Film Review: “A Silent Voice: The Movie”

Starring the Voice Of: Miyu Orino, Saori Hayami and Aoi Yuki
Directed By: Naoko Yamada
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 130 minutes
Eleven Arts Anime Studio

Wracked with guilt over early childhood wrongs, Shoya Ishida (Orino) is a teenager in search of atonement. The wrong he is looking to right is the bullying of a deaf girl, Shoko Nishimiya (Hayami), that he spearheaded back in elementary school. During those turbulent times, Shoko can only smile and fight back tears as Shoya’s harassment moves from verbal to physical. It piles on as Shoya not only becomes the instigator, but the ringleader for others looking for an excuse to pick on Shoko as well.

Shoko reaches her breaking point, during a particularly unflinchingly cruel moment in the film, and transfers schools. But left in her wake is chaos as the bully becomes the outcast and Shoya’s shunned by friends and classmates. Current day Shoya believes his life, which is devoid of any friends and little meaning, is punishment for his prior torment and vicious taunting. It’s only by happenstance that he realizes his salvation may be in befriending a reluctant Shoya.

Despite clocking in over two hours, “A Silent Voice” is a brisk journey through high school drama and emotional maturity. Within its first few minutes, the film grips viewers with Shoya ominously on the edge of a bridge, narrating his meaninglessness. While the movie may feel like a bullying redemption story, there’s an unmistakable tone of depression. Part of the film’s purpose is to relay how depression, with its tentacle-like grasp on the heart and mind, can impact every facet of one’s life. Most characters, even unnecessary secondary ones, suffer some emotional or mental issue.

The most subtle touches of the film are when we get Shoya’s point of view. He can’t make eye contact, he places an x over people’s faces as if mentally marking them off as potential friends and his depression is clearly compounded by crippling social anxiety. He eavesdrops into nearby conversations, hearing only negative things about himself, but even those poisonous remarks by classmates may be his imagination. There’s even a scene, which on the surface is about miscommunication, which has a deeper meaning implying that Shoya believes unworthy of anyone’s friendship or love.

Shoya’s attitude and demeanor amplifies Shoko’s purity. But we have to wonder how much the stress is getting to Shoko and what kind of impact it’ll have as the film lingers into its third act. It’s not that her personality is simplified, but a lot of it comes from everyone inability to properly communicate with her. The ones who are able to speak with her do open a door into Shoko’s thought process, but just like Shoya, the viewer would only truly know what’s going on if Shoko was able to narrate. This is an intentional frustration on the audience’s’ end that matches the characters on screen.

“A Silent Voice” risks’ being melodramatic on several occasions, but it’s moments between Shoko and Shoya, or when they’re on their own, are when the film works best. During those moments, the duo is treated with teenage realism that isn’t bogged down by oversexualization, drug use, or other clichéd youth problems. Its two teens being treated like adults by the filmmakers. It makes for a better relation to the audience that can reflect on their own troubled youth or their own struggle with depression.

Bring on the Popcorn, and Make it a LOL Kids Movie Night! The Emoji Movie includes the original Hotel Transylvania Short “Puppy!”

Available on Digital October 10 and On 4K Ultra HD™ Combo Pack, Blu-ray + Digital, & DVD on October 24

CULVER CITY, Calif. (September 12, 2017) – Be the movie night hero and bring home the film that kids give two thumbs up to for the ultimate kid’s movie night! It’s time to express yourself when Sony Pictures Animation’s THE EMOJI MOVIE arrives for the first time on Digital on October 10 and on 4K Ultra HD+ Blu-ray + Digital, Blu-ray + Digital and DVD October 24 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The animated comedy unlocks the never-before-seen secret world inside your smartphone. Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression – except for Gene (T.J. Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak (Anna Faris). Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever.

THE EMOJI MOVIE features an all-star voice cast including T.J. Miller (How To Train Your Dragon) as Gene Meh, James Corden (“Late Late Show with James Corden”) as Hi-5, Anna Faris (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) as Jailbreak, Maya Rudolph (Big Hero 6) as Smiler, Steven Wright (Louie) as Mel Meh, Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie, Legally Blonde) as Mary Meh, Jake T. Austin (“Wizards of Waverly Place”) as phone owner Alex, Grammy® Award Winner Christina Aguilera as Akiko Glitter, Emmy® Award Nominee Sofia Vergara (The Smurfs) as Flamenca, Rachael Ray (“Rachael Ray”) as Spam, Emmy® Award Winner Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”) as “Devil” Steven, and Emmy® Award Nominee Sir Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Poop.

