2/28/2014

Blu-ray Review: Scorned (2013)


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We’ve all noticed the trend of home invasion thrillers ranging from stories of new houses haunted by paranormal activity to strangers wreaking havoc on suburbanites or campers in cabins. And usually in home invasion movies, loved ones must band together if they’re going to get through the night alive… unless you’re talking about the movie Scorned which offers up a new spin on the paradigm as a man is held hostage by the woman he brought up to his deserted vacation home for the weekend.

Although the romantic getaway begins innocently enough, things take a turn for the twisted following a romp in the lake when Billy Zane’s Kevin dutifully shed his clothes for his girlfriend Sadie (AnnaLynne McCord) to throw in the dryer, forgetting that his phone was in his pocket.


While this normally wouldn’t be a big deal, all it takes is a text message alert to go off when the phone is in his Sadie’s hands for her to discover that Kevin’s been carrying on an affair with Sadie’s best friend Jennifer (Viva Bianca) behind her back.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking – not only does Billy Zane always play a bad boyfriend but he always winds up in the water, following his breakthrough performance and blockbuster success in Dead Calm and Titanic respectively… but back to the movie.


As his beautiful tormentor, AnnaLynne McCord seems to relish in her Fatal Attraction meets Funny Games role as she holds Kevin hostage and following a phony series of text messages, does the same to Jennifer after luring her there to teach her betraying best friend a lesson.

But even though it’s trashy fun for a fleeting few minutes, the fast way that it moves from vengeful to psychosexual and exploitatively gratuitous – from threats of microwaving a dog to cutting hair, pulling teeth and more – is tough to take and any initial sympathy we had for Sadie goes out the window within seconds.


As if this isn’t enough, we’re given a bizarre, convenient B-movie plotline that would normally have been the A-story in a traditional horror movie as TV and radio bulletins chronicle an escaped convict from a local prison. And while I applaud the ambition of the screenwriters (Mark Jones and Sadie Katz) for building one paradigm on top of another, neither one is very effective in Scorned, save for its genre-obligatory open-ended gotcha ending.

While it’s a cheap manipulation to play the disability blame game as Sadie’s history of mental illness and history of institutionalization makes Scorned another entry in the very un-politically correct “beware the crazy person” subgenre rather than the terrifying rollercoaster of romantic obsession and revenge promised by the title, the trio of actors – McCord and Zane in particular, give it their all.


And although it’s a bit too convenient in the way that all of the various plot points all magically converge, Scorned is nonetheless buoyed by a far more successful third act than the film’s first two. Redeemed by a superb skin-crawling genre-salute end sequence that’s elevated by McCord’s sheer conviction as the scariest seductress this side of Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest, needless to say, unlike her onscreen alter ego, offscreen McCord’s phone will surely ring after this terrifying turn.

While it’s hard to imagine who would willingly want to sit through the whole thing from start to finish as the punishment goes far above and beyond any crime, by daring to go against audience expectation and audaciously experimenting with two classic horror plotlines (even if the results are less than stellar), it’s still a promising start for the screenwriters that makes me eager to see what they’ll do in their next feature.



Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

TV on Blu-ray Review: Killing Kennedy (2013)


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A succinct greatest hits album like compilation of the biggest moments from JFK’s presidency, this made for National Geographic Channel cable movie is based on the eponymous best-selling nonfiction work by Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly and author Martin Dugard.

Using an interesting crisscross timeline device, Killing Kennedy compares and contrasts the final years of the life of both John F. Kennedy (Rob Lowe) and Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothhaar), the man who would bring it to an untimely end on November 22, 1963.

But even though it opens with that fateful event, it leaves the conspiracy theories and post-assassination investigative aftermath to others, quickly cutting back four years earlier in time when Oswald traveled to an American embassy in Moscow to renounce his citizenship and defect to the Soviet Union as a Marxist.

An outsider wherever he goes, Oswald is accused of being an American spy in the Minsk radio factory where he works and a Soviet Spy back in the states after the former U.S. Marine gave in and returned home to Dallas, tired of both the cold weather and chilly reception from his Russian coworkers.


