‘Death Becomes Her’ Has Plenty Of Life And Laughs

Courtesy: Scream! Factory/Universal

Courtesy: Scream! Factory/Universal

Bruce Willis, Meryl Streep, and Goldie Hawn are about as far apart as three actors can get from one another in terms of their bodies of work.  Willis is largely known for his work on 20th Century Fox’s hugely popular Die Hard franchise.  Hawn largely made a name for herself in the 1980s and ‘90s in movies such as Overboard (1987), Private Benjamin (1980), and The First Wives Club (1996).  Streep on the other hand has remained one of Hollywood’s top draws to this day, exhibiting her broad range of talents in the likes of The Devil Wears Prada (2006), The River Wild (1994), and Julie and Julia (2009) just to name a few of her entries.  She also singlehandedly saved the otherwise lackluster biopic The Iron Lady in 2011 and spread her wings just as much (if not more) in the 2002 indie flick Adaptation.  So it goes without saying that when the trio teamed up in 1992 for Universal’s Death Becomes Her it was anybody’s guess how the movie would turn out.  The original reception to the movie was lukewarm at best.  And sadly it has remained a relatively forgotten and underappreciated title for all three actors.  Yet now thanks to Shout! Factory it has gotten a new lease on life in a new “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray re-issue.  It proves in its new re-issue to be well-deserving of a second chance.  That is especially the case considering how little Hollywood has to offer in theaters today.  In shorter wording, its story alone makes it well worth that second chance.  That will be discussed shortly.  The special effects that were utilized in the movie are just as important to note as the movie’s story.  Last but hardly least of note in this movie’s presentation is the work of its cast.  Willis, Streep, and Hawn are surprisingly entertaining together.  Their work rounds out the movie’s most important features.  Of course one can’t ignore the new “Making Of” featurette included in this presentation of the movie.  It is not what would be considered one of the movie’s main elements.  But it is an interesting bonus in its own right.  Keeping this in mind, each of the elements noted here is important in its own right to the movie’s new re-issue.  Altogether they give a whole new life to this undervalued offering from Universal.

Shout! Factory’s new re-issue of Death Becomes Her breathes new life into what has been an otherwise forgotten flick from Universal.  It proves in the long run to be a movie that was then and is now an undervalued offering from the studio.  This is exhibited in large part to the movie’s writing.  More specifically it is exhibited in large part through the story at the heart of the movie.  The story is centered on a rather familiar plot—a love triangle leading to murder.  It’s the basis of so many movies (especially Lifetime movies) and episodes of Dateline and 48 Hours.  Yet in the case of this movie the writing team of Martin Donovan and David Koepp has given that familiar plot quite the paranormal twist of sorts here.  Rather than just letting Madeline (Streep) stay dead, Donovan and Koepp prove that indeed sometimes they come back again.  Yes, that was in itself a bad pun, for any other movie buffs out there that get it.  Thanks to a magical potion Madeline comes back to life after supposedly being killed by Ernest (Willis).  This leads to a confrontation with Ernest’s ex-wife Helen (Hawn) and the revelation that Helen had also taken the potion, leaving both women immortal.  After a brief conflict the pair reconciles and agrees that they both now need Ernest in order to remain in pristine condition due to his talents as a mortician.  The result will leave anyone with a real sense of humor laughing right to the story’s final scene.  The story itself is dark.  But it is still funny in its own right.  It also is just the surface of what makes the movie’s story so entertaining.  As is discussed in the new “Making Of” featurette included in the movie’s re-issue, the real story at the heart of the story is the story of Hollywood’s shallow, self-centered nature.  This will be explained in more depth later.  Getting back on track, the twist that Koepp and Donovan put on an otherwise all-too familiar plot line makes the movie’s central story a breath of fresh air especially when compared to the stories currently being churned out by Hollywood’s Big Six studios.  The movie’s story is just one element that makes it worth the watch.  The special effects that are incorporated into the movie are just as important to note as the movie’s allegorical story.

