Thursday, December 23, 2010

AVATAR - Extended Collector’s Edition

Written by Hombre Divertido

Yes, there are people out there that never saw Avatar on the big screen. Actually, there are seventy-three of us, and we have meetings.

So, to the other seventy-two of you, I address this review:

Well, gang, I’m not sure if this will get me kicked out of our big holiday party at the Skate-O-Rama, but I watched Avatar on a standard definition television (remember those? I know you do, Todd cuz your mom told me that is what you have in your basement bachelor pad) and we may have missed the boat. Considering how everyone raved about seeing the film in 3D on the big screen, it must have been visually amazing, because the story is predictable and the characters are one-dimensional no matter where you see the film.

On November 16th Twentieth Century Fox gave James Cameron's epic the royal treatment by releasing the three-disc Extended Collector’s Edition which consists of three versions of the film (original theatrical release, Special Edition Re-Release with eight additional minutes, Collector's Extended Cut with sixteen additional minutes), the documentary “A Message From Pandora” which chronicles the efforts of Cameron and many other s to stop the building of a damn that will threaten the rainforest right here on Earth, and “Capturing Avatar” which explores in detail the making of Avatar.

I know what you are thinking: If you have the Collector's Extended Cut why would you need the other two shorter versions. I asked the same question. Then I watched the Collector's Extended Cut. It is soooo long, and slow, and plodding, and predictable, that it sucked out of me any desire I had to be a “collector”.

In this Dances with Starship Troopers big-budget extravaganza we meet Jake (Sam Worthington), a former marine who was injured and is now paralyzed from the waist down. Jake had a brother who was killed while working on a special project. Since Jake has matching DNA to his brother, the government sends him off to the planet Pandora where his mind is placed inside an alien body that us Earthlings have managed to create so that he can infiltrate the local culture. He’s kind of an Avatar. Get it? So he goes in, learns everything, meets a girl (Zoe Saldana), falls in love, and changes loyalties. I know! Not a new story, and there is nothing here that you won’t see coming a mile away. The military and government characters are ridiculous stereotypes, and the message in the film is obvious. So what was all the hype about? Apparently the movie looked amazing on a big screen in 3D. So amazing that no one noticed everything that was wrong with the film as a whole.

In the bonus feature “Capturing Avatar” we learn that releases were designed specifically for the screens they would be shown on to ensure that all audiences would view the film in the most technologically optimum environment possible. Unfortunately that does not hold true when it comes to television. Like the film itself, “Capturing Avatar” is also a bit too long, but certainly tells a more entertaining story. It delves into the technical aspects of making the film, and thus will be a big treat for you geeks out there, and you know who you are (Neal and Allen).

The new release also includes 45 more minutes of deleted scenes, most of which you can clearly see why they were deleted, and a Family Audio track that allows for the viewing of the film with all objectionable language removed. Unfortunately it does not remove the objectionable content i.e.: The stereotypical characters.

Recommendation: Perhaps there are fans out there that will want three copies of the same film, with each being painfully longer than the last, but if you saw Avatar on the big screen, then viewing it in a lesser form has to be a disappointment. Without the 3D effects, it’s just a cheesy cartoon in more ways than one. “Capturing Avatar” is the piece of this pie worth consuming.

So let’s plan on watching “Capturing Avatar” at our next meeting. See you guys in the rec room on Tuesday. Andy, it’s your turn to call the Bingo numbers, and Ned's turn to bring the pork snacks.

Article first published as DVD Review: Avatar - Extended Collector's Edition on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is a more recent Christmas special from 2002 and it is a nice little cartoon featuring the lovable gang created by Charles M. Schulz. This new DVD release also includes a bonus special Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown in which the gang faces the sad fact that two of their pals are moving away. So let’s join Charlie Brown and his mischievous pooch on two more of their TV specials newly put on DVD.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is the first special on the disc for obvious reason and it’s a cute little (and I do mean little as it clocks in at only 18 minutes) collection of vignettes featuring various members of the Peanuts gang in different Christmas themes. In the opening piece, Lucy and Snoopy twirl on the ice as Snoopy shows off for Lucy. Next, we have Snoopy dressed as Santa on the street corner ringing his bell and playing accordion for donations which leads to Lucy’s baby brother Rerun (remember him?) confronting “Santa” about some gifts that he never got. This leads to Snoopy snapping at him, which is funny to see.

The next segment, “Yuletide Greetings From Linus” features Linus trying to write his letter to Santa Claus and having trouble getting to know the new girl in class who sits behind him and constantly blows him off. We then move to “Seasons Greetings From Sally” that has Charlie’s little sister writing up her list to Samantha Claus and going out to “fall down” a tree because she can’t cut one down. One does fall down in some ugly kid’s lawn and she manages to take it home much to the ugly kid’s dismay. We later find out that she gets laughed at in school for the ”Samantha” blunder, and she and the ugly kid patch things up before Christmas day.

From there we head to a segment called “Peace On Earth From Lucy,” which really just has Lucy being her crabby self while spreading a bit o’ holiday cheer, her way. And finally there’s “Merry Christmas From Charlie Brown” that centers on Chuck trying to write the perfect card to the Little Red-Haired Girl. Of course he fumbles through it and we stumble to the end where we get to see some off the Christmas Day activities of some of the gang and what happened to some of their presents that got delivered to the wrong place.

The second special is actually funnier than the Christmas special and better written. Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown is from 1982 and finds the Peanuts gang facing the issue of two of their most loved friends having to move away. Linus and Lucy Van Pelt are forced to move as their father has gotten a new job in another part of the country. Some of the best scenes involve Snoopy in multiple disguises and roles. As he tries to steal Linus’ blanket in the very beginning, we see him hide behind a bush then try again as a blind man complete with pencil cup. Snoopy’s next role is as the replacement psychiatrist at Lucy’s therapy stand where he has his little round glasses on and a classic therapist goatee. From there Snoopy caters the Van Pelt children’s going-away party with dog treats while sporting his chef’s hat.

Meanwhile, Schroeder winds up missing Lucy’s harassment as he plays Beethoven on his baby piano and sad Snoopy cherishes the blanket that Linus left behind just for him. Then there is the best part of the story where Peppermint Patty deals with the fact that she is “sweet” on old Chuck. This realization leads to her calling Chuck at 2 a.m. and a more than half asleep Chuck answering the phone (the sleepy look on his face is priceless) and replying in gibberish to her idea for them to go out on a date and eventually falling asleep standing at the phone.

Once he wakes up a bit and wonders why he’s on the phone with no one, he’s wide awake and can’t sleep. This leads to him pondering if he’ll ever fall asleep again or if he’s dead, which for some reason had me cracking up with laughter. He then falls fast asleep, and that date never happens as Chuck has no idea what was said over the phone and can hardly remember answering at all. In the end of course all ends well as Linus and Lucy’s father decides to turn down the new job and the family moves back. Snoopy gives Linus back his beloved blanket, Lucy resumes her crabby nature around the block, and all is right with the world again.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales on DVD is worth it for fans who can’t get enough of the Peanuts gang and especially for the bonus gem of Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown. None of the later Christmas specials can top the original but for fans and younger children this disc will be well worth the 45 minutes it takes to sit back and enjoy the wonderful world of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts gang. Happy Holidays.

Article first published as DVD Review: Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales on Blogcritics.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cher: The Film Collection

Written by Hombre Divertido

Few performers can rival the career of Cher and few can fill their case with the awards she has received including an Academy Award, a Grammy, an Emmy, and more. Not only does she hold the Hot 100 record for the longest hit-making career span with 33 years between the release of her first and most recent number one singles, she also starred in her first motion picture (Good Times) in 1967 and returns to the big screen in 2010’s Burlesque.

It is the release of Burlesque that prompts MGM to package six of the actresses performance into Cher: The Film Collection which hit shelves on November 2nd 2010. Though the set does not include some of the films you may expect such as Mask; The Witches of Eastwick; and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmie Dean, Jimmie Dean, the set does provide one with the evolution of an actress. The exclusion of the above-mentioned films certainly has more to do with studio politics than with their respective worthiness.

The films in the collection include six films for the true Cher fan, but only three for movie fans. Opening with Good Times we are introduced to Cher, and then husband and performing partner Sonny Bono, playing themselves trying to come up with an idea for a movie in which they can star and thus capitalize on the fame currently being generated by their hit records. Good Times combines the camp of the era's beach movies with the sketch comedy that Sonny and Cher would display in their hit television show. The comedy sketches on the The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour usually lasted about five minutes, which is how much actual good time can be found in this bomb.

Two years later Sonny would write and produce Chastity in an attempt to showcase Cher as a serious actress. Unfortunately the film showcases a lack of writing and direction, and Cher appears to be wandering aimlessly through the film in both character and performance.

Luckily for Cher, she would stay away from the big screen for more than ten years. The absence allows the few movie-goers who experienced Good Times and Chastity time to get over those weak efforts, and time for Cher to grow as an actress. Though it does not appear to be a big stretch for her, Cher’s performance in Silkwood displays substantial growth from her previous endeavors and garnered her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Silkwood is a powerful film that clearly belongs to Meryl Streep, who portrays Karen Silkwood, the nuclear facility worker who takes on a huge corporation. Despite Silkwood being a starring vehicle for Streep, Cher holds her own alongside both Streep and Kurt Russell.

