COMING SOON...

COMING SOON...

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR: TV'S BEST DRAMA REMAINS UNRECOGNIZED

So the Emmy awards have come and gone for another year and once again the best drama to be found on television has been snubbed. I'm talking about THE WALKING DEAD which is indeed the best drama found right now. Don't poo poo me and suggest that I don't know what I'm talking about or bypass this show simply because of the title and the horror filled storyline on display. That's the same mistake the Emmy folks continue to make year after year. Instead they should focus on what the real story is here. Not zombies but people.

If you haven't seen the previous four years of the show then stop reading and go back and do so. If you have then know that the release to DVD of Season Four holds so many great items for you to see that as they unfold you'll find yourself both screaming at the TV because of what's happening or tearfully sitting on your couch joyous that you do not have to live in the world portrayed here. The series picks up with the survivors getting along fine in the world they've created for themselves in the prison having defeated the Governor at the end of season three. But things are a bit different.

Series centerpiece Rick Grimes continues to feel the need to protect the people he's taken in but his friend Hershel has convinced him it's time to lay down his sword and take the time to raise his family now. This works for a time but the inner beast set loose upon the world by Grimes remains just beneath the surface ready to come forth should the need arise. Unfortunately for Rick that need comes up more than once in this season.

The first half of the season takes place mostly in the prison as people begin to adapt. And then problems begin when a simple virus nearly wipes them out. As one group goes off to find the medicines necessary to save them all the rest eventually have to contend with the long lost Governor who returns to seek vengeance. While he gets plenty of air time for his own adaptation to the world around him, the pure evil that drives him remains and he sets his sights on Rick and his people. But again, that's just the first half of the season.

I hate to reveal much of the second half because it would spoil one of the biggest events in season four. Suffice to say that things change leaving Rick wounded both mentally and physically. It also places his son Carl in the role of adult having to take care of Rick. The relationship between the two is put to the test in the second half here. More than that the caged animal that has long resides within Rick breaks out once again as it has in the past revealing an opponent that you would not want to be on the bad side of.

As I said at the beginning, most people only see the name of the series or hear that it involves zombies and turn their noses up at it. The truth of the matter though is that while there are some amazing special make up effects to be viewed here, the amount of screen time actually given to the zombies and mayhem that surrounds them is rather small. Instead the story here revolves more around the various characters and how they interact with one another. It's not just how they behave because of the zombies but also how they act with one another given the circumstances around them and between each other. There are jaw dropping moments, moments that will make you shed tears and moments where you will feel frustrated as you realize that there is no other course for them to take but the one they do.

There were moments in this season as with the previous three where I just sat stunned as I watched the story unfold in a direction I never saw coming. There were also moments when I yelled in anger at the screen as characters were wrung through the ringer by the situations around them. And then there was that moment of joy near the very end when Rick sums up what we all felt from the start concerning the group. Split apart due to circumstances I haven't revealed they come together once again. Now all we can do is wait till season five to find out the results of their reunion.

As if the act of storytelling here wasn't enough to make this the best drama on television the combination of directing and acting make this must see TV. There isn't a single performance that doesn't ring true here. I constantly say that the best actors are the ones where I don't even notice that they're acting. Instead I completely buy into their performance as being that person I see on screen. My mind may know different but the way they work here makes the suspension of belief quite easy to do.

Don't let yourself be fooled that this is a simple horror tale that comes on every week. Don't let yourself be led to believe that the show is about nothing but zombies. Realize that it has more to do with the characters and their interaction with one another more than anything. Many of the best moments are ones that involve no creatures or effects at all, just two people talking to one another. When you realize this and watch, you'll find that the show is as I've said the best drama on TV. Now if only those in charge of the Emmys would take notice.

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THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE: THE 2ND GREATEST HAUNTED HOUSE MOVIE EVER MADE

So my guess is the immediate question is what is number one? That is reserved for, and always will be in my mind, Robert Wise' THE HAUNTING. That movie set the stage for haunted house films. The great thing is that this movie tips its hat to that film in the extras. This is not to say that his film doesn't deserve great rewards though. It stands out as an amazing movie in the genre, filled with enough scares to haunt your dreams and enough great moments to deserve a spot in the horror hall of fame.

If you've never seen the movie this is your chance. Shout Factory has gone out of their way to present the film in all of its eerie glory with a transfer that doesn't overly clean up the print but allows it to retain that fog shrouded walk to the house as it was first seen and presents it much as I recall seeing it that first time as a second billed film at the drive in. Too bad they didn't realize that the better film that night was this one, so good that I can't even recall what the first movie was after all these years.

The story takes place in the Belasco house, a home said to contain the most evil of spirits. The current owner employs Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) to give him conclusive proof that there is or is not life after death. To do so he gives him one week inside the house with all expenses to get his equipment there. He also insists that a select team accompany Barrett including a psychic named Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and the only survivor of a previous effort to the house, Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowell). If they make it through the week and return with the answers he seeks, each will be paid handsomely.

Joining the group is Barrett's wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt). While Barrett thinks she should sit this one out, she insists on accompanying him to help. As the four enter the grounds of the house the surrounding area is covered with fog. Opening the door they find the area prepped for them already with electricity running and the house prepped with food and needed supplies.

Once they settle in they have a séance. During this whatever spirit resides in the house manifests itself through Florence, first with ectoplasm emanating from her fingertips and then speaking through her. Warned to leave they fail to follow the advice of the spirit and things go from bad to worse.

Through the first part of the film Fischer stands or sits tentatively saying very little, choosing his words carefully. Eventually he tells them the story of what happened before and how he was fortunate enough to survive. Through it all Barrett disbelieves the existence of a malevolent spirit, a man of science who believes this is nothing more than trapped energy within the house. But Fischer and Florence try to tell him that there is more here than energy, a presence that once lived here is at work. Florence believes it to be someone in need of help. Fischer knows it is something more, something that is pure evil.

That should be enough story to set up what you will experience when watching this movie. More happens, trust me, some of it frightening and much of it thought provoking. For being made in 1973 the effects are quite well done and the movie, much like THE HAUNTING, doesn't overly rely on the effects to frighten or move the story forward. Instead it lets the actors move about freely in their characters with each ones quirks and beliefs as they are manipulated by the spirits that haunt this mansion, evil spirits that are not fully revealed until the end.

Based on the novel by the late Richard Matheson, the movie tones down much of what the book contained. The amount of sexual depravity the book's Belasco brought in to the house is extremely lowered and yet the film contains enough hints at this and that to make you realize how depraved he truly was. While watching I felt that it had enough of that part of the story to make the movie not one for young impressionable children and yet at the same time not enough to offend sensitive adults. . It retains enough of the story to make it a truly scary film.

