November 26, 2009

Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails (2009)

WHEN HE WAS YOUNGER, Dash was a semi-regular follower of Thomas & Friends. He watched the TV show on PBS and had a handful of DVDs as well.

And while he still enjoys playing with Thomas trains and track sets, he hasn’t watched the show in a long time. So I was concerned about his interest when I popped in the new movie, Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails.


One day while hauling freight, Thomas heads down a dead-end stretch of track and discovers an abandoned, broken-down Japanese steam engine named Hiro, who used to be “master of the railway.” Fearing that Hiro will be scrapped if anyone finds him in his current condition, Thomas promises to secretly bring Hiro new parts to make him useful again. Thomas’ biggest obstacle in helping Hiro? A new addition to the Isle of Sodor: the bigger, faster, modern, and arrogant train Spencer.


With Hero of the Rails, gone are the model sets and limited facial expressions of the trains from previous Thomas adventures. It’s now all CGI – which surprisingly stays very faithful to the original TV show, but now with the added bonus of fluid facial movements and moving mouths, walking and talking townfolk, and more action from crash sequences.

In true Thomas fashion, Hero of the Rails practices and (quietly) preaches valuable moral and life lessons, including helping those in need, friendship, teamwork, and dealing with bullies. (The snarky cynic in me sensed a political subtext about being a useful member of society: the fear that you need to prove you’re useful – a la frail, elderly Hiro – so you don’t get “scrapped.”)

With the makeover Thomas & Friends gets with Hero of the Rails – animation instead of models, each train with its own voice rather than the narrator’s – some will say, “It’s about time,” while others may say Thomas has jumped the shark. That debate aside, Hero of the Rails is an enjoyable film for kids, and adults may actually find it entertaining because of the makeover, not in spite of it.


What did Dash think?

Dash didn’t care that Thomas and crew were now all CGI. In fact, he enjoyed Hero of the Rails more than he ever liked the TV show, laughing several times (I even laughed at a scene). In the middle of the film, out of nowhere, he declared, “This is a pretty cool movie.” He also offered his opinion on braggart Spencer: “He’s really a snob.”

Will your kids like it?

Hero of the Rails should appeal to any kids 7 or younger. Boys may be the primary audience, but there are several strong female trains in the film to appear to girls.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?

I think she’ll find Hero of the Rails to be watchable for adults, and an entertainingly fun film for young kids.

What?! There's people on this isle?!

Buy Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails at >>

Rent Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails from Netflix >>

November 22, 2009

The Legend of God’s Gun (2007)

THE BACK OF THE DVD BOX for The Legend of God’s Gun declares the film to be (their caps) “A GRINDHOUSE ROCK-N-ROLL SPAGHETTI WESTERN!!!”

Well, any movie that tries to fit itself into that many hip genres automatically gets me suspicious – suspicious that the film will try too hard (or not hard enough) to meld all those film styles into one cohesive, enjoyable film.

Something about an avenging, gun-toting preacher (Bobby Bones), a reluctant sheriff (Mike Bruce), and a goofy bandito named El Sobero (Kirkpatrick Thomas).


The Legend of God’s Gun incorporates a lot of the elements from the grindhouse and spaghetti western genres: bad, jumpy cuts and quick zooms; grainy, washed-out footage; bad looping of dialogue; acting that feels like everything was a first take; a tinny, mono soundtrack; and abundant use of a split-screen.

But while it’s kitschy and fun to watch older grindhouse and spaghetti western movies today, everything about The Legend of God’s Gun quickly feels like less of an homage and more of a gimmick.

Even the worst flicks from those two genres have a basic premise to hook the viewer. Writer/director Mike Bruce (also starring as the aforementioned sheriff) should’ve been less concerned about paying tribute to his favorite genres and more focused on a linear, compelling story.

Despite cool poster art and a great tagline (“You are about to leave this earth with many regrets”), The Legend of God’s Gun is a chore to sit through. Even at only 79 minutes, it will frustrate the most die-hard grindhouse and spaghetti western fans. And with most of the cast being rock stars by trade (from bands such as Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spindrift, and The Morlocks), it adds fuel to the argument that musicians make bad actors.

