More April Netflix Choices

Nuff said

Mafia

Action: Mafia, Arena

Lay the Favorite

Comedy: Bobcat Goldthwait: You Don’t Look the Same Either, Lay the Favorite, Bryan Callen: Man Class

Documentary: I Survived BTK, Girl Model, Three Stars, After Kony: Staging Hope, Shelter Me, Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet

Drama: The Passion of the Christ

Foreign: El Infierno

Scream 4

Horror: Scream 4 (yes you can gorge – all four films are currently available), Storage 24, Rise of the Zombies

Television: Voltron: Lion Force, American Guns

Thriller: The Cottage

Age of Heroes – Special Forces week

Age of Heroes is currently available on instant Netflix

Age of HeroesAge of Heroes (2011) – Not rated

“Inspired by real events, this thriller follows members of Britain’s newly formed No. 30 Commando unit as they infiltrate Nazi-occupied Norway, intent on stealing German radar technology that could prove crucial to the Allied war effort.”

“You are here because you are scum.”

Well I could start this off with, “they don’t make them like this any more” but outright theft/homage/pastiche would be more accurate. Pulling prisoners for a special mission comes from The Dirty Dozen. The training instructor character and dialogue are ripped straight from The Wild Geese (1978 – also available on instant Netflix).

Age of Heroes seems a deliberate throwback to 60s and 70s WWII caper movies. We get an introduction to our characters, a prison scene, training scenes (not a montage thankfully), spend some time on the plan, and finally jump into action for the second half of the film.

For humor value, I’d like to see one of these movies where everything went according to plan. Here things go hilariously awry very quickly. Yes, they land in the wrong place. Yes, they suffer casualties before hitting the ground. Yes, they lose much of their kit. Yes, the radio is the first item to go missing. Naturally, that is just the beginning of their problems.

Sean Bean is 52 here but they’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to ‘young’ him up. He is his usual tough, gruff self but the star of the film is actually Danny Dyer as Cpl. Bob Rains. Cpl. Rains was, of course, in prison for insubordination. Danny Dyer is quite good as the lead – a big change from his normal supporting roles. Izabella Miko does a nice job as Jensen, the commando’s enigmatic contact.

The Norwegian landscape is quite beautiful and filmed to good effect. Age of Heroes doesn’t have a Hollywood budget but does well except for the flight scenes and a particular explosion. Fight scenes are exciting and the film is briskly paced. Age of Heroes is not a classic but is an enjoyable WWII caper film.

People Watch: Look for James D’Arcy playing a real-life Lt. Commander Ian Fleming (yes the author of the James Bond novels). He recently did a great job impersonating Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock.

 

Black Hawk Down – Special Forces Week

Black Hawk Down is currently available on instant Netflix

Black Hawk DownBlack Hawk Down (2001) – Rated R

“Based on a true story, U.S. Rangers and an elite Delta Force team attempt to kidnap two underlings of a Somali warlord, their Black Hawk helicopters are shot down, and the Americans face intense combat with the militia on the ground.”

No one gets left behind, you know that.”

My bone of the day to pick is this. The Hurt Locker was a very good film but not only were Up in the Air, Up, Inglourious Basterds and District 9 (all nominees) better films but, as a modern portrait of war (post World War II), you simply cannot beat Black Hawk Down.

I agree that it was long overdue for a female director to win and Kathryn Bigelow is certainly a good one but it really cheapens the prize when you start to think that the award was not actually given for Best Film but to redress a wrong or perhaps for being topical.

I guess my real gripe is that the best post-World War II war film, Black Hawk Down, was not even nominated for Best Picture and lost Best Director to Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind.

Black Hawk Down did win Best Oscars for Editing (amazing and well-deserved) and Sound (if you have good speakers, you can almost feel the bullets hitting). It was also nominated for Best Cinematography (again well-deserved – Best Cinematography does not always have to be pretty) and the aforementioned Best Director for Ridley Scott.

Poor Ridley Scott. In 1979, he made one of my all-time favorite horror movies, Alien. In 1982, he made one of my all-time favorite science fiction movies, Blade Runner.