At the same time you must consider that this film was made in the seventies. Had it been made today I'm certain that there would be gratuitous amounts of nudity and debauchery witnessed on screen. Perhaps the fact that it isn't included here makes this film better. Rather than rely on the latest hot actress with the newest implants this movie focuses instead on the actual haunting going on and the effect it has on these four and that's what makes it both believable and frightening.

For fans of the film the extras are limited but good ones worth paying attention to. Included is, of course, the original theatrical trailer. But you also have an audio track during the film done by Franklin which gives some insight into the process of making the movie and an interview with director John Hough that is filled with some wonderful information as well. Once again Scream/Shout Factory has done a tremendous job in bringing to life a movie that got a lackluster release prior to this one, a first time blu-ray edition. For movie fans and horror fans alike, this one is worth adding to your collection.

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GINGER SNAPS: MOVIE AS METAPHOR

Movies as metaphors (that is a movie whose plot discusses a topic while not exactly using the original idea as the plot) work either extremely well or fall flat on their face. I can't recall a movie as metaphor ever just sort of working. When they fail they do so miserably. When they succeed they just make the movie that much better. Such is the case with GINGER SNAPS.

While most teen movies discuss the problems they all face (i.e. acne, dating, peer pressure) it is rare that they discuss things like puberty, especially the monthly changes that women experience. Sure it was touched on in CARRIE but never to the degree that it gets in this film. And here it combines the literal changes right beside the metaphorical ones.

Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) are two awkward sisters, outcast among the teens in their school. Obsessed with their kinship, given to that dark and brooding teen sensibility and a fascination with death, the two have made a pact to die together at 16. Ginger is there, Brigitte is a year away.

One night when they sneak out of the house, they are attacked by something that has been killing animals in their neighborhood. It turns out the creature that attacks them is a werewolf and while Brigitte survives intact, Ginger has shredded limbs and bite marks. As they run to escape the attacking werewolf they cross a street in front of a van that smashes the werewolf.

Returning home they notice immediately that Ginger's wounds have already begun to heel themselves. As the days progress more changes in Ginger become apparent: a sense of empowerment, a confidence that was lacking before, an aggressive nature against the bully that constantly taunted Brigitte and a certain amount of sexual appetite heretofore unseen. Unaware of most of the changes their mother (Mimi Rogers) explains it all as her daughter "becoming a woman". But Brigitte knows the truth of the matter.

As the bond between sisters begins to weaken while Ginger slowly changes, Brigitte finds a friend in Sam (Kris Lemche), a weed selling greenhouse owner whose van was the vehicle that killed the werewolf. He wants to know exactly what it was he killed and a picture Brigitte dropped has given him a clue. Their friendship grows while the sister's bond lessens, all in the hopes of finding a cure for Ginger before it is too late.

All of this is the meat and potatoes of the story but it is the garnish that makes this film work on all levels. The usual werewolf concepts are turned on their head in some cases and explored by the sisters in their search for a cure. An incredible amount of humor is mixed with the cautionary tale here that works so well that you find yourself fearful one moment and laughing in the next. Not since SHALLOW HAL has a tail garnered this much screen time. All of it jells to make a movie that is both frightening and fun at the same time.

Isabelle's performance here as the changing Ginger is wonderful as she transforms not from human to monster but from backwards semi-Goth to high school temptress. It's not just the make up and appearance that makes the change work so well it's the performance combined with that.

Equally up to the challenge is Perkins as the backwards Brigitte. The make up department had to work equally well to give her a plain Jane look, not quite homely but an appearance that doesn't give her a chance to stand out. Here too if it were not for the performance she offers the make up would not have worked.

I remember seeing this long ago when it first came out and not thinking much of it. I'm glad I had the chance to revisit this film. I found myself captivated by the movie drawn into the story and enjoying it much more than I did the first time around. Scream Factory has outdone themselves with the quality of the movie, offering a clean yet not overly done print that surpasses any offered before. The extras give us a glimpse into what the director, writer and crew were attempting here (and succeeding at) and are as enjoyable as the movie. In the end this is one to add to any growing horror fan collection and worth watching for all others. You won't be sorry you did so. Now it's time to see if Scream Factory will do the same with the sequel.

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HEAVEN IS FOR REAL: THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE



I'll be up front with this review in stating that I am a Christian and do believe. Knowing that will give you the opportunity to know where I am coming from in what I choose to say about HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, the movie based on the best selling book. That being said know that the answer to the question is Heaven real or not isn't exactly spelled out for you in this film. Instead it allows you to come to your own conclusion. Believers will believe and doubters will continue to doubt. I just hope rather than walking in without an open mind you consider the possibility.

The story revolves around the Burpo family. Todd (Greg Kinnear) is a hard working father of two and a minister in a local church. Sonja (Kelly Reilly) is his ever loving wife. Their children are Cassie (Lane Styles) and Colton (Connor Corum). The family has the normal trials and tribulations that all families seem to have except that they seem to have more of them lately. The one that changes their lives though is when Colton takes ill.

It turns out he had a burst appendix and they may not have gotten him to the hospital in time. While Sonja calls church members to send out a prayer request, Todd retires to the hospital chapel where he raises his voice in anger at God. When all is said and done, Colton makes it through surgery and is fine. But he has something a little extra.

It seems that while Colton was undergoing surgery he says that he heard angels singing and followed them into their church. Instead of the normal building he entered Heaven where he met with Jesus who set him on his lap and talked with him before showing him around. Todd is fascinated by Colton's story. Unlike most he believes there is some truth in it. Why? Because Colton tells him he saw his mother sending out the phone call for prayer and he saw his father yelling at God.

The film then follows the quest of answers that this poses for Todd. While he's been a wonderful minister and done well with his parish, increasing attendance, he begins to question his own faith. He looks back at the words he's preached week after week and begins to wonder if he truly believed all that he said. But is it really a question of faith? What Colton tells him makes him believe more deeply in God. What it also does is make him realize that there was some pride involved in his preaching, some bit of himself that made the words more superficial than real to him. Just how Colton's visit to Heaven affects not just his father but the entire congregation makes for a fascinating movie.

It is also a movie that is sure to spark controversy among believers and non-believers alike. Some may think this is the story of a young toddler with an over active imagination. Others will consider it a blessing in the guise of a child's observation of what lies beyond. Until we pass on we will never know the definitive answer to the question posed by this film. For those who believe faith is enough to know that it's real.

The movie is extremely well made with some of the most gorgeous scenery captured on film in recent years. It moves along at a steady pace, never becoming boring or slow but revealing the story in a way that holds your interest from beginning to end. Each and every performance meets what I consider the markings of the best. That is that at no time do you ever think that what you are seeing is actors acting. Instead you believe that each is the character they portray. The movie will touch you like few movies do these days.

