"FAMILY GUY: BLUE HARVEST"


        MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    Unrated,br>     Studio: FOX

    Directed by: Dominic Polcino

After years of doing “Star Wars” references on the hit animated FOX show “Family Guy,” the production team finally threw caution to the wind and did their own episode devoted exclusively to “Star Wars.” But instead of doing a half-hearted rip-off, they made a perfect match of the two pop culture phenomena.

“Family Guy: Blue Harvest” was the uproarious premiere episode of season six, and now it is available in an unrated DVD.

The show opens with the Griffin family watching television. But when the electricity goes out, Peter must entertain the family with a story of his own: a twisted tale of “A New Hope” with all the roles played by people from the “Family Guy” universe.

To really get the show, not only do you have to know the “Family Guy” cast – and understand nuances like old man Herbert’s potentially illegal crush on Chris. You also have to know “Star Wars.” It’s still funny if you don’t know every beat, every music cue and every line of dialogue from the classic sci-fi film, but it helps. It’s clear that the people making the show do.

In some ways, “Family Guy: Blue Harvest” is a shot-by-shot homage to George Lucas’s 1977 masterpiece. At other points, it diverges into typical “Family Guy” irreverence and gives us the wonderful pop culture references the show is famous for.

This stand-alone hour-long episode is brilliant, not just because it gives love to “Star Wars” with such passion and honor, but because it samples so many other aspects of our popular culture, including Doctor Who, the Griswolds, Redd Foxx and even Rush Limbaugh in a hilarious cameo.

Rather than watching your commercial-filled TiVo of the episode if you recorded it this past fall, check out the unrated DVD. There’s not much more in the film itself, except for a couple swear words and some poop jokes from Darth Stewie. But there’s some nice behind-the-scenes features, including a 20-minute making-of documentary, a montage of “Star Wars” jokes from the rest of the series and an easter egg featuring part of the table read of the upcoming “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” episodes.

The only annoying part of the special features is how much Seth MacFarlane gushes over George Lucas in her 15-minute one-on-one interview. It’s one thing to love the guy’s films, but let’s not love the guy on camera. I’m sure that if I had a chance to interview George Lucas, I’d be less of a little girl...

...well, probably not.



"SUNSHINE"


        MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Cliff Curtis as DR. SEARLE
    Cillian Murphy as ROBERT CAPA
    Michelle Yeoh as CRAZON
    Hiroyuki Sanada as CAPT. DANEDA
    Rose Byrne as CASSIE
    Benedict Wong as TREY
    Chris Evans as MACE
    Troy Garity as HARVEY

    Rated R
    Studio: Fox Searchlight

    Directed by: Danny Boyle

Due to a family vacation that got my butt on a boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico this summer, I missed seeing “Sunshine” in the theaters. And that’s a real shame because if I had a chance to see it, it would have been a serious contender for my top 10 list at the end of the year.

This seems to be a thing I have with Danny Boyle. I didn’t see “Trainspotting” until just a few years ago, and it earned a relatively rare 5 star rating from me. Similarly, I missed “Millions” in the theaters a few years back, and it ended up on my top 10 list when I finally caught it on DVD.

“Sunshine” came and went in the theaters with very little fanfare, but not because it was a bad movie. It wasn’t a mainstream film, so it didn’t capture the audience like “I Am Legend” did, but it was still an excellent film.

The movie follows the crew of a spaceship on a suicide mission to the sun. Because our only star was fizzling out, humanity needed to send a nuclear weapon the size of Manhattan careening into the sun’s surface to jump start its fission process again. As the crew gets closer and closer to the blazing ball in the sky, they face a new set of challenges which include human error, the vacuum of space and possible ghosts from a previous mission.

Danny Boyle is a master filmmaker and one of the most underrated directors of our time. While people are gushing over Michael Bay’s latest action flick, they are forgetting Boyle, who deserves to be remembered.

“Sunshine” is not crammed with excitement, but it is thoroughly engrossing. Refusing to stoop to sensationalism and overblown special effects, the movie captures the essence of real space travel and the real dangers of being so close to the sun.

Rather than being an action piece, “Sunshine” is a speculative drama that pits the characters against themselves and the universe. They struggle with the psychological effects of being cramped with the same people for months on end, and they also face the realities of putting the mission first. In the end, the entire crew comes out as heroes in one way or another, fighting to keep the solar system alive at all costs.

The DVD comes with a unique assortment of special features. There are two commentary tracks, one by the filmmakers and one by Dr. Brian Cox of the University of Manchester for those science geeks who want to know how realistic the film is in its portrayal of the solar system.

Other DVD features includes a flurry of webisodes that offer an inside peek at the making of the film, deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer. The final special features are two unrelated short films that Danny Boyle wants to highlight. While I love the idea of throwing short films on a DVD, similar to the flip-side content of the old 45 records, these two short films are a bit too artsy for my taste. But I love the concept.



