Saturday, February 27, 2010

One A Week Review #8: Jay's Review: Possession

All these snow days are making for some fine movie-watchin' weather. This supernatural thriller I reviewed for dvdsnapshot will keep you in for a night! I liked this one enough I'd also like it to be my one-a-week review. The more I think about this one, I think I like the more downbeat and novelistic alternate ending better than the hopeful, movie-ish one they went with, but either way, it's an interesting flick.



Newlyweds Jess (Gellar) and Ryan (Landes) seem to have it all until a car accident renders both Ryan and his brother Roman (Pace) comatose. But things spin even more eerily out of control when Roman wakes up and tries to convince Jess that he is her husband. Beside herself with fear and grief, Jess grapples with the one question: Could the man before her actually be the man she lost ... or does something far more sinister await her in his arms?


Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lee Pace, and Michael Landes star in this remake of the Korean film Jungdok. Gellar plays a busy lawyer with a too-perfect sculptor husband who has rotten jailbird of a brother she has an unfortunate frisson with.. These yin-and-yang brothers, through contrived coincidence, wind up in a head-on collision and comatose in adjoining beds. When only her brother-in-law wakes up claiming to be her husband, she takes him home and has to discern if it's "right-one wrong-bod" or something else. Is it a con or a miracle? Is she just giving in to an attraction to a bad boy? What is the connection between the brothers? What's going on?

Gellar's somewhat brittle charms have never really translated well to the big screen. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she came off strong and personable thanks to the writing. It also made good use of her tendency to maintain a palpable distance from everyone else sharing a scene with her. That's a quality that serves her well here. Lee Pace charmed on TV in Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls, but here he sells "confused nice guy" and is a very convincing bad boy as well.

Her standoffishness and his appeal keep Possession grounded. They spar instead of letting the story make an easy slide into either supernatural romance or horror. The story's even pacing and slow build means limited thrills but insures involvement. All the potential directions the story could go in almost make the third act's reveal disappointing as it starts limiting the options.

Evidently the distributor's financial problems have kept this on the shelf for two years, though this is a cut above most straight-to-video affairs. Also, some artful editing and excellent cinematography make it a good-looking film.  Possession is an engaging film, a "Whoisit" instead of a "Whodunnit."

is presented on DVD in Widescreen format with English 5.1 Dolby Surround audio and English and Spanish subtitles. The extras include a short featurette, a handful of deleted and alternate scenes (including a thirty minute alternate ending!), and the theatrical trailer. There are trailers for S. Darko,  The Haunting of Molly Hartley, The Betrayed, and Seth McFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy.


85 minutes of supernatural "is he or isn't he" with little to scandalize any audience from teens up, Possession got cheated out of a theatrical run, but makes for a decent home screening. A possibly romantic, possibly supernatural guessing game that never goes (too) overboard and always looks good, it's mostly a slow-burn two-character piece that's an excellent showcase for Gellar and Pace.

I think in real life you'd shove a creepy in-law claiming to be your comatose husband away a heck of a lot harder than she does here, though.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Psst, did you see what THEY said about YOU?

 Recently, film director Kevin Smith was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for being "too fat to fly." Now while there's two sides to every story, Mister Smith made national headlines about the experience. Why? He told people. He told everybody.

It's something of an old saying that a happy customer will tell 4 or 5 people about their experience with a business but a dissatisfied customer will on average tell 8 to 16 about it. I'm not sure that's not true anymore in the age of social media. Nowadays, it's more that a happy customer will tweet about their experience once or twice. A dissatisfied one is tweeting it five or ten times. Southwest wound up with a black eye in the opinion of the on-line masses and they've done a terrific job of addressing the situation. It's an unfortunate, uncomfortable event for the company and the consumer, but it wound up being played out in the court of public opinion literally in front of millions of people.

Recently, I had a frustrating situation with a local business. Again, there are two sides, but mine involved something I believed to have been misrepresented to me. So I tweeted about it a good 5 or 6 times and had conversations on Twitter with 8 people about it that evening, one of whom told me they recently had an experience that disproved what the company told me. Would any of this happen if I wasn't operating under information the company gave me and then says was incorrect? Of course not.

