November 29, 2015

Book Review: A YEAR OF MOVIES

By Ivan Walters. (2015, 443 pp).
ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD

We have a few annual movie traditions at my house. I watch The Poseidon Adventure every New Year's Eve and actually wait until 11:35:19 PM to hit the play button, so when the clock strikes midnight in the movie, it's also midnight in my living room (that's right...I have no life). My daughter and I always watch Die Hard on Christmas Eve because that's the day John McClane single-handedly wastes a dozen terrorists and saves his wife. And though technically not a holiday movie, I celebrate each Easter with Charlton Heston and The Ten Commandments, a habit I developed when ABC used to air it at that time every year.

With A Year in Movies, author Ivan Walters has taken the idea several steps further, painstakingly compiling a list of 366 films, both recent and classic, for every single day of the year. All or a significant part of every movie included takes place on a specific calendar date, so you can look up your birthday (as my family did when the book arrived) and read about a film where that date is significant to the story. And if a particular date isn't mentioned in the film itself, Walters often (but not always) includes the novel or historical source which does. Other times we just have to take his word for it.

There are the usual suspects, of course, such as the aforementioned Poseidon Adventure for December 31 and The Longest Day for June 6, along with quite a few surprising - and perplexing - choices. For example, I looked up my own birthday (November 22) fully expecting to read about JFK, but found Tim Burton's Batman instead, supposedly because that's the date the caped crusader thwarts a couple of guys during a robbery (even though the film itself doesn't provide any dates). And while I appreciate the author's attempt to avoid the obvious titles, doesn't it make sense to include original Halloween for October 31, which takes place almost entirely on that day? Instead, that day is reserved for To Kill a Mockingbird, which is an undisputed classic, but come on.

Each entry includes the year of the film's release, genre, running time, primary cast & crew, availability on home video, major awards or nominations and alternate titles taking place on the same day. In that respect, this volume makes a nifty historical reference guide. There's also a one-to-two paragraph synopsis of the plot (including mild spoilers). Less essential is the author's extremely brief personal assessment of each title, one or two lines at-most, and seldom in complete sentences. Considering the serviceable detail of each synopsis, the sudden shift in style to sound bites of praise - he loves a majority of the films selected, though significantly, not The Godfather Part II (!) - almost reads like they were written by a different author.

Still, the basic concept of A Year of Movies makes it unique among film reference books, one that'll be fun to grab off the shelf every now and then when pondering a particular calendar date. And I suppose the book also poses the ultimate challenge to any film buff...to view each of these titles on the dates in which they take place. I wish I had the time and resources to accept such a challenge. What a journey that would be.
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...A GREAT LITTER BOX COMPANION

November 28, 2015

BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE: A Recipe for Disappointment

Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot. Directed by Zack Snyder. (2016).

At this point, it's probably a given that Batman v Superman will enjoy a phenomenally lucrative opening weekend when finally released in March 2016. It wouldn't matter if the entire film consisted of an overweight guy in a Batsuit mowing his lawn for two hours. The brand names alone practically guarantees rabid fans worldwide will arrive in droves, having spent the last couple of years working themselves into a frenzy over this long-awaited match-up.

There will probably be a lot of cosplayers at the premier, a ritual I never understood considering they'll be spending two hours in the dark. But hey, I'm of a different generation and it's a different era, when it's now cool to let your geek flag fly. So who am I to judge?

Some of of the less-obsessive-but-still-curious will show up, perhaps wondering how well Ben Affleck fits the cowl only a few years after Christian Bale hung it up. Those people are likely to be the least disappointed in that respect, because what made the Dark Knight Trilogy the definitive superhero franchise had less to with Bale than it did Christopher Nolan.

Then there's Batman's supposed foe, Superman, previously rebooted in the polarizing Man of Steel. Some fans loved it, others (myself included) despised its descent into CGI overkill with a final act which played more like a Transformers sequel, not-to-mention pointlessly rehashing Superman's origins and turning young Clark Kent into a brooding loner. Even those who champion the film have to admit no recent superhero movie has sparked more love-it-or-loathe it debates (though one could make a strong case for The Dark Knight Rises).

For better or worse, Man of Steel has become the springboard for Warner Bros' attempt to emulate Marvel's incredibly lucrative Cinematic Universe. Like Disney's recent acquisition of Marvel, WB has owned DC comics for years, but based on what I've seen of the trailers, Dawn of Justice reeks of an desperate attempt to play catch-up, loading it with enough heroes and villains for a half dozen movies. Not only is Warner Bros burdened with re-introducing yet-another Batman before the corpse of the old one is even cold, they're throwing Wonder Woman, Aqua-Man and Cyborg into the mix, bringing back most of the major characters from Man of Steel (including General Zod, apparently back from the dead) and adding Lex Luthor for the cherry-on-top. The whole thing is already threatening to collapse under the weight of its own ambitions before we've even discussed a story which would make it plausible how these characters would even occupy the same space.

Is there even going to be room for a story that's more than a checklist of DC's greatest hits? Were these other minor heroes in the DC canon written into this film because the story actually needs them, or are they simply gratuitous appearances so mindless masses can clasp their hands and say, "Ooh! There's Wonder Woman!" without ever contemplating why they're being shoe-horned into a film that's supposedly a stand-off between DC's two biggest characters? Wouldn't that be the same blatant product-placement as prominently placing a Pepsi machine in the middle of an action scene?

Yeah, she's hot. But is she relevant?

It makes one wonder why Warner Bros. didn’t simply bite the bullet and call this the Justice League movie they’ve obviously had a hard-on for ever since reading the opening weekend box-office reports of Marvel’s The Avengers.

At least Marvel appeared to have a master plan from the beginning, establishing most of their major characters in at-least one previous film before tossing them together for The Avengers. The considerable amount of audience and critical goodwill generated by the first Iron Man, Captain America and Thor movies practically guaranteed The Avengers would be huge, especially with someone as narratively skilled as Joss Whedon at the helm. The only way to fuck it up would have been to replace Robert Downey Jr. with Adam Sandler and hand the directorial chores to Michael Bay or Zack Snyder. Speaking of which...

There was once a time when I thought Zack Snyder was a promising director, defying all odds by helming a remake of one of horror cinema's most-scared cows, Dawn of the Dead. Not only was it a solid film, it was more of a re-imagining than a true remake, with a lot of surprises and nasty tricks up its sleeve. His follow-up, 300, was also noteworthy for its technical brilliance and surreal imagery. Considering the story's graphic novel origins, Snyder's approach to the material was supremely effective.