Two years later, Cher would cement herself as a leading lady in Mask. Unfortunately it is not included in this collection. Up to this point there was a similarity in the characters Cher portrayed, but in 1987 she would truly show her range by starring in The Witches of Eastwick, Suspect, and Moonstruck. The latter being the only one of the three included in this collection, and clearly the gem in Cher's storied career as she sheds all pre-conceived notions as to who she is and what she can do in this Academy Award-winning performance. Cher portrays Italian widow Loretta with subtle brilliance in this Norman Jewison-directed romantic comedy that also features Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, and Vincent Gardenia.

Unfortunately Cher would follow Moonstruck three years later with the disappointing Mermaids. Though surrounded by a talented cast including Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, and the always enjoyable Bob Hoskins, Mermaids drowns amidst a sea of eighties tripe. This pointless story follows single-mom Cher and her two daughters (Ryder and Ricci) from town to town as Cher attempts to avoid scandal. Mermaids is full of squandered potential in both storytelling and performance, as all lack development.

The Film Collection is rounded out by Tea with Mussolini; an elegant endeavor set in pre-WWII Florence Italy where the elite meet. Surrounded by a legendary cast of actresses including Dame Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and Lily Tomlin, Cher plays an American performer and lover of art who invades the serenity of the English ladies environment, and eventually becomes their savior amidst the outbreak of war. Tea with Mussolini is an investment as it takes time for the story to develop and to appreciate Cher's performance as her portrayal of the brash American is so strong, that it seems jarringly out of place in the first hour of this stylish film.

Though a perfect Christmas present for any Cher fan, and certainly priced to move, this new offering may struggle during the holiday-shopping season simply due to an audience that already owns the popular inclusions, and has no interest in films they quite possibly have not heard of. The lack of bonus material does not help the situation.

There are certainly fans of Mermaids out there that will balk at the review, but it is Silkwood, Moonstruck, and Tea with Mussolini that make this collection worth owning. Good Times and Chastity are fun for a few minutes simply to see the early years, but not worth owning.

Recommendation: Buy the collection if you don’t already own the films, and give away Good Times and Chastity as white elephant gifts.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

KNIGHT AND DAY (Three-Disc Combo)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

June Havens (Cameron Diaz) was in Wichita picking up some new parts for her father’s GTO in order to restore it as a wedding gift for her sister. But little did she know that she was about to have an “accidental” run in with rogue agent Roy Miller (Tom Cruise).

Initially she thinks it’s a lucky coincidence that she keeps running into Roy. But after she boards a supposedly full commercial jet to return home with but a handful of passengers aboard, she begins to get a little suspicious. After quickly dismissing that thought from her mind, she is surprised to find that while she was visiting the lavatory Roy not only killed all the other passengers but the pilots as well.

Once Roy manages to crash land the plane into a cornfield, he promptly tells the hysterical June that he works for the government and some of his colleagues have turned against him. He warns her to be careful of anyone that comes looking for him, that they will tell her that he is crazy, and if they say the words "safe" or "secure", that they are planning on killing her. Roy offers her a drink and she immediately passes out.

June wakes up the next morning in her own bed thinking that what happened the previous night was a dream. But she quickly finds out that it was real when FBI agents pick her up outside her house and want to take her to a secure location so she will be safe. As she begins to worry about her safety, Roy shows up and frees her during an elaborate high-speed chase on the streets of Boston.

The two are now partnered together in order to clear both their names and to protect the Zephyr, a secret invention that is a perpetual energy battery which is the size of a regular flashlight battery and can power an entire city.

In order to keep the Zephyr out of the wrong hands and the inventor who created it, Simon Peck (Paul Dano), their journey will take them around the world to Spain, a secret island in Jamaica and on a train through the Alps.

The three-disc set contains a Blu-ray, DVD and a digital copy of the film. The Blu-ray is presented in Widescreen 2.40:1 ratio with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The audio immerses you in the action with gunshots and explosions going off all around you. The video quality is a completely different experience. There’s a little graininess at the beginning and some warping when looking at the screens displaying the flight schedules. There’s also a number of times when the characters seem to really pop out compared to the background making it look like they are standing in front of green screens, but as some of the special features attest to, everything was shot on location and no green screens were used.

There are several features on the disc showing the making of the film, how the action scenes were filmed and what locations were used. The most interesting of the features was “Knight and Someday” where Tom Cruise flies into London to watch a Black Eyed Peas concert and then meets up with the band for the after party where they play the new song “Someday” that Tom had asked them to write for the film. Watching Tom chat up the members of the band seems a little surreal and then watching them all dance around while they play a recorded version of the song to a crowd of people foaming at the mouth behind barricades is just weird. And to top it off, the song isn’t very good.

The other cool but strange aspects of the bonus features section are the two viral videos “Soccer” and “Kick”. In the first one you watch Tom and Cameron from a distance as they are kicking a soccer ball back and forth. Suddenly they start doing a bunch of tricks. In the second one Cameron is practicing her karate kicks with a trainer and a giant cushion. Tom comes over and takes the cushion from the trainer and tells her to kick him as hard as she can. After a couple kicks, Tom gets distracted and looks away only to have Cameron kick him through a table and halfway across the lawn.

The film tries to walk a fine line between being an action film or a comedy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t walk it well enough to be either one. The comedy aspect isn’t pronounced enough. It gets close, but is then yanked back too abruptly into the seriousness of the situation. The action should be amazing. They used real locations. They set up good stunts and Cruise does his own. So why doesn’t it work? For some reason several of the stunts look fake. Even after watching the feature “Wilder Knights and Crazier Days” where they show how the stunts were done and how real they were, they just visually don’t work in the film.

Overall Knight and Day is not a bad film. It’s just an average film. The acting is good. There are plenty of exotic locations. There are a number of well-choreographed action scenes. There are many reasons why the film should succeed, but ultimately it just doesn’t live up to its full potential.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Knight and Day (Three-Disc Combo) on Blogcritics.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

TREK STARS GO WEST

Written by Pirata Hermosa

Before the famous crew of the Starship Enterprise boldly went where no one had gone before, they went to Hollywood and acted in various television shows and films waiting for that one big break. In this two-disc DVD set we find Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (Deforest Kelley) and Scotty (James Doohan) exploring the frontier of the wild west in a variety of different roles.

Tate - "Comanche Scalps”: One episode of the short-lived series about a one-armed gunslinger who helps a friend home after he finally took vengeance on the man who killed his brother. The only problem is that while he was away from home, his younger brother marries his girlfriend. So he must return home to kill his own brother. Leonard Nimoy plays a Comanche indian who shows up to threaten the men and attack their farm. He is only in it for a minute or two.

Bonanza - "The Ape”: One of the worst episodes of this series ever to be made about a big ugly strong and unintelligent man who gets angry when people tease him. Leonard Nimoy plays a card shark that makes fun of him and helps the local saloon girl swindle him for money. Once again, Nimoy is only in the episode for a few minutes.

Outlaws -"Starfall Part I & II”: It’s a two-part episode about a group of men who were pushed into becoming outlaws after their side lost in the war. Their leader is one of their former commanders, Wayne (Shatner). It’s now several years later and the government is offering amnesty to anyone who is willing to sign papers agreeing to settle down and become honest men. The only problem is that the townsfolk don’t want them around and the richest man in town plans to have them all killed one way or another. This is by far the best show on this DVD set. Shatner is great in his role and there’s enough action to keep you on the edge of your seat to see what’s finally going to happen.

The Lone Ranger - "The Legion of Old Timers”: The only show featuring DeForest Kelley as a man who just inherited the family ranch and finds himself being swindled out of the property by a new foreman who beats him, locks him in a room, and forces him to sell the ranch. While this episode is obviously targeted at a younger audience, it’s a little silly and a little fun as the Lone Ranger and Tonto must gather up the old ranch hands to retake the ranch.

The Last of the Mohicans - "The Way Station”: James Doohan plays a bloodthirsty indian, Tonkawa, who tries to kill one of his tribesman in order to blame it on Hawkeye and start a war with the settlers. It’s another fun episode worth watching. There is also a brief clip from the previous week’s episode with Doohan playing an angry villager.

Outlaws - "Shorty”: Another solid episode from this series about a hotheaded gunman who decides to build a fence around his farm blocking the right of way of his neighbor. When the Marshall steps in and makes him take down his fence, Shorty kills his neighbor and then hires an assassin (Nimoy) to kill the only witness. Again Nimoy makes just a brief appearance in the episode.

White Comanche is a full-length motion picture that William Shatner shot during the original run of the Star Trek series. In the film he plays two brothers that are half-blooded Comanche Indians. One brother, Notah, has convinced his tribe that he will lead them to victory over the white man while the other, Johnny Moon, travels from town to town fending off bounty hunters who think he is the White Comanche. Eventually Johnny gets fed up with his brother’s ways and challenges him to a fight to the death. After watching the rest of the selections on the DVD and contrasting them against this movie it’s really not that bad. It’s a little dull, but it doesn’t having any glaring issues that would make it unwatchable.

For any Star Trek fan this is a nice addition to your collection. It would have been better if more of the selections contained bigger roles. About half of them don't contain any substantial amount of camera time for the future stars. Even so, it’s still an interesting group of westerns that gives you a smattering of what was on television and a look at some of the actors’ first roles.

