May 25, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: LOGAN

Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, Elizabeth Rodriguez. Directed by James Mangold. (2017, 137 min).

LOGAN is also available on 4K Ultra HD, DVD and Digital HD.

For those of you too young to remember when the 'M' in MTV stood for music, MTV Unplugged was a series where the biggest rock stars of the day performed acoustically-driven concerts in a small intimate setting, without any flash, costumes, props, light shows or pyrotechnics to enhance their music.

Logan could be seen as a superhero version of MTV Unplugged, stripped clean of spectacle and bombast. Its titular character no longer has a costume, modus operandi or any particular desire to save the world. In fact, the fate of the world  isn't even at stake here.

"Guess who this month's centerfold is."
It's 2029. The world has changed, and not necessarily for the better. There aren't many mutants left, and it's suggested that most were eradicated. The old Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, in a career-best performance) is still around, grumpier, drunker and more cynical. Though ailing and unable to heal himself as fast a he used to, he's still capable of carving up enemies when necessary.

He has the added burden of caring for his old mentor, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who's in even worse shape (his telepathic abilities have become more unstable and dangerous with the ravages of age). Within the film's first few minutes, we suspect their days are numbered, which apparently suits Logan just fine. He's been prepared - sometimes even wanting - to die long before Laura (Dafne Keen, whose winning performance equals her heavyweight co-stars) arrives to complicate things.

Another babysitter who probably won't be returning.
Laura's an 11-year-old genetically-created mutant with the same abilities - and temperament - as Logan (no great mystery why). She has escaped Transigen, a research lab where mutant children have been illegally created, and now they want her back. The bulk of film becomes a cross-country chase, with Logan reluctantly protecting her - and vise versa - as they head for Eden, a supposed mutant sanctuary that Laura learned about from an old X-Men comic book.

An overall sense of inevitability that runs throughout the film tends to render the story rather predictable, but in-no-way diminishes its emotional impact. That's because the plot - essentially a conflict-laden road trip - is secondary to real core of the film: its three main characters and their relationships with each other. Their evolution into a marginally functional family provides Logan's most joyous and heartbreaking moments.

It's been oft-mentioned the primary inspiration for Logan was classic westerns, which is obvious because one of the genre's most classic tropes - the remorseful antihero seeking redemption - is the most prevalent theme running throughout the film.

Much has also been written and said about Logan's highly touted R-rating, which it definitely earns, but that's not what makes it unique among the other X-Men films. Though it definitely fits comfortably within the franchise, it exists perfectly outside of it, as 'unplugged' superhero film with a story, mood and atmosphere so unlike any previous ones that it not-only transcends its own franchise, but the entire genre. Here, the Logan character is finally presented as the unfiltered antihero only hinted at in previous X-men films and Wolverine spin-offs.

Dark, violent and suitably poignant, Logan is, so far, one of the best films of the year, and a wonderful respite from all the biblical spectacle typical of the comic movie genre.

LOGAN NOIR - A black & white version of the film on a separate disc. Similar to the B&W version of The Mist, it enhances the already dark tone of the film.
"MAKING LOGAN" - A detailed, six-part making-of documentary
AUDIO COMMENTARY (by director James Mangold)
DELETED SCENES (with optional commentary)

May 23, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: SKY ON FIRE

Starring Daniel Wu, Zhang Ruoyun, Zhang Jingchu, Joseph Chang, Amber Kuo, Wayne Lai. Directed by Ringo Lam. (2017, 100 min).

Sky on Fire has a lot going for it. There's action o' plenty...hand-to-hand combat, car chases, gunplay and, for good measure, one absolutely epic scene of destruction. It's confidently directed by Ringo Lam, whose City on Fire (no relation) remains an all-time classic of Asian action cinema. Daniel Wu (Into the Badlands) makes a solid action hero. And on a more superficial note, check out that badass box art.

