Bunny and the Bull review

            Paul King is best known for directing the television series, “The Mighty Boosh.” This breakout success has afforded him the opportunity to make a film like Bunny and the Bull, which is full of the same crass and bizarre humor, while also managing to be rather sensitive. There is a bit of brilliance in this feature film by King, but there is also a lot of other stuff I could have easily done without. This may not be a perfect film, but it has its moments.

            Stephen Turnbull (Edward Hogg) is a recluse tied down to his apartment with a set of habits. He hasn’t had any contact with the outside world in months, but is forced out of his daily routine with an infestation of mice. This somehow forces Stephen to deal with the memories which haunt him, his recollection of a road trip with his best friend, Bunny (Simon Farnsby). The two of them had escaped on a trip across Europe after Stephen had his heart broken, and is filled with all sorts of surreal adventures.

This road trip is a memory in Stephen’s mind, making everything even more exaggerated. There is an absurdity in the visuals which is fantastical and imaginative, just like the popular television show. It is inventive and fun, but not altogether clear if it is necessary. The film sometimes gets caught up in forcing humor with somewhat unlikable characters, which only makes the characters even more unlikable.

White Material Blu-ray review

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Isaach De Bankole, William Nadylam
Director: Claire Denis
Format: DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: French
Subtitles: English 
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Criterion Collection
DVD Release Date: April 12, 2011
Run Time: 105 minutes

            There is a ferocious intensity to each of the actions within White Material, even when nothing at all happens. Death is inevitable, as we are shown the demise of significant characters from the opening sequences, before jumping back in time. We know things will end badly in this film, and yet it is the time before it happens which is most harrowing. The characters are infuriatingly flawed, and we as an audience are forced to watch the events as they must unfold.

            Isabelle Huppert stars as French colonist Maria Vial, a woman who has raised a family in an unnamed African country with a questionably successful coffee bean plantation when suddenly civil war threatens to push them out. Although they are in an area inhabited by an army of rebel children, they are not much protection and hardly treat the foreigner with any welcome. Maria is taxed just to drive on the road near her house and her son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is accosted by them. This is all despite the fact that their leader, known as The Boxer (Isaach de BankolĂ©), is hiding out wounded at the Vial coffee plantation.

            Somehow this information also makes it to the opposing army, and danger seem likely at every turn. Despite the pleas of other members of the family, Maria insists on staying and seeing the crop through. She wants to harvest when all of the rest of the colonials have long since fled the country. She is consistently referred to as “the white woman” in the film, and her son is accosted because of his blonde hair, which he responds alarming to. The unease of the white person in a volatile country may come some from writer/director Clair Denis’ own past, as she herself grew up as a French native.

            The 2009 film was digitally transferred for this Blu-ray release, under the supervision of Denis and her cinematographer, Yves Cape, along with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The special features include new interviews with Denis, Huppert and de BankolĂ©, a deleted scene and a short documentary done by Denis at the premiere of the film at the 2010 Ecrans Noirs Film Festival in Cameroon. There is also a booklet with an essay by film writer Amy Taubin. 

Somewhere film review

            Sofia Coppola seems to be trying desperately to revisit the success she had with Lost in Translation, once again telling a tale about a silent and irate looking actor. There is even a sequence in a foreign country where the actor looks uncomfortable as they are unclear of what is happening due to the language barrier. The only difference between films is that a near-romance is replaced with father-daughter relationship. Perhaps the reason Coppola keeps going back to this when writing and directing films is because she knows more about spending time with her father in expensive hotels ordering room service than anything else.

            Stephen Dorff stars as Johnny Marco, a movie star who doesn’t seem to do much of anything. He has the obligations for marketing and interviews which suggest a movie is soon to be released, but other than that he mostly lives a more depressing version of the lifestyle shown on “Entourage.” Things look up a bit when his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning) visits him. It breaks up the monotony of sleeping with random women and popping pain pills.

