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

Thursday, September 12, 2013

THE LORDS OF SALEM: DISTURBING HORROR

If you know me at all you know that I am a horror fan. I've written about enough horror films and talked about how much I enjoy the good ones but take to task the bad ones for being just that, bad movies. Of course the horror genre has also had its share of so bad its good films too, but for the most part bad is just bad. This week's release THE LORDS OF SALEM doesn't fall into that category but for me it didn't reach the status of classic either.

The story revolves around Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie), a local DJ who with partners Herman "Whitey" Salvadore (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman Jackson (Ken Foree) have the hottest show going in Salem, Massachusetts. A combination shock jock, funny folk and music playing trio they're on late night and garner great ratings. One night as they're leaving the station Heidi is told she has a package, an oddly made box that contains an album in it by someone calling themselves The Lords.

Heading home with Whitey the friends have dinner and get stoned then put the album on. Immediately Heidi begins to go into a trance and have strange visions while Whitey experiences nothing. From that day forward Heidi continues to experience odd things, especially while dreaming. Most of the dreams center on the room at the end of the hall in the house her apartment is in. The landlady, Lacy Doyle (Judy Geeson) tells her no one rents that room but the dreams make her believe otherwise.

The next night they have a guest on the show, an author named Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) who has written a book on the witches. As his piece on the show ends, they play the album on the radio station and it begins to affect women all over Salem. Could this somehow tie in to the witches seen during the films opening sequence where they were attempting to bring for Satan?

Matthias, hearing Herman call the group the Lords of Salem begins to worry. He's read that name somewhere in his research. Digging deeper he continues to seek answers to his questions, eventually going to Heidi's apartment only to find her gone but Mrs. Doyle and her two sisters Megan (Patricia Quinn) and Sonny (Dee Wallace) there. How they tie in becomes apparent early on but just what happens before the end of the film is a bit disturbing.

On the good side I will say that this is a brilliant looking film. It seems as if no budget was spared in making it and several shots in the film are magnificent to behold. They're like nothing seen in a horror film lately, at times reminding me of THE SHINING. I'll give director Rob Zombie credit on this issue mainly because I was afraid after his last several films that he'd turn into a one note director with a penchant for showing slummy looking houses and people in every film. Here he clearly steers away from that and comes up with a visually appealing film with images that may stick with you. Another great thing is the acting with all involved turning in solid performances. Horror stalwarts like Ken Foree (a great guy if you ever get the chance to meet him), Michael Berryman and Andrew Prine all get screen time that they deserve more of.

It's those images that are the most disturbing. Don't go in expecting a slice and dice killer flick or a monster of the week here. The movie deals with the issues of satanic rituals and witches that are involved in dark arts. Most sequences involving the witches have them completely nude and covered in something vile. While I was at first angered by the amount of negativity in the movie that seemed desperate to cling to the edgy rock and roll attitude of Satan spewing head bangers I slowly realized that the movie went no deeper into that area of story than ROSEMARY'S BABY did 45 years ago. If that movie bothered you than this one will take you over the top.

Zombie uses slow pacing to his advantage here, allowing the story to unfold rather than be rushed. It gives him time to play out the images that he's chosen, disturbing though they might be to most people. Each and every actor here turns in a believable performance in this unusual setting.

I can't honestly say that I loved or hated this movie. It will take a second viewing to decide. Horror fans will flock to this film for the name recognition of Zombie alone. Some will watch it out of curiosity. For those willing to take a look keep in mind what you're getting into and know up front that the more tame viewers will be shaken up.

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OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN: HOLLYWOOD CAN MAKE PATRIOTIC FILMS


Hollywood has seemed more interested in making films that appear patriotic but at the same time take cheap shots at this country at the same time. It is rare that instead they do what movie makers did in the past by celebrating the spirit of this country. RED DAWN was an example of that. Now they've come out with a movie that will stir the soul of all American's watching.

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN stars Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, a secret service agent in charge of the security of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). Banning has a special place in the hearts of the first family including young son Conner (Finley Jacobson). As the film opens an accident on an icy bridge results in the death of the first lady (Ashley Judd) as Banning rescues the President.

Time goes by and Banning is now assigned to the Treasury Department and a desk job. While the President holds no grudge Mike's presence is a reminder of what happened. Waiting for a chance to return to the field, Mike stays in touch with his boss Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett). Through no fault of his own, that chance will soon become available.

