4/16/2012

TV Review: The Heretics (2009)



Now Playing on 
The Documentary Channel  


If you tell a man that he throws like a girl, it’s an insult. But tell a woman that she paints like a man and it’s supposed to be taken as a compliment… at least this was the thinking back in the 1970s.

From being chatted up whilst intellectually backhanded with the admonishment that they were “too cute to be a critic,” or being talked down to by men supposedly in the know who held an all male panel on contemporary female art, the oft-repeated refrain was not to “set your heart on art.”


Although future ‘Heretics’ recall being told in filmmaker Joan Braderman’s affectionately lensed, feisty documentary feature debut that they were talented kids, each and every one was reminded that they were “only a girl” after all and as such, creativity was only a passing phase in their life – as short lived as a ball in the air that’s been thrown by a "girl."

Tired of being picked last for the team – or rather not picked at all in the male dominated fields of journalism, politics, art and more – the women in question who’d come of age in the era of civil rights banded together to approach gender as an equality issue of their very own, acknowledging that women weren’t being treated simply as delicate girls but as an entirely different class altogether.


Imaging a time and a future when and where everything seemed possible, likeminded independent women from all ages, races, places and walks of life left their individual corners of the universe to try for a slice of the Big Apple pie of New York.

Guided and inspired by the words of Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir among others as part of the second wave of feminists since the suffragette era sixty years earlier, the ladies of the ‘70s understood the need to identify the problem for themselves rather than depend on men to do it for them – knowing it takes a native speaker to understand the language of women.


Revisiting the fore-mothers of the Heresies feminist publication on art and politics in every location to which they’ve traveled after publishing twenty-seven issues of their forward-thinking journal from 1977 to 1992, former Heretic turned filmmaker Joan Braderman uses her investigative eye to evaluate the past while attempting to put it into some kind of contemporary perspective regarding what it meant to the people involved today.

It’s an ambitious undertaking and her passion shines through from the start, kicking The Heretics off to a good – if unbalanced -- start, initially introducing it as some kind of an autobiographical recollection or portrait of the filmmaker as a young woman that suddenly veers into a PBS reunion special approach.

In what is arguably the strongest portion of the documentary, Braderman gives us a highlights reel of the Heretics to come, incorporating a shrewd, witty or sharply observed soundbite that we hope foreshadows the interview to come.

Unfortunately, most of the topical observations are never revisited on film, as Braderman rushes to include everything but does so from the inarticulate advantage of an insider, knowing the story of the Heretics so well that she doesn’t stop to ensure that the rest of us aren’t lost in the translation.


While it may have been enhanced by a different framework than a narrow reunion piece since the outsider interest level is nowhere near that of the documentarian, there’s so many inspiring minds to behold that it’s sure to fascinate regardless of whether or not the impact is as great as it could’ve been.

Though obviously The Heretics plays better to those of us unafraid to still call ourselves feminists since we know the true meaning of the word rather than its prejudicial connotation in contemporary society, overall the pacing of the production suffers from too many stops and starts, caused by dividing up the content in onscreen Q&A sessions that give it an educational film-strip feel where it should’ve been allowed to simply breathe.

Although, a true exploration of the Heresies journal would’ve been much more fascinating, had this cut better acquainted us with each subject and individual, The Heretics would have flowed much more naturally from start to finish.

Augmented by great intentions and a passion for inspiration and ambition, The Heretics is yet another reminder of how vital it is for all individuals to get behind a lens, keyboard or easel to tell their story and maybe encourage social change and creative revolution in the process, as evidenced in Braderman’s title currently airing on The Documentary Channel over the next few months.

Text ©2012, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

4/04/2012

DVD Review: Robin Good and His Not-So-Merry Men (2012)



Now Available to Own     


  

AKA: Veggie Tales: Robin Good and His Not So Merry Men; VeggieTales: Robin Good

As a feisty do-gooder who’s – incidentally – also a cucumber, Robin Good’s face may be “as long as a boring sermon,” but luckily for the ham-hungry residents of the unluckily named village of Bethlingham, he’s “vegetable enough” to challenge the man nicknamed “the prince of ham” in order to put pork-related things right for the poor.


