Despicable Me 2 Fun For An Occasional Watch

Courtesy:  Universal Studios

Courtesy: Universal Studios

The latest installment in Universal’s Despicable Me franchise is more proof of the old adage that the sequel is never as good as the original.  Despicable Me 2 is an enjoyable story.  But ultimately, it is just as forgettable as so many other unnecessary sequels, prequels, and remakes that Hollywood has churned out in recent history.  That’s not to say that it is terrible.  It just was unnecessary.  Though to the script’s benefit, it can be noted that the pop culture references peppered throughout the story make up for the relatively lackluster story.  While the story itself was largely unnecessary, it can be noted of this movie that lead actor Steve Carell is just as entertaining this time out as he was in Despicable Me.  That talent, along with the pop culture references thrown in for good measure, makes this movie one that is good for a lazy day at home, but sadly little else.

The story at the heart of Despicable Me 2 is a continuation of the bad guy-gone-good story established in the franchise’s first flick.  The story of a bad guy-gone good is nothing new to the movie industry.  So the question left to Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul was how to make this story stand out from the others of its ilk.  The end result is a story that is unbalanced and predictable.  Daurio and Paul have crafted a story that becomes more rom-com than its family friendly predecessor.  The story starts well enough with Gru being recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help stop an evil mastermind.  In the process, Gru is teamed up with agent Lucy (KristenWiig).  The rom-com storyline that ensues ends up taking a front seat, while the real story ends up being sadly little more than a distraction.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, at least one of the jokes inserted into the script is one that was completely unnecessary.  The joke in question saw Gru looking for a syrum via a high-tech belt buckle of sorts.  As he searched a store for signs of said serum, it looked like he was dry humping pictures and even a statue.  Despicable Me 2 is supposed to be a family friendly movie.  So the gag in particular will leave some older viewers scratching their heads, wondering why Daurio and Paul thought they had to go blue.  Thankfully, it’s the only joke of its kind through the course of the movie’s near two-hour run-time.  Of course, the script would have been well-served to have not even had the gag in question included in the first place.  Luckily for Daurio and Paul, there are more than enough hilarious pop culture references mixed into the story to make up for that one unnecessary tasteless gag.

Despicable Me 2 suffers from its share of problems as should be evident by now.  But it isn’t without its merits.  One of those merits is the number of pop culture references thrown into the storyline, not the least of which being a handful of James Bond references.  Older audiences will appreciate the references to Dr. No as well as other classic Bond flicks.  At one point, there is also a tribute to the classic sci-fi/horror hybrid Alien.  One wouldn’t think that such a reference would work in this story.  But it does indeed work.  And again, audiences familiar with that movie will also find themselves laughing at the reference.  Daurio and Cinco pay homage to other classics throughout this story.  And audiences that watch the movie for themselves will take joy in each one.

The classic film references added to Despicable Me 2 go a long way toward saving the movie from itself.  The acting on the part of Steve Carell also helps salvage the story.  Carell expertly interprets Gru’s attempts to balance his newfound life on the other side of super villain status with being dad.   Audiences will laugh uproariously at Gru’s reaction by a certain woman to set him up with her friends.  So many older audiences will admit that they can relate to Gru’s relationship plight.  And even as the voice of a computer generated figure, Carell can make audiences laugh in the moments of physical comedy, too.  He makes a scene such as when Gru is attacked by a “watch chicken” feel as funny as any live action physical comedy bit.  It’s one more testament to Carell’s ability as an actor.  This is just one more of so many examples of Carell’s talents.  As with the jokes and gags peppered throughout the story, Carell’s acting is the only other saving  grace to what is an otherwise forgettable film.  It is available now in stores and online.  Despite being largely forgettable, it is still a movie worth renting once in a while.

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MST3K The Movie A Fabulous Farewell For Cult Sci-Fi Show

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/Universal Studios Home Entertainment/Gramercy Pictures

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Universal Studios Home Entertainment/Gramercy Pictures

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie is an absolutely funny final farewell for this cult classic TV show.  The movie was already extremely difficult to find in its original release some years ago.  Now thanks to a partnership between Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Shout! Factory fans of the show and its big screen finale can finale add this piece of movie history to their home libraries.  And they can do so in proper fashion on Shout! Factory and USHE’s release of the movie in a double-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release.  The movie itself is reason enough to pick up this new re-issue.  The choice of movies to be*critiqued* by Mike and his robot friends was another positive.  And in turn, the feature on the making of both This Island Earth and on the history of MST3K: The Movie seal the deal for fans.  Together with the movie and the movie within the movie, the whole package becomes one of the best re-issues of 2013.

