COMING SOON...

COMING SOON...

BLACK VENUS, IT, THE NAVIGATOR: A MEDIEVAL ODYSSEY, TIDELAND, THE HOT ROCK, DIAMONDS OF KILAMANDJARO, GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS, THE HIRED HAND, DAY OF THE JACKAL, and DUCKMAN THE COMPLETE SERIES

Friday, July 15, 2011

INSIDIOUS: GOOD OLD FASHION SCARES

As most readers by now realize I love horror movies. The problem is that over the past few years there have been so few that I’ve enjoyed. It seems like these days almost all horror films are remakes or sequels. If they are original they turn out to be more along the lines of horror porn than horror film. Then on occasion you find someone who loves horror movies as well and makes them for that audience. Director James Wan is one of those directors.

Wan’s career took off with the first SAW film. While many might think this was the first in the horror porn genre (so named because films in that category dwell more on gory realistic effects than anything else like a story) it actually had more story to it than many movies being released at the time. He then made DEAD SILENCE, a creepy film that featured a ventriloquist dummy in the most terrifying manner. And now Wan has turned lose INSIDIOUS.

The film opens with a family moving into a new house. Mom Renai (Rose Byrne) writes music in her spare time while juggling taking care of three kids. Father Josh (Patrick Wilson) is a teacher. Both are trying to turn this new home into something special. Instead they find something terrifying.

Shortly after moving in their oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is lured to the attic by a mysterious force and then falls from a ladder. The next morning Dalton is in a comatose state and the doctors are clueless as to why. Three months later there is no change in Dalton but there is in the house. Something evil lurks there, creeping along in the shadows and seen only by Renai. The visitations increase until she convinces Josh that they need to move, which they do.

At their new house things seem brighter and more modern. But the visitations continue, increasing in strength and length. It is at this time that Josh’ mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) suggests that a friend of hers come over. Elise (Lin Shaye) is a psychic of sorts who sends her crew in first to check the place out and see if it’s legit or not. Sort of a bumbling duo that seems like a spoof of the numerous ghost hunting shows these days, the two find evidence and call Elise in.

After a quick examination of the house, Elise confirms that they do indeed have a problem. But she also points out that it isn’t the house or the previous house that are haunted. It’s their son, Dalton. Now before someone accuses me of dropping a spoiler on them know that this was seen in the film’s trailer. 

What happens next, the visions that are seen and the attempt to rescue Dalton make for a visually frightening film. Add to it a twist that most won’t see coming (I didn’t) and you have a story on hand that should offer a few nightmares to some and a reason to check the windows at night to others.

Wan occasionally uses the old bag of tricks with jump scenes where something pops up out of nowhere. Once in a while the music suddenly blares to let the audience know to pop up out of their seats. But he doesn’t rely solely on these tricks to make us scared. He leads us along with an actual story that draws us in, makes us care and eventually has us rooting for this family. Telling a story that scares us, using visuals and not just jump scenes takes an accomplished director and I see that in Wan.

The acting turned in here is great. It wasn’t until after I sat for a while when the movie was over that I realized we had so little background info on some of these characters. But it didn’t matter. They were all played so well that they became believable and you worry more about them than whether or not the actor is doing a good job.

Visually this movie is as clean as you can get. Starting with shots in an older home with an attic to a newer more suburban home, both offer some scary shots and scenes that will stick with you. Most horror films shot at night or in the dark tend to go overboard and you can’t see what you’re supposed to be looking at. Not so with this film, one that hides what needs hidden and yet lets you feel like you’re there.

As I said, I love horror films. I actually can’t recall the last time one made me lose sleep though and this one probably won’t do that as well. But it did give me a few scares. And it is one I’ll gladly watch again. I never once found myself looking at the clock wondering when it would end. Instead I enjoyed it for the thrill it provided and my guess is you will as well.

FOREIGNER LIVE: CLASSIC BAND ROCKS OUT



A sample of what you'll get on this DVD


In 1977 a group of musicians came together to form the band Foreigner. Several had been in some major bands in the past including Spooky Tooth and King Crimson, making them one of the first of many “super bands” as groups with members in other bands were called. Their initial outing contained several hits and made them a staple on rock radio for years. They’ve changed line ups over the years but Mick Jones has remained a constant and he still rocks out over 30 years later.