I’m fully aware that The Legend of God’s Gun is an independent film, and with that can come sacrifices in budget and production value. But that’s no excuse for the dips in quality that plague it. At times, it feels less like an independent movie and more like an experimental student film.

The Legend of God’s Gun achieves a dubious double-whammy: It manages to both overshoot and undershoot in its attempts to honor two classic genres – and in the end delivers an unwatchable film.

Will your kids want to watch it?
I’d say keep children away from The Legend of God’s Gun – not because of its objectionable content, but because it’s a horrible film. On the subject of the former: multiple shootings, adult language, a scene of necrophilia, Colt and some lady friends get high in an opium den, and a brief glimpse of bouncing boobs.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Do not let her watch this film, even if she thinks she wants to.

I wish a had a pencil-thin mustache

The Legend of God’s Gun
• Director: Mike Bruce
• Screenwriter: Mike Bruce
• Stars: Bobby Bones, Kirkpatrick Thomas, Mike Bruce, Julie Patterson, Scott Dyeswell
• MPAA Rating: N/A

Buy The Legend of God's Gun at >>
Rent The Legend of God’s Gun from Netflix >>

November 21, 2009

Congrats to the winners of the Wubbzy's Christmas Adventure DVD!

Here are the three lucky winners, drawn from a hat by Dash himself:

Winners: Please e-mail me your mailing address to receive your DVD.
Thanks to everyone who entered!

November 17, 2009

Pariah (1999)

MOVIES WHOSE subject matter is white supremacy or skinheads have always made me uncomfortable. So I was a bit apprehensive when planning to review Pariah.

But when I read that the film’s larger subject matter was revenge (a favorite of mine as evidenced here and here), my interest overtook my discomfort.

Inspired by actual events, Pariah tells the story of Steve (Damon Jones) and Sam (Elexa Williams), an interracial couple (he’s white, she’s black). After Steve is beaten and Sam is gang-raped by a group of skinheads – ending with tragic results – Steve decides, months later, to infiltrate the group as a fellow skinhead to destroy them from within.


Pariah writer/director Randolph Kret forces viewers to sit through many of the skinheads’ antics (gang attacks, drunken parties, slam dancing) as Steve makes his way into the group. At some point, you’ll find yourself saying, “get on with it” – you want Steve’s attempts at vengeance to come much sooner. (By the third act, the skinheads’ crimes and behavior manage to become shocking and monotonous at the same time.)

Not that I can speak from experience, but a noticeable portion of the skinheads’ dialogue seems forced rather than authentic. Whether it’s the actors’ deliveries or Kret’s script, it’s hard to say. (The sole exception is David Lee Wilson, who portrays one of the more hated punks in recent history as the scrawny, obnoxious second-in-command skinhead.)

Jones delivers a powerful performance as the tormented Steve, although he does go from defenseless victim to methodical infiltrator a bit too abruptly (more “training” for his skinhead persona would have been nice).

Unfortunately, Steve’s revenge never feels fully realized. It’s a rather unsatisfying ending, thanks to another group’s vengeance on the skinheads and Steve’s spontaneous, unfinished final blow to the gang. Frankly, I expected his payback to be a lot more brutal, considering what happened to him and Sam and the lengths he went to carry out his plan.

While Kret’s efforts are admirable, he comes up short in making Pariah an impactful film that stays with the viewer once it’s over. For a more memorable and unnerving portrayal of skinhead life, watch Edward Norton in American History X. That movie stuck with me for days, and still makes me shiver just thinking about it.


Will your kids want to watch it?
It doesn’t matter, because there is no way any child should see Pariah. It features a very graphic gang rape, several other explicit sex scenes, a severe gay-bashing, a countless number of profanities and racial/gay slurs, and frequent drug use.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I sure hope not. And if she does, steer her towards a better take on the topic: the aforementioned American History X.

• Director: Randolph Kret
• Screenwriter: Randolph Kret
• Stars: Damon Jones, Dave Oren Ward, David Lee Wilson, Angela Jones, Elexa Williams
• MPAA Rating: R

Buy Pariah at >>
Rent Pariah from Netflix >>

November 13, 2009

Win Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!:
Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure
on DVD!

