ParaNorman DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

ParaNorman DVD

Starring the voices of Cody Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin and John Goodman

Written by Chris Butler

Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell

New this week on DVD and Blu-Ray from Alliance Films is the stop motion animated wonder, from the same studio that brought us Henry Selick’s Coraline, which scared up some decent box office this summer, ParaNorman. Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell bring us the story of a boy with the gift to talk to the deceased and a mission to fulfill. So what does the DVD have in store for us?

Norman Babcock (Smit-McPhee) is an awkward child with an extraordinary gift, he can see and converse with ghosts. Norman regularly converses with his dead grandmother, much to the exasperation of his incredulous father (Garlin), mother (Mann) and his sister Courtney (Kendrick). An outcast at school, Norman is constantly tormented by Alvin (Mintz-Plasse) and his cronies, and is constantly made fun of over his gift. But when the anniversary of a heinous act in his town’s history approaches, Norman’s estranged Uncle Prenderghast (Goodman) tracks him down as Norman must take over his role in order to save the day. But when all hell breaks loose it’s up to Norman, his friend Neil (Albrizzi), Neil’s hulking brother Mitch (Affleck), Courtney and Alvin to save the day and put everything right.

ParaNorman is a film that actually works even better at home. It remains a smart film that doesn’t pander to the audience while never getting scary enough to truly frighten its target audience. The script is smart with the more adult targeted humor playing better on the small screen. The story does borrow from films like the Sixth Sense quite a bit, but the endearingness of Norman and his friends more than compensates for some of the more familiar story beats.  The animation style works extremely well and the stop-motion is fantastic. It does not try to be anywhere near photo-realistic thankfully and I found it very reminiscent of the old Rankin/Bass TV specials I grew up on and still watch around Christmas every year. Directors Butler and Fell keep the film tightly paced and on target as it clocks in at a satisfying 93 minutes. The actors performing the voice work all work well here, especially our leads Norman and Neil along with Norman’s perfectly casted parents. Kendrick’s work as Courtney is really solid here as well, as the nuances of her character play better on the small screen.

The DVD is packed with a ton of great features to check out as they really go deep behinds the scenes and into all aspects of the production. We get a feature length commentary track going into all aspects of the filming with Directors Butler and Fell along with some pre-visual animatic sequences used for the filming. At around 40 minutes in total, the multi segmented Behind the Scenes package “Peering through the Veil” is full of informative and fun facts. And if that weren’t enough there are 7 additional featurettes covering other aspects of the film. A great pack for adult and child alike.

Sure to be present under many a Christmas tree this year, if you can hold out that long, ParaNorman is a treat and delight for the entire family. Loaded with special features and featuring a brilliant crisp and clean digital transfer, the DVD really becomes a can’t lose package. Based on this, ParaNorman on DVD is a must buy DVD and will be a fun holiday watch for the whole family.

You can read my original ParaNorman review HERE

Also Noteworthy : Rise of the Guardians Review  and Wolf Children Review

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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The Raven DVD Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

The Raven (2012)

Starring John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Pam Ferris and Kevin McNally

Directed by James McTeigue

James McTeigue’s The Raven has two interconnecting premises, the first of which is a fictionalized account of Edgar Allan Poe’s (played by John Cusack) still mysterious and controversial death. The real Poe, on his way to New York City, has made a surprise pit stop at Baltimore. Just like the one in the movie, he was found on a park bench in that city, wearing ill-fitting clothes and incoherently mumbling about a man named Reynolds. Theories about his death vary from different diseases and substances that were plentiful during the Antebellum. This movie’s supposed to tell what happened to Poe that led him to his mysterious death. The second premise is that during his stop, a serial killer has victimized members of the city’s population, while also copying plot points in Poe’s stories. Edgar is the prime suspect but he’s helping with the solving of the cases. So it’s also basically like watching libraries worth of Vincent Price and Hammer material within one movie with a 2012 time stamp. The source material and McTeigue’s glossy, ‘modern’ approach to it unfortunately gives us a pulpy movie.

And since there are murders you can assume that we have a buddy cop movie on our hands – yay! The real Poe had phases on relying on substances during his worst days, this script relies heavily on the account that he was a rabid, a violent drunk, a label disputed by his peers. Other actors considered to play Edgar were Ewan McGregor and Joanquin Phoenix who, as we know, had better things to do with their time. So Cusack’s stuck in this role, an actor who has played midlife crisis roles in better movies than, ahem, Hot Tub Time Machine. The script demands him to abscond others for being Philistines and Cusack decides to yell the word ‘philistine’ which yes, we get the irony but I wish he gave everyone, including me, earplugs before he ruins his vocal chords.

Since Cusack is the loud one in this dynamic, the more quiet one is Baltimore Detective Emmett Fields, played by Luke Evans. Both actors don’t lean back and realize how ridiculous their movie is, and this obliviousness is more pointed with Evans because his performance is mostly humourless. Other characters rounding out the story are Edgar’s love interest played by Alice Eve, an actress too good for most of her movies. But she’s delightful to watch as she recites Poe’s ‘Annabelle Lee’ falls in love, no matter which loudmouth gross person she’s falling in love with. There’s the love interest’s father, Mr. Hamilton, played by Brendan Gleeson, the most Southern of the performances, incorporating twangs within certain parts of his speech without overdoing it (Maryland, although loyal to the Union, is still part of the South). Then there’s Pam Ferris playing one of the Baltimore ladies, and she, just like any Children of Men cast member, gets a pass.

