relations” where the scenes are actually enjoyable to watch after viewing the episode. The one gag reel is cute at best.
Recommendation: The tenth season is for both the true fan of the show or someone new to ER. This is simply quality television to be enjoyed by all.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Written by Senora Bicho
Primal Fear is a courtroom drama that involves a complex plot with many twists and turns. It was based on the first novel in a series by William Diehl featuring the character of Martin Vail.
Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is a high-profile defense attorney who defends the dregs of society. He cares more about media attention than innocence, truth, and justice. When a well-known and beloved archbishop is murdered, Vail jumps at the chance to defend the 19-year-old alter boy accused of the crime for all of the attention that the case will garner. He goes to the jailhouse to meet Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) who is a stuttering, meek, young man from a small town. Vail tells him right off that he doesn’t care if he did it or not but will defend him pro bono; Stampler quickly agrees.
Janet Venable (Laura Linney) is the prosecutor on the case who is under enormous pressure by her higher-ups to win the case and get the death penalty. Venable and Vail had a brief affair previously and so both want to win for personal reasons as well.
In the course of the investigation, Vail uncovers that the archbishop was receiving death threats because of a shady real-estate deal and he was sexually abusing the alter boys. He also comes to truly care for Aaron and believes that he is innocent. Aaron claims to have been having blackouts, so Vail hires a psychiatrist (Frances McDormand) to try and uncover the truth. After intense questioning, Aaron turns into “Roy,” an angry and hostile persona that confesses to killing the archbishop. The psychiatrist believes that Aaron suffers from multiple personality disorder. Since the trial is already underway, Vail is unable to change Aaron’s “not guilty” plea to insanity and so he must resort to unorthodox methods to save his client.
This edition comes with several new extras. A commentary tract by director Gregory Hoblit, co-writer Ann Biderman, producer Gary Lucchesi, executive producer Hawk Koch and casting director Deborah Aquila. The commentary is interesting, but it would have been nice to have one of the actors from the film as well. “Primal Fear: The Final Verdict” offers interviews with key people involved with the film including Norton and Linney. “Primal Fear: Star Witness” also has interviews but focuses on the casting of Norton. “Psychology of Guilt” provides factual information on the insanity defense and multiple personality disorders. The original theatrical trailer is also included.
Primal Fear is not a film of special effects or something that needs to be seen on a big screen to be appreciated; however, this Blu-ray version is good to look at considering the source. There is a limited depth of field in most shots causing a soft focus of backgrounds, but the clarity of the facial features helps to enhance the performances. Textures can be seen but not as sharp as current films. The color palette of the production design mainly uses earth tones with muted colors, although this does allow reds, particularly the blood at the murder scene to pop off the screen. The Dolby True HD sound does have much to do with this courtroom drama although the dialogue is clearly conveyed. James Newton Howard’s score sounds great, and it adds a layer to the emotion in the film.
This is an excellent film from the solid writing and intriguing story to the brilliant performances. Gere is at his best as the slick attorney who has his world turned upside down, Linney is perfect as the strong but vulnerable D.A., and I can’t say enough about Norton. Every time he is on screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him regardless of if he is sweet Aaron or hostile Roy. He is completely believable and engrossing as both characters. McDormand, John Mahoney, Andre Braugher, and Alfre Woodard are also stellar in their supporting roles.
I love Primal Fear and can watch it over and over again. Each time I find something new and interesting or appreciate a scene that I hadn’t previously. If you own a previous version of the movie, the extras offered in this edition are worth the upgrade if you would like more behind-the-scenes information.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Written by Puño Estupendo
Oh man, I'm just going to throw out the stinker alert right now and get it over with. Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is not on my list of any horror movies I would recommend to a friend that asked me for suggestions on what to watch. Actually, I think it has now made my list of "films to never bother to watch again." Even if all you're looking for are the staples of formula that everybody makes jokes about, you're going to be very disappointed. People getting picked off, yes. Teenage sex, sort of. Counselors and Crystal Lake, yeah, it's got that too. But what this film absolutely doesn't have are naked people, any kind of scares, or (worst of all) any gore!
Tommy Jarvis continues his participation from Parts IV and V, heading for the cemetery that is the burial place of Jason Voorhees. He wants to know for sure that Jason is dead so he digs up the grave and proceeds to stab the body repeatedly with a rod from an iron gate. Look out though, there's a storm that's moved in. The fence rod that is stuck in Jason's corpse is hit with lightning, and damn if that lightning doesn't bring that guy back to life.
Jason's machine must also be coming up triple 7's because Tommy, and the pal he brought with him, also brought Jason's hockey mask with them. I'm telling you, if Voorhees had even given a shit, he would have bought a lotto ticket, bet on some horses, sat in at a high-stakes poker game, and had all the unprotected sex he could manage, cuz everything was coming up Jason that night.
