Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

With the crumbling economy, millions of people out of work, rampant looting and martial law instated in every city across the nation, the citizens of the United States do the unthinkable. They vote in Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) as President.

While the country makes a remarkable recovery under his watch and superheroes who once fought against him are lining up to work for him, there’s still a couple who just aren’t buying his new-and-improved image. And when Lex’s biggest rival, Superman (Tim Daly), won’t bow down to him and take orders, he frames the Man of Steel for the murder of Metallo (John C. McGinley) and places a $1 billion bounty on his head.

Even though Superman has every superhero and every super-villain chasing him in order to collect the reward, he still has the Dark Knight (Kevin Conroy) watching his back. Together the two must fight to stay alive and prove that Lex was behind the murder. But while the heroes are being hunted, Lex has to deal with a giant meteorite made of Kryptonite that is threatening to destroy the entire planet.

The plot seems to really be stretching for a reason to put Batman and Superman together and also to fulfill every comic book fan’s wet dreams. Not only do they get to see them work as a team, but then they get to watch them take on anyone and everyone. That includes the Justice League and the Legion of Doom.

While the storyline is certainly more adult than you might expect, the death of Metallo is somewhat jarring and has some unexpected results. When the death of an actual super being occurs, the question of how much power does everyone really have starts to wander into the viewer’s mind. The murderer easily kills Metallo, yet Superman couldn’t even dent him. Then when that same murderer confronts Superman, Superman isn’t really hurt. Once the mind starts wandering like that, the entire illusion begins to fall apart. How many times can Batman, who is a normal human, be beat up, thrown around, and have his ass kicked and still be able to walk away without a scratch? And why does a small amount of Kryptonite affect Superman so much from afar, but yet a Kryptonite bullet next to his heart doesn’t seem to be that much more difficult for him to withstand. Granted it is a comic book, and you’re always going to need that willing suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy it.

The first DVD includes the 67-minute long film, and several features for upcoming and previously released DC Universe films: Wonder Woman - The Amazon Princess, Justice League - The New Frontier, and Green Lantern - First Flight. The disc also includes a look at the latest DC Comics’ event, “Blackest Night.”

The second DVD is entirely filled with features.

“A Test of Minds” – A critical look into the psyches of Superman and Batman and how their pasts have made them so different from one another but has made them both into heroes.

“Dinner with DC Universe and Special Guest Kevin Conroy” – Executive producer Bruce Timm, voice/casting director Andrea Romano, SVP of Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, and long-time voice of Batman Kevin Conroy sit around a dining table and discuss how they came about creating the films and television shows that they’ve each been associated with.

First Look at Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths – The next movie in the DC Universe scheduled for release will pit the Justice League against their evil counterparts from a parallel universe, known as the Syndicate.

Bruce Timm’s picks from Superman: The Animated Series – “The Demon Reborn,” and “Knight Time.”

Overall, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is a fun film to watch. Not only is it cool to watch the duo stand up to just about everyone, but it’s also just as enjoyable to see them work as a team and how they truly are friends.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Wizard of Oz - 70th Anniversary Two-Disc Special Edition (1939)

Written by Musgo del Jefe

It's intimidating to sit down to write a review of The Wizard Of Oz. I put it right up there with reviewing The Beatles or Huck Finn. What do you say that hasn't already been said? How do you find an angle on something in its seventh decade? For full disclosure, I have to admit that this movie has been in my Top 5 films ever since I was probably five- or six-years-old. Movies have come and gone and this film has never wavered. When we got a VCR, it was the first film I taped off of TV and watched and rewatched. When it was released on VHS, I had the deluxe edition. And back again for another version for the 50th Anniversary. In 1999, I was put my money down for a bare bones DVD version for the 60th Anniversary. Just back in 2005, I purchased the three-disc Collector's Edition on DVD. Now, Warner Bros. has gone into full Oz-mode again for the 70th Anniversary of the film.

First, the film. This is not the film that I watched year after year on CBS in my youth. The print is vibrant and living. If you haven't seen the film in years or only on television, then you haven't seen this film. There isn't a better Technicolor film out there. Simply put, this film uses color as a character. The Sepia portion of the film is so well shot and the story is so captivating, that you are lulled to sleep almost by the soft browns and whites. Once the film turns to Technicolor, the primary colors warm over all your senses. The brilliance of the Yellow Brick Road, the poppies and the Emerald City are just a few of the colors that strike you upon viewing this restored feature.

Does the story of Dorothy Gale from Kansas still stand up today? After 70 years, it's a fair question. The movie unfolds at a relatively slow pace compared to many films of today. There are plenty of songs and plot development before you ever see your first Munchkin or dead witch. But the plot never talks down to the viewer. The story of a young, misunderstood girl looking for an escape from her everyday life is one that still plays well today. I always found that the distinct beats in the story were almost planned to play on television, although the movie was made almost 20 years before it would become an annual fixture on TV. Every 15-20 minutes, there's a natural breathing point, whether when a tornado hits the house or after meeting a new character. There's an ebb and flow to the story that many screenwriters could take a clue from today. Think of the juxtaposition of the relief of finding Emerald City and the surprise tension of the witch spelling out "Surrender Dorothy" in the sky above the city. There's still plenty to enjoy about this film today.

The basic two-disc release for the 70th Anniversary is notable really only because it is the first version available on Blu-Ray. Other than that, I'm more fond of the 2005 release with its Wicked Witch Of The West packaging. There really isn't a significant difference between the two versions. The extras that have been collected around this film range from specials that appeal to even the most casual fan like "Memories Of Oz" to ones like "Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration Of Oz" for those that are concerned that a stereo track isn't being faithful to the original mono soundtrack (my favorite trivia of that special - it took 91 hours to restore the first 10 minutes of the film).

There is a four-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition that is probably more to my speed and contains new material for the uber-fans. The Ultimate edition contains a documentary on the overlooked director, Victor Fleming, a special on the surviving Munchkins, a great AMC special MGM: When The Lion Roars, and even a made-for-TV film, The Dreamer Of Oz about the author L. Frank Baum. As I collect more editions of the Disney animated films, The Planet Of The Apes series, the Universal Monster films and the original Star Wars trilogy, the extras become more important to me. I appreciate that Warner Bros. hasn't really left anything from previous editions out of this collection. But I'm not sure that it feels like they've added anything significant for this anniversary release.

Feeling overwhelmed by hours and hours of extras? Start with the commentary by John Fricke. He is a true Oz historian and I've been hearing his Wizard Of Oz commentaries since the first LaserDisc release of the film. His commentary contains a good combination of historical perspective with trivial tidbits and it's mixed with archival interviews with the film's cast and crew. The other fun extra is the 1990's documentary, "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz: The Making Of A Movie Classic". This is hosted by Angela Lansbury and provides a loving tribute to the film and plays even more to its cultural significance than the nuts and bolts of the commentary.

I am still paralyzed to write about this film. From the very first roar of the MGM lion, I'm a kid again when this film comes on. And it's not in the "I remember watching this when I was nine" type of way. It's the magic of The Wizard Of Oz that makes now feel like then. Only a handful of films can do that. This DVD release for the 70th Anniversary won't be the last. And it may not even be the best. But every household needs a copy of the film and maybe this one is yours. The Wizard Of Oz is the reason I keep coming back to films, the reason I'm raising my children to love film.

I think they couldn't have put it better than they do in the dedication of the film:

For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young In Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion. To those of you who have been faithful to it in return . . . and to the Young In Heart we dedicate this picture.
If that is you. This is your film. And I'll meet you further down the Yellow Brick Road.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Written by Musgo Del Jefe

This review really starts over 30 years ago. On a cold, wet Friday night in the mid-'70s, ABC reaired their 1973 made-for-TV horror film entitled Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. LIttle Musgo had yet to see Jaws and he was years away from The Exorcist. Little Musgo had only been exposed to the Universal Horror films like Dracula and Frankenstein on his parent's newly acquired cable television. This movie telecast freaked out little Musgo to no end - he would have his grandparent's change the channel each commercial break, vowing never to watch it again. But before each set of ads were done, he'd be back on the channel until its terrifying conclusion.

I've blamed lots of sources for my continued interest in horror films and literature. Certainly my completely random and default purchase of two Stephen King paperbacks The Shining and The Stand at the Little Professor Bookshop in Southland Mall on an expiring gift certificate were partially to blame. So too was the continuous airing of Universal Horror films on Ch. 41 out of Battle Creek every Friday night. But this particular film also stands tall.

