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The DVD-Blus: ‘Looney Tunes: V. 1’, ‘Shazam 2’, ‘Creed 3’, ‘John Wick 4’, and Many More Sequels, Plus ‘Evil Dead Rise’, ‘Renfield’, ‘Shin Ultraman’ & More!

Welcome back to the latest review roundup of recently released media. This time we have some classic titles that have come to 4K UHD, plus super-heroes, sequels and more!

Ladies and Gentlemen,Fire up your queue…

Shazam: Fury of The Gods

Warner Bros.

While many have long since written off the DCEU – and with WBD seemingly following suit as Peter Safran and James Gunn announced that they are all but wiping the slate clean after years of overwhelmingly underwhelming fare – 2019’s Shazam! was nonetheless one of the few entries into the DCEU that managed to have an identity of its own with a titular superhero who burst onto the big screen with copious amounts of heart and humor mixed in with the superpowered action.

This was in no small part thanks to Zachary Levi being the ideal choice for a physically adult superhero with the mind of a teenager, just as the chemistry between Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer translated well from the chemistry Asher Angel’s Billy Batson has with Grazer’s Freddy Freeman to the comedic sparring between Levi and Grazer.

With a new batch of baddies in the form of the Daughters of Atlas, Helen Mirren in particular chews the scenery as Hespera, while Lucy Liu is dastardly cold as Kalypso, and the dynamic of the Daughters of Atlas as a whole serve as a juxtaposition to the dynamic of the Shazamily, which lends the baddies some depth as they are otherwise not afforded much more than the standard bad guy motivations of somehow threatening to bring an end to the human realm.

And the standardized motivations and inevitable CGI fest is where Shazam! Fury of the Gods stumbles somewhat.

While there is still plenty of entertainment to be had from the superhero genre in general, a thesis the box office numbers continues to support, the volume and frequency of output has, however, had a numbing effect on audiences, and it therefore takes the genre more and more to impress those who have become fatigued by it.

What Shazam! Fury of the Gods has working against it is not only an endless stream of superpowered content from the House of Mouse in particular, but also an absurd amount of plot, mythology and a relentless barage of one-liners from Levi in particular.

Thankfully, the film largely still works, and it owes a debt of gratitude to the foundations laid by the 2019 film.

Even though the jokes do not always land, the humor still works better than most superhero movies, and while the heart of the film is at times buried under tons of plot, it still manages to shine through and evoke enough emotion to make Shazam! Fury of the Gods a worthwhile sequel to what was essentially the Big of superhero movies.

Extras include audio commentary, featurettes, scene deconstruction and deleted scenes.

All in all, while this sequel is a little too plot-heavy for its own good, what Shazam! Fury of the Gods fortunately still has is an endearing ensemble of characters from the inaugural film at hand to ensure that a good time is had with the Shazamily once more, and it is delightful to be reunited with this motley crew of outsiders-turned-superheroes, even if they – much like the audience – barely have time to breathe between the breakneck pace of this action-packed superhero blast. ( – Leyla Mikkelsen)

Creed III

Warner Bros.

Nearly five decades after the debut of Rocky, Creed III marks a turning point in the franchise as the first installment without Sylvester Stallone attached. This creates a world of opportunity for screenwriters Keenan Coogler & Zach Baylin (adapting a story by Ryan Coogler). Michael B. Jordan deftly juggles his dual roles as protagonist and director while carefully steering his title character down dual paths of retirement and reckoning in this highly entertaining directorial debut.

It would be simple to fall into the trope of a retired fighter blowing up at every small inconvenience, pacing and snarling like a caged tiger yearning to break free of a docile life.

Instead, our first glimpses of post-ring Adonis are full of family, satisfaction, and purpose – happily sipping from his daughter Amara’s tea set in the yard of his LA mansion; loving up on his wife Bianca (the always engaging Tessa Thompson) who has moved to producing music after her hearing loss, or stopping by his gym to check on his prize fighter.

Everything looks to a promising and well-deserved future, earned from years of perseverance.

But who decides who has paid the price and gets to live that dream life? As childhood friend and amateur boxing champion Damian (a stunning performance by Jonathan Majors) returns to the neighborhood following a stint in prison for an adolescent crime, he brings receipts that claim an unpaid balance in Adonis’ name. And how can Adonis square his blessed life when Damian is now there constantly reminding him that his path is less a story of reward and closer to “there but for the Grace of God, go I”?

This complex question, and the painful examination of the past that it forces, drives the emotion of the story on both sides. Damian is constantly simmering with a barely controlled rage from watching the life he could have had playing out through someone else’s gloves, while Adonis freezes and retreats to his corner when confronted with less savory parts of his history that he did not move past as much as discard.

At a release party for Bianca’s work, she asks Damian for more information about those sections of her husband’s little-discussed childhood. With a broad but mournful smile, he tells her “It takes work to look at the past.”  Work that Adonis has been skipping for years with the help of his mother, who (increasingly without his knowledge) has quietly and carefully tucked away as much of his life on the streets as she could.

Majors is impeccable as Damian, smoothly flowing from a humble and good-hearted friend needing a second chance to a swaggering brute with little regard for anyone in the way of his relentless need to catch up. He exudes hunger in every scene, never fully sated no matter the win. Even after gaining the title, Damian uses his newfound fame to badmouth Adonis to anyone who will listen, forcing his former friend out of retirement to defend the life he has painstakingly crafted.

Extras include featurettes and deleted scenes.

Jordan allows his character significantly more screen time to work through deep emotional flaws than expected in a sports franchise film while maintaining a brisk pace that makes the two hours fly by. Before you know it, they are facing off in a final battle that felt over too quickly, not because of a shortened sequence but because the film is just so damn watchable.

The emotions, the stakes, and the muscles are all huge in a way that demands an opening weekend trip rather than a wait-and-stream approach. Grab your popcorn because it is likely Creed III will be grabbing a few awards later this year. ( – Kristen Halbert)

Secret of the Incas

Kino Lorber

1954’s Secret of The Incas embarks on an enthralling expedition through the mystical landscapes of Peru, intertwining an enchanting narrative of mystery, romance, and ancient treasures. Directed by Jerry Hopper, this film not only stands as a timeless classic but also serves as a pioneering influence on pop culture, leaving an indelible mark on the creation of the iconic character Indiana Jones. The exceptional performances, including Charlton Heston’s portrayal of the charismatic Harry Steele, Robert Young, and Nicole Maurey, further elevate the film’s captivating story and visionary direction.

Jerry Hopper’s directorial prowess shines brilliantly in Secret of The Incas, deftly merging elements of mystery, action, and romance to craft a seamless and captivating narrative. Hopper’s skillful pacing ensures that the film maintains its momentum, effortlessly balancing the engrossing storyline with breathtaking visuals and thrilling sequences. His direction sets the stage for the awe-inspiring exploration and adventure that unfolds, leaving audiences utterly captivated.

Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Harry Steele stands as a monumental performance, one that undeniably influenced the creation of Indiana Jones. With his rugged charm, magnetic presence, and iconic wardrobe consisting of a fedora and a leather jacket, Heston breathes life into Steele, captivating viewers with his enigmatic persona. Steele’s fearless pursuits of ancient treasures and his dashing appearance echo the adventurous spirit that would later define Indiana Jones. Heston’s powerful and intense performance solidifies his status as a cinematic legend and leaves an indelible impression on audiences.

Robert Young’s portrayal of the cunning antagonist, Ed Morgan, is equally commendable. Young’s nuanced performance expertly captures Morgan’s sinister motives, presenting a character who is both captivating and detestable. The on-screen chemistry between Heston and Young heightens the film’s tension and adds an extra layer of intrigue, propelling the story forward with riveting intensity.

Nicole Maurey delivers a captivating performance as Elena Antonescu, Harry Steele’s enigmatic love interest. Maurey’s portrayal brims with charm and vulnerability, serving as a perfect complement to Heston’s ruggedness. The palpable chemistry between the two actors deepens the romance subplot, enriching the overall storytelling experience and further resonating with the audience.

The story of Secret of The Incas seamlessly weaves together adventure, mystery, and exploration, against the backdrop of Peru’s awe-inspiring landscapes and the rich history of the Inca civilization. The well-crafted script keeps viewers engaged with its captivating twists and turns, leading to an unforgettable climax. The film’s narrative captures the essence of ancient mythology and treasure hunting, creating an immersive experience that still holds its allure for audiences today.

The film is a visual feast, showcasing Peru’s breathtaking mountains, ancient ruins, and vibrant cultural heritage. The cinematography masterfully captures the grandeur of these locations, transporting viewers into a world brimming with wonder and beauty. Though the special effects may appear modest by today’s standards, they contribute to the authenticity of the storytelling, effectively bringing the adventure to life.

Secret of The Incas holds an enduring influence on pop culture, particularly through its unmistakable influence on the creation of Indiana Jones. Harry Steele’s iconic wardrobe, including his fedora and leather jacket, undeniably set the stage for the unforgettable style and image of the iconic character. The film’s impact on the adventure genre is palpable, evident in its lasting popularity and its profound contribution to the cinematic landscape.

Extras include audio commentary.

An unforgettable adventure film that enthralls audiences with its thrilling story, exceptional performances, and breathtaking visuals. Jerry Hopper’s visionary direction, Charlton Heston’s magnetic portrayal of Harry Steele, Robert Young’s compelling performance as the antagonist, and Nicole Maurey’s captivating presence make this film an absolute must-watch. Its pioneering influence on pop culture, particularly in shaping the iconic Indiana Jones, firmly establishes its place in the pantheon of classic adventure cinema.  (– Stefan Blitz)

Chevalier

Walt Disney Studios

Chevalier is a movie that tells the mostly accurate account of one of the world’s best composers, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. While it serves as a spiritual sequel to another, more well-known movie and composer, Amadeus (1984), this recent film has a different goal. Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was a free Black man of African descent who rose to acclaim as an excellent swordsman and composer. Despite earning the nickname “Black Mozart,” Chevalier is a man of high class who has been all but stricken from the history books by Napoleon himself. However, his music and legacy live on, and Chevalier, starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., seeks to remind everyone of this legendary man’s mark on history and classical music.

The film co-stars Samara Weaving, Lucy Boynton, Alex Fitzalan, and Minnie Driver. Stephen Williams, known for directing Watchmen (2019), Lost, and Westworld, adapts Emmy-nominated writer Stefani Robinson’s version of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges in this 2022 film, released in the US this year.

While it is a spiritual sequel to the 1984 opus Amadeus, it would not be fair to compare these films or the men. Although they interact in this film as characters and rivals, the movie begins with a violin showdown worthy of a freestyle battle or perhaps more like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Stylistically, Chevalier has more in common with modern televised costume dramas like Bridgerton or The Great than it does with Salieri’s retelling of Milos Forman’s film.

Chevalier means “Knight” in French, and some basic historical introduction might be useful. Bologne was born into a high station as the son of Georges Bologne de Saint-Georges and his enslaved mother, Nanon, in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. The movie takes some liberties with certain events and relationships to simplify the story, but it remains broadly accurate. The elder Saint-George encourages Joseph by enrolling him in education as a child violin prodigy. Despite the reluctance of white establishments to embrace him, Joseph’s father’s position allows for his education, as Chevalier’s undeniable talent cannot be ignored. In the film, news of his father’s death is followed by the arrival of his mother Nanon, played by Ronke Adekoluejo, in France. She serves to uplift Chevalier and remind him of his Guadeloupean roots, emphasizing that he was not born with a powdered wig on his head.

In the film, we are treated to glimpses of Chevalier’s fencing career, during which Marie Antoinette bestows upon him the title of Chevalier for his fencing prowess and his work with the Concert des Amateurs. The two develop an unlikely friendship, as Chevalier finds himself fending off female attention from Parisian society.

The central focus of the drama lies in the romantic and professional relationship between Chevalier and Marquise Marie-Josephine de Montalembert. However, their connection is complicated by the disapproval of Marie-Josephine’s warlord general husband, who forbids Chevalier from seeing her. Undeterred, Chevalier persists and casts Marie-Josephine in the lead role of his opera while her husband is away at war. The love triangle ultimately ends in tragedy, perhaps with some exaggeration, but the movie succeeds in simplifying the themes of race, class, and rivalry in relation to Chevalier’s legacy through this love triangle.

We follow the story of the production of Chevalier’s first opera, “Ernestine,” with a rebellious Marie-Josephine in the leading role, produced by Marie-Madeleine Guimard played by Minnie Driver. During this time, Chevalier’s friend Philippe attends meetings with French revolutionists and encourages Chevalier to join them occasionally with his leading lady.

Chevalier is often alone with his genius, needing to prove himself through his excellence in music, composition, and fencing. Unlike Mozart, he is not tortured but operates at a high level to prove his worthiness, constantly reminded of his background by his mother Nanon and her friends, while a general threatens his safety with literal cannons.

The opening of “Ernestine” coincides with calls for the French Revolution, and Chevalier finds himself in a whirlwind love affair with his star, Marie-Josephine. He is rejected as the new leader of the Paris Opera by his friend, the Queen herself, due to the nobles’ refusal to accept his race. He is also betrayed by former ally Guimard.

In the dramatic third act, his affair with Marie-Josephine reaches its climax after he spends the day celebrating a Creole holiday with his mother and her friends, embracing his native music and food. Marie-Josephine’s husband, the Marquis, exacts his revenge in a truly evil manner, while chants of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” grow louder on the streets. Chevalier goes on to lead the first Black regiment of the revolution, while Napoleon prohibits the performance of Chevalier’s art, leading to the erasure of a talented musician who should be celebrated.

The film Chevalier does an excellent job of reintroducing Joseph Bologne to the world through a fictionalized account of this impressive violinist’s life. While taking some liberties with dates and life events, the story still captures the essence of the man and the struggles he faced throughout his life as a Black man in royal society and as a creative individual striving for fame, fortune, and a lasting legacy through his art and music. For those seeking a deeper dive into Joseph Bologne’s life, there are resources available, although unfortunately, many of his compositions were destroyed as part of Napoleon’s plan.

This film is highly recommended for those who wish to immerse themselves in beautiful music, costumes, and outstanding acting performances. Chevalier’s story should continue to be told beyond this expertly shot film, serving as a starting point for those interested in exploring the historical details of a composer who has been erased from our collective memories.

We suggest complementing the movie with some quick research on YouTube to understand the differences between the film and the actual events. This will provide a firmer grasp of the significance of Chevalier’s contributions to culture, while still appreciating the value of the film itself.Overall, I would rate this movie 8/10, with points deducted only for accuracy and the use of CGI backgrounds.

While they were decent enough for a television audience, they didn’t sit well with me in a feature film that otherwise demonstrated a meticulous attention to detail in practical sets, costumes for Creole and French actors, and stunning real-life outdoor locations.

In the end, this film has sparked my fervent desire to learn more about Chevalier. I foresee a personal double feature in my future, starting with the 1984 film!  ( – Clay N Ferno)

Secret Admirer

Kino Lorber

Co-written and directed by David Greenwalt, Secret Admirer is a delightful romantic comedy that encapsulates the essence of 1980s teen flicks. The film masterfully weaves together a love triangle and mistaken identities, resulting in a charming and humorous story that captures the hearts of its audience.  Greenwalt’s direction is commendable, as he skillfully handles the complexities of the intertwined plotlines. His ability to balance the comedic elements with genuine emotions creates a captivating experience. The pacing is carefully managed, allowing humorous moments to seamlessly flow into tender scenes, keeping viewers engaged throughout the film.

The performances in Secret Admirer are a highlight, with each actor delivering memorable portrayals. C. Thomas Howell shines as Michael Ryan, a lovable and slightly awkward teenager entangled in a web of misunderstandings. His portrayal captures the innocence and genuine intentions of a young boy navigating the complexities of love. Lori Loughlin impresses as Toni Williams, bringing confidence and charm to her character, as she pines for Howell’s Michael. Kelly Preston’s portrayal of Deborah Anne Fimple showcases her talent for comedy, as she embodies a vibrant and vivacious young woman who has become the object of Michael’s affections. The chemistry between the actors is palpable, heightening the believability of the love triangle and adding depth to their relationships.

The heart of Secret Admirer lies in its intricate plot. The film revolves around a case of mistaken identity, as Michael’s love letter meant for Deborah is accidentally delivered to Toni. The ensuing confusion leads to a series of hilarious and unpredictable situations, with both girls vying for Michael’s attention. The love triangle aspect adds a layer of tension and suspense, keeping the audience invested in the characters’ fates. The script handles these complexities adeptly, incorporating witty dialogue and situational humor that resonates with viewers.

