Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tonight: 4 Decades of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson

Sifting through the elaborate contents of this box set revealed something important about Johnny Carson: he never changed. Onscreen, Carson was the same guy in the ‘60s that he was when he retired in the ‘90s. You need look no further than this set to see what David Letterman (who makes several appearances on here) was like back in the ‘80s – quirky and amiable – versus the grumpy old man he is today. Some have claimed that Carson wasn’t a particularly nice man when he wasn’t in front of a camera, but you’d never guess that watching him on TV, which is why it’s probably a difficult notion for many people to swallow. Carson was a reliably relaxed presence that people could unwind with at the end of a long, tiring day. He came out on that stage, sat behind that desk, and made his job look so damn easy – and America loved him for it.

None of this is to say that his act was perfect. Another thing that quickly becomes apparent after watching a few of these episodes – most of his jokes were really corny and haven’t aged well. But I don’t think that’s something to hold against him or this set. Anybody who watches any amount of current late night talk shows (most of which owe a huge debt to Carson) knows that these programs are created to exist in the moment. To go back and criticize this kind of material 30 years after the fact does it a grave disservice and really kind of misses the point of what it’s all about. While much of his written material may not stand the test of time, what still works today are the moments in which he’s forced to improvise, usually due to situations involving guests or animals or whatever. In those moments, he shines brighter than just about any talk show host to have ever resided inside the boob tube.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Californication: The Third Season

In the past, I’ve struggled with Californication. Not over its quality, as much as the fact that I didn’t find it particularly funny, even though it was clearly aiming for laughs. Nor did I find David Duchovny’s Hank Moody to be terribly engaging as a central character. So it was only out of a sense of duty, or maybe habit, that I agreed to review Season Three of this depraved ongoing tapestry. Imagine my surprise to discover that the season amused the hell out of me, and Duchovny came across as more charming than he had in the previous seasons. Is the show actually getting better, or has it worn me down to the point where I’m just going along with it? I don’t have the answer to that, but the fact that I sped through the entire season over two afternoons, and found myself looking forward to checking out the upcoming fourth season (which kicks off in January), must be worth something.

Season Three kicks off with Hank doing the single dad routine with his daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin), since Karen (Natascha McElhone) moved away to New York at the close of Season Two. His daughter is starting to spread her wings and get into trouble, thanks mostly to her intense adoration of a new best friend, Chelsea Koons (Ellen Woglom). Soon enough, Hank finds himself over at the Koons’ homestead for a dinner party. Mother Felicia (Embeth Davidtz) naturally warms to him; father Stacy (Peter Gallagher), not so much. Both parents work at the local university where Stacy is the Dean (yes, he is Dean Koons), and Felicia needs someone to teach a writing class, so of course Hank ends up in a classroom.

Soon enough Hank has to either fend off or submit to the sexual desires of his teaching assistant Jill (Diane Farr), a student named Jackie (Eva Amurri), who’s also a stripper when she isn’t engaged in higher learning, as well as Felicia herself. Jeezus, this guy barely has to get out of bed in the morning to get some pussy.

Read the rest of this review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

thirtysomething: The Complete Fourth and Final Season

It’s always a little sad when you come to the end of the road for a series you’ve been watching via TV on DVD. Probably less sad than the end of a series you’ve been dedicated to over the years on broadcast TV, because the amount of time and thought invested isn’t quite the same, but sad nevertheless. For me, thirtysomething has been one of the great pleasures of the last year and a half, and that certainly isn’t something I thought I’d say when I agreed to watch and review the first season back in August of ’09. But the good news is that thirtysomething ends right and proper, and the creators and producers knew halfway through the season that the end was nigh, so they were able to craft a fitting end to the series that doesn’t leave viewers hanging.

So much TV is so jaded and cynical today, which is understandable, because we’re a jaded and cynical society (and probably with good reason). thirtysomething has brief moments of cynicism, but it’s 20 years old, and comes from a time when those sorts of feeling weren’t cranked to the max, 24/7. This is a show about life, and I think it may be nearer to the real deal than most of what we see on television today. There are real feelings and moments being negotiated on this show that don’t always require a punch line at the end in order to leave audiences feeling as though there’s some joke they need to be in on, so they don’t feel so uncomfortable about feeling something. You know what? I’m a human being. I like to feel. It’s what reminds me I’m alive.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Interview with Lisa Cholodenko, writer/director of The Kids Are All Right

Lisa Cholodenko isn’t a household name as writer/directors go, but that may change somewhat after her latest film, The Kids Are All Right, which was released smack in the middle of the summer, and recently came out on DVD and Blu-ray. The movie features three of our greatest actors – Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo – doing some of the most astute work of their careers. Expect the movie to snag some Oscar nominations for one or more of the trio, and if there’s any justice, Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg will be nominated for Best Original Screenplay as well.

The movie is blisteringly funny while at the same time painfully honest. It tells the story of a lesbian couple (Bening and Moore) who’ve been together for 20 years and raised two children (played Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) who are now at an age when they’re interested in meeting their sperm donor (Ruffalo). Human comedy ensues with unexpected results. The Kids Are All Right is one of the best movies of the year, and Cholodenko, whose previous films include High Art and Laurel Canyon, is a huge factor in its success. Now you might be thinking that a movie about two lesbians and their kids isn’t exactly what you’re looking for. If so, you’re exactly the person who should see this film, because it’ll change your ideas of what makes a family in this day and age. And it will make you laugh – loud and hard.

Cholodenko took some time out to talk to Bullz-Eye on the occasion of the film’s home video release and after some introductory chit-chat we discussed the lesbian right, gay porn, and new meanings for the word “tribe.”

Bullz-Eye: The Kids are All Right was like this oasis of reason in an ocean of CGI and fart jokes this past summer. Do you get frustrated when you look around see the types of movies that rake in the big bucks these days?

Lisa Cholodenko: I wish we would kind of go back to the time where there were more interesting, idiosyncratic human kinds of comedies and dramas, and not such the kind of broad and farcical, box office driven fare, but that’s where we are right now, so, I just accept it, and I’m glad that there’s space for films like this.

BE: Well, so am I. There was some fairly vocal criticism of the film from the most unlikely of places – the lesbian community. Where do you think that kind of outrage comes from and, outside of raising awareness for the film itself, does that kind of anger serve any worthwhile purpose for a thoughtful movie like this?

LC: I keep referring to them as the lesbian right (chuckling), and I think that in any kind of group there’s going to be a contingent of people that are more extreme in their views of things, and more politicized and so, I think there’s room for everybody, and I don’t have a problem with that. It’s gets a little tedious speaking to it – not to you – but when I’ve heard it in Q & A’s and stuff, but I’m sympathetic. There’ve obviously been no great representations of lesbians in cinema, or certainly there hasn’t been in a long time, and it’s kind of an old school doctrinaire, “Oh of course the lesbian goes off with a man.” But if you look at the film with any kind of care, it’s really not about that at all.

