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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

'The Day They Robbed the Bank of England' DVD: Cracking Crime Caper Cinema

The Day They Robbed The Bank Of England (1960)
The 1960 caper film "The Day They Robbed the Bank of England," which Warner Archive recently released on DVD, belongs to the class of Archive titles that wonderfully combine two genres. In this case, "Day" is a caper film set in 1901 that involves a plot by an IRA cabal to rob the titular financial institution to help finance the campaign for independence from the titular nation.

The following spoiler-free clip, courtesy of Archive and YouTube, shows both the British and Irishness of the film and the wonderful blend of humor, romance, drama, and action that it offers.

The IRA operatives in London recruit Irish American Charles Norgate  to return to the UK to pull off the titular heist; his motivation includes his relationship with cabal member Iris Muldoon, played by Elizabeth Sellars.

The early stages of the job include Norgate first arranging a chance encounter with British military officer Captain Monty Fitch, who commands the soldiers who guard the bank. Archive shares the role of Fitch is the first major one for Peter O'Toole.

Norgate further utilizes his charm and ingenuity well in obtaining the information required for depriving the newly crowned King Edward of a significant portion of his wealth. Watching Norgate repeatedly dupe an exceptionally trusting Fitch in this regard is quite amusing.

As is true regarding every classic heist film, a bit of bad luck for the perpetrators during the execution of their theft creates fairly intense drama. A development in English-Irish political relations also has a potential impact on the increasingly tense effort to make a large unauthorized withdrawal.

The aforementioned combination of a pure motive for the heist, romantic entanglements, a charming rogue, and clever plotting both makes "Day" far from a dog and suggests that it influences caper films that follow it. It is even more sure that watching it will make your day.

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

Sunday, December 28, 2014

'Revolt in the Big House' DVD: Male Version of 'Caged'

Revolt In The Big House (1958)
The Warner Archive DVD release of the 1958 jailhouse drama "Revolt in the Big House" rocks for reasons that include it being part of a series of Archive releases that feature Little Rascal turned '70s TV private eye Robert Blake. The wonderful noir vibe in this black-and-white film begins with a long anticipated capture of crime boss Lou Gannon.

The following spoiler-laden clip, courtesy of YouTube and Archive, of scenes from "Revolt" provide a good sense of the intensity and overall vibe of the film.

The speech that a warden gives near the beginning of the film about the importance of being good and the consequences of being a troublemaker introduce the element of the Unreal TV reviewed 1950 babes behind bars camp classic "Caged" to which "Revolt" pays homage. It further has elements of "The Big House," which is another Archive prison-based film on which Unreal TV has shared thoughts.

One spoiler is that none of the depictions of the brutal life in a men's prison involve using axle grease and a pool table to simultaneously physically and psychologically injure another.

"Revolt" further has a malicious and corrupt guard; however, that character cannot compare to the over-the-top brutal performance that Hope Emerson brings to her role as "Caged" matron Evelyn Harper.

Gannon soon find himself putting his previously acquired skills to use both in an apt prison job and allying himself with the inmates who run the particular asylum in which he finds himself staying. He also acquaints himself with teen Rudy Hernandez, who is Blake's character.

The success that Hernandez has keeping a fairly low profile and heeding the advice to stay out of trouble ends when Gannon forces him to actively participate in a planned prison break that plays a role regarding the titular uprising. This cynical message regarding the futility of trying to quietly do your time significantly contributes to the impact of "Revolt."

Much of the suspense and drama related to all stems from the smuggling in of the necessary "tools" for the escape. One scene in particular involves near certainty that the guards will discover the plot.

The clear signs that "Revolt" is a "post Code" release include both an ultimate ending that delivers justice and a strong message regarding the price for actively defying authority.

The final sentence (in both senses of the word) regarding this film is that it nicely combines aspects of a prison drama with more generic noir elements.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Revolt" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

'Running on Empty' DVD: Radical '80s Film of Fugitive Student Activists Raising Kids on the Lam

Product Details
The Warner Archive Widescreen DVD re-release of the 1988 Sidney Lumet drama "Running on Empty" is the most anticipated release of that type since Archive re-released the Unreal TV reviewed 1983 Robin Williams dramedy "The World According to Garp." 

The good news is that "Empty" passes the test of time as well as "Garp." Bad news is that even thinking of "Empty" gets the Jackson Browne song of the same name deeply lodged in your brain.

Other bad news is that watching "Empty" evokes sad memories of original young Indiana Jones River Phoenix in this Oscar-nominated role; his excellent work as Danny Pope in "Empty" is a transitional one between teen roles in movies such as "Stand By Me" and "A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon" and more mature parts, such as his uber-awesome job as Mike Waters in "My Own Private Idaho."

The following '80sliciuous clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Empty" offers a nice summary of the film and the dreaminess of Phoenix. The only flaw regarding this promo. is that it inaccurately makes "Empty" look like a TV Movie of the Week.

Danny is the roughly 17 year-old son of Annie and Arthur Pope, whom Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch respectively portray. Annie and Arthur are Vietnam Era student radicals whose not-so-civil disobedience causing a death has kept them on the run for roughly 20 years. This aspect of the film provides an interesting look at the covert support network that the people from the past of the Popes provide those fugitives.

Watching the Popes create new identities and overcome obstacles, such as registering Danny and his younger brother Harry in new schools despite not having records from former ones, is also interesting. The fact that these activities and other aspects of life on the run do not phase any member of the Pope family further enhances the power of the film.In this sense, they are the Addamses or the Munsters of their communities. What is odd to us is simply Tuesday to them.

Like the titular fugitive of the television series and feature film of that name, the Pope family moves into a new city and stays there until receiving indications that the feds are moving in. This prompts following the aforementioned well-honed drill regarding changing their appearances and names.

The game-changers that occur when the Popes move to the fictional suburban community of Waterford, New Jersey are that classical pianist prodigy Danny becomes the protege of high school music teacher Mr. Phillips and the boyfriend of Phillips' daughter Lorna. Seeing recent "Raising Hope" star Martha Plimpton as Lorna is a genuine hoot.

This chance of a normal life (and a related realistic shot at a scholarship to study music at Juilliard) prompt Danny to engage in reverse rebellion regarding wanting to reject the values of his parents and lead a traditional life. On a related note, Danny has a uber-symbolic coming out of the closet scene that (despite any hopes by gay admirers) does not involve any element of sexuality.

Just as symbolically, Annie offers Danny much stronger support than Arthur regarding the desire of their son to lead the life that he wants despite the costs that extend beyond rejecting the values of his parents. Danny aching to "come out" in the sense of enrolling in college and enter the spotlight as a concert pianist has the related prices of enhancing the risk of capture that his parents face and limiting future visits (if any) to actual or figurative quick meetings at highway rest areas.

In other words, the attitude of Arthur is that Danny is on other run, cannot go out in the sun, and his effort to do so is done.

In addition to the spot-on direction of drama film legend Sidney Lumet, "Empty" is "must-see" because of the performance of Phoenix. This thespian demonstrates perfect instincts regarding the emotions for which each scene calls and shows a range that runs from goofy high school boy to angst-ridden angry young man.

The fact that a minor scene is one of Phoenix's best further demonstrates his talent. He is masquerading as a pizza boy and shows wonderful youthful charm that is perfect for that guise when he is asked if he will need to pay for a non-requested pizza and responds that he will not have to pay for it but will need to eat it.

