Blu-ray Review “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”

Starring: Vin Diesel, Nina Dobrev, Samuel L. Jackson, Donnie Yen, Ruby Rose, Toni Collette
Director: D.J. Caruso
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Paramount
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Run Time: 96 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

Vin Diesel is a man that does not give up. The film “Pitch Black” was a good film that was turned into a mediocre franchise. “The Fast and Furious” was a film that was great and turned into a global phenomenon that normally wouldn’t have had more than one film. Same goes with “xXx”. The book should have been closed after the second film, yet here we are with another installment riding on the popularity of Vin Diesel. The film is honestly crap, no joke, there are some cool action scenes but literally this doesn’t have the power of Diesel’s “Fast and Furious” franchise, which was probably the hopes here. Worth watching for a laugh but otherwise nothing smart of that this third sequel at all and I have a feeling unfortunately we haven’t seen the end of Xander Cage.

Official Premise: The third explosive chapter of the blockbuster franchise that redefined the spy thriller finds extreme athlete turned government operative Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) coming out of self-imposed exile and on a collision course with deadly alpha warrior Xiang and his team in a race to recover a sinister and seemingly unstoppable weapon known as Pandora’s Box. Recruiting an all-new group of thrill-seeking cohorts, Xander finds himself enmeshed in a deadly conspiracy that points to collusion at the highest levels of world governments.

Paramount is releasing this film as a combo pack with Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD copy included. The 1080p transfer is near flawless. This film is definitely beautiful to look at and shows off its beautiful shooting locations quite well. The audio on this Blu-ray is also near perfect with both a Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 tracks included. These tracks are amazing with the action in the film and really shake the walls, no questions.

The special features are decent and worth checking out if you loved the film but otherwise not much here other than four featurettes and a gag reel. The first featurette focuses on bringing back the franchise to live in “Third Time’s the Charm: Xander Returns”. Since this film is basically made for an international market, “Rebels, Tyrants & Ghosts: The Cast” looks at the new cast brought in to sweeten the deal. “Opening Pandora’s Box: On Location” showcases the snazzy locations where this film was shot. Lastly, the highlight of the film is it stunts and the last featurette focuses on those in “I Live for This Sh#t!: Stunts”.

Concert Review: “Weird Al Yankovic’s “Return of Mandatory Fun Tour”

Weird Al Yankovic
Date: August 8th, 2016
Venue: Starlight Theater

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

If there was ever music icon that demanded your undivided attention at a concert, it is Weird Al Yankovic. His performance is a full-sensory experience. Obviously it’s a visual and audible treat for those who show up in tin foil hats, polka pants, Amish attire, or whatever reference they can make to the musician’s 40-year career. But Weird Al incorporates more theatrics into one show than most bands do throughout an entire tour.

The concert begins via jumbotron, displaying crusty black and white propaganda video repeating the phrase, “Mandatory Fun”, the title of Weird Al’s last album. We then cut to Weird Al’s his tour bus where he appears singing “Tacky”. Shoving show extras out of his way and teasing the audience with what’s to come as he enters the Starlight seating area, he comically drifts to the stage through elaborate cheesy dance moves. It doesn’t take the comedy king of polka to bust out the accordion or the new songs that helped him land at #1 on the Billboard Top 40 last year.

Because each song parodies a song or specific style of a band, this is a concert requiring a costume change in between nearly every song during the two-hour show. In between songs like “Fat”, “White and Nerdy” and “Foil” are pieced together video clips highlighting the pop-culture relevance of Weird Al. Everything from his appearance in the “Naked Gun” movies to his vocal talents being utilized on contemporary cartoon favorites like “My Little Pony”. For fans old and new, the clips are a relentless sampling of his lengthy relevance and influence in society.

The seemingly one man show is joined on stage by his bandmates, who match his intensity, comedic timing and quirks. The madcap nature of Weird Al is matched by everyone, even the stage hands who have to awkwardly stand and hold a harmonica during “Ode to a Superhero” or the intentionally unenthusiastic cheerleaders during “Smells Like Nirvana”. The dedication to the surreal nature of it all reaches its peak during the encore. During “Yoda” the band stops playing their instruments and becomes a choir of cartoon sound effects and madcap a capella.

Every song played that night was a unique and unforgettable memory for fans, even the moments of parody medley. Weird Al spends a solid 15 minutes cramming in 10 shorted songs to better cram in his lengthy catalogue of memorable parodies to please every concertgoer. There are even a handful of songs that can be viewed as interactive, on the audiences end and Weird Al’s end. My review could have easily been a recap of every wonderfully joyous moment experienced in each song.

Having seen him live 15 years ago, it’s impressive to see the same energy, if not more. There are signs of age in that jester smile and silly grimace that he flashes, possibly worrying fans that he may be nearing the end of his rich career. I highly doubt the man who truly loves entertaining the nerdy masses is going to retire anytime soon. But on the off-chance he’s getting closer to hanging up the accordion, do yourself a favor and see him now, and often.

