November 2012 Archives

The Adventures of the Wilderness Family DVD Review: The Defining Moment of an All But Dead Subgenre

A highly-enjoyable family adventure flick about a group of dirty stinkin' hippies.
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Following the events of a seemingly-endless war in Vietnam and the horrid realization that mankind was emitting excessive waste into the air within the heavily-populated areas of the world, it was inevitable that someone somewhere in the already hygienically-questionable '70s would pack up their daily struggle with life in the city and move out into the country to get away from it all. Today, we call them dirty stinkin' hippies. Back then, however, they were something of heroic figures to those who secretly envied the ability to stop working for a living and adjourn to the mountains. Well, they were

Lili DVD Review: When Is a Musical Not a Musical?

A surprisingly song-less song-and-dance film with Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer.
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Question: When is a musical motion picture actually not a musical, despite the fact that it contains every cinematic musical element contained within the confines of its short 81-minute runtime? Answer: When it's Lili. One of many Technicolor MGM romantic dramas with singing added produced during that bodacious period of filmmaking when audiences actually craved such things, Lili tells the tale of a young naïve country French lass named Lili (Leslie Caron, still riding on the success of An American in Paris) who follows a handsome fellow (Jean-Pierre Aumont) around one afternoon after he saves her from a lecherous shopkeeper.

AFI Fest 2012: The Central Park Five: One the Most Important Films of the Year

It will surely ruin whatever faith viewers have in the U.S. justice system.
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Based on her book The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding, Sara Burns, her husband David McMahon, and her famous documentarian father Ken Burns have created Central Park Five, a heartbreaking film about a stunning conspiracy that will surely ruin whatever faith viewers have in the U.S. justice system and those tasked with running it. On the night of April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old white woman, went for a jog in Central Park. In his 2002 examination of the case in The Village Voice, Sydney H. Schanberg recounted what happened soon after: Meili "was allegedly

Book Review: Comediennes: Laugh Be A Lady by Darryl and Tuezdae Littleton

A book about the ladies we love to watch just misses the mark.
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Lately I just keep on reviewing books around here. What can I say, I love to read about the films I love to watch. I also love to read about the people both in front of the camera and behind it. So as a person who performs stand-up and improv comedy myself, I was excited to be offered this book; however, by the end of it, I was a bit disappointed. Comediennes: Laugh Be A Lady is written by husband and wife Darryl and Tuezdae Littleton. Darryl is a stand-up comedian himself as well as a comedy writer and producer.

Eight is Enough The Complete Second Season DVD Review: And Abby Makes Nine

Warner Archive presents the ongoing adventures of The Bradfords.
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Based on the book by syndicated newspaper columnist Thomas Braden, a real-life parent of eight children, Eight is Enough is a family drama, although it offers a good deal of laughs, that ran for five seasons on ABC from 1977-1981. The series centers on the lives of newspaper columnist Tom Bradford (Dick Van Patten) and his children David, Mary, Joanie, Susan, Nancy, Elizabeth, Tommy, and Nicholas, whose birth order can be remembered by the phrase "Dumb Martians Just Sit Nearby Eating Tender Noodles." In the first season, Diana Hyland played Tom's wife Joan for four episodes, but she unfortunately became

La Jetee/Sans Soleil Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Stay for the Stills, Run from the Motion

Chris Marker's black and white still film runs rings around his pretentious color full-motion travelogue.
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Director Chris Marker’s two most well-known works have been compiled into one Criterion release, but only one of them is worth revisiting. Surprisingly, it’s the black and white La Jetee, comprised almost entirely of stills, rather than the color and full-motion Sans Soleil. La Jetee tells a science fiction time travel story by utilizing narration over a series of still photographs. It sounds like a terrible idea, but the end result is completely transfixing even if it’s not always fully comprehensible. There’s no attempt to add simulated motion to the photos by panning or zooming, it’s literally just still after

Contest: Eight is Enough The Complete Second Season on DVD

Do you have enough DVDs in your library?
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Cinema Sentries and Warner Archive have teamed up to give one lucky reader the opportunity to win Eight is Enough The Complete Second Season. Based on the book by syndicated newspaper columnist Thomas Braden, a real-life parent of eight children, Eight is Enough is a family drama, although it offers a good deal of laughs, that ran for five seasons on ABC from 1977-1981.  The series centers on the lives of newspaper columnist Tom Bradford (Dick Van Patten) and his children David, Mary, Joanie, Susan, Nancy, Elizabeth, Tommy, and Nicholas, whose birth order can be remembered by the phrase "Dumb

Contest: Hawkins The Complete TV Movie Collection on DVD

It's a mystery who the winner will be.
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Cinema Sentries and Warner Archive have teamed up to give one lucky reader the opportunity to win Hawkins:The Complete TV Movie Collection. In his review, Sentry Steve Geise describes the premise of Hawkins, "[Jimmy] Stewart plays a folksy Southern defense attorney named Billy Jim Hawkins, using his country charm and low-key manner to fool opposing counsel into underestimating his considerable legal abilities. Sounds like Matlock, right? It plays out like that too, although I noticed more similarity to early Columbo episodes due to the same early ‘70s era and corresponding style. He doesn’t spend much time in the courtroom, instead

