Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 3/26/13

To barely anybody’s surprise, Daniel Day Lewis won his third Oscar for his powerful portrayal of the 16th President in LINCOLN (my review here), out today in a lavish package on Blu ray and DVD. 

Film buffs have their choice of a 2 disc or a deluxe 4-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack Super Set (Blu-ray + Bonus Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy). Bonus material includes the featurettes “The Journey to LINCOLN,” “A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia,” “Crafting the Past,” “In The Company Of Character" and “In Lincoln’s Footsteps.” As usual there’s no director’s commentary (Spielberg hasn’t recorded a commentary for any of his movies), but there’s plenty of Spielberg yakking about making his historical epic here so fans should be happy with this release. 

The first season of HBO’s Veep, you know the show with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President, comes out today on Blu ray and DVD, and it’s a nice 2 disc Blu ray with DVD and digital copy set, with a neat art design that makes it resemble The West Wing’s DVD packaging of their seasons. 

I wasn’t much of a fan of the show when it first aired last year, but watching it now I am more appreciating Armando Iannucci’s (IN THE LOOP) shaky cam rhythms capturing the silly politics stressing out all his self centered characters, played by a fine ensemble cast including Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, and Matt Walsh, in a world in which the President is never named, political affiliation is never identified, and dignity is never present.

Louis-Dreyfus, who will always be Seinfeld's Elaine Benes to me, won an Emmy for her performance as the vain Veep, Selina Meyer, in the 8 episodes of season one here which are joined by such Bonus Features as “The Making of Veep,” “Misspoke” (a direct to the camera Louis-Dreyfus retracting remarks about Governor Chung), another outtake about Chung (which I don’t get at all), an Anti-Obesity PSA (also has a useless unfunny outtake), and 12 commentaries with cast and crew (I’ve listened to a few of them and they’re pretty entertaining). Annoyingly these extras are listed on the menu on disc one, but when you click on several of them it says “Please Insert Disc 2.”

Last December, I skipped a press screening of Andy Fickman’s PARENTAL GUIDANCE, starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as wacky grandparents, so I doubt I’ll put it in my Netflix queue, but for folks who are interested, it’s out now on Blu ray and DVD with several Special Features: commentary (with Crystal and Fickman), gag reel, deleted scenes (also with commentary), and a featurette entitled “FXM Productions Presents: In Character with Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei.” Hmm, I didn’t know Marisa Tomei was in it! Still doesn’t make me want to see it though.

A few other films I missed in their theatrical run, but actually might check out, are also out today on Blu ray and DVD: A ROYAL AFFAIR, EASY MONEY (aka SNABBA CASH), and the documentary STEP UP TO THE PLATE (French title: ENTRE LES BRAS), about French chef Michel Bras.

Also in that category is Rick Alverson’s THE COMEDY, which is also available on Netflix Instant. Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric fame, stars as a guy who I hear is a bit of a dick who harasses people while he’s waiting for his Dad to die. I guess that’s what it’s about. Despite that I hated TIM & ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE, I am very curious about this film. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Andrew Dominik’s KILLING THEM SOFTLY, which featured Brad Pitt doing just that, is out today in both one disc Blu ray and DVD editions. I sort of semi-liked what Dominik was going for in the film, I likened it to a mash-up of GOODFELLAS and MARGIN CALL in my review last November, so I’m curious about what the Special Features are. Well, looks like only some deleted scenes, and a short “making of” featurette (6 minutes). That’s too bad, this is a film that could really use a commentary. 

Older films out today on Blu ray and DVD: THE SANDLOT: 20th Anniversary Edition, JURASSIC PARK (also a 20th anniversary re-issue just in time for the new 3D version of the film), Elia Kazan’s PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950), and Criterion Collection editions of Charlie Chaplin’s excellent MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947) and and Robert Bresson’s A MAN ESCAPED (1956).

More later...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Supremely Stupid OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN Falls Short Of Even Being So Bad It's Good

Now playing at nearly every multiplex in Raleigh and the Triangle area:


(Dir. Antoine Fuqua, 2013)

It’s DIE HARD at the White House! It’s AIR FORCE ONE on the ground! It’s INDEPENDENCE DAY meets DEEP IMPACT with the aliens and the meteor replaced with an attack by terrorists!

Yep, if you’re even a semi-regular at the multiplex, chances are you’ve experienced every single element that makes up Antoine Fuqua’s new action/disaster movie, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, featuring Gerald Butler as a Secret Service Agent fighting to protect the President (Aaron Eckhart) from a team of Korean terrorists led by the suave well-groomed Rick Yune.

When the film opens it feels like a subpar episode of The West Wing, with President Eckhart doting on the First Lady (Ashley Judd) and their son (Finley Jacobsen) as they depart Camp David with their trusted beloved guard Butler overseeing their transit. Then in the first of many derivative set-pieces, their motorcade gets into an accident due to a violent snowstorm, and Butler is unable to save Judd’s life.