However his dedication to the communist cause and Cuba in particular grew stronger than ever as depicted in the film from director Nelson McCormick, which chronicles Oswald’s increasing dissatisfaction with society and alienation from family and friends, including his long-suffering Russian wife Marina (beautifully played by scene-stealer Michelle Trachtenberg).

While Oswald’s storyline is filled with details audiences may not have been as familiar with including a few facts involving how he was caught by police that caught me completely by surprise, needless to say everything in the Kennedy storyline was predictable, given the number of times that JFK’s presidency has been captured on film.

And by now following the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination, JFK has become one of the most documented American presidents in the history of the medium. While his movie star good looks and untimely end are certainly part of his mystique, he was also our first “onscreen president."


From the announcement of his candidacy to when he handily beat Nixon in the televised debates, talked directly to Americans during the U-2 scare and after the assassination when Americans sat glued to their TV sets to watch their beloved leader be laid to rest in a funeral procession worthy of a king, JFK’s most important landmarks were all captured in front of a camera.

Thus while as viewers our over-familiarity with everything from the Bay of Pigs storyline to his final day in Dallas (as evidenced, for example in the much more thorough Thirteen Days and JFK respectively) isn’t the fault of screenwriter Kelly Masterson or anyone involved since they’re working from facts, it’s still hard to do JFK justice in Killing Kennedy’s 87 minute running time.And given the time constraints, this cable movie speeds through the important events like a mix tape on fast forward.

While you only wish that instead of a few new revelatory morsels in this film or that miniseries (from The Kennedys to Parkland etc.), some of these filmmakers would’ve worked together to have crafted one true epic JFK picture instead of multiple mediocre ones, Killing Kennedy’s strength lies in emphasizing what we do not know, as depicted in the plotline of his killer Lee Harvey Oswald.


And even though it’s downright disturbing to follow the events through his eyes, another thing occurred to me while watching this production which is that the Jack Ruby angle has always been one of the most unexplored and overlooked aspects of the case.

Of course Ruby’s involvement has raised all sorts of questions about the likelihood of two “lone gunmen” or if anyone else had put him up to it. And while perhaps the answer is waiting in yet another TV movie or film, Killing Kennedy did score a few extra points for ingenuity by centering a few scenes on and from the point-of-view of Ruby in order to give us a different vantage point in addition to the ones we've always seen time and time again.

Needless to say, there’s no replacing the source material of the book or some of the far more superior biopics that have been made about the Kennedy presidency. Yet while this polished Ridley Scott production may speed by a bit too quickly at times to leave enough of an impact, it’s still above average made-for-basic-cable filmmaking that’s been beautifully transferred to this Fox Blu-ray release, complete with making of featurettes and an Ultraviolet digital copy.


While it definitely made me eager to explore the book to see what other details were unearthed in the authors’ research (despite my distaste for O’Reilly), the film’s homage to Kennedy’s love of the musical Camelot did get me thinking.Perhaps next time, instead of another straightforward docudrama, someone should update and retell Camelot with JFK and Jackie standing in for King Arthur and Lady Guinevere.

And given actress Ginnifer Goodwin’s excellent command as both Jackie in Kennedy and Snow White in Once Upon a Time, Guinevere seems like a natural progression for the talented star, not to mention one less role for the production’s talent agent to cast. Now that’s a Kennedy movie I’d definitely like to see!



Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

2/27/2014

Blu-ray Review: The Jungle Book (1967) -- Diamond Edition



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One of Walt Disney Studio's last great efforts (before the so-called Renaissance which was ushered in by The Little Mermaid roughly twenty years of uneven hit-or-miss releases later), The Jungle Book also has the bittersweet distinction of being the last project to be overseen by Walt Disney himself, who died before it was complete.

A creatively freewheeling endeavor, this animated adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic handled its episodic approach and musical structure like a cross between the classical full-length symphonic animated concert video that was Fantasia and the studio's more traditional Bambi inspired coming-of-age tales.