The note not only fuels the romantic entanglements of the main characters but also has a significant impact on their parents, adding an extra layer of comedy and complications to the story. The note doesn’t just affect the teenagers; it also causes confusion and humorous misunderstandings among their parents.

The parents, portrayed by talented actors like Fred Ward, Dee Wallace Stone, Leigh Taylor-Young, and Cliff DeYoung, find themselves inadvertently involved in the romantic web spun by the note. They misunderstand the intentions behind the secretive behavior of their children, leading to comical situations where they attempt to navigate their own relationships and uncover the truth.

The note becomes a catalyst for a series of comedic events that escalate as the parents become embroiled in their children’s love triangle. Their efforts to decipher the identity of the secret admirer and protect their children’s hearts lead to amusing misunderstandings and mix-ups of their own. The misunderstandings and complications that arise among the parents provide a parallel storyline to the young characters, adding depth and entertainment to the overall narrative.

Secret Admirer successfully captures the essence of the 1980s, incorporating nostalgic elements into its narrative. From the fashion choices to the memorable soundtrack, the film transports audiences back to a time when handwritten love letters and cassette tapes were symbols of romantic affection. This nostalgic backdrop enhances the innocent and heartfelt nature of the story, adding to its charm. The film also features some regular young actors from the 80s including Casey Siemaszko, Courtney Gains, J. J. Cohen and Corey Haim.

A timeless gem in the romantic comedy genre, Greenwalt’s skilled direction, coupled with the charming performances of C. Thomas Howell, Lori Loughlin, and Kelly Preston, bring the love triangle and mistaken identity plotlines to life.

The film strikes a perfect balance between humor and genuine emotions, captivating audiences with its witty dialogue, relatable characters, and nostalgic appeal. Secret Admirer remains a delightful and hilarious journey that continues to enchant viewers, offering a heartwarming reminder of the intricacies of young love and the power of true affection. ( – Stefan Blitz)

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

Warner Archive

The success of the gentle 1969-1972 sitcom, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, starring Bill Bixby with Brandon Cruz, served to sort of sweep the 1963 MGM feature film of the same name, starring Glenn Ford with Ronny Howard, under the rug of entertainment.

The TV version offered a quiet, calm, handsome Bixby adjusting to life as a single father after his late wife’s passing while his inquisitive son attempts to find him a new one. Everything about the show was modern, stylish, and most of all “relevant” in the way only early ‘70s shows could be.

Although made a mere six years earlier, the 1963 movie, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father reflects a different era entirely, even though the basic story is essentially the same. It’s more a sometimes-lighthearted drama than a comedy.

Originally published in 1961 as a novelette, what one critic referred to as “an unassuming little book,” and another called “a delicate work of art,” MGM bought the film rights almost immediately for $100,000.

Early studio press releases indicated that producer Joe Pasternak wanted George Chakiris, hot off of West Side Story, as Eddie’s father. After a while, gossip queen Louella Parsons reported that Glenn Ford would play the lead but sources later indicated that Ford was too old to have a six-year-old son and that the studio was, in fact, negotiating with Warren Beatty and Tony Curtis for the role. Soon enough, however, the 47-year-old Ford was reporting for shooting as Tom Corbett.

As far as the female leads, Angie Dickinson was reported initially but it was Shirley Jones, Dina Merrill, and Stella Stevens who are in the picture.

Roberta Sherwood as housekeeper Mrs. Livingston and Jerry Van Dyke as Norm round out the adult cast with wunderkind Ronny Howard in the all-important role of Eddie. Rance Howard and Billy Halop show up in small parts.

Veteran director Vincente Minnelli took the helm to direct. It was taken as a given that the title would be changed before release as singer Eddie Fisher was then in the news daily because of the very public and somewhat scandalous breakup of his superstar marriage to Elizabeth Taylor. Only that never happened.

As the story opens, Mrs. Corbett has just died. We never get a lot of details. Eddie and his dad are both suppressing their grief as Eddie returns to school.  The little boy’s feelings come to the fore suddenly when he notices one of his several goldfish has died and he screams himself into a catatonic state. It’s a genuinely disturbing scene that reminds the viewer just how remarkable an actor Ronny Howard could be. We’ve come to think of him as Opie or Richie, or as the superstar director he is today, but based on this scene alone, I’d say he was likely the best child actor of his day.

It’s a shame the rest of the picture isn’t as good.

Almost immediately Eddie is concerned that his dad is no longer a husband and takes it on himself to change that, not so much—he says—to get him a new mom but to get Tom a new wife. He says.

The divorcee next door, Shirley Jones (who played Ronny’s sister around the same time in The Music Man) is totally enamored of Eddie and offers to help Tom take care of him but he pushes her away. This happens several times throughout the picture. She had been his wife’s closest friend and he simply can’t allow himself to gravitate to her, especially not so soon.

So Eddie picks out a random eccentric, Stella Stevens, while he’s out at an arcade with Pop. Stevens’ vacuous character asks to “borrow” Eddie. Tom likes her but she ends up in a going nowhere subplot with an amusing Jerry Van Dyke. Fairly suddenly those two get married and are never seen nor heard from in the picture again.

Before that happens, though, it’s Dina Merrill’s haughty sophisticate that Tom takes a liking to when she’s interviewed on air by Norm. We, the audience, are left wondering why, as she doesn’t seem nearly as interesting or fun as either Shirley or Stella.

Eddie certainly doesn’t care for her, and he has trouble hiding that from her, leading to tension and arguments with his father. He’s sent away to summer camp, during which time Tom proposes, but she recognizes that Eddie wouldn’t accept her. Just when you think she’s about to take the high road, she suggests that Eddie be sent away to live with relatives for six months or so while the two of them enjoy some time alone without him.

It’s around this time that the depressed Eddie runs away from the summer camp.

So yeah, not really a comedy. At its best, the relationship between Mr. Ford and young Master Howard is on a level with the wonderful father/son rapport Bixby and Cruz would later bring to the roles. Ford’s age doesn’t bother me as my own dad was 56 by the time I was 6-years-old so I could relate on that level.

The story, though, is episodic and, of necessity, the film is self-contained whereas the TV series was open-ended. That makes all the difference. Stella Stevens’ character’s wackiness was kind of cute but given no time to really develop. Shirley’s character, although never very developed either, is sweet, helpful, and unintentionally sexy so you really want Tom to look twice at her right from the beginning. While he shouldn’t be looking solely for someone who would be a good mother for Eddie, he should certainly take that into account, and the woman he chooses just doesn’t fit that bill.

Extras include audio commentary, the Tom & Jerry short “Penthouse Mouse”, and trailer.

So is it a good movie? Nah, not really. Too dramatic to be fun, too light to be a great drama. What it has going for it, though, is the precocious and yet surprisingly realistic wonder that was Ronny Howard. Howard is a joy to watch in all his interactions with anyone in the film, but particularly with his dear old dad. And since Eddie is one of the film’s major characters, I have to say his presence makes up for a lot of the films missteps and makes the entire experience of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father worthwhile.  Booksteve recommends.   ( – Steven Thompson)

John Wick: Chapter 4

Lionsgate

Released four years after the last installment in the series, John Wick: Chapter 4 is a magnificent addition to the franchise, and possibly the best one yet.

At this point, the combination of Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski is a well-oiled machine churning out magnificent brutality and engaging storytelling not with ease as much as clear and steady intention.

John Wick’s latest adventure asks us all to see past our next step and contemplate our last in a thrilling outing that pushes the standard of the genre to heights that should terrify any action movie opening for years to come.

As the titular character, Reeves carries the weight of a thousand souls in his anti-hero eyes.

At first glance, he may seem driven by anger but as usual, the story is quick to question what unsettling truth is motivating this vengeful mission. There is a void in him that can never be truly filled, and everyone knows it – whether they can convince John or not.

Well before he starts grappling with his demons, the journey towards realization is shown across his face in quiet moments. Reeves is a gifted martial artist, but here we remember that he is incredibly thoughtful with what he conveys through a slouched shoulder or a lingering gaze. It is the weariness in between those dazzling fights that brings humanity to the character and no one can walk between fury and exhaustion like he can.

The quest for revenge against and freedom from the High Table takes us on a world tour through several key cities in the series: New York City (USA), Osaka (Japan), Berlin (Germany), and Paris (France). Each gifts us with unique cinematography that bears homage to films past, and even a video game or two.

The opening battle in the Osaka Continental is a standalone epic of close combat, showcasing the level of force the High Table is willing to exert upon John. Body after body hits the floor in an endless stream of high-concept museum-quality violence, setting what seems like an impossible bar at the very beginning. The seeding of sequels begins here, adding in the talented Hiroyuki Sanada and Rina Sawayama as this Continental’s father and daughter management team, along with the mysterious tracker Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson).

John has made many enemies and few friends over the years, and those sides flow back and forth.

Bill Skarsgård is calm and cruel as The Marquis, dispatched by the High Table to rid them of the seemingly indestructible Baba Yaga. There is a polished camp to his portrayal that fits instead of detracting, only achievable with a measure of restraint. The character could have easily been cartoonish in less skilled hands.

Allies solemnly move to Wick’s side, but returning characters Winston Scott (Ian McShane), the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), and Charon (one of the last performances of the late Lance Reddick) are helpful story guides rather than leads.

The most exciting of the foils is the legendary Donnie Yen as reluctant blind assassin, Caine.

Pulled out of what he hoped was retirement to end his former friend, Yen moves with a sword and wit that is twice the speed of anyone else in a scene. Caine shares John’s exhaustion but his happiness can still be found on this plane, which makes him all the more deadly. The character development between the two gives us some of the most poignant exchanges you can have in this series, and he continuously steals fight scenes to the point that some may question the prophecy.

From the flawlessly choreographed action to the top-tier performances from returning and new characters, every second of the 169-minute runtime draws you in with hardly a moment to catch your breath.

This could easily be shown as a double feature where they simply run it back, as there is no way you will be sated. The sheer abundance of quality will make you greedy by the end, after realizing that each seemingly insurmountable fight scene is followed by another of equal or greater quality.

Extras include featurettes, trailers, and first look at The Continental series

How anyone could sleep within hours of the credits rolling is a mystery, as the film hummed with enough adrenaline to punch a hole in the sky. ( – Kristen Halbert)

My Man Godfrey

Kino Lorber

Under the skilled direction of Henry Koster, the 1957 color remake of My Man Godfrey successfully breathes new life into the beloved 1936 screwball comedy by Gregory La Cava. With a keen understanding of the genre’s essence, Koster masterfully infuses the film with vibrant visuals, captivating performances, and a touch of modernity. This adaptation pays homage to the original while confidently carving out its own place in the history of screwball comedy.

The film follows the zany antics of the eccentric Bullock family and the resourceful Godfrey, a man living in the city dump turned butler. The narrative cleverly intertwines class satire, romantic entanglements, and uproarious misunderstandings, creating a delightful blend of humor and social commentary.

Koster’s directorial finesse shines through in the film’s visual presentation. The addition of color breathes new life into the story, enhancing the comedic chaos and transporting audiences into a vibrant world of extravagance and absurdity. With a deft touch, Koster maintains the essence of the original while infusing the remake with a visual flair that adds an extra layer of enjoyment.  the film effortlessly embraces the screwball comedy genre’s signature elements, such as rapid-fire dialogue, absurd situations, and social satire. While respecting the original, Koster’s directorial choices infuse the remake with a modern sensibility, bridging the gap between eras and appealing to a broader range of audiences. But it’s the direction that cements the remake’s significance within the history of screwball comedy. It showcases the genre’s timeless appeal while adding a visual and tonal freshness that keeps it relevant for contemporary viewers. The film serves as a testament to Koster’s skill as a director and his ability to honor a classic while making it accessible to a new generation.

June Allyson’s portrayal of Irene Bullock is a highlight of the film. Under Koster’s guidance, Allyson’s infectious energy and comedic timing elevate the character to new heights. She effortlessly captures Irene’s effervescent personality, balancing her superficiality with a genuine vulnerability that adds depth to the performance.

David Niven’s portrayal of Godfrey showcases his range as an actor. Under Koster’s direction, Niven brings a subtle gravitas and charm to the role, perfectly embodying the wisdom and patience of the character amidst the chaos surrounding him. The chemistry between Allyson and Niven is palpable, their on-screen dynamic serving as the heart of the film.

While this remake pays homage to the original, the 1957 My Man Godfrey remake stands on its own merits. Henry Koster’s directorial choices infuse the film with a distinct visual style that complements the story, breathing fresh life into the narrative. The vibrant color palette and meticulous attention to detail create a visually stunning experience that sets it apart from its black-and-white predecessor.

Koster’s astute direction also allows the performances to shine. While capturing the spirit of the original characters, June Allyson and David Niven infuse their portrayals with their own unique interpretations. This approach not only pays respect to the original performances but also allows the actors to bring their individual flair to the roles, creating a fresh and engaging dynamic.  Extras include audio commentary and trailer.

The remake, with its vibrant visuals, captivating performances, and respectful nod to the original, the film stands as a vibrant and entertaining entry in the genre’s history. Koster’s contribution ensures that the remake remains a delightful showcase of wit, charm, and timeless humor, further solidifying its place in the rich tapestry of screwball comedy.( – Stefan Blitz)

Scream VI

Paramount Pictures

Back in 1996, Wes Craven breathed new life into the slasher genre with the darkly satirical meta horror classic Scream.

The legacy of that film speaks for itself, as even casual horror fans from the 90s will recall not only the direct sequels, but also the onslaught of rip-offs the film spawned, none of which were ever quite as clever as Craven’s original masterpiece.

The success of Scream and the memorable costume and menacing voice-changing device used by the killers have long since cemented Ghostface as another horror icon alongside the likes of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger.

And much like David Gordon Green recently took on three rounds with Michael Myers with varying degrees of critical and audience approval, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have taken on Ghostface for what will likely be a legacy trilogy for the Scream franchise as well.

Where the 2022 installment from the new director duo brought audiences back to Woodsboro once more, Scream VI moves the horror to the streets of New York where the Carpenter sisters are trying to move on with their lives.

While Tara merely wants to live the life of any other young college student, her older sister Sam continues to grapple with being the daughter of an infamous killer, and the unnerving emotions of enjoyment she felt when killing Richie in the previous film.

The Meeks twins also return along with Gale Weathers, and a new group of characters are also added to the mix as they soon become aware that a new Ghostface is on the hunt for survivors and anyone they dare to care about.

Ghostface is not the first slasher icon to broach the Big Apple, as Jason Voorhees already attempted to do so back in 1989, but unlike Jason, Ghostface stalking the city that never sleeps continuously stirs up a sincere sense of unease.

Arguably, doing better than Jason Takes Manhattan is not saying much, but Scream VI proves that the director duo – who picked up the mantle after Craven’s Scream 4 before his passing in 2015 – still have a lot of creative ways to utilize Ghostface more than a quarter of a century since the character’s introduction.

Starting off strong, Scream VI has a memorable opening scene that once again highlights that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are not afraid to underline the brutality of a killer who truly revels in stabbing their victims to death and seeing them suffer.

Throughout the film, the New York setting is used with great success that emphasizes the creativity and callousness of anyone who dons Ghostface’s haunting visage, be it hunting people through apartment complexes or stalking them on a packed subway train on Halloween.

Where the film stumbles somewhat, however, is in the finale, as the suspense utilized so well until this point is abandoned for a more sensational approach that may be alienating to viewers who have otherwise been invested up until this point.

Despite of this, Scream VI still manages to prove that there is a lot left to do with this franchise because the premise is still relevant decades later, partly due to social commentary being a constant, partly due to the possibility of anyone inhabiting Ghostface and using the iconic costume as their avatar when causing murderous mayhem.  Extras include audio commentary, featurettes, and gag reel

In recent years, new life has been breathed into the likes of both the Halloween and Evil Dead franchises, so it comes as no surprise that Scream is part of that trend as well.

While nothing will ever come close to Craven’s original Scream, the installments by Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are nonetheless largely entertaining additions to the franchise, and it will be interesting to see where the director duo takes their narrative next. ( – Leyla Mikkelsen)

Ronin

Kino Lorber

Ronin is an impeccable spy thriller. A film that was modestly successful but respected, even influential, in its day but that has only grown in esteem and appreciation in the almost quarter-century since its release. It is the product of a genius director with a spotty track record, who was desperate to buckle down and get back to basics, a legendary American writer and one of the best international casts assembled in years.