Mind you, I have 1,041 followers on Twitter, of whom 265 are on my list of "Cincinnati People." I also have 371 Facebook friends, 56 identified in Cincinnati and another 9 in the surrounding region. This is not a lot of people. Most of these people however are exciting, well-connected, educated consumers. I have fantastic friends and talk to marvelous people online. We all bring something to the party and we see what other people post. They're in all walks of life and all sorts of professions. Someone like me goes out and tells over 1,000 people about their experience. Some, but not all of those people I tell are listening at that moment. Several of those people share their own opinions and experiences, and some of those who listened to the whole conversation will remember.

My opinion on if I should even bother to try some local places have been decided by the experiences of people I trust. Should I spend my precious time checking out a new locale if six close friends have already stated a variety of reasons they didn't like it which would also be concerns I had?  Should is actually a moot question. Will is the question and the answer is "no." That's not about letting others make decisions for you. It's simple pragmatism. I love to try out new places but there's so many to choose from and so many other things to do that trying them out is an occasional, special experience. If somethings get ruled out after being vetted by others, so be it. I also love all the sites out there, like, that you can search for other people's experiences with and opinions about businesses.

Does this mean I'm out to trash this company? Certainly not. The instant power of the internet means a customer has a megaphone to vent every impulse, good or bad, that they had. I'm not saying I was hot-headed, but I have all those people hearing about my experience and the information I received. If I wanted to slag off or exaggerate they'd hear that as well. It's an uphill battle for companies with all these opinion-makers and opinion-voicers out there. Likewise, t's a cyclone of information and opinions for us poor consumers to be barraged by and have to sort through. Thankfully, this company has a Twitter presence who's monitoring what is said about the company online. I'd interacted with them once before to great effect and I contacted them that evening about my issue. Anyone who's in business should be keeping an eye on what's on-line. Now that you can have fans of your brand on Facebook and Customer Service outreach on Twitter, there's little excuse to let a situation go by where you can interact with that customer. When I'm contacted like that, which another company did recently to great effect, I feel like I've been noticed and the company became aware of what was going on and left me feeling good about them. I also have a part-time job at a business where we took a look at our listing this weekend. We were appalled to find ourselves low in the rankings and looking at outdated information, but excited to see that we could take ownership of our listing there and make sure that information was corrected. That's taking the bull by the horns.

Be it my mom with 13 Facebook connections, a middling on-line presence like myself or, say, Kevin Smith with his 1,669,184 followers (at the time of this writing), it's always a good idea to keep an eye on who's saying what about your business and you online. Get on Twitter and Facebook and set up a Google Alert. SEO and Social Media Monitoring services are out there.You'll be glad you did. It'll probably make you green and ill with dread, but it's a whole new realm of opportunities. Get in front of potentially bad word of mouth that reaches 160 or 1,600 or 1.600,000-plus people instead of 16 and possibly even win over that one, lone voice who's talking about you. Most of those voicing issues aren't slagging off on you. They just want to be, to feel, heard by a person who can help address the issue.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A slight diversion...

The One-A-Week review for this week, number 8, along with a few other things, have been sidetracked by a some car repairs and some other technical difficulties. We'll be back on schedule momentarily... I promise.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jay's Review: Jackie Chan Presents: Wushu

Don't be fooled by the box, this is a "Coming of age" film fit for the family. Here's my review for!



Upon arrival at an elite martial arts conservatory, a group of young boys swear allegiance to each other and form a gang. A decade later at graduation, they unexpectedly cross paths with an evil martial arts master and foil his kidnapping plan. Now, they must put their combat skills to the test in order to defeat this enemy and save their brotherhood.


In the US, Jackie Chan has become synonymous with lighthearted martial arts films that exhibit a sense of humor coupled with dazzling action choreography. Chan executive produced the Sammo Hung starring, family-friendly Wushu and it has that same flavor. From the beginning the action sequences defer to gentle humor as Hung plays widowed father to two sons who join a trio of kids at a "martial arts conservatory."

