August 31, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: FIRESTORM (2013)

Starring Andy Lau, Yao Chen, Gordon Lam, Hu Jun, Ray Lui. Directed by Alan Yuen. (2013, 110 min).
Well Go USA Entertainment

Imagine if Michael Mann’s Heat were directed instead by the late Tony Scott, and you'll have a good idea what to expect from Firestorm. Depending on your personal tastes, this can be seen as a good thing or bad thing, because subtlety and restraint were never part of Scott’s vocabulary. You won’t find either of those qualities here either. This violent Hong Kong action epic, directed by Alan Yuen, is as unabashedly bombastic, in-your-face and over-the-top as they come, which ultimately ends-up being a good thing. Hey, if you are going to draw your primary inspiration from one of the most revered films of the 90s, you might as well go whole-hog and crank everything up to 11.

Firestorm has a gang of thieves who commit daring robberies of armored cars in broad daylight in the middle of Hong Kong. The story primarily focuses on two men on opposite ends of the law. Lui (Andy Lau) is a police inspector, so desperate to nail this gang that he resorts to ethically-questionable tactics; Bong (Gordon Lam), just released from prison, is torn between returning to his old ways and trying to change for the sake of his pregnant girlfriend, Law (Yao Chen), but ultimately falls in with this vicious group of thieves.

Lui and Bong have known each other since their school days. This familiar plot device serves a similar function to the DeNiro/Pacino pairing in Heat…to establish our protagonist isn’t exactly a saint, nor is our antagonist a total demon. The same can’t be said for the rest of Bong’s gang, who are as ruthless as they come, shooting hostages in the head, tossing children from second-story windows and generally unconcerned with the collateral damage inflicted when blasting their way out of stand-offs with police.

Andy Lau is determined to make sure Burger King
gets his order right this time.
But ultimately, despite attempts at creating flawed-yet-empathetic characters, mayhem is the main message here, which isn’t necessarily meant as a criticism. This tightly-wound film features several well-edited action set-pieces, each bigger and more violent than the last, culminating in a climactic showdown on the streets of downtown Hong Kong. This final confrontation, at least a half-hour long, must be seen to be believed. Sure, a lot suspension of disbelief is required, but the nearly-orgasmic level of gunplay, explosions and carnage makes the similar firefight in Heat look like Nerf Gun battle.

On a side note, the film’s synopsis touts a typhoon-level storm approaching Hong Kong, indicating it’s a major part of the story. However, this storm is only fleetingly mentioned in background newscasts and briefly discussed among the gang of thieves (who essentially blow it off…no pun intended). Disaster movie fans should take note: at no point is this storm a factor in anything you see onscreen. But don’t worry, your thirst for urban destruction will be sated through other means.

Ultimately, Firestorm is a hell of a lot of fun, which is all that really matters. Despite its lack of originality, numerous plot holes, sometimes-obvious CGI and tons of hyper-editing, there’s seldom a dull moment, and even a few unexpected surprises (such as the ironic/amusing fate of one of its main characters). If this Hong Kong epic were remade as an American film, I imagine if Tony Scott were alive today, he would be first in line for the chance to direct it. And that would be a good thing.

EXTRAS:
  • Several Making-Of/Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
  • Trailer
FKMG RATING:
1/2
(OUT OF 5)

August 30, 2014

DVD Review: 14 BLADES

Starring Donnie Yen, Zhao Wei, Wu Chun, Kate Tsui, Qi Yuwu, Sammo Hung, Damian Lau, Wu Ma. Directed by Daniel Lee. (2010, 114 min).
Anchor Bay Entertainment

I don’t know a hell of a lot about Asian action stars, but do know Donnie Yen is the real deal. Parlaying his martial arts skills into a successful film career, not only is Yan amazing to watch in action, he’s a pretty decent actor too. Both are on display in abundance in 14 Blades.