18 months later, Butler is working a desk job at the Treasury (with a great view of the White House out his window he can look longingly at), but he tells Secret Service Head Angela Bassett that he wants back in the game.

Turns out it’s his lucky day because Washington D.C. gets hit hard by a crew of heavily armed, highly trained extremists, who by way of an aerial attack, car bombs, and soldiers disguised as citizens take over the White House (code name: Olympus), leaving its lawn and Pennsylvania Avenue strewn with dead bodies.

Butler, finds his way through gunfire and explosions to get inside the walls of the White House, while the President is 150 feet below the White House grounds in a bunker held hostage by Yune. With the President is the Vice President (Phil Austin), the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo), and a fellow agent of Butler’s played by Dylan McDermott. These folks names and occupations are told to us in tiny type on the screen so we’ll know they’re important.

Also given to us is the location and time, as in when Butler finds himself in the Oval Office: “Oval Office, 9:04 P.M.”

The DIE HARD formula comes into play in a scene in which our hero Butler encounters a bad guy he doesn’t know is a baddie (see John McClane’s oblivious meeting with villain Hans Gruber in the ’88 original), and we get to see the White House getting even more demolished. It was so much cooler when it was done by aliens; the explosions aren’t as vivid here. 

This movie is also another in the long line of indestructible badass movies with Butler being able to take out waves of thugs, like Liam Neeson in TAKEN, Daniel Craig’s 007, or Jason Stratham in every Jason Stratham movie so there’s no surprises or thrills in the poorly shot and lit fight scenes throughout.

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is supreme stupidity on an epic scale with a ridiculously awful screenplay, written by first time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt or at least a screenwriting computer program they used.

I did enjoy laughing at it when I wasn’t rolling my eyes, and counting the clichés, but the mundane mechanics wore on me as the thing kept on chugging along. A lot of genre exercises can’t help but appear like collections of stock elements. I had a severe case of cinematic de ja vu when seeing JACK REACHER last year, with its done-to-death formula, but there was at least some passion involved there.

Without an original bone in its body and not an ounce of oomph to make it memorable, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN falls way short of even being so bad it’s good.

To borrow a line from one of my favorite movies, Terry Zwigoff’s GHOST WORLD: “This is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again.”

More later...

The Soulless Eye Candy Of Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS

Opening today in the Triangle area:

(Dir. Harmony Korine, 2012)

If you thought James Franco as Oscar Diggs was too family friendly in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (currently the #1 movie in the land), then what about Franco as Alien, a rapper/drug dealer/pimp with cornrows, shining steel teeth, and rich trash beachwear?

That’s how he appears in Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS, the arthouse film that doesn’t look like one, which you might’ve heard something about as it had a record-breaking limited screen debut last weekend (on only two screens, mind you) and has been getting a of buzz.

The hard R-rated film, from the writer/director of GUMMO and TRASH HUMPERS, concerns four college girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine, all bikini-clad for almost the entire film) who rob a restaurant (“we held up the Chicken Shack with squirt guns!”) to get funds so they can go on spring break in St. Pete Beach, Florida. But that’s just the setup, because their world goes completely out of whack when Franco takes them under his wing, after he bails them out when they are arrested on drug charges at a frat boy party.

From the get go, Korine’s film, shot in fleeting beauty by cinematographer Benoît Debie, is all kinetic energy, with no shot lasting more than a matter of seconds; a flashy editing job by Douglas Crise (TRAFFIC, the OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies) that often makes the movie look like one big rave. In one of many partying montages, a grainy swirling effect has the imagery merge together as if Korine wants you to feel as fucked up as his characters.

It’s a dizzying display of debauchery, but that makes it sound like a lot more fun than it is.

Ominous overtones provided by Skrillex and Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack, and the prospect of Gomez’s religious guilt coming to the surface (her character is actually named Faith), indicate heavily that there’s something sinister underneath all of this, but since this is supposed to be Korine’s ode to the hedonistic pleasures he felt like he missed when growing up, I only took away from it that there's some crazy danger out in the sun-drenched sleaze so beware, kids! Any sense of sharp satire or sobering statement of any kind was lost on me.

After shedding some tears and expressing that she’s not on board following the Franco path, Gomez gets on a bus and leaves the movie. This is unfortunate because she was the only girl who made much of an impression – I can’t remember what the other’s names were). Rachel Korine (wife of the director) also leaves after getting shot in the arm by one of Franco’s competitor’s (the suavely menacing Gucci Mane) thugs.

Hudgens and Benson stay on to join Franco in his life of crime, ripping off other spring breakers, and planning a ambush a la SCARFACE (which Franco boasts his crib’s entertainment system plays nonstop) of his rival’s seaside fortress in revenge for their wounded friend.

