Friday, February 28, 2014

Movie Review: 'Non-Stop'

*** 1/2 out of 5
106 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references

Article first published as Movie Review: 'Non-Stop' on Blogcritics.

Joel Silver may not be producing a lot of great action films lately, but that hasn’t stopped him from trying. Silver’s golden age is behind him after cranking out hit after hit, including classics like Predator, the first two Die Hards, all four of the Lethal Weapons, and the Matrix trilogy. It’s been awhile since he delved into his Dark Castle Entertainment brand—remaking the William Castle classics House on Haunted Hill, Thir13en Ghosts, and House of Wax. He just hasn’t been able to rekindle that old spark. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the best thing he’s done in the past 11 years and probably next month’s Veronica Mars movie. Now, Silver is rejoining forces with the director and star of Unknown—Juame Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson (or Neesons), respectively—to bring us an even more redonkulous film than their last with Non-Stop.

5688_D014_00463_R.JPGBill Marks (Neeson) is an alcoholic air marshal about to board a flight from the U.S. to London. While he can’t keep from being suspicious of everyone in the boarding area, Bill has been having angry conversations with someone on the phone. On board, passenger Jen (Julianne Moore) switches seats with fellow passenger Zack (Nate Parker) so that she can have a window. After the flight takes off, Bill starts to get mysterious text messages on his secure network, informing him that if $150 million isn’t transferred into an off-shore account someone onboard will die every 20 minutes until the demands are met. Soon enough, Bill is up to his neck trying to save the passengers in a fight to the death where he soon becomes the prime suspect.

Director Collet-Serra keeps the suspense building even while the plot continues gets sillier by the minute. The first 15 minutes feel more like the opening to a Final Destination film than it does a suspense thriller. Screenwriters John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle manage to prove that the too many cooks cliché still stands as each scene becomes more outlandish than the last. Let alone the fact that they keep throwing more red herrings at the audience than any of the Scream films. Issues about national security are hammered over our heads at the last minute and the passengers find time to take a United 93 stance.

Non-StopPic2Once a bomb comes into play, all logic is finally thrown out the window and the fun level kicks into overdrive. There’s always room for more zero gravity shootouts. The film is way more fun than it has any right to be. Unfortunately, it winds up being too little, too late. Anyone who knows anything about the flight industry will be able to nitpick every plot hole. Non-Stop’s saving graces wind up being the film’s sense of humor and watching Neeson do what he does best: kicking ass and taking names. Hopefully we’re never saddled with a sequel which my friend, who saw the film with me, has already titled Non-Stop 2: Round Trip. Thankfully, Non-Stop is our last stop through the doldrums of the Hollywood wastelands that are January and February.

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

DVD Review: 'Memory of the Dead'

Article first published as DVD Review: 'Memory of the Dead' on Blogcritics.

Horror has seen a fantastic resurgence lately. From television to theaters, everywhere you turn there’s something horrific to watch. Unfortunately — at least for lovers of the genre — not everything is always gold. What one person may obsess over — The Walking Dead — others may find a complete bore. If there’s anywhere horror has a good reputation is internationally. Not being hampered by the MPAA and able to conjure up some of the all-time best splatterfests around — see Peter Jackson’s early works Bad Taste and Braindead (aka Dead Alive) for prime examples — I was hoping for something better than what co-writer/director Valentín Javier Diment has conjured up in his zombie offering Memory of the Dead.

MemoryoftheDeadCoverHere we find Alicia (Lola Berthet) waking up from a horrible nightmare involving her husband Jorge’s (Gabriel Goity) death. When she wakes up to tell him about it, she finds out that he has died during the night. Alicia gathers Jorge’s best friends at her house to reminisce and pay their respects. Included are Hugo (Luis Ziembrowski), Nicanor (Matías Marmorato), Mauro (Rafael Ferro), Fabiana (Jimena Anganuzzi), Mónica (Lorena Vega), and Ivana (Flora Gró). Everyone offers a wide variety of friendship to Jorge; from ex-lovers to a cousin to a childhood friend. Everyone that is, except Ivana, the one outcast amongst the group. Once Ivana’s deceased daughter shows up outside and kills her, the group discover that the dead are coming back to haunt them and there may be an even more dangerous game afoot once Alicia’s ulterior motives begin to take shape.

