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John Allman

If you’ve ever wandered the aisles at the video store or surfed the DVR pay-per-view options and seen a bunch of movies that you’ve never heard of, chances are John has watched them. Why? He loves movies. All kinds of movies. Good, bad, so-bad-they’re good, even the truly unwatchable ones. He mostly loves horror and science-fiction and drive-in exploitation movies that most upstanding model citizens wouldn’t dare watch. Then he writes up his thoughts so you can decide - watch, don’t watch or avoid at all costs. Sometimes he even gets to talk to the cool folks who make some of your favorite films.

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New Releases for Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Posted Mar 31, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Mar 31, 2012 at 11:41 AM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

Strip Nude for Your Killer
Genre: Italian Giallo
Directed by: Andrea Bianchi
Run time: 98 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: The inside cover of the new Blu-Ray packaging for “Strip Nude for Your Killer” pretty much says it all about the latest “cult classic,” a very loose interpretation, to be upgraded to high definition by Blue Underground.

It features a full-color publicity shot of a topless starlet, her bosom heaving, right behind the cradle that holds the disc.

“Strip Nude” is pulpy 1970s exploitation at its best – part slasher, part soft-core porn – filtered through the non-discriminating story structure of an Italian giallo. 

Director Andrea Bianchi is best known for the 1981 zombie camp classic, “Burial Ground,” which could be found in every horror section at every Mom-n-Pop VHS rental store in the early 80s.

But “Strip Nude,” which came out in 1975, is probably his best work, and that’s not saying much. The plot concerns a group of professionals in the fashion modeling industry who start dying in connection to a fashion model who dies prior to the credits while having an abortion. And every victim is forced to disrobe – strip naked! – just before they are killed.

This is not Masterpiece Theater. This is an aging blonde fashion icon seducing a new starlet by having her cavort half-naked around a set. This is spontaneous nudity for no reason other than the director shouted ‘And…’Boobs!’ at the start of the scene.

This isn’t even on the level of Dario Argento’s worst effort. It follows a specific formula – victim appears on screen, they have a brief moment’s peace and then suddenly, a slim, leather-clad, helmet-wearing motorcycle rider materializes and slices said victim into pieces. Every major character or creepy supporting extra is teased as possibly being the killer, with the killer’s true identity withheld until the final frame.

“Strip Nude” is a questionable choice for Blu-Ray upgrade, if only because there seem to be so many more-deserving, legitimate camp and cult classic films out there that might make a better argument for mass-market distribution. But as a sleazy Italian sex-slasher, it’s a definite guilty pleasure, the kind of movie that I used to seek out greedily when I was 12 years old and scouring the shelves at the local pick-a-flick for some lurid, trashy entertainment.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Hot, voluptuous 1970s babes.
Nudity – Gratuitous
Gore – Yes
Drug use – No
Bad Guys/Killers – The man, or woman, hmmm, in the all-black leather motorcycle outfit.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – International and Italian theatrical trailers, interviews, poster and still gallery.

Also Available:

Chipwrecked: Alvin and the Chipmunks

In the Land of Blood and Honey

Eureka: Season 4.5

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

A Dangerous Method

Breaking Wind

BBC High Definition Natural History Collection: Planet Earth, Wild China, Galapagos, Ganges

The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch

Roger Corman Presents: Camel Spiders

Die

The Broken Tower

The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol

Betty White: Champion for Animals

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIII – King Dinosaur, The Castle of Fu Manchu, Code Name: Diamond Head and Last of the Wild Horses

Cat Dog: Season 1, Part 2

Not To Be Overlooked:

Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season


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New Releases for Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Posted Mar 25, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Mar 25, 2012 at 12:51 PM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Genre: Thriller/Remake
Directed by: David Fincher
Run time: 158 minutes
Rating: R
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: The Chicken and the Egg.

From one comes the other, and vice versa – a perpetual circle of life that produces a very distinct end result, sustenance for all mankind.

We don’t think about the egg when we eat the chicken. The egg just exists. We don’t stand in the kitchen having an internal argument about which one came first. We don’t make comparisons. We crack the egg, we cook it, we enjoy it and move on.

If only the same rules applied to movies, which can be a lot like the chicken and the egg when multiple versions populate the video shelf.

It’s not that someone has tinkered with a beloved property. A lot of remakes today are mid-level B-grade flicks that only rabid fans coveted.

In fact, I’m usually all for a different interpretation. All I ask is that the director do something, anything to make it his or her own.

