The Three Stooges Ultimate Collection review

  • Actors: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard

  • Format: Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, DVD, Subtitled, NTSC

  • Subtitles: Spanish

  • \Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

  • Number of discs: 20

  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)

  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

  • DVD Release Date: June 5, 2012

  •             Sony Pictures Home Entertainment previously released volume after volume of the Three Stooges Collection, each one taking a couple of years and picking the fan favorites. This Ultimate Collection includes all eight of the previously released volumes in one set, as well as 28 newly released short films, two feature films and three Columbia cartoons. This is 11 hours of previously unreleased material along with 190 fan-favorite shorts from previously released volumes. There is no more definitive collection for fans of The Three Stooges catalogue from 1934-1959.

                Moe Howard and his brother Shemp began the family tradition of slapstick when they started in 1922 as assistants to Ted Healy’s vaudevillian act. Three years later they were joined by Larry Fine, and five years later the trio debuted in “Soup to Nuts” (1930). They would make films with Healy until 1934, with Jerry Howard (Curly) replacing Shemp at a certain point. Eventually they left Healy and became The Three Stooges.

    The third volume is a special one, because of the inclusion of “A Plumbing We Will Go,” which is one of the most beloved of the slapstick shorts. The Three Stooges are known for getting themselves into situations where they don’t belong, either by marrying wealthy women who want to turn them into sophisticated members of society or somehow getting employed in positions they know nothing about. Their attempt at cooking is a good example, but “A Plumbing We Will Go” is the best one. They are enlisted to fix a leak in a fancy home but when they mix the pipes with the electrical wiring there are all sorts of gags.

                Since this volume contains the films from 1940-1942, there are also more than a couple Hitler and Nazi jokes. In 1940’s “You Nazty Spy!” Moe Howard was the first American to portray Hitler on film, and the same idea was reprised again with “I’ll Never Heil Again”. Mostly, however, the Three Stooges are good old fashioned escapism. They find countless ways to clumsily hit each other, the gags are non-stop, and there is even an old-fashioned pie fight in “In the Sweet Pie and Pie”.

    The same Hitler impression was reprised again with “I’ll Never Heil Again,” which is included in volume four of the collection. Volume four of the collection begins with yet another ‘Stooges vs. Nazis’ bout in “They Stooge to Conga,” which also seems to contain a little bit of Volume Three’s famous “A Plumbing We Will Go.” In “They Stooge to Conga” the three are working as repair men, brought in to fix a doorbell. Instead of the pipes, they get mixed up in the wires, in every way imaginable. In the end, however, the save the day by stopping the Nazis, whose house they have also destroyed trying to fix a simple problem, as only the Stooges can do.

                “They Stooge to Conga” is the first of the World War II shorts in the collection, but it isn’t the last, nor is it the last time they foul things up as repair men.
    There are also some great non-war related shorts, although references still come in every once and again. One classic in volume four is “Spook Louder,” which has the boys as door-to-door salesmen who accidentally find themselves as part-time caretakers for a spooky house. The house is haunted and it has pie-throwing ghosts. Often times in shorts like this one the references to the war are brief, and some lack them completely, but there are more war related shorts in this set than any other. They are dropped into Europe by way of bomb, accidentally enter an enemy ship after being lost at sea, and even buy property that ends up getting attacked by Japanese men in “The Yoke’s On Me”.

                Sadly, this collection looks to be the last with Jerome “Curly” Howard performing at his best. He joined the Three Stooges in 1932, replacing his brother Shemp, and was a favorite of fans for more than 100 films before he suffered a stroke that forced him to quit working. Although he didn’t have the major stroke until 1947 during the filming of “Half-Wits Holiday,” his health already started to affect his work as early as 1945. As the most energetic of the bunch, when his energy goes down at all it becomes noticeable and the films suffer slightly. In a few of the episodes towards the end of the set his voice is no longer as high as it normally was.

                The decline of Curly’s energy and health over the years finally reached the point of inevitable retirement from the trio of kind-hearted, though violent, goofballs. When The Three Stooges had originally formed in 1925, it was with brothers Moe and Shemp Howard, along with Larry Fine. When Shemp became a larger star, making feature films with W.C. Fields, his younger brother Curly replaced him in The Three Stooges, so upon his departure from the gang, Shemp returned to fill in the shoes once again.

                There is a brief cameo by Curly in ‘Hold That Lion,’ and it is a wonderful moment, though bittersweet in the realization it brings about the gang. Volume five is a sad collection if only because of the change, not to say that Shemp is not funny, but Curly’s high voice is sadly missed among the remaining three.