The story behind MST3K: The Movie will impress any hardcore fan of this cult show.  It plays out just as if it was an extended episode from the show itself.  Ironically enough, as audiences will learn in the bonus feature, “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey”, that actually was not the intent of those behind the cameras and the movie’s script.  That aside, all of the irreverent humor that made the television series so funny is here.  The same can be said of the hilariously intentional low-grade sets and special effects that made the original series so funny, too.  It was obvious that despite being a big screen feature, the people behind the cameras wanted to make sure that this feature entertained the show’s core audiences just as much as the original show did.  And it did just that.  The interesting fact here is that as hilarious as the movie was, those behind it faced a lot of contention from Universal in its creation.  This is revealed in interviews in the extremely in-depth bonus feature that is “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey.”

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey” is one of two bonus features included in the movie’s new re-issue that make it even more enjoyable this time around.  This feature actually should have been the “Making of Feature” rather than the “Making of” feature that was included.  That’s because of just how in depth this feature turned out to be.  It offers a glimpse into the movie from its conceptual stage all the way to its premiere.  Along the way, audiences are presented with both the good and the bad of the movie’s eventual creation.  Some of the most interesting of the stories involve creative conflicts between Universal’s brass and those in charge of the movie itself.  One of the most notable of those anecdotes involved a joke centered on the alien creature crafted for the story.  The joke involved comparing it to one Bootsy Collins.  According to the story shared by Trace Beaulieu, the studio brass didn’t want the joke in the movie because they thought that no one knew who Bootsy Collins was at that time.  So the joke ended up being pulled.  It’s wasn’t the only conflict those behind the cameras had with Universal, either.  According to the stories shared, there were a number of conflicts between the two groups.  And viewers will get to find out just how many there were when they pick up this re-issue for themselves when it is released on September 3rd.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey” is the heart of the bonus features in the new re-issue of this release.  However, just as with the previous MST3K box sets, this one also includes a fully in-depth analysis of the movie screened within the main feature.  And this analysis is no different.  “This Island Earth: 2 ½ Years in the Making” offers audiences a complete look at the work that went into making the movie in question.  In offering the discussion, it also goes into a certain amount of depth as to what makes the movie so important in the overall picture of 1950s science fiction flicks.  One of the most notable facts shared in this special is that had the mutant used to move the story not been included, the movie would have been considered a movie for adults.  And it was Universal’s brass that insisted the mutant be included as it would bring in young audiences.  Speaking of the mutant, those interviewed for this feature actually go into depth about the mutant, even going so far as to share some laughs about it.  As with the previously mentioned bonus feature, there is so much more for viewers to take in here, too.  Together with the previously mentioned feature and with the movie itself, the whole package proves in the end to be another joy from Shout! Factory and one more of the best of the year’s re-issues.  It will be available Tuesday, September 3rd and can be ordered online direct via the Shout! Factory website at http://www.shoutfactory.com/?q=node/217794.  Audiences can find out more about this release and other upcoming releases from Shout! Factory on the official Shout! Factory website at http://www.shoutfactory.com and the official Shout! Factory Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial

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Chihuahua Too A Fun, Family Friendly Film For Any Halloween Party Or Fall Festival

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

Halloween is just around the corner once again.  That means that before we know it, lots and lots of little ghouls, ghosts, princesses and more will be making their yearly rounds around neighborhoods, malls, and even churches.  Some will also be heading to the associated Halloween parties with their friends and parents.  This means that parents are going to be looking for family friendly fare to share at said get-togethers.  Parents of young ladies would do well to start at the latest canine-centric small screen release, Chihuahua Too.  The sequel to the company’s 2011 movie, simply titled Chihuahua is not a sequel to that movie.  Nor is it a ripoff of Disney’s Buddy franchise.  Though, it can be agreed that it does capitalize on the aforementioned franchise.  EOne isn’t the first franchise to do this, either in its defense.  Keeping this in mind, Chihuahua Too ends up being a good family friendly movie for younger female audiences’ Halloween parties.

