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DURHAM - Can you smell the reality in the air? I’m not talking about those painfully staged reality shows on TruTV. What’s just around the corner is the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC. From Thursday, April 3 to Sunday, April 6. This is the friendliest and most relaxed film festival in the world. Because most of the screenings take place within a single complex, there’s no racing all over the city to find obscure screening rooms. You don’t have to worry about the weather. The hotel rates are reasonable. You just show up, pick out the films and watch away. That’s a lot less troublesome than Sundance, Toronto and SXSW. Plus you can always have sweet NC BBQ.

The film’s big tribute is to Steve James. The filmmaker got major notice and robbed of Oscar glory with Hoop Dreams. We interviewed him a while back about his ESPN movie about Allen Iverson. Doug Block gets the opening night slot with 112 Weddings. He deals with couples whose weddings he had previously shot. How are they doing after all these years? I’m curious having worked a few weddings in the past. Joe Berlinger will be there to talk about Metallica Some Kind of Monster. I want to ask what Lars’ tears smell like.

There’s a lot of films including quite a few free public showing. It’s a great day trip. You can get details from visiting http://fullframefest.org/ Please guess what films I’ll be viewing. Remember if you see me, I don’t have any of the Freddie buttons to hand out. But I might have a few uneaten pretzels that I’ll gladly share.

EL REY FOR EL ME

For the first few weeks that El Rey Network appeared on my cable box, I kept thinking it was a competitor for Univision. I took enough Spanish in college to know that it’s Spanish for “The King.” So it seemed it was Spanish. Then one boring morning, I flipped it on to see what Starsky and Hutch sounded like dubbed in Spanish. Turns out David Soul was giving the business to Paul Michael Glaser in English.

What’s the deal with this channel? Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez is a part owner. The man who gave us Sin City and From Dusk Till Dawn finally has a way to reach people 24 hours at a time. He’s high octane guy who hangs with Tarantino. So you’d expect a high octane channel. His first big thing is turning From Dusk Till Dawn into a series. A smart move since the viewers should enjoy vampire strippers. It’d be like HBO combining G String Divas with True Blood. Although that seems to be the only high profile project being promoted. Although one show is what too many cable channels offer in marathon binges.

Most of the broadcast day consists of Dark Angel, Starsky and Hutch, Texas Justice (a court show from the ’00s) and The X-Files. It’s kind of strange since the channels was given carriage space by Comcast to reach a Latino audience. They do offer soccer from Mexico and lucha libre.

Is the channel really going after the Latino audience? Or fanboys that like to eat at Gingoagogo? Are you like BBCAmerica showing The Matrix because you need the easy ratings? I know the channel is young and there’s not been exactly a treasure trove of English language TV shows featuring Hispanic stars. You can run the Jimmy Smits seasons of LA Law and NYPD Blue. Why not have a Smits Sunday for the ladies?

The biggest bonus of the channel is all the Shaw Brothers action flicks. So far I’ve been seeing a bunch that weren’t even released on the Dragon Dynasty DVDs. This makes them must DVR. But there’s a big problem because El Rey’s website currently sucks. I went there to see the schedule and there was none. There were a bunch of embedded videos of Robert talking about what the channel was going to be like. Seeing how it’s been on the cable box for three months, you might want to upgrade from potential to what viewers need to be experiencing.

The channel needs hosts. Give it a few real faces and now merely a flaming logo. It’d be cool to have a videostore clerk giving us the importance of the various Shaw Brothers and other cult films you’re running. Sure the channel wants to push the Grindhouse image, but the harsh fact is that 99 percent of your viewers who saw these films found them on a VHS tape in Dave’s Videodrome or other shady rental joint.

SCREAM FACTORY SHOUTS

Darkman: Collector’s Edition brings Sam Raimi’s edgy superhero masterpiece to high definition with a bonus bonanza. Raimi wanted to make The Shadow. When he was told no, he created his own superhero that looked at the evil in men’s souls. Liam Neeson (Taken) is a scientist trying to make a breakthrough in artificial skin. His ex-girlfriend (Fargo’s Frances McDormand) gets Liam tangled in a fight between her boss and a gangster. Liam’s laboratory gets lit up and he’s presumed dead. But the doctor is merely burned beyond recognition. He barely recovers and uses his not quite their fake skin to get revenge on everyone involved. It’s a movie that plays bigger than its budget. The star of the show is Larry Drake as the diabolical gangster. He was playing the brain damaged janitor on LA Law so this role was a shocker to TV viewers. The bonus features range from brand new interviews to vintage media packages. Director of Photography Bill Pope gives a master class on the audio commentary. They even allow the henchmen to have their own featurette. The make-up and special effects get fully explored. This was a landmark moment when Hollywood didn’t resort to a comic book character to make a comic book movie.

