The Way Way Back Blu-ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

the-way-way-back-international-poster-02Starring: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Alison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Jim Rash and Nat Faxon.

Written and Directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon

2013 has proven to be a strong year for coming of age dramas with The Spectacular Now, The Kings of Summer and what proves to be the best of the bunch, The Way Way Back. The film from comedy veterans Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Academy Award winners for their writing on The Descendants, is a heart wrenching and heart-warming story of an incredibly shy and downtrodden young teen finding his voice with the help of a slacker water park worker that may be the only true father figure he’s ever had.

THE WAY, WAY BACKWhile 14-year-old Duncan (James) is being dragged on a family trip with his mom Pam (Collette) and her overbearing boyfriend Trent (Carell), he finds a gregarious friend (Rockwell) at a local water park. The two form a powerful bond as Duncan spends days away from the chaotic and drunken misadventures of his mom and Trent’s friends on ‘adult spring break’ (including Janney, Peet and Corddry). Through the blistering days of summer spent working in the park, Duncan emerges from his shell and even forms a bond with the girl of his dream (Robb).

The Way Way Back is almost pitch perfect and feels very organic in tone. Derived mainly from events and happenings from Rash and Faxon’s own childhoods, the film never feels out of sorts or unrealistic even during its most colorful flourishes and excursions thanks to the grounding the writer/directors set their characters up with. James is perfect as the put upon Duncan, from the opening sequence with the slyly devious Trent proclaiming him a ‘3 out of 10’ to his triumphant final moments, James embodies the petrified kid in all of us, just starting to dare step into the limelight. Aping Bill Murray from Meatballs and Walter Matthau’s classic Morris Buttermaker from the Bad News Bears, Rockwell shines as Owen, the man-child so desperate to move forward that he keeps himself stuck in a loop and the ones he loved seem doomed to orbit around him.

the-way-way-back-liam-james-annasophia-robbThe rest of the cast is set perfectly as well as there is not a performance that hits a sour note throughout. Particularly strong are Robb in a more adult role than what we are accustomed to see her play, Rudolph in a sparse yet hilarious turn as Owen’s girlfriend and Collette’s Pam shows an understated sense of desperation and strength that grows throughout the film. Carell nearly steals the entire film though, playing a slime bag of the upmost contempt, a role that he pulls of so well yet is nothing like anything he has ever played before.

The Blu-ray comes equipped with a full making of feature, deleted scenes and a handful of featurettes including a tour of the water park, a history of Jim and Nat and another on the ensemble on screen in the film.

 

the-way-way-back-film-film-reviews21The Way Way back is the type of film that is easy to revisit, and revisit often, and like the coming of age films of past decades like the Goonies, Clueless and even the recent Easy A, will likely stay that way for decades to come. The Way Way Back is very strong recommend.

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Trance Blu-ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

trance-bluray-coverTrance

Starring: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson

Written by Joe Ahearne, John Hodge

Directed by Danny Boyle

 

New to Blu-ray is the latest film from Academy Award winning director Danny Boyle that marks his first step back into the realm of the psychological crime thriller since his debut film “Shallow Grave”, “Trance”. The film is the feature adaptation of writer Joe Ahearne’s television film from 2001 of the same name and features a stellar trio of actors leading the small ensemble set in the high stakes world of art thievery.

Simon (McAvoy) is a fine art auctioneer who gets mixed up with a gang led by Franck (Cassel) looking to steal a painting. After the painting goes missing, Simon and Franck, along with Franck’s crew, join forces with hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Dawson) to recover their lost spoils. As boundaries between desire, reality and hypnotic suggestion begin to blur the stakes rise faster than anyone could have anticipated.

trancecb3Trance features some excellent performances of an overcooked script that ultimately results in a decent yet flawed final product that plays out slightly better on a second home viewing but ultimately still falls flat.  The script starts off with elegantly simple and well explained art heist that is easy to follow with a great performance from McAvoy. After the heist goes wrong and Simon loses his memory, Simon goes for hypnotherapy from Dawson’s Elizabeth and the story slowly gets more erratic and out of control. The final act is a series of twists and turns that overlaps and contradicts each other that is set up in the premise of a spider’s web unraveling, yet plays out like the entire web collapsing on top of it. The actions of Dawson’s Elizabeth make the least sense of the 3, but she ultimately holds the fates of all of them in her hands.

