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The DVD-Blus: ‘Batman: Doom That Came To Gotham’, ‘Missing’, ‘Plane’, ‘The Whale’, ‘Women Talking’, & More!

Here we are, on the first day of April with a new batch of reviews covering some of the latest releases in home media.  Prepare you shopping list and queue up you streamers!

Missing

Sony Pictures

In 2018, Searching starring John Cho was presented in an unusual format where the majority of the film was seen from the point of view of a computer, but rather than being a mere gimmick with no substance, Searching turned out to be a rather suspenseful thriller full of not all only multiple narrative twists, but also a deeply compelling central performance by Cho.

While not a direct sequel, Missing is, however, masterminded by the people behind Searching, and there are a few nods towards the predecessor of this anthology-like followup.

Once again, the film is predominantly seen from the perspective of a computer, and its apps linked up with various other devices, whenever teenager June (Storm Reid) passes her time online while her mother is away on holiday with her boyfriend.

As the title of course suggests, someone must go missing at some point, and when June’s mother and her boyfriend fail to return from their holiday, June is left standing confused in LAX before she starts her quest to find her mother.

By shifting the main protagonist from the parent to the child, the speed at which various apps and devices are utilized is increased, opening up the scope of what is possible with the framework of the concept of a story playing out with contemporary technology at its core. In turn, this also ensures a naturally snappy pace that is refreshing without becoming muddled or incoherent, and it is refreshing to see Gen Z’s much maligned relationship with technology and social media being shown as an advantage in this scenario rather than being portrayed as a sign of incompetence.

Naturally, the main protagonist being compelling is only partially due to the writing, and it is Storm Reid’s central performance that cements June as a likeable yet flawed protagonist, whom it is easy to remain invested in for the duration of the runtime.

Be it her stereotypically apathetic teenage attitude prior to her mother’s disappearance or her subdued panic as the situation escalates, Reid proves to be a relatable lead, whose portrayal of the child searching for her parent resonates emotionally thanks to how grounded and subtly nuanced her performance is.

Much like Searching, the fact that the setting and style is grounded in the mundane helps to elevate the tension, since the mundanity serves as an excellent juxtapostion of the increasingly unsettling story, and the film is largely unpredictable as its plot unfolds with both several red herrings and multiple shocking twists.

However, another thing that is unfortunately also similar to how the plot of Searching unfolded is that it goes a little overboard with the twists towards the end. While the core of the mystery is not farfetched in and of itself, some audience members may find it a little too melodramatic for their tastes, resulting in some being unable to maintain their investment in the narrative as a whole.

Extras include commentary, deleted scenes, and several featurettes.

That being said, much like Seacrhing, Missing is one of the better thrillers released in recent years, and even if it goes somewhat off the rails towards the end and should not be scrutinized too heavily, it is nonetheless an engaging little piece of disposable escapism, which is once again anchored by a solid central performance from the main protagonist, and a clever use of contemporary technology. 7 out of 10. (– Leyla Mikkelsen)

Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham

Warner Bros.

The Caped Crusader returns to his roots in the latest release from Warner Bros. Animation under its DC Animated banner. Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham reimagines the classic hero in a tale inspired by the works of noted pulp writer H.P. Lovecraft. The mashup is a natural marriage and offers a fun and novel take on familiar fan-favorite characters.

The Doom That Came to Gotham places Batman in the 1920’s fighting to save his city from an ancient evil unleashed by a cult with ties to both Gotham’s founding and the murder of Batman’s parents twenty-years earlier. The animated feature was adapted from the 2000-2001 DC Elseworlds comics written by Mike Mignola and Richard Pace with art by Troy Nixey and Dennis Janke.

Although Lovecraft died in 1937, two years before the debut of Batman, the character was born from the same genre pool in which the author of weird tales of cosmic horror swam.

Lovecraft’s stories often centered upon a man of means, a believer in reason and science, seeped in superstition, and battling against madness and lurking evil.

Bruce Wayne certainly fits the bill. That shared DNA provides a natural starting point for placing Batman in Lovecraft’s milieu of hidden secrets, elder gods, and ancient magic.

The story is populated with familiar faces given fresh twists. Three of Batman’s regular sidekicks appear as Bruce Wayne’s wards, resourceful orphans he has taken under his wing during his travels to serve as his trusted assistants. Longtime allies like Oracle, Green Arrow, and The Demon appear in ways appropriate to the ‘20s setting and Lovecraftian vibe without losing the essence of their characters. The same is true for villains including The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Ra’s al Ghul, and others who appear in playfully twisted yet recognizable roles.

David Giuntoli provides the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman, returning to the role after previously portraying the Dark Knight in the 2021 animated feature Batman: Soul of the Dragon. The cast also includes Tati Gabrielle, Jason Marsden, Christopher Gorham, John DiMaggio, Gideon Adlon, Tim Russ, and Jeffrey Combs.

While the cast performs solidly, the decision to utilize some of the actors to voice multiple characters is an awkward one which creates several brief moments of discontinuity and confusion as the voice of one character becomes the voice of a different character in the following scene with very little change in tone or delivery. It is a small but obvious flaw in an otherwise well executed feature.

DC animation veteran Sam Liu co-directed the feature along with Christopher Berkeley. The script was adapted by writer Jace Ricci, whose previous credits include the animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure.

Extras include commentary, featurettes, trailers, and two classic episodes from Batman: The Animated Series

The film carries a strong PG-13 rating, with elements of supernatural horror and violence that might upset younger viewers.

Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham leans into the character’s pulp traditions to provide a refreshing take on classic DC characters.  ( – Bill Hendee)

Plane

Lionsgste

In 2006, Gerard Butler was everywhere.

