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Archive for September, 2012

The Revenant DVD Review

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Stars: Chris Wylde, David Anders, Louise Griffiths, Jacy King
Director: Kerry Prior
Released by Lionsgate

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This twisted spin on the vampire-zombie genre has been under wraps since 2009. On its initial release it got some festival buzz and a generally good response from those who saw it. Now several years later it’s back from the dead and a damn good thing as this is a great film for those with a dark sense of humor and fans of the undead in any shape or form. This film also has a secret weapon in actor Chris Wylde who brings an enthusiastic energy to his part as a man whose best friend has come back from the dead. He has that larger than life personality that makes him likeable on first meeting. Wilde is also very funny with a nice physicality to his acting. This man has knocked around the film and TV business since graduating American University in 1998 with a degree in Theatre-Performance. When the film first starts the other lead, David Anders just doesn’t have what it takes to carry the film. Anders plays it pretty straight keeping it all inside while Wylde lets it all hang out, reacting with a wide-eyed WTF that brings the audience right in. Once  he enters the film crackles and all the bizarre and intriguing script ideas come to life. Mind you, it’s not at all for the squeamish. The gore effects really push the limits of what you’d consider R rated.

Director-writer Kerry Prior seems to have taken dollops of The Boondock Saints and American Werewolf in London and mixed them into his own vision of the vampire, zombie genre. He’s got a lot of great ideas going here though some may get thrown by the unusual way he wraps things up, still this is a terrific film that has cult appeal written all over it. Brad Gregory (David Anders) is killed while on military duty in Iraq. After the funeral his best friend Joey (Chris Wylde) consoles his girlfriend (Louise Griffiths), He comes home and crashes. Joey is woken up in the middle of the night by Brad back from the dead. He looks like Hell and stinks to high Heaven. The scene plays out very much like that one in American Werewolf in London where the best friend’s rotting corpse pays a visit to his buddy in the hospital. Brad is not a vampire. They test crosses and holy water. He’s not a zombie. He’s too smart. He’s a revenant. What? Something Joey looked up that means he’s truly back from the dead but needs blood to survive. He’s more of a ghoul. This is new territory and the boys are working hard to figure out what’s going on. They raid the local hospital for bags of blood. There’s a very funny running gag with Joey carrying a spent Brad back up the stairs to his apartment and having to always tell his nosey neighbor, “It’s alright Mrs. Ochmonek” in a name check to the TV series, Alf.

After a chance encounter with a mugger they rationalize that killing bad guys so Brad can drink their blood really isn’t so bad. It keeps him in good health and rids the California city of a few genuine creeps. Through another twisted turn of events Brad saves Joey who has been shot by sucking his blood and turning him into another revenant. Now we’ve got the two of them running around at night driving a car with a surfboard on the roof while dressed in long black leather coats. Joey favors twin automatic pistols that he fires off in a rhythm that looks like Chow Yun Fat used in those John Woo films. The media catches on and they are dubbed the zombie vigilantes. Even though they are dead, they make the best of it. Brad says his new life doesn’t rule but Joey loves it and plans to move them to Las Vegas in a custom hearse. The action scenes are well done. The effects are all terrific. There are many shots that just look great in the shadows of dusk. There’s a giddy excitement in watching these two cope with their new undead lives. Neither Brad’s girlfriend (Louise Griffiths) nor the wicken informed friend Matty (Jacy King) see the good in any of this. The women in their lives just don’t understand. Matty keeps recommending they cut their heads off. Towards the end this film sports perhaps the best separated head joke since   Re-Animator, also firmly in the dirty joke category.

The Revenant is cause for celebration for folks who like their horror creative, filled with blood and dripping with dark humor. What’s so refreshing is that Prior seems to be familiar and enamored enough with all the gothic films that came before that he’s got our permission to take these outrageous new steps. Highly recommended. Don’t let this one remain a sleeper.

Video –
2.35:1 Shot in 35mm the nighttime prowling scenes look wonderful with a nice sheen to them. There are a few shots of characters at dusk that are out and out beauty shots. The interiors all look good with nice detail. The stuff that you can identify in Joey’s apartment is always amusing. The subway chase is a sequence that really looks good. As that sequence comes up onto the nighttime streets we see just how well DP Peter Hawkins can light. Nice work.
Audio –
5.1 Dolby Digital with subtitles offered in Spanish and Closed Captioned English. All dialogue is clear. The music rocks when it needs to. Gunshots, crashes and mayhem all rain down on your speakers, as they should.

