Thursday, November 26, 2015

Movie Review: “The Good Dinosaur”

The Good Dinosaur

**** out of 5
100 minutes
Rated PG for peril, action and thematic elements
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place. 

While DreamWorks still has their fair share of misses, Pixar really only has one true flub in their arsenal: Cars 2. While Brave and Monsters University have their naysayers, even they were at least enjoyable — not to mention box office hits. The only thing holding back The Good Dinosaur, is it’s coming hot on the heels of Inside Out, one of their all-time best. Director Peter Sohn’s dinosaur-western (yes, you read that right), doesn’t quite pale by comparison, but some will deem it merely adequate Pixar. In this day and age though, even mediocre Pixar still makes the best animated films of any year, which unto itself is always an accomplishment.

Sixty-five million years ago, the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs has simply skimped by as a shooting star in the night. Millions of years later, Poppa (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (voiced by Frances McDormand) are plowing fields and building huts to keep their newly hatched apatosaurus family safe and fed. Hatchlings Libby (voiced by Maleah Nipay-Padilla), Buck (voiced by Ryan Teeple), and our hero Arlo (voiced by Jack McGraw) are brought into a world where the dinosaurs have evolved to rule the world. Years later, the grown up siblings (now voiced by Maleah Padilla, Marcus Scribner, and Raymond Ochoa) are trying to make their mark on the family food supply, with Arlo trying to prove he’s more than just the runt.

Despite being terrified of everything, Poppa tasks Arlo with catching and killing the critter that’s been stealing their corn. Arlo gets scared causing the human child — later named Spot (voiced by Jack Bright) — to be chased into the wilderness by Arlo and Poppa. Soon enough, a storm hits, causing Arlo to witness his father’s death, and is cast into the world on his own. Not without running across little Spot of course, who leads Arlo on an adventure of self discovery involving run ins with various dinosaurs from the friendly tyrannosaurus rexes to the loopy styracosaurus to the terrors of velociraptors and pterodactyls.

When it comes to Pixar, the final product always manages to shine through the production troubles, and The Good Dinosaur is no exception. Work on the film began in 2009, when Sohn and original director Bob Peterson (co-director of Up and the voice of Dug), came up with the idea and eventually Peterson was replaced by Sohn. Meg LeFauve may get final screenwriting credit (she also co-wrote Inside Out), but the five story credits shed light on the production issues. It also underwent a major release date shift from November 2013 to May 2014, and is now finally being released. The third act was completely redone, and a lot of the voice cast was replaced. Thankfully — while still not being one of the Pixar prime films — The Good Dinosaur has come out on top.

The voice cast who remain are having a lot of fun and Sohn has managed to make more than just a good movie. Full of heart and adventure, there’s plenty to keep everyone in the family invested. While it’s hard for me to not be biased — this is a western, featuring dinosaurs, made by Pixar, three of my favorite things — it’s definitely far from perfect. Spot remains hilarious throughout, but Arlo can be a bit annoying from time to time. It also starts to get repetitive how many times he screams and runs away from something, or gets hit in the head and the film cuts to a blackout. However, the story is a lot of fun — it’s nice to see nature getting to play the villain, even if the pterodactyls and velociraptors wreak havoc — and it flies by pretty quick. And in true Pixar fashion, some viewers will want to bring along some tissues. Hilarious, heartbreaking, and gorgeously animated, The Good Dinosaur may not be perfect Pixar, but it’s still really good Pixar.

*Also, be sure to arrive on time to make sure you don’t miss the short, Sanjay’s Super Team. It’s an action packed hilarious ode to Hindu traditions and superhero tropes.

Movie Review: “Creed”


**** out of 5
133 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

The world may be gaga over Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise, but I’ve just never seen the appeal. A friend of mine tried to get me to watch the original years ago, but I fell asleep. After watching the spin off movie Creed — and perhaps being a bit older — I can appreciate the appeal of even Rocky Balboa himself now. Stallone may not be the best actor, but at least they picked the right one for this. Michael B. Jordan has always been one of the hottest rising stars today, and with Creed, it finally proves he lives up to the hype. Jumping back into the ring with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, the trio deliver one of the year’s biggest crowd-pleasing knockouts.