Article first published as DVD Review: Trek Stars Go West on Blogcritics.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas by Alonso Duralde

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Let it be said first and foremost, in the spirit of full disclosure, that Musgo loves film guides. It really borders on an obsession. My love of reading about films dates back to my youngest days and the TV Guide. One of the best sections of the non-listings was "This Week's Movies" by Judith Crist. I remember the subtle way the movies were described and reviewed at the same time in very conversational paragraph form - letting you know which of the 8-10 movies airing on network TV would be worth watching during the week. I can see today how that style has overtly influenced my own writing about film.

As my movie-watching possibilities expanded with the arrival of cable and VHS, my movie-review reading increased also. The local video store was full of potential favorite films but I needed a way to see beyond the hype on the covers of the packages. That's where my obsession with film guides began. There are two distinct types of guides in my collection - the comprehensive guide (one that lists the movies with brief descriptions and maybe a star rating) and the depth guide (one that compares fewer movies - often limited around a theme and offers a more in depth review). Each of them have their place and time.

For years, my basic go-to book was the simple Leonard Maltin yearly guide. I remember the years when it jumped from 750-800 pages to up near 1000 pages and now way beyond. Not much on cross referencing but for basic info about a film and a very brief review, it couldn't be beaten. In the years since - I've grown to love both the Halliwell guide and the Videohound Golden Movie Retriever guide. They approach the films the way I like to use the books - with lots of lists and indexes. If I like an actor or director or movies about alien cops - I want to be able to find other similar movies and read quick little reviews.

So when the opportunity to branch out and review a book came Musgo's way and it was a film guide, I jumped at the offer. This holiday season, Limelight Editions has released a guide to Christmas-themed movies - Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas by Alonso Duralde. He has put together an interesting more in-depth guide - covering around 125 movies with each listing having roughly a page-long descriptive review of the film followed by some Fun Facts. The author tries to find a unique niche by expanding the traditional definition of a Christmas film to include films that are set or even only partially set around the holidays. Each chapter is built around a theme - Christmas Comedies, Holiday Horror, Christmas Classics, etc. The best way to review a book of reviews is to take a look at a couple examples.

Christmas Holiday (1944) (reviewed in "Movies For Grown-Ups") I will give Mr. Duralde instant cred for including this often forgotten film in his reviews. As he states, based on a W. Somerset Maugham novel, it is a great film noir holiday film. Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly play against type in this more serious film but the "holiday as healing" theme is still universal. I agree with the author that a DVD release is due and that's what a good film book can do - put that bug in your mind until you see it come available years from now.

Less Than Zero (1987) (reviewed in "Movies For Grown-Ups") Less impressed at this addition to the same section. The movie is set in Los Angeles over a Christmas vacation from college for the Andrew McCarthy character. But unlike other films set during the holidays, none of the film's themes revolve around the spirit of the holidays. I don't even recall the scenes of Christmas in L.A. to be particularly memorable.

Love Actually (2003) (reviewed in "Christmas Comedies") I appreciate the inclusion of this film as a holiday comedy. It is set during the Christmas holidays in London but the strong British cast and director Richard Curtis (Bridget Jones' Diary, Four Weddings) often makes people rank this as a Chick Flick or love story over a Christmas film. The movie is either loved or hated by many - for such a polarizing film, I would have liked the author to take more of an opinionated stand. Here he simply admits that while being "arguably indefensible" that it's "shamelessly entertaining".

Meet John Doe (1941) (reviewed in "Holiday Tearjerkers") Another movie that seems to have left the holiday genre over the years. This Frank Capra flick starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck compares favorably to even It's A Wonderful Life in the way we are left with the carry the spirit of Christmas with you throughout the year message. Once again, a good review book will remind you of a film that you may long have forgotten and need to see again.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) (reviewed in "Holiday Horror") This film is another reach for a holiday film. It happens to be set with the background of a group of orphans spending the Christmas holiday at the Forrest estate - run by the totally crazy Shelley Winters. It's a really great creepy film that plays better at Halloween than at Christmas. I don't recall Christmas being more than a catalyst to move the plot forward. That doesn't take away from the genius of the film and its watchability. But it's hardly fair to put it up against Silent Night, Deadly Night or Black Christmas in the genre.

The book has an Appendix of recommended Christmas films not included in the main part of the book. Some of these I'm left wondering what connection to Christmas they may have in any way. There is an index of names and of titles, in case you are trying to find a specific listing.

Does it all work? A little but it leaves you wanting more. There are far too many films with direct relations to the holidays that could be reviewed with more common standards. As I read a number of the reviews - especially within a sub-genre - I wasn't sure that each film was being judged against the others. Instead it felt as a detached group of opinions. If multiple people were reviewing these films, that would make more sense. The fun of reading a book of reviews by a single person is getting to know their standards and how they compare to your own. It is hard to compare Eyes Wide Shut to Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, but if you have set forth your criteria in a series of reviews it can be done. I like the Fun Facts section but I'd love more pictures and maybe more info on DVD or Blu-ray releases of the films. Instead of an Appendix at the end of the book that seems disjointed - I would have offered a list at the end of each chapter of films not included under each heading and which ones were noteworthy.

As a whole, it's not a bad addition to your film guide library. It's not the last holiday movie guide you'll need but it has its place.

Article first published as Book Review: Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas by Alonso Duralde on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scooby-Doo Where Are You! - Season One, Volume Four: Spooked Bayou

Written by Musgo del Jefe

Musgo and Scooby-Doo have a relationship dating back to little Musgo's earliest Saturday morning memories in the early 1970s. For the past few years, my review path has crossed my old friend for the past five movie releases. Some have been positive like Chill Out, Scooby-Doo! and others not so much like Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo. But what these movies have all had is the ability to take the past and move the story forward for a new generation. I've had mixed responses on their success in these areas but at least they are trying to move it forward. With new live-action films, new video games, the new animated films and a continuing run of new TV shows - I found it interesting to see a collection of "classic" episodes arrive in the mail.

This DVD collects four episodes of the original series that started it all. Since the show has been such a constant prescence on television since it debuted in 1969 - many don't realize that the original incarnation Scooby-Doo: Where Are You! only lasted two seasons - producing a mere 25 episodes. Episodes of this series have been widely available on VHS for decades and the complete first and second seasons were released on DVD in 2004 and will get a new box set release this November. So beyond the review of the product on the disc, the real question is "Why break the series down into smaler chunks?" Is it for the impulse buying at a lower price point at the big box stores? Is it an attempt to confuse the customer who may already own more complete collections? This is Volume 4, so my assumption is that whatever the marketing ploy - it's working.

Volume 4 collects four episodes on to one disc - picking up where Volume 3 left off. Included are episodes 13 - 16 of the first season. Presumably this will be a six-volume set that will allow the consumer to complete collection of the episodes included on the complete DVD sets. For parents, the four-episode collection is a nice length because it's roughly equivalent to the length of one of the Scooby-Doo movies (clocking in at 88 minutes).

"Which Witch Is Which?" - The punny subtitle of this collection comes from the setting for this mystery. This was one of the episodes I looked forward to in repeats more than almost any other. There's a great combination of elements at play here that make this the star of the disc. The group are returning from a fishing trip and get lost in the swamp. The Southern bayou is ripe for ghost stories and they would revisit it later in an animated film for another great story - Scooby-Doo! On Zombie Island. The plot leads us into a weird little village for clues and some voodoo and then back out into the swamp. This mystery is one that should be on everyone's top-episodes list for Scooby-Doo!

"Go Away Ghost Ship" - A rather tame episode in general after such a promising set-up. The villain here is Redbeard The Pirate. I'm not a fan of the character design but his ghost ship is interesting. Shaggy and Scooby play a bit more of a comedic role in the episode and the mystery ends up being very typical of the series. In fact, I think that the whole "you did it for the insurance money" scheme wasn't nearly as prevelant as I remember but this episode doesn't help.

"Spooky Space Kook" - Another episode with a promising beginning that just doesn't deliver. The Mystery Machine runs out of gas again - that thing must have like a two-gallon tank - they were always running out of gas in the country. There's a mysterious craft that could be a "space ghost". The plot could really have been played up with more of an alien angle. There's not much of a mystery and the clues aren't nearly as interesting as many other stories.

"A Night Of Fright Is No Delight" - This is another strong episode for the disc. The concept of Scooby-Doo being named an heir by millionaire Colonel Beaureguard Sanders and having to spend a night in his scary mansion with four other heirs is part horror film and part Agatha Christie mystery. The plot would be recycled in a few different variations for future films and TV episodes. This version is everything I want in a 22-minute mystery - quick set-up, fun characters (lawyers called Creeps and Crawls!), a mystery with clues that make sense if you are paying attention to detail and a fun ending.

Two of the four episodes on this disc represent some of the best that this first season of Scooby-Doo: Where Are You! has to offer and that makes it worth the price right there. But at the expense of a full set? No, not at all. This is a show that pays off by watching multiple episodes - not just the same ones over and over. There's joy in seeing the patterns over a whole season and from one series to another.

The disc includes an episode from the recent series Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get A Clue called "Lightning Strikes Twice". It's a decent episode but it pales next to the four on the disc and extremely so in the animation style. Why not include another episode of the original series? Or why not include something from Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated - the latest series?

If you must divide up your Scooby-Doo! purchases - this might be the way to go but remember - there's so many mysteries out there to solve. Our gang has been at it for over 40 years. Use this as your appetizer if you must but I encourage you to buy the whole meal.