FOREIDNER LIVE features the most current line up for the band in 2008 when this was made. Released before, the DVD is now available in blu-ray format, increasing not just the great picture quality but the sound as well.  When it comes to watching AND listening to this great band perform in 5.1 DTS you’ll know that investing in the surround system is well worth doing.

The line up of the band featured here includes Jones, Tom Gimbel who toured with Aerosmith, Jeff Pilson who was one of the original members of Dokken, Michael Bluestein who played with Boz Skaggs and Stevie Nicks, Jason Bonham son of Led Zepplin drummer John Bonham and new lead singer Kelly Hansen. All of them are insanely talented individuals but it is Hansen who pulls off the most amazing thing for any member in the group. That’s because Hansen, as lead singer, sounds nearly exactly like original singer Lou Gramm. Face it, the vocals are what make most bands recognizable. To find someone who not only can perform as if he’s been there all along but to make the songs sound like they did originally is amazing.

The DVD was part of the SoundStage series that filmed in Chicago and used a standard backdrop with screens displaying the name of the featured guest. Add to that the lights the band uses and the fact that they don’t rely on the props but more on their musical ability and you have a dynamite DVD. What amazed me most was that while I thought I was a so so fan of the group, I found that there were more songs I liked by them than I realized. It made me want to dig out the greatest hits CD to listen to while driving!

The set list for the DVD is as follows, featuring all the great hits of the band and one new original song:

  1. Night Life
  2. Head Games
  3. Gold As Ice
  4. Waiting for a Girl Like You
  5. Too Late
  6. Say You Will
  7. Long, Long Way From Home
  8. Double Vision
  9. Blue Morning, Blue Day
  10. Dirty White Boy
  11. Starrider
  12. Feels Like the First Time
  13. Urgent
  14. Juke Box Hero
  15. I Want to Know What Love Is
  16. Hot Blooded

Two songs have always been special to me among the hits by Foreigner. The first was “Juke Box Hero”, a song that captured the dream of every young man who ever had the desire to be a rock star, and face it we all did at one time or another. The story of a young man who can’t see the show but listens outside and does everything he can to make it to the top is storytelling at its best from someone inside the world being sung about.

The second was “I Want to Know What Love Is”. Why? Because the day my son was born that was the number one single in the U.S. I even purchased a 45 of the song (remember those?) and enclosed it in the baby book we made for him. It remains there to this day, never played.

Fans of rock music will find this to be a completely entertaining DVD to add to their collection. Those who thought they weren’t Foreigner fans will discover that they actually liked more songs than they remembered. And for those who haven’t heard them at all, sit back and enjoy one of the great rock bands of all time.

RED RIDING HOOD: ROMANCES WITH WOLVES

I didn’t know what to expect from this film. I’d read so many bad reviews before seeing it that I knew it couldn’t live up to the bad press. I knew that it was directed by Catherine Hardwicke who made the first TWILIGHT movie, a film my wife loves and I find okay. This would be her first film since and her chance to show that her contributions were part of what made that film such a hit. Unfortunately I think it was more of a hit due to the popularity of the books and the hormones of young girls and older women who long for romance that made the film popular.

The film takes place in a small medieval village in Europe. Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is the second daughter of woodcutter Cesaire (Billy Burke) and his wife Suzette (Virginia Madsen). Even though she is the second child, she has been betrothed to Henry (Max Irons), the son of the village blacksmith. Unfortunately for her she’s in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), an orphaned young man she’s known since childhood who is a woodcutter like her father. But her mother wants her to marry up so Henry it is.

Problems begin when Valerie’s sister is killed by a werewolf. The town is in an uproar and sets out to take matters into their own hands. They’ve fed the wolf for years with the best of their flocks and now the truce has been broken. While Father Auguste (Lukas Haas) sends word to the church to send help, the rest of the men head to the caves.

Henry’s father is killed by the werewolf but they still find their prey. Taking home the head of the wolf, they plan a big party to celebrate. But beforehand help arrives in the form of Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a famous werewolf hunter whose own wife was killed by one of the beasts. Father Solomon advises them to refrain from the celebration since he claims the head on a stick is that of a wolf and not the werewolf. Of course they ignore him and sure as the full moon rises, the werewolf strikes.