Hogging “this little piggy” for breakfast and another one or two for lunch and dinner, it’s safe to say that the ham-hoarding Prince John isn’t a fan of Good’s plan to fundraise from the rich to feed the poor ham-less masses.


Throwing him into the dungeon of despair for failure to conform to Prince John’s style of business as usual, Robin puts on a brave cucumber face while plotting to bring home the bacon ensuring the not-so-merry men of Bethlingham are into a wake-up call when Robin comes marching home again with plenty of ham-munition.

Filled with vibrant animation including magnificent attention to color design amidst eye-popping indigo skies and Sherwood Forest inspired sets, the technical specs of the disc are breathtaking on DVD.


Although some of the Sunday school lessons are laid on a bit heavily in this Christian themed children’s series, fortunately, the newest serving of Veggie Tales manages to emphasize wholesome entertainment over overt garnishes of gospel via witty puns guaranteed to keep the produce brand of morality fresh for Robin’s youngest viewers.


Amusing audiences with Abbott and Costello-themed riffs on our heroic cucumber’s last name and squeezing in all of the hammy slang that can fill the rest of the succinct disc’s fifty-minute running time, the episode’s writers deserve a special commendation for cuisine and condiment-related creativity.


Though it does take awhile for this title to get going, following a clunky Sixteen Candles inspired short which sacrificed natural storytelling to hammer the point home, following an infectiously funny ode to dish-protecting bubble wrap performed like a kiddie rap, Good soon gets back on track.


Non-religious and new to the series, while I can’t comment on whether or not this Veggie Tale will surpass the rest in terms of shelf-life, it’s a surprisingly fun-filled celebration of charitable giving destined to reach its target demographic, debuting in an Easter basket near you in time for the upcoming holiday.



Text ©2012, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.   
FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

3/28/2012

TV on Blu-ray Review: Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention – The Complete 6-Part Series (2010)



Now Available to Own     







Related Review:
Wallace & Gromit -- The Complete Collection
   

In order to give their new hip science series a “good kick up the astrophysics,” the BBC tried Aardman Animation’s The Wrong Trousers duo of Wallace and Gromit on for size, enlisting the claymation characters’ help to bring the six-part World of Invention to UK airwaves in 2010.

And whether they’re connecting kinetics or ironing the genes of genetics in just two of the quotable quotes rolling off the balding British inventor Wallace’s -- or rather voice actor Peter Sallis’s – tongue throughout Lionsgate’s roughly 174 minute collection of episodes gathered together for the Blu-ray release of the series, Wallace and his silent canine (or “claynine”) sidekick Gromit keep a smile on our face in their hosting debut.


Introducing the hidden, overlooked or out-of-left-field scholarly scientific contributions of inventors the world over with plenty of assistance from their knowledgeable, energetic narrators and correspondents in the "edutainment field," we’re immediately taken in by the upbeat, colorful multi-faceted thematic episodes.

From sense-related gadgetry to unusual applications for Mother Nature and home-based contraptions that get you from Point “A to B” for a Gromit style Grand Day Out complete with rocket science, Invention’s team of news-making inventors and intrepid investigators navigate the wide sub-terrain of each night’s broad topic.


In addition to celebrating the achievements of first-time inventors, World reacquaints us with a few world famous figures we only thought we knew. Whether exploring the unexpectedly brainy side of Hollywood siren Hedy Lamarr, who dedicated the time she spent off the silver screen to stealthy experiments in sonar tracking to aid in the wartime effort or unveiling the most unusual refrigerator we’ve ever seen this side of animation – straight from the mind of Albert Einstein – World serves up a treasure trove of terrific information.

Yet far from only celebrating the successful ideas derived from the realm of an inventor’s imagination, Wallace and company also chronicle the intriguing failures in inquiries that never made it off the hypothetical drawing board, which inspired further study and experimentation throughout the series.


