In December of 2000, The Cartoon Network created Adult Swim, a late-night weekend blast of animated irreverence and more-than-occasional mayhem that was aimed at older teens and young adults. Their first Adult Swim was Harvey Birdman, Attorney-At-Law, a reworking of the Hanna-Barbera Super-hero series, Birdman that found Birdman giving up superheroics to defend the right in a courtroom. Now, six-and-a-half years and thirty-eight cases later, Sunday’s double-length episode [11:45/10:45C] brings the curtain down on the first and longest-running Adult Swim series. Continue reading The Death of Harvey: Adult Swim’s First Series Rolls To A Bone-Jarring End!
Okay, now… Stay with me here… In 1988, the somewhat subversive indie filmmaker John Waters made a low budget movie about outsiders called Hairspray. Maybe a decade later, this little movie was discovered by Broadway and had a lengthy, if sugarcoated. run on the Golden Way. Now, the Broadway musical has been adapted to film. Now, even as a sugary, fluffy Hollywood movie, Hairspray maintains its original creator’s lovingly subversive charm…
Paul Newman and Tom Hanks are two of our most revered and beloved actors. These four special editions showcase memorable – even classic – films. Newman’s The Hustler looked at the world of pool and some its shadier inhabitants; in The Verdict, he played a loser seeking redemption by helping right a terrible wrong. For Hanks, Big was an opportunity to portray a character who actually had his wish to be grown up come true; That Thing You Do followed the members of a one-hit wonder in the swingin’ sixties and showed Hanks’ skill at producing, writing, directing, acting and writing music [next thing you know, he’ll be dubbed the next Clint Eastwood…]…
One of the cool things about television is that it really can reach all age groups. Disney’s second Hannah Montana release, Pop Star Profile, may be just the next step in establishing Miley Cyrus as a multi-talented G-rated star, but it shows that she just may have the chops to pull it off. Meanwhile, the American DVD release of Hex – The complete first Season provides a dark, supernatural series with the smarts and the humor to speak to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural. Finally, there are two entries in the Jesse Stone mystery movie series: Night Passage and Death in Paradise…
Summer is no longer purely the domain of the mindless blockbuster. Sure there are lots of big honkin’ movies out there – but there are more oddball comedies and potential Oscar®-winning dramas, too. That trend is carrying over to DVD releases, too. Sweet Land is the story of a mail order bride, just after World War I [that would be the serious film]; Meatballs – Special Edition is Bill Murray’s first movie and a truly oddball comedy, and The Messengers is a ghost story that takes some unexpected turns…
It’s 1920, and Inge [Elizabeth Reaser] travels from Norway to Minnesota to marry corn farmer Olaf [Tom Guinee]. When it’s discovered that she’s actually German, the marriage doesn’t happen [two laws concerning Germans in Post-WWII Germany may seem funny to us, but they were dead serious then, and Inge and Olaf suffer because of them].
When Olaf leaves Inge at the farm of his friend Franzen [Alan Cumming] and his family [wife and nine children] – because people would talk – it takes a very short time for her to realize that this is not the place for her. One night she simply gets out of bed and walks to Olaf’s farm, drawing and falling asleep in her bath – which creates a bit of a stir the next morning.
For the rest of the film, we skip from the twenties to the sixties [where Inge buries Olaf], to the present, where the dying Inge remembers her life. It’s a story of risking everything to immigrate to a new country; overcoming prejudices; falling in love, and the hard work of just living every day. Mark Orton’s remarkable score underlines every aspect of the film with a deft, finely nuanced touch.
Ali Selim, who adapted the script from Will Weaver’s short story, A Gravestone Made of Wheat], also produced and directed Sweet Land, which has won a number Audience Awards at regional film festivals and took home the Best First Film prize at the Independent Spirit Awards. Selim, who made the film for "a little over a million dollars," shot the film on location in Monteverde, Minnesota – and it shows. Sweet Land is one of the absolute best films of the year – possibly because it took Selim fourteen years of persevering to get it made.
Features include: a very revealing Audio Commentary by Selim, Reaser, Guinee, producer Gil Bellows and editor James Stanger; Sweet land: A Labor Of Love Story, and the Theatrical Trailer.