The realism regarding student radicals facing the challenge of being on the run for more than a decade after their offenses and the related believability of both the characters and their portrayors in "Empty" are additional elements that make this film so special. It also makes one hope for a sequel so long as they honor the late Phoenix by not casting anyone else as Danny.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Empty" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, December 26, 2014

'Forbidden Hollywood' V8: Sinsational Amorality Tales

Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume 8
The wonderfully decadent fun in the four pre-Code films that comprise the Warner Archive DVD set "Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8" revolve around deliciously naughty characters who either got coal in their Christmas stockings or ended up having Krampus the anti-Claus stuff them in a sack and throw them in a river.

The Unreal TV review of "Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 7" provides a primer on the concept of the Hays Code and the story elements that exist in films before the Code standards becomes the buzzkill of the motion picture industry.

V8 starts with the most witty of the lot; "Blonde Crazy" from 1931 starring the always excellent James Cagney and Joan Blondell has enough double entendres, suggestive dialogue, and sly glances for an entire season of the '70s sitcom "Three's Company." An example of the racy (and witty) tone in the film is Cagney's smooth operator Bert Harris telling Blondell's titular blonde Anne Roberts that she will not have to spend her days working if she sticks with him and her responding by asking whether she will need to work nights.

This film gets underway with Bert dragging Anne on a con-funded cross-country trip to get revenge on grifters who outgrifted him. This results in a wonderful scheme and twists that do not fully support either the notion that crime never pays nor the Code standard that every criminal must end up in jail or dead.

Fellow 1931 film "Strangers May Kiss" stars Hollywood royalty Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery as sweeties Lisbeth and Steve. The salacious rub this time is that Lisbeth leaves the very kind and nice marriage-oriented Steve to live in sin with the more daring and free-spirited Alan. Neil Hamilton, who also stars in the soon-to-be-reviewed silent film "Why Be Good," goes onto play Commissioner Gordon in the '66 "Batman" series.

The pre-Code elements of this one include a rather tragic suicide related to a particularly cynical pre-Code accepted plot line.

Poor Lisbeth learns on choosing Alan over Steve that cads cannot be trusted and suffers the consequences. This not so melo melodrama ends with a highly symbolic walk up the aisle.

"Hi, Nellie" moves things to 1934 and wonderfully combines the genres of  a big-city newspaper comedy and light noir; the title refers to the pen-name of the poor sucker who suffers the punishment of being stuck with writing the lovelorn advice column of the rag around which "Nellie" revolves. In this case, managing editor "Brad" Bradshaw gets that job after not following the pack in believing that a prominent citizen is guilty  of running off with the money that causes a bank failure.

Regular Oscar nominee for his dramatic roles (and Best Actor winner for "The Last Angry Man") Paul Muni does a great job portraying Brad as a highly skilled and almost equally frustrated newspaperman who does not suffer fools gladly. Very prolific film and television actress Glenda Farrell does just as well as plucky girl reporter Gerry whose previous sins make her the prior Nellie, and who gets sprung when Brad ends up with the job.

Although the underlying criminal plot regarding the theft of the bank funds is not much more clever than a Scooby-Doo plot, the interactions among the reporters and others at the paper is very entertaining. Additionally, the on-screen chemistry of Muni and Farrell does not approach that of Tracy and Hepburn but is at least as good as that of fellow newspaper pros Cain and Hatcher.

One of the best scenes in "Nellie" has Gerry forcing Brad to pose as her secretary; a similar scene shows that this gal is not afraid to fight fire (or door slams) with the same.

V8 winds up with the aptly titled 1934 Edward G. Robinson film "Dark Hazard." This one has Robinson playing compulsive gambler/tough guy Jim Turner, whose enormous chip in his shoulder and addiction seriously threatens his relationship with the very loving Marge Mayhew.

"Hazard" comes the closest to the four in V8 to being a morality tale; Turner greatly suffers regarding his addiction and experiences a couple of Hollywood miracles that are reminiscent of post-Code Hollywood.

Aside from being good or very good, these films provide a nice reminder of the days when hangups do not interfere with making a really fun film. This is especially true regarding "Blonde," which opens with a scene in which two highly probable prostitutes jadedly banter about catching the eye of the hotel detective in a lobby. Sixty years later, Hollywood glamorizes this by having the hooker wind up with the American Gigolo (dashing naval officer) of her dreams.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding V8 is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

'The Picture of Dorian Gray' DVD: Wonderfully Wilde Victorian Era Morality Tale

Picture of Dorian Gray, The (1945) (BD)
The exceptional Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the 1945 classic drama "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (i.e., every picture is worth a 1,000 months) based on the Oscar Wilde novel of the same name is perfect for a Christmas Day review. This beautifully filmed and well-acted Victorian-era fable looks wonderful in BD and presents strong related messages regarding the wages of sin and the consequences of succumbing to bad influences and basic instincts. In other words, virtue trumps vice.

The following YouTube clip of the original theatrical trailer for "Gray" clearly shows that they do not make those like they used to either. The footage highlights the Oscar-winning use of black-and-white, and the voice-over narration arguably is the best EVER for this type of promo.

The titular portrait subject is a 20-something London gentleman who is a model (of course, pun intended) of propriety when he sits for the titular artwork. A chance encounter with the less reputable Lord Henry Wotton while arriving at the studio of the artist of the work sets Gray down a very dark path. George Sanders of too many classic films to try to mention does his usual wonderful job as Wotton.

A philosophical discussion with Wotton leads to Gray making the same oft-committed mistake of Major Nelson in the '60s sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie" regarding an off-the-cuff wish. In this case, Gray succeeds in maintaining his youthful appearance at the expense of his portrait bearing the marks of his youthful (and not so boyish) indiscretions.

This scene and a related later one include an incredible splash of color that alone scream out for purchasing this movie in BD.

The proverbially lethal combination of the bad influence of Wotton and a seeming "get out of jail free" card prompts Gray to engage in a couple of decades of despicable behavior. An early victim is low-rent singer Sibyl Vane, wonderfully played by Angela Lansbury, who pays a couple of high prices for offering Gray what he requests.

Things get exceptionally dark and violent as Gray continues his malicious streak and increasingly confuses his friends as his appearance remains constant as the years pass.The depiction of this escalation is a large part of what makes "Gray" both such a great and relatively deep (but highly accessible) film.

America's sweetheart Donna Reed of her eponymous sitcom and BEST EVER Christmas classic "Its A Wonderful Life," also does well as the adult daughter of the creator of the portrait. The daughter of a painter man becomes infatuated with Gray when he visits her home during her childhood and they become romantically involved roughly 20 years later.

This relationship also plays a significant role in the highly dramatic classic ending scene in "Gray."

Having Angela Lansbury and historian Steve Haberman provide commentary for "Gray" presents great temptation to break the principle of not listening to these generally merely distracting remarks during the film.

The Oscar-winning short "Stairway to Light" about 19th century mental health pioneer Phillipe Penel is just as fascinating as the feature film; the also Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry cartoon "Quiet Please" is a wonderful reminder of this type of animation in the "good ole days" before buzzkills censor sequences such as a mouse shooting multiple bullets at a cat.

The moral to all this is that "Gray" is a personal long-time favorite that is just as entertaining and fascinating on the twentieth viewing as it is on the first. Every picture tells a story worth telling, don't it?

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Gray" is strongly encouraged to either email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'The Man With Two Brains' DVD: Steve Martin As Neurosurgeon Who is No Rocket Scientist

Man With Two Brains, The
Warner Archive shows its wild and crazy side regarding a glorious Widescreen DVD re-release of the hilarious 1983 Steve Martin film "The Man With Two Brains." This film is part of a strong run of Martin comedies from this era that include "Little Shop of Horrors," "All of Me," and "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid." Archive has also released the uber-awesome Martin/Bernadette Peters Depression-era musical "Pennies From Heaven;" that one is slated for an Unreal TV review in 2015.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of one of several "must-see" scenes from "Brains" awesomely conveys each style of the humor that supports repeated viewings.