That doesn’t always happen. Look at Gus Van Sant’s odd take on “Psycho,” which is essentially a shot for shot redo with different actors.

Other directors make slight or major deviations, breaking from the former by taking a wholly different approach to a single scene, revising the ending or excising huge chunks of narrative altogether.

Usually, moves that get remade are ones that have steeped into the collective conscience for many, many years. In the past decade, however, remake fever has gripped Hollywood at an unhealthy pace, driving studio executives to remake movies that weren’t that great the first time.

And, in the past five years particularly, the trend has been for successful, subtitled foreign films to get remade quickly for American audiences. Horror has been the go-to genre to suffer the most remakes in this regard, as directors ran through more than a dozen Japanese thrillers, only to find a handful of middling hits.

Two recent remakes that stand out, however, both arrived in the past two years.

“Let Me In” is a captivating second look at “Let the Right One In,” an incredibly innovative and shocking Swedish vampire film. There are a lot of similarities, but director Matt Reeves makes just enough tweaks to distinguish his version from Tomas Alfredson’s original.

And then there is David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which arrives 33 months after Niels Arden Oplev’s Swedish version.

It’s nearly impossible to watch Fincher’s version without comparing it to Oplev’s original. It’s damn distracting, honestly, to the point that I wished there had never been a Swedish version, or at least that I had yet to see it.

It’s not that GWTDT is such a stunning work of art that there should be only one definitive film. It’s not even that the main character, the bisexual computer hacking, chain smoking, avenging angel Lisbeth Salander, is so iconic, you can only have one actress play her.  (Both Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara approach her in different ways, creating very distinguishable, highly engrossing portrayals.)

Maybe it’s because the two films are so similar that you wish you could splice together an Ultimate GWTDT film by using the best bits from both. Somewhere, someone, I’m sure, is already hard at work on that task. And honestly, I would watch it.

But that’s the quandary that keeps you from completely losing yourself in a very fine, very edgy, very adult film from one of the best directors working today.

Fincher’s version ranks up there with his other dark, serial killer entries, “Se7en” and “Zodiac,” but it fails to match the meatiness of either of those exemplary thrillers.

He does a lot of things better than Oplev, starting with an unbelievably cool title sequence that comes off like the opening credits to a fetishized James Bond(age)  adventure. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is superb, dark and dangerously haunting.

The sexual deviancy is amped up, but Fincher wisely doesn’t try to outdo Oplev, and he actually downplays two of the three rape scenes, saving his best dirty bits for Salander’s revenge on her court-appointed overseer.

To be fair, it should be noted that Mara’s performance is brilliant and brave. She bares everything and makes it work, and within 15 minutes of her being on screen, you forget about Rapace.

Daniel Craig actually detracts from your enjoyment of Mikael Blomkvist. He has become one of those actors who is difficult to separate from the character he is most associated with, in this case 007. In my opinion, Michael Nyqvist’s performance is much better.

And the central mystery that propels GWTDT is still complex enough to withstand a return visit. Fincher uses his unique style to great effect during the investigative scenes, particularly when Salander is sharing with Blomkvist a series of crime scene photos from previous victims.

So what’s the final verdict? Is it worth your time to watch another version of a story that you already know with characters you already love?

Yes, it is. Definitely.

Just be prepared to feel a little frustration at points when your brain flickers back to a previous memory of certain scenes. It’s a vexing sensation of déjà vu that doesn’t cripple your enjoyment, but it definitely makes you work hard to push past the past and feel something new.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Rooney Mara, smoking hot as Lisbeth Salander
Nudity – Yes, gratuitous
Gore – Minimal
Drug use – No
Bad Guys/Killers – If you’ve read the book, you know. If not, you have to watch.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Director’s commentary; The Vanger Archives, a four-plus hour, multi-part documentary; Interactive main title featurette with commentary.
On the Web – http://www.dragontattoo.com/site/

A Lonely Place to Die (IFC, 99 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Director Julian Gilbey’s survival thriller “A Lonely Place to Die” takes two played-out genres, the kidnap for ransom and the stalked in the woods thrillers, and tries mightily to make something new and fresh.

Gilbey is mostly successful, aided in large part by the reigning go-to B-movie heroine, Melissa George, whose very physical performance keeps “Lonely” crackling even when it lags.

The basic plot is nothing new – Five friends set out on an adrenaline-junkie excursion to scale a mountain. They discover a young girl buried alive in the forest. And suddenly one or more unseen antagonists are chasing them down the mountain, hunting them like prey.

