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Thursday, October 31, 2013

'The Secret World of Santa:' The Best French Import Since Brie

Product DetailsProduct Details
The pair of two-disc 12 and 13 episodes DVD sets, which were released on October 29 2013, of "The Secret World of Santa" exceeds all expectations for holiday fare. Instead of anticipated adequately animated adventures that entertain despite rotting your teeth from just watching them, the French imports have very cool European-style animation and wonderfully surreal stories. Vive le difference!!

As a first aside, the original series has the way cool title "Le Monde Secret du Pere Noel."

As a second aside, this film makes a great companion to the animated British film "Saving Santa," which Unreal TV reviewed earlier this week. Both beyond awesome productions likely have the talented (and still greatly loved) Mssrs Rankin and Bass hanging their heads in shame.

Like "Santa," "Secret World" is well animated and has enough of an edge to keep adults entertained at least through the first two of an inevitably long series of viewings by any children in the household. The latter depicts the daily lives of Santa, his inner circle of magical elves, and the adorable clumsy polar bear who follows them around.

Santa has the expected deep voice, and the elves mercifully look like roughly 12 year-old children (and even begrudgingly pass for human in one episode) and have the appropriate voices and attitudes for their appearance. This depiction is much more pleasant than odd little creatures whose voices make dogs howl. Said bear is predictably goofy in facial expression and voice.

Santa's evil neighbor Gruzzlebeard adds a wonderful element of "The Smurfs," who originated in Belgium, to "Secret World." Many of the 30-minute adventures focus around Gruzzlebeard's efforts to thwart Santa's goal of spreading Christmas cheer around the world. Dudley the troll fills the role of Gruzzlebeard's inept aide.

Much of the fun comes from Santa's elves using their magical powers to thwart the evil plans of Gruzzlebeard and other foes of the big man. One elf can turn himself into an animal and another one can fly and turn invisible.

The first episode gets things off to a very trippy and borderline-psychedelic start by having Gruzzlebeard's theft of the magical toy-making machine that cranks out every Christmas gift leading to Santa and the gang going on a magical mystery tour that includes taking his sleigh under the ocean, battling an abominable snowman who projectile vomits snow balls, and coming against a giant bat.

The second episode has a trio of very European representatives from the Santa Claus Commission arriving to administer Santa the once-a-century certification exam that he must ace to keep his job. These "12 Labours of Santa Claus" grill the man in red on every minute Christmas trivia and demonstrate the physical skills that his position requires. Needless to say, Gruzzlebeard does his best to ensure that Santa fails.

Other plots focus on missives and mischief by children on earth prompting Santa and his gang taking a road trip to fulfill a Christmas wish or set things right.

The common theme of every episode is that Santa and his crew must overcome a challenge that threatens achieving their objective of ensuring that every child (and select special adults) has a wonderful Christmas. This lofty (pun intended) goal requires an incredibly cute outer space adventure in one episode.

Adults truly will be entertained, and children will be delighted.

The final word on this is that our gallic friends have followed up the gift of the Statue of Liberty with an equally valuable present in the form of this awesome series.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Secret World" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

'Unhung Hero:' Uncut Version of Adult-oriented version of 'Super-Size Me'

Product Details
[Editor's Note: Delays in receiving review copies of traditional horror tales, which will be the subjects of future posts, requires wrapping up this series of Halloween-themed posts with a documentary on a subject that strikes fear in the heart of every adult male.]

Writing in the recent review of the (no debate) worst-show-ever "Dante's Cove" that that post would be the most penis-oriented entry on this PG site seems to have prompted the upcoming DVD release of the documentary "Unhung Hero" about standup comedian/actor Patrick Moote's search for information regarding perceptions related to the size of a man's sexual organ and methods to enhance that part of the body.

"Hero" hits actual and virtual store shelves on December 10, 2013.

Like the "Cove" post, any text that seems to be some form of penis-oriented pun most likely is even if not identified as such.

Readers who the concept of a film about a man's junk prompts to stop reading this review are encouraged to stick it out. The film includes good social commentary that this post covers.

As Moote states in "Unhung," his motive for the film stems from his girlfriend rejecting his marriage proposal that a jumbotron (no pun intended) broadcast during a UCLA basketball game. He shares that said significant other told him that the reasons for penalizing (pun intended) him include that his penis is too small.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Unhung's" trailer includes both the footage of the proposal and Moote's statement of his reasons for the project.

Before going further, Moote deserves acknowledgment for being an adorable when he smiles guy, for his awesome humor, and for having many other qualities to offer even if he does not measure up in certain areas. Finding someone who is so kind and sweet, not to mention being willing to follow one well-publicized humiliation with sharing very embarrassing personal information with the world for limited fame and profit, is rare.

The initial Moote point (of course pun intended) is to determine whether the extent to which his former girlfriend is accurate in criticizing the size of his penis. Although never directly divulged, "Unhung" strongly indicates that our hero has what he considers a "Fantastic Four" until learning that many people in this era are of the mindset that "eight is enough to fill our lives with love."

As "Unhung" states, the caveat to the conclusion that four inches is at the lower end of normal among the male population is based on a study that places men on the honor system regarding reporting the size of their manhood.

The strong possibility that some study participants exaggerated their endowment evoked thoughts of the joke from early in Roseanne's career in which she commented that men were better than women at reading maps because they could relate to the concept of an inch equaling a mile. On a somewhat related personal note, a high school classmate responded on learning that, next to the nose, the penis was the most sensitive organ on the male body that he did not realize that the penis was next to the nose.

The consideration of penis size in "Unhung" includes discussing the extent to which it matters; noted gay columnist Dan Savage arguably has the most insightful thoughts regarding this topic in commenting that prolonged expressed anxiety regarding this feature can be more bothersome than size itself.

A not very well kept secret is that virtually all men check out other guys to see how they compare and get an ego boost if they fall within the above-average range on the scale. A hilarious "Seinfeld" scene in which Kramer goads Jerry into admitting that he looks would have been an even better choice than the selected more famous "shrinkage" scene in "Unhung."

This subject also evokes thoughts of a hilarious scene from the uber-awesome 1989 film "Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills." The exact context is a little fuzzy so many years later, but the memory is that a teen boy who has had sex with his father's trophy wife loudly and proudly announces during a large family gathering that according to said trophy wife "compared to my daddy, I'm hung like a rhino."

Moote then moves on to trying several techniques to move closer to the middle of the bell-end curve and to considering other enhancement techniques. Many of these are familiar to men of all endowments, and the more extreme ones from Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia truly require turning away from the screen.

The promised discussion of "Unhung's" social commentary relates to the influence of wide-spread and readily available pornography on the Internet. The film aptly points out that those videos tend to use men who have more in common with donkeys than smaller animals and that those depictions affect the perceptions of sexual partners.

The related note this time is that "Unhung" also touches on the fact that intense anxiety related to a pocket pistol not packing much heat is a true first-world problem. Getting the job done does not require much, and the 99 percent of us who are not in the "1 percent" truly do have more to worry about than how much damage that we can inflict on an apple pie.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Unhung" is welcome to email me. Folks who want more personal information must buy me dinner first. Everyone is welcome to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

'The Eyes of Charles Sand:' The Boy With Something Extra

Eyes of Charles Sand
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the1972 TV-movie (and attempted pilot) "The Eyes of Charles Sand" is the second subject in Unreal TV's 2013 series of Halloween-themed reviews. This thriller about an aspiring master of the universe rapidly obtaining the ability to see dead people and have psychic visions has a wonderful "Movie of the Week" vibe that provides quasi-psychic visions of spending Friday nights watching movies like this on ginormous 25-inch console color televisions.

"Sands" is also very reminiscent of the feature film "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" from the same era that Archive released (and that Unreal TV reviewed) several weeks ago.

"Sands" quickly gets down to business by depicting our titular hero, played by veteran character actor Peter Haskell, developing and discovering his new-found "gift" from his uncle immediately on said uncle's death. Just as Peter Parker's uncle advises him that great responsibility accompanies great power, the guidebook that Sands' uncle leaves him counsels that acquiring "the sight" is both a blessing and a curse.