Although it’s admittedly light on the creative claymation that garnered Aardman Animation worldwide acclaim with the release of the first Wallace and Gromit production back in 1989 and led to a number of spin-offs and Academy Awards over the past two decades, World of Invention is still a great return to form for our favorite cheese loving inventor and his loyal, mischievous dog.


Unable to offer new adventures given the time constraints, in succinct sequences woven throughout each news segment heavy episode, the World of Invention crew working behind-the-scenes at the BBC, paid homage to the duo’s classic trilogy of slapstick silent comedy style stop motion model shorts including Wrong Trousers, A Grand Day Out and A Close Shave.


While it won’t create new fans out of audience members unfamiliar with Wallace and Gromit’s greatest hits, it’s sure to make enthusiasts eager to revisit their smile inducing filmography of joie de vivre favorites once again… and just might inspire you to look at the world with the eyes of an inventor at least through the course of this jam-packed Blu-ray release.


Text ©2012, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

3/17/2012

TV on Blu-ray Review: Boardwalk Empire -- The Complete First Season




Now Available to Own     





Photo Slideshow


   

As refreshing as it is to see charismatic chameleon-like character actor Steve Buscemi clad in dapper period attire as the antiheroic lead of HBO’s acclaimed prohibition set powerhouse series Boardwalk Empire, his role as New Jersey State Treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson isn’t quite as compelling as the writers seem to think it is nor is it multifaceted enough to build an entire show around.
Of course, to be fair, there aren’t a whole lot of characters – particularly of the female variety on the male-dominated Home Box Office network – with whom we can if not identify than at least empathize or become engrossed in their plight.

The final result culminates in a marked level of disappointment no doubt influenced by the widespread popularity of the admirably ambitious yet ultimately overrated production whose bandwagon I couldn’t manage to climb aboard. Yet there’s still enough glimmers of excitement evidenced in the rest of Boardwalk’s ensemble cast to keep the storylines spinning at a satisfactory if slightly unsatisfying pace from season start to finish.


Admittedly, considering that Nucky dominates the series arc as the overall centerpiece or compass of HBO’s sprawling gangster piece, it’s fairly easy for the typically compelling Buscemi to be upstaged by Boardwalk’s impressive laundry list of similarly overlooked silver screen actors given the well-deserved opportunity to steal focus on the small screen.

While all of the cast members have their moment to shine, regardless of the fact that most of the gangsters are interchangeable archetypes, in the first season of HBO’s latest smash hit, a new star emerges from the allegorical Greek Chorus of impending tragedy that’s begun to befall Nucky in the form of Michael Pitt.

A former protégé of Nucky’s that’s still trying to cope with the atrocities of World War I, Pitt’s Jimmy aims to rise in power from hired gun to associate of Al Capone, with a daring hijacking and engineering of multiple double cross standoffs between the east coast bootleggers.
Though its dialogue is less stylized, Boardwalk Empire, which was created by Terence Winter and based on an eponymous historical book centering on Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, is similar to HBO’s western series Deadwood given its adherence to authenticity.
Executive produced by The Departed filmmaker Martin Scorsese and actor Mark Wahlberg among others, Boardwalk, which is bolstered by a dazzling visual style and painterly production design, is also at times – and unsurprisingly given the overlap in behind-the-scenes and occasional in-front-of-the-lens talent – incredibly reminiscent of Winter’s former HBO smash The Sopranos.

Additionally elevated by its exceedingly original casting which makes great use of promising, under-utilized or disappointingly miscast talent like Two Family House actress Kelly MacDonald, who – like Buscemi far exceeds her ho-hum role – former Entertainment Weekly dubbed “It Girl” Gretchen Mol, Dabney Coleman, Michael Stuhlbarg and others.
Settling for the “look” of a crime show over the substance of one more often than it should, Boardwalk frequently wastes screen time on titillating fillers of hedonistic sexual gluttony to the point that you can’t help but realize how much better the show would’ve been if the repetitive T&A sequences were instead used to augment subplots or strengthen our understanding of its rather large cast of supporting players.

Although it easily exceeds the stuff of broadcast network TV dramas on sheer complexity alone, Boardwalk nonetheless misses the bar its raised by its home network of HBO years ago – long before Buscemi played Nucky – back when he pulled up a director’s chair on The Sopranos.

