Closing the book on Showtime's sexy but empty series
"Secret Diary Of A Call Girl: The Final Season" (Paramount) brings the Showtime original series starring Billie Piper as a high-priced London escort and secret author to an end after four sexy but not particularly engaging seasons. It's ostensibly based on a memoir by a genuine professional escort, sort of a "Happy Hooker" for the 21st century, which series creative producer Lucy Prebble whips into a frothy comic distraction with a lot of sex, plenty of lingerie, a little flesh and a few minor complications that pass for drama.
The fourth and final season tries to bring in somewhat more substantial twists when Piper's mentor and veteran escort manager (Cherie Lunghi) is arrested and put on trial and Piper (reluctantly) takes charge of the business and Lunghi's daughter, who has no idea what mother dear does for a living. Meanwhile she tries to balance work (which she loves) and romance (with a civilian who is not so crazy about her work), with the usual disasters. You know, like continuing to sleep with eccentric and complicated clients whose issues bleed across the professional line, when they're not played for easy laughs.
The series finale tries to wring a tragedy out of her story that doesn't ring true, but then that's consistent with a show that plays prostitution for fantasy and comedy. Otherwise it ends with just as much sexy nothingness and weightless satire that defined the rest of the series' run.
Eight episodes on a single disc and no supplements to speak of, not even a series retrospective. Which is probably in the show's best interests; why remind everyone how little actually happened through the course of four seasons?
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
You could describe "Paul" (Universal), a road movie "E.T." comedy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as sci-fi geeks who pick up an extraterrestrial hitchhiker, as "Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind." MSN has an exclusive extended scene video clip along with a DVD and Blu-ray review here.
Continuing on the alien theme is "Mars Need Moms" (Disney), an animated comedy about maternally-challenged Martians looking for a little human nannying, from producer Robert Zemeckis and his motion-capture approach to animation. "Your Highness" (Universal) takes the stoner comedy to the dark ages of knights and quests and Danny McBride as black-sheep prince with more arrogance than aptitude. Both were critic and commercial flops.
MSN critic James Rocchi is more upbeat about "Jumping the Broom" (Sony), "a perfectly acceptable rom-com with a few nice performances" starring Angela Basset, Paula Patton, Laz Alonso and Loretta Devine, and far less sanguine about "Super" (MPI), a grimy superhero satire with Rainn Wilson as a costumed nutcase.
On the indie front is "Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam" (Kino), a documentary on the Muslim punk rock movement in America.
TV on DVD:
"Secret Diary Of A Call Girl: The Final Season" (Paramount) brings the Showtime original series starring Billie Piper as a high-priced London escort and secret author to an end with just as much sexy nothingness and weightless satire that defined the rest of the series' run. Videodrone closes the book on the show here.
"Hey Arnold! Season One" (Shout! Factory) features the first 20 episodes of the hit Nickelodeon animated series about a goofy kid with a head shaped like a football. "M.A.S.K.: The Complete Original Series" (Shout! Factory) features all 65 episodes of the eighties-era animated series about a secret society of crime-fighters with high-tech toys.
Cool, Classic and Cult:
"The Fox And The Hound / The Fox And The Hound 2 - 2-Movie Collection" (Disney) bundles up remastered versions of the 1981 animated features and 2006 direct-to-DVD sequel for a new remastered DVD edition and a Blu-ray debut, both packed with extras.
Dirk Bogarde solidified his status as a British matinee idol as the romantic lead of the hit 1954 comedy "Doctor in the House" (VCI), which makes its official American DVD debut along with six of the sequels of the long-running film series. Bogarde stars in three of them—"Doctor At Sea" (VCI), "Doctor At Large" (VCI) and "Doctor in Distress" (VCI)—as well as the 1955 thriller "Simba" (aka "Mark of Mau Mau") (VCI), also making its DVD debut. Videodrone surveys the entire series here.
"Wide Open" (Impulse) is a cult artifact of what you might call Swedish sin-ema, notable largely for the presence of cult actress Christina Lindberg in a minor role. "Clash" (Indomina) is a martial movie from the South Korean action movie industry.
"The Battle Of Algiers" (Criterion) is Gillo Pontecorvo's controversial drama of Algeria's struggle for independence from France, a mix of documentary and drama directed with a newsreel immediacy and a documentary seriousness. The Blu-ray debut is a lavish two-disc edition filled with supplements and a thick booklet.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
|Tags:||Week in review|
An alien road movie out of a sci-fi geek's dreams
Slacker road movie meets extraterrestrial escape odyssey in "Paul" (Universal), a "Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind" from the writer/star of "Shaun of the Dead" and the director of "Superbad." All of which builds expectations for a more, let's say, dynamic film than what emerged. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the buddy team that powers "Shaun" and "Hot Fuzz," are sci-fi geeks on an RV tour of American UFO sites who end up driving an escaped little green man on the run from the government. Seth Rogen voices the CG character, giving him an easy-going quality of a stoner buddy with as much pop-culture savvy and even more common sense than his human counterparts. Not just wise, but wise-*ss, yet always in a manner that lets us know he really likes hanging out with people.