THE EMOJI MOVIE is filled with interactive bonus materials on the Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, DVD and digital releases that are fun for the entire family to enjoy including the “Good Vibrations” Dance Along and Lyric Video, where you can join along in the dance party. Learn about the amazing dance moves from the film’s celebrity choreographer in “Choreographing Emoji with Matt Steffanina.” Get creative with step-by-step tutorials on how to draw your favorite Emoji’s with two “how to” videos. Go behind-the-scenes of a real-life coding school with the “Girls Who Code” featurette, and get to know everything about the all-star cast in “Express Yourself: Meet the Cast.” Fans will also get to unveil more of the story behind their beloved character in “Jailbreak Decoded: The Untold Story.” Additional featurettes include “Creating the World Inside Your Phone,” “Bringing Emoji’s to Life,” and the very exciting “Puppy! An Original Hotel Transylvania Short.”

In addition to extra content above, exclusive to Blu-ray, fans of all ages will be able to give it their best shot at the “Gimme a Hand! Guess the Emoji Game,” where Hi-5 and Smiler give you clues to help you guess the mystery Emojis. You will also have the chance to get creative with your Halloween Trick-Or-Treat candy with “Sweet App-etite: Make Your Own Candy Crush Inspired Saga Cake.”

THE EMOJI MOVIE is directed by Tony Leondis, with screenplay by Tony Leondis & Eric Siegel and Mike White and story by Tony Leondis & Eric Siegel. The film is produced by Sony Pictures Animation, with Michelle Raimo Kouyate serving as the producer.

DVD and Digital Bonus Materials Include: 
• Director & Animators Commentary
Puppy! An Original Hotel Transylvania Short
• Jailbreak Decoded: The Untold Story
• “Good Vibrations” Dance Along
• “Good Vibrations” Lyric Video
• Express Yourself: Meet The Cast
• Girls Can Code!
• Choreographing Emoji With Matt Steffanina
• Creating the World Inside Your Phone
• Bringing Emojis to Life
• How To Draw Poop
• How To Draw Gene

Blu-ray Exclusive Bonus Materials Include:
Everything listed above, plus:
Gimme a Hand! Guess the Emoji Game
• Sweet App-etite: Make Your Own Candy Crush Inspired Saga Cake

THE EMOJI MOVIE has a run time of approximately 91 minutes and is rated PG: for Rude Humor.

ABOUT SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) is a Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) company. Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPE’s global operations encompass motion picture production, acquisition and distribution; television production, acquisition and distribution; television networks; digital content creation and distribution; operation of studio facilities; and development of new entertainment products, services and technologies. For additional information, go to http://www.sonypictures.com.

ABOUT SONY PICTURES ANIMATION
Sony Pictures Animation produces a variety of animated and family entertainment for audiences around the world. The studio is following its worldwide comedy hits—the record-breaking monster comedies Hotel Transylvania and Hotel Transylvania 2, the hybrid live action/animated blockbusters The Smurfs and The Smurfs 2, and the mouth-watering Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies—with the fully animated reboot Smurfs: The Lost Village available on digital and Blu-ray now; a surprising and comic take at the secret world inside our phones with The Emoji Movie in July 2017; the inspirational The Star in November 2017; Hotel Transylvania 3 in July 2018; and an animated Spider-Man feature from the minds of directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord in December 2018. The studio, in conjunction with Aardman Animations, has produced two critically acclaimed feature films: the CG-animated family comedy Arthur Christmas; and the Academy Award® nominated stop-frame animated high-seas adventure, The Pirates! Band of Misfits. In 2007, Surf’s Up also received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Animated Feature Film; a sequel entitled Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania is now available on digital and DVD. The division, whose first feature film Open Season led to a very successful movie franchise including the brand new Open Season: Scared Sillynow available on digital, DVD and Blu-ray, was founded in 2002. Sony Pictures Animation is a division of the Sony Pictures Motion Pictures Group.

Film Review “Happy Death Day”

Directed by: Christopher B. Landon
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 96 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I was simply sold on “Happy Death Day” from the moment I heard it pitched as “Groundhog Dog” but horror film. Sign me up! So instead of meeting ole Punxsutawney Phil and seeing if he sees his shadow every day. Our heroine, Tree (Jessica Rothe), as she wakes up to birthday only to gets killed and wakes up and repeats the same day over and over.

While she is trying to find out who the killer is the film looses so steam as the false alarms because a little predictable but overall. It was still fun to see how each day would be different. Even though not horror, this reminded me of the action-comedy “Edge of Tomorrow”, which also had that “Groundhog Day” feel. “Happy Death Day” even though rated PG-13 packs pretty creative kills during each repeated day.

