Monday, February 28, 2011

'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' (2011)

Starring John Hannah, Lucy Lawless and Dustin Clare
Created by Steven S. DeKnight

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena [Blu-ray]Winding the clock back to before the events of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," Starz presents another series of episodes featuring bloody combat, dark political maneuvering and vicious backstabbing.

Recently taking over his father's Ludus, Quintus Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah) is eager to prove himself the best lanista in Capua.  His stable of warriors includes Gannicus (Dustin Clare), whom Batiatus believes will one day be Champion of Capua.  Unfortunately for Batiatus, so does everyone else, including the rich and influential Tullius (Stephen Lovatt).  Tullius will do everything in his power to obtain Gannicus from Batiatus, become ever more devious as he finds he can't simply offer Batiatus large sums of money for the man.

Meanwhile, Batiatus' wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) finds herself entertaining an old friend, Gaia (Jaime Murray), a widow from Rome who has lost her status with the death of her husband.  But Gaia's social connections prove useful as Batiatus and Lucretia scheme toward higher stature among Capua's elite.  Those schemes will become riskier and come with heavy tolls for all as the opening of Capua's new arena draws near, for Batiatus will do whatever it takes to make sure that his men stand alone as victors, 'Gods of the Arena.'

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Daybreakers" (2009)

Starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill
Written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig

Daybreakers [Blu-ray]In 2019, the world has been taken over by vampires, and normal humans are an endangered species hunted to the brink of extinction.  Humans are captured and farmed for their blood to keep the vampire species alive.  Life on Earth has adapted: businesses and schools are open at night and closed during the day, cars are equipped with tinted windows, cameras and interior screens for driving during daytime, blood is served mixed into coffee, etc. 

But there's a problem: the vampires consume more than the human blood farms can provide.  Vampires that starve mutate into wild, vicious creatures known as "subsiders."

Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) works for a corporation known as Bromley Marks.  He's a hematologist, in charge of their project to create a stable blood substitute in order to keep the vampire race going after their supply of human blood is gone.  To date, Ed's efforts have been unsuccessful.  Even though animal testing works, human trials are disastrous and lethal.  One night after a car accident, Ed helps a small group of humans evade capture by the police.  Ed, you see, is sympathetic - he never wanted to become a vampire,  and refuses to drink human blood.  Not long after, one of the humans, Audrey (Claudia Karvan), tracks Ed down and tells him she needs his help. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"The Karate Kid" (2010)

Starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan and Wenwen Han
Written by Christopher Murphey
Directed by Harald Zwart

The Karate Kid (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy) (2010)Ah, remakes...  Sometimes they turn out really well.  Sometimes, not so much.  Thankfully, "The Karate Kid" belongs to the former camp.  Starring young Jaden Smith and martial arts legend Jackie Chan, it's a surprisingly well-made film that follows the basic backbone of the 1980s original while putting a new and modern spin on the tale.  It has a few issues that keep it from being truly great, but this is a solidly entertaining film.

Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is upset to learn that his mother Sherry (Taraji Henson) has accepted a new job in Beijing, China.  They pack up their things and move all the way across the world.  Dre speaks no Chinese, and immediately doesn't understand the culture or people in China.  However, he soon meets a young girl named Mei Ying (Wenwen Han) and begins to crush on her.  Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of a group of local Kung Fu students and bullies, led by Cheng (Zhenwei Wang).  Cheng beats up Dre, and then proceeds to bully him constantly at school. 

One day, Dre gets revenge by dumping a bucket of dirty water on Cheng and his friends, only to face another beating.  This time, however, he's rescued by Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the kindly maintenance man at Dre's apartment building.  Han, it seems, is a Kung Fu master, and handily defeats the boys by using their own moves and bodies against them.  Impressed, Dre asks if Han will teach him Kung Fu.  Han refuses, believing that Dre's reasons ("How about to whup someone's ass?") aren't what Kung Fu is about.  Instead, he goes to Cheng's Kung Fu studio to tell the boys and their master to leave Dre alone.  But the Kung Fu master, Li (Yu Rongguang) refuses to allow his students to back down, and challenges Han and Dre to enter an upcoming tournament.  Han agrees, and tells Dre he will train him in Kung Fu to fight in the tournament.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Near Dark" (1987)

Starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright and Lance Henriksen
Written by Eric Red and Kathryn Bigelow
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Near Dark [Blu-ray]I've heard a lot about "Near Dark" since it was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2009.  To be honest, despite my love of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and it's spinoff "Angel," I've never really been all that intrigued by vampires in general.  "Near Dark" doesn't do much to really improve my feelings about them, but it's certainly a well-made and decently entertaining romp. 

Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is the young son of a veterinarian in the small town of nowhere, Oklahoma.  One night while out clowning around with his friends he meets a girl named Mae (Jenny Wright) and immediately takes a shine to her.  Mae asks Caleb for a ride home, and he attempts to seduce her.  She tells him she needs to be home before dawn, and he asks here for a kiss first.  But in the midst of it, Mae bites Caleb on the neck.  Soon after, Caleb begins to change.  Sunlight becomes painful, and he's extraordinarily weak.

Worse, his truck breaks down, requiring him to walk home as the sun rises.  As he's about to collapse in front of his house, an RV pulls up and Caleb is kidnapped before the astonished eyes of his younger sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds) and father Loy (Tim Thomerson).  Caleb is introduced to Mae's "family" - Jesse (Lance Henriksen), Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), Homer (Joshua John Miller) and Severen (Bill Paxton).  This sort of hillbilly vampire group roam the countryside, stealing vehicles and killing people for food as they see fit.  But they know that they must stay one step ahead of the law, living in the shadows.

Friday, February 18, 2011

'Star Trek: Enterprise' Season Four (2004)

Starring Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock and Connor Trinneer
Created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga

Star Trek Enterprise - The Complete Fourth SeasonMany things changed between Season Three and Season Four of "Star Trek: Enterprise."  The show took a budget cut, reducing the number of episodes from 26 at the onset of the show to the more standard 22.  Producer Manny Coto would take over as showrunner, and for the first time ever, "Star Trek" would be shot on high-definition video instead of film.  Popular novelists Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens joined the writing staff and creators and longtime producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga would step back from the day-to-day creative duties.  The winds of change were blowing through "Star Trek" after being in continuous production since 1987.

Too little, too late.   The show was moved to the Friday Night Death Slot.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'Star Trek: Enterprise' Season Three (2003)

Starring Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock and Connor Trinneer
Created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga

Star Trek Enterprise - The Complete Third SeasonThe mere mention of the name "Star Trek: Enterprise" is often enough to send even your average "Star Trek" fan running for the hills.

Some background: Conceived as a prequel to reinvigorate the aging franchise, but executed with all the fun of a swift kick to the groin, "Star Trek: Enterprise" (then titled simply "Enterprise") premiered to a very respectable 13 million-or-so viewers on the now defunct UPN network.  The first season of the show was a mish-mash of poorly conceived ideas and even poorer execution.  The characters, obviously lacking depth, were woodenly portrayed by what must be the worst cast of any of the "Star Trek" shows or movies (and, yeah, that includes the dubiously cheesy performances of the 1960s original).  To make matters worse, the show was saddled with an ill-conceived "temporal cold war" storyline that made almost no sense, but which the show's producers insisted was simply mysterious and very "X-Files."

Throughout its first and second seasons, the show barreled forward with all the subtlety of an enraged bull in a china shop where everything is painted red.  The producers, instead of crafting actual prequel stories, would trot out villains and characters from the other modern "Star Trek" shows with little regard for believability or continuity, while its own cast would begin to decry the quality of storytelling on the show.   And those 13 million viewers that the show started with?  Less than half remained after only two seasons. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

'Doctor Who' Season Five (2010)

Starring Matt Smith and Karen Gillan
Produced by Steven Moffat

Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series [Blu-ray]So long, David Tenant; hello Matt Smith.  The 11th version of the Doctor arrives on Earth and meets a small girl, Amelia Pond (Caitlin Blackwood) in the mid 1990s.  Still reeling from his regeneration, he's more eccentric than usual, but decides to help Amelia discover the truth about a mysterious crack in her bedroom wall.  The Doctor goes into the TARDIS to fix something, promising to be back in a few minutes.

