Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blu-ray Review: 'Twixt'

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Twixt' on Blogcritics.

Being a director of such high regard sure looks like it’s taken its toll on poor Francis Ford Coppola. After winning various Oscars for The Godfather (Best Adapted Screenplay) and The Godfather: Part II (Best Director, Picture, and Adapted Screenplay), it’s just never been the same since Coppola hit the ’90s. We can overlook the fact that his own daughter Sofia almost single-handedly ruined The Godfather: Part III, but after Dracula, Jack, Youth Without Youth, Tetro, and now Twixt, it appears that the once great American filmmaker should be hanging up his own cinematic cape. 

Twixt begins as a fairytale of sorts, where, once upon a time, a downhill novelist, Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), arrives in the quiet town of Swann Valley. In town for a book signing, the only person interested in purchasing a copy is town Sheriff Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern). LaGrange asks Hall to come on down to the town morgue because he’d like to show him a dead body with a giant stake in its heart. LaGrange tells Hall that a string of murders has given him the idea for a book that he wants Hall to co-write with him called “The Vampire Executions.”

Hall goes back to his motel room to drink about it and winds up having a dream involving a teenage girl named “V” (Elle Fanning) who’s embarrassed about her buck teeth and wants Hall to find out who killed her and 12 other children. Now Hall must figure out if V’s murder has something to do with the maybe-vampire goth teens across the lake, led by Flamingo (Alden Ehrenreich), or if something bigger is afoot in Swann Valley. He also sees Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin) in these dreams, who may know more about what’s going on than any figment of Hall’s imagination should. 

Twixt has one special feature, a 37-minute behind-the-scenes documentary “Twixt – A Documentary by Gia Coppola.” Gia explains that she has just graduated college and couldn’t decide what she wanted to do career wise so she came to help out her grandfather with his new movie. The on-screen ramblings she captures of Francis — age 74 — explains why Twixt is such a failure. Based on a dream Coppola had after a night of drinking in Istanbul, it’s no surprise that the film is so incoherent.

Full of atrocious acting from Kilmer, Dern, and the rest of the cast — Fanning is the only one who walks away unscathed — with just about the worst plotting and dialogue imaginable, you’d never believe that Coppola was so proud of his new film that he wanted to take it on a 30 city tour. Although, his original idea was to manipulate the film according to audience reaction live. Surely grueling for any director, there’s no doubt that the film itself is why 20th Century Fox canceled the film tour. Poor Fanning is far above the material, but considering her age, you can’t blame her for accepting roles in anything she can get. Elle Fanning is probably the best young actress aside from Chloe Grace Moretz working today.

TwixtCoppola filmed Twixt digitally and it shows. If you happen to suffer through the documentary feature, you’ll see that most of the film was shot during the day which may surprise you seeing how the film takes place mostly at night. With enough post-production tweaking to give Sin City a run for its money, Twixt looks, good enough, but not as good as it should. Since it wasn’t shot on film there’s obviously no grain involved, but we do get the pre-requisite amount of noise. There also seems to be tons of artificial sharpening on hand as well. Crush creeps in from time to time with shadows becoming nothing more than a black abyss, while there’s also some shimmer on a lot of Kilmer’s wardrobe. Just as bad as the video, the audio sounds mostly as if everyone is speaking their dialogue into tin cans. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track does what it can with surrounds, but they only kick in when necessary to give the effect of wind or to pronounce Dan Deacon and Osvaldo Golijov’s atrocious score.

Considering Francis Ford Coppola began his career with some small budget horror films — The Terror and Dementia 13 — I was hoping that maybe Twixt wasn’t as bad as its reputation. Twixt is actually worse than that and isn’t even worth a rental for the most curious. Coming across as a mix of Misery and In the Mouth of Madness, but nowhere near as entertaining as either, Dern’s Sheriff asks Hall how it feels to be a “bargain basement Stephen King,” and Sheriff LaGrange might as well be asking Coppola the same thing.

Cover art and photo courtesy 20th Century Fox

Blu-ray Review: The Mario Bava Collection – 'Black Sabbath' and 'Kidnapped'

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Mario Bava Collection – 'Black Sabbath' and 'Kidnapped' on Blogcritics.

Diving into a Mario Bava double feature from a Jean Rollins double feature, you’re going to be treated to something more than just gore and nudity. Not that there’s anything wrong with that when it comes to horror — it’s what most audience’s expect. But for the rest of us, Bava makes sure that we get a little more bang for our buck, and not just bangs. Kino Classics keeps cranking out their “Mario Bava Collection” at an incredible rate. And they’re not slowing down, with the Blu-ray releases of 1963′s Black Sabbath and 1974′s seemingly lost Kidnapped (aka Rabid Dogs).

BlackSabbathBlack Sabbath represents the Bava most are familiar with, but with Kidnapped, Bava was obviously out to make something far different. Most of his films relish gothic horror-style camera angles and color, as in Sabbath. Kidnapped is a whole different beast, about two hostages — Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla) and Maria (Lea Lander) — kidnapped by a trio of robbers. Now Doc (Maurice Poli), Blade (Don Backy), and “32″ (George Eastman) must keep Riccardo and Maria from doing anything dangerous while they make it to their safe house.

