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Sucker Punch [Blu-ray]
Sucker Punch [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Emily Browning
Price: $7.50
119 used & new from $2.23

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dragons and guns and warriors, oh my!, May 20, 2011
This review is from: Sucker Punch [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Zack Snyder is very passionate about geek culture. That's very obvious from his cinematic body of work, (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen). Sucker Punch, Snyder's fifth effort as director - he also helmed the 2010 animated film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - is a film that oozes that very passion. It contains everything that fanboys crave and is likely to have limited appeal outside of the ComicCon set. Sucker Punch tells the story of "Babydoll", a young girl who is consigned to a mental hospital against her will by her stepfather. While there, she re-imagines the institution as a cabaret dance club and conspires to escape with several other girls. Their attempts at escape become outlandish fantasy-action sequences in which Babydoll and the other girls are gun and sword wielding heroines.

Sucker Punch is like a dream that a geek would have after a lengthy binge on video games, comic books and anime. It is a fantastical melange of action, science fiction and fantasy elements. You get the feeling that Snyder wrote the story by hanging out with friends and throwing out ideas. "Wouldn't it be cool if she fought a 15-foot samurai with a machine gun??" Pretty much any far-out idea that comes into Snyder's head turns up in the flick. Through the course of Sucker Punch's 110 minutes the audience bears witness to (in addition to the aforementioned fifteen-foot samurai) mechanical German soldiers and WWII dirigibles, a fire-breathing dragon and robots programmed with sick martial arts skills. Some of these ideas feel half-baked and, indeed, I did have that feeling about the movie as a whole; that Sucker Punch was a series of very cool scenes in search of a coherent story. The framing "real world" story of a girl in a mental hospital couldn't possibly compete with robots and giant samurai. The film does tend to bog down a bit in the dramatic scenes of the girls, Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung chit-chatting and discussing their plans.

The movie is very well made. Visually, it's absolutely incredible. I literally cannot wait to pop in the Sucker Punch blu-ray and see this baby in 1080p. It has a video game look and feel which I'm sure where intended by Snyder. The colors are desaturated and the flesh tones tend to look very computer generated. Emily Browning's Babydoll in particular looks like she has just hopped out of a Final Fantasy game. The action sequences are amazing to look act and lots of fun, if a little too chaotic. Snyder's love for slow-motion fight scenes is once again on display here. Acting is about what you would expect for an action-fantasy film. Emily Browning, the human star of the movie, speaks very little and wears the same expression on her face as if she's about to burst into tears for the entire movie. Carla Gugino does some nice work as the madam/dance instructor/whatever and Oscar Isaac is an appropriately slimy villain.

I do get the sense that there is more here than meets the eye. I do not think that Zack Snyder merely intended this film to be an empty excuse for cool action scenes, but on a single viewing any profound messages or themes eluded me. I'm not sure what to make about the opening and closing gobbledygook voice-over about angels. However, I will be seeing Sucker Punch again and I will pay closer attention to the subtleties of this story in hopes to grasp any such profundity. Despite some misgivings, I had a good time with Sucker Punch and look forward to a second viewing. Warner Bros will be releasing an extended cut on blu-ray which I will view and possibly amend this review accordingly. Clearly this movie is not for everybody. Critical reviews have been understandably very mixed. As I said earlier, the movie is not likely to find an audience outside of the comics and video game crowd. Zack Snyder is trying hard to do something bold and outside the box and I give him much credit for that. Sucker Punch may not totally succeed as a movie, but at least it tries! If nothing else, it's a fascinating and enjoyable failure.