                Towards the end of the collection there are many more period shorts, taking place in distant times and lands, and always allowing the Stooges their fill of opportunities to play out the same gags in a new arena. 1948 in particular seems to be predominantly filled with these shorts, though there is a fantastic modern short, ‘Heavenly Daze,’ in which Shemp is a ghost haunting Larry and Moe. This might be the best Shemp short, creative and original while also allowing the actor to implement his abilities.

                The new material includes a collection of 28 newly released short films, as well as two of their feature films and three animated shorts with the trio. The feature films included are Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959) and Rockin’ in the Rockies (1945). All in all there is 11 hours of unreleased material, not to mention the beloved classics which make up the previously released eight volumes.

    Spider-Man Trilogy on Blu-ray

                Spider-Man was one of the first superhero franchises to become a blockbuster success and set the standard for so many others to follow. Not only was it a major financial success, which insures sequels and copycats in Hollywood, but it did so with an interesting choice for a director. Sam Raimi is best known for his contribution into the horror genre, but his unique style proved perfect for the telling of this beloved comic book story. If it weren’t for this trilogy which began in 2002, Christopher Nolan may not have been chosen for the Batman franchise, and it is likely Jon Favreau would not have directed Iron Man nor Joss Whedon The Avengers. Spider-Man was one of the first greats, though we have come full circle again and ten years later another Spider-Man franchise has begun.

                In anticipation of the newest attempt to adapt the Spider-Man tale, all three of the Sam Raimi films have been brought to high definition Blu-ray. As an added incentive to upgrade to Blu-ray, each disc comes with a $10 movie ticket offer to see The Amazing Spider-Man in 3D. Each Blu-ray also comes with an Ultraviolet digital copy of the film, not to mention the endlessly informative and entertaining special feature selections available.

                Spider-Man began the franchise in 2002, with moderately good special effects and an effective storyline about a geeky kid in high school who develops superpowers from a spider and must learn to use them for good. Tobey Maguire stars as the super-hero, with Kirsten Dunst as the girl next door and Willen Dafoe as the first villain, The Green Goblin. Along with the previously released special features, exclusive to the Blu-ray is a trivia challenge and an editing program to cut together your favorite portions of the film.

                Spider-Man 2 continues my theory that the second film in a franchise is always the best film in the series. The Godfather 2 is better than the first, Empire Strikes Back is better than Star Wars and Sam Raimi’s follow-up film has the best storyline and special effects of the three. It comes as no surprise that this is the film which is given an extended version. Both the theatrical and extended versions are included on the Blu-ray disc, along with fight sequences which weren’t seen in theaters. Additional special features are taken from the DVD, including several commentary tracks and a 12-part making-of documentary.

                The only disappointment in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy is the conclusion. The first one was establishing, the second absolutely brilliant, and the third somehow ended up absurd and silly. From a musical number to characters acting out of character, Spider-Man 3 is a strange and not altogether solid film. It looks much improved in high definition, but the storyline is just as shaky as it ever was, especially in comparison to the first two films. Special features are also limited, including nothing that wasn’t already on the DVD version.

    Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris

  • Director: Guy Ritchie

  • Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen

  • Language: English (DTS 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), Thai (Dolby Digital 5.1)

  • Subtitles: Spanish, French, English, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Thai

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1

  • Number of discs: 2

  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)

  • Studio: Warner Home Video

  • Release Date: June 12, 2012

  •             The first Sherlock Holmes was impressively entertaining, but there was little about it which wasn’t predictable. Despite having a few stylistic choices throughout the film stand out, it seemed the type of blockbuster which any director could have helmed. Guy Ritchie returned as director for the sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and he seems to have become more comfortable with the idea of adding his own style to the series. This is a strange film for a blockbuster, which makes it all the more fascinating to watch. From hyper-kinetic visuals to a non-stop action storyline, this is a film which clearly belongs in Ritchie’s filmography.

                It is difficult to know even what is going on, as the film seems to begin in the middle of an already developing storyline. Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is amidst an investigation against his greatest foe, the ingeniously clever criminal Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). This all happens to occur as Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is getting married and leaving on his honeymoon, which is interrupted when they are targeted for an attack to help distract Holmes from his investigation. This investigation also involves a gypsy (Noomi Rapace) whose brother may be involved in an assassination plot.