In Black Sabbath, Boris Karloff introduces us to an anthology of three creepy tales. A woman named Rosy (Michele Mercier) is harassed in “The Telephone”; a home is stalked by a possible blood-thirsty beast called “The Wurdalak”; and a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) steals a ring off the finger of the wrong dead séance medium.

Of the two films, Black Sabbath is more fun. With the anthology narrative stringing you along from one tale to the next, it keeps things moving at a quick pace. As for Kidnapped, the film feels extremely padded even though it only runs a mere 96 minutes. Both films are presented in full 1080p of course, with Black Sabbath displayed in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Kidnapped in 1.85:1.

Both are presented in typical as-is fashion from Kino, but they look really good. There are of course some white specks, hairs, scratches, and dirt here and there, but detail is exceptional, especially considering Kidnapped had to be pieced together since Bava never finished his own cut. Grain is evident throughout, which is no surprise since Kino thankfully seems to have no idea that DNR even exists. And let’s hope they never find out. Both come equipped with LPCM 2.0 Mono tracks that get the job done, even if there’s the occasional hiss or pop. Too bad they didn’t restore the original music for Kidnapped, since the synth score they used for the final cut is really cheesy. There are no special features on either discs; instead they simply feature trailers for the rest of the Mario Bava Collection.

Each tale in Black Sabbath speeds along to its conclusion or twist, coming off like a Tales from the Crypt film. Kidnapped is still worth a look for completists though it comes off more of a curiosity than anything else. Featuring great video and audio for both films, the collection makes both available now on Blu-ray from Kino Classics.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Blu-ray Review: 'Movie 43'

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Movie 43' on Blogcritics.

The anthology film is something rarely seen these days, so much so that my two favorites both come from ’70s: The Kentucky Fried Movie and Tales from the Crypt. The only good thing that can be brought by this style of narrative is that if one story or skit doesn’t work, the next one might. When it comes to Movie 43, there are 13 directors and probably three times as many writers working behind the scenes. Is the film anywhere near as bad as its reputation indicates? Not really. Is the film a hilarious success? Not even close. But considering how low expectations were going in — and the amount of stars, writers, and directors involved — I knew there had to be at least a few laughs.

Movie43BoxArtMovie 43’s title actually refers to the wraparound segments originally used to string the skits along. It involves a couple of teens playing a prank on a sibling that winds up triggering the apocalypse. It is as bad as you’d expect and the folks behind it quickly realize it wouldn’t work, especially considering that the next plot centers around screenwriter Charlie Wessler (Dennis Quaid) trying to sell his latest screenplay to Griffin Schraeder (Greg Kinnear) who calls it a “smart movie with heart, like The Help.” What the film actually entails is ways to get as many celebrities to act as childish as possible in some of the most grotesque, “envelope pushing” ways possible. Eventually, Charlie takes Griffin at gunpoint and later we find out that even this is all just another one of the skits.

What does one get with Movie 43?  You can see Kate Winslet gag at the sight of Hugh Jackman with a pair of testicles descending from his neck. Bear witness to real-life couple Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts conducting the worst homeschooling ever and Chloe Grace Moretz getting her period at a friend’s house. If that doesn’t get your goose, maybe watching Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville beat up a leprechaun is more to your liking. The one sketch that really has a fantastic idea behind it features DC Comics characters at a speed-dating event gone wrong. The most laughs come from one of the end skits involving Terrence Howard as a basketball coach to the first black team in the ’60s. There are 14 skits for your perusal here. It is not a movie in the typical sense, because it’s Movie 43. And the shock and awe factor is cranked up to 11.

I’ve read that Movie 43 took about four years to film in order to accommodate the stars’ schedules. Yet that has no effect on the video quality. Framed in the 1.85:1 ratio, Movie 43 isn’t out to be the prettiest movie ever made, but what comedy ever is? There is no denying however, that the MPEG-4 AVC encode is up to bringing every pubic hair on Jackman’s testicles to life, along with every wrinkle on Quaid’s face. The only anomalies I noticed were minor banding during a black and white sequence and some slight shimmer on a hat. Otherwise, the print is as pristine as you’d expect from the digitally photographed film. Considering everything is usually well lit, there’s no noise or crush to speak of either.

Movie43Pic1The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is about what you’d expect it to be, too. There are barely any surround effects save for some musical cues, and the dialogue (whether you want to hear it or not) is crystal clear. English and Spanish subtitles are also included. The only special feature is a Bob Odenkirk written/directed skit, the film’s trailer, and sneak peeks of other Fox titles including: The Heat and 21 & Over. I suppose the alternate cut (which involves the horrendous teenager-inflicted Armageddon) could be considered a special feature.

Movie 43 is definitely not out to save the world and if most of the stars involved looked like they were having fun instead of being embarrassed it could have turned out much better. I would never recommend anyone wasting 94 minutes of their time with the film, but I will say that I laughed more times throughout Movie 43 than sitting through both RED 2 and R.I.P.D. in the same week. Not high praise, but at least there was something to laugh at.

Cover art and photo courtesy Relativity Media

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Movie Review: 'The To Do List'

*** 1/2 out of 5
104 minutes
Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language - all involving teens
CBS Films

Article first published as Movie Review: 'The To Do List' on Blogcritics.