Set List:
Tacky
2.) Lame Claim to Fame
3.) Now That’s What I Call Polka!
4.) Perform This Way
5.) Dare to Be Stupid
6.) Fat
7.) First World Problems
8.) Foil
9.) Smells Like Nirvana
10.) Party in the CIA/ It’s All About the Pentiums/ Handy/ Bedrock Anthem/ Another One Rides the Bus/ Ode to a Superhero/ Gump/ Inactive/ eBay
11.) Canadian Idiot
12.) Wanna B Ur Lovr
13.) Eat It/ I Lost on Jeopardy/ I Love Rocky Road/ Like a Surgeon (Acoustic)
14.) White and Nerdy
15.) Word Crimes
16.) Amish Paradise
ENCORE
17.) We All Have Cellphones
18.) The Saga Begins
19.) Yoda

Ballers set to return this summer

Dwayne Johnson is back as the ex-NFL star striving to find success off the pitch as a financial manager for the biggest “Ballers” in Miami. The hit HBO show will return this summer and promises to be bigger and better than before. The first season of the show received widespread critical acclaim, with a rather impressive 80% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and the premier for the new season is due to be screened on July 17.

To those unfamiliar with the show, you don’t need to be a football fan to be able to get into it. In fact, it is only loosely based on the actual sport, and instead has greater focus on the lives and conflicts surrounding players, agents and managers. As it is set in Miami, the Miami Dolphins are a primary focus in the series. The Dolphins are well known globally, and have appeared on screen before in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”. However, their fortunes on the field have not been so impressive of late and, at the time of writing, in the Bet365 NFL odds they are 50/1 to win the Super Bowl.

The finale of season one of “Ballers” brought closure to a number of conflicts, but also planted seeds for new potential storylines. Wide receiver Ricky Jerret (John David Washington) called out his absentee father in a news broadcast. However, his father insisted he had done the right thing in deserting him at an early age, as it stirred up anger and emotions in his son that ended up making him a ferocious force on the field of play.

We also witnessed the return of Vernon’s cousin, Reggie (London Brown). As a massive troublemaker, Reggie is one of the most hated characters on the show. Some Reddit users on a “I Hate Reggie” thread have even suggested that Johnson should use his famous wrestling move, “the Rock Bottom”, on Reggie in the show. In the season finale though, Reggie was seemingly able to put his ego aside when he admitted that Johnson’s character, Spencer Strasmore, knew best. However, we will have to wait and see if this is just part of a play.

The tagline for the new season is “You’re no one until you have enemies”, with Andy Garcia playing the enemy in question. Bringing in a powerhouse actor that has taken on major roles in “The Untouchables” and “The Godfather Part III”, among other massive hits, could boost ratings significantly. Garcia’s character is the biggest powerhouse in the game, and Strasmore is warned not to cross him. However, it seems unlikely that Strasmore will heed this advice, and it could come down to an epic showdown between the two.  Judging from the trailer for the new season (see above), there should be plenty of humor, action and fast cars. All of this, along with another set of compelling storylines, means the second installment should be as well-received as the debut season.

Director Jon Cassar Talks About His New Film, “Forsaken” and the Possible Return of “24”

You may know the name Jon Cassar from his Emmy Award winning association with the popular television series, “24.” But when he’s not putting Jack Bauer through his paces, he’s taking the reigns of one of the best Westerns of the past decade.

“Forsaken,” which Mr. Cassar directed, boasts a strong script and an even stronger cast, including Donald and Keifer Sutherland, who star as father and son. Mr. Cassar took some time out to talk to me about “Forsaken,” the return of the Kennedys and what may be next for “24.”

MIKE SMITH: What attracted you to “Forsaken?”
JON CASSAR: Actually I was there when the project was born. A few of us were sitting around on the set of “24” talking, waiting to set up a shot when we started asking each other, ‘what would be a great thing to do once “24” ends?’ Eventually we all decided, ‘let’s do a Western together.’ So that’s really where it started. Once we decided on that Keifer came along. He wanted to do a film with his father so everything just worked. I’m happy to say that I was there at the inception. We got a brilliant writer (Brad Mirman) who not only wrote us a classic Western but also a touching father/son story. So by then I had Keifer, I had a great script and THEN I get Donald Sutherland? There’s no way I wasn’t going to be involved!

MS: Any trepidations about taking on a Western? They seem to be so hit and miss these days.
JC: Yeah, of course. I mean you do worry about it. I mean at one point it was the most popular film genre’. The most popular television genre’ also. I mean, it’s amazing how many popular television shows were Westerns. But it did, of course, begin to fall out of favor, all though it is making a little bitty comeback over the past few months. But you’re right. But I knew I had a great Western story. And I knew I had a great father/son story that people could connect with. I knew that relationship was really the heart of it and if we did it right I knew if would connect. And it’s fun doing something that isn’t a true CGI film. It’s fun doing something where the effects are more simple.

MS: What was it like as an observer to watch Keifer and his father work together?
JC: It was great. I’m very fortunate to have had a front row seat to watch Keifer and Donald working together. From the first time it was fantastic. They are both veteran actors and, in my opinion, two of the best actors of our time. To watch them work together was a pleasure. As it was watching all of the actors. Demi Moore. Brian Cox. Michael Wincott. They are all so experienced. I was very lucky to have a front row seat and watch them work.

MS: Keifer. Michael Wincott. Greg Ellis. You used quite a few of your “24” company in the film. Was that because you already had a good familiarity with them and their work?
JC: Absolutely. First of all, you have to know that all of the actors in the film were basically my friends. I didn’t have a studio dictating who was going to play what part. We actually got to pick who we liked. A lot of them were Keifer’s friends. And of course, by having done “24,” they knew me so it made the connection easier for sure.

MS; The recent return of “24” was very successful. I’ve heard rumors that Fox is considering re-booting the show. Is that something you plan to be involved with?
JC: Nothing is official yet. I am involved and we have talked. I can say that if it goes forward I won’t be involved in the pilot but I do hope to be involved in the series. However, at this point I’m not.