            Nothing much happens here, but maybe I’m just annoyed with Coppola’s style of filmmaking. Her films are beginning to annoy me. Somewhere isn’t bad, but it never really commits to anything other than showing us what it is like to have a famous father and to live in LA and travel to Italy. And it isn’t all that fun to watch.

Godzilla Blu-ray review

  • Rated: Unrated

  • Studio: Criterion Collection

  • DVD Release Date: January 24, 2012

  • Run Time: 96 minutes

  •             For those who don’t appreciate how closely the horror genre is tied with social and political commentary, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla is all of the evidence needed to make an airtight case. The fact that Godzilla is a creature feature simply allowed for easier accessibility to audiences, both nationally and internationally, giving it a wider audience base for the poignant and timely horror story. This Japanese film is a cautionary tale about nuclear weapons, made in a country which had itself been ravished by the atom bomb during World War II. It is both ironic and fitting that Godzilla would also be released in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, in the very country which had been responsible for the devastation of Hiroshima.

                The fire-breathing creature from the Jurassic period is awakened by H-bomb testing in the ocean, baptized in the waters of nuclear destruction and seemingly immune to the arsenal of humanity. As though Pandora’s box had been opened by the H-bomb tests, Godzilla wreaks havoc on the city that lay waste to civilization in a manner which looks familiar to the wreckage of Hiroshima. Even more fitting is the fact that Godzilla carries radioactive fallout in his path, making ill those who survive his path of destruction. This is far more than the camp of bad monster suits and the 28 sequels which became of the Godzilla franchise. This first film is a masterpiece, and one which was just as relevant as it was popular.

                Part creature-feature in the tradition of King Kong and part thoughtful and emotionally resonant melodrama about the difficult decisions which come with the creation increasingly destructive weapons, Godzilla is a complete picture. Just the same, when it was “Americanized,” Godzilla was completely re-cut with new footage and a superimposed American character, played by Raymond Burr. This comical manner of bringing the classic to Hollywood set the stage for the camp of later decades, but there is still a great deal of emphasis on nuclear destruction and fallout within the storyline.

                The high definition presentation of Blu-ray is somewhat of a double-edged sword, especially in terms of the effects. Although there are some undeniably effective sequences, it becomes easier to see the man within the monster suit in a few key shots which are enhanced in this pristine presentation. Not all of the images are perfect, however, as some have been worn down from years of use and are filled with irreparable scratches. The real highlight of the high definition is the sound, specifically Godzilla’s signature roar which is compiled of sound clips from an assortment of military arsenals.
                The Blu-ray includes both a high-defintion digital restoration of Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Both films have an audio commentary by film historian David Kalat, and there is also an illustrated audio essay by historian Greg Pflugfelder and an interview with Japanese film critic Tadao Sato. The package also has an insert booklet with an essay by critic J. Hoberman. And what a package this is, even containing a pop up Godzilla as the sleeves are unfolded. Additional special features include a number of interviews, both new and old, and a featurette about the effects within the film.

    Dead Poet’s Society Blu-ray review

                Before Peter Weir gave Jim Carrey a chance to break out of the rubber-man routine he had become known for on “In Living Color” and the Ace Ventura franchise and into more dramatic roles following The Truman Show, he took a similar chance on Robin Williams. At the time, Williams was best known for comedy. In fact, he was essentially only known for comedy, which made him an unexpected choice for a key role in the extremely dramatic Dead Poet’s Society.

                Taking place in the rigid environment of a private boy’s school, Welton Academy, Dead Poet’s Society follows the changes which are inspired in the students with the arrival of an untraditional English professor named John Keating (Williams). His unconventional methods light a fire in the students, inspiring them to start a secret poetry club and take chances that they may never otherwise have had the courage for. With the motto “Carpe Diem,” and the promise of youth, this group of friends is given the opportunity to grow and the responsibility of hard decisions.