The box cover copy is misleading to sell this like a crime thriller. If anyhting the crime subplot is almost extraneous. Instead of being about defeating "the brotherhood," Wushu is a "learning and growing through athletics" film. More Karate Kid than Karate Kid II. In fact, the first fifteen minutes play like a children's film until a creative sequence showing the children turning into their older counterparts by turning flips. Wushu may be "the ancient art of fighting," but they're more students of gymnastics. Even during their first combat exhibition you expect them to break out those long, twirling ribbons on sticks. A throwdown with the Bring It On girls feels almost in the offing.

(The "group of young boys" is also misleading as the team's fifth member is a girl who's just as agile in combat as the boys are.)

This "Scooby Gang" (The "Jing Wu Men," derived from Bruce Lee's film Fists of Fury) have cute teen romance and visits to amusement parks and movie sets while they foil a team of nefarious child kidnappers. Even Kung Fu Film legend Hung gets in on the action and proves one can still be incredibly nimble even with a great deal of middle-aged spread. He's still a pro, even if it's clear they're making some cheats to help him sell what used to look effortless. The rest of the cast are graceful athletes that prove that, even with a little wire-work cheating, there's a great deal of beauty and dance in martial arts.

The last third of the film gets a little darker as our leads go from exhibition fighting to real combat, making the end, where they wrap up their athletic competitions in a time-worn fashion. You know who'll triumph, but the ride's still enjoyable.

is presented in a widescreen format with audio 5.1 Dolby Digital in both English dub and the original Mandarin. English and Spanish subtitles are available. The DVD's special features include a nearly 18 minute behind-the-scenes featurette featuring lots of fight choreography, a featurette on the film's Cannes premier, and trailers for Jackie Chan Presents Wushu, The Spy Next Door, The Forbidden Kingdom, and Lionsgate's Blu-Ray line.


PG-13 for action-violence but tame, the family-friendly, coming-of-age-thru-athletics comedy Wushu reminds that you can enjoy the gymnastic beauty of martial arts without much in the way of real violence. The humor is never saccharine sweet and there's genuine thrills in the action sequences... though be sure to warn the kids not to leap in front of roller coasters or giant, rolling drums.

All in all, Wushu is a pleasure.

(...though I kept picturing Nadia Comaneci wiping the floor with these kids.)


Jay's Review: Fireball

Gettin' my bloodlust on with an amazing Thai "Basketball meets Kickboxing" movie I reviewed for!



Just released from a juvenile detention center, Tai joins Fireball, an underground team playing ultraviolent basketball based on Muay Thai principles and hosted by criminal drug lords that he believes are responsible for putting his twin brother in a coma. No rules, no mercy, and only the strongest will survive.


Most movie plots are just a collection of interchangeable pieces, assembled like Legos. "One twin brother, newly out from jail, avenging the brutal assault of the other at the hands of the organized crime with the help of the twin's demure girlfriend who becomes slightly torn between the two" is a set of building blocks that's been used... well, "a few times" would be putting it gently. Subplots about one player trying to save his mom from eviction and another with a baby on the way are such old, hoary chestnuts they should be in black and white and from RKO. It's what you wrap around a movie's plot that sells it when it's an action genre picture.

In the case of Fireball, we get an undercover twin joining an underground game of basketball wrapped in Muai Thai Kickboxing. A solid martial arts b-picture creatively shot on video and filled with Thai atmosphere, most of the story plays second fiddle to the action, as it should.  The video look of hte film enhances the action scenes with it's realistic feel. When a body flies into the courts chain-link fence, you flinch back.

In Fireball the first team to score, or the team with the last man standing, wins. Avenging brother Tai and his team of merry misfits throw down some sweet action in the game scenes. A little CGI sweetens the pot and hides the wirework, but on the whole, Fireball is a kinetic, violent game that is, to its credit, shot in a manner where you can (mostly) follow the plays along with the punches. This game isn't shirts vs. skins, it's bleeds vs. breaks. The action scenes will bring you back to watch this one again and again, even if you're fast-forwarding through the boilerplate-plot to get to them.

is presented widescreen with options for both Thai and English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish. Trailers are included for a variety of Martial Arts and Ultimate Fighting films Wushu, Death Warrior, Four Dragons, Bodyguard: A New Beginning, Never Surrender and Fireball.  A nearly 12 minute behind-the-scenes featurette is included, and references the martial arts, wirework, boxing, and basketball that all got melded together in the film. All in all the typical, sturdy Lionsgate Package.