Early in the day when the ambassador from North Korea comes to the White House for a meeting, an attack is launched on the building. A low flying military plane shoots down citizens left and right as well as guards and soldiers all over the White House grounds before it is hit and crashes through the Washington Monument. With bodies lying all around a land force then crashes the fence, plants a blockade at the entrances and begins an assault on the building and those protecting it.

Having run to the White House once he was aware of what was going on, Banning makes his way through bad guys taking them out as he heads to the front doors. But these bad guys are on top of things and with RPGs and heavy artillery take out most of the agents in charge of protecting the building. Soon the White House falls before help can arrive. But they don't know that Banning has made his way inside.

As all of this goes on outside the President, his entourage and the Koreans head to the bunker in the basement. It is here that the Korean ambassador is killed by his team, a group of terrorists led by Kang (Rick Yune) who now takes the American's hostage and then contacts those now in charge led by Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). His demands are for the 7th Fleet to remove themselves from Asian waters and for troops on the demilitarized zone in Korea to begin withdrawal.

All the while Banning continues to make his way through the building in search of Connor. With his access to codes and knowledge of the building he establishes contact with Trumbull and the assembled team trying to bring this crisis to an end. Banning is their only hope and the only person inside who can give them information. But can he rescue Connor, the President and stop the annihilation that Kang has in store for the world?

This is a picture that pulls no punches and turns the non-stop, palm sweating action up to eleven. There is never a time in this movie when you stop and wish you had the remote in hand with your finger on the fast forward button. Even the second time around this movie rocks with enough mind blowing excitement to please the most jades action film fan.

Butler shows why he's so good in roles like this. He offers the sophisticated look of an agent when needed but brings on the tough guy heroics in such a believable fashion that you can't help but root for him from the get go. This is the type of hero that everyone would hope was around and guarding the President. If you were forced to choose between Banning and Jack Bauer you'd be hard pressed to decide who you wanted next to you.

Scenes of the Washington Monument and the White House being bombed or blown apart will wrench your heart as will the sight of the United States flag being tossed to the ground, shot to pieces. There is no way not to recall the events of 9/11 while watching this film and it makes you consider the fact that there are and most likely always will be enemies of this country waiting for the chance to do us harm. Let's just hope that if they were to attempt something like this that there are plenty of real life heroes out there to stop them cold in their tracks. As for this movie its not just one to rent its one to add to the shelf on the wall for future viewings.

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ELEMENTARY SEASON ONE: WELCOME TO THE 21ST CENTURY


I've been a fan of Sherlock Holmes from books to movies since I was a kid. The books may be what drew some fans in but for me it was growing up with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce and Holmes and Watson, solving crimes by using brains instead of brawn. The recent films starring Robert Downey Jr. are a favorite now as is SHERLOCK on BBC starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Add to that a new updated version of Holmes in the CBS series ELEMENTARY, the first season of which was just released on DVD.

Johnny Lee Miller stars as the famous sleuth in current times New York. Having recently moved from England his wealthy father has set out to help him by hiring a full time sobriety partner to aid Holmes with his drug addiction problem (fans of the books will recall Holmes dabbled in cocaine use). It seems that a problematic case led to Holmes downfall but he insists he's cured and not in need of help. His sobriety partner, Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), isn't interested in his opinion since she was hired by his father.

Watson brings along baggage of her own. Her career as a surgeon was cut short by problems she had that led to a mistake. It doesn't take long for Holmes to ferret this out. Knowing that an attempt to dismiss her would be futile he instead takes her along with him whenever the New York police department calls on him to assist in a case.

When in London Holmes made a friend of New York detective Capt. Toby Grayson (Aidan Quinn). Realizing what a help he could be in certain cases, Grayson calls on Holmes when the unusual case pops up. Fortunately for the series that happens at least once a week.

The cases the duo work on range from wealthy Wall Street denizens to mercy killings in hospitals to plane crash victims. Each time while the rest of the New York police department thinks there is no foul play involved Holmes proves them wrong. As the series plays out we also come find out about why Holmes began using drugs and who pushed him in that direction. It was his infamous arch enemy, Moriarty.