Perhaps the saddest thing about this movie is the backlash it and the book have already received. Interestingly enough those who do not believe in faith seem to be much more vocal than those who have it. They claim anyone with faith is intolerant while ranting about how those with faith should be silenced. Those who do not believe have accused this story of being fabricated by a con artist of a minister intent on telling tall tales rather than a man offering proof of his faith as seen through the eyes of his child. I often wonder why it is those who do not believe feel the need to attempt to take down those who do.

In the end I will say again that your own personal beliefs will in no doubt affect the way you view this movie. There is also the chance that for those who do not believe it might make you at least consider the possibility that there is indeed a Heaven. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could at least consider that notion? For me I'll continue to believe. And once in a while I'll pull this movie down off the shelf and watch it again for a bit of renewal when needed. It's worth adding to your collection and watching more than once.

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CURTAINS: PERFECT EXAMPLE OF 80'S SLASHER MOVIE

Those of us old enough to remember can recall a time when slasher movies were everywhere back in the 80's. It seemed like they made a quick visit to the local theater and then filled the shelves of video stores left and right. Some were good, some were bad, but most were similar in content and were not too terrible to watch. It was a time when horror was beginning to become a normal staple of film having been subjected to a once every five year cycle. That has played out to a time now when nearly every week we see several horror films arriving on the DVD shelf.

Among the films being released now are those classic slasher films from the 80's, including the release from Synapse of CURTAINS. Following the formula of a masked killer taking out multiple characters it's actually not a bad film even though it was surrounded by controversy when it was released. That controversy had nothing to do with people being offended by the content but with the film itself, originally directed by Richard Ciupka but taken from his hands and re-edited and shot by producer Peter Simpson. Simpson had a reputation for being difficult to please and that story is best told here in the extras portion of the disc.

The story revolves around a group of actresses gathered at a country retreat to audition for the part of Audra, a role and film that's the pet project of director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon). When the film opens we witness Stryker help admit actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) into a mental hospital supposedly disguised as a patient. All of this is a way for her to get deeper into the motivations of the character of Audra, to gain insight into what it means to be a mental patient. The problem is that the longer she's there, the closer she becomes the patient she is to play. But is she really becoming that insane character or is it acting on her part?

Suffice to say that years go by and eventually Stryker decides to make the film using a new lead actress. Sherwood hears about this and escapes from the mental ward determined to retake the role intended for her. The problem is there are several other actresses all heading to a remote country estate with that same goal in mind. One is a fading star, another a sexpot, one an ice skating star, a hopeful stand up comedian and more. Each actress is willing to do almost anything to get the part.

As the weekend progresses Stryker tests each actress for the role in various ways. At the same time the girls suddenly begin being killed by a mysterious murderer wearing an old woman mask. Just which one of them is the killer so determined to get this part that they're willing to take out the competition in such a drastic way? Did Sherwood really snap while in the mental ward? Or is it one of the other ingénues seeking fame and fortune?

While the extras talk about the fact that the film was taken over by Simpson who had a completely different take on the material and how it would look, the combining of the two different shoots on the film is relatively unnoticeable. Had I not know that it was going on I probably wouldn't have noticed. When you're aware of this fact sure you notice. Otherwise you just enjoy this as another 80's slasher movie. That's what Simpson wanted where as Ciupka was going for a more stylish film in the vein of DON'T LOOK NOW. This combination of different movies plays well rather than suffer from the melding of the two different takes on the same story.

The acting on display here, from major stars towards the end of their careers to new actresses hoping to ride the wave to stardom, is actually quite good. It's actually a step above what most films of this genre tended to offer. Vernon also does a great job as the director obsessed with a movie that means everything to him. How each brings their character to life here shows they were up to the challenge of making the film believable.

That being said the movie is no high handed drama. It remains a slasher film. This genre was all about finding ways to kill off characters in various means while at the same time keeping the viewer unaware of just who was doing the murders. Consider it a who-dun-it filled with more gore than those stories contain. At the same time realize that the gore factor for 1983 when the film came out is far tamer than we see now. TV series like THE WALKING DEAD have more gross out scenes in one episode than this entire movie. And still it all works.

Synapse has done a great job with the release of this movie to blu-ray. The quality of the transfer is wonderful. The extras included are great as well, giving more background to the making of this film than most features receive. It's interesting to go back and watch the film again after watching that background information. If you're a fan of those 80's slasher films then you'll not only want to watch this film but add it to your collection as well. It's a quality release of a genre that needs to be remembered.

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DIVERGENT: THE NEW TEEN FRANCHISE

One thing is certain when it comes to movies being made in Hollywood. If it's at all possible any movie made will come down to marketability and the chance to spin it off into a series if at all possible. Now when someone can find a series of books to turn into movies it just makes that so much better for them. Does it mean movie goers will get something special? Well, some times yes and some times no. The first two major franchises in the teen/action genre, TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES, have both been pretty good. But what about DIVERGENT?

After the great wars things changed and people were segregated into five factions, groups that all contribute to the greater good of the whole by performing tasks set for each faction. Abnegation believes in public service for the greater good and taking care of others. Erudite are the intelligent group built upon knowledge. Amity is the peaceful group that takes care of food. Candor handles legal matters and deals with total honesty. Lastly is Dauntless, the warriors and protectors of the whole. There is actually a sixth group, Factionless, composed of people who fit into no group.

Shailene Woodley stars as Tris, a teenager in the future living in this world, what is left of Chicago. Her family is part of the Abnegation faction but she dreams of being in Dauntless. As teens reach a certain age they are tested to see what faction they naturally belong in. The woman giving Tris her tests is stunned at the results and tells her to let no one know what they were. Tris is divergent, meaning she possesses skills in all five groups and is considered dangerous to society.

When the chance to choose arises, Tris picks Dauntless and begins life as a trainee in the group. The challenges they go through are incredibly physical and demanding but she carries on. She catches the attention of two very different leaders: Four (Theo James) who attempts to help in her training and Eric (Jai Courtney), the main leader of the band who tries to find ways to eliminate her when she displays leadership skills that might one day rival his own.

The storyline here runs down two paths, the first being the training of Tris and her trying to hide what her true nature is. To show she has too much aptitude would be to reveal herself but if she doesn't make the cut when the final test comes about, she could be eliminated altogether and sent out into the Factionless group. The second story line runs alongside this one with the Erudite planning something big that is revealed near the last 45 minutes of the film. I won't spoil it by letting you know what that is. How Tris handles both paths as they converge into one makes for much of the drama here. How she handles Four and falls for him inserts the romance that these teen franchises crave.

