Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series

A few months back, I wasn’t terribly happy with Season Six based on its first half, but was content to wait for the second half before making a final decision. So here we are, and while the second half of the season turned out to not necessarily be any better than the first half, it wasn’t any worse, either. It’s both as dazzling and problematic as the first half. Half this, half that. Can we just get a season that runs for 13 straight weeks next time?

There was a near three-month break in between the halves, and it feels that way onscreen as well when “Let’s Kill Hitler” kicks off nowhere near the emotional cliffhanger of “A Good Man Goes to War.” The series, having played its hand – the reveal that River Song (Alex Kingston) is the daughter of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) – moves onto other issues that curiously have little to do with killing Hitler. The show travels back in time not to eradicate the Führer, but instead to explore how Melody Pond became River Song. Or is it the other way around?

The only thing you can be sure of with this season of Doctor Who is that the minute you’re sure of something, something else will happen that changes the way you view the events.

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Farscape: The Complete Series

Most of the sci-fi shows you enjoy today owe some kind of debt to Farscape. On the flip side, most of the sci-fi shows you grew up on, Farscape liberally stole bits and pieces from. It’s quite possibly the most unoriginally original series ever made. Here’s a show that came along at a time when space opera wasn’t doing a whole lot of experimentation, and yet that’s almost exclusively what Farscape did. It took heaping platefuls of well-worn sci-fi clichés and ideas and turned them on their ear, seemingly just to find out what would happen. Most of it worked, some of it did not, but that’s the price you pay for innovation. The show was primarily a drama, but that didn’t stop it from working in jokes and sight gags whenever possible. This was considerably different when compared to the various, dry Star Trek series that were around at the time. It also featured loads of monsters and aliens, most of which stand the test of time, which is unsurprising since The Jim Henson Company was behind the show, and they are, after all, the folks who built an empire on a frog and a pig.

But The Muppet Show, Farscape is not, and don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise. It’s a serious show for people who take their sci-fi seriously but can still appreciate a good fart gag every now and then. Over the course of 88 hour-long episodes, it tells the story of Earth astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) who, within the first 10 minutes of the pilot episode, is flung halfway across the universe via a wormhole, only to end up smack in the middle of an epic space battle. He soon finds himself living onboard a living ship called Moya amongst a group of alien prisoners who are on the run from their captors, the Peacekeepers, a militant group of human-looking aliens. As the series progresses, Crichton goes from inchworm to King Cobra, and eventually ends up being the most important man in the Uncharted Territories because of one thing: the wormhole knowledge planted deep in his psyche by an alien race known as the Ancients. Whoever possesses this knowledge will be able to build a weapon of awesome might, although what Crichton really wants is to just get home; too bad every alien the other side of the Milky Way wants a piece of him along the way.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Doctor Who: Colony in Space & The Talons of Weng-Chiang (Special Edition)

"Colony in Space" is really only noteworthy for one thing: It marked the first time the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) took a trip to another planet in the TARDIS since his exile to Earth at the start of his third life. He’s allowed to do this only at the behest of the Time Lords, who realize the Master (Roger Delgado) has stolen information on something called a Doomsday Weapon, and they quite rightly fear what he plans to do with it. So the Doctor and Jo (Katy Manning) are whisked away to the year 2472 on the dirty, muddy world of Uxarieus, the planet of the weapon’s origin.

There they encounter two opposing factions of humans: a group of colonists trying to begin a new life (Earth has apparently all but gone to hell at this point) and a group of miners working for a corporation called IMC. IMC has discovered that the planet is rich in minerals and they’re using some very unscrupulous methods to get the colonists to leave. There are also the planet’s indigenous life forms, which appear to be little more than mute and tribal, yet deep in their underground city lies the secrets of the Doomsday Weapon.

Read the rest of this DVD review, as well as one for the Special Edition of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang," by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Woman

At its most basic level, The Woman asks a straightforward question: Who’s the real monster, a cannibalistic mountain woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) or Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), the sleazy small-town lawyer who captures and imprisons her? Even though the answer is choreographed early on, it’s how director Lucky McKee explores the idea as the picture moves forward that sells the concept.

Cleek first spots the Woman while on a hunting trip. He fixates, obsesses, and then returns home to plot the capture and set up a makeshift prison in an outdoor cellar. He returns, deftly executes his plan, and brings her back to the homestead. So far, so good. Cleek’s aim is to domesticate the savage beast, and he forces his family – made up of his wife, Belle (Angela Bettis), and their three kids – into complicity in the matter. The Cleeks are a family in peril, smothered by every move the patriarch makes. They’re a family operating in the absence of love, headed for a breaking point. Will the Woman be the final straw?

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

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Talking Tarantino...with Robert Forster and Rosanna Arquette

With the simultaneous Blu-ray releases of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, arguably the two jewels in the Quentin Tarantino crown, you can now own all of the filmmaker’s features on the high-def platter. Have the best been saved for last? Quite possibly. And if you’re of a certain age, there’s also a good chance you haven’t seen one or even both of them, which means you are in for some seriously cinematic rides. Perhaps the best news, aside from how gorgeous they look, is that both discs are very reasonably priced, which makes them much easier to obtain than Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase.

This writer had something of a Tarantino-thon recently by viewing both discs back to back, and, unsurprisingly, they did not disappoint. But I was especially taken by Pulp Fiction, as I hadn’t seen it in years, and everything that’s great and revolutionary about it came flooding back. See, I was 23 when Pulp Fiction came out in 1994, and it was a time when film as an art form was feeling awfully stilted. And then this movie charged out of the gate and it was like nothing anybody else was even attempting to do. It was the most seductive piece of filmmaking I’d seen in years. It wasn’t just me, either. Everyone I knew who was into film felt the same way. Despite the fact that we were already bowing at the altar of Reservoir Dogs, nothing prepared us for the Fiction. We devoured it, repeatedly, and discussed its many intricacies and detours like it was some kind of biblical text. I saw it on the big screen at least a half a dozen times, and each viewing was like going to film church. A few months later came the crappy bootleg VHS tape, and it’s anyone’s guess how often I sat through that. By the time the laserdisc was released, I was beginning to suffer burnout. That, mixed with a few other factors, pretty much kept me away from Pulp Fiction for a decade or more (give or take a scene or two on cable from time to time).

Pulp Fiction today feels absolutely as fresh as it did all the way back in the autumn of ’94. The film has the power to come back in a big way, on the best home video format currently available. Forget about digital downloads and streaming, Blu-ray is hands down the best way to experience this movie. (As it turns out, aside from an old DVD, Blu-ray is the only way to legally obtain the movie presently.) We turned to one of the film’s stars, the versatile Rosanna Arquette, who plays piercing fetishist Jody, to see how she was feeling about the Fiction years after the fact. “What I’m excited about is that it’s going to be a whole new audience discovering the film. I have a teenager, and all of her friends are watching it,” she enthused.

Read the rest of this feature/interview by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

When John Hughes died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago at the age of 59, folks my age (I’ll be 40 soon) were understandably unnerved. Even though it had been some time since he’d created anything worthy of mass consumption, probably a dozen different projects bearing his name all but collectively define my generation. Hughes was the voice of angst-ridden ‘80s youth, and I dare say that no filmmaker since has come even close to replicating the feat for any subsequent generations on such a consistent basis.