He finally got his first Oscar nomination for Thelma & Louise, THE female buddy flick but lost to The Silence of the Lambs. He got his next one for Gladiator but lost to Traffic (seriously? he lost to a remake of a BBC miniseries where the miniseries was better than the movie.). He lost the Best Director nod on Black Hawk to A Beautiful Mind.

So to sum up my favorites: Ridley Scott made Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down. The best director films for those years were Kramer vs. Kramer, Gandhi, Traffic, and A Beautiful Mind. Which set of films are still watched today? I have to give you that Silence of the Lambs was better directed than Thelma & Louise.

Well I guess I have used up all my room to rant. I better quickly run down why you should see this film.

Part of the reason Black Hawk Down is so good is the incredible attention to detail. The black hawks and little birds are real black hawks and little birds. Real Rangers do the rope scenes. The satellite maps behind Garrison are some of the real scenes from that battle.

Ken Nolan did an incredible job of trimming down the unbelievably detailed book by Mark Bowden. Most of what is trimmed out are pre- and post-raid events, an examination of the drug khat, and some Somali points of view (from what I remember).

While I deride Tony Scott for his unnecessary jump-cutting, bleached out cinematography, and sped-up and slowed down scenes, here Ridley Scott uses all of these to great effect. If I had to use one word to describe Black Hawk Down, it would be intense.

I am going to be brief about the acting. There are a number of name actors in this film but also many unknowns. I found all the performances to be spot-on. Josh Hartnett is the lead but this is really an ensemble film. Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, Ewen Bremner, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard and more all put in fine performances.

I really love that there is no one hero – these are all heroes. I defy you not to tear up the first time you hear the snipers volunteer to go to the downed chopper.

As if you could not tell, I whole-heartedly recommend this incredibly intense film. The only reason not to see it is if you are extremely averse to realistic warfare.

Interestingly while this is a right-wing favorite (it is actually a personal favorite of George W. Bush), it is also a favorite of the Somalis (although for quite different reasons). Regardless of ideology this is one humdinger of a true story. By the way “skinnies” is not a malnutrition reference, it comes from “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein.

People Watch: Yes that is Legolas (Orlando Bloom) tumbling from the helicopter that starts the disaster rolling.

Osombie – Special Forces Week

Osombie is currently available on instant Netflix.

Osombie

Osombie (2012) – Not rated

“Dusty is on a mission to rescue her brother, a conspiracy theorist who’s convinced Osama bin Laden is still alive. But while in Afghanistan, she discovers that the terrorist has risen — and is building a zombie army to carry out his evil bidding.

Make no mistake – this is a bad movie but at least it begins with an amusing rendition (see what I did there?) of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. No shaky cam or found footage – woohoo! Other than that not much else to say – Osombie is cheap and amateurish with really bad CGI for the gunshots.

Osombie features a Special Forces team of mixed nationality. They have a woman called Tomboy who likes to fight with a katana, two guys with nice abs who like to go shirtless, a guy nicknamed DC (divorce court) and assorted other jokers. They’re pretty inept and when they go to save Dusty, she shoots one of them. Apparently Special Forces are exempt from haircut regulations as well. Honestly, the conspiracy-nut Derek is a way better soldier than any of the Special Forces team.

Even though we have seen the zombies kill members of their team (mostly for not paying attention) on two separate occasions, we still have a seen where Tomboy is killing zombies while two other soldiers just stroll and chat. The zombies shuffle around slowly, Romero-style, until they pop up from nowhere, 28 Days Later-style.

The laws of physics do not apply. Tomboy pops a zombie’s head off with her sword – not sliced off mind you. Single gunshots explode heads, actual explosions are hit or miss. An unmounted .50 calibre has no recoil.

Osombie is goofily watchable in a bad Syfy kind of way, just don’t expect anything good.

Bravo Two Zero – Special Forces week

Bravo Two Zero is currently available on instant Netflix.

Bravo Two ZeroBravo Two Zero (1999) – Rated R

“Based on Sgt. Andy McNab’s riveting book of the same name, this dramatic BBC miniseries tells the true story of a Special Operations mission to destroy Saddam Hussein’s SCUD missile bases during the Gulf War in 1991. The eight-man patrol, the most decorated in the British service since the Boer War, faced communications breakdowns, enemy attack and freezing weather without adequate gear. Conditions were so severe, not all of them returned.”