Read the rest of this interview with Lisa Cholodenko by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sherlock: Season One

Bringing Sherlock Holmes squarely into 2010 sounds too gimmicky to work, but the fact that it does may be only part of the reason Sherlock is such a surprise. The 19th century iconography the Holmes concept is mired in only exists because that’s when Arthur Conan Doyle wrote all those stories. As far as he was concerned, he was telling tales set in the present. It takes someone who really gets what this Holmes thing is all about to pull off a feat such as this update, and co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (both of Doctor Who fame) appear to relish the task. These guys are clearly drunk on Holmes. Nothing they’ve done taints the legacy; they’ve only added to it, and perhaps even whipped it into shape for audiences who might think the works of Conan Doyle are for stuffy old literature enthusiasts. If there’s one thing these three movies are not, it’s stuffy.

Here Sherlock Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who has an impossibly deep voice for the wiry, young man that he is. He does an exceptional job in the role of mad genius, and draws you in from his very first scene. Dr. John Watson, a military doctor back from Afghanistan, is brought to life by the wonderful Martin Freeman, who many people know at this point as the actor destined to breathe life into Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Freeman also owns his role, and together the two make a perfect team, as they stumble into one another’s lives and take up residence at 221b Baker Street. Freeman may have scored the role of his career with Peter Jackson, but it’s only a matter of time until Cumberbatch gets top billing at the cinemas. It doesn’t take a sleuth to see that this guy’s destined for greatness.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Chat with Piers Wenger of Doctor Who

It’s important to understand the circumstances under which I interviewed Piers Wenger, one of the executive producers of the current era of Doctor Who, and it’s equally important to understand how I dropped the ball on this interview, which is a huge shame, because anyone who knows me knows I’m a freak for Doctor Who, and I’ve no excuse for botching this one.

Except that I do.

Well, maybe not an excuse, but certainly a reason, and one which leaves me with no one to blame but myself. The story which follows will, I hope, serve as a warning for all who read it.

The phoner between Mr. Wenger and I was scheduled for Monday the 15th at 11 A.M. I knew this well in advance, and even though I’m generally not at my best until post-noon, I anticipated no problems, despite the fact my 39th birthday was the day before. This in and of itself should not have been a red flag, as any celebrating I was going to do would be on Saturday night. By all counts, I’d be in fine shape for Monday morning.

Saturday night, however, is merely where it all started, as I gathered with friends at my favorite bar and commenced the celebration, making merry, drinking, and having a grand ol’ time. As the night wore on, the festivities moved to my friend Paul’s place, where I indulged, alone, in a specific spirit, one which was given to me as a gift that night.

Ouzo, the famed Greek aperitif that smacks of black licorice, is a curious mistress. It courts you in the early stages of the night, seduces you into surrender later on, and then, when you’re not looking, comes up and violently takes you from behind and doesn’t let go. Those crazy Greeks. Around dawn, when it was time to share a cab home, I had finished about ¾ of the 80-proof bottle…which, you’ll remember, was on top of all the drinks I’d had earlier in the evening. Upon arriving at my place, my wife wisely went to bed. I, however, stayed up, intent on finishing the Ouzo (not to mention some vodka that was sitting around), listening to music and watching Blu-rays. I‘m sure at some point I even put on the Doctor Who Season Five Blu-ray, and thought, “That interview with Piers is going to rock!”

Yes, there is an interview with Mr. Wenger, but to read it, you'll have to click here to visit Bullz-Eye, finish my story, and then read the interview.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series

Still haven’t gotten around to checking out Doctor Who, have you? Don’t let the Season Five label dissuade you: This is a great place to get in on the action without feeling like you’re totally out of the loop. It features a new Doctor (Matt Smith), a new companion (Karen Gillan), a new head writer (Steven Moffat), and, most importantly, a new storyline that’s only barely connected to the four seasons that came before it. It is, for all intents and purposes, a new show. This is actually not a new strategy for Doctor Who, which has more often than not successfully reinvented itself every few years since it started in 1963, and now it’s gone and happened once again.

Technically, this Blu-ray set looks and sounds amazing, better even I think than “The Complete Specials” box set looked earlier this year. The art direction this season was cranked up to 11, and it shows in every nook and cranny of every frame. I viewed these episodes initially in standard def, but watching them on Blu is like a night and day difference. Even some of the effects work which seemed rather shoddy in standard looks wonderful here. (I’m thinking in particular of the Silurian city shots with the Doctor and Co. running in the foreground.) Clearly at this point, Doctor Who is all about high definition, so if you’re a fan and you’ve still not upgraded, I’m telling you, you are missing out something fierce.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen / Silver Nemesis

We’re pretty much dragging the bottom of the Cyber-barrel this month, folks. With “Revenge of the Cybermen” and “Silver Nemesis,” all of the Cybermen stories (save for William Hartnell’s final adventure, “The Tenth Planet,” which is missing its fourth episode) are now available on DVD in some form or another. Despite being the Doctor’s third most popular enemy – after the Daleks and the Master – their track record in the series has always been pretty spotty, and there are probably more weak Cyber-stories than there are good ones. Unfortunately, neither of these entries highlights their strengths.

At the time “Revenge of the Cybermen” was unveiled in ‘75, the silver beasties had been absent from the series since 1968, having made no appearances during the Jon Pertwee era. (Somewhere out there, somebody is saying, “What about their cameo in “Carnival of Monsters?” To which I reply, “Come on…”) Tom Baker was the new Doctor, and it was decided that the transition from Pertwee might be easier for viewers if some classic baddies were brought back for his inaugural season. In the case of “Genesis of the Daleks,” an unquestionable classic was produced. In the case of this Cybermen story, well, not so much.

Read the rest of this DVD review for "Revenge of the Cybermen" as well as "Silver Nemesis" by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Damned by Dawn

The critical blurb on the cover of Damned by Dawn is difficult to miss: “Sick of waiting for Evil Dead 4? Check out Damned by Dawn.” It’s credited to a website called Quiet Earth. As is all too often the case, this blurb was taken out of context. A few clicks of the keyboard lead to a short article that, at least when it was written, reveals nobody at Quiet Earth had seen the movie, and they’d only viewed the trailer. It’s not their fault they came up with a line that someone in a marketing department latched onto, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Quiet Earth’s full review, but in the meantime, here’s my take.

A young woman named Claire (Renee Willner) and her boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) go to visit her dying “Nana” (Dawn Klingberg) on her deathbed, in a remote, rural area of Australia. The grandmother’s kindly manner is betrayed by her appearance. She’s got long, stringy hair and sunken, bloodshot eyes – positively witchlike. Only a granddaughter could love this creature that appears to have been carrying the weight of death itself with her for many a year. She tells Claire not to interfere with her impending passing or the spirit that’s coming to claim her soul. Obviously, Claire doesn’t quite understand what the old broad means, nor does she know what the urn the woman has passed on to her is all about. It doesn’t take long for the Banshee (Bridget Neval) to appear for Nana, and with her are dozens of scythe-wielding, undead minions. Claire, Paul, her father, and a couple others destined to be spirit fodder have quite the situation on their hands.

If you go into Damned by Dawn expecting a classic film of the Evil Dead type, you’re bound to be disappointed, and that’s why blurbs like the one mentioned above can do little movies like this more harm than good. On the other hand, there’s no question the filmmakers seem influenced by Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead...

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Slings and Arrows: The Complete Collection

Given that Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall fame is not only one of the writers, but also one of the stars of Slings and Arrows, one would think it would be much funnier than it is. It exists somewhere in that netherworld between drama and comedy though (as much TV seems to these days), but labeling it a dramedy is useless, because that doesn’t really tell you anything other than you might laugh or you might cry. In fact, dramedy is such an ineffective word, that I’d like to find the person who came up with the term and knock the crap out of them, or at least hire someone to. But I digress.