YOU COULD WIN one of three copies of the new DVD, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!: Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure!

How to Enter:
Comment on this post by November 20, 2009. I will then pick three comments at random and post the winners on November 21. (Winners will then have to e-mail me their mailing addresses to receive their prizes.)

  • You must have a link to your e-mail address on your Blogger profile page. If not, you must provide your e-mail address in your comment.
  • Prizes are available to United States mailing addresses only. (International readers can enter if they have a friend in the States who can accept their prizes by mail.)

Official trailer:

Scroll down to read my review of Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!:
Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure!
or click HERE.

Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!:
Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure (2009)

DASH LOVED Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! when it debuted on Nick Jr. in 2006, but lately he hasn’t watched it or requested it.

So when I was given the opportunity to preview the new DVD Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!: Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure, I wasn’t sure if Dash would still be drawn to Wubbzy and his pals the way he was in his younger years.


Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure features six winter- or holiday-themed episodes from the show:

• “Snow Day” – Wubbzy (Grey DeLisle) and Widget (Lara Jill Miller) try to fix Walden's (Carlos Alazraqui) polar bear sculpture, after they wreck it several times in his absence
• “O Figgity Fig Tree” – Wubbzy, Widget and Walden struggle to decorate the town’s Christmas figgity-fig tree
• “The Snow Shoo Shoo” – Wubbzy, Widget and Walden try to track down the shy Snow Shoo Shoo (think the Abominable Snowman’s pink, lesser-known cousin)
• “Dash for Dolly” – Widget wishes for a special birthday gift, the Hammering Holly Dolly doll, but Wubbzy can’t afford it – so he makes his own Hammering Holly Dolly for her
• “Great and Grumpy Holiday” – Wubbzy and the gang try to help the town grouch, old man Grumpus, appreciate Christmas
• “The Super Special Gift” – Wubbzy seeks out Santa to see if the fat man can help Wubbzy give a rainbow to his friend Daizy (Tara Strong) as a gift

There is also a music video in between each episode, featuring the show’s trademark new-wavey, kid-friendly, and highly addictive tunes.


There’s no denying there’s something endearing about innocently mischievous Wubbzy, handywoman Widget, and affable egghead Walden. And the show itself is a visual treat, with its vector animation and colorful, deliberately pixelated characters and set designs.

The episodes compiled here are all good, but there are a few standouts, particularly “Snow Day,” “Great and Grumpy Holiday,” and “The Super Special Gift.” Best of all, every episode ends with strong yet un-preachy messages about the value of friendships, working together, and forgiving friends when they make mistakes.

There are also several funny nods to A Charlie Brown Christmas strewn throughout, plus a couple winks at Rudolph and the Grinch.

• The voice of Wubbzy, Grey DeLisle, also voices Daphne in the new Scooby-Doo animated films.
• Carlos Alazraqui, the voice of Walden, was the voice of the Taco Bell dog and also currently voices Felipe the screwdriver on Playhouse Disney’s Handy Manny.


What did Dash think?
Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure got lots of chuckles from Dash, who’s watched the DVD multiple times (a la Gotta Catch Santa Claus) since our first viewing together. Specifically, he can’t get enough of “Great and Grumpy Holiday” and old man Grumpus’ hatred for long underwear.

Will your kids like it?
I would think that any kid 7 or under would find Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure to be fun viewing.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
There’s enough going on to keep her interest – cute characters, funny stories, good morals, and enough grown-up jokes to make it enjoyable rather than just tolerable.

Win Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!:
Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure on DVD!
I’ve got three copies of this DVD to give away! Contest ends November 20th! How many exclamation points can I put in one paragraph?! Scroll up for click here for contest details.

Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!: Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure
• Director: James Burks, Ron Crown, Steve Daye, Larry Hall
• Screenwriters: Suzanne Collins, Frank Rocco
• Stars: Grey DeLisle, Lara Jill Miller, Carlos Alazraqui, Tara Strong
• MPAA Rating: N/A

Buy Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure at >>

November 10, 2009

Murder, Take One (2005)

THINK ABOUT IT: With the glut of crime dramas, true crime exposés, and reality shows filling our TV lineup, is it really just a matter of time before these three genres procreate and deliver a show featuring all of their elements?

