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Mark Zhuravsky

Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.

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The People Speak Review

Best known as the author of best-seller A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn passed away on January 27th, 2010 at the age of 87. That the activist author participated in the 2009 documentary The People Speak at such an advanced age says much of his dedication and drive. However, The People Speak is not intended to act as a memorial piece for the late Zinn, but a distillation of the book into what is essentially a performance piece. The documentary takes a simple concept and sticks to it: a cast of actors and musicians either read from documents taken from regular people living during critical times in American history or perform songs popular at the time.

Zinn presides over the entire performance, lively and in touch with an appreciative audience and providing narration that strings together a fascinating history, the bare bones account of which we had learned long ago in middle school or earlier. The cast is strong, with some well-respected names in acting making appearances - Josh Brolin, Rosario Dawson, Viggo Mortensen, Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, and Sean Penn give impassioned performances, instilling fresh life into journal entries and political writings while seasoned performers like Eddie Vedder, Randy Newman, Bruce Springsteen, and the ageless Bob Dylan sing specific selections indicative of the times.

Whether you find this impactful or entertaining depends entirely on your political stance or lack thereof. In this day and age of mass information, it is possible to formulate an opinion contrary to what you learned in school, with such a wealth of information and discussion forums available for all to partake in. The People Speak approaches its subject with a clear liberal lean, but it is consistent in an effort to show the history gleaned from everyday people, not one shaped by the upper class.

Early on, Zinn puts forward the suggestion that the founding fathers drafted the Constitution in order to avoid losing power in case of rioting by the native populace. It is not an entirely absurd claim, but if you tend to scoff at a representation of the United States’ history growing out of an empowered government in constant struggle with the hungry masses earning to breathe free, you may well find this documentary a bit revealing.

For film aficionados who do not subscribe to a political affiliation, this is essentially an ensemble piece, a very well-acted one with performances unfortunately lasting no more than a few minutes at most. The cast and musicians approach this like a passion project and their dedication rises above the level of simple workmanship. Viggo Mortensen, whose piercing voice makes for several standout pieces, especially impressed me. It is interesting to watch each actor rise to the challenge of delivering a monologue, valued character actors like Sandra Oh and Don Cheadle standing shoulder to shoulder with legends like Morgan Freeman.

Clocking in at 112 minutes and change, The People Speak may invoke a variety of provocative thoughts and feelings or feel like an endurance contest. It is definitely an unusual take on the historical documentary, with a format better suited to a Def Jam session than a theatrical performance. Archival footage and a variety of photographs and paintings bridge gaps as Zinn’s assured narration guides you along. This is all professionally done and with the actors in tow, a very effective piece of work that will hopefully guide more people toward Zinn’s books, allowing them to make up their own minds when presented with more thorough information. If you’re looking for a place to get started though, The People Speak is well worth a look.

DVD Bonus Features

Although I’m not sure what kind of special features you could package with this documentary that wouldn’t reiterate the same message, the DVD features a 12-minute "Behind the Scenes" look that explains the origin of the project and how the cast got involved. The other extra, titled "Celebrity Interviews", is not quite what you would think. It is more of a promotional message, 3 minutes of cutting between various actors explaining why they got involved. This is an interesting approach but tells us little about the motivations for many of the cast outside of very broad terms.

Feb
23
2010

More Than A Game Review

Everyone has heard of Hoop Dreams, the film that more or less set the standard for sports documentaries. Like that film and countless other documentaries have proven, the key to a good doc is a healthy dose of realism and theatricality, making the mundane take on greater stakes, even for a brief moment. Thus, the director with a cinematic eye has become a valuable tool in the documentary world, capable of making handsome products that only sometimes err on the side of fiction.

More Than A Game must have truly been a passion project for Kristopher Belman, who pulls quadruple duty as director, producer, co-writer, and cinematographer. He certainly does set out to tell a true story but charts it as a series of recurring motifs, flashbacks if you will, intercut with talking head interviews. Despite covering a tired subject, Belman attempts and sometimes succeeds in uncovering new insight and if More Than A Game isn’t always original, it is at least constantly entertaining.

In telling the stories of the once-renowned high school basketball team led by the “Fab Five” – consisting of LeBron James, Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee and Romeo Travis – Belman structures a sports drama that opens on the humble roots of Akron, Ohio. As just another homegrown basketball team, the boys attend St. Vincent-St. Mary high school while striving to make it to the National Championships and beyond.

What separates Belman’s documentary from countless others focusing on disadvantaged youth coming together on the field, rink, or court is the inclusion of LeBron James, the unquestionable NBA superstar and MPV 2008-2009. Given unfettered access to James, Belman wisely avoids focusing on “King James” in order to dive into the past the five men share. Friends from an earlier age, they bonded on the court and outside of it in order to create a team built not only on hard work but an innate understanding of one another as athletes and as close friends.

Under the initially reluctant guidance of Coach Dru Joyce (father of the younger Dru Joyce III), the team improves by no small bounds and Belman captures their highs and lows through energetic editing and immersive research that traces the likely unfamiliar high school journeys that James undertook to attain superstar status. Belman gives adequate screentime to the four lesser known players who played alongside James for years – men who reflect both fondly and bitterly on frayed bonds, the stress and effort that goes into playing a good game, into shouldering the legacy the Fab Four (Romeo Travis only joined the team after they had somewhat established themselves) and keeping their friendship from suffering off the court.

Belman keeps the film moving by utilizing an assortment of game footage while composer Harvey Mason Jr. provides music by turns uplifting and harrowing. In its best moments, More Than A Game is assuredly a sports drama, effectively pulling the viewer into a story both familiar and yet untold. When it stumbles, it does so through the unavoidable lull that sets on when you realize that the team plays game after game, making small steps to the top, a grind that must have worn on the players and that does slow the film to a considerable degree midway. In the end, More Than A Game is a sometimes-moving, often able piece of filmmaking and documentary work that sheds light on a less known part of Lebron James’ life and the lives of the men who long ago shared the spotlight.

DVD Bonus Features
Though the extras are not skimped on but unfortunately prove to be little more than promotional pieces. “More Than A Film,” focuses on the development of the film, similarly humble as a news piece that became much more. “Behind the Music,” obviously covers Harvey Mason Jr.’s score, with the obligatory look at the process and commentary. Finally, “Winning Ways” looks at psychological effects of coaching and features interviews with players, coaches, and sports psychologists. They’re not bad extras, but given their lengths (10 minutes on average for each one), you can’t help but feel they’re tacked on to fill out an already informative feature film.

Feb
11
2010
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From Paris with Love Review

If you don’t know the name Pierre Morel, there’s no reason why you should. The French director’s workmanlike ethic has done wonders for his debut film, 2004’s parkour-heavy action flick District B13 and last year’s Taken, starring Liam Neeson as a former special forces agent hell-bent on getting his daughter back. Hmm, that plot sure sounds familiar – well, moving on. Morel has made his mark by providing high octane, well choreographed action in both films – the paper-thin plots propelling the agile protagonists of B13 as well as the more hard-hitting run-and-gun sleuth of Taken making for puerile but stylish entertainment. The latest in Morel’s oeuvre is From Paris With Love, a gung-ho action thriller in the same vein as Taken, but lacking much of the subtlety of the previous film.

