Haywire review

Soderbergh provides plenty of hand-to-hand action, a female MMA fighter for a heroine, and a strong cast of leading men for her to beat senseless in this compelling spy thriller.


Haywire reminds me of the kind of films that Quentin Tarantino started out making. It is a simple story which is made more intricate in the way it is told, and director Steven Soderbergh has his own way. The way the story unfolds may feel like Tarantino, even opening with a diner scene and featuring a strong and vengeful leading lady, but the dialogue is very akin to a typical Soderbergh film. The dialogue is minimalistic and we are dropped right into the story, so that much of the simple story is only understood after half of the film and many flashbacks.



There are many familiar elements to this small spy thriller, but the one that stands out as something new is leading lady Gina Carano. Aside from a few small roles in some fighting films, Carano is best known as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, as well as one of the American Gladiators. Carano's physical abilities are showcased as she performs her own stunts and fight choreography. Haywire has Carano playing Mallory, a female spy playing in a man's world. In this world many of the men who are supposed to be on her side take sucker punches in order to try and take her out, but this is also the kind of film which predominately features leading men (Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender) being beaten senseless by this new action star. She's Jason Bourne, James Bond, Tony Jaa, and a little bit of Rachel Weisz all wrapped into one package.


Gina Carano as Mallory

They are calling this film Soderbergh's B-film, and in some ways I can understand what they mean. This is the kind of film which would have been the B-film in a traditional movie-house line-up. It would have been in the same category as the gangster and film noir pictures, lower budget and lower expectations than the main feature. These weren't the award-winning films, and Haywire won't get Soderbergh the same attention that his other films have. This is a 93-minute espionage action film with a lot more hand-to-hand fights than dialogue, but it is still hard for me to consider this a B-film. On top of star names like Fassbender, McGregor and Tatum in the leading men roles, Haywire also features Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton in smaller roles. These are small roles but they add to what is essentially a film about presentation.


Carano takes out McGregor at sunset on the beach

Haywire isn't trying to reinvent the wheel. Soderbergh seems to make two types of films; those that are big budget and made for entertainment over critical praise (such as the Ocean's 11 franchise), and then there are his independent films which are often more groundbreaking than blockbuster (such as his debut film, Sex, Lies and Videotape or Che). In other films Soderbergh has experimented with uniquely fitting casting, such as porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, a film about a call girl. Haywire seems to blend all of these tendencies of Soderbergh's into one film. It is a compelling action film with a premise, a leading lady whose best-known profession has also made her distinctly suitable for the role, and despite a plethora of name actors this still feels like a smaller film for the eclectic filmmaker. This may be The Bourne Identity meets Kill Bill, but it is also stamped with a style which is clearly Soderbergh. Simply put, Haywire is a solid film which elevates the genre as well as our expectations for the first quarter films of 2012.




Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Blu-ray review

  Starring: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Bruce Gleeson, Eddie Ritchard
Directors: Troy Nixey
Rated:
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Run Time: 99 minutes


            Based on an old teleplay by Nigel McKeand, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark has been updated with Guillermo Del Toro’s guiding touch. This includes some creative creature design that has a very similar style to many other Del Toro projects, from Pan’s Labyrinth to Hellboy. Although Troy Nixey directs, Del Toro’s visual style seems stamped on the film. Unfortunately, the narrative never quite follows along. Despite some imaginative moments and grand new creature design, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark falls short of spectacular.

            The film follows a child protagonist, Sally (Bailee Madison), which somehow makes the film’s premise that much more frightening as well as fitting. When Sally moves in with her architect father, Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce), she is also joining him at his job. Alex lives with his co-worker and girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), in a dilapidated Gothic mansion they are attempting to restore. Within the walls of this ancient home lies a secret basement, where Sally discovers an army of small monster who hide in the dark. They long for children’s teeth, and almost seem to be the horror story equivalent of the tooth fairy.

            Like the fairies in Hellboy 2, these creatures feed on bones and teeth. They also have a deeper mythology, which the film forces us to learn throughout the film. At first nobody believes Sally is actually hearing voices within the basement, but soon a series of accidents force Kim to investigate the girl’s claims further. With a little bit of research she finds the answer, though this does nothing to help stop the advances of the creatures once cloaked by the cover of dark.

            The Blu-ray release provides a proper presentation of the film’s strengths, which are all visual. There is also a three-part making-of documentary; covering the adaptation of the story, the setpiece of Blackwood’s Mansion, and the creature design. The special features also include a conceptual art gallery.
                       
           

1911 Revolution Blu-ray review

Starring: Jackie Chan, Bingbing Li, Joan Chen,
Directors: Jackie Chan, Li Zhang
Language: Chinese
Rated:
Studio: Well Go USA
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Run Time: 99 minutes
     

  Factual as 1911 Revolution is, it isn’t a film about the reasons behind the Chinese Revolution of 1911. We aren’t given examples for the dedication the people feel for this cause, and in some ways it is not necessary. This is a film about the revolution, and it drops us right into the fray. From the very beginning of the film there is an urgency to the revolution, with starving citizens turning into a warring faction of Chinese society. The Qing Dynasty is led by a seven-year-old emperor, and the people begin to openly rebel against the tyranny of the powerful army sent out to crush those in opposition.