Since then, however, he's fallen in love with style over substance, more concerned with bombast and spectacle than telling a truly compelling story. He may have brought Watchmen to life, but that doesn't mean he brought life to Watchmen. Sucker-Punch was nothing more than a misogynist, adolescent male fantasy. As for Man of Steel...it is a story that didn’t need to be retold, this time mashing-up Snyder's penchant for CGI overkill with Christopher Nolan’s 'dark' take on a superhero legend to superficially create a bloated film that is utterly joyless.

Think of some of the directors involved in the MCU so far...Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Joe Johnston, Kenneth Branagh, the Russo Brothers. They have one thing in common...the understanding that all the visual fireworks in the world don’t amount to much if the story and characters take a backseat.

But Zack Snyder has since-become the latest incarnation of Michael Bay....each film bigger, longer and louder than the last. He’s fallen from the higher faith and joined the dark side. Yet Snyder is the one primarily in charge of the entire DC Cinematic Universe (including the upcoming, ominously titled, Justice League, Parts I & II), despite the rickety franchise foundations laid down by Man of Steel. Sure, the film made a ton of money. But pure profit has never been an indication whether or not a movie is any good. Avatar is currently the biggest moneymaker in history, but how often do you run into anyone today who thinks it's a great film?

How Donald Trump pictures himself.

Do I hope Batman v Superman movie is any good? Of course I do. No true film fan goes to a movie rooting for it to suck. But so far, I’ve seen no indication which suggests otherwise. I was burned before by Man of Steel’s promise of an epic and dramatic variation on the Superman legend, only to fall asleep in the theater after it turned out to be nothing but visual chest-thumping. Maybe it’s my age, but I personally like to give a shit about the characters I’ve paid ten bucks to spend two hours with before the mayhem ensures. Regarding Batman v Superman, from the recent trailers that have been pointlessly over-analyzed frame-by-frame, I’ve seen nothing which makes me want to be first in line in March. It looks like another cynical exercise in spectacle, counting on brand name recognition and the gullibility of zealous fans who’ll blindly hand over their hard-earned cash for the promise of mindless action and product placement.

I'm also wary of the fact this is the first live-action film featuring Batman interacting with characters with supernatural abilities. For me, part of the appeal of the Batman films (even the awful ones directed by Joel Schumacher) was the fact that nobody actually had any inherent superpowers. In the end, Batman himself was still a human facing off with other humans. That tenuous tie to reality is what always kept the franchise grounded into something that seemed superficially plausible. That's all gone now. Batman is now hobnobbing with aliens and demigods. While I know this has been part of the comic book franchise for years, part of me is sad that future Batman films are likely to go in that direction too. Considering how effectively Christopher Nolan presented Batman as someone who could conceivably exist in our world (to the point where even the staunchest movie critics took him seriously), Batman v Superman seems like a big step backwards.

I hope I’m wrong, of course. Despite inevitable cynicism that comes with age, as a movie fan, I’m truly rooting for Affleck to totally nail the Batman character in a way no one ever has before (it'll make up for the fact Henry Cavill as Superman is as compelling as cat food). I’d love for Zack Snyder to pull his head out of his ass long enough to remember what makes a classic epic film involves much more than hyperkinetic CGI and countless brand-name characters.

Still, countless fanboys have already decided Batman v Superman will be, by default, the greatest superhero film of all time, and many of them absolutely DO NOT WANT to hear anything to the contrary.

Case in point...not too long ago, I watched the first teaser trailer for Batman v Superman and was decidedly unimpressed. When I expressed my opinion on the Facebook page of a site I sometimes write for, you’d have thought I just pissed on The Pope. Countless people called me a troll or a hater, simply because my opinion differed from their personal anticipation of the film. Others tried in vain to convince me that my assessment of the trailer is simply wrong.

Batman v Superman is literally months from being released. Whether it ends up being the cynical product I’m predicting or the out-of-body experience its fans are expecting, that fact remains none of us know how this movie will turn out. Fanboys reading this can argue, debate and speculate to their hearts’ content, but until they're staring up at that screen with popcorn in-hand, they simply have no idea.

After all, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Episode I was going to be the greatest film of all time as well. With Star Wars in the title, how could it not be? We worked ourselves into a frenzy of anticipation long before the film came along to utterly deflate our expectations. By the time Episode II came around three years later, most of us were simply hoping it didn't suck.

And that's where I'm at now with Batman v Superman. Yeah, I'll probably catch it in theaters, mostly out of curiosity, not the blind assumption it's going to be stupendous just because they've thrown a few thousand DC superheroes together. At this point, I'm just hoping it doesn't suck as bad as Man of Steel did. Still, I can't help but think there will be more-than-a-few cosplayers shuffling from the theater on opening night, cowls hanging low with a level of disappointment they'll never openly admit to.

November 24, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: EIGHT MEN OUT

No, Charlie Sheen isn't the star.
Not even close, in fact.
Starring John Cusack, Clifton James, David Strathairn, Christopher Lloyd, Charlie Sheen, Clifton James, D.B. Sweeney, John Mahoney, Michael Rooker, Michael Lerner. Directed by John Sayles. (1988, 117 min).
OLIVE FILMS

"Don't know much about history;
Don't know much about base-ball-o-gy..."
-Sam Cooke...sort of

I hate to admit this, but prior to viewing Eight Men Out, everything I knew about the 1919 Black Sox Scandal (several Chicago White Sox players took payoffs to lose the World Series) came from Field of Dreams. That's probably because I never really liked baseball, but absolutely love movies about baseball. Put a game on TV and I'll be sawing logs by the third inning. Present it on the big screen with sweeping music, expertly-choreographed action and characters whose fates depend on the outcome of a single climactic game...man, I'm hooked every time. There's simply something inherently cinematic about it.

But Eight Men Out isn't one of those inspirational, triumph-of-the-underdog, sports-as-a-metaphor movies. It turns out Shoeless Joe Jackson was not-so-much a crucified major league martyr as an illiterate rube who just happened to be a great ballplayer. And he isn't even central to the story, which focuses mostly on Buck Weaver (John Cusack), who didn't take a payoff and played his best throughout the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. As for those who did...some display a certain level of greed, but we are made empathetic to their motivation: White Sox owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James) is depicted as a frugal miser with little regard for his players' well being off the field. Especially sympathetic is David Strathairn as pitcher Eddie Cicotte, financially forced to throw the games after being denied a promised bonus which would have paid for his children's college. This was an era long before pro athletes were set-for-life simply by signing a contract.

"I know you are, but what am I?"

I'm no expert in baseball history, but the events depicted in Eight Men Out seem pretty authentic, presenting the events as they happened without too much dramatic embellishment. As such, it's a fascinating depiction of what's arguably the very first professional sports scandal, a revealing behind-the-headlines look at the greed involved both on and off the field, as well as the suggestion that the mafia played a large part in fixing the 1919 World Series.