Warned that a bite from the werewolf during the blood moon will result in someone becoming a werewolf themselves, when one of Solomon’s men is bitten Solomon must kill him in front of his brother. Is it just me or is this pretty obvious set up for something to come down the line?

The hunt for the werewolf continues through the film and the list of suspects range from both of the young men Valerie is in love with to quite possibly her grandmother (Julie Christie). When all is finally revealed it is somewhat of a surprise but not a great revelation based on clues we saw earlier. Instead it’s just tah dah, here is who the werewolf is and why and why the werewolf has done what it has done.

The film looks pretty, I’ll give it that, but there are just a few things that feel wrong about it. The first thing I noticed is that the costumes seemed more in line with an Uwe Boll film than a realistic depiction. Everyone seemed to be wearing new clean clothes. Kind of odd for a small village. Unless the village is named Fruit de Loom. The whole set up of the romance reeked of the TWILIGHT experience with two young men in love with the same woman and vying for her hand. When you toss in the term werewolf and it feels even more like that film.

As with another film I wrote about this week, THE LINCOLN LAWYER, this film isn’t quite terrible. It is a pleasant diversion from everyday life but it isn’t a great movie and won’t be one that I feel most people will want to watch again and again. It’s just light entertainment that some will enjoy and others will tolerate. Horror fans will just be disappointed. But if you’re looking for something to pass the time, this one isn’t all that bad.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER: STEREOTYPICAL LAWYER

Have you ever watched a movie thinking before hand it would be a good movie only to discover that it was just so so once it finished? A movie that just leaves you feeling a bit bland, as if had you not watched it you wouldn’t notice it but that you thought was entertaining enough anyway? Such is the case with THE LINCOLN LAWYER.

Based on the best seller by Michael Connelly it tells the tale of slick lawyer Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a stereotypical lawyer who will do most anything to get his client off be he guilty or not. Mick is also likely to take his client for as much as he can get while the getting is good. Not the most loveable character you’ll find in a movie.
Things get odd when Mick takes on a case for bail bondsmen/friend named Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo). He has a client in need of an attorney, a young and wealthy guy named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe) accused of attempting to rape and beat a young woman. Roulet claims innocence from the start and Mick is willing to take him at his word. Refusing money from his mother to differentiate the client from the witness base, Mick sets out to discover all he can about the case and all involved.
Using his best friend and investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy), he sets out building an alibi for his client. But when he has Frank look into something different, Frank ends up dead and the most likely suspect in Mick’s eye is Roulet. The problem is being his attorney Roulet is protected by the lawyer/client privilege. And when ties to a case that didn’t set well with Mick years ago start to form, he begins to wonder just who this young man really is.
Along the way we meet an assortment of characters to round out the film. Marisa Tomei stars as Maggie McPherson, Mick’s ex-wife who works in the D.A.’s office. There are several policemen who don’t care for Mick’s way of doing things, especially helping criminals evade justice headed by Bryan Cranston. And then there’s Earl (Laurence Mason), Mick’s chauffer, the man who drives the Lincoln town car that connects to the movie’s title. Mick doesn’t use an office you see, he spends most of his time in his car.
The mystery involved doesn’t offer an incredibly difficult plot to follow nor puzzle to solve. Who did what to whom becomes pretty evident early on. The best part of the film deals with Mick’s trying to find a way to not break the law by turning in his client and at the same time finding a way to get him convicted of the crime.
The performances here are for the most part pretty standard. There is no break out performance to be seen but everyone does a fine job. The cinematography is well done with a few hand held shots that aren’t so obnoxious as to get in the way. The direction feels more by the book than anything. As I said, this movie offers a decent mystery but for the most part feels sort of bland. Still, when it comes to a rental its better than a number of movies out there and you just might enjoy it.

*61 : WHEN BASEBALL WAS A GAME

There’ve been many movies made about baseball, some of them great, some of them bad. But the one thing that makes the great ones worth watching are the ones that capture the feel of the game, the essence of the ball park and the love that fans have for their heroes. Comedian Billy Crystal turns director for the film *61, a tribute to the game he loved as a child and continues to love, especially the New York Yankees. Not only that, he tells the story of two men swept up in history whether they wanted to be or not: Mickey Mantle and Roger Marris.