Again, this is trashy, and Lucas Vidal’s ill-fitting electronic musical score and McTeigue’s little visual effects don’t help me in liking whichever effect this movie is trying to instill in me. But that doesn’t mean that McTeigue doesn’t try to insert moments of beauty within it. The CGI used for transforming sets are barely noticeable – the movie doesn’t use what it doesn’t need. There are, at least, some aesthetically pleasing moments in the movie. The first is when Edgar is lecturing the Baltimore ladies about poetry. I don’t want to go on Armond White territory, comparing pulpy movies to classics, but then, I can’t help noticing the medium shots of the ladies remind me of ones in the party scene in Luchino Visconti’s Il Gattopardo, showing these women in various degrees of facial beauty despite coiling themselves in the time’s fashions. There’s something authentic in showing that the upper classes don’t all look like starlets. There’s also another scene where Edgar lunges at a door, cape flying behind him. These beautiful bits come with period movies and I’m a sucker for moments like that, no matter what else comes in between.

The DVD comes with French audio, French and English subtitles, and helpful audio commentary from McTeigue and the movie’s different producers. Along with these special features, The Blu-Ray has deleted and extended scenes, various featurettes about shooting the movie, about Poe, the cast, the music, as well as the theatrical trailer.

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Chained DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Chained DVD

Starring Vincent D’Onofrio, Julia Ormond, Eamon Farren, Gina Phillips, Evan Bird and Jake Weber

Written by Damian O’Donnell and Jennifer Lynch

Directed by Jennifer Lynch

After her trials and tribulations in India directing the film Hisss, documented in the excellent feature documentary Despite the Gods, with her next effort Jennifer Lynch wanted to get back to the friendly confines of small indie horror that spawned her, the result is Chained. Armed with a script she adapted herself and a stellar lead actor in D’Onofrio, Lynch set out to once again carve out her unique vision with the level of creative control only an indie film can provide, although it should be mentioned that the title was changed from Rabbit to Chained.

Coming home from a routine trip to the movies, eight-year-old Tim (Bird) and his mother, Sarah (Ormond), are picked up by a psychopathic cab driver named Bob (D’Onofrio). Bob murders the young boy’s mother and keeps Tim as his unwilling protegee, making him clean up the mess following each murder he commits. After a couple of aborted escape attempts, Bob chains Tim, now renamed Rabbit, to the inside of the house allowing just enough length to move freely within. As the years pass, Bob starts instructing Rabbit, teaching him anatomy and human behavior. Now a teenager, Rabbit (Farren) is slowly being pressed by Bob to start his own homicidal spree. Slowly but surely, he must eventually choose whether to follow in Bob’s serial killer footsteps or make one final, desperate attempt to break free from his long captivity.

D’Onofrio’s Bob is a menacing, grimy and remorseless beast of a man with no redeeming characteristics at all. Through flashback sequences we see the violence and degradation he went through that led him to become the man he is today. Lynch’s script pulls no punches in showing us exactly what Bob is capable of as we are taken right into his “killing room” and shown exactly what becomes of the girls he brings home. D’Onofrio’s performance is unflinching and fascinating to watch, he truly is one of the finest actors we have working today. Sadly the film is basically a two man piece, and our other lead Farren is way out of his league here. Left to sullen blank stares and random fits of screaming and moaning, one in particular is pretty laughable, Farren isn’t awful here, he’s just vastly overshadowed and the film suffers because of it. The story is passable here, though there are plot holes and an ending that is completely unearned and quite frankly terrible. The twist we are presented with is not only implausible but it’s also so bad that even M.Night Shyamalan at his absolute worst could do better in his sleep. That said, Lynch shows strength behind the camera as her lens is unforgiving, exploring every inch of the excellent set and setting, and the film has a great feel and pacing to it. Clearly Lynch is evolving into a solid, style based director, but it’s just too bad the script was her downfall on this one.

The disc itself is practically bereft of special features as we get an alternate cut of one of the death scenes and a trailer for the film. The saving grace here is the audio commentary with Lynch and D’Onofrio. Lynch is her usual self-deprecating, open book that she is known for and a charming D’Onofrio provides a great play-by-play as the two show they have a natural chemistry moving the commentary along.

Despite the great performance from D’Onofrio, Chained doesn’t quite satisfy due to a weaker second lead and an ending that ruins any goodwill the film had before. Sadly I cannot recommend a purchase of Chained, but if you can get a cheap rental or attach it to your Netflix cue, you could do far worse. Chained is a mild non-recommend.

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Movie Junkie TO

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Brawler DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Brawler DVD 

Starring Nathan Grubbs, Marc Senter, Pell James and Michael Bowen

Written by Chris Sivertson and Nathan Grubbs

Directed by Chris Sivertson

New on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada, is an MMA inspired fight film that explores the seedy side of underground fight clubs, Brawler. Based on a true story, the familiar tale of brother versus brother, realized most recently onscreen in last year’s Warrior, is familiar ground. The real test of the film will be if it can deliver a realistic product inside the cage.

