Saturday, June 22, 2013

Movie Review: The Kings of Summer

***** out of 5
93 minutes
Rated R for language and some teen drinking
CBS Films

Article first published as Movie Review: The Kings of Summer on Blogcritics.

While the summer months may be chock-full of explosions and CGI, there are still some smaller films that demand their attention. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival I managed to fit in one of the Festival’s best films, The Way, Way Back with Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell, a story about a boy’s rite of passage while working at a waterpark.

The perfect double feature would be to watch that alongside director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer, another coming-of-age film that plays like Stand by Me, reimagined by Wes Anderson. OK, maybe it’s not quite that quirky; but it’s still hilarious, heartfelt, and honest with its emotions. It never gets bogged down in sap and still wears its heart on its sleeve.

KingsOfSummerPic1For teenage Joe (Nick Robinson), living alone with his father Frank (Nick Offerman) is no picnic. He misses his deceased mother, but keeps a loving relationship alive with his older sister Heather (Alison Brie). He has a crush on Kelly (Erin Moriarty) who is dating an older guy named Paul (Nathan Keyes), who has his own apartment and throws keggers out in the woods. After a woodland dweller shoots a gun to scare the kids off, Joe finds a spot in the woods where he decides to build a house to find sanctuary. He invites his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) to join him, and with tag along Biaggio (Moises Arias), they will escape from their parents — Patrick’s are played hilariously by Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson — to live off the land and become the men they think they should be.

In The Kings of Summer, you really believe the friendship between Joe and Frank — and even the possibly crazy Biaggio. You also feel the hurt when the truth between Kelly and Joe’s standing rears its head, and when tragedy strikes — as it always does — towards the end. Harkening back to the youngster rapport of the aforementioned Stand by Me, along with The Goonies, or even the more recent Super 8 (which Basso was also in), the performances keep it together. The particular highlight however, is of course, Offerman. Every line out of his mouth is solid gold. As for Mullally and Jackson, all kids think their parents could be aliens, but there’s a strong case to be made that Patrick’s really may be.

KingsOfSummerPic2The teenage antics are never overplayed, and writer Chris Galletta definitely remembers what it’s like to be an awkward teenager all too well. Even if director Vogt-Roberts relies a little too heavily on the use of slo-mo and loves his nature shots too much. We already know they’re out in the woods, just let the cast deliver the goods — which they do. The Kings of Summer certainly won’t be ruling the box office, but CBS Films has picked up a film ripe for awards season and I doubt it will be overlooked. I just hope audiences decide to go because it deserves the word-of-mouth as The Kings of Summer is one of the best films of the summer, and of the year.

Photos courtesy CBS Films

Movie Review: Monsters University

**** 1/2 out of 5
110 minutes
Rated G
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Monsters University on Blogcritics.

Pixar has sure had a long road back to glory after releasing the stunning Toy Story 3. Cars 2 was a glorified Larry the Cable Guy film — even though it’s nowhere near as bad as people want to admit. And Brave may have won Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars but still has its share of detractors. What Pixar needs right now is something reliable, and what’s more reliable than taking a journey back to the land of Monstropolis with our favorite scarers, Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman). Yes, the duo is back in full hilarity in Monsters University.

MonstersUniversityMikeMU begins all the way back when Mike is in elementary school. No one wants to be his friend — even though kid-Mike is completely adorable — so much so that he’s delegated to pairing off with his teacher while on a field trip to Monsters Inc. While visiting the facility, Mike crosses the line — literally — and sneaks into a child’s room. The scarer didn’t even know Mike had followed him in and Mike makes the decision that he too will one day join the work force of Monsters, Inc. After being accepted to Monsters University and enrolling in the School of Scaring program, Mike meets a younger James P. Sullivan who feels a sense of entitlement coming from a long family line of top scarers.

