March 29, 2016

Rest in Peace, Patty Duke

Patty Duke (1946-2016)

March 26, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Channing Tatum. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. (2015, 168 min).
ANCHOR BAY

Being a huge Quentin Tarantino fan, I first saw The Hateful Eight in a theater (unfortunately, not the highly touted Roadshow version, which played nowhere near where I live). In my opinion, he’s the only living director who has, so far, never made a bad movie. The Hateful Eight is no exception, though this is Tarantino at his most self-indulgent.

While most of his films tend to have running times well over two hours, this was the first one that actually felt long, the first time I thought some scenes could have been trimmed a bit here and there, the first time I glanced at my watch on occasion. Seeing it in a theater, with no break or intermission, was ultimately exhausting.

But like Reservoir Dogs, I enjoyed The Hateful Eight much more the second time, for some of the same reasons.

Despite Tarantino’s outstanding use of the classic Ultra-Panavision process to shoot this epic western, The Hateful Eight arguably plays better at home (albeit on a big-ass home theater system). It may be a cinematic love letter to a bygone era, but considering much of the film takes places within the confines of an isolated, single-room in the middle of nowhere during a raging blizzard, its intimate setting is more effective when viewed in an equally intimate room, preferably with all the lights off. Like Reservoir Dogs, not everyone is who they seem, and a big part of the fun lies in the slow, methodical way this film peels away its layers. Seeing it a second time and knowing what to expect, even the throwaway scenes I once thought could have been trimmed are now fraught with tension.

Kurt and Jennifer belt-out 'White Christmas.' Bruce dies a little inside.

And again, like Reservoir Dogs, these are all really bad people, with Kurt Russell (as bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth) being the closest to anything resembling a hero, which ain’t saying much. Still, these are fascinating characters and we get to know most of them more intimately than we’re comfortable with. Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins are especially effective when playing off each other, since one is a former black officer in the Union army while the other fought for the Confederacy, and both committed terrible atrocities during the Civil War.

From a technical standpoint, The Hateful Eight is by far Tarantino’s best looking film, with stunning cinematography by Robert Richardson, who manages to render everything simultaneously epic and claustrophobic. This is also Tarantino’s first movie with an original score, provided by Ennio Morricone, who deserved his Oscar, and not just because he’s been overlooked by the Academy for decades. His music score is haunting, tense and sometimes achingly beautiful.

I suppose it's a given that the film is also bloody as hell.

While The Hateful Eight may not be top-tier Tarantino, it’s better than many directors’ magnum opuses and one which improves with repeated viewings. Considering many of his fans tend to share the same love of classic cinema, it’s sort-of a shame this Blu-Ray doesn’t include the 187 minute Roadshow version, complete with overture and intermission (perhaps that’s coming later).

BONUS FEATURES (which are surprisingly slim):

  • “Beyond the Eight: A Behind-the-Scenes Look” (a very short making-of featurette)
  • “Sam Jackson’s Guide to Glorious 70mm” (the more interesting of the two, about the efforts to make the first Ultra-Panavision film in decades)
  • DVD & Digital Copies

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...TURN OFF ALL THE LIGHTS AND BASK IN THE SLOW-BURNING MAYHEM

March 23, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: DADDY'S HOME

Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Hannibal Buress, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Wilder Vaccaro, Thomas Haden Church. Directed by Sean Anders. (2015, 95 min).
PARAMOUNT

While no classic, Will Ferrell & Mark Wahlberg's buddy-cop comedy, The Other Guys, was a pleasant surprise. The two played off each other quite well, Wahlberg in particular showing he could be pretty damn  funny when required. So it's understandable for one to expect more of the same from the two reteaming in Daddy's Home. However, this one turns out to be an unpleasant surprise.

Farrell is Brad, a nebbish sort who’s the stepfather to his wife’s two kids, who of course don’t like him at first, despite his attempts to bond with them. Just when he starts to earn their respect and trust, their devil-may-care real father, Dusty (Wahlberg), insinuates himself back into their lives. Dusty is everything Brad isn’t...an ultra-cool, Harley-riding tough guy everybody loves because he succeeds at everything he attempts. Most of the film has these two competing for the kids’ affection, with predictable results: Dusty does everything right, Brad fails miserably, making an ass of himself in the process.

"I'll make you a deal, Will...you stop bringing up The Happening, and I'll refrain from beating your ass."

An amusing film could be made from this concept, but unfortunately, Daddy’s Home aims for cheap laughs with gags that continue long after they’ve gone flat, idiotic slapstick with bad CGI and a few obnoxious (totally unbelievable) secondary characters who serve no narrative purpose. Ferrell and Wahlberg are certainly game, but this time they are betrayed by a lazy script which has them merely playing extensions of their own images. Ferrell can do the whole embarrassing buffoon schtick in his sleep, and we don’t need to see Wahlberg once-again play the coolest guy on the screen. Personally, I think it would have been far funnier if their roles were reversed.