For years, I never forgot the film and I scoured video shelves to prove that it wasn't part of my imagination - this film was truly scary. The longer I couldn't find it, the more obsessed I became with it. The movie became kind of a Holy Grail of my video searches. I knew it was out there and in the days before eBay, Amazon and BitTorrents - I would find a listing for a 16mm version of the film or an elusive European VHS release. It wasn't until the late '90s that I obtained a tape of one of the TV airings complete with commercials. At that time, it was amazing how clear my memory of the movie was 20 years after its release.

Now, thanks to the wonderful folks at The Warner Brothers Archive Collection, the movie is available to order online only. I knew this day was not too far away when I first read word of a remake being produced by Guillermo del Toro and starring Katie Holmes. And timing it to be available to a whole new couple of generations in time for Halloween is just good business.

Seeing the film for the first time in almost a decade, and finally seeing it in pristine shape - I wondered how critically I could view the film or if I'd still be a seven-year-old in my grandfather's chair watching the show. I'm happy to say that the film holds up pretty well.

The pedigree of the film isn't promising but respectable. The film is directed by longtime TV episodic director John Newland and stars Kim Darby as Sally. Kim is best known for her debut role in John Wayne's True Grit and my generation may best remember her as John Cusack's mother from Better Off Dead. Sally's husband is played by Jim Hutton who's probably best known as Timothy Hutton's father. The only other main character in the film is William Demarest as Mr. Harris, the fix-it man. William is best known to the world as Uncle Charley from My Three Sons.

The film succeeds because it understands how to tell a good horror story on a budget and it doesn't try to become something it isn't. The plot is simple - young couple moves into old family house after wife's grandmother passes away. While redecorating the house, Sally insists on opening a bricked-off fireplace against Mr. Harris' warnings. Eventually she starts hearing voices and seeing figures in the dark. Sally is slowly driven to a nervous breakdown by these figures while husband Alex doubts her stories. By the time Alex finds the real reason why the fireplace was bricked up, it might be too late.

The film brought to mind a couple of influences. The first is Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story The Yellow Wallpaper. This 1892 story about a woman descending into madness is also read as a woman's struggle against an oppressive marriage. The relationship between Sally and her husband, Alex is strained at best. He's an up-and-coming professional and spends more and more time away from the house. He continues through the film to deny her stories and blame them on external causes or her mental state. This frustration of hers really helps ratchet up the tension as she continues to breakdown. That same scenario of a young woman unsure of her surroundings and unable to convince the people around her that something is wrong is a major theme of Rosemary's Baby from 1967.

The low budget did not stop the director and crew from putting together a great package that suits the film. A majority of the film takes place in the dark. There are very few daylight or well-lit scenes. When they are lit, the film stock looks like old pictures I have in photo albums from 1973. But in the dark, a lot is left for the viewer to just hear. The sound design is wonderful. The score is worthy of a much larger film and the design of the whispers that Sally hears in the dark is about the creepiest thing about the film. The little monsters are always hidden in shadow or only viewed in very short glimpses as they run away from light. It's a very effective technique that keeps the viewer guessing and making a much scarier monster in their head than is on screen.

The made-for-television format isn't kind to films. As a director, you either make a 75-minute film that feels like it loses momentum every 15 minutes or you cater your story to the end of an emotional beat every 15 minutes. In particular, one of the most effective made-for-television films of all-time is Steven Spielberg's Duel because he understands how to use the breaks to his advantage. Instead of having to fill a few minutes with dialog to build suspense, he uses the advertisements to let little seven-year-olds twist the dial and eventually come back for more. This DVD version of the film is only lacking in that you don't have to wait for the commercials between scenes.

Does it hold up? Yeah, for the most part. It's a fun exercise in how you tell a scary story on a small budget. We're jaded consumers now and expect bigger bangs and explosions. This film tells its story in brevity and with imagination. The story is simple but has some much larger undertones when viewed through the modern eye. I'm glad that the people at Warner Brothers Archive Collection brought this back for me to share with my friends. Because the minute the lights go off in the house during the stormy night, I know it's coming but for a split second I'm seven all over again and very few movies can claim to do that.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - The Complete Second Season

Written by Pirata Hermosa

The second and also the last season of the television show based on the Terminator films is out on DVD and Blu-ray. While season one consisted of only nine episodes, season two is a full 22 episodes.

Set between the second and third Terminator films, this series focuses on Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son, John (Thomas Dekker). The two are on the run from the terminators that have been sent back to stop John from becoming the leader of the revolution he will one day command.

But thinking ahead once again, John sent back in time another terminator to protect his younger self. This time it’s a beautiful young girl named, Cameron (Summer Glau). And along with the machine, his uncle Derek (Brian Austin Green) has also come from the future to keep an eye on him.

Under the leadership or Sarah, the four turn their attentions to more than just simple survival. They are going to try and stop the future from occurring. They are going to find The Turk, which will one day evolve into the super-genius A.I. that tries to destroy all the humans: Skynet.

At the end of the first season they managed to find The Turk, but the owners want it back and booby trap their jeep. When Cameron gets in to start it, the jeep explodes and the men go after Sarah and John. Since Cameron is virtually indestructible, she escapes the burning wreckage and rushes to John. At this point, her programming has been damaged and she reverts to her old mission of terminating John Conner.

While there are a couple of self-contained episodes, the series is mostly serialized and it’s important to follow in sequential order. There are also a lot of different plot elements with plenty of twists and turns, but unfortunately a lot of unanswered questions by the end of the season. What is John and Cameron’s relationship in the future? Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson) is a T-1000, but is she good or bad? Will Sarah ever get cancer or has she found a way to avoid it? Finally, how is John going to get back home? With the cancellation of the series they will probably never be answered.

There are a lot of extra features on the Blu-ray and are all shot in High Definition.

Exclusive on Blu-ray: “Collision with the Future: Deconstructing the Hunter Killer Attack” - From production to final product the viewer can change viewpoints between four different perspectives during an action scene in the season finale. While watching one, the other three are also on the screen set in small boxes that allow you to switch between them by either highlighting the box or pushes the multi-colored buttons on your remote. If the switches were done smoothly it would be worthwhile, but there’s a couple seconds hesitation between them, and since the commentary over the top is also different, it can get quite confusing when switching around a lot.

Commentaries on four key episodes by executive producer Josh Friedman and Cast/Crew: “Samson and Delilah” “Allison From Palmdale” “Adam Raised a Cain” and “Born to Run.”

“The Continuing Chronicles” - This is one giant documentary on how the season was shot, broken into eight different categories. Each one is interesting, but they run a little too long.

“Terminated Scenes: Unaired Moments” – were cut from the televised episodes and are scattered throughout the five-disc set.

“The Storyboard Process: Cameron Goes Bad Illustrates How Key Sequences are Mapped” – Using a scene from the first episode of the season, you get an in-depth look at how John stops Cameron from killing him and manages to overwrite her programming.

“Cameron VS. Rosie Fight Rehearsal” – This feature shows everything from storyboard to rehearsals to final cut showing you all the steps in the creation of this scene.

Gag Reel - Standard gag reel filled with lots of interruptions such as overhead planes and props failing to function properly.

The Blu-ray offers 1080p High Definition 16x9 with a 1.78:1 ratio and Dolby Digital 5.1. The quality of the picture is crystal clear and looks more like feature film quality as opposed to the often grainy and washed appearance that you get on standard network television. The sound quality is better as well from the gun shots that come from every direction, to the eerie sounds of the machines and the background music that helps set the mood.

It’s a shame that the show was cancelled after this season. The stories are well written and there is plenty of action and excitement in every episode. The characters are fully fleshed out and the acting is superb.

While the last two Terminator films have been a disappointment, the television series is as good as the first two and makes a great addition to the overall mythology and to any fan’s collection.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana

Written by Pirata Hermosa

While the name leads you to expect a massive crossover between three popular Disney Channel shows, The Wizards of Waverly Place, The Suite Life on Deck, and Hannah Montana, it’s actually an episode of all three shows shot aboard the S.S. Tipton and glued together using the cast of The Suite Life.

Any of the three segments could be watched as a stand-alone episode, but it’s a little disappointing that there’s not more cohesion. There are no cast members from Hannah Montana in the first segment and no cast members from Wizards in the last. And even during the middle part you never get all three casts on the screen at the same time.