The story at the center of Death Becomes Her is in itself both funny and thought provoking.  That makes the movie well worth the watch in its new re-issue.  It is just one of the elements that makes the movie so entertaining.  The special effects that are incorporated into the movie are just as notable as its dual-pronged story.  This is another topic tackled in the new “Making Of” featurette included in the movie’s new Blu-ray re-issue.  The use of computer generated special effects was a relatively foreign concept at the time in which Death Becomes Her was filmed.  This is another topic tackled in the new “Making Of” featurette included in the movie’s new Blu-ray re-issue.  It will be discussed later, too.  Staying on the subject at hand, the special effects that were used to bring Madeline and Helen back to life are collectively a wonderful touch to the movie.  That is not just because of their use but because of their look, too.  There is almost a certain cartoonish look to the special effects in question that audiences will love.  One moment in which this is exhibited comes as Helen hits Madeline over the head with a shovel.  Madeline’s head is pushed into her shoulders, making her look like a turtle.  It is in fact a bit that has been used by quite a few cartoons.  Madeline pulling her head out of her shoulders and straightening it is just as familiar and funny.  In another equally entertaining scene, Madeline throws a pole through the hole that had only minutes earlier been blown in Helen’s body when Madeline shot her.  The action itself, and Madeline’s reaction are both priceless.  It’s one more way in which the special effects prove so important to the movie’s overall presentation.  It isn’t the last, either.  Audiences will be interested to learn that as Ernest hangs precariously from a gutter pipe late in the movie, he is not as high up as it seems.  There was obviously some move magic going on there.  But thanks to the work of those behind the scenes, it actually looks believable.  It isn’t just one of those scenes where a subject is splashed up against a blue (or green) screen with a random background haphazardly thrown in.  It really does look like Willis is hanging high atop the building so close to his own demise.  And even as he falls from the building (not to give away too much) the corridor of sorts through which he falls is clearly computer generated.  Yet it still doesn’t look anywhere as bad as similar sequences used in other movies both before and since.  That is a real tribute to the work put in by those responsible for handling the movie’s special effects.  It is yet another way in which the movie’s special effects show themselves to be so important to the overall presentation of Death Becomes Her.  There are plenty of other moments that could be cited, too.  When those moments are set alongside the moments noted here, the whole of said moments gives the movie just as much “life” as its story.  Keeping this in mind, the story at the center of Death Becomes Her and the movie’s special effects make this movie quite the entertaining horror/comedy hybrid.  They are not the movie’s only notable elements.  The cast’s work in front of the cameras is yet another notable part of the movie’s whole.

The story at the center of Death Becomes Her and the special effects that are incorporated in to the movie are both key to the movie’s overall presentation in their own way.  The story takes an all too familiar plot and gives it a funny albeit dark, almost Tim Burton-esque twist.  The cartoonish special effects that are used add even more enjoyment to the movie.  That is because they show neither the cast nor crew took themselves or the movie too seriously.  They will leave any viewer laughing at their look.  Both elements in themselves are hugely important to the movie’s presentation.  Collectively they show why this movie deserved to have been resurrected (bad pun fully intended).  As important as they are they are not the movie’s only important element.  The cast’s work in front of the cameras should be noted, too.  It was previously noted that Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, and Goldie Hawn each come from a very different background.  That is in reference to the films in which they have starred.  Considering this one can only imagine the uncertainty in bring the trio together on camera.  Yet surprisingly all three actors worked quite well together.  Bruce Willis, at that time, was known largely for his action roles.  Yet he actually pulls off quite well the role of Ernest.  Ernest’s alcoholic, somewhat neurotic persona comes through expertly thanks to Willis’ take on the character.  Again, considering that this was something of a departure for Willis, he is to be commended for his work here.  One of his best moments comes as Madeline and Helen are fighting in the background.  The camera focuses on him and he says something to the extent of, “If anyone needs me I’ll be upstairs.”  Willis’ deadpan delivery of the line is a great contradiction to the chaos behind him.  And his reaction early on when he discovers that Madeline is alive when she should be dead is just as funny.  For those who are familiar with the classic horror comedy Arsenic and Old Lace Willis channels a little bit of Cary Grant in this moment.  It is just one more of so many great moments from Willis in the movie and just one more way in which the movie’s cast proves so entertaining.  Meryl Streep is wonderful to watch in her own right as Madeline Ashton.  One can’t help but wonder in watching her take on the self-centered, egotistical woman, if perhaps she channeled a little bit of her for her role in The Devil Wears Prada.  That is inferred from early on as she pushes her assistant aside in her dressing room.  Her constant verbal abuse of Ernest hints at her character as an influence for Miranda Priestly, too.  Goldie Hawn is just as entertaining as Helen.  This is especially true early on as Helen resides in a mental ward.  The deadpan manner in which she says, “Yes, I want to talk about…..Madeline Ashton” is perfect.  Her timing of the line is just as expert.  The reaction of the other actresses in the scene makes the moment all the funnier.  They obviously did not want to hear about Madeline Ashton again.  Her reactions to her body falling offer just as much entertainment as do so many other moments.  Between those comical moments and those presented by her cast mates, the overall work of the movie’s cast offers plenty of laughs from the movie’s opening scene to its end.  They show in whole that the cast’s work is indeed just as important as that of the movie’s writing team and those behind the lens.  All things considered Death Becomes Her proves in the end to be an undervalued and underappreciated movie and one that more than deserved its new life.