So does it hold up in the long run? I would say yes it does. The movie offers and entertaining action film in a world of the future. Like both TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES it features young people in roles once populated by middle aged males. Instead the action becomes theirs as do the romances between characters. With teens making up the major portion of the movie going audience this should make it a guarantee to fill seats. But don't let that prevent older movie lovers from enjoying this film as well. It delivers the goods from start to finish and you'll find yourself cheering for Tris before the end of the movie.

While I sometimes think the whole concept of franchise films has potential the fear that Hollywood will exclude anything else remains. Thankfully the star of this film, Woodley, has been given several great roles in the past few years including starring in THE FAULR OF OUR STARS and THE DESCENDANTS. It shows that there is some faith in her ability to not only star in a series but in independent storylines as well. As long as that continues I'm all for the franchises to carry on. With three more movies already in the works for this series I'm sure we'll be able to see what happens down the road.

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ELEMENTARY SEASON 2: HOLMES CONTINUES TO AMAZE

I reviewed season one of this series before and spoke of how wonderful it was. One would think it would fall far short of continuing that ability in its sophomore slump. It's a delight to let you know that the series continues to be a great series that continues to do the character well.

For those who missed season one add it to your collection, watch it and then make sure you purchase this one as well. If you missed it, the series plants Sherlock Holmes into the 21st century in the form of Johnny Lee Miller. Miller's portrayal finds Sherlock an ex-drug addict trying to remain sober by involving himself in the solving of crimes in New York City. Accompanying him through these adventures is his sober coach Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) who not only helps him through each case but becomes a student of his crime solving techniques with the hope of one day becoming a certified sleuth in her own right. Each week another crime calls upon them to assist local chief detective Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn).

So what works in this series? Everything. Miller's Holmes isn't always the purest of heroes at times but he is still the ever self assured character that those who loved to books and earlier incantations that we have come to love as seen on screen. He's quirky as all get out, always seems on edge and ready to jump and is almost never wrong in any and all solutions that he brings about in the cases he investigates. At the same time the characters edge here is seen in his boredom felt when there are no new cases or cases that actually give him the rush he needs in being difficult rather than simple. Helping him through those times this season is Joan's interest in becoming his pupil. Mentoring her to become his protégé gives him new meaning.

This season also offers some glimpses into Holmes past beginning with a case taking place in London and involving another protégé of Holmes, Inspector Lestrade (Sean Pertwee). It turns out that Lestrade used Holmes to help solve cases while taking credit for them himself. Now he finds himself in a jam since Holmes move to NYC has left him alone. All he needs is Holmes assistance in another high profile crime. It seems Lestrade has demons of his own, an addiction to fame and fortune. How Holmes aids him here sets the stage for another appearance of the same character later in the season and Pertwee does a tremendous job here.

We also get to see more of Holme's brother Mycroft as played by Rhys Ifans. It seems that Mycroft, a restaurateur, has opened a new restaurant in NYC much to the displeasure of Holmes. Sherlock views this as an attempt to plant Mycroft there to watch over him by his father. In truth, Mycroft does indeed hope to make a success of the new place and to give him a chance to romance Joan, something else that displeases Sherlock. The interaction between the three characters gives them more depth than on display in season one.

While the entire season is filled with various cases that call upon Sherlock to solve them, we are also moved along in watching Watson develop her own skills as a detective at the same time. This is not the bumbling Watson as seen in the old Rathbone/Brice movies of the past, this is a self assured woman who at times doesn't live up to Holmes brilliance and at others equals his abilities. She is learning quite well but still falls a tad short of his abilities, forcing him to grow fonder of her as time passes.

The season ends with a two parter involving Mycroft that offers a few surprises for all involved.  When it ends no one will be left untouched by the events that unfold and things will be set for more surprises next season. That's a good thing because through it all the series entertains from start to finish, something many shows these days fail to do.

There are no bad performers here. Miller is fantastic as Holmes, Liu is amazing in what could have been a much smaller role, Quinn is believably baffled by some of the cases and yet not the bumbling Lestrade seen in the old films and Ifans as Mycroft becomes one of the most tragic character seen on TV. All of these performances do nothing but elevate this series above most.

If you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes, or even if you're not, then by all means you should be watching this series. Season two moves the series forward in so many ways, all of them positive. As I said earlier, this is one that you not only need to see but to add to your collection. It remains one of the best shows on TV. Purchasing both season 1 and 2 and watching them also gives you a chance to get on board before season 3 begins.

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BLUE RUIN: A STUNNING SURPRISE

I popped the DVD in for the movie BLUE RUIN having no idea what to expect. Sure I'd seen the trailer for the movie on the front of several other DVDs, but it had never played in theaters locally and with no major star power I thought it would just be another by the book independent mystery. I was wrong. I found myself drawn into the story, a story that I'd never seen done on film before, a tale of revenge that didn't end when it was exacted.

The movie opens with Dwight, a homeless man living from his car by the beach, combing the nearby area to survive. He sifts through garbage cans for food, picks up discarded bottles to exchange for cash and picks up coins dropped along the road. Unshaven and long haired, Dwight could be down on his luck or just someone who dropped out of the rush of everyday life. We have no idea what his story is. That all changes and is slowly revealed when a police officer picks him up, takes him to the station and informs him that someone is being released from prison. We might hear a name but still have no clue what is going on.

Dwight returns to his car and drives off from the beach. He finds a dive where we witness several men enter from a car he's been following. Dwight goes into the bathroom of the bar and waist with a knife in his hand. When one of the men enters, Dwight attacks him and fatally stabs him to death. Leaving he steals the limo the men were riding in as they emerge from the bar with the hopes of catching him. And still, we're just not sure what's going on.

Next we witness the transformation of Dwight from the derelict he was to the timid looking man he becomes. This is a return to his reality. He meets with a woman we discover is his sister and they talk about the release of the man, the man that Dwight then informs her he has killed. She's happy he's done so but then they discuss the fact that it has put her and her daughter in danger. They return to her place and Dwight sends her to stay elsewhere while he waits. Soon after dark two men show and attempt to kill Dwight. Instead he kills wounds one and the other escapes. Taking the wounded man hostage, Dwight sets out to the home of a friend, a friend with access to guns who will help him.

I could continue but I won't for the simple reason that this movie needs to be seen rather than talked about from start to finish. You should have the chance to find out why Dwight acted as he did, why the family of the man he kills decides to find their own justice rather than call the police and to see what the final outcome of the movie is. This is a revenge film, plain and simple, and yet it doesn't feel plain or simple at all. It seems to have so much going on at all times that you feel compelled to watch until the credits roll. While it may seem strange to use these words considering the amount of blood spilled in this film, it was a joy to watch as the story unfolded.