See an MSN exclusive nine-minute scene from the film below the jump
Watching it on DVD creates a different atmosphere of expectations than a big screen viewing. It got tepid reviews in the theaters ("something about "Paul" feels underbaked," complains MSN film critic James Rocchi) and, yes, it never reaches the levels the comic creativity and clever pop-culture skewering of Frost's "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" or the jagged character dynamics and chaotic honesty of Mottola's "Superbad." The sci-fi/Spielberg movie references get too nerdy for even me sometimes, though I confess that I love the bluegrass band in doing the cantina song from the "Star Wars" in a country roadhouse. And, of course, Jason Bateman kills as a federal agent who doesn't take sh*t from anyone.
But while Mottola never gets the road movie comedy out of low gear, he also creates an easy camaraderie between the trio and, when Kristin Wiig joins them (as a Bible belt true believer who gets a jolt of scientific reason and makes up for lost time with an over-eager potty mouth) the quartet. Rogen's brand of comedy can get annoying but Paul is easily his most likable character and this group is good company for home viewing. Like Paul, I like hanging with these guys too.
Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
"Rio" – Birds of a Feather
"Stake Land" – Welcome to the Vampire Apocalypse
The New Release Rack: "Soul Surfer," "The Music Never Stopped" and "Outside the Law"
TV on DVD:
"Zen" - Rufus Sewell solves crimes in Rome
Tara Unbound in The Final Season of "United States of Tara"
TV on DVD Channel Guide: "Eastbound & Down" Again, plus the end of "Everwood" and a new "Jesse Stone" movie
The Cool and the Collectible:
"Sands of the Kalahari" – Stranded in the Desert
"Spy Kids" – You Only Live Thrice
Coming up next week:
"Your Highness" (Universal)
"Mars Need Moms" (Disney)
"Jumping the Broom" (Sony)
"The Fox And The Hound / The Fox And The Hound 2 - 2-Movie Collection" (Disney)
"Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff" (Strand)
"The Battle Of Algiers" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (Blu-ray) (Universal)
"Dazed and Confused" (Blu-ray) (Universal)
|Tags:||Week in review|
Plus Ferris Bueller turns 25
With a new incarnation of Robert E. Howard's barbarian hero arriving in theaters this summer, the original "Conan the Barbarian" (Universal) and the lesser sequel "Conan the Destroyer" (Universal), the films that turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into an action hero, debut on Blu-ray. Videodrone's review is here. And just as timely is the Blu-ray debut of Robert Rodriguez's whimsical junior secret agent trilogy "Spy Kids" (Lionsgate), "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" (Lionsgate) and "Spy Kids 3: Game Over" (Lionsgate) in advance of the fourth "Spy Kids" chapter. Videodrone's review is here.
Sean Connery is the Sherlock Holmes of the 14th century in "The Name of the Rose" (Warner), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s canny adaptation of Umberto Eco's best-selling novel that mixes history, murder mystery conventions and Eco's lessons in semiotics. Connery plays William of Baskerville, an enlightened Franciscan monk who turns detective to solve the a murder in an Italian monastery and Christian Slater is his young novice, an adolescent Dr. Watson on his journey of sexual and intellectual discovery. The Holmes connections are obvious enough without the film constantly reminding us but otherwise it's quite engaging, a film that reminds us that religious terrorism is not a Muslim invention and that the era was called "the dark ages" for a reason. F. Murray Abraham plays an arrogant Inquisitor, a man who needs no facts to pass judgment on the wicked and Michael Lonsdale, Ron Perlman, Valentina Vargas and William Hickey co-star. Features commentary by director Jean-Jacques Annaud (with both English and French language tracks, the latter with optional subtitles), the vintage production documentary "The Abbey Of Crime: Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose" and a "Photo Video Journal" with commentary by Jean-Jacques Annaud.
"Better Off Dead" (Paramount) is a comedy in search of a cult following. John Cusack is your typical obsessive adolescent dealing with rejection: he can’t decide whether to fight the jerk who stole his girl or simply end it all. Luckily he’s got a support group in his jello-snorting best friend (Curtis Armstrong) and the cute French exchange student next door (Diane Franklin). Savage Steve Holland’s crazy debut comedy is less John Hughes than Looney Tunes, stuffed with enough oddball characters (a Japanese car nut who learned to speak English by listening to Howard Cosell, a little brother who builds laser guns and space shuttles out of household appliances), animated interludes (a dancing cheeseburger) and botched suicide attempts too absurd to take seriously (he has a gift for making the worst of a bad situation), yet there's a sweetness and amiability behind the nuttiness. Cusack sparks to Holland’s surreal sense of humor and they reunited for "One Crazy Summer." David Ogden Stiers and Kim Darby co-star as his befuddled parents. No supplements, though, which is a shame.
