Author: Robert Greenberger

REVIEW: On Story-Screenwriters & Filmakers on Their Iconic Films

austinfilmfest_bookii_cover-768x1152On Story – Screenwriters and Filmakers on Their Iconic Films
Edited by Barbara Morgan and Maya Perez
247 pages, $20, University of Texas Press

The Austin Film Festival is a great place to watch films and hear from filmmakers as co-founder and Executive Director Barbara Morgan assembles a winning lineup of producers, directors, screenwriters, and performers to come talk about their craft.

Thankfully, Morgan and Maya Perez, producer of the Emmy-winning PBS series Austin Film Festival’s On-Story, have collected an assortment in a too-short collection, On Story – Screenwriters and Filmakers on Their Iconic Films. After a James Franco introduction, we get the best from the last 20 years’ worth of conversations in transcript form.

Among the highlights is the Conversation with Shane Black, David Milch, and Sydney Pollack, where the diverse filmmakers talk character, plot, structure, theme and favorite moments from across their careers.

Similarly, genre devotees will appreciate the focus on comic book adaptations during the A Conversation with Michael Green, Ashley Miller, and Nicole Perlman, who have given us X-Men, Heroes, and Guardians of the Galaxy among other projects. The talk between John Milius and Oliver Stone, sadly, barely touches on Conan.

Callie Khouri provides a lot of details behind how Thelma and Louise came together and the unexpected manner in which is got from handwritten script to studio production and its aftermath for her career and the feminist cause.

Comedy fans will find the creation process for Groundhog Day interesting as Harold Ramis talks on his own and then chats with Danny Rubin, the man who first had the notion that became the film’s core. And for thriller fans, Jonathan Demme and Ted Tally walk you through the writing of Silence of the Lambs.

Perhaps the most interesting dissection of a film is when Ron Howard, Jim Lovell, Sy Liebergot, John Aaron, Jerry Bostick, Michael Corenblith, Al Reinert, and William Broyles Jr., discuss the making of Apollo 13, considering most of the speakers were the astronaut and engineers who actually made history and how Howard used them as advisors.

Would-be screenwriters will find the anecdotes and process discussion fascinating while ore casual students of film will find the majority of the conversations entertaining reading. It’s not a How To book by any means, but a series of discussions on the process and business behind the films. You came away impressed by their thoughtfulness and by how no two films go from idea to screen in exactly the same way.

REVIEW: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

BM66_ROTCCWhen Batman debuted on ABC in 1966, I was not yet eight years old, a prime target for this pop-art event. I was already a diehard comic book fan and couldn’t contain my excitement at seeing the heroes and villains come off the four-color pages and onto our then-new color TV. I was very excited and had no clue just how campy it was. That came later as the reruns began on WPIX and throughout the 1970s.

The Batman phenomenon has proven incredibly influential on several generations of comic book fans, professional writers, artists, and animators, and beyond. Thankfully, whatever legal entanglements there were between Greenway Productions, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros got ironed out, allowing a new generation of fans to glory in what is now known as Batman ’66. The latest offering is the direct-to-DVD animated feature Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, starring the voices of Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar – sadly the last living main actors from the series.

Directed by Rick Morales and written by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker, there is tremendous love and affection showered on the production, billed as a direct continuation of the ABC series. In that regard, it comes close but not quite. After all, there’s no Batgirl and Robin is played as a still-16 year old with a learner’s permit, when by show’s end he’s acknowledged as older.  Additionally, there have been tweaks here and there so the Batcave is larger and more ornate, complete with the giant dinosaur and playing card trophies while exiting the cave is a more elaborate event. Even the Bat-chutes are reimagined as a singular giant parachute in black (and no evidence the Bat-chute Clean-up Van is still on duty).

The story teams up the fearsome foursome of Catwoman, Joker Jeff Bergman, nicely channeling Cesar Romero), Riddler Wally Wingert, also good), and Penguin (William Salyers) in an appropriately convoluted plot to takeover a space station abandoned after America and Moldavia cannot agree on its use. Batman is subjected to a chemical agent that twists him beyond recognition and he uses a far-fetched duplication ray to essentially stage a Bat-coup over Gotham City.

brcc021816As one expects from a film-length version of the show, all the tropes are there from giant prop death traps, Aunt Harriet’s near-discovery of their secret, the bond between Bruce Wayne and Alfred, the ineptitude of the GCPD, well-choreographed fight scenes, and deathless dialogue on public safety. And I grinned my way through most of it. Clearly, the script played up Catwoman since Newmar could run with the part and her fickle feline feelings has her switch sides with ease. There’s also a nice gag as a stunned Batman sees three Catwoman, one looking like Newmar, one like Lee Merriweather, and one like Eartha Kitt. There are several other sly touches like this one along with jabs at other filmed versions of the Caped Crusader.