2017 has been the year of Woman power with breakout films like, “Wonder Woman” and this film fit the mold nicely, it features a strong lead female character that can kick some serious ass. This film is a fun blend of horror with some great comedic moments mixed in. Definitely a lot of fun and got some great laughs in the audience, so it was definitely pleasing everyone.

If you are not familiar with the lead actress, Jessica Rothe, it is not surprising because she is only just getting started after a very small role in last year’s “La La Land”. What interesting is that out of all the anxilary extra characters in that film she honestly stood out to me, so I am excited that hopefully this film will be her big break.

Based on the audience reaction in the theater, I have a feeling that this film will end up connecting with an audience. If so, I can see this being a new franchise of sorts, definitely a lot of fun options. So those looking for some mindless fun and not excited for yet another “Saw” entry, I would definitely give “Happy Death Day” a shot!

Film Review: “The Foreigner”

Starring: Jackie Chan, Rufus Jones and Pierce Brosnan
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 54 mins
STX Entertainment

A man picks his young teenage daughter up from school. He notices her sharing a glance with a boy and asks when he will get to meet him. She blushes. He drives her to a popular London dress shop to pick out a prom gown and urges her to be careful as she crosses the street. Sadly, all of his love can’t prevent the bomb that is about to kill her from going off.

An edge-of-the-seat thriller full of twist and turns, “The Foreigner” is a welcome return to the screen for the great Jackie Chan, whose grieving father Quan will not stop until he discovers who planted the deadly explosive. The bombing is claimed by a group associating itself with the IRA, which causes much tension between the British and Irish governments. It is left to Liam Hennessy (Brosnan, given that rare occasion to use his real-life brogue), an influential Irish politician, to get to the bottom of what is going on before things get bloodier. Unfortunately for him, and the police, Quan is a man with a past full of surprises.

Not counting voice work in animated features, it’s been almost a decade since I’ve seen Jackie Chan on the big screen and I’m happy to report that, even at age 63, the man can still kick some serious ass! He also shows a much larger range as an actor here, portraying a father who has basically lost his entire family violently. This is not the clowning man from the “Rush Hour” films. This is a man whose grief and need for revenge seem, at times, to be all that is keeping him alive.

The action here, both with and without Chan, is outstandingly staged, with much credit needing to go to director Campbell, who also helmed Brosnan’s debut as James Bond in “Goldeneye” as well as Daniel Craig’s amazing Bond reboot “Casino Royale.” The film is also driven along by an amazing musical score by Cliff Martinez. The music not only helps deliver the story on-screen but is very reminiscent of the great film scores (“Sorcerer,” “Thief”) by the German band Tangerine Dream.

Film Review: “American Made”

Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson and Sarah Wright
Directed By: Doug Liman
Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Universal Pictures

How does a TWA pilot go from tedious commercial flights and a blue collar existence to the Walter White of international arms and drug sales? The tale of Barry Seal (Cruise) almost seems to outlandish to be true as he finds himself working for the CIA and one of the most notorious drug cartels, at the same time. The tag, “Based on a True Story,” is stretched to the max in “American Made,” but at least they had a hell of a time embellishing the facts and telling a few fibs along the way.

We meet Seal midway through life and quickly learn that he hasn’t always been straight and narrow. Even while charting passengers across the country on the daily basis as one of the youngest pilots to be hired by the once major airliner, Seal was a low-time smuggler. Apparently smuggling Cuban cigars here and there for some extra side cash was enough to attract the attention of Schafer (Gleeson), a mysterious CIA agent who wants Seal to take his aeronautical expertise to help spy for the U.S. government.

Spying then turns into drug and weapons smuggling for both sides. At $2,000 a pound, Seal gladly begins smuggling cocaine for the Medellin Cartel. And when spy photos aren’t enough for the CIA, under the direction of the Reagan administration, Seal is asked to help run guns to the Contras. Seal is even given a slice of land by the U.S. in rural Alabama so that he can keep up the charade that he’s a small-time business owner who happens to own his own tiny airport and fleet. Of course all of this is only the tip of the iceberg as Seal goes full-Heisenberg and carves off his own slice of the criminal underworld to create a smuggling juggernaut.

For historians, “American Made” is pulpy trash, glorifying a drug smuggler turned informant, but for everyone else it’s a funny and entertaining take on a biographical crime tale. Cruise, who’s best when he’s unbalanced, is the every man of Louisiana looking for a thrilling escape from monotony, and finds it by playing both sides of a dangerous game. Cruise is doing some of his best humor since “Tropic Thunder” and finding fresh acting life outside his stereotypical smug good guy role.

