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Archive for August, 2012

Piranha 3DD Blu-Ray Review

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Stars: Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush, David Koechner, David Hasselhoff, Christopher Lloyd,     Gary Busey                                                                                                                                                                            Director: John Gulager
Released by Anchor Bay

 

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

 

This probably started if you want to trace it all the way back, with Roger Corman’s New World Pictures in 1978 when they decided to do a Jaws rip off. Joe Dante directed a terrific, scary, funny and ridiculous picture called Piranha. He populated it with a few B movie stars like Kevin McCarthy and Barbara Steele, lots of bloody action, the requisite nudity and New World stalwarts like Paul Bartel and Dick Miller. No one took it seriously and yet it was a very enjoyable ride that holds up remarkably well today. Flash-forward to the era of remakes and Alexandre Aja fresh off his recent remake of The Hills Have Eyes is up to his ears in women and little chewy fish. The remake did well, well enough for a part two of the remake. But this time instead of going with part two someone must have seen fit to include the original in the counting as they readied Piranha 3D. More likely cashing in on the new 3D craze and getting the double D pun in there must have proven irresistible for Piranha 3DD is a catchy title. Unfortunately that’s about where the cleverness stops.

This time the action takes place at a family owned Water Park that has all of a sudden been transformed into a debauched wet water ride of flesh and fantasy, open to those who want to have a sordid good time. The daughter of the family Maddy played by Danielle Panabaker comes home to find her evil stepfather now has 51% of the park and his baser instincts have completely taken over. There is booze, drugs, skinny-dipping and all kinds of shenanigans. The beginning is actually set up pretty well and there are a lot of nicely shot nighttime exteriors of the brightly lit pool of ill repute. Used car lot streamers and Christmas tree bulbs twinkle in the night. There are some simple romantic dynamics with Matt Bush established; nothing deeper than a TV movie but well organized and nicely played.

After a visit to a wonderfully crazed Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), the kids find out that there are really big piranha lurking in the area and they just might find their way into the pools at the water park. Yikes! The good part is that the monster fish as designed by Gary Tunnicliffe look great. Nice big spiky teeth, big creepy eyes and tough scaly looking skin. The first one we get to see goes nose to nose with Lloyd at his scientific home aquarium. Even in the water during all the action the creatures hold their monstrous appeal. When the piranha make their appearance at the water park in the last quarter of the film the mayhem is just not all that satisfying.

David Hasslehoff seems game to try anything but nothing he does is all that entertaining. Ving Rhames comes back from the last one for a quick cameo. His character is in a wheel chair with a prosthetic leg that converts to a machine gun. He happily blasts away as swimmers get chewed up. There is so much CGI blood flying every which way it’s like trying to watch the film trough a strawberry jelly jar. That last act should have been so much more fun. Clu Gulager (The Killers) makes a brief cameo since his son John Gulager directed. Gulager directed Feast (2005), which was a splatter fest set in a diner with Henry Rollins. It showed more promise than he exhibits here. It should be noted that everything but the kitchen sink gets shoehorned into the closing credits. David Hasselhoff has a fake trailer for his new movie, Fish Hunter. There are tons of bloopers. After they finish we go back to the credits and then they start again.


This three-disc edition features 3D Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray, DVD and Ultra Violet Digital Copy.

Video
1.78:1 The best looking part of the film is the nighttime exteriors shot at the park. Everything else looks fine though nothing really stands out.

Audio
English DTS HD 5.1, French & Spanish DTS 5.1, Subtitles offered in English SDH, Spanish (N/A on the 3D)

Extras
Commentary with director, writer and producer. Deleted scenes, The Story Behind the DD, Busey’s Bloopers, The Hofftastic World of David Hasselhoff, Wet and Wild with david Koechner, A Lesson with John McEnroe short

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Good
Movie – Poor/ Fair

The Dictator Blu-Ray Review

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas
Director: Larry Charles
Released by Paramount

 

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

 

Is this the kinder, gentler Sacha Baron Cohen? The man who brought us Borat, the film that trampled all over sensibilities of ever kind fooled everyone by turning in a surprisingly restrained and very effective performance in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. How does he follow that? Back to the low brow gross out humor that got him noticed in the first place? Does he take that model even further and really focus on offending every last moviegoer on the face of the earth? Does he try to court a more mainstream audience? With The Dictator Mister Cohen would let us have his cake and eat it, too.

