Friday, November 27, 2009

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - A Very Sunny Christmas

Written by Pollo Misterioso

I believe that it is finally all right to use the word “popular” when referring to the show Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This smash comic television show is in its fifth season and finally has the street cred and viewing numbers to prove its fame. In the spirit of the holidays, the gang decided to make a Christmas special for DVD entitled A Very Sunny Christmas that is filled with as many outrageous and crude jokes that they could think up in under an hour about their dysfunctional holiday—it will be popular among the fans, but for some reason it does not capture the heart of the holiday or the gang.

For those that do not know, the show centers on a group of friends that own a bar in Philadelphia. The gang, as they are often referred to as, includes brother and sister Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) Reynolds, their father Frank (Danny DeVito), Charlie (Charlie Day), and Mac (Rob McElhenney). There really isn’t that much more of a storyline to give, because it is all about the crazy scenarios and their disturbing ideas that make the show so appealing. They are known for their base humor and making the most uncomfortable situations funny. Watch them try to tackle the mortgage crisis—Dee rents out her uterus and Dennis and Mac become realtors. It’s funny.

The gang puts its own spin on Christmas this year with an extended episode on DVD. Dee and Dennis are sick of their father giving the worst gifts on Christmas. To teach him a lesson, they find his old business partner and try to haunt him with ghosts of his past. Meanwhile, Charlie and Mac try to get into the holiday spirit by participating in all of their favorite holiday traditions, including stealing presents from under different people’s trees and getting back at Santa for sleeping with Charlie’s mom. When they finally come together, with stolen toys and bloodied shirts, Frank learns that the real spirit of Christmas comes from giving. Unfortunately, in the end they are robbed.

What seems to hold true to an Always Sunny storyline does not provide the payoff that is expected. When Charlie beats up Santa Claus, he walks away covered in blood and that is it. As for Mac, we don’t even see him practice his tradition as an adult. Frank has a run-in with an animated elf, but the entire time he curses the f-word and the final gag is childish. See for yourself.

Some of the great moments include the sing-a-long, done in clay animation about Frank. A Christmas elf sings and graphically shows Frank what will happen if he does not give to those around him. Let’s just say there is a lot of animated blood and the whole gang is animated. The gang also pushes their boundaries when Frank crawls out of a sofa stark naked in the middle of a holiday party. All at once, you are laughing, grossed out, and still can’t pull your eyes away from what is happening on screen. Even with these great gags, the holiday special is amiss and falls flat when paired against other episodes.

Always Sunny is great at taking things that are awkward and socially wrong and making it work. For Christmas it is okay to be greedy and selfish, as long as it is understood. But amidst the themes that are often explored, the special allows for excessive curse words and nude elves. Unfortunately, this distracts from what potentially could be very funny. The gang is good at what they do. With five seasons, they do not look like they will be slowing down anytime soon. They should stick to what they know and not allow the endless possibilities of a “DVD Special” take away what they really wanted to say for Christmas.

As for the DVD extras there are three interesting segments to watch. The first are deleted scenes of young Charlie and young Mac just hanging out. The “Behind the Scenes” segment only shows the cast briefly and does not explain anything that they did in the episode, except briefly mention the clay animation used. As for the “Sing-a-long” it is a disturbing take on a few favorite carols. Complete with Mac computer graphics, I think someone had too much fun under the influence.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

March of the Penguins - Limited-Edition Giftset

Written by Hombre Divertido

On November 3rd, Warner Home Video released the 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary March of the Penguins in a limited-edition gift set.

Morgan Freeman narrates the documentary that chronicles the trek of the Emperor Penguin to its traditional breeding ground, and follows the plight of the parents as they continue to trek back and forth in order to provide for the newly hatched offspring.

March of the Penguins was not only a critical success, but a popular one as well, as the public flocked to the theatre to see a documentary as never before. Freeman’s vocal range and emotion adds to the impact of this documentary, but ultimately it is the direction of Luc Jacuet that turns what could have simply been an educational documentary, into a well-rounded story and movie.

This giftset also includes the lesser-known On the Wings of Penguins, a documentary focused on the African penguin. Though mildly interesting, it is disjointed in its storytelling and focuses too much on the penguins in captivity, which simply is not as interesting as footage of them in the wild.

The bonus material in the two-disc release actually exceeds the primary release in entertainment value in many cases. Those who enjoyed March of the Penguins, but wondered about the people filming the exploits of the engaging birds, will thoroughly enjoy Of Penguins and Men, which focuses of the adventures of the documentarians following the energetic Emperors. The dangers faced by these men are certainly intriguing, as are the relationships they develop with the amazing creatures they are studying.

Interesting but often repetitive is “National Geographic’s Crittercam: Emperor Penguins” which follows the NG team as they attach cameras and other equipment to our friends the Emperor Penguins. Unfortunately, little time is spent on the footage obtained by the cameras accompanying the penguins, and too much time is spent on a story that has already been told in March of the Penguins.

The classic Looney Tunes cartoon “8 Ball Bunny” featuring Bugs Bunny and a penguin is cute, and will appeal to children, but certainly is not one of the better Bugs Bunny adventures.

The theatrical trailer for March of the Penguins, a beautiful penguin plush toy, and a set of eight penguin postcards rounds out this gift set.

Recommendation: March of the Penguins is solid entertainment for the whole family, and this new giftset offers enough bonus material to make this a worthwhile purchase for those that already own the March of the Penguins DVD. Warner Home Video has put together a perfect gift-set just in time for the holidays.


Written by Pirata Hermosa

Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is an author, a very unsuccessful author who has written only one book that sold slightly more than 400 copies. His wife, Kate (Amanda Peet), grew tired of having her husband go through life with his head buried in his laptop, so she took the two children Lilly (Morgan Lily) and Noah (Liam James) and left him.