The face that toplined Zack Snyder’s hit 300 also launched countless “This is Sparta!” memes, vaulting Butler into the stardom that eluded his grasp following title roles in Dracula 2000 and The Phantom of the Opera. He went from supporting roles in Reign of Fire and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life to romantic leads in P.S. I Love You and The Ugly Truth.

And he was all wrong.

Nearly two decades later, Gerard Butler is where he’s probably meant to be, fronting mid-budget action thrillers as flawed, beat-to-hell everymen thrust over their heads, from his successful Fallen franchise to Den of Thieves.

Plane might be the best movie of this phase in his career. That isn’t to say it’s a great film – it’s competent and suitably thrilling, but far from revolutionary.

However, his performance gives what would be an ordinary potboiler an emotional depth and vitality we weren’t quite expecting.

Butler stars as Brodie Torrance, a commercial airline pilot with a military background. It’s New Year’s Eve and Torrance has just over a dozen passengers headed to Honolulu – where he’s also on his way to visit his daughter.

It seems as though the worst thing he has to deal with on this flight is having a prisoner, Louis Gaspard (Mike Colter), being extradited to face a murder charge in Canada. But when an airline manager coerces him into flying through a storm in order to save time, things get much worse.

The plane is struck by lightning and crash-lands on an island in the Philippines – and the island is controlled by a sadistic warlord. While the airline launches search and rescue efforts, Torrance and Gaspard must work together to save the crew and passengers when the warlord’s men kidnap them.

That’s about all there is as far as plot, but Butler really commits to Torrance, a man who has never killed anyone and still can’t bring himself to do it. Colter makes a fine anti-hero as Gaspard, a former soldier able to do the dirty work Torrance won’t do, but it’s Butler’s grounded performance that steals the show, even as Tony Goldwyn starts chewing a few scenes as the airline’s crisis manager, eager to find the passengers alive and prevent a scandal.

Director Jean-Francois Richet keeps everything clear, working in the mode of DTV action auteurs like Jesse V. Johnson and Isaac Florentine. There’s no crazy editing and overuse of slow-motion, but he does manage to wow us with a single-take grappling fight in the early going.  Extras include featurettes and trailer.

Plane is certainly the kind of action movie that ruled theaters in the ’90s. We don’t see enough of those now, and perhaps that’s what makes it a bit of a curio in today’s theatrical landscape.

Yet, Butler’s strong performance and chemistry with Colter make it a little more memorable than the average actioner. It’s not the sleekest flight, but it’s undoubtedly one worth boarding. ( – Andre Bennett)

B’Twixt Now and Sunrise: The Authentic Cut

Lionsgate

B’Twixt Now and Sunrise: The Authentic Cut (Henceforth, B’Twixt) is a 2023 director’s cut of a 2011 American horror film (before simply titled Twixt) directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation, The Godfather) and starring Val Kilmer (Tombstone, Heat), Bruce Dern (Family Plot, The Hateful Eight), and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon, A Rainy Day in New York).

I generally despise the term “magical realism” which is formally a contradiction in terms and practically a critical fig leaf to convey the importance English speakingd critics reserve for literary realism onto more fantastical stories from other cultures that have not excised their folklore from their literary traditions. Still, the phrase was the first one that popped into my mind while I watched B’Twixt the horror mystery from legendary director Francis Ford Coppola.

B’Twixt is thus far the most recent release from Coppola in a series of small, fascinating, and experimental films he’s undertaken since 2007’s Youth Without Youth. Coppola seems to be using his exile from Hollywood since 1997’s The Rainmaker to finally tell stories he believes in and the uncompromising spirit that animates the work has led to the films being largely ignored by critics outside of France.

That’s a real shame because B’Twixt is not just formally interesting, but a real crowd pleaser. A small-scale horror mystery with heart and humor and engaging performances that continually surprises and delights. I would not hesitate to add this version of the film to a list of the best films of the 2010’s (Lord knows, such a list would need all the help it can get). I’m going to get into plot details here but I recommend going into the film totally cold, and then circling back for the continuation of the discussion here.

Val Kilmer plays Hall Baltimore, an alcoholic horror writer on a tour of small town America promoting a book, when on his latest stop he’s approached by eccentric local sheriff Bobby Lagrange (Dern) about collaborating on a book detailing a series of local murders. Initially skeptical, Lagrange convinces Baltimore to look at an impaled corpse in the local morgue and the experience, coupled with his own financial and drinking problems triggers a vivid waking dream of the town that convinces Baltimore to stay and dig into what’s going on.

The film is intensely literary: dream sequences feature Ben Chaplin as Edgar Allan Poe (who once spent a night in the town’s ragged hotel) as a kind of Virgil to Baltimore’s Dante, guiding him to the dark and shameful heart of the town’s secrets. Punk teens across the river recite Boudelaire with verve, and the entire story is steeped in American horror folklore that recalls Hawthorne, Poe, and Bierce. Dern is also exceptional as a Sheriff whose folksy eccentricity gradually gives way to real menace recalling the real monsters of small town America in the 20th century– the killer no one has noticed living amongst us.

B’Twixt is a strange visual cousin to Coppola’s amazing 1993 production Bram Stoker’s Dracula where its visual charge comes from how surreal the proceedings are but where that film overwhelms like a trip to the opera to see Wagner, B’Twixt is like being charmed at a small bar watching a woman sing murder ballads. It is openly magical, the effects are not intended to convey a sense of reality but of a world of intuition and fear that lies beneath the mundane world of the town. A secret world that maybe every American town hides in its soul.