            1911 Revolution is a film which darts along in the plot, skipping from one significant event to the next. This requires an ensemble of characters, and we don’t get to know very much about any individual. The one exception is Huang Xin (Jackie Chan), one of the men considered for the role of China’s first president once the revolution had worked. After spending time in Japan studying the art of modern warfare, Huang returns to his home country to find it ravaged by the revolution, though he takes no pause in considering which side to join.

            There is a reason that the character development is kept minimal, and it is due to the strength of another aspect of the film. From the production design to the costumes, and certainly within the script, 1911 Revolution is historically accurate above all else. This means that there are not many scenes in which emotions are guessed into the dialogue, but what we do see was likely to have actually happened.

            The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and interviews, which include the Hong Kong press conference. The Collector’s Edition Blu-ray also includes a DVD, but the real highlight is the high definition presentation of the film. All of the work in the sets and costume design can be seen in detail, and the power of the battlefields can also be properly experienced with 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio.

           

I Don’t Know How She Does It Blu-ray review

Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Munn, Christina Hendricks
Directors: Douglas McGrath
Rated: PG-13 
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Run Time: 89 minutes

           

This film has a very specific target audience; working mothers. This doesn’t prevent it from being entertaining to those outside of this specific group, just less relevant. Based on the novel by Allison Pearson, I Don’t Know How She Does It is a comedy about the messiness of the complicated life that comes with both a family life and a career. It will be hilarious for those who can relate and bearable for those who cannot.

            Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Kate Reddy, a success in business on top of being a loving wife to her perfect husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) and an adequate mother as well. When Kate’s is even more successful at work, it requires more time away from home. Her new account requires a great deal of travel, as well as countless hours spent with a new business associate, Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan). This flirtation and all of her time away from home begins to throw the scale off-balance, with work winning all of Kate’s attention and time.

            There are no real surprises in any of the Sarah Jessica Parker films I have seen in the last decade. They all pretty much have the ending laid out for them long before the opening scene has even finished. This one is no exception. I just don’t feel this movie was made for me. The Blu-ray special features include a conversation with the author of the book this film was based on; Allison Pearson. The high definition presentation of the film is far less than necessary for this film. DVD would be sufficient.

Higher Ground Blu-ray review




  • Starring: Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Dagmara Dominczyk, Taissa Farmiga, Donna Murphy


  • Director: Vera Farmiga


  • Writers: Carolyn S. Briggs, Tim Metcalfe


  • Producers: Brice Dal Farra, Carly Hugo, Claude Dal Farra, Jeremy Newmark, Jon Rubinstein


  • Language: English


  • Subtitles: English, French


  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1


  • Rated: R (Restricted)


  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


  • DVD Release Date: January 10, 2012


  • Run Time: 109 minutes





  •             Faith is always difficult to capture on film, if only for the simple fact that it is an invisible element within a person. It is also difficult on film because of how quickly the subject becomes saccharine and a bit reminiscent of Sunday school. Neither of these issues are a problem for Higher Ground, a rich drama about faith which never attempts to give answers as much as document the experience. It never preaches and never condemns, but simply shows one woman’s struggle to keep faith in her own way.

                Inspired by the memoirs by Carolyn S. Briggs called “This Dark World,” Vera Farmiga directs and stars. The film follows the young woman as a teenager, from surprise pregnancy and shotgun marriage to a mid-life crisis years later. There is a great deal of emotional drama within the film, and most of occurs when our heroine stands out in her congregation and community of rigid religious members. Scolded for preaching to the congregation, as it is unfit for a woman to do, it is not surprising that she begins to stray away from the pack.

                The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes and a making of featurette. The feature film also has an optional commentary track with Farmiga, actor Joshua Leonard and producer Renn Hawkey. There are additional special features, though the high definition presentation left nothing to be desired. Sometimes independent films are better left in standard definition, but this is not the case with Higher Ground, a visually satisfying film as well.

    The Guard Blu-ray review

  • Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot

  • Directors: John Michael McDonagh

  • Writers: John Michael McDonagh

  • Producers: Don Cheadle, Andrew Lowe, Chris Clark, David Nash, Ed Guiney

  • Language: English

  • Subtitles: English

  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

  • Rated: R

  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

  • DVD Release Date: January 3, 2012

  • Run Time: 96 minutes


  •             The Guard is solid evidence that a good script is still more entertaining than all of the special effects a major Hollywood blockbuster can afford. There is certainly action in The Guard, but the strength of the film lies in its words, and the skill with which they are spoken by the talented cast of actors. Much of the cast feels authentic, as though they aren’t actors at all but part of the background. This helps for the fish-out-of-water aspect of the film, one of many Hollywood story structures which are utilized within this clever buddy-cop crime comedy.

                Gleeson is particularly amusing as an unorthodox lone Irish policeman who goes up against the rest of his police force and a group of drug traffickers with the help of a straitlaced FBI agent (Don Cheadle). They are an obvious mismatch in every way, but these two law enforcement officers are able to compliment in each other’s talents in taking down the corruption in the small Irish community. The film is filled with clever and nonsensical banter, in between action sequences and an unorthodox investigation.