Slumber Party Massacre remains one of the best films in the mad killer interrupts a fun night flicks. Michele Michaels wants her friends on the basketball team to hang out for the night. It was the ’80s when such events were commonplace. But little did she know that something worse than nerds looking for panties would crash their affair. An escaped mental patient with a drill is ready to add to his body count. What’s really amazing about this film is that it was written by feminist novelist Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Jones. Jones gave up a chance to edit E.T. But let’s face it, would you rather say you cut E.T. (which everyone will give your credit to Spielberg anyway) or declare you made Slumber Party Massacre? She made the right choice. The big bonus feature is the first part of Sleepless Night that covers the making of this film. The high definition transfer adds to the creep factor as the body count adds up.

Beneath is what I really wish happened at the end of American Pie. A group of kids head up to the lake after graduating from high school. They’re ready to party. What they don’t realize is that they’re also ready to be lunch for a massive creature under the water. They find themselves stranded on a leaky boat and being picked off. The movie originally aired on Chiller. The bonus features include director Larry Fessenden talking about Jaws.

Bad Dreams & Visiting Hours gives an HD upgrade to the original DVD release put out a few years ago. Bad Dreams brings back my ’90s crush on Jennifer Rubin. She’s the only survive of a religious cult that had a mass suicide via fire. She comes out of her coma only to discover that the crisp remains of the cult leader wants her to join them in the embers. It’s an uncomfortable supernatural battle between her and the demons of her past. Andrew Fleming (The Craft) makes this memorable. Visiting Hours has William Shatner in a supporting role. Lee Grant is attacked by a stranger and rushed to the hospital. Little does she know that attacker wants to finish the job and a couple night watchmen aren’t going to stop him. Can the Shatner come to her rescue. The bonus features include a new interview with Jennifer Rubin. Screenwriter Brian Taggert walks us through the creation of Visiting Hours. It’s a double feature worth watching in the emergency room.

BLU-RAY HEAVEN

Enemies Closer is good old Jean Claude Van Damme dishing out the Van Dammage. He’s doing a major stretch here as he plays a Canadian. He’s out to find a missing drug package. Did I mention he’s the bad guy? Even more outrageous in this film is Orlando Jones (MadTV) playing a semi-bad guy. He looks good kicking ass. But can the 7-Up guy really go foot to face with Van Damme? Once famous director Peter Hyams gets to have a little fun in the Canadian wilderness with his stars. This a film that demands a few cases of Labatts be cracked open to add to the enjoyment.

VINEGAR SYNDROME PEEKS

Peekarama: Sadie & The Seductress is a double feature directed by Bob Chinn. Sadie is Chinn’s version of Joan Crawford’s Rain. He updated the tale of a hooker on Borneo to the Vietnam War era. But she’s still the hooker dealing with the Holy Roller politician. This is a great discovery. The Seductress is about a couples who hook up for a wild nights with others. What they don’t know is that the fun is being photographed. Who is blackmailing these people who just wanted to live a Penthouse Forum fantasy? Both films have their original trailers.

Peekarama: The Altar of Lust & Angel on Fire were directed by Roberta Findlay. Turns out Roberta was a woman and a cinematography of lustful epics. The Altar of Lust explores the events that turn a woman into a lesbian. This one ought to be given a review in Psychology Today. Harry Reems has a big role in turning this woman against men. She’s ultimately asking a psychiatrist to make her straight again. Angel on Fire has a jerk get hit by a car after dumping his pregnant girlfriend. As punishment, he’s returned to Earth as a woman. She discovers how bad it can get when she hooks up with Jamie Gillis. He’s perfect once more. Why wasn’t this edgy actor allowed to crossover to rough and tumble cinema? Odd factoid: Gillis graduated with honors from Columbia University. Finally an Ivy Leaguer worth celebrating.

