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Superman - The 1948 & 1950 Theatrical Serials Collection
Superman - The 1948 & 1950 Theatrical Serials Collection
DVD ~ Kirk Alyn
Price: $9.99
31 used & new from $4.99

69 of 73 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Up, Up, and Away!, April 2, 2007
Well, I was enjoying all 8-plus hours of this set until I got to the short except of an upcoming documentary on the Man of Steel. The documentary, like this disk, was meant to coincide with and complement the release of 2006's `Superman Returns.' All's cool until one of the talking heads - I refuse to watch it again so I'll never know which head - says there "are good Superman movies and bad Superman movies." Clips are played under his voice, and when he says "good Superman movies" we see a clip of a Chris Reeve Superman (appropriately enough) and when he says "bad Superman movies" we see a clip from the 1948 `Superman serial' that we've just finished watching on disks one and two of this set. Boo! Hiss! And what's up with that!?

Poor Kirk Alyn (Clark Kent/Superman) can't get any respect. First, he's unbilled in both the 1948 and 1950 serial (`We couldn't find an actor good enough to play Superman, so Superman's playing himself!' is how that lack-of-credit decision was made.) Then along comes this snotty little documentary clip to sweep his stuff into the dustbin. Yeah, these serial episodes are corny, made on the cheap, and geared towards a late 1940s 12-year-old's sensibilities, but neither were nearly as bad as that Reeve Superman with Richard Pryor was.

Besides, these are serials which, according to reliable sources, were among the most successful serials ever made. Serials are short (15-17 minutes in length) films that were a part of the Saturday matinee tradition from the silent era to the mid-1950s. There were usually about 15 episodes per serial, one played each week - the thought being that the kiddies would return week after week to follow the adventures of their heroes. To turn the heat up a bit, each episode usually ends with a cliff-hanger - Lois Lane is lying unconscious in a cave when the 10-gallon drum of dynamite explodes five feet away from her. The episode ends with a teaser - can Superman stop the evil Spider Lady from getting her hands on the all-powerful reducer ray? - as well as the possibility that Lois Lane was just blown to smithereens. Don't miss the next episode of `Superman' - playing at this theater next week.

In the first, 1948 serial, simply titled `Superman,' the Man of Steel battles the Spider Lady and her nefarious henchmen. In the second serial, `Superman vs. Atom Man,' he confronts his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor (who also plays Atom Man, for reasons too complicated to get into here.) The opening credits in each episode tells us Superman is based on the character credited in the comic books, and is adapted from the popular Superman radio program. Bud Collyer played Superman for a decade on the radio, and his show contributed mightily to the formation of the most popular comic book character of all time. It's easy to forget how much the radio program drove and helped to shape the Superman world. Betcha didn't know Perry White and Jimmy Olson both debuted on the radio. The 1948 serial has a couple of elements lifted directed from the radio program, elements they would wisely drop when they came around to filming the 1950 sequel. When Superman's fighting the Spider Lady, every time danger's a-brewing and Clark Kent has to do the quick change into tights and cape Alyn voice-overs a Collyer-ish "This looks like a job for Superman," dropping from a nebbish tenor to a super hero baritone when he got to the words "for Superman. Also, Alyn belts a hearty "up, up, and away!" every time he goes airborne - a nice vocal cue for a radio program, but a little much for a film. Oh, and in both serials the flying Superman is depicted through regular, old-fashioned cel animation. Not convincing, but really not all that much worse than some current CG animation. They'd hang Alyn from ceiling mounted wires and blow smoke past him in the sequel, while retaining the cel animation for the long shots and when they needed to show anime bullets bouncing off his chest.

By today's standards the special effects are almost laughably primitive - but this is the first appearance EVER of a live action Superman! How cool is that!?

Pretty darn cool, mister, and don't you forget it! If you can get into the rhythms of a serial this set shouldn't disappoint. Kirk Alyn was a professional dancer, veteran of other serials, and his graceful athleticism makes him a more than acceptable Man of Steel. Noell Neill is delightfully spunky as girl reporter Lois Lane. A brief digression - these serials were made for youngsters and there is no, repeat no, romance between Lois and Clark Kent or Superman. Even when Superman is about to rescue her (yet again!) and asks "Are you ready?" and Lois answers "I'm always ready!" Neill's reading is so gleefully innocent it takes a moment or two to figure out they might have been talking about Something Else. My favorite character of all is Lyle Talbot's Lex Luthor. He doesn't get the big buck dialogue given guys like Gene Hackman, or Kevin Spacey, but his sober, straightforward take on the character works well.