The series revolves around the fictitious New Burbage Festival, which is dedicated to showcasing the works of Shakespeare. Don’t bother trying to find New Burbage on the Canadian map, as the town is just as much of a creation as the festival. The central character is Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross), a rebellious sort who had a breakdown seven years ago smack in the middle of performing the lead role in a production of “Hamlet.” Afflicted with some vague mental illness for which he’s been treated, he’s continued trying to stage shows as a director at various venues without much success. Business went on as usual at the festival without him, although it appears nothing’s been quite the same since that night for artistic director Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette) and leading lady Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns). One night Oliver sees Geoffrey on the news, chained to a rundown theatre he’s trying to protect, and in an inebriated state tries to telephone him to make amends. Geoffrey rejects the apology, and Oliver stumbles out of the phone booth and is hit by a meat truck. Naturally, the festival needs a new artistic director, and Geoffrey begrudgingly accepts the job on a temporary basis. But it doesn’t take long for Oliver’s ghost to come knocking, or is it that Geoffrey has finally lost his mind for good?

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vinyl Candy: The Dirty Third

Having neglected Vinyl Candy on their second release, Land, it seemed a good time to write a few words about their latest effort, the exceptional The Dirty Third. Some new bands release one great album and then never capture that magic again. Others take a little time through experimentation via several releases to find their voice, and to create that first great album, and I think that’s where Vinyl Candy’s at right now.

Now this isn’t to slag on their previous efforts. Their debut, Pacific Ocean Park, is a recording that still holds an immense amount of pleasure for me. Its aim was to capture that ‘70s So Cal sound, which it did effortlessly. There was a period of nearly five years between their freshman effort and their second release, Land. Land was an ambitious piece of work – a little bloated and very much all over the place. It took a long time and many listens to learn to truly appreciate much of it, which I do now. The thing with both of those albums, though, was that when you listened to them, it was all too easy to say, “That song sounds like [fill in the blank]!” Vinyl Candy paid homage to their heroes through the first two records and there’s nothing at all wrong with that, and it can be a hugely rewarding experience for the listener.

But what’s even more rewarding is when a band like Vinyl Candy finally, really and truly, finds the sound that defines their band. I’ve listened to The Dirty Third at least once every couple days for the past few weeks, and never once do I hear the tunes and hear anything other than Vinyl Candy themselves. They've moved past their influences, and will hopefully now start influencing others. It’s a nearly perfect blend of rock, pop & rock and pop ballads, and strong both musically and lyrically. These songs have energy and meaning and truth behind them. I’ve read a couple reviews that have said that with this album the band has moved into darker territory, which is odd, because Land, as a concept at least, was very dark. The Dirty Third doesn’t strike me as dark as much as it strikes me as real (not to mention really good).

This is a band that’s had something to say for a while now, and they’ve finally figured out exactly how to say it. The Dirty Third is absolutely deserving of being on a major label, but given the state of the music industry these days, that really isn’t something I’d wish on a group of talented men like Vinyl Candy, lest they’re forced to lose what makes them so wonderful in the first place.

Click here and here to sample The Dirty Third, as well as see video footage of the band.

Click here to download or buy The Dirty Third (or any of their albums) directly from the band’s website, or you can pick it up from Not Lame if you’re so inclined.

While you're at it, be sure to join their Facebook page!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wallander II

The thing with Wallander is that it creates a wholly believable world which does not exist. It’s set and filmed in a very real locality – Ystad, Sweden – but the real Ystad isn’t the evil, dangerous place of these films. Oh well. Ystad may as well be another world as far as I’m concerned, and so I don’t let the facts get in the way of the fiction. When the fiction is as interesting as it is in Wallander, that isn’t a difficult task.

Many actors go about the business of acting for years and years, gaining plenty of notoriety and fame along the way, but never truly finding that one role that really fits them. Aside from being known as “that Shakespeare guy,” Branagh might be one of those actors, and although it still may be too early to make the call, Kurt Wallander could very well be that elusive role for Branagh. Over the course of six 90-minute TV movies, he’s come to own this part. Actually, he pretty much owned it after the first three, but this new trilogy further cements that truth. These films are completely dependent on his performance, which is always played inward. While the viewer is probably supposed to be concentrating on the facts of the case, it’s all too easy to instead focus on “What is he thinking?” from scene to scene. It can’t be an easy job Branagh has in bringing Wallander to life, and he makes it seem effortless and painful simultaneously.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Two and a Half Men: The Complete Seventh Season

It says quite a bit about America when Two and a Half Men is the most popular sitcom on TV. It’s a foul, misogynistic, relentlessly immoral program. It also happens to be very, very funny. For all of the many cries of longing for a different, more innocent time, the truth is this country has loved this trashy show for seven years now, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of that love slowing down. Even its lead actor being arrested on charges of domestic violence and all the legal brouhaha that ensued doesn’t appear to have tainted America’s view of Charlie Sheen or the program itself. I’m not here to judge, but it’s impossible not to take into account some of this stuff at this stage of the game. So what’s the lesson here, kids? You can beat your wife, but as long as there’s a good fart joke after the fact, everything will be all right? Stars have fallen for far more mundane reasons, and yet we keep giving Sheen a free pass. Color me perplexed. Also color me guilty, because I, too, still think it’s a funny show, and tend to put these facts out of mind while the DVDs are spinning.

In any case, allow me to at least explain that I never bothered with this show for the first five or so years it was on. It wasn’t until I became addicted to The Big Bang Theory, which followed Two and a Half Men for a season or two, that I begrudgingly started giving it a chance. Turns out, I really liked the show, although now that Big Bang is on Thursday nights, I haven’t found myself tuning in to Men on Monday nights. So clearly I didn’t like it that much. The problem with this show isn’t that it isn’t any good, it’s just that it really only excels in two areas: Bathroom humor and sex jokes. And yet you have to give it a kind of credit for that when there’s a surplus of writers in Hollywood who can’t get either of those things right. Its plots may be wholly unmemorable, but boy is it the master of double entendre.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Seventh Season

The first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was released on DVD in September of 2002, and now the seventh and final season has been released in October of 2010, which means it took Fox a longer period of time to get the entire series out on DVD than it was actually on the air back in the 70s. Of course, the important thing is that it’s now all out there, thank goodness, but it goes to show how tricky a business this whole TV on DVD thing can be when it takes eight years to get seven seasons of one of the greatest sitcoms ever made onto the silver platter. For comparison purposes, it took Fox a few months shy of five years to get all 11 seasons of M*A*S*H out on DVD, while Anchor Bay released all eight seasons of Three’s Company over a mere three years.

What’s most telling about these facts, perhaps, is that many people have simply forgotten what a great series The Mary Tyler Moore Show really is, as clearly folks weren’t very motivated to go out and support it through dollars, which is something of a mild travesty for a show that took home a whopping 29 Emmys during its run. If there’d been more interest in these DVD releases, it wouldn’t have taken so long, and probably more care would’ve gone into the content of the season box sets (only the first two sets featured bonus material).