Ronin was responsible for a brief early 2000’s revival of car chase films, Euro-thrillers, and cool unnamed protagonists. It inspired BMW to create a series of short films with Clive Owen that persist as the greatest car commercials ever, which in turn inspired Luc Besson to dream up The Transporter. Why did a film that only grossed 70 million on a 50 million dollar budget have such an arresting hold on the consciousness of filmmakers and fans?

Ronin is just really, really, cool.

Sam (Robert De Niro) is an ex-CIA mercenary who is contracted by a beautiful IRA proxy (Natascha McElhone) to retrieve an imposing briefcase from a group of Euro-trash heavies looking to sell it while hiding out on the French Riviera. Like a Richard Stark novel, how the group was actually collected is only handled in vague hints but from the jump it’s been infiltrated by thrill-seeking Soldier of Fortune wannabes (Sean Bean, who is so good in his short time in the film that I kept expecting him to come back for the climax) and an actually sociopathic former Stasi officer with excellent reflexes and no qualms about killing children to make a point (Stellan Skarsgard).

Oddly enough, in this world where no one can be trusted, Sam finds a true comrade-in-arms in Vincent (Jean Reno, in his best English language role), a Frenchman who is handling requisitions. Their friendship is the heart and soul of the film as it begins with a simple bummed smoke and becomes the one element of the picture that’s never in doubt– there’s simply too much soul in Reno’s eyes for him to ever turn on De Niro. The heist is complicated when one of the team betrays the rest to sell the case on his own and further complicated by Sam’s romantic attachment for his handler, and her superior (Jonathan Pryce, who is somehow the most terrifying guy in the picture) deciding to get involved himself to ensure the case is collected.

Ronin has a story that could have come from a potboiler but Frankenheimer’s assured, energetic, direction gives it incredible style and energy and the script from David Mamet (working under an alias because union rules forbade him from getting a sole screenplay credit despite the film working from his page 1 rewrite of an earlier draft) gives the material the feeling of an urgent and literary work. The result is a thinking man’s thriller– the best kind, as far as I’m concerned since I’ve been guilty of a thought or two in my lifetime and may have even cracked open a book.

Mamet’s influence in particular is felt strongly and is underrated for how it creates the distinct feel of the picture. No character is ever given a surname, we never learn what’s in the case everyone’s after, and the hyper stylized Mamet dialogue gives the world-weary post-Cold War espionage figures a timeless, even mythic quality. Consider the scene where Vincent and Sam first recognize one another as rational, even honorable actors. De Niro and Reno are enjoying the hard-boiled dialogue so much that it seems to bleed into their characters– and it suggests a larger inner world for both men that makes them more compelling later when they’re yelling about snipers and ambushes.

That said, this is Frankenheimer’s movie.

Frankenheimer made his bones in the movie business with a trio of black and white thrillers in the late 50’s and early 60’s that artfully blended documentary style directness with fearless, shocking scripts and just a touch of bizarre surrealism. Here he seems instinctively to play off of Mamet’s minimalism and just keep everything moving perfectly. The first hour of the film is an absolute masterclass where everything– every composition, every transition, every conversation, and every bit of dialogue is arresting. The film structurally loses steam after its wonderful literary digression with Michael Lonsdale that gives the picture its name, but the final sequences contain the best car chases of the 1990’s so it’s hard to accuse the film of falling off.

Upon initial release the driving stunts were what everyone recommended Ronin for, and even though there’s plenty of substance to back up the spectacle they still deserve a spotlight in this review. We’re inundated with computer spectacle in tentpole franchise films these days, and Ronin’s car chases are the antidote because they feel absolutely real and dangerous. Frankenheimer was known for his love of fast cars with films like Grand Prix but he doesn’t repeat himself here. The chases are filmed totally legibly and with perfect use of geography in the photography so that we always know who is in danger and why. The sense of incredible speed going through twisting French roads with no margin for error is a thrill few films can deliver. There’s a great moment in the film’s showpiece chase where one of the villains, realizing what is happening, simply and quietly slips on his seat belt and its both hilarious characterization and completely sells the extreme danger of what the characters are doing.

Extras include commentary, interviews, featurettes, alternate ending, and trailer.

I’m not sure Ronin ever delivers the deeper meaning that it artfully hints at but as a thriller it’s a wonderful hybrid of European sensibility and American intensity– like an Alfa Romeo with a Corvette’s engine. It’s in the canon of the greatest action movies of all time because of the constantly engaging script and direction, perfect cast of great actors, and amazing action set pieces.  Can’t recommend this movie enough. ( – Will McGuire)

Evil Dead Rise

Warner Bros.

One inevitably questions what would possess anyone to read from a demonic book written in blood and bound in human skin, but it is nonetheless this very questionable life choice that has led to some of the wildest, goriest, and most hilarious horror moments in cinema history.

With Sam Raimi laying the foundation for the splatstick genre more than four decades ago, it is impressive how widely the franchise spans in style and tone without ever losing sight of ensuring a diabolically good time for horror fans who do not take themselves too seriously.

Having purposefully taken the evil out of the cabin in the woods and placed it in a run-down high-rise in L.A., Evil Dead Rise is in some aspects very different to what we have previously seen, and it is of course a concern whether this switch of setting and the addition of a family being at the mercy of the Deadites this time around is actually utilized in a satisfactory manner.

Thankfully, it is utilized very well indeed, and the result is a film that is grim, gross and the best kind of messed up.

None of the characters ever feel truly safe from the demonic forces, and while the tone is closer to Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead from 2013 than any of the Bruce Campbell fare, Evil Dead Rise competently showcases the sort of unhinged, gory mayhem that is after all synonymous with the franchise.

Speaking of Alvarez’ 2013 effort, writer/director Lee Cronin certainly takes a page out of Uruguayan filmmaker’s book and makes the franchise his own, successfully summoning new intrigue and terror into the tale of the latest victims of the Book of the Dead.

While some may argue that the film takes a while to get started, once it gets going, the situation escalates at a breakneck pace that ensures no punches are pulled in this well-paced and darkly humorous new addition.

The gore, of course, is also of specific interest with this particular horror movie universe, and a plethora of memorable, blood-curdling moments awaits in Evil Dead Rise, some of which will leave the audience with new-found levels of anxiety associated with certain household objects.

That being said, there are undoubtedly some Evil Dead fans who will find Evil Dead Rise too far removed from those early shenanigans of Raimi & Co., but it is evident that Cronin’s investment in this project is sincere, as the film works as both an engaging horror story inhabited by compelling characters in general as well as a darker, more subtly humorous Evil Dead film specifically.

With the altered setting and the addition of a family dynamic, Cronin crafts a film that creates a different level of emotional investment without becoming sappy, just as the filmmaker has ensured that the blood-soaked, grotesque body horror synonymous with the franchise is every bit as over-the-top and unsettling as it should be.

All in all, while everyone of course misses Bruce Campbell since his retirement after the third season of Ash vs Evil Dead, Evil Dead Rise goes for something that is more nasty than silly without betraying the essence of what came before it, and most horror fans are likely to consider Evil Dead Rise a groovy addition to one of the greatest film franchises – horror or otherwise – of all time. ( – Leyla Mikkelsen)

Gorky Park

Kino Lorber

Gorky Park is a hidden gem, a forgotten classic, a great film lost to time.

It is derived from one of the great mystery novels of all time by Martin Cruz Smith whose Native American ancestry gave him an affection for “the bad guys” and who dreamed up a lonely militia investigator named Arkady Renko working against international criminals and his own state to solve a trio of grisly murders in Moscow’s most famous park. The resulting novel, Gorky Park, arrived just as the Cold War was heating up again and caught the public’s attention as a great piece of popular literature. Smith transposed the “one good cop” cliche into a post-Stalinist Soviet Union rife with corruption and paranoia and captured the energy that had made noir fiction great in the first place.

The book was optioned almost immediately by the newly formed Orion Pictures and two years after first printing, we got the world premiere. But what did we actually get?

When a militiaman stumbles on three mutilated bodies in the woods of Moscow’s Gorky Park militia investigator Arkady Renko (William Hurt) is called to investigate. Renko has had issues in the past with the KGB and his own prosecutor’s office for refusing to bury cases that have a connection to internal security and is immediately under scrutiny from informers in his own office. He traces the ice skates on one of the bodies to a beautiful Siberian dissident living in Moscow named Irina (Joanna Pacula) and tracks the brother of another (Brian Dennehy), an NYPD detective who has come on the sly to get revenge. All roads lead to an international furrier with government connections named Jack Osbourne (Lee Marvin) and Renko must race against time to prove his guilt before he leaves his jurisdiction forever.

Michael Apted, the director best known for the Up documentaries and who would get a crack at 007 many years later with The World is Not Enough, was tapped to lead the project. His aforementioned Bond film was pretty dire but here we get a real glimpse at the skills that would make you want to tap him for the job in the first place.

First and foremost, incredible location photography at play throughout the picture. They obviously could not film in Moscow, but they did a great job of dressing up Helsinki as its stand in and the film has a strong sense of place throughout. There are sequences of KGB goons following Renko in this picture where the characters are moving in front of building sized murals of Lenin and old Orthodox churches and you’re just blown away by how well they communicate that you’re behind the Iron Curtain. Apted, as stated above, made his bones in documentary work and while his lack of style does hold the film back in places, his instincts serve him well in getting the film to feel as “real” as possible.

The sense of the other is greatly added to by composer James Horner (The Wrath of Khan, Titanic) who turns in, no joke, the single greatest score of his entire career. Mixing dark and heavy synthesizers with big bombastic horns, bells , and insistent pulsing strings, Horner turns scenes of characters tailing one another through drab industrial architecture into tone poems of paranoia and menace.

Apted got a spectacular cast of mostly British actors for the picture and a Forces of Geek reader who decides to give the film a watch will be delighted to find Ian McDiarmid (Return of the Jedi), Ian Bannen (Braveheart), and Michael Elphick (EastEnders) all doing sterling supporting work behind the film’s three American leads: William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman) as Renko, Brian Dennehy (First Blood) as Kirwell, and in his last great role, Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen) as the murderous Osbourne. Polish born Joanna Pacula (Tombstone) plays the film’s romantic lead and lends a fire and vulnerability to Irina that makes her a more complex female character than these films typically enjoy.

Hurt’s performance has long been criticized for the bizarre accent choice, but if you can get past that you’ll find him doing really excellent vulnerable work as Arkady Renko. He is equally sharp with the investigator’s gallows humor and with his passion to see the case closed and his scenes with Marvin, where neither is sure who has the upper hand, recall both Columbo and Crime and Punishment. I think this is one of the late actor’s very best performances, accent and all.

The mystery is transposed from the book skillfully, though it is depressing to see some of the book’s most effective twists and most subversive passages trimmed out to make the film a more conventional thriller. Dennehy brings incredible fire and energy to Kirwell, an American cop and brother to one of the murdered men who comes to respect Renko as an investigator. However, this is Lee Marvin’s movie. His Jack Osbourne is a wonderful creation of ruthless, charming, genteel, worldly corruption. His descent into sadistic violence in the film’s final sequence feels completely earned even as shocking as it plays.  Extras include interview, teaser, trailer, three tv spots

If you love murder mysteries they don’t get much better than this one. Highly recommended. ( – Will McGuire)

Renfield

Universal Studios

As encountering narcissists is unfortunately something most people have the misfortune of experiencing at some point in life, the premise of Dracula’s servant Renfield breaking free from his master’s devious grasp is therefore one that works rather well in the context of contemporary awareness of toxic interpersonal relationships and the importance of self-care.

Nicholas Hoult makes for an endearingly awkward protagonist as the beleaguered Renfield, who has grown weary of harvesting victims for his evil employer, and the film sees him try to break free of Dracula’s manipulative control in this charming romp.

It is not long before the murderous shenanigans lead to Renfield crossing paths with an assertive counterpart to his emotionally badgered self in the form of Awkwafina’s incorruptible cop character Rebecca Quincy.

Being everything Renfield is not, Rebecca’s seemingly endless attempts to bring down the Lobo crime family are continuously thwarted by her corrupt colleagues in spite of an impressive level of incompetence shown by the young heir to the crime empire in particular.

Nicolas Cage, as one would expect, is fittingly over-the-top as a Dracula hell-bent on world domination, his intensely hammy characteristics marrying well with the iconic character and the overall tone the filmmakers went for with this campy horror comedy.

With laughs aplenty and gory gimmicks to match, the film joins the ranks of recent hit Cocaine Bear in terms of casting anything remotely cerebral to the wayside in favor of blood-spattered slapstick, and Renfield does indeed do a decent job to keep audiences entertained.

However, as much as Renfield certainly ensures a fun-packed 93 minutes of popcorn-munching fun, the film does, however, not feel like it lives up to its full potential; there is a lot of subtext that could be explored here, but the filmmakers barely scratch the surface here, resulting in jarringly underbaked characters and not a lot of character motivations beyond the most basic level of good versus evil.

Sadly, this also affects the inspired casting of Cage as Dracula.

While he unsurprisingly steals every scene he is in, Cage nonetheless feels under-utilized here, as he surely would have been able to go much further in the part if the writing had been stronger.

Similarly, other characters exiting left and right without much fleshing out also takes the engagement with the piece down a notch rather than adding anything meaningful to a film that revolves around themes of personal growth.

The technical aspects of the film are not much to write home about either.

While all of the gore is well done, the editing in the action scenes in particular is less than stellar, just as the overall choreography of these sequences feels sloppy, even if the silliness of the almost cartoonish fight choreography arguably fits in well with the overall comedic tone and therefore avoids becoming too egregious.

Extras include commentary, deleted & extended scenes, alternate tales, making of a deleted scene, and featurettes.

It is doubtful that anyone saw the trailer to Renfield and expected the next Citizen Kane, but that does not excuse Renfield from failing to utilize its premise and characters better, as this makes the film a somewhat underwhelming forgettable horror comedy that is great for a fun one-off viewing due to the novel concept and excellent casting of Cage, but ultimately leaves too much to be desired to merit multiple rewatches. ( – Leyla Mikkelsen)

Miami Vice

Mill Creek

Few genres dominated American popular fiction like the police procedural. Until recent years, where a combination of political concerns and the expanding lens of prestige TV rendered them somewhat old hat, the police procedural was not only one of the most ubiquitous forms of American popular culture, but the great ones acted as time capsules for the styles and attitudes of American consciousness of their eras: Dragnet, Serpico, The French Connection, NYPD Blue, The Wire and so on and so forth.

For nearly his entire career as a producer and director, Michael Mann has been committed to making crime stories that balance the verisimilitude of the procedural with the style of the moment. Walker director Alex Cox publicly called him “an incurable faddist” while Law and Order producer Dick Wolf called him “the best director in America in terms of actually getting images on the screen” and both takes on his career feel valid.

Miami Vice represents an apex of that project. Seventeen years after its initial run, the film remains one of the most compelling marriages of style and police tradecraft substance ever put to film.

What makes the film special can’t be expressed in a story synopsis; as with jazz it’s not so much the notes they play as the notes they don’t play. Miami Vice drops you into a high end prostitution sting at a cooler-than-cool South Miami nightclub just as it comes to pieces faster than a gear change in Crockett’s Ferrari. A CI loaned to a government multi agency task force calls in that he’s been blown, we see a meet where white supremacists blow the FBI to pieces and Crockett and Tubbs are deputized to infiltrate the gang’s supply chain, Crockett begins to mix business with pleasure and the cat and mouse game between the cartel’s counter-intel and the cops begins.

What makes the film special is how quickly and assuredly the film moves through this story and how every well-worn beat is executed perfectly. When you watch Miami Vice you get a sense of the trust the filmmakers have in the audience to hang with the story through all its twists and turns. There’s only two exposition dumps in the entire film and they’re delivered at lightning speed and with all the jargon.

Combine that with Mann’s developing style in handheld digital photography, a carry over from his previous film Collateral, and you have a unique marriage of photographic style and narrative substance where the grit of the camera captures the opulence of the world of high level drug trafficking and the seductive power of being able to cross into it whenever you wish. Scale and intimacy, realism and style, Miami Vice stands as a film which takes the bones of its TV premise and uses it to push contemporary American genre filmmaking forward in terms of aesthetic concerns and narrative truthfulness.