But “American Made” suffers from pop-culture being saturated with multiple anti-heroes over the past couple of decades. Everyone from Omar Little of “The Wire” to Tony Soprano of “The Sopranos” have familiarized audiences with the genre’s tropes so much so that much of the film’s runtime comes with few surprises, making for an elongated ending to Seal’s entrepreneurial smuggling empire. That’s not to say that “American Made” spends most of its runtime having fun. The film proves that maybe in 30 years, we’ll be able to have a good laugh about the current impending doom we’re experiencing with North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Maybe.

“American Made” works best as a comedy. There are hints of global political satire, where at the end of the day, no one is really the good guy and that it all comes down to who’s responsible for the lowest body count. That kind of bleak humor is kept on the back burner as Seal smooth talks his way out of precarious situations. There are also plenty of visual gags to feast on, outside of Cruise’s physical and verbal humor.

In amateur hands, “American Made” would be a mixed bag, but Cruise and Director Doug Liman, who previously worked on “Edge of Tomorrow,” combine for infectious manic energy. Cruise makes” American Made” charming in a way that Jon Hamm made Don Draper a likeable womanizer and scumbag. Cruise isn’t only slick with criminals and government officials, but he’s also drawing in the audience to cheer on his illegal shenanigans. History be damned, “American Made” is an engaging circus act with a realistic final bite to keep its audiences grounded in reality.

Film Review: “Battle of the Sexes”

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell and Bill Pullman
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 1 mins
Fox Searchlight

Do you remember where you were 44 years ago?  I do.

On Thursday night, September 20th, 1973 I was at my friend Mike Schwartz’s house (my parents had gone out that night) and, along with his family, sat down in front of the television to watch what was being billed as “The Battle of the Sexes,” a tennis match between reigning superstar Billie Jean King and former champ Bobby Riggs. Having just turned 13-years-old the week before, I had no idea who Riggs was and the only thing I knew about King was that her brother, Randy, was a pitcher for the Giants and I owned his baseball card. Thankfully there was much more to the story.

Depending on your age you probably can’t believe that there was a time where it not only seemed like a joke to suggest a woman could run for President, it was news any time a woman was elected to office. In 1973, there were 16 women in Congress (out of 433 members) and a grand total of ZERO in the Senate. Any woman who showed any gumption was looked down upon by a very chauvinistic male society. One of these women was Billie Jean King (Stone). The #1 ranked women’s tennis player in the world, King was very vocal in getting the prize money paid to women at tournaments raised to the same amount as the men. Learning that, for winning the US Open, the winning man would receive $12,000 while the woman champ took home $1,500, King not only boycotts the tournament but convinces the other top female pros on the circuity to join with her and form the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

Meanwhile, Bobby Riggs (Carell) is now married to a socialite (Elizabeth Shue) and pushing papers in an office. Always a hustler, Riggs hates being behind a desk and often leaves the house to run errands, which mostly consist of him playing tennis against his friends for money. He also attends Gambler’s Anonymous, though he’s not a good disciple. He reminds his fellow attendees that the reason they are there isn’t because the ARE gamblers, but because they are BAD gamblers. One night, while watching King on television, Riggs comes up with the ultimate hustle – a tennis match between he and King. “The Battle of the Sexes.”

An entertaining and charming film, “The Battle of the Sexes” is just the backdrop in a look at the life of one of sport’s greatest figures. The film looks at King’s home life; her marriage to Larry King (Austin Stowell) (not THAT one) seems happy but when she meets a young female hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough) she realizes that maybe she’s not. There is also the constant bickering between the WTA members and tennis honcho Jack Kramer (Pullman at his pompous best).

Not only is the film fun to watch, it handles it’s subject matter (both the tennis and the unexpected love story) with reverence. Both Stone and Carell give standout performances, and they are aided by quality performances from Pullman, Riseborough and an incredibly funny, but serious, Sarah Silverman. Look for the film to garner an Oscar nod of two come January 2018.

Film Review: “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”

Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Rated: R
Running Time: 141 minutes
20th Century Fox

As if emboldened by an impressive box office receipt and growing fanfare, studio executives clearly handed over a blank check and unrestrained creative control to Matthew Vaughn. For better or for worse, his second time around with the “Kingsman” franchise has him embellishing every little detail to the point of nausea. Like some of James Bond’s sillier outings (“A View to a Kill” and “Die Another Day”), “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is pure insanity as we’re rushed through another absurd outing with Britain’s super-secret intelligence organization.