“Castaway (To Another Show)” – Justin (David Henrie) wins an essay-writing contest and as his prize all family members under 18 receive passage on the “S.S. Tipton Teen Cruise to Hawaii” and a photo-op with debutante London Tipton (Brenda Song). While Justin tries to impress London by pretending he’s a doctor, his siblings have their own agendas. Younger brother Max (Jake T. Austin) is trying to beat Zack (Dylan Sprouse) at every contest imaginable to prove who can be the biggest troublemaker. Alex (Selena Gomez), who only got on board because she promised her parents that she would do summer school on the ship, magically teleports her best friend Harper (Jennifer Stone) on board to take her science classes for her while she parties.

“Double Crossed” – After Cody (Cole Sprouse) tells Bailey (Debby Ryan) he personally knows Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus), she says that if he can get tickets to the concert she will love him forever. That leaves Cody scrambling to get tickets and sends him off trying to win the cruise’s scavenger hunt, which is offering two tickets to the concert for the winner. Hannah and her best friend Lilly (Emily Osment) find themselves trapped in their cabins as throngs of adoring fans block their exit and enjoyment of the cruise. Meanwhile, Alex pulls a prank on her older brother by putting blue dye in the hot tub, and both Justin and cruise director Mr. Moseby (Phill Lewis) try to prove whether the prankster is Alex or Zack.

“Super(Stitious) Girl” – When Hannah loses her mother’s lucky anklet, the young pop star is suddenly struck with a streak of bad luck. She completely tanks her rehearsal, she loses her blonde Hannah wig, and she ends up dying her hair green. While Lilly helps her tear the ship apart looking for the anklet, her father Robbie (Billy Ray Cyrus) is seasick and in bed, and her brother, Jackson (Jason Earles) and friend Oliver (Mitchel Musso) are living it up big back home since they have the entire place to themselves.

There are not very many bonus features on the DVD and the two that are, are rather short.

“Justin’s Award-Winning Essay” – Justin Russo gives a how-to demonstration on writing an essay using his siblings as examples of what not to do.

“Backstage Disney: It’s A Suite Life Having Fun with Hannah and The Wizards” – The actors discuss what it’s like to work with one another and be out of their element on a new set. It’s interspersed with the shows bloopers and blunders.

If you enjoy these three shows, then you’ll probably like the DVD as they stay pretty close to their individual formulas, but it’s interesting to see how some of the characters interact in a new setting and especially entertaining is when Alex gets stuck in Zack’s bedroom while Mr. Moseby questions him about the blue dye he found outside his room. The only thing missing is a little more interaction between the different casts. The writers also missed a big opportunity by not having Hannah and Alex meet, since Hannah’s pop rival, Mikayla, is also played by Selena Gomez.

JONAS, Volume 1 - Rockin' the House

Written by Pirata Hermosa

This is the newest show to come to the Disney’s Sunday night lineup starring the Jonas brothers: Kevin, Nick, and Jo. Not only are they high school students, but they are also members of the world’s biggest pop band, JONAS. Trying to give them as normal a life as possible, their parents send them to private school where the kids are used to their celebrity. Well, everyone except Macy Misa (Nicole Anderson) who is not only the president of the JONAS fan club, but ends up turning to mush every time she interacts with any of them.

Stella (Chelsea Staub) is Macy’s best friend, and has known the brothers all of her life. She is not only their fashion advisor, but is Jo’s best friend and the two have a not-so-well-hidden affection for one another. An affection that neither one is willing to act upon in case it should end up destroying their friendship.

Their Father (John Ducey) is their manager and is always looking for the newest JONAS product for the boys to endorse, while their eight-year-old brother Frankie (Frankie Jonas) is always trying to find some way to be part of the band and get some attention of his own.

The DVD contains five episodes from the first season, plus bonus features.

“Groovy Movies” – After finding out that they forgot their mother’s birthday, the boys decide to record all the family’s home videos onto DVDs. Everything that can go wrong does, and they end up destroying the tapes. Knowing that they can’t fix the problem, they decide to reenact and record all the old memories in a new way.

“Wrong Song” – When Nick falls too hard and too fast over a girl at school, he does what every young rock star does: he writes a song for her. Unfortunately, she thinks he wrote it for her to perform and dedicates the song to her boyfriend. Stella and Macy work on developing breakaway clothing (Stellcro) for the band so that when fans tear at the clothes the entire outfit isn’t ruined.

“Pizza Girl” – Picarillo’s is the worst pizza in town, but they have the prettiest pizza delivery girl. After spending $500 on pizzas, dad is forced to put down the law, forcing the brothers to go against the “Sacred Book of Jonas Law,” and compete against one another for her affections.

“Band’s Best Friend” – Jo’s best friend from elementary school comes for a visit, but he’s not the same person they remember. He’s gone rock-star crazy and needs to be shown what the rock-star lifestyle is really like. At the same time, Stella and Macy fight over a $50 potato chip Macy bought because it looked like Jo. The problem is that she paid for it using the money that she borrowed from her friend.

“Chasing the Dream” – Just before the president of the record company comes over to hear some of the new tracks the boys have been working on, they find out that their background singer is sick. So without thinking and not knowing she sounds like a wounded manatee Kevin invites Macy to sing on their songs. Now they have to find a way to hide her voice, while at the same time not hurt her feelings.

Bonus Features - Two previously unreleased episodes:

“Beauty and the Beat” - The three brothers accept an invitation to be the celebrity judges at the “Miss Most Amazing Teen Competition.” While Stella looks down on the pageant as a bunch of bumbling airheads on parade, she finds herself joining the contest after the guys say that they don’t think she’s pageant material.

“Cold Shoulder” - While on a world tour, Kevin falls for the Scandinavian fan club president. When she transfers to his school he is ecstatic that finally he has someone to share his unique perspective on life. But when she finds herself not fitting in and the other students laughing at her, she gets Stella to help her become a typical American girl.

“You’ve Just Been Jo Bro’d!: Surprising Chelsea Staub” - The Jonas brothers play a prank on co-star Chelsea Staub. While preparing for a photo shoot, the boys have another actor come in to harass Chelsea and pretend to be the prop master. The entire setup takes too long and unfortunately, he really doesn’t do anything that funny or interesting.

There’s also a Jonas trading card that could possibly be autographed by Nick.

Whether you are a fan of their music or anything else they’ve done up to this point, JONAS is the most entertaining of the Disney channel shows. The closest thing that it can be compared to is The Monkees television show, which aired from1966 to 1968. There’s plenty of slapstick, and running gags throughout each episode. They might speak directly to the camera, random props can appear in their hands, or they could break into the middle of a music video. You never know just what to expect next. It’s nice to see a television show that can be really funny and still remain family friendly.

Book of Jonas:

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Written by Hombre Divertido

There are many red flags associated with The Informant! before one even walks into the theater. The advertising has been excessive, and the commercials show little other than lead character Marc Whitacre (Matt Damon) acting foolish. One might conclude that this is a one-joke pony. Not to worry. This pony dies long before the joke ever arrives.

Director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns have taken what should have been an interesting story to tell, filled it with cartoon characters, and given them little to do.

Marc Whitacre is an executive at an agricultural corporation who turns informant for the FBI when his company becomes involved in price fixing. Whitacre is inept in his new role, but not enough to generate any real laughter other than which had already been seen in commercials, and those moments don’t come along until well into this 108-minute film that seems much longer.

Damon seems to be trying anything and everything to give life to his character, but the depth to Marc Whitacre develops far too late into the film, and ends up leaving the audience wondering what it would have been like had the powers that be chosen to tell us the story of Marc Whitacre trying to deal with his issues. Instead the audience is left to feel like they have just seen people making fun of what should have been an incredibly interesting story.

The music by legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch also seems to be working too hard to add a lighthearted element to a story that shouldn’t be, and many of the songs have an Austin Powers feel to them.

Near the end of the film Whitacre is heard to say to his interrogators: “I’m sorry. I feel real bad” and it seems as if Damon is talking to the audience.

Recommendation: Subtle does not have to mean boring. This lackluster film cries for a sequel as the story that should pickup where this one leaves off has the potential to delve deeply into a character that we wasted well over an hour in The Informant! before we actually started to get to know him.

The red flags should be heeded here, as what is advertised as a comedy, is an overly forced tale that had potential to be a story with depth had the producers, writers, and directors given it the respect it deserves.

