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Review of THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B
Entire family: No (older teens and up)
Crime comedy-drama
1974, 115 min., Color
Rated R for brief nudity, profanity, and violence
Kino Lorber
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is an offbeat heist film that also fits the buddy cop/criminal mold, so it holds strong appeal for fans of those genres. Just be aware that the R rating isn’t only for language that now would be considered relatively tame. There’s also one brief scene of full female frontal nudity and another instance where a naked man and woman are shown tied up together with minimal body parts showing—though both scenes are comedic.

This 1974 light drama from director Michael Cimino featured Clint Eastwood at the height of his Dirty Harry popularity, playing opposite a young and perpetually smiling Jeff Bridges, who had already received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for The Last Picture Show and would earn another one for his work on this film. Eastwood, meanwhile, would have to wait nearly 20 years for his first acting Oscar nomination (Unforgiven) . . . but he would take home the statue.

A chance meeting pairs an infamous heist mastermind hiding from some of his disgruntled gang (Eastwood, as The Thunderbolt) with a young drifter looking for adventure (Bridges, as Lightfoot). As Thunderbolt’s problems become his own, Lightfoot suggests they do something audacious: partner with the gang to repeat the celebrated heist, step by step. Hit that Montana bank again, using the same anti-tank gun that the gang did initially. More

Review of GOOD BOYS (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: C-
Entire family: No (older teens only)
Comedy
2019, 90 min., Color
Rated R for crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout—all involving tweens
Universal
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

Good Boys was so heavily advertised on TV that I felt compelled to let Family Home Theater readers know whether it’s another Stand by Me classic that’s well worth the amount of R-rated material, or if it’s just an ironically titled companion to Bad Grandpa or Bad Teacher.

This much seems true: if you’re going to make a raunchy comedy about American boys, it had better be funny. Otherwise, the raunchiness feels like a cement overcoat that drags it down into the muck. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, if it doesn’t make the film funnier, why even include it? When the lines aren’t funny, it just gives viewers an uncomfortable feeling to be watching sixth graders talk the way these kids do about sex (they have no clue), drugs (even more clueless), and beer (don’t get me started).

There’s maybe a dozen laugh-out-loud moments when the R-rated material is funny. Otherwise, the f-bombs and confused sex talk coming out of tweens’ mouths isn’t as hilarious as writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky seem to think it is. What’s worse, given the precociousness of kids these days, their naivete is hard to believe. Even a younger sister recognizes a sex toy and tells them about it, which all but draws attention to how difficult it is to believe the boys are that clueless.

The first half of this “adventure comedy” is flat, dull, and, for the most part, devoid of laughs. The three main characters are played by actors who seem stiff and self-conscious—though when the second half finds them working with better material, audiences can see that the problem lies mostly with the writing. Writer-director Stupnitsky also penned the screenplay for Bad Teacher, and if you know that in advance, you pretty much know what you’re going to get with Good Boys. More

Review of PAN’S LABYRINTH (4K UltraHD combo)

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Grade: A-
Entire family: No (16 and older)
Fantasy-drama-war
2006, 119 min., Color
Rated R for graphic violence and some language
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: Spanish DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

Strange. Dark. Sad. Beautiful. Haunting. Powerful.

That describes Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning Best Picture The Shape of Water (2017), and it also aptly describes the Mexican director’s earlier wartime fantasy-drama, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).

Del Toro introduces the new 4K HD release (in Spanish, with English subtitles) by saying simply, “This movie almost killed me.” That’s easy to believe, because Pan’s Labyrinth takes a lot out of audiences too. With del Toro’s fairy tales for adults, you know you’re going to find the film visually stunning, narratively compelling, and, ultimately, deeply moving.

The action takes during place during WWII (1944) in Franco’s fascist Spain. Ofelia (played confidently and sympathetically by Ivana Baquero) is riding in a military car with her pregnant mother to a country outpost run by the ruthless and sadistic Captain Vidal—who married the mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), after her husband died in the war. He had sent for them because he wanted his baby to be born near him. In the car, Ofelia reads a fairytale about a princess who fled her father’s underground kingdom to live in the world above, where she was subject to that world’s illnesses and death. But her father knew that one day her spirit would return to him in the form of another.  More

Review of ANNABELLE COMES HOME (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B-/C+
Entire family: No (way)
Horror, thriller
2019, 106 min., Color
Rated R for horror violence and terror
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: C+/B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

First there was The Conjuring (2013), then Annabelle (2014), The Conjuring 2 (2016), Annabelle: Creation (2017), The Nun (2018), The Curse of La Llorona (2019), and now Annabelle Comes Home (2019). The Conjuring Universe continues to expand, but this latest film isn’t as much of a big bang as it is a slow evolution from dark potentiality to a third act burst of relatively predictable action. That’s because it’s a Pandora’s box film, and even if you know nothing about Greek mythology you probably have heard that Pandora opened a box (well, jar, actually) and unwittingly unleashed sickness, plagues, death, and all manner of evils on humankind. With a Pandora’s box film, you know the plot will be about trying to re-contain those evils, and the protagonists either will succeed or not. You have a 50/50 chance of guessing the outcome.

