"If you are reading this, then something has gone wrong" are the first words we encounter in the new book The Blacklist: Elizabeth Keen's Dossier (2016) by Tara Bennett and Paul Terry. Those handwritten words appear on a piece of notebook paper which seems to have been hastily added to a collection of FBI files, which document the first two seasons of The Blacklist. There is a motherlode of information in these files, including aspects of cases that were never even revealed in the program.. The attention to detail is so thorough that you can practically smell the coffee stains
Recently by Greg Barbrick
Book Review: The Blacklist: Elizabeth Keen's Dossier by Tara Bennett and Paul Terry: A Reminder of the Show's Original Vision
One of the finest and most detailed companion books that I have ever seen.
Weird retro Cycle Slut fun from MVD Visual.
The Cycle Sluts are back, and boy are they pissed. In Valley of the Cycle Sluts (1992) we find seven members of the women’s biker gang The Sisters of Mercy bent on revenge against crooked undercover officer Wade Olson (Jason Williams). Before he was fired, Olson had taken out each of the ladies' men, one by one to get to a big pile of loot. The gals lure him to Death Valley to spring their trap. This being a gang of Cycle Sluts however, it will not be a simple execution. The honor of shooting him will go to the
An in-depth study of the tanks utilized during World War II.
Although it has been roughly 75 years since the outbreak of the Second World War, it remains a fascinating topic. The new triple-DVD set Historic Tanks and Battles of WWII looks at the development of tanks during the war, as well as some of the most famous battles. The set is part of The War Zone series from Eagle Rock Entertainment, and is the most in-depth study of tanks that I have ever seen. There are nine episodes included in this collection, three per disc with each running approximately 47 minutes. “The Sherman Tank: The Workhorse” is the first, and
If you loved The Road Warrior, you will love Fury Road.
When I hear the term “re-boot” it is usually code for “We made it suck.” The second Star Wars trilogy is a good example, as are the J.J. Abrams Star Trek flicks. When it comes to the Mad Max franchise, I was disappointed with Beyond Thunderdome (1985), which came out well before the word "re-boot" had entered the language. While a good trailer can sell any movie at first, word gets out pretty quickly. I was excited to see Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), but my expectations were low. So with these inherent prejudices in mind, it is my delight
Crate Digger tells the story of the Florida punk scene over the past 30 years through the favorite records of the author.
In Crate Digger: An Obsession with Punk Rock Records, Bob Suren attaches the story of his life to 50 of his favorite records. Punk records, to be precise. For music geeks like myself, it is an interesting idea. I imagine that everyone has that certain song or album that defines a period in their life. The only problem with this method would be in choosing the records. Perhaps a bigger question is who would read such a book, unless they knew you. Suren lays out his credentials as a player in the Florida punk scene, and it sounds like he
An in-depth look at the British Fifth Royal Tank Regiment and the tanks they used to overpower the Germans during World War II.
It has been over 75 years since World War II began, and it would seem that by now every possible aspect of it has been explored. Yet with Nazi Hunters: The Heroes Who Defeated Hitler, the British Broadcasting Corporation have found a unique angle with which to tell the story. The program offers an in-depth look at both the Allied soldiers and the tanks they used to overpower the Axis powers. The descriptions and comparisons between the tanks used by both sides is important in understanding what happened. What really sets this series apart though is the focus on the
The 25th Midsomer Murders set celebrates such events as the birth of Betty Barnaby, and the 100th episode of the series.
Before I begin, let me just say how nice it is to have Midsomer Murders available on the Blu-ray format. Coupled with a high-def television, it is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. The show has been that way for the seventeen seasons it has been on the air, shot in the most beautiful and bucolic areas in Britain, as a backdrop for some very sinister murders. Set 25 is the most recent, and it contains five episodes that originally aired in the 2013-14 season, including the 100th installment. Most television shows record upwards of 20 episodes per season, and
Singles kings Hall & Oates are served well with this 2014 concert in Dublin.
My connection to the music of Hall & Oates goes back a long way. I remember “She’s Gone” in 1973, “Sara Smile” in 1976, and so many more. I first saw them in concert in 1984, on the Big Bam Boom tour. Incredibly, it seemed as if they had peaked at that moment, after having one hell of a run. But those things come and go, with that incident now some 32 years ago. So what have they been up to since? Doesn't matter, does it? Hall & Oates is the brand, and classics such as “Maneater,” “Say It Isn’t
The characters Errol Morris speaks to in his first two films are living embodiments of the old maxim that truth is stranger than fiction.
“I love the absurd,” says Errol Morris in one of the extras on the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition of Gates of Heaven (1978) / Vernon, Florida (1981). These are the first two films from the director of such notable documentaries as The Thin Blue Line (1988), A Brief History of Time (1991), and the Academy Award-winning The Fog of War: Eleven Lesson from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003), among others. To call the people he interviews in both of these pictures “absurd” is probably an understatement, but it will do. The characters Morris speaks to are true
As big a tearjerker as I have ever seen, but my tears are from having spent four hours of my life watching it.
One thing is certain, Nicholas Sparks is the king of romance. Guys, if you are rolling your eyes, you should be. Sparks writes the most manipulative and frankly ludicrous plots I have ever seen. And to continue my crass generalizations, chicks eat this stuff up like candy. The author of such weepers as Message in a Bottle (1999) and The Notebook (2004) is back with The Best of Me (2014). With the new Blu-ray “Tears of Joy” edition, we actually get two movies for the price of one. The disc includes both the theatrical version (1:57) and the "Tears of
Although it will never be as celebrated as Stagecoach or The Searchers, it is unquestionably one of John Ford's greatest achievements.
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) may be the greatest overlooked film John Ford (1894 - 1973) ever made. To call a picture like this “overlooked” would be ridiculous in just about any other case. But Young Mr. Lincoln was one of three movies Ford directed that year. The other two were Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), and Best Picture nominee Stagecoach (1939). Ford’s own films are the competition, and I had no idea of just how good Young Mr. Lincoln was was until a friend gave me the two-DVD Criterion Collection edition of it. The film opens in 1832, where young
A guide to Christmas movies, from best to worst and everything in between, including Brazil.
Christmas time is a time for many things, and one of the things that I most enjoy are the movies. We all know such classics as It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947), but in Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas author Alonso Duralde stretches the definition of “Christmas movies” to include all sorts of non-traditional flicks. To find homes for the 122 movies discussed in this book, Duralde has grouped them in nine chapters, with such headings as “Putting the Heist Back in Christmas: Crime and Action Extravaganzas,” “There’ll Be Scary Ghost Stories: Holiday Horror,”
As the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi is off to a roaring start in the brilliant new series.
With the Blu-ray release of Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series, it is clear that the beloved Doctor is on a historic roll. While there have been highs and lows since the 2005 re-boot of Doctor Who, something very special has been going on in the past couple of years. Part of this has been the excitement over the 50th anniversary, which was in November 2013. But even bigger was the appointment of Steven Moffat as showrunner. With The Sopranos, David Chase turned the story of a New Jersey mafia boss into a parable of turn-of-the-millennium America. With the eighth
Forty-four hours of some of the best World War documentaries ever made by The History Channel.
At the close of the Second World War, Winston Churchill was quoted as saying, “One must regard these thirty years of strife, turmoil and suffering in Europe as part of one story…One story of a thirty years’ war.” The events of those years are so complex and hard to believe that many of us remain absolutely fascinated by it all. The people at History know this, and have been producing some of the greatest World War documentaries ever made. This year they have put together the ultimate gift for guys like me, History Presents: The Definitive WWI & WWII Collection.
The story of musician Jerry McGill in Very Extremely Dangerous makes Behind the Music look like Romper Room.
Three-time felon Jerry McGill (1940 - 2013) was a musician whose life was the stuff of legend. Very Extremely Dangerous (2012) is a documentary that was filmed in 2010 during his battle with lung cancer. In it we meet a man who is described by his own friends as a “rattlesnake,” yet even at that point, his charisma and talent were palpable. The 90-minute film was directed by Irish filmmaker Paul Duane, who also produced, along with author Robert Gordon. Duane was inspired to track down McGill and tell his story after reading Gordon’s book It Came from Memphis. I
For those of us who were once hooked on Ripley, this book is a real treat.
The new Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Daily Cartoons 1929-1930 from the Library of American Comics is a fond look back at the first years of the iconic cartoon series. As Ted Adams notes in his Foreward, it may be hard for a younger audience to understand the appeal of Ripley. With the answer to nearly every question available on their smartphones, the allure of the arcane facts Ripley specialized in may not impress them. But for those of us born before 1980 or so, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! holds a special charm. As always, the Library of American
The Prosecution of An American President DVD Review: Former Manson Prosecutor Takes on George W. Bush
The Prosecution of An American President should make you angry, no matter what side of the political fence you are on.
Vincent Bugliosi is best known as the prosecutor of Charles Manson, and for writing the book Helter Skelter (1974) about the trial. Unlike Marcia Clark’s efforts with O.J. Simpson, Bugliosi was successful, and his bestselling book led to an ongoing writing career. Considering his history, he is about the last person I would have expected to present a case against George W. Bush in the new DVD The Prosecution of An American President (2014). Bugliosi’s contention that President Bush waged an illegal war in Iraq is very old ground for the left. While Bush was in office, there was even
It is a tribute to the artist and to the liberating freedom of art itself.
The name Greg Spalenka may or may not be a familiar one to you, but once you have seen his work in The Art of Greg Spalenka, you will never forget it. The new, oversized hardback collection features his creations in many different styles over the past 30 years, and is a tribute not only to his talent, but to the liberating freedom of art itself. I first discovered him as the creator of some of the more memorable fantasy film images I have seen. While his work on The Ant Bully (2004), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of
Book Review: LOAC Essentials Vol. 5: The Bungle Family 1930 by Harry J. Tuthill: Marvelously Subtle Satire Circa 1930
The Bungle Family provides an incredible opportunity to step back in time with a man who knew the con inside and out.
Art Spiegelman calls Harry J. Tuthill’s The Bungle Family comic strip, “One of the darkest visions of American life this side of Nathanael West.” That may be true, but with the new Library of American Comics Essentials Vol. 5: The Bungle Family 1930, there is much more than simply a dark vision. The daily strips from that year provide a cultural historical record of the moment unlike any other. As writer Paul Tumey points out in his Introduction, Tuthill knew the con inside and out. It is an incredible experience to step back in time with The Bungle Family.Tuthill’s formative
Director John Alan Simon shows deep respect for the author.
One of Philip K. Dick’s (1928-1982) finest inspirations was VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System), which he first laid out in Radio Free Albemuth. The novel was written in 1976, but not published until 1985. The new film Radio Free Albemuth (2014) is the eleventh book of Dick’s that has been brought to the screen. Unlike Blade Runner (1982), which strongly deviated from its source novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Radio Free Albemuth is very faithful to the original. Director John Alan Simon adapted the book for the screen, and it is clear that he is a big
This 40-year-old documentary feels as relevant today as ever, and is one that I will not soon forget.
The Academy Award-winning Hearts and Minds is the most riveting war documentary I have ever seen. The raw footage and the interviews that director Peter Davis has collected here tell an incredible story. And while it would seem to be an impossible task to tell the story of the war in Vietnam without taking sides, much of Hearts and Minds is beyond politics. The most gripping material in this film comes from the people who never had a voice, the Vietnamese themselves. What are the politics of watching your son being shot by the very soldiers who are there to
It's is definitely family fun for all.
Mama’s Family was one of the most popular recurring skits on the old Carol Burnett Show, so it was not a big surprise when it was decided to turn the skit into a fully-fledged series on its own. What was surprising was that after airing on NBC for two seasons, the producers decided to do it as a first-run syndicated program, a form which was in its infancy in the Eighties. The show did pretty well, and ran for a total of five seasons. With the new DVD release of Mama’s Family: The Complete Fourth Season on Jun 24, all
Jurassic Park Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Review: Mondo Releases John Williams' Music on Vinyl
Available on colored and black vinyl for the first time.
We are obviously big fans of the movies around here, and the soundtracks to those films can be equally compelling. There have been some highly successful soundtracks over the years, but all too often, the music becomes the forgotten child of the big screen. When it comes to a composer as talented as John Williams though, people do pay attention. Especially when he is scoring a Steven Spielberg film. One of the coolest movie merchandise sites around is Mondo, and on June 11, 2014, they are releasing Williams’ soundtrack to Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) on vinyl. The choice of June
I believe with all of my heart that you would enjoy this film.
The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) may not be Cannes, or Tribeca for that matter, but it sure was the place to be for fans of the band Girl Trouble this year. The world premiere of Strictly Sacred: A Film about Girl Trouble was held on May 26 at the SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle. I hear it was a great event, but I went to the “second premiere” on May 27 at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center. And I know that one was great. It was great because it was family. The only person who could have made
The Warner Archive set features all 19 episodes of the "lost" 2006-07 series.
Warner Archive have been releasing some very interesting DVD sets this year, especially in the realm of “lost” television programs. Search was a one-season wonder from 1972 - 1973, and now there is The Class, which aired during the 2006 - 2007 season. The Class: The Complete Series contains all 19 episodes of the program, which was created by David Crane and Jeffry Klarik. Both had big hits in the ’90s, Klarik with Mad About You, and Crane with Friends. In a lot of ways, The Class could be seen as an updated and expanded Friends. Obviously it did not
Midsomer Murders: Village Case Files DVD Review: Probably the Greatest Current British Mystery Series
If you enjoy a good British mystery, here are 16 of them in a very reasonably-priced package.
Midsomer Murders is probably the greatest British mystery series currently on the air. The show is in its 17th season, having begun on the ITV network in 1997. Actually, the proper term is 17th “series,” for the Brits call each TV season a TV series. Although Midsomer is shown on PBS in the U.S., it has never garnered much more than a cult audience, for whatever reason. Still, I get the impression that the show has its share of fans, as the DVD sets of it from Acorn Media continue to sell well. Acorn have released quite a number of
Book Review: Popeye: The Classic Newspaper Comics, Volume One: 1986-1989 by Bobby London: Absolutely Fabulous
This anthology of Bobby London's Popeye comic strips of the late '80s is mandatory for fans.