While there is a lot of blood and guts strewn about through the quick 89-minute runtime, Memory of the Dead is never as much fun as director Diment is hoping. There are also no special features aside from a theatrical trailer and trailers for additional Artsploitation Films: Hidden in the Woods, Horror Stories, Toad Road, and Wither. While wearing his Dario Argento inspirations on his sleeve, not even the surprise ending is enough to make up for the rest of the film. The cast overacts through every scenario, never grounding things into even its own reality. Armed with three co-writers (Martín Blousson, Nicanor Loreti, and Germán Val), you’d think they’d be able to come up with more entertaining ways to dispatch their victims. Alas, it’s all just a way to string along the plot to the big reveal which is about the only thing that leaves an impression; the title is all you’re bound to remember.

Movie Review: '3 Days to Kill'

*** out of 5
117 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language
Relativity Media

Article first published as Movie Review: '3 Days to Kill' on Blogcritics.

There’s a clue that you’re watching a Luc Besson film. It comes in the form of a bazooka showing up in the first 10 minutes. Always loaded with a mishmash of wacky action and oddball heart, his movies pinball from one antic to another. Back when he was directing his own screenplays — The Big Blue, La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional, and The Fifth Element — he had a superb control on his shenanigans. However, the man has written far more films that are the very definition of hit and miss. His latest collaboration with director McG — the Charlie’s Angels films, We Are Marshall, Terminator Salvation, and This Means War — makes it clear that even he doesn’t know what to do with a Besson screenplay. With 3 Days to Kill, it’s just another notch in Kevin Costner’s resurgence belt.

3DaysToKillMainHere we find Ethan Renner (Costner) on his latest case of espionage as he tracks down a man known as “The Albino” (Tómas Lemarquis) who is in cahoots with “The Wolf” (Richard Sammel). The two are selling high grade weapons and after a shakedown goes wrong, rogue CIA agent Vivi (Amber Heard) recruits Ethan as he’s the only living witness and knows what “The Wolf” looks like. Ethan has also learned he has terminal cancer and wants to reconnect with his estranged family: wife Christine (Connie Nielsen), and teenage daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld). Now, Ethan is back in Paris with Vivi offering him an experimental drug to cure his cancer, so long as he’s willing to help take down “The Wolf” in a case of kill or die. Meanwhile, Ethan is forced to take on his most dangerous mission: watching Zooey while Christine is out of town for three days.

Hijinks ensue as they usually do in a Besson production, but this time, McG is forced to make a daddy/daughter film amidst the ol’ one last job cliché. Because of this, the runtime becomes padded with things like bike riding and dance lessons. All stuff that really could have been a completely separate movie. It’s not like this is the first time there have been so many ideas happening at once in a Besson film. Thankfully, this film is better than the last time Besson co-wrote something with Adi Hasak: From Paris with Love. McG also has a far better cast. Costner and Steinfeld make a good daddy/daughter pairing and Heard gets to vamp things up to the highest degree. At least no bones are made about her being cast to be as sultry as possible. A subplot involving a family of squatters is surprising funny, and there’s plenty of action to satisfy for a February release. 3 Days to Kill is a lot more than it deserves to be — it is definitely dumb, but at least fun — and will stand as one of the year’s biggest guilty pleasures.

Photo courtesy Relativity Media

Friday, February 21, 2014

Blu-ray Review: 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' - The Criterion Collection

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' - The Criterion Collection on Blogcritics.

When Wes Anderson’s stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox came out in November 2009, I said that Anderson had truly outdone himself — and I stand by that. Chock-full of something new to notice with each viewing, Fox will go down as one of the best animated films no one saw. With a tiny box office return — $46 million worldwide against a $40 million budget — hopefully it saw new life when it hit video in 2010. With a surprising lack of extras it was only a matter of time before Criterion managed to get their hands on it — especially since they’ve released the rest of his films, packed with all the cussin’ extras you could dream of in a Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format on February 18.

