Thursday, May 27, 2010

TOOTH FAIRY (2010) (Blu-ray)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

Derek Thompson (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) was once a major league hockey player, but only briefly before a shoulder injury sent him back to the minors for recuperation. After nine years he finds himself more of a sideshow as he has been unable to get back into the NHL and instead is known as “The Tooth Fairy” for his rough play and his uncanny ability to knock out the teeth of his opponents.

While Derek revels in the small amount of fame that his violent play has awarded him, he is truly an unhappy person. He no longer believes that he will make it back into the pros and takes it out on everyone: his opponents, his fans, and even on his girlfriend Carly (Ashley Judd) and her two kids, Randy (Chase Ellison) and Tess (Destiny Whitlock).

His poor behavior begins to affect his relationship with Carly when Tess looses a tooth and he almost tells her that there is no tooth fairy. But after he swipes her tooth-fairy money from under her pillow for his poker game, he finds himself in serious trouble, not only with his girlfriend but from the tooth fairies that send him a summons for “disseminating disbelief” and being a “murderer of dreams”.

After scoffing at the summons and heading back to sleep, Derek discovers that it wasn’t a joke as he finds himself dressed as a fairy and transported to the tooth-fairy headquarters. As punishment for his crimes, he is sentenced to two weeks of tooth-fairy duty and is paired with Tracy (Stephen Merchant) who will supervise his training. While the trainer and student dislike one another from the moment they meet, they must both learn to work together so Derek can complete his work and perhaps become a better human being.

Before watching this film I expected to see just another silly kids’ film where they take a strong powerful man and dress him in ridiculous clothes just for the cheap laughs. While there is a little bit of that in the film, there is a lot more than just silly tricks. It is definitely a film catering to children, but there are some good lessons that are taught about following your dreams, and surprisingly enough you can even find some good acting.

It’s obvious that Dwayne Johnson needs a lot more training in his acting career, but the performances by Billy Crystal as Jerry the crazy gadget maker and Julie Andrews as Lily the head of the Tooth Fairies make the film worth watching.

There are three discs in the pack. The first is the Blu-ray version, the second the regular DVD format, and the last is a digital version for download to your computer.

The Blu-ray is shot in a widescreen 1.85:1 ratio, with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Both the audio and video are excellent and are most prevalent during the hockey scenes. You can literally see each sliver of ice flying off the skates as they fly around the rink. And when the crowd screams, you feel as if you are surrounded by thousands of fans but yet can actually pick out individual voices as well.

The Blu-ray contains some of the basic features that most discs contain: audio commentary by the director, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes look, and a gag reel. But I did find three things worth mentioning above all others.

“Tooth Fairy Training Center” - Basically this is an exercise class for children that is led by a fairy who has them do exercises that simulate some of the activities one might need to work on in order to become a tooth fairy, such as running from cats, leaping and flying, and throwing fairy dust. This might be boring for adults as they translate into jumping jacks, running in place, and leg lifts, but it’s a great idea to get kids interested and motivated to exercise.

“Fairyoke” - Derek and Tracy sing a duet to the song "Wind Beneath my Wing" while the words scroll along the bottom of the screen so you can follow along. Actually, singing may be giving them too much credit. They butcher the song badly. And it’s so bad that it is actually funny.

“Deleted Scenes” - There is one scene that should have been left in the film that was cut out. Towards the beginning of the film, a young boy who wants to some day be a professional hockey player comes up to meet his hero, Derek. And Derek destroys the kid’s confidence and crushes his dream. In the deleted scene, Derek stumbles onto the boy’s house as the tooth fairy and sees the kid’s room trashed, hockey posters ripped down, sticks broken, etc. Derek actually feels regret and leaves the boy a note to try and make amends. This was a mistake to cut this out of the film and should have been put in somewhere.

While primarily a film for kids, most adults will find Tooth Fairy entertaining enough to watch with them. And with the good, moral messages and the mini-fitness feature, it’s a fun and entertaining film that would be worth adding to your collection.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Tooth Fairy (2010) on Blogcritics.

Deadliest Warrior - Season One

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Airing on Spike TV and now in its second season, Deadliest Warrior is a show that pits two of history's most notable warriors against each other. With a team of professionals on set armed with the latest in computer and science technology the show is one of the best on Spike TV. A wonderful “what if” scenario with some surprises as to outcomes. Fans of history will appreciate the work put into making this show a good display of what each warrior was capable of.