Gilbey manages to shock his audience with unexpected deaths that rely more on surprise than gory special effects. He keeps a tight lid on answers to basic questions, like who are the hunters and why did they bury a young girl alive and what’s with the armed security detail sent with the bag man to pay the ransom to get the girl back.

And he makes spectacular use of the natural world, staging several intense, white-knuckle set pieces on a sheer cliff face where one wrong move spells instant death.

The last 30 minutes becomes a little formulaic, but an unexpectedly dark ending recaptures the rebel spirit that Gilbey seems to have been trying to maintain throughout. It’s an appropriate, if not completely satisfying, close to a well-made survival thriller that doesn’t necessarily rise to the top of the genre, but still manages to kick the crap out of standard Hollywood fare like “Cliffhanger.”

Battle Royale: The Complete Collection (Anchor Bay, 369 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): There have been a lot of comparisons made between “Battle Royale,” one of the original Japanese thrillers, and “The Hunger Games,” one of the most anticipated films of 2012.

Both films focus on high-school age young adults who are forced by their respective governments to fight each other to the death. And both were based on popular fiction novels.

But that’s really where the comparison ends.

“Battle Royale,” released in 2000, heralded the arrival of J-Horror as a legitimate sub-genre. It was shocking and controversial and got banned in several countries despite being a huge commercial success in Japan.

Director Kinji Fukasaku’s vision of the future doesn’t focus on the whys or the hows. He isn’t interested in showing a dystopian future where society celebrates such violence by tuning in to watch young people destroy each other, a la Roger Corman’s pulpy “Death Race 2000.”

Fukasaku instead focuses more on how the game changes its participants, freeing some to unleash the killer barely contained inside, while showing others at their weakest, unable or unwilling to comprehend or accept what has happened, and dying spectacular deaths as a result.

“Battle Royale” is basically “Lord of the Flies” on acid. Some of the students are indistinguishable. Others stand out for their bloodthirsty acceptance of the kill-or-be-killed rules that are established with brutal, blunt efficiency by one of the group’s teachers. An early scene, after the students have woken on an island with electronic collars affixed to their necks, shows a student who refuses to participate being knifed and then blown up by the teacher. The demonstration is meant to show that the collars are actually explosive devices. It’s effective and chilling.

Anchor Bay has pulled out all the stops in finally releasing “Battle Royale,” and its slightly lesser sequel, “Battle Royale II: Requiem,” as a complete collection on Blu-Ray. The stylish collectible boxed set comes with three versions of the two films, both the director’s and theatrical cuts of the first film, and the director’s cut of the sequel. There are a host of special features, including behind-the-scenes documentaries, audition and rehearsal footage, press junkets and more.

This one is a must-buy first day.

“Battle Royale,” along with “Audition” and “Ringu,” remain the gold standard of high-concept, envelope-pushing, thought-provoking Japanese genre filmmaking.

Also Available:

Splintered

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Carnage

Roadie

Hop

The Muppets

The Sitter

Snow White: A Deadly Summer

National Lampoon’s The Legend of Awesomest Maximus

Hey Arnold! Season 2

Jane by Design: The Complete First Season


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New Releases for Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Posted Mar 25, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Mar 25, 2012 at 12:43 PM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

The Killing: The Complete First Season
Genre: TV/Crime Procedural
Created by: Veena Sud
Run time: 587 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: “The Killing” doesn’t reinvent the police procedural by making broad-stroke, sweeping changes to the classic who-done-it formula.

Instead, it focuses an inordinate amount of time on the small, quiet details that often get overlooked, but which serve as the building blocks and load-bearing walls to hold a complex narrative upright.

The stunning AMC original, adapted from the hit Danish TV show “Forbrydelsen,” also is so smart that it doesn’t belittle its audience by showing conversations that are solely designed to progress the plot. You know what I mean – that scene in a movie where the main characters have been driving for three hours but only start to talk about the main issue at hand once they arrive at their destination, thereby ensuring the viewer gets to hear the conversation.

“The Killing” deftly juggles a trio of storylines, each one embarking on a twisty narrative that defies expectation or prediction.

There’s the main homicide investigation of 17-year-old Rosie Larsen, which thrusts Det. Sarah Linden (the remarkable Mireille Enos) and newly transferred (and sober) Det. Stephen Holder into a case that consumes their every waking minute. Linden was supposed to be retiring the day that Larsen’s body was found. Her fiancé has already left Seattle for California, but she can’t break away. The toll that the case takes on her personal life is gut-wrenching.

