Bud Spencer (1929-2016)
June 28, 2016
CD Review: INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK
SONY CLASSICAL / FOX MUSIC
While I can't speak for the movie itself, the score for Independence Day: Resurgence is terrific.
The original Independence Day was, of course, one of the biggest blockbusters of the 90s, with director Roland Emmerich and Will Smith getting a lion's share of the credit. But David Arnold's captivating score was also a major part what made the film work, even though no one seems to appreciate it.
Like Will Smith, Arnold doesn't return for the sequel, though his most renowned theme from ID4 makes a welcome appearance as a reprise. Thomas Wander & Harald Kloser take the musical reigns this time and wisely create a score remarkably similar to the original. It is, by turns, foreboding, ominous, rousing and emotionally stirring, even as a stand-alone piece of music.
The score itself consists of 23 tracks running 1-3 minutes each and is presented more-or-less sequentially. Even without having seen the film, you can almost get the gist of the plot and various story elements from the music alone. Capping off the disc are two songs. The first is “Electric U” by Kid Bloom (no, I’ve never heard of him either). To put it bluntly, the song sucks, serving as a reminder why disco had to die. The second is a yet-another cover of the classic, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” It’s not bad, though both songs are a rather anti-climactic way to end the disc.
Aside from that, Independence Day: Resurgence is a great soundtrack album, definitely worthy of comparison to David Arnold’s original score.
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS
June 26, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: KUNG FU PANDA 3
DREAMWORKS / 20TH CENTURY FOX
While the Kung Fu Panda franchise has never reached the bar set by Disney or Pixar's greatest computer-animated films, it hasn't quite worn out its welcome like Ice Age or Shrek. At the very least, it's the most consistent animated franchise since the Toy Story series.
Hence, fans of the first two will find a lot to love about Kung Fu Panda 3. Jack Black and an increasing legion of celebrity voice talent gather again for this new adventure, which has Kai (J.K. Simmons), a blade-wielding yak from the spirit world coming to destroy the Furious Five. The only way to defeat him is by using "Chi," a skill only known to pandas. This is when Po meets Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), his biological father, for the first time, who not only brings him to a hidden panda village, but promises to teach him Chi.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is colorful, well animated and features plenty of exciting, family-friendly action with room left for sweet moments and fat baby pandas being...well, fat baby pandas (so the cute-porn quotient is pretty high). Another particularly welcome touch is making the film's villain nearly as amusing as most of the comic relief, and Simmons voices him perfectly. Speaking of which, despite the ever-growing cast of familiar actors, none of it really smacks of stunt-casting (unlike the increasingly pandering Ice Age series).
|The moment someone informs Po what Rocky Mountain Oysters really are.|
So while Kung Fu Panda 3 (or the previous films, for that matter) isn't an animation milestone, you'd be hard-pressed to name too many another franchises that have maintained the same level of consistency through three films. Aside from Toy Story, even Pixar's track record with sequels hasn't been stellar. At the very least, I doubt we'll be rolling our eyes when the inevitable Kung Fu Panda 4 is announced.
EXTRA KIBBLES (mostly of the kid friendly variety):
- 2 Additional Shorts
- Featurettes: "Make a Panda Party Paper Pal"; "The Origin of 'Skadoosh'"; "Gallery of Epic Awesomeness"; "Play Like a Panda" (featuring real pandas)
- Song: "Everybody Loves a Panda Party" (sung by Jack Black to the tune of "Kung Fu Fighting", with a Karaoke version included)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Deleted Scenes with Directors' Introductions
- DVD & Digital Copies
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS (OR A PANDA BELLY RUB)
June 24, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: PRECIOUS CARGO
Remember when Bruce Willis was a badass mofo? Sure, he occasionally tried demonstrate his thespian versatility over the years, but for the most part, he was synonymous with A-list asskicking. While age inevitably catches up with all of us, that’s no excuse to continue tarnishing your legacy by saying yes to every potential payday, which Willis has done a lot lately.
Precious Cargo is just the latest of many recent low-rent, nearly-straight-to-video action pictures where it’s obvious Willis put in a few days’ work for top billing, lending what’s left of his good name to boost its marquee value. In reality, despite being the film’s primary villain, Willis’ total screen time is about 15 minutes, and it’s worth noting that he’s the only member of the primary cast who doesn’t appear in any of the promotional bonus features included on this disc. He knew what he was doing.