People still wonder, “Why don’t they make movies like The Breakfast Club anymore?,” and it’s a valid question that leads to a possibly startling truth: Hughes’ vision was as unique as a Kubrick or a Tarantino. A big difference is that he made it look easy, even though making movies as perfect as Hughes frequently did is anything but. His movies are in fact so timeless in their way that a flick like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remains as relevant today as it was back in ’86.

Now go back to 1994, if you can, and remember when John Candy died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 43. I was 23 at the time, and 43 didn’t seem all that young to me, but – surprise, surprise – it sure as hell does now. Of course, 43 is ridiculously young, and it’s not as if Candy was a druggie or a boozer or what have you. His biggest social “crime” was being a big guy, and eventually he paid for it, which is very, very sad.

I’ve been on a John Candy kick for a few months now, trying to catch up on some of his later films that I missed. Most of them haven’t been very good, even when he’s good in them. Probably his last great performance was in JFK in ’91, and even though he’s only got a scene or two in that movie, you can tell that there were sides of Candy that we never got to see. Candy is the kind of actor who would’ve eventually had a career renaissance, and we would’ve seen those sides that were only hinted at in his early work. I miss John Candy now more than ever, because I miss all the work he never got to do.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks

As classic Doctor Who DVD releases go, few have had as much pre-release hype surrounding them as “Day of the Daleks.” The first teaser trailer for it appeared earlier this year, and since then, it’s been one of the most anticipated DVDs in the range – not because “Day of the Daleks” is on everyone’s “most wanted” list, but because 2 Entertain (and specifically Steve Broster) had created a secretive special edition of the story. What’s been done with “Day” is probably less of a secret at this point, but for those who’d like to know how one diehard fan feels about it all, read on.

The story turns on the politician Sir Reginald Styles, who’s in the process of brokering a peace conference that will avert World War Three. Late one night at Auderly House, the mansion where Styles is staying, a guerrilla soldier, dressed to kill, appears in front of him…and then promptly disappears again. UNIT and the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) are called in to investigate. What they discover is a faction of soldiers from the future, attempting to travel back in time to assassinate Styles, who 200 years from now is known as the man who started decades of world wars which ruined the planet. 22nd century Earth is a world in ruins. Humanity has been largely destroyed by not only years of war, but also by the Daleks, who apparently swept in and took control when the planet was at its most vulnerable.

Does that all sound a bit epic? Because honestly, if you watch “Day of the Daleks” with the right kind of eyes, it feels pretty epic, or at least it does now, thanks to Steve Broster.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Meet Monica Velour

Any guy who’s ever spent any amount of time “appreciating” pornography has sooner or later found a particular actress who catches his lustful eye. What usually happens after that guy finds that girl is that he sets out to find more of her work, which is understandable, because that’s what we do with any artist we’ve come to appreciate. Whether or not pornographic actors should be considered artists is a debate for another place, but the devoted manner in which 17-year-old Tobe (Dustin Ingram) obsesses over fictitious ‘80s porn icon Monica Velour (Jamie Tisdale) leaves you feeling that she no doubt has that certain “something” that surely must have set her apart from her contemporaries.

All that being said, what most of us don’t do is try to seek out and meet our favorite porn star, but as you might guess from the title Meet Monica Velour, that’s exactly what Tobe does. But this is present day, and Monica is now 49 years old and a far cry from the nubile young vixen featured in Tobe’s VHS collection. She’s lost most of her looks and gained a fair amount of weight. She smokes, drinks and snorts. She lives in a trailer park in Pinhook, Indiana. She has a young daughter whom she’d desperately like to get custody of, and an obnoxious ex-husband (Sam McMurray) who’s hell bent on keeping that from ever happening. Despite all of this, Tobe remains smitten, and it’s easy to see why, because the 49-year-old Monica Velour (or rather Linda Romanoli, which is her real name) is played by Kim Cattrall.

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

Doctor Who: "Day of the Daleks" Special Edition Screencaps

Here are just a few screencaps to whet your appetite for the upcoming "Day of the Daleks" Special Edition that hits R1 DVD on Sept. 13th.

This is a CGI vision of the future. If the Controller fell out of his bedroom window and landed on the ground below, this is what the world might look like. Luckily, Steve Broster, who produced this SE, has chosen not to show us what the Controller's bedroom looks like.

Daleks and Ogrons emerging from the future.

The Daleks invade Auderly House. (Remember the single Dalek opening the door in the original?)

A vast improvement. 'Nuff said.

Look for my full review of this 2-disc set on Sept. 13th, both here and at Bullz-Eye.com.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One

Since they only represent the first half of a season, it’s difficult to give any kind of fair review to this block of seven episodes. They begin strong, with loads of promise, but then slowly peter away into utter mediocrity. At the end of the semi-revelatory seventh episode, it’s still only mid-season, so it’s entirely probable the series will redeem itself later this year in the final six installments. It needs to, because if it doesn’t, Season Six could go down as the weakest since the series re-started in 2005.

But who would’ve thought such thoughts upon broadcast, given the way this block starts out? The opening United States-set and partially lensed two-parter – comprised of “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” – is gloriously near-perfect; a tale of Richard Nixon, Neil Armstrong’s left foot, and the most unsettling aliens the series has unveiled since the Weeping Angels. The Silence were seeded throughout Season Five, and hence had a lot to live up to, and while there’s no question they’re creepy looking, what really sells them is the premise: beings that edit themselves from your memory the moment you stop looking at them. With the Angels you at least knew they were there, so there was something to fight against. The Silence make the battle considerably trickier and disturbing. The goings-on are helmed by the great Toby Haynes (“The Big Bang,” “A Christmas Carol”), who once again proves that he’s the ideal director for bringing Steven Moffat’s words to life. Even if there’s a bit of rubbish in the script, Haynes is able to convincingly gloss over it so viewers barely notice. Further, these two episodes set up the season with a handful of different mysterious complexities that promise greatness to come. But will it?

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

Torchwood: The Complete Original U.K. Series

If you’re currently digging Torchwood: Miracle Day on Starz, and it’s your first exposure to Torchwood as a concept, then boy do I have a Blu-ray for you. This box set collects together all the episodes of Torchwood that were created prior to Miracle Day, so if you aren’t caught up and would like to delve into all that came before, buy the ticket and take this ride.

Torchwood was designed to be something of an adult spin-off of Doctor Who, and in order to kick things off, producer Russell T. Davies brought the slick con-man character of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) over from the parent series to the new show, and in doing so, Jack was reenvisioned as a begrudgingly heroic central figure cursed with immortality. Although there were subtle nods for hardcore Who devotees, Torchwood quickly became its own dog. Whereas Doctor Who was very much about finding the good in humanity, Torchwood seemed hell-bent on showcasing the flaws. Its exploration of the selfish, darker sides of being human through the lens of science fiction became its hallmark.

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Doctor Who: Frontios & Time and the Rani

It’s been said by more than one person that Peter Davison didn’t “find” the Fifth Doctor until his final story, “The Caves of Androzani.” That is, of course, utter codswallop, but to those who do believe it, I point you in the direction of “Frontios,” which shows Davison giving one of the strongest performances of his tenure.

