Friday, December 23, 2016

Movie Review: “Why Him?”

Why Him?

**** 1/2 out of 5
Rated R for strong language and sexual material throughout
111 minutes
20th Century Fox

Article first published at

It came as a shock to some when director John Hamburg delivered his first comedy masterpiece with I Love You, Man. Filled with instantly likeable characters, and tons of hilarious dialogue that’s still quoted today, ILYM looked like the jumpstart Hamburg needed after stumbling through Safe Men and Along Came Polly. It’s been seven years since ILYM, but Why Him? is Hamburg’s triumphant return to the spotlight. While the promotion has been hit-and-miss, Why Him? is one of this year’s laugh-til-you-cry funniest movies. Admittedly, the film is heavy on dumb, and loaded with profanity, but the sweetness prevails thanks to Hamburg’s expert direction and an exceptional cast.

It’s Christmas in Michigan and Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) is doing everything he can to keep his printing company afloat. Having just celebrated his 50th birthday, it comes as a shock when he learns his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is dating game app entrepreneur Laird Mayhew (James Franco). Soon enough, Stephanie tricks the family into joining her and Laird into spending the holidays together, with Laird springing an even bigger surprise on Ned by asking for his blessing to ask Stephanie to marry him. Ned is put off by Laird’s outrageous lifestyle — while his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and teen son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) try to give their host the benefit of the doubt. But Laird makes a bet with Ned that Ned be calling Laird “son” before the weekend is over and get his blessing.

For a film with such a simplistic plot, it’s amazing the mileage Hamburg and his cast get out of it. It helps that there’s also a fantastic supporting cast in the likes of Cedric the Entertainer, Keegan-Michael Key, Casey Wilson, Andrew Rannells, Adam Devine, and even Kaley Cuoco helping make the shenanigans as hilarious as possible. However, the true driving force is the pairing of Franco and Cranston. What sounds like one of the most mismatched leads in history turns into a force of comedic nature. The two make a spectacular duo and leave no eyes dry from laughing too hard. As funny as the human cast may be, a chicken steals the whole movie.

Why Him? is absurdist humor through and through and no one will leave without a face or stomach that hurts from laughing. Bear in mind, the film is very much R-rated, but never feels forced or trying to shock audiences. Through it all beats a huge heart. Laird easily could have been turned into a bad guy at any point in the movie, but this is a man who loves his woman and will stop at nothing to prove it to Ned.

Why Him? is one of the year’s most flat out hilarious films and also the year’s best Christmas offering. Judging against Office Christmas Party, the two aren’t even in the same league. This is the Christmas comedy to see this season, just so long as you can handle it. Laird may speak English, but it’s littered with f-bombs. That right there may be enough to make up your mind, but even a co-worker who was uncomfortable with the salty language couldn’t deny that the film is a good time. Why Him? Because he’s the most hilarious character under the mistletoe and should not be missed!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Movie Review: “Sing”


* out of 5
108 minutes
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

Two movies released near the end of this year were over publicized prior to their release. And, unfortunately, neither lived up to the hype.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has its fans, but the film was nothing more than a barely serviceable pilot to set up a new batch of Harry Potter films. As for Illumination Entertainment’s Sing? It makes The Secret Life of Pets look Oscar worthy. As much as I enjoyed Pets, it’s not. But compared to director Garth Jennings’s failure here — it breaks my heart that this came from the same director who gave us The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Son of Rambow — I will happily pop Pets into my player any day over Sing.

Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) is a koala with big dreams. After falling in love with the theater at the age of six he’s managed to make his dream a reality. Except that now, his theater is flailing and he’s strapped for cash. One day, Buster comes up with a brilliant idea to save his theater: he’s going to put on a singing competition, offering a grand prize of $1,000 — but accidentally prints out fliers advertising $100,000.