Unlike such aesthetically similar baseball films which transcended their genres to appeal to the masses, such as The Natural or Field of Dreams, it helps to be a fan of the game's history itself, since Eight Men Out aims more for accuracy than a feel-good vibe. In that respect, I feel like I've been both educated and entertained.

BONUS FEATURES:
  • Retrospective Documentary - an extensive look back at all aspects of the making of the film (primarily featuring director John Sayles, as well as a few of the supporting actors).
  • Audio Commentary by Sayles
  • Trailer
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

November 23, 2015

Digital Review: ANT-MAN

Starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cavannale, Michael Pena, Tip "TI" Harris, Anthony Mackie. Directed by Peyton Reed. (2015, 117 min).
WALT DISNEY

After the bloated Avengers: Age of Ultron, the decidedly more down-to-Earth Ant-Man is a welcome change of pace. Sure, the fate of the world is (sort of) at stake yet again, but not before laying the groundwork with a terrifically entertaining origin story.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a former engineer and recently released ex-con who wants nothing more than to go straight and re-establish a relationship with his daughter. Unfortunately, he can't find work other than helping his former cellmate rob a house by using his skills to break through its security systems. But all he finds is a mechanical suit owned by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who arranged the robbery to begin with. This suit shrinks the wearer to insect size, but also magnifies their strength, making it the perfect tool for infiltration, war and espionage. Having been forced out of his own company by apprentice-turned-rival Darren Cross (who's willing to sell his own version of the suit to the highest bidder for nefarious purposes), Pym fears this power falling into the wrong hands, so he recruits and trains Lang to become this "Ant-Man" to stop Cross.

Guess who peed in the shower...

That's the perfunctory story in a nutshell, which has the usual ominous implications standard in any superhero movie. But what makes Ant-Man worthy of mention among the best Marvel movies (the first Iron Man and both Captain America films) are the smaller moments (no pun intended). We really like Scott Lang and empathize with him long before he ever dons the suit. The same goes for Pym and his estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). These three personally have a lot at-stake long before the usual mayhem ensues during the third act. Hell, we even become attached to the insects they've learned to control with Pym's technology.

There are worse things that can happen to a lawn than gophers.

As for the visual effects and action...Ant-Man is simultaneously spectacular and comical. There are the usual fireworks during the final showdown, but the premise leads to a few hilarious bits of product placement which, for once, aren't gratuitous. Best of all, despite some obvious and unavoidable CGI moments, the viewer seldom feels like they're being force-fed spectacle for its own sake.

However, having never read a single comic book in my life, with no prior knowledge of Ant-Man's role in the whole Marvel Universe, I have to say the film's attempts to incorporate the character into the ongoing MCU are dubious at best (these scenes feel pointlessly shoehorned into the plot). From a purely cinematic standpoint, Ant-Man is enjoyable enough on its own terms without the intrusive hints of the character's crossover future. But since I'm probably in the minority on that point, I suppose that's just nitpicking.

BONUS FEATURES:
  • 4 "News Clip" Shorts
  • Featurette: "Making of an Ant-Man Heist: A How-to Guide"
  • 16 Deleted Scenes (some with commentary)
  • Gag Reel
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...DESPITE THE UNNECESSARY MCU BAGGAGE, THIS IS A FUN MOVIE.

MINIONS New Mini-Movie "Competition" Premiere



Two Minions compete in a series of escalating games in which both are doomed to lose in the all new mini-movie "Competition" in celebration of the upcoming release of MINIONS on Digital HD on 11/24 and on Blu-ray & DVD on 12/8. This marks the first time a mini-movie from the Despicable Me franchise has been made available in its entirety prior to the home entertainment release.

CHECK IT OUT HERE:

November 21, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: GOODNIGHT MOMMY

Starring Lukas & Elias Schwartz, Susanne Wuest. Directed by Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala. (2014, 100 min).
ANCHOR BAY

That old saying, the journey is more important than the destination, certainly applies to movies like Goodnight Mommy.

The journey in this Austrian horror film is certainly a strange one. Two twin boys' mother returns home after a horrific accident which has left her face covered in bandages. Her subsequent odd - almost abusive - behavior has them suspecting she's not their real mother at all, and they take measures to find out the truth. Goodnight Mommy is a moody, surreal film with a lot of deliberately ambiguous moments which have us wondering who the true villain is, and suggesting a big plot reveal that will tie everything together. For the most part, though the journey isn't necessarily a fun one, it's fairly fascinating, anchored by a couple of frankly-unnerving performances by Lukas & Elias Schwartz as the twins.

Somebody really sucks at Hide & Seek.

The destination, however, is sort-of a letdown. First of all, the final act descends into minor torture porn which, while suitably disturbing, negates the eerie tone the directors worked so hard to establish early on. Second, sharp-eyed horror fans will likely predict the big twist ending long before it's actually revealed (maybe even within the film's first few minutes).

Despite all that, Goodnight Mommy is never dull (the worst sin a horror film can commit). Writer/directors Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala manage to instill a good amount of dread in the viewer with a minimum of exposition, relying on the creepy imagery and characters' actions to propel the story forward. While there aren't a lot of surprises, it's a journey worth taking at least once.

BONUS FEATURES:
"A Conversation with Filmmakers Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala"

KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

November 19, 2015

DVD Review: THE HUNTING GROUND

Directed by Kirby Dick. (2015, 104 min).
ANCHOR BAY

As a long-time educator in the real world, I like to think I'm instilled with an adequate amount of empathy required to deal with the individual needs of my students on a meaningful level. Granted, it's sometimes difficult, as it is for most people from time to time, to imagine walking a mile in the shoes of others. But shockingly, you'll see no such empathy from the prestigious college institutions exposed in The Hunting Ground.

Of course, any sane individual knows sexual assault is the worst non-homicidal crime one can commit, and it's disturbing how often this apparently happens on campuses all across the country. In this incendiary documentary, countless victims (male and female) offer their horrifying stories of rape & sexual abuse while attending college, where they understandably assumed they’d be safe. But what’s just as obscene is the aftermath, where an overwhelming number of these institutions either attempt to sweep these reported incidents under the rug to protect their reputations, or go on the offensive and turn the tables on the victims, questioning how they were dressed or their level of intoxication at the time.