There’s the saga of the Larsen family, former criminal turned respectable businessman Stan (Brent Sexton) and his wife Mitch (Michelle Forbes), as they deal with the devastation of losing a child and all the formalities that come with burying a loved one. I don’t know that I’ve ever witnessed a more realistic depiction of a family struggling with grief.

And, finally, there is City Councilman Darren Richmond, who is a heated campaign for mayor against an unscrupulous incumbent. Rosie Larsen’s body was found, bound, in the trunk of one of Richmond’s campaign cars.

Any of these narratives would make compelling TV, but combined, they create an unbelievably rich tapestry of human behavior that most prime-time serials can’t match.

And the season finale that supposedly alienated a lot of fans who felt cheated because it didn’t wrap everything up in a nice, tidy package? Personally, I think the ending was perfect. It set the stage for an explosive second season, and did everything you want most in establishing an effective, head-scratching cliff hanger that you absolutely do not see coming.

Do yourself a favor and rush out to buy or rent the first season before the second season begins April 1. I guarantee once you get through the Pilot, you will be hooked.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Crime scene gore.
Drug use – Yes
Bad Guys/Killers – Unknown, for now.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Audio commentaries, an Extended Version of the season finale, deleted scenes, gag reel and a featurette.
On the Web – http://www.amctv.com/shows/the-killing

The Descendants (Fox, 115 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): When is a film damn-near perfect? When everything works – when every detail fits into place, every emotion feels real, every action and reaction seems genuine, organic.

Alexander Payne made a near-perfect film with “The Descendants,” and while it may not have won Best Picture at the Oscars, it’s still one of the most satisfying experiences you will have with a movie all year.

A lot has been made about George Clooney’s lauded turn as a detached father who is forced to confront his own shortcomings while juggling a wife on life support, two daughters coming unraveled and a billion-dollar real estate deal that could forever change Hawaii.

No pressure, right?

Clooney is perfect for the role of Matt King. He reeks of desperation as an absentee dad who suddenly finds himself responsible for his two daughters, college student Alexandra (Shailene Woodley in a performance that should vault her into the A-list of young, serious actors) and her much younger sister Scottie (a remarkably adept Amara Miller, more than holding her own with Clooney).

“The Descendants” chronicles Matt’s personal growth as both a parent and a man, particularly how he deals with a dark secret that his wife kept hidden but his older daughter uncovered.

This is Payne’s best film since “Election,” and as with that movie, Payne’s confident pacing, his whip-smart script, which carefully measures its best lines for maximum effect, and his astute observations on how people really act in times of grief and turmoil, provide a bountiful feast for movie lovers seeking substance instead of flashy style.

Wizards (Fox, 82 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): Ralph Bakshi’s 1977 love letter to J.R.R. Tolkien borrows heavily from Tolkien’s own Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it has a lot more on its mind than just mimicking a classic.

The 35th anniversary collector’s edition, complete with a color booklet, rejected marketing materials and a handsome hardbound case, shows that Bakshi was trying to make a statement about war, about oppression and about power by melding an animated tale of wizards, fairies and fantastic creatures with archival footage of Hitler leading Nazi Germany’s run-up to WWII.

Whether it works depends on your appreciation for different styles of animation, particularly rudimentary drawings and crude, vintage artwork (both of which I happen to like), and whether you can detach yourself from today’s photo-realistic motion-capture and advanced Pixar technology.

Personally, Elinore the fairy sorceress remains one of the hottest cartoon creations ever, up there with Jessica Rabbit and Little Annie Fanny. Avatar the wizard – yep, there’s that word that James Cameron supposedly made up – is like a sarcastic, lecherous Yosemite Sam. And Weehawk the elf warrior is basically Bakshi testing out ideas for “Fire and Ice,” the third and final chapter of his fantasy trilogy, which included 1978’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

This is a must-own disc for fans.

Melancholia (Magnet/Magnolia, 136 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): I’ve decided I’m not smart enough to appreciate Lars von Trier’s films.

It’s not that I’m stupid. I just don’t fully get the entire avant-garde filmmaking movement that von Trier founded, and has expounded upon, during his controversial and often frustrating career.

For one, von Trier isn’t the easiest guy to champion, what with his profiency for spouting off about stupid crap like an affinity for Nazi Germany.

For another, his films, even ones like “Antichrist,” that BVB: Blood, Violence and Babes should celebrate for its affinity for shocking imagery and graphic horror, can be nearly impenetrable.

