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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

DVD Review: Key And Peele: Seasons 1 + 2

Key And Peele is a sketch comedy series on Comedy Central starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. The first two seasons have now been released in a four-disc box set, which includes bonus features as well.

The series is seriously funny. And one thing that sets it apart from other sketch comedy shows is that the segments are filmed ahead of time, so they’re like a series of short comedic films, with introductions and other silliness shot in front of an audience linking the sketches. Both men are bi-racial, and a lot of their comedy comes from that, particularly in the first season.


The first episode of the first season, “Bitch,” is one of my favorites. The title skit is about two married men who are bragging to each other about calling their wives "bitch" but are terrified that the wives might hear. So they remove themselves to more and more remote spots before repeating the word. This skit gets funnier as it goes on (while never mentioning that they're afraid of their wives). During one of their live segments, they rip on the premises for reality television programming, such as, "You have a mental illness - let us rearrange your furniture for you." I absolutely love that, and it leads into a sketch making fun of those kitchen shows.  One of my favorite bits is a fake commercial for Ancestry.com, in which all black people trace themselves back to Thomas Jefferson. 

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Movie Trailer - X-Men: Days of Future Past (Final Trailer!)

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Monday, April 14, 2014

DVD Review: Junk

Junk is a completely enjoyable, seriously funny and surprisingly sweet film about two guys who must set aside their differences when their movie is accepted at a small film festival. Don’t let the photo on the DVD fool you. This is not a drug movie. Sure, some of the characters do some drugs, but that is not the focus. This is a movie about films and friendship, and while it is often very funny, it also has heart and substance.

The film stars Kevin Hamedani as Kaveh, a man who directed a film titled Islama-rama 2, which has been accepted in a film festival. Kevin Hamedani also directed and co-wrote Junk. Ramon Isao co-wrote Junk, and plays Raul, the man who wrote Islama-rama 2. When the film opens, Kaveh is rehearsing a speech in front of the mirror about changes he’s making to his life. He then goes to meet his ex-girlfriend Natasha, telling her he still loves her and that he’s changed (“I even listen to R.E.M. now”) in an attempt to win her back. This attempt fails, as she is seeing someone new (“Somebody who listens to my stories without needing to take a bong hit”). But it’s interesting to see where this character’s priorities are. His film has been accepted to a film festival, and the first thing he thinks of is using that as a way to win back the love of his ex-girlfriend. That right there lets you know that this is a character-driven comedy, and not a slapstick comedy about silly situations.

Meanwhile Raul, his filmmaking partner, is in New York, in a writing workshop, which is not going well for him. The leader of the workshop tells him, “You’re not a good writer, but you’re a good film thing. So be a film thing.” We also get a truly sweet moment with Raul and his wife, Sachiko.

Kaveh and Raul haven’t spoken in a year, but the two are going to be sharing a motel room together. Their goal is to pitch their next film to a famous producer who will be attending the festival (described as a Japanese Roger Corman). When the two meet up in their crappy motel room, the scene is allowed to play out, which is nice. We see a little of the sources of their animosity (Kaveh can’t be bothered to remember Raul’s wife’s name, or even her nationality for that matter), but also the way they try to hide it with pleasantries. It’s actually a really good scene. Because of the really good performances by both lead actors, it’s believable that they have a history, and their awkwardness is likewise believable. It’s not overplayed for comedy.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Theatre Review: Romeo And Juliet (Independent Shakespeare Company 2014 Production)

I’ve been attending the Independent Shakespeare Company’s Griffith Park productions for several years, and have always been impressed by the talent of this group. The acting, the staging, their style, and their energy and joy make each of their productions a treat. So I was excited to see this company in the more intimate setting of their Independent Studio.

Their new production of Romeo And Juliet features a cast of eight (so there is quite a bit of doubling of roles, while others characters are cut completely), and is presented at a quick pace, particularly at the beginning (though the quieter moments are given their needed time). There are several choreographed moments throughout the production, giving it an interesting feel and style. That tone is set at the beginning, with all of the actors on stage, a book being passed among the cast members. That leads to the Chorus, which is performed by the entire cast, each taking a different line or phrase, until “their parents’ strife,” which is repeated by everyone and leads into a very stylized choreographed fight scene (without props such as swords).

It’s an interesting way to present the opening street brawl, and by cutting Sampson and Gregory, it’s also a way to save some time. The first line of Act I in this production is the Prince’s “Rebellious subjects.” The line is spoken while he stands on top of a chair. The set is very simple, which I appreciate. Upstage there is a brown fence which has two entrances. There are a few chairs, a table and a step ladder (all painted brown) which are used to various effects throughout the production.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

DVD Review: Bettie Page Reveals All

You really can’t beat the title Bettie Page Reveals All, and you can’t beat Bettie Page, still the world’s most famous pin-up girl. In this new documentary, Bettie Page does in fact reveal many things about her life through interviews that function as the film’s narration (Bettie Page does not appear on screen, as she wished for folks to remember her as she was in her photos).