Extras –
Two Commentaries: one with director Kerry Prior, the other with actors David Anders and Chris Wylde. Deleted Scenes, Trailer, Photo Gallery and Revealing The Revenant” a Making of featurette that gets too cute with the added voiceover but does show a lot of f/x scenes and what fun the cast appears to be on set, especially Chris Wylde.

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

DVD – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Bait 3D Blu-Ray Review

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Stars: Xavier Samuel, Sharni Vinson, Julian McMahon                                                                             Director: Kimble Rendall                                                                                                                                                Australia

Released by Anchor Bay

 

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

 

Bait is a good shark movie, really. Please don’t be fooled by the goofy artwork and claims on the packing. Don’t let that 3D after the title dissuade you. This is a solid B movie from Australia. Director Kimble Rendall does not play it tongue in check. He is not after any faux grindhouse leanings here. He plays it straight, aiming for thrills and to scare you just like a good horror movie should.


We are introduced to a group of people at a beautiful beach resort town. Xavier Samuel (Twlight Eclipse) is engaged to Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D) only his lifeguard friend takes his morning job of setting up the buoys in the ocean. When a shark eats the friend, Xavier plunges into a guilt-ridden depression and calls the wedding off. That initial attack is done pretty poorly making it feel almost shoehorned in to give a cheap 3D thrill. Hang on though. This is only the prologue. Months later Xavier is working at a supermarket stocking cans on a shelf. His boss hurls daily insults at him. We see a pretty shoplifter get busted only to have her father, the local cop called in to arrest her. In the lower level parking lot two bad guys are plotting to rob the store. But one of them, the handsome Julian McMahon (Nip Tuck) seems like he is being manipulated into the heist. In a nearby SUV a couple is getting it on while the girl’s yippy Pomeranian pouch sits in the back seat. If this feels like the way characters are introduced in a disaster movie with a modern take on them that’s exactly what’s being served up. Just as the robbery is in full swing a tsunami wave hits the beach plunging the supermarket underwater. Huge torrents of water cascade into the store. This is real water and everything gets knocked around with a mighty force.


This is where the movie elevates itself into something special. The water in the parking level is up to the roofs of the cars leaving that couple with the dog basically stuck in a car underwater. The rest of the cast scrambles on top of the display cases that haven’t been knocked over. The entire supermarket is flooded. Grocery items, twisted shelves and a few bodies liter the water. It is very eerie looking indeed. As the survivors collect themselves they become aware of something cruising through the water. The first few fleeting glimpses look truly terrorizing. We get to see this hulking twelve-foot shark slicing through the water and it looks very real. For a film with this limited budget the effects are amazingly well done. Though there is some CGI, the bulk of the shark appearances are done with these life size animatronics. Director Kimble Rendell knows how to set up a good thrilling sequence. He’d done second unit work as a director on the Matrix sequels, I Robot, Ghost Rider and Underworld Rise of the Lycans. He constructs a nice hybrid of the disaster movie with the cast trying to get out before they get eaten. When the rising water threatens to short circuit the electric system they devise a shark cage body suit made out of wire cages. They send this poor brave man down into the water breathing through a long tube. It’s quite a contraption right down to the heavy cans tied to this feet to keep him on the floor. Just when he is within reach of the circuit breaker box the hose runs out and he has to risk drowning to get to it. It is a truly harrowing sequence that will leave you gasping for air.


After seeing a rash of bad shark and piranha movies this tough little film from Australia really deserves a look from any horror fans. This is the country that gave fans of killer crocodile films Rogue and Black Water. Both highly recommended if you’ve never seen them. The cast is quite good. Again they all play it straight. The only things that really hurt the film are a few hokey shots of the shark that pander to the 3D process at the beginning and a bad rendition of Mack the Knife over the end credits. Xavier Samuel recently seen getting someone’s initials carved in his chest in The Loved Ones is a very capable lead. Sharni Vinson as his ex-girlfriend and Julian McMahon as the good bad guy both turn in very convincing performances. This is a nice solid B shark picture that packs plenty of bite.

Video –
1.78:1. Since so much of the film takes place in the flooded supermarket, it must be noted that the lighting and camera angles all contribute mightily to the disquieting and creepy mood. Underwater shots come off fine, too. Aside from some CGI matches that are slightly off, the film look very nice indeed. The reflections of the lights in the water and they patterns they make on everything including the sharks are easily seen.