MS: What else are you working on now?
JC: A few years ago I did a mini-series called “The Kennedys,” which was an eight-part mini-series that starred Greg Kinnear as JFK and Katie Holmes as Jackie. We’re doing a sequel to that, called “After Camelot,” based on a book. It will deal with what happened to the Kennedys after John and Robert died. It’s mostly the Jackie story and it follow her during her marriage to Onassis as well as John Jr. and Ted Kennedy. It will encompass all of that history. We shoot that soon in Toronto. It will run on the Reelz Channel. It’s actually a fun project for me to do because we’re re-creating all of the history that we all grew up with.

E.G. Daily talks about NBC’s “The Voice” and the return of “The Powerpuff Girls”

You might not known E.G. Daily’s face but you definitely know her voice since she has voiced numerous animated characters including Tommy Pickles in “Rugrats”. She is also known for her role of Dottie in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”. Besides acting, she is also a singer and was a contestant on season five of NBC’s “The Voice” with Team Blake. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with E.G. about her experience on the show and the return of “The Powerpuff Girls”.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about how you decided to audition for NBC’s “The Voice”?
E.G. Daily: I’ve been hosting an online music show called “Balcony TV”, which I got to sing on. After I did a few of them, the same person that contacted me for that told me that she got me an audition for “The Voice”. I didn’t think that they would have me on that show due to my career to date. I went in just for fun and prepared three cover songs. The next thing I know I got a call back. There is a 50,000 people process for this show. So over months and months I kept being called back for the next audition and the next audition and finally I got asked to do the blind audition, which was down to the final 150 people. It was a very incredible process. I don’t know how it happened. I was just doing what I loved and the next thing I know I was singing “Breath” in front of America.

MG: Tell us about the highlight for you on the show?
EGD: I have to say it was singing “Breathe” on my blind audition since that was such a magical moment for me. I went months and months of not knowing anything and putting myself on the line and to actually get a chance to be on a team with these talent artists was amazing. You can see it on my face as well if you watch that performance (see below for video), I was like “Wow, this is crazy”.

MG: How do you feel about the finale results for season 5?
EGD: Tessanne (Chin) was actually my roommate, so I have so much love for her. All of them, I was close with Jacquie and her mother as well. I think Tessanne is such a solid human being, has such a beautiful soul and is such a great singer. I am very happy and proud for her.

MG: Tell us about what we can expect for return of “The Powerpuff Girls” in 2014?
EGD: I can’t say much about it because that it is a special episode and premieres on January 20th. I have done a couple of special things for “The Powerpuff Girls”, but I can’t say what they are besides that it is going to be really cool. The fans are going nutty about it and I think it is going to be really great. This could be the launch of a lot of things for “The Powerpuff Girls” since fans are very hungry for more of that show.

MG: What else do you have planned for 2014?
EGD: I have been in the studio a lot recently. If you look up E.G. Daily on iTunes, there is tons of great music available right now. There is a record I put out there a while back called “Tearing Down the Walls” that is so beautiful. There is a recent video out there called “Somebody’s Loving You”, which is great. I am recording some new songs right now that I will be putting up soon as well. I have a trip planned to the East Coast in the beginning of next year for a personal appearance. I also have a ton of animation like “Julius Jr.” which is coming to Nick Jr. next year. I am have super busy and it has been awesome. So a lot of great things coming up and be sure to check egdaily.com for all upcoming news.

Blu-ray Review “Peter Pan: Return to Never Land”

Actors: Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton, Kath Soucie, Harriet Owen, Jeff Bennett
Directors: Robin Rudd
Rated: G (General Audience)
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Run Time: 72 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2 out of 5 stars

Like the recently released “Planes”, “Return to Never Land” is a direct-to-video movie that was released in theaters back in 2002. I remember seeing it in theaters back then and actually quite enjoying it. The film is a direct sequel to 1953’s “Peter Pan” arriving nearly 50 years later. “Peter Pan” is easily one of my favorite Disney films ever, so this film has big shoes to fill. “Return to Never Land” does deliver though. It is not perfect but it is fun, packed some good jokes and has that same charm that we all loved from “Peter Pan”. It just makes you feel like a kid again while watching it. With the success of Disney Junior’s “Jake and the Never Land Pirates”, this would be great for today’s kids that weren’t born yet when this came out.

Official Premise: Let your imagination soar as your favorite characters from Peter Pan, Disney’s classic adventure, return to Never Land. Now, for the first time through the magic of Blu-ray, experience all the thrilling action with digitally restored picture and spine-tingling high-definition sound. Wendy’s very practical and no-nonsense daughter, Jane, begins the adventure of a lifetime when the infamous Captain Hook whisks her away to the enchanted island of Never Land. It’s up to Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys to help Jane believe in faith, trust and pixie dust. With the first-ever Lost Girl at his side, will Peter Pan finally defeat Hook and his swashbuckling band of pirates? Share the power of believing with your family in Return To Never Land—now more spectacular than ever on Disney Blu-ray.

Disney is releasing this film as a Special Edition combo pack with a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy. I love that Disney has switched from just iTunes digital copies to streaming digital copies from Vudu and Amazon.  The 1080p transfer looks really amazing with this film.  Even though it has that certain direct-to-video look, Disney did a great job of giving this film a nice polish job. Same goes for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.  It works well the dialogue, the soaring through the sky, as well the action including the sword fights and all other aspects of swashbuckling.