Now, everyone in town is vying to win: Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a bored housepig who just wants her moment to shine; Mike (voiced by Seth MacFarlane),a scheming mouse with an ego as big as he isn’t; Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a porcupine rocker who just wants to get out of the spotlight of her partner Lance (voiced by Beck Bennett); and finally Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), a young elephant with a fear of crowds who needs to find her voice.

To be fair, Sing at least has its heart in the right place. It’s just too bad it beats to such a boring tune. After suffering through Sing my wife said to me when it was over: “You look like you were being tortured the entire run time.”

For a movie called Sing that revolves around the old “let’s put on a show” plot, there are very few instances where we even hear complete songs. Trolls pulled the same stunt last month, but at least when it was cutting a song short, it was using the song for specific plot points. Here, songs simply start, then Jennings cuts to something going on off stage, then cuts back to the end of the song.
Then there’s the fact that Buster’s whole plan makes no sense whatsoever. He’s putting on a contest, with a monetary prize, to save the theater he’s making no money on? I know it will go right over kids’ heads, but c’mon.

The long and short of it is, Sing is one of the worst films of the year with no laughs, no loveable characters, and no memorable songs whatsoever. I feel sorry for anyone who is dragged to it by their children. Don’t let their bleating mouths con you, Sing is a good time for no one but the most easily amused. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Movie Review: “Passengers”


*** out of 5
116 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril
Sony Pictures

Article first published at

Thanks to the geek/nerd niche, sci-fi is becoming more mainstream than ever. While they can’t all be as bankable as Star Wars, there are at least two classics recently with Interstellar and Arrival. Screenwriter Jon Spaihts — with the help of love-him-or-hate-him Damon Lindelof — attempted to return the Alien series to more grounded terrain with Prometheus. And now, Spaihts is at it again with Passengers, another film this holiday season with huge plot misconceptions caused by its misleading marketing.

In the never-defined future, the starship Avalon is making its way through space to a new Earth dubbed Homestead II. On board are 258 crew members and 5,000 passengers. The passengers consist of men and women who are looking to escape Earth, which has become overpopulated and overpriced. Unfortunately for Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), his suspended animation pod has awakened him 90 years too soon. Alone for over a year — with his only friend being the android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) — Jim decides it’s time to wake someone up to join him in his misery. His unfortunate companion is Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a journalist looking to write a story in which she basically time travels from one planet to another. Unlucky for both of them, they still have 89 years until Avalon arrives at Homestead II, while the ship starts to slowly malfunction around them. Now, the two must find a way to not only save themselves, but the additional 5,256 people hurtling through space.

Spaihts doesn’t necessarily take the time to fill his script with big ideas. What he aims for here is something more simplistic, albeit with a high concept plot. There are some truths to his fiction, such as suspending animation — even if it’s only currently possible for small periods of time — but the real story here is more focused on the drama. Therein lies the tug of war between writer/director. Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) seems far more comfortable in delivering the human drama. Unfortunately, he’s cast two of Hollywood’s biggest stars and only gets a full performance out of Pratt. He’s as reliable as ever here. As for Lawrence, we’ve seen how good, and bad, she can be. Here, she flip flops from scene to scene. When she’s clowning around with Pratt, the two have an infectious chemistry, but when it comes time for the waterworks, she fails miserably.

For those hoping to see Pratt in action, there’s several instances where he gets to play straight man, but he’s also as hilarious and likeable as always. It’s a long time before Jim wakes up Aurora — considering he’s basically stalked her for over a year, it takes a strong leading man to play this kind of Prince “Charming” — so Tyldum was smart to cast someone we don’t mind spending so much time alone with. The film’s biggest issue is when the crap hits the fan and it lurches into a pseudo action film in the last 30 minutes. Lawrence starts overacting and the plot is tied up in a pretty bow that feels like Spaihts was under the gun, came up with the easiest denouement he could, pressed his Home Depot “Easy” button, and tossed Sony his work. The special effects are at least top notch, even if the story is the weakest link here, but at least it’s not Pratt. If there’s any reason to see Passengers, it’s Pratt, and there’s more of him to see than ever (wink wink). It may not be a new sci-fi classic, but at least it’s not a complete disaster.