Still not having grasped the reality of the situation, Jackson carries on oblivious to his situation and ends up driving a limousine to support himself and his writing habit. When he is late picking up his kids for a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park, he has no clue of what incredible journey he is about to begin.

Three years previous, geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) brought forth some Earth-shattering news. The recent increase of solar flares has been bombarding the planet with a high concentration of Neutrino particles, and much like a microwave, those particles have been heating up the planet’s core. While this is a normal occurrence, the intensity and irregularity of the solar flares is going to heat up the core so much that the Earth’s mantle is going to liquefy, the continents will shift, and the world will be flooded.

With no other course of action, the leaders of the United Nations have enacted an emergency plan for survival centered around a hidden shipyard in China. However, this plan only incorporates the rich and the powerful while leaving the rest of the population completely in the dark about the upcoming tragedy.

When Parker arrives in Yellowstone he attempts to take his kids to one of his favorite spots. But the lake that he once knew is no longer there and rising steam and dead animal carcasses is all that remains. The U.S. government picks the three of them up and escorts them off the premises as they have declared it unstable.

Shortly afterwards he runs into crazy old Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who ends up being a conspiracy nut broadcasting over the airwaves about the upcoming catastrophe and the government cover up. At first Jackson dismisses the man, but the more he hears about his story, the more he begins to realize that he is speaking the truth.

The entire time that he is piecing things together, earthquakes have been hitting cities all around the globe. When a large crevasse opens up in L.A. and swallows his neighborhood grocery store, he realizes that he must react. Quickly chartering a plane and rushing to his wife’s home, he gathers up his family along with his wife’s new boyfriend Gordon (Tom McCarthy) and races back to the airport in the limo. During the entire trip back, the ground is disappearing behind them, gobbling up anything in sight. Buildings are crashing all around them and the ground is pitching and heaving.

Finally they reach the airstrip to find the pilot crushed by a gas pump. Thankfully, Gordon has taken a few flying lessons as he gets the plane off the ground, does a few aerial acrobatics and flies them off to Yellowstone. Jackson needs to contact Charlie because he has a map to where the government has been hiding the survival ships. For the rest of the film the family is working their way towards China by any means necessary in the hopes that somehow they will be able to get aboard and survive the apocalypse.

If you’re looking for a cerebral film, then you certainly aren’t going to enjoy this film. As a matter of fact, you need to check your brain at the door and take it for what it is. If you give too much thought about how a relatively inexperienced pilot can fly through a narrow space as buildings are crashing and falling down above him, how a man can drive a limousine through a building, or if you can really jump a motor home over a 20-foot chasm, you’ll be walking out soon after it starts.

The basic idea of a man trying to save both his family and reconcile his relationship with them at the same time has been done many times over. In fact, there really isn’t anything new about the story at all. It’s very predictable and they keep managing to escape from one preposterous situation into the next, kind of a like a never-ending chase scene where they’re being chased by natural disasters. If you had to classify it, it would be one of those mindless summertime popcorn films.

With that being said, if you can keep your mind focused on the visual aspects of the film, watching the Earth being destroyed by earthquakes and tsunamis, you can probably have a fun time. The action is continuous and it doesn’t really feel like it is 2-1/2 hours long.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Powerpuff Girls: The Complete Series - 10th Anniversary Collection

Written by Senora Bicho

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, The Powerpuff Girls - The Complete Series has been released on DVD. The 1998 television debut on Cartoon Network was the highest-rated premiere in the channel’s history and it was consistently highly rated during its six-season run. Boomerang began re-running episodes in 2008.

Professor Utonium (Tom Kane) mixed together sugar, spice and everything nice in an effort to create the perfect little girl. In the process, he accidentally added in an extra substance known as Chemical X. This mystery ingredient granted his three new creations super powers such as the ability to fly, super speed, and super strength.

Blossom (Cathy Cavadini), dresses in pink with long red hair, is the self-proclaimed leader and tends to be the most levelheaded and analytical one of the group. Bubbles (Tara Strong) is the cutest, wears a blue outfit and has blond pigtails. She acts younger than the other girls while being the most playful, considerate, loving, and at times naive. Buttercup (Elizabeth Daily) makes up for Bubbles’ gentle demeanor by being the toughest of the group with the shortest temper. Her short black hair and green outfit fits with her tomboy attitude. Together, these three make up The Powerpuff Girls dedicated to protecting the city of Townsville from its worst villains.

Over the years there were several recurring villains to mance the girls. The most well known and my personal favorite is Mojo Jojo (Roger L. Jackson), a brilliant yet mad scientist/chimp. Mojo Jojo was Professor Utonium’s assistant. When Chemical X was added to the mixture that created The Powerpuff Girls, the explosion also enlarged his brain. He felt left out once the Professor had the company of the girls, so he was ventured out on his own and became committed to destroying the girls who stole his home and the Professor’s affection. He even created an evil trio of little boys, The Rowdyruff Boys, by using snips, snails, a puppydog tail, and his own version of Chemical X to compete with the girls. Fuzzy Lumpkins (Jim Cummings) is a hillbilly bear-like monster who lives in the woods outside of Townsville. Him (Tom Kane) is a devil-like creature who feeds off of negative emotions and disguises himself to create catastrophes. Princess Morbucks (Jennifer Hale) is a spoiled little rich girl who turns to evil after the girls don’t allow her to join their group.

The DVD collection is chalk full of great extras. The original short films created by Craig McCracken entitled “The Whoop*ass Girls” are included to provide a glimpse at the origins of the crime-fighting trio. Music videos, interviews, live-action shorts, and short cartoons used through the years to promote the show are spread out on all of the discs. The most creative and entertaining extras include a Mayor blooper real on the Season Four disc and on the Season Two disc, there are audio commentaries by Mojo Jojo and the Mayor, both of which are hysterical. Two bonus episodes are also included, a holiday special “Twas the Flight Before Christmas” and “Powerpuff Girls Rule!!” the 2009 special in commemoration of the 10th anniversary. Each season has its own disc with an insert that offers the contents on one side and on the other side all of the inserts can be put together for a poster.

