Film Review: “Mary Queen of Scots”

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, Joe Allwyn, Jack Lowden
Directed by: Josie Rourke
Rated: R
Running Time: 124 minutes
Focus Features

By many accounts Mary Queen of Scots had a tragic life. The monarch was widowed at eighteen and eventually beheaded decades later only after nineteen years in captivity in England. She can easily be seen as a victim of the machinations of the men who surrounded her. The film version of her life however, from lauded stage director Josie Rourke and scripted by “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon, would not have you simplify it as such. Instead, the film Mary Queen of Scots, presents an intimate portrayal of a passionate young woman navigating the troubled political waters of both Scotland and England. Although at times it can be hard to keep track of everyone in play, Rourke delivers a strong, richly designed film lead by a confident Saoirse Ronan.

Rourke’s take on Mary benefits heavily by opening up its scope to include the simultaneously eventful reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). From the opening of the film, we know both that Mary’s very existence threatened Elizabeth’s claim to her throne and that Mary would be condemned to die by that same cousin. Yet, with this is mind, the film never quite pits them against each other. Instead Rourke is able to take a more modern look at how each of them faced no-win choices when being challenged by contemporaries frowning upon female rulers. Elizabeth for her part is always wary of taking a husband or providing the heir that her privy council demands while Mary is viewed as a harlot for doing exactly that—but the wrong husband. This dichotomy of the spinster and the slut stereotypes is keenly observed by Rourke and never too on the nose.

Among the menfolk in this story is where I found some difficulty keeping up. It’s a little difficult at first to grasp onto which lord or musician giving Meaningful Looks from the shadows will evolve into an actual relationship for these women. They can be a bit of a blur of beards. Often times when they were talked about while off screen, I regretted not doing a quick wikipedia read of Mary to get a handle on which of them really warranted attention. Still, David Tennant as a vicious Scot priest set firmly against Mary is a snarly delight in this crowd. Buoying every performance, it cannot be understated, is some truly beautiful costume design by Alexandra Byrne .

Finally of course though, the film rests heavy upon its titular monarch and even though she shares much of the marketing with Robbie, this is Ronan’s film. She is by turns steely and vulnerable, whether on the battlefield or in the private company of her lifelong handmaidens. Rourke’s film shines when it spends more intimate time with Mary than many period films usually do with their subjects. Meanwhile, Ronan seizes her titular responsibility with relish and infuses Mary with such conviction that I was rooting for her even as I knew she was doomed. 

Blu-ray Review “Queen of Katwe”

Actors: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Kabanza, Taryn Kyaze
Directors: Mira Nair
Rated: PG
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Run Time: 124 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Usually, I stay clear of true-life Inspirational films in general. Not my typical come of tea, so to say. I was draw to this film due to the Disney brand and the casting of the wonderful Lupita Nyong’o (even though her role isn’t huge). Like I thought this really wasn’t a film for me but it also wasn’t a bad film. Don’t forget here we are dealing with the rather tame topic of chess, so this is not a shoot ’em up action film for sure. The performances from the talent involved were fantastic and left me with inspired for sure. So if you enjoy these type of movies, I would surely recommend this.

Official Premise: “Queen of Katwe” is based on the vibrant true story of a young girl (Madina Nalwanga) from the streets of Uganda whose world changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. It is a remarkable story of perseverance against all odds that will leave viewers feeling humbled and inspired. According to director Mira Nair, “The triumph of the human spirit is not to weep for what we don’t have but to focus on what we do have and allow that to take us to a place we never imagined possible.”

Disney is releasing this film a a combo pack with a Blu-ray + Digital HD included. The 1080p transfer captures the film’s setting perfectly and really looks solid. Same can be said for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. I enjoyed the score a lot. The special features are impressive as well. “Queen Of Katwe: Their Story” looks into the people behind-the-scenes who made this movie. “A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight” is director Mira Nair’s short film about Robert Katende. “In The Studio With Alicia Keys” focuses on the film’s song, which its music video is also included. Lastly there is an audio commentary with the director, Mira Nair and eight deleted scenes included with director intros.