So vibrant in Blu-ray that it shimmers like a flapper in beads across your widescreen HDTV, HBO’s long-awaited first season home entertainment release of the Scorsese produced American crime saga is packed with more tricks than Houdini’s brother is given in an episode late in the game.
Taking up considerable shelf space and cardboard, while the Blu-ray collection isn’t as compact as other high definition releases, it’s a glossy treasure trove for knowledge junkies – offering endless facts, filmmaking secrets and in-depth topics in an enhanced viewing mode where you can watch interviews, mini-documentaries and engage in interactive study on both the television production and the Prohibition era alike.

Text ©2012, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: The Town (2010) – Ultimate Collector’s Edition: Extended Cut with Alternate Ending (2012 Release)



Now Available to Own     





Photo Slideshow


   


Alternate Titles: The Town; The Town – Ultimate Collector’s Edition; The Town: Extended Cut with Alternate Ending

In contrast with the Ultimate Collector’s Edition extended cut served up by filmmaker Ben Affleck in 2012’s darkly nuanced 153 minute release of his sophomore directorial effort The Town, the 2010 original 125 minute mainstream theatrical edit of the WB crime saga alluded much more in tone to the Prince of Thieves title of author Chuck Hogan’s Charlestown-set novel upon which The Town was based.

Though both versions of co-scripter Affleck’s Hogan adaptation focused on the harsh realities of life in the veritable “bank robbery capital of America,” the first cut of The Town, was considerably more optimistic than the fittingly pessimistic moral questions posed by his auspiciously existential yet ultimately bleak kidnap-themed directorial debut Gone Baby Gone.


Admittedly, both Towns emphasize Affleck’s own screen role as the allegorical “Prince” among his Charlestown peer group of the bank-robbing “Thieves” whose life, future and complete trust he places in their hands from start to finish of this gripping production.

However, the longer version offers a completely different comeuppance for his onscreen alter ego Doug MacRay by seamlessly incorporating more than twenty minutes of mostly fascinating footage into this more thorough edit that Affleck favored from the beginning of the post-production process of his Bostonian opus.

The extended cut evidenced in this three disc collectible box set (complete with Ultraviolet Digital Copy) moves the action of The Town into a decidedly different yet perhaps more realistic and richly existential direction, paying off on earlier events in a thrilling way that emphasizes “story” over fairy tale for a morally complex denouement.

And similar to Gone Baby Gone, Affleck never lets you forget the fact that even though there was a “Prince of Thieves,” the prince in question was nonetheless one of darkness as opposed to light, leading to a more cyclical turn of events that fits in with the equation by revisiting an important decision made earlier on in the picture that had been overlooked in the shortened version as a piece of swift Charles Bronson-like revenge.

It’s to his credit as both a storyteller as well as a filmmaker that Affleck won’t leapfrog over the actions of his antihero just because we want him to change almost as much as he wants the same dream of escape for himself. In doing so, we get a better understanding of not just what matters to Affleck as a filmmaker but also the overlapping themes that pervade and haunted his work in Gone Baby Gone as well as The Town.

Furthermore, the extended running time benefits the previously shortchanged female characters played by Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively a greater sense of justice and dignity with the addition of a handful of brief scenes to make up for the previously male-centric viewpoint that admittedly flirted with borderline misogyny (particularly with regard to the treatment of Lively’s character) in the earlier cut.


Incorporating a few new scenes with Lively that invoke an even stronger sense of sympathy and may have enhanced the otherwise positive reception critics had to seeing the impressive side of TV’s smiling Gossip Girl, the longer version offers a more in-depth portrait of the film’s supporting players all around.

Only hinted at in the truncated edit, Affleck weaves in additional plot strands including the seedlings of a possible love triangle between bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall), the FBI agent on her case (Jon Hamm) and Affleck’s caught-in-the-middle Doug, who finds himself drawn to the woman his partner Jem (Jeremy Renner) foolishly turned into a hostage during the bravura opening sequence robbery.


