May 31, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: JARHEAD 3: THE SIEGE

Starring Charlie Weber, Scott Adkins, Dante Basco, Romeo Miller, Erik Valdez, Sasha Jackson, Dennis Haysbert. Directed by Will Kaufman. (2016, 99/100 min).
UNIVERSAL

Jarhead 3 has arrived to remind us there was actually a Jarhead 2. That direct-to-DVD sequel jettisoned everything interesting about the original biographical 2005 film (including its A-list cast) to focus on gunplay and explosions. Similarly, Jarhead 3 is a sequel in-name-only. Other than a gratuitous appearance by Dennis Haysbert and the title, it bares no resemblance to either of the previous films.

This time, gung-ho Marine corporal Evan Albright (Charlie Weber, displaying all the charisma and personality of a trout) is transferred to help protect an American embassy in the Middle East. It's initially a dull assignment until a batch of unnamed terrorists decide to attack the complex in order to kill an informant. Of course, only Albright saw this siege coming in advance because everyone else in his squad thinks he's an overzealous dork (which he kind-of is). Top-billed Scott Adkins plays his commanding officer, who mostly exists to poo-poo Albright's enthusiasm before later conceding he was wrong.

After thirty dull minutes of exposition, the attack begins. At this point, the last hour of Jarhead 3 plays like a round of the video game, Call of Duty...lots of low-budget shootouts and explosions, faceless bad guys who make Imperial Stormtroopers look like marksmen and a few deaths along the way that we're supposed to care about because the suddenly solemn soundtrack says so. The problem is we don’t know enough about any of these characters to give a damn. Similarly, we’re only made aware of the film’s primary villain because he scowls, wears black and Albright suspects him right away.

"You had me at Hello."

But Jarhead 3 is far from the first movie to make big, dumb action priority-one. Sure, it’s more like watching someone else play a video game, but does it at-least deliver the carnage? Well, sort of. The thing is loaded with gunplay, CG-enhanced head-shots and occasional explosions, but nothing you haven’t seen before in any straight-to-video sequel to Sniper, The Marine or Behind Enemy Lines.

In other words, Jarhead 3 is your usual low-wattage action flick trading in on a brand name to get attention. It’s competently made for what it is, but you aren't likely to give it a single thought afterwards.

BONUS FEATURES:
  • Making of Featurette
  • Unrated and R-Rated Versions
  • DVD & Digital Copies
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEH...

May 28, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: HAIL, CAESAR!

Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Emily Beecham, Alison Pill, Max Baker, Christopher Lambert (really!), Fisher Stevens, Fred Melamed, Clancy Brown, Dolph Lundgren (seriously!). Directed by Ethan & Joel Coen. (2016, 106 min).
UNIVERSAL

I'll say this much...you'll know Hail, Caesar! is undoubtedly a Coen Brothers film within the first few minutes, which is a good thing. Their movies are a genre unto themselves, and those who appreciate the Coens' creative sensibilities know it's essentially pointless to compare one of their films to anything else but other Coen films. Even then, they've cut such a wide swatch through so many genres that you can't simply examine The Big Lebowski in the same light as No Country for Old Men.

For the sake of simplicity, there are the 'serious' Coen films (which get all the Oscar nominations) and the 'playful' Coen films (where everyone involved seems to be having a great time). Hail, Caesar! is definitely one of the latter.

If comparisons must be made, I suppose Barton Fink, O Brother Where Art Thou? and the woefully underappreciated Hudsucker Proxy would immediately come-to-mind. Set in 1950's Hollywood, studio bigwig Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) oversees the actors in his stable, mostly making sure their questionable exploits don't hit the tabloids. Then the studio's biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped from the set of their latest biblical epic (Hail, Caesar) by a group of disgruntled communist screenwriters and held for ransom. While trying to keep the production on schedule and the incident from leaking to the press, he also has to deal with an unwed pregnant starlet (Scarlett Johansson) and a disgruntled art-film director (Ralph Fiennes), angry from being forced to work with an imbecilic singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich). Meanwhile, Mannix is mulling over an enticing job offer from airplane manufacturer Lockheed, an escape from the constant madness of his profession.

After all these years, George Clooney finally sits down to watch Batman and Robin.
That's the story in a nutshell, but if you're at-all familiar with the Coen Brothers in 'playful' mode, you know the plot itself takes a backseat to eccentric characters and the various vignettes in which they appear. Hail, Caesar! sports such a huge cast that most of them are relegated to just a few scenes, yet none are gratuitous cameos where we say, "Hey look! It's Jonah Hill!" No matter how brief their screen time, everyone disappears into their roles. I was especially amused by Channing Tatum's performance in what begins as a high-falutin' 50's era musical number, only to lapse into hilarious homoeroticism (the best scene in the entire film).