Sachs plays Admiral General Aladeen, the despotic ruler and dictator of a North African country. He is surrounded by opulence and wealth. He is also supremely inept. Much of the humor draws from very current events and sends up well-known and easily recognizable dictators who have made the news. He makes a grand journey to New York in order to read a scathing indictment to the United Nations. He rides a camel in a grand procession down the streets of the city. The excess is so over the top it’s ridiculous. Aladeen seems to be having a terrific clueless time of his life. Once inside his posh and redecorated hotel room John C. Reilly kidnaps him. He is tied up and readied for torture but makes fun of the poor tools Reilly has brought. In a fit of fury the insulted Reilly cuts of Aladeen’s beard. Things get bad, things catch on fire and poor beardless Aladeen is on the run in the big apple. Unrecognizable without his trademark beard he is forced to make it on his own. That’s a nice set up and certainly more narrative driven than other Sacha Baron Cohen projects.

Like the Prince and the Pauper, this dictator must go among the people of the City. He winds up working at a health food store run by dissidents, political refugees and would be revolutionaries. He is taken in by Zoey (Anna Faris) who sports emancipated tendencies and under arm hair that he ridicules. Just like some cute TV movie they begin to fall in love. But there is still that level of insult that rides high.

 

Aladeen: You seem educated.
Zoey: Yes. I went to Amherst.
Aladeen: I love it when women go to school. It’s like seeing a monkey on roller-skates. It means nothing to them, but it’s so adorable for us.

He finds out that all the people he had executed in his country have been shipped to exile in New York. They live in Little Wadiya. We know that because we read it as a subway stop, just like Little Italy or Chinatown. He finds the head of his nuclear weapons program, who has now become a Mac Genius working in an Apple store. Together they plot his return to the United Nations where he can rip up a written pledge of democracy and rant just like the good old days. Jason Mantzoukas as Nadal works wonderfully with Cohen in these scenes. They get an easy insulting banter going back and forth. The humor bounces all over the place. There’s slapstick, gross-out, lowbrow and even some word play that would make Abbott & Costello cringe. Suspended from a zip line while trying to sneak into the UN, Nadal urges him to empty his pockets of everything to lighten up. He tosses out a power bar. What’s that? It’s got all the protein of three bananas. Throw out everything! Aladeen then pulls three bananas from his pocket. Nadal give him a look and Aladeen says, I don’t believe them.

Cohen has support form Ben Kingsley and a host of other strong actors here. You can even spot Edward Norton, Garry Shandling and Megan Fox in cameos. Does the kitchen sink approach to the humor work? There are many uneven swings from stupid jokes to his usual fare of offensive material. Then there’s that love story. Are you ready to see a film by the Borat guy that just might end with a closing shot of a happy couple kissing? While not wholly successful Sacha Baron Cohen’s balancing act with one foot in the land of respectable and the other still firmly planted in the gutter is quite often very funny. The man can also act and while he may seem wildly improvisational he clearly prepares and works very hard at his shtick. As long as he doesn’t head down Eddie Murphy Lane and completely scrape all the shit off his shoes, he just may be onto something here.

Video
2:40:1 Paramount serves up a very pleasing picture here. Much of the proceedings take place in brightly lit interiors and sun-drenched exteriors, which lend themselves to bursts of color and nice detail. The unrated edition runs 15 minutes longer containing the expected dose of lower brow and grosser humor.

Audio
The Blu-ray sports English 5.1 in HD DTS, French, Spanish and Portuguese in 5.1 with English SDH and subtitles offered in French, Spanish and Portuguese

Extras.
Deleted and Extended scenes (most of which are in the uncut version), Your Money is on the Dresser Music Video, and a Larry King Interview with General Aladeen.

