July 3, 2022

DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA: No Experience Necessary


DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 125 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

Here’s how well Downton Abbey: A New Era works as a movie…

Despite its popularity, I have never seen a single episode of the original series, nor was I ever compelled to. And at the risk of sounding ignorantly presumptuous, a series chronicling the first-world problems of a batch of English aristocrats sounded about as entertaining as watching a test pattern. So obviously, the first Downton Abbey movie never earned a spot on my gotta-see list. 


But as a sequel to a film I’ve never seen, based on a TV show I never watched, Downton Abbey: A New Era is wonderful and I’m shocked at how much I enjoyed it. Best of all, no masters degree in Grantham history is required. Pretty much every character returns for another go ‘round, and while I suppose being already familiar with them - and their pasts - helps a little bit, the film as-a-whole doesn’t operate on the conceit that we are. Series creator & screenwriter Julian Fellowes deftly establishes each character’s role in the family - as well as the quirks which make them endearing - within the first act, without relying on shout-outs to what’s already transpired. Quite an astonishing feat when you think about it.


Two primary storylines run concurrently through the film. The first has Crawley matriarch Violet (Maggie Smith) receiving the news that she just inherited a French Villa owned by  Marquis de Montirail, with whom she had a brief relationship several decades ago. Despite protest by the Marquis’ widow, Violet intends to accept the villa and bequeath it to her great-granddaughter, Sybbie. The family is invited to the villa, where Violet’s son, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), is led to suspect he might actually be the Marquis’ son. This obviously doesn’t sit well with him, nor does the news from his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), that she is gravely ill.


The second, more amusing story involves a studio wishing to use Downton Abbey as the setting for a new movie starring two silent film heartthrobs. While much of the staff is excited, not everyone in the house is happy about the intrusion (leading to many charmingly humorous moments). Still, the Abbey could use some renovations and the money would come in handy.


"Damn...the cable's out again."
When the sudden boom of “talkies” threatens the production, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) suggests to director Jack Barber (Hugh Darcy) that they turn his film into one. Unfortunately, self-absorbed star Gladys Denker (Sue Johnston) is somewhat vocally challenged - to say the least - so Barber coerces Mary into providing the voiceover. Barber is also sort-of sweet on Mary, and since her husband, Henry, is largely absent all the time, the feeling might be mutual. 

Interspersed are many scenes and side stories giving just about every character their moment in the spotlight. To this newbie’s surprise, they’re all pretty interesting and likable. Even the closest the film has to an antagonist - Gladys Denker - ends up as someone we sympathize with. The story isn’t heavy with conflict and most of it is wrapped up pretty neatly (maybe too neatly, in some cases), but for the most part, we simply enjoy being around these people. Despite their lifestyle, they’re generally pretty relatable.


The performances are uniformly congenial. Maggie Smith, in particular, effortlessly steals every scene she’s in and her character, Violet, is not only the tie which binds the family, her story becomes the crux of the entire film. Hence, the poignant conclusion will certainly be moving to longtime fans. Hell, I barely knew her and I found myself getting a little misty. 


Downton Abbey: A New Era works wonderfully as both a continuation of the franchise and a stand-alone film. As a newcomer, I’m not sure if I’m yet-ready to dive into six seasons of the original show, but this one definitely has sparked my interest in checking out the first film. I really enjoyed meeting these characters and am more than happy to visit them again. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - “Good to be Back” (cast members talk about reuniting for another movie); “Return to Downton Abbey: The Making of A New Era”; “A Legendary Character” (an appreciation of Maggie Smith); “Creating the Film Within a Film”; “Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia” (cast & crew discuss being aloud to film a scene on the Queen’s boat); “Spill the Tea”

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Simon Curtis.

DVD & DIGITAL COPIES


July 1, 2022

EDGE OF TOMORROW: The One Where Tom Cruise Fights Aliens...in 4K


EDGE OF TOMORROW (4K UHD Review)
2014 / 113 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😽

I never cared for most of Tom Cruise's early career (not even Top Gun), unable to escape the notion that his roles were customized to fit the image he had of himself. Even in the more "prestigious" movies where he attempts to be taken seriously as an actor, his meticulously self-cultivated persona makes that impossible. He's simply too Tom Cruisey to be accepted as anything else.