The movie mostly belongs to Mark-Paul Gosselaar (who first gained fame on Saved by the Bell) as Jack, a professional thief whose former lover/partner Karen (Claire Forlani) has gotten in over her head by committing a high stakes robbery originally masterminded by crime boss Eddie (Willis). Now Karen needs Jack’s help with another heist, not only to get rich, but to pay off Eddie and stay alive. Even though Jack has a shitload of good reasons not to trust her, he reluctantly assembles the usual motley crew of misfits to do the job.
|Bruce Willis gets a look at his latest paycheck.|
The film tries for a light tone, and admittedly, some of it is occasionally amusing, but we’re forced to swallow a lot of implausibilities and idiotic dialogue along the way. The action itself is of the straight-to-video variety...competent, though nothing especially thrilling or original, which also could apply to the movie in general. Then there’s Willis, literally phoning-it-in half the time and uttering his lines like he’s doing everyone a favor by showing up. Say what you will about Stallone’s and Schwarzenegger’s recent output, at least we’re convinced they’re trying.
Precious Cargo is marginally passable entertainment on a dull evening, but it's ultimately destined to fill Wal-Mart's budget bin within a few months. Another blight on Bruce Willis' increasingly questionable resume, it prompts one to question if the guy even cares about anything but a paycheck anymore.
- Making-of Featurette
- Cast/crew Interviews
- Digital Copy
Blu-Ray Review: EYE IN THE SKY
I was telling a co-worker & fellow film buff (whose political leanings are somewhat conservative) about Eye in the Sky. His first response was, "This ain't one of those movies with some kind of liberal agenda, is it?" A fair question, I suppose, given the topical and controversial subject matter (drone warfare). Then again, my esteemed colleague tends to look for hidden political agendas in everything. I doubt he'll find one here.
Helen Mirren stars as Katherine Powell, a military intelligence colonel trying to capture two suspected terrorists in Kenya. With the aid of surveillance drones and the coordinated efforts of U.S., African and British personnel from around the world, one suspect is tracked to a safe house in the middle of a village. However, when they probe inside the house and learn a terror attack is imminent, the mission moves from capture to kill, with a plan to use one of the drones to missile-strike the house. The problem is that the house is located in a highly populated section of the village, meaning civilian casualties are likely, including a little girl who just set-up a tiny kiosk right outside the house in order to sell bread made by her family.
This complicates matters, both morally and politically. While Powell and Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman, in one of his final roles) try to plan the attack to keep collateral damage at a minimum, many of their superiors are reluctant to personally authorize the strike. Fearing how this pre-emptive move would be perceived, yet well-aware that a few civilian casualties would pale in comparison to a massive terror attack if they did nothing, the ultimate decision keeps being pushed up the chain-of-command. Meanwhile, the time to take action (or not) is quickly running out.
|Looks like someone stuck a spoon in the microwave.|
Eye in the Sky raises a lot of questions about the moral and political ramifications of drone warfare, but provides no real answers, probably because there aren't any, which might the whole point to begin with. As viewers, we see and understand both sides of this dilemma because the film has no cut-and-dry heroes or villains. If anything, the real villain is our own technology and the damned-if-we-do-damned-if-we-don’t decisions we’re forced to make before weighing-out the ultimate cost.
Okay, so maybe the movie does sort-of have an agenda, which is that any decision of this magnitude has far-reaching implications, no matter what side you‘re on. That aside, Eye in the Sky is an intelligent and intense thriller (though not particularly uplifting), with great performances by the entire cast. Mirren & Rickman are outstanding as usual, as is Aaron Paul as a drone pilot forced to execute whatever decision is made. As the bottom line, Paul’s character provides the emotional crux of the entire film, all from the safety of a flight cubicle thousands of miles away.
Ultimately, the ethical questions raised by the film are its biggest asset. Eye in the Sky doesn't let us off the hook with a neat & tidy resolution, prefering to make us weigh all the options and the real world consequenses which come with them.
- Featurettes: "Perspectives" & "Morals" (each of these promotional featurettes run less than 2 minutes)
- DVD & Digital Copies
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS
June 23, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2
Part of me has to laugh at the critical drubbing this unlikely sequel received when released. Silly critics...My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 wasn’t made for you. It was made for my wife, Francie.
Francie prefers her mummies served with Brandon Fraser, a heaping helping of Dwayne Johnson in her action and her comedies to be sweet & fluffy. When it comes to sequels, more of the same will do just fine, thank you very much. Don’t spike the punch by going dark & gritty. Don’t try to improve the recipe with new ingredients it doesn’t really need. For Francie, good sequels should be reliable comfort food, and I get that. After all, I don’t want the inevitable Final Destination 6 to suddenly become introspective and life-affirming.
