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My name is Wayne Chamberlain and I'm a geek daddy who is into Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, books, movies, video games and talking to creative people about their work in these mediums. And that's what you'll find here, along with news, previews and reviews. I'm a journalist, an editor and co-host of the Star Wars Book Report podcast. So come on in and feel free to geek out in a fun, friendly environment.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Some classic films make their way to Blu-ray

Well, my friends, it’s time to crack open the DVD vault and take a look at some of the entertainment options currently available for your home viewing:
* French Immersion: One of my main complaints, both as someone who wanted to be a filmmaker and as a Canadian, is that Canadian films tend to be boring, overly moody and too introspective (and sometimes downright aloof).
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a classic example of a commercial film that couldn’t get made in Canada, despite the fact it’s a Canadian story. Nope, gotta set it in Chicago and its Canadian writer and star, Nia Vardalos, has to get Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson on board and suddenly the thing is a huge international hit. It should have been a Canadian film.
Enter French Immersion, a movie that follows in the tradition of Bon Cop, Bad Cop, in telling an actually amusing, entertaining Canadian story.
Writer Jefferson Lewis and co-writer/director Kevin Tierney deliver a feel-good story about five Anglos – four Canadians and a New Yorker, who move to the small fictional town of Saint-Isidore-du-Coeur-de-Jesus (St. Isidore with the heart of Jesus if my own French isn’t too rusty).
This group wants to learn French, so they travel en masse to the village with the idea of spending two weeks immersing themselves in the lives of the citizens and learning the language by diving right in.
Of course, there’s a hockey scene … has to be, it’s mandatory in Canadian films these day, but what is most impressive is that this film scores with its sense of humour, enjoyable characterizations and a real sense of love for the unique Canadian experience this country and its hard-working, honorable and truly funny people have to offer.
Colm Feore is about the only ‘name’ actor that most people will recognize, but this ensemble cast is quite fun and special, so don’t let the lack of ‘names’ deter you from 92 minutes of good entertainment.
Now, if only we could get some films like this made outside of Quebec. I know Toronto and Vancouver are in service to Hollywood for TV and films and I don’t begrudge them that. But there are talented storytellers in all parts of this country, not just Quebec, and this country needs to do something to give these people an opportunity to tell these stories and help entertain the world with our unique Canadian sense of humour and perspective.
End of speech. Watch French Immersion today. You won’t regret it.
* Mama, I Want to Sing: Singer Ciara stars in this film based on a play about a troubled African-American family.
Ciara plays a famous diva pop singer, while Lynn Whitfield plays her mother, a popular preacher who is angered at the fact her daughter’s life flies in the face of what she tries to teach her followers. Add in a son who feels ignored by both of the women, but he’s a talented photographer who wants to go to the Middle East to photograph the war, as well as the wise grandpa, played by Ben Vereen, who watches all of this drama unfolding with a sense of sadness.
A basic morality play, the film features a positive message about family and love and there are some great musical sequences as Ciara has a lovely voice and gets to show it off.
While the movie is predictable, it’s still a decent, family-friendly flick that is good for a family movie night.
* Paranormal Activity 3: The latest edition of Katie and Kristie’s excellent adventure with a demon and a cult continues in this found-footage prequel to the other two films.
This time around, we see Katie and Kristie as little girls, as their mom’s boyfriend, who runs a wedding video company, starts videotaping events around the house in an effort to find out what is going on in their home.
Honestly, the atmosphere required to make these films truly scary has long worn off. Thankfully they’re not going for gross-out moments like Hostel or other torture porn flicks. Instead, it’s just more of the same kind of jumpy moments we’ve come to expect.
The kids used in the film are decent little actors and do a solid job of trying to deal matter-of-factly with the uncertainty unfolding around them. The littlest one doesn’t find it strange that no one else can see her ‘invisible’ friend who lives in a closet in their room.
The idea of trying to string along a narrative stringing the three films together takes the form that one of the girls seems to be destined to be ‘the bride’ of this demon and the girls’ grandmother seems to be part of some coven.
But it’s mostly nonsensical stuff. The real appeal still lies in the little moments that make you jump and there are a few decent ones here, such as when a camera operator and the youngest girl play Bloody Mary, unleashing something wicked in their home, or when a sheet-wearing entity appears behind a babysitter.
Sadly, these moments aren’t enough to really carry the entirety of the film. Still, fans of the genre should find it a decent enough way to spend 83 minutes (or 93 if you opt for the extended version).
The extras are incredibly lame. A couple ‘lost tapes’ which are basically practical jokes, as well as a bad commercial for the guy’s wedding video business. That’s it. No commentary. No making-of. Nothing to try to piece together the narrative. Very lazy filmmaking and inattention to the fact many people like DVD extras.