Narratively speaking, it's a light hero's journey that focuses less on the overall quest than the lessons learned along the way, courtesy of a handful of feisty, funny and unforgettable sidekicks. And while overall The Jungle Book's not quite as cohesive or fluid in its storytelling as some of the studio's other ventures, it nonetheless offers multiple scene-stealing opportunities for its musical-driven numbers to shine and lure us back into the otherwise slightly duller film's favor.


Likewise it's augmented by its powerful message about friendship and the timelier than ever theme to stand alongside those you love when faced with adversity (from cliques to bullies).

Unfortunately, our main character Mowgli the "man-cub" that was discovered as an abandoned baby and eventually raised by wolves is nowhere near as charismatic as the live action version of the character that the studio would bring to life three decades later, not to mention the animated hero of Disney's similarly themed Tarzan.

Despite this, from Louis Prima's scat-happy cry that he wants to be like you to the introduction of one of the studio's best sidekicks in the "Bare Necessities" singing lovable Baloo who seems to have paved the way for Pixar's Sulley in the Monsters Inc. films, the film has never looked or sounded as infectiously fun and vibrant as it does in Disney Blu-ray.

While the threat of the hypnotic deadly snake and man-eating tiger are perhaps a bit too intimidating for small children who will likewise lose patience with the film's meandering plotline the same way the two young boys I showed it to as a teenage babysitter did by throwing a remote control at my head in protest, mature adolescents and Disney enthusiasts alike will savor the film.

Filled with special features, the Blu-ray combo pack's greatest treasure is the feature film itself, which comes shining through in all its glory as a painstakingly crafted, lushly transferred animated trip to the Indian jungle.


Released a month before its straight-to-disc sequel debuts on Blu-ray as well, in the meantime, The Jungle Book boasts great potential for a double feature discussion to compare or contrast with either the live action production or one of Disney's similarly themed coming-of-age tales from Tarzan to Bambi.

Destined to provoke imaginative conversations that will likewise help your child learn to "read" films (like novels) for context clues much like other stellar studio adaptations of storytelling classics, The Jungle Book is sure to help provide them with the "Bare Necessities" of a well-rounded education right from your living room. Of course, it doesn't hurt that it also comes with the added bonus of karaoke to help keep things interesting.

   



Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

2/26/2014

Film Movement DVD Review: Watchtower (2012)




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Two strangers whose lives are both as seemingly transient and temporary as the places they work (at a bus station and fire warden’s mountaintop watchtower respectively) intersect in this contemplative character drama by award-winning Turkish documentarian turned narrative feature writer/director Pelin Esmer.

A slow-moving yet soulful Film Movement release that focuses on how the film’s two characters live with two life-altering tragedies of the past, while it takes awhile to understand just who exactly our main characters are and where they’re coming from, its situations are never forced as the secrets the two have are revealed very subtly – through careful angles and dialogues that helps draw you into their plight.


Almost silent at times, Watchtower uses the cinematic medium beautifully to depict the way that the middle-aged fire warden and the lonely university dropout turned bus depot worker don’t exactly fit in with their surroundings.

And this is perhaps most effective in one of the movie’s earliest scenes that captures the middle-aged warden Nihat walking around the mountaintop cabin’s wrap around deck. While he is outside the cabin, the camera films him from inside the home looking out as if to say he doesn’t feel at ease in a “home” environment. Of course, this along with what we can conclude about the way that he changes the subject, evades or downright avoids conversation and the sound of the radio at times when other wardens call to check in is all subjective.


And indeed in Watchtower, we’re left to infer an awful lot before some answers and a firmer back-story begin to take shape.

But once the man finally finds himself at the right place at the right time, he intervenes on behalf of the young woman’s fate, offering her shelter before he too fully understands the full story of his new friend, Seher.


And while it seems like the two damaged souls can sense a kindred spirit in one another, the actual payoff of their relationship together as opposed to apart occurs so abruptly that if you blink you could literally miss an ending that in all honesty, may have worked much better on the screenwritten page than in Esmer’s feature film.