When it comes to reprints of classic comics, The Library of American Comics from IDW Publishing are the absolute gold standard. I own a half-dozen of their books, including collections of Felix the Cat, Blondie, and Polly and Her Pals. Popeye has also been a longtime favorite, although I was sadly unfamiliar with the Bobby London period, from 1986-‘89. So the new Popeye: The Classic Newspaper Comics, Volume One: 1986-1989 was a bit of a gamble for me. After reading this fat collection of daily strips, I am now embarrassed to admit that I was not hip to London’s Popeye
Available for the first time since being broadcast 46 years ago, The Second Doctor and UNIT are ready for the Yeti.
The DVD release of The Web of Fear is another victory in the battle to restore all of the “lost” Doctor Who serials. As a cost-cutting measure, the BBC erased and reused the tapes during the 1960s. Since the quest began in earnest, copies of missing episodes have been found all over the world. This has been an extraordinary effort, and when something as significant as The Web of Fear is restored, it is a real event. In some instances, not every episode of a serial can be located though, and this has forced the company to become creative. With
There is really no excuse for anybody who likes music to not own this one.
They call themselves “Featfans,” and are to Little Feat what the Deadheads are to the Grateful Dead. Recently the Featfans networks lit up in a big way over the announcement that Eagle Rock would be releasing Little Feat's Live in Holland 1976, in a DVD + CD package. There is precious little footage of the Lowell George years, and this set adds another 54 minutes to the existing stock. Featfans, rejoice for the group are in their prime here. Little Feat were probably the musician’s band of the Seventies. They never reached the stratospheric sales of Led Zeppelin, and none
Search is perhaps the greatest "lost" TV show of all time.
Search was a show that aired for one season back in 1972-73, and if you do not remember it, join the club. After watching Search: The Complete Series, what surprised me the most was that it never developed a Star Trek-type of cult following, because Search was about 40 years ahead of its time. The recent Warner Archive set includes all 23 episodes on six DVDs. Unfortunately, the pilot is not a part of the package. Search started out as a TV-movie titled Probe (1972), which was the original title of the series, but legal issues forced the change. We
I gotta say, these Filmation Adventures are a lot of fun.
DC Comics are one of the oldest and most successful comic-book publishers of all time. They have also made some incredibly lucrative films with superheroes such as Batman and Superman. While I have always enjoyed those types of movies, I really like the animated shorts as well. With the new DC Comics Super Heroes: The Filmation Adventures Volume 1 DVD we have the opportunity to view some of them again. The 63-minute set contains of total of nine adventures, with three each from The Atom, The Flash, and Green Lantern. They originally aired in 1967 as part of the Saturday
The Australian TV series Mr. & Mrs. Murder could have been a great show, if given a little time to be fine-tuned.
Thanks to Acorn Media, I have discovered some great shows from outside of the U.S., and had high hopes for the first season of Mr. & Mrs. Murder. Acorn specializes in packaging mostly British programs on DVD, however Mr. & Mrs. Murder was an Australian series. I say “was” because it was cancelled after the first season, for various reasons. The good news is that with the new Mr. & Mrs. Murder Series One four-DVD set, we get to see all 13 episodes in the comfort of our own homes. The premise is certainly intriguing. Charlie (Shaun Micallef) and Nicola
With a tagline like “Wanted by Two Women!” who could resist?
I must admit that my prurient interests were piqued by the title of The Bigamist (1953). This Ida Lupino-directed film has just been excavated and restored by the good people at Film Chest Media, and looked like a lot of fun. With a tagline like “Wanted by Two Women!” who could resist? As it turned out, The Bigamist is actually quite sympathetic to the subject of bigamy, if a bit melodramatic in tone. The film opens with a beautiful shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, then zooms into the office of an adoption agency. Harry Graham (Edmond O’Brien) and his
Love him or hate him, this DVD tells us pretty much everything that Clapton did during the gloriously decadent decade.
The video company Sexy Intellectual specialize in unauthorized biographies, such as From Straight to Bizarre: Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and LA's Lunatic Fringe, Joy Division: Under Review, and Brian Eno: The Man Who Fell to Earth among many others.Their Eric Clapton: The 1960s Review came out last year, and the new Eric Clapton: The 1970s Review is being released today. In the ‘60s, hip Brits were spray painting “Clapton is God” all over England, but I think his career in the ‘70s was far more interesting. This Review fudges the timeline a little, but there is a natural break where
The good old days are alive and well on Mama's Family: The Complete Third Season.
Spin-offs have been a part of the television world for many years now. As a matter of fact, there is even one in the works for Breaking Bad, featuring Bob Odenkirk as lawyer Saul Goodman, in Better Call Saul. Back in the ‘70s, All in the Family begat Maude, which then spun off Good Times. Happy Days led to Laverne and Shirley, then Mork and Mindy, and even the hideous Joanie Loves Chachi. As far as I know however, there was never a recurring variety show skit that was turned in to a series before The Carol Burnett Show spawned
The History Channel examines the battles of ancient Greece in this three-DVD set.
Remember when The History Channel actually showed programs of historical interest? For a lot of people (generally men), those history shows were a welcome diversion from the usual TV fluff. The times have changed dramatically though, for today it is a steady diet of Pawn Stars, Ax Men, and Swamp People. The Last Stand of the 300 and Other Famous Greek Battles is a reminder of the good old days on HC. This three-DVD contains six History Channel programs about the ancient Greek legends of war, with an emphasis on the 300 Spartans who fought off tens of thousands of
Roman Planski's Tess is a beautifully shot adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel about Victorian England.
Tess is an unforgettable film, and one of the finest of Roman Polanski’s career. The fact that it lost to Ordinary People for Best Picture surprises me, but the movie was not completely ignored by the Academy. Tess was nominated in six categories, and won in three: Art Direction, Cinematography, and Costume Design. In watching the newly released Criterion Blu-ray, I believe that it holds an additional appeal today that may not have been apparent back in 1979. Thirty-five years later, Tess is more than just a great movie. It is an example of a filmmaking style that seems to
Midsomer Murders is as good as it gets for television mystery programs.
For murder mystery fans, I believe there is no better show on the air right now than Midsomer Murders. The English series has not crossed over in popularity the way Downton Abbey has, which is a pity. Midsomer does have its own share of American fans however, as is proven by the Acorn company’s continued release of it on DVD. They are now up to their 23rd set, a three-DVD collection with the elegant title Midsomer Murders Set 23. The episodes are more like made for TV movies than anything else, and each runs approximately 90 minutes. The three included
Killing Kennedy represents 89 minutes of my life that I will not get back.
If Killing Kennedy did not present itself so seriously, I would swear that it was a parody of the whole “lone gunman” theory. It bends over backwards to present the findings of the Warren Commission as irrefutable fact, even when those findings directly contradict themselves. There were times when I laughed out loud at how ludicrous some of it was, then the credits rolled and I realized what I had been watching. Killing Kennedy is based on the book of the same name by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. The film has the same relationship to what actually happened as
Breaking Bad may have gotten all the ink, but the second season of the Dallas reboot was excellent.
Through an extraordinary set of circumstances, the legendary J.R. Ewing actually got a proper send-off from Dallas. In 1980, the question was “Who shot J.R.?” In 2013, the question became “Who killed J.R.?” The first season and a half of the Dallas reboot was ok, but nothing special. Things changed dramatically with the death of Larry Hagman on November 23, 2012 though. The second half of the second season was scrapped and re-written, and became the most compelling storyline since the early ‘80s heyday of the original. The core conflict in Dallas has always been the Ewing-Barnes feud. The backstory
The familiar tale of good versus evil in the land of Chima,
With the theatrical release of The LEGO Movie (2014), the famous building-block company have gone wide with their latest animated adventure, but they have been quietly working in the medium for some time now. Their first foray was LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, and now there is Legends of Chima. The show premiered on the Cartoon Network in January 2013, and all ten half-hour episodes are now available on DVD in a two-disc package. The full title is LEGO Legends of Chima: The Lion, the Crocodile, and the Power of Chi!. The LEGO brand is a great one, but at
This miniseries is mandatory viewing for anyone interested in our real explorations into space.
The Smithsonian Channel’s Space Voyages miniseries was one of the best programs I saw last year, and for anyone who missed it, the four-episode show is now available on DVD. The Smithsonian Channel can always be counted on for riveting documentaries, and the continuing story of our journeys into space are highly intriguing. The first episode is titled "Into the Unknown," and it begins with the launch of the Curiousity on November 26, 2011. The Curiousity is a robotic Mars Rover, and its journey to the red planet was nine months. The craft landed safely and on time, and has
Truffaut's Jules and Jim is a brilliant rendering of a love triangly gone awry.
The greatest literature is often inspired by true events, and the story behind Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962) is a perfect example. The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which was written by Henri-Pierre Roche in 1953. Roche was 73 years old at the time Jules and Jim was published, and it was his first book. I think every would-be writer might find that little bit of trivia inspiring, but for Truffaut Jules and Jim was also an irresistible story. His film was hailed as an instant classi, and has just been released as
Sixteen-year-old girls should love Being Human.
Giving good-looking vampires their own shows has become standard practice in television these days, so with Being Human, the Syfy Channel have upped the ante a bit. The program is a melting pot of the supernatural and celebrates the differences of the multi-cultural paranormal world. In addition to studly vampire Aidan Waite (Sam Witwer), the show originally featured a lovely ghost by the name of Sally Malik (Meaghan Rath) and the buff werewolf Josh Levison (Sam Huntington). The series has just begun its fourth season, and for those looking to catch up, Being Human: The Complete Third Season is now
J.G. Thirlwell's "chamber soundtrack" for The Blue Eyes bodes well for the supernatural thriller.
J.G. Thirlwell is nothing if not prolific. He has recorded over 30 albums in a variety of styles, under such pseudonyms as Foetus, Manorexia, and Steroid Maximus. He uses his own name for his soundtrack work though, and he has just released the music for The Blue Eyes (2012), which was directed by Eva Aridjis. The Blue Eyes is somewhat obscure, and I have yet to see it. But I have listened to the music, and as a stand-alone recording, I really enjoyed it. In the press release, Thirlwell describes it as a “chamber soundtrack.” It is an interesting distinction,
Dave Van Ronk's fascinating memoir is the basis for the Coen Brothers new Inside Llewyn Davis film.
The 2013 reprint of Dave Van Ronk’s (1936 -2002) autobiography The Mayor of MacDougal Street (2004) has a cover blurb that reads: “The Life Story that Inspired the Coen Brothers Movie Inside Llewyn Davis.” Since the Coen Brothers have been known to occasionally stretch the facts about their source materials in the past, and I have not yet had the opportunity to see Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), I can neither confirm nor deny the statement. No matter how much of it they did use though, I am looking forward to the movie, because Van Ronk’s excellent memoir describes a very
Classic science-fiction with a Cold War edge.
The Proteus is just about the coolest movie ship ever. The only real competition would be the Nautilus from Mysterious Island (1961). But while the Nautilus is undoubtedly something special, in the end it is just a submarine. In Fantastic Voyage (1966), the Proteus is a miniaturized ship that sails through the arteries of the human body. This classic science fiction film has recently been released to Blu-ray, and its arrival on the format offers a fine excuse to watch and enjoy it again. While the focus of the film is the voyage, there is a Cold War edge and
All 124 episodes of The Mod Squad have just been released in a massive box set from VEI.
If you are looking for something for the classic-TV enthusiast this holiday season, the people at Visual Entertainment have you covered. Their new box-set The Mod Squad: The Complete Collection contains all 124 episodes of the series, which aired on the ABC Network from 1968-1973. To quote from the press release, the Mod Squad were "The Grooviest Gang of Fuzz Who Ever Wore a Badge." The Mod Squad was a groundbreaking series. The premise is that the police need help in solving crimes in the hippie world, so they got themselves some real hippies to get into "scenes" they could
This powerful documentary uses little known sources to examine the day JFK was assassinated.
There are a few days in American history when the world just seemed to stop. November 22, 1963 is one of those days. The assassination of John F. Kennedy has been studied in just about every possible way over the past 50 years, and in some quarters at least, questions still linger. Ever since the Oliver Stone film JFK (1991), it seems that most programs about the assassination focus on the many conspiracy theories surrounding it. This is not the case with the new Smithsonian Channel documentary The Day Kennedy Died (2013) though. The 90-minute program has no ideological axe
The story of one of the most fascinating gangsters of the 20th Century.
Sam “Momo” Giancana (1908-1975) was one of the most fascinating gangsters of the 20th century. He has been the subject of numerous documentaries, the most recent of which is MOMO: The Sam Giancana Story (2013). In this film, Giancana’s life is traced from his rough childhood to his involvement with the Kennedy administration and beyond. As boss of the Chicago Outfit, Giancana was a major figure in the underworld, but that was not enough. He also became something of a celebrity, and his high-profile lifestyle was one of the reasons he was killed. Giancana’s childhood is described as rather brutal.
The first transformation of the Doctor and first appearance of the Cybermen make this a very significant serial.
There have been many milestones in the 50-year history of Doctor Who, but there may be none more significant than what happens at the end of The Tenth Planet. With the words “It’s far from being all over!” the First Doctor (William Hartnell) goes inside the TARDIS and is transformed into the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton). This happens right before our very eyes, so there is no question as to what has happened. It was one of the boldest moments a television show has ever made, and with it, Doctor Who could theoretically go on forever. Low ratings may have
Hedonism and intrigues abound in San Francisco during the final three months of 1976.
The six-part mini-series Tales of the City (1993) boasts an all-star cast, including the city of San Francisco itself. The year is 1976, and young Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) has just moved to the city from the Midwest. She takes a room at 28 Barbary Lane, a boarding house run by a mysterious older woman named Mrs. Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis), and her life becomes more interesting than she could have imagined. In fact, all of the tenants at 28 Barbary Lane will lead very intriguing lives over the three-month period depicted in Tales of the City. The series
The Cockney Rejects seem to have chosen football hooliganism over a career as punk rockers.