Unlike the film, the special features are not very impressive. There are give deleted scenes included presented in various stages of the production but mostly in storyboards. Thought it might not excite many people, I watch Disney Junior quite a bit with our 15 month old daughter and she goes absolutely crazy for the “Pixie Previews” with the crew from the Tinker Bell movies.  So even though it is not directly related to “Return to Neverland”, I am pretty excited to see the five animated shorts including “Hide and Tink,” “Dust Up,” “Shooting Stars,” “Volley Bug” and “Just Desserts”. Lastly, there is a music video for the song “I’ll Try” performed by Jonatha Brooke and some trailers included.

Blu-ray Review “Atlantis: The Lost Empire / Atlantis: Milo’s Return”

Actors: Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, Don Novello, Claudia Christian
Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Number of discs: 3
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Walt Disney Home Video
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Run Time: 176 minutes

“Atlantis: The Lost Empire”: 3 out of 5 stars
“Atlantis: Milo’s Return”: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

Last year Disney started flooding the market with their less than par animated films on Blu-ray in these 2 Movie Collection sets. A few of them that we got “The Rescuers”/”The Rescuers Down Under”, “Pocahontas”/Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World” and “Mulan”/”Mulan II”. This month we are getting a few more to add to our collections including “The Emperor’s New Groove”/”Kronk’s New Groove”, “Lilo & Stitch”/”Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch” and this release “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”/”Atlantis 2: Milo’s Return”. “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” is not the best thing that Disney has every made, it is watchable and put not one of my favorites.  The sequel is another story, it was original made as a TV show “Team Atlantis” but failed and ended up being pieced together as a film. It is quite the failure in terms of Disney. I would say this release is for the hardcore Disney fans only.

Official Premise: Set a course for adventure as Milo Thatch and his fearless crew dive into the mysteries of the sea.  The group’s underwater expedition brings them face-to-face with gigantic sea monsters, spectacular spirits and the mythical land of Atlantis while they discover the power of friendship and teamwork.  Loaded with thrills and stunning visual effects, this sensational 2-Movie Collection takes audiences on an unforgettable voyage they’ll want to experience over and over again!

The 2-Movie Collection release of “Atlantis: The Lost Empire / Atlantis: Milo’s Return” is a 3-disc set. Which includes both films on one Blu-ray with each film also included on their own DVD. In terms of Blu-ray presentation, the 1080p transfers are great for “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”, which really looks clear and the colors are beautiful. “Atlantis: Milo’s Return” is not the greatest, especially since it really has that made-for-TV feel to it. Just doesn’t work for me overall. Both films come stocked with a standard, yet impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio tracks, same thing applies here also as the video transfer. The first film sounds stunning and very epic, while the sequel does not reach that same level at all. Decent but no wow factor.

The best thing this Blu-ray has going for it that “The Emperor’s New Groove”/”Kronk’s New Groove” and “Lilo & Stitch”/”Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch” doesn’t is that it actually has special features on the Blu-ray disc. There is an audio commentary on the first film from producer Don Hahn and directors Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise.  I actually thought it was quite interesting and informational. “The Making of Atlantis” is a sweet hour long extensive ten-part documentary, which covers all aspects of the production. “The Lost Empire Deleted Scenes” includes four unused scenes. There is one deleted scene from “Milo’s Return” running thirty-two seconds long…really? Lastly there is “How to Speak Atlantean” as a faux news reel, “Atlantis: Fact or Fiction?”, which is fun for the kids and Theatrical Trailers included.

Dylan McDermott talks about his dark return in “American Horror Story: Asylum”

Connecticut born, Dylan McDermott was encouraged by his playwright step-mother to pursue acting as a career. He began his career on stage, doing both Regional Theater and Broadway, and made his film debut in the Vietnam War film “Hamburger Hill.” His first major role was that of Jackson Latcherie, husband to the doomed Shelby in “Steel Magnolias.” In 1993 he got his first major role, that of Clint Eastwood’s partner in the Secret Service themed film “In the Line of Fire.” Starring roles in films such as “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Home for the Holidays” and “Wonderland” followed. In 1997 he began a long run on the Emmy Award winning series “The Practice,” winning a Golden Globe for his work on the show as well as an Emmy nomination. He also headlined series like “Big Shots” and “Dark Blue” and now, after appearing last year, he re-appears on the critically acclaimed “American Horror Story: Asylum.” While preparing for a new story arc on the show McDermott took the time to speak with Media Mikes about his work on the show, what scares him and the difference between appearing in a remake or a sequel.

Mike Smith: What is the strangest thing that has happened to you on set, or personally, from doing this show.
Dylan McDermott: Well, I mean if you watched all the episodes, you know that I’ve had to do some strange things clearly, but that was part of the ride when I talked to Ryan [creator Ryan Murphy] about this show. Obviously the cry baiting and walking around naked, and now I’m playing a serial killer, is all in terms of doing American Horror Story, this is what comes with the dinner. So you just have to be up for it.

MS: As a show that not only really stretches your acting abilities but part of your personal fear factor is there any one fear that you would like to try to conquer by doing this show?
DM: Well, I think if you had any fears , you’d better not have them walking into this show because all your personal things are public. So I think that you really have to be not too shy to do a show like this, let me just put it that way.

MS: Can you tell us a little bit about your character and where you hope he ends up at the end of the season.
DM: Well, he’s obviously a troubled man, so where I hope he goes and where he goes are two different places But I think he’s got a sole purpose in life and really that is, he feels so scorned by his mother. Everything is about his mother. The reason he’s doing all these horrible things is because he was rejected so harshly by his mother, obviously aborted. His father was a serial killer. His mother aborted him and he still lives. So his whole trajectory in life is really about her.