While fortunately the cinematography is a high point of Watchtower along with the heightened, near neorealist style naturalist performances and approach, unfortunately aside from the need for these two to heal (which again is barely paid off on in the picture), there’s isn’t very much holding this story together from a narrative standpoint that makes it at all worthwhile.

And while a manufactured plotline is unnecessary as there have been numerous successful films about people coming together on a human level, unfortunately, Watchtower isn’t one of them.


While I do applaud Esmer’s defiance in the face of contrivance as she avoids going down the tried-and-true path of Garden State or Lost in Translation, the theme that she’s exploring of lonely outsiders with tragic pasts is not a new one particularly in Film Movement where this subgenre of film has been done so much better in countless official selections in years past.

Despite this, Esmer shows immense promise as a Wenders or Malick inspired visual storyteller and her collaboration with her cinematographer and editor makes Watchtower worth watching from a film purist standpoint alone as she uses color and production design to illustrate the emotional progression of the tale immensely well.

While the picture is undoubtedly in desperate need of a stronger narrative to better serve her talented lead actors, fortunately for Esmer, her well-cast leads (including Nilay Erdonmez and Olgun Simsek as Seher and Nihat) know how to hold down the fort and keep watch even when Watchtower itself starts to lose focus.


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Blu-ray Review: The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)


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They may have been reciting “This Old Man” to keep their spirits up but the over one hundred Chinese children that are led on a grueling mountainous trek to safety after their country was attacked by Japan relied not on an old man but a middle-aged woman named Gladys Aylward to lead them to safety.

Based on a moving true story, Inn centers on the brave Aylward who, despite being denied and dismissed formal missionary work due to her alleged lack of qualifications takes multiple domestic jobs in her native England – saving up day by day and pence by pence for the forty-one pound one-way passage fare to China.


Buying her ticket on an unorthodox layaway plan out of fear that she’d back out if she didn’t have any money to lose, Aylward goes against the advice of all she encounters to answer her own God given call to go to China where she believes she’s destined to help.

Provided with the contact information of a hearty missionary woman who’s getting on in years and could use all the assistance she can get, Aylward’s position from apprentice inn runner to “foot inspector” is accelerated by the untimely death of her missionary mentor.

After being threatened with the prospect of returning home due to her negligible qualifications once again, Robert Donat’s Mandarin steps in to make her a permanent part of their community. Deciding that she’s the next person he’ll hire in a long line of women’s foot-inspectors who don’t last terribly long in a job that’s meant to emancipate young girls and women from their subservient roles as second class citizens with bound feet, Aylward becomes even more assured that she’s taken the right path in life.

  

Finally doing more than just sharing bible stories through a fellow inn worker and native who has a habit of elevating the tales with all kinds of exciting new embellishments, Aylward realizes that actions speak louder than words.

Dedicated to the children she encounters on a daily basis, Aylward begins to adopt multiple unwanted orphans and abandoned outsiders, earning the nickname of Jen-ai which means “the one who loves people” along the way.

Although this gorgeously filmed Twentieth Century Fox 1958 Cinemascope epic embellishes the truth almost as much as the local who teaches Aylward English does when he translates bible passages, perhaps the film’s greatest factual error lies in the casting of the otherwise ultra-talented, world-class actress Ingrid Bergman for the lead role.


Not bothering to try and hide or trade her noticeable Swedish accent for the factually accurate Cockney one possessed by the native Englishwoman she’s portraying, Bergman’s striking tall figure also conflicts with that of the “small woman” Aylward was thusly described as in the title of the book that Fox adapted for the screen.

While word is that the real Aylward was upset with the film’s inaccuracies as well as the choice of Bergman for the lead role, Bergman makes the screen version of the character her own and is absolutely stellar from start to finish, breaking down the sometimes cool exterior she had in other studio fare to really let us in on a personal level.