He must have come to the same conclusion years ago and finally dropped all pretenses of being anything other than TOM CRUISE, which nobody does better. I've grown to appreciate that and have really enjoyed most of his 21st Century films, which could just-as-accurately be titled like Friends episodes: The One Where Tom Cruise Rides a Bus, The One Where Tom Cruise Fights the Undead, The One Where Tom Cruise Dangles from a Plane, The One Where Tom Cruise Hunts Hitler, etc. Without really stretching himself, Cruise has evolved into a superlative action star. Not only that, these movies are remarkably consistent because we never question his utter dedication (something we could never say about Bruce Willis). Even in such marginal movies as Knight and Day & Oblivion, we're certain Cruise is giving it everything he's got.

 

That being said, 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow is the best Tom Cruise movie of the past decade that doesn’t have Mission: Impossible in the title. Not to be confused with The One Where Tom Cruise Runs from Aliens (War of the Worlds), this is The One Where Tom Cruise Fights Aliens. But in addition to featuring Cruise as his Cruisiest, the film throws in my future ex-wife, Emily Blunt, who’s every bit Tom's equal as England’s most badass supersoldier. 

 

Elsewhere, Edge of Tomorrow serves-up a unique premise, a smart script and engaging characters to enhance the usual sci-fi mayhem. It’s essentially Groundhog Day with aliens and Tom Cruise playing William Cage, an American Army public affairs officer - with no fighting experience - who repeatedly dies and relives the same battle over and over. He's able to change events each time because he has knowledge no one else does about the future. 


"Crap, where'd we park?"
Though smarter than your typical sci-fi action film - playing around with the concept of time just as engagingly as Interstellar - the film never really found an audience in theaters. Perhaps some of that was due to being slapped with a generic title that sounds like a romance novel. They should have stayed with the title of its source, All You
Need is Kill, which is far more intriguing. Hell, simply calling it The One Where Tom Cruise Fights Aliens would have better clued audiences in for what to expect.

But Edge of Tomorrow eventually found its niche on home video. Highly re-watchable, the film was given a pretty decent Blu-ray release that included a bevy of bonus features. That disc is also included with this new 4K UHD release, which is a good thing because the overall picture quality of the Blu-ray is actually more consistent. Edge of Tomorrow was never a particularly “pretty” film to begin with and the 4K transfer doesn’t significantly change that. Some scenes look great, while others - such as an early scene in the Army barracks - almost look over-exposed. Both discs sound terrific though, with the 4K version sporting Dolby Atmos for those of you equipped for it.


Being one of the better sci-fi action films in recent years - as well as one of Tom Cruise’s best - Edge of Tomorrow is certainly worth owning. However, watching Cruise fight aliens in 4K isn't quite the upgrade one would hope. The transfer ain't bad, but it's inconsistent, so those who already own it on Blu-ray might be content with what they have. 

 

EXTRA KIBBLES

4K, BLU-RAY & DIGITAL COPIES

FEATURETTES - “Operation Downfall: Adrenaline Cut”; “Storming the Beach”; “Weapons of the Future”; “Creatures Not of This World”; “On the Edge with Doug Liman”;

DELETED SCENES


THE POOP SCOOP: Summertime Picks of the Litter...

🙀MEN arrives August 9 on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate
Alex Garland’s unsettling and enigmatic horror film, Men, arrives on Blu-ray + DVD + Digital and DVD August 9 from Lionsgate. The gruesome horror film follows a young woman who goes on a solo vacation to the English countryside following the death of her ex-husband. Men will be available for the suggested retail prices of $39.99 for Blu-ray + DVD + Digital and $29.96 for DVD. OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: In visionary filmmaker Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina, Annihilation) feverish, shape-shifting new horror film, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside in the aftermath of a personal tragedy, hoping to have found a place to heal. But someone or something from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What begins as simmering dread becomes a fully-formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears.