One to watch with your "Bros," Fireball mixes basketball with sweet martial arts action. 15 to 20 years ago this would star Jean Claude Van Damme or Don "The Dragon" Wilson, and be not nearly as enjoyable. This is a great mix of sports film and martial arts movie, and it's an energetic, satisfying, and bloodthirsty experience.


Friday, February 12, 2010

One A Week Review #7: Straight-Jacket (2004)

For three years in the fifties, while he was one of the world's biggest movie stars, Rock Hudson was married his agent's secretary, Phyllis Gates. This is pretty much universally viewed now as a beard relationship to cover up his homosexuality from the public. The jury is out on if it was a sham, and if Gates was a dupe, but this marriage is the inspiration for the comedy Straight-Jacket.

Movie Star Guy Stone (Matt Letscher) is the Hudson stand in here. An extremely promiscuous love-'em-and-leave-'em lothario I find hard to believe was able to stay on the "QT and Hush-Hush" in the 50's. His behavior certainly wouldn't fly under the radar today. If Hudson was anything like this the Hollywood gossip machinery really did work at controlling the message.

After losing the lead in "Ben-Hur" after getting netted in a Police bar-sweep, his manager Jerry (the always delightful Veronica Cartwright) decides he has to get married as a cover up. Much like Mrs. Hudson, the secretary of the studio boss is played for a patsy and becomes Mrs. Sally Stone. (Carrie Preston, who played the part on stage)

Part of the fun is that it seems Guy's sampled the wares of just about every man in the movie, excepting the studio boss and those of rival star Freddie Stevens (Jack Plotnick). Meanwhile, the oblivious Sally starts acting as she thinks a Fifties housewife should: cooking badly, redecorating worse (Ceramic Elephants, anyone) and letting double-entendres fly over her perfectly coiffed head. She bowls right over Stone's bitchy Major Domo, Victor (Michael Emerson, long before he was Ben Linus on Lost).

Soon enough, Guy is falling for an idealistic novelist (Adam Greer). Hey, I do loves me writers myself, so I for one totally get it. Mostly it seems he falls because Rick the novelist has the temerity to play hard to get... for about 4 whole, record-breaking minutes (hey, love is fast sometimes). Their rapid-fire romance is supposedly "star-crossed" and obvious to everyone (excepting Sally) but mostly it does feel forced. This is a pretty verbal comedy, so the plot keeps bubbling along so it's not the focus. One does wish the leads sparked a bit more though.

Of course, Rick the writer is just a little too idealistic. He's not as naive as Sally, but he comes close. We watch our great big star topple form the top of the mountain and have to climb back up again while Guy and Rick play "Will they or won't they?" It's a predictable journey, though one fun enough to take with these characters.

Jennifer Elise Cox (Jan from the "Brady Bunch" films), Clinton Leupp ("Miss Coco Peru") and Tom Lenk ("Buffy, the Vampire Slayer") show up in bit parts. They're nimble comics and I wish they'd had as much screen time as Plotnick. If you've never seen Girls Will Be Girls, he's brilliant in it, as is Leupp. The whole cast is gold (though I have no idea why Cartwright agreed to play a quick scene on a toilet).

In the end, Straight-Jacket is a nimble verbal comedy with a whole lot of zingers, even if the central romance is a bit flimsy. It does project that an outed Hudson would have been liberated and a whole lot happier. In the end we don't know what his life was like, or could have been like, but it's a wonderful thought. I hope he was happy. I like to think he could have been a lot happier.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jay's Review: Kingdom of the Spiders

I invite you to enjoy this campy 70s drive-in "classic," Kingdom of the Spiders, and check out my review for If you like flims of the era or the genre, this is must! Sheer Saturday afternoon bad cable movie heaven from a time gone by...