Unfortunately, the story is convoluted, cliched and loaded with glaring lapses in logic. In a nutshell, everybody is after a batch of Ex Stem Cells, which can apparently cure any disease, including cancer. Years before, it was stolen by Tang (FanKuang Yao), who killed a colleague, Professor Lee, to get it. Fast-forward to today, and Tang runs a research facility known as Sky One (a massive skyscraper dwarfing every other building in Hong Kong). Lee's former co-workers, including his son, steal the stem cells back, which are then stolen from them by Jia, who wants it to cure his cancer-ridden sister. Sky One's head of security, Tingbo (Wu), goes after them, but switches sides due to Tang's greed and cruelty. 

"That was one mother of a moth."
A lot of this is really confusing, especially at the beginning, not helped by plot turns that make little sense. For example, a team hijacks a truck leaving Sky One, then heads right back to the same building, for no discernible reason other than to feature more mayhem. It's also unclear why billionaire Tang would refuse to treat Jia's ailing sister in the first place, except to remind the us what a bastard he is. Speaking of the sister, even though time is rapidly running out for her to get the Stem Cell treatment, her new friends - well aware of her condition - decide to take her boating.

The viewer is better off forgetting the plot and simply enjoying Sky on Fire for the action and violence, which is elaborate and over-the-top, especially during the CG-laden climax. There's just enough mayhem to make it worth slogging through the sorry story and dumb characters.


Rest in Peace, Roger Moore

Sir Roger Moore (1927-2017)

May 21, 2017


Starring Roland Moller, Mikkel Folsgaard, Laura Bro, Louis Hofmann, Joel Morbach, Oskar Bokelmann, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton. Directed by Martin Zandvliet. (2015, 101 min).

The Nazis weren't the only ones committing atrocities in World War II.

Once the war ended, the Danish army forced thousands of captured German soldiers to clear its beaches of over two million land mines. Most of them were inexperienced kids and nearly half were killed. Land of Mine presents a part of Danish history few people are probably aware of.

Roland Moller plays Sgt. Rasmussen, who, like most Danes, still harbors an understandable amount of resentment and hatred for the Germans. He's placed in charge of 14 boys, who must clear a section of beach where 45,000 landmines are buried, which he estimates will take three months, providing each boy finds and defuses six-an-hour. Once their task is completed, they will be permitted to go home.

With precious little prior training, every day is a living a nightmare. The knowledge that any of them could die without warning takes a psychological toll on the soldiers, not helped by Rasmussen's callous treatment. It's days before he even feeds them for the first time and he's indifferent when a few become seriously ill. But after one of them is blown up (whose death is agonizingly slow) and he sees how it affects the rest of them, Moller has an epiphany, reminded that his 'enemies' are just homesick kids who had their own families, hopes and dreams before the war, and now just want to return to put their lives back together.

"Oh, now I get it...Land of Mine...we're hunting for mines."
Other than Sebastian (Louis Hofmann) and two ill-fated twins, we don't know much about these soldiers. This is mostly Rasmussen's story and his evolution from vindictiveness to empathy, becoming almost a father figure in the process. The performances are mostly low-key and convincing, Moller in particular, who conveys his character's change with subtlety and skill.

Despite the deliberate pace and consistently solemn tone, Land of Mine is often a harrowing, tension-filled experience. Watching these kids attempt to defuse the mines without being blown to bits is almost unbearably nerve-racking, made all the more intense due to the relative quiet permeating the surrounding scenes.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars, Land of Mine is a somber, eye-opening film. Like the previous year's winner, Son of Saul, the subject matter isn't something most would want to revisit, but it's definitely worth an evening of your time. 
"In Conversation with Director Martin Zandvliet" - A Q&A session following a screening.

May 19, 2017


Starring Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson, Rory McCann, Tony Gonzalez, Ice Cube, Neymar Jr. Directed by D.J. Caruso. (2017, 106 min).

Were that many people really pining for Xander Cage's return? Probably not. The original xXx, released over a decade-and-a-half ago, was hardly a cinematic milestone. Essentially James Bond for the X-Games crowd, the film was undemanding summer action to be enjoyed in the moment by teen boys, then largely forgotten by the time school started up again.