While Mike and Sulley do not get along in this edition, Mike also faces the challenge of not being scary courtesy of Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). The Dean kicks both Mike and Sulley out of the scare program after a scare-off debacle — and they wind up joining the Oozma Kappa fraternity. Now Mike and Sully, along with their newfound brothers — Don (Joel Murray), two-headed Terri (Sean Hayes) and Terry (Dave Foley), Art (Charlie Day), and Squishy (Peter Sohn) — must win the Scare Games to get back into the program and prove to the Dean and the whole campus that they’re far scarier than anyone would ever give them credit.

MonstersUniversityPic1Monsters University still may not be the perfect Pixar film, but it is hilarious from beginning to end. A colleague told me he felt the first half was too jokey before it finally settled into being a Monsters film. People forget that the original is still the closest Pixar entry to being a full-blown comedy. The jokes have always come first and just because co-writer/director Dan Scanlon (along with co-writers Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson, who both helped write the original) relies on them more than Pete Docter, David Silverman, and Lee Unkrich did, doesn’t mean the film should be short-shifted.

There are huge laughs in Monsters University. Thankfully Crystal hasn’t lost his touch in voicing Mike Wazowski and Goodman keeps Sulley just as loveable as ever, even if the two are enemies for a good chunk of the movie. And don’t worry, there are plenty of familiar faces in the mix such as Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) who just happens to be Mike’s roommate. The Pixar magic has almost completely returned, and with a batch of original features in the pipeline, this should start getting the studio back on track to their glory days. Also, be on time so you don’t miss the brilliant short, The Blue Umbrella.

Photos courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

Movie Review: World War Z

**** out of 5
116 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: World War Z on Blogcritics.

With all the reported rewrites and reshoots revolving around World War Z, it’s any wonder the film ever even made it to the big screen. Director Marc Forster may not seem like the man that should have been put in charge of such a large scale, globe-trotting action/horror film, but his final product is way better than you’d think. Considering the screenplay has passed from Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom, State of Play) to Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, The Cabin in the Woods) — with a third act rewrite by Damon Lindelof (Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus, Lost) — it’s a kind of miracle that the film adaptation of author Max Brooks’ novel World War Z, manages to be so damn good.

WWZPic1Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) has left his old job at the U.N. behind and loves his new job as a stay at home dad. He loves his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and two daughters, Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). While stuck in traffic in Philadelphia, all hell breaks loose and Gerry must get his family to safety amidst the looting and rioting. TV reports indicate some kind of rabies virus is turning people into monsters and Gerry manages to find shelter inside an apartment complex thanks to a trusting family, including little Tommy (Fabrizio Zacharee Guido).

Gerry is contacted by Thierry (Fana Mokoena) at the U.N. who brings them all to a command ship in the Atlantic Ocean where he informs him that the President is dead. Gerry needs to accompany a virologist, Dr. Fassbach (Elyes Gabel), in search of patient zero and follow Mother Nature’s breadcrumbs to find out what started the so-called zombie outbreak and possibly find a cure. After landing in North Korea things go from bad to worse as the doctor manages to accidentally shoot himself in the head leaving Gerry to the search on his own taking him from Jerusalem to a W.H.O. facility in Berlin that just may hold all the answers.

WWZPic2While the word zombie does get thrown around a lot — including the term undead — they’re treated more as a plague of infectious rats. There’s also the prerequisite talk about head shots being the only way to take them out, along with burning the bodies. The final act is where the reshoots take over and I can’t even imagine what originally was shot. I also can’t figure out how the new final act could have cost $40 million but it certainly works. The last act also seems to develop a much needed sense of humor, no doubt thanks to Goddard and Lindelof.

World War Z is the summer’s biggest surprise considering the horrible word-of-mouth it had been getting before the finale was scrapped. But Carnahan, Goddard, Lindelof, and Forster have delivered one of Z best zombie films since 28 Weeks Later. These zombies are in your face (thanks to the 3D of course) and the threat feels far more palpable than in your standard issue zombie movie. There are scenes throughout that are forget-to-breathe intense, and what more could you ask for in a big budget summer zombie spectacle?