For a guy from the northwest corner of America, watching the story of the Cockney Rejects in East End Babylon is almost like watching a documentary of people from another planet. As we are constantly reminded throughout this documentary, the band is from the East End of London. Apparently this is a sovereign nation, with customs and rituals known only to the inhabitants. They also seem to have their own language, as guys in the band have such thick accents that subtitles should have been used. Despite all of this, or maybe even because of it, I found East End
Spend Christmas with Don and Megan Draper this year.
The only question I had about the Mad Men Christmas collection was what took them so long? This 12-song compilation features ten early ‘60s Christmas classics, and two Mad Men classics. You can almost smell the booze, and feel the eternal Mad Men angst wafting off the cover art. The picture is of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) relaxing on the sofa with ever-present cigarette in hand, wearing a Santa hat. It is the perfect compliment to the DVD/Blu-ray release of the sixth season of the series on November 5. We know this is a Mad Men Christmas with the opening
A fun interactive package for the classic Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.
I look forward to the holiday season for a few reasons, and one of them is the undeniable joy of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. It may seem a little silly, what with it available on home video in so many formats and everything, but I faithfully watch the broadcast every year. I have always been a Peanuts fan, and Charlie Brown's difficulties with the commercialization of Christmas is a timeless story. But it is the marvelous soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio that really puts the special over for me. Since its original Fantasy Records release in 1965, A
A classic Danny Kaye musical now available on Blu-ray.
There was a time when Danny Kaye was one of the top entertainers in the world. Although Bob Hope and Jack Benny are better remembered today, in the 1940s and ‘50s he was considered their comedic equal. He was also an enormously talented song and dance man. On the Riviera (1951) is a marvelous showcase for his many talents. The film has just been released to Blu-ray, and it looks and sounds terrific. Kaye actually has two roles in the film. As nightclub entertainer Jack Martin, Kaye plays a version of himself. He also plays Jack’s doppelganger, a French aviator
Book Review: Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know about The Next Generation, the Movies, and Beyond by Mark Clark
An excellent look at the amazing second act of the franchise.
Sometimes I wonder if I am a “Trekkie,” or “Trekker.” What does it take exactly? A working knowledge of every episode of the original Star Trek series, and The Next Generation, plus the films? A visceral hatred for Star Trek Into Darkness? Put a check-mark in all of the above boxes for me. Maybe it is the books, of which there are literally hundreds. If you have them all, I think it would be safe to call you a Trekker. There are two books that I think even the most casual of fans should own though. The first was published
Screwball comedy about a beautiful witch you cannot help but fall in love with.
Forget Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched; the most beautiful witch of all time is Veronica Lake in I Married a Witch (1942). It has been over 70 years since Rene Clair’s classic screwball comedy provided escapism for a country in the middle of World War II, and the world has changed many times over. Yet, besides that it was filmed in black and white, there is nothing about this movie that feels dated. I Married a Witch is a delight, and has just been released as part of the Criterion Collection. We open at a Salem witch trial where Clair’s deft
3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Definitive Journey
The definitive treatment of Rossellini's Journey Trilogy.
When Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945) won the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1946, he was recognized as the de factor leader of the Italian Neorealism movement. His Paison (1946) and Germany, Year Zero (1948) completed his “War Trilogy,” and cemented his position. For his Italian countrymen, who were in the process of trying to come to terms with the aftermath of the Mussolini dictatorship of World War II, his unflinching eye for the real world was not what they wanted to see. In some respects, Rossellini himself felt this way, as is indicated by his statement that he
The second of the Kutcher Years is a marked improvement over the first.
The fact that Two and a Half Men survived the firing of Charlie Sheen is nothing short of a miracle. It was so focused on him that it should have been called The Charlie Sheen Show. His infamous meltdown seemed like the end of the line for the series. Through no fault of his own, expectations were not high when it was announced that Ashton Kutcher would be hired for the ninth season. It was an interesting move, and while the situation was not great, the show did manage to hang on. I think long-time fans will agree that the
When the lights go out, it becomes a dangerous world.
How does one describe a show as wild as Revolution? It is one of the most action-packed, science fiction programs I have ever seen. It is actually classified as a drama, not the dreaded “sci-fi,” but whatever they want to call it, I think it is great. I came late to the party, and did not see any episodes of Revolution when they were originally televised on NBC. Fortunately I had heard enough good things about it to watch the newly released Revolution: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray though. I came away a huge fan. The premise is strong.
Frightening, hissing Martians break out of the ice.
Whether you are a new fan of Doctor Who, or have been watching the show since its debut in November 1963, you are probably aware of the BBC’s notorious “wiping” policy, which erased a huge number of episodes. The majority of the episodes that were wiped were from the first years of the series, in the ‘60s. William Hartnell portrayed the First Doctor from 1963-1966, and Patrick Troughton was the Second Doctor from 1966-1969. Thanks to the amazing efforts of fans all over the world, a great deal of the missing episodes have been found, but not all of them.
The final episodes-only set of Rod Serling's classic series is now out on DVD.
The fifth and final season of The Twilight Zone aired during the 1963-1964 season, almost exactly 50 years ago. I suppose as we work our way through the teen-years of the 21st century, we will get to plenty of 50-year anniversaries. We are a couple of months away from the one for Doctor Who, and I can’t wait for the upcoming refrains of “It was 50 years ago today,” in 2017 to celebrate the release of Sgt. Pepper. Baby Boomer nostalgia or not though, 50 years is a very long time, and it certainly puts things into perspective. Some things
The sixth season of funniest sitcom on TV has just been released.
Is The Big Bang Theory the funniest show on network TV? It is to me, and apparently to a whole lot of other people as well. The 2012-2013 season was the show’s sixth, and was the highest-rated sitcom in America. The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Sixth Season has just been released as a three-DVD set from Warner Home Video. It contains all 24 episodes of the season, plus some very cool bonus features. Season Six picks up right where Season Five left off. In the final episode of the fifth season, Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and his fiancee Bernadette
Fritz Lang cheers for America.
By 1950, it appears that Fritz Lang had gone from being one of the most innovative and daring directors in the world, to becoming a real Yankee Doodle Dandy. At least that is my take after viewing his American Guerrilla in the Philippines (1950). The film has just been released to DVD as part of the Fox Cinema Archives, and while it is pretty good for what it is, I found it hard to believe that it was actually directed by Lang. This only thing missing from this jingoistic romp is Ronald Reagan. Tyrone Power stars as Ensign Chuck Palmer,
Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone's Magic Man (Director's Cut Special Edition) DVD Review: A Must for Fans
The fascinating life story of the Twilight Zone master.
Charles Beaumont (1929-1967) is credited with writing 22 episodes of the original Twilight Zone (1959-1964). That number is only about a quarter of creator Rod Serling’s 92 episodes, and while it may sound a bit outlandish to say, I contend that Beaumont was the best writer of the series. There is a brilliance to stories such as “Dead Man’s Shoes,“ “Valley of the Shadow,“ and “Printer’s Devil” that is truly magic. As it turns out, I am not the only one who feels this way. Comments to that effect are made throughout Jason V. Brock’s Charles Beaumont: The Short Life
The Twilight Zone: The Complete Fourth Season DVD Review: Charles Beaumont is the Star of This Season
The stories are what count, and there are some great ones here.
The original Twilight Zone aired for five seasons (1959-64), on CBS. Like most of the people I know, the first-run shows were before my time, and I got to know the series via syndication. When I did catch up to it though, I was hooked. The Twilight Zone definitely deserves its reputation as one of the greatest television programs of all time. Image Entertainment have just issued The Twilight Zone: The Complete Fourth Season as a five-DVD set. It is episodes-only, and perhaps the most controversial season of the five. I say “controversial” because of the situation Rod Serling was
Katy Manning went out on a high note with The Green Death.
“So the fledgling flies the coop,” states the Doctor in one of the opening scenes of The Green Death. It is an interesting moment, as the Third Doctor’s (Jon Pertwee) companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) has just declined his offer to take a trip in the TARDIS. At this particular juncture, going anywhere in the TARDIS is something of a new experience, as the Third Doctor had been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords for most of his tenure. He has been “forgiven” at this point, and the TARDIS is now operational. The Doctor is headed to Metebelis Three,
Great 1974 studio concert from Zappa and company.
In 1974, Frank Zappa recorded a concert for television titled A Token of His Extreme. It was intended as a 90-minute special, and in addition to the musical numbers, featured some wonderful claymation sequences by Bruce Bickford. Despite the fact that A Token of His Extreme was shown in France and Switzerland, none of the networks or syndication outlets in America would touch it. Outside of a two-minute excerpt shown on The Midnight Special, the program never aired in the United States. Thanks to Eagle Rock and the Zappa family’s Honker Video, A Token of His Extreme has finally been
A great addition to the bad-movie library.
The celebration of the worst films ever made has become something of a cottage industry over the years. Although college kids were watching Reefer Madness (1936) and laughing at it during the ‘70s, it was probably the appearance of The Golden Turkey Awards that really set things off. The book was published in 1980, and there have been many more since. The latest is The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time, written by Phil Hall. The author is a contributing editor to Film Threat, and he is something of a bad-film aficionado. The challenge for Hall was to come up
William Golding was 43 years old when his first book was published. The year was 1954, and the title of the book was Lord of the Flies. It is hard to imagine a publisher, or even an agent looking twice at a 43-year-old novice writer these days, as “youth” has become our religion. When it came time to bring Lord of the Flies to the screen a few years later, the producers took as big a risk as Golding’s publisher had. They chose Peter Brook as director, a man who had done impressive work in experimental theatre, but had only
Fabulous intoduction to the first four Doctors.
The fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who is coming up, and the BBC is pulling out all the stops. There have been a couple of high profile golden anniversaries recently, including those of The Beach Boys and Rolling Stones. There is no television show in the world that is even close to that mark other than Who though. The fact that they made it is incredible, given the history of the show. It is a journey worthy of an eleven-part serial of its own. I say eleven parts because there have been eleven Doctors. Telling the story of the show from
Thirty-seven episodes of one of the greatest television shows ever made.
I had what you might call an epiphany the other night. It happened while I was watching “The Hunt,“ an episode from The Twilight Zone: The Complete Third Season. The story concerns an old man who takes his dog out raccoon hunting. The two of them drown, but do not realize it until they return and see the funeral preparations. They walk off, and the man almost walks right in to Hell. His trusty dog knows better though, and will not go. They walk a little further up the road, and are welcomed in to Heaven. The first time I
It is clearly the work of a man at the peak of his powers.
The three comedic geniuses of the silent film era were Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. For various reasons, Keaton and Lloyd have not retained their popularity over the years the way Chaplin has though. After watching the new Criterion Collection edition of Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923), I can certainly say that for him, the quality of his work is not at issue. This film is as fresh, irreverent, funny, and downright thrilling as anything I have ever seen. Safety Last! is considered by many to be Lloyd’s masterpiece, and I see why. It is clearly the work
Fascinatingly weird vision of H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells has had a number of books turned into classic films, including The Island of Lost Souls (1932), and The Time Machine (1960). His direct experience with the cinema was less than satisfactory however. Wells’ only full-length feature film was Things To Come (1936), which has just been released on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection. It is one of the strangest films I have ever seen, for a number of reasons. No matter what you may think of it in the end though, it is a truly unforgettable piece of cinematic history. The two-bit synopsis of the
Inferno is definitely one of the better ones, and with all of the extras, this package is a sweet one.
We are just a few months away from the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, and the BBC continues to roll out classic serials on DVD. As a Yank who is a fairly recent convert to the series, I am getting to know the various incarnations of the Doctor through these releases. In watching them, I find it interesting how often my opinions about the show, and the Doctors changes. A case in point is the new seven-part Inferno, which originally aired from May into June of 1970. Jon Pertwee stars as the Third Doctor, and with this serial, he has
An excellent mystery/police drama, all set to the fascinating backdrop of England in 1968.
As the BBC series George Gently embarks on its sixth series, Acorn Media have been helping us catch up with it. The first step was the George Gently Collection Series 1-4 box set, which we recently reviewed. That 11-DVD collection contains all 11 episodes of the first four series of the program. Series Five has also just been released, as a four-DVD set. Each series (“seasons” in the United States), consists of two, three, or four 90-minute episodes, hence the odd number of series in the box. There were four programs (really TV movies) for the fifth series, and a
The Doctor and the Master find themselves at the cold end of time.
Forget about the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary, the one that really counts is coming this November, which will mark 50 years of Doctor Who. For a show that was dismissed, destroyed, and seemingly discarded for good at one point, the BBC is pulling out all stops. One element of the celebration is the publication of some very cool Doctor Who novels, the latest being Harvest of Time. This is no quickie tie-in either, as the book was written by the acclaimed sci-fi author Alastair Reynolds. I must say, the story Reynolds has crafted is as good and in some ways
The first four series of this British gem are now available in a box set.
In 1955 author Alan Hunter published a novel entitled Gently Does It, which marked the first appearance of the British police inspector George Gently. To say that the character proved to be very popular in his homeland is a bit of an understatement. From 1955 to 1998, Hunter published roughly one new George Gently novel every year. With such a proven track record, it is a little surprising that it took until 2007 for Gently to move from the printed page to the television screen, but it did. “George Gently” was the title of the pilot of the George Gently
A broad look at the art of screenwriting.
Just about everybody I know has said words to the effect of “I could write a better movie than that!” - usually after seeing a particularly bad film. Actually doing it is an entirely different matter however. Writing a screenplay is something I have always been curious about, but had no idea of where to even start. As if to answer my questions, there is a new book titled A Quick Guide to Screenwriting by Ray Morton. His 102-page guide is exactly what it says it is, a quick read that lays out the basics in a very easy to
Redemtion looms large in this classic Western.
The opening shot of 3:10 to Yuma (1957) sets the film up as perfectly as anything I have ever seen. It features a magnificent panorama of a stagecoach on the plains of the Old West, accompanied by the deep voice of Frankie Laine intoning the words, “There is a train called the '3:10 to Yuma'…” The combination of the vistas and the dramatic music are incredibly powerful, and as the coach passes in front of the camera, you just know that this will be a classic Western fable. That was my experience the first time I saw the film,
I believe Generations to be the best of the four Next Generation films.