Death Becomes Her is an undervalued and underappreciated cinematic work.  Looking at everything that it has to offer it is clear that it more than deserved its new life.  This is exhibited through the work of the movie’s writing team, its crew, and its cast.  As important as these elements are to the movie one would be remiss to ignore the bonus “Making Of” featurette that is included in Shout! Factory’s new BD re-issue of the movie.  It offers new interviews with both writers and the cast that offer a whole new insight into the movie and what makes it so undervalued.  The movie’s original “Making Of” featurette is also included alongside the new feature.  The two features together paint quite an interesting picture not just of the movie but of the cast and crew then and now.  It shows that little has changed in terms of the opinions held by the cast and crew.  With any luck, audiences that perhaps have seen the movie before will take that into account along with the movie’s story, its special effects, and the cast’s work on camera, and have their own change of opinion to the positive should their opinions previously have been more negative.  With any luck said viewers (and those new to the movie) will see in its new re-issue just how undervalued and underappreciated it is and that it indeed deserved the new life that it has received thanks to Shout! Factory.

It should be clear by now that while not a major hit Death Becomes Her is an undervalued and underappreciated movie.  It is a work that more than deserved a new life.  It is evident in the movie’s writing.  It is just as evident in the movie’s special effects and the work of the movie’s cast.  The new bonus “Making Of” featurette and the companion original “Making Of” featurette partner to enrich the movie’s viewing experience even more.  All things considered, Death Becomes Her shows in the end to be a movie with plenty of life and that deserved new life.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via Shout! Factory’s online store at https://www.shoutfactory.com/film/film-comedy/death-becomes-her-collector-s-edition.  More information on this and other titles from Scream! Factory—Shout! Factory’s horror division—is available online now at:

 

 

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Hope Springs A Funny, Heartfelt Rom-Com For Every Married Couple

Courtesy:  MGM/Escape Artists/Mandate Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: MGM/Escape Artists/Mandate Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Hope Springs is one of Meryl Streep’s most heartfelt, moving performances of her entire career.  Despite what many might want to believe, it isn’t just another chick flick.  It’s a movie that every married couple should see no matter how long they have been married.  Co-star Tommy Lee Jones has been typecast once again as another gruff personality in a power of authority.  Typically, he stars as a police officer or another similar authority figure in his movies.  This time, he stars as a high powered businessman.  Ironically enough, while he has been typecast yet again, his character Arnold is a fitting counterpoint to Streep’s Kay.  The couple has gotten far too comfortable in its marriage, and has completely grown apart.  It’s a simple story.  Yet it’s such a realistic story, unlike so many rom-coms that Hollywood has churned out over the years.