Chihuahua Too is the latest family friendly release from Engine 15 Media Group, the company responsible for other canine based movies such as the Bailey trilogy just to name one group of movies.  Chihuahua Too is different from those movies in that it has no link to the previous film in its franchise.  It is its very own stand-alone story.  Much like Engine 15’s other releases though, it maintains a positive message.  The message presented in Chihuahua Too is one of the importance of family.  The message is set up by having a young family that goes by the name of The Fasteners taking on a house once owned by its ancestors.  There’s just one catch.  The Fasteners aren’t alone in the house.  The house is haunted by the spirit of a dog once owned by the Fasteners’ ancestors.  The reason why the dog, named Sophie, is still in the house is revealed late in the story.  And it’s that reveal that plays up the message of family.

The message of family is the most important factor of Chihuahua Too.  It’s just part of what families and churches will appreciate about this piece for their Halloween parties and Fall Festival celebrations.  Engine 15 Media Group is most well-known for churning out movies that are entirely family friendly.  This is another positive to this latest release from Engine 15.  There is no questionable content whatsoever at any point in the story.  Sure, the acting could have been better.  But this isn’t a big budget production.  And Engine 15 isn’t a major studio.  So those audiences that would prefer to talk and write negative things concerning the acting and general production values need to keep this in mind and watch it again.  Perhaps in doing so, they will see the more intrinsic value of the feature, and appreciate it more.

The positive message about family and the family friendly content that make up Chihuahua Too are both important parts of the story’s overall presentation.  There is one factor in this movie that has a latent effect on audience.  Or rather, one would hope that it would have a latent effect.  The hoped for latent effect of the story presented here is of an appreciation for classic movies.  Some might consider this a stretch.  But today’s movie industry pales by comparison to the golden era of Hollywood.  Cohen Media Group, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox and others have proven in recent years (2013 included) that there is still very much a market for classic films.  Maybe in being exposed to faux silent films, young audiences will gain a new interest in classics such as Cleopatra or other classics.  Who knows, maybe it will even influence the parents of said children to become interested in the classics.  On a side note, Cleopatra has been re-issued on a 50th Anniversary Blu-ray set by 20th Century Fox.  It’s available now in stores and online.  Chihuahua Too is also available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00D3XMJMI/ref=s9_simh_gw_p74_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1DM9RH2JPP6ETJ128JM3&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1389517282&pf_rd_i=507846.

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Admission Gets A “Passing” Grade

Courtesy:  Focus Features/Universal Studios

Courtesy: Focus Features/Universal Studios

Tina Fey’s latest starring vehicle, Admission is a surprisingly entertaining movie for a romantic dramedy.  The movie is on the surface just another typical boy meets girl-loses her-gets her back in the end story.  But on a deeper level, it’s more than that.  Presented in this story, audiences are introduced to a woman who is quite the go-getter of an admissions officer at Princeton University, one of America’s elite universities.  She has no husband.  But she does have a long-term boyfriend.  And surprise surprise, she also has a long lost child.  Here’s where things get really interesting.  The identity of said child becomes just one of a handful of twists that no one would have ever seen coming.  And it is those twists, along with Portia’s own personal revelations that make this the surprising story that it is.  The movie’s cast is just as much to thank for the story’s enjoyment, too.  The current slate of sequels and otherwise brainless flicks that have polluted theaters this year only serve to heighten the enjoyment of this movie.  They heighten its importance and work with this last factor to explain even more why Admission is both a romantic dramedy and general movie worth at least one watch.

