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THE HOT ROCK, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES

Sunday, May 22, 2011

SUPERNATUAL SEASON 5: COME HELL OR HIGH WATER


I’ve been a fan of SUPERNATURAL for some time now. From the get go I was fascinated by the storyline that pitted two young brothers against a raging tide of formidable fantasy creatures of the night. The most amazing thing about the series is how it never stopped and never got stale; how it kept a story going that was hinted at from the first episode and played it out over time.

If you’ve never seen the show then by all means start picking up the series in boxed sets. A basic background for the uninitiated is that the Winchester brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jason Ackles) are monster hunters. When the series started, Sam had abandoned the family business and gone to college only to witness his fiancĂ© die the same death his mother had years before, pinned to the ceiling and engulfed in flames by a yellow eyed demon. Now Sam wants revenge and rejoins with his sibling to take down all monsters and demons they come across.

The boys were trained by their father who has disappeared and are part of a chain of hunters that they encounter every now and then in an episode. They also stay in touch with a man who holds more knowledge than anyone and who was sort of a surrogate father to boot, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver). As the series progressed many things happened, including Dean’s dying and being taken to Hell and Sam’s learning that he held a power that could be fueled by drinking demon blood (which had terrible side effects). As angels and demons got involved the story changed from simple fighting a monster each week to discussions of the Apocalypse. And that’s where season 5 opens.

At the end of season 4, Sam had unwittingly opened the gates of Hell, breaking the seventh seal and setting free Satan himself. Now the brothers were on a quest to stop Satan and kill him. But as an angel, as an angel of great power, could Satan be killed? Worse yet the boys have been informed of something they never knew: Sam is the vessel of Satan while Dean is the vessel of Michael, the Archangel. By vessel we’re talking the human host or body that will hold these opposing forces as they meet on the battlefield to fight their apocalyptic battle.

Both refuse to allow these angels to possess them though and each week we find them searching for an answer that will prevent the apocalypse, deal with the guilt Sam feels for initiating it and find a way to get rid of Satan. Along the way they also must attempt to find God who seems to have disappeared, a search being done for the most part by renegade angel Castiel (Misha Collins) who has helped the boys on their journey.

Episodes this season are fantastic with some of the most thought provoking and the most funny. Yes funny. One episode deals with a prankster they’ve encountered before who places them in various TV series like a CSI MIAMI satire, sitcom and GREY’S ANATOMY satire. Each is done like those series and comes up with laughs.

On a more serious note, the boys find themselves dead and on the road to Heaven. What each of them views as Heaven, or their own version of it, is touching in so many ways. The question of God and why he would leave us to our own devices is brought up here and in other episodes as well. One would think that a movie that involved demon fighting and a ton of dark images would not bode well for those with religious beliefs. But the fact is that through it all the idea of faith runs strong from beginning to end.

Season 5 focuses almost solely on the attempt to find a way to rein in Satan and deny him the use of Sam’s body, to end the Apocalypse and to prevent the four horsemen from releasing their ills against humanity. It’s a journey that holds your interest from start to finish. And it’s a credit to the cast and crew that they can make you believe the story they are telling, to render portrayals that never get stale, to make you feel for these characters and to make you want to know the story of Sam and Dean from start to finish.

THE COMANCHEROS: CLASSIC JOHN WAYNE

I’ve seen tons of movies and have always been a fan of John Wayne. He epitomized the west for an entire generation of moviegoers. But the amazing thing is that with all of the films that he made that I’ve seen there are still a number that I’ve never gotten around to. THE SEARCHERS is one. Until watching this film the other night, THE COMANCHEROS was another.

Wayne stars as a Texas Ranger Jake Cutter who captures a riverboat gambler named Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman) wanted for murder. Regret really didn’t murder anyone but killed a young man in a duel who happened to be the son of a judge. In any event, he’s wanted and Wayne sets out to take him in.