The TARDIS has drifted into the far, far future and come upon the planet Frontios, where the last remnants of the human race have taken up residence (it possibly takes place after the new series episode, “The End of the World”). They’ve been there for over 50 years, barely hanging on, and seemingly in the midst of a long-term war with invisible invaders from the stars. During a meteor bombardment of the planet’s surface, the TARDIS is forced to make a landing. Because the colony is so fresh and their situation so precipitous, the Doctor (Davison) must be careful in his interference, and he makes the point time and again that should anyone ask, “We were never here.” Exactly who’s attacking Frontios, why is Turlough (Mark Strickson) raving like a madman, and how come Tegan’s (Janet Fielding) ass never looked like that before?

Obviously, that last remark was meant to provoke a laugh, but it’s true: Fielding’s black leather ‘80s mini-skirt looks mighty tight in “Frontios.” Tegan’s a companion that never really gets her “sexy due,” but between a story like this and the recently released Mara double feature, maybe it’s time to do a little retro-salivation. Look past her bitchiness and behold the bitch. Turlough also gets some good screen time, as yet another piece of his character puzzle is put into place, and, as previously stated, Davison is in prime form taking charge and cracking wise. One of the tale’s best jokes comes from the Doctor trying to pass Tegan off as a somewhat defective android: “I got this one cheap because the walk’s not quite right.” It doesn’t hurt that he’s working from an ambitious script by Chris Bidmead, as demonstrated by the fact that, perhaps more than anything else, this is the story known as “the one where the TARDIS blows up.” (This was years before Steven Moffat blew it up again.)

Read the rest of this DVD review, as well as a few thoughts on the "Time and the Rani" DVD by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Louie: The Complete First Season

On more than one occasion I’ve seen Louie described as depressing, and if it’s said by more than two people, maybe there’s some truth to it. I like to think of it as more along the lines of uncomfortable, but any way you slice it, it probably isn’t the kind of show destined for marathon viewings. Two or three episodes in a row are plenty for one day. But therein lies some of its genius, as this is a thinking person’s comedy series, and rarely does it aim for disposable “yuk yuk” laughs.

Louis C.K. tried series television once before with Lucky Louie on HBO, a series that’s as different from this one as Full House is from Arrested Development. That show was canceled after only one season, but if C.K. keeps doing on FX what he’s doing here, this one could go on for years. Outside of the central character being a stand-up comic and a divorced father of two daughters, there is no solid premise to the show, so there isn’t really anything to wear out over the long haul. Each episode features one or two ideas that C.K. describes as “stuff that doesn’t fit into my [stage] show.” Occasionally these ideas stem from him being divorced or a comic or a single dad, but mostly they just emerge from him being a middle-aged man fraught with insecurity. The show is brutally honest and there are episodes that cross over into dramatic territory by not actually being funny at all. That’s not to imply that the jokes fall flat, just that the material goes into too dark an area to even be considered comedy in these moments.

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

Monday, June 06, 2011

A History of Ultraviolence

Ultraviolence – the word, not the idea – was invented in 1962 when Anthony Burgess published his novel, A Clockwork Orange. While the book may have raised some eyebrows, reading about the atrocities perpetrated by teen thug Alex and his droogies was one thing; seeing them committed to the big screen by master cinema stylist Stanley Kubrick was quite another. Allegations of copycat crimes followed and the controversy eventually grew so frightening that the film was withdrawn from circulation in England for 27 years, apparently at Mr. Kubrick's request. Meanwhile in the U.S., it was one of only two productions to receive both an X rating and a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Today, we have another word for "ultraviolence" – just another Saturday night at the movies.

Now that a new 40th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is upon us, it seems like a good time to take a look back at what was once considered extreme film violence and what still is considered the outer limits of what you can, or should want to, show on a motion picture or television screen. Yes, graphic violence in major productions had been exploding since the moment Alfred Hitchcock blindsided audiences with the Psycho shower scene in 1960. It would take some time before the kind of extreme shocks once sought out only by the hardiest of grindhouse horror fans could be seen by anyone with a subscription to basic cable.

Stay with us now, as somewhat squeamish but ever-fascinated cinema chicken Bob Westal and hardened connoisseur of the horrific Ross Ruediger take you on a journey through movies that were once called "ultraviolent," movies that are still pretty ultraviolent, and movies that are something well past that. We'll move from a time when the death of a couple of pretty and sympathetic gangsters shocked the sensibilities of many, to the present moment when truly shocking an audience seems to require an ultra-twisted imagination. Viddy this.

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons / Planet of the Spiders

This month sees a noteworthy pair of classic Who stories hitting the silver platter, including Jon Pertwee’s swansong, “Planet of the Spiders.” But before getting there, let’s first travel back to 1971.

Though “Terror of the Autons” kicked off producer Barry Letts’s second season, it was the first story he had a solid hand in guiding. (The previous year had been crafted in large part by outgoing producer Derrick Sherwin.) Letts wanted to bring a warmer feel to the show, so out went the Doctor’s scientist companion Liz Shaw, and in came the bubbly Jo Grant (Katy Manning), as well as the dashing Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin). The pair, along with the Doctor (Jon Pertwee), the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sergeant Benton (John Levene), helped Letts bring the “family” to UNIT. But there was one piece of the puzzle missing, and Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks surmised that the relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier had grown into a Holmes/Watson dynamic, so they felt the show needed a Moriarty, as well. Enter the Master.

Letts claims that Roger Delgado was always his first and only choice for the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, and from the moment he appears onscreen, it’s easy to see why. Right off the bat Delgado is, in the words of Frank Booth, “one suave fucker.” He looks like he’s been playing the part for years rather than minutes, and as a viewer you immediately understand him and get where he’s coming from. Yet the Doctor doesn’t seem to view him as an immediate threat, and frequently in the story it’s almost as if he’s looking forward to sparring with someone who’s an equal.

Read the rest of the DVD review for "Terror of the Autons," as well as "Planet of the Spiders" by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Being Human: Season Three

Of the Season Two finale of Being Human, I wrote that it “sets up a third season that will either be brilliant or a disaster.” Well, I’m both sad and happy to report that it is neither. Much happened in the last two episodes of the second season – the Box Tunnel massacre led by Mitchell (Aidan Turner), the resurrection of Herrick (Jason Watkins), and most importantly, Annie (Lenora Crichlow) being forced to go through the door into Purgatory, and Mitchell vowing to retrieve her. All of these elements play heavily into Season Three to varying degrees of success.

Now, Mitchell’s trip to Purgatory sure seemed like it would make for great television and the series wastes no time getting him there. It turns out to be nothing more than a drab house full of strange rooms that recall moments of Mitchell’s checkered past, and a slightly annoying woman called Lia (Lacey Turner), who foretells that the vampire will be killed by a “wolf-shaped bullet.” Oh, and she also happens to be the ghost of one of Mitchell’s Box Tunnel victims. When he finally finds Annie, it doesn’t take much to get her back to the corporeal world, and given how bland Purgatory was, one wonders what all of her fuss was about in the first place. Based on the images we saw of her screaming through the TV, you’d have thought she was burning in Hell.