So of course My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 works, for Francie and everyone else who made the original a surprise hit. While those involved with the Batman v. Superman debacle tried to deflect the critical beating bestowed upon their bloated blockbuster by declaring it was made “for the fans,” My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 really was. Sure, it’s been 14 years, and even fans of the original weren’t likely anticipating (or even expecting) a new chapter. But here it is...more of the same, including the entire cast returning for another go ‘round (an amazing feat, really). Even a new director (Kirk Jones) knew well enough not to screw with the formula.
|"C'mon everybody...I like Greek butts and I cannot lie..."|
By this time, Toula (Nia Valdalos, who also wrote the script) and Ian (John Corbett) have a teenage daughter who's ready to start college and feeling suffocated by her intrusive-but-well-meaning family. Meanwhile, patriarch Gus (Michael Constantine) discovers his 50 year marriage to Maria (Lainie Kazan) isn’t actually legal because the certificate was never signed; their predicament is obviously the ‘big fat Greek wedding’ of the title this time around. These issues eventually start to affect Toula and Ian’s relationship.
A few other minor subplots are included, but for the most part, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 stays true to the tone of the original. It’s dramatically slight, often amusing and never threatens to turn dark or serious. Even after all this time has passed, these characters remain the same, as enjoyable (or unbearable) as they were in the first film. As usual, it looks like the cast had a hell of a lot of fun. In other words, if you loved the original, there’s zero reason you wouldn’t enjoy this one.
And that’s the true definition of a film made “for the fans.” As someone who thought the original was simply a passable time killer, my assessment of this belated sequel is the same. But My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 wasn’t made for me or any other cynical critic with verbal razors at-the-ready. It was made for Francie and everyone else who understandably expect their sequels to be nothing less than comfort food.
- Featurettes: “Making the Greekquel”; “My Big Fat Greek Dinner”
- Gag Reel
- DVD & Digital Copies
NOT BAD...WHAT ELSE WERE YOU EXPECTING?
June 22, 2016
DVD Review: THE LEVENGER TAPES
"Ugh," followed by a painful face-palm.
That was my immediate reaction after popping in The Levenger Tapes to review and discovering it’s yet-another found footage film. It’s been over 17 years since The Blair Witch Project surprised the world with this unique-at-the-time approach. How many more of these things do we really need?
Still, even though the novelty of found footage wore off at least a decade ago, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, there have been some good ones over the years, such as Europa Report, The Bay and Cloverfield. Maybe The Levenger Tapes would provide an equally nifty spin on an increasingly tired subgenre.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Not only does The Levenger Tapes bring nothing new to the found-footage table, the plot itself is very similar to Blair Witch; there are three idiotic young adults in the middle of nowhere and, of course, there’s something else out there. The plot takes forever to get going, and until then, we spend more time with these bickering teenagers than the Surgeon General recommends. The two girls, Amanda & Kim, are suitably cute, though not especially interesting. However, their friend, Chase (the guy with the camera), is one of the most annoying, obnoxious and stupid characters in recent horror history. Most viewers will likely praying for his death within seconds of his introduction.
|Will someone please kill Chase before I rage-quit the whole movie?|
The Levenger Tapes begins with three cops watching recovered camera footage to figure out what happened to these kids, whose utter stupidity is required to advance the story, which is murky at-best. At first, we’re led to believe they’ve witnessed the murder of a little girl. But later, they’re being pursued through the woods by some kind of creature. Whatever the case, we’re mostly left in the dark throughout the movie (sometimes literally) and the denouement doesn’t even come close to making the whole endeavor worth the time we‘ve invested.
You’ve seen it all before in better movies, even in the found footage genre. The Levenger Tapes is unimaginative, dull and loaded with horror tropes that were old-hat ten years ago. So it's only fitting to end this review with the same words I used when the film began...
BLEH...LIKE A HAIRBALL STUCK IN YOUR THROAT
June 21, 2016
Book Review: THE GOOD, THE TOUGH & THE DEADLY: ACTION MOVIES & STARS 1960s-PRESENT
If you peruse this book on a store shelf without bothering to read the introduction first, you may understandably be put-off. After all, leaving out such definitive action classics as Die Hard, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Road Warrior and Michael Bay's entire filmography can only be the work of a true idiot.
But writer/editor David J. Moore is no idiot, so it's imperative to read his intro to understand where he's coming from. Despite its ample and hefty content, The Good, the Tough and the Deadly is obviously not meant to be a definitive look at the entire action genre. Besides, how much more gushing praise for Die Hard do you really need to read?