The only negatives are the discs contain episodes on both sides, requiring extra caution, and the 79th episode "See Me, Feel Me, Gnomey," which didn’t air in the U.S. is not included.

I hadn’t watched an episode of The Powerpuff Girls in a long time but used to watch it on a semi-regular basis years back and always really enjoyed it. This show is well written, clever and funny. It has the unique ability to appeal to children and adults alike with its simple yet witty action adventures. Highlights include the many Fab Four references in “Meet the Beat-Alls,” “Buttercrush” where Buttercup falls Ace of the Gangreen Gang, the Rashomon-influenced “The Bare Facts,” and the girls get the “Silent Treatment” and lose their powers when they enter a silent cartoon to save the Professor.

Now you have the chance to add all 78 episodes to your collection along with lots of fun extras or it will make a perfect Christmas gift for any long-time fans.

Jason X

Written by Puño Estupendo

After the 1990s came to a close, the Friday The 13th franchise wanted to try to reinvigorate itself by giving evil an upgrade. After the crapfest of the last several F13 movies, Jason X comes off as quite a bit better even though it's not really all that great. It reminds me of that old Eddie Murphy routine about giving the starving man a cracker, almost anything seems better after watching the previous movies in the series.

The beginning of the movie has Jason in shackles at some sort of military/scientific research facility. A doctor/scientist/research lady is arguing with some Army types over the fact that they're going to move him from his current location and that that's not a very good idea. The researcher (Rowan) is played by Lexa Doig and she's about as believable a researcher as I've never seen, but she's cute enough eye candy, so there you go. Of course things don't go as planned, Jason starts a rampage and Rowan gets trapped in the cryogenic chamber with him, frozen in time, and just waiting to be discovered.

Cut to a gazillion years later and a salvage team (doing their best Alien impression) discovers the base on an Earth that is no longer inhabitable. Taking their prizes aboard their spacecraft, the technology of the future is able to patch up and revive Rowan (who was stabbed by Jason in the past). Turns out the ship is inhabited by a team of students and a team of soldiers, doubling the target count of Jason when he decides to wake up and start doing what he does. It's silly, yes, but it's a premise that has fun with itself nonetheless.

Unlike the tongue-in-cheek of previous installments, Jason X doesn't skimp out on the gore like previous F13s ended up doing. At least when this one makes fun of the sex and violence, it actually gives you sex and violence! In its strive to kick things up a notch, Jason is blown to all kinds of hell through the gratuitous use of firepower and the ship's malfunctioning medical system rebuilds him. Bonding the metal of his machete in with his flesh, his trademark hockey mask is now metal as are parts of his chest and shoulder. Jason in armor is at once ridiculous but also creates all sorts of mayhem for what's left of the cast at this point.

Jason X is a great popcorn-eating, "root for the shamelessness" kind of flick. It's a bit of dated in the fact that it's very obvious this was made when CGI effects were running rampant with all sorts of movies. Once computers became open to those filmmakers that weren't connected with the budgets of Jurassic Park, everyone gratuitously threw in CGI. From the opening credits to the split-bodied gore, the look is saturated by computers. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just a little too in your face at times. I will say that the fun factor kind of nulls that out though, and I enjoyed this one. It's a nice capper to the series as a whole (yes, I know about Freddy vs. Jason, but I have always thought of Jason X as the last of the franchise's incarnation), one that started out phenomenally, sucked bad for the majority of its run, and then found a way to end on a fun note overall.

I'm glad it's over though and the re-imagining has started with the 2009 Friday the 13th (which I loved).

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Written by Sombra Blanca

I understand and fully support the need to suspend disbelief when it comes to movies. Doing so allows the viewer to take part, or at least become an engaged observer, in the world rolling through the screen. Said suspension is especially necessary when it comes to the horror genre. We know it’s not real and for many that’s the whole reason to watch. And much like a soap opera, with a horror franchise like Friday the 13th, the viewer is required to forgive certain inconsistencies with previous attempts in the series in order to enjoy the current one.

I wish that were the case with Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, the ninth installment in the series, released in 1993. Obviously it was not the last Friday the 13th movie, but it makes sense to put “final” in the title because who would watch Jason Goes to Hell: Until We Think Of A Cockamamie Way To Bring Him Back.

It’s been 16 years since I saw this movie in the theater, and maybe it’s the fact that this time around I was forced to take a more analytical approach rather than forgetting everything I know and enjoy the ride. But it’s one ride I vow never to take again, even if I work my way through a marathon of the series. The film was produced by Sean S. Cunningham, who also produced and directed the first Friday the 13th and produced the next two, Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason. With Cunningham on board for Goes to Hell, fans of the series might expect some throwbacks to the original. At least I was.

You get some of that through a fake news show called American Case Files and its host, Robert Campbell (Steven Culp), who provides a quick history of Jason and introduces us to the only man claiming to know how to kill him, bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams).

A bit of the sex and violence fans expect from slasher movies comes from three pieces of eye candy who hitch a ride with the protagonist, Steven (John D. LeMay) to Crystal Lake in order to “smoke a little dope, have some premarital sex, and not worry about getting slaughtered.” But the inconsistencies were just too egregious to forgive.

In Goes to Hell, we learn that our masked anti-hero has a sister, Diana Kimble (played by Erin Gray of Silver Spoons fame). While it soon becomes clear Diana’s presence is necessary for the premise, this reviewer could find no reference whatsoever in any of the previous eight movies about Jason having a sister. (If I’m wrong, please correct me and set my dork mind at ease.)