Tommy escapes, his friend doesn't, and when he tries to warn the local yokel sheriff about Jason's return, he gets thrown in jail for his troubles. Add some camp kids and counselors, and a pretty hefty secondary cast of characters to kill, and you've got one pretty lousy movie. Nobody believes poor Tommy except for the sheriff's daughter. Yeah, the sheriff's daughter...the only thing that separated the sheriff and his daughter were about five years and a mustache. She frees Tommy from his imprisonment and they set out to stop Jason.
At this point, Jason has already built himself a sizable nest egg of kills, but they all sucked visually. Some of the set-up was okay for the deaths, but there was no gore at all! Boy did that piss me off. The only thing you could have enjoyed about this movie would have been the gore, but seriously, there is none. One of the few scenes where they actually showed something other than blood splattering on to the surface of something, it was a knife stuck in somebody's head. If it had been a throwing star instead, it would have matched the gore level of an old kung-fu flick.
There are also a bunch of little visual gags like Jason walking past the camp signs that say "virtue, friendliness, etc." This just showed me that even the director didn't take this shit seriously, so why bother watching it. There's kill scenes with no gore and sex scenes where people seem to manage to stay clothed. The acting is bad (even for a movie of this kind) and it just isn't fun in any ways I could figure out. Stick with the first four but leave part six alone. Tie a boulder around it's neck and drop it in the middle of a lake, only this time, make sure not to come back to it later.
For all you sleazehounds out there, I highly recommend Part 5 (the one without Jason -- oops). It's directed by Danny Steinmann who did Savage Streets, which should be more than enough cred to those in the know. If that's not enough, the man is better known as Danny Stone, director of countless ‘70s porno films. And it shows in all aspects of this film (especially the dialogue).
This is also the installment that started the franchise's quick regression from showcasing bodycounts and gore to only showing the after-effects of each kill (if at all). After this one, the producers mistake their audience for people who just want to see Jason doing his thing -- which is basically standing in the rain looking a hundred pounds heavier than the last film.
But most importantly, this is the one that the producers, along with cast and crew, are most embarrassed about because of the atmosphere that Steinmann created on the set, which was much like a porno. While filming the sex scenes he be would standing off to the side saying, "Yeah. fuck her! Fuck her! Get her good!" It caused one of the actresses to stop the biz completely she was so traumatized by him.
In the end, you get absolutely no gore (not a drop -- all the kills are done off screen), and not even Jason. But you get a mom calling her son a "fucking dildo," you get the black kid that got joint-molested with Arnold on Different Strokes, and you have some really hot girls and boys that look straight out of the porn industry (I guarantee the dudes are from gay porn since they were the only ones with abs in the ‘80s). The lead, who was a born-again Christian, prayed for days before accepting the role, fearing it might not be the right thing to do. A born-again with abs in the ‘80s. Big surprise.
I just know that most of you will enjoy Part 5. Whereas the rest of the chapters just plain suck, this one is at least entertaining for all the wrong reasons and a milestone in that it changed the tone of the series for the rest of its duration.
All of my trivia is taken from the highly recommended book Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday The 13th by Peter M. Bracke in case you are looking for more.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
At the risk of letting the cat outta the bag here, I'm guessing that most of you realize that Friday the 13th Part IV is not the final chapter that it promised to be. This was the first of the 13th movies I saw in the theater and it holds a warm spot in my heart because of it. In a lot of ways, this really is the final chapter in the fact that the films that followed it in the series set the tone for what most people think of when they envision Friday the 13th. The cliche set-ups, the stupid kids, an undead Jason that just gets more and more ridiculous as each movie came out, but this one tried it's best to make up for the ridiculousness of it's 3-D predecessor and gain a little dignity as it thought it was closing up the franchise. I think it did. I think that if it had been the final film in the series people would have a completely different regard for the films and they wouldn't have ended up being such a joke.
I'm of the opinion that Friday the 13th Parts I and II are completely solid, awesome horror films. They're well made and not cliche at all. Younger or first-time viewers see them as having all of the cliches, but should realize that some of those formulas weren't so played out when those movies hit. Those are two of the horror films of the time period that created (what came to be) the formula because so many people ripped them off. I still think that if the series had stopped here, people would have some jokes about the third movie being pretty hokey, but rave about the series overall and not with their tongue in cheek.
Breaking from the mold it had set, The Final Chapter centers around the Jarvis family: a single mom and her two children, a son and a daughter. Sure, the daughter Trish is a cute blonde teenager (somebody has to be) but her little brother Tommy (played by Corey Feldman no less!) adds an element that hasn't appeared in the series before this: kids in the firing line. Tommy isn't a party-ready teen looking to get some; he's a 12-year-old kid with a talent for making masks. Even by today's standards that isn't something we're used to seeing. You get a bunch of young twenty-something actors and maybe a few older ones, but it's fairly rare to see a serial killer chasing a 12-year-old kid around.