Extras include a documentary by Coppola’s son, Gia

In its original form, Twixt was bookended by a set of reversals and surprises that detracted from the main emotional climax: Baltimore’s coming to grips with the death that actually haunts him, but in this new form the film dispenses with the formal and ends at the key revelation. Whether you prefer this approach will depend on how fully you accept the film as a dream and the thematic approach beneath the plot. The film isn’t about vampires or evil priests but about the magical implications of everyday life. The tremendous power in bringing life into the world, in calling a place home, in keeping our word, in taking ownership of our place in the world. It’s a fairytale about how life is like a fairytale, and on those terms the new ending is a decided improvement. 4 out of 5 ( – Will McGuire)

The Whale

Lionsgate Films

Make no mistake. The Whale is emotional torture porn.

I don’t say that pejoratively. Just understand going in that this film adaptation of Samuel D Hunter’s play is going to gut you. The swirl of emotions this film evokes covers pretty much the entire wheel.

Brendan Fraser’s acting ability was more or less stolen from us for the better part of 20 years.  Seeing him reemerge in a phenomenal role in Condor a couple of years ago and then take the golden statue for this role should shame Hollywood for what it did to him.
His range, emotional availability and brutally honest portrayal of Charlie made up the kind of performance that’s hard to find these days because, quite frankly, these types of films don’t get made much anymore.
Hong Chau, as Liz, Charlie’s only friend, bonded in the pain of her own brother’s death puts on a magical performance.
The emotional bond they share, coupled with her living grief watching Brendan Fraser slowly expire, brutally carves the audience to the bone as we have no choice to feel her emotions cascade over us.
Sadie Sink as Charlie’s angry, estranged daughter Ellie is magical. She pours her teenage rage over us like acid as she reconnects with her father near the end of his life. Her need for connection while pretending not to care is so perfectly communicated it’s easy to forget she’s 17.
Ty Simpkins brings god’s point of view to the plot.  We are confronted with the complexity of god, religion, and the pain we induce upon ourselves as we try and correlate everything to some meaning. We see the power of religion’s ability to punish love because it doesn’t come in that definition of god’s approved form. Samuel D Hunter’s experience as an LGBTQ+ teen in Idaho feels like a foundational offscreen character, perhaps Hon Chau’s deceased brother.
Samuel Hunter is an excellent writer. Before I knew The Whale was originally a play, I could feel it was written for the stage. There are certain technical things about playwriting that you find, even in excellent adaptation like this one that scream STAGE! Hunter has an economy of language, powerful semantic choices and clear but believable dialogue that doesn’t step on itself. (This can be incredibly challenging for performers if the writing isn’t spot on)
Charlie’s character is an online college English teacher craving honesty from his students and there are regular references to essays throughout the film, one in particular about Moby Dick.  Truly great writing is about honestly portraying thoughts and feelings on a page.
I was lucky enough to take a couple of semesters of creative writing from the late Sarah Pfaffenroth, at Morris County College in Randolph, NJ  Those classes spawned American poet Rogan Kelly and descriptive audio pioneer Eric Wickstrom.
I remember going back to visit Sarah with Rogan a couple of years later and we listened to the students read their assignments from the week. I leaned over to her at one point and whispered, “They are too scared to be honest.”
She smiled and said, “Terrified.”
Charlie’s character gets so frustrated about the lack of authenticity from his class that he begs them for honesty. The undercurrent of his own desire to see meaning at the end of his life spilling over into his professional existence. Spilling over the audience, begging us to live our lives with authenticity so we don’t see our end with regret, hoping we did something worthwhile when the lights go out forever.
Extras include two featurettes.
Darren Aronofsky’s direction of Samuel D Hunter’s words demanded authenticity from everyone associated with this film, from the cast to the audience. We are required to confront our own definitions of self and meaning to get the most out of this powerful and award winning film. 5 out of 5 (– David Landsman)
The Remains of the Day

Sony Pictures

The Remains of the Day is a 1993 British-Indian drama, adapted from the excellent 1989 novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro.  It is one of the legendary Merchant-Ivory productions, that is to say, a collaboration between producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory (A Room with a View, Howards End, Jefferson in Paris) a combination renowned for a stunning run of prestige adult dramas between 1961 and Merchant’s death in 2005.  It stars Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), Emma Thompson (Much Ado About Nothing), James Fox (The Russia House) and Christopher Reeve (Superman: The Movie).

This is one of the greatest romantic tragedies ever made, as merciless in its depiction of its protagonist, the English class system and the problems in government it fostered, and the callous disregard humans can have for precious life and what is vital in it as any film ever made.

This is one of the greatest films of the 1990’s and I know this a site mainly for genre fans but if you can get past the stilted repression the setting forces upon its characters, you will be treated to a film that is painful to watch in the most beautiful ways.

The Remains of the Day is primarily the story of Stevens, played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins, the longtime butler at Darlington Hall. The Hall was the ancestral home of the now disgraced Earl of Darlington (Fox), but is now occupied by a retired American politician and millionaire (Reeve).

When the former longtime housekeeper Miss Kenton (Thompson, in a performance every bit the equal of Hopkins) reaches out to Stevens after decades out of contact he takes a working holiday to persuade her to return to the Hall and recollects the long history between them.

At the center of that history is the obvious and agonizing mutual affection Kenton and Stevens held for one another but Stevens refused to act on in order to maintain a sense of decorum. Everyone remembers this aspect of the film because it’s the most cinematic stuff in the picture, but upon rewatching it I was shocked to discover that now I see the never-consummated affection and the years wasted between Stevens and Kenton as only the most visceral example of the central class tragedy of the film that Stevens represents.

Stevens, for all his pomp and exactitude, is clearly a sensitive, good hearted man who has literally, not just wasted his life, but subsumed the whole of his ability to act on his normal human emotions because he takes seriously a code of conduct and a hierarchical system that was not worthy of him.