William Shatner stars as veterinarian "Rack" Hansen in this cult classic about an Arizona town infested with a horde of arachnids that turn on the humans who's insecticides have depleted their natural food supply.

After livestock belonging to Rack's friend, rancher Walter Colby, fall victim to a spider attack, entomologist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) arrives and tries to help Rack deal with the crisis- but with the big county fair fast approaching, Mayor Connors refuses to let them quarantine Colby's ranch. Soon the remaining residents of the town must barricade themselves to stave off the eight-legged invaders in the ultimate man vs. spider showdown.

The first thing that happens is Kingdom of the Spiders is a laugh-out-loud moment where a placid moment is disrupted as a huge music stinger swells and a cow senses danger! Suddenly it's attacked by a cameraman! Let's just say this is a tongue-in-cheek opening to a movie about  rampaging tarantulas that's hard to take as seriously as it's played, but is sure a lot of fun.

William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode, and Altovise Davis headline this very 70s cult/camp classic. Take the basic story-structure of Jaws (with the cow standing in for the skinny-dipping blonde and a Mayor unwilling to close the town's moneymaking seasonal events) and mix in a dash of The Birds, plop it all down on what I assume is the producer's horse farm and let Shatner chew the whole thing like cud and your end result is a very enjoyable night in with a movie.

Filmed in that flat, no-frills 70s-style epidemic to higher-end drive-in programmers of the era on land recognizable from a lifetime of exposure (even second-hand) to Westerns and scored with Country AM radio songs, the whole production  feels a little older than it's 1977 release date.  This whole package makes one nostalgic to a rainy Saturday in front of the TV, which is where many of us caught this and it's “nature run amok” peers like Ants!, Squirm, Frogs, and The Swarm.

The whole film has a healthy sense of fun about it. According to, the lovely, poised (and criminally under-employed) Bolling was cast because she had no problem working with the spiders. Her first scene handling one is reminiscent of a Disney Princess about to sing to her wild forest friends. I personally picture her rolling her eyes at a squeamish Shatner, but maybe that's just my imagination working overtime. Her scenes with Lieux Dressle seem like a friendlier version of the Tippi Hendren/Suzanne  Pleschette duo in The Birds. Another character dies here pretty much like the Pleschette character does in that film. (Such predictability is one of the real comforts of this kind of film.)

There's a few jumps, and lots of stale, stock Sci-Fi film confrontations between scientists and city officials. Most of all, there's lots and lots of tarantulas. Everywhere. And that's A-OK.

Kingdom of the Spiders
is presented widescreen, in the original stereo audio,  and includes the following special features:
-The original theatrical trailer along with those for Shout! Factory releases Audition, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 20th Anniversary Edition, and The Stepfather
-A trio of interview featurettes: a 4 minute one featuring writer Steve Lodge, one that's 16 minutes featuring William Shatner and a 12 minute one featuring "Spider Wrangler" Jim Brockett.
-Feature-length commentary track with the Director, Producer, Cinematographer, and Mr Brockett.
-17 minutes of behind the scenes footage and a poster gallery

Most people have an instinctual fear of spiders. Sadly, we’re not as averse to camp Sci-Fi nature run amok movies, especially when they sneak in a few genuine chills that play on our fears of the invasive power of nature.. Kingdom of the Spiders is a fine example of 70s Sci-Fi frommage perfect for any rainy Saturday.

Personally, I always have a few newspapers or magazines within reach and I wear size 13 wide shoes... I'm pretty convinced I could make it to the end of Kingdom of the Spiders.


Jay's Review: The Appeared

wwWhy is it always the films you put off watching that wind up catching you unawares? This low-key thriller I reviewed for moved me in ways I didn't expect.



In the tradition of The Devil's Backbone comes the internationally acclaimed Argentine/Spanish horror saga from writer/director Paco Cabezas

During a road trip to visit their dying father, an estranged brother and sister discover a hidden diary that reveals a family legacy of fear and torture. But when past and present begin to collide, the siblings must confront the truth behind the trail of 'the disappeared': 30,000 people kidnapped and murdered under Argentina's military dictatorship... some of whom may have returned to our world. Ruth Diaz and Javier Pereira star in this startling combination of supernatural chiller and shocking political thriller that, Eye For Film hails as "a modern ghost story made with commitment, passion and effective terror."