Feb
08
2010
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Adam Review

Adam (Hugh Dancy) is an Asper. No, not a member of an alien species the likes of Kevin Spacey in 2001’s K-Pax but a man struggling with Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger’s is a milder, higher-functioning form of autism that makes it difficult for Adam to read people’s emotions. This often renders him socially stunted and writer/director Max Mayer presents us with the store of Adam’s blossoming in this small personal romantic drama.

Feb
03
2010
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Triangle Review

The DVD cover for Triangle says “Three Masters. One Masterpiece.” Triangle does not in fact live up to the hype its cover hopes to generate, but I understand the desire to make a little-known (to Americans anyway) film’s cover eye-catching. This Hong Kong import did pique my interest with its distinction of bringing together three innovative and influential HK directors: Tsui Hark (Zu Warriors, Once Upon a Time in China), Ringo Lam (City on Fire, which inspired Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, the underrated twin Jackie Chan comedy Twin Dragons, and Chow Yun Fat vehicle Full Contact), Johnnie To (PTU, Election, and Breaking News).

The primary cinematic appeal of Triangle is invested in the collaboration between these three “masters.” Each director takes the reins on one 30-minute section of this 90-minute film. The trio maintains the same editor and cinematography to ensure continuity but bring their own stylistic choices and cinematic flair to their third. The results are rather disappointing, since with a procession of writers pitching in, the plot and character motivation are interchangeable; each director fine-tunes their personalities and throws a twist or two into an already over-crowded plot until the viewer no longer has any interest in the cast’s survival.

Tsui Hark presents most of the exposition in the first third of Triangle, easily the most enjoyable and least convoluted part of the film. He has a subdued, stylishly elegant yet gritty style of relaying the opening developments, which presents us with tense would-be buddies Sam (Simon Yam), Fai (Louis Koo) and Mok (Honglei Sun), who are prepping for a heist when they are presented with an opportunity to steal a priceless ancient treasure. That’s the gist of it anyway, since Hark keeps the plot moving without resorting to too much needless repetition. The three are quickly embroiled in the fallout from stealing a chest containing the treasure, with Sam’s psychotic wife Ling (Kelly Lin) and her lover, a cop named Wen (Lam Ka-Tung) along for the ride.

Ringo Lam takes over once Sam and Ling find themselves in a warehouse with Wen handcuffed to a door nearby. Lam eschews the caper tone honed by Hark and goes the sentimental route. Sam dances with Ling and imagines she was his first wife, May, who died in a tragic accident. Without revealing anymore of the twists that follow, this section is leaden, with slow pacing and a serious lack of logic on the part of some characters. Motivations are seemingly rewritten on the fly and relationships are similarly adjusted as we begin to pick up pace and head into a quiet nighttime village and the last third of the film.

Johnnie To makes fast work of the last thirty minutes, centered on a shoot-out in an open-air café that quickly grows stale, even as it spills out in a field. To is an able action choreographer, evidenced by his recent film Exiled, which features a gorgeously assembled shoot-out between a security team and a group of gangsters in a dense forest. This is clearly a challenge for him, shooting a nighttime scene that presents a large cast coming together in one massive gunfight. Unfortunately, the excitement just isn’t there, since there’s never any development on the part of the characters, so the danger they find themselves in is just as ephemeral as their lives.

Triangle ends on a curious downbeat note but it’s hard to care after 60 minutes of deadly slow and then needlessly fast procession. This is an interesting experiment, with handsome production values and very good cinematography throughout. As that experiment, Triangle is a success in showing that the talents of these three directors can meld into a single product that does work, on some level. But as a film, a standalone feature that has to answer for its story and characters, Triangle is definitely below average. Recommended for hardcore HK cinema fans.

DVD Bonus Features:

A series of trailers for other Magnolia releases, a 6-minute making-of featurette that continues to tout the film as a masterpiece and a fairly insightful but eventually very boring 13 minutes of footage shot behind the scenes round out the few extras.

Sep
24
2009

The Shooter Series, Volume One: Brett Ratner Review

Not long before Michael Bay poured acid down fanboy throats with his double whammy of escapist fertilizer, one name could be heard used with an equal amount of fervor: Brett Ratner. “The rat,” as he was affectionately dubbed by a cavalcade of enraged fanboys, had done a major disservice to the community in the form of X-Men: The Last Stand. Rumor of rushed rewrites and a hectic shooting schedule plagued the film and though Ratner’s entry opened with the biggest box-office take of the trilogy, The Last Stand was critically derided and universally cast out by most fanboys.

Sep
17
2009
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Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: Season One, Vol. 3 - Hello Mummy Review

Looking back on the summer of ’09, a summer of big-scale action blockbusters alternating with star-studded smaller pictures and a few scaled-down gems, it’s easy to forget that tent pole franchises have been around longer than most would care to admit. Scooby-Doo, for one, is still going strong, with a new show and a TV-movie prequel coming out this fall. A bit of research reveals that the series on this DVD, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, ran from 1969 to 1973, consisting of 25 episodes over the course of 2 seasons. Banking on nostalgia, this single volume presents four episodes of the first season, “The Backstage Rage”, “Bedlam in the Big Top”, “A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts”, and “Scooby-Doo and a Mummy, Too.”

Anyone familiar with the series and its many incarnations (including two feature-length films) will be no stranger to the wafer-thin plots each of the episodes has to offer. With the show just starting out, the writers must have stuck to the now-cliché formula with a startling lack of ambition. In case you still need a summary, each episode goes like this: the gang, consisting of Fred (the natural leader), Daphne (fashionable and seemingly a magnet for danger), Velma (the brain of the group), Shaggy (cowardly and lazy) and his almost-but-not-quite anthromorphic Great Dane Scooby–Doo, comes across a mystery. They then travel to a location, meet a possible suspect, gather clues, involve themselves in a reasonable amount of bland physical comedy, and the mystery is solved. Although the mystery in question may be of a mythical monster, it is actually whichever person they might have come in contact with who has motivations for committing a crime, which are then revealed at the end of the episode. The criminal will often utter the ubiquitous catchphrase, “"And I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for you meddling kids!"

The episodes presented here are fairly middle-of-the-road in terms of entertainment quality, with the best of the bunch being “Scooby-Doo and a Mummy, Too.” In this episode, the gang find themselves on a trail of vengeful mummy carrying out an ancient curse. It's short and sweet, a largely guilt-free way to appreciate a series well past its prime. The three other episodes included on the disc are unfortunately bland and wear out their welcome in the predictable opening minutes.