Still, while star/exec-producer Vin Diesel may be over-estimating the character's enduring popularity just a tad, as belated sequels go, xXx: Return of Xander Cage ain't too bad at all. Perhaps that's because, unlike fan anticipation surrounding something like, say, Mad Max: Fury Road, the xXx franchise isn't what anyone would consider iconic. It's hard to be too disappointed in any sequel to a movie than wasn't all that memorable to begin with (honestly, can you even recall what the plot was?). In fact, if it weren't for the title, I wouldn't have even remembered Xander Cage's name.

At any rate, Diesel's back as everyone's favorite tattooed adrenaline junkie, once again reluctantly recruited to save the world by recovering a satellite-controlling device called Pandora's Box, which was stolen from the CIA by Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his eclectic team of cocky, super-skilled renegades. So Cage forms his own team of cocky, super-skilled renegades to locate Xiang and retrieve the box. But it turns out Xiang's gang are also former xXx agents and the real Pandora's Box is in the hands of a madman bent on causing worldwide destruction.

"He did it!"
Of course, the plot itself is just a clothesline on which to hang everything, all of which is so amped-up, over-the-top and ridiculous it makes The Fast and the Furious look like Manchester by the Sea. Gage leaps from a radio tower, skis down a snowless mountain and defies gravity with a skateboard just to provide a local village with TV reception a soccer game. And that's just in his opening scene. Later, he punches baddies in the face with a motorcycle (which he also rides an ocean wave with), plays Hot Potato with two grenades and leaps from a plane without a parachute, confident he'll grab one on the way down. Never once does he - or anyone else - even display an iota of trepidation, laughing-off danger with a supercool wisecrack or devilish grin.

"Hang on...I'm just gonna grab me a weenie."
Though this film is even more outlandish than the first two combined, there's an almost self-aware quality to the proceedings that renders the whole thing rather fun, as though everyone involved knows it's ridiculous and plays it to the hilt. Vin Diesel is clearly having a good time, once again playing a less serious version of Dominic Toretto, stopping just short of winking directly at the camera to remind us he's just playing around. This time, however, it's the great Donnie Yen who wins the MVP award. Not only is he inherently cooler than Diesel on a good day, his jaw-dropping fighting skills are here in abundance. He's practically a special effect unto himself.

Don't bother looking for any logic, such as the inexplicable reappearance of a character we watched die, or a welcome-but-implausible cameo by Ice Cube, who took Diesel's place in the second film. But hey, at least the series remembers its past, even if some of us don't.

For those willing to play along, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a goofy good time, more than happy to be a send-up of itself for the sake of entertainment. And really, it's hard to completely dismiss any movie with the audacity to feature a techno rave filled with high-heeled, scantily-clad the middle of a remote jungle.

FEAUTETTES: "Third Time's a Charm: Xander Returns"; "Rebels, Tyrants & Ghosts: The Cast"; "Opening Pandora's Box: On Location"; "I Live for This Sh#t!: Stunts"

May 18, 2017

Blu-Ray News: FATE OF THE FURIOUS Release Dates


The #1 action film in the world, The Fate of the Furious,
goes full-throttle on Digital HD on June 27, 2017, and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on July 11, 2017, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. The latest exhilarating installment of the nitro-fueled blockbuster action franchise features a gripping new storyline, the most outrageous collection of vehicles yet, and an all-star cast of fan favorites and series newcomers. From the shores of Cuba and the streets of New York City to the icy plains off the arctic Barents Sea, the close-knit crew criss-crosses the globe to stop an anarchist from unleashing world chaos — and to bring home the man who made them a family. With more than an hour of never-before-seen bonus features and an Extended Director’s Cut, The Fate of the Furious will be the crowning glory of every fan’s collection.

Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell (1964-2017)

May 16, 2017


Starring Luke Treadaway, Bob the Cat, Ruta Gedmintas, Joanne Froggatt, Anthony Head, Beth Goodard, Caroline Goodall. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. (2016, 103 min).

I have two cats, neither of whom possess a personality or disposition anyone would make a movie about.

Despite living with us for 12 years, Stinky thinks we're ready to kill her at any given moment. When you pick her up, she howls as though suffering the torments of the damned. Even during the few times a year she actually does want affection, she'll inevitably scratch or bite you once she's had enough. Worst of all, Stinky likes to sneaky-pee in my Dave Cave.

