More March Madness Blu-Ray and DVD Reviews
So we continue our March Blu-Ray and DVD round up with a solid group of films including a Best Picture winner and a few nominees amongst the slew of titles left to do and plenty from the likes of Olive Films, Twilight Time and more!
Your Best Picture Winner
Birdman (*****) Fox/2014/R/1 Hour 59 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio. Sensational and brilliant comedy-drama that revolves the life and turbulent times of a former superstar actor (Michael Keaton, who definitely should've won the Oscar) known for his alter ego, Birdman, whose life has pretty much gone hill since his departure from his fame and fortune. Putting on a play on Broadway hoping to revive his career, he enlists the help of his rebellious daughter (Oscar nominee Emma Stone), his faithful and loyal manager (Zach Galifinakis), his girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) and his plays' leading lady (Naomi Watts) along with a method actor (Edward Norton) to bring his adaptation of a Raymond Carver play come to life. But of course nothing goes as planned and inspired lunacy soon follows a frenetic 24 hours for this motley cast and crew through the engaging and sparkling direction of Oscar Winner Alejandro G.Inaratu, who with Director Of Photography and fellow Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki created this harrowing world that is often funny and tragic. One of the best films of last year and without question, a great inside look on the world of Broadway acting. A lack of special features despite a few, may hint that another company such as the Criterion Collection may produce a future special edition of this great film.
Whiplash (*****) Sony/2014/R/1 Hour 47 Minutes/2:40.1 Aspect Ratio Brilliant and very engaging musical drama that revolves around a young 19 year-old aspiring jazz drummer (Miles Teller) who goes to a predigeous musical school in Manhattan and eventually joins the jazz band lead by the ultra manaical professor Terence Fletcher (Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons, in a bravura performance) who really pushes him to the extreme limits to ultimately become a prodigy like the late jazz great Buddy Rich. Great performances, excellent music and exceptional editing, which won the Oscar and great direction by Writer/Director Damien Chazelle, who adapted his own 17 minute short film which also starred Simmons that makes this movie soar one of the year's best! A solid special set of features including the original short film is included.
Kill The Messenger (***) Universal/2014/R/1 Hour 51 Minutes/2:40.1 Aspect Ratio Solid and riveting drama based on the true story of writer Gary Webb (Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner) who risked his life and his career to break a story about the CIA dealings with a major drug dealer that led to the funding a secret war funded with laundered drug money. Soon Webb is disgraced and discredited to the point that he was ultimately vindicated soon after without any credit soon after. The film came and went rather quickly unfortunately that features one of Renner's best performances of recent memory along with a good supporting cast including Rosemarie DeWitt, Oliver Platt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ray Liotta. A decent special set of features are included.
The Humbling (**) Milleninum Media/2014/R/1 Hour 47 Minutes/2:40.1 Aspect Ratio Very disappointing and completely uneven comedy or is a drama. Whatever it tries to be really doesn't work. Surprisingly the great Oscar Winner Al Pacino (who really needs a great project right now) stars as a washed up former star who one day takes in a young lesbian and carefree woman (Greta Gerwig) who has had a major crush on him since she was very young. The two begin a rather unique relationship that leads to major troubles with her parents (Dan Hedaya and Oscar Winner Dianne Wiest), his online therapist (Dylan Baker) and his own agent (Charles Grodin). The film which was Directed by the once great Barry Levinson, is a completely uneven farce that tries to take a cue out of Birdman and is just a speck of how great that movie is. Pacino looks tired and disinterested at times. Gerwig is the only great thing about this film looking as sexy and fun as she has been on screen since the remake of Arthur and Lola Versus. Otherwise, this is a forgettable and very unfunny film that truly misses the mark with all the great talent behind it.