“Kirk or Picard?” was one of the first questions Dr. Sheldon Cooper asked Dr. Leonard Hofsteder when they first met on the hit show The Big Bang Theory. Leonard’s answer was pretty great too, as he chose Kirk over Picard, but qualified it with Star Trek: The Next Generation as a series over the original. With the first Next Generation film, smartly titled Star Trek: Generations (1994), Trek fans got their wish to see the two Enterprise captains together for the one and only time. While I would probably consider Generations to be the best of the four TNG films,
This miniseries remains as impressive a production as ever.
The current success of Downton Abbey is just the latest example of a subject that the English never seem to tire of. Actually, I should amend that. Programs about the lives of the British upper-class in the early part of the 20th century have proven to be incredibly popular all over the world. Generally, these are television miniseries, and include such memorable titles as Upstairs, Downstairs and Brideshead Revisited. One of the earliest of these so-called “period dramas” was Parade’s End (1964). It was originally televised in three 90-minute parts on the BBC and has just been released to the
Only the greatest Star Trek film ever made.
For this fan, the greatest Star Trek movie of all time is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Obviously this does not include the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness, which will be released on May 17, 2013. As it stands today however, there are none that even come close to Khan. I have probably watched this particular movie more times than any other. It is not that I think The Wrath of Khan is the greatest film ever made. But Khan was the first movie I ever owned, having purchased it way back in 1983, to play on
Laurence Olivier has never been better.
One of the most striking aspects of the newly restored Richard III (1955) is its magnificent use of color. As a young (self-taught) student of film, I came to understand that the greatest Shakespearean actor of all was Laurence Olivier. This is what initially drew me to his production of Richard III. In watching it, I was able to familiarize myself with the play, and with Olivier as well. It was a bit of a cheat I suppose, but I felt that I was killing two birds with one stone. I watched it on public television, and was so focused
A distinctly average tale of espionage.
At their best, spy films incorporate espionage, the old double-cross, corruption, opportunities for incredible rewards, and cold-blooded murder at every turn. The James Bond franchise is the gold standard, but they are really a genre unto themselves. The Bond movies do illustrate the point that the British have proven to be masters of the form however. Besides Bond, the Brits have produced quite a number of excellent spy/espionage flicks over the years as well. It was with these thoughts in mind that I watched the three-hour, two-part miniseries Spies of Warsaw (2013), which has just been released to DVD from
Definitive version of one of the greatest cult movies of all time.
The seamy underbelly of Los Angeles has been explored in numerous films over the years. A few of my favorites include Bunker Hill in Kiss Me Deadly (1956), the psychedelic Sunset Strip in The Trip (1967), and the downtown bars of the 1970s that Charles Bukowski drank in during Barfly (1987). As for the punk milieu of the early ‘80s, nobody did it better than Alex Cox with his classic Repo Man(1984). The funny thing about Repo Man being considered a “punk” film is that it really has nothing to do with music at all. There is only one brief
Incredible study of nature from BBC Earth.
Nature programs have been a staple of family-friendly viewing for decades now. Some have proven to be very popular with the general public, as was the case with the Academy Award-winning March of the Penguins (2005). I have watched countless hours of these types of shows over the years, and the new BBC Earth documentary One Life is one of the most impressive I have ever seen. Just to give you an idea of what went into the making of this 85-minute feature, the filming took place over the course of 3,000 days. The crew traveled the world to get
The Daleks save humanity, or so they would have us believe.
Of all the creatures the Doctor has met in the universe, none are more evil than the Daleks. But what if, in some unforeseen time, they are seen as a force for good? That is the fascinating premise of the new Doctor Who novel, The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs.The “Dalek Generation” refers to an entire generation who have grown up believing that the Daleks had saved them from an unimaginably horrible life. It is more than a belief actually; it is the truth. The Dalek Foundation took billions of people them from their horribly polluted, deadly worlds and gave
Eagle Vision have reissued this classic 1995 from the Pat Metheny Group.
The Pat Metheny Group concert that was recorded for the We Live Here: Live In Japan DVD took place at the Golanda-U-Port Hall in Japan, on October 12, 1995. It was previously released on VHS and DVD, but has been out of print for many years. Even though I am a big fan of the guitar maestro, I missed this one, and have been reluctant to pay collector’s prices to get it. Fortunately, Eagle Vision have just reissued the set, and the Pat Metheny Group were in top form that night, without question. Pat Metheny’s debut, Bright Size Life was
A very important glimpse into a world that many of us avoid.
I guess that every major city in America has a “skid row,” but none can compare to the one in Los Angeles. The area covers 50 city blocks, and is home to over 10,000 homeless people. The newly released DVD Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home takes a look a L.A.’s skid row, and it is an eye-opening movie to say the least. In Lost Angels, filmmaker Thomas Q. Napper and narrator Catherine Keener take us inside the lives of the people who live on the streets. Everyone has a story, and some of these stories are just heartbreaking.
Book Review: Doctor Who FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Most Famous Time Lord in the Universe by Dave Thompson
A roadmap to the Doctor "Whoniverse."
In some ways, I have found the history of the Doctor Who television series to be even more fascinating than the stories themselves. The very first episode aired on November 23, 1963, so we are just months away from the show's official 50th anniversary. For a relative “newbie” like me, it is a massive undertaking to get a handle on the so-called “Whoniverse.” Thankfully, there is the new book Doctor Who FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Most Famous Time Lord in the Universe by Dave Thompson to turn to. Condensing 50 years of a program’s history into
There is much, much more to Wilson than I had ever anticipated
As superficial as this may sound, I actually learned a lot from watching Wilson (1944), part of Fox Cinema Archives. It is a fairly straightforward biography of Woodrow Wilson, and there is no question that it is something of an old-fashioned movie, but there was a lot more to it than I had expected. Wilson was the 28th American President and served two terms from 1912 to 1920. For various reasons, his presidency seems to have been practically forgotten over time, and that is a shame because his accomplishments were significant.It is not the intention of this column to be
Elvis Presley was absolutely in top form on these concerts.
If you are old enough to remember the original broadcast of Elvis Presley's Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, then it is a safe bet that you are over the age of 40. It was almost exactly 40 years ago that the huge event was first shown on American television, on April 4, 1973. To celebrate this momentous anniversary, RCA Legacy have just released the double-CD commemorative package of Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite.There are a number of reason this set is a "must" for Elvis fans, but the biggest is that it collects everything that was recorded for that momentous
Makes a strong case for the use of lead-free bullets.
The new documentary Scavenger Hunt hopes to alert people to an unusual problem. It is the effect of hunters using lead bullets, specifically the unintended results of them on the endangered California Condor. As the title indicates, condors are scavengers. When a hunter kills a deer in the wild, the normal procedure is to dress it there. Basically, they gut it. The “gut pile” is what is left behind and would seem to provide a great source of food for the birds. The trouble is, with the lead buckshot left behind in the gut pile, the condors are dying of
Hard to believe this is only Baker's second time as the Doctor, as he already has the character completely down.
The "wheel in space" was the New Frontier-era notion of what space stations of the future would look like. I fondly remember pictures of these from a book I had as a child. So there was a sense of "the future remembered" for me with the opening image of The Ark in Space. The shot is of one of those great wheels, where the TARDIS has landed. The four-part Ark in Space was first broadcast from January 25 - February 15, 1975. This was only the second serial to feature the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), following Robot. There are some
An impressionistic and unconventional biography.
I had decided on the opening line of my review of the new Dennis Hopper biography Hopper: A Journey Into the American Dream by Tom Folsom long before I reached page 57 in it. On that page, Folsom confirms my impression of his book with his own appropriation of one of movie-land's great quotes. In the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962), the famous line goes: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Folsom shortens this to "Print the legend." No matter how you word it though, this is Folsom's modus operandi in dealing with the life
A sequel of sorts to Miracle on 34th Street.
I wonder if there has ever been a more charming actor than Edmund Gwenn. In 2013, his name may no longer be very familiar, but anyone who has seen the original Miracle on 34th Street (1947) will never forget him. Gwenn was absolutely enchanting as Kris Kringle in that classic film. When watching the new-to-DVD Mister 880 (1950), the last thing in the world I expected to find was a sequel of sorts to Miracle on 34th Street. Yet this film, which is ostensibly about a counterfeiter, is exactly that. The strains of "Auld Lang Syne" that inexplicably appear in
I miss these old Westerns.
"Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, brave courageous and bold, Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, long may his story be told..." Those are the opening words to the theme from the classic television program The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, as sung by the Ken Darby Singers. They sound a lot like the Sons of the Pioneers, and evoke an instant connection to the long-lost Golden Age of the television Western. That era was well before my time, but through the magic of reruns, and now DVDs, I have developed a great love of those old shows. The Life and Legend of
British drama at its finest.
Muriel Spark's Miss Jean Brodie was one of the great literary characters of the 20th century. Her book, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was first published in 1961, and was an immediate sensation. The first cinematic adaptation of the story came in 1969, and starred Dame Maggie Smith as Jean Brodie. Director Ronald Neame did a marvelous job with it, but focused on specific elements of the book, as was necessary for a feature film. As great as that movie was, it took the 1978 television adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to fully explore the story.
They somehow survived with their integrity intact.
In 1988, the song "Touch Me, I'm Sick" by Mudhoney was the first blast of what would come to be called "grunge." It remains an incredible tune, definitive really, and if it all ended there, it would have been a good run. At least that seems to be the feeling of the guys in the band, as expressed in the new documentary I'm Now. The story begins in the early '80s with a very different group, Mr. Epp and the Calculations. As native Seattleite, I remember Mr. Epp, and believe me, nobody ever expected anything to come of them. The
The First Doctor lands the TARDIS in the middle of the French Revolution.
When it comes to resurrecting lost Doctor Who episodes, the people at BBC Home Video have come up with some ingenious solutions. The DVD release of The Reign of Terror is a case in point. The six-part serial was the eighth Doctor Who story, first broadcast from August 8 to September 12, 1964. As fans of the series know, many of the early episodes no longer exist. In regards to The Reign of Terror, only four of the six installments remain intact. For the missing programs, the producers have come up with a unique work-around. Episodes four and five have
For those who enjoy nature programs about nature, Undersea Edens is a great choice.
The Smithsonian Channel are known for their documentary programs, and Undersea Edens is an example of what they do best. As the title indicates (most of) Undersea Edens takes place underwater. The newly released Undersea Edens DVD contains six half-hour episodes, contained on a single disc. The underwater photography is magnificent, and with the soothing tones of narrator Kristen Krohn, this could be the ultimate chillout-room video wallpaper. I'm kidding of course, although stoners probably would enjoy it. Actually, everyone would enjoy this, as each episode presents an incredible world that few of us will likely ever see firsthand. Despite
This documentary makes for a nice companion to the classic film.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) is one of the most beloved films of all time. It is hard to believe that the movie was made over 70 years ago, as it remains a truly marvelous cinematic experience. The film was based on the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. (Lyman) Frank Baum (1856-1919). The new DVD The Origins of Oz tells the story behind "the first American fairy-tale." Former 10,000 Maniacs vocalist Natalie Merchant narrates this 46-minute documentary, and she is obviously a big fan of both the book and the film. At one point, she mentions
Midsomer Murders Set 21 DVD Review: The Fictional British County of Midsomer is Beautiful and Deadly
Four new murder mysteries from the long-running English series.
The fictional Midsomer County is one of the most beautiful areas on British television. It is also home to a dreadful number of killers. Midsomer Murders explores this strange situation, and is now in its 16th season on the ITV Network. For those of us who do not get ITV, Acorn Media have released many of the programs on DVD. The latest is the four-disc Midsomer Murders Set 21, with each DVD devoted to a full 93-minute case. The premise of the series has not changed much over time, but the cast has. Set 21 introduces the new Detective Chief
The fabled, never-aired 1980 serial has one of the strangest histories in the franchise.
The story behind Shada is one of the strangest in the long history of Doctor Who. The six-part serial was originally scheduled to close out the 17th season of the show, to air from January into February of 1980. Tom Baker starred as the fourth incarnation of the Doctor, and the script was written by Douglas Adams. Production was halted mid-way through the shoot due to a strike though, and was never completed. Shada sat on the shelf for over 10 years, and was finally finished with the help of Baker, for a straight-to-VHS release in 1992. The serial has
The Director’s Cut of the acclaimed 1979 Film is finally available from Criterion.
For a film that won both the Palme d’Or and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, The Tin Drum (1979) faced a huge outcry when it was screened in the United States. The Criterion Collection have just issued a two-DVD Director’s Cut of the film. After viewing it, I cannot say that I am surprised at the furious reaction. The movie is a very artistic, at times even pretentious adaptation of the novel by Gunter Grass. But there are scenes in The Tin Drum which I found very difficult to watch. The story revolves around young Oskar Matzerath
The Story of Math Collection Review: Informative, Fascinating, and Entertaining Study of Mathematics
Who knew math could be so much fun?
I would like to preface this review by mentioning that I was about as far from being a “math-lete” in school as one could possibly imagine. If I were able to go back in time and tell the ninth-grade me that one day I would have willingly watched an eight-hour program about math, I probably would have ended it all right then. That is how much I hated geometry. Yet all these years later, I have not only watched said program, but actually enjoyed every minute of it. The Story of Math Collection is a five-DVD set, hosted by noted
Blackmore's Night: A Knight in York DVD Review: The Most Ridiculous Real-life Spinal Tap Situation Ever
Intended for those who have drank the Blackmore’s Night Kool-Ade.
“King” Ritchie Blackmore and “Queen” Candice Night formed Blackmore’s Night back in 1997 to perform Renaissance music. When I first heard them, I figured it was just a phase, and that Blackmore would return to his rock roots soon enough. As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong. The Blackmores are still happily plying their medieval trade, and have just released a live DVD titled A Knight in York. Along with Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore was one of the hard rock guitarists of the ‘70s. He led Deep Purple through their golden era, which produced such classic
Harry Nilsson's fable is certainly of its era.