Within the first five minutes, the movie drips in excess action and CGI, immediately taking viewers out of anything resembling sanity. Eggsy (Egerton), the hoodlum turned hero from the first film, fights a former Kingsman recruit, also from the first film, who has a robotic arm with a mind of its own. That’s not even the craziest thing in this film. After disposing of him, we then go through the set-up motions as we meet Eggsy’s girlfriend, the sexually exploited Princess from the end of the first film, and catch-up with the other holdovers from the first flick. Anyone who hasn’t seen the first will unquestionably be confused and lost from the get-go.

The film squanders very little time getting to the villain of the film, Poppy (Moore). Poppy is the leader of a high-powered drug cartel. She wears a psychotic smirk on her face, forcing her underlings to undergo grotesque tests of allegiance. Her hideaway, Poppy Land, is a nostalgic step back into 1950’s Hill Valley with robotic murder dogs patrolling the compound. Her beef with the Kingsman is unknown other than she needs to eliminate any potential threats to her devious global plan. After missiles strike several targets in England (which is seemingly shrugged off by everyone else outside the plot), the remnants of the Kingsman activate their doomsday protocol and are forced to rely on their United States counterparts, the Statesman.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the biggest name in a film containing Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges and Elton John (yes, that Elton John). Very few are used to affect except for Elton John. He arrives as an unnecessarily needed and gratuitous cameo, but evolves into a delightfully needed and gratuitous cameo. However, my disappointment stems from a lack of Bridges, Tatum and Berry, who play different components of the Statesman organization. You could also make the argument for Moore’s character. “The Golden Circle” could have benefitted from as much Moore as possible, just like the previous film benefitted from a lisping Samuel L. Jackson.

The action isn’t entertaining in the traditional sense, but in a fun, manic Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. The laws of gravity, rudimentary physics, the limitations of the human body, and common sense are an afterthought for most the film’s runtime. Just like the first film, there are the over-the-top gadgets that serve one inane purpose. There’s even one gadget that’s too sexually explicit to even attempt to convey in a PG way.

“The Golden Circle” is delightfully bonkers, locking reality out of the writing room and barring believability from the set. The “Kingsman” universe has American citizens being locked up by their own government in cages, bad guys driving down the streets of London with .50 cal machine guns blasting away in full sight of civilians, and oddly placing a retirement home below an avalanche danger zone. To expect anything remotely logical would be a dishonor to the film’s status quo, but adding a little of intelligence certainly wouldn’t hurt it in the long run.

Blu-Ray Review “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Director: Michael Schultz
Rating: PG
Shout! Factory
Run Time: 113 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras: 1 out of 5 stars

As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Beatles groundbreaking album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, Shout! Factory will release the film of the same name on Blu-Ray. Sit back and let the evening go with the 1978 musical spectacular featuring stunning reinterpretations of over twenty classic Beatles songs. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is a magical, musical tour through some of the greatest songs ever written, and an astounding time capsule of the late 70’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen or heard.

Classic 70’s presented in stunning hi-definition audio and sound. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is brimming over with everything from the bi-gone era. Starring Peter Frampton and The Bee Gee’s the film follows the story of Billy Shears (Peter Frampton) and his friends the Henderson’s (The Bee Gees) as they leave their small town in hopes of stardom. Along the way the group run into a variety of unique characters and themes pulled from the iconic Beatles album that spurred hits songs like “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamond” to name just a few. Also included are some cool performances by Aerosmith, Earth, Wind and Fire and the late great George Burns. The film definitely serves as a time capsule as you don’t see productions as quirky as this happing today but that’s what makes this film so appealing.

Included in the Special Features section of the Blu-Ray is an audio commentary by Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball, Picture Galleries and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Though I found this portion of the release to be lacking the film provided just enough campy moments to make it enjoyable. The film looks and sounds great which for me is the most important part so if you’re a fan of the Beatles album and some of the other great performers featured here you’re going to be in for a treat with the latest release from Shout! Factory

Film Review: “Home Again”

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Nat Wolff and Lake Bell
Directed By: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 97 minutes
Open Road Films

I imagine the pitch for “Home Again” was originally a sitcom. Hallie Meyers-Shyer probably pitched to a studio big wig that over a 24 episode season, the audience would be introduced to newly divorced and hard-working interior designer Alice Kinney. We’ll watch as she picks up her life, and her two kids, to move to her father’s old home in sunny L.A. She’s the daughter of a former film prodigy, whose greatest achievements weren’t the boxed up Oscars in his work room, but raising Alice. I also imagine the pitch ended with an executive saying, “Not enough content. Why not make it a movie?”