Is it perfect? Of course not nor was the original TV series. I think the character designs for Robin and Riddler don’t quite work and the thugs come and go without explanation and when they’re present, there seems to be one of each and they do nothing to aid their bosses.  Speaking of the villains, when they teamed up on TV or first gathered for the live-action Batman film, they at least talked to one another before dissention rose among them. It would have been nice to see more of that here.

brcc027253This is certainly the most optimistic and enjoyable Batman film out in 2016 and that’s something to be thankful for.

The film arrives in a Blu-ray, DVD< and Digital HD combo pack. Beyond the film, there are just two bonus features: “Those Dastardly Desperados” tries to shine a light on the importance of the villains but lacks context (or TV clips); and,  “A Classic Cadre of Voices” as vocal cast and production crew talk about the importance of recreating the sounds of the sixties.

 

REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond

stb_bd_oslv_3dHalfway through the first five-year mission, Captain James T. Kirk has grown complacent, even bored. The thrill of discovery and adventure seems to have worn thin and he’s restless, ready for a change. Still in his thirties, young by 23rd century standards, he seems to be having a midlife crisis ahead of schedule. At much the same time, Spock yearns to join the remaining Vulcans in order to perpetuate the species, concluding this is his destiny.

Life has a funny way of upending plans and so we find the crew of U.S.S. Enterprise, Kelvin division, at the outset of Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond. The film was well-received by fans who felt the previous film, Star Trek Into Darkness, was as a betrayal and disaster. Unfortunately, an inept marketing campaign from Paramount Pictures meant along with a robust summer of competition meant the new film underperformed at the box office.

As 50th Anniversary celebrations go, Paramount largely screwed the pooch on this one, although the film delivers everything fans want: human stakes, humor, references to the larger Star Trek universe, and action. There are multiple themes at work here including whether or not the unity of the United Federation of Planets weakened its member’s species or there was strength in numbers.

Simon Pegg and Doug Jung have done a wonderful job adding in depth and character, allowing the triumvirate of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and McCoy (Karl Urban) to interact and explore their own futures. While Lin shines the spotlight on the reset of the ensemble, these three get the meatiest parts which honors Gene Roddenberry’s original series.

Left to right: Chris Pine plays Kirk, Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah and Anton Yelchin plays Chekov in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

The entirety of the Star Trek franchise is well-served by this story with Easter eggs galore for the diehard fans without losing the more casual viewer. Instead, the screenwriters and directors take us into new territory seeing things we’ve never seen before. The drone bees that attack and then destroy the Enterprise is a clever attack and the comment the ship’s shields were not designed for such an attack shows that even in the 23rd century, Starfleet architects have things to learn.

Less clever, though, is Krall (Idris Elba), the protagonist that ironically ends up feeling the weakest part of the story. His motivations are ill-formed and while his backstory and history are nice nods to Enterprise the series, they are less interesting than an alien representing a race that challenges the very ideals the Federation was founded on. He is more a stock opponent and weakness what is otherwise a very strong film.

I would have liked to know about the other races lured to Krall’s planet, including the one that brought Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to be there. She’s lost her family and has taken up residence in the hulk of the U.S.S. Franklin a starship from the earliest days of Starfleet.

stb-escapeThe sense of legacy pervading the film is a strong theme and I wanted to see more of that. Kirk mourns his father and the appearance of Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo) hints at the famed lineage culminating in Voyager’s Tom Paris. But the scene between her and Kirk is leaden and doesn’t go far enough to explore character or advance the plot. When Kirk tells Picard in Generations — “Let me tell you something. Don’t. Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you, don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you’re there, you can make a difference.” – we understand Kirk’s commitment to being a captain. Paris should be the one passing that on to Kirk, reminding him of his first, best destiny.

Similarly, Kirk looks more wistful than pained when his starship goes down in flames. The Prime Kirk would have been in agony at that stage of his career. That said, it went well and it’ll be interesting what’s new on its replacement.