Audio –
Dolby True HD 7.1 in the Blu-Ray and Dobly 5.1 I the DVD, both English. Subtitles are offered in English and Spanish in both. Very nice track with a good use of surround to make you sense that water all around you. The dripping water and sloshing of debris plays nicely in the the background.  None of the accents were difficult to understand.
Extras- The DVD is on one disc. The Blu-Ray disc has both the normal 2D and the 3D. There is a detailed storyboard included that shows the intricate planning that went into the action scenes.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Good (and then some)

Indiana Jones The Complete Adventures Blu-Ray Review

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Sean Connery, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, River Phoenix, Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Shia LaBeouf
Director: Steven Spielberg
Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

At the very beginning of Raiders of The Lost Ark, Spielberg strikes a bargain with you. In those first few moments in the jungle and then the caves Indiana Jones faces insurmountable peril and certain death. It comes in the shape of hidden spears and darts that suddenly shoot out at him. A huge boulder hurtles down through the cave threatening to crush him at any moment. He is chased by a mob of angry natives. Throughout all of this he remains cool and always manages to get out by the skin of his teeth. This is a great adventure and if you’ll just suspend your disbelief and go with it, you’ll have an incredible time. After that thrilling opening Steven Spielberg made good on his promise and delivered one of the greatest adventure films in modern times. We also got to see an enduring character played to perfection by Harrison Ford. To be sure this is the stuff of the serial films that used to accompany the main features in the thirties and forties. Spy Smasher, Batman, The Green Hornet, Commander Cody, Flash Gordon, Zorro, Rocket Man and many more would thrill audiences a chapter at a time. Each chapter would end in a cliffhanger that the hero would escape narrowly in the next installment. Spielberg has consistently been aware of the traditions and history of the field he works in. Though Raiders succeeds wonderfully as a modern day action film, there are continual nods of the dusty fedora to earlier motion pictures.

Indiana Jones is an archaeologist. He is also a history professor. His students love him including a pretty girl in the front row who closes her eyes to reveal that she has written “love” and “you” on each lid. He’s also a world-class adventurer that travels the globe in search of ancient artifacts to bring back to Denholm Elliott who is a cross between a museum curator with a helluva big budget and James Bond’s boss or better yet Leo G. Carroll in The Man From Uncle. The action starts in 1936 with the film showcasing a remarkable feel for the period. Even the camera movements have a distinct flavor of that time with the crane movements and characters suddenly entering from the extreme foreground. The action scenes, and there are plenty of them are all crackerjack. Much of the style seems more than a tip of the hat to a famous stuntman named Yakima Canut. He worked on many westerns. The classic move of jumping onto the moving stagecoach and leap frogging up to the lead horse to slow it down was his. Perhaps his signature move was dropping off one side of a moving stagecoach and working hand over hand beneath the coach to pull himself up the other side. We see this same move done with a Nazi truck and it’s just as amazing to see now. Raiders succeeds at every level including the fabulous casting. The nazi villains are very creepy.

Karen Allen’s tough but cute sidekick is adorable. When she first sees Indy she smacks him in the face. John Rhys-Davies plays a larger than life contact in Cairo who can get you anything and also sings Gilbert and Sullivan tunes. Indy’s quest is the ancient Ark of the Covenant. He must get it before the Nazis can claim it and unleash its power for their own nefarious purposes. When we see the Ark open with a cataclysmic blast of energy, there will be more than a few hardcore film fans that will recall the ending of Kiss Me Deadly. This is a first class adventure film at every level.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

In the second installment the formula goes in another direction taking it off track. Gone are the Nazis as villains. The film owes much more to Gunga Din than the matinee serials that fueled the first one. Things start off in 1935 in Shanghai with Kate Capshaw doing a Busby Berkley style production number over the opening credits. There is quite a bit of business in the nightclub over some diamond that Indy found and the payment he is owed by a well-dressed group of Chinese mobsters. The entire nightclub erupts into choreographed bedlam. The action feels needlessly complicated. The rhythm feels off, too. The whole sequence seems to suffer from the kind of excess that plagued his 1979 film, 1941. Once the film gets through some drama in an Indian village and concerns itself with the Thuggee cult of Kali followers we are treated to a thrilling adventure that is slightly darker than Raiders but still delivers some top-notch actions scenes and huge amounts of period villains. Amirsh Puri as Mali the leader of the cult is suitably sinister and looks frighteningly horrific in the excellent make-up. All of the cult members sport various types of incredible make up which looks terrific in this new Blu-Ray.