                Though it is not always clear where the storyline is going, the one thing consistent throughout this film series is the relationship between Holmes and Watson. The first film felt much more like a buddy action comedy, and this time around the ties between the two seem even stronger. If I didn’t know better, I would say that this is a love story between the two of them. From the fact that Holmes interrupts the honeymoon dressed as a woman to a later scene where the brilliant detective takes a moment to dance with Watson, these two seem to share more of a connection than ever was shared with the Irene Adler character played by Rachel McAdams.

                The special effects and visuals in general have also seen an upgrade in this sequel, partially due to the fact that the storyline never seems to slow down. There are more than a few extremely impressive action sequences which are further enhanced by the high definition presentation of Blu-ray. The combo pack includes the Blu-ray disc along with a DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the movie. The Blu-ray has the option of the “Maximum Movie Mode,” which includes storyboards, picture-in-picture featurettes, photo galleries and more, all with Robert Downey Jr. as a guide.

    Shallow Grave Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor

  • Director: Danny Boyle

  • Format: NTSC, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen

  • Language: English

  • Subtitles: English  

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1

  • Number of discs: 1

  • Rated: R (Restricted)

  • Studio: Criterion Collection

  • Release Date: June 12, 2012

  • Run Time: 93 minutes

                Danny Boyle is one of those rare directors with a distinctive style, despite the fact that the films he has made vary a great deal from each other. In recent years he has drawn attention with a modern fairy tale (Slumdog Millionaire) and a true story (127 Hours), while he has also made a science fiction film (Sunshine), an apocalyptic zombie horror film (28 Days Later) and a feel good family film (Millions). It is hard to believe that this is the same director who brought us the drug/heist hit, Trainspotting, until one looks at the style of each of these films. This distinctive visual stamp on his films has remained constant and recognizable since his film debut, Shallow Grave.

                Shallow Grave has been described as a Hitchcockian thriller, dealing with three despicably pretentious roommates, a dead body, and a suitcase full of cash. Personally, I find that there is much more modern film noir in this tale, especially considering how much of the action is instigated by the femme fatale female roommate played by Kerry Fox. Juliet (Fox) has obviously drawn affection from both of her male roommates; the loud-mouthed tabloid journalist, Alex (Ewan McGregor in his first starring role), and the straight-laced lawyer, David (Christopher Eccleston). The fact that both of these men are eager for Juliet’s approval helps to initiate some of the more disturbing choices in the film.

                In the opening sequence of the film we watch the judgmental and cruel manner in which the trio interrogates candidates for a fourth roommate, finding fault with all who apply. Only a mysterious man named Hugo (Keith Allen) is allowed to be considered without judgment, at the convincing of Juliet. Although the immature Alex is clearly jealous, the new tenant is permitted to enter and this attracts a unique situation for the three friends.

                The film was originally to be called Cruel, which is a fitting title for a story with no likeable characters to be found. Even more interesting is the manner in which the characters are altered and changed by the events that take place. There is no clear protagonist to root for, and the less despicable characters are not necessarily the ones which end up on top. The screenplay by John Hodge is difficult to predict, taking the audience on an unexpectedly gripping conclusion in which friends and roommates can no longer trust each other. Director Boyle, screenwriter Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald would reunite again to create Trainspotting a few years later.

                The Blu-ray release of Shallow Grave comes with a newly restored digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Brian Tufano. There are two optional commentary tracks; one director’s commentary with Boyle and another with Macdonald and Hodge. The special features also include new interviews with cast members, though the highlight remains the 1993 making-of documentary by Kevin Macdonald, Digging Your Own Grave. Kevin and Andrew Macdonald also filmed the process of selling the script in 1992 at the Edinburgh Film Festival, which is included. The insert booklet includes and essay by film critic Philip Kemp.

    The Gold Rush Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Charlie Chaplin, Georgia Hale

  • Director: Charlie Chaplin

  • Format: Black & White, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen

  • Language: English

  • Subtitles: English

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1

  • Number of discs: 1

  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)

  • Studio: Criterion Collection

  • Release Date: June 12, 2012

  •             Few films have been as lasting as Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. Well into the 1940s and the era of sound, Chaplin was still making silent films which would outlast and outperform the ‘talkies’ of the time. In 1942 he even re-released a new version of his 1925 classic with sound effects and a voiceover narration to replace the original dialogue cards. Whether watching the 1925 classic silent version or the 1942 re-release, there is no denying the brilliance of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. Both are masterpieces which have just as much impact to day as when they were first created.