The main star of Admission is not so much any one member of the cast, but the writing.  Writer Karen Croner’s story was largely panned by critics and general audiences alike when it debuted in theaters in early 2013.  The seemingly common thread between the movie’s criticisms was its casting.  There’s no denying that the pairing of Tina Fey and Paul Rudd didn’t work.  Fey should be commended for making the effort, though.  That’s because she did in fact pull off her role relatively well.  But that will be discussed at a later point.  At this point, the movie’s writing takes center stage so to speak.  As touchy as the casting was, Karen Croner deserves some credit for having crafted a story that turns out to be anything but the standard romantic dramedy.  Sure, the boy meets girl-loses her-gets her back in the end story.  And there’s even a reference to the far too over used romantic airport finale, even that turns out to be quite the surprise.  As the near two hour movie progresses, audiences learn that the movie is less about Portia’s growing romance with John and more about her own personal growth.  The main story is centered on Portia’s personal growth and having to come to terms with her past and how it is directly tied in to the woman that she had become.  The story takes a very realistic element of life and mirrors it in her life in this movie in a fashion that both entertains audiences and moves them.

There are plenty of laughs along the way over the course of Portia’s personal growth.  At one point, she even offers to go toe-to-toe with one of her co-workers over the file of a young man whom she believes to be her son.  The co-workers is one with whom she is competing for the chance to take over as Dean of Admissions at Princeton since their boss, Clarence (Wallace Shawn—The Incredibles, Chicken Little, The Princess Bride, The Cosby Show) is retiring at the end of the academic year.  It’s one of a handful of funny moments that is included throughout the story.  And Portia’s dialogue with her co-worker is what really makes the moment so funny.  She asks her co-worker if she wants to go outside and see just how touchy she is as she throws up her fists.  It’s a wonderfully hilarious moment that once again really exhibited Fey’s comic chops.  This scene is sure to get plenty of laughs from audiences.  By direct contrast, the more emotional moments written into the movie really hit hard as Portia begins to realize what she really gave up when she gave up her child for adoption.

The story’s more emotional moments are wonderful additions to Admission’s script.  They are a good juxtaposition to the more comical moments peppered throughout the story.  And Fey’s interpretation of those more emotional and comical moments plays right into another of the movie’s positives. She does an impressive job of interpreting the scripts in her acting, which is another of the movie’s positives.  She had already proven herself when she starred alongside Steve Carell in Date Night.  Now she’s taken her acting chops up a notch this time out.  This is even despite starring alongside Paul Rudd.  Rudd does next to nothing to enhance the movie.  This is the case even in scenes placing him alongside Fey.  By contrast, her partnership with Carell in Date Night worked far better.  Whereas Paul Rudd didn’t work by himself or even with Tina Fey, his young co-star, Travaris Spears, is a joy to watch.  Thank goodness for his inclusion in the story.  Both in his comedic moments and slightly more serious moments, Spears shines as John’s adopted son, Nelson.  Some of his best lines come with Portia.  Audiences won’t be able to help but laugh when Nelson makes jokes at Portia’s expense about her being dull and predictable.  There’s just something about his delivery that makes these jokes worth every laugh.  By comparison, his more serious moments are just as powerful.

Tina Fey and Travaris Spears are the real stars of Admission in terms of its cast.  That’s not to say that leading star Nat Wolff didn’t do a good job as Jeremiah.  His role was integral in the story.  But it felt difficult to connect to Jeremiah on an emotional level.  Thankfully his chemistry with Fey’s Porta offset that lack of connection, and helped audiences connect even more to her.  To that end, Wolff was a good choice to fill Jeremiah’s shoes.  His was a choice that along with Tina Fey and Travaris Spears, helped to make Admission more bearable than it could have been.

Admission is a movie that is worth at least one watch, whether one is a fan of rom-coms and romantic dramedies or not.  That is thanks in large part to the story’s writing and to its casting.  Sure, not the entire cast was too well cast.  But having Tina Fey and Travaris Spears on board was the right choice.  Their interpretation of the scripts really helped to move the story along.  There is one more factor to consider in this movie’s success.  It is a comparison of this movie to the rest of the movies that have been churned out so far in 2013.  Considering that most of the movies that have come to theaters in 2013 have been either sequels or generally dumbed down flicks, Admission actually holds its own quite well against them.  It’s a romantic dramedy.  But it’s less romantic dramedy than it is a story of one woman’s personal growth and revelations.  It doesn’t play out to the far too perfected formula of so many other movies in its genre.  That’s probably another reason that it was panned by viewers and critics.  But it’s also exactly what makes it so much better than its counterparts.  It doesn’t fit nicely into that mold.  Because of that and the acting and casting combined, it becomes a movie that is worth at least one watch whether alone or as a couple.