Creed kicks off drumming to its own beat, introducing us to the young Adonis Johnson (Alex Henderson) in juvenile detention. After his latest fight, he gets thrown into lockup and is soon visited by the widow of Apollo Creed himself, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). She knows he is Apollo’s son, and takes him in, offering him a better chance at life. Cutting to the present, we find adult Adonis (Jordan) working at a financial institute and quitting his job the same day he gets a promotion. Adonis wants to live up to his father’s namesake, and moves to Philadelphia to try to get Rocky (Stallone) to teach him how to fight. Along the way, he also finds time to meet-cute his singer/neighbor Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and catch the attention of heavyweight champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) who wants to fight Adonis before Conlan is shipped off to prison.

If there’s one thing that helps Creed more than anything, it’s that Coogler has made the world of Rocky come alive, probably better than ever before. The film makes the character feel literally real and not just out of a movie. This feels less like a sequel and more like a documentary. It helps that Stallone took the backseat and didn’t even touch the screenplay, giving him the chance to loosen up for the camera. The film also benefits from a welcome sense of humor and character relationships that also feel as real as Rocky does.

Jordan and Thompson have great chemistry together, along with Jordan and Stallone. Some may not like the sight of an aging Rocky, but let’s face it, Stallone himself turns 70 next year. It only makes sense for the series to be passing the torch at this point. We’ve seen what happens with Stallone back in the ring, and rest assured, this is no Grudge Match. The bottom line is with Creed, the Rocky legacy gets a chance to live on, and if it can make a fan out of me, then I can see the franchise continuing on for years to come.

Movie Review: “Trumbo”


**** out of 5
124 minutes
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Bleecker Street Media

Article first published at The Reel Place.

If there’s one piece of irony when it comes to films about Hollywood, it’s that they’re not made for mainstream audiences. Typically armed with surefire dialogue and larger-than-life characters, these are films made for a far more niche group. Occasionally they can reach a bigger audience, but they’re usually fictionalized: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Singin’ in the Rain, Adaptation, Tropic Thunder, Get Shorty. So imagine how small the audience for Trumbo will be when it comes to the topic of the “Hollywood 10,” a group of screenwriters thrown in prison for communism. Thankfully, director Jay Roach has delivered his best film yet, armed with a game cast — even if the film barely lives up to its subjects own Oscar-winning abilities.

It’s 1947 and we’re on the set of the latest collaboration between Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). While Trumbo is constantly made fun of for hanging out on set, it’s his words that he wants to make sure get brought to life in all their splendor. Meanwhile, Trumbo is living a rocky personal life because he’s a communist, and the government is out to get them. Not even John Wayne (David James Elliott) takes kindly to their sort, and Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) has her own agenda to out anyone she can. What do you do when no one in Hollywood will let you write? Just slap someone else’s name on it of course. This leads to Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk) winning an Oscar for the Roman Holiday screenplay. Eventually, Trumbo and some of his closest colleagues — including Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) — are imprisoned for their beliefs, but that doesn’t stop Trumbo from writing his biggest movie yet: Spartacus.

Roach leads his actors through the motions with Cranston in particular getting to rant some spectacularly crafted monologues courtesy of John McNamara. While the film does run a little long, Cranston commands the screen, bringing Trumbo to brilliant life. The supporting cast all do their best to keep up with him, especially C.K. with his patented brand of deadpan delivery providing huge laughs. Some good digs are made that still ring true today: “It’s a good government, but everything could be better,” and “There are many angry and ignorant people in this world and they seem to be breeding in record numbers.”

The point the film wants to get across more than anything is that just because someone believes something different than you, doesn’t mean they’re a radical with an agenda. The first amendment is meant for everyone, and if we don’t acknowledge that these kinds of things have happened in the past, then we’re bound to repeat them. As for the film itself, don’t be surprised to see it mentioned in a few categories. Especially Cranston, the man is electric and mesmerizing as he spews the dialogue provided — the best bits are saved for him and C.K. If Trumbo happens to be playing in your area, it’s a sad piece of Hollywood history that shows that it isn’t always flash and glitter behind the scenes.

Blu-ray Review: “A Christmas Horror Story”

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

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘A Christmas Horror Story’ Featuring William Shatner on Blogcritics.

The two holidays I love the most, also happen to have the most films at their disposal: Halloween and Christmas. And as much as I love both of them, I may love holiday horror films even more. There’s just something cathartic about watching something so sacred get torn to shreds for the sake of a laugh or scare. While ranging in quality to severe degrees, I’ll watch pretty much anything with a good holiday twist to it. Black Christmas/X-mas, Silent Night Deadly Night, Rare Exports, Gremlins, Jack Frost, and Santa’s Slay, there’s something for everyone under the tree. So, how does the new anthology, A Christmas Horror Story, stack up? Unfortunately, it doesn’t all gel the way you’d hope, but there is a great twist at the end that almost more than makes up for it.