The extras make the film even more fascinating as we hear how two childhood friends decided long ago to make this movie. While they didn't both get into show business, director Jeremy Saulnier did become a cinematographer. Using his experience and finding funding from as many sources as possible, he and Macon Blair (who stars as Dwight) stuck to their dream of getting this film made. Even though so many told them it would never happen they did it. Not only that, after being turned down by the Sundance Film Festival they took the film to Cannes where it became a huge hit.

The funniest story found in the extras concerned how they convinced actress Amy Hargreaves to be in the film. When they began putting together the film they started their own Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) page for it featuring still shots of Blair as Dwight. Hargreaves checked the IMDB page on the movie and thought he looked interesting and that the movie could be a good part. In essence she was conned into making the picture by looking at stills from a non-existent movie at that point.

Every once in a while you find a movie that catches you off guard and presents something new that actually works. BLUE RUIN was that sort of movie for me. It offered a fresh take on the revenge movie, had compelling characters and surprised me on several occasions, one of which made me almost jump from my seat it was so unexpected. While the only big name in the film is Eve Plumb (yes of THE BRAYD BUNCH fame) in a minor cameo role, the acting is top notch here. If you're looking for something different than by all means watch this film. It's one I know I'll pull down from the shelf now and then to watch another time.

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2: DOES WHATEVER A SPIDER CAN...AGAIN

There is something wonderful happening in movies today that some may notice but not understand. What it is is the emergence of comic books as solid story telling becoming movies that are equally as good. For years reading comics was something everyone thought only kids did. Now we have enormous amounts of people attending comic conventions across the country as well as movies that are not only raking in big bucks at the box office but presenting films that are actually better than most.

Perhaps the biggest studio and comic book company to cash in on this is Marvel. Their initial Spider-man movies were box office bonanzas. When they brought in Iron Man and the Avengers things got better. With the reboot of Spider-man people were wondering if they could capture the same magic all over again. The answer was yes. Now they continue that with the second Spider-man movie aptly titled THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2.

Having taken up the mantle of hero in the first film and defeating the Lizard, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) continues to be the good guy on the streets of New York. The film opens with him chasing down an Eastern European thug (Paul Giamatti) and his gang as they attempt to steal nuclear material from an Oscorp armored truck. Even though Spider-man captures them he's plagued by images of Capt. Stacy (Denis Leary), the father of the girl he's fallen in love with, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Each time he thinks he sees him he's reminded of his promise to steer clear of Gwen and to keep her out of harm's way.

In short order Peter tries to break things off with Gwen while at the same time dealing with several new problems. The first involves his old friend Harry Osborne (Dane DaHaan) who has returned home to his dying father. After he passes he's faced with trying to run Oscorp while at the same time battling a hereditary disease, the same his father died from. The only good thing in his life is his friend, Peter.

Oscorp has other issues to contend with that will also have consequences for Spider-man. Inventor and electrical tech Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) has fallen into a vat of super charged electric eels coupled with electrical transformers that have changed him from a normal person into an electrically charged human being. Captured he blames Spider-man for his being held captive by Oscorp and looks for a chance to face off against him again.

Through all of this Parker continues to hide his secret from his aunt May (Sally Field), discovers more secrets involving his parents and their ties to Oscorp and possibly has the solution to Harry's disease. But of course we know the last won't happen and Harry will try and do something to cure himself that will result in...well watch and see.

As always the effects here take center stage and make this movie a dazzling visual smorgasbord of high flying leaps and web swinging action. More than just the spider effects are those of the villain that Max becomes, Electro, and his ability to control electricity along with his electrical appearance. IF that weren't enough you later have...well I already said I wouldn't spoil that for folks who haven't seen the movie yet.

Right beside the action in this story is that of the affection between Peter and Gwen, a more human than hero story. It has always been one of the things that separated the Marvel comics from all others, this human side to every story being told. It weaves in and out of the action going on here and presents one of the biggest and most emotional surprises ever seen in a super hero movie.

I know there are people out there who sit and say to themselves "Do you expect me to believe this?" My mother is one of those. But that shouldn't prevent you from finding enough fun and story in this film to bypass it. Give it a try and my guess is you'll then anxiously anticipate number 3. Or maybe see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (which is fantastic by the way). In any event, you may soon find yourself becoming a comic book movie fan.

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A HAUNTED HOUSE 2: PLEASE LET IT STOP

There is a joke in A HAUNTED HOUSE 2 where Marlon Wayans comments about how bad the SCARY MOVIE series is without the involvement of the Wayans brothers. If their involvement would result in something like this movie I don't think it would help and could possibly make that series even worse. As it stands this movie is one of the worst I've seen when it comes to parody films. Even the involvement of one Wayans brother harms more than helps.

Story wise we have Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) still plagued by evil spirits. While the possessed girl friend of the first film has died, Malcolm now has a new family in the form of girlfriend Megan (Jamie Presley) and her two children. Here we get parodies of several recent horror films as the daughter falls prey to a demon filled box (ala SAM RAIMI'S THE POSSESSION) while Malcolm finds himself involved with a doll that's pure evil (ala THE CONJURING). Malcolm once again finds himself in a house that is haunted and has to recruit help in taking out the demons.

The problem is there is so little that is funny in this film that I kept thinking to myself isn't this supposed to be a comedy? Thinking back I counted the number of times I actually laughed or even smiled while watching it and I could count that number on one hand not using my thumb in the process. The worst thing about the movie was that Wayans made the poor choice to take what could have been a decent joke on several occasion and beat the joke to death like the proverbial dead horse until the original joke was forgotten, replaced by the repetitive joke it became. First joke, funny. Making that joke last 30 seconds to 2 minutes? Boring. As the joke carried on and on and on it made me long to press down the fast forward button in the hopes it would end. Instead I held fast and was rewarded with more and more unfunny moments.

Looking back on watching this movie I couldn't find anything to praise about it. I just kept thinking that it was like torture watching it from start to finish. It was also sad. Knowing that Wayans can be a good actor from past films he's been in and a good writer as seen in many films he's helped with it disturbed me to think he thought this was up to par with those films in the past. Had I written this film I would have been ashamed to attach my name to it. I have to think he was surrounded by yes men telling him that everything he did, said or wrote down was funny. When you surround yourself with people like that you can't do your best work. It would have been better to stock those around you with people telling you that yes emperor, you aren't wearing any clothes.

While there have been a number of parodies by people involved with the SCARY MOVIE franchise that have been terrible enough to make me steer clear of any film whose advertising states that writers involved in that first film have made this new one, I now have to add Wayans name to that list. This film is as bad as a number of those films, movies like EPIC MOVIE and MEET THE SPARTANS. In no way would I want this film to be added to my collection for fear that it might infect other films with how bad it is. Many people these days trade movies they get after discovering how much they don't enjoy it. I would say that anyone choosing to do so risk the chance of doing harm to anyone who would pick up even a used copy of this film. If word of mouth does anything it will cause this film to languish on the shelf in an overabundance of used copies. Yes, it really is that bad.