McAvoy’s sly grin and charm lose impact and believability on second viewing, his Simon is a character that always seems to be hiding something yet is never convincing enough as a foil for Cassel’s Frank. Cassel is brilliant, as usual, as the Gang leader who despite his best efforts and often brutal methods attempting to extract information from Simon cannot help but be drawn into Elizabeth’s sensual web. Dawson’s performance is bold, uninhibited and seductive. She fearlessly gives everything to the role and is quite frankly the main reason the film actually works in the end. It’s Dawson’s performance that gains the most from the second viewing as the nuances and reactions she use fit into the story much better. The film has a slick visual style and sensibility that enhances the performances as well. With Boyle working with frequent collaborator, Academy Award winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, behind the camera and production manager Mark Tildesley setting the stage, even a regular apartment takes on a unique and effective look.

??????????????????The Blu-ray comes equipped with a fascinating retrospective of Danny Boyle’s films under the Fox Searchlight banner, with Boyle talking about his thoughts one each film from “A Life Less Ordinary” up to Trance. We get a handful of throwaway deleted scenes that explain/expound on nothing from the main film and short film and theatrical trailer. Finally there is a four part feature on the making of Trance itself.

 

The film’s performances and visual style aren’t enough to elevate the film above the overly convoluted script on a repeat viewing. But Dawson and Cassel have a strong chemistry that shines; it’s McAvoy who’s the real miss here. Despite the film’s merits it still manages to fall just short of a recommend.

trance-1Till Next Time

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The Bible Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

bible blu

 

 

The Bible Blu-ray Review

Starring: Diogo Morgado, Darwin Shaw, Roma Downey and narrated by Keith David

Directed by Crispin Reece and Christopher Spencer

From executive producers Mark Burnett (Survivor) and wife Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) and Fox Home Entertainment comes the near 7 ½ hour TV miniseries in a 4 disc Blu-ray set, The Bible. The sprawling epic series played earlier this year on the History Channel in 10 1 hour parts and now arrives in a Blu-ray set for the purchase. With further plans now in place for a 3 hour theatrical release about the life and times of Jesus Christ from this same team, the question is do they manage to pull this ambitious project off?

Narrated by Emmy winning actor Keith David, The Bible features a stunning international cast including Portuguese actor, Diogo Morgado as Jesus Christ and beloved actress, Roma Downey as Mother Mary. And for the first time since their award winning collaboration on Gladiator, Oscar and Grammy winning composer Hans Zimmer reunites with acclaimed vocalist Lisa Gerrard to create the majestic musical backdrop for this epic production.

the-bible-tv-miniseriesThe Bible plays out as a ‘greatest hits’ of the tome as the episodes jump sections of the Bible at a tie to arrive at what the screenwriters conceive as the best moments to proceed with. The first 5 episodes are unofficially the Old Testament and 6-10 dealing with the life and times of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament through to Revelations. Many of the actors in the series for the first half of the series are only around for one episode as the story shifts drastically from episode to episode, it’s not until the second half of the series that we get any character and story development that carries over a multiple episode arc. The production also does not fear to use a multicultural cast, Samson is portrayed by ‘African British’ actor Nonso Anozie and Jesus by Porteguese actor Morgado to name a few.

bible romaThe effects work is decent enough for a television production of this magnitude, expecting $100 million dollar film budget level effects here being quite unrealistic, as big set pieces like Noah and the Ark and Moses parting the Red Sea are effective. While others, like Samson’s demise, may be a little underwhelming as the temple stones are not convincing for a second. Shooting mainly in Morocco, and some other Middle East locales, the set design and location shots look excellent and are one for the strengths of the series as they set the audience in the right mindset for the series.

The Blu-ray comes packed with special features to enhance the entire series. ‘The Bible: Genesis’ is a behind the scenes exploration of the filming and ‘The Cast of The Bible’ highlights the casting decisions that make up the international cast.  ‘The Bible: Creation’  is a three-part journey that goes further into  the making of The Bible while ‘Scoring The Bible’ examines composer Hans Zimmer’s work with award-winning soloist Lisa Gerrard. Finally ‘Believing in Miracles’ and ‘The Bible: Visual Effects’ finish off the disc.

The BibleA highly ambitious and epic mini-series, coming in just under a 22 million dollar price tag apparently, The Bible delivers for the masses who believe as well as the audiences who may be curious. The non-linear writing style of the series may throw some off is watch the sprawling epic in one sitting, but when breaking the series down into chunks to watch it may actually be beneficial. There is more than enough strong work here to give the series a recommend.

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Home Video Spotlight Mar 26- April 1: Lincoln, Parental Guidance and more

 

Home Video Spotlight Mar 26- April 1: Lincoln, Parental Guidance and more

Here’s a look at some of the titles new in stores this week.

lincoln bluLincoln (Disney Home Entertainment)

Steven Spielberg’s take on the last 4 months, and also the most turbulent 4 months, of Abraham’s Lincoln’s life and presidency comes to DVD and Blu-ray after winning Daniel Day-Lewis a well-deserved Oscar for his performance. Dealing with Lincoln’s efforts to get the 13 amendment endorsed by the House of Representatives while the end civil war also looms, and the impending peace could threaten the chance of the vote on the abolishment of slavery to go through.