Such is the idea behind Murder, Take One.

After a woman is murdered at a hotel, the obvious suspect is caught and interrogated – which is broadcast live on a reality show that’s produced, in the host’s words, “to prevent felonies and engender a secure environment.” But of course, all the pieces to the murder – the suspect, the evidence, the crime – may not be as clear-cut as they seem…


Despite the implications of its title, the showbiz angle of Murder, Take One is secondary to the actual murder investigation and its process.

Taking place over a two-day span, the film blurs the line between crime drama and true crime. At times, it feels like Law & Order: Korea, right down to its ensemble cast and screen titles telling us the stage of the investigation (and how much time has elapsed).

Much like its American TV crime drama counterparts, Murder, Take One is very methodical in its execution. It unfurls like a typical police procedural, but sadly it doesn’t rise above that formula. By the third act, Murder veers off the procedural path to involve an exorcism (done largely for the reality show’s ratings), followed by a finale that – while offering a neat twist – closes the film with an otherworldly experience that goes against all the grounded logic that came before it.

And neither that final twist, nor the handful that come before it, are enough to sustain Murder’s 115-minute running time – which ultimately reduces the film’s level of impact from “gripping” to more like “compelling.”

Tidbit: As the lead prosecutor, actor Seung-won Cha is no stranger to playing characters pursuing justice; he played an investigator trying to stop a serial killer in 2006’s Blood Rain.

Korean, with subtitles.


Will your kids want to watch it?
I can’t imagine the appeal Murder, Take One would have for children, be they kids or tweens. If you decide to watch the film with children in the house, the only objectionable content might be a brief shot of a nude female body as an autopsy begins, and adult language (as subtitles).

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s not a fan of subtitles or police procedurals, then no.

You guys question him…I’m off to get my jacket Bedazzled.

Murder, Take One
• Director: Jang Jin
• Screenwriter: Jang Jin
• Stars: Seung-won Cha, Yeong-Nam Jang, Dong-hwan Jeong, Gyu-su Jeong
• MPAA Rating: N/A

Buy Murder, Take One at
Rent Murder, Take One from Netflix >>

November 6, 2009

Beware! The Blob (1972)

HERE’S A RUNOFF REVIEW from the Halloween season, one I couldn’t fit in to my October postings…

Pipeline worker Godfrey Cambridge brings home a frozen specimen of something he found on the job. The specimen is foolishly left out of Cambridge’s freezer, so it thaws and proceeds to feast on Cambridge, his wife, their cat, and a housefly. The Blob then heads across the countryside and into the local town, dining on the denizens and growing to gigantic proportions. Can young lovers Lisa (Gwynne Gilford) and Bobby (Robert Walker, Jr.) convince the authorities that the town is danger – or will everyone just think the couple’s on a bad trip? (It is the post-hippie ‘70s, after all.)


Beware! The Blob director Larry Hagman (Dallas’ J.R. Ewing) is in no danger of taking his film too seriously. For nearly the entire running time, he alternates scenes of supposed terror with hokey, non-sequitur interludes featuring a string of oddball characters who are basically there to be served up as Blob food.

The film is plagued by poor lighting, a strange lack of close-ups, and an atmosphere that gives it a documentary or improv feel (that’s my nice way of saying the script was an afterthought).

Not only would I say avoid Beware! The Blob, but for a real Blob fix, skip the original 1958 Steve McQueen “classic” and go right to the underrated 1988 remake, co-written by Frank Darabont (The Mist). Hurry, before Rob Zombie delivers on this threat to direct his own “reimagining” of The Blob.

• Before the Blob snacks on him, Cambridge is watching the original Blob on TV.
• Look for cameos by Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough), Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley), Burgess Meredith (the Rocky films), and Hagman himself as a doomed, drunken bum.
• Actress Gwynne Gilford (Lisa) is the mother of Star Trek star Chris Pine.
• Despite the awfulness of the film, it made this child of the ‘70s smile based on some items that appear. Push-button car radios! Pull-off beer can tabs! Ker-Bangers!
• The DVD cover for Beware! The Blob says, “Directed by Larry Hagman – The Movie That J.R. Shot!” For those old enough to remember, that line is hilarious.

aka Son of Blob.