"Brains" wonderfully showcases the terrifically zany comedy of writer/actor Martin and writer/director Carl Reiner. The terrifically old-school concept is that Martin plays renowned (and off-the-scales egotistical) neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr. The claim to fame of Michael is his innovative technique of unscrewing the top of the head to access the brain for a surgical procedure.

On a more personal level, Michael is mourning the death of his wife to a hilariously obsessive level. This includes having a custom-made dashboard figurine of said deceased spouse in his car.

Michael's obsessions collide when he strikes femme fatale Dolores Benedict, hilariously played by Kathleeen Turner during her "Romancing the Stone" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" era, while driving past the home of Benedict. This incident leads to one of the funniest scenes in "Brains" in which Michael gives a small girl very complex instructions.

Martin, who incorporates a signature bit into the scene, next performs emergency brain surgery on Benedict. This results in a whirlwind hospital-based romance and very fast marriage. Anyone who has seen the film will laugh on being reminded of the line "its pronounced 'azaleas'" in relation to the painfully funny scene in which Michael brings his new wife home from the hospital.

A series of equally amusing circumstances result in Michael and his shrewish spouse traveling to Vienna for a medical conference/honeymoon. Michael soon connecting with colleague Dr. Necissiter, whom highly prolific character actor David Warner expertly portrays, introduces Michael to the titular second brain, which quickly becomes the love of Michael's life.

Both the TARDIS-like aspect of Neceissiter's condominium/mad scientist laboratory and humor related to the harsh realities of condominium life are other highlights of "Brains."

Martin and Reiner take things even further regarding a fall-on-the-floor funny subplot that involves a talks show host/game show producer who is an epically good sport. 

The comically bizarre nature of all these elements allow both Martin and Reiner to shine in much the way that the contemporary sitcom "Mork and Mindy" offers Martin friend Robin Williams a format in which to engage in the manic stream-of-consciousness improvisation that he does so well.

This overall relates to the broad characters, acrobatic physical comedy, a guy in a gorilla suit, and overall absurd humor that all seem that they would be very at home either in the "Show of Shows" series or "The Dick Van Dyke Show" for which Mel Brooks collaborator Reiner is so well known.

Anyone with questions or comments about "Brains" is strongly encouraged to either email or connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy. You are also welcome to attempt telepathic communication.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

'Big Gay Love' DVD: Buffy's Nicholas Brendon in Homo-neurotic Tale

Product Details
Seeing Nicholas Brendon play handsome and charming gay man with a Jane Austen name Andrew Darcy in the homocom "Big Gay Love," which LGBT film leader tla releasing has put out on DVD, is a real treat for men who drooled over Brendon's Xander Harris during his "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" days. This portrayal is particularly nice because it is an exception to the annoyingly broad stereotypes associated with the rest of the cast.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of a promo. for "Love" introduces the primary actors and provides a somewhat in-depth look at the film. 

The central character Bob, played by "Love" co-producer Jonathan Lisecki, is an overweight party planner who puts on a big gay front regarding the internal angst he is experiencing regarding not finding Mr. Right. Going beyond being self-deprecating to being self-defecating, Bob convincing himself that carrying several extra pounds and not being particularly attractive precludes anyone from loving him contributes to that belief being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The aforementioned aspect of being one's own worst enemy evokes thoughts of the uber-awesome Unreal TV reviewed documentary 2013 "Unhung Hero" starring adorable and charming comedian/actor Patrick Moote, who kindly granted this site an interview.

"Hero" centers around the insecurity of Moote regarding what seems to be a "fantastic four" being inadequate to satisfy women and includes journalist Dan Savage recounting a relationship with a not particularly "blessed" man failing only because said boyfriend would not stop obsessing about his own "small wonder." As a further aside, the thoughts of Moote and Savage's beau come during a period in which many people feel that eight is enough to fill our lives with love.

The stereotypes in "Love" continue with Bob's frienemies Aidan and Chase being adequately fabulous men with nice features, chiseled bodies, and high sex drives. Bob's mother is an accepting flamboyant eccentric who is partially lost in the '70s. Bobby's world also includes hunky Tag, who is engaged to Bob's best gal pal at the start of the film but finds his true sexuality becoming increasingly less repressed as the film progresses.

An early scene has a faux macho gay boy and other "hotties" cruelly rejecting friendly overtures by Bob at a party only to have him meet restauranteur Andrew (a.k.a. Andy) in the alley behind that venue, which Andy owns and operates. Unlike other types of gay-oriented films, this encounter does not lead to a more intimate one that involves Andy pressing Bob up against the dumpster.

Andy immediately shows the warmth and wonderfully wry wit as Andy that Xander possesses, and he invites Bob to get a sandwich at a food truck that Andy frequently patronizes. Seeing Andy beg the truck owner to stay open long enough to make them sandwiches further showcases the charm of that character/Brendon.

This date also involves the first of many rounds of neurotic angst by Bob. Andy asking the truck owner for sandwiches for him and his "friend" causes Bob to obsess over Andy not wanting to date. Andy reassuring Bob that he wants that friendship to include "benefits" both further showcases the aforementioned charm and is one of many instances in which the former shows the latter awesome tolerance.

Other neurotic bumps in the possible road to true love include Bob negatively interpreting a passage in a book that Andy is writing and further cementing his qualification for the Olympic conclusion-jumping team regarding immediately assuming that Andy is having sex with a man whom Bob sees in Andy's apartment and refusing to allow Andy to do 'splainin in the desired manner.

The quasi-fatal flaws in this over-the-top attempt to provide a moral in the context of a wacky romcom is that Lisecki and his crew simply do not pull it off very well. He lacks the energy and stage presence to pull off a role that requires proudly prancing around in a speedo one moment and showing raw emotion the next.

Although folks who share his physical characteristics and understandable related insecurities can relate to Bob, he is not adequately likable or sympathetic to evoke the desired emotions. He simply is like the Dan Savage ex, who lacks proper self-awareness.

Additionally, the actors who play Aidan and Chase simply lack the appeal to pull off being the boys whom you adore but delight in scorning you. They are attractive and have their charms but fall short of being all that.

This mix of a good message in a crumpled envelope makes "Love" a nice choice for folks who cheer for the underdog and are forgiving regarding shortfalls in films with an equally good heart.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Love" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, December 22, 2014

'Saving Santa' BD and DVD: Revisiting Awesome Time-Traveling Elf Christmas Classic

Product Details

[Editor's Note: This enhanced reprint of a prior review of the November 2013 Blu-ray release of the Christmas film "Saving Santa" is intended to further spread the word about this wonderfully charming and amusing holiday confection.]  

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.

This sci-fi 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 gadgets and gizmos.

The primary obstacle to Bernard achieving his desired career change is that his inventions, which includes a reindeer translation device that does not transmit in English, are wonky. As is typical in this genre, the other scientists elfishly 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 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" regarding her voicing of Vera.

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 can 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, a very nice twist at the end brings the story back to the opening.

Even nicer aspects of "Santa" are that it is a holiday film that adults can truly enjoy. The CGI animation is excellent 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 sci-fi (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." The catchy ditties are a nice bonus.

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 player. On a related note, being placed on Santa's naughty list for "encouraging" people who delay driving off when a traffic light turns green or who refuse to 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, December 21, 2014

2014 in Review: The Year of the Bat, WW I, and 'Happy Days'

A positive aspect of national and global dystopia arguably increasing in 2014 is that this increases the value of escapist fare that is a theme in the Unreal TV manifesto titled "Reality Stinks." The idea is that the worse things are in the real world, the more we need a break in the form of entertainment that allows shutting all that out.