Even when Vice is half-baked, such as its on-the-nose tough guy dialogue, you’re still mesmerized by its audacious visual style and assured narrative drive. Consider how many scenes you’ve seen where the hero cops are posing as underworld figures and compare how few of them achieve the tension and suspense of the pair’s first meeting with Jose Yero. Or the Cuban sequence, in a lesser film the momentum of the narrative would have been killed by it, but the intimacy and detail of the Cuba the film shows is intoxicating– the digression is its own reward.

Unfortunately the film came out at the last historical moment it could have, just as mid budget major releases were dying and two years before Favreau’s Iron Man would herald the coming of all encompassing super franchises and cinematic universes. Watching it now, seventeen years later, it’s difficult to see it as anything more than an aberration: a great filmmaker getting to make a personal vision out of a known property before the backslide into producer-led house styles and “pre-visualized” action sequences.  Extras include theatrical and director’s cut, commentary, featurettes, and trailer  Highly recommended, a better film now than when it first screened.  (– Will McGuire)

The Package

Kino Lorber

The Package (1989) is a fun trip back to the final days of the Cold War and Soviet Union being the default bad guys in American movies. The movie stars Gene Hackman as Sgt. Johnny Gallagher, a proud military man who falls victim to false accusations and set-ups as part of a covert plan to assassinate the President of the U.S.S.R. on United States soil. In a bit of cinematic bad timing, the movie was released less than three months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, seen as the first domino in the collapse of the Soviet Union, rendering it very dated almost from the get-go.

After a historic nuclear disarmament treaty is agreed on, shadow forces in both the U.S. and Soviet war machines hatch a plan to have the Soviet president (who isn’t named as Mikhail Gorbachev but the actor sure looks a lot like him) killed in Chicago, with the intention of keeping the Cold War going. Gallagher finds himself in hot water when he is blamed for a security breach that ends in the death of several Americans, including the conflicted General Carlson. As punishment, Gallagher must escort an American prisoner named Walter Henke back to the states. But his prisoner, played by the amazing Tommy Lee Jones, is not quite what he seems and when he escapes, life gets downright hellish for Hackman’s protagonist.

The film is packed with lots of 80’s Chicago grittiness that serves well as the backdrop of this cat and mouse thriller. And the over-the-top gunfights and car wrecks are perfectly of their time. Gallagher is joined by his ex-wife, Eileen (Joanna Cassidy), his old Vietnam friend turned Chicago cop, Delich, played by the perfectly cast Dennis Franz and not too many others as the conspiracy widens and he doesn’t know who to trust. Overall, this is a fun mix of espionage and old-school hard knocks action and dialogue.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of The Package is how many actors get under-utilized. Pam Grier and Chelcie Ross (Hard Bob for all you Billions fans) don’t get nearly enough screen time as well as several others. And with such a glut of villains, the viewer is left with too little from the aforementioned Jones and John Heard, who plays the easily unlikeable Colonel Whitacre. Both could have benefited the end product by giving them some more screen time. But as a trade-off, I’ll take everything we get out of Gene Hackman. The actor, who announced his retirement from acting fifteen years ago, is great in everything he does and the same can be said here. Extras include commentary, introduction by director Andrew Davis, interview, trailer, and tv spots.  If you’re looking for a good popcorn movie for a Friday night, check out this acting legend play shoot ‘em up with the bad guys in this late-80’s gem. ( – Kyle A. Seifert)

Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 3

Walt Disney Studios

We’ve always known that our favorite cybernetically-enhanced and smart-mouthed raccoon had a serious chip on his shoulder from his upbringing.

Audiences will finally have the chance to delve into the tragic circumstances that Rocket has fiercely protected for so long as the final chapter of this iteration of Guardians of the Galaxy moves the focus away from Peter Quill to delve into the backstory of Rocket.

Director and writer James Gunn has made sure that this emotional but lively sendoff keeps the laughs but turns up the heartache as we come to the end of the playlist.

Quill (Chris Pratt) is still reeling from the loss of original Gamora (Zoe Saldana), but his grief is quickly set aside when Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) gravely injures Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) during an attempted abduction at the bequest of Rocket’s creator, the genius but unhinged High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji).

As the team races to find a way around Rocket’s internal proprietary hardware and save their rapidly declining friend, each Guardian must assess their place and future in this ragtag chosen family.

A significant amount of the movie is flashbacks to Rocket’s origin story, and the editing can be a bit chaotic. From the moment a disembodied hand reaches into a filthy cage to grab one unlucky raccoon from the terrified litter, we see that Rocket has been through a fair amount of physical and emotional turmoil from Day One. As his enhancements start to increase his intelligence, Rocket also grows emotionally through his friendships with fellow experimentees.

Marvel CGI rarely achieves the endearing warmth of other Disney CGI, instead focusing on charmless but impressive landscapes and fight scenes (which Vol. 3 is still full of).

In a welcome change, however, the renderings of raccoons, dogs, otters, and more are surprisingly delightful.

There is a decent blend of realism and artistic license to make these novel creations rather than hyper-realistic Lion King-style recreations designed to fool the audience. Baby Rocket and his friends are easy to empathize with as they make the best of what they have until the day they reach the “new world” that The High Evolutionary endlessly dangles in front of them as justification for his scientific cruelty. The arc of Rocket’s innocence to his current jaded state is likely missing a few scenes (there are a few plot devices that are mentioned but oddly not followed up on) but is overall satisfying.

Addressing how childhood trauma affects their team dynamics is a throughline for most of the Guardians, so we are staying in a certain realm of familiar territory. Group dynamics necessitate someone to sift through these complicated emotions, and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) has a seriously expanded and upgraded role that allows her to stand up for herself and push everyone further than they would normally be comfortable with. Channeling Deanna Troi with better fighting skills, Klementieff easily flows from touching to funny to frankly badass, stealing more than one shared scene.

The best foil to her highly emotional outbursts will always be the straightforward Drax (Dave Bautista). Bautista has a comic delivery that rarely misses and his quotables are second only to Rocket. Drax is given a bit more range than usual, getting to show a softer side that reminds us of his favorite role outside of Destroyer: family man.

Granted, that softer side comes after some serious brawls but it is there nonetheless. Nebula (Karen Gillan) and alternate Gamora are far thornier than anything else, but it works for them. There are glimpses of Gamora coming around to the idea of what made her other incarnation Quill’s love interest, but it never strays into an all-too-easy rekindled romance trope. Given that he has carried so much of the series, it was refreshing to see supporting characters take such a lead in the wrap-up of this arc, leaving Chris Pratt to do little more than shepherd the story forward while nursing his unrequited love.

As we start closing out teams from the most recent MCU phase, there are several tasks to handle. Setting up future iterations, playing into the next Avengers movie, and tying a nice bow are just a few items that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 handles thoughtfully. Gunn rarely trades sentimentality for entertainment, instead deftly balancing the two with a care that Marvel will be hard-pressed to duplicate going forward.  Extras include featurettes, deleted scenes, trailer, commentary and gag reel.

The Guardians have always moved to their own quirky beat and this final film sees the whole ensemble expertly owning the floor for their final dance. (– Kristen Halbert)

Marathon Man

Kino Lorber

What is it about the thrillers of the 1970’s that allows them to stick in the public consciousness so distinctly all these years later? I remember when the Russo Brothers were first hired by Disney for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and name-checked both Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men as influences and while we can argue whether those allusions were appropriate, what is clear in the making of them was that the “70’s paranoia thriller” is still a designation that has clear meaning in American cinematic discourse.

Marathon Man is a perfect case in point for anyone curious about what made the great American thrillers of the 70’s hold steadfastly in the popular consciousness. Produced by the legendary Robert Evans during a hot streak that included the first two Godfather films and Chinatown, and directed by John Schlesinger of Midnight Cowboy fame, Marathon Man features an outstanding cast anchored by generational talents Laurence Olivier (Rebecca) and Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate).

Hoffman plays Thomas “Babe” Levy, a doctoral history student and long distance runner at Columbia University. Levy’s father was a professor of history at Columbia and took his own life in the face of allegations he was a Communist during the Red Scare of the 50’s. Now Levy believes his brother, Doc (the great Roy Schneider), is an oil company executive, but unbeknownst to him this is merely his cover as a government agent as he investigates a Nazi war criminal, Schnell (Olivier) in France. When Doc tracks Schnell to New York he uses a visit with Babe as cover and during the visit correctly deduces that the war criminal has already infiltrated his brother’s life. Doc is taken by surprise by Schnell in Central Park and mortally wounded but manages to make it back to Babe, who Schnell assumes now has the location of a cache of diamonds he’s been searching for and tortures him for the information.

When it was released Marathon Man was most recognized for the absolutely brutal torture sequence that separates the second and third acts of the story, but the ever increasing sadism of the cinema some fifty years later have made that sequence a little easier to stomach. What I was most struck by was the incredible paranoia of the sequences shot in New York and Paris, the anonymity with which a killer could hide in the seas of humanity that those cities are composed of, and the fear and tension that Schlesinger generates just having characters walk down the street. There’s a remarkable sequence where Schneider defends himself from a hitman with garrotte that plays like a scene from one of the James Bond novels, and another where one of his contacts may or may not have been murdered right in front of him and he’s staring down a dark alley that is legitimately terrifying. This is legitimately some of the best spy thriller stuff ever done in the American cinema.

But the film belongs to Hoffman and Olivier and here is where we return to the question of what made thrillers of the 1970’s so special and indelible to the audiences who received them. Hoffman’s Babe is a fascinating, driven character but never one who is presented to the audience in such a way to pander to them. We’re introduced to him running and getting into a spat with another runner at the park and he begins chasing the man down, even after both are attacked by an unleashed dog. We could easily see how this man could be seen as aloof or arrogant to his peers. We’re following him not because he’s the nicest guy in the world, but because he’s about to be tested. He feels completely human.

Olivier, by contrast, feels completely mythic. His portrayal of Schnell is a ghost, a figure like Cain, a wanderer marked by the trauma he inflicted in the Shoah and forever in danger of being recognized for the monster he has become. With instant death up his sleeve, and a gang of killers in his employ he only becomes human when he cannot help but enjoy the torture he’s inflicting on Babe or when he is finally recognized and the world itself seems to turn in on him on the streets of Manhattan. A marvelous achievement.  Extras include commentary, archival featurettes, rehearsal footage, trailer, tv spots, and radio spots.

Marathon Man was, in its time, shocking for its depiction of sadistic violence but the power of that violence always came from the matter of fact direction of Schlesinger– its seeming ambivalence to human suffering as the norm. Pauline Kael famously regarded the film as a veiled revenge fantasy for the Holocaust, but I think what’s truly disturbing about the film is the way Nazism has found a comfortable home in the moral malaise of contemporary times– the same moral malaise that informs the bemused on-lookers of the early acts of violence. Marathon Man isn’t interested in the past, but in our own moral insulation from suffering in the present. Which is why it still works so well.  ( – Will McGuire)

King Solomon’s Mines

Warner Archive

King Solomon’s Mines, directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton, is a film adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s famous adventure novel of the same name. Released in 1950, the film attempts to capture the spirit of the source material, but unfortunately falls short in several aspects.

The plot revolves around the adventurous Allan Quatermain (played by Stewart Granger), who embarks on a perilous journey to find the legendary diamond mines of King Solomon in Africa. Along the way, he is joined by the strong-willed Elizabeth Curtis (portrayed by Deborah Kerr) and a group of colorful characters. Their expedition is filled with treacherous obstacles, dangerous encounters with native tribes, and a quest for unimaginable wealth.

While the premise itself holds great potential for an exciting adventure, the execution of the story is underwhelming. The pacing suffers from uneven transitions and sluggish moments, failing to maintain a consistent level of suspense. The narrative lacks the necessary depth to fully engage the audience, leaving the film feeling superficial and devoid of emotional resonance. Despite the promise of a thrilling quest, the story often feels predictable, making it difficult to truly invest in the characters’ struggles and triumphs.

The performances are a mixed bag. Stewart Granger delivers a solid portrayal of Allan Quatermain, exuding the rugged charm and bravery expected of the character. However, the chemistry between Granger and Deborah Kerr’s Elizabeth Curtis feels lacking, hindering the development of their relationship. Kerr’s performance is competent, but her character is unfortunately relegated to a damsel in distress role, leaving her with limited opportunities to showcase her talent. The supporting cast, while occasionally providing moments of levity, doesn’t leave a lasting impression, largely due to the thinly written characters they inhabit.

Cinematography, a crucial aspect of any adventure film, is a highlight of King Solomon’s Mines. The film boasts breathtaking African landscapes captured with stunning visuals. The cinematographers successfully convey the sense of awe and danger inherent in the characters’ journey, providing a visual spectacle that remains memorable. The attention to detail in the production design and the use of real African locations enhance the authenticity of the film, immersing the audience in the vastness of the African wilderness.

Directors Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton display competence in handling the action sequences and the overall visual presentation. However, their direction fails to elevate the film beyond its limitations. The pacing issues and lackluster character development ultimately fall on their shoulders, leaving the overall film feeling disjointed and lacking a cohesive vision. While the technical aspects of the film are commendable, the directors struggle to breathe life into the story and create a truly captivating adventure.

Extras include a vintage promo featurette and trailer.

King Solomon’s Mines is a film that ultimately fails to live up to the potential of its source material. Despite notable cinematography and Stewart Granger’s commendable performance, the film suffers from a lackluster script, underdeveloped characters, and uneven pacing. While it may hold nostalgic value for some viewers, as a critical analysis, it falls short of being a truly memorable adventure film. (– Stefan Blitz)

All Quiet on The Western Front

MPI Media

War is hell and far too many young people are along for the ride. WWI was especially brutal because we were in that era of technology where weapons of war were new and not fine-tuned. Not that war is ever not brutal, but when you have people building tanks and not understanding that there will be actual people inside of them…things get messy. And goddam trench warfare. One thing this movie doesn’t touch on is how many kids died of dysentery because the filth that they had to walk through every day in those trenches.

Anyway, this movie is a beast. Nearly three hours of pretty much non-stop war violence that is, above all, senseless. The Western Front between Germany and France was one of the stupidest war fields of all time. Four years and never more than a few meters gained on either side. Millions of lives lost for that. Fuck war.

And that’s really what this entire story is about: “Fuck war.” The generals and old men make the rules and send young boys (now, boys and girls) off to die, usually for nothing. The book and the original movie from 1930 were among the first anti-war works to really go into PTSD and how it changes people. This new version doesn’t look away. By the end I almost felt like I had gone through the war. (He says from the comfort of his couch at home.)

Felix Kammerer’s portrayal of our hero, Paul, is up there with Aleksey Kravchenko’s in Come And See, the nearly unwatchably harrowing Soviet anti-war film from 1985. He goes from typical young 17 year old with his whole life ahead of him to a war-wizened old man with nearly no will to live in the space of probably about two years. And you read every bit of that in his face even when it’s covered in blood or mud.  Extras include a commentary track.

All Quiest on The Western Front is such a grueling film. Anyone who still thinks that war is some glorious, noble cause should watch this and see what it’s really all about. A double feature of this and Come And See would probably put an end to that bullshit right away. ( – Mark Wensel)

The Boy With Green Hair

Warner Archive

The Boy With Green Hair is a peculiar film that attempts to tackle themes of war, trauma, and social consciousness through the lens of a young protagonist with an inexplicable green mane. Directed by Joseph Losey and featuring Dean Stockwell in the lead role, the film raises interesting questions but ultimately falls short in its execution.

Let us begin with the directing by Joseph Losey. While the film’s concept holds potential, Losey fails to harness it effectively. The pacing is uneven, with scenes that linger excessively, causing the narrative to lose its grip on the audience. The director’s inability to maintain a consistent tone undermines the emotional impact of the story, leaving viewers detached rather than engaged. The film’s lack of subtlety is also apparent, as symbolism is often hammered into the audience’s consciousness, leaving little room for interpretation or intellectual engagement.

In terms of acting, Dean Stockwell’s performance as the orphaned boy, Peter, is commendable considering his young age. However, his portrayal lacks depth, and his emotional range feels limited. While he captures the innocence and vulnerability of a child thrust into the harsh realities of the world, Stockwell fails to fully convey the internal turmoil that should accompany his character’s traumatic experiences. The supporting cast, unfortunately, is largely forgettable, with performances that are overshadowed by the film’s conceptual flaws.

Symbolism plays a central role in The Boy With Green Hair, yet it often feels heavy-handed and overly simplistic. The boy’s green hair is an unsubtle metaphor for his difference and ostracization, but its significance is rarely explored beyond surface-level commentary. The film’s attempts to address issues such as war and pacifism are admirable, but the symbolism lacks the necessary subtlety and nuance to make a lasting impact. It is as if the film prioritizes the message over the storytelling, sacrificing depth for didacticism.