Blu-ray Review: “Call of Heroes”

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

Article first published on

Back in the very early 2000s, I fell in love with kung fu/wuxia films. While not all were created equal, there was a huge swell of releases in the U.S. Through Iron Monkey, Hero, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and any movie starring Jackie Chan or Stephen Chow, I couldn’t get enough. Full of amazingly choreographed fight scenes and stunning cinematography, try as we did, Hollywood just couldn’t get the recipe right.

Chan and Jet Li may have become household names, but something was usually missing. The closest were Jason Statham’s Transporter films and Shanghai Noon/Knights. Needless to say, you had to go back to the source if you wanted to see it done right. The Ip Man series definitely stand out. Even then, most are schlocky with little thought put into the production. It gave me chills to discover that they can still do it right and director Benny Chan’s Call of Heroes is here to show us how it’s done.

In 1914, the Qing dynasty has fallen and the villagers of Pucheng City are in need of a hero. The murderous Cao Siu-lun (Louis Koo) has just killed three innocents — including a child — and the Sheriff, Yang (Sean Lau), resigns after they find out that Cao is the son of an evil warlord. Now, the city must stand against the marauding Cao if they want to stop their city from being overrun, with only the help of Yang, and the food coma-suffering Ma “Pigsy” Fung (Eddie Peng), to save the day.

Well Go USA doesn’t always treat their films to a 50GB disc, but when they do, a visually sprawling film like Call of Heroes gets the room it needs to breathe. Clarity is razor sharp with aliasing never ruining the picture. It could have run rampant with the amount of trees and sharp objects, but everything is as clean as it should be from a new production. Colors are bright with no blooming or bleed, while dark scenes never suffer from crush or loss of shadow delineation. A few seconds of banding are the only anomalies.

To go along with the crystal clear picture, we get two 5.1 DTS-HD MA tracks in both Cantonese and Mandarin. You can pick your poison on which track you select as the dialogue was filmed with a mix of the two there’s always instances of obvious dubbing. But the surrounds keep the action flowing — particularly Sheriff Yang’s whip — throughout the entire soundscape with excellent directionality, plenty of bass, and dialogue clean and crisp no matter how big the battle. Additional 2.0 Cantonese/Mandarin tracks are available, along with English and Chinese subtitles.

The special features are super short, but do manage to show off the cast and crews camaraderie on set. A “Making Of” is broken into eight segments — “Pucheng City” (1:26), “Eddie Peng” (1:28), “Wu Jing” (3:09), “Wu Jing & Eddie Peng” (1:44), “Louis Koo” (2:52), “Sammo Hung” (1:27), “Sammo & Sammy Hung” (1:58), and “Sean Lau” (1:46) — which all play one after the other even though a play all option isn’t available. The most interesting part is seeing that they literally built the entire city from the ground up and listening to director Chan talk about the chemistry between Jing and Peng. The film’s “Trailer” (1:42) is included, along with “Previews” for upcoming Well Go USA releases Operation Mekong, Cold War 2, and Three.

Call of Heroes never tries to rank itself as any kind of be-all-end-all kung fu extravaganza, but it certainly finds itself delivering what fans have been lacking. Full of interesting characters and some extraordinary fight scenes courtesy of action director Sammo Hung, Call of Heroes will make a fan out of any viewer. While the special features may be lacking, the video/audio make a blind buy a no-brainer. Call of Heroes is one of the best action films of the year you didn’t see. With it available on Blu-ray, now’s your chance to play catch up.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Movie Review: “Collateral Beauty”

Collateral Beauty

* out of 5
97 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

Films can be manipulative. We just accept it. While some get away with, others you can see right through. This weekend’s star-studded Collateral Beauty is pure cellophane. See through and ready to be thrown in the trash. Full of despicable characters doing despicable things, Warner Bros. is doing its damnedest to make it look like the holiday event film we’ve been waiting for. You will find no warm and fuzzies here, only the dullest violins playing in the background of one of the year’s worst screenplays. You can’t blame the cast for trying — they perform admirably all things considered, but a turd is still a turd, no matter how much mistletoe and holly you dress it up with.