                 The Blu-ray release of this depressing and inspirational classic features a high definition presentation like never before seen. The film itself has never looked better for home entertainment, and it comes packed with an assortment of special features as well. There is a retrospective featurette as well as some footage of raw takes from the filming. There is also a great featurette on the film’s cinematography, as well as one on the film’s sound with interviews by Weir and director David Lynch. Also included is a commentary track with Weir, Academy-Award-winning screenwriter Tom Schulman and cinematographer John Seale.

    Starring: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Robert Sean Leonard, Gale Hansen 
    Rated: PG 
    Studio: Touchstone / Disney
    DVD Release Date: January 17, 2012
    Run Time: 129 minutes

    Good Morning Vietnam Blu-ray review

    Studio: Touchstone / Disney
    DVD Release Date: January 17, 2012
    Run Time: 121 minutes

                If any filmmaker can lighten the Vietnam War into a comedy, it is Barry Levinson, and if any actor was capable of the fast-talking military deejay it was Robin Williams. Williams won a Golden Globe for his performance and it increased his popularity in a whole new field of roles. This would next include his performance in Dead Poet’s Society, also on Blu-ray this week. The 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release of Good Morning, Vietnam features all the bells and whistles of high definition, not to mention a film which is worth owning in the best quality.

                Williams stars as deejay Adrian Cronauer, a man who entertains the American troupes in Vietnam with the latest hits of the 1960s and his own unique style of comedy. This routine is extremely popular with the soldiers, and not as much with the superior officers. Cronauer hardly even seems attached to the war until he is caught in moments of violence from bombs placed in cafes and restaurants frequented by soldiers.

                There are some heavier moments within Good Morning, Vietnam, but the highlight of the film is the time spent on-air. It is the radio monologues which fuel the humor and the heart of the film, taking away a bit more than just the senseless violence which most Vietnam films display front-and-center.

                The Blu-ray special features include a six-part production diary which takes one the film’s production from its conception to a year after filming wrapped.  The highlight of the special features, however, is the inclusion of raw material from the radio program monologues. There are also two trailers.

    Sinners and Saints Blu-ray review

    Starring: Sean Patrick Flanery, Tom Berenger, Costas Mandylor, Johnny Strong, Method Man
    Directors: William Kaufman 
    Rated: R
    Studio: ANCHOR BAY
    DVD Release Date: January 10, 2012
    Run Time: 104 minutes

                Sinners and Saints is another cop action film set in crime-riddled New Orleans, though this one turns into a military conspiracy action film set in the heart of the hurricane ravished city. The plot is then increased to a much more unbelievable level of action, feeling more like a film born from the heydays of 80s action. There may not be much reasoning behind the large public shootouts, but they are damn fun.

                Supporting player Johnny Strong takes the lead in this shoot ‘em up film as New Orleans Police Detective Sean Riley. He may be rough and bend the rules a bit, but Johnny gets the job done. When he stumbles on a military conspiracy underneath a series of murders, Johnny takes on a group of highly trained mercenaries with only an inexperienced field agent alongside him. Between hired killers and the street’s own local gangs, there are many obstacles standing in the way of the justice.

                The Blu-ray release of this high-octane action film has the best parts in clearest focus. The action is what Sinners and Saints is all about, and the high definition enhances this part of the experience. It can do nothing for the cheesy dialogue and more than occasionally moments of bad acting, but a certain degree of this is expected with an action film. The special features include a behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as deleted scenes.


    Cold Sweat DVD review

    Starring: Facundo Espinosa
    Language: Spanish
    Rated: Unrated
    Studio: Dark Sky Films
    DVD Release Date: January 17, 2012
    Run Time: 80 minutes

        Cold Sweat is a tightly wound horror film with a solid premise an explosive follow-through. The film is at times confounding, inexplicably violent and yet beautiful in its execution and style. Like the great horror films of the past, this clever Spanish horror films begins suddenly and starts with one of the film’s most graphic sequences. The way the violence suddenly takes hold unexpectedly and illogically reminded me of films like The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the villains are unique in their own way.