Book Reviews: Neon Genesis Evangelion Volumes 01, 02, 03; and Volume 13 by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

A very nice set of manga for fans old and new.
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The first known screening of the form of Japanese animation referred to as anime was way back in 1917. My introduction was with the classic Speed Racer, back in the early ’70s. While the genre continued on in Japan, it really caught on with kids in the U.S. in the ‘90s, with Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z. My son and his friends were really into the stuff, spending their allowances on trading cards, video games, and comic books. Some outgrew their interest, while others delved deeper into the field as they got older. Just like his nerdy Dad, my son

Hawkins: The Complete TV Movie Collection DVD Review: Jimmy Stewart, TV Star

Screen legend Jimmy Stewart upholds his legacy with an effective TV turn as a Southern defense attorney.
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Did you know Jimmy Stewart starred in a TV show? Actually, he headlined two series during his illustrious career, with this crime drama being the latter. The show followed a movie-of-the-week format, or rather every other week, and therein was its most likely cause of demise. See, the series alternated broadcast weeks with a TV series adaptation of blaxploitation film classic Shaft, making it difficult for either series to build ongoing viewership momentum. After nine feature-length episodes, the plug was pulled on Hawkins, but thanks to the Warner Archive gang we now have a chance to check out this TV

Film Independent Announces 2013 Spirit Awards Nominees

Silver Linings Playbook and Moonrise Kingdom lead the field.
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Film Independent announced the nominees for their 28th annual Spirit Awards, "which represent an astonishingly strong group of artists both in front of and behind the camera," according to Film Independent Co-president Josh Welsh. "At Film Independent, we nurture artist-driven filmmaking all year long and I can't imagine a more fitting or worthy group of films to celebrate here today." A total of 49 films were nominated. Distributor Fox Searchlight lead the way with nine nominations earned by Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ruby Sparks, Sound of My Voice, The Sessions. Silver Linings Playbook and Moonrise Kingdom garnered the most

Jack the Giant Slayer & Broken City [Movie Recon]

Posters, trailers, and more on two upcoming movies.
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The Sentries have been out scouting for new movies again. This time they found a retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk tale and a Mark Wahlberg/Russell Crowe thriller. Jack the Giant Slayer The Story: The classic fairytale gets a full-length feature film reboot. This time around Jack the Farmboy inadvertantly rekindles the centuries old war between the giants and regular-sized people by creating the beanstalk that reconnects the two people's worlds. The giants climb down and are ready to fight again. The Filmmakers: Directed by Bryan Singer and stars Nicholas Hoult, Ewar McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Bill Nighy, and

Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2 Review: A Very Entertaining Roster

A showcase for technological innovations and the talents of up-and-coming filmmakers.
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Originating as a division of Lucasfilm in 1979, Pixar Animation Studios has gone onto the become one of the industry's most successful movie studios with its 13 feature-length films earning numerous awards and over $7 billion in worldwide box office receipts. Aside from the features, short films have been an integral part of the company's history. Over the years, they have been used to showcase technological innovations and the talents of up-and-coming filmmakers. Picking up where Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 1 left off, Volume 2 presents 12 films that premiered between 2007 and 2012. The disc opens with "Your

Luck: The Complete First Season is the Pick of the Week

David Milch's series proved to be not so lucky, but we are for getting a new chance to watch it.
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You would think that the Tuesday after the big Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday madness that we'd have a week full of tremendous video releases. You would think that, but you would be wrong. This week is, in fact, pretty lame. I suppose they did all their big releases and boxed sets in the build-up to the big shopping weekend and now are expecting most folks to be flat busted. Browsing ahead, I see they've got some major releases in the weeks before us (and Christmas) so we'll just consider this a week of rest before the shenanigans begin again.

Transformers Prime Season Two Blu-ray Review: A More Mature Series

The horrors of a centuries-old mechanized war displayed in stunning high definition.
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What feels like the 5,000th animated iteration of one of Hasbro’s most successful toy lines will see its second season arrive on both DVD and Blu-ray this month. The Emmy Award-winning Transformers Prime offers stunning computer animation and a tremendous voice cast featuring Ernie Hudson alongside longtime Transformers mainstays Peter Cullen and Frank Welker and was created by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the writing team that brought us the shockingly terrible Transformers feature films. Unlike the movies however, Transformers Prime gives us an intelligent and somber look at the centuries-old battle between the Autobots and Decepticons while giving the

Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos Special Edition DVD Review: Earth-bound Doctor Saves the Day Again

The monstrous Axos comes to Earth. Good thing the Doctor is here as well.
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The budgetary constraints placed upon the BBC during the early '70s resulted in an interesting chapter in the long saga of Doctor Who. Rather than building elaborate, alien-worlds for the Doctor to visit, the decision was made to place many of the stories on Earth. Consequently, the third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee from 1970-1974, spent a lot of time on Earth. The newly released, two-DVD The Claws of Axos: Special Edition is a fine example of this. The action takes place in England, but that by no means makes it any less exciting. As the four-part serial opens, we