FantasticMrFoxCoverBy now, who doesn’t know the story of the Fantastic Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and his battle against farmers Boggis (voiced by Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (voiced by Hugo Guinness), and Bean (voiced by Michael Gambon). Twelve fox years after being forced to give up squab stealing, ‘Foxy’ Fox, his wife Felicity (voiced by Meryl Streep), and their son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) live in a literal hole, while Fox works as a newspaper columnist. After the arrival of his nephew Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Anderson), Fox begins dreaming big — first he buys a new home within a tree near the three farmers’ land against his lawyer Badger’s (voiced by Bill Murray) advice. Thus begins hatching a scheme to steal from the farmers with the help of Kylie Sven Opossum (voiced by Wally Wolodarsky), setting off a string of events that puts all of the local wildlife in danger.

The original Twentieth Century Fox disc was already damn near perfect, could Criterion release a new version merely four years later that could better that presentation? Not really. Framed in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Fantastic Mr. Fox looks just as fantastic as it already did. I have seen one site that still insists on banding in the vista shots, but it’s amazing what a properly calibrated TV can project. Film grain will never be visible because it simply doesn’t exist. Captured with the HD Nikon D3, Anderson constantly reminds us in his commentary that the film is literally a case of watching still photography come to life. Aliasing is never an issue.

Detail is impeccable, breathing real life into the woodland creatures and all their boiling fur. Blacks are perfect with one scene in particular showing superb shadow delineation when the Fox family is underground. Colors are as robust as they should be and most shots consist of immense depth, allowing for that 3D pop we look for in the best Blu-ray presentations. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track never pushes the limits being as front heavy as it is. However, a few key background noises make directional use of the rear speakers and bass kicks in appropriately. Dialogue is crystal clear and songs are never overbearing.

FantasticMrFoxPic3Now for the best part: the supplements! A brief “Introduction by Petey” kicks things off and runs just 72 seconds. The true highlight however is the Wes Anderson audio commentary recorded last year that is almost funnier than the film itself. Right from the start he mentions that he has no idea whether the film is a Twentieth Century Fox release or a Fox Searchlight, the opening logo is for Twentieth Century which I myself didn’t realize was different. The film was released in theaters under the Fox Searchlight banner. Anderson offers tons of anecdotes about the production, shedding light on every homage and reference packed into every nook and cranny of the film. Whether it’s a helicopter design to his favorite scene, he’s also never shy to admit that he has no idea why he made some of the film’s choices. A true highlight.

Also included is a full “Animatic” version of the film running 75 minutes consisting of storyboards and recorded dialogue. “The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox” runs a combined 32 minutes and is broken down into the following seven segments: 1. Recording the Voices, 2. Puppet Tests/Early Animation, 3. References for Art Department, 4. A Visit to the Studio, 5. Time Lapse Photography, 6. Music, and 7. Miniature Objects. Another highlight is next with “Roald Dahl read Fantastic Mr. Fox” and features the author himself enthusiastically reading his own book which runs for 53 minutes.
“Awards Speeches” are two fully animated pieces celebrating the film’s nominations and wins.

Unfortunately, the film was nominated against Pixar’s Up at the Oscars so it only won a Special Achievement Award at the National Board of Review. “Set Photography by Ray Lewis” consists of 50 pictures which can be navigated with your remote arrows. “Publicity Featurettes” is broken up into six sections showing the excruciating detail it took to bring the film to life and runs 31 minutes. The best part is seeing Bill Murray shadowing the production team and Anderson. “Sony Robots Commercial” is a quick one-minute commercial for the Sony Experia. The only explanation to its inclusion has to be that the same production company brought it to life.

FantasticMrFoxPic2“Discussion and Analysis” features two children: Jake Ryan and Jeremy Logan who attempt to discuss and analyze the film but considering they’re two kids, it gets annoying super quick and runs way too long at 11 minutes. “Fantastic Mr. Dahl” is a great television special clocking in just over an hour to celebrate the opening of the Roald Dahl Museum. Clips from television appearances featuring Roald are included. “Witch’s Tree” is a fast 103-second segment featuring Dahl himself discussing how the story came to life. And finally — seeing how the film’s trailer has been omitted — “Dahl’s Manuscripts” is a neat peak at 18 pages of a first draft between Dahl and editor Fabio Coen at Alfred A. Knopf.

As you can see, there are more supplements than you can shake a stick at and the director-approved video should tell you that this will be the definitive version of the film for now. Fantastic Mr. Fox will continue to be one of the best animated films in years, even bettering the last few offerings from Pixar. A double-dip is a no brainer and if you don’t own the film on Blu-ray yet, this is the version to buy which is no surprise when it comes to any Criterion release.

Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Searchlight

Movie Review: 'A Field in England'

Article first published as Movie Review: 'A Field in England' on Blogcritics.

I’ve seen my fair share of head-scratching cinema over the years, but nothing quite like director Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. Anything written by Charlie Kauffman, to Christopher Nolan’s Memento, or better yet, his own Slamdance debut, Following, for example. Even mainstream film has its way with us too: The Usual Suspects, Fight Club, and back to Nolan again with Inception. A good director can have his cake and eat it too so long as the end result was worth the trip. All Wheatley’s latest does is offer a trip of the psychedelic kind, but leaves you pondering what the hell you just watched — and not in a good way.

AFieldinEnglandPic1The plot revolves around a literal Field in England during a battle of the English Civil War. Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) is fleeing the battle field and comes across two army deserters, Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and Friend (Richard Glover). Off they go in search of an ale house when they come across an Irishman, O’Neill (Michael Smiley), whom Whitehead has been sent to arrest for theft. O’Neill alerts the group that there is buried treasure in a nearby field and while they set off to find the loot, all hell breaks loose amongst them.

Considering I had to rely so much on Wikipedia for a synopsis should tell you how confusing the scant 91-minute runtime is. I will give Wheatley kudos for coming up with some pretty cool visuals, none of which necessarily serve the story. Laurie Roses’ black-and-white cinematography offers a striking look, and considering the miniscule budget, Wheatley manages to come up with some cool shots while not relying on CGI. A scene where the group appears to move in slow motion shows just how great the actors really are. I’ve read the film described as thriller, horror, and comedy, but Amy Jump’s screenplay only has two laugh-out-loud moments and it’s the furthest thing from thrilling or scary.

I had high hopes for A Field in England, especially with Martin Scorsese being quoted so prominently in its marketing as: “Audacious and wildly brilliant – a stunning cinematic experience.” Unfortunately, A Field in England only results in blank-faced screen-watching, never living up to the hype.

Photo courtesy Drafthouse Films

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Movie Review: 'RoboCop' (2014)

** out of 5
118 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material
Columbia Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: 'RoboCop' (2014) on Blogcritics.

The best thing to be said about the RoboCop remake is that at least it’s not a complete disaster. Before the film even started we were slinging puns like “RoboCop-out” and “RoboFlop.” Poor director José Padilha has been burdened with bringing an update of a beloved ’80s character back to relevance. Considering the amount of trouble the production went through to get RoboCop version 2014 to the big screen, it’s a miracle the film is even watchable. But when the high point this edition is that they incorporated Basil Poledouris’s theme from the 1987 film — including throwback title cards —plenty of wrinkles still needed ironing out.

RoboCop2014In this edition of RoboCop we get introduced to Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) hosting “The Novak Element,” focused on the politics surrounding the use of mechanized crime control to keep the peace in Tehran — suicide bombers take out the EM 208s (robotic officers) and the ED 209s — showing that they are useful in keeping American soldiers alive. In Washington D.C., politicians are debating the machines’ effectiveness since they can’t feel. With no sense of right or wrong they could potentially harm the innocent along with the bad guys.

At OmniCorp, CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) takes to his marketing team to give the people what they want: a machine that can feel. Meanwhile, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is injured in an explosion on orders from Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), a cop killer kept clean by crooked cops. Sellars sees his chance to put a man in a machine and uses Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to convince Alex’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) to sign the necessary paperwork. Now, the city of Detroit may have the cop of the future in their midst, that is if they can keep him from suffering all the major setbacks of new technology. Meanwhile, Alex must come to terms with what he’s become, and potentially solve his own murder.

For a good while, Padilha’s new RoboCop stands pretty well on its own. There’s a rather unsettling scene where Alex asks to be shown what’s left of his body, but along with the rest of Alex, a much needed human element is also missing. Screenwriter Joshua Zetumer keeps everything as cold and mechanical as any of the robots, and you never really care about Alex or his relationship with his wife and son. There’s a very particular scene where everything really starts to fall apart. When they finally download the police database into Alex’s brain, he has a seizure and they dope him up causing the technological side to take over leaving him in an almost zombie-like state. Everything feels the same from there on out.