Regret escapes leaving a bump on the Duke’s head and a bit a razzing from fellow Rangers when he returns empty handed. But there’s no time to waste as the Comanche Indians are attacking settlers in the area. The Rangers have just captured a gun runner who was set to sell them rifles and plant Jake undercover to pose in his place.

When he turns up he meets the man who set up the deal, Tully Crow (Lee Marvin). With a scalped look to him, Crow is a hard drinker and a hard man. The two make peace with one another as partners and head out to drink and play cards. Who should be at the card game but Regret? Regret doesn’t sell out Jake but when Jake wins as Tully loses, the partnership comes to a bloody end. The link to the buyer for the guns closed, Jake heads back with Regret once again prisoner.

As they get back home, Jake discovers that the Indians are on the move and attack once again. But his hunch plays out correct when it’s discovered that the Indians are not acting alone. They’re accompanied by a group of white renegades who call themselves the Comancheros. With a new lead, and with a reformed Regret at his side, Jake sets off to find the Comancheros hide out and put an end to the Indian attacks.

This is pure western history as written by Hollywood starring the Duke. No one worried about the authenticity of the story being told, it was a western and guns blazed, people fell off horses and the good guys won. It’s a simple story. But this was one of the movies that showed Wayne heading in a new direction.

At 54 years old when the film was made, Wayne was still a box office draw and a leading man. But who would buy a 54 year old in love with a 21 year old girl? Wayne knew this and changed his ways, offering the lead romantic interest to Whitman who searched for a woman he met at the films opening and who, as fate would have it, is a part of the Comancheros.

This is a western in the classic mold with easily defined good guys and bad guys. It featured plenty of stunts and a handful of Wayne’s constant companions, men who had starred with him in a number of films. If nothing else he was loyal to his friends.

So what makes this film worth adding to your collection now? I mean it’s been out on DVD and included in the JOHN WAYNE FOX WESTERNS box set. The truth is that the movie has just been released on blu-ray. And if nothing else you can see why the format is worth investing in. Colors seem to jump off the screen beginning with the bright red title. A clean crisp image of the western scenery used in these classic films is breathtaking. A combination of big screen and blu-ray makes you feel like you’re seeing this film as many others saw it the first time it came out.

This movie may not be the best Wayne ever made (many will argue which ones they thought best) but it was one that showed him willing to make a change in his roles. And it offered up entertainment for fans of the genre. Truthfully, what more could we expect of the legendary icon of the West?

LOUIS PRIMA IN PERSON: A VOICE YOU’LL KNOW


I know what you’re thinking the minute you hear the title of this new DVD: who is Louis Prima? But for many fans they love the voice of the fun loving singer from way back when. And you’ll be stunned when I tell you that anyone who’s seen THE JUNGLE BOOK knows Louis. He was the voice of King Louie of the apes. Yeah, that was him!

His music and playing can be heard in movies like CASINO, RAGING BULL and ANALYZE THIS. This connects him with a number of movies based in the Italian scene of the fifties. But the fact was that Prima was loved by all.

Prima was noted for his jazz and swing styled playing and singing. At ease with a trumpet or vocally, Prima led his band into fame and fortune and was recognized by many as a talent to be reckoned with. There are a number of tunes he was famous for and while not all are represented here at least a few are.

The disc is made up of both commentary by Prima’s son and by the performances collected for the disc. It’s those performances that make it worth watching and having in your collection. If you’ve never heard Prima then this is a good place to start.

Included are songs where he sings with Keely Smith (who became his fourth wife) and with Gia Maione (his fifth wife). Most recognizable for many will be the songs “Buona Sera” and “Just a Gigolo” which was later a hit for David Lee Roth. But there are more great tunes to be witnessed and enjoyed on this disc.

The greatest thing that the disc offers is a chance to see a legend actually perform his own material. It’s rare that this sort of opportunity exists and when it does it should be taken advantage of. And at a price of just $16, it’s worth the investment for music, jazz and swing fans.