Instead, this book focuses primarily on the directors and actors who've made action films (classic or otherwise) their bread & butter. From big guns like Stallone & Schwarzenegger down to video store shelf-dwellers like Lorenzo Lamas and Oliver Gruner, the emphasis is on films where weapons & fists take precedence over dynamic characters and narrative. Needless to say, much of the book is loaded with entries featuring martial arts, vigilantes, budget-conscious sci-fi, athletes-turned-actors and damn near everything released by Cannon Films in the 80s.
While each included film is effectively summarized & reviewed by a variety of writers with an appreciation for the genre, the best parts of this book are the affectionate (if not a bit gushing) interviews with various directors and actors, most of whom are past their prime and reflect longingly on a bygone era when their inherent skills were most appreciated.
Most importantly, this is a fun read, whether revisiting beloved quasi-classics or searching-out something that may have escaped your radar. Filled with interesting photos from the past and present, The Good, the Tough and the Deadly is a nifty guided tour through one of Hollywood’s less reputable genres.
PURR...LIKE A GOOD ROUNDHOUSE KICK BEHIND THE EARS
June 20, 2016
CD Review: X-MEN APOCALYPSE: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK
SONY CLASSICAL / FOX MUSIC
As a frequent collaborator with Bryan Singer, composer John Ottman never topped his wonderful score for The Usual Suspects. Urgent and exciting, not to mention little bit haunting at times, it even holds up well as a standalone piece of music. Ottman also did a wonderful job incorporating John Williams' classic themes into his own majestic score for Superman Returns.
Most of his other soundtracks (including Singer's films), while certainly serving their primary purpose of enhancing the action, aren't quite as memorable. His latest score for X-Men Apocalypse, is no exception.
This 76 minute disc features 24 pieces of music running 1-5 minutes each, along with the song "Rest Young Child," sung by Jasper Randall. Within the context of the movie, I imagine it works quite well. On its own, much of the music early-on is surprisingly low-key, seldom building to any kind of crescendo before moving on to the next track. While the music becomes progressively more exciting on later tracks, there's nothing as remarkable as the late Michael Kamen's stunning score for the original X-Men.
Still, fans might enjoy it, especially those who hold the film in high regard.
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW
June 19, 2016
Rest in Peace, Anton Yelchin
June 18, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: IF IT'S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE BELGIUM
Here's something weird...I remember my parents watching this movie when it aired on TV in the early 1970s (I couldn't have been any older than 8 or 9). I have no recollection of the film itself, just the folky title tune sung over the opening credits. Even though over four decades have passed and I never heard it again afterwards, that goddamn song still pops into my head on occasion. The weird part is it isn't even that good.
I guess I should thank Olive Films for unearthing this ancient obscurity so I can at-least attach some context to the song that has tormented me for so long. I was also quite surprised how many of the lyrics I actually remembered.
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, like its theme song, is definitely a product of its time, as is most of the ensemble cast. It features a lot of once-familiar actors known primarily for comedic television roles (as well as a very young Ian McShane playing an amorous tour guide lusting after Suzanne Pleshette). This loosely-plotted, episodic film has them all onboard a bus for one of those whirlwind European package tours, the main running gag being that they're never in one location long enough to really enjoy the trip.
|"Bet you regret that tattoo."|
A lot of the humor is slight and dated, and sometimes the film is a bit too leisurely paced for its own good, but for the most part, it's an entertaining enough piece of fluff from a bygone era (and Pleshette has never looked more radiant). Movie buffs should also keep a sharp eye for quick cameos by some pretty famous faces. There's a plethora of them.
Of course, that stupid damn song is stuck in my head again.
EXTRA KIBBLES: None
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW
June 17, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: STAGECOACH (1986)
If you're gonna pointlessly remake an undisputed classic for the second time, you might as well engage in a little stunt casting to boost its appeal. That's exactly what they did for this 1986 made-for-TV remake of Stagecoach. And it sort-of makes sense in this case. Since the story itself can't really be improved upon, why not recast this western with four of country music's biggest living legends?
Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash (collectively known in music circles as The Highwaymen) lead a relatively impressive supporting cast (for TV anyway) in this third go-round. Of the four, Kristofferson is the only one who can really act, but who cares? Elvis couldn't act either, which is why he was never asked to leave his comfort zone. Here, the ol' Highwaymen look right-at-home in chaps, ten-gallon hats and gunbelts, spouting dialogue not-too-far removed from what they sing about. Speaking of which, only Nelson is afforded the opportunity to do what he does best, with a tune during the opening credits which sounds suspiciously like a rewrite of "Ghost Riders in the Sky."
|Schneider demonstrates his singing talent, while Cash prays to God for earplugs.|
Serviceably directed by Ted Post, Stagecoach is light on action until the final act, and even then, the climactic confrontation with Geronimo and his tribe is merely adequate. The same can be said for the screenplay and supporting performances, which includes The Dukes of Hazzard's John Schneider (who had a few country hits of his own back in the day), Tony Franciosa and Elizabeth Ashley.