For a more satisfying character study, try Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Nicholas Cage in The Weatherman. Both are vastly more entertaining than The Informant!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Our Gang Collection

Written by Musgo del Jefe

Little Musgo came to Our Gang the way most of his Gen X generation did - through The Little Rascals on Saturday and Sunday mornings in the '70s. To add to my confusion, much of the same cast appeared in similar shorts under the name, Our Gang. I was a huge fan of these kids and my friends and I knew them all by first name - quite a feat for shorts that were 40-50 years old by the time we saw them. It was only later in life as I tried to collect these fond memories on video did I discover some of the long twisted history of this series.

Hal Roach started the series in 1922 as a collection of silent shorts. Sound was added to the series in 1929. Some of the early cast of children included Sunshine Sammy, Mickey, Mary Ann, Joe Cobb, and Farina. By the time sound arrived, the Gang had added Wheezer, Stymie, Chubby, Jackie Cooper and Pete The Pup. The beauty of these early films is the naturalism of the children's behavior. Much like the other Hal Roach shorts of the '20s - Laurel and Hardy in particular, the two-reel length (around 20 minutes) allowed for the stories to naturally develop and not feel hurried.

By 1938, Hal Roach had produced about 80 shorts. But economics were pinching the series. Laurel and Hardy had made the transition to feature length films but Our Gang had been relegated to one reel (10 minutes). The cast had continued to change over the decade as kids grew older and were replaced. By 1936, the cast settled in to what most people remember as the "core" cast - Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Porky and Darla, with Butch and Waldo as Alfalfa's rivals for Darla. Before Roach could end the series, MGM agreed to purchase the series from him and take over production. The 80 Roach sound shorts would become that package that most people know from TV as The Little Rascals. MGM would go on to produce 52 more Our Gang shorts between 1938 and 1944. These shorts are collected for the first time uncut on the five-disc The Our Gang Collection from Warner Bros. Archive Collection.

The first thing that strikes you when viewing these shorts is the general change in tone between the earlier Roach shorts and the MGM-produced shorts. The earlier films had young, cute kids in generally unscripted and natural situations. The production values alone made these seem like home movies of kids being kids. The MGM shorts here are very stylized. The camerawork is top notch and the sets look like they are trying to hard to look "natural". The dialog is presented by the actors as if it is being fed to them from off camera - it's awkward and unnatural. What really hits home when watching them in succession is that the focus has really changed. These shorts rely on the cuteness of kids often being in adult situations or interacting with adults instead of just peeking in on the children's world where adults are only an afterthought.

In "Party Fever" (1938), the boys compete for Darla's attention by running to win "Mayor For The Day". The ten-minute reel ends up being a forum for political party and election jokes. It's cleverly written for the most part, but here the children's acting doesn't bring home the satire. And part of the problem might have been MGM's insistence on keeping Spanky and Alfalfa as the main characters as they aged from 11 to 13 in the first couple years of the MGM shorts. The series had always relied on a new crop of cute younger kids around the ages of 7-9 to drive the stories.

The chemistry between Spanky and Alfalfa saves most of these shorts. The boys really learned from being around the same studio of Laurel and Hardy. They are best when left to the more broad humor. My favorite of the early shorts on this collection is "Practical Jokers". The short is essentially one extended joke as Our Gang attempts to get back at Butch for his practical jokes. Spanky is the brains in most of these plans and comes up with an exploding cake for Butch. But it's Alfalfa that has to sing "Happy Birthday" while holding the cake. The anticipation is fun and the kids play the physical humor well.

MGM relied on many recycled plots to keep the series cheap and to try to please their audiences. The most often-used plot, used by my figuring about 25% of the time, is the kids have to put on a musical/play/circus of some sort to raise money/win a prize/impress someone. Inevitably, Alfalfa will be the star of the show and sing one of his off-key songs and Buckwheat and Porky will be the comedic duo.

Just as the series is really losing momentum in 1939, Porky left the series because he was getting too old and was replaced by Robert Blake as Mickey. His appearances in "Dad For A Day" and "All About Hash" revitalized the series briefly. His fresh face was cute and the camera loved him. Within five shorts, he went from setting up his mother with the gas station attendant in "Dad For A Day" to saving their marriage in "All About Hash". "All About Hash" illustrates another departure of the MGM shorts that I never noticed in the Roach-produced shorts - the "lesson". This was about appreciating what you have (even if it is hash for dinner every Monday) or in "Time Out For Lessons" when Alfalfa learns to do his homework before football practice. These "lessons" take some of the fun out of the series as the children seem so out of character when they have to explain what they learned.

That 1940 year would introduce Froggy and see the departure of Alfalfa. Just about halfway through the MGM shorts and the series really starts to flounder. Alfalfa's last short, "Kiddie Kure" is also among the best of the MGM shorts. It's on the middle of Disc 3 and represents the high-water mark. After this, the series just won't find the same heart as it does here. In "Kiddie Kure", the kids break a window of an old man while playing baseball. The man feigns illness to convince his wife they don't need any more children, but Our Gang wins him over changing his outlook on life. In this instance, the lesson feels more natural and the results are satisfying.

By the end of 1941, Darla leaves and the series continues to try to find it's way in a very different world than it started in the 1920s. The plots will become even more patriotic and more lesson-oriented. At the end of 1942, Spanky ends his 11-year run as a teenager in "Unexpected Riches". The plot is too basic - the boys get a fortune about buried treasure, find "treasure" without digging because of generic bad guys. The payoff is forced and not very funny. This would leave only Buckwheat as a cast member still there from the Hal Roach days and he would remain until the end.

Mickey and Froggy take over the lead in most of the remaining shorts. There are still forced musicals like "Calling All Kids" that just don't have the same energy as even the earlier MGM ones with Alfalfa. And finally in 1944, after 220 shorts dating back to the silent era of film, the series limps to an end with "Dancing Romeo" (a failed Froggy love story) and "Tale Of A Dog" (a one-joke Buckwheat story about a dog named Smallpox).

It's great to see these shorts again despite some of their shortcomings. I think the series worked better in the earlier years because of the improvisation of the stories and the twenty-minute length. The shorter one-reel length of the MGM shorts and the insistence on scripted action with established children actors led to the downfall of the series. This type of series can't exist in today's market and it's missed. There isn't room for 10-20 minute short subjects and that's a real loss. I recommend that you enjoy the whole Our Gang canon and keep encouraging Waner Bros. to release more from their archives.

The Our Gang Collection is only available from Warner Bros. Archive Collection and for a limited time at price of only $34.95.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Second Season

Written by Pirata Hermosa

The second season of the critically acclaimed comedy created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady about four nerdy geniuses and the beautiful girl next door has been released to DVD just days before season three premieres.

From the very first episode you can see that this season contains a lot more character development and interaction as Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) go out on their very first and last date. During the first season, a lot of emphasis was put on the possible romance between them, so it was a little strange that they threw the two together so quickly just to rip them apart in the very next episode. Even stranger is that the show is much better off with them separated but continues to have awkward moments when they make references about the time they were dating yet it was only one date.

While Johnny and Penny were the main two characters during season one, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) completely steals the show. The more you get to know about his idiosyncrasies and phobias the more the show begins to revolve around him. In order for the rest of his friends to function, Sheldon must first be appeased. In many shows this could make for an annoying character, but while he may be annoying to his friends, the audience finds him incredibly likeable and entertaining. He approaches everything with such sincere innocence and with complete honesty that you can’t help but like him.

More time is also spent on the characters of Howard (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar). We meet their parents and see that they actually have homes and don’t just sit around Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment all day. Rajesh finally gets some recognition by People magazine and we get to see how much he can talk and hit on women when he’s drunk. Even Howard becomes a little less sleazy (for a moment) and can actually have his feelings hurt, which was an unknown possibility up until now.

Every episode is filled with some of the best comedy writing currently on television, so choosing the best ones out of the season is pretty tough. Three episodes that particularly standout are:

“The Barbarian Sublimation”: Penny is feeling depressed after a bad breakup. Her life isn’t what she thought it would be, so she channels all her energy into The Age of Conan, an MMORPG that takes over her life. A kind of role reversal, as the four guys have to talk her out of doing something that they usually do.