Each episode is about 45-minutes long and highlights the skills of two different warriors. Good examples are "Apache vs. Gladiator," "Viking vs. Samurai," "Spartan vs. Ninja," "Pirate vs. Knight," "Shaolin Monk vs. Maori Warrior," and in a special episode "William Wallace vs. Shaka Zulu." Some cases seem like David vs. Goliath and the outcome seems cut and dried, which is not always the case as there are some surprise endings. Each warrior is represented by five or so of his best weapons, some not so well known. Some of these warriors carry into battle weapons made of bronze, iron, and steel (swords, knives, shields, helmets, and axes) while others carries simple weapons made from wood, stone, and others materials (clubs lined with shark teeth, spears with stingray-spiked tips, blow guns, and poisons of different types used in various ways) native to their homeland.

A core team of professionals is on site and run the show. They include Geoffrey Desmoulin (biomedical engineer), Max Geiger (computer programmer), and Dr. Armand Dorian (emergency-room doctor/trauma expert) while specialists of each warriors' customs, culture, and weapon usage are brought in to help conduct the testing. Each weapon and warrior is explained, and viewers see the weapon in use and get a chance to see the damage it can cause. The weapons are divided into categories: long range, mid range, close range, and special weapon. The weapons are demonstrated and tested against each other accordingly using replica human gel torsos filled with artificial organs and blood; pig carcasses are also used as their flesh is the closest to human. The latest technology is used in testing to capture speed, motion, and shock impacted on the body; all this comes into play in the final outcome.

After the demonstration, the damage is observed to see the potential injuries caused or if the blow is a kill, that’s where the trauma doctor comes in. The tests are discussed by the team who decide which weapons might have the “edge” in battle. After the tests are concluded and all the data has been inputted into a specially designed computer program that simulates 1,000 battles, a winner is decided. To make the show more interesting, we get to watch a recreation of what the battle may have looked like. These reenactments are actually quite well done and give a final look at how the warrior may have chosen to use his weapons against an opponent he has never seen before.

The episodes vary in same cases when it comes to the more modern “warriors” chosen to square off against one another: "Yakuza vs. Mafia", "Green Beret vs. Spetsnaz," and "I.R.A. vs. Taliban." These episodes differ slightly in testing for the fact that some of the weapons are firearms and explosives. The guns and rifles are tested pretty much the same way using the gel torsos while the explosives tests use the gel torso and devices used to check the blast and shockwave damage. The reenactments are also slightly different because the final computer analyses is conducted using groups of five against five, a good number to represent a “warrior” who usually never really fought one on one and works well in a small group.

It's a better show than I thought it would be, as the Spike channel, when it comes to their original entertainment, can be quite lame aside from the UFC events they show. They now have two good shows (depending on how one feels about pro wrestling) that keep me tuning in. The warriors and weapons are explained and displayed well while the expert team is informative and knowledgeable. Season One even has UFC veteran Chuck Liddell stop in as a special guest to help test some of the gladiators' weapons out.

The bonus feature on the three-disc set is “The Aftermath,” post-fight analyses that were broadcast on the Internet right after the episode was aired. "The Aftermath" usually runs about 10 to 15 minutes long and features a roundtable discussion with host Kieron Elliott. Max Geiger is present for most along with some of the specialists and experts from that night's episode. Questions are chosen from viewers who posted questions or opinions online and are discussed in the group. There are segments within "The Aftermath" that include the producers’ season wrap-up discussion as well as a wrap-up that includes Dr. Armand and Max. This is a good DVD set with a great bonus and is a series that can be watched, discussed, and debated over and over to further explore history's Deadliest Warrior.

Monday, May 24, 2010

True Blood - The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

I was eagerly awaiting the start of True Blood when it was first announced. The first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris had me excited for a new vampire series that I hadn't felt since the Anne Rice books. Unfortunately, the first three episodes of Season One didn't live up to the expectations set by the book and I gave up. Season Two reviews indicated that it was much improved and I decided to give it another try.

The primary focus of the series is the budding romance between Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). Their relationship is somewhat of a challenge as both have unique quirks: Sookie has the special ability to read people's minds while Bill is a vampire. In the second season, human and vampire relations intensify thanks to the growth of a militant religious group, The Fellowship of the Sun.

Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), one of the chief vampire leaders, recruits Sookie to go to Dallas to investigate the disappearance of his maker. Bill accompanies Sookie on her journey and they soon realize the Fellowship is responsible. Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) has also gone to Dallas but to join the Fellowship and quickly gets deeply embroiled with the reverend and his wife.