“Under the Geneva Convention, I’m afraid I cannot answer that question.” – “Fool! We are not in Geneva.”

First I have to confess that I really like Sean Bean and he is never better than when he is playing a fantasy warrior. He has played the emotionally torn Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, the righteous but unyielding Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, and the naive yet devious Ulrich in the underrated Black Death. All are the same archetype yet all are very different individually – that is the mark of a good actor. This week I’ll get to see Sean Bean as a more modern warrior in this and Age of Heroes.

Bravo Two Zero wastes little time as the team is called up and, after a few minutes, moves straight into the planning phase of the mission. Bravo Two Zero is based on the book of the same name by Andy McNab (played by Sean Bean in the film). It tells the true story of an eight-man SAS team dropped behind-the-lines in Iraq with 209-lb packs (yes, being a former hiker, that was the detail that impressed me.).

The script has plenty of wonderful military detail without becoming too bogged down in jargon. Since Bravo Two Zero is autobiographical, we get a lot of Sean Bean voice-over. It might have played a little more dramatically without but who am I to quibble. Almost the entire story is told from McNab’s point of view. While this is laudable, it leaves out some very interesting events that are concurrent but not witnessed by McNab.

Author’s Note: In addition to McNab’s book, other people involved wrote somewhat conflicting accounts of this patrol. The Real Bravo Two Zero, Eye of the Storm, Soldier Five, and The One That Got Away.

I really liked that the BBC production managed to trod the fine line between showing torture and reveling in it. Some of the scenes are, of course, hard to watch. The fire fights could have used a little Hollywood punch but were quite adequate. Bigger battles use Gulf War file footage.

All in all, Bravo Two Zero is a little dry but a worthwhile watch.

The Return of ActionFest

We interrupt Special Forces week to bring you breaking news of the return of ActionFest.

ActionFest OutrageThis Friday night, April 19th, at 7 p.m., Carolina Cinemas is playing a double feature of Outrage and Beyond Outrage. There is a $10 suggested donation for Asheville’s Homeward Bound, a local charity fighting homelessness. Your $10 not only helps them but nets you a nifty Yakuza double feature by Takeshi Kitano AND a FREE Ninja Porter Pint or soda if you prefer.

Outrage played at the 2011 ActionFest and was quite good. Beyond Outrage is the just released sequel. Carolina owner Bill Banowski plans to release monthly ActionFest features to keep the brand alive until next year when, hopefully, we will see the return of a full-fledged ActionFest.

The last minute notice unfortunately means I won’t be able to attend (sadface) as I have a prior commitment. Augh! Still I’ll keep an eye out for future events which will hopefully be advertised further out than a week and a half.

Carolina Cinemas – Asheville, NC

Carolina Cinemas

My reviews of movie theaters started with a trip to Charlotte to visit Studio Movie Grill. I’d like to backtrack a bit and talk about my favorite local movie theater (and we have several good theaters in Asheville) – Carolina Cinemas.

One of the things I love about Carolina Cinemas are all the special events they put on. They have the usual assortment of Fathom events and really expensive opera performances that many big theaters have but they also have a lot of inexpensive and intimate showings as well.

Cinema Lounge

Every Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. upstairs in the cinema lounge, the Asheville Film Society puts on a classic movie for FREE (Membership is not required to attend). Once a month (on a Wednesday), they put on a Budget Big Screen movie. This month is The Shining (April 24th) and next month is Moulin Rouge. The Budget Big Screen movies are $5 for members and $7 for non-members.

Thursday Horror Picture Show

Every Thursday evening at 8, there is a Thursday Horror Picture Show upstairs in the cinema lounge. Often on Fridays they will run a marathon of films (again in the cinema lounge) relating to one of the week’s big releases. Currently on Wednesday evenings, they have live music in the lounge.

Mission Impossible Swag

As if that weren’t enough, they often have giveaways, trivia contests, special coupons via messaging, art shows, and special events. They often have FREE 11×17 movie posters at the counter. On Wednesdays, all regular (non-special event) movies are $5 – $3 if you have student I.D.!