California Solo Movie Review: A Formerly Famous Musician Faces His Demons

Director Marshall Lewy's character study explores the personal side of post-fame fallout.
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California Solo, the latest film from director Marshall Lewy (Blue State), is about a musician’s journey of self-discovery and redemption. Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting, 28 Weeks Later) gives an understated performance as former Britpop star Lachlan MacAldonich. Lachlan’s rock ‘n’ roll days are behind him and he’s resigned to live a quiet life working on an organic farm in Southern California. His only connection to his past , a music podcast he hosts, focuses on musicians who’ve died tragically. Lachlan has a personal tie to the subject -- his brother Jed, the lead singer of the Cranks, his former band, died

Weekend (1967) Criterion Collection DVD Review: For the True Cinephile

It's French, it's subversive, it's not for the average film buff.
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I probably shouldn't have jumped at the first opportunity to review a film like Weekend (or Week End as it appears on IMDB). Despite being a classic film blogger/fanatic, I'm not well-versed in French films, nor have I see any Jean-Luc Godard films prior to this (although I have seen a few Fellini films). With that, I was able to appreciate what Godard placed upon the screen, and even though I didn't understand the logic at times it was still a surreal and intriguing experience. Thankfully, the Criterion Collection has assembled a medley of bonus features that go a long

Astonishing X-Men Blu-ray Collection Review: Joss Whedon Teams Up with Marvel Superheroes

The plots are engaging and the characters entertaining.
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Released under the Marvel Knights Animation banner, the Astonishing X-Men Collection Blu-ray presents the four motion comics adapted from the Eisner Award-winning work by writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassady. Comprised of the first 24 issues of Astonishing X-Men plus Giant-Size #1, Neal Adams' Continuity Studios converted the books into approximately 11-minute chapters, aside from the Giant-Size, and over the three-year gap between the first installment, Gifted in 2009, and the second, Dangerous earlier this year, the motion animation has noticeably improved, while the writing and art are just as good as the comics. Although numbered as a new

Culinary Masterpieces: Special Edition Box Set Review: Appetizing Flicks

An alluring glimpse into the world of high-end dining.
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The four films collected in the new Culinary Masterpieces box set provide an alluring glimpse into the world of high-end dining. I must admit that I had never previously considered myself a “foodie,” but that has changed a bit, thanks to the ubiquitous Gordon Ramsay. It seems like he is introducing a new series on the FOX Network every week, and he has become a huge guilty pleasure of mine. I find the combination of a Michelin-starred chef who swears like a sailor while demanding the finest from his staff to be an irresistible combination. Programs such as Kitchen Nightmares

Stray Cats Live in Montreux 1981 DVD Review: Rockabilly Purr-fection

The concert captures a band at the peak of their talents and demonstrates that great music is the timeless.
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Rockabilly revivalists Stray Cats (guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer, upright bassist Lee Rocker, and drummer Slim Jim Phantom) took America by storm in 1982 with the release of Built for Speed, a compilation of their first two UK albums, Stray Cats and Gonna Ball. "Stray Cat Strut" and "Rock This Town" made their way up the charts and videos for the songs frequently played on MTV. But before the Long Island trio found success in their homeland, they made their way to London in 1980 to take part in the rockabilly scene. February 1981 saw the release of their first album and

Brave (2012) Ultimate Collector's Edition Review: Mothers and Daughters and Bears, Oh My!

The Blu-ray delivers such an impressive presentation it should talked about when considering the best of the year.
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Pixar breaks their tradition of stories featuring male lead characters with their 13th animated feature, Brave, a story about a young princess, Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who tries to break the traditions of her people. Set amongst the magical highlands of Scotland, inhabited by witches, will-o'-the-wisps, and talking crows, the real magic of the story is revealed to be mutual appreciation and respect. Being a princess, Merida is expected to marry a prince from a neighboring clan in order to keep the peace. No one has this expectation more so than her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who strives to turn

Prep & Landing: Totally Tinsel Collection DVD Review: A Totally Tinsel Way to Spend Christmas

Be sure to add Disney's latest series to your DVD library.
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In 2009 ABC put out a Christmas special that blended the wit and animation of Pixar with the humor and heart of a Charlie Brown special. Disney’s Prep & Landing has become a Christmas staple in my house, alongside its equally good (although not nearly as perfect as the first) sequel Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice. Thankfully, families won’t have to keep going back to their TIVO to replay a recorded copy as Disney has recently put out the Prep & Landing: Totally Tinsel Collection that not only has both specials, but additional “stocking stuffers” that add to the

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Complete Series DVD Review: Everything but the Zord

Die-hard fans will not be disappointed.
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It seems almost impossible to believe that it’s been nearly two decades since the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers took the world by storm. An overnight success and seemingly unstoppable engine of popularity, the series has morphed into a variety of spin-offs over the years and while it may no longer be the sales and ratings behemoth it was in the early days, it still manages to maintain a sizable and fiercely dedicated fanbase. One of the more inexplicable phenomenon of the late 20th century, the Power Rangers are set to celebrate their anniversary with the release of a 19-DVD box

Alice: The Complete Second Season: Alice Still Lives Here but the Writers Should Be Evicted