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THE BLACKLIST SEASON ONE: WHAT'S BEHIND IT ALL?



I've said before that one of the great joys of DVD is when a television series is released so you have the chance to watch each and every episode of a show from start to finish. This means that if you missed an episode you can catch up. If the new season is about to start you can refresh your memory. And if you never had the chance to see the show when it first aired, and it was an amazing series as well, you now have the chance to discover it. Such is the case this week with the release of THE BLACKLIST.

The story revolves around FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a profiler recently out of Quantico and proving herself to be an effective agent. But her life changes when one of the most wanted criminals of all time, Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader) enters into the picture. Red has contacted Elizabeth and promises to turn himself in but only to her and if he is guaranteed the opportunity to speak with her. Thus begins an odd partnership between the two filled with more red herrings than a fish market and more mystery by the end than there was as the series began.

Red tells Megan that he is willing to work with the FBI and their efforts to capture or end criminals. In return he wants immunity and all charges against him dropped and will only work with Elizabeth. Why is never made clear and honestly remains that way through the last episode. Apparently this will eventually be explained but remains part of the grand mystery for the moment.

What Red is willing to do is to give them his blacklist, a list of highly placed criminals that are at the top of the most wanted list for various items around the world. Some are known to the FBI already where others are not names they know of but unknown criminals they have been trying to identify. Each week Red provides another name from the list and the agents in a select task force set out to take them down.

This would make for a great show with that but there are a number of other stories running beneath the surface with this show. One is the question of who Red is and how he relates to Elizabeth. Is he the father that disappeared from a flaming house when she was a child? Or is he someone who knew her father? If not, why does he take a sort of paternal interest in Elizabeth? Or could it be that he's doing what he does best, manipulating people in a criminal world of chess where he is one of the top masters?

Then there is the problem with Elizabeth's teacher husband, Tom (Ryan Eggold). Tom seems to be your ordinary teacher going to work each day. But suspicions about Tom are put into Elizabeth's head by Red as the series progresses. Discoveries of secrets Elizabeth wasn't aware of with Tom lead her to question who is the more truthful in her relationships, Red or Tom. Is Tom all he claims to be or is there more to his story as well? The answer to this thread is given but only in part by the end of season one.

The team Elizabeth works with all have agendas of their own too. Add to that a secret cabal that has worked with Red in the past but may have a reason to want to end his connection to the FBI and the plot thickens. But that's not enough. Someone else wants Red out of the picture, someone placed high on his blacklist. Just who that is will eventually be revealed one hopes but not in season one.

The show contains all the items needed to make a memorable, thought provoking and fascinating series. It grips you from the start as Red is jailed in a specialized glass cell as he talks to Elizabeth. It carries on as Red is given free reign to go as he pleases as long as he continues helping the FBI, in some cases continuing to involve himself in criminal misdeeds along the way.

The acting is amazing to watch with newcomer Boone making her character not only believable but one you care for as well. Spader, who did such wonderful work in BOSTON LEGAL, has created an even more amazing character with his performance as Red. All the characteristics we've associated with him in the past, the swagger of someone who feels in control, the smarmy snobbish arrogance of someone filled with power and at the same time a weakness for someone that brings him to his knees to right the wrongs he's committed while never quite breaking himself from that life.

The new season of the show is nearing but with the release of season one of DVD viewers have the chance to jump onboard and catch up before it begins. Not only is THE BLACKLIST a series that is worth taking the time to watch it is one worth adding to your collection and keeping there. I have no doubt that I will revisit the world of "Red" Reddington for years to come. If you choose to start the journey via DVD just be aware, you might find yourself binge watching once you get hooked. My advice is to start watching this one on a Friday night so you don't miss work.

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THE LOVE PUNCH: RETRO ROMCOM

It seems to me these days that romantic comedies want to attempt to elevate themselves above the genre rather than embrace it. Long forgotten are those classic comedies that included romance and instead we're left with romantic comedies that seem to feel the need to include an agenda as well. Forget that folks, let's have some fun here. A romantic comedy is not likely to alter the course of history in any sense of the word. They are mostly enjoyable pieces of fluff that are fun to watch and perhaps garner a second viewing. They entertain. I'd much rather have those than be preached to about how a woman doesn't need a man to get along in life only to find the man of her dreams within seconds of making that pronouncement. So it was a joy to watch THE LOVE PUNCH, a romantic comedy that brought back memories of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn at their best.

Pierce Brosnan plays Richard, an executive about to retire from the day to day grind. Emma Thompson plays Kate, his ex-wife who has never quite adjusted to single life. Their youngest child is off to college and both seem to be adjusting. All that changes when Richard goes to his last day at the office only to find that the company has been sold and the purchaser has legally taken all funds that were connected with the company, including the pension fund set aside for the employees. With the pension gone Richard has lost everything as has Kate who was tied into it as well. What to do? Discover who the purchaser was and appeal to his sense of right and wrong.

The duo high tails it to Paris where they intend to confront the scoundrel. They sneak into his office, tell him that this isn't fair and are quickly removed from said office. In fact the purchaser could care less about employees or their fate; he's more concerned about making money. On the side walk they see a glimpse of this as the man's fiancé gets out of her limousine wearing a diamond around her neck Kate saw a news story on, a diamond worth $10 million.

Once seen Kate comes up with a plan: steal the diamond and sell it off giving the proceeds to the employees. A crazy idea at best and a wonderful caper film of sorts on which to base this comedy. Unable to do the job on their own the pair bring aboard their best friends, a couple they'd been friends with for years. Jerry (Timothy Spall) and Penelope (Celia Imrie) think the pair have reunited and are thrilled. When the plot is laid out for them they are eager to join in on the conspiracy.

To pull off their job they must first gain information on the house and what is going on with the thief's planned wedding. Kate does this by befriending his bride to be, a woman unsure that she is making the right decision. Words of wisdom from Kate cause her to think back to her own life and the love she once had for Richard. Is it possible the feelings are still there?

Next they must kidnap two couples from Texas, business associates of the bad guy, so they can take their invitations and impersonate them at the wedding reception. This in turn leads to them finding a way to the party and getting in, bypassing fingerprint scanners that have also been installed. Afterwards they only need to pretend to be from Texas, find a way to the diamond and then escape. Simple. Then again this is a comedy.

It's nice to see Brosnan step outside of the tough guy persona he's built up over the past few years since he became Bond and return to some comedic roots. Many have probably forgotten the comedy gift he displayed as Remington Steele. Thompson has always had a flair for comedy in the past that equals her ability with drama. Putting the two of them together in this piece was brilliant casting and it works spectacularly. Even the supporting cast shines here when Imrie and Spall having some hilarious moments.