St. Vincent (****) Starz!/Anchor Bay/2014/R/1 Hour 42 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio One of the better comedies of last year from Writer/Director Theodore Melfi that Stars the great Bill Murray in an Oscar Worthy performance as Vincent, a down and out gambling slob and cranky guy from Sheepshead Bay who one day gets new neighbors in a single working mother (Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy) and her son. After an impromptu babysitting session, Vincent and the boy form a bond and they start to enjoy each others' company for better and worse with the young boy learning through Vincent's worldly exploits and vices that include his pregnant stripper lady of the night (Naomi Watts). The film was a worthy Oscar contender and overlooked because of other major films, this is a fun and engaging film that its' performances and in particular Murray's is the films' heart and soul. McCarthy is also excellent here downplaying her brash persona perfectly playing off Murray. Despite very few special features, this disc is still worth getting and stay for the end credits which are a doozy.
The Sure Thing: 30th Anniversary Edition (*****) Shout! Factory/1985/PG-13/1 Hour 35 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio. Fun, romantic and sweet romantic comedy which is easily one of John Cusack's best films along with Director Rob Reiner. The film stars Cusack as Walter Gibson, a young aspiring college writer and a brass slacker who meets the very uptight Alison (the lovely Daphine Zuniga), a smart and straight arrow girl who he considers a total bore and she thinks of him as a rude and inconsiderate jerk. Soon they head on a cross country trip together to California where Gib's best friend (ER's Anthony Edwards) has set him up on a blind date with a super hottie woman (Desperate Housewives' Nicolette Sheridan), while Alison has a rendevous with her stuffy boyfriend. Soon, they start to bond and ultimately start to fall in love with each other despite their world of view differences. This is a wonderful comedy that is easily one of the best of the 80's with sparkling performances and deserving of this release. The disc ports over all of the excellent special features from the MGM DVD.
Life Itself (****) Magnolia/R/2014/2 Hours 2 Minutes/1:78.1 Aspect Ratio. Riveting and very hard to watch documentary on the late movie critic Roger Ebert, who of course had his memorable television show with the late Gene Siskel and later on with Richard Roeper. This excellent documentary directed by Steve James, who Siskel and Ebert both championed the brilliant, Hoop Dreams over twenty years ago. The film is a very frank look at Ebert's life from his famous fights with eventual friend Siskel, his bouts with alcholism until his throat surgery which took away his ability to talk. The film also focuses on his relationship with his wife, Chaz through all of this and his eventual passing years ago. Very frank and ernest look at a man who became a major media symbol.
The Interview (**1/2) Sony/R/2014/1 Hour 52 Minutes/2:40.1 Aspect Ratio Overhyped and overlong one joke comedy whose ending is actually pretty funny, but it takes a drag (and I mean that literally) to get there. Best friends James Franco and co-director Seth Rogen play a pair of idiots with their own television interview show who get the prime gig of a lifetime: an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un (played perfectly by Randall Park). Of course, the CIA sees this as the perfect opportunity so the bumbling pair are recruited by a lovely handler (the sexy Lizzy Caplan) in a plot to eliminate the dictator and bring democracy to the land. Easy as it sounds, but things go wrong fast, with the pair screwing up everything. The film is pretty much a long one joke sketch blown up to close to two hours which might have worked better if it was cut down by five to ten minutes and would've been even funnier in my view. I understand the intensions of Rogen and co-director Evan Goldberg, but this isn't their best. Excellent special features are included for a good low price.
Beyond The Lights (****) Fox/2014/PG-13/1 Hour 56 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio Sweet, well meaning and solid acting drive this romantic drama about a Beyonce' styled music diva named Noni (a breakout performance by Gugu Mabuthu-Raw, who I loved in Tom Hanks' Larry Crowne) who after a major awards show tries to commit suicide and is rescued by a principled and caring LAPD officer (Nate Parker). The two immediately have sparks and fall in love with each other eventually she decides to chuck her domineering mother (Minnie Driver) who's been making all of her decisions on her life. A sweet and well directed film by Gina Prince-Blythewood that was a modest hit at the box office when it was released thanks to a very slick ad campaign that should've been recreated here. Solid special features make and a good soundtrack make this a good romantic choice.
From the Twilight Time...