The film opens with a few thoughts on Bettie Page from people like Hugh Hefner (who talks about how much her image has influenced pop culture) and Dita Von Teese (who says, “It’s sort of confusing even whether she was a real person or not”). We then briefly see her funeral at Westwood Village Memorial Park in December of 2008.

After those opening shots, the film is basically told in chronological order. Through the interview, Bettie Page is really allowed to tell her own story, and she does a great job of it, offering fantastic and surprising anecdotes and information. Bettie speaks with candor about not only her professional life, and not only about her triumphs and joys, but about her troubles. About her father, she says: “A sex fiend is the way to put it. I mean, sex with anything that he could get his you-know-what into. Chickens and sheep and cows and anything.” He had sex with Bettie’s two sisters, and Bettie talks about how she let him touch her in order to get money to go to the movies. Her mother then took Bettie and the other children and left him. But because there wasn’t enough money to care for all six children, Bettie was put in an orphanage for a time.

As striking as that is, perhaps even more surprising is that Bettie Page aimed to be valedictorian of her high school class in order to get a scholarship and missed it only slightly, becoming salutatorian. Who would have guessed? It was very early in this film that I was already completely engaged.

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DVD Review: Newhart: The Complete Third Season

The third season of Newhart saw one significant cast change. Peter Scolari became a regular cast member, taking the place of Steven Kampmann. Michael Harris (Peter Scolari) had appeared in a few episodes of the second season, as the producer of Dick Loudon’s local television program. In the third season, his relationship with Stephanie (Julia Duffy) is developed.

The first episode of the season, “Tell A Lie, Get A Check,” briefly explains the absence of Kirk (Steven Kampmann) and Cindy (Rebecca York). The episode opens with Dick and Joanna returning to the inn. Dick says, “After two weeks of staying in one hotel after another, it’s really great to be back home in our inn.” I love that great dry delivery of his. They learn that Kirk and Cindy left town while they were away, as Cindy got a job as a clown. Dick is left with the job of selling Kirk’s café, which leads to a great guest appearance by Ray Walston as Claude Darling, the man who initially buys the café. Dick has a great line to him: “Trust us, we lied to you.” And so Larry, Darryl and Darryl buy the café.

Larry, Darryl and Darryl play a bigger role in this season. That famous introduction “Hi, I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl” gets a bit old, but by the end of the season the writers are playing with it, creating jokes from the very fact that it was repeated so often. Like in "The Prodigal Darryl," when the first Darryl disappears and Larry leaves a gap in his introduction for the missing Darryl.

Throughout the season, Michael keeps trying to get Dick to promote his television show, but Dick and Michael disagree about the image the show should have. Several episodes feature his Vermont television show. In one episode George (Tom Poston) is a guest, and in another Joanna (Mary Frann) is the co-host. In the season’s final episode, Dick is driven to compete for a Vermont television award. Michael again wants him to change his image, and this time Dick gives it a go, and the results are disastrous and hilarious. That episode also features a puppet show put on my Larry, Darryl and Darryl to cheer up a sick Stephanie.

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Comedy Interview: Tim Barnes

I'm recording the intro into my phone. I don't know if it's going to actually say what I want it to say or if the words will be wrong. I refuse to actually look at that, I'm just going to send it in as done. The interview guest today is amazing, he's awesome, he's fantastic, is one of the best, he's one of the best best and he's black! That's right guys, we did it, we got a black. I knew that was the goal the whole time. I didn't tell him that but god damnit that was my goal. I had to fill that quota and who better to fill quota with than today's guest dot dot dot Tim Barnes!
Riggs: How are you?
Barnes: You know, I'm doing well! I've been staying busy with video projects, stand up, and working at a Dunkin' Donuts. How about you? What's going on with good old Matty Riggs?

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

DVD Review: The Curse Of The Gothic Symphony

I knew nothing about the Gothic Symphony before viewing this film. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of the composer, Havergal Brian. But the opening title card of The Curse Of The Gothic Symphony immediately set me at ease: “In 1919 obscure British composer Havergal Brian began to write the Gothic Symphony.” Yes, that word “obscure,” made me no longer feel bad about not knowing him. It continues: “Finished eight years later, it became the largest, longest and most complex symphony in history. Many great conductors tried to mount performances, but their attempts were thwarted. As a result the composer declared the work to be cursed.”