What makes this series work is the interplay between the two lead characters. Miller's take on Holmes is a quick thinker who sees the world completely different from everyone else. Nearly everything within eye sight is a clue and the fact that others can't recognize this is something that often infuriates him.

Watson on the other hand is more interested in keeping Holmes sober, the job she was hired for. Throughout season one the opportunity for him to fall off the wagon comes on rare occasions and eventually even Watson realizes that he part in helping him is better served as a companion when it comes to his cases. Watson becomes someone to bounce ideas off of and eventually someone that Holmes decides would be better served as an apprentice of sorts. It's a choice that Watson eventually faces before the season ends.

Placed in the hands of lesser actors this series would fall flat on its face. But both Miller and Liu bring something fresh to an age old story that works incredibly well. Miller's frenetic movements and habits as Holmes give him an edge that replaces the physical aspects of most detectives seen on TV these days. Liu's interest in helping Holmes through his problems while sorting out her own demons is played without bringing into the role a romance that would seem out of place with these two. While they have a respect for each other and what they can both do turning this into MOONLIGHTING or CASTLE would ruin it. It's better that they play off of one another than fall in love.

The series has been renewed for a second season and thank goodness for that. It makes watching TV worthwhile when it's on. Until that season starts, and for those who made the mistake of missing it, the first season on DVD is one worth adding to your collection. While being a Sherlock Holmes fan helps your enjoyment of the series isn't dependant on that. Instead just sit back and try to solve each case with Watson before the end of each show.

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THE ICEMAN: COLD HEARTED KILLER

Biographical movies have always provided entertainment to film going fans for years. At the same time more often than not their portrayals of those their stories are about rarely reflects the reality of the person. While this is the case with the new release THE ICEMAN perhaps it's best to write about it as a film rather than history. That being said, this is a dynamite crime drama for fans of the genre.

Michael Shannon stars as Richard "Richie" Kuklinski, a low level criminal making film copies of porno flicks back in the 60s whose life changes when he meets Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta). Married with one child, Kuklinski's lack of fear in the face of a danger makes Demeo consider him a possibility for an enforcer's position. When he has Richie kill a bum just to show him he can kill without conscience, the position becomes his.

What follows is three decades of Richie doing what he's best at which is killing people. When Demeo has someone who needs to be reminded to pay his debts, he sends Richie. If they don't follow through, Richie returns and the problem is erased. Soon people have good reason to make sure they pay on time.

While doing one hit for Demeo, Richie runs into "Mr. Freezy" (Chris Evans), another hit man so named because he also drives an ice cream truck from neighborhood to neighborhood. Not only does this make for a great cover but the freezer inside the truck is a convenient place to store a dead body.

As the story progresses problems come up and Demeo tells Richie to take a break, stop killing people and not to take any work on the side. With bills piling up Richie finds himself forced to break that promise, contacts Mr. Freezy and the duo begin piling up bodies and cash for contracts.

When Demeo discovers this he threatens Richie and things begin to unwind for the hired gun. A combination of paranoia, real threats and a violent rage fueled temper that Richie always tries to keep in check will not result in anything positive. But just what happens and who it happens to is yet to be seen.

Michael Shannon has become a force to behold in films these days. It's not just his physical presence that exudes danger here but the performance offers a depth of character movies like this usually don't possess. Liotta seems to have calmed down in recent films as he does here but one can't help but see the same intensity in Shannon that Liotta once brought to similar roles. Winona Ryder, long missing from movies, turns in a great performance as well as Deborah, Richie's wife and true love.

What is depicted here is the tale of a man who wants what's best for his family, to provide for them as much as possible and who is willing to do anything to insure that their every dream is fulfilled. The movie presents Kuklinski as a sympathetic character that we wish could find an escape from the world he has chosen to be with his family. Unfortunately that wasn't the reality of the Richard Kuklinski. The movie may make for a great story and well made film, but it does so by changing most of the true story into something else.

While an afterward mentions that Kuklinski is estimated to have killed 100 people before the ending presented here it rarely discusses his victims. I could be wrong but I also don't think most of us would decide that the best way to provide for our families would be to begin killing people which here is presented as Kuklinski's best option. More changes between his real story as told in the book THE ICEMAN: THE TRUE STORY OF A COLD BLOODED KILL by Anthony Bruno and what we're presented with here are best left to those interested in the book. If all you see is the film you will be entertained. But the real story is just as interesting.