This is the Banned & Unrated Version (Blu-Ray, DVD & Ultra Violet Digital Copy)
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Good

Jersey Shore Shark Attack Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Stars: Jeremy Luke, Melissma Molinaro, Tony Siroco, Joey Fatone, Paul Sorvino
Director: John Shepphird
Released by Anchor Bay

 

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

 

This was not a bad idea at all. Certainly worthy of a schlock B style TV movie made for the Syfy channel. The Jersey Shore reality MTV series that centers around Snooki and her cohorts is fair game. They’ve managed to offend large portions of the Garden State. Why not give them a send up and a shot? Being afraid of sharks and piranha seemingly never goes out of style. What we’ve got here is simply a set of friends that are patterned right out of that “Guido” style. They’ve got the look and the accents down pat. The beginning of the film that sets these characters up is not bad at all. Instead of Snooki, we’ve got Nooki. Taking the place of The Situation is The Complication. It’s like a Mad Magazine parody. One of the guy’s girls has dumped him so they go down to the local bar on the Seaside Boardwalk for a few mid afternoon drinks. Who should be the bartender but Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos himself, Tony Siroco. Tony played one of the most endearing characters on that show and had a real flare for humor. It’s too bad he doesn’t get to do more here.


The antics of the gang are pretty amusing. There’s a few running gags like never knowing just which Vinnie anyone is referring to with so many friends named Vinnie. The baked on tans, the obsession with bad shoes and the overly detailed hand gestures are all right on target. They use anagrams like ASS for alcohol, sex and sand. The gang is well cast and has a good time with the parts. When it starts to get dramatic in the least or to become a killer shark movie is where it runs into trouble. You’d think that’s just when it would take these characters and have some real fun with them, but no. Drat! Let down again by an almost fun B movie that just can’t be what it needs to. The CGI sharks are atrocious. Whenever they appear they take you right out of the fun. Practical effects that are done poorly have a certain charm in low budget movies, but these creatures just look like a cheap photo shop program used for a homework assignment that is late.


The other big let down is the writing. The battle between the Preppies and the Guidos, the privileged and those who do their own laundry doesn’t bring much to the table. The big thrown down with the sharks has the gang raiding dad’s office, who happens to be the sheriff in town. They load up on all kinds of shotguns, rifles and pistols and head out to the bay to start plugging them in the water. It’s just not as much fun as it should be. The earlier confrontation that had them using firecrackers and Roman candles to fight them was a bit better. One of the guys gets upset that the sharks have dented his ultra clean white sneakers that he just bought. One of Nooki’s shoe heels gets caught in the floor below deck on a boat and TC aka The Complication has to rescue her from the rising water and a fake shark. Interesting but not real entertaining. Poor Paul Sorvino just seems lost in this film. Joey Fatone does a nice job as Joey Fatone. He entertains a disappointingly small crowd for the Fourth of July boardwalk celebration before getting taken away by a shark. He looked like he had fun with it. Jeremy Luke turns in a good effort as TC the leader of the gang.

Unfortunately the antics of these Jersey Shore denizens just don’t cut it. Good idea. Good cast. The lack of a good script with more humor and better comedic direction sunk the attack. They could have used a little more inspiration from the old Bowery Boys films. Now that was a bunch of hooligans that were fun.

Video
1.78:1. This looks fine as befits a recent film. With most of the action taking place in bright exteriors detail is strong and colors are appropriately bold. Skin tones look a little too bronzed but that may be intentional. Ya think? It originally aired on the Syfy channel in June 2012

Audio
English Dolby HD 5.1 with subtitles offered in English and Spanish.

Extras.
Commentary by three producers and one director. There’s an On Set making of featurette that is promotional padding.

Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Fair

Jaws (1975) Blu-Ray Review

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Stars: Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider
Director: Steven Spielberg
Released by Universal

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

 

Let’s be clear from the start. The Blu-Ray of Jaws looks astounding with a treatment that is respectful of how 35mm film really looks. The sound is equally impressive and there is a raft of extras here.
In the summer of 1916 a shark attack occurred in the waters off the popular resort in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. Four lives were claimed by what was thought to be the same great white shark. This idea bounced around inside the head of author Peter Benchley and collided with an account of a rather colorful character in Long Island New York who caught a 4,500-pound great white shark in 1964. Published in 1974 Jaws began to catch on in a big way told mostly from the shark’s eye view as it hunts for food. As the book got more and more popular it too became prey, for Hollywood. To say they made a meal out of it is to put it mildly.