We are fortunate that the themes that several home-video distributors followed this year showed great love for classic films, shows, and a special superhero. Every link in each section devoted to these releases is to the Unreal TV review of that DVD or Blu-ray set.

75th Anniversary Celebration of Batman

 Batman: The Complete Television Series (DVD)

Like Superman and the Dark Knight/Caped Crusader on a good day, Warner Home Entertainment and Warner Archive teamed up in 2014 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the creation of Batman. The centerpieces of this tribute were the painfully long awaited November, 11 2014 DVD and BD special edition releases of the campy Adam West series that batboys know as '66. The good people at Warner Home Entertainment have also issued several less expensive versions of these sets for intermediate fans and bat curious folks.

Although the Unreal TV video library does not currently include any '66 set, hopes remain high for getting one of the special editions. An August 2014 "candid ode" provides thoughts regarding these releases.

Archive focused its celebration of this character who almost certainly will receive a centennial (and perhaps bicentennial) tribute on BD releases of uber-awesome highly stylized recent animated Batman series. These include S1 and S2 of the terrifically campy "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" that typically teams the Caped Crusader (a.k.a. "Bats" in this one) with a different fellow super friend or team of said meta-humans to battle the member of the Legion of Doom who is currently stirring up trouble.

The Archive BD releases of Part One and Part Two of the first season of "Beware the Batman" are much more Dark Knight than Caped Crusader and include heavy elements of the Christopher Nolan "Dark Knight" trilogy. The visually darker and more stark animation style in this one compared to "Brave" further reflect this contrast.

The Great War Centennial

First World War Centenary Collection - The Somme DVD

Terrific purveyor of British films and television series BFS Entertainment on this side of the pond marks the anniversary of an event that is far darker than any adventure in which Bruce Wayne has become involved in his 75 years. A series of fictional and documentary films and television productions looks at The Great War (a.k.a. World War I) and its aftermath.

The trilogy of documentaries grouped under the title "First World War Centenary Collection" provides extensive detail about that conflict. The film "The Trench" starring Craig, Daniel Craig provides a sense of life in said ditches in the days leading up to the Battle of the Somme. The Australian film "An Accidental Soldier" is an equally good production that tells the tale of the titular warrior unilaterally calling it quits during this war.

The first season (a.k.a. first series) of the BBC drama "The Village" depicts the impact of the war on the titular burg during the years in which the fighting occurs. 

Finally, the first season (a.k.a. first series) of fellow BBC drama "When the Boat Comes In" focuses on the challenges that war veteran Jack Ford, the Seaton family, and the others in their mining/ship building community face in the years immediately following WWI.

Classic Warner Archive Tribute Sets

Yankee Doodle Dandy (BD)

Archive continued its excellent track record regarding DVD releases of classic and cult films from the Golden Age of Hollywood in 2014. One theme of these releases was regularly focusing on a particular member of Hollywood royalty seemingly at least one month. These screen legends included Joan Crawford (of course), Olivia DeHavilland, and James Cagney. A good rule of thumb is that anyone you heard of who was under contract with Warner in the '30s or '40s received this star treatment.

Even more notably, Archive awesomely restored a plethora of (mostly musical) films and released them on BD. Any doubt regarding the results of providing films that were produced long before hi-def was even conceived of on BD dissolves on watching the first minutes of any of these films.

These productions further typically offer truly special features in the forms of terrific "making-of" documentaries and vintage material that includes shorts and cartoons from the era of the film.

The musicals that Archive brought to life in 2014 included "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Hit the Deck," "Billy Rose's Jumbo," and "Pete Kelly's Blues."

Resurgence of 'Happy Days' Series

Product Details

The nostalgic aspect of this brief stroll down memory lane and a desire to end it on a happy (no pun intended) note, requires wrapping up this recap of 2014 home-video releases with a look at CBS Home Entertainment resuming its releases of DVD sets of the '70s sitcom set in the '50s and the '60s "Happy Days." The scope of this "renaissance" included the uber-popular "Days" spinoffs that, along with "Days" made Tuesdays the favorite night of television for 1-12 aged kids across the country.

Several years after seemingly stopping these releases with S4 of "Days," CBS released S5 in May 2014 and S6 a few months later. The "Days" spinoff "Joanie Loves Chachi" starring dreamy '80s idol Scott Baio also hit actual and virtual store shelves this year.

The highest profile "Days" releases of 2014 were the CS and S4 sets of the spinoff "Mork and Mindy," which starred Robin Williams. A nice aspect of these releases several years after the release of S3 was that there was NO hint that these sets were designed to exploit the August 2014 death of Williams. A truly heartfelt post on Williams soon after his passing expressed the nature of his unique awesomeness.

CBS rounded out this group of 2014 "Days" releases with S7 and S8 sets of "Laverne and Shirley."

Looking Ahead

Although keeping specifics close to its proverbial vest, Archive is expressing intense enthusiasm regarding exciting cult titles for 2015. Pure speculation creates hopes for a release of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Yogi's Space Race."

It is an even safer bet that Archive will continue digging long-term favorites and wonderfully obscure gems from its seemingly infinite vault full of titles.

Similarly, BFS will introduce truly terrific British classics, which likely will include shows that inspire U.S. programs.

2015 definitely will be a "Trek" heavy year for Unreal TV. Largesse related to CBS cleaning its closets is netting this site BD sets of all four seasons of "Star Trek: Enterprise" and three seasons of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The hope regarding "Trek" is that "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" will join the aforementioned two series and the original series of feature films in getting BD releases.

Standard Signoff

Anyone with questions or comments regarding any of the scads o' titles that this post discusses (or any other releases) is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

'Happy Days' S6 DVD: From Dude Ranch to Potsie's College Musical

Product Details
The CBS Home Entertainment 27-episode 4-disc DVD release of S6 of the '70s sitcom set in the '50s (and '60s) sitcom "Happy Days" is among the titles that rounds out a 2014 surge of releases of "Days" and its spinoffs. This is a nice treat considering that the releases of these shows and seasons, including the reviewed "Joanie Loves Chachi" and especially awesome "Mork and Mindy" complete series set, are long overdue.

One generally notable element of the "Days" series is that series creator/producer Garry Marshall shares that setting this show about nuclear family the Cunninghams and their friends (including '70s icon Fonzie) in the '50s (and subsequently the '60s) prevents it from ever looking dated. On a similar note, it SEEMS that the DVD episodes contain all of the original music from the episodes.

The S6 season premiere continues the "Days" tradition of beginning the season with an epic story arc. One example of this practice is the "Jump the Shark" arc in the recently reviewed S5 DVD set.

The adventure that kicks off S6 is clean-cut all-American boy/incoming college sophomore Richie Cunningham, played by future film director Ron Howard of "The Andy Griffith Show," and his family and friends spending a summer at the Colorado dude ranch of mother Marion Cunningham's Uncle Ben. The primary reason for the journey is to help Uncle Ben with the struggling business and prevent the evil neighboring ranch owner from foreclosing on a mortgage.

The daring feat that "fearless" Fonzarelli faces in this one is riding a wild bull long enough to win prize money to pay off the mortgage. The conflict that Fonzie and BFF Richie experience relates to a pretty ranch hand who seems to prefer the latter over the former despite the effectively supernatural magnetism that the sexiest man in '50s Milwaukee exerts over women.