Channing doesn't appreciate this extra's brand of method acting.
Most importantly, Hail, Caesar! is very funny, though it helps if you have an appreciation for the Coens' brand of playfulness. The laughs come more from the overall tone, situations & characters (Clooney's facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission) than clever one-liners and punchlines. While it may not go down as one of their stone cold classics, Hail, Caesar! is sharply-written, unpredictable and full of laugh-out-loud moments. It's the Coen Brothers' most consistently amusing film since O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

BONUS FEATURES:

  • Featurettes: "Directing Hollywood"; "The Stars Align"; "An Era of Glamour"; "Magic of a Bygone Era"
  • DVD and Digital Copies

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

May 27, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: BALLERS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Rob Corddry, John David Washington, Omar Miller, Donovan W. Carter, Troy Garity, London Brown, Jazmyn Simon. Various Directors. (2015, 358 min).
HBO HOME ENTERTAINMENT

Wanna feel like a complete slacker? Consider the life of Dwayne Johnson. He’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world, popping up in two-to-four movies a year (including some actual good ones), has hosted Saturday Night Live four times, produced two reality TV shows and still revisits his WWE roots by jumping back in the ring from time to time. If he wasn’t so goddamn likable (he’s even stayed married to the same woman for 20 years), we’d be sick of him. Now Johnson’s managed to work yet-another series, HBO’s Ballers, into his schedule. As both star and executive producer, you have to wonder if this guy ever sleeps.

Ballers is a dramedy about all the big money, greed, contract dealings, decadence and extravagant lifestyles we typically associate with professional athletes (in this case, the NFL). Whether or not it's an accurate depiction is a question best left to others, but these 10 episodes seem to talk-the-talk & walk-the-walk (especially since it appears to have the full cooperation of the NFL). Though similar to Starz' basketball-themed Survivor's Remorse, Ballers features better writing and more dynamic characters. Regarding the latter, Johnson is ironically one of the least interesting. Sure, he's his usual charming self and completely likable as Spencer Strasmore, a former NFL star turned financial manager for younger upstarts. But like most of Johnson's roles, he's simply playing an extension of himself. Far more intriguing are Rob Corddrey as Strasmore's manic, socially-challenged partner, and John David Washington (Denzel's son) as a hot-headed, self-centered wide-receiver, trying (in vain?) not to blow the last chance afforded him by the Miami Dolphins.

The new HBO series, Balder Ballers.

Narratively, there are few surprises, since we've always suspected most pro athletes' problems (financial or personal) are ones we can only dream of having. But the journey is entertaining, and overall, the series does a good job making us care what happens to most of these characters. Of course, being an HBO series, Ballers is loaded with sex, drug use and other forms of Entourage-like behavior (even Johnson’s character engages in some gratuitous bumping-of-uglies in a later episode).

Most importantly, with episodes running a half-hour each, the show moves at a quick pace and seldom becomes repetitive. It’s also quite funny at times (the biggest laugh of the season coming from a wild pitch during a Florida Marlins game from one of Strasmore’s former opponents). The first season wraps things up a bit too neatly, but all-in-all, Ballers is a fun look at the wild side of professional sports and a supremely bingeworthy set of discs.

BONUS FEATURES:
“Inside the Episodes” - Short two-minute synopses of each of the 10 episodes by executive producer Evan Reilly and various cast members.
Digital Copy

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE SHOULDERPADS.

May 25, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: ZOOLANDER 2

Starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Farrell, Penelope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Sting, Fred Armisen and more cameos than there are stars in the heavens. Directed by Ben Stiller. (2016, 102 min).
PARAMOUNT

As far as belated sequels to once-popular comedies go, Zoolander 2 is far from the worst one ever made (Blues Brothers 2000 holds that distinction), but still suffers from the same basic problem that plagues most others: Only so-much time can pass - in this case, 15 years - before relevancy becomes an issue, especially if what you’re offering is simply more of the same. The original Zoolander was an amusing one-joke comedy, but didn’t exactly set the box office on fire and could hardly be considered a classic. It found a wider audience on home video, but I doubt too many were really pining for further exploits of Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel McDonald (Owen Wilson). I could be wrong, of course.

After 15 years, it’s business as usual. Zoolander 2 begins with an admittedly funny sequence featuring a cameo by Justin Bieber (one of the film’s worst-kept secrets). Someone is killing beautiful celebrities around the world, at-least those taking duck-faced selfies. Interpol agent Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz) determines that only Derek and Hansel can help her uncover who’s behind the assassinations. It turns out all these dead rock stars have been trying to protect the decedent of Steve, who was at the Garden of Eden with Adam & Eve and whose bloodline can provide eternal youth. Since Will Farrell returns as Jacobim Magatu, I don’t think I’m spoiling who the culprit is.