The house next door to the Jarvis' is hosting what you've come to expect. Filled with drunk horny teens, you immediately know that there's the cannon fodder you've been waiting for. This brings us to the real treat of the film, the return of the gore master who pioneered spectacular onscreen deaths, Tom Savini. His effects and outrageous creativity of all things horrific were a huge part of what made the original 13th such a phenomenon and to get him back for this installment was the best thing the filmmakers did here. The showdown between Jason and little Tommy at the end of the movie could not possibly have been as great without the skills of Savini. The man uses a machete like a paintbrush and his finished artworks are masterpieces on morbid canvases.
The Final Chapter isn't a great movie, but it still hits all the beats and it does so with a dignity that the rest of the series seemed to have lost after it. If you need it, there's even a bit of fun factor going not only because of the Corey Feldman factor, but a young pre-freakshow with his life Crispin Glover. There's flubs galore if you pay close attention, but the end pays off large. You may be jaded to onscreen killings by this point in cinema, but this finale is still something to behold.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Beverly Hills Chihuahua is sure to garner some “Look, Mommy, talking dogs!” comments from young children, but there is little here for anyone over the age of six.
Released on DVD on Tuesday March 3rd from Disney, this story of a spoiled Chihuahua who gets dognapped south of the border features an all-star cast, but that is not always a good thing. Somewhere along the line Disney and other companies producing animated features got the brilliant idea to use popular actors in their films rather that trained voiceover actors. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not like Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
Drew Barrymore gives a one-dimensional performance as Chloe, the dainty dog with the high-class digs who gets lost. The rest of the vocal talent simply lacks the energy appropriate for the canines in which they are voicing. The exception would be Cheech Marin as the voice of Manuel the conniving rat, but this comedic genius is given little to say that is actually humorous. Considering that Marin’s performance as a wisecracking Chihuahua in Disney’s Oliver and Company was the bright spot of that film, Marin certainly could have been given a more significant part in this outing.
The humans in the film fare a bit better. Hard to go wrong with Jamie Lee Curtis and Piper Perabo, though the writing tends to let them down. Curtis is given little to do, and Perabo’s character makes a complete transition from a rich, irresponsible, uncaring, young socialite into Violet Sanford from Coyote Ugly over the course of the film, with little motivation. Nonetheless, the two talented actresses are giving their all, and the energy between Perabo and Manolo Cardona as Sam the attractive young Landscaper who, along with his Chihuahua Papi (George Lopez), assists Pearbo in the search for Chloe, results in some of the most endearing moments in the film.
Chloe eventually gets home after making many friends, finding her roots as well as her voice, and love along the way. The film certainly takes some interesting turns as it trots from believability to implausibility in both storytelling and special effects. In certain scenes the latter are actually quite good, but in many scenes they look awful and are certainly not worthy of Disney.
The bonus material is thin, and like the movie is also slated specifically to the very young. The animated short “Legend of the Chihuahua” is awkward at best, the deleted scenes are mildly interesting, but the funniest thing about the blooper reel is that it is titled “Blooper Scooper” which is ironically accurate. The bonus material also includes optional audio commentary by Director Raja Gosnell.
Recommendation: Young children may enjoy the talking dogs, but there is simply not enough comedy here for adults who don’t want to spend 91 minutes watching dogs with cartoon mouths. A simplified story with better special effects and a script with some comedic moments would have better served a wider audience. Skip this one and rent Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Written by Puño Estupendo
I imagine that it's not easy to make a sequel, especially when the original film you're following up on is a major critical and financial success. Add to that the fact that you're not even the one who directed the original and you get a sense of what John Frankenheimer did when he accepted the job of helming The French Connection II.
Kind of a weird thing to do when you think about it. Frankenheimer was a celebrated director, having done Grand Prix, Seconds, and The Manchurian Candidate by this point in his career; it seems like he certainly wouldn't have had to follow William Friedkin's The French Connection at all. In the documentary about him included as part of the supplemental material on the disc, it's recalled that Frankenheimer was rumored to be angry about the job but yet kept those feelings hidden. Maybe that's one of the reasons the two films differ so greatly from each other.