Joan Bennett of the original "Dark Shadows" series provides a spot-on performance as Sands' strong-willed Aunt Alexandria. Alexandria's role is to instruct and guide Sands regarding his new-found abilities.

"Batman's" Adam West rounds out this team of crime-fighters as Sands' bff and psychiatrist Dr. Paul Scott. Having one of Scott's first lines include referring to Sands as a "boy wonder" regarding a recent business merger that Sands handled is one of the best moments of "Sands."

A ghostly apparition that appears to Sands during the graveside portion of his uncle's funeral initiates his first adventure; this one relates to a woman named Emily Parkhurst, played by Sharon Farrell, being convinced that her brother has been killed despite the assurances of her sister that said sibling is alive and well in London.

Barbara Rush of the "Peyton Place" television series and scads of bit parts plays this potentially reverse gaslighter who is trying to convince Emily that nothing is wrong.

Guided by his visions and slips by the malfeasor or malfeasors of the film, Sands uncovers the related truths about the absent brother and Emily's sanity. The stereotypical penultimate scene that places our hero in great peril has great moments but also an outcome that becomes very predictable on first seeing a device that is central to the resolution.

The highlights of "Sands" are that it is well-staged and offers an interesting premise with great potential for a weekly series with a little tweaking. Further, Bennett's grande dame and West's best chum personas are great.

The largest problem is that the director does not get a great performance from Haskell, who has the right age and look for a wealthy 30-something man who has fallen down the rabbit hole. Haskell's performance is flat, and he does not even evoke appropriate anxiety in tense moments. Haskell's other roles strongly indicate that he is capable of delivering a stronger performance. Recasting, rather than dumping, would have been a great option.

Also, the story drags a few times and would have benefited either from being cut down to an hour or by cutting out the origin story and inserting the characters and plot into one of the numerous existing detective shows on the air in 1972 and then filling in the gaps in the pilot episode of "Sands" as a spinoff.

The solution to the mystery of whether "Sands" is worth adding to your DVD library is that it is a personal choice. It is also a safe bet that not loving it after taking a chance on it will not cause serious buyer's remorse. Further, it is a great example of the rarities that Archives makes available.

As described above, "Sands" has many good points and some flaws. Fans of occult drama and or wonderfully cheesy made-for-TV Friday night movies should like this one; it is a tough call regarding everyone else but is worth spending roughly $15 to check out.

Anyone with any questions or thoughts regarding "Sands" must contact me via email because my own psychic abilities are limited. You are also welcome to find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

'John Carpenter Presents Body Bags:' Showtime's Tales From the Morgue

Body Bags [Collector's Edition] with Exclusive Poster!
Truly gory special effects, especially perverse dark humor, and purposefully cheesy plots and low production values make 'John Carpenter Presents Body Bags' a perfect choice to kick off Unreal TV's series of Halloween-themed reviews.

The trick that Shout Factory! is playing related to this treat for horror fans is that it is not releasing the Blu-ray/DVD combo of this film until November 12, 2013. Shout offering folks who buy this set from their site a free limited edition (and quantity) poster of the artwork that was created for the release as compensation for this post-Halloween release.

In many respects, "The Son of Tales From the Crypt" would have been an apt title for "Body Bags." Like the 1989-96 HBO horror anthology series, the one-time 1993 Showtime production featured a gruesome-looking and acting host who introduced a tale of terror. The Cryptkeeper filled that role in the HBO series, and "Body Bags" creator John Carpenter played an a gleefully over-the-top crazed coroner who used the eerie circumstances under which some of his "clients" perished as fodder for his three stories.

Both series also utilized the "The Love  Boat" method of casting B-List and/or has-been actors and/or performers in the tales. Including Tom Arnold and "It's Garry Shandling's Show" Molly Cheek in the cast illustrated this well.

The difference is that a "Crypt" fan who is expecting "Body Bags" to offer the same level of storytelling is likely to utter a slight variation of the aforementioned "son of " expression. The better news is that fans of Carpenter and slash horror will love this one.

One large difference between "Crypt" and "Body Bags" is that the Cryptkeeper is a skeletal puppet with an awesome dark sense of humor and Carpenter's coroner is a live-action psychotic maniac who has a great deal in common with folks that many of us have encountered on the street and in train and bus stations. Another is that "Crypt" has a wonderful '50s pulp comic vibe, and "Body Bags" is more akin to the Carpenter's more graphic horror and scifi films.

Additionally, "Crypt" was a collaborative effort in which a figurative "cast of thousands" of accomplished writers and directors participated over the years. As mentioned above, "Body Bags" was more exclusively a production of Carpenter's wonderfully warped mind.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of an interview with Carpenter provides a little more insight into creating "Body Bags." The special features on the Blu-ray/DVD set includes the full interview. Other features include the film's trailer and other interviews with behind-the-scenes folks and actors.

The first tale of terror titled "The Gas Station" has a college student experiencing an imaginably bad first night working an aptly named graveyard shift at a gas station. David Naughton of "An American Werewolf in London" and the sitcom "My Sister Sam," which would make a great addition to the Shout catalog, stars in this one with Robert Carradine of "Revenge of the Nerds."

We then move onto Stacy Keach of the "Mike Hammer" television series and many other projects in "Hair." His co-stars include David Warner of "The Omen" and numerous other films and rock band Blondie front-woman Deborah Harry in a role that should have been named "slutty nurse."

It is unsurprising that the quest for hair restoration by the aging playboy who Keach portrays takes a very macabre turn; the manner in which it does is unexpected and involves many cringe-worthy moments. Any horror involving eyeballs will do that.

In perhaps the most severe fall from grace, Mark Hamill from "Star Wars" Episodes IV - VI stars in "Eye" as an up-and-coming minor league baseball pitcher who loses his eye in an especially gruesome manner. This leads to agreeing to an eye transplant with results that prompt a series of jokes about husky dogs.

"Eye" is a bit more predictable then "Hair," but the result is the same.

The "autopsy" results regarding "Body Bags" is that it is a good marriage between "Crypt's" narrative style and dark humor and slasher films. It also provides Carpenter's fans a chance to see more of his work and also enjoy the surprise of cameos from his colleagues.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Body Bags" or "Crypt" is welcome to email me. I am also available on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, October 28, 2013

'Saving Santa:' 'Groundhog Day' Meets 'The Grinch' Meets 'Timecop'

Saving Santa (2013) Poster
The facts that the taglines for the Christmas film "Saving Santa" are "Adventures of a Time Traveling Elf" and "Boldly Go Where No Christmas Has Gone Before" indicates that this truly delightful tale is not your father's Christmas fable. Blu-ray and DVD versions of "Santa" hit real and virtual store shelves on November 1, 2013.

This scifi yuletide story centers around aforementioned time-traveling elf Bernard, voiced by "The Hobbit's" Martin Freeman. Bernard scoops reindeer poop at Santa's stables but strives to be an inventor at Santech, which provides Mr. Claus with the gadgets and gizmos that he requires.

The primary obstacle to Bernard achieving his desired career change is that his inventions, which includes a reindeer translation device that does not transmits in English, does not quite work. As is typical in this type of story, the other scientist elves somewhat cruelly exclude Bernard from their games. Rather than laugh and call him names, they toss him out on the street.

The crisis that prompts Bernard to (repeatedly) engage in the aforementioned time travel comes in the form of an invasion by the wonderfully named  rapid package delivery company executive Neville Baddington. Tim Curry does a wonderful G-rated version of Dr. Frank-N-Furter from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" in voicing Neville.

Neville's twin disclosed motivations are desires to acquire the technology that allows Santa, voiced by genuine comedy legend Tim Conway, to make worldwide deliveries overnight and to get Neville's oppressive mother and boss Vera off his back. Charlotte Rae arch-nemesis Joan Collins of "Dynasty" makes Joan Crawford seem like June Cleaver of the '50s sitcom "Leave it to Beaver."

Although Bernard must time travel to "put right what once went wrong," he has an advantage over "Quantum Leap's" Dr. Sam Beckett in that he gets the chance to keep returning to the past "time after time." Like the titular character in the Jean-Claude Van Damme film "Timecop," the time-traveling version of Bernard must avoid contacting any other version of himself.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Santa's" trailer does a great job conveying all this awesomeness.