This story arc additionally establishes the next stage in the development of "Days" before the "new class" takes over in S8. The increasing sense that Fonzie has magical powers that begins with the S5 episode "My Favorite Orkan" that pits him against Mork in the first television appearance of that character continues with Fonzie controlling a group of horses with a literal snap of his fingers.

This story arc further solidifies Richie's buddies/classmates Ralph Malph and Warren "Potsie" Webber as the low-brow comic relief similar to that provided by the creepier and less intelligent Lenny and Squiggy of the "Days" spinoff "Laverne and Shirley." The schtick at the dude ranch includes Potsie and Ralph dressing up as prospectors, complete with a mule.

Finally, high-school aged little sister Joanie gets more fully into the act by increasing the extent of her chaste dating life. Her hunk hunt here lands her a studly ranch hand.

Things take a dark turn (no pun intended) when the gang returns to their home turf of Milwaukee. An accident blinds Fonzie, who must learn to cope with his disability. Although the "Days" writers follow the '70s sitcom model of resolving this "sit" by the end of the episode, a modern show likely would have made it a multi-episode story arc.

Other S6 episodes with mature themes that reflect the primary characters entering adulthood revolve around Fonzie closely bonding with the young son of a woman whom he is dating and surprisingly dirty politics regarding a college election in which Richie is running.

S6 further brings Fonzie cousin Chachi, played by the dreamy Scott Baio, more into the action both by having him play drums in a band with Richie, Ralph, and Potsie and by increasingly having him hang around with the gang. Seeing this charming young guy emulate his cousin regarding making time with the ladies is entertaining.

The two most absurd episodes pit Fonzie against gangsters; he first fights the efforts of the wise guy known as the Claw to muscle his way into the "Arnold's" hangout, which series regular Al Delvecchio owns. A later special two-part episode pits Fonzie against a counterfeiter known as the Candyman.

The Candyman episode, which features a guest appearance by "Night Court" star Richard Moll (who also guest stars in two "Laverne" episodes), is notable for having a plethora of guest stars from the "Days" universe. It also is more unrealistic than the "Shark" episode and arguably is one of the worst offerings from the Richie era of the series.

Another memorable episode in which a visiting French fencing expert duels with Fonzie provides Fonz portrayor Henry Winkler a chance to showcase the sword fighting skills that he almost surely develops while a theater student at Emerson College and/or the Yale drama school.

The season wraps up with a fun episode that will get the very catchy tune "Pump Your Blood" stuck in the head of anyone who has seen this college musical. The story involves otherwise good student/singer Potsie having difficulty in the anatomy class of a harsh professor.

The solution, courtesy of Fonzie, is for the gang to compose the aforementioned addictive ditty that includes the information that Potsie must retain to pass his final. Personally getting a high grade in a college physics class thanks to principles featured in reruns of '60s fantasycom "My Favorite Martian" mirroring course material throughout the semester attests to the validity of using instruction methods to which a student can relate.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the "Pump" video will bring a smile to your face (and may help you pass your anatomy final).

The bonus feature in the S6 set consists of a hilarious fifth anniversary "Days" clip show featuring special guest-star Robin Williams from the aforementioned "Mork." Williams steals this episode in which Richie uses flashbacks from prior "Days" episodes to assist Mork with the campaign of the latter to understand various aspects of human relationships. The aforementioned review of the "Mork" CS DVD release addresses this episode, which is one of a handful of special features in that set.

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

'Inside the Mind of Leonardo da Vinci' Theatrical Release': Capaladi Goes from The Doctor to Genuine Renaissance Man

Whovians, historians, scientists, and art lovers all have reason to rejoice regarding the New York and Los Angeles December 19, 2014 theatrical releases of the 3D Peter Capaldi drama documentary "Inside the Mind of Leonardo da Vinci." Film distributor Submarine Deluxe announces that a nationwide rollout of this History Films production will follow these "select cities" showings.

Filmmaker Julian Jones uses more than 6,000 pages of text and etchings from the private journals of da Vinci as source material for breaking the "code" regarding the inner thoughts of this Renaissance man. Capaldi brings the same intensity and quirkiness that he devotes to portraying the 12th Doctor in "Doctor Who" to bringing Da Vinci to life in his narration.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of Capaldi sharing the thoughts of da Vinci regarding the related topics of death and fame perfectly illustrates the outstanding performance of the former and the equally good wit and wisdom of the latter in "Mind."

Jones augments the narration and other first-person source information in the film with historic records related to da Vinci. The latter include accounts of where da Vinci lives throughout his life and a report of an arrest for what the people of the day consider deviant sexual behavior.

The basic format of this beautifully shot film that looks spectacular in Blu-ray is that Capaldi in the persona of da Vinci reads journal entries that relate to either the movements of Capaldi or other images on the screen. Many of the latter are of drawings or other art work of da Vinci. Aside from these works all being incredibly vivid and spectacularly detailed, the camera provides a much closer and clearer view than a museum exhibit or a book.

The format allows learning a great deal about the personal and professional lives of da Vinci and the manners in which they closely intertwine. Although the well-known effort of da Vinci to invent a flying machine is a common theme, "Mind" delves into numerous other subjects that include a terrifically acted out scientific analysis of the Biblical story of Noah and detailed knowledge of the related fields of anatomy and drawing.

A journal account of sexual desire is a perfect example of the aforementioned wry wit that runs throughout the journal entries. The musings on this subject include the observations that the sleeping habits of the physical body and of lust do not always coincide.

This well-painted portrait of one of the greatest minds in history is well worth seeing if only because you will leave the theater feeling a little smarter.

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

'Pete Kelly's Blues' BD: Jack Webb Has Reasons to Sing the Blues

Pete Kelly's Blues
Warner Archive releasing several classic musicals, such as the recently reviewed "Yankee Doodle Dandy," on Blu-ray in 2014 is a highlight in a not-so-great year for the world. The BD release of the terrific 1951 Jazz Age film "Pete Kelly's Blues" continues the winning streak regarding this effort, which the Unreal TV year-end wrap up on December 21, 2014 will feature.

Just as the also recently reviewed courtroom thriller "Twilight of Honor" takes advantage of the popularity of star Richard Chamberlain in his also reviewed television series "Dr. Kildare," "Blues" benefits from the fame of star Jack Webb regarding his classic series "Dragnet."

The "Blues"/ "Dragnet" connection becomes abundantly clear when Webb starts his trademark voice over noir narration with verbal imagery that would make Raymond Chandler proud.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the epic Webb-hosted, five-minute trailer for "Bues" provides an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the film and a good overview of the plot. (Time constraints prevented confirming whether the trailers on the BD set include this one.)

Webb plays the titular cornetist, whose troubles begin when gangster Edmond McCarg struts into the Kansas City bar where Kelly and his band play. The purpose of the visit is to present Kelly et al with an offer of management that they cannot refuse (or else). Edmond O'Brien, who went onto win a Best Actor Oscar for "The Barefoot Contessa" four years later, does a great job playing playing the tough and restrained violent persona of McCarg.

Martin Milner turns in a wonderful "before they were stars" performance as young drummer Joey Firestone, who learns that resistance is futile regarding guys like McCarg. The wholesome charm that Milner displays provides a nice preview of his later television performances in the anthology drama "Route 66" and later in the police series "Adam-12."

Another memorable performance comes in the form of jazz great Ella Fitzgerald, who performs the theme of the film and another song, as a roadhouse owner.