Franco convincingly inhabits the persona of Alien, particularly when he’s spouting out his philosophies as if he’s being interviewed on MTV or tenderly singing a Britney Spears ballad (“Everytime”) on his lavish white poolside piano, but the movie’s cut-up confines keep his performance from being truly electrifying (it does comes close though in a shot of him giving fellatio to two gun barrels at once).

Korine’s work here isn’t a matter of style over substance, it’s more a matter of style of substance abuse that gets pounded into our heads with every techno beat, instance of in-your-face sexuality, and moment of stupid behavior we witness.

The repetition throughout of Gomez’s voice-over recitation of a letter to her Grandmother about the trip before things get crazy dangerous (“It's the most spiritual place on earth,” “I want to come back here next year with you!”), doesn’t seem to have a discernible point either, unless it’s just to stress naivety on her part.

The soulless eye-candy (hey, I think one of the girl’s names is Candy!) of SPRING BREAKERS skirts the surface of what a terrifying provocative film about thrill-seeking teenagers going too far could really be. But it seems content though with its day-glo, neon-lit, tawdry surface, so movie-goers prone to empty-headed partying may be content with it too. You know, the kids who’d smuggle a beer bong into the theater if they could. Those are the ones who’ll really love it.

More later...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 3/19/13

ZERO DARK THIRTY wasn’t completely shunned by the Academy last month, it won one Oscar (for Best Sound Editing), but Kathryn Bigelow’s thriller about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden still seemed to get a chilly reception. You know, because of the whole torture thing. Folks who missed it in its theatrical run can make up their own minds about its supposed political stance today as it releases on Blu Ray and DVD.

The film is highly recommended (it’s #10 on The Film Babble Blog Top 10 Movies of 2012), but if you’re looking to purchase it, I’d wait for a different edition as there are no Special Features to speak of in the standard Blu-ray/DVD Combo + UltraViolet Digital Copy package. Surely, a deluxe version with commentary, featurettes, etc. will come out later. So just rent it for now.

A beautiful movie that was completely shunned by the Academy, but still got its share of awards season love, also arrives today on Blu ray/DVD: Jacques Audiard’s RUST AND BONE (read my review). Special features: a commentary with Audiard and screenwriter Thomas Bidegain, “Making RUST AND BONE: A Film by Antonin Peretkatko,” a batch of deleted scenes, and a few featurettes.

A divisive musical epic if there ever was one, LES MISÉRABLES is out today (2-Disc Combo Pack: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet/1 Disc DVD) with a bevy of Special Features, including Commentary with director Tom Hooper, a few featurettes, and a mini-documentary entitled “The Original Masterwork: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.”

Another release today that fans may want to skip over for a better future edition is THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (3-Disc Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet Digital Copy). Peter Jackson’s epic, ridiculously the first of a new trilogy, is outfitted with a fair amount of extra fluff: game trailers, video blogs, and the featurette “New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth.” None of this stuff looks very essential, so yeah, wait a few years for the grand box of all three HOBBIT monstrosities.

For those who thought Judd Apatow’s THIS IS 40 wasn't long enough at it 141 minutes, its new Blu ray (2-Disc, Digital Copy, etc.) has hours more of that Apatow family fun. The extensive Special Features: the unrated edition, deleted scenes (extended and alternate as well), “Bodies by Jason” commercial, and eight featurettes: “The Making of THIS IS 40,” “This is Albert Brooks (At Work),” “Graham Parker & the Rumour: Long Emotional Ride,” “Brooks-O-Rama,” “Biking with Barry,” “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog,” “Kids on the Loose 3” and a “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” segment. Whew!

On the re-mastered re-issue front there’s the new Criterion Collection edition of Terrence Malick’s 1973 classic BADLANDS. Malick’s impressive debut, which concerned Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as a young outlaw couple on the run in Dakota, is now decked out with a New 4K digital restoration (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack), “Charles Starkweather” (a 1993 episode of Great Crimes and Trials), Making BADLANDS (a new 42-minute documentary featuring the actors), new interview with editor Billy Weber, new interview with producer Edward Pressman, and booklet featuring an essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda. Now, that looks like an essential package!

Also out today as part of the Criterion Collection is Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1943 classic THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP. This is one I definitely have to check out as it features a commentary with the late Powell (1905-1990) and Martin Scorsese.

More later…

Jacques Audiard's RUST AND BONE Out Today On Blu Ray & DVD

Releasing today on Blu ray and DVD:

(Dir. Jacques Audiard, 2012)

Jacques Audiard pulls off a distinctly different sense of tone and timing from his last two acclaimed award-winning films, A PROPHET and THE BEAT MY HEART SKIPPED in this raw love story between Matthias Schoenaerts as a directionless single father, who makes money by competing in illegal boxing matches, and Marion Cotillard as a killer whale trainer, who loses her legs in an “on the job” accident.