No one with the literary skills that comprehending this review requires should be surprised that things work out in the end. The great fun relates to seeing how Bernard achieves his mission. Additionally, there a very nice twist at the end brings the story back to the opening scenes.

Even nicer aspects of "Santa" are that it is a holiday film that adults can truly enjoy. The CGI animation is very well-done and has awesome backgrounds and bright colors; the voice actors are well-known and perfectly cast; the story maintains a nice pace and has enough classic scifi (including a Scottish elf frantically stating a need for more power) and action-adventure references to entertain those of us whose current bedtimes do not require asking to stay up late to watch "Frosty" and "Rudolph," and the songs are genuinely catchy.

The final "naughty or nice" evaluation of this one is that it is a great option for stuffing a stocking and is worth popping in the Blu-ray or DVD. On a related note, being placed on Santa's naughty list for "encouraging" people who do not move at traffic lights or leave parking spaces because they are talking or texting on their phones to move should provide for an automatic appeal.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Santa" is encouraged to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

'Space Stars:' Best Ever Space Camp

Space Stars: The Complete Series
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1981 Saturday morning cartoon "Space Stars" is reminiscent of the "magic" green grass in Easter baskets in that Archive seems to always find another Hanna-Barbera series to release in the same manner that there is always one more jelly bean or small chocolate egg nestled in the grass despite previous certainty that you found them all.

"Stars" is a great example of a good marriage between art and commerce. This union relates to Hanna-Barbera getting more mileage out of vintage space-oriented cartoon characters in its stable by producing a series of new shorts featuring those childhood favorites.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Stars" opening credits provides a great sense of the 60-minutes (actually closer to 45) of laser-blasting action in each episode.
Little doubt exists regarding defender of the universe Space Ghost and his crew of teen siblings Jan and Jace (along with mischievous space monkey Blip) stealing the show. The lesser-known Herculoids, who are a very entertainingly bizarre mix of primitive and futuristic elements, are along for the ride.

Astro from the uber-classic Hanna-Barbera prime time cartoon series "The Jetsons" moves up to headliner status in "Astro and the Space Mutts." This one has this particular dog wonder teaming up with a space cop named Space Ace and two canine second bananas named Dipper and Cosmo. Astro's borderline creepy admiration of Ace is even more intense than his regard for George Jetson.

The Teen Force is the new-comer to the party. Similar to one theme in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," this group of super-powered space-scooter riding teens uses a stable wormhole to travel from their dimension to our universe to save our bacon. Considering that they do not even wear full helmets, there is no use pretending that the Milky Way is not still in their eyes during their missions. (It seems as well that their agenda does not include the "hopeless case" of trying to create" perfection on earth.")

The Force's primary foe is domination-oriented Uglor, who is also a frequent Space Ghost foe and messes with the Herculoids when he gets bored. One of his best efforts involves emulating the classic scifi film "When Worlds Collide."

The theme of each Force member having special powers, which include telekinesis and the ability to rearrange their molecules, evokes thoughts of the spectacular "Ultimate Spider-Man" series that currently airs on Sunday morning. This one has Peter Parker leading (and regularly bickering with) a team of similarly "enhanced" adolescents.

The primary format of "Stars" has each team, which regularly joins forces with one or more group from "Stars," battle Uglor or another space villain who typically is seeking to dominate one world or another.

The Herculoids" play this quite straight; Space Ghost shows the same super-hero level bravado that later lands him a late-night talk show on Cartoon Network; the Teen Force seem to revel in their adventures, and Astro et al provide pure comic relief in the most brightly animated shorts in the bunch.

It is very cool to see that both the style of the aliens and many of the themes borrow from the highly awesome Hanna-Barbera show "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space." Seeing that particular Scooby gang make a cameo would have made a terrifically campy series even better.

The Space Ghost segment "Planet of the Space Monkeys" is a strong contender for cutest cartoon of the series. This one has a sad Blip leaving Space Ghost and the kids to live on a planet with his own kind where he quickly becomes a hero. He additionally gets up to some terrific monkey shines in this one's final seconds.

The plethora of bumper segments in "Stars" are designed to entertain and educate. It is nice as well that the challenges that they present are so easy that every audience member who is old enough to pour the milk into a bowl of  Froot Loops without spilling it all over the counter can figure it out.

The "Space Facts" feature has one group of Stars explain space-related science, such as the composition of a comet and both the origin of stars and why we cannot see them during the day. The solution to the "Space Mystery" segment that follows is based on the "Space Fact" from that episode. For example, the nature of lunar-influenced tides provides the solution to one such mystery.

The "Space Code" segment provides the eight-year-old in all of us a chance to crack cyphers that are so simple that we would have been watching "Stars" in German if the allied forces had used them in World War II.

The back-cover art from the "Stars" set states that we have our friends at Archive to thank for restoring every segment. This week's "Space Mystery" is determining which individual archivist deserves a "pat" on the back for this tremendous gift.

The space briefing regarding "Stars" is that this entertaining show is one of the more action-oriented series in the Hanna-Barbera catalog and provides fans of Space Ghost and the Herculoids who thought that the '60s series and the talk show were it for those heroes to see another set of adventures featuring them.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Stars" is welcome to email me. You can also use space-age technology to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, October 25, 2013

'Assault on Precinct 13:' A temporary commander, a suburban dad, and transferring prisoners walk into a closing police station

Assault On Precinct 13 [Collector's Edition] with Exclusive Poster!
Shout! Factory's November 19, 2013 Blu-ray release of the 1976 John Carpenter classic film "Assault on Precinct 13" give fans of this cult classic genuine cause to rejoice. The surprisingly clear images and crisp sound really enhance this movie.

As an aside, Shout's Blu-ray release of  Carpenter's "trilogy of terror" "Body Bags" hits actual and virtual store shelves on November 12, 2013. Unreal TV will review this one as part of a series of Halloween posts next week.

Although many critics and fans validly consider "Assault" a variation of zombie movies from Carpenter and other hall-of-fame worthy horror directors, this tale of a street gang launching a vicious attack on a police station hours before it is scheduled to shut down seems closer to the 1979 film "The Warriors."

"Warriors" is equally low-budget and incredibly violent film about the titular New York street gang running a gauntlet of comically themed opposing gangs following a peace summit gone horribly wrong.

Like "Assault," the violence in "Warriors" starts as brutal as any video game and ramps up from there to a climatic battle that is reminiscent of a very avante-garde staging of "West Side Story." These scenes prompted the Massachusetts legislature to launch a failed "banned in Boston" campaign. Of course, that only prompted every male between the ages of 12 and 18 in the Boston area to see the film.

An associated warning to "Warriors" fans that watch "Assault" is that viewing that film will fill your mind's eye with images of human popsicles. You will also get the taunt "Warriors, come out and plaaay" stuck in your head.

Returning to "Assault," this fact that the opening credits gives the coveted final actor "as ..." credit to then-former early '70s sitcom "Nanny and the Professor" moppet and future "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Kim Richards indicates the intentionally campy quality of the film right off. Further, "Nanny" fans will get a HUGE laugh regarding the lack of prudence that Richards' character displays in "Assault."

The following trailer, courtesy of YouTube, of "Assault" provides an excellent sense of the film. The sharp contrast in the quality of this clip and the Blu-ray release highlights the enhancements referred to above.
The first 30 minutes of "Assault" establish the stories that ultimately bring the film's characters to the titular police station before the titular attack.

Suburban kid Kathy who Richards plays and her incredibly white bread father have come to an inner-city Los Angeles neighborhood to visit her elderly "nanny" to persuade her to come live with their family. Things start going awry when Dad stops to make a telephone call.

Meanwhile, a police lieutenant is on his way to the station to babysit on its last night so that the regular commander can work at the replacement precinct building. The jokes about the lieutenant being in for a quiet night alone ensure the ensuing mayhem.

The next piece of the puzzle relates to an enroute emergency requiring temporarily housing inmates who are being transferred from one prison at Precinct 13.

One of these developments leads to the very violent and heavily-armed street gang known as Street Thunder that comprises a different form of Rainbow Coalition than Jesse Jackson envisioned first isolating the precinct from the outside world and then beginning a well-planned attack that includes quasi-advanced combat tactics.