As he no doubt agonized for long years about the limits of his ability to show affection to Kenton, his employer was pursuing the cause of fascism in England out of an assuredness that men like Stevens cannot govern themselves. The great dramatic irony being that the upper class are incapable of denying themselves anything, while Stevens has lived a life of super-monastic discipline to uphold a standard that was already a zombie.

There is a sequence in the film where Stevens is publicly embarrassed by his employer’s guest for not giving his opinions on geopolitics as evidence that the lower classes are inferior, while the man doing the interrogation was incapable of seeing the danger Hitler presented but was empowered to engage in the political realm because of his station.

Extras include commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, and a trailer

Stevens represents the tragedy, because Kenton was never as compromised by the limits of her station– instead her steadfast desire to keep a space for her own life drives her into the opposite sorts of problems: a marriage that is also unworthy of her wit and willpower. The concluding scene where the two meet and part one final time ranks up with Casablanca or The Third Man in terms of devastating but eminently logical endings to a romantic drama.  See this film. 4½ out of 5 ( – Will McGuire)

Women Talking

Universal Studios

Women Talking is a beautifully crafted film that fails to resonate due to its fatally bleak tone.

Which is a shame, really. The film, based on the 2018 novel of the same name, inspired by true events and written by Miriam Toews, has everything going for it.

The cast is stellar, the imagery perfect and the story gripping.

Ultimately, however, the film’s lack of focus on Ona, the character whose violent rape is the inciting incident of the story, or any particular character for that matter, leads to a meandering narrative that fails to land the punch the film feels like it’s been heading towards.

Or was that the intent? It’s hard to tell with non-mainstream films.

The ending is bittersweet, leaning a little too heavily on bitter.

That’s certainly not always a bad thing.

But, in this case, while the ending is defiantly not Hollywood, it feels too real and leaves us walking away feeling unresolved and unsatisfied.

We have just spent nearly two hours with these women, getting behind them, feeling sorry for them, wanting them to better themselves, only for it to feel like a hollow victory when some do

The film is set in a fictional modern day isolated ultraorthodox religious colony. After one of the young women is drugged and raped, the men who committed the crime are arrested. As the rest of the men go into town in support of their brothers and arrange for bail, the women gather to vote on whether or not to leave the colony.

It’s a great premise that explores very dark themes. You’d think the vote would be a no-brainer, but that’s the problem with indoctrination. One becomes convinced that life is narrow and that your destiny lies in the hands of a nebulous deity and not your own. Therefore, not everyone is convinced that escaping an oppressive life is the right thing to do and the story becomes the age-old progressive versus conservative debate.  Great stuff.

But this is how the film spends the vast majority of its time, debating whether to stay or go in both public and private forums, only to be hastened by the imminent return of the men. When some of the women do decide to leave, any sense of relief is blunted by the fear of the undiscovered country that lies ahead.

While we do get to know the women, young and old alike, because the tone is so grey, it’s hard to feel any sense of joy whatsoever. Even The Monkees “Daydream Believer” sequence, where the classically uplifting song supports scenes showcasing the women, especially the younger, finding some solace in their daily routines, can’t alleviate a feeling of hopelessness.

What’s disturbing and begs for some suspension of disbelief is how bad things are for these women. It’s very Handmaid’s Tale. They’re treated as property and have no rights according to their religion. They’re forbidden to read and write and virtually have no say in regard to their own lives.  And although this may seem like hyper-fiction to us, sadly this is a very real reality for hundreds of thousands of women across the world. When I realize this, the story becomes so much more visceral.

The performances, of course, are perfection. The top tier ensemble cast includes Clair Foy, Mara Rooney and Frances McDormand, but they are the stars in name only. The supporting cast, the likes of Sheila McCarthy, Emily Mitchel, Michelle McLeod, and Judy Ivey, to name but a few, knock it out of the park.

The only male character is portrayed by Ben Whishaw who serves as the record keeper of the vote debate since the women of the colony cannot read or write. He also seems to be the only man in colony with any sense of sympathy and moral fortitude.

Luc Montpellier’s cinematography adds weight to the grave situation with his gray, boarding on monochromatic tones, which encapsulate the binary choices the characters are faced with in the film.

But it’s Sarah Polley’s leadership as director that ties everything together resulting in everything good cinema has to offer. She even won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for her efforts here. It’s an amazing piece of work.

Which brings me back to “how can everything so right go so horribly wrong?” It comes down to choice. Choice between making a thought-provoking film that ultimately uplifts, or making a thought-provoking film that refuses to give us that Hollywood ending and shows us how ugly life can be, even when you make the right choice.

Women Talking chose the latter. And while I can appreciate that choice and the care and detail that went into making this film, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. ( – Anthony Sword)

Cocaine Bear

Universal Studios

Before we begin let’s face some truths, you aren’t seeing Cocaine Bear for any other reason than it’s called Cocaine Bear.

Yes, it’s loosely based on an actual incident where a bear (back in the mid 80s) found a loot of coke in a Georgia forest, ate it and then promptly died, but no, no one was terrorized by a manically high bear, now hooked on the Snow White and rampaging violently through the bodies of various forest visitors and law enforcement.

I mean, that would be both horrific and yet hilarious at the same time (sue me, I find humor in horrible things), and be more suited to a 12-episode Netflix limited series rather than a horror comedy running concurrently via streaming and at the theater.

But hey, no one goes into a movie called COCAINE BEAR with any other thought than “This shit is about to be crazy” and on that, director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect series, Charlie’s Angels) delivers.