The good news is that Mary Richards and the rest of the WJM-TV gang went out on a series of major high notes. I nit-picked the previous two seasons, while still highly recommending them, but the final season of the series is practically faultless. This is the way you do it, TV people: Go out with class, while your show is still great. Don’t wait until all the life has been sucked out of it, and it’s reduced to parody – a pale shadow of the series it once was. This is something the major networks just don’t get. They flog the horse until it’s lifeless. If Steve Carell is leaving The Office, why not just end The Office while it’s still a good show? (You don’t have to answer that because we both know what the answer is…coughmoneycoughcashcowcough.)

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

There’s been quite a bit written about The Human Centipede in the past six or so months. If you’re not familiar with the film’s concept, congratulations! Chances are you still have a modicum of decency about you. This is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity. Or maybe you live in a Red State. Either way, before going any further, it behooves me to explain what it’s all about. A mad scientist named Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) kidnaps three young people (two American women and one Japanese man) and sews them together, ass to mouth, in a neat little row. Only the person in front – the Japanese guy – can eat, and therefore his feces passes into the first girl’s mouth, which in turn ends up going from her ass into the second girl’s mouth, and presumably finishes up by coming out her ass in the end (so to speak). Yes, it’s clearly a revolting concept, but it’s also a brilliant one, simply because we’ve never seen anything like it before, and not too many films offer up something entirely new these days. Bear with me, and don’t click away just yet.

Understand, I would not recommend The Human Centipede to most people, especially when there are so many other great movies to sell people on. You now know what the movie’s about, and you’ve probably already made a decision as to whether or not you’re willing to see it. Since I’ve already praised the concept, before delving into what’s good about the movie, let’s talk about some of what’s not so good.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Doctor Who: Dreamland

Hang on a sec! Isn’t there a new bloke playing the Doctor? Yes, there is. Didn’t David Tennant’s era end at New Year’s? Yes, it did. Then wha--? This is old material that predates his finale. Further, it isn’t even the last David Tennant Doctor stuff that’s going to be hitting DVD. No, the final material Tennant recorded as the Doctor will hit shelves in January when the third season of The Sarah Jane Adventures is released here in the States (although chronologically that adventure takes places between “Planet of the Dead” and “The Waters of Mars”). Where does this one, “Dreamland,” take place? Beats me, and since it’s animated it may not even count as canon, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an immense amount of fun regardless.

It’s only slightly odd that in 30-plus years of time travel and dealing with aliens that Doctor Who has never presented its spin on Area 51, but with “Dreamland,” that oversight has been rectified. I say slightly odd because the Doctor doesn’t make it over to the States all that often, and certainly not Nevada when he does. That’s the great thing about doing Doctor Who animated – the stuff that restricts the live-action series isn’t part of the animation equation.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Caprica: Season 1.0

It’s been a while since a sci-fi series left me with as bad a taste in my mouth as Caprica has, so much so that I became pretty juvenile just a few episodes in and started referring to it as Crapica. This shockingly inept prequel to Battlestar Galactica is firing on so few cylinders it’s difficult to even know where to begin discussing it. Well, for starters, it’s worth mentioning that the 90-minute pilot, which is included here in both its rated and unrated forms, is a fairly competent and clever kick-start that promises greatness around the corner. Unfortunately, any sense the concept possessed is thrown out the window almost as soon as the series proper begins.

The place is, of course, the planet Caprica, 58 years before the events seen at the start of Galactica. Caprica is supposedly in a state of moral decay, akin to Rome before its fall. We know this because many of the adult characters smoke cigarettes(!) while the teenagers engage in sex-fueled and violence-driven virtual reality games. This is in and of itself problematic, because the world seen within the video games would be cause for alarm, but the outside real world of Caprica itself isn’t all that different from our world today, except everybody dresses like they’re from the 50s; everybody, that is, save for the Graystones, a rich family of scientists who seem to be a few steps ahead of the rest of the planet.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is a real curiosity piece, as well as something of a minor holy grail for film buffs in the U.S. Probably the last time it was available here in the States was in the late 80s or early 90s on VHS. Thanks to the fine folks at Criterion, that’s no longer the case. Like many people, I became familiar with it due to its soundtrack, which wasn’t quite as difficult to find, at least if you knew where to look. That music was composed by one of the film’s stars, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and the title track remains one of the greatest single pieces of music in film history. So transcendent is it that it’s managed to take on a life of its own, and has been remixed, rearranged and covered by at least a dozen artists, many in the past decade. Sakamoto admits that there was a lengthy period of time in which he learned to hate the tune, as it overshadowed nearly everything else he’d created in his long career. And it is probably a better piece of art than the film itself, but that’s really an apples and oranges kind of thing, so it’d be best to not go there.

The movie takes place in a Japanese POW camp during World War II and primarily concerns four very different men: two Japanese warders from the East and two British prisoners from the West. The first pair we meet are Colonel Lawrence (Tom Conti) and Sergeant Hara (Takeshi Kitano), who have an unusual kinship. They frequently sit and engage in civilized discourse, while in other moments Hara seems to take great pleasure in beating the shit out of Lawrence for insubordination. It never fazes Lawrence, and he typically picks himself up after a beating and goes on about the business of trying to explain his perception of the differences between their two cultures to Hara.

The dramatic thrust of the film, however, exists somewhere in the lack of communication between Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) and Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto), the camp commandant. From the first moment Yonoi lays eyes on Celliers, he is transfixed, and from that moment onward he makes Celliers his pet project, but to what end is unclear. Both men suffer from serious cases of regret, and yet they’re never able to explain to one another what they have in common. Celliers quickly becomes a disruptive force, while Yonoi tries to find new methods of keeping him down, while also building him up. It’s a movie relationship that practically defies a cogent description, because it’ll mean something different to each viewer.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Third Season

It’s mildly irritating that The Big Bang Theory has become one of the biggest shows on network TV. This thing is a ratings behemoth at this point. It seemed so much cooler when not as many people were watching it (yet enough to keep it on the air). The misfit, socially outcast central characters made a kind of sense in that context. Now they’re seemingly as powerful as the superheroes they worship. Oh, it’s still a great show, or at least a very, very good one, but I think most people who’ve been there since the beginning will find a grain or two of truth in what I’m talking about. When the guys who hated you in high school are rooting for Sheldon Cooper (thanks for the info, Facebook), just a little something special has been inadvertently ripped out of the concept.

In writing up Season Two, on the subject of a possible relationship between Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) I wrote that “the chase is half the fun, and to make Leonard and Penny a couple this early in the series would take away a lot of what makes it so special.” Clearly those words were spoken in misguided haste. Or perhaps not. Little did I guess that the very relationship I predicted would spoil the show would take off in the first episode of Season Three; it in no way spoils the show, but the writers don’t do a whole lot with the idea, either. (Some of the best stuff involves the couple standing in as surrogate parents of sorts for Sheldon.) It would seem, in fact, that this was one of those TV cases of “we’re bringing them together so that we can split them apart,” which is mercifully what happens before the season is over. Mercifully because it reopens that playing field for a new and different kind of Leonard and Penny game, which presumably we’ll be getting more of in Season Four. In the long run, this all may have been for the best.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Being Human: Season Two

Now that’s more like it. I’m referring, of course, to the sophomore season of Being Human. Of its freshman season I wrote, “It doesn’t always reach as far it feels it potentially could” and “it’d probably be best to cut Being Human a little slack at this early stage of the game.” With its setup out of the way, the series is now taking long, deep breaths, and exhaling a fantastically entertaining combination of humor, horror and drama. This is where the series really begins.