Grade: Sweet Land – A+
Grade: Features – A
Final Grade: A
Meatballs – Special Edition
"Are you ready for the summer?" cries the opening them song from Meatballs, Bill Murray’s first film. Although remarkably sedate by today’s terms, Meatballs was a roguish, ribald comedy with a mix of poignancy and gross-out humor that may be the spiritual granddad of movies like today’s Knocked Up.
More a setting for comic set pieces than a plot, Meatballs is simply the adventures of a bunch of campers, and their counselors, over one two week period in one specific summer. They may be clichés now, but they were fresh and new in 1979: the kid who didn’t want to be there; the jock; the fat kid; the cute counselor; the slob counselor; the clueless camp owner/manager, and so on.
Naturally, the slob counselor, Tripper Harrison [Bill Murray] connects with the disconsolate Rudy [Chris Makepeace, also in his first film] through shared interests and whacked out humor. Then there’s the gags played on camp owner/manager Morty [Harvey Atkin] by the counselor [the best being saved for the closing credits]; the reading of the steamy romance by two cute counselors [and the attempt by two unlikely guys to get close enough to hear], and the romance between Tripper and fellow counselor, Roxanne [Kate Lynch]. The film culminates in the Camp Olympics, a competition between our low-rent campers and the rich snobs of Camp Mohawk, from across the lake.
Although not necessarily a milestone in cinema history, Meatballs, along with Animal House, led the way in establishing that comedies could be gross and have heart at the same time. Murray was fantastic in his first role, making Tripper the ultimate goofball with a heart [and brains]. Meatballs was also notable for giving us Murray’s very first over-the-top motivational speech ["IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!!!] – one that is, to my mind, even better than the one in Stripes.
Ivan Reitman directed Meatballs by mostly pointing the camera and capturing the improv – though the improvs were based on a solid script [by Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg, Janis Allen and Harold Ramis] or they would’ve certainly lost their cohesion. Even though they don’t try to cram as many gags into every second as a lot of today’s comedies [a nice way of saying that the pacing isn’t as frenetic as today’s audience may be used to], the minds behind Meatballs set the standard for this kind of movie – and made it possible for Seth Apatow and others to be successful, today.
"We are the CIT’s so pity us,
The kids are brats, the food is hideous…"
Features include: Audio Commentary by Ivan Reitman and Daniel Goldberg; Summer Camp: The Making of Meatballs: Role Call; Cabin Fever, and Final Campfire.
Grade: Meatballs – B+
Final Grade: B
Danny Pang and Oxide Pang are not your run of the mill movie directors. Identical twins, the like to alternate, so one will direct one day and the other will direct the next – and yet, they have the such a cohesive vision that when they finish a project, you can’t tell who directed what. Another thing that they have in common is that they like to take chances.
The Messengers seems, at first, to be just another ghost story – except for the fact that a lot of the spookiest stuff happens in broad daylight.
After a rather nasty two years [they don’t really go into much detail], the Soloman family moves to a sunflower farm in North Dakota. The move is not a unanimous decision – Jess [Kristin Stewart] is definitely not happy with the situation. Still, the family gets moved in pretty well and Jess discovers a few good looking guys in the nearby town, so things look like they might just be tolerable.
Then her three-year old brother, Ben [Evan and Theodore Turner] begins to see things; there’s a stain on a kitchen wall that comes back after momma Denise [Penelope Ann Miller] cleans it, and there’s the unusual number of crows in the area. On the plus side, an amiable wanderer named Burwell [John Corbett] happens along and convinces father Roy [Dylan McDermott] that he’d be handy to have around – at least until the first crop is harvested.
One afternoon, while everyone else is away, Ben and Jess are attacked by things unseen – furniture moves, or floats, smaller objects zip through the air and break against the walls. Since we see what Ben sees, when he sees something, we can tell if its’ a little girl, or a woman, or even a little boy. Unfortunately, besides Ben and, occasionally, Jess, no one else can see them, so Jess gets blamed for the mess.
By shooting much of The Messengers in the bright daylight, The Pang Brothers avoid some of the hoariest horror clichés – like the squeaking floors and suddenly open windows/doors that wake the victims in the middle of the night. They also show a willingness to play with convention and expectation in other ways – using the crows [in an obvious, but effective homage to The Birds] to mask other sinister possibilities.