Meanwhile, back in Wales (yes, Wales – the group has moved from Bristol into an empty Welsh B & B), George (Russell Tovey) and Nina (Sinead Keenan) appear to be doing just fine, and dealing with the complexities of being a werewolf couple without too much trouble. Until the full moon comes along, that is, and they end up in the same cell together for the night, and the werewolves get jiggy, and next thing you know, Nina is preggers. Perhaps their baby will come out looking like Eddie Munster, but that may be asking too much. And it would be too much, but not outside the realm of possibility, because if there’s one problem with the first few episodes of Season Three, it’s that the show appears to have lost its fine balance of horror and humor.

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

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Doctor Who Recaps for Season Six

Hey readers -

If you've come here looking for recaps (or links to recaps) of Season Six of Doctor Who, I'm afraid to say that I won't be doing them regularly this season. Really, after writing up nearly every episode since the show first (re)started back in 2005, I need a good long break from doing it. If you've ever tried to recap a series on and on, year after year, it becomes a drag after a while, and takes a big part of the fun out of the show for the person doing the writing.

However, I will very likely do a lengthy piece for Bullz-Eye after the mid season break, in which I'll ramble on and on about what I thought of the season so far. There will, of course, be a link to the piece here at the Rued Morgue, so please check in around that time.

Thanks for your interest!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Treme: The Big Uneasy

Nobody can accuse HBO of not doing its part to shed light on the plight of New Orleans. They got behind Spike Lee and his mammoth documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, and have since financed a follow-up doc from Lee entitled If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise. The former painstakingly covered the days and months in New Orleans after Katrina, while the latter traced the rebuilding of the city, the Saints winning the Superbowl, and the BP oil spill. Now, for most networks, this would have been enough. Some suit, when pitched the idea of an Orleans-based TV series, would've said, "We already devoted hours on the subject to Spike Lee. We did our part." Thankfully, HBO isn't that kind of network. If it were, we wouldn't have the chance to bask in David Simon's and Eric Overmyer's post-Katrina slice-of-life series, Treme.

Treme just kicked off its second season on HBO, and being HBO, there are still opportunities to catch the first episode, "Accentuate the Positive," in case you missed it. The show has now moved its characters fourteen months away from the storm that devastated their city, and instead of things looking up, it sees the storyline going into darker areas than it dared to in its freshman year. Dave Walker, TV critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, has lived in the city since 2000, so he not only knows a thing or two about Treme, but also what life's been like for residents since Katrina, and how the increasing level of violence in the second season isn't a TV gimmick, but a true case of art imitating life. Bullz-Eye spoke at length to Walker, who's got a great deal to say about the show's new season. "It's dark because those were very dark days in the city."

"The headlines got pretty grim in the time that they're depicting," Walker continues. "The recovery just seemed to be dragging. Violent crime had returned to the city, after basically being non-existent for a long time. In a perverse way, it may be better television, because it has events and activity that people are more used to seeing in television drama. We didn't exactly hail those elements as something that would improve narrative inertia at the time we were living through them, but I think for people who are just trying to watch TV, it may be stickier, it may be more compelling, because it's got stuff they see in other shows. I don't know. It's a weird show to handicap for viewers who are watching outside of New Orleans."

Lucia Micarelli, who plays up and coming violinist Annie Tee, talks of the sometimes unsettling nature of the manner in which the show is put together. "Annie's not so far away from me. So much that it's creepy. I was talking to Steve Earle a couple weeks ago, and he was saying how the show is so much art imitates life imitates art. It's really strange." She continues on, almost aghast, with a reminiscence revolving around a scene from an upcoming episode – one which is rooted in a real life tragedy. "A couple months ago we were shooting the funeral of a young musician who had been shot. And they got his actual family to be in that scene, and recreate the funeral, and say their eulogies. I remember when I found that out, I was like 'This is fucked up!'" Her personal feelings aside, Micarelli recalls the sequence as being almost cathartic for the family members involved.

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Doctor Who: Kinda / Snakedance

Search far and wide through the back catalogue of classic Doctor Who and you’ll be hard pressed to come up with a double bill that’s as rewarding as “Kinda” and “Snakedance.” The former is not just one of the greatest Who stories of the 80s, but one of the best in the entire canon of the series. The latter is… well, it’s a damn fine sequel. Both tales were penned by a guy named Christopher Bailey, who not only never wrote any other entries for the series, but after working on Who, never wrote for television again! This seems quite a travesty in light of how well this material has aged. Both tales are from the Peter Davison era, and both revolve heavily around the Fifth Doctor’s companion, Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding, who really delivers in both installments).

“Kinda” begins with the TARDIS having landed on the lush planet Deva Loka. The crew doesn’t appear to be in much of a hurry to do anything but relax, and soon enough, during a leisurely stroll through the forest, they encounter a mysterious display of enchanting chimes. Tegan, seemingly hypnotized by their spell, falls asleep beneath them while the Doctor and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) wander off, deeper in the forest. (Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa is written out at the top of this story, and doesn’t reappear until the close.) Also on Deva Loka is an expedition from another planet – colonialists searching for a new home. Their team is quickly losing members, however, and only three remain: the militant Sanders (Richard Todd), his subordinate Hindle (Simon Rouse), and the scientist Todd (Nerys Hughes).

Standing in the way of any potential colonization are the inhabitants of Deva Loka, known as the Kinda, a telepathic tribe of mutes who may or may not be more dangerous than they appear. But the real danger lurks in the dark corners of the mind, where Tegan meets an entity known as the Mara in a bizarre, hallucinatory dream state, and it’s able to emerge into the waking world through her, and then later through one of the Kinda, giving a mute figure voice for the first time in his life. And with voice, comes power.

Read the rest of the DVD reviews for “Kinda” and “Snakedance” by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Friday Night Lights: The Fifth and Final Season

Here’s a box set that’s a bit of a TV on DVD anomaly: Most fans of the series haven’t yet had the opportunity to view these episodes. If you watch Friday Night Lights on NBC, and you’re thinking, “Hey, did I somehow manage to miss the fifth season?,” the answer is no, you didn’t. This block of 13 episodes won’t begin airing until later this month on network TV. They did, however, play on DirecTV late last year and early this year, and now somebody, somewhere, has decided to go ahead and release this season on DVD before it plays on NBC. Given that this is the final season of this great series, that must make this set mighty tempting to the people who haven’t seen this material.

The big question, no doubt, is, “Does it deliver?” From this fan’s point of view the answer is “Most definitely.” But that’s a loaded answer that requires detailed – yet spoiler-free – explanation. If you didn’t care for the manner in which the show rebooted for Season Four, then there’s a good chance you’re not going to care for most of this season, either. Last season introduced four new major characters along with a slew of peripheral figures surrounding them, and this season continues on with those storylines. In many ways it feels less like a new season, and more like a continuation of last season’s stories; as if Seasons Four and Five combine to make one mammoth 26-episode story. It would be utterly useless to watch this block without having seen the year that preceded it, as that setup is imperative to appreciating what’s served up here.

Now, taking the above equation into consideration, the first three or four episodes of Season Five have a pretty unexpected “noodling” vibe, as if they’re the vaguely weak middle of this long story, and they’re biding their time until it begins ramping up for the big finish. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible the writers, led by Jason Katims, knew the ending they wanted, but weren’t sure of how to get there. I dub this the Hastings Ruckle Conundrum.