That second half is a well-done thrill ride. What holds things down and in fact upsets the Indy Jones apple cart is that the sidekicks he has for this one fall short of the mark. Kate Capshaw’s character, Willie is written as a screaming whining nuisance. She is just not believable as the kind of woman that Indy would work with. Further Capshaw brings nothing to the part that drives the film. Indy is also saddled with a young kid named Short Round.  Perhaps if the kid were more streety, more of a hustler he would have fit in better. The two of them drag things down. Still there is an undeniable tension and compelling spookiness to the thuggee cult members with their human sacrifices. The underground temple and mines look spectacular. Temple of Doom is not the usual Indy tale, but the last half is well worth the wait. It improves a lot in the context of the others

 

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

 

This may be the most satisfying of the bunch. This one takes on the origin and legacy of Indiana Jones, gives us background to flesh out his character and then sends him on an exciting journey to rival the first one, but this time his sidekick is his father. Who is whose sidekick now? In a neat prologue with River Pheonix as a young Indy on what may indeed be his first quest we find out where he got the hat, the whip and what drives him. It’s a marvelous way to kick start the film. Jones is up against the Nazis again. This time he is searching for the ultimate quest, the Holy Grail. Alison Doody as Dr. Elsa Schneider spearheads the Nazis’ attempt to get the prized artifact. She first goes after the reigning expert on the grail and when that meets a dead end, Indy gets roped into rescuing the professor. That first professor turns out to be Indy’s father Henry Jones played beautifully by Sean Connery. Both father and son get doubled crossed by Elsa in more ways that one.


It’s a nice touch that Henry Jones has a hat, too albeit a rather frumpy one. Instead of a whip he carries an umbrella, which comes in very handy in one predicament. The arguments between them all dissipate as they make a very enjoyable team. Connery brings in just enough eccentricity to flavor the character without ever making him seem addled or in over his head. Ever the film buff, Spielberg brings in hints of the Bob Hope & Bing Crosby Road To movies as well as a spinning wall gag that could have easily come from any number of Abbott & Costello films. One of the things about this series that is so endearing is the combination of old school and modern sensibilities. After the tremendous and triumphant battle at the end it is so fitting to have Indy, his father and their two companions literally ride off into the sunset as Sallah chortles a belly laugh.

 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

 

Perhaps the line between that last one and this one was stretched a bit too thin. This is a fun and enjoyable film though a few of the character bits and references feel slightly forced. That’s a small quibble but after the immensely satisfying Last Crusade it’s justified. In this outing Indy joins up with his old flame Marion Ravenwood and finds his son. Shia LaBeouf as Ed Sullivan used to say, for you youngsters is cast as Mutt Williams. The film is set in the McCarthy era fifties leaving Shia to channel Marlon Brando’s The Wild One as the young punk. The correlations between father and son here are not as compelling as the ones between son and father in the last one.


Indiana Jones’ famous fedora makes a great entrance before he does. Kudos to the costumer for starting Harrison Ford out with a respectable conservative looking gray chapeau only to let him wear a very snazzy brown one at the end of the film. Cate Blanchett does a very nice job as the rapier wielding Nazi with echoes of Rosa Kleb hinted ever so slightly. John Hurt adds a touch of class in his role as the beleaguered explorer Ox. The action scenes are thrilling as usual. The old western movie gimmick of having one rider jump from horse to horse or stagecoach is still very much alive here as Mutt jumps from one jeep to a truck and back as he duels with Cate  Blanchett. When he is straddled between the two vehicles and still battling away with the sword the image is right out of all those old Lone Ranger and Tom Mix films, yet updated with a wicked grin.

 

The Complete Adventures

 

Watching these back to back improves each of them quite a bit. It is a comforting image to see that cartoon plane flying over the maps following the red line from one romantic city to another mystical locale. Each film opens with that familiar Paramount mountain logo that gets transformed into the first sequence of each adventure. Even though there may be an inconsistency particularly in Temple of Doom, Indy’s character always remains true. His hat, whip, satchel and beat up leather jacket are always there. This is a tremendous series whose total sum is greater than its parts. To have these packed altogether into a smart little box that feels just like the heft of Indy’s travel diary is fitting. The box opens just like pages of a book with each film fitting snuggly into its own slot. The interior is coated with a very glossy stock to prevent scratching. It’s a very handsome looking package.