The only thing missing from “Home Again” is a canned laugh track, applause and other phony audience reactions. The 97-minute sitcom has Alice, after a drunken night at the bar, take in three young go-getters looking to make it big in Hollywood. They remind me a lot of “Entourage” and I kind of hated that show. George (Jon Rudnitsky) seems to believe he’s the next Stanley Kubrick or Walt Whitman, Harry (Pico Alexander) wants to move beyond being a bit-part actor, and Teddy (Wolff) is the “big picture” man of the group, who smooths talks people like a skeevy used car salesman.

Problems arise when Teddy swoops in on Alice like a sexual predator of women going through a midlife crisis. George becomes upset because he believes he’s entitled to some nooky with Alice because he’s the “nice guy” and he seems frustrated that he’s been friend-zoned. As for Harry, he’s slight impartial, but ends up showing his true colors when he views himself as the shining armor brought in to protect Alice and her two children like a vicious Mother bird.

“Home Again” is barely kept alive by Witherspoon’s natural likability as well as her growth throughout the movie as a woman coping with the concept of becoming a single mom. Most movies would handle her shortcomings and struggles with grace and realism that creates a humanistic bond with the audience. Instead she makes a few speeches reminiscent of “Ally McBeal” and allows for the three-men living in her home to commit “Two and a Half Men” hijinks. “Home Again” is a boring copy and paste of common television dramedys.

Like any sitcom, the character’s emotions, feelings, and misunderstandings are hashed out in a brisk verbal manner. It seems all too easy for everyone to admit their flaws, apologize and hug it out like it’s a family night around on the television. Everyone just comes together like one big dysfunctional family and forgets all their squabbles. If you want to believe in a phony universe where four men pining for Alice’s emotional and sexual affection can break bread at a table in peace, that’s fine. But the unearned sappy mentality and rushed conflict resolution in “Home Again” is lazy.

Film Review: “IT”

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis and Bill Skarsgard
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 15 mins
New Line Cinema

Why do I hate clowns?

Could it be because one Saturday night, while eating dinner alone at a Pizza Hut, the evening entertainment was a clown? Asking if there was “anything else” she could do for me, I told the waitress to “keep the clown away from me.” She must have said something to Bozo because, before I could finish my salad, this red-nosed freak stood next to my table and announced, very loudly, “Hey everybody….this guy doesn’t like clowns.” He then led the kids in the restaurant in booing me. Hell, who am I kidding, he got the parents to boo me too. When I left I told the waitress that I had left her a nice tip but that I had seen the clown take it off the table!

Could it be that quiet afternoon in 1991 when I was visited at the theatre I managed by three clowns, all in full regalia, who warned me that if I played the movie “Shakes the Clown” there “could be trouble?” I told them I could handle trouble, I just didn’t want any “drive by pie-ings.” They stared blankly at me.

Or it’s possible it’s because a woman I dated and gave almost five years of my life to liked clowns immensely and then ripped my heart out. Works for me. This hatred (read “fear”) of clowns led me to completely ignore the 1990 television production of “IT.” However, I did watch it recently to prepare me for the movie, thinking if I know what’s going to happen I won’t react to the new film. Wrong!

As summer begins in the town of Derry, Maine school ends. The town is dotted with all kinds of kids, but not enough that no one notices when one turns up missing. We quickly meet Bill Denbrough (Lieberher) and his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Bill has made Georgie a paper boat to sail in the rain-swollen gutters outside. In order to make sure the boat will not sink, Bill sends Georgie to the cellar to get some wax to seal it. The cellar is a dark, foreboding place and Georgie hurries down and back in a flash. Pleased with himself, he soon finds himself chasing the boat down along the curb and watching it slide down into a storm drain. The boat is lost. Or is it? Georgie is surprised to be stared at by a pair of blood-shot eyes, attached to the white face of a friendly clown. Well, more like a non-friendly clown. One that likes to eat children!

Based on the popular novel by the master of horror himself, Stephen King, “IT” is a terrifying journey through childhood, one that doesn’t let the occasional “lost kid” go by unnoticed! A group of kids that calls themselves the Losers Club notice a lot. They are led by Bill, a slight boy with a stutter. The other members include Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the fat kid; Beverly Marsh (Lillis), the girl with the bad reputation; Richie (Finn Wolfhard), the smart aleck; Mike (Chosen Jacobs), whose only apparent malady in this town is that he is black; Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), the Jewish kid and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), the sickly one. Together these youngsters battle their childhood fears, a couple of JD thugs and a horrifying clown named Pennywise (Skarsgard) as they investigate the morbid history of Derry.