Much of the focus of the film is on two victims and their efforts to create an awareness of this serious problem, and their fortitude is inspiring. In contrast, we also see what they’re up against...a fraternity system which objectifies women and practically encourages rape amongst their ranks, most effectively demonstrated during a pathetic, caught-on-camera fraternity chant in which its members repeatedly chant “No means yes!” Worst of all, many colleges rely on considerable donations from alumni of those very fraternities, thus turning a blind eye to these incidents and exasperating the problem.

Of course, no representatives of these colleges appear on camera to explain themselves, but at the same time, how do you defend blatant sexual assault in any way, shape or form? Not only that, even the few abusers (often athletes) consequated for their actions are given relative slaps on the wrists in relation to their crimes. The uphill battle the victims face in an effort to get some kind of justice is enormous and enraging.

Still, despite numerous interviews and testimonies which are truly heartbreaking, the film manages to convey a sense of hopeful optimism at times, that this is a societal problem which could be fixed if enough people are made aware of it. Since creating awareness is what the best documentaries are able to do, The Hunting Ground certainly should be seen be everyone at least once. At the very least, they'd come away with a level of empthy these numerous colleges never did.

BONUS FEATURES:

  • Additional Stories (of victims)
  • Q&A with Annie and Andrea (prominently featured in the film)

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...A FILM EVERYONE SHOULD SEE AT LEAST ONCE


November 16, 2015

MINIONS Take Homestead-Miami Speedway for the NASCAR Championship!

MIAMI – Minion Mayhem is coming to Miami! The lovable stars of the Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment summer blockbuster hit, Minions, will be at the Ford Championship Weekend from November 20-22, it was announced today by Homestead-Miami Speedway. The three Minions – Kevin, Stuart and Bob -- will be a fixture throughout Homestead-Miami Speedway, making appearances with fans and participating in the Ford EcoBoost 400 pre-race ceremonies on Sunday, November 22. Minions will be released November 24 on Digital HD and Blu-ray/DVD on December 8.

Blu-Ray Review: BAD BOYS I & II: 20TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION

BAD BOYS
Starring Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Tea Leoni, Tcheky Karyo, Joe Pantoliano. Directed by Michael Bay. (1995, 119 min).
BAD BOYS II
Starring Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Gabrielle Union, Jordi Molla, Peter Stormare, Theresa Randle, Joe Pantoliano. Directed by Michael Bay. (2003, 147 min).
SONY

This action-comedy franchise didn't exactly re-invent the wheel, but definitely struck a chord with undemanding action-comedy fans happy to see yet another take the tried-and-true Lethal Weapon formula. Both films have been remastered in 4K and packaged together for this 20th Anniversary Blu-Ray collection (has it already been that long?).

Looking back at both of these films, there's a before-and-after dichotomy that's rather interesting.

The original Bad Boys (while not remotely original) coasted on the appeal of its stars (Martin Lawrence & Will Smith). Both were popular on television, but had not yet proven to be box office draws. Bad Boys changed all that, most likely because of their chemistry together, which went a long way in making the audience forget there isn't much of a story here. Personally, I never thought Lawrence was the least bit funny, and this film didn't change my mind, but he and Smith play off each other pretty well. While their banter is seldom laugh-out-loud funny, it's sometimes mildly amusing.

Most significantly, Bad Boys is the movie which unleashed director Michael Bay on the world. As his first feature film, he trucks out the visual fireworks and hyperactive style he first-honed making music videos, but not to the overwhelming extreme that would soon become his dubious trademark. For the most part, the action is deftly handled and exciting, another factor which helps us forget the plot itself is perfunctory.

"Hey, which one of you is the comic relief?"

Fast forward to 2003, and what a difference eight years makes. By now, Will Smith is one of the biggest stars in the world, with an ego to match. There isn't a single scene in Bad Boys II when he isn't depicted as the coolest dude to ever walk the Earth. Lawrence is still totally unfunny, and the banter between he and his now-much-bigger co-star feels completely forced...almost desperate in its attempt to make us laugh. Some scenes are embarrassingly bad and serve zero narrative purpose, such as the entire mortuary scene involving a female corpse's breasts, as well as these two characters' verbal assault on a 15 year old kid dating Lawrence's daughter.

Worst of all, this is post-Armageddon Michael Bay at the helm, now in full !MICHAEL BAY! mode, ready and willing to forgo what loosely resembles a story in favor of more volume, more boobs, more car chases, more explosions, more seizure-inducing editing, with a deadly-long 147 minute running time. Ultimately, Bad Boys II is a cold, cynical Hollywood product which counts on brand name recognition and audience goodwill to carry it over. Why Smith agreed to do this but later said no to an Independence Day sequel is beyond me.

On the plus side, this is the first time Bad Boys II has ever been available on Blu-Ray, so if you are a fan, you'll be happy to know it's never looked or sound better on home video. It must be said, however, that all of the bonus features for both movies have already been included on previous releases. Despite being the 20th Anniversary of the original Bad Boys, there are no retrospective documentaries or interviews.

BONUS FEATURES:

BAD BOYS (Same as the previous Blu-Ray release)
  • Audio Commentary
  • Featurette: "Putting the Boom & Bang in Bad Boys"
  • 3 Music Videos
  • Original Trailers
BAD BOYS II (Though the film is new to Blu-Ray, the bonus features are the same as the DVD release)
  • Production Diaries
  • 2 Featurettes Focusing on Stunts and Special Effects
  • Music Video
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Original Trailers
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...FOR US, BAD BOYS II IS TRULY HISS-WORTHY, BUT FANS WILL BE HAPPY TO HAVE IT ON BLU-RAY

November 14, 2015

DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY and the Fifth Nature of Conflict

Starring Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, Vic Morrow, Kenneth Tobey, Roddy McDowell. Directed by John Hough. (1974, 93 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON
 
While I try to never provide spoilers in an essay or review, in this case it’s a necessary evil. I apologize in advance...

Not too long ago, I was watching the entire Back to the Future trilogy for the umpteenth time. I've always loved that franchise and enjoy a sitting down for a marathon of all three movies every couple of years or so. I often catch some small detail I never noticed before, such as the Roger Rabbit doll in the display window of a 2015 antique shop in Back to the Future Part II (a nod to director Robert Zemeckis' previous film). But sometimes you can watch a beloved movie too many times and eventually spot something that suddenly doesn't quite jibe with your inherent common sense.

Unless a film totally insults my intelligence, I generally don't look for lapses in logic, and the best-made movies have a knack for glossing over pesky details that, in the real world, aren't remotely plausible. Still...watch any movie enough times and its logistical flaws are bound to surface. In this case, I'm referring to one of the final scenes in Back to the Future Part III, when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) returns to his own time and manages to leap out of his DeLorean mere seconds before it's smashed to bits by a speeding freight train. Not only is the time machine completely destroyed, the train rolls on without even slowing down.