RoboCop2014Pic2The action is far sparser than you’d expect, with Padilha relying on the overused shaky-cam, and a particular fire fight sequence is so visually obnoxious I had to look away a few times. It’s so bright and flashy you can’t tell what’s going on, so you won’t miss anything anyway. There are no surprises here, and all RoboCop offers is a slicker, PG-13 rated, watered down version of a classic that didn’t need rebooting to begin with. I watched the original over the weekend and it holds up extremely well. Also, Fox’s Almost Human is doing the cyborg stuff way better here on a weekly basis that we can watch for free. Unfortunately, that show is bound for cancellation whereas RoboCop will probably make a decent dent at the box office.

Considering this RoboCop is padded out to be more like an origin story, it’s a shame that it becomes far less fun once the action finally kicks in. The only person who ever feels like he’s having a good time is Jackson, and he’s only in a handful of scenes and is hell bent on overacting as much as possible — Mr. Glass hair-style and all. We didn’t come to hear Rush Limbaugh diatribes, we came for the action. You’re better off staying home and watching the newly released remastered Blu-ray, which is only priced at $7.99 on Amazon, costing less than most matinee prices. It’s just as nice and shiny now too, only enforcing how clear it is that the original RoboCop will always be the definitive.

Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

Blu-ray Review: 'Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon'

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon' on Blogcritics.

I’ve read a lot of glowing reviews for director Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, but I still have yet to see it. Considering how positive the word-of-mouth was, I was anxious to see how his follow up — Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon, a prequel — measured up. Hark isn’t known for his storytelling skills, but he sure can direct the hell out of an action scene. And while the story of Young Detective Dee starts to edge over into convoluted, Hark keeps the tone light and the action ramped up enough to keep it chugging along. Now, the Sea Dragon can rise in your own home on Blu-ray, February 11.

YoungDetDeeCoverIn the Imperial Capital, Empress Wu (Carina Lau) has just begun her reign when an attack at sea takes out a fleet of ships. Wu sends Detective Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng) to investigate and gives him ten days to close the case or lose his head. Meanwhile, young Detective Dee (Mark Chao) has just arrived in the Imperial Capital to work as part of the Da Lisi justice department. Dee and Yuchi immediately clash when a sea monster attacks during a ceremony trying to get his hands on Yin (Angelababy), a young courtesan being used as a sacrifice to the sea gods. After Yuchi imprisons Dee, he escapes with the aid of doctor Shatuo (Lin Gengxin). Now, everyone is embroiled in a case that’s much bigger than the rampaging sea monster —who happens to be Yuan (Kim Bum) — whose famous teahouse has produced an addictive poisonous tea sweeping all the up to the Emperor himself.

Well Go USA delivers Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon on a flimsy 25GB disc, but have no worries. In typical fashion, the genre label delivers another top notch transfer. Detail is sharp as a tack, lending every stitch of clothing, ruffling feather, waving flag, or makeup effect as realistic as possible. I’ve read some have spotted a few instances of banding, but it never showed up on my TV. This isn’t demo worthy material, but it delivers the production design and cinematography in all its glory. Colors pop but never bleed.

Blacks are dark but never crushing, with shadow detail easily discernible. Aliasing or shimmer never rears its head either, something that shows up more than anything else in most Well Go USA transfers. The Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master is spot on as well. Directionality is impressive whether it’s a character talking while moving around screen, pouring rain, flying debris, or even a random lightning strike. LFE is deep and booming making the action hit as hard as it should, and the finale against the sea dragon even livelier. A 2.0 Mandarin track is also included, along with English subtitles.

YoungDetDeePic1Convoluted as it all may be, the story is fairly easy to follow, and the action scenes certainly make up for the plot confusion. The last battle with the sea dragon is a doozy, easily on par with the biggest Hollywood budgets, namely the Pirates of the Caribbean Kraken attack. Hark throws a lot of objects at the camera because it was originally in 3D, which makes some of the CGI elements questionable. But the end battle would certainly be an even bigger event if Well Go USA had taken the time to release the 3D Blu-ray. Considering there are absolutely no special features on hand — all you do get is the film’s theatrical trailer — it would have been a truly welcome addition.