The intense suspense starts with isolating the precinct and intensifies regarding anticipating the next round of gunfire. The gang members being very skilled at concealing both themselves and the evidence of their attacks create genuine tension.

The usual plethora of special features that Shout! includes in releases include a handful of interviews with Carpenter and actors from the film, the film's trailer, and radio ads for "Assault."

The final debriefing regarding the Blu-ray release is that it is an excellent choice for an evening in which your tastes run more toward Quentin Tarantino than Merchant Ivory. Watching it nearly 40 years after its release demonstrates that it has earned the cult film status that it enjoys.

Anyone with questions about "Assault" or "Warriors" is welcome to email me. You can also track me down on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

'The Ambassador:' One of British Television's Best-Written Characters

The Ambassador Complete Series DVD
The 6-disc 12-episode complete series DVD release of the 1998-1999 two-series (my people call them seasons) drama "The Ambassador" provides American audiences a good chance to discover yet another exceptional British program. This show is just as good as the recently reviewed  "Kavanagh Q.C." from the same era. Both shows benefit greatly from the contributions of their  common creator, Russell Lewis.

Lewis' numerous other credits include the well-known "Inspector Lewis" and the lesser-known but equally top-notch "The Last Detective."

"Kavanagh" and "Ambassador" share great actors, well-written stories, and ambiguous evidence of guilt, dirty politics, or other questionable acts that keep the audience guessing and intrigued through the final minutes of episodes. Common humor comes in the form of somewhat buffonish lanky and balding secondary characters.

Although not sharing any common characters or other lore, "Kavanagh" and "Ambassador" make the best matched set of shows since "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spin-off "Angel."

"Quartet's" Pauline Collins, who is best known for her role in the original "Upstairs Downstairs" and for playing Shirley Valentine, perfectly portrays titular diplomat Harriet Smith. The pilot episode has this career representative of Her Royal Majesty's government settling into her new role as the ambassador to Ireland.

The "troubles" between the U.K. and Ireland are an underlying theme in all these tales about Smith's awesome in every sense struggles to keep the peace, maintain international relations as friendly as possible, and still do what is right. She truly is the one with the tired eyes.

Smith's diplomatic baggage includes guilt regarding her late husband dying in an attack that was directed at her, dealing with the anger regarding that incident and the overall hostility of her 18-year-old son Nate, and trying to both be a good mother and alleviate the security-related anxieties of Nate's much more congenial 13-year-old brother Sam. Luckily for Sam (and Harriet), 20-something housekeeper Becky is an ideal surrogate daughter/big sister.

Ala  "Kavanagh," Lewis and his writing staff give each "Ambassador" episode a title that has multiple meanings. The pilot episode titled "Innocent Passage" follows that pattern and also shares common elements with a "Kavanagh" episode.

The separate "Ambassador" and "Kavanagh" storylines involve a possibly concealed collision with a British submarine causing the sinking of a fishing trawler. The fact that the trawler is an Irish vessel reportedly in Irish waters at the time of the incident complicates things in the case of "The Ambassador."

The title in the "Ambassador" episode also refers to the newly appointed titular character learning to navigate the diplomatic waters of her new post and also arguing with Nate about his opposition to having a security detail attached to him.

The first series episode "Trade" arguably breaks the record for multiple meanings. It involves international commerce, illicit sexual activity, a private citizen's attempt to swap silence for a government favor, back-room political deals, and a bargained-for clean-up of a crime scene. All of this occurs in roughly 50 minutes.

Two other first series episodes center around Smith's efforts to protect British citizens in Ireland despite the threat associated with related circumstances to tranquility with her host country.

A "Not Without My Child" style plot involves a British wife of a Saudi diplomat seeking asylum in Smith's official residence to avoid asserted harm that she is facing. Another episode in which an accused British drug smuggler provides a credible indication that Nate is engaged in that illegal activity is only one of many complications for Harriet in that episode.

The aptly named series one finale "Playing God" deserves a place on the list of "100 Best British Television Episodes" and would have made an awesome final episode for the program. This one has MI-6 approaching Smith to persuade her predecessor and close friend to not publish a tell-all book. The concerns include said retired diplomat's knowledge of an MI-6 officer arguably callously making a series of decisions that have actual life-or-death consequences for Irish civilians.

Like every great "Ambassador" and "Kavanagh" episode, "God" is loaded with reveals, misleading events, and incredibly tense drama that is both literally and figuratively explosive. A scene in which someone who is either a strong supporter or dangerous foe of Smith gets her alone is especially nerve-wracking for the audience. Another one that places Sam in serious peril is equally compelling.

The second series brings a few changes in the forms of new opening credits, a few character changes, and a serious romance for Smith. The first episode leaves the audience guessing about the extent of the links between corruption related to a large-scale road projects, an night-time intruder, and discovering bugs in the official residence.

The second episode of the second series focuses on a seemingly silly dispute regarding whether Ireland or the U.K. owns an "island" that is simply a big chunk of rock in the sea. Of course, the stakes are soon revealed to be fairly high and events typically create mistrust among allies and others.

Personally lacking diplomatic immunity motivates confessing not having time to watch the final four episodes of "The Ambassador" before composing this review. The perfect track record of the other eight offerings and the high quality of "Kavanagh" provide every reason to believe that these episodes are excellent and that the finale episode ends "The Ambassador" on a perfect note.

There is no doubt that those final episodes will find their way into the official Unreal TV Blu-ray player within the next several weeks.

The final debriefing regarding "The Ambassador" is that it easily passes the "one more" test and is a perfect depiction of the right woman for the job showing tremendous skill and grace in meeting her personal and professional challenges. Smith doing a much better job making time for her kids than most single parents with far less on their plates may be pure fiction but is still great to see.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Ambassador" or "Kavanagh" is welcome to email me. I am also available on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

'Casper's Halloween Special:' A Ghost of a Chance for a Fun Holiday Special

Casper's Halloween Special
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1979 NBC program "Casper's Halloween Special" is a show that one really wants to like but highlights shortcomings of both the titular character and its limited budget. This gregarious ghoul is a favorite of many of us from our elementary school days, and "Halloween" very sadly shows that the tremendous appeal of his persona does not survive adolescence especially well.

This set includes the bonus special "The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't" from 1972. This show is a perfect companion for "Halloween." Thoughts on this one follow a discussion of "Halloween."

The same gee-whiz innocence, extreme altruism, and burning desire to be liked and not frighten off potential friends of all species that makes children love Casper provokes a desire by adults to put the creature-busting Winchesters of "Supernatural" on his trail.

The plot of "Halloween" is that Casper wants to take advantage of children wearing costumes on the titular holiday to dress up for the purpose of passing as a living boy so that he can both socialize and enjoy the fun of trick-and-treating.

The primary obstacle that Casper faces comes in the form of efforts by his dim-witted ghostly companion Hairy Scary and Hairy's friends. This not-so-friendly ghost and his like-minded group not only relish scaring youngsters on this special night but are intent, if not hell-bent, on thwarting Casper's plan.

Casper soon connects with the saddest and most diverse group of orphans this side of "Annie." As if these kids do not have enough hardship in their lives, the orphanage budget lacks any funds at all for costumes.

Other woes come in the form of homeowners treating these waifs despicably even before Hairy et al target this group for harassment that adds to the dislike by the living members of the community. Suffice it to say, the kids (and Casper) are alright by the end.

The humor, which is more low-key than the afternoon "Casper" cartoons from the early and mid-'70s, and song-and-dance numbers will appeal to kids who are too young for "Supernatural;" the overall themes will create feelings of nostalgia in adults.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, perfectly depicts the vibe and overall themes described above.

"Thanksgiving" has a similar overly-sweet sense. This one begins with a human family and squirrel clan separately enjoying Thanksgiving dinners. The intense excitement of the homo sapien and rodent offsprings regarding what is most likely the exact same meal that they enjoy every Thanksgiving is the first warning that adults are in for a mildly turbulent ride.

The male head of the squirrel family beginning to relay the story of how his great-great-grandfather Jeremy saves the first Thanksgiving (but really does not) confirms the fears of those among us who meet the age requirement for a driver's license that this special is almost exclusively intended for a younger audience and incredibly glosses over the nature of the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.