This scene was a bold move, presented without irony.

For those who loved the original, you’ll be happy to know the usual series of familiar gags (ranging from dumb to hilariously-dumb) are recycled for another go-around, this time with Cruz and Sting thrown into the mix. And like the first film, the number of gratuitous celebrity cameos is massive (Bieber’s just the tip of the iceberg). However, because Zoolander 2's plot is flimsier and the premise is well-past its expiration date, the viewer is often distracted into playing a celebrity version of Where’s Waldo?.

This one flopped at the box office, perhaps because, like the original Zoolander, at home is where stuff like this plays best. Its singular joke is far more amusing to experience over and over when you aren't paying through-the-nose, making Zoolander 2 worth a rental for fans of the first film. Others beware.

BONUS FEATURES:
  • Featurettes: “The Zoolander Legacy” (Cast & crew discuss getting this sequel off the ground); “Go Big or Go Rome”; “Drake Sather: The Man Who Created Zoolander” (short feature of the co-creator, who died in 2004)
  • Youth Milk Beauty Ad
  • DVD & Digital Copies
  • Digital Copy of the original Zoolander
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...IF MORE-OF-THE-SAME IS WHAT YOU CRAVE

May 24, 2016

Rest in Peace, Burt Kwouk

Burt Kwouk (1930-2016)

May 22, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: TRIPLE 9

Starring Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Edjiofor, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr., Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer, Norman Reedus, Luis Da Silva. Directed by John Hilcoat. (2016, 115 min).
UNIVERSAL

Triple 9 is cut from the same cloth as Heat and The Town. While not quite as memorable as either, it's an entertaining and exciting way to kill two hours.

An Atlanta heist crew, consisting of former Navy SEALS and corrupt cops, is hired by a Russian mob, led by Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), into committing a bank robbery to steal a safe deposit box which has information that can free her husband, the actual mafia boss. But instead of getting paid, Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Edjiofor) and his crew are extorted into committing a second heist even more dangerous than the first. In fact, it seems impossible to pull-off until Franco (Clifton Collins Jr.), one of the corrupt cops, suggests killing a fellow officer, then calling it in over the radio as a Code 999 (meaning an officer is down), allowing them time to do the job while Atlanta's police force converges on the shooting location.

Meanwhile, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) is a cop reassigned to the precinct run by his grizzled uncle, Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson). His new partner, Marcus (Anthony Mackie), is also a member of Atwood’s crew and decides Allen’s the perfect target; with his nephew down, Jeffrey would send every cop at his disposal to the scene. So Marcus instructs a local gang leader to do the hit, making it look like Allen was killed in the line of duty.

"I did it just like you said...neutralize the witnesses and interview the suspect."

While I serious doubt a major city’s entire police force would actually drop everything to respond to one call (even if it did involve a cop killing), it’s an interesting premise that we mostly buy into while watching. Triple 9 is structurally similar to Heat and The Town: an initial perfectly-executed robbery, followed by a lot of character exposition and planning leading up to the climactic heist attempt. The action is suitably kinetic, gritty and violent. A few nifty plot twists keep things interesting, even if we sometimes see them coming.

We also learn quite a bit about the major characters on both sides of the law, and for the most part, the performances serve them well, especially Mackie as Marco and Ejiofor as Michael; though two of the film’s many villains (the film is loaded with them), neither descend into pure despicability. On the other hand, Harrelson acts like he’s channeling the ghost of Tallahassee from Zombieland, while Winslet seems a bit out of her element as a ruthless mob leader. As for fans of prominently-billed Norman Reedus...try to enjoy the few minutes he’s actually onscreen.

Ultimately, Triple 9 does not reach the epic heights of the classic heist movies which obviously inspired it, but it’s fast-paced and entertaining, perhaps even worth taking in more than once. More-or-less ignored in theaters, the impressive cast and bursts of action make it well worth checking out at home.

BONUS FEATURES:

  • 2 Featurettes: "Under the Gun" & "An Authentic World" (both are very short promotional interviews with cast & crew members).
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Digital Copy

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

May 19, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: PRIDE + PREJUDICE + ZOMBIES

Starring Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance, Lena Headley. Directed by Burr Steers. (2016, 107 min).
SONY

Had this film been made five years earlier, when Seth Grahame-Smith's original mash-up novel was still a pop culture novelty, it might have found the audience it deserves. Instead, like most trends, the idea of infusing classic literature with monsters was quickly run into the ground, by both imitators and Grahame-Smith himself, who struck while the iron was hot with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. By the time Pride + Prejudice + Zombies was released, the concept had lost most of its luster, not helped by all the inferior rip-offs which proceeded it.