Sisters (The Criterion Collection)
Sisters (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Margot Kidder
Offered by MightySilver
Price: $18.99
19 used & new from $14.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy birthday Danielle and Dominique, April 24, 2011
Brian De Palma's Sisters is a really terrific horror thriller, released in 1973. I won't go into plot details. It's about siamese (conjoined) twins, but the less you know about the story the better. Sisters was De Palma's first real foray into Hitchcock territory, though I'm told his 1968 debut Murder a la Mod (unseen by me) does venture into similar turf. Though it will surely be dismissed as just another Hitchcock imitation by De Palma detractors, Sisters is really a creative and well made film. In the fascinating interview included on the Criterion DVD, De Palma talks about his creative process. He starts with an idea then builds his story around visual concepts such as a murder set-piece. The standout set-piece by far in Sisters is the apartment murder and subsequent cleanup. In this scene, De Palma uses split screen to wonderful effect. It is perhaps one of the most memorable scenes in all of De Palma's oeuvre. The later scenes at the mental hospital are quite memorable as well, particularly the black and white dream sequences which are quite disturbing. The film is anchored by terrific performances by Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt and the creepy William Finley. You also get a wonderful cinematic score by the legendary Bernard Herrmann.

Sisters is a great example of Brian De Palma's "pure cinema". Watching the ways De Palma plays with perspective and voyeurism is just fascinating. He is one of the great visual storytellers. Nearly every frame of a De Palma film is filled with fascinating visuals which aren't there just for eye candy but truly enhance and deepen the film experience. For me, a De Palma film is a joy to watch, in spite of the often lurid subject matter, as I feel a sense of excitement and exhiliration in his directing. De Palma knows and loves cinema and, like Jean-Luc Godard before him, De Palma brings his knowledge of film to his best work and advances the medium while paying respect to his progenitors. I recommend the Criterion Collection DVD which I believe is currently the only version in print. However this film is worth checking out however you can find it.


Piranha
Piranha
DVD ~ Elisabeth Shue
Price: $3.96
135 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gore 'N Boobs, April 21, 2011
This review is from: Piranha (DVD)
Some of the negative reviews here are quite astounding. I am curious as to what expectations anyone has about a movie called Piranha that were not met. Piranha? Check. People getting eaten by said Piranha? Check. Gratuitious nudity? Check. Ridiculous campy, gory fun? Check. I think the positive reviews are positive for the same reason that the negative reviews are negative. It's simply a matter of the film finding its audience. Alexandre Aja's Piranha is a throwback to the horror films of the 70s and 80s, less politically correct times when horror films were filled with excessive violence and sex. The only thing missing from Aja's film is a drive-in to watch it in. Or, rather, occasionally watch it when you're not attempting to get to first base with the girl in your passenger seat.

Though I do admire Aja's film, I would also recommend its insipration, Joe Dante's 1978 Piranha. The original film was produced by Roger Corman's New World Pictures basically as a B-movie answer to Spielberg's Jaws. A highly entertaining low budget film it is. Aja's 2010 film unfortunately does not have the legendary cult cast. No Dick Miller. No Kevin McCarthy. No Paul Bartel. No Barbara Steele. Instead we have Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell (unlikable as always). There is also a brief but enjoyable pre-credits appearance from Richard Dreyfuss reprising his Jaws character, Matt Hooper. I must also mention some of the movie's greastest special effects. The ones which have nothing to do with fish. Kelly Brook, Riley Steele and, my personal favorite, the amazing Gianna Michaels.

Piranha is a fun, cheesy, gory movie about man-eating Piranha. And they do eat man and woman alike, (not to mention manhood). That's all it promises, and it delivers. This is the kind of picture I would love to see more of these days. Oh and casting directors -- please hire Gianna Michaels often!!


Greatest Hit (...and 21 other pretty cool songs)
Greatest Hit (...and 21 other pretty cool songs)
Price: $22.09
66 used & new from $4.06

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No introduction necessary, April 5, 2011
I love Dream Theater. When I'm feeling depressed about the state of modern music, or indeed the state of modern society in general, I put on a Dream Theater album - then for the next 80 minutes or so, all is right with the world. Dream Theater is not a "hits" band. They are not a band that you put on at a party to get people dancing or listen to in the background while doing the dishes. They are a "progressive" band, which means their albums are conceptual works of art in which each song is a part of a larger whole. That indicates pretentiousness to many people, but to me it means pure bliss. Music where the music really matters. Music made by people who can play their instruments absurdly well and can compose a complex, layered piece of music rather than just a catchy pop song. Musicians who use lyrics to explore a variety of topics ranging from personal to societal to philosophical. The prospective listener is by this point either completely turned off or has stopped reading in order to click the Add to Cart button. However, I would caution the prospective listener to shun this compilation despite the high quality of the music it contains. These are great songs, and I like the idea of separating the two-disc set into hard rockers and ballads. Dream Theater should be experienced in album form, warts and all. Perhaps the albums are a bit excessive at times, perhaps preachy, perhaps overlong but that's what the group is. Take it or leave it. To the newcomer, I would recommend purchasing Images and Words, followed by Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes from a Memory. If you are moved and inspired by those two, definitely follow suit with Awake, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Octavarium, A Change of Seasons and all the rest. It will be money well spent. If you choose to buy Greatest Hit and that is the extent of your Dream Theater collection, you are really missing out.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 30, 2013 4:33 PM PST