Few things from our past taste as good as we remember.
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Just in time for Christmas and less than four months after the release of Season One, Warner Archive delivers the second season of the adventures of Alice (Linda Lavin), Flo (Polly Holliday), Vera (Beth Howland), Mel, (Vic Tayback) and Tommy (Philip McKeon). Though Season One left much to be desired in the area of writing and directing, the characters and the chemistry between them combined with the sweet spot following All In the Family in the CBS lineup were more than enough to keep the gang at Mel’s Diner cooking. Little has changed in the lives of our friends at

Bugs Bunny Superstar DVD Review: More Cartoon Than Documentary

An entertaining (if less than exhaustive) look back at the pioneering figures of Golden Age Warner Bros. animation.
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By the mid-1970s, the Warner Bros. animation studio was long past its golden days, having peaked in the 1950s under the auspices of such Warner animation stalwarts as Chuck Jones and Bob McKimson. The animation department was shuttered in 1969, when the studio ceased producing short subjects as a cost-saving measure. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and their pals found their way to new generations of children through frequent television airings, but many of the original cartoons were edited or censored due to violent or insensitive content, and the production of new material was infrequent, at best. Enter Larry Jackson, a

The Muppet Christmas Carol 20th Anniversary Blu-ray Review: It's Not Easy Being Scrooge

The influential Muppet twist of the annual Dickens classic.
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I have to give some full disclosure before we get too far into my review of the 20th Anniversary release on Blu-ray of The Muppet Christmas Carol. I don't have much of what one would call objectivity when it comes to all things Muppets. I have been a huge fan of them since my earliest TV memories of Sesame Street. The arrival of The Muppet Show on TV and then the films took my fandom to new levels. The release of The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992 came at a crucial time for the franchise - there had not been

Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set is the Pick of the Week

A nicely priced boxed set just in time for Christmas.
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Just the other day I was complaining to my wife that the new Doctor Who series is incredibly expensive here in America. For a single season you have to pay about $70-80 a pop, whereas in the UK (using the site as a reference) a single season goes for about 15 British pounds or around $23. I could get the first six seasons of the show via the British Amazon site including the exchange rate and shipping costs for less than the price of just two seasons if I bought it stateside. How ridiculous is that? What's particularly strange

Dawn of the Dead (2012) Movie Review: Tunes, Tabs, and Tie-dye

The Grateful Dead and the rise of the San Francisco Underground.
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Dawn of the Dead is a documentary trying to explain the phenomenal impact of the Grateful Dead and how they influenced not only those in the general vicinity but reached out across a country and the world. The movie captures the journey of the Dead and the entire culture that sprang up in San Francisco in the early 60’s. Each band member brought their own unique sound to the band. Jerry Garcia was a great folk music player, and Phil Lesh was classily trained, while PigPen, whose dad was a radio DJ, was heavily influenced by the blues (along with

Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment Movie Review: Is the Kibbutz Kaputz?

A look at whether this grand experiment worked or not.
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As the invention of kibbutz breaches the 100-year mark, we find here a testament in film which coaleces the ideals and practices of a movement formed not only to unite a people, but find a world based in the communal way of life. Director Toby Perl Freilich reveals not only the history and philosophy behind kibbutz, but whether or not this experiment worked. All aspects are unearthed as the lens captures the true emotions of those who have chosen this life style. Freilich weaves these images in a simple way using narration to build a frame or history of why

Family Guy Volume Ten DVD Review: Seth MacFarlane and Company Deliver Holiday Classics

Could have used more extras, but this set is something to have.
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I am not here to debate the differences between The Simpsons and Family Guy; save it for your late-night blog ranting with those five other fools from your losing fantasy football team. I'm here to review Family Guy: Volume 10 created by one of my favorite smartasses of all time, Seth MacFarlane. I have to say it took me a few years to warm up to this adult version of The Simpsons (going to get a lot of static for that I bet) but once I did, I realized the genius of madman MacFarlane. Fourteen episodes on three disc; that’s

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure Blu-ray Review: Most Righteously Recommended, Dude

The first Bill and Ted in High-Def? Why, in time, we'll be dancing in the streets all night!
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The year was 1989. It was an awkward twelve months all around, especially for a discomfited tween such as myself who was experiencing that equally graceless period of life known as junior high. Of course, no matter how ill-at-ease I felt then, there was always a sliver of salvation made available to me on numerous occasions that year courtesy the film industry — who seemed to be making releasing just about every kind of movie under the sun. But between movies like Field of Dreams and Tango and Cash, there were the inevitable, vastly popular film franchises — which many

Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines DVD Review: Who Needs Originality When You Have Direct-to-Video?