Lin brings a visual verve to the production so we see the starship zipping through warp space or shot from fresh angles so we were dazzled. He had lovely touches such as the glowing universal translator pips on Kalara (Lydia Wilson). On the other hand, given the loss of gravity in several scenes and the frenetic action, his editing left me dizzy and occasionally uncertain of what was happening.

stb-krallWhile Scotty (Pegg) has some wonderful moments, the rest of the crew needed more. John Cho’s Sulu has a husband and daughter but it would have been nice to see him talk about them or take charge of the crew while they were prisoners of Krall (and why were they being detained?). Chekov (Anton Yelchin) uses his innate genius to handle some of the tech demands but otherwise fawns after Kirk’s instinctual genius. I did like seeing Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in action and showing initiative, but had little else to say. Her romance with Spock is on the rocks which is under-explored.

Overall, this is a strong Star Trek film and is certainly the strongest of the three Bad Robot films, make of that what you will, but the leads have grown into their roles and we’re finally given a chance to see who they are. The death of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock is nicely handled and the end title memorials to Nimoy and Yelchin are nicely done.

Star Trek Beyond is out Tuesday from Paramount Home Entertainment in a 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, Digital HD combo pack.  While I can’t speak to the 3D, the high definition transfer is excellent along with good audio. The bonus features two short deleted scenes (1:02, with one more good Easter Egg) and eight short pieces, each one examining thematic aspects of the film, with copious footage taken from across the preceding films and television episodes: Beyond the Darkness (10:08); Enterprise Takedown (4:31), Divided and Conquered (8:17); A Warped Sense of Revenge (5:15), Trekking in the Desert (3:06); Exploring Strange New Worlds (6:02), New Life, New Civilizations (8:04); and, To Live Long and Prosper (7:51). Additionally there is the too short and choppy For Leonard and Anton (5:04), paying tribute to the passing of the Trek; and of course, Gag Reel (5:13).

REVIEW: Independence Day: Resurgence

ID4 ResurgenceIt’s fairly amazing that it took five men — Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt – to conceive the story and pen the script to Independence Day: Resurgence when it trod no new ground and felt like the worst rehash of the original film and many other SF flicks from the preceding twenty years.

The original ID4 was an unassuming popcorn thriller with implausible science and predictable actions but leavened with strong performances and quirky, fun characters. They were having fun fighting the alien invaders and we had memorable lines and Will Smith punching out an alien with “Welcome to Earth”.

Somehow, these five, including Devlin and Emmerich who gave us the first, left out the fun. Instead, for two hours we see a mix of familiar and unfamiliar figures watch an even larger alien ship arrive, intent on destroying Earth either as an act of revenge or still in need of our resources, the locust that would ravage Earth before moving on to the next world. And of course it all happens conveniently on the 290th anniversary, as if the aliens would calculate time so precisely.

The kids have grown up and we focus on Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher), the son of Jasmine Dubrow-Hiller (Viveca A. Fox) and stepson of Steven Hiller (Smith) and Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), daughter of President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman). New kids on the block include Rain Lao (Angelbaby) and Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), not that they get much to do. They are our first line of defense and somehow mankind has reverse engineered the alien tech so they could rapidly rebuild Earth and then build a massive station on the moon (the technological advanced are perhaps the most implausible aspects of this film).

We still have David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) as the smartest man in the room along with Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner), the craziest man in the room. And there are numerous newcomers, none of whom are given anything resembling a personality or real role in the film spoiling the talents of Sela Ward as the current President and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a fellow scientist.

id4-resurgence-queenApparently, a third race has arrived to warn us of the impending invasion but we fired first and it takes time to uncover the Poké Ball, with its dire warnings. The mother of a ship arrives, all 3000 miles of it, and the heroes make a valiant attempt during the trench run to launch the missile into the exhaust port. When that fails, they fall back and fret a lot until smarter minds come up with a plan while the aliens bore into Earth’s crust trying to suck out the molten core. None of the physics of such a massive presence on Earth’s Atlantic Ocean or the drilling deep into the tectonic plates is ever felt.

We win, of course, and the alien queen is stopped seconds shy of victory, all too predictable, all too anticipated and therefore all too futile to entertain. After twenty years, one had every right to higher expectations.