                The Blu-ray special features include a group of outtakes which make the filming of the movie seem as much fun as the viewing. There are also deleted and extended scenes and a short film, “The Second Death.” The feature film has an optional commentary track with director John Michael McDonagh and actors Cheadle and Gleeson. Though the humor comes before the action, there are plenty of scenes in which the high definition made the viewing of The Guard more enjoyable, especially the 5.1 DTS-HD audio. My only problem was catching all of the jokes with in the quick repertoire, and eventually turned on the subtitles to get it all. 

               

    Chop DVD review




  • Starring: Will Keenan, Timothy Muskatell, Ricardo Gray, Max Haaga


  • Format: Color, DVD


  • Language: English


  • Rated: Unrated


  • Studio: The Collective


  • DVD Release Date: December 27, 2011


  • Run Time: 88 minutes





      Chop takes the torture-porn movement in horror film and makes it humorous. Who knew that being ties up to a chair and hacked to buts could be as much fun as Chop is, however thin the material is stretched in 84 minutes time. The only thing missing from the film are characters that are even remotely likeable. Because Chop is filled with all types of unsavory people, it is difficult to feel any kind of remorse when they are picked off by sudden acts of violence.

                Lance Reed seems like an ordinary guy, albeit one with slightly few moral hindrances than the average man. When he is kidnapped and tied up by a stranger, Lance is forced to look back on all of his life’s worst deeds in attempting to figure out what the stranger is seeking revenge for. He humor from the film comes from each of the other people Lance has wronged besides the stranger, and the fact that he is unable to remember the one thing that will end his life.

                Each of the people who are wronged and remembered before the stranger are invited so that they can also take their pound of flesh. Usually they tend to be too unpredictable for this arrangement to end pleasantly, but Lance loses a little bit of his body with each revelation. Troma veteran Trent Haaga makes his directorial debut with this vulgar comedy of gore. The DVD includes outtakes and deleted scenes.

    Dolphin Tale Blu-ray review


                I have a feeling that a documentary about the real dolphin named Winter would have been far more interesting to watch than Dolphin Tale. Every emotion in the melodrama seems force-fed to the audience, like the outlandishly bad CGI animation which pushes the film based on a true story so that it has an artificial feel to it. This still may be adequate entertainment for younger audience members, but the poor filmmaking is transparent to anyone seasoned enough to recognize Hollywood manipulation.

                The title Dolphin Tale is a play on words, because this film is about the amazing true story of a dolphin with a prosthetic tail built for him after having his own amputated to save his life. In the film Winter is found by a young boy who is somewhat of a loner. Instead of spending his days in summer school, the young boy named Sawyer sneaks into the marine hospital where the dolphin is staying. The marine biologist (Harry Connick, Jr.) allows him to stay because of the bond he shares with Winter. His mother (Ashley Judd) is concerned by the amount of time he spends with the dolphin until she sees how active Sawyer has become.

                The story doesn’t stay happy for long, however. Even when Winter heals and survives with her own way of swimming, even without a tail, the damage threatens her life if she can’t swim the way a dolphin is meant to. Enlisting a brilliant prosthetist (Morgan Freeman), the team sets out on a mission to build a tail for Winter. The result is a sappy and predictable conclusion, with the documentary footage of the real Winter during the credit scroll being far more effective.

                The Blu-ray combo pack is teeming with special features, including a DVD and an Ultraviolet Digital Copy of the feature film. There is also a deleted scene, gag reel and five featurettes. Two of the features are animated shorts, one about the pig in the film and another about the Hutash Rainbow Bridge. There is also a featurette about the real Dolphin Tale, a special effects feature and one about the home place of Winter.

    Catch .44 Blu-ray review

               
                Catch .44 is a clever little crime film. It may have a little too much in common with many others to be astounding, but it leans heavily on successful films and is enjoyable even when predictable. Often the biggest problem with the narrative is the secrecy which leaves expectations open. The storyline seems much more complex than it actually is, simply because of the manner in which it is being told, which could also be said of many films it resembles. Most of which have Quentin Tarantino attached to them in one way or another. The number of conversations which take place over a diner table alone makes it feel like a Tarantino rip-off.

                The film follows the mishap at a rural Louisiana diner and all the led to the bloody shootout involving a trio of female hit-women (Malin Akerman, Nikki Reed and Deborah Ann Woll). They believe that the diner meet is supposed to be a drug transaction, but it ends with a shootout instead. It is all connected with another quirky hit-man (Forest Whitaker) and the head boss (Bruce Willis).  Each of these characters meet at the diner late at night and we are finally clued in to what went wrong.

                It is a clever little crime film, but the content seems stretched out a bit past its limit, even at 94 minutes. It is also not as satisfying of a revelation when we discover much of what would have solved the mystery was never revealed to the audience in the first place. This does not mean that the film doesn’t still have its entertainment values, however.

                The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with writer/director Aaron Harvey, along with editor Richard Byard.

    Apollo 18 Blu-ray review


                The premise of Apollo 18 nearly annoyed me into wanting to shut it off, but then I became invested in it and was eventually won over. It isn’t spectacular, and I dread the day another pseudo-documentary horror film is released, but there are some truly terrifying moments in Apollo 18. Also, annoyed as I was with the style, I must admit that it was admirably done, especially in the aging of the footage.