While the trailer made it seem like a non-stop murder-a-thon, Banks manages to create a linear storyline that injects B-movie grade-A gore with just the right amount of solid performances to carry the plot through to the finish line without managing to disappoint the audience, something that it could have easily done if Banks and screen writer Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter 2: Killer Queen) didn’t embrace the crazy. It would have also been very easy to simply make this movie into a huge waste of time by winking hard at the audience, but Banks (who has been in over 250 movies/tv/video games and has some serious chops by this point, both as an actor and as a producer/director) understands the material and knows that to make a good horror comedy, you need to respect the genre and populate the movie with actors who can have fun with the subject matter while still managing to do the work involved.

And by god, did they hit those acting beats hard.

Kerri Russell (The Americans, Felicity), O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton, Longshot), Alden Ehrenreich (Beautiful Creatures, Solo: A Star Wars Story), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Wire, Veep) and the late Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Cop Land) all give great performances throughout and drive home the sub storylines without overwhelming the basic plot point of a drugged out mama bear who has the flesh munchies and a driving need for pounds of cocaine. (Which, is in fact, why you go to a movie like this)

But the glue to keeping this 95 minute movie together falls on these actors who can portray characters whose lives are all connected via the bear, even though each are struggling with personal issues that manage to get resolved or, in the case of a couple characters, violently terminated, by the end of the movie. I mean, that is some serious skill for a horror comedy when the vast majority of horror is notorious for falling apart in the last act.

There are three actors in this film that definitely need to be called out for superior performances: the two kids, Christian Convery (Sweet Tooth, Playing With Fire) and Brooklynn Prince (who was effervescent in The Florida Project) who play Henry and Dee Dee, whose banter and chemistry are well above the usual cutesy/kids-in-distress characters you usually see (and I still can’t believe that the scene with them and a found brick of cocaine wasn’t-thankfully– edited out because it is such an exquisite piece of uncomfortable comedy) and the always incredible Margo Martindale (Mrs. America, August: Osage County) who single-handedly managed to create the most WTAF violence/craziness in the character of Forest Ranger Liz.

Seriously, Martindale uses her screentime to make her character memorable to the point of iconic. I love this woman and I would kill just to watch a movie about Ranger Liz.

There’s also a highly gifted collection of cameo actors as well who are in the film for mere minutes and act as snack food for the bear. Their deaths are gruesome, glorious and pure comedy gold. I spent a lot of the movie pointing at the screen whenever one popped up and squealed with glee at which they were thoroughly dispatched by Madame Cocaine Bear. It is a bloody good time to watch body parts and entrails whizzing through the air and you can see, even at their disembowelment, just how much fun everyone had in making this movie.

And lets not forget the actual bear herself. The CGI isn’t distracting, it feels solid in the scenes with the various actors and while it isn’t, say, Pirates of the Caribbean‘s “Davy Jones “level (which, to this day is still the most solid, fully CGI character I’ve ever seen) it still manages to make you forget that there is no actual bear on screen. So kudos to Banks’ team for pulling that one off, especially for a movie with a budget that wouldn’t normally suggest good CGI (as compared to say to the horrible Luke Skywalker CGI on The Mandalorian and had the entirety of Industrial Light and Magic doing its bidding and failing miserably).

But of course the biggest question remains: Is Cocaine Bear a great movie?

It definitely is for that audience who wants a solid entry into the horror comedy genre and is looking to have a fun time watching a bear snort coke off a ripped off leg stump. If you are looking for anything deeper, go elsewhere, this is not your bag.

Now, if you excuse me, I’m gonna start building my Ranger Liz cosplay outfit. I’m feeling a bit freaky.  ( – Elizabeth Weitz)

A Man Called Otto

Sony Pictures

Tom Hanks has had an astonishingly impressive career in show business and he seems well-adjusted, happily married for many years, and just downright nice! Those same qualities may well be why some choose not to take him seriously and ignore or belittle the fact that he’s also been one of our finest living screen actors for decades now.

This is NOT something I would’ve ever predicted when Bosom Buddies appeared on TV back when I was in my late teens. Sheepishly, I admit that I thought Peter Scolari much more talented than Hanks.

When Mr. and Mrs. Hanks became the celebrity face of Covid-19 a couple of years back, I questioned—along with most people—whether they would survive, and whether this would affect his career in any way if so.

I need not have worried. The movie Hanks had been shooting at the time he took ill was Elvis, and the resulting film presented his deeply nuanced performance as the real-life hero/villain of Elvis’s story, Col. Tom Parker.

A lot of Hanks’ performances are deeply nuanced—Ignore Bachelor Party and you get a pretty good run of increasingly strong and now-iconic characters from Mazes and Monsters to Philadelphia to Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, Toy Story, The Green Mile, Sully, and even David S. Pumpkins! Any questions?

And now A Man Called Otto. A Man Called Otto is long and mostly predictable but carried off so well not just by Hanks but by the entire ensemble cast that the feels hit when they need to and all head toward a perfectly satisfying ending.

Just because I knew where we were headed by no means indicates that I didn’t enjoy the trip immensely. Otto can, at least in some ways, be seen as the aging Forrest Gump. In this case, he’s more of a Forrest Grump. His wife having died a few years earlier—a story pieced together for the viewers as we go along—Otto is a lonely, grumpy older man, set in his ways, a stickler for rules, and with nary a kind word for anyone.

This particularly includes the new Spanish-speaking family moving in directly across the street from him. He isn’t prejudiced against them because of their heritage. He hates them because they can’t park right, they’re always borrowing things, and they have two noisy kids, all of which keeps interrupting his attempts at doing away with himself. He feels as though the world has passed him by and taken from him the only thing that made him human and he’s more than ready to end it all.