As kid safe and family friendly as these disks are I hesitate to recommend them for family night around the dvd. The coolest thing, a live action Superman on film, lost its novel appeal decades ago. These films have an innocent charm and are as corny as Iowa in August, but they probably won't appeal to many children between the ages of 6 and 20.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 23, 2012 6:51 AM PDT

Jungle Holocaust
Jungle Holocaust
DVD ~ Massimo Foschi
Offered by Achilles' Reel
Price: $61.40
20 used & new from $24.50

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars = A Man Called Horse + The Naked Prey * Mondo Cane, March 30, 2007
This review is from: Jungle Holocaust (DVD)
Cheesy late-70s horror/action Italian import about a plane crash, two white men lost in the jungle, separation, capture, and escape. Despite the hoopla, the grand packaging (interviews, director commentary, stills gallery, etc.) and premium pricing this gory little exploitation film isn't going to win a lot of new fans to the genre. After the plane crashes and the civilized men are separated, the tall one is captured by a tribe of... cannibals! He escapes and they chase him (Why do those chase scenes remind me so much of the Tasmanian Devil chasing Bugs Bunny?) Will our hero escape and get back to the airplane before he's captured and the natives feast on his still-beating heart?

I've quit expecting Italian made movies to contain much in the way of plots. Oh, JUNGLE HOLOCAUST does take you from point A to point C - plane crash to capture to escape - but nothing terribly exciting happens along the way. What the heck, you don't watch a grinder like this for its elaborate plot or intricate characterizations, anyway. You watch it to see:

- the hero retch a gulletful of pea soup

- people impaled on sharp, pointy sticks

- the cannibals at dinner (atrocious table manner, suspicious looking main course)

- an awful lot of nudity. The hero spends half the movie in his flag-flapping birthday suit, the native girl he kidnaps (played by the provocatively named Me Me Lai) wears only a thong, most of the time

- various human internal organs, ripped and et raw

- real animals really killed on camera

In the commentary and interviews, the director and star both disclaim responsibility for the scenes in which animals are killed on camera. We're told, a number of times, the movie's producers shot and edited in these scenes for the Far East market. Be that as it may, the killing scenes are in keeping with the sensationalistic spirit of the rest of this movie. The whole point is to entertain by assaulting the senses. It's one thing for an actor to pretend to gnaw on a sheep's kidney and make believe it's a human heart. It's fakery and the audience knows it's fakery. Filming a crocodile being stunned and then skinned alive is another matter all together. You don't have to be a prude to object to the graphically violent naturalism in a movie like JUNGLE HOLOCAUST. Finding skulls teeming with maggots, or filming an actor disgorging a mouthful of prop vomit, is lowest common denominator stuff. You don't have to be an animal right's activist to strongly object to animals being killed so a schlock Italian b-horror flick can sell more tickets in Kuala Lampur. Anyone can resent a movie that panders to an audiences' prurient interests. There WAS an interesting movie in here somewhere. The movie was shot on location, the lead actor was good, the photography - considering the difficult location - was very good. But there was an awful lot I disliked here, and there's no way I'd recommend this movie to anyone.

The Man from Colorado
The Man from Colorado
DVD ~ Ray Collins
Offered by Media Favorites
Price: $9.99
32 used & new from $2.43

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, early Ford/Holden western, March 27, 2007
This review is from: The Man from Colorado (DVD)
Moody western set in post Civil War Colorado. Glenn Ford stars as the tightly wound Union colonel who, immediately after the war ends, returns home and is elected judge for his corner of Colorado. Ford's first official action is to appoint best friend William Holden a federal marshal.

THE MAN FROM COLORADO begins a little before these happy ceremonies take place, though. The movie opens with Colonel Ford forming his men into line of battle against a small contingent of whipped confederates. At least we in the audience, and Ford with his field glasses, know they're whipped - we both see them waving the white flag of surrender. Even so, Ford orders the cannons to open fire, and the enemy forces are annihilated. Okay, so Ford ISN'T going to play the hero in this one. The likelier candidate, Ford's aide Holden, finds the white cloth tied to the end of a bayonet after the `battle', puts two and two together, and promptly buries the evidence before anyone else can see it. All this happens in the movie's first five minutes, so these aren't spoilers.