Either that train is a runaway or it's engineered by a homicidal maniac, because any sane individual at the controls would have hit the brakes the second they nailed something as big as a DeLorean. Granted, trains are massive iron behemoths capable of obliterating damn-near anything in their way, but you'd think anyone occupying the lead engine, even if they weren't looking out the window at the time, would've at-least felt something. Hell, I recently noticed the audible thump of an unfortunate squirrel caught under my wheels during a morning commute. Though I know virtually nothing about the rules and regulations of engineering, I'm pretty damn certain that anyone who keeps choo-chooing along after taking-out a car has no business being in control of a 200 ton locomotive.

So while wrapping up this most recent Back to the Future marathon, I said to my wife, "Hey, how come the train doesn't ever stop? It just obliterated a car."

She shrugged indifferently, either because she was too preoccupied with Facebook or because such a detail doesn't really render the Back to the Future trilogy any less awesome. We're so caught-up in the conclusion of this labyrinthine time-travel tale that we simply never notice that the sudden 'Oblivious Train' development is just a standard, time-honored movie trope.

Only then did I recall similar scenes in other films, such as...

Blue Thunder, where police chopper pilot Frank Murphy deliberately lands the title machine directly in front of a moving train, which literally blows it to pieces. Not only do the locomotive engineers survive the fiery impact unbarbecued, the train continues unabated throughout the end credits.

Then there's Final Destination, in which a speeding train wipes out a stalled car on the tracks, in addition to beheading one of the main characters. Still, the train kept a rollin’ (all night long).

Or how about the subway platform fight scene in The Warriors? A gang member is thrown onto the tracks, just before a train comes along to pancake him without even stopping at the platform to let more passengers onboard. Who the hell's driving the damn thing, Stevie Wonder?

And lets not forget the classic bridge-crossing scene in Stand by Me, in which four boys are halfway across before being forced to run in terror from a steam-driven locomotive right behind them. It makes no attempt to stop or even slow down (though it's moving slow enough to do so). Two kids barely make it, leaping off the bridge as the train chugs onward, oblivious to whether or not they’re okay.

I could go on, but you get the point. Unless they are central to the story, trains are depicted as unstoppable, mindless entities, indifferent to the havoc they wreak...like a giant Bill O’Reilly on wheels.

Dating back to classic Greek literature, there have always been four basic forms of narrative conflict: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Society and Man vs. Nature. Nearly every book, movie or play you’d care to name establishes one or more of these conflicts in order to tell its story. With the exception of Man vs. Self, the conflict is external, that of the protagonist forced to overcome an obstacle outside himself. Internal conflict is the biggest bitch (which most-fucked with my head in college literature classes) because the protagonist is mainly at-odds with his own marbles.

But I have to wonder what those nutty Greeks would have thought about the basic nature of conflict if the Oblivious Train was around back then. As an antagonist, the Oblivious Train doesn’t fall under any previously established catagory. I suppose the Greeks might have declared Man vs. Train to be the fifth, most nihilistic, nature of conflict, depicting the utter futility of a character’s will to overcome an obstacle.

Why? Because sometimes, out of the blue, shit happens. The Oblivious Train is the result of nothing more than bad timing, yet ultimately a game ender. It’s also a supreme example of both external and internal conflict: external because it’s an outside force, internal because it'll likely bust you apart like a pinata if you happen to be in its way.

Man vs. Train is the ultimate metaphor for ‘shit happens,’ whether a character deserves it or not.

Trains...still undefeated.

As a superlative example, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is one of countless car chase movies that were hugely popular on the drive-in circuit in the 1970s. Like most films of its ilk, we’re expected to root for the guy behind the wheel being pursued by police. In this case it's Peter Fonda, still milking his anti-hero status established in Easy Rider. He plays Larry Rayder, a wannabe NASCAR driver who plans to finance a race team by robbing a supermarket with the help of his mechanic, Deke (Adam Roarke). Tagging along is Mary (Susan George), a thrill-seeking groupie who Larry’s been boning recently. Pursuing the trio is an obsessive sheriff (Vic Morrow as a less comedic version of Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit films), thwarted at every turn by these fugitives.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry eventually became a minor cult classic, partially because it earned Quentin Tarantino’s seal of approval, but also because it’s very well made for high-speed drive-in fodder, loaded with expertly-choreographed chases and stunts. By this time, Fonda had the whole anti-establishment schtick down pat...a total rebel while still remaining somewhat likeable. George's character, despite being complete white trash, oozed a sleazy brand of sex appeal much-appreciated by us impressionable young boys in the audience (I think I was 13 or 14 when I first watched it as the second half of a double bill).

But what ultimately renders Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry especially memorable is the ending. Despite the fact the protagonists are criminals, we find ourselves rooting for them through one thrilling car chase after another. It’s 90 minutes of silly audience-rousing amusement right up until the final scene, when a cinematic sucker-punch completely negates all the fun we’ve been having. After a particularly harrowing car/helicopter chase through a walnut grove (the highlight of the film), our three protagonists manage to elude the police and emerge victorious with their ill-gotten supermarket bounty. As they’re speeding down the road, laughing in celebration, their car is nailed at a railroad crossing by a speeding freight train. The car explodes and they’re instantly killed. The Oblivious Train continues onward as the end credits roll.

Sitting in the audience back in the 70s, we were stunned. This train (with absolutely no foreshadowing) came out of nowhere and completely changed the entire tone of the film in a split second. Instead of exiting the theater encouraged by Peter Fonda’s stick-it-to-the-man mantra, we’re suddenly reminded that, sometimes, shit happens. There are random elements beyond our control that simply don’t give a damn about man’s struggle with nature, society or himself.

Perhaps that’s why, in movies, the Oblivious Train always keeps rolling down the tracks even after killing our protagonists or creating fiery destruction. Not-so-much a logistical story flaw, maybe the narrative nature of Man vs. Train is meant to serve as a metaphorical (and nihilistic) reminder that even an individual’s most epic struggle, internally or externally, can be abruptly altered by a random twist of fate.

Because, hey...shit happens.

November 9, 2015

DVD Review: SPLATTER: ARCHITECTS OF FEAR

Starring Paul James Saunders, Amber Wendleborg. Narrated by Christopher Britton. Directed by Peter Rowe. (1986, 75 min).
SLASHER VIDEO / OLIVE FILMS

Those expecting any insights from the Savinis, Bakers and Nicoteros of the world are advised to look elsewhere.