The film is out now from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in a 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, Digital HD combo pack. The MVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.39:1 and an adequate transfer, if a bit murky here and there. The 3D version feels entirely like a wasted effort, average at best. The film gets more bang out of the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, not that it makes up for a sorry excuse for a sequel.

The 3D disc does not contain any special feature, all saved for the standard Blu-ray. There you get a handful of Deleted Scenes (8:24) with optional commentary by Roland Emmerich; The War of 1996 (5:11) a faux news recap of events between films; It’s Early ABQ (3:07), another faux program with Fred Armisen as an early morning talk show host; Another Day: The Making of Independence Day: Resurgence (55:25), a four part look at the film’s production with cast and crew interviews;  Gag Reel (6:14); Audio Commentary by Roland Emmerich; Concept Art: Aliens (5:48), AI (:43), Humans (2:58), Locations (1:33), and Original Presentational Images (1:28); and Theatrical Trailers (5:18).

Win a Free Digital HD Code for Bad Moms

badmomscoverOver the summer, the hot button topic of “having it all” and being the “perfect mom” was explored in the well-received satire, Bad Moms. The film, starring Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Kathryn Hahn was an over-the-top story of rebellion and re-examination, sparking countless discussions. With the film coming to Digital HD today (and on disc November 1), you can join in on the renewed conversation by entering our contest to win one of two digital codes, coutesy of our friends at Universal Home Entertainment.

All you need to do is tell us by 11:59 p.m., Friday, October 21, what you consider to be the most extreme example of someone being a “Bad Mom”, someone you have personally experienced. The decision of ComicMix‘s judges will be final.

Bad Moms, the year’s biggest R-rated comedy – a runaway hit with audiences and critics alike – is coming to Digital HD on October 18, 2016 and Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on November 1, 2016, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.  The raunchy film described as “incredibly funny!” by Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly, is the first R-rated comedy since The Hangover to earn an “A” grade from audiences nationwide.  Hailed by critics from The New York TimesChicago Sun-Times and Washington PostBad Moms is one comedy not to be missed.  The Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD come with nearly an hour of exclusive bonus content including hilarious deleted scenes, gag reels and exclusive interviews with the cast and their moms that will have everyone laughing again and again!

Written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover, Four Christmases) and produced by Suzanne Todd, (Alice Through The Looking Glass) and Bill Block (Dirty Grandpa), the comedy also features Jada Pinkett Smith (The Women), Christina Applegate (Anchorman 1 &2), Annie Mumolo (The Boss) and Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad).  It’s time to party like a mother with this hysterical and relatable film.

In this hilarious and heartfelt comedy from the writing duo behind The Hangover, Amy (Mila Kunis) has a seemingly perfect life – a great marriage, over-achieving kids, beautiful home and a career. However, she’s over-worked, over-committed and exhausted to the point that she’s about to snap.  Fed up, she joins forces with two other over-stressed moms (Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) on a quest to liberate themselves from conventional responsibilities – going on a wild, un-mom-like binge of long overdue freedom, fun and self-indulgence – putting them on a collision course with PTA Queen Bee Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) and her clique of devoted perfect moms (Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo).  See the movie that critics are cheering as “…a funny, giddy, sentimental laugh-in…” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times.

REVIEW: Legend of Tarzan

The Legend of Tarzan_3DWhen Warner Bros announced they were making a new Tarzan film, the first question among fans was, “Do we really need another Tarzan movie?” The character has had more interpretations and reboots than just about any other pop culture figure from the 20th Century and it felt that his relevance has passed. The answer, surprisingly then, is that yes, we needed this one.

The Legend of Tarzan, out now from Warner Home Entertainment, is very faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation, honoring the time-honored story of the infant raised by apes, who just happened to be an English lord. The cleverness in the script from Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) and Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) which picks up eight years later, after Lord John Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgård) has returned to England with Jane Porter (Margot Robbie) as his bride. They also steep the story in events that were contemporary at the time, things ERB usually avoided in favor of the fantastic.

The plight of the African tribes as the Dark Continent was seen as increasingly valuable and the slaughter of animals for their horns, tusks, and pelts started to shift the ecosystem’s balance. It took the efforts of an American, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), to bring the world’s attention to these problems. The man was real and not just added for a token black role and thankfully, Jackson was the right figure to bring the character to life. Williams comes to England to ask Parliament to invite Greystoke to accompany him to Africa to investigate.