Meanwhile in Bon Temps, Maryann Forrester (Michelle Forbes) is slowly taking control over the town with her powers as a maenad, a creature that can influence the actions of humans. Sookie's best friend, Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley), moves in with Maryann and quickly falls under her spell while falling for housemate "Eggs" Benedict Talley (Mehcad Brooks). Tara's cousin, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis), has lost his flamboyance and retreats from the spotlight while trying to recover from his abduction by Eric but knows something isn't right. Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammel), who is a shapeshifter, becomes the main target of Maryann and possibly one of the only people who can stop her.

All twelve episodes are included along with an "Enhanced Viewing" feature that provides character perspectives, flashbacks/flash forwards, pro/anti-vampire news feeds, trivia facts, clues and hints. "The Vampire Report: Special Edition" highlights the biggest stories in vampire news. "Fellowship of the Sun: Reflections of Light" offers rules to live by and messages from the reverend. There are also seven audio commentaries with various members of the cast and crew and a recap of Season One.

The video is delivered with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer. Colors are lush and vibrant, and blacks regularly inky. Flesh tones, even vampire pale, are consistent. There is sharp detail in textures and objects. The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 delivers a great soundtrack, which is becoming a hallmark for HBO series on Blu-ray. Dialogue is clear and well balanced with other elements. The surrounds offer an immersive experience.

True Blood can be best described as a supernatural, dark soap opera. It is over the top at times while not nearly as much as Season One but provides a unique spin on small-town life. Michelle Forbes and Alexander Skarsgård are standouts and most interesting to watch. Evan Rachel Wood also shines as she joins the cast near the end of the season and promises to shake things up. Season Two felt truer to the books than Season One. I am hoping that Season Three, which starts on June 13th, will continue along this same path.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: True Blood - The Complete Second Season on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Louis L'Amour Western Collection

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Louis L’Amour, possibly America’s best and beloved writer of western fiction has three of his stories in the spotlight on Warner Bros.' Louis L’Amour Western Collection. The Sacketts, Conagher, and Catlow are three different tales held together by L’Amour’s simple charm. He was a writer who knew the land he wrote about and came into contact with many people who would build a base for the yarns he wove. Wandering the west in his youth, he rode the rails and took jobs working mines, cattle, and the land, which gives his stories an authenticity often missing with writers of the genre. So with three titles to cover, let’s get this thing going, both guns blazing.

Conagher is the story of Con Conagher, a simple man with all the traits of the typical western good guy, hard-working, honest, loner. Played by Sam Elliott, who makes a great screen cowboy, Con’s life is interrupted by cattle rustlers and a widow with two kids trying to make it in a hard land. Con meets the widow (Katherine Ross) while working for a stagecoach line that stops by her place, which acts as a temporary station until the new station is built. Con and the widow make an instant connection, but being the loner he is, Con rides off and continues his drifting while always keeping her in mind.

While taking a winter job on a not-too-far-off ranch, Con discovers that some of the hands are slowly stealing cattle from the old rancher and selling them to the neighbor. Con, being an honest man hired to do a job, must act accordingly. So he gets the cattle back, runs off the outlaws, and finds his way back to the widow’s cabin. There are a few storylines blending together here and it’s a western light on the gunplay and action, but that’s all right as the basic story is easy to follow, and Elliott carries the day in this made-for-cable oater.

Catlow is the only film of the three to have a theatrical release and some major stars. Yul Brynner is Catlow, a cattle rustler with plans to steal gold from the Mexican Government. Richard Crenna plays the lawman that’s on his trail but is also his friend who always manages to let Catlow slip through his fingers. Last we have Leonard Nimoy as the sharpshooter hired to kill Catlow; kind of odd to see Nimoy with out pointed ears. As Catlow and his gang, along with his hellcat girlfriend, head south of the border followed by the lawman and the bounty hunter, they run into trouble from hostile Indians and Mexican bandits and federales. That’s the story in a pea pod, which gets a bit messy and incoherent, but the film is fun to watch as the cast is clearly having a good time in this comedy western. It’s easy to see that Brynner is having the time of his life as the witty, lovable outlaw.

Leaving the best for last, we have The Sacketts. Made for television in 1979 and aired in two parts, this is the tale of the three Tell brothers: Orrin (Tom Selleck), Tyrel called “Ty” (Jeff Osterhage) and William called “Tell” (Sam Elliott, once again), whose adventures throw them different direction in the Wild West. All three brothers are forced to leave their home in the Tennessee hills for different reasons, and they end up roaming the western states. The boys, at different times, fight outlaws, herd cattle, do a bit of mining, enter politics, find gold and women they love, and have all kinds of other adventures along the way. Based on two novels, Sackett and The Daybreakers, the film blends them well and keeps the pace for its just over three-hour rum time. As is a theme with the L’Amour adaptations, there’s a lot going on and some of it seems a bit much, but with the long list of Sackett novels it good to see our heroes well played on screen. The Sacketts also boasts a fine list of actors known for westerns including Ben Johnson, Glenn Ford, Gilbert Roland, Jack Elam, Slim Pickens, and even Pat Buttram.

Adaptations of L’Amour’s work have a tendency to stray from the original story and can seem crammed into too short a time to tell the tale properly. I can’t say with Catlow and Conagher as I have not read those but I liked The Sacketts for its well-acted/authentic-looking characters and the fact that I know L’Amour had final say on the script; he even gives an intro to the movie. All three films are flawed, some more than others but their base story and fine actors hold interest and make these westerns enjoyable.

Drawbacks to the DVD set are that all three films have been released before and none carry any special features. In fact this version of The Sacketts while remaining on two disks lacks the one featurette that was available when first released. Now that’s just damn odd. There are no quick five-minute looks at L’Amour or his stories. If not for the mention in the titles, one may not even know it’s a L’Amour tale. Also, Conagher looks untouched from sitting in the vaults as far as the actual film quality is concerned. But retailing at around $19.95 or less for fans that don’t have these films already, I say go for it if only to watch some of Louis L’Amour’s characters and story adaptations brought to life on film.

Article first published as DVD Review: Louis L'Amour Western Collection on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Written by Pirata Hermosa

Just in time to coincide with Ridley Scott's new feature film based on the story of Robin Hood, 20th Century Fox has released the Blu-ray version of the Mel Brooks’ comedy spoof based on the famous swashbuckler. Robin Hood: Men in Tights was originally made in 1993 right after the big-budget Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner as the lead character. That is why a lot of the jokes and the basic storyline pokes fun directly at that version as well as some of the earlier Errol Flynn films.

While not nearly as good as some of his well-known classic comedies, it does contain its share of laughs and has the usual plethora of Hollywood stars rounding out the cast: Cary Elwes as Robin Hood, Dave Chappelle as his sidekick Ahchoo, and Richard Lewis as the completely inept Prince John, just to name a few.

As this film was released 17 years ago, most people have already made up their mind in regards to whether they plan to watch it or whether or not they like the type of humor Mel Brooks is known for. So the most important new information regarding this current release is whether or not it’s worth buying the Blu- ray.

For the Blu-Ray version the video is in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and the audio is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Since I also have a copy on regular DVD it was fairly easy to compare the two. The original DVD is pretty grainy and it’s very obvious that the film was recorded before the advent of DVDs. The sound quality was adequate, but felt more like you were watching something on television as opposed to the quality you might have in a theatre. The Blu-ray still showed a little bit of the grain from the original, but from the quality of the DVD and what they obviously had to work from, I would have been surprised if it didn’t. The DTS-HD Master Audio track was worlds better than the original and was just as good as if you were sitting in the theatre during its initial premiere.

It contains two special features, “Funny Men in Tights: Three Generations of Comedy,“ and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights - The Legend Had it Coming,” which is an HBO special. And finally there is a commentary by Mel Brooks. The original DVD contains only the first feature.

If you were just buying your first copy Robin Hood: Men in Tights and had to choose between the DVD and the Blu-ray, there’s no question that you should get the Blu-ray as it is the superior product. But if you already have the DVD, it’s not necessary to run out and buy the new version because the film focuses more on jokes than it does on visual effects or a grand audio track.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Robin Hood: Men in Tights on Blogcritics.

EDGE OF DARKNESS (2010) (Blu-ray)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

Originally written in 1985 and aired as a mini-series on the BBC network, Martin Campbell has resurrected his original idea and transformed it into an American feature-length film. While the original story was meant to be a political statement of government affairs, the newest film has been stripped down and rewritten so that only the father/daughter relationship remains from the original premise.

Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) is a Boston police officer whose daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) has come back to town for a visit. But before he can begin to enjoy her company, she starts to get sick and is suddenly vomiting blood. As he rushes her to the hospital, he is confronted by a man in a black ski mask on his front porch who shouts “Craven!” and opens fire with a shotgun at point blank range killing Emma.

Still numb from losing his daughter, Craven begins searching through his old cases trying to figure out who would want him killed. The more he searches, the more confused he becomes as he has no enemies that would match the profile. It isn’t until he searches Emma’s belongings and finds a gun, that he realizes she was the intended target.

Ultimately his search leads him to her place of work, a top-secret government facility that may or may not be dealing with nuclear weapons. Her work becomes the focus of his investigation as he spends the rest of the film trying to put the pieces together and determine who killed his daughter and why.