Too bad, really, because unlike the overly-serious adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire: Hunter, Pride + Prejudice + Zombies plays a lot like the original novel, presented with a completely straight face while never quite forgetting that it's ultimately a parody. Written and directed by Burr Steers, it looks and sounds just like your typical Jane Austen film (right down to the dialogue), punctuated by a zombie uprising subplot that never feels shoehorned in, almost as though the author herself came up with the whole idea.

When someone spikes the punch on prom night.

The cast is another big reason the whole thing works. At no point do they ever suggest they're in on the joke, playing their perspective roles with the same sincerity one would in a true Austen adaptation. While Lily James makes a formidable Elizabeth Bennet (vulnerable, yet ready to kick-ass at a moment's notice), Matt Smith as the nebbish Mr. Collins steals every scene he's in. Essentially comic relief, he'd still be amusing even if this were a straight retelling of Austen's story.

There are zombies, of course - lots of them - though the film uses them sparingly (no sense beating your only joke to death). While they figure prominently in the new plot, their appearance is seldom gratuitous. And when the expected zombie mayhem ensues, the PG-13 level of violence actually suits this film well. Since it's ultimately a parody of both Austen's work and the films inspired by it, hard core blood & gore would seem out of place.

So it's a shame Pride + Prejudice + Zombies didn't make its way into theaters sooner. While no classic, it's as clever and amusing as the original novel that launched so many other inferior mash-ups. Perhaps it will find the audience it deserves on home video.

BONUS FEATURES:
  • FEATURETTES (most of which run 3-5 minutes each): "Courtship, Class & Carnage: Meet the Cast"; "From Austen to Zombies: Adapting a Classic"; "Mr. Collins' Line-O-Rama" (which is absolutely hilarious); "The Badass Bennet Sisters"; "Creating the Unmentionables"
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Gag Reel
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

May 18, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE FINEST HOURS

Starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz, Eric Bana, Josh Stewart, Graham McTavish. Directed by Craig Gillespie. (2016, 117 min).
WALT DISNEY

In 1952, during a nasty winter storm off the coast of Massachusetts, the SS Pendleton split in half. While the bow sank like a stone, the stern remained afloat with over thirty crewman still onboard. It was then left to young Coast Guard crewman Bernie Webber to take a tiny boat with a hastily-assembled crew and rescue them before the rest of the ship sinks.

The Finest Hours is Disney’s depiction of this true story, based on a book by Michael J. Tougias & Casey Sherman. When the film focuses on the disaster and rescue, it’s quite thrilling, boasted by terrific special effects and gritty action. Between the stranded crew’s efforts to stay alive, led by stoic engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), and Webber (Chris Pine), battling the worst tidal forces you’ll ever see onscreen, the film is often exciting and suspenseful.

However, stalling momentum are the numerous intrusive scenes which take place on land. Initially, Webber’s budding romance with to-be-bride Miriam (Holliday Grainger) is charming, but her plight - awaiting news of the rescue - eventually starts sucking us out of the crisis-at-hand. Another subplot dealing with one man’s resentment of Webber (for allegedly botching a previous rescue attempt) is touched upon but never really explored, nor do we ultimately care, since it essentially peters into nothing.

"The cruise brochure clearly said Seafood Buffet. Bad weather or not, I want my GODDAMN CRAB PUFFS!"

Most of the characters are also pretty static. Pine is good in the lead, but given little to work with. Ultimately, we don’t learn a hell of a lot about this man who led what’s considered the greatest Coast Guard rescue in history. And while Grainger may be cute as a button, her character isn’t given much to do other than wait for her man to return. Ray is by far the most interesting character in the entire film. As played by Affleck, he’s intense, resourceful and intuitive. We learn about him more through his actions (and what others think about him) than what he actually has to say. Had the film focused more on Ray and his efforts to survive despite conflicts with the crew, this would be one hell of a movie.

As it stands, though, The Finest Hours remains a well-acted, visually arresting depiction of a real-life disaster and rescue. From a technical standpoint, that alone is enough to keep our attention. Still, the whole experience isn’t likely to stick with the viewer for too long afterwards.

BONUS FEATURES:
  • FEATURETTES: "Against All Odds: The Bernie Webber Story" (the best of the bunch, which features interviews with real witnesses, authors of the book and Bernie Webber's daughter); "Brotherhood"; "Two Crews"; "What is Your Finest Hour?" (a different rescue story); "The Finest Inspiration" (about the U.S. Coast Guard)
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Digital Copy
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW.

KISS ROCKS VEGAS in Theaters for One Night Only on May 25th!