* Transformers: Dark of the Moon:  The summer blockbuster returns to stores with a limited edition Blu-ray 3D version, as well as a Blu-ray, standard def and digital copy of the movie all together in one box.
The movie is certainly much better than the second Transformers flick. It’s a solid, balls-to-the-wall action extravaganza that features some amazing sequences, including the military’s jump-suit freefall into Chicago and the near leveling of the Windy City.
While director Michael Bay clearly remains far more enamored with visual splendor and CGI tricks than story, at least there’s a semblance of an actual plot to Dark of the Moon and the actors have something to do other than just run around, gape in awe at the destruction and giant robots and duck when appropriate.
John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand and Rose Huntington-Whiteley join the cast this time around, with the latter replacing the departed Megan Fox. She is surprisingly good, doing more than just playing the damsel in distress. McDormand, as a government operative in charge of the Autobots division, eats up her scenes with verve, while Dempsey appears to have some fun playing the rich villain.
Malkovich, however, is completely wasted here. It’s like he watched Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading and decided to outdo the younger thesp’s silliness. Malkovich as some kind of Asian mumbo-jumbo philosophy-spouting buffoon is just plain sad and a horrible use of one of the greatest character actors alive today.
The highlight of this set, besides the great high-def visuals, are the extras. There are more than three hours of featurettes, looking at the making of the movie, the filming of key sequences, a look at the future of NASA … some really cool, fascinating extras that make spending extra time with this set worth the investment.
* Manhattan and Annie Hall (Blu-ray): Two of Woody Allen’s great early films, and let’s face it, many consider Annie Hall to be his Citizen Kane (although Sleeper and Purple Rose of Cairo are still my two faves), make their way to Blu-ray. And … that’s it. The films are in high-def now.
There are no extras. No commentary tracks. No looks at the brilliance of some of these works. No retrospectives on the man’s career or the place these films hold in his filmography.
Just the movies in high-def.
Colour me disappointed.
* The Apartment (Blu-ray): This classic comedy, featuring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray won five Academy Awards in 1960, including Best Picture, so it’s a great time to settle back for a classic as it makes its Blu-ray debut.
Director Billy Wilder’s comedy focuses on a young businessman (Lemmon), who earns a series of promotions simply by allowing the bosses at the company where he works to use his apartment for a series of affairs.
But things get complicated when he winds up falling for one of the mistresses, so he has to make a choice between risking the loss of the love of his life or his comfortable job.
Extras (yay!) include an audio commentary track from film producer and historian Bruce Block, a look at the making of the movie and a featurette examining the work of Lemmon.
* Rebecca, Norotrious and Spellbound (Blu-ray): Three of Alfred Hitchcock’s signature films get the high-def treatment. While not his most famous films, all are fantastic movies in their own right, made more interesting by the outstanding set of extras accompanying each film. With commentary tracks by critics or film historians, interviews, radio plays, making-of featurettes and more, these movies offer fans an interesting glimpse into one of Hollywood’s iconic directors.
* 5 Star Day: Cam Gigandet, who has appeared in Twilight and Easy A, headlines this film about a man whose horoscope forecasts a perfect five-star day the morning of his birthday. But life turns out not to be so grand and after events that upset things in a big way, he decides to go on a trek to prove that astrology is a hoax. He decides to find three other people who were born the exact same time and day as him and see whether their lives are perfect, five-star existences.  Jena Malone, Yvette Montgomery and Wesley Henderson co-star.
Extras include a commentary track featuring director Danny Buday, deleted scenes, a short film and more.
* Bizarre Foods: Collection Five, Part Two: Host Andrew Zimmern offers up more than 10 hours of unique foods from all corners of the globe on this three-disc set sure to please adventurous foodies and travel junkies alike.
With episodes set in Indonesia, Suriname, Morocco, Jamaica, Finland, New York, Rio and even Montreal, as well as dishes featuring the likes of piranha and water buffalo entrails, this is a journey that is truly unique and interesting. Tasty … well, that may be an entirely different matter.
Extras include four previously unseen episodes, including trips to Alaska, Taiwan and Vietnam.
* Wings: The first Oscar winner for best picture, this movie was released in 1927 and tells the story of two pals who go to war, as well as the woman they left behind. Richard Arlen, Charles Rogers and Clara Bow co-star and the movie, which is renowned for its First World War aerial fighter sequences, also features a cameo by Gary Cooper.
* The Big Year
* Mannix: Season Six
* Beavis and Butt-head: Volume Four
* The Adventures of Chuck and Friends: Friends to the Finish
* Father Dowling Mysteries: Season One
* Love Story (Blu-ray)

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