You can tell that this is a performance she must’ve been proud of at the time as there are countless photos of Bergman on set, in character, sharing the experience with her own children – no doubt thrilled to play a woman passionate about children's and women’s rights in stark contrast to the romantic roles she was usually given in Hollywood.

 

And the uplifting depiction of heroism through the tale of a female underdog clicked with audiences upon Inn’s release as director Mark Robson’s sensitive period drama would go onto become the second biggest box office smash in Aylward’s native England the following year.

Filled with intelligent, humanistic dialogue by Isobel Laurent working from Alan Burgess’s book, this moving epic which has been lovingly transferred to a picturesque 1080p Blu-ray release makes for a thrilling night at the movies from the comfort and convenience of your own living room.


From the richly nuanced multi-channel audio soundtrack that transports you right into Aylward’s surroundings and the fine supporting work by its talented if ethnically inaccurate ensemble cast, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness also features the final screen turn by Robert Donat, whose last lines of dialogue warning that us that we won’t see him again have become particularly eerie yet oddly fitting given that fact. 

And additionally, all cinematic flourishes aside – by offering us another point-of-view of the conflict in Asia during the time period, the fascinating if flawed Inn of the Sixth Happiness becomes a must-see for both film lovers and history buffs alike as a work that's both global and personal in its cinematic approach to storytelling.



Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

2/25/2014

Blu-ray Review: Gravity (2013)


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Although it was the silence of space that originally soothed Sandra Bullock’s brainy doctor turned astronaut Ryan Stone during her first week-long mission to install a system meant for hospital use into the Hubble Telescope, after her crew’s explorer is hit by a large amount of fast traveling debris and she loses audible contact with Houston, silence is the last sound that she wants to hear.

Initially thrust into a free-fall, spinning desperately out of the line of sight of her team, although she’s soon secured to a tether attached to the experienced, fast-thinking veteran shuttle pilot Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), the two try to remain both practical and level-headed while evaluating the insurmountable obstacles and major unknowns they face, after learning they’re the only two crew members left alive in space.


With their rocket left irreparably damaged by the space-storm of debris and with no outside guidance to tell them which nearby space stations may be left standing and/or where they can find if not a return flight than at least shelter until a rescue mission can be staged, the two race against time, fate, and a severely dwindling oxygen supply to survive.

And as Ryan faces overwhelming odds time and again throughout Gravity, she begins to grow in her response to such a harrowing trial, moving throughout the course of the film from a damsel in distress to a woman who winds up having to rely on an inner strength she didn’t know she had to save herself.


A monumental achievement not only on a technical level (given the audacious cinematographic effects that make it difficult to believe this was actually shot on a green screen and not on some sort of top secret moviemaking mission to space), Gravity is also mesmerizing for how deftly it tells its deceptively simple story so incredibly well.

Offering a rare female-centric character arc that could have honestly just as easily been played by either gender (in the same vein as Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking space horror classic Alien), Gravity is heightened so much more by the performance of Sandra Bullock.

Reminding us once again why we fell in love with her in Speed with another emotionally riveting rollercoaster tale of high-stakes action-driven survival, when Stone gets into the driver’s seat once again to put her fate in her own hands, in addition to getting a sense of Speed déjà vu, it’s impossible not to watch it and realize how far Bullock’s come as an actress.


Completely charismatic in what is at times an almost silent film (in terms of dialogue), we see in Stone all of the hopes, fears, regrets and frustrations of a woman we might recognize in ourselves and it’s a truly moving turn that makes Gravity that much more life-affirming and empowering – particularly so for women.

Letting her guard down completely, Bullock shows us the flaws, humor, charm, sadness and strength of a woman who is in the midst of the five stages of grief both personally and professionally.

In addition to the emergency situation that keeps spiraling out of proportion in space, we learn shortly into the picture that Stone is also in the midst of the same process of grief on a personal level as she confesses to Kowalski that she’d lost a young child in an accident that – like matter hurdling through the atmosphere – had happened in the blink of an eye.