I remember stumbling upon an internet show called The Jeannie Tate Show a few years back and was instantly smitten with the bumbling shenanigans of the title character. Soccer mom Jeannie Tate, played by Liz Cackowski, is hilariously oblivious to how awkward she makes life for both her daughter — played by Aubrey Plaza — and guest star Bill Hader — who always winds up getting stuck in Jeannie’s mini-van. The Jeannie Tate Show was created by Cackowski, along with Hader’s wife Maggie Carey (who co-wrote and directed the episodes), and now Carey is out to make her big screen directing debut with Aubrey Plaza in the lead as Plaza attempts to lose her virginity in The To Do List.

TheToDoListPic1It’s 1993 and Brandy Klark (Plaza) has just graduated as valedictorian from high school in Boise, Idaho. Brandy’s parents, Mrs. Klark and Judge Clark (Connie Britton, Clark Gregg) couldn’t be more proud of their overachieving daughter, but all Brandy’s friends — Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) want to do is ditch Brandy’s college prep To Do List and take her to a kegger. At the party is where Brandy meets the older Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), who accidentally makes out with her when he finds her alone in a bedroom. Brandy panics and ruins the moment and she decides that she is going to set out to make a new To Do List covering every sexual base you can think of.

Brandy discovers she had no idea there were so many “jobs” involved with sex and thinks a “shocker” must be some kind of surprise. She gets in over her head when the other boys from her graduating class — including Duffy (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Derrick (Donald Glover) — when they think she’s writing some kind of sex manual and decide they want in on the action. But it’s the always-pining Cameron (Johnny Simmons) who wants Brandy to settle down with him as he’s been her unrequited love slave for years. Now Brandy is out to lose her virginity to Rusty if it’s the last thing she does. Even if it means getting “Caddyshacked” at her summer job working for Willy (Hader) at the community swimming pool.

TheToDoListPic2Carey certainly knows her way around some hilarious dialogue, even if her directorial skills seem to never extend beyond static camera placement. The cast is having a lot of fun, especially Hader — who of course steals the show — while Glover is criminally underused. The key to success here, however, totally rests on how much Plaza one can handle. Hilarious in small doses on Parks & Recreation, Plaza seems guided into playing an even more uptight version of April Ludgate and comes off more likeable when she finally gets to just be herself a little more. She may be one-note, and it is a funny note; unfortunately, she’s just not allowed to be as snarky here as we’re used to. Brandy only ever comes off as a bitch – which keeps getting mentioned – but there’s no character arc. She starts out as an anal attentive grammar Nazi and never changes, even when her character is spouting off After School Special diatribes.

The To Do List is trying to be American Pie for girls, and is hilarious, but it starts to wear out its welcome with a too long runtime of 106 minutes. There’s one film that takes place at a swimming pool that needs to be seen this summer — and it’s not The To Do List, it’s The Way, Way Back.

Photos courtesy CBS Films

Movie Review: 'The Wolverine'

**** out of 5
126 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language
Twentieth Century Fox

Article first published as Movie Review: 'The Wolverine' on Blogcritics.

Just when it looked like July was about to tailspin into oblivion after the awful R.I.P.D. and RED 2, along comes The Wolverine to save the day. Here, Hugh Jackman completely makes up for X-Men Origins: Wolverine by teaming up with director James Mangold. Having previously worked together on Kate & Leopold, the two have a good rapport and it shows on screen. Armed with two credited screenwriters (Mark Bomback, Scott Frank) who know a thing or two about action (Live Free or Die Hard, the Total Recall remake) and plot (Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Minority Report, The Lookout),  we shouldn’t be too surprised that The Wolverine is as much fun as it is.

TheWolverinePic2The Wolverine brings us up to speed with Logan (Jackman) living Grizzly Adams-style, out in the woods. He’s being followed by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) armed with her phone camera, who finally reveals herself before Logan rages out on some hunters who killed a grizzly bear with poison-tipped arrows. Logan’s dreams are also being haunted by Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who wants him let go of his immortality and join her in the afterlife, and nightmares about when he saved a young Japanese soldier, Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee), at the bombing of Hiroshima. Now, Harada has sent Yukio to bring Logan to him in Tokyo to say goodbye before he passes on. While there, Logan also becomes embroiled in the kidnapping attempts of Harada’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). There’s also a blonde going by the name Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) stalking Logan as well.

For anyone who complained that Origins was too much bad-action and not enough story, there’s going to be no complaining once the credits roll for The Wolverine. Speaking of the end credits, be sure to stick around for an amazing payoff sequence; to ruin the surprise would be criminal. Jackman always seems to be having more fun when he gets to play Wolverine and this is no exception. Snarky and armed with hilarious one-liners, between this and  X-Men: First Class, he seems to have found a line he’ll continue to use and still get to keep the PG-13 rating.

TheWolverinePic3The Wolverine also finally makes more sense of Logan’s cameo in First Class for the rest of us who aren’t fanboys. I’ve never picked up on Logan’s immortality before.Maybe it’s time I rewatched at least the first two X-Mens. From street chases to bullet trains to mountain side fortresses, once the action kicks in, it’s pretty relentless.  Mangold shows that his ability to film a  kick ass action sequence that’s both over-the-top but still holds its intensity. With The Wolverine, summer finally kicks back into high gear, placing it right alongside the fun we’ve already had with Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Iron Man 3.

Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Movie Review: 'The Conjuring'

**** 1/2 out of 5
112 minutes
Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

If there’s one horror director who’s really come into his own, it’s James Wan. Considering how much he’s veered away from the sub-genre he founded — torture porn — he’s come a long way since the original Saw. Since no one saw the two films he made after that — Dead Silence, Death Sentence — it made sense for him to venture back to what put him on the map. Only instead of throwing as many body parts as he could at the audience, Wan took a more restrained approach and wrought forth one of the scariest films of 2010 with Insidious. This year, Wan is ready to pack a one-two punch with Insidious 2 coming out on September 13, but first he has another horror movie to scare your socks off with The Conjuring.

Here we find the tale of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as they investigate the occult. Hosting college seminars, they are introduced to Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) who needs their help. Carolyn has just moved into a new house in Harrisville, Hew Hampshire, with her husband Roger (Ron Livingston) and their five daughters — Andrea (Shanley Caswell), Nancy (Hayley McFarland), Christine (Joey King), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy), and April (Kyla Deaver). The family is convinced that something is haunting their new house and Ed and Lorraine begin their investigation into what may wind up being the fight of their own lives, as well as the Perrons.

Things definitely go bump in the night throughout The Conjuring, from thumping doors to falling pictures to suicidal animals. Not to mention one of the daughters has started sleepwalking again and Carolyn keeps waking up with more and bruising that doctors are claiming to be an iron deficiency. Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes are out to up their own ante considering they’ve written some mighty bad horror movies in the past — Whiteout, The Reaping, and the House of Wax remake. Director Wan is right at home here, but it seems as if everyone wasn’t sure how to end the film. While being based on true events, the ending seems way too happy and bow-tied — I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the violins cued so loudly in a horror film. Thank goodness he knows how to squeeze the most out of his scare factor. As for the rest of the 105 minutes, Wan has definitely delivered one of the year’s scariest films.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Movie Review: 'RED 2'

* out of 5
116 minutes 
Rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material
Summit Entertainment

Article first published as Movie Review: 'RED 2' on Blogcritics.

If there’s any movie being released this summer more blatantly setting its sights on international grosses, it’s RED 2. Considering it already stars Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren, now they’ve added Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung-hun Lee, Brian Cox, and David Thewlis. Yes, the film is bursting at the seams with expendable cast members, and that’s exactly how the movie plays; like a geriatric version of The Expendables, but with no jokes. Or at least, no funny jokes. Apparently there was funny stuff — I didn’t think so — happening throughout the film as some of the audience ate them up, but it was probably from the sitcom-stylized score telling them to laugh, courtesy of Alan Silvestri. And so, alas, RED 2 marches forth to bring us one of this summer’s — and the year’s — worst film so far.

RED2PicFrank Moses (Willis) is back, along with civilian-girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) playing house, spending time shopping at Costco. Crazy Marvin (Malkovich) stalks Frank through the gaylords reminding him that he hasn’t killed anyone in months. Considering they’re retired, they shouldn’t be killing anyone anyway. There’s plenty more of this mentality and it never stops, FYI. After Marvin fakes his death in the parking lot, the men in black suits take Frank to a Yankee White Facility where Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) shows up trying to kill Frank.

Soon we learn that Frank must be taken out due to something called Nightshade and now everyone is globetrotting from New Jersey to London — because MI6 has ordered Victoria (Mirren) to kill Frank. Then to France in search of a key held by someone known as “The Frog” (David Thewlis). And back to jolly old England where Bailey (Hopkins) holds the real key to everything that’s going on, winding up in Moscow because they apparently haven’t trotted the globe enough already. There’s also a subplot involving Han Cho Bai (Lee) trying to kill Frank for $20 million, but he’s hardly in the movie, which is a shame because anytime Han shows up, things finally get fun.

RED2Pic2In other words, this is the most asinine sequel to hit theaters since Ocean’s Twelve. I’m not sure how actors keep convincing studio execs to greenlight these movies so that everyone can go on vacation to exotic locations. As my colleague put it, “I’d rather be watching Grown Ups 2 again.” I asked him if this was really worse than that and he told me, “It’s more dreadful.” That pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Let alone the fact that director Dean Parisot (Home Fries, Galaxy Quest) thinks that if he keeps plowing through writers’ Jon and Eric Hoeber’s (Whiteout, Battleship, and the original RED) screenplay no one will notice. They also couldn’t come up with anything intelligent for Hopkins to say because he’s delegated to saying “jolly good” and “good show” ad nauseam.

This is a film where things happen like Bailey making deals with someone who didn’t even know he existed in the scene before. Not to mention that he’s never been out of sight of the ragtag of elderly misfits. Victoria of all people should know that you never put dead bodies in a bathtub filled with acid; even I know that from watching Breaking Bad. A scene where a quartet of musicians are playing in the same room even features a shot of them where the violinist is holding the bow inches away from the strings. And if people are tired of films and their product placement, let me make a list of every sponsor involved: Costco, Pringles, Coca-Cola, Papa Johns, Jimmy Choos, and Smirnoff. And those are the ones that are the most apparent. At one point, Marvin is putting bombs down toilets in a restroom at the Iranian Embassy in London and says, “Poop is coming,” and that pretty much sums up RED 2 in a nutshell.