Yen plays Qinglong, leader of the Jinywei, the emperor’s legion of killers during the Ming Dynasty. The Jinywei are trained from childhood to maintain peace, carry-out assassinations and do whatever it takes to protect the empire. During a mission to retrieve a sacred box containing evidence of a plot to overthrow the emperor, even though Qinglong is fiercely loyal, he is betrayed by those around him and becomes a fugitive. He’s forced to hire the aid of a group called the Justice Escort Agency and becomes somewhat smitten by its leader’s daughter, Qiao (Zhao Wei). Eventually recruiting the help of a group of desert bandits, the Heaven Eagles Gang, Qinglong attempts to complete his mission and destroy those attempting to take control of the throne.

"Yeah...I rock."
It’s a convoluted plot further undone by a few too many characters, but once the story is established, 14 Blades is an entertaining journey featuring a lot of action, drama and even a bit of humor. Considering Yen’s inherent physical skills, there are too many scenes which defy the laws of physics tend and to suck the viewer out of the action, especially when Qinglong’s most formidable foe (Tuotuo, played by Kate Tsui) displays almost-supernatural ability when she‘s fighting. Speaking of which, some of the mechanical weaponry on display, impressive as it is, couldn’t have possibly existed during the Ming Dynasty. On the other hand, 14 Blades isn’t a documentary, so why carp?

This scene reminds me of my wedding night.
As for the performances, Yen and Wei display charming chemistry together, he, the jaded warrior who regains a bit of his humanity, she, the initially na├»ve waif who learns much about the real word in his company. Their scenes together are wonderful. As the leader of the Heaven Eagles Gang, Wu Chun is fitfully-amusing, sort of a Han Solo type who isn’t onscreen nearly enough. The antagonists, however, are perfunctory, one-note caricatures who aren’t nearly as fleshed-out or interesting.

Still, even though some action scenes rely way too heavily on anti-gravity balcony jumping and other physically-impossible stunts, 14 Blades is entertaining enough to please undiscriminating action fans looking for a fun way to kill a few hours.

EXTRAS: None

FKMG RATING:
(OUT OF 5)

August 29, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: BABY BLUES (2013)

Starring Raymond Lam, Janelle Sing, Hoi-Pang Lo, Yu Bo, Kate Tsui. Directed by Po-Chih Leong. (2013, 92 min).
Well Go USA Entertainment

Though dolls have been prominent horror movie fixtures for decades, rendering them truly scary is definitely a challenge. Arguably the best example is the 1945 anthology film, Dead of Night, with its still-terrifying segment featuring a man at-odds with his ventriloquist dummy, followed closely by the classic made-for-TV film, Trilogy of Terror. The original Child’s Play has its moments, but ultimately succumbs to high camp by trying too hard to make Chucky an iconic killer on par with Freddy Krueger.

It takes a skilled hand to make an inanimate object a worthy subject of horror, which is not on display in Baby Blues, a Chinese film which has a few good moments (especially a truly-disturbing and surreal dream sequence), but is mostly a mixed bag of missed opportunities.

An alternative to Dollar Shave Club.
Hao and Tian Qing are a young couple who move into a new home with a dark past. Left behind was a creepy doll which looks a lot like a latter day Michael Jackson and Tian takes a liking to. Soon after, weird things start happening. Hao, a songwriter who’s been suffering from a bout of writer’s block, is suddenly inspired to write tunes about death for the pop stars he works for. We’re made to believe the doll itself is responsible, especially when strange ‘accidents’ start to occur. However, that plotline is dropped entirely once Tian gets pregnant and gives birth to twins, one of whom dies. Suffering from postpartum depression, she substitutes the doll (named Jimmy) for her lost child, treating it as though it were her own. Eventually, Hao and his sister-in-law learn of sinister events which had previously occurred in the house, and basically confirms what the film already told us early on…that Jimmy is the culprit behind everything.

What’s ultimately disappointing is a pretty decent psychological thriller could be made from this premise, such as Tian’s psychosis being the true source of terror, not a demon-possessed doll. Better yet, how about making it totally ambiguous whether or not this is a supernatural event at all? The film totally drops the ball in the final act when we actually see the doll moving on its own, since watching him scoot-around the house is more laugh-inducing than scary.