The central story involves a Pilgrim boy and a Native American boy wandering into the woods together on the afternoon before the first Thanksgiving feast that the Pilgrims and Native Americans share. Sensing trouble, Jeremy goes after the lads and ends up as the primary hero.

Like "Halloween," "Thanksgiving" will delight anyone young enough to simply accept fairy tales (and friendly ghost stories) at face value.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, speaks for itself. (Sincere apologies for the best option being a video shot of images on a traditional-screen television.)

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Halloween" or "Thanksgiving" is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

'Aliyah:' Next Month in Tel Aviv

This regrettably delayed review of the DVD release of "Aliyah," which is the October 2013 selection from the beyond awesome Film-of- the-Month Club from the even more awesome Film Movement, hopefully will be the last occasion on which the good news that is this film series will be untimely. A review of November 2013 selection "Broken" will appear soon.

Anyone who is interested, and you all should be, in learning more about the Film-of-the-Month's opportunity to have what is almost certain to be a top-notch foreign and/or art film delivered to your door each month is asked to please link to last month's review of September 2013 selection "Three Worlds."

Like "Worlds," "Aliyah" is an exceptional French drama with mercifully large subtitles. "Broken" brings us across the English channel to England.

Reading Film Movement's inside front-cover essay in the "Aliyah" release that states why Film Movement chose that film for its series after watching the DVD evokes thoughts of being in the audience when a band's lead singer shouts "Hello ------; are you ready to rock?" during a concert. The cited soundtrack, story, acting, and themes make this Cannes entry the no-brainer choice that Film Movement identifies it to be.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of "Aliyah's" excellent trailer that is very careful about spoilers. The only alert is that it includes a few "no-no" words.

"Aliyah" centers around Paris resident Alex, who has EVERY quality that one can hope for in a bud or a beau who makes his living selling drugs but would fit in just as well as an office drone or Starbucks barista. Frankly, one can imagine a casual drug user increasing his or her buys if only for an excuse to visit with this guy.

Alex's dealing is very low-level when "Aliyah" begins, and constant demands by his brother Isaac for  money and help getting out of a bad relationship or other problems of his own making are taking their toll on Alex. Possible salvation comes during a family gathering when Alex learns of his cousin's plans to move to Tel Aviv, rather than Santa Fe, to open a restaurant. Alex sees the opportunity to become a partner in the venture as a chance to escape his illegal activity, his brother, and other troubles.

These elements are part of what make "Aliyah" so fascinating. The opportunity to own an appropriate business and escape problems that include his brother's demands, rather than any sense of the Jewish pride that motivates most moves to Israel, is what prompts Alex to want the change. It is also somewhat unusual to see a drug dealer being the most appealing and stable primary character in a film.

Not only would most people want to share a beer with Alex, they would invite him to stay in their home despite knowing his profession. This is one younger offender with a very good defense.

On a related note, seeing that Jews living in Paris share the positive and not-so positive stereotypical characteristics of American Jews is interesting. One character points this out clearly in essentially reminding Alex that living in Tel Aviv is an intensified version of attending a family gathering.

One obstacle to the venture is the need for Alex to raise his share of the investment in the restaurant; this need logically leads to increasing his dealing activity and the very tense risks associated with that choice. The audience truly feels his perfectly depicted pain when he suffers a setback regarding that effort.

The other hurdle involves completing the bureaucratic titular aliyah, which the Israeli government requires before allowing Alex to establish residency there. The tasks include learning Hebrew and proving that he is Jewish enough to live in that country. A particularly amusing scene involves Alex stating that his parents' surnames are Raphaelson and Katz to help prove his Jewish heritage.

Contemplating the move does not create a crisis of faith but does get Alex thinking of his religion and the extent to which he can be happy living in Tel Aviv.

Aside from the themes depicted above, "Aliyah" is an especially nice treat in which the few character-driven American dramas from the last several months have had serious flaws. An U.S. version of "Aliyah" would be awesome and require minimal script changes.

In the spirit only of late-night infomercials, our friends at Film Movement provide the standard bonus of a well-matched 15-minute short with the "Aliyah" DVD. In this case, the film is an Israeli production called "On the Road to Tel Aviv" but does not have Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, or any musical numbers (or even "Family Guy's" Brian and Stewie).

This "Road" film centers on a Arab woman boarding a mini-bus the day after a bus bombing causing anxiety among the small group of Israelis on the vehicle. Each actor plays his or her role very well, and any audience member with any degree of sensitivity feel horrible each time that he or she expects the bus to explode. This film truly makes you think and keeps you guessing up to the final seconds. 

The final bureaucratic analysis of "Aliyah" is that it is a great chance to discover an exceptional movie that also provides a look at some seldom-depicted Parisian subcultures. Readers are advised to score a copy but do not need to conceal it under a cushion or in a heating vent.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Aliyah" is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

' Billy Rose's Jumbo' BD: A Grand Day at La Cirque du Awesome

Billy Rose's Jumbo (BD)
The joint first and lasting impressions while watching Warner Archive's recent Blu-ray release of the 1962 Doris Day musical "Billy Rose's Jumbo" are that they do not make them like that anymore and that it is amazing that Blu-ray can make a metrocolor film from an era in which that technology was cutting edge look so sharp. The second first impression is that including the auteur's name in the title does not follow the same tendency of those films being not-so-good ala "Stephen King's ..." or "Tyler Perry's ...".

The  all-star leading cast of "Jumbo" consists of multi-talented Day as Kitty Wonder, the multi-talented daughter of circus owner Anthony "Pop" Wonder. The true show business legend Jimmy Durante plays Pop, and the back cover art on the Blu-ray set reports that he is in the cast of the 1935 original Broadway production of "Jumbo." Pop is one of the then-69 year-old Durante's final film roles.

Well-known funny lady Martha "The Big Mouth" Raye, who is best known to gen Xers as Benita Bizarre on "The Bugaloos" and Mel's mother on the sitcom "Alice," plays Durante's most loyal performer/fiancee of 14 years Lulu. She is also known for suing David Letterman over an off-color joke at her expense.

Pop's gambling addiction and an ongoing campaign by rival circus owner John Noble to either acquire the film's titular character, who is a widely talented performing elephant, or drive the roughly turn-of-the-century Wonder Circus out of business keep Kitty very busy regarding ensuring that the three-ring show goes on. Textbook definition character actor Dean Jagger, whose credits include the awesome storyteller in the very special "The Partridge Family" Christmas episode, plays the not-so-noble Noble.

The fact that true jack-of-all-trades and master-of-several Sam Rawlins, played by Stephen Boyd, arrives at a particularly tough time for the Wonder Circus seems to be too good to be true turns out to be the case. The audience learns half-way through the film that Sam has the daddy of all ulterior motives for helping the Wonders.

The award for most fun cameo goes to a pre "The Addams Family" John Astin as an eccentric bi-plane pilot.

Day et al do a great job with the Rodgers and Hart score; our Archive friends have located and restored the original Overture, and the toe-tapping starts with "The Circus on Parade." A traditional circus parade aptly accompanies this one.

It is also fun to discover that the classic "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," which is reprised several times, is from this show. The even-more catchy, and equally reprised, tune "Sawdust, Spangles, and Dreams" is equally memorable.

As Archive shares, beyond legendary showman Busby Berkeley stages the dazzling circus performances. These feature genuine circus performers. Of course, Jumbo steals the show.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Jumbo's" trailer (which the Blu-ray set includes) provides a good sense of the film's fun with only minor spoilers. It also demonstrates the sharp contrast between the standard definition version of the film and the spectacular Blu-ray enhancement.

The award for best special feature goes to an incredibly adorable Tom and Jerry cartoon "Jerry and Jumbo" in which the titular mouse teams up with a very cute baby elephant to give the titular cat a well-deserved difficult time. A 1933 Vitaphone musical short "Yours Sincerely" is also fun.

On a more general note regarding this release, "Jumbo" evokes strong memories of the circus museum in Sarasota, Florida and prompts a strong desire to return.

The grande finale of this review is that it is fun for kids of all ages, with the exception of surly adolescents who dislike everything, and is guaranteed to evoke at least a few smiles.