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blu-ray Review: Cold Eyes of Fear

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Cold Eyes of Fear on Blogcritics.

While Kino Lorber may be knocking its own films out of the park with each Blu-ray release these days, its Redemption genre division leaves plenty to be desired. Focusing on erotic thrillers and nudity-filled horror seems to be the name of the game, but not every release can lead to coining the genius phrase, “zombie knife fight.” That line will probably wind up being the pinnacle of reviewing this line of films, but I can keep my fingers crossed, right? Unfortunately for the Italian thriller Cold Eyes of Fear, not even a jazzy Ennio Morricone score can keep you enthralled through the talky, wrongfully accused shenanigans.

Cold Eyes of Fear opens with what looks like a woman (Karin Schubert) coming home to a raping, but it’s actually just a performance piece in a bar. In attendance happen to be Anna (Giovanna Ralli) and Peter (Gianni Garko). Anna ditches her drunken cohort and heads off for a night on the town with Peter, leading them both to the house of Peter’s uncle Juez (Fernando Rey).

They’re both in for more than a night of sexual escapades when the murdered butler makes an appearance, and they discover they’re not alone. Turns out a man named Quill (Julian Mateos) has come to hold them at gunpoint, while Arthur (Frank Wolff) will arrive to explain his revenge and hold the two — and viewers — hostage for the remainder of the film.

Co-writer/director Enzo G. Castellari may have a few fun gimmicks up his sleeve as far as his camera work goes, but the snail-like pacing kills any kind of thrills that might have been. Even a sequence involving a wired bomb sputters because you already know what the intended victim is going to do to escape because it’s such an easy way out. Never has a bomb been so easy to disarm. The cast does what they can considering the whole film falls on them. Redemption may be releasing plenty of horror films, but this one is a strictly thriller affair. And it’s also far too talky to be even slightly thrilling. You could call it “Bored Mouths of Monologue.”

As with every Redemption Blu-ray release, the video comes chock-full of nicks, scratches, hairs, and white specks. In this case, the 1.88: 1 MPEG-4 AVC encode has some impressive clarity. Even resolution and detail are better than most of the company’s releases. Fine detail on fabric, clothing, and facial hair is impressive. For further examination, check out the film’s trailer as it’s the only included special feature. It’s of note that the trailer is for the U.S. theatrical release where the film was renamed Desperate Moments, a far more fitting title, actually. The English LPCM 2.0 track leaves far more to be desired. It sounds as if Castellari relied on a naturalistic soundscape as the audio can go from overbearing to unintelligible in the same scene. There’s also an abundance of hiss that gets rather annoying after a while. Also included are trailers for Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Black Magic Rites, The Asphyx, The Comeback, and Night of the Hunted.

Redemption Blu-ray releases are all pretty much take-em-or-leave-em affairs, and in the case of Cold Eyes of Fear, you’re more likely to be bored to death faster than any of the characters can be offed.

Cover art and photo courtesy Redemption

Blu-ray Review: The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine on Blogcritics.

By now, the Redemption label of Kino Lorber is synonymous with Blu-ray releases you would never expect to see. Chock-full of nudity, lesbianism, vampires, and zombies, every film feels like a piece of film education of which Quentin Tarantino would be proud. Considering they’re mostly European releases, this make even more sense. But not all of them can be winners (I’ll never forget when my friend and I were able to coin the phrase “Zombie Knife Fight”). It seems that the nunsploitation genre isn’t as fun as you would think it should be — or at least that’s the case with Sergio Grieco’s The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine.