EXTRAS: Trailer

FKMG RATING:
(OUT OF 5)

10 Films Which Exploit Common Phobias

Hollywood loves to prey on your deepest fears…enter at your own risk.

Click here for
BY D.M. ANDERSON

August 28, 2014

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST: Alternate Ending

Starring Jim Caviezel and a Pterodactyl. Directed by Mel Gibson. Alternate Ending Restored by D.M. Anderson. 

"Oh, man...how could this day get any worse?"

"Aw, shit."
"My God! Why have you forsaken me?"

Inside Look at Disney/Pixar's INSIDE OUT, plus Pixar Summer Movies to Go Ends Soon!

As you file away your summer vacation photos and enter Back-to-School season, Disney Movies Anywhere’s Pixar Summer Movies to Go is coming to an end!  All summer long, Pixar Summer Movies To Go featured fan favorite films with exclusive extras like special filmmaker introductions and film trivia as part of Pixar’s Ultimate Countdown of Secrets. 

This is the final week to get your favorite Pixar films from Toy Story to Monsters University for only $14.99, plus get an inside look at Disney/Pixar’s INSIDE OUT, coming to theaters June 2015! This is also your last chance to get The Incredibles for FREE when you download Disney Movies Anywhere and connect your iTunes account – promotion ends September 1!

Download the free Disney Movies Anywhere app on your iPhone or iPad at http://di.sn/sX8, or go to www.DisneyMoviesAnywhere.com to find out more about buying, watching, and collecting your favorite Disney, Pixar and Marvel movies anywhere!

Explore THE BOXTROLLS’ World in a NEW Featurette

Come explore THE BOXTROLLS expertly handcrafted world in a NEW featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the upcoming family film and provides a 'First Look' at the characters and voice cast over at EW.com!


Get social with THE BOXTROLLS ON Facebook, Instagram & Twitter!

August 25, 2014

ARACHNOPHOBIA and the Well-Timed Punch

Starring Jeff Daniels, John Goodman, Harley Jane Kozak, Julian Sands, Brian McNamara, Stuart Pankin, Peter Jason. Directed by Frank Marshall. (1990, 110 min).

I am not, nor have ever been, a violent man. The only time I ever feel aggression towards another human being is when I’m behind the wheel (perhaps because I’m secure within the confines of a speedy, half-ton vehicle). Aside from that, I generally try to avoid any situation which has a chance of escalating beyond verbal confrontation and have backed-down from a fight on numerous occasions.

While I don’t consider myself a coward, the fact is I’ve been in two fights in my entire life and lost them both, so I prefer to look at my avoidance of physical conflict as simply having a realistic assessment of my own meager fighting skills. What’s the point of standing up to someone who’s probably far more accustomed to solving problems with his fists?

There’s only been one moment in my entire life when my instinctive sense of self-preservation was overwhelmed by blind rage, when I beat the living shit out of a classmate in eighth grade. I don’t count this among the two fights mentioned before because fights require two participants, and this kid never had a chance.

His name was Peter, a somewhat strange kid who always wore a winter jacket even when it was 80 degrees outside. He was heavily into Star Trek, science class and the Death Merchant, an extremely violent series of pulp novels about a martial arts mercenary. Peter enjoyed reading the gorier passages out-loud to us during homeroom, which was pretty cool (what free-thinking middle school boy isn’t into gore?). Peter and I weren’t exactly friends, but until he brought his pet tarantula (which he named Sulu) to school, we generally got along okay.

Sulu was a big problem for me because I’ve always hated spiders. To this day, they are my Kryptonite. Whenever I see one, my knees get weak. If one of those furry bastards tries to make a break across my living room floor, I grab the nearest object and use roughly eight hundred times the necessary force needed to send the fucking thing back to Spider Hell, because any less might make it mad enough to come at me later, in my sleep, crawl into my mouth to lay millions of eggs in my throat, which’ll eventually hatch and devour me from the inside out. So yeah, I guess it is safe to say I’m a tad arachnophobic.