It’s Christmas in New York City and Howard (Smith) is deep in grief after his daughter died three years earlier. His friends/co-workers — Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Pena) — all just want the best for him: to get over his daughter’s death and agree to sell stocks of their company to a potential client. Together the three conjure up a plan to hire actors to portray death, love, and time — Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley), and Raffi (Jacob Latimore) — whom Howard has been writing letters to. Along with hiring a private detective, Sally Price (Ann Dowd), Howard’s three “best friends” set out to catch him on film talking to the three abstractions to prove to the company’s board of directors that he is no longer of sound mind. There’s another subplot involving Madeleine (Naomie Harris), a grief counselor whose only involvement is a plot twist you’ll see coming a mile away.

There has not been a film so unabashedly manipulative as Collateral Beauty in years. While there are the horrific Garry Marhall-helmed holiday-themed rom-coms of recent years, director Frankel and screenwriter Allan Loeb hit some all time lows. As a colleague put it: “This is Oscar bait for the layman.” Only the most easily influenced will be moved by the film’s saccharine sweetness that’s dead set on giving every viewer diabetes. But the film’s biggest fault is the atrocious screenplay. I’ve never been so appalled with lead characters in my life. Since when is faking that one of your best friends, and business partner, has gone crazy a good idea? These are the kinds of characters who should be sentenced to serving a year together in jail Seinfeld-style.

While the cast all perform exactly as expected — you have to admire how hard Smith is crying by the red in his eyes — even they sound slightly bored and annoyed with starring in this. I’m not sure what bet they lost, but Warner Bros. must have some mighty good blackmail against them. Every commercial you see on TV trumpets reviews calling it the most uplifting holiday film of the season. I can attest that the best Christmas movie of the year doesn’t come out until next week. As it stands, Collateral Beauty is a mess from start to finish. If you want to see a fantastic case of good, hilarious grieving, see if Manchester By the Sea is playing anywhere nearby. Now there’s a film that knows what it’s like to deal with death. The only thing left to say here, is that if Gods of Egypt hadn’t come out in 2016, Collateral Beauty would be the absolute worst film of the year.

Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

**** 1/2
134 minutes
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action 

Article first published at

Are we already getting spoiled by Lucasfilm with our second Star Wars film in as many years? Hard to believe that it was 33 years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Now, there are planned Star Wars features for years to come. Is the world going to lose interest in a typical case of sequelitis? Not if Disney’s band of filmmakers have anything to do with it. It was a risky venture announcing a spin-off film, let alone another prequel. And yet Rogue One fits spectacularly into the Star Wars canon as much as anything that’s happened before or after.

Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is trying to keep a low profile as a farmer with his wife Lyra (Valene Kane) and their daughter Jyn (Beau and Dolly Gadsdon). The Empire’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) soon arrives to herd them up, but not before Lyra gets herself killed and Jyn goes into hiding. Jyn is soon rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and we skip ahead to the film’s present day. Jyn is now a rebel without a cause, but after being captured by General Draven (Alistair Petrie), she finds herself embroiled in a plan to steal the plans to Darth Vader’s (voiced by James Earl Jones) Death Star.

Rogue One is mighty busy — but the time doesn’t always fly by. There is a sluggish pace right in the middle of the film where it should be gaining momentum and an emotional core. You can’t blame director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) for trying. It’s obvious to tell that screenwriters Chris Weitz (Antz, About a Boy, Cinderella) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy, Michael Clayton) didn’t quite collaborate. (It’s obvious in a film’s credits when they’re not named together with an ampersand.) Weitz probably focused most of his attention on characters and dialogue, while Gilroy lent a hand at maximizing the action. At least cinematographer Greig Fraser keeps everything in focus and adds some geography so we know what’s going on.