Read the rest of the DVD review - and find out more about the Hastings Ruckle Conundrum - by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Treme: The Complete First Season

Let’s talk about not only the most important TV series you’re not watching, but also the most entertaining and rewarding. It’s called Treme, (pronounced Truh-MAY) and its first season aired on HBO last year, but hardly anybody tuned in, including, it must be admitted, the writer of this piece. Well, I did watch the first three episodes, and while I liked the idea of Treme, something about it didn’t quite grab me enough to keep me tuning in. Once I was blind and now I can see.

Treme, from David Simon and Eric Overmyer (who previously worked with Simon on The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street), deals with the city of New Orleans three months after Katrina. It’s about how various citizens attempt, against the odds, to reclaim their home and start again. If that sounds at all dreary, let me tell you, it most certainly is not. Here’s a series that’s filled with equal amounts of joy and heartbreak. A character may experience a profound sense of despair, only to turn around and learn how to live again. The aftermath of the hurricane and the subsequent flooding of the city is merely a backdrop to draw rich, layered characters that quickly begin to feel like neighbors you know and love.

In many ways it reminds me of the rich tapestry Armistead Maupin accomplished with his Tales of the City series back in the 70s and 80s, only that was through prose (although eventually miniseries were made from his first three books). Maupin’s Tales have become integral reading for those who live in San Francisco, and in time the denizens of New Orleans will feel the same about Treme, assuming they don’t already.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom & The Ark

This month’s Doctor Who DVD offerings, from a storytelling standpoint, have virtually nothing in common. One is a contemporary earthbound tale about an invader from space, while the other takes place far in the future, on a ship taking a vast voyage across the stars. One is a nice looking color production from the 70s, and the other is a creaky black and white yarn from the 60s. One of them is very, very good, and the other is, well, not. Aside from being Doctor Who, the two do have one other thing in common, and that’s that their titles are similar to some other Who stories, both of which have been previously released on DVD. Seven years before Tom Baker battled the Krynoid in “The Seeds of Doom,” Patrick Troughton squared off against the Ice Warriors in “The Seeds of Death,” and nine years after William Hartnell defeated the Monoids in “The Ark,” Tom Baker fought the Wirrn on a different ark (albeit one on a similar journey) in “The Ark in Space.” Hopefully nobody will get either of those arks confused with “Arc of Infinity,” but it is a possibility. If you’re confused, I apologize, because that wasn’t the intention.

Having previously praised two other stories (“Planet of Evil” and “The Brain of Morbius”) from Season Thirteen, it’s nice to have the opportunity to gush about its season finale, “The Seeds of Doom.” Yet another entry from the superb Philip Hinchcliffe produced era, “Seeds” sees the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) coming into contact with a nasty form of alien life called the Krynoid. As the Doctor so succinctly puts it, “On most planets, the animals eat the vegetation. On planets where the Krynoid gets established, the vegetation eats the animals.”

Read the rest of these DVD reviews by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

ReBoot: Seasons One & Two

It behooves those of us who write about pop culture to occasionally come clean, and admit that a TV show or a movie has flummoxed us. ReBoot, for me, is one such concept. That I was felled by a Saturday morning cartoon isn’t something that sets easy with me, but I feel as though I have to state it upfront, as it’s the only way I can be sure that this review will make sense. Otherwise, long-time fans of this cult series will no doubt read these words and have good long belly laughs at the newbie, and his failure to grasp what to them probably seems simple and obvious.

ReBoot takes places in a computer world called Mainframe. Its inhabitants refer to the unseen User as a sort of god, I suppose. Guardian Bob (Michael Benyaer) is the central character, and together with his friends Dot Matrix (Kathleen Barr) and her little brother Enzo (Jesse Moss, and later, Matthew Sinclair), the trio do battle primarily against two viruses named Megabyte (Tony Jay) and Hexadecimal (Shirley Millner). Megabyte and Hexadecimal are themselves frequently caught up in battles of their own. There are a seemingly infinite number of other little critters of all shapes and sizes running around Mainframe; some are good and some are bad.

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

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cable Guy

It could be said that the most amazing thing about The Cable Guy is how largely ignored it was by domestic audiences and how shabbily it was treated by critics. What’s even more amazing, though, is how good of a film it really is, and how it’s aged extremely well over the past 15 years. Point two feeds point one, but never mind, you get the point.

The movie is a dark comedy, and oh how I hate to describe it using the “d” word, because every review ever written about The Cable Guy calls it dark, sometimes unflatteringly so, as if that’s a bad thing. It is dark, but it’s darkly humorous, and crammed with laughs. Yet the film’s roots aren’t in comedy, but rather the pulpy stalker genre. Producer Judd Apatow and director Ben Stiller freely admit to watching stuff like Bad Influence, Unlawful Entry and Single White Female in preparation for the shoot. In fact, on the commentary track, many different movies are mentioned as reference points, but none that I can recall were comedies. One scene, featuring a karaoke party populated by elderly folk, was apparently inspired by the end of Rosemary’s Baby. Heh.

The script, written by Lou Holtz Jr. (who seemingly never wrote anything that got produced either before or since), is practically a carbon copy of every stalker flick you’ve ever seen. Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick) is having problems with his girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann), so he’s moved out and gotten his own apartment. Enter the Cable Guy, Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey), who refuses to take the hint that Steven isn’t looking for a new friend. The rest of the film is almost play for play the kind stuff you’ve seen in all the classic stalker films, only you’ve never seen the material played like this. It occurred to me on this viewing that perhaps the film wasn’t even written to be a comedy, but that maybe there was just something off enough about the script that somebody thought it had comedic potential. Remove Carrey’s over the top performance, and tweak a couple scenes and ideas, and all of a sudden the movie isn’t all that funny anymore (at least not intentionally). Even as is, there are several scenes that border on the disturbing.

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

48 Hrs.

Man, 1982 was one hell of a year for movies. In doing some research for 48 Hrs., I came across a list of flicks released that year. Here are just some of the titles: E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, First Blood, My Favorite Year, Night Shift, Pink Floyd: The Wall, and Poltergeist. Still not convinced? Try on Blade Runner, Porky’s, Sophie’s Choice, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Tootsie. That’s still not even close to all the cool films that came out in ‘82, but they are some of the most memorable. 48 Hrs. is, of course, another of those films, and even amongst all those titles, it somehow managed to be the seventh highest grossing film of the year. This was back when an R rating wasn’t the box office equivalent of a scarlet letter like it so often is today. A big movie loaded with skin, guns and four-letter words could be released and people didn’t freak out and postulate the end of civilization. Instead, they went to see it. Better days I guess, or at least different times.

48 Hrs. isn’t necessarily a great movie from today’s vantage point, but it was a highly influential one. It’s generally credited as the flick that jump-started the whole “buddy cop” formula which has been beat into the ground hard enough over the past 30 years that we might as well call it a dead horse. Funny thing about 48 Hrs. – only one of the buddies is a cop; the other is a convict, who in the film’s most famous scene impersonates a cop. But that’s probably just splitting hairs, because the tone, structure and writing are all Buddy Cop 101. If one were to see 48 Hrs. for the first time today, there’s a good chance they’d be underwhelmed, and wonder what all the fuss was about back in the day. The film’s been ripped off so many times over the years that all the originality it once possessed is nigh impossible to spot. Halloween is another good example of this.