Sure, the story here seems impossible and improbable. But that's not why we're watching this movie. We're watching to have a good time. We're watching to see if they can get away with this crime and save the day for the hard working people in their lives. And we're watching with the hope that these two separate people can find the love they once had and reunite. Is there a happy ending? Watch and see. You may not want to watch this over and over again but you'll have a good time watching it from start to finish.

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THE QUIET ONES: QUIET WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE AUDIENCE SNORING



If you check out the reviews I write then you already know that I am a die hard horror fan. I love everything from the big budget horror flicks to the low budget garbage that is brought forth from major and minor studios. So when I saw the trailer for this film I was immediately interested in seeing it. Suffice to say this is one of those movies where they take the best moments and put them together to form a trailer that entices you and then delivers nothing that you expected.

Taking place at Oxford in 1974 we are presented with Professor Jared Coupland (Jared Harris) who is in the midst of the study of a young woman who may indeed be possessed. Then again perhaps it has nothing to do with possession and everything to do with mental illness. In any event he hires a young student to film the proceedings involving him and two other students. Shortly after the film begins Coupland is angered when the university refuses to acknowledge of fund his research. The team hits the road and takes up residence in a house in the country. There Jane Harper is secluded in a locked room where they attend to her needs and conduct sessions with her.

At one point while trying to help her they hold a séance which of course angers what ever being it is that has control of her. Again is it some creature, some demon, or is it simply the demon of her own mind and a fertile imagination. As the film progresses there are clues dropped by Jane that lead them to finding information that would have you believe it is the former rather than the latter. But all bets are off as we witness not only the problems that Jane has but the slow degradation of team investigating her.

This movie had great potential to become another solid movie in the possession sub-genre but it loses sight of the things that would work early on and clings to those that do not. The characters are less than believable in many parts of the story and their actions make you wonder just what criteria a professor who was actually attempting to discover a cure for this girl used in order to get them to help. From the looks of things if a student had a warm body, they were hired.

I completely understand the use of the slow burn when it comes to horror films. Some of the greatest moments have come with the gradual development of characters and scenes that held you in a trance like state only to finally pay off your patience with a grand scene at the end. This film holds you in mild suspense only to offer little in the way of payoff later on. Even the ending feels like a let down after all that has been seen earlier.

Supposedly based on a true story the movie uses the current favorite technique in horror films, the first person found footage film. I think they need to come up with a new name for this rather than "found footage". That carries a negative connotation to it having been overused in the past decade. Maybe they should have a specialized logo that reads "SELFIE-VISION" instead. For me I'm tired of movies filmed with jumping cameras, off camera action and surprise shots that no sane person would be standing there taking rather than running for dear life. Move on people. Find something different.

In the end this movie may not be the worst horror film ever made but it certainly struggles to try and get there. Some may enjoy the film and the pacing that it uses. For me I had a struggle of my own trying to stay awake while watching it. The good news is that the ending doesn't leave room for a sequel. Then again the way supernatural serial killers always seem to pop back up after having been trashed, smashed, pummeled, pounded, stabbed, slabbed, kebobed, keel hauled, run over and shot means that film producers could find a way to continue this story. The only saving grace was that it didn't do that well at the box office. I hope they realize there's a reason for that.

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THE SACRAMENT: ANOTHER VISIT TO JONESTOWN

I have found director Ti West to be creative and interesting in the pieces I've seen him direct. So when I heard he had a new movie coming out on DVD I was anxiously anticipating something different, something new. Instead I felt like I got nothing more than another rehash of the infamous Jonestown massacre story.

A reporter for VICE, an underground news service, starts off by telling us a well known photographer friend of his informed him of a possible story. It seems the guy's sister disappeared for a while only to turn up once again via a letter to him. She joined a group, found religion and moved to another country. Now she wants him to come and visit her there. Intrigued and smelling a good story, the journalist and his cameraman tag along.

Flown to an undisclosed location, at least to us, the three are dropped off via helicopter and meet their first confrontation. The men sent to meet them are armed and have to check in to okay their visit. Once approved, they put them in the back of a truck, drive through the jungle and end up at Eden Parrish, the commune where all will take place. Another confrontation at the gate and only when the sister arrives are they escorted in.

Given a short tour of the location the sister leads them to the shack they will be spending the night in and tells them she'll be back later. First she has to meet with "Father" and let him know they've arrived. She later comes back and lets them know that "Father" has answered their request to an interview to be filmed later at the special celebration of their arrival.

As they walk the grounds and talk to people everything seems to be wonderful. All ages are represented from young children to the elderly. Adults talk about willingly giving up their past lives and selling all they had to contribute to Eden Parrish. But with everything seeming far too perfect there is the sense that something just isn't right here. Only after the interview and an encounter with a few residents that aren't quite as pleased to be here later on does the truth come out. Things truly aren't the utopia that was put on display.

Of course knowing the eventual outcome from what really happened in Jonestown means you probably know what happens to most involved here. It takes on a more personal note as the sister and her brother face off near the end with one trying to explain their truth to the other. The journalists are about the only ones we're not sure what happens to till the end.

So why not give this movie a higher rating, especially considering the folks working behind the lens on this one. Well, that might actually be why I found this movie so disappointing. After loving THE INNKEEPERS I found this movie to be so predictable be the end that it felt more like a movie of the week from the 70s rather than a feature made by an up and coming director. This story has been told and retold so many times that even though we have a nice presentation here with a great performance by Gene Jones as Father it never got my attention or involvement in the film even when things began happening. At first I thought well maybe he's going to turn this on its head. In the end he chose not to and ended up with little more than a retelling.

This is not to say that my faith in Ti West has ended. I still think there are plenty of stories out there that he can find to put on film, many of them in his own mind. This movie just felt like he was indulging a fascination with the whole idea of Jonestown rather than coming up with something fresh and new. With any luck he'll find that story and bring it to film soon.

I've read some people that have said they found this movie to be a chilling experience. Some found it to be terrifying with Jones' performance as spine curdling. I didn't find that to be the case. I never once felt scared and actually never once felt involved with any of the characters on screen. With so many movies to watch these days this is not one that I can recommend to anyone. Either watch THE INNKEEPERS or wait until West releases something new.

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VIOLENT SATURDAY: FORGOTTEN CLASSIC



I've watched so many movies over the years and read about many more so when I first heard this movie was coming out my first thought was that I'd never heard of it before. What made this a bigger surprise was that it had two of my favorite actors in it in supporting roles, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. So where has it been all these years? The answer is who cares now that it's been given new life via Twilight Time's release of the film on DVD. As is always the case with Twilight Time, it's limited to 3,000 copies so get it now if you want one.