Okay, fine. You invent not only a sister, but a niece, Jessica (Kari Keegan, looking like a young Jessica Lange) and give Jessica a baby daughter. It’s necessary for the premise because we learn from Duke that even though Jason was blown to pieces in the opening scene by more than 100 bullets and two precision-guided bombs that leave the surrounding SWAT team unscathed (the first one missed), he is of course not really dead. Only Duke and Kimble know that, as Duke puts it, “from a Voorhees is he born, from a Voorhees may he be reborn, and from a Voorhees must he die.”

The fact that Duke can’t kill Jason does not stop him from offering his services for a $500,000 bounty. He also offers his worst Quint impression, explaining that for his fee “you get the mask, the machete, the whole damn thing.” It’s one of several horror references, along with an appearance from Evil Dead’s actual Book of the Dead — and appearance only, since they don’t take the time to explain its connection to Goes to Hell — and one of the crates from “The Crate” in Creepshow.

Since a Voorhees must kill Jason, and since he suffered from what a coroner describes as “explosive trauma” and being “deader than shit,” how can the contradictions be rectified? Keeping with the theme of disbelief suspension, it’s magic: Jason has the evil power to hop from body to body and continue his murderous reign. The first leap comes when the coroner examining Jason bites into Jason’s heart, which wasn’t beating for a while, but begins beating again when no one else is around. After that, Jason’s “spirit” is manifested by a long, black tongue that squirms from the host body to the next body, and looks way too similar to the tongue that snakes out of Freddy Krueger in the second Nightmare on Elm Street.

Oh yeah, even though Jason’s evil takes over the bodies of others, the “real” Jason can still be seen mirrors. Just so you won’t forget who it really is. Ugh.

After one of Jason’s minions kills sister Diana, he won’t stop until the other two “relatives” are dead. The next inconsistency: with Diana dead, Duke tells the protagonist, that leaves two remaining Voorhees to either kill him or through whom he can be reborn. Nope, scratch that. Turns out Jason can also reincarnate himself through the dead Diana, which he does when his evil spirit — which in physical form looks like a skinned Gila monster with fangs — crawls between her legs.

Cutting to the final scene (Spoiler Alert if you’ve waited 16 years to see this), we have Duke, Jessica, Steven (the protagonist and father of Jessica’s baby) and Jason. In a confrontation with Jason, Duke asks, “Remember me?” If the viewer doesn’t remember why he would say that, apparently the part about Jason killing Duke’s girlfriend was cut from the script because, well, that might “explain” something. Jason’s “niece” kills him with some magic dagger that causes Tron-like flares to fly into his body and send him to hell.

In setting up what was supposed to be the next installment, the last shot shows Freddy Krueger’s arm launching out of the ground and pulling Jason’s mask down into hell. But Freddy vs. Jason would have to wait for various reasons, and fans were treated, or subjected, to Jason X in the meantime.

If I’m short on details of the killings, it’s because only one is worth it, and that’s when the three younger travelers spend the night at Crystal Lake. It’s actually the only scene of the whole movie worth watching because it has both the best murder and the only sex scene. During the amorous event, the first Jason reincarnation drives a road marker through the tent wall, through the woman on top, and rips her in half. But to see it, you have to choose the unrated version on the DVD, which is the only way to go if you want to watch this movie.

Besides offering the unrated version, the DVD does allow the viewer to jump to each death scene and skip the “plot” in between. There’s also the standard trailer and, for die-hard fans or anyone who wants to hear those responsible explain this stink bomb, there’s commentary by the director Adam Marcus and writer Jay Huguely.

If I could send this movie to hell, I would. But I’ve never been so happy to send a movie back to Netflix.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Written by Fantasma el Rey

I haven’t seen Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in years and there is a reason. As a kid I used to fear these movies and their monster maniac killers but seen as a full-grown adult these things bring mostly laughs. Today the true horror they bring is in the fact that I spend so much time still watching them.

The plot goes thusly: a high-school senior class of late 1980s, cool kids hop on a ship christened, of all things, Lazarus and head for the glory that is New York City. Trouble starts soon as the unsuspecting ship picks up the recently resurrected from the grave Jason Voorhees, who resumes his eradication of stupid/naughty/horny teenagers and those who accompany them as they chance to pass the site of his childhood death. While on board he wastes no time in getting down to business and the hacking and slashing take on many new/fun forms.

Our two latest “good” kids are Rennie and her boyfriend Sean, a neat and clean couple who are pure of heart, which is always the key to success; I mean really, how else can they defeat an insane, superhuman killer, right? Oops, gave away the ending there. The hell with it, let’s continue. After picking off the majority of young hipsters aboard ship, the remainders decide to fight back and take the killing to the killer. Well, the kiddies get an “A” for effort but they fail for the fact that on board they can only manage to flee the now-burning ship with an angered Jason left behind and their numbers further dwindled down. Bad move, never piss off the dead ugly kid. As the last Lazarus survivors row their dingy on open water little do they know that big J has jumped in the water behind them.

After a good all-night row the beautiful Statue of Liberty is spotted and safety is presumably reached but it wouldn’t be Jason Takes Manhattan if they all lived happily ever after. Now the funny starts as we get to watch Jason run amuck on the vicious streets of the big city, killing some folks along the way who try to interfere with his sea-born hunt. Jason stalks the port docks, subway cars and tunnels, city streets, back alleys, and finally the toxic waste-soaked sewer of the city tracking down the remaining ship-goers.

But alas, poor Jason, it is not to be. As the city that houses so many sinful beings apparently feels bad for our heroes and as the sewer fills with toxic waste (as it does every night at midnight, who knew?) Jason is overwhelmed and meets his doom in a crashing, swirling rush of lethal, hazardous waste. Not only is his face melted away but his “body” is also stripped away leaving exposed the helpless child that drowned all those years ago at the bottom of Crystal Lake.

So there it is. Most of the movie and killing happen aboard ship and we get disappointingly little of New York and its native inhabitants. We do get some junkie thieves and a snap look at some “punker” kids that Jason scares off by lifting his mask and showing his face. Funny scene, perhaps the high point of this entire movie. The flick even tries to give us a bit of the beat culture N.Y. was known for; as the movie opens, we hear a DJ wax poetic in his best Allen Ginsberg about the mean streets he loves over some not-so-good ‘80s-movie pop/rock.