Anyone with questions or comments about "Jumbo" (or want to know how Letterman offended Raye) is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

'The Big Bus:' 'The Love Boat' Meets 'Airport'

The Big Bus (PMT)
Warner Archive's DVD release of the 1976 disaster film parody "The Big Bus" was one of the most anticipated titles in a while if only because watching it on cable movie channels every few years is a nice treat. This glee extends beyond the wonderfully silly story of the world's first nuclear-powered bus facing great peril on its maiden non-stop run from not Boston but New York to Denver, which takes it past every town in between, to the plethora of B-List celebrities in the cast.

The overall plot is that it will be "a miracle, a true blue spectacle, a miracle come true" (millenials know by now to Google this) if said bus makes it there unscathed.

Having Stockard Channing star contributes to the "Six Degrees of Separation" style fun of the cast element. For example, John Beck and Stuart Margolin of the recently reviewed James Garner Western series "Nichols" star in "Bus." "Bus" also stars Larry Hagman, who appears in the original "Dallas" series with Beck. Thus "Nichols" stars Garner only has one degree of separation from Hagman based on "Bus."

Channing plays Kitty Baxter, who designs the titular bus that is also dubbed Cyclops. Kitty's father is Professor  Baxter, played by Harold Gould who is best known for playing Martin Morgenstern on "Rhoda," heads the company that owns the bus. The obstacles that are overcome before Cyclops even pulls out include difficulty installing the fuel rods and having to find and train a new driver after corporate sabotage causes the intended driver to sustain the ultimate industrial accident.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, depicts the fuel rod scene; yes, that is "WKRP in Cincinnati's"  Howard "Dr. Johnny Fever" Hesseman in the background. It is equally true that that the fuelish among us can think of this segment as "Hot in Cincinnati."

The next scenes in which Kitty tracks down highly damaged bus driver Dan Torrance, played by veteran character actor Joseph Bologna, and recruits him to drive the bus is very reminiscent of the classic disaster film parody "Airplane," which is very closely based on the 1957 drama "Zero Hour." One difference is that not even "Bus" star Ned Beatty, who is very famously brutalized in "Deliverance," is called Shirley.

The sabotage relates to nefarious activity by Margolin's character under orders by the evil  Ironman, who has absolutely no relation to the Marvel superhero, played by Jose Ferrer. Ferrer is operating in concert with the oil industry, which wants to discredit every alternative to gas-powered vehicle engines.

The "The Love Boat" element is crystal clear the first time that the audience sees the luxurious '70s style bus interior, and the passengers board. There is even a scene at Cyclops' version of the captain's table.

The actors playing these characters include Richard Mulligan of "Soap" and "Empty Nest," Sally Kellerman and Rene Auberjonois whose credits include co-starring in the film versison of "M*A*S*H," Ruth Gordon who is the '70s version of today's version of Betty White, and Lynn Redgrave of "House Calls" and countless other U.S. and U.K. series and films.

"Boat" style story lines include Kellerman's and  Mulligan's characters being a bickering couple whose divorce will be final within hours, Auberjonois playing a priest whose faith is wavering, Redgrave playing a fashion designer who is transporting her new line, and another passenger taking a grand tour in response to learning that he has six weeks to live.

The disaster film spoof elements include escalating malfunctions and sabotage efforts threatening the safety of the passengers. This culminates in a genuine cliffhanger.

"Bus" does a good job with each element, and is a nice "unreal" treat on an evening in which escapism is badly needed. It is also a nice entry in the series of parody films from the era that extend beyond "Airplane" to include "Murder By Death" and "Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe."

Anyone who has questions or comments about "Bus" is welcome to email me; you can also connect through Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

'Chasing Ice' BD: A Breath-Taking Way to Present an Inconvenient Truth

Product Details
The indescribably incredible quality of the cinematography, which Blu-ray enhances just as incredibly, of the documentary "Chasing Ice" and the importance of the film's undeniable proof of the existence of climate change make it excruciating  to write anything negative about the movie.

Guilt regarding an inability to write a 100 percent positive review is part of the motive for providing this link to the non-profit Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), which is conducting the research around which "Chasing Ice" is centered.

The primary theme of "Chasing Ice" relates to environmental photographer James Balog and his team traveling to remote locations to install a large network of still cameras to each take 1,000s of photographs of glaciers over several separate six-month periods and return to retrieve those images at the end of the period. The purpose of that effort is to document the rate at which the glaciers are melting to support the campaign to convince people who are skeptical about climate change's existence that that is occurring.

The intensely sharp visuals of the glaciers, which an Oscar-nominated soundtrack accompanies, are arguably some of the best images ever captured. This same quality earned the film the "Excellence in Cinematography Award" at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

More specifically, the blue tint of the Alaska glaciers make anyone who has seen them want to book passage on the next cruise to our 49th state.

The images of the glaciers crashing into the sea in a process known as calving is equally captivating, and the contrast between the bright yellows and reds of the outerwear of the EIS team and the glaciers is visually stunning.

It is also interesting to learn of the EIS project's evolution and the innovations that it requires. Additionally, the audience truly feels the pain of the EIS team regarding a major setback near the beginning of the project.

The negative element of the film that is too pervasive to ignore relates to the inappropriately lavish praise that it heaps on Balog; the facts that back-cover art of the Blu-ray set refers to him as "acclaimed environmental photographer" and that the opening moments of "Chasing Ice" include several images of magazine covers of non-glacier photographs that Balog has taken reinforces this perception.

Balog deserves appropriate credit for thinking up the very ambitious large-scale time-lapse photography project and for making it a reality. Further, that effort is worthy of a separate documentary. However, the underlying documentation of that research deserves most of the spotlight that the segments that place the man behind the camera in front of the camera steals.

Including most of the footage that centers on Balog in the extra "Making Chasing Ice" that the plethora of special features in the Blu-ray set includes would have been more appropriate than placing it in the film itself. Additionally, many of Balog's comments create the impressions that he can single-handed bring skeptics over to the environmentalists' side and that he is the only researcher who has thought up and documented the connection between the rate at which glaciers melt and climate change.

The set also has an awesome booklet with pages and pages of crystal-clear still photos of the glaciers and the EIS team.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Chasing Ice" expertly demonstrates the contrasts that this review conveys.
The bottom line is that "Chasing Ice" is so beautifully filmed that letting it run silently during a party would enhance the mood of the event; the good narrative simply would have been better if Balog had not broken the cardinal rule in journalism of not having the reporter be the story.

Anyone with questions or CIVIL comments regarding "Chasing Ice" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

'Psycho III:' Girl from 'Mommie Dearest' Meets Boy with Mother of all Mommy Issues

Psycho III [Collector's Edition]

As last week's review of Shout Factory's Blu-ray release of  1983's "Psycho II" promises, this post discusses Shout Factory's Blu-ray release of 1986's "Psycho III." Both terrific sequels to 1960's classic "Psycho" benefit from Anthony Perkins returning as motel owner/mass murderer Norman Bates. Perkins' involvement in "Psycho III" expands to directing that film.

"Psycho III" nicely picks up where "Psycho II" leaves off; it is set one month after a significant event in Norman's life in the final minutes of that earlier film. He is still running the motel and arguably feeling more like myself then he did in "Psycho II."

Nearly simultaneous events that occur early in "Psycho III" get the party started. The first incident is that gritty sociopath drifter Duane Duke, played by "Lost's" Jeff Fahey, shows up at the Bates Motel looking for work.

A scene in which Duane confesses that he is not looking to stay for very long and Norman responds in a very creepy manner that "no one ever does" is almost as good as a later scene in which Norman repeats his famous line from the first film "we all go a little mad sometimes."

The hiring of Duane occurs the evening before Norman offers destitute naive former nun-in-training Maureen lodging FOC, which Norman enjoys pointing out stands for "free of charge."

Maureen's largely sheltered existence results in her being a novice in just about every sense and prompts her desire to abandon her old habits (of course, pun intended.) At the same time, her background influences her seeing Norman as a savior under a few meanings of that word.

Maureen's similarity to "Psycho's" Marion Crane motivates Norman's charitable act; the physical resemblance and the two characters having the same initials clearly take a toll on him. Duane innocently putting Maureen in the same room in which Marion really riles up Norman.