But then there’s the paperboy, who had been one of his teacher wife’s students. And other neighbors, former friends who are about to be forcibly evicted by a new condo association trying to take over their longtime home. And what about the man who falls on the railroad tracks, or the vlogger who wants to interview Otto about it? Life just keeps happening and won’t slow down long enough for him to end it!

As I say, it’s predictable. Grumpy old man is won over in the end. That’s not a spoiler, by the way, as the minute you know the premise you can guess that. What you can’t guess are some of the surprising twists and turns it all takes as you go along, and how Otto manages to incorporate it all for a climactic triumph, and even then there are still a couple surprises to bring up the rear.

Extras include featurettes, music video, a deleted scene and various Sony trailers.

In Otto, Tom Hanks has created what will likely become yet another iconic characterization. In doing so, he has brought out the best in all of the other actors in the film, and we get a genuinely poignant, funny movie that—predictable though it is—never feels manipulative. When the tears come—and unless you’re some sort of hard-hearted grump yourself, they will—they’re real.

A Man Called Otto is yet another in a long line of successes for a man called Tom Hanks.

Booksteve recommends. 

Knock At The Cabin

Universal Studios

As some wag commented online, “if Drax and Harry Weasley arrived on your doorstep claiming the apocalypse was about to happen, you’d believe them, wouldn’t you?”

Well, perhaps in that case, assuming you hadn’t been spiked with psychedelic drugs, the entire Marvel and Harry Potter universes would team up and ensure that never happened, probably culminating in some spectacular, senses-shattering battle of cosmic proportions that would save the world and spawn several new movie franchises to boot, but not here.

Oh no, definitely not in Knock At The Cabin...

We meet eight-year-old Chinese-American girl Wen (delightful newcomer Kristen Cui) and her two dads Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), both bland, generic but loving parents, as they head on vacation to a remote woodland cabin in idyllic surroundings.

Wen is out catching grasshoppers in the woods when she encounters the hulking, softly-spoken Leonard (Dave Bautista) who seems friendly enough, but what does he possibly want?

Soon enough he returns with three sinister companions, redneck Redmond (a wasted Rupert Grint with somewhat unconvincing facial hair), nerdy Adriane (Abby Quinn) and earnest Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) each armed with weird medieval weapons, who enter the cabin and take the family captive. As Leonard explains (and boy, is there some exposition in this movie!) the strangers have been directed by visions to find Wen and her family and persuade them to make a chilling decision. Judgement Day is supposedly imminent and can only be averted by their having to choose who will voluntarily die to prevent the planet burning to a cinder.

So there we have it, ladies and gentlemen, the Big Bad of this movie is either the vengeful God of the Old Testament demanding a meaningless sacrifice by good people entirely undeserving of such a fate or a bunch of religious psychopaths!

Now given the cinematic history of isolated cabins in the woods, from the Evil Dead franchise, a host of z-list redneck slasher flicks to Tucker & Dale Vs Evil and of course, Cabin In The Woods (!), they could be deemed at best irresponsible, at worst, totally insane as vacation destinations.  But this is not a demonically possessed cabin, a haunted cabin or even a cabin built on Indian burial grounds – this is a nice cabin, one equipped with more books than Frasier Crane’s apartment and cable TV, which is just as well, considering just how much time we spend there as a location.

Normally in the hands of a skilled film-maker, single locations can make for tense storytelling, ingenuity and genuine thrills. Sadly Knock At The Cabin might have the stakes but lacks the real tension we need in such a story. The cult-ish captors aren’t the Westboro Baptist Church, delighting in others’ suffering, but genuinely believe they have been called on by a higher power, for better or worse; nobody goes full Brad Dourif here! Bautista gives the best performance in the movie as their deeply troubled, mortified leader, his physical presence complementing his stillness.  We get a few flashes of anger and violence, several futile attempts at escape but the horror element is somewhat underwhelming.

Based on Paul Tremblay’s novel, (which, I believe, had a radically different ending), Knock At The Cabin asks more questions than it answers. Ultimately we do get an answer on that “God or psychopaths” question as we do get to see some of those handy natural disasters (fires, floods, planes plummeting from the sky, all basically a job for Superman), through the handy device of the cabin’s cable TV, as well as a brief cameo from Shyamalan selling air fryers on QVC!  (Personally I would have hoped Our Lord might have reined in his temper after all these millennia, but hey.)  But how was the family selected? Did one of the captors really encounter them earlier? These and other questions remain unanswered.

I’m guessing Shyamalan really wanted this to be a return to form after the middling Old and a few previous clunkers – he clearly has real talent, but ultimately Knock At The Cabin isn’t it. For a movie about the end of the world, it was surprisingly anti-climactic. If you must, watch it for Dave- Bautista, not me! ( – Dave Jackson)

Rocky: The Knockout Collection

Warner Bros.

Introduction: This set includes the original four Rocky films in 4K, with noticeably improved picture and some sound serious issues across the entire set. 

With the exception of a featurette, all special features have appeared before in previous releases, but this set does include something very special, Rocky IV: The Ultimate Director’s Cut.

•   •   •

Man, where do I start this review?

Do I begin with talking about how I was a full blown Cold War Kid?

How I was 13 when the original Rocky IV came out?

How I was completely indoctrinated by Reagan and his fight against Communism by that time?

Decked out in my “All-American Commie Buster” tee shirt complete with Russian Soldier in the red circle with the slash á la Ghostbusters, I was ready to defend my adopted country from the eminent Red Wave shown to me by John Millius and the Wolverines a year earlier and a year before Pete “Maverick” Mitchell had me convinced I wanted to fly F-14 Tomcats. So much so I made it my mission to get into Annapolis; a feat I almost accomplished until early into my Jr year of high school I decided I wanted to be an artist and filmmaker instead.