Taking Jason out of his element was a good idea that wasn’t fully capitalized upon but we do get some creative and laughable kills along the way. Highlights aboard ship include: fishing spear gun, hot sauna rock setting its victim on fire, harpoon, death by electric panel that also causes fire not only to victim but entire ship, and the second best kill in the movie is some stupid wannabe rocker chick getting whacked by her own guitar! Get it? Guitar = Axe. Huh, huh, clever, no? While in the city we have death by hypodermic needle, steam pipe, pipe wrench, and the best-ever Jason kill is a right hook that knocks a guy’s head clean off. Yeah, that last one is preceded by said dumb ass trying to box out Jason who has already been shot numerous times and will go on to be run over by a police car, electrified by the third rail on the subway, and gets a can of toxic waste in the face before being consumed by it.

Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is a true comedy of horror. Seen twice in a lifetime is really too much unless you’re plastered and need a good laugh.

Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood

Written by Puño Estupendo

It may be overstating the obvious, but by part seven of the Friday The 13th franchise, this series' glory days were long gone. The formula that the first couple of films had helped to establish was already tired by 1988. There was only one sure way to go to reinvigorate the series: get yourself a telekinetic girl.

This Firestarter/Jason mash-up is just so godawful that I would feel completely confident in calling bullshit on anyone that tries to defend it. I do have friends that say (with a kitschy grin) that they "like that one," but I have to think that it's nostalgia from their youth painting that picture for them. If you ask these people when was the last time they actually watched it, the answer is usually "not in years". If you're a fan of The New Blood but haven't seen it in a decade or so, do yourself a favor and keep it that way. There's nothing worse than having great memories of something only to have it ruined by your current sensibilities. Seriously though, I don't even think this one makes it into the "so bad that it's good" category.

After the events of the film before it, Jason lies under the waters of Crystal Lake once again, this time with a chain around his neck, anchoring him to the bottom. Coincidentally enough, a flashback sequence shows a little girl fleeing her house, her parents arguing, and the father physically abusing the mother off camera. The girl, Tina, is crying and ends up jumping into a small boat and floats outward from their dock on...wait for it...Crystal Lake.

Y'know, it's amazing how many people actually ended up living or having vacation spots on that lake over the years.

Anyway, so Tina's dad comes out to try to tell her that everything is okay. He stands on the dock, pleading for his little girl to come back to shore. She is so upset and angry at her father that it triggers her telekinetic powers, unleashing a force that destroys the dock and kills her father in one tantrum induced swoop. Cut to years later and Tina, her mother, and her doctor are returning to the house on Crystal Lake as part of Tina's recovery. She now looks to be in the 17-22 age bracket, perfect for this franchise. What luck! She's spent years in a hospital trying to deal with her crazy powers and cope with the guilt of having bumped off her dad.

Yeah, it doesn't make sense that you would take her back to the scene of the crime until you find out that her doctor is trying to provoke her powers (which come out when she's stressed like the Hulk) for his own career. He films her with his camcorder in one scene, trying to get her to move a matchbook across the table. She can't do it until he properly upsets her, not only moving the matches, but causing them to BURST IN TO FLAME! Tina ends up finding herself out on a dock to the lake, lamenting over her dead father, when she senses a presence in the lake. Assuming it's dear ol' dad (because obviously nobody ever remembers the body count associated with this lake) she tries to resurrect him, but guess what? Guess who she resurrects instead?


Did I really need to see a confrontation between Jason Voorhees and a telekinetic?! I know it reads like it would be shamefully stupid and yet fun, but it's not. The only thing I actually enjoyed in this was the appearance of Terry Kiser as Tina's doctor, Dr. Crews. You know Terry even if you don't think you do. He was Bernie in Weekend at Bernie's and he's appeared in so much stuff that he has the face that makes you say "Oh, that guy"! He plays an asshole so well that it kind of cracked me up.

Overall, I say skip this movie. If you're a legit horror fan, this movie has nothing for you. If you like the gore and death scenes, not much there for you either. Sure, people get killed, but it's not impressive, creative, or even particularly bloody. As for the people that like the awful movies because for some reason they think it's still funny, you're gonna strike out as well. It's bad in a bad way, nothing really funny to it other than Terry Kiser, but that's stretching it fairly thin. This is an abysmal wreck of a film from the late '80s and is best left undisturbed.

It's okay for completists to want to watch it because they want to see the entire series, but unless you fit that bill, you should just watch something else instead.

Ruby-Spears SUPERMAN

Written by Pirata Hermosa

In 1988 Ruby-Spears productions in combination with Warner Brothers released a Saturday morning cartoon to correspond with the 50th anniversary of DC Comics’ Superman character. The major difference in the series in regards to previous offerings is Superman’s arch nemesis, Lex Luthor, is no longer just a mad scientist, but instead a corrupt billionaire who held great power and influence.

The show lasted only thirteen episodes on CBS. Each episode is twenty minutes long and contains a five-minute short from the “Superman Family Album” showing small clips from Clark Kent’s life starting at his arrival on Earth to the moment he finally becomes Superman.

After viewing, it’s pretty obvious why the series only lasted for one season. It was 1988 and it felt like it was done in the ‘70s at the same time as the Super Friends. A lot of the sound effects sounded the same and they even used the same narrator.

Even the voice casting seemed particularly poor. Superman’s (Beau Weaver), voice was a little too thin but at least it was tolerable, Lois Lane (Ginny McSwain) was a little whiney, Jimmy Olsen (Mark L. Taylor) was overly childish as was his behavior throughout, and Lex Luthor (Michael Bell) was just a sniveling wimp. In the first episode “Destroy the Defendroids,” the combination of all those voices at once made it nearly unwatchable. Thankfully, the voices of Lois and Jimmy improve once the series gets going.