Diana Scarwid of "Mommie Dearest" plays Maureen; the experience of playing Christina Crawford serves her well in playing against Perkins' character, whose mother makes Joan Crawford seem like Carol Brady.

A more subtle element in "Psycho III" relates to the Bates Motel hosting a group of adults celebrating a high school homecoming at a time that Norman is experiencing a form of homecoming himself.

Topping things off, a pushy visiting reporter who is investigating Norman in "Psycho III" adds to his anxiety in the same manner as Marion's sister in "Psycho II." Seeing Vera Miles reprise that role in that film is one of many special elements of that movie.

Saying more about the plot of "Psycho III" would spoil the enjoyment the film, which makes a great Halloween weekend double feature with "Psycho II."

Regarding the overall style of "Psycho III," it has a wonderfully '80s vibe between the music and the wannabe style of the Madonna-loving background female characters.

Additionally, Perkins' direction maintains the suspenseful tone of "Psycho" and gets good performances out of his lead actors while adding timely elements associated with '80s slasher films. These include a close-up that cinephiles had waited 26 years to see, a couple of particularly gruesome killings, and much more nudity than the Hitchcock classic.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Psycho III" conveys the aforementioned style without including significant spoilers.
Full candor requires confessing that my mother is very upset that I did not watch the special features on the Blu-ray release. These include the theatrical trailer and interviews with a makeup artist and two supporting actors.

The final analysis regarding this "Psycho" is that it is a good chapter in the lore of that film series and is well worth watching.

Anyone with any questions or comments regarding the "Psycho" film series is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, October 18, 2013

'The Bowery Boys' V3: A Dozen Films; A Million Laughs

The Bowery Boys: Volume Three
The 12 films in Warner Archive's 4-Disc DVD release of "The Bowery Boys Volume Three" includes some of the best of the 48 films in that series. This release comes roughly six months after the 4-Disc 12-Film DVD release of "The Bowery Boys Volume Two," which Unreal TV reviewed in April 2013.

As the cover art on the back of "Volume Three" indicates, even dim-witted Boy Horace Debussy 'Satch' Jones (played by Huntz Hall) can deduce that Volume Four will be a 4-Disc 12-film release and will likely hit store shelves and the cyber-marketplace in early 2014.

The Boys are rough and uneducated but very loyal streetwise "toughs" who start out in the '30s as the Dead End Kids before becoming The Bowery Boys in 1946. "In the Money," which was the Boys' final film, came out in 1958.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of a 1999 TCM advertisement for a "Boys" film festival conveys the great spirit of these films that are tailor-made for the longer nights and cooler weather that are settling in across most of the country.
As the back cover art for the "Volume Three"  DVD set also shares, two films in this collection are noteworthy for being the last one for featured players. Bernard Gorcey, who played the owner of the soda fountain where the boys hung out, passed away soon after filming "Dig That Uranium."

This passing led to the action shifting from "Louie's Sweet Shoppe" to "Clancy's Cafe." Like Louie, Mike Clancy was a tough-talking father-figure to the Boys but was more hard-nosed than his predecessor.

Bernard's death also contributed to his son Leo Gorcey leaving the series after filming "Crashing Las Vegas."

Most folks with even limited familiarity with the Boys remember Leo as lead Boy Terence Aloysius 'Slip' Mahoney. Said Boy's nickname relates to his (sometimes continuous) malapropisms. His younger brother David, who is simply called "Chuck" in the Boys' film stays on for the demise of what Slip may have referred to as a family gorcey business.

A typical Boys film involves either a get-rich-quick scheme gone awry or an effort to get a chum out of tough spot. In either case, the project resulted in hilarity.

The 1957 film "Up in Smoke, " which is one of the few Boys films that feature Stanley Clements as Stanislaus 'Duke' Covelskie in the post-Leo period, in "Volume Three" combines the classic elements described above. Satch predictably being conned out of money that the Boys had raised for a friend with polio leads to a deal with the devil to recover the funds.

The devilish mishaps that hinder Satch's efforts to obtain the desired benefits of his bargain and the general mayhem that ensues makes for good comic entertainment.

"Jinx Money" from 1948 is a good hybrid of the purely comedic "Boys" movies and the darker ones that are more reminiscent of their "Kids" in the pool hall days. Satch finding $50,000 with a connection to local gangsters leads to a series of hi-jinks and some more serious murders. Much of the humor relates to the concealment and distribution of the windfall.

The two "Angels" titles in "Volume Three" are even closer to the "Kids" roots. "Angels' Alley" from 1948 has Slip battling his bad apple cousin who is recently released from jail and seems to be on a course that leads to another unfortunate incarceration. A parallel storyline has Slip seeking to protect younger neighborhood kids who are involved in the same car-theft ring as said cousin. The great noir dialog includes a practical joke loving gangster telling a crusading priest that he talks pretty forward for a guy who wears his collar backward.

"Angels in Disguise" is even closer to pure noir. The injuring of a cop who is a friend to the Boys leads to Slip going rogue to bust a gang of payroll thieves. The violence is ramped up pretty strong in this one.

Slip transforming the Boys and Louie into gangsters is great comedy, and seeing the small-framed, baby-faced, fair-haired Whitey (played by Billy Benedict) trying to pull off a tough guy act is adorable. Whitey also enjoys the spotlight while engaging in self-promotion later in the film.

Unintentional humor comes in the form of a nurse cheerfully aiding and abetting the injured cop smoking away like a chimney in his hospital bed. Another scene in which Slip is vigorously moving his hands around in his trouser pockets while Satch suggests that they play pocket pool is an example of Leo's well-known subversive nature. 

"Disguise" additionally includes one of the more clever plot points in the "Boys" series in the form of how someone with inside information communicates with the gang. This form of "comic relief" helps make "Disguise" one of the best in the 48-film series.

The final woid regards the Bois is that watching these no-brainers is a no-brainer when youse feels like some good classic escapist fun.

Anyone with questions regarding the "Boys," the "Kids," or even "Da Bears (of the Yogi and BooBoo) variety is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

'Kavanagh Q.C.:' 'The End of Law (and an Awesome British Courtroomn Drama Series)'

Kavanagh Q.C. Complete Collection DVD
Although the aptly titled series finale episode "The End of the Law" of the exceptional British courtroom drama "Kavanagh Q.C." is "super-sized," this review is not. The "super-size" regarding Unreal TV's analysis of "Kavanagh" relates to this post being the final installment of a three-part review of the complete series set of this perfect show.

As part two of this series (no pun intended) of reviews requests, readers are asked to please refer to part one of these reviews for background information on "Kavanagh." One spoiler is that that review describes why the complete series set is at the top of the list of best ever sets of that type.

Like the title of many "Kavanagh" episodes, "The End of the Law" has multiple meanings. The most obvious relates to it being the final episode of this program; it also refers to the noble objectives that practicing law is supposed to achieve, to the criminal appeal around which the episode revolves, and to the probability that titular character James Kavanagh is going to move on from practicing law to being a judge.

The potential judgeship is one more progression in a long and distinguished legal career that has led to Kavanagh being the head of chambers in the law offices from which he operates. Rather than being equivalent to senior partner in an American firm, a head of chambers is more of a Yoda who advises and otherwise guides his or her fellow legal practitioners.

Also ala a typically awesome "Kavanagh" episode, "Law" centers around a case in which the evidence is purely circumstantial. In this instance, a man who is occupying a hotel room in which a brutally murdered woman (who may be a prostitute) is discovered in his absence is either a poor dupe whose personal circumstances make him look guilty or a killer who those circumstances led him to take a life.

Said circumstances include said man making a large cash withdrawal and watching adult-oriented pay-per-view fare on the hotel's television system on the evening of said murder.

Kavanagh granting the attorney who is representing said man requested assistance with a criminal appeal following said man's conviction for the murder coincides with a government official approaching Kavanagh regarding his interest in a judgeship. As is usually the case when a government official pops up in a "Kavanagh" episode, the hands of this representative of her Majesty's government are not so clean.

A series of events lead to Kavanagh taking an active role in presenting the appeal; this causes him to face off against buffonish Jeremy Aldermarten, who practices from the same legal chambers as Kavanagh.

Having Albermarten salivate at the prospect of assuming the role of head of chambers if Kavanagh becomes a judge is a nice homage to an earlier story line in which Aldermarten is his own worst enemy regarding his application to join a prestigious social club.