The entire debacle is - almost - saved by the final act, which may be somewhat predictable, but at-least earns some big laughs and manages a few heartwarming moments. Until then though, Daddy’s Home is a massively disappointing reteaming of two actors who deserved better.

BONUS FEATURES:

  • Numerous featurettes, most of which have various cast and crew members either summarizing the plot or discussing how much fun it was to make (which I don't doubt).
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes
  • DVD & Digital Copies

KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEH...


March 22, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 2

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Jenna Malone. Directed by Francis Lawrence. (2015, 137 min).
LIONSGATE

Though there remains no creative justification for stretching the final novel of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy into a two-part, four hour film, Mockingjay, Part 2 does bring the entire saga to a satisfying conclusion. The final hour is more intense, violent and suspenseful than any other film in the franchise. But until then, Part 2 suffers some of the same woes as its predecessor.

From a narrative standpoint, Mockingjay was arguably the weakest of the three novels, focusing primarily on Katniss and her merry band of rebels infiltrating the capital city to kill President Snow and liberate Panem. Most of the more interesting characters and plot revelations were introduced in the first two novels. Padding Mockingjay's already thin story into two films essentially turned Part 1 into an unnecessarily long - sometimes excruciatingly dull - transitional episode.

Part 2 begins on similarly shaky ground. Picking up right where Part 1 left off (newcomers will be completely lost), it takes a long time to get going, the overall story once again stretched like taffy. But it starts gathering momentum once the siege on the capital commences, and we're once again captivated. Since most of us are already quite familiar with most of the players, the film now has the luxury of throwing them in harm's way without further character development. Hence, the final act is loaded enough action, excitement and poignancy to compensate for the meandering first half.

"I'll bet there's no Starbuck's around here."

As usual, the entire cast does right by these characters, all of which remain far more interesting and complex than those in other young-adult franchises. The overall production design is also surprisingly impressive. There are occasions where the sets of the capital are almost retro, like a 1970s-era depiction of the future. Intentional or not, it gives the film an interesting look.

Still, this is only half a movie, which remains the big elephant in the room. If you're one who resents the increasing trend of studios maximizing profits by splitting stories into two or more separate films, Mockingjay, Part 2 won't sway your opinion. What could have been a compelling and concise single film is dragged out far longer than necessary. However, Legions of Hunger Games devotees will obviously argue otherwise. For them, this epic conclusion to their beloved saga delivers as promised, especially watching it back-to-back with Part 1.

BONUS FEATURES:

  • "Pawns No More: Making The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2" - This is a lengthy, comprehensive 8 part documentary that die hard fans will surely enjoy. The best bonus feature on the disc.
  • Audio Commentary by Director Francis Lawrence & Producer Nina Jacobson.
  • "The Hunger Games: A Photographic Journey"
  • "Cinna's Sketchbook: Secrets of the Mockingjay Armor"
  • "Panem on Display: The Hunger Games Exhibition"
  • "Jet to the Set"
  • DVD & Digital Copies

KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE A HALF CAN OF FRISKIES.

March 19, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: MY SUMMER STORY

Starring Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, Kieran Culkin, Christian Culkin, Whit Hertford, Geoffrey Wigdor, Tedde Moore. Directed by Bob Clark. (1994, 85 min).
OLIVE FILMS

I'd be willing to wager that some of you had no idea this sequel to A Christmas Story even existed, and for good reason. Originally titled It Runs in the Family and thrown away by its distributor, it played in just a few theaters before vanishing into obscurity...also for good reason. Watching it today mostly serves to reminds us how great A Christmas Story really was.

But it didn't have to be this way. Had A Christmas Story been a box office hit right out of the gate (rather than the belated classic it eventually became), perhaps director Bob Clark and author/narrator Jean Shepherd could have gotten a sequel off the ground while the original cast was still roughly the same age. Instead, 11 years later, they're stuck with an almost entirely new cast playing characters made iconic by other actors, and it just doesn't work.

Born to be wild.

Everyone tries their best (though Charles Grodin is woefully miscast as the Old Man), but My Summer Story's far weaker episodic story and script doesn't allow us to warm up to them. One can't help but assume some of it would have automatically been rendered more amusing with Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon and Peter Billingsley in these situations. Worse yet, there's a completely out-of-place, mood-killing scene half-way through where the family of one of Ralphie's friends is evicted from their home. Considering lighthearted tone of the rest of the film, what exactly was Clark's justification for its inclusion?

Other than conjuring up fond memories of the original, My Summer Story doesn't really serve much of a purpose. Too little and way too late, it's no more than a historical curiosity. On the plus side, it's still infinitely better than A Christmas Story 2, which was vomited straight-to-video in 2012 (bet you didn't know that either).