“Green Ghosts”











Article first published as DVD Review: Scooby-Doo Where Are You! - Season One, Volume Four: Spooked Bayou on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I AM (2010)

Written by Hombre Divertido

This faith-based film was distributed to churches for preview purposes prior to its release to the public on November 2nd by 20th Century Fox. This also allowed for many people to pray for its success, as it is bound to struggle without divine intervention. Like a preacher who is trying too hard and eventually loses his audience due to overselling the message, I Am is over written, over produced, and far too often over acted.

This story of the impact of not abiding by the Ten Commandments, and the implications there of, is extremely loosely played out in modern-day Southern California in a film that tries far too hard to look like C.S.I. (Christian Scene Investigations).

It is clear that writer, director, and actor John Ward had the best intentions, and certainly the technical ability, but just because you can does not mean you should. The philosophy of keeping it simple seems to evade Mr. Ward here as "I Am" attempts to weave multiple stories together, and fails on too many fronts. Said stories, which include a terminally ill billionaire (Christinna Chauncey) who wants to be cryogenically frozen, an up-and-coming lawyer/politician (John Ward) who is dating a woman (Amy Holland) with an illegitimate child, an aging rock star (former Major League Baseball star and one of the producers of the film Todd Zeile) who is tormented by the death of his son, and several others that are not as clearly defined, fail to come together in any logical fashion and leave the audience trying to understand how they are tied to the commandment that is displayed on the screen as the story progresses. The ending reveal of the mysterious character is far too obvious in comparison to the web of stories woven throughout.

Getting any film made these days is an accomplishment, and having it be faith based is even more challenging, and thus Ward and his team are to be commended. They would most likely agree that if the film reaches one person, they have made a difference. Hopefully, Ward and his team will continue in their efforts, and perhaps next time focus on the simple aspects of storytelling and attention to detail (the city is Marina Del Rey not Ray), and less on what our current television-watching society thinks is entertaining.

The DVD includes an opening introduction by Ward and Zeile in which they express a hope that the film will prompt conversation. The film is sure to leave the audience talking, but it may not be the specific topics that the filmmakers had hoped for.

Recommendation: I Am looks flashy and has a good soundtrack and thus may feed an audience starving for such fare. It also may frustrate most audience members, but said frustration may lead them to ask important questions. Ultimately, the film lacks continuity and is full of one-dimensional overdone performances. Sadly, in the case of I Am, you shouldn’t.

Article first published as DVD Review: I Am on Blogcritics.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

LEGENDS OF THE SUPERHEROES

Written by Mugo del Jefe

Musgo should know better. When you ask for companies to empty their vaults, sometimes you get just what you asked for. The Warner Archives Collection may be one of the more wonderful things that a company has done for the movie lovers in the past decade. Instead of milking some of their more obscure releases for anniversary editions or part of holiday promotions, they've made no-frills editions of the movies available online as made-to-order DVDs. This has been a boon to those of us who have scoured used VHS racks for previously out-of-print films. This collection has given us Brewster McCloud, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, Bad Ronald, Slither, and Americathon. These films wouldn't survive on the shelves at a major retailer but they find their homes on the Internet.

The same company that has released Goober & The Ghost Chasers and Funky Phantom collections has recently released two episodes of a lost show from the Seventies - Legends Of The SuperHeroes. For those of us old enough to remember - the name is a way that NBC tried to link these two live action episodes back to the Super Friends cartoons airing on Saturday mornings. In January 1979 when these episodes aired the Super Friends was an hour long Saturday morning show featuring Challenge Of The Super Friends as the second half hour - still one of the most entertaining of the incarnations. At the same time, the early Seventies creations of Sid and Marty Krofft including H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Land Of The Lost were still finding audiences on daytime and Saturday morning television through syndication. Out of this odd mixture of influences came two specials - The Challenge and The Roast.

The specials aired on consecutive Thursday nights on NBC in January of 1979. As an 11-year-old, young Musgo immediately found the ads for these shows in his TV Guide. They promised live-action versions of superheroes that I hadn't seen except in comics or cartoons. At the time, there were repeats of the Batman live-action series and there was Wonder Woman. That was the beginning and end of DC characters I could see in "person" on TV. And my big screen Superman was still a year or two away.

The Challenge is an hour-long traditional comic book story. The Justice League of America consisting of Batman, Robin, Flash, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Black Canary and Huntress are gathered to celebrate the retired Scarlet Cyclone's birthday (a great bit on Superman). At the same time, the Legion Of Doom (Mordru, Solomon Grundy, Riddler, Weather Wizard, Dr. Sivana, Giganta and a funny moustached Sinestro) unleash a deadly bomb that will blow up the Earth in one hour. The plot has our heroes spreading out to find the bombs, losing their powers, having a chase on cool '70s-era jet skis, and trying to disarm the bombs with seconds to spare.

The Roast is a gathering of the superheroes at a celebrity roast hosted by Ed McMahon. There are several side skits that have little to do with the roast including an entertainment-style report by Rhoda Rooter, a song by Mordru, and a stand-up routine by Ghetto Man.

Both specials are shot on videotape with a very obvious laugh track to simulate a live audience. The special effects are largely done with a green screen and sound effects. They have the same feel as the ones being used on the Krofft shows of the day including Wonderbug, Bigfoot and Wildboy, and Dr. Shrinker. Green Lantern and Sinestro's rays from their rings could be right out of an episode of Magic Mongo. The look of videotape does not go well with the stylized world of comic book heroes. It's disconcerting to see Batman and Robin battling Solomon Grundy at a gas station while cars pass by and onlookers from the Italian place across the street look on.

The acting is another interesting combination. There are familiar faces from the Batman series - Adam West and Burt Ward play Batman and Robin again, as does Frank Gorshin as a very disinterested Riddler (check out his belly as he lounges in his chair in The Challenge). And then there's the odd casting like Charlie Callas as Sinestro. I never imagined Sinestro with a Wise Guys Brooklyn accent. The best casting might be Howard Morris as Dr. Sivana. The character usually battles Captain Marvel as an evil genius. But here Howard, best known as Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show plays him completely over the top in a way that only would be matched by an early Robin Williams.

The roast is where the show really can't find its mark. It runs more like another Krofft product - The Donny & Marie Show or other variety shows of the day - more than it resembles a Dean Martin Roast. Ed McMahon is a perfect straight man but in many of the skits it's clear that no one in the cast is up to the level of Johnny Carson to take advantage of his skills. There's a skit with William Schallert as the Scarlet Cyclone. It's one of the more cleverly written skits on the show and even with Schallert's talents it just screams for Johnny Carson or a Jonathan Winters to play this elderly character.

It's not surprising that these two episodes never turned into anything more. The ratings were horrendous and it disappeared quickly. But as with most things related to superheroes - especially the big names like Batman, the show became a thing of legend. Copies of it from really bad VHS copies circulated at comic conventions for years. People were curious to see what they had missed and people who were 11 years old at the time remembered it fondly 20 years later. But in its DVD glory here - the memories become too real. What looked presentable on a grainy, fourth-generation VHS copy - looks just as grainy and bad on DVD. The show hasn't aged well, even as a cult item, there's little to recommend. There's a tiny excerpt of a deleted scene and outtakes and even that feels accidentally left on the disc.

But play on Warners. This is what we asked for. Warts and all. If every one of Legends Of The SuperHeroes helps to unearth more classics like Macabre and the upcoming Classic TV Christmas Collection then bring it on. And now Musgo must fly away like Ghetto Man . . . "Kareem!".

Available only at the WarnerArchive.com

Article first published as DVD Review: Legends of the Superheroes on Blogcritics

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Rocky Horror Picture Show - 35th Anniversary Edition

Written by Mugo del Jefe

Musgo has had a life long love affair with movies. Not just a single movie but movies as a proper noun "movies". Some of the earliest memories I have start with the phrase "let's go to the movies". Even today it still can raise the hair on my arms. In my youth - for sake of argument let's call it mid-'70s through late-'80s - movies were usually experienced in a theater. There were TV shows that existed on the small screen and older, classic films on TV, but the theater was where you went to experience the films. The memory of seeing a movie in a theater is so much more than just the movie. When I saw The Great Mouse Detective at a Saturday afternoon matinee, my mother and I ate lunch on the top floor of Jacobsens and walked the Kalamazoo Mall. When I saw Raiders Of The Lost Ark on opening Friday night, my mother and father took me to the Pizza Hut on West Main and we went to the arcade afterwards. And so it was on an October night in 1984, a Saturday very close to Halloween when I first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a midnight showing with a live cast from New York in costume at the Bijou. I can recall that night in that theater like it was last week.

When I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show - 35th Anniversary Edition being released on Blu-ray, I knew I had to give it a spin. I've seen the movie about five times in the theater but probably hadn't attended a screening since 1987. The packaging of the disc caught my eye right away. It's not the predictable cover shot of Tim Curry (although I wonder why they didn't go with the iconic lips) - it was the verbiage on the back that promised to "recreate the Midnight Movie experience in your living room."