Photos courtesy Summit Entertainment

Movie Review: 'R.I.P.D.'

** out of 5
96 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references
Universal Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: 'R.I.P.D.' on Blogcritics.

I am sorry to report that it appears as if July is in a bit of a tailspin at the movies. After two weekends of fantastic films (Despicable Me 2 and Pacific Rim), mid-July seems to be the new January/September dump. Usually, those are the months when Hollywood takes the dreck they’re not worried about losing money on and throws them onto screens in hopes of making the most of opening weekend. But this weekend, we see the release of two huge duds. As if Red 2 wasn’t bad enough, now we’re bombarded with R.I.P.D. — aka the most blatant Men in Black rip-off since Men in Black 2.

RIPDPic1Boston police officer Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is having a horrible day; but not as bad as the one he had three or four days ago. When the story jumps back to that day, we watch as Nick attempts to take down a meth distributor/cop killer called Garza. Joining him in the raid is fellow officer Hayes (Kevin Bacon), whom Nick just had a heart-to-heart with involving whether or not they should both keep some gold they found on another drug bust. Nick doesn’t want to keep the gold, being that he’s perfectly happy with how things are at home with his wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak).

After Hayes shoots Nick down during the raid, Nick is swooped up into the tunnel of judgment and winds up in front of Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), who offers him a job working for the Rest In Peace Department. The R.I.P.D. hunts down the “deados” stuck in the afterlife. Nick takes the job and is assigned to partner up with Roy (Jeff Bridges), who’s been working for the Boston division since he was shot down as a Marshall in the old west. Nick and Roy are seen by the living as avatars (played by James Hong and Marissa Miller) while Roy continually brings up how his body was eaten and molested by buzzards and coyotes to remind Nick that Roy’s the one in charge. Soon enough, Nick figures out that Hayes is after the gold and a devilish plot is in motion to bring about an apocalypse to the oblivious people on Earth.

RIPDPic2Director Robert Schwentke adapts Peter M. Lenkov’s Dark Horse comic into one of the summer’s biggest borefests. A period of 53 years is mentioned at one point by Roy and that’s about how long the movie feels. With some of the worst action cinematography (made even worse by being in 3D — and adding insult to injury the film was screened in a Dolby 3D theater which is the worst 3D ever) from Alwin H. Kuchler, you never know what’s really happening on screen. It doesn’t help that the film also jumps from ripping off Men in Black to Ghostbusters and The Matrix. The screenplay is literally that choppy thanks to writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi — known for such “stellar” outings as Crazy/Beautiful, The Tuxedo, Æon Flux, and the Clash of the Titans remake.

Reynolds and Bridges have absolutely zero chemistry. They could have taken a page from Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith seeing how they’re stuck in what is essentially a remake, just with dead people instead of aliens. I’ve never read the comic series so I have no idea how faithful the film is, but now I’ll never touch it. I’m sure Universal Pictures was looking to give birth to a new franchise, but considering the tracking is looking even more abysmal than Pacific Rim, I’d say they’re never going to make back their $130 million budget. R.I.P.D. is DOA.

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

Blu-ray Review: 'Boy'

Article first published as Blu Review: 'Boy' on Blogcritics.

While the reigning champ of quirk may be director Wes Anderson, you have to hand it to New Zealand for doing it long before Anderson ever came onto the scene. Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and Dead Alive (or Braindead if you prefer), proves that Anderson’s eclectic tastes may have stemmed from the Kiwis themselves. Director/writer Taika Waititi seems set on giving Anderson a run for his money. We also have been getting a good dose of Kiwi humor thanks to the Flight of the Conchords duo Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement — Waititi even wrote and directed them in one episode of the show. Jemaine also made up half of the duo The Humourbeasts and co-starred in Waititi’s hilarious debut Eagle vs. Shark, but now Waititi is out to prove he can do it alone with his second film, Boy.

Boy1Boy actually refers to 11-year-old Alamein (James Rolleston), who lives in Waihu Bay, New Zealand, with his six-year-old brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), grandmother, and lots of cousins. When their grandmother heads to Wellington for a funeral, Boy is left in charge to take care of everyone. We learn that his mother died giving birth to Rocky and that all Boy wants is to meet Michael Jackson, and his father Alamein (Waititi) to come home. When his father does show up, Boy thinks that it’s to make up for his absence over the years, but all Alamein really wants is to find a bag of money he buried in a field years ago. Boy decides to help Alamein find his money so that they can be escape Waihu Bay and spend the rest of their days riding dolphins, drinking cocktails, and wearing tuxedos. But Boy is about to find out that sometimes it takes a boy to step up and be a man.