I must confess that I never really “got” Harry Nilsson. Now don’t get me wrong, I like what I have heard of his music, and I even own his Nilsson Schmilsson album, but I never quite understood why The Beatles considered him their “favorite American musician.” Personal taste is just that though, and evidently they heard something extra special in his music. Evidently he was a lot of fun to drink with also, and that may have been a factor in former party animal Ringo Starr’s involvement in Nilsson’s animated film The Point (1971). With the Peanuts specials, and various
The Yardbirds: Making Tracks DVD Review: Great Performances from the 21st Century Edition of the Band
As this set proves though, the band is not calling it a day just yet.
The Yardbirds are a legendary British band, who will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2013. There have been a tremendous number of personnel changes over the years, but The Yardbirds will always best be remembered as the band that launched the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Of the ’60s lineup, only Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar), and Jim McCarty (drums) remain. But as the new double-DVD Making Tracks set shows, the young guns they have brought in certainly know how to rock. The first DVD is a 15-song collection of live material recorded during 2010-2012. I
The Qatsi Trilogy: (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi) Criterion Collection DVD Review: Fans Should Be Very Pleased
A true collaboration between director and musician.
When Koyaanisqatsi (1983) came out, my girlfriend at the time talked me into seeing it with her. She was very much into the art house scene, while I was more of a Wargames (1983) kind of guy. I must admit that upon first viewing the film, I was dumbfounded. There is no dialog or narration at all, rather, it features a compelling series of images which are set to the music of Philip Glass. The movie is very much like a dream, and assumes the audience’s intelligence in deciphering the story that producer and director Godfrey Reggio is telling. Koyaanisqatsi
Motorhead: The World is Ours Vol 2: Anyplace Crazy as Anywhere Else Review: Live at Wacken 2011 and More
Watching Motorhead perform is exciting as hell.
I remember seeing Motorhead live at (of all places) Bumbershoot in Seattle about ten years ago. Unlike pure music fests such as Coachella or Bonnaroo, Bumbershoot has always been marketed as “family friendly,” with plenty of attractions for kids. Motorhead played in Memorial Stadium, which was a place a lot of weary people just went into to find a place to sit down and catch their breath. Whoever booked the show clearly had no idea of who they were dealing with, as the set began at noon. When Motorhead hit the stage, it was pretty clear that they had not
The story of the premier NWOBHM band.
Saxon were one of the premier bands of the short-lived, but glorious New Wave of British Heavy Metal, (NWBOHM) which they helped launch in 1979 with the release of their self-titled debut album. They were already veterans of van tours throughout Great Britain by that point, but their first album was actually a flop. Their fortunes changed dramatically the following year with the release of the definitive Wheels of Steel album though. As the new two-DVD set Saxon: Heavy Metal Thunder - The Movie shows us, the band have kept at it through thick and thin ever since, and their
A very nice set of manga for fans old and new.
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
The monstrous Axos comes to Earth. Good thing the Doctor is here as well.
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
An alluring glimpse into the world of high-end dining.
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
A performance-filled account of the life of the legendary big-band leader.
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
The visually stunning masterpiece from "The Emperor" of Japanese cinema remastered and packed with extras.
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
A riveting account of the events surrounding Akira Kurosawa’s dismissal from Tora! Tora! Tora!
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
Roman Polanski's American debut took on a life of its own.
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
A disturbing, yet fascinating perspective on Nazi collaborators.
The 13-episode, four-DVD set Nazi Collaborators offers yet another fascinating perspective on the events of World War II. It has been common knowledge for decades that the Nazis had important collaborators in all sorts of fields. Without help, it is highly unlikely that they could have gone as far as they did. Some of the collaborators are well known, while others have managed to hide themselves to a certain degree. Each 50-minute episode of The Military Channel series is concerned with a particular player in the horrible saga. The program seeks to answer the simple question: “How could anyone have
Book Review: If You Like Quentin Tarantino, Here are Over 200 Films, TV Shows, and Other Oddities that You Will Love by Katherine Rife
A handy compendium of many of the obscure films Tarantino has championed over the years.
The new If You Like… series of books from Limelight Editions focus on items that fans of a particular director or musician might find appealing. For example, If You Like The Terminator... called our attention to a number of classic science fiction books, movies, and TV shows. The same holds true for subjects as varied as Monty Python, Metallica, and The Beatles. The full title of the latest entry is If You Like Quentin Tarantino…Here are Over 200 Films, TV Shows, and Other Oddities that You Will Love by Katherine Rife. For Tarantino fans, it is a handy compendium of
A flawed, yet ultimately moving account of the "pandrogynous" couple.
At its core, the tale of Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye is a heartbreaking love story. As everything the musical agent provocateur P-Orridge has done over his long career, their love affair was couched in the guise of Art with a capital “A.” The newly released DVD The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye tells this tale, and ends on a bittersweet note. As an avowed fan of the former head of Throbbing Gristle, and Psychic TV, even I have cringed at some of the antics of Genesis. This documentary attempts to explain what it was they were aiming for
Bogged down in a confusing sea of pretension.
Is Alcatraz "Lost on The Rock?" Well, sort of. J.J. Abrams is the mastermind of both shows, and he brought Jorge Garcia along to Alcatraz as sort of a chubby, pony-tailed talisman. It didn’t work though, as Alcatraz was canceled after 13 episodes. Those shows plus a couple of bonus features make up the new triple-DVD set Alcatraz: The Complete Series, which has just been released by Warner Home Video. The basic premise of Alcatraz is that the 256 prisoners and 46 guards at the prison disappeared into thin air in 1963. A cover story was created for the public
A winner on many fronts.
“There’s nothing more peaceful than a night on Wisteria Lane, until someone comes along, and disturbs the peace,” says Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) at the opening of “Suspicion Song,” the eighth program of the eighth season of Desperate Housewives, and it is a bit of an understatement. As anyone who has ever watched the show knows, there has never been any peace on Wisteria Lane, at least not since viewers were first introduced to the suburban paradise back in 2004. Desperate Housewives began as something of a satire of nighttime soap-operas, and kept that edge throughout its run. There
Another brilliant entry in the ongoing mission to release the early episodes.
The legendary BBC program Doctor Who holds the world's record for the most episodes of any series. The count is 788, plus various specials and one-offs. It is an incredible number any way you look at it, but for fans the earliest shows are the most sought after. This is because many are lost, due to money-saving efforts such as "wiping" old tapes, poor storage, and other mistakes made by the company. The three-part Planet of Giants serial was the second season opener of the series, and originally aired from October 31 to November 14, 1964. It is the earliest
For Monty Python fans, it is a must.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuted on the BBC way back in 1969. To call it “ground-breaking” is an understatement. The absurdist humor, strange bits of animation, ridiculous situations, and straight-faced delivery all added up to some of the most influential comedy ever. What is amazing to me is that even 40-some years later, the Python show still feels fresh and new. There has never been, and probably never will be anything quite like them. While doing promotion for their film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974), which satirized the legend of King Arthur, an annoyed Eric Idle responded to
It is unfortunate that circumstances went the way they did, but you never know.
Terra Nova was a show that I had high hopes for. When it premiered on the FOX network in September 2011, things looked very promising. For one thing, there were some big names attached to it. Terra Nova was executive produced by Steven Spielberg, along with Star Trek alums Rene Echevarria and Brannon Braga. Then there was the high concept. The series begins in the year 2149, and Earth has become practically uninhabitable due to terrible air quality and overpopulation. Scientists have discovered a gateway to the very distant past, to Earth as it existed 85 million years ago. What’s
After five seasons, series shows no sign of slowing down
Although The Big Bang Theory got off to a rough start early on, the ratings have improved dramatically over time. When the show went into syndication last year, the popularity of the repeats surprised everyone. For those of us who discovered this program a little late, the reruns have served to cement the reputation of it being one of the funniest on TV. The Big Bang Theory is a very smart sitcom, with the central focus being the on-and-off relationship between Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), and his neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco). Leonard’s roommate Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), plus friends Howard
Recommended for Kevin Smith fans.
Director Kevin Smith’s production company is called View Askew, which made the title of John Kenneth Muir‘s filmography An Askew View something of a no-brainer. The book was published in 2002, and has just been updated as An Askew View 2. Muir seeks to answer the burning question of what has been happening in Smith’s “Askewniverse” in the 10 years since the book was first published. Kevin Smith roared out of the gate with Clerks (1994). The story behind it has passed into Hollywood legend, but it is still fun to tell. In the simplest terms, he was a man
The Lieutenant The Complete Series Part Two DVD Review: Gene Roddenberry Sows the Seeds of Star Trek
A very good series on its own terms.
The Lieutenant was the first TV series created by legendary Star Trek guru Gene Roddenberry. The show ran for one season, from September 1963 to June 1964. Despite all of his later success, Roddenberry’s first effort has rarely been seen until now. Warner Archive has just released all 29 original episodes of The Lieutenant as a two-part set. It provides a fascinating glimpse at the way Roddenberry initially approached the medium of television. Part Two of the set contains 13 episodes plus a bonus theatrical film spread out over the course of four-DVDs. This set begins with the 17th episode
A chronicle of the vibrant '80s punk scene in Spokane, WA.
Spokane, WA is about as unlikely a place I can think of to have developed a thriving punk scene in the ‘80s. The city is about 300 miles east of Seattle, right on the Idaho border. Yet as the newly released DVD SpokAnarchy! shows, there was a very vibrant punk community in town during those years. But it was self-contained. In fact, even I though lived in Seattle, and knew a lot of local musicians, nobody was talking about Spokane. It was just off our radar I guess. The folks at Carnage and Rogue Films have produced an excellent documentary
If ever there were a band suited to the format of music videos, Queen were it.
If ever there were a band suited to the format of music videos, Queen were it. Even though there were not many outlets for these “promo clips” during their '70s heyday, the band made a number of them anyway. Fans can only be thankful for their foresight, as they left behind a priceless video legacy, probably unmatched by anyone else of the era. The new Eagle Vision two-DVD set Queen: Greatest Video Hits contains a total of 33 videos from the group, nearly half of which were produced prior to the 1981 launch of MTV. The idea of using filmed
Celebrating the work of Paul Fejos.
Paul Fejos (1897-1963) directed something of a “lost” classic with Lonesome (1928). The Criterion Collection have just released a digitally remastered edition of Lonesome, along with two more Fejos films in an exclusive two-DVD set. Lonesome put Fejos among the select few of director's directors. Although the film was not hugely successful upon release, it has developed a reputation as one of the most creative and influential films of all time. The basic story was adapted from a story about loneliness in large American cities. It is sort of a timeless subject. Set in the then-current New York City, the
The band delivers a night to remember.
Of all the great British rock acts of the "60s, I have always felt that The Zombies never really got their due. Their first hit “She’s Not There” remains a classic rock staple, as does “Time of the Season,” but there was a great deal more to this band than just those two songs. “Time of the Season” was pulled from their 1968 Odessey & Oracle album, recorded right next door to where The Beatles were laying down Sgt. Pepper's, at Abbey Road. The misspelling of Odessey was unintentional by the way. It seems that the cover artist made the
This is highly recommended.
The new BBC Video release Planet Dinosaur DVD contains all six half-hour episodes of the series, which originally aired in the U.K. in 2011. The program is narrated by John Hurt, and contains some of the best CGI-created dinosaurs ever produced for television. As the introduction to each show explains, “We are living through the golden age of dinosaur discoveries. From all over the world, a whole new generation of dinosaurs is being revealed. From the biggest giants and the deadliest killers, to the weird and wonderful. From the Arctic to Africa, from South America to Asia, using the latest
Nektar, Brainticket, and Huw Lloyd-Langton: Space Rock Invasion DVD Review: The Next Best Thing to Being There
The double-DVD set contains a lot of great musical moments.
For those so inclined, the Space Rock Invasion Tour of 2011 was a once in a lifetime event. The lineup was Huw Lloyd-Langton (of Hawkwind), Brainticket, and Nektar. Unfortunately for me, the tour never made it anywhere near my hometown, so I missed seeing it in person. The final show at the Key Club in Hollywood was filmed however, and has just been released as a two-DVD set from Cleopatra. As the old saying goes, it’s the next best thing to being there. I am a big fan of prog, krautrock, space rock, or whatever you wish to call it.
The introduction of the Third Doctor, in living color.
The first Doctor Who serial to be filmed in color was Spearhead From Space (Story #51), and originally aired January 3-24, 1970. It introduced the world to the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, who portrayed the character from 1970-1974. In 1969, it looked as if Doctor Who would be cancelled, as the ratings were terrible. Not only that, but due to an insane schedule of 44 episodes per year, the second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) was leaving. To say that the entire franchise was riding on the success of Spearhead From Space would be pretty accurate. Derek Martinus directed a great script
A highly entertaining release from the Warner Archive Collection.
The film genre was called “Swords and Sandals,” and it was quite popular, for a while at least. I guess modern versions would include Gladiator (2000) or maybe 300 (2007). But the golden age of these movies was in the late '50s and early '60s. Damon and Pythias (1962) may not be an epic on the scale of Ben-Hur (1959) or Spartacus (1960), but it is certainly a highly entertaining new release from the Warner Archive Collection. The film begins with a card informing us that the story starts 400 years before the birth of Christ. It is during the
Over 42 hours of classic British costume drama.
Besides music, one of the greatest British exports in the field of entertainment is the “costume drama.” Programs such as Upstairs, Downstairs, Lost Empires and Brideshead Revisited are just a few examples of this genre, and nobody does it better than the Brits. With this in mind, Acorn has just released an extraordinary 15-DVD box set, The Costume Drama Classic Collection. It is an embarrassment of riches, beginning with a two-disc documentary, The Story of the Costume Drama. The Story of the Costume Drama (2008) is a five-episode documentary which aired on ITV in England and on PBS in the
Not a Western classic, but a very good genre film.
The story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona has been told in film so many times I have lost count. One of the early entries was Frontier Marshal (1939), and it has just been released to DVD as part of the 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives series. Randolph Scott stars as Wyatt Earp, with a young Cesar Romero as Doc Halliday. That is not a misprint, for some reason director Allan Dwan chose to change Doc’s name from Holliday to Halliday. Name change aside though, the character of Doc remains true
A fictionalized tale of a truly frightening Nazi black-op.
