Happy Valentine's Day Trailer

In celebration of today's holiday I would like to share this wonderful trailer for all of you romantics. For those of you still looking, I say hold on!

Fireflies in the Garden DVD review

            This sophomore feature from filmmaker Dennis Lee is another strong family melodrama, featuring a memorable cast and a few remarkably well-written moments. Writer/director Lee made his mark with a short film entitled Jesus Henry Christ in 2003, which he later adapted into his first feature in 2011 with a much larger budget and a cast of recognizable faces and name actors. Fireflies in the Garden attracted an even large cast, even including Julia Roberts in a smaller role. So why is it that most audiences have never heard of this film? Probably for many of the same reasons it is only now being released, although it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2008.

            The A-list cast makes up a professionally successful and emotional dysfunctional family of odd connections. Aunts are only a few years older than their nephew and this throws the whole dynamic into shift, but it is not the age differences which cause all of the problems in the family. It all seems to come down to the family patriarch, Charles (Willem Dafoe). Although he is a scholarly genius, Charles has a wicked temper and insists on having everyone around him act in the fashion he sees fit. This makes for a difficult childhood for Charles’ only son, Michael (Ryan Reynolds) who grows up to be a successful and unhappy romance novelist.

            The only thing which has kept the family together over the years has been matriarch Lisa (Roberts), a loving and devoted mother to Michael even through the rampaging of his father. As a kid, Michael also greatly admired Lisa’s sister, his aunt (played by Hayden Panettiere at a younger age and Emily Watson later on). All of these relationships come flooding back to Michael, along with the memories of his stressful childhood, when he returns home after an accident occurs.  

            It may be a little too heavy-handed, more than occasionally sappy and drawn out, but I found Fireflies in the Garden to be and enjoyable film if only for the dedicated cast. Only Dafoe ends up coming off more as a caricature of the angry father, with his cliché silently devoted wife by his side. This storyline is a bit unbearable, while there are many other moments within the film that are worthwhile and deserving of praise.

            The DVD includes only a brief making-of featurette. It is not surprising to see such a bare release, especially considering how long it took for this film to be released in the first place.

Ocean Heaven Blu-ray review

            There are no action sequences, no stunts and no martial arts. This is a straight-forward melodrama with Jet Li at the forefront of the melancholy story, an unexpectedly wonderful casting choice. Written and directed by Xue Xiaolu, Ocean Heaven is often a bit heavy-handed and emotionally manipulative, but Li gives a wonderfully subtle performance as a dying man and father of an autistic son.

            Sam Wong (Li) is an aquarium worker who has learned to care for his autistic son since the death of his wife, who was unable to cope with the hardships of the special circumstances. David (Lunmei Kwai) is 22-years-old, but his condition requires Sam to watch over him on a daily basis. This becomes more difficult when Sam discovers that he has a terminal illness which will soon leave David orphaned.

            Too old to go into an orphanage and too young for a retirement home, there seems to be nowhere David will belong once Sam has passed away. In order to prepare him for this change, Sam begins teaching David how to accomplish daily tasks on his own, from breakfast preparation to riding a bus. The entire film is preparation for an event which was always to come someday, when David would have to learn to survive without Sam. Li gives the quiet performance of a man who has accepted his fate and sees death as a deadline for all of the things he must accomplish for his son.

            The Blu-ray includes a making of featurette and a trailer gallery.

Retreat DVD review


            There has been no shortage of post-apocalyptic thrillers and horror films in recent history. Films about the end of the world range from the unrealistic zombie films to those which deal with real-world fears such as disease or the depletion of natural resources. What all of these films seem to have in common is a focus on the actual events that lead to such a disastrous end. What makes Retreat such a compelling film is the fact that we don’t know until the end of the film if the disaster is real, or simply a deranged delusion of one mentally unstable character.

            When couple Martin (Cilian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton) decide to take a vacation on an otherwise uninhabited island, they set themselves up for a harrowing sense of exclusion from the outside world. With only a CB radio to get in touch with the outside world, and not even a boat to escape the island themselves, Martin and Kate find themselves in a dilemma when a stranger (Jamie Bell) arrives with horror stories about an apocalyptic virus destroying the world. Claiming to be military, the stranger takes control once he is on the island. He insists that Martin and Kate stay inside so they won’t become infected, though the young couple has suspicions that the entire story may be a ruse.

            With only three main characters and a few brief supporting players, Retreat is a heavily reliant on the suspense of the unknown. Whether or not the stranger is telling the truth keeps the film interesting, but the fear is real regardless of the truth in the apocalyptic story. Either they are dealing with the end of the world or a crazed man who has them alone on an island. There is no silver lining to this situation no matter how you look at it. At a certain point this premise starts to wear a little thin, even at 90 minutes, though each actor does a fantastic job. Bell is especially unnerving.