The novelty of the cast is the primary draw of this film, which obviously pales in comparison to the original 1939 classic. It's certainly watchable, especially for fans of its stars. For everyone else...this version of Stagecoach isn't likely to make them forget Clair Trevor & John Wayne...or even Ann-Margret & Alex Cord.
BONUS FEATURES: None
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW
June 16, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY
Being that The Brothers Grimsby is co-produced & co-written by Sacha Baron Cohen, one can be assured of two things: 1) The film will establish the fine line between good taste and bad before gleefully leaping over it; 2) We'll see Cohen without pants (in this case, several times). Whether or not that's a positive depends on the viewer, who should already know what to expect.
Nobby (Cohen) and Coddy (Mark Strong) are brothers separated during childhood. Decades later, Coddy is working for England's MI6 as an elite assassin, while Nobby is a beer-swilling soccer hooligan with nine kids and a slovenly wife (Rebel Wilson, quite funny in her few scenes). The two end up reuniting after Coddy is wrongfully accused of an assassination attempt and becomes a fugitive. While on the run, they uncover a terrorist plot and must work together to make sure millions aren't killed.
If you think this scenario sounds more like an action film than a raunchy comedy, you wouldn't be wrong. The Brothers Grimsby is loaded with the same type of hyperkinetic mayhem you'd expect from a Jason Bourne movie. In fact, director Louis Leterrier is primarily known for such explosive fare as The Transporter, Unleashed and The Incredible Hulk. But interspersed amid the plot and action - in equally heavy doses - are intentionally excessive exercises in bad taste...AIDS jokes, nasty sex gags, genitalia, drug humor, scenes involving asses (including objects shoved up them) and what can best be described as an insider's look at an elephant gang-bang. Little of it is especially clever, or even all that funny, but we often find ourselves laughing at the film's willingness to take things too far. There are at least three set-pieces where we think, "They aren't really gonna go there, are they?", then cringe & giggle when the film actually does.
|A bee in the car.|
I'll say this much...The Brothers Grimsby is never boring. Part of it is because of the aforementioned excessiveness, but the film also has a fairly decent plot, impressive action sequences and good performances. We already know Cohen is willing to do damn-near anything onscreen to get a reaction (which of-course means frequently going pantless), so no surprise there. However, seeing such 'serious' actors as Strong, Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz play-it-straight in such an overtly raunchy film is actually quite amusing. Strong, in particular, provides some of the biggest laughs because of his overall intensity, even when shoving a rocket up his ass.
Obviously, The Brothers Grimsby isn't for everybody. It's the kind of film that's probably best enjoyed with like-minded friends gathered in the living room and shotgunning beers together. If you're in the right frame-of-mind and appreciate Sacha Baron Cohen's brand of over-the-top humor (which has always offended just as many folks as it's amused), you may find this as entertainng as Borat. Others beware.
- Featurettes: "The Making of The Brothers Grimsby"; "The Elephant in the Room" (how the elephant scene was done)
- Deleted/Extended Scenes
- Outtakes & Blooper Reel
- Digital Copy
NOT BAD...UNLESS YOU'RE AN ELEPHANT
June 15, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
I watched 10 Cloverfield Lane with my 12-year-old daughter, Lucy, who voiced two observations that are pretty relevant to this review:
Observation #1 - About halfway through the film, Lucy said “I’ll never be able to look at Sully the same way again.” She’s referring, of course, to John Goodman as Howard, a rather paranoid survivalist who traps Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in a homemade bomb shelter with him, along with another local, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr). Howard claims there was some kind of attack, everything above-ground is toxic and most of the population is dead. It’s not made clear exactly what happened at this point, but Michelle is initially unconvinced until Emmett concurs that the apocalypse may indeed be at-hand, and Howard’s the reason they’re both alive.
Even so, Howard is obviously a few cans short of a six-pack, his behavior growing increasingly unpredictable and disturbing as the story moves forward. It’s also suggested that the fate of his own family might be something more sinister than he’s led them to believe. Throughout much of the film, the focus is on these three in the claustrophobic confines of the shelter, with Goodman giving the most menacing performance of his career (though not completely without sympathy and dashes of humor). As someone who associates Goodman’s unique voice with Monsters Inc, I suppose Lucy’s comment was similar to what some of us felt seeing Henry Fonda as a psychotic killer in Once Upon a Time in the West. Just imagine if Sully ominously said, “No one’s looking for you, Boo.”
|The upstairs neighbors appear to be 'All About That Bass'".|
Observation #2 - Without giving too much away, during the final act, the story takes an out-of-the-blue turn that prompted Lucy to blurt, “What the Freak???” (Thanks for not swearing around Dad, kid). Her response is likely similar to that of many other viewers lulled into this intimate, single-setting story before being thrown a climactic curveball (which almost seems to belong in another movie). I, for one, enjoyed the movie’s overall unpredictability enough to accept the climax & resolution for what it is.