Chao turns the young Detective Dee into a precocious Sherlock Holmes who loves outsmarting Detective Yuchi, and they have a fun rapport as the characters continue to try and one up each other. Hark continues to impress as always with his action direction. Considering most of the film takes place during the day is also a nice change of pace for an effects-heavy film. Typically all of this would have taken place in the dead of night and probably doused with rain to cover up the visual effects. It’s nice to be able to see what’s going on. Something a lot of directors should take note. Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon may not be the best entry in Hark’s canon, but it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.

Photos courtesy Well Go USA

Friday, February 7, 2014

Movie Review: 'The Monuments Men'

*** out of 5
118 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking
Columbia Pictures

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

While George Clooney certainly keeps his game up with his acting ability, with The Monuments Men his directorial efforts are already starting to wane. He’s come a long way since his days on ER, but maybe he really should stick to acting. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was a great debut—undoubtedly assisted by the use of a Charlie Kaufman screenplay—and Good Night, and Good Luck certainly made him a director to watch. But his screwball throwback Leatherheads failed to continue his winning streak and does anyone even remember The Ides of March? Unfortunately, Clooney puts forth his most lackluster film yet with The Monuments Men.

MonumentsMen1It’s World War II and while the war may be winding down, Hitler and his Nazis are plundering every piece of art they can find to be kept for his upcoming Führer Museum. Their latest conquest was the taking of the Ghent Altarpiece. This causes Frank Stokes (Clooney) to talk President Roosevelt (Michael Dalton, seen and heard only from behind) into letting him gather a group of museum directors, curators, and historians to find the stolen art and return it to its rightful owners. With the help of James Rorimer (Matt Damon), Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), French Lt. Jean-Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), and British Major Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), they set out to complete their mission.

When it was announced that The Monuments Men was getting pushed back from its original release date to February, thus negating its Oscar consideration, it came with the excuse that Clooney wouldn’t be able to finish his visual effects in time. Turns out he didn’t want the film to bomb harder than it probably will. There’s absolutely nothing Oscar-worthy here.

A colleague pointed out the biggest flaw walking out of the screening, “You know the film is in trouble when your only chance for character-building is plowed over with an opening credits montage.” You never once care for any of these men. Clooney simply made sure to cast familiar actors because he never bothered to write (along with partner-in-crime Grant Heslov) any kind of characterization. I almost forgot to mention, Cate Blanchett is also in it. See, I almost forgot—a complete waste of a great cast.

Matt Damon;Cate BlanchettTo make matters worse, the film plays its tone like a pinball machine. Don’t worry about which feelings you’re supposed to have—Clooney has Alexandre Desplat employ his score to dictate them for you. One minute it’s wacky, then it’s dramatic, careening back to patriotic. Clooney also stages a lot of the movie like a second-rate Inglourious Basterds. You could even call it the worst sequel ever. Maybe cinematographer Phedon Papamichael is to blame for the look, but as director, Clooney is the real culprit. It’s ironic that the film makes such a big deal about getting the art back from Hitler because, by destroying culture, he eradicates everything about it, yet here Clooney is ripping off other movies.

The Monuments Men could have used a dash more humor to carry the plot along. When Murray and Balaban receive Christmas gifts from home, maybe throw in a can of Dapper Dan. Or when Murray has to visit a German dentist, they could’ve cast Steve Martin for a Little Shop of Horrors reunion. Too jokey? Perhaps, but at least it would have shown a hint of cleverness. Alas, all of these ideas are far better than anything Clooney has cobbled together for his first true misfire in the director’s chair.

The Monuments Men may have been on an important mission and the end of the film beats you over the head with whether it was worth losing men in battle, asking if anyone will remember them. Thankfully, the real-life heroes will be; their own film, a total misfire.

Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Movie Review: 'The Lego Movie'

 ***** out of 5
100 minutes
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Warner Bros. Pictures

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

A lot of oddball properties have made their way to the big screen over the years, with mixed results. For every Pirates of the Caribbean there’s a Battleship. Not to mention Disney’s failed attempt to cash in on the Pirates films with The Haunted Mansion. Considering Lego already has an established direct-to-video market revolving around Star Wars and DC Comics characters, it was only a matter of time before a theatrical release. With the directors of the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) — who also directed the hysterical 21 Jump Street, with a sequel coming in June — the year’s first fantastic all-around film has arrived with The Lego Movie.