“The Lizard-Spock Expansion”: Sheldon comes up with a new way to play "Rock, Paper, Scissors" by adding two more possibilities, lizard and Spock. But the fun and games are halted when Howard calls for help. It seems that he has managed to get the Mars rover stuck in a ditch.

“The Terminator Coupling”: While on the way to a symposium by train, the four men find that actress Summer Glau is aboard. Three of them compete for her affections, while Sheldon tries to get Penny to find a flash drive with a research paper that he forgot back at the apartment so he can present it to Dr. George Smoot who is a Nobel Laureate for his work on the actual Big Bang Theory.

The DVD contains three special features.

The Big Bang Theory: Physicist to the Stars – UCLA Professor David Saltzberg, who is the creative consultant on the show, explains how he got involved and what he does to add real physics into the storyline. The cast and creators also weigh in on his contributions.

Testing the Infinite Hilarity Hypothesis in Relation to the Big Bang Theory – This is really well done and gives you not only an overview of the characters and how they have grown, but also gives a nice recap of the season.

Gag Reel - The gag reel is a little longer than on most DVDs. It starts off fairly bland and is pretty much the same thing that’s been done before, but about halfway through it starts to pick up the pace and by the end will have you laughing out loud.


Written by Hombre Divertido

In 1987 Patrick Dempsey plays a curly brown-haired, nerdy outcast, high school student by the name of Ronald who pays the head cheerleader to date him, in hopes of becoming popular, in the classic ‘80s teen comedy Can’t Buy Me Love.

Thirteen years earlier, an eerily similar looking Scott Jacoby plays Bad Ronald, a curly brown-haired, nerdy outcast, high school student, who accidentally kills a young girl who is mocking him. At the insistence of his mother, Ronald takes refuge in a secret room in the house to avoid authorities, in this made-for-television classic. After his mother leaves home for an operation and dies, Ronald continues to live in his secret room as the house is sold and a new family, with three young daughters, moves in.

Generally considered intense for a television movie in 1974, Bad Ronald is still fun, but quite tame by today’s standards. The main problems with the movie are that it is hard to tell this story in only 71 minutes, thus there is little character development, and the story comes to a conclusion too quickly and conveniently.

More importantly, Bad Ronald is really not that bad. He accidentally kills a young girl, at the beginning of the film, and then follows that up with bad decisions by both he and his mother. The seclusion eventually impacts him negatively, but he is primarily just a Peeping Tom until the nosy neighbor slips and falls after seeing Ronald, so he drags her under the house. As things get more desperate, he attacks a boyfriend of the one of the girls, but does not kill him. The film contains little or no blood or graphic violence.

The performances and overall tone are campy, and Jacoby fails to create any intensity with his portrayal of Ronald. Kim Hunter is creepy as the mother who is somewhat off and it’s fun to see a young Dabney Coleman as the father of the family that moves into Ronald’s house, but his performance is one-dimensional. The movie still looks good after all these years, though certain scenes are reminiscent of an ABC After School Special.

Bad Ronald is part of Warner Brothers Archive Collection and is available at their website. The release contains no bonus material.

Recommendation: If you enjoyed this film in the seventies, it is fun to revisit, but may not be as scary as you remember. If you are not familiar with Bad Ronald, and are looking for some fun family fare for a rainy Saturday night, grab some popcorn, and enjoy some made-for-television camp.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fringe - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

is the latest creation of J.J. Abrams whose previous television work includes Felicity, Alias, and Lost. Being a fan of all of those shows, I was eager to see to check it out. Abrams doesn’t hide the fact that he is fan of the The X-Files and this show is clearly homage to it. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, writers of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, co-created the show and have worked with Abrams in the past on Star Trek (2009) and Mission: Impossible III.

FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is assigned to the special unit that investigates strange phenomena. Her first case involves a mysterious fatal toxin that killed a plane full of people. When her partner, John Scott (Mark Valley), becomes infected she learns of Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) through the course of her research for a cure. Dr. Bishop is known for his work on fringe science, a classified U.S. Army operation focusing on things like invisibility, re-animation, and mind control. Dunham wants to meet with Dr. Bishop but the problem is that he has been locked up in a mental institution for many years after a lab accident and the only authorized visitors are immediate family. Therefore, Dunham enlists his son, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), to arrange a meeting. Peter is estranged from his father and we learn early on that it is a difficult relationship.

Through the course of the investigation, Dunham learns that this is not the first case of its kind. These types of occurrences are happening all over the world and have come to be known as “The Pattern.” A large global company, Massive Dynamic, appears to be closely linked to all of these events. The bulk of the season involves the story arc involving “The Pattern,” Massive Dynamic’s involvement, and how the main characters fit in. There are also standalone cases. Abrams wanted a show that could cater to the serious fan who wants to dig deeper and look for the clues tied to the underlying story while also providing the opportunity for viewers to be able to come and go as well.

The cast was superbly selected. Torv is gorgeous but also brings a down-to-earth charm and vulnerability to the role. I was initially disappointed with the choice of Jackson since I was never a fan of Dawson’s Creek and wasn’t sure if he could pull off this type of role. I was dead wrong. However, he is perfect as the renegade genius trying to reconnect with his father. Nobel is the shining star, his character is complex and multi-dimensional. He is a real mad scientist with warmth and an innocent, childlike quality. In extreme moments, he provides comic relief that diffuses the tension. The supporting cast includes the fantastic and intense Lance Reddick as Phillip Boyles and Jasika Nicole is the adorable young assistant Astrid Farnsworth. Blair Brown has a recurring role as Nina Sharp the CEO of Massive Dynamic.

One of the big mysteries of the season was who was the head of Massive Dynamic. This revelation fell a little flat when they showed the actor’s name in the opening credits; why would they do this? He only shows up in the last minute of the finale but it could have had a much greater impact had it been a complete surprise.

I am happy to report to fans, that in addition to the 20 episodes, this collection is packed with bonus features. Exclusive to Blu-ray, “Fringe Pattern Analysis” provides an expert’s perspective on notes, photos, and diagrams from six key scenes. “The Massive Undertaking” offers episode-specific featurettes available on select episodes along with “Dissected Files/Deleted Scenes.” “Fringe: Deciphering the Scene” highlights a particular scene from each episode. “Evolution: The Genesis of Fringe,” “Behind the Real Science,” “Fringe Visual Effects,” “The Casting of Fringe,” and “Gene the Cow” are more in-depth featurettes on these various areas. There is also a production diary and gag reel.

The video is presented in 1080p at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The details are mostly very sharp and rendered with great texture. Occasional softness creeps in, but appears to be due to the source. The colors are solidly displayed with minor black crush. Also evident is grain and limited contrast adjustment, but nothing that should detract from the visual experience.

However, audiophiles will understandably be annoyed that the set only comes with one option: Dolby Digital 5.1 instead of a lossless soundtrack. The surrounds get some use, but don’t create an immersive experience for the viewer. The dialogue is understandable from the fronts. The LFE is serviceable, but should deliver more oomph to the action proceedings.

Fringe is a science fiction thriller that allows the viewer to decide their level of involvement. The show hooked me right away but almost lost me with a couple of really outlandish cases, such as being able to images off of a dead man’s eyeball. I am glad that I stuck it out because once the season settled in around episode five, it became intriguing and exciting. I am not sure how satisfying it would be to just catch an episode here and there. My interest in the show is tied to the growth and depth of the characters and their involvement in the grand scheme. I would highly suggest watching all of season one before embarking on season two.

But you had better hurry, the new season starts on September 17th.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bedknobs and Broomsticks - Enchanted Musical Edition

Written by Senora Bicho

Disney had been working on Mary Poppins for two years when it was put on hold waiting for final approval by the book’s author P. L. Travers. In the meantime Walt found another book, Mary's Norton's Bedknobs and Boomsticks, which featured a magical lady caring for children. He brought this to the his creative team so they could start putting together the story and songs, but Mary Poppins was then approved and Bedknobs was put on the shelf for several years. The go-ahead finally came in 1969 and it was released in 1971. While the movie was not as popular and is not as well known as Mary Poppins, it did win the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Visual Effects and is still impressive today.

It is 1940 and England is fighting World War II. Young Charlie, Carrie, and Paul are forced to move from London to a small village. Miss Price (Angela Lansbury) lives alone and is asked to take them in. The children soon discover that she is an apprentice witch. In order to keep them from telling her secret, she gives them an enchanted bedknob that when re-attached to the bedpost will take them anywhere they want. Miss Price is nearing the end of her witchcraft correspondence course when she learns that the school has been shutdown before receiving the last spell. She believes that she can use this last spell to help England win, so she talks the children into letting her use the bed to find Professor Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson), the headmaster of the school. It is from here that their adventures begin and even includes a visit to the animated Isle of Naboombu.

