August 30, 2016

Rest in Peace, Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder (1933-2016)

August 29, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: CELL

John Cusack, Samuel L .Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stacy Keach, Wilbur Fitzgerald, Alex ter Avest. Directed by Tod Williams. (2016, 98 min).
LIONSGATE

You do realize the zombie apocalypse has already begun, don't you? For all I know, you may be one of them.

I'm the proud non-owner of a cell phone. I used to have one, an old fashioned flip phone that was a Christmas gift. I think I used it three or four times during the first few months before retiring it to my office drawer, where it sat dormant for several years. As someone who’s simply not important enough to be available 24/7 (none of us are), I’ve just never needed one. I still don’t.

While preparing to move not too long ago, we decided to purge much of the crap we'd collected over time, either donating it to Goodwill, recycling it or throwing it away. My phone ended up in one of those purge piles. My two daughters were somewhat amused when they saw this ancient artifact, which required the supreme physical effort of flipping it open and actually punching in a phone number. You couldn't use it to text or send emojis in lieu of actual words and sentences. Life was hell back in them olden days.

To this day, I refuse to carry a cell phone, arguably the worst thing to violate society since Ann Coulter. That probably makes me sound like a cranky old curmudgeon who resents and fears advancing technology. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I depend on my computer, personally and professionally, on a daily basis. I love playing games and socializing on Twitter or Facebook with my iPad. I’m able to do 80% of all my holiday shopping in less time than takes for me to find a parking space at the mall. I haven’t written a physical check in over a decade because I pay my bills online. And like every other red blooded American male, I look forward to the day Debbie Does Dallas is adapted into a virtual reality game. As sometime who vaguely recalls the dark days before there was a microwave oven in every home, it’s still rather amazing that we can enjoy a piping hot burrito in only a minute or two (and still complain about how long it takes). The ways modern technology has enriched our lives is nearly boundless (though it has taken some of the fun out of buying records).

Cell phones, though? They haven’t enriched our lives in any meaningful way. They haven’t advanced us as a species or rendered us more intelligent. What they have done is alter our behavior. Computers and tablets are wonderful, but still essentially luxuries we could conceivably survive without. However, we’ve made cell phones extensions of ourselves like vital appendages. Many people feel as naked and helpless without one as they would leaving the house without pants. Cell phones have turned each of us into our own tiny island, oblivious to any part of the world that isn’t presented as text or a happy-faced turd. In public places where people congregate, you see legions of the Cellular Dead shuffle about like zombies in the Monroeville Mall as they tap, tweet and live life through a 3x5 screen.

"Hey, I warned them to stay off my lawn."

Cell phones are also responsible for more deaths than any other device not specifically built for the purpose of killing people. We’re so entranced by their power that we’ve walked off cliffs, stepped in front of trains and plowed into pedestrians during morning commutes. People have died in house fires, drowned in rivers and been crushed in trash compactors trying to rescue their phones. Wikipedia even has an entire page listing notable selfie-related deaths since 2013 (it numbers in the hundreds). Since humans have advanced to the point where we no longer have natural enemies and are able to cure once-fatal diseases with a quick inoculation, perhaps the cell phone is God’s last-ditch attempt at culling the herd.

But there's a more horrific depiction of the current zombie apocalypse brought on by the Cellular Dead. The only difference is we don’t return from the grave to feast on the living (though we certainly kill a shitload of 'em). That’s the basic concept of Cell, based on one of Stephen King’s better recent novels.

The film begins like gangbusters. John Cusack is Clay, a comic book artist arriving at an airport. During the opening credits, nearly everyone around him is talking, texting or taking selfies. Like zombies, they shuffle about the terminal by the thousands, heads down and oblivious of others, all completely absorbed in their own activity (like a roomful of toddlers engaged in parallel play). The only reason Clay himself isn’t among them is because his battery is dead. Then a malevolent cell phone signal suddenly turns everyone using one into violent maniacs. This long, bloody sequence is brutal and harrowing. It’s also how I imagine our population would really react if their precious phones were simultaneously taken away. Whether intentional or not, the fact this signal turns nearly everybody into monsters sends a strong message of how prolifically cell phones have insinuated themselves in our daily lives.

Clay manages to escape the mayhem, hooking up with Tom (Samuel L. Jackson), a former soldier turned subway engineer. Along with a few others (some who live, some who die), Clay heads off to try and save his son, whom he’s convinced has survived unaffected (though I'm not sure why). Meanwhile, those affected by the signal (“phoners”) begin to evolve. No longer mindlessly homicidal, they become something resembling Romeroesque zombies (you know...like real cell phone junkies look). They gather and travel en masse, behaving as a collective mind as if telepathically driven by some unknown force (though they’ll still occasionally pause their journey to slaughter any unaffected individual they run into).

"Say 'what' again! I dare you, I double dare you, motherf**ker!"

The first thirty minutes of Cell are so intense that it’s a shame the meandering middle act plays like one of those Walking Dead episodes where the cast literally spends the entire episode walking. Secondary characters arrive often, only to die long before we learn much about them, though Stacy Keach appears in a memorable scene on a college campus, where the group douses thousands of sleeping phoners in gasoline before torching them to death. In addition, there are some impressive scenes showing the massive, migrating zombie hordes which remind me of every airport terminal I’ve ever visited.

A lot of wholesale changes have been made to the original story, which is surprising since King co-wrote the screenplay. Compared to the awesomely apocalyptic tone of the novel, the film looks and feels smaller, less ominous, sometimes a bit dumber. However, one significant improvement is the ending. As much as I enjoy King’s work, his climaxes are sometimes the weakest aspects of his novels. For Cell, he’s created a new ending that is as perplexing as it is disturbing. Its sheer ambiguity may frustrate some viewers, but I found it wonderfully bleak.

Cell isn’t a great movie, though certainly undeserving of its current 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Like most films based on King’s work, it lacks the heart and substance that make his best books such page turners, but has some fleeting moments where the master’s touch is apparent. While not particularly memorable overall, Cell’s best sequences (the opening and ending in particular) make it worth checking out.