_B4B2657.dngEngland is cold, gray, and dreary, stifling John and Jane so the decision is fairly easy and director David Yates does a masterful job contrasting civilization with the simpler, happier tribal life. Still, they’re there for a reason who is made manifest by Léon Auguste Théophile Rom (Christoph Waltz), another historically accurate figure and said to be the model for Joseph Conrad’s Colonel Kurtz. Rom is there to tilt the balance of African power toward King Leopold in Belgium, fueled by stealing a cache of diamonds deep in the Congo. In exchange for helping Rom, Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) has demanded Tarzan with whom he has a grudge.

And off we go. There are plenty of fine set pieces here that honors the traditions of Tarzan movies, along with winks and nods to the character’s worldwide legend. We have flashbacks to fill in the details of Tarzan’s past and have an over-the-top animal stampede in the third act. It’s far from a perfect film with Waltz playing a now stock villain complete with a dinner scene that seemed lifted wholesale from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Mbonga subplot was thoroughly unnecessary and was more of a distraction since the theme of Great White Hero versus Great White Exploiter of the Natives was a clearer narrative.

legend-tarzan-conquer-trailerThe film is lush with the jungle life and great attention to the animal and tribal life helps ground the story. Skarsgård and Robbie have a wonderful chemistry and you believe in their bond and faith in one another. Jackson adds just enough comic relief to be an able sidekick along with representing the audience in his awe of the life he finds deep within the trees.

The film’s 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer to Blu-ray is sharp, clear, and helps convince you we are in 1890 Africa. Slightly better is the Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

The Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD combo pack comes with a handful of special features although it is noteworthy that commentary, deleted scenes, and the like are absent in favor of Electronic Press Kit-worthy featurettes. The lack of cool features here is an example of Warner’s disappointment at the film’s undeserved failure at the box office. There’s Tarzan Reborn (15:10), an overview of the thinking behind this production; Battles and Bare-Knuckle Brawls, which examines three action scenes –Tarzan vs. Akut (5:15), Boma Stampede (4:53), and Train Ambush (4:57);  Tarzan and Jane’s Unfailing Love (6:01); Creating the Virtual Jungle (15:16); Gabon to the Screen (2:28) which stood in for the Congo; and, Stop Ivory (1:30), a PSA with the stars.

 

REVIEW: X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men ApocalypseOne of the enduring reasons behind the X-Men’s popularity has been the writers and artists exploring being a mutant as being a metaphor for some aspect of the real world. It fueled the comics for decades and informed the 1990s animated series to a degree. It even was the foundation for the first Bryan Singer-directed feature film. Somewhere along the way, the theme has been shoved to the side in favor of action and pyrotechnics.

After the soft reboot via X-Men First Class, Singer and writer Simon Kinberg have been edging the mutants towards general acceptance. After saving the future and the world from disaster in the previous film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, now we have them as generally accepted members of society. So, where do you go from here? You use them as Earth’s first defenders in the loud, messy, and ultimately dissatisfying X-Men: Apocalypse.

Having reset the timeline, tossing everything from third film in the series, the one not directed by Singer, we have a team of mutants in training at Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted. It’s now the 1980s and while many mutants have benefitted from Xavier’s (James McAvoy) benevolent approach to co-existence, not everyone has been so lucky and we early on meet four seeming outcasts from society. They are ripe for the picking which is good because here comes the resurrection of purportedly, Earth’s first mutant, En Sabah Nur  a.k.a Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac). He emerges in a world he does not recognize and immediately declares it in need of a redo. After watching an episode of Star Trek about man rejecting a god, he seeks out four new acolytes, his “horsemen” and finds them in Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and a player to be named. Rescued from this mess is Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Meantime, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is having nightmares that literally rattles the mansion, causing her concern and warning knowing audiences the next film will be a second round of The Dark Phoenix Saga. We also have Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) arrive at the mansion, a sullen teenager hating his newfound optic powers.

xmen-apocalypse-gallery-04-gallery-imageWe apparently can’t have an X-Men film without Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and he has the most tragic story arc. After dropping from sight, he has married, fathered a daughter, and is quietly working in a Polish factory until he’s forced to use his powers to save a life. Rather than thank him, he’s feared and hunted. When his daughter is accidentally killed, he loses it, making him ripe for Apocalypse. The notion of magneto being subservient to anyone is a false note here.