Brawler is the tale of two brothers, Charlie (Grubbs) and Bobby (Senter) Fontaine, who find themselves in a vicious, bone-breaking, jaw-smashing underground “fight club” circuit under Mafia control set on the riverboats of New Orleans. Sidelined by an injury incurred while protecting his young brother, Charlie is blindsided after a devastating betrayal by Bobby and his new wife Kat (James). The two brothers return to the underground fight club scene in New Orleans and prepare to battle each other to the death.

The scenario is hardly new and the script really does not do anything fresh here to spruce it up. The dialogue is pretty pedestrian as well, but that’s hardly why we are here. The fight sequences actually work fairly well. You can tell Grubbs and Senter have done their homework as real MMA techniques and holds are used and mixed in with traditional movie fight punches and kicks pretty seamlessly. The fight scenes are by far the highlight in the film. The rest of the film unfortunately falls flatter than a ruined soufflé. Grubbs seems to have all of his charisma in the ring and none outside. But even he comes off better than Senter, who apparently feels acting like a drunken frat boy with a mischievous grin constitutes depth of character and range. While I see, with coaching, a possible future for Grubbs, Senter seems doomed to a straight to DVD string of follow ups. James and Bowen both really have nothing much to do here. James’ cocaine and substance addicted Kat could have been an interesting character to delve into but the film barely scratches the surface. Setting the film in New Orleans brings a certain level of griminess to the film, but also leads to many awkward cuts with inappropriate music cues forcing in Zydeco music to constantly hit us on the head that we are in New Orleans.

The DVD comes equipped with a trailer only. The disc itself suffers from a volume fluctuation that could very easily have been the fault of the filmmakers and not the authoring. The volume of dialogue is a mere whisper between the jacked up music and fight sound effects. The sound fluctuation had me adjusting the volume throughout the runtime of the film.

While I will give Brawler kudos for coming up with effective fight sequences the rest of the aspects of the film simply do not work. Sadly Brawler is a non-recommend.

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Bait 3D DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Bait 3D DVD 

Starring Xavier Samuel, Sharni Vinson, Alex Russell, Phoebe Tonkin and Julian McMahon

Written by Russell Mulcahy and John Kim (with additional writing by Shayne Armstrong, Duncan Kennedy, Shane Krause and Justin Monjo).

Directed by Kimble Rendall

From the Gold Coast of Australia Anchor Bay Entertainment brings us Bait 3D on DVD and Blu-Ray. The film stars a cast of rising stars from Australia including Xavier Samuel (Loved Ones, Twilight Saga: Eclipse), Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D, You’re Next), Alex Russell (Chronicle) and Phoebe Tonkin (TV’s The Secret Circle, Tomorrow, When the War Began). The cast is further rounded out with some veteran presence in the form of Julian McMahon. The question remains with the overabundance of Shark based thrillers out there is Bait more part Jaws or Sharktopus?

After a gargantuan freak tsunami hits a sleepy beach community in Australia a group of survivors, including store staff Josh (Samuel) and Ryan (Russell), Josh’s former fiancée Tina (Vinson), Police Officer Todd and his daughter Jaimie (Tonkin), and the untrustworthy Doyle (McMahon) find themselves trapped inside a submerged grocery store. As they try to escape to safety they soon discover that there is a predator among them more deadly than the threat of drowning – multiple vicious great white sharks are lurking in the water. As the bloodthirsty sharks begin to pick the survivors off one by one, the group realizes that they must work together to find a way out without being eaten alive.

Bait 3D establishes from the beginning that this is not a serious thriller out to uphold the Jaws legacy. It clearly has its tongue firmly planted in cheek. Why the script went through six writers is beyond me as the dialogue is pedestrian and the “twist” obvious to anyone watching the film well before the people in the film discover it. There is a lot of the traditional paint by numbers in the story, but the thing that keeps its forward momentum is the camp factor allowing for some humorous sequences and some decent death scenarios. I say scenarios because the deaths themselves come at the hand of one of the worst realized sharks I’ve seen in a theatrical production (it is playing theatrically in Australia but will be direct to video in North America) and play for laughs not scares. The young cast does manage to represent themselves well here and it’s obvious as to which of these actors are the ones that are already making inroads in not only Australia but Hollywood as well. McMahon serves as senior statesman here and perfectly encapsulates the charming, smarmy guy you know you should never trust but you still do. The setting of the film is actually pretty ingenious and the physical set, set decoration, and physical effects all add to the sense of claustrophobia and urgency of the film. The CGI portions do let the film down considerably as they never appear realistic at any time. Sadly Bait would have been better served with a “Jaws the shark isn’t working” type scenario that would have forced them to get more creative.

Ultimately there is a lot of fun to be had with Bait 3D, while it will never win any awards it does enough that it could easily become a cult classic. While Bait 3D will not be for everybody, there will be a lot who hate it outright and will claim I am losing my mind, I still must give it a Recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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