Since you are hopefully now familiar with the formula, it’s best to discuss the technical aspects of the disc. All the episodes are presented in full-screen, which isn’t too bad since most of those of us who grew up on the series or its many reruns on Cartoon Network are familiar with the full-screen treatment. The animation is pretty decent and hasn’t aged too poorly although sequences with a variety of body movements are clearly slow moving and outdated. The chases in particular look laughable, as do the washed out backgrounds. Sound is fine, nothing to write home about but nothing to complain about either. All in all, this volume offers 88 minute of pleasant diversion for fans of the aging show but nothing so much special for newcomers. Quite honestly, fans would be better off buying the full season collection rather than this paltry four episode DVD.

DVD Bonus Features

Allow me a moment to gripe about what constitutes animated entertainment nowadays. The sole special feature, aside from a collection of trailers, on this disc is an episode of Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!, a CW-borne recent spin-off of the Scooby-Doo series. The episode, "High Society Scooby", is not necessarily poor in quality just incredibly generic, bringing little new to the table outside of subpar anime-inspired visuals and a new sense of tech-geekery that lends nothing exciting to the proceedings. Between this and the current line-up on both CN and CW, I can’t help but think back to the good old days of cartoon television, when Animaniacs and Batman: The Animated Series could be caught in animation primetime on a regular basis.

Sep
07
2009

American Son Review

This summer saw the release of one of the best Iraq War-related films ever made and one of the best movies of the summer. Of course, I’m talking about The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s white-knuckle thriller about a bomb disposal unit stationed in Baghdad. The film succeeds not only on the strength of the disarmament sequences but also because it never questions the role of the men at war. It’s almost as if it wants to say, “You’re in the suck…now deal with it.” American Son, an indie feature seeing release on DVD, is in a similar boat but makes its points with considerably less bombast but also a lack of grace. A slow moving film that mistakes subtlety for substance, American Son nevertheless has something to offer discerning viewers.

Unlike most war films, American Son takes place in the 96 hours prior to the deployment of Marine private Mike Holland (Nick Cannon). At 19, Mike faces the uncertainty of his choices when he returns to Bakersfield, California in time for Thanksgiving. On the bus to Bakersfield, he meets Cristina (Melonie Diaz), a Latina to whom Mike takes a liking. The time limit provides respite to the film, allowing it to skip hours as it pleases although the films slender 86-minute runtime still feels too long. As Mike, Cannon (a lightweight but charismatic actor) gives an unusual performance, grinning more often than I could count, almost hiding his face to outrun his character’s emotions. Diaz is appropriately sweet as Cristina, although her relationship with Mike strains credibility as it develops to serious heights within only a few days.

American Son, on the other hand, is leisured in its pacing, keeping an eye on its protagonist with seemingly a passing fancy. Mike reconnects with old friends (a white entourage that seems to hint at something but never makes it clear), trades few words with his stepfather (Tom Sizemore), and flirts and hooks up with Cristina. Respected character actor Chi McBride makes a brief impression as Mike’s estranged father, although he disappears in the background as the Mike-Cristina romance takes center stage.

One could commend the director Neil Abramson and Eric Schmid for avoiding the typical conflicts that plague most wartime films, the fight-or-flee debate that rages within the mind of the would-be warrior. Mike owns up to the fact that he doesn’t exactly know why he signed up, though the film strongly suggested he did so to get away from the stillness and boredom of Bakersfield. His friends are largely white wankstas, perhaps another statement that doesn’t receive so much as a second glance. Mike and the film drift in and out of scenes that ape everyday life but feel empty of substance.

American Son overstays its welcome even as its bravely ambiguous conclusion comes across honest and powerful. Mike’s story doesn’t have much basis for conflict nor does his romance with Cristina feel realistic but rather rushed. A character drama without much character development, the film remains stagnant; but Cannon works hard to make Mike count as more than just a symbol of the hesitant young recruit, faced with certain departure to a combat zone. In the end, the film is not memorable but not immediately forgotten, occupying the limbo of the films that almost made it.

DVD Bonus Features

The DVD extras include an earnest commentary track with director Neil Abramson and producers Danielle Renfrew and Michael Roiff, an 11-minute featurette “On Leave in Bakersfield,” a literal behind-the-scenes look at the production that catches several scenes in rehearsal and makes the comparison between that and the finished scenes. Finally included are two deleted scenes with commentary.

Sep
01
2009

Scrubs: The Complete Eighth Season Review

Like any series, Scrubs has its detractors but there’s no denying the staying power of the show, having ended its 8th season with the final episode premiering on May 6. Hot on the heels of the potentially finished show (discussions are undergoing regarding Season 9, with Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke supposedly signed on for six episodes), this DVD set presents all 18 episodes spread across three discs.

So how does Scrubs hold up this far in the game? As it turns out, the series is showing signs of wear but still managing to pull its weight, remaining consistently smile-inducing without managing to rile up the chuckles and guffaws. To be fair, I have not been the most ardent follower of the show, but I thoroughly enjoyed this season. In terms of acting quality, nothing seems to have fallen off since the last season, the cast still game, delivering fast paced, partly improvised dialogue with considerable skill. Unfortunately, this season continues the practice of draining J.D. (Zach Braff) of any personable qualities, rendering him a constant target of inventive daytime fantasies. It adds a playful tone to the show that does help it persevere through the drier and more clichéd moments but robs both the character and Braff’s performance of having a lasting effect (though the top-notch finale reminds you of how good the show can be).

 

For those unfamiliar with the show, the concept is rather simple: J.D., Elliot (Sarah Chalke), Turk (Donald Faison) and Carla (Judy Reyes) are all employees of Sacred Heart Hospital. Under the watchful and aggravated eyes of Doctors Cox (John C. McGinley) and Kelso (Ken Jenkins), these four navigate the hallowed halls of medicine as they try to sort out their own lives. The concept is simple and most episodes play out with a mixture of fantasy sequences and real life drama that often ends with wrap-up narration by one of the characters, most often J.D.

 

Season eight takes some new storyline routes, most of which spout from the retirement of Dr. Kelso and the short run of guest star Courtney Cox as the falsely friendly, money-grubbing Chief of Medicine. It’s ultimately a glorified cameo that ends abruptly and feels a bit like the writers straining to punch some momentum into the show. Kelso’s retirement leads to him continuing to hang around, seemingly existing on a lifetime’s worth of free muffins, while Dr. Cox toys with becoming the new Chief of Medicine. J.D. and Elliot deal with being full-fledged doctors while Turk revels in becoming the head surgeon and Carla heads a cavalcade of nurses. Also in the mix is a group of interns including Aziz Ansari of recent “Funny People” fame.

 

The episodes never veer too far off course in terms of quality, with “My Last Words,” “My Full Moon” and of course “My Finale” making the most lasting impact. Without saying too much about the goings-on of this season, I will say that it is easy to get into and easier to lay back and enjoy. This is not life-changing television but it's clever, well written and obviously much loved by both the performers and the crew. In the end, isn’t that what makes good television?