The jokes fly fast and furious with some of the funniest one-liners heard outside a Judd Apatow production. Rolleston really steps up to his role, especially considering he was cast three days before filming started. Eketone-Whitu delivers hilarious awkwardness to Rocky and Waititi himself proves perfectly adept at delivering quips while making you feel sorry for a man stuck in arrested development. The conversations with Alamein talking to his mom on the phone are pricelessly authentic. I’m almost glad I didn’t catch Boy when it premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival because it would have made the wait to see it again seem way too long. This summer sure seems packed with coming-of-age dramedies with The Kings of Summer and The Way, Way Back playing in theaters, but with Boy finally being released on video, it should make this one even easier to squeeze into anyone’s busy summer schedule.

Boy2The video quality for Boy is presented by Kino Lorber framed in a 1.85:1 ratio in full 1080p. While Kino’s Redemption titles are hit-and-miss affairs, if it weren’t for noise creeping into virtually any scene happening at night, we could have had a five star review. Unfortunately, that noise also washes out some of the clarity making the image appear brighter than it should. When it comes to the day scenes however, clarity is superb with sharpness granting life to every crashing wave, bending tree, and marijuana plants blowing in the wind. Waihu Bay appears to be one of the most beautiful places you’ve never heard of and cinematographer Adam Clark captures it in all its glory. The audio contains two tracks, a 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. While obviously a film of small origins, the dialogue is crystal clear even though at times it comes close to being swallowed up by the music. The track does offer exceptional directionality and even some booming LFE when it needs to. It probably sounds way better than it should.

Special features on Boy are minimal but a lot of fun. There’s a 41 minute featurette, “Interviews & B-Roll Footage,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Waititi brings us a rather personal look into the making of Boy, covering everything from the casting to why he shot the film in Waihu Bay. Boy feels like a rather personal film and it is. The film also features a lot of Waititi’s family members, and the house they live in is the one he grew up in. Aside from the theatrical trailer, the only other feature is a great one; Waititi’s Academy Award nominated short film from 2004: Two Cars, One Night. Here we find Romeo (Rangi Ngamoki) and Ed (Te Ahiwaru Ngamoki-Richards) in one car, Polly (Hutini Waikato) in the other. Ed just wants to read his book, while Romeo pesters Polly. At first the two seems hellbent on making each other miserable, but a close friendship reigns supreme in a quick 11 minutes.

With Boy, Waititi has brought us a hilarious and heartfelt slice-of-life in a way that’s new and refreshing. Boy is not something you see every day, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Cover art and photos courtesy Kino Lorber

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Movie Review: 'Turbo'

**** out of 5
96 minutes
Rated PG for some mild action and thematic elements
Twentieth Century Fox

Article first published as Movie Review: 'Turbo' on Blogcritics.

While Pixar Animation Studios is continuing on the comeback trail, it seems as if DreamWorks has stepped up ready to replace The Disney-owned company’s streak of greatness. After Cars 2, Pixar is headed in the right direction with Brave and Monsters University. However, DreamWorks keeps cranking out the goods — so long as they aren’t featuring a certain green ogre and friends or a menagerie of wild animals.

TurboEven with their own fair share of upcoming sequels, DreamWorks is taking the Toy Story approach and making sure that their sequels outdo the originals. Since 2008, DreamWorks has treated us to two Kung Fu Pandas, Monsters vs Aliens, How to Train Your Dragon, Megamind, Puss in Boots, Rise of the Guardians, and The Croods — with this weekend’s Turbo, the winning streak continues, making nine fantastic films in just five years’ time.

Turbo is actually the nickname of Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), a garden snail who wants to be fast. His brother Chet (voiced by Paul Giamatti), wishes Theo would stop watching Guy Gagné’s (voiced by Bill Hader) Indianapolis 500 races on an even more endless loop than the race itself. After Chet has to save Theo from being mulched by the home’s gardening team’s lawnmower, Theo takes off for a sulky night on the streets of California. It is here where he falls onto the hood of a street racer’s car and winds up getting sucked into the engine and blasted with nitrous oxide, altering his DNA — superhero style. Now Theo has transformed into a car in the form of a snail, complete with eyes as headlights, a light up shell, and the ability to blast music like a radio.

When Chet is attacked by a crow, Theo rescues him with his newfound speed, causing them to be captured by Tito (voiced by Michael Peña). Tito drives a taco truck he operates with his brother Angelo (voiced by Luis Guzmán), “Dos Bros Tacos.” Tito happens to be part of a strip mall snail racing circuit featuring other snails named Burn (voiced by Maya Rudolph), Skid Mark (voiced by Ben Schwartz), Smoove Move (voiced by Snoop Dogg or Lion), White Shadow (voiced by Mike Bell), and the leader, Whiplash (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson). Tito realizes Theo’s amazing race abilities and wants to enter him in the Indy 500. He manages to talk his fellow shop owners — Bobby (voiced by Richard Jenkins), Kim-Ly (voiced by Ken Jeong), and Paz (voiced by Michelle Rodriguez) — to chip in for the entry fee and it’s off to the races.

Turbo2Director/co-writer David Soren have created a fully developed world for his loveable snails in their garden. Along with co-writers Darren Lemke and Robert D. Siegel (Big Fan, The Wrestler), Soren keeps the jokes flying fast and furious, along with some fun action sequences along the way. The voice cast is having a ball—with even Snoop Dogg sounding more alert than ever—and the Spanish characters never fall into racist stereotypes. The exception here is almost Kim-Ly, but thankfully the character is kept to a minimum.