The fun-loving high school jokester beloved by all (except high school principal Jeffrey Jones) is back in "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Bueller... Bueller... Edition" (Paramount). Matthew Broderick plays the truant hero determined for one last day of playing hooky, much to the delight of the entire population of Chicago, and he takes his reluctant best friend (Alan Ruck) and adoring girlfriend (Mia Sara) along with him. Jennifer Grey and Charlie Sheen co-star and Ben Stein made his way into the pop culture consciousness as the droning economics teacher desperate for any class participation (“Anyone? Anyone?”). It's been available before on both DVD and Blu-ray but it's getting a re-release this week on honor of the film's 25th Anniversary. Danka Schein one more time with Ferris.
And the rest:
Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver team up to find a serial killer in "Copycat" (Warner). Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Bruno Kirby, Jason Patric and Brad Pitt head the revenge drama "Sleepers" (Warner) from Barry Levinson. And "Eastbound & Down: The Complete First Season" (HBO) presents the beginning of Kenny Powers on Blu-ray (Season Two, also arriving this week, is reviewed here).
Robert Rodriguez's whimsical junior secret agent trilogy debuts on Blu-ray
With the impending release of "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D," Paramount debuts Robert Rodriguez's original junior secret agent trilogy "Spy Kids" (Lionsgate), "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" (Lionsgate) and "Spy Kids 3: Game Over" (Lionsgate) on Blu-ray (in separate editions). Here's the scoop on them.
Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara star as the bickering siblings who discover that their parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) are really international spies in "Spy Kids" (2001) join the family business when mom and dad are kidnapped by an evil mastermind (a nefarious children’s TV show host played by Alan Cumming). Rodriguez has a real affinity with kids and fills their odyssey with such real world hurdles as sibling rivalry and lack of self confidence in addition to the wicked supervillains, enemy spies, and double agents. And being something of a big kid himself at heart, Rodriguez fills the film with spy gadgets more like toys than weapons and lots of slapstick humor, but he adds even more levels of whimsical fantasy in the sequels.
"Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" (2002) promotes the schoolkid siblings to full-fledged agent status and sends them on an assignment to a mysterious island hidden in the Bermuda triangle that is equal parts "Island of Dr. Moreau" genetic zoo (watched over by Steve Buscemi in high nebbish mode as Dr. Romero) and Ray Harryhausen fantasy (including raising the famous fighting skeletons for a swashbuckling bit of action, done up with a Rodriguez’s goofy sense of humor). The preposterous dream-creatures are hatched with a childlike love of puns (spider-monkey, bull-frog, and could that flying sow be one of Pink Floyd’s pigs on the wing?) and raised with digital technology. Too bad the adult world subplots are flat under the frenzied direction, even with Ricardo Mantalban (in a souped-up wheelchair) and Holland Taylor as the know-it-all in-laws joining super-agent parents Banderas and Gugino.
"Spy Kids 3: Game Over" (2003) hands the reigns over to Daryl Sabara, who has left the secret agent game and narrates his lonely life as a pint sized private eye with the alienated cynicism only a tween-age boy raised on cartoons and old movies could muster. Called back into service to rescue his sister from a mumble-mouth computer genius (Sylvester Stallone), he steps into an interactive on-line virtual reality video game that threatens to steal the mind of every child that enters its world. Sort of like real video games. The film was released to theaters and DVD in the old-style 3D with red and blue filter glasses, which is why it looks like Rodriguez is flinging every possible object into the screen, but it arrives on Blu-ray in straight 2D, which is just fine. That old process was a real eyestrain.
Rodriguez offers up commentary on films 2 and 3 and chapters of his signature "Ten Minute Film School," a series of short, sharp, informative featurettes that are among the most useful primers in practical filmmaking, for all three discs. There are also additional featurettes, deleted scenes and other supplements and each release also includes a bonus disc with a digital copy of the film.
Plus "YellowBrickRoad" and "Sands of the Kalahari"
"Sands of the Kalahari" (Olive), the 1965 survival thriller from director Cy Endfield, strands Stuart Whitman, Stanley Baker and Susannah York (among others) in the remote African desert. Videodrone's review is here.