A Christmas Horror Story, Christmas, Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan, William Shatner, Santa, Santa Claus, Krampus, George Buza, Zoe De Grand Maison, Rob ArcherThree tales come together on Christmas Eve in the fictional town of Bailey Downs where radio DJ Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) is keeping everyone in the spirit of the season, while a trio of groups are about to cross paths with some demented mythology. Video journalists Molly (Zoé De Grand Maison), Ben (Alex Ozerov), and Dylan (Shannon Kook) are investigating the deaths of two students who are about to find out that there may be more to the Virgin Mary than they ever imagined.

Dysfunctional family Scott (Adrian Holmes), Kim (Oluniké Adeliyi), and young Will (Orion John) get up close and personal with the effects of a changeling. Caprice (Amy Forsyth), her parents Taylor (Jeff Clarke) and Diane (Michelle Nolden), and brother Duncan (Percy Hynes White) get to find out why Aunt Edda (Corinne Conley) keeps a Krampus figurine laying around. Meanwhile, up at the North Pole, Santa (George Buza) discovers that Krampus (Rob Archer) may have been released after his elves wind up turning into zombies.

Image Entertainment unleashes these sordid Christmas tales to stunning life, proving yet again that sometimes you can’t keep a 25GB disc down. Detail never falters, whether out in the woods, or in the basement of a creepy old school. Shadows never result in crush, and there is surprisingly never any banding. Colors pop, which only exacerbates the punches of red whenever blood starts flying, and the bright greens and reds never result in bleeding. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track also gets a lot of mileage, with plenty of deep, rumbling bass, and a lot of surround effects. This is a horror after all, and there’s plenty of carnage to assault the viewer from every speaker. The festive score and dialogue are never lost in the chaos. English SDH subtitles are on hand for those in need.

The special features are as sparse as can be, but at least we aren’t left with a lump of coal in our stocking. Featuring pre-menu trailers for Odd Thomas and WolfCop, the lone extra is a “Behind the Scenes” (14:45) featurette letting the cast and crew provide insight as to who directed which segment, and where their inspirations stem from. However, it wasn’t pleasing hearing them say how Creepshow was a huge inspiration, only to turn around and say how “corny” they think it is now. That anthology is a true horror classic, and I have to say now, that I will probably never watch A Christmas Horror Story again. As much fun as it may be seeing elves die in extreme fashion, there’s just not enough to make this an annual favorite. It works in spurts, but never comes together in a satisfying whole, but there is at least enough good to make inquiring minds get their money’s worth. Anyone making a blind purchase may find themselves in the mood for re-gifting.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Movie Review: “The Night Before”

The Night Before

**** 1/2 out of 5
101 minutes
Rated R for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity
Columbia Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

Ho ho ho, now this is more like it. Studios really can still make a good holiday film after all! Just when we thought Love the Coopers had come to destroy our Christmas cheer, along comes a gaggle of potheads to bowl us over with the true yuletide spirit. Leave it to Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie to make one of the year’s most hilarious trios as they take us through the holiday motions in The Night Before. Sure, it’s jam-packed with lowest common denominator humor, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be smart and damn funny. Armed with always reliable director Jonathan Levine — All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Wackness, 50/50, Warm Bodies — it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that there’s every bit of heart and warmth amidst the potty humor.

In 2001, Ethan (JGL) lost his parents in a car accident. Lucky for him, he’s blessed with two of the world’s best friends — Isaac (Rogen) and Chris Roberts (Mackie) — who vow that he’ll never spend Christmas alone. Over the years, Isaac and Chris have started to move on with their lives — Chris is a professional football player and Isaac is now married to Betsy (Jillian Bell) with a baby on the way — and each year it’s getting harder and harder to keep their tradition alive. That is until Ethan steals a Christmas miracle when he finds tickets to the holiday’s hottest, most secret, party. Now, Ethan forces his friends to endure one last night they might never remember, all while holding out hope to win back his one true love, Diana (Lizzy Caplan).

Man, oh man, does this make up for the vitriol we had to spew upon last week’s Love the Coopers. Not only is The Night Before one of the year’s funniest comedies, it’s a spectacularly heartfelt ode to the Christmas classics my generation grew up with. There are plenty of nods to everything from Die Hard to the first two Home Alone films. Yes, a new Christmas classic is born. Risen from the ashes of Nothing Like the Holidays, Four Christmases, Fred Claus, Deck the Halls, Surviving Christmas, The Polar Express, and Christmas with the Kranks, this is one of the best since Bad Santa, Love Actually, and Elf all came out in 2003. There have been some others along the way, but this really takes the cake and just oozes Christmas from every frame.