When is this series going to make a right turn? Oh, ask a silly question...
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A nearly-forgotten Canadian rock band from the '80s called Eight Seconds once declared in a tune "Your voice is for calling my name, and I shall return." Sadly, some low-budget horror movie producer somewhere evidently heard someone say "Oh, I took a wrong turn" one day and completely misconstrued Eight Seconds' words — thus unleashing yet another god-awful entry in a line of direct-to-video shitfests that no one ever asked for in the first place. Yes, although the Wrong Turn series had already reached its nadir long ago with its initial entry, we're still getting assaulted every year with more

Dreams of a Life DVD Review: A Beautiful Yet Flawed Dream of a Lonely Life

A haunting, and interesting subject gets mired down by the director Carol Morley.
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I applaud director Carol Morley for what she's crafted with her documentary Dreams of a Life. The story of a forgotten body in a flat opens up the exploration of the beautiful, but oddly mysterious, life of a woman who should have had it all. Told through documentary interviews and filmed re-enactments, Dreams of a Life presents an incomplete look at a woman whose life leaves more questions than answers. The issue is Morley doesn't seem to know where her story's going. Interviews appear to repeat, the interviewers are never named so you have little idea of times and connections

DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk DVD Review: New Series Soars Above the Competition

Exceptionally high production qualities and writing elevate TV series above toon standards.
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DreamWorks Animation finally has a truly great animated series. While they have previously produced the Penguins of Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda series, those efforts felt somewhat flat and remained largely confined to only undiscriminating younger audiences. With Dragons: Riders of Berk, they have crafted a lushly animated, creatively written series that is fantastic entertainment for the entire family. They also carried over principal voice actors from the original film, most significantly star Jay Baruchel returning to voice Hiccup, America Ferrera as Astrid, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (aka McLovin’) as Fishlegs. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they were concurrently working

The Watch Blu-ray Review: The Don’t Watch

There's a funny story to be mined from the concept of hapless neighborhood watchmen, but this isn't it.
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Remember how funny many of Saturday Night Live’s Digital Shorts were? Remember the ones that weren’t, such as most of the recurring Laser Cats shorts? Hit or miss, the majority of them had the same director: Akiva Schaffer. As one-third of Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island collective, Schaffer also got a feature film directing gig helming the underperforming but low-cost Hot Rod. Now he’s stepped up to the big leagues directing The Watch, with a hefty studio budget and top-tier stars to match, but his same scrappy “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” ethos is still in full

I, Claudius 35th Anniversary DVD Review: An Outstanding Television Series

The drama, and a few characters, are captivatingly executed.
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Sex and murder are integral components in the story of mankind, so it's no surprise the two are just as prominent throughout the ages in art, mythology, and entertainment, from Shakespeare to slasher films, from the Bible to True Blood. I, Claudius, the 1976 BBC miniseries based on Robert Graves' 1934 historical novel of the same name and its sequel Claudius the God, is an outstanding television drama where both elements are shown to have a great impact on the rulers of the Roman Empire from Augustus Caesar through to Nero. Acorn Media released a 35th Anniversary Edition in 2012,

Woody Herman: Blue Flame DVD Review: An Impressive Story

A performance-filled account of the life of the legendary big-band leader.
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Although I was born long after the big-band era, I have an abiding appreciation for the music. One of the biggest challenges for bandleaders was the expense of taking so many people out on the road. Woody Herman (1913-1987) was one musician who endeavored to keep things going long after the heyday of the music. Woody Herman: Blue Flame: Portrait of a Jazz Legend is the title of a new documentary of Herman’s life and career, and it is quite a story. Herman’s achievements were mighty impressive. One very admirable trait of the man was how important it was for

Astonishing X-Men Unstoppable DVD Review: Astonishing Cassaday

Joss Whedon's conventional alien war story fails to impress, but John Cassaday's artwork shines in simulated motion
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I forgot how much I love John Cassaday’s artwork. While writer Joss Whedon was the unquestionable star of the Astonishing X-Men comic book run used for this motion comic, this final DVD installment reminded me just how crucial Cassaday’s contribution was to its overall success. The concluding outer space story arc featured here never really soars from a narrative perspective, but its artwork is consistently out of this world. The motion comic folks have also stepped up their game, adding enough kinetic energy to the tale that it approaches actual animation. The X-Men are off to the intergalactic wilds of

The Sessions Movie Review: An Astonishingly Frank and Compassionate Film

One of the best films of 2012.
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The Sessions is one of the best films of 2012. Directed by Ben Lewin and based on the experiences of Mark O’Brien, this is a picture that treats the issues of sex, religion and disability seriously and with compassion. It doesn’t draw weird lines in the sand, like certain infantile and porous pieces of shady fiction for housewives, and it features empathetic, realistic characters. O’Brien was a journalist, poet and advocate for those with disabilities. Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien was a short documentary made on his life with polio, while The Sessions focuses largely on

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story DVD Review: Despite My Complaints, I Still Recommend It

As fake and one-sided as Stan's toupee, but also just as entertaining.
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There is a moment during With Great Power…The Stan Lee Story in which Stan, retreading a well-worn adage regarding the history of Marvel Comics, remarks, “I’ve said this so often and in so many places that it might even be true…” Perhaps no other statement so succinctly sums up both the documentary and the man. An entertaining, if unbalanced film, With Great Power… offers a superficial and often sycophantic look at one of the true legends of the comic book industry. The film traces Stan’s roots in the business, from his days as an impoverished youth to his job working

Lawrence of Arabia (50th Anniversary Collector's Edition) is the Pick of the Week