Will your kids want to watch it?
It depends whether your kids think the concept of a killer Blob is silly or cool. As far as objectionable content, a young couple smokes a joint and lots of people are eaten by the Blob (albeit sometimes comically and nearly always with poor FX).

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Not worth her time, even if she likes horror films. Rent the ’88 Blob like I mentioned earlier.

M’yeah, see, you’ll never take me alive, copper! M’yeah!

Beware! The Blob
• Director: Larry Hagman
• Screenwriter: Anthony Harris
• Stars: Robert Walker, Jr. Gwynne Gilford, Richard Stahl, Richard Webb, Marlene Clark
• MPAA Rating: PG

Buy Beware! The Blob at >>
Rent Beware! The Blob from Netflix >>

November 2, 2009

Gotta Catch Santa Claus (2009)

CAN YOU THINK OF one Christmas special from the last 20 years that has gained classic status? Me neither.

Most recent attempts don’t reach a level of greatness worthy of the “classic” moniker; in fact, many come up way short (Olive the Other Reindeer, anyone?). And while I had the highest hopes for Opus and Bill’s A Wish for Wings That Work (1991) to become a beloved holiday favorite, it was not to be.

This year, there’s a new contender for the crown of Christmas classic: the animated movie Gotta Catch Santa Claus.

At Anytown Public School (yep), tweens Trevor (Cory Doran) and Veronica (Lisa Lennox) debate the existence of Santa Claus (William Shatner) over a game of speed chess. Trevor believes in the magic of Santa, while Veronica says his whole existence and the “give presents to children everywhere in one night” shtick is logistically impossible. Trevor decides the only way to convince Veronica that Santa’s real is to catch him, with help from twin nerds Errol and Gabriel (both voiced by Nathan Stephenson). But someone may stand in the way of Trevor’s plans: LeFreeze (Cal Dodd), a big baddie made of space ice who’s got a 100-year-old grudge against the jolly fat man.


Gotta Catch Santa Claus injects some fresh life into holiday TV and movie viewing. It’s an enjoyable, contemporary take on Santa and the season, with references to the Internet, lattes, soy milk, and gift cards – all without sacrificing the charm or purity of the season or its classics.

The film is kept at a quick yet unrushed pace largely due to the dialogue by Die Hard(!) scribe Steven De Souza, with enough in-jokes to keep adults’ interest as well as kids’.

The animation is fairly well done, and rich in colors. And while the musical numbers may not seem memorable at first, they do grow on you with repeated listenings.

As the voice of Santa, Shatner is just about a perfect pick for the part. It’s astounding that this obvious fit has only happened once before (Shatner voiced Santa for the early ‘90s cartoon Eek! the Cat.) A nice touch: Santa’s head elf is Scottish – a tip of the hat to the Kirk/Scotty relationship of the Star Trek series.

So is Gotta Catch Santa Claus a classic? It’s obviously too soon to tell. Will it get repeated plays on your TV by your kids? To quote a favorite Christmas toy, all signs point to yes.


What did Dash think?
He definitely liked it, paying full attention and chuckling here and there. And he’s been popping in the DVD for repeat viewings practically every other day since mid-October.

Will your kids like it?
Gotta Catch Santa Claus is fun for all ages, though preschoolers may not be able to keep up with the dialogue…but they probably won’t care.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
She’ll probably appreciate this update. It may not replace her childhood favorites, but it’s got enough of an adult slant to make it entertaining for grown-ups as well as kids.

What a flake.

Gotta Catch Santa Claus
• Directors: Peter Lepeniotis, Jamie Waese, Jin Choi
• Screenwriter: Steven De Souza
• Cast: Cory Doran, Lisa Lennox, William Shatner, Nathan Stephenson, Cal Dodd
• MPAA Rating: G

Buy Gotta Catch Santa Claus for less at >>


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