 

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Product Review “Coleman: Quickbed Elite Queen Extra High Airbed & 4D CPX Personal Size Led Lantern”

Recently, the family and I decided to take our first camping trip. Thanks to the wonderful people at Coleman. They hooked us up with some amazing products including the Coleman Evanston Screened 8 Tent, which is simply outstanding (read our review here) But one after effect of our camping trip was one hell of a sore back. Getting old definitely sucks. I used to be able to sleep absolutely anywhere and have no effect. My bad was killing me after this trip, so I thought to myself that if we are going to do this again (which we certainly are), I need to get an airbed.

Luckily, Coleman came to the rescue again with their product: Quickbed® Elite Queen Extra High Airbed W/ 4D BIP. Let me tell you, this thing is mega mega comfortable. I know that my next trip to the great outdoors if going to be must more comfortable. This airbed has extra height and along with the 48 internal coils provide fantastic support. Even with the whole family on board, this bed help up very well. It also comes with an Airtight system, which is guaranteed not to leak and the easy-to-use Double Lock valve that allows you very easily inflate and deflate the bed.

Another aspect during our camping trip that we figured out too late that we needed was light. Of course we have our phones but a little more stable light would have been nice. Luckily we were able to find the 4D CPX Personal Size Led Lantern. This lantern is outstanding. You are able to really control the this 360° light with four settings, which shines a strong 190 lumens up to 29 ft. (8.84 m) while it is on its highest setting and 100 lumens on the lowest. There are four positions to choice from including High / Low / Nightlight / Off. This will come in handy after the kids go to sleep and you need a little reading light.

If you are worried about how this bad boy is powered. You have control of that! You can choose whether you want to use four D cell batteries or one CPX 6 rechargeable power cartridge (both sold separately). This lantern will pack a runtime of up to 65 hours on high, which is plenty of time for a nice weekend away. Another bonus is that the Cree XLamp XR-E LED light actually lasts a lifetime and never needs replacing. This is a real treat especially for the price. Also this device runs cool, so there are no risks of burning and lastly it is water and impact-resistant.

Book Review “The Birthday Queen” by Audrey Wood

Author: Audrey Wood
Illustrator: Don Wood
Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: The Blue Sky Press
Release Date: August 27, 2013

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

“It’s the most exciting day of the year, and the Birthday Queen knows exactly what to do to make your party the best ever! From decorating your home with balloons and streamers to baking your favorite cake, the Birthday Queen doesn’t forget a thing. Here comes your guests! Now it’s time to Celebrate.” Celebrate you shall! The Birthday Queen is engaging, inviting and fun! Audrey and Don Wood have another hit on their talented hands!

The illustrations are bold and bright and inviting. You are pulled into the Birthday Queen’s world from the first beautiful balloons. She invites you in to help celebrate a very special occasion. My daughter loves looking at the bright pages. I know this will be a book we will read together before and during getting ready for birthday parties and any other time that we are looking for a fun book!

CD Review: A Sound of Thunder "Queen of Hell EP"

A Sound of Thunder
“Queen of Hell EP”
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Nightmare Records
Running Time: 22 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Last year A Sound of Thunder really delivered the goods with their breakout record “Out of the Darkness”. So I was already surprised to see new material so soon. Damn though, this is some sick shit!! This EP really comes jam-packed with 22 minutes of some really amazing music. Nina Osegueda really delivers some killer vocals and Josh Schwartz is fucking fierce on the guitar. This band is really taking over the metal world and I can’t wait see what they have planned for their forthcoming full-length album “Time’s Arrow”. This group never rests and maybe that is a good thing since I can’t seem to get enough of them…keep it coming guys!

Producer Kevin ‘131’ Gutierrez worked with the band again after deliver the gem of an album “Out of the Darkness”. The new material works as a great companion to the last album. This EP has this really strong classic power metal feel to it. The title track “Queen of Hell” is just a wild rollercoaster ride from the moment it starts. The vocals and guitar work just are hardcore and in-your-face. If you like the track there is also a duet version featuring guest vocals by Veronica Freeman (Benedictum). If you are a Black Sabbath fan, then your will enjoy their great rendition of “Trashed”. Schwartz has said a lot of their influences is from Sabbath, so it is nice to see them pay the song some great homage. “Hello Nurse” is the most different and risky song for them but it pays off, as it is totally rocking! If you are a metal fan, there is no way in hell that this album won’t get you rocking out! Get those devil horns because you are going to need them!