David Lean's masterpiece gets a massive boxed set and a restored look.
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The phrase "They don't make them like they used to" is trite, banal, and way over-used, yet sometimes, it's also perfectly true. This is the case with David Lean's 1962 masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. To use another cliche - it is epic, in every sense of that word. I only recently watched it and I was blown away by its scope, beauty, cinematogrpaphy, drama, action, and sense of wonder. Upon its release, it won seven Academy Awards and four BAFTAs. It continually makes its way onto lists of the best films ever released including reaching #5 on the AFI Top

The Eagle (2011) Movie Review: Romans, Seal People, and an Epic Quest

The Eagle will provide male bonding, epic trekking, and blue-painted maniacs, but don’t go looking for historical accuracy.
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The Eagle is directed by Kevin Macdonald and stars Channing Tatum (Marcus), Jamie Bell (Esca), Donald Sutherland (Uncle Aquila), Mark Strong (Guern), Tahar Rahim (Prince of the Seal People), Ned Dennehy (Cheif of the Seal People) and Denis O'Hare (Lutorius). It is based on the novel The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Suthcliff. This is one of those highly unlikely stories that really has nothing to do with actual historical fact, other than at a glancing distance and in some ill-realized ambitions. What it does have is entertainment value in the same sense as any old school Sunday matinee

Rashomon (1950) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Restoration Shows Improvements, Not Perfection

Early tandem between legendary director Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune yields this undisputed classic film
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If you’re reading this review, chances are you’re fully familiar with this classic film and just have two questions: how’s the restoration and what are the bonuses? Feel free to skip to the fourth paragraph while I get the obligatory setup and plot summary out of the way. Esteemed director Akira Kurosawa fully established his presence on the international scene with this impressive and Oscar-winning 1950 film. His go-to leading man Toshiro Mifune did the same, furthering a working relationship between the two that carried through for decades to come. This is a younger Mifune than we’re used to, with

Shazam! The Complete Live Action Series DVD Review: Well Intentioned but Poorly Produced

"If you're not careful you may learn something before it's done." - Bill Cosby, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
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Now available from the Warner Archive Collection, Shazam!: The Complete Live Action Series collects all 28 episodes of the Filmation program, which originally ran from 1974 to 1976. It first aired under its own title, and after the first season was paired with The Secrets of Isis to create The Shazam!/Isis Hour. There are three crossover episodes with Isis (Joanna Cameron): "The Odd Couple," "Finders Keepers," and "Out of Focus." Her program can be heard mentioned in Shazam!'s closing credits. Shazam! features teenager Billy Batson (Michael Gray) and his superhero alter ego Captain Marvel (played by Jackson Bostwick for the

Contest: All the Emperor’s Men by Hiroshi Tasogawa

Be one of three lucky winners.
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Cinema Sentries and Applause Books have teamed up to give three lucky readers the opportunity to win Hiroshi Tasogawa's All the Emperor’s Men. In his review, Sentry Greg Barbrick claims the book "details one of the greatest mysteries of [Akira] Kurosawa’s career. After being hired to direct the Japanese half of the war film Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), he was fired after just three weeks. At that point, he was already 10 days behind in his shooting schedule, and had only eight minutes of footage to show for his efforts. The true story of what went so dramatically wrong has

Contest: Bugs Bunny Superstar on DVD

Enter before making a wrong turn at Albuquerque.
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Cinema Sentries and the Warner Archive Collection have teamed up to give one lucky reader the opportunity to win Bugs Bunny Superstar. In her review, Sentry Brandie wrote Bugs Bunny Superstar "is certainly entertaining, serving as a solid introduction to the history of the Warner Bros. stock characters and their creators." The film features The Wild Hare (1940), A Corny Concerto (1943), I Taw a Putty Tat (1947), Walky Talky Hawky (1946) The Old Grey Hare (1944) What's Cooking Doc? (1944), 1942's My Favorite Duck (1942), Hair-Raising Hare (1946) and Rhapsody Rabbit (1946) There are three ways to enter the contest,

Contest: Alice: The Complete Season 2 on DVD

We're serving up another giveaway.
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Cinema Sentries and the Warner Archive Collection have teamed up to give one lucky reader the opportunity to win Alice: The Complete Second Season. In his review of the first season, Sentry Ron wrote, "Inspired by Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, director Martin Scorsese's popular film of 1974...Alice had everything a '70s sitcom needed:  a talented cast with the skill, energy, and the desire to please necessary to be successful; a break-out star in Polly Holiday as Flo; and a catchphrase that would adorn T-shirts for years to come: 'Kiss my grits!'" There are three ways to enter the contest,

Vera Set 2 DVD Review: Murder, She Grumbled

Brenda Blethyn’s feisty and frumpy detective shows the whippersnappers how to solve crimes
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There’s something irresistible about old-timers solving crimes, although the quality of those crime shows isn’t always timeless. Thankfully, this vehicle for Oscar-nominated actress Brenda Blethyn is firmly in the success column, featuring decent writing, slick production, and believable characters. If you haven’t watched the show before, it’s perfectly ok to dive right into this second set since each story is self-contained and the characters are more concerned with solving the crime of the week than developing their own arcs. Blethyn plays obsessive DCI Vera Stanhope, a veteran cop who pursues criminals with laser-like focus and intensity. She may be approaching