It’s definitely not a “meet cute” when Schoenaerts’ Alain first encounters Cotillard’s Stéphanie (pre-accident) at a night club in Antibes in southern France. Alain (“Ali” to his friends and family) is on his first night as a bouncer at the club when a fight breaks out and Stéphanie, dolled up for a night on the town, gets caught in the middle of it.

Acting the gentleman, Ali insists on driving the roughed up Stéphanie home to her apartment, only to find that she has a controlling abusive boyfriend waiting for her there. Nevertheless, Ali gives her his phone number - “if you need it” - before exiting.

Not long after that, the vividly scary spectacle of a large Sea World-type stage collapsing during an Orca show (to the tune of Katy Perry’s “Firework,” mind you) leaves Stéphanie without legs below her knees, via seamless CGI that shows us how far such special effects have come since Gary Sinise’s similar predicament in “Forrest Gump.”

In the midst of her painful recuperation, Stéphanie decides to call Ali, who’s by then working as a guard at a security firm. The stoic strongman begins taking care of the legless lady, and in a sweet scene set at the beach, he carries her into the ocean and she appears to have a cathartic experience wading in the sundrenched waves. 

Stéphanie gets close enough to Ali that she even accompanies him on his street fighting ring runs, but has to stay in the car as women aren’t allowed. Ever so casually, while cleaning up after a meal, Ali asks Stéphanie if she wants to have sex. Embarrassed by the bluntness of the proposal, yet intrigued, Stéphanie agrees and afterwards she appears regenerated, on her way to feeling whole again. An immersive shot in her empowering post coitus sequence shows Stéphanie, now outfitted with prosthetic legs, visiting her old workplace and re-connecting through body language with the enormous whale that caused her accident through a giant glass partition.

Unfortunately, Ali continues to see other women, and his relationship with Stéphanie suffers. What also suffers, albeit only slightly, is the movie’s focus in its second half as its storyline gets messier than it needs to be. Especially when Ali’s sister (Corinne Masiero), who is taking care of his 5-year old son (Armand Verdure), loses her job due to video surveillance set up by Ali’s company. This causes Ali to leave town, leaving everything up in the air with Stéphanie. 

The brooding Schoenaerts, previously best known for his leading role in Michael R. Roskam’s 2010 crime drama BULLHEAD, has such a dry cold demeanor that his character can be hard to relate to, but edges of humanity come through at crucial moments, particularly when he realizes late in the game his feelings for Cotillard’s Stéphanie.

Cotillard, displaying comparable poise and power to her incredible Oscar-winning portrayal of Édith Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE, owns the heart of RUST AND BONE. She wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award this time around (and she lost the Golden Globe for the part to Jessica Chastain for ZERO DARK THIRTY) but she’s taken home a few well deserved awards for the performance (at the BFI, Cabourg, and Telluride Film Festivals).

Audiard’s A PROPHET cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine captures the couple, and the sunny scenery surrounding them in a visual style that’s often poetic. Based on a short story collection by Canadian author Craig Davidson, Audiard’s screenplay, co-written with Thomas Bidegain, keeps the dialogue spare and simple, which helps it stay clear of clichés.

In this random romance, in which tough times tinged with tragedy can bring disparate damaged people together, Schoenaerts’ thick-headedness and lack of sentiment can numb one’s heart, but Cotillard’s longing and belief in love will melt it.

Special Features: Commentary from director Jacques Audiard and co-writer Thomas Bidegain, deleted scenes, and a few featurettes including “Making RUST AND BONE: A Film by Antonin Peretkatko.”

* This review originally appeared in the Jan. 17th, 2013 edition of the Raleigh News & Observer.

More later...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Journey Plucks Lead Singer From YouTube Obscurity In DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’

This new documentary, rockumentary if you will, as Marty DiBergi would say, is now playing in selected cities across the country:


(Dir. Ramona S. Diaz, 2012)

Dammit! I can never escape Journey.

Over three decades since they first tortured me via AOR radio, the San Francisco band's particular brand of schlocky power balladry is still unavoidable. The use of the song “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the controversial last episode of The Sopranos has had a lot to do with the current resurgence of the band’s popularity that came to an ugly head in last summer’s awful ‘80s hair rock homage ROCK OF AGES (happily that movie flopped).

I should’ve accepted by now that Journey is a corporate rock machine, one that will keep going even if it has to replace a vital part. This documentary, the debut full length feature by director Ramona S. Diaz, is about the most recent replacement of the band’s lead singer in 2008, for an album and tour that was already in the works.