Video –
All the films are 2.35:1 and look very nice. Raiders has some soft spots due to the more colorful theatrical lighting in some scenes. When Belloq and Indy meet at an outside table to sort out their loyalties the faces loose some of the strong definition they had. That was about the only instance that stood out, in all four films. Temple of Doom treats those vast interior caves and mines like a prized canvas. Black levels are deep and ink jet dark. Colors are spectacular. The make-up on the thuggees’ faces is a wonder to behold. There is a multitude of color and intricate patterns, all of which are clearly visible. Last Crusade is a joy from start to finish with strong facial tones and gorgeous scenery. The much more recent Crystal Skull is very well done.

Audio – French, Spanish
English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French, Portuguese, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Spanish, English and Portuguese 2.0 Dolby Digital, Subtitles are offered in French, Spanish, Portuguese and English SDH. The music and effects are very well done throughout the entire set. There is excellent separation in John Williams scores. You can make out individual instruments. The matching of various elements of the orchestra comes through loud and clear. Effects give a nice rumble when called for. The occasional old school rick-a-shay gunshot can be heard, too.

Extras -
Presented in English with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
All of these extras get their own separate disc. The New ones are: On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark, From Jungle to Desert and From Adventure to Legend. There is also a boatload devoted to each film that have been carried over from the previous editions except for The making of Raiders of the Lost Ark from 1981 which makes it’s disc debut here. The Crystal Skull ones are in HD. The Making of (all four films), Behind The Scenes, Stunts, Sound, Music, Light and Magic of Indiana Jones, Raiders: The Melting Face, Creepy Crawlers, Travel with Indiana, Indy’s Women, Friends and Enemies, and the HD ones from Crystal Skull – Iconic Props, Effects, and Adventures in Post Production.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movies – Raiders – Classic, Temple of Doom – Good
Last Crusade – Excellent, Crystal Skull – Good

The Victim Blu-Ray Review

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Stars: Michael Biehn, Jennifer Blanc, Ryan Honey, Danielle Harris, Denny Kirkwood
Director: Michael Biehn
Released by Anchor Bay

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Michael Biehn had a great run appearing in several films directed by James Cameron. He turned in very memorable performances in The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss. His role as Corporal Hicks in Aliens was a real stand out action role, full of grit and take-charge attitude. He seemed to get cast a lot as that strong military type. He’s always been a good actor even handling the talky demands the stage play turned film K-2. He has turned his hand now to directing for a second time. He had a brush with directing an action picture called Blood Bond (2010) however Bey Logan seems to have done enough of the task for Biehn to turn his back on the film and calls this one, The Victim his directorial debut. He also co-wrote the screenplay.

There are five principles in this film. Two couples go off into the woods to party. One of the guys gets carried away. He crosses the line and rapes and kills a girl. The two guys then set about hunting down the other girl before she can talk to anyone. Michael Biehn plays a hermit living in the middle of the deserted woods all by himself. Annie played by Biehn’s wife Jennifer Blanc runs to his door for help. There is also a story we hear about a killer lurking in the area who preys on women. This killer has never been caught and the number of young women abducted is growing. With that small of a cast it’s not much of a surprise that Annie has knocked on the wrong door. Michael Biehn delivers a strong performance as Kyle. As a director he puts the cast through their paces working with basically a one cabin set and a few quick pick up scenes.

Ryan Honey is the local deputy who is about to be made sheriff. It’s a very small town and he feels entitled to help himself to whatever he wants. He thinks he can get away with murder. There are a few tense moments between his character and Biehn’s in the cabin. Director Biehn seems to push for something in that confrontation. He gets some nice work from their scenes together. Unfortunately the script never goes anywhere interesting or builds on this. The look of the film doesn’t help either. The picture looks harsh giving everything a very coarse and unforgiving digital appearance. The lightning does not show any depth. Scenes play out in a flat field without any cinematic touch.

The Victim is just not a very compelling film to watch. Perhaps with a better script and cameraman next time around Michael Biehn can create a stronger production. Once nice touch was the inclusion of pictures of all the crewmembers as the credits scrolled. They look like a good bunch, though one can’t help but notice that many of the people we’ve seen in the movie also worked on the film behind the scenes. That’s fine for a low budget film like this.

Video –
1.78:1 The film has a harsh look to it that’s not very flattering to the actors or the proceedings. The transfer appears to be faithful to what was shot. Detail is very crisp.

Audio –
English Dolby True HD 5.1 with subtitles offered in English and Spanish. Everything is clear and dialogue is always understandable.

Extras -
Writer-director Biehn and his wife Jennifer Blanc (Annie) commentary, Trailer, and a making of featurette. The cast and crew come off very likeable, would that this was a better film.

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

Blu-Ray – Good

Movie – Poor