BONUS FEATURES: None
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEH...

March 15, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: CONCUSSION

Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Arliss Howard. Directed by Peter Landesman. (2015, 123 min).
SONY

Considering all the public scrutiny the Galactic Empire NFL's been under lately (for various reasons), the timing of Concussion couldn't be more perfect. The long-term health effects that football has on its participants isn't anything new, but the findings of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) became headline news, despite the numerous attempts to intimidate and discredit him.

But Concussion isn't really about Omalu's discovery. Anyone with a lick of common sense can conclude that years of getting bashed in the head every Sunday is bound to loosen a few marbles, no matter what safety measures are taken. So while Omalu's findings aren't exactly a revelation, the Galactic Empire NFL's attempts to keep him quiet might come as a surprise to many viewers. Then again, maybe not. It isn't as though the league has publicly done a bang-up job dealing with other recent controversies.

"Find Waldo yet?"

The NFL is definitely the evil empire in this film, with Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson) as its Sith Lord. The problem is we kind-of already suspected as much, meaning Concussion really doesn't offer any surprises. Omalu's story is an interesting one, though maybe better suited for an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary than a dramatic film. Still, the performances are worth watching. Some folks felt Will Smith was snubbed at this year's Academy Awards, and while I personally don't think he deserved an Oscar nomination, this is certainly one of his best roles.

In the end, Concussion is reasonably entertaining (though a tad overlong). It's a film we enjoy in the moment, briefly reminded that brain trauma is a serious issue facing professional athletes before we move on to other things which have a more immediate impact on our own lives. Nothing really resonates afterwards because most of us with common sense already knew all this.

BONUS FEATURES:
Featurettes: "Crafting Concussion"; "Inside the True Story"
Audio Commentary by director Peter Landesman
Deleted Scenes
Digital Copy
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW


INDEPENDENCE DAY - 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION



HAS IT REALLY BEEN 20 YEARS?

Experience the original OSCAR-Winning sci-fi epic that launched a new era in blockbuster filmmaking. Director Roland Emmerich, producer Dean Devlin and an all-star cast including Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman join forces to deliver the ultimate encounter between powerful aliens and the human race. When massive spaceships appear in Earth’s skies and blast destructive beams of fire down on cities all over the planet, a determined band of survivors must unite for one last strike against the invaders before it’s the end of mankind.

 Special Features

Attacker Edition Gift Set Blu-ray™

  • Newly Restored Extended and Original Theatrical Cuts
  • All-new 30-Minute Documentary – Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward
  • Limited Edition Alien Ship Replica
  • Collectible Booklet
  • Includes Two Blu-rayTM discs and Digital HD
Blu-ray™
  • Newly Restored Extended and Original Theatrical Cuts
  • All-new 30-Minute Documentary – Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward
  • Includes Two Blu-rayTM discs and Digital HD
DVD
  • Newly Restored Theatrical Cut
  • Includes Digital HD
Digital HD
  • First time Digital HD Extras Including Newly Restored Extended Cut
  • All-new 30-Minute Documentary – Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward
 
Sneak Peak of the all new documentary, Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward:

March 12, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE BIG SHORT

Starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo. Directed by Adam McKay. (2015, 130 min).
PARAMOUNT

While I remember the financial bubble bursting in 2008, causing a global crisis, I never gave much thought about what actually triggered it. Sure, I heard lots of soundbites tossed around about the housing market and bank screw-ups, but for the most part, the whole thing was simply too complex and confusing for my feeble mind to grasp. Kind of like Algebra when I was in high school.

But I did have one high school teacher, Mr. Oldham, who was able to explain Algebra in a way I could actually understand (at least long enough for me to graduate). The Big Short is the cinematic version of Mr. Oldham: The reasons for the financial crash are indeed complex, yet made crystal clear in the most entertaining way possible. This film is, by turns, funny, dramatic, suspenseful, infuriating...even a quite scary at times.

Taking place mostly during the months leading up to the crash, nobody appears to suspect the end of the decades-long mortgage boom (through which the biggest banks in the world have reaped billions) is about to come to a devastating end. A few intuitive guys, however, discover the housing market is actually wildly unstable due to years of writing high-risk subprime loans (which become difficult for borrowers to pay back). One of the first to predict the inevitable crash is Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an eccentric, heavy metal-loving fund manager who bets against the housing market with his investors' money. Meanwhile, self-serving bond salesman Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) convinces FrontPoint Capital, headed by Mark Baum (Steve Carell), to invest in the same credit default swap. Similarly, two young Wall Street hopefuls (John Magaro & Finn Wittrock) come across Vennett's proposal (which was rejected by another bank). With the reluctant help of their cynical, retired mentor, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), they decide to take the same risk in the hopes of making millions.