If you have yet to give A Sound of Thunder a listen this is a perfect time to start.  The band is going to be playing live dates throughout the US in early 2013 to promote this new EP, with further extensive touring planned for later in 2013 to promote “Time’s Arrow”. So I cannot recommend this album any more. I found myself just listening to it over and over on loop and it just works so well.  Sometimes when I listen to albums I find myself skipping songs, but this one literally has been looping for over an hour during the writing of this review alone.  This band has done some much in such a short amount of time.  Imagine what they are going to have completed in another five years! Get ready cause this group is full steam ahead and they are giving metal music a run for its money!

Track Listing:
1: Queen of Hell (Album Version)
2: Queen of Hell (featuring Veronica Freeman)
3: Hello Nurse
4: Trashed (Black Sabbath cover)

CD & Vinyl editions can be ordered via the band’s official store

 

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Blu-ray Review "The Queen of Versailles"

Actors: Jackie Siegel, David Siegel
Directors: Lauren Greenfield
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Run Time: 100 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Living in Orlando FL, I was very interested in seeing “The Queen of Versailles”. This film follows the up and down (mostly down) road for the David Siegel, owner of Westgate Resorts, his wife Jackie and their family. It follows the plans of billionaire family to build the biggest house in America and then dealing with the economy crash of 2008. I want to say I really enjoyed this film but I think I enjoyed more seeing them crash and burn and trying to pretend that they are normal people. Overall it is well directed for sure and I would like to see a follow-up in a few years.

Official Synopsis: The Queen of Versailles is a character-driven documentary about a billionaire family and their financial challenges in the wake of the economic crisis. With epic proportions of Shakespearean tragedy, the film follows two unique characters, whose rags-to-riches success stories reveal the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream. The film begins with the family triumphantly constructing the largest privately-owned house in America, a 90,000 sq. ft. palace. Over thenext two years, their sprawling empire, fueled by the real estate bubble and cheap money, falters due to the economic crisis. Major changes in lifestyle and character ensue within the cross-cultural household of family members and domestic staff.

When comes to documentaries, the Blu-ray presentations are never overly impressive. But the 1080p transfer is still sharp and the dialogue is clear. That 90,000 sq. ft house really would have looked amazing. Director Lauren Greenfield did manage to capture some really nice shots of the riches of Florida. The documentary also took home the U.S. Directing Award for Documentary Film at last year’s 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The special features though are lacking a bit here. There are a few extra deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer. I wasn’t really expecting much more here to be honest.

Blu-ray Review “Queen of the Damned”

Directed by: Michael Rymer
Starring: Stuart Townsend, Aaliyah, Marguerite Moreau, Vincent Pérez, Paul McGann, Lena Olin
MPAA Rating: R
Distributed by: Warner Home Video
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Running Time: 101 minutes

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

“Interview with the Vampire” is a very hard film to follow-up.  “Queen of the Damned” had high expectations surrounding it, especially for an Anne Rice adaption.  It’s also took a risky move of casting R&B singer,  Aaliyah, to lead the film.  Unfortunately, then she end dying in a plane crash months before the film’s release, which added to it’s issues.  The film is very ambitious and Gothic but it’s overall end product has too many issues.  What the film does have doing for it is one of the best soundtracks in a horror film.  The film’s music is also created by Korn’s Jonathan Davis and is nothing short of amazing!  Not the best film ever but definitely worth the HD upgrade.

Warner’s definitely delivers a very impressive Blu-ray.  It’s 1080p transfer comes with a lot of love.  It is presented a sharp picture and works well with the dark scenes. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track works perfectly in sync with the score and the heavy metal tunes in the film.  The special features are ported from the DVD release and do not disappoint at all.  First we have a decent commentary track with director Michael Rymer, producer Jorge Saralegui, and composer Richard Gibbs. Next up, there are 13 deleted scenes that are decent also cut for a good reason.  There are three documentaries focusing on the behind-the-scenes aspect of the film.  “Creating the Vampires” features cast/crew talking about their roles in the film. “Aaliyah Remembered” is a memorial for the late singer.  Lastly “The Music of Lestat” has interviews with composer Richard Gibbs and lyricist Jonathan Davis. To compliment that feature, there are three music videos for Lestat (“Redeemer,” “Forsaken,” “System”), a music video by Static X’s “Cold,” and also extended Lestat’s concert footage. Lastly there is a gag reel, photo galleries and a theatrical trailer for the film.