“Melancholia” falls very much into this camp.

It’s an apocalyptic, end of the world thriller disguised as a talk-heavy, atmospheric, philosophical treaty on love, life and happiness. The world literally explodes in the first 15 minutes, and the rest of the film depicts the lead-up to this terrible, yet hauntingly beautiful, catastrophe.

Honestly, I made it through about 70 minutes. Granted, that 70 minutes included some of the most visually striking images I’d ever seen in a film, but I couldn’t get past the gloomy claustrophobia of it all.

This is particularly a film made for high definition. The lush cinematography, the smooth hand-held camera work, the startlingly quiet moments of supreme heartbreak. It just leaps off the screen in a way that few films could even comprehend.

And von Trier extracts a masterful, moving, brilliantly fearless performance from Kirsten Dunst, finally revealing the A-list-caliber acting that defined her early work (Interview with a Vampire, The Virgin Suicides). She reveals her soul, bares her body and goes darker than any contemporary actress of her generation likely would be capable.

But at what point do you watch a movie to marvel at its technical prowess instead of just for the pure enjoyment of watching a great film?

That’s the frustrating question at the heart of “Melancholia.” Film purists will champion von Trier for bucking convention and making the antithesis of an apocalyptic disaster flick. Others might want something, anything more – not the ridiculous asteroid-hopping of “Armageddon,” but something exciting and fresh.

Whether von Trier can ever deliver on that promise remains to be seen.

The Adventures of Tintin (Paramount, 107 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): “The Adventures of Tintin” is quite possibly the most unlikely surprise of this week’s new releases.

This is a film that I had no desire at all to see when it was released in theaters, a motion-capture, animated adventure based on a Belgian artist’s comic strip creation from the 1920s.

But, you know what? “Tintin” is a blast. It’s exciting, funny and thrilling in ways that most live-action adventure movies no longer know how to be.

The motion-capture is undistinguishable at points, the photo realism no longer creepy, but instead vibrant and alive.

And you can literally feel the energy coming off director Steven Spielberg, an energy that’s been sorely lacking of late in many of his recent movies. This is Spielberg at his best, the man-child wunderkind playing with a new toybox and allowing his imagination to run wild.

There are homages to Indiana Jones, to Jaws, to all the awesome Amblin Entertainment family films of the 1980s.

And the central mystery is a solid one, a search for a long-lost scroll that would reveal the location of a king’s ransom in treasure, that offers enough twists and surprises to keep you guessing through its final act.

Young Adult (Paramount, 94 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): “Young Adult” is not nearly as funny as I expected it to be, but what it lacks in overt humor, it more than makes up for with squirm-inducing discomfort.

In fact, I can’t remember the last film that made me so uncomfortable.

The collaboration between Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron is deep, dark and thorny. Theron is revelatory, playing against type and gender, embodying all the typical awkward male qualities, only funneling them through the POV of a gorgeous, leggy, alcohol-fueled female sociopath.

You know who else rocks in “Young Adult”? Patton Oswalt. He owns his character, the every-man schlub who just happens to have been crippled in high school during a brutal, misguided hate crime and then walked over or ignored by his female classmates like Theron.

The plot is pretty straight-forward, even if the story mines deeper dirt than you’re expecting: Theron is Mavis Gary, the former high school knockout who fled her small Minnesota hometown for the bright lights of Minneapolis. Mavis is a ghost writer for a once-popular Young Adult literary series.

She’s a full-fledged alcoholic, prone to jumping into bed with whomever is available, when she receives an email from her high school/college beau announcing the birth of his first child.

Mavis does what any crazy, 38-year-old woman, scrabbling to find some foothold, any foothold on her life, would do. She decides that the birth announcement is fate telling her to go home and reclaim the man she’s meant to be with – regardless of his wife, or newborn child.

The situations that arise from this decision create some the best awkward moments in recent memory. You can’t bring yourself to hate Mavis, you actually pity her, but you also want to scream and shake her and throw yourself in front of her to block what you know is coming.

“Young Adult” is smart, subversive and full of wicked one-liners that only someone like Diablo Cody could write. And the ending is damn near perfect.