Esteban (Paolo Marco) is on the run from the Inquisition (insert Monty Python joke here). After being chased on horseback and shot in the arm, Esteban defeats his captors in a sword duel and heads to a convent to be nursed back to health. While at the convent, his star-crossed lover, Lucita (Jenny Tamburi) is days away from taking her vows. Just like the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo & Juliet, Esteban and Lucita are bound by history to be kept apart. But strange things are afoot at the convent. Lucita’s roommate, Josefa (Bruna Beani), spends her time writhing nude in Lucita’s bed when she’s not having her way with her lady parts, but not before someone offs poor Josefa, framing Lucita, while Esteban receives assistance from The Abbess (Françoise Prévost). Let the whipping, sweating, and fornication commence!

As is always the case with any Blu-ray release from Redemption, The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine is an as-is affair. Presented in a 2.36:1 ratio with an MPEG-4 AVC encode, it comes full of white specks, scratches, hairs, flicker, and noise. You name it, they’ve got it. They always make a big deal about their releases coming from remastered 35mm elements, but they never take the time to clean any of their releases up. I don’t mind so much, it helps remind you that you’re watching something shot on actual film, and coming from 35mm elements definitely improves clarity for the most part. These films doubtfully ever looked as good as they do here, aside from their original theatrical releases. Softness crops in here and there, but for the most part, things look sharper than you’d expect. Detail isn’t immaculate, but Redemption has definitely given these films a better-than-they-deserve conception. The only audio track is an Italian LPCM Mono that sounds reasonable enough with English subtitles, but there are no special features aside from trailers for additional Redemption releases: Virgin Witch, Black Magic Rites, House of Whipcord, Marquis De Sade’s Justine, and Killer’s Moon.

What’s funny about The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine is that they appear to be more sinful than co-writer/director Grieco lets us see. While one nun is being whipped topless, he cuts to a shot of Josefa biting her lip in ecstasy, but when she’s having her way with Lucita, there’s barely any nudity involved and everything happens off camera. You expect a lot more from this type of film, yet it seems as if Grieco was trying to be more mentally titillating than visually. Needless to say, it just doesn’t work. Not to mention that just because someone is willing to take her clothes off, doesn’t mean that they should. Tamburi fits the bill just fine, but being subjected to Prévost just isn’t playing nice. Not to mention that the story is as convoluted as you’d expect from a ’70s erotic thriller. Nothing ever makes sense in these movies, and usually you could pass it off if there were enough skin on display, but by claiming your film is “loosely based” on a play by Victor Hugo just makes the whole thing even more of a bust.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel

***** out of 5
143 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Man of Steel on Blogcritics.

For someone whose expectations weren’t too high to begin with, I was completely blown away by Zack Snyder’s brilliant reboot of the Superman franchise. Backed by producer Christopher Nolan, I should have been expecting this as an end product. But in all honesty, I was never a huge Superman fan to begin with. But I have to say, with the new Man of Steel, Warner Bros. and DC Comics finally has someone besides Batman to contend with the ever-expanding Marvel Universe. A film that breathes the much needed life back into a superhero that seemed burned out after Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. But if this is the new “Supes,” I’ll take it!

ManOfSteel2The planet Krypton is on the verge of destruction. Jor-El’s (Russell Crowe) wife, Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer), has just given birth to the first naturally born infant in centuries. At the same time, General Zod (Michael Shannon) is busy committing high treason in his search for the Codex that can save their people, which has been taken by Jor-El. Jor-El manages to send their newborn son, Kal-El to Earth, along with the Codex, sending Zod into a fury, killing Jor-El before he’s sentenced to 300 cycles of reconditioning — aka frozen.

Next we get caught up to speed with the now grown Kal-El, living in Smallville, Kansas, under the name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). After being found by his Earth parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane, Kevin Costner), he was raised to hide his alien powers because the world would be changed forever if they knew what he was and what he can do. But leave it to The Daily Planet’s Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to track him down, right before General Zod makes his way to Earth, along with his badass sidekick Faora-Ul (Antje Traue), in search of Kal-El with a maniacal plan to wreak his havoc.