The Midnight Movie has been around in one form or another almost as long as there have been movies. But I feel like the decade leading up to the proliferation of VCRs was part of a Golden Age of the Midnight Movie. Growing up, a Midnight Movie on TV meant a really horrible film hosted by a local personality or an Elvira. But a Midnight Movie at the theaters was usually synonomous with cult films. These were films that were usually low budget and appealed to the teenager or college crowd (who else was going to films at midnight?) and would attract viewers to come back multiple times. In the Kalamazoo area, almost every theater had a selection of films that played at Midnight. For years, it was Eraserhead, The Evil Dead, Liquid Sky and the three that played seemingly forever - Heavy Metal, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Pink Floyd The Wall. But the undisputed king was The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The movie, released in 1975, had been playing the midnight circuit for at least seven years by the time I first saw it. All of the interactive moments were explained to me before I entered the theater as a "virgin". I was handed a water pistol, some toast, some rice, and playing cards. The interactive feature of the film was what brought people back. It was an event. You could participate as much or as little as you wanted. You could dress in costume, bring props, shout out lines, and dancing was encouraged. The reward for attending multiple times wasn't to find out more about the movie - it was the interaction with other fans. It's in that way that it's moved beyond movie to experience that has kept it playing in theaters to this very day.

This movie isn't one to be judged by its plot. But it would be a mistake to overlook the filmatic merits here. The story is an adaptation of a stage play but it effectively uses the film medium to its fullest. It starts off with all the trappings of a classic horror film - at a wedding, the best man Brad's (Barry Bostwick) fear of marriage is represented by a graveyard, ravens, and a brewing storm. That leads directly into the first song, "Dammit Janet" that tells us we're in a parody. The song isn't true classical musical style - the music is much more a takeoff on the type of music of the Elvis or beach films of the '60s. The music style throughout references back to the late '50s and early '60s. Throughout, there are nods to almost all of the horror genres - the rainy night leads to a haunted house, the Frankenstein motif of the Dr. Frank-N-Furter character and his "monster" Rocky, and the Dracula themes with Dr. Scott as a "Van Helsing".

By the time Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia start "The Time Warp" - that's the point where most viewers will decide they either love or hate this film. If you've held onto the hope that there will be any logical plot or rules in the universe of the film - they all fly out the door at that point. There's a nod to the viewer, there are breaks in character, and there's just plain fun going on. An unsuspecting viewer can be put off by the "no rules" attitude that the film takes. Others are excited by it. It's not surprising that the movie is produced by Lou Adler who would bring us Cheech & Chong's Up In Smoke during the same time period - another film that didn't follow any established rules. Directors like Robert Altman started this trend early in the '70s with the mixing of genres to the point that expectations and boundaries were always being pushed to the limit.

The cast is ultimately what makes this movie live on. Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter is irresistable. Tim owns the character, maybe from playing it so many times on stage before bringing him to the screen, and his charisma feels like something you can touch. His supporting cast in the castle - Richard O'Brien as Riff Raff, Patricia Quinn as Magenta and Nell Campbell as Columbia just play off his power. They never try to steal the scene - but they often play the role of the audience. In the brilliant dual scenes where Dr. Frank-N-Furter seduces both Janet and Brad separately - they are our eyes and ears, making the viewer feel like a voyeur instead of those just being a scene in a film. I found myself appreciating the performances of Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as Janet and Brad even more than I remembered them. Their ability to play the horror portion of the story seriously keeps the movie from really flying off the track.

The Blu-ray version was worth waiting 35 years. The disc is made for the hardcore fan as well as the "virgin". The first thing I noticed was the 7.1 DTS-HD mastered audio and te 4K/2K remastering of the picture. The movie has had some old prints floating around and I've seen it in some terrible theaters. I remember seeing the LaserDisc version of the film in the late '90s and this blows that away by miles. You will be sold on the quality of the presentation from the first sight of Patricia Quinn's red lips and white teeth in the first shot and the first note of "Science Fiction/Double Feature".

Other new features include a number of galleries, the search for a 35th Anniversary Shadowcast, and some new karaoke tracks. Some of the repeated features gather from old LaserDisc and DVD releases from the 25th Anniversary. But the audio commentary with Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn is not to be missed for any fan. You get both the US and UK versions of the film (including the deleted "Super Heroes" musical number) and alternate openings (it was supposed to be B&W like The Wizard Of Oz) and alternate credits.

Does the disc "recreate the Midnight Movie experience"? Not in my living room. They set a big task for themselves. All of the components are there except for what makes the movie experience so great - the other people. The Midnight Movie experience doesn't exist like it did 25-30 years ago. Today's Midnight Movies are teen comedies like The Breakfast Club or The Goonies that can be watched on disc with your friends any day. The closest thing to that experience happens at Comic Conventions with cult shows like Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog or the "Once More With Feeling" episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a decent film to watch once. There are some really catchy songs and the horror parody holds up well still. But there are points where you find yourself just waiting for the next song - those moments are filled in by the crowd in-person but they drag in silence at home. This movie has become a "Time Warp" itself and I think that those who are initiated will absolutely fall in love all over again with this package. But "virgins" may ask what the hype was all about.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Rocky Horror Picture Show - 35th Anniversary Edition on Blogcritics.

Friday, October 29, 2010

DOLLHOUSE - Season 2 (Blu-ray)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

With a show created by Joss Whedon and starring Eliza Dushku as the main character, how could it not be a hit? As Whedon found and comes to admit during the special features section, it takes more than a pretty actress and an overreaching creator to guarantee success.

This is the second television series in a row of his that has failed to take off and be embraced by his fans. There are several issues that make it difficult for audiences to accept, and Joss himself admits that maybe this idea wasn’t a good fit for network television. The subject matter is a little difficult to digest as the “dolls”, as they are called because their memories and personalities have been erased, are reprogrammed most of the times as prostitutes. Echo (Dushku), who is the main character, has no real personality, and what she does have changes from week to week as she is changed into another person. This leaves no real identifiable character for the viewer to bond with. The other characters on the show that have personalities are slimy, morally ambiguous, and are essentially the bad guys.

Season two starts off the same way as the first season and tends to drag along for the first six or seven episodes. But with the knowledge that they barely managed to survive cancellation during season one and were not expecting a renewal after season two, the pace picks up dramatically. At this point Echo becomes self-aware and does not feel the effects of the memory wipes after each of her adventures. Instead, every new personality is remaining in her mind mixing and melding with the others, which ultimately creates her own original personality and allows her to access various skills at will.

Finally everyone can see where the show is heading and have a character that they can relate to. But the problem is that it’s already halfway through the second season and way too late to save something floundering that badly in the ratings.

Once Echo is her own person, she begins to fight back against the dollhouse with the help of Paul (Tamoh Penikett), the former FBI agent who has become obsessed with saving her. But not only do they rebel against the dollhouse, but they manage to convince those running it to join their side and fight the greater evil of the Rossum Corporation who runs all of the world’s dollhouses.

The audience gets to see what happens when a doll is sent to the attic, Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and Sierra (DichenLachman) have their original personalities returned, a rival dollhouse is infiltrated, a traitor is exposed and the Rossum Corporation is brought down. The last half of season two is definitely worthy of being a part of the Whedonverse, all questions are answered and all loose ends are tied up.

But then, there is the final episode “Epitaph Two: Return,” which is a follow-up to the unaired episode from season one. It is ten years in the future and most of the world’s population have had their minds wiped, leaving them uncontrollable zombie-like creatures. Echo must return to the original dollhouse in order for Topher (Fran Kranz) to get the technology to undo the effects that his creations spawned.

While it’s nice to get a definitive ending for a television show, the leap of ten years is just too jarring to be enjoyable. Everybody’s personalities are completely different and so is the world in which they live. It would have been a more satisfying ending to have finished with the previous episode “The Hollow Men” where Rossum was taken down.

The video quality of the Blu-ray is exceptional and is of the quality of a feature-length film, but the audio is not used to its fullest capability and is only truly tested during the few gun battles in the last couple of episodes where bullets can be heard flying from all directions. The video is in Widescreen 1.78:1 format with a 5.1 DTS-HD master audio.

The special features include the usual commentary on select episodes, deleted scenes, and outtakes. There is also one feature titled “Defining Moments” where Joss Whedon explains his process, thoughts, and development of the show. It’s the most interesting feature because he discusses his mistakes and how the knowledge of cancellation drove the storyline.

The only other major feature is “Looking Back.” It had the potential to be really interesting as the entire cast along with Joss sit around a table having dinner while discussing their characters, storylines, and the creative process. Unfortunately, it comes across rather awkward and bland.

The exclusive 28-page Darkhorse comic that is inside is little more than a pamphlet showing multiple scenes of random individuals answering their cellphones while having their minds wiped causing them to rage out of control and start killing anyone in their path.

While season one drug along at a very slow and awkward pace, it is good to finally see in season two what the real vision of the show was and what it was meant to become. Unfortunately, it just took way too long to arrive at that point. And even though there are six exceptional episodes during the final season, having to wade through all the ones that came before them just doesn’t seem worth it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE

Written by Fantasma el Rey

What happens when Werner Herzog has a project and David Lynch says, “when can we start?” My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is the result. Herzog directs and Lynch produces this non-linear look at insanity that is well acted and directed with an odd story based on fact. And yes, it is a bit weird, as both are known for; no let down there at all.