The emotional core of the movie is the Holden/Ford relationship. Holden's friendship with and loyalty to his old commander, and life long friend, is severely tested by Ford's increasingly erratic, and violence prone, behavior. The movie's engine can be found in a secondary plot thread. After mustering out, the enlisted men in Ford's old regiment find their gold claims have been - legally but unethically - taken over by a big mining concern. The mine owners have grown fat and rich while the men were off fighting, and the owners attempt to use the law, through their newly appointed judge, to hold and retain their ill-gotten pelf. There's fodder enough in that situation for two western's worth of violent conflict, and the movie delivers plot-wise.

I liked THE MAN FROM COLORADO, but I don't think it's a classic, and I'm not going to put it into the heavy rotation, Must Rewatch file. It's probably more than an interesting coincidence that this movie about displaced and cheated Civil War veterans was made and released four short years after the end of World War II. The movie stops just short of endorsing the violent and illegal acts committed by the mis-used vets. Plus there's something brave, or courageous, about a movie from that era that'll set up a plot with a scene of a war crime committed by an officer in the US Army, a crime the officer is never brought to justice for committing. Another of the movie's strength is Holden's character, who moves from wary loyalty to disillusionment and beyond, is well conceived and wholly credible. The weakest link in this movie is also its boldest creation played by, arguably, the movie's best actor. Don't get me wrong, Glenn Ford was very good at playing moody, introspective characters, and he IS very convincing playing someone trying to keep a lid on his explosively violent temper. The problem he is that's ALL he plays. The movie spends no time showing Ford at ease, so it's up to Holden and Ellen Drew (wasted here as Ford's bride and underdeveloped triangle love interest of Holden) - it's up to these two to tell Ford "he's changed" and for us to believe them. Blah - the movie's in the showing, not the telling. As interesting as villains can be, they usually aren't when their kettle's on the boil 24/7. The movie tells us, rather than shows us, that the Ford character went bad and the war done it to him. As fine an actor as Ford was, he can't escape a tediously imagined character. Granted, it's a quibble to complain about Ford's character's one-dimensionality, but with so many other pieces in place it's a frustrating disappointment. Instead of great, THE MAN FROM COLORADO is just very good.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 11, 2008 2:01 PM PDT

Slapstick Encyclopedia
Slapstick Encyclopedia
DVD ~ Stan Laurel
8 used & new from $69.97

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow, March 26, 2007
This review is from: Slapstick Encyclopedia (DVD)
Fifteen hours and 53 films worth of silent slapstick is a LOT of silent slapstick. Before you go any farther you should realize this isn't the greatest 15 hours worth of silent slapstick available. If you want to get the best - the funniest stuff - buy the boxed sets of Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton and Laurel & Hardy, and then see if you can find a compilation disk with some Harry Langdon and Fatty Arbuckle on it. Oh, the heavy hitters are here, but it's the inclusion of so much by the other guys that sets this set apart. If you like silent movies and are willing to sit through some strange stuff for no other reason than to see what folks were laughing at 100 years ago, this set is for you. I think it's a gold mine. A sprawling gold mine, but priceless to anyone interested in the history of filmed comedy. Each disk is divided into two sections. To give a sense of the breadth of this set, I'll briefly mention the highlights - or lowlights - of each section.

1-`Pioneers' - Section one of disk one features the pioneers of silent slapstick and contains, I believe, the earliest film in this collection, the 4-minute long `Mr. Flip' (1909), starring cross-eyed comic Ben Turpin. Mr. Griffith hadn't invented the close-up yet so we don't get a chance to see Turpin's crossed money makers. This film has Mr. Flip flirting with every woman he comes across and getting slapped with shaving cream, pies, etc., for his trouble. No plot, not even a real start or end, and really not very funny, but oddly engaging.