The story opens with both men playing for the Yankees and the press wind up about whether or not Mickey will break the record set by Babe Ruth for home runs in one season. The controversy revolves around if it will count or not since the season is now longer than when the Babe played. Toss in a baseball commissioner who was a friend of Ruth’s who actually wants the record to never be broken and it all gets a bit hinky.

The movie revolves around the two teammates and begins in a way that made me think here we go again. It depicts Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) as a womanizer and near alcoholic (which he was) and kind of dirties the shine for the hero many came to love in a world without the constant paparazzi. But it doesn’t dwell on these facts, merely points them out and then moves forward.

At the same time Mantle is being touted by the press to break the record, new teammate Roger Marris (Barry Pepper) is doing well for himself. He needs a little polish but after being brought together with Mantle by the coach, both men seem to do better. So much so that the chance of the record being broken grows from not just one man breaking the record but two.

The story shows a developing friendship between these two men that gets battered at times by a press that wants to cause controversy when there is none. And Marris’ refusal to play the game and not speak to the press that much just fuels their desire to take him down a notch. The thing is he’s really the shy soft spoken guy he appears to be but they don’t see that in him. And when they twist his words around to make it seem he doesn’t appreciate New Yorkers his troubles only increase. Not only does he have the weight of the world on his shoulders as he tries to break the record, now he has an entire town less than thrilled with him. And all he wants is to do the best he can for his team.

The film moves in a smooth progression of the year both men were up to beat that record, showing them first as fellow teammates and eventually the best of friends. It shows them growing not just with the team but with each other. And it shows how the stress of all they were involved in took its toll on them as well.

But the thing that makes this movie work best is the love that was put into it. You can feel it. While warts and all are on display, the heart of the game is seen here as well. In a world where headlines talk about steroid use and all the sex scandals the press can dig up, it’s nice to see a film that talks about a time when it was the game that was important. Not only that the film captures the innocence of the era from a fans perspective as well. You can tell that Crystal was captivated by his heroes and the whole world of baseball. As I watched this movie I realized that it took me back to the one major league game I went to, all the sights and sounds. I remembered buying the pennant that I had, taking home the miniature bat they handed out as a promotion, the smell of peanuts and popcorn as well as the guys walking down the aisles hawking these items, the hot dog with stadium only brown mustard (or so I thought at the time), the sound of the crack of the bat when it hit the ball, the deep green of the field...all of these memories came back while I watched. And all from one single pro game. Crystal catches all those feelings and emotions and bottles them up to pour out on the screen here.

The story of that fateful year when two men had the chance to beat the home run record makes for an entertaining and thrilling film. If you don’t know the outcome then you’ll sit waiting to see if they make it. If you do know, you’ll enjoy taking that walk down memory lane to the great days of baseball when it was more about the game and less about the perks and salaries of the stars.

The new edition blu-ray looks fantastic. The colors and images are sharper, cleaner and brighter than ever. Included in the special items is a look at the making of the film which includes turning a stadium no where near New York into the house the Babe built. Even some of the players still alive when this was made who Crystal invited to the set were stunned how much it seemed like home. Fans of baseball deserve see this film, maybe even own it. And with this blu-ray edition, they’ll get the best copy they can.

B.B.KING LIVE: A CHANCE TO WITNESS A LIVING LEGEND OF THE BLUES




B.B.King is one of the most well known blues players to ever live. He’s an artist who took the blues and made them famous, perhaps more so than any other blues performer. This doesn’t mean he is the greatest that ever lived and fans of the blues would tell you so. But he sits high in the ranks of the best. King has made the blues accessible for everyone and for that deserves high praise.

B.B.KING LIVE features King playing on the show SoundStage set in Chicago. The set features the usual SoundStage backdrop with the performers name in red flowing lights and little else. The music is the thing here, not the stage set up. Accompanied by his band, King sits in a chair center stage and plays his guitar, the famous Lucille, like few others ever have or ever will.

The thing about King’s playing is that when first listened to it sounds so simple. These aren’t the fast maneuvering finger romps that have made stars out of people like Eddie Van Halen, these are meticulously played notes that are stretched and strained to offer up an emotional feeling that is known simply as the blues. And King makes each note one that draws up feelings know well to those who have suffered pain.