                The film takes place in 1974, on an unofficial Apollo mission to the moon. Apollo 17 was the last official trip to the moon, but two astronauts were sent in 1974 for a top secret mission by the U.S. Department of Defense. The film is meant to be surviving footage of their trip, and on it we see the mission that went terribly wrong. It begins with what appears to be just a rock sample collection, but soon there are many mysterious events that make it impossible for them to leave.

                The actual creatures within the storyline are never revealed with great clarity or detail, and that is what makes them so terrifying. The creatures are clever and the execution of the film is actually quite effective. We know where the storyline is going, but way in which it is presented makes the journey surprising just the same.

    The Blu-ray includes a digital copy of the film. There are also a number of great special features, including deleted and alternate scenes, including an alternate ending. There is also a commentary with director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier.

    Contagion Blu-ray review


                There have been many films about widespread disease which threatens to destroy civilization. This has been a common theme in horror films especially, with the virus turning victims into bloodthirsty zombies or vampires. In one film it turned all humans blind. The difference in Contagion is the realism and science which is used within the storyline and this is what makes this film so effectively gripping. One can easily imagine this scenario occurring, whereas zombies are a fantasy for those of us who play too many video games.

                With an ensemble cast of talented stars, a well-researched and detail-oriented script by Scott Z. Burns and the steady directorial hand of Steven Soderbergh, Contagion is dependably engaging and thought-provoking. Everything within the film is also entirely believable, and the reality is that the script is also quite possible. There is even a special feature within the Blu-ray disc that investigates the science behind Contagion and the possibility of this actually occurring. It features medical journalist Sanjay Gupta along with members of the cast, and reality is no less frightening than the fiction within the film.

                When a virus is created and spread on an airplane, there are deaths all over the world. Soon the disease threatens to destroy humanity if not contained. Although some people are inexplicably immune, many fall sick and die quite suddenly. A few brave scientists work relentlessly to find a way to grow the virus and find a cure for it. At the same time there are those who attempt to use the virus as a means for personal gain. The cast includes Matt Damon as a grieving husband and protective father, Jude Law as someone many believe to be a profit, and Marion Cotillard and Kate, Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne and many more are part of the team trying to stop the global destruction of the virus.

                The Blu-ray disc also includes two additional featurettes about the film’s accuracy. There is one with the many experts used to provide research for the actors, and a featurette about the impact of a virus on the world. The Blu-ray combo pack also includes a DVD and a Ultraviolet Digital Copy.

    Hostel Part III DVD review


                Eli Roth is one of the few directors to direct the sequel to a horror film. Most horror films have sequels, but few are with the same director. Even Roth knew to stay away from the third. With more of the same torture gore porn and a bit worse acting than the rest, not to mention a missing element of plausibility; Hostel Part III is mostly just a bore. It may even be milder in content. With Roth gone there is a little less creativity in the violence.

                This time around the torture sessions are given the added twist of gambling, which is possible because they take place underground in Las Vegas. Although this premise sounds promising, it is rarely of concern what the gamblers are betting on. The whole thing is very half-baked, and more emphasis is placed on the twists regarding the reason the victims are chosen. Like a horror version of The Hangover, Hostel Part III begins with a bachelor party in Vegas and ends in a nightmare recovery the next morning.

                A groom and his groomsmen are split up after a night of drinking and celebrating, and along with missing members of the party is an escort. The escort’s friend and the groomsmen set out to find the missing people and instead end up in the same trap. The structure of the series has not changed, although all believability has. There is even such an insistent attempt to throw twists into the film’s narrative that the deaths don’t take much focus in the film. This may be for the best, but it is bound to disappoint those who relished the creative killings of the first films.

                The DVD includes commentary track with the new director Scott Spiegel, along with actor Kip Pardue.

    Burke & Hare DVD review


                Burke & Hare brings director John Landis back to feature films, along with a capable cast of actors and a premise based on a true story. All of the elements are in place, and yet Burke & Hare somehow manages nothing more than mediocrity. It is a dark comedy which is not quite dark enough and not nearly as humorous as it attempts to be. The biggest problem, however, seems to be the fact that each character is unsavory enough to appear entirely unsympathetic. There is no gravity to any of the film’s twists and turns when so little matters, and each moment therefore depends on entertainment value alone.

                The film follows in the exploits of two entrepreneurs during a time of medical exploration. William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis) have tried every harebrain scheme to get rich when they finally hit the jackpot. They discover that there is a great deal of money to be made in the selling of corpses to the two competing doctors (Tim Curry and Tom Wilkinson) at the local medical colleges (Tim Curry and Tom Wilkinson). This competition in medical advancements provides an opportunity for Burke and Hare, and situation provides them their first corpses.

                When the greedy pair finds that dead people are a way to make money, they are eager to find more corpses. After a poor attempt at corpse robbing, they decide it would be easier just to provide the corpses themselves by killing. This makes for a fresh corpse and makes them wealthy. William is even able to woo an equally entrepreneurial young woman (Isla Fisher), but only so long as the money continues to come in. The DVD includes outtakes and deleted scenes, as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette and interviews with the key players.  