The story itself is intriguing, centering on Peter’s journey to understand his own identity and find acceptance in a society that rejects him. The exploration of war’s impact on children and the notion of collective guilt are poignant themes, but they are hindered by the film’s lackluster execution. The narrative fails to build a compelling emotional arc, resulting in a shallow exploration of complex ideas.

Special effects in The Boy With Green Hair were undoubtedly limited by the technological constraints of the time. However, the film’s use of a simple visual effect to depict the protagonist’s green hair is unconvincing, often distracting from the story rather than enhancing it. It is understandable that the film’s budget may have been a limiting factor, but the execution of the special effects ultimately detracts from the overall viewing experience.  Extras include a 1947 MGM shot subject starring Dean Stockwell.

The Boy With Green Hair falls short of its potential as a thought-provoking exploration of war’s impact on children and society’s treatment of outsiders. Joseph Losey’s direction lacks cohesion and subtlety, failing to fully engage the audience. Dean Stockwell’s performance, while commendable for his age, lacks the depth necessary to fully convey the emotional weight of the story. The film’s heavy-handed symbolism and lackluster execution hinder its ability to leave a lasting impression. Ultimately, The Boy With Green Hair remains a forgotten relic of its time, failing to resonate with contemporary audiences. ( – Stefan Blitz)

Avatar

The Walt Disney Company

This movie sure did make a beautiful land at Disney. Like…it’s amazing. You walk in there and if feels like you are actually there as much as you possibly could while still on Earth. And the Flight Of Passage ride is so good! THE BANSHEE BREATHS!!! The Na’vi River Journey is incredibly pretty, but it’s just a dark ride.

Oh. Wait. There’s a movie attached to all of that, isn’t there? It’s easy to forget about this movie. I mean, it was 14 years ago. I didn’t even remember most of the story until I just watched it again. It’s a decent movie It’s visually spectacular. We certainly don’t need MORE stories from Pandora, though.

Um…there are three more coming? Really? Where can they possibly go from here? And why would we care?

Really, the sequels are just a way for James Cameron to flex his muscles and push the boundaries of special effects. I honestly have no hope that the rest of the movies will all be even as good as this one. But, dammit, I’ll see them.

I guess I should actually say something about this movie. It’s a’ight. Overlong by about a half hour. It really could have just been the Na’vi with none of the stupid military bullshit…or <giggle> “unobtanium”. Seriously, if they had just had someone say, “Wait…really? ‘Unobtanium”? That’s what we’re going with?” it MIGHT have been permissible.

But that had to have been a place holder until they could come up with a better name. I guess without the military stuff it would have just been an animated film, which…ok.  The 4K print is stunning and extras include  two retrospective featurettes and the feature length Capturing Avatar documentary.

That’s cool.

Oh, yeah. Stephen Lang’s character is so devoid of any humanity. I think even The Joker would say, “Whoa! Dude! Calm down!” (You just read that in Mark Hamill’s voice. You’re welcome.) At least, that’s what I thought in 2009. A certain ex-“president” and his minions have made me rethink that.  ( – Mark Wensel)

The Manchurian Candidate

Kino Lorber

The Manchurian Candidate is a thriller that still lives in the minds of the public– an idea that has been adopted into our collective pop culture subconscious even if you haven’t seen the film. During and directly following the American Presidential election of 2016 the term was used more than once in reference to Donald Trump’s alleged connections to Russia. The Manchurian Candidate, unlike most films from the early 60’s, has not faded from the public consciousness but grown in it. Released at the very height of the Cold War, its paranoia of shadow governments and foreign infiltration, of useful idiots and mind control, of the enemy within have only deepened over time. We tend to associate political paranoia in American cinema with the 70’s, but in many ways The Manchurian Candidate was the definitive statement and made a decade earlier.

The basic plot should be familiar to almost anyone but if it isn’t: Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) has returned from the Korean War and been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in keeping his platoon alive behind enemy lines, much to the delight of his Joe McCarthy-esque stepfather, Sen. Iselin (James Gregory) and his ruthless and manipulating mother, Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) who want to use their son’s heroism to bolster his stepfather’s career. Shaw, for his part, wants nothing to do with his power hungry family and appears morose and dejected even as he receives the highest honor an American soldier is capable of winning.

Shaw isn’t the only one with issues: His commanding officer, Benjamin Marko (Frank Sinatra) and other members of his platoon are having strange and surreal nightmares about their time in Korea where they are somehow at both a meeting of a woman’s gardening club and simultaneously a meeting of the heads of intelligence of the Communist powers discussing brainwashing Shaw to kill. Marko has been assigned to Army Intelligence after the War and when both he and a fellow member of his platoon find they can identify top Communist agents from their dreams, they begin an investigation into what’s going on.

I don’t want to spoil any more of the plot which, even though the broad strokes are well known, has not lost its power to surprise and even horrify in the 60 years since its initial release. A lot of that has to be credited to director John Frankenheimer who dives in and commits to the material completely and delivers one of the scariest, most surreal, most unnerving thrillers in American history. I cannot think of many other films which convey both a documentarian’s sense of the real and the chaos of the moment, but also a surreal nightmarish quality as if we’re in the mind of a man who is losing his sanity. It’s passionate, precise, stylish, iconic photography that you cannot help but be sucked in.

The film works also because its four principal characters are so perfectly cast: Laurence Harvey is so wonderfully vulnerable and tragic as the doomed Raymond Shaw. He conveys the predicament of a man whose mind is no longer his own and it is both terrifying and deeply sad to watch him played by everyone he’s ever trusted in a game that is largely beyond him. Harvey imbues Shaw with the quality of a man who has never felt comfortable in his own skin, even before he was brainwashed and it plays perfectly without ever becoming maudlin.

Likewise, Sinatra is king-sized here both as a tenacious agent and a man coming to grips with his own vulnerability, that he too was used and dominated by foreign agents. His bizarre and brilliant chemistry with Janet Leigh’s character, who is so mysterious at times that the viewer questions whether or not she too is involved, allows his screen persona to expand to include vulnerability, self doubt, and paranoia.

However, this is Angela Lansbury’s film.

If you only know Lansbury from Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Murder, She Wrote I cannot imagine how shocking her performance her must be as the power behind Senator Iselin and the ruthless dominator of her son, a domination that extends and culminates in the expression of incestuous lust with the most disquieting kiss in Hollywood history. Lansbury’s Eleanor is one of the most effective screen villains ever, and is so terrifying that it has almost informed the public’s skepticism of any woman in the political sphere who is seen as too pragmatic or too ambitious. The film is worth watching for her performance alone.  Extras include commentary, interviews, outtakes, and trailer.

This is easily one of the 100 greatest films of all time. See it.  ( – Will McGuire)

Looney Tunes Collector’s Choice: Volume 1

Warner Archive

Bugs steals the show, but Daffy and Foghorn Leghorn are breakout stars in this most recent Looney Tunes collection. 20 new-to-disc shorts have been remastered and restored with original titles from the source print placed back in. As the MAX streaming platform is ever-evolving, true Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies fans will want to grab this hard copy of some of the most innovative cartoons from Termite Terrace. Enjoy classics like Beanstalk Bunny with Warner Bros headlining stars alongside Babbit & Catstello and The Three Bears tales. Fan favorite animation directors Chuck Jones and Friz Feeling are in this showcase 4K disc for the first time ever with works from Frank Tashlin, Robert McKimson, Arthur Davis, and more.

Featuring the voice talents of Mel Blanc, Martha Wentworth, Stan Freberg, and Billy Bletcher, these classic shorts are available only on this Blu-ray disc as fully restored. With 142 minutes of shorts and no backup material, this one is for fans and an excellent way to introduce the shorts to younger family members.

The disc starts with a classic, Beanstalk Bunny starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck & Elmer Fudd. This Chuck Jones “Jack and the Beanstalk” parody shows the greed that Daffy became famous for, and Bugs plays it cool in the end, eating enough of one of the Giant’s carrots to make him have a pot belly, and the carrot is so big it could provide him shelter.

What’s new, doc? Certain things make this collection a unique and valuable addition to your physical media shelves. Some broadcasts over the years have deleted scenes referencing smoking or have been showing title cards not from the original film but recreations or crops.

The shorts Beanstalk Bunny and Catch as Cats Can, starring Sylvester, are presented here and restored for the first time in any medium. Fans may remember Sylvester and Tweety as friends and foes, but most Looney Tunes characters have lived full, rich lives with different supporting actors in the scenes. As a kid, I didn’t know who Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra were, but the Warner Bros cartoons made me think they were essential singers I should laugh along with! Here, Sylvester is tortured by a parrot, Bing Crosby striking match pipes off his feet, while a yellow canary version of Frank Sinatra defends himself from both! Bing Crosby, the parrot, would appear at least once more in the canon!

A great thing to enjoy about this collection is the different art styles and director’s choices. At once, Chuck Jones’ retro-futurist midcentury modern aesthetic is contrasted with the goofiness of what Freling, Tashlin, McKimson, and Davis provide. And early versions of our favorite characters make for a fun comparison to modern interpretations.

The Unruly Hare looks at westward railroad expansion with Elmer Fudd as the engineer looking to lay track across the U.S. during domestic growth! Of course, Bugs gets in the way, foiling his plans all along, mostly because Bugs’ home would be destroyed! This was only one of two hilarious Bugs Bunny cartoons credited to animator and comic artist Frank Tashlin.

In the hazy memory of the mind’s eye, we all can remember many versions of “Goldilocks and The Three Bears”. Two shorts here from Chuck Jones star The Three Bears family without their famous intruder. What’s Brewin’ Bruin shows the struggles of the bears finally getting some good hibernation with an alarm clock gag that has months instead of numbers (classic), and The Bee-Deviled Bruin has Papa Bear and his dopey son hunting for honey after Junior spills the sticky stuff all over Dad’s heads. Noting here as a highlight of the disc as Chuck Jones brings his signature style to the woods!

I say, a Looney Tunes collection would not be complete without some Foghorn Leghorn in Plop Goes the Weasel! Robert McKimson pits our Kentucky Colonel rooster against Barnyard Dawg (his given name!) and, well, a weasel as Foghorn tries to get the Dawg fired from being a hen house sentinel! The weasel is after some sweet yellow chicks, and Foghorn practically feeds them to the thing!

In Fractured Leghorn, a Sylvester lookalike cat argue over a worm to bait a hook to catch fish on the farm. It’s funnier than it sounds and restored with original car exhaust and George Washington references, deemed too spicy for ABC broadcast then.

Meep-Meep! Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote (sponsored by Acme) face off to usual exploding bombs and high-pitched falls from cliffs in Hip-Hip-Hurry! and Hot Rod and Reel!

Tale of Two Mice, started by Frank Tashlin and finished by Robert McKimson, references another pop culture reference of the time, the comedy duo of Abbott & Costello with an appearance of Babbit & Catstello! Two mice. Swiss Cheese. A cat guarding. Good times!

With the nature of content catalogs being rolled down into the Rube Goldberg machine of streaming services these days and the offerings on MAX in shift, this curated collection is a must-grab, especially as it promises that more volumes are coming down the pike.

For short attention spans, the average of 6-7 minutes for a blast of nostalgia makes this offering worth it. It seems to me the language of ‘jackass’ and on-screen smoking may have caused the censors to freak out a bit, but now this trend to restore as originally intended viewing is just fine and a treat for animation fans. Some shorts might be new to you or seem familiar. Still, this Collector’s Choice Vol. 1 is not to be missed, and sales will ensure that these media companies will continue to invest in restoring original and classic works. These twenty shorts really do hold up!  ( – Clay N Ferno)

Queen Christina

Warner Archive

Queen Christina aspires to tell the captivating story of a powerful monarch torn between her duties and personal desires. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, it features the iconic Greta Garbo in the titular role and John Gilbert as her love interest. While the film carries an air of grandeur and showcases Garbo’s undeniable magnetism, it falls short of its potential due to uneven directing and a lackluster overall story.

Rouben Mamoulian’s direction in Queen Christina is a mixed bag. On one hand, he skillfully captures the opulence and splendor of the era, creating visually striking scenes that transport the audience into the world of 17th-century Sweden. The meticulous attention to detail in the set designs and costumes is commendable. However, Mamoulian’s pacing is erratic, resulting in a disjointed narrative that fails to maintain a consistent tone. The film oscillates between moments of quiet introspection and hurried, melodramatic sequences, leaving the audience feeling disconnected from the characters and their plight.

Garbo’s performance as Queen Christina is undoubtedly the film’s saving grace. With her enigmatic charm and expressive eyes, Garbo effortlessly commands the screen, embodying the regal and conflicted queen. She brings a certain vulnerability to the character, successfully portraying the internal struggle between duty and personal desires. Garbo’s captivating presence elevates even the weaker moments of the film, allowing viewers to empathize with Christina’s plight despite the narrative’s shortcomings.

Unfortunately, John Gilbert’s performance as Antonio, Christina’s love interest, falls flat in comparison to Garbo’s brilliance. Gilbert’s portrayal lacks depth and fails to create a compelling chemistry with Garbo. His delivery feels stilted and his emotions appear forced, detracting from the authenticity of the romantic subplot. This lack of chemistry hampers the film’s emotional impact, leaving the audience detached from the central relationship.

The overall story of Queen Christina is intriguing, exploring themes of duty, love, and personal freedom. It delves into the internal struggle faced by Christina as she grapples with her obligations as a queen and her desire for a life of personal happiness. However, the narrative fails to fully explore these themes, opting for a rushed and unsatisfying conclusion that leaves many loose ends untied. The potential for a nuanced exploration of gender roles and societal expectations is squandered, as the story rushes through its climax, leaving little room for character development or resolution.  Extras include MGM Parade focusing on Greta Garbo and theatrical trailer.

Queen Christina is a film that possesses undeniable visual splendor and is buoyed by Greta Garbo’s captivating performance. However, Rouben Mamoulian’s uneven directing and the lackluster chemistry between Garbo and John Gilbert prevent the film from reaching its full potential. The narrative’s rushed and unsatisfying conclusion leaves much to be desired, failing to fully explore the intriguing themes it introduces. While it may be considered a classic due to Garbo’s magnetic presence, Queen Christina ultimately falls short of its lofty ambitions. ( – Stefan Blitz)

The Night of The Hunter

Kino Lorber

The Night of the Hunter is one of those films that, like the recently reviewed Manchurian Candidate, that was ignored upon release and then after a period of obscurity, was rediscovered. However, whereas Manchurian Candidate’s cheerful cynicism and wicked paranoia was just a moment before its time, Night of the Hunter was championed later for the exact same reason it was abandoned initially: it was just too weird to be an American studio picture in the mid-50’s.

Charles Laughton was a talented actor who had long had the ambition to become a director and had fallen in love with the novel that formed the basis for this film, which he saw as a dark fairy tale. Now, every actor’s ambition was to direct and Laughton took the assignment particularly seriously, studying silent films from the German expressionists and D.W. Griffith and coming to the project with a stated desire to create the kind of powerful images he found in silent films.

The result is a bizarre mixture of noir, social satire, situation comedy, and horror that bewildered both audiences and United Artists’ marketing department as to what they were watching. Critics were unequipped to analyze the strong, silent film influenced imagery and without either critical or commercial success the film was quickly pulled and Laughton refused to ever direct a picture again. The film was “rediscovered” in revival showings and film festivals where its combination of Depression era tone and German influenced photography made it instantly distinct from every other American film of the period and it has enjoyed an incredible reputation ever since.

Robert Mitchum plays Harry Powell, a self-styled Reverend and serial killer of lonely widows. When he’s picked up on a stolen car beef, he shares a cell with a bank robber due to hang and gets the idea to con his soon-to-be widow and orphans out of the stolen money. He instantly wins the trust of the simple townsfolk and the widow, Willa (Shelley Winters, in a heroically brave performance), but her son John (who actually knows where the money is hidden) remains skeptical. When Willa overhears Powell trying to worm the secret of the money out from her youngest daughter, Pearl, Powell murders her and chains her to his car at the bottom of the lake in one of the most shocking images of any American film of the 50’s. The children must make a desperate escape attempt from the killer coming after them.