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THE KILLING SEASON: HAUNTS OF THE PAST

It's always nice to see an actor playing a part that suits their age rather than attempt something they are far too old for. I recently found it difficult to accept Sharon Stone playing an investigative reporter in BORDER RUN because the role was definitely something an actress in her late 20s or early 30s should have been playing. So when I heard that Robert DeNiro was going to be playing a vet of the Bosnian war in KILLING SEASON I was wondering how it would play out. Fortunately it comes off pretty well.

DeNiro plays Benjamin Ford, an ex-military man who now resides in a cabin in the woods. While we aren't quite sure why he chooses to live out away from people we know there is a reason. Called by his son to attend his grandson's baptism, Ford turns down the offer choosing instead to remain secluded at home.

At the same time we're introduced to Emil Kovac (John Travolta), a Serb who is intent on tracking down Ford. As the movie opened we witnessed a group of Serbian soldiers being executed by U.S. military personnel. It's safe to assume Ford was in this group. But why, if they were executed, would Kovac be seeking him out? Revenge for himself? For family? Only time will tell.

As the film progresses we see Ford having problems with an old war wound, running out of aspirin and heading for town to buy some. Along the way he runs into a hiker walking along the road about the same time his jeep conks out on him. The hiker is, of course, Kovac. He helps Ford get the jeep started again and after heading the other direction in the rain, Ford turns around and offers him a place to stay for the night at his cabin.

The two sit down to dinner and drinks, Kovac having brought along a bottle of Jagermeister. As the liquor loosens their tongues the two share their thoughts of battles past and of their own personal histories. While Kovac pretends to know only what he's read about war Ford lets him know in no uncertain terms that there is much horror to be found there, that it isn't the glorious warrior way so many depict it as. When all is said and done they turn in with plans to hunt the next day.

During this hunting trip things change. Both men are armed with bow and arrow combinations but its photography that interests Ford now. That is until an arrow goes whizzing past him, narrowly striking him in the head. Kovac reveals his true mission for being there, to take down Ford for what happened in the past (which I won't reveal here).

The pair struggle through the woods back and forth, one having the advantage over the other and then switching as circumstances change things. Through it all they continue to talk about the horrors of war and what it means to those who fought in them. Just who will survive this confrontation in the woods isn't revealed until the end of the film.

As I said, it was nice to see DeNiro playing a role that could actually suit his age. Had he been in the Bosnian War he would have been in his 50s and how he looks now he could have been in his 40s. As a career military man that's possible. His character is one who is tormented by his past, what he saw and what he participated in. Here we are 18 years later and he still hasn't come to terms with that. That makes for the subtle parts of the character he plays here.

Travolta also fits the age bracket for this role. Sporting a semi-beard and a thick accent, he pulls off the role of Kovac with ease. There are many who would say that Travolta was just a pretty boy in most of his roles but they would be doing him a disservice. He brings a depth to Kovac that proves he is quite capable of bringing something to a role that some refuse to see. He's a much better actor than given credit for and proves so here.

KILLING SEASON offers a combination of story and action that holds your interest from start to finish. You want to find out what the back story is, you want to know if Kovac is seeking justice or revenge, you want to know just what has twisted Ford's head for these 18 years and if he will change. The movie may not be Oscar material but it does offer a nice combination of entertainment and thought provoking story that makes it worth watching.

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STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION-REDEMPTION: GREAT SERIES TURNED FEATURE

Fans of Gene Roddenberry's STAR TREK were hard to convince of liking another series to come out with the same name. Their fears were squelched when THE NEXT GENERATION was under way. The series took a year to get into the groove but once it did fans were hard pressed to decide which was their favorite captain, Kirk or Picard?
By the time season four arrived fans were onboard the new voyages of the Starship Enterprise big time. At the end of that season came a cliff hanger not to be finished until season five. Those two episodes have come together on blu-ray now in a feature format that shows why the series was so popular.