    Brighton Rock DVD review


                Brighton Rock is the name of a candy stick sold on Brighton beach in the 1960s, and it is the murder weapon in one of the many grisly deaths to take place in Graham Greene’s iconic novel. Brought to the screen in a debut directorial feature by screenwriter Rowan Joffe, Brighton Rock is part film noir and all gangster film, set in the turbulent times of 1964, where Mods and Rockers fought it out at the same times that a gang war is battled out in the beachside city.

                Sam Riley stars as Pinkie, a low-level gangster who decides to move up the ranks quickly when the boss of his gang is murdered by a rival group of well-dressed thugs. They fight over control of Brighton but Pinkie makes his way up by avenging the attack on his boss. He ends up killing one of the rival gangsters and the only evidence of this crime is unwittingly kept by a meek and innocent waitress named Rose (Andrea Riseborough.

                In order to keep the evidence hidden, Pinkie enters into a relationship with Rose. He doesn’t exactly treat her lovingly, and his job choice has made him anything but trusting, but there is something to be said for the fact that he chooses not to kill Rose, though it would be much easier in ensuring her silence. The secrets kept by Pinkie are threatened to be exposed by Rose’s employer (Helen Mirren), but he is much more preoccupied with the danger of the towering rival gangster (Andy Serkis).

                The DVD includes a behind the scenes featurette, as well as interviews with the cast and filmmaker. A trailer is also included.  

    Mildred Pierce Blu-ray review


                The original Mildred Pierce from the 40s is thought to be a blend of film noir and the mother melodrama. At that time this is how the James M. Cain novel was turned into a relevant and excellent film, but Todd Haynes approaches the adaptation differently for his 2011 five-part HBO miniseries adaptation of the Cain classic. There is a lot less noir and a lot more melodrama, but it is done with some of the most capable actors. All seem expertly cast, and though I couldn’t at first imagine Kate Winslet in the title role, she embodies it in a way that is her own.      

                Set in Depression-era Los Angeles, the nearly six hour film follows the emotional highs and lows of one independent woman named Mildred Pierce (Winslet). After her husband leaves her for another woman, Mildred is forced to get a job as a waitress to feed her two children. Her eldest daughter Veda has high expectations, and Mildred keeps her job in service a secret to save her the shame. This relationship between mother and serpentine daughter is at the center of the film, though other men come into their lives as well. One in particular (played by guy Pearce) is there with Mildred when she becomes a success and rises above poverty into the upper class.

                To speak more of the details in the plot would not necessarily ruin the film, because it is more of a marvel to watch simply for the performances and the production elements. The costumes and all of the details in the scenes are worth admiring in high definition. This is also a performances piece and there are many people worth complimenting, with Winslet being the obvious first. Veda is played by a surprisingly exposed Evan Rachel Wood in the final two episodes, and she plays it pitch perfect.
               
                The Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and DVD Box Set is absolutely stunning. The box cover itself is stylish and classy, made from the best materials. I found myself touching and admiring the case as I watched this lengthy mini-series. As carefully and intentionally as all of the details within the series are laid out before our eyes, they are also applied in the making of this collector’s edition set of the five-part character piece.

    Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season Blu-ray review


                The newest HBO gangster drama, “Boardwalk Empire,” opens with the beginning of Prohibition. Taking place in Atlantic City during prohibition 1920s, this is an expertly constructed series with more attention to detail and historical accuracy than seems possible. The level of quality even seems to exceed that of the average motion picture at times, and it comes as no surprise that Martin Scorsese is attached to this project when the 300-foot Boardwalk set is revealed. The acclaimed director even lends his expert services to the directing of the pilot episode. At times this episode feels a bit like a period prelude to Goodfellas.

                Created by Emmy-winning writer Terrance Winter, “Boardwalk Empire” has a familiar rhythm to it, not unlike “The Sopranos.” At the center of the story is Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), the county treasurer who is also the crime boss of Atlantic City. On the eve of Prohibition, Nucky sees the potential and has already made plans to keep the city swimming in alcohol. This double life becomes more complicated with the arrival of a WWI veteran Nucky has always looked after named Jimmy (Michael Pitt). Jimmy’s eagerness pulls Nucky further into the criminal life, and soon he is a full-fledged gangster as well as a politician.

                Business is not all well, however, because there are many obstacles in Nucky’s path. There is the New York mafia, who wants to muscle in on his action, as well as a Prohibition agent (Michael Shannon) determined to stop him. Period melodrama peppered with extreme violence and real-life characters like Lucky Luciano and Al Capone make “Boardwalk Empire” one of the most engaging series to come out in years. I can’t wait to see how the following seasons will be, especially with such a strong first.

                The Blu-ray set for the first season includes all twelve season one episodes, with cast and crew commentaries on six of them. There is also a making of featurette and another featurette dedicated exclusively to the impressive Boardwalk set. The special features also include a character dossier for all of the different players, and two featurettes about the real 1920s Atlantic City and real famed speakeasies in New York and Chicago.

    Puncture Blu-ray review


                Puncture is yet another untraditional courtroom drama, one which hardly sets foot in a courtroom at all. It is much more about the corruption within the health care community and pharmaceutical companies than it is about law, though the case is what the film is based on. Inspired by true events, Puncture tells the tale of a determined young lawyer in a case which could help save the lives of health care workers. The lawyer heading up the case, Mike Weiss (Chris Evans) also happened to be a heavy recreational drug user.