Werner Herzog had been kicking this idea around for years before having the time and backing to get it onto film. The basic story is simple: guy goes crazy, gets really into Greek tragedy, and runs his mum through with a saber. That’s seriously the gist of the true aspect of this tale. Back in the late ‘70s a guy from San Diego, California, Mark Yavorsky did just that and served years in a mental ward for it. Co-screenwriter Herbert Golder thought this would make a great film, so he began his many interviews with Yavorsky that would span years before finally being joined by Herzog in their last interview in 1995. A script was soon written but sat on the self for years until Herzog met Lynch and the script was finally put into production and released in 2009.

The film moves away from the facts of the case very fast as the majority of the film is fiction and delivered in a way that Herzog described as "a horror film without the blood, chainsaws and gore, but with a strange, anonymous fear creeping up in you." That’s a good way to put it as he builds the suspense in a non-traditional way. In the first five minutes we know who the killer is but not why, which is what the film builds on, as goes the tag line, “The Mystery Isn’t Who, But Why.”

As the film rolls on we are introduced to more characters and the roles they play in the drama. Of course, there’s our lead nut job and mama's boy Brad McCullum, played briliantly by Micheal Shannon; his overbearing mother, Lynch-regular Grace Zabriskie; and his devoted girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny). Rounded out the main players are Willem Defoe as Detective Hank Havenhurst (one more odd detective role for Defoe), the outstanding Udo Kier as theater director Lee Meyers, and Brad Dourif as McCullum’s weird ostrich-raising Uncle Ted.

The plot thickens as the story moves from Brad’s trip to Peru where he finally, for some reason, flip outs and sees the world in a new light to his return home where he freaks out his friends and family with his new insight and view of life. He gets the lead in a play, loses it, but continues to obsess over it, and the real sword he received from his uncle to use as a prop, which he carries all the time and becomes too close to. With sword in hand and more odd gestures and acts of insanity, he continues to further freak people out and becomes more reclusive as he loses more of his mind.

Eventually he kills his mother in a neighbor's house and keeps police at bay while he holes up in his boyhood home with his two hostages. That’s how the story unfolds and brings us to the abrupt ending. The real story lies in the unraveling of Brad’s mind. We get certain glimpses of his past and some reveling moments of what he hopes his lasting impact will be. We also get a hint of that with some of his more sane acts throughout the movie.

Herzog paints the picture of insanity well as he spins this tale of a man’s mental breakdown. He wanted to focus on the poetry of the insanity as opposed to the clinical aspect of it. He has actors freeze or slow up in certain key moments to show some points where things change or become different or more clear. Some elements in the story have to be read into a bit more to really catch what Herzog is getting at. The ostriches and how they hide their heads in the sand, which is never shown but can be seen as metaphor for how McCullum’s family and friends don’t really speak out or try too hard to figure what really broke his brain. Besides the obvious meddling of his mother in his life, we can only guess that he was somehow more abused as a child than is being shown on film or mentioned or perhaps one day he simply snapped and that’s that, as they say. But watch and interpret as you will, viewers, I can only say what I see and bring my own thoughts to the film as should you.

The DVD features an audio commentary track by Herzog that is very insightful as well as a thirty-minute interview with Herzog and members of his team with some good behind-the-scenes footage. Also included on the DVD is a short film by Ramin Bahrani, “Plastic Bag” that was narrated by Herzog. Another odd film about the life and adventures of a plastic bag and where the wind takes it.

Article first published as DVD Review: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done on Blogcritics.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Seventh Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

More than thirty years after the final episode of the iconic series aired, 20th Century Fox delivers the last season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on DVD. Season seven hit the shelves on October 5th, and though the presentation leaves quite a bit to be desired, there is still enough energy left in the cast to make many of these episodes worth owning.

Though aired often over the years, the final episode of the series may be worth the purchase of the final season. Well written and executed, like the entire series, the final episode is simple but brilliant. No extended-length episode, just a simple farewell to those who worked in the WJM newsroom and those who loved them.

Another gem to be found in season seven is Episode 23 (The second to the last) titled “Lou Dates Mary” where our two stars do indeed date, and even kiss, in one of the more memorable moments of the entire series.

Yes, season seven includes classic moments and some notable guest-star performances by Eric Braeden, David Ogden Stiers, Helen Hunt, Vincent Gardenia and others, but it is clear nonetheless that the series was ready to retire. With Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman long since gone off to their own shows, the private life of Mary Richards has faded into the background with the series revolving around her life at WJM. This did allow the characters of Sue Ann Niven (Betty White) and Georgette Baxter (Georgia Engel) to step in to the forefront, but the added energy was not substantial enough to fill the void left by the afore mentioned talented ladies.

Episodes such as “What’s Wrong with Swimming,” in which Mary hires a former Olympic swimmer (Caren Kaye) to do sports on the news broadcast, are tired and trite and not worthy of the show as a whole. The episodes revolving around Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) and his family also seem desperate, and only serve to give us less of Mary, Lou (Ed Asner) and Murray (Gavin MacLeod).

Ultimately this is an amazing series, and one that certainly deserved better treatment than provided by 20th Century Fox in this release. The packaging looks cheap, there is no bonus material, and though the rarely seen curtain call after the final episode is touted on the packaging as being included, it is not. Research shows that if you call the 800 number on the back of the DVD case, you can have a replacement disk sent to you that does include the curtain call.

Recommendation: Tough call. The series is great and the final episode is a must have for the true fan, but the presentation is bad. Yes, the show does look and sound good here, but one can only hope that a better release of the entire series will be forthcoming.

Article first published as DVD Review: The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Seventh Season on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Human Target - The Complete First Season

Written by Pirata Hermosa

Based on a comic book character created in 1972 by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino, Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) is the ultimate bodyguard. Instead of sequestering his charges, he puts them out on full display using them as bait to flush out the would-be assailant. In the original comic he would assume the identity and become the victim, but as mentioned during the DVD commentary it just wouldn’t work well with a TV audience to have the hero changing his identity every episode. In order for a television series to work, a bond with the main character is of utmost necessity.

And bonding is even more important when there are only three major characters. Winston (Chi McBride) is the face of the organization. It’s his job to find the new assignments. He’s also responsible for paying the bills, working his connections at the police department, getting Chance anything he requires for his missions, and sometimes ends up on the front line himself.

The final person in their operation is Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley). His character is very ambiguous and is best described as a cleaner. While he often helps Chance and Winston in their endeavors, he’s got a lot of other angles that he is working in the background. He doesn’t seem to have any morals and is completely unpredictable.

It’s very unique to have such a small cast, but the relationships between the three men really work for this type of show. It’s shot like a feature-length action film, kind of like a combination of James Bond and Indiana Jones. There are always a number of fights, car chases, explosions, and of course a different pretty woman every week. You can also expect at least one stunt to press the envelope on what’s truly possible.

There are only a few deleted scenes on the DVD that could have been edited into the episodes and would not have changed the story or added anything new. Other than that there are only a couple of Special Features.

“Confidential Informant” is a discussion with cast and crew about the idea behind the series, who Chance really is and how the three characters interact with one another. There is quite a bit of insight into the characters and brings up some interesting information about each one, giving a new perspective of why they have come together.

“Full Contact Television” focuses on the action sequences, how they are done, where they come up with ideas, and why it’s unique to the television genre. The coolest thing to learn from this is the fact that Mark Valley does nearly all of his own stunts. Not too many actors can say that.

Human Target is exactly what it says it is. It’s a series of mini-action films that you can sit down and enjoy at any time. You don’t need to follow a complicated plotline and if you miss an episode you won’t lose any of the story. The action sequences and special effects are of superior quality and you won’t find yourself getting bored or distracted.

Article first published as DVD Review: Human Target - The Complete First Season on Blogcritics.

Friday, October 15, 2010

THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

I love scary movies, intense, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, scary movies. Most today do not live up to my definition; they involve lots of blood, gore, and torture but little suspense. The Exorcist is arguably the standard to which all truly frightening movies must live up to.

Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is an actress raising her 12-year-old daughter Regan (Linda Blair) with an absent father. It is evident from the start that mother and daughter are very close and share a loving relationship. Regan is a very happy and normal young girl. Due to the close nature of their relationship, Chris notices immediately when Regan's behavior changes. What starts with seizures and possible physical ailments turns into something much more disturbing and psychological. Doctors prescribe medication and therapy but nothing is working and while the behavior intensifies Regan must be isolated and locked in her room.

Chris comes to believe that Regan is possessed and her only solution is an exorcism. She meets with Father Karras (Jason Miller), a priest and psychologist who has started to doubt his faith while dealing with the guilt of his mother's death. He reluctantly agrees to meet Regan but eventually comes to the same conclusion. He convinces the church to bring in Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) to perform an exorcism which results in the ultimate battle between good and evil.

The new two-disc Blu-ray collection includes the Extended Director's Cut from 2000 and the original theatrical cut. There isn't anything particularly noteworthy with the extra material except for the spider-walking scene. While they were able to improve the scene with new technology, it still feels out of place and over the top. The extended cut disc offers a new documentary broken into three parts: "Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist", "The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now" and "Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of the Exorcist". There is also a new commentary by director William Friedkin, which is one of the rare commentaries worth listening to because he provides interesting insights and background information heightening the meaning of scenes and the film overall.

The Original Theatrical Version disc includes an introduction by Friedken and separate commentaries by Friedkin and by William Peter Blatty, who adapted his novel for the screenplay. There is also a 1998 documentary, interview gallery, and original ending.