That’s one thing that makes Annabelle Comes Home less energetic or surprising than some of the previous entries. Fans have been through this before and know what to expect. There aren’t as many scares as in previous films, but the ones that are here are high octane, and their intensity is boosted by the fact that much of the action takes place within the confines of the home. More

Review of THE FIRST KING: BIRTH OF AN EMPIRE (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B-
Entire family: No (older teens only)
Historical Drama, Action
2019, 123 min., Color
Not rated (would be R for graphic violence throughout)
Well Go USA Entertainment
Aspect ratio: 16×9 widescreen
Featured audio: Latin DTS-HDMA 5.1 (English subtitles)
Bonus features: C
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Trailer
Amazon link

The First King: Birth of an Empire (originally titled Romulus and Remus: The First King) is an Italian film in Latin with English subtitles (and a dubbed English option) that’s epic insomuch as it’s the story of the founding of Rome in 750 B.C.

But don’t approach this film thinking you’ll see a story related to that famous 5th century B.C. sculpture of The Capitoline Wolf suckling the child figures of Romulus and Remus (which, incidentally, were added in the 15th century A.D.). The story begins with the twins as full-grown men.

Likewise, don’t think that this film has anything at all to do with images of Ancient Rome that you might have in your head. Director Matteo Rovere’s stylish 2019 film has more in common with sagas of ancient barbarians, with a treatment that’s less “Roman” and cinematically epic than it is a second-cousin to the old Hammer films, with their brooding atmospheric narratives paced to allow atmosphere and place to become as important as the characters in those early pagan dramas.

If you happen to know the story of Romulus and Remus, don’t expect a start-to-finish retelling of their story—a fictionalized myth of the founding of Rome that sprang up in the 3rd century B.C. In this  version, their mother isn’t a vestal virgin and daughter of a king deposed by his brother. She could be, but there’s no mention of it. Legend has it that the twins were saved from drowning by the god Tiberinus, then suckled by a she-wolf and eventually found and adopted by a shepherd. That could have happened as well, but again there’s no mention of it.

When a flash flood sweeps the adult Romulus and Remus and their flock downriver, they’re found by Alba and his men and imprisoned in wooden cages. Other slaves have also been captured. Here’s where it takes a Braveheart or Spartacus turn and Romulus and Remus rise up to free themselves and the other slaves. But their escape is jeopardized not only by a soon-in-pursuit Alba, but by tensions and fighting among their own factions. At the center of the conflict is a “god” that Romulus insisted they bring with them—represented by an eternal fire in a small pot that’s carried by a virgin in the service of the god. And it certainly doesn’t help matters that she prophecies one day, while fondling what looks like a piece of liver, that one of the brothers will become king and founder of an empire while the other will fade into darkness:  one brother will kill the other. More

Review of SHAFT (2019) (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: A-
Entire family: No (older teens only)
2019, 111 min., Color
Crime Comedy-Drama
Rated R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material, and brief nudity
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Trailer
Amazon link

Inexplicably, the 2019 version of Shaft earned only a 32 percent “rotten” rating at Rotten Tomatoes—meaning that just 32 out of 114 movie critics rated it “fresh.” But at that same site, 94 percent of 7,725 viewers gave it a high rating.

Well, this time I’m siding with the average viewer rather than the RT critics, whose consensus—that “this multi-generational Shaft struggles to keep its characters interesting or anything other than uncomfortably outdated”—only proves that they missed the whole point. The humor in this 2019 film comes from taking a ‘70s hero with ‘70s values and attitudes and plunking him down in the more PC-sensitive here and now, then watching the fun as the anachronistic Shaft manages to make us laugh and still be the coolest guy in the room.

As far as I’m concerned, the second time is the charm for Samuel L. Jackson, who played the iconic badass NYCPD detective like a black version of Dirty Harry in a 2000 remake that felt more outdated to me because it took itself too seriously. But in the 2019 version, Jackson and the whole cast seem to have fun revisiting characters from the original 1971 “Blaxploitation” film starring Richard Roundtree (who has a cameo as “Grandpa”). By having Jackson act like a 1970s lawless, anti-PC tough guy, the filmmakers manage to pay homage to the original character while also spoofing him. Perhaps the best example comes when Shaft sends his son wildly inappropriate birthday presents wrapped in brown butcher paper—gifts that include, as the boy grows up, condoms )”What’s in your wallet?”) and girlie magazines. More

Review of ROCKETMAN (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: A-/B+
Entire family: No (just families with older teens)
2019, 121 min., Color
Musical drama
Rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content
Paramount
Aspect ratio: 16×9 widescreen (enhanced)
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: A-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Trailer
Amazon link

A year after Rami Malek channeled Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody and introduced a new young audience to Queen we get Rocketman, which attempts to do the same for Elton John.

Make that Sir Elton John, a musician whose first smash hit (“Your Song” in 1970) propelled him to a career so successful that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame, and named Billboard’s most successful male solo artist of all-time. In other words, he’s more than deserving of a biopic.

Make that a hybrid biopic—one that combines the rise (and stumble) of a musician with Broadway-style big production song-and-dance numbers that are imaginatively intercut into the film’s narrative, along with a backward-looking frame with younger alter ego that will remind some viewers of Birdman. Especially given the plume-like costume that Elton (Taron Egerton) wears to his therapy group as he recalls his former self. Is he really dressed that way, or is it a symbol or metaphor? There’s a surreal, glam-bam-thank-you-ma’am element to the film that seems very much in keeping with the real Elton John’s out-of-this-world performance persona—though the musician’s sexual orientation is treated matter-of-factly. More

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