                Functioning drug addict and brilliant lawyer, Weiss is immediately interested when he is approached by a nurse named Vicky (Vinessa Shaw) with AIDS. She was punctured by an infected needle on the job and is frustrated to discover that they technology to prevent this has been invented. The only reason that it has not been spread and used by healthcare workers is due to the greed of the pharmaceutical companies, and Weiss becomes determined to battle them at any cost. His responsible partner Paul (played by co-director Mark Kassen) is less eager to take on such a difficult fight.

                Puncture is a lot like A Civil Case or Erin Brockivich, but with drug addiction. Weiss’s drug use and erratic lifestyle is what makes this film more interesting. The pharmaceutical conspiracies are more than believable but merely infuriating rather than entertaining. The special features include bonus material

    Fright Night Blu-ray review


                The remake of Fright Night is engaging, fun and full of surprises. It is an enjoyable film, but also completely unnecessary. In the wake of a sudden revival of the vampire film, suddenly we are seeing remakes of the vamp films from the past. Fright Night is a fun film because of how unabashedly it jumps into the vampire mythology, and it addresses the Twilight craze within the dialogue. Well cast and executed, Fright Night is not difficult to recommend.

                There is little suspicion before the paranoia is confirmed, which is what makes Fright Night such a thrilling experience. It barely pauses for exposition before jumping into the horror of the situation. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is a teenager with normal concerns, but his location makes a normal life impossible. In a suburb just outside of Las Vegas, Charlie lives right next door to a dangerous vampire named Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell). Jerry is a deadly vampire who seduces victims and slowly feeds on them. Charlie’s only hope is to obtain the help of a Las Vegas magician named Peter Vincent, who is also a self-proclaimed vampire expert/slayer.

                Fright Night has just as many laugh as there are thrills, but it achieves this without becoming a spoof. The horror elements of the film don’t leave, and the laughs are a necessary relief from the suspense. The cast is all rather effective, with Farrell giving a particularly fun performance, and that helps make this unnecessary remake a bit more enjoyable.
               
                The Two-Disc Combo Pack includes a DVD and Blu-ray of the film. The DVD comes with bloopers and a Kid Cudi music video, along with some of the footage used as a film within the film. The Blu-ray features include five exclusive deleted scenes. There is also a Peter Vincent feature and a guide to making a funny vampire film. All od the DVD features are also included on the Blu-ray.   

               

    The Rocketeer Blu-ray review


                Long before Joe Johnston was an Oscar-contender director and even longer before he made Captain America, he made another superhero film. Celebrating the 20th anniversary, The Rocketeer is finally available on high definition Blu-ray. Johnson’s abilities with a period superhero action spectacular can be seen in this early 90s blockbuster as clearly as was seen in Captain America.

                When test pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) has a test run ruined by a group of thieves, he finds a silver lining when they leave their loot behind. Cliff discovers it is a jet pack for a man to wear and fly; he is the first to test it out. Using the jet pack with his own helmet, Cliff becomes The Rocketeer. The thieves who originally stole the rocket pack aren’t pleased with this, all at the call of a Hollywood film star (Timothy Dalton) who is secretly a spy.

                Although Cliff is enjoying the allure of being The Rocketeer, he puts his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) at risk in the process. Coincidentally, she is an aspiring actress working as an extra on the set of the spy film star’s current movie. This all takes place during WWII, and it becomes clear that the Nazis are the ones who want the jet pack.

                The Blu-ray release features a digitally restored high definition presentation of the film, though there are no special features to speak of.

    Tokyo Drifter Blu-ray review


                Japanese director Seijun Suzuki made his way with genre pictures, hired to be a B-film director making movies like Youth of the Beast. The stories were often that of genre films, but the longer that Suzuki made these films at Nikkatsu studios the more creative he became. By the time he reached the point of Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill the New Wave-influenced Suzuki was making daringly original films which upset Nikkatsu enough to break contract and fire the filmmaker.

                Tokyo Drifter is in the same class as Youth of the Beast, though Suzuki has turned the gangster genre on its head a bit more. The film tells the tale of a reformed killer named Tetsu (played by pop singer Tetsuya Watari), who goes straight with his crime boss until a rival gang threatens them. Called back to Tokyo to battle a gang, Tetsu finds that there are few people he can trust, that won’t betray him. Even more surprising are those who he can trust.

                Filled with outrageous costumes and colorful sets, much of Tokyo Drifter seems to have more in common with a James Bond film than a gangster film. Filled with pop music and lots of color, it is difficult to take even the violence too seriously. The fact that the little action in the film is ultra-stylized and made to look effortless only enhances the dreamlike quality of the film.

                The Blu-ray release of this classic Japanese New Wave film is equipped with a new high definition digital restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The special features include a video piece with new interviews by director Suzuki and his assistant director, Masami Kuzuu. There are also interviews with Suzuki from 1997  and a trailer, plus a booklet with an essay by film critic Howard Hampton.