The structure of the film is so classic. It opens with that first attack at night on the beach. Legend has it that because the mechanical shark would never work right they had to keep shooting around it, thus the shark was a largely unseen threat for the first half of the picture. We get a great sense of the Massachusetts beach resort town, Amity. Everything is bike rentals and flip-flops and smiles on the outside, yet the year round residents need to make all their money for the year in the short summer months. Not only is a shark attack unwelcome they can’t afford it. The film build slowly with each scene bringing us closer and closer to having to confront this shark. With each new chapter it becomes undeniable that the threat is real. It gets literally too close as Chief Brody’s son sees the creature swim past him after ripping a man in half. The building terror is carefully balanced with humor and strong characters. Each of the three main leads – Chief Brody, oceanographer Hooper and shark killer Quint are much more likeable than in the book.

Quint gets that great introduction scratching his fingernails down the chalkboard in the town meeting. It’s obnoxious though perfectly in keeping with Quint’s style of cutting right to the chase. It also reflects his distain for those who think they can do the kind of work he does. Robert Shaw is magnificent in this role. He is crusty, cantankerous and seems to totally inhabit the character. According to the many accounts of the shoot he drank as much as Quint would have on the set, too. You look at him and think is this the same guy who played Red Grant in from Russia With Love? His portrayal of Quint is fantastic here making the character one of the true immortals of the screen. Roy Scheider who was so effective as the urban street detective Cloudy in The French Connection and Buddy in The Seven Ups is a genuinely nice guy as Chief Brody. He’s afraid to go in the water. We’re all afraid of something. He has that great scene with his kid at the dinner table where the kid imitates him and they make monster faces at each other. He’s the everyman in the trio.

Richard Dreyfuss delivers a wonderful read of the young wise cracking Matt Hooper. He carries much of the film’s humor and endears himself to us by constantly making faces and gestures at Quint behind his back. There is that classic bit on the boat where Quint finishes a beer and crushes the metal can. Hooper replies by downing his drink and crushing his paper cup. Sure it’s childish but for him that’s the only way to deal with such a larger than life character.

 

Just a little past halfway we get what has to be one of the most interesting scenes in the film. The three of them are drinking after dinner. Okay a bonding scene, cool. They brag about their injuries with Quint and Hooper one–upping each other. It’s friendly and has some good jokes. Brody spots something on Quint’s arm. Quint tells him it was a tattoo for the USS Indianapolis and everyone gets quiet. Hooper seems to stop in mid gulp. John Milius the writer, director of films like Red Dawn is a big military buff. When you say shark he thinks the USS Indianapolis. The portion of this scene that he wrote gives a far more personal reason for Quint’s hatred of the shark than even captain Ahab’s quest for the white whale. Not only do we get an incredible back-story, drawn from real events but also we get an inspired bump to our primal fear of sharks. The uneasy camaraderie between these three is essential. It drives the second half of the narrative when they go after the shark. It’s just the three of them, the boat and the shark. What is brilliant here is that the whole film just stops to let us hear Robert Shaw’s absolutely killer telling of the story. It’s riveting. It serves to goose our fear factor up a good notch or two. And it ends with that line, “I’ll never wear a life jacket again.”  That one scene puts us at a whole different level of storytelling.  Writers refer to this as a private moment, a way to give more information on a character. To most of us, it’s just damn chilling.

Speilberg was among the first breed of film brats who went to college to study filmmaking. It is evident just by watching his use of foreground and background set ups that he knows the language of film. When confronted by the problems that beset the shark, his use of the barrels popping out of the water to let us know the monster is close by is just the kind of solution that the great directors whose films he clearly loved would have done. Writer Carl Gottlieb who was first brought on as an actor who could organize activity in the crowd scenes drew heavily upon his experience as a member of The Committee, an improvisational comedy troupe (many of whom appeared in Billy Jack). His ability to pull the good ideas, the best ones out of the mayhem around him served him very well as he was faced with having to write on the fly almost every night. Can you imagine Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfus or anyone of the great actors stranded on the island set bursting into your hotel room with an idea and watching them act it out for you? Carl Gottlieb’s humor and ability to separate the interesting from the essential is all over this script.