Or do I begin on how I always loved the Rocky films and how when Rocky IV came out I saw it in the theaters like 5 times and then watched pretty much every airing of it I could on the various cable channels whenever I could? How I filled a VHS tape with 4 copies of the film then watched that until it disintegrated?

No, I think I will begin this review by saying that I think that this re-edit by Sylvester Stallone is a fascinating and curious study on how we age and grow and peering at the past through today’s eyes really gives us a sense of where were were as a person at the time and who we are now are very different and more reflective.

A warning from here on that this review will contain spoilers for this almost 40 year old film, so be warned.

I very much enjoyed this new cut of such a quintessentially 80’s film through the mature director’s eyes, a man in his late 70’s and even though it is essentially the same run time (I believe it is only 2 minutes longer) overall it is a much less bombastic and “Fuck yeah, Eighties!” film. What do I mean by that? I mean, there are some films that can really only exist in their true form in the 1980’s.

They could have only been made in the 1980’s decade of decadence, cocaine fueled, Reaganomics; Red Dawn, The Karate Kid, Rocky III & IV, Rambo, Wall Street, etc. These are 80’s films. Take them out of the 1980’s and they don’t work. See the remakes of  Red Dawn, The Karate Kid (Not Cobra Kai, that is an entirely different beast altogether), the sequel to Wall Street. Take these films out of the 80’s and they don’t work.

When I first heard that Sylvester Stallone was heading back and recutting this film into something new that we had never seen before, I was extremely doubtful. Why mess with perfection? Not that Rocky IV was ever a good movie but it was a movie of its time and a perfect example of where we were as a society in America at the time. During lockdown, I followed Stallone’s journey as he posted about the work he was doing on the film. I was fascinated to see.

What Stallone has done here is try to recut and rejigger Rocky IV into a more character based personal film sort of in the vein of his original film and the incredible Rocky Balboa and away from the more excessive ridiculousness the film is inherently full of. He has cut and replaced over 38 minutes of alternate and longer takes to try and achieve this.

He has removed a lot of the weird and awkward comedic things like Paulie’s really strange hyper-sexualized robot birthday present and party and replaced it with a longer introduction of the fight with Clubber Lang from the previous film. He then cuts to an extended talk with Apollo in Micky’s Club. Entire sequences are removed and replaced with more character development.

We get a better sense of Apollo’s unhappiness with his retirement and his “legacy”. There are a few jumpy, awkward cuts, I am assuming because Stallone didn’t have the shot coverage to do exactly what he wanted to do with this edit; however overall it works and the point is driven home.

Where Stallone succeeds is in trying to make this a more character driven story. Adrian has more dialogue really showing how she really is the voice of reason. Apollo becomes more of the tragic catalyst through added dialogue showing how he is even more desperate to be the center of attention once again even if it means he has to die, something he knows is almost inevitable.

Rocky is shown to blame himself personally for Apollo’s death. Drago is an actual character in this film now. Though he has more dialogue, by more I mean a couple of lines, Stallone actually uses a lot of cutting room floor reaction shots by Dolph Lundgren to show he is not as okay as he was shown in the previous cut at being a puppet for the Motherland.

Where this experiment fails is that in the end it is Rocky IV.

A film made in and of its time. It doesn’t have the grit and the solemnness required to make it truly what I think Stallone wishes it could be. A film about accepting one’s age and that past glories fade and we are sometimes forgotten. It is a highly polished film made when looking good no matter what was happening to you was important. Where everything had to be new and shiny. There was a strange patina to pop culture and media in the 1980’s that few films and shows today can replicate properly. Stallone has the opposite problem here, he can’t grub up this shiny flashy film enough to make it the more serious character driven film that his original Rocky or the 2006 Rocky Balboa did with aplomb.

Overall, I did enjoy this version of the film that I could recite, even now, by heart and memory. And once I got past my own preconceived notions of what to expect, again, I know this film verbatim, I was able to sit back and enjoy what Stallone attempted and give him a lot of props for trying something new with it.

If you are a fan of the Rocky series I definitely recommend you check out this reimagining of “What could have been” if Rocky IV was not made in the decade of decadence and excess.  (– Benn Robbins)

Magic Mike’s Last Dance

Warner Bros.

The first Magic Mike movie was an interesting blend of men stripping while also being a bit of a meditation on the struggle of achieving the American Dream in a difficult economy.

The second movie, Magic Mike: XXL, tweaked the format and became a road trip buddy comedy loaded with tons of humor and fun.

What is the third movie, Magic Mike’s Last Dance, then? Interestingly enough, the flick has now morphed into a bit of a modern romantic comedy with a lot of self-awareness about how rom-coms can themselves be cliché.

The movie opens with Mike (Channing Tatum) working as a bartender due to the pandemic ruining his furniture business. He finds himself dancing for a wealthy socialite named Max (Selma Hayek, absolutely killing it in this role). Then, before fifteen minutes have even passed we are in London where Mike is going to be putting on a cabaret show of sorts as the new stage manager after impressing Max with his moves.

The movie honestly could’ve been called, Magic Mike Goes to London, as we spend almost the entirety of the film there, and a good deal of humor is wrung out of how much of a fish out of water Mike feels like in another country surrounded by wealthy people who act fake when he is honest and blunt to nearly a fault.

The fact Mike is in London does bring me to one of my few quibbles with the movie, namely that all of his awesome friends barely appear in it outside of a group Zoom call. The camaraderie of all the guys in the second movie was so enjoyable that their presence is missed in this film, but the chemistry between Channing Tatum‘s Mike and Salma Hayek‘s Max thankfully provides plenty of entertainment.