Producer J.J. Abrams was absolutely right when vehemently stating the movie is not a sequel to Cloverfield. Hell, it isn’t really even a “spiritual successor” as he often claimed in press releases. 10 Cloverfield Lane bares no resemblance to the film that inspired its title, but it’s a far better one...suspenseful, surprising and smart, never depending on the main character, Michelle, doing something stupid to put herself in peril. So far, this is one of the better sci-fi/horror films of the year.
- Audio Commentary (Director Dan Trachtenberg & Producer J.J. Abrams)
- Featurettes: “Cloverfield Too”; “Bunker Mentality”; “Duck & Cover” “Spin Off”; “Kelvin Optical”; “Fine Tuned”; “End of Story” (Total of about 30 minutes)
- DVD & Digital Copies (includes a digital copy of Cloverfield)
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS
June 14, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: APPOINTMENT WITH CRIME
Funny...I always assumed "smash & grabs" were perpetrated by strung-out tweekers, tossed in jail because they didn’t think-out their plan before hurling a brick through a store window. I guess that's what I get for watching too many “caught on tape” shows on Spike TV, because smash & crabs are apparently a time-honored avenue to quick riches, practiced by British organized crime syndicates as early as the mid 1940s.
Leo Martin (William Hartnell) is one such smash & grabber, hired by local boss Gus Loman (Raymond Lovell) to hit a downtown jewelry store. During the job, however, Leo’s wrists are broken and Loman leaves him behind to be apprehended by the police. After doing his time, Leo is released and plots revenge by framing Loman for a murder. But Loman answers to an even bigger crime boss, Gregory Lang (Herbert Lom), the actual owner of the gun Leo’s used. Meanwhile, Leo hooks up with local dancer Carol Dane (Joyce Howard) in order to provide an alibi and throw local police off his trail.
|"I'm wearing nothing under this."|
This is typical film-noir fodder with the usual tough-guys, femme fatales and overwrought performances, Hartnell’s in particular. Although Appointment with Crime is a relatively obscure entry in the genre and offers nothing new (Leo still refers to the police as coppers), the story is told with enough panache to maintain interest. Old school Doctor Who fans will enjoy seeing Hartnell unleash his inner Cagney here, and it’s always a pleasure to check out the late, great Herbert Lom before he gained worldwide notoriety as Inspector Clouseau’s oft-suffering police commissioner.
Olive Films continues to overturn cinema stones to release films we didn’t think we needed (or even knew existed) on Blu-Ray. It’s doubtful too many of us were pining for a Blu-Ray edition of Appointment with Crime, but its relative obscurity is also part of its charm. Those who love the golden era of film-noir should get a minor kick out of this.
BONUS FEATURES: None
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW
June 12, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR
20TH CENTURY FOX
The Other Side of the Door is a box recipe made from common ingredients found in Insidious and The Ring, along with a heaping tablespoon of Stephen King's Pet Sematary. The results are edible enough, but so is macaroni & cheese. It takes a special kind of chef to make old things new again, which this dish doesn't have.
Sarah Wayne Callies (she of The Walking Dead fame) plays Maria, living abroad in India with her dedicated-but-dull husband (Jeremy Sisto, one of the reasons I quit watching Law & Order). She's still grieving over the loss of her son, Oliver, who recently died in a car accident. When her native housekeeper, Piki, informs her of a ritual involving spreading her son's ashes on the steps of an ancient temple in order to briefly bring him back to life so she can give a proper goodbye, Maria jumps at the chance. There are rules, of course, the main one being that Maria should not open the temple door, no matter how much her resurrected son begs. Of course, Maria violates that rule, otherwise, no movie. Oliver does indeed return, but in a revelation that'll shock no one, he's completely evil.
The film starts off pretty slow, then only moves in fits & starts once it gets down to business. There are a few jump scares along the way, but for the most part, we've seen this story before, the kind which depends on the utter stupidity of certain characters to move it along. In this case, it's Maria, which comes as no surprise. The desperate, grieving parent is such a hoary old cliche that we're 100% certain she's going to make the worst possible decisions before we even pop in the disc.