What’s interesting, or at least amusing, is how they went about finding their man. Guitarist and founding member Neil Schon trolled YouTube watching clips of Journey cover bands and tribute artists in a desperate last minute search to find a Steve Perry sound-alike for what he calls that “legacy sound.”

Schon happened upon videos of Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer/songwriter who could imitate Perry’s vocal chops impeccably. Schon sent Pineda an email offering him the job that stressed “this is not a joke,” and before you know it, the skinny energetic 40-year old was fronting the band he idolized.

And then suddenly, Journey has more of an international appeal.

This is all established in the first 15 minutes so after that the documentary goes in circles through Journey’s history, stuff that was better covered in their episode of VH1’s Behind The Music, and through footage of the band onstage and backstage on their Revelation Tour ‘08.

Despite the name of the tour depicted, there are no real revelations in the backstage stuff, which is the kind of fluff that fills up special features on concert Blu ray or DVD releases, and the lengthy chunks of the band performing to thousands of appreciative fans will only be appreciated by those same fans.

Diaz’s documentary is most compelling when it touches on the fans that weren’t on board with Pineda joining Journey. We see Pineda reacting to cruel racist posts on internet message boards like one that yells 
with all caps: ONLY FILIPINOS WILL SUPPORT TIS CRAPPY SINGER!!!!!! (misspelling kept intact).

“I think he should be from here,” says one young female concertgoer, who stresses she’s not being racist. Another girl in the same concert venue parking lot counters with “He sounds just like him, and it’s still music.” Well, at least she’s half right. No, that’s a cheap shot, but I wish they spent more time with the white trash fans getting drunk and spouting out inanities before the show, but that’s probably because it reminded me of HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT (Jeff Krulik’s 1986 short shot in the parking lot of a Judas Priest that lives up to its cult reputation).

It’s all well and good, that Pineda was able to overcome the poverty of the streets of Manila and the rough living of his youth to hit the big-time, and it’s great he could buy his family a nice house and all, but the way that this is packaged, like an inspirational polemic is laughable. It seems to be saying that you too could be plucked from YouTube obscurity to front your favorite band, so don’t stop believin’ in your dreams, kids!

Pineda’s storyline weaving through the history of Journey’s branding does have uplifting elements, and he seems like a nice guy humbled by the spotlight, but, hey, it’s a one in a million tale of luck. No amount of belief will change that, even if it goes on and on and on and on and on…

More later...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 3/12/13

This week, the biggest new release on Blu ray/DVD is Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI, fresh from winning four Oscars, and it’s available in a 3 disc Blu ray 3D set (includes digital copy and DVD), and in a standard single disc DVD. It has an abundance of Special Features such as Deleted Scenes, a bunch of featurettes, Art Gallery, Storyboards, and a theatrical trailer, all of which are in 3D for those with those fancy new 3D TVs. Read my review of LIFE OF PI here.

Next up, Peter Ramsey’s RISE OF THE GUARDIANS is also out today in a 3 disc Blu ray 3D edition with a bunch of whistles and bells (commentary with director and producers, deleted scenes, multiple featurettes, some sort of interactive game). It’s also available in a 2D 2-disc Blu ray version, and a single disc DVD. I missed this one when it hit theaters last fall (not a big fan of DreamWorks' animated output), should I see it now? Anybody?

Sacha Gervasi’s bland biopic HITCHCOCK, a real disappointment last December (my review), is also out today on Blu ray/DVD (not in 3D thankfully), with a plethora of Special Features: a deleted scene, a plethora of featurettes including somehitng called “Sacha Gervasi's Behind-the-Scenes Cell Phone Footage,” a commentary with Sacha Gervasi and Stephen Rebello, the theatrical trailer, and that damn Hitchcock Cell Phone PSA that I’m getting sick to death of as it has been playing before every movie at the theater where I work part-time for 3 months now! 

Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi’s THIS IS NOT A FILM is another movie I missed in its theatrical run (actually I’m not sure if it came to my area), so I’m happy to see it out now on DVD. It comes with only a few Special Features but they look juicy: an interview with Panahi by Iranian expat film professor Jamsheed Akrami, and a feature commentary by Jamsheed Akrami.

A movie I did see when it briefly played in town and liked was James Ponsoldt’s SMASHED, starring North Carolina native Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Breakin’ Bad’s Aaron Paul, out today on both Blu ray and DVD. It’s a thoughtful, well acted drama about alcoholism that’s definitely worth a rental. Special features: commentary with director James Ponsoldt and Winstead, deleted scenes, and a couple of featurettes, one a “Making of” deal, and the other concerns the Toronto Film Festival Red Carpet and Q&A. 

Dave Grohl’s documentary about the legendary Los Angeles recording studio Sound City Studios, SOUND CITY, also drops on Blu ray and DVD today. It contains over 40 minutes of bonus material, including 3 full songs. 