Such terror! Such suspense! Such propaganda! Oh, wait, we weren’t supposed to notice that, where we? They Came To Blow Up America (1943) is based on the true story of the failed German Operation Pastorius. Since the details of the black-op were not fully revealed until after World War II, director Edward Ludwig was free to spice-up the story a bit. Maybe the Russian-born director felt it would be a good career move to embellish the tale. Unfortunately, these obvious exaggerations take the quality of the film down quite a few notches, as they are so transparent. Too bad, because
The '70s proggers feature new and old material in concert.
Van der Graaf Generator were one of those groups who could have only flourished in the late '60s English psychedelic scene. Their early days were a bit of a mess, with aborted singles and the like. But when they signed with Charisma Records (they were the first band signed to the label), things improved dramatically. Van der Graaf had a lot in common with early King Crimson, featuring a “hard,” approach to their progressive rock, with a strong emphasis on improvisation. Another trait Van der Graaf Generator shared with King Crimson was a very low profile in the United States.
Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers: Live at the Metropolis Studios, London Review: An Electrifying Set Spanning Nelson's 40-Year Career
The guitar hero has made a welcome return with this DVD/CD combo concert package
I must admit that when I heard that Bill Nelson was planning to revisit some classic Be Bop Deluxe tunes for a concert recording, I was more than a little excited. This is something I had been hoping of for over 30 years now. The first Be Bop Deluxe record I heard was way back in 1978. It was their 1974 debut album Axe Victim, and I was blown away by it. To me, if ever there were an unsung guitar hero, Bill Nelson was it. Unfortunately my timing could not have been worse. At the very moment I was
A fascinating dramatization of a lesser-known, yet incredible incident during World War II.
The second RMS Laconia was a Cunard ocean liner built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson as a successor to the Laconia of 1911 to 1917. Like her predecessor, sunk during the First World War, this Laconia would also be destroyed by a German U-boat. The German Korvettenkapitän (captain) Werner Hartenstein then staged a dramatic rescue effort, which involved assistance from additional German U-boats he contacted. It became known as the “Laconia Incident.” Those are the dry facts, but as the newly released The Sinking of the Laconia (2011) two-DVD set from Acorn demonstrates, the incident was likely the most
A near-riot ensues outside while Hendrix blazes onstage.
The newly re-mastered film Jimi Plays Berkeley (1971) is an incredible document of its time. Back in the late '70s, during the “golden age” of the midnight-movie phenomenon, I saw it. Whether it was because of the late showing, or whatever else, I did not remember it as being such a political movie. Rather than being a simple document of Jimi Hendrix playing a smoldering show, Jimi Plays Berkeley captures the entire controversy surrounding the concert. While on one hand, I feel that the film is flawed by all of the extraneous footage, on the other, the tumultuous cultural atmosphere
A temporary truce between the Doctor and the Daleks fuels this serial.
"Exterminate! Exterminate!" Don't you just love it when the Daleks show up on a Doctor Who series? The newly released Death to the Daleks (Story #72) is a four-part serial which originally aired February 23 - March 16, 1974. The Doctor during this time was Jon Pertwee, an older man who portrayed the third incarnation of the character. The Doctor's companion this time around is young Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), who has the most annoying presence of any of the Doctor's "girls" I have encountered thus far. Mostly it is her piercing scream that got to me, and in
Book Review: If You Like The Terminator, Here Are Over 200 Movies, TV Shows, and Other Oddities That You Will Love by Scott Von Doviak
A handy digest of the best sci-fi over the past 110 years.
Love him or hate him, Arnold Schwarzenegger was arguably the action-hero of the '80s. His roles in films such as Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Running Man (1987), Predator (1987), and Red Heat (1988) made him a superstar. These were some of the best popcorn movies of the decade. Of course there was also crap like Twins (1988) with Danny DeVito that was foisted upon us, but you gotta take the good with the bad, I guess. There is a new series of books out now from the Limelight Editions imprint of the Hal Leonard publishing house titled If You
a powerful study of mankind’s development through the centuries.
“Whenever I hear the word 'culture', I reach for my pistol,” is a line attributed to the infamous Nazi Luftwaffe Commander Hermann Goering. Whether or not he actually said it is irrelevant though, as the phrase neatly sums up the relationship between artists and of those in power. The battles between artists and their patrons is as old as civilization itself. It makes for a powerful study of mankind’s development through the centuries and is the topic of the new, double-DVD set This Is Civilization from Athena. Each of the four episodes in the series are hosted by Matthew Collings
Rogers is after the hottest poacher in the Sierras.
Is it wrong to be attracted to the most evil villainess in the Sierras? The remastered release of Springtime in the Sierras (1947) sort of begs the question. The film stars Roy Rogers and his faithful horse Trigger. They are out to catch a gang of poachers led by Jean Loring (Stephanie Bachelor), the hottest bad girl west of the Mississippi. Jean is a true femme fatale. She leads a motley crew of poachers who hunt game in the Sierra Mountains out of season, which nets them big bucks on venison and other meats that are normally unavailable at that
A very interesting series about a way of life which (for the most part) no longer exists.
Although I have never been to Great Britain, I am aware of the fact that some of the most beautiful houses in the world exist there. An example of the days when homes like these were owned by the once-upon-a-time “one-percenters” is the house in the classic Brideshead Revisited (1981). It is certainly not the only one however. Five similarly amazing estates are profiled in the new, two-DVD set Treasure Houses of Britain, which was just released by Athena. The houses profiled are Burghley House, Chatsworth, Blenheim Palace, Holkham Hall, and Boughton House. All five are incredible, in fact, they
The finest home-video presentation of this classic ever.
Although Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character remains so iconic, people all over the world are still familiar with it, even if they have never seen a Chaplin film. That had been the case with me up until 1993, when I saw the restored, original version of The Gold Rush (1925) during a PBS pledge drive. To put it mildly, I was blown away. The storytelling, the inventiveness of the shots, and above all, the charisma of Chaplin himself just knocked me out. For a silent film to retain such remarkable power all those years later clearly indicated that the legendary
Too bad the disco gas-station idea never caught on.
Somehow I missed the “disco-gas-station” phenomenon of the late seventies, and it is a real shame. As a consolation however, there is the film Gas Pump Girls (1979), which presents a vision of this world in all of its glory. There are all sorts of reasons to enjoy this movie, but for starters there is the legendary former Bowery Boy, Huntz Hall. In Gas Pump Girls, Hall plays Uncle Joe, owner of a rundown gas-station in Sacramento. A big, new shiny Pyramid station across the street has just opened up, and is doing huge business. When Joe’s niece June (Kirsten
The brilliant BBC series is now available on DVD from Athena Learning.
The new Athena two-DVD set The Code is not to be confused in any way with The Da Vinci Code. This highly-acclaimed, three-episode British series is far more interesting than that bit of fiction ever could be. In The Code, Oxford professor Marcus du Sautoy explores mathematical “codes” that appear in nature with such frequency that it is hard to believe they are truly random. In the first episode, “Numbers,” du Sautoy compares such seemingly disconnected phenomena as the French Chartres Cathedral, the cicada, Stonehenge, and the way we hear sound. In all, the design comes down to nearly identical
Harold and Maude Criterion Collection DVD Review: "Timeless Classic" Has Never Been More Appropriate
Director Hal Ashby's first landmark film.
The oddest couple in cinematic history have got to be the 20-year old Harold (Bud Cort) and the 80-year old Maude (Ruth Gordon). The two star in Hal Ashby’s film Harold and Maude (1971), which has just been issued on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection. Even in the somewhat “anything goes” mentality of 1971, it amazes me that Harold and Maude was ever made. Almost every single movie I have seen from the early seventies is dated in one way or another, usually with some “counter-culture” references. This is understandable in the wake of Easy Rider (1969), which
Gene Simmons Family Jewels Season Six Volumes 1 and 2 DVD Review: An Emotional Season for "The Demon"
One of the most difficult years of their collective lives.
When I first heard that Gene Simmons was finally getting married, the cynic in me figured it was to boost ratings for his reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels. After all, he is the guy who spouts the motto, “KISS is a brand, not a band,” ever possible chance he gets. And to be honest, once he came around to the idea, he probably did realize the publicity and ratings potential of the whole thing. As Bill Maher put it so eloquently during the reception, “This is the best cable wedding of the year.” It’s a funny line, but
An outstanding HBO film about the recent U.S. financial meltdown.
Hi there, Ronald Reagan. Hello as well to George Bush, Bill Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Glad to meet ya. The newly-released DVD/Blu-ray/digital release of Too Big To Fail from HBO Home Entertainment opens with all four of their words of wisdom: “Deregulation of the banking industry is good for America.” Wow! is about all I can say about that. Too Big To Fail falls into the winning category of HBO films such as Recount and The Late Shift. This time the focus is on the recent banking crisis, which has proven to be of major proportions. The film
The hilarious adventures of a secret-agent chimp.
For those of us of a certain age, Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp is fondly remembered. The Saturday morning live-action show aired 17 episodes during its 1970-1972 run. I must say that with the advent of DVD and Blu-ray, I am constantly impressed with the variety of releases of so many long-forgotten programs. The new three-DVD set from Film Chest contains all 17 shows on two DVDs, the third is devoted entirely to bonus features. Watching Lancelot Link again for the first time in 40 years was a real surprise for me. So much time has passed that I wondered if
Looks better than ever and has a lot more to say than may have originally been thought.
For their third film, The Beatles kind of phoned it in. Their first, A Hard Day’s Night was brilliant, and their second, Help! was a lot of fun. But in the mere three years that passed between A Hard Day’s Night and Yellow Submarine, the individual members of the band went through an enormous amount of changes. George Harrison memorably described the time as if each month equaled a year. So it is somewhat surprising just how good Yellow Submarine actually is. Having recently reviewed the book Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘N’ Roll for a “sister” site of
Clearly aimed at the nostalgia market.
I have to admit that as a kid, I was never much into the “action adventure” genre of Saturday morning cartoons. They were too serious. I wanted Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny, not Johnny Quest. But they were very popular in their day, which was basically during the late '60s and early '70s. Just my luck that those were my childhood years. Well, a lot of people would argue that my childhood never ended, which is great, because now I can go back and see what I was missing. Sealab 2020 definitely falls into the category of action-adventure
Plenty of fun and profit in discarded Americana.
The History Channel (now just called History) has come a long way since their debut on basic cable back in 1995. I remember when they used to be nicknamed "The Hitler Channel," because of all the old World War II programs they aired. I actually dug all that stuff, but it did not exactly make for ratings gold. But since they began producing original programming such as Ax Men, Swamp People, and American Pickers (among many others), the channel has become a destination for many viewers. And you can count me in. I enjoy just about everything on History, but
The most in-depth investigation of the Titanic disaster yet.
The recent 100th year anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic has spurred interest in that famous “night to remember” to an unprecedented degree. The new History Channel DVD Titanic at 100: Mystery Solved documentary takes us on the most exhaustive investigation of the shipwreck yet. And as the title purports, they actually do solve the mystery of what really happened the night of April 12, 1912. The question posed at the outset is a simple one; “Did the Titanic have a fatal flaw?” There has been a lot of speculation over the years over what actually happened. The
It balances between humorous moments and a real sense of drama.
Remember when pawnshops used to be scary? Maybe it was the area I grew up in, but there was always this really sleazy vibe in them when I was younger. But back then, I never really understood the appeal of “junk” anyway. Things have changed a lot over the years, and with the advent of chains such as “Yuppie Pawn,” pawn shops have become respectable. Well, some of ‘em anyway. The gentrification of pawn has been a recent development, and part of it has to do with the economy. People need money, and are willing to sell things at a
Don't dream it, read it.
As Roger Ebert so memorably put it a few years ago, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show is not so much as movie as more of a long-running social phenomenon.” Indeed, there has never been (and likely never will be) a movie which has inspired such fan devotion. It has now been nearly 40 years since the original stage production of Rocky, yet it remains as weirdly fresh as ever. When the film version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released on VHS in the '80s, I assumed that the whole midnight movie thing would end. After all, owning it
A story made better when the context is known.
Has anyone ever stopped to consider what the politics of The Doctor might be? I must admit that before watching The Happiness Patrol, it is a question I had never even thought of. More to the point, it is a question that had never seemed relevant. The Doctor seems to exist on a plane where such mundane concerns as liberals versus conservatives is practically absurd. One of the greatest attractions of science fiction has been to use it as a pretext to discuss serious social issues. The first Star Trek series was famous for this. That program even aired the
One of the most original and prescient films of our generation.
The year 1999 was a strange one. The dot-com bubble was going strong, and the economy was booming. Yet there was the whole “millennial fever” thing happening, and a major undercurrent of paranoia was palpable. This manifested itself in two instant film classics. Oddly enough, both featured Brad Pitt - as one of the stars of Fight Club and during a cameo in Being John Malkovich. Both movies are certainly worthy of receiving the Criterion Collection treatment, but Being John Malkovich beat Fight Club to the punch, as it were. Being John Malkovich is so layered, it holds up to
Archival footage from the Beeb is just one of the many highlights.
The Athena Company’s series of DVDs provide some of the most entertaining and educational programs I have seen. Their recent two-DVD set In Their Own Words is no exception. Each one-hour installment of this six-episode series focuses on some of the most fascinating minds of the 20th century. The title is quite literal, as many of the featured participants are represented by archival footage from the BBC. This is the first time any of these shows have been available in the United States, and each one offers a unique take on the human condition. A definite highlight is the only
Essays on 30 of the most influential film noir directors of all time.