    Branded to Kill Blu-ray review


                Japanese director Seijun Suzuki made his way with genre pictures, hired to be a B-film director making movies like Youth of the Beast. The stories were often that of genre films, but the longer that Suzuki made these films at Nikkatsu studios the more creative he became. Branded to Kill was the film the New Wave-influenced Suzuki made which most upset Nikkatsu; enough to break contract and fire the filmmaker. Once again Suzuki approaches the underworld crime films with an inspired wink and a nod. Branded to Kill is darker and more sordid than Tokyo Drifter, but it takes the same liberties with the genre expectations.

                Branded to Kill follows the path of a yakuza assassin (Joe Shishido) who fails an assignment and is made a target himself. The storyline sounds like it could describe any dozen Hollywood Blockbuster action films, but Suzuki’s approach is unlike any other. Even in black-and-white, Branded to Kill is more colorful than a dozen other films of the same type. From his two sexual relationships in the film, which seem peppered with hallucinations of butterflies, to the finale between two rival assassins in a boxing ring, Branded to Kill is jam packed full of unforgettable images and a mind-boggling narrative.

                The Blu-ray release of Branded to Kill features a new high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The English subtitles have also been improved for the Blu-ray release. The film looks and sounds great, with all of the detail in the surreal violence and excessive sex pristinely presented. There are also new interviews with actor Joe Shishido, Suzuki and assistant director Masami Kukuu in the special features. Also included are an older interview with Suzuki, and a booklet with an essay by critic and historian Tony Rayns.

    Meet Me in St. Louis Blu-ray review


                I suppose it is fitting that Liza Minnelli introduces this film on the Blu-ray, despite having little to say beyond some gushing over the film. She must love this movie, after all, because without it she may never have been born. Director Vincente Minnelli fell in love with star Judy Garland while making Meet Me in St. Louis, and their union result in Liza’s birth. It is not difficult to fall in love with Garland in this film, which is among her best. Her alterations to the classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” have stayed with us ever since, and it is impossible to get the title song out of your head for days after watching this classic.

                There isn’t much of a plot to Meet Me in St. Louis, which is essentially just the story of an average family living in St. Louis during the 1904 World Fair. Based on the autobiographical writings of The New Yorker writer Sally Benson, the film tells the story of the Smith family. They almost leave St. Louis, but an evening at the World Fair changes all of that. More than the world fair or St. Louis, the film is about family. The primary focuses are the two daughters and their romantic entanglements. Who can forget Garland’s love for “The Boy Next Door.”

                The Blu-ray book also comes with a four-song CD sampler and 40 pages of biographies, trivia and song sing-a-long song lyrics. The special features on the disc include the Liza Minnelli introduction, as well as an audio commentary track featuring biographer John Fricke along with Margaret O’Brien, composer Hugh Martin, screenwriter Irving Brecher and Barbara Freed-Saltzman. There is also an audio only radio broadcast, and the music-only feature for playback of the film.

    Tanner Hall Blu-ray review


                Tanner Hall contains all of the expected storyline from a film about a sheltered New England boarding school for teenage girls. There is both a teacher who lusts after one of his students (played by Chris Kattan) and an older man who actually has an affair with one of the high school girls (played by Tom Everett Scott). But the film is really about the relationship two very different girls have with each other, and how it develops and changes during their final year.

                Fernanda (Rooney Mara) is the practical one out of her group of friends. She follows the rules and has a sense of decency and morality that seems to run deeper than the rest and perhaps it is this maturity which attracts an older man to her. This secret is one which Fernanda keeps from all of her friends, though there is still a danger she may be discovered when an old family friend joins her school for the last year. Victoria (Georgia King) is manipulative and cruel, playing with the lives of others for entertainment, which makes her the worst person to know Fernanda’s secret.

                All of the performances are good and the story is believable, but it isn’t original or memorable in many ways. The older man and teenage girl storyline is tired, and all of the rest of the coming-of-age clichés run rampant throughout the film as well. We’ve seen this all before and better elsewhere. Tanner Hall is engaging and entertaining, but also entirely forgettable. The Blu-ray includes a commentary track with writer/director/producers Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg.

    Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame Blu-ray review


                The title is a mouthful, and it sounds like it is fashioned after the titles of Sherlock Holmes books, and their subsequent film version. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is therefore aptly titled, because it resembles the same type of mystery storyline of a Sherlock Holmes narrative, only set in the East with martial arts in replacement of boxing. There is also a bit of the supernatural and inhuman floating and fighting abilities.

                As the coronation of the first ever female ruler in China approaches, a mystery has befallen the construction of a giant statue. The soon-to-be Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) is forced to retrieve the exiled detective, Dee Renjie (Andy Lau), in order to solve the mysterious deaths at the Imperial Palace. Detective Dee is appointed Judge of the Empire and uses his wisdom to solve the mystery of men being burned from the inside with flames.

                Sammo Hung provides the fight choreography, which is just as dominant as the mystery within the film. Part mystery and part action film, there is hardly a dull moment within this elaborate period film. Director Tsui Hark has created a true blockbuster, with elements of humor, romance, action and spectacle all wrapped into one film.

                The Blu-ray includes a making of featurette, along with featurettes on the weapons and stunt, the characters, and the world of Detective Dee. There is also a still and poster gallery and a trailer. The high definition presentation of the film is the highlight, however, especially with the visual spectacle that Detective Dee provides.  