Splatter: Architects of Fear is a 1986 micro-budget, shot-on-video ‘documentary’ purporting to be a behind-the-scenes look at how various gore scenes were accomplished during the making of a cheesy, sleazy post-apocalypse movie involving a war between sexy Amazon women and mutant male zombies. Only such a movie doesn’t actually exist. The extraordinarily cheap, badly-performed scenes were made for the purpose of this film (which appears to have been entirely shot in an abandoned werehouse).

We see one gory death scene after another (along with a ton of gratuitous female nudity), each followed by a segment which show how a bunch of no-name effects artists pulled it off. This is repeated throughout the disc’s running time, along with pretentious narration about the nature of fear and how these make-up artists are masters of their craft. However, these are not masters; you'd likely get the same results by handing a bunch of teenage gorehounds a video camera, gallons of corn syrup, red food coloring and buckets of meat scraps. Interspersed among these scenes are idiotic moments featuring a character named ‘Fang,’ a disfigured ghoul who prowls the set in a desperate attempt to provide comic relief (which is all painfully unfunny).

Still waiting for his Oscar. Great hair, though.

Shot on video, everything looks and sounds like an ancient porno film from the same era. This disc’s only redeeming value is producer Bill Smith’s admission (in the bonus features) that he merely wanted to see what they could get away with by declaring Splatter an educational film (in Canada, where this was produced, it was given a PG rating because it was labeled a documentary). By also proudly boasting his female cast mostly consisted of local strippers willing to bare it all, Smith comes across as little more than a sleaze merchant.

But apparently, this piece of junk actually has a cult following, VHS geeks who truly embrace the shot-on-video crap made during the 1980s. Over the years, Splatter has become a highly-sought treasure to own on DVD. Well guys...here’s your chance, and you’re welcome to it.

BONUS FEATURES:
  • Commentary by producer Bill Smith, ’Cannibal Cam’ & Jesus Teran
  • Q&A with producer Bill Smith
  • YouTube Review by Paul Zamarelli (an online video review made by a teenager) 
  • Photo Gallery
  • Trailer
KITTY CONSENSUS:
HISS! FOR MASOCHISTS ONLY

November 8, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: TERMINATOR GENISYS

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Courtney B. Vance. Directed by Alan Taylor. (2015, 126 min).
PARAMOUNT

Terminator Genisys faced a lot more obstacles than the usual sequel. First and foremost is the huge legacy of the first two films. Not only do they remain James Cameron’s best work, both were arguably the most influential sci-fi action films since the original Star Wars trilogy. Second is a general consensus that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation were vastly inferior, not-to-mention unnecessary. While I personally thought T3 was a lot of destructive fun (and had the balls to end on a somber, apocalyptic note), Salvation (with no Arnold!) strayed way too far into Transformers territory, playing more like a video game than a fourth chapter, with no characters we really cared about (something Cameron would never let happen had he been minding the store).

Then there’s the questionable return of Schwarzenegger, now in his late 60s and a generation removed from his box office glory days, along with a deliberately misspelled title which had everyone scratching their collective heads (though it does make sense within the context of the story). In this era of superhero franchises, cinematic universes and the latest reboot of the week, it’s safe to say Terminator Genisys was a sequel few were asking for.

So it’s a credit to everyone involved that this film overcomes most of these obstacles. While not in the same league as Cameron’s classics, Terminator Genisys didn’t deserve the critical drubbing it received (I suspect some critics were prepared to hate it in advance). The story itself may not stand up to much scrutiny, but the time travel element (and its consequences) makes a welcome return to the overall story arc. These characters bounce all over the established timeline more than any film since Back to the Future Part II. Especially amusing are early portions which re-enact scenes from the first Terminator, only with new complications, such as Schwarzenegger as yet-another T-800 who’s been protecting Sarah Connor since she was nine (as her only real guardian, she calls him Pops). Some Terminator purists may also balk at the ultimate fate of John Connor in this one, but I appreciated this film’s bolder story twists in an effort to keep us guessing.

At this point, Arnold is probably happy to be working.

I also appreciated the sly commentary regarding our increasing dependence on personal gadgets and how they could potentially be our undoing, making this a Terminator film for the millennial age.

As for Schwarzenegger...his return to the franchise is a welcome one, and the film deals with his age in a logical manor, actually making his character more endearing, even lovable. Jason Clarke also shines as John Conner since, from a performance standpoint, his is arguably the most complex character in the film. The same can’t be said for Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, forced to step into roles made iconic by Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. As such, their performances are serviceable, though nothing really memorable.

Alas, Terminator Genisys is also hampered by a PG-13 rating (one of the main criticisms of Terminator Salvation). The special effects and action sequences are fine, but lack the brutal, violent intensity of Cameron’s films (or even T3). I suppose such a concession is inevitable in order to compete with other summer movies aiming for the mallrat crowd, but it does prevent this from being the hard core, old school Terminator many of us grew up with.

Still, Terminator Genisys is a lot of big fun, which not only keeps a 30 year old franchise alive & relevant, but tells a complete, self-contained story for newcomers. It also leaves just enough unanswered questions (such as who sent a T-800 back in time to protect Sarah Connor) to justify its existence as part of a proposed new trilogy. Considering its underwhelming box office performance, whether or not that happens is another story.

BONUS FEATURES:
  • 3 Extended Featurettes: "Family Dynamics" (casting); "Infiltration and Termination" (on location behind-the-scenes); "Upgrades" (focusing on the visual effects, which is pretty impressive)
  • DVD & Digital Copies
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...GET OFF YOUR CINEMATIC HIGH-HORSE AND ENJOY

Rest in Peace, Gunnar Hansen

Gunnar Hansen (1947-2015)

November 6, 2015

10 NASTY, GUT-WRENCHING, BUTT-PUCKERING MOVIE MOMENTS THAT ARE GORE-FREE

You know the scenes...not necessarily the goriest or most spectacularly violent, but those which make you wince, hide your eyes, dig your nails into the armrest, pucker your ass or fight a gag reflex. Sure, being disassembled by zombies or birthing aliens through one’s chest is awful, but far removed from any true human experience. But needles? Broken bones? Violated orifices? Swallowing something awful? We can all relate on some level. Sometimes the worst things we can imagine (or experience onscreen) are those we can transpose onto ourselves.

1. AMERICAN HISTORY X - Edward Norton gives a tour-de-force performance as a reformed white supremacist trying to prevent his younger brother from following the same path. This intense, harrowing film is often an uncomfortable viewing experience, never more so than during a flashback sequence in which Norton’s character forces a man to place his open mouth on a curb, then stomps back of his head. The act isn’t actually shown, but masterfully implied through editing and sound effects.