As the movie opens things are in turmoil on Klingon. The Enterprise is there to witness the placement of Gowron as the new head of the High Council with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) to fulfill his duties as the Arbiter of Succession. Before the ceremony begins Picard suggest to Lt. Warf that he approach Gowron and request that he clear Warf's family name, something he let become tarnished in an effort to contain peace on Klingon in an earlier episode. Gowron refuses as he currently is trying to set himself up for his new position while the threat of civil war is posed. Challenging him for his position is the illegitimate son of Duros, the traitorous previous ruler.

With both sides drawing upon various loyalties in the hopes of taking the High Council, Ward resigns his position in Star Fleet to remain with his brother as they side with Gowron. What is unknown to both Gowron and the members of the Enterprise is that the Duros family has received help from the Romulans, enemies of both the Klingon Empire and Star Fleet.  With their help they could overthrow the rule of Gowron and join forces with the Romulans making space particularly uninviting for anyone else.

What worked so well in this series was the complexity of the stories. This series, and this episode, don't content themselves to be nothing more than a shoot 'em up show. Instead we have tremendous political backstabbing going on as well as an attempted coupe of an entire race of warriors. The depth of the characters makes the story that much more interesting as we see the story play out. Toss in a surprise guest appearance of an old face from years ago and you have something even more special (can you say Tasha Yar?).

Fans of the series will enjoy having this story that was a two parter joined together in this format. It gives you the chance to enjoy it in blu-ray long before season five comes out. Not only has this been released in blu-ray but the clean up and fine tuning of the special effects make it a sight to behold now. If you are a fan of the Trek series, old or new, then you'll want to make sure you add this one to your collection.

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G.I.JOE-RETALIATION: JOE RETURNS IN EQUALLY EFFECTIVE SEQUEL



I saw this film when it came out and wondered how it would hold up on DVD. The answer is quite well. If for some reason you don't know what G.I.Joe is there was a set of toys in the 60s that consisted of 12" tall dolls for guys based on the military put out by Hasbro. But they really took off in the 80s when they were made only 6" tall and came with all sorts of characters, gadgets, vehicles and their own cartoon show. If you loved those toys you're almost certain to love the movies, especially G.I.JOE: RETALIATION.

This time around Cobra Commander is held prisoner along with Despero, both captured at the end of the first film. Commander's right hand man Zartan is posing at the U.S. President (Jonathan Pryce) thanks to nanomites, microscopic robots that make him physically appear to be him. As the film opens someone has killed the President of Pakistan and the "President" sends the Joes in to capture their nuclear bombs before terrorists can do so.

While this is going on a rescue attempt on Cobra Commander is in progress. I won't say much more than that so as to not ruin a few surprises here including the introduction of new Cobra member Firefly. Suffice to say it succeeds and the Commander is back in the saddle of all things evil once again.

Now led by Duke (Channing Tatum) the team drops in to take out the base and capture the nukes. Along with Duke are Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and several other Joes. They succeed in their mission only to be bombed and shot by a group of Cobra helicopters. Only Roadblock, Jaye and Flit survive. Afterwards the "President" blames the assassination on the Joes and outlaws any remaining members.

The three remaining teammates return to the states to find answers as to what happened. They know that the President was the only person with enough power to order their termination and set out to get more intell. Roadblock, now in charge, turns to the only man he trusts, the original G.I.Joe, Gen. Joe Cotton (Bruce Willis). If the team can get enough evidence to prove what is going on, Cotton and a few friends will help them save the country.

While this is going on Snake Eyes (Ray Park), the secretive ninja style Joe, is out to save the honor of his dojo and capture Storm Shadow. Climbing the peaks of a snow covered along with fellow good ninja Jinx (Elodie Young), they capture their prey and head out followed by Shadow's evil ninja bodyguards. What follows is an amazing fight sequence along the face of the mountain from ropes that has to be seen to be believed.

Once the Joes are reunited and sides are taken they are informed of what Cobra Commander is up to. As is always the case it involves world domination, blowing up well known locations and general mayhem. What it results in is a rip snorting good time filled with action, gadgets and those well love vehicles that fans of the cartoons and toys remember so well.

The movie offers exactly what you would expect, plenty of non-stop action, some thrilling fight sequences, lots of things blowing up and all those vehicles I mentioned. The new characters like Roadblock and Gen. Cotton mix in well with the ones from the first film and the bad guys are just as evil as you would expect. Are there plot holes or things that make no sense? Sure if you look for them. But instead just go in looking for that action that you love so well when it comes to these characters and movies.