The movie involves several stories going on at once that meld into one main story by the end. That main story involves three criminals (Stephen McNally, J. Carroll Naish and Lee Marvin) who are planning to rob the bank of small town Bradenville, a town where the main business is copper mining. Seeing it as easy pickings they put together their plot which in the end will involve characters involved in other items included in the story.

The main of these involves Shelly Martin (Victor Mature), a family man whose step-son is having problems with his friends since his real father died in the war that Shelly wasn't involved in. As he tries to make things right with his step-son it is Shelly's car that the bank robbers hijack along with Shelly the day of the robbery. Shelly is the local foreman at the copper mine and his boss involves another tale here.

Boyd Fairchild (Richard Egan) is the lackluster son of the mine's owner, more involved in getting drunk than in taking responsibility for the mine. His wife Emily (Margaret Hayes) spends most of her time on the golf course where she romances the local golf pro.  Boyd spends most of his time at the local clubhouse where he hits on Linda Sherman (Virginia Leith), the mining company's nurse. Linda is the same young woman that bank manager Harry Reeves (Tommy Noonan) has been glimpsing through her curtains at night. You see while the movie is noir in many aspects it also has a soap opera tone going on here as well.

Eventually the day comes and the robbery is set in motion. Having stolen Shelly's car and tied him up along with an Amish family led by Borgnine, the robbers hit the bank, steal the money and high tail it back to the farm. Their plan is to hold up there rather than hit the road where they know the police will be waiting. To say things don't always go as planned is an understatement.

So what makes this movie so special? Well for one while it is indeed a film noir tale it's not told in black and white. Instead the colors here are vibrant and alive as is the cinematography. Director Richard Fleischer uses every inch of the widescreen Cinemascope picture to great effect here. Some shots that would be mere second hand footage in most films are astounding to watch, even more so when you consider that the movie was made in 1955. Cinemascope had only begun in 1953 and by the time this film arrived it was a great way to show what it was capable of. As a long time film buff just watching what was on the screen captivated me.

The movie has a pulp feel to it when it comes to the storytelling but that works in its favor. The soap opera additions help fill out the characters rather than take over the story. The acting is all well performed with Marvin turning in a bad guy performance that would lead him to stardom as his career moved forward. All in all the movie is something worth watching more than once and since getting it in I've done just that.

If you're a movie fan then you'll want to make sure you pick up a copy before they're all gone. It might not have won and Oscars or be talked about by most film historians but what you get from this movie is something that's hard to ignore. If nothing else pick it up for the beauty of the images on screen. It will be worth your while.

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CESAR CHAVEZ: CREATING SOMETHING MORE

There are far too many people these days who have no idea who Cesar Chavez was. Having grown up in the sixties I remembered the name and some of what transpired. I will admit that I didn't know most of the details but in following up with some reading after watching this movie I remembered most and found some more disturbing aspects of the film that happened. Mostly these involved an attempt to twist history just a tad to make it suit the current political atmosphere as opposed to what happened then.

For those who don't know the movie depicts the life of Chavez, a farm worker in California who struggled for the rights of field workers to unionize in an attempt to have better working conditions and fairer pay for the work that they did. The movie offers a quick voice over of his early life and move to the area and jumps head first into his work trying to form the union and protect the workers.

Rather than sit comfortably in an office while trying to get things going, Chavez packs up his family and takes them to the fields where the workers actually live. Working there himself he develops a camaraderie with many of them. They know that he's been there with them and are willing to stand beside him when the time comes. But the owners of the fields where they work are not nearly as fond of Chavez.

What we have is a stereotypical depiction of greedy land owners and cracker law officers that for all we know could be true. Depicting them this way though just seems like lazy story telling rather than depicting reality. It's as if in a rush to show just who the bad guys were laid beside the good guys this was the least common denominator. In actuality the depth of character for both sides seems rather lacking in the movie. All that's missing is white and black hats.

Amidst all of this there is a decent presentation of the facts of what happened with Chavez and his search for justice. Rather than use violence to achieve his goals he adopts the non-violent tactics of Gandhi instead, a wise decision.  While the goons the land owners employ try to push them around and the police do little to protect them, the workers stand there ground while picketing. A strike break works to their disadvantage but Chavez changes tactics to move them forward.

Rather than focus on the entire issue he instead focuses on one particular grower. Picketing and striking against a single grape grower, garnering support from the people of California to not purchase wines made by this company, he eventually gets them to the bargaining table. The other owners don't follow suit and the strike continues. The struggle and the end results make up the majority of the film.

The weakest portion of the film deals with the man himself and his family. Momentary glimpses into the struggles his family faced with both the cause he gave his life to and the effects it had on them feel glossed over rather than explored. A history book or documentary could tell you of the struggle. Why not talk about the man?

Michael Pena, an actor I've long thought deserved better, turns in a lackluster performance here. There is no depth to the character of Chavez as he depicts him here. That could be the fault of the script and if so he should have fought harder to get them to let us see the real man instead of the paper cut out here.

As to bringing in current affairs into the mix we have other famous people depicted as those black and white hat caricatures I felt the film was full of. Richard Nixon is depicted as doing everything in his power to put an end to the struggle for unionization. A quick google search of "cesar chavez + richard nixon" yields 4 pages of nothing more than references to this movie. I'd honestly like to know if he did what they claim here. The same holds true for Ronald Reagan, exclusively having his political affiliation mentioned as Republican. He's shown here as trying to support the field owners and not the workers. No mention is made of the fact that Reagan he introduced a bill in the California Senate that would permit field workers to unionize under secret ballot elections. If in reality he helped them achieve their goals why demonize him in the movie? Unless the reason was to attempt to break down a political icon of the right by showing only one possible side of him.

On the whole the movie was interesting and made me want to learn more but at the same time felt as if they chose to canonize Chavez rather than show the true accomplishments that he achieved. A good biography these days should show the good, the bad and the ugly of the person being discussed. Rather than do so we are presented with an uncharismatic character in the lead. No where, with the exception of one short sentence, is the connection to his following if Saul Alinsky discussed. No where is the mention of his stance against illegal immigrants. There is no mention of his connection to Michael Dederich or his cult tactics used to create a communal situation. When you choose to raise someone on a pedestal and ignore the bad side of them you set them up to take a fall even greater than they could have done on their own.

I still think that there were some wonderful things that Chavez achieved for the people that he represented. I think that the reality of it was that he was a symbol for those people and didn't accomplish those goals all alone, that there were so many others involved. I didn't get that from this film. Unfortunately as depicted I found myself more inclined to disbelieve what was presented rather than find inspiration. Sadly that's what Chavez's life should have done, inspire. I didn't find that here.

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