Things gather speed and we rush headlong into set pieces that give the characters a chance to strut their stuff but we learn little about them along the way. We bring back Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), now a legendary ageless mutant and revisit Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne), reactivating suppressed memories from First Class.

We get to the third act when everything stops making sense. Apocalypse wants to destroy the world and remake it but it’s a world he’s spent no time trying to understand. He does not grasp its population, technology, myriad religions, or the fragile ecology. We’re offered no vision of how he wants this new world to look. Instead, he has his horsemen get to work and we watch the world slowly get pulled apart. Later, after the X-Men inevitably win, the death toll and billions in damages go unmentioned. The mutants’ place in the world is also undiscussed as the status quo is reset although now that we’ve seen what Jean is capable of, we have every right to be worried for her and the world.

xmen-apocalypse-gallery-06-gallery-imageUltimately, it’s a solid entry in the series but it feels underdone and not thoroughly thought through. It’s entertaining to watch and wearying to consider after the lights go on.

We get fine performances from the leads but the cast is so oversized that too many fine actors are totally wasted, starting with Oliva Munn, who is visually perfect as Psylocke. The story could have been sharper but after watching the deleted and extended scenes, with Singer’s commentary, no real narrative was left on the cutting room floor.

The film, out now as a Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD combo pack from Twentieth Century Home Entertainment, has an excellent AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1 and you can hear every boom and pop of special effects thanks to a lovely DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track.

As mentioned above, the special features include Deleted/Extended Scenes (28:11), a Gag Reel (8:20), Wrap Party Video (4:46) and the requisite X-Men Apocalypse: Unearthed (1:03:58), the behind the scenes multi-part feature where you understand what went into writing and making the film. Additionally, there is Audio Commentary by Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg, Gallery, Concept Art, Unit Photography and Theatrical Trailers (7:15).

REVIEW: The Neon Demon

neon-demon_2d_dvd_bd_combo_fEuropean filmmakers seem to favor theme and concept over actual execution which may be one reason why American audiences appear so resistant to the overseas offerings. For example, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn had a fairly interesting idea about exploring female villains, inspired by the real life doings of mass murderer Countess Elizabeth Báthory. He coupled that notion with the universal themes of youth and beauty, setting his tale in Los Angeles and the fashion model field. Unfortunately, despite a strong American cast, the European sensibilities failed to bring the ideas to life and The Neon Demon arrived cold, sterile, and thoroughly uninvolving. The film is out no on home video courtesy of Broad Green Pictures.

We open with a striking visual of a blood-soaked Jesse (Elle Fanning), attired in blue, prone atop a settee. Of course, it’s for a shoot and the 16 year old has arrived on the West Coast in search of work as a model. She somehow met up with much older Dean (Karl Glusman) who shoots these test photos for her to use to sign with an agency.

Everyone tells us she is young, innocent, and has that certain something that will make her a star. Refn keeps telling us this and never, ever show us this magical quality so we’re left to wonder. Fanning’s deadpan performance makes her less human and more mannequin so any sympathy we should have for her is absent. So little is revealed about her past life that we really never get to know her, which is a shame.

Jesse befriends makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) who clearly has the hots for her. In turn, Ruby introduces her to models Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). They see in Jesse that their sell by dates are rapidly approaching despite all the artificial work Gigi has proudly done to her body.

neon-demon-1After she’s hired by Christina Hendricks, the only performer to infuse life into her character, Jesse is sent to top photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington), who forces her to strip nude and covers her in gold paint for the shoot. Somehow this gets her work but there’s a lot of narrative tissue missing from this. It also way too quickly transforms Jesse from innocent to narcissist, driving away Dean and robbing her of any sympathy. It’s all wasted and dull screen time.

Then you have her living in a squalid motel run by Hank (Keanu Reeves in a head-scratching bit part) where a mountain lion has entered her second floor room and destroyed it. Dean comes to her rescue here but the relationship goes nowhere.

There are so many interesting ideas in Refn’s head that it’s a shame they never made it to the script or screen. The film is intellectually vapid but visual stunning at times. Credit has to be given to production designer Elliott Hostetter, costume designer Erin Benach, and cinematographer Natasha Braier.

The narrative in the script by Refn, Mary Laws, and Polly Stenham is so disjointed, filled with long silent stares you wonder if the entire cast has gone mute. There is one restaurant scene where ideas are introduced but that’s the sum of intellectual heft. The notion that the fashion industry devours its young plays out literally in the latter stages. But first, we deal with sexual assault and a disturbing bit of necrophilia that does little to advance the plot.

