Sunday, July 22, 2007

DVD: Reno 911!: Miami (Unrated)

• The misadventures of Reno's finest are even bawdier on DVD.

Genre: Comedy, TV adaptation
DVD released: June 19, 2007
Director: Robert Ben Garant
Cast: Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Cedric Yarbrough, Carlos Alazraqui, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Niecy Nash, Mary Birdsong, Paul Rudd
Verdict: &&&1/2

Comedy Central's loose COPS parody, Reno 911!, is one of those love it or hate it kind of shows, and this movie is great fun for those who fall into the former camp. See the Jeblog theatrical review here. The unrated version on DVD is — no surprise here — more risqué, making for an excellent party movie. // DVD notes // Extras include some hilarious theater-oriented public service announcements from the Reno gang (the best is called "Shut the F*** Up") and a half dozen extended scenes, some of which are as long as a single episode of the television show. Best are an extended take of the almost-sex scene between Lt. Dangle and bipolar Deputy Wiegel and a scene at the vice mayor's home in which he and his mother bicker nonstop for more than 20 minutes. That's the longest extended scene, followed closely by bus ride footage with a contentious game of Truth or Dare, and the beached whale scene as presented here is decidedly funnier than the final cut. There's also some in-character cast interview footage from the movie's premiere.

Pictured: Deputies Wiegel and Williams on beach patrol.

Back to the arcade

Taito Legends 2 gets a long-overdue U.S. release.

Genre: Arcade compilation
Released: Listed May 17, 2007, but it appears to have not actually surfaced until June.
Systems: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Verdict: &&&

Long after its European release, Taito's sequel to the popular retro arcade compilation Taito Legends comes to North America with 39 quarter-guzzling titles. The first compilation apparently used up most of the big Taito names — the likes of Space Invaders, Phoenix, Jungle Hunt, Elevator Action and Bubble Bobble were all there — leaving Taito Legends 2 with only Qix, the compelling but difficult box-drawing game, for marquee value. For the other three dozen-plus, it rounds up loads of obscurities from 1978 to the 1990s, a mix of fun and sometimes best-forgotten titles, as well as another handful of Space Invaders sequels.

Surprisingly, the cartoonish Space Invaders '95 has emerged as one of my favorites. Though it aims for silliness, it's a solid shooter with inventive aliens, handy power-ups and lots of colorful graphics. One update that doesn't work for me is Elevator Action Returns, which is too influenced by the fighting game nonsense of its time and strips away the brilliant arcade simplicity of the original. In fact, if you don't like the ninja-kicking, grenade-throwing, health-meter using games of the late '80s and early '90s, a dozen or so of these will be useless to you. From the puzzle genre, Cleopatra's Fortune is a Tetris wannabe that's trying way too hard, while the quite playable Puchi Carat features a ball bouncing around the screen Breakout-style to knock out jewels.

Early titles like Lunar Rescue and Balloon Bomber, both of which feel like cousins of Space Invaders, are generally forgettable, while Crazy Balloon, in which a balloon is moved around a pin-filled maze, is excruciatingly tedious and joyless. For each of those, however, there's a pleasant surprise waiting to be discovered. Cameltry, which has the air of a Marble Madness knockoff, is surprisingly addictive as the player rotates the entire screen to guide a ball through a maze to a goal, avoiding obstacles and picking up bonuses along the way. Raimais, in which the player navigates through a dot-filled maze while avoiding and destroying enemies, is a highlight, if yet another unoriginal concept. Several titles, including Don Doko Don, feel like variations on Taito's own successful Bubble Bobble.

The compilation offers no historical extras and isn't quite as slick in presentation as its predecessor, and you'll probably want to adjust the controller settings, which awkwardly favor the rectangle button for many of the primary controls. Despite the several weak games here, there are enough addictive nuggets to make this a must for anyone who was ever intoxicated by the sights and sounds of an arcade in the 1980s.

// The games //
Alpine Ski • Arabian Magic • Balloon Bomber • Bone Adventure • Cameltry • Chack 'n' Pop • Cleopatra's Fortune • Crazy Balloon • Darius Gaiden • Don Doko Don • Dungeon Magic • Elevator Action Returns • Football Champ • Front Line • G Darius • Gekirindan • Grid Seeker • Growl • Gun & Frontier • Insector X • Kiki Kaikai • Kuri Kinton • Liquid Kids • Lunar Rescue • Metal Black • Nastar • Puchi Carat • Puzzle Bobble 2 (aka Bust-a-Move 2) • Qix • Raimais • Ray Storm • Space Invaders '95 • Space Invaders DX • Super Space Invaders '91 • Syvalion • The Fairyland Story • The Legend of Kage • Violence Fight • Wild Western

// Other games I'd love to see on a PS2 compilation // Crazy Climber • Frogger • Gorf • Donkey Kong • Scramble

Saturday, July 07, 2007

TV on DVD: Kidnapped

• One of the unfortunate casualties of the TV season gets life on DVD.