A film I’m a little scarred of seeing, Paolo Sorrentino’s THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, starring Sean Penn as Robert Smith of the Cure (well, not really but he sure looks like it), comes out today. But how can I resist a movie that has the tagline: “A former rock star is hunting down a Nazi criminal...This could be his greatest hit.” It doesn’t bode well that neither the Blu ray/DVD have any Special Features, but I’ll give it a chance. 

On the remaster re-issue front we’ve got deluxe Blu ray releases of Robert Zemeckis' WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?: 25th Anniversary Edition, and Ron Howard's WILLOW (also celebrating its 25th Anniversary), a movie that I bet comes off differently now after watching Warwick Davis’s pitiful BBC/HBO series Life's Too Short.

More later…

A Farewell Tribute To Pepper's Pizza With A SLICE TO DIE FOR

Last week, Pepper’s Pizza in Chapel Hill served its last slice.

This makes me sad because for over 25 years - 20 years at 128 E. Franklin St./6 years at 107 E. Franklin St. - Pepper’s was a place I loved to frequent. When I worked at the Varsity Theater in the evenings I often got dinner there, and I had a few friends that worked there over the years.

One of my friends, Dan Tate, who I worked with at Visart Video (also no longer in operation), turned me on to a short film that was filmed at Pepper’s old location in the late ‘90s: A SLICE TO DIE FOR.

The approximately 20 minute film was written, directed, edited, and filmed by Mike Andronica. It stars Lee Waters, Shay Alderman, Mike McFann Jr., Billy Buckley, and Kevin Clark. Chapel Hill folks may recognize some faces in it.

I made a copy of Dan’s VHS tape of the film around a decade ago and it has been collecting dust in a box in my closet until now. I couldn’t find it online anywhere so I decided to dig it up and put it on YouTube. In tribute to the now passed Chapel Hill institution here it is in 3 parts:

Part 3 mostly contains the end credits, but it’s a must to watch because it finishes up the story-line:

I hope you can forgive the crude quality – if somebody has a better copy please let me know. Also if there’s anybody who knows anything about the film or was in it, or whatever, please get in touch. Since I can't find any information about the film, I’d love to hear from you about it.

More later…

Friday, March 08, 2013

OZ: Not A Bomb But No Magical Masterpiece Either

Opening today at nearly every multiplex in the Triangle area:

(Dir. Sam Raimi, 2013)

At one point in this movie, Sam Raimi’s lavish prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” when James Franco as the title character is making his way through the Land of Oz, I half expected him to run into a gang of Hobbits. These lush green 3D fantasy worlds can really look alike, you see.

Raimi is counting on familiarity here, with plot points matching the beats of the 1939 original (even has an extended black and white opening), but as keen on the details as he and his crew are, OZ feels like just another souped-up fairy tale update, interchangeable with the kind of projects Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have been doing for the last decade or so. 

It's a notch above, say, Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND, but not enough of a notch that makes it anything special. If it really was something special, it wouldn't be releasing at this time of year.

Franco certainly puts in an energetic performance as carnival magician con-artist Oscar Diggs, especially when he finds himself in a hot air balloon caught in a tornado. That's when he calls upon some 127 HOURS-ish method skills. Unfortunately the film's comic thread of Franco reacting to fantasical events with a modern day wiseacre delivery goes down as badly as it did in YOUR HIGHNESS.

On his journey on the Yellow Brick Road through the Dark Forest to Emerald City, Franco meets a cast of characters including some counter-parts to folks he knew back in black and white Kansas including Zack Braff as Finley the Flying Monkey (a CGI-ed monkey sidekick in a bellhop uniform, mind you), Michelle Williams as Glenda, Mina Kunis as Theodora (looking, at first, positively like a porcelain creation), China Girl (an actual porcelain creation via CGI voiced by Joey King) and Rachel Weisz as Evanora. 

The trio of beauties, Williams, Kunis and Weisz all become witches (one good, two bad), with Kunis getting transformed the most into the iconic green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West who screeches at the top of her lungs, and yes, gives us an ample sampling of that famous cackle. Kunis does her best, but still seems miscast, and the story-line of how she feels wronged by Franco isn't satisfyingly fleshed out.

The premise of a selfish scoundrel finding redemption by becoming what others believe in, in this case, the Munchkins, the tinkers, and the farmers of Oz thinking that Franco is their wizard savior from the reign of the Wicked Witches and using his trickery he becomes just that, is a well worn one that packs very little power in this all too conventional family friendly fairy tale.

There's a sometimes jarring disconnect between Franco and the artificial landscape surrounding him. I haven't been as aware of the heavy use of green screen since the STAR WARS prequels. In one bit, another allusion to the original WIZARD OF OZ, which has Franco and Williams travelling in bubbles in the sky, it was hard not to visualize the actors stumbling around on a sound stage - the desired effect of experiencing a different world sure wasn't happening there. Raimi's SPIDER-MAN movies are much more visually convincing.