The cast is fantastic, with Jones in particular showing she can not only lead her motley crew, but carry the film all on her own. She never falters and gives the depth her character needs to make us care about Jyn’s plight. Composer Michael Giacchino was handed the reigns to the score and I can’t think of anyone else who could fill John Williams’ shoes. I’ve been calling him the next John Williams for years so it comes as no surprise to find him delivering a separate, but familiar score.

There are so many positives to Rogue One—yet that would venture into spoiler territory.  It does run a tad long, and there are some questionable instances of CGI. It’s most interesting to see Edwards deliver such an exciting Star Wars entry with next to no use of the Force. Yes, we all know Darth Vader is making a return, but aside from his two scenes, there’s almost no Force whatsoever. And that’s where Rogue One truly succeeds, in giving a behind the scenes peek at the rest of the Rebellion in action.

It may take a second or third viewing to truly appreciate Rogue One. It’s not like myself, or any other self respecting Star Wars won’t be doing just that. And here’s hoping Lucasfilm, Disney, and Kathleen Kennedy can all continue holding the series up to the high standards time has set upon the series. May the Force be with them, and so far, so good.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Movie Review: “Office Christmas Party”

Office Christmas Party

*** out of 5
105 minutes
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity

Article first published at

As much as I love Christmas movies, they aren’t all created equal. While the list of classics is nice and long, every once in awhile we get a dud. Just last year we got one outrageously hilarious, The Night Before, and one absolutely horrific, Love the Coopers. This year we get another duo of Christmas movies and once again, one is way better than the other. The good news is, Office Christmas Party is no Love the Coopers. The bad news, it’s no Night Before either.

Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck are no strangers to comedy, but they can’t ever seem to make one worth remembering. Falling right alongside their previous efforts — Blades of Glory and The Switch — only the most hardcore Will Ferrell fans will remember Blades and you’d be hardpressed to find anyone who even saw The Switch. One thing is for sure, Gordon and Speck must have loved working with stars Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston because the band is back together again, but the results are as lackluster as ever.

Data storage company Zenotek is getting ready for the holidays. None more so than branch president Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) as he is hard at work putting the finishing touches on this year’s holiday party. Leave it to Clay’s ballbusting CEO sister Carol (Aniston) to try to ruin the fun. After closing the Florida branch, she’s set her sights on Clay’s in a case of bitter sibling rivalry. Lucky for Clay, he’s caught wind that a potential client, Walter (Courtney B. Vance), is in town and Carol gives him one more day to save himself and his employees. Now, Clay joins forces with his Chief Technical Officer Josh (Bateman) and their smartest employee, Tracey (Olivia Munn), to save the branch and have the greatest non-denominational holiday mixer ever.

Probably the biggest problem with Office Christmas Party is the amount of subplots Gordon and Speck try to juggle. Besides Clay’s misadventures, the film is also stuffed with Josh dealing with his divorce and a possible office romance with Tracey, Clay’s admin Allison (Vanessa Bayer) bouncing between her own romances with Fred (Randall Park), and Nate (Karan Soni) who is also embroiled with an escort (Abbey Lee) and her pimp, Trina (Jillian Bell). And there’s also a constant battle with HR, in the form of Mary (Kate McKinnon).

The few bright spots are unsurprisingly delivered by Miller, McKinnon, and Bell. As for the rest of the cast, they’re left grasping at straws with the writing trio of Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer guilty of one of the least funny screenplays of the year. It’s already been a rough year for comedies, but you can’t blame the cast for trying. Miller almost singlehandedly saves the movie. Almost. I love Christmas movies, but Office Christmas Party is no new classic and I doubt I’ll ever revisit it. File this one under “Ghosts of Christmas Movies Past.”