The final fate of Jesse and the other models is morbid and vague and horrific after what seemed more like a psychological thriller. A talented cast is robbed of a chance to do good work thanks to a shoddy script and director less interest in people than themes.

The film was released via Amazon Films, and is now out on Blu-ray. The high definition transfer nicely captures the stylish visuals. The audio lets you hear every note of the annoying electronic score by Cliff Martinez. The spare special features are a director’s commentary, a trailer, and a brief look at the film.

REVIEW: Constantine the Complete Series

REVIEW: Constantine the Complete Series

constantineI may have been one of the few to like the 2005 film version of DC Comics’ John Constantine. Yes, it had Keanu and yes it was in Los Angeles, not London, but it was an old fashioned horror film and worked better than it should have.

As a result, I was primed to enjoy NBC”s take on Constantine when it debuted in 2014. It had the right pedigree with David S. Goyer and Mark Verheiden among the producers and cast an act Brit, Matt Ryan, in the lead. What resulted, though, was something interesting and uneven that didn’t catch on with the general audience and was gone after thirteen all-too-brief episodes.

There has been enough interest in the character that Ryan was brought on to reprise his role in last season’s Arrow and he’s voicing John on the forthcoming Justice League Dark animated feature. And now, Warner Archives has released Constantine The Complete Series as a three-disc Blu-ray set.

Properly portraying the supernatural on prime time is tough because the very subject matter is challenging and visually, it needs to be atmospheric and way too often network fare is too brightly lit to work. Here, the overall look is far more subdued and they definitely upped the ick factor so it worked more often than not.

Constantine closely resembles his print origins even if he did smoke a lot less and abstained from his bisexual ways. Instead, we got an exorcist and mystic troubleshooter who got into trouble as he tried to do good. Being a television series, it needed something to act as a through line so they invented the scrying map and drops of blood to direct them to their next port of call, which I found confining and unnecessary.

Being an American production, it was set in the United States so his best friend Chas (Charles Halford) is no longer a cabbie but an adventurer with more than little familiarity with the dark arts. The dynamic from the comic is totally absent here and there was little chemistry between the characters. I also thought Ryan paired well with Lucy Griffiths, who appeared in the pilot as Liv Aberdine, but the producers changed creative direction and she was gone, Replacing her was Zed (Angélica Celaya), taken from the comics; a psychic who added fresh complications to most cases.

There are other nods to the DC Universe here such as a Swamp Thing skull, a Doctor Fate’s helmet, and Felix Faust (Mark Margolis) as a foe and Jim Corrigan (Emmett J. Scanlan) as a New Orleans cop and future Spectre. A recurring foil was Pap Midnite (Michael James Shaw), seen in some of the better episodes.

Had the series been allowed to evolve and grow, I suspect it would have gotten stronger and creepier, freed to explore even darker corners. It’s a shame we’ll never know.

The overall look on high definition is absolutely fine, matched perfectly fine sound. The discs also feature a small handful of special features including: the Constantine trailer; a featurette called “On the Set;” the 2014 Comic-Con Panel Q&A with the cast and creators; and a featurette on the DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014 presentation, which also featured Gotham, The Flash and Arrow.

 

Star Trek Beyond Orbits Digital HD Oct. 4, Disc Nov. 1

stb_bd_oslv_3dHOLLYWOOD, Calif.  – The intrepid crew of the USS Enterprise returns in “the best action movie of the year” (Scott Mantz, Access Hollywood).  The “highly entertaining” (David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter) new installment in the iconic franchise, STAR TREK BEYOND sets a course on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray Combo Packs, DVD and On Demand November 1, 2016 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  The sci-fi adventure will also be available as part of the STAR TREK TRILOGY Blu-ray Collection.  The film warp speeds to Digital HD four weeks early on October 4, 2016.