OZ isn't directly based on any of L. Frank Baum's original Oz novels - it's supposed to be set a few decades before the first one ("The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" from 1900) - so it's a prequel to both the books and the 1939 movie, but despite the efforts of the capable cast, the savvy director, over 20 writers (that's right), and hundreds of computer animators it comes off more like glorified fan fiction than canon.

Still, it's not a total bomb; it's passable entertainment if you don't go in expecting a magical masterpiece (and if you're a Raimi fan you'll enjoy the Bruce Campbell cameo). It also may inspire some kids to seek out Baum's books, and watch the 1939 classic so there's that. 

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Thursday, March 07, 2013

10 Classic Albums That Only Exist In The Movies

It's time for another random list! This one focuses on the fictitious output by fictitious musicians in the movies. Sometimes you don't get to see an album cover by the character of the artist (I don't remember seeing any of the albums by Jeff Bridges' Bad Blake in CRAZY HEART for example), but I'm always amused when we are lucky enough to get a glimpse of their records' art. Here's 10 that caught my eye:

1. “Rock and Roll Creation”: Spinal Tap This is one of several albums we see throughout Rob Reiner's rock documentary satire THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984). The others were “Shark Sandwich,” “Intravenus de Milo,” “The Sun Never Sweats,” and “Brainhammer” which all had convincing looking ‘70s-style art. In the extremely funny film, Reiner, as director Marty DiBergi, reads an excerpt from a review (of course fictitious) of the album to the band that has this priceless quote: “This pretentious, ponderous collection of religious rock psalms is enough to prompt the question “What day did the lord create Spinal Tap, and couldn’t he have rested on that day too?”

2. “Black Sheep”: Dewey Cox John C. Reily's Dewey Cox goes through every musical phase, many borrowed from other artists, imaginable in Jake Kasdan's music biopic parody WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (2007). During his Brian Wilson/SMiLE psychedelic period he records what some consider his masterpiece: “Black Sheep.” The album cover heavily cribs from the Beatles' “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack's cover from '68 as much as the song riffs on Wilson's SMiLE sessions lunacy.

3. “Time Will Come”: Jack Rollins Christian Bale takes on Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' I'M NOT THERE (2007) on this mock-up that offers a variation on Dylan's 1964 classic “The Times They Are A-Changing” album cover. The burlap fabric aesthetic is a nice touch.

4. “The Freewheelin’ Bob Roberts”: Bob Roberts Tim Robbins' directorial debut BOB ROBERTS (1992) also re-did Dylan on this and all of his conservative folk-singing Senate candidate characters' album covers that pop up throughout the splendid political satire. This one obviously skews Dylan's 1962 classic “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” but it edits the girl on the voice of a generation's arm for a guitar and replaces the aloof distant shoe-gazing with a stride of pride.

5. “Rogers and Clarke: In Concert Live!” It's a stretch to say that this would be a classic because it was a flop in the world that Elaine May's ISHTAR (1987) takes place in - the final shot/joke of the movie has the album listed at a “Special Low Price” in the window of what looks like a Tower Records. I love how the album is titled “In Concert Live!” with an exclamation point (so loved by those who used to title live albums). Incidentally ISHTAR is out of print on DVD, but it's coming out on Blu ray at the end of this month! I'm just disappointed that it's not a Criterion Collection release. Sigh.

6. “Calling It Quits”: Mitch Cohen There are lots of phony album covers in Christopher Guest's folk music reunion mockumentary A MIGHTY WIND (2003), but the art for Eugene Levy's Mitch Cohen character's solo album “Calling It Quits” is my favorite. It's just waiting to be used as the cover of a mix CD of depressing hurting heart songs, and I love how it looks like it could really be one of those singer-songwriter era divorce albums of the '70s. 

7. “To Begin With”: Stillwater Another fake release that looks authentically '70s, the Allman Brothers-ish looking album takes its title from a line in Cameron Crowe's ALMOST FAMOUS (2000) that the fictitious rock band on the rise Stillwater was the subject of: When asked by Patrick Fugit as a young Rolling Stone reporter what he most loves about music, Billy Crudup's guitarist character responds: “To begin with...everything.” A soundbite of these lines is used in one of the intros for the popular radio show Sound Opinions.

8. “Nagelbett”: Autobahn In the Coen brothers' cult classic THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998), Jeff Bridges' iconic character The Dude learns that the group of nihilists that are behind the kidnapping caper were once in a Kraftwerk-style band called Autobahn. Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) has their album in her vinyl collection and says of it “Their music is a sort of, ugh, techno-pop.”