The Curse Of The Gothic Symphony tells the story of a group of enthusiasts, led by Gary Thorpe, who are determined to mount a production of the symphony in Brisbane, Australia. The Gothic Symphony hadn’t been performed in thirty years, and never previously outside of the United Kingdom. It had only been performed four times in the UK. Because of the inherent troubles in mounting a production, this symphony has been considered cursed. It’s interesting that the composer himself considered the piece to be cursed. Part of the problem is the large number of musicians and singers that it requires – approximately six hundred people (and that’s six hundred incredibly talented people, including a children’s choir). That means a large venue, and some serious coordination.

The film begins in 2007. Interestingly, the film’s producer, Veronica Fury, is also interviewed as a subject because she ends up becoming involved in helping the symphony happen through her involvement in the film itself. And that is just one of the many interesting stories that come as a result of this endeavor.  We meet several of the people involved in the project. It’s interesting that one of the people who is involved for a time, Michael Black (Chorus Master, Opera Australia), himself hadn’t heard of the symphony before. He says he is not concerned with the curse, but then due to mounting troubles and scheduling conflicts, he ends up being unable to stay with the project.

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Blu-Ray Review - "The Pirate Fairy"

The newest title in the Tinkerbell saga is Disney's "The Pirate Fairy."

"The Pirate Fairy" finds Tink and her friends rushing to the aid of Zarina (voiced by Mad Men's Christina Hendricks) who has joined a band of pirates on Skull Rock.  The pirates are led by a young cabin boy named James and voiced to perfection by Tom Hiddleston (Thor, Avengers, War Horse).

Before long it's Fairies Vs. Pirates with a swashbuckling adventure that will captivate both girls and boys!

Blu-Ray special features include:

- Second Star to the Right: The Legacy of Never Land
- Croc-U-Mentary
- Deleted Scenes
- Sing-Along Songs and More!

Here's hoping the the "The Pirate Fairy" is not the last we've seen of Tinkerbell, Zarina or James.

Drumroll please... 7 out of 10 drumsticks!!!

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Breaking News: Colbert to Replace Letterman on @CBS

Great news for fans of the Colbert Report!  Stephen Colbert will be passed the Late Show torch!  After the announcement of Letterman's retirement, we've wondered who would take the helm: Would it be Craig Ferguson of The Late Late Show?  Don King?  Barbara Walters?  Edward Snowden???

No!  It's famed Ching Cong Ding Dong support Stephen Colbert in 2015!  Stay tuned!!

[1] Washington Post: Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman on ‘The Late Show’
[2] Cover Photo courtesy of the Washington Post (don't sue me!)

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DVD Review: 95ers: Time Runners

I admit: I’m a sucker for films that play with time and reality. Maybe that’s because at times it seems our grasp on reality is tenuous at best. Perhaps it’s because those films explore those strange areas of possibility and probability where we can fix mistakes and have second chances. Or destroy humanity. It’s all rather appealing.

The newest time-bending film, 95ers: Time Runners, tells the story of Sally Biggs, an FBI agent who has the ability to travel backwards slightly in time, which enables her to correct mistakes and become an expert marksman and so on. It is an enjoyable, interesting and imaginative film, and features a decent performance by Alesandra Durham as Sally.

The opening scene has a dreamlike quality to it. A man has died, and his daughter looks out the window at snow falling. After a moment, the snow stops, freezes in place, and then begins to rise, as the young girl continues to look out. And then the opening title comes on. It’s a nice, simple, but intriguing opening, with no dialogue.

And then we’re in the future, where a battle is taking place. The Earth seems under siege. Meanwhile, a mission is being discussed, with a target in the date December 19, 2003. So then we go to that time and meet Horatio Biggs (Joel Bishop), a man who is keeping a diary and is a bit full of himself, though possibly with good reason. Congress, based partly on his recommendation, has set aside a lot of money for an important project. On this date, he falls in love with Sally, who is part of a Christmas carol group that he sees through the window of the café.

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DVD Review: The Bunker

The Bunker is an odd war film which takes place in the Hobo Woods in Vietnam in 1965. It is about a man named Tiberius (who goes by Ranger), the leader of a Special Forces unit that occupies an underground bunker. Tiberius is obsessed with finding traitors, and he sees them everywhere.

When the film opens, U.S. soldiers are silently killing the sentries outside an enemy’s building. They make their way inside, and demand to know the name of an informant. The only information they’re able to get is that it’s a girl with a tattoo on her back. There is a U.S. prisoner in the building, and we expect that the team is there to rescue him, but instead they kill him after accusing him of being weak since he allowed himself to be captured. (The soldier doesn’t really put up much of an argument, so maybe he is weak.) They cut the prisoner’s finger off, then detonate the building.

Tiberius (Christopher Bihrle) is amassing a fairly good collection of fingers, it turns out, and fingerprinting them.

Some other U.S. soldiers are leading some Vietnamese prisoners through the woods. They find a Special Forces ring, which leads to this bit of dialogue: 
      “Special forces? What the fuck are they doing here?
      “I bet it has something to do with that bunker right there.”