There have been plenty of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" box sets (twenty of them, in fact) but "MST3K vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI" (Shout! Factory) is the first to actually organize a collection around a theme. Joel Robinson and his Satellite of Love comrades Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot let the commentary on five original Gamera monster movies from the 1960s, beginning with the original 1965 "Gamera," a budget-minded effort to cash in on the Godzilla craze with a giant flying sea turtle with fire breath and a jet-propelled shell. The film failed as a monster movie spectacle but children loved with film and made Gamera into a hero and a series was born. The Satellite of Love crew celebrates with the song "Tibby, Oh Tibby!," dedicated to Servo's pet turtle.
The series went color for the sequel "Gamera Vs. Barugon" (1966), also known as "War of the Monsters," which completed the transition of Gamera from threat to mankind to defender of the earth and hero to children everywhere. "Gamera Vs. Gaos" (1967), "Gamera Vs. Guiron" (1969) and "Gamera vs. Zigra" (1971) complete the cycle. And yes, they have plenty to say through them all.
Supplements include the featurettes "So Happy Together: A Look Back At MST3K & Gamera" and "Gamera Vs. The Chiodo Brothers" (the special effects team shares their love for Gamera, Japanese monster movies and men in rubber suits) and "Gamera Obscura: A History" (with Japanese monster movie historian August Ragone, who also provides commentary on Shout! Factory's official "Gamera" movie releases).
The five-disc box set of five thinpak cases comes in a nifty limited-edition tin box and includes five mini-posters of the disc cover art. You can also get an exclusive deluxe edition from the Shout! Factory website that includes a free Gamera postcard pack and MST3K Stress Ball. Because who doesn't need one of those?
"Streetwalkin'" (Shout! Factory), a 1985 social drama with exploitation film credentials (Roger Corman's Concorde Pictures picked up this one), arrives on DVD with new cachet. It's the film that gave Oscar winner Melissa Leo her first leading role. She's a teen runaway who lands in New York and is quickly recruited by a pimp (Dale Midkiff) and plunged into the brutal life as a teenage hooker. Antonio Fargas and Julie Newmar co-star and director Joan Freeman went on to make the girl band movie "Satisfaction." Features commentary by Freeman and producer/co-screenwriter Robert Alden.
"YellowBrickRoad" (Vivendi) follows eight "researchers" as they hike a winding mountain trail to investigate the mystery of a town that, in 1940, walked off and disappeared forever. " Care to guess how many get out alive?," asks film critic Brian Miller in The Village Voice. "The film is caught in the fatal demographic desert between the "Scream" and "Baghead" crowds—neither funny nor quirky enough to sustain interest during its long march." The indie horror arrives on DVD from the festival circuit and a limited theatrical release.
"Quarantine 2: Terminal" (Sony) is a direct-to-DVD sequel of the American remake of "[REC]." Just to be clear, this film (set on an airplane where a virus is infecting the passengers) in NOT a remake of the sequel "[REC] 2." Got that?
I don't usually include stand-up comedy discs but it seemed timely to note "Tracy Morgan: Black and Blue" (HBO) in the wake of the backlash for his unfunny anti-gay comments at a stand-up act. After all, timing is everything for a comic.
The films that made Arnold Schwarzenegger an action hero debut on Blu-ray
Arnold Schwarzenegger was the defining action hero of Hollywood from the mid-1980s through the 1990s, yet before he made his breakthrough, he seem the most unlikely American screen icon to lumber his way up the Hollywood ladder. The former Austrian bodybuilder turned Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia (he retired his crown undefeated) seemed destined to be a big screen joke after a debut in the inept "Hercules In New York" and jokey supporting roles in films like "The Villain." Then John Milius cast him as the hulking mercenary lead in "Conan the Barbarian," which showed the world the potential of muscleman Schwarzenegger but also showcased his screen presence.
With a new incarnation of Robert E. Howard's barbarian hero arriving in theaters this summer, the original "Conan the Barbarian" (Universal) and the lesser sequel "Conan the Destroyer" (Universal), the films that turned the bodybuilding champion into an action hero, debut on Blu-ray.
The original "Conan the Barbarian" (1982) is both grandiose and macho, with a sprawling scale (Milius shot largely in the deserts and mountains of Spain) and a committed seriousness (this is, after all, a sword and sandal film that opens with a quote from Nietzsche: “That which does not kill you makes you stronger"). Ah-nold’s rippling physique captures the impossible physical perfection of Robert E. Howard’s primitive mercenary hero and his glowering expression provides a fierce drive for all that brawn. In some ways it's silly and a bit strident (Conan's philosophy: "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women"), it's still marvelous barbarian pulp, a beefcake fantasy of myth and magic built from grandiose sets, a magnificent score (from composer Basil Poledouris) and endless he-man matches of blood and brawn. Dancer Sandahl Bergman is quite the barbarian queen and James Earl Jones is suitably intimidating as the despotic Thulsa Doom, a cult leader with a thing for snakes. Max von Sydow, Gerry Lopez and Mako co-star.