The Appeared
opens as estranged siblings return to Buenos Aires in August, 2001 to attend to the removal of their dying father from life support. While Pablo is warm and nostalgic, Malena is clearly uncomfortable and just wants to sign the papers and go. Pablo's need to know more about their father before he's willing to sign leads them down a path that melds the real history of Argentina's "Dirty War" of the late Seventies, where thousands of Argentineans just disappeared into the night with a ghost story. 

The first ghost appears to lead Pablo to their father's secret diary, which in turn leads them to a hotel where they encounter more ghosts, The Appeared of "the Disappeared," who may just be somehow leading them to change the past. With supernatural assistance, the siblings pursue a mystery and tumble down a rabbit hole of gothic family tragedies and national secrets with a few decent jumps along the way.

The pacing here may seem slow to the American viewer, but in trade, the performers are uniformly excellent (and no, I don't think that just because they speak a language I don't.) Cinematography that makes deep black scenes work dramatically and "gotcha" scares that never feel cheap help to make The Appeared a gripping and engaging thriller for a night when you want to settle in and think with a film while getting a few joy-ride moments along the way. I turned to read up a bit on the “Dirty War” before watching the film, and the vastness of that horror dwarfs anything you’ll ever see in a movie. The Appeared understands that all vast tragedies are related to in human terms. I really did feel like the film educated me on a period of history I was unaware of by introducing it on an intimate scale, all the while balance that with a ripping good yarn.There’s a bold “button” at the end of the film, an ironic observation on human behavior, that I’d find almost offensive anywhere else, but forgivable here.


The DVD presents the film in widescreen with English, English SDH (Subtitling for the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing), and Spanish l and the original 5.1 Dolby Digital Spanish soundtrack. The extras include the film's trailer and a 21 minute long making-of featurette. The DVD also has trailers for the IFC Films titles Dead Snow (Nazi Zombies? Yes, please!), The Escapist, Dark Mirror, and Pontypool.

Give yourself the gift of reading up on the chilling "Dirty War" of Argentina with it's estimation of over 30,000 "Disappeared" citizens before watching to give an added weight to viewing The Appeared. It's a cerebral thriller that feels somewhat respectful to the history it's using as it's jumping off point. This is a sophisticated, disturbing ghost story and family tragedy that's worth giving your attention to.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

One A Week Review #6: Whispers In The Dark

The early 90s were a time when evidently everyone was in love with their shrink. Well, if the 80s was the "ME" decade, the 90s was the "Let ME gaze at my navel." The early 90s were also a ripe time for that old chestnut, the "Erotic Thriller."

One of the sub-genres of the "Erotic Thriller" genre was the "Erotic Shrink Thriller" - where a therapist gets inappropriately entwined with an incredibly horny patient, one that generally murders or gets murdered. Color of Night, Final Analysis, and this, Whispers In The Dark, were just a few of the many that escaped the straight-to-tape doldrums and made it to the big screen.

In Whispers In The Dark, Anabella Sciorra, with her very 90's short-do and shoulder pads. is the shrink with questionable boundaries in question. Her patient load includes a loopy painter played by John Leguizamo and Deborah Kara Unger, cementing her 90s cerebral sex-bomb status here (and in Crash) as a patient who's really just one big erogenous zone. I'm not saying her resemblance to Sharon Stone got her the part, but it couldn't have hurt. Really her character seems to be the Madonna Sex book in heels and a flowered dress...

Sciorra's therapist-couple pals are played here by Jill Clayburgh and Alan Alda, who's also her shrink, and she's developing an attraction to Daddy-substitute and Charles Grodin look-alike Jamey Sheridan. It's lucky her live-in (Anthony Heald) conveniently is moving out for more space right at the start of the picture, because by the twenty minute mark she's got pilot Jamey flying her friendly skies (on the first date, no less). She's also letting patient Unger get so carried away she sheds her dress and nearly self-diddles upon the fainting couch.