Joesy is a bossy, rotund diva who spends most of the day waiting for her next meal, and if I don't address her needs fast enough - even at four in the morning - she lets me know by howling incessantly and knocking stuff off tables. Then she'll lead the way to the kitchen - gelatinous gut jiggling like a turkey's wattle - squawking nonstop as though on the verge of starvation.

I love my cats, but they aren't remotely like the personable feline in A Street Cat Named Bob, a rather remarkable true story based on the best-selling book by James Bowen, who lived it.

Bob hates it when Bowen plays "Cat Scratch Fever."
Bowen (Luke Treadaway) is a homeless heroin addict making a meager living as a street musician. He desperately wants to kick the habit, and is given a second chance when his caseworker, Val (Joanne Froggatt), sets him up in a tiny apartment, where he can stay as long as he remains clean. Then Bob, a friendly stray ginger cat, shows up. Though barely able to afford taking care of himself, Bowen feeds Bob and uses the last of his cash to treat the animal when it's injured.

The two become inseparable. Bob inspires change in Bowen, giving him purpose and the will to finally try and get clean. Together, they eventually endear themselves to the community, as well as Bowen's neighbor, Betty (Ruta Gedmintas), a young woman still mourning the death of her brother, who died of a heroin overdose.

"Mezz wit me an' I kill yous."
Perhaps I'm a bit biased because I've always been more cat person, but to call A Street Cat Named Bob heartwarming is an understatement. Sure, it's decidedly manipulative and - unless you're a complete cynic or card-carrying cat hater - one can't help but be charmed by Bob (mostly played by the real Bob himself). At the same time, this isn't a sweet, cloying kiddie film where everything is hunky dory. After all, Bowen is a junkie and the story doesn't shy away from depicting the hell of addiction and withdrawl. Not only do we see how it impacted Bowen's life, but also his estranged father's, who has all-but disowned him to start a new family. As Bowen, Treadaway delivers a sincere, dedicated performance. His slow transformation from hopeless junkie to someone who learns to think beyond himself is subtle and convincing.

I have to admit being rendered a bit misty-eyed as the end credits began to roll. This really is a sweet film that doesn't hit you over the head with cuteness. Considering most movies about cats are usually pretty terrible, A Street Cat Named Bob is a cheerful exception, arguably the best of its kind since 1974's Harry and Tonto. And despite some intense moments, it's suitable for family viewing.

I shot a glance over at Joesy, who was holding vigil on the sofa next to me in anticipation of my next visit to the kitchen. I quipped, "Why can't you be more like Bob?" She blinked and gave me a look that said, "I bet your wife thinks the same thing about you when watching Dwayne Johnson movies."
FEATURETTES: "Introducing Bob"; "The Story of A Street Cat Named Bob"

May 15, 2017

SUPERMAN (1978): Alternate Ending

"Oh God, Lois is dead!"

"Yo, Lois...guess who just brought you back from the dead AND won the last five Powerball jackpots."

Blu-Ray News: LIFE Debuts on Digital 6/2 & 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & DVD 6/20

Experience extraterrestrial life like you’ve never seen it before, in the heart-pounding sci-fi thriller LIFE, debuting on digital June 2 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD June 20 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Skydance Productions. Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (Best Supporting Actor, Brokeback Mountain, 2005), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) star as a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station who discover a rapidly evolving life form that threatens the crew and all life on Earth. Also starring Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine), Ariyon Bakare (Rogue One), and Olga Dihovichnaya (House of Others), the film was directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) and written by Deadpool screenwriters, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Hailed by critics as a “non-stop thrill ride, with high stakes, terror, and intense moments around every corner” (Brandon Davis,, LIFE also features the ultimate twist ending.

Packed with bonus materials, the Blu-ray, DVD and digital releases of LIFE include deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes featurettes and the never before seen “Astronaut Diaries”, in which Rory Adams, Miranda
North and Hugh Derry reveal their inner most feelings about their mission and life, in video diaries pulled directly from the station.