After years of slumber, the legendary vampire has awakened and found acceptance in a tattooed, pierced and black-clad world. He’s a rock star. And his awesome goth-riffed sound has echoed around the globe…and stirred to life the fearsome Mother of All Vampires. Based on “The Vampire Chronicles” by Anne Rice, whose work previously came to the screen in “Interview with the Vampire.”

Buy It 9/18 on Blu-ray
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DVD Review “High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen Era”

Directed by: Jason Paul Collum
Starring: Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer
Distributed by: Breaking Glass Pictures
Release Date: August 28, 2012
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 63 minutes

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I am a total fan of B-horror movies & the Scream Queen era of 1980s thru early 90s. I grew up on these films and they are always going to be my favorites. Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer are definitely the original Scream Queen’s. Films like “Return of the Living Dead”, “The Slumber Party Massacre” and “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers” were and still are some of my favorite 80’s horror films. They are timeless and only get better with age. This documentary gives some really great insight into birth of the VHS horror days and the original Scream Queens!

You can really tell that this is a real passion project for Jason Paul Collum. Linnea Quigley (“Return of the Living Dead”), Brinke Stevens (“The Slumber Party Massacre”) and Michelle Bauer (“Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers”) really seem to have a great time telling their stories of how they became cult icons of the late 1980s. It also gives insight into what they are doing now as well, so it is a great revisit into their careers. If were were a horror fan and a teenage boy in the late 80’s, then you will know how much these film’s have impacted your life. “High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen Era” is fun, informative and a real treat for any fan of the genre.

The unrated DVD also comes with some great special features for hardcore horror fans. There are bonus interview footage with Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer, which is definitely worth checking out. There is also fun footage from the Flashback Weekend of Horror convention Q&A. If you caught this film on television on Chiller and censored BTW, you need to see this unrated cut with all the boobs included that made 80’s horror great. Fans of classic 80’s films are going to NEED to pick up this release, no question!

Blu-ray Review “Queen: Days of Our Lives”

Director: Matt O’Casey
Starring: Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Run Time: 221 minutes

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

“Days Of Our Lives” is a two hours documentary on the legacy of the band Queen. It is split over two episodes, part 1 covers 1970-80 and part 2 covers 1980–present. This is one of the most in-depth portrayals of the band that I have ever seen. It goes into great details on how the band released 26 albums, sold over 300 million records worldwide and how they have stayed relevant of the last 40 years. There are new great interviews from surviving band members Brian May and Roger Taylor. John Deacon is alive but has no connection to the band anymore. There is also really great footage of Freddie Mercury behind the scenes and performing. This is a must for Queen fans and music fans overall.

What makes this different than any other band retrospectives is that it is really told through the perspective of the band through interviews and live performances all over the world. The release also includes rare video of the bands first ever TV performance. Throughout telling the bands story, it is not only very informative but also touching and very funny. It really keeps your interest from the moment it begins. The Blu-ray presentation is also 5/5 stars. The video is fantastic and even with the archive footage. The music in the film sounds great, especially playing over the surround sound.

If the film isn’t enough, the special features are jam packed full. There are over 90 minutes of additional videos and footage. There are new unseen promos, performances, and outtakes from the following tracks: “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Killer Queen”, “Somebody to Love”, “We Are The Champions”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Under Pressure”, “Radio Ga Ga”. Additional footage from the film includes rare interviews and archival footage about the following topics “Queen: The Beginning”, “Queen On Tour: 1974-75”, making of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Flash Gordon” soundtrack and much more. Lastly there are a ton of bonus interviews with Brian May, Roger Taylor, and Jim Beach.
Some of footage includes talks about Brian’s Health Scare in 1974, Freddie’s Outfits, Song Writing Balance Changes during the 80’s and much more. All-in-all superb extras for a another superb release from Eagle Rock Entertainment.