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MPI, Cohen Media Group Making Their Name With Their Latest Uncovered Classic

Courtesy:  Cohen Media Group/mpi media group

Courtesy: Cohen Media Group/mpi media group

The partnership between Turner Classic Movies and Warner Home Video has made the two companies leaders in re-issuing cinema classics.  Universal Studios is a close second thanks to the recent re-issues of Cape Fear, its Alfred Hitchcock Essentials collection, and it Universal Monsters collection. Now two more companies are staking their claim in the classic movie world.  Those companies are Virgil Films and Cohen Media Group.  Early in 2013, the two companies partnered for the release of what is one of the single greatest classics of all time in the Thief of Bagdad.  Now months later, they have released an even lesser known classic in Perfect Understanding.

The plot of Perfect Understanding rests in the agreement between Swanson’s Judy and Olivier’s Nicholas that could be equated to an open marriage.  Right off the top, it’s obvious just how original this is, considering social norms and values of America in the early 1930s.  The agreement between the couple is meant in order to break the trend that the couple sees among its friends.  Neither wants to end up like their friends.  Ironically enough, it is because of the agreement that the couple reaches the point of its friends.  The ensuing story is unlike anything that fans of the rom-com genre have seen since.  It’s obviously not just another typical boy meets girl-loses her-gets her back in the end story.  It’s almost Shakespearian in a way when one really goes back through the story a couple of times and analyzes it at a much deeper level.  It should also be noted here that despite a run time of an hour and half, the story actually moves along at a relatively easy pace.  This, along with the largely original story is another positive to this unearthed gem of a classic film.

For a film of its era and its style, Perfect Understanding could very well have been much longer and less able to relate to viewers, even today.  Luckily, it didn’t do that.  And roughly eight decades after it premiered it’s still as funny today as it was in its premiere.  Taking into account the film’s age, it’s incredible that it still sounds and looks as good as it does to this day.  What audiences see and hear is largely what audiences heard when the film first premiered so long ago.  It is a true testament to those charged with restoring the film to its original glory.  And now thanks to those individuals, a whole new generation of film buffs can enjoy this rare classic.

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MST3K Vol. XXVII A Laugh Riot For Film Buffs

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

The latest installment of the cult classic, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), keeps the laughs coming yet again.  MST3K Volume XXVII brings audiences four more episodes and four more movies that are so bad that they’re good.  And of course, what volume of MST3K episodes would be complete without the absolutely hilarious commentary by Mike, Joel, Crow, and Tom Servo?  It’s all here in one more collection that any fan of this classic series will love to watch again and again.  Audiences even get to see a young Ron Howard away from his more well-known role as Opie Taylor in one of the movies.

From giant dancing teens to Cold War propaganda to a giant killer bug to subterranean creatures coming to take over the surface world, this volume has more than its share of campy greatness in its four discs.  The set is anchored by what is one of Universal’s best of the bad in The Deadly MantisThe Deadly Mantis is just one of the many classic horror/sci-fi flicks that Universal Studios churned out after the success of its original monster movies (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon).  This terribly campy flick features a giant prehistoric praying mantis wreaking havoc on the world when the iceberg in which it was encased breaks loose from the arctic and thaws out in warmer waters.  This sci-fi classic was one of the campiest of Universal’s monster movies.  But by comparison to today’s over-the-top movies claiming themselves to be horror, it is a welcome inclusion for fans of real sci-fi and horror flicks.  Mike, Crow, and Tom Servo’s irreverent commentary makes it even better.  There are pop culture references, some slightly politically incorrect jokes, and even some that are so nonsensical that one can’t help but laugh at them.  The jokes are just part of what makes this movie the anchor to this new set.  Fans of classic movies will appreciate the bonus feature on the life of William Alland.  “Chasing Rosebud: The Cinematic Life of William Alland” explains the importance of Alland in the history of monster and sci-fi movies.  Whether viewers are watching this movie for the first time or for the first time again, this feature will make audiences appreciate his work and The Deadly Mantis even more as a campy yet highly important piece of movie history.