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

All About Eve

In our celebrity-obsessed culture, it’s possible that All About Eve is more important than ever. Scratch that. How about it’s more entertaining than ever? It’s debatable whether Eve has ever been an important movie, at least outside of its place in film history, but the one thing it’s always been is entertaining. That this 60-year-old film can still amuse, enlighten, move and make us cackle in our living rooms all these years later isn’t something to be dismissed, nor is its Oscar track record for that matter. Until the release of Titanic, it held the record for the most Academy Award nominations with 14; now the two films are tied in that department. All About Eve went on to win six of those awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. More on Eve and the Oscars later.

The movie traces the calculated theatrical rise of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), as she lies, backstabs and claws her way to the top. She starts out claiming to be nothing more than a fanatic for celebrated stage actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis), whose life she quietly insinuates herself into, but soon she becomes Margo’s personal assistant, and she doesn’t stop there. No, not Eve; she’ll do whatever it takes to become Margo, or at least someone very much like her. There are obstacles in Eve’s way, however – theatre folk she must navigate her way through in order to attain her goals.

She must gain the trust of Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), the wife of Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), the playwright who pens the productions Margo stars in; Lloyd she must merely impress. Then there’s Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), the director and Margo’s steady. Bill’s a little trickier than some of the others. He isn’t wowed by Eve in the same way everyone else seems to be. And finally, there’s Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), the acerbic theatre critic who knows and sees all. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, DeWitt steadily unloads on Eve: “Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on? That you have the same contempt for me as you have for them? Look closely, Eve. It's time you did. I am Addison DeWitt. I am nobody's fool, least of all yours.”

All About Eve is loaded with some of the most incredible dialogue ever written for a film. Were it all broken up and used in little chunks in 30 other screenplays, they’d all be elevated from average to memorable. Instead, it’s all here in this one movie, and nary a line is wasted on words trivial. The actors chew on the English language and spit it back out for our pleasure. It’s fitting that a movie about people who devote their lives to the craft of theatre should be such an actor’s piece. While nobody can accuse writer/director Joe Mankiewicz of not knowing his way around a camera, he’s clearly not obsessed with creating fanciful shots that distract from the real star of the film, which is his screenplay.

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

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Doctor Who: The Mutants

Interesting tidbit about “The Mutants”: Salman Rushdie mentions it in his famously controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, although not by name, but rather by bringing up the Mutts from the story and offering up a few observations. Some fans have derided Rushdie’s brief commentary as misinterpreting the messages of the story, but that’s a debate for another forum. What’s noteworthy, though, is that Rushdie was paying close enough attention to see any kind of message at all. It’s not that the messages are muddled, so much as they’re covered in enough layers of sci-fi that they don’t dominate the story. Ostensibly, “The Mutants” is something of a metaphor for colonialism, Apartheid and xenophobia, although one can hardly claim the story beats you over the head with any of these ideas. Certainly the messages are no more prevalent than in dozens of other similarly structured Who stories, but if somebody wants or needs to see them, they’re definitely there.

The action unfolds in the 30th century, and the Doctor (Jon Pertwee), with Jo Grant (Katy Manning) in tow, has been sent on a mission by the Time Lords to deliver a message to an unknown person on the planet Solos. Solos has for hundreds of years been under the rule of the Earth Empire and the indigenous population has long since grown not only restless, but rebellious even. But something else is happening to the Solonians – they’re mutating into a new race, which the humans refer to as Mutts, and they look something like giant cockroaches that walk on two legs. Why is this happening? Does it have anything to do with the poisonous atmosphere on Solos, or is it just a natural stage of their evolution?

Maybe the real reason this story gets singled out for its political content is because it feels more mature than not only other stories from its era, but also much of classic Who in general. The characters are complex and layered, but not always in the most engaging of ways. Likewise, the story either takes numerous needless detours to get where it’s going, or it’s a genuinely multifaceted piece of work. After two full viewings, I still can’t decide which, but I’d imagine much of one’s take on it would depend entirely on how much enjoyment one gets out of it. The tone of it frequently doesn’t feel as much Doctor Who as it does another great ‘70s British sci-fi series, Blake’s 7, and while viewing “The Mutants” I kept imagining Blake, Avon and the rest of the crew from the Liberator in charge of fixing the situation.

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

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

For the first Christmas special of his era of Doctor Who, nobody can accuse Steven Moffat of playing it safe. That’s not to imply that he delivered a piece of holiday fare that’s in any way dangerous, but rather that he broke so far away from the types of stories that Russell T. Davies served up for the holiday season that some viewers may have found the resulting tale to be a tad disorientating. But if there’s a major hallmark that Moffat has stamped on the series so far during his brief tenure, it’s disorientation. You’ve either got to get onboard or be left behind. My advice would be to go with the former, otherwise you’re liable to miss out on what should be some great Doctor Who when Season Six kicks off in (presumably) a couple months.

“A Christmas Carol” is not a direct riff on the Dickens tale, but rather an adventure that’s directly inspired by the Doctor’s (Matt Smith) awareness of Dickens. As you might recall, the Ninth Doctor met Dickens way back in Season One, and he professed to be his biggest fan. And although that meeting is never mentioned, clearly Moffat has taken it, and the Doctor’s fandom, into account.

The action begins on a crashing space liner (which has a very Star Trek: The Next Generation feel to it), aboard which is Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), who are celebrating their honeymoon. Moffat isn’t above throwing some innocent kink into the mix by putting Amy into her kiss-o-gram uniform and Rory into his Roman soldier digs, which is all good clean fun, and the sort of stuff Moffat revels in. The ship barrels down onto a planet with about an hour until it hits the surface, but the Doctor can’t lock onto it with the TARDIS, so he must head down to the planet and work from there. He discovers a world that appears Victorian, but in reality is an advanced Earth colony, lorded over by a horribly selfish man named Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon).

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

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Spit on Your Grave (1978) vs. I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

Submitting yourself to either version of I Spit on Your Grave requires that you have a cast iron stomach. The original is one of the most notorious horror films in movie history (or at least it was back in the 80s), although I sometimes wonder if that has more to do with the infamous movie poster than the film itself. Further, I also wonder if either film is really deserving of the label “horror.” Just because a movie contains horrific imagery doesn’t necessarily make it a horror film. What these movies really are is exploitative exercises in cruelty and humiliation. They’re for folks who thought that The Last House on the Left or its remake of the same name played it too safe.

The core plot is the same in both versions. A young female novelist from the big city named Jennifer Hills rents a cottage in the backwoods for the summer. There she encounters a group of redneck men intent on getting their mentally slow friend Matthew laid for the first time. Their mission spirals disastrously out of control, and at the hands of them, Jennifer is repeatedly beaten, kicked, shamed and raped, although not necessarily in that order. The second half of the film follows Jennifer Hills on her mission of payback, in which she methodically and cruelly offs each one of the men, and in the process loses something inside of herself (although maybe that’s just my take on the material). The differences between the two films are in the details.