EXTRA KIBBLES:
Featurette: "The Cell and Back: The Making of the Film"
Audio Commentary
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

August 28, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: MONEY MONSTER

Starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlos Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito. Directed by Jodie Foster. (2016, 99 min).
SONY

I kind of a sucker for hostage dramas, my personal favorite being 1974's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and have seen so many that they can be pretty much be broken down into three subgenres:

  1. Those where our hero or heroes must match wits with one or more cold-blooded, ruthless killers (Pelham, Die Hard).
  2. Those where we may not necessarily condone the hostage-taker's actions, but we learn enough about them to at-least understand his/her desperation...maybe even empathize with them a little bit (Dog Day Afternoon, Fargo).
  3. Those where it's eventually revealed that the true villain isn't hostage-taker at all (John Q, The Negotiator). 

Jodie Foster's fourth film as a director, Money Monster, definitely falls under the third category, which isn't really a spoiler since the trailers practically give that away. Like Dog Day Afternoon, it's a semi-satirical thriller. Like John Q, it is a product of these times. But instead of a desperate father taking-on an evil HMO to save his son, Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell) sneaks onto the set of a financial news program, "Money Monster," and holds its flamboyant host hostage on live television. Like thousands of others, Kyle was encouraged by host Lee Gates (George Clooney) to invest heavily in IBIS, a company whose stock value he predicted would go through the roof.

Instead, through an apparent "glitch," its value plummets overnight, losing shareholders over $800 million, including Kyle, who invested everything he had. He doesn't believe the glitch story and demands to know the real reason for the crash from Walt Camby (Dominic West), IBIS' CEO, who's conveniently unavailable at the time. He also instructs the show's director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to stay on the air until he gets answers, because it isn't simply about his own money. Kyle wants the world to know what's really going on with a coporation they trusted.

"Wrong room, buddy! Bill O'Reilly's in the studio down the hall!"

It's slowly revealed that Kyle may actually be right (though we're pretty certain of that the entire time); IBIS' initial explanation of an algorithm glitch is technically impossible, meaning someone deliberately sabotaged IBIS' stock value for their own personal gain. Eventually, Gates and Fenn are convinced as well, turning Money Monster into a detective story while the hostage crisis unfolds on TV.

While there are some lapses in plausibility that are inherently necessary for stories like this to unfold, Money Monster is consistently exciting, suspenseful and sometimes darkly humorous. Clooney is especially good as Gates, who's initially as self-centered as we suspect most TV personalities are, but experiences major epiphanies throughout this ordeal, about himself and the nature of his profession. O'Donnell is also compelling as Kyle. He's no Einstein, having made many poor decisions in the past, and doesn't appear to have thought this insane plan through too thoroughly either. But Kyle isn't a bad person; he's just consumed by hopelessness, making him easy to identify with. After all, how many of us have, at one time or another, had our lives irreversibly altered by events beyond our control?

By far Foster's best film as a director, Money Monster is also reminder of how little most of us actually know about the inner workings of Wall Street...what makes some stocks go up while others plummet, sometimes overnight. We seldom question the reasons why, simply trusting the explanations given to us by those who presumably know what they're doing with our money.

EXTRA KIBBLES:
Featurettes: "George Clooney: The Money Man"; "Inside the Pressure Cooker" (making of documentary); "Analysis of a Scene: The Showdown" (a break-down of the sequence shot on Wall Street itself); "Dan the Automator"
Music Video: "What Makes the World Go 'Round (Money!)"
Deleted Scenes
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

August 26, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: HARD TARGET 2

Starring Scott Adkins, Robert Knepper, Rhona Mitra, Temuera Morrison, Ann Truong, Adam Saunders, Jamie Timony, Peter Hardy, Sean Keenan, Troy Honeysett. Directed by Roel Reine. (2016, 104 min).
UNIVERSAL

1993's Hard Target was a decent if unremarkable action movie (meaning it's Jean-Claude Van Damme's magnum opus). Even though it introduced American audiences to director John Woo's unique style, is it really such a fondly remembered brand name to inspire an in-name-only sequel 23 years later? To put that in perspective, only 19 years passed between the third and forth Indiana Jones films, and at least Spielberg and Ford came back for that one.

But here we are: Hard Target 2, without Woo or Van Damme (and his awesome mullet). The only connection to the original is its title. This could just as easily have been called Surviving the Game 2 (a similar-plotted 1994 film starring Ice-T), because this and countless other films have been liberally ripping off Richard Connell's story, "The Most Dangerous Game" for nearly a century.

For this go-around, we have Scott Adkins as Baylor, a disgraced and depressed former fighter who once beat his buddy to death in the ring. He now scratches out a meager living fighting in Asia. Then a wealthy sportsman, Aldrich (Robert Knepper), offers him a million dollars in rubies for one last contest. What Aldrich fails to mention is Baylor must escape through miles of jungle and reach the Thailand border while being hunted by several armed-to-the-teeth men (and one woman) who’ve paid Aldrich for the privilege. From here, the usual mayhem ensues...cat-the-mouse chases, gunplay, explosions, knife fights and hand-to-hand combat. And sorry, no special ribbon for correctly predicting who emerges on top.

Two examples of really bad aim.

Adkins is no Daniel Day Lewis, but you knew that already. Still, he flexes, grimaces and cracks bones as efficiently as Van Damme ever did. And kudos to Robert Knepper, who brings more to the table than the movie deserves with some amusing scenery chewing. As for Rhona Mitra, strapped in leather like Catwoman's evil twin, she has just one job: to look hot & sultry with a crossbow, which she does quite well.

Director Roel Reine is no stranger to budget-conscious, direct-to-video action sequels (The Marine 2, 12 Rounds 2, The Condemned 2, Death Race 2 & 3). Nor is Adkins, for that matter. But both are competent enough to make Hard Target 2 a fairly fun bit of fiery fluff. While utterly predictable at every turn, loaded with implausibilities and a few gaping plot holes, at least it isn’t boring.

EXTRA KIBBLES:
4 Making-of Featurettes: "A fighting Chance: Behind the Scenes"; "Into the Jungle: On Location"; "Through the Lens"; "Thrill of the Hunt" (these run about 5-10 minutes each)
Deleted Scenes
DVD & Digital Copies
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

Blu-Ray Review: EQUALS

Starring Nicholas Hoult, Kristen Stewart, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Toby Huss, David Selby. Directed by Drake Doremus. (101 min, 2016).
LIONSGATE

The dystopia of Equals depicts a stark, sterile world whose inhabitants are prohibited from displaying any kind of emotion or affection. In other words, this is the kind of role Kristen Stewart was born to play.