There are several bonus features included in the DVD collection. “This Wizards of Special Effects” explains how the special effects were done and is hosted by Jennifer Stone from Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place. “Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers” explores the music in the film. Interestingly, the film’s best song, “The Beautiful Briny,” was actually written for Mary Poppins. “A Step in the Right Direction” is a reconstruction of one of the songs that was cut from the film. Several songs ended up on the cutting room floor to keep the running time under two hours. Most of the songs were put back in the 25th anniversary edition, but the picture portion for this song has never been found. There is also a recording session of “Portobello Road” by David Tomlinson.

Bedknobs and Boomsticks doesn’t have as strong of a story or soundtrack as Mary Poppins. The Enchanted Musical Edition contains an extended version of “Portobello Road” and includes several songs I had never seen before. At just a little over two hours, this extended version may be too long and boring for younger viewers. I even got bored at times.

There are several moments that contain terrible audio. At times, it is clearly obvious the voices were recorded later, not even matching the original actors in some segments. The sequences where the live-action blends with animation still looks good and the visit to Naboombu is the highlight of the movie.


Written by Pirata Hermosa

Based on a 1998 comic book by Greg Rucka, Whiteout stars Kate Beckinsale as Marshal Carrie Stetko. She’s the lone law-enforcement officer assigned to the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, which is filled with scientists and from the looks of it a fraternity house.

But never fear, Marshall Stetko is here to remove a dozen or so layers of clothes, walk around in her bra and panties, and bend over nicely so the cameraman can get a good close-up of her butt. Not that I am complaining about that part or the long steamy shower she takes afterward, but it made me laugh that this was the first impression they want you to have of her. And of course, for the rest of the film she is dressed up in a giant parka with a big Russian fur hat.

While waiting for the plane to arrive, Stetko receives notice that Delfy (Columbus Short), one of the local pilots, saw what appeared to be a body lying out in the middle of nowhere. When Stetko examines the body, it sets off a flashback to her last case she worked on before coming to the station. Throughout the film she has many flashbacks that help to explain why she requested to be assigned to the world’s most desolate outpost. Along with her own personal flashbacks, the film uses a similar technique to the CSI television shows where they flashback so you can see how somebody was killed.

After finding the victim’s head caved in, a giant gash in his leg, and a pick axe wound to the chest, it’s determined that not only was it murder, but the body had been thrown out of a plane. Bringing the body back to base camp, Doc (Tom Skerritt) examines the body and they are able to identify it as one of the geologists who was working out at one of the old Russian stations. When they try to contact the station, they receive no answer and finally another of the missing geologists contacts the Marshal and asks her for help.

Once again, Delfy flies Stetko out into the cold expanse, but now it’s -65 Celsius (-85 Fahrenheit). Expecting the worse, they enter the Russian camp cautiously and find that all of the geologists have been murdered. Nobody there has been left alive, except for the ski-mask-wearing murderer who chases Stetko around the camp.

In order to get from building to building there are ropes run between them to keep travelers from getting lost or blown away during storms. To ensure their safety even more, they use carabiners clipped onto the rope when they move. It makes for a less than exciting chase scene as Stetko must stop and clip herself on while her attacker swings an axe at her. Of course, at one point she can’t unclip herself and is almost caught, but fortunately the axe wielder finds his clip stuck as well.

Barely escaping with her life, Delfy finds her unconscious and brings her to safety. Shortly after she awakens a mysterious stranger, Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht), shows up claiming to be an investigator for the United Nations. Not knowing whether or not this new person can be trusted, the three of them search the site where the geologists had last been excavating.

When they pretty much have everything figured out, they head back to camp to find the killer. Soon after they return, Delfy is stabbed and Stetko is attacked. Fortunately, the murderer is overpowered and they discover his identity. If the killer hadn’t acted, they may not have figured out who it was because they didn’t have any real suspects.

Pryce and Stetko leave the captive locked up in a room, which he manages to escape from. This leads to several more confrontations, a surprise co-conspirator, and another outdoor chase scene using ropes and carabiners.

I must admit that I went into the movie with an over-critical eye, mostly because I’ve spent a good portion of my life living in a climate where it would get as cold as -65 Fahrenheit in the winter, and I tend to be picky of Hollywood’s portrayal of cold weather. But they did an okay job of it. Whenever they were outside you could see their breath, even though it was obviously CGI. When Stetko grabs a metal door handle without gloves, her hand sticks and she ends up getting frostbite.

They also missed a few things. When it’s that cold, if you are in a vehicle or a small airplane, it’s going to be just about as cold inside as it is outside. The wind always seemed to blow directly into their face no matter what direction they turned. Stetko went from one building to another and back and the wind was blowing against her both ways. And finally, even though they were tied to the ropes the wind wasn’t blowing them over, but as soon as they were unclipped it would fling them 20 feet in the air.

I didn’t hate the film, but thought it was just okay. The characters were never really developed and I just didn’t care what happened to them. The only reason I was rooting for Steko was because she was Kate Beckinsale, and that’s not the reason you should have during any film.

The flashbacks didn’t add anything to the film and were more of a distraction. A much better movie could have been made, but it failed more through execution than because of the storyline.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Girl Next Door - Unrated Version (2009) (Blu-ray )

Written by Pirata Hermosa

What’s a nerdy high school senior who is class president, yearbook editor, and trying to win a scholarship based on moral fiber supposed to do when a beautiful blonde moves in next door? He spies on her as she undresses, gets busted, and ends up having his entire life turned upside down.

And that’s exactly what happens to Matthew (Emile Hirsch). But you can’t blame him; she really is hot. Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) immediately takes a liking to him and instead of ratting him out to his parents for being a peeping tom, she decides to get a little revenge on him by taking him for a ride, forcing him to strip in the street, and then making him walk home.

The two are immediately attracted to one another as she pushes him to his limits and gets him to do things he normally wouldn’t, like skinny-dipping in the principal’s pool. She also takes him and his friends Eli (Chris Marquette) and Klitz (Paul Dano) to crash a party, which helps to increase Matthew’s popularity.

But everything falls apart when Eli, and his ever pornographic mind, finds a videotape and shows it to Matthew. It seems Danielle also goes by the name Athena and is an up-and-coming porn star. Not knowing what to do, Matthew takes Eli’s poor advice and ends up embarrassing himself and Danielle in a sleazy motel room.

Danielle had moved there to get away from her former job, but after the argument with Matthew, she ends up calling her old producer Kelly (Timothy Olyphant) and leaves with him for a porn convention in Las Vegas.

Realizing how stupid he was, Matthew convinces his two friends to drive to Vegas to stop her. But not only does he have to try and regain Danielle’s trust, but he has to circumnavigate Kelly, who refuses to let his biggest moneymaker leave the profession.

The special features on the Blu-ray are basically the same as the DVD, although the DVD has a photo gallery and a trivia feature that the Blu-ray does not. They are:

Full-Length Audio Commentary by director Luke Greenfield

Scene Specific Commentary by Emile Hirsch and one by Elisha Cuthbert – I found Elisha’s particularly funny just because she talks about standing up to the directors and refusing to do nudity. She was willing to go further than she had before, but didn’t think it was appropriate for her character to be seen naked. (Not like her character was a porn star or anything like that.)

The Eli Experience Featurette – Chris Marquette goes to the AVN Awards convention pretending to be his character Eli, and an adult film director. He brings along fellow cast mate and wrestler Matt Horshu Wiese. Together they pull pranks on convention-goers seeing if they can get them to do auditions (sex scenes) with the giant wrestler. It’s actually pretty entertaining, but might have been better if they were a little subtler in some of the pranks they try and do.

A Look Next Door Making-of Featurette – It discusses the characters, their motivations, and the overall themes of the film. The part I liked best is when they discuss how Elisha almost didn’t get the part because the studio execs weren’t sure she would be sexy enough to be believable as a porn star. I had to wonder if they had actually ever seen Elisha before? Hello?

Gag Reel – A pretty typical bloopers reel, but at least it had strippers in it.