Before too long, Pilot, Sex-fiend, and Shrink are in a nasty love triangle until Unger's character is found dead, and it becomes a whodunnit with a very limited cast of suspects. Professional Cop Impersonator Anthony LaPaglia shows up to sniff around, but is no match for the loony horse-pucky that makes up the moving parts of any good "Erotic Thriller."... and yes, "moving parts" is a pun.

Speaking of moving, is a roaming, zooming camera supposed to symbolize "movement" or "action" during the Therapy scenes, or is the director just channeling Jess Franco? The grainy 70's grindhouse-style cinematography of Unger's flashback scenes sure seems to have a taste of the Franco. Sciorra makes for a pretty godawful shrink, and there's really no question of "Whodunnit" when you realize the casting is as predictably "stunt" as an episode of Murder, She Wrote.

This is, all in all, a fairly un-erotic mess featuring a bunch of completely unprofessional professionals. Still, as early-90s commercial films go it was... a "programmer," but not awful. I remember seeing it in the theatre and it sure seemed racy at the time. Oh, how times have changed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Jay's Review: According to Greta

A film that starts out absolutely insufferable but matures by the end into a surprisingly engaging movie... my review:



Hilary Duff delivers the most unexpected performance of her career as Greta, a rebellious 17-year-old 'exiled' for the summer to a sleepy Jersey shore community where she immediately informs her grandparents (Michael Murphy and Academy Award-winner Ellen Burstyn) of her plans to kill herself by the time she turns 18. But before Greta can cross suicide off her 'to-do' list, she'll begin a romance with a young cook from a troubled background (a star-making performance by Evan Ross of Pride), confront a tragic family secret and maybe even discover the promising young woman beneath her sarcastic shell. Just when Greta's looking for a way out, will life find a way back in? Oscar-nominee Melissa Leo (Frozen River) co-stars in this always-surprising comedy/drama executive produced by Hilary Duff.


Well isn't Hilary Duff just the cutest suicidal teenager ever? Glib and overplaying it, she aims for petulance and comes of labored as just about every line out of her is like the rude version of a character from the "Dawson's Creek" dialogue school. Six minutes into the movie you're telling her to just knock herself off already. It's frankly hard to believe Ellen Burstyn isn't being anything but gracious in not bulldozing the child completely. (Burstyn hides her iron core for most of the film, but does get to sparkle in one speech towards the end.)

The whole feeling of According to Greta is "Television Pilot." Our lead moves in with her slightly wacky grandparents and gets a job in a quirky workplace. There's a wacky neighbor and a completely bland love interest (the completely dead-eyed Evan Ross). At one point, Greta walks through Asbury Park, New Jersey - which is exaggerated into evidently being "post-apocalyptic." Disaffected Greta crashes into the lives of her grandparents and immediately starts trying her darndest at being "dramatically difficult" in a way that'd get your ears boxed in real life. On the whole, it's a jumble that I think I'd actually like it more AS a TV show than an actual feature film. That said, both Greta and the story mature if you stick it out for the duration and by the end, the film has stealthily engaged you.

There's a decent selection of music in the film, both score and songs, and some fun interstitial animations of Greta's "Diary." (Weren't there animated parts of Duff's "Lizzie McGuire" TV show?) If you're a fan of Duff's, I suspect you'll see it as major growth in her career. If you've spent some time in the film trenches, you won't find as much to spark to, but I think young adults will enjoy this one (an episode of geriatric intimacy aside) because they'll relate to the perspective the story's told from. It's fairly predictable but as a family-friendly PG-13 title, it ain't bad. Greta herself is just a bit insufferable.

According to Greta
is presented in Widescreen with English Dolby 5.1 Surround Audio with English and Spanish Subtitles. The special features offered are a behind-the-scenes featurette, Deleted & Alternate scenes, and an Alternate Ending.

Not the favorite film of the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce, According to Greta is a TV pilot Sheep in a feature Wolf's clothing. I think teens will relate to the viewpoint of the film, and their parents can sit through it. (Don’t worry, a scene of teen intimacy is responsibly handled) If you don't have a teen in your life you may not have much to take away from this film. The first two thirds of the film can be pretty grating, but the last half hour mellows and unexpectedly rewards.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jay's Review: Saw VI

 Thanks to, I've finally been ushered into the Saw film series... I'm not sure how I feel about that...