                The film begins quickly. We join a young man named Roman (Facundo Espinosa) as he sits outside of a home on an ordinary street. Thinking that he has tracked his girlfriend to the home of a new blonde lover, Roman is shocked to find that she was instead lured by two elderly political radicals who are experimenting on girls with cases of decade-old dynamite, acid, and creatively utilized nitroglycerin. Roman sneaks around the house, unsuspected by the elderly psychopaths, attempting to free his girlfriend and escape without exploding. 

                The aspect of the internet being utilized to ensnare the younger generation into the trap, allowing victims to come right into the home of the killers, is one of the film’s most inspired elements. And yet, although technology has pulled them into the mess, it does little to help them out of it. Cell phones have no reception in the house and Roman’s pleas for a 911 call on Facebook are ignored and ridiculed. It seems that Roman’s friends outside of the dynamite-filled home are far too skeptical, whereas a little more of that on Roman’s girlfriend’s part could have prevented this whole situation.

                Surprisingly stylish in the cinematography, it is somewhat disappointing not to have a high definition presentation of this on the DVD. Still, it is a solid film worth checking out in any format. There are also a surprising amount of special features, including a director’s commentary and some behind-the-scenes footage. There are also a few deleted and extended scenes, a poster gallery, a comic book and trailer gallery.

    Mad: Season One, Part 2 DVD review

    Rated: NR (Not Rated)
    Studio: Warner Home Video
    DVD Release Date: January 17, 2012

                Mad Magazine may have been at the forefront, but as a television show it follows in the footsteps of some already successful animated sketch spoof shows. The most notable is “Robot Chicken,” which utilizes stop animation and action figures to reenact and poke fun at pop culture. “Mad” uses animation but the formula is essentially the same as the comics in the magazine and the stop animation of “Robot Chicken.”

                Each ten minute episode is crammed full of pop culture spoofs and gags, as well as a few original creations synonymous with Mad Magazine, such as famous black and white spies of Spy vs. Spy. Many of the cartoon skits are directed at recent pop culture events, such as the spoofs of The Social Network and Twilight, though occasionally some older items are used, such as Jurassic Park, Pokemon and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

                There are thirteen ten minute episodes included in this single-disc set of the second part of season one. The series has the feel of the Alfred E Neumna magazines, even though it has been updated for the faster pace of this generation.

    Sid & Nancy Blu-ray review

    Starring: David Hayman, Gary Oldman, Andrew Schofield
    Director: Alex Cox
    Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
    DVD Release Date: December 27, 2011
    Run Time: 113 minutes

      Sid & Nancy is a love story unlike any other, full of abuse which is mostly self-inflicted and addictions which rule the relationship. While Sid & Nancy is about the gravitational pull Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) had with groupie and junkie girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb), it is also about the damage that it caused the iconic punk band from the1970s.

                This untraditional biography tracks the rise in success for the Sex Pistols, though the focus is clearly on the rise and fall of Sid and Nancy’s relationship. From fun beginnings being seduced by a fan to a life dependant on a heroin addiction which ends in the infamous Hotel Chelsea in New York, Sid and Nancy’s relationship is far more eventful than the history of the Sex Pistols. This isn’t to say that Sid & Nancy is without music, and Oldman proves able to spit at the audience like the best of them, but the focus remains on the more volatile lifestyle off-stage.

                The Blu-ray release Collector’s Edition release of this 1986 classic features a sharp high definition presentation that allows clarity never before seen for home entertainment. The music sequences all blare out in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. There are a few special features, including two featurettes and a theatrical trailer, but these have all been previously released on DVD.