Genres: Drama, brilliant but canceled
DVD released: April 24, 2007
Cast: Jeremy Sisto, Timothy Hutton, Dana Delany, Will Denton, Delroy Lindo, Doug Hutchison, Carmen Ejogo, Michael Mosley, Linus Roache, Otto Sanchez
Verdict: &&&&1/2

Kidnapped was, hands down, my favorite new show of the 2006-07 season, and, in just 13 episodes, became one of my favorite TV viewing experiences ever. It was a victim of unfortunate timing, coming in the post-Lost glut of serials that, in hindsight, have been declared too demanding of viewers (Studio 60, The Nine, etc.). That's a shame — heaven forbid that we ask viewers to have an attention span. Down-and-out NBC, suffering from an itchy trigger finger, axed the show after three episodes, banished it to Saturday night and ceased airing it altogether after five shows. Fortunately for fans, the show does completely wrap up the main plot in its 13 episodes (with the door cleverly left open for more, despite the cancellation), which have miraculously been released on DVD. Kidnapping is not even a theme that particularly interests me, but I was instantly drawn into this complex drama, which feels more like a long, intricately crafted feature film than a network television show. The kidnapping victim is 15-year-old Leopold Cain (Will Denton), son of wealthy businessman Conrad Cain (Timothy Hutton). The family hires Knapp (Jeremy Sisto), a renegade former FBI agent who specializes in the return of kidnapped children by working outside the law. The bad guys are a teasing enigma who kill their own minions who carried out the crime; especially effective are the cold assassin The Accountant (James Urbaniak) and the smooth-talking Schroeder (Doug Hutchison, who played Eugene Tooms in The X-Files). Just about everyone in Kidnapped has a secret or dark side casting doubt on his or her motives, and these are sprinkled throughout, keeping the viewer guessing as to what's a red herring. There's arguably just a tad of meandering between the first half dozen episodes and the final three, in which a motive the viewer doesn't see coming, yet makes perfect sense, is revealed with nail-biting brilliance. Some of the best scenes take place in Mexico, where a conflicted pair of overseers keep Leopold Cain handcuffed to a bed and struggle to keep their secret. Aiding the smart writing is an impeccable cast from top to bottom, with the likes of Dana Delaney as the mom, Ellie Cain; Delroy Lindo as Latimer King, the FBI agent who puts retirement on hold to take the case; and Carmen Ejogo as Turner, Knapp's wily assistant. It does nothing for my faith in television that a show this good cannot succeed. // DVD notes // The show looks and sounds smashing on DVD. A featurette, "Ransom Notes," offers brief cast interviews and details the meaning behind the names of characters.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

From the vault: The Twilight Zone Seasons 2 and 3 (1986-89)

• Unlike the cold 2000s revival, The Twilight Zone was fun in the '80s.

Genre: Quirky-twisty drama, anthology
DVD released: June 28, 2005
Cast: Tom Skeritt, Joan Allen, Joe Mantegna, Gina Gershon, Fred Savage, Norman Fell, Shelley Duvall, Jeffrey Tambor, Louise Fletcher, William Sanderson, Janet Leigh, Terry Farrell, Dean Stockwell, et al
Verdict: &&1/2

The 1985-1989 version of The Twilight Zone, also known as The New Twilight Zone, rates more stars / medals in my heart than I can give it in a review. A handful of episodes captivated me when I was around 12 to 14 years old and likely shaped my interest in dark and clever tales that often don’t end happily — I wouldn't be surprised if a young M. Night Shyamalan was also a fan. Season one of the '80s Twilight Zone is stronger than the two subsequent seasons included here — the short bit of season two that aired on CBS before cancellation and the third, which consists entirely of 30-minute episodes. After CBS axed the show, the additional episodes were produced to pad the series for a syndication package. These featured different writers and Robin Ward taking over the narration previously done by Charles Aidman. One could argue that the best thing about the series was its creepy, mysterious imagery during the opening title sequence combined with The Grateful Dead's outstanding take on the theme music. Another strength was in casting; in addition to top-tier television talent, the series lured impressive names like Janet Leigh, Shelley Duvall and Joe Mantegna. Behind the camera, there's early directorial work by horror workhorse Wes Craven. Many of the scripts are undeniably beneath the starring talent, and the shift to 30-minute episodes didn't help. The hour-long format had allowed flexibility for segments as short as 10 minutes or as long as an hour, and the constricting half-hour format seems a likely factor in the uneven quality — a number of installments simply feel under-written. High points among the episodes include "The After Hours," in which a shopping mall's mannequins have an after-hours life; "The Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon," in which an eccentric old man's junk collection keeps the universe in balance; "The Hellgramite Method," in which an alcholic tries an unorthodox cure; and, particularly, "Cat and Mouse," the story of a woman scorned who exacts a very clever Twilight Zone kind of revenge. One story, "Special Service," feels like a forerunner of a mediocre '90s movie, The Truman Show, as an ordinary man played by David Naughton discovers his life is voyeuristic entertainment for others. A number of installments, including "Something in the Walls" and the unimpressive "A Game of Pool," are rehashes of original Twilight Zone stories. It's a mixed bag, to be sure, but anyone who enjoyed watching this as a child of the '80s will enjoy being in the zone again.

// DVD notes //
This seven-disc set contains a wealth of episodes but scant extras. A very small selection of deleted scenes are included, and about a half dozen installments feature commentary by directors and writers such as Craven, Philip DeGuere and Alan Brennert. The attractive set's booklet offers a synopsis and writing and directing credits for each episode.

// Related //
• Season 1 Jeblog review
• Postcards from the Zone - an episode guide for The New Twilight Zone