Robert Mitchum is incredible in this picture. His portrayal of Powell: seductive, disturbing, clever, and ruthless is the thing that has most clearly stuck in the public consciousness about this film decades later and with good reason. With “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed on either hand, and a running one-sided conversation with the Almighty Mitchum is one of the most imposing figures in any American picture of this period.

Likewise, Shelley Winters needs to be singled out for her interpretation of the doomed Willa– manipulated in equal parts by Powell and the good townsfolk she allows herself to be humiliated, manipulated, and finally shockingly destroyed. You don’t see many actors who are willing to portray a character who is so thoroughly dominated in a film and Winters is so convincing that she removes any lingering doubt we may have had about how effective Powell can be in his widow murder racket.

The third leg of the triangle that makes this film such a classic is Laughton’s direction. Laughton got the assignment because of several successfully directed theatrical productions, but he sheds any stereotypes about theatrical directors coming to film in the movie’s opening scene– he’s interested in creating indelible images. There’s a shot of Lilian Gish late in the film where he seems to have given the direction to recreate Whistler’s Mother, with a shotgun and from the opening titles he’s not afraid to engage in metaphorical montage– to challenge the audience.  Extras include commentary, music and effects track, interviews and trailers.

That challenge, paired with the multi-layered Depression era satire of religion, class, and gender probably is what doomed the film in the Eisenhower 50’s, but for a contemporary audience, The Night of the Hunter is, visually and in theme, one of the most eloquent American pictures that ever came out of the studio system.  Recommended.  ( – Will McGuire)

Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear

Warner Archive

Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear attempts to capitalize on the success of its titular character from the beloved animated series. However, this feature film adaptation falls short of delivering a truly compelling experience. While it may appeal to die-hard Yogi Bear fans for its nostalgia factor, the film lacks the creative spark needed to stand out as a memorable animated classic.

The film’s plot follows Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo as they venture outside Jellystone Park to join a traveling circus. They encounter an evil ringmaster, who plans to capture Yogi and exploit his popularity for financial gain. As Yogi tries to outsmart the ringmaster and rescue his friends, he learns valuable lessons about friendship, loyalty, and the importance of being true to oneself.

While the premise holds some potential for adventure and hilarity, the execution feels lackluster. The narrative follows a formulaic structure, and the plot lacks meaningful twists and turns, making the viewing experience rather mundane. There is a missed opportunity to delve into deeper themes or provide significant character development, leaving the story feeling shallow and lacking emotional resonance.The film’s plot follows Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo as they venture outside Jellystone Park to join a traveling circus. They encounter an evil ringmaster, who plans to capture Yogi and exploit his popularity for financial gain. As Yogi tries to outsmart the ringmaster and rescue his friends, he learns valuable lessons about friendship, loyalty, and the importance of being true to oneself.

While the premise holds some potential for adventure and hilarity, the execution feels lackluster. The narrative follows a formulaic structure, and the plot lacks meaningful twists and turns, making the viewing experience rather mundane. There is a missed opportunity to delve into deeper themes or provide significant character development, leaving the story feeling shallow and lacking emotional resonance.

The film’s design and animation are passable for its time, but they do not break any new ground. The backgrounds are simple and lack depth, while the character designs are faithful to the original Hanna-Barbera style but lack the refinement and detail that modern audiences have come to expect. Overall, the visual presentation feels underwhelming, failing to capture the magic that has made other animated classics enduring over the years.

The film’s music is decent but unremarkable. While the score from Marty Paich effectively complements the scenes, it lacks the memorable melodies that could have elevated the overall viewing experience. The lack of standout musical numbers makes the film feel forgettable in comparison to other animated classics that excel in this aspect.

Don Messick, as the voice of Boo-Boo, delivers a solid performance, capturing the endearing nature of the character and providing a sense of warmth. Likewise, Daws Butler, reprising his role as Yogi Bear, exudes charm and wit, infusing the character with his trademark vocal style. However, the rest of the voice cast fails to make a lasting impression, with many characters coming across as one-dimensional and lacking the depth needed to engage the audience fully. A stronger ensemble of voice actors could have injected more life into the film’s supporting characters.

Humor is a fundamental aspect of the Yogi Bear franchise, but Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear struggles to find its comedic footing. While Yogi’s antics have their moments, the film relies too heavily on repetitive gags and slapstick humor, leading to a lack of variety and ingenuity. The writing lacks the sharp wit that made the original series enjoyable, leaving audiences with an unsatisfying feeling of predictability.

As co-directors of the film, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna, known for their significant contributions to animation, should have elevated the material and created a more engaging experience. However, their direction lacks the innovative spirit and attention to detail that characterized their best works. While they manage to preserve the essence of Yogi Bear, their efforts fail to elevate the film beyond a mere extension of the TV series.  Extras include a rare, feature length episode of The Yogi Bear Show, “Yogi’s Birthday Party.”

While Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear may hold nostalgic appeal for die-hard fans of the original series, it falls short of leaving a lasting impression on new or discerning audiences. The film’s lackluster design, unremarkable animation, forgettable music, and one-dimensional voice performances hinder its potential to become a timeless classic. Ultimately the film falls short of capturing the magic and charm of the original animated series. While Don Messick’s endearing performance as Boo-Boo and Daws Butler’s charismatic portrayal of Yogi Bear offer glimpses of the beloved characters we know and love, the film as a whole fails to deliver a captivating experience. (– Stefan Blitz)

Shin Ultraman

Cleopatra

Shin Ultraman is a certified blast.

I loved every second of it. I watched it twice in a row.

I needed to take it all in and then digest it. I then watched it a second time to really enjoy the visuals and the editing.

Following a series of kaiju attacks, the Japanese Government establishes the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol (SSSP), a department designated to handle any further giant monster attacks.

When a Kaiju dubbed Gabora appears and attacks another phenomenon happens.  A giant silver extraterrestrial crash lands to defeat it. Quickly named Ultraman by a member of the SSSP it is not known if this new being is a friend or a foe. What is also unknown is that Ultraman harbors a grave secret.

One that could affect the lives of everyone.

When another alien arrives, named Zarab, wanting to create a treaty with Japan, it is a member of the SSSP who discovers his real intentions. Zarab intends to destroy the planet by triggering a worldwide conflict. When Ultraman disappears Zarab, intent to discredit Ultraman disguises itself as him and attacks Japan. Can Ultraman be found? Will he stop Zarab in time? And who is this Mefilas? What are his intentions? Is he here to help or bring even more chaos and destruction to the Earth?

This is classic Japanese tokusatsu entertainment but with a modern sensibility.

Longtime collaborators Hideki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan), the masterminds behind 2016’s brilliant Shin Godzilla are back to give their amazing and sometimes bizarre take on the Ultraman series. This is their second reboot of a famous tokusatsu series, their third will be the upcoming Shin Kamen Rider, which I am also thrilled to see when it releases.

Anno and Higuchi have such a love and respect for the original films and classic TV shows that they lovingly approach the subject matter. They really pay homage to the source material all the while adding their very unique visual style to it. And it works with aplomb.

Like Shin Godzilla, Anno is once again writing. However he has given full directing reigns over to Shinji Higuchi, a visual maverick much the same as Anno. You will see it in his crazy camera placement and his unconventional frame compositions. This movie is shot in one of the most visually dynamic styles I have seen in a very long time.

Shot back in 2019 and then delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo spent almost two and a half years editing and creating their vision. What they wound up with is a tight, frenetically paced action film that creates as much tension and excitement with the bureaucratic dialog as it does the action and fighting sequences.  Extras include trailers, slide show and English-language version.

Shin Ultraman is a solid and ambitious reboot, worthy of the name and a compelling continuation of the 57 year long series. I hope that they are able to continue their proposed trilogy of the series. ( – Benn Robbins)

One Way Passage

Warner Archive

One Way Passage, directed by Tay Garnett, stands as a quintessential film of the early 1930s, skillfully blending elements of romance, tragedy, and suspense. With its intriguing plot, captivating performances, and masterful cinematography, the film showcases the talent of its cast and the director’s ability to create an atmospheric noir experience.

The plot centers around two individuals, Dan Hardesty (William Powell) and Joan Ames (Kay Francis), who meet aboard a luxury ocean liner. What begins as a chance encounter quickly evolves into a passionate and ill-fated romance. Both characters are harboring secrets: Dan is a convicted murderer on his way to his execution, while Joan is diagnosed with a terminal illness. The film follows their tender and tragic love story as they navigate the brief time they have left together.

The film exhibits several noir tropes, making it a precursor to the genre’s emergence in the 1940s. The doomed romance between Dan and Joan evokes a sense of fatalism and despair, portraying the protagonists as victims of cruel circumstances beyond their control. The film also explores themes of destiny and inevitable tragedy, creating a dark and melancholic mood that is characteristic of noir storytelling.
The performances are undoubtedly one  of its highlights. Kay Francis delivers a captivating portrayal of Joan Ames, infusing her character with vulnerability, elegance, and a palpable sense of yearning. She effortlessly conveys Joan’s inner turmoil, subtly expressing her acceptance of her impending death while desperately clinging to the fleeting moments of happiness with Dan.

William Powell’s performance as Dan Hardesty is equally noteworthy. Powell embodies the role of the charming and charismatic convict, infusing Dan with a sense of moral complexity and genuine remorse. His chemistry with Kay Francis is palpable, and their on-screen connection adds depth and authenticity to their ill-fated love story.

Director Tay Garnett showcases his skill in crafting visually stunning scenes and utilizing innovative cinematography techniques for the time. The film’s atmospheric lighting, shadowy compositions, and striking close-ups contribute to the noir aesthetic, heightening the emotional intensity of the story. Garnett’s direction expertly captures the characters’ inner turmoil, using visual cues to accentuate their emotions and the tragic nature of their circumstances.

Despite its brilliance, One Way Passage is not without flaws. The pacing occasionally feels uneven, with certain scenes dragging on and others rushing through pivotal moments. Additionally, the dialogue, although often poignant and beautifully written, occasionally veers into melodrama, straining the film’s otherwise realistic tone.  Extras include trailer, Lux Radio Theater adaptation (1939), Scene Director’s Playhouse Radio Show (1949), an unrestored Vitaphone short starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and a restored 1932 Merrie Melodies short, “A Great Big Bunch of You.”

One Way Passage deserves recognition as a classic noir film that predates the genre’s popularization in the 1940s. Its gripping story, mesmerizing performances by Kay Francis and William Powell, and the deft direction of Garnett make it a remarkable cinematic achievement. The film’s atmospheric cinematography and exploration of tragic romance solidify its place in the annals of film noir. Despite its minor shortcomings, One Way Passage remains a timeless gem that continues to captivate audiences with its poignant tale of love and fate. ( – Stefan Blitz)

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant

Warner Bros.

When a film can’t decide what it wants to be, it is almost always a disappointment. In this regard, The Covenant does not disappoint. When the United States left Afghanistan, we abandoned a large amount of Afghanis that supported our troops during the 20 years of US occupation, Hundreds of them have been killed. Reports say thousands more are eternally in hiding.since the Taliban retook the country.

So are we telling a morality tale of how the United States has routinely ignored long term consequences and created its own monsters? (Charlie Wilson’s War)

No we are not.

Are we making an action war movie with lots of shooting, explosions and sacrifice? (Full Metal Jacket)

Not so much.

Are we combining the two to explain the war and blow stuff up at the same time? (12 Strong)

Nope.

Protest movie? (Born on the Fourth of July)

Guess again.

The futility of war? (Hamburger Hill)

Bzzz.

An art film set in wartime? (The Thin Red Line)

Enough… it’s nothing like any of the aforementioned films and I don’t mean that in a good way. It has 3 acts… but they are all underdeveloped, which is baffling considering The Covenant checks in at over two hours long.

The Covenant is important subject matter, with a great cast. Jake Gyllenhaal is a wonderful actor who can pull off basically any role. Dar Salim’s gravitas screams through the screen, but the script lacks cohesiveness. This is a film that should have been dripping with brotherhood and sacrifice, but it just wasn’t.

This is the IMDB description of the film; “During the war in Afghanistan, a local interpreter risks his own life to carry an injured sergeant across miles of grueling terrain.”

Where is the covenant? Oh… Jake Gyllenhall’s character feels obligation toward the man who saved his life? I would too. But can you maybe take me on the emotional journey as well instead of giving me flashes of bureaucratic futility, alcohol, maybe some PTSD and family implication? Guy Ritchie just projectile vomits these on us instead of drowning us in the anguish, survivor guilt and obligation Gyllenhall’s character was feeling. 
 
The third act is as all over the place as the rest of the film. There are problems with ancillary character motivation, artificial urgency, plot resolution and… no wait, that’s everything, literally.
 
The good: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim, and Spanish actress Farib Sheikhan who shines in a very small role as Dar Salim’s wife. Her expressiveness and charisma radiates through the screen. 
 
The bad: Everyone else in the film is basically either underwritten, overwritten, checking a box or a sad caricature of Guy Ritchie’s intent. The dialogue is stiff and forced at times. Even in the lighter moments, everything is played with a deadpan that seems odd and out of place.  
 
Guy Ritchie is an EXCELLENT filmmaker. Guy Ritchie is an EXCELLENT writer. The Covenant is not an excellent script or film. I won’t go as far as to say hard pass, but it’s close.  (– David Landman)

Insidious

Sony Pictures

Directed by James Wan and released in 2011, Insidious is a spine-chilling horror film that takes viewers on a hair-raising journey into the supernatural. With its gripping plot, impressive visual effects, and stellar performances by the cast, Insidious successfully delivers a haunting experience that will leave you on the edge of your seat.

The film follows Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne), a couple who moves into a new house with their three children. Soon after settling in, their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into a mysterious coma-like state, and strange occurrences begin to plague the family. Desperate to save their son, the Lamberts turn to paranormal investigators and a psychic medium, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), to uncover the dark forces at work.

The story of Insidious takes a fresh approach to the haunted house genre, intertwining elements of astral projection, possession, and supernatural entities. The narrative swiftly builds suspense, gradually unveiling the sinister secrets that lurk within the Lambert family’s home. The plot not only keeps viewers engaged but also introduces a unique mythology that sets the film apart from its contemporaries.

Visually, the film effectively utilizes atmospheric lighting and shadow play to create an eerie ambiance. The film employs a subtle and unsettling color palette, enhancing the sense of foreboding.

Director James Wan’s keen eye for cinematography brings the supernatural elements to life, using clever camera angles and slow tracking shots to maintain a sense of unease throughout. The well-executed visual effects contribute to the film’s overall dread-inducing atmosphere, especially during the sequences set in the realm known as “The Further.”

The performances in Insidious are undoubtedly praiseworthy, particularly those of Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, and Ty Simpkins. Patrick Wilson delivers a compelling portrayal of a tormented father, convincingly displaying both vulnerability and determination. Rose Byrne complements him well, portraying a mother stricken with fear and desperation. Barbara Hershey’s performance as Lorraine Lambert, Josh’s mother, adds depth to the story, providing a connection to the past and delivering moments of genuine emotional impact. Young Ty Simpkins showcases remarkable talent as Dalton, capturing the innocence and vulnerability of a child caught in the clutches of evil.

Wan demonstrates his mastery of the genre and proves himself as a visionary director with an expertly crafted atmosphere, well-paced scares, and a knack for building tension. He skillfully blends elements of psychological horror with jump scares, creating an unsettling experience that lingers long after the credits roll. Extras include a series of featurettes and trailer.

Insidious is a gripping and genuinely terrifying horror film that excels in storytelling, visual effects, and performances. James Wan’s direction, combined with the standout work the acting ensemble, elevates this supernatural tale to new heights. If you’re a fan of the genre and enjoy being thoroughly spooked, Insidious is an absolute must-watch that will leave you with a lingering sense of dread.  (– Stefan Blitz)

65

Sony Pictures

The sci-fi thriller 65 sounds as good on paper as the menu at a hot new restaurant. The ingredients are all intriguing. The chefs have established reputations for quality. You can already imagine a meal that tastes familiar but refreshing.

Here’s the pitch: Adam Driver crash lands on Earth 65-million years ago and fights dinosaurs while protecting an orphaned girl played by Ariana Greenblatt. It’s written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the team that co-wrote the award winning A Quiet Place. Sam Raimi produced the film. 65 features well executed effects of better quality than some recent Marvel and Star Wars streaming series, while refreshingly not being tethered to any franchise or preexisting IP. And it clocks in at a lean 93-minute runtime.

Sounds tasty.

Unfortunately, 65 is a movie of quality ingredients that don’t quite add up to a satisfying meal.