The original focuses more heavily on the rapes, as Jennifer is passed around from one guy to the next. She escapes, they find her, and another assault occurs. Lather, rinse, repeat. One particular incident, which takes place on a rock, is one of the ugliest, saddest things I’ve ever seen portrayed in a feature film. In the remake, the rapes aren’t quite as front and center, but the emphasis on humiliation is almost unbearable. Either way, the material’s played, it’s thoroughly atrocious fare, and quite frankly I feel unqualified in trying to find a way to explain away such differences. If I were reviewing Deliverance and its inevitable remake (come on – you know it’s bound to happen sooner or later), it might be another matter entirely.

Read the rest of the DVD reviews for both films by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Doctor Who: The Movie (Special Edition)

At this point, after five seasons (and change) of dazzling new Doctor Who, it’s almost difficult to remember how lean the years were for the show after its cancellation in 1989. If I really project myself back to that time period, it reminds me that I shouldn’t take the new series for granted, because it can’t last forever. For a young fan in his twenties, each passing year with no new Who began feeling like an eternity. After seven years, we finally got something, and the results were this TV movie, which was co-produced by the BBC, Fox and Universal, and it aired on Fox in May of ‘96. Of course, seven years is nothing compared to the 15 years it’s taken for the TV movie to get a home video release in the U.S., and most fans had pretty much given up hope for any kind of domestic issue until last August when it was suddenly announced that the rights issues had been cleared up, and a R1 DVD loaded with bonus features was imminent. Who-ray (but not Blu-ray)!

Those aforementioned feelings of desperation were brought up to help illustrate how incredibly monumental the TV movie felt back in 1996. Not only was Doctor Who back, but it finally had boffo production values, there was the tease of a possible series provided the movie snagged some respectable ratings (which in the U.S. it did not), and perhaps more than anything else, Paul fucking McGann was playing the Doctor. I’d been a Withnail and I fanatic for several years already, and to my mind there was no better actor suited to bring the Doctor back to life. Indeed, I even recall telling my then-girlfriend a couple years prior during a Withnail viewing how McGann would make a great Doctor Who someday. I was likely stoned out of my gourd at the time, but that matters not.

So as you might guess, I have an enormous affinity for this film, despite its numerous problems. But it’s also interesting to note that nostalgia doesn’t necessarily have to play a part. I was talking with my Bullz-Eye compadre Will Harris the other day, and he was recalling how when he was a kid, he watched some Doctor Who, and knew instinctively it was something that he should like, yet it never really clicked for him. That all changed for Will in ’96 when he saw this movie and it turned him into a fan in one sitting. Of course, these days there are plenty of folks who really only know the show in its current incarnation, and one wonders how somebody who’s only ever seen new Who would react to this film. I’d like to believe favorably, but then again, it requires adjusting to a whole new Doctor, and some new series fans are slavishly devoted to some of the current Doctors to the point where they can’t be bothered with the concept if David Tennant isn’t on the screen.

Anyway, it’d probably be a good idea at this stage to talk about the actual film. Though it takes place in San Francisco, it was shot in Vancouver, and though it was filmed in ’96, it’s set on New Year’s Eve 1999. Right off the bat this presents a minor problem, simply because the planet went Y2K-crazy that New Year’s. The folks who made this movie did not have a time machine of their own, so they didn’t foresee the Y2K hysteria, and that’s something of a shame because it could’ve worked beautifully in this story. The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is transporting the remains of the Master back to Gallifrey after his arch-nemesis was put on trial for his crimes by the Daleks and they exterminated him. It’s a fairly absurd piece of exposition, especially since the Daleks aren’t well known for their legal system, but it gets the story going, so whatever. As the Doctor kicks back in the TARDIS drinking tea and reading H.G. Wells, something goes wrong with the machine, and the Master’s remains, in a kind of ooze-like form, escape from their urn and infect the console, forcing the machine to make an emergency landing in San Fran.

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

Friday, February 04, 2011

Santa Sangre

To label Santa Sangre a mere horror film does it a great disservice, but ultimately that’s where it’ll end up filed nine times out of ten, if no other reason than because so much of its imagery is horrific. But then even, the label horrific does much of that imagery the same kind of disservice, because it’s also dreamy and beautiful. Clearly this is not an easy movie to describe, and that’s probably the highest compliment that can be paid to it. To really get Santa Sangre, you have to immerse yourself in it, and if you can do that and come out the other side unscathed, well then, you’re my kind of people.

Take for instance one of the film’s most unnerving sequences. A circus elephant lays dying, blood pouring from its trunk onto the ground. When it finally passes on, its carcass is moved into a giant, ornate casket. A funeral is held for the beast, and it’s transported through the town, circus folk and carnies solemnly trailing behind. The procession ends up on the edge of a cliff. Hundreds of the poor stand around waiting, until the entire thing is tipped over and tumbles down into a filthy, disgusting junkyard. As soon as it hits the bottom, the crowd descends upon it with axes and the like, and they crack open the casket and begin dismembering the beast, tossing out huge chunks of its flesh to one another, presumably for food. Now, I don’t know what kind of movies you’ve been watching, but upon first seeing this spectacle 20 years ago, such imagery was entirely new to me. And this is just one scene of many, many in a film that seems to pride itself on outweirding itself one moment after the next.

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dallas: The Complete Fourteenth and Final Season

By 1990, the ‘80s nighttime power soaps were on the way out, and new types of soapy television, like Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place, were either on the air or on the horizon. Dynasty and Falcon Crest were gone, Knots Landing only had a couple seasons left in it, and the one that started them all, Dallas, was kicking off its final season. What on earth was there left for this show to do that it hadn’t done in the 13 seasons previous? Having successfully revamped the show in the previous year (at least artistically, even if not commercially), the producers now had to find a way to end it all. The core cast had dwindled down to only three characters that had been there since the start: J.R., Bobby and Cliff. And yet, if you’ve got those three guys, you’ve still got quite a bit to work with, and while the final season is never going to go down as a Dallas highpoint, at least it doesn’t go out like a bruised, whimpering puppy with its tail between its legs. Well, not quite.

When last we saw J.R. (Larry Hagman), thanks to his son James (Sasha Mitchell), he was being hauled off back into the looney bin where he’d been conducting some unsavory deeds. In this season, that story continues on for another five or so episodes, as he finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into an unhealthy state, although for perhaps the first time in his life, J.R. finds himself making actual friends. Meanwhile, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and April (Sheree J. Wilson) are honeymooning in Paris, and no sooner than they get off the plane than they run into Susan Lucci. Now, it’s a shame that soap characters are forced to live in a bubble, because as a viewer you’re yelling at the screen, “That’s Susan fucking Lucci! She’s evil!! No good can come from this. Stay away from her, Bobby and April!!!” Of course, they do not, and terrible, terrible things happen, but since the production has moved to Paris for an extended shoot, at least the proceedings look nice.

Back in Dallas, Cliff (Ken Kercheval) is angling for a government position as Energy Czar of the U.S., while at the same time romancing Liz Adams (Barbara Stock), a lady with a few secrets of her own which revolve around a slick, macho blowhard named John Danzig, a.k.a. Johnny Dancer (Ramy Zada). Sooner, rather than later, Dancer ends up deceased. But who done it? Cliff? Liz? Carter McKay (George Kennedy)? Plenty of people had a motive, but everyone’s got an alibi. Also lurking on the sidelines is Michelle Stevens (Kimberly Foster), and she’s got some serious payback in mind for J.R. after he shipped her away last year. Enter Lee Ann De Le Vega played by none other than Hagman’s old I Dream of Jeannie co-star Barbara Eden. Stunt casting? Perhaps. I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for the duration of the Lee Ann storyline which in the end fizzled out to at least some degree. Credit must be given to the writers for stifling the urge to work in any Jeannie references or in-jokes.