 

😺DIRTY DANCING 35TH ANNIVERSARY arrives August 23 on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital from Lionsgate
The musical romance Dirty Dancing returns on its 35th anniversary on 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital August 23 from Lionsgate. This brand-new, 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital release will feature new art of Jennifer Grey (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Red Dawn, TV’s “Red Oaks”) and Patrick Swayze (Point Break, Ghost, Road House). Dirty Dancing will be available for the suggested retail prices of $22.99 for 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital. OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: Thirty-five years after audiences were first introduced to Johnny (Patrick Swayze) and Baby (Jennifer Grey), Dirty Dancing remains a cultural icon. Loved by generations of fans, this cinematic treasure has inspired multiple films, a stage version, and reality dance competitions watched around the world. On the film’s 35th anniversary, celebrate the magic of Dirty Dancing and its timeless themes of love, family, class, and perseverance all over again.

 

😺Brian De Palma’s BLOW OUT on 4K and Blu-ray and DVD September 6 from Criterion Collection
In the enthralling Blow Out, brilliantly crafted by Brian De Palma, John Travolta gives one of his greatest performances, as a film sound-effects man who believes he has accidentally recorded a political assassination. To uncover the truth, he enlists the help of a possible eyewitness to the crime (Nancy Allen), who may be in danger herself. With its jolting stylistic flourishes, intricate plot, profoundly felt characterizations, and gritty evocation of early-1980s Philadelphia, Blow Out is an American paranoia thriller unlike any other, as well as a devilish reflection on moviemaking. In addition to a new 4K digital restoration, this release includes De Palma’s 1967 feature, Murder a la Mod, interviews with De Palma and Allen and other bonus features.

 

😼ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE on Digital July 19 from Warner Bros
On July 19, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will be available to own digitally in high definition and standard definition from participating digital retailers where you purchase movies.  Additionally, a Trilogy bundle will also be available on Digital on July 19.  The three-film collection includes Man of Steel, Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”, determined to ensure Superman’s (Henry Cavill) ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aligns forces with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. The task proves more difficult than Bruce imagined, as each of the recruits must face the demons of their own pasts to transcend that which has held them back, allowing them to come together, finally forming an unprecedented league of heroes. Now united, Batman (Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) may be too late to save the planet from Steppenwolf, DeSaad and Darkseid and their dreadful intentions.

🙀EVENT HORIZON 25th Anniversary 4K Blu-ray SteelBook Coming 8/9 from Paramount.
Seven years ago, pioneering research spacecraft "Event Horizon" mysteriously vanished without a trace on its maiden voyage. But then, in the darkness of deep space, a persistent signal prompts a rescue crew to wing its way through the galaxy on a bold rescue mission. What they uncover is an unimaginable interstellar horror that will test the entire team's sanity and souls. This set includes a new 4K restoration of the film, as well as numerous bonus features: Audio commentary by director Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt; The Making of Event Horizon - Five featuurettes; The Point of No Return - The filming of Event Horizon with director commentary; Secrets with optional director commentary; The Unseen Event Horizon - the unfilmed rescue scene, plus conceptual art; Original trailer.

June 30, 2022

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE: Best Enjoyed Cold


EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 139 min.
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😻

Sometimes going out of your way to avoid reading or hearing about a movie prior to seeing it is a great thing. In this day and age, that’s pretty damn tough to do, but in the case of Everything Everywhere All at Once, it’s worth the effort.

When I saw the trailer, it was Michelle Yeoh that got my attention. In our house, she’s a mutual celebrity crush and the trailer showcased both her physical and dramatic skills (not to mention considerable comic talent, which she doesn’t often get the opportunity to demonstrate). That same trailer revealed just enough of the actual plot to suggest a mind-bending ride, loaded with surprises, so I avoided reading any reviews or posts in various forums (where spoilers tend to run rampant).


I’m glad I did, because Everything Everywhere All At Once is best when you go into it completely cold, with absolutely no idea what to expect. All I knew about the plot was that it had something to do with the multiverse, a concept also explored in the new Doctor Strange film. But whereas Doctor Strange’s story inevitably succumbed to the usual Marvel histrionics, Everything Everywhere remains personal and humanistic while still taking the viewer on a wonderfully weird journey.