There isn't a weak performance in this film. Everyone plays up to the standards you would expect for the Joe team and the bad guys. The effects that are on screen prove that this production put its money where its mouth was. By the end of the film if you aren't on the edge of your seat yelling for the Joe's to kick butt then something is wrong. You'll also find yourself witnessing something rare in films these days, an honest to goodness hero that can be looked up to. Granted, there is some rougher language used than in those old cartoons and people do get killed. But on the whole this is one action flick not to miss.

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WEST OF MEMPHIS: JUSTICE OR NOT?

While most of the time you'll read these reviews and learn of the newest blockbuster to make it's way to DVD I like to occasionally post something a little different. It might be an unknown movie that was just released or even a foreign film you might never have heard of. And on occasion I talk about documentaries.

I'm very wary of documentaries for one reason. Documentaries are never unbiased. Each film made is created by someone with a point of view who then attempts to convince you that what they believe is true. This has increased in recent years and gone so far as to have someone like film maker Michael Moore re-edit conversations, complete false data and more only to win an Academy Award after doing so. Suffice to say when it comes to documentaries I'm a bit of a skeptic.

They can prove interesting though and such is the case with the release of WEST OF MEMPHIS. If you've never heard of the Memphis Three don't fret. The opening sequence of this film will rehash the story from the beginning. It's the true story of three young boys who on May 5th, 1993, were murdered. The story unfolds in interviews with one of the boy's mother as well as others who were there at the time and then combines that with news footage taken at the time.

In search of the killer/killers of these children a few rumors led to the arrest of three teenagers, Jessie Misskelly, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echolls, based solely on the fact that others thought them strange and involved in satanic rituals. Their arrest was coupled with a confession of one of the boys which led in turn to more speculation as well as false evidence eventually ending in their conviction. From all appearances as you watch this, it seems as if they were indeed guilty.

The case of these boys, who became known as the Memphis Three since that's where they came from, garnered the attention of the press and select celebrities who sympathized with their case. This is perhaps the weakest point of this documentary. It would have been enlightening to find out why these celebrities took the case to heart. Was it contact with people fighting for the boys and if so was it new evidence or just sympathy that led them there? This isn't shown but in any case people like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam joined the bandwagon in trying to have the verdict overturned and the three released.

Those who believed in their innocence went on to make three different documentaries about the case, each titled PARADISE LOST (1, 2 and 3 respectively), that tried to paint a picture of their innocence and shift the blame on to someone else, occasionally ruining the lives of others who were touched by this tragedy. Perhaps the strongest supporter of them all was Lorri Davis who began corresponding with the Echolls, eventually marrying him. Her determination found her contacting lawyers and celebrities in the hopes of making things happen.

As the story unfolds the mishandling of the case is presented from manipulation of the press to twisting the words of mentally challenged Misskelly to make him sound guilty. The state's refusal to grant a new trial or to even hear new evidence as the years went by makes for a compelling case to free the boys. The film offers the evidence as well as a reasonable scenario as to who the real killer was. But was all of this enough to get them released? If you don't know the answer, watch the film.

The story makes for an interesting film that holds your attention from start to finish. Most people will blindly assume this is all that needs to be said. Other will criticize the facts left out about the boys that led to their becoming suspects to begin with. This is where the biased opinions of a film maker become apparent. In omitting those details it makes it appear as though there was something to hide, making them no better than the prosecutors they portray as manipulative. For me I believe you present the entire story and let the viewer decide based on that.

The movie does make a great case for displaying a sloppy judicial system that isn't perfect, a law enforcement organization that wants to close a case rather than find the guilty and shows that when people get involved perhaps the truth will come out. But not all judges are terrible, not all law enforcement people are bad and sometimes even the truth can get twisted. Go in knowing this and you'll find an interesting movie that hopes to make sense of the case of the Memphis Three.

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THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE MOB: THE STORY OF ONE MOBSTER


When I was in high school I took a sudden interest in all things mob related. I read book after book beginning with THE VALACHI PAPERS. For a while it held my interest culminating with finally seeing the film and reading the book THE GODFATHER. While that movie is still one of the best ever made, my interests have dwindled a bit. But when something comes along I still make a point of watching whether it's a TV documentary or something like this new DVD release.