The cast are having a blast, and thankfully so are we. How many times have we been burned by a film where the cast were merely enjoying a studio-paid vacation? Here’s looking at you Adam Sandler who’s responsible for one of the worst Christmas/films ever: Eight Crazy Nights. The Night Before just wants everyone to have a good time and that’s exactly what we get. Even Michael Shannon gets to steal every scene he’s in. Mr. Green is one of the best characters of the year.

There may be four credited screenwriters — Levine is joined by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, and Rogen right-hand man Evan Goldberg — fill the film with spit-out-your-soda hilarious lines of dialogue and some of the most outrageous visual gags we’ve been waiting for since This Is the End. Some may have found The Interview a bit of a let down after they made one of the best apocalypse films ever, but they are right back where they belong, keeping the hilarity chugging right along with the message.

Don’t think the film has an agenda, if it does, it’s to let the audience join in on the year’s best night out. The Night Before may not be for every taste, but for those looking for the year’s most spirited, balls out, Christmas comedy, this is all we need to get through the holidays, at least until we get to see how Krampus plays out. If it’s anywhere near as delightful as The Night Before, then merry Christmas to all and to all a good night, indeed!

Movie Review: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

*** out of 5
137 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material

Article first published at The Reel Place.

Long story short, it took four films — culminating with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 for me to realize this film series, simply isn’t meant for me. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first film after having read and thoroughly enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel. But director Gary Ross’s sluggishly paced big screen adaptation just left something unfulfilled.

After a change in director, to Francis Lawrence, Catching Fire proved that the series could live up to both fans and the average moviegoer. So far, it’s the best film in the series, period.

After a disastrous of an end in Mockingjay – Part 1, how does Part 2 stack up? Well, as a series finale it mangles any chance of redemption with what has to be the most anticlimactic capper seen in awhile. I can’t imagine watching both films back-to-back. Nothing happens in such a long runtime.
Judging by my wife’s reaction to me feeling underwhelmed, the fans will eat it up. And that’s all that really matters, right? Is it even really worth spending time on a full review that’s as critic proof as this? The only other film this year that might be even harder to justify reviewing — whether it’s fantastic or not — would be Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Resistance is futile with a rabid fan base that couldn’t care less whether or not Jennifer Lawrence gives a surprisingly weak performance, or that Donald Sutherland is almost unintentionally hilarious. And there’s the action. The film plays out like a video game: get the characters from point A to point B and then they sit in darkness, waiting to move on to the next plot point. Peter Craig and Danny Strong’s screenplay suffers from extreme bouts of being episodic. Even if you haven’t read the book, or know anything about foreshadowing, you will see the film’s twists coming from a mile away.

I’m not trying to rake the film over the coals, it just could have been so much more. Had Part 1 and Part 2 been whittled down to even just a three hour runtime, this really could have been a fantastic finale. But as it stands, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 sends the series out not with the bang, but with a whimper.

Maybe there’s hope for the announced spinoffs, because there is a world of interesting ideas Collins has set into motion with her books and films. They need to be fully tapped. Maybe with some creative license, Lionsgate can keep the franchise going — even if mostly in name — and they can find someone to deliver another entry that lives up to the greatness of Catching Fire. Until then, all I could think walking out out of this was, “They made us wait a whole year for that?!”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Movie Review: “Love the Coopers”

Love the Coopers

Zero stars
107 excruciating minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some sexuality
CBS Films

Article first published at The Reel Place.

To say I love Christmas movies is a bit of an understatement. From standard classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street to what some kind consider the oddball choices of Gremlins and Die Hard. Love Actually happens to be one of my all-time favorite films. So it made my heart sink to learn that this season’s big holiday film, Love the Coopers,  had some not so encouraging names behind the scenes.

Director Jessie Rogers made a career out of writing/directing nothing but manipulative garbage — Corrina, Corrina, I Am Sam, Stepmom, Because I Said So. She also is credited with the story for another horrible holiday film: Fred Claus. Rogers was enough to discredited all hope. Then you factor in that it was written by Steven Rogers — Hope Floats, Stepmom, Kate & Leopold, P.S. I Love You — and I think you can guess what you’re getting yourself into with Love the Coopers.