Anyway, Peter took Sulu to all his classes, occasionally tapping the plastic container to make him move, which seldom happened because one of the few endearing qualities of the average tarantula is they are the laziest, least active creatures ever to scurry the Earth. But I didn’t know that at the time, convinced Sulu was simply laying-in-wait for the opportunity to pop the lid open and lunge at the nearest neck in order to bury its fangs into an artery.

"Spiders in love. How sweet," said no person ever.
Peter may have loved reading about death, but it’s doubtful he completely fathomed the concept because Sulu died over the weekend, yet Peter brought him back to school anyway, apparently unfazed. In fact, he seemed to find even more enjoyment by dropping Sulu’s lifeless carcass into people’s laps, one of which was mine during homeroom…

Despite my usual mantra of avoiding physical confrontation whenever possible, phobic instinct took over. Screaming like a schoolgirl as I leaped from my seat, I grabbed Peter by his jacket and repeatedly punched him in the face, stopping only after blood began spewing from his nose like a faucet. He never put up much of a fight. In fact, it looked like he was actually smiling while being pummeled by my fists of fury, as though the abject horror on my face was worth the beating. I was called to the principal’s office to account for my actions, but considering Peter was already establishing himself as a somewhat-antisocial freak (this incident was one of many), I was let-off with a slap on the wrist.

Last time I saw Peter was freshman year, shortly before he was given a lengthy vacation because an incident in which his science project involved clocking how long it would take for a frog to die if sealed in an airtight jar. Clearly, he was one maladjusted motherfucker, but unlike today, when even the most potentially-homicidal kid is legally permitted to frolic among us until he actually kills someone, Peter was expelled faster than shit through a goose.

The dead spider Peter giddily dropped in my lap was indicative of everything I always feared-about and expected-from spiders…they exist solely to pop-up without warning so you'll fill your pants with fudge.

Hence, as a lifelong horror movie fan, long-since desensitized to the usual slashers, zombies, vampires and ghosts, 1990’s Arachnophobia was especially horrifying. Not only did it tap into my worst phobia, these weren’t mutated monsters or alien arachnids of days gone by (such as Tarantula or The Giant Spider Invasion), but spiders just like those we spot on our bedroom walls…the ones which make us piss ourselves even though we are hundreds of times their size. But unlike the occasional rogue arachnid easily dispatched by the blunt force trauma of a slipper or rolled-up copy of People Magazine, Arachnophobia throws thousands of them at us, all hell-bent on leaping from the places we always dreaded they would…showers, ceilings, boxes, hats, shoes, etc.

So yeah, I went to see it because it had literally been years since a horror film truly terrified me. And yeah, it scared me shitless, just as I dared it to, even though the film itself is a fairly conventional comedy-thriller (and not an especially artful one at that). I’m pretty sure there were occasions when I screamed out-loud, simply due to my inherent fear of these ungodly creatures, which likely caused surrounding patrons to crane their heads in my direction.

In the end, much like the six or seven folks worldwide who where actually scared by Snakes on a Plane, Arachnophobia provides me with a taste of personal terror, which I appreciate from time to time, just to keep me from becoming too cocky about the world around me.

August 22, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: BLENDED

Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann, Braxton Beckham, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Kyle Red Silverstein, Terry Crews, Kevin Nealon. Directed by Frank Coraci. (2014, 117 min).
Warner Bros.

When it comes to Adam Sandler movies, I think many critics have their verbal razors sharpened before they even enter the theater, deciding in advance that the film will be awful...it’s just a matter of how awful. That’s understandable. I’ve never been a fan myself. From his SNL days, where he always appeared ready to burst out laughing at his own jokes, to a shockingly-enduring film career where he nearly always plays the same guy (an impish oaf with a severe case of Peter Pan Syndrome), I simply never found him very funny. I’m in the minority on this…you wouldn’t believe the number of friends and co-workers incredulous that I hated Happy Gilmore. But what can I say? Sandler’s brand of adolescent humor just rubs me the wrong way.

So it really surprised me that, at times, I kind-of liked Blended, even though it was raked across the critical coals as severely as other recent Sandler suppositories and most of his fans stayed away in droves. It’s far from a masterpiece...incredibly predictable, loaded with the usual scatological humor, over-the-top characters, stupid slapstick and Sandler’s entourage of celebrity buddies shoe-horned in (though Rob Schneider is mercifully absent).