This film is a shoe-in to win the Oscar for Best Use of Googly Eyes.
For anyone reading who isn’t familiar with the film by now, I’m gonna do you a solid and refrain from summarizing the story. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun having no idea what’s coming. I will say that there’s some demented genius behind it…intriguingly complex without ever becoming confusing and loaded with unpredictable plot turns. Tonally, the film is alternately suspenseful, funny, ominous, perceptive, pessimistic, heart-warming and sometimes shockingly raunchy (despite concocting a smart, labyrinthine story, writer-directors Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert are happy to occasionally unleash their inner 12-year-old). 

Additionally, the film features a bevy of wonderfully dynamic characters, even the primary antagonist. And although it was made for a fraction of the budget of a studio blockbuster, Everything Everywhere All at Once deftly combines imaginative special effects, creative production design and jaw dropping action sequences. These elements are all wrapped up in a tidy 139 minutes that feels more like 90, without a single throwaway scene to be found. If not the best film of the year so far, this one definitely lives up to the hype, especially if one is lucky enough to go into it cold. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

“ALMOST EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE” - An excellent 40 minute making-of doc with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

“PUTTING EVERYTHING ON A BAGEL: COOKING UP THE MULTIVERSE” - Another featurette.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By writer-directors Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert. These guys are fun to listen to.

OUTTAKES

DELETED SCENES

MUSIC VISUAL - Basically the end-credits song and an image of the ‘bagel.’

TRAILER

DIGITAL COPY


THE FIRST WIVES CLUB (Paramount Presents #32): If Bronson Was a Jilted Spouse


THE FIRST WIVES CLUB (Blu-ray Review)
1996 / 102 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

If you’re like me (aka, a middle-aged married guy), perhaps you can relate to this…

It’s the mid-90s and the missus decides she’s picking the next date night movie, choosing The First Wives Club. Though probably one of the last things you’d have personally chosen, you simply nod & smile congenially. After all, how often have you dragged her to watch Bruce Willis blow-away bad guys?


And like you suspected from the promotional campaign that practically serves as its own spoiler, The First Wives Club is the type of lightweight, formulaic comedy that its three stars can do in their sleep. Certainly not terrible - in fact, you sort of enjoy it because Goldie Hawn is still pretty hot for her age - there ain’t much to differentiate it from other adult-oriented comedies of the time (of which there were plenty). Maybe you snarkily mentioned this to your significant other upon leaving the theater, only for her to bring-up  the time you two paid good money to catch Death Wish V.


That’s different, you want to retort. That’s Charles Bronson we’re talking about. But deep in your heart of hearts, you know she's got a point. The First Wives Club and its ilk are no different than Bronson’s entire filmography since Death Wish: Cinematic comfort food. There may not be any surprises, but you aren’t likely to be disappointed because at least you know what you’re paying for. 


How Death Wish 3 should have ended.
Speaking of Death Wish…revisiting The First Wives Club for the first time since indulging my wife way-back-when, I realized that it’s thematically similar, as well. These three ladies may not be avenging the murder of a loved one - though I certainly wouldn’t put it past Bette Midler’s character - but seeing their methodic payback against the husbands who dumped them for younger women is as vicariously satisfying as watching ol’ Chuck take the law into his own hands.

Perhaps even more so, in some ways. The likes of John Wick and Paul Kersey dispatch their enemies with violent, cold efficiency (which they certainly had coming). Perhaps it’s just my vindictive nature, but sometimes I feel the antagonists in those films didn’t suffer enough, a quick death being almost too merciful. Conversely, Brenda (Midler), Elise (Hawn) and Annie (Diane Keaton) don’t just get even…they keep getting even. Their self-absorbed husbands are made to suffer where it hits them the hardest…their pocketbook. Not only that, these ladies plan to force them to live with the consequences of their indiscretions for the rest of their lives. 