With vampire leader Herrick dispatched (thank you, George), it has fallen on Mitchell (Aidan Turner) to begrudgingly lead the vampires, and so he chooses to do so with leading by example: No blood-sucking; he even manages to bring a sort of AA model to the group. He also finds himself smitten with a doctor from the hospital, Lucy (Lyndsey Marshall). George (Russell Tovey) has accidentally turned his girlfriend, Nina (Sinead Keenan), into a werewolf as well, which doesn’t exactly bode well for their blossoming relationship. And Annie (Lenora Crichlow) has found a way to go corporeal, and as a result takes a job at a pub and finds a romance (or two) that can’t possibly end well.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Skins: Volume Three

Once upon a time (like two years ago) Skins generated a huge amount of controversy, and probably with good reason. Any show featuring oversexed, drugged-up teenage protagonists will tend to garner negative press. But Skins hung in there, and kept on doing what it does, and at the time of writing it’s got four seasons under its belt, and has been commissioned for another two. MTV is also getting in on the Skins action, and they’ll be unveiling their Americanized remake sometime in 2011.

Now, other than by reputation, I was mostly unfamiliar with the concept when it came time to watch this DVD release of its third season, but Will Harris did a fine job of covering Seasons One and Two (I’m still unsure about the decision to label these season sets as “Volumes”), so I was able to play a kind of catch up through his enthusiastic takes. Turns out, though, most of that was unnecessary, as in its third year, Skins has an almost entirely new cast of characters and a new set of stories to tell. For the time being, this is apparently the plan for the show – every two seasons the cast will rotate and change, introducing a new batch of kids in their final two years of the U.K. equivalent of high school. If you’ve never seen the show before, this is as good a place as any to begin an unhealthy education.

Skins is an ensemble series, although the season does shine the spotlight on each of the major characters for an episode apiece, all while continuing the ongoing story of the group. This season showcases a complex love triangle between bad boy Cook (Jack O’Connell), his lifelong skater friend Freddie (Luke Pasqualino), and the object of their attraction, Effy (Kaya Scodelario) – the primary crossover character from the previous seasons, as she was the younger sister of Tony (previously a major player, but now gone from the show). Effy is as fucked up a teen as any you’ve ever seen, and her parents are in the midst of splitting up, which doesn’t help matters. In the season opener, she catches the eyes of both Cook and Freddie, but Cook, being the more outgoing of the pair, manages to stake his claim first. What develops between Cook and Effy can only be described as toxic, and it’s borderline heartbreaking (or maybe just plain scary) to watch the deterioration of their dignity as the season moves forward. You want Effy to go for Freddie, but as is often the case in real life, the danger Cook offers is addictive for this self-destructive girl.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection

Detective Jane Tennison is arguably Helen Mirren’s most famous role, and given the amount of time she invested in the part – roughly 25 hours over the course of 15 years – that shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Then again, what’s 25 hours in the grand scheme of TV? That’s only a few hours longer than one season of a typical American drama. Doesn’t sound like all that much, does it? Then it must be the quality of this dense work that makes it so worthy. In order to understand what makes Prime Suspect must-see TV on DVD, it helps to know the structure of the show.

In lieu of traditional episodic seasons, the show offers up a single storyline for each of its seven seasons, and each of those stories is comprised of two 100-minute blocks, so the stories are effectively comprised of two feature-length installments. (Only Prime Suspect 4 bucks the trend by offering three standalone 100-minute tales instead.) Through this structure, Prime Suspect is able to explore Tennison’s cases in an unusually thorough manner, and I dare suggest that this material will be best appreciated by the hardcore procedural enthusiast. If this is your kind of fare, then you owe it to yourself to see this set.

These stories twist and turn with all sorts of red herrings, roadblocks, and detours for Tennison and the various teams she works with over the course of her career. It’s easy when watching these stories to feel as if you’re caught up in an actual investigation, or perhaps it’s more like being a fly on the wall viewing the sordid proceedings.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Doctor Who: The Creature from the Pit

There’s nothing wrong with “The Creature from the Pit” that a couple pints of ale (or whatever your choice of poison may be) can’t fix. Yet another entry from the Douglas Adams script-edited season of Doctor Who, whatever the story lacks in the plot mechanics department, it more than makes up for with its cracking wordplay. The jokes fly fast and furious in this one, which at one time was considered a negative, but I think we’ve all chilled out enough over the years to warrant giving this tale some serious (or not, as the case may be) reevaluation.

The Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 (David Brierly) are forced to materialize the TARDIS on the planet Chloris, a world which, as its name suggests, is ripe with vegetation. After discovering what the Doctor deduces is a gigantic eggshell, he’s taken prisoner by the planet’s ruler, Lady Adrasta (Myra Frances), whose duds are as close to dominatrix as anything this side of Emma Peel at the Hellfire Club. Adrasta is a temperamental bitch, and anytime one of her subjects does something she doesn’t like, they end up being thrown into the pit. And you know what’s waiting down at the bottom, don’t you? (If you guessed anything other than a creature, I’ve already lost you.) Chloris is also deficient in metal, so anything steely – including K-9 – becomes a coveted artifact. Sooner, rather than later, the Doctor ends up in the pit, and meets the behemoth, which is not quite what everyone thinks it is, and Adrasta certainly knows more than she’s letting on.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Doctor Who: The King's Demons & Planet of Fire

Few long-running TV series manage to keep moving forward without the occasional bad idea – the kind where viewers collectively scratch their heads, and in unison sigh, “What were they thinking?” Given how long Doctor Who has been on the air in its various incarnations, it’s probably had more than its fair share of half-baked notions. If one were to make a list of such grievances, it seems likely that the Fifth Doctor’s robot companion Kamelion would land comfortably in the Top Five. Apparently, producer John Nathan-Turner wanted a new metallic emblem for the show, as K-9 had been gone for several years, and he’d recently gotten a glimpse of an actual working, moving robot, so naturally he wanted one for the series.

Since this was in 1983 – and here in 2010 robots are still fairly hard to come by – you can imagine that the results were somewhat less than spectacular. Not only did Kamelion look cheap, but the robot itself functioned so poorly that even though the character was a TARDIS crewmember for seven stories, we only ever saw him in two, “The King’s Demons” and “Planet of Fire.” Presumably, in the interim tales, he putters around the TARDIS, left to his own devices (curiously, nobody seemed worried about his fate in “Frontios,” the story in which the TARDIS was temporarily destroyed).

Read the DVD reviews for both stories featuring Kamelion by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Mona Lisa

Long before Irish director Neil Jordan made popular movies (Interview with the Vampire), or important movies (Michael Collins), or movies that were both (The Crying Game), he made some little movies that not many people saw. In recent years, he’s again returned to making little movies that not many people see, and yet there’s a difference between what he’s doing now, and what he was doing way back then; there often is with directors of his caliber. You can feel the hunger and the desire to impress or to say something worthwhile in the earlier works, and you don’t always get that vibe in the newer stuff. Mona Lisa is such a film.