If a classic monster movie from Universal isn’t enough, then perhaps audiences will enjoy the Cold War era propaganda piece, Rocket Attack U.S.A.  This black and white movie was centered on tensions between the United States and Russia and what would happen if the two sides both launched their nuclear warheads.  It would be no surprise if this 1961 classic was at least partially the influence behind the far more influential 1964 drama, Failsafe.  The movie’s criticisms don’t’ stop during the film.  Just as with the other movies in this and previous volumes of MST3K episodes, this episode is presented exactly as it aired, complete with intermission segments.  The killing of the movie keeps going with its intermission segment as Joel and company go off on the evil Dr. Forrester about all of the movie’s inconsistencies.  It’s so funny hearing them filet the movie because viewers know that what Joel and company have to say is exactly what they themselves would have said.  That ability to relate to viewers event today makes both this flick and The Deadly Mantis (as well as the set’s other pair of movies) as enjoyable as they are campy. 

The movies included in this latest volume of MST3K episodes are funny and enjoyable.  It should be noted that Village of the Giants probably isn’t entirely proper for younger viewers.  If anything, it comes across as a little bit of an exploitation film, as the “teen” girls outgrow their clothes when they grow.  They do keep themselves covered.  But some parents might find this a little unsuitable for children.  That aside, there is one more factor to note in this new set of episodes.  That factor is the set’s packaging.  Each episode is set in its own slim case within the larger box.  And each box has its own hilarious artwork that goes along with the movie.  The artwork used on each episode’s box is just as campy as the movies themselves.  So even before viewers put in each disc, they get a good laugh from the artwork on each case.  That each disc has its own slim case, this protects each disc from scratching.  It’s one more positive—along with the set’s other factors–that will impress fans from the very first time they pull the wrapping from the box.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXVII will be available Tuesday, July 23rd.  It will be available in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory online store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/?q=node/217352.  Fans can find out about all of the latest releases from Shout! Factory on its official website, http://www.shoutfactory.com and its official Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial

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Promised Land A Deep But Largely Forgettable Film

Courtesy:  Focus Features/Universal Studios

Courtesy: Focus Features/Universal Studios

Matt Damon’s new starring vehicle, Promised Land is not one of the best of 2013’s crop of new movies.  It is however, worth at least one watch.  It’s a relatively simple movie, despite what so many critics and audiences have apparently thought of it.  It is not as deep as those individuals would have people believe.  The crux of Promised Land has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of fracking.  The real issue at hand in this seemingly socially conscious story is that of corruption within the world’s major energy companies and businesses in general.  It just so happens that the issue of fracking is used as the backdrop for that plot.  And at the heart of it all is Matt Damon’s character of Steve Butler who thinks all along, that he is doing something good, until a twist late in the story leaves him questioning everything that he has known.  Of course, add in a minor romance subplot for Steve, and audiences get the end result that is this interesting but not entirely memorable story.

The major hurdle that Promised Land faced when it originally debuted in theaters in early 2013 was figuring out a way to take the tried and true plot centered on business corruption from being stale and boring.  Stories centered on corruption within the business world are nothing new.  See Michael Douglas’ Wall Street franchise or Leonardo DiCaprio’s upcoming movie, The Wolf of Wall Street.  Since this plot is nothing new to Hollywood’s brass, it should be said that at least the execution of the story line is original even if the plot isn’t.  So the movie as a whole does have that much going for it.  For its attempts to be at least somewhat original, Damon and his co-writers deserve some credit.  The real problem with the whole movie was the timing of its release.

Promised Land had trouble performing at top notch levels in theaters.  There is no denying this.  Its performance issues were not just because of its subject matter, but also because of the timing of its release.  America is currently in an economic and political climate that necessitates movies as means to escape even more than ever.  So being faced with a story that deals with issues that have been all over the news, viewers obviously turned largely away from it.  Had the nation’s economic and political situations been different when this was released, movie-goers’ reaction might have been different.  From that angle, it can be said that perhaps this is a positive.  It’s a positive in that it serves as an example of what not to do in planning the release date for a movie.  So it has that going for it, too.      

