Friday, March 27, 2015

Movie Review: “Home”


Home

** out of 5
94 minutes
Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor
20th Century Fox

Article first published at The Reel Place.

As DreamWorks attempts to be the powerhouse that even Pixar has trouble maintaining, their latest ventures have fallen somewhat flat. While still managing to crank out hits in their franchise departments, for every How to Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda, or even Penguins of Madagascar, they still stumble with original properties. And their new Home, based on Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday, is their biggest failure in years. Director Tim Johnson comes nowhere near the hilarity he provided with Over the Hedge, and this is way worse than people thought Mr. Peabody & Sherman was.

Home refers to Earth, which has just been taken over by aliens called the Boov. Lead by their leader Captain Smek (voiced by Steve Martin), they relocate all humans to a desert planet, while others have been placed in Australia. The most excited about their new home is Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons), who is excessively optimistic and a burden to his species as he’s always flubbing something up. The last remaining human, Tip (voiced by Rihanna) is on the hunt for her mother (voiced by Jennifer Lopez). The two wind up cohorts after Oh accidentally reveals their location to their mortal enemy the Gorg, via evite, and now Oh must help Tip find her mom and stop the Gorg from destroying the planet.

If that sounds like lazy writing, you’re right. The screenplay from Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember is extremely dated. It’s almost as if a time capsule was found with the script inside and they just blew off the dust and proclaimed, “Eureka!” Filled with references to the likes of Busta Rhymes — which kids won’t get in the first place — Home is a film made for nobody at this point in time. Not to mention that it’s completely humorless, making the runtime feel like an eternity.

As for the cast, Parsons is aping his loveable Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, but merely hearing his jubilant delivery without watching him in action just makes him grating. Rihanna never sounds close to playing a girl in her teens, and poor Steve Martin is relegated to voicing the dumbest character of his career. I have no idea why JLo is even getting billed as she has maybe 10 lines in the whole movie. Oh wait, that’s because the soundtrack is filled with a nauseating overuse of songs by her and and Rihanna. Home has no heart, no laughs, and seems completely aimed at selling copies of the soundtrack.

Movie Review: “Get Hard”

Get Hard

*** out of 5
100 minutes
Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

No comedian working today has a more forgiving fan base than Will Ferrell. The man can star in anything and fans will laugh at his antics. I am one of those — for better and worse. From Anchorman to Land of the Lost, the man makes me laugh. While the same isn’t true for Kevin Hart yet, he’s a terrific stand-up comedian stuck in mediocre movies. Together, they do make a fairly hilarious odd-couple in Get Hard, but the elicited laughs are of the guilty kind. The kind that are embarrassing to admit. Get Hard may not be a great movie, but it’s definitely culpable of being hilarious.

High-powered broker James King (Ferrell) is at the top of his game. He has a huge house, a beautiful fiancĂ©e (Alison Brie), and has just been named partner by his boss, and future father-in-law Martin (Craig T. Nelson). Darnell (Hart), who owns a car wash company that takes care of the cars driven by James and his associates, has dreams of making it big and scoring a house in a better school district for his wife and daughter. During King’s engagement party, the FBI arrest King for fraud and embezzlement. King claims he’s not guilty and gets put under house arrest before he’s shipped off to San Quinten. He makes Darnell an offer of $30,000 to teach him how to survive prison. Now, Darnell has to man up to stereotypes and make good on his skills while King tries to clear his name.

Get Hard has taken a lot of flack regarding its homophobic, racist elements, but it’s more harmless than some are making it out to be. I do see the issue with it’s wishy-washy attitude toward the two subjects, but Ferrell and Hart wring out enough laughs and and don’t wallow too long on the offensive. Director Etan Cohen (writer of Men in Black 3, co-writer of Tropic Thunder and Idiocracy) never lingers on most of the jokes too long, except for the most homophobic bit involving a stop at what’s referred to as the biggest gay hook up spot in town. Here an extended bit is completely unnecessary with Ferrell having to learn the “tricks of the trade” in a bathroom stall, while Hart gets uncomfortable being hit on waiting outside. We’re also thrown an even more unnecessary bit of male nudity which leads us to the film’s biggest issue: running 100 minutes.

There’s simply too much padding with Get Hard being basically a one-joke film. It’s a good thing he cast two of the funniest men working in Hollywood, otherwise it would have seemed far more mean-spirited. The whole film may be played with a wink at the audience, and while Ferrell and Hart can make the most of a one-liner, it doesn’t help that Cohen has given them too much lowbrow to wade through. The bottom line is that there are a lot of laughs to be had thanks to the leads, but you might feel bad about it later. I said the same thing about Hot Tub Time Machine 2. But at least Get Hard is better than that. This will probably go down as another blip on both Ferrell and Hart’s resumes, and will undoubtedly be forgotten within a few weeks.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Movie Reviews for "Run All Night" and "Cinderella" on Big Movie Mouth-Off!