ManOfSteel3The biggest surprise Snyder gives us with Man of Steel is its ability to tug at the heartstrings. The relationship between the Kents may be shown in flashbacks, but always with the most critical timing for the biggest emotional payoff. There is a very particular scene that may seem too soon after the devastating recent events in Oklahoma, but this only serves to make the scene hit as hard as it’s supposed to and is in no way disrespectful of what’s happened in real life.

Packed with enough dazzling special effects to boggle the mind, they pulled off some of the stunts and a knock down drag-out finale that gives the Avengers a run for their money. Everyone involved with Man of Steel — from Snyder to Nolan, DC, Warner Bros. and scripter David S. Goyer (who’s far better with a pen than behind the camera, Blade: Trinity anyone?) — deserves a round of applause for giving us one of the summer’s, and the year’s, best pictures. Man of Steel is a Superman that even I can believe in.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Blu-ray Review: The Emperor's New Groove / Kronk's New Groove

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Emperor's New Groove / Kronk's New Groove on Blogcritics.

When it comes to animated Disney features, not every film is a bonafide classic. Even now, films like The Black Cauldron, Oliver and Company, and their last hand-drawn venture (The Princess and the Frog) barely made its budget back. Although I suppose a worldwide gross of $267 million is nothing to frown about. Most of these films may have performed poorly in theaters, but manage to find a new life on home video. While I was one of the few who caught The Emperor’s New Groove on the big screen, it’s been able to find its audience in the afterlife and is making its Blu-ray debut this week. For better and worse, its direct-to-video sequel — Kronk’s New Groove — is also attached. Something Disney has been doing a lot of lately with their lesser efforts.

Both Grooves find their way onto Blu-ray on a 50GB disc with absolutely no features giving both films enough wiggle room to keep from cramping the picture. (Although there is an audio commentary on Emperor’s included DVD copy.) Emperor comes in a 1.68:1 aspect ratio with Kronk in a screen-filling 1.78. Having been a theatrical release, Emperor looks the best of the two, but they both come with a few anomalies along the way. Emperor’s biggest flaw may be some minor aliasing in the finer lines. Notably when characters are far away and moving around quickly. I didn’t see any banding here and the colors are as bright and crisp as you’d expect. The same can be said for Kronk’s transfer, but here there is some faint banding. It’s pretty light and you’d probably only really notice it if you’re paying close attention or have your color turned up just a little too high. Aside from that, there’s not really much in the way of bad and of course, the prints are as pristine as you’d expect from a Disney release.

Both films feature 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks and sound as lively as they should considering they feature a few original songs. Emperor manages to come out on top again with Kronk never finding a real groove but considering its origin should not come as a surprise. The opening number of Emperor really kicks things off on a high note with the Tom Jones sung “Perfect World,” horns blaring and background singers wailing. When it comes to Kronk, the only song you’ll even remember being in it is courtesy of Eartha Kitt singing “Feel Like a Million.” Surrounds are kept to a minimum in both, but resonate more during Emperor, what little there is in Kronk are usually part of musical cues more than environmental. Neither are meant to be assaults on the senses, so thankfully, dialogue is clean and clear, with directionality managing to shine through surprisingly during both.

Time spent with Emperor Kuzco (David Spade) and Yzma’s (Kitt) flavor of the month henchman Kronk (David Warburton) is better made in Emperor’s New Groove. Both films are a silly good time, but Kronk’s New Groove is centered around a main character who overstays his welcome in the limelight with a plot as minimal as you’d expect in a Disney sequel. There’s a surprising amount of head scratching film references ranging from Lord of the Rings, Evita, and A Few Good Men. Through Kronk’s New Groove, all Kronk wants is a big thumbs up from his flaring-nostrils-of-rejection Papi (John Mahoney), but as far as this double feature Blu-ray goes, it gets at least one, simply for Emperor’s New Groove.