So what we're left with is the cinema equivalent of mac & cheese. It’s by-the-numbers filmmaking, as if preparation instructions were listed on the back of a box. What’s wrong with throwing a pinch of this or a dash of that just to make it all a bit more memorable?
- Deleted Scenes
- "Behind the Door" (a very short promotional featurette with co-producer Alexandre Aja)
Blu-Ray Review: THE MARTIAN: EXTENDED EDITION
20TH CENTURY FOX
Though it isn't even a year old, it's safe to say The Martian will likely go down in history as another Shawshank Redemption: One of those movies everyone loves, watches repeatedly, quotes endlessly and pauses channel surfing long enough to catch a few minutes whenever it happens to air on TNT or FX.
But unlike The Shawshank Redemption (which took years achieve the classic status it enjoys today), The Martian was a blockbuster from day one and a huge seller when released on DVD & Blu-Ray in January. Now, not even six months later, we're already getting an Extended Cut of the film with a whole new batch of bonus features, along with a few holdovers from the original disc. Since many of you reading this probably already have the film on your shelf, it's time to ask how big of a fan you really are. Rather than summarize the plot, it's more important to discuss two things: The extended cut, which is ten minutes longer, and the new bonus features.
The original version was already Ridley Scott's best film since Black Hawk Down. The reinsertion of additional scenes (some featuring Damon during his Martian exile, others focusing on those on Earth trying to bring him home) don't add anything revelatory to the plot (though it'll inspire some viewers to Google the definition of 'felching'). In fact, unless you've seen the film multiple times, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between both cuts. Still, it's a testament to the strength of the story, Scott's direction and Damon's performance that the additional footage doesn't feel like a gratuitous cash grab.
|"Funny...I don't feel extended. Guess those ads were wrong"|
Which brings us to the bonus features (outlined below). They are far more comprehensive than those included on the original disc. Featuring audio commentaries, lengthy multi-chapter documentaries on the making of the film and the real-life logistics of an actual journey to Mars, this disc is loaded with the kind of stuff cinephiles and superfans will feel are worth the upgrade.
Of course, The Martian is a must-own, since it's one of those rare films that transcends its genre (much like The Shawshank Redemption). Casual fans who enjoyed the original version will be perfectly content with the disc they've already purchased. This Extended Edition is for those whose love extends far beyond the multiplex. For them, the decision whether or not to pick this up is a no-brainer, and they won't be disappointed.
BONUS FEATURES (a few of which were included on the previous release):
- Extended & Theatrical Cuts
- "The Long Way Home: Making The Martian" - A lengthy multi-part behind-the-scenes feature that includes interviews with most of the major cast & crew.
- "The Journey to Mars 101" - Multi-part panel discussions about the film itself, as well as the real-life logistics of visiting Mars, featuring Scott, screenwriter Drew Goddard, original author Andy Weir (who's actually a little annoying to listen to) and various experts in the field of space exploration.
- "Dare Mighty Things: NASA's Journey to Mars"
- "Ares III: Refocused"
- Audio Commentary (on both versions) by Scott, Goddard and Weir.
- Deleted Scenes
- Gag Reel
- Ares Mission Videos
- Digital Copy
PURR...FOR THOSE WHO CAN'T GET ENOUGH
June 9, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS
Of course, we all agree Sally Field has always been adorable. That was scientifically proven decades ago. Her days as a leading lady may now be few and far between, but she's had the good sense to age gracefully. And you know what? She's still pretty damned adorable, even when playing an aging, lonely, anxiety-ridden eccentric, the title character in Hello, My Name is Doris and a role which seems tailor-made for her.
Doris' days have consisted of the same routine most of her life, toiling in a cubicle of a Manhattan office building while taking care of her ailing mother. Her life is thrown into turmoil when her mother dies and her brother (along with his bitchy wife) insists she sells the house...no small feat since Doris is resistant to change and a compulsive hoarder. At work, she becomes smitten with John (Max Greenfield), a charming & handsome executive who's a third her age. After attending a motivational speaker seminar with her best friend (Tyne Daly), Doris becomes hopeful that she and John could be more than just co-workers.
|Doris discovers Free Kittens Movie Guide.|
This premise could have been depressing (maybe a little bit creepy) in the wrong hands, but instead, it's generally sweet, poignant and often quite funny, even during moments when we're sort-of cringing at some of Doris' actions (like a drunken Facebook post...who hasn't done that?). Field, however, manages to make us truly like Doris. Despite her eccentricities and somewhat delusional expectations, Doris is never depicted as a clown or object of ridicule. Director/co-writer Michael Showalter also does an admirable job keeping things light and unpredictable, peppering the story with interesting, complex supporting characters and giving the film an ending that's both surprising and, to a certain extent, audience rousing.