Adam Driver’s Mills is a spaceship pilot who accepts a two-year mission away from his family in order to pay for his daughter’s medical treatments. He’s an outer space everyman. Think Tom Skerrit’s Dallas from Alien protecting Newt from the sequel with a bit of Pedro Pascal’s wounded, paternal soulfulness baked into the character.

Driver is engaging and relatable as Mills. He seamlessly slides between the character’s serious internal emotional arc and the hyperbolic tension of racing to survive and escape Earth’s predatory megafauna while protecting young Koa, the only other survivor of the crash.

Ariana Greenblatt equally engages as Koa, a notable achievement given that her character doesn’t speak English. Koa quickly picks up several phrases from Mills, but Greenblatt delivers a consistently strong non-verbal performance throughout the story to convey the full nuanced range of Koa’s emotions and reactions.

Mills and Koa make a perilous journey across the hostile Jurassic landscape evading savage wildlife and navigating hostile terrain every step of the way as they struggle to reach their ship’s escape vessel 15 kilometers away from the main crash site. The action sequences are thrilling but hew so closely the visual vocabulary of dinosaur peril established by decades of Jurassic Park films that their impact is greatly diminished by predictability.

Predictability and a plot built on conveniences keep 65 from being the fun ride it has the potential to be. Why doesn’t Koa speak English? Because it’s a convenient short-term obstacle. Why does Mill’s portable magic sci-fi gizmo fail at inconvenient moments? Because it’s convenient for the story. When Mills and Koa are about to be separated during a perilous moment, I could hear Driver’s voice in my head saying “Take this handful of tiny explosives, kid. You’re definitely going to need them in the next scene.” Every Chekhov’s pistol is clearly labeled. Everything happens because the script needs it to happen rather than unfolding organically.  Extras include deleted scenes, interview, featuettes and storyboard to screen comparison.

Convenience and predictability move 65 along at a brisk pace while missing opportunities to inject something fun and fresh into the mix. 65 is an enjoyable diversion in all the familiar ways but fails to make the most of a solid cast and strong production values to produce something as distinctive as Alien or Jurassic Park.  ( – Bill Hendee)

Champions

Universal Pictures

Directed by Bobby Farrelly, Champions is an inspiring sports drama that beautifully blends comedy and drama to tell the story of a group of individuals with intellectual disabilities who form a competitive basketball team. The film centers around Jack Sullivan (played by Woody Harrelson), a former basketball coach with a history of anger issues who has lost his way after drunkenly crashing his car into a parked police car . When he is given the opportunity to coach a team of players with disabilities, he reluctantly takes on the challenge, unaware of the profound impact they will have on his life. Together, they navigate personal struggles, societal prejudices, and eventually find themselves competing against all odds in a championship game that becomes a catalyst for transformation.

Woody Harrelson delivers a heartfelt and nuanced performance as Jack Sullivan. His portrayal showcases the character’s growth, from a jaded and self-absorbed individual to a compassionate mentor who learns valuable lessons from the team. Harrelson’s ability to balance the film’s humor and emotional moments brings depth to the character and creates a strong connection with the audience.

Kaitlyn Olson shines as Jenny, a spirited and determined member of the team who becomes Jack’s ally and confidante. Olson’s comedic timing is impeccable, adding levity to the story without overshadowing its underlying themes. She brings a natural warmth and authenticity to the role, making Jenny a memorable and lovable character.

One of the film’s most commendable aspects is the inclusion of a talented ensemble cast of actors with intellectual disabilities. Each member of the team brings their unique personality and perspective, showcasing their individual strengths and challenges. Their performances are genuine, capturing the essence of the characters they portray. The film’s commitment to inclusivity and representation is both empowering and inspiring, allowing these actors to shine on screen.

Champions delivers a powerful social message about the importance of empathy, inclusion, and the inherent value of every individual. Through the lens of sports and teamwork, the film tackles prejudice, stereotypes, and societal barriers that individuals with disabilities face. It portrays the team’s journey as they navigate both external and internal obstacles, highlighting the power of determination, friendship, and the belief in oneself. The film encourages viewers to reconsider their preconceptions and recognize the limitless potential within every person.

The film strikes a delicate balance between comedy and drama, infusing the film with moments of genuine laughter while never losing sight of its poignant core. The humor is tastefully executed, providing comic relief without undermining the sincerity of the story. Farrelly’s sensitive handling of the subject matter and his ability to create authentic connections between characters ensures that the film resonates on an emotional level.  Extras include commentary, deleted scenes, and featurettes.

Farrelly’s direction beautifully captures the spirit of unity, resilience, and triumph. This film not only entertains but also serves as a reminder of the inherent worth and capabilities of individuals with disabilities, promoting a more inclusive and empathetic society. ( – Stefan Blitz)

Fast X

Universal Studios

Okay.

Here we go.

Before I get started I need to tell you that I love the Fast and The Furious franchise.

But that wasn’t always so.

I used to make fun of it and mock the people who did like it. That all changed, however, when my wife Liz was asked to review Fate of The Furious  for this site. I had not seen any of the Fast films and so we set out to go back and watch all of the seven previous films. In our efforts to do so we discovered there are two ways to watch this series. There is the actual chronological release order 1-7 (at the time), the way they were released in the cinemas for us, the public. Then there is the “in universe” chronological order. I’m sure most of you, who care about this stuff, know what this means.

If you are not in the know, here is the jist. It means that the filmmakers of this series retconned some of the storylines to explain how a certain character could have died in the 3rd film Tokyo Drift and yet still be in the subsequent 3 films. Yes, it’s Han. Basically they moved its viewing order to between Furious 6 and Fast & Furious 7. There now you know. I know you will sleep better tonight.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, I can begin.

Fast X is a mind-numbingly insane culmination of all the bonkers events of the last three decades of Fast Films. The new catch phrase should be changed to “It’s all about finances” because this “final film” is actually going to take 3 films to tell. Supposedly, this is the first of a whole new trilogy that will ultimately wrap up the entire Furious Universe.

This new entry in the Fast Saga introduces an amazing new villain in the form of the uniquely brilliant Jason Momoa. He is as flamboyant as he is maniacal. I have to say that not only is Jason Mamoa’s Dante Reyes the best character he has ever played, it is the best villain the FatF Saga has ever given us.

I will die on that hill.

Back to the review.

If you have seen Fast 5, the true beginning of the Fast Franchise, in my humble opinion (Fast 5 introduces Dwayne Johnson’s character and really sets the whole series on its current path of insanity towards it being basically some insane “superhero film series where normal humans can jump cars between buildings, into space, and can throw launched torpedoes at submarines like Scotsmen toss cabers) anyway I digress.

Where was I? Oh yes, Fast X.

The opening of Fast X is a flashback sequence of sorts to the end events of Fast 5 where these VHS and stereo boosting car thieves steal an entire giant vault in Brazil by tearing it out of the wall it is encased in. I say ‘of sorts’ only because they have now retconned Jason Momoa’s character Dante into this sequence of events by reshooting key scenes of the earlier film, inserting him as the son of the dead bad guy, Reyes. This is something they love to do throughout the series. See the aforementioned Tokyo Drift as well as Furious 6 and F9 amongst others.

Dante is out for revenge on Dominic Torretto and his entire family (read: literally anyone who has been in contact or helped him in some shape of form. And that is a lot of people) for killing his father and so the carnage begins.

This movie is incredibly dumb and like all the other films in the series completely ignores the laws of physics, gravity and the limitations of the human body. And it is amazing! This is why we keep coming back to this stupid series!

I think the BEST thing about this movie is the quote by the new director of the franchise, Louis Leterrier (Transporter 1 & 2) who said, “What I wanted to do on this one, because it’s very much my style, was to ground it more in reality. I wanted to -no pun intended -land it back on Earth. They went into space in number nine, and I was like, ‘Okay, they went to space, there’s no way I can top that.’ But what I can do is do stuff that we’ve never done before practically, such as rolling a one-ton bomb -an actual one ton metal ball in the streets of Rome, and hope not to destroy the Colosseum.”. You know, ground it more in reality. What?!

This movie series has become such a batshit crazy sequence of “how do we ‘one-up’ the previous film” that it makes the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films look like they weren’t really trying hard enough with that invisible car driving up an ice wall and Bond parasailing a tsunami.

Anyway, This film is definitely not the best of this over the top film saga about family, which Dom is totally terrible at protecting, by the way. It is also not the worst. I’m looking at you Fast & Furious. You know what you did. However if you are looking to turn your brain off watch some insane stunts, some fun fight scenes and Jason Momoa chewing every scene he is in and really just being the only reason you need to watch this film, then roll up to the starting line in that white Toyota Camry and rev your engines for a silly but satisfying entry into the films series you should only take a quarter mile at a time.  And of course, don’t forget to watch the after credits sequence. ( – Benn Robbins)

The Pope’s Exorcist

Sony Pictures

The subgenre of exorcism horror films has made its mark in cinema. Some might conclude if you’ve seen one scary movie with crucifixes, holy water, and contorting heads, you’ve seen them all. The subject of Director Julius Avery’s latest film, however, promises a different and higher-stakes version of possession-filled chaos.

The Pope’s Exorcist follows Father Gabriele Amorth, whose occupation is precisely what the title says. Academy Award winner Russell Crowe plays the Vatican’s leading exorcist, investigating reported possessions around the globe.

Amorth’s staunch opposition from high-ranking Cardinals seemed odd since he takes his orders directly from his Holiness. All roads converge on a child in Spain who has been possessed, and Amorth is his only hope.

Crowe brings a gravitas to the role that feels authentic and practical. He’s a wealth of knowledge who doesn’t back down from opposing clergy or a demon trying to kill him. Amorth quickly learns he’s encountered a different level of possession while exhibiting strength and wisdom that makes you feel comfortable with him. Amorth’s flaws and well-timed subtle humor make him relatable and easy to root for.

How is Amorth going to win this one is a question I found myself constantly asking as hurdle after hurdle was placed in front of him, each with increasing danger. Later on, Amorth’s admonishment from Vatican officials, despite his protected station, takes shape, becoming a meaningful part of the narrative. It was nice to see the film pull on this thread instead of chalking up to jealous colleagues spewing their verbal venom.

Despite acts one and two offering plenty of well-timed scares, a suitable amount of gore, and plenty of mystery, the third act feels like a different movie and can’t carry the weight of its seemingly lofty ambitions. The showdown with the big bad becomes a cheap-looking, mayhem-filled GCI battle that took me out of the film. The film’s end presents the Vatician’s version of S.H.I.E.L.D. and what appears to be the setup for the Exorcist Cinematic Universe.

In a vacuum, the third act is not offensively bad; but it doesn’t match the tone and practicality of acts one and two. Despite the thematic shift, one aspect carries enough intrigue to see what a second film might look like.  Extras include featurettes.

Ultimately, The Pope’s Exorcist is an engaging horror film that blends terror, suspense, and spectacle while challenging faith in the face of pure evil. The tonal change of the third act doesn’t ruin the movie, but it sticks out enough to be noticed.  ( – Atlee Greene)

A Good Person

Warner Bros.

A poignant and emotionally charged film that skillfully explores the depths of human emotion, writer/ director by Zach Braff’s A Good Person tackles themes of depression, grief, empathy, addiction, and forgiveness. The movie revolves around Daniel (Morgan Freeman), a grief-stricken man who tragically loses his son-in-law and daughter, leaving his son injured in an unimaginable tragedy involving Allison (Florence Pugh), his son’s fiancé. The narrative unfolds as Daniel and Allison unexpectedly come together a year later, navigating their personal journeys of grief, guilt, and redemption. As Daniel cares for his teenage granddaughter and Allison seeks forgiveness and healing, they discover the potential for friendship, forgiveness, and hope in unlikely circumstances.

Florence Pugh delivers an outstanding performance as Allison, portraying her character’s emotional turmoil and the weight of her past actions with raw vulnerability and internal struggle. Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Daniel is remarkable, conveying the complex emotions of a grieving father and a man grappling with forgiveness. Molly Shannon’s performance as Susan, Allison’s mother, adds warmth and levity to the film, showcasing her comedic timing and natural charisma.

Zach Braff’s writing and direction demonstrate a keen understanding of human emotions and interpersonal dynamics. The story unfolds organically, capturing the intricacies of grief and the transformative power of empathy and forgiveness. The film explores addiction with nuance, delving into the underlying causes and consequences of destructive behaviors. It emphasizes the importance of understanding and compassion in addressing addiction’s complexities, contributing to the film’s overall message of empathy and redemption.

A Good Person is a deeply affecting film that authentically portrays human emotions and struggles. The exceptional performances by the cast breathe life into their characters, allowing the audience to empathize with their journeys. Zach Braff’s writing and direction strike a delicate balance of emotional depth, humor, and introspection, creating a compelling narrative that leaves a lasting impact. The film serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the potential for healing and growth through connection and forgiveness.  ( – Stefan Blitz)

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Paramount Pictures

There is a harrowing bridge to cross midway through the film where Regé-Jean Page’s knight in shining armor, Xenk, explains the precise formula to avoid the bridge’s Gnomish trap.

One must begin at the center, using odd number blocks only, moving forward with each step, except for every fifth step, which must be a lateral move.

The “quite simple” formula represents everything I loathe about the D&D game.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is an adventure film based on the popular roleplaying game of the same name that follows a charming band of unlikely heroes who embark on an epic heist that goes dangerously awry.

Chris Pine stars as Edgin, an honorable bard turned smooth-talking criminal due to losing his wife. Incarceration and escape, along with Michelle Rodriguez’s fierce warrior Holga leads to a team-up with Justice Smith’s floundering sorcerer, Simon, and Sophia Lillis’ brave shapeshifter, Doric.

I’ve played D&D three times in my life. I loathed every second of it. Why couldn’t I use the magic shield to thwart an attack from Xanathar and its multiple floating eyes while Reid Davenport killed it by casting a level 5 spell while forcing a guild war.

What the heck is a guild?

For a brief stint In my early 20s, I was a bouncer at a sports card store that hosted D&D and Pokemon card games. I met the owner, who was impressed that I was a pro wrestler in training and offered me the Saturday afternoon gig, where arguments aplenty ensued, and fists would occasionally fly. A fake fighter was securing fake battles; I could not make this up if I tried.

There was one kid in particular who thought he was Fred Durst, backwards red Yankees hat and black t-shirt included. Fred was older than most of the kids who played the game, and he was also the best player. He won every game, was snarky as the day is long, and talked way too much trash.

The trailers for the film made me believe Chris Pine’s character would essentially be Fred, minus the Yankees’ hat. I’m happy to report I couldn’t have been more wrong. As for the rest of the movie, the aspersions cast based on my loathing of the game were unfounded, making for a delightful experience.

In many ways, Pine’s Edgin is precisely what the film needed by providing a levity that is amusing, a little snarky, and like the film, doesn’t take himself too seriously while simultaneously taking things seriously enough where viewers can have carefree fun while invested in a high stakes fare.

The film’s use of magic was also a breath of fresh air. Many who know of D&D lore peripherally might think casting spells, citing enchantments, or waving a magic wand is the answer to every problem. Thankfully, that was not the case in the film. There are rules and levels to various incantations.

Villainous Red Wizards sit at the hierarchy of magic wielders, and the shrewd schemer Sofina (Daisy Head) is the worst of the worst. She’s aligned with Hugh Grant’s Forge, a cunning con man who used to work with Edgin and Holga until fortune pushed him to sell them out relatively easily.

The heist aspect of the film evokes an Oceans 11 vibe. Edgin, Holdga, Simon, and Doric each have a specialty, which serves them well during various moments of the job. Complex security systems and unpickable vault locks are replaced with unbreakable spells and mystical booby traps. Of course, what would a heist be without twists and turns that subvert expectations, which the film does exceptionally well considering, you know, magic.

Lucasfilms’ Star Wars sequel trilogy and The Mandalorian relied on the fetch quest narrative to a near-nauseating degree. D&D is kind of where the concept originated. The license to have our heroes get one item, to get another item needed to pull off the heist, here, is done well and fits within the story instead of feeling like a crutch to move the plot along.

One part, in particular, saw the protagonists dig up a dead body and use a spell to resurrect the corpse to ask five questions before the body goes back to its eternal rest. One dug-up body turned into several dug-up bodies as each fallen soldier only knew part of what the crew needed to know. The hilarity and frustration were entertaining despite the good guys disturbing a mass grave.