Lenny (****) Twilight Time/R/1974/1 Hour 51 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio Solid and at times, brilliant B&W adaptation of famed and controversial comic Lenny Bruce's life played in a great Oscar nominated performance by Dustin Hoffman. Details his unfunny origins to meeting his wife (Oscar nominated Valerie Perrine in a solid performance), a former stripper who he would have a child with, his eventual success after fighting the system against censorship and his eventual death from a drug overdose and became a bigger star posthumately. The film directed brilliantly by the late Bob Fosse was a very risky venture for all involved and paid off in the end. Beautiful atmospheric cinematography by Bruce Surtees and all the performances featured throughout made the film much more than an autobiography. Solid special features are included here.
To Sir, With Love (*****) Twilight Time/1967/NR/1 Hour 45 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio Wonderful classic film that features a brilliant performance by the great Sidney Poitier, a young teacher who takes the job of teaching in London's Eest End. His group of students which he is given are all rejects or miscreants that other schools simply don't want. He eventually wins them over with his dedication and care for them. The film was a surprise box office hit for Columbia Pictures and it is a classic film by many standards. Featuring Poitier who was enjoying a blockbuster year with Guess Who's Coming To Dinner and his Oscar winning role in In The Heat Of The Night and featured a solid cast including newcomer Judy Geeson, who became a star after this and a soundtrack by the lovely Lulu under the excellent direction of Author James Clavell, the film had all the makings of a classic and indeed it is. A great plethora of features are included here for a great package.
Stormy Weather (*****) Twlight Time/NR/1943/1 Hour 18 Minutes/1:37.1 Aspect Ratio Classic ground breaking musical that featured an-all African American cast on the big screen for the first time. The film is a sparkling romance that starred the late jazz singer Lena Horne in a great debut performance that really was the showcase of great vocal talents that would eventually span over five decades and many records and CD's later. The film is also notable for the great musical numbers that featured the likes of greats including Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Bill Robinson along with many others including Horne herself. Solid film worth getting despite a few features.
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (****) Twilight Time/1967/NR/1 Hour 40 Minutes/2:35.1 Aspect Ratio Sensational and at the time, controversial film due to its' violence mostly which was daring at the time. The film Directed by the venerable Roger Corman, who would be the mentor of great directors such as Oscar Winners James Cameron and Ron Howard, would become a cult classic and stars the late Oscar Winner Jason Robards as Al Capone and a solid supporting cast including George Segal among others chronicles the infamous mob war event in gangland Chicago in a documentary styled setting that is dark and vicious. An excellent surprise that is worth seeing especially for Corman's direction and style.
Love And Death (***) Twilight Time 1975/PG/1 Hour 25 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio This was the follow up to Oscar Winning Writer/Director Woody Allen's 1973 comedy classic, Sleeper, that was more of a straight forward slapstick satire taking place during the Napoleonic Wars in which he plays a coward who becomes a hero thanks to the support of his exhuberant wife (Oscar Winner Diane Keaton). The film would be the last of this type that Allen would direct as he would grow up to the mature fare that he would earn his Oscar stripes for in Annie Hall and Manhattan after this film. Not a bad film, but compared to Sleeper, not quite in its' league yet still worthy of being in the conversation.
More from the Olive Branch!
Dangerously Close (***) Olive Films/1986/R/1 Hour 35 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio Slick and surprisingly entertaining thriller that takes place in a posh High School where a group of vigilante students who act like a school police force play a game where they teach a lesson to the schools' undesireables or outcasts forcing them to leave: dead or alive. The film is actually one of Cannon Films' low budget cheapies but a lot more solid than one might think and ably directed by Albert Pyun, one of Cannon Films' star directors. The film is also notable for the debut of former model and Law & Order star Carey Lowell as Director John Stockwell, who co-wrote this film.