2- `Keystone Tonight' - Ninety odd minutes worth of early Mack Sennett/Keystone Studio one- and two-reelers. Highlight is the 16-minute `The Rounders' from 1914. Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle star as a couple of lushes who flee from their wives so they can continue getting sloshed in the hotel bar. A lot of funny-drunk sight gags. Both had and would make more memorable films, but interesting to see how these two ad-lib off each other. This section also contains Harry Langdon's `Saturday Afternoon,' (1926, 30mins.) one of those `hen-pecked husband stepping out' movies. Some claim Langdon was the fourth great silent comedian, and his films are generally less available than Chaplin's, or Keaton's, or Lloyds's. As an innocent man-child, somewhat the waif, and a great pantomime, Langdon reminded me a lot of Stan Laurel. A somewhat creepy Laurel, to be sure. There are a couple more Langdon shorts in this set, so you can decide his claim to glory for yourself.

3- `Sennett in the `20s' - More madcap mayhem from one of the kings of silent movie producers. Because it's Sennett, coherence and continuity are going to take a back seat - or asked to take a walk - over speed and visual gags. In the 20-minute `Circus Today' (1926) Sennett favorites Bill Bevans and Andy Clyde play a couple of bumbling circus hands. Beauty Madeline Hurlock plays the circus bare-back rider. Bevans is the competent, if unmemorable, knockabout comedian with the brush moustache. Not unusual for a comedy of this era, the stars are gleefully put in harm's way every 2 minutes or so. At one point a cage full of lions escape and, naturally, chase all the main players. In one very memorable scene, the tutu-clad Ms. Hurlock is seen flat on the ground with a 400-pound male lion sitting on top of her. No process shot in this one, and I'd imagine no second take, either.

4- `Funny Girls: Genders and Their Benders.' Slapsticks starring female actresses Gale Henry, Alice Howard, et al.

5- `Keaton, Arbuckle, and St. John.' Fatty Arbuckle with Mabel Normand, a couple of Arbuckle and Keaton collaborations, one Keaton solo and one two-reeler featuring Arbuckle nephew Al St. John. Keaton's solo outing `The Boat' (1921) is the best film in the entire collection, and a textbook example of how to build and sustain a gag.

6- `Hal Roach's Acts: Star Comedians.' Five shorts from the Hal Roach studio, including a Stan Laurel solo project, a Charley Chase domestic comedy, and a Will Rogers' spoof of contemporary hit movies by Valentino and Fairbanks. Also in this section are a couple of shorts starring Harold Lloyd, including his winning 1920 horror spoof, `Haunted Spooks.'

7-`Hal Roach: The Lot of Fun.' Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase, and Snub Pollard. The `Laurel & Hardy Lafftoons' was the only disappointing entry in this set. `Lafftoons' is the only instance in which compiled highlight scenes, rather than a complete film, was presented. Laurel and Hardy are a favorite of mine, but I would have preferred seeing all of `Angora Love,' rather than a short scene from it. Charley Chase is perhaps the most consistently sophisticated comic in this set. Chase uses slapstick to accent characters and situations and push the plot ahead - pretty much the diametric opposition of how it was usually done.

8- `Chaplin and the Music Hall Tradition.' Or, Chaplin and his imitators. This sections opens with 1915's `A Night in the Show,' with Charlie playing two roles - Mr. Pest and Mr. Rowdy - whose names ought to clue you in to what kind of (inebriated) theater goers they are. One is tuxedoed and sits in a box seat, one is shabbily dressed and sits way back up in the cheap seats. One of the more curious shorts in this set is 1918's `He's in Again,' with Billy West - who looks and dresses just like Chaplin - as an out-at-the-heels bar customer. West was the most successful of Chaplin imitators, and, if nothing else, this short gives you a direct example of the difference between competence and genius.

9- `The Race is On.' Four shorts here, all celebrating speed and all featuring some of the most hair-raising footage you'll ever see. The worst is Monty Bank's 1927 `Chasing Choo Choos.' It's easy to take scary stuff on film when you know there's CGI or some other film trick involved. Some of the stunts in this one defy an obvious explanation. In one scene - the one that had me on the edge of my seat - Banks has two feet in a racing race car (one that the driver had bailed out of!) and two hands on a speeding locomotive. Simply the most amazing stunt I've ever seen.