                Chaplin’s reoccurring character known as the Little Tramp had been around in his silent short films, but it was The Gold Rush which made him a phenomenal success. From the signature waddling walk in his over-sized shoes and pants to the undersized jacket and iconic bowler and walking cane, the Little Tramp is unmistakably recognizable. The Gold Rush has sequences which are just as recognizable, even to those who have never seen the film before. There is the dinner roll dance, which was imitated in the 1990s romantic comedy Benny & Joon, and the boiled leather shoe meal which actually put Chaplin in the hospital for insulin shock (the shoe was made out of licorice). The Gold Rush is a goldmine of unforgettable comedic moments.

                The story was actually one of the few that Chaplin had completely figured out prior to the beginning of filming, and has a consistency that is lacking in some of his other masterpieces. It begins with the tale of a poor prospector with hopes of striking it rich in the Klondike. The tramp’s search for gold also ends up bringing him to a search for a companion when he meets a beautiful woman (played by Georgia Hale), and in typical fashion he must ward off the romantic competition with wit and mischievous trickery.

                Slapstick humor and amazingly creative comedy aside, The Gold Rush is also an extremely sweet and emotional film. The Tramp is one of those rare characters who can misbehave in the name of what is right, drawing our affection and admiration along with the laughter. The Gold Rush would pave the way for more masterpieces, though there is no denying that they would not have been possible without the initial success of this near-perfect film.

                The Blu-ray release includes a new high-definition digital restoration of the 1942 version, as well as a new 2K digital transfer of the reconstructed original 1925 silent version. The silent version comes with a newly recorded adaptation of Chaplin’s original score in 5.1 DTS-HD surround sound. An optional new audio commentary by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance is also included, along with three new documentary programs and a 2002 short documentary. There are also four trailers and a booklet insert featuring an essay by critic Luc Sante and a copy of the review of the 1942 release by James Agee.

    Franklin & Bash: The Complete First Season DVD review

                There is very little actual law in the new courtroom series, “Franklin & Bash.” The style of the show seems to be fashioned after previous series such as “Ally MCBeal” or “Boston Legal,” where it was the quirkiness of the cases and the lawyers trying them which made up the entertainment. The actual law is completely secondary. “Franklin & Bash” pushes this concept even further, to the point where the title lawyers are more like frat boys than legitimate legal council.

                Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar star as Jared Franklin and Peter Bash. Franklin is an intelligent lawyer whose decision not to work with his successful father and his many courtroom antics have kept him from the same level of respectability. Bash is only lower down in the food chain because of a propensity for sleeping with the wrong woman. This womanizer and courtroom clown make a perfect team somehow, and are picked up by an eccentric aging attorney named Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell) to join a large firm. They use their unorthodox methods in their new job, helping an array of unique clients.

                More humor than courtroom drama and more absurdities than actual legal facts, “Franklin &Bash” is an engaging and entertaining waste of time. The DVD includes all ten episodes from season one, along with a few special features. There is a gag reel, three commercials for the lawyer team, and seven brief featurettes.  

    Accident Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Louis Koo, Richie Jen

  • Director: Soi Cheang

  • Format: Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen

  • Language: Cantonese

  • Subtitles: English

  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

  • Number of discs: 1

  • Rated: Unrated

  • Studio: Shout! Factory

  • Release Date: June 12, 2012

  • Run Time: 87 minutes

  •             Accident is a gripping film of twists and turns, suspenseful from beginning to end while never conforming to a recognizable story structure. This is one of the few suspense films which cannot be figured out easily, despite a rather simple storyline. Paranoia and conspiracy intermingle in a way which hasn’t been so successful since Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation.

                Director Soi Cheang (Shame, Dog Bite Dog) and producer Johnnie To (Election, Vengeance) bring to screen the unique vision of a group of assassins who only kill people through staged accidents. In the opening sequence we watch as a traffic jam and a series of convenient coincidences cause the demise of a Triad gang leader. It all appears to have been an accident, but soon we discover that there is a team which orchestrated the entire event without detection. The intricacies of these deaths are as complex as those devised by death in the Final Destination series, only with intellect guiding it instead of an invisible vengeful force.

                The group is headed up by Ho Kwok-fai (Luis Koo), who is known by his colleagues as “The Brain.” As the head architect of these choreographed accidents, Ho begins to question the amount he can trust those around him when one of the members of his team is killed by an accident. After years of constructing assassinations which appear accidental, the paranoid hit-man cannot accept coincidence as an explanation. Convinced that an insurance agent named Chan Fong-chow (Richie Jen) is somehow responsible, he begins a cat-and-mouse investigation, trusting nobody along the way.

                The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette as well as a trailer. The high definition presentation is impressive in some sequences, though much of this film is a slow burn and not one with many flashy effects or action sequences.