2. MISERY - For the most part, this is one of the more faithful (and better) adaptations of a Stephen King novel. However, one key change actually improves on the original story. In the book, psychotic fan Anne Wilkes keeps author Paul Sheldon bedridden by chopping off his feet. The act is horrifying, to be sure, but nothing compared to what Wilkes (Kathy Bates) does in the film. Rather than cut off Sheldon’s feet, she performs an act known as ‘hobbling’, wedging a block of wood between his ankles before breaking them with a sledgehammer. What makes the scene unbearable, besides the suspense leading up to it, is the split second we see one of his feet pounded in an impossible direction. Gore scenes are a dime a dozen, but snapping limbs tend to instill a much more visceral response in the viewer, since many of us can relate.

3. THE THING - Even 30+ years later, John Carpenter’s adaptation of John W. Campbell’s classic story remains the standard by which all other ’body horror’ films are measured. The elaborate transformation & creature effects are as convincing today as they were in 1982. Yet for all of the slime and gore, its most unnerving scene is arguably the ‘blood test’ conducted to determine who is The Thing. One-by-one, everybody’s blood is drawn using an Exacto-knife to cut open their fingers to let blood pour into Petree dishes. It’s ultimately cringe-worthy because we’ve all cut ourselves before, and it sucks. Some of the most sensitive nerves in our body are located in our digits.


4. INVASION U.S.A. / THE DARK KNIGHT - Invasion USA is one of many worthless Chuck Norris flicks to belch from the 1980s, save for one shocking, unexpected moment. During a scene when a woman is snorting cocaine with a metal straw, the main villain slams her head to the table, essentially shoving the straw into her brain. It’s so quick that it takes us a second to process what just happened. Once we do, we realize that’s a sickening way to die. Christopher Nolan shot a similar gag in The Dark Knight two decades later, when The Joker manages to make a pencil disappear...into a gangster’s head.


5. THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION  - This unintentionally hilarious cheesefest (shot in Wisconsin, the literal land of cheese), depicts ever-growing spiders who hitch a ride to Earth onboard a meteor. In other words, it’s great fun, especially the climax, featuring a Volkswagen dressed up as an eight-legged monster. Bad movie connoisseurs have been enjoying The Giant Spider Invasion for decades. Still, there’s one scene about half-way through that’s almost guaranteed to stir your gag reflex, when a woman unknowingly includes a large tarantula in her blended breakfast drink. Yeech!


6. PULP FICTION  - Heroin addicts notwithstanding, few of us relish receiving injections, and Quentin Tarantino’s classic features one big-ass needle. During the now-legendary scene in which Vincent Vega (John Travolta) plunges a shot of adrenaline into the heart of Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), Tarantino masterfully builds tension by forcing us to think long and hard about what’s going to happen…showing Mia’s exposed chest, then the surrounding actors’ intense faces, then the steely needle aimed right at the screen, a single trop of liquid hanging from the tip. We’re horrified before anything’s even happened, so when it does, we’re already squirming in our seats. But we never actually see the needle enter her body. Our dreaded anticipation - along with the sickening thud when Vincent plunges it home - has done all the work.


7. THE EXORCIST  -  The Exorcist is, of course, a terrifying masterpiece and remains potent today, particularly classic scenes in which demonically-possessed Regan MacNeil projectile-vomits, levitates and violates herself with a crucifix. But really, doesn’t the most harrowing scene occur early on, when she’s brought to the hospital for diagnostic tests? We see, in agonizing detail, Regan’s neck pierced with a horrifyingly huge needle, blood spurting onto her pillow before doctors snake a tube through the needle into her vein. This scene’s realism, coupled with the fact it’s happening to a 12-year-old child, make it tough to endure.


8. PAYBACK  - Porter (Mel Gibson) is a career criminal who’s betrayed and left-for-dead. Later, he wants his ill-gotten gains back, going as far as taking-on the local mafia. But in a later scene, his plans are temporarily thwarted when the mob catch him and commence smashing his toes - one at a time - with a hammer. Again, nothing is actually shown, leaving it to our imagination to picture the worst, but the sound effects of the hammer striking the floor has us convinced his piggies have been smashed into jelly.


9. MARATHON MAN  - Dustin Hoffman plays Babe, a college student and marathon runner whose brother - a government agent - is trying to catch diamond smuggler & former Nazi Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier...Google him, kids). Later, Szell apprehends Babe and uses his well-honed torture techniques to perform impromptu oral surgery to inflict maximum agony where a lot of us feel the most vulnerable. Szell’s own description of what he’s doing - as well as Babe’s blood-curdling screams - fill in the blanks. Anyone who’s ever feared the dentist’s chair are advised to steer well-clear of this film.


10. SEVEN - 20 years later, Seven remains one of the most downbeat and disturbing films of all time, even though all of the horrible atrocities committed by ‘Deadly Sins’ Killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey) are depicted after the fact. The worst scene involves the sin of lust, where a man is forced at gunpoint to have sex with a prostitute using a strap-on, 12-inch blade. The man is understandably delirious once the detectives reach him, and all we need to see is a police photo of the weapon itself to be totally sickened ourselves.

November 4, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: THE GOLDEN CANE WARRIOR

Starring Eva Celia, Nicholas Saputra, Reza Rahadian, Tara Basro, Christine Hakim, Aria Kusumah. Directed by Ifa Isfansyah. (2014, 111 min).
WELL GO USA

I'll say this much...if movies were postcards, The Golden Cane Warrior will make you wish you were there. Director Ifa Isfansyah is definitely in love with his Indonesian countryside, top-loading the film with gorgeous and colorful images of the hills, sky, forest and sea. Hence, this is one beautiful looking Blu-Ray.

The story he drops into this Asian paradise, however, is hit and miss. An aging female warrior and head of the Golden Cane House, Cempaka, has been training four young apprentices, three of whom were the children of former rivals she's killed. The Golden Cane apparently renders its owner extraordinarily powerful, providing they know how to use it. After she bestows the cane to young Dara, Biru & Gerhana, feeling slighted, poison Cempaka, steal the cane and frame Dara for the murder. Dara is rescued by an enigmatic stranger, Elang, and finds brief sanctuary in his village. Meanwhile, Biru & Gerhana murder the leader of the nearby Red Wing House and use the cane's legendary status to rule the region with an iron fist, even though neither knows the 'ultimate move' (a martial arts skill required to be worthy of having the Golden Cane). Of course, it turns out somebody else does...in fact a couple of somebodies we've already met, who team-up for a showdown against these two tyrants.

Dara's constipation remedy.