That bit of snarkiness aside, the concept of the film is highly derivative of THX-1138 and 1984, while the tone and plot might remind some sci-fi fans of Gattaca and Logan's Run. Though certainly ambitious, Equals does not equal the films it's obviously inspired by, playing more like an homage than a springboard to jump into a new direction. We've seen this all before; two people finding love in a world where it is forbidden. In this case, it's between to co-workers, Silas (Nicholas Holt) and Nia (Stewart).
Kristen Stewart's happy face.

One interesting spin on the material is how this society depicts emotion and affection as a debilitating disease known as Switched on Syndrome. Like cancer, it comes in stages and doesn't appear to be curable, though treatments can slow the process. Still, most folks diagnosed with SOS either end up committing suicide or incarcerated in The Den (a prison-like asylum which is apparently worse than death).

After Silas is diagnosed with Stage 1, he becomes a pariah at work, though he notices subtle symptoms of SOS in Nia, who's been hiding her condition. Of course, the two end up falling in love, and their only course of action is to escape the city. Their plans go awry when Nia receives a conception summons (kind-of like coital jury duty), where they discover she's already pregnant and commit her to The Den. While Silas and a small group of others suffering from SOS (who obviously don't consider it a disease) try to break her out, an actual cure for SOS is discovered and everyone who's been diagnosed is required to get inoculated immediately.
Kristen Stewart's angry face.


Okay, so it's not the most original idea on Earth, which I don't begrudge. After all, Speed was simply Die Hard on a bus. However, this is the kind of stuff The Twilight Zone used to effortlessly pull-off in 25 minutes. Equals often moves at a snail's pace and is far more in love with its beautifully bleak setting (which is admittedly impressive) than its static characters. Spending 101 minutes with people nearly devoid of any expression or emotion becomes an endurance test. It's like dating someone who's drop-dead gorgeous, but they end up being slightly more fun than a tax audit.

That's not to say the performances aren't any good. Holt is actually very impressive in the ways he deals with his affliction while remaining outwardly normal. Believe it or not, he's actually better at appearing completely emotionless than Stewart (who's practically made a career out of it). Guy Pearce is also quite good in the few scenes he appears in.

Equals is well made for what it is, and it's obvious a lot of care was put into its concept, look and tone. But earnestness can only carry a film so far, and this one is just not compelling enough to sustain its ideas for very long. It also blows the obvious opportunity for a darkly ironic conclusion -  which might have even rescued the entire movie - with an out-of-place coda that negates the somber mood it worked so hard to establish.

EXTRA KIBBLES:
Featurettes: "Switched On"; "The Collective"; "Utopia" (all are interesting behind-the-scenes features, the last one, covering the production design, being the longest).
Audio Commentare by Director Drake Doremus, Cinematographer John Guleserian and Editor Jonathan Alberts.
Digital Copy
KITTY CONSENSUS:
MEH...PRETTY TO LOOK AT, BUT YOU'VE SEEN IT ALL BEFORE

August 24, 2016

Blu-Ray News: ALIENS: 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION Lands on Blu-Ray & Digital HD September 13

(August 24, 2016) - Celebrate three decades of pulse-pounding action and bone-chilling suspense with this Aliens 30th Anniversary Limited-Edition Set that features both the Theatrical and Special Edition versions of the film on Blu-ray™, as well as audio commentary, deleted and extended scenes and more. This must-have set also includes collectible art cards, and a book featuring art from the Dark Horse Comics Aliens series with an all-new cover created exclusively for this 30th Anniversary Edition. The Blu-ray and Digital HD release will include an all-new, documentary titled “The Inspiration and Design of Aliens,” which delves into the origins of the film.

James Cameron directed this critically acclaimed sequel starring Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, the sole survivor of the Nostromo’s deadly encounter with the monstrous Alien. After drifting through space in hypersleep for 57 years, Ripley returns to Earth, haunted by nightmares of the past. Although her story is initially met with disbelief, she agrees to accompany a team of Colonial Marines back to LV-426...and this time 
it’s war!


ALIENS: THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION Blu-ray™ & Digital HD Special Features Include:
  • NEW – The Inspiration and Design of Aliens featurette
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • Superior Firepower: Making Aliens
  • Superior Firepower: Making Aliens Enhancement
  • Pre-Production Galleries
    • The Art of Aliens
      • Gateway Station and Colony
      • Vehicles and Weapons
      • Aliens
    • Casting
      • Cast Portrait Gallery
  • Deleted Scene Montage

Blu-Ray Review: THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

Starring Neel Seethi, the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling. Directed by Jon Favreau. (2016, 106 min).
WALT DISNEY

Confession time, folks. I always hated Disney’s 1967 version of The Jungle Book. Yes, I know it’s fondly remembered by millions who loved it as kids, but that’s exactly the problem with it. Compared with such early masterpieces as Bambi, Dumbo or Pinocchio (which still hold up today), The Jungle Book looks and feels like a dated, unambitious kiddie film. For me, that movie heralded the Disney’s sad descent into animated mediocrity, where they dwelled in darkness for the next two decades until The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast led them back into the light.

When Disney began raiding their vaults to produce live-action versions of beloved classics, I was dubious at first, especially since Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was an utterly unnecessary (and joyless) remake of one of my favorites. However, Cinderella turned out to be a wonderful surprise considering I didn’t care for the original all that much. I’ve always believed that if you’re going to remake a film, pick one that wasn’t all that great to begin with. The Jungle Book fit that bill perfectly, though I didn’t think even the mighty Disney had a hope in hell of pulling it off. Live action movies with talking animals almost always suck.

Not this time. As directed by Jon Favreau, this version The Jungle Book outclasses the original in every way possible, while still essentially staying true to the story. It’s epic in scope and technically brilliant, the kind of movie that makes you wish you owned a high-def TV the size of a billboard. With the exception of Mowgli (played by Neel Seethi), nearly everything else (including the jungle setting and legions of animals) is either CGI or accomplished through motion-capture, all of it seamless and completely convincing. If nothing else, it would be a crime if this film weren’t at-least nominated for a visual effects Oscar.

All of the most beloved characters from the original return, but instead of jive-talking bears and scat-singing monkeys, a host of terrific actors lend their voices to give actual depth to these characters. We never feel like Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray or Idris Elba simply showed up to read their lines. They disappear into their characters the way all great actors do. The only voice that remotely feels like stunt casting is Christopher Walken as King Louie, though the decision to depict the character like a mafia kingpin is admittedly very clever.