LegoMoviePicOneHere we are quickly thrown into a prophecy made by the wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) to Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) as Lord Business takes possession of the all-powerful “Kragle.” Eight and a half years later, we meet our protagonist Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), who stumbles upon Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) at his work construction site. Emmet soon has the Piece of Resistance stuck to his back and is told he is the Special and he is the only one who can stop Lord Business from destroying their world on Taco Tuesday. Now, Emmet, Wyldstyle, and some friends picked up along their adventure — including Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), Unikitty (voiced by Alison Brie), spaceman Benny (voiced by Charlie Day), and a pirate named Metalbeard (voiced by Nick Offerman) — must save the day in hilarious fashion.

To say any more about the plot would be to say too much. A surprising thing when it comes to a family-oriented film, I know, but directors Lord and Miller (also credited with the screenplay) have packed the film to the gills with hilarious one-liners and sight gags. They’ve truly outdone themselves with The Lego Movie. The look of the film is a hybrid of stop-motion and computer animation done by Animal Logic and it is top notch. I only wish I had seen the film in any other 3D theater; I had the unfortunate travesty of watching it in Dolby 3D and yet it still looked amazing. Be warned though, it is a lot to take in upon first viewing. There is so much to look at that even when you have the movie at home on Blu-ray, it will still take who knows how many viewings to find all the Easter eggs.

LEGOBe on the lookout for some hilarious cameos from within the Lego universe itself along with a lot of their licensed properties. You want funny, you got funny. You want heartwarming, it has that too! There’s a huge surprise towards the end of the film that makes total sense when you think back upon some of what happened earlier and there’s no way I’ll give it away. Let’s just say that a character called “The Man Upstairs” works brilliantly. But enough chit chat, all you need to know is you cannot miss The Lego Movie! The year’s first must see film is here, and will undoubtedly go down as one of the year’s best as well. To quote the film’s theme song, Everything Is Awesome, and they couldn’t be more right.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Blu-ray Review: 'Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy'

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy' on Blogcritics.

“Every kid knows who Freddy is. He’s like Santa Claus or King Kong.” – Heather Langenkamp, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

NeverSleepAgainCoverAs if director Daniel Farrands’ Crystal Lake Memories — a nearly seven-hour opus to Jason Vorhees wasn’t enough — Image Entertainment reminds us that he already tackled another horror icon three years earlier. Clocking in at nearly five-hours, Farrands and company chronicle the trials and tribulations of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise with Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. Featuring interviews with hundreds of members of the series’ cast and crew — including: Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp (also narrating), and Robert Englund (Freddy himself). Never Sleep Again takes us through everything you ever wanted to know about the Nightmare on Elm Street series, with Image Entertainment upgrading the documentary to Blu-ray on January 21. Unfortunately, Johnny Depp does not appear, but an inclusion of a clip from his Inside the Actors Studio minimally fills the void.

Covering all the bases, film by film, the best bits are included in the segments revolving around Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 5: The Dream Child, and Freddy’s Dead. The homoerotic debate has never waned surrounding the first sequel and even stars Mark Patton (Jesse Walsh), Kim Myers (Lisa Webber), Robert Rusler (Ron Grady), and Marshall Bell (Coach Schneider), continue to exploit possibly the most controversial of all the films. Patton at least apologizes for his dance sequence, but even screenwriter David Chaskin and director Jack Sholder admit they were completely naïve to the undertones during production — thankfully not apologizing — but letting the film stand up to its own debate. Another section quickly covers the TV spin-off, Freddy’s Nightmares and their battles with staying true to the series while attempting to find their own brand of fun. Although it feels like the series was short-lived, it actually ran a surprising three seasons.

The Dream Child dives into the production woes as director Stephen Hopkins talks about how the script would change day to day and how his own comic book inspirations began to take over. This film received the most cuts by the MPAA, which is not surprising considering it’s one of the more tame films as far as the kills are concerned. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all the films, is that Peter Jackson wrote a draft of Freddy’s Dead revolving around an old geezer version of Freddy, bullied by kids until he accidentally kills one granting him his powers back. Oh, what could have been! Jackson isn’t the only now-famous screenwriter to tackle the world of Freddy. Frank Darabont (Dream Warriors) and Brian Helgeland (The Dream Master) also contributed as co-writers. Let’s also not forget that even Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, and The Long Kiss Goodnight) directed Dream Master before he helmed Die Hard 2.

