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…and one Blu-ray review, right here:

“The Man Who Walked Between The Towers” (Scholastic)
I admit, I’m a sucker for these Scholastic video collections, mostly because they remind me of “Reading Rainbow” and LeVar Burton. Oh, Levar…. Anyway, this collection of four children’s book tales begins with “The Man Who Walked Between The Towers.” Based on the true story of French street performer Philippe Petit, this story might ring a bell because the documentary about Petit, “Man On Wire,” recently won an Oscar. In August of 1974, Petit snuck into the World Trade Center and rigged a tightrope between the two buildings, eventually walking back and forth between the North and South Tower for over an hour. Because Petit’s actions were clearly illegal, I feared that the children’s version of this story might get watered down. But the entire story is surprisingly here, including his arrest after the event. And, as if that weren’t cool enough, the whole thing is narrated by Donnie Darko! Perfect for kids! The disc also features “The Pot That Juan Built” and “Miss Rumphius,” but my favorite out of the whole batch is “Snowflake Bentley” which tells the true story of Willie Bentley, a photographer who was the first to master the art of photographing snowflakes. The story mixes animation with live action clips which was a bit distracting at first, but the fact that they included some of Bentley’s actual photographs made up for it. The other stories feature narrations from Mikey Walsh, Juliet, and the crazy guy who kept throwing firecrackers at Marky Mark in “Boogie Nights.” And if you get all of those references, you’re the man, dog!

“The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler in Nazi Germany” (Docurama)
A little over a year ago, some friends and I visited Auschwitz in Poland. Ever since then, I’ve had this desire to learn as much as I can about World War II and the events that led up to it. So a documentary about German citizens who rebelled against the power of the Nazi Regime definitely had my attention from the get-go. Originally released in 1992, this film collects rare footage of German court trials in 1944 for average citizens who conspired to have Adolf Hitler killed. Of course, the outcome is what you’d expect, but just the fact that these types of people existed in a country that had so blindly followed Hitler is amazing. It’s a feature-length documentary, coming in at just under two hours, and it held my interest from beginning to end. The only problem I have with it is that it appears to be a direct transfer from a VHS tape with little or no clean-up consideration. It’s not a big deal, and yes, I know we’re spoiled with our HDTVs and iPhones and toaster-ovens and whatnot, but there was a tiny part of me that kept thinking, “This looks so nineties.” And we all remember how terrifying that was, right?

“Two Evil Eyes” (Blue Underground)
Two hour-long horror shorts inspired by the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, written and directed by two huge names in the horror genre: George Romero and Dario Argento. Surprisingly, at least to me, Romero’s “The Facts In The Case Of Mr. Valdemar” is the weaker of the two stories, telling the tale of a smelly pirate hooker named Jessica Valdemar (as played by Adrienne Barbeau) who tries to swindle her dying husband out of a fortune. It’s okay, but Barbeau is just laughable. Argento’s “The Black Cat,” on the other hand, stars Harvey Keitel who is scary as shit even in his most normal state. Keitel plays Roderick Usher, a crime scene photographer who is driven to murder by his girlfriend’s pet cat. Yes, you read that correctly. The special effects were handled by Tom Savini, and the extras on the disc include a behind-the-scenes featurette on his make-up and effects. Also, this is a Blu-ray release, so all of the blood and gore that was filmed nearly two decades ago now is bright and crystal clear. Just the way I like my horror!

-Shady

…four reviews. Go!

BOOKS:

“Chicken and Cat Clean Up” by Sara Varon – When it comes to telling a good story, one of the things I envy most is when someone is able to tell their tale without writing a single word. Of course, being an illustrator and a writer helps, and Sara Varon is lucky to be both. “Chicken and Cat Clean Up” is the picture book follow-up to Varon’s debut Chicken and Cat book (appropriately titled “Chicken and Cat”). What follows is a short and sweet forty-page story about the diligent and hardworking Chicken, his lazy and clumsy best friend Cat, and what happens when they start a housekeeping business together. It’s a fun story for kids (and balding thirty-something men) of all ages. And if your child happens to be illiterate, they can enjoy it, too! Just kidding. It’s like those library posters always read: Reading is fun and mental! Or something like that. And books like “Chicken and Cat Clean Up” prove it. And yes, that’s a compliment.

“Bone: Volume 9 – Crown of Horns” by Jeff Smith – I first got into Jeff Smith’s “Bone” nearly twenty years ago. (Lord, I’m old.) In fact, Smith was one of the first interviews we ever featured in “Tastes Like Chicken,” back when we were copying it on a Xerox machine for our college campus. Collected here is the ninth and final installment of Smith’s work which, even after all these years, still easily holds up as being fun, smart and beautifully crafted. Both the illustration and writing is impeccable, but the brilliance of “Bone” lies in its simplicity and ability to tell a story that both kids and adults can enjoy. It’s storytelling like this that I strive to create. (Well, outside of my serial killer stories, of course.) This last book in the series collects issues #50 thru #55, and wraps up a story that began back in 1991. One of the best aspects of the Scholastic release is the color work that was done by Steve Hamaker. Before these books were released, it was hard to think of “Bone” being done in anything but clean, black-and-white line work. Now, it’s hard to think of them in anything but Hamaker’s beautiful colors. If you own the previous eight books, chances are you’re going to pick this one up. If you don’t own any of them yet, don’t start here! Go back and pick up Book One (“Out From Boneville”) and start reading. Trust me, you’ll get here eventually.

DVDs:

“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” – First, I should mention this is a Blu-ray review, not a DVD review. Now, when it comes to Italian writer/director Dario Argento, I think there are two kinds of people: those who love him and mention him in the same breath as George Romero and Alfred Hitchcock, and those who just don’t get what the fuss is all about. In the past I’ve been more in the latter category than the former, but “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” from 1970 may very well change that. This is Argento’s writing/directing debut, and maybe that’s partly why I feel that he’s at his finest here. The film has balls, and it seems apparent that Argento is making the movie for himself. If other people like it, awesome; but it felt as if he were making it for an audience of one. Telling the story of an American writer who witnesses an attack while living in Rome, “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” is the perfect blend of violent, sometimes masochistic horror, and intense mental torture.

“Videogame Theater” – If you’re a fan of “Crank Yankers” and the like, chances are you’ll like “Videogame Theater.” Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of “Crank Yankers” because I feel it suffers from a cliched gimmick that has been used regularly since Peter Jackson’s “Meet the Feebles” in 1989, and that gimmick is the use of farting and swearing puppets. That alone is not funny, people. It has to go somewhere beyond that to truly be entertaining, and “Videogame Theater” just never gets there. Collected here are thirteen shorts of classic video game characters (in puppet form) immersed in hackneyed “life” situations: Pac-Man is a Ms. Pac-Man-abusing junkie; Lara Croft walks around with her tits hanging out; Mario wants to rape the Princess; Q*Bert is retarded. Yawn. If you’re 13 years old and think a nude drawing of Marge Simpson is hilarious, pick this up. If you’re anyone else (and I mean anyone else), don’t bother.

-Shady

Old Poop!