Turbo is said to be followed by a Netflix series called Turbo: F.A.S.T. (Fast Action Stunt Team)—releasing in December—which, from the title, sounds like a hilarious companion piece. However, after catching a few minutes of the Monsters vs Aliens TV show, I wonder if it’s really a good idea. There is plenty to capitalize on here, but a cheap TV show doesn’t seem to be the best option. There is plenty of room for a new franchise to breathe on the big screen, and Turbo is a much-needed hilarious entry for everyone this summer, particularly the starving for entertainment, family-oriented crowd.

Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

Friday, July 12, 2013

Movie Review: ‘Pacific Rim’

***** out of 5
132 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Pacific Rim’ on Blogcritics.

The last few weeks for me have been nothing short of Pacific Rim pandemonium. From reading the graphic novel prequel Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero by the film’s creator and co-writer Travis Beacham to watching nearly all of director Guillermo del Toro’s films (minus The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth). A friend of mine even joined me to watch Cronos and Hellboy II, and then we decided to throw in Cloverfield, which makes for a perfect pseudo-prequel to Pacific Rim. I also have the score by Ramin Djawadi on continuous play in my car and the NECA action figures are sitting on a shelf in my toy room. To say I overhyped the film is an understatement. Does Pacific Rim deserve the pedestal I may have prematurely set it on? Hell yes.

In the near future, a portal has opened up in the Pacific Ocean allowing “kaiju” (giant monsters) to rise from the depths. We are thrust into the middle of the waging war of humanity against the kaiju using massive robots called “jaegers” to defend the planet. Part of the initial battle are brothers Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) under the guidance of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Yancy is killed in battle against a category one kaiju called Knifehead while Raleigh maneuvers their jaeger (Gipsy Danger) to the Alaskan shore.

Five years later we find Raleigh doing construction work where he’s found out by Pentecost who’s bringing him back to Hong Kong to join the resistance after the threat of having the jaeger program shut down. With the battle against the kaiju intensifying — kaijus are beginning to attack in multiples whereas before it was one at a time — and the only defense we have left lies with Raleigh and his new jaeger partner Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Meanwhile, Dr. Newt (Charlie Day) may have figured out how to stop the attacks. Newt goes on a mission of his own, looking for black market kaiju organ harvester Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) to obtain a whole kaiju brain, which just may hold the key to everything they need to know.

In case you’re wondering how the robots work, it’s through what’s called a “neural handshake” and “drifting,” and it’s very well explained in the film so I won’t go into details here. For anyone who has seen the trailers for Pacific Rim, you know what you’re getting into. Giant robots square off against giant monsters. But no worries, with this being a Guillermo del Toro film you can rest assure that there is plenty of humanity behind the action — all of the main characters even get their own backstories! With Mako’s, we get thrust into the middle of her importance which is quite a sight to behold. Del Toro and Beacham have delivered the summer blockbuster we’ve been waiting for with the biggest crowd-pleaser since The Avengers.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Blu-ray Review: 'Dead Man Down'

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Dead Man Down' on Blogcritics.
Simply because a film is from a respected director and features top-notch actors it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a fantastic endeavor. With Dead Man Down hitting Blu-ray on July 9, you’d expect something a little more from the man who directed the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo than another movie about mobsters and revenge. Does Dead Man Down even count as Niels Arden Oplev’s Hollywood debut? It arrived in theaters to no fanfare and was ushered out rather quickly. Even with Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace leading the way, J.H. Wyman’s script is too convoluted with not enough heart to carry it through the action beats behind which it lies.

DeadManDownBluCoverDead Man Down tells the sordid tale of Victor (Farrell), who is one of two fresh faces on Alphonse’s (Terrence Howard) motley crew of pseudo-gangsters — the other being Darcy (Dominic Cooper), who’s just had a baby. Someone from Alphonse’s gang has just shown up literally on ice in a freezer, and has been sending Alphonse pieces of a puzzle which is starting to reveal who is behind the madness. At home, Victor lives across from Beatrice (Rapace) who was in a car accident leaving her scarred, while the drunk driver who hit her walked away from his DUI after six weeks in jail. Beatrice has video proof that Victor killed someone in his apartment and attempts to blackmail him into killing the man who ruined her beauty. Now, Victor has to try to help Alphonse figure out who’s exacting revenge on him while trying to keep from falling in love with Beatrice.

With plenty of gunfire and squibs to keep you awake, the love-story between Victor and Beatrice is the real reason to invest in Dead Man Down. Is it any surprise that Oplev is able to get another great performance out of Rapace after the two delivered such a fantastic version of Lisbeth Salander? As for Oplev, he definitely brings plenty of flash to the screen with some fun camera tricks whenever there’s a staircase or stairwell involved, but after his recent gig directing the pilot episode of Under the Dome, it’s clear that Oplev should stick to feature films, and of the R-rated variety. It doesn’t help that Wyman’s screenplay seems to relish cliché, but the cast certainly makes up for that. Farrell could play his role of Victor in his sleep, and Cooper helps make their friendship believable which makes a few scenes in the finale pay off. And thankfully, Howard is kept to a minimum considering he was apparently told to chew the scenery as much as possible. Dead Man Down doesn’t exactly feel like a made-for-video effort, but it definitely feels more at home being watched on the couch than it would have in a theater — making at least a rental well worth the time and money.