It may not have the budget of In Dreams or the uniqueness of The Butcher Boy, and yet it’s got an immense amount of heart and a self-assuredness that makes it well worth carving out some time for. Apparently, someone in Hollywood felt much the same, as there’s a remake in the works, currently slated to star Mickey Rourke and Eva Greene, and it will be directed by Larry Clark (Kids, Another Day in Paradise).

It’d be all too easy to launch into a rant about how pointless it seems to remake this film, but I wouldn’t be saying anything that hasn’t been said a hundred times before about a hundred different remakes. Instead, I’d much rather write about Jordan’s film, which was something of a video staple for me back in the 90s, and yet it’s been over a decade since I last partook in its world. Viewing it again was a lot like spending time with an old, dear friend that you haven’t seen in ages.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

The Long Good Friday

HandMade Films is a production and distribution company that started out as a venture between George Harrison and his business partner Denis O’Brien. Initially it was put together simply to help Monty Python finance Life of Brian, but after the success of that film, HandMade kept going and going. The company has gone through numerous changes over the years, and these days their output isn’t nearly as revolutionary as it once was.

The last daring movie they were involved with was Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, although even as recently as on Planet 51, HandMade is still something of a brand name. But back in the 80s, they were putting out all sorts of oddball, experimental films, and if you saw the label HandMade on a movie, it was worth checking out. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve reviewed three Blu-rays of HandMade pictures, courtesy of Image Entertainment: Withnail & I, Time Bandits and Mona Lisa.

The Long Good Friday is the fourth and final film (at least for the time being) in this series, and unlike the other three, I’d never seen it before its Blu-ray release. Unsurprisingly, it was also my least favorite of the bunch, which quite possibly wouldn’t have been the case had I seen it 15 or 20 years ago like the other three, as I was coming at it cold, with no sense of nostalgia. But this isn’t to say I didn’t care for The Long Good Friday, which is a fine film for what it is.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Withnail & I

Probably the most profound line ever written in regard to Withnail & I describes it as being "as deep as you want it to be or as shallow as you need it to be.” I don’t know who wrote that, but I cannot discuss the film without mentioning it. Set in the final months of 1969, Withnail traces the antics of two out of work actors living in a filth-laden flat in Camden Town, London. To “escape all this hideousness,” they spend their time in booze and drug-addled hazes. With wits at an end, they head to the countryside to unwind for a weekend, never minding that they’re utterly ill equipped to deal with rural living. Along with the presence of Withnail’s Uncle Monty, and the possibility of a violent poacher, those are the film’s major plot points. In lieu of real plot, Withnail offers up two stellar leads in the forms of Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann, and the most infinitely quotable dialogue this side of The Big Lebowski And it’s got a following the size of the Dude’s to match – although most of them are British.

Marwood: “Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, and for once I'm inclined to believe Withnail is right. We are indeed drifting into the arena of the unwell.”

I’ve been a fanatic for this movie for over 15 years now. It’s in my Top Five, and I consider it my civic filmic duty to turn as many people on to it as possible, especially since it’s just barely a cult item here in the States. I’ve been pretty successful in my endeavors over the years, although I can’t give you hard figures as to whom, when and where. Even if it was just one person in my life, I’d feel good about it, because this is a film meant to be shared with people who need to see it. I don’t know if you’re one of those people, but I’ll do my best to convince you that you are.

Withnail: “You can stuff it up your arse for nothing, and fuck off while you’re doing it!"

Withnail & I is a situation, and anyone who’s ever been in an insufferable friendship can relate to it...

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Time Bandits

If you were a certain kind of boy or young teenager in the 80s, then there’s a good chance Time Bandits was a very important film for you. Sure, you loved Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Goonies, but Time Bandits was special in a different way because not everyone else was in on it; it was seemingly dismissed even by most adults (well, the ones I grew up around anyway). For many young people, it was our first introduction to the whacked out joys of Monty Python, even if we didn’t realize it at the time, as Time Bandits is not a proper Python film. But half of the six-man comedy troupe is involved in the picture, and so when we finally got around to discovering Python, we recognized John Cleese and Michael Palin from this film. Little did we know, though, that all of Python’s strange animations were the handiwork of the guy that directed this piece. Wasn’t it refreshing to not have every fact and figure at your immediate disposal way back then? You picked up information over the years while actively seeking it out. Perhaps, as Time Bandits hints, computers really are the playthings of Evil.

However, it’s also possible you were not a certain kind of boy in the 80’s, or that you’ve never even seen Time Bandits. If so, let’s lay it out there. One night, 11-year old Kevin (Craig Warnock) lies in his bed. Out of his wardrobe tumble six dwarfs on the run from God (who here is referred to as the Supreme Being). He’s their employer and they build trees for him. But they’ve stolen a powerful map from God, and now travel around through history, attempting to loot the past for riches. Kevin follows, and finds himself in all manner of incredulous situations, such as meeting Robin Hood (John Cleese) and conning Napoleon (Ian Holm) out of his wealth. At the same time, Evil (David Warner, in one of his best roles ever) watches over, secretly plotting his takeover of the world via the map, and eventually, an understanding of computers. Exactly what is The Most Fabulous Object in the World, and can the inept group of thieves procure it?

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Friday Night Lights: The Fourth Season

It isn’t often that a series reinvents itself so successfully that you don’t find yourself longing for the seasons that came before, but that’s exactly what happens with Season Four of Friday Night Lights. At the close of Season Three, Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) had lost his job coaching for the Dillon Panthers, and a case of redistricting left him in charge of a non-existent East Dillon team. Further, most of the kids we’d grown to know and love over the previous three seasons were headed off to college. It could easily have been the end of the show, and it would have been a perfect series of notes to go out on, had DirecTV, which saved the show and helped to give us that third season, not stepped up to the plate and signed on to help NBC co-produce two more 13 episode seasons. Thank you DirecTV, because Season Four may actually be the series’ best since its first. Of course, where Season Four ranks in this fine show’s history is probably irrelevant – what matters is that it’s yet another great batch of chapters in the ongoing story of the fictitious town of Dillon, Texas.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Crumb: The Criterion Collection

"Weird sex. Obsession. Comic books." That’s what the movie poster for Crumb said back when the movie came out in 1995. If you were trying to figure out a way to market this documentary at that time, those are as good of jumping off points as any, and yet there’s no question that Crumb is about so much more.

I don’t recall what exactly it was that drew me to Crumb 15 years ago, as I was only tangentially familiar with Robert Crumb’s art, having spent countless hours in various head shops – many of which still stock R. Crumb comics to this day. It may have been the “David Lynch presents” tag that is attached to the film. As director Terry Zwigoff explains, Lynch literally had almost nothing to do with the film; by the time he’d seen Crumb, it was practically finished, so there wasn’t much he could do for it – except add his name, which Zwigoff jumped at, simply because he knew that it would bring many more people out to see the picture. It’s entirely probable that I was one of those people. Of course, the reviews at the time could also have gotten me into the theatre, as the movie was being hailed all over the place, and with good reason: Crumb is, simply put, one of the great documentaries. There are far more important documentaries out there, sure, but few offer up the same amount of sheer entertainment value as Crumb. This is likely only true, however, if everything the man is about doesn’t offend your potentially delicate sensibilities.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A chat with Lenora Crichlow of Being Human

The lovely Lenora Crichlow is mostly unknown to U.S. audiences, unless of course you’re a fan of the BBC America series Being Human (Saturdays at 9PM). Crichlow plays one third of a trio of roommates comprised of a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost. The striking actress [dis]embodies the latter - the spirit of Annie Sawyer, doomed to an afterlife of making tea and wearing the same eternal grey outfit. And yet in Crichlow’s performance there’s hope for something better, as Annie tries to make it in a world she shouldn’t even exist in, alongside her two best friends. Lenora took time out in between shooting Season Three and heading off to Comic-Con to talk to Bullz-Eye about what sets Being Human apart from other supernatural fare, the ongoing progression of the concept, and her phantasmagorical Uggs.