Tejas
Tejas
Price: $3.99
81 used & new from $0.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not quite classic ZZ Top, April 3, 2011
This review is from: Tejas (Audio CD)
I won't join in the chorus of objection to the mix of this CD. I heard Tejas for the first time on CD. I realize the harm done to Frank Beard's drumming and I eagerly await a release of the original mix. But enough has already been said about that. Having said that, I find Tejas to be the weakest of ZZ Top's 70s albums. Compared to the classics that came before, it seems like a slight step down in quality. I think I prefer ZZ Top when they are rocking out and Billy Gibbons wails on a facemelting blues solo. There is very little facemelting on Tejas, however Gibbons' playing is still impressive. Gibbons provides some very nice, very subtle guitar licks on nearly every track. However, the songwriting is a bit uninspired. Only a handful of these songs are really memorable. It's Only Love and Arrested For Driving While Blind are the only ones that tend to show up in ZZ Top compilations. My favorite song on the album is probably El Diablo, a very cool song. Also worth noting is Asleep in the Desert, a mellow instrumental that sounds like no other ZZ Top song. It makes a great finale to the album. The rest of the songs are not bad, just kind of forgettable but highlighted by excellent musicianship. I know the band was in the middle of a huge tour at the time, so perhaps they weren't able to focus on songwriting as much. The sound of Tejas is quite a bit different as well. This is probably ZZ Top's least rocking album, at least of its era. Gibbons, Hill and Beard go for more of a country-rock sound than their usual dirty Texas blues. It makes for an interesting detour, but it's really not what these guys do best. To sum up, Tejas is definitely worth checking out, but pales in comparison to First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Fandango, in my opinion. Thankfully Top's next record, Deguello, would turn out to be a much stronger album.


Live From Texas
Live From Texas
Price: $9.00
49 used & new from $3.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ZZ Top live at last, March 29, 2011
This review is from: Live From Texas (Audio CD)
For a long time I've been lamenting the absence of a live disc in ZZ Top's catalogue. Finally that oversight has been amended with Live From Texas. Now, this disc was recorded in 2007. Not exactly the band in the their prime. I, and I'm sure most fans, would have preferred a live release recorded in the mid 70s to mid 80s. A high-quality late 70s ZZ Top live release would be at the top of my must-buy list. Correction: I have just discovered that a vintage ZZ Top live recording has been made available: Live In Germany 1980, so it appears my wish has been granted. Thank you to the band and the record label for making this happen. Please release more vintage recordings!

However, as anyone knows who has seen these guys live lately, they still rock as hard as ever. Live from Texas is a very good document of what a 21st century ZZ Top live show is like. The setlist is predictable for the most part. They cycle through the requisite hits, occasionally throwing in a lesser known song here and there. Having said that, this is hot, hot stuff. Reverend Billy G is in colossal form. My two favorite tracks, Just Got Paid and Blue Jean Blues both spotlight Billy rocking out with some serious guitar work. As always the legendary rhythm section of Dusty Hill and Frank Beard and solid and spot on. So, it's not perfect but finally ZZ Top has a live album, and it rocks!!


