Sunday, July 31, 2011

Haven't posted in a while, so I'll do a quick one collecting the more recent DVD reviews. This summer has been so disjointed between increasing stress-filled work, the tornado and a virus that has diminished my hearing. Blogging has taken a back seat.

It’s July and at this time 35 years ago, the drive-in theaters would have been in the middle of their season. Remember The Airline, The Red Rock? The Park Way? Can you hum the jingle played on the commercial for the snack bar? Did you watch the countdown clock as it noted the time to the next feature?

Variety, the bible of show business, called them “ozoners;” parents of teens called them “passion pits;” and families on a budget saw them as an inexpensive night out for a carload of kids.

From a business point of view, drive-ins were largely owned by independent showmen who understood that to draw crowds to their theaters, they had to offer audiences something they couldn’t experience either in standard theaters or on television. It’s no wonder those owners were willing to take chances on independently made films, foreign movies and low budget productions that had the elements that would draw audiences: action, adventure, sex and horror.

These showmen knew they had to package these films creatively and did so in double-bills, triple bills and “from dawn to dusk” shows.

Home video killed these theaters as renting a movie to watch at home proved to be even cheaper than popping the family into the station wagon and heading for the drive-in. At least staying at home meant there was no fear of driving away with the speaker still on your door.

This week’s films would be highly suitable for a drive-in double bill.


Several years ago, when attending the Rock and Shock show in Worcester, “REC” was the film many people was buzzing about. The Spanish horror film was told through the camera of a video crew that was following a group of firefighters as they responded to a call in a large apartment building in Barcelona.

Inside that building, which was quickly cordoned off by the government, was a group of zombie like creatures who aggressively attacked the crew. The last image of the film showed the reporter being dragged away from the camera by a particularly awful creature.

The sequel, “REC2” has just been released on DVD and continues the story 15 minutes from the conclusion of the first film. Now, a group of SWAT police officers are told they must accompany an official from the Ministry of Health inside the building to assess the situation.

What they don’t know is the man is not a health official, but a priest and the zombies are not your garden variety walking dead, but instead are demonically possessed.

That’s the only spoiler you will get from me about this very-well directed film that punches your buttons on a variety of levels. Running around a claustrophobic dark old building is bad enough without being attacked periodically by ravenous demons, but then directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza pile on more surprises.

While not a gore film, this movie is indeed moist at times – a warning for the squeamish.

The DVD is presented in its original Spanish with well-crafted subtitles. It has an extensive “making of” feature as well.

This is a kick-ass film and has an ending that will leaving you slack jawed.


“Insidious” is a film I wanted to see in theaters, but instead my wife and I took our goddaughter to see “Hop.” Thanks goodness for DVD!

James Wan is noted for being the director for the first “SAW” film, but that film and this one are quite far apart in theme and treatment. “Insidious” is about a family that is struggling with a tragedy: one of the children, Dalton, has fallen into a coma that baffles his doctors.

With the coma comes an increased level of what appears to be a disturbing amount of paranormal activity at the family’s home. A move to a new home does quell the aggressive sightings.

When an investigator is called in, her interpretation shocks the parents. It’s not the houses that are haunted; it’s their son.

This is not a gore film at all. Wan and writer Leigh Whannell created a realistic state of sadness and dread and their shocks are frequently as simple — but effective — as a face at a window. They prove that severed body parts are not necessary to give audiences the shivers they expect.

With several major plot twists, “Insidious” delivers the kind of thrills I certainly seek from a horror film. It would be right at home at a drive-in.


When I was a kid, “Omnibus” was exactly the kind of television that I avoided. Give me “The Lone Ranger” or “Soupy Sales” any day of the week.

But what do kids know?

I still like “The Lone Ranger” and “Soupy Sales” — what do adults know? — but watching the new two disc set of some of the best segments of this long-running series made me realize even more what a lazy, cheap and terrible medium mainstream television has become.

“Omnibus” ran on all three commercial networks during its long run in from 1952 to 1961. It was underwritten by the Ford Foundation, but supported with commercial advertisers. The show featured a wide selection of documentary films, performances and interviews. It was smart TV that didn’t come across as snooty.

This set features some great episodes. Host Alistair Cooke introduced and participated in many of the segments and the DVD includes Cooke interviewing author and cartoonist James Thurber. The collection also features several of the pieces focusing on classical music and conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.