9. “Spanish Fly Fisherman”: Coconut Pete Sure, this fake cover is just a throwaway joke in a clunky comedy, Broken Lizard's followup to their much funnier SUPER TROOPERS, CLUB DREAD (Dir. Jay Chandrasekhar, 2004), but since the list is winding down I thought I'd throw it in. Just like the next one.

10. “Ted Striker's 400 Polka Favorites”: Ted Striker 

Speaking of throwaway jokes: In Ken Finkleman's AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL (1982), a moon station officer (Sandahl Bergman) tells William Shatner as Commander Buck Murdock that she's pulled Ted Striker's record. Shatner asks: “How is it?” Bergman: “I don't think you're gonna like it, sir.” (Pulls out “Ted Striker's 400 Polka Favorites”) Shatner: “That's worse than I thought.”

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 3/5/13

The big new releases on Blu ray and DVD deal with video games and Nazis: WRECK-IT RALPH and the 20th Anniversary Limited Edition of SCHINDLER'S LIST.

WRECK-IT RALPH, which I preferred to the Best Animated Picture winner BRAVE, comes with a bunch of tasty special features including the featurettes “Bit By Bit: Creating The Worlds Of WRECK-IT RALPH” and “Disney Intermission: The Gamer's Guide To WRECK-IT RALPH” (hosted By Chris Hardwick), deleted & alternate scenes, the Oscar winning short film PAPERMAN, and video game commercials for Fix-It Felix Jr., Hero’s Duty And Sugar Rush. Be sure to read my review from when the film hit theaters last year here.

The new Blu ray edition of Steven Spielberg’s Oscar winning black and white epic SCHINDLER’S LIST doesn’t have any new extras on it, but I hear the transfer is stunning. Doubt I’ll get around to watching it anytime soon though.

The other notable films out today are Barry Levinson’s largely ignored horror film THE BAY (only on DVD), the RED DAWN remake that I haven't seen because I wasn’t a fan of the original, and the Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s acclaimed French comedy THE INTOUCHABLES, which is in my Netflix queue.

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Friday, March 01, 2013

Warning: The Sordidly Unfunny 21 AND OVER Opens Today

Opening today at nearly every multiplex in the Triangle area: 


(Dirs. Jon Lucas & Scott Moore, 2013)

After writing a string of crappy commercial comedies, including FOUR CHRISTMASES, GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIEND’S PAST , THE CHANGE-UP, and THE HANGOVER movies, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore present their directorial debut, 21 AND OVER, an extremely crappy college party comedy. 

It’s a movie that could be considered “teensploitation,” that is, a film directed at teens by way of ingredients such as sex, alcohol, drugs, and violence. In the course of one crude crazy night, protagonists Miles Teller and Skylar Astin encounter all of these as they try to get their wasted friend (Justin Chon) back home in time for a medical school interview early in the morning.

That’s all the plot there is here. There’s no twist or satiric take on this well worn material, there’s no likability factor present with any of the characters, and worst of all there are no laughs. Not one.

It comes off like a bunch of outtakes from THE HANGOVER movies, but with no star power (there’s not one recognizable name in the cast). It’s like Lucas and Scott decided to make a movie out of the end credits photo collage of wild hard-drinking partying that both HANGOVER movies end with, so we get more than one amped up montage of beer guzzling, shot taking, and drug-taking action.

The first time directors also thought a scene featuring slow motion projectile vomit, spewed by Chon from the top of a mechanical bull, would equal big laughs, but I have a feeling they equate disgusted groans with laughs.

All of this sordid unfunny stuff is made worse by the lack of charisma in the two leads, Teller and Astin.

As the two tired as Hell archetypes, Teller is the snarky obnoxious pushy one who won’t take “no” to partying as an answer, and Astin is the more sensible sensitive one who spends the movie pining for a coed (Sarah Wright). Wright, of course, has a bullyish brute for a boyfriend (Jonathan Keltz) that Astin and Teller tangle with throughout the movie.

Although they drink heavily, Teller and Astin never act drunk. They always seem to have enough of a head on their shoulders to weather what comes at them. Even very late in the movie, when they get captured by angry girls from a Hispanic sorority (who aim to punish them for a crime that I’d rather not go into) and get forced into a gay panic scenario, they seem completely sober. I wish I wasn’t when watching this.

Seth MacFarlane got a lot of flack earlier this week for how racist, sexist, and homophobic his jokes as Oscar host were, but the real problem to me wasn’t his subject matter, it was that none of it was funny. I believe that in terms of comedy, nothing is sacred - no topic should be too taboo - but there has to be some element of relatable humor involved.

In the case of 21 AND OVER there is not one trace of amusement. It’s a base exercise that makes the HAROLD & KUMAR movies look like high comic art. Here’s hoping its target audience will skip it. This is one time that a real night of drinking and debauchery would sure do them a lot more good than seeing this pile of pure puke.

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