The film is well paced and no jump moment feels rushed, or unnecessary. We get to know enough about our main characters that we can relate to them, thereby making the scares that extra little bit effective. And, again, using daylight to such good advantage really takes us out of our typical horror movie comfort zone.
There are character twists – and one significant twist with the ghosts – that come as a surprise, but after taking such care to set up the big finish, The Pang Brothers may not have picked up the pacing for the last act enough for some horror fans, but when the twists arrive and the Solomans’ reality takes that bump, it’s hard to be involved.
Features include: Audio Commentary by Stewart, Dustin Milligan [Bobby], Mark Wheaton [screenplay] and Bruce Jones [Visual Effects Supervisor]; Exhuming The Messengers – a seven featurette suite including: Pang Vision; Script Evolution; Constructing The Set; Kristin Stewart: Rising Star; John Corbett; Meet The Crows, and Exploring Visual Effects.
Grade: The Messengers – B+
Grade: Features – B
Final Grade: B
Check out our DVD page for more recent releases.
EM Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted 07/18/07
Friday nights have become home to a couple of the USA’s most well-liked characters/detectives: Adrian Monk [Monk, 9/8C] and Shawn Spencer [Psych, 10/9C]. One’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder makes it possible for him to process clues and find the links that lead to the killer; the other’s childhood training – carefully hidden behind the claim that he’s psychic – has made him ultra-observant, seeing things that others routinely miss. Between Monk and Shawn, Friday nights have become the night for armchair detectives everywhere to settle in and dial up USA…
Mr. Monk and His Biggest Fan kicks off Monk’s sixth season, which makes it one of USA’s longest running series. The episode revolves around the Marci Maven [Sarah Silverman], Monk’s self-proclaimed biggest fan. When her neighbor turns up murdered, her dog is implicated – even though the dog died three days before the murder!
Most of the mysteries on Monk are pretty easy to solve – at least to the audience. The fun of the show comes from watching Monk [Tony Shalhoub] and his sidekick/caregiver, Natalie [Traylor Howard] interact with the police and the suspects. Monk’s OCS make him the fussbudget’s fussbudget and his determination to overcome his many phobias and compulsions to find the culprit can be very entertaining.
This time out, Monk and Natalie try their best to avoid Marci until she actually shows them that her dog was dead and couldn’t possibly have killed her neighbor. One of the best parts of the house is watching Monk and Natalie as they visit Marci’s home. Practically every flat surface is dedicated to Monk: clippings of all his solved murders, photos, memorabilia [obtained through means we probably don’t want to know about…].
Once on the case, though, Monk is his usual determined self and, despite the mystery being more challenging than usual, solves it by the end of the second act – which allows the police [and especially Jason Gray-Stanford’s Lt. Randy Disher] to stand out [and in a manner that neatly ties together a subplot featuring the detective.
It’s good to see the show’s writing is still sharp as Monk enters its sixth season – especially since the series has faltered occasionally over the last couple of seasons. Shalhoub and Howard still exhibit remarkable chemistry and I’m sure that many of the show’s fans now prefer her to the departed Sharona [Bitty Schram].
Psych opens its third season with a spoof of American Idol, American Duos. When the show’s requisite mean British judge, Nigel St. Nigel [Tim Curry] claims to be targeted for death and the police don’t listen, he hires Shawn [James Roday] and Gus [Dule´ Hill] to find his would-be assassin. The pair audition for the show to stay close to the panicky judge.
Part of the mystery is pretty easy top solve once you know a couple of important facts that are given early on, but making the all-important connections that link one would-be killer to another is a little more nebulous – and the resolution of that part of the puzzle is actually pretty cool.
Adding to the fun is Gina Gershon, who plays addled judge – and former rock ‘n’ roller – Emilina. Think a cross between an aging Suzi Quatro and Paula Abdul and you’ll be pretty much on target. An attempt on her life gives our heroes pause for a few moments but later revelations explain what happened while simultaneously leading Shawn and Gus to the team of miscreants [I’m pretty sure that having two killers was a way to poke fun at the American duos spoof of American idol – making it a more layered episode than usual].