The outcome of the legal case is somewhat predictable and partially satisfying. The truly awesome aspect of it is that it both reflects the themes of the pilot episode, which part one of this review discusses in depth, and expresses how a long career practicing law has affected Kavanagh.

Additionally, "Law" is like many great series finales in that it leaves the door open for more stories. One sad aspect of the passing of "Kavanagh" star John Thaw soon after that program ended its six series (my people call them seasons) run is that it precluded those tales from coming.

The verdict in this final appeal to check out this terrific show affirms the verdicts in the prior two reviews of "Kavanagh." Thaw is perfectly cast in the role; the stories are great drama that very rarely veer into the realm of melodrama, and every additional (mostly) understated element of the show makes it far superior to any courtroom drama on this side of the pond.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Kavanagh" is STRONGLY encouraged to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy. This court of DVD sets is now adjourned until tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

'The Mentalist' S1 BD: Simon Baker's Patrick Jane Will Psych You Out in the End

 The Mentalist: The Complete First Season (BD)
The most striking thing about Warner  Archive's Blu-ray release of the 2008-2009 first season of the CBS procedural "The Mentalist" is that that series excellently exploits the same high-definition technology that makes a typical local news team look like a parent-child pairing.

The settings of most "Mentalist" episodes are gorgeous natural areas in bright daylight or well-lit lavish mansions. Also, the wavy dirty blonde hair and dreamy blue eyes of hunky "Mentalist" star Simon Baker are as tailor-made for Blu-ray as the attractive but not-so-bright youngsters that occupy anchor chairs across the country.

As an aside, as the recent direct-to-video musical extravaganza film "Scooby-Doo Stage Fright" in Blu-ray illustrates (pun intended), this format is also especially well-suited to animation.

Relaying the concept of "Mentalist" helps understand one obvious comparison (and a few that are not so obvious) between this show and other television series.

The underlying theme is that Baker's Patrick Jane is a mentalist, which can be thought of in some circles as having Spencer's gifts, with a history of using his unusual ability to observe and analyze the world around him and use various techniques to manipulate people to earn a large income as a fake spiritualist who claims to have the ability to communicate with the spirits of dead people.

An easy way to do this at home for more fun and less profit is to fiddle with a napkin ring midway through a dinner party; everyone will follow suit within 10 minutes. Creating a run on animal crackers on a Jet Blue flight requires more skill.

Jane's addiction to fame takes him down a darker path by leading to taunting a serial killer known as Red John; Red John kills Jane's wife and daughter in response. This prompts Jane to join the California Bureau of Investigation as a consultant for the altruistic purpose of catching killers as atonement for his sins and the less-than-altruistic goal of using CBI resources to help him track down Red John.

The similarity of this premise to the much-lighter USA network procedural "Psych," which stars James Roday as fake psychic Shawn Spencer, has created an informal rivalry between the programs that  is stronger on the side of the older series "Psych."

This playful competition is expressed in terms of dialog that digs at the other series; Spencer regularly refers to "the other show," and Jane likely states that there are no real psychics 10 times in the 22 first-season episodes. A special feature titled "Mentalist vs. Psychic" in the "Mentalist" Blu-ray set also helps distinguish the two series.

Spencer's gifts are virtually the same as Jane's in that he has a highly honed talent for observing and analyzing even small details. Also somewhat similar to Jane,  Spencer's career as a police consultant begins when his altruistic habit of tipping off the Santa Barbara police puts him in a tight spot that requires maintaining the deception that being psychic is behind his extraordinary crime-solving abilities despite his knowing that some of his police colleagues know that he's not telling the truth.

Both "Psych" and "Mentalist" ultimately can trace their roots to the great-granddaddy of all modern detectives, the Baker Street dwelling original Sherlock Holmes. Like Spencer and Jane, Holmes makes brilliant deductions based on observations and often does not play well with others.

The Holmes-Jane connection creates hope for a (hopefully excellent) cross-over episode between "Mentalist" and fellow CBS procedural "Elementary."

"Mentalist" also strongly resembles the highly entertaining 1975-1976 murder-mystery series "Ellery Queen," based on the novels by the author of the same nom-de-plume. Jim Hutton, who is the father of actor Timothy Hutton, plays the titular character and even helps the audience solve the case in a short segment near the end of each episodes.

Queen's short speech, which breaks down the fourth-wall between the performers and the audience, highlights the clues from the episode and kindly and gently asks the audience if they figured out whodunit.

The common thread of "Mentalist," "Psych," "Elementary," and "Queen" is that all three detectives who are such a delight to watch (but who very rarely shoot) use their keen observational skills to save the day.

Examples of some clues being very obvious (but still entertaining) in "Mentalist" include carrions circling over a spot leading Jane's team to a dead body, a copy of the novel "Moby Dick" indicating subterfuge, and a picture on a wall providing the combination to a lock. It is equally obvious why Jane grabs the wrist of a no-nonsense law-enforcement officer.

The final connection between "Mentalist" and another classic show relates much more to Baker's awesomeness than the show's premise. Seeing CBI team leader Teresa Lisbon, played by "Prison Break's" Robin Tunney, try to keep from laughing when Baker ramps his wackiness into high gear is reminiscent of watching Pam Dawber's Mindy of "Mork and Mindy" try to keep a straight face when Robin Williams goes off on a riff. Baker's scarecrow imitation is not to be missed.

Watching the "Mentalist" pilot episode illustrates how CBS executives deduced that that show was worth giving a shot.

Having the first case revolve around an apparent Red John killing and using flashbacks in that episode tell Jane's origin story solves what can be considered the "Firefly" dilemma regarding having a pilot (of course, pun intended) tell an adequately compelling tale to attract a large audience while providing enough background to let said viewers understand what is going on.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of this episode does a great job conveying the spirit (even non-mentalists know that this pun is intended) of "Mentalist" in 60 seconds or less. Seeing the quirky investigator mentioned below requires refraining from blinking.

The only disappointment regarding the pilot is that it seems to be the only time that the aforementioned adorkably quirky investigator, whose name is so quickly dropped that it is soon forgotten, appears before being inexplicably "Chucked" out (very subtle pun intended). This is akin to the regrettable decision of the producers of CBS procedural "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" to transform highly entertaining lab rat Greg Sanders into a boring field investigator early in the series.

Similarly, moderate tension between the free-wheeling Jane and the more uptight Wayne Rigsby in the pilot leads to expecting a Spencer-Carlton "Lassie" Lassiter relationship; however, Jane and Rigsby inexplicably are good pals in the next episode and the rest of the series. (A gift of serious bling in one episode does not hurt.)

Much of the appeal of "Mentalist" that overcomes these questionable omissions relates to Lisbon and her agents essentially allowing Jane to lead the team. They literally jump at his commands, and watching them regularly release suspects based merely on his offhandedly instructing them to set said person of interest free is amusing.

A mid-season "Red John" episode is one of the best in that it has wonderfully creepy moments, offers a few truly surprising twists and involves a classic "locked door" murder. It is also nice to see both how co-workers at every level of the CBI hierarchy responds to the roguish Jane truly going rogue and how Jane's team reacts to losing their most effective investigative tool next to Jane himself.

Anyone with moderate deductive abilities can predict both that the season finale revisits the Red John storyline and EXACTLY why someone who knows said maniac does not meet expectations. The better news is that variations on the prior Red John themes, addition to the lore, and Jane showing a moderated dedication combine to make this episode a strong end to a good first season.

"Mentalist" is worth adding to your Blu-ray or DVD collection; Baker does an awesome job and is easy on the eyes; there is good humor, which is often at the expense of the local police forces with which the CBI team works; and the circumstances of each killing and the reveals that lead to solving those cases are worth watching. Additionally, watching the CBI team at work and play is entertaining.

These observations regarding "Mentalist" lead to further concluding that the producers, directors, writers, and actors put on a good show that makes those of us who figure whodunit feel smart and allow the rest of us to marvel at the wonder of it all.

Anyone with questions or comments about "Mentalist" or any of the other mentioned shows is welcome to email me. Finding me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy does not require the powers of a Jane, Spencer, Holmes, or even Mork.