"Please, Mowgli...not in front of the lions."

While the overall tone of The Jungle Book is more serious and darker than the original, there’s still plenty of room for amusing moments, as well as the two best-remembered musical numbers, “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” (a sultry version of “Trust in Me” is also included during the end credits).

Of course, Disney's not done yet. But rather than doing live-action versions of undisputed classics (like the upcoming Beauty and the Beast), why not remake more of those which fell short of perfection the first time around? By most recent accounts, they've even managed to rework one of their worst films of the 70s (Pete's Dragon) into something magical. So, if any head-honchos at Disney are taking requests, how about giving The Fox and the Hound a similar upgrade? Just think of the increase in tissue sales alone.

This version of The Jungle Book makes the original look like the work of Hanna-Barbara. Even if you're too cynical to be sucked into the story or charmed by these reinterpreted characters, the incredible visuals alone are worth the watching again and again...on the biggest screen possible.

EXTRA KIBBLES:
Featurettes: “The Jungle Book Reimagined” (a pretty amazing look at how this film was made); “I Am Mowgli”; “King Louie: Layer by Layer” (a detailed look at how this classic sequence from the original was reimagined)
Audio Commentary by Director Jon Favreau
DVD & Digital Copies
KITTY CONSENSUS:
OH, OOBEE DOO!

August 22, 2016

Book Review: SATANIC PANIC: POP-CULTURAL PARANOIA IN THE 1980s

Edited by Kier-La Janisse & Paul Corupe (2016, 368 pages)
FAB PRESS

I remember perusing my local record store in the early 80s and coming across an album by the band, Venom (oft-mentioned in this book). The cover, band photo and lurid song titles were terrifying. These guys were openly declaring their allegiance to Satan! Still, I was morbidly intrigued enough to buy it, and after a single spin on my turntable, I was convinced I was going to Hell just for listening to it.

Ah, the 80s, when the biggest issue facing our troubled youth was the threat of eternal damnation. Satan was everywhere...in our music, our cartoons, our board games, our movies. The media had the evidence to prove it, of course...children abducted for satanic torture, blood-drinking rituals, dumb-asses killing themselves playing Dungeons & Dragons, that nutty, fun-loving LaVey family and just about every heavy metal band that was worth listening to. Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s is a collection of essays about our mostly media-driven obsession with the Ol' Scratch back in the day, from murderers who supposedly killed in the name of Satan to watchdogs looking for the Anti-Christ in He-Man cartoons to Geraldo Rivera’s gloriously awful TV special exposing an underground Satanist culture.

While some of this is actually quite funny, the book doesn’t simply exist to mock zealots caught-up in satanic panic. Some of it is actually a bit disturbing, not just the murderers, but the knowledge that there were (and probably still are) legions of people who concurred with the findings of ‘experts’ who gained brief fame researching this co-called phenomenon. Particularly interesting are the chapters which cover how various psychologists, authors, parents and law enforcement figures preyed on public fear, manipulating truly tragic events (or sometimes entirely fabricating them) for either financial gain or to boost their public profiles. There’s also a chapter on the ever-amusing Jack Chick, a comic artist who gained some notoriety by publishing all those cheap fire-and-brimstone comics you used to find laying around bus stops and phone booths. Of course, no book like this would be complete without sections on heavy metal, the moral majority’s number one scapegoat until rap music came along.

And pity poor Venom, who turned out not to be the bogeyman Bible-thumpers feared, just three English blokes with a silly gimmick to sell records, and had no idea they were even on the PMRC’s notorious “Filthy Fifteen” list until years later. At least they appear to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Speaking of which, a healthy sense of humor helps while reading Satanic Panic, even during the more disturbing sections. We can also draw comfort in the knowledge we’ve proved beyond such trivialities and have new bogeymen (both real and imagined) to concern ourselves with now.

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD OL' SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS
(though, of course, you'll go to Hell for reading it)

DVD News: 50 YEARS OF STAR TREK Documentary Special Arrives on DVD and Digital HD on November 1st

(August, 22, 2016) Celebrating five decades of the worldwide phenomenon, 50 Years of Star Trek, arrives on DVD (plus Digital) and Digital HD November 1 from Lionsgate. This feature-length special goes behind the scenes of the classic franchise with cast and crew interviews, rare archival footage, and the last full interview filmed with the unforgettable Leonard Nimoy, known for his treasured role as Spock. A must-see for fans of the TV shows, movies, books, and games alike, the 50 Years of Star Trek DVD will be available for the suggested retail price of $14.98.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS
America has been fascinated by Star Trek since it first aired in September 1966. 50 Years of Star Trek celebrates the franchise’s 50th anniversary through interviews with cast and crewmembers from every television series and original films.

Blu-Ray News: INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE Landing on Digital HD Sept. 27 and on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD & DVD Oct. 18

Action-Packed Sequel Loaded with Special Features Including Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, Commentary, Making-Of Documentary and More!

(August, 22, 2016) Twenty years after mysterious aliens nearly wiped out humankind, they’re back with a vengeance in this explosive sequel to the original blockbuster hit, INDEPENDENCE DAY! Using recovered alien technology, the nations of Earth developed a vast defense program to protect the planet, led by Jeff Goldblum, returning as brilliant scientist David Levinson. But nothing could prepare us for a new invasion of unprecedented scale—and only the ingenuity of a few brave men and women can save our world from extinction. Co-starring Liam Hemsworth and Jesse T. Usher alongside returning fan favorites Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE is an action-packed thrill ride from start to finish! 

Amazing special features include eight deleted scenes, a featurette on “The War of 1996,” the morning show parody “It’s Early, ABQ” featuring Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and Liam Hemsworth, a gag reel, audio commentary from Roland Emmerich, the documentary “Another Day: The Making of Independence Day: Resurgence and more.

Independence Day: Resurgence Special Features (Available on All Formats)

  • Eight Deleted Scenes with Audio Commentary by Roland Emmerich
  • The War of 1996
  • It’s Early, ABQ!
  • Another Day: The Making of Independence Day: Resurgence (available as Digital HD Extra on DVD only)
  • Gag Reel
  • Audio Commentary by Roland Emmerich
  • Concept Art
  • Theatrical Trailers and TV Spot

August 20, 2016

Movie News: STAND BY ME Turns 30.

