If it's crap ... We'll tell you
In his decade-or-so long quest to suck every last dollar out of Star Wars mania, producer Roger Corman probably never scored higher than he did with 1980's "Battle Beyond the Stars". Borrowing just as (if not more) heavily from "The Magnificent Seven" (and therefore, Akira Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai" as well...the hero's home planet is named Akir in honor of him), in retrospect there was quite the line-up of talent involved. Academy award nominee Jimmy Murakami directed with a script by John Sayles, score by James Horner, and effects by James Cameron. Of course, it's still essentially an 80's version of a 'made for the Syfy channel' film, but a darn good one. When a evil space jerk named Sador (John Saxon) has his own version of a Deathstar superlaser that he's threatening innocent farming planets with, what's a disenchanted farming planet teenager (Richard Thomas) to do but take the advice of an old hermit and go into space? He gathers together a group of mercenaries to fight the tyrant, including Robert Vaughn (playing the exact same role he did in "The Magnificent Seven", Sybil Danning as some sort of valkyrie, and most memorably, George Peppard as the roguish Han Solo-ish character with the ridiculously generic moniker of Space Cowboy. I doubt that was ever tossed around as a name for Nathan Fillion's character in "Firefly"...just sayin'. All in all, it's silly fun, and I'm sure no one's more surprised than those who made it that it's being honored with a special edition blu-ray edition 30 years later, but that's Shout! Factory for you. And of course, because they know how to do things right, it looks and sounds pretty damn good and comes loaded with some new HD bonus features. If you're delving through the history of b-cinema, "Battle Beyond the Stars" is always going to be close to the top of the stack. If that's totally not your thing, well, you're not missing much.
--CLICK HERE TO BUY Battle Beyond the Stars: Roger Corman's Cult Classics (30th Anniver...
DAMAGES - THE COMPLETE 3RD SEASON (DVD)...Special Review by LEON
If you didn’t watch the first seasons of "Damages", (Seriously?? You do know it’s an FX show, right?) I would break it down for you as: 13 episodes of a nail-biting thriller that’s John Grisham meets "The Devil Wears Prada". The show stars Glen Close (fresh off the 4th season of ‘The Shield’ when the series began) as a ruthless lawyer and Rose Byrne as her protégée. The episodes often focus on the differences between two in regards to legal ethics...oh yeah, and with Ted Danson giving the performance of his career as the main antagonist, a shady corporate boss with an axe to grind against the lawyers. Every show threw a curve ball, ended in a cliffhanger and wrapped their seasons with a surprise ending that tied up everything with just a little window to continue. Unfortunately, its popularity did mandate a second season that was kind of a mess. The characters weren’t as engaging; Ted Danson is brought back with nothing to do. Most of the plot twists, so engaging in the first season, now end at nowhere, and the ending, rather than shocking, seems almost random. Thankfully, the third season of "Damages" all but outright ignores the second season. As per the previous formula, season three unfolds in a non-linear fashion beginning (almost) at the end with the death of a major character - in this case it’s Patti Hewes’ (Close) right hand man, now partner, Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan). Running parallel to that mystery is the main case revolving around the family of a VERY Bernie Madoff-ish character and where they might be hiding the bulk of the money he swindled. The break out, against-type performance for this season comes from Martin Short as the family’s lawyer, whose alignment is never clear. The third season of "Damages" feels fresher, and yet more like the first season, at least in how it was able to surprise me every week. There were no, “Aw, come on!” moments, except maybe at the end, where although it wasn't as bad as season two, it was still a little sloppy. Sadly, the show has moved from cable to Direct TV so I won’t know if the loose ends get tied up in the fourth season until it’s out on DVD a year from now.
--CLICK HERE TO BUY Damages: The Complete Third Season
The good news: The film many consider to be director Terry Gilliam's masterwork, the comedically dystopian take on George Orwell's "1984" known as "Brazil", is finally available on Blu-ray and it looks and sounds pretty darn good. The bad news: there are three cuts of this film - the studio's cut which was a complete hatchet job and even drastically changed the ending, the 'compromise' cut which came closer to Gilliam's intended version with the ending intact, and the full director's cut which was released with an incredible 3-disc Criterion DVD set long ago....this is the compromise version. It's certainly not crippled in this version, like the studio's cut was, and would be a perfectly acceptable version of this astonishing film to own...if you didn't know it was only a matter of time before a kick-ass Criterion HD version came out (that might even actually have bonus features, unlike this release). The story follows Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), the very model of a proletariat in a rigid, frantic, corporatized society, who despite his grey, mundane existence, dreams every night of being a winged hero rescuing a beautiful maiden (Kim Greist) from evil forces. When a completely random error ends up in the state executing an innocent man rather than the terrorist they were supposed to (Robert De Niro as a heroically rebellious air conditioning repair man who quit working in official channels because of all the paperwork), Sam is assigned by his panicked boss the task of sorting it all out. While investigating the scene of the mistaken execution, Sam discovers that the upstairs neighbor is a dead ringer for his dream girl. Unfortunately, the state considers her a terrorist now as well, as she's been openly complaining about the government's lethal error. Sam gets devises a complicated plan using the government's own labyrinthine nature against itself to save the woman of his dreams...but this ain't no Hollywood movie (at least, this cut isn't anyway). While big fans looking to own this classic might want to wait for an inevitable superior release down the line, this HD version makes for a fine introduction to one of the 'must see' films of the last 30 years.
--CLICK HERE TO BUY Brazil [Blu-ray]