MS: Can you give us a breakdown as to how you got involved in this show again? Were you looking to come back and what happened? Did Ryan give you a call and say, listen, I’ve got this sick, twisted character that I want you to play?
DM: Yes, we talked in the summer and he said he was looking for something for me to come back. I wanted to come back and we weren’t sure in what capacity. Then the day the show aired, he called me and said he wanted me to come back as the son of ‘Bloody Face,’ the modern day ‘Bloody Face.’ He just told me; I hadn’t read any of the script, so I knew nothing about it. It was sort of a blind call. When he told me the story of it, I was just like flabbergasted. I mean, I couldn’t get—because it was just so horrendous how this guy would survive and what he would become and who he was. I was just fascinated by him. It was so different from, obviously, ‘Ben Harmon,’ to come back to this same show with a different character. I just thought it was a great way to make television completely different from anything you see on television, because when do you get to play different characters on the same show.?

MS: Without giving too much away, can you tell us how many more episodes you’re going to be appearing in?
DM: I will be, I believe, in the next three out of four.

MS: I realize it’s early yet, but could you see yourself coming back for the third series, if Ryan came up with another big idea for you?
DM: Yes, I mean I love this show. I just think it’s just really—if I wasn’t on the show, I’d be watching it; so I’m a fan of this show as much as an actor on the show. So whatever—like I said before, I really trust Ryan and he has a great instinct with me. If he asks me to come back on, of course.

MS: Do you have a favorite type of horror story?
DM: I do like the Polanski stuff more than anything else. I mean, “Rosemary’s Baby” is still one of my favorite movies of all time. The idea of her being impregnated with the devil and all that stuff is just like so frightening and being in New York at The Dakota, it’s so scary. I’m going to work on a movie, actually, in February, called “Mercy from Jason” and there is a similar theme to “Rosemary’s Baby” in the movie. So somewhere I am attracted to that in a strange way, so that does scare me; the sort of demon baby, more than anything else. Like we had in the first season of American Horror.

MS: Since you like psychological thrillers a lot…the whole demon baby aspect, would you ever consider doing a remake of “Rosemary’s Baby?”
DM: No, because that’s a great movie. I don’t think you can—it’s like remaking “Psycho.” You can’t. Some movies you just can’t remake and that certainly is one of them. Some things should be just left alone—maybe the sequel to “Rosemary’s Baby,” but not the remake.

Erik Bauersfeld talks about voicing Admiral Akbar and Bib Fortuna in “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”

Erik Bauersfeld is the voice behind great characters like Admiral Akbar and Bib Fortuna in “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”. He is uncredited in the film and his iconic roles took only around an hour to record. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Erik about his roles and reflects on their longevity with fans.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you end up providing the voices of Admiral Akbar and Bib Fortuna in “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”?
Erik Bauersfeld: It was chance…almost a mistake. I worked with Randy Thom at LucasFilm. We have worked together for many, many years now doing radio drama. We were at the Ranch working, when I was simply asked if I wanted to do some voices for “Star Wars”. Now, I knew nothing about “Star Wars” and wasn’t that interested.But I went in to do it anyway and it was just Ben Burtt and some sound people in the room. They asked me to do a voice for Admiral Akbar. I asked for a picture and I said “Well, he’s a fish?” [laughs]. I gave his voice a sound like he has a little bit of water in his mouth. Only took a few minutes really. Then they asked me to do another one for a character named Bib Fortuna, which was in Huttese, which was a completely made up language. I asked for picture again. I gave them a voice and then simply went back to work. About an hour later, they came to me and said George (Lucas) liked both of them and they wanted to use me. I also was asked to do a voice for Yoda. I gave them a voice, George liked it but it went back and forth for months. Frank Oz had ended up doing the part, obviously, so I guess they got what they wanted. So that is the whole story.

MG: How did you come up with the voice Akbar?
EB: I have a simple answer. I have been in radio for over 25 years and I do voices every day. I look at a picture of a character or read a story and I can easily tell what the character is like. It just came to me and that is all.

MG: How was it speaking in Hutt language for Fortuna?
EB: I don’t remember it being difficult. I didn’t really have much to say. I think Ben Burtt said the lines and I just repeated them with my interpretations. I had no idea what that big thing on his neck was though. Someone asked me about that and when I looked at the picture, I said “I think there is an elephant standing behind him”. Of course he has other reasons obviously, but I always found that answer funny.

MG: Can you reflect on the following that Admiral Akbar has acquired with his line “It’s a Trap”?
EB: I am surprised. It is a real surprise to me. They give me so much credit that I feel that I don’t deserve. They even have toys now that you push the plush doll and it comes out with “It’s a Trap”, which is my voice. Of course I never see any money from those.

MG: Overall, how long did it take to record the roles?
EB: It took probably about a half an hour the first time. Then I went back and did a few more takes. So it didn’t come to much more than an hour or an hour and a half at most.

MG: Why did you end up getting uncredited for the roles?
EB: When I did the voices or the recordings, the screen credits has already been  made and designed. So I never got any screen credit for voicing Akbar and Fortuna. I didn’t care at the time. I was busy working other projects. What ended up happening was that a whole new generation of fans started collecting autographs for the cast members of “Star Wars”. I got requests for autographs from fathers that were children at the time when they saw it. Now they are sending pictures asking for autographs for their own children. So all these fans found out they didn’t have a character’s voice for “Star Wars” and that was Admiral Akbar, since it wasn’t voiced by Tim Rose. The requests began to reach me and I got flooded with mail asking for my autograph. Now I am working with Coolwater Productions to assist in handling all these requests.