Unfortunately, he reappears 12 years later.  Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is now grown, having gone through years of therapy and been forced to conclude that her 'Raggedy Doctor' was an imaginary friend, a figment of her own imagination.  She's now engaged to a young nurse named Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), and lives alone in her large house... which is infested with some kind of alien creature called 'Prisoner Zero'.  Not long after, a fleet of alien ships arrives in orbit, threatening to exterminate the human race unless Prisoner Zero gives itself up.  Since Prisoner Zero has no intention of doing so, the Doctor, Amy and Rory must discover a way to locate Prisoner Zero and return it to the aliens before it's too late.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (2010)

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Aterton and Ben Kingsley
Written by Jordan Mechner, Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard
Directed by Mike Newell

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time [Blu-ray]Sometimes you come across a film that should be really cool, but ultimately the only response you have to it is "meh."  Based on the series of videogames, "Prince of Persia" tells the story of Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) a Persian orphan adopted and raised by the king of the ancient empire of Persia.  Dastan grows up to be a formidable warrior along with his brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), who are the king's biological sons.

One day, the armies of Persia, led by Tus, come to the edge of the city of Alamut.  King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) believes the city to be holy, and ordered his sons to keep their troops away from it.  But Sharaman's brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley) presents evidence that Alamut has been manufacturing weapons for Persia's enemies.  Dastan tries to stop Tus from ordering the army to attack, but ultimately doesn't press hard enough.  Instead of allowing his brother to mount a devastating frontal assault, Dastan leads a small group of warriors on a stealth mission to open the eastern gates of Alamut.  Once he breaches the walls, he encounters a priest whom he kills.  Dastan finds a strange dagger the man was trying to protect, and keeps it as a trophy.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Superman / Shazam: The Return of Black Adam" (2010)

Starring George Newbern, Jerry O'Connell and Arnold Vosloo
Written by Michael Jelenic
Directed by Joachim Dos Santos

Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam [Blu-ray]Unlike other DC Animated DVD releases, "Superman / Shazam: The Return of Black Adam" is not a full-length feature.  The disc is, instead, a collection of four DC Showcase shorts - "The Return of Black Adam," "The Spectre," "Green Arrow" and "Jonah Hex."  Its a little odd, but the quality of the shorts makes up for it.  I wasn't too impressed with some of the recent DC Animated films like "Superman / Batman: Apocalypse" and "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths," but these shorts are a bit of a different beast.

In the first short, the longest of the bunch, young Billy Batson (Zach Callison) meets a reporter named Clark Kent (George Newbern), who is doing a story on orphans.  On his way to meet Kent, Batson tries to defend a hobo named Talky Tawny (Kevin Michael Richardson) from some street hoods.  He gets beat up, but stands his ground.  When he meets Kent, the reporter asks Batson how he was injured, and Batson says he was "being good," and that he's always been good and never been rewarded for it.  Kent replies, "Evil is always easier."

Just then, the two are attacked by Black Adam (Arnold Vosloo), a powerful villain whose powers are based on magic.  Black Adam reveals that he has returned to Earth after 5,000 years in exile to kill Batson and get his revenge on the wizard, Shazam.  Batson, of course, has no idea what Black Adam is talking about.  Thinking Kent dead, Batson runs for his life and is saved by Kent's alter ego - Superman.  Superman and Black Adam duke it out while Batson tries to find safe refuge.  Instead, Batson is confronted by Shazam (James Garner) an ancient wizard and guardian of humanity.  He tells Batson that he has been chosen to be Black Adam's successor, to gain the power of the gods and become Captain Marvel (Jerry O'Connell).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Cat Shit One" (2010)

Starring Will Prescott and Tom Flynn
Directed by Kazuya Sasahara

Cat Shit One - THE ANIMATED SERIES - Blu-ray English EditionBased on the Japanese manga comic, "Cat Shit One" is a CG animated film that tells the story of a U.S. Army two-man recon team somewhere in the Middle East tasked with locating and rescuing a handful of hostages from enemy combatants.  Sergeant "Packy" Perkins (Will Prescott) leads the team, his partner is the nervous, somewhat cowardly Botasky (Tom Flynn).  They locate their "canaries," and witness one of them killed while arguing with HQ for air support and evac.  Unwilling to wait any longer, Packy decides to head down into the enemy camp himself to rescue the hostages, leaving Botasky behind to cover him with his sniper rifle.