One of my favorite segments is one in which Dr. Seuss — Springfield’s own Theodor Geisel — hosts a talk about how he would design a science museum for children. The piece is funny and Geisel was charming as he spoke about a terrible science museum in “South Anthrax” that was dominated by dust and dead things. His recommendations were based on the then-new Boston Museum of Science.

I also enjoyed a filmed essay of the “night people” of New York City, the people who work at night and the people who stay out for the city’s diverse nightlife.

“Omnibus” was the type of show that in some ways was set up like a magazine. If one segment wasn’t appealing, wait a moment and another would be of interest.

Much of the show was produced live and it was broadcast before the advent of videotape. The quality of the images — taken from 16 mm films — is acceptable. The set comes with a booklet that adds additional background to the segments presented in the collection.

This is the type of television I wish we still had today.

The Girls Next Door: Season Six

Oh, where do I start? I would personally love to sit and talk with Hugh Hefner about a wide variety of topics — classic films, cartoonists, the publishing industry — but the subject of why a guy in his 80’s would want to “date” women in their 20’s wouldn’t come up — really.

The fact that Hefner is actually one of the most influential men in popular culture in the latter half of the 20th century has been over-shadowed by his successful attempt to re-energize the Playboy brand by allowing a “reality” series to portray a version of his life in which he is squiring about women young enough to be his granddaughters.

For a guy to be willing to allow his life to be shown as a freak show might be seen as sad to some and to others a testament of his willingness to promote his business.

In any event, this edition of the television series will undoubtedly not sell very well as it features a new cast of “girlfriends,” including the one who stood Hef up at the altar. Who wants to see a slow motion car wreck? We all know the tragic ending.

Who knows if there will be another series, as it will depend on the now 85 year-old publisher wants to assemble a new group of bubbleheads willing to pretend they like the old man enough to be his “girl.”

And this, my friends, is what television has become.

Just Go With It

I’m not a big fan of Adam Sandler or farces or the source material of this new romantic comedy, but I did find myself actually enjoying the comic’s new film, “Just Go With It.”

This new film directed by Sandler’s regular collaborator Dennis Duggan, has good pacing, some great gags, casting surprises and a genuine heart about it.

Sandler plays Danny, a successful and basically nice plastic surgeon, whose bad brush with marriage has caused him to use a ruse with women: he claims he is in a bad marriage. The scheme to meet and bed women has worked well for 20 years but backfired when a young woman, Palmer (played by Brooklyn Decker) he has met objects strongly to the idea that he is married.

Danny must now convince his girlfriend that he has a bad marriage and must find someone to act out that role. His long-time nurse in his practice, Katherine, played by Jennifer Aniston, reluctantly agrees to help him out. All goes smoothly until her children are accidentally mentioned and a new layer of lies must be installed.

The complications really pile up, though, on a trip to Hawaii where Danny, Katherine and her kids must all play their roles.

What makes this film so different than its source material, the 1970 comedy “Cactus Flower,” is that Danny is a decent guy and Palmer isn’t a ditz. In the original film, the Walter Matthau character was a nasty womanizer and Goldie Hawn’s character wasn’t too appealing either.

What really makes this work, though, is the chemistry between Sandler and Aniston. They actually seemed to be enjoying their roles together.

The film’s other surprise is two accomplished comic performances by Nicole Kidman and rocker Dave Matthews.

While no comic masterpiece, “Just Go With It,” is a light fun comedy, perfect for summer viewing.

Battle Los Angeles

I didn’t see the Tom Cruse remake of “The War of the Worlds” — George Pal’s original take on the H. G. Wells book still works fine for me — but this science fiction war film seems to be a great updating of the material, even if it isn’t an official remake.

Although an epic subject — the world is invaded by alien war machines and soldiers — director Jonathan Liebesman and writer Christopher Bertolini keep the focus on a small group of Marines in Los Angeles charged with a specific mission.

By keeping the story small, the audience can identify with the Marines and the group of civilians they are attempting to rescue. This approach works well and the science fiction parts of the story are made more realistic this way.

Liebesman brings the grittiness and horror of war to the film, which plays most of the time as a well-directed combat movie.

Aaron Eckhart leads an ensemble cast — that includes Longmeadow native Bridget Moynahan — as the war-hardened vet who is the sergeant in command of the Marine unit. Eckhart is an accomplished performer who seems at ease with both comic and dramatic parts.

Although this film may not present anything groundbreaking for either the war or science fiction genres, it is a piece of expertly assembled entertainment.

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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