MG: When was the last time you have seen “Return of the Jedi”?
EB: I think the last time I saw it was in theaters. My parents were always suspicious of what I was doing in California, since they were in New York. When they opened “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” in Forest Hills, Queens, I told them I would take them to the movies to see what I have been doing. Before the movie started, I told them I would nudge them when I came on the screen. So, when Akbar came on the screen, I whispered “Mom, that’s me”. She turned back at me and said back “Shhhhhhhhh”. So that was the ultimate acclaim that I got for doing “Star Wars” [laughs]. But at least they loved the picture. That was probably the last time I saw it. In fact, I don’t even think I have seen all the others ones as well. I was working a lot on my radio drama, which has keep me extremely busy over the years.

Tim Rose talks about puppeting Admiral Ackbar in “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” and working with Jim Henson

Tim Rose is best known for his his work in “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” playing Admiral Ackbar, Sy Snootles and Salacious Crumb. Tim has also worked with Jim Henson on projects like “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Tim on this film work and reflect on his cult fandom with Admiral Ackbar.

Mike Gencarelli: How can you reflect on the fan base behind your role of Admiral Ackbar?
Tim Rose: When you create one of these characters you have to work 14hr days, sacrifice your home life, and get paid very poorly by you Masters. My reward comes at the Conventions when I get to see just how many people, “my silly little playing with dolls” has managed to touch and communicate with.

MG: Was the costume easy to work with during shooting “Return of the Jedi”?
TS: Compared to some of the prosthetic characters that can take up to 5 hours to get into, mine was a doddle, just a simple mask to pull over my head. And when my body temperature got to 100f, just as easy to pull back off again.

MG: Why did you end up not voicing the character? TS: When you are inside the character, the recorded sound of your performance is too muffled. It’s good enough as a guide track to get the sinq right, but not as final performance. I lived in England and the film was edited at ILM. They never would have paid for me to fly all the way out there for 2 hours work in a dubbing studio.

MG: Do you still get asked to say “It’s a Trap” at conventions?
TS: Only, ALL THE TIME!

MG: Besides your own, who is your favorite “Star Wars” character in the saga?
TS: Pre CGI Yoda of course, I learned everything I know from the master. (Frank Oz)

MG: From “Star Wars” to Jim Henson, can you reflect work on such classic films as “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal”?
TS: “Dark Crystal” had a four year pre-production, that had never happened before or since. Four years of getting paid to play in the worlds best toy shop, creating the dreams of Jim Henson. Because he was a performer himself, he insisted that every thing he made be an instrument that a puppeteer could play. Three quarters of what is made today is a torture chamber that a performer has to endure if they wish to get paid.

MG: How does a puppeteer still stand prevalent in a world of CGI efforts?
TS: Animatronics is much more restricted in what it can visualize than CGI. But it can offer ten times the dramatic interaction on set, the ability to create a magic moment on screen that was never in the original script, and do it all at one quarter the cost of CGI. Producers are slowly beginning to realize this.

MG: What would happen if Admiral Ackbar, Sy Snootles and Salacious Crumb where all in a room together?
TS: The Admiral would be having his afternoon nap. Sy would be looking for the nearest exit to get back to where the action is, and Salacious would be trying to stick rolled up napkins up the sleeping Admiral’s nose.

Blu-ray Review “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Extended Edition”

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin
Number of discs: 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributed by: Warner Home Video
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Running Time: 250 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 4.5 out of 5 stars

August 28th brings the first time that Peter Jackson’s visual masterpieces have been available separately on Blu-ray. “The Return of the King” is just such an epic film and really deserves an epic Blu-ray. There is no mistaken that this release is the absolute best presentation you are going to get out of this film. If you are looking to experience this film solo from the rest of the series, I would recommend purchasing this release. To be honest the real selling point for me is the Ultraviolet digital streaming copy available.

This film is just breathtaking on Blu-ray both visual and audio. The 1080p transfer is beyond pristine and presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The DTS-HD 6.1 ES sound is beyond amazing and is perfect for a good surround sound system. When I think of film that need to be watching on Blu-ray, I can’t help but thinking about this franchise. The film is released in five-disc set with two 50GB Blu-ray discs and three DVDs. Also included is features from BD-Live. I know we experienced the same thing with the “The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy” last year but all of the special features are still on DVD, which is a little disappointing to me personally but obviously they make up for the fact since there are three jam-packed discs with extras.

The final battle for Middle-earth begins. Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin), led by the mysterious Gollum (Andy Serkis), continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) struggles to fulfill his legacy as he leads his outnumbered followers against the growing power of the Dark Lord Sauron, so that the Ring-bearer may complete his quest. The film, which won Academy Awards® in all 11 categories for which it was nominated, took wins for Best Picture, Director, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Makeup, Adapted Screenplay, Sound Mixing, Original Song and Original Score.

The 5-disc Extended Edition of “The Return of the King” is very rewarding, as was its predecessors. All of the content from the 2004 extended edition DVD is available, as well as Costa Botes’ feature-length documentary like the “Fellowship” & “Two Towers”. The commentaries on this film are in line with its predecessors only going more in depth due to the shear scale of this film. Honestly by the third film the features do get a little repetitive but mega fans are sure to love every bit of information given.