Film critics Alain Silver and James Ursini are responsible for the brilliant four-volume Film Noir Reader series. Their latest outing is titled Film Noir: The Directors, and is a compilation of essays from over two dozen of their peers, focusing on 30 key directors from the classic period of film noir. The book includes short biographies, lists of their major noir films, and analysis of the films themselves. The classic noir period is generally considered to be between the years 1941 and 1958. The date is somewhat fungible however, as the movement basically grew organically out of various sources. For
"The end of an era of arrogance." - Producer William MacQuitty
The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic will be April 14, 2012, and it is being recognized with a number of commemorative events. The Criterion Collection's new digital restoration of the classic film A Night To Remember (1958) is one. For decades, this was considered the definitive and most accurate account of the disaster, and it has come to be recognized as one of the greatest British films of the 20th century. Like so many projects before and after though, it was a miracle that A Night To Remember was made at all. When producer William MacQuitty first
Reliving the glorious days of the Beats in Paris.
The lives and works of the Beats are a continuing source of fascination for many. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” were a few of the first works in a counter-cultural literary revolution. What separates the Beats from the Boomer hippies of a decade later was their keen intellect, as well as their pioneering spirit in questioning authority. It is this ongoing interest in the accomplishments of the Beats that fuels director Alan Govenar’s new film The Beat Hotel. Fed up with censorship and blind conformity in Eisenhower’s America, a number of
Doors: Mr. Mojo Risin': The Making of L.A. Woman DVD Review: The Story of a Truly Great Album and Band
All the dope on the Doors' final album.
The final album The Doors recorded with Jim Morrison was L.A. Woman in 1970. It may well be their finest work of all; if not, it is certainly right up there. After the sessions were over, Morrison left for Paris, where he died shortly thereafter. The recent Doors: Mr. Mojo Risin’: The Story of L.A. Woman is a documentary chronicling the making of the album, and of the attendant hoopla surrounding the band in that turbulent time. The producers did this one right for a change, and managed to interview a number of key players in the saga. These include
Eighty-one minutes of my life I wish I could get back.
Hollywood is a tough town, and Seth Rogen is the latest to get thrown under the bus, by a friend no less. His big moment came five years ago with Superbad (2007). But for all intents and purposes, he has been dethroned as the film-world’s favorite chubby, good-natured stoner by Jonah Hill. Excuse me, the Oscar-nominated Jonah Hill. In The Sitter, Hill revels in his role as the current, most unlikely teen-flick champ in the business. The Sitter’s opening scene should get a prize for the crassest in history. The first image we are presented with is that of a
John Lydon at the top of his game.
When John Lydon formed Public Image Ltd. in 1978, nobody knew what to make of it at first. With the implosion of the Sex Pistols and the death of Sid Vicious, it first appeared that he was taking a step back from the abyss. And since the first PiL album has never been issued in the States (to this day), fans had little to go on but word of mouth. That all changed with the release of Metal Box/Second Edition though. The music Lydon, Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, and Jim Walker were making was some of the most amazing stuff
Suds, bullets, and boats during World War II.
James Franciscus first came to prominence as Detective Halloran in the great 1958-1959 TV series The Naked City. By the close of the sixties he had made the jump to the big screen, and Hell Boats (1970) is one of his early efforts. The movie is a World War II action flick set on the island of Malta, with Franciscus playing Lieutenant Commander Jeffords, an American leading a crew of British sailors in a daring raid on the Nazis. The time is 1942, and Rommel is on the march. Vice Admiral Ashurst (Moultrie Kelsall) calls Jeffords into his office to
I will never watch or listen to a great pianist quite the same way again.
When listening to master pianists such as Vladimer Horowitz or Keith Jarrett, I wonder if many people consider the actual instrument itself. I know I take it for granted that the piano will sound beautiful, and my attention is generally directed on the performance itself. The new documentary Pianomania shows us a different side of the process. In it, we are offered an interesting look at the construction and meticulous tuning a Steinway Grand Concert Piano undergoes to produce the “perfect” sound. Of course, the perfect sound is in the ear of the beholder, and this is where things get
Not everything is always as it appears.
As it turned out, Vanya On 42nd Street (1994) was the final film completed by legendary director Louis Malle. Although the subject matter is different, the comparisons to his previous My Dinner With Andre (1981) are unavoidable. Both films seem to be almost documentary in nature. My Dinner With Andre presented a fascinating dinner conversation between actor Wallace Shawn and director Andre Gregory. The discussion is so wide-ranging it appears to be completely improvised. Vanya on 42nd Street is presented as an off-the-cuff recording of a rehearsal of the play, at the decaying New Amsterdam Theatre in Times Square. What
Absorbing documentary about the two legendary cinematographers.
Cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs (1933-2007) and Vilmos Zsigmond (born 1930) filmed the Hungarian Uprising in Budapest during 1956. When the Soviets moved in to crush the rebellion, the two managed to escape to Austria with an incredible 30,000 feet of footage. Both had studied cinema at the Budapest Academy and had learned a great deal about the craft. As they discovered when they made their way to America however, they had not learned anything at all about how Hollywood actually works though. Their first stop was New York City, where they quite naturally thought that the film they brought with them
One of Fassbinder's most obscure and fascinating works.
What if everything you thought you knew was nothing but a fabrication? This is but one of the many themes in the newly restored Rainer Werner Fassbinder film World On A Wire. As the protagonist of the film, Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch) puts it: "I can't be alone in thinking nothing really exists. For Plato, reality exists in the realm of ideas. And Aristotle conceived of matter as passive non-substance that only becomes reality by thought." I will begin by stating the obvious - this two-DVD Criterion Collection edition is a must for Fassbinder fans. It is certainly one of
Book Review: Reel Culture: 50 Classic Movies You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends) by Mimi O'Connor
A nice primer of 50 classic films from the 20th century.
Reel Culture: 50 Classic Movies You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends) by Mimi O'Connor is an interesting primer for budding film buffs. The 50 films chosen are not obscure in any way, and have definitely stood the test of time. As the author puts it in her foreward: "Classic film references seep into pop culture in ways that many people are not aware of. Once you come to know these films, you will be amazed at how many jokes and references you will suddenly get." Reel Culture is published by Zest Books, who have carved out
Book Review: How To Fight, Lie, and Cry Your Way To Popularity (and a Prom Date): Lousy Life Lessons From 50 Teen Movies by Nikki Roddy
Hilariously lousy advice for teens from 50 classic movies.
Not to put too fine a spin on it, but Zest Books cater to a fairly small, but an incredibly powerful niche audience - teen girls. Ever since the days of Frank Sinatra's "bobby-soxers," teenagers have been the major market for all forms of entertainment. The world of film is certainly no exception. Movies aimed at the teen market have been around for decades, and author Nikki Roddy has taken an interesting approach to them with her new book How To Fight, Lie, and Cry Your Way To Popularity (and a Prom Date): Lousy Life Lessons From 50 Teen Movies.
Allen Funt turned his "Candid Camera" to more adult themes for a dated, but entertaining film.
Allen Funt (1914 -1999) is best remembered for creating the television show Candid Camera. The basic premise of the program was to film the reactions of ordinary people to unusual situations. It was a very popular show for years on both network TV and in syndication. The show ran from 1948 to 2004, with Funt's son Peter taking over hosting duties after the senior Funt suffered a debilitating stroke in 1992. For the younger generation, probably the closest example of what Candid Camera was all about was the MTV show Punk'd, only with the general public as the targets, rather
Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal DVD Review: Intriguing yet Offers More Questions Than Answers
A documentary focusing on the disturbingly frequent occurrences of mass shootings in America.
There is a phenomenon in this country which we refer to as "going postal." The term was coined after a series of mass shootings in the workplace by disgruntled Post Office workers back in the late eighties and early nineties. Since then, "going postal" has entered the lexicon as shorthand for losing one's temper. It is an example of what one might call vocabulary evolution, and one which I had never paid much attention to previously. But the producers of the new film Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal certainly have. The title intrigued me, because it led me
An older scientist's experiments with magnetics get seriously out of hand.
With the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world changed forever. Nuclear research and the splitting of the atom were projects that had been going on since the early part of the 20th century. But with the incredible power unleashed for all the world to see at the close of World War II, what had once been theoretical became all too real. In the post-war years, with the Cold War and McCarthyism in full swing, science-fiction films began to address some of these issues in various (thinly veiled) ways. One of the first of these was George
The full story of Queen, one of the greatest bands in rock history.
As good a documentary as Queen: Days Of Our Lives is, it is also a bit of a strange beast. To tell the full story of the group, a documentary with an original copyright date of 1986 has been augmented with present-day interviews and additional concert footage. The DVD is presented in two 59-minute parts, which are roughly split between the seventies and the eighties. It is pretty clear that principle filming of the original doc ended in 1984. The group's legendary appearance at Live Aid is not even discussed (in the main body of the documentary), and the album
From Straight to Bizarre: Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and LA's Lunatic Fringe DVD Review: A Must for Zappa-philes
A study of the L.A. "Freak Scene" like no other.
They called Frank Zappa "The King of the L.A. Freak Scene," and it was definitely a title he enjoyed. After running into difficulties almost immediately upon being signed to the Verve division of MGM Records, Zappa and his manager Herb Cohen decided to form their own label. With typical humor, Zappa decided to call the label Bizarre Records. Due to some distribution contracts (which were apparently ridiculously complex), a companion label (of sorts) was also created, which was called Straight Records. From Straight To Bizarre is a lengthy (160-minute) DVD chronicling the whole story. Beginning in 1966 with the release
And I thought River's Edge was frightening.
The Snowtown Murders is the most sickening movie I have ever seen, which was undoubtedly director Justin Kurzel's intention. The film opens with young Jaime Vlassakis's (Luca Pittaway) soliloquy, which begins; "I keep having this dream..." and goes into a story that has nothing, and yet everything to do with the film. We are drawn into an immediate identification with the types of alienation, fear, and discomfort so common to adolescents. It even seems a little heavy-handed, because the fears of kids at that age are so common. Jaime and his brothers live with their single mother in an area
In the grand Looney Tunes tradition, these shows will appeal to kids and their parents alike.
Although it came out a little over a year ago, I have taken my time in watching all 24 films in the Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection box set. A couple of nights ago I put on The Maltese Falcon (1941), and selected the "Warner Night At The Movies 1941" option. With this choice one is transported to an era when going out to the movies was really something special. Rather than sitting through 20 minutes of obnoxious ads and trailers before the main attraction, audiences were entertained with a mix of newsreels, intriguing feature-ettes, and some of the greatest
Seijun Suzuki delivers a delirious Pop Art explosion.
Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter (1966) is a delirious Pop Art explosion. Working under the yoke of the Japanese Nikkatsu Studio, Suzuki defied convention at every turn. His job was to deliver low-grade, bottom of the bill fare on the cheap, and he was under no illusions as to his status with the company. But Suzuki was too restless and creative an artist to simply grind out crap. So he did the job - he filmed the script he was given, and still found a way to elevate a D-level flick into an unforgettably violent vision of Swinging Tokyo. His recognition
Branded To Kill Criterion Collection DVD Review: Suzuki's Absurd Deconstruction of Yakuza Crime Films
Non-stop violence and duplicity from Japanese New Wave bad boy Seijun Suzuki.
There has never been a crime film quite like this. Director Seijun Suzuki's Branded To Kill (1967), did not merely turn the genre on its ear, it practically destroys the convention. The film is famous for getting the Japanese New Wave director fired from the Nikkatsu Studios. But Branded To Kill was much more than just an outrageous gesture from a director with a chip on his shoulder. Suzuki pioneered a new storytelling device with his film by stripping away all extraneous information. It may take us a minute to catch up with the action at certain times, but this
One of the rare music DVDs that stands up to repeated viewings.
It certainly makes sense for Deep Purple to record a concert live at Montreux, Switzerland. After all, the opening line of their most famous song goes; "We all came out to Montreux, on the Lake Geneva shoreline." The track is of course, "Smoke On The Water," a blow-by-blow account of how the band lost all of their equipment in a fire there - set to one of the most monster riffs of all time. That was back in 1972, on the Machine Head album. Nearly 40 years later they have returned with a couple of different members and an orchestra.
A lonely Frosty meets Crystal the snowlady.
There are a lot of reasons that people enjoy the holiday season. For me it is the chance to see the holy trinity of Christmas classics again. I never tire of Frosty The Snowman (1969), A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1969). There were many others of course, and many more have been made since. But nothing compares to those three, in my mind. Frosty, which was originally hosted by the inimitable Jimmy Durante, returned in the sequel Frosty's Winter Wonderland. It was first broadcast in 1976, and in it Andy Griffith took over for Durante.
Anything this bad is great in my book.
Morey Amsterdam wrote, produced, and directed Don't Worry, We'll Think Of A Title (1965) while he co-starred in the TV classic Dick Van Dyke Show. DVDS co-stars Rose Marie and Richard Deacon are in the film as well. Amsterdam must have collected a lot of chits back then, because he managed to get some big names to put in cameo appearances. These include Danny Thomas, Steve Allen, Milton Berle, and Carl Reiner. Reiner was producer of the DVDS, and Don't Worry, We'll Think Of A Title is basically a lengthy sketch. One gets the impression that head writer Rob Petrie
A masterfully directed piece with nothing but the emotions of the players to provide the action.
The stifling, claustrophobic feeling director Sidney Lumet perfected in films such as Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Network (1976) was a key ingredient of his directorial debut, 12 Angry Men (1957). The premise of Reginald Rose's script was a deceptively simple method of conveying the raging emotions of the 12 jurors who are tasked with deciding a murder trial. It is a blisteringly hot day in New York City, there is no AC, and the dilapidated fans in the room do not work. All anyone wants to do is leave, but they have one little matter they must resolve before
The film has a very strong story to tell.
It has been nearly a decade since The Osbournes debuted on MTV, and since that time the first family of rock seemed to have over-exposed themselves. The show was such a runaway hit that the family was suddenly everywhere, and what once was once charming became a bit overbearing. So it was not a huge surprise when the film God Bless Ozzy Osbourne did not sell out theatres coast to coast upon its release this past year. Most probably wondered the same thing I did, what more could there possibly be? As it turns out, quite a bit. The most
Fourteen more crazy tales with Tom and Jerry!