Archive perfectly describes the manner in which Janet Leigh portrays Ivy Conrad as "a gin-swilling heiress who moves in on Kelly's heart" (and pays the price for grabbing at his pride and joy without asking first), Peggy Lee is even more fatale femme singer Rose Hopkins, whom new manager McCarg thrusts on the band, A scene in which alcoholic Rose tries to make it through a song while blitzed out of whatever remaining brain cells she possesses almost certainly is a reason for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination that she receives for her role.

The fast-paced '20s-style action that perfectly matches the music and overall theme of the film largely revolves around the efforts of McCrag to enforce his hold on the group and the ensuing violence. We also have Kelly contending with Ivy and Rose, and with bar owner Rudy pulling every trick in the book to maximize his profits. One of the best lines in the film relates to a joke about that publican finding a way to cut water.

Writing once again that an Archive release is awesome because they do not make 'em like that anymore seems as cheap as many of the antics that make "Blues" so entertaining, but that is the best way to convey the quality of these films (and the awesome remastering that goes into them.)

Although the plethora of extras in "Dandy" far outshines such features on any home entertainment video release, the special features in "Blues" are also wonderful. The Oscar-nominated short "Gadgets Galore" is a hilarious look at the early days of the auto industry, and the Looney Tunes cartoon "The Hole Idea" is a very clever animated presentation about the invention of a portable hole.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Blues" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Mentor' DVD: Documentarian Alix Lambert Exposes Unchecked Bullying in Glorified Community

The documentary "Mentor, " which DC-based documentary and independent film production Garden Thieves Pictures released on DVD and VOD on December 16 2014, presents a fascinating perspective on the widely covered topic of bullying. Although virtually everyone knows that bullying is prevalent at every level of American society and often causes severe emotional distress that can lead to suicide, documentary filmmaker Alix Lambert addresses a notable cluster of severe and unchecked bullying in Mentor, Ohio.

The first factor that makes this topic documentary worthy is that Mentor has been included in a list of the top 100 best places to live in the United States; the second factor is that the bullying at Mentor High School has been adequately intense to be considered a factor in at least five suicides; the element that makes the Mentor story a trifecta regarding newsworthiness is that it that the school administration seemingly has a history of turning a willful blind eye to the problem.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Mentor" provides a rather intense look at this rather intense film.

Much of the film revolved around the Vidovics, a Croatian family who fled their native land to escape war and moved to Mentor because of the quality of life that that community seemed to offer. They failed to consider that the "foreignness" of daughter Sladjana was almost certain to make her a target for at least some bullying. Not anticipating that the abuse would include physical contact and be severe enough to prompt her to kill herself was more understandable.

Interviews with the parents and siblings of Sladjana (as well as home movies) showed both the characteristics that made that girl a target of bullies and reported that the school demonstrated extreme insensitivity even following an incident in which a football player pushed this perfectly nice kid down some stairs.

It is equally sad that the nature of the bullying that small, thin, and pale glee club kid Eric Mohat experienced was readily apparent on the first image of that kid performing. He simply achieved the bullying trifecta of being very involved in what is perceived of as an effeminate activity, being a textbook 90-pound weakling, and being a bit of a nerd.  It goes without saying that he should have been praised for doing his own thing, being himself, and for being so proud regarding all that.

Lambert does an excellent job portraying both the love that the mother of Eric feels for her child and the effect of his horrible death on her. Losing a child is tragic, but it seems to hurt this woman even more than it affects others who suffer the same tragedy.

Other interviewed people include friends of the victims and attorneys who are involved in legal action against the Mentor school system. These individuals further contribute to the very personal vibe associated with the film.

All of the interviews and shared documents clearly showed that any efforts by Mentor High School administrators to address the bullying problem were ineffective; the film further indicated a lack of concern and/or sensitivity by those educators.

As mentioned above, the newsworthiness of all that occurred related to it happening in a community in which a national ranking and other indications provided a reasonable expectation that the city provided a good quality of life. Also as mentioned above, the degree of bullying seemed grossly disproportionate to the hype associated with life in Mentor.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

'Star Trek The Next Generation: All Good Things' BD: Qtastic End to Mother of All Trek Spinoffs

Product Details
[Editor's Note: Unreal TV has previously posted a review of  the Blu-ray edition of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" S7. Additionally, a Christmas miracle has occurred in the form of Unreal TV receiving the entire "Enterprise" series and three additional TNG sets on BD. Reviews will be published throughout 2015.]

The "Star Trek: The Next Generation" series finale "All Good Things" has everything that a fan of any show could want in a finale. Further, the CBS Home Entertainment feature-film style Blu-ray release of this historic episode provides it the regard to which it is due.

Other two-part TNG episodes that CBS has released in a feature-film style BD format include the recently reviewed "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" prelude "Chain of Command" and the less recently reviewed classic Borg-themed episode "The Best of Both Worlds."

The following clip, courtesy of CBS and YouTube, of the trailer for the "Things" BD release provides a strong sense of the exceptional quality of the remastering and the story itself.

"Things" is a true gift to trekkers and trekkies everywhere in that it includes most elements over which these fans drool. Only having a serious Borg threat would have made it better.

The fan favorite element of time travel has a particular "Back to the Future" vibe in this one. U.S.S. Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard is being tossed about in time back-and-forth between the present from the TNG perspective and periods that are roughly 20 years in the future and seven years in the past when he first takes command of the aforementioned flagship in the starship fleet of the aptly named Starfleet military organization. Further, two quasi-spoilers are the news that that he must get back in time and learns the power of love.

Sending Picard on these quantum leaps provides an awesome look at the lives of every primary character decades after the events of TNG and the bonuses of bringing back an awesome character from TNG S1, returning another departed character, and offering humor regarding how the appearances of characters and other elements of the series change during the seven-year run of the series.

One well-publicized amusing aspect of Picard et al going back to the future is that Lt. Commander William T. (Thomas, not Tiberius) Riker portrayor Jonathan Frakes following the Shatner course of gaining significant weight during the course of the series requires limiting his appearance in the scenes set in the past to a cleverly inserted clip from the pilot.

As Picard and his enterprising crew learn more about the latest weird occurrences in the long series of such events during their careers, other popular "Trek" elements emerge.

The underlying phenomenon around which the efforts of Picard focus in all three time periods is an anomaly that inconveniently is located in the essentially no man's land that is a result of negotiations between the Federation that Starfleet serves and the long-standing Federation enemies the Romulans. The bottom line is that any Starfleet or Romulan ship that enters that area can only do so for an exceptionally compelling reason.

Picard further learns that TNG-introduced foe the omnipotent (and very mischievous) Q is the force that is bouncing him around in time. A long overdue epiphany while watching this BD version of "Things" is that Q is the Endora of TNG.

Both the mystery surrounding the anomaly and the reason for Q becoming involved pay nice homage to the TNG pilot in which the Enterprise crew first encounters Q. This meeting occurs in the context of Q informing our heroes that mankind must stand trial for the harm associated with expanding their presence in the universe beyond the range that Q considers appropriate.

The crew proving in the pilot that they are not quite as stupid or savage as Q believes prevents TNG from merely being a TV Movie of the Week by resulting in Q allowing Starfleet to continue their operations subject to his scrutiny.

The manner in which Picard operates in each time period to which he is commuting has even higher stakes than the challenge that he faces in the pilot. The clever thinking that he devotes to the problem provides a nice twist and sends a positive message regarding the capacity of mankind. The missive is that we mortals may not be as foolish as Q (and Endora) believe us to be.

The plot further allows Picard portrayor Patrick Stewart to awesomely make full use of his classical theatrical training. Although the initial confusion of Picard regarding the time travel is more reminiscent of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens than the works of William "The Bard" Shakespeare, Shakespearean actor Stewart gets plenty of chance to exercise his acting chops related to both masters.