On May 25th, you will see KISS like you've never seen them before. For one night only, you can witness their epic nine-show run that took place at The Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas on the big screen. During this event, you'll also be able to see never-before-seen footage and exclusive interviews with the band. 

Go to www.kissmycinema.com to book your seat!

May 11, 2016

DVD Review: SOUTHBOUND

Starring Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Fabianne Therese, Hannah Marks, Nathalie Love, Dana Gould, Susan Burke, Anessa Ramsey, Kristina Pesic, Larry Fessenden. Directed by Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath. (2015, 89 min).
SONY

Horror fans should not let this low budget gem slip past their radar. Written, directed and/or produced by a lot of the folks responsible for the cult hit, V/H/S, Southbound is another anthology film (though a lot better), with five interlocking stories which share the time-honored theme of retribution.

Unlike Tales from the Crypt's stories of karmic comeuppance, Southbound chooses a darkly ambiguous tone over narrative clarity. These sequences don’t even provide all the story details necessary for the viewer to be privy to everything going on. In fact, some stories don’t bother finishing the tale with a concrete resolution before segueing into the next one. But that constant ambiguity (along with the bleak desert setting) is also what renders the whole thing extraordinarily eerie. We’re sucked into the actions of these characters and what makes them tick, but only given bare hints of their past sins before the desert delivers its punishment.

New Rule: No more ketchup packets in the car.

As with most anthology films, some stories are stronger than others. The wraparound segments, “The Way Out” & “The Way In,” tie things together nicely, and the opener goes a long way in establishing this film isn’t just another Creepshow; we’re in for a bizarre ride into the surreal. By far, the best segment is the middle one, “The Accident,” which has a distracted motorist trying to save a woman he struck with his car, with the aid of some increasingly malevolent 911 operators. This is also the most gruesomely violent segment, and even jaded gorehounds may find themselves cringing during some scenes. The other two tales, “Siren” and “Jailbreak,” aren’t quite as effective because they tread more familiar ground, but the entire film benefits from intriguing (if ambiguous) characters, great performances and an intelligent script which understands that extraneous exposition doesn’t really matter if we’re suitably freaked out.

In other words, if you like your horror laid out in layman's terms, with everything explained, you’ll probably hate it. Southbound has bigger ambitions, aiming for those looking for something unique and slightly left of the mainstream. Though its limited budget is sometimes obvious, this is far more accomplished, creative and artistic than a lot of other films passing themselves off as horror these days.

BONUS FEATURES:
Audio Commentary
Deleted Scenes
Outtake Reel
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A SURREAL SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.

May 8, 2016

Movie Review: BLING

Starring the voices of Taylor Kitsch, Jennette McCurdy, James Woods, Carla Gugino, Tom Green, Jon Heder, Jason Mewes, Jim Breuer, Lex Lang. Directed by Kyung Ho Lee & Wonjae Lee. (2016, 82 min).
MOMENTUM PICTURES

On the surface, Bling is aptly titled. It's shiny, colorful and hardly ever stops moving. There might even be enough eye candy to amuse undemanding youngsters for a short while...maybe even the entire running time. I say maybe, because that surface sheen is all Bling really has going for it, and since the movie is mostly a hodge-podge of images and ideas from better movies, even the wee ones may experience a bit of deja vu after awhile.

From a technical standpoint, considering its obvious low budget, this CG animated Korean film is certainly ambitious. The animation is serviceable enough for any movie with an arresting story and interesting characters. Unfortunately, Bling has neither of those. The plot more or less focuses on the efforts of two guys trying to get their sweethearts to marry them. Sam, our hero, is a lowly maintenance worker who keeps botching his proposal attempts to news reporter Sue. Meanwhile, Oscar is a spoiled supervillain who threatens to destroy the entire city if Sue’s aunt, Catherine, doesn’t marry him. The fun is supposed to begin when their engagement rings are switched. Instead...the plot is mostly a long, loud, overly-busy chase with the usual quota of fart jokes tossed in (funny how Disney and Miyazaki never resorted to that).

"C'mon, boys...we're a-headin' to the pawn shop."

Even then, it still might have been fun if these characters weren’t bland composites of those in other films (such as the tiny viking-helmeted bad guys obviously inspired by the Minions, only with nipples...seriously). A surprisingly impressive cast of voice talent is completely wasted, especially James Woods. Sure, he hasn’t done much lately, but remember when his unique voice and manic delivery was almost the sole reason Disney’s Hercules was so fun? Here, as a robot henchman, several scenes went by before I even knew it was him.

Bling is definitely aimed more at little kids than the entire family, and as such, it might keep some of them amused a time or two. However, anyone over the age of 10 will likely find it tough to endure. As for parents...there's nothing particularly objectionable about it, so Bling might someday be a cheap & handy 'shut-up-and-let-Dad-drive' disc for that long trip to Grandma's house.

KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEH...BUT YOUR OWN LITTLE KITTENS MIGHT RATE IT HIGHER

May 6, 2016

CD Review: 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE: Music from the Motion Picture

Music Composed & Conducted by Bear McCreary. Score Produced by Bear McCreary & Steve Kaplan. Album Produced by Joe Augustine & Bear McCreary. (2016, 64 min).
SPARKS & SHADOWS

If you watch a lot of TV, you might have noticed Bear McCreary's name in the credits from time to time, particularly if your viewing habits lean more toward sci-fi and horror. He's the man responsible for the music in such shows as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Outlander, Battlestar Galactica and, of course, The Walking Dead (its haunting title theme is arguably his most recognizable piece of work).

McCreary's also been branching out into film scores, the most recent being 10 Cloverfield Lane, the 'it's-not-a-sequel' sequel to 2008's Cloverfield. Not yet having seen it, I can't discuss how effectively the score is integrated into the film, but on its own merits, this mostly-orchestral soundtrack album is suitably ominous, urgent and creepy.

Variations of the simple-yet-effective theme established in the opening track, "Michelle," runs throughout much of the score, and sharp-eared listeners will easily recognize similarities between this and McCreary's work on The Walking Dead, though this music also sounds like he drew a bit of inspiration from more subtle cinematic pieces by the likes of James Horner and James Newton Howard (with a bit of Jerry Goldsmith's quirkiness tossed in). Most of the early tracks are slow-burning pieces of dramatic tension punctuated by the occasional orchestral burst or well-placed blasts of percussion. The final track, simply titled "10 Cloverfield Lane," is a wonderful overture which summarizes the entire listening experience.

Running over 60 minutes, McCreary's recurring theme occasionally becomes repetitive, despite how much faster and louder it is presented in the later tracks. Still, it's an ambitious and impressive piece of music, suggesting his big screen future is bright indeed.

KITTEN CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS...BY A SCARY STRANGER

May 5, 2016

THE GODFATHER PART III and the Divine Delivery

Starring Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, George Hamilton, Sofia Coppola, Richard Bright, Bridget Fonda, Raf Vallone, Franc D'Ambrosio. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. (1990, 162 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON
 
There's nothing better than speedy service, especially when it comes to food.

I remember when Domino's used to tout their 30-minutes-or-less guarantee. If your pizza wasn't at your door within a half-hour of ordering, it was free. The guarantee was later reduced to three dollars off, presumably because of guys like me. This was in the mid 80s, when I lived in a tough-to-find third story unit of a massive apartment complex (I also made sure the porch light was off in order to make my apartment number harder to read). For quite a stretch, I got a lot of free meals courtesy of Domino's. But they eventually caught-on because I smoked a lot of weed in those days and Friday nights just weren't the same without tearing into a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese at 11:00 PM. By then, I was on a first name basis with most of the Domino's drivers, who were now able to get to my place with time to spare. One driver managed to knock on my door 17 minutes after I called, which had to be some kind of local record.

Domino's has since backed off from the 30 minute guarantee after being sued a few times by those whose loved ones were pancaked by overzealous delivery drivers. Too bad, really. While I'm sad for those who met their untimely demise from an unfortunate encounter with an AMC Pacer with a Domino's sign on the roof, it sure was great having a piping hot pizza in-hand before you even had the chance to locate your wallet.

But Domino's exemplary expediency has nothing on the priests and cardinals milling about the Roman Catholic church, as demonstrated in The Godfather Part III.

The Godfather & The Godfather Part II are, of course, the greatest one-two punch in movie history, both films winning Best Picture Oscars. Even today, they remain supreme examples of timeless storytelling and provide a strong argument that the 70s may have been Hollywood's true Golden Age. If you don’t agree with this assessment, you are either 15 years old or strongly believe Zack Snyder is a misunderstood genius.

As for The Godfather Part III...well...

There was once an NFL quarterback named Archie Manning. Two of his sons, Payton and Eli, not only became NFL quarterbacks themselves, but won two Super Bowls each (something even their dad couldn’t accomplish). Archie’s third son, Cooper, never got any closer to a pro football career than being a broadcaster on Fox Sports (I’ll bet those family reunions are awkward). If director Francis Ford Coppola is cinema’s Archie Manning, creating his own Payton & Eli with the first two Godfather films, then Part III is definitely his Cooper...the little engine that couldn’t.