Wild Orchard (* 1/2) Olive Films/1989/R/1 Hour 45 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio Underwhelming and disappointing follow up by Writer/Director Zalman King, the man behind the surprise hit 1986 sensual drama, Nine And A Half Weeks that starred Oscar Nominee Mickey Rourke and Oscar Winner Kim Basinger. This film stars Rourke as Wheeler, a hot shot millionare down in Rio DeJanero who's closing a real estate deal when he meets Emily (Rourke's eventual wife, former model Carrie Otis), a young lawyer sent along with her associate to help negotiate and close the deal. She starts to fall into the sexual escapades of Wheeler as well as the festivities of Brazil. The film plays more like an episode of King's eventual hit Showtime television series, Red Shoe Diaries and this film pretty much inspired that, which isn't saying much. Rourke is just continuing his great performance in Nine And A Half Weeks all too well, but Otis is definitely no Basinger and the film falls flat because of it.
Best Seller (****) Olive Films/1987/R/1 Hour 35 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio Slick and violent thriller that stars Brian Dennehy has a LAPD Detective and writer who one day receives an invitation by a professional hit man played by the always excellent James Woods, who was part of a bank robbery in which Dennehy was wounded years earlier to help write a tell all book about a shady, mob influenced corporation that found its' success through the victims that Woods eliminated years earlier. Soon their lives are in danger as they get closer and closer to confirming all of Woods' truths about what he had done. The film which was slickly directed by John Flynn, is very gritty and stylish and works on the performances of Dennehy and Woods which make the film a solid gem.
The Night They Raided Minsky's (***) Olive Films/1968/PG-13/1 Hour 39 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio A mostly troubled production on and off screen which was Director William Friedkin's first major step to success that would lead to the Oscar Winning The French Connection for Twentieth Century-Fox years later. The film stars Brit Eklund as a very sweet Amish woman whose come to New York City whose trying to get away from her farm life. She is immediately drawn to the debotchery of Minsky's, a burlesque club in which she becomes a star attraction. Shenanigans soon ensue involving the father and son Minsky, a rival mobster and a straight arrow trying to get the club shut down. The film was a mess editorially and was saved thanks to the miracle that was pulled off at the end. Not a bad film in this state, but one that Friedkin doesn't exactly look back on as a great achievement like The French Connection would be. Still a very curious and entertaining film to watch.
Lady Chattery's Lover (**) Olive Films/1981/NR/1 Hour 46 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio This sensual costume drama that tries to take itself a little too serious was one of the Cannon Films group of films that tried to be respectable despite the company not being taken seriously. The film is an adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's novel which starred nudie beauty Sylvia Kristel, who plays Lady Chattery (of course) who after a crippling injury leaves her husband impotent, takes on a series of lovers and is soon torn between her love for her husband and her physical desires that with the consent of her husband, she seeks out means of fulfilling. This exploitation film was something Cannon specialized in early as Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus tried to make a splash in Hollywood and this was a misfire amongst many is better than Bolero, which would overshadow this film later on.
Vincent And Theo (***) Olive Films/1990/R/2 Hours 18 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio This was Oscar Winner Robert Altman's comeback film of sorts that would lead to the critically revered The Player and Short Cuts years later that would bring him back to the spotlight. The film stars Oscar Nominee Tim Roth as famed painter Vincent Van Gough and Paul Rhys as his brother, Theo. The gritty and dark film tells the tale of these two brothers who with Van Gough's paintings became more and more disturbed and Theo desperately trying to be the voice of reason for him that eventually leads to tragic results including the infamous ear cutting incident is now legend. The film featured solid performances especially Roth who would later shine in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but also earn a well deserved Oscar nomination for his grand villiainary in Rob Roy years later. For critics, it was a great return to form for Altman after a series of duds during the 80's.
The End Of Violence (***) Olive Films/1997/R/2 Hours 2 Minutes/2:35.1 Aspect Ratio Interesting noir styled film from famed director Wim Wenders that stars Bill Pullman as Mike Max, a powerful Hollywood producer who's made his living making bloody and violent films that have made him a fortune. Alienated by his wife (Andie MacDowell), he is soon kidnapped by Mexican gangsters and eventually escapes then hides out with his gardner's family. While a search for him begins that attracts the attention of an anti big-brother survaillence expert (Gabriel Byrne) and a detective who falls in love with Max's leading lady for his next film. The film is a times a little too tricky for its' own good, but the style is much better than its' substance. It is very good for what it is despite a lot of its' flaws and features another solid score by Wenders' musical partner, Ry Cooder.