This actually plays a lot better than it sounds. I've never read the book on which it's based, but despite the potentially dry, dull and confusing subject matter, The Big Short is similar in pace, tone and structure to Goodfellas, and just as morbidly compelling. The players involved are fascinating characters. None are exactly heroes (though the brash, brazen Baum actually comes close), but we root for them because, even though some of them are motivated by personal gain, the practices of the banks they're squaring-off against are so greedy, short-sighted and downright illegal that we're actually rooting for the whole system to come crashing down.

"Vennett stole the cookies from the coo-kie jar."

While the film is given a considerable boost by performances from its ensemble cast (there's no single main character), director/co-writer Adam McKay deserves a huge share of the credit. The screenplay (which won a well-deserved Oscar) is sharp, knowing and often quite funny. Despite running 130 minutes, McKay makes every scene count and maintains our interest even during the most information-heavy scenes. There are even moments that are almost apocalyptic in tone, where we feel the fate of the world is at stake. What's truly scary is the fact that the film ends with an ominous reminder that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And remember...this is coming from the guy most famous for directing Anchorman and Talladega Nights. Who knew?

The Big Short earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and a strong argument could be made that it should have won. Unlike some of the others which shared the nomination this year, it joins The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road as one most-worth revisiting again and again. The Big Short has a good shot at becoming a classic of this era.

BONUS FEATURES:

  • Featurettes: "In the Trenches: Casting"; "The Big Leap: Adam McKay"; "Unlikely Heroes: The Characters of The Big Short"; "The House of Cards: The Rise of the Fall"; "Getting Real: Recreating an Era"
  • Deleted Scenes
  • DVD & Digital Copies

KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEE-OW! BETTER THAN A FRESH CAN OF TUNA!

March 11, 2016

Rest in Peace, Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson (1944-2016)

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - The Story Awakens at SXSW with The First Order Landing ­Images

In celebration of the documentary “Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey” premiering at SXSW Film Festival, The First Order TIE Fighter and stormtroopers landed in Austin today.  stormtroopers landed in Austin today.  The feature-length documentary, which is an in-depth bonus feature on the upcoming Digital HD and Blu-ray Combo Pack debuts at the Paramount Theatre on March 14th in Austin, Texas.  The TIE Fighter will be stationed at South Bites at SXSW throughout the weekend for festival goers to experience the landing!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is coming home on Digital HD April 1 and is available on iTunes and other digital providers for pre-order now. Fans can also explore all things Star Wars at iTunes.com/Starwars.  It comes home on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD on April 5.


March 8, 2016

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2 - Gallery & Deleted Scene

 ...

In celebration of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 arriving Today on Digital HD 3/8 and on Blu-ray Combo Pack 3/22 as well as The Hunger Games Complete 4-Film Collection arriving for the first time ever on the same dates respectively we have this awesome photo gallery with a Deleted scene clip that highlights Katniss Everdeen's (played by Jennifer Lawrence) character as a strong kickass female heroine! Her strong female character ignites women empowerment as a heroine survivor and fighter in the critically acclaimed series based on Suzanne Collins' best selling trilogy. 

This is actually the first film with a female lead to top the annual box office since 1973 and the The Hunger Games franchise earned over $2.9 billion at the box office worldwide.

March 2, 2016

DVD Review: LEGO STAR WARS: DROID TALES

Starring the voices of Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Eric Bauza, Michael Daingerfield, Michael Donovan, Heather Doerksen, Tom Kane, Trevor Devall, Matt Sloan. Various directors. (2015, 115 min).
DISNEY

The five-episode miniseries, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales is an affectionate retelling/parody of the first six Star Wars films. I've personally never bothered watching any previous Lego programs or DVDs, but if they're equally loaded with the same irreverent humor, I've got some catching up to do because this is pretty funny stuff.

Taking place immediately after events of Return of the Jedi, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels himself) regales the rebel victors by retelling the entire saga from his point of view. The results are often hilarious, especially the first few episodes which have a lot of fun at the expense of George Lucas’ lamentable prequel trilogy. Legions of fans who thought those films were hampered by too much complicated plot (and hate Jar Jar Binks) will be laughing their butts off. The original trilogy gets a good ribbing as well, but since there is arguably less to make fun of, those segments, while still highly amusing, aren’t quite as uproarious.

A less wooden performance than Hayden Christensen's.

Overall, the dialogue is consistently clever and the animation is decent, as is the voice work. In addition to Daniels, Billy Dee Williams returns to reprise his role as Lando Calrissian. This disc is a must-own for Star Wars fans, and to be honest, it’s actually a lot more entertaining than Lucas’ own joyless prequel trilogy.

BONUS FEATURES: Lego Star Wars Trading Cards

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