A Saint, A Woman, A Devil is an X-rated version of All About Eve from the co-writer of Raging Bull, the book. Peter Savage has a lot of fun with a woman with multiple personalities and a raging libido. There’s no stopping her when she flips her personality. My favorite part of this X-rated version is the thanks to the NYU Undergraduates who worked on the film. How come this isn’t one of those movies NYU loves to promote as an accomplishment? Joanna Fields is amazing in the split roles. However she doesn’t seem to have done anything major after this. What a shame. You’d figure one of those NYU film students would have used her in their feature film debut.

DVD SHELF

Power Rangers: Seasons 13 -17 covers the versions that aired from 2006 to 2009. First off is Power Rangers S.P.D. The Power Rangers run a Police Academy to train the new generation. The Earth has changed to an alien melting point that wants to cripple the planet. Guess who has to keep saving the world. S.P.D. stands for Space Patrol Delta. Power Rangers Mystic Force returns to the concept of five teenagers in a sweet town of Briarwood having to fight an army of darkness. This time it’s the evil Morticon throwing all he has at them. The kids have Magi Staffs and Mystic Morphers. Power Rangers Operation Overdrive is a battle for the Crown of the Gods. Turns out the mythical hat is real. But there’s a few jewels missing. An evil force wants them to control the crown. Naturally it’s up to five new kids to save the universe from such a fate. Power Rangers Jungle Fury has three students looking for a new Master after their original one is killed and a pal gets possessed by a demon. They ultimately become the new Power Rangers. They use animal Kung Fu techniques. Power Rangers RPM is a world ravaged by a computer virus so humanity breaks down. The only thing protecting the last of humanity from the evil computer is the Power Rangers. They have cool combat vehicles. There’s a bonus disc that covers the prop master, cast members memories and major fans. This is an overload of Power Ranger action.

Rawhide: The Seventh Season - Volume 1 & Volume 2 brings to an end the time Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) spent riding the range with the endless cattle run. Turns out that Gil was quitting the show to dedicate his career to feature films. His fate would not come close to co-star Clint Eastwood. Little did he know that his first big role after Rawhide would be his last. He’d drown during a stunt in Peru. There’s 30 episodes show him in his iconic role. The big amazing episode of the season is “Canliss.” Why? Because it has Dean Martin playing a gunman trying to go straight with his new bride. But he gets offered one less job at an amazing price. Can he resist a deal that can set him up for life? Dean is always a natural in his cowboy roles. This is one of his finest. The next season he’d be on TV with his variety show. There’s a lot of future stars of The Wild Bunch making cameos. The show would only last a half season with Clint Eastwood in the lead. But it didn’t hurt Clint a bit because he was becoming a star everywhere but America with A Fist Full of Dollars. Eric Fleming will always be keeping those doggies rollin’ thanks to this collection.

Flashpoint: The Final Season brings to an end the greatest series about Canadians with guns. They’re as dangerous as Americans when armed. The final 13 episodes put the Strategic Response Unit (SRU) on their toes until the end. Kind of sad knowing that this was the end of Enrico Colantoni (Just Shoot Me) getting to really shoot people as Sgt. Greg Parker. Plus there’s former Power Ranger Amy Jo Johnson is a real adult role. “Broken Peace” has them dealing with a divorced husband wanting to give his ex-wife a lead alimony check. “No Kind of Life” has proof that Canadian healthcare systems aren’t close to perfect. “Sons of the Father” tracks a serial killer through his brother. Damn shame this show ended since it had the coolness of S.W.A.T. with the heart of Due South.

LA Law: Season One brings back the original show that changed the rules of legal dramas. Before LA Law, legal shows were aped Perry Mason. The lawyer’s life outside of the case wasn’t given much screen time. All that mattered was the courtroom. LA Law got audiences demanding to know what was going on in the lawyer’s bedroom. They wanted their legal briefs on the floor. The series starts off with a dead lawyer and a shooting in the office. This is not an easy viewing legal drama. The season has Jimmy Smits as the new lawyer who isn’t afraid to rock the firm. My personal favorite element is the return of Susan Dey in a role that’s more impressive than her time in The Partridge Family. Perfect show to binge watch on a rainy spring day. The 22 episodes are spread over 6 DVDs.