 

In the fall of 1972 The Exorcist laid the ground for the modern day blockbuster and in the summer of 1975 Jaws came along and danced on it. Both of these films had a huge impact on the audience. People screamed out loud. They jumped out of their seats. Movies goers came back bringing friends just to see them squirm. What a terrific communal experience. This was the dawn of the blockbuster. Once Star Wars came along the face of movies was forever changed. But in 1975 that face had a scream on it. That sensation never goes out of style. Jaws is essentially a horror movie, a roller coaster ride and it has lost none of its thrill. Is it safe to go back in the water? Hell no!
Jaws, The 100th Anniversary edition from Universal comes housed in a slipcase that opens to reveal a poster and stills dated from the original release on June 2, 1975. A Blu-Ray, DVD and Ultraviolet digital copy are enclosed.

Video
2.35:1, Digitally Remastered & Fully Restored

This is a stunningly good transfer done with a respect for the way the film looks when blasted up on a screen in a dark room illuminated by the tremendous power of a 35mm film projector. Detail is very strong. There is grain. The murky depths of the waters contain things you can’t quite make out. That’s as it should be. There is fine detail in those ridiculously tacky jackets that Murray Hamilton wears, as it should be. The seascapes of the ocean both at day and night are as enchantingly beautiful as they were shot. Much of the film takes place outdoors in the bright sunshine and this transfer does more than justice to those scenes. They look so good you’ll reach for sunscreen. The night sequences, particularly the initial trip Hooper and Brody take out to sea where they find Ben Gardener’s boat looks great. The lights from Hooper’s boat cut the dark seas and pierce the darkness. You can see the lights so well but can’t quite make out what is out there. It looks very eerie indeed. There appears to be no over-cleaned or “DNR’d” instances to speak of. This is a very satisfying Blu-Ray that will easily meet and in some cases exceed expectations. The screencaps here were taken from the DVD.

Audio
Blu-Ray: DTS –HD Master 7.1 in English, DTS 2.0 Mono, Dolby 2.0. DTS 5.1 in Spanish and French. Subtitles are offered in English SDH, French and English. DVD: English Dolby 5.1 and Mono 2.0. Spanish and French 5.1. Subtitles offered in English SDH, French and Spanish

While John Williams’ score is given a gorgeous treatment that fully illuminates all the textures of his orchestrations from the infamous dum- dum dum-dum of the strings to the jaunty adventure theme that accompanies the Orca as she sets out to sea, that was expected and delivered. What really deserves due credit is the attention paid to the award winning soundscape. The barrels that pop out of the ocean are an ingenious way to announce that the shark is around with a visual cue. There is one cue that really stands that bristles on the back of your neck on end. The Orca has set out for the shark. Quint is seated in the fishing chair with this huge professional fishing rod. Hooper is driving the boat and Brody is still trying to get his sea legs. Quint looks out to the ocean. It gets quiet. He senses something. And then we hear those few distinct clicks that mean something is taking the line out. Quint is so taken by this that he begins to strap himself into the chair. We hear the metallic clicks as he fastens himself in. Those clicks and Robert Shaw’s acting make the anticipation of the shark in that scene almost unbearable. Much of it is down to how the sound is mixed and presented to us. Jaws won the Oscar for best sound and you can really hear why on this disc. Well done.

Extras.
The Shark is Still Working and Jaws The Restoration are new and exclusive to the Blu-ray. Carried over from previous releases. The full length Making of Jaws, From The Set, Deleted Scenes, Jaws Archives, Trailer, The DVD contains a shorter highlights version of the Making Of Documentary.

 

When Blu-Ray made its debut we were told that you could put a movie with very high resolution and a cornucopia of extras on one disc. Mostly we still get these two disc presentations that are done to fluff up the marketing pitch. This one Blu-Ray disc has an incredible looking and wonderful sounding film and a boatload of extras. This is truly what the format is all about. The Making of Jaws at over two hours remains a terrific account of how the movie came to be, the legendary troubles on the film shoot and how that gave rise to the creative solutions that worked so well. The newly included documentary, The Shark is Still Working is more of a fan’s appreciation. This was quite the talk of many fan sites and its inclusion here is a welcome addition. It’s fun as it was intended.

Blu-Ray – Classic

Movie – Classic