For the issues surrounding Promised Land, it isn’t entirely without its merits.  Lead actor Matt Damon was at least mildly convincing as the socially blind Steve Butler.  In its own way, his portrayal of Steve is realistic.  Just look at the way that supporters of one political party or another blindly support their side every day on every major issue.  Look at the way that PR professionals cover up the wrongs of their companies.  In many cases, those professionals actually believe the words that they spew out.  This isn’t always the case.  But it does happen.  So Steve’s reaction in figuring out that he has been little more than a pawn in Global’s bigger plot makes him a more sympathetic character for audiences.  He becomes someone to whom audiences can relate and for whom they can cheer.  It’s at least one reason for viewers to take in this story at least once.

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Hyde Park On Hudson One Of The Worst Historical Works In Years

Courtesy: Universal Studios/Focus Features

Courtesy: Universal Studios/Focus Features

Hyde Park on Hudson is one of the least enjoyable movies of 2012 and just as uninteresting now that is has been released to DVD and Blu-ray.  The problem with this attempt at a semi-biopic is the lack of balance between the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s relationship with his mistress Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley and that of the visit by King George and his wife, Queen Elizabeth.  The script attempts to tie the two storylines together.  But in that effort, writer Richard Nelson and director Roger Michell have instead crafted a story that ends up plodding along at a near snail’s pace all while not really amounting to anything by the time it ends.  The story is narrated by what is supposed to be Margaret Suckley, explaining her relationship.  Herein lies another issue with the story.  Because it is told from the vantage point of “the other woman”, there’s no way to ignore the comparison to the Madonna helmed W./E.  Just as the latter was an art film, this movie comes across the same way, eventually amounting to nothing.

The initial comparison to W./E. is only one problem with Hyde Park on Hudson.  Anyone that has any knowledge of presidential history or even the slightest interest in said history know that Roosevelt was just one of so many political figures that has been anything but faithful in their marriage.  Keeping this in mind, it makes the storyline of FDR’s relationship with his mistress–and only certain people knowing about it—all the less interesting.  Had the story been more focused and aimed perhaps at the political relationship between the British royals and the President, it might have actually had more substance about it.  But sadly, Nelson opts instead for the more dramatized side of things, going more for the intended soap opera that surrounded FDR and his mistress, again causing the story’s pacing to drag along slowly, and thus leave audiences feel robbed of their time.

For all of the negatives surrounding Hyde Park on Hudson, it does have at least one positive.  That positive would be its backdrops and associated cinematography.  The beautiful countryside backdrops of the story are beautiful.  And thanks to the expert work of the movie’s film crew, those backdrops became the real stars of the movie; even more so than lead star Bill Murray who did quite the job of portraying the late President.  Murray’s portrayal leaves one wondering if he did so well, then how much better could this script have been had Nelson and Michell come to terms on which story was more important.  But because of Hollywood’s seemingly insatiable appetite for prequels, sequels, and reboots, one can only hope that should the story of Roosevelt’s “secret” ever be retold, it will star Murray again, but actually have more worth seeing.

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Les Miserables Not So Miserable In Its Home Release

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Adapting classical literature for the big screen is one of Hollywood’s most time honored traditions.  Countless books have been adapted for the silver screen since the industry’s Golden Era.  Just as common for movie studios to do is to adapt stage plays that have themselves been adapted from books.  So as common as this practice is even now in Hollywood’s modern era, it takes a lot to make a movie of this fashion stand out in today’s overly crowded movie market.  Enter the newest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables.

The latest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption is one of the best movies of 2012.  And now that it has been released to BD/DVD/Digital combo pack, it has proven to be one of this year’s best home releases.   It isn’t the year’s best.  But it does come close as it struggles with at least two glaring issues.  Those issues are the movie’s scene transitions and its general cinematography.  Much of the cinematography issue goes hand in hand with the problematic scene transitions.  Though there’s just as much problem with this movie’s shooting style not directly linked to the transitions in question.  Despite having issues with shooting and scene transitions, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives.  And those positives are many.