The Blu-ray comes in a digibook and has been given a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer displayed with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that is hit or miss. The print looks good but suffers from intermittent artifacts appearing throughout. The image shows the expected softness of its age but still offers good details. The level of grain rises to distracting levels at times, such as a scene with Father Karras and Chris walking together. Colors are strong. Blacks aren't as consistent and suffer from occasional crush.

The EDC has a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 surround track and the OTC has a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. There is good ambiance coming from the surrounds and the Devil makes good use of the subwoofer. Objects are positioned well and can be heard moving through the soundfield. While the enhanced subtle sound effects are amazing and really add to the creepiness of the film, intense scenes that should draw the viewer deeper into the action do just the opposite. Those scenes are so much louder that they actually threw me out of the story. They feel less believable because the effects are so aggressive they become unrealistic, in part, because they don't balance well with the dialogue, which gets buried at times.

While The Exorcist still offers thrills and chills, this Blu-ray package isn’t the best showcase as the Extended Director's Cut is unnecessary and the move to high definition is problematic in some areas.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Phineas and Ferb: Very Perry Christmas

Written by Fantasma el Rey

It's Christmas come early with Phineas And Ferb: A Very Perry Christmas now available on DVD. Phineas And Ferb is a cartoon series that airs on the Disney Channel and by taking 2009's Christmas special and adding in other episodes that are Perry the Platypus-themed we have a very nice present that can be viewed all year round. Being jam-packed with bonus features only makes this DVD that much more of an awesome Christmas gift.

Talkative Phineas and seldom-speaking Ferb are stepbrothers who spend their summer vacation creating elaborate, imaginative, sometimes massive things and making the most of every day; the opening title sequence pretty much says it all. In the meantime their pet platypus Perry, who leads a double life as Secret Agent P, slips off to stop the Evil Dr. Doofensmirts from attempting some kind of evil scheme that always involves a “____-inator” of some sort.

All this happens each day while older sister Candice tries to bust them by getting mom to come home early and catch the boys red-handed. But she never does because somehow the day’s projects are always disposed of or neatly destroyed just as mom shows up like The Cat in the Hat. The brothers also somehow manage to get their neighborhood friends involved in the fun and adventure as well. Each episode usually features a catchy song or three with clever lyrics that describe what’s going on that day.

“That’s what the whole show is about” you say? Yes, yes it is. But creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, along with their team of writers and contributors, manage to make each episode funny, smart, and entertaining. The Disney Channel usually runs two episodes back to back.

With A Very Perry Christmas we have five episodes, one being the 34-minute holiday special “Phineas And Ferb’s Christmas Vacation.” In it, Agent P must stop Dr. Doof’s evil plot to make the whole city of Danville seem naughty so Santa will pass them by. But that plan backfires, as always, and the boys with help from two of Santa’s elves bring Christmas to the city. The boys even get to meet their hero, Santa Claus, by building him a massive rest area on top of their house Thrown into the usual formula fun are snow- and winter-based projects which include giant flying snowball angels, bed sleds, massive snowmen, the city decorated by wonderful gizmos and much more (just listen to the special reworked title song). Oh, and lets not forget Santa’s rest stop. Plus we can view our lovable friends all bundled up, singing songs with holiday tones and we get to see the gang open their gifts on Christmas day.

The other four, as mentioned above, are Perry themed. “Interview With A Platypus” has the boys making a device to translate what Perry is thinking. “Oh, There You Are Perry” finds Perry or rather Agent P, temporarily reassigned to a new evil genius. “Chez Platypus” has the boys build a trendy Platypus-themed restaurant. And “Perry Lays An Egg,” has the boys and Candice mistakenly believing that Perry has laid an egg.

The bonus features are very cool and include "Dr. D’s Jukebox-Inator;" which lets you cut to one of the Christmas songs; "Christmas Perry-oki" where you can play the movie and follow the bouncing Perry during songs; and a behind-the-scenes look at how the creators write a song. The highlights have to be bonus episode “Doof Side Of The Moon;” letters to Santa where Old St. Nick reveals what Phin, Ferb, and friends have asked for; and “Phineas And Ferb’s Virtual Fireplace. That’s right a new twist on the TV Yule log with a half an hour of an animated fireplace with the cartoons characters popping in from time to time to spread some Christmas cheer and laughter

A Very Perry Christmas is true joy for those who love the show and enjoy its wit, animation, and creatively simple songs. It has wonderful appeal for fans young and old.

Article first published as DVD Review: Phineas & Ferb: Very Perry Christmas on Blogcritics.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Musgo has his favorite directors - the usuals really - Hitchcock, Kubrick, Malick, etc. While they all have different styles and work in different genres, they have one thing in common - they know how to tell a story. Texas-born, Wes Anderson is one that immediately appealed to me. With the release of Bottle Rocket in 1996, Wes came on the scene as more than just the typical indie director. There was an understanding of film techniques and ways to build a story around larger themes that separated him. The release of Rushmore and couple years later showed a continuing maturity. The 2001 release of The Royal Tenenbaums was a cumulation of lessons Anderson had learned over the previous couple films. The opening scene where we learn the characters and the history of the family is still one of my favorite initial scenes - few directors can set the themes for the film, establish characters and backstory in such a succinct manner.

Since The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes has continued his pace of a movie roughly every three years. In 2004 he released The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and in 2007 he veered slightly with The Darjeeling Limited - a film that, while having many thematic commonalities with his previous films, is a loving tribute to many of his influences. The depth of his stories and unique stories have made his previous films great additions to The Criterion Collection. It's never a stretch to examine his films on different levels and look back on them with the perspective of his following films. October has brought us The Criterion Collection release of The Darjeeling Limited for Musgo to examine.

The plot is the most limited of Anderson's works. It's the story of three brothers played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman who are getting together for the first time since their father's funeral to take a train through India to find their mother. The rich tradition of movies on trains is one of my favorites. While set in current time, traveling by train gives the movie an "out of time" feeling. The train is a superb metaphor for life - the different compartments of our life, all moving forward down the tracks. The train is symbolic of the feeling of powerlessness in the life of the boys- they are on the train having a cigarette and drink and watching the world pass by outside the windows. The train is taking them away from the death of their father and reuniting them with their estranged mother. But they are derailed a number of times - figuratively and literally. At one great point in the film, the train gets lost. Confused, the brothers ask how that can be since it's on tracks and they're told that they haven't been found yet.

The oldest brother, Francis, is played by Owen Wilson. He's been in all of Wes Anderson's film and I've come to view him as Wes' alter ego. And in many ways, he's the "director" of this trip. He's the one who has planned the journey - providing them with laminated itineraries with their days planned to the last detail. When we finally meet their mother - we see that all of his little idiosyncrasies are all the same as hers. He is very much the mother of the group. The character is covered in bandages from an accident throughout the film - symbolic of the suffering and pain due to his father's death. We later learn that it's from a suicide attempt - giving even more depth to his need for the spiritual journey.

The middle brother, Peter, is played by Adrien Brody. He holds the memories of the father. He was the one present at his father's death and keeps many of the father's possessions. The most telling symbol is that he has his father's glasses (never having changed the prescription) - he see's the world as his father did. The fact that Peter is about to become a father himself makes the connection even deeper. The most traditionally comedic scene of the film happens when Peter claims he was the father's favorite - causing a fight between Francis and Peter.

The film's themes that revolve around abandonment and death culminate around a scene that takes place right after the fight. They are left off the train because of the fight and forced to realize they might not complete their journey. On the way back to civilization, they see three boys (younger versions of themselves?) crossing a river. The boys' raft overturns in the river. The brothers are able to save two of the boys but the one that Peter holds on to ultimately drowns. Are we seeing this grief as Peter or through the eyes of the father? The death and funeral is a way for the boys to deal with their father's death that they couldn't at his funeral.

The youngest brother, Jack, is played by Jason Schwarzman. In the world of Wes Anderson films, Jason is the trickster. Jason's character, Jack is certainly the most subversive of the brothers. Jack is a writer and spends the trip not engaged in the spiritual journey but as an observer of it. He has an affair with a stewardess - but he's so distanced from her, he calls her "Sweet Lime" and is so caught up in seeing how she might fit into a story that he fails to realize how she needs his love. At each stop, Jack doesn't talk to his girlfriend, he listens to her answering machine.

It is right after the funeral for the young boy that the movie switches to a flashback scene. The scene is one of which Jack wrote a short story that he insists was not about the real events and characters. So in an interesting twist, the viewer is left wondering, are we seeing a true flashback or are we seeing it as viewed through the eyes of Jack? I lean towards it being right out of a short story. The scene with the three brothers on their way to their father's funeral, stopping to get their father's Porsche from the repair shop. The importance the brothers place on getting their father's prized possession causes them to miss the start of his funeral and it's there that they find that their mother isn't attending the funeral.

The catharsis of this scene leads the viewer back to the present and an emotional reunion with their mother who will abandon them again. But the importance of the journey wasn't getting to their mother - it was dealing with their father's death in their own way - finding their identity within the family dynamic. The relationship between siblings is at the heart of Bottle Rocket and especially The Royal Tenenbaums. The final scene ends with the boys running to catch another train - this time symbolically and literally abandoning all of their luggage to get on the train. This train has multiple cabins that represent the worlds of all the characters we've encountered along the way. But this time everyone is satisfied and spiritually at peace.