Cover art courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

Movie Review: This Is the End

***** out of 5
107 minutes
Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence
Columbia Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: This Is the End on Blogcritics.

Just when people were starting to think that the house Judd Apatow built ( TV’s Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared and the big screen’s Anchorman, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, etc.) had run out of steam comes one of the group’s funniest films. However, Apatow himself had nothing to do with this one. Transitioning from writers to directors, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have successfully made their way behind the camera. And with This is the End clocking in at only 107 minutes, they’ve learned a thing or two in the process. Don’t overstay your welcome and keep the jokes flying at a relentless pace.

The film opens with Jay Baruchel newly arrived in Los Angeles and picked up at the airport by Seth Rogen. After a quick stop at Carl’s Jr. they head to Seth’s house for some R&R. Now that they’ve relaxed over some 3DTV and pot, the two head off to a party at James Franco’s house. Jay faces anxiety as he’s the last thread of Canada Seth has and Jay doesn’t fit in with Seth’s L.A. cohorts, especially Jonah Hill who Seth claims to be every bit of nice that Jay thinks Jonah is faking.

During the party — which includes as many of their friends as possible: Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Martin Starr, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Rihanna, and a coked-up Michael Cera — Jay and Seth hit a convenience store to satisfy their munchies but not before some sort of earthquake rocks L.A. and beams of light start sucking people into the heavens. They return to Franco’s house, as a sinkhole wipes out all of the party’s guests — aside from Jay, Seth, Franco, Jonah, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride — they must join forces to face the apocalypse together.

Apocalypse movies seem to be a dime a dozen lately, but it has never been funnier than this. Featuring a smattering of gore that would make the Final Destination films proud, and more laughs in one minute than the entirety of The Internship, Rogen and Goldberg have completely succeeded in stretching out Jason Stone’s short film Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse. With everyone essentially playing themselves it allows them all to poke fun of each other and themselves with glee. Keep your eyes peeled for some of the best cameos ever, including at least two that absolutely must not be spoiled. This is the End will wind up being one of the funniest films of the year, and if This is the End, I can’t think of a better way to go.

Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Blu-ray Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Oz the Great and Powerful on Blogcritics.

Expectations can be a powerful thing when it comes to movies. And in the case of Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful — a Wizard of Oz prequel — they probably couldn’t get any higher considering the original classic is one year shy of its 75th anniversary. While the new film may not be as great or powerful upon first viewing, it definitely grows on you with repeat viewings. Watching the special features of the Blu-ray release also made me appreciate more of what Raimi did manage to bring to theaters and now to own on June 11. My full review of the film can be found here.

When it comes to a film’s picture quality, would you expect anything less than stellar from a Disney release? Oz the Great and Powerful certainly lives up to its title when it comes to its 2.40: 1 aspect ratio, MPEG-4 AVC encode. While I may not have had the opportunity to review the 3D disc, the 2D shines through and through. The only issue may be that with the film being actually lensed in 3D instead of converted, some of the special effects and cinematography comes off as hokey. You really start to see where some of the seams were in post-production, but thankfully, Raimi uses enough sets to keep it under control.

The cheesiest scene is hands down when Oz (James Franco), Glinda (Michelle Williams), Finley (Zach Braff), and China Girl (Joey King) are flying around in bubbles. Additionally, the entire opening sequence is rendered lifeless now too. In the original 3D presentation, a fire eater blows from within the 1.33:1 framing out into the black area. Here it simply gets cut off within the frame. However, Disney spares no expense on every new release and there’s no crush, banding, aliasing, or noise to speak of. I can only imagine how much better the 3D release looks, only because it’s supposed to be in 3D.