Disc 1 • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Featured Extended Edition Part 1
• The Lord of the Rings: War in the North – The Untold Story Trailer (A trailer for the upcoming videogame) • Commentary with Director & Writers • Commentary with Design Team • Commentary with Production and Post Production • Commentary with Cast • BD-Live™ enabled

Disc 2 • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King Featured Extended Edition Part 2 • Commentary with Director & Writers • Commentary with Design Team • Commentary with Production and Post Production • BD-Live™ enabled

Disc 3 • The Appendices Part 5: The War of the Ring: Peter Jackson’s Introduction • JRR Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth (chats about the debate about Tolkien’s literary intentions) • From Book to Script • Designing and Building Middle-earth • Home of the Horse Lords (focuses on the horses, riders and horse-training using the film) • Middle-earth Atlas Map • New Zealand as Middle-earth

Disc 4 • The Appendices Part 6: The Passing of an Age: Introduction • Filming The Return of the King • Visual Effects (cocuses on the challenges of behind-the-scenes drama, timetables and shooting deadlines) • Post-Production: Journey’s End (complied of four pieces of the “Post-Production”: “Editorial: Completing the Trilogy,” talks about Jackson and editor Jamie Selkirk’s collaborative edit; “Music for Middle-earth” dives into Howard Shore’s fantastic score; “The Soundscapes of Middle-Earth” hone in on the film’s sound design; and “The End of All Things” focuses on the “The Return of the King” face to finish on schedule) • The Passing of an Age (turns to the premiere, international release, reception and the Academy Awards) • Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration for Into the West (odd choice to include but showcases: a terminally ill teenage filmmaker who visited the Lord of the Rings production several times before his death)

Disc 5 • Behind-the-Scenes Documentary Created by Filmmaker Costa Botes during filming of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (same as the first two takes a different approach to the behind-the-scenes look, runs 113 mins)

For more information: http://warnerblu.warnerbros.com/
Official Website: www.lordoftherings.net
Facebook: http://facebook.com/lordoftheringstrilogy

Blu-ray Review “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers”

Director: Dwight H. Little
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Sasha Jenson, David Jensen, Beau Starr
MPAA Rating: R
Distributed by: Anchor Bay
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Running Time: 88 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
EXtras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I always thought that “Halloween 4” was a great reboot of the series especially after “Halloween III”, which lost it aim on the franchise. This will does what the subtitle says, it brings back the master murder Michael Myers. As a big fan of the “Halloween” series, I was hoping that this release would really bring something new to the table for its fans. In that sense, it really doesn’t but it is still an essential upgrade from the previous DVD releases. It is also crazy to believe that it has been almost 25 years since this was released.

“Halloween 4” looks very sharp and clear on Blu-ray.  It’s 1080p transfer is impressive with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.  The audio track, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is good but a little bit of a let down overall. The special features are also a bit of a let down, especially since Anchor Bay reported about a full half hour of deleted and alternate scenes but they are no one to but found. Also MIA is a promised audio commentary with writer Alan B. McElroy.  Also from past DVD releases, the “The Making of Halloween 4: Final Cut” is not included as well.

Since these features are all ports from past releases, don’t expect anything new.  The bulk of the special features are audio commentaries.  The first is from director Dwight H. Little with Justin Beahm, the editor-in-chief of halloweenmovies.com as the moderator. It is definitely worth checking out.  The second commentary is with actresses Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris, which is not as good.  There is a “Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel”, which is from the H25 convention and runs about 20 minutes.  Lastly a standard-def trailer is included.

Maggie Wagner talks about play “Right on Target” and “Return of the Killer Shrews”

Maggie Wagner is playing the role of Karen Harrison in the play “Right on Target”, which premieres at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival. She is also co-starring with John Schneider in “Return of the Killer Shrews”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat about these projects and what else she has planned next.

Mike Gencarelli: What drew you to audition for the play “Right on Target”
Maggie Wagner: I got a phone call from one of the producers who’s a friend of mine. He was working on a play for the Fringe Festival and he had a part in it that he thought I would be good for. He wanted me to meet Gary Morgenstein who was also going to be working on the play. Gary thought I was the right person for the role also. I then auditioned over Skype for director Noemi De Lapunte. She liked me and everything went from there.

MG: Tell us about your character, Karen Harrison, in the play?
MW: I play a character by the name of Karen Harrison. She is a very liberal, hippy, jewelry maker who is married to a very conservative, right wing African American. We are complete opposites.

MG: The play is premiering at the New York International Fringe Festival, what can we expect next?
MW: I have never been to the festival. I do know that two plays or more have gone on to Broadway. One of those was “Urine Town”. This festival is a starting ground for shows and it’s a mixed bag so you never know what you are going to get.

MG: How would you compare working in theater to working in film or television?
MW: It’s all about truth and reality for me. I try to do everything the same. They are different mediums but I try to be as real as possible. You try to bring in your own reality. There is a lot more projecting when it comes to stage work but I love being on stage and hearing the laughter from the crowds.

MG: Is there a specific genre where you feel most comfortable?
MW: I love everything. I like anything that involves me getting paid and being able to show my strongest points. (Laughs)

MG: How did you get involved with “Return of the Killer Shrews”?
MW: The writer of the sequel Steven Latshaw happens to be a friend of mine. The original actress who was cast became pregnant and they needed someone for the role of Stella. They were looking for someone with a biting wit similar to Fran Drescher. I guess I am the low budget equivalent to what they were looking for. (Laughs) They called and asked me if I wanted to be in the film and I just went and did it. There was really no audition process.

MG: Did you have any problems working with the digital effects in the film?
MW: Not really. They kind of give you the idea of where things are and you just sort of go from there. It was great working with John Schneider. We are sort of like the odd couple.