10- `Anarchic Fringe.' Well, we finally get to see a Ben Turpin close-up in `Yukon Jake' (1924). The biggest surprise, to some, will be Charley Bowers' 1926 `Now You Tell One.' Bowers, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Buster Keaton, tells his story to a gathering of the Liars' Club. Bowers included stop-action animation in his shorts, was really a pioneer in the field, and his story includes a rapidly growing eggplant that contains an egg and salt shaker, shoe strings that tie themselves, and other such fanciful nonsense.

Le Trou (The Criterion Collection)
Le Trou (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ André Bervil
Offered by Tax Free Rarities
Price: $57.59
6 used & new from $47.89

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hole, March 24, 2007
Jacques Becker's LE TROU is the most detailed prison escape movie you'll ever see.

Because it was made in France in 1960 LE TROU is blessed with a few unique features - some of the prominent actors are amateurs, including Jean Keraudy, who was involved in the 1947 prison break this film depicts. There's no musical scoring of any type. The film is shot in black-and-white, with muted dramatics - the prison officials, guards and wardens, are actually nice enough people. So this is no exposé of harsh prison conditions, hardened criminals brutalized by hardened guards. Four prisoners have planned and are about to undertake a prison break. Young Claude Gaspar is suddenly thrown into their cell, and the four have to alter their plans to accommodate their new cellmate. Do they include him in their plans? Can they trust him?

Ultimately the second question proves to be the more important one. Before that question plays out to its final conclusion, though, LE TROU spends nearly two hours with the men as they laboriously, and I mean laboriously, chisel, pound, file and scrape their way through one barrier after another. First to go is a small, hidden corner of the floor in their cell, and the movie watches every blow of the improvised hammer as the thick concrete is finally broken into a hole large enough for a man to squeeze through. In most prison break movies you crack one hole and move on, but in this one it's just the beginning. Finally, the men must find the sewer, somewhere beneath the prison's cellar, and break their way out of whatever barrier they find when they reach it.

There's an understated, unforced feel to LE TROU. With its obsessive attention to detail, lack of false dramatics, and muted performances this doesn't feel so much like a docudrama as a true reenactment of events. Because the movie spends so much time over the prisoners' shoulders as they slowly chip and file their way to freedom we become wrapped up with their success. Even though they're criminals, and the movie expends little energy trying to prove they're innocent, or that they don't deserve the long prison terms they all face, it's hard not to become engaged with their quest for freedom and root for their success. If you're looking for a fast paced, violent prison movie LE TROU is not a good pick, but if you're willing to stay with a deliberately paced film this movie is a winner.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 13, 2008 3:38 AM PST

DVD ~ Dermot Mulroney
Offered by Outlet Promotions
Price: $178.15
24 used & new from $38.76

9 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Big disappointment, March 18, 2007
This review is from: Sunset (DVD)
Comedy/mystery/western based on the fictional pairing of old west lawman Wyatt Earp (James Garner) and movie star Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) in 1929 Hollywood. Producer, and ex-silent film comedian Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell) convinces Mix to star in a film biography of Earp, and Earp is hired on as a technical advisor. Soon, however, Alperin is revealed to be less of a benevolent studio head than his reputation would lead one to believe, and Mix and Earp find themselves dangerously involved in a burgeoning murder mystery.

Despite its less than sterling rep I was looking forward to watching SUNSET (1988). It reteams Garner with director Blake Edward, with whom he'd collaborated on the wonderful `Victor/Victoria' in 1982. And it has Garner reprising a role he'd played in 1967's `The Hour of the Gun.' I have to admit I'm not much of a fan of Willis, but he doesn't normally drag down a movie. Willis doesn't hurt this movie, either, but neither the good chemistry he has with Garner, nor Garner's charm, can breathe much life into it, either. Maybe `life' is the wrong word. Although this is billed as a comedy, there's not a whole lot to laugh at. McDowell plays a psychopath who gets off on intimidating everyone and especially seems to enjoy beating up women. It's hard to warm up to a comedy with this type of physical violence in it, unless it's Inspector Clouseau engaging in a slapstick fight with his Asian valet. If you have a man beating up a bunch of frail women in a movie I'm probably not going to like it. Here the violence just seems mean, and left a real sour taste in my mouth. If you stick with this movie through the final act you'll discover the murder mystery was a bit of a cheat, too. Mysteries are ALWAYS easy to solve when someone leaves a Letter that pretty much tells you who did what when.