Lenora Crichlow: The thing is, Being Human does just what it says on the cover. In most of these vampire shows and werewolf shows – supernatural shows in general – there’s some kind of, at the essence of the show, a real celebration of their supernatural selves. The vampires and the werewolves are really glorified (although I haven’t seen Twilight) and I think Being Human’s stance is struck so differently because it actually comes from a place where the ultimate for these characters would be to be human again. Every single supernatural issue that comes up can quickly lead back to something within the human condition. Even though it is a supernatural show, it just gives the whole thing layers. The characters of Annie, George and Mitchell were originally written without being a ghost, a werewolf, and a vampire, so the characters are very fully developed. It has a huge amount of comedy in it, it has amounts of angst, mystery and drama, but at the heart of the show I think you’ve got three very well-rounded human characters, which is something that whether you’re into sci-fi or not you can tap into and relate to. I love the show and I love being in the show and I think as an actress it certainly gives me a lot more to play with when I can bring everything I play with Annie right back home and right back down to earth, and you know, sort of grounded in some sense of reality. I don’t know how good I’d be at being too much out there. As fun as it is, it really does ground the show – the fact that they’re all trying to be human. That’s the show’s selling point and uniqueness.

The above is an excerpt from a much longer interview I did with Lenora. Read the entire piece by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Rhoda: Season Three

Rhoda was an incredibly successful series during its first two seasons. It was, in fact, a top ten show, going so far as to best its parent series, Mary Tyler Moore, in the ratings. And yet, as I understand it, the writers found it difficult to write for Rhoda (Valerie Harper) as a married woman. So at the start of Season Three they made an incredibly radical move for the time – they separated Rhoda from her husband, Joe (David Groh). Audiences were appalled, I guess because in 1976 those kinds of things just didn’t happen on TV. The ratings plummeted. Presumably, producers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns didn’t care, because the couple, despite some attempts to make it work, never got back together. And you really have to admire that kind of brashness on the part of Brooks and Burns, don’t you? It was probably a first that something of this ilk was explored on primetime American TV – and if it wasn’t, it had to have been the first time something like this happened to a beloved lead character whom the audience had, between the two series, known for six years.

I’d been somewhat led to understand that the material suffered as a result; surprisingly, that’s not even remotely the case. With Season Three, “Rhoda” remains at least as strong as in its previous seasons, if not a little bit a cut above. In my previous reviews of this series, I’ve made mention of how poorly written Joe Gerard’s character is, and it’s worth repeating. It’s a shame, too, because David Groh is a fine actor, who got saddled with lame material to play, and the events of this season certainly don’t do Joe any favors. The first episode of the season is called “The Separation,” and the show doesn’t waste any time getting down to business. It begins with Joe playing passive-aggressive games involving the couple buying a house which Rhoda desperately wants.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Doctor Who: The Big Bang

And so we come to yet another season finale of the greatest science fiction series ever created. This is the recap I’ve been both anticipating and dreading writing in equal parts since first seeing “The Big Bang” some weeks ago; anticipating because of how much I adored this finale, and dreading because there’s no way I can do it justice in a mere recap. It’s not even an issue of space or time (or is it?), it’s a matter of the story, as well as the 12 episodes prior to it, being too dense to dissect thoroughly. You’ll have to forgive that this doesn’t resemble a recap proper, and I instead ramble on about other issues.

I didn’t go into “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang” expecting a whole lot, conditioned as I am on Russell T Davies’s extravagant-yet-ultimately-lightweight season finales. Don’t get me wrong, they were most always a great deal of fun, but they most always left me somewhat wanting – excepting Season Three’s Master trilogy, although I’m not sure that’s in line with popular opinion. Oh, and “The Parting of the Ways.” Wait a minute…I loved most of his finales! But I often felt as if they didn’t go as far as they could. Part of the way through the current season the Pandoricrack, as I’ve come to call it, started to annoy me, and I began not so much resenting the thread, but rather simply dismissing it – assuming that whatever it was about wouldn’t be terribly thrilling. It turned out to be not only thrilling, but strange and deep and stimulating. This was Steven Moffat’s trademark “Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey” taken up to 11. (Maybe next year will go to 12?) This two-part finale forces viewers to go back and reexamine most of the season, and that isn’t something that can really be said for the Davies finales, which isn’t to imply they’re inferior. More on that later…

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Being Human: Season One

A TV series that in a one sentence pitch can be most easily described as “a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost all live together in the same house” must surely be a comedy, right? Well yes, and no. Being Human certainly has comedic elements, but they’re rarely of the “yuk-yuk” variety. It is in fact difficult to pigeonhole the series with a label. Is it horror? Comedy? Drama? It’s all those and probably more. And lest you think it’s schizophrenic in its presentation, that’s hardly the case. Being Human juggles all of these labels so efficiently that it probably deserves a new category all its own.

Now this isn’t to imply that Being Human is a work of pure genius, just that it’s adept in its mission. A massive stumbling block for me, that may afflict plenty a potential viewer, comes from the vampire and werewolf angles. Straight up – I am utterly sick to death of vampires and werewolves. Between True Blood and Twilight alone, you can’t turn on your TV, go to the multiplex, or even log onto Facebook without being inundated by both fang and full moon. Where were all these people when I stood proud and alone at the age of 10 in the school playground, boldly proclaiming my admiration for Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr., only to be heckled by my peers? Must these concepts be littered with ample doses of sex and romance in order to attract the masses? Apparently so. Being Human uses a bit of that as well, but not nearly as much as you’d expect from a series featuring vampires and werewolves, and its primary focus is instead on the building blocks of an unlikely kinship between its three protagonists.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens

From the very first scene, “The Pandorica Opens” is an ominous piece of work. France, 1890. Vincent van Gogh (Tony Curran) writhes in mental torment, presumably in the last days of his life. It appears that he actually did paint another piece, and it’s somehow tied to the Doctor. After the Doctor and Amy left Vincent at the close of “Vincent and the Doctor,” the Time Lord asserted that “we definitely added to his pile of good things.” Maybe they did, but it appears they added to his pile of bad things, as well. The implication even seems to be that by introducing Vincent to his universe, the Doctor may have played an inadvertent role in the artist’s suicide. Dark stuff indeed. But what is the painting? Bam! All of a sudden we jump to London in 1941 and we’re with Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) and Professor Bracewell (Bill Paterson), who now have the van Gogh painting. Bracewell insists that it’s Churchill’s job to deliver the art. Bam! A containment facility in 5145. River Song (Alex Kingston) is on the receiving end a phone call from Churchill meant for the Doctor. Swiftly she makes an escape thanks to the hallucinogenic lipstick. Bam! The Royal Collection, still in 5145. Presumably we’re back onboard the Starship U.K. and the van Gogh painting waits for River, having been added to the collection by Churchill 3200 years prior. Liz Ten (Sophie Okonedo) makes a reappearance. Bam! Still in 5145, River blackmails an alien dealer into giving her a vortex manipulator. Through this series of efficient sequences, it’s as if Steven Moffat is asking, “Have I got your attention now?” He most certainly does.