There’s no love to be found anywhere in a hopelessly petty outing with one of cinemas most unlikeable families. You will not love anyone by the time the big stupid twist comes at the end. Let’s just say that Steve Martin — who narrates the entire movie — should be ashamed of himself for stooping to such a lowbrow film. And the rest of the cast should know better too.

Except for Diane Keaton. When’s the last time she did anything watchable? And So It Goes, The Big Wedding, Because I Said So, Something’s Gotta Give, Town & Country, Hanging Up, The Other Sister… as another recent holiday film would say, “good grief!”

The only one person watchable through the entire run time is Alan Arkin. But that man could read the phone book and make it enjoyable. It’s a shame that the opportunity to reunite Arkin with John Goodman results in so little amusement. They were so fantastic together in Argo, but here, Arkin is squandered to spewing unintentionally creepy monologues at Amanda Seyfried.

Then there’s the wasted opportunity of having Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) stuck in the world’s longest police arrest with what appears to take an eternity before Tomei eventually jokes, “You can let me out here” only making the audience pray for the same luxury. The bottom line is that Love the Coopers is not just one of the worst holiday movies ever, it’s one of the worst films of the year and should be avoided at all costs.

Movie Review: “The 33”

The 33

** 1/2 out of 5
127 minutes
Rated PG-13 for a disaster sequence and some language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

When’s the last time you ever sat through a made-for-TV movie and thought to yourself: “Man, that would have been killer on the big screen?” Never? That’s what I thought. Unfortunately for the true story The 33 — based on the 2010 Chilean mining disaster — director Patricia Riggen never manages to dig the film out of the depths of manipulative melodrama. Three screenwriters — Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas — certainly doesn’t help either because they never take the time for one scene of authenticity to make you care about the devastated miners trapped inside a San Jose mine for 69 days. Not even the dependable Antonio Banderas can keep our interests, let alone the fact that — SPOILER ALERT — all of the ill-fated 33 survive.

For those who may not be as well versed in what happened, in 2010, Mario Sepulveda (Banderas), along with 32 other miners, started their day like any other day. What they didn’t know was that “the heart of the mountain” was going to come crash down on them, leaving them stranded with next to no food or water. Down below, Mario and bossman Luis Urzua (Lou Diamond Phillips) must keep everyone sane and safe while above, Minister Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), the Minister of Minery of Chile, must keep his promise to the miners’ loved ones to find a way to get the men back to the surface.

Not meaning any disrespect to the miners who were trapped below the surface, they have not been given their due with The 33. The film suffers from an excruciating pace, deflating any kind of tension to their eventual rescue. It doesn’t help that the entire cast is directed to histrionics and overacting every chance they get. It’s also extremely distracting that they decided to make the film in English. There’s absolutely no reason the cast couldn’t have been allowed to speak in their native tongues; it just makes the film feel even more whitewashed than The Help did. It ends informing the audience how the men were never compensated for the disaster, yet there’s an online petition stating the same thing about the movie. Hypocrisy at its finest — if it’s true.

But I suppose it really doesn’t matter, I have no idea who the film was made for. The miners themselves? Because it sure sounds like they wouldn’t even be able to pay to see it. Lets hope they at least get invited to the premiere. Maybe it’d seem more powerful if you were sitting next to one of them. As it stands, it’s just another pseudo-disaster movie that would feel right at home on the Hallmark Channel. Something that should never be said of a big screen Hollywood biopic.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Blu-ray Review: “Some Kind of Hate”

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

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s ‘Some Kind of Hate’ Tries to Breathe New Life Into the Slasher Genre on Blogcritics.

With how many movies are released every year, there are an astounding number of horror films. While not all of them get the theatrical treatment — and many of them shouldn’t — it’s amazing what we do see up on the big screen versus what winds up in the direct-to-video heap. While director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Some Kind of Hate isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it’s way better than, say, Unfriended. Mortimer attempts to create a new iconic slasher for horror hounds, but there are way more ideas running through the film, than outright strokes of genius. But there’s still plenty of fun to be found. It’s available for purchase as a Best Buy exclusive until December 29 from RLJ Entertainment.

Some Kind of Hate, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Brian DeLeeuw, Sierra McCormick, Grace Phipps, Lexi Atkins, Spencer Breslin, Ronen RubinsteinLincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) deals with his fair share of bullies. His dad is an alcoholic who blames him for the TV not working because there’s so many wires plugged into it, and at school he also deals with being the outsider until he decides to stick a fork in his tormentor’s eye. Shipped off to the Mind’s Eye Academy, things take a turn for the Friday the 13th Part V when he runs into a new set of bullies that he wishes were all dead, unleashing the vengeful spirit of Moira (Sierra McCormick). Turns out, Moira was bullied herself and wound up dead at the hands of the current counselors — including Krauss (Noah Segan), Christine (Lexi Atkins), and Jack Iverson (Michael Polish). Now, Moira wants to unleash her revenge upon those who killed her, but wants to also have her way with the rest of the current batch of misfits — most of all Lincoln’s maybe-girlfriend Kaitlin (Grace Phipps).