Corbin Bernsen has a few great moments, too, when Shawn brings Nigel to dad’s house because no one would ever think to look for the high-strung epicure in a middle-class home. The bit about the bathrobe is one of the best comic bits in the series to date.
Doubting Thomas detective Carlton Lassiter [Timothy Omundson] gets a few shining moments, too. He may not entirely believe Shawn is a psychic, but he’s not as overt in his efforts to prove it. His scenes with Nigel are among the ep’s funniest. On the other hand, detective Juliet O’Hara [Maggie Lawson] is little more than a cheerleader here.
While most of the supporting cast get their moments, it’s Shawn and Gus’ two appearances on American Duos that really brings down the house – one because it’s truly awful, and the other because it’s actually pretty good.
It’s worth noting that, over the show’s first two seasons, Shawn has pretty much dispensed with his histrionics to presage a psychic revelation. This is a Very Good Thing. After the show’s first several eps, that particular brand of goofiness was wearing especially thin. The show is much more fun when he just kind of drops a revelation into the mix out of thin air.
Mr. Monk and His Biggest Fan – Final Grade: B
Psych: American Duos – Final Grade: B+
The second season of Beauty and The Beast finally addressed the question: if you have a Beast in your show, what is it that makes him bestial? Sky One’s airborne soap, Mile High, continued to mix and match relationships, pranks, parties and unexpected moments of drama in its final season, while John Wayne introduced what would become the longest running primetime drama in North American television history, Gunsmoke.
Beauty and the Beast – The Second Season
One of the most interesting things about Beauty and the Beast was that the show’s creator and writing team took a great deal of care to ensure that their hit drama was never mere fluff. In the second season, the show dealt with drugs and the homeless [in the season opener, Chamber Music, the plot centers around a former child prodigy who is now an addict on the street]; the loss of a parent [in Orphans, Catherine’s mother dies and she tries to flee the pain by living in Vincent’s world]; loneliness [in A Distant Shore, Catherine follows a murder case to Los Angeles – 3,000 miles away from Vincent], and in the three-part season finale [What Rough Beast, Ceremony of Innocence and The Rest Is Silence], the co-founder of the subterranean civilization returns – to destroy Vincent and Father.
Throughout its run, Beauty and the Beast managed to deal with all manner of current issues without being preachy, or ham fisted. It was a singularly elegant series, shot like a movie [which wasn’t often the case in the eighties] and frequently written in style that approached poetry. Ron Perlman’s Vincent epitomized the romantic hero: strong, intelligent, and wise beyond his years. Linda Hamilton’s Catherine was an eighties woman: fiercely independent, strong yet compassionate, and as willing to give as to receive.
Their love was worse than merely starcrossed because they could never really be together in the romantic sense, yet they were together all the time in terms of physical proximity. Though Vincent frequently saved Catherine from various potentially nasty fates, she also saved him from situations that were no less potentially damning. Somehow, they found a way to make their love work on a pure, platonic level. And, murders, rapes and various other ills aside, Beauty and the Beast worked on those levels as well as an adventure drama.
Season Two may not have had the immediate impact of the first, but it deepened the Vincent/Catherine relationship in ways that added to the lyrical quality of the series without ever veering into the maudlin. By season’s end, when Catherine follows the distraught, out-of-control Vincent deeper into the underworld, the two are so inextricably intertwined – emotionally and spiritually – that there is nothing else she can do.
The sole feature for the season two DVD set [which is one more than the season one set] is a series of introductions to four key episodes by Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton].
Beauty and the Beast: The Second Season – Grade: A
Features – Grade: D
Final Grade: A-
Mile High: Season 2, Parts 1 & 2
The adventures of the pilots and flight crews of Fresh Air continue in the second season of Mile High, a British soap that showcases the humor, hedonism and drama of the lives of several employees of that budget airline. Over the course of the season, new characters arrive and old ones depart as the airline is bought out by the hugely in debt globe-spanning airline Goldstar. The second season, which is twice as long as the first, is split over two 13-ep sets.