In the TARDIS, Amy (Karen Gillan) ponders the wedding ring, while the Doctor (Matt Smith) hatches a plan to take her to the oldest planet in the universe to see the oldest piece of writing, which is chiseled onto a cliff face. The TARDIS doors open and the translators show that the words as “Hello Sweetie.” Bam! Britain, 102 AD. The TARDIS arrives in front of a Roman army, and Amy mentions that Roman soldiers were her favorite topic in school. A soldier, whose face is smeared with lipstick, mistakes the Doctor for Caesar and takes the pair to see Cleopatra, whom River is impersonating. Finally we get to see the painting, which shares its name with this episode, and it’s a vision of the exploding TARDIS, painted exactly as we’d imagine van Gogh would paint such a vision. (Surely poster prints of this will be available for fans to hang on their walls any day now? I know I’d buy one.) Finally, seven minutes into the episode, we get the opening credits.

And thus begins what’s easily the most ambitious setup for a season finale the new series has yet done. “The Pandorica Opens” is positively cinematic in scope, direction, editing and, of course, writing. These setup installments were never this good in the Davies era, and it’s almost a shame it isn’t the season finale proper, as it would be an unbearable, months-long wait to see the resolution to everything this episode does. It would be the Doctor Who equivalent of Part One of “The Best of Both Worlds,” which ended the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact it’s somewhat strange that Doctor Who – a show infamous for its end of episode cliffhangers – has yet to end a season on any kind of serious hang (stuff like regenerations or Donna suddenly appearing in the TARDIS doesn’t really count). The feeling I got watching “The Pandorica Opens” is the exact same feeling I got while watching the last 20 minutes of “Utopia” from Season Three – only this thing kept up that level of intensity for nearly a whole hour.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Doctor Who: The Lodger

Each season of the new Doctor Who has one or two “experimental” episodes – stories that just don’t feel like anything that’s come before. Thus far, most – if not all – of these stories have been successes. “Boom Town,” “Love & Monsters,” “Blink,” “Turn Left,” and “Midnight” have arguably been highlights in each of their seasons. It’s noteworthy that all but one of those was written by Russell T. Davies (and of course the one that wasn’t, “Blink,” was written by Steven Moffat). Davies seemed to be giving himself chances to think outside the [police?] box, and do something radical and different with the series on each occasion. I’m still not sure whether “Amy’s Choice” (which, like this one, was also directed by Catherine Moreshead) should be lumped into this group, but surely “The Lodger” is oddball enough to add to the list. So how does it stack up?

Well, it’s worth pondering why the story was made in the first place. For starters, it was very likely a chance to save some money. Aside from the episode’s climax, most of this tale is just people involved in seemingly everyday situations. But I think maybe there was more to it than just saving cash. Aside from “Boom Town,” the aforementioned stories were all designed to give the lead actors breaks. Given that this was the inaugural season of a new era for the show, it probably would have been a risky move to write the Doctor and Amy out for the bulk of a story, so instead what “The Lodger” does is remove Karen Gillan for most of the episode, while allowing Matt Smith the chance to chill out and just banter with James Corden (Gavin & Stacey) for an hour. Oh, and he also gets to play football, but since Smith has a history with the game, that probably wasn’t too taxing for him – the guy looks like he had a blast in that scene. Yes, for those of you who don’t know, Matt Smith once upon a time had dreams of being footballer, but a back injury led to him taking up acting instead.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Doctor Who: The Time Monster

Given that there was such a dearth of new Jon Pertwee releases over the last couple years, the classic Doctor Who DVD range has more than made up for the oversight this year. Between the outstanding “Dalek War” box set and the middling “Peladon” stories, it’s been quite the ride for fans of the Third Doctor (although there are numerous great Pertwee tales that have yet to make it to the silver platter). Somewhere in between the aforementioned concepts resides the final story of Season Nine, “The Time Monster,” which, for a series that so heavily relies on both time travel and monsters, is either a brilliant title or a stupid one.

The Master (Roger Delgado) is using the alias Professor Thascalos at the Newton Research Unit at Cambridge University. He’s experimenting with time via an ornate crystal and a machine called TOM-TIT (alright, have you got the giggles out of your system?). TOM-TIT stands for Transmission of Matter through Interstitial Time, which is more impressive than the acronym. What is Interstitial Time you ask? It’s the bit that comes between “now” and “now,” or so the story explains. Somewhere in this hazy netherworld exists creatures called Chronovores – time eaters, an idea which was years later explored by Paul Cornell in the new series episode “Father’s Day.” Apparently, the winged, starkly white Chronos is the strongest of them all, but what does any of this have to do with Atlantis? Quite a bit, or so it seems, since the last two episodes of this six-parter take place in the doomed, mythical city.

There’s an awful lot going on in “The Time Monster” (probably too much) and the entire Atlantean subplot should’ve been scrapped altogether, but then there wouldn’t have been enough story to fill all six installments. Regardless, take the mythical stuff out of the equation, and you end up with one of the series’ more complex meditations on time. Each episode offers up some new zinger or angle through which the ideas are explored. Granted, some of it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the ride isn’t altogether cohesive, but it’s a ride nonetheless. The team of regulars seems to be having quite a bit of fun at this stage of the Pertwee game – sometimes maybe even too much, as this story has a few unnecessary comedic flourishes, and yet there’s nothing that ever really damages the overall integrity (such as it is) of the goings-on.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Doctor Who: The Horns of Nimon & Underworld

Following producer Philip Hinchcliffe’s nearly perfect era of Doctor Who was never going to be an easy task for anyone, but it fell upon Graham Williams to take the job. His three years on the series are pretty uneven, but that’s not to say that he didn’t occasionally produce a gem here and there. Here are two stories from his era that together are a pretty good representation of its highs and lows. Both were released in the U.K., along with “The Time Monster,” in a box set called “Myths and Legends.” The set was named as such because the three stories have ties to classic myths, but really it was just a mildly clever way of boxing up three stories that consumers would have little interest in buying individually. Here in the States, the box has been nixed, so we’re allowed to pick and choose as we like.

In “The Horns of Nimon,” the TARDIS crashes into a space freighter carrying some precious cargo to the planet Skonnos. Apparently, the Skonnon Empire has seen better days, and so one of its leaders, Soldeed (Graham Crowden), has struck a deal with a strange, horned creature called the Nimon, who resides in a labyrinthine power complex within the planet. In exchange for teenagers from the nearby planet Aneth, the Nimon has promised Soldeed that it will help him restore Skonnos to its former glory. And what self-aggrandizing despot wouldn’t go for a deal like that? The Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 (voiced by David Brierly for Season 17 only) discover the Nimon isn’t being entirely up front with Soldeed, and intends to take over the whole of the planet when the time is right. Naturally, the two Time Lords can’t allow that to happen.

Read the rest of the DVD review for "Nimon" along with the review for "Underworld" by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.