Monday, November 15, 2010


Seriously, who comes up with this stuff? Is there just some big lottery ball machine somewhere in Japan where filmmakers randomly pull genre title phrases out for combination? Whatever the genesis, the latest entry to arrive on this side of the Pacific continues the anything-goes gore esthetic of predecessors such as The Machine Girl and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. This is the movie for anyone looking for butt swords, spinning sawblade mouths, or “demon milk”.

Our star arrives on the scene in protection of a high-ranking VIP about to be dispatched by an inferior RoboGeisha. Upon defeating her foe and receiving the eternal gratitude of the VIP, she’s asked how she became a RoboGeisha, causing her to reflect on her origin for the rest of the film. As the younger and down-trodden sister of a renowned geisha (think Cinderella), she is recruited into a group of geisha assassins by a powerful factory owner. However, simple martial arts training isn’t enough for these girls, as the factory specializes in cybernetic enhancements to allow them to achieve more than their full potential as the ultimate fighting machines. That’s where the butt blades (and armpit blades for that matter) come into play, along with the factory owner’s diabolical secret plan to slip some nuclear potential into his girls to destroy Japan. RoboGeisha works to thwart the plan and the other warriors while also trying to save her older sister.

As this fare goes, it’s fairly middle of the road. It’s not overly offensive or exploitative in spite of such touches as butt-deployed ninja stars and demon milk sprayed like acid from demon-faced bras. Its final battle isn’t completely over the top, and its connecting material between opening and closing battle is a bit sluggish. Still, there’s much to appreciate in the always-inventive ways director Noboru Iguchi dreams up to enhance and destroy his cast of characters, and he keeps a light touch throughout so the gore is always played for laughs more than gross outs. It’s definitely good for some late night b-movie fun and completely unlike anything made in the US, so adventurous viewers should rest assured that it delivers on its potential, it just doesn’t do much to rise above and become a memorable classic.

The film does not benefit much from Blu-ray presentation due to its low-budget origins, with pixelation readily evident and a just passable sound mix. There’s also a bare-bones approach to extras, with only a brief offshoot short film available.

RoboGeisha is available on Blu-ray and DVD on November 16th, 2010. For more information, visit

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: RoboGeisha on Blogcritics.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

V: The Complete First Season (2009)

I’ll get my disclaimer out of the way first: when I was a wee lad I didn’t like the original ‘80s V miniseries. At all. The aliens looked dumb, the spaceships and costumes were boring, and the story couldn’t even capture my childhood imagination. With such bitter memories, I greeted this new series with a total lack of interest and assumed it would be dealt a fairly quick and unceremonious death like its predecessor. But hey, it’s hard for me to pass up any sci fi Blu-ray box set screener, so I took the plunge into a viewing marathon of the new complete first season with absolutely zero expectations. As such, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

The core conceit of the original show is still present: aliens have arrived in gigantic spaceships above Earth with promises of friendship and goodwill that mask their shadowy ulterior motives. They’re also masking their true reptilian forms behind pretty human skins that ease their acceptance into human society. In fact they’re masked so well that we get through the entire season without seeing a fully exposed alien, so other than a few glimpses of scales in wounds and creepy reptilian eyes we still don’t really know what we’re dealing with. Led by their charismatic and gorgeous ruler named Anna (Morena Baccarin), the Visitors (Vs) offer medical and technological miracles to humankind in return for basically nothing, just some rest and replenishment. At least that’s what Anna tells the world. Behind the scenes, she’s plotting…something, although the grand design of her master plan remains a mystery throughout the season. Do they want to eat us? Sell us into slavery on their homeworld? Tune in next season!

While most of the dumb Earthlings are content to go along with the fantastic offer of V friendship and aid, a resistance movement arises to expose the true intentions of the Vs and fight for their removal. Leading the resistance is plucky FBI agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell), growing increasingly concerned about the protection of her dopey teenage son Tyler (Logan Huffman) in light of his infatuation with comely young V Lisa (Laura Vandervoort), who also conveniently happens to be Anna’s daughter. Agent Evans is aided in her resistance efforts by turncoat V Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut), soldier turned priest Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), and mercenary Kyle Hobbes (Charles Mesure). A news anchor named Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) walks the line between V and resistance fighters, building a rapport with Anna while also confiding in Father Jack. With all the relationships and shifting allegiances, the series quickly becomes a tense game of figuring out who to trust and who to fight, pulling its key players further into the inevitable conflicts.