Warner Home Video are now offering the third installment in their Tom and Jerry: Fur Flying Adventures DVD series, and our heroes remain as fun as ever. The formula is pretty simple, each volume contains 14 classic Tom and Jerry cartoons. For the FFA editions, WHV have chosen a mix of sixties-era Chuck Jones episodes, and the recent Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone tales. In the case of FFA Volume 3, the count is six for Chuck Jones, and eight for Brandt/Cervone. Chuck Jones is a legend in animation, having created the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, and Pepe LePew,
One of the most unsettling films ever.
"Do you know what it means to feel like God?" asks the fiendish Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) at one point in Island of Lost Souls (1932). It is the question of an ultimate egomaniac, and goes to the root of this incredibly creepy tale. The movie is based on the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, published in 1896 by H.G. Wells. Although it is not as celebrated today as films such as Frankenstein (1931) or Dracula (1931), Island of Lost Souls is an early horror classic. In many ways it is one of the most unsettling films ever. Our
Two films and a concert from the ultra-hip Leningrad Cowboys.
Not since the likes of Sigue Sigue Sputnik have a band with so little to offer gained such mass attention. One might argue that Milli Vanilli and Spinal Tap achieved even more in the field of fakery, but that is not a fair comparison. Spinal Tap always knew they were a joke, while Milli Vanilli were actually serious about the whole thing, and never did understand why their Grammy was rescinded. Leningrad Cowboys were invented first, then toured as an actual band. Theirs was a beautiful career arc - and it is little wonder that they became ultra-hip for a
An epic account of terrorist Carlos the Jackal's life
From the opening explosion of a car bomb in Paris, through the anti-climactic, somewhat pathetic ending - Carlos is a 330-minute tour de force of a film. French director Olivier Assayas' epic treatment of the life of terrorist Carlos The Jackal has been released in a variety of forms. These range from the full theatrical and TV miniseries all the way down to a 185-minute edition shown in German theatres. As a part of The Criterion Collection, Carlos is now available in a definitive, director-approved four-disc package. Although there is a prominent disclaimer at the top of the film stating
A profoundly emotional and influential film.
Swedish director Victor Sjostrom's (1879-1960) The Phantom Carriage (1921) is a profoundly emotional film, and was a seminal influence on a young Ingmar Bergman. Sjostrom also starred in this cornerstone of Swedish cinema. It stands with such groundbreaking early works as D.W. Griffiths' Intolerance (1916) as a masterpiece of early filmmaking technique, and helped elevate the medium to the highest form of art. In the opening scene we find a young Salvation Army girl named Edith (Astrid Holm) on her deathbed. It is obvious that the woman is very sick, and possibly delirious with tuberculosis - yet all she desires
Before Easy Rider, there was The Glory Stompers.
The year before Easy Rider (1969) made history, Dennis Hopper appeared in the American International biker flick The Glory Stompers (1967). It is a classic piece of AIP (American International Pictures) exploitation, featuring topless women, lots of fighting, drug use, and no real plot to speak of. Maybe Hopper used it to hone his cinematic motorcycle-riding technique, or just to get stoned on set. In any case, The Glory Stompers fits right into the AIP biker movie mold, and holds its own against such greats as The Wild Angels (1966), The Born Losers (1967), and Devil's Angels (1967). Of course
One would be hard pressed to come up with a better example of presenting a classic film than this.
"Look at yourself in a mirror all your life and you will see see Death at work," says Heurtebise (Francois Perier) to Orpheus (Jean Marais) "like bees in a hive of glass." It is a wonderful line, and one of Jean Cocteau's main themes in his classic film Orpheus (1950). The statement also speaks to the character of Death (Maria Casares), who I feel is the true star of the movie. In the most basic terms, Orpheus is Cocteau's update of the classic Greek myth. In the tale, we find a musician so charismatic that his songs would charm any
There is simply no better source for everything Lucy.
While Lucille Ball (1911-1989) made her name in television, she began her illustrious career in film. The movie was Roman Scandals (1933), and starred Eddie Cantor. She was later signed as a contract player with RKO Studios, which she would one day own. All of these facts and more are contained in a handy, one-stop tome titled Lucille Ball FAQ. The Hal Leonard Company has been a leader in publishing sheet music, songbooks, and musical biographies for decades now. Their FAQ series has been enormously successful, although until now the books have been exclusively music oriented. Why they chose Lucy
Practically everything one would want to see from this truly one of a kind talent.
In anylyzing the qualities about two of the most prominent autuers of the French New Wave, critic Andrew Sarris conclued that while Jean-Luc Godard may have been more brilliant, innovative, and profound than Francois Truffaut - in the end he preferred Truffaut's more gentle, leisurely insights. There is a comforting "man of the people" attraction to this way of thinking, which is one of the reasons Edward D. Wood Jr. (1924 - 1978) has been so celebrated in the years since his death. For example, one can watch Forbidden Planet (1956) today (as I recently did), and still marvel at
A complex study of the troubled troubadour's life.
As Kenneth Bowser's new documentary Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune makes clear, folksinger Phil Ochs (1940 - 1976) was a study in contradictions. As part of the Greenwich Village coffee-house scene of the early sixties, Ochs espoused the de riguer leftist politics of the day. On the other hand, he was a proud product of Virginia's Staunton Military Academy, and a big fan of WWII-veteran-turned-actor Audie Murphy, not to mention John Wayne. As friend Andy Wickham puts it: "Left-wing politics was his career, but it was not what was in his heart." His conflicting emotions were most dramatically exemplified
"Tonight we have seen the birth of the planet of the apes!" - Caesar
Watching the original Planet Of The Apes movies some 40 years after their theatrical release makes for an intriguing look back. The first, simply titled Planet Of The Apes (1968) was adapted from the Pierre Boulle book, with a screenplay by Rod Serling. The premise of Earth having somehow de-evolved over time, with apes moving to the top of the food chain, and humans little more than mute animals, was a fascinating one. It has since taken its place as a bona-fide sci-fi classic. The four sequels are another story. They inhabit a genre I like to call "ape-sploitation." Unlike
Ninety-nine minutes of classic Tom and Jerry fun.
Tom and Jerry have been entertaining audiences for over 70 years now, and we still can't get enough of them. The very first Tom and Jerry short, "Puss Gets the Boot" appeared in theatres in 1940, and the two were a hit right off the bat. Although Tom was named "Jasper," and Jerry was "Jinx," the famous twosome were off and running. By the time of their next outing, "The Midnight Snack," they were being called Tom and Jerry. While the characters have remained constant for all these years, the people who work on them have changed many times over.
A film about time which itself is timeless.
In 1954, four of the most famous people in the world were Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, Joe McCarthy, and Albert Einstein. Playwright Terry Johnson wondered what it would be like if all four of them got together somehow one night. It is a curious premise, as these personalities could hardly be more different, yet all were equally celebrated. Underlying this unlikely event was the painful reality of the Cold War. Only nine years had passed since the bombing of Hiroshima - at 8:15 on August 6, 1945, and there was an almost palpable fear of nuclear annihilation. Cut to 1985,
One of the last great film noir flicks.
Appearing at the tail end of the classic era of film noir, Kiss Me Deadly (1955) was a stylishly brutal take on the Cold War. The film is based on the Mickey Spillane novel of the same name, although screenwriter A. I. Bezzerides took a lot of liberties with the plot. Spillane's book was about a Mafia conspiracy; Bezzerides changed this to involve high-level conspiracy and a nuclear bomb. As the film opens, we find private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) driving down a deserted road late at night. When a woman runs out in front of his car wearing
Four historical takes on WWII from Eastern Germany.
Before, during, and especially after America's entry into World War II, Hollywood produced an enormous number of films about the conflict. Over the years, many of these movies have come to define the era for us. But there were other points of view, even among our Allies - that the studios never considered. First Run Features' four-DVD set Anti-Nazi Classics presents another side, and a view of history quite unlike the one we have become accustomed to. The Murderers Are Among Us (1946) holds the distinction of being the first film shot in Germany after the war. As the Third
A though-provoking documentary about the search for a female Viagra.
As Michael Moore showed us with Sicko (2007) the pharmaceutical industry is ruthless in their pursuit of profits. Since there has never been a drug as successful as Viagra, there was an immediate push to come up with a form of Viagra for women. Director Liz Canner's Orgasm Inc. is a documentary about the drug companies' race to get FDA approval to treat the newly-minted medical syndrome "female sexual dysfunction." Canner's film has been nine years in the making, and exposes a number of shady deals between doctors and the drug companies. The most blatant is the creation of FSD
Part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
Once upon a time there was an audience for pictures like Old Dracula (1975), one who watched movies from the comfort of their car. A film like this does not mind if you get distracted by spilled popcorn, beer, or your date. In fact, it was all part of the drive-in experience. The seventies were the last hurrah of the genre, but they went out in a blaze of glory. Old Dracula is a prime example. It just so happens that there is to be a Playboy photo session at Old Dracula's (David Niven) castle when we tune in, which
Beautifully shot, painfully overwrought Italian melodramas.
Raffaello Matarazzo (1909 - 1966) was an Italian director who specialized in some of the most melodramatic pictures to ever grace the silver screen. In the post-war period of the late forties and early fifties, Matarazzo enjoyed enormous success with tales of star-crossed lovers and the villains intent on keeping them apart. While these movies resonated with the public, critics hated them. For tastemakers, the neo-realism of Vittoria De Sica and Roberto Rossellini were very much the order of the day. Consequently, Matarazzo's name has been largely written out of serious studies of Italian film. These factors make Matarazzo a
The Great Dictator Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Most Courageous Act of His Remarkable Career
Chaplin's masterful skewering of Hitler remains a remarkable cinematic achievement.
Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) is undoubtedly his most controversial film. It is also one of his greatest. His portrayal of Adolph Hitler as Adenoid Hynkel was scathing. By also playing a look-alike Jewish barber, Chaplin managed to contrast good and evil in a remarkably simple manner. But there is nothing simple about The Great Dictator as a whole. Unprecedented is more like it. This is a truly funny, poignant - and ultimately inspiring film about (of all things) the Nazis. Only Chaplin could have pulled off such an audacious feat. One day in the not too distant future,
French New Wavers trashed it, but Hitchcock was inspired.
Henri-Georges Clouzet's Diabolique (1955) is a classic suspense/horror film. Although Clouzet was maligned as "old guard" by the up and coming leaders of the French New Wave, the movie has definitely stood the test of time. Comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock's work are often cited, and the influences clearly worked both ways. Hitchcock's masterful Psycho (1960) for one was directly inspired by Diabolique. On the surface, the story is fairly routine - if a bit fantastic. Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is the principle of a boys boarding school outside of Paris. He is a villainous character from the outset, terrorizing the
A film definitely worthy of revisiting.
"It's better to be a live dog, than a dead lion." So says Charlie Driggs (Jeff Daniels) as he leaves his Manhattan office for the final time. The line was given to him by the disheveled caretaker of a rundown motel, helping Driggs recuperate from a five-star whisky hangover. The genesis of the statement (which sums up the whole movie) was one of the many happy accidents that occurred during the filming of Jonathan Demme's classic Something Wild (1986). It was an ad-lib by a character whose total screen time added up to about 30 seconds. Something Wild belongs to
A 3D IMAX trip on the final Hubble mission.
After seeing IMAX: Hubble, I am kicking myself for not having ventured to the local theatre to see it in all its glory. If ever there was a use for IMAX, it is the way it was put to work chronicling the last ever visit to the orbiting Hubble telescope. The shots are truly magnificent. Thankfully, a lot of this glory is available to us via DVD now though, with the recent release of IMAX: Hubble. Narrator Leonardo DiCaprio does an outstanding job of explaining the Hubble and its origins in the opening minutes of the documentary. The Hubble was
A pleasure to watch these fourteen early episodes again.
As we all remember, Tom and Jerry were the precursors to the wonderfully subversive Itchy and Scratchy on The Simpsons. The only difference is in what is acceptable now versus what was acceptable then. Although Tom (the cat) was the "bad guy" and Jerry (the mouse) was the "good guy," Jerry always won out in the end. With Itchy and Scratchy, this setup is taken to ridiculous lengths, but always with the same outcome. The little guy wins. Having taken these scenarios for granted since I was a little kid, it was a pleasure to watch the fourteen early episodes
A backstage pass into all things Spinal Tap.
The fact that This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is considered an iconic film today is almost a miracle, given the circumstances in which it was produced. The movie seemed doomed from the start, and only a series of fortunate coincidences allowed it to be made at all. This and all the background one would ever need about the picture comes from the excellent new book Music On Film: This Is Spinal Tap by John Kenneth Muir. The Music On Film series is a new line of books from Limelight Editions - an imprint of the Hal Leonard publishing house.
Andrea Arnold is at the top of her game with this film.
After viewing the Criterion Collection edition of Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank (2009), I cannot imagine a better title for the film. The story of a 15-year-old girl's life in the council flats of Essex is often heartbreaking, yet nothing seems to phase Mia (Katie Jarvis). Living in the fish bowl of her life seems to suit her just fine. The steady stream of rejection she has been subjected to over the years has steeled her towards anything, or so she thinks. We are introduced to Mia, her foul-mouthed younger sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) and their party girl/single mother Joanne (Kierston
Director Hirokazu Kore-eda's sixth film is a modern classic.
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking (2008) has just been issued as part of The Criterion Collection, and is a magnificent piece of work. Kore-eda not only directed the film, but wrote and edited it as well. What he delivered is a beautiful, and often bittersweet study of family - one which rings true no matter what your nationality is. Except for a brief coda which fast-forwards about ten years, Still Walking takes place over the course of a one-day family reunion. The event is held on a hot summer day, commemorating the death of eldest son Junpei Yokoyama twelve
Fifteen classic cartoons, all directed by the legendary Friz Freling.
Feline Fwenzy contains 15 cartoons featuring the famous duo, all directed by the legendary Friz Freling. They date from 1947 to 1961, a period often referred to as the Golden Age Of Animation. The DVD is part of the Looney Tunes Super Stars series, which spotlights classic Warner Bros. animated characters. These two are right up there with Bugs and Daffy, in my book. The DVD kicks off with "Tweety Pie," (1947). This was actually Tweety's fourth appearance in a short, although it was Freling's directorial debut with the famous bird. The character was created by Robert Clampett in