Before I move on to special features, one complaint about the video quality on the discs. As I was made aware after doing a bit of research, Season 8 ran in HD widescreen in its entirety, while the discs are presented in full-screen. I did not personally have a problem with this but fans and collectors of the show should be made aware. The audio is crisp and clear, with sound effects and dialogue coming just fine.

 

DVD Bonus Features

Rounding out the show is a healthy mix of features, beginning with "My Bahamas Vacation", a 20-minute featurette providing requisite behind-the-scenes footage on a two part episode that takes the crew out of Sacred Heart. Following that are somw deleted scenes, handily providing both the version shown and the deleted scene as shot. "Alternate Lines" and a blooper reel are next, providing a look at improvised lines and a few flubs here and there. Rounding out the extras are twelve web episodes titled “Scrubs Interns”, working as introductions and easing viewers into the eighth season. Also included are audio commentaries for most episodes, which are certainly far from boring but not for those that don’t want to hear the cast shoot the breeze episode after episode.

 

Aug
30
2009

Pete's Dragon: High-Flying Edition Review

Let’s pretend for a moment that somewhere inside the central office of the Disney Corporation, there is a vault. Out of this vault comes classic, beloved releases that have stood the test of time and will continue to register as childhood treasures. They come digitally remastered, packed with special features and commentaries. Now let’s imagine that next to this vault is a smaller more cumbersome cellar of sorts. It’s dark and damp and the floorboards creak when you step across them; now, browse the isles and remove director Don Chaffey’s pseudo-animated 1977 musical, Pete’s Dragon. I’d never heard of the film prior to having to review it, and now I know why. This is a slow moving, by the numbers, easily forgettable musical comedy, with the titular dragon having none of the staying power of prior and future Disney mascots.

The story of orphaned Pete (Sean Marshall), who is bought by the full-blown hillbilly Gogan family for $50, opens with Pete on the run from the Gogans. On the run with the boy is his pet dragon, the nonsensical and non-threatening Elliot. You would imagine that the film would attempt to create a sense of danger or at least a minor threat, but when the Gogans break into the first musical number of the film, "The Happiest Home in These Hills,” you slowly begin to lose interest. The film moves extremely slowly and the musical sequences, while handsomely structured and well choreographed, just don’t leave much of an impression. The only song that stands out is the Oscar-nominated “Candle on the Water,” if only for how elegantly the piece is staged, with none of the pomp that pervades the majority of the film.

Pete comes across the town of Passamaquoddy, where he is essentially adopted by Nora (Helen Reddy), whose alcoholic father Lampie (Mickey Rooney, the most entertaining performer in the film) runs a lighthouse right outside of town. When the subtly named Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) comes to town hocking false cures, he hears of the dragon and sets his focus on capturing the magical beast. In the meantime, Pete grows closer to his adoptive family when the Gogans make an appearance in town. What follows is the typical climax and denouement familiar to anyone who’s seen enough Disney films.

The cast acquits well, especially Rooney as the constantly drunk and manic Lampie (alcoholism in this film is treated as a necessity to Lampie’s comedic maneuvers). Reddy is more than up to the part of Nora, smiling and strutting through several set pieces. The animation, while clearly outdated at this point, is not unwatchable and doesn’t detract from the film nearly as much as the pacing. Overall, Pete’s Dragon is an easily forgettable feature that would have been much easier to enjoy had the film not been saddled with glacial pacing. Slow, predictable, and un-involving, Pete’s Dragon is a Disney feature you’re not likely to recall.

DVD Bonus Features

There are plenty of special features included in this release, but whether you will be interested in perusing them depends on your interest in the film. The most comprehensive of the bunch is “Brazzle Dazzle Special Effects,” clocking in at 25 minutes and offering a look at the incorporation of animation into live action. This is by far the most thorough offering you get on this, though the rest of the features offer momentary distraction. There’s an art gallery of stills from the film, as well as production photos and concept art; meanwhile “Original Song Concept ‘Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too)” and “Original Demo Recordings” and “Promotional Record” present original and new versions of some of the songs featured in the film. “Where’s Elliot? The Disappearing Dragon Game,” is a kid’s game; the object of which is, you guessed it, finding Elliot. Also included is a storyboard sequence for a scene deleted from the film, the Donald Duck 1946 short “Lighthouse Keeping,” and two brief pieces of the legacy of Disney animators and animation.

Aug
26
2009

Everybody Hates Chris: The Final Season Review

The best thing I can say about the last season of Everybody Hates Chris is it knows when it's running out of steam. Winding down prior to its cancellation, this final season has the cast and crew putting in a decent amount of work to avoid becoming completely by-the-numbers and succeeding some of the time. Still, for every episode that delves into the well-worn tropes of classic TV show plots, the show continues to work up a sense of whimsy and biting humor, not the least of it due to Chris Rock’s lively narration on every episode.

The season is spread across four discs, packaged ergonomically in a regular sized case. The packaging also includes summaries for each episode on the inside cover. As the show makes instantly clear, the major transition that will mark this season is Chris’ (Tyler James Williams) introduction to high school and the awkwardness that will be mined for comedy from there on in. The show’s 1980s setting helps keep the plots, the majority of which are predictable, from getting stale. You can see the production design effort put into the show and that kind of dedication definitely pays off in keeping proceedings interesting visually, at least.

Aug
20
2009
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The Golden Boys Review

When did it become a prerequisite for aging actors to make movies geared toward septua- and octogenarians? The Golden Boys, a labored and irritatingly slow film from writer/director Daniel Adams based on the novel by Joseph C. Lincoln, squanders an impressive cast for the pursuit of a plot that quickly loses what little comedic value it has. The pacing of the film is glacial, nothing is truly at stake, and the drama underwritten and long-winded in spite of how much the film longs to be a nostalgic throwback to the decent man-and-women comedies of yesteryear.

The setting is Cape Cod, circa 1905. Three men, all more-or-less retired sea captains, bicker in their shared home. There’s wise, gentlemanly and commanding Captain Zeb (David Carradine, in one his last roles), rambunctious Captain Jerry (Rip Torn) and the levelheaded but somewhat rebellious Captain Perez (Bruce Dern). Amidst the largely pointless squabbling that centers on injecting as many references to seafaring as the dialogue can handle, the three men reach an epiphany – they’ve grown tired of keeping house and need someone else to do it for them. The solution is garnered so quickly that you can practically see the screenwriter flexing his pen hand – one of them must find a wife who will act as a house cleaner and caretaker for all three. Will these three sea dogs be able to find a willing lady? What do you think?

The film proceeds to move at a snail’s pace and the characters sadly never move past the thinly sketched “old-geezer” stereotype. They argue constantly, trading similar if not the same lines of dialogues, and even the arrival of the lady in question, Martha (Mariel Hemingway) fails to breathe any life into the film. A subplot concerning the borderline religious zealot John Bartlett (the always-reliable Charles Durning) surfaces and fizzles out, a cheap excuse to allow Martha to remain in the house with the three men.