Has it been that long already? Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday this little film came along to charm damn nearly everyone who saw it. Despite its morbid premise ( a trek to see a dead body), it’s a surprising, funny and bittersweet journey about the last chapter in four young boys' lives before taking those first steps into a larger, less innocent world.

Not only Rob Reiner’s crowning achievement as a director, Stand by Me made stars out of Keifer Sutherland, River Phoenix (RIP), Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell. Considering author Stephen King’s reputation, it’s ironic that Stand by Me (along with The Shawshank Redemption) remains one of the best, most timeless adaptations of his work. The film is still widely available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital, as fresh, funny and poignant as it was 30 years ago.


August 19, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Nick Frost, Sam Clafin, Rob Brydon. Narrated by Liam Neeson. Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. (2016, 114/120 min).
UNIVERSAL

Snow White and the Huntsman may have been successful, but I've personally never met anyone who was blown away by it. As generic CGI-driven fantasy epics go, it was passable entertainment. One of it’s definite bright spots, though, was Charlize Theron’s scenery-chewing turn as Ravenna, Snow White’s wicked stepmother. She easily stole the entire film right from under Kristen Stewart’s nose. That probably wasn’t too difficult, since Stewart's only expression appears to be that of a snotty high schooler who's offended whenever anyone over 30 speaks to her.

Speaking of Stewart, other than a brief piece of archive footage, she’s nowhere to be found in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a prequel/sequel that few were likely expecting or even asking for. Her absence is inconsequential, since this one borrows more from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen than Snow White. Chris Hemsworth and Theron are back though, along with the welcome additions of Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain in pivotal roles.

Blunt is Freya, the younger sister of newly-crowned Queen Ravenna. But unlike Ravenna, she does not yet possess any special powers, at least until rage over her murdered son unleashes her ability to turn anything into ice. Seven years later (and after the events in the first film), Freya is now The Ice Queen, stealing other people’s children to raise as warriors to strengthen her reign. Two of them, Eric and Sara (Hemsworth & Chastain), grow up to become her best fighters. They also make the mistake of falling in love, forbidden in Freya’s kingdom. Of course, they are discovered, and their punishment is worse than the time my parents once caught me with a girl in my room.

Ravenna encourages Freya to 'Let it Go'."

After seeing Sara die, Eric manages to escape. Meanwhile, Snow White’s magic mirror goes missing and her husband, King William, wants Eric to locate it. Sara, apparently not-so-dead after all, rescues Eric from Freya’s army, but she’s still pissed because she thinks Eric simply ran away. Later, Freya ends up with the mirror, and after asking the $64,000 question, Ravenna emerges from it, also not-so-dead. If fact, she now wants to use Freya to regain her rule over the kingdom.

The story lends itself to a few pretty decent action scenes, aided by serviceable CGI that might have been mind-blowing 15 years ago. Much like the first film, The Huntsman is mildly entertaining with some lulls during the second act. In the end, though, the performances render this an improvement over Snow White. Blunt, Chastain and, of course, Theron manage to rise above the familiar plot and hyperactive visuals to give their characters much-needed dramatic weight. Hemsworth delivers his usual workmanlike performance, just enough let us know we’re supposed to be rooting for him.

Considering Snow White and the Huntsman wasn’t exactly screaming for a sequel, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a serviceable follow-up, and Theron’s clearly having fun revisiting her nasty side. It isn’t gonna make anyone forget The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (in fact, you might have trouble recalling much of this one within a few hours). But if you enjoyed the first, more of the same is a decent way to kill a dull evening.

EXTRA KIBBLES:
Theatrical and Extended Versions (the extended cut is 6 minutes longer and doesn’t really add anything revelatory)
Featurettes: “Dressed to Kill”; “Love Conquers All” (behind the scenes); “Two Queens & Two Warriors”; “Meet the Dwarfs”; “Magic All Around” (visual effects)
Gag Reel
Audio Commentary by the Director
Deleted Scenes
DVD & Digital Copies
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

August 18, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: ASH VS. EVIL DEAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

Starring Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Jill Marie Jones, Lucy Lawless. Various directors (including Sam Raimi). (2015, 294 min).
ANCHOR BAY

It does my heart good to see that after all this time, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell can comfortably slip back into the shoes which made them household names (to horror fans anyway) without missing a beat. While the original Evil Dead trilogy are cult classics, it’s difficult to imagine the basic premise lending itself well to a weekly series. Yet, Raimi and company manage to make it work.

Best of all, Ash vs. Evil Dead is not a reboot, remake or reimagining. For all intents and purposes, this is Evil Dead 4, a five-hour sequel with everything that endeared us to the original franchise in the first place...insane camerawork, over-the-top blood & gore, goofy humor, silly one-liners, Bruce's chin, that old puke-colored Delta 88, chainsaws, boomsticks, severed hands and, of course, legions of Deadites. Ash (Campbell) is back, 30 years older, of course, but still as heroic (and slightly stupid) as ever. He’s been keeping the Necronomicon in his trailer home for years while working as a stockboy. After drunkenly reading a passage from the book to impress a date, he releases the undead yet again and is forced break out the ol’ boomstick & chainsaw to fight them. Aided by two young co-workers and a cop (who initially believes Ash is the one who killed her partner), Ash leads a road trip back to the cabin from the original film to undo what he’s unleashed on the world. On their trail is Ruby (Lucy Lawless), who claims to be the daughter of the professor who found and translated the Necronomicon in the first place.

One of the funnier aspects of the series is that, even though Ash is the hero of the story, he‘s constantly being reminded that most of this is actually all his fault. As Ash, Campbell remains comically self-centered & stubborn (he hasn’t matured a whit in 30 years), though the supporting cast all have their amusing moments as well. It’s also gratifying to see Lawless, looking as good as ever, approaching her role with the same tongue-in-cheek humor as her Xena character.

Damn...no cream.

Storywise, the series virtually ignores the events in Army of Darkness (which arguably has the biggest cult following of the original trilogy), choosing instead to pick up where Evil Dead II left off. While this may be irk some fans, the omission actually makes a lot of sense, since Army was more of a fish-out-of-water slapstick fantasy. Here, the focus is squarely on comedic horror and demon-dispatching mayhem. Ash vs. Evil Dead is far bloodier than any of the films (and easily the goriest thing on television right now). But like its predecessors, the violence is so deliriously extreme that it’s impossible to take seriously.