It's been a long time since Sally Field has been tasked to carry the majority of a movie on her shoulders, but she definitely still has the acting chops to pull it off. Hello, My Name is Doris is a charming little dramatic comedy that features one of her best (and more adorable) performances in years.
- Deleted Scenes
- Alternate Ending
- Audio Commentary by Michael Showalter
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.
June 8, 2016
DVD Review: SHAUN THE SHEEP: THE FARMER'S LLAMAS
Fans of the Nick Park-created Shaun the Sheep series and film should enjoy this, since it's essentially more of the same. The Farmer's Llamas initially aired as a half-hour TV special in 2015, but that alone would make a pretty slight DVD, so enough bonus features are included to make it a decent purchase.
This time around, Shaun goes with the Farmer and Blitzer to a country fair, where they bring home three wild, soccer loving llamas. It seems like a good idea at the time, but soon these animals are wreaking all kinds of havoc on the farm. Essentially an extended episode of the series, the stop-motion animation, as usual, is wonderful and the situations are fairly amusing (especially presented with nearly no dialogue).
While I personally never found Shaun the Sheep as witty or endearing as Wallace & Gromit, fans will want to pick this one up to complete their collection.
BONUS FEATURES (which actually run longer than the feature itself):
- Featurettes: "Meet the Llamas"; "The Director's Perspective"; "Behind the Fleece"
- 2 Additional Episodes: "Cheetah Cheater" & "Zebra Ducks of the Serengeti"
- Digital Copy
CAT LLAMA CHOW
June 6, 2016
Blu-Ray Review: VINYL: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
HBO HOME ENTERTAINMENT
Vinyl is a convincing depiction of the record business during the 70s (its most decadent & lucrative period). So of course, there's an over-abundance of prerequisite sex, drugs and rock & roll, but we're also made privy to its unscrupulous, cut-throat and greedy side. If anyone is qualified to bring this Babylonian period back to life, it's Martin Scorsese (a master of recreating an era) and Mick Jagger (who lived it firsthand). It goes without saying that the attention to period detail is nothing short of exemplary, right down to the constant barrage of music from the time (if nothing else, Vinyl features the greatest soundtrack in television history).
So why is it such a chore to sit through?
It doesn’t start off that way. In fact, the Scorsese-directed pilot episode initially has us gleefully anticipating 10 glorious hours combining the extravagance of The Wolf of Wall Street with the narrative panache of Goodfellas. The cast is certainly game, too, lead by Bobby Cavannale (making the most of a rare leading role) as Richie. The head of American Century records, he's struggling with drug addiction, a failing marriage and distancing himself from the brutal murder of an associate, all while desperately trying to keep his failing label afloat by changing its image to keep up with the times. The rest of the cast, including Olivia Wilde as Richie’s estranged wife, Ray Romano as American Century’s head promoter and James Jagger (Mick’s son) as a brash, cocky rock & roll upstart, are terrific in their roles.
But nearly all of these characters become less interesting and likeable as the season wears on. Of course, Scorsese has made a career from making a variety of morally-questionable individuals fun to watch. But his aesthetically similar period pieces like Goodfellas, Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street work because they are singular viewing experiences, so masterfully directed that it’s only after the credits roll when we realize the characters we’ve been enjoying for 2-3 hours are actually terrible people. Vinyl, however, forces us to hang out with its variety of shady folks long after we've had enough of their bullshit.
|"You know, not everybody loves Raymond."|
Not helping matters is the fact that the seedy, dark side of the record business isn't really anything new. There aren’t any real revelations here, no matter how realistically they are presented. Yet we’re constantly reminded, in damn-near every episode, that the business of making & selling records is only marginally more legitimate than prostitution.
Despite tackling a familiar subject, I’m ultimately left believing Vinyl's story would have been far more effectively told as an single, epic, theatrical film (directed by Scorsese himself, of course). We’d spend just enough time with its characters to remain interested, while Scorsese’s directorial flourishes carry us back to an era he’s obviously still in love with. Instead, long before the tenth and final episode of this first season (and a second is coming), Vinyl has already exhausted us.
- Featurette: "Making Vinyl: Recreating the 70s"
- Audio Commentaries (selected episodes, featuring various cast members, directors and co-creator Terence winter)
- Inside the Episodes (short promotional segments of each episode)
NOT BAD...BUT CONSIDERING THE TALENT INVOLVED, THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN A VICTORY LAP.
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