As far as I'm concerned Garner has always been an underrated actor, and he does dominate SUNSET, but even Garner's charm can only carry a movie so far. Willis is likeable, Marial Hemingway appropriately tough/vulnerable as the cathouse proprietress with a secret. Even McDowell is good, even though his character is too realistically depraved for this movie. In fact, the violence embodied and practiced by McDowell's character effectively washes away whatever rosy glow Garner and Willis try to create. If you can overlook or aren't bothered by the nasty stuff SUNSET might work better for you than it did for me. I thought it was a disappointing misfire, and don't recommend it.

Invincible Iron Man
Invincible Iron Man
DVD ~ Marc Worden
Price: $5.00
214 used & new from $0.01

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Above average comic book transplant, March 18, 2007
This review is from: Invincible Iron Man (DVD)
Wastrel billionaire playboy Tony Stark flies to China when his top employee and best friend is kidnapped by a group of modern day ninjas. The ninjas are trying to stop a Stark Enterprise-funded raising of an ancient Chinese city and, potentially, the re-animation of a fabled evil-doer named the Mandarin.

People are taking their comic book heroes very serious nowadays, and this shot-for-video includes a helpful "The Origins of Iron Man" featurette that more or less clears up the things I'd forgotten about ol' Shellhead. Just in time, too, since a big screen, live-action movie is planned for release in the summer of 2008 - a little over a year from when this review was written. Anyway, in the original origin story Tony Stark was injured while in Vietnam, shrapnel in or near his heart or something like that, and he needed an iron lung-type medical device to stay alive. In INVINCIBLE IRON MAN they drop Vietnam, keep Asia, the chest wound and the custom-cut iron suit. The other big change in the story, according to the featurette (and some less-than-happy blog postings I've read recently) is the Armor Room, hidden deep in Stark Enterprise's headquarter, which holds the Underwater suit, the Outer Space suit, etc. Apparently the suits changed slowly over time, and the Armor Room represents a type of heresy - Tony Stark did NOT create all those suits at once before he was even Iron Man! Which may be true, but the multitude of suits allow Iron Man more costume changes than a Follies chorus girl during a Saturday matinee, and if they aren't true to the comic book history they probably make the action figure manufacturers happy enough.

Fidelity to the source, in this case, doesn't matter that much to me. When they raise that Chinese city, with inflatable steel, no less, four Elementals are awakened. They, in turn, must locate five rings to awaken the big boss Mandarin. All that stands between them and that unimaginable horror is Iron Man. What does matter to me in an animated action comic book is plot and action. The plot, they have to find five rings in five distinct quests, would fit well in a video game (really, this feature is a marketer's dream) and otherwise does adequate, if not spectacular, service as a plot. The action - Iron Man battling the Elementals at each stage before squaring off against the big boss - were pretty well done. I didn't know they were mixing CGI with 2-D animation, but they do so here with middling results. The Elementals, representing Earth, Ice, etc. are your typical air-borne meanies with the special ability to control different elements. Some of the footage of the Elementals was computer generated, and it shows. I'm not the target audience for a movie like this, but as someone who remembers Iron Man from his 1960's and 1970's comic book incarnation, I am someone the film makers hoped to appeal to. If you fall in that category INVINCIBLE IRON MAN might not thrill you, but it won't disappoint you, either.

Objective Burma
Objective Burma
DVD ~ Errol Flynn
Offered by Fun To Shop
Price: $25.00
33 used & new from $4.43

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We got run out of Burma..., March 2, 2007
This review is from: Objective Burma (DVD)
... and it's as humiliating as hell. - Gen Joseph Stilwell

By 1945, the year Raoul Walsh's OBJECTIVE, BURMA was released, the Allied armies would be well on their way to reclaiming Burma. The movie chronicles an operation undertaken on the eve of a massive invasion of the country. A Japanese radar station near the front line needs to be taken out of commission. The air force doesn't know exactly where the camouflaged installation is, so a small group of paratroopers, lead by Lieutenant Errol Flynn, are to be air dropped somewhere near where they believe the radar station is, destroy it, and force march themselves to a rendezvous point, where U.S. transports plane will be waiting to return them to base. Inevitably things don't go as planned, and Flynn and his small squad suddenly find themselves trapped in hostile territory. They become a `lost battalion,' deep in enemy territory, their condition and chance of rescue diminishing rapidly.