Of course, as revenge pictures go, The First Wives Club will always be more 9-to-5 than Death Wish. But while it lacks a body count, the film does dish up a similarly satisfying tale of comeuppance. Nicely remastered on Blu-ray for the first time (#32 in the Paramount Presents series), it remains an enjoyable serving of ‘90s comfort food. Just ask my wife.


EXTRA KIBBLES

“FILMMAKER FOCUS” - Interview with screenwriter Robert Harling

TRAILER

June 26, 2022

CINEMANTIQUING #3: An Accidental Shrine to a Shitty Movie


A Treasure Hunt by D.M. ANDERSON💀

In addition to watching and writing about films, I’ve become something of a memorabilia collector in recent years. Cursed with a teacher’s salary, I ain’t out there bidding on Dorothy’s ruby slippers or anything, but certainly enjoy haunting local antique stores for a variety of movie-related stuff. Or when feeling particularly bold, I’ll occasionally overpay for some retro relic on eBay.


More often than not, I leave antique stores empty-handed. But every now and then, I’ll find a small treasure that doesn’t completely empty my wallet and give it a new home in the Dave Cave.



Each payday I try to make a trip to the last record store in Portland. But unlike most visits, I definitely knew what I was looking for - the new Porcupine Tree album - so I was pretty much in and out within 15 minutes. Since I already refinanced my house to pay for the gas to get there, I killed two birds with one stone and popped by Antique Alley, which is roughly in the same area.

Antique Alley is a neat place, taking up the entire basement of a city block in Portland’s historic Hollywood District. I usually find an interesting thing or two wherever I go there. This time it was a 1999 VHS release of the 1979 Disney debacle, The Black Hole, packaged in a tin box with a collectible booklet and several lobby cards (the latter still in shrinkwrap). I generally don’t collect old VHS, but it was in great condition and ya gotta love all the bells & whistles thrown in to commemorate such a shitty movie.


Make no mistake…The Black Hole isn’t just shitty. It’s aggressively shitty, easily the dumbest science-fiction film released by a major studio during the ‘70s. Considering this is the same decade which gave us Logan’s Run, that’s really saying something. Loaded with shitty action, shitty science, shitty special effects (considering the budget), shitty dialogue and shitty performances by a cast who should have known better, it was decidedly not the next Star Wars (which Disney obviously hoped for). I thought it was shitty when I watched it in a theater at 15, an opinion that’s remained unchanged ever since. In fact, The Black Hole is so shitty it ends up being even funnier than Spaceballs. Logan’s Run, too, for that matter.

But as shitty as it is, there must be a special place in my heart for The Black Hole, because on the drive home, I realized I’ve actually - unconsciously? - acquired numerous other things related to the film over time. About a year ago, I nabbed John Barry’s soundtrack on vinyl from the same store. Maybe it was even sold by the same vendor. Barry’s score is one part of the film that’s not shitty. That and Maximilian, the film’s evil robot. Even though he resembles the front of a Chevy Camaro, he’s pretty cool, especially when drilling a hole through Anthony Perkin’s chest (payback for such a shitty performance).


Speaking of robots, The Black Hole’s “cute” one, V.I.N.CENT, is shitty, too, but not shitty enough to dissuade me from ordering a box of action figures containing him and Maximilian (though they're actually reproductions, not antiques). While I’m pretty sure I overpaid for them, they proudly sit in my Dave Cave display case, still in the box. Without really trying, I’ve been slowly putting together a shitty little shrine to The Black Hole

And I might not be done. I’ve recently learned that a company called Mego released a line of The Black Hole tie-in toys back in 1979, which graced shelves of Toys 'R Us stores for approximately 12 minutes. I find that hilarious. At least the basic concept of Star Wars allowed you to use your imagination to create new adventures with your Luke, Han and Vader action figures. But what exactly did Disney think kids were gonna do with a mustached Harry Booth doll (the journalist played by Ernest Borgnine)? Any kid who got one of those in their Christmas stocking probably stopped believing in Santa.

But I just gotta have one of those vintage Ernest Borgnine dolls. It would be totally awesome, if not a bit ironic, to not only own an action figure from a film with virtually no action, but sculpted from one of the least photogenic lead-actors of all time.