Of course, like most cable series, the door is left wide open for a second season. The finale ends on an amusing note that not only reaffirms Ash’s self-absorbed narcissism, but hints that things are about to get downright apocalyptic. I’m not sure how long a series like this can keep going without growing stale, but hell, I’m still surprised Ash vs. Evil Dead manages to stay ferocious and fun throughout ten episodes without ever becoming rote. But whether it maintains its momentum in Season Two or runs out of steam (which happens often in shows with such a narrow premise), at least we finally got the Evil Dead 4 we’ve been pining for all these years.

EXTRA KIBBLES;
Featurettes: “Inside the World of Ash” (episode-by-episode making-of segments); “How to Kill a Deadite”; “Best of Ash” (montage of some of Ash’s more memorable one liners and kills)
Audio Commentaries on Each Episode

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

Rest in Peace, Arthur Hiller

Arthur Hiller (1923-2016)

August 17, 2016

CD Review: BEN-HUR (2016) - ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SCORE

Music by Marco Beltrami. (2016, 66 min).
SONY CLASSICAL

Like a lot of movie purists, I’m dubious about the idea of remaking a film as universally loved as Ben-Hur. The thought of CGI, 3-D and a director best known for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter retelling an undisputed classic (in half the running time) seems like a perfect recipe for disaster. Whether or not that ends up being the case remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though: The music itself is terrific.

Composed and co-conducted by Marco Beltrami, whose music for 3:10 to Yuma and Knowing are among my recent favorites, has put together a suitably epic score which incorporates both modern and traditional instrumentation, along with well-placed vocal passages. Spanning 27 tracks and running well over an hour, the disc’s peaks and valleys blend together nicely, even as a stand-alone piece of music.

So even if this new Ben-Hur ends up being the epic bomb some are predicting, none of the blame can be placed at Beltrami’s feet. This is a great film score that, somewhat ironically, wouldn’t sound entirely out-of-place accompanying the 1959 classic we all know and love.

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

August 16, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION

Starring Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren, Theodore Bikel, Jay Novello, John Wengraf. Directed by Stanley Kramer. (1957, 132 min).
OLIVE FILMS

The story behind The Pride and the Passion would actually be a pretty interesting movie itself. Aside from already being a rather tumultuous (and expensive) production, Frank Sinatra apparently only signed up to try and save his failing marriage to Ava Gardner (shooting The Sun Also Rises nearby). When that didn't work out, he suddenly wanted to quit the film, forcing director Stanley Kramer to get through Sinatra's scenes as fast as possible. Cary Grant, on the other hand, wanted to get away from his own wife and ended up in a brief affair with co-star Sofia Loren during shooting (rumor had it that he became quite obsessed with her...but who can really blame him?).

With all the diva behavior and soap-opera histrionics behind the scenes, it's a credit to Kramer that The Pride and the Passion turned out as good as it did. The film, about a British army captain (Grant) reluctantly aiding a group of Spanish resistance fighters led by Sinatra (!) in a last-ditch effort to combat the French during the Peninsular War, isn't a gold star on anyone's resumes, but it's a impressive piece of epic filmmaking. Most of the story centers around the efforts to retrieve and transport a massive Spanish cannon (the biggest of its kind) across rugged terrain and hostile territory in order to blow the bejeezus out of a French-occupied fortress. Similar to the suicidal journey in The Wages of Fear, the film’s at its best when the group is faced with nearly impossible obstacles, such as transporting the cannon across a river and, in the best scene, forcing their way through a gauntlet of enemy fire in a rocky ravine.

"Hey, Cary...is that a banana in your pocket or are you just glad to see her?"

Less successful are the overall performances and some questionable casting decisions. Loren as Juana, torn between her loyalty to Sinatra’s Miguel and Grant’s Anthony, is such a sultry, perfect beauty that we don’t give a damn whether or not she’s convincing. Speaking of which, Grant really doesn’t stretch himself much. He’s not bad, though sort-of miscast. But the casting director who thought Frank Sinatra would make a convincing Spaniard should have been fired (why not have Edgar Winter play John Shaft while you’re at it?).

But if you can swallow that (along with a few bits of clunky dialogue), The Pride and the Passion is an entertaining, large scale epic with lavish cinematography and several exciting, suspenseful action sequences. That alone makes the film worth rediscovering.

EXTRA KIBBLES: None (Too bad, considering the story behind the production)

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS (from Sophia)

August 15, 2016

Blu-Ray News: Lionsgate Announces Two More 80's Classics in the VESTRON VIDEO COLLECTOR'S SERIES

The Vestron Video Collector’s Series unleashes the tongue-in-cheek horror classics Waxwork and Waxwork II: Lost in Time for the first time on limited-edition Blu-ray™ on October 18 from Lionsgate. In Waxwork, a private midnight showing at a local wax museum turns to mayhem when its soul-sucking wax exhibits come to life! In Waxwork II: Lost in Time, Mark and Sarah, who survived the killer wax museum, must travel to another dimension to combat the still-present evil figure responsible for murdering Sarah’s stepfather. The Waxwork and Waxwork II: Lost in Time Blu-ray double feature includes all-new special features and will be available for the suggested retail price of $39.99.

WAXWORK 
Inside the wax museum a group of teenagers are aghast at the hauntingly lifelike wax displays of Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and other character members of the Horror Hall of Fame. Each display is perfectly grotesque, yet each is missing one thing . . . a victim! Admission to the WAXWORK was free but now they may pay with their lives! One by one, the students are drawn into the settings as objects of the blood thirsty creatures. They are now part of the permanent collection.

WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME
Having escaped the fiery destruction of the original Waxwork, Marl (Zach Galligan, Gremlins) and Sarah (Monika Schnarre, TV’s “Beverly Hills, 90210”) face another grueling ordeal in WAXWORK II, when Sarah is accused of murdering her stepfather. Fleeing through the doors of time in a desperate search for proof of her innocence, the two lovers find themselves caught in the eternally recurring battle between good and evil. Together they must stop one of the most powerful and demonic figures of all time — Lord Scarabus.