As for Dead Man Down’s video department, Sony brings its typical treatment of a new release. The 1080p MPEG-4 encode certainly shows off every detail captured by Oplev and cinematographer Paul Cameron. Detail is impeccable which really helps considering how dark the film can get. Thankfully, there’s only a scene or two suffering from crush, while in outside shots, you can see far off into the distance of the New York skyline. Shadows never suffer, aside from one scene with Victor and Alphonse, and there’s also no banding, noise, or other anomalies to speak of. The same can be said of the audio. Featuring a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, bullets whiz by with the appropriate LFE levels with every gunshot or explosion. Sony keeps cranking out a “Best of” compilation with every new release to the format they originated.

DeadManDownPic1The special features are kept to the EPK variety, with nothing to really neither enhance the film nor shed any light on the production. It is interesting to hear Oplev speaking so highly of the film considering that IMDB states he has disowned the American marketing for misrepresenting it — even though it is exactly what they advertised. But, he has stated that there were budget issues causing him to speed up the shoot and he wasn’t able to edit the film the way he wanted to. With that being the case, in each feature — “Revenge and Redemption: Crafting Dead Man Down,” “Revenge Technique: The Cinematography,” and “Staging the Action: The Firefights” — we hear Oplev, along with his cast and crew, speaking very highly of the production. Or at least that’s how it seems at first glance. Thinking back, they all seem to be speaking about Oplev himself. The disc also comes with forced trailers for upcoming Sony Blu-rays: Olympus Has Fallen, The Last Exorcism 2, Evil Dead, and The Call.

Dead Man Down is a fine time waster, but not necessarily one that needs to be in your collection. If you feel like you’re in the mood for a better than average shoot-em-up, you can definitely do far worse.

Cover art and photo courtesy Sony Pictures

Friday, July 5, 2013

Movie Review: 'The Lone Ranger' (2013)

*** 1/2 out of 5
149 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: 'The Lone Ranger' (2013) on Blogcritics.
In the long line of troubled summer blockbusters, people have been keeping a close watch on The Lone Ranger. Starring Jack Sparrow himself, Johnny Depp, directed by Gore Verbinski, who brought us the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (who also brought us the Pirates franchise), and co-written by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot (writers of all four Pirates), thankfully, this is not Pirates of the Wild Wild West. With Armie Hammer taking the lead as District Attorney turned legend of justice, John Reid, the team has managed to bring a surprisingly faithful western to the big screen.

LoneRangerPic1Beginning in San Francisco, 1933, a young boy (Mason Cook), wearing a cowboy outfit complete with the Lone Ranger’s mask, wanders into a fair exhibit where he comes face to face with a stuffed buffalo and bear, and an old grizzled statuesque Native American. Before he knows it, the statue comes to life and explains himself to be the real-life Tonto (Depp). Now we go back to Colby, Texas, 1869, where we meet John Reid on a train that’s holding Tonto and the murderous Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner).

Soon enough, Cavendish’s men hold up the train and free him, with Reid trying to stop them while chained to Tonto. After an amazing train wreck sequence, Reid joins his brother Dan’s (James Badge Dale) posse to find Cavendish and bring him back to Colby to be hanged under the order of Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). After a double crossing, the posse is ambushed and everyone is killed, including John. Much to Tonto’s chagrin, a spirit horse informs him that John is to become a spirit walker — meaning he can’t be killed, and they begin their quest to avenge Dan’s death.

The Lone Ranger sure does take a while to find its footing. It kind of chugs and spurts along from one action scene to the next for far too long, but once the film gets to the finale it really kicks it into overdrive. This is also where we hear the Lone Ranger theme finally used and it helps create the tone we’ve been waiting for. Just because John Reid has to earn his theme song, doesn’t mean the audience should have to as well. The 149-minute runtime is way too long, but what else would we expect from the Pirates crew, right?

LoneRangerPic2Director Verbinski sure knows how to shoot the hell out of a film, aided by his cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (the two also worked together on The Ring). But his duo editors (James Haygood and Craig Wood), should have found a way to quicken the pace. Almost the entire first two hours have the feel of a good old fashioned western, but considering audiences will no doubt be coming for the action, some of the story honestly could have been left on the backburner.

Hammer makes for a fantastic leading man who can move from drama to slapstick to action hero at the drop of a hat. And thankfully, Depp doesn’t spend the whole movie aping his Jack Sparrow routine. Tonto is a whole new creation, and if the cackling fangirls behind me at the screening are of any indication, they’ll eat up his Tonto routine with a spoon. It should come as no surprise that Verbinski also knows how to shoot a comedic scene as well as the action considering his first film was the brilliant Mousehunt and The Lone Ranger also feels more like a companion piece to Rango (also from Verbinski). But man, once The Lone Ranger’s finale finally gets going, it makes the entire endeavor worth the price of admission.

Photos courtesy Walt Disney Pictures