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.