"Why, in God's name, would you agree
to do Grown Ups 2?"
And it starts off awful, with Sandler and Drew Barrymore (pairing up for the third time) as single parents whose disastrous blind date leaves them with a profound dislike for each other. These first twenty minutes or so are almost painfully bad, and if Blended had continued down this road, it’s doubtful I’d have survived the trip.

But once far-fetched circumstances has both families ending up vacationing in South Africa together, Blended improves considerably. While not often laugh-out-loud funny, with intrusive minor characters turning up for cheap laughs, it’s affably amusing, even sentimentally charming at times (though some viewers might consider that latter point more of a liability). By dialing-down his screaming manchild schtick, Sandler is quite likable here, choosing to act rather that act-out. Much of the time, Barrymore isn’t given a hell of a lot to do but look exasperated, but she and Sandler have some undeniable chemistry together.

Storywise, there are absolutely no surprises. For its entire running time, you’ll definitely feel like you’ve seen this movie before, but Blended isn’t the first family comedy guilty of such a crime. And yeah, it is essentially a family comedy, sort of a Brady Bunch with boob jokes. For the most part though, despite some truly terrible moments, the film is surprisingly watchable. You stand a decent chance sitting through it with your preteen kids (who’ll undoubtedly love it) without hating yourself afterwards.

EXTRAS:

  • Featurettes: Adam and Drew: Together Again; Bella Thorne’s Makeover; Safari; Animals; Parasailing
  • Deleted scenes
  • Gag Reel

FKMG RATING:
1/2
(OUT OF 5)

August 18, 2014

DVD Giveaway: THE WALKING DEAD, SEASON FOUR

Free Kittens Movie Guide is giving away a DVD copy of AMC's The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season to one of our readers. This set is an important transitional season to what's coming up in season five. Don't miss out...simply leave a comment stating your favorite Walking Dead character, along with your email address. A winner will be randomly chosen, and your email will not be used for any other purpose. 
CONTEST ENDS 8/31!

Blu-Ray Review: THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON

Starring Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Scott Wilson, Chad Coleman, David Morrissey. Various directors. (2013-14, 696 min).
Anchor Bay Entertainment

One thing is certain…The Walking Dead shows no signs of lightening up as it approaches middle age (in TV years, that is). If anything, season four is the darkest and most violent yet. While not as great as season three (the series high point so far), these 16 episodes further confirm that there’s no better TV horror out there.

The story picks up several months after the end of season three, when our growing group of survivors managed to defeat The Governor’s plans to take over or wipe them out. Still living in the prison, life is reasonably idyllic for awhile, with everyone trying to make this place home. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has since removed himself as the defacto leader and hung up his guns, content to be a farmer and father while an appointed council makes the decisions. But increasing zombie hordes and a lethal flu virus once again has them fighting for their lives, not-to-mention someone in the camp whose been feeding small animals to these things. Soon after, The Governor returns with a new army for another deadly assault on the prison, forcing everyone to flee, who end up in splintered groups.

The first eight episodes are as great as ever. Characters introduced in season three become an important part of the ongoing narrative (such as Tyreese, well played by Chad Coleman), while a few new ones arrive, who are either zombie fodder or will obviously be important parts of season five. Most of the core cast remains, but sometimes not for long. In usual Walking Dead tradition, no character is guaranteed to survive into the next episode, and saying goodbye to some of them is heartbreaking. We also learn a bit more about the pasts of the show’s most interesting characters, Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Michonne (Danai Gurira). And yeah, Rick’s son, Carl (Chandler Riggs) is as unlikable as ever.

"So, dude...can we smoke it now?"
Storywise, the first half of season four continues the show’s bleak intensity, pulling no punches with its gore, moral ambiguity and body attrition (including the onscreen deaths of animals & children). Especially impressive is the three episode return of The Governor (David Morrissey), the best villain the show ever had. In fact, episodes six through eight are almost exclusively about him…the months after losing everything at Woodbury to his return to megalomaniacal power with a new batch of survivors. What’s especially cool about this side story is it lures us into actually liking the guy for awhile - no small feat considering how despicable he was in season three - before he returns to his old self and commits even more horrific acts.