Sunday Bloody Sunday Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

When a young male artist possesses the hearts of a thirtysomething woman and a middle-aged man, only he has the power to craft the outcome of their affair.
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John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), the highly anticipated follow-up to Midnight Cowboy (1969) is an honest, often somber, account of what lovers will tolerate and forfeit in order to retain who and what they believe they want. To drive the point home in a most poignant way, screenwriter Penelope Gilliatt created a love triangle in which fancy-free youth dominates at the top of the pyramid, and the slightly older, more experienced parties who find themselves predisposed to yearning are tucked uncomfortably at the bottom corners. Our lovelorn pair serving as the triangle’s foundation includes Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson), a

Interview with John Kenneth Muir, Author of An Askew View 2: The Films of Kevin Smith

"As a director, [Smith] speaks to the issues that interest me in a way that interests me."
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In 1997, Chasing Amy, the third film from writer-director Kevin Smith hit theaters. I had seen his first film Clerks and liked it, but Chasing Amy was different. It was a film that addressed how it felt to be a Gen X-er in the dating world. It showed us that the rules in dating were not so cut and dry anymore. Chasing Amy was a film that felt both very personal and very universal at the same time. It got me even more excited about film and made me a life-long fan of Kevin Smith. Across the country on the

Rashomon (1950) Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Best of the Best

The visually stunning masterpiece from "The Emperor" of Japanese cinema remastered and packed with extras.
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Director Akira Kurosawa (1919-1998) was known as “The Emperor” of Japanese film for a few reasons. For those he worked with it was because his word absolute law both on and off the set. In another time, anyone disagreeing with him may have been subject to an “off with their head” response. For his fans around the world, The Emperor was an acknowledgement that he was the undisputed master of his craft. Kurosawa made a total of 30 films in his lifetime, and several are rightfully considered masterpieces. To pick the greatest of Kurosawa’s movies is a highly subjective, and

Thundercats Nintendo DS Video Game Review: Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats NOOOOOO!

Generic and difficult side-scrolling hack-and-slash adventure is an unfortunate throwback to 16-bit gaming days.
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One of the most pleasant surprises of the current golden age of animated shows is Cartoon Network’s Thundercats reboot. Regrettably, that pleasure doesn’t carry over to this video game tie-in from Bandai. The first inkling of trouble might be the fact that it’s only available on Nintendo DS. Not Vita or 3DS, just the now basically retired DS. That throwback ethos carries over to the actual gameplay, which has more in common with Sega Genesis era actioners than even the most basic of modern side-scrolling games readily available on every mobile phone platform and many websites. For example, The Legend

Red Dust DVD Review: A Hot Time in Old Indochina

The newly-remastered, long-anticipated release of this Clark Gable-Jean Harlow Pre-Code classic was worth the wait.
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Dennis Carson (Clark Gable) has plenty of trouble: the rubber trees on his plantation in Indochina (modern Vietnam) are not producing, he is dissatisfied with the lackluster performance of his workers, and monsoons threaten to shutter the entire operation. And if that's not enough, a wayward prostitute, Vantine (Jean Harlow), has taken refuge from the law on his grounds. The gruff and demanding Carson is nonetheless charmed by Vantine and gradually gives in to a romantic relationship with her; but while Vantine falls in love with Carson, he looks at their time together as nothing more than a “business transaction.”

Bones: The Complete Seventh Season Blu-ray Review: Enter the Pregnant Lady

There's really nothing new under the sun here except for some old, brittle, sun-bleached Bones.
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It's always been said that, should your television series be showing some serious signs of redundancy or you just can't figure out how to tally up the very equation that you set forth into the world, just add a kid to the show and call it good. There have been many instances in which we have witnessed the demise of even a moderately mediocre primetime program due to a noticeable lack of originality and the ever-dreaded addition of a child character to the fray. And Bones — a series that started off as a somewhat so-so title to begin with

Book Review: All the Emperor's Men by Hiroshi Tasogawa

A riveting account of the events surrounding Akira Kurosawa’s dismissal from Tora! Tora! Tora!
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For anyone who has seen such masterpieces as as Rashomon (1950) Ikuru (1952), or Seven Samurai (1954), it goes without saying that Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) was one of the greatest directors in cinematic history. Like many geniuses though, he did not always play by the rules. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that he simply wrote his own set of rules. Kurosawa also had a dark side that was kept from the public in many ways. In All the Emperor’s Men, author Hiroshi Tasogawa details one of the greatest mysteries of Kurosawa’s career. After being hired to

Rashomon is the Pick of the Week

The Kurosawa classic gets the Criterion Blu-ray treatment.
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Not to get too philosophical for a post about upcoming DVD releases, but as I've gotten older the nature of Truth has become more allusive. I grew up in a very conservative Christian household and as such was taught that Truth was something concrete, and it was discoverable. There was a Right and there was a Wrong and I was supposed to choose the Right path. As I've aged, travelled, and talked with more people from many different backgrounds, I've come to realize that these things are more in flux. That Truth for me may be different than Truth for