While we initially meet her as a woman simply going through the motions in her life, suddenly she’s forced to ask herself if she really wants to give up or keep going as an existential yet physical manifestation of her emotional journey

A brilliantly written, understated, metaphor-laden script that – like J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost invites you to attach your own meaning onto it – one very interesting example of the writers' creativity in carrying out the theme of rebirth is in Ryan’s confession that in America, she would spend any time she wasn’t working driving since that’s where she was when she got the tragic news.


And sure enough, from the small rover-type space pods to the jet-pack she’s tethered to, she’s driving once again in space – taking part in one such activity that had been described as a “Sunday drive” by Kowalski before she must actually attempt to take it upon herself to set a destination. Likewise, it’s also fascinating when she reveals her fear that in training she was never able to stop or safely land the small rover vehicles, crashing every time – as if to say she wasn’t ready to stop driving yet until she knew she must.

Her last name alone also speaks volumes as it’s a stumble on a rock (or a stone) that had killed her daughter and sure enough, it’s a rock-like storm of space debris that sets the events in motion, suggesting the level of guilt she’d had been experiencing internally before she must put herself back into motion.


While I can only imagine how unbelievable the film looks in 3D, Warner Brothers’ mind-blowingly gorgeous Blu-ray does not disappoint, especially for those with home theater rooms complete with a big screen television (of at least 40 plus inches) and heightened home theater sound bars or speaker systems to bring every bar of the score to every roar of an engine to life.

The type of film that benefits from post-cinema discussion with friends, Gravity is a highly recommended addition to your home library. And although it’s loaded with amazing special features that show you the massive amount of work that went into Cuaron’s four-year long opus, walking you through various sequences of the film from one department to the next (although unfortunately not the destruction of the International Space Station), one of the strongest assets in addition to an extra Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film is a short film by Jonas Cuaron.

Giving you the other side of Ryan Stone’s radio transmission by bringing you into Greenland to see what life is like for a fisherman who’s caught between joy and grief himself, it’s a beautiful addition that deepens the experience of the feature presentation. Furthermore, it adds extra meaning to one all-important scene where – once again in another evolution of character defined by plot – Stone discovered how much she needed others at last and was so glad to hear something other than the sound of silence as humanity translates regardless of language once Stone makes an effort to reach out and let herself be heard.



Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

2/21/2014

Blu-ray Review -- Justice League: War (2014)


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Before they were officially known as the Justice League, the Super Friends or even the Super Seven (as suggested in this early account of the first official team-up to save the Earth by a number of DC Comics’ most notable superheroes), there was an awful lot of friction in the group.

For starters, there’s wisecracking (and scene-stealing) Green Lantern’s evolving assessment of Batman as everything from a vampire (in need of Tru Blood no less) to a “tool” or a “douchebag,” to his yelling “Dibs!” on Wonder Woman despite Superman’s obvious attraction to her that is teased in this WB Justice League themed prequel animated feature.


Furthermore when you couple the massive egos that abound along with the intergalactic sized daddy issues of the newly initiated Cybog (whose origin story is unveiled in the film), there’s a lot of progress to be made before they’ll be able to fight like a cohesive unit aligned for good.

And unfortunately, that’s a large part of the uneven DC Universe feature’s problem as despite the gorgeous artwork, impressive star caliber on display in its voice cast and memorable one-liners, Justice League: War is far too disjointed in its approach.

Whereas the one or two character centric films they’d released in years past had smoother character arcs and maximized the potential of the medium to tell tales so successful as to rival some live-action superhero fare (as in Lauren Montgomery’s phenomenal Wonder Woman, for example), this one is clunky and all over-the-place. Likewise, by constantly jumping from one point-of-view to the next, War shortchanges many of the memorable fan favorite characters in the process as some superheroes seem like they're mere cameos in a Green Lantern movie at times.

And honestly, it may have been far too ambitious for its own good in bringing the 2012 Justice League: Origin graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee to life in such a limited running time. While the DC division at Warner Home Entertainment should’ve perhaps divided the storyline across two features to devote more time to each character before just sending them off to get lost in the background of the epic battle that unfolds after Darkseid threatens the Earth, War is nonetheless still much more entertaining than most traditional episodic comic book television fare.