Also Available:

Happy Feet Two

@suicide room

Screwball: The Ted Whitfield Story

Bellissima

La Terra Trema 

The Tribe: Series One, Part One

Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: The Complete Collection

The History of the World in Two Hours

Titanic: The Complete Story

Neverland

Ghost Hunters International: Season 2, Part 1

The Three Musketeers

My Week with Marilyn

Wallace and Gromit: World of Invention

House of Pleasures

Women on the 6th Floor

Breakout Kings: The Complete First Season

Come Fly With Me: Season One

Doctor Who: The Face of Evil

Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen Special Edition

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors Special Edition

Doctor Who: The Robots of Death Special Edition


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New Releases for Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Posted Mar 12, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Mar 12, 2012 at 01:08 PM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

Immortals
Genre: Fantasy/Sword and Sandals
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Run time: 110 minutes
Rating: R
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: There’s a lot that director Tarsem Singh gets right in “Immortals,” which is basically “Clash of the 300 Titans” minus the crazy mythological creatures.

But the film still fails to tap into that fevered fanboy vein that both “300” and the original “Clash of the Titans” mined with much more satisfying results.

Part of the problem is that no matter the obstacle thrown in Theseus’s path, you just don’t really care whether he lives or dies or gets the girl or avenges his mother’s death.

“300” was masterful in that regard. You truly became invested in the plight of the three-score-fold Spartan soldiers, even if the only distinguishable feature was their rippling 12-pack abs.

Everything that felt fresh in “300” feels dated in “Immortals,” and that includes the dream-like imagery, which is the biggest selling point for the film.

Tarsem reminds you early on why “The Cell” is one of the greatest cult classic horror films of the past 20 years – not for its story, which kind of wandered and stalled at points, but because the visuals were so damn cool.

Tarsem’s signature style, a mix of swirling, often slow-motion action, combined with brilliant set design, is visionary. He just can’t find the appropriate vehicle to truly show it off. “The Fall” was a fantastic fable with long, draggy exposition. The upcoming “Mirror Mirror” looks like a misguided, and not funny, take on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” complete with animated stars spinning around a character’s head to signify he’s punch-drunk in love.

“Immortals” suffers by comparison to other, epic sword and sandal features. As Theseus, Henry Cavill, the upcoming Clark Kent/Superman actor, has the square jaw and rippling muscles to sell the part, but he lacks any fire when he speaks. Even his climatic speech fails to muster anything more than a “Meh.”

Mickey Rourke is menacing as Hyperion, but Rourke doesn’t look like he’s having any fun. He glowers and snorts, and distractedly chews on fruit, which seems like an improvisation that someone thought might be an interesting quirk, but he doesn’t create a memorable villain.

And poor Freida Pinto needs to fire her agent. Coming off an amazing performance in “Slumdog Millionaire,” Pinto has been stuck with three characters that gave her nothing of note to do, other than look pretty. She played a young would-be suicide bomber in “Miral,” a veterinarian with absolutely nothing to do in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and, in “Immortals,” her most memorable scene involves her stripping down to give herself to Theseus.

That moment in the film should have been incendiary. Pinto’s oracle Phaedra is a virgin, and as long as she maintains her purity, she will be blessed with visions of the future. By giving herself over to Theseus, she is basically saying the future is forever going to be unknown, and unwritten, at least in her eyes. That’s powerful stuff.

All I remember about the scene is that I’m pretty sure Pinto didn’t use a butt double. That looked to really be her baring all. That’s probably not the lasting impact the filmmakers were hoping to generate.

“Immortals” is far better than the misguided “Clash of the Titans” remake from a few years back. It has amazing set design, and a nice, fluid integration of live-action and CGI-spectacle.

It’s worth watching, on a slow Sunday afternoon, but it won’t win a spot in your favorite movies list, and likely wouldn’t ever merit a second viewing, except once it arrives on cable and you happen to leave HBO playing while you try to fall asleep.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – King Hyperion and his legions.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Deleted scenes, Behind the Scenes featurettes, one Alternate Opening, two Alternate Endings and a digitized graphic novel.
On the Web – www.immortalsmovie.com/splash/

Wound (Vicious Circle/Breaking Glass, 76 minutes, Unrated, DVD): “Wound” is a bizarre little movie, for sure. It has some fascinating elements at play, including a darkly erotic sadomasochistic undercurrent featuring fetish masks and D/s bondage. It spotlights an uncompromisingly graphic amputation of male genitalia in its first 20 minutes. But, in all, it just fails to deliver a cohesive narrative that draws you in. It’s best viewed as background playing on the TV for those few moments you happen to look up and see something unexpected or enticing before returning to the conversation at hand.