Deleted and Extended Scenes Including the Original Ending - Every deleted scene was cut for good reason. If some of the scenes had been left in, it would have given away too much information and the big surprise of what’s on the videotape would have been ruined. However, I did enjoy seeing those clips after the fact. The original ending is only an extra 5-10 seconds added on to the film where they show Matthew at the White House smoking a cigar and musing about how he got there.

The film was shot in Widescreen 1.85:1 with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Digital Dolby. The video is much clearer and brighter than the original DVD release, but has a surprising amount of grain for a recent release. The audio didn’t really impress me much, which could be the reason I overlooked it. The film doesn’t really have a big soundtrack. It’s mostly dialogue, and even when there is music in the film, it's lightly in the background setting the mood.

I actually really enjoyed The Girl Next Door. It reminded me of a film that would have been shot in the ‘80s. It had a good story and didn’t throw in the gratuitous gross-out scene like many of today’s films do. It reminded me of Risky Business. In this film there was a porn star, instead of a hooker. There was a $25,000 bank account instead of the crystal egg that had to be replaced, along with some badass hoods trying to stop him. Even the voiceover by the main character and the character’s evolution from a kid with no experience to a young adult with a unique experience on life was almost the same in the two films. There are a number of twists and turns in the film and the characters are really fleshed out. Kelly is the most interesting character as he is both the big brother and the scary bad guy but still manages to be likable in the end.

The most disappointing thing is the Blu-ray disc itself. It seems like they just made it just so they could push it out on the newer format. There’s no inserts in the box, the features on the Blu-ray are fewer than what’s on the original DVD, and when you load it up, it just goes to a screen showing a picture of the cover. The DVD actually has a background scene going on which changes as you move through the different selections. All and all, it just felt really cheap.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie (Limited Edition with Plush)

Written by Senora Bicho

Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie
is a 2005 direct-to-video tale that tells the story of Lumpy the Heffalump’s first Halloween. His best friend Roo is excited to teach him how to trick-or-treat but Pooh ruins their plans by eating all the candy. Tigger informs Roo and Lumpy that capturing the Gobloon will earn them wishes, which they plan to use for more candy, but if the Gobloon catches them, they will be turned into a Jaggedy Latern.

When Lumpy becomes scared mid-adventure, Roo tells him about the time Piglet was scared of Halloween, which is really just an excuse to pad the movie with Boo to You Too! Winnie the Pooh, a 1996 television special. It’s obvious it doesn’t fit from the differences in animation and because Gopher only appears in this part. While the overall Halloween movie is for much younger children, I was enjoying it up to this point and thought it was cut, but Boo is boring and includes Piglet terribly singing a terrible song.

In Boo, Piglet was partially performed by John Fiedler, who had played the role since Disney’s first Pooh adventure, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. Due to Fielder’s untimely death, Travis Oates completed the work, though he was only credited as "Additional Voices." The rest of the cast sounds fairly reminscent of the original actors; Pooh and Eeyore come the closest while Rabbit is distracting and Gopher barely comes close.

The Bonus Features include four games: “Trick or Re-treat” gives players the opportunity to help follow a trail to help Roo recover his candy; “Pass the Pumpkin” teaches kids how to play hot potato with a pumpkin instead; “Pooh’s Boo! Bingo” offers the basic game of Bingo with special cards and markers that can be printed off the disc; and “Heffalump Halloween Party Planner” provides instructions to parents on how to host a Halloween party for their kids. The DVD-ROM Features offer Printable Party Invitations, Recipes, and Decorate Your Own Jaggedy Lantern.

The DVD now comes with an adorable plush toy of Winnie the Pooh dressed like Tigger. This was why I jumped at the chance to review it, but don’t be tempted by the adorable plushy. The movie is not worth it. Some friends who have a three-year-old daughter warned me that it was not worth watching and they were right. There are many other great cartoons out there for young kids that can also be enjoyed by adults. Pass on this stinker and buy the cute toy on its own.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Lie To Me - Season One (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

Lie to Me was a midseason replacement on FOX that premiered on January 21, 2009 and consisted of 13 episodes. The show has been renewed for a second 13-episode season to start on September 28th.

My curiosity was peaked on yet another crime drama due to the show’s star, Tim Roth. He plays Dr. Cal Lightman, a psychologist who has spent years analyzing body language and facial expressions in order to tell when people are being deceptive. He has started his own consulting firm called The Lightman Group that takes on assignments to assist in difficult investigations. Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams) is also a psychologist and is Lightman’s most trusted colleague. Eli Loker (Brendan Hines) is a younger member of the firm who is college educated and believes in radical honesty. Ria Torres (Monica Raymund) is the newest addition to the group and Lightman’s protégée. She is a “natural” which means that she has no formal training but can easily identify emotions and deception. Mekhi Phifer joined the cast at the end of the season as an FBI agent whose talent Lightman quickly recognizes and brings him in for ongoing, armed assistance.

Over the course of the first season, the team solves all types of mysteries from murder to embezzlement. There are usually two crimes being investigated per episode. The personal lives of the characters start to unfold as well. Lightman’s ex-wife (Jennifer Beals) makes an appearance while Foster’s marriage starts to fall apart. One aspect of the show that I enjoy is the dilemma that team members face in their personal lives, when to let people know that they can see the lying and when to let it go.

The DVD release contains all 13 episodes from the first season. There are not many special features offered. “The Truth about Lies” is interesting as it includes interviews with the cast and crew and provides good background information. The Lightman character is based on Dr. Paul Ekman, a real psychologist who has spent years studying micro-expressions to detect emotions. The Foster character is based on a psychology professor from the University of San Francisco. Learning about the real-life experts helped to bring some legitimacy to the show. There are also deleted scenes.

The video quality is presented in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The image has very good detail for the most part, but there are moments where they get soft. The colors are rich and vibrant. Edge enhancement appears to have been used and there are occasions of slight video noise,

The audio is available as 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital. The dialogue has great clarity in the fronts with the rears not given much to do other than deliver limited ambiance and the music.

What is unique about Lie to Me is the concept. The idea of solving a mystery just by studying people’s faces may seem boring but it isn’t. During the course of each investigation, many people lie, even the innocent. Finding out what they are lying about and getting to the ultimate truth is the intriguing journey. I have always been a big fan of Roth and he doesn’t disappoint here with his intense, quirky character that has lots going on under the surface. I am also happy to see Williams back on TV since I enjoyed her on “The Practice”. She does a good job here playing Lightman’s better half; she is charming and believable. This isn’t a show you need to watch every week and even if you do want to see everything with only a 13-episode season it isn’t a big commitment either. So if you are interested in a different type of crime drama, give it a try as it is worth watching.

Would I lie to you?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Frost/Nixon: The Complete Interviews

Written by Fumo Verde

Harry Truman once said, “The only new things in this world is the history we don’t know” and though Watergate and its spin-offs have blurred the lines of our political landscape, it was men such as Sir David Frost who understood why people need to know the truth. President Nixon, too, knew the power of the truth, and as all presidents the truths he told couldn’t keep back the truths he was trying to conceal; those led to his resignation. Frost got the chance to seek out those truths that brought down an American President, and he, though completely disagreeing with Nixon, lets this fallen leader speak his mind and gives him a chance to tell his side of the story that was his presidency. The total interview time Frost spent with Nixon was around twenty-eight hours. Originally airing as four 90-minute programs in May 1977, the two-disc set Frost/Nixon: The Complete Interviews runs 6 hours 40 minutes.

The first disc contains the one everybody back then, and probably still today, wanted to see: the interview about Watergate. Here, Frost doesn’t rip Nixon apart but explains to the former president why people, such as himself, felt Nixon was guilty of obstructing justices. Nixon declares that his intent and motive was not criminal, but political. Nixon first sets the stage by defining the words “cover up”. He argues that covering up a criminal act is criminal, but covering a political foul-up is different and it is not an impeachable offense. This discussion goes back and forth even to the point where Frost reads off seventeen phrases which were on the White House tapes implicating the President and making it sound like he did have knowledge of the Watergate issue. Nixon refutes this and gives his perspective of what he was actually saying. This goes on until the former President states that he let the American people down and for this he was sorry and will have to carry it the rest of his life. For a man like Nixon, this was his way of accepting responsibility.