Elevated not only by its spectacular visuals, War stands out even when its plot does not, thanks to its clever dialogue and writing, including a hefty seasoning of darker, more modern themes and references that serve up tongue-in-cheek observations throughout.


Yet as a graphic novel transferred to film, it’s the beauty of the work that really attracts and War looks and sounds phenomenal in its sharp Blu-ray presentation complete with a digital high definition Ultraviolet copy along with four bonus animated shorts, a sneak peek at the franchise’s upcoming Batman themed feature nicely timed to celebrate the caped crusaders seventy-fifth anniversary and a behind-the-scenes exploration of legendary DC artist Jim Lee.

Needless to say, with its super-sized bonus material, the Justice League: War Blu-ray makes up for what’s missing in the feature presentation with worthwhile extras designed to appeal to superhero devotees. And even though it isn’t as great as some of the studio’s strongest entries, DC enthusiasts won’t want to miss this early exploration of what happened when Batman first met Greet Lantern (as well as all of their other Justice League favorites), back when the superheroes thought of each other more as strangers versus than sidekicks and well before they ever became Super Friends. 


Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

2/20/2014

Blu-ray Review: All Is Lost (2013)


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If there’s one thing you can say about writer/director J.C. Chandor it’s that he doesn’t believe in repeating himself. Whereas the Academy Award nominated screenwriter’s feature filmmaking debut Margin Call was entirely fueled by dialogue and brought to life with the same verve and speed of a David Mamet play by its large enviable ensemble cast, his sophomore film All is Lost showcases his impressive range as a cinematic storyteller with an ambitiously minimalist approach.

To this end, he brings us a bare-bones survival story that doubles as a one-man show for his film’s nameless everyman played by the man who’d championed his first feature at Sundance – Robert Redford.

In what producer Neal Dodson refers to as an “existential action movie” that pays as much homage to Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea as it does to Sydney Pollack’s ’72 feature Jeremiah Johnson (which just so happened to star the man he’d written Lost for in Robert Redford), Chandor serves up a sophisticated dramatic thriller that’s as silent as Call was conversational but one that’s equally powerful.


Managing to convey as much meaning as his debut feature with Lost’s roughly thirty-page written screenplay that – aside from a few sparse lines of exclamations, cries for help and well-earned profanity – only offers one traditional voice-over monologue which opens the film, Lost takes us along for our unnamed everyman’s perilous eight day struggle for survival in the Indian Ocean.

Interrupting what we believe had been a smooth voyage so far – as the picture begins our man awakens to discover that he’s struck an abandoned shipping container which has forged a hole in the side of his thirty-nine foot yacht.

Whittling a wooden handle to pump out the water after he patches the breached hull the best he can, the man finds his luck changing from bad to worse when – having fried his radio and navigational equipment from the flood of water that had poured into his yacht in the bravura opening sequence, the man finds himself sailing in the direction of a massive storm.

Relying on the books aboard his vessel to attempt to navigate by the stars as well as his own seaman’s intuition, when his yacht takes a violent hit that fills the sinking ship with water and knocks him out temporarily, he’s left with no choice but to trade the yacht for a life raft in the hopes of hailing a passing boast when the water takes him into a busier shipping lane.


Fighting against the elements in a brave battle of man against nature, Redford’s everyman must come face-to-face with his own mortality and ask himself how far he’s able to go to survive in this deeply affecting drama that’s as thrilling as a cinematic spectacle as it is emotionally moving, taking you along with him from one frame to the next.

And by its lack of details about the man including what he’s doing in the middle of nowhere in the first place, the film acts like a piece of great literature, allowing you to bring to it what you will. This idea is perhaps best exemplified by the picture’s ambiguous ending, which has divided audiences into accepting its one of two conclusions, based on logic, belief system, and personal philosophy (where that all-too-important existentialism comes into play).