Also Available:

The Skin I Live In – I’m not sure if all films by Pedro Almodóvar are this twisted, but based on this absorbing, highly sexualized take on Frakenstein’s monster, I’m gonna go check out the rest of his catalog, pronto!

The Town Ultimate Collector’s Edition – I love, love, love Ben Affleck’s “The Town.” I thought it was better than “The Departed.” It’s one of those films you can watch multiple times and still find something to appreciate. Now comes the deluxe Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which features a gorgeous commemorative book, mug shot cards and other collectibles and an extended cut never before seen featuring a new 20-minute ending.

Footloose – For every generation, there is a time to dance. And, for this generation, a new Ren MacCormack.

Jack and Jill – This has to represent some Faustian debt that Adam Sandler is being forced to repay in return for selling his soul to achieve international popularity. Unless the joke is on us and we are the ones being forced to watch it to atone for our own sins.

Mercenaries – Billy Zane! ‘Nuff said.

Monty Python and The Holy Grail – If you don’t already know it by heart and love it like oxygen, then you aren’t worthy of watching it in high definition.

Transformers Prime: Season One Limited Edition – The first-ever Transformers animated series to be offered in high definition includes a prequel graphic novel from IDW Publishing.

54 – It’s like Woodstock for the free-loving, coke-snorting partygoers of the late 70s, early 80s – a nightclub where fantasies came true.

Tooth Fairy 2 – Larry the Cable Guy assumes the wings in this direct-to-DVD sequel of the Dwayne Johnson/Disney theatrical hit.

Ocean Giants – BBC Earth documentary about dolphins and whales. Fascinating stuff.

MI-5: Volume 10 – BBC series compiles all six episodes from the long-running spy drama’s tenth season.

Blade of Kings – More historical kung-fu greatness featuring Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and more. 

High Road – Wholly improvised stoner comedy from one of the founders of Upright Citizens Brigade, featuring Ed Helms, Rob Riggle and more funny people.

Columbus Circle – Psychological thriller with an impressive cast, including Jason Lee and Selma Blair.

The Lion King 1.5 and The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride – Disney milks the money machine with two direct-to-DVD sequels off a beloved, iconic film.

Fan Favorites: The Best of MacGyver, Cheers, The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Fraiser,  The Honeymooners, Hogan’s Heroes – Compilation sets featuring fan favorite episodes from beloved TV series.

Wyatt Earp’s Revenge – Val Kilmer, who played Doc Holliday in a popular feature film, now plays Wyatt Earp in a direct-to-DVD western co-starring Trace Adkins. Regardless of what you think of Nicholas Cage, he’s yet to sink to Kilmer’s depths.


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A Conversation With: Trish Stratus

Posted Mar 10, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Mar 10, 2012 at 06:42 PM

For anyone who watched World Wrestling Entertainment in the late 1990s, early 2000s there were always a handful of personalities that shined brightest.

There were the epic storylines – Triple H stealing Stephanie McMahon from Test; The Undertaker coming back from the grave to face his brother, whom he disfigured; and the rise, fall and rise of D-generation X.

And there were the ladies – the female wrestlers who eventually became known as the WWE Divas.

One of the most popular, if not most popular, Diva was Trish Stratus, a stunning blonde fitness model who came to embody everything that was fun, and entertaining, about professional wrestling.

Stratus won over fans with a mix of girl next door and sultry femme fatale. She wowed with a wardrobe that was incredibly sexy, but not scandalous. She held her own as much on the microphone as in the ring, and Stratus’ fight skills often outshined any of the female athletes she faced. Most telling, however, was how her popularity survived and prospered even against the most ridiculous or degrading of storylines.

Stratus retired from wrestling in 2006, after winning a record seventh women’s championship belt.

Unlike her contemporaries, Steve “Stone Cold” Austin and Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, she didn’t try to capitalize on her appeal immediately by leaping into feature films. She returned home to Canada, returned to yoga, a practice that had helped her recuperate from a serious injury, and opened Stratusphere Yoga outside Toronto.

Now, less than five years later, she has her own line of yoga equipment, she’s launched a successful exercise DVD and she is appearing in her first movie, “Bounty Hunters,” playing a character that is quintessential “Trish Stratus,” a no-nonsense, sexy babe who kicks butt and can hold her own against any man.

The film, a low-budget action-comedy, by director Patrick McBrearty and writer Reese Eveneshen doesn’t try to do anything outside its comfort zone. The pace is fast, the fight scenes are shot well and feature truly rough, hand-to-hand combat that exceeds even the most hardcore MMA releases of late, and it’s funny.