The good thing about the show is that the storylines are fairly decent. Granted there are a few ridiculous moments like when Lois and Jimmy are trapped in an open-air cage on a giant robot that flies up into space, yet they can breathe the entire time and somehow manage to survive re-entry as the cage becomes red hot.

It’s pretty obvious that the plots have become a little more involved than in previous incarnations, but unfortunately the “Superman Family Album” at the end of each episode really sets any progress backwards. These stories are snapshots of Clark’s past up until he becomes Superman. When they start he has just arrived and is a baby. Even then he has super powers: can fly, use heat vision and has incredible strength. You can imagine how difficult a regular baby can be, but one with super-human abilities is even worse as Clark flies around getting into all sorts of trouble at the orphanage, the grocery store, on his first day of school, and with his new baby sitter. As he grows up he learns to use his powers less and less and while still somewhat corny, they aren’t nearly as bad as when they started.

The DVD includes the original thirteen episodes and corresponding “Superman Family Album” shorts.

The lone Special Feature is “Corporation of the Corrupt: The Rise of Lexcorp,” a discussion about the new re-launch of the Superman story by John Byrne in 1986 and how Lex Luthor is now a businessman instead of a scientist because money and business became the true power in the world during the 1980s.

If you’re a huge Superman fan, you might feel like picking this up for your collection, but it most people probably won’t find it necessary.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST - 50th Anniversary Edition

Written by Musgo del Jefe

Musgo here again with his proverbial hat in his hand. Recently I attempted to put down a review for the Anniversary release of The Wizard Of Oz, one of my favorite films of all-time. Today, I’m faced with the 50th Anniversary of North by Northwest. It’s easily one of the top five films from my favorite director of all-time. Director Alfred Hitchcock’s films litter my Top 100 like signposts marking the way. Like The Wizard Of Oz, I’m challenged to say something about a film that others have written complete books and thesis over, and I have to review two-disc set that builds upon previous releases of the film.

North by Northwest came rather late to me in my Hitchcock journey. I started on this path with Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window during my high school years in the mid-'80s. It was a few years later that I first caught North by Northwest. In a year span, I saw it for the first time on the huge screen of the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, watched in on VHS, and then studied it in-depth in a Hitchcock class I took that summer.

It’s amazing to watch the title sequence of the film today and think that this is considered the first use of moving type in titles. The Saul Bass opening sequence is memorable and feels like the technique must have been around for years. Even on a smaller screen, the kinetic movement of the type and the staccato score by Bernard Herrmann hint at the restlessness that will follow the viewer throughout the film.

The film was released in 1959 through MGM, and it sits squarely between Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960). These three films form an apex that the remaining six films of his career just wouldn’t reach. As the middle of those three, it’s interesting that North by Northwest (despite being a direction slightly off-center) serves as a culmination of many of Hitchcock’s common themes dating back to the 1930s with The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes.

This film marks the fourth and last time that Hitchcock would work with Cary Grant as his “every man”. On the Special Features disc, there is a new documentary entitled Cary Grant: A Class Apart that gives an in-depth career profile of the actor. Comparing his work with Hitchcock against Jimmy Stewart’s is an interesting contrast. Cary and Jimmy are used in similar fashion to represent the “common man”. But Cary is a much classier version. In North by Northwest he is a Manhattan adman that must navigate through an adventure that covers many states and famous attractions. Jimmy Stewart was often a simpler man who dealt with the stress of being trapped and not able to maneuver through society. In Rear Window and Rope he doesn’t leave a single room in either film.

The plot of the film is relatively thin in depth but it’s long on action. The movie wastes no time introducing the viewer to Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) (the “O” stands for nothing) an ad exec who is mistaken for a Mr. George Kaplan and is kidnapped and questioned by some nefarious fellows. Since he cannot give them the information they think he has, the bad guys attempt to stage an accident to kill Thornhill. The failure of this act sets in motion the remaining two hours of the film. It puts the police after Thornhill and puts Thornhill on the trail of the people who did this to him. Along the way, he is thrown into a situation where it appears to the public that he has committed a murder, upping the stakes even more.

While fleeing from New York to Chicago on a train, Thornhill meets the beautiful Eve Kendall (the gorgeous Eva Marie Saint). Her ability to balance the ambiguity of her character strikes me as one of the brilliances of Hitchcock’s casting. If she is played any other way, the plot would ultimately start to fall apart at this point in the film. But while she is guiding Grant’s character along, we, as viewers, are now squarely invested in our hero and see something that he doesn’t in her. Or we think we do.

At this point, Hitchcock rightly starts to speed the events forward as if we are rushing towards a conclusion. The story that started in New York City and rushed towards Chicago rushes headlong into the countryside of Illinois. This iconic scene is just the twist that the film needs when the viewer feels like they are becoming accustomed to the pace of the film. All of a sudden, we’re in the middle of nowhere, in the open and surrounded by corn and quiet. It’s disconcerting. Even more so than it would be normally. I realized that few directors today play with pacing as much as Hitchcock. There is a tenseness in the distant sound of the crop duster that you can’t pull off if we hadn’t just come off the confining, loud train.

This journey North and Westward across America is detailed in the great documentary Destination Hitchcock left over from a 2000 DVD release. This extended making-of includes many interesting sidebars of thrown out ideas for the plot including ending in Alaska – a true North by Northwest journey.

The ending at Mount Rushmore is still fun and unexpected. The chase has a true James Bond feel to it with the ability to use recognizable locations to add legitimacy to the plot. The iconic nature of the location makes this truly an American film and adds “historical importance” to the espionage of the plot. I don’t get the same feeling at the end of Saboteur on the Statue Of Liberty.