Why is this movie so damn scary? The cast. The filmmakers have assembled an amazing cast of young actors that perfectly fit each role. Each is pitch-perfect in his/her portrayal and you can’t help but see the film (and the horror in if) through their eyes. And Skarsgard is a revelation! With minimal dialogue and eyes that dart wildly, his Pennywise is up there with Hannibal Lecter and Heath Ledger’s Joker in the movie villain Hall of Fame. A warning to those who only remember the television production: this is a violent film. Very dark for a King adaptation, though I’ve been warned that the novel, which I may or may not attempt to read, is even darker. And that’s no joke!

Blu-ray Review: “Hype!” Collectors Edition

“Hype!” Collector’s Edition
Director: Doug Pray
Rating: Not Rated
Shout Factory!
Run Time: 83 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras: 4 out of 5 stars

Revisit the documentary that dropped viewers into the Pacific Northwest in the early ‘90s and showcased a vibrant underground music scene which eventually exploded into the global “grunge” media frenzy. “Hype!” follows the music from local bands playing for their friends, to Sub Pop Record’s brilliant exploitation of “the Seattle Sound,” to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hitting #1 on the charts. 20 years after the films initial release “Hype!” returns for its first ever release on DVD and BluRay and included with the film are a new series of interviews, audio commentary and vintage performances which give fans of the film something extra to enjoy.

Around 20 years ago the world was first exposed the music phenomenon that would eventually be dubbed “grunge”. “Hype!” captures the story of the genres early roots and formation through a variety of interviews with bands like MonoMen, Melvins, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam along with many others who help solidify the sound of an era. The first thing that jumped out for me was how great the film looked as the audio and video look fresh while still retaining the grittiest of the original format. Where the release really shined for me was in the special features section which includes a retrospective segment titled “Hype! 20 Years After” which features new interviews with a number of the bands and people featured in the original film. There are also some cool vintage interviews and performances that really brought back memories of growing up during this time.

If you have never seen “Hype!” now is your chance as you will get to see not only the original film but a ton of extra footage which was really adds to the release. Though the film echoes the sentiments of a scene that is now far removed it serves a near perfect time piece of what things were like just prior to invention of the internet and digital media.

Film Review: “Goon: Last of the Enforcers”

Starring: Seann William Scott, Wyatt Russell and Liev Schreiber
Directed by: Jay Baruchel
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 41 mins
Momentum Pictures

In 2011, a small budget comedy written by actor Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen’s long-tine partner, Evan Goldberg, called “Goon” attracted itself a small following. The story of Doug Glatt, a man whose IQ level is so low it leads him to become an enforcer in pro hockey, had its funny moments. Not sure if anyone was clamoring for a sequel but one has arrived. And it’s not too bad.

The NHL is on strike, which means more attention is being paid to the minor league teams, including Halifax Highlanders. Doug (Scott) is now the team’s captain, and each night he leads them onto the ice. He also leads the team in penalty minutes. It seems Doug is still a goon – picking a fight with anyone he sees. However this year things have changed. There’s a new black-hat in the league, Anders Cain (Russell) who is not only big and bad but is the son of the Highlander’s team owner. One night out on the ice Doug and Anders throw down, with Doug being seriously injured. With a new wife and a baby on the way, Doug decides to retire, thinking he can skate away from the game he loves. But it’s never easy to walk away.

Well cast and smartly written, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers” is built on different relationships. Doug and his teammates. Doug and his wife. Anders and his father. They all play a part in the story. And the cast help pull these relationships off. Scott has always been able to play the dense guy who just doesn’t get it but here he give Doug (or, as he signs his name, “Dug”) a quiet sweetness that keeps you rooting for him. And as much as you want to hate him, you also quietly root for Anders. It’s obvious that he’s only playing the game the way he does to earn some recognition from his father, a one-time hockey star. The violence he dispenses is his way of asking for attention. I had the opportunity to meet Wyatt Russell last year and he is a pretty good sized guy. He was also a hockey player (he was a goalie) so I can imagine it was fun for him to be outside the pipes and facing off on the ice. Schreiber seems to be having fun with his role as former enforcer Ross Rhea who, like Doug, finds himself reliving the old days by participating in local “hockey nights.” It should be noted that no hockey is played at these events. It’s just fighting match-ups, with the winner moving on to the next guy.

First-time feature director Baruchel shows a keen eye for keeping the film moving and his cameras have managed to capture the best part of ice hockey – the speed in which the game flows.