Humor, heart, and an engaging, well-paced adventure makes Dungeons & Dragons the surprise of 2023 thus far and more than worth 134 minutes of your time.  Extras

The script and direction impeccably maintain a balance that is accessible to viewers who are unfamiliar with and even opposed to the source material. Those who love all things D&D will enjoy various plot points that translate to real moments you’d see at a gaming table with the usual tropes, familiar names, places, and monsters. Extras include featurettes, gag reel, and deleted & extended scenes.

How do I know this if I don’t play the game? I was the best man and Reid Davenport’s wedding, and he was at mine. ( – Atlee Greene)

Cliffhanger

Sony Pictures

I originally saw this movie back in 1993 when it first came out. I have to say, that I love every second of it, then and now. Sure, it is outlandish and out of it’s mind. It is an action film without a brain, but that is okay. The stunts are crazy, the action is wild, and there is a lot of adrenaline happening at all times.

Sylvester Stallone’s Gabe Walker is a ranger who works with his girlfriend,Jesse. They are sent to save his friend Hal and his girlfriend (he tried). It is a  scene that is truly one of the most tense scenes ever filmed. Harlin does a great job directing this scene, and the tension is still palpable even 30 years later.

Eight months later, Gabe is back to Ranger duty. Gabe is still mad at Hal and the two are not getting along. John Lithgow then shows up after an accident, and we learn that he is the villain. The accident has left valuables all over the Rockies. The hunt is then on to find the loot.

This leads Gabe having to fight against Lithgow’s gang in a series of crazy action set pieces. It is pretty violent, but hey.

There are some great moments like when Stallone kills someone with an icicle. There is also a great scene where Stallone is under the ice and being pursued by an baddie. Each set piece gets more and more outlandis, but it is all stupid fun.  Extras include commentary tracks, deleted scenes, director introduction, making of, featurettes, storyboard comparisons and trailer.

Stallone mumbles his way through the plot. He is at peak Stallone here, punching and jumping onto everyone and everything in his path.

Michael Rooker is solid as always and Lithgow is great as the villain. This is solid action film that never fails to entertain! ( – Lenny Schwartz)

The Longest Yard

Kino Lorber

I’ve pretty much always known that Burt Reynolds was a big deal. Pop culture was so top-down and uniform that Reynolds’ presence within it sank all the way into a Black child in 1980s West Philadelphia who had never seen one of his movies.

Reynolds was a sex symbol and icon of 1970s Americana. (Well, white Americana, anyway. He didn’t play John Shaft.) I was born in 1980, so just a bit too young yet old enough to become conscious in the wake of Reynolds’ loveable rogue peak.

Back then, you didn’t have to have seen megahits Smokey and the Bandit (1977) or The Cannonball Run (1981) to have felt their hold on cultural conversation. (Let alone Deliverance, in 1973.) References to both films littered sitcoms across the 1980s in my pop culture memory.

However, I knew Reynolds mostly as a star in decline who still had some juice. Whether his turn on TV with Evening Shade (1990-94) or his big cinematic comeback in Boogie Nights (1997), Reynolds kept working and popping up. And, of course, Norm MacDonald’s rat-a-tat impersonation of Reynolds on Saturday Night Live turned him into a full cartoon. In a good way, right?

So it’s refreshing to go back to The Longest Yard (1974) when Reynolds was still climbing into his dominance of 1970s box office.

Clear as a bell, from the first frame onward, is this: Burt Reynolds is a man. The poster grabs a still from the first minutes of the film as Reynolds steps in the tightest hip-hugger trousers, pulling on a shirt with his taut, bare, muscular – and hairy! – torso in nearly full view.

Reynolds is 38 and looks both gorgeous and rugged. He looks like a real person, something long lost among many A-list actors today. In this film you can already see the persona of loveable rogue that would come to dominate Reynolds’ run as a movie star.

The Longest Yard is a man’s movie. A football movie filled with several pro football players, and Reynolds himself who played at Florida State. A prison movie, shot on location at an actual state prison and used actual convicts as players during filming. A comedy of tough humor and brutal breaks in the dirt and heat.

Hand-in-hand with all this masculinity performance? It’s a movie with only two women with speaking roles: Reynolds’ spurned rich lover, braless in a see-through robe, played by The Big Bird Cage star Anitra Ford; and the lusty prison warden secretary with a beehive stacked to the gods, played by a 26-year-old Bernadette Peters.

The Longest Yard shouldn’t work as well as it does. What do you even call it? A prison sports comedy? Washed-up, disgraced former NFL player Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Reynolds) is sentenced to 18 months in a Georgia prison after walking out on his girlfriend with her car, leading police on a car chase and then attacking a pair of police officers. But then he meets the football-crazy warden, who pressures Crewe to help coach his semi-pro team of prison guards, and Crewe winds up training a team of inmates to play against the guards.

The film draws bold characters with mostly economical storytelling as Crewe befriends fellow inmates, builds his team, and then is put between a rock and a hard place before, in true 1970s fashion, tells the warden to stick it. Of course!

One thing that did surprise me was how much The Longest Yard dwells on the racial dynamics of the prison population. Not simply the racism of the guards, but how the Black inmates stick together, because prison remains as hostile to them as the society that incarcerated them. However, it’s not lost on me that the guards’ racism makes them all the better to root against as Crewe builds his team The Mean Machine by adding dirty tricks, stealing the guards’ game film, and getting their medical records in order to hit previously broken bones.

We’re talking about football in 1974, so it’s bracing to see a version of football largely legislated out of the modern NFL. As violent as the game remains, in todays’ more technical game it’s uncouth to state the violence is the point. In The Longest Yard, football is emblematic of the violence visited upon these inmates, whether they deserve it or not.  Extras include commentary tracks, archive featurettes, and trailer.

The football in the film is bone-crunching brutal and tough even if a lot of the hits are foley-edited in. And the game remains compelling up until the last seconds, in a slow-motion sequence that takes on operatic and balletic tones.

Yet the comedy of The Longest Yard plays smooth and light in a film that remains good-natured overall. What else am I supposed to think in a movie that he ball into a mean guard’s crotch, twice? ( – Marvin Pittman)

Deep Impact

Paramount Pictures

If you’re part of my generation the conversation about Deep Impact was always fragmented because you never really talked about Deep Impact. It always became a conversation about which was better, Deep Impact or Armageddon. They were both asteroid disaster porn and they came out basically the same time. (Less than 45 days apart) We aren’t going to do that. For the record, both have ridiculously talented casts. Armageddon is super fun and never took itself seriously. Deep Impact is the superior film and has a much richer texture.

I could spend an hour talking about the cast. On the younger side we had teenagers Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski and on the older side we had Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman, Vanessa Redgrave and Maximillian Schell. It’s a true ensemble so while most of the performances are limited in terms of screen time, the quality is really unmatched. James Cromwell is insanely powerful and I think he has 2 minutes of screen time total.

There is campy disaster porn and there is serious disaster porn. This is definitely on the serious side. When we’re judging serious disaster porn you have to measure the depth of emotions you get from the characters as they realize their time and basically everyone’s time is probably up. Do they go to their deaths with dignity? Do they sacrifice in the face of the extinction of all things? Are there small heroes in face of great tragedy? Deep Impact has all of this and then some. Téa Leoni stars as MSNBC reporter Jenny Lerner who breaks the story that a rogue comet will soon provide a bad day for planet Earth.

Téa Leoni Sidebar: How has she not had a bigger career? It isn’t that she doesn’t work. She totally does, but between her acting chops and her beauty I don’t understand how she wasn’t an absolute mega-star. My first experience with her, outside of the 5 seconds she’s in A League of Their Own, was in a short lived Fox sitcom called Flying Blind, where she played a bohemian New Yorker dating a nebishy Jewish guy. I was completely smitten. Then she showed up in Bad Boys as Julie and she was an incredible 3rd wheel with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Maybe Deep Impact wasn’t Oscar worthy performance wise, but it was excellent. Her emotional expressiveness and natural delivery were spot on the entire film. She had a 55 episode run as the star of another sitcom, The Naked Truth, and then 120 episodes of Madam Secretary but why hasn’t she had a Julia Roberts/Reese Witherspoon level career? It absolutely baffles me. End Téa Leoni Sidebar.

Director Mimi Leder can tell a story, period. She’s a fantastic director and the flow of this film is all you need to understand that. There are SO many moving parts and you never lose any of the varied narrative threads that are running. They all resolve in a cohesive and satisfying way, even if some of the outcomes aren’t what the viewers are rooting for. Nothing seems forced. When you have a complicated story this can be incredibly hard to do and only the best directors and editors can pull it off with the smoothness Leder delivers in Deep Impact. The shot choices are perfect and the technical side of this film, from the angles to the effects are superior. I recommend checking out another Leder film, as well, The Peacemaker. It’s excellent.  Extras include commentary, featurettes, photo gallery, and teaser/threatrical trailers.

If you like disaster porn, you’ll like Deep Impact. If you like ensemble casts delivering amazing performances in limited roles, you’ll like Deep Impact. If you like great direction, editing and effects, you’ll like Deep Impact.

If you haven’t watched it since 1998, I absolutely recommend checking it out again. It’s eminently rewatchable and holds up surprisingly well 25 years later.  (– David Landsman)

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Universal Studios

We’ve been on the big screen with our favorite plumbing siblings before. 1993’s live-action Super Mario Bros. was a poorly conceived box office tragedy that is still an easy punchline. In the decades since, the quality of video game movies has grown tremendously. With that (and many dollar signs) in mind, Illumination and Nintendo felt there was no better time to revisit the franchise. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fun and fast-paced animated interpretation that easily surpasses its predecessor while still leaving room to improve.

Rather than navigate problematic accents, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are introduced as everyday Brooklyn plumbers whose luck is circling the drain. When they see on TV that a major water main has burst, they seize the opportunity for a grand gesture. Of course, there are quite a few pipes down there, including one that sucks them into a mysterious kingdom.

After being separated during the journey, Mario sets off to rescue Luigi from the clutches of the lovesick Bowser (Jack Black), who will stop at nothing to win the hand of Princess Peach (Anna Taylor-Joy). Luckily, our Princess is not waiting in the castle to be saved. This version borrows more from a combination of Mario Kart and Smash Bros, showing off fighting skills and diplomacy with equal ease.

The brother dynamic between Mario and Luigi is a classic, and how much deeper of a story do you need for the two most recognizable video game characters in the world? The movie is steeped in Super Mario lore, from the cheerful and bright renderings of the Mushroom Kingdom to a high-speed race down the “shortcut” of Rainbow Road that is full of nostalgia. There may not be faux-Italian accents, but there are plenty of ‘yahoos’ and ‘let’s-a goes’ thrown in as well as fresh takes on a range of classic characters. Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) is now the only one of his kind brave enough to join the adventure, and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) is just trying to make his dad take him seriously.

But it’s Jack Black’s clever and musical version of Bowser that has pleasantly surprised us all, especially with the infinitely singable song “Peaches”. With a speedy 92-minute runtime, we don’t get to explore these interesting settings and fan favorites as thoroughly as we’d like to. The story speeds through worlds and character introductions slightly faster than the speed of familiarity so that when the end nears it seems 10 or 15 minutes too soon.  Extras include featurettes, making of, “Peaches” Lyric Video, and Anya Taylor-Joy interview

The beloved games of Shigeru Miyamoto are a high bar, while the early 90s adaptation has ratings below ground level. The Super Mario Bros. Movie falls somewhere in the top two-thirds with significantly more fun and better writing than its cinematic big brother, but not as much joy and charm as the original side-scroller. Hopefully, the many sequels that are set to come will continue to grow our collective love for Mario, Luigi, and a healthy helping of mushrooms. ( – Kristen Halbert)

Stone Cold

Kino Lorber

There’s a secret canon (that would be a list of works, dear reader, not a piece of hidden artillery you need to worry about) that is compiled and debated among film fans. You won’t find it in Cahiers du Cinema or even the AFI, but it exists, nonetheless. It is the list of the Blockbuster Video discoveries, the HBO Late-at-Night breakthroughs, and the free streaming service triumphant. It’s a list which carries hallowed names to a certain kind of film fan, whose heart lies off the well trod path of mise-en-scene discourse:

Drive; Until Death; Rage; Talons of the Eagle; The kings of the direct-to-video action cinema.

When you find a truly great DTV action film, it’s a discovery, and you only share that discovery with the select few you may know who can appreciate perfect action schlock. Who can look past thin characterization or hackneyed dialogue to see the jewel inside. Years ago, we made such discoveries haphazardly and shared them with our friends, until the internet brought all the brave explorers of the bargain bin together and allowed them to map the continent of glorious violence and cheese they had collectively sailed to from innumerable piecemeal accounts.

Enter Stone Cold.

Now at the time of its creation, Stone Cold was most notable for being the film debut of its star, Brian “the Boz” Bosworth. Bosworth had been a pop culture sensation playing linebacker at the University of Oklahoma where he was brash, outspoken, colorful, won All-American twice and was barred from playing his senior year for testing positive for steroids. When his pro career fizzled due to injuries, there was a thought that his natural charisma and physical presence would make him an ideal action movie star and so, Stone Cold was designed from the ground up as the vehicle to introduce him as an actor.

Bosworth plays Joe Huff, an Alabama cop who (stop me if you’ve ever heard this one before) doesn’t play by the rules but gets the job done. After defusing a hostage situation in a scene that plays out almost exactly like the opening of the Stallone film Cobra, Huff is blackmailed by FBI agents into going undercover infiltrating a white supremacist biker gang called The Brotherhood led by Chains (Lance Henriksen) and Ice (William Forsythe).

Huff is able to fake a murder that he’s been tasked with for initiation and learns that the group plans to use a cache of military weapons to kill a gubernatorial candidate who has been cracking down on their activities, but Chains and Ice remain suspicious and after Huff is gets involved with one of Chains’ kept women (Arabella Hozbog) who wants out of the club, Huff’s position within the gang becomes compromised and all roads lead to a big showdown at the Mississippi State Courthouse where the assassination attempt is set to take place.

Stone Cold was a dismal failure in its limited theatrical engagement in 1991, but so much of that was tied up in an audience that was never going to see “the Boz” as anything other than a failed pro jock, and regarded the film as a cynical marketing stunt without ever seeing it. In 2023, where three former WWE Champions regularly open films now, and this kind of mid budget action movie is dead and its absence is being mourned we can see the film absent that context for what it is: a really fantastic American action film with a couple of really audacious action set pieces, great villains, and a story that holds together throughout.

Bosworth is fine as a leading man. This film is the product of an age where all action heroes had to be pretty stoic, and so I wouldn’t say we get a huge range from him emotionally, but if you didn’t have the context I provided and were simply watching him thinking his performance thinking he was a studio prospect getting his big break, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his performance. He’s got physical presence for sure, and unlike the wrestlers I mentioned earlier he’s not so much bigger than everyone else that it becomes distracting. His quips are funny, and his recreation of the opening of Cobra that opens this film shows that mercifully, he’s in on the joke with us and having a good time with this.

What greatly aids him in his performance are the villains, especially Lance Henriksen as Chains, the Brotherhood’s monomaniacal leader. Henriksen is having a blast playing the psychopathic gang leader who sees his club as both church and state and therefore himself as both king and pope. He conveys danger and charm in equal measures without going over the top and Chains stands with Fouchon from Hard Target as my favorite creations of his. He’s a spectacular villain, and his mere presence adds a lot of danger to any scene where Bosworth is trying to put one over on the Brotherhood because he’s one of the few action movie villains that successfully conveys that he’s several steps ahead of everyone else and willing to play the long game to get what he wants.

So we’ve got a serviceable hero and a great villain, but the third ingredient that makes for a spectacular action movie is, well, the action. Stone Cold has three really great set pieces and builds to an ending where the bad guys actually lay siege to a government building like white trash James Bond villains. Everything’s shot perfectly so you understand, even during high speed chases what’s going on and where everyone is at and the action pulls off the feat of being a great spectacle without ever feeling ridiculous or taking you out of the film. Extras include commentary, new interview featurettes with Brian Bosworth, Lance Henriksen, Arabella Holzbog, and Sam McMurray, TV Spots, trailers and vintage featurettes.

This is not a film for the Criterion Collection, that’s for sure, but it is a terrific action movie that’s grounded, violent, and human. I cut my teeth on films like this and as the superhero craze seems to be entering its dying days after both Marvel and DC have posted a couple box office flops in a row, it might behoove executives to look at Stone Cold and films like it as examples of how to provide adrenaline without a budget the size of a South American country’s GDP.  Recommended. ( – Will McGuire)

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