The performances are similarly undercut by the conventionality of the script. Carradine brings a lifetime of solid working class actor charm to Captain Zeb and creates a wise man of few words and commanding actions but a gentleman nonetheless. Veteran character actors Rip Torn and Bruce Dern provide fine support and Mariel Hemingway is very earnest in imbuing her character with some spark of life. Watching the cast interact would have been enough had the film been eager to advance a permanently stagnant plot. Even more disappointing is the fact that the production design, music and general crew work is solid and even enticing, making for some pleasant locale shots and similarly comfortable golden-lit scenery.

In the end, there’s not much to be said for The Golden Boys. This is a film that counts among hundreds of others, pleasant but not necessary, escapist entertainment that doesn’t move or interest and, in the end, fails to be particularly entertaining. Maybe I am the wrong age group for this film, but relegating slow paced films to the elderly is similar to saying my age category should be eating up box office fast food like Transformers 2. I am certainly not having those stomach pangs and The Golden Boys is just not very satisfying, through and through.

DVD Bonus Features

The fairly recent death of David Carradine no doubt influenced the sole featurette on this disc, the 40-minute featurette “From Zen Master to Shipmaster: The Life and Career of David Carradine", a combination of Carradine interviews regarding the film and more conventional behind-the-scenes footage. The only other extras included are the theatrical trailer and a variety of trailers for other Lionsgate releases.

Aug
18
2009

Jim Breuer: Let's Clear The Air Review

There’s a good chance you don’t know who Jim Breuer is. He’s Brian, the perpetually high fellow in Half Baked, but most people probably know Breuer for his recurring SNL character, Goat Boy. His IMDB page also tells me he voiced Randal on the short-lived animated version of “Clerks.” If you are a fan of “that guy” actors, Mr. Breuer is surrounded by that mysterious aura, and this stand-up special is a good way to get acquainted with him.

Clocking in at a breezy 71 minutes, Jim Breuer: Let’s Clear The Air is the kind of comedy special Eddie Murphy might have made, had he been far less vulgar and had his career not gone in a downward trajectory once he had kids. Well, Breuer has his own litter and his family takes front and center in much of the stand-up. But first, a word on the DVD menus, which are almost as good as the stand-up itself.

Aug
05
2009
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The Great Buck Howard Review

If there’s one phrase I would use to describe The Great Buck Howard, it would be “low key.” This is a PG-rated, harmless and rather toothless look at a has-been whose days of fame have long since passed him by. Written and directed by Sean McGinly but driven by an appealing performance from John Malkovich, Buck Howard is watchable but neither particularly engaging nor emotionally effecting.

Malkovich plays Buck Howard, whose glory days (and 61, count it, 61 appearances on Late Night with Johnny Carson) are behind him. Howard is equal parts eccentric and manic, a drama queen with a tendency to go off on the poor unfortunate soul who happens to be his assistant at the time. Enter Troy Gable (Colin Hanks), fresh out of law school (which he quits, walking out in the middle of a class) and with aspirations to find his calling (could it be writing?).

Avoiding the watchful eye of his disapproving father (Tom Hanks), Troy somewhat unwittingly becomes Howard’s road manager. The two troll through a variety of small towns, where Buck performs cheesy but impressive shows. His signature move (and one he has never failed to accomplish) is finding a stack of money (his fee for the night) among the audience after he leaves the stage and they hide it somewhere in the theater. As Troy experiences Buck’s cavalcade of ever-changing moods (which Malkovich handles with relative ease), he grows to appreciate the mentalist (Buck sneers at the word “magician”) and his old-school oil-slick charm and gushing ways. But has Buck exiled himself to the land of no-name venues and small-town fans or does he have something far more impressive up his sleeve?

The Great Buck Howard is a simple story, told in massive amounts of narrations, of Troy's brief career as road manager under the tumultuous Buck Howard and the brief affair he carries on with a feisty publicist (Emily Blunt). Sean McGinly genuinely desires to explore the trappings of small-time fame, the way Buck gets by and how Troy grows to understand himself, if not necessarily the odd mentalist. Therein lies the problem that doesn’t so much derail the film but injects it with a great deal of predictability, making for a significantly less involving character piece.

Troy, as played by Colin Hanks, does not share his father’s leading-man charisma but is not sidelined as a supporting character in the film. This is Troy’s story through and through, despite the proceedings playing out as a Malkovich vehicle. Troy is a bland character and Hanks does play him with a boyishly dignified charm, while Emily Blunt develops an underwritten female role into a decent supporting character with limited screen time. However, it’s Malkovich who is the most interesting to watch, and the disappointment sets in when the inevitability of some kind of moral rears its head and Troy becomes a mouthpiece for whatever message McGinly is trying to get across.

The film becomes increasingly focused on what is possibly Buck’s magnum opus and a slim possibility that the act will revive the man’s career. What happens is fairly surprising and I won’t spoil it here but the film winds down in a hardly unexpected way, leaving very little to look forward to in the last half hour. The production values are fine but the thin script almost fools the viewer into thinking he’s watching a TV movie, if not for the cast. Overall, The Great Buck Howard is a recommendation for fans of any members of the cast but everyone else might be left wishing for some claws on this generally soft-and-cuddly dramedy.

DVD Bonus Features

The DVD offers up a variety of features, contrary to the low-key nature of the film. They include: a standard commentary with director Sean McGinly and Colin Hanks discussing the film; 3 minutes worth of deleted scenes that don’t add much to the film; around 10 minutes of extended scenes culled from Buck’s television appearances; 4 minutes of outtakes; a 10 minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette, a 5 minute HD Net commercial that highlights the film and acts as an ad; and finally, "The Amazing Kreskin", a 6-minute interview with the real-life mentalist under whom McGinly worked and was inspired to write Buck Howard.

Aug
02
2009

The Mighty Boosh: The Complete Season 1 Review

Come with us now on a journey through time and space...

Allow me to join the growing chorus of fans in saying that the Boosh is not for everyone. On the basis of the first episode in this first season set, I was convinced I wouldn’t like the show. It felt scattershot and yet predictable, with an over-the-top fantasy number that just didn’t register. The reviewer’s job is to stick it out though, and I reluctantly continued to watch. Imagine my surprise when I discover what most of the U.K. and a small cult of American fans have been partaking in for about 5 years – witty, irreverent comedy, anchored by intensely watchable performances from a growing and increasingly talented cast.