Director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) delivers “a fun and thrilling adventure” (Eric Eisenberg, Cinemablend) with an incredible all-star cast including Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, as well as newcomers to the STAR TREK universe Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Idris Elba (Luther).  In STAR TREK BEYOND, the Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

The STAR TREK BEYOND 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray Combo Packs are loaded with over an hour of action-packed bonus content, with featurettes from filmmakers and cast, including J.J. Abrams, Justin Lin, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Go beyond the movie’s incredible edge-of-your-seat action and see how an unprecedented 50 new alien species were created, including STAR TREK’s newest villain Krall and the rebellious warrior Jaylah.  Journey through the iconic franchise in celebration of STAR TREK‘s 50th Anniversary, enjoy a hilarious gag reel and explore deleted scenes you didn’t see in theaters.  In addition, the sets include tributes to actors Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.  The film also boasts a Dolby Atmos® soundtrack* remixed specifically for the home theater environment to place and move audio anywhere in the room, including overhead.

Star Trek Beyond Blu-ray Combo Pack

The STAR TREK BEYOND Blu-ray is presented in 1080p high definition with English Dolby Atmos, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Audio Description and English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.  The DVD in the combo pack is presented in widescreen enhanced for 16:9 TVs with English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Audio Description and English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.  The combo pack includes access to a Digital HD copy of the film as well as the following:

Blu-ray

  • Feature film in high definition
  • Bonus Content:
    • Deleted Scenes – Go Beyond the final cut of the movie with scenes you didn’t see in theaters.
    • Beyond the Darkness – Meet visionary producer J.J. Abrams, director Justin Lin and co-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung as they discuss the inspiration for the Star Trek Beyond storyline and how it came to life.
    • Enterprise Takedown – Experience edge-of-your-seat action and see how a shocking attack destroys the USS Enterprise.
    • Divided and Conquered – Learn how filmmakers pushed the boundaries in Star Trek Beyond by forcing the Enterprise crew into their most challenging situations yet.
    • A Warped Sense of Revenge – Meet Star Trek‘s newest villain, Krall, as actor Idris Elba reveals the backstory behind his character’s terrifying ambitions.
    • Trekking in the Desert – Go on set to Dubai and discover how its futuristic architecture became the foundation for the most innovative Starbase yet.
    • Exploring Strange New Worlds – Tour the incredible production sets of Star Trek Beyond with director Justin Lin.
    • New Life, New Civilizations – See how special effects designers met the challenge to create an unprecedented 50 new alien species for the film to celebrate Star Trek‘s 50th Anniversary.
    • To Live Long and Prosper – Journey through the past 50 years of Star Trek with J.J. Abrams and the cast as they reflect on the evolution of this iconic sci-fi series.
    • For Leonard and Anton – Watch a touching tribute to the legendary Leonard Nimoy and beloved crew member Anton Yelchin.
    • Gag Reel – Join in on the fun with this hilarious gag reel of on-set bloopers.

DVD

  • Feature film in standard definition

Star Trek Beyond Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack

The Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack includes all of the above, as well as a Blu-ray 3D presented in 1080p high definition with English Dolby Atmos, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Audio Description and English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.  The Blu-ray 3D disc includes the feature film in high definition and 3D. The Combo Pack also includes access to a Digital HD copy of the film.

Star Trek Beyond 4K Ultra HDä Combo Pack

Fans can enjoy the ultimate viewing experience with the 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, which includes the Blu-ray detailed above, as well as an Ultra HD Disc presented in 4K Ultra HD with English Dolby Atmos, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Audio Description with English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles. The Combo Pack also includes access to a Digital HD copy of the film.=

Star Trek Trilogy Blu-ray Collection

The STAR TREK TRILOGY Blu-ray Collection includes Blu-ray Discs of STAR TREK (2009), STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and STAR TREK BEYOND with access to a Digital HD copy of each film.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack and 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack available for purchase include a Digital Version of the film that can be accessed through UltraViolet™, a way to collect, access and enjoy movies.  With UltraViolet, consumers can add movies to their digital collection in the cloud, and then stream or download them—reliably and securely—to a variety of devices.

Star Trek Beyond Single-Disc DVD

The single-disc DVD is presented in widescreen enhanced for 16:9 TVs with English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Audio Description and English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.  The disc includes the feature film in standard definition.

STAR TREK BEYOND

Street Date: October 4, 2016 (Digital HD) November 1, 2016 (Blu-ray, DVD, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D, Trilogy Blu-ray Collection and VOD)
U.S. Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Canadian Rating: PG for violence, coarse language

* To experience Dolby Atmos at home, a Dolby Atmos enabled AV receiver and additional speakers are required, or a Dolby Atmos enabled sound bar; however, Dolby Atmos soundtracks are also fully backward compatible with traditional audio configurations and legacy home entertainment equipment.