Rudyard Kipling's Mark of the Beast (2012) DVD Review: It'll Make a Nice Coaster

I'm pretty sure nobody involved with this project knew what they were doing.
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There are two kinds of good horror movies. The first is the one that offers genuine scares, relying on excellent use of pacing, cinematography, soundtrack, and acting to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The other kind is so comically bad, it never takes itself seriously and the audience laughs along with it. The movie can mock established themes, play up to embellished cliches, or pride itself on having zero budget for special effects. Rudyard Kipling's Mark of the Beast manages to be neither of these. It tries desperately hard to be a serious horror film, but

Magical Mystery Tour Blu-ray Review: There's a Fog Upon My Brain

This is what happens when Paul McCartney creates a film from a circle.
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While viewing the remastered version of Magical Mystery Tour, I unintentionally began scrawling the odd observation from the end of a notebook, working my way backward, which couldn’t have been more fitting for a film so delightfully backward and, at times, completely off the rails. But for all of the film’s unbridled weirdness, it’s incredibly smart in that it is a surrealist fantasy in which at least three generations of Britons come together, as it were, to enjoy some of Old Blighty’s time-honored traditions but with a seriously psychedelic twist. Although the divide between generations ran deep in Harold Wilson’s

Chasing Mavericks: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Review

Let's talk some movie music!
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Chasing Mavericks is the true story of surfing star and legend Jay Moriarty. At 15 years old, he discovers the surf break known as the Mavericks. These legendary giant waves are just miles from Jay's home in Santa Cruz. Young Jay looks for help and in turn enlists legend Frosty Hesson to teach him how to navigate the these monsters. So that's the movie. Now let's talk about the music from the movie. The film is set in the mid 1990s when Jay was a teenager so the first eight cuts off of the soundtrack are great songs from seminal

Reservoir Dogs Movie Review: An Outstanding Debut

Twenty years later, it remains a compelling piece of work.
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Before technology fragmented culture by increasing access, options, and the rate of change, the counterculture had a greater impact on affecting the mainstream when the latter grew stagnant. In the '60s, especially in the United States, it led to political changes. In the '90s, this influence can be seen in the arts when the majority turned to what had been classified as "alternative music" and "independent movies." Though the history of each medium shows the slow progression of this integration, they each have an acknowledged milestone. For music, it was Nirvana's Nevermind; for movies, it was Quentin Tarantino's Pulp

Rosemary's Baby Criterion Collection DVD Review: A Masterful Film

Roman Polanski's American debut took on a life of its own.
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There have been countless movies that were either so shocking, or just captured the zeitgeist of the culture so well that they became “must see” events. After a few years have passed, we may go back to them and wonder just what all the fuss was about in the first place. This is definitely not the case with Rosemary’s Baby (1968). It was the American debut of Roman Polanski, who was chosen to direct based on the high quality of his previous works, especially Repulsion (1965). He certainly lived up to his reputation, as the new two-DVD Criterion Collection edition

The Bay (2012) Movie Review: An Entertaining Ecological Thriller

Barry Levinson finds success with the found-footage format.
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When speaking after the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness screening of The Bay, director Barry Levinson explained that the film originated when he was approached about making a documentary about the Chesapeake Bay, which is 40 percent dead, meaning nothing can grow in it because of the lack of oxygen. The idea intrigued him, so he began doing research only to discover PBS' Frontline had covered the subject so well in "Poisoned Waters" that he didn’t think he could add anything. Yet, the information stayed with him and he found a way to put it to use. While some

Paul Williams Still Alive Movie Review: Tells the Story of the Man More than the Songwriter

Director and subject make an odd couple in this flawed but endearing documentary
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Director Stephen Kessler didn’t idolize the usual guitar-toting rock star when he was a kid in Queens, NY. He idolized Paul Williams, the diminutive singer-songwriter who wrote many of the most famous radio hits of the 1970s , including such standards as the Carpenters "We’ve Only Just Begun" and "Rainy Days and Mondays." He co-wrote the Oscar-winning "Evergreen, (Theme from A Star is Born)" with Barbra Streisand and the Muppets’ "Rainbow Connection" and many other ubiquitous hits. But songwriting wasn’t his only claim to fame. Williams appeared on dozens of TV shows in the 1970s. Name any kitschy show (Circus

Vamps (2012) DVD Review: Light on Laughs, Heavy on Nostalgia

The film loves its pretty cast but forgets it has a story to tell.
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Director Amy Heckerling shaped my adolescence, as I'm sure she did many girls. Her two biggest films to date, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, have been led to millions of dollars and a steady following. Unfortunately Heckerling hasn't been able to recapture that the former glory she felt in the 1990s, nor has star Alicia Silverstone. So I guess it's only appropriate the two try to recapture lightning in a bottle with Vamps; a vampire movie desperate to remake Clueless in its own image. While the film is fun at times, and loves the vampire genre, it never

Jamie Foxx May Play Electro in Amazing Spider-Man 2

Are you shocked by the news?
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As reported by Variety and regurgiated around the Internet, Sony is negotiating with Jamie Foxx to join the cast of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as the villian Electro, which the actor hinted at this morning with his tweet that read "Dressed up as Electro for Halloween last night. Costume fits well." The character's appearance in the new franchise was specualted about after the seemingly unusual amount of lightening during the credits sequence in the first film when a figure in the shadows approached Curt Connors/The Lizard in his cell, asking if Peter Parker knew the truth about his father. Electro,

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