The brainchild of writers and stars Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, The Mighty Boosh is difficult to shoehorn in a single comedy sub-genre. In the States, it will no doubt be compared to The Flight of the Conchords, an equally theatrical, oft-deadpan, largely inoffensive musical comedy, although the Boosh has been around since the late 90s. It’s a credit to Barratt and Fielding that it still perseveres, rarely belabored with the humor which comes at an impressively consistent rate

Slap-bass enthusiast Howard Moon (Barratt) and Mick Jagger-devotee Vince Noir (Fielding) are zookeepers at the under-funded, practically empty Zooniverse, run by the frequently dimwitted Bob Fossil (Rich Fulcher). This basic premise that opens the show allows Howard and Vince to engage in the rapid-fire banter that grows on you quicker than you would expect. They are joined by a large cast of side characters, many of whom are played by either Barratt or Fielding, displaying an admirable range of accents and an immensely talented make-up team.

There’s a sense of playful, creative freedom that propels the show and makes it so memorable. Howard and Vince’s adventures often change locales mid-episode (the underworld and the arctic make an appearance), and keep things fresh by introducing a variety of inexplicable creatures. The show often ends with a musical number, dipping into electro, rap, jazz, and heavy metal.

The first season of The Mighty Boosh does feature some sub-par episodes (“Killeroo” and “Hitcher” are pretty uneven and tend to drag a bit), but most of what’s on the screen is top-notch comedy. Howard and Vince are easy to like in spite of their neuroses and once you get an idea of the mood of the show, you know what to expect but can still walk away surprised. Barratt and Fielding take a chance in keeping episodes unpredictable and avoiding a traditional plot.

There are running jokes but they are often drawn from the personalities of the characters (Rich Fulcher is particularly good at making an ass of himself). The sets are very artificial but that’s part of the charm and the homemade feel of the show. Despite the complexities of the many costumes, the production does not feel pretentious but very homely, easy to settle into and appreciate. In the end, this season has me looking forward to the next, and isn’t that what good television is all about? The Mighty Boosh comes strongly recommended. Give this one a try.

DVD Bonus Features

The DVD does not skimp on the extras, which are done in character by the cast and most of the crew and include the following: "Inside the Zooniverse" which delves into the challenging process of building the varying sets for the show; "History of the Boosh", a featurette on the variety of performances that led to the television show; "Boosh Music" which helpfully includes all the musical numbers of the show in one place; a blooper reel of outtakes; a brief picture gallery; and commentary by the creators on episodes "Bollo", "Tundra", "Electro" and "Hitcher", also in character and throwing out a wealth of in-jokes.

Jul
25
2009

Super Capers Review

Citizens/potential buyers/renters beware! Do not be fooled by the slickly Photoshopped DVD cover of this nauseating film. Super Capers, brainchild of director/writer Ray Griggs, is an underfunded, overcooked, lame-brained super hero parody that doesn’t manage one genuine laugh. Much like the smug mug of Justin Whalin (he of Dungeons & Dragons film fame), the film is content to prance around mindlessly until you pray for a way out, a rushed ending, anything to put a stop to the unimaginative low-budget horror.

Possibly the only genuinely enjoyable section of the film is its animated intro. Studios take notice - Tom Richmond is a talented illustrator who should be doing better work than this (yes, I had to look him up). The score, by Nathan Lanier, is also quite good, and you’ll be tuning into it a lot when you are unable to stomach the action onscreen. Make no mistake about it; this film is a full-on parody in the style of the acclaimed Superhero Movie (if you get my drift).

Super Capers opens with the clueless (and powerless) Ed Gruberman (Justin Whalin) attempting to subdue a mugger preying on a helpless woman. In short time, the woman turns out to be a superhero, Ed hits the mugger with a rubber two-by-four and lands the man in the office of legal attorney Roger Cheatem (Tom Sizemore? What are you doing here?). On trial for assault, Ed is sentenced by the judge (Michael Rooker) to attend Super Capers, an academy for superheroes in training. Does this remind anyone else of Sky High or is it just me? Where Sky High had the budget to pull off some semi-convincing low-grade stunts, Super Capers drops from the skies like a dead fish, pausing to flop around from time to time.

I wish I could encapsulate the degree of humor on display, but first I must lament the cast Mr. Griggs managed to attain – Tom Sizemore, Michael Rooker, Doug Jones, and even Adam West either play significant roles or make a brief appearance. Now onto the humor – Adam West drives an air-conditioned taxi that looks suspiciously like the old Batmobile and tells Ed he was once known by the moniker of Manbat. Hardy-har-har.

Perhaps I am being too critical with a film that seems to be aimed at children; Griggs says so himself in a commentary that’s mostly him explaining away the budget limitations and marveling at what they accomplished with the money they had. Super Capers comes off as just dull and uninspired, too dimwitted for any crowd but younger kids but all the while filled with completely vapid references to Star Wars, Batman and Superman - essentially a melting pot of various pop-culture touchstones. Griggs brings no bravado whatsoever in tackling these jokes, settling instead for a literal exchange lifted from Return of the Jedi, and then has the characters comment that parts of it were actually from Empire Strikes Back.

If you are wondering whether Super Capers at least delivers action-wise, prepare to be disappointed. Griggs has mastered the infuriating practice of setting up an action scene only to resolve it in the most inane way possible. One notable scene concerns a robbery on a bridge, where the villain and his minotaur muscle (yep) face off against our halfway-there heroes. No punches are thrown, no superpowers used, instead, Ed prays to God, asking for help and is then crowned with the power of God on his side. Typing that just made me cringe a bit. There is a fight scene near the end of the film and if you look carefully enough, you can see two stuntmen flip themselves over on their own. Truly, Super Capers may be oriented toward children but I do not want to insult the age group by confirming it. This is a bad, bad movie; a film so lacking that no lowering of expectation can suffice. Avoid it if you can – heed my warning!

DVD Bonus Features

Unexpectedly, the DVD has a fair share of extras including: a making-of featurette, where the cast and crew throw compliments to the film; a selection of deleted scenes you can check if you want to see what was deemed unnecessary to appear in this film; an audio commentary with director Ray Griggs and Justin Whalin (which is spent modestly congratulating what they’ve accomplished); the tv spots and trailer for Super Capers; and finally, a series of storyboards that reveal actual big-time action scenes that were seemingly never shot.

Jul
22
2009

Don't Touch the White Woman Review

Marco Ferreri’s Don’t Touch The White Woman boasts a unique premise: a satirical and often absurdist historical reenactment of Custer’s famed Battle at Little Big Horn, more famously known as Custer’s Last Stand. The absurdist elements are increasingly accentuated by the fact that all proceedings take place on the streets of 1970s (then modern-day) Paris, with military engagements playing out on a vast construction site. The characters are adorned with historically correct uniforms and sport a variety of beards and sabers, galloping on stallions through Parisian suburbs while onlookers in T-shirts and jeans look on. A plump anthropologist adorned in sweaters bearing the insignia of American colleges lurks throughout, often feasting on a bag of chips. This is Ferreri’s vision of American corruption, the poisonous effects of the American myth and the mistreatment of American Indians. Unfortunately, Don’t Touch The White Woman is labored and slow to develop, mired in repetition and seemingly in love with its own cleverness.