Movie Review: “Insurgent”

Insurgent

*** 1/2 out of 5
119 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language
Summit Entertainment

Article first published at The Reel Place.

Last year’s Divergent falls somewhere in the middle of the recent onslaught of young adult novel adaptations. Similar feelings rang true while watching the second installment — Insurgent. Neither are as bad as the Twilight films, but never as good as The Hunger Games. Veronica Roth should be mildly pleased seeing her books make their way to the big screen, since neither of the films are horrible. Faint praise, sure, but this series could have been way worse. Switching directors — from Neil Burger to Robert Schwentke — definitely helps, not to mention the luxury of a shorter runtime. Unfortunately, Insurgent still doesn’t make for great cinema.

Picking up days after Divergent ends, Insurgent brings us up to speed with Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller), and Tris’s brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), on the run with Eric (Jai Courtney) hot on their tails. Taking refuge at the Amity commune, run by Johanna (Octavia Spencer), emotions run high with Tris and Peter at each others’ throats. Soon enough, Eric comes calling on orders from Jeanine (Kate Winslet) to bring Tris in after finding a mysterious box that contains a message from the elders that only a Divergent can open. There are also subplots involving truth serums, shifting alliances, and enough CGI to keep the most hardened fan happy.

Anyone going into Insurgent simply expecting more of the same will find themselves relieved that the scope has been widened. With a bigger budget and a better writing team in Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, and Mark Bomback, Insurgent is a marked improvement over Divergent. The added use of 3D also makes the action more lively. But the best thing going for it is the switch in directors. Schwentke creates a more fully developed dystopian aspect than Burger did, and has a much better eye for action. Burger kept us in the dark most of the time — literally. Here we’re treated to most of the action taking place during the day or in brightly lit areas. A table fight between Tris and Peter made me hope for some brutal one-on-one combat, but the closest we get is a tussle between Tris and herself during a simulation exercise.

The effects have been kicked up a notch between films, unsurprising seeing how Divergent brought in enough money to warrant the series continuing. And the story has been stripped down from what I’ve read on the books’ Wikipedia page — something that never hurts (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban anyone?). Where Divergent ran over two hours, Insurgent keeps things moving at a quick pace, and leaving the histrionics behind. Tris is a stronger character this time, allowing Woodley to do much more than just mope around or cry in every other scene. That’s something they save for one of the more heartbreaking scenes involving the truth serum.

If there’s one thing in favor of Insurgent, is its lack of competition. While never being a great film, at least it’s in no way a horrible film. Sometimes a good diversion is all we need and on that front, it definitely delivers. My only real complaint is with the film’s resolution. I know there are two more films on the horizon with the final book — Allegiant — unnecessarily  broken into two parts. They could have easily ended the series with Insurgent and audiences who haven’t read the books would be none the wiser that there is whole third act. Insurgent literally ties up that many loose ends.

As it stands, Insurgent shows the series only getting stronger, and who knows, maybe they’ll pull out all the stops with Allegiance. Until then, this is a good enough diversion until summer gets into full swing.





Thursday, March 19, 2015

Blu-ray Review: “WolfCop”

Movie: ****
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: ****
Extras: *****

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Best Buy Exclusive ‘WolfCop’ - Written and Directed by Lowell Dean on Blogcritics.

When making a film as outlandishly titled as WolfCop, the movie had better deliver. And writer/director Lowell Dean does. Full of one-liners, gory practical effects, and nods to wolf-related material both written and filmed, WolfCop is better than just another contribution to the direct-to-video variety. It may not have seen a wide release — what low budget Saskatchewan film does? — but with the right marketing, it might have. At least WolfCop is now available on Blu-ray — as a Best Buy exclusive until May 12 — so that we can revel in the twisted hilarity.

WolfCop, Lowell DeanLou Garou (Leo Fafard) is nothing short of a deadbeat, alcoholic cop in the small Canadian town of Woodhaven. With crime on the rise — including a missing pets problem — Terry Wallace (Ryland Alexander) thinks it’s time for a change and is running for mayor against incumbent Bradley (Corrine Conley). One night, Lou is called out on a complaint in the woods and finds Terry dead, hanging upside down from a tree.

After getting hit on the head, Lou wakes up the next morning with a pentagram carved in his chest, along with heightened senses, and body hair that just won’t stop growing. Lou has been turned into a werewolf and must join forces with fellow officer Tina (Amy Matysio), slutty bartender Jessica (Sarah Lind), and town looney Willie (Jonathan Cherry), to keep his transformation under control or give in to become the world’s first WolfCop.