Blu-ray 3D Review: “The Secret Life of Pets”

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

Article first published on

The tagline for The Secret Life of Pets asks you to wonder what your pets do all day. As the owner of two mini dachshunds, I can assure you, they have never come close to the film’s level of shenanigans. I think.

Directors Chris Renaud (both Despicable Me films and The Lorax abomination) and Yarrow Cheney (making his feature debut) may have managed to only produce a carbon copy of the original Toy Story, but they made sure to fill their film with enough laughs, misadventures, and delightful characters to ensure maximum entertainment. And now, The Secret Life of Pets is available to take home in a 3D/2D/DVD/Digital HD combo pack.

Our pets in question make up quite the menagerie. Lead by Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), he winds up on the adventure of a lifetime after he manages to get himself and his new “brother” Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) lost on the streets of the Big Apple. Back at the apartment complex, Max’s friends join forces to help find Max — and Duke, if necessary — before winding up either caught by animal control or fed to sewer gators by the tougher-than-he-looks bunny Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart).

Universal Pictures lets these Pets off the leash with a spectacular 3D transfer. With a screen-filling 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it makes the pets’ low-to-the-ground worldview look larger than life. Depth is always consistent, with zero instances of crosstalk or ghosting. Colors are bright and vivid with crush never a factor and even in low light it never takes a hit on depth. Aliasing is also never an issue, something that will make viewers breathe a sigh of relief considering the amount of animal hair that’s always on screen. There are also some standout 3D scenes featuring some snakes that feel like they’re coming out of the screen and stretching all the way into your lap!

As gorgeous as the 3D transfer is, the “downgraded” 7.1 Dolby TrueHD sound mix is almost as stellar. Directionality is spot on with perfect pans helping the action become as enveloping as any big budget, live-action blockbuster. Bass keeps the action thumping along while the music and sound effects soar from all speakers creating a full 360-degree of sound. Dialogue is always clean and prioritized to make sure you never miss out on any jokes. Just about the only thing that could have made it a better listen would be a full setup to take advantage of the Dolby Atmos mix. Additional language tracks include a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus and French Canadian Dolby Digital 5.1 while subtitles include English, French, and Spanish.

The special features offer up a solid behind-the-scenes peek at how these CGI-fests are made. The kids may not give two cents about them, but at least there’s something more for the adults in case they’re interested. “The Humans that Brought You Pets” (8:43) features interviews with the directors, writers, and producers, and come with a Play All function. “Meet the Team” with Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy, Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney, and Brian Lynch talk about the inspiration for the film being how owners tend to invest their pets with rich emotional lives; something any owner will understand. “Animals Can Talk” (3:47) is a chance to “Meet the Actors” and we find Hart, Lake Bell, Bobby Moynihan, Stonestreet, and Jenny Slate reading lines and talking about how much fun they had.

“All About the Pets” (6:62) features animal trainer Molly O’Neill joined by Hart and Stonestreet as they stand around and handle everything from a kitten and chick to a tarantula and python. “Hairstylist to the Dogs” (3:41) joins Stonestreet and hairstylist to the stars Jess Rona for some simple grooming tips.

“How to Make an Animated Film” (4:13) gives us a look behind the curtain with the directors, producers, co-writer Lynch, and composer Eric Guillon explaining how, with so many cooks involved, they have to make sure that everyone is on the same page for the essence of the film to make sure everything knits together. “Anatomy of a Scene” (4:46) shows all the different elements it takes just to make sure that one scene comes together perfectly.

“The Best of Snowball” (1:15) is a greatest hits collection of some of the character’s funniest moments. “Lovely Day” Lyric Video (2:23)  features the pets playing amongst the song’s lyrics. “Hot Dog Sing-Along” (1:12) features onscreen lyrics to the film’s hilarious musical number featuring all kinds of singing hot dogs. Three “Fandango Movie Moments” feature three (0:57, 0:53, 0:56) “Brian the Minion on Pets” segments — surprisingly there is no play all feature — and are basically the Minions watching scenes from the movie pretending to be on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s not funny.