MUAY THAI GIANT: FOREIGN FUNNY


Never let it be said that foreign countries don’t make anything other than action films or deep, depressing dramas. Many have the idea that with the exception of martial arts films those are all they offer. In point of fact there are many great films coming out of other countries that we should open our eyes too. Unfortunately this might not be one of them though this could be one to get kids to do so.

MUAY THAI GIANT is one of the combinations of martial arts flick, comedy and crime story that come out of the oriental film market. Touted as being made by the producers behind THE PROTECTOR, the movie stars muscleman Nathan Jones as a down on his luck tourist in Thailand. Drugged and robbed of his money and passport, he befriends a young girl (a small time thief) when she is set upon by thugs. One would think he would come to her rescue but she’s actually saved by her butt kicking sister, a muay thai fighter. Feeling for Jones they take him home.

The big lug does his best to help around the house. He’s tall and strong so he can do a few things. Their mother wants her daughter not to fight so she’s doing her best to support the family with a beachside food shack. When Jones has a bite of her somtom (an incredibly spicy concoction) he turns a bright shade of red and goes berserk destroying the shack she sells from. Now they need to find a way to make money fast and the only way they can do so is if his new friend fights.

Here again you would think this would lead to Jones being a big fighter but that never ends up being the case. Instead the girl is set up by the promoter and short changed when it comes time to pay up. But her sister has nabbed a special key being used by drug smugglers to open a laser encrypted lock. Now the bad guys go after the trio to get back the key.

Dubbing aside this movie is slow paced at times but that could just be the always popular “lost in translation” style found in some foreign films. The character Jones plays is sympathetic and heroic in his own way, coming to fighting mode once given the secret spicy food somtom. It sort of reminds you of when Curly of the Three Stooges would get a whiff of limburger cheese and go nuts.

The film, though crime scenes involved and a few blood scenes from gunshots, seems more in line with teens than with small children or adults. The problem there comes from teens in this country (U.S.) unwilling to accept anything not set here or in the style they’re used to. Will teens and pre-teens accept these actors and their situations? Perhaps not but they won’t be exposed to anything non-U.S.centric if not given the opportunity.
This film would present that without going towards the more adult fare being offered.

The movie is fun in some parts, action packed with the fighting sequences and touching in others. It’s not the worst movie ever but it’s also not the best. Does it show promise for its star? Not in this country but maybe in more films like these overseas. It does make an interesting look at what other countries are doing though and that’s always worth making a movie worth watching.

SMOKIN’, CLASSIC CIGARETT COMMERCIALS: FOLKS BOUGHT INTO THIS?

I love compilations DVDs of old things like commercials, movie trailers and more. So when I heard this was coming out I was interested to say the least. I grew up in a time when smoking was not just acceptable but was done in every aspect of entertainment seen. TV shows and movies had folks smoking left and right. Forget Joe Camel, most people were induced to smoke watching Ricky Ricardo do so.

I also remembered a number of the old classic cigarette commercials. Come on, who didn’t hum the theme to the Marlboro Man (which was actually the theme to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN)? And we all knew people would walk a mile for a Camel. There were tons of other commercials that are ingrained in the memories of baby boomers from this time. Unfortunately none of them show up here.

Yes the commercials collected here are some of the weaker ones from the time period. That’s not to say it’s not interesting to watch what they do come up with though. Fans of commercials will enjoy seeing how they tried to sway folks into picking up their first pack.

For the most part these commercials show folks smoking in one of two locations: either at home as they relax their time there or while on vacation. Of course everyone lies back in a hammock on the beach and feels compelled to light one up on that sunshine drenched beach. Or once you go camping, don’t you feel the urge to pop out a cigarette?

The disc offers tons of commercials but as I said, not much in the ones that seem to stick in most memories. It did remind me of brands I’d long forgotten. I’d also forgotten about the coupons on the backs of Raleigh cigarettes that could be saved and redeemed for products much like the old green stamps programs.

On the whole this disc is disappointing in that those famous commercials are not included. Neither are many of the ones that used famous folks to promote the product (including the now famous Flintstones smoking!). But for fans of commercials who want to see what they had to offer, you might find this one informative at least.