In addition to the standard movie fare of soda, popcorn, candy, hot dogs, and nachos, Carolina Cinemas has a fairly decent kitchen. Their flatbread pizzas (cheese, pepperoni, tomato basil) feed two (three if you have popcorn) and are quite tasty. They also have an assortment of paninis, salads, and snacks (my wife’s favorite is the blue cheese chips). The cookie balls make for an excellent dessert. Soda refills (all sizes) are FREE and, if you have an Asheville Film Society card, refills on popcorn are FREE (all sizes) as well. The popcorn benefit makes the $10 membership worthwhile all by itself.

Dead Man Down

I’m not much of a drinker so I usually stick to tea or soda. Carolina Cinemas offers fourteen kinds of bottled beer as well as a slew of local beers on tap for $5 a pint. They also carry a decent selection of wines at $6 a glass or $18 a bottle. Sadly they don’t have a full bar (no hard liquor or mixed drinks) but perhaps that is just as well for me. Occasionally they will have a special wine drink like the Dead Man Down cocktail (above) or homemade Sangria.

They have a FREE rewards program (very similar to Regal’s). For every dollar you spend you get a point and you get an award at every 40 points. This rotates through a FREE small popcorn, a FREE small drink, and a FREE movie ticket and then back again. Rewards can be held in their computer indefinitely – no need to hold onto printed tickets.

In the interest of fairness, I feel I must come up with some negatives. Their food, while generally good, has some misfires (not much meat on their sandwiches) and is not as good as Cinebarre’s or Asheville Pizza Company. The sofa cinemas can get uncomfortable with prolonged seating (did no one sit in these before purchasing?) so a small pillow is helpful and the sofa cinemas can fill up before selling out causing irritation. Screen size is nice as is clarity, though not grand and razor sharp as at the Biltmore. Sound is nice but sometimes bleeds through from adjacent theaters during quiet scenes.

ActionFest

In spite of these minor irritations, Carolina Cinemas is the best movie theater and value in the Asheville area. Not only that but for the first three years, they were home to the awesomeness that was ActionFest. Sadly there is no ActionFest this year but they are talking about next year.

The Frankenstein Zombie Diaries Theory 2

Please directors, I am begging you to make it stop! I can sit through bad horror movie after bad horror movie in an attempt to find the occasional gem. I only ask that you stop with the found footage. Please! I just sat through two more of these stinkers and as usual, the gimmick added NOTHING to the story.

Zombie Diaries 2World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2 (2011) – Rated R

“The insatiable undead run amok in this gore-filled horror flick, which follows a band of humans who’ve survived a virus that has turned the rest of the world into zombies. Our heroes hear about a sanctuary near the sea — but is it true, or a trap?”

Normally I like British horror. They often have a lower budget but better acting than their American counterparts. Sadly this is not the case here. The Zombie Diaries (both films) are for fans who feel the problem with the current tidal wave of zombie films is that they don’t have enough rape in them. If you aren’t turned off yet then let me add that this features lots of shaky cam and night vision to hide the miniscule budget.

The Frankenstein Theory (2013) – Not rated

“Professor John Venkenheim leads a documentary film crew to the rim of the Arctic Circle in a desperate effort to vindicate his academic reputation. Venkenheim and his team search for the legendary monster, a creature mired in mystery and drenched in blood. What they find is an unspeakable truth more terrifying than any fictional nightmare from which there is no waking.”

Somebody actually sat down and thought to themselves, “how can we make a Frankenstein movie cheaper? I know, let’s turn it into a Scooby-Doo adventure so we don’t have to show any scientific equipment.” The Frankenstein Theory is essentially a Bigfoot movie with Frankenstein’s monster subbing in for Sasquatch. The entire movie is an hour and fifteen minutes of Professor Venkenheim and his camera crew heading north to search for the monster followed by about ten minutes of the unseen monster tearing apart the camera crew.

Ultraviolet and You! Tons of FREE Movies

What is Ultraviolet? From Vudu’s site:

UltraViolet is a new industry standard that allows you to store your movies securely in the cloud. It keeps a permanent record of all your movie purchases so you can build your digital movie collection safely and securely. With UltraViolet, you can now easily access your movies any time, any place on your favorite connected devices, including your TV. VUDU is the first and only company to offer thousands of titles in UltraViolet accessible across millions of VUDU-enabled devices.”