“GoPro: The Secret Life of Pets” (2:04) is nothing more than extended commercial for GoPro cameras. Sadly, there’s no footage of any actual pets which seems extremely odd considering they sent out GoPro cameras to film critics over the summer and have seen some hilarious footage. It could have been a nice touch, but I digress.

Three mini-movies prove how exhausted the Minions have become with the inclusion of Mower Minions (4:27) which played before the film theatrically and is just atrocious lowest common denominator bathroom humor. NormanTV (4:01) is the weirdest of the group as the resident hamster Norman (voiced by Renaud) carries a TV remote from one apartment to the next watching his “shows.” It’s odd because of its film noir angle as Norman saves a woman from being murdered by her husband. Weenie (4:05) is the most misleading of the three as I was hoping for a short featuring Buddy the dachshund. Instead, it winds up being the funniest as the singing hot dogs return for a rambunctious song that may be funnier than the whole movie. Finally, an extended trailer for Illumination Entertainment’s Sing (4:02) rounds things out.

The Secret Life of Pets may not be the year’s best animated feature, and it honestly never tries to be either. However, it is hands down Illumination’s best feature yet. Featuring one of the best 3D presentations of the year and a rollicking audio track, the film has its fans and they’re sure to flock to grab this off shelves. Some may call me biased due to having my own two wieners — and my wife owns just about every Buddy item created — but the film is full of charm and big laughs and has plenty to offer viewers both young and old. And even more for anyone lucky enough to have a fur baby or two to come home to every day.

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

Blu-ray Review: “Punch-Drunk Love” - The Criterion Collection

Movie: **** out of 5
Video: ****
Audio: *****
Extras: ***

Article first published on

The only director who may be as divisive as Wes Anderson is Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson. And he’s probably never directed a film as polarizing as Punch-Drunk Love. Everyone was surprised when it was announced he was working on a film set to star Adam Sandler,. What in the world did the director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia want with one of the loudest mouths to come out of Saturday Night Live? What they weren’t expecting, was a typical Anderson film — even if atypically short — and one of Sandler’s best performances. Ever. To this day.

Following up his first three works with There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Inherent Vice, even more surprising is that Punch-Drunk Love is the first Anderson film to get the Criterion treatment. Unfortunately, there is no audio commentary to be found, and I’m not sure the included special features will be enough to suffice hardcore Anderson fans. But the good news is, the film itself looks and sounds as fantastic as you’d expect, and yes, it still holds up too.

For anyone who hasn’t seen Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Egan (Sandler) is a novelty plunger salesman, who also happens to be psychologically disheveled thanks to his gaggle of sisters. They have mentally abused him his whole life — so much in fact that they used to call him “Gay Boy” until he would break something. Despite his violent temper, he’s never hurt anyone. One day his sister Elizabeth (Mary Lynn Rajskub) decides she wants to introduce Barry to her friend Lena (Emily Watson). But fate comes calling, literally, in the form of a money scheming sex phone line run by furniture salesman Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman). And Barry discovers how to score millions of frequent flyer miles as part of a Healthy Choice sweepstakes.

The Criterion Collection releases Punch-Drunk Love on a 50GB disc, framed in a 2.40:1 ratio. Colors have received a huge bump here almost to the point of blooming. Thankfully contrast keeps it from bleeding, but skin tones take a hit and have a bright, pinkish hue. Detail isn’t quite what you’d expect from a 35mm transfer, but it could be due to this being a high-def digital transfer rather than a 2K or 4K scan. As good as the film looks, it always seems as if it could have looked better. At least depth and fluidity are consistent, especially with how many long panning shots are featured throughout. Banding, aliasing, or crush are never present. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is the only one provided, with English subtitles available. The sound design holds up better than the picture here with music, dialogue, and sound effects very clean and nothing overwhelming the other. Something that comes in very handy in the few noisier segments.