    Little Deaths DVD review


                Little Deaths is just another anthology film in many ways. The only thing setting it apart is the lengths that it goes to in order to shock and offend the audience, primarily with the combination of sex and violence. One of the three sections of the film cannot even be called horror in any ways beyond the cruelty with which a man’s girlfriend uses sex to hurt him. Other sections are gruesome enough to make up for this emo-horror.

                Thankfully there are only three sections to this anthology, because I don’t believe I could have taken more of the vulgarity. It is purposefully shocking, sexually in more ways than violently. The first story is about a homeless girl who is brought back to the home of a seemingly normal couple for dinner and discovers that they are sexual perverts. This takes a brutal turn which involves creatures and a gory finale.

    The second film is about a call girl who begins taking an experimental drug to try and get her life in order, but instead finds herself mentally linked to a well-hung man hanging in a medical facility. The final story is one of absolute cruelty when a man finds himself in a relationship with a relentlessly cruel woman. He plots revenge when she pushes him past the point of caring at all, sleeping around without concern for his feelings.

    The DVD of Little Deaths includes a behind-the-scenes featurette for this British horror show, along with a trailer.

    Heavenly Creatures Blu-ray review


                Before Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Ring films, he made a number of gruesome special-effects driven horror films in New Zealand. After those films he made a surprisingly intriguing film about a shocking crime, one in which he cast Kate Winslet in her big-screen debut. Though the reality based human drama storyline was atypical for the director, he uses the fantasy world of these two criminal girls as an opportunity to throw in some of those special effects he is best known for. This is one reason for owning this spectacularly eerie film on Blu-ray.

                Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet stars as two schoolgirls who meet and instantly become best friends with each other. They share an imaginary world together that nobody else can understand; an entire kingdom of clay-made people with a full storyline and lineage. This fantasy world is threatened when the parents decide that their friendship is not healthy, and endangered when they are threatened with the news of separation. Living in their imaginary world, these girls begin making real plans to free themselves from the oppression of their parents.

                The Blu-ray release includes the uncut version of the film, though this is not nearly as exciting as simply having this movie in high definition. In particular, the segment in which Orson Welles is placed on screen, chasing the girls home. The special features are lacking, with only a trailer included, but the high definition is still worthwhile.

    Final Destination 5 Blu-ray review


                Very little has changed throughout the Final Destination franchise. I’m not even certain that these can be considered sequels, but instead are simply a series of films which are closer to remakes than a continuation of the story. Then again, often horror sequels simply repeat the established formula, keeping only the killer/villain as a common strain. Although the killer in the Final Destination films is not visible, it has remained the same throughout the whole series. The only interesting thing Final Destination 5 does is implement a new rule which allows for a little more help with the killing.

                Final Destination 5 begins with the obligatory large tragedy, which this time is a collapsing bridge. We see the entire disaster through the eyes of our protagonist, only to pull back and discover that it was merely a premonition. This vision is enough to save a group of workers on a bus on the way to a corporate retreat. These coworkers all believe that they are lucky survivors, but one after another they begin to die from mysterious accidents. As is always the case, we must sit through several gruesome deaths before the daft victims realize that they are dying in the same order that they were meant to die in the bridge accident.

                The new piece of the puzzle this time around is the revelation that by killing someone else instead, the survivors can find a way to dodge the nonstop attacks from the omnipresent Death villain which always survives for the sequel. There is no way to kill Death, and even the latest trick of surviving comes with its own ironic twist. Hopefully this revelation and the full circle of the film’s narrative can finally wrap up this franchise. The first film was clever, and every one since has lacked the same creativity in anything other than the death scenes.

                The Blu-ray includes alternate death scenes, some of which are more gruesome than those in the film. There is also a featurette on two of the tragedies in the film, and the special effects behind their creation. There is also a featurette which looks at the realism of the deaths in this film, as well as the outlandish ones of the franchise’s past. The Blu-ray combo pack comes with a DVD and an Ultraviolet Digital Copy.

    Kidnapped DVD review


                Kidnapped is a brutal and often unrelenting in its more graphic images. It is a story of undeniable power because of the fear it can strike in all of us. What Kidnapped doesn’t have is any original moments. The plot has been done numerous times, from both versions of Funny Games to Joel Schumacher’s Trespass. The graphic images have also already been seen, in Irreversible and numerous others since. So while Kidnapped is a brutal and unrelenting film, it is also not as enjoyable as any of the films which it resembles.

                The film begins with the routine of a family as they move into their new home. Jaime and his wife Marta are busy with the details while their teenage daughter Ilsa is only concerned with going out with her boyfriend. This is the exact same plot as Trespass, only the family is renovating rather than moving. The move allows for several strangers to be inside of their new home, and it comes as no surprise when they are invaded and taken hostage later that evening. Held hostage in their own home, the family must struggle to stay alive. The invaders only want money, but their plan is not too clear. Soon things fall apart and violence erupts, with family members pitted against violent criminals.

                 Though the journey bored me and the final resolution disgusted me, there are some technical achievements within this film worth mentioning. In particular there is one sequence which joins a split screen between two separate characters and it is pure poetry to watch. After this moment, I desperately wanted to like Kidnapped, but found myself completely turned off by the ending. The filmmakers got the effective response, but I did not enjoy it. The DVD includes a trailer gallery and a making of featurette.