Muscle Beach Party (***) Olive Films/1964/NR/1 Hour 34 Minutes/2:35.1 Aspect Ratio Another fun film featuring the paring of that cute Summer and sunny couple, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, that this time revolves around a weight trainer (the great Don Rickles) and his group of muscle head jerks that are preventing Annette and Frankie and company from enjoying themselves on the beach. Meanwhile, a hot blonde (Luciana Paluzzi aka. Domino (No.1) from Thunderball starring Sean Connery) has the hots for Frankie, which really steams Annette. A charming little film of its' era and a fun little time capsule worth your time.
Chattahoochee (***) Olive Films/1989/R/1 Hour 37 Minutes/1:85.1 Aspect Ratio A solid and at times, intense drama starring Oscar nominee Gary Oldman and Oscar Winner Dennis Hopper that takes place in 1955 as an unstable Korean War veteran named Emmett Foley (Oldman) suffers a breakdown after attempting suicide and is sent to a metal institution by his wife (Oscar Winner Frances McDormand). Soon Foley's discovers the horrors of what he and the other patients go through in the hospital and he starts to rebel against them. The film is long forgotten and at times, a little too melodramatic but it really is the Oldman and Hopper show because it really is their performances that save the film to be honest. It is worth seeing for them alone, the rest you've pretty much been through in better films like Article 99 or One Flew Over The Cocoo's Nest.
Odds and Ends
Believe Me (***) Riot Studios/2014/PG-13/1 Hour 33 Minutes/2:35.1Aspect Ratio Well meaning and at times, charming comedy about a college student named Sam who suffers through a tutition increase and has to think of a way to make up the difference so he can stay in school. With the help of his roommates, they soon start a bogus charity that caters to the good intentions of local church parishners and eventually take their cause across the country. Soon Sam has to make a choice between the woman he wants or continuing with his charade that will affect millions of church goers.
Dark Haul Shout! Factory/2014/NR/1 Hour 30 Minutes. Another one of those SyFy channel films released by the label that is decent at best thanks to the casting of Tom Sizemore, but otherwise it's another run of the mill horror fodder.
Fear Clinic Starz!/Anchor Bay/R/1 Hour 35 Minutes Another horror film starring Robert Englund as a shrink who thinks that enducing fear into his patients will rid them of what they fear in their lives most with his creation of a "fear chamber". Not a terrible film, but not a particularly good one either. Definitely for die hard fans of Englund, who is good here.
Allayah: The Princess Of R&B Lionsgate/NR/1 Hour 30 Minutes Decent cable television film based on the life of the late R&B singer Allayah played brilliantly by Alexandra Shipp of the upcoming X-Men Apocalypse. The film works because of her mostly, otherwise it would be just another run of the mill biodrama.
The Altar Virgil Films/R/1 Hour 30 Minutes Decent horror thriller starring Matthew Modine who heads to a former estate on a restoration job where his family is moving to only to discover that a murder of the previous occupants actually occurred there.
Dads: The Complete Series 2013-14/Olive Films/2 Discs/418 Minutes Uneven, but at times funny comedy from the co-creators of Family Guy stars Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as a pair of video game creators with successful careers whose dads, Peter Reigert and Martin Mull move in with them and their nightmares begin. Only lasting one season, the show had some good moments and its' humor was more for cable television than regular network which is another reason it didn't last.
Napoleon Dynamite The Complete Series 2012/Olive Films/130 Minutes Short lived, but entertaining version based on the surprise blockbuster hit film from 2004 that reunited the entire cast including Jon Heder, Tina Majorino, Efrain Ramirez, Jonathan Gries amongst others lending their voices to their goofy animated personas which unfortunately was cancelled after six episodes featured in this single disc set.
Well, that'll do it for another installment and there will be more in March that will include Twlight Time's latest, more Olive, more Warner, more more more! Enjoy!