The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also a thing of beauty. You don’t notice how flat the soundscape really is in the opening scene until the roaring twister sweeps Franco away. LFE (particularly in the big witch-off finale) and directionality rule the day, sucking you right into the mystical Land of Oz with excellent dialogue reproduction and directionality pin-point accurate. Oddly, the only scene that doesn’t sound as good as it should involves a swarm of butterflies while Oz is floating down the river in his deflated hot air balloon. Aside from that, the audio track is as transporting as it should be; especially when it comes time to sweep us along the ride with our characters.

As for special features, Oz the Great and Powerful may not have an onslaught — a Raimi and Franco audio commentary certainly would have been hilarious to listen to — but they definitely serve their purpose in making one appreciate the film even more. The best feature, “China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief,” is the shortest. Here we learn that Oz’s porcelain heroine was brought to life on set by way of marionette with actress Joey King providing on set voice acting while Phillip Huber brings her to life. A brief collection of “Bloopers” provides some fun showing us the behind-the-scenes antics and “Mila’s Metamorphosis” lets us see what it’s like to be transformed into a wicked witch. The longest feature is “My Journey in Oz,” a pseudo-documentary directed by James Franco himself providing more on set footage and interviews with Raimi and his co-stars.

The most interesting bonus item is “Walt Disney and the Road to Oz” where we learn of just how long the Mouse House has been trying to adapt Frank L. Baum’s series, dating all the way back to before the release of Snow White when Samuel Goldwyn snatched up the rights for MGM due to Snow White’s success. It also offers footage from Walt Disney’s Rainbow Road to Oz production for his Mickey Mouse Club actors. I saved this feature for my wife to watch and after seeing the footage she commented on how terrible it was right before it mentioned how Walt felt the same way and shut down production. “Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz” is even more production footage showing us the creation of sets, costumes, and locations. There’s the requisite Second Screen Experience “The Magic of Oz the Great and Powerful” and finally, “Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions” rounds everything off discussing his enthusiasm for the project.

Oz the Great and Powerful may have its share of detractors with its theatrical release, but it should be given a second chance on Blu-ray. Trying to compare it to the original classic is certainly unfair. But featuring stellar audio and video, with a nice bounty of extras, another demo-worthy disc comes out of the Mouse House and into your living room where it can be granted a new life, just like Oz himself.

Cover art and photos courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

Movie Review: The Purge

 ** out of 5
85 minutes
Rated R for strong disturbing violence and some language
Universal Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: The Purge on Blogcritics.

A night can certainly go from bad to worse when the second movie is even worse than the first. When the first movie happens to be The Internship, consider just how bad The Purge really is. Writer/director James DeMonaco delivers such a horrible final 30 minutes it deflates the entire film. During the opening credits, I had higher hopes as I saw a string of French names, however, amongst them? But then, Michael Bay. Although the French are certainly doing horror right, Bay’s Platinum Dunes still has no idea what makes a good movie. Period.

The movie is set in 2022. Unemployment is at 1% and one night a year, for 12 hours, the U.S. participates in a government issued “purge.” It’s a night of anything goes, and normal everyday people head out to hunt down the weak or take vengeance on their enemies.

In the case of James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), who works for a security company, all he wants to do is enjoy a 12-hour lockdown inside the house he secured for himself. Locked inside with his wife Mary (Lena Headey), and kids Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane), James just wants to get through another purge. Charlie questions his parents don’t participate in the purge, while Zoey’s boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) manages to sneak inside before the lockdown begins.

Things go from bad to worse for the Sandins when Charlie allows a Bloody Stranger (Edwin Hodge) entrance, and a group of costume-wearing purgers show up to get him. Meanwhile, Henry convinces Zoey that he just wants to talk to James man-to-man, but has a much different agenda, aiming instead to kill his girlfriend’s dad. Because, you know, the fastest way to a young girl’s heart is to put a bullet in her father’s. But James manages to kill Henry first. Our Bloody Stranger lurks inside while the group of maniacs outside led by Polite Stranger (Rhys Wakefield), threatens to take out the whole family if they don’t give him up. Let the game of morals begin!