The special features includes deleted scenes, the promos for both parts of "Things," and what looks to be a spectacular "making of" documentary titled "The Unknown Possibilities of Existence."

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Things" or anything "Trek" is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, December 15, 2014

'Twilight of Honor' DVD: Dreamy Richard Chamberlain Goes From Medical Drama to Courtroom Thriller

Twilight Of Honor (1963)
As Warner Archive points out, the Oscar-nominated 1963 courtroom drama "Twilight of Honor" is a Richard Chamberlain vehicle that takes advantage of his well-earned star power regarding the Unreal TV reviewed television medical series "Dr. Kildare." Chamberlain's David Mitchell in this one is a young attorney who gets first-hand lessons in both the reality of the duty of an attorney to defend his or her share of undesirable clients and in the realities of being a criminal defense attorney.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube and Archive, of one of the best scenes in "Twilight" nicely showcases the talent of Chamberlain and conveys the exceptional tone of the film.

"Twilight" being an excellent example of the earnest social conscience films of the '50s and early '60s makes it a perfect choice for a film role for Chamberlain. His persona as a caring and assertive young professional who is also very human makes him highly compatible with the role of a rookie attorney whom a judge appoints to defend a drifter facing trial for killing a prominent local man.

Armchair litigators get a great lesson in criminal law in the form of a fact pattern in which it is undisputed that Ben Brown killed Cole Clinton, played by Pat "Mr. Haney" Buttram of the '60s sitcom "Green Acres," while sharing a hotel suite with Clinton and Brown's wife Laura Mae. (Newcomer Joey Heatherton earns a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for portraying Laura Mae.)

The related rubs are that the circumstances of said fatal encounter may make that incident a justifiable act that does not support a conviction under the applicable law and the contrary desire of the district attorney and others on that side of the legal system to see Brown convicted of the offense for which he is standing trial.

The true power broker behind all this is retired attorney/Mitchell mentor Art Harper, played by the largely invisible Claude Rains. Harper has an undeclared reason for his role in getting Mitchell appointed as defense attorney but is more transparent regarding the behind-the-scenes help that he provides his protege during the trial. Throwing Art's daughter Susan in the mix as a love interest for Mitchell adds a nice light tough to this serious film and sets the stage for wonderfully witty and cute banter at the end of the film.

The trouble regarding the highly relevant facts regarding the killing relates to Mitchell being able to get them out. Flawed confessions that the prosecution obtains from Ben, an alliance between the prosecution and Laura Mae, and public opinion being strongly against his client are only some obstacles that Mitchell faces in ensuring that Ben receives the fair trial to which that poor sap is entitled.

Like a tasty beef stew that marinates all day in a crock pot before hitting the dinner table, "Twilight" nicely simmers for roughly an hour (with a few periods of bubbling in the process) before the final attempt to serve up justice. This leisurely (but hardly boring) pace makes great story telling that is largely absent in this era in which action seemingly must be both non-stop and intense.

All of this amounts to "Twilight" being a great film to watch on a wintry Sunday afternoon. The only thing that would enhance this experience would be having the still dreamy Chamberlain join you for the screening.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Twilight" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

'Star Trek: The Next Generation' S7 DVD: Warping Out on Trektacular Note

Product Details

[Editor's Note: Unreal TV has also reviewed of the feature-film style Blu-ray release of the TNG series finale "All Good Things." "Evergreen" reviews of BD sets of TNG and "Enterprise" seasons will run throughout 2015.]

The recent CBS Home Entertainment Blu-ray release of the seventh and final season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" nicely rounds out the BD releases of the mother of all "Trek" spinoffs in time for the holidays. One can only hope that CBS adds "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager" to the complete BD collections of the Original Series, TNG, and"Enterprise." Make it so, network execs!

The first thing that requires mentioning is that the picture and sound quality of this set seems to surpass even the excellent presentation of both in the recently reviewed S6 BD set. The sound effects and music are particularly exceptional.

The following clip (with some spoilers), courtesy of CBS and YouTube, of the trailer for this BD release awesomely offers a sense of every spectacular element of S7 and includes many season highlights in a couple of minutes.

S7 starts strong with the conclusion to the S6 cliffhanger "Descent," which ends with android science officer Data teaming up with evil brother Lore and the even more evil Borg in a nefarious scheme. This twist on the "evil twin" theme is highly entertaining.

Another two-parter "Gambit" commences a few weeks into S7; this one begins with the Enterprise crew discovering fairly early in a search for a missing Captain Picard that credible evidence exists that said commander is dead; in true "Trek" spirit, first officer Lt. Commander William T. (Thomas not Tiberius) Riker doubting that his leader and friend is no longer living leads to his going undercover.

This covert work involves Riker and an fellow Enterprise crew member joining a motley crew searching for the components of an ancient weapon of mass destruction. This adventure requiring both that Riker and his colleague pretend to be adversaries and that this dynamic duo engage in hostile activity against the Enterprise is very entertaining. It is equally nice that the resolution of the alien threat is very peaceful and lacks any hint that the Enterprise will devote its superior firepower toward achieving a just end.

This episode additionally ends on the same sitcom style note as a handful of others in the season. Said hilarity involves Riker trying to pull one over on a colleague only to find himself the loser in the exchange.

A desire to keep this review to a manageable length requires briefly mentioning that notable mid-season episodes include one in which the Enterprise learns of a theory that traveling at the extra-super-velocity known as warp speed is having serious adverse effects; another episode is reminiscent of the then uber-popular novels of horror writer Anne Rice in that it focuses on a ghost-like creature with a long history of involvement with the women in the family of Enterprise Chief Medical Officer Dr. Beverly Crusher.

S7 then presents a series of Freudian episodes before ending its run with the series finale titled "All Good Things." As mentioned in the Editor's Note in this review, Unreal TV is separately reviewing the feature-film style BD release of that episode.

The last batch of episodes begins with the aptly titled "Journey's End." This one has soon-to-graduate Starfleet Academy cadet (and Crusher son) Wesley (played by Wil Wheaton) being uncharacteristically sullen and rude on returning to the Enterprise for a visit.

In this case, the rebellion in which Wesley engages greatly hampers the efforts of the Enterprise and the United Federation of Planets that it serves to relocate a group of American Indians living on a planet that is being ceded to the Cardassians (who play a central role in the then new "Deep Space Nine" series.)

Tying in the history of forceful relocation of Indians and a larger-scale issue related to the concept of the sins of the fathers makes this one particularly relevant to 20th (and 21st) century American culture.

Current off-the-rails former child star Brian Bonsall makes his final appearance as the reluctant warrior son Alexander of Klingon officer Worf in "Firstborn," which is the episode after "Journey's." This one has the efforts of Worf to start his son on the path to the Klingon version of manhood coincide with an apparent plot against Worf.

This offering nicely ties into DS9 by directly relating back to the third DS9 episode, which involves a pair of Klingon sisters who can be considered the Patty and Selma of the "Trek" universe. "Firstborn" further has a fun "phoned-in" cameo by a DS9 regular and adds a truly surprising twist to the resolution.

"Bloodlines" puts Picard and his newly discovered son in the spotlight. They meet as a result of a revenge plot against Picard. Once again, the parent-child conflict relates to the elder having difficulty accepting the desire of the younger to not meet expectations.

"Emergence" is just as Freudian as the episodes that immediately precede it, but the Enterprise itself is the willful child in this one. A series of mysterious mishaps, which include hurtling off at high speeds, coincides with the appearance of characters who represent various systems on the ship.

