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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Fantasy > Literature > Romance > Amusement Park > Science Fiction > Monster > Horror > Biography > Austenland (2013/Sony Blu-ray)/Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988)/Hellgate (1989/Arrow Region 2 PAL Import DVDs)/Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (2013/HBO DVD)/Pulling Strings (2013/Lionsgate DVD)/The Secret

Austenland (2013/Sony Blu-ray)/Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988)/Hellgate (1989/Arrow Region 2 PAL Import DVDs)/Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (2013/HBO DVD)/Pulling Strings (2013/Lionsgate DVD)/The Secret Policeman's Ball - USA (2013/Eagle Blu-ray)

Picture: B-/C+/C+/C+/C+/B- Sound: B-/C+/C/C/C/B- Extras: C/C+/C/C-/D/C Main Programs: C/C+/C/C+/C/B-

PLEASE NOTE: The Hell Comes To Frogtown and Helltown PAL Region 2 Import DVDs (which include Region B Blu-rays) can only play on machines that can handle that version of the format, are only available from our friends at Arrow UK and can be ordered from the link below.

Here is the oddest group of comedies we have seen in a while...

Jerusa Hess' Austenland (2013) is yet another would-be comedy inspired by the highly played-out Jane Austen cycle. This time out, someone has come up with an upscale amusement park as the title suggests and Keri Russell plays the big fan who drags friend Jennifer Coolidge (playing an uncultured, sexually aggressive, cliched older woman) with her. Guess there are some in-jokes here one might miss, but all the script offers is a semi-upscale formula film that plays it far too safe, has jokes that are too obvious and in 97 minutes, never really gos anywhere.

Rising star Bret McKenzie, James Callum, JJ Feild and Jane Seymour help make up a supporting cast that at least makes some sense and Russell can be charming, but I never bought it and found it nearly condescending as competent, female-aimed product. I hot a couple of smiles here, including something unusually amusing (if a little desperate) in the end credits, but this really does not work and is barely above a cable TV movie.

Extras include a feature length audio commentary track by Hess and Co-Producer Stephanie Meyer and an on-camera Q&A on the production with Russell, Coolidge, Hess & Seymour.

Next up are two late 1980s genre comedies with some bloodletting. Donald G. Jackson and R.J. Kizer co-directed Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988) with Roddy Piper as a man whose sexual prowess and fertility is needed to repopulate the now-barren earth and includes a female scientist and medical expert (Sandahl Bergman, whose career never unfolded like it should have) and William Smith as yet another bad guy. The sexual campiness is interesting, putting lead Piper in a rare position of a world with women nearly taking over aggressively, but this B-movie is more interested in angry frogmen and one-liners than hard science.

The opening of the film briefly suggests there might be more before it goes downhill, but there are better films on the subject (like Omega Man and A Boy & His Dog, while Piper turned in a somewhat similar performance in Carpenter's They Live the same year, all three out on Blu-ray now) so this is just for silly gags, though I wonder if the script started that way.

William A. Levey's Hellgate (1989) is also surreal and comically goofy in the wrong places as a woman murdered by a bike gang in the 1950s comes back for revenge and taking innocent traveller lives which has some start to notice a growing missing persons' list, but a gang of teens just have to go out there anyhow and land up in an former mining town that turns out to be a death trap all its own.

The look of the town rebuilt to look like it was in the past has a 1980s phoniness to it like a Music Video or films like Streets Of Fire, Dead End Drive-In or even Absolute Beginners, but it is never that good and any potential this film had to work is constantly wasted by a certain laziness and smugness that even the late Ron Palillo (Horshack from TV's great sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter) cannot save. He is a highlight in a dreary, lame film where he steals every scene with ease. For competists only.

Both discs have three interview featurettes each worth seeing after their respective films, controversies, release details and all and include Blu-rays.

Spike Lee's Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (2013) is simply a taping of an autobiographical stage act by the (in)famous boxer where he spends nearly 90 minutes telling his side of the stories of his life and gets more personal than you might expect. It did not make me any more sympathetic for him, but some interesting moments come out of this by default, yet it is a portrait that is not often apologetic for the wrongs he did. However, he gets the chance to speak and that is the point. Some might not just buy it all and the laughs can be not always funny.

A cast/crew interview is the only extra.

Pitpol Ybarra's Pulling Strings (2013) tries to juggle several story types, but does none of them well as it wants to have a romantic comedy, cross-culture comedy, be a bi-lingual comedy and also deal with social issues like immigration, poverty and racism. It lands up trivializing the latter and following too much safe formula overall for a remarkably loose and indecisive 118 (!) minutes. Stockard Channing shows up as female lead Laura Ramsey's mother, but is not here nearly enough and Tom Arnold shows up unconvincingly as a love interest who we know will never fit with her, her life or goals. Too bad they did not try to concentrate and make this into something more.

Digital HD copy for PC, Mac and web-related media is the only extra.

Finally we have The Secret Policeman's Ball - USA (2013), the latest of the comedy/music variety show events held by Amnesty International to raise funds and awareness of and the fourth we have reviewed, though the first on Blu-ray. This time, Mumford & Sons and Coldplay show up with music, Beavis & Butthead and Muppet Show hecklers Statler & Waldorf make surprise appearances and special guest appearances add to what is mostly comedy skits. Those performers include Fred Armisten, Russell Brand, Rachel Dracht, Bill Hader, Eddie Izzard, Rashida Jones, Seth Meyers, Jon Stewart, Reggie Watts, the rising Chris O'Dowd and some other very talented performers who have gone out of there way to support a great, vital organization. This show is definitely worth checking out, including for its new talent.

A booklet on the event is included inside the case, while the Blu-ray adds Backstage Interviews as the other extra.

As expected, the Blu-rays have the best picture performance here, but I thought the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Austenland could have outperformed the 1080i 1.78 X 1 playback on Secret, but it has some minor detail and color issues that held it back a little more than expected. The four DVDs tie for second place, all here in anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image presentations (save Strings at 2.35 X 1) and looking as good as they will in the format. The older two Hell productions (also on Blu-rays we did not receive) are shot on film, leaving the latter digital shoots, with the former having some print age issues (the stocks were probably only so good, but are not bad just the same) and the newer productions having their own softness, motion blur and color limits.

Sound almost boils down to the same situation where the Blu-rays with DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes are the sonic champs, but soundstage is limited in both cases. The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Frogtown actually ranks second by turning out to be cleaner and clearer than the same mix on Helltown, but to be better as well that the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on Tyson (you cannot always hear him) and Strings (location recording of dialogue can be outright monophonic) shows how problematically they were recorded and mixed. Odd.

As noted above, you can order the Hell Comes To Frogtown and Helltown PAL Region 2 Import DVDs at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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