The remaining eight episodes can’t quite maintain the same momentum. Most feature the cast, now in smaller groups, endlessly wandering, not knowing who else survived the prison attack. Major characters disappear for long stretches as certain episodes focus almost exclusively on one of the four distinct groups. These episodes are still interesting; we’re intrigued by messages luring everyone toward Terminus (a supposed safe zone and obvious set-up for season five), and some truly disturbing events transpire that’ll shake you to your core. Yet at the same time, the final eight episodes are arguably the most meandering the show’s been since season two. Season four does, however, end with one hell of a cliffhanger.

Despite the somewhat anticlimactic second half, season four of The Walking Dead is another binge-worthy collection of episodes. I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, this seems more of a transitional season than anything else, setting up some pretty epic future events. If that turns out to be the case, then its less-compelling second half will ultimately be viewed as a necessary part of the big picture.

EXTRAS:
  • Inside The Walking Dead (brief featurettes on every episode featuring comments from cast/crew)
  • The Making of The Walking Dead (behind-the-scenes featurettes from every episode)
  • Featurettes: Hershel; The Governor is Back; Drawing Inspiration (comparisons with the comic book); Inside KNB EFX (make-up crew discuss some of the more elaborate gore gags); A Journey Back to Brutality; Society, Science & Survival (how one university used The Walking Dead as the basis for online courses)
  • Deleted scenes
  • Three extended episodes
  • Audio commentaries in six episodes
  • Digital copy

FKMG RATING:
(OUT OF 5)

August 16, 2014

Book Review: THE ZOMBIE FILM: From White Zombie to World War Z

By Alain Silver & James Ursini (2014, 384 pp)
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books

Zombies are everywhere. Fortunately for us, their proliferation is regulated to movies, TV, novels, games and the occasional community ‘zombie walk.’ Over last twenty years or so, they’ve achieved a level of cultural popularity rivaled only by sparkly vampires, and show no signs of shambling off anytime soon.

Movies, in particular, are where the undead remain the most prolific, with at least a couple of high-profile films and a slew of cheap knock-offs released every year. Naturally, there are now numerous reference books dedicated exclusively to the genre. The best one is arguably Jamie Russell’s Book of the Dead, which exhaustively unearths just about every gut-muncher ever made, from indisputable classics down to zero-budget weekend projects shot in someone’s back yard.

The Zombie Film covers similar ground regarding the genre’s history, from its origins to the present, with individual chapters dedicated to the likes of Romero’s seminal films, the subsequent influx of European flicks (mostly from Italy, of course, with special attention paid of Lucio Fulci) and the post-modern era of parodies, game-inspired action and big-budget epics. As such, the book is fairly comprehensive. Most of the significant films in this subgenre are covered.

However, the authors often spend too much time simply summarizing the plots of these films. Anyone interested in a book like this has probably seen 1978’s Dawn of the Dead several times and don’t need a full multi-page recap of the entire movie. On the opposite end of the spectrum, while Shaun of the Dead was arguably just as influential on the ‘zom-com’ genre, it is not discussed in nearly as much detail.

Hundreds of films are included among its pages (mostly in the Filmography chapter, which is simply a list of titles, release dates and credits), but we don’t often get enough critical analyses or behind-the-scenes stories that seasoned fans don't already know (though admittedly, the story behind the efforts to bring The Walking Dead to television is fascinating).

The Zombie Film is well-written, loaded with movie stills and terrific promotional artwork. Yet at the same time, it doesn’t really cover any new ground. Most zombie fans are already well-aware of these films’ influence on the genre and/or social commentary they may include (if any).