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

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dark Skies: The Declassified Complete Series / Interviews with Bryce Zabel & Megan Ward

TV history is littered with the bones and carcasses of shows killed off before their time. In fact, if we were discussing living, breathing creatures rather than little collections of filmed or videotaped entertainment, we’d have long since moved past the term epidemic. On the flip side, there are plenty of shows that lived for too long; fare that far outlives its usefulness, while so many other programs that deserve chances don’t ever really get them. Dark Skies, which NBC unveiled back in ’96, is one of those programs that deserved better. Much better. After 19 episodes, it wasn’t so much cancelled as it was “not renewed.” (Don’t you just love that kind of TV exec jive double talk?)

It’s the story of two bright-eyed innocents in 1962 who are dragged into a world of nasty, violent aliens and sinister government cover-ups. John Loengard (Eric Close) and his girlfriend Kim Sayers (Megan Ward) move to Washington D.C., idealistic like you are in your mid-20s. He works for a congressman and she gets a job in Jackie Kennedy’s office. When John is sent to look into some areas for government budget-cutting, he stumbles onto Project Majestic, which is led by Captain Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh). Even if this show had nothing else to offer but Walsh’s performance, it’d be worth watching for his work alone. This is 19 episodes of Walsh being a real fucker. He died less than a year after his work on this series, and if you have any love or like for him as an actor, you simply must watch this show.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here to visit Bullz-Eye.

And be sure to check out my interviews with Dark Skies co-creator and executive producer Bryce Zabel and Dark Skies co-star Megan Ward.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete Third Season

Here’s a show that’s immensely frustrating to review. No matter how tied it is to the current series of Doctor Who, there’s no getting around the fact that its target audience is pre-teen and younger, and that’s a demographic of which I’m simply not a part. Nor do I have a kid that age in the house to gauge a reaction through. I’m pretty sure that if the show had existed when I was 10, I’d have thought it was incredible. But I am, as they say, pushing 40, and so to appreciate it I’ve got to be awfully forgiving, or maybe understanding is a better word. This isn’t like a Pixar movie (or even Doctor Who, for that matter), where the material is operating on several levels. Nope, this thing is made for kids.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it details the exploits of the Doctor’s old companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), her adopted, genetically-engineered-by-an-alien race son, Luke (Tommy Knight), and two other teenagers – Clyde (Daniel Anthony) and Rani (Anjli Mohindra) – who come along for the adventures, which typically involve some kind of alien invading Sarah Jane’s suburban neighborhood. By this point in her life, Sarah’s got all kinds of cool gadgets, including sonic lipstick, a super-computer called Mr. Smith, and occasionally the robot dog K-9. When it comes to fighting aliens, she knows far more than the average human, so she’s pretty well equipped to deal.

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Doctor Who: Meglos / The Dominators

Before moving on to reviewing these serials, it’s worth taking some time out to talk about where the classic Doctor Who video range is at the moment here in the States. For the first time in all the years these DVDs have been coming out, we’re finally getting releases very close to day-and-date with the U.K. “Meglos” is the first such release in the U.S.; the release date for it is January 11th here, while in the U.K. it came out on the 10th. Why it’s taken ten years for this to happen is beyond me, but it’s a welcome development nevertheless, especially for fans that enjoy discussing these discs on internet message boards and the like, because they don’t have to feel out of the loop. It was always irritating to read about a particularly cool U.K. release, knowing that it was going to take six months or more for it to come out stateside. Not so anymore, although the plan hasn’t been perfected yet, as the upcoming releases of “Kinda” and “Snakedance” will have a one-month lag between the U.K. and U.S. release dates (March across the pond; April here).

What this also means is that there will be no shortage of classic Who discs this year, because in addition to the newest releases, here in the States we’re still behind on some half dozen or more discs, so we need to catch up on those as well (this month’s catch up title is “The Dominators”). For at least the first half of the year, every month we should be getting no less than two releases. So if you’re someone who collects all of these, you’d better start pinching some pennies. On the other hand, if you’re someone who just wants to pick up the best titles, I’ll be here, throwing out lofty opinions to aid you in your purchasing decisions. Another nice new addition to the range is the recently unveiled BBC Classic Doctor Who Channel on YouTube, which will be updated periodically with clips from past, current and upcoming DVDs. Be sure to add it your Favorites.

So while this is all great news, it’s something of a shame a better title couldn’t have been used to kick this whole thing off. “Meglos” is from Tom Baker’s last season as the Doctor, and its release completes Season 18 as well. Season 18 –John Nathan-Turner’s first as producer and Christopher H. Bidmead’s first and only as script editor – was designed to have a harder sci-fi edge to it, as well as pulling back on much of the comedy that had been prevalent in previous seasons. Having written before about the beauty of Season 18, I won’t go down that road again, except to say that “Meglos” isn’t up to the same level of quality as the other six stories from that block. In fact, in many ways the script feels like a leftover from Season 17, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that the entire feel and approach of Season 18 was fresh and new. As a result, “Meglos” is a story pulling in opposite directions.

Read the rest of the DVD review for "Meglos," as well as the Patrick Troughton tale "The Dominators" by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Andy Griffith Show 50th Anniversary: The Best of Mayberry

Sometimes it isn’t a terrible idea to check back in with a series you used to not care for, and haven’t seen in many years. I grew up watching a fair amount of reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, mostly because back in the good ol’ days, we only had, like, four channels. But I never liked the show as its golly-gee-shucks cornball country antics were never to my taste. It was just filler between The Munsters and something else. So this new “Best of” collection came my way, and I decided to give it another shot, some 30 years later, to see how I felt about it today. Guess what? I still don’t really care for the show, but as an adult and a “professional appreciator” (as a friend of mine recently dubbed me), I can see that it’s a quality TV series despite my feelings.

What I didn’t know until last week was that The Andy Griffith Show was huge back in the 60s. So popular was the show, that during its eight seasons on the air, it was in the Top Ten every single year, and inexplicably even snagged the #1 spot in its final season. How many shows go out at #1? I have no idea, but I’d imagine the answer is “not many.” If by some chance you’re unfamiliar with it, the show stars Andy Griffith as Andy Taylor, the sheriff of the tiny fictitious burg of Mayberry, North Carolina. He’s a widower with a young son named Opie (Ron Howard, the famous director – who’s credited here as Ronny), although I’m not sure if the tragedy of his wife’s passing is ever really dwelled upon; it certainly isn’t in any of these episodes. He’s aided by his bumbling but good-hearted deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts), although aided in what is debatable. Very little law breaking ever happens in Mayberry. Even the town drunk is amiable enough to check himself into the jail when he needs to sober up. Mostly, Andy settles minor arguments between the silly townsfolk with his country wisdom and level-headed way of thinking.

Think of Twin Peaks without all the weirdness, violence, murder, sex and drugs, and you’ve basically got Mayberry.

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