Mike and Max don’t necessarily have a, “Will they or won’t they?” vibe because they do hook up the first ten minutes in the movie and then decide that they should not sleep together anymore and keep their relationship professional.

So it becomes more of a, “Will they or won’t they again?” kind of question. It provides a fun bit of anxiety for viewers wondering if Mike and Max will grow closer together or have a falling out as the attempt to have a big show full of dancing faces various obstacles.

Oh, yes, the dancing!

Whether you appreciate the art of dance and the technical skill the men showcase in the movie or are looking to see some barely clothed fellows gyrating in an extremely raunchy manner, this movie fits the bill. If you thought the big stripping convention dance segments at the end of the second movie were amazing then get ready for an absolute extravaganza at the climax of this movie.

Even in a world where the Magic Mike movies were simply a showcase of dance and stripping, they would still be a fun time. However, the fact that the movies have so much heart and always tell an interesting story makes them so fantastic. Steven Soderbergh directed the first film and was involved as a producer for the second. He returned to the director’s chair for this film and clearly is having as much fun as we are, concocting a story about stories as a great deal of the movie discusses the act of dance, why we seek out art such as plays, and how so many stories stereotypically end with a man swooping in to save a woman from an awful life.

The movie manages to be a meta rom-com while also making sure to showcase plenty of flesh. There is as much of a physical impact as an emotional one in the end thanks to the careful balancing act.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance, is not as serious as the first film, or as outright silly as the second. It is a perfect blend of tones while showing off bodies that are extremely toned. I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a good love story and/or good dancing. If this truly is, Magic Mike’s, final dance, it’s a great one to go out with. 5 out of 5  ( – David Bitterbaum)

Neptune’s Daughter

Neptune’s Daughter is an enchanting musical comedy that showcases the impressive talents of its cast and crew. The film’s plot follows the lives of two sisters, played by Esther Williams and Betty Garrett, who both fall for the same man, played by Ricardo Montalbán.

Meanwhile, a comic subplot unfolds involving Red Skelton’s character, a masseur who mistakenly believes he has won the affections of Williams’ character.

One of the standout elements of the film is its stunning cinematography, which captures the beauty of the underwater sequences which were both visually stunning and technically impressive, making them a real highlight of the movie.  Neptune’s Daughter also played a vital role in popularizing Esther Williams’ unique brand of synchronized swimming, which she had been perfecting since her days as a competitive swimmer

The characters in the film are also incredibly memorable, with each actor delivering a standout performance. Williams is captivating as the confident and independent swimmer, while Montalbán exudes charm and charisma as the suave businessman. Garrett is hilarious as the lovelorn sister, and Skelton delivers his trademark physical comedy with aplomb.

One of the most memorable aspects of the film is the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which was introduced in this movie. The song is performed twice in the film, once by Williams and Montalbán and again by Garrett and Skelton. The song has since become a classic, regularly played during the holiday season, and it remains an essential part of Neptune’s Daughter‘s legacy.

Extras include vintage animated shorts, trailer, promotional radio interview with Esther Williams, and a Betty Garrett outtake musical number.

Neptune’s Daughter‘s legacy extends far beyond its initial release, with its impact on synchronized swimming, popular culture, and Hollywood musicals still being felt today. Its enduring popularity is a testament to the film’s enduring charm, wit, and timeless entertainment value. 4/12 out of 5 ( – Stefan Blitz)

Dragonslayer

With the rising popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, the mood was right for fantasy films in the first half of the 1980s.

My friends and I, adolescent boys who loved Dungeons & Dragons, flocked to these films one after the next… and we were almost always disappointed. But some of the first were also some of the best: Excalibur, Beastmaster, and Dragonslayer. (For the record, there were also some good satires of the genre, including The Sword and the Sorcerer and Deathstalker II.)

I generally love and root for dragons, but I admit that there is a place in fantasy for nasty dragons as well as admirable ones. ‘The dragon of Dragonslayer is not a glamorous golden king who keeps a treasure horde atop a mountain; he (or she?) is a treacherous killer who crawls through mudpits in a cave. The dragon appears mostly in glimpses until the final minutes, but the wait is worth it.

A simultaneous combination of stop-motion and computer animation brings the roaring beast to life; this Ago-motion technique added realistic blurs to the moving creature. It was imperfect but effective. The artificiality could perhaps contribute a likeable otherworldly fantasy aura.

Peter MacNicol gives an excellent performance as our young apprentice hero. His character could have been uncertain and whiney (a more reluctant hero), but the script calls for him to instead be overconfident and impetuous. He’ll just have to learn, won’t he? MacNicol’s intense wide-eyed stares give Galen much life. The young actor could easily have become overshadowed by the veterans around him – Ralph Richardson most notably – but he manages, without straining, to be the best thing in the picture. Sir Ralph is great as always; here you can tell when he knows more than he says. Ian McDiarmid – most famous for being the best thing about Revenge of the Sith – plays a naive but brave Christian monk. Robbins’s direction is competent, at times inspired, but also indistinct, so it’s not too surprising he made no other movies of note. Likewise, Caitlin Clarke is good but forgettable as our heroine, and she had few subsequent roles.

Extras include commentary, featurettes, trailer, and screen tests.

The themes revolve around our hero and heroine who must grow up, accept responsibilities, face the facts of who they are, and accept their own limitations. Note also that there are three absent mothers – Galen’s, Valerian’s, and Princess Elspeth’s. There is also a pagan/Christian conflict that tips the scales one way, then the other, and ultimately seems to incorporate both (Ulrich himself is a pagan wizard but his sacrifice is expressly Christlike). Similarly, there is a steel/sorcery conflict that ends up endorsing a combination of both (they’ll need a spear, but it must be blessed with magic). ( – David E. Goldweber)

 

 

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