RLJ Entertainment may never provide their films with spacious 50GB discs, but considering there aren’t a ton of extra features helps provide enough room to get the job done. Some Kind of Hate was designed to look like an independent drama and that’s exactly what we get. While there isn’t a whole lot of post-processing, the color timing goes from drab to natural from scene to scene. Colors look completely natural in one scene and may appear dreary in another. Fine detail is never as razor sharp as it could be, but even in the darkest scenes there’s plenty of shadow delineation. That is unless the director is aiming for intentional crush. There’s not a lot, but it is a horror film, so we still get some. Alisasing and banding never appear. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a little lesser than the video, yet still manages to create enough ambience to keep you on edge when required. Surrounds are limited to when there’s on-screen action. There is no alternate language options and subtitles are English SDH only.

As for special features, like I said, there aren’t a whole lot, and the highlight is the audio commentaries. One features writer/director Mortimer joined by co-writer Brian DeLeeuw, with the other having Mortimer joined by Rubinstein, Phipps, and McCormick. The usual behind-the-scenes anecdotes are discussed, with the director and co-writer talking about how they wanted to create themes akin to Nightmare on Elm Street and Candyman. They also wanted to make sure we know that Mortimer is a big fan of New Wave Euro horror and that he loves to make people watch Martyrs — a film I still think is extremely overrated. A collection of deleted scenes (4:02) include: “Computer Room” (:25), “Iverson’s Office” (:56), “Lincoln’s Mom” (2:13), and “Vice Magazine” (:29). None of these really add much to the story, aside from “Lincoln’s Mom” where we do get a little insight to his motivations involving his mother’s death. There’s also optional commentary with Mortimer on all of them.

The film finds a fun, new twist to play with in their villainous Moira. Whatever kind of harm you inflict upon her inflicts on you. Let’s just say you don’t want to stick a gun in her mouth and pull the trigger. Moira may not have an instantly iconic look, but McCormick brings a manic glee that lets you know she relishes playing the slasher character, getting to dispatch victims in bloody fashion. The rest of the cast aren’t quite having as much fun as she is, but Phipps comes close. Decked out in I Spit on Your Grave-styled daisy dukes, she gets to shine in what almost becomes her own villain, even if she’s simply trying to save Lincoln. Featuring decent video/audio and a small set of special features, horror hounds may not have a new horror hero on their hands, but Some Kind of Hate will more than satisfy genre fans on any day of the week.

Movie Review: “The Peanuts Movie”

The Peanuts Movie

**** out of 5
88 minutes
Rated G
20th Century Fox

Article first published at The Reel Place.

Sometimes a movie can t exist on nostalgia alone — Jurassic World proved that this summer, aside from being a fantastic adventure in its own right. So you would think that The Peanuts Movie would be an a slam dunk, right? Especially considering how much care goes into animated features these days. Add to that Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz’s son (Craig) and grandson (Bryan) were co-writing the screenplay — along with Cornelius Uliano — we can at least say the spirit of the original comics and TV specials remain intact. Unfortunately, they’ve kept the Peanuts world contained to a G rating — something of a rarity these days — which creates a sense of boredom in a film that plays it a little too safe at times.

We kick off our new adventure during winter. Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) is up to his usual good grief antics of having to pick himself up after all the usual failed attempts at life. Soon, things start to look up for the blockhead when a new Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) moves in across the street. Now, Chuck has found a reason for living and sets out to do everything he can to win her affection. Meanwhile, after Snoopy (Bill Melendez) is banned from sneaking into school and finds a typewriter in a dumpster, he starts writing the next great novel — with the help of Woodstock of course — about the World War I Flying Ace trying to defeat the Red Baron, trying to win his own true love, Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth).

Director Steve Martino keeps things moving at a mostly frenetic pace — things do seem to slow down in the second act though — and provides a gorgeous landscape for the newly computer-animated characters to live in. It literally feels like you were sucked into the comic strip or TV specials and never worries about trying to razzle dazzle the audience. However, the biggest thing working against the film achieving instant classic status is Martino himself. He’s never made a great movie to begin with — Horton Hears a Who!, Ice Age: Continental Drift — so it makes me curious who thought he was the man for the job. Serviceable is the best word to describe The Peanuts Movie, but it may have a hard time winning over new fans.