Mad Dogs & Englishmen
Mad Dogs & Englishmen
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $27.09
40 used & new from $13.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing live album, March 27, 2011
This review is from: Mad Dogs & Englishmen (Audio CD)
I'm listening to Mad Dogs and Englishmen right now as I'm typing. This is just a phenomenal record. All killer, no filler. A wonderful mix of rock, soul and blues as only Joe Cocker can deliver. Cocker enlists a stunning assortment of musicians for this thing: Leon Russell, Chris Stainton, Rita Coolidge, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Bobby Keys, and more. Joe and his huge band are on fire, track after track. Not a weak spot to be found. The guitars, keyboards, drums, horns and back-up singers are all just glorious. The songs are almost all covers, yes, but what covers they are. The arrangements are spectacular. Hony Tonk Women, The Letter, Bird on the Wire, Let's Go Get Stoned, Feelin' Alright, With a Little Help from My Friends, all classic. My personal favorite might be Cocker's version of The Band's The Weight. Wow, certainly one of the album's high points. Mad Dogs and Englishmen is absolutely a must-own live album, especially the expanded version. If you love great music, buy it now! It's worth every penny.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 4, 2011 11:44 AM PDT


Enter the Void [Blu-ray]
Enter the Void [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Nathaniel Brown
Price: $22.99
24 used & new from $14.01

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning work of art from a visionary filmmaker, February 7, 2011
This review is from: Enter the Void [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void is a stunning, one-of-a-kind work of art. I'm not going to describe the story; there is not much story anyway. What is here is a hallucinogenic phantasmagoria of bright colors and wondrous sights and sounds which will take you into the brain, through this life and the afterlife, through several levels of consciousness and... Tokyo. It is not a story so much as an experience. It's beautiful, sometimes repulsive (typical of Noé), deeply thought-provoking and intensely emotional. Enter the Void is about the love between a brother and sister. A tale which plays out over two (or perhaps even more) planes of existence. It's a visual poem devoted to the wonder of the human spirit: life, love, death, tragedy, dreams, memory, sadness, happiness. A meditation on death and the possibility of life after death; also the evolutionary cycle of human life. It can be seen as many things and interpreted in many ways. It's one of those films that is intended to provoke discussion. It can also simply be viewed superficially as one heck of a cinematic acid trip. Whatever meaning you choose to assign to it, if any, it is a staggering film that will not be soon forgetten. Even someone who despises it (and I have already talked to one) will have a hard time denying the creativity and innovation on display here.

I will make no claims that Enter the Void is perfect or flawless. Very few movies are and it makes no difference. Who ever said that something had to be flawless to be a work of art? Flaws might serve to make something more meaningful. My criticisms: It's too long. At 161 minutes, the second half of the film drags on a bit. Like all of Gaspar Noé's films it can be hard to watch. There's nothing here quite as bad as the rape scene in Irréversible, however there are moments that might make you squirm. Anyone who is epileptic should stay away from this or any Gaspar Noé film as he is fond of fast-cutting and bright strobe lights.

Oh, and he is fond of camera movement. My god, the camera movement. If ever there was a movie that deserved to be seen for camera movement alone, it is Enter the Void. This is one of the most extraordinarily photographed movies I have ever seen. From stunning POV work, to long steadicam shots to bird's-eye-view to Superman-esque flying-through-the-sky shots, Enter the Void has camera choreography that would make the jaws of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma drop.

Gaspar Noé is a fearless, visionary filmmaker. An artist who strives to bring his unadulterated vision to the screen no matter how un-commercial or hard to watch that vision may be. Despite having only made three feature films ("I Stand Alone", "Irréversible" and "Enter the Void"), Noé deserves, in my opinion, to be mentioned alongside the greatest artists of the past several decades. He directs furiously, as if his life depended on it. I imagine him directing as a conductor frantically leading a symphony orchestra in an earth-shattering performance of Beethoven's Ninth. I don't mean to compare Enter the Void to the Ninth Symphony (or do I?). I see the kind of passion and excitement in every frame of this film that is only produced by a truly talented artist in love with his craft. It should be seen, or rather experienced, by anyone who expects more out of film than just a way to pass the time. If you believe that cinema is capable of life-changing art which illuminates the experience of living a human life, then Enter the Void is an unmissable film.

All that and I didn't even mention the opening titles. Two words: freakin' amazing!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2011 10:38 PM PST


Batman: Arkham Asylum - A Serious House on Serious Earth, 15th Anniversary Edition
Batman: Arkham Asylum - A Serious House on Serious Earth, 15th Anniversary Edition
by Grant Morrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.28
69 used & new from $2.94

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark and scary house on dark and scary earth, January 19, 2011
Arkham Asylum must be among my favorite Batman stories. Grant Morrison's story is completely unlike any other Batman comic I've ever read, which is an interesting change of pace. It's more of a psychological horror story, which I found completely fascinating and gripping. This must be one of the darkest Batman stories in existence. Everything has a freaky, nightmarish look including Batman himself. The book tells two intertwined stories: that of Asylum founder Amadeus Arkham who was driven by the mental illness of his mother to help others avoid her fate, and the Joker inviting Batman to Arkham where the inmates have taken over and hold the workers hostage. The stories are pretty different, but ultimately converge as the book progresses. I thought this was a fascinating story, and I loved the allusions to Lewis Carroll as well as the overall tone of the book. Morrison really puts you inside the mind of the characters. The depiction of villains such as Clayface, Mad Hatter and Harvey Dent is radically different from the typical depiction of these guys. Even Batman himself is given unusual treatment. He is rarely seen in more than shadow and seems to be slowly coming under the spell of the Asylum. It's not for everyone, but if you want to read a very unconventional Batman story that is surreal, dark and symbolic and with very unconventional art, I highly recommend Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. Be warned though, this is a dark, dark very adult story with a lot of violence and adult subject matter and an overall scary look and feel.


Frozen [Blu-ray]
Frozen [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Shawn Ashmore
Price: $9.93
35 used & new from $5.00

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very nearly a horror masterpiece, September 30, 2010
This review is from: Frozen [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
The premise couldn't be more simple: Three people stuck on a chairlift at a ski resort. From this very simple premise director Adam Green concocts a gut-wrenching survival thriller. It's a very primal man versus nature tale. Now, there a handful of contrivances that are required for the central conflict to emerge, however, Frozen is so thoroughly successful overall that I am more than willing to overlook these contrivances. Some people are apparently not willing to overlook them. My feeling is, if you can't suspend disbelief, why even bother watching movies at all? Nearly all movies strain credibility at some point. It's very often a necessity in order to tell a good, thrilling story. Having said that, I feel that Frozen is an unabashed homerun. It's a film that sets out to do one thing: unnerve you and keep you on the edge or your seat, and does it extremely well. It gives us three characters who are tolerable if not likable and who I found it quite easy to sympathize with. They are well-written characters who seem like real people, not stereotypes. I was truly emotionally invested in their survival. The three actors play their parts very well indeed. The success of a film like this pretty much rides on the actors, and they do a great job carrying the film. There are moments in Frozen that I found to be unbearably intense. Particulary the scenes involving the Dan character and his leap from the chair. So intense were they that I had to stop the movie and catch my breath. It has been a long time since I've been this affected by a horror movie.

I disagree that Frozen is not a horror movie. It is very much a horror movie. It is truly horrifying. It is more terrifying than any movie I have seen in recent memory. I was also more emotionally engaged by Frozen than any horror movie I can think of in years. That says a whole lot right there. What was the last horror movie you saw where you actually felt sorry for the characters? Where you desperately wanted them to survive? Where you were almost angry at the filmmakers for putting them through such hell? Frozen provoked just those kind of reactions from me which are very rare.

Now of course there will those audience members who say that the film is "too far-fetched", "too unbelievable", etc. I have never skied in my life (and after seeing Frozen, very likely never will). I don't know how plausible this scenario is. In fact, I'm quite sure that it's not possible for people to be stuck on a chairlift as depicted in this movie. I'm quite sure that the things that happen in this movie are very very unlikely to ever happen in real life. But I don't care. It doesn't matter. Frozen is a fictional horror movie. A movie that seeks to entertain, frighten, excite, make you gasp and keep you on the edge of your seat. And it does that extremely well. I must also give director Adam Green props for shooting on location and completely avoiding CGI. How refreshing to see a film in 2010 that doesn't resort to godawful CG effects. The wolves are real wolves. The gore effects are actual physical makeup effects. Just another reason why the movie rules. Frozen is one of the best horror movies of the past decade.


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