Special Agent Strahm is dead, and Detective Hoffman has emerged as the unchallenged successor to Jigsaw's legacy. However, when the FBI draws closer to Hoffman, he is forced to set a game into motion, and Jigsaw's grand scheme is finally understood.

True confessions time: I had never watched one of the Saw movies before. I caught maybe twenty minutes of the first one, but beyond that the whole "torture porn" genre always left me cold. Saw IV one start with a couple of loan sharks (one played by the winner of a "Scream Queen" contest) having to competitively slice themselves apart to throw their flesh on a scale and beat Jigsaw's contraptions certainly has a sense of schadenfreude for many, though. Would the man cutting his stomach for rapid weight loss win versus the gal chopping her own arm off? It's morbid, brief, and a flashy way to start a film.

The next scene I assume to be a flashback to the end of part five, and it introduces a "villain" in crooked cop Costas Mandylor (made up for the film with  far too much pink lip gloss), who I assume to be the current Jigsaw, though this is a part where having seen the previous five films would certainly come in handy. Sending him up against a petty Insurance Adjuster, his staff, and a nosy tabloid reporter is witty and current.  Actuary Tables can't compete with the Jigsaw's evil booby-trapped tests of will.

Mandylor and Betsy Russell, as Jigsaw's widow, continue carrying out his "Last Will and Testament" with the signature Saw grisly murder scenarios. Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith are worked in through tapes, flashbacks and Russell's hallucinations, even though I understand their characters died already in the series. Russell and Smith are still lovely, welcome film presences even as villains. Bell is a long-time character actor obviously having a good time, even if pretty much his every line is delivered in a grim monotone. The victims, however, aren't nearly as developed or interesting. But again, they're just meat for Jigsaw's grinder.

Gritty, flashy cinematography and jarringly creepy music over-sell the tone of the proceedings even as they set it. Be it a blurry snippet of a prior installment or detailed close-ups of grue and gizzards, the Saw style gets tiring on a level where you wonder why no one is spoofing it yet, a la Scary Movie. Flashbacks to previous films (and scenes in this one) keep the new viewer, not up on the proceedings, but roughly fill in enough of the basics that you can nearly follow this sixth installment. Thankfully, character development isn't the issue, even if the point of the story is supposedly testing one's character. In the end, the sadism of the traps and winless choices are unpleasant in the extreme. You can appreciate it as a horror movie, but a few scenes, specifically the merry-go-round one, say more about the viewer than Jigsaw should you enjoy them.

Saw VI
is presented widescreen with English 5.1 Dolby Digital EX Audio and English and Spanish subtitles. Trailers for Gamer, Blood Creek, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, Train, Planet Hulk,  and the and websites.
Special Features include 3 Audio Commentary tracks, one with the Producers, the other with the Director and Writers. Short featurettes on The Traps of Saw VI, Jigsaw Revealed (an interview with Tobin Bell), and A Killer Maze (The Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights Saw attraction). There are 4 music videos from the soundtrack, and the film's theatrical trailer.

Also included in the package is the DVD for the first Saw film. It's also presented in widescreen with  3 different English audio options, English and Spanish subtitles, and a bonus commentary track with Director James Wan and Writer/Actor Leigh Whannell. The special features include a featurette, Trailers and TV Spots, a Poster Gallery, rated and unrated versions of the Fear Factory music video "Bite the Hand That Feeds You," along with a Making-of featurette for the video.

Not a bad extra to get at all.

Grisly "Gorenography" to churn a buck in a series, I can't recommend the newbie start with this one. But as a horror film, Saw IV is flashy, vulgar, and dark. Call it a sadistic thriller for the Health Care Reform Bill argument. Perhaps installment VII should be Jigsaw versus Congress?

I just can't figure out two things: A) Who has the kind of free-time required to set so many traps and arrange this many kidnappings and B) who enjoys watching this sadistic stuff?