MG: What other projects do you have coming up?
MW: I just finished a film titled “Hate Crime”. The film was directed by James Cullen Bressack and the film is an experimental horror film. It is a found footage film where a family is attacked by some intruders. There is a lot of special effects things going on. I hear it is pretty gruesome to watch.

Robin Hardy talks about his return to directing with “The Wicker Tree”

Robin Hardy is probably best known for his directing of the classic 1973 film “The Wicker Man”. Robin is back directing and is set to release the second film in the Wicker series titled “The Wicker Tree”. Media Mikes was very fortunate to be able to talk with Robin recently about the film.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about your return to directed?
Robin Hardy: Over the years I have been directing everything from documentaries to television commercials. I think I have made over 1000 commercials and have been very successful with those. Directing is something that I really enjoy doing. Having been trained as an artist I am able to illustrate everything I want. As a writer I like to introduce music whenever I can. I suppose that comes from commercials. Music is such an important part for those. These things have tended to blend leading me to use them in the features I have made.

AL: What was it like returning to the Wicker series some 40 years after the first one being made?
RH: It was good. I even had some actors in the new film who were in the first one. The little girl who is watching the beetle go around and around the nail in the first film reappears as a cook in the new film. There are some others who returned as well. It was really fun returning to the genre. To revive this genre is what really drew me to this project. It was great fun working on the songs.

AL: What do you think is the biggest difference between the two films?
RH: In many ways I don’t think they differ all that much. I think the second movie brings in some relative sub-plots that were not used in the first film. The question of being able to enlarge on the idea of the Sun as an object of worship turns up in this second film. I liked doing this in the second film because it brings the whole idea of the current state of religion down to us as a more understandable present day interest or preoccupation. In the first film there were a lot of pagan clues which were ultimately leading a Christian man to his death.

AL: How do you think your book “Cowboy’s for Christ” compares to the film?
RH: I think it’s pretty faithful to it. I made a much bigger deal of the police. It seemed to me when I read the book that in order to keep the sense of disbelief in the whole story and to believe in the police man was getting quite close to understanding what was going on we had to expand on that. This had to be the tail to the film because it was too much of a red hearing and it would have spoiled the flair of the story.

AL: Can you tell us about Christopher Lee’s involvement in the film?
RH: In the case of the first film we were all Hammer film fans. We thought that the Hammer films all though tongue and cheek in their way didn’t begin to do justice to the whole pagan background. We thought it would be a wonderful idea to take someone who was an icon of those films and turn the whole story on its head by making this guy the pagan lord.

AL: Can you tell us about your work on the third film in the series “The Wrath of Gods”?
RH: I wanted to make that film in Iceland because I thought it would be sort of fun to try and make this sort of saga theme park in Iceland. I couldn’t raise the money to make the film there because of the terrible economic shape that the country is in. I chose to shoot in the Shetland Island because originally they were Scandinavian. It was perfectly logical to set this saga there. They also have a most wonderful Fire festival there which is featured in the film. I would like to think this film will be out within the next four years.

DVD Review “More Brains! A Return To The Living Dead”

Directed by Bill Philputt
Starring: Cast of Return of the Living Dead
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 240 minutes

Overall score: 4 out of 5 stars

If you are horror fan then it’s simple… you love zombie movies. Everyone loves zombies. It is something about them every since George Romero brought them into the spotlight in the late 60’s. “Return of the Living Dead” one the horror gems and has become a major cult classic and legacy in the genre. The film has spawned four sequels and has one hell of a following. The feature “More Brains! A Return To The Living Dead” proposes itself as the definitive “Return of The Living Dead”. It does that in fact and more. It focuses solely on the first film and comes together as a great documentary. The team behind this film has done previous genre documentary like “His Name is Jason” and “Never Sleep Again”. This one definitely stands out as their best work.

This film gathers amazing interviews from the cast and crew of the film starting with Writer/Director Dan O’Bannon, Co-producer Graham Henderson and the cast Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Beverly Randolph, Thom Mathews, John Philbin, Jewel Shepard, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley, Allan Trautman, as well as many of the special effects team. It presents some amazing stories from the film that I never knew as well as archive footage from the shoot. The stories are fun and it looks like the cast/crew is having a really good time. I honestly can’t wait to see what these guys are going to do next. Would love their take on a documentary about “The Exorcist” or “Halloween”.

The special features are packed and include ANOTHER two hours of footage. The first is called “A Conversation with Dan O’Bannon: The Final Interview” and it covers his experience working on the film. Great stuff. Next up, we have coverage about the 2nd and 3rd films in “They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at Return of the Living Dead Part II” and “Love Beyond the Grave: A Look at Return of the Living Dead 3”. I think the coverage from the second film is a bit of a downer, it seems like it was a bad experience. I think about Roy Schneider talking about “Jaws 2” compares to “Jaws”. The third film has always had a special place for me and I love Brian Yunza. I am surprised but not shocked that there is no mention at all on the disc about the 4th and 5th film in the series. But like any respecting horror fan, I just ask myself…”What 4th and 5th film?” The music video for Stacey Q’s “Tonight” is cheesy but you can’t help but love that song (and think about the graveyard dance scene). “Even More Brains: Deleted Documentary Interviews” covers alternate footage cut from the film but it works really well. I am happy with the flow of the film though and think it was well cut. “Return of the Living Dead in 3 Minutes” features the cast today revisiting lines from the film during their interviews. Very funny. “Resurrected Settings: The Filming Locations Today” takes us back to the sets from the film and it is cool to see where it was shot.