As the second season progresses, audience touchstone and good guy, Marco [Tom Wisdom] becomes more and more mired in the excesses of those around him: the hard-partying queen, Will O’Brien [Adam Sinclair]; the beautiful single mum, Lehann Evans [Naomi Ryan], scam artist Jack Fields [John Pickard] and pilot Nigel Croaker [Chris Villiers]. A turning point arrives when he saves the life of Jack’s 17-year old sister, Poppy [Stacy Cadman], and she fakes id and references to get a job at Fresh so she can hook up with him.
Several first season characters have vanished and new ones arrived. This is treated as a matter of course – as it would be in a work environment where such changes happen all the time. Of course, the mix-n-match relationships and the drugs, booze and rock ‘n’ roll might seem to be taken a bit over the top, but according to fans of the series who work in the business, Mile High may actually be understated!
Season Two features, among other things, a persistent suitor for Lehann; two character deaths [one heroic, one… not so much]; an attempted suicide [by the last character you’d think]; an overly zealous FAA investigator who’s out to get the airline’s senior purser [Janis Steel, still beautifully performed by Jo-Ann Knowles] – or, failing that, a pilot; an attempted rape; and a hysterical weekend gathering of one pilot’s ex-wife and girlfriends [allegedly to swap stories about his abilities].
Party boy Will also does his thing as union rep to frustrate some of the more outrageous efforts of the newly merged airline – and is rewarded by a promotion to [gasp!] management! …which promptly goes straight to his head…
By season’s [and series’] end, the series has gone places that are completely unexpected, but without seeming in any way contrived. The finale, which revolves around the abovementioned weekend gathering and "The Incident", is a fitting end to the series, giving us one last look at the wild world of airline employees and the new dreams of the most surprising duo of the lot.
There are no bonus features.
Final Grade: B+
Gunsmoke: The First Season
When Gunsmoke debuted in September of 1955, it had more than a talented cast and creative going for it. The premiere episode, Matt Gets It, was introduced by John Wayne – the ultimate cowboy. That introduction is included with the episode in the DVD release of the show’s first season.
As Wayne noted in his intro, Arness was perfect for the role of U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon. Dillon was the kind of hero who didn’t much enjoy having to be a part of gunfights or brawls. He was an intelligent, dedicated, observant kind of guy – a guy who would notice if one of his friends was down, or whether a homicidal gunslinger was more worried about being fast or accurate.
Supporting the Marshall were a trio of unlikely associates: lame Deputy Chester Goode [Dennis Weaver], who had to compensate for a bum leg; Doc Adams [Milburn Stone], a crusty country doctor type, and Miss Kitty [Amanda Blake], owner and operator of the Long Branch Saloon [originally intended to be a hooker with a heart of gold, the network wasn’t quite prepared to be that realistic…].
Gunsmoke episodes ran twenty-seven minutes – and it’s amazing what a difference five minutes makes in telling a story. Most Gunsmoke eps had a couple bursts of action and a more-than-average amount of character time. The scripts were smart and laced with just enough humor to keep them from lapsing into the realm of the overbearing. The cast chemistry was so amazing that the series ran longer than any other primetime drama in North American TV history.
Episodes dealt with typical Western plots – the quick drawing killer of Matt Gets Help; the titular married miser of Obie Tater; lynchings [Hot Spell] – but behind the usual plots were comments on mob justice, the blindness of love and knowing one’s limits. Occasionally, an episode would feel a bit rushed – an ending a bit forced – but most of the first season episodes work as well as any quality series being produced today.
The only feature is a collection of four TV spots: three for L&M Cigarettes and one for Remington electric shavers. It’s a bit odd to see Arness and Stone casually flogging cigarettes, but the ads are representative of their time.
Gunsmoke: The First Season – Grade: A-
Features – Grade: D
Final Grade: B+
Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted 07/12/07
Virgin Comics seems bent on trying new things; creating a new kind of comics. Not the format, necessarily, but the attitude and the approach. Voodoo Child, a new character created by Weston Cage and his father, Nicolas Cage, is one of these new comics characters – and he may well be the ultimate scare-the-crap-outta-the-bad-guys nighttime avenger – a character that literally haunts the shadows…
Our story begins in the days just before the Civil War, when the country was about to split along ideological lines over the slave trade. As a group of Southern abolitionists meets, a mob arrives. Mason Moore sends two blacks, Celeste and Gabriel through a secret tunnel to safety. Unfortunately, a stray shot fells Gabriel – but a being named Billy blameless appears to announce that the ground will not take Gabriel, and that he must be hidden from Baron Samedi. Already, some voodoo deity is taking a hand in the life and death of Gabriel…
Cut to present day, post-Katrina New Orleans. As relief is withheld by over-weaning politicians and badly planned protocols, a meeting is taking place between several men whose conversation suggests they are in a very competitive – and illegal – enterprise.