Balancing out the compromised ethics of the lawman as well as the criminal in pursuing the victim of the inciting robbery, the extended edition invites greater sympathy towards a number of supporting players from those that make up their circle of associates to the previously interchangeable robbers led by lifelong best friends turned “brothers from another mother” Doug “the prince” and Jem.


The wild card embodied by the commanding presence of Jeremy Renner, Jem dazzles and terrifies viewers in yet another Oscar caliber nominated performance following his mainstream breakthrough role a year earlier in Katherine Bigelow’s Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker.

Reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat in terms of both subject and style, while The Town falters slightly due to its overreliance on clichés, particularly in the way it counts on character clichés to comprise the core structure, the otherwise flawless execution of superlative action sequences shot by There Will Be Blood cinematographer Robert Elswit and the completely authentic, docudrama-level turns by its flawless cast, keeps you completely compelled.

Elevated by the confidence of Affleck which is undoubtedly due to his mastery of the story he wants to tell from working in all aspects of the process from screenplay to final cut, The Town is riveting from start to finish as one of the strongest American genre pictures in years.


Yet while the picture is mostly enhanced by the additional twenty minutes of footage, particularly by offering a greater explanation of how the main leads handle their business once they’re home free with the loot in addition to a fascinating revelation over just how exactly the feds were tipped off on the quartet’s identities, some of the scenes take away from the crispness of the second act.

Bogging down the tension of Hall and Affleck’s budding attraction that hinges on her ability not to recall where they first met, the new edition distracts us with sloppy dialogue repetition, indicating that most likely one of the scenes that introduce the exact same information were always intended to stay on the cutting room floor.


Yet one of the most curious new “finds” is a longer sequence between Affleck and Hall where he flirts with getting caught due to his guilty conscience and moral sense of right and wrong by bringing her to see her hospitalized coworker who could easily identify him.

While this sequence does admittedly feel a bit over-the-top given just how close he comes to serving himself up on a silver platter, it’s a fascinating turn of events that makes you appreciate one of the original cut’s greatest, subtle pieces of flirting with the enemy even more wherein Jem happens upon Doug and Claire in the broad daylight and Doug tries to come up with a calculating way to hide the tattoo on his best friend’s neck which could immediately bring everything to a halt.


It’s this masterful choice to underplay the risk like a master chess player that reminds us just how skilled Affleck is as a cinematic storyteller, inviting our awe while we anticipate just what he’s capable of bringing to celluloid in the future whether it’s another existential slice of Boston crime or something different altogether.

While the original cut remains the best in terms of brisk pacing, all-in-all I agree with Affleck that ultimately it’s the alternate ending that fits the story he was setting out to tell the best all along, despite risking some negative audience reaction of those who prefer “happily ever after” to the truth of what’s being presented.


All in all, it’s a wonderful and thoroughly engaging boxed set collection boasting multiple versions in Blu-ray, DVD and an extended cut Ultraviolet Digital Copy, which may have been even better if viewers were able to check and uncheck scene selections from the start to give them the best of both worlds in terms of a "choose your own final cut."

Although unfortunately it takes up extra shelf space with fun yet ultimately pointless duplications of film props from stick-on-tattoos to mug shots you won’t look at more than once, the beautifully constructed hardback book will surely appeal to those turned on by behind the scenes knowledge.

While perhaps The Town’s ideal partner can be found in Chuck Hogan’s original source material in the novel which centered on the Prince of Thieves, WB’s gripping production serves as a terrific companion for a double feature with other contemporary Boston crime sagas from Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the Asian action trilogy Infernal Affairs with the Best Picture winner The Departed to Clint Eastwood’s existential Oscar winning thriller Mystic River or Ben Affleck’s own bleak but brilliant debut as a director as evidenced in Gone Baby Gone.

Boasting a written statement by Affleck – which admittedly may have worked better as a filmed introductory footage attached to the new cut -- the staggeringly impressive high definition presentation of Affleck’s preferred version speaks volumes on its own, easily inviting fans of the original edition to view the longer release with eager eyes as if they’ve just hit play on the Charlestown saga for the first time.


   
Text ©2012, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.