Lincoln is a very script and monologue driven film that in many ways feels like a stage play as opposed to a feature film presentation. The cast is superb though, with Day-Lewis, Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader and the impeccable Jared Harris emerging as the standouts in a star studded package. The location and set design is also stellar and really evokes the time period and setting that Lincoln himself lived in. In the end the performances lift the film and make the effort through the dry spells of the script well worth the effort. Lincoln on Blu-ray is a recommend.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

parental bluParental Guidance (Fox Home Entertainment)

The latest from Billy Crystal and Bette Midler sees them playing babysitting Grandparents to the 3 children of their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) as she and her husband are out of town for his business. The children each have issues of their own as they live in an over protective environment that has resulted in a very high strung environment. The Grandparents get up to all sort of trouble with the kids resulting in bodily trauma, temper tantrums and a black eye.

Parental Guidance is a very low-aiming, flimsily scripted and tired premised excuse for a family film. Crystal is still stuck using the same schtick he has been pushing since 1991’s “City Slickers” and the rest of the adult cast seem content to phone it in. Of course the poor script should probably take part of the blame for giving them less than nothing to do. The saving grace of the film is the charming performances from the 3 children , but even that is not enough to save this film from the doldrums. Parental Guidance is a definite non-recommend.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

lego star dvdLego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out (Fox Home Entertainment)

The Lucas Star Wars Universe gets a skewering thanks to those loveable Lego’s in this brand new animated adventure. After debuting on the cartoon network the 22 minute stand-alone special comes to DVD for the first time in a special collector’s edition set with a mini Lego Darth Vader figure. The special starts after the destruction of the original death star but quickly goes array, including aspects of all of all six films. We get sibling rivalry between the two sith lords Darth’s Maul and Vader, a visit to the planet of Naboo where are heroes are washed away by the overly salivating Boss Nass and crew an even get Luke Skywalker impersonating his father all while the Emperor tries to assemble his ‘Death Star building kit’.

The writing is smart and just as funny for adults as it is children. The amount of cross movie interaction is hilarious and it’s actually quite impressive the writers were allowed to go as far as they did a familiar and protected franchise such as Star Wars. The animation is fun and as is traditional with all Lego productions everything from Strom Troopers getting blasted to ship crashing explodes into Lego blocks. And with a price point less than $10 dollars at most retailers, even the scant 22 minute run time becomes a non-issue. Lego Star Wars: The Empire strikes out is a definite recommend.

Bangkok-RevengeBD-2D-818x1024Bangkok Revenge (Well Go USA Entertainment)

The story of a wronged man looking for revenge at the end of his fists, also new this week is the premise behind Bangkok Revenge. Manit’s (John Foo) family was killed during a home invasion and he was the only one to survive, after taking a bullet to the head no less, and is taken in by a Muay Thai master who raises and teaches him. The bullet in his brain has rendered Manit unable to feel emotions such as anger and pain which help him as he goes after vengeance from the people responsible for killing his family and injuring him.

Foo does show some talent as a fighter but the film suffers from production issues and the decision to noticeably speed up all of the fight scenes. The script is barely existent and is full of 2D supporting characters spouting clichés. Our lead lacks the charisma of a Tony Jaa or Iko Uwais and speaks with a defined UK English accent which is never explained in the film, just flimsily explained away in a running gag that does not work. Bangkok Revenge is a non-recommend.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

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Home Video Spotlight Mar 12-18: Disney Classics, Life of Pi, Hitchcock and more

Blu-Ray and DVD releases for the week of Mar 12 – 18

Here’s a rundown of this week’s highlighted releases with links to full reviews on all of them.

Disney Dual Pack Blu-rays

Disney released three dual pack Blu-rays for three of its animated films this week with Mulan 1 and 2, the Hunchback of Notre Dame 1 and 2 and Brother Bear 1 and 2. These are the first time these films have been released on Blu-ray as a dual pack with their direct to video sequels included.

Mulan Collection

Mulan 1 & 2

Disney’s classic tale of the Chinese fable that sees young Mulan secretly take her father’s place when he is conscripted to the Emperor’s army comes to Blu-ray with a beautiful looking transfer. Mulan 2 takes Mulan and her now fiance Shang on a secret mission from the Emperor himself delivering his princess daughters to arranged marriage designed to strengthen China.