The Practice: The Final Season isn’t quite the end to the series. Sure it brought an end to several of the lawyers like Ellenor (Camryn Manheim) and Eugene (Steve Harris). But the show ended its eighth season by allowed Alan Shore (James Spader) turn the series into Boston Legal. This means for the final season we get a taste of Denny Crane (Star Trek’s William Shatner). This is the season that won Shatner the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama. Do you understand how this changed the way we viewed honored actors? Who could have ever guessed Shatner would be a hardware king at the Emmys? The season starts with the law firm dealing with major partner splits. The series focuses on if the remaining lawyers can keep their office afloat. Are they ready to be a unit? Not to spoil the 22 episodes, but it’s a massive struggle.

Breaking Amish: Season One takes a quintet of religious kids from their country life to the heart of New York City. This would have been a major shock in 1977. But the newer and cleaner New York City isn’t quite the urban jungle. Although there’s got to be a culture shock when they enter the Times Square Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. They still have a lot of things to bowl them over. Can they remain pure to their beliefs or will they embrace the life of the English? Can they deal with the lack of barn buildings in Soho?

The Red Skelton Show: The Lost Episodes has 16 episodes from his early TV series. Instead just doing a series of sketches, Skelton would perform a sitcom as one of his characters including Clem Kadiddlehopper, San Fernando Red and Freddie the Freeloader. He lines up plenty of great guest stars for his fun including Eve Arden, Vivian Vance, Sebastian Cabot, Jackie Coogan and Buster Crabbe. The bonus features include two episodes where Red couldn’t make the show. His fill in hosts were Danny Thomas, Arthur Godfrey and Jackie Gleason. These are hilarious dips into the Golden Age of Television that are must see TV for people who want a time when TV comedies weren’t dominated by Chuck Lorre.

Grizzly Adams: The Renewal is a special TV movie that deals with an Easter theme. If you need a family TV special for the holiday, why not embrace Dan Haggerty, Denver Pyle and Ben the bear? Grizzly must help out some nearby settlers and Indians to protect their religious ceremonies. Of course nowadays we have pundits on Fox News doing this work. But none of them are as heartwarming as Haggerty. Who needs bunnies when you have a giant bear looking for eggs?

Drawing With Mark is a series with illustrator Mark Marderosian giving lessons to viewers on how to improve their artistic skills. Something Fishy!/A Day at the Aquarium makes the subject aquatic. Instead of merely sitting in his studio, Mark takes the viewers to Woods Hole Science Aquarium to get an eye for what they’re trying to capture. He wants you to go beyond the simple fish. Good to Grow!/Life on the Farm puts Mark with the animals. What kid doesn’t like a little help figuring out how to make their figures more realistic? The good part about watching on DVD is that you can pause the frame and get a true sense of how he’s making the animals appear on the page. There’s also bonus art projects including making an Origami fish and a horse puppet.

Terry Fator: Live In Concert lets you know what the winner of America’s Got Talent has been doing on stage in Las Vegas. Fator took over Danny Gans’ mantle when he arrived at the Mirage. Like Gans, he understands how to do a great impersonation. But instead of merely acting them out, he brings them on stage with his puppets. He also has a few of his own characters. Think of him a Jeff Dunham without the terrorist jokes. Odds are high you might want to check out his new show if you’re wandering down the Las Vegas Strip. He’s the hottest thing in that town since Dan Tanna.

Nurse Jackie: Season Five brings back Edie Falco as the stressed out emergency room nurse. With her marriage falling apart and her job not going well, she must maintain her sober lifestyle. The influences lead to her to become a patient in her own hospital. Is she going to be one of those “know it all” patients? Of course. You might want to buy this boxset quick since Showtime starts airing the sixth season on April 13. Try to watch this without drinking. No matter what, Jackie’s life is trauma.

Mortal Enemies is pure buttkicking cinema. Two orphans cross paths years later when one is kidnapped by pirates. Don’t need to give away the big twist, but it’s a shocking reunion for the duo. Is their brotherhood enough to bond them once more? Robin Shou and Verdy Bhawanta are good at the throwdown action.

Traci Long is back with more installments of her Longevity Series. The latest three videos including Defining Shapes, Step Forward & Staying Power. You’re going to be burning some calories keeping up with her routines. Defining Shape focuses on creating lean muscles with a total body strength workout. Step Forward is a high energy step workout. She uses all sides of the step to keep you in motion. Staying Power is all about boosting your cardio routine. Long has a good connection with the camera as she goes through the routines. Learn to burn before its bikini season.

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