However the closure-minded can cite some of the context clues that Chandor has provided from the title of the film which calls to mind “Amazing Grace” as well as the closing credit music from first time composer and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros band leader Alex Ebert, who earned a Golden Globe for his arresting score, which tends to lean towards one concrete conclusion versus another.


Anchored by what is easily the most challenging role of Robert Redford’s career that was extremely well-deserving of an Oscar nomination, the (now) seventy-seven year old actor puts himself through a physical, emotional and psychological gauntlet which is evidenced from start to finish.

A gorgeously executed, thought-provoking 2013 opus, which Chandor had been kicking around in his mind before he even made Margin Call and took him six years to construct before he first yelled “Action” is – like another recent against-all-odds tale of survival via Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful Gravity – a must-see example of purity in storytelling executed at its most visceral, filmic level.

Highly recommended, All is Lost is well-worth tracking down in high definition Blu-ray, for the sharpest image and sound imaginable on the largest screen you’re privy to in order to feel the full transformative effect of the journey that puts you right in the ocean with Redford and inspires you to ask yourself what you would do if faced with a similar endeavor. 



Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

DVD Review: My Dog the Champion (2013)


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Original Title: Champion


On par with a Flicka sequel, this well-intentioned family B-movie replaces horses with canines and combines the pet-centric plotline with a gentler tween variation of a Taming of the Shrew style coming-of-age in this sweet if slight tale of a spoiled city girl who matures with the help of a new four-legged best friend during a summer spent in the country.


Helmed by a husband and wife team who’ve worked within the genre before, although the film suffers from its predictable by-the-numbers paradigm, its greatest weakness isn’t in the formula but in actress Dora Madison Burge’s borderline obnoxious heroine who whines like a self-satisfied Kardashian groupie hopped up on too much Red Bull.

An acronym spouting, eye-rolling drama queen who complains about having to stay with her estranged grandfather rancher after her mom his deployed to Afghanistan and her grandmother journeys to Russia for missionary work, it seems ludicrous that her two upstanding role-model matriarchs could’ve raised such an absolute brat.


And while predictably she experiences a much needed attitude change midway through the picture, it takes place both suddenly and offscreen, making the plight of Burge’s Madison and the film itself suffer from its abrupt and uneven execution once her mannerisms, behavior and personality suddenly downshift twenty notches and she becomes a completely new character.

The new and improved Madison is a welcome change but because it happens so unnaturally, it gives off the obviously erroneous (not to mention nonsensical) impression that the husband and wife team of Kevin and Robin Nation had taken turns directing the material and weren’t privy to any of the other footage that had been shot when they weren’t at the helm.

With a main character arc that’s weak at best, we’re left staying tuned for the affable supporting cast including Aliens star Lance Henriksen as Madison’s hard-working grandpa who’s struggling to make ends meet on the ranch and Cody Linley as Madison’s cute, obligatory dog-trainer love interest who helps inspire the girl to put down her electronics in order to have a real live conversation that isn’t based on instant messaging or text.

Forming an unexpected bond with a dejected cattle dog who misses her recently deceased sidekick just as much as Madison misses her soldier mother, soon Madison finds a new calling as a budding trainer, working alongside Linley’s character to enter a youth competition with a prize purse that just might help her grandpa keep the bankers at bay and save the ranch.


Obviously, the title gives away the ending, which suffice to say, might have only stunned very young children who have yet to be exposed to the vastly superior, similarly themed Flicka franchise of films, there’s nonetheless a sweet surprise in the final act that helps explain and augment the bond that Madison has with the dog that helps strengthen the film even more.

Needless to say, the last half of the picture is far greater than the first and you wish that more time would’ve been spent perfecting the script and especially reconfiguring the characterization and arc of Burge’s scenery-chewing, nerve-grating heroine.

And although it probably would’ve been better overall had it revolved around Linley’s stronger and far more intriguing dog trainer, which is a sad acknowledgement for a female co-directed film, My Dog the Champion is nonetheless a workmanlike yet warm-hearted, wholesome and well-intentioned effort that’s still bound to appeal to kids aged six through twelve.

 

   
Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.