            The special features on the DVD include a making-of featurette, as well as a photo gallery.


Starring: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell, Thandie Newton, Jimmy Yuill, Marilyn Mantle
Director: Carl Tibbetts
Writers: Carl Tibbetts, Janice Hallett
Producers: Chris Ouwinga, Darryn Welch, David Frost, Dominic Wright, Gary Sinyor
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Run Time: 90 minutes

Shakespeare in Love Blu-ray review

            Shakespeare in Love was one of those films which swept up critics and audiences alike. It was highly praised and its theaters highly trafficked, boasting seven Academy Award wins garnered by a combination of hype and the Harvey Weinstein’s determination for accreditation. Perhaps I sound a bit cynical, and this may have something to do with the large sums of money thrown around by the Weinstein gang and Miramax during award season, assuring their films receiving attention above all others during the 90s. It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy Shakespeare in Love, but few films have felt more over-hyped to me. Only three other films come to mind as more underwhelming; Titanic, Juno and the last of those little Lord of the Ring films.

            The silly little story begins with writer’s block. One of humanity’s most prolific and poetic writers is stuck, without an idea or inspiration. Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) doesn’t know what his next play will be until he meets the enchanting Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), which starts a forbidden love and the inspiration for his next work. Released in 1998, shortly after the success of Baz Luhrmann’s ultra-hip restyling of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare in Love is yet another film which tends to rely heavily on the impression that Shakespeare did little else other than tell the tale of these star-crossed lovers.

With my exasperation at the over-praise of Shakespeare in Love completed, I will proceed with hypocrisy and list the qualities which I do admire in John Madden’s film. As distasteful as I may find it to watch the leading actors, there are quite a few supporting performances which are surprisingly delightful. One of the highlights of the film is watching Judi Dench in the role of Queen Elizabeth. Ben Affleck is also amusing, although perhaps not even close to the most convincing actor cast here. And it appears we have already swayed back into the criticism of Shakespeare in Love once again. Before I had time to mention my admiration of Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth, I am reminded of the major reason this film irks me. Miramax films tended to rely heavily on their stock actors, and among those were Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow. Without Miramax we may not have ever known who she was in the 90s, and often she was crammed into roles that weren’t right for her. Emma is the worst offender, but I find the casting in Shakespeare in Love hard to swallow. I can do without Joseph Fiennes as well.

The Blu-ray is far more impressive than the film itself, in my opinion, boasting a high definition presentation that is able to highlight the strong production values of the film. The special features are all that seem to be lacking. There are some, including two audio commentaries and two featurettes, as well as deleted scenes and trailers. These just aren’t new special features.


Yakuza Weapon Blu-ray review

Starring: Shingo Tsurumi, Mei Kurokawa, Takashi Nishina, Akihiko Sai, Arata Yamanaka
Directors: Tak Sakaguchi, Yudai Yamaguchi
Language: Japanese
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Well Go USA
Release Date: February 7, 2012
Run Time: 105 minutes

Japanese cinema of digital excesses throws all subtlety aside in this teenage boy’s wet dream comic book adaptation.

            For all of those critics of Hollywood cinema with accusations of offensive and ultra violent material, I would suggest you never delve into the world of Japanese cinema. Boundaries which have never even been approached in American cinema have long since been crossed in the violent Japanese gangster and actions films. Yakuza Weapon is vulgar, offensive to women, and over-the-top in the amount of violence and bloodshed fit into 90 minutes. Credit must be given to co-filmmakers Yudai Yamaguchi and Tak Sakaguchi simply for the limits which they exceed in their cinema of excess. And in this case the excess comes in the form of cybernetic penis implants and rockets which shoot from female the orifices of a nude female robot.

            Shozo Iwaki (co-director Sakaguchi) is an ex-yakuza member who only returns when he hears that his father has been brutally murdered by a traitorous subordinate named Kurawaki. The overthrowing ruler is also wanted by the Law Enforcement Agencies, to the point where they are willing to implement new technology in order to catch him. After Shozo has two limbs blown off in a vengeful attack, he awakes to find that his arm has been replaced with an M61 Vulcan cannon and his new leg doubles as a rocket launcher.  

            The remainder of the film is a bloody battle in which a weaponized man does battle against a slew of opponents, leading up to a battle against several villains with their own cybernetic improvements. Aside from a strong sexual undertone to much of the violence, the concept of Yakuza Weapon is solid if not a bit unoriginal. The strongest portion of the film, however, are the ones with less reliance on the special effects and carnage and more on old fashioned fight choreography.

            The special features on the Blu-ray include a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes and a spin-off short film. There is also a trailer gallery, though the real benefit of the Blu-ray disc is the high definition presentation of this highly visceral film.