On occasion in this special King features a guest who he teases and coaxes performances out of as well. For me the biggest surprise was how well actor Terrence Howard sang. I’m not saying I didn’t expect him to be good, just that I’ve never seen anything that would have led me to believe he was this good. The disc also features a performance by singer Solange who King flirts with non-stop as she sings his only major hit song, “The Thrill Is Gone”. Lastly, King brings out guitarist Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi fame to accompany him on several tunes.

The songs aren’t long by any means, but each one is a blues great that King performs better than near anyone. The line up includes the following:

  1. Everyday I Have the Blues
  2. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
  3. How Many More Years
  4. Downhearted
  5. I Need You So
  6. I Got Some Help I Don’t Need
  7. The Thrill Is Gone
  8. Nobody Loves Me But My Mother
  9. Let the Good Times Roll
  10. The Thrill Is Gone (performed this time by King)
  11. When the Saints Go Marching In
  12. Key to the Highway

Kind fans will want to make it a point to add this new blu-ray edition to their collection featuring DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Fans of the blues will want to have this on hand as well. And if you’ve never experienced the blues by a performer like King, then by all means you need to check this one out immediately.

MEGADEATH-THAT ONE NIGHT : THRASH METAL EXPERIENCE

Fans of heavy metal music are die hard fans. Fans of thrash metal music go beyond that. And fans of thrash metal band Megadeath are perhaps some of the most dedicated fans in the world. Those that live in Buenos Aires are by far some of the most dedicated.

If you’re not aware of the world of thrash metal lets just say it’s perhaps the fastest loudest rock music you can find. Where one note might play in a regular rock band, 10 will flash by in thrash metal. The band was founded by Dave Mustaine after his removal from the band Metallica, another big name thrash metal band. Beginning with a cult type following, the band soon became one of the biggest in the world. It was in October of 2005 that this film was shot and for fans remains a treasured item.

One thing you’ll note in watching this DVD is that Megadeath is not interested in the usual enormous stage that many bands feature. There are no flashpots exploding every 2 songs, no huge backdrop featuring film footage of everything but the concert and no smoke machines pumping out a haze over the crowd. Instead what you see is a band playing like no other, doing songs that the fans in front of the stage know by heart, word for word. And that’s what these fans want.

You’ll also get to see a crowd that loves the band they’re there to see. This throng of individuals is nuts about the band and sing with each song. At times they flow like a river to the songs being played. And on a number of the songs they pump their fists in unison like one giant arm raised up high. These are truly fans.

Having never been a major fan of the group, though I do enjoy a lot of what they do, I couldn’t sit here and tell you what songs are the best. But they try to highlight songs from many albums. Perhaps the most recognizable to some will be the song “Trust” that received a ton of airplay when it was released. In short order, here are the songs performed on this DVD:

  1. Blackmail the Universe
  2. Set the World Afire
  3. Wake Up Dead
  4. In My Darkest Hour
  5. She Wolf
  6. Reckoning Day
  7. A Tout le Monde
  8. Hanger 18 & Return to Hangar
  9. I’ll Be There
  10. Tornado of Souls
  11. Trust
  12. Something That I’m Not
  13. Kick the Chair
  14. Coming Home
  15. Symphony of Destruction
  16. Peace Sells
  17. Holy Wars

If you’re not sure of the types of songs a band like this would write then here’s a sample of the lyrics for “Trust”, as I said perhaps their most well known hit:

Lost in a dream
Nothing is what it seems
Searching my head
For the words that you said

Tears filled my eyes
As we said our last goodbyes
This sad scene replays
Of you walking away

My body aches from mistakes
Betrayed by lust
We lied to each other so much
That in nothing we trust

It might not be Shakespeare but it’s probably deeper than most would have thought.

The extras are pretty much non-existent but include an alternate version of “Symphony of Destruction”. The big thing for fans of this one is the fact that it’s now available on blu-ray and features DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Trust me, in surround sound this will knock your socks off.

So for fans of metal music, in particular thrash metal, you’ll have something new to look forward to. And for die hard fans, you’ll have something new you’ll want sitting on your shelf. For regular music fans you might want to at least give this one a listen.