From a review standpoint, RLJ Entertainment has delivered some pretty stellar looking discs. However, they’ve also shortchanged a few titles by putting them on 25GB discs causing a few compression issues. Thankfully for WolfCop they’ve chosen to go with a 50GB disc, allowing the film the room it needs to breathe, especially considering the wealth of special features. As for the image, you couldn’t ask for WolfCop to look any better. It only cost $1 million to make and looks and sounds that way too. The fact that they filmed in a whirlwind 17 days makes it even more surprising. This is one classy looking image.

Blacks never result in crush, noise is never an issue, and I never detected even the slightest banding. Detail is also razor sharp, helping to add an extra level to the practical effects. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also top-notch for being so low budget. Every line of dialogue, claw slash, ripping skin, and the occasional explosion or gunfire are brought to life with nothing drowning out the other. Bass also keeps the film’s energy bumping as the action starts to pick up. English SDH subtitles are also available.

You want special features? WolfCop comes armed with enough to make any fan howl at the moon and then some. “WolfCop Unleashed–Behind the Scenes Featurette” (45:51) kicks things off and covers everything you could ever want to know about WolfCop but were afraid to ask. Broken down into six sections — “How It Happened,” “A Million Different Parts,” “Somewhere Between 1986-1992,” “A Practical Way to Make Movies,” “A Ton of Hard Work,” and “We’re Not Done Yet” — tackles everything from the film’s original inception to the announcement of the sequel. A “Film Commentary with Writer/Director Lowell Dean and Special Effects Artist Emerson Ziffle” is a really good listen, providing plenty of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and they point out some of the more subtle references.

“The Birth of WolfCop” is a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s evolution through the Cinecoup contest: “Cinecoup–Year in Review” (1:16), “Cinecoup–Cineplex Promo” (:54), “Mission Videos 1-6” (11:31), and “Cinecoup–Banff Be Brave–Final Reveal” (1:52). It’s a lot of fun — particularly an awesome Jaws reference — taking a sneak peek at the contest; it’s kind of like an episode of Project Greenlight. A collection of “Film Outtakes” (3:11) is packed with tons of hilarious penis jokes provided by Matysio. A collection of trailers round things out including the “Theatrical Trailer” (1:39), “Original Concept Trailer,” (2:20), “Sky Dive Promo” (0:37), “Trailer Park Boys Shout Out” (1:26), and a “Special Thanks” (1:01).

WolfCop is the kind of film the Machete series wishes it could be. Full of jokes, references, and awesome practical effects — something of a rarity in any kind of film these days — it’s a horror-lovers dream film. With a stellar video presentation, excellent audio, and a wealth of special features, WolfCop is worthy of a blind buy, so run on out to your local Best Buy and pick up a copy before the next full moon, you won’t be sorry.

Blu-ray Review: “The Breakfast Club” 30th Anniversary Edition

Movie: ***** out of 5
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: ****
Extras: ***

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: John Hughes’ ‘The Breakfast Club’ 30th Anniversary Edition on Blogcritics.

When a film is celebrating its 30th anniversary, a thorough film discussion is not necessary. When it comes a film such as The Breakfast Club, it also goes without saying there are very few who haven’t seen it. As a big John Hughes fan growing up in the ’80s, The Breakfast Club wasn’t one I watched. Probably because I was five years old when it was released.

The Breakfast Club, John Hughes, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Paul GleasonI was more inclined to the likes of Mr. Mom, the Vacation series, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, The Great Outdoors, and Uncle Buck. I wouldn’t find myself watching some of his other work until I was older, and even then, some I had seen but didn’t recognize were part of his repertoire like Some Kind of Wonderful and She’s Having a Baby. Plus, given my age, I was convinced Pretty in Pink was for girls.

As an adult, it’s easier to consider Hughes’ work as a collective, and having been through high school — 17 years ago — something like The Breakfast Club definitely resonates now more than ever. I can’t imagine what kind of effect it would have on kids today. As from what I’ve heard, high school is very different now,  let alone 30 years ago. And now the film is all spruced up for more nostalgia, and available in a 30th anniversary Blu-ray re-release with a sparkling new transfer from Universal Home Video.

I’ve read some reviews online about not really seeing any dramatic changes between the five-year-old 25th anniversary transfer and this one. But let me just say, they couldn’t be more wrong. Colors pop more brilliantly than before and there’s a huge upgrade in sharpness and clarity. Film grain patterns still show some kind of digital scrubbing at work, but details are staggering compared to the original Blu-ray release. You really notice the difference in background elements and clothing textures.

Right from the opening credits you can tell that you’re in for a whole new look as the telecine wobble is gone. Picture stabilization keeps every frame right where it belongs. Dirt and debris are also missing. There’s no noise, banding, or aliasing to be found either. This is the high-def transfer the film deserves and this is in every way a worthy upgrade.