The satire kicks into gear when the effeminate but much-revered George Armstrong Custer (Marcello Mastroianni) rides into town, intent on routing Indian chief Sitting Bull (Alain Cuny) and the various tribes that have congregated around the construction site. What follows is a lengthy and laborious series of conversations playing on the idea of “divine right,” as the buffoonish Custer discusses the “savagery of the Indian” with a variety of historical stand-ins. As a larger than life figure, Custer is flattered at every opportunity even as he attempts feebly to act modest. He lusts after and is frequently seen courting Marie-Hélène de Boismonfrais (Catherine Deneuve), a nurse who is at first more concerned with maintaining personal fidelity than the advances of the general. Custer is also seen clashing with pop-culture icon Buffalo Bill (Michel Piccoli), the latter having succumbed to fame but unafraid to show it. Custer’s blood-thirst eventually draws Sitting Bull into the fray and the aforementioned battle takes place.

As fascinating as the material promises to be, you quickly lose interest as Ferreri (who co-wrote the script with Rafael Azcona) strains to bring some consistently fresh insight to the table. No doubt inspired by the role of the United States in the Vietnam War, the film is hardly immodest enough to provoke an intellectual response. Perhaps time had not been kind to the film, or we as audiences now need to be shocked into action by pseudo-documentaries like Bruno, but Don’t Touch The White Woman often feels so over-the-top that it falls flat, the satire neither effective nor particularly humorous.

The anger on screen may not have been subdued but as dialogue repeats again and again, actors struggle to bring dimension to their characters. Classic satires like Kubrick’s exceptional Dr. Strangelove work with the help of memorable characters (George C. Scott’s fevered performance as General Turgidson reaches the kind of manic pitch that no one in the cast of Don’t Touch The White Woman seems to be able to generate. Ferreri’s cast plays the characters as gentlemanly racists, regarding the Indians as savages who must leave their lands so that they can lay down some railroad tracks. Ferreri wants you to emphasize with the Indians but reveals his hand too early in the game, choreographing exhausting tribal meets where leaders sit in stereotypically stoic poses and say few words. Alain Cuny plays leader Sitting Bull as a quiet man with a weathered face who rarely shows any signs of emotion. Historical accuracy or stereotypical farce? Don’t Touch The White Woman does not seem to know and loses much credibility, as it feels un-researched, seemingly gathering up the facts known in popular culture and throwing them together as it sees fit.

In the end, what rescues the film from turgid boredom is the work of the cast, who show some real effort in extracting laughs from their characters' various ticks. Mastroianni makes for a relatively interesting Custer, a would-be officer and a cardboard-thin gentleman whose allegiance to his country is dimwitted at best. Custer dominates most of the film, and Mastroianni masters walking regally and reclining comfortably. Catherine Deneuve’s role is emaciated but the famed actress still manages to bring her grace and beauty as well as faint on cue. The rest of the cast acquits as well as can be expected, with Michel Piccoli standing out in bringing the proper panache to the cowardly but recognition-hungry Buffalo Bill. Overall however, Don’t Touch The White Woman is a recommendation for strong enthusiasts of absurdist work who are prepared to accept an uneven picture with some brief moments of humor.

DVD Bonus Features

A three minute featurette titled “Excerpt from the Documentary: 'Marco Ferreri: The Director Who Came From the Future'” is the only extra on the disc.

Jul
16
2009

The Pink Panther 2 Review

I didn’t cringe once during Pink Panther 2. Of course, I was lying down on the couch at the time so it’s possible my body wasn't able to contort correctly in response to the pitiful display of humor exhibited in this film. In this second outing, Steve Martin continues to careen downwards as the reincarnation of Peter Sellers's celebrated creation. Although the most basic elements of the previous film are referenced they are not required viewing to understand or rather suffer through the sequel. This is a film that assembles a choice ensemble of reliable actors and then squanders them in painfully unfunny situations. They are led by Martin as the hellish ringleader, so focused on his own physical comedy (which he does admittedly well) that he neglects the rest of the film, which ultimately falls victim to a meager plot and an acute lack of jokes. Every role in this film is a thankless one, most of all your own, as the unfortunate viewer.

I’ll attempt to summarize the plot briefly without any spoilers so as to contain the one or two twists which the film meekly pushes onto center stage near its end. Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) is back on the streets after recovering the priceless Pink Panther diamond from someone in the first film. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese, almost in tears at one point) orders Clouseau to parking ticket duty; but when a variety of priceless international treasures are stolen by the infamous "Il Tornado", Clouseau is drafted into an international detective Dream Team, which includes Randall Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), Vicenzo (Andy Garcia, hamming it up with an overdone Italian accent), and Kenji Mazuto (Yuki Matsuzaki of The Last Samurai and Letters from Iwo Jima). With the help of trusty Gilbert Ponton (Jean Reno, inexplicably reprising his straight man role from the first film) and Clouseau’s assistant/romantic interest Nicole (Emily Mortimer, lovely as ever), Clouseau springs into action.

In the meantime, Jeremy Irons and Lily Tomlin make cameo appearances and Tomlin’s becomes an excruciating running joke. The beautiful Aishwarya Rai, here as a writer with a wealth of knowledge of "Il Tornado", joins the team as they travel from France to Rome and back. Director Harald Zwart knows his way around a scene and brings a certain candied decadence to his picturesque scenes. Paris is especially shot with postcard-like accuracy while Rome abounds with rural roads and show-stopping mansions. Unfortunately, whatever beauty the film has to offer visually takes a back seat to a variety of thinly connected slapstick gags featuring Clouseau.

As one of the three screenwriters on the film, Steve Martin keeps the story grounded in clichés, bare-boned and inoffensive. The film’s greatest insults may be Clouseau referring to Kenji as “my little yellow friend,” which is followed by a scene where Tomlin, carrying the PC torch of the film, chides Martin. If the racist remark is played for shock value or laughs, the explanation following it nullifies the point. Clouseau doesn’t come off as a French policeman but rather a boorish American pulling off a convincingly over-the-top French accent. The film bends backwards to maintain Martin as a main character, even as the rest of the detective team proves to have more personality, underwritten as they are. Pink Panther 2 is devoid of substance as a film, succeeding neither as a mystery nor a slapstick farce.

The Blu-ray transfer is nice to look at it even if it’s nothing special, picture and sound being completely serviceable but not outstanding.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Included is a gag reel of around 3 and a half minutes and two featurettes, "Drama is Easy, Comedy is Dangerous" and "A Dream Team Like No Other", documenting the slapstick stunts and working with the underused cast. What makes the Blu-ray edition somewhat valuable is the inclusion of a third disc featuring 27 of the original Pink Panther cartoons, any individual one of them featuring more wit on display than both Panther films combined.

Jun
30
2009

Legend of the Bog Review

There is a special area occupied by movies neither truly bad nor anywhere near good, a film Purgatory if you will. These films are not misunderstood nor well made but just strangely appealing and leave you stumped when someone asks the simple question “How was it?” Legend of the Bog is one of these films, a film that might be fun in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way if it didn’t take itself so seriously while undercutting its own intentions with some genuinely mind-boggling music, listless acting and a barebones plot built around a relatively novel horror idea.