Packy manages to rescue the hostages, but when HQ informs them that enemy reinforcements will arrive before the US evac and air support, he decides to stay behind and buy time for Botasky and the hostages to escape.  He orders Botasky not to come back for him, and begins laying traps.  But Botasky can't leave his friend and fellow soldier behind, and defies orders to go back into the enemy camp and rescue Packy.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"The Runaways" (2010)

Starring Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart and Michael Shannon
Written and directed by Fioria Sigismondi

The Runaways [Blu-ray]No, this is not an adaptation of Brian K. Vaughn's excellent "Runaways" comic book.  This is a dramatized story of The Runaways, a groundbreaking all-girl rock band of the 1970s.  I have to admit that while I'm familiar with The Runaways' rhythm guitarist and backup vocalist Joan Jett, I had not heard of this initial band at all.  I remember being intrigued by the film when it was getting a limited release in theatres last year, but it never played anywhere near me as far as I can recall, and I'm just now able to watch it via the magic of Netflix.

Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) is a rebellious teen girl.  She paints her face like David Bowie and gets booed off the stage at her high school talent show.  She spends her nights hanging out a clubs she's far too young to be going to, but gets into anyway.  Cherie also hangs out with her sister, Marie (Riley Keough) and her boyfriend.  She lives with her mother, a bitchy failing actress who kicked out their father and is getting married to a businessman from Indonesia. 

Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) is a rebellious teen girl.  She scrapes together money to buy leather clothes and spends her time drinking and learning to play guitar.  Joan tries to take lessons, but finds that her teacher believes that "Girls don't play electric guitar."  One night out at a club, she spies Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), whom she recognizes as a record producer.  She approaches him, but he tries to dismiss her until she tells him she plans to start an all-girl rock band.  Intrigued, Fowley hooks Joan up with a drummer, Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and tells the girls to practice a bit and give him a call.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

'Party Down' Complete Series (2009)

Starring Adam Scott, Ken Marino and Lizzy Caplan
Created by Rob Thomas

Party Down: Season 1Oh, Rob Thomas... First you left us hanging at the end of 'Veronica Mars', and then you went and created another great show that didn't stick around long enough, either!

"Party Down" centers on a team of caterers in Los Angeles working for a company called, well, Party Down.  The team is led by Ron Donald (Ken Marino), an over-eager under-achiever with big dreams to open a soup restaurant franchise.  The rest of the team is comprised of Kyle (Ryan Hansen), a pretty boy actor who can't catch his big break; Roman, a "hard sci-fi" writer who hasn't managed to sell any of his scripts; Constance (Jane Lynch), a former character actor who used to sleep around... a lot; and Casey (Lizzy Caplan), an aspiring comedienne.  At the outset of the show, the team is joined by Henry (Adam Scott), an actor who used to work for Party Down with Ron, but eventually managed to make something of his acting career and left.  But now that his career has tanked after he was typecast in a series of beer commercials, Henry finds himself down on his luck and takes a job at Party Down out of desperation.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"The Other Guys" (2010)

Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg and Steve Coogan
Written by Chris Henchy and Adam McKay
Directed by Adam McKay

The Other Guys (The Unrated Other Edition) [Blu-ray]Continuing their string of successful Will Ferrell comedy vehicles, Ferrell and McKay brought to the screen in 2010 "The Other Guys," a sort of buddy cop action-comedy spoof.  Ferrell is paired this time with Mark Wahlberg, and the two of them play third-stringer NYPD detectives Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz. 

Allen came up from being an accountant, always taking the safe route through everything that comes along.  Terry, on the other hand, was on the cusp of a promising career until he accidentally shot New York Yankees star player Derek Jeter just before a critical World Series game.  Now, they both work in the shadow of the city's two great hero cops, Chris Danson (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and PK Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson).  But when Danson and Highsmith, in a fit of ultra-machismo, pitch themselves off the top of a building in pursuit of a suspect and wind up very, very dead, the city finds itself in need of new heroes.