FKMG RATING:
1/2
(OUT OF 5)

August 14, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: REVOLUTION: THE COMPLETE SECOND AND FINAL SEASON

Starring Billy Burke, Tracy Spiridakos, Elizabeth Mitchell, Zak Orth, Giancarlo Esposito, J.D. Pardo, Stephen Collins, David Lyons, Steven Culp. Various directors. (2013-14, 943 min).
Warner Home Video

Have you ever opened a fresh can of Pringles, then before you know it, you’ve wolfed them all down and you’re sadly left with an empty can? To make things worse, what if you discovered those delectably-stacked chips you were shoving into your mouth three-at-a-time were actually the last Pringles on Earth?

That’s what watching Revolution on disc is like.

When NBC decided to renew this post-apocalypse soap opera for a second season, I was pleased because season one was surprisingly gritty, dark and compulsively watchable (especially on disc, without the intrusive commercials). I was also curious how they would be able to take its premise much further than they already had without lapsing into redundancy, which has ruined other initially-compelling shows like Under the Dome and Prison Break.

"No matter what, he just says 'As You Wish,' then
freaking does it! How cool is that?"
Alas, Revolution stumbled in the ratings and was unceremoniously canceled at the end of season two. I might be a guilty of contributing to its demise because I didn’t tune in to a single episode on NBC, mainly because I got spoiled, gorging on the season one Blu-Ray set over a single weekend last year (that review can be found HERE). Without commercials or week-long waits between episodes, Revolution is the most binge-worthy program since The Walking Dead. How could I possibly go back to tuning in once a week for 42 minute episodes padded to an hour with commercials? So I decided to wait until it was released on disc (which I also do with The Walking Dead). While I’m glad I did - the second season is even more addicting - not enough of us watched the show when originally aired.

Despite Revolution's ominous conclusion, which optimistically paves the way for a third season, we are now left with questions that will never be answered, loose ends which will never be tied, characters whose fates will remain a mystery. Sure, there’s an online petition fans can sign with the hopes convincing another network to pick up the series. And yeah, I signed it, but I'm not holding my breath. These petitions seldom accomplish anything.

But it’s not a total loss. Even if season two is the last, it tells a terrifically compelling story over its 22 episodes and does come to a fairly satisfying conclusion, despite its cliffhanger coda.

The story picks up six months after the bombs drop on Atlanta and Philadelphia. If you have no idea what that means, then you’d best go back and watch all of season one in its entirety, because season two doesn’t stop to bring newcomers up-to-speed (at this point, simply being aware of the premise - a world in which all power was lost 15 years prior - is not enough). There’s too much currently happening to dwell on the past, and if you think you’re able to skip a single episode of season two and still keep up with current events…think again. Nearly every episode has at least one major plot twist (sometimes two or three) which affects the overall story arc. Many new characters, both good and bad, are introduced, and most of them are important to the story, if even for a single episode. Loaded with enough conspiracies, bombshells & double-crosses for ten shows, season two seldom slows down and is far more action-oriented (not to mention more violent) than last season.

"Twilight, huh? Ain't that a bitch."
Most of the main characters from season one return. Miles (Billy Burke) is more introspective and troubled by his past, though he’ll still impale you on his sword if you cross him. His former partner and borderline sociopath, Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons), becomes one of those intriguing characters where you know you should hate him, yet his brief displays of humanity make you wonder whether or not he’s totally irredeemable. The same goes for Tom Neville (played to-the-hilt by Giancarlo Esposito, easily season two’s MVP), who’s motivation for his conniving brutality warrants a surprising amount of empathy. In fact, most of the villains are pretty interesting (some totally despicable). The same cannot be said for the two female leads, Rachel and Charlie. Just as in season one, neither are particularly interesting. By this time, Charlie is mostly a glowering, nihilistic killing machine, while Rachel mostly exists as an obligatory love interest and to piss-off those around her.

Even more than last year, Revolution pays loud & proud homage to its influences, Stephen King’s The Stand in particular (Miles even uses the name of its main character, Stu Redman, as an alias). Sharp viewers will also recognize elements of The Walking Dead, the Terminator franchise, The Manchurian Candidate, viral disaster movies and lots of old westerns. But Revolution never simply rips them off; it’s always more-than-happy to remind us where all these tropes originated.