If there’s one thing lacking in the special features department, it’s Anderson himself. I can’t help but think of how raucous an audio commentary could have been had Criterion gotten Anderson and Sandler back together. The two obviously enjoyed working together immensely — as seen in the “Cannes Film Festival” portion. “Studio Interviews” (7:02) and a “Press Conference” (37:52) features Anderson, Sandler, Watson, and Hoffman — producer Jo-Anne Sellar joins them for the press conference — discuss working together with Hoffman and Anderson talking about their previous joint efforts and Sandler making light of some jabs at him being at Cannes. Two “Deleted Scenes” consists of “The Sisters Call” (7:18) and “Are You From California?” (2:23). Considering how short one is and the other being an alternate version of a scene still in the film, neither are important.

“Mattress Man Commercial” (0:52) is a pretty funny commercial featuring Trumbell and the always hilarious on-camera mishap with him jumping onto a pile of mattresses stacked on a car only to bounce off and onto the pavement. “Blossoms and Blood” (11:58) is a 2002 archival clip with scenes from the movie playing over Jon Brion’s score. “Scopiotones” (6:20) is more of the same. A Play All option is available, and the feature is broken down into 12 sections: “First,” “Harp Finger,” “Punchy Doorbell,” “Mysterio,” “Boy Businessman,” “Healthy Choice,” “He Needs Me,” “Lena,” “Come and Get Me,” “Exit Love Story,” “Sissy Lake’s Love,” and “Waimanalo Walk.”

“Jon Brion” (27:19) is an excruciatingly long interview with the film’s composer. He self-congratulates on how the score came to be and takes time to rag on how bad most film scores are. This was created exclusively for Criterion this year and I can’t help but see why he’s not asked to score more films. A “Recording Session” (9:56) offers a glimpse into the film’s scoring in December 2001 at Abbey Road Studios. It’s far more interesting to see Brion at work than it ever is to hear him discuss his work.

“Jeremy Blake” (20:25) is a filmed conversation between New York gallerist/Participant, Inc. founder Lia Gangitano and Michael Connor, artistic director of Rhizome at the New Museum in New York. The two discuss Blake’s digital artistry displayed throughout the movie and was filmed exclusively for Criterion. While Gangitano and Connor may ramble quite a bit, at least Blake’s art is far more interesting than anything Brion had to say about his own. Three minutes of additional artwork are also included.

Finally, “The Pudding Guy” (5:04) is the original 2000 NBC interview with David Phillips, the civil engineer who purchased around $3,000 worth of pudding to earn over a million airline miles. Yes, this is the story the subplot is based on, and it’s far more interesting than most of the rest of the special features. Three “Trailers” are included: “Theatrical Trailer” (2:27), “Jeremy Blake’s Love” (1:24), and “Eat Tomorrow” (0:33). An illustrated leaflet can be found inside, featuring Miranda July’s essay, “A Delegate Speaks” rounds things out.

Punch-Drunk Love may not be the best P.T. Anderson film, but it is easily his most mainstream. Focusing on a much more relatable subject  — love, obviously — but it represents exactly what Sandler is capable of when not just collecting a paycheck. If he would be more willing to work with respectable directors instead of those out of his Happy Madison wheelhouse, he would still be every bit as relevant today as he was during his heyday. It’ll also be interesting to see where Anderson takes himself next after the lackluster Inherent Vice. Hoffman fans can rejoice to see him in one of his funniest roles, even if barely in the movie, while hardcore Sandler fans have another iconic role cemented in high def. Most of the special features are worth skipping over, but Punch-Drunk Love is more than worth revisiting with typically exceptional video/audio quality. While it still is not for everyone, there’s far more here than meets the eye and anyone interested in picking up a copy will not be displeased.