That isn’t intended as a slam against Cooper Manning or Godfather III. Cooper was also a talented ballplayer with a promising football future before nerve damage ended his career while still in college. The Godfather Part III, despite a lot of retro-hate thrown its way, is actually a very good film. It simply doesn’t compare to the first two because a third chapter to the epic Corleone saga was never really necessary. It was also made for the wrong reasons, and probably a decade too late.

Even though Coppola agreed to do it because he needed the money, The Godfather Part III doesn’t play like a cynical cash-grab. He and original Godfather author Mario Puzo obviously put a lot of effort into its complex story (inspired by real events happening at the time the film takes place), and cinematographer Gordon Willis returned to give it the same unique look as the other two. Coppola managed to squeeze in as many returning characters as possible and nabbed most of the surviving original cast, though Robert Duvall refused to return as Tom Hagen because his salary didn’t equal Al Pacino’s. Even some of the new characters, like Andy Garcia as Vincent Corleone, fit right in with the old guard.

Constipation sucks.

The film isn’t without its faults, most notably the infamous miscasting of Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, in the pivotal role of Mary, Michael Corleone’s daughter, even though her acting experience was limited at best. Duvall is sorely missed, and simply replacing him with George Hamilton is like The Beatles deciding to fire Paul McCartney in favor of Gene Simmons. Paramount should have bitten the bullet and paid up. The film also dedicates a significant amount of its running time wallowing in Catholic guilt (mostly Michael’s).

And it’s during one of these moments when Michael is seeking redemption that has me thinking the Catholic church has speedy service down to a fucking science. It’s also possible that I’m focusing on a stupid minor detail of no real importance, but I thought I’d point it out anyway, since it’s a surprisingly lazy scene for someone as normally meticulous as Coppola...

While in Sicily to attend his son’s debut in an opera, an ailing Michael Corleone (Pacino) visits a Catholic cardinal and is talked into confessing his sins. Just before that, he suffers a diabetic attack. He begs the cardinal for something sweet, like juice or candy, to counter the effects. Not even fifteen seconds later, with no indication that any more time has passed than what we see onscreen, another priest arrives with a silver tray of exactly what Michael asked for: a pitcher of OJ and some chocolate bars, which Michael gratefully wolfs down.

That’s really fucking fast. I can’t even fill my own Big Gulp cup at 7-Eleven in the same amount of time. Hell, that’s faster than it takes for me to throw open a cupboard and grab a bag of Funyuns when struck with a sudden case of midnight munchies. In reality, even if the church had exactly what Michael needed in stock, it would still take at least a minute to run into the kitchen for a half-assed dash-n-grab, to say nothing of neatly placing everything on a sterling silver tray.

So either the Catholic church is populated by psychics, they’re used to visits from severely diabetic gangsters or these priests were former Domino’s delivery drivers. At any rate, it’s odd that Coppola would feel the need to shave the film’s running time by severely condensing this particularly intense moment, yet still subjected us to a prolonged (and icky) scene of Mary and her cousin Vincent exploring the inherent eroticism found in rolling pizza dough together.

I’m being way too analytical, of course, because I doubt most people who’ve seen this film ever noticed this temporal discrepancy. And even if they did, who’d care? I don’t actually care all that much either, but if The Godfather Part III was as masterfully told as the first two classics, chances are it would have never crossed my mind.

We do, however, need to get some of those priests back behind the wheels of pizza trucks.

May 2, 2016

Varese Sarabande to Release JAMES HORNER Blu-Ray

VARÈSE SARABANDE RECORDS TO PAY TRIBUTE TO LEGENDARY COMPOSER
JAMES HORNER WITH BLU-RAY RELEASE

The 2013 Hollywood in Vienna Concert Features Breathtaking Concert Performances,
75-Minute Symposium, and Presentation of the Max Steiner Award

Varèse Sarabande, in partnership with Tomek Productions, will release a very special Blu-ray marking the first anniversary of the passing of Academy Award®-winning composer James Horner (TITANIC, APOLLO 13, BRAVEHEART).  HOLLYWOOD IN VIENNA: THE WORLD OF JAMES HORNER was recorded in Vienna, Austria, as a part of a celebration of his life and music. At the annual film music gala, celebrating the world’s leading film composers and produced by Sandra Tomek, Horner was awarded by the City of Vienna with the “Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award”.

Varèse Sarabande will release the HOLLYWOOD IN VIENNA: THE WORLD OF JAMES HORNER Blu-ray through major platforms and retailers in June 2016.

May 1, 2016

ROLLERCOASTER and the Stemming of the Tide

Starring George Segal, Richard Widmark, Timothy Bottoms, Henry Fonda, Harry Guardino, Susan Strasberg, Helen Hunt, Sparks. Directed by James Goldstone. (1977, 119 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON
 
Seeing Rollercoaster in 1977 was mind-blowing.