This new DVD first appeared on The History Channel a while back. While it purports to be the definitive guide, it actually gives some of the basics as seen through the eyes of one man, Michael Franzese. The DVD tells the story of how he was the son of a man already involved with the Mafia and how he eventually approached his father about joining himself.

Franzese is a well dressed, successful looking man in the film. He presents himself well but as it progresses he makes it clear that men like him specialize in their appearance. In looking professional and respectful they are less likely to be thought of as anything but. It's only after they have you hooked in one scheme or another that you realize who you are dealing with.

His story spells out the ceremony that each person takes to become a full fledged member of the Mob. It's the same story we've heard before with holding the burning paper and swearing allegiance to the Mob with the penalty of death should you talk. This was in induction ceremony and now he must become a money earner for the organization.

Franzese discusses the set up of the Mob, how they have leaders and captains and low level members who all bring cash in and distribute it up the pipeline. If you're caught holding back or not paying your dues chances are you won't be in business or alive for long. Each person gets his cut and in return each member has various forms of protection or help passed along to them.

What Franzese did when he became a member was to find new ways for the Mob to make money. One scam he came up with brought in so much money that it rivaled all other forms. It also brought the attention of the FBI. Through various pieces of evidence they had a solid case against him and he plea bargained for a lesser sentence. Then he did something no one else had ever done: he walked away from the Mob.

To date no one before or since has walked away. Those that have passed along detailed information (which he refused to do) have either come up missing or found themselves in witness protection. Franzese chose not to become involved with the latter, taking his chances on the streets but making a point to be careful and not to return to his early stomping grounds. While he may give information here in this film it's nothing that isn't well known to begin with. Names that he names are those that are either dead or that have been written about before.

For someone wanting to know how the Mob works, the small details of how it operates and what is involved in being associated with them this is a nice introduction. You may see how wealthy being involved is but at the same time you find out just how bloodthirsty they can be. A simple mistake can cost you your life. Still photographs and news footage of various high level Mob bosses are seen throughout here.

Though the life of a Mob member appears glamorous at times the reality of staying one step ahead of the law while trying to watch your back with your cohorts would be something that I would think would make you steer clear of having ambitions to join. That along with the fact that you must be asked in should make it easy to avoid. In the end if you want a starting point to see what the Mob is all about this DVD is a good jumping point.

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NYC UNDERGROUND: PREDICTABLE WITH A SMALL TWIST

This movie has cookie cutter written all over it. Fortunately it does offer the small twist of a location that isn't used often and makes for some effective scenes. That being said, don't expect the world from this film but simply a somewhat entertaining standard direct to DVD feature.

A group of late teens from well to do families set out for a night on the town. Leader Dylan has heard of a new one on the Bronx, not the nicest area to frequent, and gets them to go. In reality Dylan has talked with his chauffer who deals on the side about making a connection with his supplier, a truly evil bad guy named Siman. During their discussion Siman reveals that the chauffer has turned evidence against him and orders the two of them killed. Of course Dylan escapes with the help of his brother Logan and the chase begins.

The teens try to get into the limo to leave just as the chauffer pops off the rooftop and lands on the roof. From there, they're on foot and head to the subway to escape. With the bad guy's henchmen in hot pursuit, they choose to jump down to the tracks and see if they can find a way out. This is where the "underground" of the title kicks in. The world of the subway tunnels and abandoned locations make for some creepy sequences involving not just rats the size of cats but those who dwell in this netherworld as well.

You can pretty much guess that not all of the kids will survive and it might make a good drinking game betting on which one will go first to last. The same could hold true for the various thugs employed by Siman who follow them down into the underground. All in all that might make for a more enjoyable film that really isn't all that bad...but not all that good either.

The one shining light in the film is the performance of Clayne Crawford as Siman. He doesn't overdo the role and instead lets the character permeate with a sinister side that becomes scary on its own. You might recognize Crawford from the TV series THE GLADES where he portrays Ray Cargill of from an earlier performance in the series 24. He's someone to keep an eye on.

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DEADLY SWARM: CGI WASPS ATTACK!

It would be far too easy to slam this movie and point out the many flaws that it has the first being the tried and true method employed by weekly SyFy films involving poor CGI graphics used for the titular creature of the week. But honestly if you watched this movie for free you wouldn't be losing anything. If you bought it on the other hand you wouldn't be a happy camper.