It's a serviceable story, with no real surprises, featuring fight scenes that are kinetic and rousing (the climax in particular). The problem is, for an action movie, those scenes are relatively few and far between, and pretty-much regulated to stick fighting (or whatever it's actually called). The long stretches in-between consist of a lot of exposition - more telling than showing - along with a few training montages and lovingly-shot Indonesian scenery. There are numerous moments when the viewer may be initially impressed with how great everything looks, but will soon get impatient for the mayhem to commence.

BONUS FEATURES: Trailer

KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

November 2, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: ROAR

Starring Tippi Hedren, Noel Marshall, Melanie Griffith, Jerry Marshall, John Marshall, Kyalo Mativo. Directed (?) by Noel Marshall. (1981, 94 min).
OLIVE FILMS

Roar is a movie that simply has to be seen to be believed. However, one's enjoyment of the film depends largely on prior knowledge of its notorious (and legendary) production history. Watching it cold means you're simply sitting through another bad movie. And yes, Roar is bad in every wonderful way possible...atrocious acting, stupid characters, silly dialogue and numerous inexplicable scenes which leave the viewer wondering "WTF?"  But this is one disc where you should definitely check out the numerous bonus features first, because the movie is only half the story (and don't worry about spoilers because the plot is almost non-existent).

Roar began as a pet project for husband & wife Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren (she of The Birds fame). Inspired by their love of African cats and the need to protect them, they cast themselves and their inexperienced teenage children in the lead roles, then Noel basically filmed his family being harassed by dozens of lions, tigers and leopards for 90 minutes. These cats aren't trying to eat them though...they just want to wrestle and play (the only bad guys are a couple of locals who want to shoot the animals, and only appear onscreen for a few minutes).

But the true insanity of the movie is the fact these were all actual untrained animals allowed to run rampant on the set. No special effects or stunt performers were used. So yeah, we're watching a young Melanie Griffith actually being mauled by a tiger. And she was just one of 70 cast & crew members injured during filming. That, along with financing problems, a flood which wiped out everything halfway through production and a truly inept actor/director (Noel Marshall had never attempted either before in his life) turned Roar into an trainwreck.

"Alright, you bad kitties...what'd ya do with the dog?"

It ultimately took ten years and $17 million (a huge budget at the time) to produce and release what essentially looks like a home movie. It has since gone down in history as one of Hollywood's most notorious financial fiascos.

Still, despite how goofy the final product is, one can't help but appreciate Hedren & Marshall's intentions and fortitude (though considering they dragged their kids into this, both may have been just a bit insane). They literally leveraged everything they had to make this film. Previously an executive producer of The Exorcist, Marshall took all his earnings from that film and sank them into Roar. Not only that, as an actor, he was deranged enough to subject himself to more feline attacks than anyone else involved. But it wasn't all for nothing. Admittedly, some of the animal scenes are amazing, and we walk away thinking it it's a miracle nobody was actually killed during production.

All these factors raise Roar above the usual bad movie experience. Sure, we laugh at its narrative ineptitude and may be rendered slack-jawed in wonder at how it ever got made. But at the same time, the personal and financial toll it took to actually get it made renders Roar morbidly fascinating.

BONUS FEATURES:

  • "The Making of Roar"
  • "Q&A with Cast and Crew" (taped after a revival screening earlier this year)
  • Essay: "The Grandeur of Roar," by Tim League
  • Audio Commentary by John Marshall & Tim League
  • Photo Gallery

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE TUNING INTO A NASCAR RACE JUST TO SEE THE CRASHES

Rest in Peace, Fred Dalton Thompson

Fred Dalton Thompson (1942-2015)

November 1, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: INSIDE OUT

Starring the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan. Directed by Pete Docter. (2015, 95 min).
DISNEY

There was a stretch of time when I was starting to wonder if Pixar had finally lost its mojo. They’ve never made anything flat-out terrible, but Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University were kind-of underwhelming. And while Toy Story 3 was admittedly wonderful, you'd have to go all the way back to 2009’s Up for a Pixar film with the distinctive originality and imagination we’ve come to expect.

Which is what makes Inside Out such a wonderful surprise, for me at least. I skipped seeing it in theaters because it looked like just another animated movie produced by what was fast-becoming just another studio. How wrong I was.

The prologue alone is more creative and captivating than anything in Pixar’s last three movies combined, and it only gets better from there. The concept, in which 11-year-old Riley’s five basic emotions (joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust) are personified in her mind, allows limitless creative possibilities. Because at least two-thirds of the film takes place in Riley’s head, the writers, directors and animators allow their imaginations to run wild, making this the most visually-arresting Pixar movie since WALL-E.

"'Pink Elephants On Parade'? Never heard of it."

But Inside Out isn’t just a feast for the eyes. The story itself is compelling and clever, with well-rounded characters both inside and outside Riley’s head, all perfectly voiced by an impressive cast (with Lewis Black as Anger being kind-of a no-brainer). And like the best Pixar films, Inside Out runs the emotional gamut, managing to be, by turns, funny, suspenseful, tragic, rousing and ultimately heartwarming.

This is a Pixar I know and love, and Inside Out is easily their best film in nearly a decade, as visually and narratively original as some of their undisputed classics. Unless Pixar’s own upcoming The Good Dinosaur turns out to be an out-of-body experience, I can’t imagine Inside Out not taking home an Oscar this year for Best Animated film.

BONUS FEATURES:

Disc 1 (accompanying the film)

  • Audio Commentary by director Pete Docter, co-director Ronnie Del Carmen & director of photography Patrick Lin
  • 2 Animated Shorts: “Lava,” which played with Inside Out in theaters; “Riley’s First Date?”, a brand new short featuring the same characters (it’s hilarious and includes the best use of an AC/DC song ever)
  • “Paths to Pixar: The Women of Inside Out”: Comments and anecdotes from many of the women involving in making the film
  • “Mixed Emotions”: The directors consult real-life experts about how the mind works regarding the emotions characterized in the film

Disc 2 (additional bonus features)

  • “Story of the Story”: Several members of the cast & crew discuss the creation of the story
  • “Mapping the Mind”: The directors, production designer Ralph Eggleston & producer Jonas Riveras talk about how they decided to depict various part of the brain’s memory
  • “Into the Unknown: The Sound of Inside Out” & “The Misunderstood Art of Animation Film Editing”: 2 postproduction featurettes regarding the sound effects and editing process
  • “Our Dads, the Filmmakers”: Featuring the kids of director Docter & composer Michael Giacchino
  • “Mind Candy”: a very amusing series of short sketches featuring the emotion characters
  • Deleted storyboarded scenes
  • 3 Trailers, one in Japanese

Disc 3

  • DVD (a code for a digital copy is also included)
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! BETTER THAN AN OPEN CAN OF TUNA