Never Sleep Again covers all of the original entries from the original A Nightmare on Elm Street through Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Freddy vs. Jason. Since the documentary was released in 2010, the same year as the so-called “reboot” from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, there is no coverage of the most recent film. Considering it never lived up to even the worst entries of the original series, this is definitely for the best.

As far as the video quality goes, Never Sleep Again, is presented on a 50GB disc in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and suffers from one giant culprit: crush. The interviews are almost too dark, rendering clothing almost non-existent. Considering the documentary revolves around a horror series, I’m assuming this was intentional, but all the darkness does is make a lot of the interviews look like segments of floating heads. It’s not horrible, but it also keeps clothing, hair, and make-up on the interviewees appear softer than it should. And another anomaly that rears its head more often than not is banding and aliasing. Considering how things do look, I can only imagine how awful it would be to watch the documentary on DVD. The audio is also subpar with a 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio that’s mixed way too low. Usually I can listen to most discs with my volume set around a level of 23-25, but here I had to crank it all the way up to 35. Once set at a reasonable volume, at least dialogue is clean and you never miss an interesting anecdote.

The only special feature on the first disc is a full-length audio commentary featuring directors Andrew Kasch and Farrands, writer Thommy Hutson, and cinematographer Buz Danger Wallick. They offer up as much insight into their own production of the documentary on top of adding even more information to the exhaustive runtime. And, as if a four-hour documentary wasn’t enough, a second disc comprises all the extras including, “Extended Interviews” which runs a whopping 100 minutes featuring full length interviews that were edited down for the documentary.

The rest of the special features are as self-explanatory as their titles. “First Look: Heather Langenkamp’s I Am Nancy” is a 6-minute Langenkamp-introduced trailer for her own documentary. “For the Love of the Glove” is an 18-minute segment of basically extended commercials for sites offering homemade Freddy gloves, including Mike Becker, proud owner of the “missing glove” from the set of the first film. “Fred Heads: The Ultimate Freddy Fans” is 12 minutes of Elm Street memorabilia collectors and creators. “Horrors Hallowed Grounds: Return to Elm Street” is a 23-minute episode of creator/host Sean Clark’s series of location tours that also includes Halloween.

“Freddy vs. the Angry Video Game Nerd” features James Rolfe recounting his web series episode where he tackles the Nintendo game. “Expanding the Elm Street Universe: Freddy in Comic Books and Novels” talks about exactly that but runs on for 15 minutes. “The Music of the Nightmare: Conversations with Composers and Songwriters” is a 13-minute look back at Charles Bernstein’s original ideas for the first film’s score, and includes Part 2’s Christopher Young, Craig Safran (Part 4), and J. Peter Robinson (New Nightmare). “Elm Street’s Poster Boy: The Art of Matthew Joseph Peak” is a quick 7-minute interview with Peak discussing his work on the posters for the first five films. “A Nightmare on Elm Street in 10 Minutes” features the interviewees repeating their original lines of dialogue edited together taking us through every installment including Freddy vs. Jason. And finally, a teaser trailer for Never Sleep Again rounds everything out.

Alongside Jason, Freddy was a regular amongst my TV rotation growing up. One of the most interesting aspects about someone watching the Elm Street saga at such a young age is that it’s questioned by Freddy creator Wes Craven himself in the seventh entry: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Here, Craven preps himself for the self-referential tone he brought to the Scream series, by pitting the original film’s cast and crew against Freddy as he tries to escape the world of make believe to enter the real world (something most of today’s coddled youth probably don’t understand).

What kind of ramifications can Freddy antagonize in a young fertile mind? I for one, can say none whatsoever, as I am a fully functioning adult who knows the difference between movies and real life. No matter how much filmmakers want to try to mix reality and fiction, it’s up to the viewer to distinguish between the two, and I have never even thought of donning a homemade Freddy glove made up of real knives, even when wearing a Freddy mask for Halloween multiple times throughout my childhood (which I still have by the way). Never Sleep Again turns that into a moot point, however, as it takes a backseat to what the series truly stands for: entertainment.

As fun as it is to hear the cast and crew of all parts of the series, all it really made me want to do is pop in one of the actual films. But the documentary is still required viewing for any horror fan and worth the Blu-ray price, even if the video and audio aren’t of the highest quality.