On the audio front, the same front heavy 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is in tack. There really isn’t anywhere it could have been improved, but dialogue is clean and crisp with no dropouts or background hiss. This version does at least provide more audio tracks and subtitles: French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese are all available in DTS 2.0 Stereo. Subtitles include: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hindi, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish.

Unfortunately, the video upgrade is all we get as far as anything worth noting, but an IMDBish “Accepting the Facts: The Breakfast Club Trivia Track” is available to watch while the film plays. The rest of the special features are still exactly the same, but are great nonetheless. A “Feature Commentary with Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall” is a fun listen with the two starts waxing nostalgia on the production with plenty of tidbits for the fans.

BreakfastClubMain“Sincerely Yours” (51:25) is a feature-length documentary featuring everyone from the cast to anyone who may have been influenced by the film — a couple of the bigger names would be Diablo Cody and directors Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless) and Michael Lehmann (Heathers). “The Most Convenient Definitions: The Origins of the Brat Pack” takes a look at how the term came to be after being jokingly coined by New York magazine writer David Blum. The “Theatrical Trailer” (1:25) rounds the features out.

The Breakfast Club touched a lot of young minds upon its release, and the fact that it’s celebrating its 30th anniversary with a brand new transfer — along with theatrical showings across the country — show what a lasting impression it’s had. And for good reason. John Hughes knew teenagers better than anyone and filmmakers today still can’t quite reach the heights Hughes managed in his heyday. Every once in awhile something comes close, but in the end, only reminds you of Hughes’ brilliance. Filled with line after line of quotable dialogue and characters we still love to this day, The Breakfast Club has all the emotions we came to expect from John Hughes to go along with the laughs. This is the best the film has ever looked, and it’s a no-brainer to pick up the 30th Anniversary Edition.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Movie Review: “Cinderella”


Cinderella
*** 1/2 out of 5
112 minutes
Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

If there’s one department showing their lack of creativity at Disney, it’s live-action. Bringing to the big screen everything from their own park rides (Pirates of the Caribbeans and Haunted Mansion) to children’s books (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) to prequels and sequels of classics (Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful) all with varying success. Now, they’ve turned their eye to adapting their own classically animated features. And while Cinderella is definitely better than the disastrous Maleficent, it’s far from a new family classic.

We all know the story, but there are a few changes: young Ella (Eloise Webb) lives in the home that’s been in her family for 200 years with her loving mother (Hayley Atwell) and doting father (Ben Chaplin). Now an a young adult (played by Lily James), Ella’s mother falls ill and passes, and eventually her father remarries the wicked Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) who comes along with a couple of step-sisters in Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera).

Soon enough, Ella’s father passes as well, leaving her all alone to deal with Tremaine and her step-sisters — until she meets Prince “Kit” Charming (Richard Madden) while he’s out on a hunt in the woods. Instantly smitten, but never knowing her true identity, Kit demands that every unmarried lady in the land be invited to the ball so that he can find out the identity of this fair maiden. Banned from attending, Ella is visited by her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter), who uses her magic to grant her a new dress, glass slippers, and carriage to take her to the ball where she runs out to make it home by midnight, leaving only her glass slipper behind for Kit to go on a quest to find her yet again.

Anyone who has ever seen Cinderella or has been alive since the 1600s knows every beat of this new version, which doesn’t do the film any favors. And the biggest obstacle working against it, is the length. No version of Cinderella needs to be almost two full hours. It’s so unnecessary. Especially considering  director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and screenwriter Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy) don’t do anything more than simply pad out the original story with long takes. Had it been kept to a skimpy 90 minutes or so, this would be far more charming. Speaking of which, it is charming. But there’s only so much it can sustain at that length.

The cast are all expertly chosen to represent their roles, especially Blanchett, who is absolutely chilling as the wicked stepmother. James does what she can with her titular role, but Cinderella has probably been officially played out after this. At least Bonham-Carter is having as much fun as Blanchett. She absolutely shines as the hilarious fairy godmother.

Be sure to make it early, or at least on time, as there is a new Frozen short called Frozen Fever, with Queen Elsa trying to prep a birthday bash for Anna, with a cold, causing hilarity to ensue. Don’t be surprised to see baby snowballs at your local Disney Store this spring. If not, there should be! Sadly, those are the best part of this whole movie-going experience.

Cinderella is in no way complete bust — aside from the hypocritical ending where it’s suddenly okay for Ella to leave her family home to be whisked away with the super-cute Prince. Talk about conflicting statements, my wife was extremely put off by this. But at least this never tries to change the story as much as Maleficent did while crashing and burning. This Cinderella is far from the be-all end-all version of the story, and there will surely be more to come. But it knows its audience, and it should play like gangbusters to the kiddie princess set. For adults, there’s really no reason to head out unless you have kids yearning to see it.