Blu-Ray News: THE SHALLOWS on Digital September 13 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray/ DVD September 27

Blake Lively (“Gossip Girl,” The Age of Adaline) stars in THE SHALLOWS, the suspenseful thriller that taps into one of man’s most primitive fears: what’'s lurking beneath the ocean’s surface? Lively stars as Nancy, a surfer attacked by a great white shark a mere 200 yards from the shore of a secluded Mexican beach. As she struggles to survive, Nancy faces the ultimate contest of wills in the movie critics called “terrifyingly good” (Simon Thompson, IGN.com). It’s not just another day at the beach when THE SHALLOWS arrives on digital September 13 and Blu-ray, DVD and next-generation 4K Ultra HD™ September 27 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 

The Blu-ray, DVD, digital and 4K Ultra HD releases come loaded with bonus material, including deleted scenes and four behind-the-scenes featurettes. Join the director, crew and Blake Lively as they discuss the challenges and rewards of shooting in the waters off Lord Howe Island located in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand in “Shooting in The Shallows,” while “How to Build a Shark” delves into the extraordinary visual effects that make The Shallows a terrifying and visceral experience. “Finding The Perfect Beach: Lord Howe Island” allows viewers to travel with the filmmakers for a behind-the-scenes look at the beautiful, pristine location that provides the backdrop for Nancy's terrifying ordeal, and “When Sharks Attack” offers a harrowing first person account from a shark attack survivor and an expert who explains what makes sharks attack. 

Blu-Ray News: Mel Gibson is Back with a Vengeance in BLOOD FATHER

A father makes his own justice in the edge-of-your-seat thriller Blood Father, starring Mel Gibson and arriving on Blu-ray (plus Digital HD), DVD (plus Digital) and Digital HD on October 11 from Lionsgate. The film is currently available On Demand. Directed by award-winning director Jean-Fran├žois Richet (Assault on Precinct 13) and written for the screen by Peter Craig (The Town) and Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) from Peter Craig's novel, the high-paced action film premiered at the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival. Mel Gibson is accompanied by Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, and Oscar nominee William H. Macy (Best Supporting Actor, Fargo, 1996) in the nonstop thrill ride. 

Mel Gibson delivers nonstop, no-holds-barred action in this dynamic thrill ride. When his estranged teenaged daughter (Erin Moriarty) is targeted by a drug cartel, ex-convict John Link (Gibson) must call upon connections from his criminal past and his own lethal skills to save his daughter’s future. Diego Luna, Michael Parks, and William H. Macy costar in this explosive story of how far one man will go to save his family.


August 13, 2016

Blu-Ray News: Upcoming Under-the Radar Releases That Have Us Purring

We here at Free Kittens Movie Guide love the latest all-star blockbusters as much as anyone else. But we also have a soft spot for the some of the older & more obscure films released to video with much less fanfare. The following are a few noteworthy upcoming titles we're personally looking forward to checking out.

CITY ON FIRE
Not the classic Asian action film, but Canada's 1979 effort to get a slice of the disaster movie pie when the genre was at its peak. Featuring an impressive cast that includes Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner and Leslie Nielsen (none of whom are strangers to the genre), City on Fire is no Towering Inferno, but still worth discovering by disaster fans. Favorite line: "Kutchner? I ain't working for Klutchner!" 
Available in August from SCORPION RELEASING

SLUGS
The performances are questionable and the plot is rather silly, but Slugs has a mean streak a mile wide. Most of us are just a tad squeamish over these common garden pests, which this film plays to the hilt. And you haven't lived until you've seen thousands of them burst from a poor sap's eyeball. This is a disgusting good time for gorehounds who are game.
Available in September from ARROW FILMS

DE PALMA
Voyeuristic misogynist, Hitchcock plagiarist, demented genius, visual master. Brian De Palma been called all these things during his lengthy career, during which time he’s given us such classics like Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Scarface and The Untouchables. This documentary examines the man and his career. A must for any cinephile.
Available in September from LIONSGATE

TENEBRAE
Italian maestro Dario Argento’s best film of the 80s (and second overall after Susperia). This classic finally gets a proper Blu-Ray treatment it deserves. Tenebrae is a fan favorite and one of the last great films Argento would ever direct. 
Available in September from SYNAPSE FILMS

THE ENEMY BELOW
Not just a submarine picture or a Crimson Tide trivia question. Many consider this classic to be the submarine picture, a statement which might be hard to dispute.
Available in September from KINO LOBER

THE NEPTUNE FACTOR
A childhood favorite of ours, The Neptune Factor is fun undersea adventure with a good cast and delightfully daffy special effects. Get ready for a wave (no pun intended) of 1970's nostalgia. 
Available in November from KINO LORBER

August 11, 2016

RETURN OF THE JEDI and the Summertime Slug

Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz. Directed by Richard Marquand. (1983, 131 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON
 
For better or worse, I'm a man of routine. I awake each morning to the incessant howling of our fat-ass cat, who acts like she hasn't been fed in days. Then it's coffee time, which keeps me from killing the cat, followed by my morning crap because coffee makes me poop (at which time I also check out the latest sports news on my iPad). Afterwards, I jump in the shower to smell like a flower. On weekends, however, I've incorporated Stinky Saturday as part of my routine because opening our monthly water bill is scarier than the shower scene in Psycho.

As a middle school teacher in the real world, Stinky Saturday often extends to Sunday, Monday and Tuesday during the summer months. By the time school’s about to start back up in the fall, I look and smell a lot like Grizzly Adams.

My chosen profession allows me a lot of free time during the summer, which my wife tries to counter with daily lists of chores to be completed when she's at work. Since it's obvious she's simply jealous of having to get up every morning while the kids and I snuggle our pillows for a few extra hours, I've learned incorporate her tasks into my summer routine as quickly and half-assed as possible. As long as they get done before she gets home, it's all good, leaving rest of the day for me to channel my inner Jabba the Hutt with a beer, the remote and various Frito-Lay products. If my sofa was equipped with a working toilet, I’d almost never leave it.

Though I may not be jet-setting around the world like some of my narcissistic Facebook friends posting selfies from the balcony of a Cancun hotel, I really love my summer routine. Aside from occasional excursions to the beach or the mall with my family, summer is my downtime, the chance to decompress and purge my educator persona to enjoy a few stress-free months just being me. Unhampered by a reasonable bedtime, the end of June is when I commence crashing on the couch into the wee hours of the night with boxed sets of Sergio Leone westerns, all three Godfather films and, of course, the original Star Wars trilogy.

"That damn Check Engine light keeps coming on."