Some of the best movies about World War II were made between 1945 and 1950. A certain war weariness on the home front, returning veterans, and, of all things, newsreels from the battlefield conspired to force out much of the jingoism and almost all of the martial enthusiasm that were prominent components of movies made just a couple of years earlier. Realism counts in action movies based on real events, and OBJECTIVE, BURMA is about as realistic as they come. Not convincing in terms of special effects or convincing gore - later generations of films would concentrate on stuff like that. Rather, Walsh leaves this one relatively blood free. There are scenes of violence and carnage that would tax the ingenuity of today's CGI wizards, but in those scenes Walsh simply, and cannily, pulls a tight close up on Flynn and let his subtly expressive face reflect the horror and disgust, pity and sadness we'd feel if we saw what he sees.

This is a movie that works on every level. The photography, by James Wong Howe, is spectacular. Another future Oscar winner, Franz Waxman, scored this movie. More than the music, though, I was impressed by the ambient sounds of the jungle this movie was filled with. More than most thrillers this one had me on the edge of my seat throughout. It feels like it was filmed in a Burmese jungle although, after a trip to my favorite internet movie site, it appears the jungle scenes were shot in the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. The highest recommendation for this great war movie.

Also on the disk are a couple of fun shorts filmed during the war.

The Tanks are Coming - George Tobias, who also has a substantial role in OBJECTIVE BURMA, stars as a "cabbie from the Bronx" in this 1941 two-reel recruitment film. There's a lot of documentary to this one. We travel along with Tobias to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to partake in a detailed look at the training of `America's first armored force.' Tobias participates in calisthenics, training in gas masks, gets to fire 37mm tank guns mounted on wobbly plates, and watch as a passel of `blitz buggies' directly imperil his carefully hidden taxi cab which, I believe, he named Betsy. A nifty little Techni-Color short that was nominated for an Academy Award. Nifty doesn't mean classic, great, or even Oscar-worthy, but patriotism was running pretty high when the Oscars were held for this one (2/26/1942) and `Tanks' lost out in its category (Best Short Subject, Two-Reel) to `Main Street on the March!' , yet another short about America gearing up for war.

Rear Gunner - Burgess Meredith stars as the title character in this 1943 b/w two-reeler. Meredith is a recruit from Kansas with a clever speech impediment who begins the film, it appears, oiling the hinges on plane fuselages. Meredith's character, we're told, is one of those fellows who are `short on height, long on ambition' the armed services were constantly on the lookout for. Best of all he was good at "hittin' down crows" back ta home. Turns out he's a dead-eye killer on the skeet range, too, which lands him in gunnery school and a chance to become one of the Air Force's modern knights of fire. Pretty soon the movie has him, along with squad commander Ronald Reagan and a crew of lesser stars, heading for a place called Over There. Unlike `The Tanks are Coming,' `Rear Gunner' shows its star in (heroic) action. "Berlin and Tokyo beware!"

DVD ~ Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Price: $19.99
27 used & new from $9.47

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow spy yarn, February 25, 2007
This review is from: Spies (DVD)
The evil super-spy Haghi wants to topple the German government. Agent No. 326 is assigned to stop him. One of Haghi's operatives, the beautiful Sonya Baranilkowa, is directed to stop Agent No. 326. Unfortunately for both spies, Agent No. 326 and Sonya, they fall in love with each other. It's one of those love-at-first-sight things. In the meantime, the Japanese are finalizing a delicate treaty with Germany, and Haghi wants to get his hands on the treaty before it is delivered to Tokyo. Therefore he appoints another of his Mata Hari types, Kitty this time, to seduce Doctor Matsumoto and bring the treaty back to him. Meanwhile...

But what's the point? Fritz Lang's silent SPIES (1926) has enough plot points to fill ten movies. It plays for a long 144-minutes, is as convoluted as a pretzel, with multiple plot threads to challenge, and I guess, in some cases, delight the audience. The bad guy, the wheelchair-bound Haghi, is reminiscent of Lang's Dr. Mabuse (master criminal) in terms of his nefarious omnipresence. According to Lang, as quoted by Lotte Eisner in `Fritz Lang,' Haghi, "the master spy, is nothing less than what we would call today (quoted in 1967) a human computer... He has an utter disregard for human beings." I'm probably not the first person to point this out but the hero, Agent No. 326, is suave and dashing enough to lend credence to claims he's an early model for British super-spy James Bond. He even has a number for a name and a hot blonde with connections to the alpha bad guy panting after him.