Although I was thoroughly caught up in the events of the first hour, a ludicrous turn of events made me quite angry with the way in which the last 30 minutes play out. This is without a doubt the worst finale to a film since last year’s Chronicle. Although I wasn’t on board with that one from the start, at least I wasn’t as mentally involved. Now imagine loving two-thirds of a film only to watch all the buildup and tension come crumbling down as the film grows dumber and dumber with each passing minute.

Hawke plays the father trying to save his family surprisingly well, even if he seems prone to starring in these films that have a great premise but a horrible dénouement — read: Sinister. There were cheers and applause throughout the finale as the audience cheered on the wrong characters. By the time that one hour mark hits, I just wanted all of the characters to die. Now if only there was some way I could purge myself from ever having seen The Purge.

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

Friday, June 7, 2013

Movie Review: The Internship

** ½ out of 5
119 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, some crude humor, partying and language
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Article first published as Movie Review: The Internship on Blogcritics.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to try and capture lightning in a bottle twice. Now imagine trying to do something like that in Hollywood. Eight years ago, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson paired up to deliver one of the biggest comedies of all time with Wedding Crashers. About $285 million worldwide later, it is inevitable that the two are back together to bring more yuks to the big screen. Unfortunately, this time they brought along director Shawn Levy who knows all too well how to make a bad movie — see Real Steal, Night at the Museum 2, The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen. His only tolerable films are the first Night at the Museum and Date Night. If you feel a little weary at all after reading those titles, then you may want to steer clear of his latest misfire, The Internship.

Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson) are suffering from a case of Live Free or Die Hard — they’re a Timex watch in a digital world; literally. They sell watches for a living and have just found out from the sale they’re trying to close that the business has gone under. Their boss (John Goodman) scoots them out the door because no one wears watches anymore; everyone just checks the time on their phones. (The irony here being that the colleague sitting next to me kept checking his watch for us as the movie slogged along.) Nick takes up his sister’s offer to go to work for her boyfriend (Will Ferrell) but he’s only there a few hours before Billy walks in and rescues him with an interview for an internship at Google.

Faking their way through the interview, they wind up at what appears to be the most laid back work facility this side of Pixar Animation Studios. Nick and Billy think they’ve got it made, but soon learn that the two know even less about computer skills than they thought. Taken under the wing of Lile (Josh Brener), along with outcasts Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael), Stewart (Dylan O’Brien), and Naya (Tiya Sircar), they must make their way through the internship program together; even if Nick and Billy can’t stop dragging the team down. There are also subplots involving an arch nemesis (Max Minghella) and a love interest for Nick (Rose Byrne), but with the film clocking in at a whopping two hours — at least a half hour too long — you start to lose track of what’s going on and just wait for the movie to end.

While The Internship does manage to squeeze out at least a few laughs, the biggest one it got from me was coincidental. Over the weekend, some friends discussed the infamous lisp of Barcelona, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when Vince Vaughn shouts out “Barthalona” at the beginning. With Vaughn listed as co-writer and producer, it’s no wonder he’s allowed to run wild through the movie, but just as Naya tells him at one point, “You’re just saying a lot of words really fast that don’t mean anything.” The same is sadly true of the whole endeavor. There’s also a barrage of 80s references that go way over the heads of the kids, especially considering how much the movie emphasizes that Billy and Nick are from some kind of stone age.

The supporting youngsters are very likable; Wilson and Byrne have at least a tiny bit of chemistry, but their scenes together are few and far between. Had they been working with a director who knows how to pull everything together (or had gotten back together with Wedding Crashers’ David Dobkin), maybe they could have pulled off the reunion we were hoping for. Being stunted with a PG-13 rating certainly doesn’t help either because fans of their last union will be looking for something far raunchier and definitely way funnier. In the end, The Internship just drags along, hitting every college comedy beat along the way, but without any jokes.

Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation