DVD Review - Robot Chicken: Star Wars, War Games 2, More

DVD Reviews for July 30th

FEATURED PICK: ROBOT CHICKEN: STAR WARS (WB)

Apparently when the United Kingdom did its last census, over 390,000 of its citizens listed “Jedi” as their religion. That made belief in the Force fourth, behind Christianity, Islam and Hindu. Now self-declared “Jedi Knights” are petitioning the government for legitimacy.

It’s situations that absurd that gives us reason to love Seth Green & Co’s magnificent dismemberment of George Lucas’ sacred cow. And before you Sith trolls scream bloody murder, Lucas (with no doubt some kind of payment), was in on the deal. He, or should I say a doll/puppet/action figure of himself is one of the central characters and he also did some voice time to boot.

For those recently thawed out of carbonite, Green and company do everything from turning Emperor Palpatine into Bob Newhart, had Lucas assaulted by a horde of lust-maddened con goers, even had George W. Bush take on Abraham Lincoln with light sabers. It contained some of the best writing of Green’s crew three-season history. Yes, some of the bits were seen in previous episodes. At the same time those repeats were some of the best they previously did anyway.

And did I previously say dismemberment? That was just the beginning. As anyone who’s seen this special on Adult Swim (over and over again) knows, the Chicken crew smashed the franchise into little pieces, soaked it batter, fried’em beyond recognition and then served the results in a bucket with biscuits. Bad for your health? You bet. Still, it’s a tasty little sucker.

If that isn’t enough, this DVD includes a number of truly sweet extras. Besides the expected behind-the-scenes and deleted stuff, there’s a special section called “Chicken Nuggets” that actually makes a lot more sense than the usual alternative commentary tracks. They basically are special commentary from Green and co-conspirator Matt Seinreich that you can access while any particular bit is playing. Once it’s over, you are returned to the sequence. If that isn’t enough, there are a whole universe of other goodies fans will enjoy. So this collection has its value in spite of [AS]’s airing this about once a month.

Let’s face it kids, Star Wars: Clone Wars is just around the corner, along with tons of action figures and who knows how much more material for Mr. Green. Based on this DVD, if he wants to do a sequel, I’ll be more than happy to see it. As it turns out, Adult Swim did announce another RC/SW is on its way this November. So he apparently agrees with us.

I wonder what they’ll do to George Lucas this time.

THE BANK JOB (Lionsgate)

When someone stars in over 12 movies in five years, one should expect at least one decent film in the bunch. Such is the case of Jason Statham and The Bank Job.

Apparently based on a real life incident in the early 1970s, Statham leads a team of working class Brits in the robbery of a major bank. In mid-heist his character realizes the heist includes some exceedingly compromising materials of some highly prominent government officials. In fact, if the stories were true, these photos would have made the Profumo scandal look like a tea party. Next thing he knows, Statham and his crew are neck deep in British mob, the MI-5, political radicals, double dealings, the usual.

What sets this film apart from other projects Statham’s been involved in lately is it has smarter-than expected writing. Best of all, Statham is up to the job. His performance manages stay within credibility for most of the film. Getting help from the liked of Saffron Burrows and a few other notable British vets doesn’t hurt either. The ending left me a bit underwhelmed, but I blame that on the film’s scripting more than its star’s delivery.

In the meantime, let’s hope Jason doesn’t make us wait another five years/dozen films to put out another solid bit of entertainment like this. Ever since he did Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels you know he’s capable of it.

BLOODSUCKING PHAROAHS IN PITTSBURGH (Koch)

POISON SWEETHEARTS (Tempe)

Where would the world of horror be without the Rust Belt? If you don’t believe consider this: The city of Pittsburgh gave us George Romero and Night of the Living Dead for starters. Michigan’s finest include Sam Raimi, Rob Taipert and Bruce Campbell, who blessed us with the Evil Dead franchise. I’m not saying there’s something about the decaying skylines of cities like Toledo, Flint, Gary or Bethlehem that lends itself to horror, but…

Anyway, here’s two other cases of what the Gateway to the West have unleashed on us. One isn’t worth the plastic it’s printed on, but the other….

That other is Bloodsucking Pharaohs. It certainly looks like it was shot in Pittsburgh. The rot and decay of the locations chosen look like they haven’t seen a good day since the death of Andrew Carnegie. This film tells the tale of two cops and the daughter of another hunting down a serial killer. In true micro-horror fashion, the killer (and its little red wagon) uses heavy duty lawn equipment to sample the various internal organs and other parts of its victims for something ungodly. Everything about this project is done with the broadest of humor and worst taste possible. I’m quite certain one of Baltimore’s greatest directors, John Waters, would give this little effort a dozen or so thumbs up…after he’s cut enough of them off, of course.

Even more interesting is the amount of extra content that comes from this nearly two decades-old package. Not only do you get interviews with creator Dean Tschetter and star (and producer) Beverly Penberthy, and an actually interesting set of commentary tracks, even an assortment of the bad reviews the film has garnered over the years. Like films such as Plan 9, Bucket of Blood, and others of this subgenre, Bloodsucking Pharaohs has subsequently earned its own beloved spot in the back alleys of cinematic history. This set will certainly prove why.

Wish I could say the same for Cleveland’s Poison Sweethearts. From the region that gave us such great stuff as The Cramps, Ghoulardi and so much more, this is truly a lifeless affair, and I say that in a very negative sense.

Ostensibly a series of vignettes about various types of women gone bad, this has to be one of the most lifeless mockumentaries I’ve seen in ages. The humor is flat. The gore is dull. Yes, I wasn’t expecting great acting, but I would have liked to have seen some effort. I’m hardpressed to find anyone in front of the camera who even acted like they were trying to act. All I can say it better luck next time kids.

Still, absolutely search out Bloodsucking Pharaohs.

BRUTAL MASSACRE: A COMEDY (Anchor Bay)

You want a real terrifying tale, kid? Listen to some of the stories Hollywood types have to tell you, especially when it comes to making horror movies.

From the looks of it, writer/director Stevan Mena (Malevalence) did listen. He used these tales to tell the tale of Henry Pendrecky (David Naughton), low budget monster movie “auteur,” to club the B-movie industry into a gory pulp.

Mena is aided and abetted in this parody of the buckets of blood business by the likes of Brian O’Hallaran (forever Dante Hicks), Evil Dead’s Ellen Sandweiss, Masters of Horror producer Mick Garris and other vets of the business. Special kudos must also be given to Gerry Bednob, who plays Pendrecky’s cameramen a veteran of the Indian Army with—well--anger issues.

But what sets this satire apart from the pack is Mena did his homework. He spiced up the film with wonderfully obscure bits of Tinsel Town trivia that helps drive the main story to its predictable yet still satisfying end. So grab a shovel and dig up a copy of this one. Horror aficionados in particular will find this a particularly flavorful companion to their popcorn.

THE DALI DIMENSION (MediaPro)

Interesting note, when Salvador Dali died in 1989, the largest proportion of books in his personal library were of science. We don’t just mean everyday pop science, but the works of Einstein, Oppenheim, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Watson & Crick, and many more. More important, in those books were the fundamentals of many of Dali’s masterworks. He also spent millions of his own money to sponsor symposiums of many of the great minds of the physical sciences.

Whether drawing (literally) a connection between DNA to Jacob’s Ladder, or creating a painting of his beloved Gala utilizing the proportions of the Golden Ratio, this DVD lays the claim the master surrealist was more influenced by science than he was by the likes of Freud or Andre Breton. It includes an amazing array of interviews of the man and the researchers he admired. Of course, it also includes about a hundred or so of his works to back it up.

A truly different look at one of the true great artists of the last century. If you want one of your own, you can always check out the site www.dalinet.com.

DEAD & GONE (Lionsgate)

Hate to say it, but this movie was a contender.

Quentin Jones plays Mark Wade, a wannabe actor who winds up the washed up boy toy of a Hollywood producer in permanent comatose. Thanks to legal manipulations, he’s denied access to her money. Now he’s stuck with her in a way, way out-in-the-woods shack with her still functioning body, too many pills and booze for his own good and an axe. Oh yeah, the dump has a history.

The plot had the potential of going somewhere between Deliverance with Hitchcock. Instead it went for Evil Dead, and suffers horribly for it. The film uses quick cuts and over-the-top acting among the undead when deciding whether trying to be clear if it’s all in Wade’s head or not. Thing is, one gets the feeling Jones probably has the acting chops to pull it off if he had the opportunity. So it goes.

I’ll be nice and blame this on being the rookie efforts of writer Harry Shannon and director Yossi Sasson. Let’s hop they learn from the experience. They have potential to do much better.

THE NINJA COLLECTION (Rarescope) (2 DVDs)

· Bionic Ninja

· Death Code: Ninja

· Ninja: American Warrior

· Ninja In The Killing Field

Back in the early days of cable, it used to be fun to tune in USA Network’s Night Flight block. This was especially appropriate after an incredible weekend of partying. Night Flight were masters of finding extremely cheap, if not outright public domain, and truly bizarre programming. It would be chock full of cheap horror, bizarre art films and low budget martial arts films that no one else would air. Yes, some of the bits would be seen over and over again, and we’re not talking high art here. Still, they were always fun and were sure to flex your head after one too many boilermakers.

The four films in this sweetly cheap set would have fit in nicely with the Night Flight concept. The were all the “work” of director Chi Keung (Godfrey) Ho, who could have given Roger Corman tips on how to squeeze a buck. In 1986, the year most of these films were made, he directed and scripted 13 different films. As one can expect, the films look like they were done by a guy who produced 13 feature films in that time.

Quite honestly, while each film did has guys in ninja PJ’s, they were all really just some trimming for basic HK crime flicks. The plots are as cohesive as runny oatmeal. The acting is on the unintentionally funny level. The nudity, when it’s there, is completely gratuitous. The fight scenes are so tame Jackie Chan or Jet Li wouldn’t have broken the slightest sweat over them.

Still, one has to say Ho delivered two things: fun and energy. He knew the way to get his money back was to give the audience what they wanted, which I’m sure he knew was made of bent psychos like myself watching late night cable, and he usually did. Yeah, none of these are going to make film history, but they are good enough for a late weekend night when you’re still too wound up from too much whatever.

Enjoy them for what they are and hope that one day USA Network comes to its senses and bring Night Flight back.

THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND (Storm Bird)

Have to admit, the 70s were an interesting time for rock’n roll. With the advent of David Bowie just about anything could happen. Proof that it did was the Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

Born in 1935, Harvey had punted around the Scottish rock and folk scenes for the first 15 or so years of his career to some local success but not much more. He was even called Scotland’s answer to Tommy Steele. That all changed in 1972, when he hooked up with some fellow Scots, who at that time were calling themselves Tear Gas. The magic was immediate and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band was born.

One must remember, the idea of a 37 year old man fronting a glam rock band was fairly shocking to all those who thought Elvis was a relic from the Paleocene age. Yes, the rock’n roll had its venerated elders such as Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis, but their songwriting and hell raising days were basically over. Yes, Harvey did some covers, but these ranged anywhere from “Framed” by Lieber & Stroller onto “Next” by Jacques Brel and “Delilah,” a former giant hit by Tom Jones.

But while these covers were gravy, the real meat were his originals. Harvey loved comic books, and had his own recurring superhero in the form of Vambo. He could do a suite that would have fit in nicely with Frank Miller’s Sin City. If that wasn’t enough, his craggy voice had an incredible emotional range that could pound out anthems ranging from “Last of the Teenaged Idols” to the foundations of Goth with “The Faith Healer.” In other words, Harvey never let either his age or being a rocker limit him. To top it, he had a superlative pack of musical madmen to back him up.

Have to admit it, this DVD does a superlative job of covering Harvey’s way too short career (He left the SAHB in 1978 and died immediately after a gig in 1982 from a heart attack). The disk combines live footage of various TV performances of the band along with extensive interviews from Harvey and the surviving members of the band to give us a pretty comprehensive look at the man.

Still, what’s amazing to think is here’s this man who, at the time, should have been considered too old to rock, and tearing the house down. Nowadays you have teenagers mass produced by Disney and the cruise singers of American Idol. The only way they could hold a candle to Harvey and his truly sensational band is if they stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. He truly was the last of the teenaged idols.

SPACED (BBC) (3 DVD)

There’s a scene early in the first season of this season where Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes are discussing the Butterfly Effect to Star Wars: A New Hope. It’s a combination of the sublime and mundane so patently absurd you can’t help but laugh at it. Now answer honestly. You damn well know you and your buds have done the exact same thing.

Not that the concept of Spaced hasn’t been done before. Two disparate individuals sharing an apartment is as old as Felix and Oscar, if not older. What counts here is Pegg’s Tim Bisley and Hynes’ Daisy Steiner capture the ne’er-do-well angst of the turn of the millenium with the accuracy of a clock tower sniper. Their potshots at the pop culture of nearly a decade ago still rings with incredible resonance today, particularly when it comes to their constant jibs and jabs at the comic book industry. It truly makes you feel sorry for Fox TV, who are coming out with an American version of this BBC series later this year. I can’t see how they’ll be able to top this one.

That said, anyone who’s seen the series for the last nine years will be pleased to note it comes with all the much needed extras it should. The commentary doesn’t include just the cast and crew, but much cooler-than-you personalities like Quentin Tarantino, Patton Oswalt and Kevin Smith. The extra disk includes a “Spaced Jam” that has to be heard as well as seen. Heck, the extra content even has fun with the cast, crew and character bios that’s nearly as entertaining as the episodes themselves.

A truly wonderful box set by anyone’s standard. If you don’t have it, you truly are spaced.

TOXIC (Genius)

This could have made a heck of a great slasher film. I repeat, could have.

The basic plot is the daughter of a crime boss escapes from a mental institution. It turns out there’s a good reason why everyone calls the pretty little thing “toxic.” Lots of people around her die, usually very violently, and she’s somehow always in the middle of it. Now drop her in the middle of a house/bar of ill repute with pretty hookers grinding away for all who love that kind of stuff.

As I said, in the hands of anyone from Quentin Tarantino to John Carpenter, this could have been a load of very dark fun. Instead we got a bunch of guys who take themselves too seriously for their own good. They gorge the film with cheap camera tricks, strained performances and a plot that is pushed so near the snapping point the more jaded will want to see if it does snap. Don’t worry, it does.

Better luck next time guys.

WARGAMES: THE DEAD CODE (MGM)

When you hear that certain sequels are being done, you just have to sit back and ask why. Believe me when I say I sure asked that when I heard there was going to be a Wargames 2. Well, much to my surprise it isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

If you don’t think too hard about this film, it’s actually packed with more fun than anticipated. This time Matt Lanter is the teenaged hacker who underachieves his way through life playing WoW and similar fare. When he comes across a system called R.I.P.L.E.Y., it’s déjà vu all over again.

OK. Now it probably would have been too much to have Sigorney Weaver do the voice of R.I.P.L.E.Y. (it’s Claudia Black). On the other hand, there’s plenty of references to the likes of WOPR, Joshua, and Dr. Falken to keep old timers satisfied. Where the film falls apart is the logic our new supercomputer uses to consider master Lanter a terrorist stretches the imagination to the point where it shatters into itty bitty pieces. No supercomputer can be both simultaneously that cunning and that just plain dumb.

But as hinted before, director Stuart Gillard keeps things moving at a breathlessly fast pace. It’s as if he realizes he was just given a script that’s so full of holes and cheesy it could be served at a deli, so he keeps it fast and fun.

Therefore, while I won’t say this sequel measures anywhere near the level of the first Wargames, if I had nothing better to watch I would consider putting it on for some mindless entertainment. More important, it earned its right to exist.

Now can anyone say that about Lost Boys 2? Guess we’ll have to wait and see on that.

 

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