This may cost me my membership in the Fritz Lang Appreciation Society, but SPIES (1926) didn't work for me. It's not the acting, which, by silent film standards, is above average and effective. I especially like Sonya Baranilkowa (Gerda Maurus,) who has to go from the throes of ecstatic love (with Agent No. 326) to the depths of distrusting hatred (with Haghi.) By today's standards Maurus, along with everyone else, is over-the-top, but by its standards her performance is very convincing. Some of the visual touches, the looming shadows fighting on the wall while the captive heroes struggle to get out of the chair they're tied to, are nice, too. The big problem I had was with the pacing, especially at the beginning of the movie. We're introduced to Agent No. 326 when he's in disguise as a street tramp, and slowly - oh so slowly - learn Haghi is killing off the government spies, presumably as part of his evil empire gig, and Agent No. 326 is on his list. The first time we see Haghi he's trying to blackmail a beautiful opium addict into joining his nefarious empire. All of this stuff works to establish the character of two of the movie's major characters, but it chews up an awful lot of celluloid, and none of it directly relates to the plot. SPIES eventually gets on track but, because it has so many plot threads to attend to, it never really gains much forward momentum. You can add another star onto my ratings if you have more patience than I do. There's not many extras on the Kino disk to help you out, either. There's a text-only "Notes on the restoration" video that'll tell you how this print was cobbled together. Even for strong Fritz Lang fans I'd recommend watching this one before you decide to spring for this premium priced dvd.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 17, 2013 4:08 PM PDT

The Mummy
The Mummy
DVD ~ Peter Cushing
Price: $5.97
67 used & new from $1.37

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mummy, February 7, 2007
This review is from: The Mummy (DVD)
Okay... bullets don't stop him, bogs don't drown him, and running a spear through him simply causes a handful of desiccated kidney dust to pour out of the exit site and, if those blazing brown eyes are any indication, get madder than he was to begin with. How do you stop Kharis (Christopher Lee), the Mummy, who has traveled from Egypt to the peaceful countryside of England to wreak havoc (aka, kill) the three English archeologists who desecrated the tomb of his beloved, Princess Ananka. Traveling with is his keeper, Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), who conveniently carries along with him, in a mini-mummy casket, a scroll of life which, when read, brings them back from the dead.

Man, what a thankless role Lee was stuck with in this one. His mummy makeup is as stiff as a plaster cast, he doesn't even get to growl, and the only emotion he's allowed to express in this one - save for an extended flashback scene where's he's the high priest preparing the Princess for burial - is through the eyes. Of course, Kharis had a forbidden, meddlesome love for the Princess, which helped accelerate his outraged congregation turning him into Dust-for-Guts, so I guess he had it coming to him. That forbidden love was a good thing for archeologist John Banning (Peter Cushing) though, who had the great good sense to marry Princess Ananka look-alike Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux.) If guns, bogs, and spears won't stop the Mummy (why didn't anyone think about a bucket of creosote and a lit match!? Sigh.) a squealed "Stop!" from Isobel/Ananka seems fairly effective.

THE MUMMY is one of those fun Hammer House films I haven't watched for a generation or so and delight in rediscovering. Cushing it at the top of his form, and Lee makes the most of his limited opportunities to generate sympathy for the monster. The Mummy is one of the hardest of the classic monsters to warm up to. Dracula is heartless but has a cold charm and more than enough style to hold our attention. Frankenstein's Monster is a pathetic creature in battle with his creator. The Wolfman's got that wolfbane curse that was a result of an accident totally beyond his control. The Mummy defies his gods by attempting to resurrect the Princess, and spends most movies trying to reunite with her. To their credit, Hammer's Mummy also has Mehemet Bey, who preys upon the residual guilt of the English for robbing Egypt of her sacred treasures. So this Mummy has a two-track, lost love/revenge theme going. Good fun, THE MUMMY is about as family-safe film as you'll find. There's no nudity, extremely minimal gore, and there's more talk than scare. Interesting talk, too, especially the third act guilt-trip Mehemet Bey tries to lay on Banning. Solid recommendation.
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