But now it’s all over. No more adventures with Miles & Bass, no more of Esposito’s marvelous scenery chewing, no more hoping Rachel dies in the next episode…and no answers to what the now-sentient Nanos (which caused the blackout in the first place) have in store for the human race. Still, despite loose ends which will never be tied, season two of Revolution is supremely addicting, especially watching uninterrupted. And like that now-empty can of Pringles…I miss it already.

EXTRAS:

  • FEATURETTES: Revolution: Heading West; Impact Revolution: Conversations with the United Nations; United Nations: The Mission Continues (PSA)
  • 2013 Comic-Con Panel Q&A
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Gag Reel
  • DVD & Ultraviolet Copies
FKMG RATING:
(Would've scored a perfect 5 if there was a hope in hell of a true conclusion)

August 11, 2014

INDEPENDENCE DAY: The Original Ending

Starring Will Smith & Jeff Goldblum. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Original Ending Restored by D.M. Anderson. 
"Now...just a few seconds to upload the virus, and..."
"Goddammit!"

Blu-Ray Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field. Directed by Marc Webb. (2014, 141 min).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

I’m still reeling over how quickly Marvel decided to risk rebooting this franchise, considering all three films in Sam Raimi’s original trilogy were relatively-recent blockbusters. On the other hand, even though Spider-Man 3 was mega-huge, I've never met anyone who actually liked it.

Yet the gamble paid-off. 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man was surprisingly charming and fun. While far from Marvel Studios’ crowning achievement, it was pretty impressive for a film telling nearly the same origin story as Raimi’s version a scant decade earlier.

Like most inevitable superhero sequels, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 spends a great deal of time trying to top the first film by being bigger, longer & darker…more villains, more plot, more special effects, more spectacle and a more tortured Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), at odds with himself due to his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and the promise he made to her dying father. In fact, trailers initially made this sequel look guilty of committing the same mistakes as Spider-Man 3…beating the audience into submission with sheer quantity over quality.

"Pull my finger."
But The Amazing Spider-Man 2, while definitely a half-hour too long, isn’t the exercise in cinematic overkill one might be led to believe. There are the usual scenes of CGI-driven action and spectacle, but they never become so overwhelming and hyper-edited that their logistic impossibility sucks us out of the movie.

Like the original film, a lot of attention is paid to the characters…perhaps too much at times; Peter and Gwen’s on-again-off-again dance eats up a lot of screen time and grows repetitive after awhile. Even though their tumultuous relationship is vital to the emotional impact of the climax, I was suitably surprised, yet curiously unmoved. For me, Peter’s relationship with Aunt May (Sally Field, outstanding in her precious few scenes) is far more interesting and poignant.

On the other hand, this film does a tremendous job establishing its two main villains, Electro and Green Goblin (Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan...the latter turns in the movie’s best performance). Like all great antagonists, they aren’t completely evil; only through tragic circumstances and misunderstandings regarding their friendship with Parker do they become villains. Throughout the movie, we always feel a small bit of empathy for them.

Andrew Garfield has issues
with his stunt double.
Finally, there’s the overall tone of the film, which is more somber than the first (especially the final act). I’ve got no objection to dark superhero films. Hell, I reveled in the grim & gritty reality of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I don't read comics, so for all I know, the Spider-Man saga always followed a similarly dark path. But I was groomed on movies where the webbed one was always more of an amusing, wise-cracking and somewhat-immature teenager. While this film isn't as unnecessarily brooding as Man of Steel, not every comic book franchise needs to be built on a foundation of tragedy.

Still, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is good for what it is, a solid sequel that’ll please fans of the first movie, but won’t likely exceed anyone’s expectations. And, in keeping tradition with other recent Marvel movies, there are a few stray plot threads left unresolved in order to pave the way for a third film.

EXTRAS:

  • The Wages of Heroism: Making of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (consists of several featurettes)
  • Filmmakers’ Commentary
  • Deleted Scenes with Commentary
  • Music Video: Alicia Keys’ “It’s On Again”
  • DVD and Digital HD Copy

FKMG RATING:
(OUT OF 5)