The primary positive to the home release of Les Miserables is its abundance of bonus features.  The bonus features included in the movie’s new home release offer lots of interesting tidbits that make the movie more worthy of respect.  For starters, viewers learn through the bonus features that star Hugh Jackman actually went through a rather rigorous diet and exercise regimen in order to obtain a specific look of a convict who has spent much of his life in prison.  It definitely worked as he looked every part the convincing character.  Just as interesting to learn in watching the bonus features is the vocal work that went into singing each scene.  Most audiences know by now that the entire movie was sung.  It shows how seriously those behind the movie took its creation.  The bonus features expand on the musical aspect of the movie.  Jackman and company explain the training that was undertaken and how the cast and crew balanced the noise of the cast and instruments with the cast singing.  Part of that balance came in the form of carpeting on the scenery floors to cancel out footsteps and keeping the pianist in a soundproof box, just to point out a little bit.  One could go on for quite some time discussing the role of the bonus features in the new home release of Les Miserables.  But viewers would be better left to check out the remaining bonus features for themselves.  That’s because there is so much more to cover in this new home release.

The bonus features included in the new home release of Les Miserables go a long way toward making the movie better at home than it was in theaters.  So what else could help elevate the movie?  How about the director’s commentary?  Director Tom Hooper discusses a variety of topics throughout the course of the movie.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his commentary is how he and writers Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil adapted not just the famed stage play but also the original literary work into one full big screen work.  Those who have read the novel likely recognize the combination.  But those who are more familiar with the stage presentation will appreciate this little nugget of information.  It explains away the order of events in the movie in comparison to the stage work.  This is just one more factor that makes Les Miserables better than it was originally given credit for in theaters.  And yet again, it’s more proof of the value of special features on a movie’s home release.

Speaking of the movie’s audio commentary, the commentary involuntarily points out one more positive to the movie.  That positive is the movie’s casting.  Experienced fans will recognize both Samantha Barks and Colm Wilkinson from the 25th anniversary performance of the musical from London’s O2 arena. Samantha Barks reprises her role here as Eponine.  Wilkinson on the other hand actually plays the bishop.  This role is just as important as that of Jean Valjean in that it is the bishop who first helps Valjean turn around his life.  He showed in his performance here that his vocal chops are just as sharp as ever.

Just as interesting as Wilkinson and Bark returning for this adaptation of Les Miserables is the mention by [Tom] Hooper that casting Eddie Redmayne was quite the choice considering so many of his fellow actors had also played the role of Marius.  One can only imagine how nerve wracking it had to have been for Redmayne to have been so new to the role and surrounded by those who were so experienced in his role.  He pulled off the role quite well though.  This little piece of information, along with everything else that Hooper discusses in the audio commentary makes the movie that much more enjoyable.  Though, it should be pointed out that while he does discuss the camera work, there is no apology for his shooting style.  It is that shooting style that is really the movie’s one major downfall.

The music, acting, and scenery make this latest adaptation of Les Miserables a huge hit, as do the bonus features and audio commentary.  For all of this movie’s shining positives, there is one glaring negative that none of the positives can erase.  That negative is the general cinematography.  It, along with some of the scene transitions, makes things a little bit difficult to handle; so difficult in fact that they could leave viewers feeling slightly dizzy and even confused.  The problem with the cinematography is that throughout the movie, Hooper tries too hard to catch the emotion of his cast.  The resultant effect is that it makes it seem as if the cast is over emoting, thus making the acting seem a little bit campy. On the other hand, the rough scene transitions do eventually make way for smoother transitions, thus making the movie that much more bearable and more worth the watch, whether one is an experienced fan of this classic musical or not.

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Universal Studios Announces Side Effects Home Release Date, Info

Courtesy:  Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced the official release date for its new thriller, Side Effects.  Starring Channing Tatum, the movie follows his character, Martin and Martin’s wife, Emily (Rooney Mara).  The couple has a wonderful life.  But when Emily is prescribed a drug by her psychiatrist to treat anxiety, the couple’s life is turned into a nightmare.  The movie will be released on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack May 21st.  It will be available for digital download on May 7th.  The combo pack also includes an Ultraviolet digital copy and digital copy of the movie.

The upcoming home release of Side Effects includes a commercial for the fictitious drug used in the movie as well as a behind-the-scenes documentary and more.   The official Side Effects trailer can be viewed online now at http://youtu.be/Bxy4ThBd1PM.

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