Many audiences seem to have had a belief that Hope Springs was aimed largely at older audiences.  But the reality of the story is that it mirrors life for younger married couples just as much as for those with years of experience.  The story is less about Kay and Arnold’s sex life or lack thereof than it is about simply how the pair has forgotten who the other is.  As a result Kay and Arnold are more strangers to each other than a married couple.  Again, this is something that is just as easy for younger couples to have happen as for those who have been marred for decades.  Maybe that is why the audiences and critics that panned it did so.  Perhaps, just perhaps, those that panned it didn’t like seeing the reality of their own lives playing out on screen.  This sort of denial and rejection is exemplified through Arnold’s own refusal and denial to talk to Doctor Feld (played here by Steve Carell in what is one of his most impressive roles yet, too).  No one likes to have to admit when things aren’t the way they are in life.  This is especially the case when it comes to relationships and marriages.  If viewers can get past their own pride—as Arnold was forced to do—they will see just how much value this story has, even if watched just once and that it is okay to admit that no one’s marriage is perfect.  It’s something that couples have to work at throughout their lives.  As John Lennon and his band mates in The Beatles sang, “All you need is love.”

The central story of Hope Springs is one to which any married couple can relate.  For all of its deep, heartfelt moments, audiences can’t possibly ignore the story’s funnier moments.  The way in which Doctor Feld candidly talks about Kay and Arnold’s sexual relationship and the couple’s reaction to his candid discussion.  This is just one more factor that makes Hope Springs so enjoyable for any married couple.  The very thought of discussing what goes on behind closed doors or in the deepest recesses of a person’s mind is still considered very taboo by most Americans.  Keeping this in mind in seeing the reaction of both Kay and Arnold will leave any viewer laughing.  It’s obvious how uncomfortable both Kay and Arnold felt in discussing their sex life…or in their case, the lack thereof.  For all of the comic elements of these moments, the deeper more emotional root of the couple’s lack of intimacy reminds audiences how serious this can be on a marriage.  It’s just one more aspect of the near two hour movie that makes it surprisingly enjoyable.

The acting and the writing of Hope Springs are both important to the movie’s success.  There is one more factor that should be given note here in the story’s success.  That factor is the work of the movie’s makeup department.  In so many of the movies in which Streep has starred, she has managed to look different from her previous role.  This movie is one more of those cases.  This movie’s makeup department is to be highly commended for making Meryl look so believable as an older woman.  From the makeup to the hair, there was something about her look that was completely different from her previous roles.  It was done so expertly that one can’t help but wonder, is this perhaps what she would look like off-screen without her makeup?  In other words, the hair and makeup looked natural.  And to look natural is a success.  It makes Kay that much more believable as a character.  And along with the acting of both Streep and Jones, and the story’s writing, Hope Springs turns out as a whole, to be a movie that any married couple should see at least once in their marriage.  It is available now in stores and online.

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Wreck-It Ralph Offers More family Fun From Disney

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph was originally said by the company to be the first in a movement to attract more young male audiences.  Disney made the announcement in 2010 when it released what was said to be its last princess movie for the foreseeable future in Tangled.  Ironically enough, Wreck-It Ralph proves to be a movie that will appeal to both young male and female audiences as well as parents.  Kids will enjoy the movie thanks to the backdrop of the video game world.  Parents will appreciate the movie for its multi-pronged moral story placed against the video-game based world.

Wreck-It Ralph is an interesting story.  On the surface, some might argue that it’s just a blatant advertisement for the video game industry.  That is true, but only partially.  It’s more than that.  It pays homage to both the video game industry’s golden era and its more modern era.  It’s more than that though.  Anyone that remembers Pixar’s groundbreaking movie, Toy Story will almost instantly recognize something a similarity between that movie and this work.  It is basically Toy Story set against the world of video games.  Just as the toys in Toy Story had their own secret world and life, so do the video game characters in Wreck-It Ralph.  And just as Woody was worried about being replaced, the characters in Wreck-It Ralph worry about their game being permanently unplugged.  The lesson of friendship is also present in both stories.  As can be seen, there are quite a number of similarities between Pixar’s groundbreaking CG based story and this latest release from Disney.  For all the similarities between the two works, Wreck-It Ralph does manage to establish its own identity.  It does this through its multi-pronged moral story.