The second interview on disc on is called “Nixon and the World.” Here, we find out how Nixon and Kissinger go about getting China to invite the western leader over to this hard-line Communist county. We also find out how he dealt with the Soviets when it concerned the Middle East. These interviews are more relaxed than the Watergate interview, and you can tell because Nixon looks a little more at ease. He talks candidly throughout all of these interviews with Frost, but when he talks about Détente, you can see the joy in his face compared to the interview of Watergate. He also revels in the limelight of China and meeting Mao, and explains this was his idea as soon as he stepped into the White House, but he does give Kissinger credit for taking the idea and running with it.

On disc two, Frost focuses back on the States asking about Vice President Agnew resigning, the Civil Rights movement, and the anti-war radicals. It delves into his tax problems, his pardon by President Ford, and the eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap in those infamous tapes that eventually led to his resignation. As in the previous interviews, Frost asks the tough questions and Nixon explains his actions and gives his opinions about John Mitchell, Kissinger, and his Supreme Court nominations.

For those of us who love history, this is a worthwhile set to have because here we have a former President who left the office for less than honorable reasons, and Frost/Nixon: The Complete Interviews gives us a window into the past. I always wonder what these men in power were thinking when they make decisions which affect the rest of us. This set gives us some of those answers we are usually left wondering about. These interviews open a small door into what was going on in Nixon’s head at the time as all of these dramatic scenarios were playing out. We have to remember that each President leaves their mark on this country, for bad or worse, and that mark is a part of American history just as Nixon’s is and will forever be.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season

Written by Pirata Hermosa

When Supernatural first started, it was about two estranged brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester. Sam was going to college and trying to forget about the death of their mother, while Dean was busy following their father and trying to hunt down the demon that killed her. But everything changed when their father went missing and the demon that killed Mrs. Winchester killed Sam’s girlfriend. Vowing to track down the demon and find their father, the two set off for an adventure that would bring them face to face with monsters, demons, and creatures of ancient lore.

While the first two seasons served up storylines more along the monster-of-the-week mindset, seasons three and four made a more dramatic turn bringing the Winchester back-story to the forefront. Dean had a year to live as he traded his soul in order to save his brother’s life. Most of season three covered their attempts to find the demon that owned the contract to his soul and how they might find a way out of the deal. In the season finale, they failed to find an answer and Dean was dragged to hell by the demon Lilith.

Season four starts off four months later. Dean has been in Hell for what has seemed to him like forty years, and suddenly finds himself back on Earth. He remembers every moment of the torment that he suffered, but has no memory of how he managed to escape. Having a hard time dealing with the loss of his brother, Sam turns to the demon Ruby (Genevieve Cortese), who Sam believes is trying to help them. Not only does he become romantically entangled with her, but he is consuming her blood to give himself powers. While Dean is occupied on finding out how and why he escaped from Hell, Sam is finding it harder and harder to keep his newfound powers under control and hidden from his brother.

But what is the one thing that can save a man from Hell? It’s not another demon or blind luck that saved him. The angel Castiel (Misha Collins) was sent down to pluck him from unending torture. Dean has a destiny to fulfill. He is the only person who can stop Lilith from breaking the seals that bind Lucifer to Hell and stop the oncoming apocalypse.

It may seem like the cavalry has arrived to help the brothers combat the forces of evil, but the angels aren’t those written in fairy tales with fluffy white wings overflowing with love and good thoughts. No, these angels are Old Testament, feel-the-wrath-of-God, smite-your-enemies-by-wiping-out-the-entire-city angels. They have their own hidden agenda and they don’t mess around. And when they learn of Sam playing around with dark forces and demon blood, it’s all Dean can do to protect his brother.

Even though season four has a pretty heavy feel to it with the main overall thread, there are still a number of independent episodes that break up the tension rather nicely.

Some of my favorites were:

“Wishful Thinking” is about a town with a real wishing well. Wishes are coming true, but they aren’t exactly what the wisher asked for and are slightly perverted. You’ll never look at your stuffed animals the same way again after watching this one.

“Monster Movie” takes place in a small town during Oktoberfest. It’s filmed in black and white, which fits in perfectly with the fact that Hollywood’s most classic film monsters are prowling the streets.

“After School Special” brings the Winchesters back to one of their former high schools. It contains a number of flashbacks to their childhood and gives you an inside look of how they grew up to be the men they are now.

The Special Features on the DVD are:

1. The Mythologies of Supernatural: From Heaven to Hell is the most interesting extra feature on the DVD. It’s divided into three sections: Paradise, Purgatorio and Inferno. Each section has several small documentaries on how the writers came up with their storylines, and also involves scholars, and authors on Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. It discusses issues about free will, angels, miracles, the war between good and evil, and the origin of Lilith.

2. Creator Commentary on “In The Beginning,” “When The Levee Breaks,” “Lucifer Rising.”

3. Extended Unaired Scenes from “Lazarus Rising,” “In The Beginning,” “Heaven And Hell,” “On The Head of a Pin,” “The Monster At The End of This Book,” “The Rapture,” and “Lucifer Rising.”

4. The Gag Reel is a rather long set of clips from the show. There are a couple of practical jokes, a lot of farting, and then a lot of random laughing during the middle of takes.

Supernatural is one of the better shows currently on the air. It’s a well-written show that does an excellent job of balancing its darker moments with just the right amount of levity and inside jokes. It reminds me of a Joss Whedon show, slightly more serious and just a little cooler. Some of the episodes are as good as or better than any horror film you might see in the theatres.

I don’t want to spoil the cliffhanger for anyone, but I can’t wait for Season Five to start because Lucifer and the Apocalypse are coming.

earth (2009)

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Disneynature is the United States distributor for the fascinating earth, a companion piece to the 2006 television series Planet Earth. Using state-of-the-art technology and a skilled staff, the shots of animals and landscapes appear flawless, timeless, and as if a camera and man were never around to follow them as they migrate from place to place while James Earl James narrates.

Earth features many animals in their native lands, but it is three families that the spotlight shines on the most. The first are polar bears, a mother and her playful cubs as well as a look at the father. The father is off on his own hunting a meal while the mother looks after her cubs and tries to provide for them as she ensures their survival. There are some wonderful shots as they emerge from their den and the young get their footing on a slippery slope. We watch as they hunt the fragile, frozen-over bays, looking for the first meal after the long winter. These hunting grounds on frozen water begin to dissolve faster each year which is the real danger to their survival. There is a tragic, yet beautifully shot scene of the father desperately swimming to find solid ground.

Next, a mother elephant and her calf face dust storms, exhaustion, and lions as they head to summer watering holes. It’s a harsh life and the cameras stay focused as the blinding dust swirls and the lions pounce. With some great aerial shots, we can watch as the mother and calf push on after they have become separated from the herd and take days to catch up. Also caught on film here are other hunters such as the cheetah, who uses its speed to run down a gazelle.

The last family portrait is that of a mother humpback whale and her calf as they head to warmer water and plentiful feeding areas to spend the season. We get a good look at the way the whale “traps” its food as they force shrimp up toward the surface in a circle allowing the whale to glide through, mouth open, and scoop up its meal. There is some nice underwater footage and a nice shot of a great white shark as it lunges up through the water to nab a seal in its massive jaws.

All along the way the cameras caught many others images, including some great planetary shots from space. Monkeys and exotic birds doing crazy dances are brought to us in all their unique glory. Flowers in bloom and changing landscapes are breathtaking and shown through time-lapse photography as they change from season to season. We watch as snow melts to provide massive waterfalls in a scope and fashion not seen this clearly before. Special cameras that move in all directions with the flick of a switch were mounted to helicopters to make this film even better. The latest in multi-image capturing cameras where also employed to snap shots of speedy land creatures as well as high-breeching, quick-diving, massive sea beasts.

The Blu-ray disc contains “exclusive filmmaker annotations” while both Blu-ray and DVD include the 45-minute making of documentary “Earth Diaries,” a good look at how the film was made but may give away a bit too much of its “Hollywood magic” tricks as at times its revealed that some scenes of animals may not be the same family that we are lead to believe we are following. The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p, with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and 5.1 DTS HD sound.

Earth is good and entertaining with some humorous moments along with tragic ones. There are lots of scenes with youngsters being picked off by predators but that is the way life goes and we forget that some times being removed from those primitive dangers. The overall message is clear that we may never be able to see these creatures in this form again as their native lands are being lost for whatever reasons, be it man, man-made destruction, or simply our Earth going though another one of its own changes. A film easily enjoyed on an evening with family around to share it.