Stratus took time to speak to BVB: Blood, Violence and Babes from Canada, chatting about her return to physical combat, her hands-on role in making a debut film that would please action fans and her love of yoga.

BVB: I really enjoyed “Bounty Hunters.” It was kind of a return to old-school, action comedies that you used to see in the 1980s and early 1990s, and I thought you did great. You have a definite screen presence, and you actually came off like a seasoned veteran even though this is your first lead role.

TS: I loved doing it. I definitely was the newbie on board. I guess I was doing a role that wasn’t exactly a stretch.

I read the script (and) truly, Trish Stratus jumped off the page to me. The director wrote the script with me in mind. He was from Toronto. He knew of me, my wrestling career. Like I say, it wasn’t a huge stretch for me. I was pretty much playing Trish.

Stratus said she did all of her own stunts, which was an important component for her.

TS: I wouldn’t have them any other way. I would be embarrassed to say I didn’t do (them). That was one of the other selling points. He told me the role was written with me in mind. He was really passionate about the fight scenes. I learned a new fighting style for the role – Krav Maga. It’s an Israeli special ops fighting, lots of hand to hand combat. I ended up being one of the producers on the film. I wanted to maintain the integrity of the fight scenes, and being one of the producers gave me the opportunity.

The fight scenes in “Bounty Hunters” are unique and different from most Hollywood action films. For one, they feature an up close intensity that Stratus says came from lots of training and working together with her co-stars.

TS: I wanted to meet with Andrea (Andrea James Lui). She plays my nemesis in the film. I know how important it is from my wrestling days to have that trust, that relationship. When you kick someone’s butt, you really bond. We trained together, had a chance to get through the same bumps and bruises.

TS: We decided we were going to kind of, no boundaries. She is a martial artist and also a stunt person. We tried to craft scenes – Patrick was really cool, going ‘Do what you’re comfortable doing.’ Instead of approaching it like stunt people, we approached it as fighters. I think that’s why the fight scenes are different. I’m really proud of the scenes.

One particular extended sequence features Stratus’ character Jules battling Lui’s Ruby in the back of a moving ambulance. The fight is brutal, with very little room for error given the confined quarters of the set.

TS: That scene – that was one of the first scenes we filmed. We were at the dojo where we trained. We made this rectangle out of masking tape, this is the area we would fight in the back of an ambulance. Then we get there and it’s like, wait, it’s a real ambulance. We didn’t account for that. I went back to my wrestling roots. Let’s go into the environment, let’s see what we have to work with. We can use this. We made this organic fight scene right on the spot.

TS: Everyone talks about the realism to my fight scenes. I know it’s because we approached these scenes as fighters. We know what it’s like to take a punch to the head, to get kicked in the head.

One impressive aspect of the fights in “Bounty Hunters” is that Stratus and her team is they aren;t your typical over-dominating, undefeatable heroes. They all get the snot beat out of them at one point or another before finally rallying for the win.

TS: It’s classic Wrestling 101 storytelling. In order to have any sympathy, you have to get your ##### kicked first. It was a great opportunity. Thankfully I had the chance with Patrick to have that creative freedom.

Stratus said she isn’t actively pursuing a follow-up feature. If something interesting comes along, she would be eager to take on another acting challenge. But, for now, she’s content to continue building her brand, Stratusphere, and sharing her love of yoga with as many people as possible.

Stratus discovered yoga after suffering a herniated disc during her wrestling career. The practice helped her to rehabilitate her back, and she continued to perfect her yoga during her final years in the ring.

TS: The yoga helped me approach what I was doing a little differently. It made me a better performer, mentally and physically.

Stratus got certified in Ashtanga yoga, a style whose practitioners include Madonna, and in 2007, she opened her first yoga studio north of Toronto. The facility’s website, http://stratusphereyoga.com/, is impressive and offers a look at the magnificent facility and its amenities.

She recently released her first DVD, Stratusphere Yoga, which fans can buy an autographed copy of on her website, along with their own copy of “Bounty Hunters.” She has her own line of workout gear, Stratusphere Living, which includes one-pound, weighted workout gloves, that is available in retail stores across Canada.

Fans might miss Trish Stratus from her wrestling days, but Stratus said many of her followers have kept up with her latest forays. They follow her on Twitter, often sharing their own personal stories.

TS: I’ve seen my wrestling following go from ‘You should kick her butt!’ Now they’re going, ‘Trish, you would be proud. I accomplished Stratusphere Yoga.’


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