The Blu-Ray disc is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.4:1 with DTS-HD Master Audio. The beginning of the film is particularly dark, which causes some odd shimmering around some of the borders. Overall, the picture quality is well detailed and during close-ups you can see every wrinkle and mark on Mel’s face. The sound quality is very good and during those sudden action scenes you are more surprised by the sound that suddenly seems to be attacking you from different angels. In one scene when someone is struck by a car you could swear that the vehicle just came through your own living room.

The bonus features run about five minutes each and break apart what might have been done better as one long feature, as they discuss the different aspects of the film such as scoring, director Campbell's profile, Mel’s return to film, and the city of Boston as a character. There’s a "deleted scenes" extra that wasn’t even needed. The only interesting thing about it is that one of the scenes that was cut was a great decision. Not only was it weak, but the scene was replaced by one with a little more action that was desperately needed.

After having watched the film, it makes more sense that this started as a mini-series. It seemed like there was a lot of questions that were too quickly wrapped up or just completely ignored. We never learned what happened to Craven's wife or why there seemed to be a breakdown in the relationship between him and Emma.

The characters also lacked development as a lot of their logic appeared flawed. If you know you are being watched and about to be killed, it would make sense to run or hide. Several characters made this same error in judgment, including Emma who seemed more worried about keeping her confidentiality agreement than saving her own life. And the bad guys were just as bad as they would poison someone and then go out and hunt that person down with a gun.

If you’re looking for a big action film, then you are going to be disappointed. The action scenes are few and far between. But when they do come, they are gritty quick and unexpected, giving it a very realistic feel. Most of Edge of Darkness is more of an internal journey as Craven copes with the loss of his daughter and keeps in control long enough to solve the mystery.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Mel Gibson Finds Himself on the Edge of Darkness (2010) on Blogcritics.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Written by Hombre Divertido

Based on the novel by Mac Hyman, No Time for Sergeants was a production that could not be stopped; until it became a situation comedy that is.

In 1955 the successful novel became a television episode of the United States Steel Hour starring the virtually unknown Andy Griffith as the country bumpkin turned soldier Will Stockdale. Seven months later the play debuted in New York, ran for 796 performances, and garnered Griffith a Tony Award nomination for best actor in 1956. He would go on to reprise the role in the 1958 motion picture.

Griffith did not play the part of Stockdale in the television situation comedy which may be one of many reasons why the series ran for only 34 episodes from September of 1964 to September of 1965. By that time Griffith had cemented himself in the history of American television with the highly successful Andy Griffith Show.

Nonetheless, it was No Time for Sergeants that launched the career of Griffith, and this classic film has finally been released on DVD. From Warner Home Video, this 119-minute, fish-out-of-water military farce landed on shelves May 4th.

Griffith plays the wide-eyed and grinning Will Stockdale to perfection as he innocently tries to fit in to the world of the military after being drafted off the backwoods farm where he was raised. On the first day of his induction Will befriends the nebbish Ben Whitledge (Nick Adams) and the two form a brains-and-brawn team that helps them navigate the rough waters ahead. Griffith and Adams play well off each other and display excellent comedic chemistry.

Though this is clearly Griffith’s film, he is surrounded by amazing talent. Myron McCormick takes the film version of a normally overbearing drill sergeant and turns the character of Sgt. Orville C. King into a loveable foil for the comedic happenstance. Also in the cast are Murray Hamilton as the antagonist Irving Blanchard, and Don Knotts in the all too small, but extremely enjoyable to watch role of Corporal John C. Brown.

The cast and performances are wonderful in this film, unfortunately, like most military comedies, the script let’s the actors down. The fish-out-of-water premise works wonderfully here, but once the training is over; the characters need something to do. As in other comedies where characters don’t quite fit into military life, the training is funny, the mission is not. See Stripes.

In the novel and play, Will and Ben are drafted into the army, and strive to be transferred into the Air Force. In the film that scenario is reversed, and far too much time is spent trying to justify why the two want out of the Air Force and into the infantry.

Our story plays out with necessary narration from Griffith to fill obvious holes and explain a poorly written slapstick ending that makes little sense as the actors pour more and more energy into situations that simply don’t work.

The new digitally premastered release looks and sounds great. Unfortunately there is no bonus material in this release. Considering the time Griffith spent in this role, an interview on the subject would have been a nice addition.

Recommendation: There are enough engaging performances and solid laughs here to make this acquisition worth your while. It is good fun for the whole family. For those revisiting this classic for the first time in many years, you may have forgotten just how ridiculous the story becomes, and thus could be disappointed.