Watching from the perspective of 50 years, the film is only dated in the Cold War undertones of the main plot. But the humor and arc of the story are still fresh and don’t feel as derivative as so many similar movies today. Few directors know how to control the pace of their films – much like a roller coaster, the viewer should feel pushed and pulled by unseen forces – unable to control what is happening, only being in control of one’s reactions.

The 50th Anniversary release looks amazing. It is the only MGM film for Hitchcock and one of their few Vistavision releases. In addition to the previously mentioned Special Features, there is a commentary with the screenwriter Ernest Lehman, a new documentary entitled The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style. This documentary provides some fresh perspective on the film from current directors including Guillermo Del Toro. There’s another new documentary entitled North by Northwest: One For The Ages that takes a look at the important innovations in the production of the film and its influences.

While many studios are cutting back on their restoration of classic films, Warner Bros. are to be commended on this release and The Wizard Of Oz release. These films are important works that still have impact on the works we see onscreen today.

North by Northwest is so much a culmination of themes and ideas of Hitchcock’s previous films but it goes beyond just being a jumble of scenes. It’s a blueprint that takes lessons learned in previous films and shows us how to use the film medium to tell a compelling story. And it’s quite a ride. It was for young Musgo sitting in the Michigan Theater in 1986 and it is today for old Musgo sitting in front of his computer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s Vol. 2

Written by Hombre Divertido

On October 27th Warner Brothers released 316 minutes of cartoon memories from the seventies, though, not all of it is animated nor from the seventies. This new release not only contains some classics, but some you may not remember as well. It is important to remember the collection makes no reference to being the best of the seventies, and it certainly isn’t. Nonetheless, there is some interesting history here, as well as some voices to listen for.

The release contains 12 shows on two discs, but you won’t find the list of shows anywhere on the packaging. The main menu on the disk does supply the list, but can be frustrating to operate as selecting some episodes will return you to the menu unnecessarily, and selecting “Play all” excludes one episode.

The twelve shows included are: Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch, the story of three mischievous bears who live in a zoo and manipulate the zoo keeper; New Adventures of Gilligan, which continues the adventures of the castaways from the sitcom of the sixties; Sea Lab 2020, a futuristic series based on an underwater community; Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, which follows the exploits of the famous detective and his children who happen to be a rock group; Shazzan, the story of two teens who travel around on a flying camel during the time of the Arabian Knights and call upon a sixty-foot Genie when they get into trouble; Yogi's Gang, which follows the classic members of the Hanna Barbera library as they travel in a flying ark and meet people who teach them important lessons; Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, which consists of stories from the two classic Warner Brothers characters; Valley of the Dinosaurs, which tells the story of a family that travels back in time and is befriended by a Neanderthal family;
Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape Show, which consists of stories with the classic cat and mouse and stories with the 40-foot purple ape and his canine best friend; The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, a live-action series with four costumed characters who would introduce animated series and live-action serials; Inch High Private Eye, which followed the adventures of the diminutive detective and his assistants; and The New Adventures of Batman, which continues the adventures of the caped crusader. There is certainly something in this eclectic mix for everyone, but likely they all won't be satisfying.

From a story perspective, many are quite weak, such as the Inch High Private Eye episodes where the solution to the mysteries rarely made sense to anyone other than Inch High. The animation is poor in several of the shows, most noticeably in The New Adventures of Batman. Filmation had produced superior superhero cartoons in the sixties, and though these episodes have a smoother flow to the movement, it is easy to see the lack of attention to detail in this episode as the Bat Logo on the hood of the Batmobile changes color and disappears all together.

It is the historical aspects that make this release most interesting. Batman reunites the talents of Adam West and Burt Ward for the first time since the original series. Unfortunately the series also introduces the Bat Mite character, which was nothing more than annoying. Filmation’s New Adventures of Batman aired during the same season as Hanna Barbera’s Super Friends which marked a rare occasion in television history where the adventures of the same character were being chronicled on two different networks.

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was created by Sid and Marty Kroft, and produced by Hanna Barbera. This is most interesting since this release includes Valley of the Dinosaurs, an animated series produced by Hanna Barbera that tells the story of a family on a rafting trip that gets swept into a prehistoric world. Valley premiered on the same day as Sid and Marty Kroft’s live-action series Land of the Lost, which coincidentally follows a similar story line.

The New Adventures of Gilligan reunites the original cast with the exception of Dawn Wells and Tina Louise. Jane Web would voice both the Mary Ann and Ginger characters. Sealab 2020 would be remixed to produce Sealab 2021, part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan marked the first time that the character of Charlie Chan was portrayed by an actor of Chinese decent, Key Luke.

Jodie Foster can also be heard on episodes of Amazing Chan. Along with Foster, other notable actor’s voices in this collection are Jackie Earle Haley, Ross Martin, Ann Jillian, Jay North, and classic cartoon vocal talents including Paul Winchell, Joe E. Ross, Daws Butler, John Sephenson, and Don Messick.

Not a lot of bonus material here. “The Power of Shazzan” tells the back-story of this classic cartoon. What it fails to reveal is that this series ended its original run in 1969, and thus does not belong in this collection. “Saturday Morning Wake-Up Calls” provides a brief preview of the contents of the DVD. Though it is somewhat of a waste, as it appears to be a commercial for a product already purchased, it is voiced by Casey Kasem, who was also the voice of Shaggy on Scooby Doo and Robin the Boy Wonder in the first animated Batman series and a legendary radio personality.

Bottom Line: The historical significance may be more than those who are looking for memories to sit back and enjoy with a bowl of cereal care about, and there are certainly better series from the decade, but Warner Brothers has put together a collection worth owning. Watching these series in small portions is just right. Having all the episodes of any of these series would only serve to remind us that all the stories of the shows we loved as kids were basically the same.

Valley of the Dinosaurs Clip From the DVD: “Such Luck”

Monday, November 09, 2009

MONSTERS, INC. (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

Released in November 2001, Monsters, Inc. was the fourth feature-length feature film by Pixar Animation Studios. While it was a commercial and critical success, I didn’t think it was as entertaining for adults when compared to the previous films. I haven’t seen it since the theatrical release and was curious to see if I might enjoy it more this time around with the Blu-ray release.