Like any good Criterion release - this one is loaded with features that help illuminate everything behind-the-scenes. This review is for the DVD version - on two discs. There's an audio commentary from Anderson,Schwartzman and cowriter Roman Coppola. You get the short film "Hotel Chevalier" which is a prequel of sorts that gives further backstory to Schwartzman's character as his ex-girlfriend shows up at his hotel room in Paris. I think pieces like this are important for the actor to know as backstory but as a viewer I don't think I missed anything by not seeing this first. The second disc includes a documentary, on-set footage, deleted and alternate takes, a discussion on the music of the film, and Wes' great American Express commercials.

There's so much to talk about with a Wes Anderson film. I feel like I don't have the true perspective on this film yet. Often, it takes the next movie to place the previous one in its place. He has released another film, Fantastic Mr. Fox but that didn't feel like part of his Wes-verse. The Darjeeling Limited is a timeless film that address the types of themes that will always appeal to viewers. It's a nice tribute to Indian directors like Satyajit Ray and a love letter to the beautiful country of India. But maybe the "limited" of the title is what holds me back - there's so much here, it's superior to most releases but I want this train to go off the tracks and get even more lost.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown (Remastered Deluxe Edition)

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts gang is back on DVD and as enjoyable as ever in this television special from 1968, He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown. This remastered deluxe edition also features a bonus TV special, Life Is A Circus, Charlie Brown from 1980. Both feature that lovable pup Snoopy and showcase two different sides of his personality but no matter what he does the gang as well as the rest of the world adore that beagle like he was their very own.

In He’s Your Dog Snoopy’s pranks become too much for the gang to handle and they turn to Charlie Brown (who asks why he has to do something to which the gang shouts loudly the title of the special) to put his dog straight. To accomplish this, good ol’ Chuck decides to send his pup back to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm where he was born for obedience training. Snoopy doesn’t make it past his first stop though, Peppermint Patty’s, where he spends a week with no rules, doing nothing but playing all day and living well.

When Chuck finds out Snoopy hasn’t made his destination, he heads over to Peppermint Patty’s, leash in hand, to bring his dog home. More trouble ensues as Snoopy dislikes the leash very much and see’s Chuck as a warden escorting his prisoner of war, the World War I fighter ace, off to prison. Snoopy escapes back to Patty’s but this time he’s forced to pull his own weight and do chores around the house, ranging from scrubbing floors and doing dishes to vacuuming and yard work. Yet even though he starts to miss Chuck and home he would still rather do all that than be put in “chains.”

Meanwhile the gang begins to miss his antics around the neighborhood and is glad when he finally decides to comes home, after having to sleep the night in Peppermint Patty’s garage. After reuniting and making good with Chuck, he’s back on the block and raising a ruckus, stealing Linus’ blanket and spinning him around, then showing his boxing skills by slipping and dodging Lucy’s punches while landing his own barrage of licks and kisses. Another great example of classic 1960s Peanuts fun.

The bonus feature, Life Is A Circus, Charlie Brown, is another cute and enjoyable Peanuts romp. This time Snoopy wakes up early to the sounds and music of the arriving circus train. He wanders over to the circus grounds to watch them set up and see all the strange animals. One in particular catches his attention and makes him starry-eyed. An attractive show poodle named Fifi puts Snoopy in a love trance he can’t break and he winds up in the show where all his neighborhood friends see him and wonder how he got there? Snoopy discovers that, as with many other things in life, he has a knack for this circus stuff and finds success as “Hugo The Great,” a highwire unicycle-riding, back-flipping part of the dog show.

Alas stardom and show business go too far when the circus owner wants to dye Snoopy and his lady love pink! Snoopy grabs his gal and they flee, making it to the bus stop just in time to catch a lift but to his dismay Fifi finds the call of the Big Top irresistible and heads back to the life she has known for so long. Heartbroken, Snoopy boards the bus and heads for home, where all his friends and that boy named Charlie Brown anxiously await his return.

An enjoyable entry in the Peanuts television specials, it's great entertainment for the whole family although some may argue not as good as the ‘60s and ‘70s shows.

Also on the DVD is a new featurette “Snoopy’s Home Ice: The Story Of Redwood Empire Ice Arena.” It is a half-hour look at the ice rink that Charles M. Schultz rebuilt for the community in Santa Rosa, California and where Shultz loved to spend many of his days skating and playing hockey. Many Snoopy ice shows where preformed and televised there as well as the annual Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament. A nice look at what Shultz did and loved in his daily life and one more reason to add this DVD to your Peanuts collection even though I’m sure true fans have He’s Your Dog on the Peanuts 1960s two-disc set already.



Article first published as DVD Review: He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown (Remastered Deluxe Edition) on Blogcritics.

Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Halloween is perfect time for a little scare. And it's the perfect time for a little mystery. So, Musgo was pleasantly surprised to find the latest Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movie coming out just in time for the Halloween season. The newest film Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare is the fifteenth film in this series of releases and it's the second one for 2010. After the 2008 release of the lackluster Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King at the Halloween season, Warner Home Video released the next two films as spring releases. As the market for direct-to-video releases disappears, I'm always interested to see how they plan on capturing an audience. The holiday tie-in is certainly a key factor that only happens this time of year.

This film marks the fifth time in a row that I've dropped into the Scooby-verse for a review. Some of my own reactions to the films have been gauged by the way my littlest Musgo has watched them. The four-year-old that laughed through the excellent Chill Out, Scooby-Doo! is now a more pop culture savvy seven-year-old. This film has to match up against some all the other Scooby episodes and series that we've watched since then.

The movie starts with a traditional campfire story. None of our Mystery Inc. heroes are present as the camp counselor tells the legend of a ghoul named The Woodsman that haunts the area. The animation is computerized but clean. It's in the same style as the current Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated series that's airing on Toon Network. I'm not a huge fan of this style but it certainly isn't as distracting as some of the cheaper styles that plagued these films in the 2000 - 2003 era. Of course, The Woodsman turns out to be real and scares everyone away and leads us into the opening credits.

Like the previous two films, the opening credits are quite a departure from the artistic and music style of the film. Like Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King, the credits have an upbeat very summer-themed song with bright colors and tiny, almost anime versions of our heroes. I think I'm getting used to this style for the credits but I missed the more orchestral theme of the previous film. The summer song helps set this in more of the traditional summer-camp film genre.

The plot is quickly established after the opening credits. Our Mystery Inc. gang is headed to Fred's old summer camp, Camp Little Moose. Approaching the camp, we see that Camp Little Moose is overshadowed by Camp Big Moose that is much fancier and has all the amenities. This sets up to be quite the traditional summer-camp film - with the privileged camp and the misfits camp (recently played out also in TV's Huge). At Fred's old camp, the recent hauntings are forcing the camp to close. His old counselor recognizes Freddy ("I'd know that ascot anywhere.") and as three misfit kids arrive on a bus, Fred has volunteered our gang to become the camp counselors. In a nice twist, the Park Ranger is attracted to Velma - causing Daphne consternation at every compliment not aimed at her.

There are some nice techniques being used in the beginning third of the film that is possible because most viewers are so familiar with the flow of a Scooby-Doo! mystery. The 72-minute format has the advantage over the 22-minute format of letting the viewer settle into the setting before the plot takes over. The next time we see The Woodsman looking over our heroes, you would expect the typical Scooby musical montage chase to start but it doesn't. The first montage with music is actually a set piece for Big Moose Lake. Another summertime-themed song plays and the animation is all bright colors as opposed to the darker hues used for Little Moose Lake. It makes for nice thematic variation.

Almost like clockwork, the movie starts to hit the same beats that the viewer is expecting based on previous films. At the 27-minute mark we are introduced to a second monster - The Fishman Monster, another legend that is based on a campfire story. After meeting Jessica, a counselor from Big Moose Lake, the group is chased by The Woodsman. I loved the departure from the traditional musical chase song at this point. Going for more of a nod to the camp based horror films, the chase scene has a classical horror film score underneath it. That little change creates more tension and for the little ones, quite a bit more suspense.

After the chase, there's the legend of a third monster, the Spectre Of Shadow Canyon that's told. The group - Mystery Inc., Jessica and two of the three kids, splits up to find clues. At this point, the movie becomes more of a traditional mystery than these movies have been in a few years. Each group is chased by a separate ghost of the three - eventually sending all the characters back together to compare their clues. The plot isn't complex but it also isn't connected to magic and the supernatural like many recent films. The mystery here is right out of the original TV series. There's the needed suspense of having a time element - the mystery needs to be solved by sunrise on the solstice.

The mystery is solved just in time and all the clues are explained. The movie wouldn't be complete without the "meddling kids" line and it doesn't disappoint. The movie bookends the start with a campfire story. These touches all gave the film a very comfortable, classic feel. The plot is probably not exactly in need of 72-minutes to tell the story but it's also not just a 22-minute plot with chase-scene fillers. The nod to both summer-camp films and horror films set in summer camps make this enjoyable for the adults in the viewing audience. It's a great direction for the series to take - sticking to the mysteries will keep this show relevant.

The DVD contains the pilot episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated - it's a brilliant additon to get the audience back into the TV show format. The episode flows right along with the feel of this film and makes me want to search it out. The other extras include trailers and a lame "Scooby-Doo! Scary Camp Stories" feature that's aimed at a much younger audience than would probably watch this. But Musgo and family are getting older and find that Scooby is aging well with us.