Frankenheimer takes the character of "Popeye" Doyle (played once again by Gene Hackman), and does almost everything he can to take him away from what fans of the original might have been expecting. Changing the setting from New York to Marseilles, the gritty cop is already out of his element right from the start. There are also no returning characters from the first film, except for the baddie, which adds to the denial of anything familiar with which a fan would be looking for. Finally, the film is turned on its ear by making the second act all about heroin addiction. Doyle is abducted off the street by thugs working with the drug dealer he's in France to try to capture. He's taken to a dingey hotel where they hold him captive and shoot him up with heroin, making him an addict over the course of weeks before dumping him on the french police's doorstep. The detective that Doyle has been at odds with over the assignment (played wonderfully by french actor Bernard Fresson) smuggles him to a basement room and puts him through a home-made detox. All of this is kept secret so as not to ruin Doyle's reputation and ruin his life.
This act of the film is wrenching to watch at times; Hackman and Fresson play the scenes so well. Only after all of this, when Doyle has come back from the depths that were forced upon him, does the film turn into a crime-thriller of the like you'd expect. Everything boils down to a final confrontation between Doyle and the drug dealer that eluded him in New York, Alain Charnier.
This is a great film because of how different it is from the original. It could easily have been an independant film unto itself with only a few changes to the script. Though not as gorgeous as the Blu-Ray edition of The French Connection, it has its own charms to offer the viewer. Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it falls a little flat when compared to the first film. Frankenheimer directs the movie with style but it looks like a great deal of other films from that time period with nothing that really wows your eyes.
Also a bit disappointing was the lack of the capabilities with the sound. Though it has a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, it doesn't accomplish much other than sounding crystal clear. Nothing sounds like it's really moving around the room and the sub kind of bumps a little bit without any real rumblings. It sounds great, but it's not pushing the envelope of home entertainment by any means.
The saving graces here are the supplemental featurettes. An interview with Gene Hackman that is a complimentary piece to the one he did for The French Connection is a nice watch. He seems to have great feelings towards the filming of this movie and it comes through in his speech and mannerisms. There are also two commentary tracks, but what I really liked was the documentary "Frankenheimer: In Focus" that was included. With fantastic interviews with a slew of people that have worked with him, I thought it was almost as good of a watch as the film was and I highly recommend it's viewing after you've seen the main feature.
If you are a fan of the original, then you should definitely add The French Connection II to your Blu-Ray library as well.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
In 1980 when Sean S. Cunningham produced and directed the admitted Halloween rip-off Friday the 13th, he did not expect it to foster 10 sequels and a 2009 remake that hit theaters on February 13th.
For the 2009 film, Mr. Cunningham (executive producer) teamed up with producer Michael Bay; director Marcus Nispel, who helmed Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003); and writers Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, and Mark Wheaton (Shannon and Swift wrote Freddy vs. Jason) to create what is actually more of a new story than a re-telling of the original.
The 2009 version opens with a newly filmed scene, in which the vengeful Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor) is decapitated as she was at the end of the original. This adds little to the film, and appears to be nothing more than justification for the title, as this new outing contains more plot points from the second and third installments then the first.
The first twenty minutes of the film consists of a group of teens going out to Crystal Lake in search of a marijuana field. They unfortunately cross paths with Jason, and all but one of them are killed. The opening credits don’t roll until after Jason is done with this first group. Since the first segment has all the components of the classic slasher film, including sex, drugs, and heads that roll, they certainly could have rolled the closing credits as easily as the opening. Instead, Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki who channels a young David Keith in many scenes) comes looking for his missing sister. Clay encounters the local town folk, a new group of teens up for some fun at the lake, and of course, Jason.
Our storytellers have certainly created a new Jason. One that is faster, stronger, more creative (He puts one victim in a sleeping bag and hangs her over the campfire), and cunning. They have also given us more nudity and prolonged sex scenes than in previous Friday the 13th films, and a higher body count, all of which should be music to the ears of true fans of the franchise. Unfortunately, it is the music that really let’s us down. The original film, scored so perfectly by Harry Manfredini, was enhanced by the intense music worthy of classic horror films such as Psycho. Steve Jablonsky adds nothing to the film with his score, and we get little of the classic “Shoo Shoo Shoo Shoo” that let’s us know that Jason is coming.
It is not only the music that is failing here. The writers fail to create the edge-of-the-seat moments so prevalent in previous Friday the 13th endeavors. For the most part, Jason’s kills come too fast and obvious. The audience is also let down by never getting to see anyone killed with the wood chipper that we are shown early in the film.
As in the original, Jason ends up in the lake. He again manages to come up out of the water and attack our heroine. Unfortunately, what was a classic moment in the genre (though a rip-off of Carrie) when done in 1980, gleaned nothing more than snickers from the audience in 2009. The references to the original film that open and close our new version do nothing but weaken the final product.
Recommendation: Friday the 13th continues to be a profitable venture, and this new more energetic and creative Jason could certainly give us plenty of screams in better stories. This particular story fails to provide enough tense moments to be worthy of your ninety-seven minutes. Wait for the DVD.