The inhabitants of the city Monstropolis rely on the screams of children as its source of power. Monsters, Inc. provides the city’s energy through its scream-processing factory. James P. “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) are the top scare team at the factory. Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) is Sully’s rival determined to take over the top position. In order to obtain the screams, the monsters enter into teleportation doors that lead into a child’s bedroom. One night after business hours, Sully stumbles upon a door that hasn’t been properly stored away. While investigating the door, he inadvertently brings a child into the monster world. Children are considered toxic to monsters so as soon as the breach is discovered the city goes on high alert. Sully and Mike soon discover that the child is not toxic after all and realize it is up to them to protect her while attempting to get her home.

Both the video and audio presentations are amazing. Presented in 1080p and an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the film is awash in brilliant, vibrant colors from the trees’ autumn colors to the entire spectrum of rainbow represented by the cast of characters. It’s very impressive the creative team went to the trouble of adding patches of purple on his bluish-turquoise hair, which is flawlessly rendered, as are all the textures in the film. From common walls to the monsters’ various skin types, they are all clear and realistic.

The jazz score under the opening credits immediately prepares the viewer for how good the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 experience will be. Each instrument (clarinet, trumpet, piano, drums) is distinct and the bass thumps out the subwoofer. The directionality well positions the characters and items as they move about the scene. The dialogue is understandable no matter how wild the action gets, and the climatic door-storage chase sequence gets very wild.

The Blu-ray release includes all-new bonus material. “Filmmakers’ Round Table” provides behind-the-scenes information and anecdotes from some of the filmmakers. “Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek: Building Monstropolis in Japan” offers a look at the new attraction at Tokyo Disneyland. “Roz 100-Door Challenge” is a triva game aimed at younger viewers who wish to try and apply for a job at Monsters, Inc. There is also an audio commentary by director Pete Docter, co-director Lee Unkrich, screenwriter Andrew Stanton and executive producer John Lasseter. However, these features alone do not create a compelling reason to buy the Blu-ray combo pack.

The original bonus material contained in the first DVD release is also provided. “For the Birds” is an Academy Award-winning short. “Mike’s New Car” is an Academy Award-nominated short. “Humans Only” contains information on Pixar and highlights the process of making the film from concept to completion. “Monsters Only” focuses on the company Monsters, Inc. and its staff. The set also comes with a standard DVD that includes the film and the original bonus material while a fourth disc provides a digital copy of the film.

As it turned out I happened to watch Pixar’s newest release Up over the same weekend as watching Monsters, Inc. There was no comparison on my mind; Up is a much more sophisticated, interesting, and thoughtful film designed for the entire family to enjoy. Monsters, Inc. is intended for a younger viewer with a simpler, shallower story based more on action. There is an attempt to address the real world issue of energy but it only touches the surface. While the characters are fun to watch and the its look is as good as any other Pixar film, it leaves something to be desired when compared to the other great films the studio has produced.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Monty Python - Almost The Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

Forty years ago five highly educated Brits and an American lampoon artist came together to form one of the world’s funniest comedy troops. And to commemorate that union, a three-DVD set was released containing a six-part documentary ranging from their meager beginnings through their height of popularity up until present day.

Monty Python is such a huge name in comedy that everybody has already formed an opinion on their comedy. They either get it, or they don’t. If you’re one of those who get it, then you will enjoy this piece of Python history.

Being that it’s six hours worth of material, you really get a sense of what it was like behind the scenes. With all of the silliness going on, it’s a true learning experience as you discover that they are all college educated and honed their comedic skills at places such as Oxford.

There are also many pieces of interesting trivia that would satisfy and Python fan. John Cleese was embarrassed by his celebrity. Graham Chapman was an alcoholic who could barely remember his lines and nobody realized it. And some huge names in rock ‘n' roll (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, George Harrison) helped finance The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian.

The documentary is very interesting, but at the same time it comes across very sterile. Each person is interviewed against a black background and by themselves. There is never a moment when they are all together, which leaves a huge nagging question in the back of your mind. Why aren’t they together? They talk fondly of one another but not being in the same room makes you wonder if there are some issues keeping them apart.

Even so, there is enough sketch material scattered throughout the interviews that it keeps your attention and breaks up what could have developed into monotony. There is also a smattering of celebrity commentary throughout as such people like Seth Green, Bruce Dickinson, Dan Aykroyd, Simon Pegg, and several others comment on how important and influential their comedy was.

Disc 1 is divided into three parts.

  1. “The Not-So-Interesting Beginnings” which explores how they started off as young men in college, started working for the BBC, and eventually managed to start Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
  2. “The Much Funnier Second Episode” discusses the first season and brings in other current comedians to discuss the impact the show had on them and society as a whole.
  3. “And Now, The Personal Sordid Bits” shows how their success also brought down upon them the intervention of the BBC censors and how after their second season John Cleese wanted to leave.

Disc 2 is also divided into three parts

  1. “The Ultimate Holy Grail Episode” is a complete overview of how they wrote, directed and funded the film
  2. “Lust For Glory!” was the original name for the film that became The Life of Brian, and in this segment you see how the film was made.
  3. “Finally! The Last Episode (Ever) (for Now…)” as Monty Python gets ready to film The Meaning of Life, they are splintering apart and going their separate ways. The final segment also deals with the loss of Graham Chapman and his death from cancer at the age of 48.

Disc 3 contains a number of their classic sketches: “The Dead Parrot,” “The Spanish Inquisition,” “Fish Slapping Dance,” “Ministry of Silly Walks,” “The Lumberjack Song,” “The Cheese Shop,” and “SPAM.” It also includes extended interviews from the five surviving members and all the extras that were cut out of the documentary.