"D-WAR: DRAGON WARS"


        MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Jason Behr as ETHAN
    Amanda Brooks as SARAH
    Robert Forster as JACK
    Aimee Garcia as BRANDY

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: Freestyle Releasing

    Directed by: Hyung-rae Shim

Earlier this year, I caught hell for giving a positive review to “Dragon Wars.” I was also taken to task for saying it was low budget, considering its $30+ million budget.

However, I stand by my review. First, in terms of budget, what I said was that it was comparable to “Transformers” in terms of story and character at a fraction of the budget. Sure, the special effects weren’t as good (although they were good enough, both on the big screen and the small one), but “Dragon Wars” didn’t cost $150 million.

As for the positive review, upon watching the DVD again, I still liked the movie. The film didn’t promise anything more than it delivered. Sure, the story was convoluted at times – especially when it jumps back and forth from modern day, to fifteen years in the past, to feudal Korea and back – but that’s not why I liked it.

I liked “Dragon Wars” because you got to see huge dragons duking it out over downtown Los Angeles. Monster movies have been making a comeback, with “The Host” last year and the whole “Cloverfield” phenomenon. And as a parent, I find these movies fun to watch with my kids. In fact, just the other week, my kids and I enjoyed a marathon of giant monster films on SciFi Channel.

“Dragon Wars” follows a reporter and a woman marked by destiny as they first try to elude an ancient snake-like creature. Eventually, after running from the monster and wreaking havoc on the city, they learn the woman’s destiny and fulfill it to make the creature a full-fledged dragon.

There really aren’t enough special features on the disc to make it a must-have, but at least there’s some insight. There’s a spotlight on the director (in Korean, unfortunately) as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette and some storyboard and art comparisons.

“Dragon Wars” was an incredibly ambitious film, and the action is pretty slick. Just don’t judge it on characters, acting or dialogue. There’s one scene in particular where a man is hospitalized because he saw the dragon, and no one believes him. The intended but failed comedy ensue while he’s questioned by a psychiatrist is tough to watch, but once the monster shows up again, all is right in the world.

And what other movie do you get to see where a monster uses elephants in the zoo for snacks? My four year old loved that part.



"DEATH SENTENCE"


        MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Kevin Bacon as NICK HUME
    Garrett Hedlund as BILLY DARLEY
    Kelly Preston as HELEN HUME
    Jordan Garrett as LUCAS HUME
    Stuart Lafferty as BRENDAN HUME
    Aisha Tyler as DETECTIVE WALLIS
    John Goodman as BONES

    Unrated
    Studio: Fox Atomic

    Directed by: James Wan

This summer, I had a chance to hang with the cast and crew of “Death Sentence,” previewing the film before its August release. The thing that impressed me the most – aside from James Wan’s hair... how does he do that??? – was the old-school action feel of the film.

When I finally saw the film at a press screening, I was impressed even more with the gritty feel of the movie. Wan left the overblown special effect aside and relied on real explosions and practical gunplay to make a modern western.

The film covers difficult subject matter – a man who loses his son in a murder. Kevin Bacon plays Nick Hume, a very average guy whose son is killed by punks in a gang initiation. Instead of testifying to put the killer away, Nick lets him go, then goes after him for revenge. But, after killing the gangbanger, Nick soon learns that revenge cuts both ways when the punk’s brother comes after the entire Hume family.

The two stories that this movie reminded me of the most were “Death Wish” and “The Punisher.” It’s not a comic booky as “The Punisher,” and not nearly as sweeping. After all, Frank Castle’s entire family tree is killed in his movie. Nick Hume just has to deal with the bad guys on a local level.

Written by Brian Garfield, who also wrote “Death Wish,” this film makes the revenge more personal. Instead of going after bad guys in general, Nick Hume is out for specific revenge, and I love a good revenge film.

There are rough points in the movie, like some really stupid moves by the characters that put people in jeopardy and a little too much grief splattered on the screen. Additionally, the Hume family just seems too damn happy at the beginning, you know everything’s going to get bad soon.

But overall, I found “Death Sentence” to be relatively gripping. It’s a powerful, visceral revenge flick, and Kevin Bacon does a fine acting job bringing the vigilante to life. Don’t expect brilliance, but if you like a good shoot-em-up with gritty, explosive gunplay, you should enjoy the movie.

The special features include some unrated content on the DVD, which comprises about six minutes, the bulk of which are deleted scenes. There’s also a Fox Movie Channel feature on the garage chase scene, which is pretty fascinating from a filmmaking standpoint. Kevin Bacon sits in for a “Life After Film School” segment for Fox Movie Channel, and the special features round out with several behind-the-scenes webisodes and DVD trailers.

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