I’ve seen all these movies so many times each that I practically know them by heart. While they never get old (well, maybe Godfather III), watch any film often enough and you’re bound to notice a few kinks in the armor...logistical plot holes, some cringe-worthy dialogue or a few complete lapses in plausibility. Star Wars’ Holy Trinity is especially guilty of all three. For example:
  • Either everybody’s ship is capable of Ludicrous Speed, or this galaxy far, far away is roughly the size of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. 
  • In Star Wars’ classic cantina scene where Greedo confronts Han Solo, both speak in their own native tongues, yet can still understand each other perfectly. Since they obviously know both languages, why not just pick one? 
  • C-3PO not only serves no purpose whatsoever, he’s nearly as annoying as Jar-Jar Binks. And who the fuck would program a robot to be such a candy-ass in the first place?
  • In Return of the Jedi, Leia replies “Somehow, I’ve always known” when Luke informs her they are siblings. Yet that didn’t stop her from totally macking on him in The Empire Strikes Back. In Back to the Future, Lorainne didn’t need The Force to tell her kissing Marty was like kissing her brother.
  • George Lucas can’t write dialogue worth a shit (but like Leia...somehow, I’ve always known)
  • In Return of the Jedi, the scene where Han insists that Lando takes the Millennium Falcon for the Death Star attack is the most painfully awkward & wooden in the entire trilogy. Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams are obviously in front of a blue screen, standing rigidly on their marks so we can see the activity behind them, and using exaggerated hand gestures with every spoken syllable.
  • Speaking of these two, how did Han and Lando go from being ethically-questionable rogues to generals in the fucking resistance in less time it takes for a McDonald’s fry cook to be promoted to assistant manager? In fact, in Return of the Jedi, damn near everyone is a general.
That’s just nit-picking, though. None of these observations have ever diminished my enjoyment of the Holy Trinity. Even though Return of the Jedi is arguably the laziest of the three, it’s loaded with classic, emotionally stirring moments. Luke Skywalker’s transformation from dumbass farmboy to Jedi master is complete, and if Darth Vader’s final, fatal act of redemption to save his son doesn’t move you, you must be soulless.

However, after recently re-watching Return of the Jedi yet again, I discovered one more awful truth. Not about the film this time, but myself...

I’d make a shitty Jedi.

We’ve all entertained thoughts of what we’d do if we possessed the same special powers as certain movie characters. If I were a Scanner, the road where I make my daily commute would run red with blood from the exploded heads of drivers who had them lodged up their ass. My time-hopping DeLorean would be a virtual cash machine as I took the ultimate road-trip with a decade’s worth of winning lottery numbers. As for self-absorbed fucknuts who believe the entire world comes to a complete halt whenever they receive a text...Hulk smash. If such evil thoughts sound like the work of someone who’d be easily seduced by the dark side of The Force, rest assured, I’d make an even worse Sith Lord.

Pull my finger.
For the most part, I’m fairly lazy and unambitious, especially during my summer routine.

Even those who've never seen Star Wars still probably know what The Force is, effectively summed up by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first film: "The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." That's an eloquent way of saying that those who learn to control The Force can do some kickass shit using only their minds. We see this progression with Luke Skywalker throughout the original Star Wars trilogy. The Force is strong in him, and through dedicated practice, mentoring from Obi-Wan and intense training from Yoda, he's become a powerful Jedi Master by the time he confronts the Emperor and Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.

But, man, that’s an awful lot of fucking work. Not only that, once you’ve become a master, you’re pretty much morally and ethically obligated to spend the rest of your life defending others without ever losing your cool (which happens to me almost daily during my morning commute). Since most Jedi appear to spend their days off meditating in secluded caves and mud huts without so much as a TV to pass the time, the pay must not be all that great either.

Though the Sith may have all the best toys, rule the galaxy with an iron fist and generally dress better, the job requires a lot more dedication than I could muster. While I’m not averse to the idea having power over millions, I shouldn’t have to work that hard to get it. But even if I suddenly woke up one day on the Emperor’s throne with all those terrible powers, I'm simply not that creatively ambitious. The most heinous deed I could probably conjure up would be giving everyone space wedgies for my own amusement.

I’m simply too set in my ways to use The Force for anything other than personal gain. Jedi or Sith, I’d likely quit my training once I learned to retrieve beers without leaving the sofa, convince the Domino’s driver my pizzas are free and use that same power of suggestion to spice up date night with my wife:

Darth Dave: You will provide me with oral sex during the commercials. 
Princess Francie: I will provide you with oral sex during the commercials.

As for my daily list of summer chores...they'd all be done with the mystic wave a finger.

Over time, I’d probably end up as fat, green and gelatinous as Jabba the Hutt, so accustomed to tending all my needs with The Force that I’d barely be able to ooze off the couch. The primary job of my hired underlings would be to empty my waste bucket several times a day and wipe the fat-sweat from the folds in my skin (meaning every day would be Stinky Saturday). And yeah, I’d probably keep my wife on a leash in a brass bikini for those commercial breaks (actually, if I had it my way, she’d be hanging around the house in a brass bikini right now).

Date night at Dave the Hutt's house.

Which reminds me of a theory I recently came up with regarding Return of the Jedi. I generally don’t waste time paying attention to fan theories because I always had the impression most of them are dreamt up by guys who still wear Jedi jammies to bed, polish their pearlies with Darth Vader toothbrushes and include bowls of C-3POs as part of their nutritious breakfast. With way too much spare time on their hands, they share their theories on the internet with like-minded fanboys, who all virtual-high-five each other as though one of them just cracked an Enigma Code.

I wouldn’t call the following a fan theory, but it does sort-of make sense:

Perhaps Jabba the Hutt is strong with the force as well, but has gotten so used to relying on it that he’s become an epic tub of shit with T-Rex arms (which would make it tough to reach the remote, wouldn’t it?). Maybe he was once a Jedi in training before finally saying, fuck it, I’ve got all the power I need. It would explain why Luke’s Jedi mind tricks don’t work on him, and why his entourage continues to fearfully obey his every whim, even though they could easily gather together and roll Jabba's fat ass into the pit of Sarlacc.

At any rate, I’ve come to the sad realization that I would totally squander the awesome power of The Force. Not a noble Jedi or a malevolent Sith Lord...just Dave the Hutt, a lazy self-serving guy with no aspirations beyond making sure his annual summer routine requires zero physical effort.

While the house would always be spotless when my wife came home from work to strap on her brass bikini, Yoda would be gravely disappointed in this apprentice.