Mulan is one of Disney’s classic tales from Disney’s very fertile mid 1990s which also produced another one of the packs released this week and other classics like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. The film looks glorious on Blu-ray and makes some of the more special scenes pop even more. Mulan 2 is actually one of the better direct to video sequels, even without the return of Eddie Murphy, as the animation is still solid and the story, while goofy, still retains some fun. The Blu-Ray pack is a must buy.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

Hunchback of Notre Dame Collection

Hunchback of Notre Dame 1 & 2

Disney’s interpretation of the classic Victor Hugo tale of the deformed orphan Quasimodo also comes from the 1990’s era of Disney animation but is usually criminally overlooked and features one of the more dastardly Disney villains in Quasimodo’s master Frollo. Hunchback 2 tries to bring in a love interest for Quasi in the form of circus girl Madeline and also introduces her scheming and thieving boss to the mix.

The original Hunchback is a very underrated achievement with some gorgeous animation and a loveable hero at its core. Often lost in the crowd of the titles mentioned earlier, Hunchback is a title that deserves a lot more credit and spotlight. Hunchback 2 however should be forgotten. The step down in animation is terrible, even our main character Quasimodo looks different between the two films, and its story is pretty lame. The Blu-ray pack is a recommend based on the strength of it first film alone.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

Brother Bear Collection

Brother Bear 1 & 2

Brother Bear was released during the leaner years of Disney’s animation in the early 2000s when Pixar had really taken over. In fact the film about a young man being transformed into a bear to learn a lesson was bumped from the traditional Disney summer slot for Finding Nemo that year. Brother Bear 2 also tries to find our protagonist in a love story situation, this time even throwing the supporting characters in to situations of their own to boot.

Brother Bear is one of the lesser of the Disney animated films, and Pixar has since done a similar tale in Brave that has a much better story and moral attached to it. Brother Bear 2 unfortunately does not fare any better, having to replace the non-returning Joaquin Phoenix with Patrick Dempsey as the lead Kenai and working in non-credible ending, even for a film involving such mystical elements. The Blu-ray pack is a non-recommend.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

Life of Pi Blu-ray

Life of Pi Blu-ray

The Oscar winning Life of Pi makes it Blu-ray debut with an impressive looking pack. The tale of PI, the sole human survivor of a shipwreck,  lost at sea with only the company of a 450lb Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker has been captivating audiences and readers ever since the book debut back in 2001. Many felt the book to be un-filmable until director Ang Lee came along and delivered his award winning adaptation this year.

The film looks amazing and Lee’s determination to make the scenes look like living pieces of art really comes through on the home screen. The performance from Irrfan Khan as the older Pi is brilliant; it’s the true heart of the film and totally engaging. The effects work here is some of the best put to film last year and why Lee won the best director Oscar become crystal clear when you realize just how well these elements come together and that it was all shot in front of a blue screen. Lee’s imagination is on full display and the audience is the benefactor. Life of Pi on Blu-ray is a must own.

 FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW AVAILABLE HERETHEATRICAL REVIEW HERE

Hitchcock Blu-ray

Hitchcock Blu-ray

Hitchcock also hits Blu-ray this week. The tale of the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife Alma was met with a mixed reaction last year upon its release. Focusing more on a lighthearted treatment of the story than a hard hitting, 100% accurate biopic, the film is much more about the relationship between Hitchcock and his beleaguered spouse and features a strong turn from Helen Mirren in the role of Alma.

Hopkins does a decent turn as Hitchcock, not completely morphing in to the character but assuming the tone and essence of the man pretty robustly. The film does play better on the smaller screen that it did in the theater, but still has its issues and Hitchcock aficionados are likely to have strong feelings about the films outcome. The film itself looks excellent on Blu-ray and the disc is packed with special features galore. Hitchcock on Blu-ray is a recommend.

FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW AVAILABLE HERETHEATRICAL REVIEW HERE

Playing for Keeps

Playing for Keeps DVD

The newest Gerard Butler rom/com Playing for Keeps is out this week on DVD and Blu-ray. The film about and former soccer star who has blown his relationship with his son and former flame trying to make amends features an all-star cast. Of course Butler’s George can’t simply sweep into town and save the day by coaching his son’s soccer team and has to contend with a group of lonely, aroused and attractive soccer mom’s determined to get a piece of George for themselves.

Playing for Keeps is sadly bland and unoriginal and quite frankly we’ve seen this before from Butler far too many times. The film is not terrible; it’s just very average. Jessica Biel and Judy Greer managed decent performances while the rest of the cast seems content to toe the line and phone it in. The DVD is also without any additional features; just the film itself is included. Playing for keeps is a mild non-recommend.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

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