In Guatemala a sinister bad guy threatens a tribe to locate a sacred location that contains something he thinks will save mankind. Of course all evil scientists think this way. They find the location, watch his guide killed by a trap and hear humming as the titles pull up on screen.

Fast forward and whatever it was the scientists wanted is now crated and ready to ship. He pays a stereotypical low life south of the border thug to transport the crate across the border with instructions not to open it. As the truck travels along he gets behind another slow moving truck, attempts to pass it and flips his own truck. When a police cruiser investigates the police officer opens the crate and out comes...THE DEADLY SWARM! Okay it wasn't actually that exciting. What comes out is a poorly done CGI swarm of black dots aka wasps.

Running alongside this story is that of an entomologist trying to help a local town rid themselves of a mosquito problem by introducing bats into the area. The mayor thinks this is ridiculous since there are still mosquitoes even though they aren't the same ones carrying malaria. He's all set for a big celebration that draws in tourists and wants the solution done immediately failing to see how it takes time.

Fortunately the entomologist is friendly with the local chief of police. When that chief is called to the scene of the truck accident he takes him along to see what caused the death of his officer, covered in huge swollen stings. They come across a broken hive in the crate with the swarm long gone. The entomologist takes the hive back to investigate more, followed by a reporter who was tracking the truck for a story about drug smuggling. Sensing an even better story she tags along.

Of course they eventually realize what was in the hive and tell the mayor to cancel the celebration. Ala JAWS he refuses and we have a set up for a huge pile of victims as well as the chance to find out just what the mad scientists, who shows up pretending he's from a government organization sent to help, is up to.

No there is nothing Oscar worthy in this film but it does pass the time nicely even if it is done poorly. The story is far fetched, the solution even more so and the effects as I've said are pretty bad. But it us acted well, shot well and can offer an evening's entertainment better than some more expensive films. If nothing else is on you might watch it. If a rerun of your favorite show is on pass it by.

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COMMUNITY COMPLETE SEASON FOUR: THIS COMEDY DOES NOT PASS

I haven't been a viewer of the series COMMUNITY on NBC at all. For one reason or another I just never got around to watching the show. This is not to say I had an ulterior motive for not watching it. I mean I like star Joel McHale on THE SOUP on E! But I just never got around to watching it. So when the chance to watch this DVD came I figured it was time to start. I'm glad I didn't see the first three seasons now.

For those who haven't been watching, like me, the series is about a group of oddball characters at a local community college who band together in a study group. The purpose is to study and get grades good enough to graduate. Instead we find it as more of an excuse to create a dysfunctional family that binds the individuals together.

With this being the fourth season it also means that it's senior year for the students in this group, none of which seem to be college student age. This creates all sorts of mixed emotions among them from joy about getting out to fear about facing the real world without the help and support of the group. While both would seem to offer plenty of grain to mill out some laughs, none seem to happen. I mean sure there are things that are meant to be funny but they never quite work.

That's sad too because with this likeable group of actors I truly wanted to fall in love with this show. But watching episode after episode I realized halfway through that I had laughed perhaps once and smiled once as well. I couldn't find myself enjoying any of the characters and the jokes were so over the top as to be unfunny. Even the sophomoric jokes weren't funny.

Perhaps my favorite episode, if you could call it that, was one where two of the group (room mates and best friends) go to a sci-fi convention which is obviously a take on Dr. Who. The whole geek atmosphere was well played as was bits and pieces of the story. But as I've said, it was hard to find a character to sympathize with, relate to or feel sorry for even. Nice premise, failure to follow through.

Perhaps it's a generational thing. In talking with my father he told me there isn't a single comedy on TV these days that he enjoys watching. I've found one or two, but nothing like there were years ago. Even some of the bad ones from the past were better than this one. Better yet DUCK DYNASTY (which I watched for the first time this week) is funnier in one episode than anything I witnessed here in the entire season four.

If this sort of humor is one you enjoy more power to you. If you've watched an episode and laughed then perhaps you'll enjoy this entire season. But if you're a little bit pickier about what you watch, pass this one by and look for reruns of some comedy show that was actually funny. There's little doubt that FRASIER or MASH is playing right now on some station.

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