The series certainly isn’t the smartest, but it’s consistently exciting and nerve-wracking as each side attempts to conceal its objectives from the other while figuring out who they can rely on to further their goals. It’s a considerable strength that the show has one principal story line and keeps tight focus on that story rather than wasting time with standalone episodes like Fringe or X-Files. Sure, there are subplots, but they all contribute to the main story arc rather than divert attention to meaningless side paths. That attention to constantly moving the plot forward is the single best reason to appreciate this series so far and has me anxiously awaiting season two.

The series is incredibly effects-heavy, with all of the environments on the alien ships constructed in CGI. Unfortunately, the CG integration is pretty bad, pulling viewers out of the action as we easily imagine the massive green screen sets the actors inhabited. The producers should be commended for attempting such a high level of CG in a weekly format, but it’s not ready for prime time yet. Maybe add some more actual props and a few tangible backgrounds here and there to foster some sense of realism? For now, the Vs frequently look like they’re running around in the middle of a video game. There’s also some wonky camera work, with a recurring use of over-the-head-looking-down angles on actors and sweeping, rotating camera movement in the virtual environments that just adds to their fake feel.

CG technical issues aside, the series looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, with its crisp 1080p 1.78:1 picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound consistently precise. Its bonus features include largely inconsequential deleted scenes and looks at the makeup, effects, actors, and challenges of updating the original show. Note to the studio: when cramming a series onto just two discs, please make sure the bonus features on the first disc don’t include scenes and spoilers from the episodes on the second disc!

V: The Complete First Season is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download.

Article first published as DVD Review: V - The Complete First Season (2009) on Blogcritics.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Bryan Ferry - Olympia

Ever wonder what happened to the long-rumored new album from Roxy Music? Wonder no longer, as it appears that the limited results of that effort have been repurposed here on lead singer Bryan Ferry’s latest solo album. After a recording hiatus of nearly 30 years, and nearly 40 years for returning early member Brian Eno, it would have been fun to see the Roxy name attached to a full album, but that by no means diminishes the substantial pleasures to be found on this now “solo” album.

Roxy mates Brian Eno (synthesizers), Phil Manzanera (guitar) and Andrew Mackay (oboe) make instantly recognizable contributions on multiple tracks, but interestingly only come together on a lush cover of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren. They’re not alone. That track also boasts contributions from Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), Nile Rodgers (Chic), and David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) among many others. Elsewhere, Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) adds his insistent bass on three tracks, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) co-writes three tracks, and Ferry pulls off winning collaborations on one track each with Scissor Sisters and Groove Armada. With all that talent on tap, including the legendary Bob Clearmountain behind the mixing board, it’s no wonder that the final product sounds like it was recorded with golden equipment and hearkens back to the seemingly long-gone era where albums were a big deal with big budgets to match.

Even with Eno on board, the Roxy-leaning tracks are pure Avalon era, with Song to the Siren in particular sounding like it could have been a new discovery from those early ‘80s recording sessions. While I greatly enjoyed the Roxy reunion, I was pleasantly surprised by the results of Ferry’s riskier moves teaming up with Scissor Sisters on Heartache by Numbers and Groove Armada on Shameless. The Groove Armada effort is the furthest from what one might expect of Ferry, but finds the legend completely comfortable with the bouncy synth and basslines running under his smooth vocal. Unfortunately, the opening track and first single, You Can Dance, is easily my least favorite, at least in this incarnation. The track was originally released last year on DJ Hell’s album Teufelswerk in a completely awesome, nimble dancefloor stormer that has now given way to a bombastic, plodding rock version that finds Ferry’s voice struggling to rise above the din.

In addition to the Buckley cover, Ferry includes his rendition of Traffic’s No Face, No Name, No Number to positive effect, and closes the album with the sweet and understated original song Tender is the Night that sounds like his earliest solo efforts, in particular These Foolish Things, when he first adopted his suave lounge lizard persona as a counterpoint to Roxy’s then far more glam/art rock leanings. It’s immensely pleasing to find Ferry building on his earliest successes both solo and with Roxy Music, but also great to see him striving to successfully expand his horizons with new players after four decades in the game. In spite of the many contributors and eras present on the varied tracks, they tie together into a vastly satisfying and cohesive album that’s a sheer delight from nearly beginning to end.

Article first published as Music Review: Bryan Ferry - Olympia on Blogcritics.

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