    The Coast Guard Blu-ray review

    Starring: Jang Dong-kun
    Director: Kim Ki-duk
    Language: Korean
    DVD Release Date: January 17, 2012
    Run Time: 94 minutes

                There have been many war films, and even in the off chance that there are no more wars, the films will still continue. As many war films as there have been, the issue of soldiers during peace time is one which has not often been dealt with. The Coast Guard, a dramatic tale from the director of 3-Iron, Samaritan Girl and Spring, Summer, fall, Winter…And Spring, deals with these issues in all brutal honesty. Director and writer Kim Ki-Duk has become an expert at bringing tales of harsh reality and somber tones to screen, and the Coast Guard is no exception.

                Along the Korean coast there are Coast Guard soldiers who patrol every night despite the fact that they are no longer in war. The guards hope that if any spies come on the beach, they will be there to kill them. It is driven into their training that killing a spy is among the highest honor, and because of this fact Private Kang waits eagerly for his chance to prove himself. In fact, Kang is far more eager than the rest, wearing camouflage make-up on patrol and sneaking through bushes on his free time. It comes as no surprise when Kang is the one to spot and kill a suspected spy on the beach. What is a surprise is the fact that the suspect is actually a civilian. Kang is rewarded just the same and although the girl who was with the victim went insane, Kang seems to be handling the stress calmly for a while. The more it builds, however, the more it seems inevitable that Kang is a danger to himself and others.

                There are no real comments on war within the film, but more about the idleness of a soldier without war, and perhaps the paranoia as well. The film is a character study of one soldier’s journey through the mad world he lives in. Kang is gung-ho until the accident and then he seems unable to lift a weapon, but this changes as well. By the end of the film we have a very harsh portrayal which is difficult to shake.

    As with other films from this director, the emotions of the characters are extreme and yet not always clear. The film focuses on them, so that the technical aspects of the film are not quite as good, but with the subject matter it would not work as well to be too polished anyways.

    The Blu-ray includes an interview with the director as well as a commentary track by him. There is also an introduction to the film by the director as well. It is clear that Kim Ki-Duk is very dedicated to his films, and is willing to spend the time explaining it to his audience as well. There is also promotional material, including a film trailer and a music video. These have all been released on the DVD before, however, the Blu-ray includes an exclusive making-of featurette and over 30 minutes of additional new features.

    Dirty Girl DVD review

    Starring: Juno Temple, Jeremy Dozier, Milla Jovovich, William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen
    Director: Abe Sylvia
    Studio: ANCHOR BAY
    DVD Release Date: January 17, 2012
    Run Time: 90 minutes


         It used to be that the period coming-of age films usually took place in the 50s, or 60s. At least that’s the way it was during the 80s and the 90s, but now these films are beginning to take place in the 80s. From the poor Brett Easton Ellis adaptations to films like Adventureland and Skateland, the 80s are fueling the period coming of age tales. Dirty Girl is the latest addition, and it is also a road trip. John Hughes meets Little Miss Sunshine in the tale of a girl with a bad reputation and a boy hiding his sexuality on a road trip to find a long-long father.

                Juno Temple stars as Danielle, a girl who has a bad reputation for her sexual prowess at Norman High School in Norman, Oklahoma, circa 1987. Her reputation is far worse than her actual behavior, though her lewd grammar eventually has her banned to the remedial classes and paired with closet homosexual Clarke (Jeremy Dozier). These two develop a bond together and Clarke helps Danielle run away to California to find her father when her mother (Milla Jovovich) announces that she is engaged to her religious boyfriend.

                Clarke has his own issues to run away from as well, including his abusive and homophobic father (Dwight Yoakam). Clarke’s mother (Mary Steenburgen) has sympathy, however, and she sets out on the cross country journey to get her son back. There is a lot going on in this film with a lot of good actors, but it all plays out rather simply. It isn’t a remarkable film, but you could certainly do worse.

                The DVD special features include a feature commentary with writer/director Abe Sylvia, as well as a few deleted and extended scenes which are not anything you wouldn’t expect to see on the cutting room floor.