They are interrupted by a dark figure, a small figure with a mane of hair that would rival Bob Marley. Shots are fired – shots that go right through the small figure – who turns to the doomed man behind him and demands answers to three questions, which he gets, though things don’t go quite as he wanted. And so begins Gabriel’s quest to deal with the evil that struck him down and continues to hobble the post-disaster city of New Orleans.
There are things that he needs to know – like the Bussard who led the mob in the past is not the same Bussard whose corruption helps keep relief from getting to the victims of Katrina. There’s a missing girl – a girl whose last act before vanishing was to attend a prayer meeting five blocks from home. There are also the police who investigate the death of the man Gabriel questioned.
How did Gabriel know about the meeting he interrupted? That’s explained, and gives us the impression that there is more going on here than merely a little crimebusting – and the appearance of a terrifying new figure in the last panel alludes to the more spiritual side of Gabriel’s story [spirituality being one of the tenets of the Virgin Comics line].
Although Nicolas Cage and his son, Weston, are credited with creating Voodoo Child, the script and art on the book are by Mike Carey and Dean Reuben Hyrapiet. While this makes one wonder how much of the story was actually created by the Cages, what really matters is whether the book is any good – and it is… very good, indeed.
Mike Carey’s script presents a unique and challenging beginning to a saga that is that rarest of rare things in comics – a fresh twist. That manner in which voodoo plays a part in the story – rather, is central to the existence of the main character – is, so far as I can recall [and I’ve been reading comics since the fifties], unique. I’m going out on a limb and assuming that he’s done his homework [he did travel from England to New Orleans to get reference material and soak up the atmosphere, after all] and that the voodoo elements of the story are reasonably accurate. One thing’s for sure, he seems to have the Louisiana Creole dialect down…
Dean Reuben Hyrapiet’s art is sleek without being overly detailed – which is important when your lead character is a ghost who literally haunts the shadows. At times, his work strikes me as reminiscent of Mike Ploog’s work on Werewolf by Night because of its fluidity. He has a real handle on how to put together effective layouts, and his use of blacks and blues really add a creepiness to the books atmosphere.
If you’re a comics fan who’s looking for something a little [or a lot!] off the beaten path, Voodoo Child is an auspicious debut and might just be what you’re looking for. And I say that as one who is no longer easily impressed by a comic.
Final Grade: A-
EM Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted 07/12/07
David Yates has done something impressive – he’s come into a series of movies that has been getting better and better and has continued the trend! Order of the Phoenix may the most exposition heavy episode in the Harry Potter series as it deals with Harry’s adolescent problems and the continuing battle with a villain that no one wants to believe is back. Yates has taken the longest volume in the series and turned it into the sleekest, most effective film in the series…
If you’re looking for a movie with action, adventure, romance and good old-fashioned explosions, then you probably need look no further than Dreamworks’ Transformers. Even though it’s a Michael Bay film, Steven Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over it – from the slightly nerdy hero to the relationship between a shadowy government agency and the kids who may be able to provide the one hope of saving the planet; from the kid who gets his first car, to the girl who breaks up with the jock ‘cause he’s an ass – think Indiana Jones meets E.T. via Robot Wars and the WWE… Continue reading Transformers: Bay’s Bombastic Blockbuster Is Big Fun!
Paris, je t’aime is a collection of vignettes that revolve around love and the city of Paris. We’ve got gay love, straight love, beginning love, ending love, the love of a city, the love for a city – we’ve even got vampiric love. In all, there are twenty five-minute segments by twenty different directors, ranging from the Coen Brothers and Alfonso Cuaron, to Wes Craven [who does not direct the vampire segment…]. It also features an international cast that includes [among others] Natalie Portman, Gerard Depardieu, Ben Gazzara, Barbet Schroeder, Steve Buscemi and Juliette Binoche…