The soldiers split up, two of them taking the prisoners. Those two are then attacked by the Special Forces unit, who take their prisoners and their fingers. The prisoners make no sound and seem to have no reaction whatsoever to what transpired, and silently go with their new captors.

The rest of the team find their two dead men, and radio it in. They request permission to check out the bunker, but are denied. “There is no bunker, Sergeant, and no Special Forces ring.” So clearly something is up.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Shout Factory Announces Herzog: The Collection Bli-ray Set

Shout Factory has opened preorders for their epic Werner Herzog 16 Film blu-ray set Herzog: The Collection.  It's a beauty from the looks of it.

The sixteen titles featured include:

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (also releasing on a Scream Factory Blu-ray)

No word yet on special features.

You can preorder it now from Amazon but if you ask quick you can preorder one from Shout.  The first 100 of them will be signed by the filmmaker himself.

Herzog: The Collection releases in July.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Contest: Win Here's Lucy - The Complete Series!

Lucille Ball returns to television with her two children in the classic TV series Here's Lucy and now you can win a copy of the set for yourself thanks to our friends at MPI Media Group.

Want to win?  It's simple.

Send an email to contest@popculturebeast.com and include your favorite Lucy moment.  We'll pick a winner at random and notify them on Friday, April 11!

Don't want to take a chance at the contest?  You can get the set NOW right here.

Good luck!!

The Massive Box Set Containing Every Episode of the Classic Lucille Ball Sitcom Arrives on DVD From MPI on March 25, 2014

"Like no one before or since, she seemed a part of the family. ... It is hard to imagine television without her."That's how PBS' "American Masters: Lucille Ball - Finding Lucy" summed up television's greatest comedienne. And now, for the first time, the entire six-season run of Ball's top-rated sitcom arrives on DVD in HERE'S LUCY: THE COMPLETE SERIES. The 24-disc box set, filled with extras, will be released by MPI Home Video on March 25, 2014, with an SRP of $159.98.

A top 10 hit throughout its 1968-1974 run, HERE'S LUCY was the I Love Lucy star's fourth sitcom for CBS, and her first to air in color for its entire duration. It received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.

The legendary queen of television comedy is joined by her real-life children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr., as well as Gale Gordon, her co-star from the earlier Lucy Show. Ball plays Lucille Carter, widowed mother of teenagers Kim and Craig. Lucy works for her brother-in-law Harry (Gordon), who owns Carter's Unique Employment Agency, leading Lucy into endless predicaments and hilarious hijinks. 

Ball was such a huge star that she could get other top Hollywood figures as guest stars on her series, including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Andy Griffith, Joan Rivers, Danny Thomas, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Frankie Avalon, Eddie Albert, Milton Berle, Chuck Connors, Ed McMahon, Don Knotts, Donny Osmond, Eva Gabor, Joe Namath, Petula Clark, Ricardo Montalban, Elsa Lanchester and many more. 

HERE'S LUCY: THE COMPLETE SERIES gathers all 144 uncut and digitally remastered episodes together for the first time and features a wealth of special features. They include: episode introductions; featurettes; "Let's Talk to Lucy" lost interviews; special TV appearances and interviews; "Treasures From Lucy's Vault"; special U.S. savings bond episode and public service film; slide shows; series production files; original CBS-TV network and syndication promos, and original sponsor billboards.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

DVD Review: The Rise And Fall Of The Clash

I still remember when I was a kid buying that first Clash album. It was on cassette, and was the American version, so it had “I Fought The Law,” which in fact might have been the only song on it I’d heard before I made my purchase. And something certainly changed for me when I popped that cassette into my stereo for the first time. This was one of those albums that had an immediate and lasting impact. But I never bothered to learn anything whatsoever about the band. Maybe I didn’t want to know. But now I do.

The Rise And Fall Of The Clash, the new documentary film about the band, features a new interview with Mick Jones, and surprisingly opens with a quoted passage from Shakespeare: “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Of course, those lines are given in jest in the play, Twelfth Night, as part of a prank on Malvolio. And perhaps that is the spirit it is offered here, for the music of The Clash did have a certain sense of humor.

The Rise And Fall Of The Clash has some concert footage and does discuss certain songs, but it’s really about the relationships of the band members to each other, and the relationship of the band with its manager, Bernard Rhodes. This documentary should be titled simply The Fall Of The Clash, for it has basically no information whatsoever on the formation of the band or its early years. This film focuses on the years 1981 – 1985, when most of the band’s greatest music had already been released, and it really centers on the influence of band manager Bernard Rhodes, which led slowly but inevitably to the band’s destruction. Rhodes managed the band from 1976 to 1978, and then again from 1981 through 1985. It is this second period that is the subject of this film.

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