If I have a problem with the film it’s with the amount of blood that is shed during the on-ice battles. Most hockey fights consist of one guy grabbing another guy’s sweater, pulling it up over his head and giving him a few shots to the head. Those pale in comparison to the violence here, where teeth are lost and gallons of blood are spilled. Oh, and also TJ. Miller has an unfunny, recurring gig as a “Sportcenter” style host. I wish I knew who in Hollywood he had naked pictures of because I’d steal them back and return them if it meant I never had to endure him again in a film.

DVD Review “Killing Hasselhoff”

Actors: Ken Jeong, David Hasselhoff, Jim Jefferies, Rhys Darby, Jon Lovitz
Directors: Darren Grant
Rated: R
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: August 29, 2017
Run Time: 81 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 1 out of 5 stars

With a tagline like “Don’t Hassel the Hoff”, you know what your in store for with your picking up “Killing Hasselhoff”. David Hasselhoff has sunken into a very sweet spot in Hollywood. He has been playing off the camp sort of like Chuck Norris and his book of facts. Hasselhoff has been popping up everywhere like the new “Baywatch” remake and even “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol.2”. The film is what it is. If you love Hasselhoff then this is for you if not then I would steer clear.

Official Premise: Ken Jeong (The Hangover) and David Hasselhoff (Baywatch) star in the most hilarious and outrageous comedy of the year. When a struggling nightclub owner (Jeong) fails to pay back a loan shark, he decides the only way to get the money is to kill his pick in an annual “Who Will Die This Year” celebrity death pool: David Hasselhoff. But the task is not so easy – especially when your target is The Hoff.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has delivered “Killing Hasselhoff” on DVD only, no Blu-ray. There is no Digital HD copy included and only a few deleted scenes for special features…but this DVD is also very cheap under $10, so I guess it balances out. Seriously though, how much does it cost them to include a digital copy these days?

Blu-ray Review “First Kill”

Actors: Bruce Willis, Hayden Christiansen, Ty Shelton, Gethin Anthony, William DeMeo
Directors: Steven C. Miller
Rated: R
Studio: LIONSGATE
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Run Time: 102 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

Director Steven C. Miller has blown up recently taking over the direct-to-video action film world. He has also worked with “First Kill” star Bruce Wills for the third time in the last two years after “Extraction” (2015) and “Marauders” (2016). The film has it moments and I really dig Miller’s style of directing. Willis is always good (even though he feels like he’s sleepwalking in this a bit) but I can’t get into Christiansen. I will let this fall into the low budget action flicks that are not great but also if you accept them for what they are, overall it ends up working.

Official Premise: In order to reconnect with his son, a Wall Street broker takes his family to the cabin where he grew up for a hunting trip. But the trip takes a deadly turn when they become entangled in a heist gone bad that results in the broker’s son Danny, being kidnapped, forcing his father to recover the stolen loot in exchange for Danny’s life.

Lionsgate delivers “First Kill” as a combo pack with a Blu-ray and Digital HD copy included. The film is definitely low budget but the 1080p transfer is still sharp and looks like it was shot on a much bigger scale, due to Miller’s skills. The special features include a solid Director’s Commentary track, which is worth checking out. There are also a featurette for “Behind the Scenes of First Kill” as well as Extended Cast/Crew Interviews and a few
Deleted Scenes included.

Blu-ray Review “All Eyez On Me”

Actors: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Dominic L. Santana, Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan
Directors: Benny Boom
Rated: R
Studio: LIONSGATE
DVD Release Date: September 5, 2017
Run Time: 140 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Cashing in on the success of “Straight Outta Compton”, we get “All Eyez on Me” which focuses on the life of Tupac Shakur but fails to hit the same level that “Compton” achieved. When the film came out I read a review saying that this was a “Wikipedia biopic” that doesn’t give any new life or deliver anything interesting outside of what we know about the late rapper. Worth check out if you are a hardcore fan but overall it is way too long and even though Demetrius Shipp Jr. is a bizarre spitting image of Tupac, it didn’t blow me away.

Official Premise: Newcomer Demetrius Shipp, Jr. stars as the legendary Tupac Shakur in this powerful, true, and untold story of the rapper, actor, poet, and activist – from his early days in New York City to his evolution into a cultural icon whose legacy continues to grow long after his untimely death at the age of twenty-five.

“All Eyez on Me” also features a “The Walking Dead” reunion with current star Lauren Cohan and Danai Gurira. Lionsgate is releasing this film as a combo pack with Blu-ray + Digital HD copy included. The 1080p transfer is solid and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers with the musical background of the film. Special features on this include three featurettes that are short but deliver some solid info as well as a few deleted scenes and Demetrius Shipp, Jr’s audition tape.

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