As you can see from the cover of the DVD release, Vinnie Jones, he of Bullet-Tooth Tony fame (Snatch, for the uninitiated), is front and center. Except he isn’t – this is an ensemble horror piece through and through, with Jones playing the moronically named Mr. Hunter, a (wait for it) hunter with a serious craving for recently revived bog bodies, preserved and prized archaeological finds in any place that has bogs. The place in question is somewhere in Ireland, clearly near Dublin and has its fair share of deep, murky and generally unattractive bogs.

As we are reminded time and time again, bog bodies were often the victims of ritualistic ceremonies, cast down to that feared area of neither heaven nor hell: the bog. That seems to be the only bit of research writer/director Brendan Foley felt he needed to do to justify pretty much every absurdity that the film indulges in. The body, played by Snatch alumnus Adam Fogerty, magically returns to life after being dumped into a ditch by construction workers who find it on a site, and proceeds to go on a killing spree. The trick is the bog body needs water to survive, although judging by how Fogerty plays the role, he is more animal than man, feral and idiotic despite being seen engaging in halfway decent sword fighting in a cut that hearkens back to the Bronze Age. Is there ever a possibility that a man reincarnated by some odd means from a past long ago would behave in a non-homicidal manner? Not in this film. But then again, it wouldn’t be all that interesting to watch.

The bog body soon crosses paths with a collection of American tourist cousins, a professor who specializes in bog bodies (what a coincidence), a lecturer who acts as a chauffeur to the prof, an incredibly shrill and annoying real estate saleswoman, her wise-cracking cabby and Mr. Jones himself. There’s some nonsense about them all being connected by the sins they committed that never really goes anywhere but drags out the film's running time as each character has a dramatic moment when he or she tells their story and we flash back to a poorly mounted recreation of the incident in question.

Meanwhile, a variety of poor choices and a lack of brain cell activity put our characters in harm's way as the bog body continues to rampage across the open woods. One outlandish scene has the professor reaching out toward the bog body to shake his hand, when Vinnie Jones fires on it and causes the already violent undead man to rip the head off of one of their companions. Other eye-opening circumstances include the employ of a rejuvenating door in Jones’ cabin, a laughable discharge of one of the characters by his own car and the most unlikely killing twist I recall in a film (watch for Jones pouring gasoline somewhere).

I would be remiss not to mention the hilariously out of place score, completely nullifying any tension by varying between soulful acoustic guitar and (this is what gets me) soaring bagpipes. Bagpipes in a horror movie could go one of two ways and I haven’t seen a horror film get the intricate melody of this instrument to meld effectively with any thriller elements. Whatever the director’s intentions, the score is just one of the reasons to avoid Legend of the Bog. But then again, just looking at the DVD cover may cause most discerning renters (or Netflixers at this point in time) to turn away.

On a technical note, the DVD looks and sounds like a poorly made low-budget horror film so expect a fair amount of grain and passable sound. At least if you turn it up you'll be able to hear those glorious bagpipes blare.

DVD Bonus Features

The requisite collection of Lionsgate trailers as well the film own preview round out the extras.

Jun
24
2009

Nature's Most Amazing Events Review

Most Blu-ray enthusiasts are familiar with the acclaimed BBC series Planet Earth, a massive documentary on the wealth of wildlife making a go of it on our planet, shot in HD and narrated by the legendary Sir David Attenborough. Planet Earth has acted as something of a benchmark for documentary visuals on the Blu-ray format, so it's no surprise that Nature’s Most Amazing Events is similarly stellar in the visual department. Similarly narrated by Attenborough, this series is a microcosmic look at the macrocosms of planet Earth. It still manages to provide a wide canvas but gets in closer and deals with six unique and astounding natural phenomena in the animal kingdom. Tiresome (but gorgeous) at worst and absolutely hypnotic at best, Nature’s Most Amazing Events acts almost like an expansion pack for Planet Earth, fleshing out the smaller detail while maintaining the latter’s epic scope.

Split up between two Blu-ray discs, Nature’s Most Amazing Events is made up of six episodes of approximately one hour each. The first episode, "The Great Melt", deals with the plight of polar bears in conjunction with the melting of icebergs in the Arctic. "The Great Salmon Run" takes a closer look at the return of the salmon to the west coast mountain ranges of North America, where they must brave a variety of dangers, not least of all grizzly bears (who in turn have their own problems, like hungry wolves). "The Great Migration" takes us to the arid Serengeti plains, where multitudes of wildebeests make a trip to more fertile lands, leaving a pride of lions without a food source. The attention to detail and the gorgeous desert and plains visuals make this one my favorite of the six. "The Great Tide" substitutes North America for Africa and salmon for sardines. "The Great Flood" gives us an inside look at the dangers of the Kalahari Desert, which can be by turns arid or plentiful. The final episode, "The Great Feast", documents a feeding frenzy on the coast of Alaska.

Each episode is efficiently edited and narrated, but you couldn’t expect any less of BBC Earth, who have made a reputation for themselves on their nature documentaries. What is potentially surprising is how gripping all this is. For example, in "The Great Migration" the filmmakers develop an episodic approach to covering the struggles of a pride of lions and manage to identify them by distinctive visual characteristics. The plight of one lioness cub might have you glued to the screen. The remaining episodes continue the trend but none struck me as intimate as the survival efforts of the Serengeti pride. The music is also top-notch; orchestra pieces highlight both moments of action and the quieter moments of complete beauty, such as a volcano spewing out ash 50,000 feet into the air, black plumes rising out the top of it in gorgeous puffs.

Being that this is a Blu-ray collection, Nature’s Most Amazing Events is everything you might hope for visually, perhaps not perfect but close enough. The sight of flies nesting in a lion’s matted fur or the astounding underwater filming gives testimony to just how impressive this format can be. It helps that the filmmakers shot the series in HD, a trend that returns crisp and clear images, not necessarily filmic in quality but certainly just as invigorating. Audio, on the other hand, is excellent but pales in comparison to the quality of video. If you are expecting a spectacular mix, you may be disappointed to find a good one, but not necessarily the blockbusting work that takes advantage of channels when you would want it to. But then again, with much of each episode a quiet reflection as we secretly glimpse the rituals of the animal kingdom this is a minor complaint. Nature’s Most Amazing Events is satisfying and more than watchable, whether you're a nature documentary fan or not.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

With no extras to speak of outside of a welcome series of short "making of" diaries at the end of each episode, the series doesn't necessarily suffer from its lack of supplemental materials. The diaries are informative and manage to encapsulate the filmmaker’s journey in their relatively short running time. The one downside of the series is that it comes packaged in a cardboard sleeve, which is from time to time flimsy, so make you secure the disks and keep it pointed up so as not to risk them coming dislodged.

Jun
19
2009


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