The primary moral of Wreck-It Ralph is one of self-acceptance.  Ralph—voiced by veteran actor John C. Reily (Cyrus, Talladega Nights, A Prairie Home Companion) learns to accept himself and be comfortable with himself despite the labels placed on him by the social structure of the video game world.  But it isn’t until he develops a friendship with young Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) that he reaches this epiphany.  He realizes that he should be happy with himself because he sees in Vanellope someone just like himself.  And just as he sees a kindred spirit in Vanellope, she sees a hero in him, thus leading to the revelation that he doesn’t need a medal to be a hero.  As long as he is a hero to one person, that’s all that matters.  This is something to which any child and adult can relate, thus giving the story part of its heart.  The other part of the heart behind Wreck-It Ralph lies in the topic of social acceptance. 

Ralph learns in this story that regardless of the labels put on him by the video game world’s standards, he can be a hero to at least one other, thus leading to his epiphany of self acceptance.  He isn’t the only one that learns a valuable lesson though.  Those around him learn to be more accepting of him, too.  That’s thanks to him uncovering a “royal” sized secret that could have had a major impact on the video game world in his journey of self-discovery.  He ends up being a hero and saving the day.  How he does won’t be revealed here for the sake of those who have yet to see this movie.  But because word spread to his fellow video game characters, everyone’s view of Ralph changed.  And sure he was still the “bad guy” in Fix It Felix, Jr., but he was much more accepted than at the movie’s outset.  This lesson of social acceptance is one from which the entire family can benefit.  And it’s one more positive to what is another fun and family friendly story from Disney.  It may not be Disney’s finest.  But it is still an enjoyable work.  Wreck-It Ralph is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Disney DVD store at http://www.disneystore.com/wreck-it-ralph-blu-ray-and-dvd-combo-pack/mp/1326674/1000316/

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Before And After A Solid Crime Drama

Courtesy: Hollywood Pictures/Caravan Pictures/Mill Creek Entertainment

Before and After is not as terrible a story as some critics would have audiences believe.  Anyone that watches television newsmagazines such as Dateline, 20/20, 48 Hours, and the ilk will see that the story behind this movie is not as outrageous as it seems.  Nor are the reactions of the community surrounding Carolyn and Ben Ryan when it’s announced that their son Jacob (Edward Furlong) is a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend, Martha.  While this nation’s justice system says that a person is innocent until proven guilty, the townspeople in the Ryans’ community show the same reaction that people in the real world instantly show concerning any crime case that’s spread across the various news agencies.

While Liam Neeson has rarely had very good acting roles, this is one time when he is actually at least somewhat convincing.  And as always, veteran Meryl Streep impresses as the distraught mother trying to come to terms with and make sense of everything when her family’s world is turned upside down.  Alfred Molina shines, too, in the role of shyster lawyer Panos Demeris.  Audiences will love to hate him when he tells Carolyn that Jacob is his client.  And he will defend Jacob, even if it means throwing Carolyn under the bus.

The reaction of the townspeople around the Ryans’ is entirely believable.  One look at the news each night shows just how fast people are to judge, rather than sit and wait for the facts to come out about a case.  They instantly take it on themselves to be judge, jury and executioner, when they don’t have the full story.  And their reactions to Jacob’s family are just as believable.  Despite doing what he did, it makes Ben that much more of a sympathetic character to audiences.  He wasn’t thinking in doing what he did.  He wanted only to protect his son. 

That relationship between Ben and Jacob was the true heart of this movie.  While the main story was a crime drama, audiences learn that a fight between the two is what led up to the alleged murder.  Ultimately, the father-son relationship leads to an ending that is bittersweet at best.  But considering everything that Jacob and his family endured thanks to Martha’s death, it’s understandable that the story would end how it did.  That ending won’t be given away.  But it will leave any true movie lover moved as the last scene fades to credits.

Before and After is not a terrible movie by any means.  Is it the most memorable movie ever made in the crime drama genre?  No.  But it is still a movie that’s worth at least one watch.  Odds are that it was unappreciated by so many critics was that it was based so much in reality, rather than being just another over sensationalistic oversexed crime drama/thriller.  It’s a movie that any fan of more realistic crime dramas will enjoy.

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