The one job the film has is winning over the adults — we are the ones who grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — so I hoped there would be plenty of magic on the first big screen adventure. Unfortunately, there is barely enough story to sustain a 90-minute movie. As fantastic as it was to see the likes of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, Marcie, Peppermint Patty, Linus, Schroeder, Sally, and Pig-Pen together again, the Peanuts Movie doesn’t have that instant rewatch factor. Once it’s over, you won’t want to run right back out to buy another ticket. I’m sure kids will think otherwise — and this is way better than this summer’s Minions — but the bar was set mighty high for the year after Inside Out. So for what it is, I guess The Peanuts Movie relying on nostalgia is good enough.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Movie Review: ‘Spectre’


**** 1/2 out of 5
148 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language
Sony Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

If there’s one thing James Bond fans have been waiting for since Daniel Craig finally nailed the original Ian Fleming description, it’s the inclusion of “Spectre.” The dastardly crime syndicate was very briefly hinted at in Quantum of Solace, so it should come as no surprise that there are more than a few familiar faces featured in Spectre — Bond’s 24th adventure. Sam Mendes is back in the director’s chair, helping create the necessary tone he helped deliver in Skyfall — still the best Bond film ever. Does Spectre fall victim to the Quantum syndrome? Fans did not love that entry after being treated to the stupendous reboot of Casino Royale. This one falls right in line with Skyfall and Casino, keeping fans, new and old, extremely happy.

Picking up right after the end of Skyfall, Bond is on a mission in Mexico City to take out Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), leaving behind a clue: a ring with an octopus on it. Back in London, M (Ralph Fiennes) is infuriated with Bond’s reckless behavior and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) clues Bond in that he may have finally gone one step too far. The MI6 is about to be disbanded and the cocky C (Andrew Scott) is threatening to pull the plug on the 007 project for being outdated. But Bond is just getting started. After meeting — and of course, bedding — Sciarra’s widow Lucia (Monica Bellucci), he’s lead to Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) who is dying at a remote cabin in the woods and enlists Bond to help keep his daughter, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) from the evil clutches of the head of Spectre, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Now, Bond and Swann are on the lam, trying to stay one step ahead of Oberhauser’s right hand man — the Jaws-like superkiller Hinx (Dave Bautista) — and exposing Oberhauser’s real interests.

There may sound like a lot of plot in Spectre — and its 148 minute runtime certainly may appear bloated — but this is one of the least convoluted Bond films ever made. While some of the twists offered up in John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth’s screenplay may be more transparent than they’d like, there’s no denying it’s damn fun. Craig continues to deliver one of the best Bond performances — no offense to Sean Connery’s iconic portrayal — and Mendes keeps the tension mounting with some of the most spectacular action scenes of the year. Let alone that even when characters are sitting around talking, you’re still fully invested.

The supporting cast are all finally given far more to do as well. Fiennes gets to continually have his feathers ruffled by Bond’s brazen misadventures, and even Q (Ben Whishaw) gets to partake in an action scene or two. Field work is definitely not something the character has joined in on and it’s hilarious watching book smart try to keep up with street smart in the line of duty. Featuring a never ending globetrotting adventure, we’re taken from one enthralling locale to another: from Mexico City to London to Rome and finally Austria. Mendes and crew also make sure to tick off the prerequisite Bond moments to make sure fans get to have their cake and eat it too. But the real star of the last two Bond outings is Mendes for knowing how to shoot and edit an action scene so we always know what’s going on — cheers to that!

Audiences are in for another treat with Spectre. While it may not be the best Bond ever made, but the film is never short on delirious action scenes and enough character intrigue to keep a few of you guessing right up to the very end. It also manages to pull off quite the feat of feeling somewhat of a swan song for Craig’s Bond, while simultaneously setting up pieces for further adventures, a major achievement for any action film. Spectre keeps the series moving in a continuing trend of greatness, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Back to the Future: 30th Anniversary Trilogy’

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

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Robert Zemeckis’s ‘Back to the Future: 30th Anniversary Edition’ Goes Back In Time With New Special Features on Blogcritics.

As if it wasn’t hard enough to face the facts that Back to the Future celebrated its 25th anniversary, here we are, celebrating its 30th. It’s a little weird knowing that we are officially living in the future. October 21, 2015, has come and gone, and a few current events have happened in the meantime. Nike announced that we should be getting power-laced shoes next year; the hoverboard keeps getting closer and closer to a reality, and Pepsi has managed to bungle not just one release of their fictitious Pepsi Perfect, but two! Leaving a bad taste for fans worldwide.