The final episode before "Things" involves the parent-child aspects of the relationship between Picard and Bajoran officer Ro Laren, whose experience growing up rough under Cardassian occupation provides her with enough issues for several years worth of therapy. The first scene in which Ro shows intense disappointment regarding apparent rejection of her by Picard says it all.

The larger conflict in this one involves the efforts of the Federation to curtail the raids of the rogue organization known as the Marquis, which continues attacking Cardassian ships despite a Federation treaty prohibiting such activity. The stakes include maintaining the truly delicate peace with the Cardassians.

Ro's ethnicity and her troubled past lead her to going on her own covert mission to infiltrate a Marquis group. Her personal beliefs and her growing alliance with that band combine to present an increasingly possibility that she will betray Starfleet in favor of her new friends. Her relationship with "daddy" Picard is one of the few things that are keeping her from going over to the dark side.

The typical (but hardly standard) plethora of S7 BD extras include a nice retrospective on the series, a hilarious gag reel, and the episode promos that kept Trekkers and Trekkies eagerly anticipating the latest adventure related to the "continuing mission" of the Enterprise.

The best way to wrap up these thoughts regarding this end to the "Trek" series that paves the way for those that follow is that it is one of the few programs that combines wide appeal scifi, insightful social commentary, cerebral plots, intriguing and/or likable characters, and good humor. They truly do not make 'em like that anymore.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding TNG is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

'Hotline' Documentary: Support and Phone Sex Operators Who Do More Than Phone it in

 Product Details
The 2014 documentary "Hotline," which is available on VOD and is coming out on DVD in early 2015, awesomely explores the world of people who either make their living or volunteer their time conversing on the telephone with individuals with a strong need to reach out and touch someone. The gamut of such services that the film covers runs from a homework help services to phone-sex operations.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of a promo. for a (presumably successful) Kickstarter campaign nicely conveys the scope and number of the titular services and provides a brief introduction to some "cast" members.

One spoiler regarding this production that meets the dual goals of a documentary to inform and entertain is that it conveys related oft-forgotten messages in our fast-paced and short-attention span modern society; speaking with someone on the telephone and taking the time to fully hear him or her is as important today as it ever has been.

As a former suicide hotline volunteer, Brooklyn filmmaker Tony Shaff knows of what he speaks in "Hotline." His profiles of the individuals listed below and the other participants in the film  clearly communicate that a strong need exists to get what no one at home is providing it be it  compassion, assurance about a better life, or sexual gratification. Shaff further shows that the human element is an important part of the communication that is being sought to meet one or more of the aforementioned needs.

The featured individuals include phone and in-person therapist Jamie Blaine who shares that his history of rushing off in the middle of the night to provide aid has prompted a comparison to Batman, Brad Becker who is a pioneer of LGBT hotlines, Jeff "one Lonely Guy" Ragsdale who volunteers himself as a sympathetic ear, famed psychic Ms. Cleo, and a couple of phone sex operators.

Ragsdale deserves special notice because he apparently is an average Joe who simply recognizes that he is far from being the only guy or gal out there who often does not get the friendly interaction that all of us need. It seems that he started by posting his cell number and offer to talk on telephone poles and still operates on a solo (and completely free) basis. 

The audience gets to see the smooth operators in action, hear war stories, and learn of the true passion that each holds for his or her work. We also get a sense of the incredible tolerance that absorbing all the pain or general discontent that comes through the phone line requires.

Much of the humor comes from hearing Ms. Cleo talk about her evolution from an anonymous phone-line employee to the star that she is today. Seeing the phone-sex operators ply their trade and discuss their adopted personas provides additional entertainment. One spoiler regarding this is that none of these segments is even remotely arousing.

Related appeal of "Hotline" is enhancing the aforementioned human element of the voice communications that can be very important at 2:00 a.m. or anytime during the holidays in which you are excluded from the reindeer games in which most people participate. Seeing a kind and caring face behind the understanding and compassionate voice is a real treat.

Unreal TV does not have a telephone number for questions or comments regarding "Hotline" but invites folks to communicate via the less personal means of email; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

'Under the Dome' S2: 'Lost' for the 2010s

Product Details
The recent CBS Home Entertainment BD release of S2 of the Stephen Spielberg/Stephen King CBS scifi drama "Under the Dome" is perfect for marathon (rather than binge) watching over the holidays. It also makes one count the days until the 2015 premiere of the third season.

The sturdy creative packaging of the BD set and the video and audio enhancements in this version of this very well-produced series greatly contribute to enjoying these 13 episodes that follow the British television model that emphasizes quality over quantity.

The first clip, courtesy of YouTube, below of the trailer for "Dome" S1 provides a broad overview of the series. The second uber-awesome clip, also courtesy of YouTube, of a comically over-dramatic Australian promo. for S2 provides a look at that season.

The numerous parallels between "Dome" and the earlier series "Lost" scream out a comparison. Although thoroughly examining these similarities requires much more than the available space and time, it must be mentioned that the pilots of both programs begin with a catastrophic event that strands our heroes (and villains).

The epic footage during the pilot of "Dome" focuses on the enormous transparent item coming down on the town of Chester's Mill without any warning and with unknown (if any) provocation.

The inhabitants of this small community and a few outsiders who become trapped face challenges that include the consequences of having limited resources, being cut off from the rest of the world, and finding a way out of their predicament. The fact that some loved ones of these far more than seven stranded castaways are outside the dome and cannot join their special someones contributes to the drama.

S2 opens immediately where cliffhangers in S1 left off.  The most significant plot line is Locke-like town leader/used car salesman "Big Jim" Rennie having a noose around the neck of quasi-nefarious Jack-Sawyer hybrid Dale "Barbie" Barbara (nicely played by Mike Vogel of "Bates Motel") and ready to lynch him for an crime that occurs in S1. (Dean Norris of "Breaking Bad" seems born to play Big Jim.)

Other developments lead to introducing the Charliesque Sam, whom Eddie Cahill of "Friends" and "CSI: New York" portrays. The deal of Sam is that he is an EMT who becomes a hermit and an alcoholic following the apparent suicide of his sister Pauline, who was married to Big Jim, several years earlier.

The event that prompts Sam to venture from his cabin in the woods into the life of the town is the mysterious appearance of an adolescent girl. Teen sleuth and all-American boy Joe McAlister (who "young" Sam Winchester on "Supernatural" actor Colin Ford plays) and his sidekick/sweetie newcomer Norrie discover that the new girl in town looks just like Melanie Cross, who was the new girl in town twenty-five years earlier before disappearing.

S2 also introduces high school science teacher Rebecca Pine, who is more like the Professor from "Gilligan's Island" than a "Lost" character. Rebecca repeatedly utilizes scientific methods to counteract the effects of the latest mischief that the dome inflicts on the townsfolk.

Like the actions of the "Lost" island and discoveries on it, the dome seeks to test and control what occurs within its sphere of influence. It also does not hesitate to inflict punishment when it determines that doing so is apt.

The tests include an infestation of crop-eating insects, highly toxic rain, and an early onset of cool weather. The punishments include inflicting great physical and emotional harm.

The "Lost" parallel continues with plot lines related to characters finding a potentially viable escape route, setting primary action outside the dome, and learning more about the probable reason for the dome falling, what it wants, and the dire consequences of angering it.

The buildup to the S2 cliffhanger includes a fairly substantial bloodbath related to a main character going off the rails, the dome closing in on the town, and an attempted mass exodus. The final scene suggests a proverbial game-changer for the third season.

The plethora of extras include a discussion with producer Stephen King about this show based on his novel of the same name, a making-of look at the S2 season premiere, a gag reel, and deleted scenes.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Dome" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.