It’s no masterpiece. Coming near the tail end of the 70’s disaster movie craze (and promoted as such), the film promised epic destruction, but was mostly a standard cat-and-mouse thriller. Nor was it technically groundbreaking in any way whatsoever. Rollercoaster was originally presented in Sensurround, a sonic toy developed by Universal Studios involving the use of Volkswagen-sized speakers installed in selected theaters which emitted a bass-heavy rumble that you felt more than heard. These days, you’ve undoubtedly experienced the same sensation when stopped at a traffic light next to a teenage driver whose Kanye West jams split the asphalt and rattled the fillings out of your head.

1974’s disaster epic, Earthquake, was the first Sensurround film. The gimmick rendered it an amusingly immersive experience (and drew our attention away from the wretched writing & piss poor performances). By 1977, however, the novelty had mostly worn off (especially with Star Wars wowing everyone that summer). Along with numerous POV shots to make the viewer feel like they were sitting in the lead car, the use of Sensurround in Rollercoaster was gratuitous and intrusive.

Though obviously created to exploit a dying gimmick, Rollercoaster didn’t really need Sensurround. Production-wise, it’s only a notch or two above the typical ABC Movie of the Week being churned out at the time, but as a mildly diverting thriller, it kind-of works. George Segal is Harry Calder, a park safety inspector tasked with helping thwart the plans of an enigmatic bomber (Timothy Bottoms), who threatens to blow up rollercoasters around the country until the park owners pony-up a million dollars (the standard ransom of all movie villains in the 70s). Those hoping for the destructive thrills of your typical disaster movie are in for a letdown, since there’s only one initial coaster crash to get the plot rolling (which was originally a lot more gruesome and violent, but trimmed before the film’s release to earn a PG rating).

After the bomber is duped with a ransom payment of marked bills, Calder deduces the retaliatory target will be the grand opening of the Great American Revolution coaster at Magic Mountain. This was when Rollercoaster became mind-blowing, at least to any kid who didn’t live within driving distance of  Southern California's Magic Mountain.

In reality, the Great American Revolution was the very first coaster to feature a full vertical loop. While that not seem like a big deal today (even the crappy little carny park in my hometown of Portland has one), when the coaster opened to the public in 1976, it was revolutionary (no pun intended). It probably took Magic Mountain’s board of directors about three seconds before agreeing to let Universal prominently advertise their latest, cutting edge attraction in a feature film. On the big screen, this magnificent beast was epic and ominous, the type of dangerous dare where you stood in line and fought the urge to flee back in the direction of the less-threatening bumper cars.

George Segal...method actor.

Like so many other relics of my youth, the years have not been kind to Rollercoaster. Casting George Segal as the hero automatically rendered it worthy of inclusion in a time capsule. His prolific heyday was during the 70s, when he ventured back and forth between sex comedies and undemanding thrillers. He was always a congenial, decent actor, but essentially played the same guy in every movie. If you were alive in the 70s, there’s an 90% chance you’ve accidentally seen at least one film in which he appeared, though no one in moviegoing history has ever said, “Oh, look! The latest George Segal film is playing!”

Further dating the film is Sparks, a glam band who spent most of the 70s being touted as the next big thing (which never happened). They’re prominently featured during the Great American Revolution’s grand opening, belting out bubble gum tunes while a young Helen Hunt and hundreds of bell-bottomed extras rock out as if The Rolling Stones were playing. There’s a long standing rumor the producers originally wanted Kiss, who turned it down. If this is true, it would be quite ironic since their lone foray into movies was the made-for-TV cheapie, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, also shot at Magic Mountain and an even sillier relic of the era, making Sparks look like Led Zeppelin in comparison.

Time hasn’t been too kind to the Great American Revolution either, which I was sad to discover when I finally visited Magic Mountain and rode it for the first time in 2006 (then simply called Revolution). The park had since been incorporated into the Six Flags chain and now boasted 19 rollercoasters, most of which were bigger, faster and scarier. In fact, when my wife and I were there, it took me awhile to even find the ride, twice passing by the humble, foliage-surrounded entry gate to what was once the park’s main attraction. There was no line at all, and compared to the high-speed, multi-looped, acrobatic thrills of the newer coasters which towered into the California sky, Revolution felt more like a kiddie ride.

It’s since been upgraded for its 40th anniversary (now called The New Revolution), which includes optional headsets so the rider can enjoy a virtual reality experience that apparently offers more thrills than the old coaster can provide on its own. As someone who grew up believing its once-revolutionary loop was the ultimate in theme park thrills, that’s kind of sad. But time relentlessly marches on and there’s nothing we can do about it. What was once new becomes old, and, like plastic surgery, simply giving it a make-over ultimately doesn’t stem the tide.