Ultraviolet

Ultraviolet is a wonderful method for storing your movies in the cloud. It has many versions but all utilize the same library of Ultraviolet titles. Wal-Mart’s brand of Ultraviolet is Vudu. Best Buy’s brand is Cinema Now. I’m not sure who is affiliated with Flixster.

Vudu

If you do not already have a Vudu account, you should set one up right now. Sign up is FREE and you get to own ten FREE movies for it. Vudu is streamable on the computer, iPad or on the TV through many Blu-Ray players, an Xbox 360, a PS3, or a Roku device.

The ten FREE movies are: Away From Her, Ghost, A Knight’s Tale, Paranormal Activity, The Producers, Psycho (Van Sant remake), Rudy, So I Married an Ax Murderer, Soul Survivor, and Valentine’s Day. After signing up for the movies, you can refer-a-friend for a $3.99 credit (once they rent or purchase a movie).

Flixster

Once you do this, go to Flixster. Signing up for Flixster will give you a FREE film. After that they will (probably) offer you more FREE films for creating a wish list and a few other tasks. The films I received were Pay It Forward, Matchstick Men, The Bodyguard, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. As these services are both a part of the Ultraviolet family, for the most part both sets of movies are available on both services.

Flixster is currently beta testing a disc to digital service. If you install their computer app then you can convert five of your DVDs (subject to restriction) to Flixster movies. I had to try about twenty before I got five that worked but now I no longer need those discs.

There, you now have an instant library of almost twenty movies. You are quite welcome.

R.I.P. Annette Funicello

On April 8th, everyone’s favorite mouseketeer, Annette Funicello passed away at the age of 70 from multiple sclerosis complications. Netflix has the following Annette films available for streaming:

Annette Funicello

Beach Party (1963) – Not rated

“Throw on your Hawaiian shirt and light the tiki torches for the first “Beach” flick starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. It’s summer vacation and the duo, along with their beach-bum pals, celebrate by hitting the waves and dancing to the tunes of Dick Dale and his Del-Tones. But an anthropologist (Bob Cummings) studying the teens’ mating rituals and a bungling biker (Harvey Lembeck) who abducts Annette threaten the kids’ fun in the sun.”

Bikini Beach (1964) – Not rated

“The gang from Beach Party returns in this classic 1960s romp. This time, lovebirds Dee Dee and Frankie discover that their beach hangout is about to be leveled by a millionaire landowner. Meanwhile, a British pop star pursues Dee Dee.”

Pajama Party (1964) – Not rated

“In this fourth installment of the Beach Party franchise, plans for an invasion of Earth get scrapped when Martian scout Go-Go (Tommy Kirk) ends up in the middle of a wild pajama party. With his mission aborted, Go-Go has time for earthier pursuits — including the perky Connie (Annette Funicello). Old pros Elsa Lanchester, Buster Keaton, Don Rickles and Dorothy Lamour zigzag in and out of the farcical proceedings.”

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) – Not rated

“The last of the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello “beach” musicals has Frankie (Avalon) scheming to keep Dee Dee (Funicello) from flirting while he’s on Navy duty in Tahiti. To that end, he enlists witch doctor Buster Keaton to conjure up a well-stuffed bikini (Beverly Adams) to lure the boys away. Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck), Bonehead (Jody McCrea) and the rest of the gang are back, with songs by the Kingsmen.”

Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) – Rated G

In this campy, sci-fi comedy, deranged Dr. Goldfoot (Vincent Price) invents a machine that turns out an army of bikini-clad sirens programmed to seduce the world’s wealthiest men into signing over their fortunes. But when secret agent Craig Gamble (Frankie Avalon) discovers the evil conspiracy, he knows he must destroy the gorgeous gold diggers before losing his heart — and possibly his life — to the hottest assassins on the planet.”

Annette only has a cameo in Dr. Goldfoot.

Fireball 500 (1966) – Not rated

“Romance and racing are fast and furious for Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello and Fabian, who swap sand and surf for moonshine and asphalt in William Asher’s tire-screeching teen action flick. His trip to Daytona waylaid by bootleggers, Dave (Avalon) makes a small-town stop, where a local boy named Leander (Fabian) challenges him to a street race. Romance with Leander’s girlfriend (Funicello) and pesky feds only complicate Dave’s good clean fun.”

Farewell Annette, you will be missed.