So what’s new with the 30th anniversary release? Surprisingly, not a whole lot. While the films’ transfers still hold up, they’re also still not quite as good as they could be. With five years passing, and such a monumental date for a re-release, you would think that Universal would have gone the extra mile. I guess for those willing to spend the money there is the Back to the Future: The Complete Adventures featuring a “working” flux capacitor packaging, a 64-page booklet, and the inclusion of the complete animated series on DVD. Is the lesser set worth the double dip? Depends on your feelings toward simply having an extra Blu-ray of special features. Running more than two plus hours I suppose it is fun to see the behind-the-scenes additions, but when a film is celebrating its 30th anniversary, is there really that much more to offer fans?

On the plus side, there are two new new shorts featuring Christopher Lloyd reprising his Doc Brown role. “2015 Message from Doc Brown” (:45) is a super quick message from Doc about making the future a good one. “Doc Brown Saves the World!” (9:38) has Doc on another adventure through space and time to stop Biff Tannen from creating Bifftech and destroying the planet with malfunctions involving all our beloved BTTF items such as the Food Hydrator, Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor, and even the hoverboard.

“Outatime: Restoring the DeLorean” (22:00) shows the painstaking, year-plus task of restoring the most iconic time machine ever invented. “Looking Back to the Future” is comprised of nine short featurettes that cover all the things about BTTF we may already know and love, but it’s nice to see them get broken down and discussed. “The Script” (3:02) has Bob Gale declaring the original film “The best screenplay I ever wrote” and I am not arguing that. “Casting Marty McFly” (5:05) lets fans know that Michael J. Fox was always first choice, but yet we still never see footage of Eric Stoltz in action.

“Christopher Lloyd Reflects on Doc Brown” (5:18) is a nice retrospect of Lloyd, well, reflecting back on playing such a treasured role. In case you didn’t know, Jeff Goldblum was also in contention. “The DeLorean Time Machine” (6:26) lets us in on the fact that the original time machine was going to be a fridge, and it’s also hilarious to see the driver using a giant fake dog head to drive the car when Doc is sending Einstein into the past. “Building Hill Valley” (5:02) finds Robert Zemeckis cracking wise about how he wasn’t old enough to remember the ’50s, but did his best to make it feel authentic and that those scenes were filmed before the ’80s sequences. “Preparing for the ‘Johnny B. Goode’ Scene” (7:28) has fun with Huey Lewis on set and watching Fox go over the guitar riffs — made funnier only with how fake it looks onscreen. “The Score” (5:08) was a highlight for me. I love a good film score and Alan Silvestri’s Back to the Future is by far one of the most iconic ever recorded.
“Pushing the Cut” (3:53) has the cast and crew joking about how fast the film was edited together; it was only about a month from wrapping the shoot to the release date. They also mention how glad they are that the film wound up being a success after some questionable test screenings didn’t go so well considering the film’s slow build. And finally, “The Legacy” (4:57) discusses the film’s long lasting impact on the world and how you can’t flip through the channels without running across at least one of the films playing. The fact that this supplement is from 2008 and it still holds true only shows the importance the films continue to have on fans and pop culture.

A set of 2015 commercials are included: the first is a fake, hilarious trailer for Jaws 19 (1:28) and a “Hoverboard Commercial” (1:06). Two episodes of the animated series flesh things out for those who don’t spring for the complete set, but these two episodes show that the series is clearly not a wise investment. Full of choppy animation and stale writing, the only interesting aspect is that the episodes are introduced by Doc. But sadly, not even the most brazen Back to the Future fan will be able to get much out of the nostalgia here.

Needless to say, anyone who doesn’t already own the trilogy — this person can only exist in some kind of alternate reality — the packaging is much better. Here we get a digibook case with a flip book making the discs way easier to get out compared to the ghastly 25th anniversary casing. I suppose the additional special features make this a no brainer for hardcore fans, but I don’t see anything else of interest for those who already own it considering these are the exact same audio/video presentations. I suppose sometimes it may be better to leave well enough alone, and in the case of such a classic trilogy, a 4K remastering was all the more we could hope for. Maybe we’ll have better luck with the 35th anniversary edition. Until then, any set you pick up is worth it, because when it comes to Back to the Future you can never go wrong. Unless it’s DVD, this is 2015 after all.